Episode 1 of Twilight: 2000 Escape from Kalisz – Solo

What you are reading now is the first episode of my solo Twilight: 2000 campaign. I’ve written a blog post to explain the setup and my thoughts in more depth. Reading on, you will find brief bios of the characters and further down their first “adventuring day”. I hope you enjoy it – comments are welcome!

MINOR SPOILER WARNING: I am using the random events from the core ruleset. A few of them contains surprises, which will act as minor spoilers. I’m NOT using the big Scenario Sites, so there are no major spoilers.

Opening Scene…

A pick-up truck painted with a brown and green camo-pattern blasts down a country road in central Poland. In the driver seat is a not quite young Polish woman wearing the worn uniform of a second lieutenant. Next to her, in the passenger seat, is a somewhat dazed African American Captain pushing 40, wearing glasses. In the cargo bed lies a red-headed corporal, M16 in hand with blood stains on his face and clothes – none of it his own – staring into the sky. Looking back from where they came is a young hispanic private in fatigues with his M4 carbine ready.

Welcome to: Escape from Kalisz! This text is the result of the first “in game” day of my Twilight: 2000 4th edition solo-campaign. There is a more comprehensive introduction, but you can also just read on. Knowledge of the game is not a requirement!

The characters are:

Captain Charles King
King went to community college on the outskirts of Savannah, Georgia and got a degree in electrical engineering. He subsequently joined the army to become an officer. He ended up doing intelligence work as a staff officer, but got stuck as a captain. Maybe his superiors thought he wasn’t aggressive enough, or maybe it was a race thing? King mustered out and became a manager at a power plant. In the meantime, his marriage had failed, and when the war broke out he was called up as a reservist. In Poland, he was attached to the Intelligence section of the 5th division. However, shortly before Operation Reset and the push on Lodz he was given command of an understrength company, basically a platoon and a half of maybe 50 grunts.

This is close to how I imagine King. The real man is US army Chaplain Matthew Zimmerman Jr.

The company suffered many casualties pushing towards Lodz and had to retreat with the rest of the division. 10 minutes before the game begins, the “battalion” has fought a rearguard action, and is soundly trounched: attacked by ground forces and hit with both mortars and a bit of artillery. When the defense breaks down the survivors scatter.

Charlie actually turned out to be a capable leader in his short stint as a company commander, despite his looks as a desk jockey. He is ashamed that he didn’t save more of his men, and considers his past a failure with two failed careers and a failed marriage. He is determined to save this little group. This will succeed!

Lieutenant Krysia Zielinski
The 34 years old Second Lieutenant was a history teacher at a highschool in Warsaw before the war. But in 1997, when the Soviets attacked, she joined the Polish army as an officer. She got rudimentary training and ended up being in charge of handling conscript labour and security after the first nuclear attacks (she has 6 permanent Rads). For the last offensive, she is transferred to be the brigade liason officer between the Polish and the US. She is not an English expert, but knows enough to get along. Her dream is to find her mother, father and younger sister. They fled west after the invasion.

Corporal Jason Kelly
Kelly is a young-ish working class Irish-American from Michigan. After high school he became a construction worker, but found the job tedious and decided to join the army in 1995. He deployed to Poland in 1997 and has fought in a mortar team the whole war. Before Operation Reset he was given the leadership of the team, which scared him. Kelly has never really found something he was the best at – or even great at – but given the chance, he could shine as a loyal survivor.
He has never been afraid of a good brawl, and is not the type to back down if people push him.

PFC Juan Pérez
Juan came to Texas as an immigrant with his violent uncle and loving aunt and became a runner and spotter and messenger for a gang before he entered his teens. When he was arrested as a juvenile, he got the option to join a military school in return for a lenient sentence. He took that out, and when he was 18, he joined the army just as the war began to loom. He was sent to Poland in early 1998, and excelled in a reconnaissance role. He prides himself of his ability to handle this chaotic environment compared to all the soft Americans. He hates the cold though. Maybe he can get to Spain or Portugal, or somewhere else warmer?

After a couple of kilometers…

Zielinski pulls the pickup truck to the side of the road inside a small copse of trees in the otherwise fairly flat farmland. Captain King has recovered his wits and thanks Zielinski, whom he knows somewhat from his work at HQ. He checks on Kelly, who isn’t wounded, and talks him into a more coherent state. Kelly explains that his mortar squad was hit by counter-fire, and the rest of the team was killed. Pérez is alright and maintains watch, while they do a status. Zielinski gets on her radio, where she picks up the message from HQ: “Good luck. You are on your own!” The 5th US Mechanized Infantry Division has ceased to exist and the Soviet 6th Independent Guards Motor-Rifle Brigade seems to keep pushing west. Gunfire and explosions can still be heard to the east.

King manages to center the team and get them to focus. They agree that using the main road and driving towards Kalisz would be too risky, and they therefore decide to head southwest and see if they can find a small bridge or ford, where they can cross the river (looking at Google Maps versus the game map, it is in fact a stream, not a river, with many small bridges).

