Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Monday, 19 October 2020

Jonstown Jottings #29: A Tale of Woodcraft

 Much like the Miskatonic Repository for Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition, the Jonstown Compendium is a curated platform for user-made content, but for material set in Greg Stafford’s mythic universe of Glorantha. It enables creators to sell their own original content for RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha13th Age Glorantha, and HeroQuest Glorantha (Questworlds). This can include original scenarios, background material, cults, mythology, details of NPCs and monsters, and so on, but none of this content should be considered to be ‘canon’, but rather fall under ‘Your Glorantha Will Vary’. This means that there is still scope for the authors to create interesting and useful content that others can bring to their Glorantha-set campaigns.


What is it?

A Tale of Woodcraft is a scenario for use with RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha.

It is an eighteen-page, full colour, 13.15 MB PDF.

The layout is clean and tidy, and the illustrations good. It very much needs another edit.

Where is it set?
A Tale of Woodcraft can place anywhere where an Aldryami forest is located adjacent to a Human settled area. It also requires a route which has been rendered impassable, for example, a ravine crossed by a broken bridge, a river in flood, or a mountain pass blocked by a landslide. The scenario also requires an area where agents of the Lunar Empire might be operating.

The default given area in A Tale of Woodcraft is Sartar.

Who do you play?
No specific character types are required to play A Tale of Woodcraft, but Troll characters or characters with Lunar connections will be at a disadvantage. A literate Player Character might also be useful, but not absolutely necessary.

What do you need?
A Tale of Woodcraft requires RuneQuest: Roleplaying in GloranthaRuneQuest – Glorantha Bestiary will be useful. 

What do you get?
A Tale of Woodcraft is an on-the-road adventure, much like the earlier Vinga’s Ford, also from Beer with Teeth. However, where Vinga’s Ford has a specific location, A Tale of Woodcraft has flexible geographical requirements.

The scenario finds the Player Characters on the road when they find their route blocked. This can be because of a flooded river, a landslide, or a broken bridge—the latter the default in A Tale of Woodcraft. The likelihood is that the blockage will take days to clear or repair and so an alternative route is suggested—a rough path which will take the Player Character up and around the obstacle via a high tor. They are not the only ones on the steep route though, they are followed by a group of older men and a group of Aldryami seems to be pacing them on the path opposite. It quickly becomes apparent that the two groups are coming to meet each other for a ceremony, and that this is a regular occurrence. However, the tense nature of the meeting is threatened by the inadvertent appearance of the Player Characters as does the discovery of a strange box nearby…

A Tale of Woodcraft involves two plot strands that nicely dovetail into each other, one of which at least, may have consequences for the Player Characters for years to come. One is the ceremony, which involves formally confirming a longstanding peace between the nearby tribe and a decidedly prickly Elf, the other the contents of the box, which once determined, are likely to lead to a confrontation with some fairly tough opponents. Whilst the latter is likely to offer the opportunity for some combat in what is the scenario’s climax, the former involves a mix of roleplaying and exploration. This requires some delicacy upon the part of the Player Characters, lest a diplomatic incident occur, and ancient, near-forgotten hostilities break out once again…

However, the scenario feels slightly overwritten in places and the Game Master will need to give it a careful read through prior to running it, especially to understand its plot strands. That said, it comes with some interesting further plot hooks and the story nicely mixes tradition with inadvertent foul play.

Is it worth your time?
YesA Tale of Woodcraft presents an entertaining roleplaying challenge, a mystery, and some action, that all together neatly packaged on route somewhere for easy addition to a campaign.
NoA Tale of Woodcraft is not worth your time if you are running a campaign involving Lunars or Trolls, or set far away from the Lunar Empire.
MaybeA Tale of Woodcraft needs a careful read through prior to being run and maybe too complex for a simple sidetrek-style adventure.

Sunday, 18 October 2020

#WeAreAllUs: The Adventure of the Great Hunt

In 2020, King Arthur Pendragon is thirty-five years old and in that time it has seen five editions, the last of which–apart from some minor updates, appeared in 2008. In that time, the award-winning King Arthur Pendragon—still the preeminent roleplaying game that explores Arthurian legend, has not received a quick-start, a means of introducing the setting, the mechanics, and the style of play. That changes with The Adventure of the Great Hunt, the quick-start designed to introduce Pendragon, Sixth Edition released  to observe the third anniversary of its designer’s—the late Greg Stafford—passing. As with any good quick-start, it is designed to introduce and explain the core rules, provide a scenario which can be played in a single session, and the pre-generated characters necessary to play. The new version of Pendragon is intended as Greg Stafford’s ‘ultimate’ edition and whilst the style and play of the game remains the same, there are a number of modifications to the rules—as evidenced in The Adventure of the Great Hunt.

For anyone coming to The Adventure of the Great Hunt via King Arthur Pendragon, rest assured that the fundamentals have not changed. Players take the role of knights seeking Glory and honour during the reign of Arthur, King of the Britons; a knight will primarily be defined by his physical attributes—there is no equivalent of the Intelligence stat in Pendragon; a knight’s personality will be defined by thirteen pairs of opposed Traits, such as Chaste and Lustful, Just and Arbitrary, and Valorous and Cowardly, which can guide his decisions, help him pass (or fail) a moral test, influence others, and so on; a knight may be swayed by his Passions, such Love (Family) and Hate (Saxons); and the mechanics still involve the rolling of a twenty-sided die.

The rules to The Adventure of the Great Hunt and thus the basics of Pendragon, Sixth Edition—whether coming to Pendragon for the first time or having played previous versions of King Arthur Pendragon, are explained with no little efficiency. It covers the core mechanic—rolling under a skill, attribute, trait, or passion, on a twenty-sided die, with the critical success being equal to the exact value of the target, and a natural twenty being a critical failure. It also explains how skills, traits, and passions can be rated above twenty. Traits and Passions of sixteen or more, are of course, something that a Knight is considered to be Famous for, whilst he is Exalted if they are twenty or more. The Adventure of the Great Hunt explains the results when Passions are invoked, typically an Inspired +5 bonus to a skill on a success and an Impassioned +10 bonus on a critical success, but a loss of a point of the Passion on a fumble as well as several days of melancholia—or oven madness, depending upon if the Passion is Famous or Exalted. Mechanically, Passions are a great way of Knight gaining a bonus to his next actions, but they are simply great roleplaying hooks too.

