Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Iterative Adventure

Last night I had the good fortune to play one of my favorite games and game settings: Heirs to the Lost World, an alternative 17th Century RPG set in a Mesoamerica with Aztecs, Mayans, Maroons, and Eurpean settlers, pirates, occultists, and traders. Heirs author Chad Davidson ran the adventure, which was an updated and improved version of a game I ran maybe 10 years ago at Con of the North. The scenario was partly inspired by an old Shadowrun module, translated into Heirs' 17th Century multicultural setting.

I won't give away the plot, beyond saying that it had something to do with high stakes synchretism.

It was such a fun group with which to play! Heirs has a great wager-based stunting system (really, the best one that I have played), and this group of players really got into it. Stunts (and PCs) were flying around the main scene of the action: a huge 3D Mayan temple that Chad had built. It was a really stunning prop, the kind of thing I wish I could pack up and take to Tekumel oriented cons like U-Con!

Here's hoping I get another chance to play with this group of players.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Free RPG Day Event

On Saturday, June 20, we'll be running Atlantis: the Second Age as a Free RPG Day event at The Source Comics and Games in Roseville, Minnesota. The game will run from 2 PM-6 PM.

Atlantis: the Second Age is a swords & sorcery RPG set in an antediluvian age where heroes can affect the course of world events. Inspirations include the works of Fritz Leiber, Michael Moorcock, Robert E. Howard, and Clark Ashton Smith.

With giant sloths and intelligent apes.

And Vodun.

This new iteration of a classic pulp fantasy RPG has a strong Afrocentric vibe- although it is accessible to anyone.

Saturday will be my first time running the RPG, and I'll be using the streamlined rules presented in the Free RPG Day book. I'll also have the core book and supplements with me during the session, and plan to use the Action Deck designed for the game.

Please stop by and play the secnario or just kibbitz for bit if you have time!

Monday, May 4, 2015

Sword & Soul

I first learned about Charles R. Saunders back in the 80s, when DAW published his first sword and sorcery novel, Imaro. Saunders is a U.S.-born African American journalist who has written a number of novels, as well as numerous essays and short stories. Today he lives in Canada.

Since the republication of Imaro several years ago by Night Shade Books, Saunders has helped give birth to a new genre, Sword & Soul, which takes what it needs from swords & sorcery, but is based in African and African American culture and themes.

Recently, I discovered that Charles Saunders had a new novel out, Abengoni (2014). I asked one of our two local SF&F stores to order a copy for me. Their buyer noticed a few related titles and ordered those as well for the store's new shelf: the anthologies Griots: A Sword and Soul Anthology (2011), edited by Milton J. Davis and Charles R. Saunders, and Griots: Sisters of the Spear (2013) by the same editorial pair.

Fans of RPGs like Nyambe and Spears of the Dawn will want to check these out.

Saturday, March 21, 2015


Thursday night I picked up a copy of Sertorius at our FLGS.  Sertorius is an East Asian flavored fantasy RPG that has rather unique interpretations of a number of standard fantasy races. You play powerful spellcasters whose godlike abilities draw followers, introducing (rather quickly I gather) the elements of domain level play. However, magical power can also be corrupting, and you can easily end up as a cursed feature of the landscape called a Grim.

These are very much my first impressions of Sertorius, but I think the result here is something like a cross between Exalted and the Adventurer Conqueror King System. The book is a brick with some 465 pages of content on character generation, spells, monsters, and the world before you get to the character sheets at the back of the book. It is a skills-based fantasy RPG system that uses d10 dice pools against a target number to determine outcomes.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

All About the Cannon

Any day I can play Heirs to the Lost World is a great day! Saturday morning at Con of the North was one of those days last weekend! It is a fast-paced, easy-to-learn RPG with the best stunting rules of any RPG I have played.

Heirs to the Lost World is an alternative history RPG set in a 17th Century RPG with Aztecs, Mayans, Europeans, maroons, and pirates!  The game is very immersive; it is both faithful to the peoples it portrays while being as fun as hell to play!

Designer Chad Davidson ran an adventure called Caravan of the High Plateau. The PCs were a mixed caravan of Port Royal pirates and Aztec pochteca. We were charged by Moctezuma with transporting several cannon and barrels of gunpowder overland and into the core of the Aztec Empire. Moctezuma's idea was to begin acquiring the weapons required to even the odds against the Spanish.

My character was one of the pirates who had brought the cannons and powder from Port Royal. I was of African descent and a priest of Ogun: just the person to help transport cannon and gunpowder! As soon as the Spanish first attacked the caravan, I summoned Ogun and had him ride me. This made me much less vulnerable to injury, including from firearms.

A Spaniard on horseback is about to be jumped by an Aztec Jaguar Knight
I had access to "standard" Voudoun spells/rituals which are part of the character build for a priest of Ogun.  But during the game I chose to create spells on the fly using Heirs to the Lost World's wager-based stunting mechanics. Early in the first battle, I "fired" on the enemy by spitting magical shot out of my mouth; the teeth used to create the shot would grow back... in a few days. A bit later, I used a rather ribald ritual to load a cannon with magical shot.

