Tuesday 27 February 2007

Gossip (3)

"The refugees outside the North Gate are hiding mutant soldiers in their tents! When there are enough of them they'll storm the gates! There'll be Chaos to pay when they do, I tell you that! We need those new fangled pistols and mascots or whatever they're called. That'll put the fear of Sigmar into that tainted heathen scum!"

- Overheard from a watchman engaged in a heated discussion with two other watchmen, by the Königplatz

Help wanted (3)

"Cargo needs hauling. Strong or stubborn applicants must be prepared to work nights! Seek out Earnest Erich by the docks."

- Scribblings on a warehouse wall in the Niederhafen Bezirk, close to the docks.

The docks of Altdorf are ripe with opportunities for adventure. There is the ongoing conflict between The Fish and The Hooks, every day smuggling, teamster action, mysterious cargoes and passengers, barges ... even burning barges depending on who your Game Master might be ... you can find it all on the docks!


Saturday 24 February 2007

Review: Three Hearts & Three Lions

Fantasy Masterworks: Three Hearts & Three Lions by Poul Anderson (published by Gollanz, 177 pages, ISBN 0575074981)

NOTE: This review contains some spoilers. For those who do not wish to spoil the reading of this book the summary follows here; read it. It is a fantastic tale which has influenced the very structure of how we play roleplaying games. Additionally it is strongly recommended to Ars Magica players and game masters as an inspirational resource, and WFRP and D&D players will find it worthwhile reading as well.

Now on with the review.

Three Hearts & Three Lions is one of the books in the fantasy genre that has most influenced the origin of roleplaying games. The book was originally published in 1953 and tells the tale of Holger Carlsen, an engineer who during the second world war is whisked away to another dimension, where fantastical elements exist in a world which otherwise shares a common history with our own. Myth and historical events are mixed together to create a setting very much reminiscent of the Ars Magica world, and also of Greyhawk for D&D.

The world Holger enters is one where the events of the Carolingian cycle are historical facts (read more about that here). Now once again the forces of chaos are massing for an assault on humanity and all that is lawful and good. Faeriedom is a principal force in this conflict which Holger soon comes into conflict with. As he does battle with various agents of chaos he struggles to remember why this fantastical world seems so familiar, and how he can return to our own world.

I decided to read this book not because it was the first listed as recommended reading in the first edition Dungeon Master’s Guide for D&D, but because it kept cropping up in discussions on EN World when people asked where the D&D troll came from. Since that monster concept was apparently lifted wholesale from Three Hearts & Three Lions, I decided to educated myself. It is also cited as a major influence by Micheal Moorcock which in itself piqued my interest.

Right from the start it was obvious that this book has contributed much to the shape of fantasy roleplaying. Apart from the monsters appearing, which all are present in most of the major fantasy roleplaying games, our hero Holger soon assembles a small adventuring party, and they are after a while given a quest in true roleplaying style. They have encounters, some more random than others, where they must use their skills and wit to survive. They are even joined by a new player … sorry, a new member of their party a bit over halfway through the book.

Just about the only weakness I found in regards to structure is that the quest basically is a monster parade. The hero rides about a bit, encounters a monster who is defeated, and then rides onward encountering another monster, and so on so forth. This is a minor complaint but the structure is very much the same as an uninspired series of wilderness adventures för D&D. This works well in the book since the story contains many other complications as well as the developlment of the main protagonists, but if it was an adventure to be played, it would not make for an inspired experience.

One funny detail is that the edition I read contained an inordinate amount of typos, especially at the end of the book. There’s no escape, it seems.

It must be noted that for many roleplaying gamers much of the story and the events will seem familiar. We have seen them and played them over and over again ourselves, so there might be a risk of a reader feeling a bit underwhelmed. But remember that this is one of the sources for many of the clichés we inflict upon our selves, the origin if you will. I still think that anyone who thinks of himself or herself as a gamer should read this book. It is masterfully written and effectively proves that an author does not need a trilogy or a thousand pages to conjure up a fantastical setting and fabulous adventures. It also shows that fantasy is so much more than endless rehashing of the Tolkien legacy.


