Random Things: D&D 5E trinkets for a savage world

desert nightThese random things articles are designed as quick idea generators for time-pressed GMs who want to inject some additional details into their game, in this article we look at trinkets. Trinkets were one of my favourite things about character generation in D&D 5th Edition, each character starts with at least one, a small item or curiosity that has some odd property or something strange about it, it’s not a powerful magic item, just something interesting that could spur conversation and plot.

These items can of course be used in other RPGs.

The list of trinkets in the D&D 5E PHB is great, but it had to be for the standard style of fantasy world that a large number of D&D campaign games take place in, this is great and makes sense from a marketing stand-point, but over the years there have been some really compelling primitive worlds (Dark Sun, for example). Whilst it’s possible to adapt some standard trinkets, I wanted to offer a table themed more towards these savage worlds: Continue reading “Random Things: D&D 5E trinkets for a savage world”

Random Things you might hear on the comms

These random things articles are designed as quick idea generators for time-pressed GMs who want to inject some additional details into their game, in this post we take a step into science-fiction and provide you with a series of possible space communication calls. When you need some inspiration just roll a D20 and consult the table: Continue reading “Random Things you might hear on the comms”

The Great (Sky) Train Robbery – Planning a Wild Blue (Fate) One-off

Since reading the Wild Blue setting in Fate Worlds, Volume One: Worlds on Fire (written by Brian Engard, you can find my video review of the book here) i’ve been dying to run a one-off session using the ideas and rules from the setting; given that i’ve had a few questions via the blog and my Youtube channel about how I go about preparing for a campaign/session I thought that’d be a good idea to write up my thought processes during the planning stages of this session and post them to the blog.

What is Wild Blue?

Wild Blue is a very interesting mashup setting where the players are human members of a society descended from settlers on a magic-rich alien world; in a parallel to the colonisation of the Americas, when the settlers arrived they found the world occupied by strange fey-like people whom they took to calling the Folk. A huge conflict erupted between the settlers and the Folk and the indigenous people were driven northwards out of their homelands; over the next few years the settlers noticed that the high levels of ambient magic on the world had started to affect them and people were being born with strange powers. An organisation called the Queen’s Wardens was set up, recruiting empowered people to police others with powers.

Basically Wild Blue is a mashup western, super-power, space opera style  setting where the players take on the roles of Queen’s Wardens, each of them having their own unique super powers.

Planning for the Session

Since i’m only planning to run a one-off session at this stage (since i’m already running/playing in a number of campaigns and don’t have time really to start any more) I decided to base the setting around an iconic element of the western genre (where a lot of Wild Blue’s flavour comes from), that of the train robbery.

Now obviously it’s more interesting to actually be the robbers, but the game setting does presume that the players are taking on the roles of the Wardens/Sheriffs and, whilst I could just ignore this, I quite like the idea of the players having the law on their side and all the associated paraphernalia that goes with it, so I decide to flip the concept around slightly. 

What is the main aim of the session?

Return control of a hi-jacked sky train to the appropriate authorities and protect the lives of those onboard.

Since this is a one-off that will be run during a weekday evening I want to have an aim that is achievable within a few hours; handily the fact that the players are playing Queen’s Wardens with defined jurisdiction makes this very easy indeed to manage, I have decided to give them a limited amount of time before the hi-jacked sky train leaves their jurisdiction, if they haven’t manage to bring it under control in the time allotted then their chance is lost.

What is the Sky Rail?

The sky rail is a floating train track built of the mystical skywood (from trees that get lighter as their age, eventually uprooting and floating into the air) that links the main settlements via a series of towers/stations each a couple of hundred feet tall.

What challenges will the players face in this session?

I always like to note down the main challenged of a game, especially in a condensed one-off session since it serves as a useful checklist during the game to make sure that all the main points are covered.

  • Getting on to the sky train in mid-air.
  • Entering the train unnoticed.
  • Avoiding the criminals who are stationed throughout the train.
  • Stopping the train before it leaves their jurisdiction.
  • Ensuring that the civilians on board are not harmed.
Breaking down the challenges

At this stage I generally look at the list of challenges and try to break them down by jotting a couple of points for each of them:
  • Getting on to the sky train in mid-air.
    • Could be done if one or more of the players have flight based powers.
    • If not they may have use a cart to travel down the tracks or attempt to jump on the train as it speeds through one of the towers (obviously given the height this is very dangerous).
  • Entering the train unnoticed.
    • Can be done using appropriate sneaking and burglary skills.
  • Avoiding the criminals who are stationed throughout the train.
    • If the sound of gunfire or a conflict is heard onboard then the person driving the train will throw open the throttle and put the train up to full speed, this will half the remaining time before they leave the player’s jurisdiction and will create the Aspect “The Train’s moving too damn fast!” making it more difficult to perform certain actions.
  • Stopping the train before it leaves their jurisdiction.
    • The players could get to the front of the train and take control of the engine room.
    • They could attempt to de-couple the engine car from the rest of the carriages and the engine car continue on it’s way.
  • Ensuring that the civilians on board are not harmed.
    • The players could de-couple the cars containing the passengers.
    • They could attempt to remove the criminals threatening them.

Who are the opposition?

The train has been hi-jacked by a member of the Crimson Council (a group of Folk dedicated to taking back the lands stolen from them by the settlers using any means necessary).