Combat is resolved using opposed rolls against the combatants’ skills, for example sword versus sword or spear versus axe. To make a successful attack, a knight’s player must successively roll under his attack skill and roll better than the opposing knight’s player. It is possible for both players to make successful rolls, in which case the player with the lower result has achieved a partial success and although his knight does not inflict damage, he can use his shield or weapon to help block damage from the incoming attack. The combat system allows for dropped or broken weapons on a Fumble, for a Knight to be knocked down if the base damage—before armour deducts any points—inflicted in greater than his Size attribute, and Major Wounds to be suffered if the damage inflicted after armour stops it is greater than a Knight’s Constitution. Understandably, given the historical period in which Pendragon, Sixth Edition is set, Major Wounds are difficult to recover from. So woe betide any Knight who suffers a critical strike in combat—the base damage for most weapons is four six-sided dice, and critical strikes add another four six-sided dice!

As well as healing, mounted combat, and so on, the last thing that The Adventure of the Great Hunt covers is the squire who a Knight is responsible for training in arms, courtesy, and the other skills necessary to bear the title of knight. In return, the squire is a servant for his Knight and may conduct certain actions in combat, such as rendering First Aid, and bringing a new weapon or a fresh horse should a Knight need them.

The scenario in the quick-start is ‘The Adventure of the Great Hunt’. Set during the Conquest Period of Arthur’s reign, it can be played in one long session or two shorter ones, and is suitable to be run as a one-shot or as part of a campaign. If part of a campaign, the Player-Knights will gain Experience Checks for critical successes, as well as Glory for their actions. If run as a one-shot, the Player-Knights will simply gain Glory, and the Knight who gains the most Glory over the course of the adventure will be the one best remembered in the tales told about its events in the winter months to come.

As the title suggests, ‘The Adventure of the Great Hunt’ involves a great deal of hunting—of creatures great and small, Courtesy, Orate, travel, one of their unmarried sisters, and logistics! The scenario comes with a built-in time limit and it is entirely possible for the players to scupper their Knights’ efforts if they are too inefficient in terms of where they decide to travel to. It begins with the Player-knights as guests at the hunting lodge of Sir Servause le Breuse, a veteran knight and renowned hunter, when suddenly their discussions are interrupted by the arrival of Sir Ector, the foster-father of King Arthur Pendragon! He seeks the aid of Sir Servause le Breuse in either slaying or driving off a fearsome dragon which is ravaging some of his holdings in Norgales (North Wales). There is the chance here that one or more of the Player-knights will valorously, if not prudently, decide to rush off and attempt to slay the dragon himself—or help Sir Ector do so. Fortunately, for more Player-Knights, their host has a plan, and this forms the meat of the scenario.

The plan requires the sweet perfume that is the belch of the panther!

Ordinarily, every other beast in Christendom—and likely beyond, finds this scent to be attractive and fragrant, but not the dragon. To such a fearsome creature, it is a stench, a small so strong it will drive the beast into a torpor, or even deep into the earth. To gain such an eruction, the Player-Knights not only have to acquire a Panther, but also such beasts whose special qualities are so efficacious to a Panther’s digestion that it will emit the richest and most pleasing of belches, and so have the greatest effect upon the dragon! So begins the great hunt!

‘The Adventure of the Great Hunt’ will see the Player-Knights travel back and forth across England to the various locations where Sir Servause le Breuse suggests the desired beasts may be found. Many times, this will see the Player-Knights pursuing various beasts, such as cranes in the fens of Anglia or stags in the nearby forest, on day-long hunts using the given hunting and pursuit rules. However, not every creature can be obtained with as simple a task as a hunt, and the Player-knights have opportunities too to persuade the great and the good of the land to lend them their aid and their beasts. There is even a hunt which will not involve the Player-Knights at all! Ultimately—and if they are in time, the Player-Knights will have assembled their menagerie, driven it Norgales, fed the panther, satisfied its appetite, and have eruct the sweetest of belches imaginable!

Of course, this is all up against the time limit and the Player-Knights may not necessarily have acquired sufficient beasts and not fed them to the panther in time—and so, there is the chance that they will fail. There is also the chance that Sir Ector may not wait around long enough for them to arrive and ride out in one last valorous attempt to drive off the dragon from his lands… So as much as the Player-knights to be successful in obtaining the necessary animals, they really do need to effectively manage their time.

In addition to the stats for the NPCs and various beasts, The Adventure of the Great Hunt comes with six pre-generated Player-Knights. They include an adventuring knight, a champion knight, a courtier knight, a hardy knight, a hunter knight, and a religious knight. The hunter knight will be the most obviously useful, but all of the knights will have a chance to shine in the adventure. The adventure includes a map showing the locations of where the various creatures may be found and the travel distances between each location. The Game Master will not only want to provide the sample Player-Knights for her players, but also some tokens to track the Player-Knights and their various quarries on the many hunts they have to undertake, and probably a calendar to track how many days the Player-Knights have spent on their tasks so far and how many they have left.

As well appointed as The Adventure of the Great Hunt is, there are one or two issues with it. It would have been nice if the pre-generated Player-Knights had been given a single sheet each and perhaps an explanation as to what makes them stand out. That would have been useful for players new to Pendragon rather than just Pendragon, Sixth Edition. Also a list of names, both male and female as the Knights can be ‘Sirs’ and ‘Dames’, would have been useful for ease of play—especially if The Adventure of the Great Hunt is run as a convention adventure, for not only do the players have to name their Knights, they also have to name their squires. Another issue is with the map. It is not obvious where the Player-Knights start. Reading through The Adventure of the Great Hunt, it becomes clear that it is the site of the stag hunt, but it is not clear from the text.

