Saturday, July 28, 2012

Servants of Gaius: Monsters and Foes

Last month we asked fans to send in campaign materials to post on the blog. These can include monsters, historical articles, NPCs, settlements, etc. Here is our first entry, from Ben Pew. It is a collection of monsters and foes for use in any Servants of Gaius adventure.
Acteon (stag-man) (monster)
Hardiness 4 Stealth 6 Evade 4 Parry 5 Wits 6 Resolve 6
Medium Melee 2d Small Ranged 1d Speed 2d (Initiative 3d) Muscle 2d
Gear: Club, Leather, Javelins or shortbow

The acteon is a man with the head of a stag and with hooves for legs. They are thought to be hunters cursed, or perhaps favored, by Diana. They guard her favorite sites and are very rarely seen away from them.

Anubite (monster)
Hardiness 3 Stealth 5 Evade 6 Parry 4 Wits 7 Resolve 6
Claws 2d Medium Melee 2d Large Melee 1d (Hasta 2d) Small Ranged 1d Detect 2d Speed 2d Muscle 1d
Claws damage +1d
Gear: leather, spear, claws

Anubites are jackals with the shape of men who at one time guarded sites sacred to the Egyptian gods (though now many live in tribes in the desert). While they are fiercely territorial they can be negotiated with. Some may have ranks in Sorcery, Divination or Ritual instead of combat skills.
Basilisk (monstrous beast)
Hardiness 6 Stealth 5 Evade 5 Parry 3 Wits 4 Resolve 6
Bite 2d Claws 2d Speed 3d Muscle 2d Detect 3d Deception 1d (Camouflage 2d)
Special: Gaze: when a basilisk makes a gaze attack it rolls 3d against the target’s Resolve score to turn the target to stone. There is no known cure but the gaze may be turned back on the basilisk with a mirror.
Damage: Beak and claws +1d10
Dolphin (beast)
Hardiness 6 Stealth 4 Evade 5 Parry 3 Wits 5 Resolve 6
Tail 2d Speed 3d Muscle 2d Endurance 3d Detect 1d Empathy 1d Swim 3d

