Tag Archives: GM



This last session of 7th Sea was marked by two experiments I wanted to try out.  I had no idea how well either of them would work.  Turns out neither of them worked out nearly as well as I’d hoped, but both provided a learning opportunity for me.  Post-game/post-morning shower reflections revealed a lot (as they are want to do).  So rather than share the usual episode recap with you this week, I thought I’d share the results of these experiments instead.

Run Riot!

The opening scene involved the Heroes at the heart of a massive riot in La Bucca.  But how do you create that sort of epic narrative in a way that doesn’t turn into just a big melee encounter?

I ran a few of the ideas past one of my co-conspirators, Kevin Krupp, how provided some excellent feedback – only some of which I could really grasp.  You see, Kevin is very well versed in narrative RPGs.  So when I told him what I was trying to do, he immediately took it to 11 where I was really only comfortable taking it to..seven, maybe.  In the end, it was only kinda successful.

Here’s how it played out:

The scene opened in the Yellow Fin Tavern with Captain Kenway sitting in Allende’s office.  Among the stacks of papers, scrolls, and charts on her desk was a local broadsheet, the Albatross, with a headline about grift and corruption in the Scale (one of the city’s government chapters).

I asked Chris, Kenway’s player, who was in the office with him.  Naturally, he named both of the two other players at the table.  Good.  We don’t have to split the party.

Behind the closed office door, they hear a door slam.  Heavy footsteps, followed by shouting in another room.  Two women.  The voices grow louder as they approach the office door.  Allende throws open the door, her fury evident even with her mask.  She throws a fresh copy of the Albatross at Captain Ed and demands, “Can you explain this?” The headline reads: Presidential reelection festivities spark riot!.

The scene then jumps back hours earlier, to mid morning, with Kenway and the other Heroes among a small crowd in front of the Betting Barnacle.  The new owner, an old rival of Kenway’s named Matthew Hague, is preparing a pre-election victory party for Allende and rechristening the place the Fancy Lad (much to the chagrin of its old patrons who no longer feel welcome).  Hague sees Kenway in the crowd and makes some mocking overtures to his “friend,” which immediately puts the Captain in a bad light among the other old patrons.  Couple that with a gang of bravos from a local duelist academy sizing up Carmena and Sebastian (both duelists) and a bunch of Allende supporters who know Kenway to be supporting the other team, and you have a powder keg primed and lit.

The scene snaps back to Allende’s office.

“So what happened then?” she asks.

So here’s where things get experimental.  I had each of the players state and roll an Approach for what they would be doing in the riot.  Beyond that, I gave them carte blanche with the only instruction being: make things awesome.  In my mind, my goal was to reach the heights of the riot scene in Police Academy.  We never quite hit that mark.

I had each of them go one at a time and allowed them to spend all their raises, which in hindsight was a mistake.  Each player did better than the one before, but the whole thing lacked any real cohesive skeleton.  At the end of each turn, I asked them to “stage a challenge” for the next Hero, but that never really happened.  And so, despite feeling cool and different, it didn’t quite reach the heights I was hoping it would.


In hindsight, I should have treated the Riot as a Hazard (see 7th Sea: The New World sourcebook), along with a threat rating and raises to spend.  Then play it out more as a traditional action sequence.

Instead of asking each player to “stage a challenge” for the next Hero at the end of their turn, I believe I should have led with that, asking each to “stage a challenge” right off the bat with the reward being a Hero Point.  The challenged player could have turned down the challenge, at the risk of adding a Danger Point to the pool.

Meanwhile, the Hazard would have been able to push its own agenda with its own raises, allowing me a more participatory roll in the melee.  This would have allowed me to help create a more cohesive structure for the Heroes stunts, making the whole thing hang together better.


Schemes, schemes, villainous schemes!  So simple and yet, when you start overthinking them they can cause problems.

At the beginning of the game session, I laid out three “schemes” that the players could discover and disrupt this game session.  I used the Captain Wheel method outlined by Rob Donoghue on his Walking Mind blog.  So the players could see the number of steps involved, but not the nature of the scheme.

And that, dear readers, is where I failed.

The biggest problem is I set up a “Door 1, Door 2, or Door 3” scenario where none of the choices had any real weight.  They were simply these detached curiosities the players could pick up and examine before putting them back down.  So while the schemes themselves were the active operations of villains the group knows about, there was no real urgency in the choice or any real tension even once the scheme was revealed.

