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Jan 6, 2012


We now return to your regularly scheduled dose of the '90s!

Legend of the Five Rings First Edition

Way of Shadow: Kitsuki Holmes Is On The Case

So! If you've followed the line so far you know that there are two contradictory interpretations of the ninja in L5R. In the corebook, we learn that the ninja are essentially an independent "Clan," friendly with the Scorpion due to shared blood ties but ultimately working for pretty much anyone, as well as recruiting from the lower castes. In Way of the Scorpion, we learn that the "ninja" are nothing more than a very long running deception by the Scorpion Clan, where the classic black-clad ninja are nothing more that samurai-caste rookies using deliberately lovely training and tools to distract the enemy while the real Scorpion assassins and infiltrators do their job. These views don't mesh, but the corebook also let us know that an upcoming sourcebook, Way of Shadow, would let us play a ninja campaign. I said back then that it was a gigantic lie, but on second thought it is technically true. Way of Shadow does let you play a ninja campaign, but in the sense that Chaosium's venerable Call of Cthulhu lets you play a Mythos campaign. Oh, the things we'll see! This book is helmed by Jennifer Wick, incidentally. :allears:

The book is set up as the IC journal of one Kitsuki Kaagi, and four major investigations he is involved with. The events of this book happened more than ten years before L5R 1E's official start. We're told that the Kitsuki learn a special meditation technique to recall all that they see, hear and think during an investigation: they write down the resulting journals and turn them in at the Kitsuki castle to add to the family's library. Each investigation is also an independent adventure (well, one is just a long-form cutscene but we'll get to that) where the PCs replace Kaagi and his assistant to try and solve the mystery. While Kaagi faced each investigation more or less successively, the idea is that the adventures are sprinkled in a campaign along with more "normal" chapters, so that the players start recognizing similar themes and patterns and get to feel they're cracking a great mystery. And what's the mystery about? The ninja, of course!


The true Ninja of Rokugan are more than black-clad men and women intent on murder and robbery. Though some, trained by the Scorpion, fulfill that role, the origin of the 'Ninja myth' goes back to an older and more sinister force. This is not the story of the false Ninja, Scorpions who hide their faces behind masks and powders, poison and smoke, but of their darker cousins. The enemy that hides within the shadow is not human, though it tries to be. It is not intent on theft, or gain, though its actions seem motivated by human desires. It is as ancient as the footsteps of Lady Sun and Lord Moon upon the earth, and those who serve it can never be free from its dark grasp. It is nightmare. It is the supernatural horror that stands, faceless, and curses the light.
These are the true Ninja.
This is the full depth of Shadow.
Enter, if you dare.

The prologue is written by Kitsuki Yasu, the Kitsuki daimyo. He writes down that one day during a storm, a traveller stopped at the Kitsuki castle and begged for shelter from the rain. After an hour she left, leaving a wooden box for the daimyo. It belonged to Kitsuki Kaagi (the woman was probably his eta servant) and Yasu used his master key to open it only to find his worn, damaged journal with this as the first page:

That reads more as "Kitsuki Kuugi" to me.

Yasu was always worried about Kaagi. He raised him as his son, though he was originally a Matsu. His father sent him to the Kitsuki to keep him safe: seven months after that, Kaagi's family was all murdered, except for an older brother that was at a Phoenix school. The Crane had managed to turn the Emperor's gaze, and when the dust and smoke cleared a whole lesser Matsu house had been eliminated. Yasu formally took Kaagi in and sent word to have his brother, Iyekao, brought to him - only to find out he too had disappeared. For months, Kaagi grieved and suffered of night terrors, dreaming of shadowy figures. The fears subsided in time and he grew to become a superb student and detective, but Yasu kept fearing for him as his investigation started to focus more on Rokugan's spooks: the ninja. As he writes his words, he awaits a decision from a council of Kitsuki, wondering if he (or anyone) will be allowed to read Kaagi's journal.

And it's on! The first investigation is Death at Ichime Castle. Kaagi goes to Ichime Castle, a Lion holding, after the death of the lord Akodo Maouri. The death was reported as usual by shugenja communication to all major strongholds, the Kitsuki included. He was survived by a son, Akodo Hakenka. What struck Kaagi as odd was that the body was not set to be interred until the next full moon, an unusual amount of time, for "spiritual reasons." Kaagi figured out immediately that was bull and that something unusual and alarming had taken place, and he went off to Ichime Castle along with his eta assistant, Meilekki. He is no stranger to the castle: he visited it several times with his father, and is acquainted with Hakenka. On his interview with the castle shugenja, Akodo Toshiin, he figures out that the man is a fool and easily roused to anger, but also that he is trying to hide something: all that Kaagi can pry out of him before he shuts up is that there's word of a family curse around, and that Hakenka has a younger brother, Sokoi, "not of full blood." Through Meilekki's gossiping with the maids, Kaagi already knows there was supposed to be a strange mark on Maouri's body, which Toshiin ordered the eta servants to remove as best they could. Later, Kaagi speaks with Ichime Amai, Maouri's concubine. She is obviously distraught: Kaagi notes that her loyalty to the lord was legendary, and that upon finding out that she was pregnant of him she offered to kill herself so as to not compromise him. Instead, Maouri allowed her and his bastard son, Sokoi, into the household. She is watching him now, and Kaagi realizes he didn't see him approach. Amai was the one that found the body, and she seems concerned over more than Maouri's death now. And she won't show her right hand to Kaagi.

Later, he meets with Meilekki, who already has got them permission to see Maouri's body. She has convinced the help that he is a great shugenja (they have absolutely no faith in Toshiin), and that Kaagi's mother was hinin and that Mei herself is her half-sister. Her wild stories have gotten Kaagi in more than one place that he shouldn't be in. She is sort of a mystery even to Kaagi, and delights in inventing new backgrounds for herself: even with his training all that he has been able to surmise is that she worked at a geisha house at some point. She came to him in the entourage of a Crane dignitary to the Kitsuki castle. Kaagi noticed her intelligence, and the Crane offered her to him, mistaking the source of his attraction. While Mei is off to investigate Amai's room, Kaagi meets with Matsu Nari, the lord's karo. Nari is a no-nonsense type known for his loyalty to Maouri and his experience in battle. He is concerned by the superstitious talk of curses and what it may mean for Hakenka's rule, as well as Maouri's behavior prior to his death. The strange mark had apparently appeared on his body before he died: it was definitely no tattoo, and Toshiin recalled seeing the same mark in the family records - and then went and made his findings public. Maouri was also retiring earlier than usual to bed and had been in forceful arguments with his son the previous two weeks, with the final argument being the night right before he died. Hakenka's rashness and disrespect for his father has put him in a precarious position, and there might be calls to make him step down... which would favor Sokoi.

After dinner, Kaagi goes off to search for Mei, who still hasn't returned. In the courtyard, suddenly there is a gust of wind: Kaagi is sure he is being followed, but can't turn around without giving away that he knows. He tries heading for clearer ground, but he starts getting inexorably lost for some reason. He can't hear the footsteps of his shadow anymore when he stops, but they start again when he moves. When he is finally certain he's got the tail in open ground, he turns - no one there. Then he turns again: Mei. He angrily tells her he could've killed her with her hide and seek game, but she doesn't seem to understand. And yet, there is uncertainty of some sort in her voice. For some reason, Kaagi doesn't feel like telling her of his mysterious follower. Whatever the case, Mei reports what she found: a very plain room, fit for a maid but not for a mistress. The only thing off that she noted is that Amai owns a lot of makeup, but the mirror she has is too small to apply it properly. Kaagi, as a dude, can't really give an opinion on that. :v: Amai has a small potted garden, but it's dead. Mei saves the best for the end, and after some prodding from Kaagi (who is finally feeling like himself again) she tells him that the garden is properly tended, with all the tools recently used. After that, Amai came, and Mei had to leave. She met Sokoi, they spoke for hours, and suddenly Mei realizes - she hasn't had dinner yet! By now Kaagi is sure she is screwing with him.

Maouri's body is kept in a chamber, with guards at the door. It smells like death, as can be expected. The body is... wrong, somehow. Kaagi has seen many corpses already, but whatever makes a man look like a man is gone in Maouri. The skin is too wrinkled of a man of his age, with a leathery look to it. He is lying in salt, and Kaagi suddenly realizes, between mirth and disgust, that Toshiin used a spell meant to preserve rations over long journeys to keep Maouri's body from rotting. Mei gets to work: she undresses the body and starts examining the dead flesh. The mark is there, and it's definitely no tattoo, no signs of scarring or healing. Even Kaagi is disturbed by how easily Mei handles the corpse. The chest is rigid, too rigid, and Mei thinks his throat constricted before death. Poison, perhaps? There's not much else they can find, so they leave after reassuring the guards that no curse will fall upon them.

That night, Kaagi dreams of being chased, of being lost, of seeing two moons in the night sky (one bright, one dark), of finding Mei's body on the castle pond, then realizing it's not her body, but Sokoi's. He wakes up - he sees Sokoi, wet and struggling to breathe, one big rock tied to his ankle. And then he wakes up for real. :stare: He hurries to dress himself to meet (rescue?) Mei, who is just having her dinner/breakfast. :yum:

Early in the morning, Mei leads Kaagi to a meeting. She had a visitor, a servant with a message from Akodo Temoru. He was a friend and general to Maouri's father, retired for years. And he wants to talk to Kaagi before gossipy servants are up. Temaru's quarters are in the back corridors of the castle: the guy is pretty reclusive. They knock at his door and Temoru opens, with the eyes of a sensei. His apartment is full of mementos from a lifetime of glory. He remembers Kaagi's father, and how he was a good man. He won't pretend to understand what the Kitsuki do, but Temoru knows they value truth: he hasn't always been a friend to truth, but he knows now some truth can prevent a great wrong, yet he still relies on Kaagi's Matsu heritage to make him discreet. Temoru was of lower station than Maouri's father, Bakusho, but they were great friends and went Bakusho went to the Akodo War College he took Temoru with him. They both caught the eye of a venerable general and along with other students became his sort of personal guard. One day, they got an important mission. The Doji and the Akodo were squabbling over some minor piece of land that neither wanted the other to have. The general learned that a Scorpion spy would travel in disguise to the negotiations so as to muddle them and leave the land open to raids by Scorpion-backed bandits. The student unit ambushed the caravan and killed the guards and the 'spy,' only to find that they killed the daughter of the Crane daimyo, sent to be married to one of the Akodo generals. The kids, unable or unwilling to understand, followed the general's order to dispatch all survivors (one maid included), take the valuables and pretend that bandits had robbed them. As it turned out, the incident made the Crane patrol the lands more heavily and the negotiations were a success. The students were told never to bring up the subject or even commit seppuku: the general claimed to have been deliberately misled by Scorpions to dishonor the Lion. Temoru tells Kaagi all of this, because the mark that they found on Maouri's body was the mark that was also in Bakusho's body, and in Temori's own skin: the mark of their secret student unit. No one else knew about it, but their wives. Kaagi talks to Mei later and notes that Amai claimed never to have seen it before, and Maouri's body was made with a much sloppier hand.

In Maouri's rooms, the window is open, and it shouldn't be. Mei figures that it had to had been opened recently, and Kaagi finds a small cylinder on the ground. It is some sort of device, but to what end he can't figure out. Mei just thinks it's a toy. The futon smells of something - obuno oil and beeswax, something else. Obuno oil has medicinal properties, but an improper mix can make you sick, or dead. Odd choice for poison though, it would take a long time and--- then it all clicks. Now it's time for Kaagi to be :smug: to Mei: the first time he heard about obuno oil was as fabric dye. It is pretty and used to be fashionable, until everyone wearing clothes dyed with the stuff started suffering bad reactions to it. The dye was much stronger than the medicinal mix, and after some tests with his portable chemistry kit, Kaagi notes the obuno oil that made Maouri's marking was too potent. But it had to had been applied for weeks to gain that deep black color. Amai had to have been the one, but her motives make no sense to Kaagi still.

Kaagi finally meets with Hakenka, with Nari at his side. Hakenka is playing at being a Lion daimyo, all maps and scrolls, and makes a show of ignoring him. Kaagi is having none of it and warns him against using his newfound power as a toy, to which Hakenka obviously becomes incensed. Kaagi notes the circumstances of Maouri's death and how he might just be the only one that can stop the same from happening to Hakenka, which cools him down somewhat. It was murder, by poison. Of course, to Hakenka the evidence of a Kitsuki means nothing, but proper testimony can be obtained from Amai... who is also dead now. Kaagi summons Mei and they all go to see Amai, who died just like Maouri in her own quarters. As Hakenka's guards turn in revulsion, Mei starts examining the body: she finds a pot of white cake makeup, a lot of it. And then she finally examines the right hand Amai had kept hidden: the fingertips are ebony black under the makeup.

In Hakenka's court and in public, Kaagi lays out the facts as he understands them at the new lord's bequest. There's nothing supernatural involved, only Amai's doing. With that, all of it is cleared... and at night, Kaagi, Mei and Hakenka hide in the latter's room for the real assassin to show up. Amai couldn't have done it on her own: she needed backup, someone to actually goad her into killing the lord she loved. Just as Kaagi fears Hakenka's impatience will make him act before time, the assassin shows up: it's a loving ninja! Black-clad from head to toe, he proves to be more than a match for both Hakenka and Kaagi, moving with a speed the magistrate has never seen. After some fighting he throws a smoke bomb that makes both samurai cough and hack, but just before he finishes Hakenka off Mei fends the killer with her throwing knives of Unicorn make. Finally Kaagi lands a blow and the ninja cries, with Matsu Nari's voice. Again he drops a smoke bomb, but this time it's to cover his retreat, unable to fight all three of them at once. How could he escape? He's Ninja, a tired Mei claims.

The case is now settled. Hakenka arranges to replace the incompetent Toshiin, which Nari himself had hired. The real Matsu Nari had died ages ago, and "Nari" was probably a Shosuro-trained agent. At least, Kaagi says, Hakenka agreed to spare Sokoi - but Mei informs that the boy was found drowned on the courtyard pond. Kaagi pales. The only thing unusual was that the pond's fish didn't disturb the body.

Our guy, Kitsuki Kaagi. Just here to break up the wall of text.

