Wednesday, December 19, 2012

How I play Beacon and stuff

Ya, I've been busy lately.

It's not a bad thing.  I owe you a short session writeup and will owe you another couple posts once I run the final game in this current campaign this week.  As for the rules, well they haven't changed in a while (which is a good thing - means they seem to be working OK for level 1-5 anyway) and I'm pretty much wrapping up the current campaign so our game group can move on to something else for a while.  We're going to try some FATE gaming, specifically Diaspora which looks great.  I expect I'll be writing some posts on that game from the player perspective - but likely on my other blog.  I'll get back to writing about Beacon eventually though - especially if I get any feedback from folks out there playing it (that's a hint by the way.)

I didn't include any magic item lists, information on secret societies or political charts and tables with the rules.  Those kind of things should be campaign specific in my opinion and although I have no  problem with books and supplements that write up items, places, wild effects or other stuff (I totally use that kind of material in my games!) I think it doesn't belong in the core rule book.  Anything that I do present here about the Kingdom of the New Men or Milham town and the surrounding areas as mentioned in my play test session reports would come out in a setting supplement way and not in the Beacon rule book.  I'll probably present more of that stuff here in the future, especially if I gear up for another campaign - possibly something on G+ in the new year.  I'm also sure that once I get more high level play testing in there will be the inevitable adjustments to the rules.  Someone will point out that a level 13 dwarf savant is this or that and I'll feel betrayed and sad, and then figure out a way to fix it.  So Beacon as it sits is pretty stable for now but - it's still a draft.

Anyway since I do think that different games work for different types of play I thought it a good idea to mention how I think Beacon works best, or at least how I play it.  I'm sure you can play it a lot differently than I do since it's d20 at it's heart - but knowing how I run it is probably good insight into why the rules came out like they did.

I have a map of a small country.  It's not really detailed, just enough so that when players decide to go somewhere or talk to someone there are town names or directions and are some people or places they will hear about.  NPCs need things to talk about after all.  I don't want to fill in every little village or cave with stuff ahead of time because I want enough room to drop in encounter locations or accommodate random content. I like to use one page dungeons or simple encounter hooks to flesh out things and let the players decide where to go.   I do use random encounters, especially when the PCs are travelling - but I use custom encounter tables and frequencies for each area so that location matters.  I can see someone doing a random generated hex crawl campaign or conversely someone doing a very detailed map with lots of locaitons and NPCs and I think that Beacon would work that way too, but all that is really up to the GM because there are no extra tools in the game for that.  Plug in your campaign tools - be they random encounter tables or story and social kits.

I play a low level and gritty game where the players grow into their story.  Mostly I let them drive and try to keep things moving around them.  I think it's important that the world breathes  - if there was a plague the players couldn't prevent or cure, then it's going to be a situation for a while, with the attendant famine, economics and political fallout.  Never will it be a condition of 'winning' to stop the plague - shit happens and what's interesting to me is how it gets dealt with.  Emergent story over plotted character arcs I guess that is.   I might make up some recurring villains but I really try to stay away from the Evil Overlord/Mad God kind of bad guys.  It's so tempting to do, but I think that you can only get off one or two good save the world stories in a campaign world, so save those guys for special occasions.  It's gritty because a gang of goblins should be problematic and even mid level play should be about getting treasure to buy stuff and counting your arrows - not running a kingdom or wizard guild.  I see a Beacon game topping out at the old retire to the fortress you carved out of the wilderness - not at kill all the elder gods. If you want a more heroic fantasy it's probably not hard to do with Beacon and a few supplemental products but it would certainly be easier to do in D&D proper.  If you want a crazy gonzo game then you will probably find better materials elsewhere as well, DCC springs to mind here.  However if you like the streamlined presentation of Beacon and want to pad it up for those types of games then I say go for it - and then tell me about it.

Friday, November 16, 2012

The gang returns to Milham

Kane caught up with the party as they camped in the forest outside the dungeon.  He'd heard some rumours that the captain and a few of the guards at Red Towers were looking to teach Henril some respect.  Henril was willing to march right back to Red Towers and challenge them but the rest of the party thought it would be better to leave well enough alone.  They had found the scroll they had been looking for (although much of the monastery still remained unexplored) and so they decided to head back to Milham and see what was what with the scroll.  They had a little loot, most primarily a suit of plate mail possibly belonging to St.Ulthur.  Even regular plate armour is a big deal in Beacon - costing upwards of 300gp and taking some time to craft.  This was fancy stuff and even if the gauntlets were missing, it was likely worth a small fortune.  It was also possibly a holy artifact - but don't let that bother you - they also had schemes of fencing the devotional silver bowl and ewer once they got back to town.  They fought a giant bat that evening - and were initially somewhat terrified that it might be the manticore that they had unwittingly set loose.  Good times.

it looked something like this
 - but with rocky death instead of water
They didn't meet anyone on the road north.  Kane wanted to see if they could retrieve his brothers body as they passed the spot by the hollow tree where Ann had told him the goblin warren was.  They made a short foray into the ruins, but were stymied as the goblin scouts fled before them and cut down the rope bridge as they ran.  The ravine the rickety bridge served to cross was some 50-60 ft. across and probably over 100 ft. straight down onto some decidedly pointy rocks and shrubs.  They surveyed this and decided to acquire a grapple and some proper rope in Milham before attempting to go any further into the ruins.  Henril made a point of telling everyone that if he were to die he'd not expect anyone to risk profitless death just to lug his meat back out of some dirty hole.

Once back in Milham they tried to track down the old 'abbot' who had asked them to retrieve the Trials of St. Ulthur.  He was gone, the owner of the Seven Stones said that he had left soon after the party had - presumably returning back north.  The barkeeper's son, an old friend of Klypt, gave them some sage words of advice and they then chose to retire to their usual haunt - the Scarlet Archer, before seeking out the old sage in the morning.  Henril was please to reacquaint himself with the barmaid who had been the bridesmaid at his disastrous wedding and Sannur the barkeep was eager to see some paying customers and had their usual rooms made up.  The next day they visited the sage, gained some information on the time of Ulthur and realized that aside from the documents they had, there was little else known about his sainthood aside from that it was likely some four centuries ago in the time before the new men and the current kingdom.  The sage was keenly interested in their scroll and could only tell them that the other two churches mentioned in it were in Whitewater to the north and Linmere to the east.  He was excited to see some new information from those dark ages.  Henril asked Tim about the history of Ulthur and Ulgar aftrewards remarkking that the entry bar to sainthood was rather low - primarily consisting of having some nice armour, smiting things and having a 'U' in your name.  Henril decided to have the plate mail refurbished for his own use and spent his last coins having the the leathers replaced and getting it fitted.  He wisely didn't mention it's origin to anyone.  Brother Tim took it on himself to purchase the silver devotional and bring it to the abbot in Milham's church.  The abbot was also very excited that the relics had turned up and spoke of sending word to the Bishops in Old Church and perhaps someday returning them and reconsecrating the monastery in the south.

Not a lot of action, but some work got done and most importantly the players seemed engaged in tasks that mattered to their characters beyond mere survival/looting.  They did realize that they might need to do a bit more ruin exploring however.  The goblins they have encountered on the road rarely carry more than a sharp rock or some horrible cheese in their pockets, and bats, spiders and manticores don't even have pockets.

Friday, November 9, 2012

What Kane was doing pt.3

Kane sprinkled more ash into the bowl and reached for another root. This was not a part of The Life that Kane enjoyed.  There was a long road to walk between the thrill of using your power and the drudgery and discomfort in acquiring it.  He rubbed some warmth back into his hands.  The light was going and he knew he had to finish with these roots while he could see.  He could save the rest of the grunt work for fire light, but not this.  He glanced over to the woman on the porch.  She was inspecting the scroll he had finished, holding it up to the setting sun, looking for flaws.

