Module Review: Night of the Necromancer

by dymondy2k

Greetings everyone. My name is Dave Gerard, known around the BFRPG community as DymondY2K. I will be writing a new column for the blog where I take a look at some of the  adventures offered on our downloads site. I will be giving a quick overview of the module, how I fit it into my campaign setting and how it played. I will then give some pointers on the good and the bad as well as tweaks on how to run it.

To kick things off I will be reviewing Night of the Necromancer. It is one the adventures contained in the AA1 – Adventure Anthology One. It is written by Raymond L. Allen and is intended for character levels 3-5. It contains a straight dungeon adventure as well as some encounters that occur in the town and includes maps of both areas. There is no included random monster tables.

Synopsis
The characters arrive at the village of Stull and spend some time in the village before nightfall. While in town the party may learn that many families on the outlying farms have already packed their belongings and left due to the recent and seemingly
unstoppable advance of the undead. That evening they participate in defending the village from an attack of zombies that are originating from under the mausoleum of Bruk Stull, the founder of the village and the forefather of the lumbering operations in the area. This is a small dungeon where an “eco-necromancer,” Thaen Ygmay, has made his lair. The characters must enter this dungeon, defeat the necromancer and his foul undead, and destroy the Orbs of Necromancy that are allowing haen to create and control so many undead at once.

Setting the hook
I took the entire town of Stull and plopped it into a small corner next to the Bramblewoods to keep with the theme that it is a lumber town. The players had just finished up another adventure and were heading down a main thoroughfare so I begin to have them come across refugees heading east. I gave them the impression of bags and carts being packed in a hurry and a strange haunted look in their eyes. Once they questioned the refugees they found out about the undead stirring in the town of Stull. This was enough of a hook to get my players to change direction and head towards the town. I had the townspeople point them towards the mayor.

The play through
This is the first module I ran that had a few encounters with a sense of real urgency. I mean skeletons are attacking school children for gods sakes! I had to improvise their movement speed as they ran through the town to get to the school yard. It was frenetic and I could tell that the players were truly invested in saving those kids. Then as soon as they could catch a breath, another attack by zombies at the lumber mill. And the another at the Mayor’s house. And in the end it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows, people died, setting the tone for the exploration of the mausoleum the next day. The dungeon crawl piece of the adventure has no surprises but is well done. The players definitely wanted some payback on the necromancer and his cleric side kick and got some when they found him. Sometimes adventurers seem to take all the right turns and they found the main villain the first day they were down there. They spent the next day backtracking through the dungeon to find the necromatic orbs and destroyed them after a tough encounter with some ghasts.

Wrap Up
As I mentioned earlier this was the first module I ran with my group where there was a real sense of urgency to some of the encounters. This in turn made the players emotionally invested in this town and its people. This carried forward to them eagerly wanting to go into the crypt to find the person behind all of this. Sometimes things don’t go in the order they are supposed to so the party ended up killing the necromancer and the cleric before they even found out about the Orbs of Necromantic Power. But I used the encounter with the students of necromancy as way to convey that information to the players, with one of the students actually being helpful (Garrett). After the adventure and back in the town, Raymond did such a good job of painting the town as being run down that my players picked up on it and wanted to know why. This kicked off one of the coolest PC/NPC interactions I’ve ever been part of and created the first real story arc of my campaign. I had to change very little to get this to fit into my campaign. I think all I did was change the references to some of the Gods to those that exist in the world.

I really liked this adventure and think it would be a great one to run right around Halloween. Not just because of the undead, but because they just aren’t in the crypts, they are overrunning the town as well.

Swords & Wizardry

by Solomoriah

I can remember when I first saw Mythmere’s announcement of Swords & Wizardry on the Dragonsfoot forums.  I had a long familiarity with Mythmere’s work, gained by too much time spent on Dragonsfoot, and I expected anything he set out to do would be good.  I downloaded that early version and was suitably impressed.

