A playbook for Castle Lysander

The Stolen Child

I met her in a forest glade // Where starbeams grew like trees // I did not take her for a witch // She wasn’t what she seemed // She turned the key of endlessness // And locked me in a dream // Infinity

Once upon a time you were a child, playing alone. Queen Antipathie approached you and asked you to be her knight, tempting you to shed your youth and become an adult in her Realm. Not knowing what you had given up until too late you became the protector of her Realm, loving its people as much as you hated her.

1d12 What was your first sight of the castle, and how did you enter? Gain
1 You emerged on a balcony to a skyline of minarets, spires and bell-towers under a starlit sky. +2 INT, +1 WIS, +1 CON, Skill: Astrology
2 You arrived at the Southern Gate and hammered your fist on the oak door until they allowed you in. +2 STR, +1 CON, +1 CHA, Skill: Intimidation
3 You cut your way through a mass of ivy to locate a small archway in the Eastern Wall. +2 CON, +1 DEX, +1 WIS, Skill: Spot Hidden
4 You nearly drowned wading through a mire to reach the North Gate. +2 CON, +1 STR, +1 DEX, Skill: Swimming
5 You leapt a chasm to reach the West Gate. +2 STR, +1 DEX, +1 WIS, Skill: Athletics
6 You climbed up the well in dining hall. +2 DEX, +1 INT, +1 WIS, Skill: Climbing
7 You remember falling forever, then waking in an amphitheater surrounded by weather-worn statues +2 WIS, +1 INT, +1 STR, Skill: History
8 You wandered through the arboretum until you found the Southern Gate. +2 DEX, +1 INT, +1 CON, Skill: Navigation
9 You entered a submerged bunker in the desert and followed a rough-hewn passage to the Eastern Gate. +2 INT, +1 DEX, +1 CHA, Skill: History
10 A portal in the temple by the lake carried you over a blue-starred causeway to the North Gate. +2 WIS, +1 INT, +1 CHA, Skill: Legend Lore
11 Stones around your ankles dragged you down to the sea bottom, where you found the Western Gate. +2 CON, +1 WIS, +1 DEX, Skill: Breath Control
12 You emerged from a sarcophagus in the mausoleum. +2 CHA, +1 WIS, +1 CON, Skill: Sense Death
1d8 Upon entering the castle you were told that you were now in Lysander’s domain and under his protection. What happened? Gain
1 Lysander addressed you in a booming voice from a balcony, his features obscured in shadow +2 STR, +1 INT
2 Lysander entertained you in a grand room, offering you a jet-black wine +2 WIS, +1 CHA
3 Lysander’s seneschal regretfully informed you that his master was occupied, and to enjoy the lavish meal laid in front of you +2 CON, +1 WIS
4 You chased Lysander, a cloaked figure in a white mask, through a hedge maze demanding answers — but he was always just out of reach +2 DEX, +1 STR
5 Old and kindly Lysander appeared at your bedside, asking if you had rested well and offering you bread and fruit +2 CHA, +1 CON
6 Young and androgynous Lysander escorted you through a gallery of their ancestors’ portraits +1 WIS, +1 INT, +1 CHA
7 You glimpsed Lysander, flanked by an entourage of armoured hyena warriors, as they passed through a grand colonnade +1 CON, +1 INT, +1 STR
8 You crept into Lysander’s sanctum, and witnessed them converse with a living mist billowing from a brazier +1 DEX, +1 INT, +1 WIS
1d8 Who else did you meet in the castle? Gain
1 Prome, librarian +2 INT, +1 CON
2 Fulker, mistress of owls and hawks +2 DEX, +1 INT
3 Madame Zmeice, keeper of the observatory +2 WIS, +1 CHA
4 Vain, steward +2 CHA, +1 INT
5 Constable, castle security +2 STR, +1 INT
6 Orville, fool in motley +1 INT, +1 DEX, +1 CON
7 Elle, sitting in an apple tree +1 CHA, +1 INT, +1 DEX
8 Durt, skulking pot-washer +1 CON, +1 WIS, +1 CHA

As you sit down to eat with your fellow knights you recall your past life. Your armour and weapons leave no doubt that you’re a Warrior of some skill. You have the class abilities of knacks and weapon specialisation.