As for the adventure part! As mentioned earlier, Kaagi and Mei take no place in this - the PCs take their place. Basically, the Scorpion's agent in the house, Shosuro Geru (posing as Matsu Nari) had convinced Amai to slowly poison Maouri under the illusion that she was merely painting a mark on his body that would scare him into compliance with the Scorpion demands. The real plan was to kill Maouri, keep Amai from revealing Nari's involvement (since she did, in fact, kill the lord) and replace Hakenka with the easily manipulable Sokoi under the pretext that the bastard son could "break" the family curse. The PCs can come in like Kaagi did, from being related to Ichime Castle somehow (perhaps they knew Hakenka as children); from being curious about the strange requirement for the funeral to happen in the full moon, two weeks from the death; from being courtiers interested in having a hand in the succession of power; from the possible angle of a maho-tsukai being involved with the curse, thus making the matter fall under the jurisdiction of Imperial magistrates; and so on. As they arrive, the PCs are greeted by Akodo Toshiin, who tells them mostly what he told Kaagi. Nari planted the "family history" on the Ichime Castle records for Toshiin to find, which made the shugenja panic and send out a cry for help. He's not a very good Lion or shugenja, which is why Nari hired him in the first place. The PCs can try pushing him for more information, but he doesn't know much else - and trying to meet Hakenka and Nari right now would be barging in on their hosts. As the PCs are shown their quarters they can see Ichime Amai: Courtier + Perception against TN 10 roll to remember the circumstances of her affair with Maouri. PCs that pay attention to how she feeds the fish realize that she is not lefthanded and is deliberately keeping her right hand away: it doesn't look stained, but a Perception + Awareness roll at TN 30 (!) tells them it's got traces of makeup. PCs shouldn't get too out of line anyway, since Amai is still very highly regarded in Ichime Castle. Sokoi will also show up out of nowhere, but the GM shouldn't make a big deal of it - the idea is to keep the players on edge with information that could be important or useless. Just as the players get tired of examining everything in this scene - bam, the kid.

If the PCs want to gain access to the lord's body, they'll need to come up with an excuse like Mei did for Kaagi, but other reasonable methods (spells, distracting the guards, etc.) should get them the same information. Nari is a breath of fresh air as the no-nonsense type, which is just the impression he wants to give. He'll feed them the same information he gave Kaagi, and bring up the possibility of Sokoi as the new lord to "break the curse" with the skepticism he wants them to hear in his voice. He actually doesn't care what the party does: if they buy the curse history, Sokoi is on the throne, but if they don't the leads will point to Amai and he can always kill Hakenka later. The trippy part where Kaagi gets lost and "followed" is just trippy, but nothing happens if a character happens to have crystal with them. They won't hear footsteps or end up on the wrong side of the courtyard or anything. If they are affected, the GM is encouraged to play to the stuff that scares the PCs (Dark Secrets, phobias, etc.) but the important part is showing them the vision of Sokoi's drowned corpse. Amai's room is about the same as Mei described it, but someone with Disguise or Lore (Ninja) can tell that her makeup is not appropriate for that kind of activity. An Awareness or Herbalism roll at TN 25 (!) can tell that her garden died from exposure to some chemical or herbal compound. Her bedchamber is offlimits, though: samurai aren't supposed to hang out in a servant's quarters, and if they try to push the issue the rumor spreads about Amai being under suspicion and will get a lot of angry Lions on them. Even hinting that she had something to do with it at this point is -1 Honor point (!) They can try to bribe or convince a servant to check the room if they don't have their own Mei with them, but Awareness + Sincerity roll at TN 15 or the servant blabs. Also, remember Maouri's body? Any character that touches it will be treated as eta, with their Honor dropped at 0 for purposes of interaction. Cleansing requires rituals at a Torii shrine, and the nearest one is over ten miles away. Even making the attempt requires a Willpower roll against their own Honor x 5 as the TN, with success allowing them to touch the dead flesh at a cost of -2 Honor points for doing something so disgraceful. The loss is reduced to 1 point for Kuni shugenja and other people with "creepy" backgrounds.


In order to make the scene even creepier, you might want to have someone play the corpse. Send everybody out of the room, put your corpse on the floor, lower the lights, bring some candles, and tell your players to come back in. Ask them to do exactly what their characters are doing (but don't forget the No Touching rule in the Live Action section of the main rulebook). Encourage your corpse to twitch once when someone leans in to get a very good look at the stain. If things work out well, everybody will jump and ask if that really happened. Smile and reply, "Maybe. It's tough to tell in the shadows."

The dream sequence Kaagi had can also happen, again with the double wake up scare after seeing Sokoi's drowned body. If they think of asking, a servant will tell them that the boy almost drowned. There's no body on the pond, and the water spirits will not remember the incident. Later, Temoru (now Tamoru) will ask to see the PCs and tell them what Kaagi learned regarding the secret unit, their mission, and the unit tattoo, which is how the old Lion knows the curse is bogus. In Maouri's room, Kolat-trained Lion Matsu Hiroru (that Matsu Hiroru) is also investigating the scene, but will duck out once the PCs enter leaving behind his blowgun (the strange cylinder) It takes a Perception roll at TN 30 (so basically no) to see Hiroru if they specifically stick their head out of the window and say they're looking up, and 10s cannot be rerolled on this due to Hiroru's magic kimono. The GM should roll all of this behind the screen and get the players used to "false rolling" as well as spreading useless information to keep the players on their toes. The PCs can also find in the room the same stuff that Kaagi did with the obuno oil (Awareness + Poison or Herbalism at TN 20, or Courtier at TN 30) Hakenka will later be busy with Nari poring over maps and plans when he sends for the PCs. He's a brash jerk that always hated his father (he thinks his mom died of a broken heart) and dismisses any talk of "evidence" but is very interested in talk of someone wanting to stop his rise to the throne, while Nari will carefully deviate any talk that he doesn't want Hakenka to hear. Sometime after, Amai dies - even if the PCs go straight to her after examining Maouri's room, she'll die. The motives are still unclear, but it's also no secret that Hakenka never liked Amai either. Nari will remind the PCs of all of this, and also "reveal" that she was a Scorpion-trained geisha but chose never to reveal this out of his lord's request to keep her secret. And the mystery is "solved" unless characters make the same deductions as Kaagi: Amai loved Maouri and never would've done anything to hurt him. She never seemed to have the desire to be more than she was or to put her son on the throne, and Sokoi is too young to engineer such a plan. Who benefits from his inheritance? Who gets direct control of the province if such a young boy is named heir? It all comes back to Nari. Of course, the PCs don't have to go this far to figure out someone else is involved and try to draw them out like Kaagi and Hakenka did. Nari is not worried: he'll just kill Hakenka, paint the mark (he's got a lot of the dye left yet) and claim the curse got to him. Shosuro "Matsu Nari" Geru is a Shosuro Actor 3 with an Air of 5 but a TN to be hit of 15, +5 due to his one Shadow point. He also has throwing knives poisoned with fugu extract that force a TN 25 Stamina save or die, and Nageteppo smoke grenades for a Stamina TN 30 save or suck roll. Also note: Mei wasn't really affected by the smoke. The PCs get a single XP for solving the Amai angle, 3 for actually stopping Shosuro Geru, and on a successful completion Akodo Temoru will present a character with a gift, which is worth +2 Glory point since it's from such a respected general. Also, Hakenka will be truly grateful and give them lifelong travel papers for his province, and their status with the Lion will generally be raised.

Magic robes or not, Kaagi, you're a turbodetective and he is a WHITE NINJA.

As an epilogue, Kaagi and Mei are on the trail of Matsu Nari. It hasn't been particularly hard to track him due to his wound, but Kaagi also notices a second set of trails after Nari. He also noticed that Mei wasn't affected by the smoke poison, which he chalks up to another of his servant's mysteries. Three days later, he finds an arrow sign pointing into the trees next to the road, which leads them to the body of "Matsu Nari" hanging from a tree, his throat cut. Kaagi feels like throwing up. Mei doesn't want to examine the body either, but Kaagi orders her to do so. She only finds two of his daggers, but Kaagi also remembers that Mei stopped the killer from doing Hakenka in with a blow to his shoulder, yet the clothes there are untorn: turns out, Mei used the blowgun they found. She simply tells Kaagi that she must've forgotten what it actually was when they found it. They start following the trail of Nari's killer for days, with no success. They sleep outdoors after passing several villages, and suddenly an old man wanders into their camp. Kaagi uses the respectful term "Oja-san" and calls out to him, to which the old man replies with concern: if he is a man and not a ghost, he should show his feet! Kaagi does have feet, which calms the man down. The old timer is going to see his granddaughter for his marriage, and it's a long journey so he's travelling by night. Kaagi asks him to join them for tea and dinner, and knows without looking Mei already has a knife ready just in case. :v: She still smiles pleasantly at the old man, Seru Haka. To repay their hospitality, Haka tells them a story: once, when Mother Sun and Father Moon named all things, there was one little thing that didn't want a name. And it hid itself from Sun and Moon, covering itself with another thing that was now called "shadow." It offered its help and companionship to the shadow, and since the shadow was weak and didn't want to be alone it agreed. They became friends and allies, and the unnamed thing came to be nicknamed "deep shadow" because it was so much like its partner, but that was just a nickname. Ever shone a lantern on a patch of darkness that doesn't go away as it should? Or seen a shadow on a friend's face, and how they didn't seem to be themselves? Or seen a shadow as a kid that moved when no one else did? That's it. That's always it. Haka thanks them politely and leaves, after leaving our main characters well and thoroughly spooped in the dark woods. :ghost:

Next: that was the best adventure of the book.

Traveller fucked around with this message at 19:48 on Sep 6, 2016


Jun 6, 2013

Looking at it now, it really is disgusting. The flesh is transparent. From the start, I had no idea if it would even make a clapping sound. So I diligently reproduced everything about human hands, the bones, joints, and muscles, and then made them slap each other pretty hard.

Hideouts and Downtime… Let’s Read Cryptomancer! (Part 9)


Sometimes, heroes need to sleep. In Cryptomancer, downtime is how they do it. Downtime is a block of 8ish hours where the characters know they’ve got a safe place to rest and aren’t in any imminent danger (granted, a rare commodity in an average campaign). Either the players or the GM can declare downtime, and once it kicks in, you’re basically in “getting stuff done offscreen mode”. If you spend downtime resting, you recover 1HP. You can also perform surgery on incapacitated allies, which restores HP at a rate of 1/success rolled (so at maximum, they can recover 6HP – five successes, and 1 from resting). If you meditate instead of resting, you recover MP equal to your Willpower rank. You can also learn a spell, either from a book or a teacher. This requires you to have the free Talent Point(s) needed to learn it.

You can also spend downtime doing crafting-type-stuff: brewing potions, making gear, and setting traps. Basically, you just need the materials, the skills, and the tools, and some good rolls. Larger projects require multiple successes to be rolled – giant projects would need hundreds over the project’s lifetime. Luckily, your less skilled friends (or paid workers) can contribute with their own skills – moving stones, scrounging material, etc. Their successes get added to yours (provided you roll well enough). A masterwork claymore would take 8 successes to make from scratch – impossible to do in one session of downtime on your own, but slightly more possible if you have some friends to help you haul metal and work the forge. I like this system a lot, since crafting is typically a solo activity in RPGs. It’s nice that even those who didn’t decide they wanted to spend points on making poo poo are still able to help out.

Finally, you can spend your downtime networking or hunting for leads. Rather than manually play out every interaction a player would go through while infiltrating an organization, they instead just make an ascending series of skill checks to simulate their moving up in the ranks. The ranks are Noticed (2), Accepted (5), Respected (9), and Admired (14). The skill rolled can vary with the organization – an alchemist’s guild would require you to demonstrate your alchemy skills, while the king’s court may require charm rolls. Either way, as you accumulate successes, you’ll be getting deeper and deeper into the group’s inner circle. If you’d rather hunt for leads, rather than people, you can do that instead – the book mentions that it’s a great way for the GM to help steer a group in a particular direction if they’re feeling a little aimless. The group can just decide “we’re going to case the neighborhood for leads”, and the GM can come up with an appropriate bit of information to keep them moving forward (provided they roll well on their Query checks, of course). It’s a nice way for players to “brute force” a mystery if they’re feeling stuck, but the idea is that downtime should be a precious commodity – if a prisoner is being executed in three days, deciding to spend 8 hours wandering around looking for clues might be a tough decision for the group to make.


These are the guys you see when you’ve really, really pissed off the Risk Eaters.

In addition to the individual character sheets, the party also has its own sheet, tracking the group’s progress and advancement through the campaign. The first entry on that sheet is for risk, which is number tracking just how closely the Risk Eaters are watching the heroes. It starts at 1% and goes to 100%, representing how likely it is that the Risk Eaters will intervene in the lives of our heroes. Risk can go up for two reasons: bad operational security, and defying fate. I’ll let the author explain what, exactly, constitutes bad opsec:

Cryptomancer posted:

Bad operational security is when the party is not taking appropriate steps to keep a low profile, protect their communications, and/or mask their affiliations. Some examples include: getting involved in something they shouldn’t, reusing keyphrases over multiple sessions, not cleaning up after themselves (e.g. not disposing of the bodies), resorting to preventable violence, operating in broad daylight, etc. If and when a GM notices these types of activities taking place, she has the option to increase risk between 1 and 3 points, depending on the severity of the behavior, but must notify the players and tell them why it occurred. If the GM is nice, she’ll even advise the players when they are leaning towards bad opsec, so they can course correct before risk is accumulated.
In short, it’s basically a way for the GM to slap the players on the wrist and say “bad players! Be sneakier!”

The other way to generate risk is entirely player-led: after rolling, but before the GM narrates what happens, the player can choose to gain 1 risk to convert a botched roll (a 1 on a d10, or a 1-2 on a d6) to a normal success. This isn’t typically worth it unless you’ve got a dramatic failure on the way and something really bad is going to happen (especially if you’ve failed a magic roll). Either way, it’s a hell of a dilemma – do you disadvantage the whole party to save your own skin? I can see this rule inspiring a lot of arguments, but I also think it’s very thematic. Rules that force tough choices onto players are, in my opinion, usually a good idea.

So: you’ve got all this risk building up. How does it actually come back around? Basically, any time the players hit a [i[risk trigger[/i], the GM makes a d100 roll. If she rolls equal to or under the current risk, Risk Eater assassins appear and start wrecking shop. (They can either fade out of the woodwork, or be revealed to be nearby NPCs who’ve been Risk Eater agents all along). Risk triggers occur when players take a session of downtime away from their safehouse, whenever a day passes that the party doesn’t have a patron protecting them, or any time a player rolls a dramatic failure (2 botches, no successes). In the last case, the risk trigger occurs instead of the usual nasty consequences for rolling a dramatic failure.

How the Risk Eaters respond to a failed risk trigger roll varies, depending on how pissed off they are at the party. At first, the party is rated as a Nuisance. 1-2 assassins will be dispatched when needed – which is more than enough to take down most threats! (As always, Do Not gently caress With the Risk Eaters). If they survive and make it to a second risk trigger, the party is now a Disruption. This time, 2-3 assassins show up. If the players somehow make it to a third risk trigger, the party are rated as Destablizers. Whatever the party are doing is putting serious strain on the Risk Eater’s resources and infrastructure (maybe not even knowingly – the fact that the party are still alive could be enough to throw off their plans). This time, they send 3-5 of their biggest, baddest killers. If they survive that, the party reaches the maximum threat level: Existential Threat. I’ll let the author describe what happens next:

Cryptomancer posted:

A threat level of existential threat means that the party’s actions threaten to topple everything the Risk Eaters have spent decades building. In response, this otherwise reclusive and shadowy organization will publicly project their will and declare the players “grand heretics.” Any faction or fiefdom allied with or harboring the grand heretics will be wiped off the face of Sphere, first pummeled by magical weapons of mass destruction fired from the Risk Eaters’ spire, and then finished off by an axis of Risk Eater agents and thrall armies sent to obliterate survivors. No one, not even loved ones, would risk entire civilizations to save a handful of fugitives. The player characters are irreversibly on their own and finished. Grand heretic status is a great time to wrap up the campaign on a nihilistic note. Basically, the campaign spirals to a bloody and unwinnable conclusion and the party has “lost the game.” However, that doesn’t mean the conclusion isn’t awesome. We encourage GM’s to conclude “failed” campaigns with a final scene as epic, nihilistic, and violent as seems appropriate, even if it takes an extra session or two to fully realize it.