Most of the Folk onboard will be fairly low level thugs/grunts with powers that are only minorly useful however there will be two antagonists who will pose slightly more of a problem.

  • The Leader of the Group: A cunning Folk who has bought this band together with the aim of hi-jacking the train and talking into the Outlands (the wild area that the Folk were forced into).
  • The Lieutenant: This Folk is the second-in-command and will be placed in charge of corralling the captives onboard, he is brutal and ruthless and will seek to initially quash any attempts at heroism by throwing a random passenger to their death out of the train.
What do the opposition want?

The Folk have hi-jacked the train because they have heard that Queen’s government has managed to treat Skywood in an experimental way that boosts powers whilst the treated wood is held and that it is being smuggled onboard the Sky Rail (this is an extra bit of flavour I added to give an additional dimension to the game). They intend to take the Sky Rail train onto an abandoned bit of track that leads into the Outlands, once there they will take the treated wood and use their powers to escape whilst the train plunges to it’s doom.
How long do they have?

As I said at the start of this blog entry I have a limited time window to run this one-off session in (although I may try to run character generation on a different day so that we can jump straight into the session when I run it) so I have decided that the players will have 3 hours (real-time) before the train reaches the ‘end of the line’ and plunges to it’s doom. Half an hour from the end the train will scream past the last station on the line (this will also give the players a notification that their time is running out).
What’s the setup?

Now i’ve considered most of my plot elements I like to jump back to the beginning and consider how the players are going to get involved with this; handily the Wild Blue setting contains an NPC called Amerille Quinn, Rail Captain, she is in-charge of the Sky Rail.
I intend to have the PCs be drafted in, the plan being that they will embark on the train at Cobalt and will be protected the train because it contains an unspecified package of importance to the Queen’s government; however when the train reaches the station it’s blatantly going to fast and doesn’t stop. Amerille Quinn tells the player characters that they have to get onboard and retrieve the item, if it fell into the hands of the Folk it could topple society as they know it.
How will I lay out the train?

I plan to use the concept of zones from Fate, I will have one zone for each of the train cars and then another zone representing the outside space around the cars.
In conclusion

I’ve pretty much got everything that I need to run the one-off session here, i’ve not gone into the opposition’s stats or the exact powers they have since some of my players read this blog; i’m very much looking forward to running the game and seeing how the players react to it.

The Terror of the Unfinished Game

I’m terrible for starting games with long over-arcing plots and never actually getting them to a satisfactory conclusion (although I am getting better at this); the game might not get finished for numerous reasons, either I get writer’s block or run out of ideas, most of the party dies, some RL reason gets in the way or any other number of factors could potential be the death knell of a game. In the wake of my God Machine game, which was one of the few games that i’ve created from the start with a definite goal and a finite finish in mind from the start (also one of the more satisfactorily wrapped up mini-campaigns that i’ve run), i’ve been thinking a lot about why so many of my games in the past have not gotten the finale that they deserved; some have puttered out due to factors beyond my control, but there must have been a fair few where, with a bit better planning or a little rescue work they could have reached a more engrossing conclusion?
For myself, it seems as though, I have no problem with concluding a game as long as I have a rough idea what the end conditions are when I go into a game; for example, in my God Machine game it would end when the people in the block of flats rioted and their violent anger awoke the God Angel, who would absorb their hatred and be activated, destroying the flats and those within, whether this included the player characters or not would be down to their own actions (in the actual game the players triggered the God Angel earlier than scheduled, but because it was weaker than it was supposed to be they actually escaped – full session write-up is available here). My main problem would seem to stem from when I start a long rambling game with no real idea of an end goal, when this occurs there is generally one main outcome, the game continues on until I run out of any ideas and then it gets wrapped up (too) quickly and we move on to the next game. This is often very unsatisfactory and it is obvious (from the quick wrap up) that the game has effectively run it’s course or that I have become dis-illusioned with it and that my mind has already jumped onto the next concept.
However, recently, we’ve been running a number of one-offs where we’ve been taking it in turns to host a game for two sessions (one for character gen and prelude, and the next for the main session); this has been great fun and has really forced us to think about what elements are vital for an entertaining game and what can be safely jettisoned in order to fit an enjoyable game into a couple of sessions (really only a single full session). Something else that has been helping me recently has been my adoption of the Fate rules (in particular Fate Accelerated) since the focus on story through use of Aspects and Compels/Invoking makes it really easy to come up with plot based on stuff that the characters are interested in right of the bat, it also makes it very easy to see what a characters goals are and set the achievement of those goals as an end point for your campaign.
Going forward I think that my campaign planning is going to roughly conform to the following:
  1. Come up with idea for campaign.
  2. Design world & setting.
  3. Help players with character generation.
  4. Come up with an idea for first session based on characters.
  5. Help characters come up with concrete goals for their characters.
  6. Come up with a couple of end conditions for the game (in addition to the players achieving their goals).

RPG game mashup – Grand Theft Cthulhu

For those of you who watch my Youtube channel you will probably be aware that soon i’m going to be running a G+ game for some of my friends and that it is going to combine elements of the computer game Grand Theft Auto with elements from the Cthulhu Mythos.

