Back to the drawing board

June 15, 2014

2014-0~1

So the last version of Housewar was taking 4+ hours to play.  It was fun, but not as quick as I want (sub-two hours with 5 players), so back to the drawing board we go.

Some changes to the map. Part of the design is to have only 20 areas on the map (and then using a rough rule of thumb from Diplomacy of only having infrastructure tokens for 2/3 of the map areas (13 in this case, which is a flavourful number for a Decline & Fall game).  The other is to see what happens when I surround the central Glory point territory (Core Sector) by exactly ONE sector (the Heartland Sectors on the above map).  In past versions of the map there have been 4+ sectors adjacent to the Core, but it was always liable to end up being controlled by 1-2 players, excluding other players from scoring opportunities.  So I am thinking this version of the map might see players contesting the approaches a little more.

I also got to experiment with the function of the art package that lets me draw text along a curve easily. Once I do a test print to see if I have the dimensions right, I can tidy up this package.

Overall conceptual change is to just the player locus from being powers within the Empire, to being Pirates from outside the Empire. Over the course of the game the Pirates gain recognition (i.e. Glory) within the Empire, and at a certain point the player with the most Glory becomes the Last Strong Emperor. This triggers the endgame, where the Emperor must defeat all of the other players to win the game.

For the initial game flow, I am borrowing the power generation mechanics from Cthulhu Wars.  So the early game is about expanding as fast as possible to capture territory and build Bases to increase power income. All the power is used each turn on game actions.  The mid-game is triggered when people start building Dreadnoughts, expensive units with special powers.  Each Dreadnought is generated randomly, by drawing two random technology counters. Its a bit like the civilisation tiles in Vinci. So one counter might be “Move +1″ and another counter is “Repair damage as a free action”.  Each counter will have a cost of 1-6 power, combining for a total Dreadnought cost of 2-12.  Each time a Dreadnought is built, all the existing combinations that were passed over get a cumulative one power discount to purchase.

I have found a pack of ~144 plastic spaceship models, in eight types and six colours, which sells for around $10 on Ebay/Amazon (plus shipping). So I will have lots of cool tokens to represent the Dreadnoughts.  They should hopefully turn up in a couple of weeks.

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I also grabbed a couple of packs of old Silent Death fighters (upper picture below) and some space ship tokens from a Buck Rodgers boardgame (which will provide the “popcorn” Pirate and Battleship units).

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In past versions of the game, the Decline was usually based on random event cards, or capture of the Core sector.  This could be too random (too slow/fast) or too easy for the players to stop altogether.  This time around I am going to try linking Decline to Dreadnought construction, i.e. linking it directly to an action the players will all really want to do.  So the Decline marker starts on the zero box of the Decline and Fall track, while the Fall marker starts on the 13 box.  Each time a Dreadnought is built, move the Decline marker up the track by a number of boxes equal to the power spent on the Dreadnought.  If the Decline marker reaches or passes the Fall marker, reset the Decline marker to zero and shift the Fall marker down one space.  When the Fall marker hits zero the endgame is triggered and the player with the most Glory becomes Emperor.

The Empire defends its territory. Borrowing a mechanic from an old 1970s kids game with a WWII Pacific theme, Hit the Beach, each time a player eliminates Imperial units, they get to place those units in a sector of their choice that the Empire still controls. So as the Empire shrinks its gets a little tougher, but you also get to place units to try and slow down the growth of other players.

How to get Glory:

  • Decadence: spend power equal to the Decadence Track value and score Glory equal to the Decadence track value (the track value reduces by 1 each turn, and increases by 1 every time someone is decadent), I plan to start the track at a high value (i.e. costing more Power than the players have in turn 1) so the initial turn order is not advantageous to some players
  • Monuments: you must own a Dreadnought to do this action, score one Glory for each Base, Dreadnought, and Monument you own, build one Monument as part of the action. All players score one Glory for each Monument they own. Costs power equal to the number of times Monument actions have been done, so it can only happen 13-14 times per game.
  • Winning battles (possibly one point per battle and/or one point per Dreadnought destroyed)
  • Reigning in control of Core sector (one point per action)

For the Endgame, your Glory is converted into Power, and this is your only source of power for actions in the final turn of the game. So all players will want as much Glory as they can get.

Blame mechanics: last few versions of the game had Glory resetting to zero, what I want to do this time is to reset it to one point below the lowest player (which could be yourself).  Blame comes mainly from rolling Skulls in combat, or from being Corrupt to try and increase power income.

I have also splashed out and ordered some plastic game markers from LITKO Game Accessories

JPL1115-product-main__08779_zoom

These ones will be good for representing Bases in the game (I already have some Parthenon style plastic markers for Monuments).  The ones below could be used to represent sectors devastated by combat involving Dreadnoughts (Nuclear hazard marker) or the Power income tokens (atomic power symbol).  These were not cheap, but they should make the game a bit more fun.

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World of Tanks Progression

March 18, 2014

Progression in World of Tanks gets a lot slower as you buy more tanks, as you spread your playtime across multiple vehicles. As the tiers go up, the amount of XP also greatly increases to the point where several hundred battles are required to unlock the next design.  Even though I am only concentrating on one tech tree (Russia) the grind through Tiers VIII and IX has become very slow.  Its also painful when a tech tree branches into multiple tanks, and you have to keep playing until both are researched.  I am still enjoying play of the H-35, UE-57, KV-1, KV-2 and KV-5 (my favourite tank for ramming), and playing one game on each of those is usually an hour of good times.

Object 704

This is the tier IX Russian Tank Destroyer (TD).  Sadly after 100 battles I am only averaging a 47% win ratio, and looking at all my tier IX tanks the victory rations are all sub-50%.  So while on paper its a decent vehicle, its often running into Tier X vehicles with players who know a TD’s weaknesses. I have a lot of days where I wish I was back in the ISU-152.  The 704 is fairly educational around why turretless tanks largely vanish from the OB post-WWII, anything that is fast and gets close will flank me, track me, and laugh at me.  One of the biggest issues I run into in high tier public matches, is a refusal to scout.  If no one spots for the team, I’m useless.  If the enemy team has a competent scout, once I’m spotted my survival time is about 5-10 seconds – unless the enemy shells bounce off my gun plate the TDs HP get stripped fast. In this Pearl River battle I was the brave one to be first around the corner that an M40/41 SPG was hiding behind (with a loaded round), and got the last kill needed for the Expert USA badge.shot_017