Dolphins have long been considered friendly by sailors throughout Mare Nostrum for generations. They would often help sailors in danger and were often playful. However, of late Roman sailors report them becoming aggressive and hostile; this is thought to be Neptune’s doing.
Griffin (monstrous beast)
Hardiness 6 Stealth 3 Evade 5 Parry 4 Wits 4 Resolve 8
Claws 3d Beak 2d Detect 1d (Quick 2d) Fly 2d Muscle 2d
4 wounds
Fly speed 40 feet,
Damage: claws +1d Beak +2d
Harpy (monstrous beast)
Hardiness 4 Stealth 3 Evade 6 Parry 4 Wits 4 Resolve 7
Wrestle 2d Detect 1d Fly 2d Speed 1d (Initiative 2d) Muscle 1d
Fly speed equal to humans’ move speed.
Harpies are bestial women who have wings. They live in packs on remote locations, usually islands or coastlines with good fishing, and are very territorial. Rumors of some humans training individuals or small (1d10+2) packs have begun to circulate.
Sea Serpent (beast)
Hardiness 7 Stealth 5 Evade 3 Parry 3 Wits 3 Resolve 7
Bite 2d Tail 1d Muscle 4d Speed 2d Swim 2d
Wounds 4
Damage: Tail +1d, Bite +1d
Sea serpents are long sea-dwelling snakes of elephant size. They are usually threats to ships when hunting, or under the command of Neptune.
Hardiness 5 Stealth 3 Evade 3 Parry 4 Wits 8 Resolve 7
Claws 2d Divination 2d Ritual 2d Sorcery 1d Talent: Riddles 3d (Perform +1d) Rhetoric 2d Deception 1d Empathy 1d Reasoning 2d History 1d Places 2d Speed 2d Muscle 2d
Damage: Claws +1d
Sphinxes are guardians who begin by presenting their foes with riddles. If the riddle is solved, the sphinx will allow passage, or grant some bit of knowledge (for a sphinx may be guarding knowledge instead of a place) if that is requested. If the riddle is not solved the sphinx will attack, though on a Total Success of a Rhetoric or Deception, the sphinx can be persuaded to cease. Command will not work, and regardless of success levels will simply enrage the monster.
Hardiness 4 Stealth 5 Evade 5 Parry 3 Wits 4 Resolve 6
Bite 1d Claws 1d Speed 3 (Initiative +1d) Muscle 2d Detect 3d
Wounds 2
Damage: Claws +1d, bite +2d
Special: pack tactics: if 2 or more wolves attack the same target they receive +1d to their attack roll OR +1 to their Evade or Parry.
Wolves are pack hunters renowned for their ferocity and feared for their tenacity. While they are a common threat to settlers on the frontier they are used in games in the interior; indeed, bear vs. wolf fights are quite common.
Barbarian: German Warrior
Hardiness 6 Stealth 3 Evade 3 Parry 5 Wits 6 Resolve 7
Light Melee 1d Medium Melee 2d (Shortsword OR Axe +1d) Heavy Melee 1d Small Ranged 1d Muscle 3d Detect 1d Speed 1d German 3d Latin 1d
Gear: Shortsword or axe, small or medium shield
Germans are savage barbarians from Germania. They live in tribes and are renowned for being uncivilized and cowards. For some strange reason they occasionally let women become warriors, and do hold women in high regard.
Barbarian: German Noble
Hardiness 7* Stealth 3 Evade 4 Parry 5 Wits 6 Resolve 8
Skills are as German Warrior but add Command 1d, Ride 1d and increase Latin to 2d.
Gear: Longsword, Medium Shield, Ring Mail (factored in to Hardiness), Helmet
Chiefs are leaders of German society, though they are more advisors than leaders. They are the wealthier class of Germans though, as reflected in their equipment.
Barbarian: Celt Warrior
Hardiness 5 Stealth 4 Evade 3 Parry 5 Wits 6 Resolve 7
Wrestle 1d Light Melee 1d Medium Melee 1 Heavy Melee 2d Small Ranged 1d Muscle 2d Detect 2d Ride Horse 1d Language: Celt 3d, Latin 1d
Gear: Spatha, Pugio, Medium Shield, Helmet
Celts are the natives of Gaul and Britain. While the tribes in Gaul have been civilized for a century, most are only Latin-rights citizens. Most Gauls can be treated as ordinary Romans, and the above stats may be used for Auxiliary cavalry with the addition of a Hasta, Ringmail and a horse. The stats may also be used for British Celts, who are much more savage than their Gallic brethren—though still more civilized than Germans.
Celt Chief
As Warrior but Wits 7, Command 1d, Ride 2d and Latin 2d
Gear: Add Ringmail, Helmet and either a horse or a chariot and driver.
Celt Chiefs are leaders among Celt society. Among Gallic tribes, they are more likely to be full Roman citizens, and have given up their weapons and chariotry. British chiefs were friendly to Rome after Caesar invaded them, but have grown more hostile of late as their Druids have thrown in with Neptune. Eventually Rome will need to deal with Britain…

Hardiness 4 Stealth 4 Evade 4 Wits 8 Resolve 7
Wrestle 1d Light Melee 2d Medium 1d Medicine 2d Rhetoric 1d Deception 2d Reasoning 1d Detect 1d Speed 1d Muscle 1d Ride 1d History 1d Philosophy 1d Places 1d Religion 2d; 3d in one of Divination, Ritual or Sorcery, 2d in both others
Gear: Pugio, robes, ritual materials
Druids are Celtic priests-cum-magicians. While Gallic Druids practice a more subdued, acceptable form of the religion, British ones still cling to the old ways or blood sacrifice and are devoted to the downfall of Rome. Many have thrown in with the Minions of Neptune and have sent emissaries to their Gallic brethren to try to convert them. While most Gauls are loyal to Rome, it is only a matter of time before the conspiracy spreads.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Rules for a Grittier Rome

If you read Roman history, it is clear one of the biggest killers was infection. Even those at the top of the social hierarchy like Emperor Titus or Drusus the Elder died from ailments that modern penicillin probably would have cured. In the case of Drusus, he smashed his leg in a horsefall and died from an infection of the wound. The following Septic hazard is an optional rule intended to give campaigns an added level of grit. It highlights the every day dangers of infection and will make players think twice about wading into battle. Only use it if you feel it will add something to your campaign.

