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WFRP Memories: A Rough Night at the Three Feathers

October 27, 2017 4 comments

 

Orlygg at the Realm of Chaos 80s blog has just posted a very nice piece about “A Rough Night at the Three Feathers,” which I wrote back in 1987. I wrote it largely as an experiment, to see whether multi-plot adventures could even work: people liked it, and it has gone on to be one of the most-reprinted pieces written for WFRP. After its original publication in White Dwarf 94, it appeared in The Restless Dead, Apocrypha Now, and – with Second Edition stats – in Plundered Vaults.

I’ve returned to the same format twice for WFRP, and once for d20. “Nastassia’s Wedding” appeared in Pyramid #19 in 1996, with stats for GURPS Fantasy was well as WFRP, and the Third Edition adventure The Edge of Night included a society party where Skaven were just one of many problems. “The Last Resort” in Green Ronin’s Tales of Freeport returns to an inn location, on a night beset with mummies, assassins, loan sharks, serpent cultists, and more.

In 1987, though, all this was in the future. My initial impetus for writing “Three Feathers” was the popularity (at the time) of bar-room brawl scenarios. White Dwarf 11 started it off with “A Bar-Room Brawl – D&D Style” by Lew Pulsipher, which was reprinted in The Best of White Dwarf Scenarios. Others followed – including “Rumble at the Tin Inn” for RuneQuest – and when WFRP was published in 1986, we knew it would need some adventures and articles in White Dwarf to support it (more on that here). One possibility was a bar-room brawl scenario – they were simple in structure and should be fairly quick to write, which was just what was needed since there was no official budget and schedule for producing WFRP support material during work hours.

I set to work, coming up with the Three Feathers inn (though in my mind, the feathers were bunched together on the inn sign, like the three ostrich plumes of the Prince of Wales’ insignia) and a diverse cast of characters, each with a reason for being there and some cross-plots that would bring them into conflict with others. But, as I always do, I had way too much fun developing the characters and plots, and the concept grew beyond the needs of a simple bar-room brawl scenario. First, I thought I would pick one plot, develop it, and file the rest away for future use – but then I had an idea: why  not use all of them at once?

In my mind, the Three Feathers’ inn sign looked a little more like this – but without the crown.

As far as I knew (and still know) it had never been done in roleplaying games before, but there were strong precedents in other media. On stage, colliding plots have been an element of farces since Roman times. One commentator described “Three Feathers” as “a classic British hotel farce,” and anyone old enough to remember the names Ben Travers and Brian Rix will know exactly what he means. I wanted to capture the manic action of farces like Fawlty Towers, A Funny Thing Happened on the way to the Forum, and so on, blending it with the sneaking action of caper comedies like The Pink Panther.

I had to think quite hard about how to present the adventure. There was no way to know what might happen with all these plots taking place at once, especially when a group of PCs got involved. So I simply described the location and the NPCs, outlined each plot, and compiled a timeline of what should happen if the PCs weren’t there. A few words of encouragement for the GM (which can be summarized in Douglas Adams’ timeless words, “Don’t Panic!”) and off it went to White Dwarf.

Honestly, I had no idea whether it would work or not. I knew that I could handle it as a GM, therefore it was theoretically workable by others, but had I set things out well enough? Would it just confuse people, or would it all come crashing down mid-game leaving players and GMs dissatisfied and angry? It was a great relief when the first positive responses began to come in.

Oh, and WFRP did get a bar-room brawl scenario of its very own, just a couple of months later. Jim Bambra and Matt Connell wrote “Mayhem at the Mermaid” for White Dwarf 96. Then the fashion for bar-room brawl scenarios faded, and as far as I know people simply stopped writing them. Today, they are a largely forgotten style of adventure: perhaps a blogger somewhere will trace the history of the form and assess its lasting contribution to RPG adventure design. I would certainly be interested to read it.

Oh, and one last piece of trivia. I got the title from a Western called A Rough Night in Jericho. I have never actually seen it, but evidently it includes a bar-room brawl scene, as I saw a still somewhere or other and the title stuck in my mind until I stole it for “Three Feathers.” Make of that what you will….

More
My Complete and Utter Warhammer Bibliography
The Restless Dead: The Forgotten WFRP Campaign

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Night’s Dark Terror – in Kislev!

March 2, 2017 2 comments

b10_nights_dark_terror
Remember the UK AD&D module B/X1 (a.k.a. B10) Night’s Dark Terror? It was written by Jim and Phil (with Graeme Morris) shortly before they came to GW to work on WFRP. I gave it a favorable review in White Dwarf #78, and I’ve always liked it as a campaign setup and adventure.
 
