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

Friday 31 July 2020

Which Witch VI

It is an undeniable truth that the Witch gets a lot of bad press. Not necessarily within the roleplaying hobby, but from without, for the Witch is seen as a figure of evil, often—though not necessarily—a female figure of evil, and a figure to be feared and persecuted. Much of this stems from the historical witch-hunts of the fifteenth, sixteenth, seventeen, and eighteenth centuries, along with the associated imagery, that is, the crone with the broom, pointy hat, black cat, cauldron, and more. When a Witch does appear in roleplaying, whether it is a historical or a fantasy setting, it is typically as the villain, as the perpetrator of some vile crime or mystery for the player characters to solve and stop. Publisher The Other Side has published a number of supplements written not only as a counter to the clichés of the witch figure, but to bring the Witch as a character Class to roleplaying after being disappointed at the lack of the Witch in the Player’s Handbook for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, First Edition. Each of these supplements draws upon more historical interpretations of the Witch—sometimes to counter the clichés, sometimes to enforce them—and presents her as a playable character Class. Each book is published under the label of ‘Basic Era Games’, and whilst the exact Retroclone each book is written to be used with may vary, essentially, they are all compatible. Which means that the Game Master can mix and match traditions, have player characters from matching traditions, and so on.

The first book in the series, Daughters of Darkness: The Mara Witch for Basic Era Games is designed for use with Goblinoid Games’ Labyrinth Lord and presents the Witch as dedicated to the Mara Tradition, that of the Dark Mother—Lilith, the First Woman, the First Witch, and the Mother of Demons. The second book in the series is The Children of the Gods: The Classical Witch for Basic Era Games, which was written for use with Dreamscape Design’s Blueholme Rules, the retroclone based on the 1977 Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set designed by J. Eric Holmes, and which focused on not so much as ‘Evil’ or Chaotic witches, but upon the Classical traditions of Egypt, Greece, Phoenicia, Rome, and Sumeria. Again, Cult of Diana: The Amazon Witch for Basic Era Games, the next and third entry in the line presents a different take upon the Witch, whilst the fourth, The Basic Witch: The Pumpkin Spice Witch Tradition, presents another different and very modern
—if slightly sillytake upon the Witch. The fifth entry, The Craft of the Wise: The Pagan Witch Traditionis written for use with Old School Essentials: Classic FantasyNecrotic Gnome’s interpretation and redesign of the 1981 revision of Basic Dungeons & Dragons by Tom Moldvay and its accompanying Expert Set by Dave Cook and Steve Marsh. It focuses on believers in ‘The Old Ways’, of ancient gods and practices with a strong belief in the supernatural and a strong connection to the natural world and the cycle of its passing seasons.

The Warlock is part of the series of books published by The Other Side exploring the place and role of the witch in the Old School Renaissance, but is in many ways different to those explorations. What it is not, is the presentation of the ‘male’ counterpoint to the witch, since that is not what a warlock is. Nor is it the exploration of an archetypal figure from history and its adaptation to gaming. Instead, it presents a wholly different Class, very much more of fantasy figure, somewhere between the Cleric, the Magic-User, and the Witch. In some cases hated figure—hated because they are believed to have dealings with the infernal, hated because they are believed to be evil, and hated because they steal spells. There is truth in all of that, but there is much more to this figure, as detailed in The Warlock, a companion to The Craft of the Wise: The Pagan Witch Tradition and also written for use with Old School Essentials: Classic Fantasy.

As a Class, the Warlock is a spell-caster who like the Witch has a patron. Now whilst the Witch worships her patron and her relationship with her patron is more divine in nature, the Warlock has more of an equal relationship with his Patron or is the student to the Patron’s teacher. A witch will typically worship a goddess and whilst a warlock may have a deity as a patron, he may also have a lost god, a demon, a devil, a dragon, a lord of the fae, or even with the cosmos, death, or chaos itself. The magic and spells of the Witch are primarily divine in nature, but for the Warlock, they are arcane in nature. The fundamental difference between the spell-casting Classes is that Clerics pray for their power and spells, Magic-Users study for their powers and spells, and the Warlock takes it.

In mechanical terms, the Warlock starts with the ability to unleash an Arcane Blast at will and a familiar. Unlike the Witch, this familiar is not a spirit in animal guise, but an actual spirit, so immaterial and unable to attack or be attacked. The Warlock player is free to describe what form the familiar takes, though ideally it should be something associated with his Patron. So if a Warlock’s Patron is the cosmos, it could be miniature star; death itself or a god of death, a floating skull; the devil, a miniature imp; and so on. Fundamental to the Warlock is the Pact he enters with his Patron. The Warlock presents four types of Pacts. These are Chaos, Cosmic, Death, and Dragon. There is some flexibility in how a Pact can be interpreted, so a Cosmic Pact could be with the stars, something beyond the stars, celestial beings, or something chthonic.

Not only will the Warlock learn his spells from his Patron, he will gain Invocations, spell-like powers that enable to do great magical deeds, but without the need for the study that that the Magic-User would require or the need for the Cleric to pray. Arcane Blast is an Invocation, but The Warlock lists some fifty or so further Invocations. They include a mix of those which can be selected by any Warlock and then those tied to a particular Patron. So, Armour of Shadows, which lets a Warlock cast Mage Armour at-will, and Eldritch Sight, which allows him to cast Detect Magic just as freely, are both general Invocations. Whereas Claws of the Ghoul is a Third Level Invocation which gives a Warlock clawed unarmed attacks and a chance to paralyse an opponent and requires a Death Pact, whilst Form of the Dragon requires a Dragon Pact and allows a Warlock to change into a dragon-like creature once per day.

