Tag Archives: RPG

One Night amongst the Necromancers

Billede06.jpgThe Disciples of the Lich King are gathering – and you are not invited!

The adventurers are drawn into a haunted dungeon home of necromancers and their allies. This is the premise for this OSR-style D&D 5th edition adventure. It has been uploaded to DMs Guild – you can find it here: One Night amongst the Necromancers – and it is a tricky adventure with many moving parts. It is not an adventure, where the PCs are supposed to kill their way from room to room. Rather there are a lot of NPCs to interact with, and many have their own plans.

Originally this adventure was from the Viking-Con (a Danish RPG con) story line “Return to …”, where a series of older Hinterlandet adventures were visited again a few years later giving experienced players the joy of seeing a dungeon, they had visited years before. The original adventure was from The Lich King Returns story line. A fun part of this adventure was seeing the players interact with the remnants of the Lich King’s cult after the Lich King had been defeated. There are several approaches to the adventure, and it invites the players to infiltrate the dungeon, though without dictating how they should go about it.

The adventure has now been adapted to D&D 5th edition and made setting agnostic. It plays out in an ancient Roman-style empire, but can easily be placed in your local fantasy-campaign. As part of the original OSR-inspired style the encounters are formed without respect to balance, but instead allows the PCs to sneak around and taking the different encounters in various orders, and the DM is invited to play along with plenty of suggestions as to situations, that may occur. The Hinterlands strives to follow design-principles like these, instead of doing balanced set pieces.

The adventure contains a bunch of new monsters and NPCs and strange magical items to challenge the players. Magical items in Hinterlandet are generally unique (not counting minor items such as potions), and following this tradition, new weapons and items can be won. A personal favorite for me is The Whispering Skull, which is a skull that whispers spells for wizards to memorize.


Design Principles for a Hinterlands Dungeon

photo (87)There are many guides and posts on building an exciting encounter or creating a three-act structure or five room dungeon of combats, but when we began designing adventures for OSR-clone Hinterlandet (The Hinterlands) different principles were being used.

  • Many ways and none is the right one
  • There are bosses, but no boss fights
  • Balance is not the issue, avoiding combat is
  • There will be death

These are some of the key-elements, and now that I have begun translating the adventures into English from their Danish originals, and adapting them for D&D 5th edition, it might be the right time to have a look at the principles behind the adventures.

Many ways and none is the right one

The dungeon must have more than one way to go. It cannot be linear, and ideally it has multiple entrances, and it allows the players to choose directly or indirectly between the entrances. A great part of the fun is to see the players choose, and when running a living campaign with multiple groups running through the same dungeon, the different choices are interesting. Many dungeons emphasize the multiple paths by giving the characters the option of breaking down walls, falling through floors to other areas or scaling the walls to gain quick access to other parts, i.e. in Tower of the Star Watcher the PCs can scale most walls and enter different areas in almost any order.

There are bosses, but no boss fights

It follows that when the PCs can choose multiple paths, there will rarely be a boss monster exactly at the end of the dungeon, and it helps bring the world to live, when the players know, that monsters in the dungeon do not behave according to computer game logic. I.e. in One Night amongst the Necromancers the ‘boss’ is moving around in errands, and stealthy PCs can easily find their way to him without working their way through all the rooms. In other adventures, such as Grave of the Alchemist, one of the worst monsters resides just inside of the dungeon and to gain access, it must be defeated in some manner.

Balance is not the issue, avoiding combat is

The encounters in Hinterlandet are not really balanced, and this feature is carried over into their D&D 5th edition adaptions. However, many encounters include creatures that can be avoided or snuck by, or they begin with parlay – some monsters are hungry and can be bribed, some are sleeping or distracted, others are mistaking the PCs for other residents or guests, and yet others are suspicious but not hostile. Rarely does a monster attack, when the PCs enter. Instead the players are invited to interact with the monster, and this results in many great moments.

There will be death

Even though it may sound easy to avoid the nasty encounters and the tough fights, it is not so. Character death is common, and one cause is traps and magical dangers. Each dungeon usually contains one trap or phenomenon, that will kill or remove a PC from the game. Often there is some warning sign, and usually the PCs can simply choose to stay clear of it, but it will challenge their curiosity, and it will tempt their greed. For instance, in Palace of Sweet Dreams drinking too much of the ghost wine will trap a character in the realm of the dead, and merely visiting the ruins of the palace might result in a character forever lost in its madness.

