Rats in the Ranks

Another of my (several) complaints about Warhammer 3rd Edition is that it doesn’t seem to contain a great deal of flavour about the world, compared to the 1st and 2nd editions. I think this is largely because it is new[1], though I think Fantasy Flight Games are doing the rather nasty trick of assuming that everyone is just going to use old 2nd Edition source material for the flavour. In a way this is good because it means you don’t have to buy a whole new range of background material when you buy a new system, if you just want to upgrade to a system that actually works. After all, Black Industries may have produced a completely and insanely shit system, but the quality of their work on the world is unparalleled and unlikely to be bettered by any other company[2], and I think that the reason most people who play WFRP2 love it is the world, not the system – you love WFRP2 despite its myriad flaws.

So combining the two is the perfect way to play warhammer. And that’s what I did recently, when I started running the (excellent) first edition Fear the Worst adventure in WFRP3. I won’t spoil this adventure for readers by describing the content in detail, but suffice to say that it’s a really good example of the best kind of module. It has lots of material on the setting and a general structure for how the module should run, so that GMs can run it as intended and get a rich and interesting experience, but also leaves huge sections open to free-form development, so that the GM can drop things he or she doesn’t like, and players can make their own path to the conclusion (which occurs on a fixed timeline). It also openly allows for the possibility that the players will “lose,” with catastrophic consequences for the town if not for them. I like this style of adventuring a lot. And also, it’s quite lethal if the players are stupid.

The module was also very easy to fit in with WFRP3, with one caveat – played as written in WFRP 3 for the PCs as described in the module (novices), it is lethal, far more than I think must have been the case in the original. The module was easy to convert because the basic worlds overlap so well – the available flavour in the WFRP3 books makes you feel like you’re in a 1st or 2nd Edition Old World, and all the concepts described in the module are familiar to readers of 3rd Edition. Also, many elements of the module are very similar to those of the introductory module in the WFRP3 Tome of Adventure, with the same feeling of brooding trouble, everything on the surface happy and normal but chaos beneath. In short, the personalities of the different versions match up.

So what particular challenges faced me in converting the module?

Converting statistics: The WFRP 3 basic book and the Winds of Magic supplement include the monsters you need to make your adventure work, and all the NPCs in Fear the Worst can be mapped to them, so it’s no trouble to generate statistics. I fiddled a few details on some stat blocks to make the NPCs match up, and there were one or two spells that I had no analog for, but this didn’t bother me at all. Stat blocks in the original module are easily read and understood, and can be converted easily if you know what an average value should be in each system. This took very little time and produced creatures which in combat behaved roughly as the module suggested they would.

Handling traps: There are no rules for traps in the WFRP 3 rules, so I made my own, with corresponding cards. On the night my thoughts on traps were half-formed so I winged it a bit, which ended with the thief hanging by his hand over a pit full of spikes, looking very worried. But the joy of WFRP 3 is that it is the ultimate system for winging it. You can produce anything you want with those dice, and as I get more familiar with them I’m having a lot of fun making them do their creative work. This adventure depends on traps being dangerous, and I certainly made them so. Had the thief had a little less saving throw luck, he’d have been dead.

Handling the lethality:Quite unlike earlier editions of Warhammer, WFRP 3 is singularly lethal, and this was the third time my party came to a near TPK. This one was particularly dire, with the party cycling through unconsciousness several times (a very risky proposition) and their entire fate resting on a duel of wizards. My party were on the cusp of a second career, with all the extra power that entails, and so considerably tougher than the original module requires, but even if they had been smart and seen the ambush coming they would still have been in a very challenging battle. For novice WFRP 3 PCs the encounter at Black Rock Keep would, I think, be deadly on about 70-80% of runs, even without the ambush. The deadliness needs to be dialled down, either by reducing the size of the enemy group or by rolling some into a minion stat block, which is what I should have done with the two toughest fighters and the two weakest fighters. The original module calls for 7 unique creatures to do battle with 4 PCs, and gives those unique creatures reasonable strength in an ambush setting. I should have had 3 unique creatures and two pairs of minions, with the minions in melee and the unique creatures ranged/spell-casting. By not doing this I set a really challenging battle.

So the main take home lesson from this is to be careful in converting stat blocks and arranging enemy groupings, to take into account WFRP 3’s additional lethality; or to be ready with a backup plan for a TPK scenario (I had one vaguely mapped out in this case that would have been a lot of fun to run). Don’t be sucked in to the common myth that WFRP 2 or WFRP 1 are dangerous – compared to the third edition they are, in my (limited) experience much much less so. Module conversions need to take this into account, or GMs need to be ready to fudge it or wing it to make up for their mistakes half way through the adventure – or be willing to rain regular TPKs on their group, which in my opinion is not fun and soon loses you players.

I am thinking of trying to run one of the longer WFRP 2 campaigns (one of the famous ones) in WFRP 3 to see where it leads. It’s good to see that conversion is easy, because it means that I will be able to do enjoyably in WFRP 3 what would have been very frustrating in an earlier, less well designed system for the same world.

fn1: and actually I would say that there’s a higher ratio of background material to rules material in WFRP3 than any other system I’ve ever read. The magic and priest books are basically entirely about the world, as is the tome of adventure. By shifting all the rules into the cards, the books themselves get to have a lot of non-system content. But they’re chaotically laid out and it can seem like that material’s not there, and I think it’s not as good as the material from the 2nd Edition.

fn2: and I think Fantasy Flight Games are in a bind here. If they release a bunch of new companion material and background flavour they’ll be accused of fleecing fans a second time over, but if they don’t -and assume that fans will use existing 2nd Edition material – they’ll be accused of neglecting the warhammer world in favour of the system. More evidence that games need rescuing from their fanboys, if this happens.

My previous post described some ideas for setting traps in Warhammer 3; in this post I present the pit trap card.

The resistance side:

That sickening feeling of falling...