It has been suggested that, on this Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day, we should post something of use in an S&W game.  So here you go:

http://basicfantasy.org/downloads.html

One of the most wonderful things about true Old School games is their broad interchangeability.  Any of the adventures, and many of the other materials, available on the Basic Fantasy RPG downloads page (and for that matter, in our Showcase and Workshop areas) should be usable in a Swords & Wizardry game with few or no actual changes, and the same applies to using S&W materials in a BFRPG game.

Converting a monster from S&W to BFRPG?  Take the S&W ascending AC figure and add 1 to it (necessary to line up with the different combat progression in BFRPG).  Taking a monster from BFRPG to S&W?  Subtract one from the AC, or if you like descending AC, subtract the AC from 20.  Most of the other stats will work directly, or with similar minor adjustments.

Not sure how to do it?  Ask, in the comments here or in our forum.  We’ll help you with the transition in either direction.

S&W Appreciation Day!

by SmootRK

S&W is a great game in itself.  I love how all the various retro-clone games can utilize their materials rather interchangeably. Rather than blather on about my experience with S&W, I would rather just share a couple original races that can be utilized in S&W games.  There might be minor mechanical differences to iron out between the game versions, but usable nonetheless. Both are original creations, though one is inspired by a great author.

Copyright – R. Kevin Smoot 2009, originally within “New Races Supplement” for Basic Fantasy Role-Playing Game.  Images are copyright of Cory “Shonuff” Gelnett and should not be utilized outside of Basic Fantasy Role-Playing Game endeavors without direct permission from him.

The first is a race inspired by my beloved dog whom passed away some time ago.

Caneins

Canein Mage

Description: A legend exists that there was a wizard who loved his dogs. This mage kept dogs as pets, trained them to guard his estate, and even used them in magical experiments to enhance their ability to serve. They were gifted with greater intelligence and a more humanoid stature. It is unknown whether the legend is entirely true or not, but it is generally assumed to be the genesis of the Caneins.

Caneins are a race of dog-like humanoids, known for their extreme sense of loyalty whether to liege, friend, or family. There is a great deal of physical variance among the individual Caneins, with some short and stocky, others leanly muscled, and variations in the colorations of their coats. However, all Caneins share a similar facial structure similar to the various bulldog or boxer type dog breeds, having jowls and squat features. Caneins vary in their height, but are rarely larger than the average human. Caneins often form almost knight-like codes and attitudes, often serving a patron in exactly that capacity.

Restrictions: Caneins can be any class, although they seldom become Thieves. Even when a Canein Thief is found, he typically uses the skills of that profession in more honorable ways than the typical rogue. A Canein must have a minimum Constitution of 9, and are limited to a maximum Intelligence of 17.

Special Abilities: Caneins have a keen sense of smell, able to identify individuals by their scent alone. This power olfactory sense allows the Canein to determine the presence of concealed or invisible creatures, and any penalties associated with combating such foes is halved for the Caneins. For instance, a Canein suffers only a -2 penalty when attacking an invisible pixie. All Caneins can track as Ranger of equivalent level, and an actual Canein Ranger (if the class is allowed by the GM) gets a bonus of +20% on Tracking rolls.

Caneins have +2 on any reaction rolls involving other canine creatures. However, Caneins do not like vile beasts such as werewolves, hellhounds, and the like, despite any similarities.

Saving Throws: Caneins save at +2 vs. Death Ray or Poison as well as vs. Paralysis and Petrification effects

——————————————-

The next race owes its origins to C.S.Lewis’s Narnia.  Frankly, I am continually surprised that more  material from him does not appear in RPG form.  Certainly he brings a great vision of fantasy at least a good (if different) than Tolkein derived material.

Faun and Ibex

Description: Fauns are a fey related race that resemble a sort of strange cross of goat with that of a small human or elf-like being. Standing only about 4 to 5 feet tall, they have human-like torso and head, but the legs and feet of a goat. One can find Fauns with other small features reminisce of goats such as small horns or large ears. Fauns share the Halfling love of simple agrarian life, especially with respect to vineyards, as they prize wine (among other brews) above most things in life. Fauns love frivolity and are often quite adept at musical pursuits.

