Or at least, a mailbag full. Behold what I’ve received over the last 24 hours:

That’s both of the 4e Dark Sun books, the hard copy of Apocalypse World, and the hard copy of Delta Green: Targets of Opportunity. Truly, my cup runneth over with grim and terrible joy.

I’m presenting this here for comment and peer review.

One of the PCs — a paladin of Erathis, let’s say — has gotten themselves into a fix. Somehow*, they’ve gotten separated from their party and surrounded by bad guys with ill intent. Orcs, for example. Luckily, they’ve got a magical horn or other means of letting their friends know they’re in trouble. The question is, will said friends get there in time to do anything other than mourn?

Here’s how it plays out:

Set up the battle-map with the lone PC facing down a bunch of minions, four for each PC currently running to help. (So if there are four total PCs in the party, twelve minions works). Roll initiative for everyone: all PCs, plus the minions, plus three more (see below).

For the lone PC and the minions, play the battle out as normal. For the other PCs, on their turn they each have to work their way through their own private Complexity 1 skill challenge to determine if they get to their friend’s side, and how long it takes them. Be pretty flexibile with which skills they use, with two restrictions:

  • Each character can only use a given skill twice.
  • By the gods, they describe what they’re doing. It should fit into the setting of the scene, be it woods, deserts, a crowded city, etc.

The specifics of the challenge are as follows:

  • Four successes from a PC gets them to the battle, going on their turn next round.
  • Three failures means they don’t get there until after the fight’s done. (They can use the downtime composing eulogies.)
  • Each of the first two failures should also result in either a -2 to their next check, or the loss of a healing surge. Use whichever fits the description of the skill check better.
  • Aid Another is allowed, but since each character’s dealing with their own skill challenge and time is of the essence, it’s not the best idea. However, when a PC rolls a success, they have the option (with appropriate description) to give their success to another PC. So if the dwarf fighter succeeds, but thinks it’d be better for the elf ranger or human warlord to get on the scene first, he can use that success to move that along; the dwarf doesn’t get a failure, but it’s gonna take him longer to get there. The recipient, in turn, will likely arrive sooner.

And here’s why that matters:

  • In round 5, two standard monsters** arrive on the scene to back up the minions.
  • In round 6, their boss (an elite) arrives to mop up. If the lone PCs’ friends haven’t arrived yet, things are gonna get ugly.

Be sure to use the MM to your advantage here and bring some fun new bad guy abilities into play with these three. After round six you’ll probably know who made it to the dance and who didn’t, so the fight itself needs to be interesting.

Obviously wrinkles may develop. If the PC eliminates the minions before their friends or the new baddies arrive, let them take an action or two to prepare for both sets of reinforcements. If the PC drops before friends arrive, I’m always of the opinion that a dying (but savable) PC is more interesting than a dead one. Some disagree, and some like to have it both ways. Do what works for your table.

In any case, this encounter has the potential to be very, very rough: for a party of four, we’re talking the equivalent of seven standard monsters, plus the skill challenge. It can obviously be tweaked to be less — or gods help them, more — deadly, but there’s some precedent to making this kind of thing a major turning point in a game.

* And let’s be honest: it’s probably because they did something foolish that they thought would be in the best interest of their god, their civilization, their city, or some such. You know the type.
** These are the folks you were rolling initiative for back at the start of the scuffle. I always get a special kind of joy from openly telling the player in charge of the initiative list to include unknown bad guys in the order. It gets everyone at the table so excited.

We stood aloof from the world, and paid the price of indifference in ruined Citadels, in Etharchs laid low or sailed West.

We will not err so again.

Most of those who remain walk the wilderlands as we did when the stars were young and the sun and moon unbirthed. But not all.

There are seven Companies of the Stars left in these lands, of the hundred whose banners once decorated our Courts. Each takes a turn maintaining one of the three Wilderland Freeholds to offer succor and protection to those who wander. The other four take service in the lands of Man and Dwarf and Orc.

For we will not err so again.

I got a shipment of Burners (Magic, Monster, and Adventure) at the end of last week, and took all five Burning Wheel books with me for our long weekend on Seneca Lake. This is one of the things that came to me as I read through them.

Mechanically, this says that Elves can only take lifepaths from the Wilderlands and Protector settings. While trips into the Elven Wilderlands are possibly, most interactions with Elves in the wider world are with members of the four Companies serving abroad. Currently, the Companies of the Raven, the Spear Unbroken, and the Jaguar so serve, along with one other named by any Elf player(s) who doesn’t dig on one of those names.

This idea percolated up from a few different sources:

  • Thinking about the setting effects that come about when you restrict lifepaths.
  • Reading about the Forgotten Realms BW game Judd’s running, and pondering what happens when you put Tolkienesque Elves into decidedly non-Tolkien settings.
  • The commentary (I think from the Adventure Burner) on how the assumed setting of the Human lifepaths is the beginning of the age of the mercenary company. “What if,” I thought, “humans set up their merc companies in imitation of the Elves?”
  • The notion that one race might be living in its own post-apocalypse, while the rest of the world is oblivious to it.

