Wednesday, October 9, 2013

What I've been doing:

  • Toying with a revamp of Precinct '77 for Mini Six. That was not a product announcement. I have some ideas, but not enough right now to make a sales pitch.
  • Watching Star Trek and it's sequels like crazy. I finished Enterprise, which is my new favorite incarnation of Trek, and I'm nearly through Voyager. When Voyager was on TV I hated it with a passion but I'm coming around to it now.
  • Thinking about how to make epic space RPGs work at the table, a problem which has been adequately solved by Stars Without Number already, but I can't help myself.
  • Playing Warbirds, or running it at least. I'm a fan of this game which has the best air to air combat rules I've ever played. Fast and loose, but tactically satisfying.
  • Painting miniatures. I haven't even used a miniature at the table in twenty years or so, let alone paint one. I ordered the Reaper Bones kickstarter last year and I got the Stonehaven gnomes (I frakking love gnomes - but not tinker gnomes) and a bunch of of aircraft minis...
  • The aircraft minis are 3mm (1:600) WWII fighters that I'm painting up to replace the cardboard counters that Warbirds uses. Did I say they're small? The wingspan is about equal to an American cent.
  • Speaking of stuff I'm making for Warbirds, I built a wooden "combat tracker" board. I didn't make it long enough to track all the way up to 20 like the official one does, I stopped at 16, and I also left 1 off of the board. I'll post pictures of the board and minis later this week or this weekend.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Warbirds Session Two Play Report

I was the primary GM of a group long ago, but for the last decade I've been a player except for a very brief stint running Stars Without Number.

My method of game prep so far has taken the form of a box of index cards. I make notes on generic NPCs, vehicles, places, etc. "Adventures" are a card with a list of NPCs and locations, and bare-bones plot points.

For example, last weeks adventure, based on the adventure seed "Maya Strike" from the book took the following form:

King Nenekan (of Alactan) wants to attack the airfield of King Vayana (of Vedenai). the attack must take place on the day decreed by the High Priest A'Latli.

  • A'Latli has been corrupted and will perform a sacrifice to  set a curse against the pilots (bringing stormy weather.) A'Latli wants the mission to fail so that Prince Balam dies.
  • Prince Balam is a young man with no combat experience and will demand that he fly in the mission. (The character's will need to babysit him or convince him to stay behind.)
  • Princess Neneti has secretly been replaced and impersonated by notorious figure Shiloh Cristobel. Cristobel will attempt to bribe the characters to "rescue" her, allowing her to carry away a sizable chunk of Alactan's treasury.
  • Itzel, Neneti's handmaiden, is caring for the real Neneti and assisting in Cristobel's ruse.
  • Coyopa is a bold pilot who models Mayan courage and honor.
  • The Wise Man Zyanya suspects A'Latli's corruption. He is a mysterious Yoda or Rifiki.
  • Alactan and Vedenai are sixty miles apart.
  • Vedenai Airfield is as described in the book, and has 12 Mayan fighters based there. They will be able to take off on round three of any attack.
  • Alactan has 12 fighters currently, and only Coyopa has any skill.

 Then I had a card with the writeup of a typical Mayan fighter, and made notes of what bonuses Coyopa had.

As for running the adventure, I just winged it. I introduced the characters one at a time, let them interact, and when a scene fell to a lull I moved on to the next scene.

Coyopa challenged one of the characters to an air race which the player narrowly won. Then Zyanya turned the mysterious stranger thing up to eleven, but kept feeding the characters small bits of friendly and useful advice. He also made them suspicious of A'Latli. The Prince bumbled his way through several scenes, and gave enough bad tactical advice that the characters were very afraid of accompanying him into battle but didn't want to offend him either.

"Neneti" (Cristobel) made contact with and bribed the characters to "rescue" from her "terribly rigid curse of the Mayan caste system." A'Latli got to behave grandiose and sinister before capturing Coyopa and illegally sacrificing him to unleash "the curse." (The characters were by this time more afraid of the curse than would be justified by the mechanical effects I had in mind, which was perfect.) Some characters got in a fight in the temple, and sought refuge with Zyanya immediately afterward, while others convinced the Prince diplomatically that his role was not in the air.

Then we had the air attack, which was very successful for the squadron. It went so well that the enemy planes never made it into the air, though to destroy the airfield they used up nearly all of their ammo. (We used poker chips as ammo markers, which made it simpler at the table.)

One of the characters confronted A'Latli and had a nice bare knuckled brawl. It ended with the escape of the High Priest, setting him up as a potential bad guy to bring back later. When I do that, it will help tie the episodic nature of the missions into a story arc. (I hope.)

Then they escorted "Neneti." They had assumed that this part would be a cakewalk, but they hadn't counted on being nearly out of ammo at this point. When Alactan's air force engaged them, they had to be conservative on pulling the trigger, which was a new concept for the squadron.

Also, it triggered the group's first scandal... They had fulfilled their contract, but had turned on their employer immediately after. The group has yet to learn of the repercussions of this act.

At the end of the session, the group selected "Magnificent Bastards" from the mission cards. (Defend a town in Tegesta against a corporate incursion.)

Something I've been doing is gradually using the rules of Warbirds. The first mission was a simple escort mission, pirates attacked, and we used the dogfight tracker.

Session two included an air race, a little hand to hand combat. strafing, and more group dog fighting.

Next session I hope to break out the scandal rules, sponsorships, some pistol and melee fights, and one on one dog fighting.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Mission Cards

An aspect of the Warbirds RPG that I enjoy is that the mercenary characters get to choose from their missions. The rules state that the GM should have the Guild Agent present a few contracts to the pilots at the conclusion of each adventure. The group chooses which mission to accept. This is great for me because it spreads the control around between players and GM.

As GM, I'm the one presenting the options, but the players get to choose which one to take up. After they make their choice, I can take my time fleshing out the scenario that I know they picked for themselves.

I took this concept a bit further, and came up with Mission Cards.

I took a bunch of index cards, cut them in half, and wrote short teasers on each. They include a title, a risk level (low, moderate, moderate / high, or high), the pay, a location, and a brief two or three sentence summary of the contract. (About 40 missions.)

I made forty for my initial Mission Deck, and I added in a number of routine tanker escort missions, which are the Guild's bread and butter, but are fairly boring, and Air Race and Air Show Cards. If an Air Race or Air Show Card is drawn, there is a simple random chart on each for the location, and they aren't intended as missions, but invitations to races or shows that can be played out as brief side-stories before the next mission. (The usual Guild rules about one race and one show per pilot still stand, and I only expect a single pilot from the group to enter any particular race or show.)

I put two Air Show cards and two Air Race cards in my Mission Deck, as well as five Tanker Escort missions.

Finally, I put a few Special Cards in my Mission Deck, that have effects on other cards:

One card calls for two more missions to be drawn, but the risks and rewards of each will be escalated, and the other is a card which says that all low and moderate risk missions must be discarded. If no high risk missions are left, continue drawing until one is drawn and it is the only contract on offer.

It's my intention that this is a "living" deck, so I will continue to add and remove cards each week. For example, accepting some contracts may remove others, or set up sequel missions.

I got to use them last night for the first time. I told the players about them before the game, and explained that if they succeed in their mission, they will draw one each, and one more for the Guild Agent herself. Since there are four pilots, this would mean that five cards would be drawn.

However if they did not succeed in their contract, the pickings would be slim so the group would draw one card collectively, and one more for the Guild Agent, for a total of two.

So if the current mission is successful, they get five cards to choose from, and if they fail, they get only two.

It was a blast, the players got to select from five and the silly titles on the cards made it more fun.

