The third act of Andy Slack's gaming blog

Archive for August, 2018

Review: Hellfrost – Land of Fire and Arcane Lore

The TAG@Ten bundle is the gift that keeps on giving… in this case it’s giving me more Hellfrost goodies from the prolific pen of Paul “Wiggy” Wade-Williams.

Land of Fire Core Setting

Think of this as the Arabian Nights expansion for Hellfrost, a counterpart to the icy Scandinavian wastes of Hellfrost proper. You will need the Hellfrost Player’s Guide to use it (and also the Hellfrost Bestiary if you are the GM), since elements common to both are not repeated in Land of Fire.

Today, I’m in a lazy mood and will summarise the 198 pages very concisely.

Character Creation: Five races, and rules for native PCs from the Land of Fire. The races are the ubiquitous humans (two different cultural flavours), jinn-blooded (who are humans with a natural affinity to jinn magic), cakali (jackal-men), hyaenidae (hyena-men), and sand goblins (part goblin, part camel). There are a few new hindrances and quite a lot of desert-themed edges.

Religion and Magic: The history and culture of the Land of Fire is dominated by Suleiman, who spawned two religions, the Devoted and the Faithful; each PC must choose one of these, and the main difference in gameplay is that only Devoted may have magic as their arcane background, and only Faithful may have miracles. There are six new types of magical arcane background, and 12 new gods as foci for miraculous arcane backgrounds.

Desert Life: Calendars, daily life, diet, customs, travel and trade, organisations, and whatnot.

Setting Rules for desert survival and adventure; the effects of and variations in temperature (if you’re an ice wizard – sorry, hrimwisard – you might want to think twice about coming south), water consumption, nomad hospitality. So far this is all player-friendly and occupies about the first third of the book

Gazetteer, bestiary, and map, in that order. These take up about two-thirds of the book and are for the GM only. As with the Hellfrost Gazetteer, there are detailed generic settlement types (the GM is encouraged to add settlements to taste, except for cities which are all shown on the map already), sections on the various states and important locations within or between them, and details of organisations to use as adversaries. There’s a selection of desert-themed monsters and finally a two-page colour map.

It’s Wiggy’s usual broad and deep treatment of the Hellfrost setting. Nice work, although you should think of it as an expansion rather than a new setting per se, because you’ll need the base Hellfrost setting to stand it on.

Arcane Lore

This is a short (36 pages) expansion of the magical traditions of Rassilon, home continent for the Hellfrost setting, and is tightly bound to that setting; I don’t think it will be much use to you in other fantasy worlds.

The main traditions are druidism, elementalism, heahwisardry, hrimwisardry, rune magic and song magic. The book also adds three new and lesser traditions; glamour (illusions), solar magic (a lost art whose existence is known only from records), and soul binding (preserving heads to retain access to their knowledge) – these last require access to the Hellfrost Expansion books to use, and I don’t have those.

Each tradition is presented with notes on its beliefs, organisation, favoured trappings and schools if any, which races favour it, specific new power edges that members of the tradition gain access to, and so forth.

Finally there is a short selection of new edges.

This isn’t the sort of thing I would normally add to my collection, as I am almost obsessive about minimising the number of books I use in each campaign; it’s on my hard drive now as it was part of the downloaded bundle.

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Arion, Episode 34: Getaway

Jumpspace, 238-3401

  • Starport Encounter leaving Karpos (p. 39): Not applicable, the team didn’t land.
  • Starship Encounter leaving Karpos (pp. 40-46): Safari ship. That can just be some random 200 dton thing. It’s hostile and suspicious so it will burn to intercept. Arion wins an opposed piloting roll with two raises, though, so the intercept fails.
  • Onboard Events in jump (p. 56): Fuel pump fails, probably bits of ingested alien debris. Arion’s repair roll is a success with a raise though, so it’s easy to fix; the boy’s on fire today.
  • PC Reaction Tables in jump (pp. 19-20): A roll of 11 means no bad reaction.
  • Starship Encounter arriving Duduki (pp. 40-46): Not applicable, nobody comes here.
  • Piracy warning arriving Duduki (p. 40): Not applicable.
  • Starport Encounter arriving Duduki (p. 39): Not applicable, no settlements.

Nothing much happening here, so let’s try something different; Savage Worlds has the concept of Interludes, where the players are rewarded with a benny for telling an in-character story about their PC’s history. What has Ihsan Tahir been up to and why is he on the run? As he is a random NPC I have no idea, so I roll on the In Media Res table on Solo p. 54. I get a score of 6; the Package…

Arion and Ihsan are up to their elbows in one of the fuel processors, trying to fix a broken pump.

“So tell me, Ihsan, why did you need to leave Changa in such a hurry? We have to go back that way, and I’d rather know what I’m getting myself into.”

