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Hydra PlayTesters Update: Goodbye (for now) Vincent Youngman and Thanks

So, there I was sat on the Bedford Commuter train from Brighton to, umm, Hell, via Purgatory and Tedium when my phone resonated and burbled tunefully into life. It rings so rarely (I’m more of a text person) that I’d forgotten I’d changed my traditional phone ringtone to a funky sliced MP4 Mark Ronson tune the other weekend. God I’m so frickin’ hip it hurts! And Vincent was on the end of the phone with an apologetic tone. As a DM of many years I can sense when someone is pulling out of a roleplaying gaming group in about, oooh, several nano-seconds flat. But hey, Vincent has done a stirling job as a playtester for the past 10 games or so, and he’s landed himself another activity that he’s been wanting to do for a while that just happened to clash with our game time.

So just to say thanks to Vincent for helping out with the playtesting. His character ‘The Bastard’ as he is fondly known has led the playtesting party from the first game and has been a great source of intrigue and plot development in the course of the main group sessions. As we are mid-game, I plan to take him over as an NPC and ‘stow him on ice’ so to speak. No that doesn’t mean I’m going to shove him into a deep-freeze, but I intend to place him more in the background as an NPC rather than as the lead figure he has been in the earlier games. In this way he can be available for when perhaps we change gaming days and Vincent can return to the group if he so continues to want to. Until then he can be absorbed back into the cast of thousands that the DM regularly dips into. Of course, this presumes that he survives being run as an NPC in the current ‘haunted house of the Hirinian’ that the party are currently exploring. I can’t rule out that he might succumb to some grisly death or other, but hopefully not.

Meanwhile, the second playtest group are ready to join in, and there are other possible players waiting in the wings to boost the party size up to a decent amount. Starting next week, we should have a party of 4 players, and we’ll see whom else we can accommodate from there. In terms of a good party size I’ve found in the past that once you get up to about 5 players, things start to go pear shaped for every other PC you introduce from there on in. Just too many to deal with, if the party splits at 6, then you are effectively running two whole RPG groups simultaneously in one session. 4 is a good number, enabling decent party splits and can be bolstered with judicious NPC’s for stand-ins and DM leverage. At 5 or 6 you start to lose the value in adding in NPC’s and they become a liability. In which case you lose story-telling leverage and also the cushion factor of back-up characters for PC’s to step into if they lose their primary character.


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Main Hydra Campaign Session 10 – What Became of the Hirinian Jeweller?

Preamble and What To Do With Your PC’s In Between Scenarios.

Adjust The Speed Of Game Time & Explore What PC’s ‘Do’ Between Adventures.

We had a bit of extra time at the beginning of our last session because I managed to pitch up early to the RPG club for once in my life. We used the opportunity to work out what the characters had been up to flush from their success working for Lord Pilsbury and eliminating the terrorist Grungh threat. (See Sessions 1-9 in the Campaign Session Journal). Here we did the old DM’s trick of accelerating gametime to quickly zip through the intervening time between sessions. I just did a quick roll on 3d3 for how many months had passed and described the changing of the seasons accordingly. (We’ve are now in month of the Lion which is the Lankhmarian equivalent of July). It also enabled me to continue trialling the Hydra rules on training up attributes and skills that the player can do at the cost of time and money.

Get Them To Spend Their Hard-Earned Smerducks On Character Development.

In this way the player characters can spend their hard earned adventuring money not just on pretty baubles, but also on self-development – purchasing new spells, new skills and working on making themselves heroic. Just in time to become skint enough to take on another foolhardy adventure! During this time you can have NPC’s they know (like Burli or Fillestro  in our campaign) sidle up with new bits of info, plot-hooks and developments on the remainder of plot- elements from previous games. In this case there is still the matter of the Jade Statue of the Gods of Trouble. Burli advised Iswann to keep it hidden, and if he wanted to try and claim the ‘reward’ on offer then he was best served getting some other sucker to try and collect it. It being common knowledge that the Temple was on the warpath to get their statuette back –rumours of assassins, mercenaries and the like being approached to get it returned. This scenario follows on and picks up from one of the events that wasn’t followed up in the previous scenario. In this way you get a sense of congruity and meaningfulness about the off-shoots of events and sub-plots that you scatter in amongst your main games.

Portray The Development Of The PC As They Strive Towards Heroism/Notoriety.

In a matter of about a half hour of real time we’d figured out Iswann’s focus of activities for the next 3 months, taking the party from spring into summer. Vincent did all his experience checks from the last scenario and I described any noticeable improvement in skills qualitatively as a result. He then paid for Iswann to do some weapon and strength (attribute) training. Whilst the attribute has increased numerically it hadn’t shifted a descriptive category or influenced any derived attributes. However I like to indicate progress with skill increases by indicating qualitatively how close the character is to the next category level. So for instance having had his Cliff Toad Whip made Iswann spent most of his three months in training at his family home using the new weapon. He started off as ‘Poor’ (the opening category description for using a Whip) and we checked out whether his dexterity was good enough to use such a tricksy bit of kit – which it was. He then splashed out his hard earnings on a weekly training programme to push the percentile underneath up, and with the two and a half-months he had available to train and with the money that he had to spend he was able to push it up to ‘Fair’.

Appraisal Of Skill Use And Chance of Success.

In Hydra there is a systematic way of describing the probabilities attached to these skill levels, and at a ‘Fair ‘level of ability the individual is described as being able to hit the mark about half of the time provided it’s not too far or more difficult to hit. This gives the player an idea of their ability without knowing the actual amount. The DM provides ‘appraisal’ descriptions depending on the degree of success of an appraisal roll the player makes with their given ability that enables them to have some idea of how likely they are to be successful in using their skill in a given situation. Naturally the DM applies situation modifiers and adjusts the accuracy of their appraisal according to the degree of success of their appraisal roll.

Iswann found himself a bit out of pocket after all this and is now a bit in debt to the family because of his largesse. I role-played this out a bit by having a ‘family meeting’ and his mother giving the family a lecture on fiscal responsibility and the need to fill the family coffers this coming season. I made the matriarch of the house give him lots of eye contact throughout this little interlude. Of course unfortunately George’s character Glenda died in the last session so all we could do was finish off a few bits with his new character Moolsh – just tying up a few loose ends. We have yet to establish how Antiva spent his downtime as Jordan was tied up at the beginning of the session but we will do so retrospectively.

“I’m not a Dwarf, I’m Hirinian you Lofty Delicate Types.” Gray’am AxeSplitter of Xanth.

By the month of the Lion the company as is was sat in the cracked head reminiscing over their lost compatriot. This time George took on the role of Moolsh the thief-spy compatriot of his previous character Glendawynn. Sat in the head having a few jars they are joined by Burli who taps the Bastard for a drink. Burli is desperate to get some decent cash together so that he can pay off various members of the militia to help out his girl-friend the feisty self-styled barbarian princess Amberrh who is ‘laying low’ in the outer reaches of the Great Salt Marsh. (See the Second Playtest Group Sessions for more of Amberrh’s predicament). She has had so many run-ins with the local constabulary for ‘misunderstandings’ (mainly assault) and also with unlicensed thieves intent on stealing her family heirloom from her (hence the assaults) that she has had to go into hiding. Burli is trying to sort out the mess with the constabulary. And that costs! Burli has heard that Pilsbury has a job for Iswann and his friends and he wants ‘in’ on the escapade. Unable to lay hands on Antiva for the moment, who is absorbed in telling Riffkin’s fortune in the bar, they head off the same evening for the Flour magnate’s mansion on the West Side of the Park District.

