Sunday, 8 January 2017

Shaintar - a fan's review

The Elevator Pitch: Shaintar is all about the Epic story, the fight of Good v. Evil. But not little mundane evils. Heroes don’t just go out and kill kobolds for copper pieces. Even if the story begins with saving just one person or a small farmstead, it may be part of a bigger plot. The PCs are meant to matter in the story. They are meant to make a difference in the world.


The Tone: As mentioned in my first point, Shaintar is meant to be EPIC mainly, but the world is big enough that you can find a more specific genre for your group’s fantasy tastes.
  • Horror can be found in the darkness of Shaya’Nor, the Shadowlands where Werewolves, Vampire Lords and Liches hold sway.
  • Fighting a totalitarian regime as a group of secretive rebels, with a Three Musketeers feel? The people being oppressed by the Prelacy of Camon need you.
  • You want to go up against a more obvious threat? The Kal-a-Nar Empire with it’s legions of soldiers as well as their alliance with the Queen of Hell is the target.
  • Adventure on the high seas can be had anywhere between Nazatir and the Pirate Archipelego.
  • Gritty urban adventure also await you in the city Camden (aka the Snake’s Den).


Archetypes: There are a wide variety of character types available in Shaintar. There are the common fantasy races of Humans, Dwarf, and Elf and then there are variations and new options such as the Winged Elf, the Wood Elf and High Elf. Half-elves have formed their own nation and are referred as Korindians. You can also play one of the Goblinesh races (Goblin, Orc and Ogre), and two unique races; the reptilian Dregordians and the feline Brinchie.

Professions are many and varied and a player can choose to play an Orc Sorcerer if he really wants, it might be a little more challenging but always possible. And speaking of spell casters, there are a few different types; the Alchemist, the Priest of Light, the Druid, the Sorcerer (aka Wizard) and the Adept (aka psionicist). There are also Necromancers and Acolytes of Flame, but both of those are exclusively NPCs.

Grayson’s Grey Rangers: To help explain why a disparate group of ‘’classes’’ are grouped together, the creator of Shaintar has created an organisation that is part US Marshall, part Texas Rangers. They help patrol and defend a wide area called the Wildlands, allow the heroes to have easy access to gear, training, info etc. as well as a reason to be travelling together.


Magic: As far as magic goes, Shaintar is a high magic setting. Users of magic in one form or another, are fairly common. But magical items are not so common. A sword that conveys a +1 to fighting and damage is a big deal and will have a history, perhaps a name. It costs a lot to craft such items even if the PCs have access to the proper edges. And the creation of items with powers that are always on, require a permanent sacrifice of PP (aka Essence). I’ve already mentioned the types of magic-users.


Shaintar is meant to be more Epic, where the heroes perform great deeds despite overwhelming odds. Many of the setting rules reflect this, and here are the short versions:
-Shaintar uses the Blood & Guts rule (where WCs can spend a Benny to reroll damage).
-Bypass the Skull; -6 to hit, +4 damage & only ½ Toughness.
-The Deep Magic allows all spell-casters (except Alchemist) to use Soul Drain edge for free.
-Defeat the caster, defeat the spell; Once the spell caster is KO or dead, any spells with a duration end as well.
-Extra Effort; spend a benny to add +1d6 to your result (this can Ace).
-It’s a Surprise: a +2 bonus for a clever action, but that would not warrant the +4 from the Drop.
-Lead from the Front: Whenever a WC chooses a Leadership edge she also can improve a skill lower than its linked attribute, or gain a new skill.
-More for the Casting; by spending more time to cast a spell, he can increase the duration of a spell by 10 (3 rounds to 30 rounds, i.e. 3 minutes, etc).
-Pain Management: Spend a benny to switch wounds to fatigue or the reverse (used very little in my experience).
-Open for Nominations: Every player gets a ‘’Nomination Benny’’ she can hand over to another player for good role-playing or clever thinking, etc.
Below is a quote from the creator of the setting, Sean Patrick Fannon, and is the final setting rule;
''-The Golden Benny is awarded almost exclusively for birthdays — anyone having a birthday in the week leading up to or after the current session gets it. For significant events, like milestone anniversaries, getting married in the first place, accomplishing something fairly awesome in real life, or doing an act of great kindness in the world, I might also award such a benny. The Gold Benny is a pretty major deal. For one thing, it’s the Life Saver. At any time, it can be spent on the behalf of any character to negate all damage suffered in a given round — even damage that kills a character! The GM has to find some way to explain events such that, somehow, it just didn’t happen, or something happened to change the results.
Alternately, the player can spend a Gold Benny — again, on any Hero’s behalf — to cause any Trait roll to automatically succeed with a raise. If further effects can be gained by continued rolling, the initial roll, including the Wild Die, is considered to have Aced. Damage can be affected in the same way by a Gold Benny.
The other way to use the Gold Benny is; “Activate Deus Ex Machina” Plot Device System, whereby I, the GM, is expected to entertain the players with some creative and over- the-top narration of how amazing circumstances and/ or the involvement of greater spiritual beings have interfered to give the Heroes some huge leg-up in their current, very dire, situation. It may sound awful to some of you GMs, but trust me; it has become the highlight of most of my campaigns.
After all, there are always new dire situations to throw at them...''