These are some of the main governing principles for the adventures of Hinterlandet / The Hinterlands. The adventures have all been part of the OSR Living Campaign at Danish roleplaying conventions and have been run for multiple groups. Some characters survive, some don’t, but we always end up with great stories of adventurers’ daring do.


Tower of the Star Watcher

Bygning 2aA strange tower awaits the heroes. It lies deep in the forest.

That is the premise for the first D&D 5th edition adventure, I have presented at DMs Guild – you can find it here: Tower of the Star Watcher – and it is not your average adventure. It is small open air dungeon, that originally is part of The Dragon Awakens storyline fra Hinterlandet Living Campaign at the Danish RPG-con Fastaval. In this storyline all the adventuring parties are entering The Vale of the Dragon in order to find weapons against the dragon and find it in order to defeat it.

A fun part of the Tower of the Star Watcher is that it is an open-air dungeon. The ruins lie in a forest under an open sky, and the PCs can enter through one of multiple entrances, but there is nothing hindering the PCs in scaling the walls and entering any part of the dungeon as they please. However, most groups don’t. The players tend to follow the walls and the doors, and part of the fun for the DM is when the PCs discover, that they can approach the ruin in many ways, and that there multiple ways through the area, and none is really the correct manner. Of course a lot of the fun also comes from the encounters, as there several strange ones, and many invite the players to use different approaches rather than charge in at any given time. Ghost children, whistling stone heads and sarcastic skulls are among the encounters.

The adventure has now been adapted to D&D 5th edition and made setting agnostic, but has maintained traces of the original setting, and a lot of the original style, which includes a focus on non-balanced encounters. Talking, bluffing, sneaking, running are all valid strategies and important, when you want to stay alive. Oh, and it also contains a bunch of new monsters, just to keep the players on their toes.


Strange Tales for Roleplayers: The Player Who Didn’t Book the Monsters

crossshotsetup-copyOnce there was this roleplayer. He was a bit of a smart type, who didn’t quite respect the rules, men instead did what he could to keep his character alive. The way he did it would often benefit his fellow players, so usually they would not be too loud about it.

The way he did was typically that he would offer the game master his assistance in moving minis and setting up terrain for combats. When he then was moving the models around, a goblin would be placed just out of range, so its attack failed, or a troll would disappear from the horde of monsters. With a bit of trickery the mini was removed from the table.

“Didn’t I have another orc?” or “Wasn’t my goblin archer just within range?” the GM would wonder, but always the player being charming and convincing told the GM, that the monster was gone or somewhere else. When it wasn’t around miniatures the distraction was being created, it was with the GM’s numbers and calculations the player created confusion. Hit Points and Health Levels were being miscalculated, initiative values displaced and so forth.

His success with manipulating his game masters game went to his head, and he began seeing himself as the superior player of the two. That he would be far better as both a player and a game master than his regular GM was.

To prove this he decided, that he would run one of his GM’s adventures for himself. So one day he stole one of the GM’s adventures and sat down to play it by himself.

What he wasn’t aware of was, that all the monsters, he had cheated his game master for, were still around. Hidden in rooms and cellars, in the deep woods and in dark alleys. Monsters that had never been killed or driven off, but instead lay in wait for a vulnerable adventurer to pass by.

So when he sat down to play, one monster after the other came out of the shadows. The orc he had hidden from GM, the troll he had stolen off the battlefield, the goblins hidden behind an elven regimen was still present in GM’s notes, and now they came rushing out, as the player sat down to play. What should have been a harmless journey to the local dungeon became a nightmare, and he ended up watching his character defeated.

To the surprise of the other players and the game master the next time they played, they found his character’s head on a pike outside the local dungeon.

===

These stories are chosen and translated from a Danish Advent Calender (“julekalender”) for roleplayers. They are small, independent stories from the major Advent Calender story arc. In Denmark there is a long running tradition for Advent Calender stories (in the shape of radio plays, tv-series, written stories, candles – but also as blogs with 24 daily blog posts counting down to Christmas) in 24 episodes running from the 1st of December til Christmas on the 24th of December (yes, Danes celebrates Christmas on the 24th).


Strange Tales for Roleplayers: Haunted Games

R. Kahn

R. Kahn

“No one plays Whispering Vault any longer. It has become a ghost town. Last time I visited it, it was empty. Completely empty. It was actually rather scary. Everywhere we went, we could feel the silence.”