Batting off the usual offers from street vendors and prostitutes that comes with being men about town late at night Moolsh, Iswann and Burli arrive relatively unmolested at the impressive mansion house of Pilsbury. They chat with the somewhat bizarre late-night gardener Titchmarsh, whom some say uses arcane abilities to foster the impressive topiary. They sit in the waiting room until Pilsbury makes his entrance with his newly acquired Ogre bodyguards. Moolsh isn’t impressed by his choice of companions but they are a fearsome pair. Ogre guards are the ‘must have’ of the would-be elite this season he notices. Pilsbury is rubbing his hands in contemplation of mayhem and profit as he smiles at the trio.

He reminds them of the fracas surrounding the loss of the Jeweller’s son at the same time his businesses were being attacked by Spune’s Terror Troops. A Hirinian Dwarf went missing all of the sudden named Darak. Several months down the line and he’s still missing. Nobody knows what’s happened to him but he has a significant stake in the Hirinian Family’s Jeweller’s business and there are taxes to be paid. Pilsbury is a ‘silent partner’ in this business and has a vested interested in what happens in terms of the ownership of the business, If he is dead, killed by the terrorists as some allege, then this needs verifying. There should be a will or similar, and if there is then Pilsbury wants that document so he can broker the transition of power. It may turn out that he could contest the will and get a controlling stake in the business and expand out of Flour and Bread into the profitable Jewel Market. Iswann and his band have proven themselves able to get results where the city Watch and Constabulory can not. Pilsbury offers them whatever support they need – he’ll pay for additional brute-force if needed, and the company can keep all the bounty and treasure they find on site. By all accounts Dashak was pretty mean with his money and loaded as a result. All he is interested in is either proof of the Hirinian’s death, and or/his will, or the Hirinian alive so that he can resolve his estate and financial affairs.

The party consider whom else would be useful to bring along and when Antiva arrives and they clue him in on the situation – to explore the possibly deceased Dwarf’s mansion and resolve the mystery of his disappearance. He immediately suggests they hire a Hirinian he met a couple of evenings ago in the Head, the first he’s ever seen. Going by the name of Gray’am Axesplitter he is an ex-pit fighter from Xanth and is working as a stevedore at the south docks on a small ship called the Silver Unicorn. The Party locate the Silver Unicorn thanks to the somewhat potty Harbourmaster and the bushy bearded Hirinian takes little persuading when he learns that it is a fellow countryman whose plight it is they are investigating. The prospect of reward and repair of his arms and armour is also a consideration. The stout fellow soon corrects Iswann however over the use of the term ‘Dwarf’. Most frowned upon – damn lanky impertinence!

They head into the north-east quarter of town where the Dwarf Artificer has his residence. It’s close to Ulris’s School near Death Alley. It stands alone in the centre of a walled-off garden. The garden has gone to pot and the mansion is locked up tight but with signs of ongoing neglect to the general décor. The double-doors are bound, banded and locked. Antiva and Moolsh climb their way up onto the roof as the Hirinian Axesplitter tackles the door with Glenda’s lock-picks. He gains entry just as Antiva and Moolsh scramble onto the roof.

Never Split the Party!

Gray’am, Iswann and Burli survey the entrance hall of the mansion. It’s deeply carpeted, no furniture. Smashed stain glass lying on the floor. Several doors lead off and stairs lead up to the second storey with an overhanging balcony. As they get lanterns prepared (it’s all sealed up inside and gloomy) and go to check out the respective doors they hear the sounds of chains rattling and low moaning from deep within the house, up above. It swiftly subsides however and Iswann worries that there may be zombies in the house. They can hear nothing beyond their own more anxious breathing and they make their way, Gray’am taking the lead down a small narrow corridor. Once again the Dwarf makes relatively light work of the door courtesy of the borrowed picks and they are in a much larger chamber, about equal in size to the front entrance with some light coming in from the window overlooking the garden.

The floors a bare and look in one corner to be rotten with woodworm. Iswann pokes about at the floor with his sword to see how bad it is and before he knows it the floor is collapsing before him. Scurrying out of the darkness two giant centipedes – a good 2’ high (they come up to Gray’am’s waist and over 10’ long attempt to bind themselves around the adventurer’s legs. Their scales deter Iswann’s frenzied dagger blows and their jaws are able to find nooks and crannies even in the Hirinian’s scale armour. Both Iswann and Gray’am fight off the sluggish effects of the centipede’s natural poison as Burli tries wrestling the outsize creatures off his companions. His grappling skills enable him to eventually hurl one of the centipedes into the corridor behind them and Gray’am slams the door shut with a well-timed axe swing. He is struggling with the poison of the the second giant centipede wrapped around him and the group as a whole rain blows upon the biting, twisting giant insect. Eventually their joint efforts batter it to death and Gray’am collapses sick with poison and bites upon the floor…

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Exit Pursued by Bears! – Main Hydra Playtest Campaign, Session 9.

The Usual Preamble

 Last night Vincent, Jordan and George, my trio of play-testers got together with me to continue trialling the Hydra system and for the next instalment on what is developing into a serious little campaign of play. We had the opportunity of trying out the two-sword or ‘Fiorintine’ style rules with Iswann’s character, and there were several instances of counter striking in the combat that resulted in the rejigged counterstrike rules taking part. The default rule for defending is that a defender can have as many parries as they can manage and can attempt to parry all incoming attacks. This was one of the first combats to have the party out-numbered in combat, but then ended up with the tables being turned. All in all – it turned out to be a good session, enjoyed roundly by the players and DM. Players were content with the revisions of the counter strike and two-weapon rules as a result of previous play testing. It added a new tactical element to play. This game saw more part oriented play – with combined forces of abilities and possessions that made the party tougher then the sum of their parts. This I think enabled the degree of success that the party attained against individually stronger, but less well organised opponents.

 War Waged in the Grand Old Park Bath House.

 Glenda shrugged off and cut away the sticky, meaty Cliff Toad tongue that coiled around her with some relief as her compatriots examined the only other exit in the misty, steamy, stinky bathing chamber. She asked Antiva if there was perhaps alchemical value in the fantastically bloated creature. He tilted his head in consideration. “We could extract the poison glands and the skin may prove useful”, he admitted – dredging up the teachings of the Master Alchemist from Ulris’s School. Iswann didn’t like the way something was roaring uncontrollably on the other side of the heavily padlocked and barricaded door. Something was obviously incarcerated within. There were curious symbols etched on the clockwork-like pad-lock device that held the chains together. Someone thought it was a bad idea to wander in to the chamber so they decided to head back the way they were coming – after they’d got everything they could out of the Giant Cliff Toad. Iswann hoped he might be able to get a Whip made from the sinewy tongue flesh. After all it had done a great job entrapping Glenda. Something for his Weapon smith’s at home to try their hand at.

 As Antiva did his best to chop around the flesh of the Toad’s huge legs and Iswann was focussed on his ninth in a row chop through the tongue, Glenda stood back to mop her brow. This was disgusting work. Suddenly her eyes focussed upon two huge floating orbs in the mud of the giant bath in front of her. “Oh By The Gods of Trouble – another Giant Toad and this one was the Daddy”, she thought. She jabbered to the others, who saw nothing as the eyes disappeared with a ‘blup’ before they could see – but taking her word for it they grabbed what they had and scuttled out of the chamber. They returned to the original entrance chamber and paused as they heard guttural voices from the other archway. Two Grungh were standing close to the nearly collapsed doorway they’d avoided in the first instance.