“You do good work.” she finally said.  “I'm so glad I didn't kill you.  If the other two are of similar quality I’ll let you take a quick peek.”  She mimed lifting her skirt and then laughed.  Kane feigned a smile and went back to his work.  She could dance around naked in the moonlight, the only peek he wanted was at her notes and they both knew it.  He was so close now he could taste it.  He catalogued the information in his head, he knew the words but not the forms.  He just needed a couple more pieces to complete the puzzle and in three more days and he’d get his chance.  He quickly put it out of this mind and refocused on his work.  He had to fulfil his part of the bargain first, and one mistake would ruin the whole batch.
He finished the mixture and set it to the side as the last light faded from the tree tops, leaving a red glow against the wall of the cottage.  He eyed the pile of wood he had collected that morning, just enough to keep the fire going through the night.  He might be able to doze a while tonight, if it didn't rain anyway.  He was tired and his fingers ached from the cold.

“Tell me news of the Academy.” she asked suddenly.  “Do they still prance and preen for the king’s favours?  Have they widened their net yet, or are they still content to pull minnows from the pond?”

“You know the answer to that”.  replied Kane.  “You wouldn't be here otherwise.  You’re wrong though, the Academy is the best way, the surest way.”

“And what about you my little fish, swimming out into the wide ocean?  If you’re not careful something nasty might snap you right up.”  She flashed her teeth.

“I came after my brother.  He thought he would be a hero, the one to recover a lost phrase or some precious roll of parchment.  All he found was a grave.”

“Still, here you are.”  she said,  “And who can say what other things lie in the ground here.  Perhaps it will be you that finds that parchment... or something more lively.”

Kane snorted and added some sticks to the small fire.  She had a point, he had seen more in his short time in the south than he had in years at the Academy.  The Royal Academy was the real jewel in the King’s crown, there was no doubt of that.  There were all too few new men and without the Academy they would have been overrun countless times by the natives these past centuries.  The traditions were the glue holding everything together.  He watched her retire to her small cottage and settled himself in for a long cold evening tending the brazier.  He looked out into the dark wood and considered her remarks.  There was a danger in only looking inward, in relying only on traditions.  The old people had retained some of their lore, no doubt dwarf magic at it’s heart.  And there were other things out here as well, older than man or dwarf.  Powerful things, you could feel it. He made a motion with his hand and muttered a short phrase. A handful of twigs rose up into the air and fed themselves into the fire. Ah, now that was the part he did enjoy. Tradition was important, but in the end it was all about the power.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

What Kane was doing pt.2

The morning sun broke over the hills and burned off the hanging fog.  Kane shivered and drew his cloak tighter around him, but the man to his right laughed and stretched out his arms to embrace the light.
“I thought you northerners were used to a little chill.” he exclaimed. “This is fine weather for travelling.  No bugs. The mud is firm.  And the air doesn't smell like shit and snakes for a change.”  He leaned back against the sacks of grain filling the wagon behind them and flicked the reins lazily.  “You get a rougher ride if they smell a snake.” he continued, indicating the plodding horses.

“My father liked the winter. He said it built character being a bit cold,” replied Kane. “My mother always wanted the hearth well fed, character be damned.  My father took a sword in the stomach fighting The Pretender’s men at Hyntmor and bled out all over the snow.  I take after my mother.”  He was lying of course, but fighting men respected the son of a veteran and it deflected many questions about his lack of sword or bow.  The man grunted, the old folk didn't like to think about The Pretender, many of their fathers had been on the wrong side of that war.  He pointed to the road ahead.

“Just past this turn is the brickworks.  We’ll be heading on for a bit to deliver this and check the road, but that’s where you want to go.  The foreman is a bit of a prick, but he’ll answer your questions if you let him show you how clever he is.”  He spat over the side of the wagon.  “You won’t find no inn there, but there’s a barracks set up for the mudders.  It should do you, if you can find a bed, and if you don’t mind rats.”   Kane thanked him and climbed down off the wagon, then watched as the small supply train wound its way down the road.  

The brickworks was a long greasy red stain on the side of a hill.  Men and women alike toiled to cut away slabs of clay rich mud and carry it on to be mixed and shaped and then stacked high on long hard pallets to be fired with wood from the nearby forest.  Kane studied the trails of the worker ants scurrying along with wood or straw, or buckets of muddy water and sought out their queen.  He found him, a short fat bald fellow, scowling beside a mountain of logs and branches stacked three times his own height.

“What you want?  Not a job from looks of you.” rasped the man. “Your hands don’t fit no shovel and I need no more bookkeepers if that’s your mind.  Season’s near over here, you have to go begging for your winter board some other where.
“Oh I am journeying south from Kingstown and decided to travel here having heard of the quality of this brick.”  said Kane casually.  “I see how you've packed earth around the clamp.  That’s very clever, I bet you get a better burn.”   The man turned to him and smiled.
“A better fire, and more good brick too.  It’s my own process.  It catches heat that slips out the cracks.  Like cooking a duck eh.  Mind you, you have to make sure enough air can get in.”  Explained the man excitedly.

The next hour found Kane feigning interest in the use of green and aged woods, the importance of wind direction, and the best methods for laying out a firing tunnel.  Only when the fellow had thrice exhausted his rather short list of brick-making innovations did it occur to him to ask Kane about his business.
“I'm looking for an old friend who lives nearby in the forest, perhaps you know of her?”  said Kane.  “Ghat.”
“You’re talking about the madwoman.  She lives alone somewhere in the forest, west of here I think.  She comes sometimes to trade a brace of rabbit for a shirt or the like.  She rarely talks. I don’t know how she manages over winter, but she somehow does. What business could you have with her?”
“My own.” he said, then quickly “My pardon friend, it involves an old family debt.  Of interest only to an old family.  I should leave you to your work.”
“Perhaps on your way back we can speak of some of the firing techniques used in Kingstown?” called the man as Kane picked his way through the muddy workers.
“Yes, perhaps.” said Kane.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

What Kane was doing pt.1

Kane stopped just outside the gate, there was a mark on the red brick wall of the keep. He moved closer to the outside wall, ignoring the questioning glance of the soldier on watch at the gate. Curious eh?  I should light up his feet like a cat on a stove and see how curious he is, he thought to himself.  Still, better to remain unremarkable. Unseen.   He made a show of brushing dust off his cloak and looked closer.  Yes, there in the shadow of the overhanging brick someone had inscribed a message that only those versed in arcane lore might see.  The message was a simple one, a single name, “Ghat”.  That single name however was enough to know that whoever made the mark was a mage, and that they were looking for others.  He pretended to rub some shit off his boot, and then hurried to catch up with the others.

On returning to the inn, if it could be called such, Kane sent the mendicant off to fetch him some mulled wine and to rid himself of the man while he gathered his thoughts.  The idiot went off quickly enough, but not before some glimmer of resistance appeared around his eyes.  Something would have to be done about that as well.  He removed his cloak and leaned into the fire.  It was getting colder, soon there would be snow even in these forsaken lands. The thought took him back to his life in Kingstown, his time at the academy, and then to Hollaway.  Holl
away who followed after him always and constantly, and who got in the way and who was always bothering him and his companions. Hollaway who cried when he left for the academy and then embarrassed him utterly by again crying when he joined him two years later.  Hollaway who was always so full of excitement and interest and so full of life.  Hollaway who was dead in a dirty hole somewhere a few days ride from here.  He tossed his boots against the hearth and looked down at his worn stockings, where was that bastard with the wine?