So yeah. You cannot win. There’s no way to reduce risk, no way to stop the inevitable – just keep fighting until the Risk Eaters are literally willing to nuke you from orbit, just to get rid of you and your friends. This is definitely something you’d have to go over with the players from the beginning: the game is a death spiral by design, and there’s no getting out of it. Obviously, it’s not hard to houserule around it – you could have risk reduce by successfully completing missions, or just not have the final risk trigger be so apocalyptic – but I like that the game is willing to totally commit to having such a bleak, violent ending.

Strategic Assets
Just like the individual character gets equipment, so too does the party. Except it’s not swords and bows for the party – it’s secret hideouts and deniable spy cells. Strategic assets are earned by completing missions for the party’s patron (at what rate, it doesn’t say – but I would go with at least 1-2 per mission). In the game world, these things cost coin or resources, but you can abstract it away with a cost in strategic resources. Influence, after all, is often just as good as coin. The first kind of upgrade you can buy with your strategic assets are safe house improvements, which make your secret hideout all the cooler. Most of the upgrades are similar to Talents, letting you ignore 1 botch on a specific kind of roll. For instance, the lounge lets you host distinguished guests in a genteel setting, while also letting you ignore 1 botch on any social skill rolls made against the lounge’s guests. Most of the upgrades are semi-portable, but realistically hard to move if you’re in a rush or your safehouse has been burned. There’s an upgrade, Transfer, that lets you smuggle everything from one spot to another – but it costs 2 Assets, which could be better spent on other upgrades. You can stock your base with a library, a dungeon, a forge, a healer’s den (super useful to heal fast!), a ritual chamber, a stable, and more. Everything your party needs to live in comfort while plotting their enemies’ downfall.

You can also spend your Assets on hiring cells of agents to do your dark bidding. They cost 1-3, and when you hire them, you can choose if they’re close, or deniable. Close cells have a degree of trust and loyalty to the party, which also means they can point the finger if captured or turned. They get 4 d10s and 1 d6 on all skill rolls, so they’re highly effective at whatever task you put them to. Deniable cells are the opposite – they only get 2 attribute dice (d10s) on skill rolls, but are managed through cut-outs, dead-drops, and anonymous Shardscape messages. They kinda suck, but can’t implicate you if caught. Whichever you choose, close or deniable, cells can be assigned a mission at any time and will take roughly a day to succeed or fail. (The author recommends 1 task/session can also work if you don’t feel like timekeeping). Oh, and they’ll never operate against the Risk Eaters. The book says that would be the equivalent of trying to “contract a modern private military company to combat the Illuminati”, except, I guess, if the Illuminati were real.

Some of my favourite cells:
Agitators (2 Assets): A group of political operatives who specialize in propaganda, misinformation, and gossip, using their considerable acumen to tarnish reputations, create schisms, and destroy morale.

Cleaner (3 Assets): When one of your other cells fucks up, goes rogue, or turns traitor, this is who you call. The cleaner does things their own way, with particularly grim efficiency. Cells that you “clean” are no longer useable assets, but at least they aren’t a liability any longer.

Echo Collective (1 Asset): A group of “gossips, subject-matter experts, and information peddlers” who collect and share information on a specific topic. Basically, a group of darknet Wikipedia editors who you hire to keep you informed about, say, the latest developments in political news.

Shard Stormers (3 Assets): A collective of badass mage-cryptomancers who will use every cryptomantic spell in the book to assault an enemy’s shardnet, stealing as much information as they can and scattering shard spikes and denial spells around to render the whole thing nearly unusable.

Unlikely Allies (3 Assets): “An ally in the unlikeliest of places: an orcish clan, a gnollish pride, a profane coven, a hated rival house, a dragon, a gang of orphans, an asylum full of lepers, etc.” Basically, your own Baker Street Irregulars.

Cells are fun, not just to have your own little army to order around, but also as a way of letting players pick and choose what interests them. If a particular subplot or intrigue doesn’t catch their fancy, they can send a cell to take care of it on their behalf. Of course, some problems – mostly the Risk-Eater-related ones – will need their personal touch.

There’s also a handful of mounts to acquire – thoroughbred horses, the war-insect gigaphid, and a living tunneler, the molephant. The author also sneaks in the advancement mechanics, such as they are, here: basically everyone gets a Talent Point for surviving a session, with a bonus point if the group came up with a clever hack that took the GM by surprise. Between adventures (every 4-6 sessions), when there’s an appropriate narrative gap, everyone can increase one of their attribute ranks 1 step, so long as they explain what they’ve been up to during the break.

And that’s it for rules. Next time: Golems, firewalls, and more crypto then you can shake a wand at!

Alien Rope Burn
Dec 4, 2004

I wanna be a saikyo HERO!

It bears mentioning the utterly insufferable presentation for the adventures in Way of the Shadow. You'd think it would be a chunk of fiction, then a chunk of adventure, but no.

Instead, the adventure consists of reference notes that discuss how to convert the fiction into an adventure. And they're not right alongside the fiction as sidebars or the like, prepare to flip back and forth and back and forth. It's probably the worst book of the line in my opinion, and that's even with books like Twilight Honor that are best handled with tongs.

Halloween Jack
Sep 11, 2003

Let your word be "Yes, Yes" or "No, No"; anything more than this comes from the evil one.

:leans in and inhales deeply, his crimson eyes gazing at everyone in the chatroom: Oh yeah, that is some gooood White Wolf, dude.

Dec 22, 2007


hectorgrey posted:

I recall The Riddle of Steel used this; in that while you rolled d10s, the target number for each individual die could go above 10; in which case, you'd roll, and then reroll any tens to see how many successes you actually got. This was very much for the "You're almost certainly going to fail, but it's more fun to let you try" rolls rather than anything you're seriously expected to actually succeed at.

Personally, I didn't really see much of a problem with that; for the most part, you could ignore exploding dice because they were already successes; it was only for the rare occasion where something was practically impossible that you'd actually care what the exploded dice ended up as.

I agree. If you have to have exploding dice, that's a good way to do it - it's fun, if you ever managed an 'impossible' roll, but it doesn't mess up the probability for normal uses.

May 7, 2007

Open Legend is available for free on It contains art, tips, links to adventures, a blog, the full rules of course, and other details that this review won’t touch, so please visit the page if you’ve any interest.

Actions and Attributes:.

This section is all about rolling dice. More precisely it’s about when, how, what challenges are appropriate, and how rolls can be modified. This is the first section where the idea of reducing cruft rears up and it definitely is a pushback against “roll everything” and “if its not in the rules you have no recourse” style thinking.

We kick off with defining when to roll the dice. As it takes pains to make clear, you should only be rolling the dice in situations where it matters. If you’re buying something from the market or looking for something your character should know you just succeed and there is no point to rolling. This leads us into a section I quite like where the game outlines how not to handle a failed roll and examples of success with a twist and failure but story progresses. Sadly, the success with a twist is a complete jerk move but they’ll rectify that in the next section. The game then clarifies this idea of success with twist or failure still moving the story only applies to player actions, and if the GM fails a roll they just fail; no success and no twist so that players get that satisfaction of a clean win over the GM.

Next, the game gives a good set of examples of how to interpret rolls in various scenarios. It repeats that you don’t roll if there is nothing to succeed at (i.e., if there are no hidden passages don’t let them roll for hidden passages) and if they should reasonable expect to succeed at something they shouldn’t need to roll at all either. It then provides a checklist of ideas for success with a twist such as attracting unwanted attention, finding something they weren’t intending to find, making a new rival, etc. Following that, unsurprisingly, is ideas for how to have a failure still move the story along such as escalating danger, figuring out an alternate fool-proof way around the problem, or having false information that leads in a new direction. All in all, I really like this section because it gives some decent thought starters to get GMs thinking about how to accommodate different roll states.

Having introduced when to roll and how to interpret those rolls, the game introduces its challenge rating system. This is exactly as you’d expect a list of target numbers as appropriate for a given attribute score with examples. Notably, the game states that checks aren’t intended to scale, so if you set a “break wooden doors” to a 12 target score you’re to keep it the same throughout the game so players can have a sense of progression. For actions which are contested between two active parties, both roll and the highest roller wins flat out. For a contested roll, the two parties don’t have to use the same skill and which skill is used is up to the GM which is sensible but obviously dependent on your GM. The examples of challenges at the highest “legendary” level on the challenge rating table includes such feats as jumping 25 feet, climbing a flat surface, and befriending an enemy with a vendetta against you aka literally the plot of any given film Captain America appears in.

in which we behold the result of failing a contested roll with one’s wardrobe. Artwork by – Saryth

Having gone through the rest of rolling mechanics, we dive into roll modification. The game refers to this as advantage and disadvantage. Various feats, Banes, or Boons can grant advantage or disadvantage, as well as the GM imposing them at the level they feel is appropriate for what is occurring. The game includes a table of scenarios in which to give advantage or disadvantage based on roleplaying, and while it’s not totally consistent at least the game is giving examples of how to bring roleplay into combat and social interaction dice rolling mechanics.

Advantages and disadvantages have tiers of strength, and are always followed by a number indicating how much you’re getting, such as “Advantage 1” or “Disadvantage 3”. When you have sources of advantage and disadvantage both involved in the same role you do the math subtracting disadvantage from advantage; e.g. if I have advantage 3 and disadvantage 1 you would end up rolling with advantage 2.

For each advantage you have, you add that many dice of the attribute level you are to your roll, and keep the highest as appropriate to your attribute level. So if you have an attribute 5 and advantage 1 instead of rolling 2d6, you’d roll 3d6 keep the highest two. Similarly if you were attribute 4 and advantage 2 instead of rolling 1d10 you’d roll 3d10 and keep the highest. These advantage dice can of course explode, so advantage, especially for smaller size dice becomes less a chance of explosion and more of a controlled demolition.

Disadvantage, conversely, still requires you to add the dice to your roll, but you must drop the highest dice equal to the number of the disadvantage. If you were attribute 3 and disadvantage 2, you’d roll 1d8 as normal plus 2d8 disadvantage and toss the two highest dice keeping the lowest 1 for your result. This is the same as making you keep the lowest scoring dice as appropriate to your attribute level, so I’m not sure why they didn’t just phrase it that way*.

he smiled as he stared the terrified tailor in the face. “What are you worried about? You have a 3.25% chance of measuring me for a belt without getting stabbed” – Artwork by: Saryth

Following that is a short table showing the calculated odds of challenge rating versus attribute score to succeed about 50% of the time. The math here almost works out but characters sort of undulate between being under and over the idealized 50% success depending on their attribute level. At attribute 0 you’ve got a slight edge to beat a 0 challenge rating 50% of the time and at level 9 you’re slightly under your chance to succeed. Credit here due to NGDBSS

This chart of course is built ignoring the exploding dice. It's not a particularly egregious busted difficulty curve unless I misread the charts I got provided pretty badly, and for the record at attribute 0 you have an approximately 3.25% chance to beat a given level 9 challenge. Not that the game mentions this as an option, but worrying over exploding dice is also fully a moot point if your GM decides that attempting rolls above your level invokes disadvantage.

*I’m blaming THAC0. You can choose your own reason.

Up Next: Feats! And Wealth & Equipment! (Get two for one on this update because the Feats section is basically just a place holder page so you can find the feat list whenever you need it!)

Barudak fucked around with this message at 04:41 on Sep 7, 2016

Dec 30, 2009

The data I put together does actually take the exploding dice into account, though after taking a look at things I found that I made a small programming error with some of the Attribute 0 stuff. Apparently your chances of hitting Difficulty 9 with Attribute 0 are ~3.25%?

How high can advantage/disadvantage go? Even introducing just one point in either direction allows for a considerable amount of complexity when we're going from a two-variable problem (Attribute + Difficulty) to a three-variable problem (+ Dis/Advantage), and that's not counting the fact that the third variable involves the weirdness of order statistics.

May 7, 2007

There is seemingly no cap on advantage or disadvantage. It looks like, sans DM intervention, the highest single advantage/disadvantage granting abilities give Advantage 5 or Disadvantage 5, with the exception of a user of area attack spells can give themselves a staggering 13 disadvantage if they so choose. When calculating advantage/disadvantage you get to stack all sources granting it to you, so its not as though 5 (or 13 for that matter) is the hard limit in either direction.

Further, this is taken from their twitter feed: "Open Legend house rule for extra drama: Each round, all combatants get a cumulative advantage 1 to attack rolls, making lethality cumulative." For reference since we've not covered it yet, damage dealt on an attack is the difference between what you roll and what the defense number is.

Updating the post to reflect the math update.

Edit: My god, the only place the rules tell you how fast a standard character moves is stuffed in one random feat description.

Barudak fucked around with this message at 04:58 on Sep 7, 2016

Apr 22, 2014


I'm really enjoying your L5R writeup, Traveller. Keep it up!

Hipster Occultist
Aug 16, 2008

He's an ancient, obscure god. You probably haven't heard of him.

Man, unless its possible to tear down the Risk Easter's spire and destroy everything they've built, it doesn't sound like a game I'd want to play. What's the point when the big bad is going to win no matter what you do?

Shame really, some parts of it sounded kinda neat.

Aug 21, 2007

Neat. Sweet. Petite.

Same, there's a lot of stuff I like conceptually about L5R from the write up, but hoo boy the actual system and Wickisms are kind of offputting.

Apr 22, 2010

Royalty is a continuous cutting motion

Hipster Occultist posted:

Man, unless its possible to tear down the Risk Easter's spire and destroy everything they've built, it doesn't sound like a game I'd want to play. What's the point when the big bad is going to win no matter what you do?

Shame really, some parts of it sounded kinda neat.

Yeah, there's no reason to put a monolithic enemy in the game and then make them impossible to beat. That defeats the purpose of an underdog story and makes the game boring.

Apr 6, 2011

Tomorrow, doom!
But now, tea.

That L5R story was actually a rather neat murder mystery and could (stupid LARPisms aside) make for a solid investigation campaign. Rely on the setting's complex etiquette and rules of behaviour to restrain "PC logic" and you have a genuinely good adventure with a solvable puzzle at the heart of it.

A shame it only "really" happened to an important metaplot NPC, like everything else cool in Rokugan.

Count Chocula
Dec 25, 2011


wiegieman posted:

Yeah, there's no reason to put a monolithic enemy in the game and then make them impossible to beat. That defeats the purpose of an underdog story and makes the game boring.

Didn't this same discussion happen with God Machine Chronicle? The point is to have a glorious last stand, or take out part of the Risk Eaters operations, or stay true to your ideals in the face of overwhelming force....