 Antiva worked his mystic ways to throw a cone of Silence upon them, muffling their own noises to reduce the chance of detection. He then enhanced the parties’ attacks using his Blade-Sharping spells. He had to focus several times to get the form of the symbol of Blade-Sharping correct so rattled was his mind by the danger they were all in. They talked over a plan with each other, relatively safe in the mufflement provided by the area of Silence that reigned around the Kutanese Mystic. It didn’t prevent all noise, but cut it at least in half. Glenda poisoned a dagger for Iswann and dipped one of her arrows. She knocked it up and they executed their plan. Glenda covered the door as Iswann advanced under cover of Silence. The Grungh were deep in their coughing and barking conversation. He used the element of surprise as he snuck up and thrust his hand through the gap in the timbers to stab the Grungh in the back with the poisoned blade. In his excitement he nearly slammed his hand fully into the timber of the door. It shook violently none the less and he badly scuffed up his new gauntlets in the process. He heard even through the Silence the scream of the Grungh and it collapsed from the lethal blow.

 The other Grungh stood shouting in shock. Antiva had moved up closer to dampen the cries of the bear creature. The other Grungh drew its weapons and stood its ground, as Glenda continued to cover the doorway. Iswann set aside his weapons and tore at the door which tumbled off the frame. Glenda loosed her arrow once the dust startled to settle in the gloom but her poisoned arrow thudded disappointingly into the frame of the door. She cursed her luck – too much adrenalin. Antiva dived in and realised swiftly that the terrified Grungh had not spotted him diving in so terrified was it cowering behind the body of its fallen comrade, and with the dust of the ruined door still settling in the air. He almost felt sorry for it as he plunged his lethal fist-spikes into the beast’s spine. It shuddered under the pain and he was amazed it did not die immediately. However when Iswann followed up with another gut-bound stab of his still slick with blood and poison dagger it soon succumbed to the slumber of death.

 Breathing heavily the trio strode into the Male changing rooms, identical in most respects to the Female rooms on the east side of the Bathhouse. It was in a sorry ruined state. It now stank of blood and death. From the door in the west wall, beyond they could make out little. Only Antiva, shocked to his core, could hear a voice urgent in his ear “Kill them All! Kill them All!”. He was baffled as to where it was coming from and perturbed that his companions seemed to hear nothing of it. Glenda prepared for a short stabbing sliding side-kick to bust through the door. She slammed into it, warning those in the other chamber of their arrival. Iswann finished off the door with a firm shoulder barge and the two attacks forced it open. It spun open on its hinges and they piled in.

 The larger chamber beyond held the remaining five terrorista Grungh. Empty shallow sauna and cleansing pools dotted the decayed marble decor. The Grungh readied weapons and picked themselves up from their rest on the floor. From behind the party they heard a loud shout from a male voice in Lankhmarian exhort “Kill them All! Kill every last one of them!”. Shocked that someone had slipped behind them the companies minds race furiously. The group of three Grungh will swiftly be upon them, and they only have scant seconds before the group of two were upon them. Antiva took decisive action. He ran towards the nearest opponent and flung himself at him with his trademark flying punch. His fists lanced through the air and the spines of the cesti pierced the Grungh’s flesh exquisitely as the startled beast tried desperately to beat the Mystic-Monk to the punch. The Grungh collapses from the pain and tumbled back, unconscious cracking its head on the steps of the pool immediately behind it as it splays on the marble floor. Iswann rushes to aid his hasty companion, swinging his blades in the classic ‘Web of Death’ pattern favoured by the elite of the Guild of Swordsmen and letting rip with a ‘genuine’ Mingolian battle-cry he learned from a trader in the Plaza Market. He brutally slashes at the next bear and hefts a reversed-held dagger as the bear fails to counter the blow. He watches the bear stagger and fall under the deadly blow with satisfaction.

 Fortunes Turn: Fall of the Thief

The vicious and deadly combat ensues. Glenda backs to the door and looses an arrow at the approaching Grungh, unable to pin the target as her eye slips off her mark for a split-second spoiling an otherwise well-placed shot. She curses as her arrow smashes into pieces into the back wall wide of the advancing Grungh hefting its sword and shield. Iswann makes short work of the second Bear, with his dagger-blow and for a while the company have the advantage. The balance of combat shifts however as one of Antiva’s risky counterstrike manouveurs backfires and he nearly has his right armed hewn from his body as he steps into the vicious downward slash of his opponents sword swing. He is unconscious and urgently needs healing.

 Whilst Iswann is holding his own the odds are shifting in favour of the Grungh. Glenda finds herself, having failed to take out one of the two approaching Grungh, with only her shortbow in hand as the growling snarling beast-man brings its double-handed sword down upon her. Panicking she tries to slip-past and punch her way out of the attack. Her cries of pain are abruptly cut-short though as the blade cracks through her shoulder and chest and she falls instantly dead from the humoungous power of the blow. The Grungh starts to consume her whilst the blood is still warm and fresh.

 At this point Iswann decides that cowardice, or a sound retreat, is the better part of valour. His comrades have fallen. He is quick on his feet, and carrying a spear-injury from his trading of blows with the blessed bear-creatures he wrong-foots his opponent and sprints out of the building. Whilst tearing across the entrance hall with bears in hot pursuit he spots what must be the blaggard Spune appearing seemingly from thin air standing underneath the statue of the bathers in the grand old entrance hall. He is continuing to encourage what remains of his animal terrorist band to ‘slaughter the infidels’. Iswann pelts out of the front entrance and rushes up the street calling for aid and help from any who will listen. He scatters passes by, but luckily for him a small patrol of three City Guard soldiers hasten to him. They take in his battered bleeding form. He yells about the terrorist bears that his company have all but slaughtered and the Guard head into the Grand Park Bath House determinedly with Iswann close behind.


Newton Isaac's Recipe Saves Antiva

Spune is nowhere to be seen, but true enough the snarling bear-creatures are all but at the door. They engage them 1-on-1 and with some aide from Iswann are able to disarm and kill the remaining injured Grungh animal creatures. Meanwhile as the battle rages briefly on so Antiva comes to. He is wracked by incredible pain and swiftly glugs down his vial of home-brew healing potion. He lies there barely believing he is alive (Iswann’s swift departure attracting his assailant away from him) and lets the magic of Newton Isaac’s formula repair his battered form. Even so he’ll have a brutal scar to show how fortunate he is not to be ‘Antiva the One-Armed Monk from Kutan’. He searches his assailants finding that he is all alone, and retrieves his fallen comrade’s spoils. He also uncovers in his search a fair stash of Gold Rilks in one of the unused Baths.