I have christened the game Grand Theft Cthulhu and you can see some of the material I have produced for the game below:
Cover Design
(based on a modified version of the GTA cover layouts)
Player handout
(based on the layout for a GTA V manual I found on the web)
My original video that I posted about mashing up games
Mashing up Games

In the video I discuss how it is very important to decide what is going to be the main structure of your game, which of the elements of the mashup is going to be most important and then build the game around that, flavoured with elements from the other genre or system; if you try and put equal parts of both games in then you can end up with a muddy mess that doesn’t really capture the flavour of either of the inspirations.
So how do I choose which to focus on?

Think about what stories you want to tell with the game and the audience that you’re telling the game for and then choose appropriately; in my Grand Theft Cthulhu game i’m running it for three people, once who has a lot of TT RPG experience like myself and is no doubt familiar with the mythos and two who have little/no tabletop experience but who both have played computer games either in the present or in the past.
The aims of my GTC game are as follows:
  • Give the less experiences players someone easily recognisable that can be used to give them easy entry into their first tabletop session.
  • Facilitate this with a rules system that is easy to pick up and understand.
  • Add some additional elements to make the game more interesting that a standard computer game and to show how versatile and imaginative tabletop roleplaying can be.
  • Run a game that is fast-paced and exciting so that it encourages the guys to come back for more.
  • Don’t get bogged down in minutiae since this is our first attempt at a G+ online roleplaying game.
Looking at these aims it seems obvious that using GTA as the main inspiration and bedrock of the setting is the way to go, it’s a game concept that all of us are familiar with and that will serve as a good foundation for me to expand on; although the players might not all be familiar with the mythos, but sprinkling some names, concepts and elements from the mythos into a setting that they are familiar with it is my hope that this will give them a taste of Cthulhu and will encourage them to get involved in more tabletop.
It is also my hope that if the G+ session goes will then both them and myself might participate in the wider world of G+ tabletop gaming.
“But doesn’t everyone go insane in Cthulhu? Can’t say i’m keen on that…”

Was the response from one of the potential players when the game concept was being bandied about, showing that there’s not much point trying to draw him in using a ‘purist’ mythos campaign; so the game will focus on the high-octane, underworld focused style of GTA and won’t be so much a game of cosmic horror but more a game of criminals and high-speed chases that liberally uses references to the Cthulhu mythos and such horror games.
Things that I want to include in the game

Looking on the wikipedia page for GTA (and from my memories of Vice City) I can see that the following concepts are central in GTA:
  • Underworld/criminal involvement
  • Trying to climb to the top of the heap
  • An unfortunate event (normally a betrayal) motivating the character to climb the criminal ladder
  • Fictional city (in this case I have named the city Arkham and am using a map from the Chaosium Cthulhu supplement of the same name)
  • Cars
  • Gangsters
  • Violence
  • Fixers
  • Crime families
So I intend to incorporate most of these elements into the game, however, I will also be dropping in some of the following concepts from the Cthulhu mythos:
  • Names and places.
  • Some of the more iconic mythos creatures.
  • Evil and mysterious cults.
  • Strange tomes and forbidden icons.
  • The Innsmouth Look.
It’s my hope that by focussing on a handful of game aspects that I can meld them into something memorable and enjoyable for my players; my plan is (assuming no technical difficulties) to post the video of the session to Youtube after completion.

Planning for my first G+ game

Okay, so a few friends of mine who I do LARP (Live-Action RolePlay) with and myself were chatting a while back about tabletop roleplaying and I was telling them about some of the games that i’m GMing at present; now most of them live a fair distance away and a couple of them were lamenting the lack of tabletop RPG action in their area, also, although we all meet up for weekends of LARP there’s not quite the same impetus to travel the length of the country in order to do a single night of tabletopping. Given that a few of us have been getting more into Google+ and Youtube recently (https://www.youtube.com/user/MrLARGEJO/) and i’ve seen numerous recording ‘actual-plays’ of people using G+ hangouts to play RP sessions over the net we talked about doing something similar; now life, as it often does, got in the way and we never really got to do anything about it as we were swept up in the chaos of the 2013 Lorien Trust LARP mainline seasion.
Recently I decided that we really should make an attempt at actually pushing forward with a session, partly because i’m keen to experiment more with G+ hangout roleplaying and also because i’m interested in seeing what it’s like tabletopping with people whom i’ve only ever really done LARP or boardgames before (both of which are quite different); so I set up a facebook event and arranged a date (this Sunday evening), but then of course we were left with the question of what do we play?
I have numerous RPGs on the shelves in my room but, given that this is the first TT experience for a couple of the players and that it was our first time at RPing over G+ I wanted something that was simple to pick up, kept the game very dramatic and allowed it to move along reasonably rapidly since we only have about four hours of gaming realistically since most of us have work the next day, I want to cram as much game into those four or so hours as possible. As usual when I want a good game to introduce new-comers to TT RPing i’ve turned to one of my favourite systems, Fate Accelerated Edition (FAE) along with a brilliant G+ Fate roller extension (http://www.diceboy.com/).
One of the players is quite new to TT and wants some sort of easy to get into fantasy game because, although new to TT, the LARP that we do is fantasy based and he has experience of lots of fantasy films; this is fine, i’ve already done some consideration of how to adapt FAE to a D&D-esque setting (detailed in previous blog posts). For this game though, i’ve decided to keep things simple (anything not mentioned below is as it is in the core FAE book):
Aspects: In addition to their High Concept and Trouble, players will also have a Race aspect (dwarf, orc, etc) that can be invoked (as normal) whenever they perform an action that fits with the concept of their race (i’ll be keeping it pretty simple and stereotypical for this game, orcs are brutish and violent, dwarves are rigid, stoic craftsmen, etc etc).
Magic: In order to have magic a sorceror must have the Aspect ‘Sorceror’, they must also have a Stunt (or Stunts) that defines their type of magic; for example, a sorceror may have the Stunt ‘Fire magic’ and all of their spells will involved heat or fire in some way. Magic will use the normal action rules as described in FAE (attacking, defending, etc).
Equipment: Unless taken as a Stunt equipment is assumed to be of insufficient quality to make any real difference to the dice rolls, if taken as a Stunt then it can add the normal +2 to an appropriate situation.
Taking inspiration from the recent Dungeon World session that I ran, I intend to use the player character Aspects (and a brief Q&A with the players at the start after character gen) to create a rough map of the world and detail out the major threats/challenges, once we have this i’ll run with what i’ve got and see where it goes from there. Assuming all goes well with the technical side of things then the game will be recorded and uploaded to my Youtube Channel  when we’ve finished the session.