Ghat was probably not the wizard’s name, it was however the name he’d be using in town and the name Kane should ask for.  It wouldn’t do to be overly curious either, no use pissing off the man he was looking for, that would make the next bit even more unpleasant than it was already going to be. The idiot returned with the wine and now was standing over him annoyingly.

“Here’s your wine.” he said in his slow dull voice.  Kane reached for the wine and otherwise ignored him.  Off on the other side of the common room an already raised voice broke out into a shout.  

“I want the best ale you can manage, not this swill!  Do you want my coin or not?  I have plenty of it. You! Lackwit! Come drink with me!”  Kane didn’t know if he should be annoyed or relieved when the man stopped standing over him, hesitated for only a minute, and then joined the shouting man and his companions.  This was his hired man and Henril was treating him like a travelling companion.  That was trouble.  He considered their confrontation in the monastery ruins and how the whole party had undermined him, letting the idiot keep that valuable dagger and even a share in the treasure.  He would have expected it from the priest, and that traveler waif probably knew nothing beyond the cook pots and tinker forges of her youth, but Butterbridge was a civilized place and people from there understood a contract.

A local boy Kane had seen before came into the inn. He ignored Kane and ran up to the rowdy bunch sitting on the other side of the room.  That lad is a sharp one, thought the mage, he knows exactly when Henril is in his cups and when to part him with his silver.  He listened through closed lids as Henril shouted a greeting and then after a short minute ordered the lad to fetch him some apples.  As the boy ran past Kane raised his hand to intercept, a silver penny shining between his fingers.   

“Here now lad, do you know a man named Ghat?  He’s an old friend of mine and I’d like to pay my respects.”  The boy looked him in the eye but said nothing.  Kane moved his finger to expose another silver penny but still the boy said nothing.  Swearing to himself, the mage reached into his purse, pulled out three more silver coins, pressed all five coins into the lads hand and glared at him.

“Ghat lives down in the forest near the brickworks, but sometimes he comes for supplies.  It’s a morning's walk to get there but the road is safe, the patrol passes there twice daily.  They know of him down there but not well. You already know your friend doesn't take kindly to strangers poking into his business.”  The lad smiled and ran off, then turned in the doorway and shouted back, "Oh, and he’s a woman."

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

My dinner with Arnulf

The table was set so to speak with a dinner invitation from the young Lord of Red Towers, Erik Arnulf - youngest son of the Baron of the Westmarches.  It was delivered by a page who also instructed the party to please find some appropriate dress for the occasion.  Clothes were sought out, baths were had, and by the time of arrival the gang looked almost presentable enough for the table of a borderland military leader.  Kane was unable to attend as he had gone off in search of a hedge mage reputed to live in the nearby woods.

Other guests included the Captain of the Watch (the Lords right hand man apparently), the lord's personal abbot, and three dwarven merchants from the village of Baudoc Se (Bad Axe) which lies to the southeast.  The young Lord was a gracious host and although the table was not grandly set (he made mention that the silverware ordered in from Kingstown that spring had not arrived) the food was well prepared.  Dinner conversation revolved around the troubles of the plague to the north, the poor harvest and the exploits of the party in the recent weeks.  The Lord made mention that he was concerned that the exploits of a transient band of freebooters was a somewhat disrupting influence on his people and indicated that perhaps a more circumspect approach should be taken so not to incite farmers and common soldiers to leave their occupations and turn to adventuring.  Case in point that very afternoon had seen a hanging of three men whom had attempted to make their fortune through adventure - only to fall into petty banditry when they found themselves destitute.  The Lord also made mention of the need for reliable leaders to carve out holdings and manses in these dangerous south lands - for it was only through strength and order that the region could be maintained.  The dwarves agreed to this and conveyed their impressions on the state of the south road.  There was some implied friction between the young Lord and these merchants, the implication that outrageous prices were being charged for spirits and goods in these times of need sat heavy on the the table.  Also the abbot (a orthodox cleric with Ulgarite leanings) expressed his concern that Tim (a professed Ulgarite) had been seen in the company of the village priestess who in his opinion was uncomfortably lenient with church law and likely not an adherent to the teachings of Ulgar.

And so then Henril decided to channel Abbie Hoffman and spend the next morning trying to incite the townsfolk to revolt.  Much to the horror of his companions he began spending money like a boatload of sailors and actually handing out coins to people in the streets.  When the guards began to take notice he also attempted to hand them money and soon there were a great number of angry and confused soldiers fingering their crossbows and wondering exactly what they should be doing to keep the peace.  As the rest of the party returned with their supplies and gathered up Henril and headed out of the keep, a more devout gate-man leaned over to Brother Tim and suggested that they might not want to return to Red Towers any time soon.

On their way back to the monastery, they came across the badly mauled corpses and ruined wagons of the turnip farmers they had met before.  A careful study of the scene and they concluded that a manticore, possibly the very one they had run from in the cave depths, had killed these farmers.  With some trepidation they continued to the caves and made their way to the stairs leading up to the monastery.  They noticed that the barred doors to the Crypt was burst open and when they started to investigate the fallen bodies of the goblins and ferrits that they had killed some little while ago reanimated and attacked.  After a short battle they dispatched these zombies and made their way up into the monastery proper - examining the ruined courtyard and the empty hallways until they came across the chapel and the abbots office in behind.  There they found a series of scrolls outlining a history of the monastery and also a suit of plate armour with a gauntlet missing (substituted by a gauntlet from another suit of plate in fact).  They gathered up this armour and read some of the scrolls but as they left they wandered into an area where a un-restful spirit began to take shape and wildly throw objects around the room at them.  Soon they were fleeing from a hurricane of stone and broken furniture as they fled back though the abbots office (which got trashed) until Brother Tim finally managed to cast Turn Undead and drive the spirit back.  They fled back across the courtyard and with the knowledge they had gained form the scrolls found the old scriptorium and located the vault hidden behind it.  In that vault they discovered many ruined scrolls and books but also a ancient copy of the Trials of St.Ulthur and a treatise on hobgoblins.

Then they left to head back to the woods and decide what to do next.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Found in the ruined monastery

Brother Abelard's Treatise on the hobb

Now it be knowne to alle learned men that the goblyn wiffe will bear her young in the same manner as to the dwarfe and likewise they shall be served by their broode.  However it is to my minde knowne a wondere and fact gained from my studie and after much discourse with those beeste called puca which men name hobbs or hobbgoblyn.  Much tyme I have passed in discourse with both men who traded with the hobbgoblyn and even one tyme I spake myself with a verry olde hobb whom was a friend to the church and also considered wise.  This I have learned.
As the goblyn wiffe will beget a litter or broode as to her kind, so will that broode change in their manner and character as to her aliments and lodging.  If she doth dine on mutton or meat her broode will be strong and sauvage yet if she dine on weeds and grains they be meek.  Now a learned person might reasone thus surely should she dine on the fleshe of men her broode shall be terrible beests indeede for they will growe as fromme terrible deeds.  What a wondere thus to find that the broode of the goblyn fed of that fleshe is both vigorous and learned among it’s kinde.  It is knowne goblyns are wilde and sauvage however the hob being wilde too yet is industrious.  Where goblyn will think only to steale and break, the hob will trade when they cannot take.  Men say the hobbgoblyn is more dire than the goblyn as they fight with greater skill, yet more will fear a goblyn which is as a ferocious beest and they knowe no reasone.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Update to the update

So yea, there were some wee tiny errors in the last update and I fixed those and I also fixed the section in the poison rules where a penalty to your rolls based on how badly you missed your save was being applied.  I hadn't noticed that before, but I noticed it now, and since stat loss from poison effects would also cause a penalty to the roll I think that rule is redundant.  I also took away the secondary effect column from the poison table because what the heck was that about anyway.  SO if it all just sucks now please let me know.