 The company heave a collective sigh of relief and have little time to mourn the passing of their short-lived acquaintance with Glendawynn of Lankhmar. They leave the Overlord’s soldiers to deal with whatever the wretched creature is that the Terrorists had captured in the Bath House changing rooms. They have rewards to collect and spend, and of course their respects to pay in due course to the Guild of Thieves and their benefactor Pilsbury the Dough-Lord. They haul themselves off into the street and Iswann hails a messenger of the city to get him a coach to take them back to his family estate. Time for the Master Healer of his Adopted Family to practice his physician skills on the Bastard Swordsman once more, for some deserved rest, and then once done to reap the benefits of their hard earned victory. Nagging away at him though was that momentary glimpse of the manic shouting Spune, no sign or trace of which was to be found by either the party or the authorities as they clear the Bath House over the next few days. He remains, presumably, at large, but without followers to do his bidding…

Post Amble

George took the loss of his character phlegmatically, realising that his choice to counterstrike the Grungh opponent was a bad one. He was also unlucky with his dice rolls (missing both of his key shots with his short-bow. At the same time I lucked out rolling pretty much maximum damage on the dice for the heavy weight Grungh assailant. Fortunately for us we’d prepped up an NPC as a standby character – so George will step into the shoes of Moolsh, the Assassin-Thief in the next session, with possibly a bit of one-to-one between session play for us to get Moolsh up to speed if we can fit it in.

Now that the story-line of Spune’s Terrorist Attack is over I shall publish this scenario – which I adapted from an old City of Greyhawk short plot hook – next month with all the Hydra related stats. Of course, the party weren’t able to kill or capture the terrorist ring-leader himself so therein lies a future plot opportunity. Will Spune return to renact his revenge upon his aggressors? Why exactly was he wreaking havok upon the city with these Terrorist attacks? Why was he using the pitiful Grungh in this way? These questions go un-answered at present, and I’ll tuck them away for a possible future follow-up at a later date. In someways unfinished plot-strands like these are gold dust for later scenarios – creating running adversaries and sequel stories for the party. They also help create a sense of coherency and continuity for a longer campaign. This and having other ongoing unfolding plot-threads (like the Hag’s prophecy for example) help to create a large plot-picture to game in. The DM can then dip in and out of relevant stories and threads, tailored to the group or to the individual characters in the RPG group.

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Evaluating and Modifying Combat: Some feedback from the Hydra Playtesting

So we had a game session last week, and there will be a write-up post for that shortly, but in the course of it – more feedback and constructive criticism from the playtesters. Which was welcome, and triggered some on the spot debate which I’m attempting to summarise from my selfish perspective here. I’ve also opted to create some writing accounts on this blog for the hydra playtesters so they can publish their own entries on the blog directly. I’ll simply maintain some editorial control, not over the content, but just to keep an eye on formatting and spelling etc. In this way we can have some other views on things rather than just my distorted burblings. Anyway onto the playtesting feedback.

The combat engine: Thoughts and directions.

Vincent raised some good constructive criticisms of the combat engine particularly in respect of counterstrike and number of hits per round and we looked at alternatives. Here are my collected ruminations. There is a counterstrike option in the game which as it is at the moment is not a skill but a tactical choice of defence – an alternative to a parry/block/dodge action option. It enables you to strike back and ignore the incoming strike as a defence option if a person attacks. This of course means that you get effectively two attacks in a round if you decide to counterstrike as a defence. The downside of counterstrike is that inevitably at some point you miss and take a crunching hit. Even if you hit – you are taking a blow from the opponent if they are successful so it’s not a very protective defence.  A hit with a counterstrike is therefore not the same as a hit from your own attack. This has been proven risky with the mystic-monk’s Antiva’s repeated use of counterstrike and how close he has been to being very dead on a number of occasions. NPC’s have also come a cropper using the counterstrike defence option.

There is a rule that could be invoked to limit things which is – one main action per round, which could therefore exclude having an attack if counterstrike is chosen, and is parallel to the rule about not being able to attack if dodge has been selected as an action option. There is also a rule I have waived which is you can only defend against one attacker you specify you are guarding against – again because I haven’t wanted things too restricted – this has opened up the number of actions people have been undertaking per round as a result. I’ve mostly waived these two rules  in play-testing because it would knacker up the ‘fiorintine style’ of fighting and it doesn’t do the flow of combat much good. I don’t like these kinds of restrictions much and am not so bothered about a perceived ‘imbalance’ in the action if ultimately the risk of the action options chosen leads to characters  (PC’s and NPC’s) getting heavily bashed/paying the consequences. That is –  it evens out over time, and also, NPC’s can chose the same action option and take ‘advantage’ of this imbalance as much as PC’s. The advantage of the one major action option per round rule is that it means that everyone labours under the same limitations.  The disvantage of this is that it is an artificial restriction on activity and inhibits activity flow. It’s a core rule of the game engine that I’ve mashed that I’ve ignored to allow more freedom of activity so far in the combat mode of the game.

We have a ‘fiorintine’ fighting style in the gameworld that enables, for example, the swordsman to have two attacks a round by virtue of having two weapons – e.g. Iswann’s sword/dagger combo. So theoretically he can have three attacks in a round if he counterstrikes as an action option during an NPC’s attack. I think it would not be unreasonable to make this fighting style a trained skill so that the initial attack has to be under the fiorintine martial style for the second attack to happen. This is one change I am considering – it would continue to make two-weapon fighting a real option, just a little more challenging. After all, my personal experience from using two-weapons in fighting is that it is more difficult than one-weapon fighting. (Just to explain I’m a martial artist and have been training mostly in unarmed combat as an ongoing interest but have trained in armed combat too – mostly nunchuk, knife and sword).

You do get some of this emulated in the engine by having a 1h and a 2h skill for the various weapons – you have to develop a left-hand dagger skill for example so that takes care of that aspect. But at present it doesn’t represent the extra difficulty of having to co-ordinate left-handed attacks when you are right-hand dominant in a two weapon fighting mode. It is also not a justifiable to prevent someone with only one-weapon from not counterstriking when you attack with the two-weapons each time if they are set up to do so just because that means they would get as many attacks as you. That to my mind does not create balance – it creates an advantage for being a two-weapon fighter. The practicality of one-weapon/two-weapon fighting is that two-weapon fighting is more difficult than one-weapon, but it does give you more options of weapons to attack with. It is just as easy to bash multiply and quickly with one weapon as it is with two – so the rate of attack explanation will never provide a justification here for restricting things.

What the hydra system is trying to do is not fully emulate combat – but get a decent enough approximation of it, have it lethal so that you fight appropriately and make sound choices – and make combat a relative activity experience rather than an absolute time-frame experience. Again, I wouldn’t tend to want to restrict the action option to counterstrike as a response to an attack as over time selecting this mode of defence will be costly to the aggressive defender. Vincent’s suggestion that could be implemented was that somekind of penalty to using the counterstrike option if it goes wrong – making you more vulnerable to the attack would be a way of ‘balancing’ it more as well as another suggestion to making it a particular skill.

Again given that it is a defence option (counterstrike) I’m not going to make it a skill but the possibility of DM imposed penalties (making the person easier to hit or more vulnerable as a result of the counterstrike option) sounds a more do-able tweak to me – but I’m not sure how necessary this is. The fact is – if you chose counterstrike then you accept getting hit as a consequence – that’s the negative of choosing it as an action option for defence – it has an inbuilt penalty. It therefore makes you more vulnerable as a form of defense. You are banking on the opponent missing their to-hit roll and hitting them better yourself. It seems to me it already carries its own penalties. If you are a better fighter taking on a weaker opponent then counterstriking is a fine option, if not then it is a dumb option. If they have a better weapon and armour than you then it is a dumb option, if not then it is a good option. If they are wounded or fighting with penalties then it is a good option, if not then it is a dumb option etc. If you are a lucky so and so with your rolls it is a fine option, if not it can be a dumb option – we all play with the risks.