Status:

From both a meta and in-game perspective this is the status of the small group:
Good:

  • Fair ranged combat skills
  • Strong command and persuasion skills, fairly good team morale (B)
  • Enough food and water to last a few days – 18 total food, 14 total water rations
  • A working pickup truck with 50 liters of alcohol fuel
  • One anti-tank weapon (M136 AT4)
  • Captain King has decent tech skills

Not so Good:

  • Weak firepower. Only two assault rifles in the team with a meager total of five reloads
  • Not great survival or driving skills
  • Fairly weak medical skills
  • Only one with any Recon skills

The team agrees that the following are priorities:

  • Get further away from the advance of the Soviets – as fast as possible
  • Avoid violent engagements, unless no other options are available
  • Acquire more fuel for the pickup, or get enough parts to build a small still
  • Pick up US stragglers, if they have room
  • Acquire food
  • King and Zielinski only carry a pistol and an underpowered Polish submachine gun, respectively. Acquiring more ammo and decent range weapons for the officers would be an advantage.

Rules:
A group gets one “group item” per character at the beginning of the game. I’ve picked: M136 anti-tank missile, a pair of binoculars for King (bonus on recon rolls), a basic toolkit (which means they can maintain and repair the truck) and D6 extra rations. Whether the group gets a vehicle is also rand
om. I rolled a pickup-truck.

Day 1 Begins

Location: Map grid Q24 about 10 km southeast of the ruined town of Kalisz

Shift 1 was spent fighting the Soviets and fleeing. The game begins at the outset of Shift 2. The weather is fair. Zielinski is driving, Perez is on watch, while King is resting and Kelly sleeping. 

Rules: Each day is made up of four shifts of six hours each. For each shift there are different actions each character can take (rest, take watch, scrounge, hunt etc.). Typically, the team travels during the morning and the day shifts and makes camp in the evening and sleeps during the night. To enter a new hex off road, they need to succeed in a survival roll, and the driver must succeed a drive roll every shift to avoid Mishaps. Zielinski succeeds at both. 

Zielinski skillfully navigates the truck across the small country roads. Most of the farms are abandoned or in ruins after the front moved over the area a couple of times. The fields are fallow and full of weeds and progress on the small roads is frequently stopped by fallen trees, craters or mudslides. They do spot a farmhouse that seems inhabited, but with Soviets not far away, they do not stop to investigate (it was the first encounter that shift). 

From a small hill, using his binoculars, King spots a bridge that was probably mainly used by farmers back in the day (very successful Recon roll). The team drives another hex. Now they’ve spent 16 liters of alcohol fuel out of their total of 50. 

Rules: normally the pickup consumes 2 liters per 10 km hex (6 miles), but as it is driving offroad that number is doubled, and it is doubled again because it runs on alcohol and not gasoline. 

After a short break, the two officers decide to use the main road a couple of kilometers up ahead to move south towards Ostrzesow, as it will conserve fuel and they will move faster. Further, it seems like heading towards Wroclaw is the best option if they are to cross the large Oder River further west. 

On the way to the road, three Polish civilians (one with a shotgun, another with a rifle and the third with a bow) hails them. Zielinski stops and talks to them in Polish. They are hunters who have managed to kill a deer and want to trade with the characters. They have four rations of meat they want to sell for 25 (the game uses ammunition as currency). The team only has 10 extra ammo as spare “cash”, but Zielinski thinks that purchasing the food will both win over her teammates and help befriend the hunters, so she trades an entire reload for her submachine gun with a couple of rounds to spare. She gets on such good terms with them (she rolls 3 successes on Persuasion) that she gets a discount and when she asks them about fuel they know a guy in Ostrzesow who produces some, which they may be able to trade for. 

The trade and negotiations take up some time, before they drive to the main road. The road is pockmarked by artillery and has many empty husks of vehicles. They make it safely to the outskirts of Ostrzeszow a little before evening sets in. The group decides to make camp a couple of kilometers from the town. Moving along two hexes with roads, they spend another 8 liters of fuel. They are down to a quarter tank. 

Their pickup doesn’t come with a machinegun, but perhaps they can acquire one?

In the evening, King will make camp and try to conceal it, helped by Kelly. Perez will be on watch, while Zielinski goes out to forage for some more water. 

“It is almost like barbecuing back home,” says Kelly, grinning. He is turning the meat on a green pine branch, blood and fat dripping into the fire, sizzling. The fire is concealed in a hole in the ground. 

The big man looks around in their small camp. The pickup is parked down between a couple of hillocks covered in pine trees and brambles with open fields beyong. King has made a bivouac that rests on the pickup. In the far distance they hear artillery or maybe a tank firing its main cannon. 

“Well, not quite,” he adds in a quiet voice.

“Where are you from,” King asks? 

“Outskirts of Lansing. Used to work construction. Demolition too. Before I joined up, that is. You, Captain?”

“Small town close to Savannah. But then I moved all over. And now I’m here.” He sighs. “I wonder, what happened back home?” 

King has the quarter-master specialty, and is skilled at making camping despite not having other survival skills, and with the aid of Kelly they manage to make a good camp and conceal it fairly well and cook the four rations of deer to perfection (help from another character adds +1 – meaning your dice goes up one step, eg from D6 to D8). 

By a ruined house, Zielinski finds an old garden rain barrel and fills their canteens and water bottles. They eat their fill of delicious venison and relax a bit. At night, Kelly is on watch, as he slept during the day in the truck. 

This is the end of Day 1.