Stealing from Athas

One of the AD&D settings that I really liked was the Dark Sun setting, it gave me that feeling of my character struggling to survive on the magic blasted desert world of Athas, with bone weapons being the norm and metal being a preciously guarded resource; one of the other things I liked about it was that it was (as far as I am aware) one of the first AD&D campaign settings to incorporate psionics into it as part of the core world rather than as just an extra tagged on almost as an after-thought.
I’ve been looking for an alternate ‘magic’ system for my nordic god-pocalypse campaign that differs from the standard Vancian magic system used in D&D/Pathfinder; this is not because I have any great dislike of vancian magic, I think it works fine with D&D, it’s not the best system in the world but it’s far from the worst, however I generally prefer a points based system and in my setting magic of all types failed when the gods died in the apocalypse. Psionics seems like a natural alternative to the standard D&D magic systems and I am avidly reading through Psionics Unleashed by Dreamscarred Press; in the Dark Sun campaign setting every player character had a randomly determined wild psionic talent, I want to emphasise that only the strong or those with an edge survived the god-pocalypse and that those races surviving the night of the burning stars were changed by the events of the apocalypse. Although I don’t fancy having random psionic talents for my character, I do like the idea of each PC having a random psionic talent and am considering giving each of the PCs the following feat at character gen for free:
* * *
Hidden Talent
( Expanded Psionics Handbook, p. 67) 
Your mind wakes to a previously unrealized talent for psionics.
This feat can only be taken at 1st level.
Your latent power of psionics flares to life, conferring upon you the designation of a psionic character. As a psionic character, you gain a reserve of 2 power points, and you can take psionic feats, metapsionic feats, and psionic item creation feats. If you have or take a class that grants power points, the power points gained from Hidden Talent are added to your total power point reserve.
When you take this feat, choose one 1st-level power from any psionic class list. You know this power (it becomes one of your powers known). You can manifest this power with the power points provided by this feat if you have a Charisma score of 11 or higher. If you have no psionic class levels, you are considered a 1st-level manifester when manifesting this power. If you have psionic class levels, you can manifest the power at the highest manifester level you have attained. (This is not a manifester level, and it does not add to any manifester levels gained by taking psionic classes.) If you have no psionic class levels, use Charisma to determine how powerful a power you can manifest and how hard those powers are to resist.
Note: This is an expanded version of the Wild Talent feat, intended for use in high-psionics campaigns
* * *
My current idea is that, since I am planning to lift the non-psionic classes from Iron Heroes, I will mesh the token-pools acquired to power class abilities (see my review of Iron Heroes for details) in the Iron Heroes classes with the Psionic Point Pool from Psionics Unleashed; each class will have a single pool of tokens that they can use to both power class abilities and psionic powers.
I can see a couple of parallels between the world of Athas and the campaign that I want to create, both settings have suffered an apocalyptic event which has ravished the land and made it harder to survive on the planet and psionics are more prevalent in Athas (and will be in my campaign) than traditional D&D/Pathfinder settings; I also intend to lift the idea of most weapons and armour being made from bone and other materials more easily located than metal, also metal items tend to cause people to lose body temperature far more quickly and thus would not be particularly common in my setting – given that most items will not be made of metal I will probably use normal equipment stats and then add a small bonus for metal items but say that it increases the cold damage from the environment by some amount.

Ideas for a nordic world

So continuing on with my theme of designing a post Ragnarok god-pocalypse world (a term that I may use in the game material I knock up for the players should the campaign get off the ground) i’ve started looking at the Norse creation mythos and diagrams of the nordic mythological cosmology.
Creation Mythos
A brief description of norse mythology can be found here:
Since my idea is not going to be a strict duplication of norse mythology, I am going to select elements from it for inclusion in the game, thus far i’m looking at the following as possible aspects for incorporation:
  • Prior to the creation of the world there exists a void between the lands of Muspelheim (realm of fire) and Nifelheim (realm of ice).
  • The fire and ice meet, the ice melts forming Ymir the first of the giants.
  • Ymir reproduces asexually, his sweat forming the first race of giants.
  • As the frost continues to melt it reveals the cow Audhumbla who nourishes Ymir with her milk and licks the ice for nourishment.
  • Audhumblas licking of the ice uncovers the first of the Aesir gods.
  • The Aesir, lead by Odin slay Ymir and form the world from his corpse, the oceans are made of his blood, the soil from skin and muscles, vegetation from his hair, clouds from his brains and the sky from his skull.
  • Four dwarves at each cardinal point hold up the sky.
  • Dwarves originate at maggots in the body of Ymir.