I updated it in place and so all the links should resolve now to the new file.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Beacon 5.2 update

This is a minor update with the changes I made to the Rogue sneak attack, some layout adjustments and some minor rules clarifications and prices for hats (The people I play with often want to buy hats).  It's not a big release and I didn't comb through it.  I also dropped the light crossbow because I didn't like having it as a light weapon (will all that implies rules wise) and there was no real need for two crossbows in the heavy weapon section.

This is basically state of the art Beacon until I get the document proofed by someone other than myself - that will either be a 6th draft or Beacon 1.0 - the good version.

Download Beacon 5.2.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Return to Hellmount Monastery

It was a short session but a fairly vigorous one.  After a brief rest to repair some armour, the gang headed back out to the old monastery hoping to discover more loot.  Along the way they met a small caravan of  farmers who had braved the roads with their meagre harvest, hoping to sell it at Red Towers.   Klyte, for that was indeed the name of Kane's mendicant retainer, made a point of stopping and asking the farmers some innocent questions about their hats and what sort of produce they had, an activity performed in such a way that the nervous farmers became quite terrified.  Who better than Henril to step in and explain to these nervous and ill equipped 'merchants' that the party was not a cruel and sadistic gang of bandits toying with them, but actually friendly adventurers who happened to want to purchase a hat and perhaps a turnip.  The situation was eventually sorted out, and the terrified farmers rapidly made their escape, no doubt vowing if they survive this enterprise never to leave their farms again.

Pressing onward, the party reached the hidden cave.  They were very wary as they were concerned about the manticore that had chased them out of the dungeon might still be lurking around.  On entering the cave they noticed that the mule body Henril had left as a distraction had been dragged off to the south, and on investigating they were attacked by two giant ferrets who had made their lair in the cave.  After dispatching the beasts, they noticed that  indeed these ferrets had been living well on the carcasses of many giant rats and the mule remains left in the wake of the adventurers.

They decided that instead of returning to the staircase downward, they would explore some of the passages to the north east, and soon stumbled out of the caverns and into a carved hallway - very clearly the lower levels of the monastery on the hill.  They found a barred door with a crude skull drawn on it in soot and not being the type to heed casual and probably meaningless graffiti they decided to go in there and look around.  The room they found themselves in was dusty and unused but contained many candles along the walls and a large font in the middle.   Tim identified it as a holy water font used for church purifying rituals and not 'Helvitca' as was surmised by Ann.  Further into the room they found a sarcophagus, and with no hesitation they chose to desecrate it and slide the lid off.  Inside there was a corpse with a dagger transfixing it's chest and Klyte immediately snatched the dagger up.  The corpse rose into a sitting position just in time for Henril to smash it to bits with his two handed sword.

The party then found a small sealed door and opened it.  It was full of bones and Henril decided that they should burn the bones.  He threw his oil into the room and lit it as the bones started to form into animated skeletons.  The fire caught but the skeletons started coming through the door and attacking.  It was a vicious fight as the skeletons pushed out of the room replacing those that the party dispatched.  Ann was struck by a particularly terrible blow and probably would have died had I not made an erroneous and offhand remark in a previous game about damage not carrying over.  Soon however between the players attacks (Klyte laying to with effect using his new seemingly magical dagger) and the increasing fire, the skeletons were dispatched.  The party carried on and came into another crypt - this one with detailed mosaics on the walls depicting the life of the saint - obviously the very man interred in yet another sarcophagus.  Showing an appalling disregard for the sanctity of the Lords Of Order they looted the holy man's coffin and struck the head off his corpse in case he decided to wake up.  They were very hurt and tired but decided to check out one more room to the south - and found it was an ossuary filled with the holy bones of the monks interred over the centuries.  They decided against burning all the holy bones in case there were 'books and stuff in there' and instead poked around until they were satisfied that there was nothing of material value or any danger.  Then Kane used a last cantrip to levitate the beam on the outside of the door marked with a skull so as to bar it and conceal their presence so that they could rest in this tomb.

After recovering somewhat they made ready to continue their explorations.  They had been very underwhelmed by the lack of swag a holy man was afforded in his grave - beholding his saintly bones not being reward enough apparently.   I blame video games.  To his credit Brother Tim did try to 'straighten up the mess' a bit - probably due to his many years of devout religious training.  They left the tomb and came across a room with a staircase going down deeper into the hill where they fought some goblin rat-catchers and their half-trained ferrets.  They ran into some goblin lookouts and managed to stop them from running off and warning the others - one attempting to run up a stairwell and one attempting to run west down a hallway.  They then went west and found the goblin guards and dispatched them - but not before a very large goblin came barrelling into room to see what all the commotion was.  They killed this boss goblin and traced his steps back to the room where he kept all the goblin loot.  Then they finally made their way up the stairs into the monastery and after fighting some more large goblins, they came upon a large open courtyard arboretum now overgrown and wild.  Then they decided that they were pretty banged up and needed to replenish themselves and their supplies so they left the monastery (without incident) and returned to Red Towers.

It was a short but sweet session, and lots of player bickering and one one-upmanship which is always fun.  I think most players managed to level up as well since they realized that the rules say that it's 1000xp multiplied by your current level - not the target level to level up.  There was some grumbling over this since I probably told them wrong and they likely had levelled up a little while ago - however that's one good reason I like to print out the rules - I can't remember everything. Also, as GM I'm never wrong - just less right at times.  So Henril hit level 4 I think and Kane gets second level spells.  I let him roll twice to get two new spells from the crazy old magic tutor he 'found' at Red Towers since it's not explicitly covered how mages gain spells when they level and it's probably something the GM will want to manage anyway.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Beacon busting out all over

While making some minor updates to the text I finally hit the limit as to what I can squeeze onto 42 pages and so the next cut of the Beacon book will have more.  Right now it's 44 pages because of the way I wanted to lay things out without making it unattractive by changing fonts or squeezing stuff in where it logically didn't belong.  A terrain effects in combat chart should be in the combat section and not tacked onto the blank half page in the Druid spell section.  There is now a bit of white space with the extra pages to move things around and that I can use to include some additional charts - I'm thinking of a skill point by class chart - something that you could figure out easily enough, but having a chart might make it easier.  I might even put a picture in somewhere.

I really do want to make the content fight for that real-estate however.  I'm going to draw a line in the sand right now to avoid ever going over 50 pages.  I'm not in the business to teach people how to role play or explain how a 4 sided die works.

And yes the title is just about the page count. I haven't heard any stories of someone busting out Beacon at a convention or on a G+ game - however I would LOVE to hear about it if it did happen.

And yes should have made a joke about giving it some Deep Thought.  But I didn't.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Welcome to Red Towers

After the last session which consisted mostly of preparation and travel, the gang was very happy arrive at Red Towers, a keep on the southern edge of the Westmarches.  Red Towers is the symbol and the vanity of the Arnulf family.  Arnulf is the assumed noble name and legacy of Otto the Fat, who was ceded the Westmarch territory by the King in 146 as reward for defeating the goblin army that was besieging the towns and territories to the south-west of the Soundlands.  Red Towers, named for it's striking red brick composition, has been in various phases of construction for the last 20 years and is a testament to the tenacity of the Arnulf family for it lies deep in the dangerous South and is surrounded by wild lands and swamp.