“Not much to tell. I got a chance to make a little extra money, a guy asks me to deliver a package to my next port of call – Bulan – and I figure what the hell, should be an easy hundred credits. I go to his office, pick up the package, and just as I’m leaving this bunch of guys show up with guns and start shooting at us. I run for it, bump into you at the docks, and you know the rest.”

“You must have had a ship docked, why didn’t your own crew help?”

“Ah. That’s the awkward part. It was my crew shooting at us. I didn’t feel comfortable going back on board after that.”

“You still have the package? What’s in it?”

“Yes, but I don’t know what it is; the box will destroy it if I try to open it.”

“Hmm. I know someone who may be able to help with that…”

GM Notes

I’ve finally caught up with the Arioniad’s schedule, so I’ll revert to the originally-intended one post per week.

Arion, Episode 33: Recon and Salvage

Karpos, 231-3401

World encounter (p.58-60): Actually, we have no intention of landing so let’s roll another ship encounter instead – it can represent the damaged ship discovered at the end of last session. This turns out to be the local equivalent of a Type T.

Plan (p. 23): We’ll start by dropping a spread of survey drones to check out the main world while we refuel, then match vectors with the damaged ship and send other drones to board it and investigate. That sounds like a solid plan, and only dangerous to the drones. A roll of 8 shows we succeed, and a roll of 4 followed by 9 shows we lose some valuable equipment in achieving that.

Nobody else wants to watch the view from the drone’s camera as Arion matches vectors with the damaged and tumbling ship, and then starts the drone tumbling to match it as best he can.

That sounds like a Piloting roll; 1d10 = 9+2 =11, wild die = 1+2 = 3. The +2 comes from Arion’s Ace Edge. Success with a raise; good enough.

“What?” Arion says. “Look, this is easy, it’s gone ballistic and it’s only tumbling on one axis.”

“How can you even look at that without puking?” asks Dmitri.

“Practice. Dolphin, suppress the starfield please, that should help.”

“Actually, it does – thank you.”

“It’s venting gas,” the Dolphin says. “Spectroscopy says there’s a high chlorine content.”

“I can see why it’s tumbling,” says Arion. “Look at that hole, I’d guess a meteorite puncture. Radar is showing some other stuff in a parallel orbit, maybe that came out of the hole? Dolphin, can you get me a closeup please?”

One part of the main screen zooms in on the relevant speck.

“What is that thing?” asks Coriander.

“It’s an insectoid lifeform about two metres long,” the Dolphin explains.

“I can see that. Why did it just turn its head to look at us? Isn’t it dead?”

“It should be,” Arion admits. “Suddenly, I have lost all interest in bringing it aboard for examination.” The creature is still interested in that option, though, and fires a burst of gas from its abdomen, exquisitely timed to put it on an intercept course with the drone.

Another Piloting roll, this time opposed by the creature’s Agility; Arion rolls a 7, the creature a 17, and it clamps its jaws around the drone, which promptly stops transmitting.

“I could understand grabbing the drone and hoping it took you somewhere useful,” Arion muses, “But biting the sensor turret off it? That’s not nice… Dolphin, what are the drones on the planet reporting?”

“Full detail, or a summary?”

“Summary please, we can review the detail later.”

“There are billions of those things on Karpos. They appear perfectly adapted to high pressure, high temperature, a chlorine-rich atmosphere and hydrochloric acid being poured over them.”

“I fear they will only ever know us through our drones.”

“Not for long, the atmosphere is corrosive as well as insidious. The drones are quite literally melting. We’ll be lucky to get more than a couple of hours telemetry from any of them. I recommend we order them to self-destruct rather than bring them back aboard, they’ll drip battery acid all over the deck.”

“Any signs of hostility?”

“They tried to capture some of the drones, or at least bite them. It’s not clear whether they think the drones are hostile, a food source, or just interesting.”

“Okay. Let’s stand off and gather what data we can before the drones melt. Then we’ll jump out. We were sent to find out what’s here, and now we know. Let’s see if we can get more info from the Confed people on Bulan about why they’re fighting, if that’s really what’s happening. Any comments before we execute?”

Coriander pipes up. “Just one; before we jump, can we use a drone to do an external check of the Dolphin? Just in case any of those things hitched a ride?”

GM Notes

Going ballistic is idiomatically used to mean irrational anger, but it derives from the idea that a rocket which loses power or guidance follows a purely ballistic free-falling trajectory, and it is this latter meaning that Arion is using. You can see how loss of control could be associated with losing one’s temper.

I did not envision these creatures as being Giger-style aliens, but every player group that meets them jumps to that conclusion. So you may as well do that too, although I was actually more inspired by the beasties in Peter Watts’ novel Blindsight.