Those were the words, that had led her to study the roleplaying game Whispering Vault in order to find out, what it was, that had happened. Now she is sitting in front of him, and on the table between them lies a recorder.

“That was the last time, Charlotte played with us. She has never been able since”. He stops. Stays a bit with the words, and then continues:

“I have never tried anything like it before. We created our characters and immersed into them, and when we started playing, we could that the setting was just empty landscapes. You could hear the echo of emptiness reverberate between the buildings, where ever we went. The silence wasn’t the worst thing, though. Our game master could still bring the setting fairly well to live, even if there was cobwebs and dust in most of the scenes we played. What was worse, was the Hunter or the Shadow which we at first called him … or it. At first we thought it was one of GM’s NPCs, some deadly villain following us from scene to scene, until the final confrontation at the end, but it always just hiding in the shadows. No matter what scene, we were playing, if you just paused a little, you could sense it. What was worse was, when Charlotte decided, that she would confront it. She starred out towards it in all the scenes, we had, and I could sense her character growing ever colder and more distant. Even our GM sensed it, and it was then, that I realized, that it wasn’t one of GM’s NPCs!

The Shadow was also present, when we were playing interparty scenes, for instance at one time we were sitting and planning out next move in the game and studying our clues. Our game master said, he would go brew some more coffee, while we were talking. That was when I saw it for the first time. Saw it for real. Just on the outskirts of the scene, between the shadows, was there something moving about. It was a living darkness with two empty spaces, where the eyes ought to be, and when I starred in its direction, it felt as if my character was being pulled into the abyss, down through its eyes. They drew everything towards them.”

He stops. His voice has become heavy with emotion, and tears are forming around his eyes.

“That wasn’t even the worst. That came later. It was, when our party had split up. Our GM had decided to split us into two different rooms, so we couldn’t hear what was happening with the others. Lars and Charlotte was in the living room, and the rest of us was in the kitchen, and GM was gamemastering for us, when Lars comes by. He is just going for the loo, he explained, and then went there. Shortly after came the scream. Cold and empty.”

She can see, that he is shivering, while recalling the events. His body trembles involuntarily, as if the scream is still echoing in his mind. She notices that, he has to stop himself from instinctively covering his ears. “She sat in the room screaming, just screaming. We went in there all of us. There was nothing to see. We search the room, but it was first afterwards, that she managed to explain, that she had been immersed into her character even after Lars left the room – and then it had come up of the shadows. It had sucked her character into itself just leaving an empty shell. The rest of the night her character wasn’t present in any of the scenes. It was just an empty shell every time she tried to play her character.”

She is about to stop the recording, when he continues:

“That is why I never play alone. I can feel, that it has followed me. Every time we play, no matter the RPG, I can feel its empty eyes staring at me from the dark. My greatest fear is that, we at one time will split up the party, and when that happens, it will come for my character. I not certain, that even the GM can hold it back.”

===

These stories are chosen and translated from a Danish Advent Calender (“julekalender”) for roleplayers. They are small, independent stories from the major Advent Calender story arc. In Denmark there is a long running tradition for Advent Calender stories (in the shape of radio plays, tv-series, written stories, candles – but also as blogs with 24 daily blog posts counting down to Christmas) in 24 episodes running from the 1st of December til Christmas on the 24th of December (yes, Danes celebrates Christmas on the 24th).


Strange Tales for Roleplayers: Time Passes

 

Close view of sand flowing through an hourglass. 3D render with HDRI lighting and raytraced textures.Excerpt from the Forbidden RPGforum

Have you noticed, that it can be difficult to return to events, i.e. a combat, in a roleplaying game, if it has been a few weeks since last game session? The cause is simple: Time passes. Not the time, that has passed from the last time, you and I sat and played at the table, for there has obviously passed the aforementioned weeks, but time also passes in the game.

Only a few knows this, but time actually passes during the combat rounds. It passes extremely slow, so it easily gives a sense of time standing still during a combat round, while you choose a form of attack, rolls dice and establishes the result, men minuscule parts of seconds passes none the less.

Since time passes so extremely slow, no one notices. Not even if it is a combat it takes three or fours hours to play through. However when a few weeks passes, and the party has stood in the midst of a fight with a group of orcs and trolls, then time has passed, just a little bit, but now it has come to a part, where you can sense it. That is why, it is difficult to get back into the situation and immerse into it again. There has occurred a timelag, that requires some game time to catch up with. That is why it is better to end the game with the characters going to bed or in some other way leave them with a situation with a longer duration ahead of them. The synchronization becomes less noticeable.