Physically, The Adventure of the Great Hunt is well presented. It is neat and tidy, and easy to read. The illustrations are suitably medieval in style and the monkish marginalia adds to the PDF’s illuminated style.

As has been stated before, King Arthur Pendragon is Greg Stafford’s masterpiece, design classic, a master class in using mechanics to both model its Arthurian genre and to encourage its players to roleplay its knightly character types, in a setting that was a labour of love upon the part of the author. The Adventure of the Great Hunt is a great introduction to knightly adventuring in the time of King Arthur, efficiently explaining the rules and key mechanics before presenting the players and their Knights with a grand challenge, and constantly testing them throughout using a variety of skills, traits, and passions.

Saturday, 17 October 2020

A Symbaroum Collation

The Symbaroum Game Master’s Guide is a supplement for Symbaroum, the near-Dark Ages fantasy roleplaying game from Swedish publisher, Free League Publishing, distributed in English by Modiphius Entertainment. The supplement does two things. First, it collects and collates material from previous titles for the Symbaroum roleplaying line, but not only that, builds upon them. The titles include the Advanced Player’s Guide and Monster Codex, as well as Thistle Hold – Wrath Of The Warden, Karvosti – The Witch Hammer, and Yndaros – The Darkest Star. Second, it builds on and expands on this content as well as adding new content of its own. This has a number of consequences. First, in replicating content from previous titles, there is a sense of redundancy to it, more so if the Game Master already has those supplements. Second though, in collating the content, it brings it all together in one place for easy reference, and that does mean it is useful. More so, of course, if the Game Master lacks one or more of the earlier volumes it draws from

Intended as the capstone to the core books for Symbaroum, the Game Master’s Guide essentially explores the adventures, challenges, and rewards to be had in the setting, giving advice and practical suggestions  that the Game Master can bring to her game. It is divided into three sections, each of which is further divided into chapters. The first section, ‘The Adventure’ essentially covers the design and creation of game worlds, chronicles, and landscapes—the latter better known as scenarios or adventures. It begins with the primary building blocks such as theme—most obviously Symbaroum’s ‘struggle between civilisation and nature’, stories, and tone, before adding secondary building blocks such as history, nature, cultures, population, and more. It guides the Game Master through the process, and then it does the same for chronicles—better known as campaigns, from establishing a chronicle’s theme and the importance of the first adventure through the course of the chronicle to its climax. Adventure landscapes are treated in the same fashion. The opening chapters of the Game Master’s Guide narrow their focus again and again, going from an overview down to individual scenarios, throughout referencing various scenarios for Symbaroum, as well as the Crown of Thorns campaign begun with Thistle Hold – Wrath Of The Warden.

However, these opening chapters are not overly engaging, particularly early on when examining the base building blocks. The references, especially to roleplaying games from Free League Publishing for other than Symbaroum feel somewhat superfluous and the chapters feel overwritten. This is not to say that the advice is poor, but the writing becomes more engaging and to the point when subject being covered is more specific, for example, when discussing the concept of Troupe Play in Symbaroum, in which the players take the roles of more than one character, suggesting the roles that the players might take in particular organisations. Thus, for a Barbarian village, the first set of Player Characters would be the chieftain’s council, the second his guard warriors, and the third, common villagers. ‘Adventures for Heroes’ gives advice on presenting scenarios and encounters for experienced Player Characters, not just adjusting the enemy’s numbers, but also adapting the enemy’s tactics and altering the terrain. It also suggests weaknesses against particular character types, not necessarily to defeat them, but rather to present such characters with challenges. So for the giant berserker with a two-handed weapon, the Game Master might counter with ranged enemies, monsters which bind or hinder movement, and enemies using mystical powers.

More specific to the setting is ‘Under, Above, and Beyond’ which explore the realms beyond Ambria and Davokar—the Underworld, the Yonderworld, and the Spirit World. It covers what might be found in each as well as encounter tables, adventure suggestions, and more. None of this is intended to be definitive, but more a guide for the Game Master for the few occasions when her Player Characters have to visit or traverse such realms. Again, more specific, ‘Goal Oriented Roleplaying’ presents objectives that the Player Characters might want to achieve, such as a conquest or staging an expedition, and examines each through five phases, the problems and challenges that they might face. Here the Game Master’s Guide most obviously draws from, and builds on, content from Thistle Hold – Wrath of the Warden and the Symbaroum Monster Codex, so is much more a case of developing content further along with the straight reprint and presenting it in the one location.

The practicality of the second section, ‘Challenges’, means that the focus in the Game Master’s Guide strengthens further. ‘Advanced Traps’ is useful for adding to the tombs and treasure vaults know to be located in the Davokar Forest and comes with some rather nice illustrations reminiscent of Grimtooth’s Traps, whilst ‘Pitched Battle’ enables the Player Characters to take to the battlefield, whether as combatants or commanders. It is an abstract system which calculates battle odds via the ratio between attackers and defenders, adjusting for factor such as resistance levels and battle location, to determine the outcome and casualties suffered. It also allows for random events, such as waking amongst the dead or being saved by allies, whilst an adjacent article provides a good examination of the nature of Ambrian Wars. This covers the Great War, the invasion of Ambria, and the battles of Karo’s Fen, as well as discussing the tactics used by the Dark Lords, the Ambrians, and the Barbarian clans. However, what the ‘Pitched Battle’ rules lack are an example or two, not an issue with the ‘Managing a Domain’, which puts the Player Characters in charge of a small fiefdom, from a fortified farm to a small market town. It includes events and improvements which can occur over the course of a year, as well as ways to protect the domain should it come under attack.

Equally as well supported by examples are the rules for ‘Social Challenges’, which cover Player Character scheming as well as tracking the relationships between them and Symbaroum’s various factions. However, the Player Characters’ favour with any one of the factions will wax and wane, so it is not merely a case of doing a deed or conducting a task to gain a faction’s support, but doing more deeds and conducting further tasks to maintain that support.