In our chase, Kenway’s player choice to examine scheme #3 (or the Embassy Row Riots as I was calling it behind the scene).  I set it up as a Dramatic Sequence, but since he was acting alone, it played out more like a Risk (which it should have just been dammit!).  A gang of thugs discussing plans to stage a riot on Embassy Row within a few days – paid under the table by the Magnus Skaar for President campaign – led to a quick scene where Kenway appealed to their better angels.  Decent, but not great.  And that still left 2 schemes on the table untouched and untended.


Again, I feel the problem here is that none of these choices were ever properly grounded or created any real sense of urgency.  It occurs to me in hindsight that I may well have approached them entirely backwards.

The next time I do this, I’m going to instead lead with single detail: either the target or the tool.  This sort of follows the philosophy that Robin Law’s espouses in Gumshoe RPG: the first clue is free.  The first clue in this case is THE HOOK.  Who cares about the number of steps at this stage anyway.

So in the case of the Embassy Row Riots, a card reading Embassy Row (the target), Embassy Row Riots (target+tool), or simply Riots (tool) should have been presented.  At least that creates a sense of curiosity and urgency that “Scheme 3” decidedly does not.  Once the players have investigated the scheme and decided to do something about it, THEN reveal the clock to them.

As for whether it is a Risk or a Dramatic Sequence, that’s a numbers game.  For one player, a Risk seems to be the way to go.  It keeps the pacing fast and lets you play things out without worrying about structure.  If the investigation involves 3 or more players though, the scene will probably benefit from structure (kinda like the riots earlier) and so a Dramatic Sequence should be used.

And there you have it!

I hope you’ll forgive this article of naval gazing, experimentation, and failing forward.  I polled my players afterwards, and they all enjoyed the session.  So maybe it was just me who felt it was lacking.  But I try to learn from these things and put those new ideas into practice and make the next game closer to that special experience every GM chases.

Have you failed at some grand experiment as a GM only to realize on reflection why things didn’t work and what you should have done differently?  If so, please share your experience in the comments so we can all learn from your mistakes.

Mirror, Mirror: the Other Side of the Coin

So about the time my 7th Sea: First Play Impressions post went live, I was being called out for being too much of a 7th Sea fan boy.  That perhaps my enthusiasm for the setting and previous edition was coloring my impression of the new edition.  And I think to myself, well what’s wrong with that?!  If you’ve read anything I’ve posted around here about gaming, it’s no secret that 7th Sea was sort of a seminal game experience for me.  One that sort of set the standard for the play experience I want in any game I play going forward.  And if that colors my expectations and enthusiasm for the 2nd edition, so what of it?  I mean, isn’t that the flip side of calling OSR fans out as nothing more than nostalgic?

But ok.  I’ll play along.  Because it’s not as though 7th Sea 2nd edition is perfect.  It wasn’t dictated by God Almighty as the Final Word in gaming.  You can’t even really compare it to 1st edition beyond the setting, because the game system is almost entirely new with only a cosmetic veneer to tie the two together.  So if you’re on the fence about 7th Sea 2nd edition, wondering if you really want to drop the money on the PDF, or the hardcover, or the leather bound collector’s edition, and you were foolish enough to come here then pay attention!  I’m going to tell you what I don’t like about the new edition.

Dracheneisen vs Hexenwerk

I think Hexenwerk is a poor replacement for Eisen’s national sorcery.  As a replacement for Zerstorung?  Sure!  Great!  But Dracheneisen was so iconic; it defined the look and character of Eisen.  Hexenwerk, as flavorful as it is, is very specialized and isn’t going to fit into every game.  Also, the core book makes it pretty clear that this is it.  There isn’t any more development space for Hexenwerk.  It’s done.  Now I get it that Eisen is now a dark fairy tale land of ghosts, ghouls, and vampires lurking in castles on high.  But you can have that and still have big bad Germans charging around in fancy armor.  There have been rumblings from folks looking to expand the utility of Hexenwerk by making it apply to all monsters, not just undead.  There are also folks working to put dracheneisen back in its rightful place as Eisen’s national sorcery.  Personally, I’m down for both.  And the Die Krieuzritter?  Magical blades forged of light and shadow brought to bear against monsters in the dark works just fine for me.