Proceed to Day 2, where the action picks up…

Escape from Kalisz – a Twilight: 2000 Solo-mini campaign

I have decided to run a solo-campaign for fun and to test the new Twilight: 2000 4e rules. Playing an RPG solo, how is that possible, you might be forgiven to ask!? Well, the game has a solo-rules component and is – even as a group game – quite a “gamist” hex crawl. It is designed to be player driven with random elements being key components to a campaign.

The resulting narrative is based on character goals (called Big Dreams in the game), motivations and responses to whatever they encounter. A classic goal is “Escape back to America” or establish a “safe haven – a base”, but that is very long term. A more immediate goal is: survive – get away from the advancing Soviets.

My intentions are to document the game on this blog, mainly focusing on the narrative, but with brief explanations of core elements and references to the rules when I feel it is appropriate and to demonstrate how they inform the narrative. This will allow people not familiar with the game to follow the game. I’ve added small dialogue and fiction elements in order to bring out the character motivations and personalities.

Twilight: 2000 by Free League was released end 2021 in its 4th edition using a variant of the Year Zero game engine.

Why this solo game and posts?

  • I thought it would be fun!
  • It would be interesting to see how a narrative would develop using the solo rules
  • I would familiarize myself with the rules, hopefully for a future campaign
  • To provide a game example to other referees or potential referees

To do so, I have created four player characters using the game’s Life Path system, where the character is fairly randomized (you roll stats, and start with an 18 year old, aging 1D6 year for each new career step). I have adjusted a couple of minor details to make for an interesting group.

I’ll be using Roll20 as the VTT to play the game.

The game and background

In short, Twilight: 2000 is a survival game in a past that never was. Our timelines diverges after 1991. The Soviet Union remains after a coup against Jeltsin – but the Warsaw pact was dissolved and Poland allies with the West. It ends in an escalating conflict, which turns into all out NATO – Soviet warfare with Poland on the NATO side. Nuclear weapons are exchanged, but the two sides show enough restraint to avoid complete nuclear holocaust. The result is nuclear winter, collapsed infrastructure, famine and disease. When the game begins, NATO has tried a last push in Poland, called Operation Reset, but they underestimate Soviet strength, and it fails. The characters are part of the collapsed 5th US mechanized division, and are given the final message by HQ: “You are on your own. Good luck!”. They must now survive, as the Soviet forces expends their last effort in a counter-attack. 

The default is that most of the characters are soldiers, but they can also be government agents or civilians of a wide variety of backgrounds.

Twilight: 2000 differs from most role-playing games in that there are zero supernatural elements (not that you can’t run a great zombie apocalypse game with it!). It is all about humans. Human failure, morality, hard decisions, violence, hope, friendship, loyalty – or disloyalty. Stuff that incredible dramas are made of.

The ruleset is fairly crunchy – simple at its core, but with many details and modifiers. Survival requires multiple rolls per day to determine weather, drive a vehicle (if you have one) on wartorn roads or off-road, spotting potential hazards (encounters), setting camp, foraging and hunting, maintaining equipment weekly etc. 

The core mechanics is four attributes with a value of A to D. Each letter represents a dice. A is D12, B=D10, C=D8 and D is D6. The 12 skills have similar values + F which is no skill, and you add them together in a dice pool. When attempting a task, you need to roll a six or higher. You can attempt all skills using only your attribute dice. Rolling a 10-12 counts as two successes. More successes can give extra damage for example.  

If you want to read more about the game system, I wrote a long preview of the alpha rules.

The characters* are (briefly):

Captain Charlie King, until a year or two ago a reservist, intelligence officer and desk jockey
Lieutenant Krysia Zielinski, brigade liaison officer from the Polish armed forces
Corporal Jason Kelly, only survivor of a mortar team
PFC Juan Pérez, keen eyed US army rifle-man

*Use the links to see PNGs of their character sheets.

Intentionally, there are also obvious conflicts in the Moral Codes of the characters.

The Solo Rules

For the solo rules, you turn up the randomness. The game comes with 52 random encounters selected by drawing cards from a regular deck. These can be everything from meeting a group of US stragglers, vehicles hit with a tactical nuclear weapon, Soviet soldiers to civilian refugees etc. The solo rules add an “oracle” where you also draw playing cards. Red is a boon. Black is a hazard. And further information can be gained from the exact number on a table – for example, 6 of black: mildly dangerous or Red Ace: life saving. In addition, there is a similar table to determine NPC intentions. It is up to the player to interpret these and represent characters and the world fairly to create the narrative.

The core set has four ready to play “Scenario Sites”, which I won’t be using. They are quite complex places with multiple NPCs and plots. Using them would also introduce major spoilers.

If you think that sounds interesting, more details of the characters and the first day of the lives of these survivors is ready:

Go to:
Day 1

Books that Inspired my Campaigns – Part II

Song of Ice and Fire

This series made me step out of the traditional mold when it came to world-design. Before I read the first novels of the series, my campaign worlds had been pretty standard “European” or it had been Earthdawn (which as a game itself also inspired me a lot). Westeros was not what I found most inspiring, but the decadent and old lands of the east are very cool with places such as Astapor and Mereen. I made a campaign called the Far Seas, a maritime campaign with a lot of islands, where I put in big Jade pyramids, nomadic Halfling armadas, lost gods, fantastic cities with ancient monuments and strange magical effects. Looking at many published campaigns today, Far Seas isn’t exceptional, but it was a good step for me, and it was so popular that when I moved to another town, a frieSOIFnd of mine ran a campaign in that world. That is a pretty big compliment.