SU-14-2

This is the tier VIII Russian SPG Artillery, and like most high tier vehicles, its not a lot of fun to play.  While it can fire about every 45 seconds, and it does a lot of damage when it hits, its a big if around the hitting.  I can fire 12 shells in a long battle and miss every time.  I’ll have to wait for the Tier X SPG before I get significant improvement in the accuracy.  Even more so than the TD the SPG is utterly reliant on a team that can spot, block scouts, and not manage to lose an entire flank in the first three minutes.  Its not without reason that the player most likely to bitch about “noob teams” is in a SPG along the back line. I’m not sure how my team won this match, because they let the enemy scouts crawl all over the cap, which made it a short match for me.shot_018

ST-1

This is the tier IX tank in one of the Russian heavy tank trees, and progression leads to the IS-4, which is not as popular a Tier-X tank as the IS-7.  Once fully researched, its a lot of fun, reasonably fast on the flat (but not uphill) it has a decent gun and armour.  Like a lot of Russian tanks, its good for fast moving brawls.  Of all the tier VIII+ tanks I am progressing, its the most fun.  I did well in this Himmelsdorf map, climbing the hill, flanking the enemy behind the Castle, and then hunting a medium down in the south town, before the enemy arty killed me coming around a corner (the T-44 right behind me then hunted the arty down after a long game of at and mouse on the train tracks).shot_019

SU-101

This Tier-VIII Tank Destroyer is a piece of shit.  While it is fast and can redeploy quickly, both its armour and gun are crap.  The crap gun is really noticeable when you draw Tier X opponents. I only play this if I am feeling masochistic, as if I am going to have to grind TD pain, I’d rather do it on the 704 and get a bit closer to the Object 268 Tier X TD.  Just to remind myself what it was like I took it out for a spin.  Got Mines map and 350 ms latency, which is awful, but as it was a Tier VI-VIII battle I was able to penetrate and do a bit of damage.  A chunk of my XP came from spotting damage when I did a favour for the other TDs on my team by sprinting over to the shadow of a ridge line for proximity spotting.  One hit from an IS took away half my HP which just reinforced its vulnerability.

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T-44

This is a Russian Tier VIII medium tank … and the research grind is long. As well as tracks and turret, there are three engines and five guns to research.  The default Tier VII gun is underwhelming for a tank that will face Tier X monsters on the field.  I’m suffering through progression so that one day I can wolfpack at tier X.  In play its a hybrid, not fast enough to be a light, not grunty enough to be a heavy.  While a medium should be trying to flank and disrupt, the basic T-44 is just too slow and too puny to be scary. It pains me to say this, but I just keep playing and hoping for a decent team to carry me to the double XP win of the day, then I swap the crew to the Matilda Tier V premium for some crew training.  On the outing pictured below, sadly the latency hit me and I drove into the water and drowned.shot_024

Clan Wars

I have done about 20 Clan War battles with PANZR (Panzac Raiders) and it has been a lot of fun.  The IS-7 is much more fun in a team unit than in solo play.  The new rules for locking tanks out of Clan Wars, however, means I will only get to play Clanwars about three times every two weeks (if you click on the picture below you should get a clear view of the hour countdown in the tank strip at the bottom of the image).  As much as the company may talk about strategy, it looks pretty clear to me that this is intended as huge silver sink (about 6,000,000 a pop, or a couple of months grinding on a premium account) as people buy additional tier Xs to support their clan.  It is a lot of work, 15 minutes prep for each battle, and many battles are uneven fights, no shows, or ten minute sitzkriegs. Still, its a good feeling to have a competent company commander, be given clear orders, and just do my best to execute them.  In my last battle I sacrificed my tank by turning 90 degrees away from the enemy, allowing the rest of my team to take cover behind me as they converted the cap for the win.

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Too Many Maps?

Every patch another new map.  There are new maps that I have played once or twice since the last patch, which is really not enough to have a good chance of learning the map for different types of tank.  So its nice to see new skins of old maps (with snow or fire added).


Choke Points and Broken Quest Chains

March 16, 2014

CratesThis is a picture of a choke point in a low level quest. We’re waiting for a crate to spawn. Sometimes when the crate spawns, it does not contain the mook we are looking for.  When it does have the mook we want, only one of us gets the credit for quest completion. It can take up to two hours of crate camping to complete the quest.  At the level you get this quest, there are no other quests you can do safely (they are orange or red difficulty).  In my feedback on this I noted that this is not compelling gameplay.

So, much as I wanted to play some more TESO this weekend, I’m found it hard going with numerous broken quest chains.  I wanted to try playing a Dragonknight Imperial with sword & shield.  I emerged out of the introduction quest with only a sword, and some skimpy light armour.  Maybe there was a shield somewhere, but I didn’t find it.  But wandering around in a dress without a shield did not make me feel heroic.  Still, a nice touch for the armour was that it had broken handcuffs attached.

A recent design decision was to ditch the introductory island zones in favour of starting people in a town, but this means you don’t have any crafting materials ready when you find the workstations, and you have little coin for buying anything … like say a shield.  On the plus side, without the hand holding, you get the opportunity to explore the world in any direction you like (although eventually all roads led to a wayshrine for resurrection)

The Imperials do look like a strong choice for a tank playstyle, with an experience bonus to sword and shield and other racials that boost health.  Visually they were pretty bland, the design screen was so dark I couldn’t discern a difference in their hair, eye or skin colours.

The white horse mount from the Imperial edition is functional, but fades away at the first sign of damage.  Mounting/dismounting still has that awkward pause from Skyrim, and is cumbersome for NPC interaction.  Collision detection is on now, which means you can’t barge through NPCs – but its still fine to run right through other PCs (if PC collisions were enabled I would bet money that packs of Trolls would lock down key NPCs and quest locations so they were unuseable).

Once you have played through the tutorial, you get an option to skip it on future characters, starting at level 3. I appreciate this … almost wish it would repeat with the mage/fighter guild quest chains.

So with the Dragonknight locked out, I decided to try a Nord Templar with two-handed weapons (again a 15% xp racial bonus).  Where the Dragonknight has a pull ability, the Templar has charge and push away abilities.  I like this mobility, charge someone, push them away, charge them again!  It also has access to a set of healing abilities, so I may just have found the combination of Warrior/Paladin abilities from WoW that I have wished for in a character.  Definitely a fun feeling, and its going to be a hard choice choosing that initial character.

Another annoying bug is when the Escape key stops working. Pressing full stop (.) key seems to help here.  My other tip for taking screenshots is to bind UI On/Off to a key (I used U).