The gang arrived at the keep near dusk and were very surprised to meet up with an old friend, Brother Tim of Fox Hollow, upon their arrival.  They lodged at the Bell and Weasel inn just outside the walls and caught up with each other over the bad local beer.  Brother Tim had been treating the sick in Milham and had been asked by the Prior in Milham to come south with a contingent to ask the young Lord Erik (the current Baron's youngest son - now overseeing Red Towers) for an easement of the food levy for the fall.  Brother Tim in turn learned of the gang's adventures from the previous session, and once they all caught up they agreed it was time to retire and prepare to go treasure seeking in the morning.  Henril had to have his armour repaired due to a critical hit he took in the previous session (estimated the cost at 10% of original price per AC point damaged) and it was good to see that this mechanic working to drive the narrative along.  Armour that need to be maintained serves two functions - it uses up player resources and it adds to the verisimilitude and drama of the story to have these little concerns to take care of.  I wouldn't want to have to track weapon and armour status to make this work, so having weapon and armour damage as a by-product of the critical hit system seems like a good solution.  Henril decided to also get some 'ornamental' epaulette spikes added to his chain mail and took much pride in this enhancement throughout the session.

The party then left town and travelled to the cave under the old monastery.  They explored the cave and slew a number of giant rats before finding a staircase leading downward.  They went down and found another cave with rats, some dead rats and evidence of something that was preying on the rats.  During their investigation of the rat cave, brother Tim was attacked from behind by a gaunt humanoid in old rotted finery and was paralysed by its touch.  At the same time the cornered rats attacked, however the party managed to fight them off and kill the strange man-thing.  Kane the mage took a page from the adventurers guidebook and made sure to loot the corpse, finding some rare jewellery and a gold key on the body.  The party continued on and came upon another descending stairway carved into the rock.  At the bottom of the stairs they were injured by rocks falling from the weakened roof and then further injured by a handful of skeletons in the room beyond.  They managed to defeat the skeletons but Brother Tim severely damaged his hand and so the party decided to return to the keep and recover.

After a 5 day hiatus in which time the party had their loot apprised and XP awarded for their previous exploits, and the helpful local priestess had tended to Brother Tim's hand, they were eager to return to the 'dungeon'.  They journeyed back and managed to avoid any encounters as they made their way back to the place where they had fought the skeletons.  Deciding that deeper was better they went down another staircase and came upon a series of thick wooden doors all scratched on on one side - obvious indications of some fell beast.  They entered one room that turned out to be a trapped chamber and were almost overcome with a noxious gas before Ann the rogue managed to bypass the door mechanism.  Further along the same hallway, Kane's hired man Klypt* was busy chopping open a locked door, when they caught sight of a terrible black beast.  They quickly readied themselves and charged it as it launched terrible spikes at them from it's tail.  The fight was short but satisfying and they managed to dispatched the beast - Henril chopping off it's head to take back to the keep.

Klypt the hired man finished chopping out the door lock of the room and inside spied a number of goblins all barricaded in and shouting in terror - so he charged them - taking a chest full of crossbow bolts.  The goblins were dispatched but the party was in bad shape and decided to return to the keep.  On their way back they heard the sound of a second black beast coming behind them and they decided to run for it.  The beast took chase and launched it's tail spikes.  Ann was hit, falling unconscious in the passage.  Quickly Klypt grabbed her up and they ran as fast as they could back to the stairs and upwards.  They fled through the passages, chased by the beast, however they were lucky not to encounter any resistance. When they reached the entrance Henril slew their waiting mule and tossed it's body into the stairwell to throw the creature off their trail.  They fled back to the keep, manually pulling their unconscious companion behind in the wagon.

On their arrival in the mid afternoon, the local children spied them returning and saw the monster head and the signs of combat on their clothing.  By the time they reached the keep there was a full gathering of guards and farmers awaiting and even the young Lord himself had come to meet them.  Everyone was amazed by their story and the Lord complimented them on their bravery and paid them a bounty for killing a Manticore, a dangerous and fell beast.  The Lord's personal priest was asked to revive their fallen companion so she could give her account of the tale.  And so they were encouraged to tell and retell their tale of heroism that evening to the locals as they were feted and plied with beer - and on the whole seemed very pleased with themselves.

*I'm going to say Klypt is his name but the rest of the party was always calling him derogatory names like 'yon lackwit'  based on his low MIND score, so I'm not sure what it really was.  I'll revise it when I get another look at his character sheet.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

I like playing Beacon

Beacon of Progress
The Beacon of Progress
The title isn't a plug or ironic.  I'm really starting to think these rules are working for me as a GM.  You might be thinking 'well duh' - but to me this satisfaction was not a forgone conclusion.  I have messed up games in the past - either the rules couldn't support the system and things started to fall apart or I found things going in a direction that worked - but I didn't enjoy anymore.  Or they just got put down and never picked up again.  Happily none of that has happened this time.

The last game session was probably the best we've had with Beacon, or if not the best game session, at least the best in terms of my satisfaction with the rules.  I didn't have to house rule anything (that I can recall in any case) and the rules seem to be working out.  I am very happy with the HP numbers now as opposed to last year and combats seem to be much more level appropriate now.  Or at least more in accordance with the various Old School adventure source material that I'm using in my games - I can't speak for newer Pathfinder or D&D level expectations.  Before the revision, a party of 5 second level characters would pretty much wade through gangs of 5-6 goblins and have no problem with something like a pair of giant scorpions.  Now that same party will go toe to toe with 5 goblins and still expect to prevail, but not without a decent chance of having a player knocked out.  They also still have enough firepower to take down a larger monster, but since they no longer carry around 4d6 HP at first level, will more likely to actually notice if they take a couple hits from something doing d8 or d10 damage.  This last session 5-6 giant rats were a legitimate threat and there were a couple characters knocked into 0 HP after facing down 4 goblins and manticore (not in the same encounter).

Physical damage and the critical hit table are all working well.  Tim the Cleric rolled an exciting '3' on the combat fumble table and wound up with -4 DEX and a smashed hand that took 10 days to heal (well 5 once he ponied up for clerical health care).  This ability for players to recover after a short rest from fatigue but still incorporate more serious injury into the game works for me.  The two phase combat seems to be working and combat is still nice and fast, but there are interesting things happening with spell interruption and movement.  I haven't seen a lot of player use of this for tatics yet, but I had goblins use missile phase to deal some decent damage on charging players where before they would have just been slaughtered if they lost initiative.

I am also pretty happy with the spell reworking, especially to Cure Light Wounds and Magic Missile.  Since those spells cost  3 HP to cast in Beacon, I had to change the point value for their damage so casters didn't get screwed with a bad roll, and I think I have got it right now.  Kane the mage has had a fantastic run of finishing off monsters with a well placed Magic Missile, much to the annoyance of the two fighters in the party.  Again the overall drop in HP probably impacts the magic using classes the most but they seem to be within the expected power level for a d20 caster (at least based on the OSR adventures I'm referencing and Beacon monster stats).  As I said before spell interruption during combat seems good, at least three occasions in the last two games had spell casters get hit and have their DC for casting bumped from 11 to a 16 and it was a simple and interesting interaction.

The change to the Rogue surprise attack was well received and certainly worked much more smoothly than before.  Rolling 2d20 at once is certainly faster and even if the subterfuge skill doesn't factor into the chance to hit, it does factor into melee damage so I can live with it.  I'll have to watch that one over the long term to see how it holds up.  TSo far the amount of XP seems good for the speed I like to see players gain levels, and now that they are getting a little buffer of cash they seem more eager to spend it on advancement as well.  I want to see how that scales as we get into the middle levels game.