Support: Ever since their very successful KS a few years ago for the Shaintar; Legends Unleashed book for ranks of Heroic and Legendary, there have been a lot of stretch goals unlocked that give us GMs and players more info on different aspects of the world and most of them are available now at DrivethruRPG, RPGNow and SavageMojo.com. With an average of 3-5 bucks each. You don’t need all of them, but they do flesh out the setting quite nicely. And they have some ideas for adventures but nothing totally fleshed out.


There are One-sheet adventures and well as a few detailed ones that cross-over with other settings like Accursed, & Ainereve. And since part of the history of the world had the continent isolated by the Veil and that said Veil is falling slowly but surely, one could cross-over into the Suzerain and Rifts Earth quite easily.


Experience & final thoughts: I’ve run this setting for two of my friends, that lasted about 3 years and we were able to wrap up a long story arc. This was at the table-top. I was able to learn a lot about Savage Worlds and Shaintar, and so did my players. We had been 3.5ed players for a long time and even I had to break a few bad habits or D20 ways of thinking. Now, I’m much more loose with the story and the action, trying to draw the players into it, especially by letting them describe/narrate their die roll for an awesome action or trying to do more than just ‘’I swing, I hit, I do this much damage’’.

I find that I can craft much more in depth stories and plots when the opponents are not just nameless monsters holding potential loot for the heroes. When the enemy is another human, elf, etc. there’s the potential to find out more about that foe. Interact with them, role-play. And with SW, I can write up an NPC quite quickly, without looking into the rulebooks most of the time.

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Mexican Pizza por favor.

Hello all.

This is my very first RPG product review on my blog and I'm extremely happy to talk about this one.

Some of you may know about the Savage Worlds setting of Winter Eternal and about it's creator +Morne Schaap  who, if I remember correctly, lives in South Africa.

Both he and a friend of mine, +Eric Lamoureux , worked together to create this item called ''Snap Sites - Vamonos Pizza.

It is a system agnostic product that describes a Pizzeria with a slight twist. The owner put a Mexican bent to his Italian pizza pies. This is a really well made product. Bright and colourful, like such a business should be. There are both GM & player handouts that can help everyone around the table. The props can help set you into the mood too.

There are even some key NPCs written up. No stats, since this a system agnostic product as I mentioned earlier. But the characters are fleshed out a little, in order to inspire you. And the images are the pictures of actual people (friends & fellow RPGers, yours truly is the delivery boy) modified with a little computer magic.

**This would be a great items that could be used in a ETU game, or any other contemporary setting. Maybe its a front for a crime organization? Or the brick oven hides a secret entrance to a MIB regional office?**


http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/175230/Snap-Sites-Vamonos-Pizza


Keep an eye out for more Snap-Sites products.


Friday, 22 January 2016

Trappings for Locations, Locations, Locations.

I'm currently reading thru the Interface Zero 2.0 rulebook and finally arrived at the GM section that describes ''Trappings'' one can apply to various locations.

I've heard or read articles, vlogs, etc. that tell how you can use trappings for more than just powers. But I felt that there was a lack of more concrete examples, until I arrived to page 286 of the rulebook; City Trappings.

The basic gist is that some cities, or maybe just certain neighbourhoods can have a Trapping attached to them. For example, a run down section of town could have the ''Black Market'' trapping (trying to buy or sell stolen or illegal goods and services is easier here), or ''Fat Cats'' is where the rich and powerful can be found, etc.

This is something that could be applied to locations in any setting, just change the name of some of the Trappings to suit your current setting. For example, the Fat Cats trapping can be re-named the Nobles District in a fantasy setting.