Renewed for 2018

I consciously model my RPG campaigns on TV series, and over the summer networks decide what shows to renew, what to cancel, and what new ones should be made. While I’m lounging on the beach, I do the same…

Schedule for Fall 2018

Aslan Border Wars: Cancelled. Viewing figures are too low to carry the high production cost (i.e. GM effort) per episode. More of this later.

Frozen Skies: Stuck in development hell.

Night’s Black Savages: Greenlit for pilot; some questions around audience enthusiasm following the initial pitch, but we did agree on a trial episode.

Old Musky: On mid-season break. Rebooting shortly, using the Pirates of Drinax.

Pawns of Destiny: Cancelled due to a drop in viewing figures. The target audience is now following Edge of the Empire, Genesys and WFRP3 on other channels.

Rattenbury Ghost: Renewed in the same format – annual made-for-TV movies rather than a traditional series.

The Arioniad: Renewed, but the intended audience crossover with Aslan Border Wars, Old Musky and Rattenbury Ghost didn’t materialise, so the series will get a facelift for the coming season, with new locations and different pacing.

GM Notes

It’s been a good couple of years in gaming terms, with me playing and running all manner of things in multiple campaigns. However, these things go in cycles, and for the coming year I need to focus my attention on other things, chiefly work and exercise, so I need to throttle back on the gaming; there are only 168 hours in a week, all you get to do is decide how to spend them.

That requires a certain ruthlessness, or perhaps realism, in terms of how many campaigns I run simultaneously, and how often the sessions are; for the “new season”, I need to be looking at fewer campaigns, fewer settings, and less frequent sessions. I expect eventually this will stabilise on one campaign in one setting with fortnightly sessions.

Arion, Episode 32: Into the Belly of the Beast

Jumpspace, 224-3401

  • Starport Encounter leaving Duduki (p. 39): No, nobody lives there.
  • Starship Encounter leaving Duduki (pp. 40-46): No.
  • Onboard Events in jump (p. 56): Shipboard romance again… One can only assume things are getting torrid between Arion and Coriander.
  • PC Reaction Tables in jump (pp. 19-20): 8 – no problems.
  • Starship Encounter arriving Karpos (pp. 40-46): 400 dt surveyor.
  • Piracy warning arriving (p. 40): No.
  • Starport Encounter arriving (p. 39): Damaged ship arrives.

Dolphin, please run through what you know about Karpos one more time,” asks Arion.

“Very well,” the Dolphin says, without any trace of the impatience a human might be expected to show. “Bear in mind the information is six centuries out of date… basically a bit larger than Earth; insidious, corrosive atmosphere, no free-standing water – those things have probably not changed. There was a scout base answerable to the subsector government at Maadin, and about a thousand assorted explorers and scientists; this was pretty much the frontier, the Rule of Man hadn’t gone much further out. They had interstellar technology, but it was all imported, no local manufacturing; I’d be surprised if the base survived, isolated as it was.”

“So we’re expecting a tomb world,” Arion muses. “Why is Confed interdicting it?”

“Let’s find out,” says Dmitri; and the Dolphin steps out of jumpspace, narrowly missing another vessel.

“What the hell was that?” asks Arion, taking evasive action. “Ihsan, sensors active, full spherical scan; find me a gas giant, and I’ll try not to hit anything.”

“That was an alien ship, unknown design,” the Dolphin reports, throwing its vector on screen. “There’s another one here…” A second trace appears, starting from a dot and slowly growing a trajectory on screen as the Dolphin refines its course estimates. “That one is tumbling so I suspect it’s damaged.”

“Any Confed ships around?”

“Not that I can see.”

“Damn, what have we got ourselves into now?”

“Another fine mess, I expect.”

GM Notes

When Dolphin’s records were accurate, Karpos was D9C0366-A S De Lo Ni and it was an Amber zone. Obviously something has happened.

It’s intriguing how many insidious and corrosive atmospheres there are in this corner of the map. I never really noticed that before, as it’s only this year that adventurers have gone beyond Bulan.

Arion, Episode 31: Remote Sensing

“If your TV signals are getting to another star, you’re losing money.” – Randall Munroe

Duduki, 217-3401

No encounter or event rolls this week. There really is nothing in the Duduki system.

“Why are we not jumping straight on to Karpos?” says Dmitri. Arion considers for a moment before replying.

“First, Ihsan and I are going over the ship with a fine-toothed comb, looking for potential problems and fixing them. We don’t know anything about Karpos except that the Confederation Navy has it covertly interdicted. Once we arrive, we may need to refuel and jump out in a hurry. If we could refuel here, I’d be doing it.”

