Reviews and Ramblings
MIDDENARDE - PART 7 by PurpleXVI - 12/12/16
MIDDENARDE - PART 6 by PurpleXVI - 12/12/16
MIDDENARDE - PART 5 by PurpleXVI - 12/12/16
MIDDENARDE - PART 4 by PurpleXVI - 12/12/16
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GM Startup Guide by PurpleXVI - 06/10/09
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DORF FORT ELLPEE by CAPSLOCKGUY - 10/19/08
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Every Monday I make the hike to the apothecary for all of the beeswax suppositories I can carry for my mother in law who got a fever from losing both of her legs but getting an infection before she got her new prosthetics. I can't tell if the apothecary is undercharging or overcharging me; I can't read and I don't know if a songbird is actually capable of writing by dipping its beak in ink. I just keep giving it money until it stops looking angry and starts nodding.
When I walk home, my dick shoes slap against the pavement in a rhythmic beat. Sometimes I like to walk in such a way that it becomes music. Sometimes I'll see patrols of dog soldiers being lead by a bear lieutenantant with a bird sergeant perched on its head. I like to walk so my loud steps match up with the time of their exercises and drills, but if it's hot the beeswax melts all over my hands so most of the time I just go home quickly.
When I get home and finish cramming all the pills up into where they need to go, sometimes I like to take the wife and kids out to the meadow where we can watch the town doctor roll bodies down the hill until they come back to life. It's become a bit of sport to bet on how long it takes for them to live again. When there are no more bodies to resurrect, I head to work manufacturing rifles. My job is to figure out how to streamline the speed-loading process.
I dunno, I guess my life is sort of average and boring.
Hilarious as this is, some sort of ANECDOTES like this, written in first person, about medieval life, might not have been bad. From the perspectives of knights and lords, peasants and clergy, adventurers and druids and whatever. Have all of them be at least partially unreliable narrators so the GM can throw in his own twist on things if he wants, without having to countermand "canon." It would at least have been a far sight better than the muddled mess of trivia that we actually got.
Middenarde has three Adventure Modules, 97 pages of them, in their own .PDF. There's zero introduction for the .PDF as a whole, instead we get two pieces of(as usual, excellent) art, and then we leap straight into the first adventure module...
1 - SCROLLS OF POWER
So, there's some historical trivia about noble infighting in England during the appropriate period, then we're told that this time history's different, because a conspiracy attempting to unseat one of the kings isn't just powerful in money and manpower, it's also trying to acquire dark gypsy magics(seriously, a Romani magical scroll) from a merchant, who doesn't know the value of what he's got lying around on his back shelves. They bungle it, getting the merchant suspicious of them, and rather than taking a fat load of cash to sell them some dusty paper, he packs his bags and legs it. He gets stabbed by an assassin in a tavern, however, where the PC's just happen to be having a drink, and then he gives them a QUEST to avenge him with his dying breaths.
The players, all hard-working men and/or women of Westbury, happen to be sharing a table that winter evening, and in the aftermath of the gruesome killing, they are brought together by their determination to uncover the reason behind his murder. With his dying breaths, he sends them on a journey that will make them pawns in a dangerous game that may have terrible and far-reaching effects on England and all of Christendom.
Scrolls of Power is intended for a group of 3-6 ordinary level 1 characters, all peasants of the town of Westbury, toiling away for its lord and living in houses owned by him.
I feel like one of the bigger issues with this is that we're in a country that ostensibly has guards and some degree of authority, rather than large swathes of monster-infested wilderness and a mostly-absent central authority. The player characters are likely people with jobs, apprentice whatevers, cobblers, blacksmiths, farmers or something. And yet they're still supposed to be eager to pick up a mysterious and magical quest, rather than just telling the guards that this guy got shivved and would you please stop the guy with the knife before anyone else gets stabbed. Why not just assume that the players ARE the guards summoned by the locals? That'd make considerably more sense. I mean, if they're "toiling away" for their lord... won't the guards come after THEM if they just pick up their pitchforks and go adventuring?
