Category: House Rules

Thinking up a campaign for Gates of Antares

3_round_campaignGates of Antares is my sci-fi skirmish game of choice as of late. One particular aspect I enjoy about GoA is that it has embraces more narrative scenarios over just having your typical tourney smash em up. However, one thing the rules lack though is a set of campaign rules.

I’ve been thinking of some ideas to get a framework of rules together for campaigns. Digging around I fell in love with some stuff over on another wargaming blog, Steve’s Balagan. They worked up a branching campaign system which is concise, builds on previous battles, and doesn’t get mired down in a lot of rules. I love it. I still want to putter around with some ideas for dealing with casualties and resupply. I might dig into Star Army: 5150 for that, as they have some nifty rules for running a campaign game.

While I might consider working on some static campaign maps, I wanted to possibly consider using a random mission system for battles. There is some great stuff out there which looks nice. I may use the idea of a static defender and attacker to shake up the mission objectives some, but the rules I’ve looked at are pretty robust. I also enjoy that each side has some more hidden objectives to add to the flavor of a particular engagement. Certainly a bunch of great stuff out there to tinker with.

Terrene – a Savage Worlds fantasy setting

For a long time I had Expeditions of Amazing Adventure going which was a series of posts on some manner of a location or culture that could serve as a springboard for an adventure. Primarily my inspiration was a picture and I’d whip up some fantasy locale and occasionally throw in some adventure hooks. It was all very general and my original focus was for 4E D&D.

That series of posts grew and eventually I had a ton of posts. So much so I compiled them into their own section. But it sort of lingered in my brain to do something more with it. I rolled around the idea of maybe compiling them together in a campaign setting.

For my 4E game I ended up making my own setting thrown onto a map from Warhammer. Mixing in the points of light setting along with tweaks I made (using the map as fodder for names), I ended up with Terrene. For well over a year, it was home to my players for our 4E campaign.

I stopped playing 4E and drifted over to Savage Worlds, but the thought of revisiting Terrene was still there. So I looked over at my expeditions blog posts and decided to write them up as part of a generic fantasy setting for the world of Terrene. Adding a sparse bit of rules and some twists to the SW Fantasy Companion, I ended up with a pretty open setting with a few key points:

Few new rules and edges – There are a smattering of new things in the setting. I pretty much wanted to keep it a vanilla setting easily sticking with the SWD and Fantasy Companion books. I have a new race, a new humanoid monster type, and sprinkled in a default skill choice for all of the races.

Portal gates – One quick means of getting around would be through portal gates that allowed instantaneous transportation, but at the same time it is unreliable. Maybe players will land at their intended destination, or maybe not. I think this helps facilitate grand adventures. If the players want to take off to the frigid north or steaming jungles, they have the means to do so and not get mired down in spending weeks or months on the road.

However the travel comes at a cost. Maybe you’ll end up where you want and maybe you’ll end up stuck deep underground in the middle of some lost city. I dig that and it can make for some fun adventures. The portal gates open doors for adventure, not close them off.

No one major power – The Empire exists but there are lots of other kingdoms. The Empire is not necessarily a force of good either. Many leaders, nobles, and lords have selfish interests. This allows for players to be heroes in the world, or be able to serve as mercenaries to the highest bidder if they wish.

There is also some room to play off other powers, be in wars, or take part in espionage if players want. Competing regions means there’s some room for players to have some fun working for different kingdoms, or potentially carve out their own fiefdom.

Long history and fallen cultures – The Pomdarians that are somewhat of a mystery. They are this ancient race of lizard folk that had an immense empire and then overnight they disappeared. What happened to them? There was the entire continent of Alondarra that sank to the bottom of the ocean. What became of them? Over thousands of years many races reached epochs and declined, leaving a wake of ruins and treasure to be found. That makes for some interesting stuff to base adventures on.

So you can find Terrene and a basic map in the downloads section. Admittedly a lot of the the location names are awful. I hobbled myself originally sticking with some goofy alliteration for the expedition posts, but they are serviceable (and certain folks will be changing them). However I hope folks find some useful stuff here for their games.Willingham-Centaur


Dropping Swimming and Climbing skills (or how I learned to love Athletics)

TravellerArtCQuite a while back I talked about some of the fan made settings I liked. One was a great classic space opera ruleset called, Savage Space. There were some really cool ideas in that one, and I latched onto it and used Savage Space to port over to a some other conversions I whipped up.

Savage Worlds doesn’t get saddled down with a lot of different skills. However occasionally you get a few that sort of overlap, or mushroom into a ton of different options that just don’t really amount to much practical differentiation in actual play. The Investigation and Streetwise skill come to mind. Yes there is a difference in how the skills are applied and how they are supposed to work in specific situations. However I can see some players making an argument that either could be applicable to particular challenges.