Warbirds RPG

Our game group has been through some changes lately. Our long-time game master is no longer part of the group, so that left an odd power vacuum. I stepped into the role, and I'm going to miss sitting on the other side of the screen, but the game must go on.

We decided it would be best to change games. A clean break, a fresh start, you know what I mean.

While at Gen Con, I found an interesting game called Warbirds RPG by Outrider Studios. This was an accidental find; I'd never heard of it or the company before. The designers of the game, Steve and Cait Bergeron, gave me the elevator pitch which went something like this:

(from the Warbirds web site)
It is a diesel-punk air combat adventure game that focuses on fighter pilots as they chase after fame and fortune. It combines the action and excitement of early adventure serials with chaos and heroism of World War 2 dogfights.
 Okay. I've never played anything like that, tell me more...
The game is set amongst the sky islands of Azure. It is an alternate reality version of the Caribbean islands (and the Florida and Yucatan peninsulas), floating in the sky above an endless murk. The islands are populated by fascinating characters and rich cultures which are both familiar and slightly alien.
Uh... I thought to myself, "okay this is strange, and I'm not sure if that would be for our group. I don't know anything about the Caribbean in the WWII period, and I don't see the point of sky islands." My expression must have shown that they were losing me here. Cait stepped up and told me about the part she had the biggest part in creating:
In Azure, fighter pilots are celebrities. Your character’s achievements dictate their fame, and you’ll get to decide how to interact with fans, gain publicity, and deal with scandals. Will you star in movies? Start your own clothing line? Hide yourself away in a mountain top mansion? Or trash your hotel room?
The fame mechanic tracks a character’s progression from up-and-comer to superstar. Characters can increase their fame by completing missions, but they can also compete in air shows and air races, and even obtain sponsors and turn their plane into a flying billboard.
Being famous means risking scandals. The paparazzi are everywhere in Azure, and they will be there taking photos when characters slip up. Dealing with the blowback from scandalous behaviour can be even more harrowing than facing enemies in the air.
Wow! That sounded like something our group could get into. Steve and Cait went on to explain about the Guild, which is an elite mercenary company the characters are members of, and a little about the system, which I wasn't exactly sold on, but it wasn't a turn off either. I decided to purchase it and figured I could rework the setting.

I nearly forgot one of the most important aspects of Warbirds that makes it work for our group. The characters are mercenary pilots in a pseudo-WWII setting, and this would ordinarily lead to concerns about rank. Does an NPC just give orders to the pilots, sending them off on missions, or does a senior player character call those shots? The Warbirds solution is that the pilots choose the missions they will accept from several alternatives presented by their Guild Agent. The pilots choose their own command structure, if any, and there aren't any NPC pilots assigned to the character's small carrier. The skipper in charge of the carrier is only interested in the safety of his ship, but stays out of the hot-shot pilots way regarding mission choices. In other words the skipper is a glorified bus driver.

Then I got to read it. The setting grew on me even though I was reluctant to accept it. It's not set during WWII, it's set in what is effectively an alternate reality that split from the Earth we all know at the start of the nineteenth century when the Caribbean was transported to a new reality as the result of a huge storm. The creators of the game are purposefully vague on the whys because the phenomenon has never been repeated and it's up to each GM to interpret as they see fit.

I don't know much about authentic Caribbean culture, and Warbirds includes some useful information, but I don't worry too much about getting the details right in areas my players wouldn't notice anyway. The demographics of my NPCs are probably wrong, and fake French, Spanish, and Mayan words and names work for me. I'm not going to worry if I end up with a non-representative number of English names. If you are a stickler for that sort of detail, there's nothing wrong with that, but it's not how I'm going to spend my time. I don't feel like the material presented is enough to fully educate someone like me who is fairly ignorant about Caribbean society, but there's enough to get a feel.

Technology evolved slower in this new world known as Azure. Radios don't work well because of background static, and radar doesn't function at all, but otherwise it is roughly WWII tech except for a few unique things thrown in. The flying islands stuff is weird, but it works if one suspends the same amount of disbelief as is required for dragons, fireballs, warp drives, and vampires. Not that any of those things exist in Azure.

The rules system is called Rapidfire, and it's fun and simple. There are three characteristics: Body, Mind, and Spirit, and the average character has a 0 in each. A score as high as 2 is highly developed, and a -2 is a huge penalty. As you can see, this is a game that takes broad strokes.

Characters have skills, advantages, disadvantages, and wealth is handled abstractly. Actually, wealth is tied to fame. Rolls generally come down to Attribute + Skill + Modifiers + 1d6.

Something I like about Warbirds is it starts with the assumption that every player character is an elite pilot. The character creation rules are written in such a way that all the stuff that makes one a great pilot is kept separate from the rest of character creation, but it still relates.

The characteristic flying skills are based on is called Situational Awareness, and it's equal to the sum of a character's other characteristics. For starting player characters, this is usually going to be +1, though if a player intentionally goes out of their way to cripple their character it could be lower. One of the last steps of character creation is to assign a character their flight skills, which aren't exchangeable with the points used for other skills earlier. This means that no player is forced to choose between being good at "ground" skills, and "air" skills, and since the focus of the game is on air combat, we all know which way temptation would break if they were forced to make that choice.

The players get a lot of control during play. They are the ones who get to choose when a bad failure is a critical failure, which complicates their situation but nets them some experience in the failed skill. They have reserve, which functions much like "hero points" or "bennies" in other games, and get to spend them one-by-one even after the roll is made, which also nets them a little experience in the skill being used. In addition, they can Put Their Lives on the Line, which grants them a good bonus for the entire scene, but increases the risks of failure dramatically.

The air combat is abstract. There is no moving figures around a map, though tokens or figures are helpful to use with the dogfight tracker, which is sort of like an initiative tracker in other games, but also keeps track of who can shoot on who. Rounds are abstract, and limitations come into play regarding ammo and altitude.

So far my group has only got to play twice, but it's been a big hit both times.

Score Card:
Setting: 4/5 (Hated the concept at first but it grew on me. I'm not concerned about authentic anything.)
System: 5/5 (Concepts are flexible and painted in broad strokes.)
Presentation: 4/5 (Great layout and art, printing is a bit faded as is typical with print-on-demand books.)

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Management Note

With sadness, I must announce that Phil has stepped down from this blog. The campaign we were running is indefinitely suspended, most likely permanently.

I will continue posting here in the future, just as soon as I figure out what I am going to do. It looks like I'm the DM now!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

ACKS Attack Roll Assistant

The ACKS Attack Throw Assistant
Inspired by this clever coffee time counter found on Reddit, I present the ACKS Attack Throw Assistant, made out of two nested Styrofoam cups.

Align the arrow over the zero with a character's modified attack throw. The bottom numbers show all the possible results of the d20. Look at the number above the rolled number to determine what armor class was hit.

In the one I made the numbers 1-20 only wrap about three fourths of the way around the cup on the bottom row, and I stopped at armor class 13 for the top row.

If your preferred game uses descending armor class (the THAC0 mechanic) the numbers on the top row (the AC cup) will go the other direction, and you will need a range of numbers that is appropriate (such as 9 descending to -9 or -10).

It would be trivial to modify for d20 or Pathfinder as well.

Campaign Report: Shadowcast Company: Episode Six

The Fifth Voyage of the Shadowcaster (part two)

The second part of the battle was just as hard fought as the first, but there was less to it.

We made it to the Shadowcaster in our longboat, giving wide berth to the enemy fleet. The only reason we had reached it in time was that they had no sails. A few fresh reinforcements remained abourd our vessel, and Pyre was finally ready to take to battle.