Restrictions that could be applied are – if you counterstrike then your next attack is lessened (e.g. efffectively halved in chance). If you dodge as a defence then also your next attack should be halved in chance. (That’s a rule in the engine that I’ve mostly been ignoring in the rule-set so far but maybe should come into play if such a counterstrike penalty is going to be applied). I tend to think though that neither of these limitations/penalties is worth applying.

Everyone labours under the same potential advantage from choosing these options. If I can be bothered my NPC can be fiorintine trained and get those advantages that the PC can have. My NPC can chose to counterstrike every incoming attack if he wishes and labour under the same risk as the PC. Every PC can chose to do these things if they wish. It’s about choice with regard to risk of these manouvers. The only imbalance I’ve perceived is that those with a two-weapon fighting style get more attacks per round because they fight with more weapons. This is harder to do then having one weapon – and therefore there should be a skill restriction – as per martial artists and the damage advantage they get from having the martial arts skill. It can therefore be a DM option to penalise those who chose the counterstrike option in terms of making the attack have some advantage if the counterstriker muffs up – above and beyond what it already confers within the system. So with this adjustment you could also make it so that if the counterstriker fails his strike, then the attacker/opponent gets a bonus to his hit as the failing counterstriker ‘walks into’ a strike or opens himself up to being more vulnerable by trying to hit his opponent. This could be done by subtracting the failure margin from the opponent’s blow whether it is successful or not. It may turn a marginally unsuccessful attacking attempt into a success, or make a successful attack more successful in the process. Let me explain!

So – to illustrate:

Horace the Guard piles in swinging his shortsword (1d6+1) and Geoff the heroic bard counterstrikes with his d10 bastard sword. Horace rolls 54% under for his to-hit, which is a reasonable success. Geoff, however rolls 80% and fails. The DM knows that this is a 20% failure margin, as Geoff only has a 60% skill. The PC doesn’t know his exact percentage. He therefore gives Horace a post-roll modification of 20% to his roll, so it is as if Horace rolled 54%-20% i.e. 34% with his roll. This is a better level of success than he had initially because the counterstriker failed and walked into the attack. In Hydra the better the level of success the better the location of the attack which may mean hitting an area with relatively little armour – e.g. in the face or under the arm etc. In this case it makes relatively little difference as the success level of the attack is still not 1/5th of Horace’s to-hit chance. If it had been more marginal – e.g. Horace had rolled 34% – an even better to hit, and Geoff’s fail had been the same – a 20% miss, then we would end up with Horace getting a 14% attack.

Then we could also apply the impale rule for the weapon (if it’s an impaling one) and he’d get more damage. (Although shortswords don’t count as ‘impaling’ weapons – but if it was a spear he’d get a double damage roll which would make the counterstrike fail even more dangerous). We don’t count shortswordsto be impaling weapons not because you can’t successfully prong someone with such weapons – of course you can, but because compared to weapons like bows and crossbows or spears which are pure stabby-thrusty weapons there is a relative difference in type of effect. The only sword capable of generating an impale would be a rapier type sword.

With Horace’s 14% attack though the DM may rule that his blow cut across the opponent Geoff’s eyes where he has no armour and therefore gets no armour absorb protection. That would be a considerable advantage as all the 1d6+1 damage would come straight off his hit points regardless of his armour profile. This would also enable Horace to penetrate armour that would otherwise preclude him doing damage – so if Geoff has 8 points of chest armour, but walks into an attack by Horace with a counterstrike then the DM has the option to rule that Horace’s blow cuts into a spot where the armour is missing (e.g. weak under the arm points or similar) or where there is damage to the armour, or the armour  for some other reason is simply ineffective to the lethal blow (a flaw in the substance/metal for example).

So it also stands given this rule that if Horace was not as skilled and had rolled  a 60% which would have been a failure, (if his skill was 55% say) but the counterstriking Geoff failed by 20%, then Horace’s failed attack would suddenley become successful to the tune of 40%. So it’s possible by doing this to penalise the failing counterstriking effort to the attackers advantage – both in terms of potential damage, hit location, and chance of successfully hitting changing if the counterstriking fails.

My proposals for modifications are therefore – have a ‘fiorintine’ fighting style skill (or two-weapon skill for any combo). Your first attack must successfully come under this two-weapon skill otherwise you cannot use a second attack with the second weapon. This just makes two-weapon fighting a little harder to implement rather than readily run of the mill otherwise we will all be popping two weapons in our hands and doing it all willy-nilly. Counterstrike fails will be offset to the attacker as described above making it an even more dangerous action option for all characters to select.

Character Development

Vincent was complimentary about the character development – in that the system is extremely flexible in the design of characters. The downside being that rolling up is a long process. Being able to tailor each character with packages of skills is a major plus to the system. Each rolling up of a swordsman, or a thief for example will create a different variation of a swordsman or thief – they should not be the same. This is evidenced by the differences between Moolsh and Glendawynn. You can check out their differences by taking a look at these entries which has their rolled up character sheets. These are two characters with the same occupation – but they are very different types of thieves. The downside is that this requires quite a bit of work from DM and PC – so you have to roll with the problem of lengthy roll up times. You can’t have a quick and dirty character class system that generates nicely rounded out invidiually crafted variations of characters. You need to take time over that and this is why I’ve chosen to do so in the character generation system. Hydra is not a character class based system – it’s a skill-based occupational experience collaborative co-creative system which is a different kettle of fish.

As Vincent pointed out – this is not a first-timers system. It’s crafted out of a relatively sophisticated and advanced appreciation of the pro’s and con’s of different RPG engine types and system types. This is a kind of Cthulhu-type game engine for a fantasy world – it’s not taking any prisoners in the process!

Encounter Heavy!? and some Hosting Issues

There was also a general comment about the games being a bit ‘samey’. A fair point but mainly because this is still a playtest and I want to trial and push the combat engine as much as possible. Certainly there has been a lot of – getting badly injured, need to rest up a lot and then get injured again going on. That’s because I have been pushing the number of combats a lot in the sessions, but also because of how PCs are prepared/not prepared for fights. Also we have only about an hour and a half to two-hours to game in. This means the various plot arcs haven’t got much room to develop because of time limitations and because I’m throwing in quite a few random encounters to get the combat engine well tested. Naturally this is going to distort the game. I therefore deliberately didn’t push a random encounter into the game and tried to develop some of the plot-arcs this session. Don’t think I did so well at that as I can do, but it’s difficult sometimes in the setting of the  busy noisy role-playing club to do it. At times there are interruptions, thrown in comments (not always positive) about your game from people not playing, it can be noisy and all these things play on my DM nerves. I’m starting to think that hosting at home – where it will be quieter and uninterrupted will help in hosting the game. Either that or getting a game session in on a quieter night as Thursday is their busiest evening at the RPG club from what I can surmise.

We’ve therefore talked about an alternative game day – Sunday evening – so we can have more time, and we’ll see if this turns out to be feasible next time. Don’t think I was able to find out if this would be ok with George (aka Glenda), so will check this out during the next Thursday evening session. I also have a meet up with my other players – finishing off their characters and planning on how to get them into the developing campaign.

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Sixth Hydra Playtest Session – Attack of the Dandy Highwaymen!

Usual Preamble from your Hydra DM, DocFusion.