1d6 What were you doing when Queen Antipathie approached you in the forest glade? Gain
1 You were daydreaming in that magical spot. +3 WIS, skill: sense magic
2 You had enticed a doe into the glade. +3 CHA, skill: animal ken
3 You were foraging for mushrooms. +3 INT, skill: survival
4 You were swimming with your friends the Naiads in the river nearby. +3 CON, skill: swimming
5 Intent on becoming a hunter like the adults in your clan, you had cornered and were facing down a wild boar. +3 STR, skill: hunting
6 You were hiding, waiting to see who approached. +3 DEX, skill: stealth
1d6 What weapon did your Queen give you? Gain
1 A golden spear, with two scarlet ribbons twining from the spearhead. +2 CON, weapon specialisation: Spear
2 A broad sword of ancient design that she said had been held by many heroes before you. +2 STR, weapon specialisation: Sword
3 A long-hafted axe, struck with a dwarven prize-mark at the head. +2 STR, weapon specialisation: Axe
4 A slender side-sword, nimble in your hand almost as if it knew your intent. +2 DEX, weapon specialisation: Sword
5 A silver hammer, with a pommel shaped like a beetle. +2 STR, weapon specialisation: Hammer
6 A short and jagged sword that seemed to pulse with a heartbeat as you held it. +2 CON, weapon specialisation: Sword
1d6 The Queen brought you to her Realm to face an even greater evil. What was it, and where did you fight your battle? Gain
1 A demon demanded the Queen lay down her life or it would blight the Realm. You slew it in single combat in the stone circle at Nearbury. The friend to your right has seen, heard of or read about a similar place; what do they know? They gain +1 STR. +2 STR, knack: Great Strike
2 You uncovered a political plot against the Queen and slew her would-be assassin and the Vizier attempting the coup when their endgame played out in the Owl Spire. The friend to your right has seen, heard of or read about a similar place; what do they know? They gain +1 INT. +2 INT, knack: Fleet
3 You hunted the Crone to its lair in White Marsh, and made an elixir of its brain and heart to cure the disease it had spread. The friend to your right has seen, heard of or read about a similar place; what do they know? They gain +1 CON. +2 CON, knack: Resilience
4 You hunted for a colossal Wyrm in the Undermaze beneath the Realm. The friend to your right has seen, heard of or read about a similar place; what do they know? They gain +1 STR. +2 STR, knack: Great Strike
5 You confronted the Lichling in the cyclopean Temple of Aan, and resisted its offer to unite against the Queen. The friend to your right has seen, heard of or read about a similar place; what do they know? They gain +1 WIS. +2 WIS, knack: Resilience
6 You battled Antipathie’s twin sister in the Inverted Citadel. The friend to your right has seen, heard of or read about a similar place; what do they know? They gain +1 DEX. +2 DEX, knack: Defensive Fighter
1d6 When you left the Realm and plunged into the surrounding Mists, what did you take with you? Gain
1 Antipathie’s cartographer gave you a compass that might help beyond the Mists. +2 INT, a compass
2 You took a golden mask from the theatre to remind you of the players there. +2 CHA, a golden mask
3 A cobbler made you boots that would allow you to step between shadows. +2 DEX, shadow-step boots
4 An alchemist gave you what she claimed is a bag of dragon’s teeth, hinting that it may help you on the road ahead. +2 STR, a bag of dragon’s teeth
5 You took a mirrored shield from a statue of one of your predecessors in the Realm’s Hall of Heroes. +2 CON, a mirrored shield
6 You found and stole Antipathie’s phylactery containing her true name +2 WIS, Antipathie’s phylactery

Castle Lysander

This is a playset/re-skin for Beyond the Wall.

Lysander’s castle lies at the centre of a magical wasteland. Those who dwell in the castle are citizens of Lysander, having taken their lord’s offer of sanctuary. Many have fled untold horrors. Many more are unsure of how they arrived here; they remember the castle gates, and the mists, and the sounds and scents of the outside, though as soon as they crossed the threshold into Lysander’s domain these melted away like a dream. Almost as if the memory were hiding from them.

The characters are Lysander’s knights. They each came here from elsewhere; they are given title and responsibility above the other citizens, and they venture beyond the walls to do their lord’s bidding, not knowing what they will confront in the external landscape.

They have a sense of self and an acute connection to a place, somewhere in their past. But their families, friends, political sides, even their names — these are less certain, and they change from day to day.

How this works

This is a playset for Beyond the Wall and the Further Afield supplement. It’s been created with Beyond the Wall’s core values in mind — namely a low-prep fantasy game about a group of characters striking out from safety into unknown danger. It uses the following concepts:

  • Playbooks
  • Major locations (from Further Afield)
  • Threat packs
  • Beyond the Wall’s specific colour including True Names, magic, etc.

It differs from Beyond the Wall as follows:

  1. Characters are adults, or at least reasonably confident in their place in the world. Their ignorance of what lies beyond the wall comes from magical trickery rather than youthful ignorance.
  2. There’s no reason this can’t use the BtW rules as written; however I plan to make this system work with StormHack, which is essentially level-less (but levels come from something else).
  3. Level advancement then is about climbing the social ladder within the Castle, currying favour with the mysterious Lysander.
  4. Playbook structure is similar but there are crucial differences. Like the core game the playbooks have three common tables, and four playbook-specific tables. See below.

Characters and their playbooks

The goal of the playbooks is to present a complete set of characters each with back-story in minutes, ready to drop into an adventure. Standard BtW does it by first talking about childhood via common tables and then moving on to a set of themed tables around the playbook’s premise.

In this version the character premise is a lone figure, an eternal champion or protagonist who has found themselves outside their own time. The first three tables are common to all playbooks and cover three things:

  1. How they entered Lysander’s Castle
  2. Their audience with Lysander
  3. Someone else they met in the castle.

The next four tables describe the character in more detail. This should be imagined as if the characters, newly arrived in the castle, are sitting down together to their first meal and talking about their past. This exposition could be in-character, or it could be inferred (e.g. by the strange attire of the character, their mannerisms and other cues the other party members pick up on) or it could simply be internal monologue.

Normally in Beyond the Wall each playbook has a climactic event which also involves the player character to the right. In this case these events have been replaced with a strong sense of a location. This location will be of primary significance to the character but may have a completely different meaning to another character — their version may be a reflection, or be far in the future or the past, represent a diverging timeline, etc.

Over the next few blog posts I’m going to write some sample playbooks — the first one is at the end of this post.

Twists

One: Within the Castle

While the action game should take place outside the castle walls when running missions at the behest of Lysander (as directed by his various mouthpieces), in downtime the PCs may explore the labyrinthine castle and its many weird denizens. Consider using these relationship rules to develop relationships with the castle’s inhabitants. What do they know? What do they want?

What places are there to find in the castle? How does one’s level affect access to these places — as you go up a level and further into Lysander’s favour, are you invited to explore new and stranger sights within the castle?

Two: The Ladder

In place of, or as well as, individual character advancement levels there is a Ladder for social advancement within the castle. Advancing means access to better equipment, spells, libraries, and so on; so it means you will get the benefits of rising through your class’s levels. But in addition it grants access to new social circles, new places in the castle, more information, and even the right to ask Lysander questions directly (within a certain scope).