Faux Diversity

Gender equality and diversity!  These are two things that help define Théah and separate it from 17th century Europe.  Applause.  No, that’s a great thing really, and perfectly fitting with the tone of pre-reboot Théah.  But is it really more diverse?  Not really.  Right now, with just the core book, it’s very difficult to create an “exotic” hero from Ifri, Cathay, or the Crescent Empire without reskinning, homebrewing, or buying another sourcebook.  Is that a mark against the writers?  No.  They can’t include EVERYTHING.  But if you think about it, 1-2 pages of content would have been all you needed to be truly inclusive in terms of Ethnic diversity.  A handful of backgrounds, a handful of thumbnails.  Hell, Iskandar is right there on the map.  This isn’t so much a black mark as a missed opportunity.


First let me say, I love Action Scenes and Dramatic Sequences (Kinda. More on that later.). By comparisons, Risks still feel a bit forced.  Like an oval peg in a round hole.  I think part of the story in RPGs comes from the unexpected occurring, something that 7th Sea downplays in favor of player’s choosing the consequences of their actions.  I’m not sure a three-tiered success system wouldn’t have fit along side Action and Dramatic scenes more seamlessly (both of them have essentially three tiers of success: Approach, Improvised, and Unskilled.  I’m sure the developers playtested this and chose to go another way because…they liked it more.  But to me, standard Risks FEEL much different than Action and Dramatic Sequences.  They don’t feel like extensions of one another.  And there are limits to what you can express with Risks that I don’t like.  Time will tell on this one.

Raises vs Successes

This one goes hand in hand with the previous point.  Raises, rolling your dice pool and counting 10s, don’t feel quite as intuitive as rolling and counting successes (WoD, Witch Hunter).  Others with better math skills than me have pointed out that rolling and counting 6s and above gives you the same peak probability while widening the curve, thus making your pool of Raises a bit less predictable in the long term.  The method the developers went with feels like change for the sake of change, to help give the game its own identity.  I suppose it does that, and predictability does have some benefits, but I’m not sure the game as a whole wouldn’t be more accessible and just as exciting if they’d taken a more tired and traditional method.

FYI for those who worry about the speed of counting groups of 10s, don’t worry about that.  That isn’t an issue with the way the game handles dice rolling.

Rulings vs Rules

I can’t help but get the feeling that the rules of 7th Sea are a little half-baked.  By that I mean, immature, unseasoned, and untested.  In my previous post I said:

I think it’s safe to say the game succeeds at what it sets out to do.  Now that it’s in the wild, I’m really eager to see how far people are going to push it!

That cuts both ways.  I believe its a good start.  I think Action Sequences are there.  Dramatic Sequences are too open ended, like something they tried a few times and said, “Looks great!  Put em in!”  Risks?  Like I said: oval peg in a round hole.  Almost there, but not quite.  Over the next couple of months, as more and more people get their hands on the rules, beat them, bash them, and twist them like the mercurial things they are, I think we are going to see some maturity, some road weariness, beaten into the system.  We’re going to find out what really works and what doesn’t.

Pay close attention to this.  And please, do not read this as a negative.  I think when 7th Sea: the East rolls off the presses in 2+ years, we are going to be looking at a more mature game.  And it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if we are 4-5 years away from a revised edition (most likely an expanded or revised second printing, but still).  In that time, I think GMs are going to take the tools given to them in the core book and spin off about 2 or 3 new variants that will become so ubiquitous in play that it would be ridiculous not to include them as part of the core rules.

This isn’t because the rules are bad.  They’re simply immature.  Kinda like the LBB edition of Dungeons and Dragons vs. BECMI/AD&D. I think 7th Sea 2nd edition is a natural extension of where John Wick has been going in terms of game design, but none of those games ever slammed headfirst into the hands of 11,000 people.  I suspect years of hard playtesting, convention play, house ruling and home brewing is going to create an interesting beast, but it’s still a couple of years out from real maturity.

I’m okay with that.  I think John Wick would be okay with that assessment.  But not everyone will be.

The Toolbox

Ok, to be fair 1st edition 7th Sea was no hallmark in this department.  Aside from a few false starts (“Random” Encounters in the GM Screen adventure, The Powder Keg in the Villain’s Kit), the game never offered much in the way of tools for adventure building.  Hooks, sure.  Metaplot, yup.  But nuts and bolts so you could create your own unique vision of Théah?  Nope.  Nada.  Almost zero.  Oh, there were plenty of subsystems and mini-games that made 7th Sea a nice sandbox, but that’s not the same thing.  The GM who wandered off the page was on his own.

