Playing the race card: Orcs

February 14, 2019 at 9:29 pm

“You must dig swift and deep, if you wish to hide from Orcs. “

— Legolas, Fellowship of the Ring

 

Its an interesting thing that the Fantasy Trip lists goblins and orcs as basic playable races. However, they do even less than the others to make orcs interesting or distinctive. Basically, they are humans with bad attitudes.

The game describes them as similar to primitive men, but potentially with fangs or claws. They don’t seem to have much civilization of their own, but can be bullied or forced into military service by others. This is pretty typical treatment for the orcs, who are usually portrayed as ugly, brutish anti-elves. This definitely fills a niche in most fantasy settings, but what can we do to add some meat to these beefy brutes? Here are a few packages to try on your next orc:

Urkhai

These are the prototypical warrior orcs that most adventuring types will come across. Whether they are part of militaristic raiding tribes that prey on the weak, or enslaved shock troops for a local warlord, battle and bloodshed is all they know. For them, power is derived from strength, and orders are never to be questioned. Bullying and petty violence is a constant reminder to respect the hierarchy, and tormenting the weak is merely a fact of life for them. They are not inherently evil, but a life of constant struggle and scarcity has left little room for empathy.

Crafting and building are not common skills among the Urkhai, and skilled masters are almost unheard of. But they respect and maintain the equipment they do have, and covet the well-made good of others. There is little differentiation between the sexes, and once a child is born it is left for the old and infirm to raise if the mother is still fit for duty. They may fear their overlords and torment their inferiors, but they reserve true hate for the outsiders (basically everyone outside their tribal circle) who keep them cold and hungry. Adventuring urkhai who leave their tribes or troops may have wide range of attitudes about life, but the lessons of early life are difficult to erase and they be volatile and prone to rages.

Urkhai Orc Starting Package: ST14 (+6), DX10 (+2), IQ8 (+0) Hero. Talents: Ax/Mace (2), Brawling (1), Shield (1), Mundane Skill: Menial/Soldier (1), Thrown Weapons (2). Suggested advancements include Carousing, Horsemanship, Pole weapons, and Toughness. While a source of pride, Berserking can be a minor social drawback, as well as Mean.

New weapon: Orc Double Axe (ST14): This unwieldy weapon allows an orc (with the 1-point IQ10 talent) to strike twice in one round for 2d damage. The second attack is at -4DX. An orc with both this talent and two weapon fighting can use all the benefits of the two weapon talent (ITL p.41) with the axe.

Gundarr

These are the wilder cousins of the Urkhai, less disciplined but no less dangerous. They live in deep forests or natural cave networks, building little civilization beyond hunting. gathering, and raiding. While this life might seem harsh and distasteful, the Gundarr believe that this is the best way to live, and that they have been chosen for it. Strength and guile are their most prized attributes, and their tribes are usually led by the best hunters. Occasionally these groups can be recruited as skirmishers and scouts by powerful figures, but they do not have the same respect for order as Urkhai and often prove unreliable.

Gundarr society is filled with rituals, spirits, and portents. They believe that the word is alive with invisible threats that must be appeased, and these same spirits give them the power to prevail over all. Most events — good or bad — are attributed to these spirits. Some say these absolves them from feeling any guilt about their wrongdoings.

Gundarr Orc Starting Package: ST12 (+4), DX10 (+2), IQ10 (+2) Hero. Talents: Sword (2), Bow (2), Thrown Weapons (2), Tracking (2), and Naturalist (2). Suggested advancements include Acute Hearing, Silent Movement, Running, and Lasso. The Gundarr superstition can range from a simple habit to a phobia, and could even lead to Overconfidence.

Skragg

Not as bulky or rangy as some others, the Skragg have learned skills to help them get by in the more civilized areas of Cidri. Rarely are they truly welcome, but the Skragg find a way to make their homes in most cities, eking out a living on the fringes.

They live in extended family groups or small clans, uniting in defense of themselves against all others. They are employed as bodyguards and bouncers, or make their own way as muggers, toughs or sneak thieves. A few learn skills, or salvage and repair cast-offs from others. They seen pathetic to outsiders, but they are as proud as any orc, and are awaiting the day to rise up and claim dominion over all those who try and keep them down.

Skragg Orc Starting Package: ST12 (+4), DX10 (+2), IQ9 (+1) Hero. Talents: Knife (1), Carousing (1), Area Knowledge (1), Alertness (2), Streetwise (1) Silent Movement (2), and Pickpocket (1). Suggested advancements include Detect Traps, Bola, Recognize Value, and Remove Traps. Skraggs are often destitute and prone to poverty, as well as being wanted by the authorities for crimes real or imagined.

Fendi

The ‘ghost orcs’ speak for all the spirits, powers, and restless ancestors that surround all their kind. They feel the spirits’ desires and try to appease their demands to guide the orc tribes to the greatness they are due. Most large orc groups have at least one Fendi, but they rarely gather more than a few in any one location. There are legends of sacred orc pilgrimage destinations that where many ghost orcs gather, but no outsider has ever witnessed such an event. And while their words and rituals are important to the tribes, they are usually treated as outsiders even among their own kind.

Fendi are sensitive to the spirits closest to them, so a forest orc might summon a bear totem while a city-bred Fendi might focus on shadows. But all orcs see them as conduits of greater powers and grant them deference.

Fendi Orc Starting Package: ST9 (+1), DX11 (+3), IQ12 (+4) Wizard. Talents: Priest (2), Knife (2). Spells: Magic Fist, Detect Enemies, Summon Scout, Minor Medicament, Analyze Magic, Persuasion, Pathfinder. Suggested advancements include Detect Traps, BolaB;lur, , Recognize Value, and Remove Traps. Fendi usually have a commitment to the ways f their people, and can be Haunted (minor psychological drawback) by the voices of the spirit world.

New spell: Read Portent (IQ10): This ritual spell allows the caster to use a divining device (runes, cards, entrails, etc.) to get a sense of how the future will unfold. Casting requires one minute and 2ST, and then the GM rolls against the caster’s IQ. Success will give a general idea of the the outcome (positive, negative, or neutral) of as future event within the next hour. Critical success may impart more specific indications, and a critical failure will deliver an incorrect and often dire result. Note that magically enhanced divining devices exist that can add improve the outcome.

If you have an orcish background you’d like to share, or have any ideas on how these concepts could play out on a gaming table, let us know in the comments below.

Playing the race card: Halflings

February 1, 2019 at 7:31 pm

“You have nice manners for a thief and a liar”

– J. R.R. Tolkien

Nothing epitomizes the scrappy underdog more than the halfling. Small of stature, but stout of heart, countless stories are told of these doughty little guys overcoming great odds and prevailing over much bigger and stronger enemies. But is there anything more to the halfling than the cliché? And even so, is there quick and interesting way to create halflings with both grit and character?

