KIWF! is a log of my thoughts on D&D and the DCCRPG, inspired by the OSR.
Also, a place where I will post my own RPG for all to use.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Shadows of Esteren Review

Esteren was originally a French RPG that has been translated to English. The translation is sound, but it is full of world-jargon that sounds nothing like English to me and is, I'm assuming, psuedo-celtic. So If you want to master some of the nuances of its setting, you'll have to find a way to memorize words your brain doesn't care much about. I like to think I know something about the subject of word memorization; I learned fluent Japanese over 5 years.

However, I feel in terms of atmosphere it is fairly well presented and in terms of mechanics, it really sings. My play experience is running an introductory adventure from the free to download prologue book (using the battle attitudes rules from the at-cost product).

The setting felt like a bit of Britains (pre anglo-saxons, maybe?) dealing with the influence of romans and their ideas of science and other modern civilization double-edged swords. People are clannish and druidic, but influenced by lords and new monotheistic religion.

Esteren is supposed to be presented as a cinematic experience. The adventures have graphics like a director's slateboard and indications that you should use techniques from movies like flashbacks and cutaways to things that the PCs may never know but the players will have to avoid metagaming about. I'm cool with that technique, but sceptical of the constant suggestions for specific songs.

You see, Esteren is supposed to gritty medieval horror, and I find music in horror games distracts. Players are pretty prone to making a joke out of anything they can (we laughed a lot), and music can serve to further distract, so I recommend some nice, ominous, ambient music to truly set a horror mood. Take this scene for example, it's dripping with mood:
But hey, if you want some tools, Esteren is going to suggest them for you. It's fine, but slightly distracting for an ADHD DM like me.

The scenario we ran had a fine plot, but as presented it was a bit hard for me to keep the details strait. It would be easier to run as a dead tree product than a PDF. I had to make lots of notes and charts and timelines to keep it all smooth. But I am admittedly ADHD;  a visual DM who likes to look at maps and their corresponding keys, and there were none in the scenario.

However, as I said, the mechanics were pretty cool.
There are a few basic scores that the rest of your character is built upon, and they are a range between two useful extremes each, so there is less min/maxing (metagaming the best build) in this RPG. The ability scores are pretty cool in that they give cues for character traits too.

For instance, combativeness is good for hitting things, but it also makes you a jerk or a hothead or whatever you want to write for your flaws. And if you are investing your points in it, you might also be a little socially awkward. The players had a ball playing these quirks out.

I also liked the latent dementias concept. They provide further role-playing cues as well as a path that characters who see too much horror will fall into.

Combat mechanics are pretty simple and easy to narrate. Each round you can choose a combat attitude which adds a "potential" score to one aspect of you (attack, defense, initiative, movement), while reducing another in kind. When players declare their attitude each round, they are giving the GM ideas for how the round will play out. Basically, they are encouraged to declare actions without it feeling odd.

Then everyone in the fight acts on their speed (iniative) order, which is a set number. It can be changed for a round by combat attitude, but it is really simple to run through action resolutions once you know everyone's speed. The basic PDF didn't seem to mention what to do about people acting at the same speed, but I had them act simultaneously.

Attacking is fairly simple. Roll a d10 and add an attack skill and try to beat the foe's defence skill. If you hit, take that margin you won the roll by and add your weapon's damage rating to it, then your foe takes that as damage, save for what damage reduction their armor affords them. Something elegant about that.

Wounded characters will perform worse at everything. This game has a death cycle, which can only be ignored by spending cinematic action points or whatever they are called. So fights can get serious fast.

There is a skill tree and DCs table. Everything is resolved by rolling a d10 and adding it to a skill (or trait if you don't have the skill) score. It's simple. I like using only d10s  and not bothering with any other dice--even for damage--for some reason. Oh, yeah, the reason is simplicity.

