Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Most Dangerous Game in all of Xan Than Du

The adventures set in the land of Xan Than Du continue,

Previously the party had become stranded after an agonizingly long journey into the unknown, most of the party returned home a shambled mess becoming enslaved, injured, or mad in the process (as per this table).

One party member though  (The naval officer bard) had decided to build a crude raft with his henchman (including a Gorilla) and sail across treacherous waters to an island where lights had been spotted, hoping it would be a bastion of civilization (and prevent him from needing to roll on the table).  He was right...ish.

This game began with him finding the estate of the Dutch explorer Adriaan Van de Groot (after hiding his Gorilla in the Jungle).   He was fed and clothed and taken to the dinner hall with two shipwrecked Americans.  The players already knew what was about to happen and the character surmised based on his natural history skill the words on the empty plagues in the trophy room.  Over the course of dinner the Naval Officer attempted to convince Adriaan that he had met the truly most dangerous game ever,  the Lion Demon Dal-Ga.  This would have been an easy sell except the other two players decided to foil his plans by instead rushing to convince Adriaan that in fact they were the most potent specimens of health, intelligence, and daring and thus were far superior creatures to any supposed Lion.

So the party was set free at sunset, with just the clothes on their back to survive until the following sunset to win both freedom, and use of the estate for the naval officers expedition (which would be quite a win for the campaign, opening up new areas of the map).  

The island consisted of arid hills dotted with dragon trees and fields of agave (farmed by a village of servants),  a dense jungle, a reed filled saltwater marsh, and the remaining base of an ancient volcanic mountain spire.

The Officer quickly took command led the party to the jungle as the sun set, nearly falling down a ravine containing a black panther (though finding some garbage from the village containing part of a broken clay jug).  Their headlong rush into the dark was helped as they quickly found a trail...that lead through quicksand nearly drowning two party members before they were able to rescue them by cutting a vine (and thus leaving more evidence of their passing for their pursuers).  The trail they had stumbled upon lead them to a small back-filled cenote containing a graveyard they concluded to be "VooDoo of some sort", with raised bamboo platforms containing dried out bodies and a shed.  Looking inside they shed found a shovel, some matches and candles on a shrine, a mirror which they promptly broke (cursing one party member),  and a magical fetish-item for causing heart attacks on a victim.  Breaking the mirror defiled the shrine and caused several zombies to rise to attack.  The party had but one shovel to defend themselves.  One shovel and also a gorilla named Harambe who tore the zombies to pieces (after narrowly making his will check to not freak out).

Having some tools and light, they decided to move through the concealment of the jungle (hiding their light) at night towards the marsh (more concealment) and see if there were any caves in the spire they could hide in (one of the characters had geology as a skill and figured there were probably lava tubes).

As they moved through the marsh (it was now the darkest hours of early morning) they heard the baying of hounds.  They proceeded to rush,  but in doing so happened to stumble upon burned out primitive fishing village that looked to have been abandoned for years.  Weighing their options they decided to gamble on being caught and spend time searching.  They were rewarded with a bone harpoon, an easily repairable net, a fish knife, and the charred remnants of a wooden totem that held magical powers of fear.  They now had the hunter hot on their trails as they raced up the mountain side, nearly becoming trapped at one point if not for the helpful aide of their pet gorilla (which, kudos to having brought a gorilla and stashed it beforehand I guess).

And sure enough there was a lava tube, and (through burning their luck points) the party just barely managed to sneak inside without being caught in the open along a cliff face, exposed to gunfire.  Rushing inside one party member was mashed with a crude falling rock trap. Clearing the rubble the found the skeleton of a dead pirate,  clutching a loaded pistol and with a tattered sheepskin bag among his hip bones containing gems.

Now to cut away at this point,  I had it marked that there were lava tubes/caves,  but its a random seed table to where they go and its fairly likely to run into a dead end.  The party knows this because its not a random table used for just this adventure.  So they briefly decide if this is where they make their stand.  They now have one shot of a gun, and a harpoon, though they are low on luck as they spent it to avoid being spotted in the open.  Luck is also used to absorb damage (ie, its hitpoints). They decide to say screw it and see what lies further down the cave network as it will generally lead towards the shore.   So meandering through the tunnels (thankfully with candles) they spend a couple hours navigating, finding a massive cavern with a fungal forest (which they again debate using as an ambush point) they continue forward through incredibly narrow tunnels (nearly getting their gorilla stuck) until the generator spits out an unusual result.  Triple 1's.   The caves lead to the basement of a secret castle or tower is what the generator says.  There are no castles or towers...but there is the Van de Groot estate.   So they accidentally came face to face with his basement wall and break through to his basement.