“Aggo was back next. The southwest was barren and burnt, he swore. He had found the ruins of two more cities, smaller than Vaes Tolorro but otherwise the same. One was warded by a ring of skills mounted on iron spears, so he dared not enter, but he had explored the second one as long as he could. He showed Dany an iron bracelet he had found, set with uncut fire opal the size of her thumb.”
– A Song of Ice and Fire

 

Dark Souls

The fantastic video game Dark Souls is a masterpiece of game design. I’m intensely inspired by the level design. The way the world seamlessly flows together and slowly reveals new secrets and connections has to be experienced. The story of the world, its mythos, and the NPC’s stories and motives are extremely opaque and are only revealed by examining all objects and if certain specific steps are taken in the right order. And in Dark Souls outcomes and decisions are permanent, so if you attacked that NPC or he died in a battle, you will have to start a new game to try a different path. This is an exploration element that I really like as well, and is an approach I’m attempting in my current D&D campaign.

Watch the show ‘Extra Play’ on Youtube play and deconstruct Dark Souls game design.

They way that you avatar’s experience mirrors your experience as a player is masterful design. The setup of many of the monster encounters is also very interesting and can easily be used in D&D.

Dark Souls II has less interesting level design (it is still great), but it is also visually very inspiring for my current campaign.

When it comes to video role-playing games, it is – in my experience – when it comes to mechanics and exploration the closest you can come to a pen & paper game. The reason is that you can approach enemies and problems in many ways, which is close to your experience in a pen & paper game.

dark-souls
Approaching the Red Drake. The staircase on the right is a wise move.

 

For my current D&D campaign I’ve not fully taken the plunge into making my own version of a coherent world where the campaign basically all takes within a dungeon. I’ve more tried to let myself be inspired by the design philosophy behind it. If I were to go all the way, D&D would not necessarily be a great system, as many of the spells would need to be modified. But any system would probably need to be modified, in order for the system to emphasize the way the world and campaign should work.

 Playing at the World
This book is about the history of D&D and the games that led to this revolution. It led me deeper into the ideas in the original D&D and made me want to go back to basics – although without going back to some of the OD&D versions of the game, as I have a preference for the smooth mechanics of 5th edition. It is a massive book (600+ pages), and you will learn something you didn’t know.

playing at the worldOne thing that I’ve taken directly to heart in both my home brew campaign and in our Temple of Elemental Evil game is that D&D originally had three core aspects: combat, exploration and logistics. Exploration is of course a cornerstone of my new homebrew. The last part I also find very interesting. I think it is quite apparent that among my players there are different preferences for these elements. Logistics is about how much ammunition to bring, what spells to select and dividing treasure. I have previously skipped this somewhat, but I will try to have it as a more intentional element, for example by using the construction rules from Pathfinder Ultimate Campaign.

It led me to buy many vintage modules online, and there are some great ideas in them as well.

“Into the dramatic structure of Dungeons & Dragons, the mode of logistics injects some much needed banality: after the suspense of exploring and the adrenaline of bloodshed, the chore of logistics, even when they border on tedium, serve as an important counterweight to adventures.” (In Playing at the World, by Jon Peterson)

The Scramble for Africa

Africa is a vast and extremely varied continent, and both its nature and

scramble for africa
Amazon naturally has all the books: if you’re interested

history is an inspiration to me. Recently I read this history of how the European Powers explored and carved up between them the many independent kingdoms and more or less inhabited wilderness of Africa. The exploration element is as always interesting to me – the hardship in traversing deep jungle and the couple of years that Stanley spent traversing the continent East to West. The brutality of the conflicts and of the rule of some of the African kings can also be used in D&D, as can the power play between the nations trying to grab as much land as possible.

“Stanley looked at the majestic brown river flowing past the tall square houses and the baobab trees. Its calmness seemed to him a kind of hypocrisy. It had robbed him of so many of his best men, including Frank Pocock, the last survivor of his three white companions. Even now Stanley felt the hollowness of his triumph. He had sailed from Zanzibar with more than 250 men, women and children. Only 108 would now return safely to their homes.”
The Scramble for Africa, Stanley arrives at the west coast of Africa

The Italian Renaissance

Italy, before it became a nation and was a collection of city states, is so full of intrigue, war and conflict that period has near limitless potential for inspiration for almost any role-playing game – but for Warhammer Fantasy Role-play in particular. As there is so much surviving art and written works from the region and period, there is a lot of potential reading to do. I just needed an overview before a visit to Florence, and I picked up The Italian Renaissance. It deals with both a few central topics such as Women and Princes and the State, and has a chapter on each of the major city-states, and for someone growing up in a modern democracy; I find it helpful to be reminded of the attitudes, government structures and social structures of other people and other times. It can add some memorable tweaks to your NPCs and campaign setting.