One that certainly stood out to me was the swimming and climbing skills. A ways back I was working on a Traveller hack using Savage Worlds and ran into this skill problem with swimming and climbing. Traveller uses Athletics as a catch all skill for tests of physical activity. You were never penalized for not having it, and could always test against strength, dexterity, or endurance if needed. But a good way to show you had all round physical prowess were skill levels in Athletics.

While digging through Savage Space, I saw the writer picked up on the same vibe. Climbing and swimming were not skills in that setting. Instead a uniform skill called Athletics was used. I loved it. As RAW, if most characters wanted some decent representation of physical ability they would need to spend 4 points, both to raise swimming and climbing to d6. That is a chunk of points and nearly a third taken up for something that would likely be used in limited situations. There should be other (and better) options.

I’m running another sci-if game and certainly wanted to revisit this again. So I latched onto the idea of an athletics skill. A skill that could represent the overall physical ability of a character. The pickle was would I tie it to strength or agility? So I decided to use both. The skill below has sort of become my go-to skill to cover a lot of physical tests:

Athletics (Agility or Strength, see below)
Points used to raise this skill are either based on Agility or Strength, whichever die type is higher for the wild card. This skill replaces Climbing and Swimming from the Savage Worlds rule book. This skill is also applicable for tests of physical ability. It represents the overall fitness of the character and how well they might complete some physical tasks. If a character was a professional athlete they would likely have at least a d8 for this skill.

Sci-fi starship combat variant for Savage Worlds

TravellerDOne thing I latched onto planning out my sci-fi campaign game was using ships as characters. I tinkered a lot with the sci-fi companion rules and they still floundered some with me. I just couldn’t really see making starships a larger part of the game and making it work. If I approached making them characters I could make combat and other aspects of travel more engaging, even if it was being abstract over the traditional vehicle rules.

So I really dug the idea of using ships as characters and I scooped up Savage Space, a fan made space opera conversion. Although the spaceship combat rules were pretty solid, I didn’t quite want to go the route of a battle mat and miniature ships along with using actual ranges to work out combat. I liked the idea instead of using the chase rules from SWD. There were some additional tweaks I wanted to implement however.

Turrets vs Fixed Weapons – I altered the costs some of weapons and kept the idea of fixed arc weapons hitting harder, but were cheaper than turret weapons. Unlike the RAW (Rules As Written) chase rules, I’m allowing ships to return fire against other target craft. Yet they would be limited to turret weapons if the ship didn’t have advantage.

Speed matters – Ships announce their intended speed and it has an influence on ship initiative if substantially higher than the opposition. Some ship weapon systems like torpedoes would require a slower speed to lock in and would be subjected to snap-fire penalties otherwise.

Combat is chaotic – I liked the idea of drawing clubs introducing some type of complication with some ship systems possibly going offline. This allows the repair skills having some other purpose than out of combat checks for ‘healing’ ships. It could be mitigated some with drawing a lot of cards which ties into….

Piloting skill is important – The piloting skill matters. Aside from drawing cards for initiative, the higher the roll, the more cards that can be drawn, and the better chance a different card can be chosen if a club is drawn. Also there is a small change I have with the RAW chase rules, all ships draw 2 cards. If they fail their piloting check, they have to play the lowest card. So piloting has a lot of bearing in ship combat.

Inherent ship agility matters – Another small change I wanted was to have the agility of the ship have some function. I decided to make a basic check using the agility of the ship. Slow, lumbering craft with a low agility would be more difficult to gain advantage during a round compared to more nimble starships. So if failed, there would be a penalty to the Piloting check for that round.

Below are some more details on the ship combat rules I worked up. Another notable aspect is using a damage table for wounds received, but it’s covered pretty well in Savage Space. I also tweaked the range tables some from the rule book to allow for more attacks at medium range (and also allowing for lower range modifiers). Below are some high points of starship combat. Hope folks get some use of of this for their games.TravellerArtE

Starship Combat

Starship combat is a variant of the chase rules. Combats will typically be 5 rounds. At the end of the 5th round, and each round afterwards, the GM rolls a die. On an odd result the combat ends with either a ship slipping away, or the pursuing craft breaks off. On an even result the combat will continue at the GM’s discretion (ex. 3 fighters are pursuing a player ship. One fighter is destroyed and another is heavily damaged during the pursuit. A 6th round of combat should happen but the GM decides to break off the fighter attack, deeming the attackers have taken too many losses to likely keep up the pursuit).

