Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Fantasy Adventuring

The last two weekends I’ve been running a new role-playing campaign for the family and a friend and his two boys. It was a LOT of fun and I hope we’ll get to continue on a regular (or at least semi-regular basis)…

The System

I wanted to use something insanely simple – something that focused more on character and role-playing than on stats and rules. Some of my most memorable role-playing hijinks were using Teenagers From Outer Space (anyone remember that one?) or Toon - both games where there was hardly any actual rules – and those that were there were highly flexible. I was also inspired by the series of Dead Simple Role-Playing one page role-playing games. But rather than create something entirely from scratch, I thought I’d just bolt on a simple skill system to a great tabletop miniature battle system - A Song of Blades and Heroes (which I will be using as the combat resolution system).

(Yes I know there’s A Tale of Blades and Heroes and, while it’s not overly complex, it was a bit much for what I wanted and I just don’t quite grok the magic system well enough…)

Skill tests are basically done by making Quality checks and looking for a number of successes (much like A Tale of Blades and Heroes) except there’s no exploding dice or dice roll modifiers and things that characters are skilled in simply add dice to the roll. So someone who is rather skilled at something would have a skill at +1 (meaning they could add one extra die to the basic three they could otherwise use). An Expert would get two and a Master would get three. (Just had a thought – I could rename the skill levels Apprentice, Journeyman, and Master…?!).

Anyway, we’ll see how it goes.

The Setting

The Campaign starts off in Blythold, the capitol of the small-ish island country of Londras. The Island lies off the east coast of a larger continent and they are fairly isolated from affairs on the mainland. There have been no major foreign invasions for centuries – though there have been plenty of civil wars (on every generation or so) – usually wars of succession or against the small Dwarven population in the north (to remind them that they ARE part of this country and subject to their ruler!)

King Tofburt sits the throne and is in his 53rd year. His son, Prince Endwyn (25 years), is next in the line of succession.

The island is mostly populated by humans. There are dwarves that live on the island – mostly in their own communities in the rugged, hilly north.  Every generation or so the King has to march an army up north to give the Dwarves a good thumping to remind them who is king and that they are subject to him! There are a few Elves as well, they live in two forest regions on the east coast, north and south of Blythold. There is also a small population of Halflings that live in small communities in the southwest. Generally the human population is very racist – there is a lot of animosity and mistrust of non-humans or humans from other lands.

Many centuries ago there was more cooperation between the different races – especially between the humans and elves. Elves even married into a number of the noble households and so most nobles were Half-Elves. Today a number of the noble households are very long-lived, due to the remaining trace elements of Elvish blood in their line. Half-Elves and intermarriage between Humans and Elves is unheard of these days. Elves rarely leave their woodland domain and humans rarely attempt to enter it – those humans foolhardy enough to try are almost never heard from again.

The land is polytheistic with a large pantheon.

Wizards are fairly rare and tend to spend most of their time in solitude – locking themselves away in towers to study books and occasionally experiment with magical powers.

The Characters

I wanted character generation to be more about making a character than collating statistics. So I had a bunch of questions that I asked them all to answer about their characters and then, based on that, I quickly wrote out a few stats on a card that would be their character.

The Questions I asked:
Where are you from? (now, because I haven’t drawn out detailed maps of the world and named all the towns, I was not looking for the name of a specific region, but more generally from Londras or a Foreign Land? From a City, Town, Village or Rural area?)
If you are not from around here, how did you end up here?

Who are (or were!) your parents? What did they do? Do you have siblings? If so, who are they and what did they do?

Who is your FRIEND (someone outside the group)? How do you know them? Where do they live?

Who is your ENEMY? What did you do to make them so angry? Where are they?

What is your secret? (something you might not want people – even members of the group – to know about)?

What secret do you know about another member of the group – that they don’t know and don’t know you know…? (subject to GM approval)

What is your Short Term Goal?
What is your Long Term Goal?

How do you all know each other?

Here's what they came up with...

Pitor Brownleaf – Halfling Ranger
Q 4+, C2, Shooter (Medium), Unerring Aim, Forest Walk, Short Move
Tracking +2, Survival +1, Notice +1, Stealth +1
Pitor Brownleaf hails from the Halfling lands in the southwest. Originally a shepherd, Pitor set out to see more of the island. He met and old ranger who took him in and they traveled the woodlands together.