Here are a few Trappings that could be applied to multiple settings with only minor tweaking;

Black Market: This area is thriving with commerce dealing in illegal and illicit goods and services, which means it’s a lot easier to find these things — or get into trouble. Streetwise checks involving the purchase or sale of illegal goods or services are made with a +2 bonus. Any character who is perceived to represent “the Law” (in whatever form) is assumed to have the Outsider Hindrance. Any contraband bought here which can be legally purchased in most other places costs 50% more than usual. All rolls to contact and deal with “criminal” Contacts in the area gain a +1 bonus.

Fat Cats, Nobles District or The Hamptons, etc: This area is inhabited largely by the wealthy and the people who cater to them, which often leads to a certain elitist attitude. This trapping usually applies to a neighborhood or specific location, although in rare cases it could extend to an entire city, or even a small nation. The effects of Fat Cats largely impact interactions with the lesser people — the ones
who cater to the wealthy. Any character not displaying any obvious signs of wealth receives a −1 Charisma modifier for any type of social interaction (usually Intimidation, Persuasion or Streetwise checks) with merchants or service providers. Any character not displaying any obvious signs of wealth will always be charged 10% more for any purchase or activity, if at all possible. Any character displaying any obvious signs of wealth receives a +1 Charisma modifier for any type of social interaction (usually Intimidation, Persuasion, or Streetwise checks) with merchants or service providers.

Humans Only (or Elves, Dwarves or Orcs Only): This area is mostly occupied by people who subscribe to a human supremacist doctrine, or at the very least by people who fear anything different from themselves. This trapping can apply to nearly any size of location — the smaller it is, though, the harder it will be for a non-human to integrate…as a building, it may even simply be an exclusive private club. Humans Only tends to be social in nature, potentially affecting a character’s interactions with others. Any character in this area who is obviously (or known to be) non-human is treated as if he has the Outsider Hindrance as long as he’s here. The −2 Charisma penalty is always applied
unless specifically dealing with a resident who doesn't adhere to the norms of his group in regard to non-humans.


Combat Zone?

There are more but I don't want to get into any legal problems. I do acknowledge that I borrowed the text from the Interface Zero book, but only to share it's insight and wisdom with other SW players and GMs. There are many other City Trappings such as Combat Zone, Corporate Zone, Kingpin, Martial Law, just to name a few that spark ideas and can be applied to other settings, just by making some minor changes.

Needless to say, I will making more of an effort to think about the places my Players' characters will find themselves and apply the appropriate modifiers, if applicable. I invite all you GMs out there to do the same.

 What do you think? Is it a good idea, or not?


Thursday, 3 December 2015

Come to dark side,...we have cookies. Dark chocolate chip cookies.


With the coming of the Codex Infernus, by D. Jarvis (on Kickstarter). I've been thinking more and more about a fairly simple ''Corruption'' system. Something to indicate the gradual descent into darkness, the slippery slope to Evil.

In fantasy tropes, certain classes or character archetypes can be stripped of all their powers/benefits if they stray even a little form their path or tenets of faith. But what if the descent into darkness was more gradual and relied on the character personal convictions and his own certainty that he's actually doing good, that he believes he's still advancing his faith's tenets. 

Sometimes our heroes may be forced to make hard choices, decisions that may be questionable. Maybe they had good intentions, perhaps it was for the greater good. For example; Churchill once made the difficult choice to let an english town be bombed by the Germans, in order to avoid the enemy from discovering that they had broken the Axis' code. Did he let people die when he could have saved them? Yes. Was it evil? Maybe (it was definitely a cold and calculated decision). Would it have merited a ''Corruption point''? Yes, maybe, most likely, depending on the GM of a game with such a moral dilemma as this.

But in the kind of game I'm thinking of, a fantasy setting, things are more black and white. You might have a few shades of grey. That's where my idea of a dark benny / devil's benny comes in. When a hero does something that can be considered bad, he will earn a dark benny.

I firmly believe this is a campaign element that need to be mentioned to the players before gaming starts, since it can have a serious impact on their characters and their fate later on in the game. And the players should be on board for this to work and you don't want to spring this on your players mid-game. They will most likely feel like your punishing them and trying to take their character away, or their player agency. Of course, if they are aware of it in advance, and you hand over that devil's benny after they've left some goblin children to die, then they can't really complain.

If your campaign has a heavy infernal genre and where demons can have some influence over some mortals who attract their attention, then this dark benny mechanic can come into play. Not all acts will be seen by powerful Demon Lords and not every mortal will be of interest to the Princes of Hell. But that's what the minor devils are for. Imps, Quasits, etc sometimes spy on some regular mortals to corrupt their souls in little but cumulative ways, in order to fill the pits of Hell (Think of the satirical novel ''The Screwtape Letters''). That being said, some mortals will attract the attention of more important, more powerful demons. And their actions will be observed more closely. The Paladin or the Priest of Light, for example, would make a tempting addition to their hellish ranks and would be a severe blow to the forces of good. Of course, a powerful Mage or Warrior would also be substantial gain to the forces of evil.