The tables have turned.   They shove now burning furniture and garbage (and taxidermy chemicals) into the narrow tunnels to block access to anyone who isn't suicidal.  Close behind them they hear Van de Groot curse and the Naval Officer (as a bard) shouts a witty insult towards him  (draining the hunters luck points).    Tactically things are 180, it will take Van de Groot hours to get back.

The party sneaks upstairs and goes to get the most important thing first, they raid the liquor cabinet and have a few drinks.   One, this is funny, two it regains some luck points for them.  Then,  sneaking around the butler and house staff they break into their locked rooms and re-arm with their equipment (though this raises the alarm).  They break into Van de Groot's room and use Harambe to move a gunsafe in front of his door.

As the house servants (except the head butler) don't have guns, they fortify Van de Groot's room and wait.   Perhaps having expected his staff to have been better able to resist (he didn't know about the gorilla after all) Van de Groot, his dogs, and men marched back to the house only to get ambushed as they crossed an open field.  Bullets from repeaters slew many of his men and removed his remaining luck.   Alone in a field inside the sights of multiple repeated rifles in a fortified position,  Van de Groot conceded defeat in this greatest of games.

Seeing him as valuable (and wanting the greater XP that comes from capture) the party accepted his surrender and unlocked the settlement.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Updates from the lands of Xan Than Du

So the Xan Than Du games have been progressing and the parties have gotten involved in numerous hijinx that I have become too increasingly lazy to document in separate posts.   They have explored an abandoned outpost for treasure hidden by an ancient madman,  dealt with desert demons and nearly been mauled to death by the leader of a cult of lion worshipers.  They have engaged in tough negotiations with hostile villages for supplies,  defended a Spanish mission from a small army of angry locals, had an incredibly unlikely second encounter with the Cave of Wonders (that ended far more deadly), and search for a shipwrecked vessel from the Texan Navy with the aid of a wise hermit high on a mountain.   Characters were mauled by animals,  robbed by bandits, and in one case captured by slavers in their pirate hideout due to to fallout from a Djinni's wish.

One character befriended a local gorilla named Harambe only to shortly after become the guest of a certain mad big game hunter that is seeking a more dangerous prey.

In short, it is what you would expect in terms of cliche and tropes and murder.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Market day at the old Spanish mission

For any regular readers,  this is a reference table for use in my Xan Than Du game so that it can be referenced in play.

Combat Gear


2 silver.  Medium, pole, hand and a half, piercing.


2000 silver,  limit 1.


5 silver,  limit 20

Rusty Breastplate

50 silver, limit 5.   Crude, partial, plate armour.

Suspiciously Expensive Rapier

500 silver, limit 1.  Medium, light, defensive, piercing.


5 silver

Holy Water

1 dot, 30 silver.  ?d2 weeks

Catholic Bible

1 dot,  100 silver



3 silver, 4 dots.


40 silver



2 dots.  5 copper for 5 days.

Fresh Vegetables
1 dot. 2 copper for 1 day.


1 dot. 6 copper for 1 day.

Red Wine

15 silver, 1 dot.

Hot Spices

10 silver, 1 dot.



2 silver

Longhorn Cattle

40 silver

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

A Reflection on Buystarter Best Practices

I was asked to compile a few thoughts on the best practices of a "Buystarter",  which for those not familiar with it,  is a term I coined to describe completing the manuscript of a work,  then publishing it in that rough form on RPGNow/Drivethru RPG for sale.   Those platforms have the ability to update a work to all downloads after the fact.  The product is sold at a discount, and  I announce that I will gauge the money from the first month worth of sales to improve the manuscript if there are sufficient sales to fund those activities (art, layout, cartography, editing, etc) AND I feel like improving the work. At the end of the month I will either discontinue the product or raise its price to full.

This functions in many ways similar to crowdfunding,  without the added overhead or stress of having obligations to fulfill.  Explicit in the buystarter premise is that people are guaranteed nothing, they paid a discounted rate and are entitled to no improvements.

I have used this with two releases:   "Under the Waterless Sea" and "The Price of Evil". "The Price of Evil" generated more funds than "Under the Waterless Sea",  but neither had massive sales nor profits.