Septic Wound
Lethality:                   Week
Speed:                      Day
Effect:                       Temporary
Medicine Skill TN:      7 (+1 per wound)
Contagious:               No
Spread:                     0d10
Defense:                    Hardiness
Skills:                        P, M, C

This is a bacterial infection of the woud site which, if it continues to spread, enters the blood and reaches the organs. Anytime a player takes a wound that breaks the skin, assume he has been exposed to this hazard and roll 0d10 (two d10 taking the single lowest result) against his Hardiness. If the roll meets or exceeds his score then the wound becomes infected and progresses at the above rates (killing in about a week). Though Romans have no knowledge of bacteria, medical rolls made to keep the site clean and apply salves can stop the infection. However the difficulty of such rolls increases with each wound increment by +1 (starting at TN 7). So a character who takes three wounds and acquires an infection, requires a Medicine Skill Roll (TN 10) to be cured.

For further clarification of Hazards see pages 37 and 40 of the Servants of Gaius rulebook.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Product Update

Just want to provide an update to our fans on the production schedule.

We plan to support Servants of Gaius, so are working on several books to help gamemasters and players. The first of these will be a PDF called The Guide to Aegyptus and will cover the Roman province in great detail. This will be followed by a massive mystery adventure called The Secret of Actium (available in print and PDF) After these releases we intend to publish more comprehensive province books (available in print and PDF). Fans of Servants of Gaius can also look to Avalon Games monthly magazine Game Geek for useful material in their campaigns this month (something we hope to do in each issue from now on).

Pundit continues to work on Arrows of Indra and this is shaping into an incredible project. There seems to be a lot of excitement around this one so we will keep everybody posted as things develop.

Orlando's Guide to Organized Crime for Crime Network will be released very soon. It should be going into layout by the end of this month or beginning of August.

Sortorius, our high magic/heroic setting for the Network system has reached a critical stage of development. We wanted to get our first venture into fantasy right, so we took our time working on the core concepts. We have hit a moment of clarity with Sortorius and will probably have something for playtest sooner than expected.

We continue to gather feedback on the Terror Network revision (if you have thoughts feel free to send them to Like Sortorius we want to get the revision right, so we are not rushing. Its very important to us this be done correctly and that we fix any existing issues without introducing new ones. Changes won't be major because it is going to be backwards compatible.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

No Railroad. No Metaplot.

While we encourage players and gamemasters to play RPGs whichever way they enjoy, we also have our own preferences and those have a huge impact on our gamelines. The corebooks themselves pretty much leave the game style up to the group. Personally I am not a fan of preaching to out audience. But there are still key aspects of the games that demand a point of view from the designers. So today I would like to talk about two of those: the railroad and the metaplot.

As a player I hate being railroaded. As a GM I hate railroading my players. When I was younger I wasn't as aware of the issue or of this preference. But slowly over time, in spite of advice from many published games to the contrary, it became clear to me that "keeping the players on track" amounts to the GM telling the story he wants to tell. Player input has little to no impact on the setting or course of events in such a game. And such an approach failed to give me any satisfaction at the table. Even if he isn't railroading every single little scene, when the gamemaster charts out a plot and keeps the players on it no matter what they do, it reduces the players to actors reading from a screenplay.

But there is a problem. The railroad is safe, it provides comfort to the Gamemaster who has spent hours preparing for the session. Do not fear this. Yes, it is unfortunate when the players miss what you had prepped. Yes, it can be frustrating when they don't heed your cues. But once you relax and stop pushing for them to stay on track, new possibilies open up.  