StrifeThis screenshot is of a nice formation of rocks. Wandering up to it I discovered an interesting travel back in time to learn some lore/summon some Daedra quest. Which was a lot of fun until … it bugged out halfway through.  I wandered on down the road some more, and quickly found myself in a zone where the mobs killed me easily (two mobs of 2+ greater levels when you don’t have an ultimate ability yet is asking for trouble). Unlike WoW, Rifts, or SWTOR, you can’t just go and grind mobs to level up when the quests are broken.  Quests and exploration are your main sources of experience, so when every single damn quest chain is bugged, you’re screwed for progression.  Lets hope these get fixed before release, but with less than a month to go I’m focusing on keeping realistic expectations – which is to say that when TESO falls over I will be happy log out to play WoW or World of Tanks until the broken is repaired.

 


The Elder Scrolls Online Beta

March 9, 2014

My impressions of the Elder Scrolls Online game, based on two beta weekends.  TLDR, some frustrations, some interesting decisions, I think I will have fun playing this for a month or two.

Downloading

Takes up ~27 GB, but I needed ~50 GB free to successfully complete the installation.

Character Creation

Main choices to make here are name, class, race, gender, faction, and appearance.

Name – this is a mega server, trying to get a unique name is going to be hard. The first dozen or so of my standard MMORPG names were all taken.

There are four classes. I only played Sorcerer and Nightblade in beta, so my knowledge of the other two options is limited.

  • Dragonknight (Melee – has a pull the mob to you ability like a WoW Death Knight’s Death Grip)
  • Sorcerer (Mage – can summon pets)
  • Nightblade (Thief/Assassin – can stealth)
  • Templarknight (Melee/healer)

Appearance – Okay. Mostly I’m interested in hair styles when it comes to appearances, and there were enough for me to have fun choosing.

Race – unless you pre-order your race will determine your faction. This can be important as racial bonuses are strong, and a min-max character will have to be of the “right” race for max bonus. I ignore this and just make something I like the look of (usually elves with white or red hair in fantasy MMORPGs, although the lizards/cat skins are tempting).Bosmer Bonus

Gender – no difference in gameplay.

Faction – choose one of three. Pre-ordering will let you play any race in any faction, and play the Imperial race (if you order the Imperial edition). This could be useful if your friends want to play a different fcation.

Character Development in Play

Elder Scrolls is the complete reverse of the direction WoW has taken in terms of character development. WoW has made it very hard to make a character who is functionally bad at their core role (Tank, Heal, DPS), in Elder Scrolls its possible to make decisions about skills and attributes that make your character a painful failure by level 10. Unless you like repeating starter zones over and over again, spending some time thinking about your skill point allocation is critical.

  • You want five, and no more than five, good active abilities.
  • Having a mix of magicka and stamina using abilities might be useful to start with, but I’m not sure if long-term you want to focus on one or the other
  • You want one, and no more than one, long cooldown ability
  • After that, Passives rule
  • At level 15 you can pick up a second weapon, that can be swapped easily, at that point you can start picking up some different abilities

The armour choice is also interesting. Light armour makes movement easier and is good for resource regeneration.  Medium armour is good for boosting damage. Heavy armour is good for absorbing damage.  No armour restrictions, mage in heavy armour, sure can.Armour Buff

You get skill points from:

  • Levelling
  • Finishing some quests (I think)
  • Collecting sets of three skyshards (found in the world, one use only, fixed location – you will spend the game with a webpage open with all their locations bookmarked)

Tutorial Mission (level 1-3)

This is done pretty quickly, and is the start of the main storyline that will take you to level 50.  Its quick and does the job it needs to.Tutorial Zone

Starter Zone (Level 3-5)

Both of the starter zones I have done have been Islands. Not too big, easy to get around, and finished in a couple of hours. Storylines were reasonably engaging, and I felt sad when a village got attacked and NPCs I had talked to were killed. You can sneak and one shot most enemies here with a bow.

First major zone (Level 5-15)

Compared to the starter zone this is huge, even after 12 hours I was only just over halfway through the zone. Mobs get harder, and are more often encountered in groups of 2-3. Although for my Bosmer archer, sneak shot, DOT, poison arrow, finisher usually works, and if I get lots of mobs, the Storm Astronach handles it. Killing a single mob in four key presses feels about right to me, a nice change from SWTOR where killing a pair of mobs could take 30+ key presses.

All up I think levelling to 50 is supposed to be around 400 hours of game play. After that there are Level 50 versions of instances, for around 150 hours of gameplay. At 50 you can also play through the other faction zones. After that its eternal pvp. Unless the “Adventure Zones” turn out to be some kind of long term PVE content, this will be a game to date, not a game to marry. While you won’t get new levels, skill development can continue, and there will be something called “Veteran Points” that improve the charcter by small increments. Or you could re-roll and try a different build of character. I think I just want to play one character, experience from WoW and SWTOR tells me that there are rapidly diminishing enjoyment returns from alts going through similar content.a

The Social Experience
About what you would expect,  lots of people saying bad things about other MMORPGs, lots of people with toons named after WoW references.  Not immediately obvious how to interact with people, you can’t click on them, you have to look at them and push F key.  You can belong to five guilds at the same time (why you would want to do this escapes me).  You gain a 10% experience buff while grouped with other players.  I did not bother joining a guild, and only grouped with people while in public dungeons.  Reporting people, you get the option to choose a general category, e.g. harrassment, a sub-category, e.g. bad language, and can attach a screenshot and write a text description. I reported someone for making a joke about anal rape.

With NPCs, you can get Persaude skill from joining the Mages guild and Intimidate skill from joining the Fighter’s guild, this gives you some options to resolve or resolve more quickly some quests.  I would hesitate to spend skill points on this before getting my five active abilities and ultimate ability set up.Persuasion

Looting, Harvesting, Inventory and Crafting
The default for looting is a two click interaction for each corpse.  Hit ESC for menu, then go into Settings/Gameplay, and make sure combined loot and autoloot are ON. That will save a few hours of your life. While you can vendor all the weapons and armour that drops, you can also reverse engineer everything for raw materials (but you need to be at a work station in a town, and not all towns had all work stations, and travelling back to town is painfully slow).  Harvesting – while there are no wasted inventory slots on picks and knives, the ability to harvest everything means your bags fill with crap quickly.  Inventory – 60 slots feels limited.  The first town after the tutorial zone will have a vendor who sells +10 inventory slots for 400 coins and +10 more slots for 2000. The other way to manage inventory is to just to not gather stuff ( I stopped picking flowers and mining).

You can spend skill points to improve harvesting, and I spent a point on making wood glow, as the grey/green log on the ground was really easy to miss.Harvesting

Bank – available in some towns, you can craft directly from banks, so you want to dump crafting mats here.

Crafting: moderately complex, potentially a huge time sink to research everything (six hour cooldown per trait type per equipment type), but at low levels is relatively easy to make armour and weapons that are useful upgrades.  My first bow using toon did not get a bow drop or quest reward in eight levels, so making my own bow upgrade every two levels was very useful.  There are lots of crafting stations hidden around the world where you can craft gear and have a small chance of unique abilities.