Well, Gideon at the Awesome Lies blog converted it for WFRP 1st edition recently, and set it in Kislev. Check it out here: https://awesomeliesblog.wordpress.com/2016/12/03/nights-dark-terror/

It’s Deja Vu All Over Again

March 9, 2016 1 comment

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Ubisoft’s AAA shooter Tom Clancy’s The Division is making a big splash in the industry, and this article from Gamasutra caught my eye.

It’s a question that becomes more significant as games become more photo-realistic: how to justify the gore and high body counts that are part and parcel of a high-end shooter. Another question, asked less often, is how to develop additional and alternative ways to create tension and challenge the player so that body count is not the only leg on the stool.

the division

It reminds me of a crossroads that tabletop games faced in the mid-80s.

D&D was all about kicking in doors, slaying monsters, and collecting treasure, and then Call of Cthulhu came out, in which combat was almost never a good idea and the focus was on investigation, uncovering a backstory, and figuring out the best way to resolve a situation.

For a while, the tabletop RPG hobby was split into “irvings” (a British term of the time, equivalent to today’s “munchkin”) who loved to boast about their best kills and the obscenely high level of their character, and “rolegamers” who loved to boast about how they gamed for an entire weekend and never touched the dice once.

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One of the things we tried to do with Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, and the Enemy Within campaign in particular, was to take the best of both worlds. The deadliness of the combat system was a major tool in achieving this goal, since it forced players to think of more creative solutions to problems. The other vital components were a game system (range of skills, character types, spells, and equipment) and a design mindset (communicated through scenario design and, in our case, advice to GMs) that gave players a wide range of potential actions to choose from in any given situation.

Now I know that there are some fundamental differences between tabletop games and electronic games, but it is very interesting to see AAA shooters facing a choice, as a genre, that tabletop games encountered 30-odd years ago. Maybe there are some useful ideas from that time that can be used now, and maybe there will be some new solutions that leave everyone stunned. I can’t wait to see.

 

My Complete and Utter Dark Future Bibliography

December 22, 2015 21 comments

Dark Future

Dark Future was released in 1988, the same year as Adeptus Titanicus. At least part of Games Workshop’s strategy was to get better at plastics before introducing them as a major part of the Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 product lines. It has been claimed that Bryan Ansell was also testing the competition’s tolerance by producing games that were very similar to two major titles of the day: Steve Jackson Games’ Car Wars and FASA Corporation’s BattleTech. I don’t know if that is true, but no lawsuits resulted.

The title Dark Future came before the game. After reading William Gibson’s seminal cyberpunk novel Neuromancer, Jervis Johnson became very excited about the potential of a cyberpunk RPG. Cyberpunk was a very new sub-genre at the time, and no cyberpunk games existed. Marc Gascoigne and Jervis developed a whole setting for the proposed game, but the tide in Games Workshop had already turned against new RPGs and so far as I know the project never received an official green light.

Dark Future was developed by Richard Halliwell at the same time as Jervis was working on Adeptus Titanicus, and the work done for the cyberpunk RPG was grafted onto the car combat game. The spaces between Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay products were growing longer and longer, so I was drafted in as an editor/developer on both games.

Initially, no link was planned between the Dark Future setting and the Warhammer/WH40K mythos. This changed around 1990 when the first Dark Future novels appeared, with some stories featuring demons based on Realm of Chaos.

Another departure from the GW norm was the scale. This was so that players could adapt commercially-available toy cars for use in the game. The boxed set came with two types of cars: the Interceptor used by the Sanctioned Ops (the good guys), and the Renegade used by wasteland gangs such as the Mad Max style Maniax. GW never released any other cars for the game, but the line of metal miniatures included accessories for adapting other toy cars.

Dark Future was a modest success initially. A supplement, White Line Fever, was released later in 1988, and another was planned under the title Dead Man’s Curve. When sales plateaued, the Dead Man’s Curve material was published in White Dwarf 124-125. After that, the novels puttered on as a minor GW fiction line, but nothing was done with the game until 2015, when Auroch Digital announced an electronic version subtitled Blood Red States. It remains to be seen whether this will help revive the IP.

There are still Dark Future fans out there. I recently discovered the Oldhammer: Dark Future Facebook group, with over 500 members who are still modeling and converting vehicles and playing the game. There is also a fan-made wiki.