So, another play-test session last night at Wargames Heaven – the only RPG Club worth bothering with in Brighton. Only about 1.5hrs of actual play I would say once we took into account the late start for a variety of reasons. So this is what we managed to achieve in a short space of time. I’m definitely finding it hard to hold all the plot-threads together and slipped a couple of times, but used my usual DM tactic of – “oops, you’re right – that shouldn’t of happened – let’s rewind” it worked fine and that’s how it should be. So DM advice, don’t try to mangle the events after the fact – if a player catches you out in having got something obviously factually wrong – just acknowledge it and re-do it.

By the same token if a player notices they have made an obvious error with the mechanics they have learned or you do- immediately re-do that too. It’s a two-way street of being able to re-wind/re-do things when you are a DM – but the DM calls the shots with the rewinds. Although of course you want to avoid them altogether if you can help it. Be prepared if there is resistance to a re-wind/re-do  of a decision to point out a past re-do on both sides to help support the argument that it needs doing – plus remember that the DM in the end is the ultimate referee and this rule should be invoked if it is in the ‘best interest of the game’. That’s the DM’s priority – number one, not the players, not themselves, not the characters per se – but the ‘best interest of the game’. I’ll ramble on that topic later  in another post to unpack what I mean by that – meanwhile, let’s get back to the ranch!

My thanks to Vincent, Jordan and George my trio of Hydra play-testers to continuing to put up with my indie-mashed system. I’m still developing and tweaking in play-test and they are very tolerant of that. It’s an exciting process :).  My apologies if they felt I was a bit ‘killer DM’ in this session – and yes I was when I had a character with killer intent to play – although let me be clear about it. At times the DM is in a narrow sense out to kill characters if that subserves the NPC’s intentions. PC’s do the same to NPC’s/Monsters and some NPC’s/Monsters will be therefore be the same. That’s not imbalance or unfair in my book it’s how this world works.

It’s indiscriminate (don’t care who the player is) and fair, in  the sense that if it’s ok for a PC to polish off one of my monsters or NPC’s, then it’s as fair if the DM’s monsters/NPC try to do the same to you. See the events of the ‘Dandy Highwaymen Attack’ below to catch my drift and an episode of mutual re-winding. So, to re-cap -there is a difference between a DM’s character killing a character because that character is motivated to do so, and the DM doing it to spite a player.  Yes to the former, no to the latter. That can be a tough lesson to learn for DM’s and PC’s. There are no favourite players in my games, all are as much a potential victim or success as any other. I enjoyed all the characterizations and moments – better/worse that arose. And there were some doozys last night.

So let’s tune in to the ongoing adventures of (in no particular order) the group that comprises of:  Iswan ‘The lucky, lucky’ Bastard, Glenda ‘Dead-eye-shot’ of the Plaza and ‘Cool-Hand’ Antiva of Kutan. Apologies for any misspellings. They are my own. Again this recount is necessarily DM biased. I will add some DM after-thoughts  and in writing thoughts and tips as per usual, if you catch my drift. No major NPC’s or DMC’s were  harmed in the making of this session.  Some minor NPC’s were seriously harmed and it looks as if one is most definitely on his way off the mortal coil of the PC’s get their way. This was PC-only stuff with no bail out NPC’s available to influence the game, except for in some key non-combat story-telling moments. They are going it alone folks in this episode. May the Gods of Trouble look away now.

After the Ware House Investigation. (See Session Five)

I didn’t call for a re-cap and on reflection that was a mistake on my part. I recommend on asking everyone in the party to help contribute to a re-cap – ‘what do you remember happening last time?’ is a good cueing question to co-reconstruct as a group a recollection of where we were all at.  Then everyone can chip in, the DM can be reminded of events and embellish with some polish. Instead no, I piled into a bit of pre-game whilst I was waiting for Jordan/Antiva to be free to join in the game. So, things were a little fragmented. Bad DM. Naughty.

Antiva needed some healing, even after being given at a low-price thanks to his Trollkin Fan Riffkin, a cut-price potion of healing last session. He was moaning and groaning on his death-bed in the Cracked-Head in Iswann’s room about not being in the comfort of his quarters in Ulris’s School of Wizardry in the Northern Quarter. The others couldn’t risk moving him however because of all his harsh injuries, and Iswan selflessly went in search of the Hag during the week to ask her for more potion. He’d told her he’d be back and he meant what he’d said. She’d said not to, and she’d meant that as well. However, the hand of Chance, the highest of all orders in Nehwon swung in favour of Iswan.

The Hag wasn’t feeling herself and was distracted by apparent visions of the future during his visit. In this state of clairvoyant weakness she gifted him a strong potion of healing for the small matter of $200 Smerduks, and told him that ‘You will all meet an ugly fate…. In the darkness…. In a Tower…. In the Tower of Orton’. It wasn’t one of her happier moments let’s say that and Iswan was glad to be out of there with the dripping seething potion of the Overlord Knew What in his hands. My his pocket was getting lighter these days – adventuring was expensive and he may have to pay his cousins a visit soon unless they struck it big in this venture. Or Antiva grew cautious. Nevermind.

Glenda wanted to check out the value of her spoils and sort out LilyBlack her friend who also fenced stuff professionally for a living. During this week Antiva rested up and everybody caught some ‘downtime’. Glenda eventually found her in the Plaza leaning against the Dark Fountain. She appeared pleased to see her and the feeling was mutual. They chatted for a while and caught up and then LilyBlack checked out the gems Glenda had scavenged, and the swords. ‘Yeah $250-400 odd Smerduks I reckon. Give me 10% and I’ll do it for you. Give me a couple as a sample of quality and I’ll nail you an exact quote from my sources no problem. The swords – well I don’t deal in weapons. Sell them at the Caravanerserai maybe – although he is a bit squeaky clean that guy’.

Once again Lily tried to persuade Glenda to get her a job in the Guild and was put out to hear the usual ‘I’ll think about it’ retort. They went their separate ways.  Lily had said she would find Glenda when she had a buyer for the stones. Glenda headed to the Cracked Head for a meal and was relieved that Fillestro seemed well disposed towards her that afternoon. At the same time Iswan had come down to the bar, followed later by the recuperated Antiva who was feeling uncommonly better from the exspensive ministrations of the Hag’s foul but efficacious concoction. Darn that was a good potion – but gosh, it hurt buying it and using it! So unpleasant having everything knit back together so quickly. Weird.

They were joined momentarily by their friend the irrepressible Burli. He looked wiped out. He was uncommonly tired. He’d been up all night for several nights in a row doing what needed to be done in securing the release of Amberrh his barbarian princess side-kick.  She’d got caught up in some fight or other and ended up in Gaol again. Of course there was also the  matter of his lost wrestling match which perhaps interconnected with this. Burli quizzed the others on their latests exploits and whistled at the tales of the Bearfolk.

They had a name for them now – the Grungh. Tales of these were getting about the city – mostly written off as madness, but Iswann had a bear-skin cloak as proof. Glenda appeared to disapprove of this for some reason. The Grungh were fabled stories – a people who allegedly shifted from human to bear in their form, their origins lost in the midsts of people’s bad recollections. Glenda had heard of similar stories from talking to Lily earlier about the sacking of the minor temple of the Gods of Trouble in the Park District. Lily had also warned her to hide the Jade statue as the temple wanted it back, and it was stolen in the raid. No doubt these things connected. They’d found it on the bear-people these ‘Grungh’ if that’s what they were when they were at the Warehouse of Pilsbury.