This is the disarm side:

Every party is spoiled if the thief doesn't come...

One of my (several) problems with Warhammer 3 is that it doesn’t contain rules for some basic aspects of adventuring that we all take for granted, including (rather annoyingly) traps. I don’t often use traps in adventures, since I’m not a great fan of dungeon adventures, and I understand that dungeoneering isn’t a big part of the warhammer milieu, so I can see why they don’t want to include the rules in a basic book, but traps are a very handy GMs tool, and it’s nice to have the designer’s ideas on how to handle them. WFRP3 doesn’t have a clearly described saving throw system of any sort, so in order to set up a trap I have to come up with some kind of scheme. Since the most recent adventure I’ve been running depended on traps, I need to design some method, and these are thoughts towards that method.

The Basic WFRP3 Saving Throw Mechanic

I’m not a fan of separating saving throws from the other mechanics of the game, so I’m happy to use a system like WFRP3 where the saving throw is not a special set of rules. However – and probably as a throwback to my days of using saving throws – I like any accidental event that the PC has to resist (like natural events or traps) to be resolved by a dice roll that the player does, rather than me. So if a trap is set off, the targeted PCs should all make some kind of ability check to avoid it. This is easily handled in WFRP3 as, for example, an attribute or skill check vs. a fixed difficulty determined by the trap. However, there is a small unorthodoxy built into this approach. Typically in WFRP3, action checks are constructed in such a way that the results are determined by the number of successes and boons rolled up. But in the case of a saving throw rolled by a PC, the results should be determined by the number of failures and banes.

There’s nothing wrong with this per se, but it seems to be a variance from the standard system.

Traps as Attacks

We can get around this by making the trap an attack, that the GM rolls against a PC’s skill or ability score, and then resolves damage etc. accordingly. This is entirely consistent with all the other rules of the game, but vaguely unsatisfying. Especially for save-or-die type traps, players should always be able to make the roll that determines their fate. Even though it’s exactly the same if the GM does it, it feels too … narrative … if it’s handled by the GM. The same applies to skill checks in which one PC or monster uses a social combat mechanic to control the actions of another PC – resolution of this should always be performed openly by the affected PC.

Disabling Traps

There also needs to be a mechanic for disabling traps, which pits a specific skill against the trap itself. The act of disarming the trap then has results depending on the number of successes gained, and also a standard result for banes. I’m thinking the standard results are:

  • 1 Success: the trap is disarmed
  • 3 Successes: The trap is disarmed and can be rearmed by the same PC later
  • 2 banes: the trap is triggered
  • 2 boons: the PC learns how to make this trap if their intelligence score is greater than the trap’s difficulty

This allows for the possibility that PCs might be interested in developing trap-making abilities of their own, and requires the inclusion of special trap-making rules.

We can put all of this together through the construction of Trap Cards.

Trap Cards

Of course traps don’t have to be represented by cards, and neither do items (or actions, or anything else) but it’s consistent with the way the game is laid out and it’s a convenient way of setting out rules. I don’t have the ability to make cards beyond those in the Strange Aeons software package, so I am going to recommend a card design based on cannibalizing the basic Action Card format. The Trap Card will have two faces, one (the red face) representing the trap’s effects, and one (the green face) representing the disarming process. The red face doesn’t have a recharge number, but gives the skill the PC needs to use to defeat the trap. The green face has a recharge number, which in this case is the number of rounds it takes to disarm the trap. The body of the card then shows the success and failure lines and their outcomes. Each card is for a type of trap, so will refer to a trap difficulty. This difficulty determines how hard the trap is to evade and how hard it is to disarm. Note that traps basically come with three difficulty types – search, disable and resist. These are not specified on the card, but the card will specify the results and skill checks in terms of these ratings. Note that there could be a fourth value, which would be the strength of the trap and would affect damage.

My next post will contain an example of such a trap card.

Last night was the 6th session of the Rats in the Ranks campaign, so about my 9th session of Warhammer 3rd Edition. This time, we again were missing one of our players (Mr. Camphor) so we again decided to put off the main plot of the campaign for a random side adventure, which is fine because the PCs are waiting to get a report from their dutiful spy, and so side adventures are all the rage. I could have seeded the town with rumours and let them do whatever they want, but  in truth I haven’t had a lot of preparation time and (as I think will be obvious in a moment) I’m not yet confident making up encounters on the fly in WFRP3. It’s a bastard of a system if you get it wrong.

So, instead, I used an old Warhammer 1st Edition adventure, Fear the Worst, converted it to WFRP3, and assumed everything would come out in the wash. And it almost did.

If you’re planning on running this adventure, in any system, then it probably would suit you to read this. If you’re going to play it or at risk of playing it, then don’t read on. But if you are planning on playing it, you should note that my general preference is to avoid TPKs, and this one came damn close.

A standard mercenary advert and a sausage festival

The PCs having just returned from a near-death experience and spent most of their money on healing, they were naturally in need of a new adventure and a new chance to get themselves all killed, so when they stumbled on the following handbill posted up in some dubious corner of Ubersreik, they naturally responded immediately:

Men and women of a brave and adventurous bent needed for work of a sensitive nature. Seeking wide range of skills, from strong-armed warriors to learned scholars. Excellent opportunity for neophytes. Ask for Karl Taunenbaum at the famous Dancing Dragon Inn, Heideldorf

So, being in need of money and lacking their main meat-shield, off they went to investigate this simple Heideldorf job. When they arrived they found themselves in the midst of a sausage festival, thronging with nobles from the Reikland and full to overflowing with delicious sausage. Viewed with suspicion by these nobles, and having already had a rather unpleasant roadside encounter with some approaching nobles, they went straight to the Dancing Dragon Inn and asked for Taunenbaum. Taunenbaum in turn served them some sausage and sent a runner for the head of the village, Heinz Schiller, who turned up about 10 minutes later. Before speaking to the PCs he deigned to spend 5 minutes scolding Taunenbaum in front of his guests, complaining about the speed of service and the slovenliness of Taunenbaum’s staff, before joining the PCs. Schiller himself was an overdressed fop, noble in bearing but done up in a slightly tawdry version of last season’s fashions… in short, an overpuffed rural dandy. Not that this stopped him looking down his nose at the PCs as he explained their job to them…