The quiet roar of many simultaneous conversations is interrupted by a shout from the middle of the crowd. A hush instantly falls over the ale house as all heads turn to the source of the commotion, where a man in a black robe and a hood has seized what appears to be a merchant or some other member of the middle class. The man pulls a dagger out of the merchant's side and shoves him to the ground, before making a move for the door. As the assassin pushes his way through the front doors and into the dark, the barkeep points and shouts, "Stop him! Call the lord's men!"
So, there are multiple
hilarious things about this. Cutting back to the Setting, specifically Clothing, section of the "core" book...
Black would have been rarely worn unless for religious reasons: mourning, a pilgrim’s garb, a priest’s cassock, a scholar’s robe (scholars were still largely church educated).
If you're an ASSASSIN, why the fuck are you wearing what is, essentially, a highly visible and noticeable colour, and stabbing a guy in the middle of a crowd
, rather than just wearing something normal and murdering the dude later in the night, when most people are in their homes and asleep? Everything about this is so poorly conceived and planned. Also, by the game's rules, you couldn't kill a healthy guy with a single knife stab to the torso, at least, not instantly, he'd have to start bleeding out. And bleeding out can be stopped or stabilized by normal Bandaging skills, so the book, here, has to remind us that we're not allowed to save the merchant, only stabilize him for a couple of seconds with a pretty difficult(DC 15 from 3d6, with a maximal bonus of +1 at this point). Also despite clearly describing Bandaging in the core book as the skill used for this, it here says we should use Heal for it.
By default, all they're going to hear from the merchant before he dies is:
“The scroll… you’ve got to save the scroll. Don’t let them find it.”
And then the authorities show up and take over. If they try to pursue the assassin, the writing says that no matter what, he just escapes. But based on this incredibly vague amount of... nothing at all, they're supposed to wait until the guards have left, being pretty ineffectual, then loot the dead guy's room. Barring them passing some mildly challenging spot checks(sorry, Visual Acuity checks), they'll find nothing. Also if they fail to pat down the guy's body for the key to his room(in the middle of the fucking common room with everyone watching), before the guards show up and take the body away, the innkeeper will just go: "Oh, whatever, dead guy, not my problem, go take his stuff."(there's technically an Influence check to convince him to do so, but it's really easy, and if you've gotten this far without them getting into the room, they're probably gonna go start training the local birds instead.)
Also at this point we're told that if the players patched the merchant up enough to "provide more information" before dying, that doesn't mean more information right when they patched him up, but instead more information upon visiting him, half-dead, the next day, at the local physician's house. Of course, he then dies immediately after providing exposition.
is able to speak with the players and tell them who he is, what he knows about the scroll, and where he’s hidden it, making the task of retrieving it much easier. Unfortunately, he knows very little about what it does, who wants it, and why they were willing to kill him for it.
Aside from the assumption that "wow, we four peasants can totally make some money off of messing with a conspiracy that stabs people in broad daylight!" the players still have no motivation whatsoever to fuck with this. Especially since they now know it's a magical scroll, and it's reinforced that magic is looked upon as heretical, even suggested that the players may be unwilling to mess with the scroll as a result.
Once the party has found the Scroll of Power, inform them (assuming they don’t ask) that the best place to take it if they want to determine its purpose is the closest town, Riversdale. Also inform them that if they’re willing to wait a day, a caravan of Romani travelers (known pejoratively as ‘gypsies’) will likely pass through the village to peddle their wares and may be interested in purchasing some of the things they’ve obtained from John. Furthermore, they might be able to pay one of their wagons to take them there, which would make the 40km journey considerably easier. If they’d rather leave right away, that’s fine; there are several villages along the way where they can stop, including Warminster, Heytesbury, and Codford.
Still struggling with why a bunch of peasants would do this, the answer is apparently "because the GM tells them where their players should want to go." Also ha ha wow the gypsies are all fucking assholes, like, amoral scam-artists to the point where it feels a bit like a racist stereotype.
the Romani are in the business of finding or making and selling magical trinkets, they don’t actually much care what they do as long as they can get Englishmen to pay top penny for them. If you’re feeling particularly evil, you might allow them to meet an elderly Romani woman who will, for a ‘nominal’ fee, offer to read the runes on it.