Three: Naysay the Cartographer

The characters have been recruited by Lysander. At the same time they have been contacted by Naysay, the secret cartographer. Naysay questions the mystery surrounding the castle; he asks why Lysander would limit information about the outside world, and not even provide a map. Naysay has therefore struck a deal with the characters: provide information about the places they visit, and he will in turn give them access to his maps.

His red-draped workshop and filing systems are a complete mess — the “map” is distributed over many pieces of paper and parchment stuffed into drawers, hung on walls behind other maps, and even cunningly woven into the rug in his room. Absconding with a map will do the characters little good. However giving him information means he will give them advice in return — in the form of Major Locations (see Further Afield).

Sample Playbook

Veteran of the Sonic Wars

The Sonic Wars: where both sides employ sonic weapons and sonic drugs which resonate key areas of the brain to control sleep and emotion; where years-old remnants of aural detonations still resonate in unexpected patterns, making any journey outside a soundproofed Dome hazardous; where the ultimate act of intimacy is to remove one’s ear pods and listen.

Starting ability scores: STR and CON of 10, all others at 8.

1d12 What was your first sight of the castle, and how did you enter? Gain
1 You emerged on a balcony to a skyline of minarets, spires and bell-towers under a starlit sky. +2 INT, +1 WIS, +1 CON, Skill: Astrology
2 You arrived at the Southern Gate and hammered your fist on the oak door until they allowed you in. +2 STR, +1 CON, +1 CHA, Skill: Intimidation
3 You cut your way through a mass of ivy to locate a small archway in the Eastern Wall. +2 CON, +1 DEX, +1 WIS, Skill: Spot Hidden
4 You nearly drowned wading through a mire to reach the North Gate. +2 CON, +1 STR, +1 DEX, Skill: Swimming
5 You leapt a chasm to reach the West Gate. +2 STR, +1 DEX, +1 WIS, Skill: Athletics
6 You climbed up the well in dining hall. +2 DEX, +1 INT, +1 WIS, Skill: Climbing
7 You remember falling forever, then waking in an amphitheater surrounded by weather-worn statues +2 WIS, +1 INT, +1 STR, Skill: History
8 You wandered through the arboretum until you found the Southern Gate. +2 DEX, +1 INT, +1 CON, Skill: Navigation
9 You entered a submerged bunker in the desert and followed a rough-hewn passage to the Eastern Gate. +2 INT, +1 DEX, +1 CHA, Skill: History
10 A portal in the temple by the lake carried you over a blue-starred causeway to the North Gate. +2 WIS, +1 INT, +1 CHA, Skill: Legend Lore
11 Stones around your ankles dragged you down to the sea bottom, where you found the Western Gate. +2 CON, +1 WIS, +1 DEX, Skill: Breath Control
12 You emerged from a sarcophagus in the mausoleum. +2 CHA, +1 WIS, +1 CON, Skill: Sense Death
1d8 Upon entering the castle you were told that you were now in Lysander’s domain and under his protection. What happened? Gain
1 Lysander addressed you in a booming voice from a balcony, his features obscured in shadow +2 STR, +1 INT
2 Lysander entertained you in a grand room, offering you a jet-black wine +2 WIS, +1 CHA
3 Lysander’s seneschal regretfully informed you that his master was occupied, and to enjoy the lavish meal laid in front of you +2 CON, +1 WIS
4 You chased Lysander, a cloaked figure in a white mask, through a hedge maze demanding answers — but he was always just out of reach +2 DEX, +1 STR
5 Old and kindly Lysander appeared at your bedside, asking if you had rested well and offering you bread and fruit +2 CHA, +1 CON
6 Young and androgynous Lysander escorted you through a gallery of their ancestors’ portraits +1 WIS, +1 INT, +1 CHA
7 You glimpsed Lysander, flanked by an entourage of armoured hyena warriors, as they passed through a grand colonnade +1 CON, +1 INT, +1 STR
8 You crept into Lysander’s sanctum, and witnessed them converse with a living mist billowing from a brazier +1 DEX, +1 INT, +1 WIS
1d8 Who else did you meet in the castle? Gain
1 Prome, librarian +2 INT, +1 CON
2 Fulker, mistress of owls and hawks +2 DEX, +1 INT
3 Madame Zmeice, keeper of the observatory +2 WIS, +1 CHA
4 Vain, steward +2 CHA, +1 INT
5 Constable, castle security +2 STR, +1 INT
6 Orville, fool in motley +1 INT, +1 DEX, +1 CON
7 Elle, sitting in an apple tree +1 CHA, +1 INT, +1 DEX
8 Durt, skulking pot-washer +1 CON, +1 WIS, +1 CHA

As you sit down to eat with your fellow knights you recall your past life. Your armour and weapons leave no doubt that you’re a Warrior of some skill. You have the class abilities of knacks and weapon specialisation.

