I am bored with fantasy RPGs.
I know, I know. I get this way about once a year or so, but seriously, I am tired of the same old tropes and want something new. Something unique, something strange, something different.....
I have been running the FKR Skurmish! game now for two weeks and I must admit at first I was somewhat overwhelmed. I had five independent players who were essentially playing in five simultaneous hexcrawls that resulted in up to fifteen emails in a single day....it was maddening.
However, as time went on I figured out a way to manage this in a mostly easy way. I will try to explain my method here in a manner that will not give anything away to my players (I know a few of them read this lump of space I call my blog). My initial idea was to run a quick, player vs player wargame just to see how it would run over email. Since however, it has turned into five full blown games with players interacting with local NPCs, battling dinosaurs, attempting to take over a keep to use a base of operations....honestly it is like running five solo RPG hexcrawls.
First, I created the map and fleshed out the terrain using a random die roll. I have this map in a file on my Google Drive that allows me to check the map from any location so long as I have cell or wifi (which would be a requirement for me to reply to an email anyway). This has been a boon.
Secondly, I created a random d66 table with possible neatO unique locations. I went through and determined in each hex if there was something unique there, and if so, I used the d66 table to determine what exactly would be there. Now, initially I thought this would be an 'every once in a while' special but as we have gone through in play, I find myself adding more of these because I made one slight error when I started: I made the map too darn big. While the players began mostly close to each other (again, randomly determined), play would be rather boring to wander around a map with no interactions. So far the players have encountered dinosaurs, a travelling merchant, a demon-infested ruins, a tornado, a mysterious storm shrouded tower...and that is really only after exploring a handful of hexes.
Third, I created a Google Sheets page where I roughly detailed each warband: name (if given), type, number, and 'combat value'. This combat value was determined by saying each warband would start around 100 points, the dividing that up by the types of units each player told me they wanted. If one said I want goblins and dragons, he might get 40 goblins and one dragon. This took a bit of mathematical wizardry but I eventually was able to level the playing field despite the variance in warband type. Is it perfect? No, but it works for my purposes. Plus, players will never see this. Additionally, as play happens, the warbands will increase and decrease in size, so the players' actions will end up being important to their overall combat effectiveness and the strength and power of their warband.
Fourth, and most importantly, the 'rules'. I started with dice, I am a gamer after all. I tried nutty things like roll a d6 for each troop. Roll a d6 for each point or combat value. Only 6s count....everything I tried seemed too complicated and not easy to manage. Especially if I was on the move. I knew I would be travelling a bit when I first started and I wanted to be able to manage this on the road. I couldn't be hauling around one-hundred d6s to handle a battle (I mean, I could, but I like to over pack too many clothes, so that narrowed my chances of toting around a hundred dice).
I settled on cards. I tend to not like cards for some reason, not sure why. I tried a few things but ended up settling on what I will describe below. Now you have to take into consideration that while this may not be mechanically completely fair but seems to meet the FKR model I was aiming for in play.
I assess the situation, looking at warband strength to the obstacle (monster strength, number of enemy forces, terrain, weather, task at hand, etc) and determine an initial question with an outcome ("Do they cross the gorge?"). This question is usually a yes or no answer, so cards will be draw to two sides, a yes or no side. Then I look at the situation and determine how likely each 'side' is to occur. I will draw cards for each side based on this, usually using one card as a base, with up to three cards for very likely.
For my example, a warband of orcs led by Bloodtongue the Merciless has come to a wide and steep gorge with a swiftly moving river at the bottom, attempting to wade or swim across is impossible. The player comes up with a creative way to cross and I settle on the question "Is the warband able to cross?" Given the players creativity I deem that this is a likely outcome. I will draw cards for two for "Yes" and one card for "No". Here I have drawn a 6 and King for yes and an Ace for no.
I put together some player maps so they can track the hexes they've explored and to track troop movement across the battlefield (I will be providing these in PDF for easy printing). The above is the 11x17 version with ample room for note taking. Below is the 8.5x11 for those suckers without larger printing capability.
Each hex is numbered (probably hard to read on these images) but essentially each column is a letter (A thru N) while the rows in herringbone style are numbered (1 thru 0). Players with old eyes (me included) will probably want to write those above and to the left of the hexes for visibility's sake.
Inspired by this post, I decided to try my hand at this FKR skirmish game and enlisted a few fellas to help me. Essentially you create rival warbands based on an image and text alone. Then using that knowledge, and common sense, the Host (me) arbitrates the results of all the actions of the players. I have been wanting to run some sort of skirmish game and have struggled in the past with how to exactly do this without a complicated rule system. I have probably read or skimmed through at least 30 skirmish type rule books and I often came to the end thinking "This is way to complicated" without it dawning on me that using the FRK-ideals, one could really run a skirmish on hardly any rules...or rules at all!