Friday 23 February 2007

The office

I haven't heard any more from Emeritus Gutbelesen about my office and my position. I hope he will give me more information soon, but I fear that he has been avoiding me. Still I'm beginning to find this tower room both comfortable and suited to my means. I have brought up a few book cases, and will start going through the book shops in the Werkswiertel Bezirk this weekend. I'm sure to find many interesting tomes hidden among the penny novels of trollslayers and vampire maidens among us. To think that writers spend time putting tales like that unto paper, when they can chronicle simple life in this city and find much excitement and suspense! Anyways, I'll start to look for Die Motte, which has been mentioned as a starting point for my quest for books on the history of Altdorf!

Adolphus Altdorfer
Backertag, Nachexen 8, 2522 IC

Thursday 22 February 2007

Will read for money!

When I came to the Ratchett stables I was directed to the person in charge; frau Gertrude Ratchett. An imposing woman who wielded authority like a sword, and it was evident that she had every person working at the stables giving his or her best for the company! When I finally got her attention among the organised chaos, I stammered my business and hoped for the best. She looked me up and down and thrust a parchment in my hands. "Read it for me", was her only reply. I quickly ran through the text and found it to be written in a special Nordland dialect with heavy Norscan influence. Close enough to Reikspiel to be recognisable as such, but detached enough to be difficult to decipher ... but I get carried away. I could tell frau Ratchett wasn't the most patient patron I've encountered so I quickly conveyed the information contained in the document. She hestitated but a moment, and then offered me 2 shillings for every day I could spend helping out with paperwork at the stables. A pittance for sure, but I am not in a position to turn down a job offer at the moment. We arranged that I would come in every Wellentag, Marktag, Bezahltag and Angestag unless otherwise inconvenienced. I would also be available at short notice for special assignments should the need arise. And so I found myself with an employment in Altdorf. Not the start of my academic career that I had envisioned, but at least I had my tower room in the university and not a means of aquiring monies to pay for food, clothing and other materials I need for my studies.

Adolphus Altdorfer
Aubentag, Nachexen 6, 2522 IC

Wednesday 21 February 2007

Monday 12 February 2007

Saturday 10 February 2007

Ratchett Stables

It didn't take me long to find the Ratchett Stables. I walked down Königstrasse towards the Königsplatz, which most coaching lines use as a depature and arrival point in Altdorf. In the bustle of the platz I flagged down a coach and had the driver point me in the right direction. Not surprisingly the Ratchett Stable were close to the Königsplatz, and also close to the Association of Coachmen. I spotted the stables of Cartak lines as well, and Four Seasons and several other minor lines sharing stables.

Adolphus Altdorfer
Aubentag, Nachexen 6, 2522 IC

Friday 9 February 2007

Help wanted (2)

"Strong men and women wanted to help clear blocked sewers and drains. Must have own weapons and armor. Apply at Council Hall. We will supply soap and hot water after the job is done."

- Poster glued to a wall near the Bankbezirk Main Sewer Entry.

Sewers are always a good place for short encounters and backdrops for longer adventures. Maybe the sewers are blocked by monsters building a lair, creating the basis for a standard bug hunt ... but be sure to add a twist or two. But don't make that twist be skaven! Ghouls, mutants, a giant snake or an escaped wild beast from the Imperial Zoo, all are in my opinion better than using skaven. If you want to go another route, the blockage could be remains of a gruesome ritual dumped by cultists to avoid detection. This could be the start of an investigation that first tries to find out where the remains were initially dumped, and then who dumped them ... a bit more WFRP style than the bug hunt, but it also takes a bit more job by the Game Master to pull off.