Below is a diagram showing the nine worlds of the nordic cosmology:
I’ve started jotting down a few ideas for how the worlds/elements may look in my campaign world after the apocalypse:
  • Asgard: Following the deaths the gods their golden halls and their dwellings crashed to earth in a night known as the ‘night of burning stars.’
  • Midgard: The main setting of the game, following the apocalypse Midgard is reduced to a frozen wasteland where only the strongest survive against the predation of the Jotun and the Fenrir.
  • Jotunheim: When the final winter was unleashed in the aftermath of the apocalypse, Niflheim surged forward, engulfing Jotunheim and bringing winter in it’s wake.
  • Svartalheim: The land of dark elves, a realm of tunnels and darkness lies below the ground, hidden from the eyes of most, unwary travellers occasional find hidden entrances – few return.
  • Hel: With the demise of the Goddess of Death, her realm ceased to exist, meaning that the spirits of the dead have nowhere to go after their death and often return to haunt the living.
  • Muspelheim: Exists beneath the realm of Svartalheim, providing some heat to the centre of the world; it is rumoured that the following the aftermath of the apocalypse the last dwarves retreating into such deep realms and were not seen again.
  • Yggdrasil: The scorched and shattered trunks of the world tree lies in the centre of the world, small twinkling fragments of Asgard that did not fall orbit around the unobtainable upper reaches, forming the only stars in the night sky.
  • Rainbow Bridge/Bifrost: Destroyed at Ragnarok, the Bifrost shattered and fell to earth as tiny scattered glittering shards, these shards contain dim flickerings of godly magic and are jealously horded/guarded by those who possess them.
  • Midgard Serpent: Slain in the apocalypse the giant skeleton of the Midgard Serpent can be seen poking through the soil in various places of the earth, the bones are often scavenged to make equipment or dwellings.

Iron heroes review

Iron Heroes is by no means a new book, it was written by Mike Mearls, published by Fiery Dragon and was in written in a similar vein to Monte Cooks Arcana Unearthed and later Arcana Evolved alternate players handbook; recently (as detailed in my last blog post) i’ve been considering creating a nordic, survivalist setting that, as it slowly evolves in my mind, has become a low magic, humanocentric fantasy setting with a bit of a swords & sorcery flavour to it. I’ve had a copy of Iron Heroes sat around on my bookshelf for some time and, whilst I remember enjoying reading the book when I first got it, i’ve never really used it to run a game or had a setting that it suited; part of the point of this review is that i’ll be looking at the suitability of it for my proposed campaign idea in addition to all the normal review-style stuff in this entry.

What is Iron Heroes?
Iron Heroes describes itself as “action fantasy” and claims that the rules inside are designed to promote that style of play rather than the standard D&D rules; the introduction explains that the one of the main design ideas of Iron Heroes are that “options and choices make a fun game”, this is something that I very much agree with and i’m very in favour of giving the players a degree of narrative control and power within the game, making an RPG a more collaborative experience all round IMO.
Chapter One : Abilities
This is pretty much the standard chapter on ability scores that most D&D and Pathfinder players will be familiar with, the opening peragraph is interesting that it discusses the normal range of abilities for your everyday average person and quite clearly places the heroes of an Iron Heroes game in the ‘above average’ bracket. The rest of the chapter is pretty much standard fare with a list of the standard abilities (STR, DEX, CON, INT, WIS and CHA), how scores translate into modifiers and what sort of things the abilities can be used for; the end of the chapter covers numerous methods of generating these scores for players (and everyday people), it is noticable that Iron Heroes default assumption is that players will use a points-buy method of determining their scores, all abilities start at 10 and it costs 1 point to buy a point of an ability up to 15, 2 points to buy up an ability between 16-17 and 4 points beyond that, players can also designate a score as a weakness, the score drops to 8 (and may not be bought up further at character gen) and the player gains 2 bonus points to spend on other abilities. Player characters start with 24 points by default and may not buy higher than 18 in any ability at character gen (although the GM can alter the amount of points if he prefers a grittier or lower powered campaign), important NPCs also receive 24 attribute pointsd whereas average people start with 8 in each of their ability scores and have 16 points to improve them.
Whilst I didn’t find this chapter particularly interesting to read this isn’t really a criticism of it, generally I don’t find such chapters particularly rivetting in any D20 book, but they’re a necessity; this chapter does what it sets out to do with a couple of interesting tweaks and largely solid writing.
Chapter Two : Traits
This is a chapter that I found extremely interesting; the core Iron Heroes book largely assumes a humanocentric setting where most of your PCs will be human (ala Conan, etc), in the absence of any different races or racial abilities Iron Heroes has introduced the concept of Traits, small elements that either relate to your background, your mental and emotional makeup or your physical prowess. At character generation each PC selects two of the Traits from the large list provided in the book (including such gems as Arctic Born, Child of Faith, City Rat, Bewitching, Bloodthirsty and numeroud other); players are only allowed to select a maximum of one background Trait but may select any combination of the others (up to their limit of 2).
The Traits grant bonuses in certain situations or additional abilities for the player characters, within each Trait there are a couple of different options that can be taken.
For example: The Arctic Born Trait gives a +4 against cold effects, a +2 survival check and can trait heavy snow as normal, rather than difficult, terrain; also the player can select Bears Toughness (allowing them to heal/recover from nonlethal damage more quickly), Ice Water Veins (bonus to resist mind effects) or Wanderer at the Edge of Creation (bonus to balance, climb and survival).
I really love this idea of distinguishing characters via Traits, I know that Iron Heroes probably wasn’t the first to do it and lots of books have done it since under a variety of guises; but I like the idea of tying the various background traits into different parts of a campaign world or different cultures, the variety of different Traits available in this chapter is great.
Chapter Three : Character Classes
Arguably the main difference between Iron Heroes and the core D20 books (D&D3.5/Pathfinder) is that the classes listed in the game focus less around professions or life-paths taken on by the players and more around their preferred methods of combat; this definitely slants the game more towards a hack and slash or swords and sorcery style of gaming (which is no bad thing if that’s the campaign flavour you’re going for and is one of the stated aims of the book). Instead of using Armour Class (or AC) to make players harder to hit, Iron Heroes provides players with a defense bonus and has armour provide damage reduction, absorbing the harm of a blow rather than making the blow less likely to land in the first place; this is a largely a matter of personal preference and I don’t see it making a massive difference to the game, although I do think the idea of battered armour constantly ringing with the blows of enemy weapons fits the swords and sorcery feel quite well.
This chapter also covers gaining skill points, feats and ability adjustments as characters go up in level, with a brief mention of multi-classing and how that work, again all pretty standard for a D20 game; although Iron Heroes does introduce the concept of Feat Mastery where you can gain progression in different categories to gain access to more powerful Feats.
Most of the classes within the game also allow you to build up tokens for undertaking certain actions, these tokens are then spent on triggering class abilities; I found this a very compelling idea and certainly a lot more interesting than the standard “you may use this ability x times a day” ruling from a lot of D20 games, effectively the lure of token gain should encourage players to act in ways appropriate to their class and by doing so they gain the power to activate their abilities more often, I think this is a great idea. Players are limited to a number of tokens equal to 10 + their class level.
The book contains the following classes:

  • Archer: Master of long ranged combat who gains tokens for aiming at opponents and then unleashing them in a deadly storm of projectiles.
  • Armiger: Heavily armoured warriors who wear down their foes, they gain a token for every 10hp of damage their armour soaks.
  • Berserker: Violent, furious warriors who gain tokens when either they of their friends are injured, allowing them to unleash their rage.
  • Executioner: Silent assassins who call on their abilities to strike at an opponents weak points.
  • Harrier: Scouts and rangers who rely on speed and striking from surprise to take down their foes.
  • Hunter: Tough, independent tacticians who use their knowledge of terrain to help them overcome their enemies.
  • Man-at-Arms: Master of many weapons who can tailor their abilities each day to confront the challenges that they face.
  • Thief: Golden tongued tricksters who strike from the shadows and then fade away to be lost in the crowd.
  • Weapon Master: Individuals who hone their abilities with a single weapon to almost supernatural levels, they gain tokens from attacking the same opponent with their signature weapon.
  • Arcanist: Users of strange and arcane powers who channel mana through themselves to create otherworldly effects.

Most of the classes are quite interesting, some have token pools and others don’t and, since they are based on a particular style of combat, I can see how those classes not suitable for a particular campaign could be tweaked or removed without it having such a noticable effect on party makeup as say, removing clerics from a D&D3.5 campaign; that said the inclusion of the Arcanist class seems a little strange and more a concession to the fact that players of D&D3.5 and the like expect to be able to have a magic wielding class, however, the class itself is relatively well written and provides an interesting alternate spell point system that could be used instead of the standard D20 Vancian magic system (not sure if i’ll allow it for PCs in my own game but it’s nice to have the option). One thing I particularly like about this chapter is that each class write-up has a few suggestions at the end for how that class might fit in to various campaign models.
Chapter Four : Skills and Ability Checks
Iron heroes does away with the idea of cross-class skills by allowing anyone to buy ranks in different skills, however, your class gives you access to a group of skills, and each point spent on a skill group buys you a level in all the skills covered by that group, making it far more cost effective to purchase skills related to your class; this is a slightly different way to the manner in which Pathfinder would later handle this (in Pathfinder you buy levels in any skill but receive an additional bonus on your check when using class skills) but seems no less valid.
I do like the way this chapter provides details on what specific difficulty rolls can accomplish, it also provides details on how players can impose penalties on their own rolls or voluntarily increase the DC of a challenge in order to gain specific additional benefits should they pass/succeed at the roll; there follows a fairly exhaustive list of modifiers, synergy bonuses and sample task difficulties which is fairly comprehensive although I feel it may lead to a little more page turning than I generally like in game, and I think that i’d probably create some sort of quick reference sheet when and if I was to use Iron Heroes. The section on skill challenges is well written and provides clear guidelines as to what benefits you can gain by voluntarily accepting a penalty or increasing the DC of a skill roll; these include a +2 bonus to attacks in the round, a +2 bonus to damage in the round, a bonus to a future skill check equal to the penalty and others.
Chapter Five : Feats
Again this is fairly well-trod ground for anyone familiar with D20 games, although Iron Heroes splits Feats into two types, General (those that have few pre-requisites or that can be mastered by anyone) and Mastery Feats (ones that require advanced training); basically Mastery Feats allow you to select a Feat multiple times as you progress in levels to unlock higher abilities that are all loosely thematically related, some mastery Feats also characters to accumulate token pools (in the same way as certain classes) in order to power their abilities.
Chapter Six : Roleplaying Iron Heroes
Given how much detail the system gives to combat I was a little worried that the actual RPing elements of the game were going to be overlooked, however this chapter contains some very useful advice and suggestions for ensuring that the RP isn’t lost amongst all of the combat options provided by the system; I particularly like how the segments stresses players should think about how the characteristics of their characters would be shown or acted on in-game, this is something i’ve often seen, where characters have great and detailed backgrounds but not much of it actually gets shown in play (and i’m sure i’ve been guilty of this too), so it’s nice to see this addressed in the book.