Dec 10, 2007


Count Chocula posted:

Didn't this same discussion happen with God Machine Chronicle? The point is to have a glorious last stand, or take out part of the Risk Eaters operations, or stay true to your ideals in the face of overwhelming force....

Except in L5R the super-badass NPCs once again swoop in and give the unbeatable bad guy a wedgie.

Lynx Winters
May 1, 2003

Borderlawns: The Treehouse of Pandora

The game being discussed Cryptomancer, not L5R.

Dec 24, 2007

Please don't engage white wolf stymie.

Dec 10, 2007


Planescape: Planes of Chaos - Chaos Adventures

We’re in the home stretch of this box set. The next booklet presents fifteen adventure ideas set in the Chaos Planes. There are three for each Plane, one low-level, one medium, and one high. Of course since this is 2nd edition, “medium” is defined as levels four through seven and “high” means levels 8 and higher. Unlike stand-alone adventure modules, these are not fully detailed adventures that a DM can run out of the box. Instead they are somewhere between those modules and L5R’s “Challenge-Focus-Strike” plot summaries (or CFS).

The intro pages reiterates that Planescape should not just be explorable by characters of any level, but that such characters have something to do while visiting and not just be spectators. Another point that the intro emphasises is that the Upper Planes have as many opportunities for adventure as the Lower Planes.

As mentioned, these aren’t fully fleshed out adventures. What’s provided are the general plot points, the ways to get players involved, what motivates the NPCs, and what likely choices the players will make. Not included are the stat blocks for monsters and NPC, maps, or treasure. The adventure ideas are presented with the assumption that the DMs are experienced enough to fill in these details. It’ interesting choice of what to prioritize. While these outlines take up less space than the usual D&D adventure module, they’re still pretty lengthy compared to the CFSs mentioned above. If a DM is experienced, than needing motivations or identities of NPCs laid out for him won’t be necessary, because he’s more likely going to change them out to characters he’s already introduced to the campaign. On the other hand, the booklet seems to think that DMs have all the tools they need to make their own custom NPCs. If it had been up to myself, I would have used the space here to flesh out NPCs that probably won’t be mentioned in any other module.

On the artwork front, there are some drawing from previous books by Tony Di’Trezelli, but a majority of the artwork here is from Dana Knutson. His art ranges from unremarkable to pretty dire. At least it provides an easy

Since these are just outlines, there’s no point in running a hypothetical party through them or pick them apart for inconsistencies. Instead I’ll just provide a summary of the adventure (which are actually included in the booklet), with a few extra comments if I feel like it.

The Abyss
Arsenic (low) “The owner of an Abyssal inn has set out poison to get rid of a pack of cranium rats, but now the rats have stolen the poison and are using it on the unsuspecting guests.” The summary recommends at least one PC know the slow poison spell. The set up is that the PCs arrive at the inn (somewhere in the Abyss or near Plaguemort, probably Plain of Infinite Portals) after dinner has been served but before the poison takes effect. There’s some leftovers for the PCs to poison themselves, but the booklet just assumes that the PCs will take the food. It seems this hook only works if the players have already made it a habit to eat at whatever inn they stop at. And if I was a player and the DM suddenly began focusing on how hungry my character was, I’d just hide in my room with my dry rations. Now to the adventure’s credit, it recommends not following the rules for poison in the DMG since the PCs didn’t receive a full dose. Now back to the plot. As the patrons start feeling the effects of the poison, their suspicions turn to the few Tanar’ri present, the adventure now suggests that the PCs may jump to this conclusion and join the mob in attacking the fiends. The booklet says to have NPCs get between players and the Tanar’ri, but unless these are Dretches the more likely outcome is the entire inn gets wiped. Putting that scenario aside, eventually the PCs should spot a cranium rat dragging a powder from one of the sacks of flour, and from here they can solve the mystery. Or they could just let the place burn to the ground.

Wicked, Wicked Ways (mid) “A githzerai member of The Fated asks the PCs to help him get to The Abyss “to destroy an evil amulet.” Once there, the githzerai strings the the PCs along while secretly consolidating a new power base for his people. It falls to the PCs to realize what he is doing and to escape before his machinations get them into a planeful of trouble”. The githzerai, named Silonius Greél, plan is to seize a Tanar’ri Fortress and hold it long enough to get other ‘zerai to come to his aid. The amulet is the key, which he peeled off a Tanar’ri Lord dwelling in Sigil. Now he just needs to get to the fortress before the Lord (named Volisupula) catches up to him. Now if you ask me, usurping an Abyssal stronghold sounds like a pretty rad idea, but the adventure seems to assume that the PCs would rather make themselves scarce before Greél gets scragged. At least the summary leaves open the possibility that the PCs stay and ‘zerai reinforcements arrive, but it also suggests that Greél can just be delusional and the PCs get captured “leading to further adventures.” If you ask me, this reads like an adventure that’s meant for a much higher party than suggested.

The Book of Lies (high) “The PCs ‘acquire’ a magical tome from the Dustmen. Titled the Book of Lies, the tome contains every untruth ever uttered. But the PCs learn such knowledge can be less a boon than a curse.” At the start of the adventure, the Dustmen are keeping the book in a fortress on Thanatos, the 113rd layer. A Convert has recently left the Dustmen and joined the Sensates, and has both the means and motive to steal the book. The Convert is named “Mefisto the Bald”, who has the same name as an NPC from Azzagrat but it’s unclear if they’re supposed to be the same character. Mefisto offers to sell what he knows to the PCs-a map to the destination, disguises, and passwords to get into the fortress. The portal from Sigil to Thanatos leaves them some distance from the fortress, which is a pretty common trope in Planescape adventures. The point of this conceit is to show off each of the weird locations. Whether it has the desired effect probably depends on what DM is running it. The book itself is not particularly well guarded inside the fortress, and the Dustmen are not fanatical about protecting it. The Book itself works by saying someone’s name out loud and opening the book, wherein it lists all the lies that person told in chronological order. Assuming the Book doesn’t cause an impromptu game of Paranoia to break out, if the PCs are canny enough to check the name of their contact, they’ll discover that Mefisto sold the fact that the PCs have retrieved the book to everyone in Sigil. In fact, the adventure suggests that due to the divisiveness it engenders, the PC’s best course of action would be to return it to the Dustmen. No info is given if the PCs want to destroy the Book instead.


Nuts (low) “The PCs are caught unexpectedly between two local tribes of creatures. How they respond to the situation will shape the very future of the region.” Specifically, a bariaur clan living in Arborea near a branch of Yggdrasil have become the target of pranks by a target of ratatosks. The PCs arrive at the Bariaur village (why are the PCs here?) to see a group of armed bariaur angrily waving weapons at chittering ratatosks perched on the roofs. The two groups notice the PCs and ask them to arbitrate their dispute. It’s pretty railroad-y, as the PCs are surrounded by both groups as they each explain their side of the story, and the two parties will run them down if they try to leave. Now earlier the adventure stated that the ratatosks were trapped on the rooftops by the bariaur, so I would have them run the gently caress away when the bariaur ran up to the PCs. As for the specifics of the dispute, no details are given as to what pranks the ratatosks were playing, instead the argument never gets beyond a typical day on the I/P Discussion Thread. The default assumption is that the PCs will leave one group unhappy, but it leaves open the chance the players can find a solution that makes everyone happy.

I regret leaving the Monster Supplement for last

Party Reservations (mid) “While traveling in Arborea, the PCs come across a band of bacchae and are faced with the choice of running from them, fighting them, or joining them.” The book notes right off the bat that if the PCs go with the murder-hobo option, then this just becomes a particularly hard encounter. Presumably, the PCs are traveling through Arborea to a location that they’d rather not see trashed by bacchae (as well as a place the bacchae could trash). The outline says the Bacchae crash the PC’s camp at night, and amongst other frat-like behavior, the bacchae will aggresively pursue party members of the opposite sex. :stare: Okay, I’m done with this outline.

Treasure For The Taking (high) “The PCs discover a Titan’s ruined stronghold, filled with loot for those bold enough to take it from the guardians inside. Unfortunately, their invasion causes the Titan himself to escape his age-old imprisonment in Carceri and head back to punish those who robbed him.” This is basically a dungeon crawl set in a secluded region of Arborea. The Titan’s name is Polyphemos, not to be confused with Polyphemus from The Odessey. The crawl climaxes with the PCs inadvertently releasing the Titan and either giving back all the loot they took (hah!) or fighting the Titan.


Street Crew (low) “The PCs must discover the secret behind the mysterious changes in a halfling’s hamlet.” Remember that place I briefly ranted a few entries back? That’s the setting for this adventure. One of the dissatisfied youth has discovered that she’s an Anarch, and after leaving for a while to learn how to use her powers, she’s returned to throw the hamlet into chaos. Of course, the PCs get wrapped up in her mischief, which culminates in a Chaos Beast sneaking into the village. The idea is that the PCs can try to fight off the monster for a while but ultimately the Anarch has to defeat the beast by giving away her abilities. The problem with this is that a Chaos Beast is a pretty big gently caress-you encounter even at the intended level. Against a low level party, the Anarch has to act right away or the party is going to be crippled if not wiped. Ultimately, the only agency the PCs have is talking the villagers and the Anarch from going full Carrie.

Deliverance (mid) “Most trips to Limbo involve traveling to some stabilized terrain. But in this adventure, the PCs have to slog their way through the ‘soup,’ trying to find a particular slaadi chieftan in order to deliver a message of power.” The premise of this mission is balls. A town is being attacked by Slaadi, and hope to stop the raids by killing their leader, a Gray Slaad. The PCs are not that hero. Instead, it’s some other guy that doesn’t want to be bothered with going cross-country through Limbo. The PCs part is to deliver a magic device that summons our lazy DMPC to the Gray Slaad. Really, gently caress this adventure.

Steal Town (high) “The PCs must travel to the Floating City, spiritual home of the reclusive and humorless githzerai people, to discover the source of disruptions on the Astral Plane”. It’s a well established back that Wizards have no sense of Right and Wrong, and Githzerai are no different. These wizards have created a special guidon that draws Githyanki from the Astral Plane into a Courtyard in the Floating City where they can be conveniently killed by waiting soldiers. The device has the side effect of creating unprecedented numbers of conduits in the Astral that dump travellers randomly about the Outer Planes. The PCs can either discover the disturbances from rumors or get hired to destroy the guidon. The whole thing is meant to culminate in a big fight against the Githzerai while trying to figure out how to destroy the Guidon. But its is rather pointless because if the PCs fail but manage to escape, the Githzerai shut it down to prevent its discovery. So a PC just has to show up the Floating City, yell “:byodood: ANYONE KNOW WHERE I CAN FIND A DEVICE THAT MESSES WITH THE ASTRAL?” and then leave.


A Mouse-Eye’s View (low) “The PCs land in Winter’s Hall - Loki’s Realm - and must find their way out before the giants there wake.” The adventure starts with the PCs lost in Pandemonium (not hard) and wander into the above realm. A pack of ravenous wolves drive the PCs towards The Trickster’s great hall. When the PCs get in, they discover that it’s inhabited by giants, wolves, and various canine monsters. The adventure outline assumes that the main concern of the PCs will be surviving the cold, but rules for hypothermia are neither in this adventure or the realm’s description in the last book. I guess they may be in the the DMG. In any case, the PCs will eventually meet a normal-sized petitioner that can give them suitable clothing. The final part of the adventure is sneaking out without waking the Giants, but the rules don’t seem to favor the PCs-too many Dexterity Checks in an edition that tries to guilt you into making character by rolling 3d6 down the line and the Thief Class is absolute garbage. And unlike other adventures, no consideration is taken to if the PCs fail to get out.

Hoards of Treasure (mid) “The PCs travel to the town of Windglum on Pandemonium’s third layer to investigate an unexpected “gold rush” of treasures coming from that area.” Spoilers: It’s dragons. Specifically young Green Dragons that inherited their hordes after their mother got killed by a native of Pandemonium. Now right off the bat the adventure says that a green dragons’ alignment matches the Plane, which is wrong (greens have been Lawful Evil since at least 2nd edition). Then it suggests that even a young dragon’s hoard is too much treasure to give characters-OH gently caress YOU, TSR! IT’S YOUR FAULT THAT EVERY GROGNARD AND THEIR NECKBEARD CAN’T STOP FELLATING 3RD EDITION! AS BROKEN AS THAT SYSTEM WAS, WHEN IT CAME OUT IT FELT LIKE THE loving ENLIGHTENMENT COMPARED TO 2ND EDITIONS INSISTENCE ON STINGY REWARDS AND DICKING PLAYERS AT EVERY OPPORTUNITY! *breath* Sorry bout that. So yeah, a dragon hunt on the Outer Planes, which here means lots of trekking through Pandemonium and surviving the environment before getting to the actual monster.


Mad Dog (high) “The PCs learn that battling even a forgotten god down on his luck is more than most mortals can handle.” This adventure outline pits the PCs against Gorellik, the declining Gnoll god who wanders between The Abyss and Pandemonium, fighting whoever he encounters. Recently he’s ranged too close to the Madhouse, and the Matron has put out the call for adventurers to investigate the recent upswing in violent killings near her burg. The identity is meant to be a surprise, and I guess in pre-internet days it was possible for an adventuring group to not know what they were getting into. Now despite the set up, this is not an opportunity for the PCs to get the Deicide achievement. See this is just the Avatar of Gorellik, and if it’s defeated he’ll just form a new one some time later. That-that feels like such a cop out. No one loving cares about Gorellik! I know this was the kind of gameplay you wanted to avoid, Planescape writers, but you can spare a couple pages for some high-end Murderhobo action. Speaking of which...

Divinity! :downs:


Snipe Hunt (low) “The PCs are sent from Sigil to Ysgard by their factol. Their mission is a strange one: They are to bring back a yule log from the hearth of three different halls in Asgard. Trouble is, the Asgardians don’t want to give up their logs.” So in this adventures the PCs go Christmas shopping! And to start them off, the portal from Sigil puts them in a bear cave complete with bear. Each three hall has a different challenge associated with it, some more achievable than others (one requires the party having a combined 60 strength-hope your party is all fighters!) The most interesting is killing a hall full of petitioners, then as they try to return to Sigil dawn comes and the petitioners pop right back up to fight them again. As for what the Factol needed 3 yule logs for is left to the DM

The Hammer and the Serpent (mid) “When the PCs learn that Minions of Set have stolen an item from one of the Norse powers, they are sent to prevent the item from reaching its destination in Nephythys’s temple.” I feel like if this had been written 4 years in the future it’d be a jab at John Wick “Our samurai viking honor says we must show hospitality to these obviously evil people. Oh no, the obviously evil people took advantage of our hospitality, who could have known?” Overall not a bad adventure, but a sad lack of murderhoboing.