2nd edition is following the same playbook thus far.  There aren’t many tools for GMs in the new game.  There is no sample starting point, no example NPCs, no example monsters, no idea generators, no random encounter tables, no tools for creating a town or city.  The information is most big picture stuff (“this is what swashbuckling adventure is…”) and not little stuff (“here’s a list of elements to ratchet up the swashbuckling flavor of your adventure.”).  Is this even a valid critique of modern RPGs?  I think so.  Maybe all those Savage Worlds Adventure Generators have spoiled me.

That may all be coming in the sourcebooks.  John Wick has said as much that this edition will not have a metaplot.  So its quite possible that we’ll see some GM tools that focus on and highlight the individual locations in the setting.  In that sense, Pirate Nations, the first sourcebook (due out in November 2016), will be very telling.  And if JWP doesn’t see the value in providing tools for us hands-on sandbox worldbuilder GM types, maybe the promised Explorer’s Society marketplace will give us a venue for such things.

In Conclusion

I don’t want anyone coming away from my previous comments about 7th Sea 2nd edition thinking its all sunshine, roses, and kittens.  If you look at these critiques and think, “meh,” then by all means polish up those d10s and start dreaming up consequences.  If these give you pause, then track down a game on Roll20 or at convention and give it a spin before you start throwing money at it.  Or toss the new rules and just graft the old R/K system back on top of the new setting.  There’s no shame in that.  Even the crew at JWP is on record as saying they want folks to use the old system if the new one doesn’t work for them.  You know your tastes more than I do.

I’ve said the game is outside of my comfort zone, and it is.  For all the reasons I’ve listed above.  That doesn’t mean I don’t want to give it a try.  It also doesn’t mean I’m in it for the long haul (though that kickstarter sure did make that easier).  We had bucket loads of fun with the original edition, and I really hope this edition will deliver even more.  But the proof is in the pudding.  The first taste was nice, but that’s all it was.  Let’s see how things hold up over time.


The Devil of the Sea

Has it really been 3 weeks since I last posted here?  Sorry about that.  I blame potty training.  Let’s get back into it shall we?

If you haven’t already, I highly recommend everyone take a moment to check out The Demon Hunter’s Compendium.  It’s a very cool blog that does a great job compiling info on various monsters and legends from folklore.  It isn’t updated very often, but when it is, it’s usually a doozy.  If you are running a low-fantasy or horror game (any era), 2/3 of your monster research will be done for you by just this one blog.  This month the profiled a Scottish legend: the Nuckelavee.

According to Orcadian legend, the Nuckelavee (pronounced nuh-kel-ah-vee) is a horrible sea faery or a demon that comes out of the sea when darkness falls to bring sickness and death to humans, animals, and the very land itself. The beast then feeds upon the lifeforce of everything it has killed (Bane 220). The Nuckelavee is thought to be a member of the Unseelie Court, which is a court of evil faeries in Scottish folklore. These faeries are said to be the evil souls of the damned, and actively seek to do as much harm as they possibly can to humans, rather than just causing random mischief like other faeries (Franklin 260; “Nuckelavee”, Monstropedia). The beast is also thought to belong to the Fuath, a collective term for a wide variety of malevolent water faeries in Scottish and Irish folklore (Franklin 102). The name nuckelavee is thought to be derived from a corruption of the Orcadian word knoggelvi which, according to Orkney resident and folklorist Walter Traill Dennison, means “Devil of the Sea” (“Nuckelavee”, Wikipedia; “The Nightmarish Nuckelavee”, EsoterX). In Shetland, the same creature is known as a mukkelevi(“Nuckelavee”, Wikipedia). The word itself may very well be a variation of the Norse word nokk or the Icelandic word nykur (“The Nightmarish Nuckelavee”, EsoterX). But wherever the name comes from, they all more or less describe the same terrible creature.

So yeah, this has Witch Hunter monster written all over it.  So, without further adieu…

Nuckelavee (Beast)

Huge Creature

The Nuckelavee (pronounced nuh-kel-ah-vee) is a terrible abomination that comes out of the sea when darkness falls to bring sickness and death to humans, animals, and the very land itself.  They is most common to the southern coast of Scotland, though encounters have been recorded throughout the British Isles.  These creatures are associated with the Unseelie Court of the Fey, though they are not faerie spirits themselves.

