Saturday, 6 November 2021

Glimmerwine (Against the Darkmaster)

 My lady fair was she

When dappled light caressed

Her hair of gold, her dress so fine

As she danced at Glimmerwine

- Folk song, The Lady of Glimmerwine

Tucked away beyond the foothills of Torvul and nestled beside the Sleeping Wood lay a village where soft lamps glow when the sunlight fades. Glimmerwine, as called in the tongue of Men, sits by the meandering river Evenstrun whose source traces back all the way to the Veiled Peaks some two hundred miles away. The water is crisp and cold, even on hot summers days and they say nothing is sweeter than tasting the cool riverwater after a long journey. The halfling mayor Tolly Brumble wears a scarlet hat with a wide brim and his dashing smile cuts from cheek to cheek. Daily he can be seen walking the village, singing a merry song and wishing the people well. Visitors are pointed to The Hare and Anvil, a cosy public house famous for its sweet mead with eremora spice. Fat cushions greet a sore back in the common area where a delicate fire crackles and Molliver Jupe, a local storyteller, regails patrons of tales of lost loves and terrible phantoms. 

A stone's throw to the west are the ruins of Tomen's Watch, a once pristine white tower where the Swords of Welleren held their station in darker times during the Blackwar. These rangers were driven out by the orcish servants of the Darkmaster and the tower razed. Some day that on the night of a full moon the rangers can be seen entering the tower and a horn sounding on the air. Now the spider Urzgud (use Great Spider template) has made its home within the ruins, guarding the bones of the dead and secret treasures lost to time. 

During High Summer the Festival of Little Fires sees bonfires lit and lanterns floated down the river in a luminous procession thanking the True God for the gift of warmth. Musicians play joyful tunes of old and children dance with ribbons around the shepherd's stone on the green. In the deep winter the villagers walk to Star Hill to watch the stars fall while they sing of lost years and fallen friends. Of late news of orcish warbands, their drums heard on the wind, has prevented the observation of this tradition. Tolly desperately looks for help to make these lands safe again. 

Encounters in Glimmerwine:

1. Tarbuck Hobfoot, the village drunk, berates some youths before passing out on the green.

2. Bree Tangleshoot, a travelling wizard, brings news of giant bats that have moved into the wood. 

3. Molliver Jupe desperately wants an adventure for new story material. Will you help her out?

4. Bardun, son of Dardul, a bitter and blind dwarf hunter who wishes to slay orc

5. One Giant Bat per party member attacks

6. Tolly Brumble explains a child has gone missing. They were last seen near the old tower. 

Giant Bat

Level 4 Common

MR 50F


DEF +25

TSR +30

WSR +15

HPs 60

1st attack Bite +70

Special Blood Drain


Rog +60

Adv +20

Lor +0

Blood Drain: Creatures who suffer a critical strike from the giant bat's bite must pass an attack level 4 TSR or suffer 3 Soul damage. 

Darkvision: Giant bats can see in Dim Light and Total Darkness as if it were Bright Light.

Crepuscular: Giant Bats are active at dusk and night.  

Tuesday, 5 October 2021

Darkmaster Passions: Senjutsu Edition


One of the many things I really like about Against the Darkmaster is that the rules explicitly advise you to use metal to inspire your Passions. So with Iron Maiden's 17th outing, Senjutsu, recently released (it's ridiculously good), I thought I'd pull out some Passions based on the lyrics within.

Must be steadfast, must be patient, must believe we can win

I try to find my way back home to feel the same again

Holy fury locks me in, imprisoned by my deadly sin

Open your heart and I'll open your soul

Pity me none at the gates of our hell

For I am but a messenger, one

Sent to do reckoning what must be done

Just remember that patience is no sin

I wish I could go back

Will never be the same again

Bled for all upon this hell on earth

Sunday, 3 October 2021

Lastwatch, an Against the Darkmaster adventure site

 While this is an adventure site for Against the Darkmaster, it's easily repurposed for any fantasy game. Feel free to drop Lastwatch into any location with plains and contested borders. 

Lastwatch once stood proudly on Beacon's Hill surveying the verdant Westerland Plains and the sprawling Fingrod Forest to the east. The watchtower was the first line of warning against incursions from the Ashlands beyond the border, where tusked invaders crossed into the king's lands with broadaxe and scythe blades. Now the structure barely stands, a crumbled husk of its former splendor, claimed by the creeping vines and knotted weeds of the encroaching forest. 