Liang Yun
Second Level Warlock
Alignment: Lawful Neutral
Pact: Draconic (Green Dragons: Dziban)

STR 12 (Open Doors 2-in-6)
INT 14 (+1 Language, Literate)
WIS 10 
DEX 17 (+2 AC, Missile, +1 Initiative)
CON 13 (+1 Hit Points)
CHR 15 (+1 NPC reaction, Max. 5 Retainers, Loyalty 8)

Armour Class: 13 (Leather)
Hit Points: 7
Weapons: Dagger, Staff
THAC0 20

Languages: Draconic, Mandarin

Arcane Blast, Claws of the Dragon

Spells: (Cantrips) – Aura Reading, Guiding Star, Message, Object Reading(First Level) – Read MagicSpirit Servant, Taint

Familiar: Mingyu

In terms of spells, The Warlock lists almost eighty. A very few, like Augury, will be familiar, but most feel new and different. For example, Wailing Lament causes the target to wail and sob uncontrollably for an hour, Moon Touched is a plea to the Moon to silver and make magical a weapon which will now glow faintly of moonlight, and Poisonous Stare with which a Warlock can poison a target, forcing them to lose both Hit Points and Constitution! Now none of the spells are keyed to a particular Pact, which would perhaps have made designing or creating a particular type or themed Warlock easier by both Game Master or player. This then is perhaps a missed opportunity, so a player or Game Master creating a Warlock will need to pick and choose with care what spells suit their Warlock.

In addition to the Warlock’s own spells, the Class has two other types of spells. First, the Class can learn Magic-User spells—something which annoys Magic-Users and gives the Warlock the reputation for stealing spells. Second, The Warlock also adds Cantrips, or Zero-Level spells. Some thirteen of the spells in the supplement are Cantrips. For example, Aura Reading enables a Warlock to read the auras of those around them, determining their Alignment, health, magical nature (or not), and whether or not they have been cursed; Guiding Star enables a Warlock to guide himself in complete darkness or if blind; and Quick Sleeping makes a willing victim fall asleep. Lastly, the spells are listed by the other spellcasting Classes for Old School Essentials—Clerics, Druids, Illusionists, and Magic-Users—so that the contents of The Warlock can be used with the wider rules.

Unlike other titles devoted to the Witch by The Other Side, The Warlock does not include any new monsters, or monsters at all. It does however, add twenty or magical items. A few are keyed to particular Pacts, such as the Astrolabe of Fate, which grants a Warlock with a Cosmic Pact or an astrologer a +1 bonus to a single roll three times a day, but most are simply valued by Warlocks. A Dragontooth Charm provides a +1 saving throw versus the dragon breath of one type of dragon; a Hat of Spell Storing is valued by Illusionists, Magic-Users, and Warlocks for its capacity to store multiple levels of spells; and the Witch Whistle summons an army of rats, giant rats, or even wererats, depending on the songs known. Some are quite fun, such as the Rod of the Fire Mountain Warlock, which increases the die type of fire type spells and is surely a nod to The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, the Fighting Fantasy solo adventure book, whilst every Warlock will want to obtain the Staff of the Warlock, the equivalent of the Magic-User’s Staff of Wizardry.

Lastly, where the Witch Class has the Coven, a gathering of witches, typically to worship their patron goddess, the Warlock Class has the Lodge. These are secret orders where Warlocks can meet and study, typically belong to one type of Pact, or allied Pacts. The Warlock details four such lodges, of which only the one is not essentially ‘evil’. This is problematic, for although the Warlock as a Class can create his own Lodge, the lack of wider examples means a lack of choice, a lack of roleplaying opportunities, and a lack of something for the Player Character Warlock to aspire to.

Physically, The Warlock comes as a digest-sized book as opposed to the standard size for the other titles in the series. This is intentional, since it keeps it keeps it the same size as the rest of the Old School Essentials line. The book is generally well written and the artwork is decent, but some elements could have been better organised. In particular the Invocations are listed alphabetically and not by Pact type or Level, so it makes choosing them that little bit more of an effort. Further, an appendix lists both spells and cantrips alphabetically and by Level and gives page numbers, but for the Invocation there is just a simple alphabetical listing.

The Class presented in The Warlock may be slightly too powerful in comparison to other Classes for Old School Essentials because the Warlock has a lot of powers that he can freely use, whereas all of the other spellcasting Classes have to work at their magic and so their players have to work at playing their magic. Further, although there are a lot of ideas and options in The Warlock, they could have been better organised and better developed to give a player a wider choice in how he builds and plays his Warlock character. Work around these issues though and The Warlock present a Class which looks to be fantastic and fun to play.

Monday 27 July 2020

Brittle as Glass

Pillars of Glass is an adventure for Béthorm: The Plane of Tékumel, the most recent roleplaying game to explore the world of Tékumel, the linguistic and cultural setting developed by Professor M.A.R. Barker. Published by UniGames, it is designed to be played between four and six players with moderate;y experienced characters, but can easily be adjusted should there be more. It is set just south of the Kúrt Hills—a region detailed by the publisher’s The Kúrt Hills Atlas—and a few Tsán east of the city of Katalál. What it details is an ancient site which possibly dates as far back as the Bednálljan period, part of the Underworld known to lie below the surface of Tékumel. Consisting of a circle of natural crystalline spires around an opening into the Underworld, there are rumours that site might be connected to the Pariah God known as the One Other.

Like High and Dry, Pillars of Glass presents several introductions, each one depending upon the role and duties of the Player Characters. So if the Player Characters are in the region conducting a trade negotiation on behalf of their clan, they are asked to investigate some wild animal attacks by the other negotiator; if they are on temple business, they are asked to investigate the Pillars of Glass site because the records the temple has are incomplete; if on legion or military business, they have stationed nearby to police the area and are ordered to investigate the animal attacks; if they are adventurers, they have heard of the animal attacks and know it would be heroic to investigate and put a stop to them; and if they are ‘Heroes of the Age’, then they are drawn to the site by a vision. As in High and Dry, these are a very welcome feature.