Travelling through and exploring the Davokar forest comes under the spotlight in first ‘Expeditions in Davokar’, followed by ‘Exploring Ruins’. These are perhaps the most familiar chapters, covering content previously presented in Symbar – Mother of Darkness. ‘Expeditions in Davokar’ covers the dangers and travails of moving through the forest—planning, misfortunes, companions, treasures to be found, reasons to delve underneath the canopy, and more. ‘Exploring Ruins’ provides a set of tables for the Game Master to create various that might be found in the forest. The penultimate chapter in the section, ‘Ceremonies’, expanded from The Darkest Star, covers powerful rituals the casting of which comes with significant corruption and side effects, and which are outlawed by the Ambrians. Numerous examples are given, but for the most part, these remain the province of NPCs and likely events which the Player Characters will either have to investigate, prevent, or interrupt. Lastly, ‘Legendary Creatures’ draws on the Monster Codex to present legendary, climatic challenges for the Player Characters, such as Sakofal the Slaughterer, legendary dragon, recently awoken and emaciated, and very, very hungry…

The third section, ‘Rewards’, is the last and shortest, consisting of two chapters. The first, ‘Enhanced Rewards’ covers everything from thalers to artefacts as rewards, but there are some non-traditional options too, including ‘burdens as rewards’. The idea being that the Player Characters will have faced great, probably stressful challenges and dangers, and the likelihood is that they will come away hurt in body or mind, if not both. This is an interesting way of developing a Player Character, plus the ‘burden’ grants both roleplaying opportunities and Experience Points! The second, ‘Great Artifacts’ gives almost unique devices of a magical nature, such as Bunefor’s Death Mask, which enables the wearer to find gaps in an enemy’s armour as well emit a piercing scream under certain circumstances or Desdemorgos’ Iscohedron, a device which protects the user against environmental corruption, but which also allows the user to draw corruption and use it as an attack! Each of the artefacts comes an adventure hook ready to develop.

Physically, the Game Master’s Guide is up to the standard you would expect of the Symbaroum line. It needs a tighter edit perhaps in the earlier chapters, but is otherwise well written and the artwork is up to the usual standard.

As much as the Game Master’s Guide reprints content from previous titles, it also expands upon them and it collates them, all in one handy reference tome. In doing so, it supports whatever type of campaign set in Symbaroum the Game Master is running, whether that is the Crown of Thorns or one of her own devising, with advice on set-up and theme, handling traps and ruins, Player Character goals and rewards, and really, quite a lot more. It goes further though, in offering ideas and suggestions for running campaigns in Symbaroum other than that presented in the Crown of Thorns campaign. The chapter on troupe play lends itself to roleplaying and adventure opportunities aplenty, as does managing a domain, so that a campaign could be location-based rather than travelling hither and thither.

However, as good as much of the content in the Game Master’s Guide is, it is difficult to describe as a must-have title—and less so if the Game Master already has many of the other supplements and titles for Symbroum. As much as the content has been expanded upon, it is simply a case of being less useful if the Game Master already has it. On the other hand, it does collate as well as expand that content and that means that it is useful reference tome to have alongside the core rulebook instead of having to leaf through numerous supplements. So for the Game Master new to Symbaroum, the Game Master’s Guide is a worthy purchase, but for the veteran Symbaroum Game Master, the Game Master’s Guide is worth considering before making the purchase.

Friday, 16 October 2020

Desalinated Fantasy

Sinking the Stercorarius: The Salty Funnel Level 0 Adventure is a ‘Character Funnel’ for use with Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game and thus features one of the feature elements of  both Mutant Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game and Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game. The set-up for this requires each player to roll up three or four Level Zero characters and have them play through a generally nasty, deadly adventure, which surviving will prove a challenge. Those that do survive receive enough Experience Points to advance to First Level and gain all of the advantages of their chosen Class.

Published by 2 Old Guys Games, following a successful Kickstarter campaign
Sinking the Stercorarius dumps the Player Characters aboard what turns out to be a sinking ship—whether as criminals, slaves, members of the elite, or simply day-trippers—and has them fight their way on the deck just as something tentacular takes advantage of the ship going down.

The adventure is the first to use the publisher’s ‘Multi-Adventure-Theme System’. What this does is present different themes or ways in which the set-up for adventure can be played. In the case of Sinking the Stercorarius, these themes explain why the Player Characters are aboard the ship when she springs a leak. Four are given. They are in turn, prisoners, rushed through a trial, found guilty, and now bound for the gaol on the island of Prison Rock; as slaves in the hold; as pompous members of the elite aboard a jolly cruise; or as day-trippers getting an ‘Authentic Pirate Experience’. To support the first three of these set-ups, but not the fourth as for that, the Player Characters could be of any background, Sinking the Stercorarius includes three Occupation tables. One for Prisoners, one for Slaves, and one for the Elite.

Whichever of the themes—singly or combined, which is also discussed as an option—the set-up for Sinking the Stercorarius finds the Player Characters aboard the ship as it springs a leak and begins to sink. The Player Characters must find their way out of their confinement and fight their way onto the deck, and then just as quickly, off the ship before they are dragged into the depths by the undertow! As this happens, the water swirls around the Player Characters, something tentacular moves between them, attacking some, grabbing others, and dragging them away. When the Player Characters find themselves in the freezing seas, they spot a strangely isolated, conical island of black rock within swimming or rowing distance.

What the Player Characters find atop the cone is a crater, at the heart of which is a strange metal tower-like structure, bent, even crumpled. Equally as strange are the armoured and betentacled, two-armed and four-armed figures moving stiffly about the crater and the structure. Can the Player Characters find out what the structure is and who the figures are—and perhaps find a way of the island?

Designed to be played between one and two sessions, Sinking the Stercorarius is decently supported. Besides the Occupation tables, it comes with maps of both the Stercorarius and the strange structure, details of three new weapons, five alien and aquatic monsters, plus handouts. There is also some decent staging advice for the Judge as well as playtest notes throughout which make for an enjoyable read.