Two of the four stone reliefs remain. Once proud high man warriors perched on the surface, their gaze meeting the oncoming enemy. Now only Theoran and Eremor still stand, cracked and weathered from the tides of time. Once these would come alive as stone guardians, surprising the enemy and charging into the fray. These guardians were controlled through a circlet, now lost beneath the rubble. They now stand, waiting for their next master.

Recently a redcap encampment has sprung up within the broken watchtower, led by the Fear Deag Anklin who paints his face blue and yellow and sports a jester's cap. Anklin has heard the songs of the magic circlet and covets the item. After days of digging Anklin finally unearthed a battered silver circlet. Placing it on his head he willed Theoran and Eremor back to life with murderous glee. His first act as master was to set the guardians on a local hamlet, driving its inhabitants out so the redcaps could rush in and take the spoils. 

After scuttling orc encampments and more small villages, Anklin has gained followers who have sworn fealty to him. Redcaps, orcs and dark mortals now serve Anklin as King of the Westerland under the banner of the Fool's Cap. Now his sights are set on larger towns where more treasure can surely be acquired. But this rests on his ability to broker a deal with the wild trolls of the Fingrod Forest to help decimate Farduin. 

Rumours on the Westerland:

1. Men of stone have been ransacking villages (T)

2. Bands of orcs, redcaps and men have been seen travelling together. (T)

3. Lastwatch burns with fires and echoes with the din of chanting and screeching song (T)

4. A powerful sorcerer has returned from the Ashlands for vengeance (F)

5. Two of Westerland's greatest heroes of old have returned in the thrall of evil (F)

6. Redcap spies have been spotted near the town of Farduin to the northwest (T)

Anyone making a hard Songs & Tales check will have heard of how the stone guardians were used in the watchtower and that some sort of magical item was used to control them, but what it was is debated (a ring, a circlet, a brooch, a harp). 

Anklin knows Chanting and Mind Control spells up to the second weave. 

Tuesday, 28 September 2021

D&D is an imposter in the RPG world

It occurs to me that despite originating the tabletop roleplaying hobby, D&D sits outside of most design conventions that have come after it. 5th edition does at least. When you look at most games, they're designed to emulate or do something quite specific, whether that's pulp steampunk Victoriana adventure or creeping dread in an uncaring cosmos. D&D 5th edition, though, seems to be an emulation of D&D, but not any sort of D&D. Rather, it's an imagined D&D plucked from the halcyon days of the hobby and harvested from the more story-driven editions of the 00s onwards. This isn't a value statement on the game, but it's intriguing that the most popular RPG in the hobby is a weird jumble of identities yet one that doesn't quite retain one of its own. 

If you go back to OD&D and the basic rules that followed it, the design told players what the game was about. Namely, delving into deadly dungeons, avoiding getting slaughtered and escaping with level-boosting loot. There were processes and procedures to it. Random encounters and hexcrawls were baked into the design. It was a picaresque game emulating the pulps, a smorgasbord of ideas including everything from Leigh Brackett and ERB to Vance and Moorcock. The designers weren't completely explicit in what they were trying to achieve, but it's all there. 

If that were still the case now, I believe D&D would be the dungeon crawl game. But the game evolved to become iterations of itself - a mirror image spell cast on its own form where each reflection wasn't quite like that last. 4e put its card on the table (literally) as far as design intent went: this is superpowers heroic fantasy where you go from defending minor mortal locations to zipping through the ether in impossible sailboats, whacking tendrilly psychics. 

Then came the ridiculously popular 5e, whose success could never have been predicted by the dollar-flipping big bods at Hasbro, whose designers creating a veritable pick n mix of old and new. But what is D&D now? A game like Alien is designed around tension as you try to survive insurmountable odds, and the Yellow King is reality horror that has players play through multiple eras and realities. D&D on the other hand eludes me. Of course, it's a fantasy game about heroes (but also maybe not heroes) going on adventures. The core rules allude to the Forgotten Realms being the default setting but we don't learn a whole lot about it (maybe it should be termed 'low setting'). Its mechanics don't give much away. We know there are dangerous places full of dangerous things, maybe if you want and we know characters get more powerful as they grow, but what IS the game? I'm sorry if I seem obtuse and I might not be explaining this properly, but I can only surmise that D&D is a D&D game. It seeks to emulate some form of D&D, but not like the old editions. Just an amorphous idea of D&D. 