Restrictions: Fauns may become any class. A Faun will typically follow the tenets of nature deities, and Clerics and Druids can be found equally in their societies (when allowed by GM). A Faun must have a minimum Constitution of 9, and are limited to a maximum Charisma of 15 generally accounted to overly gregarious personalities and lack of inhibitions. Fauns may not wear typical human style footwear.

Special Abilities: Fauns have Darkvision out to 30 feet. Fauns are resistant to charm-like effects from fey beings, getting an additional +4 on relevant saves. This includes charms of dryads, nixies, and similar beings (GM decision when necessary).

Saving Throws: Like Dwarves, Fauns save at +4 vs. Death Ray or Poison, Magic Wands, Paralysis or Petrify, and Spells, and at +3 vs. Dragon Breath.

Ibix: The Ibix are a sort of cousin to the Fauns. Ibix appear like Fauns except that their heads are much more goat-like. Unlike Fauns, Ibex are ill tempered and generally considered evil, sometimes even allying with humanoids such as goblins. They have identical statistics to those listed above, except that they do not speak Halfling, instead learning the languages of Goblins more commonly.

What Are We Risking?

by Sir Bedivere

Chris has made a comment to the effect that if the player characters can’t get killed, there is no point in the game. I take this to mean that risking something makes the game meaningful, and I agree. However, these characters are inventions no more real than Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream; how could it possibly matter if one dies? After all, if one is killed, we just roll up another. So, what exactly is it that we’re risking by making our characters genuinely mortal? Is there, in fact, any risk?

Some may say “No,” and those folks can stop here and go find something more interesting to read. I, on the other hand, think there are two ways to say “Yes.” But I’m only going to offer one here: What we risk is our own emotional involvement with the character and the game world: The more we are involved with the character, the more we risk.

This presents us with a dilemma: We need to be attached to a character to really be risking anything, but since Basic Fantasy is fairly lethal, it doesn’t make sense to create a character we are immediately attached to. Other games require a player to spend some time coming up with a somewhat detailed background, and that’s one way to develop player involvement in a character. The BF player shouldn’t do that; his character can die in the first encounter, and all that time will be wasted. If some attachment is necessary to care, a little detachment goes a long way to keeping the game fun.

I think the answer to the dilemma, quite naturally, goes back to something Chris said in the post, Special Snowflake Syndrome, “Player characters don’t begin as special snowflakes, all unique. They become that way by being played.”

Very existentialist for a role-playing game, and very right. We care little about our first level character because we hardly know him, but by fifth level he’s an old friend; we’ve been through a lot together.

Still, I want to care about that first level character, just a little, just enough to be risking something when he steps into that first musty, subterranean hallway. So, I answer one simple question about any new character I create: Why is he there? That usually results in a few sentences that tell me a lot about how to play the character, and which also give me a good base from which the PC can grow organically. That much, fifteen minutes maybe, is enough of an investment for me to be risking something.

What about you?

Kicking the Tires

by Sir Bedivere

Solomoriah has given me the keys to the blog (wisely or not, I don’t know), so I’m checking it out, seeing how fast she’ll go, whether the radio works, that sort of thing.

I plan to mostly write about game design, with some posts about other random things related to BF. As for schedule, I will keep a very strict calendar of posting only when I have something to say, though I promise not to step on Solomoriah’s Friday spot.

Okay, let’s see if this Publish button actually works. (I’m skeptical, myself. Don’t I have to roll something for this?)

I’d like you to meet my friend Alan

by Solomoriah

Alan's Characters 800 DSC_9699

If you were to flip through the Core Rules, or Morgansfort, or Fortress, Tomb, and Tower, you’d find among the playtesters a fellow named Alan Jett.  I met Alan in high school, back around 1982; he was introduced by a mutual friend, one of the first players in my first RPG group, and in no time, not only had Alan joined our group, but we were playing at his house.