1d6 How were you recruited? Gain
1 Citizenship demands enlistment — you signed up thinking it was a way to climb the social ladder. +3 CHA, knack: Fleet
2 You were conscripted along with the rest of your Dome. +3 STR, knack: Great Strike
3 Your parents were career military, so you followed their example. +3 CON, knack: Weapon Specialisation
4 You were abducted from a border village and illegally pressed into service. +3 CON, knack: Resilient
5 You were idealistic and believed the recruiter’s propaganda. +3 STR, knack: Defensive Fighter
6 The enemy hit your Dome and killed everyone you knew. You enlisted bent on revenge. +3 STR, knack: Great Strike
1d6 What was your first taste of war? Gain
1 You were patrolling a village, and without warning your whole squad was hit with a sonic weapon. You remember shooting desperately as your sergeant sounded the retreat. +2 WIS, Weapon specialisation: carbine
2 You were waiting in a trench for the big push. Someone thrust a sword into your hand and pushed you over the top. +2 STR, Weapon specialisation: sword
3 Your unit received a cavalry charge, and in the chaos you picked up a lance from a fallen cavalier and defended yourself. +2 CON, Weapon specialisation: lance
4 In the middle of battle you fenced with an enemy lieutenant. +2 STR, Weapon specialisation: sword
5 You and an equally green enemy soldier found yourselves fleeing into a maze of tiny passages under a ruined bunker, where you stalked each other in the dark. +2 DEX, Weapon specialisation: pistol
6 You were forced to defend an undersupplied fort over several weeks. When the enemy finally broke in you had to grab whatever was to hand to defend yourself. +2 STR, Weapon specialisation: club
1d6 Deep in the wasteland you found a place of peace. What was it? Gain
1 An abandoned ballroom filled with holographic ghosts of party-goers. The friend to your right has seen, heard of or read about a similar place; what do they know? They gain +1 DEX. +2 DEX, skill: Dancing
2 A ruined theatre full of abandoned set pieces and costumes, posters and flyers of past performances. The friend to your right has seen, heard of or read about a similar place; what do they know? They gain +1 CHA. +2 CHA, skill: Acting
3 A dusty museum full of enormous displays depicting life in earlier times. The friend to your right has seen, heard of or read about a similar place; what do they know? They gain +1 INT +2 INT, skill: History
4 A greenhouse of thriving and overgrown vegetation, fruits and vegetables. The friend to your right has seen, heard of or read about a similar place; what do they know? They gain +1 WIS +2 WIS, skill: Plant lore
5 A gallery of white walls, wide open spaces and huge canvases of vibrant paintings. The friend to your right has seen, heard of or read about a similar place; what do they know? They gain +1 CHA +2 CHA, skill: Art
6 A library of maze-like stacks with books on every imaginable subject. The friend to your right has seen, heard of or read about a similar place; what do they know? They gain +1 INT +2 INT, skill: Trivia
1d6 What did you take from the battlefield? Gain
1 A grenade. +2 STR, grenade
2 A collection of letters from a fallen comrade. +2 WIS, Letters
3 A pair of decent boots from an officer. +2 DEX, Fine boots
4 Identity papers from an enemy combatant. +2 CHA, Identity papers
5 A small white flower growing in the mud, which you pressed in a book. +2 CON, a flower
6 An officer’s sight-glass. +2 INT, Sight-glass

I won something! I never win anything.

The thing is the new Traveller Starter Set which I scored in the Concrete Cow raffle:

That’s the box side-by-side with my original GDW Traveller Starter Edition. I’ve looked at Mongoose Traveller before and I basically felt if I were inclined to run Trav, I’d use this version. There’s an in-depth review of the core in Reviews from R’lyeh so I’ll just give my first take:

  • it’s a lovely box with a ribbon to help you lift the books out
  • three books covering Characters and Combat, Spaceships, and a campaign, plus a map and pre-gens, all in a minimalist black with red stripe
  • The artwork is growing on me. Didn’t care for it initially thanks to a couple of duff ones, but the illustrations of armour and gear are cool and really bring the game up-to-date — I always imagined Jack and Mesh armour to be sort of like a blouson, but here they look like Mass Effect-style flight suits
  • Given how much I’ve complained about Mongoose’s Eternal Champion layout, this is a vast improvement. I don’t much like white on black pages but the career section really stands out

The one thing that annoys me is the pre-gens don’t use a hexadecimal UPP. What’s up with that? Yeah, anyway. I would never have thought to buy this, and now I kinda want to run it.

The other bit of loot I got was an upgrade to my All Rolled Up “Nevermore” in the premium Harris Tweed version. Of course when I got it home the other half asked why the hell I went with all-black (“Steggles”) since the point of tweed is to be, well, tweed. Actually it’s got a really nice lining and the texture is gorgeous. It’s authentic cloth, apparently hand-woven for ARU in the Outer Hebrides (and they even have an exclusive pattern woven for them). Seek them out! Buy ARU stuff! (Note that they had a lot more patterns than you can see on the website and you really need to see these in the flesh)

Cthulhu Hack

In the morning I played The Cthulhu Hack with the author, Paul Baldowski, who was testing out the new scenario Tainted. These are my brief remarks about the system:

  1. Really like the Flashlights, Smokes and Sanity decreasing Usage Dice. I know the Black Hack’s Usage Dice are a bit marmite, but this feels like a solid implementation since it’s not about physical resources
  2. I was less keen on the disconnect between the usual OSR six stats, and the Flashlights and Smokes. It’s easy to assume that a high INT character is going to be a top investigator, only to find that really it’s the number of dice you put into Flashlights that matters and INT is kind of irrelevant.
  3. Thinking about this some more, I wonder if INT should interact with Flashlights (and CHA with Smokes) more. Say, roll INT normally but to get an automatic clue (as you would in Trail of Cthulhu) use the Flashlight.
  4. Character generation was quick, the ARU wipe-clean character sheets are genius
  5. I liked the idea of having separate special talents dealt to us from a card deck, but in practice I rarely looked at them (but then I’m terrible at hoarding resources like Strings)

Bottom line, just as Cthulhu Dark is all you really need to run CoC’s straight cosmic horror, The Cthulhu Hack seems a great system for running pulpy CoC with a nod to Trail of Cthulhu. Way easier to get up and running. I think it would probably complement Silent Legions nicely.

My Game: Monsterhearts

In the afternoon I played through my Pale Assassins setting for Monsterhearts 2. To do this I usedI added “skin tattoos” over the top of regular Monsterhearts 2 skins, which is a technique used by Epistolary Richard for his Dark Dungeons game.