Physically, Sinking the Stercorarius is reasonably well presented. The new artwork is decent, as are the maps, although those of the strange structure on the island are really too small to be used with any ease. It is a pity that the two pages left ‘intentionally blank’ could not have been put to better use. The scenario could have done with another edit as well.

Now whilst Sinking the Stercorarius is adequately playable, it unfortunately suffers from a number of problems. The most obvious one is the inclusion of the ‘Player Characters as slaves’ theme, which some playing groups are going to find objectionable, especially since they begin play as slaves in the hold of a ship. It should be made clear that the Player Characters are not Africans and that the adventure does not take place in the real world—the authors have in no way been that insensitive. However, the difficult nature of this theme and its set-up could at least have been addressed by the authors and the Judge been given some advice about handling what could be a difficult theme for some. Or at least told to avoid that theme if she knows that her players would find it objectionable and insensitive.

Another problem is that the authors commit the cardinal sin of not explaining what the scenario is about. There is no explanation of the plot anywhere and essentially, the Judge only learns what Sinking the Stercorarius is about and what its plot twist is by reading through the scenario herself. On a first read through at least, it feels as if the authors are pulling the same bait and switch on the Judge as much as they are on the players.

That bait and switch is the fact that Sinking the Stercorarius is not salty, is not nautical, and is definitely not piratical. It might begin on a ship, but since the ship sinks, the only nautical things that the Player Characters get to do is cling to some flotsam, swim to ‘safety’, and possibly row a dinghy. They do not get to sail a ship, they do not meet any pirates, and they do not get to be abused by ‘salty’ language. In fact, the only ‘salty’ language that the Player Characters might be abused by is their own.

What the bait and switch involves is a crash-landed alien spaceship—the strange, metal tower-like structure, bent and crumpled, and this will become immediately obvious as soon as one of the handouts is shown to the players. The majority of the new monsters are aliens and the new weapons are basically, ray guns. In essence then, Sinking the Stercorarius: The Salty Funnel Level 0 Adventure starts at sea, goes to a mysterious island—and completely ignores the possibilities that exploring a mysterious island, especially in what is supposed to be nautical adventure—might provide an adventure with, and presents the Player Characters with a miniature version of S3 Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, the classic Science Fiction adventure for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, First Edition.

Sinking the Stercorarius: The Salty Funnel Level 0 Adventure is a ‘Character Funnel’ and undeniably so, but equally undeniable is the fact that Sinking the Stercorarius is not salty. Obviously, it does not taste of salt nor is it preserved with salt (I checked); equally, it is neither down-to-earth or coarse in terms of its language or humour; and nor is tough or aggressive, or angry or resentful in terms of its attitude. Ultimately, without the salt, whether that is in terms of the tone or the nautical theme, Stercorarius: The Salty Funnel Level 0 Adventure is a bland and uninspiring adventure.

Monday, 12 October 2020

Miskatonic Monday #54: Cages of Light & Lenses - A Call of Cthulhu adventure of lost film

 Between October 2003 and October 2013, Chaosium, Inc. published a series of books for Call of Cthulhu under the Miskatonic University Library Association brand. Whether a sourcebook, scenario, anthology, or campaign, each was a showcase for their authors—amateur rather than professional, but fans of Call of Cthulhu nonetheless—to put forward their ideas and share with others. The programme was notable for having launched the writing careers of several authors, but for every Cthulhu InvictusThe PastoresPrimal StateRipples from Carcosa, and Halloween Horror, there was a Five Go Mad in EgyptReturn of the RipperRise of the DeadRise of the Dead II: The Raid, and more...

The Miskatonic University Library Association brand is no more, alas, but what we have in its stead is the Miskatonic Repository, based on the same format as the DM’s Guild for Dungeons & Dragons. It is thus, “...a new way for creators to publish and distribute their own original Call of Cthulhu content including scenarios, settings, spells and more…” To support the endeavours of their creators, Chaosium has provided templates and art packs, both free to use, so that the resulting releases can look and feel as professional as possible. To support the efforts of these contributors, Miskatonic Monday is an occasional series of reviews which will in turn examine an item drawn from the depths of the Miskatonic Repository.


Name: Cages of Light & Lenses - A Call of Cthulhu adventure of lost film

Publisher: Chaosium, Inc.
Author: Alison Cybe

Setting: 1980s New York glamour & Soviet-era Bulgaria grime

Product: Scenario
What You Get: Twenty-seven page, 1.18 MB Full Colour PDF

Elevator Pitch: Sometimes lost media should stay lost.
Plot Hook: 
 A collector wants the only copy of a once-thought lost Silent Era film; guess who he hires to get it? 
Plot Support: One creature, four Mythos entities, two maps, and five pre-generated Investigators.
Production Values: Tidy layout, plain maps, and decent illustrations, but needs an edit.

# Engaging introduction and theme

# Potential convention scenario
# Solid climax
# Room for development
# Scope to play up the Capitalist/Communist culture clash


# Needs an edit
# No stats for the lost film as a tome
# Antagonists underutilised
# Missed opportunity for Capitalist/Communist culture clash 
# Missed opportunity for Committee for State Security involvement
# How does the bear get out of the basement?

# Engaging introduction and theme
Underdeveloped, but plenty of Cold War-horror potential 
The King in Yellow, but in reverse?

Sunday, 11 October 2020

Saturday Morning Stories

Harper’s Tale: A Forest Adventure Path for 5e is a campaign for Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition. Funded via Indigogo and published by Saturday Morning Scenarios, it is an adventure path of ten connected scenarios which will take the Player Characters from First Level to Tenth Level and is designed for players as young as ten. This is reflected in the name of publisher—Saturday Morning Scenarios—for the fantasy of Harper’s Tale is very American, being that of Saturday morning cartoons, so light in tone and with elements that are simply cute, such as Sir Cheddar, a magic-wielding Corgi, and Fred, a rainbow-maned, purple Allicorn—both of whom are likely to join or aid the Player Characters, but nevertheless still with elements of peril. However, its fantasy is neither grim nor dark, so it is thus suitable for a younger audience. Some older or more mature players may perhaps find its fantasy too light in tone, but that tone also means that Harper’s Tale is suitable for a family audience.