In the Fantasy Trip, halflings start with extremely low ST, high DX, and a bonus to reaction from all they come across (even animals!). They also gain the Thrown Weapons talent for free, but are burdened with fewer points to spend in creation than other races. That is more detail than most races are given, and it seems tailor-made for a sneak-thief or mana-fueled wizard. But neither construct could really create a society, so here are a few packages to make your next halfling even more unique.

Bottomses

These are your traditional country-bred smallfolk, well-fed, well-mannered, and well-respected. Not living off the work of others, each Bottoms halfling is expected to do all they can for the success of their communities. They are the masters of the win-win negotiation, a deal with a halfling is not complete until both sides are satisfied and ready to toast one another. A Bottoms’ nature is generous, and they expect that level of generosity form others. those that take advantage, or do not live up to their end of a bargain are quickly singled out in halfling communities and ostracized. As much as they appreciate a job well done, it pales in comparison to their appreciation of the simple luxuries in life. A well-set table, a perfectly poured pint, or a lively tune are as value to a Botttoms as any painting or gilded temple.

Magic is not as restrictive in their villages as in many places, and hedge wizard is as much a figure on the village square as the baker or cobbler. It is not uncommon for even workaday Bottomses to know a spell or two. They are also quite curious, and are open to new thoughts and experiences. This is the motivation that sends some Bottoms halflings to seek adventure.

Bottoms Halfling Starting Package: ST6 (+2), DX13 (+1), IQ11 (+3) Hero. Talents: Knife (1), Mundane Talent, Simple (2), Charisma (2), Recognize Value (1), Detect Lies (2) and Toughness (2). Suggested advancements include Business Sense, Bard, or Missile Weapons. If you use Drawbacks, Bottomses curiosity can become a drawback, and their lifestyle can lead to obesity.

New Racial Talent: Luck/IQ9 (2). A halfling with the luck talent can re-roll any test once per session (or once every 4 hours if you play very long sessions) and take the better result. However, if the same number comes up on both rolls, a bad luck result occurs, as determined by the GM.

Wealders

Not all halflings are village-dwelling, tea-sipping burghers, some stalk the game trails of the wilderness. Wealders live in the forests, working as hunters, wood-cutters and trappers. Their quick wits and deft hands help them make a home in the wild, and live in harmony with nature. Wealders may be less social than other halflings, but their trade gatherings can be as raucous as any village pub. They feel as as close to the animals of the woods than the folk in towns. Wealders also feel that they are the protectors of other halflings, and have a sense of superiority because of it.

Wealder Halfling Starting Package: ST8 (+4), DX12 (+0), IQ10 (+2) Hero. Talents: Knife (1), Missile Weapon (1), Shield (1), Animal Handler (2), Woodsman (2), Tracking (1), Silent Movement (2) and Toughness (2). Suggested advancements include Naturalist, Bow, Vet, and Mimic . Wealders often feel a Commitment to their woods and can even be Heroic in its defense.

Rillflings

Between the wilds and the halfling boroughs, and between them and the cities of men, there are often rivers. And plying those rivers, carrying goods to customers, you often find the rillflings. They are a little taller and a lot slimmer than the typical Bottomses. They live their whole lives on the rivers, even making their homes on barges or stilt houses on the banks. Always on the move, they can be among the most gregarious of halflings. They love games and challenges, and will rarely pass on a dare. Many folk consider the rillflings shady, and prone to thievery, and this may have some basis in fact. While their mobile lifestyle limits the amount of possessions they can carry, they share the love of quality and homeyness of their kind. Pipe tobacco is one the great obsessions of the rillflings.

Rillfling Halfling Starting Package: ST7 (+3), DX13 (+1), IQ10 (+2) Hero. Talents: Ax/Mace (1), Carousing (1), Swimming (1), Boating (1), Charisma (2), Area Knowledge (1), Alertness (2), Streetwise (1). Suggested advancements include Business Sense, Captain, Quarterstaff, or even Stealth. Rillflings often fall victim to thrill-seeking and gambling (minor psychological drawbacks), or just have big mouths.

New weapon: halfling cant hook (ST7): The cant hook is a variation on the standard logging hook, with a short staff and curved point on the end for grabbing, spinning or freeing cargo. It does 1d-2 damage, and can be used (at DX–4) to disarm an opponent. Requires the ax/mace skill.

Tinker Sprites

Less a class of halflings and more an obsession among a subset of them, tinker sprites are oddballs even among their own kind. Starting from the tradition of well-made craft goods, tinker sprites take it to the extreme, reinventing and repurposing objects into ever-new forms. Some even spin a bit of magic and alchemy into their creations. Even with their eccentricities tinker sprites are valued members of halfling communities, making repairs or crafting complex items. On the darker side, they are often employed to create traps and defenses, or bypass them for their own gain.

Tinker Sprite Halfling Starting Package: ST5 (+1), DX12 (+0), IQ13 (+5) Hero. Talents: Crossbow (1), Mundane Talent, Simple (2), Detect Traps (1), Armourer (1), Engineer (1), Remove Traps (2), Locksmith (1), Mechanician (2), Chemist (2). Suggested advancements include Business Sense, Master Mechanician, Alchemy, or Assess Value. Tinker Sprites can be easily distracted (minor psychological drawback), or have any number of absurd obsessions and habits.

Playing the race card: Dwarves

January 21, 2019 at 7:18 pm

“All dwarfs have beards and wear up to twelve layers of clothing. Gender is more or less optional.”

― Terry Pratchett

Of all the prototypical fantasy races, dwarves seem to suffer most from stereotyping. I think the good folk a TVTropes summed it up pretty well here. The Fantasy Trip (both old and new) did little to add to this base, leaving them as shorter, stronger, less dextrous figures that can carry great weights.

On a lot of levels, I find the stereotypical dwarf to be fun. Loud and boisterous, quick to anger and loyal to a fault, dwarves are a natural fit for a lot of RPG players. But how can we kick-start dwarven character builds without reinventing the wheel every time? Here are a few ‘packages’ to help add flavor to your next dwarf.

 

Gold Dwarf–

The golden dwarves — or guldendvaerg — are the dwarves most commonly encountered by other races. They are the craftsmen and traders, and the lords of the great dwarven delves. In the Duchy of Dran, they would most likely be found in areas like Rubydelve or Highdeep . Their workmanship is only exceeded by their greed, and those that deal with them rarely have the advantage. The gold dwarves can also be very conservative, and their societies are rigorously structured and slow to change. Those that choose a wanderer’s life might be slightly more flexible, but will seem very set in their ways by the standards of other races. And if any dwarf was to take up the wizard’s path, it would probably be a gold dwarf.