I recommend this RPG. I would like to try adapting some LotFP modules or something to it, though those are a bit too fantastical for this RPG, maybe. I'm not even sure if the boogeymen of the setting are even real yet, but there are fantastic things out there like druidic mysteries and psuedo-scientific magic.
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Sunday, October 19, 2014

J RPG Fluff product: Considerations of the Fantasy World

Found this lovely thing at Yellow Submarine today. It's a compilation of columns from Role & Roll magazine about misc. fantasy RPG topics by Yūya Kobayashi  (小林裕也). It's all system-agnostic stuff featuring the creatures, items, and locales one could find in your standard high fantasy setting. It's available on

I liked the section on mounts. Reminds me I need to include those humanoid mounts from the Dying Earth stories. Horses need to become rare in my campaign. 

Some Fantasy anatomy is explored in these pages about birdmen and centaurs.

Inviting copy from the book obi (belt, also called koshimaki)

Thursday, October 9, 2014

1d12 Things for you to stat

1: Aunt men
2: Orgone Energy Guzzler
3: Flat dragon
4: Manhandlers
5: Slime-clops
6: Rammun's Melting Revanent
7: The First Heart
8: Space Spore Spirits
9: Electric Bugalootron 4000
10: Child Riders
11: Endagering Chillofax
12: Moose from Hell

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

In a Fevered, Trance-like State, I Fixed the Bard

Bards and skalds can be found in any court. But those that adventure have a certain set of skills. This is pretty generic; I imagine it would be good for 0D&D, B/X/LotFP, DCC, etc.

  • They can remember things others forget. This is because they use rhyme and verse to memorize epic tales, news, bon mots, and other things that get them fed. If a bard wants to see if he knows something about the thing that the party really wants details on, the DM can roll 2d6 and add in the Bard's Int mod as well as a circumstance mod. High rolls give clues.
  • They can weave magic into their lyrics. This does not work during a fight.  That takes too long and you will be cut, jack. It might work during a battle, if the bard is, like, say, playing on a mountaintop while armies clash below. It will work on a captive audience. Literally tied up is best, but the partons at a quiet pub or a lord's court will do.
    • You learn one song each level. It just comes to you.
  • They can be blind, yet skillful swordsmen. This is a choice you make at character generation. 
  • You can conceal a weapon in your instrument, should you decide to become a wandering assassin bard. This isn't a rules thing; I just wanted to remind you that bards are  a lot cooler when they aren't about singing in a fight. 

Here are the bard songs of power:

  • Ballad of Bravado: give each listener a d30. They can roll this during a fight, provided it happens by the next dawn, and replace any to-hit or stunt roll with it. Then it turns into a d24, and works its way down the die chain.
  • Canticle of Kings: Listeners might kowtow to the regal might of a hero of sufficient character and bloodline.
  • Carol of Cheer: Listener has a chance to shake off any melancholy or insanity
  • Chant of Chivalry: Induces listeners to take up causes, enforce justice, or go to war for a pretty face.
  • Coronach of Canceled Time: Reduces listeners to a metaphysical melancholy that will ensorcel them into a state of suspended time.
  • Dirge of Dancing Dead: Placates mindless undead into a swaying stance-- even if they don't have auditory organs left.
  • Jeremiad of Justice: Listener likely to admit guilt that the bard suspects them of. 
  • Keen of Killers: All listeners are enraged and do an extra die of damage.
  • Modony of Manipulation: listeners are charmed. +4 to reaction rolls against the bard.
  • Serenade of Seduction: Listener may become ridiculously enamored of the bard
  • Threnody of Thoughts: Listeners hear the secrets of the dead spirits of this place. Let the players ask a question each. 
I'll think up more someday if this post seems to have garnered interest.

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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Fan Map for Bone Hoard of the Dancing Horror

Want to run Bone Hoard in style?
This map is meant to address a couple things that dumb game judges like me can benefit from. It shows a couple monsters near where they might be encountered (just out of site of fog of war if you are using Roll20), including the heretofore unillustrated [in the original module] dancing horror itself.  The hordling is near a room where the adventure suggests it make itself known. There are a couple of traps illustrated too. I hope it enhances your experience. Click to embiggen. You might enjoy my fan map for Death Frost Doom too.