For those gamers among you that are struggling to understand how you do this, trust me, it is difficult. A friend and I struggled for a full week thinking about this. Anywho, if this manages to get off the ground, I will keep you updated as we play.
Below is the email that was sent out to the players, setting up the ideas of the game and how we will proceed:
This is being sent out to all the players BCC so you will not know your enemies. You cannot directly act with one without going through the Host (little ol' me), in other words, you can attempt to contact your rivals by sending a message through the Host.
How to Play:
1) Following this email, you will put together your warband, a small skirmish unit of beings. We will have a few email exchanges as we tweak your warband. You will not have ‘stats’. See "Setup" below for more information. Deadline is Noon (central) Saturday, 10 April. If everyone gets theirs in early, we will move forward.
2) I will provide a blank hex map of the valley to each player and indicate your starting hex.
3) I will request starting orders for your warband and provide a deadline for you to and these in.
4) You will receive a reply from me approximately 3-4 days later informing you of the results of your turn.
5) We will continue in this fashion until one warband is determined to be the victor.
Imagine an open world. Your warband has been called here to battle, to explore, to become victorious. Your warband has assembled and are ready to take to the field to seek glory and treasure! A massive valley, the Valley of Bones holds riches, dangers, but also rivals. Your warband has come here to explore the valley despite these dangers.
Find a picture (or more) of your warband to help define what type of warband you command. These can be photos, drawings, minis, paintings, etc. You tell me what type of warband (goblins, orcs, space marines, wizards, Stormtroopers, lizardmen, Army Rangers, etc….go wild here) and once I have these from everyone I will reply with numerical details of your unit. I will do my best to normalize the power levels (ie 100 goblins versus 1 wizard sort of thing). It is fine to have more than one type of being in your warband. Once we have the "type" locked down, we move to step two.
I will ask for a brief description of your warband. This can include names, backstories, quirks, etc. You can be as brief or as detailed as you wish. Include your thoughts on the morale of the warband. Your warband should have a leader, name this leader, how they became leader, describe him/her, and how effective you feel their leadership.
A couple of notes:
o Please put (Skurmish!) in the title for each email regarding the game, that way I can easily keep things straight.
o Deadlines for you to send in orders are hard deadlines. If you fail to send an orders, your warband will act accordingly. If your last order was for them to march north and attack any beings they encounter, they will continue to do so until they are given other orders, are defeated, or are victorious (in which case, what are you but a useless meat sack).
o There will be instances where you will come across caves, ruins, temples, even villages as you explore the Valley of Bones. These can be explored. These may detract your warband from exploring the battlefield, they can be dangerous, but they can also be rewarding as well.
o Alliances, treaties, deception, subterfuge, tactics, are all in play. You can instruct your war band to any task you can imagine, but remember their capability and the reality of the world. While we might have Jedi knights fighting Shaolin monks, battling warmongering giant hamsters, and facing off against dino-riding turtles, remember that the world is a place with real physics and your band is a group of people that want to live and breath.
This inn is so named after an event in the past that occurred during the visit by the Queen. After slipping into the sulfur mud pool to the north of town, the Queen managed to pull in her aides until they were able to drag her wet, muddy, and smelly butt out. A local artist's rendition of the event reside above the mantle in quite elaborate mosaic.
The tavern was hand built by the current owner and operator, Thornton Eckelstone. As Thornton is not an exceptionally skilled carpenter, he made a few notable mistakes when laying out and constructing his tavern. Most notable among these is the height of the ceiling. Due to his own short stature, he did not notice the fact that his ceiling was shorter than the norm. Many visitors will bang their heads on the aged, dark wood of the ceiling.
Regardless of how many people are here it feels crowded and has a claustrophobic feel. Favorite place of the sailors who visit the village. 1 in 6 chance every turn a fight will break out. At any one time there are d6+2 sailors here, 4 in 6 they are already drunk (and rowdy like sailors get).
THE CAST O' CHARACTERS:CURRENT ROSTER
THE CAST O' CHARACTERS:CURRENT ROSTER
Ep 18. Rescue Marigold, thievery, bandits! - 25 Feb
The party regroups and wait for Marigold who suddenly realized the predicament she was in. She manages to get back to the party and they quickly determine that they must return to town and collect their XP.
I think another player (her hubby) explained to her the OSR mantra of 'never split the party' and that is what caused Marigold to suddenly change course and return to the party.
DM Comment 1: they were quit upset that I did not let the bandits and hirelings be a simple, 'we show up, kick their ass, and take back our gold.' Boohoo crybabies, suck it. Did I do it on purpose? Heck ya, railroad my adventure for some chase through the woods? Yeah, have a bandit party with a troll and a spell caster, bitches. How you like me now?
DM Comment 2: They cried more when the troll was not effected by the magical sleep spell and then when I pulled out a spell cast to cast sleep on them! Whiney little fuckers! You'd think I had a bunch of millennial 5e players instead of some cool old school guys.