Arwin – Elf
Q 3+, C 3, Shooter (Long), Unerring Aim, Good Shot, Forest Walk, Leafsight,
Knowledge: Nature +2, Notice +1, Stealth +1
Arwin is 130 years old. She spent her first 100 years living among her people and was always told the humans outside the wood were dangerous and unpredictable. Later she loved exploring the woods and found there were humans that lived at the edges of the woods. When she met them they didn’t seem so bad so Arwin decided to travel beyond the woods and meet more people.

Wilda - Human Druidic Wizard
Q 4+, C 1, Magic User, Alter Terrain, Entangle
Knowledge: Nature +2, Knowledge: Animals +1, Stealth +1
Wilda was the daughter of a merchant. After her father went missing her mother had a hard time taking care of her children. When a wizard came into town and said Wilda had the makings of a good wizard and offered her a place at a school for wizard’s on the continent she said good-bye to her family and friends and was off on an adventure. When things didn’t work out at the wizard school , Wilda fell in with a bunch of Druids and learned their craft. Eventually she made her way back to Londras and while traveling in the woods met a woodsman that lived at the edge of the Elf lands north of Blythold and stayed with him a bit. The woodsman knew many other forest folk – elves and rangers and introduced Wilda to Arwin and Pitor.

(forgot to take pictures of the rest…)

The Sunken Emerald - Human Ex-Wizard’s Apprentice
Q 4+, C1, Magic User, Lightning
Knowledge: Arcana +2, Research +1, Alchemy +1
Before becoming a Wizard’s apprentice The Sunken Emerald’s family was in the circus – his father was a stage magician who performed his tricks using slieght of hand. The Sunken Emeral always wanted to leard REAL magic, so when the opportunity to apprentice to a real wizard came up, The Sunken Emeral jumped a the opportunity. Until recently the Sunken Emerald was apprenticed to said wizard. He went out one day to fetch some ingredients and returned to find the top half of his wizard’s tower blown away and the rest a smoking ruin! The Sunken Emerald was blamed by the wizarding community and no other wizard would take him on as an apprentice. The Sunken Emerald knew the disaster was caused by the Fire Orb that his wizard was experimenting with. So he has set out to make his own way. Short Term Goal – two acquire magical knowledge. Long Term Goals to become a real wizard and seek vengence for the loss of his wizard by tracking down the inventor of the Fire Orb.

Anton Desloingne - Human Ne’er-do-well
Q 4+, C 3, Streetfighter
Persuade +2, Appraise +1, Streetwise +1
Anton is from a small farming town just outside Blythold. His mother died in childbirth (for which his brother never really forgave him). His father is a crooked grain merchant who has been in and out of the stocks and/or jail. A distant cousin, Capstan Desloigne, is head of a large merchant cartel. Anton’s father has constantly stolen from the cartel, using family connections for social engineering scams and fraud. Capstan has sworn to see the whole branch of the family jailed or hung! Anton’s brother, Eric, has gone straight and found god (Wick: the Eternal Flame) and believes one day Anton will be a good man, but Anton constantly disappoints him. Anton has no real long term plan but lives in the moment and just wants to make lots of money (preferably at the expense of the Desloigne Cartel) with as little effort as possible.

Chaaaaarge - Human Barbarian Mounted Warrior
Q 4+, C4, Heavy Armour, Reckless, Savage
Knowledge: Animals +1
Chaaaaarge’s name is a rough translation of his name from his native tongue (as it wasn’t really pronounceable in Londras). It is a noble and honourable name in Dleblack, where Chaaaaarge hails from. Chaaaaarge never new his father, and his mother Lacoocak didn’thave much to do with him beyond his earliest years. He traveled with his lifelong friend Thrud to Londras to fight as mercenaries in the most recent Dwarf Wars. Chaaaaarge doesn’t like spiders and is happiest when he is in combat and thus only seeks opportunities for battle.