What lies beneath the Pillars of Glass is a maze-like complex of ten rooms and nine encounters. There is a significant flame and heat theme running throughout the complex of odd rooms, which often seem to be designed to do no more than subject the occupants to particular temperatures and forms of heat. Player Characters who have studied a particular ancient language or civilisation, or who are worshippers of either Vimúhla or Chiténg, will have advantages when exploring the complex, but as they work their way around the maze, they may come to feel that they are being tested. There is a little treasure to be found, including a rather nifty artefact for anyone who visits the Underworld regularly—though by its nature, the temple of Vimúhla or Chiténg would very likely want it, or would pay out a reward for obtaining it.

The encounters are all with seemingly random creatures. However, none of them are identified as being responsible for the animal attacks which form the hook to get most groups involved in investigating the site. Consequently, the Game Master will need to do this, simply reading the descriptions of the creatures that appear in the scenario in Béthorm: The Plane of Tékumel, and selecting the most appropriate.

Physically, Pillars of Glass is a black and white with colour cover, ten-page, 6.93 MB PDF. The cover is eye-catching for its simplicity, the PDF is decently illustrated and written.

As a dungeon—or portion of the UnderworldPillars of Glass does feel a bit random, and although there is a theme to it, it my feel that way to the players. Consisting of  just ten locations and a few encounters means that it should provide two sessions worth of play, though there is scope for further exploration—though for far more experienced Player Characters and with something that the Game Master would have had to have designed herself. Although it is disappointing that the Game Master will need to develop the hook of the animal attacks herself for use with other groups, perhaps the best way of presenting the adventure is as an archaeological or temple-based expedition, sent to the Pillars of Glass in order to explore what lies beyond the opening into the ground, and then return with an interesting report.

Pillars of Glass is an adequate adventure. It needs a bit of effort upon the part of the Game Master and her players to work effectively—primarily in terms of motivation and supporting that motivation, but it casts a spotlight on the ‘dungeoneering’ or Underworld aspect of Tékumel before hinting that there is more below. The ‘dungeoneering’ aspect means that Pillars of Glass is also easier to read and understand, and play than the ‘mind your manners’ aspect of High and Dry, but the story itself is not as strong or as well developed.

Sunday 26 July 2020

Action Adventure with Competence

When Trinity was originally published in 1997, it was a Science Fiction roleplaying game of Psion surviving in the twenty-first century following world war. Published by White Wolf Publishing, it would go on to spawn two prequels—Aberrant, a superhero game set in the early twenty-first century, and Adventure!, a Pulp action game set during the Jazz Age of the nineteen twenties. Together they formed the ‘Trinity Continuum’ and together they are being redesigned and republished in second editions by Onyx Path Publishing. However, the redesign is not as a series of standalone books. Instead, the Trinity Continuum Core Rulebook—funded following a successful Kickstarter campaign—would provide the core mechanics, with Trinity Continuum: Aeon, Trinity Continuum: Aberrant, and Trinity Continuum: Adventure! providing specific setting and expanded background content for each of the three eras.

Now the Trinity Continuum Core Rulebook is not just the core rulebook for the Trinity Continuum, but it is a standalone set of roleplaying rules designed to emulate a particular range of genres. These encompass high-action, cinematic thrillers, Spy-Fi and heist movies, high tech techno-thrillers right up to near future Science Fiction and low-powered supers stories. So, Ocean’s Eleven, The Bourne Identity, Agents of Shield, Black Mirror, Eureka, Cryptonomicon, Leverage, and then Star Trek, The X-Files, The Martian, Stargate, and more. The more fantastic elements these settings have though, the more a Storyguide would need to create them for her campaign as they are obviously not covered in the book. At its core though, the Trinity Continuum Core Rulebook is a contemporary—or near contemporary—roleplaying game of cinematic action in which the Player Characters are competent and capable, are working for the better good, and in doing so are bringing a sense of hope to the world. What this means is that despite there not being a great deal of specific background in the Trinity Continuum Core Rulebook, a gaming group can still use it to play Hollywood- or television-style action adventure, intrigue, and investigative procedurals.

A Player Character in the Trinity Continuum Core Rulebook is defined by his Concept and Aspirations, Paths, Skills and Skill Tricks and Specialities, Attributes, and a Template. The Concept is what the character—Best Wheelman in any Business, Reformed High Society Jewel Thief, Grandmother Hacker, and so on—whilst Aspirations, both two Short Term and one Long Term, are a character’s goals. A Short-Term Aspiration can be completed in a session, a Long-Term Aspiration takes multiple sessions. The Paths represent a character’s past and the decisions he has made and come in three forms—Origin, Role, and Society. The Origin Path is the character’s background and beginning; the Role Path is his occupation or expertise; and Society Path represents his link, positive or negative, to a particular Society. Several sample Societies are detailed in the Trinity Continuum Core Rulebook and together they form the primary background in the book. An Origin Path might be Military Brat or Suburbia; a Role Path might be Charismatic Leader or Medical Practitioner; and a Society Path might be to 9, the almost United Nations-sanctioned intelligence gathering and law enforcement private agency, or The Global Cartography Initiative.