Notably, Harper’s Tale is the final result of a successful fundraiser for Friends of Kids with Cancer. This was because the publisher’s youngest daughter, Harper, was diagnosed with leukaemia. Fortunately, Harper is in remission, and in response to the support that she and her family received during her treatment, she and her father decided to devise a story for a Dungeon & Dragons adventure book, which once she was discharged, was developed into a proper outline. This is because Harper is a gamer and enjoys creating stories. Her father took the outline and together with a team made up of industry luminaries, including Jeff Stevens, Ben McFarland, Brian Suskind, Hannah Rose, Ashley Warren, Kienna Shaw, Bill Barnett,  MT Black, Donathin Frye, Anna Landin, Gwendy B, Anna Meyer, Dyson Logos, Jessica Ross, Kobold Press, Petersen Games, and more, has brought it to print.

The campaign begins in the village of Grove. Whether the Player Characters are merely passing through, visiting, or returning home, they discover a farming community devoid of its inhabitants, its animals run amok, its crops in danger of rotting before they are harvested. Eventually they will find two villagers, the sisters Rose and Grace, who can tell them what happened. The other villagers have all fallen asleep and cannot be woken, the sisters caring for them as best they can. Further investigation as the source of the illness points to the activities of outsiders and a previously unknown series of caves underneath Grove. Here, the Player Characters will encounter the first of a number of entertaining NPCs whom the Dungeon Master will undoubtedly enjoy roleplaying. Most obviously, this will be Sir Cheddar, the magic-using Corgi who will join the party on its adventures, but they also include a Goblin hermit, an out-of-his-depth Wizard, and more…

From the caves, the clues lead onto a number of other settlements which also seem to have been beset by strange illnesses and outbreaks of odd behaviour. The highlight of these is the seventh adventure, ‘The problem with Prattle Creek’, where amidst a rash of sickness and bizarre happenings, the town is being visited by Professor Piewright and his travelling medicine show with promises of a cure for that ails the townsfolk. Amidst the oddness, a murder occurs and in the ensuing investigation, the Player Characters will discover further links to the overarching plot. Of course, the ‘Snake Oil Salesman’ nature of the encounter is pure Americana, enforcing the ‘home on the range’ feel of earlier encounters, whilst giving the Dungeon Master a fun NPC to portray in the form of Professor Piewright.

For the most part, the encounters and scenarios in Harper’s Tale are rural or forest-based in nature, barring the larger cave system near the campaign’s start, there is very little in the way of traditional dungeons—and what there are, is not necessarily very interesting. Thankfully, the other encounters make up for it, much of the middle part of the campaign involving the Player Characters’ attempt to gain an audience with Deng, the arch-druid of the forest who might have a cure to the rash of poisonings and illnesses flooding the region—not once, but twice, and then going out to find the necessary ingredients. There is even a touch of the Lovecraftian here as the search for ingredients takes the Player Characters into the forests within the Dreamlands and back again, where they will encounter both Zoogs and Cats of Ulthar. In general, the encounters and scenarios will reward the player and their characters for clever play and roleplaying than the use of brute force, the encounters and scenarios themselves primarily requiring exploration and investigation.

Each of the ten encounters is presented in a similar format. Each gives a synopsis of the adventure, hooks to the adventure if not played as part of the campaign, a description of the locations in the adventure plus any events which will happen, and the conclusion. Each is followed by an appendix containing all of the stats for the scenario’s monsters and NPCs, plus any magic items. In general, they are well organised, and the hooks for running them separately decent enough. However, the scenarios do all work together and even with a coterie of different authors, the publisher has done a good job of keeping the tone and feel generally consistent throughout.

Harper’s Tale comes with eight pre-generated adventurers. They include a Faunkind Fighter, a Lion Paladin, a Tielfling Cleric, a Firbolg Druid, a Panthaka Monk, a Human Barbarian, a Gnome Wizard, and a Halfling Bard. This is a mix of traditional and non-traditional races, some of which may not be necessarily familiar to Dungeon & Dragons players. All eight are presented with a full colour illustration and their character sheets are tidily presented and easy-to-read. However, of the octet, given the campaign’s forest setting, it seems odd that a Ranger is omitted, but more problematically, the campaign includes challenges involving the use of thieves’ tool, and so the inclusion of a Rogue would have been more useful. Perhaps another useful addition for the Dungeon Master would have been some advice on creating the type of Player Characters presented in this set of pre-generated ones, especially as fall outside of the scope of the standard options in Dungeons & Dragons.

Physically, Harper’s Tale is well presented and has a bright and breezy look to it. The artwork in particular, tends towards more vibrant or pastel colours, which further enhances the tone of the campaign. However, in places, the book needs another edit and could really have done with a campaign overview before diving into the first episode. The background and story to the campaign is simple enough, but the Dungeon Master should not really be discovering the backstory as she reads through the campaign. There are also a couple of issues with the maps. One is that some of them are not quite as well presented as they could have been, another is that the regional map, showing the location for all ten of the campaign’s episodes is decidedly bland. The campaign could also have done with more maps, in particular those of individual buildings and their immediate surrounds, to help the Dungeon Master bring them to life during play.

Harper’s Tale is not perfect, it is underdeveloped in places and slightly unpolished in others, such the Dungeon Master will need to do more preparation than the campaign really needs. Those, however, are issues with the production rather than the core story and its adventures, which are light and accessible, and supported by some entertaining NPCs. Overall, Harper’s Tale is an enjoyably light, straightforward campaign for Dungeons & Dragons well suited for a younger or a family audience. 