Gold Dwarf Starting Package: ST 11(+1), DX 10(+4), IQ 11 (+3) Hero. Talents: Ax/Mace (2), Shield (1), Crossbow (1), Engineer (2), Armourer (1), Business Sense (2), and Recognize Value (1). Suggested advancements include Shield Expertise, Master Armourer, Architect/Builder, and Assess Value. Their ability to carry great weight inclines them toward heavy armor, hammers and heavy crossbows, emphasizing force over mobility. If you use Drawbacks, gold dwarves tend to be greedy, stubborn, or live by a strict code (minor Social commitment).

 

Iron Dwarf—

The other main branch of dwarf is rougher, even sturdier, and less civilized then their golden cousins. The iron dwarves (jardendvaerg) live on the edge of dwarven lands, carving out new delves (like New Delve in Cidri) or seeking a strike of their own. They are at home in the wilds, and are used to competing for resources with orcs, goblins and other denizens of the dark places. They prefer axes and spears in combat, and are experts in tunnel-fighting tactics. Perhaps because of the harshness of their daily lives, they revel in their enjoyments, heartily embracing strong drink, loud songs, and contests of strength.

Iron Dwarf Starting Package: ST 12 (+2), DX 10 (+4), IQ10 (+2) Hero. Talents: Ax/Mace (2), Shield (1), Pole Weapons (2), Mundane Skill, Menial/Miner (1), Underdeweller (2), and Toughness (2). Suggested advancements include Weapon Expertise, Climbing, and Detect Traps. Prolonged time underground might give an iron dwarf bad eyes, or they might have a Hatred (minor psychological drawback) against orcs, or be just plain mean.

New Talent: Underdweller/IQ10 (2). Similar to the Naturalist talent, but for the underground world. A figure with this talent is familiar with the creatures and plants that naturally occur underground, and can make 3/IQ save to spot natural dangers like potential cave-ins before they enter the area.

 

Crag Dwarf—

Beyond the furthest reaches of civilized lands lie the frozen domain of crag dwarves. These ice-shrouded peaks and wind-swept tundras are a forbidding environment and breed a formidable type of dwarf. Crag dwarves are slightly taller than their cousins, and tend toward paler coloring and silver-white to blonde hair and beards. Simple survival takes a tremendous effort, and crag dwarves do not have the luxury of embellishment in their crafts. But the items they do create — from tanned hides and ironwork from meteors that fall in these regions — are elegant in their practicality and durability. Crag dwarves are skilled hunters, and their groups work together seamlessly to bring down the most dangerous predators. They wear lighter armor than the iron dwarves, but carry massive weapons and fling javelins and spears with great accuracy. Between the harsh outdoors and long, dark winters, crag dwarves tend to be dour, brooding sorts than can carry grudges for decades.

Crag Dwarf Starting Package: ST 14 (+4), DX 9 (+3), IQ9 (+1) Hero. Talents: Ax/Mace (2), Shield (1), Thrown Weapons (2), Spear-thrower (1), and Alertness (2). Suggested advancements include Area Knowledge, Mundane crafting skills, Naturalist, and Tactics. Their environment leads crag dwarves to be loyal to their own, and vindictive toward others, and they may be seen as outsiders in civilized realms.

 

Tempered Soul—

While it is often said that dwarves are obsessed by creating and hoarding fine objects, there are a few who turn that perfectionism inward, and try to craft their minds and bodies as solidly as an any axe or breastplate. These dedicates are known as tempered souls, and eschew the material world in favor of rigorous honing of their internal resources. They live apart from mainstream dwarf society, but can be seen guarding important persons or sacred locations. While they do not practice a craft, they do collect information and protect the knowledge and legacy of the dwarves. Occasionally, a tempered soul will take up a quest to find a piece of history, capture a new method, or simply view something never before recorded. It is rumored that she cloistered tempered souls are some of those most skilled wizards alive, but this has never been proven.

Tempered Soul Starting Package: ST 10 (+0), DX 11 (+5), IQ11 (+3) Hero. Talents: Unarmed Combat I and II (2), Thrown Weapons (2), Literacy (1), Writing (1), Silent Movement (2) and Toughness (2). Suggested advancements include additional Toughness, Unarmed combat III and IV, Scholar, or a focus on an area of knowledge. The life of a tempered soul requires a (minor)commitment if not a (major) vow to its ideals, and can cause a dwarf to become cautious or overly conservative.

Do the dwarves in your games have a unique set of skills or interesting outlook? Or did we just overlook some important aspect of dwarfishness. Let us know in the comments below.

Playing the race card: Elves

January 4, 2019 at 9:11 pm

It would be interesting to find out what goes on in that moment when someone looks at you and draws all sorts of conclusions.”

― Malcolm Gladwell

We mentioned in a previous post that the race rules in The Fantasy Trip were a little lacking, even if they have not changed much from the previous edition. They are so stripped down that they can be easily summarized by this table:

Race ST DX IQ Pts. Benefit/Drawback
Human 8 8 8 8 n/a
Elf 6 10 8 8 MA12 unarmored /-3DX vs. insects
Dwarf 10 6 8 8 Double carrying capacity
Halfling 4 12 8 6 +1 Reaction, Thrown Weapons talent
Orc 8 8 8 8 n/a
Goblin 6 8 10 8 n/a

As you can see, other than a few shifts in starting attributes the races are virtually indistinguishable. They did write some fluff about the greedy nature of dwarves and how obnoxious an orc can be, but no real rules to back any of it up.

At first this struck us as a real failing. But we have had a change of heart. What could seem like a failure of design, could also be an opportunity to make something more personal to your campaigns and your players. Should every elf really be afraid of spiders? Are all halflings really that likeable?

In a series of previous posts we created a number of ‘packages’ to guide players in making the more standard types of fantasy characters without limiting their choices. After all, the true strength of TFT is the ability to fully customize a character. We thought this same process could for fantasy races as well.

Flavor for elves: are they magically delicious?

By the listed rules, elves are more dextrous, faster, and weaker than baseline humans. The text adds that they are an ancient race, aloof, and not very business savvy. But lets dig a little deeper into some of the typical varieties:

High Elf–
Most commonly thought of in terms of Tolkien or the Norse Ljósálfar. They are proud, haughty, and arrogant, and purposefully keep their distance from lesser races. They are perhaps the most magical of elves, and would more often become wizards rather than heroes. Without a major investment in ST, their martial choices are limited, but they would take advantage of their dexterity with fencings and missile weapons. They would lean toward artistic skills, over practical concerns, and have a natural affinity toward ste

High Elf Starting Package: ST9(+3), DX14(+4), IQ9(+1) Hero. Talents: Sword(2), Bow(2), Fencing (3), Alertness (2). Suggested advancements include master fencer, courtly manners, poet, missile weapons. If you use our Drawbacks system, High Elves are often afflicted with Overcondfident or the minor social flaw of Aloofness.