Movement

Movement – the teleport system is EXPENSIVE, really, really freaking EXPENSIVE. When mobs drop one coin each, and teleporting to the other side of the zone costs 64 coins.  Don’t expect you friends to come and hold your hands every few minutes in the starter zones.  Mounts are also freaking expensive at 17,200 to 42,700 coins for a horse.  That makes the Imperial edition perk of a cheap mount quite attractive. Tactical movement felt fine, and sprinting for a stamina cost was an interesting mechanic.

Exploration

Its significant xp when you reach a new landmark on the map, feels equal to a quest, so its well worth a quick trip sideways.  For the mages guild, finding books increases your rank.  You can also find random chests, and the lock picking mini game is fun (there was one thief style quest early on, but no immediate invite to join a Thieve’s Guild, but a hint one would come down the track).

Books

Mage Rank

Lock Picks

Stress test beta

It was a stress test, so not perfect, but that’s part of the beta experience.

  • lots of UI bugs
  • a few crashes, followed by long in failures
  •  lots of bugged quest chains, and as there are so few quest chains, its easy to run out of content that your character can engage with
  • load times were reasonable, but if you crashed out once you crashed out a dozen times in a row
  • /reloadui command is essential to actually complete some NPC conversation interactions, as your character gets stuck at the end of the conversation
  •  Falling through the world, happened a couple of times on stairs.Beta

User Interface

Not a lot of customisation options here, but the default setting had the UI fade away when not targeting mobs, which helped immersion.  Five active abilities, one long cooldown ability, one quickbar slot … 7 buttons to push during combat, after having 60 keybinds in WoW and SWTOR this was a relief.  Compass at the top of the screen, more compact than minimap, but it takes getting used to. It felt a bit less cluttered than the one in Skyrim.Combat UI

Questing

  • NPCs can be phased to you, so they run up to you when you complete a section of the chain, kinda needed given how slow strategic movement is
  • Quest hubs are rare, you tend to find one NPC quest giver at a time
  • Mage/Fighter’s guild – You cannot afford not to be in these guilds, as they have major questlines and useful abilities associated with them
  • More than a few quests involve intrigue and betrayal
  • You get a lot of quests way before your character could ever hope to do them, both geographically or mechanically in game
  •  I had one stealth quest spawn a mob that was much higher level and killed me in a few seconds, damn it was annoying
  •  I had another combat quest which I could not solo, as while I could kite and stay alive, I could not do the burst damage required to finish the boss before it triggered a regeneration
  •  Collect X quests tend to be limited to collecting 3-6 of an item, and Kill X Rats quests are pretty rare
  • Some of the novelty quests are bugged or can’t be reasonably completed (a running race around an island, which you can’t actually complete in the time granted without a very high stamina score or massive stamina regen).

Dungeons

Its really hard to feel suspense or fear in a public dungeon when there are dozens of toons sprinting past you hacking the monsters into gibbets.

Sound
Some nice voice acting, music is okay.  NPCs are fully voiced, you are not, you can fast pace through dialogue conversations.Conversation


Kapcon 2014

January 20, 2014

The bad: I had to cancel the Grand Strategy game.

The good: Asterix and the Deep Ones was popular, with 16 players over three sessions.

Cancelling the Grand Strategy Game

It is sad to cancel a creative project, but I have had to do this before and will do so again. I would not be doing a service to anyone by trying to run a game which will not provide the fun that it was intended to offer. Before Christmas there were only three signups. With a week to go there are only seven. Unfortunately, Grand Strategy games require 5+ teams to be balanced (or just two teams), and for teams to ideally have 3+ players to allow team dynamics to unfold within the larger framework. While I could have spent all my spare time over the next week building a new design for a smaller number of players, I think I was better off spending the time on polishing “Asterix and the Deep Ones”.

So, any lessons learned?

Promotion – the Kapcon organisers have spent quite a bit of effort to promote the game, I pushed it through my own networks, and the website had enough information for anyone interested in the game to suss out if it was their cup of fun or not. I have only had one potential player contact me to ask questions about the game. I don’t know how much interaction the LARP GMs have with potential players, but I suspect it’s a bit more than that.  Still, I could have pushed the game harder, and made more of “recruit friends to join your team”.

Competition – Kapcon offers half-a-dozen or more tabletop sessions, and a LARP in head to head competition with Pax Vicky. Potential players have voted with their preferences, and it is not for what I am offering in that timeslot.

Con structure – one of the reasons the “Grand Strat” works at BOD, is that it has traditionally been given a flagship evening slot on Friday or Saturday night. I get a captive audience, which gives me certainty that they critical mass of players will be present. It was made clear to me years ago that I was never going to get the only such slot at Kapcon, as the Friday and Sunday nights are for social mixing, and not gaming. While I could attempt to run my own event in Wellington, the lukewarm indifference that has greeted my posts about grand strategy games on nzrag.com makes me suspect that I’d just end up losing money on the hall hire.  I have to admit to recognising a self-fulfilling prophecy here, because I don;t get positive feedback for my ideas on NZRAG, I don’t read or post there very often … which means I don’t get feedback or promotion opportunities.

It’s too weird – globally what I am offering is a rare type of hybrid game, it’s a mix of giant tabletop boardgame and LARP, and I have only ever run into one other group of gamers who do these games outside New Zealand. So the design community is very small, there are only a few people I can really talk to about these games, and most of them live in London. It is also a type of gaming which has no commercial product on offer, and a limited online presence – it is very hard for potential gamers to learn about this kind of game, or to give it a try and end up wanting more.

Opportunity cost – designing and building a grand strategy game takes me 4-5 full weekends over a 6-12 month period as I iterate concepts, design rules, build maps, playtest, revise, and then finally print and assemble the game (praying for a sunny day with no wind as I glue stuff together). This is a lot of time I could be spending on other projects. There is also a financial cost, I have spent close to $3,500 on my last two designs, and while some of that cost (laser printer, toner, tokens) is available for future games, it is still a lot of money for a hobby. Setting up and running the game also consumes an entire day at the convention, and for 2014, I could have been somewhere else entirely different from Kapcon, having a good time with one of my other hobby groups.

Structural flaws – the boardgame nature of the Grand Strat is such that there is very little scope for improvisation (by players or GMs), it is not a game that can be winged on the night, unlike a table top RPG. It is also hard to walk into a game five minutes before it starts – as we like people to read the rules in advance and to make decisions a week before the game begins.  The bespoke nature of the game, a complex set of rules that might only be used once, means that if there is a major flaw in the game, it is difficult to fix quickly. A mistake can cascade through the system, wrecking the game economy and spoiling player strategies. So Grand Strats are high risk/high responsibility games to run, and it’s rarely the player’s fault if things get derailed (I have only had one player deliberately undermine a Grand Strat game, and one do a table flip after a game has finished).

