Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Delvers Guild – Session A – Character Creation, Part 1

This week was part one of the character creation session for our next campaign: The Delvers Guild.

This campaign takes place in the same world as the Barrowmaze game I previously ran [and will run again later this year] (see the Downloads sidebar for summations of Season 1).   The connection between the two is Vorgand, Daphne’s porter NPC.  With the start of the rainy season [and the consequent closing of the Adventuring Season], Vorgand returned south to the Aegean Military Academy she attends in the capital city, Aegea, along with all the cash she earned working for Daphne and many good drinking stories to share.

Back at the capital, Vorgand freely told her stories about dungeon delving, much to the interest of the other students.  A core group of students from the University and the Military Academy quickly formed and established a club for the purpose of delving ruins.  One of the students went so far as to take up a collection and file the paperwork with the city government, establishing the club as an actual guild [due to the abrupt transition between kings earlier in the year, a little money goes a long way in getting paperwork approved and filed without too many questions].

The Delvers Guild has identified some ruins about a day’s travel away, known as the Moon Manor Ruins.  These ruins have been abandoned for a very long time and no one is expecting to find loot or anything unusual.  The plan is to verify their camping and mapping skills are up to par and that everyone is up to the challenge before trying a real delve.  [Drama, of course, has other ideas.]

Game System
For this campaign, we are using the HERO System, specifically the Fantasy Hero rules for 5th Revised Edition (FREd).  [The current version of HERO is 6th Edition, but I’m of the opinion that the FREd version of the rules works well and 6th edition did not add anything I felt was needed.  YMMV.]  Characters are built with a Base of 50 points and can take up to 50 points in Limitations, making these 100-point characters, which count as Competent Normals in the game system.

I’m also using a highly experimental set of rules where spells are treated as skills.  The PCs have to buy the skill roll for each spell and I, the GM work out the game mechanics of the spells.  As I own the Fantasy Hero Grimoire, the two characters using magic so far went through that and selected spells, which saved me a lot of effort and them a lot of time.  This is experimental for me, so we’ll see how it plays out.  Normally Fantasy Hero spell casters sink a lot of their points into buying spells and therefore have few spells but I wanted the players to have access to magic but also be new to adventuring and therefore not have tons of points.  We’ll see if this balance works or not.

Not all the players could make it to this session, which is one of the reasons character creation is taking two sessions.  Next session we’ll finish up character creation and the session after that we’ll start actual play.  Below is what I have for PCs so far.

Player Characters:
Vargand – human female – professional porter and Adventurer’s Aide, irregularly attends classes at the Military Academy
Jala – human female – a person of discretion, studying aspects of the Law [to avoid them]
Zarec – human male – a cerebrally-unfettered spell researcher [read: Mad Scientist], studying Natural Philosophy
Ricky – human male – has a thirst for knowledge but doesn’t know what he’s searching for, currently studying Astrology
Nick Stalwart – human male – part of the Stalwart family of merchants, studying Mathematics

Non-Player Characters:
Lester “Les” Stalwart – human male, younger brother of Nick and general tag-along [DNPC]

That’s it for now.  Next week I’ll have one last character added to the list and I’ll produce a small gazetteer for the campaign area [with official names and everything…well, maybe not EVERYTHING – my players read this too].

Delvers Guild
Session B, Character Creation Part 2 [Not Written Yet]

UPDATE: I named the capital city since posting this and corrected a couple of other minor points, like Vorgand attends the military academy, not the university, but drinks with friends from both at The Library, a tavern in an old library that attracts student drinkers.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Fate of the Norns – Fafnir’s Treasure – Last Words

So with our play-through of Pendelhaven’s introductory adventure, Fafnir’s Treasure done, I’ve been able to take a look at what is actually in it and have some final thoughts on the game.  I want to wrap up my thoughts on the game, Fate of the Norns: Ragnarök and the introductory adventure before we move on to the next campaign (more on that in the next blog post).

First and foremost, the books for this system are beautiful.  The stylized artwork evokes the feeling of viking art from the 900’s without copying it.  This was not bog-standard Medieval art for a generic European knock-off fantasy.  The art was pervasive through everything that wasn’t core rules, and I’m led to believe that was a design choice by the translator to indicate material he reworked to present better in English.