Mechanically, each Path provides several building blocks towards creating a character. These are access to four skills and points to distribute between them; community, contact, and access connections to the Path; and Edges, which represent areas of specialised training. In the long term, a Path also provides route along which a player can develop his character, and will be rewarded in doing so with slightly reduced Experience Point costs. There are sixteen skills, with most of a character’s skills coming from his Paths. Any skill with a rating of three or more gains a Speciality, such as Pistols for the Aim skill, and then can have a Trick for each point of Skill of three or more, so ‘Mighty Lifter’ or ‘It’s All in the Reflexes’ for Athletics, ‘Connecting the Dots’ or ‘Elite Hacker’ for Enigmas, and ‘Backseat Driver’ or ‘I Can Figure It Out’ for Pilot. Most of a character’s Skills come from his Paths, though he does get extras. Lastly, a character has nine Attributes, divided between Physical, Mental, and Social arenas as well as three Approaches of Force, Finesse, and Resilience. Most actions require a combination of an Attribute and a Skill, but this can be any combination, so there is a lot of flexibility here. Attributes are rated between one and six, Paths and Skills are rated between one and five. It should be noted that the Storyguide and her players are encouraged to create their own Paths, Stunts, Societies, and more.

Lastly, each character has a Template. This marks the Player Character as being more than just a mere human, having been exposed to ‘Aeon Fluxx’, the energy which seems to occur when universes are too close. Each of Trinity Continuum: Aeon, Trinity Continuum: Aberrant, and Trinity Continuum: Adventure! will provide various super-powered Templates, but in the Trinity Continuum Core Rulebook, the Player Characters are generally Gifted, each Gift either being based on Luck or Aptitude, the latter tied to a skill.

To create a Player Character, a player defines his character’s Concept and Aspirations, then selects—or creates the three Paths and assigns the various points into each Path and its associated Skills and Edges, assigns more Skill points and picks Skill Tricks, assigns Attributes, and apply a Template. The process is by no means difficult, but does involve making a fair number of choices and it is not straightforward in that Attributes are selected last and in that a player will need to flip back and forth through the book to put a character together. This takes a bit of time as a player works through the process.

Our sample character is a reformed jewel thief who stole to support her father, an impoverished minor member of the Russian nobility. She was caught in the act of a theft on the French Riviera by Pharaoh’s Lightkeepers who were after the same artefact. Unlike the other occasion where she managed to escape her thefts, the Pharaoh’s Lightkeepers gave chase and managed to capture her. Instead of handing her into the authorities, they offered her missions and a better purpose.

Name: Claudia Romanov
Concept: High Society Former Jewel Thief
Origin Path: Life of Privilege
Role Path: The Sneak
Society Path: Pharaoh’s Lightkeepers
Moment of Inspiration: Exposure to Flux

Short-Term Aspiration: To find out more about Steve
Short-Term Aspiration: To learn what Hans Krueger knows
Long-Term Aspiration: To atone for her former life of crime

Athletics 1, Close Combat 1, Culture 2, Enigmas 3, Integrity 2, Larceny 3, Persuasion 2, Pilot 1

Intellect 2 Might 1 Presence 3
Cunning 3 Dexterity 6 Manipulation 4
Resolve 2 Stamina 2 Composure 3

Destructive: 0
Intuitive: 2
Reflective: 1

Inspiration 3

Artefact 1, Big Hearted 1, Danger Sense 1, Direction Sense 1, Free Running 1, Photographic Memory 3, Skilled Liar 2

Specialities/Skill Tricks
Gems & Jewellery (Larceny Speciality)
Intricate Locks (Enigmas Speciality)
That Was Already Mine (Larceny Trick)
Instant Solution (Enigmas Trick)

Contortionist, Nimble-Fingered, I’m on the List, X Marks the Spot

Path Contacts
Boarding School Alumni –Naomi Rothschild 1
Fence – Hector Mueller 1
Police – Inspector James O’Keefe, Scotland Yard 1

Where Player Characters in Trinity Continuum: Aeon, Trinity Continuum: Aberrant, and Trinity Continuum: Adventure! will have psionics, superpowers, and so on, the Trinity Continuum Core Rulebook focuses on skilled characters, often exceptionally skilled characters known as ‘Talents’. Each has a selection of Gifts, typically tied to a particular skill such as ‘Cold Read’ of a person using Culture or Empathy or ‘Daredevil’ for Pilot. Other Gifts are simply luck-based, such as ‘A Friend in Every Port’ or ‘Knee Deep in Brass’. Such Gifts are fuelled by Inspiration, which can also be used to create Enhancements to an action or skill attempt based on one a character’s Facets—Destructive, Intuitive, or Reflective, each representing differing ways of approaching a situation or problem, to undertake Dramatic Editing of a scene, or to improve a character’s current defence. Although a character only has a few points of Inspiration, it is easy to get back and so enable a character to shine again in a later scene.

Where the Trinity family originally used the Storyteller mechanics, the Trinity Continuum Core Rulebook is written for use with the Storypath system. The Storypath system can be best described as a distillation of the Storyteller system—the mechanics of which date all of the way back to Vampire: The Masquerade—and certainly anyone familiar with the Storyteller system will find that it has a lot in common with the Storypath system, except that the Storypath system is simpler and streamlined, designed for slightly cinematic, effect driven play. The core mechanic uses dice pools of ten-sided dice, typically formed from the combination of a skill and an attribute, for example Pilot and Dexterity to fly a helicopter, Survival and Stamina to cross a wilderness, and Persuasion and Manipulation to unobtrusively get someone to do what a character wants. These skill and attribute combinations are designed to be flexible, the aim being any situation is to score one or more Successes, a Success being a result of eight or more. Rolls of ten—or ‘10-again’—allow dice to be rolled again to gain further success.