First Session

The first session was mostly making up characters and then we played a short, introductory encounter. The characters started with looking for work. There wasn’t much work to be found in Blythold, but through a connection they found that there was a merchant caravan leaving for Yond that was looking for some new guards. They met with the Merchant – a surly, penny-pinching Halfling by the name of Balinar. Sensing they were desperate for work Balinar offered insultingly low wages, but Anton was able to negotiate considerably better, though still substandard, wages and free food during the journey.

The next day they set out from Blythold on a journey that should take about 5-6 days. The first day was quiet as the area around Blythold is fairly heavily populated with small towns or villages every few miles along the road. The second day was pretty quiet too, the area being mostly farmland and the occasional village. The third day was moving out of the populated area into relative wilderness – large wooded areas with the rare remote farmstead.

In the late afternoon while rolling down a narrow track in a thickly forested area the Elf announced that she could hear the tell-tale sounds of battle coming from up ahead. Balinar called for the caravan to halt. He figured it was some other merchant caravan being attacked by bandits!  It had nothing to do with his caravan (and better them than us!) so they’d just wait it out and when they could no longer hear the sounds of fighting they would then proceed.

Then they heard the sound of hoof beats approaching. Around the corner rode a grievously wounded knight in the royal livery. His horse (also wounded) collapsed just ahead of them. When they rushed to his aid, the knight =pleaded to them to help his prince and then promptly passed on.

Balinar was out-voted and the group charged forth to the aid of their prince!

They arrived to find a scene of utter carnage: the bodies of  knights and bandits alike littered the area a final desperate battle was being fought between the prince and his last two knights and a half dozen or so bandits! Chaaaaarge quickly joined the fray! The others advanced and engaged some of the outlying bandit archers. Wilda was struck by and arrow and seriously wounded. The Sunken Emerald managed to burn a tree with lightning. Anton tried to ride one of the carts into the battle, but the stubborn oxen just wouldn’t go. he eventually leapt down and chased down one of the bandits with the aid of Pitor.

Second Session

The second session picked up where we left off the previous week – cleaning up after the battle in the woods. Most of the Prince’s men were dead or seriousl wounded and he asked if the players would help him bring them back to Blythold (and provide some protection against further attacks!). Balinar was eventually convinced this would be a good idea once the Prince offered a considerable reward for doing so.

While searching the bodies of the dead bandits Anton noted that they were equipped considerable better than your average bandits – brand new swords that looked like they could have some straight out of a royal armoury… very expensive, dwarf-crafted armour-piercing arrows…

On the journey back the Prince spoke with each of them in turn to get a measure of these disparate outsiders that selflessly came to his aid. Upon returning to the Palace in Blythold the Prince offered them all jobs as “personal aids” (and additional guards) as he felt he couldn’t really trust his own current guards.
During the evening  Anton tried to make friendly with some of the kitchen staff and see what rumours he could get from them. Though they were initially suspicious of this low-born newcomer, he made a few fast friends and found that they were all shocked at this attack and couldn’t think of anyone who would want to do such a thing as the prince was much loved and on good terms with all of the nobility in the kingdom.

In the morning they were awoken early as there had been a messenger in the night saying that the dead were walking in the small village of Quend (two days ride from the capitol) The Prince tasked them all with accompanying Sir Galbor to see what was happening.

They gathered their things and headed out to the courtyard to meet Sir Galbor who ignored them completely and rode off with a handful of men-at-arms before horses could be readied for the characters.

The Group eventually caught up with Sir Galbor’s party at a roadside inn at the end of a long day’s ride. In the morning they made sure to be up and ready to go before Sir Galbor. When Sir Galbor finally was ready to go he was obviously surprised to see them waiting, but then rode off without saying a word to them on the ride.

During the days ride, Anton made friends with the men-at-arms. They also noticed a procession of a few carts full of hastily packed things and family perched on top. While Sir Galbor simply shouted at them to clear the road and trotted on, the characters wondered if these might be refugees from Quend. It turned out that they were.  While talking to them most blamed the dead walking to the anger of one god or another, though one suggested it might be the local wizard’s doing. Most disagreed, saying the wizard had always been a kindly old fellow.