[Slight cultural note here: most cafes and bars in Japan worth their coin have on the menu “sosseji moriawase,” a sausage mixed plate, and most Japanese know a little about German culinary and festive culture, so a mid-winter sausage festival where you get served a mixed plate of delicious sausage is exactly the kind of environment that makes the players feel like they’re part of a German-themed but chaotic world]

The Job

So, Shiller set about explaining the job to them, though first he needed to assure himself that the PCs were, in fact, capable adventurers. Since the group contained two girls (one just 15 years old!) and an elf, this probably isn’t surprising, but after a bit of poking and prodding and some judicious questions he was satisfied, and proceeded to tell them that this sausage festival was his own exclusive idea, built up over 10 years, and he couldn’t afford anything to destroy it. But this year,some bandits had gathered in a ruined castle near the keep and were attacking visiting nobles. If even some nobles left Heideldorf with the impression it was unsafe, he would be ruined. So he needed the PCs to visit the ruins and … deal with… the bandits.

He initially offered the PCs 10 silver coins each to do this. Given they had entered their first adventure on a 20 silver coin payment, and bargained up from there, they were kind of shocked. So they bargained, and secured a 2 gold coin payment each.

Having done this, he told the characters to head off in the morning, and then left the pub.

Investigating the Job

As we will see, the PCs are nothing if not thorough in their preparations, and promptly set about finding out more about Shiller and the town. They started, of course, by drinking with the locals. From various locals they found out the following:

  • The nearby keep has been deserted for a long time and is called Black Rock Keep
  • Black Rock Keep is so called because it was destroyed in war about 400 years ago
  • Black Rock Keep is so called because it was originally made of white rock, but a dragon came from the mountains and attacked it. The dragon’s breath weapon was acid, and turned the keep from white to black. After the attack, a bunch of elves turned up to help the village (this was a long time ago) and shot at the dragon with their bows, killing it. The current inn is named in honour of the dragon’s death throes.
  • The keep was always called Black Rock, but 400 years ago it was destroyed by an earthquake. At that time the inn was called the Black Dragon, but after the earthquake the locals changed its name to the Dancing Dragon
  • Shiller always works his staff very hard, especially his mercenaries
  • Some mercenaries came through last year
  • Some mercenaries came through two years ago, possibly including a dwarf
  • They couldn’t possibly have come through during the sausage festival, because everyone knows mercenaries investigate keeps in summer, not winter…

So… Delicious sausage… regular adventurers… the characters were becoming suspicious. Still, with no definite cause for their suspicion they could hardly refuse to do their work. And what could possibly go wrong if they went into their adventure aware of the possibility of a trap…?

Entering Black Rock Keep

The following morning the PCs headed off to Black Rock Keep. When they reached the surrounding area they entered with typical caution, surveying carefully and checking for guards, etc., but found no evidence of bandits of any kind, so entered the grounds proper. They were just about to enter the main wooden double doors of the ruined keep when a crossbow bolt thudded into the doors in front of them. This bolt had a note of some kind wrapped around it.

Unwrapping the note, they found a map, with the following note written on it:

From a concerned friend. Heinz Schiller is more than he appears. Beware the cellars!

The map itself appeared to be a detailed map of the cellars, complete with secret doors marked, and several traps detailed on the map. Unfortunately, none of my 3 players paid any attention to the map. They didn’t really even look at it.

They explored the ground floor of the keep, finding some evidence of habitation but no living things, and then entered the aforementioned cellars. The thief moved ahead to investigate rooms as they found them, and so within a few minutes he encountered the first trap – a 10′ deep pit filled with spikes, which he managed to avoid through a feat of dexterity that left him clinging to the floor under a door while the remainder of the party threw out ropes for him to grab onto.

After they had overcome this trap, rather than checking their map or checking for traps, they moved on, soon stumbling onto two more. Both of these traps were hammer traps, huge warhammers falling from the side of doors, and one delivered a nasty blow to the thief, knocking off quite a few wounds[1].

Having sprung all the traps and ignored their map, the PCs finally managed to discover a secret door and loot some sarcophagi of about 4Gps worth of gems and jewellery (this is a lot of money in WFRP3). However, they hadn’t found any outlaws, just evidence of an ancient, well-looted tomb. So they decided to leave, and returned to the entryway.

The Mutant Ambush

When they reached the stairs the PCs were ambushed by a grotesque pair of misshapen mutants, who dashed out of the stairs to lay waste to the thief and the roadwarden. These mutants were vaguely human, with huge bodies, massively strong arms, and tiny tiny heads, inset with vacant, staring eyes showing no intellect of any kind. Perhaps one was a woman; perhaps they were a couple. The thief and the roadwarden didn’t have time to tell, as a single blow from their huge arms was sufficient to cripple normal people.

Battle was joined, at which point another five mutants burst from the secret door in the stairwell, to attack the PCs from behind. These mutants were:

  • A wizard with eyes floating on tentacles
  • A normal-sized man, with a St Bernard Dog’s head that constantly drooled as it fought
  • A completely normal man, carrying a pistol
  • A human with a normal-sized body, but very long arms and legs, who could use his arms to punch as if they were missile weapons
  • A horrific, bloated man whose entire lower body had shrivelled and atrophied to become a mere bulbous waste of flesh, so that the man had to flop and flip about like a seal in order to move

The battle that followed was evil, bitter and desperate. The PCs realized they had only one hope of survival, which was to block the stairs so they only had to fight two mutants at a time; but even then they still had to face two ranged fighters and a wizard, though fortunately the wizard was a Tzeentch Wizard, and Tzeentch’s magic is disgusting but weak. Nonetheless, the PCs found themselves in a desperate situation, with the Cleric falling unconscious and recovering (through her own magic, mostly) three times; the Roadwarden fallign unconscious and recovering once, and the thief being knocked out just once (and staying there). The battle ended with all the PCs except the wizard unconscious, and all the mutants except their wizard; the final three rounds were an old-fashioned magical duel, which the party’s wizard won by perhaps one round – at the end the mutant wizard was so low on power and so desperate that he was forced to charge into melee with a knife. This didn’t end well for him, and the session ended with the party down to its last 6 hit points – all of them belonging to the wizard – while a pile of mutant bodies slicked the floor with blood, and the players all cursed their stupidity for not using the serendipitous message they had been sent.