The dragon kept the enemy mage at bay. The mage had cast a flight spell and bore a wand of fireball. After chasing the mage from the skies, Verloth made a single run against one of the enemy ships. Though he did great damage, he suffered enough arrow wounds that he was unwilling to enter the fray again willingly.

Afterwards, our ship clashed with theirs. We had intended to board their vessel, and some number of our company did just that, but they also boarded the Shadowcaster, so carnage raged across both decks, though the stern of our vessel was somewhat safe since no men willingly would charge Verloth's nest there.

In the last few moments of the battle, someone set off a silence spell on the enemy vessel, but I'm not certain who that was. Was it Eoman's companion, the priest? The last thing I saw was an enemy warrior breeching our deck, with a blazing greatsword and murder in his eyes. Eoman stepped up to him and struck him with a magic blade. I think I saw him begin to fall before I was charged be several sailors and the world faded from my care...

...When I awoke, Eoman, Sparrow, and Pyre were just finishing a tense negotiation of surrender by the enemy. My ears were ringing and it was difficult to retain my focus on the situation, but the terms were that that they be allowed to leave with a single ship (one of the three in their fleet had been sunk by a water elemental conjured by Alia.)

We kept one of the enemy sailing ships, all the magic of their fallen, and the loot and cargo that they had stashed in their fortress. We gave our allies one quarter of the loot, all of the weapons and armor they could recover from the fallen, and a promise of an additional fifty bows and thousand arrows on our next voyage.

We stopped over in Nox for a few weeks while we recuperated, and set sail for Tam once more.

On our next voyage, we plan to face The Boar again, and I hope that we may also visit the Shining Shrine before leaving this accursed island behind for a while.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Campaign Report: Shadowcast Company: Episode 5

The Fifth Voyage of the Shadowcaster (part one)

It was impossible to procure enough weapons to fully arm the warriors of the Nox Tribe by purchasing from the merchants of Tam alone, so decided to set course for the Imperial City. It wasn't a long voyage, but Amalia managed to find a bit of cargo for us to transport anyway.

I hardly concerned myself with the details, but we brought a "spice" which is illegal in the city by decree, a few cases of wine, and magical materials. I found myself in several conversations over the course of the trip where my companions seemed to be under the impression that since there were magical markings, my curiosity would set me to opening the packages without permission. They are apparently under the delusion that I have time to decipher and steal another mage's research.

Nothing could be further from the truth. I am very busy with my own research.

We exchanged our goods for payment and purchased the outstanding balance of arms required to uphold our end of the bargain with the Matriarch of Nox and set sail for the Island. This time, thankfully, we managed to navigate there rather uneventfully, though our stalwart dwarven companion Pyre was made so seasick by the journey that he was no help at all.

On a personal note, we've been been at sea on and off for over a year now, and I am beginning to feel dreadfully tired of this ship. It's cramped, the food is horrible, privacy is impossible, and our nerves are beginning to fray. I am lucky, because my research will lead to a long extension of my own life, but my companions are spending a significant portion of their lives that they will not get back living in this hell.

Just a few days before we sighted land, I left my journal unattended for a few moments while taking note of the locations of the Moons of Agrandor, a condition of which I must account for in order to balance a particular spell I enjoy, and it was passed around as entertainment by a few of my hardier companions. They took offense to my description of their bravery as less than ideal, though it may be me who has the last laugh, because they certainly took it to heart to be a bit more adventuresome.

We stopped at Nox and distributed the weapons. After our warriors helped theirs acclimate to the feel of steel blades in their hands, we made a plan of war with the Matriarch. Our first target would be the slaver's isle.

Upon arrival we found that their fortress had been destroyed by the Boar's forces, which was a real pity because it would have made a fantastic base of operations for the remainder of our sojourn. One of our tribal allies suggested that we search the southern outcrop of the isle, and we found a camp of the survivors of the slavers!

They had three ships approximately equivalent to the Shadowcaster, and enough tribal catamarans that we were able to estimate that their force would be about equal to our own.

This was a real problem because none of our number save the dwarf, who was completely unable to assist us, had any useful military experience.

Still, the accusation of cowardice still rang in my companion's ears, and they were easy to convince that we should attempt a sortie by land made up of ourselves, while the tribesmen attacked by sea.

We breached their bramble wall and entered through a wooden watchtower by virtue of the stealthy capabilities of Sparrow. Thereafter I set about summoning nether-beasts to swell our numbers, which was a successful tactic. When a lieutenant began marching up the hill with a company of thirty disciplined soldiers, I admit that found myself suddenly able to understand the appeal of the old chestnut, the fireball spell, which I do not know.

No matter. Amalia produced a ball of flame which responded to her commands. Coupled with the control of the winds she took, it was devastating to their infrastructure, if not their forces. She also managed to summon a wall of smoke which we put to good use by charging through when a number of the enemy were distracted enough that they lost us long enough to put a small distance between our company and theirs.

During this encounter I came to conclusion that the "Field of Pain" spell I have devised is a useful parlor trick, but not powerful enough for battle use. I will revise and strengthen the spell when I have the time and resources.

Sparrow had previously made it to the water and was fighting a battle on a longboat. We encountered and defeated a few more lieutenants and their men, and discerned that their apparent war chief was a mage of considerable skill.

With great effort we managed to take the boat. Amalia and myself found ourselves completely out of magic ability, and most of us were hurt badly. We sailed toward our own fleet which was just about to meet the retreating slaver fleet which was heading to sea...

- Excerpt, Field Notes of Corwyn Mor, Volume II

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Campaign Report: Shadowcast Company: Episode 4

The Fourth Voyage of the Shadowcaster (part two)

Continuing further into the temple, we found a cell littered with the remains of a dozen nearly intact corpses, a pile of skulls, and a few ghouls, one of which had been trapped inside an iron maiden for centuries.

Nearby, we found a bronze statue depicting a pile of human skulls, which confirmed our suspicion that this shadowed condition was brought about on purpose. I was not sure how much the people of the first age knew about necromancy, but this was evidence that their knowledge was more sophisticated than some scholars have led us to believe.

In a chamber below we spied on an undead torturer (a wight I presume) taking pleasure in the only subject that could survive his ministrations so long, an emaciated troll. I can only imagine how much rage the beast must feel after enduring for such an extended period.

We continued further into the underworld and came upon a golden skeleton laid on a table. Fresh looking entrails were strewn about the floor. I should have been more curious about their nature, because it should have been obvious how unlikely they were, but our voyages have not been as profitable as I hoped (greatly due to the somewhat prudish and un-bold natures of my fellow adventurers who have been known to jump at shadows and enter into dungeons and lairs with the ferocity of a pack of rabbits at times). Anyway, with funds lacking and gold laying before my own eyes, I had no time for their he-hawing ways about retrieving it.

I could have waited for the inevitable debate regarding recovery of the precious metal which no doubt probably would have devolved into making Pyre do it, but the longer we were there, the more likely my companions were to be spooked by a cobweb or an errant moth, so I stepped forward and began sacking the treasure.

The remains of some old experiment took offense at my removal of the golden bones, and the entrails pulled themselves together into something which in describing, my poor vocabulary can do no justice, I can say that as a member of the Order of Thule, fifth rank, even I have never read a description of such a beast. It was made only of flesh, and with none of the skin, eyes, or even mouth one would expect. It was more like a a knotted pile of ropes and strings manipulated by an invisible puppeteer.

With great strength and fury it attacked our band. Amalia was thrown to the floor, and she was so addled by it that she willingly crawled into the darkness of the tomb to flee it. Our party defended itself, but we were only barely able to overcome it with our combined might. When the fight had ended we found that our wounds were great, and that Amalia had disappeared entirely.