The Fires of Ysgard (high) “The PCs must stop a mad valkyrie who intends to make a pre-emptive strike and begin Ragnarok.” I’ve seen the ‘prevent Ragnarok’ plot in multiple media and it always strikes me as strange. “Hey Odin, someone trying to start Ragnarok!” “Is Balder dead yet?” “Uh, no.” “Does this plot involve stabbing Balder with Mistletoe?” “Nope.” “Nothing to worry about, back to drinking!” One twist I would add to the Norse in Planescape is that the Powers benefit from the Plane’s resurrecting powers, only its spread out over centuries instead of the next day. Back to this adventure. There are no stats for a valkyrie in this box’s monstrous supplement, and I don’t remember there being one in the Monster Manual. Where a DM can find their stats isn’t mentioned anywhere in this box set.

Conclusion: None of these adventure ideas are unsalvageable. With some modification, I’d include them. But that just gets back to the point I made at the beginning of this update. A DM is already going to be customizing these adventures to fit their campaign, so going into details about what NPCs should say when is pointless. Compare this to a typical Challenge-Focus-Strike from L5R, in which the PCs are visited by the fortune Osano-Wo who tells them to investigate a temple being run by a corrupt monk. It takes 1/9th of a page to explain, depending on the formatting, and the story can incorporated into any L5R game, no matter the edition, the time it takes place, or what sort of game the GM is running. The extra details these outlines have add nothing that a good DM wouldn’t already be doing, and while one of these outlines might help a bad DM get better, 15 of them aren’t 15 times more effective.

Next Time: Just put ‘chaos’ in front of the name and call it a day.

SirPhoebos fucked around with this message at 21:29 on Sep 9, 2016

Jan 6, 2012


Legend of the Five Rings First Edition

Way of Shadow: Crab Apples

Yes, as ARB mentioned, Kitsuki's log is divided in a series of entries, and the playable adventure portions of the book reference the entries, like "Entry 23: The PCs must roll Perception + Lore (Cheese) against a TN of 40 to find NINJA CHEESE hiding in plain sight..." but you only get a summary of the actual action in the journal at best. Flip back and forth, ho!

The Haunting of Hida Dasan is the second chapter of our merry tale. Kaagi and Mei are on the trail of Matsu Nari's killer. Kaagi is still annoyed at Mei and her secret knowledge of the blowgun: after lots of prodding she says that someone dropped a similar thing at the geisha house she worked at and that a visiting Scorpion lady told the girls how it was used, mostly for their own amusement. She also says that if she were lying, he wouldn't be able to tell anyway, so they decide to leave it at that. Mystery! Their quest has taken them deep into Scorpion lands and now they're about to make the cross through the Crab border. The Scorpion border guards are in an unusually cheerful mood, and they even invite Kaagi and Mei in for drinks: over sake, they happily tell them how Scorpion troops beat the snot out of the Crab in a minor border skirmish. The Crab are probably a lot less cheerful! Restocking on supplies and waving the Scorpion buds goodbye, our duo walk into the lands of the Crab.

The Scorps weren't kidding about the Crab being in a sour mood: the first patrol Kaagi and Mei run into angrily demand their identity, take them for Scorpion spies and then the leader draws his sword. Kaagi notes that there's a lot of fear and rage in the Crab's eyes, and moments later both cross swords. Further unpleasantness is averted by the appearance of a Crab commander that angrily rebukes his men. When they claim that the innocent travellers could be spies, he notes that the patrol allowed Mei to get behind their backs. They're lucky she didn't just shank all of them when their leader went aggro on Kaagi. The gruff general, Hida Misogi, apologizes profusely, but even Kaagi is disturbed by his gaze as if he were a child and did something wrong. Kaagi also spots the trail he's been following for days, but Misogi is suddenly very interested in Kaagi. As a Kitsuki, does he know about their "strange science"? Because there is a matter, a long and unpleasant story. He once again asks Kaagi to forgive his men: they've been testy after the skirmish with the Scorpion, and there's also talk of a ghost - a figure dressed in white that disappears when approached.

Misogi has a pretty cool 'stache.

At Misogi's home, he starts telling them the story. He explains that the Crab and the Scorpion had been involved in a land dispute: some territory that originally belonged to the Scorpions but had been granted to the Crab ages ago, only to have the old claim denied recently. The Scorpions had the home advantage in the following skirmish, but the Crab had better fighters and the guidance of a general that had returned from the Shadowlands along with his unit. Few knew of his return, and he would have been the trump card. Unfortunately, the reinforcements failed to arrive, and the Scorpion bested the understrength Crab forces. When the Crab sent scouts to find the missing unit, they found a massacre: of twenty-five men, only four lived, and only one of those was unscathed simply because he was lucky enough to be off for water when it happened. Apparently, one of the men, Hida Dasan, simply flipped out on the unit for no reason: he killed sixteen men, companions that had fought together for years, before he was brought down. Five more men died of their injuries before help arrived. Dasan and all of the men had been checked thoroughly at the Wall on the way back, and none bore the Shadowlands Taint. It is possible that the stress broke his mind, but Dasan was no rookie and had over three tours of duty beyond the Wall. Misogi asks for Kaagi's help because he's heard that the Scorpions have drugs that can drive a man mad or berserk, and he's also heard that the Kitsuki have similar knowledge "but more honor than to use them." Kaagi respectfully replies that the possibility exists, though he's never heard of such a drug, and herb traces can vanish quickly after consumption. Misogi is glad for his assistance, but he also says that they won't have access to Dasan's body for two days: Kuni shugenja are in a ritual to draw forth part of Dasan's mind from beyond to see what the hell happened.

Mei isn't too happy: the weather is dismal, and they're being housed at Hida Dasan's own home. His wife, Hida Kohi, is unwell and does not greet Kaagi personally. Mei is taken to the servants' quarters, while Kaagi gets to enjoy a hot bath and a guest room. He looks at the shadows as he's falling asleep: they seemingly move more fluidly, he's reminded of old shadow plays he watched as a kid-- and he's woken up suddenly by the cry of a boy. He draws his katana, but nothing stirs. Someone else had to have heard it, unless Kaagi was just imagining things. Satisfied that nothing is going on, Kaagi goes to sleep, feeling somewhat nostalgic by the candle light. Then, a gust of wind turns the candle off. Kaagi dreams (and knows he's dreaming) that he sees his brother: he climbs through the window and tells him he's sorry, that he tried to set things right so that Kaagi wouldn't have to. Kaagi feels guilty: he never tried, but his brother says that maybe it's for the best. Then, he's gone, and the dream shifts: now Kaagi is sitting on a fallen tree across a man that he knows is Hida Dasan, with the corpses of his company around them. Dasan is sorry that he has come. Kaagi asks if he can prove that Dasan was poisoned, but the Crab says that it's not in his body, not anything that he can recognize. He says that he's sorry, Kaagi asks if he'll go home, and Dasan says that no one goes home after a point, and that both Kaagi and him have gone too far. He really seems to regret what has happened: the madness goes away after death, he claims. He fears it will return and that he can't move on. Kaagi tries to reassure him saying that they'll burn his body soon and maybe that will help: Dasan nods, then begs Kaagi to leave. It's all coming back: his madness, his life. Our magistrate leaves him alone, hearing him start to rage incoherently behind him. And then he wakes up. :suspense:

Next day, Mei introduces Kaagi to a young samurai, Hida Kurusu. He was training under Dasan, Mei explains. He is staying at Kohi's house to guard her now that her husband (his teacher) is gone. Other four men were in the house, but they've left: Kurusu is essentially ruining his career by continuing to associate with the fallen Dasan, but Kaagi sees that he won't be deterred. Kaagi and the young bushi go on a walk, and he explains that his father (posted at the Wall since his own wife died) sent him to study under Dasan, because the Wall wasn't a place for such a young man. He does not think that Dasan would have been ever capable of doing what he did. He does say that while he seemed fine after returning from the Shadowlands, he became more apprehensive after time passed. He confided to Kurusu that he felt discomfort, almost fear, parts of the day and night, as well as being plagued by bad dreams. His temper grew worse with time, lashing out at the people of his household, which Kohi endured stoically. And a few days ago, he told his young ward that "a great madness" was in him. Dream-Dasan's words come back to Kaagi: his madness, his life. Or did he say his "wife"? The real Dasan told Kurusu that while having an argument with Kohi, suddenly he looked up and saw that she had no face, just empty blackness - and that it, somehow, had smiled at him as if nothing had happened. He thought he had ran from the room in terror, but actually he had woken up. And he couldn't bear to see her again for fear of seeing her faceless. Kurusu begged him to stay, but Dasan didn't want to stay in the house anymore. The young man, with pain in his eyes, tells Kaagi his suspicion that Kohi is a maho-tsukai, and the magistrate realizes why Kurusu hadn't spoken up himself - if she isn't, he has betrayed both her and his lord.

Kaagi and Mei go to visit the general of Dasan's unit. He is still alive, but hopped up on painkiller herbs. The general Nakai is a wreck: he can talk, but he has a deep gash in his face and most of his body is bandaged. He says that Dasan had a "demon" in his eyes: he moved like a serpent, unlike anything he had ever seen. His best men never even managed to draw his blades - Nakai taught them to see menace in everything, but not to fear their brother, not here. And the worst was that he was screaming, in his own, sane voice. He howled that they were demons, that he knew, that he saw their faces - and when he died, he said that he had saved them, that it could not find them now. And then Nakai drifts off into sleep again.

Kaagi thinks Nakai is delirious, but Mei really gives thought to the idea of possession. He tries to joke about it, but Mei is not joining in. Back in Dasan's home, Kohi is still not coming out, and generally things are as cheery as a funeral. They eat, and then Kaagi is off for a hot bath in the tub. He ponders on Kurusu's story, on Dasan's words in his dream - why can't he remember if he said "life" or "wife"? He should be able to recall his dreams perfectly with little effort. He hears/imagines in the battered general's voice, "She had no face," and just while he's meditating on where the rest of his broken arm could be, the magistrate feels something moving over his leg. He all but leaps out of the tub, but can't see anything on the water in the bathroom with just candle light. And his katana is all the way in his room. The door bursts open and Kaagi grabs the taper candle, and he sees a figure with no features on his face. It speaks with Kurusu's voice, but Kaagi feels vertigo, the room spinning around him. Kurusu speaks again in concern - right, his face is there, it's just hard to make out. Kaagi says that there's something in the tub. The Crab does not even attempt to question Kaagi and examines the tub - nothing. Then they both realize the hot wax from the candle is falling on Kaagi's bare skin. Putting it on cold water, Kaagi insists on something being in the tub while he was having his bath: Kurusu does not doubt it for a moment. They go to Kaagi's room, where Kurusu says that after he left him earlier in the day, he saw something - a nightingale that Dasan had gifted Kohi, dead with its head twisted. How could this be anything but sorcery? Kaagi says that there are mundane explanations for the bird's death, but Kurusu retorts about the thing that was with Kaagi in his tub. The magistrate insists that they should wait, but Kurusu says tomorrow night, after he's seen the body, he'll know what is truth and not - and will act on it.

Later, Mei wakes him up: she couldn't sleep, and thought Kaagi couldn't sleep either. Well, he was asleep. :v: She is acting strangely, asks if he is asleep now, touches his leg - it feels like the thing in the tub. Kaagi is up and with his wakizashi in his hands, and he feels her laughing without making a sound. The silhouette in front of him is too wrong to be Mei. It says that it came out of hospitality, to see if he is comfortable. The voice makes him of serpents, and then he starts thinking of spiders on a severed arm, the wings of a nightingale, and then Hida Dasan with a gaping hole on the side of his head, looming in front of him. The woman-thing says she's glad he's met his husband - both could be friends. Kaagi realizes suddenly that they are on the field where Dasan killed his comrades, and that both are getting ready to fight. The Crab looks too mauled to stand, but the determination in his remaining eye is grim. The fight begins, and Kaagi is barely able to keep up with the maddened Dasan: he cuts over and over, and the Crab just doesn't stop. Finally he manages to cut his hand, and then works up to his neck. The stench of the place rises, and Kaagi feels like he's falling forever---

---to wake up to a worried sick Mei and a slightly less worried Kurusu, who is holding him up. Apparently Kaagi didn't show up for breakfast, and they found him collapsed on his room with his wakizashi by him. Mei tries to make light of the situation but she can't hide her concern. Kurusu is also worried - what should he do? Kaagi gets his poo poo together and tells him to do nothing until he gets to speak with the shugenja. Actually, Kurusu should just leave the house, and do anything other than staying there. Kaagi will go to find him. On the way to Misogi's place, Kaagi explains last night's events: Mei is convinced Kohi is a tsukai and should burn, but Kaagi feels there's not enough evidence. She is frustrated by Kaagi's seeming inability to act on what his own eyes and ears tell him. With Misogi, they go to meet the shugenja, Kuni Yanaka. He's properly creepy as any good Kuni is, and he leads him to the room where Dasan's body is - impaled on a jade spike. Kaagi is juuuust a little shocked. :v: After snapping out of it, he notices that the shugenja performed an autopsy on the body. There are other two men in the room: Kuni Kabai and Kuni Inoba: Kaagi knows this last one as one of the feared Witch Hunters. Yabai, all gentle smiles, says that there's no trace of the Taint in Dasan. Misogi tells Kaagi to investigate, and Mei starts doing what she does. When she's done, Kaagi thinks that Mei might just be Kuni after all. Finally Kaagi has to admit there's no evidence of poisoning of any sort, but also that the leads are pointing to Hida Kohi: he narrates the strange happenings of the past days.

Mei is bae. Or maybe not! :iiam:

All six of them go to Kohi's house under the rain, and Misogi commands her to appear. Kohi finally shows up: Kaagi identifies her as the person that was in his room, and she is really pissed at the rude interruption of her grieving. Inoba subjects her to a battery of Witch Hunter tests: making her hold jade, reflecting her on a rock mirror, making her eat a jade coin, binding her limbs because maho-tsukai totally can't stand having this done to them... none pan out. Kaagi already knew this was wrong, but could not stop the Crab from making their tests. At the end, everyone is kinda embarrassed but also relieved. Surprisingly Misogi isn't even angry at Kaagi later: as he sees it, Kaagi just laid down what he had seen and experienced, but the Crab made the call to test Kohi. So much the better, then: it's just a case of a man that broke under pressure. Misogi is still disturbed by Kaagi's dreams, considering them an ill omen. Kaagi decides to stay at Misogi's place to not bother Kohi anymore, but he still has to go fetch his journal in spite of Mei's protests. It's raining heavily and he is completely soaked by the time he reaches Dasan's house. The door is ajar, and the front room is empty.


I call out a greeting, softly. I don't want to startle the maids, and I'm loath to disturb Hida Kohi. No one answers. Lighting a lantern from the front room, I proceed into the house. The kitchen is empty as I pass it on the way to my chamber. I gather a couple of my belongings, then shoulder my pack. Reentering the hall, there''s still no noise. Perhaps everyone has retired, but I don't know why they would have done so with the door still open.
"It's to let the smell of the rain in," says a voice close to me. "I love the smell of rain at night."