Next session, we will find out why they met mutants not bandits, and what exactly was happening in this remote outpost…


fn1: I actually messed up here, giving the thief an agility check instead of doing an attack roll. The thief’s agility is impeccable, so nothing touches him when he gets to do a save. An attack roll, though, would have left him in a sorry state indeed. I realized during this session that in addition to WFRP 3’s many other flaws of incompleteness, it has no rules for traps and no suggestions about how to do traps.

May Flopsy guide my schemes...

I crawled out into the freezing cold with a hangover today to visit the Asami Shrine in Beppu, to burn my 2010 demon-breaking arrow and purchase a new arrow for 2011. Burning the arrow that symbolizes the year before gives one time to pause and think about what one did in that 365 days, and to think about the year to come. My year to come promises to be busy, but I have a variety of plans I want to put into action in my gaming, research and real lives. Here is a brief outline.

Gaming Plans

Continue the Rats in the Ranks Campaign: My players indicated they want it to continue, and so I’m going to try and play it right through until I work out at what point WFRP 3 breaks. Whether this happens or not I don’t know, but I have a long-term goal for this campaign (or rather, the adversaries I’m controlling have a very distinct long-term goal in Ubersreik, which hopefully my players will discover before everything goes pear-shaped). After that we’ll see where the campaign takes us. It’s fun and my players are good, so let’s see what happens.

Start an Oriental Steampunk sandbox: Based on the one-off Pathfinder adventure I ran last year for a Japanese group, I’ve been thinking for a while now of expanding that into a genuine steampunk (literally!) sandbox. The players from that group have a hook for one more adventure, and from there we could start exploring. I’m thinking of using my ideas for adapting WFRP 3 to steampunk, or even to high fantasy (depending on the direction I want it to go) and just playing along until it gets boring. This will give me the opportunity to get my Japanese players to collaborate in building a semi-oriental/semi-western steampunk world based around a Meiji-era image of the place we are all living in now, with (at the very least!) gnomes.

Introduce the local convention to some English-language-only games: I’m in something of a unique position here to introduce my local Japanese-language gaming convention to untranslated games, and I’m thinking of running a session of WFRP 3 and maybe Exalted for just this reason. Recently a player at the convention said she wanted to play a game “that used loads of dice!” and it occurred to me right then that Exalted was just the game for her. This type of international exchange segues into my biggest possible plan for the year…

Start a TRPG Club at my University: This may seem a bit trivial but it’s actually a plan full of possibilities. My local University has about 100 nationalities of student, many of them nerdy, from all over the world, and they all meet to study and hang out using two languages that I speak – English and Japanese. So these students could bring an untranslated game from their own country – most likely in Thai, Mandarin or Vietnamese, but you never know what else is lurking out there – and run it in a different language for the other students. Or, they could play a game that isn’t translated to their language for a group of their compatriots. This opens up all sorts of options for language and gaming exchange, and a few people I’ve spoken to have been interested, so I’m thinking I might look into doing that this year.

GM Make You Kingdom in English: I’m going to Australia for a few weeks twice this year, and on at least one such occasion I will be in Melbourne, so I’m thinking of inviting regular commenter (and previous player) Paul to join me in a game of Make You Kingdom, translated of course. This depends on me being able to translate the necessary information by the time I go there and also being able to explain the rules for him (and get to Melbourne). I reckon I can do it, and I can even put stuff on this blog. Maybe I can also GM Double Cross 3 at some point too…

All of these plans are going to depend on a few crucial meat-life plans as well, though…

Meat Life Plans

Go to Iceland: I’ve never been and I really want to go. It’s vaguely in the pipeline to do this year, in which case I might pop into filthy scummy London to see some old friends at the same time.

Improve My Japanese: Today I received a New Year’s Card from the Japanese language school in Fukuoka where I did a 6 week intensive last year, and this year I think I’ll be in a position to do skype lessons with them. So, this year I really want to improve my Japanese to the point where I can do the following:

  • Teach Statistics in Japanese: easier than it sounds, but still fiendishly hard
  • Watch TV in Japanese: a lot lot harder than it sounds, and still impossible for me
  • Read a Fantasy novel in Japanese: I may start with A Wizard of Earthsea, because I know it, but from there I want to read Japanese authors. This has always been a big goal of mine in my Japanese study. I have read one novel already, but it was an easy one and really hard work, so at the moment I’m sticking with manga because they have less words and often furigana.

This is obviously an essential meat life goal if I want to be better able to role-play in Japanese. Or just live here happily.

Get fit: I have never been so unfit as I am now, and although my current fitness level is acceptable for a 37 year old, by my standards it’s awful. This year I need to do something about this!

Research Plans

I’ve got a whole research plan written for the next year (it coincides with my starting a PhD through an Australian University), so I aim to do quite a bit of research. This year’s plans are:

An overview of advanced statistical methods for intervention research: Modern research into intervention in health systems requires quite advanced statistical methods, including heirarchical linear models, time series analysis and probability survey research, but combining these can be very challenging. I aim to get a good, solid overview of what is being done in the field and what can’t be done, with the view of using it or improving on it.