The three “tattoos” I used were:

  • The Outsider, a character newly arrived in the town of Gaelen; they were played as either the Mortal or the Hollow.
  • The Regent was the leader of the Ruritanian colony; the skin options were Fae, Queen or Vampire. They had a few special moves for Holding Court.
  • The Court was composed of the other five skins — Ghoul, Ghost, Infernal, Werewolf, Witch. All of them had a special move for Petitioning the Court.

On top of that I had a mapping technique called Depth. The idea is that the Real World (aka the Wasteland) has a Depth of zero, and as you get further into the magical world the Depth increases, kind of like John Crowley’s Little Big. The characters, being not quite real, can’t exist outside Gaelen for too long (just as the townsfolk in The Land of Laughs sicken and die, and Storybrook’s citizens forget their magical nature outside the town in Once Upon A Time). Each of the characters had territory with its own Depth within the magical town.

I made a move for working Territorial Magic:

When you Work Magic Through Unreal Territory, roll Deep. On a 10+ you can choose:
Gaze into the Abyss as a 10+
Confront a supernatural force (make a move if you wish)
Go Deeper into the Unreal
Extend the Territory if it’s yours to play with
On a 7-9 the above happens but
The Regent gets a String on you, or
The Supernatural Force gets a String on you

If it’s not your Territory, the Territory’s claimant may get a String on you.

And there were the Assassins… I had a counting mechanism to herald the approach of the Assassins, the idea being that as the count went down the moves they would take in their pursuit of the Regent would be more extreme and damaging. The Assassins manifested as golems formed of tiny white flowers that don’t grow outside Ruritania.

The session was OK BUT I realised a few things. The first was: don’t gild the lily. Instead of adding layers onto Monsterhearts, work with the mechanics already present.

The second was: PvP games aren’t really my thing, and whilst this setting should work for Monsterhearts, that system doesn’t quite sit for me. So I will probably try this again, but next time using something like Dramasystem (and maybe Malandros).

The third thing was: this really isn’t a one-shot game. One session isn’t enough for a Twin Peaks style slow burn. So maybe I need to pick a system, and then run it for a short campaign.

I’ll write up Gaelen shortly.

The higher (moral, magical, macroscopic) external universe is composed of six Demon Realms, a pattern which repeats and resonates throughout all creation and is mirrored by the (individual, microscopic) internal universe within all sentient beings capable of moral choices.

This internal universe is a sequence of six impulses that direct individual behaviour. Mediating between the internal and external are six Pillars of Capability that form the mind-body composite.

Game significance of the Demon Realms:

  • The six-fold attribute/ability spread should be familiar to OSR fans. The Ability Scores themselves (the “mediating Pillars of Capability”) are used mostly as you’d expect, for task checks, saving throws and other random rolls.
  • Impulses come in at the personal level; they’re used to tie freeform background stuff like personal history, relationships and so on into the rest of the game. All PCs have a number of lines of Backstory which are just single sentences that describe formative history, personal views, affiliations to certain groups, etc. and each of these lines hinges on a particular Impulse.
  • Finally on the universal, cosmic or magical scale there are Demons. Each type of Demon is tied an Ability Score and is the manifestation of the character’s potential in that Realm. Demons provide all of the exceptional powers in the game.

Realm of Violence

The Realm of Violence represents directed force. The Gods of this Realm (if they exist) represent at their most virtuous the directed energy that burns away corruption and extraneous matter; and at the most base, absolute chaos and destruction.

Realm of Violence Significance
Impulse: Forceful aggressive, violent, and destructive actions
Ability: Strength fighting; shoving, lifting, or applying force; restraining or hanging on
Demons of Violence Demon Weapons and Demon Fighters

Realm of Durance

The Realm of Durance represents survival. The Gods of this Realm (if they exist) represent at their most virtuous fertility, health, and harvest; and at the most base, perpetual agony.

Realm of Durance Significance
Impulse: Steady patience, persistence, reliability
Ability: Constitution working; travelling; staying awake; resisting pain, fatigue or illness; Body-based saving throws
Demons of Durance Demon Armour, Guardians and Wards

Realm of Flux

The Realm of Flux represents dynamic change and motion. The Gods of this Realm (if they exist) represent at their most virtuous change and evolution; and at the most base, confusion and entrapment, and distortion of time and space.

Realm of Flux Significance
Impulse: Quick speed, balance, reactions
Ability: Dexterity moving quickly; moving stealthily; manual dexterity; reactions and Reflex-based saving throws
Demons of Flux Demons of Movement, Teleport Demons, Gates

Realm of Science

The Realm of Science represents understanding. The Gods of this Realm (if they exist) represent at their most virtuous foresight and truth; and at the most base, the boundless truths of the universe, and therefore the futility of mortal existence.

Realm of Science Significance
Impulse: Curious asking questions, insight
Ability: Intelligence situational awareness; languages; spotting clues
Demons of Science Demons of Knowledge, Divination and Scrying

Realm of Desire

The Realm of Desire represents dreams and imagination. The Gods of this Realm (if they exist) represent at their most virtuous the realisation of desires and the formation of new worlds; and at the most base, the inability to separate truth from illusion.

Realm of Desire Significance
Impulse: Sensitive intuition, empathy, feeling, the subconscious, dreams
Ability: Wisdom gut feel and intuition; telling reality from illusion; Will-based saving throws
Demons of Desire Demons of Illusion and Reality-Shifting

Realm of Majesty

The Realm of Durance represents interaction and leadership. The Gods of this Realm (if they exist) represent at their most virtuous organisation and moral leadership; and at the most base, falsehood and self-serving manipulation of others.