Alan was very reserved normally; I’ve known a number of people who described him as unfriendly, in fact.  He was really just rather shy, a consequence of being, well, nerdy.  Like me, unsurprisingly.  It was in the game world where he really opened up, though, and we got to see him the way he wanted to be seen.

One of his very earliest characters, possibly his first, was a human fighter named Faldren.  Faldren joined a party of adventurers who got lost in the Great Desert and ended up exploring some lost pyramid.  Faldren was a front-line fighter whenever he got the chance, fighting alongside Thorin the dwarf.  (No, neither of those names are particularly original.  Give us a break, we were kids.)

Late in 1983, having played what seemed like forever (as everything that lasts more than a month does at that age), we changed to a more “advanced” game, and I let Alan bring Faldren into that game.  We experimented with other systems too, superheroes and science fiction and other kinds of fantasy.  I soon realized that you never really see what someone wants to be until you play an RPG with them.

Alan wanted to be a hero.  He had hoped to serve in the military, but he had the sort of medical issues which would prevent that.  In real life he was a bit of a gun freak.  He hunted, something I never did with him (or anyone, hunting never appealed to me).  He’s the guy who convinced me to see the movie Shocker… someday I have to watch that one again.

I did what he wanted to, but could not.  I spent four years in the Air Force, gaining valuable experience that led to my current job.  When I got out and came home, we picked up the game as if we’d never quit.  I was still running “advanced” adventures, but I began to get an urge for something more, well, basic.

So, along with the rest of my game group, Alan became one of the playtesters for Basic Fantasy RPG.  He had two characters, sometimes played together when the group was too small, sometimes played separately; the miniatures pictured here are the ones he used.  One, a human fighter named Kyron Ristan, was almost the reincarnation of Faldren, even coming from the same dusty land of Kel south of the Great Desert.  The other was his dwarf cleric Tybrinn.

Like every other character I ever saw him play, they were heroes.  Another player in my group had the bright idea to play a necromancer, but he was very careful to keep the true nature of his powers secret as he knew if Alan’s characters learned what he was, he’d likely end up dead.  Alan was like that, no tolerance for evil.

In October 2012, days away from his 47th birthday, Alan succumbed to the cancer that he had been battling for several years.  He is missed at my game table and in my life.

Special Snowflake Syndrome

by Solomoriah

While talking with a GM who is trying to bring his modern players into Basic Fantasy RPG, he mentioned how his players complain about the lack of class and race options in the game.  I won’t quote the player, as I don’t have his permission to do so, but in effect he said he didn’t feel his character was unique; he even indicated envy of another player who was apparently allowed to play a bugbear crusader.

This is, to me, an indication of something called “Special Snowflake Syndrome,” and sadly it happens in the real world almost as often as in games and fiction.  I visited the TV Tropes page on the subject and found this little tidbit:

Whether a character is interesting has nothing to do with how esoteric his background is and everything to do with how well he’s played.

I’ve mentioned in another post that, in the Old School, we (GMs) don’t write story.  Story is what happens when the players take up their dice and walk into our world.  Well, that sword has two edges… in the Old School, player characters don’t begin as special snowflakes, all unique.  They become that way by being played.

I am in no way saying you shouldn’t allow players to have characters of supplementary classes or races in your game.  What I’m saying is that you, as the GM, set the tone for your world.  Don’t allow a player to bring in a half-dragon shaman/acrobat just because he or she wants to be special and unique.  If you have many half-dragons in your world, and you allow shamans and acrobats (and you allow them as a combination), then yeah, you should expect your players to want to try that combo.  But don’t allow them just because the players beg and complain.