Combining heirarchical linear models in Probability surveys: There has to be a way to do this, and I want to work out how. Or alternatively, work out approximations and workarounds to the problem.

Systematize time-dependent difference-in-difference models: Difference-in-difference models are a fancy way for economists to say “linear regression with interaction term” but all the fancy language doesn’t hide the fact that understanding of how to use these models in the health economics literature is remarkably poor. I aim to systematize this, to point out the (trivially obvious) problems in doing this research without considering the time dependent component of the data, and to make recommendations for its application in health services research.

Who knows what trouble this is going to throw up? But that’s my main research goals for the year.

It looks like it may be a busy year for me, but I think I’m going to enjoy it…

Livin' the High Life, Otaku-style

Last weekend my Warhammer role-playing group held a traditional bonenkai party. Bonenkai translates as “forgetting the year party” and is basically an end of year party, with a few formal details (a little tiny speech at the start, then a toast). There is often also a follow-up shinnenkai (“new year party”) to greet the new year. These are important parties, because new year in Japan is as important as christmas in the west, so usually you will have a series of bonenkai with work, hobby mates and friends (my partner has 4 in a row this week).

Our bonenkai was held at the house of one of the players, Mr. Shuto, which is in distant Mie, so it was a sleepover with board games. The date coincided with the same time last year, when I had a farewell/christmas party with my group in the UK, also at a player’s house, also involving good food and board games. The picture above shows the spread we had this year:

  • Chicken tempura
  • Bruschetta
  • Pescatore pasta
  • Tofu satay

which was all delicious. Mr. Shuto is what, in Australian, we would call a “foody” – someone who really appreciates food. But unlike your average Australian foody he is completely unpretentious about his interests, which is nice. His food was really good. Below we see a close-up of the Red Bream (Tai) that he pan-fried whole in white wine and olive oil.

Celebratory Yumminess

This Tai was sooo damn good, that within a few minutes it ended up like this:

Not so celebratory for the fish...

Mr. 123 ate both eyes, and you should be able to see the tiny centre of the eyeball somewhere in that picture if you look really closely. Being given the eye is an honor in Japanese dining tradition (god only knows why!) and Mr. 123 was not reticent about indulging!

After dinner we played poker. This is the first time I have ever played poker, so I was happy to win a few rounds and come third. I’m usually a pretty crap card player, and Texas Hold ‘Em (which we were playing) is fiendish difficult. However, I had the pleasure of winning one hand by calling another player’s bluff – only he and I were left, and he started laying on the bets, but I guessed somehow that he was lying through his teeth, so I matched him all the way, even though I already knew my hand was a guaranteed loser, until he folded and I won. It was like being in a tv drama or something. Except I didn’t win anyone’s girlfriend, car, or job. Or FLGS. Oh well, maybe next time.

Finally, at about 1am, we rounded up the poker (it wasn’t going to end by itself). We spent a few minutes admiring Mr. Shuto’s extensive collection of first edition games (see my next post!) and moved on to Talisman 4th Edition (Japanese of course):

Multi-tiered Sleep Destroyer

If there’s one recommendation I would like to make to the designers of Talisman, as a man who played it at 2am after too many beers – make it a little easier to get over those damned bridges! It took us 3 hours to finish that game, and I didn’t crawl into bed until 4am, having lost horribly (Mr. Maple destroyed us in this game, and not just through luck). As a sign of how exhausting Talisman is in Japanese at 4am, here’s a picture of my character, suffering under early morning photographic composition skill decay:

Immune to alignment effects, but not to sleep deprivation

So at 4am we crashed, and I was astounded to discover that though I was sleeping in a room (on the floor) with 3 other nerds, no-one snored. Must be a Japanese thing. Or maybe it comes from sleeping on hard floors? Anyway, we had green curry and chips for breakfast and were late home because Mr. FLGS took a crash course in espresso making from Mr. Shuto. All round an excellent party. Mr. FLGS was chosen to make the speech at the beginning of the meal, and I thoroughly and whole-heartedly agree with his wish, that we continue playing together next year, and the year after.


Last Wednesday was the culmination of the PC’s incursion into the Wizard’s Tomb, a small old tomb just outside Ubersreik, situated in the middle of an orphan’s graveyard and defended by zombie children. The PCs had already explored all the major rooms, and only two remained – a large room on the southern edge of the complex, and a large room reached by a set of stairs to the North. They decided to investigate the southern room first. But first…

Our First Experience of Career Advancement

In their previous incursion the PCs got enough experience points for Mr. 123 to advance his Initiate, Suzette, to her next career, Disciple. He spent 1xp for a Dedication Bonus, which enables Suzette to retain her Initiate’s special talent when she becomes a Disciple, as well as to choose a specialization in every skill she trained during her first career. So we have our first character at the next level. Mr. Shuto chose not to advance, because he wants to use the non-career advances available to his apprentice wizard to enhance toughness and get some extra training. Mr. Shop Owner chose not to advance because a) he was indecisive about where to go and b) he wants to spend some accumulated xp on increasing toughness. So we currently have one PC in their second career, meaning they can purchase higher-level spells and more skill training. Will this lead to an invincible party? I’m not sure yet, but stay tuned…

The Demon Tomb

The PCs entered the Southern room using the standard method – send the thief in first and wait for the sounds of frenzied slaughter. The Thief found himself in a large room with a raised plinth at the far end on which stood a huge, faintly glowing statue of a demon. This statue loomed over a tomb – the wizard’s grave – and the rest of the room was largely empty except for some decaying boxes near the door, and in one corner.

The thief hid behind the boxes to survey the room. A group of 3 imps burst from these boxes and attacked him, and combat was joined. Everyone else rushed up to help him, and from the shadow-enshrouded roof there emerged a fury, a much larger, winged demon-like creature, that went straight for the Roadwarden.