Realm of Majesty Significance
Impulse: Vocal expression, articulation, creativity, charisma
Ability: Charisma intimidating, charming and leading people
Demons of Majesty Demons of Command, Control and Possession

Summary

Impulses, Ability Scores and Demons map onto each other like this:

Impulses Ability Scores Demon Realms
Forceful Strength (STR) Realm of Violence
Steady Constitution (CON) Realm of Durance
Quick Dexterity (DEX) Realm of Flux
Curious Intelligence (INT) Realm of Science
Sensitive Wisdom (WIS) Realm of Desire
Vocal Charisma (CHA) Realm of Majesty

An update to the SRD mini-document for StormHack. What this includes:

  1. the “Drama game” which is how you play in downtime or flashbacks, for dramatic scenes/origin stories etc.
  2. the “Adventure game” which is basically an OSR game.

What it doesn’t contain are details on the Demon Ladders which just wouldn’t fit, but those will come shortly in the complete SRD. But it should give you sort of an idea on how to play.

Here’s the two sides. Print them on one sheet of paper, and make the little booklet as previously shown; when you open it up you should have the two modes of play in there.

Here’s the thing in PDF, which may be useful if you’ve got a printer that does double-sided printing.

This is my forthcoming Eternal Champion style game for a house con:

The WishTower At The Junction Of Nine Planes

Once in a generation the WishTower intersects all dimensions. The Sorceress who resides within will grant one wish, without reservation, to any Champion who penetrates her inner sanctum. You are that Champion; chosen by your people, groomed from birth with a sword in hand, and send far from home to await the Tower’s reappearance at the very edge of Lawful land, where only rough weeds cling to nightmare cliffs over a roiling lambent sea, and the monuments to past Champions lie shattered and sand-blown, and clouds of ash consume the suns.

  • Other Champions from other nations also wait: will you fight, or work together?
  • Will you embrace your past, or reject it?
  • Will you wish for your family, your nation, or yourself?

Right, so I have a game idea. Now I need pre-gens. What better inspiration than Hawkwind?

Arrival in Utopia (from Choose Your Masques)

Stasis, the World City at the End of Time is technologically brilliant yet artistically stagnant, and spirals towards cosmic insignificance. An avatar, dressed in archaic armour, is sent back in time to seek the source of Chaos and re-ignite the Sun.

We dreamed of golden shining towers // Of lazy days and thrilling hours // Fields of wonder, streets so fair // Of amber ships which sailed, through the air // Dreamed of steel and glass and wire // Of days of wine and nights of fire // Dreamt of dogs that talked like boys // Of girls who flew, of unnamed joys // And now our dreams are true // We don’t know what to do // For we don’t like it here // There’s nothing for us to fear // Bored mindless in Utopia

The Sleep Of A Thousand Tears (from The Chronicle of the Black Sword)

An ancient sword Qanjana, sworn to protect the mortal society that owns it but desperate to be free to return to its own dimension. Its demon manifests as a drooling, whining albino who carries it aloft in battle; the sword has full use of the albino’s senses and voice box.

With your white arms wrapped around me // And locked in embrace so cold // We slept a thousand years or more // To awake in a land of gold // Where, the king of the world was a creature // Both man and woman and beast // Under landscape boiled with a million strange flowers // And the sun set in the east // And we were heroes you and I // By virtue of age and skill // And we rode to the land at the edge of the skies // To an emerald tower on a hill

Infinity (from PXR5)

A young knight in the service of Queen Antipathe, sworn to protect the Vale from alien invaders. She was not always a knight; once she was a twelve-year old child in a world far away who ventured into a forest alone and was trapped in Antipathe’s dream world, where she was aged magically to young adulthood. Despite her longing for home she has come to love the people of the Vale as much as she hates her mistress.

I met her in a forest glade // Where starbeams grew like trees // I did not take her for a witch // She wasn’t what she seemed // She turned the key of endlessness // And locked me in a dream // Infinity

Sonic Attack (first appearing on Space Ritual)

A weary warrior wearing white plate armour ringed with black grommets to dampen vibrations at different frequencies. He is a veteran of the Sonic Wars, where both sides employ sonic weapons and sonic drugs which resonate key areas of the brain to control sleep and emotion. Their world is a wasteland where the years-old remnants of aural detonations still resonate in unexpected patterns, making any journey outside a soundproofed Dome hazardous. In this world the ultimate act of intimacy is to remove one’s ear pods and listen to another human being.

The warrior’s generals want a weapon to end the war. The warrior craves one thing: silence.

These are all signs of imminent sonic destruction // Your only protection is flight // If you are less than ten years old // Remain in your shelter and use your cocoon // But remember Help no-one else

Magnu (from Warrior at the Edge of Time)

They terraformed the Sun! The golden knight rides the solar flares towards the Edge Worlds, bringing the message of the Solar Church to one and all, with a simple message — embrace the New Light, or be incinerated. Now they have travelled further than ever before, with the intention of illuminating the entire universe…

Sunbeams are my shafts to kill // All men who dare imagine ill // Deceit that fears the light of day // Fly from the glory of my ray // Good minds open and take new light // Until we diminish by the reign of night

Fable of a Failed Race (from Quark, Strangeness and Charm)

It is heresy to claim that there was ever a world other than this. Sand-blown and sterile where a fat green sun wreathed in flocks of monstrous crows presides over the half-submerged Pyramid Cities. A heretic priest is the last hope of the failing race; they will journey far away to find the source of life and return life to the surface.

Our legends tell we came from a seed // That traveled at a whirlwind speed // Til it came to rest upon this land // That once was green and is now all sand // That buried us up to our eyes // And made us watchers of the skies // Til the shadow wings came for our sight // And left us to conspire with night.