As they neared the village late in the day things mostly seemed normal, there were people out in the fields…. Though those with keener eyesight noted something unnatural about the people they saw out in the fields! They were clearly walking dead, shambling about aimlessly. Beyond the town they noted a wizards tower which had a mass of swirling black clouds above it and occasional bolts of purplish arcane energy arching from the tower, scorching the nearby land and causing strange, unnatural growths or  dead to rise from the ground where the bolts struck.

They party headed into town to find a barricade built up around a few of the buildings and some weary townfolk defending it with pitchorks and scythes and the occasional old rusty sword, pole arm, or spear. The found that the dead had attacked the village the first time four nights ago – taking the villagers buy surprise. Many were killed. Some of the survivors fled, the rest built the barricade and have been attacked every night since.

 As it was evening they decided it best to check out the wizard’s tower in the morning.

During the evening a small group of undead attacked the town.

The party aided in the defense of the barricade. In the end all the undead where smashed. A few villagers were injured (and one died). Chaaaarge, who had leapt outside the barricade to get into the thick of it went to smash skeleton that had been knocked down, but it grabbed his ankle and he lost his footing a fell over and smashed his head on a rock and was rendered unconscious for the rest of the battle. Pitor, while battling zombies at the barricade also lost his footing and fell between two crate and was wedged in there and unable to move – only after the battle were his pleas for help heard…

Next Week (hopefully!): The Wizard’s Tower!

So far I think things are going pretty well. Everyone seems to be having fun! I think the zombies I used were a little to powerful – which drew out the battle in the village a bit longer than I’d hoped… I’ll have to adjust that for the next session! Otherwise I think the simple system is working well…

Coming soon on Tim’s Miniature Wargaming Blog:

I’m hoping to get in another game (or two) of Frostgrave in this week. Perhaps a painting update…? (though I haven’t been getting all that much painting done this last week)


  1. What fun it would have been to grow up in your household!

  2. Seems to be a nice, beautiful and funny game!

  3. Do you mind posting a quick character generation guide or player's handbook reference sheet for your 'simple' rpg?

    1. Character generation was basically the players describing to me the character they wanted to play - based on the questions I gave them (noted above). Then I simply made up stats and abilities for it based on what I figured that character would look like in Song of Blades and Heroes. I didn't use any point system or make any attempt to make them equal or balanced - some of them are quite better than the others!

      Skill tests out of combat are just quality rolls on three dice - I said they could have one skill at +2 and two skills at +1 (the "+" being how many dice they add to the roll). I didn't have a specific skill list, but told them they could use the skills list from Savage Worlds as a guideline (which most of them are familar with) or simply make up a name for whatever skill they think they might have an let me know what it entails.

      That's about it.

      Anything that isn't really crucial to the narrative of the game I don't bother rolling dice for.

      Does that help at all? I can't really post any other rules I've written, because... well... I haven't. I'm mostly making this up as I go along stealing bits and pieces from different games as required - and I'll likely change things as I see fit.

    2. The sort of helps. I really like the free-form approach to character design. I was just wondering how you incorporated SoBH point costs of traits, Quality, Combat, etc. How did you decide on how many traits, skills, or what stats and still keep things reasonably fair between characters?

      For skill difficulties how did you determine target number to be beaten?

    3. I didn't incorporate the point costs of traits, Quality and Combat at all. I really didn't make any attempt at all to keep things "reasonably fair" between characters. If you figured out the cost of the Elf in SoBH you'd probably find she's worth more than any two others... possibly three. I didn't have any overall point value in mind for the group either. They described the character they wanted to play, I gave them some stats and traits that I thought represented that character.

      I figured: "would Frodo or Sam have been the equals of Strider at the moment they met him...? or EVER!? in skirmish game terms?" Not. Even. Close. So why do characters in a role-playing/skirmish game need to be "equal" or "of the same point value".

      The target number of successes...? Well, something relatively easy or routine - but important enough to actually require a quick dice roll only needs one success. Something Trickier needs two. Something really, really hard needs three. Something utterly impossible for a normal person might be four...? (a character would need an actual skill in it to have any hope of success). Or sometimes it's just an opposed roll you need to equal or beat the number of successes that an NPC rolls...?

      But as I said I really do make it up as I go - so as they get better and improve in quality this may all shift if requiring three successes in no longer much of a challenge for them!