Agency – the team nature of the game may discourage players through lack of a strong character to identify with and role play, and the fact that the player’s desires must be subordinated to the group’s plan if the group is to prosper in the game might also be off-putting to potential players. I do have a good reason for having abstract replaceable characters – character death sucks (I tried a few variations on death mechanics but nothing ever worked in a fun way).

Is it still worth it?

Running these games has always been a peak experience for me. It’s not often that I am the centre of attention and it’s a nice buzz when things go well. I have learned a lot about game design from organising and running these games. I have found, however, that this learning translates into ever increasing amounts of work to get everything right for future games, and a lot of frustration when the games do not go well. The minimum amount of work for a game is pretty formidable, compared to a table top game, where I can get by with a sketch map, half a dozen PC sheets, and about an A4 of sketch notes. It would be really hard for me to offer more than one or two games a year – the group in London manages about four a year, but has a different team designing each game – and this makes improving the design of these games a slow process.

So, it might be time for me to move on from Grand Strategy games, and find something else to do with my time, or perhaps just have a year or two off until I can find the old joy again. Maybe I should just go back to writing LARPs, which is where all this started 20 years ago.  A different tack, would be to drop the fantasy, and go for a hard core historical game – World War one could be viable as its the 100th anniversary of it starting this year.

Asterix and the Deep Ones

This went well, with lots of laughter.  In the first game I had five players (Asterix, Getafix, Obelix, Fulliautomatic and Unhygenix), in the second game I had four players (Asterix, Getafix, Obelix and Cacophonix) and in the last game I had all seven characters in play (add Vitalstatitix).

Using a known IP made character identification really easy.  Using the Call of Cthulhu quickplay system was okay … but one of my conclusions is that traditional game engines with their multiple tiers of Characteristics, Attributes and other character qualities are just a bit too much (a friend described being given three pages of character sheet for a game at Kapcon, which is two pages too many).  I could have easily run things off just the straight characteristics (Strength, Dexterity, etc).  Giving everyone 90% in a combat skill was a good decision, made the combats true to the original comics, and giving almost everyone low SAN scores made crazy stuff happen – mostly delusional beliefs that the PC was a significant historical character (Cleopatra, Julius Caesar etc).  I used luck points in a blunt force way, everyone had 90 and you sent them to change the d100 roll. So if your skill was 50, and you rolled 62 (fail), you could spend 12 luck points to make it a success.  No one actually ran out of luck.  I treated magic potion as giving the Gauls first strike, a bonus die in combat, and increasing the damage bonus die to 1d6. As per the comics I toned down the blood, and had knock outs and tweety birds circling around heads.

  • Asterix – the leader/straight man of the party, no major schtick but usually the person making the talk/spot rolls.
  • Obelix – the superhuman strength schtick came in handy many times – carrying boats overland, menhir volley attacks, etc
  • Getafix – had the ability to brew potions that could almost anything (restore sanity, dreamless sleep, and water breathing were the ones people came up with), the drawback being you needed a side quest for ingredients and it took time to boil water.  I deliberately started Getafix with 10 SAN because after the first night of bad dreams and flashbacks to things a young Druid did in old Egypt, he was always motivated to find the source of the dreams.
  • Cacophonix – a strong roll, as any threat to sing would always cause the group to react.  One Cacophonix managed to ninja past 100 Deep Ones to rescue his Uncle Malacoustix, and another Cacophonic managed a critical success on a sing roll to wow the surly villagers into enthusiastic applause.
  • Unhygenix and Fulliautomatix – not quite so strong roles, but good to have in a fight, and high potential for comedic barbs between each other and Cacophonix, Unhygenix’s fishing skills were also useful for the investigation.
  • Vitalstatistix – perhaps the weakest character, unless they exerted their authority over the Gauls.

Asterix and the Deep Ones v3

All three groups followed a similar starting pattern:

  • interact with the Roman bridgebuilders and the Gaulish Ferryman
  • find out that something (the Deep Ones) is dismantling the bridge each night
  • head into the village, noticing the barren fields
  • interact with the Britannic owner of the brand new fish and chips shop in the run down village
  • head to Malacoustix’s villa
  • explore the villa, get trapped by storm/nightfall
  • bad dreams, SAN check, sleepwalking episodes

After that the groups went in different directions, although most interrogated the village Chief at some point.  For pacing, after two hours I would introduce Deep Ones, and in the last half hour I brought in Old Mother Hydra.  All three groups ended with escape/rescue/massive property damage moments of success.  Looking at the map – I didn’t need the murky swamp (where clues to the missing Boars could be found).  People seemed to spend about half an hour at each location, so it was one destination too far. Perhaps if I had placed the swamp right next door to the village?

I have had a request to run this again at CONfusion in August (depending on whether or not it clashes with Pennsic).  I am now thinking about Asterix in Atlantis as a possible name for the next game (apparently there is an Asterix story set in Atlantis so I will have to check that out).  Or I could call it The Secret History of Asterix.

Fallout: Australia

A riff on the Fallout computer games, but set in Australia. A bit Mad Max in places. Fairly traditional, in that there was a quest to get a dingus to save a village, but a bit awkward in that the Thug PC more or less had to ignore the Thief NPC (who had stolen his stuff), and we all had to ignore the fat that we knew that a bad guy had bribed the Thug to derail the mission.  It was okay, but we ran out of time before we could get to the Sydney Opera House with the weather machine.

Enter the Avenger

This was a fantasy Kill Bill. The idea is that one player takes the role of the Avenger, and the rest of the players take the role of suspects, the Avenger’s intuition, and the gory details of the avenging.  The prompt notes were superb, I wanted to steal all of the character/city descriptions for use elsewhere.  The player in charge of the avenger never changes, so it can be exhausting for the player, and its painful for everyone if they get struck by indecision.  Each confrontation with a suspect is roleplayed, but the rule is that the Avenger can never be defeated.  I had fun playing a couple of bad suspects.  Fun, would play again.