The Spanish of course got wind of the operation (the Aztec's native "allies" from other tribes can be somewhat... unreliable) and so our troubles began. The action ended in the caverns below a defiled temple of Huitzilopochtli fighting a giant Fire Spider that had been summoned by disloyal vassals.

Defeating the creature was a challenge.

We prevailed.

I'd like to be playing (or running) this game a bit more often than once or twice per year!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Early Experience With 5E

Cannon on display at Fort Pitt Museum

It has been at least 6 or 7 years since I have played any D&D, although in that time I have purchased a number of old school RPGs. That half-decade hiatus was a very welcome break from modern implementations of D&D. My last experience had been playing in a 3.5 pirates game where it took an entire session to fire a loaded cannon and then reload it to fire again. I left the session after nearly three hours of waiting, when it was clear that second shot was not just going to happen.

But I've been interested to see where 5E would go. Since the summer of 2014, I have purchased the three core books, and the GM screen. About three months ago, a friend proposed an online game through Hangouts, and in the late fall, I created Enkidu, my Half Orc Ranger.

It took a couple of hours to create the character. That's too long in my book, but it was a new PC with a new system. There wasn't as much cruft (such as Feats) to deal with as in 3.5, and the skills list seemed more useful for a roleplaying game than the one in 4E. When my GM reviewed my character he found that I had underselected my proficiencies by one skill. It was only after some rereading and discussions that I also understood how saves and save proficiencies come together.

But we're there now!

Friday night we had our first game session by Hangout. It was an urban/wilderness adventure. Our task was to deliver a shipment to the nearest town. It was winter and the first day after a blizzard, so we made our delivery by sled. Along the way, players made skill checks for various things such as handling the sled and spotting potential hazards. I was surprised that the advantage/disadvantage system didn't get more use, but I think it's likely that players will probably need to be nudged to remind the GM when they are in a situation where advantage might apply to their actions. (And since this is a traditional RPG more or less, GMs will also need to decide about the situations in which disadvantage applies.)

The skills proved very appropriate for the kinds of things we were trying to do.My post-play assessment of the skill list is that it gets things about right. I also thought my character was pretty competent in the skills for which he had proficiency.

There was no combat in the session, so we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. Our GM is planning to take a more traditional approach to hit points and healing. I have no idea how that will affect the threat posed by monsters, and the efficacy of certain spells; we will just have to see.

So far, so good on the systems front. But boy did that session end with one hell of a PC-induced and completely preventable mess. The party collective decided to leave the sled and shipment of goods in someone else's hands while we went to dinner. I had advised against this course of action, but other voices prevailed. We returned from dinner to find our sled, shipment, and draft horse had been stolen.

This is no one's fault but our own.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

It Always Snows In Neverwinter

Fort Amsterdam Post Card

The last time I played D&D with my friend Boris, he was GMing AD&D 2e. A science lab on the Cornell campus was the scene for his medieval Russian campaign. (Back in the '90s, I also gamed quite a bit in classrooms at the University of Rochester. This was before our universities became as secure as prisons.)

But last night, Boris began a new 5e campaign for a mostly new group of players. One of the other guys had been in his medieval Russia campaign back in the day. Fun reuniting with a couple of folks for gaming some 20 years on!

The action started in the city of Neverwinter during winter. In fact, the action started with a snowstorm. When you read Neverwinter, think "New Amsterdam"; the place names in this campaign are going to have a very loose relationship to the geography of the Forgotten Realms.

The setting is similar to 17th C. North America. The racialization is humans, elves, dwarves, gnomes, and halflings are immigrants and colonists. There was a bloody war with indigenous peoples, mainly orcs and goblins, though there are other races such as gnolls (in the nearby town of Claymore, there is a gnoll street sweeper with a reverse coat color pattern: black fur, yellow spots; he's a quite abject fellow). My character, the Half-Orc Enkidu, is the only character with indigenous heritage.

Of course, this kind of set-up already gets us into very dangerous territory with respect to race in gaming and D&D specifically; there's no doubt about that. But read on.

The fur trade is everything here. There is a trading Company that controls the fur trade, which of course relies on the indigenous people to do the trapping. I read William Cronin's Changes in the Land a number of years ago, and more recently read Mary Lethert Wingerd's North Country: The Making of Minnesota so I know this conceptual territory very well.

I grew up in Western New York, which was central to the early fur trade, and now live in what was originally the Fort Snelling Military Reserve in the Minnesota Territory: a frontier fort and surrounding land reserve set up to regulate the fur trade, and deter rapid immigration into the territory.

Think about how lucrative that trade must have been that the U.S. government set up a fort to slow down the theft of land from Indians.

It should be interesting to see where this goes.