This chapter also does a fairly good job of painting in the default assumptions for an Iron Heroes campaign and it was memories of reading this chapter that have prompted me to re-examine it for possible use in my (as yet unnamed) nordic post-Ragnarok style campaign; the default assumption is that there are no spell-casting clerics and that the gods never directly intercede in human affairs (with most religious leaders maintaining their position via political power), civilisation is small and scattered with a lot of the world being unknown or given over to wilderness and barbarism, humankind is the only player race available in the default setting (non-humans are distrusted and alien) and magic is rare. A capsule sample setting called ‘The Swordlands’ is also provided that could, with some effort, be worked up into a full setting.
Chapter Seven : Equipment
A pretty standard list of equipment with stats for the game, the only real deviation from the norm that jumped out was that Iron Heroes adds additional descriptors to certain equipment that links in with certain feats and powers possessed by characters in the game.
Chapter Eight : Combat
This follows the standard D20 game mould with a few exceptions, characters do not die automatically at -10 hit points but make a roll each round to see if they stabilise or die, characters also possess a number of reserve points that can be used at appropriate moments to speed the healing of damage; without any clerical healing in the game this is no doubt a necessity to prevent player parties having to stop and rest after every other combat. Unfortunately the chapter also seems to get caught up in examining grid-style combat in almost excrutiating detail, this may be useful for people who use miniatures or find the tactical minis element of comabt interesting, however, I generally prefer to rely on description and dramatic pacing in combat rather than minis and so a large part of this section wouldn’t be of particular use to me.
Chapter Nine : Adventuring
This chapter includes the rules for the game which aren’t covered by Feats, Skills or Combat, such as breaking objects, movement and encumberance; the material is well written and clearly laid out.
Chapter Ten : Magic
Covers the magic system of the game, it proposes that casters draw on a form of energy called mana that they attempt to bend to cause certain effects; in order to cast a spell an arcanist gathers mana shapes it into an effect based on what schools of magic they have mastery over (abjuration, divination, necromancy, etc) and then channels the spell (making the roll to cast it); each school of magic contains numerous methods (spells) that will look familiar to anyone who has played a D20 game before, however certain aspects of the method are based on how much mana a spellcaster puts into it, a spellcaster can spend over their maximum mana pool but they must make saving throws or suffer unpleasant side-effects.
I think this idea is very interesting (although i’m not sure if it fits in with the low-magic feel of the rest of the rules) but I can see how with an indecisive player or a GM it may cause the game to bog down due a debate about how much mana to spend optimising a spell; given this i’m not entirely sure whether it is any great improvement over the standard Vancian magic, I think that anyone desiring a spell point style system may be better off just adapting the various psionic rules available for D&D3.5/Pathfinder.
The appendix contains some useful information about importing material from other D20 games into Iron Heroes campaigns and vice-versa.
Overall Iron Heroes is a bit of a mixed bag, there are a number of things that I like and dislike about the game; i’m a big fan of token based systems that allow players to marshal their resources and decide how important passing a certain test is to them, I know they aren’t to everyone’s tastes but I personally quite like such systems and think that the classes in Iron Kingdoms do them well, i’m not sure about the idea of keeping seperate pools for each type of ability and think I would probably just have PCs put their gained tokens in a single pool.
The book is extremely well laid out with a nice uncluttered background (meaning that PDF versions are quick to load, unlike some more recent RP PDFs that seem to take an absolute age to load and are riddled with unnecessary graphics), the art in the book is nice and all feels appropriate to the style of setting and in general the writing style in concise and to the point. I do feel that in some sections of the book it goes into fair too much detail, devoting countless pages to skill examples and such like, but this is not a major downside for me. As discussed above i’m not sure about the magic system, I believe that it could slow down a game.
I think for my campaign that i’d probably take the classes (although NOT the arcanist), traits, skills, feats and such like from Iron Kingdoms but (assuming I decide to allow player character magic classes) would probably take the psionic classes from Psionics Unleashed by Dreamscarred Press and come up with a background of Vancian magic having existing when the gods were alive but that their downfall bought the end of both traditionally arcane and divine magic, leading to psionic style magic being discovered by the survivors of the god-pocalypse.