These enemies were supposed to be much stronger than the zombie children, but they went down like hapless rags. The thief slaughtered the imps with two arrow shots, and after one vaguely effective strafing attack, the demon settled in for a good melee stoush, only to be destroyed by the roadwarden and Suzette the Disciple. The whole battle was done in two rounds, with very little damage for the characters. I think I may have mishandled the surprise element of the imps’ attack, but basically the fury is a poorly-named monster, doing very limited damage and not being all that much cop. So the PCs left its steaming body near the door and searched the room. They lifted the lid off the wizard’s grave and found his corpse, along with its magic items:

  • A robe (+1 defense)
  • A gold-plated wand, not magical but designed to be easily enchanted
  • A book, which if read successfully will grant the reader a new spell, probably Dark Magic (but carries a risk of madness)
  • A bottle of superior healing potion

They fully expected the wizard’s body to come to life and attack them but it didn’t, it just crumbled to dust. Why?

When they explored the room, the mysterious silver key they had picked up earlier began to glow when held near the crates in the corner, and to emit a soft sound. They searched carefully until they found a key hole and opened a secret door to a final room. This room was reached by a short corridor, and was empty but for a large, shallow pool in the centre of the room.

Breaking the Wizard’s Enchantment

The pool glowed with the same vague light as the statue, and in its centre was a small coin held inside an obviously magical circle of some kind. They debated for a while but, eventually, it had to happen – the thief took out the coin. Immediately, the glow that suffused the pool (and lit the room!) snuffed out, as did the glow on the nearby statue in the main room, and the PCs were plunged into complete darkness. Aruson the Thief started scrabbling around in the pitch black for a light for his lantern, but the walls and floor had started to shake and he couldn’t get it to work. In the distance they could hear something falling. In desperation, Shultz the wizard called forth a cantrip of light, and they realized that the walls and floor of the tomb were quaking and making a bad noise.

They decided to run. As they exited the main room the quaking got worse, and they suddenly found themselves in a race against time, as parts of the tomb began to collapse around them. Staggering on the shifting earth, they helped each other through the gathering dark, Suzette preying to Morr to protect them from the worst of the rubble and Shultz using his celestial magic to predict the safest path through the quaking. In the end, near the entrance, they just had to burst into a run and so they emerged from the crypt into the frigid outside air, Aruson dragging Suzette through just as the entrance collapsed and the entire tomb was swallowed up by the uncaring earth.

Save or Die

That’s right folks, that was a save-or-die scenario, played out against the progress tracker. This is another skill check/technique I came up with on the fly, and I’ll explain it separately. I might not have actually killed the entire party (I am not so wrathful) but I put myself on the spot and that’s how it worked out. They really had to scrabble through all their abilities to get out too – Suzette burnt all her available favour points, Schultz used up his magic points, and two characters used their one-time-per-session skill bonus to get through it. It gave a nice sense of panic to the ending!


The characters returned to town, and paid a local magician a lot of money to identify their magical items. They’re now ready for a few days rest before they look for something else suspicious to get up to. They’ve survived their first ever Warhammer dungeon incursion in typical contrary style, being nearly slaughtered by the easy monsters and destroying the hard ones in the blink of an eye. Continual surprises for the GM, and further ponderings on how to balance monster power for encounters in such an unfamiliar system.

The Coin: “Wizard’s Last Wish”

The coin the PCs grabbed from the pool turned out to be the key ingredient in a ritual to bring the wizard back from the dead, perhaps as a lich or other undead. One side was blank, the other side inscribed with the invocation “Do not Die” (shinu na – this comes out better in Japanese I think). Unfortunately, the wizard lacked the power to make his ritual work and so after he died he just crumbled to dust – but all the servants he had prepared for himself remained around forever to guard his crumbling remains.

During their recent dungeon-delving, our heroes ran into some scary zombie children, and after a surprisingly challenging battle they had to retreat from the dungeon to recover from wounds, fatigue and stress. One character was carrying such a high load of fatigue and stress that he was essentially in a state of high panic, and any more trouble of any sort was going to lead to insanity. They decided to camp for the night, rest, and try and recover some wounds naturally.

Now, I’m not a big fan of allowing this sort of thing but I’m also not a big fan of random encounters, so I wanted to fashion a random encounter system that depended on the PC’s wilderness skills, and not on just a die roll. I don’t think random encounters should be something as simple as “occurs on a 1 in a 1d6” but should be avoidable by good sense. I also don’t think people should be able to recover wounds in a wilderness encampment setting unless they have made a solid, defensible camp and it is comfortable and well situated, i.e. unless they can sleep well, not be woken by every scary sound, and also be able to light a fire, eat good food, etc.

So, on the fly, I made up two new skill checks – actions, essentially – to be conducted in story mode to determine the success of finding and setting up a camp. I had to fashion all of this while my players were smoking, so I didn’t have much time and they’re a bit complex but I think they work. In a full nights rest a PC should recover fatigue, ordinary wounds and stress equal to their toughness (and willpower in the case of stress). They shouldn’t get this much in the wilderness! So here are the two skill checks.

Locate Camping Spot

Difficulty: Easy (1 challenge dice)

Skill: Nature Lore

Procedure: One character rolls for the group. Add one fortune die for every additional character in the group with either Observation or Nature Lore trained, and for each wood elf in the group. Add two misfortune dice if it is dark, and additional misfortune dice for difficult terrain, haste, etc.

Effect: Characters are able to find a camping site suitable to use the set camp action. Failure in this action adds one challenge die to the set camp action, while 2 successes adds one fortune die and 3 successes adds one expertise die. Additionally, if the PCs lack food, rolling two boons will provide them with access to a basic food source that they can prepare if their set camp check is successful. Two banes should lead to an increase in the party tension meter of 1.