IMG_0386
Monument to the most feared mercenary genral in Italy John Hawkwood (Fading Suns, anyone?), who fought for Florence

“On this knowledge the Council acted swiftly and silently, for no public trials enlivened the Venetian scene, and there were no appeals. Once found guilty, the prisoner was sometimes quickly and efficiently strangled in the dungeons or thrown into a part of the lagoon reserved for the purpose, where no fishing was allowed; or hanged by one leg from the pillars of the Doge’s Palace; or quartered and distributed about the city; or buried upside down in the Pazetta, legs protruding; or beheaded – as a public spectacle – between the great pillars on which stand Saint Theodore, with his crocodile and the winged lion of Saint Mark.”
– The Italian Renaissance, on how its Council of Ten kept power through its intelligence system.

 

Dresden Files

The Dresden Files didn’t make it to the top-10 list, but I include it as an honourable mention, as I think it can teach you a thing or two when it comes to upping the stakes and making the stories more action packed.  The Dresden Files demonstrates that you can always kick it up a notch!7bcd5b3f4e4c8b81976032eb67030845

Board game and RPG loot from Essen

I went to the board game and comics convention in Essen, Germany, a couple of weeks ago, and I came home with a bad cold, four board games, a couple of role-playing games and some new experiences.

It was the first time I went to The Internationale Spieltage convention (or simply Spiel). It is the second largest in the world with hundreds of board games being demonstrated and sold. I wish I had been in better health, but I did manage to play a number of fun board games, and I will provide a brief review/introduction to a couple of them here. And also discuss the two RPGs I got.

Rise of the Kage

Ninjas are awesome.
Ninjas are awesome.

A stealth ninja game. It had some very cool mechanics, great miniatures and awesome flavor. I think the stealth mechanics works really well, and it plays well both with 2 and four players. Basically three ninjas have to infiltrate a location and complete a mission before the sun rises or the alarm sounds. One player plays the guard, and 1-3 players plays the ninjas. Each time they fail an action noise is generated, which advances both the time and the alert level, and allows the defending player more actions, guards and so on. We’ve only played it a couple of times, but it has depth, a lot of missions, and thus replay value, and it’s just awesome playing ninjas. If I have to point out some negative things it is layout and design of the rule book, which I think is hard to use for quick reference. The fact that the different cards you use only have two different backgrounds, when they are to be in different piles that you draw from at different times, is very annoying and finally that the design of the box lacks space for the counters.

The board with witches and towers.
The board with witches and towers.

Broom Service

Several of us bought this fun family game. Each player has two witches who has to deliver potions to a board full of wizard towers and dispel clouds to score points. The colour of the potions you deliver has to match the colours of the towers. There are no dice in the game, which is great. Each round each player gets to pick 4 out 10 cards, which you use to move your witches, gather new ingredients, produce potions and deliver the potions to score points. All the players have the same cards, and when the player who’s turn it is plays a card, everyone else who has picked the same card has to play it, which can really mess up your original plan. As your plans are often dependent on the sequence you play your cards, the game play is very much about figuring out what the other player’s intentions are and foiling them, or avoiding getting screwed by other people’s actions. The art is fun and attractive and the game play is simple, but has a lot of depth.

The dice that are evolving monster counters.
The dice that are evolving monster counters.

Light of Dragons

I didn’t buy this very deep but simple looking game, and I only played it once. It is a two-player game, also without dice, and only takes 20-30 minutes two play. You play with 6-side pieces, basically dice you don’t roll, where each face of the dice represents a monster with special abilities on the simple square board. You score points by killing the other player’s monsters, and with each action you have, you can either move a piece or evolve it to the next level of monster. You quickly realize that the way the different abilities interact in play is simply brilliant, and results in a host of available strategies. It could easily be used as a chess-equivalent game in a fantasy RPG campaign. I highly recommend it.

Two new (old) RPGs

It turns out that Bram Stoker's Dracula novel is in fact an old British intelligence report with all the really interesting parts removed.
It turns out that Bram Stoker’s Dracula novel is in fact an old British intelligence report with all the really interesting parts removed.

I bought two new role-playing games as well: Ars Magica (2004 for the 5th ed.) and Night’s Black Agents (2012). I know I won’t be playing them for a long, long time, but I took the opportunity to buy them anyway.

Night’s Black Agents is a thriller game with spies going up against vampires. Think the Bourne films or Ronin, but with big vampire conspiracies. Unlike the Vampire game from White Wolf, you can only play the human underdogs. The reason why I really wanted to pick this up, was because I heard the author, Kenneth Hite talk (on this podcast), about his newly published campaign, the Dracula Dossier, and it is just really, really cool idea. You should check it out (here). Furthermore, it looks like the system handles investigation much better than the old basic roleplay version of Call of Cthulhu or the White Wolf games. It would still be at least a couple of years before I project my D&D campaign to finish, but a man can dream.

Ars Magica speaks to my strong interest in history and in making long campaigns with big story arcs. But it would require a big effort from me to actually create the campaign I would want to play, and that won’t happen for several years. But the dream of a several years long campaign with every player having several characters and slowly developing their Chantry through the political and religious turmoil of the 13th century is very appealing.ArM5LogoColor

I wished for a TPK…

7rqen

I don’t normally wish for it, or plan for it, but a TPK would just have been great for the story. Let me try and explain why…

We were playing our sixth session of Temple of Elemental Evil, this time with only 4 players with 3rd level characters and the paladin was the only healer. At first they accidentally ventured down a sloped hallway to level 2, and saw the chained hydra and chained owl bear. They engaged the owl bear, and killed the troll keeper that came after with some trouble. They explored a bit, and established that there was at least one more troll in the area. Wisely, they went back to level 1, and found their way into one of the two ghoul lairs. This is where things got really interesting.