New Racial Talent: Magic Affinity (1), prerequisite: Elf. A figure with this Talent has a natural ability to work magic even without long training. A Hero can learn one spell for one points as if they were a Wizard. This Talent can be taken multiple times

Wood Elf—
This is the wilder, if not lesser, cousin of the high elf. They tend to be smaller and stealthier than the high elves, living closer to other races but staying hidden in the deep forests. They very much keep to themselves (and the creatures around them), choosing the natural world of the artificial nature of civilization. They, too, never magic, but in a morte practical manner.

Wood Elf Starting Package: ST10(+4), DX13(+3), IQ9(+1) Hero. Talents: Sword(2), Bow(2), Missile Weapons (1), Naturalist(2), Silent Movement (2). Suggested advancements include increased ST for larger bows, Stealth, Woodsman and Tracking. Wood Elves are often Distrustful (minor psychological Drwaback) of non-elves.

Deep Elf–
Whether they are a fallen branch of the high elves, or merely elves that have chosen to seek power in the depths of the Earth, deep elves (known as Drow or Svartálfar) are often portrayed as villains. They are deep blue-black in coloring, and covet power more than anything. They live deep underground mining and working gems and precious metals, subjugating all they come across. They are as fleet as any elf, and often more intelligent, but they use their wits for cruelty and manipulation. Deep elves are masters of chemistry and use the secrets they have unearthed to create powerful poisons and potions.

Deep Elf Starting Package: ST8(+2), DX12(+2), IQ12(+4) Wizard. Talents: Knife(2), Chemist (3),; Spells: Staff I & II, Magic Fist, Dark Vision, 3-Hex Shadow, Silent Movement, Drain Strength. Suggested advancements include Alchemist, Thrown Weapons, Invisibility and Control Person. Deep Elves are Outsiders away from their lands, and are often Mean or Vindictive.

Cobbler Elf–
Contrary to their reclusive kin, these elves seek out other societies and work with them, even if they do not blend in. They adopt the clothing and mannerism of those around them, but maintain their elven goals and aspirations. Many become sought after craftsmen and artisans, bringing their long years of skill and deft hands to good use creating objects of near magical wonder. These elves may not often take up the adventuring trade, but occasionally curiosity gets the better of one and the leave the workshop to see the world.

Cobbler Elf Starting Package: ST10(+4), DX11(+1), IQ11(+4) Hero. Talents: Sword (2), Crossbow (1), Mundane Skill, Professional (3), Literacy (1), Charisma (2), Diplomacy (1), and Recognize Value.(1) Suggested advancements include additional mundane skills, Assess Value, and even Mechanician. Cobbler Elves are known to be curious, and can be Perfectionists (minor Psychological drawback).

New Talent: Mundane Skill Mastery (IQ10). Gives a figure complete mastery over any mundane skill they already have. A master can usually demand 50% higher wages (on the Table of Jobs), and uses one less die on any roll regarding the use of a skill. A skill master can make an IQ test to create objects for 50% higher value, or in 50% less time.

Do guidelines like these help players create characters with flavor and personality without having to start from a blank slate every time? Are elves in your campaign different in a cool, new way? Or have we missed the mark on this completely? Let us know in the comments below.

Weighty Matters

December 24, 2018 at 9:18 pm

“Respect the burden.”

– Napoleon Bonaparte

Heavy Lifting in TFT

The amount of equipment an adventurer is able to carry around is important, but not very exciting in game terms. In the Fantasy Trip, players are expected to count the weight of every object that their character’s carry. Further, there are details for how much weight can be carried in specific locations (hands, belts, backpacks, etc.). That seems like a lot of bookkeeping to us.

Considering that level of detail, its odd that there are no real effects for carrying weight (outside of swimming) until you reach 4X a figure’s Strength. Also, the weight of a figure’s armor is factored in, even though armor already has its own DX and movement penalties.

Tellingly, the section ends with a note that the “GM is encouraged to completely ignore weight carried”. While that is probably good advice for most games, what if you want a simple way to track the weight and bulk of a figure’s equipment?

We wanted to create a system that takes bulk and fragility into account as well as the weight of a particular item, but maintains the streamlined simplicity that are the cornerstones of TFT.

 

Encumbrance Alternative

Encumbrance (Enc) is abstracted as the physical difficulty of carrying equipment. In general, a figure can carry a number of items whose Encumbrance value is equal or less than their ST score. Larger items have an Encumbrance value based on the weight, bulk, or difficulty to transport. A tent or a birdcage may not weigh as much as a battle axe, but they are both difficult to carry. Typically, a large or heavy item has an Encumbrance value of 1, which is roughly equal to 1o pounds or one-square foot.
Smaller items, like a spyglass or a healing potion, are considered ‘insignificant’ in terms of encumbrance, and up to 10 may be carried as one significant item (Enc 1).

A figure whose Encumbrance total exceeds their ST takes a -1 DX penalty in combat. If encumbrance exceeds twice a figure’s ST, the penalty is -2 DX in combat and MA is decreased by 1. If their encumbrance is more than 3 times their ST, the penalty is -3DX and -2MA, and they will lose a point of ST due to fatigue for every 10 feet of movement.

Since armor is designed to be worn and accommodate movement, its Encumbrance value is less than its weight or bulk would indicate. A quick breakdown of armor encumbrance is below:

Item Encumbrance
Cloth Armor
Leather Armor
Chainmail
Half-Plate
Plate Armor
Fine Plate
Small Shield
Large Shield
Tower Shield
1
2
3
4
5
4
1
2
3

Also, some carried items might not fit tidily onto any concise equipment list. In these cases, the GM will have to determine the Encumbrance of that crystal chandelier that the heroes are determined to take withe them out of the labyrinth. Here are a few examples

Item Encumbrance
Carry a person
Drag a person
Coins (100)
Share Load
10
5
1
/2

Equipment List

Another aspect of the new Fantasy Trip that left us wanting was the equipment section. A mere couple dozen items to kit out your adventurers. Did not seem sufficient, so we compiled a list of additional equipment, and listed Encumbrance values and prices for them all here.

In campaign games, you may want to have master craftsmen (or magical assistance) to create items with less Encumbrance due to lighter weight or more durable construction.