Working on the SRD for StormHack. I’ve changed the system a bit since the playtest at Concrete Cow. The revised version has an “interior game” and an “exterior game”, something I’ve been noodling with the idea for nearly 3 years in Beyond the Wall (character sheets here). Basic idea:

  1. The Adventure game happens outside the “village” (the settlement, city, etc.). Play this like an OSR game (e.g. WhiteHack or Beyond the Wall).
  2. The Drama game happens either in Downtime (i.e. “back in the village”) or as Flashbacks between the adventure scenes. Run these as you would Dramasystem by playing out the character’s relationships (“Bonds”) and possibly with another player roleplaying the other end of the relationship. The outcome generates tokens that can be spent in the Adventure game.
  3. It’s up to the players and GM how much you play flashbacks vs. the adventure portion.
  4. (Yes, similar to Night Witches although note that I had this idea back in August 2014…)

Anyway, I went from writing a monolithic document to trying the SRD on a single page and from there a little 8 page A6 pamphlet (made like this).

Here’s the image file:

The margins are screwed up at the moment. The reverse side will be instructions for the Drama and Adventure games but I haven’t written that yet. The plan is to use this for both an Eternal Champion type game, and Black Mantle.

More to come.

This rough game sketch follows some ideas laid down in the latest Fictoplasm podcast about Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov.

The General Idea

First, influences, a bit of this and that:

  • Books: Pale Fire (Nabokov), The Land of Laughs (Carroll), Weaveworld (Barker)
  • Film and TV: Twin Peaks, Riverdale, It Follows
  • Comics: Planetary issue 9 (“Planet Fiction”) (Warren Ellis)
  • RPGs: Mage: The Ascension, Over The Edge, Unknown Armies, Changeling: The Lost

In summary, a lot like a contemporary game, a liminal fantasy, magical realism, a setting that looks like the real world but with weirdness.

Second, the pitch.

The characters are exiles from “Ruritania”, a.k.a. The Old Country. This is a place that (mostly) exists outside the game area.

Most of the time the characters have settled in a “Ruritanian colony” in The New Country. This colony isn’t really a real place, but it’s close enough to all the real places in the New Country that most non-Ruritanians, or “normal people” could not tell the difference. It fits right in with their world, they can easily travel to it, etc.

What do the PCs do in this place? Well, any kind of modern drama/investigative type of game. The world looks like our world, and the people inside it behave accordingly, and most of the time you follow the characters around and see how their lives link up.

But at some point, Ruritania intrudes on the real world. Ruritania is the exotic, the weird, the magical. It’s also subjective; Ruritania means different things to different characters. And it’s possible to hold a personal view of Ruritania and experience someone else’s version. Ruritania is a single place but viewed from many different perspectives.

The default setup is that assassins from Ruritania are stalking the characters. The game should play out episodically like a drama, soap opera, police procedural, etc. with a weekly (well, short) story arc. But the Ruritanian arc is long-term. As things get stranger, the assassins get closer to where the PCs are; and when they are close enough, they strike.

System Approach

The goal is to run a game like Twin Peaks with “real” people and their personal interests and drama. Most of the time things are perfectly mundane but at points the strangeness intrudes.

Dramasystem should work very well for setting up the web of relationships. Where Dramasystem fails for procedural bits, consider the procedural approach in Malandros.

Also consider the WaRP system, which works nicely for very light characters. WaRP is very neat looking with the Central Trait, Side Traits and Negative Trait.

Consider the involvement of NPCs in Dramatic and Procedural scenes. A lot of Dramasystem supposedly focuses inward; but a game like this needs external characters to come from outside and connect with the interior characters.

Use a sort of location tagging system. Rate this numerically:

  • 0 for “real world”
  • 1 for “almost real world”; the default state for a Ruritanian colony
  • 2-3 for “intrusion”, that is any strangeness, alternative reality
  • 5 is full-on Ruritania; the magical or weird reality that is stalking the characters.

Locations in the game world can have ratings that go up and down. These ratings represent difficulties for passing into certain areas. See the Boundaries bit, next.

During the game, each character will have a clock which goes up or down. As their rating increases they become more sensitive, more connected with the secret world (criminal underworld, psychic world, dream world, etc.). If this is handled using an Apocalypse World style of “hard moves” then above a certain threshold on the clock certain options are opened to the GM to take hard moves on behalf of the Ruritanian assassins, representing their progress towards the characters.

Additionally when the characters are “in Ruritania” (i.e. in the psychic landscape) they may have restricted actions depending on what permission they have to be there — this fits with e.g. a dream world where certain moves simply aren’t available owing to dream logic.

What is Ruritania?

“Ruritania” represents somewhere far away, magical, normally separate from reality; a higher world, a dream world, an idealised state, a place yearned for. It’s the Black and White Lodges in Twin Peaks, the higher universe of Yesod in the Book of the New Sun, the dream worlds of Dreamscape or Nightmare on Elm St, and so on.

Ruritania in the game is an unattainable state — and it’s normally a place the characters are fleeing from, and from whence they are pursued with lethal intent.

But there are Ruritanian colonies for the exiles; decide whether these are created consciously or happen spontaneously. Maybe they are necessary for survival; the Ruritanians can sustain themselves for a short while in the real world as vampires by feeding off individual dreamers, but for long term health they need to be in a place of stability. Maybe Ruritanian exiles gathering together in one place is a risky strategy since it attracts attention, but they’re forced to get together to survive.

What happens when normal people who are touched by Ruritanian unreality leave? Are they haunted? Are they infected? Is Ruritania a transmissible condition?

Drawing Boundaries

  1. Use a location tagging system to map out the play area
  2. Partition the areas in the map with clear boundaries, and rank these areas according to the previous scale: 0 for real world, 1 for not-quite-there, 2 for magical realism, etc.
  3. Consider that some of these areas can be reached normally, but the magical or secret or mysterious part can only be accessed with certain permissions. Draw these as circles with cross the main boundary.

