Gutters, Guilds and Grimoires

We’ve finally got a “rulebook” for Gutters, Guilds & Grimoires, with a few tweaks and a few things which had existed but weren’t written down anywhere so never got used all that much, and the playtesting continues!

I dare say, our last session may have been one of our most awesomepic yet.

We didn’t really have any major storyline quests going on, since our last session not only resolved a major arc, it also cut off a handful of other plots because of certain PCs dying. But we did still have a favor we could do for the Rat King. When he’d said, though, that there were rats who weren’t obeisant to his authority, we hadn’t been thinking heavily armed rat-men…

The party lost two PCs, an arm and a leg.

We cleared out the nest of rats, but one PC died and another almost died, getting his arm cut off at the shoulder by a ratman with a Zweihander.

::ratman crit succeeds on his attack:: “Wait a sec, we’re fighting in a 5-foot corridor, surely the rat can’t use a Zweihander to maximum efficiency in these circumstances!”

::DM relents, rolls again to give the ratman disadvantage on his attack and crit succeeds again::

Despite being somewhat tanky, my character still had kinda lame armor and a crossbow bolt to the leg from the rat sentry forced me to play it cautiously – I’d just lost a nearly 4000 XP character, I wasn’t going to lose a 400 XP character on his second session. Ranged attacks are a bitch in this system, as at least one person is bound to get hit while closing the distance, and crossbows, the most common weapon, ignore a point or two of damage reduction from armor. So, after killing all of the ratmen except for the one with the Zweihander, I sold most of my belongings and begged 10 silver off two other characters so I could get a chain hauberk, upping my armor/damage reduction to 4. That means that Jonthony, newly promoted Corporal of the Watch on Special Detachment, is going to be only susceptible to ping damage except against the heaviest hitters. My tank is finally tanky, and it’s gonna be awesome.

Confident from our victory over the ratmen, we roped two other newly rolled up rubes to go back into the sewer with us to look for that last ratman (we wanted his sword, damnit!) Ratman was long gone, though we busted down the door he’d locked himself behind the day before. We sent in one of the new PCs first; just a friendly hazing, “don’t worry, we’ve got your back!” New guy was nearly killed by a ghoul-thing, and one of our other heavies got paralyzed. Luckily, my new armor kept me safe and I was able to slice it to bits.

We spent a little too long playing Morrowind with the crates hoping to find precious liquor or other vendor trash, and we ended up having to fight a sewer mutant chimera. It proved pretty damn nasty and bit the leg off one of our other fighters, but we managed to kill it, too.

Low HP Fights

Because this is such a low HP system, all of these fights were incredibly skin-of-the-teeth. But, just as my guy getting taken out a bit early put a real damper on our combat strength, the same can and has happened to enemies we’ve fought. Unless you can secure some sort of real tactical advantage, there’s a very real chance in every fight that you’re getting a broken nose, a lopped off limb, or outright killed. I’d say we were closely matched against the ratmen: 3 fighters, a magic user, and a rogue against 6 ratmen (2 pikers, 3 xbow, & zweihander). The magic user in our party was probably the equalizing factor, and he’s the one who got his arm cut off and very well could still die from it (it happened in a sewer, so I would not be surprised if he dies of sepsis).

Armor as soak

The very low player HP in this system (Grit), represents not actual wounds, but minor dings, bruises, and stamina lost in a fight. Most characters who’ve died or been permanently maimed have been done in by fewer than 4 hits. Getting chainmail for my character was a big deal – with damage reduction of 4, I was able to take 3 hits and still have more than half of my grit. It’ll be interesting to see how finally having a heavily armored character in this system will change the combat dynamics.

Regaining HP/grit vs Healing

While there are “healers” and magical healing in the system, they have more to do with reducing the number of weeks it takes for broken bones to heal or keeping severe wounds from getting infected. Fun tidbit: the character who got an arm lopped off was just about to have his leg, which had been broken in one of our first sessions, finally all healed up. No amount of magical healing will let the character regrow his arm, but there’s a chance that diabolists can grow him a new one for some exorbitant fee.