Their attitude basically written as "fuck whitey, let's pass him a magical nuke so he can blow himself up while we laugh." The players at this point are probably 2nd level unless the GM says "fuck that noise, this is retarded," and the adventure module encourages immediately throwing level 4 and 3 enemies at them. Combat-specialized level 3 and 4 enemies, with magical potions, real weapons, and generally unless the players sent both their initial and second skill points on combat, expect at least one of them to die or lose a limb here. The book acknowledges this and suggests letting anyone who died make new characters who join the party for ????? reasons, starting at level 1. They should level up relatively quickly if the GM isn't a fuckface, but even so, for the few seasons where they're behind, DC's will be fucked with regards to them, and it also makes the reasoning behind why the party is on the quest at all even harder to sustain.
The module also says that the assassin at first tries to convince the players to give up the scroll peacefully... but says nothing about what happens if they do. Do they get an invitation to the conspiracy? Maybe a cash reward to stay silent? Does he attack anyway? Who the fuck knows.
So anyway, assuming they don't get a TPK, the party arrives at Riverdale.
Most importantly, they’re going to want to find someone who can either read the scroll they’re carrying or tell them what to do with it. This will be difficult; there are few people in England who can actually use the scroll the party is carrying, due to its incredible power, and there are none in Riversdale. No matter what, their search will likely uncover the wrong sort of attention, and they may face threats from both unaffiliated thieves and continued attacks by the organization behind the merchant’s death.
Why didn't they just go to the guards and go "yo, look, that dead guy was carrying a magical scroll and said it was dangerous." in the first fucking town, get escorted to the local lord to give testimony, etc.? That could've been more interesting, as the assassin(s) could've come after them because A) they have the scroll and B) don't know if the players know more than they do and... it would've just generally made some degree of sense.
But anyway, they arrive in Riversdale, and the only quest-related thing to do there is to find out that there's only one guy who knows a lot about magic scrolls, and he lives outside of town. 37 kilometers outside of town. In another town. Just far enough for the PC's to be ambushed again on the way there. This time the opposition is more equal in level, but unequal in numbers and, again, probably considerably better equipped, for one thing actually wearing armor and, again, having magic potions of healing and stuff, which gives, once more, a pretty good chance of the PC's getting chopped in half by these combat specialized
enemies. UNLESS, of course, the enemies flub a morale roll.
Whenever the target witnesses an ally fall in battle or lose a limb, they must make a morale roll to continue fighting. If the group has a leader, he or she may roll an Influence check with a DC of 20 minus 1 for each member of the group still alive, even if the leader is not in sight. If successful, no morale roll needs to be made. Otherwise, the target makes a Willpower check with a DC of 12 minus 1 for each ally who is still in sight. If the target fails his morale roll, he is too frightened to continue fighting.
Probably the best strategy in either of the forced combat encounters so far is to just focus on killing the weakest enemy so the rest are forced to make morale rolls, since none of them have any Willpower to give them bonuses on that front. If the players manage to take the leader alive, they can get a sub-quest! A sub-quest that results in them getting fucking sliced wide open
since it most likely involves, without any fucking warning, combat with a level 20
opponent. No armor, but decked out in badass combat skills(almost purely combat skills except for being literate, actually...), boosted attack dice, boosted evasion dice and ha ha wow. Even on a four against one situation, the players will fucking die like chumps since there are no rules for opponents getting less block/evasion dice against multiple opponents, or having a limited number of blocking/evading actions per turn. Their only reward for getting out of this alive is a letter that tells them that someone wants the scroll they have and is willing to kill them to get it.
what a grand reward
So, they meet the guy who knows about scrolls. He tells them jack shit except that he can point them to ANOTHER guy who knows MORE about scrolls. Or he can pay them for the scroll and they can go home, considerably richer, since they don't really have much motivation to keep going, unless it's now revenge against the jackasses who keep trying to have them killed. Mr. Level 20 then shows up(if the players didn't capture the bandit leader and then meet and kill the guy first) and tells them that if they're tired of almost being murdered, they can join his evil conspiracy instead, and get fucking rich off of it.