For each round of combat initiative is determined by drawing various cards. Follow the sequence below to determine initiative order.

  1. Declare and record speed (For an ambushed ship current speed is equal to its acceleration).
  2. Each ship is dealt 2 cards.
  3. Determine Ship Agility Modifiers. Players make a trait test using the ship’s ability value. This can be modified due to ship wounds (or other applicable modifiers). On a failure the Ship Agility Modifier for this round is -1, on a success the modifier is +1.
  4. Players make a Piloting check applying any modifiers for wounds, shaken ship, etc. including the Ship Agility Modifier determined in the previous step. On a failure the ship must take the lowest of the 2 cards. On a success, the ship may take the highest. For each raise another card is taken and the ship may take the highest. Note that on a success, players may opt to take a lower card (especially if the higher card is a club).
  5. All ships act in initiative order. Ships which have a higher card compared to other ships are deemed to have the advantage for this round against those ships. If the selected initiative card is a club, some manner of complication happens to the ship during the round.

Additional Initiative Check Modifiers (All of these modifiers are cumulative to the Piloting trait check):

Speed – Apply a +2 modifier if the ship’s current speed is higher than the fastest opponent. This becomes a +4 if their speed is twice as fast.

Climb – If their climb is higher than their opponent, this confers a +2 bonus but only while in an atmosphere.

Terrain – Some conditions may incur a -2 penalty (like flying through a debris or asteroid field).

If the ship has advantage (their initiative is higher than an opponent), the may fire all weapons to bear on the target ship. Ships without advantage can fire on their attackers but only with non-fixed weapons and have a -2 penalty to Shooting in addition to any other penalties. The number on their initiative card indicates the range and any penalties due to distance are in parenthesis (see the Range Table).

Snapfire Penalty – Some weapon systems have the snapfire characteristic. If the ship’s current speed is equal to its acceleration, or the target is at short range, there is no penalty to fire. Otherwise the craft suffers a -2 penalty to Shooting.

Range Table

Card Range
2 Out of range, enemy is blocked, etc. No attack can be made this round.
3-7 Long Range (-4)
8-Jack Medium Range (-2)
Queen-Joker Short range (no penalty)

Damage Table

2d6 roll Wound Effect
2 Maimed Ship – Ship suffers severe scars and damage affecting its appearance.
3-4 Random Sub-system Offline
5-9 Internal Damage – A vital system inside the ship is damaged and needs repair.
10 Engine Damage – The engine’s FTL drive goes offline or its agility is reduced by one die type.
11-12 Cockpit Damage – Scanners, the ship AI, or some other sub-system goes offline.

Complications Table

2d6 Effect
2 Disaster: Piloting check at -4. If failed a major system fails at GM’s discretion such as the engine going offline, life support failure, hull breach, etc.
3-7 Major Complication: Ship Vigor check at -4. If failed ship has a system offline/component failure*.
8-Q Complication: Ship Vigor check at -2. If failed ship has system offline/component failure*.
A Distraction: The crew has their hands full. If attacking, a -2 penalty for Shooting this round.

* These complications are typically at the GM’s discretion. Alternately, cards can be drawn for various ship equipment and if a club is drawn the listed complication for that piece of equipment may occur.

Extreme ranges for Bolt Action

A long while back I introduced some house rules for Bolt Action that I use for my games. Just some tweaks to a few odd things I find a little quirky with the rules. One thing that I’ve stewed a bit on however are the ranges. I understand why they are so truncated. For a wargame to be played on the dinner table and trying to encourage maneuvering with squads, you can’t have ranges covering the entire play area.

Now a lot of gamers have a beef with this and cite it as a huge flaw with Bolt Action. I’d totally agree for some weapons it throws all simulation out the window playing the rules as written, especially with tank guns that were actually reaching ranges of a kilometer or more. So a lot of folks lean towards other systems where ranges are longer distances or simply cover the entire table. However for infantry weapons there are a few documents which claim field manual distances were fairly exaggerated. Actual combat engagements were much closer, having rifle fire up to ranges of 300 yards, with truly accurate and effective fire being at only at 100 yards. With short distances like those, 24″ rifle ranges might not be too far off from what was actually seen on the WW2 battlefield.

There was one thing that stuck out for me when reading Battlegroup (another great set of WW2 miniature rules). That was the idea of fire at extreme ranges which could only be used for suppression. Battlegroup has effective ranges for all weapons that can inflict casualties or damage armor. However there is no max range and players can freely fire at anything on the table top that they can see. However these long ranges are limited to area fire only. It’s hard to land a hit and if you do, you only get to put a pin marker on your target. It is for suppression only and you need a ton of firepower but it’s an option.