In fact it it's waaaay to early to announce that I'm satisfied with Beacon.  The special combat rules like polearms, duel weilding, and unarmed combat rules we don't use nearly enough yet to be considered tested. No one has actually chosen to take stat damage over HP damage yet. There's still a lot of higher level spells that we haven't used in game - probably some of those need tweaking.  And seeing how the XP system holds up over the long haul- still have to monitor that.  Class skills balance out ok at level 10?  Do the bigger monsters still hold their own with the HD for damage system?  So many things still untested.  I haven't even had a chance to try it from the players seat. 

But so far it's a hoot.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Wild Shall Wild Remain!

It was over two and a half years ago I decided that I should stop doodling and jotting rules down in a notebook and start actually composing my own PDF d20 game.  I liked the things I was reading on the game blogs and it seemed that the technology was all in place for weirdo RPGers from all over to create and share their visions.  It was a lot more work than I thought it would be to actually write and lay out Beacon.  It was also a fantastic experience getting it out onto the screen.  I don't have an actual inception date but today is the date I started this blog and so it will do as the Beacon birthday.  Thanks for hanging around these last two years Its been great getting your comments and and hope to see more in the years to come.

It's also the last day for Bob Burden's Flaming Carrot kickstarter which is kind of funny because ol' Flaming carrot was the profile icon I used for the account when I started blogging.  The Flaming Carrot is a modern day Quixote and for me and he's personified the spirit of someone who would take the time to write and blog about a Fantasy Heartbreaker.  He's undoubtedly insane but he is also someone you want to hang around with.  And he has a baloney gun.   If you aren't familiar with Flaming Carrot you owe it to yourself to drop the 15 bucks for a digital version of this comic.

*I wanted to add a note here that this kickstarter was great, I got all my stuff really fast including the signed Mysterymen graphic novel and a bunch of little Gumby cards and bookmark thingies freebies in the mail.  Solid job Mr. Burden.  Kudos also for offering the digital comic in so many formats and without any creepy DRM or stuff.  You can also buy FC stuff at

Tuesday, September 4, 2012


I'd like to keep this blog mainly for discussion about Beacon and all it's wonderfulness, however I do have other interests which may or may not intersect with Beacon or game design in general.  I recently ran a game of Chris Perrin's MECHA RPG and I have a lot to say about that.  I'm going to be doing some posts about that on my other Blog but I thought that some of you folks might be interested.

So you can read about my experiences with MECHA here: (links to all 5 episode breakdowns)

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Ready weapon

I'm not one to complain when players automagically pull out a potion or other similar item from their backpack in the middle of a fight.  I don't want to make people describe how they stored their potion so it wouldn't break, how they reach around to their back while fending off goblins with their free hand or how they dig the item out of their backpack without unpacking the damn thing.  Its a game and this little fudge keeps things simple and really doesn't hurt the balance of things.  I do however want to make sure that weapons are not handled so automagically since that does impact some in game mechanics.  So In Beacon you have to ready a weapon before you can use it.  I'll let players ready a weapon in advance of combat if they are in a situation where it would be reasonable - like entering a dark cave, or when a wolf howls.  But I don't want players travelling down the forest path to have their weapons always at the ready for hours at a time.

Combat in Beacon is broken into two phases - the reason for this is I didn't like the more complicated major/minor/utility action breakdown of a combat round - and I also found the single action combat round to be too open to abuse.  You can read up on why I went with two phases here and here- the point is - I wanted a simple breakdown that had the fewest rules required to achieve a decent level of tactics.  I also wanted to make sure that characters dropping/breaking or switching their weapons in combat would be impacted, but not penalized so heavily that it would be a problem when this happened.  Breaking a weapon and grabbing a replacement needs to add tension and excitement to the combat narrative, but it shouldn't be punitive.

So, assuming you aren't surprised, a consequence of this is that the Missile phase of the first round of combat often has players readying their weapons.  This isn't a real problem for people using melee weapons because they will get to ready their weapon (and move) then attack in the upcoming melee phase.  However folks using ranged weapons are a bit S.O.L in this situation.  If you ready your crossbow you will miss firing it in the missile phase and have to wait out the melee phase.  Well you can move both phases (up to 120 feet/yards if you move in both phases) anyway to get out of the fray and line up a shot.  I don't have a problem with this either I'm certain dedicated bowmen will deal with this as part of their tactics - but I'm pretty sure it will discourage the more casual use of things like throwing daggers, darts and hand axes.

There are two ways to handle this that I can see.

one way to handle it
The first is to make a distinction between ranged weapons like bows and thrown melee weapons like daggers.  In this case I change the Missile Phase to Ranged Phase and indicate which weapons are Ranged.  I somewhat like this idea, but it does introduce the issue of missiles flying in all  the phases and I can see confusion arising from that.  I also can see another problem that if a party is surprised and miss out on the Ranged Phase they will still have to spend a phase readying daggers and darts and won't get to use them until next melee round.

The second, and I believe better, way to do this is to make some weapons available instantly.  No need to ready that dagger - just throw it.  This appeals to my sense of narrative because - hey there's a dagger in your throat - and it would give a good reason for characters to carry certain weapons for these situations.  It also fits with the idea of unarmed combat - there is no way to justify making players miss a round of melee because they didn't ready their fists.  Making the cestus (your basic steel belted or spiked mittens) available for attack without being readied* only makes sense, why not just extend this to daggers, darts, staves and spears** as well.

* when you are wearing them, and you better not try wearing them 24/7 and eating your dinner or hanging out at the bar with them on however.
**well if you are carrying them like a walking stick maybe?

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Congratulations Reaper

Yeah, I bought in to get a butt-tonne of Reaper Bones miniatures.  It was a stupid good deal and the fact that I don't even need any minis shouldn't enter into it.  I shouldn't dwell on the concept that I HAVEN'T EVEN PAINTED most of the last batch of minis I bought from Reaper yet - and that was a while ago.  I'm not going to lie, I blame society for this.  And they are plastic - I really like that someone is working on high detail plastic miniatures. And you have to support the arts right?  I mean I'd rather see Reaper get a cool 3 million than have it go to a new bailout package to buy larger wallets for bankers.

I did manage to paint some ghouls
And I did need some space marine figures.  And pirates.  And townspeople, you never have enough townspeople.  I really needed to round out my selection of creatures too - if I actually used minis in a game that is.  

If you don't know what I'm talking about go here to view an appalling amount of miniatures.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

A stranger comes to town

As mentioned before, things are not good in Milham, so when Kane the mage came to town he quickly decided that the rumours of prosperity and enterprise in the Westmarches were just that - rumours. It was plainly obvious that this was the backwater of civilization and he wanted nothing more than to return to Kingstown and be done with it. However he had come to find his brother Hollaway and so he started asking around. He quickly fell in with jaded mercenaries Henril and Anastanja (Ann), and found out from Ann that she and Hollaway had gone treasure hunting in the hills to the south and that in one of the old dwarven ruins Hollaway and their other companion Pik had been overwhelmed by goblins. She had barely escaped and was not eager to return, however when pressed she agreed to show them where the ruin was. Eventually their discussion caused the strange old man in the corner to interrupt them. This unkempt fellow introduced himself as the Abbot of a monastery near the town of Whitewater and said that he was interested in a certain book which might be found in a monastery of his order to the south. Naturally this monastery had been overrun some time ago and no one had heard from the monks for many decades.   He gave them rough directions to the southern monastery and said  he was willing to offer 20 gold crowns if the adventurers found and supplied him with this tome in their travels.