===

These stories are chosen and translated from a Danish Advent Calender (“julekalender”) for roleplayers. They are small, independent stories from the major Advent Calender story arc. In Denmark there is a long running tradition for Advent Calender stories (in the shape of radio plays, tv-series, written stories, candles – but also as blogs with 24 daily blog posts counting down to Christmas) in 24 episodes running from the 1st of December til Christmas on the 24th of December (yes, Danes celebrates Christmas on the 24th).


Strange Tales for Roleplayers: The Story of Lars

roleplaying1Report from a Regional Game Master

The probably most embarrassing episode, that I can think of, is the one with Lars. He played any roleplaying game, that had occult over- or undertones, whether it was about ghosts, vampires or werewolves, about angels or demons, or conjurers and witches. There hardly wasn’t the system, Lars hadn’t tried, and I do believe that he for a period played any and all rpg campaigns about the occult. He even started dabbling with tarot cards, not because he believed in the cards, but because he wanted to immerse deeper into the roleplaying and to create a more authentic experience. Oh, there it is again, the ‘authentic’ experience. That’s the strange thing about roleplaying, it is always fiction, we are working with, yet one is always tempted by unattainable realism. Anyway, where was I? Right, Lars and his tarot cards. Anyway for better or worse, after a while Lars found a new group to play with. One by one he dropped his vampires, werewolves, and ghosts, and began to spend more and more time with the new group.

I started receiving complaints. Not from Lars, but from the groups, he usually played with. Those of them, that he still was playing with, mind you. They said he was unfocused and lethargic. That he didn’t write summaries or immersed properly in the game. As regional game master I was called in to have conversation with Lars and assess, what was happening. So … I had a meeting with him. He took the standard tests, he scored mediocre on rules knowledge, miserably on campaign lore and so forth. There was no doubt, that he was loosing it, and I therefore needed to have a talk with him.

So one afternoon he comes into my office. He is smiling all over his face, and when I asked why, he tells me, he is out gaming tonight. It is his new group, the one he is so happy about – and the one from which I had received no complaints at all nor heard about, well actually I wasn’t even sure, whether or not it was a sanctioned group at all – but happy he was. I therefore asked him as the most natural about the group, and what they were playing, and what he thought about it. He told me, it was a pretty new group, they played freeform, fairly much semi-live, and they usually played every fortnight. He was their game master. It was a rather unusual group, he told me. He had met them at the bookstore, when he was looking for inspiration for his character, and they had begun talking. One thing led to another, and soon he had an invitation for a game night at their place. He had been invited directly into their campaign having had a fantastic game night, not much later they invited him to participate again, but they wanted him in the role as their GM. He had asked for rules and systems, but had been told, that they didn’t use that, and that he should just continue in the style, that he had brought, when he participated the first time. He accepted that, and soon he was their regular game master.

“But what were they playing?” I asked him. At first Lars hesitated. It was freeform, he said, but none the less they had a terminology for most things, and with many of these games, that uses their own terms – as you know every system its own title for game master: Dungeon Master, Storyteller, Animator, Game Master, Referee, Keeper of Lore etc. Here he had the title of Medium, and they called their game nights for seances. The campaign, I was told, was centered around their characters trying to contact various NPC’s, who resided on the Astral plane – it sounded a lot like Dungeons & Dragons Planescape but without factions etc. – and Lars’ assignment was to play the various NPC’s, that the other players wanted to talk to. He loved it, for he could use his tarot cards to create NPC’s more or less spontaneously, and he didn’t have to worry much about plot, but just focus on immersing into the characters and deliver the answers, the players’ characters wanted.

I had not the heart to tell him, what was meant by seances and medium, but on the other hand, Lars have never gotten to this much roleplaying before nor immersing this much into so many different NPCs, since he became GM for the spiritists. I have at least never received any complaints from them about his abilities as a GM.

These stories are chosen and translated from a Danish Advent Calender (“julekalender”) for roleplayers. They are small, independent stories from the major Advent Calender story arc. In Denmark there is a long running tradition for Advent Calender stories (in the shape of radio plays, tv-serieroleplaying1s, written stories – but also as blogs with 24 daily blog posts counting down to Christmas) in 24 episodes running from the 1st of December til Christmas on the 24th of December (yes, Danes celebrates Christmas on the 24th).