This is certainly something I could use for my Bolt Action games. A fire mode that was difficult to achieve hits beyond maximum range and would only result in pins. I still wanted to cap out ranges though, but stuck at simply doubling listed ranges. Even for armor this could be used, but like rifle fire, could only potentially pin a target. So I decided to incorporate this into my own house rules. You can find a detailed explanation of the rule below.PaK40_BGKursk

Extreme Range – On a fire order, all weapons can fire at targets up to twice their listed range. Weapon fire at this extreme range only hit on 6s on 6s as per Nigh Impossible Shots (pg 37). All hits do not inflict casualties or vehicle damage, regardless of their penetration value. The target will only suffer one pin instead if hit (suppression does not apply). Armored vehicles, whether they are open topped or not, ignore all small arms fire at extreme range. Vehicles hit from weapons of +1 pen or greater suffer a pin as per the Tank War vehicle rules (veterans ignore hits if the weapon cannot penetrate their armor, inexperienced units gain a pin, etc.). Note that weapons which can cause more than one pin such as HE weapons still only inflict 1 pin at extreme range. Flamethrowers and indirect fire weapons firing smoke cannot use this rule.

Savage Worlds Career edge

I’ve been hammering away at a sci-fi Savage Worlds setting. A long while back I dabbled in a Traveller hack for SW but wanted to embrace the new Science Fiction Companion more. One thing I like about Traveller though was that character generation was sort of a mini-game. You chose to follow along different careers and rolled on tables to see if what skills you picked up. Sometimes something fortunate happened and other times there were these complications (or complete disasters for the player). However a lot of times it resulted in a character that was more fleshed out and a past history.

One particular hang up for starting a new campaign is getting all the players to on the same page with setting ‘world’. They might have different ideas on what are likely important skills, or worse, sort of overwhelmed with choices. On that front, having lots of archetypes available is helpful. My beef is that archetypes can be a little rigid or maybe too optimized. I wanted to offer some guidance in skills to pick up, but not push them into having particular edges or ability ranks like archetypes have.

Lastly as a sci-fi setting goes, you are going to have a slew of knowledge skills to pick up and can be a little overwhelming for character generation. I’ll freely admit I jumped into throwing in some more edges too which ramps up the complexity of the system some. But for some things I wanted to reward player investment into a background theme, rather than everyone able to be just as effective as that player wanting to specialize.

So I scooped up an idea from Traveller and created a Career edge. This would be an edge that could be chosen once at character creation. It’d allow them to pick up a chunk of basic skills and then possibly choose a few more skills and edges. Lastly, having a list of skills associated with a profession might offer the player some guidance on what other skills to invest in. The gist of this would be a list of 6 skills that players get choosing the edge. Along with these service skills they would choose one specialty branch in that profession allowing them to get a few more skills from its list. The catch is not only do players use an edge, but they also spend 5 skill points from the their total skill pool. Below is an example Marine career skill list:

Interstellar Marines: You received basic military training for the Interstellar Marines, responsible for operations related to assaults on ships and planetary invasions.
Service Skills: Athletics, Edge (Vacc Suit), Knowledge Skill(Military Science), Fighting, Shooting, Stealth

Support: You served as a quartermaster, engineer, or battlefield medic in the Marines.
Specialist Skills: Knowledge Skill(Ship Ops), Repair, Driving, Piloting, Healing, Shooting(Gunnery), Knowledge Skill(Demolitions)

Space Marines: You were trained to fight boarding actions and capture enemy vessels.
Specialist Skills: Edge (Power Armor), Edge (Gravitic Acclimation), Shooting(Gunnery), Fighting, Knowledge Skill(Ship Ops), Shooting

Ground Assault: You specialized in planetary warfare, especially invasions and drop ship operations.
Specialist Skills: Edge (Power Armor), Shooting(Gunnery), Fighting, Knowledge Skill(Military Science), Shooting, Survival

Note that you don’t need all of these specialist skills. I’d still consider getting a list of 4-6 to offer players some choices. For the initial service skills though, you certainly want 5 or 6 skills, as players will be spending 5 skill points when they pick up the edge. They will still have at least 10 skill points to further choose skills. This might sound a lot but for a setting heavy on different knowledge skill choices, they will quickly burn through their points.

This can be very modular for different settings. It’s also likely an easier process than making up archetypes as you just have to think up skills and some edges that would likely apply to a profession or career. Say you were running a Victorian steampunk game and wanted to whip up a career edge list for someone that served in the imperial navy. A basic list of skills would likely include boating, some combat skills, along with some knowledge skills. If they were an officer you’d have some specialty skills and edges related to command. However you might also consider a Connections edge (throughout their career they might strike up a friendship with a nobility or a high ranking admiral).