Nod

Nod is a city which can only be entered on one night of the year.  Enter, stage left, a barbarian seeking revenge!  Another story driven system, like Enter the Avenger, but in this case the other players had more agency (the avenger could be defeated).  There were a range of pre-gen characters, such as The King of Worms, the Apothecary, the Cutthroat and the Potentate.  Different characters had different areas of authority over which they could control the description of and the associated NPCs, and a big thing they could do a major plot twist/reveal around.  This was a round 7 game so we were all tired and struggled a bit.  I enjoyed linking things together and getting other players involved in new scenes.  I enjoyed playing the Castellan, getting everyone into the castle for the big show down, and I described the Castellan as an Iron Vizier, articulated steel in velvet, dedicated to preserving the status quo. My plans were foiled by the Cutthroat using a plot twist to reveal themselves as the real Potentate.  Fun, would play again.

 

As usual, I skipped the flagship LARP.  I did get to the post-con drinks for the first time and it was a pleasant wind down and a good chance to catch up with old friends.


Player Character Species for the Tarantium Campaign

January 2, 2014

Today I spent some time fleshing out sentient species that players might use for player characters in a Runequest campaign.  I know this is subject to diminishing returns, in that if I develop more species than players, some or most of them will not be used.  In my Dragon Age game, only one of my five players wanted to play a non-human at campaign launch, although we later ret conned one of the player characters to be a half-elf.  So one of the considerations for me is that each of the species I develop is something that helps explain my campaign world, and will provide NPCs and plot lines for me to use in the play of a campaign.

First Draft – Player Character Species for the Tarantium Campaign

Humans are the dominant race of Koth, both numerically – representing 80 per cent of the world’s population, and politically – ruling all the major Empires and most of the minor Kingdoms and independent enclaves. If you choose to play a non-human species, you should be aware that it is likely to have fewer legal rights than humans, and may encounter prejudice from merchants and officials.

If you wish to play a specific species of your own choosing not from this list, we can probably work something out. If its derived from classical mythology, then it may be a Courtly race, but if its from more recent fantasy, then its likely to be a Conquered species.  The Courtly Folk include:

  • Arani (a giant spider)
  • Brachi (a sentient crab)
  • Ghoul (a humanoid carrion eater)
  • Minotaur (as per classical mythology)
  • Sobek (a crocodile headed humanoid)

The Conquered Peoples include:

  • Alfandi (light skinned, dark haired elves, once farmed the fields of the citadels)
  • Telchari (hairless dwarves, once maintained the sewers in the citadels)
  • Vargr (bipedal wolves, pack creatures with chaotic governments)
  • Vordar (dark skinned, light haired, elves, once the wardens of the citadels).

Arani, Brachi and Vordar do not play well with others of their own species.  Only one PC in the party can come from each of these species.  Ghouls, Sobek and Vargr enjoy and actively seek out the company of others of their own species, unless they are insane or undertaking a ritual quest that requires solitude.

Arani

The Arani spider folk made a deal with the Taran family in the Founding Age, lending them the Arani matriarch’s oracle power, in exchange for protection and a place in society. Arani are respected in the Tarantine Empire, and feared elsewhere. Male Arani are by nature hunter-killers rather than ambushing or web-spinning spiders (which the female Arani are). They do not hunt in packs, and do not enjoy the company of other male Arani. They do respect knowledge, with many becoming scholars, and while not as adept at intrigue as the matriarchs, a few become skilled politicians.

In Tarantium, the male Arani are a bit like the younger sons of noble families, members of an important social class, but not terribly important in of themselves. Some descend to the ground in search of adventure and food, others work for the Empire in a number of roles, and a few just stay close to the Matriarch’s Court, even though this can result in an early death in the mating season.

Only male Arani can be played by PCs – the females are double the SIZ of males and too magically powerful to be balanced for a game. Young Arani males have dark brown – almost black – fur, which lightens to a tan brown colour as they mature. As male Arani age their fur slowly whitens, and the most dangerous elders reach a translucent white colour and can terrify almost any opponent. Male Arani have the following special abilities:

  • Adhering – as long as the Arani does not wear more than quilted/padded armour on its legs, it can move freely on vertical surfaces and ceilings
  • Combat Style – Eight Legged Horror (allows use of Grappling and Venom abilities)
  • Darksense – the eight eyes of the Arani are good for detecting creatures in complete darkness, the spider can make perception checks to detect prey within INT metres of its locations
  • Exoskeleton – an Arani has Armour Points in all hit locations equal to SIZ/7 (round down), armour can be worn over this but a full set of armour is likely to cost double what it would cost a human, due to the skill needed to allow freedom of movement for all eight limbs
  • Grappling – with a successful unarmed attack, you Grapple in addition to inflicting damage, if the attack was parried you gain the Grip effect on a limb, or the Pin effect on a weapon, use your Brawn skill to resist attempts to break free.
  • Improve SIZ – you can always spend experience checks to improve your SIZ, as long as you have consumed sentient magic-using creatures with SIZ/POW greater than your current SIZ/POW within the last lunar month
  • Intimidate – this ability is unlocked when the Arani’s SIZ reaches 20, opponents must make Willpower checks to stand their ground if you threaten them
  • Tool using – two of the front limbs are slightly shorter and have developed for manipulating tools, although Arani are clumsy compared to ten fingered humans they can wield weapons and shields, but they if the hilts/grips are not designed for their use they will struggle with them (make skill checks more difficult)
  • Venom – if the mandibles of the Arani are not impeded by a helmet, they can bite with a 1d6 damage attack anyone they have grappled, if this penetrates any armour, it paralyses the victim after 1d6 rounds (can be resisted) and then does 1 HP of damage per hour to every hit location thereafter as the venom liquefies the insides of the victim, the paralysis effect lasts for CON/4 hours.

Arani use a different hit location table than the humanoid races. See p.389 in RQVI.

Arani names: tend to be complicated and elegant, so much so their companions usually make a nickname for them.

Common Arani passions:

  • Loyalty (Arani Matriarchs)
  • Fear (Arani Matriarchs)
  • Love (Stalking Prey)
  • Respect (Teacher)
  • Loyalty (Tarantine Empire)

Note: Arani are more powerful than humans (although they lose some abilities if wearnig heavy armour), but much harder to roleplay, and there won’t be any casual sexual encounters in taverns.

Brachi

The Brachi are sentient crabs, known for their intelligence and curiosity. They feature in a few myths and legends, sometimes as a trickster figure, but often as a hapless companion of the hero who needs rescuing. They survived the Cataclysm by clinging to rocks and crawling into small tunnels for the ride down from the Moon and are now found throughout the world.

Brachi have a bad reputation for thievery, although they often quickly lose interest in the toys and shiny objects they make off with. If they have a favourite shiny object though, they will be very reluctant to part with it. While Brachi tend to talk/act first and think later, when they do think about a problem they often find solutions no one else thought of. Being smaller than most of the sentient races, they often prefer solving problems in non-violent ways, although if pushed around their claws can be dangerous.

