Tag Archives: exploration

Tripping over History (or Salt Mummies Must Die!)

One of the things about running a game set in the real world, even a slightly alternate version as with Witch Hunter, sometimes you have to trip over something to realize it’s there.

Last week, in the run up to the kickstarter for The Thin Blue Line: A Detroit Police Story, Jason Marker, the writer/publisher, posted a scenario/encounter based around the haunting of the salt mines beneath Detroit.

Now first, holy crap Detroit used to be a salt mine?  Who knew?!

Ok, put your hands down, jackasses.  Doesn’t matter, salt mines beneath a city that won’t exist for a couple centuries doesn’t really help me with my Witch Hunter game.  But hey!  Salt people!  Creepy dehydrating mummies!  I can work with that.  I just need a different location.

So, one google search later and PRESTO!  Ladies and gentlemen, I give you…the Wiedliczka Salt Mines of Southern Poland.

You want some details?  Of course you do!

  • Built in the 13th century, these mines produced table salt until 2007!
  • It was one of the primary sources of income for the Polish crown until 1772.
  • One of the Royal Salt Mines maintained by the Zupy Krokowskie Salt Mining Company, whose headquarters is a CASTLE in…Wiedliczka!
  • The mines are 1,073 feet deep and 178 (!!!) miles long.
  • The mines contain dozens of statues and chapels carved out of the rock salt by the miners.
  • The mines include a freakin’ underground lake.  How much more can this place scream dungeoncrawl?!?!

But there’s MORE.  A legend and lost treasure built in:

[Princess Kinga] was about to be married to Boleslaw V the Chaste, the Prince of Krakow. As part of her dowry, she asked her father for a lump of salt, since salt was prizeworthy in Poland. Her father, King Bela, took her to a salt mine in Máramaros. She threw her engagement ring from Bolesław in one of the shafts before leaving for Poland. On arriving in Kraków, she asked the miners to dig a deep pit until they come upon a rock. The people found a lump of salt in there and when they split it in two, discovered the princess’s ring. Kinga had thus become the patron saint of salt miners in and around the Polish capital.

Now if this were your bog standard fantasy world, sure you’d probably cook this up in an afternoon.  But this is the real deal!  You can still visit the place!  You can buy souvenirs at the gift shop!  No comment if it is still the bulwark of the Polish economy, though that answer may lie in a joke book from the 70’s.  So yeah, this is a prime example of tripping over something you never knew existed, and would never have even imagined existing if you hadn’t gone looking for it.

As it is, you can find a handy list of world salt mines on wikipedia. But few of these have the same gamer allure of Wiedliczka.

Now.  For those of you who have yawned through this history lesson, here are salt people for Witch Hunter!

Salt People (Lieutenant)

Fear Rating: 3
Hell’s Favor: 2
Pace: 2
Initiative: Reflexes 4d
Melee: 6d Claws (+6 damage)
Ranged: None
Defenses: Avoidance: 3; Discipline: 3; Fortitude: 4
Armor: 2 (flesh infused and hardened by salt)
Health Track: 6/6/6
Talents: Burst of Speed, Disorienting Strike, Night Vision, Slam
Fundamental Power/Price: Burrow/Lair
Additional Powers/Prices:
• Iron Body / Obvious Appearance
• Sap Ability (Toughness) / Weakness (Water)
Suggested Skills:
9d: Command (Intimidation), Endurance
8d: Stealth
6d: Notice
4d: Reflexes

Salt People (Minion)

Threat Rating: 2
Fear Rating: 3
Pace: 2
Special Attacks: Claws (+4/+4) (Dehydrating Touch)
Talents: Burst of Speed, Disorienting Strike, Night Vision
Powers/Prices:
• Burrow / Lair
• Sap Ability (Toughness: Dehydrating Touch) / Weakness (Water)
Skills: Command (Intimidate) +6, Endurance +7, Stealth +5

Description: Salt People stand roughly as tall as a grown man, but have a crouched, hunchbacked posture that makes them appear much shorter. They have thin, twisted limbs, emaciated faces with sunken cheeks, a withered slit for a mouth, and sparkling silver eyes. Their bodies are covered in powdered salt, which they shed with every step, and their thick white skin is completely hairless. Whether salt people are actually the restless spirits of dead miners or some creature native to the mines is unknown.

Dramatics: These creatures move with a slow, shuffling gait most of the time, but are capable of intense bursts of speed over short distances. They can also burrow through the walls of the salt mine, and even through soil, allowing some of them to surface throughout the surrounding community.  When attacking, a Salt Person uses wild punches and powerful body blows to pummel its opponent. In addition to the damage caused by the physical assault, the creature’s touch absorbs the water in a target’s body, causing immediate, debilitating dehydration. Salt People rarely fight to the death, and on those rare occasions where one has been captured or killed, their bodies melt quickly into the Earth, leaving only a salty residue behind. They hate light and loud noises, and usually flee into the darkness or burrow into the sand rather than fight. When cornered, spooked, or if flight is otherwise not an option, a Salt Person attacks quickly and viciously, attempting to overwhelm or kill its target quickly so that it may flee.