Logic dictated that if she was crawling about in the darkness, the most likely direction to flee would be the one from which we came, which was a good thing because I suspect it was the only direction we had the strength to travel ourselves. So we reversed our path through the temple and by luck we heard her screaming. She had been located and bound by the wight-torturer who was preparing for his first fresh victim in many years.

Luckily our company still had enough fighting spirit remaining to overcome the wight and to rescue Amalia.

We returned to the Shadowcaster, where we knew that we would spend a few days resting. Not wishing for another incident like the one at Wyvern Isle, (where we were attacked by angry spirits for disturbing their tomb), we instructed the crew to sail the ship about the tribal islands we were near.

When our strength returned, we paid a visit to the village of Nox, which was said to be populated by cannibals. We confirmed that they were indeed headhunters by the ornaments they kept, and we exchanged in a dialog with them where we learned that our adventures have had several wide ranging effects on the native peoples.

Firstly, we learned that "The Boar," a wereboar mage whose compound we had raided previously, was seeking out our party for retribution. He had sent an envoy to Deimos because of rumors that we might be found there or that the inhabitants would know more about us.

Secondly, the dwarf-keep northeast of Deimos had certainly been affected by my leaving of the Scepter of Strife. The magic had attracting two dragons, one of which was presumably the red dragon rumored to have lived on the western side of Collosi Island. The surviving wyrm destroyed what was left of the dwarfs and apparently settled in since it was also known that it set a ship ablaze in the sea nearby.

Thirdly, dwarf refugees had made their way to Deimos. We can only assume that our party would not be welcomed with open arms into that village at present.

The village elder, a matriarch, asked about the destruction of the dwarf hold. Eamon the bard related the tale to the audience, but his telling was quite flat. I decided that it was imperative we impress these people, considering they were cannibals and that they could betray us to The Boar, so I used a bit of magic to immobilize a number of their warriors in pain (a spell developed especially by myself), and shouted for Revloth, my dragon, to come to me.

Before releasing them, I told the matriarch that I chose not to hurt them but that it was quite within the power of the spell to do so if I had wished it. (I exaggerated the effect of my spell which may only cause pain, but which may not truly harm.)

Upon releasing them, I took command of the negotiations, and there is something intoxicating about power, which I admit goes a bit to my head. I told them that we had selected them because they were obviously the strongest village, and that we could make them even stronger. They were a poor people, but what they wanted most was metal. We could supply them with arms enough for their entire tribe.

What we will do with them, I don't know. We allowed two of them to accompany us back to Tam in order to impress them with the wealth of our own culture.

Sparrow, a former assassin, seemed fine with this turn of events, but the rest of the party is a little uncomfortable with an alliance with the cannibal tribe.

Upon arrival in Tam, we learned that it would be quite difficult to gather all the weapons we need for the tribe in a short period, so our next voyage is to the Imperial City, where we can purchase the remainder quick enough.

- Excerpt, Field Notes of Corwyn Mor, Volume II

Friday, July 5, 2013

Campaign Report: Shadowcast Company: Episode 3

The Fourth Voyage of the Shadowcaster (part one)

After returning to port in Tam, the company decided to take a little time off in port. Most of the party remained in the city to spend a substantial portion of their loot.

Pyre dismissed a henchman amicably, though upon learning this, Corwyn the Necromancer attempted to hire the dwarf as his own henchman, but was refused. This was most likely due to Corwyn's rather nasty reputation. Nevertheless, Corwyn hired some thieves to make certain that the former comrade did not take any copies of navigational data or notes regarding Collosi Island with him to a new company. A substantial amount of data was recovered by the burglers and Corwyn burned it.

Afterwards, Corwyn traveled to the Order of Thule's stronghold, to consult the library and perform some research, which went well.

When the Shadowcaster set sail again, things went against the party.

We had trouble navigating back to the isle, and wandered substantially off course before noticing our predicament. Upon correcting our heading, we encountered a powerful storm which threatened to sing the Shadowcaster, and eventually found ourselves drawn into a conflict between two seagoing giants who had natural power over storms and currents.

We became partisans in the battle when the first giant attacked our vessel. Eamon the bard was gravely injured and we feared that we would need to turn back to port, but the victorious giant, who we had inadvertently sided with took pity on us and had us follow to his refuge.

We were led to a great tower set upon a singular rocky outcrop rising from the deep. There, elf servants of the giant took our comrade into the outpost and gave us fresh supplies and tools. We rested on our ship for a few days, and were invited in once to look around. There we were told that there were kingdoms and castles floating in the skies and that this keep served as a tether between the worlds below and above. On top of the tower were old runes in a circle, only a handful of which any in our party could read, but they seemed to names of old places. We surmised that this circle was a fixed hub in a network of gates, but we didn't see them used, so that is conjecture.

Our companion was returned to us in fine shape, and we resumed our course to Collosi Island.

We did not return to the Boar's lair on the southern tip of Wyvern Isle, but instead made our way to a suspiciously vacant island surrounded by other small islands, all of which are inhabited. We expected to find a temple or old ruin, and we did.

It was in the form of a solid stone dome (the rock was not native to the island we were on), that required a good bit of searching to open. At last we found a trick mechanism that caused a set of stairs to rise from the ground and opened a portal in the dome.

Inside, we were beset by some form of undead similar to wights. We found signs of human sacrifice over the years and believe the place to be cursed by evil.

To be continued...

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Campaign Report: Shadowcast Company: Episode 2

The Third Voyage of the Shadowcaster

The Shadowcaster sailed from the port of Tam back to what we're now calling Wyvern Isle, west of the main island. The company knew that somewhere on it's southern tip they would find a wereboar.

We certainly didn't expect to find such an organized outpost. Carved into a hillside was the stone visage of a dwarven face, with a doorway inset inside the mouth. Three balconies were also visible above the face and the scouting effort by Sparrow revealed another entrance on the other side of the hill.

Nevertheless, we sneaked through the main doorway. Security was somewhat lax, though I suspect that will not be the case when we return for future exploration later. Once we were inside we were quickly able to confirm that this was no dusty ruin, but a fully functional stronghold.

We made our way through a few rooms on the main floor before deciding to try a stairway hoping to reach a less trafficked area. We came upon a series of chambers that were each inhabited, but using stealth we managed to deploy our force in such a way to grant us a tactical advantage.

We encountered the wereboar and a lieutenant of his. Pyre the dwarf's run of bad luck seemed to finally draw to a close, and we were lucky to survive the battle without any major loss of resources. Of course, we had specifically prepared for this challenge, by purchasing silver weapons and wolfsbane while we were in Tam for those among us who were without magic, which includes most of our company.

We began to loot the chambers when we were discovered by another wereboar, and this second one was a sorcerer to boot. Damn our luck! Amalia the Sea Witch fell quickly and the rest of us were hurting badly from a well placed lightning bolt spell.

Sparrow mounted a rescue of our fallen comrade while Eaman the Bard arranged a line of defense. We fought a retreat out of the stronghold using the cover provided by Corwyn's now barely trained dragon, Relvoth. We returned to our ship and considered Amalia's wounds which would require a great deal of time to heal. Reluctantly, we set sail for Tam once again, as we have decided not to test our reputation in Deemos without greater strength among our company.

Once in Tam, the company agreed to take a break for more than a simple resupply, as Corwyn the Necromancer wants to travel back to his master and it seems that most of the rest of the party would like to spend a bit of time on dry land as well.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Charter of the Shadowcast Company

After the first few sessions of our current campaign the players decided to write up a charter for their adventuring company to define how they would divvy up treasure, treat the wounded, etc. Some like the idea because it showed good faith and helped to mark down their fellowship. Others, because they see the written covenant as a tool to be manipulated. Such is the nature of characters. But the players all enjoy the fun both sides inspire within the game.