Saturday, 10 October 2020

#WeAreAllUs: The Smoking Ruin & Other Stories

October 10th marks the second anniversary of Greg Stafford’s passing. To both commemorate that date and celebrate Greg’s contribution to the roleplaying hobby, today’s review from Reviews from R’lyeh is of The Smoking Ruin & Other Stories, the first anthology of scenarios for RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha.


The Smoking Ruin & Other Stories is an anthology of ready-to-play scenarios for RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha, the roleplaying game set in Greg Stafford’s mystical world of gods, faith, magic, cults, and great heroes that is Glorantha. Published by Chaosium, Inc., it presents three scenarios and source material that will take the Player Characters west of Sartar and into the South Wilds of the Dragonspine Mountains where they will discover ancient ruins and encounter ancient legends, rabid troll spirits, creatures out of the past, dinosaurs and Dragonnewts, Beastmen of every stripe and colour, priests and politicians, and more. It is designed for beginning Player Characters, but can easily be run using more experienced Player Characters, and that includes Player Characters who have played through ‘The Broken Tower’ from the RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha – QuickStart Rules and Adventure and the RuneQuest Gamemaster Screen Pack—and that includes the roleplaying game’s signature beginning Player Characters from RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha – QuickStart Rules and RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha core book. This is because the first adventure in the anthology—‘The Smoking Ruins’ begins and ends at Clearwine Fort, which if the players have played through the scenarios from the ‘RuneQuest Gamemaster Adventures’ book from the RuneQuest Gamemaster Screen Pack, their characters should have visited and forged links with, and further, the events of The Smoking Ruin & Other Stories take place after those of the scenarios in the ‘RuneQuest Gamemaster Adventures’ book.

To play through The Smoking Ruin & Other Stories, the Game Master will need access to RuneQuest – Glorantha Bestiary as it provides more details of the foes and NPCs that the Player Characters are very likely to meet as they adventure through the three scenarios in the anthology. Ideally, the Game Master will want the ‘RuneQuest Gamemaster Adventures’ book from the RuneQuest Gamemaster Screen Pack. It is not absolutely necessary to run The Smoking Ruin & Other Stories as the anthology includes background information and the major NPCs from Clearwine Fort described in the ‘RuneQuest Gamemaster Adventures’ book. However, the full information on both is given in the ‘RuneQuest Gamemaster Adventures’ book and will be useful. Access to a copy of King of Sartar will serve as an interesting corollary, but is definitely not required and only the most dedicated of Gloranthaphiles should be concerned about its inclusion. 

In terms of the types of adventurers required for The Smoking Ruin & Other Stories, a Shaman will prove more than useful, but again, not essential to its play through. Orlanth and Ernalda worshippers will find much to do in the scenarios—especially in ‘The Smoking Ruins’, and if such Player Characters have played through the scenarios in the ‘RuneQuest Gamemaster Adventures’ book from the RuneQuest Gamemaster Screen Pack, then all the better. This is because one of their number is likely to have been appointed Thane of Apple Lane and will have begun forging political links with Queen Leika’s court at Clearwine Fort. Similarly, a priestess of Ernalda or worshipper is likely to have links to the Ernalda temple at Clearwine Fort and at least be aware of its politics. Lastly, one of the Player Characters should have some kind of performance skill, such as Dance, Orate, Play Instrument, or Sing. The likelihood is that one or more of the Player Characters will have some of these skills, so again, a specialist with a high rating in any of these performance skills is not necessary. However, ‘The Smoking Ruins’ will present an opportunity for any Player Character with a good performance skill to shine—and more!

In addition to presenting its three scenarios, The Smoking Ruin & Other Stories presents some background and history of the region where they take place as well as the locations particular to each of the three scenarios. This starts with a gazetteer and history of the South Wilds, but also covers Clearwine Fort, political and religious centre of the Colymar Tribe; the Lost Valley, home to an isolated farming and herding community loyal to the Feather Horse Queen, but also the site of ruined ancient tower out of time and myth; and the Grove of Green Rock, for which the Aldryami have great plans. Each of these locations is accompanied by full descriptions and stats for each of the monsters, creatures, and NPCs to be found there, plus for the Lost valley, there are notes should a player want his character to originate from there. Arguably, the most notable of these locations is The Wild Temple, an eight-kilometre-wide web of megalithic standing stones which dominates the valley it stands in, sacred to both Beast People and the Grazeland Pony Breeders, particularly the former as it is centre of their spirit religion. Here may be encountered a wide array of creatures and peoples, from Centaurs, Satyrs, and Minotaurs to ‘Things No Longer Found in this World’, spirits, and Fox Women. All of them are given full stats, individualising them as you would expect for a RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha supplement.

The main scenario in The Smoking Ruin & Other Stories is the eponymous ‘The Smoking Ruin’, which takes the Player Characters from the political tensions at Clearwine Fort to an ancient ruined settlement high in the Dragonspine Mountains filled with Troll corpses set alight long ago and still burning such that the smoke blights the sky and back again to political tensions at Clearwine Fort. Beginning in Sea Season, 1626, Player Characters are hired by a priestess at the Temple to Ernalda to lead an expedition into the South Wilds where an ancient, sacred artefact might be found. They will need to conduct some research first, but accompanied by a precocious NPC, they must make the trip there and back again in a matter of just weeks. Despite the limited time frame, they are treated to something of a travelogue across the South Wilds before getting to the Smoking Ruins themselves. There are plenty of opportunities here for the Player Characters to meet people, learning something of the region, and lay the foundations for some firm friendships.

The limited time frame means that the Player Characters are unlikely to do more than make a brief exploration of this ancient complex of buildings and temples, for there is a lot more going on here than is presented in the plot of the scenario, ‘The Smoking Ruin’. In fact, so much more, that the location deserves at least more scenarios which will bring the Player Characters back to it to explore and play through the threads the scenarios hints at, but leaves hanging. As to the plot of ‘The Smoking Ruin’, it is both weird and wondrous, both mysterious and magical, and both mythical and epic in its storytelling. The scenario is lengthy and rich in detail, focusing on roleplaying, exploration, and Glorantha as a magical place, rather than on combat, offering multiple sessions of play. Plus, the beginning and the end pull the Player Characters into the politics at Clearwine Fort, also offering opportunities for further roleplaying and if playing the ‘Apple Lane’ series of scenarios, tying them further to the region—or beginning to if The Smoking Ruin & Other Stories is the Player Characters’ first scenario.