Set Camp

Difficulty: Medium (2 challenge dice)

Skill:Nature Lore

Process: One PC rolls for the group, with the same modifiers as above, and including any modifiers from the find camp skill check. Additional modifiers: 1 misfortune die per additional day the camp will be set; 1 misfortune die if the camp is being set after dusk (additional to the darkness modifiers described above). Setting a camp proof against monsters is difficult! The GM should choose a hard and an easy monster for random encounters (in my setting I chose giant spider for hard, and 4 zombie children for easy).

Effect: The PCs set a camp suitable for resting in, and are not disturbed by monsters. See the lines below for specifics:

  • 3 Fails: PCs are attacked by the hard monster
  • 1 Fail: PCs are attacked by the easy monster
  • 1 success: No encounter, PCs recover 1 wound each
  • 3 successes: No encounter, PCs recover 2 wounds each
  • 2 boons: PCs get warning of the monster attack (if they failed their roll); if they succeeded the check, they recover an additional wound (up to toughness maximum)
  • Sigmar’s comet: PCs get full rest and recover maximum possible wounds (only on a success)
  • 2 banes: Opponents get +1 initiative when they attack
  • Chaos: Opponents get full surprise, a round of free attacks against the PCs

GM Notes

While I don’t like random encounters, I also don’t like safe wilderness wandering, and I think how one wanders the wilderness should be dependent very much on how well one knows the wilderness. Nature Lore is a skill that is not often used or rewarded, and I think these two tasks actually make it very important, particularly when travelling long distances. For extended journeys I would not force a check like this every night, but would force a single check for a leg of the journey, and put any encounter at some point in the journey. Note that this can be modified to, for example, a general safe travel skill check, with exactly the same rules, but replacing the find camp check with a research travel check, which depends on folklore or education for its basic roll and modifies the chance of a random encounter during the journey.

I know some people will view skill checks for setting a camp as “roll playing” but there’s a simple reason I prefer them: I find camp-setting and describing all that survivalist stuff to be hideously boring and I’d rather not have the conversation. I even get the players to describe their camp setting after they’ve rolled it. I also think my judgments of a successful camp-setting process would be flawed in any case, so I wouldn’t necessarily modify a standard random encounter chance “correctly” after a dialogue with the players. What do we, the players, know, anyway, about the best way to set a camp so as not to attract the interest of a nearby giant spider? Of course, if players like this sort of thing they’re welcome to try and stunt their roll in some way (I always reward this!) but I can’t, generally, be bothered with this nuts and bolts stuff. For the same reason, when people are in town I don’t play out every single shopping trip – I generally refuse to haggle, but if my players insist on such tedium I try to do it through skill checks rather than reliving my (generally very disappointing) experiences in Chinese bazaars. Bargaining over a roll of cord was not my most enjoyable experience in China and it isn’t how I prefer to spend my role-playing nights!


Here Be Gianto Ratto

This picture is a scan of the map my players drew during their latest session, when they entered the wizard’s tomb. A classic dungeon map, but done in Japanese, with rats in silhouette and of course, typical honorifics – “Honourable Talisman of Morr” is written in very small letters near the top of the map, for example. Notice as well that the location of the Giant Rats is noted, but due to the pernicious influence of D&D, they are noted as “Gianto Ratto” rather than the Japanese term, which is “kyodai nezumi.” I think Gianto Ratto sounds very cute.

The stairs leading up (上) have not been explored, on the assumption that they’re going to go somewhere deadly…

Last night was the 4th session of our WFRP 3rd Edition campaign, Rats in the Ranks, which is meant to be an urban semi-sandbox but has run into a little bit of trouble: a player strike. Specifically, one of my players, Mr. K, who is responsible for the Soldier (Heinze), has run into a bit of difficulty in his study schedule and can’t play this month. The remaining players refuse to continue with investigations of the main story if he isn’t there, so we have had to switch from a semi-sandbox to a sandbox. Fortunately I have a few adventures ready, and the players are happy to do bit-part sessions for a few sessions while we wait for Mr. K to educate himself. Our justification for this is as follows:

  • In session 3 the players converted a member of the Secret Rat-Catchers Guild to being a spy, and so now they don’t really want to do further investigations until he delivers his first report
  • Heinze has received a request from an old regiment he belonged to, to help them fight a Greenskin incursion in the Southern Grey Mountains, a short journey from Ubersreik, so has headed south for a bit of old-fashioned monster slaying
  • In exchange for Heinze’s time, the regiment have dispatched a newly-minted roadwarden, Birgitta, to help the characters. She’s a 0-Rank NPC road warden, so weaker than Heinze, but will work as a nice meat shield in the adventures to come

So, with the Roadwarden working alongside them, our characters decided in this session to head off to the wizard’s tomb that they had heard about, for a basic dungeon crawl. They have also come very close to their first career transition, which will probably happen for 2 of them at the beginning of next session, and will happen for the Thief in the following session (he is doing a non-career advance first).

The Orphan’s Graveyard

Birgitta had learnt of the location of the tomb, so the PCs headed out of Ubersreik’s Mountain Gate and North into the foothills of the Grey Mountains. After a day’s journey, as sun was setting, they came to the location of the tomb, in an old and long-abandoned cemetery set in a clearing inside a forest. This cemetery was clearly a graveyard for children – all the headstones were tiny, and occasionally carved in forms that suit children. A lot of them were also clearly pauper’s graves, having often nothing more than a birthdate carved on them. After checking the environs for monsters, the PCs entered the graveyard and approached its centre. Being now late Autumn, it was snowing slightly, and with the sun sinking behind the mountains the world was rapidly plunging into shadow lit only by a weak and distant half-moon. The PCs stepped gingerly through the haphazardly-scattered graves, saddened by the spectre of so much senseless death, until they reached the centre of the cemetery, where a large Crypt stood ominously amongst the otherwise innocent graves.

This crypt was clearly the entry to the wizard’s tomb. The size of a small hovel, it was built of solid stone with a heavy metal door, above which was set a large brass plate. On this plate, the following inscription was written:

Born of neglect, killed by neglect, they will forever be watchful against neglect. Unloved, never having loved, children of a cold life have a cold fate.