So, without further ado here is the contract of their fellowship:

We, the undersigned, in the spirit of adventure and fellowship of arms, do hereby affirm the creation of the
Shadowcast Company
and enter into covenant with our fellow members.

The purpose of this company shall be to recover lost treasure and lore, to explore uncharted wilderness and underdark, and to provide common support, counsel, and protection to all fellows of the company.

In accordance with these aims of endeavor, the Company doth hereby adopt the following bylaws for membership:

A Company member shall give his or her best effort in all tasks for the company, above all, defending the lives and property of fellow members. A member ill-suited to a task shall nevertheless aid those who are able. One found by majority to be willfully harming, or allowing the Company or its members to come to harm shall be expelled from the Company and forfeit all reward.

A fellow who falls in the line of duty shall be accorded the following consideration: Immediate aid to injuries if possible, a proper burial & treasure distributed to the member’s kin if not. If Fate allows, the company shall put forth the coin for a ritual of resurrection.

These bylaws are subject to change pending the approval of the majority of the Company’s Fellows.

Profit shall be divided into three tiers. The first tier is that which is known to be of magical quality, including but not limited to magical arms and armor, potions, rings, wands, arcane formula, books of spells, etc. These items shall be divided by only the members as they see fit, but once selected may be given, sold, or loaned to others as decided by the owner. In the event that consensus cannot be reached contested items will be selected by drawing lots or other agreeable method among those contesting the item. If no agreeable method be known, casting fair dice shall be selected as the contest.

The second tier of treasure is made of the items which have been designated by simple majority to belong to the company as a whole, until such time as they be sold and the profits be divided by share, or if magical, they be designated as treasure of the first tier. Items of the second tier may be placed into the stewardship of individual memberships, but such treasure must be used for the benefit of all members.

The third tier of treasure is made of all saleable goods or moneys not of the first or second tiers, which shall be apportioned by shares. Any member may purchase at fair market value any goods which can be afforded from this tier with the payment entering into the common treasury to be split accordingly.

Members of the Company may hire servitors, men-at-arms, or other such attendants and offer them as much as one-half share each of the third tier of treasure. The hiring member is responsible for the conduct of said servants which may be dismissed by the company as a whole by simple majority. All other agreements of remuneration such as additional monies, magic, or services are the responsibility of the individual member, and the Company is under no obligation to meet these fees or promises.

The Shadowcaster Sailing Ship has been designated as treasure of the second tier, or property of the company as a whole. It is to be outfitted and operated by the company. The company will hire a Captain, who will exercise authority in sailing over the crew, but not in battle or in choosing ship’s destination. This Captain will be hired by Malia, and will act as her henchman, so will be owed one half of one share of treasure of the third tier found won by the company.

The Crew of the Shadowcaster will be paid double the customary sailor’s wages and will split one half share of treasure of the third tier among them equally. Deserting crew will forfeit all claims to payment or share.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Campaign Report: Shadowcast Company: Episode 1

I should have started a campaign report from the first game we played about two months ago, but it's never too late to start. This installment will cover the story so far, so will be quite lengthy but not as detailed as I hope to be in the future.

The Shadowcast Company consists of five characters:

Eamon: The bard, played by Randy. He has been selected as party spokesman.
Sparrow: The assassin, played by Missy.
Amalia: The nephini sea witch, played by Amy.
Pyre: The dwarven vaultguard, played by Eric.
Corwyn: The mage (necromancer), my character.

Corwyn has a henchman, Gorex, the fighter.

Our adventures started in the old Duchy of Tam. We had a few small adventures. If my memory is correct we ventured into some ruins, fought some bandits who were scavenging a battlefield, fought the remnants of a military company that had survived a battle, and finally entered the hideout of said company which appeared to be gearing up to form a new mercenary unit. While there we recovered a mysterious item that we call the Sceptre of Strife, though we know nothing of it's history and have only a vague understanding of its purpose.

Corwyn managed to subdue a (very young) dragon that was drawn to the sceptre. Keeping it has been a challenge, and it has turned on him twice during captivity.

In the mercenary camp we recovered a contract for a ship that was being constructed in Tam. We set off for the port city, impersonating the owner of the vessel, and took possession of The Shadowcaster, a small sailing ship. We hired a crew, and using some charts we had recovered from the mercenary captain earlier, set off for Colossi Isle. The voyage was made much safer due to the special knowledge Amalia the Sea Witch had of placating angry spirits which normally make travel to the Isle difficult.

The First Voyage of the Shadowcaster
We circumnavigated the main island and a few nearby islets. The island is large, about 200 miles north to south and up to about 120 miles wide. We have researched some tales of great magics unleashed there during the first age, but everything we have recovered is fragmentary.

We landed on a small islet to the southwest of the main island, where a small, crumbling keep was visible. We discovered that the building was in use as a slaver outpost, though at the time we didn't understand where the slaves came from or who they traded with. Only a minimum guard had been left behind, which we battled, though there was little treasure to be found.

We investigated an islet directly north of the slaver outpost, where we spotted a wyvern nest in a low mountain. We hid our ship and marched overland, arriving at the nest when we expected them to be away by the behavior we had already observed. Inside the cave, we discovered the sealed entrance to an ancient tomb. We decided to plunder the tomb, so began our exploration.

On that first foray into the tomb beyond the cave we only managed to look into a few rooms we were forced to turn back by losses of resources and strength. Pyre, our stalwart dwarf, had fallen and would need many weeks to recover, so we carefully withdrew without encountering the wyverns.

We sailed to Tam to take on supplies.

The Second Voyage of the Shadowcaster
On our second voyage, we returned directly to the wyvern lair. We had bought some nets and were familiar with the schedule of the wyverns, so Eamon the bard and Sparrow the assassin carefully covered the entrance to the nest when the wyverns were sleeping. We used crossbows and magic to dispatch the wyverns with relative ease from outside.

Our second delve into the tomb beyond the cave was fruitful, and we recovered more treasure than we had before. We uncovered a room full of sarcophagi which was ripe for looting, but once again took heavy losses, meaning specifically Pyre the dwarf was lucky enough to survive but would require bed rest for quite a while. We hastily made our way back to the ship.

Unfortunately, some piece of treasure we had recovered from the tomb attracted guardians to it. The next night we found our ship, which was still in harbour, under attack by elemental forces. At one point in the fray, Amalia summoned a water "fundamental" (weak elemental), but lost control of it, and it took one of the men to a watery grave. Our mainsail was damaged, but we won the battle at great cost. Three more of the men perished in the blaze.

We were forced to wait while the crew performed repairs on the Shadowcaster, and in the meantime our band of adventurers, minus the dwarf, set about on another mission into the tomb beyond the cave.

We managed to discover a decent bit of treasure and we explored the limits of the tomb, but we were disturbed to find signs that someone else had entered the tomb between our explorations. We found an immortal creature, a Tabi, trapped within a magic cage. We gathered that the mystery explorer was a wereboar who lairs on the southern tip of the island. Corwyn wanted to challenge the interloper, but the remainder of the party voted against him, ready to lick their wounds.

We sailed to a native village on the main isle, called Deemos. We found that the locals were savage but friendly. They had little metal and spoke a barely comprehensible version of the language we commonly spoke. Their leader was known as the Matriarch, who was assisted by the Master of the Hunt and some other advisory committee that we can assume is tied to a priesthood of a local death cult. We learned that their numbers were few, so they used undead to perform labor for the tribe. We also learned that they traded with dwarves to the north, and that those dwarves were apparently much more advanced.