Iswann also shared his tale of the Hag and her scrying of the future. Burli was for once deadly serious. He warned Iswann – “She told me my future to one day – unbidden years ago. I thought nowt of it at the time – she foresaw that I would be abandoned by Ulris. I’ve had the last 9 years as a toy-maker and a wrestler scraping buy on odd-jobs and can I get a favour from that Wizard? No. He shuns me. So, she was right. How did she knows this unless she has the eye to the future and the ears tuned to the voice of Fate? If you are destined to be in the Tower of Orton and suffer cruelly at it’s magicks so it will be. That’s a grand story of old from the Year of the Beleaguered Snake, many summers ago, beyond our combined life times. It’s a story passed from Elder to Elder. The Tower of the Beastmaster Wizard  or something like that I once read of or heard of somewhere – a lost place in knowing and in Nehwon too. It’s incredible – but if she says it will come to pass – then it shall, somehow. I don’t envy you – but you should find out all you can”.

Iswann had  already had it in mind to visit his distant second removed cousin the Sage – what was his name, ‘Finkbartel the Knowing’ or something like that he traded under, the respected guilded member of the ‘glorious and ancient order of the most esoteric Sages’ up in the posh parts of the city. He’d been thinking over the portent of the Hag even before he’d caught up with Burli over the supper table. Antiva was looking stoically at them both and agreed in his brief way that he would join in this trip and task. The thought of a Tower of Magic from times past intrigued him. They got Tom to order them a carriage to take them to the northern quarter. In the meantime Glenda popped to the Alchemists Workshop at the back of the Cracked Head near the market.

She spoke to Silver the smooth-tongued handsome devil of an immaculate young Alchemist in his disturbingly spotless front of house. She blinked at his superwhite teeth. He was a charming devil. He examined the strange brown crystal type powder and he said it was a component of several alchemical powders and mixtures. He said it could be made into a potion of Trollskin with the other components and that it was used in some other remedies unproven by the Guild of Alchemists and unsanctioned. A potion of Troll regeneration was in development but as of yet the results were umm, highly unsatisfactory. He offered to purchase the bag for $500 after weighing it.

Glenda thought she would hang on to it, which he shrugged off. He encouraged her to ask other Alchemists to give her quotes if she thought she was being hard done-by somehow. She wanted a poison and his suspicions aroused he pointed out that sale of Toxins and Poisons was handled on a special register. He wanted to know what it was for and she said that it was for pests, and then after that it needed to have the strength to kill a bear. Silver pointed out that he was good at forgetting things and for not writing everything down and so Glenda felt encouraged to reveal the latter piece of information. Silver joked about the size of her pests. He agreed to make two doses of contact poison, suitable for arrow use, basically forget the paperwork, for $150. Glenda wasn’t so keen at first on this so he suggested that if she give him a few ounces of the Alchemical substrate powder, he’d settle for that and discount her the poison. She agreed and he said she should come back in a couple of days.

Glenda found Tom scurrying up the alleyway to tell her there was a carriage ready and waiting for them. The driver drove the handsom-type cab, only half covered and open at the front northwards towards area of the city that was in the shadow of the infamous Overlord’s Castle. It was a tedious journey and a bone-shaking one. They fell into silence as the carriage shook it’s way around the corner into Pimp Road an hour or so later, and then from nowhere an arrow exploded into the side of the carriage. The driver panicked, the horse reared and he fell off as he brought the horse to a sudden judderring halt in his fear and dread. He failed to hear the commanding voice of Iswan to ‘Drive on! Drive on!’.

Masked brigands swarmed out of the topiary and underbrush of the immaculate street. They dressed as ruffians, but on closer inspection were very well armed, superiorly armoured and also had immaculate wax moustaches and were very well groomed. They were part of the infamous band of street banditoes called the ‘Dandy Highwaymen’. Not until later does this sink into the party’s consciousness. A vicious battle ensues. One of the bandits attempts to climb into the carriage and is warded off by Glenda with only her stilletto blade – straight to the neck! Antiva weaves his magic upon his cestus whilst he has the chance.

The Highwayman runs off clutching his near lethal wound, cowardice the better part of valour. The coachdriver dives and crawls under the suddenley halted carriage and goes to raise the alarm from the militia. He is running off in terror. This leaves two further brigands who advance with hatchet and broadsword. They are both masked. Iswan dismounts the carriage and takes on the swordsman, who shirks the fiorentine style in favour of the two-handed approach. The masked bandito uses a spinning strike to rattle the Bastard. The Bastard parries well, but feels it is just a testing blow. This opponent has mettle! As his combat proceeds one on one they trade blows. It is vicious. To begin Iswan has an upperhand by slicing his opponent deep in the thigh, but not deep enough for he is well armoured and also well-seasoned and uses the pain. He drops to the knee and cuts at Iswan with a scithing blow not in the text-book but practically murderous. Iswan takes hits from the masked Dandy swordsman.

They continue to evenly trade blows with each other but the Highwayman has the edge and Iswan realises that this man will kill him if he drops his guard. At one point he is so perilously close to being run through, but his armour just saves him from being stabbed to death. (DM Note – This is where we had a rewind as I’d nearly killed the PC, but then he recalled his armour profile – so that saved him – I don’t think Vincent enjoyed my NPC trying to kill him where he temporarily lay – he complained understandably of game imbalance but see my above opening comments). He cut viciously in riposte to the assaillant’s head and could not fathom how his blade was turned by so flimsy appearing a leather mask. However the Dandy keeps going in spite of the blows. He is strong, fit and well protected. The swordsman is meeting his match at this moment as the Dandy gives as good as he gets with strong cuts to Iswann’s abdomen and chest.

Meanwhile, Antiva jumps off the carriage and pounds his fists and stabbing cestii into the chest of the approaching Bandit who’d been hacking at the horses reins and tackle to prevent the carriage from being dragged off by the horse. It was a good blow, but his opponent is just too well armoured and steadfast to be overwhelmed by the audacious move but ill-timed moved. The bandit swings his hatchet unthinkingly and unflinchingly at Antiva who uses his standard practice of counterstriking. Antiva attempts to drive his opponent into the flailing hoofs of the panicking horse and nearly succeeds. His opponent is grunting under the force of his blows, but is standing and grimly determined to hack Antiva to bits. Simultaneously Glenda, fresh from stabbing the first assailant  has jumped to her feet, climbed up to a good vantage point with a knocked arrow even with the carriage shaking from the thrashing steed. She is about to help out Antiva, but hearing the wailing of Iswann intermixed with his opponent from their cutting injuries – which are getting potentially life-threatening, she circles precariously and shoots the Dandy at point-blank range in the face. It penetrates his left eye socket and he staggers away from the collapsing Iswann. Iswann is down but not out. He is badly cut up from the trading of fearsome blows. His opponent is down on the ground clutching the arrow in his eye – not unconscious but screaming from the pain and bound to bleed out from the atrocious wound.

End Notes.

In mid-combat that’s where we had to leave it as the gaming place was shutting up. This is someway gives me a chance to consider combat options as it does the players. I’m hoping they realise that Hydra is a lethal combat system! Also its not a system of level vs level either, it’s about advantage, skills, equipment, magical defenses and so forth. I’m thinking they get it :). They are no doubt getting tired of being hacked to bits and Jordan is resolved to getting some kind of armour for himself. They are definately appreciating the value of being best prepared and also best equipped for circumstances.