Kaagi spins ready to draw his sword, and it's Lady Kohi in the hall. She was just coming from the bath, she claims, but Kaagi is not as easily tricked. What is she? The fourth wall-breaking thing asks if she is his hostess, or the dark that he guards against with his lantern. It won't help. It's only the illusion of light, and they have been watching Kitsuki Kaagi for a long time. Maybe they could be friends? She offers him a gift that is in her chambers, and with his blade between them Kaagi lets her pass. She asks if Kaagi is lonely, and he asks back, how long has she been watching him? Well, he was her guest, it was her job to watch him, to give him what he desires. Her gift is never having to be lonely again, or afraid of the dark. In her chambers, there are three bodies: two of them are the maids, the third is Lady Kohi, and the thing with Kohi's shape now has no face but in the nothingness there the madness of Hida Dasan grins back. It's all superficial, it says with the voice of Hida Kurusu. With all the strength he has left, Kaagi throws himself out of the room, and outside, while it calls out to him.

Our magistrate wakes up in Yanaka's house with Mei now looking as if she had been crying her eyes out. They found him on the street, covered with mud: the rain almost drowned him. Mei is definitely sniffling, for all that she snarks back at Kaagi. Apparently he had been muttering things about Kohi not being herself and having no face, which was enough to convince Kurusu and Misogi to set the whole house on fire. Misogi wasn't convinced until he saw Kohi dancing in the fire, though. Kaagi asks Mei if she saw Kurusu after that, and she says no. He tells her what happened, and also confesses that he has no idea what any of it means. They bid Yanaka goodbye as fast as they can, and passing the burnt remains of Dasan's home they find Inoba poking in the wreckage. Inoba and Kabai were too late for the burning, but the witch hunter is concerned that his tests didn't catch her corruption. Kaagi says that he doesn't think Kohi had anything to do with it, and that he fears something worse was involved and that Kurusu was somehow involved. This makes enough sense to Inoba: he tested a normal human, but an oni in her shape spoke to Kaagi: perhaps it caused Dasan's troubles and might have been Kurusu all along. Kaagi grows increasingly frustrated, convinced they're dealing with something other than oni, but Inoba insists it was a Shadowlands creature. The magistrate realizes that the witch hunter will refuse to believe in a new threat aside from the ones he already knows.

Inoba mang are those loving dreadlocks

The adventure part! The book says the setup can be as simple or as complex as the GM chooses: this chapter can be a story on itself, filler between other episodes of a campaign or simultaneously run with another adventure. This latter suggestion involves running the "real" adventure by day and the events of Kaagi's investigation by the evening - players won't expect to be attacked in the "inn." It's easy to bring them in by making up a reason to cross from Scorpion to Crab lands, then having a storm hit so that the PCs have a reason to stay at the village. The most important thing is that they stay at Dasan's house. The Living Darkness has an interest in the PCs now, either from their actions in Ichime Castle or (like Kaagi) from their background. The early part of the adventure plays out much as it did for Kaagi: happy Scorpions and grumpy Crabs. The Scorpion guards are just regular dudes - just because they're Scorpion doesn't mean they can't be regular people. They will tone down their gloating if Crab PCs are around but will still tease a bit. In Crab lands, the PCs will find the Crab patrol is really spoiling for a fight (Perception + Stealth roll against TN 15 to spot the patrol) and any Scorpion PCs will be "challenged" first. Awareness + Sincerity at TN 30 to solve things diplomatically, but Misogi will bail the PCs out anyhow. If the GM is running things straight from Ichime, Misogi will make the comment about the white ghost. He explains the situation to the PCs and asks them for help depending on their specialties (like asking a Kitsu to speak with Dasan's spirit) with the same issue about the body not being available until a couple of days later, and he'll be very sorry about asking them to stay but this is important.


The PCs could say 'no', at this point, but if they do, remind them just how poorly that refusal will reflect on them and the lord(s) they serve.


The PCs will be encouraged to stay at Dasan's place, though it doesn't really matter if a PC commandeers a peasant house or anything: the Darkness doesn't give a poo poo about geography. Also, if the PCs leave the village the dreams of the slain Dasan keep calling them back. In fact, they will gain the Nightmares disadvantage for staying at Dasan's place: the Darkness will infiltrate the dreams of a single PC chosen every night to spook them, and sleeping will not restore Void points. They can only get them back through meditation. The Darkness also gets +10 to its TN when PCs are out of Void. Oh, and if the PCs leave the place without solving the adventure, the Nightmares are permanent. :gonk: The PCs will be spread across three guest rooms (female samurai that share quarters with their male companions take a -1 Honor point hit) and then the "fun" will begin. One PC at the time will hear threatening noises and screeches that no one else will hear: the maids will say they were fast asleep, while Hida Kurusu will be wide awake - he hasn't been able to sleep well since the battle, but he'll also say he didn't hear a thing. Hida Kohi won't be available, but sometimes PCs will be able to hear what's probably her voice humming a sad melody. They will never see her directly though. The song can be identified with a Perception + Bard, Music or Poetry roll at TN 15: it's a ballad about a woman that sees her husband go off to war, then he returns as a ghost to take the now old woman to the afterlife. But in alternate endings, it is the woman that has been a ghost all along! :ghost:

After two or three in the morning, the PCs will "meet" Hida Dasan. Willpower against TN 20 when speaking to him: those who pass this roll can elect to wake up from the dream by spending Void Point. Those who stay are in a deep slumber from which they cannot be awakened, and for the rest of the adventure these characters cannot use Void Points to assist their rolls. :psyduck: Dasan will tell the PCs the same things he told Kaagi, then they can leave the dream as the madness takes over again. The village, Utokii, is a typical Crab border settlement and a pretty morose place with the massacre and the loss to the Scorpion. Kurusu will seek the PCs out if they don't go to him and confide in them his disturbing observations with regards to SORCERY. Misogi will be busy (the servants hint that he's spending time with his mistress if pressed), Yanaka will also be too busy to see them, while the wounded general Nakai is there if PCs want to go bother him. The local barracks have twelve bushi, none of which was in Dasan's group. They'll still be somewhat suspicious of the PCs, but will talk more freely with a Crab PC. The word is that Dasan was insane, but didn't become so until after his return from the Shadowlands. Some rumors say that it wasn't Dasan that cane back, but an oni in his guise.

Those rumors are half right: something did come back in Crab skin. But it wasn't Dasan, it was Kurusu.

The site of the slaughter is much less wretched than in the dream: already the corpses and remains have been taken and properly burnt. A Perception + Investigation roll of 40 or higher---

40 or higher

Let me check my 1E corebook for the probabilities table... ah, yes! With 3 in Perception and 3 in Investigation, the chances are 7%. A Perception of 5 and and an Investigation of 4 (basically literal Sherlock Holmes) only gives 57% odds. Jennifer, what the gently caress. Anyway, if the PCs make this roll they can find General Nakai's missing arm. Gross, and useless! If they make a roll of 25 or better, they can find a set of carvings on the trunk of a fallen tree. Presumably Dasan made them, and they say "My face is my own" over and over. As for Kohi, there's nothing really wrong with her other than her grieving for her husband, but her absence and circumstances make her a prime target for suspicion, which Darkness!Kurusu will make sure to inflame. The second evening is much the same as the first, and Kohi won't show up again. Kurusu will inform of his "fears" to the PCs if he didn't meet them earlier. There's no Taint to detect and Dasan's spirit cannot be summoned, if the PCs think of that. When they go to sleep: bam, nightmares again! Kohi creeps people out! The Darkness will make sure to tailor the visions to the PCs, so the GM should feel free to hit them with visions of all those NPCs they have in their sheets and backgrounds and so on. When everyone has reached the point where they realize "Kohi" is wrong and "Dasan" shows up, they get to fight him! PCs could fight him one on one if they are few or the players are "very patient", but the book really recommends that everyone gangs up on Dream Dasan to finish the session in a reasonable amount of time. This Dasan won't be affected by wound penalties, and enchanted weapons don't do anything special: the only way to stop him is to do what Kaagi did and behead him with a +10 TN called shot. If any of the players happens to have some sort of spirit banishing spell and successfully casts it, Dasan's grateful spirit is sent away from the Darkness' grasp for good. Once either of these two conditions are met, the PCs fall in a deep slumber and will wake up a couple of hours after dawn. PCs that die fighting Dream Dasan cannot use Void Points for the rest of the adventure and pick up Phobia: Undead, for -1 R&K die to all rolls involving Dasan. Yikes. Also they get an extra -1 to all physical actions for the rest of the day due to their nightly exertions.

Get spooked.

The events of this day play out differently depending on PCs' reactions, but basically the Crab shugenja will come to the conclusion that Dasan's body does not present the Taint, and Kuni Inoba will subject Hida Kohi to his witch tests. Some of these might just work and some might just be dumb superstition depending on the GM's whim, but of course since Kohi is not Tainted or a maho-tsukai none will do a thing. The players may or may not buy the idea that it was a mundane madness that forced Dasan to kill his people, but they're welcome to do their own investigations and tests. The real thing comes at night: the Darkness is ready to move on. A hurried message from Kurusu will lure the PCs to Dasan's home if they're not staying there. They find things as Kaagi did: the door ajar, no one home... and then, the lights go out, and Kohi shows up! The PCs realize that all they can see is Kohi and themselves - other PCs vanish from their sight. Kohi talks intimately to them, saying how they have expected them, and are willing to welcome them. Any PCs that stay outside find nothing out of the ordinary. The PCs may call to each other but their voices are distorted, as in a dense fog; they might try reaching for each other's hand only to find that the "hand" twists and coils in their grasp, and other shenanigans. Any characters that choose to strike at Kohi and roll more 1s that any other number end up hitting and ally. Eventually, the shadow fog vanishes and they see Kohi's room. Shadow Kohi is faceless and has a Fear rating of 3, and PCs must roll their Willpower against a TN of 15 or run away. They might take 1 Wound Level of injuries on their rush to get away from the faceless thing. Kohi won't attempt to stop them, and characters that make their roll can leave calmly, but if they choose to attack her the first strike will go through Kohi, hit a lantern and set the house ablaze. The commotion will be noticed by the Crab, and Inoba will be convinced of maho work whatever the PCs tell to him, and recommends Misogi that Dasan's house is put down. By morning, all evidence will be gone. If the bodies of the women are pulled before the fire, the maids present no untoward signs, but Kohi will show signs of heavy struggle. She was a Crab and a warrior's wife, after all. And no one will ever see Kurusu again: Inoba and Misogi will assume he was also a maho-tsukai, but he is actually part of the Living Darkness. The PCs get Misogi's thanks for their part in the issue, and if they have no further business all the supplies they need to get back on the road.

Wait, where's my XP?


Next: and you thought THAT was bad.

Jan 6, 2012


Loxbourne posted:

That L5R story was actually a rather neat murder mystery and could (stupid LARPisms aside) make for a solid investigation campaign. Rely on the setting's complex etiquette and rules of behaviour to restrain "PC logic" and you have a genuinely good adventure with a solvable puzzle at the heart of it.

A shame it only "really" happened to an important metaplot NPC, like everything else cool in Rokugan.

Yeah, the Ichime Castle adventure is kinda cool and PCs do have things to do there. The thing that is annoying aside from the constant "one misstep and ALL THE LIONS will come for your head!" reminders is the insistence on how creepy body handling is. Yes, it is a setting taboo, but PCs aren't likely to have their own undercaste servant just in case they have to see a corpse. And even if actually figuring out how to get information from a body without touching could be a cool little puzzle, when it gets to PCs being forced to roll against themselves and still losing Honor on a success is where it goes from setting obstacle to plain annoyance. In fairness, it's not strictly necessary to handle Maouri or Amai's bodies to crack the case (the critical clues are in the talk with Temoru and in Maouri's room) but gating content like that feels kinda petty.

But like I said, that was the best adventure in the book. It only goes downhill for there, both for Kaagi and for theoretical players.

Alien Rope Burn
Dec 4, 2004

I wanna be a saikyo HERO!

Traveller posted:

Legend of the Five Rings First Edition

Way of Shadow: Crab Apples

Get spooked.

I do really like the Ramon Perez art in this, it's actually pretty creepy and effective. L5R was lucky to freelance him for a brief time.

May 7, 2007

Open Legend is available for free on It contains art, tips, links to adventures, a blog, the full rules of course, and other details that this review won’t touch, so please visit the page if you’ve any interest.

This section is less a section and more a recap of how feats work and a permanent hyperlink to the list of feats. Beyond this section of the rulebook webpages, there is an entirely separate section of the site navigation which directly takes you to the list of feats so you should never be particularly far from this page. In general, hyperlinking important reference material can’t be done enough so kudos.

The feats are otherwise the exact same as we left them, and the list has little tab out buttons if you want to save specific feats to view later in your browser. The only negative I have about that feature is that it doesn’t automatically create a new tab. The entire list of Feats proper is too long to list here and overall too dull to cover as many are just moderately altered DnD 3/5th feats. The entire list is presented sensibly in alphabetical order except for the feat “Master Tracker” which is located in the R section*.

Before we wrap up the feat section for the second time, I would like to point out something that came up as I got further into this book. Open Legend presumes that you use some sort of grid for combat, despite not mentioning anything about that until in the 7th of 8 sections, and that characters move over this grid at the rate of their move speed. Nowhere in the rules proper does it ever tell you what your move speed is or how you derive your score. The only place I could backsolve for what the game assumes your default movement is the feat “Insubstantial” which despite several other feats saying they modify your move distance is the only one to clarify exactly what a standard distance is.

the face of a player realizing that buried in the feat list is the standard move speed - Artwork by: Vorpal Pen

Wealth and Equipment:

The section begins by telling us that no story of heroic deeds is complete without equally heroic gear and then throws out some examples of heroic gear to set the stage for the sort of iconic gear you’ll want to give your character. I would not have picked Bilbo and his Mithril shirt over say, Bilbo and his magic weapon with name that is repeated in hushed frightened tones by his enemies, but they needed a heroic piece of armor to round out their examples and didn’t have to suffer through the Aeneid in high school. Lucky Open Legend designers.

We immediately segue, then, into Wealth and purchasing items. While the game seems to think this is a natural transition point, literally all the items in the heroic examples the book gave were looted by or given free of charge to the heroes who wielded them.

Wealth in Open Legend is tracked using a 20th attribute called Wealth to determine well, your character’s wealth. Like other attributes this score ranges from 0-9, but unlike other attributes it can’t be raised except by GM fiat or feats, and starts the game at level 2. To try and avoid players being forever poor due to the GM, a table is provided with notes stating at certain levels characters should expect to be at minimum this level of wealthy. Also present on the chart is the belief that a literal “Street Urchin” can afford both three square meals a day and a warm bed at night.