THE MECHANICS SIDE;
So when a hero does something evil (not just mean or because he's a little ticked off, but really evil, nasty, cruel, vicious, etc). then he gets a dark benny/devil's benny. This benny is always there and available for the player, to tempt him to more/greater evil (i.e. it actually does carry over to following sessions. He doesn't have to use it, but it will be a constant reminder of the possibility). He could perform acts of atonement or purification appropriate to the setting, in order to remove the devil's benny.

He can use this benny just like any other, except he gets a +2 to the final roll. But once a player has decided to use this devil's benny, he also gains a mark upon his soul, even if he used it in a selfless act. This act is tainted by his previous actions and choices. 

Call this mark what you will; corruption, taint, black stain, dark side, etc., but these can be impossible or extremely difficult to remove, depending on the mood and grittiness of the setting. Can someone be redeemed or not? If there is a chance to remove these Marks, then after such an act of atonement or purification, the hero must make a Spirit roll at -2 (with an additional -1 per Mark gained). If successful, he removes one Mark (optional: two Marks with a Raise maximum). 

GMs are encouraged to use their own judgement based on the act of contrition (sacrificing oneself in order to save many innocents from death or worse, might save his immortal soul from eternal damnation).

But once a hero has accumulated a number of Marks equal to his Spirit die (maximum 12), then he's irrevocably damned and corrupted and the Demon Prince will show up soon to claim his prize.



Player knowledge versus Character knowledge

This blog post won't stop people from discussing this or arguing for or against it. But this is my opinion about the issue, especially when it relates to any Social interaction.

Many GMs seem to insist on having Players actually speak in character when in comes to bluffing their way past the guard, negotiate passage with a sea captain, whoo a lady, or convince someone to a certain course of action. Even though the Player is most likely not as charming, handsome or savvy as his own character.

I've never asked a Player to actually disarm an explosive device, just because his character has Demolition skills. Has any other GM required this kind of thing of their players?

I recently played an elven conjurer (Niamara) in my friend's campaign, and not once did my GM ask that I actually start quoting arcane theory, or babble actual spells and summon an elemental. In my other friend's Beasts & Barbarians campaign, I play a Conan-like barbarian named Kron. And once again, the GM does not expect me to know about sword fighting or ask me to actually make a feat of strength in order to open a door or lift a rock. I even played a bard once, despite the fact that I don't play a musical instrument and can't carry a tune to save my life, IRL, and once again my GM didn't require me to match my character's skills.

I can role-play it a little (describe Kron's efforts, speak some arcane sounding words as Niamara) but ultimately, the success or failure depends on the die roll.

So, to all the GMs out there who insist on their Players to actually be great orators or sly swindlers, please STOP IT.

Players will role-play characters that are often very different from themselves. I believe the major issues stem from the fact that the GMs will judge the success or failure of the actions by the Player's ability (or lack thereof), instead of the Character's, who might be a master at bluffing or sweet-talking his way out of trouble, but the Player would get tongue-tied if speaking in front of more than three people.

At best, try to get the Player to role-play a bit of it. And if you think she did a fair job and had good points and arguments, then allow her a +1 or +2 to the roll. But the die result should be the ultimate deciding factor at her Social skill attempt. Just like when the warrior swings her sword, if the Player describes how she leaps from atop a broken pillar to chop at the ogre's head, the GM could give her a +2 to damage.

The player across the table is not actually the same as the character he is portraying. Just like actors who portray doctors and lawyers and scientists are not their characters and are not the experts they seem to be.


Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Unintentional Interest!

Without premeditation or intent, I made one of my players take an interest in one of my campaign world's aspect. 

To be more precise, he's taken a keen interest on the campaign specific calendar. It was not my intention to hook him onto it like that, but I introduced into the campaign a magical item that is tied to the phases of the three moons of the game world. 

It started when I vaguely remembered something in the Savage World's Fantasy Companion about Grimoires. I wanted the Druid in my campaign to gain access to more powers without the need to wait for level-ups. So I cracked open the SWFC and found the reference to Grimoires and how they can allow a spell caster to gain new powers without taking the New Power edge every time.