He looked a little like this, but much dirtier
This is where things went a bit sideways. Although Kane was willing to take this transaction at face value, he did recall that the order the monk mentioned was one noted for being a fringe sect with a spotted reputation. Henril and Ann were not satisfied they were getting the full story and so followed the old man back to the Seven Stones inn and bribed the innkeeper to tell them which room he was staying in and to look the other way. Then they marched up the stairs, knocked and then kicked in the door. The old man was attempting to climb out the window so they captured him and much to Kane's growing horror, roughly interrogated him. They found that he wasn't actually the abbot, more likely a monk who had lifted some materials from the abbot and who was looking top acquire more relics and items in an effort to buy off his pursuers. He insisted that he had the means to pay for the book, however he was not going to tell them where that money was.  They warned him that if he tried to leave town they would hunt him down and kill him which might be the equivalent to a handshake for this gang.  Then they bought a donkey and cart, some overpriced food and hit the south road.

Naturally they met a woodcutter right out the gate.  He was the nice man who had let them stay in his cabin to heal some while ago.  The woodcutter informed them that he had taken the money they paid him and had bought him a fine wife to chop the wood while he brought it to the market.  He thanked them for allowing him to double his business.  They continued south for a day and a half, passing said wife, before their next encounter - a young ogre!  The ogre surprised the party and caused their donkey to dump the cart and flee, but they managed to dispatch it pretty easily.  They retrieved their ass, and continued on into the hills where they encountered a stag and managed to take it down.  The dim witted hired man managed a terrible field dress of the stag and they got a meagre amount of meat from it.  The next day had them travelling the hills uneventfully and they passed the ruins where Hollaway met his demise.  They decided to give it a pass for the moment and continue on to find the monastery.  They were waylaid by goblins that night and managed to dispatch them - but not without a decent fight.  They travelled through some forested hills and there was a bit where Henril fought a pair of wolves.  They eventually managed to find the high hill that the monastery was on, and after searching the area they found a promising cave entrance.  However it was getting late and since they were near Red Towers castle they decided to press on to rest there before entering the caves.


I like that the random encounters shape the story.  I would have never planned for the woodcutter to be such a campaign fixture but he has become one because I keep rolling woodcutters.  I would have never thrown an ogre along the road by design, but it came up on the encounter table and provided some needed colour.  I am also pleased at how the revised hit points are working out.  I think that the battles are a little more reasonable now, especially the fight with the goblins. It was much more balanced where four goblins managed to incapacitate two party members before they were dispatched.  This didn't cause any permanent damage to the party and there was little doubt that the party would win, especially with Henril being a 3rd level fighter, but it made the fight a lot less one sided than it would have been in the past.  Also Kane was still a very effective force in the combats - firing magic missiles often and dealing enough damage even with the reduction in HP.

I also found that there was a still lot of D&D hangover happening even with players a bit familiar with Beacon.  It was obvious that the players were basing their play on other similar game rules and not the Beacon rules.  There was still a tendency for the players to try to 'use their skills' rather than describe their actions.  I had to actually stop players from saying things like 'I use my Subterfuge to...'.  I found that playing with the novices during my camping trip was a lot different in this respect, as they had no problem with the narrative aspect of the game and therefore were much less skill orientated and much more creative in their actions.  Skill based games have poisoned the whole hobby in this respect I think.  I also noticed that the players didn't really leverage the combat phases and so would do stuff like ready a bow in the missile phase - and then have to sit out the melee phase and wait till next combat round to attack - a basic misunderstanding but one causing a lot of dissatisfaction.   I was told that they thought that missile phase was the 'ready weapon' phase - but it clearly isn't.  Some of this stuff requires the player to have knowledge that they can ready a weapon or move in either (or both) phases and then leveraging their actions accordingly.  But some of that is stuff I can fix - mostly by renaming the phases to 'Ranged' and 'Close' as was suggested by the players.  I also think I need to make some types of weapons available instantly (like throwing daggers) because of the way the phases work they will otherwise get nerfed.  I think I better take this phased combat discussion off to another post however.  I like how it works - I feel it's almost there - but there are still a few tiny tweaks needed I think.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Another Suprise Attack

So not exactly a rousing success so far for the rogue special surprise attack rules.  I thought that it was a good rule because it allowed the rogue to sneak up or otherwise prepare themselves and then get an attack benefit for being tricky.  In practice it has not proved to be as good as the idea however.  I think the rule basically works as intended, but it does have some problems which are becoming apparent.

I think the main reason it has proved to be problematic in play is because a player has to make two separate rolls in order to pull the manoeuvre off, which is OK if they succeed but very not OK if they fail.  At the table the rogue player may be happy to make the stealth check and then miss the attack roll which not only is a bummer, but also may place the character in a bad position. Some of the suggestions from around the table were to just automatically add in the extra damage on a 'first strike' or to add the subterfuge bonus to the attack roll but I think both those approaches don't scale very well, especially at the low end.

Since last session where it was very obvious there was some kind of issue, I've been trying to think of a solution.  My initial thought is to simply have the rogue player announce their sneak attack or ranged double strike and then roll two d20 and if they get one success then it succeeds as a normal attack, however if both rolls are successful then the rogue has accomplished the special attack as they stated.  I like this because it's simple but I realize that it doesn't reward stealth except as a damage bonus.  It does however factor in AC which is supposed to fold in all those kind of abstractions that would be relevant such as target reflexes, situational awareness and toughness.  It doesn't mean an automatic success (although it does give a big bonus to the basic attack success) but it scales up well as the character's attack bonuses increase and when opponents are tougher as well.  It also kind of fits nicely with the missile double strike portion of the ability.  I haven't thought of anything else that I like better yet either.  Perhaps the there is a better way to organize the stealth roll and to hit roll in the existing rule so that the problem doesn't arise, but that doesn't mess with the statistics as much as this double roll mechanic will.  But I'll take elegant over minor probability changes in most cases.

Also, back to problems with the original rule, what I meant by 'combat engagement' in the original text is not obvious.  The intent was that once per opponent per combat the rogue would have one chance to pull off a surprising move that would confuse their foe.  It was a way to bake in the tricky but make sure that in the long run it wasn't going to usurp the fighter role of going toe to toe.  A rogue in combat with a number of foes could only surprise each particular opponent once.  It should also encourage rogues to change targets.

This then might be a better rule for the section on surprise attack in the rogue description.
In combat a Rogue may attempt to perform a 'surprise attack' by rolling two d20 for their initial attack on an unsuspecting foe.  If one die roll is successful then they succeed in their attack as normal, but if the second is also successful, they may either add their Subterfuge skill to the damage of their melee attack or perform an additional strike with a ranged weapon (provided they have an additional one available).
I would like to put in something more concrete about the attack being novel or unseen or otherwise unexpected but I don't know how to do that without getting back to the problematic skill check.  Also, how this interacts with the rules for critical hits and fumbles I leave up to your imagination for the moment.

Monday, August 20, 2012

A Return to Milham

Some months have passed in the town of Milham and the character of the place has changed somewhat since the plague.  Perhaps one third of the population has died or left, and although the disease has abated for the most part, it will be a long time until industry and trade return.  The surrounding manses that provided food and jobs have turned inward either to deal with their own losses or to protect themselves.  The price of food is five times what it was in the spring and with no harvest coming, it will continue to rise.   Those now residing in the city are the unemployed field workers or poor craftspeople without means.  Many of the remaining townsfolk are sick and hungry   There are few homeless however, most of the town houses stand empty and squatters have taken up residence in the homes of those dead or otherwise moved on.  Those still living in their homes no longer recognize their neighbours and the handful of city watchmen who remain no longer patrol the streets at night.  Milham is a meaner and colder place than it was.