My involvement with Dark Future was brief and peripheral, but I’m still happy with it. It was a fun setting to play with during that time when cyberpunk was still new and cutting-edge, and I enjoyed writing a lot of the flash fiction and text vignettes that went into the two supplements. Here’s what I did:

Products
Dark Future (1988) – developer, color text
White Line Fever (1988) – developer, color text

Articles
“The Sand Cats,” Challenge #52, 1991 – author Buy it here
“Dead Man’s Curve” White Dwarf # 124-125, June-July 1990 – developer, color text
“Saint Louis Blues,” White Dwarf #112, May 1989 – developer, color text
“Redd Harvest,” White Dwarf #104, Sep 1988 – author

Other Bibliography Posts

My Complete and Utter Warhammer Bibliography (Warhammer, WFRP, HeroQuest, AHQ)

My Complete and Utter Warhammer 40,000 Bibliography (WH40K, Adeptus Titanicus/Epic Scale)

My Complete and Utter Cthulhu Bibliography

My Complete and Utter D&D/AD&D/d20 Bibliography

My Complete and Utter GURPS Bibliography

My Complete and Utter Vampire: the Masquerade and World of Darkness Bibliography

My Complete and Utter Fighting Fantasy and Gamebook Bibliography

My Complete and Utter Colonial Gothic Bibliography

My Complete and Utter Video Gameography

My Complete and Utter Bibliography: The Rest of the RPGs

My Complete and Utter Bibliography: Odds and Ends

My Complete and Utter Fighting Fantasy and Gamebook Bibliography

October 28, 2015 13 comments

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Fighting Fantasy gamebooks started in 1982 with The Warlock of Firetop Mountain. Over the next twelve years, a total of 59 gamebooks was published, along with a magazine, a multi-player RPG, and other spin-offs. I was by no means the most prolific contributor to the series, but here’s a list of my contributions to the gamebook craze.

Books
Fighting Fantasy 10th Anniversary Yearbook, Puffin Books 1992 – “Rogue Mage” adventure (reprint)
Fighting Fantasy # 29: Midnight Rogue, Puffin Books 1987
The Adventures of Oss the Quick, Oxford University Press 1987 – 6 vols
The Adventures of Kern the Strong, Oxford University Press, 1986 – 6 vols

Articles
“Field of Battle,” Warlock #12 October/November 1986
“Into the Unknown,” Warlock #11, August/September 1986
“More Monster Conversions,” Warlock #10, June/July 1986
“Rogue Mage,” Warlock #10 June/July 1986
“Monster Conversions,” Warlock #9 April/May 1986
“Magical Items,” Warlock #9 April/May 1986
“The Ring of Seven Terrors,” Warlock #9 April/May 1986
“The Seasoned Adventurer,” Warlock #4, 1985
“Solo Voyages,” Imagine #22, Jan 1985 Download free here

Interviews
Fighting Fantazine #7 – downloadable here

kern04

Also on this Blog
All posts tagged “Fighting Fantasy”

Other Bibliography Posts

My Complete and Utter Warhammer Bibliography (Warhammer, WFRP, HeroQuest, AHQ)

My Complete and Utter Warhammer 40,000 Bibliography (WH40K, Adeptus Titanicus/Epic Scale)

My Complete and Utter Cthulhu Bibliography

My Complete and Utter D&D/AD&D/d20 Bibliography

My Complete and Utter GURPS Bibliography

My Complete and Utter Vampire: the Masquerade and World of Darkness Bibliography

My Complete and Utter Colonial Gothic Bibliography

My Complete and Utter Dark Future Bibliography

My Complete and Utter Video Gameography

My Complete and Utter Bibliography: The Rest of the RPGs

My Complete and Utter Bibliography: Odds and Ends

 

Colonial Gothic: Lovecraft

September 9, 2015 5 comments

Cover small

Preorders opened yesterday for the new Colonial Gothic sourcebook, Lovecraft. It is available in PDF, ePub, and Kindle formats as well as the physical book. It’s also something I’ve been looking forward to for some time, and here’s why: it is the first time in almost 25 years that I got to work with Tony Ackland.

If you are a fan of Games Workshop’s products from the 80’s, you’ll be familiar with Tony’s work. Tony was instrumental in establishing the look and feel of the Warhammer world, and I worked very closely with him on the first edition of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. We also hung out a lot after work a lot, playing Go and talking about everything from World War II aircraft to the campaigns of Napoleon to fossils to classic horror books and movies. A significant quantity of Bass Ale was involved too, I recall.

It’s hard to pick a favorite out of Tony’s enormous output from those years, but I was especially impressed by his monster illustrations for the hardback 3rd edition Call of Cthulhu rulebook published under license by Games Workshop in 1986. For many British players, it was the first edition they could actually afford: the earlier boxed sets, imported from Chaosium in the States, were ruinously expensive.

When he retired, Tony taught himself to use a drawing tablet by creating pictures of – you guessed it – creatures from the Cthulhu Mythos. Every few days, it seemed, his friends would find another batch of unnamably blasphemous goodness in their email. And that’s when I had an idea.