Part of the incredibly low HP/grit is somewhat mitigated by the ease in which it can be recovered. Consumable vice goods restore half of one’s missing points rounded up – it is not entirely unlike Popeye and his spinach, where the fighter can pull out a flask of bourbon, take a couple swallows and get a second wind. This has given my character a chance to develop his identity – after a fight he can smoke a victory cigar to regain a chunk of his missing HP. His “Hearten Ally” ability he got when he upgraded from Watch Recruit to Man-At-Arms also means that after a fight he can slap somebody on the shoulder, tell em they did a good job, and go get back into the trenches, so they can recover 2 points of grit. At this point, he’s going to basically turn into ‘the Old Sergeant’ character from every WW2 movie ever, which is gonna be awesome.

Economy

One thing I’ve noticed is that part of the glue that holds the system together is keeping the characters in perpetual penury. It’s a silver based system, but unlike many silver based systems, copper is not only common, it’s the primary coinage one will earn and spend on everyday items. Weapons and armor costs are silver, while food, lodging, and most simple amenities cost a few coppers. There are mechanisms in place that keep characters from jumping straight from poverty into the middle class from one or two successful adventures, but a DM would have to use them. We haven’t really seen the effect yet of a massive influx of treasure, so there’s no telling how a Monty Haul DM could break the system.

We’ve played for months, and our party has amassed power enough to be an influential part of our city’s ecosystem, but no one has freewheeling cash spending money. The 5 SP each the other two fighters loaned me for armor was no small sum, and only a fraction of the 75 SP I needed for my chainmail. I think that the way we’ll need to test the system next is to see what happens if we are able to actually sell every scrap of equipment and vendor trash we come across. Too bad we’re getting out of the organized crime business, because a single hit on a merchant or noble with more than a few hundred silver could be game-breaking. We’ve just never been in a situation to find out.

Demise of Watchman Island

I was totally planning on writing a review of Demise of Watchman Island, the sample adventure included in the playtest material of Varg’s MYFAROG, but B/X has taken up a lot more of my time lately, particularly my writing on Vampires & Liches. I may get to it eventually, but now that I am writing for both Cirsova (whose core content I am falling behind on) and Dice Monkey, I have my work cut out for me.

Rather than give you my interpretations of it, you can check DoWI out for yourselves, as Varg has made it public. Additionally, he has posted a Fan-written expansion to the module that somewhat rectifies the original’s downer ending, in which no mysteries are solved despite a significant loss of life.

A First Look at MYFAROG (Varg’s ‘Burzum’ RPG)

While the vast swaths of the tabletop gaming community spend  post after post wringing their hands over the fate of Dwimmermount, Shortymonster and I seem to be the only members of RPG Blog Alliance community who have taken up the bizarre, once in a life-time opportunity to be play-testers for MYFAROG (Mythical Fantasy Roleplaying Game), a game developed by the infamous Varg Vikernes of Burzum fame.  Mr Vikernes, who has already stated he would be using his own money rather than Kickstarter to fund his project, recently announced that the core book that he’d hinted at a few times over the year was complete and ready for playtesting.  For that alone, he towers above much of the gaming development community as a gentleman and a scholar.

Pretend I spent this paragraph explaining who Varg is and how I disavow him. These posts are going to be a review of his game and the adventure he supplied with it.

First, let me say that I guess my head has been so wrapped around the purely academic question of which OSR ruleset would be the best to play with, I was briefly under the illusion that maybe Varg had the answer. Maybe I was hoping for Dungeons & Vikings? Instead, what he has given us is “Norseman: the (Hunting and) Gathering”.

In many ways, MYFAROG reminds me of a White Wolf game, in that the system is inextricable from its setting. While all White Wolf games (the last time I looked at them, which was back in 2004) had a common character sheet and dice-rolling mechanic (Stat 1-5 + Skill 1-5, then whatever crazy system/character/class related stuff added to it), Races, Classes, “Charms” or whatever their Masquerade equivalent was, were all highly specific to the setting. With something like Exalted or Vampire, rather than buying a game that could be plugged into settings, you were buying a setting that came with game mechanics.