The down side to all of this beautiful artwork is when you need to print out a character sheet or a play sheet for keeping track of your runes during combat.  These drain toner/ink tremendously due to the are and the background pattern.  While Pendelhaven made all the pages you might want to print out as hand-outs a free PDF (sample characters, play sheets for tracking runes in combat, a hex map, initiative tiles, and so forth), they are just the same pages in the book exported into a separate file.  Pendelhaven would do well to make versions of these pages with blank white backgrounds to ease printing costs.

Fafnir’s Treasure starts with a simplified version of the rules.  This, theoretically, allows a group to just buy Fafnir’s treasure and play through it with only the rules necessary for the adventure and then graduate up to the full rules if they want.  What it actually did was provide a simplified version of the 1st Edition rules that our Norn learned from while the rest of us learned the full version of 2nd Edition.  Changes happened between editions that occasionally led to arguments when the Norn tried to do something the 2nd Edition rules prohibited, but the simplified rules allowed.  In some places, the material had been updated to 2nd Edition in Fafnir’s Treasure (write-up of the trolls, notably), but it was spotty and inconsistent.  I’ve seen a PDF of the original Fafnir’s Treasure and it feels like Pendelhaven spent a lot of money on upgrading the appearance for a 2nd Edition release and very little money updating the contents of the adventure actually to 2nd Edition.

On top of this, the editing the book was not the best, particularly doing the maths.  For example, weapons that clearly do 3 damage in the equipment description unexplainedly do 4 in the summation of basic attacks for Zealots.  Grizzled Warriors have an actual power that covers this gap and I wonder if this is a cut and paste issue that was never caught.  Things like this happen often in both Fafnir’s Treasure and in the main rulebook.

While I’m on the NPCs (referred to as Denizens in the rules) – almost every opponent faced has weapons with Piercing, meaning they bypass a certain amount of armor, usually as much or more than we had.  The notable exceptions are opponents that do Mental or Spiritual attacks which also tend to bypass relevant defenses.  This made having armor almost pointless.  This would be fine as a design choice, but it would have been nice to know that the game made that choice before we bought gear.  Armor is some of the most expensive gear available and turned out to be a waste of time.  As the introductory adventure for the game system, this gotcha downgraded our enjoyment of the system as a group.

In neither the main rulebook nor Fafnir’s Treasure was a section expectations and assumptions built into the game system.  We went in cold not fully understanding what the game was designed to do, so we really had no way to lean into that curve to increase our enjoyment of the game.  We spent nearly half of each session digging through the rules and hashing out what they meant, especially when what they said contradicted themselves or seemed to.  Editing flubs made this worse (for example, the description of Taunt is missing a critical last half of a sentence explaining how to end the condition).

Finally, combats were very slow.  We are not certain if that was due to all of us being new to the system, but we also play HERO System and these fight felt longer than a HERO System fight.  Take that as you will.

Despite all of the above, there were aspects of the game we liked.  We liked making characters, even though some guidance would have helped avoid the case where we built a Maiden of Ratatosk that could not invoke the Taunt condition, a major aspect of the archetype.  The charts for powers and skills (we called them “bingo boards” as you put runes down on them to select powers or skill) worked well and forced us to make design choices, but also provided different flavors of the same archetypes based on which direction you spent your runes.  Again, some guidance or design philosophy would have helped.  We eventually worked out in play which archetypes benefited from more Essence or more Destiny, but some recommendations from the game designers would have helped.  [You may be detecting a theme here.]

Fafnir’s Treasure has the option of a very condensed version of the adventure (basically the Norn reads the setup and then cuts directly to the final fight).  This led to two different sets of expectations.  In the condensed version, the reward is “one item from the treasure” with no explanation if that is one item for the group or per viking.  The expanded version mentions in the descriptions of the relevant NPCs exactly which treasures are being offered (there are enough for 1 each for 5 vikings) and lets the PCs decide who gets what.  Our Norn remembered the first part but missed the second part, a small mistake caused by combining the two versions of the adventure, but it changed the way our vikings felt about the guy that hired us.  We were certain he was not who he said he was and was going to rip us off.  At the very least, if we had continued playing with these characters, our group would have been more likely to side with the Jotun after this adventure and not the Aesir.

There were aspects of this game we liked very much and it is beautiful, but I wouldn’t shell out the money they are charging for hardcopy.  The base rules are US$70 and seem incomplete (need Norn guidance at the least).  I suspect the Norn will also need to buy the Denizens of the North book (another US$70) for opponents (I do not recommend Fafnir’s Treasure at all) and everyone will need runestones (the Norn will need 2 sets to have enough).  