With that bit of context, my advice towards best practices is largely "Fudged if I know",  since I only have two data points.  But here are my educated guesses  (which is a $10 phrase for "hunches").

1.  Be frugal and decide if you really need art, if it adds anything to the works usability.
2.  Layout is the most important thing to invest in.
3. You will not make nearly as much as you could with a kickstarter
4. You need to have a reputation of actually delivering, this might not go so well for a first release.
5. Don't dally,  start working on anything you are going to do immediately, even when the buystarter is still going.
6.  Avoid scope creep.  You can always do more.  Do that on a future re-release.

There you have it,  six platitudes of limited use.  Enjoy!

Thursday, September 1, 2016

How do you know you've got enough elements for a finished game scenario?

Whenever I sit down to generate game content for play I make a conscious decision of how much stuff to cram in one avenue of play.  Elements in an encounter, session, adventure arc, or campaign are all intentionally spaced out to ensure its all playable and fun at the table.  I don't want fifty bajillion things to track at any given time,  nor do I want players stuck dealing boring one dimensional adventures.

I try to have about 5 things.  A magic number based on cognitive power of humans.  You can go a little more, some people have a little less, but this will be perfect for most players to know whats going on, and for me as a GM to remember off the top of my head.  By keeping about 5 moving pieces (sometimes a little more, sometimes a little less) I can keep it all in my head and so can players as long as they don't invent too many red herrings through faulty reasoning.  That simple,  end of article right?

Well, depends, whats a thing?

A thing depends on the context.

For an encounter its participants, terrain, consumable inventory, rival goals, and the like.    If I have 12 identically armed bandits, that is "one thing".  If 6 are archers and 6 are spearmen, that is "two things".  If there are 6 spearmen fighting 3 swordsmen and 3 archers that is "four things".  The swordsmen, the spearmen, the archers, and the conflict between the two groups.  If the terrain is interesting at all, you are already up to five things.  If the PC's are on a mission with limited supplies, their own goal of whether or not to get involved is a sixth "thing".   This is something I try to build into random encounter tables.

Move up to a session or to a based location and you have things such as factions, large monsters,  major treasures, puzzles and the like.  Minor things like a locked desk drawer with a poison needle trap and 10 gold,  not really a "thing" in this context.   The room which contains an orc shaman, the trapped desk, and a bunch of scrolls and books with important investigative clues to the complex as a whole would be a "thing".  The room as a piece of the whole is a "thing".    A series of small guard rooms full of goblin thieves with a faction goal would be a "thing".  The giant spider prowling the halls would be a thing.  The rumoured tomb of a wight with a magical sword is another "thing".  The place is in swamp that has partially flooded the compound is a fifth thing (the terrain).    That site is risking being overfull.  If I also added in a rival adventuring band that is six (still fine),  and a dragon that roams the swamp hunting stragglers its at seven (pushing it),  and then threw in a cult of Gulnor the Frog Demon who are trying to turn the complex into a temple...its now a big mess for most folks  (though, 7 +/-2 means some folk can still handle it).

But what about mega dungeons?  A mega dungeon is meant to be a multi-session longer term game.  So I treat that similar to an adventure arc.   In an arc each adventure location is a "thing",  any overarching goal is also a "thing" .  For example,  if we looked at a a totally unique game concept where players arrive in the town of Bistram to look for a prince who was kidnapped by demons and held in the ruins under an old Cathedral,  that campaign (as a megadungeon)  would have a few different elements.   Rescue the prince,  the sub-dungeon of the cathedral basement, the sub-dungeon of the catacombs,  the sub-dungeon of the natural caves, the sub-dungeon of the demonic palace.  If the town of Bistram had issues to solve at the same time you'd be pushing up to six "things".

As another non-megadungon example you might have a quest to overthrow a corrupt baron.   You have the "things" of dealing with the corrupt baron,  three site based adventures (freeing prisoners from his jail, allying with or defeating the forest bandits,  maybe a monster he won't deal with that threatens peasants), and you then have room to add in another complication or side quest, perhaps something like an invading army of the undead that prevents you from just obliterating his forces but requires you to keep them intact for that future purpose.