MYFAROG is an astoundingly detailed setting for which mechanics have been lovingly created. Yet herein lies some of the difficulties of bringing MYFAROG to your gaming table. Varg’s world is a vibrant and complex fantasy realm set in a far northern pre-medieval pseudo-Europe called Thule; the cultures of Thule are coming to grips with the growing pains of transitioning from Hunting/Gathering to settled society, transition from ‘The Old ways’ and ‘Tradition’ to ‘The New Ways’ and ‘Religion’, all while the mysterious realms of the Ettin grows and threatens human life. The game’s mechanics account for the sub-races of men, all of which have names which are both difficult to spell and/or pronounce unless you have some background in Scandanavian language, culture and grammar (consider that your default race is ‘Jarlaaett’/’Jarnmaðr’; I am looking forward to seeing the additional rules on the ‘Alfaborinar’ or ‘Elfborn’, which are gonna be the half-elves, I think). Worldview is divided into a 2×2 of “Veiðr”(old) and “Byggjandi”(New), “Seiðr”(Tradition) and “Asatru”(Religion), which respectively represent chaos (entropic & natural, not evil) and law (order and structure to society), and bestows mechanical benefits as part of a characters ‘upbringing’, as it means that, as a part of that culture, the character was raised with certain skills and values. Note that this is on top of an alignment system, which I’ll go into in a future post, perhaps.

There’s the old saying “A truly great (whatever) must wear many hats.” In MYFAROG, think not of classes but roles, and these roles are the many ‘hats’ that the character wears. Everyone starts out as either a ‘Hunter/Gatherer’ or a ‘Peasant’ (of course MYFAROG uses the more appropriate terms “Veiðimaðr” and “Buandi”), but gains new roles throughout their adventures, such as “Striðsmaðr”(warrior), gaining points to allocate and develop skills and attributes along the way.Thule has a complex pantheon and system of high festivals.

Further adding depth and complexity, your character’s birthday is important in determining which gods influence their life, bonuses to divine interaction, and other attributes.There are tables for ways of currying favor with deities (I’ll have to read more on how Favour Points work, cuz it seems that even a moderately devout character can rack them up extremely fast).  Needless to say, if you want to get the full experience, you’re going to need to use a campaign calendar (Varg has provided a sample 28 day lunar calendar).

As you can imagine, I have been a bit overwhelmed by the amount of detail, to the point where I’m still not ready to roll up a sample character yet. If and when I do get a chance to run the sample adventure, I think I’ll use some of the pre-generated characters that Varg provided, and instead just give the players a chance to read up on the world and what their character’s stats all mean, rather than send them headlong into things saying “here’s a book, you’re all playing Jarlaaett with the
Veiðimaðr and Striðsmaðr roles and Byggjandi/Asatru worldview, good luck!” Well, I guess that’s the same thing, only they won’t have to fill out the stat sheets…

Varg himself recommends starting with a stripped down version of the ruleset and slowly adding rules to add complexity to the campaign. A lot of your enjoyment of MYFAROG will be determined by how invested you become in the setting, which should not be hard if you give it a chance. So far, most of what I’ve gotten through is ‘fluff’ rather than mechanic, but by golly, what amazing fluff it is! (Even if MYFAROG ends up on your shelf more than your table, it’s a great fantasy read, so I highly
recommend it.)

I’d also like to mention that it was a ballsy move to make the playtest scenario a wilderness adventure. I won’t give away any details, but “The Demise of Watchmen Island” embodies all of the best moments of Morrowind’s Bloodmoon expansion. It also sets a number of expectations, in my mind, for what MYFAROG should be. Norsemen wage war bravely and heroically, go on mighty hunts, fight giants and monsters who threaten their homes, etc. etc., but don’t spend a lot of time in dark caves and dungeons looking for treasure. There should be some opportunities for dungeon crawling, but looking for treasure in a hole should take a back seat to going forth against incredible odds to outsmart the Ettin and possibly die a heroes death on the field of battle. While Varg mentioned that he didn’t make MYFAROG with minis in mind, this is a perfect game for setting up a wilderness hex map.

As I get through more of the book, I’ll try to review the content, and I DO hope that I get the opportunity to run “The Demise of Watchmen Island” with some folks. When I do, I’ll relay the experience here.