The Dwarven Incident
We set out north to contact the dwarves, hoping to gather information and to see if their hall would be a hospitable base of operations for exploration on the isle.

We found them easily, or I should say that a dwarven patrol found us, and we travelled to their keep together. The dwarven leader was not friendly but not immediately hostile. We saw that they had human slaves which they had acquired through trade with Deemos and other southern villages, and would only speak directly with Pyre, our dwarven companion. Pyre is not a skilled diplomat, but we quickly learned that the dwarves expected to either purchase the rest of us as slaves from our dwarf, or tribute. Corwyn the mage surrendered the Sceptre of Strife (which had torn several mercenary companies apart because they were unaware of its special qualities), and the dwarves welcomed us.

That night the dwarves held a feast. During the feast it became apparent that they still were not to be trusted, and a confrontation turned violent. Pyre was once again struck with a crippling wound, and the party was forced to retreat. Amalia the sea witch managed to use a spell to turn an enslaved ogre against the dwarves, and Sparrow the assassin struck a fatal blow against the leader of the dwarves. Still, we were lucky to escape with our lives. When we returned to Deemos we set sail immediately for Tam.

Safely in the port of Tam, Eamon brokered a quiet deal with a death cult for some magic that we were unable to make use of. We sold a powerful artifact that could be used to raise the dead but required a blood sacrifice, and a ring of wraith-form. In exchange, the cult gave us a chest of 10,000 gold pieces, some draughts of healing, and three uses of said artifact. Some among the party failed to realize the full implications of what use of the artifact would entail, though the mage and the assassin would be unlikely to be upset by it.

Now we must divide our loot and pay our crew. It will be time for a third voyage soon.

Three Necromantic Spells

Ray is playing a necromancer named Corwynn in my current ACKS game. He is having a blast with his aspiring mage and has started coming up with some ideas for some unique spells.These are three low level spells his character has begun to work on. They are his creations that I only made minor tweaks to.

One of the spells deals damage that increases by 1 per level rather than increasing dice of damage. I went with treating that as equal to capping it out at 2 dice damage giving it a multiplier of 0.25. In running average math numbers it falls at just about the same spot the capped magic missile does for damage when comparing the single dread bolt vs. the multiple magic missiles.

DREAD BOLT (death)
Arcane 1
Range: 180’
Duration: Instantaneous

The caster conjures a bolt of necromantic energy that inflicts 1d6 damage + an additional 1 point of damage per level of the caster to the target.

Spell Calculation: 1d6+1 per level (35), Maximum 1d damage +1/level (x0.25), Target 1 creature (x1), Range 180' (x1.1), No saving throw permitted (x1). Total: 10 spell points.

Arcane 2
Range 30’
Duration: special

This spell creates a number of tendrils of weak negative energy which emanate from the caster to 4d8 HD of creatures within range. The lowest hit dice creatures are affected first. Each creature affected by the spell is wracked with pain and cannot take any action (although it can still defend itself) unless it makes a saving throw vs Death. All targets receive a new saving throw each round. The field of pain lasts as long as the caster concentrates upon it, or until all targets make successful saving throws.

Spell Calculation: Target Held Helpless (15), 4d8 HD of Creatures within 30’ (x3), Range 30’ (x0.6), Duration: Concentration or until target saves (x1.75), Save to avoid effect (x0.5). Total: 24 spell points.

Arcane 1
Range: 10’
Duration: 1 Day

This spell summons a number of skeletons equal to the caster’s level, which appear anywhere within range. The skeletons will serve and obey the caster for 1 day, until slain, or until dispelled.

Spell Calculation: 1 creature / level (75), 1 HD (x0.15), Restricted to Skeletons (x0.7), Summon from Thin Air (x1), Range 10’ (x1), Duration 1 Day (x1.25). Total: 10 spell points.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

My Daughter the DM, part 2

My daughter has spent the last few days reading over the rulebook I gave her and the module, but she was unhappy with adventure. Her complaint was that it was just a little bit too big. So we took what we learned from it and applied it to making her own adventure.

Tonight she is writing her own adventure, "The Cult of Nyarlahotep," which is a fairly straightforward dungeon crawl. The first level of the dungeon will have about 10 to 15 rooms, and about 8 encounters. Three pieces of a key will be hidden that will open up the passage to the second level, which she will design later, but she intends for it to be bigger.

I let her walk me through character creation, as a I roleplayed players who don't know anything about D&D. The stickiest point for her was on thief abilities. She thought that it was unfair how ridiculously unlikely thieves are to succeed at their chosen abilities. I have to say that I agree, but maybe there's something I don't understand.

She was also quick to come up with another house rule, allowing the player to reroll one attribute of their choosing - but not necessarily the lowest one. For example, if the player knows they want to play a fighter, maybe they want to reroll that 8 dexterity, or maybe instead they want to reroll that 11 strength.

It did tickle me that she's memorized the attributes in the old school order and when I tried to write them down in another order she corrected me and told me no, because everyone has to roll them in the same order.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

My players did a great job mapping

Just wanted to share this fun little bit. My group just completed exploring an ancient hidden crypt on their Great Island Adventures. Well, Ray's character, a Necromancer, decided to map the dungeon as they went along so they could find their way out and also know how to get back whenever they had to flee. And they did have to twice. Once while they were gone someone else explored a portion of the dungeon on them. The second time the monsters guarding the treasure they stole followed them back. All in all it was great fun.

Below is the original copy of my map sans numbers along with the player's hand drawn version. The only portion they were unable to explore was beyond a cold pool of water protected by Ice Mephits. The mephits were hostile to the dwarf in the party and so it wasn't thought safe to chance it after the group had accepted their kindness.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

My Daughter, The DM

This Friday my 14 year old daughter is going to run a tabletop RPG for her friends, all of whom are new to gaming, for the first time. She asked me for pointers today on being the DM. Admittedly, I'm not much of a DM myself. I've run a few simple games for her, but I think she's gotten most of her knowledge from an old stack of Knight of the Dinner Table comics.

She knew that she wanted to run something "like D&D" so I gave her copies of the Basic D&D Rules and B2: The Keep on the Borderlands. The rules aren't an issue for her (she's read lots of rule books before and played some), but we're going to brush up a bit this week. My DM, Phil let me know that B2 is something of a meat grinder, so I helped her come up with a few house rules.

  1. When a PC reaches 0 HP, they are knocked unconscious and will die in 1d10 minutes unless someone helps them. If they are helped, they will return to 1 HP, but will need to rest in town for d6 days, after which they are fully healed.
  2. Every PC starts with a potion of healing.
  3. An additional potion of healing will be available for sale in the keep every week for 100 gp.
  4. Encumbrance will be ignored as long as it's within common sense.
I gave her the following bits of advice so far, but I don't know how helpful they will be:
  1. Read the rules and the module twice. (We'll do a quick play through of a few areas this week.)
  2. Let the players decide what they want to do. If you want them to know something let an NPC tell them.
  3. If it sounds cool or fun and at all reasonable, let the player roll a die to see if they can do it. If you don't know what the odds should be, say 50% or 25% (11+ or 16+.)
  4. When the players make suggestions, try to answer with "yes, and..." or "yes, but..." if possible.
  5. Your job as DM is to make the game fun... Don't worry about how much is being accomplished as long as it's fun. If something isn't fun, then you can narrate it quickly to get to the fun part.
  6. Award XP when the characters return to the keep (or other civilization.)
And I gave her the following to pass on to her players:
  1. The goal of the game is to have fun, but the goal of the adventurers is to get treasure.
  2. Never fight when you can steal or trick the monsters out of their gold.
  3. Never get into a fair fight on purpose.
  4. Avoid attacking in melee when you can fight with ranged weapons instead.
  5. Avoid fighting with ranged weapons when you can sneak around instead.
  6. Go back to town frequently. Rest up and resupply.
  7. The best overall character is the cleric. If anyone doesn't know what they should play, then play a cleric. Good HP, heavy armor, a few spells eventually, and a pretty good warrior.
Tonight she is reading the game rules. Tomorrow she will get to DM for me a bit as I make a character and play through a few mock battles.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Venom - A Magical Short Sword

At the height of the petty skirmishes between the gods in the First Age Kydan crafted a collection of items for his Favored Five. These cruel riders delighted in imposing their god-liege's twisted dictates over any dominion Kydan might choose to claim for a day. One of the Five was a warlord named Ildris who preferred to fight with two weapons. Ildris' longsword, a blade named Tempest, was said to have been destroyed by the hobgoblin despot  Ruuk,but Ildris' second blade, Venom, was cast by him across the heavens before he died so that his last surviving gift from Kydan might be spared.