Encumbrance Example

Borro Bullroarer is a heavy warrior. He has ST15, so he can easily bear 15 Enc of equipment. His plate armor is 4, and his large shield is 2 more. He carries a battle axe (Enc 3) and a heavy crossbow (Enc 2). Of course he has his labyrinth kit (Enc 2), his clothing, and a few insignificant items, but less than 10. His Encumbrance total is 14 — a heavy load — but less than a troubling burden for a hero like Borro. However, is he came upon a cache of $200 in coins while adventuring, his total Encumbrance would rise to 16 , and he would start taking penalties.

 

Would this system help streamline your character and games? Or do you prefer the rules-as written? Or, perhaps, do you ignore the whole process until the situation is completely abused? Let us know in the comments below.

Once more, Into the Labyrinth

November 29, 2018 at 10:43 pm

“Lately it occurs to me what a long, strange trip it’s been.”

— Jerry Garcia

After their wild successful Kickstarter — nearly 3400 backers raising $315,000 — Steve Jackson Games has brought back The Fantasy Trip after almost 40 years of languishing. A few diehards had kept the game alive during these dark ages, tinkering with the rules here and there, but it had mostly been forgotten.

Very few games from that time (or since) managed to strike the successful balance between simplicity and flexibility, allowing groups to create interesting characters and stories that played quickly and allowed for creative choices. Here at the ‘Aerie, we had very high hopes for its return.

Well, now we have it. At least in PDF. The simple Melee and Wizard board games, the collected In The Labyrinth RPG book, and the classic Death Tests and Tollenkar’s Lair adventures. There is a lot there, and a whole lot to parse. We’ve had it for a month or so, and even had a chance to run a convention game (Go GameholeCon!), and have developed a few opinions about it.

THE GOOD

The best part about the TFT package is that it exists. No longer does the game we love only come in battered old booklets and questionably scanned PDFs. Soon you will be able to be able pick up the Fantasy Trip from Warehouse 23 or your FLGS. And that enough is cause to celebrate. It also stoked the imaginations of at least 3400 gamers and might spur a resurgence of a great game.

Compiling Advanced Wizard, Melee and the old In The Labyrinth book into one is a huge advancement. A working table of contents and index add even more value and finally turn TFT into a game people might actually be able to grasp simply by reading the books.

In addition, they did address some of the biggest issues with the original game. Now you can learn additional Talents without having to become a genius, and cast more mighty spells without being able to bench-press 250 pounds. The new Staff spells manage to add flavor as well as functionality.

THE BAD

In truth, this is a pretty faithful repackaging of the original game(s), and that shouldn’t count as a negative for a game we loved and played for nearly 40 years. But it kind of does.

A lot has happened to role-playing games since 1980. A lot of systems have been tried, refined, improved, and scrapped since The Fantasy Trip first hit game stores. And a lot of lessons have been learned. One of those lessons is that systems should be consistent and streamlined. This lesson must have been missed by the TFT team. Maybe it was a commitment to nostalgia, or the desire to not fix what wasn’t chronically broken, but the game is still filled with multiple systems that don’t connect with each other beyond using only d6 dice.

Things like aimed shots are handled slightly differently for different weapons, as is two-weapon fighting versus fencing. They are not major differences, but it is enough to add unnecessary fiddly bits that complicate a simple game. The same goes for the ‘Mundane Skill’ talent and a number of specific mundane skills that are handled in a different way. These were just missed opportunities to make this a better, more playable game.

It also suffers from drastically different levels of detail. It devotes a half-page to options for character retirement, but only one sentence to how many experience points a GM should give characters per session — ending even that with the caveat “it’s a GM call”. Any halfway functional GM knows that most everything is their call, but having some more baseline guides might have been helpful.

It also commits several pages to character’s potential ‘day jobs’ — an interesting concept that has never come up in any TFT game I’ve ever played or heard about. But ways of avoiding character death are given a few short paragraphs that are often only explained with “he really didn’t die.” Really? $300k for that nugget of wisdom?

Even the character races are given little detail and almost no mechanical differences — which is not a big change from the original. But you do get to know about elves’ fear of spiders, and that dwarves hate orcs and love treasure. Oddly, they mention that orcs might get XP for acting obnoxiously (without any detail), but no mention of XP for a dwarf acting “out of character” by passing up treasure.

The organization of the book seems off as well. It starts with a lengthy introduction that goes into some detail about the world of Cidri, which has never been the most compelling aspect of the system. Then a few pages about Game Mastering that jumps right into specific dice mechanics without really explaining the core mechanics or what the players do. A reader not planning to be a GM might never even read how the core mechanic works. You even get rules for aging before the concept of character creation is introduced. Worse yet, the method of casting spells is explained 116 pages after the spells are listed.

THE UGLY

As glad as we are to have a new Fantasy Trip all under one cover, the book itself is very frustrating. Its almost as it was written as a walk down memory lane rather than an in-game reference. Nearly everything is presented is a prosey style that is difficult to track and skim while playing. Rules are expressed in strange locations and out of context of similar rules. The monster listings (like the original) are grouped under headers whose ordering scheme completely escapes me. And their individual stats are listed in sentences, often with wide ranges, that make it difficult to reference quickly.

Many important aspects (like XP, above) are listed as ranges, or suggestions, or legends spoke among some sages. Flavor text gets dropped into rules sections without any kind of explanation. For example, a list of character languages includes a reference to ‘Fog Runes’, which appears nowhere else in the entire book.

While that sort of thing might make enjoyable reading, it is not what you want when you are running a game and trying to referee a clever player’s action on the fly.

THE RESULT

In the end, even with the missed opportunities and clunky phrasing, we are very happy to have The Fantasy Trip back in our lives. And as fans, we want to make the play experience as good as we can for as many we can. To that end, we are going to devote this space to creating support material and tools that GMs and players can use to improve their own fantasy trips. Also, we want to streamline and improve some of the house rulings we’ve created over the years, and share them here as well.

Who knows, we might branch out into adventure content or setting materials as well. Most importantly, we want to keep the conversation going and our heroes adventuring.

What would you most like to see to expand your Fantasy Trip games? Or what do you hate? Let us know in the comments below.

Flashback or Fast-forward

August 1, 2018 at 7:36 pm

“Have you ever wondered how nostalgia isn’t what it used to be?”

― Jasper Fforde

We have been watching the Kickstarter campaign for The Fantasy Trip with great interest her in the ‘aerie, and its pretty excitement. In just one week’s time it has blown past $150,000 and the stretch goals are piling up like awards in Meryl Streep’s closet. Not bad for minor RPG last seen on game store shelves in 1982.

But I start to wonder why. Is there really pent-up demand for Wizard/Melee style board game combat? Or the inspiring, but often obtuse, role-playing rules laid out in In The Labyrinth? Or is it just a nostalgia tour (like the caravan of aging rockers that rumble between outdoor concert halls every summer) for people with fond memories of their gaming past and a little disposable income? I hope that its not just a well-overdue payoff for Steve Jackson after the Metagming debacle so many years ago.