Amusingly, this idea is utterly incompatible with the solo BW I’ll hopefully be running soon. But I’d love to find a way to see it get some use. Possible campaign/PC concepts:

  • Obviously, the PCs could play members of one of the Outland Companies, in service to some non-Elf nation.
  • Alternately, “last survivor(s) of a routed Company” is a concept with legs.
  • I also like the notion of playing a squad from one of the Freehold Companies, sent out into the wider world to meet up with an Outland Company, collect treasure from them, and then use that treasure to trade with Dwarves and Humans for necessities to bring back to the Wilderlands.

Some potential there, I think.

Been running a really great UA game, and even worked in a one-shot of Dogs in the Vineyard a few weeks back. But this post isn’t about that. Their time will come (hopefully; both are well worth a post or three).

This post, however, is about revelation. It came to me with the burning light of truth that they should adapt Planetary as a BBC series, with 2-4 of the tight six-episode seasons that they do so well. And Elijah Snow must be played by Kevin McKidd:

Bask in the glow of verity. Discuss as you will.

More Friday

Posted: May 28, 2010 in friday
Tags: , , , , ,

Hopefully, I’ll have something more obviously game-related to post over the next week. See below.

Reading: The Ravenor omnibus by Dan Abnett. I am something of a sucker for 40k fluff fiction, especially anything Abnett writes about an Inquisitor; he hits this pulpy gothic sci-fi vibe that feels really unique, and then writes the hell out of it. Loved Eisenhorn, and Ravenor‘s definitely keeping up with his erstwhile mentor.

Planning: An Unknown Armies game for tomorrow night, which is awesome. Also another weekend of old apartment cleaning, as our lease runs out on Monday.

Writing: Nothing. But I need to start writing an outline for a journal article; the inner workings of that will likely be discussed in Nascent, if they’re discussed anywhere.

Note: I cut “Wearing” from the list because there’s only so many times I can write, “Jeans and a button-down shirt”. Casual Fridays in an academic library don’t really inspire my sartorial creativity.

Reading: Just finished re-reading Stross’s The Atrocity Archives. Enjoyed it the second time around, and I’m looking forward to digging into the other stories and novels including in the omnibus edition I just snagged used. Got me thinking about the geek obsession with Nazi occultism, though, and I may have to write on that at some point.

Planning: Moving all our furniture from our apartment to our new house on Sunday. Madness. But the new place should have more room for gaming, which is an undeniable plus.

Wearing: Jeans, my favorite black polo, and my beat up big black shoes that I love to death. Looking at the weather, though, makes me think I’ll be wishing for sandals when I go back outside.

Writing: Just wrapped up a post over at Nascent Librarian, regarding Facebook’s privacy policy and the New York Times‘ analysis thereof. Thinking about the aforementioned post on geek obsessions, as well as another one in which I ponder geek culture.

What about y’all?

The Bat of Barathi

Posted: May 4, 2010 in characters, S7S
Tags: , ,

Inspired by re-reading Swashbucklers of the Seven Skies and by the following image (shared with me by Judd):

Many rumors surround the pirate known as the Bat of Barathi. Some claim he is the last scion of a small house destroyed by a particularly ugly vendetta; others claim his parents were slain by pirates, or even by a corrupt captain of the Imperial Navy. Some even speak of years spent traveling from cloud island to cloud island, learning from Viridese warmasters, Colronan Sandmen, even Sha-Ku ruqriders. Such obvious falsehoods are scoffed at by the reasonable, and even the most credulous listeners discount the notion that he spent time as a Royalist musketeer… but they often repeat the legend, just the same.

What is known beyond doubt is that the Bat is a terror of the Seven Skies, his black-sailed Grey Ghost falling upon merchant and naval vessel alike. And if the captains of these vessels share a… morally questionable nature, well, surely that’s mere coincidence. The tales of his exploits have spread throughout the cloud islands since, oddly, his victims are always left alive (albeit penniless and humiliated). His crew is nearly as storied as he: many tell of the ferocity and skill of his Night’s Wing boarding parties, and their leader the Black Robin. Some even claim that his first mate is a peerless wielder of the Merhorse’s Gift, and a woman to boot!

Regardless of which tales are true and which are false, the sundry rewards for the capture of the Bat are enough to send many ship captains who value wealth and status onto the Ghost‘s trail; the amount of gold offered by Markiz Donaldo Vanadi alone for the Bat’s head beggars belief. Whether such a venture would truly be in the service of justice is another matter entirely.

The Bat of Barathi
Foible: Does not kill
Motivation: Revenge [+2]
Nationality: Barathi [+4]
Past: Esoteric and varied training [+4]
Swashbuckling Forte: Martial arts [+6] (Techniques: When Outnumbered, vs. Criminals, While Masked)
Other fortes: Strategy and tactics [+4] (Technique: Calculating), Grey Ghost [+6] (Vehicle: Skyship [+4], Stealthy [+2], Fast [+2])
Style Dice: 7
Training Points: 3