Fear Rating: 4
Hell’s Favor: 3
Pace: 6

Initiative: Reflexes 6d
Melee: Claws 8d (+6 damage), Bite 6d (+8 damage), Trample 6d (+8 damage)
Ranged: None
Defenses: Avoidance 2, Discipline 2, Fortitude 5
Armor: 1
Health Track: 9/9/9/9

Talents: Grand Fury, Reel-In Attack, Slam (Sweep)


  • 10d: Endurance, Athletics
  • 6d: Command (Intimidation), Notice,Reflexes, Resolve, Stealth


  • Debilitative Aura (Breath) / Blocked from the World (Active at night only)
  • Durability / Vulnerability (Iron)
  • Carnivate / Obvious Appearance
  • Regeneration / Allergen (Fresh Water)
  • Shape Mask / Reveal Nature (Always casts a shadow of its true form)
  • Apparition / Restriction (Running Water)
  • Swath of Destruction (Breath) / Weakness (Burning Seaweed)

Story Ability: Nightmares / Restriction (Iron)


The nuckelavee’s body is essentially that of a horse. Along its flanks flap vestigial fins.  Growing out from where the horse’s head should be are the head, torso and arms of a man.  The head is overly large, with a shark-like mouth filled with sharp, jagged teeth, and a single bloodshot eye that glows red in the presence of light (like a cat’s).  It’s man-like arms are long and gangly, with bony knuckles that drag the ground, and tipped in sharp, rending claws.  The beast is has no skin, and muscle, sinew and bone are all exposed.  Standing out amid these are sickly yellow veins and arteries, pumping with black blood.  The putrid stench of sulfur and decomposing fish surrounds the creature, as does the foul, black miasma steadily belching from its gaping mouth.  The dreadful smell is known to drive entire herds of animals off of cliffs to their deaths.  As the creature runs, its massive head, lolls about on its neck as though the muscles are too weak to support its weight.


While a formidable monstrosity in its own right, it is the nuckelavee’s foul breath that is the source of much of its woe.  Described by witnesses as a “foul, black reek,” it causes plants and crops to wither, animals to sicken and die on the spot (Swath of Destruction).  It infects humans with a deadly wasting disease, known as Mortasheen (Debilitative Aura).  In the most powerful specimens, this power is powerful enough to create lasting periods of drought, leading to famine.

Like most of the creatures associated with the fey, it is vulnerable to iron, steel, and Cold Iron in particular.  It has some shapeshifting capabilities, but always casts its true shadow.  Fresh water is an anathema to it.  Likewise, the stench of burning seaweed can drive it back into the sea.  Many towns and villages along the southern Scottish coast perform “kelp-burnings” on nights with new moons to dissuade predations by these creatures.

Those who survive a brush with these creatures will be visited by vivid and persistant nightmares of the encounter.  An iron cross or scissors fastened above the bed will prevent these.





Winter gives way to Spring

Last Friday, with the death of the dreaded Fire Wyrm of Polch (a caterwaul actually; not really a dragon as Petrov was quick to point out), our cadre of players put the wraps on the Winter of Discontent storyline of our Witch Hunter game.  All seven players were on hand for it, which is probably why the fight only lasted three rounds (and why I never really got the chance to retreat).  So monster dead, human sacrifice averted, all in a good day for a group of witch hunters.

Now they head west for England and a whole new hot mess of trouble.

Funny though that when all your players show up, they find things to do that reveal problems in the rulebook.

Eldritch Blast

I’ve heard that during one tournament round, it became popular to use the Eldritch Blast rite over a ship’s cannons in ship to ship combat.  So it really doesn’t surprise me that there are big differences between 1st and 2nd edition when it comes to this Hermetic rite.  The thing is, our resident hermeticist player (who is a pretty smart guy in his own right) and your’s truly (no comment) had a devil of a time working out some of the details of the rite. Don’t get me wrong, the rite isn’t broken.  The description is just…lacking.  Usually I find that blending the text of the two editions gives me satisfying results.  So here are my revisions.  Revised text is in red.

ELDRITCH BLAST (Basic; Hermeticism)
Mastery: 2
Time: 2 rounds/1 round
Defense: Avoidance
Roll Required: Yes
Duration: Instantaneous
Strain: 4
Description: For those with a meager understanding and control of the arts, this rite is by far the most dangerous and difficult to control. The magus opens herself to the mystical energies swirling around her and begins to absorb as much as her body can contain. This usually manifests as a bright nimbus of light surrounding her being. When she has as much she can possibly hold, she releases this power in a crude, unfocused blast into a shared or adjacent Area, aimed in the general direction of her target.