An unearthed opportunity

The enthusiasm shown by the Kickstarter campaign should be a good sign that there might be money to be made with the Fantasy Trip. And giving people value for this investment should be their priority. At the very least, the game should be broken down to its mechanics and edited and reorganized for the modern reader. This is not a slam against TFT, but at virtually every page of gaming material produced at the time. Amazing ideas and elegant mechanics were buried under piles of typos, poor structure, and inconsistent rulings. It was a often a forensic investigation to find a specific rule for a situation, and it could easily be contradicted in another location, or be worded in such a way that it only brought more arguments.

People (Steve Jackson included) have been writing and publishing role-playing games for well over 40 years now, and there have been a lot of lessons learned. There are a seeming infinite ways of creating a set of RPG rules, but we have learned a lot about how to present them. Improving the consistency and clarity of mechanics, and using defined examples of how they work would go a long way toward easing new users into the the game. I wouldn’t want them to change how the game is played, just how it is explained.

Other than some minor concerns, like the reliance of ST and IQ for everyone and the complexities (and vagueries) of experience growth, it is an amazing elegant and simple game that focuses on dynamic action rather complex tables and attempts at simulation.

Even if they just fix the spelling, unify character creation, and give us an index, it will bar a worthwhile game. But it can be much more. I hope we don’t just get a dusted-off version of a game we once loved, but a version that will inspire us and legions of new gamers in the future. We were never big fans of the GURPS-driven Dungeon Fantasy, and felt a little failed by flip-flops on Car Wars, but we’re not too old to hope.

Delving deeper

As far as we stand, we’re fully behind the new Fantasy Trip. We want to take what we’ve learned playing this game for all these years, and apply it to the new game to create unique and exciting modifications and adventures. TFT’s strength is simplicity and flexibility, and how it can used to tell many kinds of stories. We plan on using that inspiration to create worlds and build legends, creating variants for special needs and expansions for new mysteries.

Depending on what is in the TFT Legacy Edition, we may leverage some of the rules from our own Heroic Expeditions as optional TFT rules. Or, simply use these rules as jumping off point for new cultures, heroic paths, or terrifying corruptions. We’d like your help with this, and would love to hear what you want to see.

The Softer Side of Fantasy

June 13, 2018 at 8:35 pm

Have you got it do you get it / If so how often
Which do you choose / A hard or soft option?
—“West End Girls”, Pet Shop Boys

Recently I have been revisiting some of the fantasy stories that helped forged my vision (and many of the founders of the RPG industry) of what a fantastic world could be. Conan, Elric, Jirel of Joiry, and Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser are the heroes that started me down a path I’ve never truly left for decades.

But one thing I’ve noticed reading them today is how sketchy they seem compared to the kinds of fantasy produced for the more ‘modern’ market. The worlds are much less fleshed out, magic works in undefined and rapidly changeable fashion, and the sudden inclusion of anachronistic elements like historical figures, aliens, or high technology are shrugged off as par for the course. These aspects may seem dated and lazy to some readers, but they really capture the ‘wonder’ of fantasy from my introduction to the genre.

Contrast these stories to the popular series of today, which are often categorized as ‘hard fantasy’ (a tear I assume lifted from sci-fi-fi). Since I could not find an accepted online definition of ‘soft fantasy’ (incidentally, a term that rapidly turns into an NSFW google search), lets start with Wikipedia’s take on on hard fantasy: “ Hard fantasy is a subgenre of fantasy literature that strives to present stories set in (and often centered on) a rational and knowable world.“

In practice, this gives us the obsessively detailed back-stories and histories of the George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire or the highly-codified magic structure of Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicles. When it comes to magic in hard fantasy, Brandon Sanderson (Wheel of Time, Mistborn, and more) has an interesting take here. While this level of detail can be satisfying, you run the risk knowing too much about a world, like spoiling a magic trick by learning how its done. In a gaming sense, you never want the marvelous to feel mundane or reduce all the world’s miracles into mechanics.

 

Beyond the Bounds

One way to inject wonder into an otherwise rational fantasy universe is to disrupt the standard power levels. Like when Q would appear on an episode of Star Trek, the normal rules of power and probability were thrown out the window. This doesn’t always mean the players face an adversary of who far outclasses them. It could be a place where magic has explosive side effects or doesn’t work at all, or waking up the size of their miniatures and being forced to navigate a world drastically out of scale.

Even non-mechanical shifts can add wonder and break the hold of a hard fantasy structure. What if they land on a shore where all the natives have two heads, and must debate every action with themselves? Or coming upon a tribe of wise, philosophical kobolds dedicated to preserving the knowledge of age-old dragons. Understanding the rules of a world creates expectations, and breaking the rules can create new ways of reacting and make things seem fresher.

 

Context crashing

Like any mature market, fantasy stories and games are now broken down into categories and subgenres, and most tend to stick in their own silo. Not so in the older days. Sword and sorcery stories threw everything in the same pot, and rarely concerned themselves with internal consistency. And early D&D took the same approach. As far back as the Blackmoor supplement, the Temple of the Frog featured an alien overlord with access to ray guns and an orbital satellite.

You may not want to have games were cowboys on Triceratops wielding AK-47s chase your players down dungeon corridors , but occasionally breaking context can create interesting situations. Many fantasy universes are built over the wreckage of technological apocalypse, and strange artifacts can spur interesting adventures. Traveling through space or time can give players a memorable change of pace, and do not have to destroy your games. Even Pathfinder (one of the most exhaustive of hard fantasy rule-sets) has a crashed spaceship under a mountain in their official setting.

A GM should not have to be completely orthodox to their setting and its assumptions. If you want to have a society where the ruling powers are intelligent predatory birds, and the sapient bipeds are barely-functional food sources, so be it. Its a fantasy, don’t be afraid of the fantastic.

 

Over-ruling

In gaming, the rules themselves often get in the way of the fantasy. By trying to cover the most important interactions, they by nature create a ‘rational and knowable’ universe. That is why they are there.

But that doesn’t have to be the end of it. Mechanics may explain the ‘how’ of a situation, but not the ‘why’. If a plane-hopping bounty hunter levels a Colt 45 at the player’s wizard, it will still have to roll to hit and do a set amount of damage. Simple description can go a long way in bringing wonder to what is (under the hood) simple game mechanics. In a psychic dream world, a PC’s intelligence might be the aspect to use to determine their ability to move or maneuver, but the players don’t need to know all the details. Or the squid-men overlords of a ruined seaside temple could simply be re-skinned sea elves. Its the story that’s important, not the statistics.