If they were more a specialist in the imperial navy, maybe they were a medic, cook, or became familiar with the workings of steam engines. You don’t need to make every specialist path a huge list of skills, but could lump them into one list (like the example above for the Interstellar Marines). If you were just a deck crew hand, you’d likely have a lot of overlap with the service skills, but may also pick up some other skills related to a sailor’s life on an imperial steamship. Maybe you might have picked up gambling or streetwise aside from honing your fighting skills.

Once you start making up these lists, you find out how flexible they work and a lot easier than working up archetypes. One note however is that this edge allows players to pick up a ton of skills on the cheap. This tends to work better in settings where there are more skill options to dilute out their pool of skill points.

Another downside is that some double checking may be needed after character creation, especially with certain edge requirements. You might have that occasional player which picks up an edge but doesn’t have a high enough ability score (or training in a specific skill) according to the rules. So when making up these lists a GM has to watch out for those inconsistencies and be prepared to reign in a few edge choices when players are done. It’s a point I will concede to properly built archetypes, as they wouldn’t have this issue. Below is a summary of the Edge (Career).TravellerArtE

Career Edge:
This is a special professional edge that is available to characters during creation. This edge represents basic training and skills obtained during a career in one professional field after three to four years of service. This edge can be only taken once. Additionally, this edge will also immediately spend 5 skill points from the player’s total. The player must buy skills using this edge first, before spending any other skill points during character creation. After deciding what skills are obtained from the Career edge, players can spend their remaining skill points normally. Note that any edges obtained from the Career edge still are subject to trait requirements after all skill/attribute points are spent (i.e. a player must still have a Vigor of d6 to obtain the Attractive edge at the end of character creation).

To use the Career edge, the player will choose one career profession. They immediately spend 5 points from their skill point total. They then obtain all the skills and edges for service training in that career. In addition, they also gain skills and edges from specialist training. Players choose one specialty field for that career and gain more edges or skills in one of two ways:

A. Gain 2 different skills/edges from the chosen specialist training list. Chosen skills may be similar to ones gained in service training. If so they increase the trait by one die type (but restrictions for linked ability scores apply).

B. They gain one skill from the chosen specialist training list and can raise this beyond its linked ability score. If the skill is new they gain it at d6. If the skill is the same as one obtained from service training, it can be raised 2 die types (to a d8). Note this is regardless of the skill’s linked ability.

[EX: Fred has a poor Agility of d4 but is strong as an ox. He opts to enter the Marines and takes the Career edge. He gains all the skills and edges from the Marine service training list. He then chooses the Ground Assault specialist training and decides to pick Fighting and raise it (Option B). As he currently has Fighting d4 from service training, he can raise it two die types up to a d8. The increased cost in skill points due to having a d4 Agility does not apply. If it was not a skill on the service training list, he could have it at d6 (regardless of the linked ability score).

EX: Bob also decides to tank his Agility at d4 to buff up his Vigor instead. He enters the Marines and becomes a Ground Assault specialist. He wants to use option A and pick up two skills/edges, eager to gain both Knowledge (Military Science) and Shooting. Unfortunately, he already has Shooting d4 due to service training. As it is an Agility linked skill (at d4), he cannot gain raise this skill to d6 through specialist training for the Career edge. Instead he can take Knowledge (Military Science) and some other skill or edge. If he chose to just focus on Shooting similar to Fred and used option B, then he could have a d8 in Shooting (but only obtain that one skill).

EX: Susan also decides to join the Marines but enters the service having a d6 in all ability scores. She also decides to become a Ground Assault specialist. Susan decides to put a point in both Shooting and Fighting for her specialist training. She had already obtained these skills through service training and currently has them at a d4 each. Since her Agility is d6, she can raise both of these skills up to d6 through specialist training.]

Savage Worlds sci-fi gear: Ablat armor

I’m busy getting things together for my sci-fi Savage Worlds campaign. So I’ve been tinkering with a lot of stuff. One thing that stood out for me was armor for energy weapons. There aren’t a lot of options in the companion book aside from reflective armor. I like the idea of reflective armor and that if can be worn over other types. I especially like how it’s rather frail and can deteriorate due to damage. But I wanted another option.

I can’t envision a universe where weapon systems would migrate to one standard type, as it’d be too easy to offer cheaper defensive systems. That’s one thing I love about the gear in Savage Worlds. Body armor is great for stopping bullets, but worthless against lasers. Conversely reflective armor can disperse laser weapons, but can’t stop a bullet. If you wanted absolute protection, you can combine the two wearing one over the other. The other route is one I don’t want to go which involves power armor (as that diverges into heavy armor only being damaged by heavy weapons).