To succeed, a player needs to roll at least one Success, and may need to roll more depending upon the Difficulty of the task. Should a character succeed, he can increase the number of Successes with an Enhancement, such as having a fast car in a race or the right outfit for the occasion. Any Successes generated beyond the Difficulty become Threshold Successes and represent how well the character has succeeded. These can be spent by the player to buy off Complications, for example, not attracting the attention of the Police in a car chase, or to purchase Stunts. These can cost nothing, for example, the Inflict Damage Stunt, whereas the Disarm Stunt costs two and the Critical Hit Stunt costs four. Stunts can be used to inflict a Complication upon an opponent, to create an Enhancement for the current or another Player Character, or create a means to Defend the Player Character, which then has to be overcome by the opposition. Stunts in theTrinity Continuum Core Rulebook will also come from a Player Character’s Edges and Gifts.

Under the Storypath system, and thus in the Trinity Continuum Core Rulebook, failure is never abject. Rather, if a player does not roll any Successes, then he receives a Consolation. This can be a ‘Twist of Fate’, which reveals an alternative approach or new information; a ‘Chance Meeting’ introduces a new helpful NPC; or an ‘’Unlooked-for Advantage’, an Enhancement which can be used in a future challenge. However, a character will typically gain Momentum, a single point for a simple failure, and two points for a Botch, the latter a failed roll in which a one is also rolled. Momentum is a resource shared by all of the players and they begin each game with a pool of points equal to their number. It is spent to activate Skill Tricks, to add extra dice to a roll, and to attempt rerolls for complex tasks.

The cinematic nature of combat in the Trinity Continuum Core Rulebook is how reloading a gun is handled. If it is part of an action, such as shooting, then it becomes a Complication which a Player Character will need to spend a Success to buy off. A Reload action will typically be required when a player botches an attack with a gun or the character has performed the ‘Emptying the Magazine’ stunt for an automatic weapon. Rather than making the Reload action part of the mechanics, the rules make it part of the action.

One aspect of the action and the combat in the Trinity Continuum Core Rulebook is that it not designed to be simple. Instead, it is designed to be complex, not mechanically, but narratively. The rules can handle the simple exchange of blows, feints, blocks, and deflections and does so with alacrity, but the Trinity Continuum Core Rulebook is inspired by the type of action and fights we see onscreen. What this means is that it allows for fights or pieces of action in difficult situations—fights or situations that the Storyguide is encouraged to create. For example, instead of a chase through city streets, the chase is through the streets of a city amidst a civil protest; instead of a fight to gain control of a vehicle, the fight is to gain control of a vehicle whilst it hurtles down the side of a mountain with faulty brakes. There is some complexity here in that a player has to calculate multiple actions, so in the case of driving down the mountain whilst fighting off the mook, his player will work out what he would roll for the driving attempt (Pilot plus Might) to keep the vehicle under control and what he would roll to fend off the attacks of the mook (Close Combat plus Dexterity). However, instead of making multiple rolls, the player will only make one roll, the one with the lowest number of dice. 
For example, Claudia Romanov has broken into the mansion of Hans Kreuger to steal the Gambaccini Quartet, a set of jewellery which she thinks has clues to the location of an ancient temple that she knows Kreuger has been searching for some nefarious purposes of his own. Unfortunately, an alarm has been triggered and as she attempts to work out the intricacies  of a complex lock system, a couple of guards are looking for whatever triggered the alarm. They have their torches out and are searching nearby. So Claudia wants to work out how to open the lock whilst avoiding the torch beams. Picking the lock would normally be a Larceny and Dexterity check, as would the stealth check to avoid the torch beams. The Storyguide though, states that the lock on Hans Kreuger’s vault is not straightforward and is more puzzle like, so suggests using Enigmas. This will be an Enigmas and Intellect roll. For Claudia, the Enigmas and Intellect will be with five dice, compared to the nine dice of the Larceny and Dexterity check, so her player will roll the former. The Storyguide sets the Difficulty at three. 
Claudia’s player rolls 3, 7, 9, 9, and 10. The target number for the dice is eight, which means that Claudia has succeeded. The roll of 10—or ‘10-again’—means that this die can be rolled again. A roll of a 9 adds another success for a total of four. Another two are added as an Enhancement for Claudia already have seen the plans for the locking mechanisms earlier in the adventure for a grand total of six. Three successes are used to overcome the difficulty. Claudia’s player decides that two of these extra successes will be spent to add a Complication, in this case leaving little or no trace for the security guards to follow as she makes her way out. The leftover success is used to make Claudia undertake the task quickly.
 Beyond the action mechanics, the Trinity Continuum Core Rulebook gives rules for handling Procedurals—or investigative play, Intrigue for interacting with people, and making friends and bonds, handling super-science, and vehicles right up to multi-crew starships. Each of these sections is not necessarily innovative, but straightforward  and easy to use. So the Procedural rules focus not on the Player Characters getting the core clues—that is automatic, but on their interpretation and on obtaining clues extra or alternative to any core clue.  The Intrigue tracks an NPC’s attitude towards a Player Character, with the actions of the Player Character determining how this will change and whether the NPC will help him. The Super-Science rules neatly cover repairing, reverse engineering, and reforging of items and artefacts, complete with a list of flaws and stunts. Again, simple should cover most situations.

For the Storyguide there is solid advice on her responsibilities—including sharing some of them with her players, creating a campaign, how to run and improvise a game, and more. There is also a lengthy discussion of the genres that the Trinity Continuum Core Rulebook covers along with examples of each. In terms of background, there is not really very much to be found in the Trinity Continuum Core Rulebook. Primarily, this because the default setting for the Trinity Continuum Core Rulebook is the here and now, or the near here and now, with stories ripped from the headlines. To support the fantastical or ‘Talented’ elements of the Trinity Continuum Core Rulebook’s here and now, it details five allegiances, such as the Aeon Society and The Neptune Society, as well as lesser allegiances, which the Player Characters belong to and each of which provides a Path during character generation, as well as frameworks upon which to hang a campaign.