And so it was that when Kane the mage came to Milham by the north gate he was greeted by a lone guard who told him to return to the north.  Kane was seeking word of his brother the mage Halloway who had come to the southlands some many months ago in pursuit of adventure and riches.  His search of the town led him to the Scarlet Archer inn and to a pair of capable mercenaries, Henril of Butterbridge and Anistanja the Traveller.  Also along the way he couldn't manage to avoid hiring a very insistent porter/guide who, despite having a very low intellect, knew a meal ticket when he saw one.

I'm not sure how much the players were excited to get back to playing Beacon or returning to the town of Milham after almost a year, but I was pretty excited to be back running a game in this environment.  I did dabble a little in the setting when I was camping, but I was interested to see what my regular group would do with the rules changes.  I was also interested to see who would take the option to create new characters and who would make the changes in HP and Skill selection to translate their old characters from the previous version we'd been using.   So we got a chance to roll some dice and try out the new combat system and I got a lot of good feedback.  And that's great because it was fun, and it gives me stuff to write about here.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Beacon Plus

I had a Google Plus page for Beacon but now they gone and integrated Google Plus and Blogger so I hooked it all up and am curious to see what happens.  Hopefully good things.  Hopefully I won't loose all my posts or spam everyone on G+ with messages.  Hopefully it will let them of you out there who are keen on Beacon keep track of things easier and keep them who aren't interested in Beacon out in the cold dark depths where they belong.  Also that it lets more folks know about Beacon because it's my special little snowflake.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The darkness

I actually think that Beacon plays better in the dark.  When we were camping, we played at night and it was pretty dark.  In addition to the central Coleman lantern, I just used a little LED reading light clipped onto my GM screen so I could see my notes. The players either used a quick shot from a flash light or leaned a bit into the lantern light to reference or update their character sheets. All their dice were from a shared pool that they rolled in that circle of lantern light.

It totally rocked.

I've played with music or general sound effects and I've played with props like minis and battle mats, and I have to say I think that darkness works better than any of these approaches.  Maybe we're just hard-wired to imagine better while sitting around the fire encircled by darkness?

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Back from the wilderlands

Fire up the Coleman it's game time!
Beacon in a screen tent via Coleman lantern and clip on reading light went very well.  I had five players, which is the best number of players I think, two fighters, a cleric, a druid and a rogue.  We played three short sessions and after a bit of a slow start I think it went really well. We had two players entirely new to RPGs playing and we dived right into play which I think was the best way to handle the situation.  I had rolled up two characters, a cleric and a fighter and the newbies picked which of these they wanted based on a very brief description.  I have to say they filled out their characters very well, the Fighter was Fitomashika a tough lady 'not from these parts' and Hamiltaniousopholis a holy man with a big heart and a very small head.

The kids were super eager to get things rolling, having played their characters before (now slightly updated but essentially the same) but I started things out a little slower as the old hands met up with the new folks via a traditional meeting in the Scarlet Archer, the 'just right' tavern in Milham.  Introductions were made and stories of past adventures were told.  Finally, a strange old man in the corner couldn't help but introduce himself and make mention of possible adventure to be found in an old abandoned monastery to the south.  At first he mentioned an interest in providing quick cash in exchange for holy relics, however once  Hamiltaniousopholis revealed himself to be a holy 'persuader', the gentleman became quite pious and expressed his concern that any relics be safely rescued for the church.  Evening passed as simple plans were laid and the next morning and a quick trip to the market later, the gang was tramping south along the road lured on by vague rumours of valuable relics and treasures.

There were no woodcutters, goblins or giant scorpions on the south road through the hills.  They journey was pretty uneventful.  My sister-in-law wanted to know how I figured out what happens and I showed them the encounter charts on the Beacon GM Screen which probably didn't explain much but it does look nice and official.  I think one of the hardest parts of the RPG experience to explain to new people is the role of the GM.  Some people like to know the rules of the game and having a 'rules arbitrator' is a little foreign to them.  Again it was more show and not tell and I tried to keep away from suggesting options or examples of play.  It really helped that the kids chimed in with advice and suggestions on how the game worked.  My youngest was especially helpful and kept saying that 'you do what you want to do and he tells you what to do' as the mantra for the first evening.  They barely made it to the monastery the first night, their time mostly spent searching for the monastery hill and an entrance to it while I failed to roll up an encounter. We had to play in short chunks as we only had about an hour and a half to play each evening after we had finished all the night jobs around the camp and before we crawled off to sleep.  I was a bit worried that we'd not pick the game up again the next day, but the kids were pretty eager to play and the adults did not seem to mind trying it again.

The second evening was pretty fun.  The gang got to chat with some giant ferrets, beat up some goblin guards and scare off an attacking gang of swamp dudes before finally finding the entrance to the monastery.  The combats went well and the non combats went very well as both kids and adults instinctively tried to work encounters to their advantage and use violence as a second resort.  I think the two phase combat round worked pretty well but it was a little hard to explain why they could throw a dagger in the missile phase but had to wait to melee phase to stab someone.  I think it's just one of those things where the game rules are going to serve the game and are not going to be realistic.  Realism is not the goal anyway.  I did like how casting had to be declared during missile combat, and the phased combat really prevented the problem of intitative being so decisive, especially with a five character group.  They pretty easily dispatched these small mobs, but they also took a suitable amount of damage doing it, and everyone got in a shot or two.  Also a lot of the damage that they did take could have been avoided had they played the terrain more or tried for surprise.

I was eager from the beginning that they get to the monastery because up to this point the kids had only ever encountered goblins or large animals in game before.  I had wanted to up the ante a little and so the first time they encountered undead it was going to be especially exciting!  I ratcheted up the room descriptions and the scenes of charred tapestries and long dead monks were obviously creeping everyone out a little. When my older daughter went over to check out a old corpse for some lootz she nearly jumped out of her seat when it reached out and grabbed at her (and I grabbed her hand at the same time!)  Everyone was excited and dice flew as they sliced up the zombie.  I was worried the gore might be too much for the kids, but in fact they loved it.  It was a great place to end the second night and everyone was talking about the monastery and all the 'dead' monks they might yet encounter all the next day.

The third night it was all business as the party came together to figure out the history and to stomp some monster butts.  So far they had not found any treasure (I don't generally give wandering monsters treasure - the ferrets had offered them a dead rat and the goblin guards had nothing more interesting than some string and a hunk of sparkly quartz) and although they had only just started exploring the monastery they knew that it would soon be getting dark and goblins and other things might arrive to cause even more trouble. They started to explore and piece together some history of the place, however they did not make a map.  I didn't draw out any rooms for them either, all they had to go on was descriptions by lantern light.  They were pretty good keeping spatial relations however and a couple times I was surprised with astute observations they made about how the rooms were related or where a corridor should continue past a ruined wall. I'm not going to go into the specifics of the encounters because I would like to use them again*.  Suffice to say that there were traps and monsters and everyone seemed to have a very fun time playing. We didn't finish the adventure before the camping trip was over and my in-laws had to head back home, but I think the prevailing opinion was that we would be continuing this game at a later time.

All in all I think it was an unqualified success.  I have to thank my fine wife, my persistent children and my sister-in-law and her husband for the great game.

*Spoilers for my players but of interest for other readers: for this adventure I basically bolted a 2012 One Page Dungeon called Hellmarsh's Monastary by AndrĂ©s Cuesta onto the roof of Dyson's Delve with a little narrative glue and a name change from marsh to mount.  (I'll leave the links off to take away the temptation to peek - you can google it folks).  I'm being pretty liberal with the history of the monks, cherry picking from both adventure sources, but figure that they were an old order that was wiped out some 50-60 years ago.  Pretty much all my Milham Beacon games are using short adventures or location materials found on the web.  Thanks to all them folks that publish them.