Staying loyal means they go to Southampton and, again, get told that the local wizard doesn't know what the fuck they've got their hands on. What a useful guy. So he sends them to London. We're told how dangerous it is to travel overland to London, but there's no thought given to the fact that the players could take the long way around by sailing
from Southampton to London, since we're only given land-based encounters, none sea-based.
Anyway, they arrive at the last wizard in the adventure's house, he deduces that the scroll is intended for making a brainwashed clone of the King, sends a messenger to the court to get knights to show up and secure it, and then the wizard and the PC's wait. Until the Badguy Conspiracy shows up and starts battering the door down. It might go badly for them, though, since the wizard is fucking Level 47
and has attack dice better than what any PC can have(he has d12's, where PC's can only upgrade to d10's), he could probably handle this encounter by himself entirely, since he's a combination of badass wizard, badass archer and badass fencer(despite the book insisting he's "no good at combat" in the description). Poor evasion dice, though, but if the PC's can just keep the bad guys away from close combat with him, he can probably start blasting them out of existence pretty fast, trivializing the fight somewhat.
The GM should exercise good judgment as to how long the fight will last before help arrives, but 32 rounds is recommended, as that’s how many attempts the soldiers will have to make on average for a dozen of them to enter the fray. Sir Ronald will at first attempt to kill them as they enter with his crossbow, but if they start to overwhelm the group, he will focus on keeping his allies alive as long as possible. Two full sessions is also a good length for the fight, as it will allow for the building up of tension over the cliffhanger, and then combat can be resolved the next session.
So, the creator is recommending a fight between 17
combatants. Four PC's, twelve Badguy Goons and the Wizard Warrior. He suggests 32 rounds
of this fucking mess, stretching over two full sessions
, Jesus Christ. Any fight that starts to last longer than an hour is something I, personally, rush to a conclusion since at that point my players are probably starting to get distracted unless it's something really pivotal. Also all the attacking soldiers are level 15 and, as is usual for enemies in this game by now, entirely combat specialized
. The players are unlikely to be any more than 10th level, and will probably have invested in utility skills as well, so they're probably going to get, as usual, fucking sliced wide open.
I'd also like to point out that after EVERY combat forced by the adventure module, it starts off the post-combat description with "IF THE PARTY IS ALIVE." If the party isn't alive, the GM and module writer have fucked up, that's what. You chode.
So, the LOYALTY path in this adventure is basically being sent from location to location with a fight at each location, or between each location. It's pretty dull. What about the BETRAYAL path? If they hand over the scroll to Mr. Level 20? Well, much the same, but more interesting since, rather than being arbitrarily ambushed at various points, the players are initiating the fights and, seeing them coming, can be more creative with use of their non-combat skills and gear in easing the way. For instance, killing loyalist guards before they can remove their corrupt captain. Or infiltrating a castle to make sure the gates are open and the defenders disorganized in advance of the bad guys' attack proper. The fights are generally also better balanced and less likely to end in TPK's, both because they're not surprise ambushes and because, well, the enemies aren't always numerically superior and
higher level than the PC's.
They've also got a way more powerful wizard buddy this time, level 55. Anyone the players can't take down, he can probably either soften up for them, or straight-up nuke from the back row. But in this case, instead of the final fight being in a wizard's study, they're busting into the royal palace and killing the king's guards so the wizard can make an evil clone of him that will serve the bad guys. Surprisingly enough, the bad guys actually keep all their promises and BETRAYAL players get pretty much the same rewards as LOYALIST players.
Buddies with the king, land, titles, money and basically no reason to ever leave any longer unless they want to fire crossbow bolts at passing peasants for chuckles.
What a garbage fucking "adventure." Which I'll note will just hard lock if the players neither pass the spot checks in the dead merchant's room, or stabilize him enough to tell them where the scroll is the next day.
Addendum: I want to point out that when I mentioned to the author that the PC's could bypass a lot of his encounters just by sailing from Southampton to London, he expressed surprise that London wasn't landlocked. Yes. He didn't know what the River Thames was. This man trying to write a more or less historically accurate RPG about England.