Physically, the Trinity Continuum Core Rulebook is neat, larger than digest-sized hardback. It is well-written, the full colour artwork throughout is excellent, and the whole affair is attractive. Perhaps in places it feels a little too concise, for example, the sample combat feels as if it could have been better explained mechanically. It could also have been slightly better organised such as not having the Society Paths and the Gifts right at the back of the book, which makes the character creation process a bit of a chore. Neither of these issues are insurmountable, the Storyguide simply needing to work through the book to rough out potential niggles in the rules or book before bringing a game to the table, pretty much the same as she would for any other roleplaying game.

What the Trinity Continuum Core Rulebook presents is not so much a roleplaying game with a setting, but a roleplaying game with a genre—the setting will be provided by the Storyguide and enhanced by the players. As a set of rules, the Trinity Continuum Core Rulebook is the firm foundation upon which the three settings will rest, as a roleplaying game in its own right, the Trinity Continuum Core Rulebook provides everything a gaming group will need for high-action roleplaying. It does both in a concise, easy-to-read fashion, leaving plenty of room for the Storyguide and her players to bring their ideas and their action to the table.

Saturday 25 July 2020

A Sweet Treat

Sweetness is short, but harrowing investigation for use with Arc Dream Publishing’s Delta Green: The Role-Playing Game set on American soil. It can be played using the roleplaying game’s full rules or those from Delta Green: Need to Know—although there are similarities between Sweetness and Delta Green: Need to Know, which may mean the Handler may not want to run the two too closely together. The Agents are activated by Delta Green after the secret interagency conspiracy is alerted to the presence of a strange symbol on the door of the Bernier family of Tampa, Florida. Recently terrorised by a fire and weird graffiti, the local Police suspect that the Berniers, a multi-racial family, are victims of a hate attack, but one of Delta Green’s experts suspects that symbol on the door—carved with a horn or a claw and smeared with blood and effluvia—is the symbol of Kore, queen of the underworld, goddess of an ancient mystery cult. The agents are to get to Tampa, and once briefed, determine the origins of the mark and prevent any occurrence of it again from the same source or sources.

Sweetness can be roughly divided into three parts. First, is the briefing, which takes place in the middle of an estate agency seminar in a Holiday Inn. The utterly banal atmosphere of the briefing nicely contrasts with the horror to come, which will only come in the second part once the Agents investigative the Berniers and their home, which for the most part is quite mundane. The family is well-off, and consists of a married couple and two children, the youngest of whom is profoundly deaf, and each of whom will have a different reaction to the recent events. The family seems perfectly normal, and for the part really are—whatever the players and their Agents might suspect—but they are not without their secrets, and with a little questioning, these will be revealed. The husband divorced his first wife and mother of his children because she had psychological problems and was abusing both son and daughter, but there has been no contact in years, and then there might be something else stalking the rooms of the house. All of this will quickly become apparent with some questioning upon the part of the agents.

The second part will come to close once the agents have confirmed that there definitely is something strange going on in the house and the investigation switches to the first wife. This requires the investigation to switch to across country, from Tampa to Chicago, and once the agents locate her, it quickly becomes apparent that she is sick—both physically and mentally—and acting strangely. She is barely making ends meet and living in utter squalor without a care for her well-being. Although ultimately, she is the antagonist in Sweetness, there are good reasons for this, although the agents will need to dig into her background and history in order to uncover this.

Fundamentally, Sweetness is a good scenario, contrasting the ordinary with the outré, but it has a few problems which stem primarily from its length—or lack thereof. The Handler will need to do a little preparation before running the scenario, such as getting photos for the NPCs and writing up a quick handout detailing the family. There is no image of the monster given in the book, and whilst it would have been nice if one had been included,  the Handler will probably be able to get away with describing it from the details given. The bigger problems with Sweetness are twofold. First, there is no real advice on how to handle a dénouement between the agents and the wife, but second, and worse, it describes an action upon the part of the scenario’s ‘monster’, but abandons the Handler when it comes to dealing with the consequences of that action. Especially given that the action will escalate the investigation from a simple matter of a hate crime into a kidnapping, and so bring a whole heap of trouble down upon the agents. Which will be made worse by the fact that there is no way of getting the kidnapping victim back—or least no method is detailed in the book, so the Handler may want determine a method herself.

Physically, Sweetness is neat, clean, and tidy. Although it needs a slight edit, it is easy to read and the three pieces of artwork—one of them actually a handout—are excellent. The map is clear and easy to read, but could have done with a scale and some furniture as it would have also made for a good handout.

Sweetness is an easy scenario to add to a Delta Green: The Roleplaying Game campaign. Its short length means that it could be played in a single session and its conciseness means that it could be run with just a handful of agents—or even one for a one-on-one game. However, it needs a bit more preparation upon the part of the Handler in terms of handouts and in terms of what happens with regard to the potential kidnapping and how the agents confront the scenario’s antagonist. This should not be challenge to an experienced Handler, but to a less experienced one, it may be. Lastly, at just twelve pages, Sweetness may not appear to be good value for money—at least in comparison to other titles for Delta Green: The Roleplaying Game. However, it should provide the Handler and her players with at least one, if not two sessions’ worth of play, so the value for money is very much in the eye of the beholder.

Sweetness is a creepy, sometimes nasty tale of horror and mystery—though the agents will have to dig to bring out the true nastiness hidden in the scenario’s backstory. Nicely contrasting the mundane with the mystery, with a bit of work upon the part of the Handler, Sweetness should be a little ‘treat’ for her Delta Green: The Roleplaying Game campaign.