If taught to read and write, Brachi make good scholars and engineers … although careful mentoring is needed to make sure they do not go off on tangents. Some Brachi also become good merchants as they love arguing and can haggle from sunrise to sunset to get the new shiny object at a good price.

Names: there is no logic or consistency to Brachi names, most are self selected and many are ludicrous.

See p.344 RQVI for Brachi hit locations.

Brachi abilities:

  • Burrowing: you can burrow through sand at your normal movement rate, and at quarter movement rate through earth, given enough time you could even work your way through stone
  • Crushing Crustacean Pincers: attack with two pincers doing 1d6 damage
  • Exoskeleton: Brachi have four armour points in all locations
  • Formidable natural weapons: can parry/defelct with natural weapons (claws)
  • Small: Brachi can be generated with a SIZ smaller than 8 if the player chooses this, a minimum SIZ of 3 is required, this can be an advantage in squeezing into small places, but it will disadvantage the character’s Hit Points and damage bonus

Common Brachi Passions:

  • Desire (Shiny New Thing)
  • Love (Learning New Facts)
  • Love (Arguing)
  • Respect (Best Friend in the Whole Wide World)
  • Hate (Thief of Shiny Thing)
  • Espouse (Pet Theory for Everything)

Note: this is the species to play if you want to annoy the hell out of everyone all the time.

Ghoul

The Ghouls first appeared in the legends of the Age of Rebellion, feasting on the corpses of the fallen. They are living creatures, not undead. Ghouls resemble humans in most ways, but are thinner, almost emaciated, deathly pale skin, their teeth are dominated by incisors for ripping flesh, and their fingernails are long and claw like. Ghouls require rotten meat to survive – they are carrion eaters – and normal cooked meat will make them vomit if they try and eat it.

Ghouls occupy a complex position in the margins of civilisation – they do the unpleasant jobs involving ritual pollution that other races prefer not to engage in. Ghouls are found as butchers, tanners, embalmers, executioners and soldiers. If its a filthy, disgusting job, they get to do it, usually for low wages. As long as Ghouls follow the appropriate cleansing rituals, pay taxes and obey the laws, they are left alone. The Tarantine Emperors have often intervened to prevent pogroms against Ghouls – “The coins they pay in taxes smell like those of any other citizen I have sworn to protect.”

Civilised Ghouls wear elaborate headdress and scarves that conceal their disjointed jaws, and gloves that hide their claws. Asking a ghoul to remove their clothing is a very offensive act, one that will alienate the local Ghoul community and could lead to challenges. Ghoul buildings tend to be a warren of tight one way passages and dead ends, and entry into them is considered a polluting act – few people would do it without good cause.

On the ground, some Ghouls have degenerated into feral packs, ambushing and devouring unwary travellers. These packs are hunted down ruthlessly, with fire and the sword.

Names: Arabic culture names are suitable for Ghouls.

Ghoul abilities:

  • Death Sense: a ghoul can sense the death of nearby living creatures, or the location of dead flesh, they have an instinctive feel for scouting out places of death, such as cemeteries, battlefields and abattoirs
  • Hardened Skin: one point of natural armour
  • Regeneration: if able to feast on large quantities of dead flesh, Ghouls can regenerate lost limbs at a rate of 1 Hit Point per location per week, damage caused by fire cannot be regenerated
  • Teeth and Claws: Ghoul teeth do 1d3+1d2 damage, and their claws do 1d4+1d2 damage, plus any damage bonus

Common Ghoul Passions:

  • Respect (Tradition)
  • Desire (Carrion)
  • Observe (Ritual)
  • Loyalty (Family)

Note: a good choice for someone wanting to play the aloof outsider.  Like a lot of choices I intend for Tarantium, its not evil, just a darker than average shade of grey. Its inspired by the Ghul in Amanda Downum’s novel The Kingdoms of Dust.

Minotaur

Minotaurs were bred for war by Mal, an unholy fusion of man and beast. Despite all attempts to compel loyalty, Mal found that Minotaurs were largely uncontrollable, although they could be corrupted to enjoy the blood rage of battle. Getting them back in line again afterwards was difficult. During the course of the Age of the Rebellion, many Minotaurs deserted or defected to join the rebels. Their hatred of Mal and his children, and their works and deeds, is deep and abiding due to the way they were used as expendable shock troops.

More than almost any other race, Minotaurs have embraced Koth. Most have migrated to the ground, where they survive by herding animals and trading for the fruits and grains that dominate their diet. Only a few families remain in the flying cities, where they have proven to excel in the various divine cults, hewing carefully to the old traditions.

Minotaurs have the following abilities:

  • Earthstrong: Minotaurs lose the minimum amount of Areté on failed Areté checks (unless they are deliberately seeking out Forbidden Lore in which case the normal Areté loss applies)
  • Horns and Hide: Minotaurs have three Armour Points in the head. They require custom made helms due to their horns. The Horns can be used to Gore for 1d8 damage.

Names: Ancient Greek culture names are suitable for Minotaurs.

See p.375-377 in RQVI for more information on Minotaurs. The Shaman profession is not available to Minotaurs, and Minotaurs do not have any language penalties.

Note: in RQVI RAW, Minotaurs have much better SIZ/STR characteristics than humans do. In Tarantium they do not get any bonus to characteristics, but the Earthstrong ability and lack of language penalty should compensate for this.  Areté is functionally equivalent to SAN in a Call of Cthulhu game.

Sobek

The Sobek are crocodile headed bipedal humanoids with scaly skin. In myths and legends they are encountered by rivers and other bodies of water, as simple hunter/gatherers, traders and explorers. When the Shining Court was established, many Sobek moved there to indulge in the delights of civilisation and to bask in the reflected light of the Palace. In the Age of Rebellion, the Sobek were the most loyal of all races to Mal, only turning on him when his defeat was clear.

Sobek both respect and desire power, but are often limited by their desire to enjoy the pleasures of life to the full, which includes late breakfasts and basking through the mid day sun. Sobek are often found in criminal gangs, happy to knife someone for a few coins or a cup of wine, or they may be hard-working and enterprising members of merchant guilds, cults, and other organisations … but always likely to be playing the long game of politics. Groups dominated by Sobek often experience prolonged and bitter struggles for power. If a Sobek does rise to undisputed dominance, they can command near fanatical loyalty from their Sobek underlings.

The most important Sobek rite of passage is the acquisition of a weapon. Thereafter a Sobek is never without a weapon – even if it just a small concealed knife. Because Sobek feel the cold more than other species, they often wear several layers of clothing and even wear furs in mid summer.