#RPGaDAY2015 – Day 31: Favorite non-RPG Thing to come out of RPGing

rpg-a-day-2015The final installment of #RPGaDay2015 as we leave the celbreating of roleplaying, we also get to answer what comes out of roleplaying, and among these things what is our favorite thing?

As with many of the previous questions finding the one favorite thing is no easy answer, and it is no easier for me here.

Day 31 – Favorite non-RPG Thing to come out of RPGing

How much of a non-RPG thing must this non-RPG thing be? For me being a dedicated roleplayer, I hardly consider any computer PRGs as being RPGs at all. Most of them are mere third person shooters, and the few remaining do not have the potential, that roleplaying around the table does, but they can be entertaining, so in one sense many computer/digtal/electronic games owe their existence to RPGs. That is one favorite, though a category rather than a specific thing.

Many authors and film makers have a background in roleplaying, where they in their youth or perhaps even still play roleplaying games, and without bothering to mention anyone in particular, I like the idea that roleplaying have helped fostering people in their creative endeavors.

In Denmark we have the boarding school Østerskov, which is a roleplaying school using roleplaying to teach languages, history, the sciences and so on, and being able to do so through roleplaying is amazing – and recently another one, Epos, just opened, so now there are two schools that teach through storytelling and roleplaying. This is one of my favorite things to come from roleplaying. However there is one thing more important than that.

I could also answer that me and my friends are what came out of roleplaying. Shaped through a life of roleplaying I have a multitued of friends, who are creative, funny, nerdy, and clever – and we all share this hobby, and without it we would not be, who we are. And that applies to you as well.


#RPGaDay2015 – Day 30: Favorite RPG Playing Celebrity

rpg-a-day-2015The question today for #RPGaDay2015 is not of much interest to me. I don’t care much about celebrities, though I can see the advantage for my hobby, when famous people come out in favor or roleplaying games, and I do remember seeing a listicle or two about famous people or celebrities playing D&D or some other roleplaying game.

So who to pick? Who do I remember being a roleplayer and a celebrity?

Day 30 – Favorite RPG Playing Celebrity

One of the few people, that I do remember being a roleplayer i Vin Diesel – who I think is the first actor, that I heard of being a roleplayer – and since he has starred a few movies, that I like (Pitchblack for instance), and in a sense made the sequel to Conan the Barbarian and Conan The Destroyer namely The Chronicles of Riddick which is to me the best attempt at a third Conan-movie (I am serious, try watching it as if it was Conan The Conquerer).

However there two other other celebrities, that I want to emphasize. One is Dan Hammond for his D&D-episodes in the tv-series Community, and the other and more important one is Wil Wheaton for his Tabletop Show and Ashes of Valkarna, where he has brought RPGs like Fiasco, Dread and Dragon AGE and Fantasy AGE to live. From his position in Tabletop, where he has popularised board games at a whole new level (and I know this, he really has), he has also brought attention to roleplaying games at a greater level than earlier producing a good visual representation of what roleplying is, though I may not favor his style of playing storyline heavy games in Ashes of Valkarna, it still is a good visual representation.


#RPGaDay2015 – Day 28: Favorite Game You No Longer Play

rpg-a-day-2015So it has come to this. Asking me about olden but golden favorites at #RPGaDay2015, and what game have I put behind me? Is there really anything, that I have liked, that I have put behind me to never return to it?

There are however things, I do not play any longer.

Day 28 – Favorite Game You No Longer Play

There is not really any game, I no longer play, as they all are games, that I yearn to return to.

It is tempting to say, that I don’t play D&D becmi or AD&D 1st edition any longer, and yet I have played them these lasts years. I haven’t played Toon or Paranoia in ages, but I still dream of playing them again, and Fading Suns, Blue Planet and TORG are moving steadily closer to being played again, but there also all the new games, that I want to try from FFG’s Star Wars to John Harper’s Blades in the Dark, which I backed.

So many games, so little time – and I keep returning to the old ones, both played and unplayed, and I keep trying new ones. But I don’t have favorite, that I have put behind me – but plenty of others, that have lost my interest. GURPS, Storyteller, Rolemaster, Shadowrun, Chill, D&D 3.5, D&D 4th, Amazing Engine and many others less known use systems and mechanics, that feel outdated, clunky or too cumbersome for me to play, and thus I leave ’em behind.