Friday 24 July 2020

Which Witch V

It is an undeniable truth that the Witch gets a lot of bad press. Not necessarily within the roleplaying hobby, but from without, for the Witch is seen as a figure of evil, often—though not necessarily—a female figure of evil, and a figure to be feared and persecuted. Much of this stems from the historical witch-hunts of the fifteenth, sixteenth, seventeen, and eighteenth centuries, along with the associated imagery, that is, the crone with the broom, pointy hat, black cat, cauldron, and more. When a Witch does appear in roleplaying, whether it is a historical or a fantasy setting, it is typically as the villain, as the perpetrator of some vile crime or mystery for the player characters to solve and stop. Publisher The Other Side has published a number of supplements written not only as a counter to the clichés of the witch figure, but to bring the Witch as a character Class to roleplaying after being disappointed at the lack of the Witch in the Player’s Handbook for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, First Edition. Each of these supplements draws upon more historical interpretations of the Witch—sometimes to counter the clichés, sometimes to enforce them—and presents her as a playable character Class. Each book is published under the label of ‘Basic Era Games’, and whilst the exact Retroclone each book is written to be used with may vary, essentially, they are all compatible. Which means that the Game Master can mix and match traditions, have player characters from matching traditions, and so on.

The first book in the series, Daughters of Darkness: The Mara Witch for Basic Era Games is designed for use with Goblinoid Games’ Labyrinth Lord and presents the Witch as dedicated to the Mara Tradition, that of the Dark Mother—Lilith, the First Woman, the First Witch, and the Mother of Demons. The next book in the series is The Children of the Gods: The Classical Witch for Basic Era Games, which was written for use with Dreamscape Design’s Blueholme Rules, the retroclone based on the 1977 Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set designed by J. Eric Holmes, and which focused on not so much as ‘Evil’ or Chaotic witches, but upon the Classical traditions of Egypt, Greece, Phoenicia, Rome, and Sumeria. Again, Cult of Diana: The Amazon Witch for Basic Era Games, the next and third entry in the line presents a different take upon the Witch, whilst the fourth, The Basic Witch: The Pumpkin Spice Witch Tradition, presents another different and very modern
—if slightly sillytake upon the Witch. The fifth entry again draws upon another tradition.

The Craft of the Wise: The Pagan Witch Tradition is written for use with Old School Essentials: Classic Fantasy, Necrotic Gnome’s interpretation and redesign of the 1981 revision of Basic Dungeons & Dragons by Tom Moldvay and its accompanying Expert Set by Dave Cook and Steve Marsh. Like the other titles in the series, it starts by presenting the same version of the Witch Class as in Daughters of Darkness: The Mara Witch for Basic Era GamesThe Children of the Gods: The Classical Witch for Basic Era GamesCult of Diana: The Amazon Witch for Basic Era Games, and The Basic Witch: The Pumpkin Spice Witch TraditionWhat this means is that from one book to the next, this Class is going to serve as a template for the rest of the other supplements devoted to the Witch from The Other Side. So the Witch is a spellcaster capable of casting Witch spells and Witch rituals—a mixture of arcane and divine spells, has Occult Powers including herbal healing, many are reluctant to cast ‘black’ or evil magic, many are of Lawful Alignment, and have answered the Call of their Goddess (or other patron).
The Craft of the Wise: The Pagan Witch Tradition focuses on believers in ‘The Old Ways’, of ancient gods and practices. Primary community-based with a strong belief in the supernatural and a strong connection to the natural world and the cycle of its passing seasons, they see themselves as the guardians of the growth and husbandry of food, and much of their lives revolve around the sowing, care, and harvesting of seeds and plants. Their treatment is not of one tradition, but many, all of them drawn from real world traditions. Real-world inspirations for this tradition include Asatru, the pagan beliefs of the Norse and northern Germanic peoples; the Druidic-like beliefs of the Celts of Ireland and Scotland; the Hellenic tradition of the lands settled by the Greeks. Notably, unlike other traditions, this is not a literate tradition, but instead memorise their spells and rituals.

As with other Traditions, the Witch Class of the Pagan Tradition has a familiar, such as a cat, frog, hedgehog, or stoat, and knows how to use herbs to create healing balms. However, it differs in a number of ways. For example, this Witch Class gains ‘Herbal Healing’—this the brewing of balms, options, and philters above and beyond the use of healing balms; is ‘Of the Land’ and can hide herself and one or more companions in rural areas, typically either to hide from hunters or when actually hunting; and with ‘Alter Visage’ can use the spell, Alter Self, to change her appearance to anyone of that she has seen before—even if only once. 

Perhaps the biggest difference is the addition of ‘Cowans’, or essentially boon companions with a strong bond with the Witch, that is, more than a trusted retainer. A Cowan is a Pagan Witch’s protector and can be Fighters, Barbarians, Rangers, Thieves, and Assassins, but cannot be other spellcasting Classes like the Bard, Cleric, Druid, Illusionist, Magic-User, or Paladin. They can also be simple NPCs without a Class, but more importantly, they can be other Player Characters, allowing for instant relationships and roleplaying links. Of course, this limits the Player Character Cowan’s options in terms of Class.

Becoming a Cowan costs actual Experience Points—fifty for an ordinary NPC, a hundred for the Thief type, and two hundred for all Fighter types. Where exactly the ordinary NPC gains these Experience Points is another matter and it is not quite clear if the characters becoming the Cowan is expending the Experience Points, the Witch is expending the Experience Points, or both. In return, both Cowan and Witch gain a number of small benefits. A Cowan can learn Zero-Level Rituals and participate in Ritual spells of higher Level too, gains better healing from his Witch’s healing—spells and balms, and has a bonus to saves versus spells cast by other Witches. Both Witch and Cowan also share Saving Throws, so that both can use the best between the two. In return, the Cowan is the Pagan Witch’s protector, which again sets up a roleplaying relationship and possible story hooks.