Ghouls, and more ghouls

Ghoul
The ghouls in 5th edition are nasty, as when you hit paralyzed characters it is automatically a critical hit. This illustration is from the 3rd edition of the D&D Monster Manual.

It was one of the many encounters in the temple that quickly turns into several waves of enemies. In this case, one of the ghouls from the first room will run into the adjoining rooms and get help from its buddies. Furthermore, two cowardly ghasts will be watching from a third room, and join the combat if they are winning, but I decided to add the mechanic that if more than half of the four ghouls were alive after a couple of rounds the two ghasts would flee.

Fortunately for the characters they killed the third ghoul by the end of round two, making the two ghasts flee. However, they flee through the room of the two boss ghasts, and these two will not back down from a fight (as described in the module).

So severely depleted, with the barbarian at 1 hp, the monk had been down once already and with no more healing power or potions, they had to face two ghasts with extra hit points. It was clear it could turn ugly quickly. With the damage output of the ghasts, any of the players would go down with one hit, which would reduce their damage output, and further increasing the odds of more players going down. My first internal reaction was ‘crap! what do I do if I kill them?’ But then it dawned on me that it would be great if I wiped them out.
Because, as you may have read here previously, I have a pool of around 12-14 players for this campaign, and I play with the group that shows up that evening (max 7 players). The area around the temple attracts a lot of adventurers, so it works out really well. It is very dynamic, and we get to see different group combos. Each session ends with the party returning to the surface. The rest of the adventurers stay at their base camp or in Hommlett, resting and planning their next raid on the dungeon.

Great flavor and motivation
Had they TPK’ed, I would have sworn the players to silence, and their party would have been yet another group of adventurers disappearing without much trace in the dangerous catacombs beneath the Temple of Elemental Evil.

It would have created a fantastic motivation for the other players (and the TPK’ed players with new characters) to go and find out what happened, and perhaps find surviving captives, or avenge them, if they weren’t (I would probably have rolled randomly who survived). I could have them as sacrifices in the deeper temples, I could have them charmed or dominated, they could be torture victims of the cult leaders. And their magic loot would turn up in new places, adding a new dimension of investigation and interrogation, such as: ‘Where did you get this cloak? This was worn by our friend Ishmael the last time we saw him…?!’ The extra sense of danger in exploring the dungeons, when the players know a TPK can happen, would also add to the tension of the game.
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As it turned out, I rolled very poorly for the two ghasts, hitting the players zero times, and the players managed to win the day with very high damage output. Great for them…

But I think it is fair to say that I don’t fear having a TPK in the future. I may even wish for it, a little bit.

Weapon materials in D&D 5ed

I am trying to avoid adding complexity and sub-systems to my game, but for my campaign world to be thematically coherent I did decide to make a system for weapon materials, so there is a difference between bronze and steel. As the group is in  a remote land, as part of the first settlement in this “undiscovered” realm, I try to enhance the need to be self-sufficient, add incentive to explore and find new things, and that when exploring you need to be selective in what you bring with you on your travels (I know, that consideration disappears when they get a big bag of holding…)

6-krigsscene-farve-stor (1)
Imagined scene from the early Iron Age, done in connection with the bog body of the Danish Tollund Man. Image by Niels Bach. Read more at: http://www.tollundman.dk

I’ve tried not to make it too punitive to the characters, but it should push them to carry alternate weapons, rest after encounters and take down-time to craft their own items and so on.

As magic weapons and armour slowly will become available, I don’t foresee this to still be a very relevant rule-set after level 10. But as mentioned, the rules are meant to create mood and atmosphere.

Weapon quality and material
As not all cultures have the same level of technology within manufacturing of arms and armour, different enemies will have weapons and armours made from various materials with various properties, strengths and weaknesses. As to not skew the combat rules overly, most of the materials have their most significant impact on weight, price and production time, which can be important far from civilization.

Damaging and breaking weapons and armour
Whenever a combatant rolls a natural 1 in combat with a weapon, not made from steel, he has to roll a DC 10 DEX ability check to avoid the weapon breaking. If he succeeds using the weapon still confers disadvantage until it has been serviced during a short rest.

Whenever a combatant is hit with a natural 20, his non-steel armour gets damaged and he loses 1 point of AC, until he spends a short rest mending the damage.

Steel
Steel can in the old world (almost) only be crafted by dwarves, who knows its secrets and can create the temperatures necessary to forge it. Their arms and armours are highly prized, also among its enemies, and can easily fetch several times the price of regular iron forged weapons.

Steel weapons don’t need to roll for damage or breakage, unless fighting against a foe with magical weapons or armour.
Medium and heavy steel armour weighs 10% less than iron armour, as it needs less material for the same level of protection.

Rapiers are a new type of weapon used by the wealthy in the City-States, and it can only be made from steel.
Steel weapons and armor costs around 5 times the listed price in the Player’s Handbook.