Purchasing items in Open Legend is relatively simple. If the item is below your wealth score by any amount, you are presumed to be able to purchase as many as your heart desires as often as you want. If the item is of your level you may make the purchase, but you’ll take two-weeks to recuperate the wealth necessary to make another such purchase. You may also purchase an item from the tier one above your current wealth level, but after completing this purchase your wealth stat falls permanently by one point. Of further note, the GM is told they don’t have to sell you every piece of non-equipment goods you can theoretically buy at your wealth level, such as the listed at wealth level 8 army of 10,000 soldiers, with roleplaying excuses such as you not being worth dying for or capable of training and managing that many.

and all this can be yours, if The Price Is Right – Artwork by: Najarian

Now that we know how much we can buy, how much can we actually take home? This is where carrying capacity comes in. Every character, regardless of attributes, can carry a maximum of 20 items. Of those twenty items, characters may carry as many items tagged as “heavy” as their might attribute score + 1**. Lastly you may carry one item tagged as “bulky” as part of the 20 items, or if you’re willing to have your move speed reduced to 5’ you can carry a maximum of two “bulky” items. Open Legend does note that only interesting gear should count towards your twenty. So armor and weapons and a magic potion are part of the twenty, but your house keys and underwear aren’t. All in all, I'm fond of this section, even if the "bulky" rules seem unnecessary.

get over here so I can kill you, you stupid dragon – Artwork by: Dleoblack

Finally, the game is ready to get into the actual gear. Gear is split into Weapons, Armor, and… Gear. Weapons and Armor are defined by adjective tags given to them. It’s important to note that all weapons deal the same amount of damage, not that we know that yet, so the only differences between weapons are the tags they have associated with them and the Banes one can invoke using them. Conversely, each piece of armor has a strictly defined defense bonuses it grants you, with this bonus raising both your physical resistances but doing nothing to protect you from magic. Gear is purely tedious DnD inspired adventuring gear roleplaying items with no mechanical benefit, and all the examples have the “bulky” tag. If these Gear bundles weren’t in the rule book in this way I’d assume they’d fall under the items Open Legend would consider uninteresting and thus not part of your 20 item weight limit, so the game undermines its own elegance somewhat here.

Two particular things I’d like to note about gear in Open Legend. First, as a minor annoyance, the terms for the type of damage weapons do isn’t the same as the attribute they’re reliant on. Weapons with the “Forceful” tag rely on the might attribute, and weapons labeled “Precise” use agility. Why not just call them “Might” and “Agility” weapons?

Second, the only thing that determines how much armor you can wear is your fortitude attribute. You might remember that this attribute is also one of the three used to calculate your HP, and that armor’s defense bonus is applied to both of your physical resistances, including the one governed by agility. Even the most basic of armor grants enough defense to be worth effectively two levels in the agility attribute. With only 3 points invested in fortitude, a starting character can, without penalty, start with an effective 10-21 points in agility defense due to armor on top of the HP bonus they get that an agility character wouldn't recieve. You may be noticing, therefore, that taking agility as a main attribute is a bit of a sucker’s game.

*Feat prerequisite: Have found the "Master Tracker" feat.
**A wild derived stat appears

Up Next: Banes and Boons! (You know at this point, book, you should have just put the combat chapter next)

Barudak fucked around with this message at 03:16 on Sep 8, 2016

Jan 29, 2009

So has no one heard of the risk eaters before they fire off their nuclear weapons? It seems like the kind of thing that would be terrifying for the nations of the world to realise. Space ISIS has nukes and will glass the planet if someone doesn't play be rules they haven't mentioned.

Jun 6, 2013

Looking at it now, it really is disgusting. The flesh is transparent. From the start, I had no idea if it would even make a clapping sound. So I diligently reproduced everything about human hands, the bones, joints, and muscles, and then made them slap each other pretty hard.

Cassa posted:

So has no one heard of the risk eaters before they fire off their nuclear weapons? It seems like the kind of thing that would be terrifying for the nations of the world to realise. Space ISIS has nukes and will glass the planet if someone doesn't play be rules they haven't mentioned.

The Risk Eaters were established by a council of the most powerful members of the three races. The degree of sovereignty and power they seem to possess is totally absurd, but they aren't exactly a terrorist organization - just an implausibly influential international peacekeeping NGO. I think most folks would have heard of them - their existence isn't a secret, but their methods and goals probably are. (In a world with perfect encryption and insanely powerful intrigue-based magic, it's pretty surprising no one's blown up their stupid tower yet)

Also, re: the unwinnable campaign, it's only encoded into the game's rules insofar as the highest level of risk triggers an international APB. I think a savvy GM would accommodate players who aren't interested in the more nihilistic aspects of the game, and instead encourage overthrowing the Risk Eaters as the ultimate end-goal of a long campaign. Obviously, "just ignore the book and do your own thing" is a method to fix every game ever made, but at least in Cryptomancer the author's assumptions about the endgame aren't too tightly tied in to any one aspect of the mechanics.

edit: Legend seems like a game designed by people whose entire design philosophy is "like D&D, but tilted like 45 degrees to the left"

Jan 7, 2015

BattleTech - A Time of War

Political and Military Power

I think I've seen that chubby fighter in FreeSapce.

This chapter starts off with a helpful reminder to all potential John Wicks out there that if the players spend some of their limited resources for Traits like Rank, Title or Connections, it's a pretty dick move to constantly punish them for picking those Traits or fabricate events that deny them any utility out of them.

That being said, especially the Traits Rank and Title might not work out as planned for the PC within reasons. The population of a more lawless world might not care much about a Duke from some faraway planet (and this might in fact just attract criminals), and highly-decorated military officers might not find a warm welcome in the realms of a former enemy.

Now as we all know, as one rises in rank, one has to spend more and more time with paperwork and other boring stuff, leaving less time for adventuring. The book offers three helpful solutions for this:
The GM can introduce a soft cap on the PCs' political or military advancement, so that the game's scope never develops beyond a certain point. If the players are happy with MechWarrior adventures, they'll probably never want them to gain a Rank to would have them spend less time inside a 'Mech cockpit, though that's still an option if a player wants to retire his character or everyone agress to raise the cap.
Since the shenanigans between the Houses of the Inner Sphere lend themselves well to Game-of-Thrones-style campaigns, the GM might just take cues from the actual Game of Thrones RPG, giving players control over multiple characters with varying levels of power. So everyone could have some kind of noble or general for court intrigue adventures, while they also have more or less low-ranking grunts to carry out whatever missions the above general has cooked up for them.
Lastly, you can just combine AToW with regular BattleTech, specifically the later supplements that abstract and zoom out far enough to allow battles to unfold on a global and even interstallar scale. The players can then for example carry out a planetary invasion and them zoom back in all the way into their cockpits for the final confrontation.

Titles and Ranks explained

Here we have a big old collection of the various titles and ranks one can attain in the world of BattleTech. They do come with different names depending on the region, but here are the general names for now:

Knight Bachelor is the lowest and most numerous of titles. Granted to soldiers for their loyalty and service of the realm (or to rich guys depending on the region), this title doesn't really offer any benefits in and of itself, but not being at least a Knight Bachelor can make future advancements in the military very hard to pull off.

Knight Bannerets are Knights that have been invited into an actual Knightly Order. This comes with plenty of prestige and a readily-available network of connections and favors, but a Knight Banneret will also be expected to not live up to the Order's standards and might, and his closer ties to his realm makes settling in other parts of the Inner Sphere somewhat difficult.

Baronet is one of the highest honor for Knights and commoners, as it not only marks the holder as a hero awarded for his outstanding duty to the realm, but is also hereditary. Though this is somewhat of a double-edged sword (and good PC archetype), for the inheritors of this title will always be measured against their ancestor. As such, the title doesn't so much come with benefits as with expectations.

Baron is the lowest and most common hereditary rank. The title itself doesn't really come with any sort of power or leverage, but the holdings tied to it usually make up for it.

A Viscount on the other hand is a notable step up in that the title itself grants political power and influence.

Count/Countess is were things get serious. Like with a Baron, the title in and of itself is nice and all, but most Counts and Countesses happen to be influential politicians and/or owners of entire cities or corporations.

Marquis/Marquessa typically have power over entire continents or smaller worlds, though the exact level of influence and power can vary wildly from one Marquis to the next.

Duke/Duchess is the most powerful title PCs are typically allowed to have, granting power over one or more entire worlds.

A Grand Duke/Grand Duchess is most likely the most important type of NPC the players are ever going to see. Each of them oversees entire regions of their realm, and they answer directly to their sovereign.

The second most important person of any realm is probably either the Sovereign's Heir or his right hand, the Prime Minister.

Finally, we have the Sovereign or Head of State, or House Lord. Effectively the kings and queens of this feudal space setting, their power is absolute, and their appearance in any campaign should be kept rare and monumental.

Clan Social Rank

As Clans do things a bit differently than the Inner Sphere, they have their own brand of ranks and titles.

Generally, if you're not part of the Warrior Caste, you don't really have much to say. With exceptions like Clan Ghost Bear, the Warrior Caste doesn't really care much about its citizens and might just have them work in factories that look more like a prison or something from the 19th century, just because they hate their guts.

To enter the Warrior Caste, you generally have to be Trueborn, aka part of the Clan's super soldier program. A normally-born aka Freeborn can still qualify, but such an occurence is pretty rare, and you have to be quite some bad enough dude to impress a Trueborn.

Few members of the Warrior Caste are contempt with just being Trueborn. What really counts is being Bloodnamed. Being granted a Bloodname (aka a family name from the Clan's founding fathers) not only puts you in a long line of exceptional warriors, but also means that your genes will be used as part of the next generation of Trueborn.
But not all Bloodnames are created equally. Some are used by several different Clans, while others are exclusive to one Clan. Some are used by several different kinds of warrior, while others are exclusive to a specific Phenotype (like say a Bloodname only used by MechWarriors). And finally you have Bloodnames of immortalized badasses like Kerensky himself. Earning such a Bloodname puts enormous pressure on the Bloodnamed, as failing in battle disgraces the entire Bloodname.

Common Military Rank

A list of generic military ranks (the supplement has ones specific to each Inner Sphere realm). They include all your typical ranks like Lieutenant and Colonel and such. MechWarriors are generally equivalent to a Sergeant, and there's a handy list to compare military with social rank, with a Grand Duke being roughly similar to a General of the Army for example.
Clans have more unconventional ranks, with stuff like Star Commander or Galaxy Commander. The equivalent of a Inner Shpere House leader is the Khan. Even above that is the ilKhan, the Khan of Khans, th eone who coordinates all the Clans' actions.

Universal Aesthetics

Like any human-centric sci-fi setting with sandbox capabilities, worlds can vary wildly from the Earth standard, and especially inhabitants of the more isolated planets can develop a couple strange customs.

Also rather Traveller-esque is the variance in possible technology levels. Some worlds are industrial and technological juggernauts, while others have been hit hard by the Succession Wars and never really recovered from it. And since the Warrior Caste id a bit dickish, lower Clan castes can live under downright primitive conditions even compared to the Inner Sphere.

MechWarriors and their 'Mechs

The live-action Gurren Lagann movie took a somewhat more lowtech approach.

Everyone loves big stompy robots. And while you don't have to be a MechWarrior in this game, the chances are pretty darn high. It's fine to solve every problem with several tons of walking death and destruction if everyone's aboard of it, but it offers a couple tips to get them out of their cockpit.
This is thankfully nothing along the line of "Make sure their 'Mechs break constantly" or "Ambush them everytime they're on foot" (which will just make them stay in cockpit even more), but just a general list of problems that can't be solved with a big stompy robot, or destinations that can't be reached by a big 'Mech.

Touring The Stars

Also the name of a series of mini-sourcebooks highlighting some of the planets of BattleTech. Naturally, this section is all about the different worlds and their societies the PCs might end up visiting.

Government Types

The Great Houses of the Inner Sphere rule over there realms in a feudal system, necessitated by the vast distances in space, even moreso in the early days when FTL communications weren't a thing. While the Free Worlds League under House Marik is officially democratic, the Mariks are no stranger to go full-on autocratic with edicts and such.
Individual worlds on the other hand can have all kinds of governments, be it a dictatorship, actual democracy or just plain anarchy. Most Houses are fine with this as long as the worlds stay loyal, and they tend to give their representatives feudal titles anyways.

Clans follow a more oligarchic approach, were the leaders of the various castes meet in councils. The Warrior Caste always has the last word, but they don't really care about civilian matters and tend to let those castes do their own thing unless they get a bit too full of themselves.

Law and Order

Naturally laws and punishments vary wildly between worlds, and while nearly all realms advocate fair and just trials, they are actually heavily biased towards whoever has the higher social status and/or influence.

Clans are really fond of punishing people by kicking them down the caste ladder, flogging them in public or sending them for a round of re-education. And if your one of those dirt farmers from a non-warrior caste, getting convicted is largely a matter of whether or not the judge feels particularly dickish today or if he likes you or not.
Warriors on the other hand can avoid their conviction with a Trial of Refusal, which is more or less a Game-of-Thrones-style trial by combat except the trial is made more or less difficult depending on the severity of the crime.

Police Forces

The police of the Inner Sphere is generally very professional and well-equipped (which sounds oddly noblebright if you ask me). Then Clans... well, not so much.

As already mentioned a couple times, the Warrior Caste doesn't like dealing with the other ones. This is why they assign their bottom tier warriors for police duty, which is basically a way of being demoted to a "half civilian". Naturally, the Clan police is not particularly motivated and prone to brutality.
Though like in several other aspects, the invading Clans mellowed out when they permanently settled in the Inner Sphere. Especially the concept of a police force that is well-equipped, respected and actually proud of their work was mindblowing to them. The Clan-occupied worlds really seem to lend themselves to buddy cop campaigns.


English is the common tongue of the setting, but pretty much everyone knows at least one other language, and just about every faction as at least three commong languages spoken.

Clans mainly speak English with some Russian words thrown in like it's A Clockwork Orange in space. Unlike many in the Inner Sphere, Clanners have a distaste for abbreviations and other forms of colloquial language.


Well, this has seen somewhat better days. Ever since he fall of the first Star League, most worlds have little to offer after primary school, and any sort of standardized education system has a tendency to focus more on indoctrination or making higher education only affordable to those of a higher social status. The Taurian Concordat has the closest thing to 21st century education, but nobody else managed to copy this format so far.
The Clans offer basic education for everyone and let the respective caste do the rest.


Thanks to the above quality education most people of the Inner Sphere receive, apprenticeship is very common, and true to the feudal theme of the setting, it's pretty normal for a child to learn the same job as his father, probably even working in the same company.

Clans use tests to determine to which caste a child gets assigned, which are of course heavily biased to make it very hard for a Freeborn to qualify for the Warrior Caste. The Capellan Confederation is a bit similar, but it heavily encourages its citizens to work hard and eventually "level up" into a better caste.

Gender inequality isn't really an issue in the setting, especially if you're a Clanner because Clan society only cares about how much rear end you can kick. The big exception are the Draconis Combine and Capellan Confederation, since those whacky Asians like to stick with traditional gender roles. Still, talented women can break the mold, as evidenced by this book's supplement featuring a picture of a female Combine MechWarrior inheriting her fathers 'Mech and katana.

Like our curent Earth, all but the most backwater worlds are advanced enough that only a tiny portion of the population has to work in agriculture or heavy industry, with most taking service-sector jobs. This is reversed for Clans as the Warrior Caste doesn't like service-sector jobs, or their civilians for that matter. Even if this means that their factory and such tend to be overstaffed like crazy (which probably gives rise to self-fulfilling "All non-warrior castes are lazy" stereotypes).