Beyond this, some of what a Pagan Witch does will depend upon the type of coven she belongs to. The Craft of the Wise: The Pagan Witch Tradition offers two options. The first is Bándrui, who worship the Great Mother Goddess and whose covens consist of Pagan Witches, Green Witches, and Druids, a Pagan Witch of this tradition gaining the Druid’s Animal Shape abilities. The other is Followers of Aradia, who believe her to be the first witch, and are granted the Light spell as a daily ability. Both tend to be Lawful or Neutral in Alignment, but like other Pagan traditions, may practice live, including human sacrifice where necessary, typically as fertility rites. Just the two covens given here is disappointing and perhaps The Craft of the Wise: The Pagan Witch Tradition could have included one or two more options to provide a player with greater choice.

The Craft of the Wise: The Pagan Witch Tradition also discusses life as a Pagan Witch. This is not her life as an adventuring Witch, but the classic village wise woman, midwife, and healer of old. It covers the typical tasks she undertakes, such as childbirth and antenatal care, the cleansing—or smudging—of homes to free them of evil spirits, divination, healing, and so on, as well as the monies the Witch can charge and the Experience Points she can gain. Here then is how a non-adventuring NPC Witch gains her Experience Points to expend on those Cowans! It also gives more for an NPC Witch to do and thus more for the Game Master to build her portrayal of an NPC Witch around. Included as well, are notes on the seasons and places of power, all of which will have an effect on a Witch’s powers throughout the year.

Thisbe Haunted
Second Level Pagan Witch
Alignment: Lawful Neutral
Coven: Followers of Aradia

STR 09 (Open Doors 5-in-6)
INT 13 (+1 Language, Literate)
WIS 17 (+2 to Save versus Magic)
DEX 11 
CON 16 (+2 Hit Points)
CHR 16 (+1 NPC reaction, Max. 7 Retainers, Loyalty 10)

Armour Class: 7 (Leather)
Hit Points: 11
Weapons: Dagger, Staff
THAC0 20

Languages: Elvish

Occult Powers
Healing balms (1d4+1/three times per day), Light (daily)

Spells: (First Level) – Mending, Toad

Familiar: Weasel (+1 to Dexterity checks)

The Craft of the Wise: The Pagan Witch Tradition includes some one hundred spells, almost thirty monsters, some forty magical items, and a quartet of NPCs. As in previous books in the series, there are relatively few spells  which can be used to inflict direct damage like the Magic-User’s Burning Hands. There are spells which can inflict harm, for example, Toad—which curses the victim of the spell to turn into a filthy toad, or 
Loosen Bowels or Blindness/Deafness. Many of the spells reflect the often helpful, useful type of magic used by the Pagan Witch. So spells such as the familiar Mending, Locate Object, and Light are joined by spells such as Salving Rest—which grants the subject a good night’s rest as he continues to take a god night’s rest, and Create Corn Dolly—in fact the Witch creates a poppet she can send out to spy on others. Various others, like Toad, take the form of curses and the like. As in the previous books in the series, the various spells are joined by various rituals spells. There is something quite endearing in the Cake and Tea Ritual which is used by fellow Witches to begin and then cement friendships, which is then continued with Bonds of Hospitality which discourages participants from attacking each other. Other rituals are more obviously powerful, but the supplement adds further rituals which are Zero Level. These can be participated in by anyone, most notably a Witch’s Cowans. These are Bless Fertility, Ensure a Successful Hunt, Merry Greetings, and Summon a Witch, and all four would work well with other Witch traditions.

In terms of monsters and magic, The Craft of the Wise: The Pagan Witch Tradition shares a lot in common with the previous The Basic Witch: The Pumpkin Spice Witch Tradition. Although the monsters are new, from Amphiptere, Bánánach, and Brownie to Wind Wraith, Woodnose,and Bog Zombie, as in The Basic Witch: The Pumpkin Spice Witch Tradition they feel as if they should be mostly encountered singularly rather than in droves or packs. That said, the monsters have more the feel of the countryside, whether rural or beyond into the wilds. The inclusion of the Killer Rabbit may be a bit silly though... Which of course fits the Pagan Witch tradition rather than the Pumpkin Spice Tradition. The magic items include brooms and cauldrons as well as magical instruments, rings, staves, and swords, some of which are familiar, such as the Broom of Flying and Cauldron of Plenty, but others like the Witch’s Gown, which provides various degrees of protection as well as being able to change its appearance once per day. Rounding the supplement are four unique NPC Witches, drawn from both myth and history, the latter including a suspected poisoner.

Physically, The Craft of the Wise: The Pagan Witch Tradition continues the series’ improvement in the style and layout over the books before it. The artwork is much better and much better handled, and includes some pieces by Larry Elmore. The spells are also back to being listed by Level, so much easier to find.

The similarities between the two supplements—The Craft of the Wise: The Pagan Witch Tradition and The Basic Witch: The Pumpkin Spice Witch Tradition—are not surprising since the traditions of the latter do draw upon the former. What The Craft of the Wise: The Pagan Witch Tradition presents though is a rougher, wilder take upon the witch, one that feels more of a cliché because it draws upon more traditional depictions of the witch. This means that it has its darker aspects, not necessarily evil, but certainly darker. This is leavened by the role of the Pagan Witch as healer, midwife, and wise woman. If there is a disappointing feature of the book, it is that just two covens are not really enough options to choose from for the players, especially as it points to so many worldwide examples. Perhaps not as fully rounded as it could have been, The Craft of the Wise: The Pagan Witch Tradition still presents plenty to to bring to a campaign.