Half-Plate and Full Plate are always made from steel and cost the price listed in the PHB.

Bronze spear heads

Iron
Iron weapons are the default weapons in the Player’s Handbook. They comply with the breaking and damaging rules above.
Half-Plate and Full plates cannot be made from iron.

Copper & Bronze

Both materials are weaker than iron, and when fighting against steel weapons they automatically suffer the effects of damage on a roll of a natural 1 or natural 20 (for armor). If fighting against iron weapons the normal rules for breaking apply.

Stone & bone
Stone weapons suffer a -1 damage penalty against iron and steel armour. However, some cultures have processes that make the stone hard as iron or steel. The weight is still greater than comparable iron or steel weapons.

flint arrows

Bone breast plate: Made from mighty beasts, these breastplates function as regular breastplates, due to the high level of craftsmanship and density of the bone used. They would be highly prized in their culture.

Scale Armour: scale made from regular scales of beasts or from thick bone chips work as a hide armour, but scales or bones from truly dangerous beasts or magically treated can work as a scale mail or splint mail, depending on the construction. The scales of these beasts are equivalent of iron, but can be broken by steel.

Magical weapons:
Magical weapons or armour cannot be broken through regular combat. Special significant events have to occur to endanger them, such as Elder Dragon fire, volcanos and epic level magic.

Warhammer über-talents

In my 6-year long Warhammer 2nd edition campaign, I ran into the problem that some of the characters were running out of meaningful career exits and basically had nothing left to spend their experience on. At first I made a ‘Badass List’, which was simply a selection of skills and talents they could buy, even if they weren’t part of their career, simply because they were so experienced adventurers (such as Intimidate, Hardy and Seasoned Traveller).

When that wasn’t enough, I decided to make a second tier of talents: the Ultra-badass list. We’ve been using it for several sessions now, and a lot of them are actually playing out quite well. It is quite an epic campaign at this stage, so another 5 in strength or an extra parry does not break the feel of the campaign, but clearly puts them into a very special category among the heroes of the empire. And a trait like Fearless for the extremely experienced and not very bright Kislevite warrior makes so much sense – it seems silly to roll fear checks that could incapacitate him over a vampire or a couple of skeletons, when he has met and seen dozens of them, and other, worse, things.

I’ve also tried to keep the Faustian elements for the magical talents, and last session it worked really well. The bright wizard (Stefan Zauber) used his Blazing Furnace talent several times, and despite having 82 in Willpower, he began gaining insanity points and it pushed him close to the edge.

Warhammer is all about personal sacrifice against the forces of evil and the slow but inevitable descent into darkness. Having a Wizard Lord tethering on the edge of insanity in his attempts to save the empire is perfect for the mood and theme.

 

The Ultra-badass list:

Deadly Charge
Prerequisite: 3 Attacks
Description: When making the charge attack action, the character can attack twice instead of once.
Xp Cost: 200

Hitting the weak spots
Prerequisite: Sure Shot, BS 60
Description: When using a missile weapon, the weapon also counts as having the Armour Piercing Quality and the range of your missile weapons are increased by 50%.
Xp Cost: 200

Go for the Eyes!
Prerequisite: Sure shot
Description: You ignore an additional point of amour when using the aim action.
Xp Cost: 300

Heroic Strength
Prerequisite: Very Strong
Description: Add an additional 5% to your strength profile.
Xp Cost: 300

Heroic Toughness
Prerequisite: Very Resilient
Description: Add an additional 5% to your Toughness profile
Xp Cost: 300

Heroic Skill with Arms
Prerequisite: Warrior Born
Description: Add an additional 5% to your WS profile.
Xp Cost: 300

Heroic Aim
Prerequisite: Marksman
Description: Add an additional 5% to your BS profile.
Xp Cost: 300

Heroic Reflexes
Prerequisite: Lightning Reflexes
Description: Add an additional 5% to your Agility profile.
Xp Cost: 300

Heroic Intellect
Prerequisite: Savy
Description: Add an additional 5% to your intelligence profile.
Xp Cost: 300

Heroic Force of Will
Prerequisite: Cool-headed
Description: Add an additional 5% to your willpower profile.
Xp Cost: 300

Heroic Charisma
Prerequisite: Suave
Description: Add an additional 5% to your Fellowship profile.
Xp Cost: 300

Never say die!
Prerequisite: Hardy
Description: You add 1 additional wound, and all crits made against you are reduced by 1 in severity, to a minimum of 1.
Xp Cost: 200 xp

The Aethyr is in my Blood
Prerequisite: Expert Aehtyric Attunement, any Arcane Lore
Description: When casting a spell, you can elect to add one to your casting roll for each of the magic dice you roll, at the cost of 1 wound for each bonus.
Xp Cost: 200

Deadly Missiles
Prerequisite: Mighty Missiles
Description: Your magical missiles are now exceptionally potent. You add 2 to each damage roll instead of 1.
Xp Cost: 200

Faster than the eye
Prerequisite: Master Dodge Blow
Description: You are now able to dodge missile attacks than you can see are directed against you, and you get +10 to pure Ag checks to avoid area attacks such as bombs, breath weapons and spells.
Xp Cost: 200