See the example for Twin Peaks:

Twin Peaks

Twin Peaks as an example:

  • “Ruritania” is the Black Lodge
  • The Assassin is Windom Earle
  • Twin Peaks is a colony for Ruritanian exiles, some of whom are magically attuned e.g. Laura Palmer, Sarah Palmer, the Log Lady, Agent Cooper, Garland Briggs, Hawk
  • The Red Room, Agent Cooper’s dictaphone messages to Diane, Tibet, the Log Lady’s log, the owls in the forest, visions by various characters (e.g. the one Garland Briggs relates to Bobby) and possibly even the FBI represent higher states of consciousness

The Map

Several locations. Rating indicates how far they are removed from reality:

The Game

If you were playing Twin Peaks most characters would be drawn together by Laura Palmer’s murder. Agent Cooper travels in from outside but the other characters are already in the location.

The law enforcement characters and indeed everyone affected by Laura Palmer’s death will be interested in getting answers. This would be the arc plot; over the course of the game the Assassin will draw closer and the Black Lodge exert more of an influence.

But there should be episodic drama too, and that’s what the characters should be doing week on week. Dramasystem offers a nice structure to let players frame scenes so they each get spotlight. Consider the balance of incentives in pursuing individual dramatic poles vs. the arc plot.

Ruritania, Magic and Unreality

Agent Cooper’s actions are restricted in the Red Room, and early on he’s only allowed to be a spectator and only to receive cryptic information. He only accesses the room in dreams. All of these point to the level of permission he has to act freely in the Red Room (and the Black Lodge), and (in game terms) the moves he can make in that environment. Furthermore the advent of his dreams is a result of ramping up of weirdness and the psychic world penetrating the real world when he’s in Twin Peaks.

Here’s what happened when I went to Concrete Cow a couple of weeks ago. I ran StormHack in the morning slot, then played in Matt Sanderson’s Kult 4e game (I believe the KS playtest version, only partially translated into English) followed by Scott Dorward’s Cthulhu Dark session in the evening.

This first part is a sort of designer diary, mostly about things that went wrong. I’ll talk about the other games I played in part 2.

StormHack

I did a playtest for StormHack. To save time I didn’t write a new scenario but instead grabbed the short and classic See Hwamgaarl and Die from the Sorcerers of Pan Tang supplement from Stormbringer 4th Edition.

I think the scenario went OK (it’s railroady as hell, but works for a fixed-time slot), but on the other hand 75% of the session involved hardly any dice rolling at all. Normally I’m fine with that but it’s hardly a stress test of the system.

The Walkover

The session was too easy. That’s partly a matter of system tuning and scaling but it was mainly caused by three design decisions:

  • Players roll to hit against the threat of damage if they fail (Apocalypse-world style). Keep successfully hitting and you don’t take damage.
  • Rolling was under attribute with a d20, Whitehack style (mostly).
  • Skills allow you to roll with advantage, i.e. roll two dice and pick the result you want.

I checked the probabilities of rolling with advantage; it works out that an advantage is the equivalent of a whopping +5 on your attribute. No wonder everyone was winning.

More importantly this asymmetry just didn’t work with the players. It isn’t “trad”, and it certainly isn’t “OSR”. It wasn’t relatable. And that’s the biggest take-away I had: I wanted an OSR game that didn’t deviate too far from the framework, and I’d added these bits that did not do what I set out to do.

Dice Clocks and Carcosa Hit Dice

See here. These worked OK but for two issues. On the GM side they count down the enemy’s hit points nicely but some players found it difficult to imagine the whole mass of dice as representing several antagonists at once. The idea is that the mass of dice represents the whole threat, and once you’ve knocked out the dice all the antagonists are either dead or fleeing.

But some players need to know how many people they’re fighting, which means how many hit dice per person. This made for a weird kind of double accounting: I had the dice clock down on the table but I still had to translate that into actual numbers of people that they could count down in their heads.

I think this is just a small cognitive hump that needs to be overcome. The other issue was much harder: some players didn’t get the idea of rolling their hit dice on the table, Carcosa style. Whenever dice are rolled the instinct is immediately to snatch them up again (I believe Sorcerer has this problem) rather than let them sit. And the players can be bad at keeping their Hit Dice in play separate from all the other little puddles of dice that are just standing by. And last, when they took hits they looked to the character sheet for a hit point track instead of sacrificing the Hit Dice on the table.

I still think having the GM roll a pool of hit dice for the threat in the middle of the table works as something to focus on. There are things you can do with that (different colours for morale dice, using d8 for demon dice, etc.). But this is a tool to present a heterogeneous body of monsters as a single threat to chew on. You don’t need to do that the other way; each PC is an individual and their character sheet will do fine.

Funny Names

I had some new properties like Heartstrings (after J. Gregory Keyes’ The Waterborn) and Quick. Heartstrings were just Hit Dice and calling them a funny name just confused everyone. As for Quick (a sort of combination of luck/fate points, insight and reflexes) it could work but there was just too much of it as a burnable resource. Besides that stuff normally comes from Ability scores and saving throws. Again, I’d deviated from the OSR plan.

The Demons

This was the biggest issue. The idea of what demons are wasn’t communicated adequately, for example one player treated their demon as an autonymous NPC whereas it’s really a thrall. The main problem was not enough focus on the relationship between owner and demon (see here) so not enough hard bargaining. In the back of my mind Demons are supposed to work like the Shadow in Wraith the Oblivion, and can be played by others at the table within very tight guidelines. The scenario didn’t test that at all.

Demons were supposedly powered by Quick, i.e. spend a point of Quick to get the demon’s Service. Fine in theory but in practice Quick never ran out (one of the players suggested bidding Ability Score points instead, which would have a lot more bite).

So in summary a lot that didn’t go the way I planned but the upside is, I think it’s all fixable; mostly by going back to the original premise, i.e. remixing the OSR portion to add the demon relationships without too much much clever clever changes to combat etc. that aren’t really needed.

That’s all for now. Part 2 will cover the games I played.