This is serviceable, but I wanted to give my players more options. Digging out old books of Traveller you’ll find Ablat armor. This was cheap, easily replaceable armor that would disperse energy weapon damage and vaporize when hit by lasers (ablation of the protective material). So it’d offer some protection but get worn out when hit by energy weapons.

I liked the idea of being able to combine ablat armor with regular body armor. You could buy a cheap suit to go over (or under) the ballistic armor. However another option would be to incorporate ablat material onto the the body armor itself. This could be thin ceramic tiles or strips, or maybe a layer of material sprayed over the armor. It wouldn’t last though. Each combat would likely chip away at its effectiveness until the ablat armor had to be replaced. So with that I worked up the following:

Ablat Armor: +4 toughness vs energy damage, negates 2 AP from energy weapons, but offers no protection against ballistic or melee damage. Cost: $500

Ablat armor is thin strips (or small hexagon tiles) of dark, ceramic material that diffuses energy. It is prone to damage easily from ballistic or physical attacks, and portions vaporize with each hit from energy weapons. For every wound that a player receives, reduce the armor value by 2 permanently. Additionally the first time a player is hit in a combat, resolve the damage normally. If no wound is scored roll a die. On an even result, 2 points of armor are permanently removed, just like as if a wound was taken.

Ablat armor cannot be repaired. It can be worn over (or under) traditional armor types but is rather bulky. Ablat armor is usually combined with non-reflective armor as outer coat of energy protection. Usually it is attached in thin strips/hexagon pieces to the surface of existing armor, or sprayed on in a thick coat of ceramic particles with an adhesive compound. This process takes about 2-4 hours and can be done only on planets of average technology or higher. Partial repairs are not possible with ablat, instead an entirely new layer would have to be added. Ablat also does not alter how noticeable the target is except in some odd cases at the GM’s discretion (like an arctic world where the dark, ablat plating might stand out).
Certainly having ablat armor is something my players will dabble in. I’m also certain they’ll agonize some over the constant drain of cash reapplying damaged armor. However it’ll give them some options and potentially ease that urge to pick up combat power armor as soon as possible. Hope folks get some use out of this for their games.

Tweaking Frostgrave campaign rules

FrostgraveI’m on a bit of a Frostgrave kick as of late and it should be no surprise as I’m a fan of the game. One big draw is the campaign system and it really has that Mordheim feel of progression. You slowly accrue power and wealth, tricking out your wizard and warband. It’s fun.

But I think there are a few stumbling blocks with Frostgrave’s campaign game. The first is the focus on wiping out the enemy. Sure you can scramble to try and take off treasure, but you get more experience for your wizard personally wiping out enemy troops. Plus if you kill every soldier to the man, you get all the unclaimed treasure. Lastly, there is no turn limit. So you can take your damn sweet time hunting down the enemy rather than trying to scoop and scoot all the treasure in the field.

The other issue is the snowball effect with winning. You get to do a lot out of game. Open recruitment, buying any desired magical items, upgrading your base as you like, it all allows players to do so much which is great. But if you are slipping behind in gold and XP, you start trailing. Sure a few games it’s okay to lose some. But eventually if you’ve gotten the snot beat out of you for a few games, you aren’t ever going to catch up.

I’m certain other folks have noticed this. In fact a few people whipped up their own tweaks to the campaign system. Much of what has been circulated around is great stuff but sadly have gone the way of lost files and broken links. So I went ahead and compiled some changes I liked and added my own.

One big change was the experience system. Too much emphasis was on wiping out the other player. That’s been removed and instead casting XP for any in-game spell has been increased. I didn’t want to completely remove the impetus for killing troops though. You end up getting experience from your warband survivors. So while you no longer get experience for killing enemies, you can certainly curtail the XP your opponent gains after the battle putting their soldiers to the sword (on making them a smoldering pile of ashes).

The other big change was awarding treasure XP. Having limited game turns and XP only guaranteed for yourself by taking treasure off the table, now it’s more of an objective-driven game. Standing treasure on the board now awards XP to both players, so if wanting a bigger share of the booty you’ve got to haul that gold off the board.

Another small tweak was the loss of wizards. Now they can’t be permanently killed. They can be bloodied and saddled with permanent injuries, but they’ll always manage to crawl back to camp. With the game being so centered around your wizard, the option of them being wiped out due to some bad die rolls left a bad taste. Having a chance to let them redeem themselves just fits better.