Full fledged settings or campaigns then step it up a level.  Each megadungeon or adventure arc is a "thing".  An overall theme or goal is a "thing", examples being carving your own Kingdom out of the region or say being British explorers looking for the Eye of Set.  Large scale faction conflicts are a "thing",  such as an occupation of the region by a foreign power,  or a war with the dark lord and his orc hordes.

If you have a campaign about interpersonal relationships, each of those relationships often becomes an additional "thing" at each level.   If there is a bitter blood feud or devotional love between two PC's that becomes an important element at the encounter, session, adventure arc,   So when figuring out content for your own game,  keep that in mind when writing an adventure.

As a final note,  if you are a fan of red herrings and twists,  depending on how much time you want players wasting you may or may not want to consider those things.   If its an established part of game play to sift through red herrings and expect twists,   might not be a "thing".  Much like an M.Night Shyamalan movie, its expected.  If these are unusual parts of your game,  you might want to consider them a "thing" because players will spend a lot of time and attention on them over other elements.


TL;DR :    5 elements

Monday, August 29, 2016

The Ups and Downs of Fully Episodic Games

Especially during summers,  I try to run episodic games.  What I mean by that is that every session is fully self contained  (even if I have to force the issue) and that there is no case where the same player has to be present two weeks in a row.

The main upsides to this from a play perspective are logistical benefits towards player attendance, but it also allows for easier planning from a GM point of view in that I always know how the game will start, and who will be present.   It allows a number of "boardgamey" mechanics to come in place to deal with what people are doing between games.  I am currently using this to also track where they can start a game from,  but you could also use this (and I have) to force them to start from the same spot each week, which allows you to better control the options available and explain how characters just "show up".

The main downsides from a play perspective deal with immersion. When you make the game episodic that becomes a key decision making point in planning courses of action.  How much actual time is left in the session,  something not at all in a character's mind.  When the payoff will occur also comes up as a factor.  In a non-episodic game it is perfectly acceptable to spend one session planning a caper and the next one executing it.   In an episodic game, no one wants to spend a session planning a caper they will not (or at least may not) be present for.  As a GM, this may require stepping in to remind people that, out of character, this is an episodic game and that if they have a lot of planning to do they should reach out to you after this game and before the next one to cover all that planning.  It will of course be a less immersive and more resource allocation/boardgame style of planning,  but it does mean it doesn't waste the weekend of those who won't partake in the outcome.

I personally find the episodic nature makes the games more memorable in discreet chunks. Rather than remembering specific scenes or moments of a longer arc there tends to be very concrete memories of specific Saturday nights and all of the details, big and small.   This makes it much easier to remember the little details that become important later. I do find it makes the game have less of a resonant "theme" after the fact,  a side effect of remembering distinct "episodes".  This makes the campaign as a whole less, "sticky" for lack of a better term.  There is an almost instinctual habit of comparing session to session rather than viewing them as a cohesive whole even if they form part of a chain of progress towards a campaign wide goal.

When creating content for an episodic game, the brain naturally flows towards content you can re-use in future campaigns,  by function it has to be easier to disconnect to other parts of the setting because it has to be something that can be approached in one sitting chunks and then left alone for potentially several weeks.  As a perk, this makes it easy to create publishable adventures, especially site based adventures.  The downside is of course that this easily disconnected and reconfigurable content would be subpar as a setting book.  It would take heavy rework to make everything not seem like a bunch of disconnected set pieces (specifically because that is what it is)

As a closing thought,  one great advantage of a fully episodic game is it takes zero effort to switch to another campaign  (such as a non-episodic game) for any length of time,  or to switch back during odd weeks.  It allows for a great filler campaign when key players for a non-episodic game are missing,  you can revisit old characters and have a nice little self-contained adventure.

Friday, August 19, 2016

The Expedition to the Lost Legionnaire

This post follows the expedition of the online group, as composed to my home group as they compete to find the Eye of Set.

Sitting on the veranda sipping tea they overheard that a sailing ship had seen a makeshift encamp and a lone member of the foreign legion waving to them.  Sadly the cliffs and rocky shores prevented a landing and they were forced to sail on.

Taking the hook, the expedition decided to purchase some riding animals and a large amount of water and millet and to travel days through unknown terrain to mount a rescue.    The party once again contained a judgmental British industrialist, a Texas gunfighter, and now a retired French Cavalry Officer.