Once again, thanks to Jason Marker for the original concept.

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Holding Things Back

Over on the Kobold Press blog, they recently published an article, Steely Gaze and Lethal Blows, about injecting pulp-style combat into Pathfinder and DnD.  While an interesting concept, what really struck me was a quote from the old 1980’s Conan movie:

“In time, his victories could not easily be counted… he was taken to the east, a great prize, where the war masters would teach him the deepest secrets.”

One of the continuous themes I read about with old school games is how they push exploration and discovery in the milieu.  And while modern games don’t prohibit this, most kneecap it by front-loading all the rules and capabilities for the players’ eyes.  Pretty much every system that offers a scheme of advantages/disadvantages, or exception-based rules, does this.  If I create a character in one of these systems, I know everything my character will ever be capable of.  I know how to qualify for the highest ranking Feats, what a master of my fighting style is capable of,

Nothing is held back.  It’s all there in menu format for the players to pick and choose from, to plan out their characters’ fortune.  And the only hurdle in their way is a list of prerequisites or requirements.

Hooray for player empowerment!

But its entirely at the cost of discovery and mystery.  Boo for GM world building!

What if every character capability wasn’t available for you to examine from the start?  What if the Feats, Advantages, Edges, Talents, even Skills and Specializations available to your character at any given time were entirely dependent on where your character is in the campaign world?

Lately I’ve been doing a lot of thought about Fighting Traditions in Witch Hunter, so let’s look through that lense.  In 1689/90, the city of Frankfurt hosted three swordsman guilds: The Brotherhood of St. Mark (Marxbruder), Federfetcher, and the Brotherhood of St. Luke (which was not a formally recognized guild and is described as a society of hooligans).  Now, lets say Marxbruder and Federfetcher both cover the same Fighting Tradition, but each offer a different assortment of fighting styles (talents) a member might choose to advance in.  Want to know what those are?  Join the guild!  They’ll be happy to tell you…then.

Oh, you want them to divulge their secrets before you sign on the dotted line?  Sorry, Charlie.

Bottomline: There should be benefits and rewards to exploring the game world.

But what if I make the wrong choice?  There’s a wrong choice?  How would you know?  Why would you know?

But what if I want a style the guild doesn’t offer?  Easy.  Either resign your membership and join another guild…and face the consequences of doing so.  Or leave town and seek out another guild, or better yet a master in the tradition, who can teach you this technique.

Where can I find this guy?  Ask around.  Follow leads.  Travel.  Talk.  Explore the world around you!

In one of the first continuous campaigns I played in, magic fluctuated on a geographic basis.  So when the party mage got himself killed, the rest of us traveled half way across the continent to have him raised.  Was it convenient?  No.  Was travel hand waved?  Hell no!  Was it fun and rewarding?  Hell yes!

We’ve been doing this with magic in our games forEVER.  The mage finds a cool tome in the library of Alexandria and now has the chance to learn a couple of new spells, some the player knows about and some that are completely new.  Why should talents, feats, edges, fighting styles, and even skills be any different?

So how can I implement this in my own game?  Well, for one thing, when that shiny new supplement rolls out on the treadmill, don’t allow it.  Oh, the players can read it all they want, but none of it is available to them.  No, carefully go through all the new abilities and make them available on a case-by-case basis.  A retired adventurer in the village of Hommlet can teach you an assortment of Knacks, or a Feat.

Wait?  Training?!  GROAN!!!  There’s no reason training in any game system needs to mirror the old AD&D training system.  That system was put in place to siphon off the vast treasure characters were amassing and assumed that players had multiple characters active in the game world at any given time (time keeping).  In a game like Witch Hunter, the orders would have access to masters and trainers, so gaining access is more a matter of geography than finances.  And time?  If the game assumes combing through a library looking for some odd detail on an obscure line of supernatural beastie, then why would we then assume it takes more than a week (downtime) to master a fighting style or Talent?

A week of downtime?  GROAN!!!  Ok, you need more incentive.  How about this, while training costs time and/or money, what if it also lowered SP costs?  Say – to pull a number out of the air – by 0.6.  This reduces the cost of a basic Talent in Witch Hunter to 30 SP, the cost of a skill specialization.  A Greater Talent would cost 45 SP, and a Heroic 60 (that’s a 30 point discount!).  Now before you think I’ve lost my mind, not all Talents would be available for this sort of treatment.  Maybe 2 or 3 in any particular location.  And the ones that are available don’t need to be advertised.  There’s no bulletin in the town square that reads, “looking for a good deal on Talents?” Think of them more like easter eggs embedded in the game world.

And what are the rest of the players suppose to do while my character is learning the finer aspects of Incredible Reflexes?  What else?  Find nasty evil stuff that’s going on around them to eliminate.  What?  You guys aren’t good enough to find a witch in all of Copenhagen?