Lastly, the out of game actions are better structured and curtailed some. Buying magical goods is no longer a free shopping experience and the stocks are limited. Even more so, you are limited to choosing a few actions out of game. This makes the whole campaign experience a little more strategic.

Much of these changes are from the community in general but I’ve added my own bits as well. You can find a complete document in the downloads section. Hope folks find some use from them for your games.

A wound system for Frostgrave

I like Frostgrave. There are some rough spots but as a fun skirmish game with a fantasy twist, it gets a lot more right than wrong. One really hangup for me though was the damage system. I just really hated the idea of recording actual health points.

For Wizards and Apprentices, I totally get it. You need that gradation of health point pools. There is so much that revolves around it and the entire system of casting spells requires you ticking off those individual points. If you try to break it up using tokens or markers, it just takes too much away from the game.

But for soldiers and followers, well they are meant to be cannon fodder. I just didn’t get the idea why some other method couldn’t be used to record damage. I feel I’m just too used to other systems that have easier record keeping. So I decided to work on something similar for Frostgrave.

I’ll freely admit this makes the game especially deadly. Most grunt soldiers are usually going to be dropping in 2 hits. Also, you’ll be losing some granularity with damage due to using wound tokens instead of health points. Folks might want to consider just using it for creatures instead, but I find the easier tracking of health totals worth it.
So here are a few things I adopted for my games. Spellcasters (Wizard and Apprentice) suffer damage and gain healing unchanged from the rule book. But for followers and creatures, they no longer have point totals for health. Instead damage is tracked by wounds and possibly marred conditions. The pool of wounds that soldiers and creatures have is their health total divided by 4, rounded down. So a Thug with 10 health points would have a wound pool total of 2 (10/4 and rounding down).

You determine damage normally from combat or casting spells. But for for every 4 points a model suffers in damage, they take a wound removing it from their health pool. For every fraction of 4 (i.e. 1-3 points damage), they receive a marred condition. If a model has 2 marred conditions, those conditions are removed and a wound is immediately taken from their pool of wounds instead. Note that healing works the same for spellcasters, but for soldiers they only restore one wound of damage.

As an example, a thug is hit for 5 damage. One wound would be removed from its pool and it gains a marred condition. On the next turn, the thug is hit again for only 2 damage, giving it another marred condition. As this is the 2nd marred condition it has, it immediately takes a wound, removing the marred condition markers. Further, since the thug has a health pool of 2 wounds, its health has dropped to zero and is removed from the game.

I also introduced a handful of characteristics for soldiers and some creatures. The idea was to cover the bases with creatures that have less than 4 points of health and also add some variety with soldiers that straddle the line of between health totals in increments of four. A more detailed list of these rules can be found in the downloads section. I think they work pretty well and allow for a little easier bookkeeping during the game, but still captures the flavor of Frostgrave combat.

Tinkering with Call of Cthulhu: The Auction – Part 1

The Auction is a classic adventure for Call of Cthulhu taken out of the 1983 collection, The Asylum and other Tales. I dearly fell in love with the idea of the scenario and used it for my own Cthulhu Savage Worlds game. For folks not familiar with the scenario, players participate in an auction set in Vienna during the 30s for several rumored occult items. After the auction well…let’s just say things go a little pear-shaped.

It’s a great adventure full of intriguing theme and certainly one of the better scenario setups. For new fans of CoC, it’s one I highly recommend pleading with your keeper to take a peek at and consider running it themselves. I’ll leave it at that with the details. If you’ve got interest in playing it, go shoo and let the rest of this grumbling be for just the keepers and GMs. Spoilers ahead.

laroche cthulhu idol
As I mentioned I’m a fan of the Auction. It works well as something to fold into an existing campaign or for a one shot. It’s not perfect however and seems there are some glaring hitches with the the adventure. One is the auction itself and the other is somewhat the greater mystery that presents later, of which seems to causes problems when running it. I’ve opted to break this up over into a couple of posts talking about how I handled it for my players and the changes made to make it a more engaging adventure.

The first issue I’ve got is the auction itself. For a continuing campaign, this is likely a decent adventure hook. It’s something to allow players to establish contacts in Europe and a means to pick up a few occult items. However I’d put money on most people playing the Auction as something of a one shot session. Most folks aren’t going to have an ongoing Cthulhu campaign.

There is a different draw to getting investigators to participate, and that as being cooperative bidders for a third party. For my game this is the route I took and felt it made a stronger hook. Players are asked to utilize their occult expertise to ascertain the authenticity of certain items and cunningly bid on lesser trinkets to drain the resources of other bidders. All in hopes that the group can eventually scoop up some items their patron is keen on obtaining. I loved this idea and recognized it could be a sort of mini-game within the game.