I’m happy with the plot-threads/themes emerging. Sowing the seeds of later adventures nice and early. If you are following the scenario write ups then hopefully you’ll see them come to fruition in later games. My other gamers are revving up to join in, so it will be good to get the group balanced up with more seasoned players and a wider variety of views and dynamics. People seem to be enjoying the game and its good to see character development coming out. Jordan had done some work on his character background which I shall be integrating into the game once I’ve had a chance to look it over. Got some skill development to do for the Mystic-Monk-Mage which will get covered in the next pre-game session. Roll on next Thursday! Comments as usual most welcome :)

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The Hydra Campaign Flavour – Mmm Cheesy :)

Brief Notelet of Introduction

Shock-horreur – here’s a brief summary of the campaign setting that Hydra operates in as per a recent request from the Nth Doctor Nathan. Don’t say I never give you anything Mister!

Where is our campaign set exactly?

I decided to run our new fantasy rpg system Hydra in the world of Fritz Leiber – Nehwon – where he set his fantasy novels largely about his cult characters Fahrd and the Grey Mouser. The rationale behind this decision was blogged about very early on here.

Where can I found out more about this place?

I recommend the Scrolls website (see my off-site linkage list thing) if you want to know more about Mr Leiber’s world. Yes ‘Nehwon’ is indeed ‘Nowhen’ backwards. Fritz obviously had one of those Dylan Thomas type whimsical humours when it came to his fantasy novel writing. In case that means nothing to you Dylan Thomas quite famously made up rude place names for his writing- like Llareggub (bugger all) for example – by reversing words.

Is your campaign setting the real McCoy then? Leiber through and through?

I wouldn’t say that our version of Nehwon is particularly authentic. I’m inspired by the works of Leiber rather than constrained by him. So our Nehwon is considerably more liberal. My source materials are the 2nd Edition AD&D City of Lankhmar source material, and indeed the City is the starting place and focus of our gaming activity at the moment. I have played to my strength having found that I thrive as a DM upon city settings. It’s the constant opportunity for skullduggery, politics, and socialisation that makes my DM-ing tend to liven up when I’ve played out games in cities. They make good jumping off points for my games.

Which bit of this Nehwon world are you in? What’s it like?

And what’s not to love about Lankhmar? It’s a city of thieves – where Pratchett is alleged to have got a lot of ideas for his Thieves Guild and city based writings. It’s a murky, misty, seedy underbelly of a sort of place. It’s also a fantastic sort of place in our version of the game. It isn’t overly wrought with magic, but it’s not magic starved either. I’ve upped the magic quotient I suspect over what a true Leiber advocate would care to see. I’m also not being too shy about littering the place with non-humans. Oh, the PC’s are human (although I have no doubt that will change in due course just as soon as I’ve finished the relevant creation system chapters), but why should everyone else be so constrained? I’m using a combo of AD&D, some RQII and other more esoteric sources to inform my non-human species generation. There’s a strong touch of whimsy about my NPC’s as well.

How are you growing it?

I’m sowing the seeds of future scenarios by making the City as rich with legends, stories, big characters, and back-story as I can manage. I’m fairly junking it up with rumours and tales or derring do and people best avoided. Scattering the old myths and wives stories about. Some of this is coming from Lankhmar based material and other bits I’m stealing wholesale from sources like Greyhawk and my fetid brain. I’ll happily weave in components and variations of such things that the players come up with as long as they don’t violate the growing hopefully shared vision for the immediate world the players inhabit.

Is that all we get to know about?!

Yeah – I’m bushed and this writing malarkey takes brain energy (maybe a whole watt to write!). That’s a few broad strokes of the brush for you to give you some clues as to what we are up to – if you want more, well read the game session entries in the session journal category. You’ll get a game by game account of how our plots are unfolding. Any more specific questions – just chuck ’em my way. You know where the comment link is I’m presuming.

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A Bit of Light Figure Painting – You Scurvy Knave!

Some Words of Humble Apology

Foolishly I promised “uploads a-go-go” so to speak in a recent post on the topic of rolling up new player characters. That’s because I’ve been on leave from work and thought I’d do nothing but work on the game and the site, but of course that has been a silly, unrealistic thought. I have in fact done relatively little work on the game except for some more mostly ongoing scenario prep work on the game world.  This relates to the current scenario I am running for the playtest (an adapted Greyhawk Campaign scenario) so I won’t publish anything on this work until the relevant game sessions are complete.  So, sorry for the lack of content flood.  You can stand down that Ark. I will be running a campaign session for the playtesters  this very evening – so we will  at least find out how things are proceeding with our would-be heroes in the city of Lankhmar.

I have done some light figure painting today. It’s been a while since I’ve wielded a paint brush in anger. I’ve bought some recently from my favourite gaming emporium and RP club, Wargamers Heaven, along with a splendid Chessex Vinyl Table-top RP gaming mat (and that’s a switz-swoo bit of kit I can recommend to any DM). I’ve finally got round to daubing some paint on, so here’s a first effort at a return to figure painting. (Cue, drum roll). He is clearly a salty sea-dog  type from the quay side of the city of Lankhmar judging from his cutlass type sword and eye-patch.

Figure Painting and Roleplaying

You scurvy knave! Get off my lawn!

I’m probably not the best figure painter in the universe, but I do enjoy daubing my collection. This is just a stock NPC type for the city. I’ve used water-based acrylics for this little chappy. A little glue was used on the over-coat to act as varnish and give it a ‘wet’ texture which hasn’t come out too clearly in this highly squashed into a jpeg image. Well, you can just make out some of the sheen on the right shoulder. The grass around his feet is a little sprinkled parsley. I can recommend herbs like parsley as a good grass substitute. Dried tea bags produce leaves that are also good grass/dirt clumping substitutes for your figure bases.

Painting figures is a treat as a DM; for me anyhow. I also like to create, as you  may know from a prior post or two, gaming props like the olde phial of magic potion and dioramas. I am working on a gaming board for this current campaign – which will be a key location ‘modeled’ into a combat board. This is admittedly only in the conceptual stage so far as I have to make it fit into the series of scenarios/modules that are being run. It will be a centrepiece for the campaign at a later date.

I love using figures. It means you have to collect a lot to try and represent all the various beasties and opponents that your group will come across in gaming – but it’s worth it. Having some figures plonked down upon a floor-plan focuses the mind of the players and DM on the task at hand. It helps with the combat sequences and dispels arguments (and creates others). Mainly I find it helpful as a concentration focus. It puts gaming attention somewhere tangible, and is a place to redirect player’s attentions when they are wandering for whatever reason. Sometimes you need something concrete with your players (and yourself as DM) to ground everything, when you’ve had long bouts of description, dialogue and imaginative roleplay.

Some physical gaming objects (like props), floorplans, maps  etc are helpful to use when your descriptive powers or interactive powers are flagging and wearing thin. So, don’t neglect the possibilities afforded by drawing out a floorplan of where your party are, bunging some figures on the plan if there is some puzzle or logistical problem to work out to help focus everybody’s minds. It can help divert their attention whilst you work out, as a DM, what on earth to do next. Physical props or plans create a talking point that can give you space to think as a DM and marshall your forces so to speak. I typically have a prop in the wings just for this purpose. It’s also a fun activity creating these bits and pieces to wheel out in your game and as good as reason as any to get your crafty, creative side going to enhance your roleplay.

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