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Friday, June 27, 2014

XP for Gold revision 100: Montage

This is an embed of a revision of my XP for gold DCC rules, which my players quite frankly hate but I stubbornly think add something to the game. Enjoy.

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Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Chase (an RPG mini-game to keep escaping exciting)

I'm tired of opposed die rolls for chases. What is needed is an event each round for each side. Then they decide how to tackle the event, or roll against its DC. This could be done with a table or cards or whatever (I've provided such a table below). If the escapee get's 5-minus its Dex mod in victory points, it slips away. Each success for the pursuer can can remove a victory point from the escapee, and if they have no more to remove when required, they are caught within either melee or ranged attack distance (pursuer's choice). Escapee rolls first. Escapee can give up running and parley or fight at any time. Escapee may have thief abilities that they can use, but they still need victory points to get away for sure. If they are caught up with, the escapee is too tired/out of options to run any more. They will have to make their stand here. They can't move out of range of the attacker unless a third party interferes.

If there is more than one pursuer and/or escapee, they alternate rolling on the table for their side and deal with it (but normal helping rules for your RPG system can come into play).

Disadvantage is either as 5e (roll two dice and take the less useful one) or DCC (roll a die one step lower on the chain) and applies to all dice you use during your turn.

Example (what the keyword means is ad hoc'ed by the Judge on the fly):

Escapee: rolls cover. A large tree. Dex DC 7 or Wis DC 10 to hide behind. They have crappy Wisdom, so they roll their Dex. It works. They spend this turn hiding and biding their time as the PC runs around. One victory point.

PC rolls obstacle. A slippery, muddt marsh. Dex DC 5 to nimbly walk through without falling or Str DC 10 to jump over. Failure means slipping or falling and having disadvantage during the next round. They don't make their test roll.

Round 2:
Escapee: Rolls obstacle. Thorny hedge. They can try DC 10 to run around it, or DC 10 to jump over it. They opt for Dex again, but fail and remove a victory point. Back down to zero.

PC: Rolls ranged attack opportunity: A clear shot. They can make a ranged attack or a DC 5 Dex roll to use the view to catch up. They chose the former and even with that remaining disadvantage, roll a hit against the opponent. It takes damage, but the pursuit is ongoing if the escapee keeps running. It does.

Round 3:
Escapee rolls trip-up opportunity: A big tree with long branches that can be pulled back and released into a pursuer's face (Str DC5) or simply run over to try and gain more ground. They opt for the former and easily make the roll to slap the pursuer in the face. This nets another victory point for the escapee (back to 1).
And so on.

The table:

1d12 roll
keyword to ad lib off of
challenge and/or choice
challenge and/or choice
Something that has to be scaled, jumped, or run around
the same
Something that block’s sight and must be somehow seen through
something that can be hidden behind if one is quiet and/or clever
ranged attack opportunity!
Can roll a ranged attack, or simply use the visual information to try and catch up
You’ve been spotted! Try to dodge out of sight or missile weapons
melee attack opportunity!
Can roll a melee attack, or simply try to keep close pursuit
Can roll a melee attack (normal withdrawal rules will apply if you don’t want to end the pursuit here), or run under their blade and keep going
trap opportunity!
use available items cleverly to trip up your foe
the same
what the?!
something unexpected here; judge rolls a random encounter or landmark to be reacted against
the same
able surface (makes tracks)
track your quarry!
cover your tracks!
golden opportunity
a hard check, but you can stop the escapee this round!
a hard check but you can stop the pursuers this round!
he went that way!
see through your foe’s attempt to throw you off the scent
use wits to convince foe you are headed a way you aren’t headed
melee attack check to stop the escape now
attack check to stop the pursuit now
weather or environmental obfuscation
try to peer through this stuff
if you stand still enough, maybe they can’t see you...
I’ve got an idea!
pull something out of your pack and use it now, or lose this check to time spent lamenting if you weren’t clever enough to pack something useful
the same

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If you spot a typo or don't have g+, you can just email me. Claytonian at the gmails.