I had been helping Richard Iorio of Rogue Games with the Colonial Gothic product line for a few years. We had talked about a Lovecraft-themed product often. While set in his own “present day” of the 1920s and 1930s, many of Lovecraft’s stories harked back to Colonial times, and in fact Richard had pitched “Cthulhu 1776” to Chaosium before deciding to launch Colonial Gothic through his own company. Tony’s illustrations were an opportunity too good to miss – and I think these new images hold up very well against the Call of Cthulhu bestiary from almost 30 years ago. I’m delighted to see this book come out, for personal reasons as well as professional.

The book covers the best-known gods and beasts of the Cthulhu Mythos, but there are many things that we couldn’t touch for copyright reasons (click here for more on the complex copyright issues surrounding his work and those of the other Mythos authors). If you should happen to want to use another Mythos creature in a Colonial Gothic adventure of your own, converting the stats from Call of Cthulhu is a fairly simple matter. Here is a rough method based on creatures that are common to both systems: the GM may need to make minor adjustments according to personal taste and preferred play style, but this will provide a reasonable starting-point.

Note: these guidelines are given for personal use only, and are not intended to challenge any copyrights held by Chaosium, Inc, or any other party.

Attributes
Might = CoC STR x 0.6
Nimble = CoC DEX x 0.46
Vigor = CoC CON x 0.44
Reason = CoC INT x 0.57
Resolution has no directly comparable stat in Call of Cthulhu. I recommend picking something suitable, bearing in mind that the human average is 7.

Skills
Start with the governing attribute score and adjust according to the needs of the adventure. For more accurate conversions, Call of Cthulhu uses a percentile skill system, so GMs with good math skills can calculate the odds of 2d12 results and come up with a conversion table if they wish.

Attacks
Colonial Gothic non-weapon attacks are attribute-based, so it is easy to assign attack damage. If the GM doesn’t mind a little work, it is possible to derive a damage score by cross-referencing CoC damage with damage from weapons that are common to both Colonial Gothic and Call of Cthulhu (or another Basic Role Playing game, such as Runequest).

Traits
Most creatures of the Cthulhu Mythos have Fear and Horrific Visage to reflect their effect on an observer’s Sanity. The severity of each of these Traits should be proportional to the creature’s SAN loss rating in Call of Cthulhu. Use the creatures from Colonial Gothic: Lovecraft as a guide. Other Traits are at the GM’s option: the book lists several new Traits for Cthulhu Mythos creatures.

Atlatl – A New Weapon for Lustrian Slann

August 19, 2015 4 comments

oldhammer_ov_chaos_web

The Slann are long gone from Warhammer: I think the last time they were seen was in 3rd edition, back in the 80s. Still, this may be of interest to any Oldhammer fans who have a Slann army.

I’ve known about the Central American atlatl, or spear-thrower, for some time. Basically it’s a stick that slots into the base of a spear-sized, feathered dart and gives the throwing action more force. Just recently, though, I found out a little more thanks to an SCA demonstration, and I was impressed by what this very simple weapon can do. As far as I’ve been able to find out, Citadel never released any Slann atlatl troops, and that’s a shame: from what I’ve learned, they could be quite effective on the battlefield, as well as adding to the Mesoamerican look and feel of a Slann force.

Here are the notes I took at the time, slightly tidied up. I haven’t attempted to derive game stats for Warhammer or WFRP, preferring to leave that to those who are better at such things. Still, I hope you Oldhammer gamers and modelers find this information inspiring, or at least interesting.

Picture borrowed from Richard Keatinge under the WikiMedia  Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Picture borrowed from Richard Keatinge under the WikiMedia Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

In Aztec society, the atlatl was considered a “weapon of the gods.” The troops who used it, called Cuachicque or “shorn ones” (presumably from a distinctive haircut?) were elite warriors who had already captured at least six enemies on the battlefield.

Atlatl darts look like oversized arrows, 4-7 feet long and fletched. The atlatl gives these darts surprising range and hitting power. According to the World Atlatl Association forums, effective range is 10-15 yards/meters but a missile thrown in a high arc can reach as far as 50 yards. This may not sound like much considering that the current Olympic javelin record is almost 100 meters, but the atlatl only needs a one-step run-up and the Olympic javelin is thrown for distance without much regard for accuracy. Experiments have shown that an atlatl dart has significant range and hitting power. Though it cannot pierce a steel breastplate, it could wreak havoc on lightly-armored troops. Here’s a link to an actual test.

Has anyone converted or used Slann atlatl troops in a game? How did they work out? If you have rules for them, please add a link in the comments section. Or maybe we can crowdsource some workable rules right here.