Venom, is a shortsword and was enchanted in Kydan's preferred "thrice-charmed" style giving it three different magical aspects.

First it bears a +1 enchantment giving a bonus to attack and damage.

The second enchantment is the ability to poison. If used to strike down three intelligent enemies, living or undead, it gains the ability to inflict a deadly poison (as the spell) on a successful strike. The magical nature of the poison allows it to affect any enemy be they living, undead, or a construct. It can hold up to three doses of deadly poison, although this does require it dealing a death blow nine times, three for each charge. The poison is exceptionally potent and becomes more potent per charge held. Each one in the blade at the time the power is invoked causes the victim to suffer a -1 penalty to their saving throw. For example, if only one dose is in the blade the target suffers a -1; but if it has all three doses in it the target suffers a -3. 

The third enchantment is a defense against poison. When holding Venom's hilt, its bearer cannot be poisoned, but will be aware of the attempt. Further, if Venom isn't already holding its maximum allowance of poison doses, one of them becomes charged. So, if Venom has only 1 dose left in it and the owner is poisoned, the poison has no effect and it gains a second dose that can be used as desired. Venom doesn't need to be drawn for its protective nature to work. But its master must have a firm grip on its hilt to work.

Monday, May 27, 2013

The Calendar of Arden

I decided to keep the calendar of Arden close to our own regarding the number of days. There are 364 days in a year. Over the year there are 13 cycles of the moon. Each month is 28 days long, the length of one of the moon's cycles.

The Months
Fireseek (The 1st day of Fireseek is the Winter Solstice and 1st day of winter)
Seeding (8th day of Seeding is the Spring Equinox and 1st day of spring)
Highsun (15th day of Highsun is the Summer Solstice and 1st day of summer)
Harvest (22nd day of Harvest is the Autumn Equinox and 1st day of autumn)

The phases of the moon. Each month starts and ends with the New Moon as it spans two nights. So the 1st and 28th day of each month is a new moon. The Full moon falls in the middle of each month spanning the 14th, 15th, and 16th.

The Days of the Week

The days of the week are based on the weekly schedule of ancient Nehar. Sabersday was the traditional day of drills and review of the militias. Moonday was meant to honor the past and revere the dead. Towerday was the when scouts and patrols would return to report the happenings in the countryside. Wineday was meant to celebrate friend and fellowship. Tradersday was the day when merchants would set up in the bazaars to sell and barter their wares. Firesday as the day of homesteading, meant to make sure the home was safe and prepared for any dangers from the wilds. The final day was Godsday, it was set aside to honor the gods and thank them for their blessings.

OS-Fantasy HR2: Shooting Into Melee

Fantasy Game House Rule #2

Per the standard rules characters cannot shoot into melee combat. On occasion though characters might find a need to or at least want to give it a shot. This was my judgement call at the time and it worked out well enough that we have continued to use it. 

Option 1: Shooting without a penalty. The ranged attacker makes an attack roll and then the GM rolls a die to determine which combatant might be hit. Each person in the melee has an equal chance of being struck by the attack. 

Option 2: Shooting with a -4 penalty. The ranged attacker suffers a -4 to the attack roll. The GM only checks to see if someone other than the desired target is hit when the attack roll is unsuccessful.

Exceptions and Common Sense

If there is a distinct size difference then common sense should be applied. If two human warriors have charged at a large dragon, their friend the archer should still be able to take the shot with no penalty, the same goes for a group of dwarves fighting a stone giant. On the flipside of this, Should four humans be ganging up on a goblin warlord, there should be almost no chance of an archer safely targeting the goblin involved in the melee.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Za'hir: a Custom Class for ACKS

The Za'hir class is a descendant of the sha’ir from the AD&D Al Qadim campaign setting by TSR. It has been altered to fit the Arden campaign setting which uses the Adventurer Conqueror King System. It’s recognizable as a tribute to the original sha’ir but isn’t meant to be a purist’s interpretation, thus the name has been changed.

It isn’t possible to build the Za'hir class strictly by the ACKS Player’s Companion custom class rules, so some liberties must be taken. Any custom class has the potential to be broken, but the powers of the Za'hir run a greater than normal risk of creating issues in play.

Specifically, the Za'hir has access to both arcane and divine magic, has potentially unlimited casting, and can access spells that are of higher level than similar level characters should be able to cast. There are some mitigating factors as well, such as the uncertainty and significant time needed to retrieve a spell, potential backlash when accessing divine magic, and the need to protect their Genling servitor or lose all access to spell retrieval.

Liberties have been taken with the design and will be explained in the last section called “Behind the Curtain.”

Link to the Za'hir as a PDF file
The above link will open the PDF in Google Drive. Select File -> Download to save it to your computer.

Sedra's Fang - Magical Dagger

In the First Age the Serpent God Amun-Ka set out nest after nest of serpents whose only purpose was to poison those who lived in the holy sanctuaries of the Imperial Gods. Mithris and Ashra's young daughter Sedra was revolted by the dark god's attempt to corrupt places of serenity dedicated to peace. The Healing Goddess set about making her first weapon, a dagger. The legend goes on to say that she meant for the dagger was chosen so the serpents could be beheaded while the healing magic of the blade neutralized the poison. Sadly, her natural love and trust in her family meant she was blind to her brother Kydan's true nature when she turned to him for help in making the weapon.

When the pair finished, they had made a powerful relic. A +3 dagger with the ability to neutralize poison. Kydan's trickery though twisted the dagger's nature. It can only neutralize poison three times per day and the person being healed must be stabbed with the dagger taking 1d4+3 points of damage in the process. Each time it is used to neutralize poison the magical bonus is reduced by 1. So, if used once it is reduced to +2, a second use reduces it to +1, and a third use renders it non-magical until the next sunrise.

Stoekarst - The Shield of Nezant

This large steel shield was crafted for a Drakhai knight named Thomin. Its face bears the sigil of Nezant, the coastal god of Battles, Storms, and Fury. According to legend Thomin was once forced by magic to flee in fear from battle. So enraged at the perceived loss of honor forced on him by villainous sorcery, he commissioned this shield to be made by the church of his patron god, Nezant.

The Shield of Nezant, also known as Thomin's Courage or Stoekarst, is a +1 steel shield with a powerful protective enchantment on it. In addition to the basic enchantment of defense, when held its wielder also receives a +1 bonus on all saves vs. spell and spell-like effects, and if the wielder is within the area of affect of blast attacks, such as fireballs, lightning bolts, and dragon's breath, Stoekarst's wielder takes only half damage on a failed save and quarter damage if the save is successful.