I played a character once, in a different game system, who was a human fighter.  He was the first character I played for any length of time, and to begin with, other than some decent ability rolls, he was hardly anything special.  But as time wore on, he became that way.  He did a service for the elves, and they gave him an uncommonly intelligent horse; he was fool enough to eat the heart of a strange creature that was half dragon, half basilisk, and upon surviving (one saving throw, at a penalty, and I was sweating bullets) he gained an extra measure of strength and an aura of power that awed ordinary people.  He could force a morale check by frowning, if his opponents had only a couple of hit dice or less.

He didn’t start out special.  He earned it, and by extension, I earned it.  It’s a far more interesting story than anything you can apply to a beginning character in your favorite modern game, because it actually happened (in the fictional sense, anyway).

What’s the difference, you ask?  If I had brought him in with those features already, and I tried to read the background to the GM or the other players, they’d be like, yada yada.  But the other players were there when we saved that elven village (they all got something too) and they were there when he foolishly ate the monster’s heart (and they were almost as interested as I was in the result of my saving throw).

We, that is, my group and I, all remember that classic adventure from the old days where everyone has the option to sit down and eat at the ghostly banquet.  You choose to eat each food, or drink each drink, as you see fit; each thing you eat or drink has some effect on you.  Some were good, some were bad, some were good if you made your save and bad if you didn’t, and if I remember right one was good if you failed your save, and neutral if you succeeded.  Some of the characters who went through that adventure (when I ran it for my “new” group a year or so back) are still around; one never needs to eat (but may if he wants to), while another can use ESP once per week.  Those characters, and their players, earned their dose of awesomeness in actual play.

Special snowflake syndrome is irritating enough in real life; why should we encode it in the rules of our games as well?

Metarules

by Solomoriah

One of the things about the Old School that’s not obvious to everyone is that what you don’t write down is as important as what you do. Sometimes I refer to this as the “metarules” of the game.

For example, the “1-n on 1d6, sometimes adjusted by ability bonus” mechanic, or some variation of it, is used in several places in the rules. But never do I explain it in any general fashion, and I’m not going to. Novice GMs will apply the rule only as written, but as they become more experienced, they find that the mechanic is more generally useful than it appears. If I chose to explain it, to make it an abstract mechanic, it would change its nature.

The “unified mechanic” of modern games is like that. It becomes a hammer… as in, when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. If I codified the d6 mechanic above, it would become a single hammer, rather than a set of similar hammers useful in different circumstances. Some GMs would be less willing to change the rule, while others would try to apply the rule in places where it was not really appropriate.

But instead, I provide similar, but not identical, rules in several places.  As the GM gains experience (GMXP?), he or she notices the similarity, and the differences as well.  When a player wants to try something for which there’s no rule written, the GM may remember the d6 rule, and see that some variation of it is appropriate to the situation.

I’ve learned from long experience that the things I figure out for myself I know far better than the things that are prescribed to me.  For the purposes of the game, I choose to keep the rules simple and brief, but provide interesting, varied game mechanics to stimulate the imagination of the GM, rather than to try to figure out every possible thing that might happen and write a rule for it.  Or, to write a “unified mechanic” that supposedly covers every situation, but isn’t necessarily appropriate to all of them.

Fans of the “unified mechanic” are howling as they read this.  Bah, I say to you.  Before Basic Fantasy RPG, I had a game called Project 74, and the earliest versions of that game were built around a unified mechanic.  It sounded good on paper… ability rolls on 1d20, with a given target number, and the ability score bonus applied (along with other bonuses, like the Attack Bonus, called a Combat Rating in the earliest versions of Project 74).  But in the first player character group we had a human, a gnome, an elf, and a half-ogre.  The odds of the gnome forcing a door (he was a magic-user) were around 50% (11+ on 1d20, no STR bonus) while the half-ogre had a 60% chance (same target number, 16 STR).  Say what?  The number of times we saw the “pickle jar” conundrum, where the weakling succeeded at a strength task that the hulking brute failed at, were just silly.  Oh, I could adjust the target number, but I couldn’t get a range of results I liked with a “standardized” target number rule.  Raising the target to 16+, for instance, lowers the gnome to 25%, but the half-ogre is now down to 35%; the proportion is better that way, but it’s now too hard for the half-ogre to open the door.