This doesn't mean it's not a fun game (it wouldn't be popular if it weren't) but it seems to me that it sits outside of the rest of the tabletop sphere. Its amorphous nature is also likely one of the reasons why some players try to bend it to fit new design goals: a cosy exploratory game, a cyberpunk game. Truthfully I don't think this makes sense at all - it's like using 40k rules for Napoleonics. Technically you could do it, but the experience won't be half as good and there would be a lot of effort involved to crowbar it into shape. Sure, I could gank D&D to play in Age of Sigmar, but Soulbound is leagues better for doing that. 

It's also one of the reasons I find D&D infinitely interesting. Yesterday Wizards announced a refresh of the rules in 2024, or a new edition or something. That will have been a decade since 5e launched, bringing it close to the lifespan of AD&D 2e. No doubt this will end up running for another five years before 6e rears its head. Personally the only D&D I enjoy is BX and Basic, and the games based on those, along with 4e. All different iterations but all with their own distinct flavour. 

In the 2024 update or the new edition it would be good to see Wizards designing around the three pillar elements that they retrofitted into the game. Interesting mechanisms for exploration and social situations, rules that underpin the D&Dness of the world. A better understanding of its own identity. Personally I'd like some more weirdness which was prevalent in early editions if I were ever to be interested in the game again. 

The appeal of D&D 5e is that it's open to interpretation, and not in a way that a generic system like Genesys is. While each game of Call of Cthulhu is certainly a cosmic horror session with the tropes you expect, players fill the void of identity that 5e lacks. A silly comedy about a band of bards, a serious sword and sorcery against frost giants, a science fantasy intrigue in Ravnica. It's a generic system without being truly generic - doing enough to servicably run all these different types of games but not doing any one thing really well. 

So will Wizards eventually relook at the design and decide what they want the game to do, like in 4e? No chance. They've got the alchemy now to print money, so D&D is set to sit in its own bubble eternally. 

Sunday, 26 September 2021

Witch bottle for Romance of the Perilous Land

 Witch bottles are pretty gross, but an effective apotropaic means of warding off witches and malicious spells. A witch bottle is a glass bottle filled with iron nails, human hair and nail clippings. Importantly the latter two must be from the one who needs protecting from magic. 

The witch bottle can only be prepared by a cunning folk, who must take 10 minutes to prepare the object and make a regular magic knowledge check. If successful, the witch bottle is imbued with the requisite powers and the cunning folk can't make another for a day. The power of the witch bottle is fleeting and lasts a day, after which the magic evaporates. If the check is unsuccessful it can't be attempted for another day. 

Someone with a witch bottle on their person gets an edge on saves against spells by witches, hags or crones. Attacks from witches, hags or crones take a setback against the owner of the bottle. 

Sunday, 19 September 2021

Blood Gorge Marauders for Romance of the Perilous Land

Blood Gorge is the colloquial name given to the twenty mile long rocky valley that carves through the north of the kingdom of Gore. Some stories say the gorge was carved by Gogmagog himself during the Galesh uprising, where the giant was said to have scooped up the land and thrown it at an oncoming horde of giants. Others tell of a great worm having snaked through the land creating the gorge itself. Aside from frequent rock slides, travellers must be aware of the marauders that make the gorge their home. Clad in the skins of wolves and mantles of gore-soaked ram's horns, this barbarian clan is no friend of travellers, rushing down from the rocks to slay their prey with their mighty blades. Villagers in the area call them the Horned Wind, as like a deadly wind they show no mercy in tearing homes apart in their sweeping raids. 

Their current leader is Galia the She-Beast, a seven-foot behemoth of a woman whose horns are far larger than her followers'. She's known for ripping out still-beating hearts and devouring them. Some say she is the spawn of giants and humans, while others believe she is the embodiment of nature's wrath. 

If you want to use the Blood Gorge Mauraders in your game, have the heroes come across their savage destruction before they meet the barbarians themselves. Villagers all have different tales to tell, of Galia's cat's eyes to the stench the marauders bring, like rotting meat. Perhaps the Black Lance are trying to strike a bargain with the mauraders to join their ranks. 

Blood Gorge Maurader, HD5(15), HP22, AP5, Atk Sword (d8+5), Special: Unaffected by difficult rocky terrain.

Galia, the She-Beast, HD7(17), HP30, AP7, Atk Sword (d10+7), Special: As an action Galia can use her intimidating glare at anyone within 50ft. The target must make a Cha save or become paralysed until the end of their next turn.