Entry prohibited!

I think we all know what’s going to happen in here… nonetheless, the PCs dusted the snow off the door and pushed it inward to reveal a flight of stairs leading down into the unkonwn. They formed up with Birgitta in the lead, and headed down the steps, lanterns lit, as outside the sun disappeared beyond the mountains, and the world plunged into darkness.

The Orphans

The stairs ended in a corridor, which ran straight off into the darkness. The walls and floor of the tomb were slightly colder than expected, and in the distance strange, muted sounds could be heard – not unlike the desolate cries of an abandoned child, though faint and soft. The PCs lit a lantern and proceeded carefully, until after a few metres they encountered a corridor branching left. Just ahead, they could see another corridor to the right, and then the main corridor disappeared into the darkness. Following the initiate’s suggestion, they headed left and followed the corridor a short distance to its conclusion at a small, square room. This room was wide enough for 5 or 6 humans to stand in a line inside it, and was old and trashed. On the left hand side of the room were piles of rubbish, and on the right three beds. From amongst the rubbish emerged a tall boy, and from the beds to their right three smaller children stood. All were zombified, ruined and dessicated bodies that bore the marks of their deaths. The three children had died, separately, from animal attack, starvation and being shaken; the taller boy had clearly been stabbed to death, for the weapon that killed him was still embedded in his rotting ribs, and as he charged into the fray he tore it out to attack the characters with.

So battle was joined, with the three smaller children attacking Suzette the Initiate and the larger boy attacking Birgitta. These children were very weak though, and despite the horror they felt, the PCs killed them all quickly. Unfortunately the children’s unearthly wails and the retort of Birgitta’s blackpowder pistol were sufficient to draw more zombie children from the other room, and the PCs found themselves given barely a moment’s rest (a rally turn!) before the next horde of children was upon them. Trapped now inside the room by the fresh wave of child zombies, the PCs had no choice but to fight to the death, and in this wave there were 9 zombie children.

I described these children in 3 groups:

  • An older boy who had clearly died of starvation, and was the leader of the group
  • A group of 4 girls, who must have died in an orphanage, who came into the room in a crocodile formation, holding hands in a line and singing a children’s song, their eyes black pits and their faces contorted with hatred
  • A group of 2 boys and 2 girls, all naked and horribly burnt, who must have died in a house fire

This battle proceeded quickly too, with the leader cut down in a round and Suzette using a wicked spell, Defy Undeath, that made all the children’s actions much more likely to fail. Unfortunately, the one action that didn’t fail was a team attack on Suzette by the burnt orphans, that didn’t do damage but attempted to drag her down and terrify her. The result of this was a huge increase in her stress and fatigue levels, so she became officially strained, all her physical and mental actions became virtually impossible to complete, and incurring even one more point of fatigue or stress would cause her to draw an insanity. Happy days! She tried casting a spell to reduce the fatigue and stress but this failed due to her stressed state (we interpreted this as Morr’s anger at her failure), and basically the remainder of the battle proceeded as if she were hors de combat. Other PCs quickly eliminated the zombie children, though, and they were able to survive the battle relatively undamaged. Suzette then tried first aid on Birgitta, who was injured, but to no avail. At this point the party had explored one room and were already in a sorry state – Birgitta on half hit points, Suzette and Aruson slightly injured, and Suzette desperately wearied and panicky. A decision was made to retreat to the outdoors and camp the night so that Suzette could recover her equilibrium and heal Birgitta.

Camping and Random Encounters

I pointed out to the players that camping would involve a risk of random encounters, and came up with a mechanic for handling them (there are no rules for random encounters in the books, and no numbered dice for simple tables). While the players had a quick smoke, I cobbled together two actions:

  • Camp finding, in which the PCs locate a good location for a camp; success in this action improves the establishment of the camp
  • Camp setting, in which the PCs attempt to set up a camp that is invisible to wandering monsters. Success indicates no encounters; big success indicates that the PCs sleep well enough to recover some wounds; failure indicates an encounter with nearby monsters, in this case either a group of zombie children or a giant spider. Banes rolled in this check would improve the wandering monster’s initiative check or even give them a surprise attack (due to the PCs setting up the camp in such a way as to make it easy for the monster to sneak up on the person on watch)

Fortunately the group contains a wood elf, who not only gets bonuses on nature lore rolls, but also can see in the dark, so these rolls both proceeded well, and in the morning the PCs awoke slightly refreshed. Suzette failed a first aid check on Birgitta, who took a healing draft, and they ventured back into the dungeon.


The remainder of the session was spent exploring the dungeon and mapping the rooms, preparatory to conflict. Most of the rest of the rooms were either empty or trapped, and all the rooms radiated off of a central corridor running in a square-shaped loop. At the “south” end of the loop was a large room with double entrance doors that they studiously avoided entering; at the north end are stairs going up to some kind of larger room they also avoided; and at the “west” end was an area of rougher tunnels occupied by giant rats. These rats weren’t interested in fighting, and the PCs were able to scare them off while investigating the body of a dead adventurer, on which they found some magic items (that they can’t identify!) and some holy water. There were no other significant monsters in the dungeon and only a total of about 12 rooms. The PCs also found a mysterious silver key, and are now preparing to enter the remaining two larger rooms, where they expect to meet the main denizens of the dungeon – presumably the wizard himself, and some of his nastier servants.


Even simple tasks in this dungeon proved challenging for the group, so my prior fears that they have become too powerful were unfounded. The weakest creatures in the dungeon drove them outside for a night of rest, and it’s not clear whether they will actually survive the final two rooms – in fact it might be worth their while to go back into town and try to get the magic items they have identified. However, they probably won’t do this, but will go back in fully healed. Next session at least one of them will be able to start a new career, but this will make little difference to their practical skills at this stage. They’re going to need to be very careful about their adventuring style if they want to return to Ubersreik whole and sane!

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