On the 1d6 mechanic, the gnome needs a 1 (16.7%) while the half-ogre needs 1-3 (50%).  MUCH more reasonable, in my opinion, and in the last versions of Project 74 I wrote it that way.

Sometimes, what is needed isn’t an overall rule. Sometimes it’s the LAST thing we need.

Storytelling

by Solomoriah

I’ve said before, in the Old School we don’t tell stories.  Story is what happens when the players pick up their dice and walk into your world.  If you, as the GM, try to plan what the players will do, and create a railroad to lead them through the story from start to finish, what do you do when they go off the rails?

But… we do tell stories.  Backstory.  How did that tower get toppled?  Who lived there before?  A wealthy and powerful warlord?  A great wizard, who might have left valuable magic laying around?  It’s through those stories you tell, through the mouths of your NPCs, that you entice your players into your world.

I’m a proponent of the “fast and loose” method of campaign world development.  The more you write down, the more you have created that the players will never see or appreciate.  Look at the classics of Sword & Sorcery fiction… they use a variety of shortcuts to make the world seem real, or at least interesting, without actually providing deep background material.

Not exactly S&S, but here’s one of my favorite examples:  “The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.”

You just read that, and now you can see it in your mind’s eye.  I don’t know if the two men named (I’m 95% certain you imagined the gunslinger as a man) are on horseback in your imagination like they are in mine, but you can see the desert, and the man in black, and the gunslinger dressed in tan clothing rather like Marshal Dillon or Clint Eastwood.  If you don’t imagine it exactly as I do, I bet you still have a vivid image.

If you don’t recognize it, that’s the first line of the first Dark Tower book by Steven King, titled “The Gunslinger.”

Or look up the lyrics to the song “Badge” by Cream.  With just a few words, you begin to imagine the singer and the woman he is singing to.  You get their past relationship, and you are led to wonder about the things the singer is telling her.

You don’t need a deep description of the world to make it seem real (and interesting) to the players.  Don’t be afraid of stereotypes… they are the shorthand of the imagination.  You can set a scene very quickly by using stereotypical words, then as the scene unfolds, the players begin to realize those were just their first impressions.  Stereotypes are only bad, story-wise, when they trap you.  When you let each and every character be only a stereotype, with no actual depth.

The same things that work with characters work with worlds.  If an NPC swears “by the seven swords of Saviare” you know there’s a story there; it doesn’t have to be heavily detailed, but it can lead to an adventure if you play it right.  (It worked for me.)

Many are the times I read through Gary Gygax’s great tome of collected wisdom and wondered about the people and places named therein.  I wondered at the stories behind them, and the few times he told those stories, I was always entranced reading them.

The secret is not to show everything, or tell everything.  Keeping some mystery in your storytelling is important.  And if you’re going to do that, don’t bother writing down in detail 1,000 or 2,000 or 10,000 years of your campaign world’s history.  You won’t remember it all, and if you do, you’ll never have an opportunity for your players to appreciate it.  Keep it short, just notes to remind you of the main parts.

After all, people in the real world don’t really know history nearly as well as they’d like to think.  Why should it be different in the campaign world?  So you, in the guise of an NPC, tells the players about the defeat of the great clan of Senarius, and later another NPC tells a contradictory story.  Even if it is, in fact, you who have remembered wrong or otherwise screwed up, why worry about it?  Make it part of your world.

Additional CreateSpace.com titles, soon to be on Amazon.com

by Solomoriah

As of this morning, all four of the Basic Fantasy Project’s in-print modules are available through CreateSpace.com, and soon through Amazon.com and Amazon Europe.  Their rules required removal of the spine labels (which honestly are too small to read on the JN series modules anyway), but the proofs I received look pretty good.

Here are the CreateSpace.com links:

BF1 Morgansfort
BF2 Fortress, Tomb, and Tower
JN1 The Chaotic Caves
JN2 Monkey Isle