As Gamemaster you are not a novelist or film director. While drawing on books and movies can be helpful for inspiration, it can harm if you feel you have to overlay their structure and pacing onto a format (RPGs) where the core feature is free-willed characters. Imagine your typical horror movie where the last girl goes into the basement even though the audience knows its certain death. Now imagine that movie with a free-willed character who knows better than to go into a dark basement when a masked killer is on the loose, just because the meow of a cat or the hiss of a steampipe. Role playing games are about free-willed characters and that needs to be considered by designers as well as GMs.

I guess what I am saying is, I don't have a story to tell when I come to the table. The reason for this is simple. If I plan out an elaborate story that is carefully paced and outlined, then I might as well just hand my notes to the players before the game even starts because the outcome has already been determined by me before hand (even if I allow for some minor variations within that scope). So I prefer a much more organic approach. One where the players are given the freedom to do what they want, where everyone at the table (including myself) can be genuinely surprised.

For this reason I avoid anything resembling scenes. There are no happy coincidences in my games and there are no pre-planned climactic showdowns. What I do instead is prep all the characters, power groups, background and any events that stem from those things (something I have discussed many times on this blog and an approach that is very similar to Situational GMing as described by Clash Bowley: SITUATIONAL GMING).

For me, this is what works best. It is something which evolved slowly over time and really came in handy when I started writing modules. All of our published adventures adhere to this approach. There may be an initial set-up for the adventure, but beyond that everything is in the hands of players and the forces they fight against. My own term for this is the Living Adventure.

It means a few things. First the Gamemaster doesn't worry about pacing, and he doesn't worry about the players taking 4 hours to reach the end of the adventure. If they figure out a way to beat the bad guys in ten minutes, great. Let them and call it a day if you have to. If they fail and as a result the city falls to orc hordes or an atomic bomb, thats great too. As a GM you don't need to protect the players from success or failure. We often think we do, and we are often told we should, but the truth is most players seem to appreciate fair and honest GMing over approaches that try to manage the impact they have on the adventure.

Second it means the GM needs to bake in some inherently interesting things so the adventure can go in wild directions without there being nothing to do. This is generally pretty easy to do and I resort primarily to two key things: timelined events and characters. Fully fleshed out and mobile NPCs will plot against or work with the players as they come into contact at different stages of the adventure. This is a criticial tool for the GM to use. On the other hand, having events that stem from the NPCs and powergroups (or just from nature itself) is a great way to keep things interesting as the game moves forward.

Third players do need to take initiative. This approach can crumble if the players are not aware of what the GM is doing. Explain to the them that they are in the drivers seat and have the freedom to go where their character's take them. With some groups you may need to do so incrementally.

Finally its all about adapting and reaction by using your head. If the players take an approach that you  never considered, think about it. Honestly evaluate their course of action and what it ought to yield.

This is all preference and opinion. I don't expect anybody to adopt this approach if it goes against their natural style. But it is an important introduction to what I really want to discuss which is our game modules.

The above philosophy is embedded in our entire module line. All of our adventures are approached more as settings than plotlines. We focus on characters, location, events, etc. We try to give the Gamemaster everything he needs to run an adventure intended to go off the rails.

Our upcoming adventure for Servants of Gaius, will be no different. It will also be enormous. Most of our modules so far have been 70 pages or so, in 6x9 inch format. The Secret of Actium will probably reach 110 pages, in 8x11 inch format. It will also be made in the railroad-free spirit of our previous adventures.

While there will be events in the module that are significant in terms of setting, we have made a formal decision to not include metaplot elements in our products. So while individual adventures could contain earth shattering events there will be no assumptions of continuity between modules and setting books. For example, if we release a module that includes the possibility of Parthia invading Syria and expanding into the eastern provinces of Rome, we will not make that canon. So anyone reading Herod Agrippa's Guide to the Eastern provinces will not find any reference to the potential events of that module.

We did this for a reason. I don't like creating a long canon for players to remember or for GMs to feel compelled to purchase. There is a vague outline of future events in the Servants of Gaius rulebook, but we won't go beyond that. For me there is no point in making people have to read five or more sourcebooks just to understand the recent history of your setting. It is hard enough to learn the regular history and rules of the game. It also feels a bit gimicky to me, when the publisher surprises the GM with new plotlines. Just my opinion, but this is how we intend to manage our lines going forward.