PDFs are available for the rules, but they seem pricey and printing out anything will be ink/toner intensive.  Runestones can be hand crafted (which we did with wood bits I was using for wargame minis and colored Sharpies) or purchased.  If purchased, prices vary based on the quality you want – Pendelhaven sells a wooden set for US$25 that looked OK.  One of our players bought just a set of runes online for something between US$10-US$15, but I don’t remember exactly.

Session 1
Session 2
Session 3
Session 4
Sessions 5 and 6

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Fate of the Norns – Fafnir’s Treasure – Sessions 5 and 6

[Fafnir’s Treasure is an introductory adventure written by Pendelhaven to introduce the game to players and gamemasters.  The Other GM is using it for our playtest.]

[Spoilers – This will spoil the intro adventure for this game system, so if that’s something that worries you, be aware.]

Player Characters
Bodil – a female Daughter of Ratatosk, Death Dancer sub-type (Essence: 6, Destiny: 2), Town Guard
Elric Windgazer – a male Galdr, Diviner sub-type (Essence: 4, Destiny: 3), Liberated Thrall
Einar – a male Galdr, Enchanter sub-type (Essence: 6, Destiny: 2), Gravedigger
Gunnarr – a male Galdr, Enchanter sub-type (Essence: 6, Destiny: 2), Foreign Import Merchant
Vigdis – a female Daughter of Ratatosk, Death Dancer sub-type (Essence: 4, Destiny: 3), Hero of Renown
Masrur – a male Ulfhednar, Wolfen sub-type (Essence: 6, Destiny: 2), Hunter/Trapper

Missed the Session
Bodil missed session 6.

Day 2, Sometime in the 2nd year of Fimbulwinter
[Session 5 resumed mid-fight, right where we left off at the end of Session 4.  The photos we took on our cell phones let us set up perfectly and resume immediately.]

Gunnarr moved around on the left to flank two of the trolls attacking Bodil.  He sang into existence Muspeli Nightmares, the heat and vapors escaping through the rents grinding on the trolls.  Elric cast Wrack on three of the trolls [activating the Multi metatag by chaining a Physical rune to it].  This knocked out the troll Masrur was fighting and injured the other two.  With the troll blocking him laid out on the ground, Masrur stepped over that troll and attack one of the others, which knocked it out, relieving some of the pressure on Bodil.

A separate troll that had been threatening Einar was now drawn by Bodil’s Taunt condition to attack her.  Luckily for Bodil, the troll had to use its remaining runes in-hand just to get to her and had none left to attack.  This left only two trolls attacking Bodil.  She was able to parry the attacks from one of the trolls, making use of Turn the Blade to force it to attack itself, but the final troll hit her twice, wounding her significantly.

Gunnarr and Masrur lowered the auras on them from Einar’s casting of Beckon Yggdrasil [back in Session 4].  Both vikings knew they were going to close in on the fight [for different reasons] and did not want to accidentally kill a companion with the aura effect.  Einar, pushing his aura to the limit, moved around on the viking’s right to flank the trolls.  Masrur moved into the trolls to attack [and out of Einar’s now 20-foot aura].  The trolls moved in to encircle Bodil and attack her, but Vigdis was able to aid in Bodil’s defense [finally realizing she could do so with one of her Passive Powers], so Bodil took no additional damage and was able to turn all the troll attacks back on them.

Gunnarr retreated on the viking’s left to get closer to Elric’s current position [and receive some much-needed healing], which triggered a contingency move Bodil had prepared and she stepped out of the ring of trolls.  Elric healed Gunnarr [returning the rune Gunnarr had tied to his sole healing power from the damage track] and then threw another Wrack attack at the trolls.  The fight ground on for a bit, the troll’s regeneration ability keeping them just up and attacking.

Gunnarr and Masrur both dropped the auras on them.  Gunnarr used his Agility to climb and jump over and past the trolls between him and Bodil to get to Bodil’s side [using his Tactician power to move during Upkeep without spending a rune].  There he loudly started singing Apples of Idun [with Amplify and Maintain metatags activated and making a Minor Sacrifice so only friends are affected], healing Bodil and Vigdis significantly.

With the vikings finally surrounding the trolls and their powers arrayed properly, the vikings put down the trolls.  [This fight was the entirety of Session 5.  See my notes at the end.  Session 6 starts below.]