The shield does have a drawback though, its wielder may never be the first to retreat from battle if fighting with anyone else. As long as the wielder enters a battle with at least one other ally, one of his allies must withdraw before he is able to. Even if the wielder is targeted by a fear effect or command word, the spell has no effect unless one of Stoekarst's wielder's allies has already retreated from the combat.

Races of Arden: Humans

The most diverse and adaptive of all major races, humans can be found everywhere above ground. from the most frigid northern climes to the extreme heat of the Red Desert. They intermingle with one another the most and while there are deep cultural differences between the various regions, people are judged by their behavior or culture they reflect than surface appearance.

Human Subraces

Drakhai. Legends say the Drakhai were not native to the Northlands. At the end of the First Age the god Amun-Ka wrapped his coils around the Summer Lands, the first home of the Drakhai, dragging it beneath the Elder Sea. Mithris vanquished the serpent-god, but was unable to save the lands of his most loyal servants. So he commanded Pryon to lead the refugees across the still roiling Elder Sea until they made landfall. The Drakhai have made the Northlands since the start of the Second Age, some wandered the lands  finding new homes in the other human cultures while others fought to carve out their own kingdoms to reflect the best of their now lost culture.

The Drakhai have skin tones ranging from tan to olive while their hair runs the full range of pale gold to black, although various shades of brown to ginger-brown are the most common. Their eye color runs the full range although amber and gray are the most commonly seen. The least mixed Drakhai are found along the Palador coast, the large island of Brun, and the western shores of the Caseeri Sea. With the passage of time trace features of the Drakhai can be found in most every grouping of people.

Melani. Hailing from across the southwestern expanse of the Elder Sea, the Melani populate many of the islands found across the sea and along distant eastern coast of Skartha. They worship the same gods as the Drakhai, albeit with their own version of the various major ceremonies and holy days. Their history tells a similar tale to those of the Drakhai, but instead of going east they went west to Skartha and the many islands across the Elder Sea. This makes the Melani uncommon in the Northlands, found primarily in port cities and coastal towns. Those found farther inland or to the north likely ended up there through love or war; either through their own experiences or those of an ancestor.

The Melani have skin tones ranging from light to mid copper, while their hair runs to darker colors of brown to black; even when it grays with age it keeps its darker hue. Their eyes range from a steel-tinged yellow to brown, although on rare occasions green eyes are found among them. The least mixed Melani live on the many islands while those on Skartha have intermixed with people native to that distant continent.

Neharan. The original inhabitants of the central and southern regions of the Northlands, they were driven back by the Drakhai when the refugees first arrived and incursions from Ophiran warlords. The might of the Neharans was at its greatest during the Age of Legend. They ruled many distant lands and intermingled with those they ruled over. When their great empires of magic collapsed the Neharan people were scattered.

The skin tones of the Neharans have a golden-hue and tan very easily. Their eyes are commonly gray-green to green with gray and hazel colors uncommon while the hair of Neharans blue-black to dark brown. There are few unmixed enclaves of Neharans to be found in the Northlands. The courts of the Northern Kingdom, the central lands of Korshada, and the necromancers of Thulivar hold the purest remaining strains of Neharan.

Ophiran. Native to the southern continent, Ophirans have spread out from the jungles and plains south of the Red Desert to the central region of the Northlands. According to legend all Ophirans can trace their lineage back to the eternal city of Ophir whose cornerstone was set in place by Apherion, Emir of the Celestial Court. During the Second Age only Neharan magic was able to keep the ancient Ophiran Warlords lust for conquest in check. While the city-states and minor kingdoms founded by the Warlords fell long ago, the remnants of their towers, walls, and sanctuaries can still be found throughout the Northlands with many of them incorporated into later construction.

The Ophiran race has a bronze-colored complexion ranging from mid-tones resembling copper to very dark tones of deepest brown. The eye colors common to Ophirans are dark brown, black, brown, and amber while their hair color is is black, brown-black, dark-brown, or brown. Their hair also tends to be naturally wavy or curly. The least mixed Ophirans are still found in their birth city of Ophir and among the nomads of the Red Desert.

Shemish. The Shemish came to the Northlands following the path set for them by the god Nevix, Sage of the Celestial Court. The original Shemish homeland is found in the deep jungles south of the Red Desert. During the Age of Legend the Shemish mages learned the secret to crafting golems in the style of the gods from the First Age and built flying castles allowing them to raid and conquer the more primitive tribes of men. At their height the Arch-Magi of the Shemish ruled a half dozen kingdoms in the Northlands. If not for their constant conflict with the Neharan Sorcerers and Drakhai Kings they might have endured deep into the Age of Trials, if not the present age.

The complexion of Shemish range from earthen-oak to near jet in shading while their hair ranges from dark-brown to black to blue-black with a tight natural curl. Their eye color ranges from slate-gray to amber to deep brown. People of mixed Shemish ancestry may range from pale copper to varied shades of Bronze. In the Northlands, the least mixed clusters of Shemish are found in Parshem and on the Anvil Plateau. Beyond that they are primarily found in the jungles south of the Red Desert. Traces of Shemish ancestry can be found in most of the central and southern regions of the Northlands. There are also a surprising number of people in the Northern Kingdom with a small amount of Shemish blood.

Teltec. Few Teltec are found in the Northlands. Their home is across the southern expanse of the Elder Sea located in tropical forests and steep mountainside dominions. Those who make their way to the Northlands are the result of conquest, exploration, or curiosity. Sometimes they are the winners, other times they were taken as extra muscle or guides who were too valuable to let go. Legends tell of a great Teltec Empire whose strength was founded on a caste of slave-warriors trained from birth to serve without question. When the orcs turned on their Neharan masters the Teltec slave-armies were their last resort. 20,000 were brought across the sea on the last of the great flying fortresses ruled by the Nehar, but even the most ruthless Teltec warrior was unable to stop the Age of Legend from ending.

The Teltec race has a dark copper complexion ranging from a ashen-copper to a dark burnt copper shade and their eyes are extremely variable in color although brown and gray are the most common colors found. The hair of the Teltec is a range of pale amber to charcoal black and has a naturally wavy look to it.  The Teltec are the least mixed of all races because of their remote and distant homeland. They are most mixed with Melani because of their close proximity, although a surprising amount of Shemish is found in their bloodlines and reflected in their ancient artwork; hailing back to the Second, and possibly the First, Age.

Vahnir. The Vahnir homeland is the northern climes of the Northlands. Their history is a mixture of savage barbarism and enclaves of petty kingdoms built around a code of family, personal honor, blood debts, and near-reckless bravery. In the First Age, when a handful of mortals ascended to godhood, it was Fafnir, chief shieldman of Wodar who first climbed to the ranks of the divine. They were enslaved for a time by the Neharans during the second age, but the most cunning among the Vahnir deciphered the arcane secrets of the Neharan, stealing the secrets of magic for themselves. At various times throughout all the ages Vahnir warlords have raided the coasts and central regions of the Northlands. Of all Vahnir kingdoms, the Northern Kingdom has endured the longest tracing their royal lineage back to the kingdom's foundation.

The Vahnir race is very fair-skinned, some being almost albino. They have light red, yellow, blond, or platinum blond hair; although on rare occasions some are born with stark blue-black hair.Their hair may be straight, but curly and kinky hair isn't uncommon. Eye colors range from pale blue or violet through deep blue, with gray occasionally popping up. The least mixed groupings of the Vahnir are found in the petty northern kingdoms and the large island of Albens. Because of their history of sail and by extension the traditions of trade and raiding they are known for, many people with Vahnir ancestry can be found along all the coasts of the Northlands and into the central regions.