As written the Auction sounds enticing. The players themselves will likely be excited to participate in it. Who wouldn’t enjoy an evening soiree culminating in an auction for supernatural items? The problem is once you actually start running an auction, it gets old fast. If you dig around, there are some live play podcasts that painfully demonstrate this. There’s a lot of excitement for the first few items, but then PCs realize how repetitive the entire thing is. You can hear one player in a live play recording illustrate this tedium as they quipped something along the lines of, ‘Are we going to go through the bidding for all the items?’

What cements playing the auction out as a useless exercise is the twist in the middle of the event. There is a murder and the entire auction is halted. Half the items players likely have researched and pondered over won’t even be bid on. I loved the concept, but actually playing out an auction just seemed to mess with the pacing. It had some merit but a faster resolution was needed and players had to have a stake in all the auction lots, just not the ones they were interested in.

Firstly, I had their patron tell the PCs he was interested in about 6 different items from the auction list. He forwarded them a line of credit including a lengthy legal agreement. They would return all the funds placed in their accounts that were unspent and hand over any items successfully bid. I didn’t use actual numbers for cash though. Instead I gave every player 3 credit markers. These represented funds that would be used for the auction. NPCs had 3-4 markers themselves. If anyone was out of markers, they were out of the auction.

PCs got a list of wanted items from their patron. To sweeten the pot some, if a player got an item and had 2 credit markers remaining at the end of the night, they’d get a cash bonus. In game terms, I offered players a bennie if they won a bid for an item desired by their patron regardless of cash spent obtaining it. Thier objective was to try and gain as many items on the list, while carefully bidding on unwanted items to run through the NPC’s cash. If they blew all their cash and got items not wanted on the list, they were stuck with a bill and/or having an NPC they owed a big favor to.

Each auction bid round required players and NPCs to make trait test based on either persuasion or intimidation as primary checks. Secondary trait checks could be made with a -1 penalty for notice or smarts. I felt a -2 penalty for being unskilled would not apply and smarts could always be used. Intimidation and persuasion might be considered an odd choice, however they seemed good candidates in either goading NPCs to bid, or putting up such a strong front they could stare down competitive bidders. Gambling could also likely be a decent choice for a secondary skill.

Roughly half of the NPCs would be wild cards. Before each auction item, I randomly determined which NPCs would be actively bidding. At least half of the NPCs (rounding down) would bid on an item if they had 3 or more credit markers. If all NPCs had 2 or less credit markers, at least one NPC with some credit remaining would always bid, and this lone bidding NPC should be a wild card if possible.

Now winning or losing an item depended on what was being bid for. Players had to have at least 2 credit markers to bid on an item. NPCs needed at least 3, but would bid if they had less depending if any other NPCs weren’t bidding (as mentioned above).

For lots that the patron wanted, the PC or NPC that got got the highest check on their trait test won the item, and would spend their 2 credit markers. If a player or NPC aced their trait test they could take back one credit marker (multiple aces have no effect i.e. at least 1 credit marker was lost if they won a bid). Note that these were not trait challenge rolls or tests of will. Each player/NPC made the appropriate check and the highest roll won.

For auction items the patron didn’t want, the player/NPC with the lowest trait roll would ‘win’ the unwanted item paying 2 credit markers. For each ace that PCs or NPCs rolled beating the lowest trait score, that player/NPC put in an extra marker up to a maximum of 4 (or 3 if they were an PC). So not only had the others gotten the player/NPC to be the highest bidder for the unwanted the item but they had severely overbid for it.

In the case of a tie, players can put in an additional marker to automatically win over NPCs (or other players). If both players put in a marker, they make another check and keep rolling until one player wins. Players didn’t get this extra spent credit marker back if they won the bid, even with an ace.

This set up for a mini game. At the start there were several NPCs bidding for items. If players rolled well for unwanted items, they would slowly decrease the number of NPCs attempting to bid for future rounds. PCs also wanted to try and roll as high as possible for the patron lot items. If they got lucky and aced their rolls, they might win a bid and not spend as much cash. Plus there was always a bonus of getting a bennie if they won the item.

This worked great. It resolved fast. It kept everyone trying to roll high regardless if it was an item their patron wanted or not. Players wanted to gain items as it gave them bennies. They also were engaged and active in just about all the auction lot bids. I scrambled the lot list order some and made sure only half of the 16 items were bid on so only 8 items were bid for. Yet this moved pretty quickly and allowed me to get onto the second part, the murder mystery.