Whilst ‘The Smoking Ruin’ is an epic in length, the other two scenarios in The Smoking Ruin & Other Stories are shorter. All three though, share a sense of the epic in their scope. The first of these is ‘Urvantan’s Tower’, which takes place in the Lost Valley described earlier and begins with the Player Characters at the mouth of the valley, having been sent there as observers at the behest of Queen Leika. (This might be a punishment, or it might be an indication of trust, depending upon how Queen Leika regards the Player Characters after the events of ‘The Smoking Ruin’). The captain of the Wardens, essentially the militia for the Lost Valley and its village of True Ford, has come to Clearwine Fort to petition the Queen for help following the Lost Valley’s occupation of the Company of the Manticore, a band of mercenaries in the service of the Lunar Empire. 

Like many of the inhabitants of the Lost Valley, the Warden captain had hoped that another denizen of the Lost Valley, the Zzaburi Urvantan, a great sorcerer, might have come to their aid, but he has not left his tower retreat in some seasons. The likelihood is that the Player Characters will be outmatched by Company of the Manticore, so ultimately the sorcerer may be their only hope, as well as that of the Lost Valley’s inhabitants. Thus, they will need to find their way into Urvantan’s Tower—which will probably involve a certain amount of stealth upon the part of the Player Characters, and determine what has happened to him, before hopefully getting to come out and drive the Company of the Manticore out of the valley. 

‘Urvantan’s Tower’ is playable in two or three sessions and certainly gives the Game Master an incredibly powerful NPC to roleplay. The danger to avoid in the climax is making the final showdown between the sorcerer and the Company of the Manticore all about the sorcerer, for although he plays a major role, the Player Characters should also. Good advice is given to that end. Now whilst ‘Urvantan’s Tower’ has the structure of a traditional fantasy roleplaying adventure—‘village in peril, mercenary/monstrous threat, mysteriously disappeared wizard who is the only hope’—the scenario gives a very different spin on the set-up. Again, it is tied very much into the background and history of Dragon Pass, which gives the scenario a richness and introduces the players and their characters to more aspects of Glorantha.

Where ‘Urvantan’s Tower’ involved a mixture of stealth, exploration, and combat, the third scenario in The Smoking Ruin & Other Stories is all about combat, well combat and secrecy, but primarily combat! ‘The Grove of Green Rock’ is not designed to be played in a few long sessions, but really played out over the course of a few years. The Player Characters are hired as mercenaries by an Aldryami, but as to their mission, they are sworn to secrecy! In fact, they are hired to help protect a ritual which will strengthen the Aldryami presence in Dragon Pass, but to complete the ritual, the Elves will have to repeat it several times over the next few years, which means that the Player Characters will be hired again and again, each time to protect it from enemies sworn to prevent the return of the Aldryami to the region. Each time the Player Characters will face increasingly more difficult foes, but will receive some aid from their employer and better and better reward! Essentially this is the RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha equivalent of a ‘base defence’ game and the likelihood is if the incidences or ‘waves’ of the ritual defence are played out one after the another, they will lose their impact. Plus, returning to protect the ritual year after year means that each time the Player Characters are more powerful and capable of facing the increasingly tougher foes. 

Physically, The Smoking Ruin & Other Stories is a well presented, sturdy, hardback. The artwork is excellent throughout, some of it being repeated from other supplements, and the cartography very clear. However, it needs an edit in a few places and writing could have been clearer too in places, and sometimes the artwork feels as it could have served the scenarios better. It certainly would have been nice to be able to show some illustrations of specific locations in the Smoking Ruins as handouts for example. Another issue is the placement of the maps. Although there is a handy book in The Smoking Ruin & Other Stories, it would have been perhaps useful if the maps of the South Wilds and the Smoking Ruins had been printed inside the front and back covers respectively for easy access. Nevertheless, The Smoking Ruin & Other Stories is another good-looking book for RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha.

It feels like there has been an age to wait for new scenarios for RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha, but with the publication of The Smoking Ruin & Other Stories, the wait has definitely been worth it. The three scenarios it contains are all begging to be played and in particular, added to a campaign, because each one has ramifications for campaign play. After ‘The Smoking Ruin’, the Player Characters might improve their standing at Clearwine Fort and of Clearwine Fort itself—or not, they may help forge a friendship and an alliance with the inhabitants of the Lost Valley in ‘Urvantan’s Tower’, and in ‘The Grove of Green Rock’, the Player Characters may help return the Elves to Dragon Pass. They will also reveal more of the history of the Dragon Pass, perhaps even some of its secrets, bringing both to live through play. Yet The Smoking Ruin & Other Stories only details so much, whilst hinting at so much more. There can be no doubt that The Smoking Ruin & Other Stories deserves a sequel, especially one which focuses on the Smoking Ruin itself.

The Smoking Ruin & Other Stories contains interesting setting material and two decent scenarios. The comparative brevity of ‘Urvantan’s Tower’ and ‘The Grove of Green Rock’ and the emphasis on combat in the latter means that they are unlikely to be quite as memorable as the first scenario in the anthology, but do not take that as meaning that either scenario is bad. Far from it. However, in comparison, ‘The Smoking Ruin’ is a fantastical epic, rich in the flavour and detail that Glorantha is so famous for, an impressive epic that draws the Player Characters into it, and it is simply begging for a return visit.

Overall, The Smoking Ruin & Other Stories presents a fantastical trilogy of scenarios for RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha, opening up some of the wonders and wondrous nature of Glorantha. Hopefully, future scenarios will return to explore the South Wilds in further detail and to as high a quality.