Wall of Steel
Prerequisite: Lightning Parry
Description: You can now sacrifice an attack to get an additional parry with your shield, in addition to the free parry, for a total of 2 parrys and 1 dodge per round.
Xp Cost: 300

Cat-like reflexes
Prerequisite: Sixth Sense or Master Perception
Description: You gain +10 to initiative
Xp Cost: 200

Fearless
Prerequisite: Stout-hearted
Description: You are immune to fear and treat terror as fear.
Xp Cost: 200

Morr and I are old friends
Prerequisite: Fearless
Description: You are immune to fear and terror
Xp Cost: 200

Feel the might of my god!
Prerequisite: Strike Mighty Blow, Any Divine Lore
Description: As a full attack you can strike a blow, and whisper a prayer to your god, and roll a WP check, to receive +1 damage for each casting dice, on a successful hit. The dice are still rolled to check for Wrath of the Gods.
Xp Cost: 200

Nimble Feet
Prerequisite: Swashbuckler or Fleet Footed
Description: You can move up to 10 feet in addition to a full attack action (you still draw attacks of opportunity).
Xp Cost: 200

Charmed fate
Prerequisite: Luck
Description: You receive an additional luck dice per day.
Xp Cost: 300

Hammer of the Gods
Prerequisite: Strike Mighty Blow, Heroic Strength
Description: Your melee attacks now count as having the Armour Piercing quality.
Xp Cost: 200

Fountain of knowledge
Prerequisite: Seasoned Traveller
Description: You now count as having all Common Knowledge skills
Xp Cost: 200

Lethal hits
Prerequisite: Strike to Injure
Description: The critical value of any critical hits you inflict are increased by an additional 1.
Xp Cost: 200

Close Quarter Battle Master
Prerequisite: Sharp Shooter, Strike to Injure
Description: You no longer take a penalty when firing into melee.
Xp Cost: 200

Armour Expert
Prerequisite: Strength 50, Toughness 50 or Sturdy
Description: You no longer take a penalty to Ag from wearing medium armour, or a penalty to movement from wearing heavy armour.
Xp Cost: 300

Blazing Furnace
Prerequisite: Aehtyric Attunement, Master Channeling , The Aethyr is in my Blood, Any Arcane Lore
Description: All spell’s area of effect are increased by 50%. Up to your magic characteristic number of damage rolls have the impact quality. For each damage roll with the impact quality roll WP or gain an insanity point.
Xp Cost: 200

Eagle Eye
Prerequisite: Sharp Shooter, BS 60, Hitting the Weak Spots
Description: Extreme Range hits are now made with only -10 penalty, and long range suffers no penalty.
Xp Cost: 200

Fly on the Wall
Prerequisite: Master Scale sheer surface
Description: You may use your agility in place of strength when climbing.
Xp Cost: 300

Sir Arkibald Clemente

Sir Arkibald Clemente was a mercenary captain and former templar in the pay of the adventurer’s arch-nemesis, Baron Pleskai von Wallenstein of Würzen. Clemente was hired as part of Wallenstein’s ploy to become Grandmaster of the Knights of Sigmar’s Blood. Clemente’s price was the right to kill Tankred Konigstadt, who was a contender for the title of Grandmaster, as he a decade before exiled Clemente from the Knights of Sigmar’s Blood.

The adventurer’s finally confronted him at the Eternal Watch Temple at the Black Fire Pass, where he and a group of mercenaries tried to assassinate Tankred. The adventurers were awarded the Tears of Ghal Maraz – amulets forged from the molten metal left from the strikes of the legendary hammer.

Clemente is a tall broad shouldered fighting man with a commanding voice and a clean shaven head. He is past 40 years old and has spent the last 8 as mercenary captain of the company The Laughing Men. His face bears many scars and his eyes are grey and steely. He is a feared man with many enemies, so he rarely appears during the day. He is an outcast Templar of Sigmar’s Blood, after he charged pilgrims money for protection and then refused to protect them from orks. He is also a close ally of Wallenstein, who has promised him revenge. He has since been involved in many deposing of nobles and had a stint in the Border Princes.
The Laughing Men is – in certain circles – a fairly well known mercenary company numbering about 100, which has done quite a bit of fighting in the South, in the Border Princes, among other places.

Career: Captain, Ex Squire, Ex Knight

WS    BS   S     T     Ag    Int   WP   Fel
73’’’’’’ 41’’ 52’’’ 59’’’’ 50’’’   41’’ 48’’’   35’
A   W       SB    TB   M   Mag   IP   FP
3’’   17’’’’’   5     5      4     0       0    0
Skills: Academic Knowledge (Heraldry, Religion, Strategy/Tactics), Animal Care, Animal Training, Charm, Gossip, Dodge Blow +20, Ride +20, Speak Reikspiel +10, Bretonnian, Kislevite), Perception, Secret Language (Battle Tongue), Read/Write,
Talents: Disarm, Etiquette, Specialist Weapon Group (Cavalry, Two-handed, Flail), Strike Mighty Blow, Sturdy, Warrior Born, Quick Draw, Lightning Parry,
Armour Points: H 5, A 5, B 5, L 5
Trappings: Full plate, best craft sword, best craft dagger, destrier, small chest with 140 gc, 220 shilling, which he also uses for pay for the mercenaries