“Okay, I get that,” Dmitri frowns, “But we’ve just spent a week in jumpspace when we could’ve done that, and there’s another week of that coming up.”

“Second, we can do some remote sensing. I can move the ship around and integrate signals over time to fake a really big telescope. We can look for radio or radar signals. We can run spectroscopic analysis on light from the star, and if we get really lucky, on light from the planet as well. That would tell us things about local life and industry. If we watch long enough, we could figure out the planet’s water cycle, if it has one.”

“Or,” says Coriander brightly, as she enters the bridge, “We could ask the Dolphin. She’s a Rule of Man ship, she probably knows – I mean, we know they got that far, right?”

“Oh. Yes. Yes, I suppose we could do that,” Arion admits sheepishly.

“Why didn’t you say something, Dolphin?” Coriander asks.

“They were having such fun. It seemed rude to interrupt.”

Rattenbury Ghost Episode 2: Honour Among Thieves

The annual gamesfest with old college buddies rolled around again last weekend, and this year I decided to try out the Pirates of Drinax campaign; for various reasons, this group is very tolerant of switching settings so long as their PCs and ship remain reasonably stable.

We played three sessions spread over two days, which took us all the way through the first plot point adventure, Honour Among Thieves. Now, it is my self-imposed rule not to share spoilers until a product is at least five years old, and Pirates was published in 2017, so we’re not there yet. This first scenario is a linear adventure, and apart from visiting the worlds in the wrong sequence, the group stuck surprisingly close to the storyline and had a good time doing it. It’s a fairly cerebral adventure, involving piecing together clues to find a wanted pirate, and one of the players loves the fights above all; so a few of those had to be added in, but that was easy enough to do. There is the potential for ship combat, but the players went to great lengths to avoid it, and in the one instance where they couldn’t, they used misdirection and ambush to gain a quick and easy victory. The players got their man, Big Ted gained the grudging respect of aslan ihatei for being a melee combat god, and Princess Rao of Drinax rolled the maximum possible positive reaction to Dyson, who by that point had +5 Charisma to boot; subtle hints along the lines of “oh, if only you were a worthy suitor in my father’s eyes” were dropped, and it will be interesting to see where Dyson’s player takes that.

During the course of the adventure they found the sector’s hidden pirate base; the overall campaign storyline paints them as privateers for a minor but ambitious state, but after extended discussion they decided they can only pull that off by eliminating the competition, so they plan to go well off-piste next session by selling the location of the pirate base to the Imperial Navy and standing back while the Navy pounds it into slag. Little do they know the hornets’ nest they will stir up by doing so.

They’ve also decided that being pirates in a Far Trader isn’t going to be good for their health, and have set their hearts on stealing a Gazelle class Close Escort, which Big Ted’s player has a particular fondness for and tries to acquire in any Traveller campaign.

Route and Timeline

Their route was Drinax, Torpal, Clarke, Torpal again, Borite, Noricum, Theev, Palindrome, Noricum, Borite, Torpol for the third time, and finally back to Drinax. Allowing for extra time spent on a couple of worlds, they finished the first scenario at some point during week 28; let’s round that up to 196-1105. Two days for the players, seven months for the characters.

Lessons

This adventure exposed a flaw in my Savaging of Traveller, namely that Savage Worlds ships have far too great a jump range. The easiest way to solve that seems to be multiplying the energy cost for hyperspace jumps by 10 x the number of hexes jumped; further experimentation is needed, but I have until next year to work that out as the group really only meets once per annum. In the long run, it may be better to revert to using Traveller ships with my adaptation of the SW chase rules; I can’t see myself going back to Traveller ship combat at this point.

As usual, the players homed in on details that didn’t really matter and obsessed over them, trying to work out (for example) why the pirate they were hunting had stolen particular items; the answer “because that was the easiest thing to steal” didn’t satisfy them, and they kept digging for a plot twist that wasn’t there. Not sure how to avoid that, because whatever they pounce on next time, I won’t see it coming.

It would have been helpful to take a map of the sector, which I forgot to print out; when the adventure demands you decide which systems to visit in which order, and figure out where a fugitive has gone, a map is useful. I haven’t needed a star map for (literally) years now, so that was a surprise too. It would also be useful to copy the world profile and trade classifications to the world writeups in the sector book, as it would reduce page-flipping.

Reflections

It struck me as we were setting up that this is most likely the last campaign I’ll run for these guys. We’re all on the high side of 60, none of us are in good health, we only get together once or twice each year, and there are at least 8-10 years’ worth of sessions in Pirates of Drinax even if we only play the plot point scenarios and ignore the side quests. I could start another campaign, but that would only mean both would remain unfinished. It hardly seems worth changing the rules with only 10 sessions left to go.

These are sobering thoughts.

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