That said, feel free to ignore the rules when they don’t mesh with your vision. Laser beams can have any affect you want them to have. Your trickster god can turn missiles back on its attackers, regardless of whether or not there are rules for that. Players can walk easily through the ruins of sunken Atlantis, even if they can’t breathe water or survive the pressure of a mile of ocean above them.

We create and play fantasy games to go places and do things we could never do in our real lives. And while deep backgrounds and elegant metaphors make a solid basis to connect players to these worlds, they should not stop you from injecting fantastic elements that don’t quite fit inside their walls.

Or, in the words of Dr. Who, one of least internally consistent heroes of our time, “We’re all stories, in the end. Just make it a good one, eh?”

How do you use ’soft’ fantasy elements too mix up your games? Or do you believe that this kind of gaming is silly or frivolous? Let us know in the comments below.

Know your enemy —
making better fantasy foes

March 15, 2018 at 4:43 pm

“Balk the enemy’s power; force him to reveal himself.”

— Sun Tzu

 

There is no shortage of advice when it comes to creating villains for your fantasy campaigns like how to make them more memorable, believable, and worthy adversaries for your heroes. But what about their hordes of minions? The faceless multitudes that the PCs must fight there way through before even getting a chance to face the Big Bad.

For every Sauron, there are thousands of orcs swarming over the land. And in between the Night King and a ragtag band of rangers stood numberless white walkers and their whites. What makes these creatures interesting? And how can they be a recurring element to your campaigns? What we can do to add depth and interest to these unsung cornerstones of heroic fantasy.

 

By the numbers

Every fantasy gaming system has a wide variety of monstrous races and other horrors to throw at player characters, but which ones make good ‘forces of evil’. One of the hallmarks of these minion races is that they are numerous, so any individual creature should not be overwhelmingly powerful. It should be strong enough to carry off small livestock or threaten someone’s life, but to get a lot of use out of the race requires them to be somewhat expendable.

They should also be flexible. If the enemy turns to stone in sunlight, or cannot leave its forest, its use as shock troops is limited. This is about more than creating an encounter, but a pillar enemy for your campaign world. And for that they should also be distinct, with some aspect that ties them together and ties them thematically to the greater goals of your storylines.

 

Four key questions

What if you want to create your own enemy race to menace your players and pillage the countrysides of your game world. First, you need to ask yourself a few key questions.

What do they look like? Not really a mechanical question for a game, but critical to how you tell the story. Are they humanoid? Do they resemble other races? Do they have distinctive features like horns, tails, or forked tongues? Some of these answers will have mechanical ramifications, and others might just be descriptive. Do they use tools and weapons like the common races, or do they treasure the same things? This could affect combats, and definitely affect what victorious PCs loot from their enemies.

Looks might also reveal things about their origins or affiliations. The drow must have shared ancestry with the forest-dwelling elves at some point. Or a race of dog-faced humanoids might have some mystical connection with mundane dogs. Pallor-faced creatures with deep sunken eyes might be related to the undead, or just aspiring to that condition.

Where are they found? This, too, adds more than just help in encounter planning. If your amphibious squid men slink back to their reefy redoubts after each raid, what does that say about them. Or if they roam seemingly at random, does that say something else? If your enemy race are the minions of a major villain, are they tied to their base of operations? Sauron’s orcs were headquartered in Mordor, but Saruman created his own for Isengard. Multiple groups or factions among them can add detail and interest to forces of evil.

What do they do? This is where things can start to get tricky. Evil stuff of course, right? But that is very broad range of activities. Are they merely enforcers of their master’s will? Or do they have ambitions and motivations or their own. Do they rob others of resources, or do they inflict damage as its own end. A zombie apocalypse is just about eating brains, but an infestation of doppelgängers has very different tactics.

And, on a more mechanical level, exactly how do they do the things they do? A tribe of orcs will do it with axes and force, but wily kobolds might set traps and undermine a community’s structure. For good or ill, a large part of most RPG campaigns is combat-focused. So having combat with your enemy of choice should be distinct.

The example that keeps coming to mind is the AD&D drow originally presented in the Descent into the Depths of the Earth modules. While they seem to be designed strictly to oppose PC power (magic items that disintegrate after looting, really??), they were distinctive, memorable and a lasting edition to the RPG landscape. Those drow had many distinctive powers and tools (hand crossbows!), that have challenged adventurers for decades.

Why do they do it? On some level, this is can of worms. But to avoid the whole ‘what is evil’ debate, and focus on what makes an enemy interesting and fun, understanding motivation is important. Mindless destruction, like a zombie apocalypse counts as a motivation, counts as a motivation. As does the hard-wired morality of demons and other netherworld denizens.

Here are a few more for your consideration:

  • Alien. Perhaps not even malevolent, but their motivations are unfathomable.
  • Commanded. Their leaders were ordering their actions, regardless of their own desires.
  • Insanity. Similar to alien, their motivations are based on a delusion or compulsion.
  • Mindless. Their actions are animalistic or basic needs driven.
  • Religion. Their beliefs demand they act in a corrupt or destructive manner
  • Resources. Their homeland lacks things they desire or need
  • Revenge. Driven by a real or perceived injury, they seek to punish others.

These are just few examples. For good or ill, the rationale for evil is very broad.

 

HEXercise: Making enemies

To put these ideas into practice, we are going to create an enemy race to use our in-house campaign setting for Heroic Expeditions. We call them the Sinder.

What do they look like? The Sinder are humanoids, slightly shorter and thicker than humans. Their arms are longer than ours, and they use them to assist running across broken ground. Their broad, flat faces are marked with ritual scarring. The most notable feature is that the Singer cover themselves in ashes, giving them an unworldly appearance. Their clothing and equipment are scavenged or roughly made, accentuating their primitive appearance.

Where are they found? It is rumored that the Sinder were ‘born’ in a volcanic range west of Ikara, but no civilized man has tried to seek out this birthplace. They can be found in the forested wilderlands west of Mesus and range all the way to the Bitter Sea. These rapacious creatures are nomadic, and constantly search for new areas to terrorize. As nomads, they adapt to the environment around them and stay until they exhaust the local resources or are driven off.

What do they do? In short, they destroy. The Sinder revere fire and love nothing more than seeing things consumed by it. They have very little in the form of culture or production, and what they do produce is made by slaves that they work to death or feed to the fire. They favor large, brutal weapons, preferably flails, and have developed cruel variations on the form.

Sinder warriors are reckless and proud, and do not employ complex tactics. The slave-catching Harook (see below) will work together to corral and immobilize potential workers.

Why do they do it? The Sinder believe that they have been chosen by their patron god Moar (the Living Flame) to scour and destroy everything that lives on this unworthy flawed world. When they have burned it clean, Moar will take his place in the center of the Heavens and create a new world for the Sinder to rule. Until then, his thirst for sacrifice is great and they must constantly appease it.