Friday 2 February 2007

Review: Game Master's Toolkit

The Game Master’s Toolkit is one of the latest additions to the WFRP library. It’s basically a two part toolkit for … ummm … well … WFRP Game Masters, believe it or not. The most obvious part of the package is a sturdy colour screen with a Game Master side with potentially useful tables and a player side with a well drawn map of The Empire and two atmospheric illustrations. The other part is a black and white booklet with plenty of tables describing different aspects of the Old World together with advice for fleshing out the campaign world. The parts address two different aspects of gamemastering; the booklet is useful for planning a session and the screen for running a session. By first glance it is an inspiring and useful product which for most parts does well in conveying the special feel that WFRP thrives on. Let’s look a little closer …

When it comes to illustrations I have a mixed impression of the pictures appearing in the new WFRP products. Most often the colour pictures are good or very good, but the black and white illustrations often do nothing to invoke the Old World atmosphere and would fit more appropriately in a generic fantasy setting. In the Game Master’s Toolkit booklet there are several interior artists, and I’m glad to see that the new additions do a much better job at bringing across the WFRP atmosphere than earlier offerings. Two full page illustrations by one of the interior artists also grace the player side of the screen, and manage to invoke the same ambiance as did John Blanche and Ian Miller at the genesis era of the game. Looking at the screen and the interior illustrations in the same style, I am reminded of the cover to Death on the Reik and Warhammer City, as well as The Enemy Within/Shadows over Bögenhafen.

The Game Master’s Toolkit is by no means perfect and shows some of the problems we have grown familiar with in products from Black Industries with regards to quality control; a few typos and editing mistakes although no mistake is as dire as the ones found in Tome of Corruption. Overall the quality is very good.

The screen is physically the most solid I’ve ever seen and the information displayed on it is for the most part useful for any WFRP Game Master. The map is a welcome feature but it is the illustrations on the side facing the players, together with the similar style pictures in the booklet, that is the most refreshing surprise! The main problem with the screen is that two full columns out of twelve on the Game Master’s side is taken up by page references for skills and talents. It would be far more useful to list a compact summary of the effects and in my experience this would speed up play considerably. I still find the lists of some use, so the space isn’t completely wasted. The majority of the screen is filled with useful information, such as weapons, tables for critical hits and for generating names for NPCs at a pinch.

The information listed on the Game Master's side of the screen are:


Combat Difficulty

Unarmed Combat

Test Difficlty

Damage and Healing

Critical Hits

Critical Effects - Arm

Critical Effects - Body

Critical Effects - Head

Critical Effects - Leg

Insanity Points

Fortune Points

Weapon Qualities

Melee Weapons

Missile Weapons

Advanced Armour

The Effects of Armour

Falling Damage

Dwarf Names

Elf Names

Halfling Names

Human Names


Basic Skills

Advanced Skills

The strength of the booklet lies in the support it gives to Game Masters who need ideas to build on for their own campaign. It is filled with tables from which a Game Master can choose or roll randomly for basic adventure seeds, campaign additions or NPCs. Reading the tables cover to cover can be a bit tedious, as everything is by necessity presented as snippets of information. The Game Master must be prepared to do additional work to flesh out the information given, but as the booklet is a veritable treasure trove of ideas it is a very useful tool for a game master in need of ideas.

The tables and information in the booklet are:

Buildings and Establishments (two page table)

We Don’t Go Into the Sewers (half page info on sewers)

Street Encounters (page and half table)

Thieves and Beggars (half page info on … hmm … thieves and beggars)

Inns of the Empire (three page table)

Bugman’s Pub Rules (one page with three games played in taverns)

Roads, Forests and Farms (two page table)

Natural Hazards (one page info)

Wilderness Encounters (two page table)

Outlaws and Animals (two page info)

Villages, Towns and Settlements (three page table)

Something Strange (one page of ideas for encounters)

Personas (three page table)

Plot Hooks (three page table)

A Rat Catcher, a Noble and a Norse Berserker walk into a bar (half page about getting characters to work together)

And for the map. WFRP fans have been clamoring for maps of the Old World since the release of the second edition and the map over The Empire on the screen is a good first step. There is a lack of details which make it less useful for the game master but at least it puts all the major cities on a clear and legible map for the players to reference when getting their bearings during travel.

To sum up the Game Master’s Toolkit is one of the best additions to the WFRP line of products, and it is is useful both for planning your session and running it.