They set off across the narrow desert and ventured into the long grass of the savanna, where they were promptly ambushed by lions.   Not wishing to risk injury they rode their horses at full tilt to simply outrun their pursuers.  They rode hard through the day and camped near a large rock,  unfortunately their sleep was plagued by a swarm of flies.   The next morning they cut through a patch of dry scrubland and came upon a dead legionnaire sprawled among the branches of a leafless tree,  his expensive repeating rifle at the base.   They moved forward when the industrialist noticed the tell tale signs of disease and held everyone back.   Deciding the rifle would be useful, the braved the risk to retrieve it before using whale oil to burn the tree and cremate the legionnaire.

Riding further they noticed that a large swarm of hyena's were slowly stalking them, keeping well back.  Unnerved they continued and noticed that buzzards were also beginning to hover over them.  Attempts to turn and ride off the Hyenas were only temporarily successful as they would scatter and then eventually reform.   As the sun wound low they moved into the badlands and saw that jackals were now forming in the rocks ahead of them.   Once more they tried to run down the Hyenas,  but in this chase they heard the voice of a woman, and rode to find an Oasis with a lone woman waving a stick at more jackals.   As they rode in on thundering hooves to rescue her they were assaulted on all sides by a swarm of Hyenas, Jackals, and diving Buzzards that tore at their flesh and were fearless in the face of sustained gunfire from the various repeaters.  In a tense battle of pistol fire and horse hooves they eventually managed to kill the swarm of animals, suffering innumerable small injuries along the way.

The woman thanked them and asked them to camp here at the oasis for the night, and share in her refreshments as she began to strum a Zither.  The Texas stayed up into the evening to speak with her and share dates from her bowl while the cavalry officer and industrialist set fire to the animal corpses.  As the morning sun began to rise the British industrialist awoke early, and noticed out of the corner of his eye that for a brief moment the woman seemed off, corpse-like, before the image of her returned to normal.   A normal person would have been unsettled but left it at that,  but the British industrialist specifically placed no value in the lives of non-Europeans and even then only negligible amounts to the lives of non-upper class British.  So he immediately drew his revolver and shot at her head.   She did not even both moving and seemed almost ready to laugh as the gun was aimed.  As the bullet sunk into her head,  "the universe" reminded "her" that this particular gun was a holy relic having been blessed by god for its role in rooting out the snake cult of the last adventure.   With a shocked look still on the remains of her face,  the bullet exploded her skull and dropped her body to the sand.  He form had the appearance of weeks of rot.    Further more,  the dates in her bowl now appeared to be decaying human toes.

Refilling their water stores and packing up her Zither, which seemed to have an almost magical quality to its tones, the party made haste to continue on their journey.  Reaching the cliffs overlooking the water,  the party was soon ambushed by a band of desert nomads with banditry on their mind.  Thinking the battered trio would be easy picking they charged in firing matchlocks and bringing their lances to bear.    Firing two pistols at once the Texas gunfighter brought down four in a few seconds, his companions taking out another pair between them.   Having their charge broken the remaining few quickly broke.

The cavalry officer took the two injured nomads, and stabilized them to be taken as prisoners (along with their guns and camels) while the gunfighter took the bodies out to be buried.  The industrialist went to find the legionnaire on his own.   The industrialist found the legionnaire,  dehydrated, starving, and wearing a tattered uniform with his rifle still in hand.  He was living in a simple structure of ragged cloth and brush, and was successfully talked into following the party home.   The gunfighter meanwhile was overtaken with a powerful urge while burying the dead and took to eating parts of the dead men's flesh.  He found him self surging with strength and freshly invigorated.   He secretly carved more flesh for "special rations".

Riding home they encountered another band of nomads,  this one offering to pay a ransom for the two prisoners.   Not wanting to risk another confrontation (and seeing financial rewards for low risk) they took the offer and continued.  Moving into the savanna once more they encountered a band of warriors bearing simple hide shields and clubs.  Their leader demanded tribute and the party offered him a matchlock.  This seemed to impress him greatly and he implied safe passage, giving them a small golden trinket as well.   Continuing on the party moved through the savanna to the edge of the narrow desert separating them from Guam-yaiv,   They came to another band of warriors with the same garb and a leader riding a chariot pulled by golden quagga.  This situation seemed tense until the leader noticed the amulet.  He demanded it in payment and then let the party go without a word.  Perplexed by the exchange (which involved little language)  the party returned to Guam-yaiv a success to the local authorities,  happy to receive word of the legion and its progress.