New Monster: Sinder
Common natural humanoid (1 space)
Encounter Group 2d
ST 14
DX 10
IQ 6
MA:  5
AD:   2 (rough hides)
Damage:   By weapon (commonly morningstar, 2d+1)

Harook are the slave-masters of the Sinder. They are slithers (ST13) and quicker (DX12) than average, and are more likely to speak additional languages. They wield two-handed flails with barbed hooks on the end )also called Harooks) they use to entangle and bring down their captives.

Hurn are the shock troops of the Sinder, known for their immense strength (ST16) and the flaming pitch-filled flails they wield. Hurn are prone to fits of ecstatic destruction, and will often spend as much effort destroying objects and buildings as they do on their foes.

Pyrophants are the ‘chosen’ of Moar and have been given the divine gift of fire. Usually horribly scarred and burned, the Pyrophants have ST10 (SA14), and DX 9. They are Adepts with an IQ8+1d and can only cast fire spells. Their Staff is flaming, and will do an additional 1d fire damage on critical hits. Those rare few who are capable of casting Fireproofing delight in immersing themselves in fire.

New Specialty Melee Weapons

Weapon Damage ST Cost Enc Notes
Harook 1d+1 12 $120 2 Can use Entangle special attack
Hurn 2d 14 $200 3 +1d fire damage, Critical failure does fire damage to self

Skin & Bones

February 27, 2018 at 4:56 pm

“Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”

― Pablo Picasso

 

It should go without saying that writing an RPG makes you think a lot about rules. Is a rule fair? Is it consistent? Is it too cumbersome? These questions and more were constant companions. One stood out more than all the others, though. And that was, ‘does it even need a rule?

Role-playing games were revolutionary in how open-ended they were, where players could do anything and take the story wherever they wanted. And that leaves a game designer with a choice, try to cover every situation with rules or trust that the GM can just ‘wing it’ when the player decides to swing from a chandelier and throttle the blackguard with his legs.

More than the well-trodden ‘rules vs. rulings’ debates, this is about adding complexity to a system where it may not be needed. If there is a spell that shoots red balls of force from a wizard’s hands, would you need a separate spell that shoots yellow sparks of power from their forehead?

 

Skin deep

Rules are the bones of a game, the structure that holds everything together. But the surface is just skin, the individual elements that make every game world and adventure unique. And these can be changed and tweaked to fit each gaming group’s personal taste. As long as the bones are strong, the skin take on as many different forms as the imaginations of the players’ can conceive.

When we were writing Heroic Expeditions, the goal was always to create systems that would work in various situations rather than rules that addressed specific circumstances. Rather than detail a number of specific skill Aspects, we created a few categories of skill difficulty, and left the rest to an individual GM to detail. If a player wished to become a master brewer (for example) that is role-playing decision with limited mechanical ramifications, but a clever GM should feel free to allow it to come into play wherever appropriate. If the villain tires to poison their ale, would the master brewer not notice a shift in the hop balance?

Similarly with Attribute tests. If a character wishes to do something that is not expressly covered by the rules, the GM can simply have them make an Attribute test at a level they deem appropriate. This should get them through the vast majority of player surprises.

If a campaign leans heavily on a specific aspect — seafaring in a pirate campaign, or scavenging in a survival game — the GM might want to detail a few specific Aspects from these general categories and their mechanical effects. For example, in an underground campaign the GM might want to add Mundane Skills specifically for orienteering, fungi-cultivating, or spelunking.

In the case of magic, we created the idea of visual effects to cover the many variations an Adept might want to put on their spells. If they want their Mage Bolt to be crystalline daggers that shatter on contact, so be it, If they would rather their summoned guardian to be the spirit of the grandmother, make it so.

Their could be mechanical ramifications to these choices, if the GM and the player think they would add value to a game. An Adept’s blast might be actual flames that could set flammable things alight, but might have limited affect against fire creatures or inflammable objects. Or a particularly horrific visual effect might scare off skittish creatures, but would be ineffective against those without fear or conscious thoughts.

 

Risk and reward

This can lead to abuses, where an opportunistic player tries to inject positive benefits into situations but argues against any penalties. In these circumstances, its important to remember that the effects are designed to differentiate the character and serve the story, not to squeeze another +1 out of a damage roll.

What works for players is just as valid for the Game Master. Monsters, traps, and magical items can be re-skinned just as easily. If the group leaves the planned path and wanders into a trackless swamp, and the GM wants to have them assaulted by frog men, simply use statistics for goblins. For added color, allow them to use their tongues to entangle as whips and you’re done.

The rules should never constrain your choices, but empower your ability to adjudicate conflict. If a GM sees an item that’s a potion or a bomb, but would rather see it as an egg, then its an egg.

A potential drawback of designing this way are a perceived sameness of character types, as some players focus on the mechanics of the abilities and thus see all warriors wielding melee weapons as the same. But we’ve always looked at characters as much more than their damage die or best Attribute test. There is also the risk of creating loopholes within these rules-light categories that might have unintended consequences or be abused by players.

But if the alternative is a 500-page rulebook and a shelf-load of supplements required for every game, its a risk we’re willing to take.

 

Necromancers: Skinning the dead flesh

To illustrate, let’s say we want create an archetypical necromancer Adept for Heroic Expeditions. You could create a number of Aspects and spells for raising minions and controlling horrors, but you would just end up with more rules and more complications. But would that make it better? We think not.

Within existing rules, a necromancers would undoubtedly focus on summoning spells, and perhaps even use the Conjurer Spell School Specialization from here. There are many flavorful visual effects they could employ from using a giant leg bone as their Staff, or having ghostly hands reach up from the dirt for Slow Movement or Stop spells.

Beyond that, say you wanted to make their summoned creatures skeletal abominations in guardian, wolf, or even dragon shape. You could give them invulnerability (arrows) to reflect that, but could open them up to the optional clerical rebuke undead power (shown here) or perhaps they are just more mindless than the normal summoned creatures, and must be actively directed by their master.

For that matter, the Gm could create necromantic versions of most monster, from skeletal elephants to zombie unicorns. Zombies would not gain immunity (arrows), but would perhaps trade slowed movement for additional AD.

The idea is to create the image of a necromancer, without the need to rewrite a series of rules to make it so. Re-skinning over solid bones can save you time, increase your options, and help you make better games.

Do you re-skin elements in your games? Have you had successes or unexpected disasters? Did hew overlook the key to re-skinning success? Let us know in the comments below.

"Packages" is our in-house terms for collections of Attributes, Talents, Spells, and optional Drawbacks to create a particular type of character. These are not restrictive, and are presented merely as suggested structures for easy, flavorful character building.