DM Comment 3: Here is the real thing. Dosta cast sleep on the Fungal Men in the cave. Then two hours later (we discussed this and the players suggested that 2 hours was how long they were down there), he cast ANOTHER Sleep spell! As a first level elf.
I am starting wonder about this group....
We have launched our zine KS for ZQ3 over the weekend, Horrors of the Sepulchre!
Horrors of the Sepulchre is an old-school RPG adventure created in the tradition of the classic module Tomb of Horrors, but it's made for the B/X "sweet spot" of player character levels 4-7. Deadly, but survivable for the creative old school players. The zine is packed with amazing artwork by Del Teigeler, maps by Matt Jackson, and written by Steve Cook of Dice Roll Zine fame.
Here is a sneak peek at the map I am finalizing for the Kickstarter. I plan on providing both the black-walled version as well as the hatched style suitable for VTT use.
The AMAZING Del Teigler is doing all the interior art and we are planning a separate booklet with just his art DMs can use at the table to show their players what their characters are seeing. Should be pretty cool with artwork like this:
Ep 16. Into the well. - 28 Jan
The party is about to bed down after the Battle of Shiteton when they notice flames outside the Burntwood Inn. Going to investigate they discover a group of people have formed up surrounding a large funeral pyre. In front of the flames is Wolfstan Redmane, saying a prayer with tears rolling down his cheeks. Apparently his son, Bronc, was killed in the battle. Bronc and others who passed in the battle are now being served up to the gods. Wolfstan thanks the party for assisting in the defense of the village and mentions his disdain for Lady Romilda Freug, the local ruling lady. He mentions it was quite a coincidence that her and half her guard left town just hours before the attack began. Supposedly a visit to the distant city of Bourdain. He again thanks the party and says quite ominously "It is good to know I have friends that are not afraid to step up when needed. There will be a time, and I am glad I can count on you."
Next morning the party gather up their gear and head out (a few players forget they have hirelings). They arrived at the well and slowly made their way down. A large dome shaped room lies 70 feet below the well, with large stalactites hanging from the ceiling like a forest of stone. The rest of the party comes down and they discover the chests, a dagger among the bones (which Yozzat immediately clips to his belt) and Brother Allman takes one of the mushrooms for later snacking.
The chests are quite rewarding and just as the party discusses heading up top, two large Crab Spiders drop from the ceiling and launch their attack. A quick use of the oh-so-useful Sleep spell by our party elf, Dosta, and the two spiders are easily dispatched. The group heads back up to count their coins and rest the night (and gain back another damn sleep spell).
Ep 17. Back down the well, and "Should we listen when we are warned?" - 4 Feb
The following day, the group heads down, discovering that the spiders they killed have now been cocooned and entrapped in large spider webs covering about half the room. They set these on fire and begin moving down the passage to the southwest.
Its been great getting back into the game again. I am struggling a little with the size of the group. Before the holidays I was lucky if I had three players for each session, rarely I would have four. These last two sessions I have had a full house with six! There is a little too much time with people speaking over each other and in between players each taking their turn. Players have not commented on it yet, but I am feeling it.
The game is starting up again, so I figured I need to update this before hand!
Ep 13. Moar Shopping.
The group continued their shopping and met Woodrowe, the local 'weirdo' alchemist and trader in oddities. They were able to figure out if some of their items were magic or not, sell some, and acquire a lizard that can detect magic in a unique way.
They then continue to search for more hirelings and enter the Adventurer's Guildhouse and have a rather amusing encounter with an old dwarven war veteran who they quickly learned they could not push around. Wolfstan Redmane, a flaming red bearded dwarf with a right wooden peg leg. They attempt to swindle him and he subsequently kicks their ass. It was great, for me at least. ;)
Ep 14. War comes to Shiteton!
They bed down for the night and are suddenly awakened by loud noises and activity directly in front of the inn. Rushing out, they find their new 'friend' Wolfstan out directing town militia into ranks and quickly find themselves put in command of a squad. Before them are goblins, orcs and giants attempting to smash poor little Shiteton to bits. The party was up to the task and were able to fend off the invaders, though not before losing a number of townspeople. Creative casting by Steve lead to an illusory dragon appearing and fighting alongside the party, which was quite impressive.
Wolfstan commented that Lady Romilda Freug, of House Freug, had conveniently left earlier in the day for a trip to her aunt's in Bordain (a town about three days ride to the east). He seemed very upset by this. We ended the session with the party worn out and tired from the extensive fighting, but heroes for helping save the little town.
Its been a long time since we played. Originally I was to travel for work in November, so we paused and another player offered to DM. I ended up not going (re:COVID restrictions), then we had Thanksgiving. Then when I was about to start running it again...well, I had a heart attack which sidelined me for the month of December (I am doing ok now thanks to the doctors). Then the holidays, and well, now we are trying to start up again! Here to hoping it goes well!