This is my hero.

There's nothing really all too different here, safe for the addition of zero gravity entertainment and the ever popular 'Mech gladiator world of Solaris VII.

Media and Communication

Sending messages over interstellar distances can take quite a while. Even the fastest networks can take days, and it only goes up from there. Planetary communication is a lot better, of course.

Thanks to the overall decline in technology, the above-mentioned crappy education, and ComStar playing 40 Techpriests for a good while (and because this is a sci-fi setting from the 80's), everyday technology and electronics can appear strangely primitive as opposed to our current situation. All your computer and phone equivalents aren't are more specialized, without the vast applications of a smartphone. Don't even think about finding a hand-sized device that can record videos, communicate with other devices and play Angry Birds. I think one of the books of the main BattleTech line basically described this situation as the Inner Sphere being basically in the 90's.


Not a lot has changed here. All the major religions are stil practiced, though some regions are a bit more restrictive than others (Space Japan doesn't take kindly to Christians and Jews, but they do have a sizable number people of Arabic descent).

There's a new branch of Roman Catholicism in the New Avalon Catholic Church, and there's the Unfinished Books Movement for those that just like to pick-and-choose from pretty much every religion.

A more unique religion is the One Star Faith, based on the belief that Kerensky and crew left to find a paradise. Naturally, this little belief has become somewhat irrelevant after Kerensky's descendants returned as conquerors.

And then there is the Word of Blake, which has turned ComStar into a weird cult before getting split off into their own faction of nutjobs. Hording old technology and deeming it unworthy for normies, these guys are pretty much 40k Techpriests with less skulls. They are also known as "toaster worshippers", which is a hilarious slur.


People in BattlTech generally use the same forms of transportation than we do. Since most planets in the Inner Sphere aren't nearly as populated as Earth, there are generally not many roads and other car-friendly infrastructures around, making trains and airships a lot more common.

There's of course interplanetary travel with DropShips and JumpShips, but their numbers are so low compared to the human population that pretty much only one in a million goes around planet-hopping.

Economics and Industries

It's time again for letter codes, this time ones that actually exist in-setting: The Universal Socio-Industrial Level Reference aka USILR uses a five-letter-code (the letters being the BattleTech standard of A through F) to catalogue planets and offer a quick summary of what to expect from any given world:

  • Technological Sophistication: Essentially tells you how hard the world has been hit by the Succession Wars. It might still have the latest in technology, or it might look like 20th century Earth at best.
  • Industrial Sophistication: Is it an industrial powerhouse, or is it more like Dirt Farmer World?
  • Raw Material Dependence: How much does the population rely on imports, or does it produce enough to allow for exports?
  • Industrial Output: Sort of a combination of the above two, going into how much industrial products the world can manufacture.
  • Agricultural Dependence: The same as the above, but with food and other agriculture products.

Keep in mind that with the above shortage of JumpShips for everyone, even the biggest trading world only export a relative tiny amount of their products. Imagine if China or the USA only had a handful of container ships.

The USILR code can also be used to determine the type(s) of a world. Worlds with little Agricultural Dependence are often referred as Garden Worlds for their lush and abudant flora, while worlds living on the cutting-edge of technology like Earth itself are often called Advanced Worlds. Then there are BackWard Worlds, which is like a world full of Amish, except most didn't have a choice but to regress after the Star League crumbled.

Whistle Stop Tour

A short list of example worlds with their history and USILR codes.

El Dorado (Population 4.3 billion, Federated Suns)

Named for its richness in water and minerals, El Dorado has the all-around perfect score of A-A-A-A-A. It is also known as "Terra's prettier sister" for being very Earth-like with nicer scenery. Nothing is perfect, of course, and El Dorado does come with two drawbacks: Its gravity is 25% higher than Earth's, just high enough to deter some possible inhabitants. There is also a lot of volcanic and tectonic activity going on, but the population has long moved to safer regions.

One of the major reasons for El Dorado's excellent situation is that it was barely touched by the Succession Wars, with a nuke to the JumpShip yard being the only attack during this time. It was of course affected by interstellar trade taking a nosedive in the later Succession Wars, but the population got their act together and managed to become largely self-sufficient.

Arcturus (Population 1 billion, Lyran Alliance)

A fairly average world for the Inner Sphere, right down to having little natural resources left and not being self-sufficient as a result.
Arcturus used to be a pretty important world as it used to be the Lyran Alliance's capital, but its decline and population has gone downards ever since th end of the Star League.

Since the first two Succession Wars got very nuke-happy and a capital world makes for a great target, the inhabitants of Arcturus fled the cities out of fear and build more rural communities, leaving their metropolises to get either nuked into oblivion or slowly fall apart. Even the only industrial complex is mostly underground as a result.

Ovan (Population 5.2 billion, Capellan Confederation)

Another average-ish and very old world orbiting a red dwarf in a stable circular orbit. The original colonists created an artificual river around the equator, at which coast one can find the majority of the population.

Culturally, the citizens are ruled by a group of noble familie that got into power in the Second Succession War. These families do their best to get on the Capellan's good side so they look the other way at their shenanigans, which include extorting their citizens as both the government and the puppet master behind just about every criminal activity on the planet. As if citizens of an interplanetary communist police state couldn't have it any worse.

Annapolis (Population 3.4 billion, Draconis Combine)

Once a lush and rich world similar to El Dorado before crashing down very, very hard. Heavily financed and hyped by the Terran government during its beginnings, it was abandoned and left to rot after vicious local microbes adapted all too well to Terran crops and then Terran organisms in general, causing all sorts of medical problems for the population.

Thanks to its plentiful resources, the people that were left on the planet did manage to get through this crisis, even if they had to start from scratch on several occasion. And then the Succession Wars happened.

Nowadays, most citizens live as peasants working under 19th century levels of sophistication. Some people in remote locations have even regressed back to the tribal stage. The nobility on the other hand live a comfy live in an actual modern city, walled off to keep the dirty peasants out.

Solaris VII (Population 495 million, Lyran Alliance)

I love goofy robots.

Probably the most well-known place in all of BattleTech, Solaris VII is the location for 'Mech arena fights, making it a good place for players who want heavily-customized rides and gimmicky weapons like lances or wrecking balls.

Originally founded by the Free Worlds League (the inhabitants later switched sides to the Lyrans to avoid an invasion) thanks to its plentiful resources and its trade-friendly location, it soon became primarily about 'Mechs when various manufacturers used the vast amount of uninhabited land as testing ground for their newest models. This eventually led to competitions between the manufacturers, and the rest is history.

Not particularly amused about seeing one of mankinds finest technological marvels being used for entertainment and gambling purposes, the Word of Blake invaded Solaris VII to put an end to this fun.
Local resistance forces eventually managed to retake the planet three years later. Unfortunately, the fights caused severe damage to the capital city's infrastructure, and the alliance between rivaling stables and nationalities quickly fell apart after their victory. The newly-reformed planetary government now has to deal with various warlords messing around in the neighborhood.

The arenas are open yet again, but Solaris VII has certainly seen better days. Imagine if Las Vegas had a really bad year or two that turned it from a shining amusement mile into a bunch of slums with plenty of corruption and criminals.

Your Battletech Infodump of the Day: Alpha Strike

Not really setting-related stuff this time, but rather a wargame and good alternative to normal BattleTech if your players want to enjoy 'Mech combat with similar (even less!) complexity than human-scale combat and don't mind having to fudge things when they want interaction between the scales.

Alpha Strike is the shiny new rules system for hexless (though there are rules for playing with hexes) tabletop wargaming in the BattleTech world. Whereas normal BattleTech with its numerous hit locations and individual weapons (thankfully abstracted into weapon bays for spaceships) becomes quite cumbersome if you have more than a handful of units on each side, Alpha Strike can easily handle twice that amount or more, and unit stats now fit neatly on a check card.

Though the rules themselves aren't actually all that new, as they are heavily based on BattleForce, the BattleTech spinoff rules for handling larger engagements, with different variations depending on how far you want to "zoom out", up to playing out an entire planetary invasion on an abstracted map representing the planet's land mass. A proto-version of Alpha Strike also existing in rules suggestion to use BattleForce on a smaller scale.

Aside from streamlining many rules and condensing the various hit location into one value for Armor and Structural Integrity, both Alpha Strike and BattleForce get rid of individual weapons (with special abilities for stuff like Indirect Fire or different ammunitions) and just list how much damage the unit can deal at different standardized range bands. The assumption is that the unit will generall fire all its weapon at one target at a time, aka the eponymous Alpha Strike.
Or rather a unit would fire all of its weapons if it has enough cooling to support it. Weapons that would cause overheat are instead transferred into their own pool that the unit can use to cause extra damage at the cost of getting debuffed for a while.

A pretty nifty advantage over normal BattleTech is that almost every official unit has already been converted to Alpha Strike, and their unit cards are available for free. The supplement comes with conversion rules, but they are a bit time-consuming. But there's really nothing stopping you from eyeballing a unit's Alpha Strike stats, or even making generic units.
Sadly, I think they still haven't converted DropShips or WarShips, which is a shame as both Alpha Strike and BattleForce have the right amount of abstraction to handle these behemoths without going crazy.

Next Time: Phew, that didn't flow quite as steady as I hoped. Before tackling the supplement, I'd rather take on a little palette cleanser first, one that almost writes itself.
So, wanna see a far less pretentious version of what Monte might be cooking up? A game that combines OSR with FATE-like elements? Cause that's just what I will be covering.

Feb 28, 2011

Doresh posted:

So, wanna see a far less pretentious version of what Monte might be cooking up? A game that combines OSR with FATE-like elements? Cause that's just what I will be covering.

Long time lurker, but I'd like to hear more about this.

Hostile V
May 30, 2013

Solving all of life's problems through enhanced casting of Occam's Razor. Reward yourself with an imaginary chalice.

I wish to be smart and handsome so please rub that Monte Cook thing in my face.

Dec 22, 2003

To witness titanic events is always dangerous, usually painful, and often fatal.

It's weird but Battletech sounds oddly optimistic. More optimistic than I thought, I'll have to look into it.

I'd played the games but the feudal stuff had always been emphasized to the point where it seemed like the majority of the setting was basically Mad Max, With Mechs, which is of course wicked cool but gets a little one note.

Apr 25, 2008

Nessus posted:

It's weird but Battletech sounds oddly optimistic. More optimistic than I thought, I'll have to look into it.

I'd played the games but the feudal stuff had always been emphasized to the point where it seemed like the majority of the setting was basically Mad Max, With Mechs, which is of course wicked cool but gets a little one note.

It's basically Asimov's Foundation series, but focused entirely on cool giant robot fights.

Hostile V
May 30, 2013

Solving all of life's problems through enhanced casting of Occam's Razor. Reward yourself with an imaginary chalice.

Also holy gently caress I remembered that Invisible Sun existed and went to look at the Kickstarter page and welp:

Minimum $200 to back.

Dec 24, 2007

Hostile V posted:

Also holy gently caress I remembered that Invisible Sun existed and went to look at the Kickstarter page and welp:

Minimum $200 to back.


That Old Tree
Jun 23, 2012


Don't forget it also costs some hundred extra dollars to get early access to the beta rules. I'm pretty whatever about anyone spending ridiculous money on our ridiculous hobby, but charging through the nose for an early draft of your rules is some real bullshit.

Aug 23, 2009

The only good thing about it is the name. That's a good song.

Jan 7, 2015

Nessus posted:

It's weird but Battletech sounds oddly optimistic. More optimistic than I thought, I'll have to look into it.

I'd played the games but the feudal stuff had always been emphasized to the point where it seemed like the majority of the setting was basically Mad Max, With Mechs, which is of course wicked cool but gets a little one note.

There might be a few backwater desert worlds terrorized by pirates in cobbled-together 'Mechs, but the majority of the Inner Sphere is looking much more brightly. For all the crap that's happening every couple decades, they're pretty resilient little buggers.

(Though the Word of Blake's Jihad made everything a bit more grimdark with the renaissance of urban warfare and mass destruction.)

Mitama posted:

Long time lurker, but I'd like to hear more about this.


Hostile V posted:

Also holy gently caress I remembered that Invisible Sun existed and went to look at the Kickstarter page and welp:

Minimum $200 to back.

Now that doesn't come across as dubious at all. I also bet the Kickstarter will take 3+ years to finally deliver. With delays and everything.

"WTF, Monte posted:

A game of surrealistic fantasy, secrets and magic played both at the table - and away from it.

Oh boy. Will this be better or worse than Prime Directive with its "Punish players by forcing them to pick a dictionary and read all entries from a random letter of the alphabet"?.

Doresh fucked around with this message at 05:59 on Sep 10, 2016

Aug 21, 2000

Not keen on keening.

Grimey Drawer

Doresh posted:

Oh boy. Will this be better or worse than Prime Directive with its "Punish players by forcing them to pick a dictionary and read all entries from a random letter of the alphabet"?.

This is why one should always have a copy of the Devil's Dictionary or The Meaning of Liff near to hand. That and swatting people who actually expect you to do something like that in the context of a game.

Jan 7, 2015

Bieeardo posted:

This is why one should always have a copy of the Devil's Dictionary or The Meaning of Liff near to hand. That and swatting people who actually expect you to do something like that in the context of a game.

My, why have I never heard of these wonderful tomes?

And mybe I'm just cynic and this elevator pitch just means there will be LARP rules.

Apr 6, 2011

Tomorrow, doom!
But now, tea.

Doresh posted:

Oh boy. Will this be better or worse than Prime Directive with its "Punish players by forcing them to pick a dictionary and read all entries from a random letter of the alphabet"?.

:wtc: What the hell? I know Prime Directive comes out of ADB, who are already rather speshul due to their difficult rights situation and rather cracked fanbase, but seriously what the gently caress is this?

In Nomine had a PC power that was represented by letting the player have an encyclopedia to hand at all times (oddly enough it was a demonic power). Is this something akin to that? Or is a Prime Directive GM genuinely supposed to assign out-of-game punishments somehow?

Aug 23, 2009

Loxbourne posted:

Or is a Prime Directive GM genuinely supposed to assign out-of-game punishments somehow?

Yes. A player is supposed to stay home and read the dictionary while everyone goes out for food to simulate a character being stuck in the hospital while everyone else is adventuring.

Jul 8, 2003

Bieeardo posted:

This is why one should always have a copy of the Devil's Dictionary or The Meaning of Liff near to hand. That and swatting people who actually expect you to do something like that in the context of a game.
I dunno... Trying to get them murdered by the police seems a bit overkill for that? :ohdear:


Dec 30, 2009

Doresh posted:

Oh boy. Will this be better or worse than Prime Directive with its "Punish players by forcing them to pick a dictionary and read all entries from a random letter of the alphabet"?.
Nah, that part about playing away from the table is just another instance of Monte Cook reinventing the wheel, sort of like the "passive perception" incident when he was a designer for 5E. In this case he's claiming (in his ignorance of advances in game design) to have discovered blue booking...which is a practice more than twenty years old. He's not being dishonest (I hope), just really sheltered.

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