But he's a Druid and I felt like a more oral method of transmitting the knowledge and wisdom was more appropriate. So I simply applied a Trapping to the Grimoire. Instead of finding a musty old tome or delicate scrolls, he found Leylana's River Stones. Five smooth stones with swirling designs and runes upon them in a supple doe-skin pouch. After doing some research, he discovered that when placed in a stream of clean water or a basin filled with pure water, under one of the many lunar alignments, the image of Leylana would appear and she would impart her wisdom upon the applicant. As of this writing, the last time the Druid used the Stones was a minor alignment, so I had Leylana impart some esoteric druidic knowledge that will give him a +2 on an appropriate Knowledge check in the future (nothing specific, I'll just let the player tell me he heard this from his mentor when it comes up). 

In the world of Shaintar, there are three moons and 16 months, and there are many possible lunar alignments possible. So now my friend Marc has made himself a copy of the calendar and keeps track of time that goes by in game. 

He could've simply asked once in a while if the moons would be aligned and I could've just hand waved it and moved on. But he has taken interest and I'm encouraging it. It makes me even more aware of the passage of time in game and I'm also more motivated to keep track of it. Especially since they are currently on an important mission that is also time sensitive. They must hurry before the Gates of Hell open. 

Have any players of yours taken a keener interest in your campaign world somehow. Maybe a calendar, special events, places or businesses, etc, and that you hadn't planned on but it somehow made the game seem more alive for them, more engaging?

Please share. 

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Trying to make the encounter with the BBEG last a little longer.

Ever since I’ve read people’s posts or listened to podcasts, I’ve been thinking about this. In most RPG systems, you can’t count on combat lasting a fixed number of rounds, nor how successful the players will be on their die rolls. If the BBEG rolls phenomenally well and consistently and the PCs don’t, then you’re looking at a possible TPK. Inversely, if the PCs are the ones getting all the good rolls, then the big finale you were likely hoping for is cut short, and as an occasional player, not just a GM, I find it not totally satisfying if the BBEG is defeated in one round.

Many people have made suggestions and gave out advice, most of it will be good for someone out there I’m sure. But no definite answers on how to prolong combat, since there are no definite solutions I believe. There are just too many variables (exactly how tough is the BBEG, how tough/good are the PCs, the location and advantages of the terrain, any allies, what each character has access to, whether its gear, magic items, etc.).

And let’s face it, if you have only one BBEG to face-off against your PCs, he still only gets to act once per round (even if he’s able to perform multiple actions), against a group of say 5 players, who might be able to perform multiple actions of their own and use their bennies to get a better result and cooperate together, our BBEG won’t last too long, especially if you draw a low card for the initiative for said BBEG.

I have some of my own suggestions but I’ll reiterate what others have already mentioned here for purpose of completeness:

1-      Play the BBEG smartly; keep his goals in mind, how devoted is he (is he willing to die for his cause, is he able to escape to fight another day)?
2-      Use cover, high ground and/or difficult ground to his advantage.
3-      Fanatics; let some Extras take that mortal hit for their leader (For the Royalty!!).
4-      And maybe a few more I haven’t heard/read

And below are a few of my own suggestions, based on my own experience as a GM;

Give him the Quick and Level Headed edges, that way you make sure he gets two cards and he’ll at least have a 6 or more. With the Improved Level Headed he gets three cards. That should increase the odds of getting a face card or even a Joker.

One suggestion I had read about, and I have used quite a few times, was to allow the BBEG to act twice per round. Give him two initiative cards. How many times do we see characters in movies and TV shows act and re-act multiple times in a very short period of time, especially in martial-arts movies.

As a GM, we should allow ourselves some leeway to make the encounter worthwhile for our players. I’m not talking about cheating or fudging rolls necessarily, but if you can explain it within the game setting or within the rules, then by all means, go ahead. Even if you just improvised a reason that makes the BBEG last one more round. Perhaps the BBEG is able to soak at least one wound every round minimum, despite the Vigour roll (he’s got a magical device or Nanites that mitigates the wounds, whatever).

Even if it’s not on his stat sheet before the game, add it, allow it, if it will make the game more FFF!! And once the heroes have defeated the Mastermind, the Dragon, or the evil Overlord, it will most likely make your player’s feeling of accomplishment that much greater.

That being said, as a GM, we shouldn’t take away the players’ successes. If they’ve planned ahead and used sound tactics, and thus defeated their foe quickly, I think I should let them. They will feel powerless if the GM simply ignores all their preparation without having a good reason for it. Not every combat should be a 3 hour long ordeal, sometimes a fight should just end with a gunshot on the scimitar wielder.