Ideas for a D&D/Pathfinder game

As my Rogue Trader game progresses and I do the odd bit of work on my D&D FAE hack here and there (in between making Youtube videos for my channel – http://www.youtube.com/user/MrLARGEJO), my thoughts turn to what sort of campaign and game system I might like to run next; for the last few months it’s been the Lorien Trust LARP mainline season (the time when they run their big 4 events) and i’ve pretty much been concentrating on that and running the odd tabletop session, now that the mainline season has finished i’ve got a bit more time to think about potential future games (also to write up my last Rogue Trader session).
I’m reading a couple of fantasy books at the moment and, inspired by a lot of youtube videos that I have been watching, have been leafing through my old D&D books; i’m also playing in an interesting Pathfinder game run by my friend John Miles which has us exploring a strange other world via a fantasy equivalent of the stargate, the idea of character from one D&D world exploring other planes of existence has always been one that i’ve enjoyed since the original AD&D Planescape setting and so i’m quite enjoying playing the bespectacled scholar who is on his first trip out of the library (despite his age) and is overwhelmed by the potential wealth of information in this strange magic-rich world. All of these factors have got me thinking that it’s been a long while since I actually ran any fantasy/D&D-esque style games, I tend to go for grim contemporary settings like the nWoD or, more recently, darker sci-fi settings such as Shadowrun and Rogue Trader.
D&D with a twist
When running D&D/Pathfinder or any other similar games I generally try to put a little bit of an interesting spin on it, this is mostly because myself and my regular group of players have played in numerous D&D games over the years and the standard Greyhawk or Forgotten Realms game can seem a little stale after a while; not to say that we don’t still enjoy breaking out the Forgotten Realms books on occasion, certainly I have a fondness for Faerun as do a number of my players, we’ve also played numerous Eberron D&D games (and I know John is a big fan of that setting). Possibly my favourite D&D setting that i’ve ran sticks in my mind not so much for the setting but because it introduced elements of time travel into it; being aware that time travel games can create all sorts of problems it was done via a plot device to restrict temporal travel.
Although a lot of details in the setting faded from my memory I do remember that in the past of the setting at some point an evil sorceror had attempted to summon an army of undead to overwhelm the globe and had narrowly been prevented from doing so; the player party (although they had lost a couple of characters including the halfling Pip Ratcatched and the Paladin Delembrandt by then due to various incidents) were sent back in time to this point where, due to their interference the ritual to summon the dead army was interrupted at a crucial point, causing the energies to run wild and tearing a large portal open to the plane of undeath. When the player characters made it back to the present time they found that this portal had allowed legions of undead to storm onto the prime material plane and the future now choked under the oppresive regime of a vampire monarchy lead by none other than the Vampire Lord Delembrandt, a darker version of their old friend who had fallen to the undead hordes and had been raised as a vampire, becoming a fearsome Blackguard; one of the other players was also able to “resurrect” the fallen Pip Ratchcatcher but playing a much grimmer, vampire hunting alternate future version of the character. The game was a bit of a mess (mainly due to my own youthful lack of planning and foresight) and we never really got to finish it, but I certainly found it enjoyable and the players seemed to quite enjoy it.
So what to do now?
I’ve been knocking around the idea of doing a setting with a Nordic flavour for a while, even going so far as to by the D&D book Frostburn because I find the idea of a world encased largely in ice a very cool visual and it would allow me to pull on a lot real-world mythological resources and forteana; in the Nordic myths the gods are set against the background of an apocalyptic Ragnarok that will result in the deaths of most deities and this idea has been visited a few times in various RPG settings. I was reading about the Midnight setting (which i’ve only played briefly), a setting that basically retread the same ground as Lord of the Rings but at a point where the Dark Lord has effectively won the day and subdjugated most of the known world, the players taking on the roles of resistance fighters trying to overthrow the evil regime; it struck me that this ‘after the bomb’ style might be what i’m looking for in a D&D setting.
I’m sure this has been also address in a number of RPGs as well, however, it’s not something that i’m aware my regular group has particularly played before.
So i’ve started jotting down a few thoughts and ideas about what i’d do in this setting, i’ve jotted them below:
– Before the world was a land of fire and ice.
– Gods pushed back the ice giants to the northern and southernmost parts of the world.
– Gods pushed the fire giants down to the centre of the world and imprisoned them there, providing heat that their new creation might live.
– Deities used to exist.
Signs of Ragnarok:
– It sates itself on the life-blood of fated men.
– Paints red the powers homes with crimson gore.
– Black become the suns beams.
– A wind age, a wolf age.
– The world tree shudders.
– The Jotun come from the east.
– Loki breaks free of his imprisonment.
– The fiery inhabitants of Muspelheim come forth.
– Surtr advances from the south.
– The gods go to war.
– Odin is swallowed whole fighting Fenrir.
– Freyr fights Surtr and loses.
– Jormungandr is met in combat by Thor, he defeats it but only takes 9 steps before collapsing.
– The sun becomes black while the earth sinks into the sea, the stars vanish, steam rises, and flames touch the heavens.
– An apocalyptic event occurred that resulted in the deaths of the deities.
– Their bodies fell to earth from the heavens where they because some sort of features (possibly statues that have a minor magical effect around them).
– Divine magic ceased functioning.
– No longer in fear of the Gods, the ice giants moved across the world once again, bringing the cold and snow with them.
– Many peoples perished in the climate changes but some societies were able to survive, albeit reduced to a primitive state.
– Low magic game (possibly using the Iron Heroes alternate players handbook).
– Main focus of the game would be survival at first, followed by discovering the history of the world, then possibly having the player characters push back the ice and rise to replace the old dead gods.
Obviously i’ll be intending to do some more research on this and formalising some of these ideas before actually running it ad a game, but this is my starting off point.
Any thoughts/comments gratefully received.