Of all the creatures of the Moon, the Sobek have most fallen in love with the Sun. Within the Covenant, the Sobek are the largest ethnic minority, after humans, and their ease with sun worship means they face less restrictions than the other non-human races. This has made life for those Sobek within the Tarantine Empire a little more difficult, as many of them are suspected of sympathising with the Covenant’s aims.

Names: Ancient Egyptian culture names are suitable for Sobek.

Sobek have the following abilities:

  • Tough scales: one point of natural armour in all hit locations
  • Bite: 1d8 attack from their very sharp teeth
  • Cold Blooded: Sobek do not need to eat frequently, only requiring one meal a week, but cold temperatures make them sluggish and torpid (they sleep through much of winter and stay awake through much of summer) – without warm clothing they lose six Strike Ranks and one Action Point in cold weather
  • Hold Breath: if prepared a Sobek can hold its breath underwater for CON minutes (halve this duration if swimming or fighting).

Common Sobek Passions:

  • Indulge (Decadent Vice)
  • Respect (Power)
  • Desire (Warmth)
  • Retain (Weapon)

Note: this is the Lizardman/Ophidian race for Tarantium. As sun loving creatures, Night Sense did not make much sense, so I swapped it for Hold Breath. The Bite attack damage has been increased, but Sobek don’t have a venomous bite.

 

The Conquered Peoples I am still working on.  The Vargr will be familiar to anyone who has played Traveller, as I loved playing them.  The other species are the standard FRPG cliches, with the Telchari being pretty much a straight import from my current Dragon Age game.  There will be other sentient races, but they will be almost universally hostile to humanity, and so will be unsuited for PC use.


The Red Eye School of Sorcery

December 31, 2013

Continuing with my campaign development over the holiday break.  My plan is to eventually develop five orders of sorcery, along with some religious cults and mystic orders, for use by player characters.  For this school of sorcery, I started with the Scholastic Order template on page 308 0f the Runequest VI rules and then modified it a bit.  The background is loosely inspired by some of the Odin myths, and I have subverted the standard trope of the reclusive nerdy mage, by making the order a bit more interested in the pleasures of the flesh.

The Red Eye School of Sorcery

The most obvious sign of a Red Eye mage, is that one of their eyes is missing, usually as part of a deliberate initiation ritual. A true master of the school can be recognised by the fact that both of their eyes have been removed! Note: the missing eye(s) cannot be regenerated by any magic means. Eye patches are often worn, and prosperous members of the order wear red coloured robes made from expensive fabrics, and for formal occasions a cloak of raven feathers. If they have a staff, it is usually white.

The first eye removed by this order is deliberately destroyed in a magic ritual that creates a charm for the sorcerer that makes them harder to be found by tracking or scrying (increase the difficulty level of such skill checks by one level). The loss of an eye makes all sight based perception checks one level of difficulty harder.

The Red Eye school originated in the Moon Age, a sorcerer known as Sarak of the Wandering Eye was exiled from Mal’s Court after making the mistake of propositioning all three of Mal’s daughters at a Ball. In the Shadowlands he was trapped by the Queen of Thorns (after mortally offending her in a botched seduction attempt) and impaled on the Whistling Thorn Tree. Trapped on the tree, with his life’s blood staining his previously white robes, and carrion birds circling around, Sarak endured pain and agony. Eventually the Raven flew in close and bargained with Sarak teaching him a song that would free him in exchange for a morsel of flesh. While Sarak felt tricked when Raven took his eye as the “morsel”, he was free to continue his wanderings, fumbled courtings, and led a long life of research and discovery.

Sarak’s book of knowledge is known as the Veiled Volume, and it is written in a language taught only to members of the order, and it can be read by people who are blind.

The Red Eye Order rose to prominence in the Rebellion age, when people rebelled against the tradition’s and restrictions of the Shining Court. Red Eye sorcerers were happy to share their discoveries of different ways of doing things, and quite happily broke with old conventions. It has largely retained a presence in the Imperial Court, apart from a period of suppression during the time of the Harem Emperor’s, and is responsible for tuition of the Imperial family and maintaining the Imperial library.

The order continues to be involved in significant research, discovery and exploration … along with some of the major court scandals. While scholastic, its members are not known for denying themselves the pleasures of the flesh, if anything they experiment with discovering its limits of endurance.

Magic Points

A Red Eye sorcerer regenerates magic points after the sun has set for the day.

Runes

Truth and Magic.

Skills

Insight, Invocation (Red Eye), Language (Blind)*, Lore (Any), Perception, Shaping, Willpower.

Spells in the Veiled Volume

Abjure (Pain), Evoke (Razantar), Eye for an Eye (Castback), Intuition, Mystic (Hearing), Perceive (Magic), Raven’s Song (Neutralise Magic), Raven’s Wings (Fly), Red Light*, Sense (Knowledge), Wandering Eye*.

Red Light Spell

This spell can be used to illuminate an area with a red light, emanating from a point chosen by the caster. The light is just sufficient to read by, but will not disrupt vision at night time (unlike a bright light). While the red light persists, the caster can augment their Seduction checks with their Invocation (Red Eye) skill.

Wandering Eye

This spell is used to animate an artificial eye crafted by the Sorcerer (as well as delicate cogwheels and mechanisms the eye usually requires wings from a small magical creature and a small ruby). A lens or monocle is also crafted to go with this. In use the spell is similar to Project (Sense), although the physical eye can be detected and destroyed, but the receiving view piece can be shifted between different people.

Gift – Summon Ranaztar of the Thousand Eyes

When the sorcerer is inducted as a full member of the Order, the masters will summon Ranaztar to oversee the ceremony. If Ranaztar detects disloyalty in the heart of the Apprentice, it will devour both of the Apprentice’s eyes, and then the Masters will expel the apprentice. Otherwise Ranaztar assists the Masters in destroying the eye the Apprentice will sacrifice. When the sorcerer becomes a Master, they can summon Ranaztar and sacrifice their remaining eye (which Ranaztar adds to their collection) in exchange for one of the following gifts:

  •  +1d6 INT
  • a Lore skill at 100% (this cannot be Forbidden Lore).

A master sorcerer of the Red Eye can attempt to summon Razantar at any time, provided they can gift it with the eyes of magically powerful people or creatures.

Duties

Novices and apprentices are required to assist higher ranked members of the order, and often spend long hours copying library manuscripts. Adepts and other high rank members are obliged to assist anyone who comes to them with a novel problem (although a gift is customary after the problem has been dealt with). There is an old Imperial Law requiring all children in the Imperial family to be tutored by a Red Eye sorcerer, although given the rate at which past Imperial tutors have been executed, exiled or imprisoned by the Emperor’s, this is not a popular duty. The order as a whole is hostile to the puritans in the Covenant, supporting imperial campaigns against them.


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