After defeating the trolls in the Groaning Woods, the band of vikings hiked up the side of the mountain until they reach the cave Skridnir.  Cold water flowed from the cave, filling the bowl-shaped area just in front of the cave mouth with water that spilled over a fall opposite the cave mouth.  The sides of the bowl were steep and became impassible near the cave mouth.  Testing the water, the vikings found the shallowest parts to be chest high on most of the group [Masrur was noticeably taller, so it was only stomach-high on him, plus he was the only one with the Swimming skill].

Not wanting to get drenched wading through the high water, Gunnarr formulated a plan to make an ice raft and pole their way into the cave.  Elric used Beckon Jotunheim to thin the barrier between Midgard and that cold realm, freezing a 10-foot by 10-foot block of ice as deep as the water.  Einar then used his Power over Stone to shape stone poles out of the rock walls.  Gunnarr started lining the top of the ice raft with pine branches and needles to provide traction for the vikings when they stood on the ice raft.

While the vikings were crafting the ice raft, four watery hags rose from the waters and attacked!  [They were Rusalki, but none of us made the Lore check by enough to learn that.]  The hags used songs and screeches to attack the vikings or assist each other and catching the vikings flat-footed.  [They did a lot of Mental damage early, pre-empting most of our attacks the first round.  See my notes below about their powers.]

Einar cast Beckon Yggdrasil so Vigdis could take complete advantage of it [gaining maximum Aura and maximum Shroud, unfortunately this meant Vigdis could not initiate her power that granted her Taunt, which required the enemy attack her so she could defend against it].  The vikings got their wits about them quickly and mounted concentrated attacks against the hag with Taunt on it, quickly knocking it down.  The vikings then concentrated their attacks against the other hags, one-by-one, until they were all dead.  [This fight took less time than the last troll fight as we now knew how our powers worked and how they interacted with each other.]

Once the hags were dead, the vikings finished their ice raft and poled into the cave.  In the back of the cave, under the water, was a vast treasure.  The vikings searched for and located the ring that was their goal and then claimed their rewards from the treasure [see notes below] before leaving the cave.

Day 3, Sometime in the 2nd year of Fimbulwinter
The vikings returned to Evingard after a rest.  They snuck into town to avoid the town guards and made their way to the Snugly Duckling tavern.  Up on the second floor they knocked at Volstagg’s door and turned over the ring to him.

End of Session

[After playing all the way through the intro adventure, our opinion was that we liked aspects of the rules (like character creation and being able to boost powers by combining runes) but combat took waaaaaay too long (and we play HERO System).  We aren’t entirely certain if that is an issue with the rules or the fact that it takes a while to learn the rules and how they work.  The last fight “only” took one session, whereas the second troll fight took two sessions in their entirety.  But we never did better than one fight per session when facing opponents that were at our level.  Plus, we spent a lot of time working out how the rules interacted with themselves.  There is a lot of stuff that is vague and seems to assume you know what they meant.  On top of that, there are a very noticeable amount of editing issues, notably inconsistent usage of language forms.  This made it difficult to learn aspects of the system when no one knew “how it was supposed to go”.]

[Fafnir’s Treasure, the introductory adventure, is mostly a simplified version of the full set of the 1st edition of the rules.  Powers listed in the adventure do not always match up to the same power in the 2nd edition rule book, the edition currently for sale.  As a result, we are not certain if the discrepancies are due to different editions or going from simplified rules to complete rules.  Our Norn learned from the simplified rules, while the rest of us read the full rules, which caused some communication issues over the rules and how the Norn was doing things.  This would have been simplified if the main rules had a chapter that talked about how Fate of the Norns: Ragnarok is supposed to play – it does not.]

[Finally, there are definite document organization issues with both the main rule book and the introductory adventure.  It was difficult for us to find specific rules for things as parts were spread all through the books and there was no index.  I don’t know if this is part of the original source material or due to the translation to English, where things were, according to the translator, shuffled around a bit.  Combined with two versions of the rules (one in the rules and one in the introductory adventure) and this was much harder to use than it should have been.]

[TL: DR is this game is an attractive-looking product, but editing issues and needing an experienced player to learn the rules from means we will not be playing Fate of the Norns again.  This is a shame as it seemed to have a lot of potential, but its execution is lacking.]

Session 1
Session 2
Session 3
Session 4