Make a Hermeticism (Education) roll against your target’s Avoidance.  The blast has a DM of 2, plus any bonus successes rolled.  Armor reduces damage from the blast as normal.  All other beings within the same Area as the target (friend or foe alike) are also struck by the volatile energy and suffer 2 dice of damage as well.


  • Increase the Mastery by 1 to ignore the target’s armor value.
  • Increase the Mastery by 2 to increase the DM by 2.
  • Increase the Mastery by 2 to focus the blast so as to target only 1 creature with this rite.
  • Increase the Mastery by 2 to extend the Range of the blast from 1 area to a number equal to your Hermeticism skill rank (max. 5).


Can you intimidate a monster?  The rules for this are…confusing at best.  A target with Malice against you (you think?!) is actually damn hard (-6 dice penalty!) to intimidate.  I get why it would be that difficult to charm someone, or command troops in battle who loathe you and everything you stand for.  But intimidate?  Yeah, that just doesn’t sit right with me.  So…revised text is in red.


Where Charm and Command produce a desired action through reasonable words, Intimidate does so by instilling fear in the subject. Intimidate may simply be based on appearance or a certain mannerism, but it can also be a direct assault against a target, such as torture, physical abuse, or threats of either or death.

Intimidate rolls are made against your opponent’s Discipline Defense.  Each bonus success rolled has the effect indicated on the Intimidate Success Table (Table 2-8, pg 111). If you do not roll enough successes to beat your target’s defense, the roll fails and complications may apply as indicated.  If the target is a minion, or otherwise undefined, his defense is equal to his Threat Rating.

You may use Intimidate to affect multiple targets. To do so, roll as normal, but you need one additional success for every two members in the group.

New Years Resolutions for 2016



For 2016, here are things I’m aspiring to do as a Game Master, to improve my craft, my game, and my players’ experience:

  1. Front load fights in play!  Let’s get the blood pumping at the beginning of the game session, not when everyone is ready to sign off and go to bed.
  2. Use more tactics. Why should the players be the only ones taking Stances and making Wild Assaults.  The bad guys need to be using more of those tactics, too.
  3. More Sorcery!  I’ve never been good at using magic with adversaries.  This is the year we work on that.
  4. Pick up the Pacing! I’m going to try to include more quickly resolved encounters and hooks.  
  5. Punch up the Roleplaying with Intra-Factional Conflict.  None of these Witch Hunter Orders are supposed to get a long that well.  So let’s spice things up a bit with more roleplaying conflict.
  6. Watch Actual Play Videos from Roll20.  I have a lot to learn about making the Roll20 experience as good as it can be.
  7. Play an unrelated game on Roll20.  Same reason as above.
  8. Do more with handouts and rollable tables.  Quit worrying about Roll Templates and focus on the stuff that can really punch up the player experience.

There.  Eight things to focus on in 2016.  That shouldn’t be to hard.  And maybe I’ll get a blog article or two out of the effort.

A Day of Feasting

I had planned on posting this at a bit more relevant date, but small children with bronchitis derailed that dream.  But I think it’s too cool not to discuss.

As I’ve mentioned before, one of the cool things about running a real world inspired setting (in our case, late-17th century Europe) is that you occasionally stumble over some really cool things that can inspire fantastic adventure ideas.

One of the PCs in my witch hunter game is a Jesuit priest from an estranged order in Spain.  So one of the first things I did, in addition to assembling a working calendar including lunar cycles and events (werewolves, yo!) was to include as many obscure Catholic holidays as I could.  All the more obscure because I’m not Catholic.  So as the cadre traveled from Frankfurt to Polch for their latest adventure, they stumbled right across November 30th: St. Andrew’s Day.

Have you ever heard of St. Andrew’s Day?  Of course you have.  It’s just me, living in my bubble.  But indulge me please, because if I had spent five minutes reading the wiki entry instead of just dotting the date down on a calendar and moving on to bigger and better things, I would have proved my worth as a GM.

Saint Andrew is the patron saint of Cyprus, Scotland, Greece, Romania, Russia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople (that’s a mouthful!), San Andres Island, Colombia and Saint Andrew, Barbados.  November 30th is a feasting day (or night, in Germany) dedicated to him.

Now, the very fact that a decent chunk of Eastern Europe loves St. Andrew should send up all sorts of red flags.  But me?  Bubble.  So let’s journey through the glory that is the modern day Cliff-Notes of Everything, shall we?  Let’s just skip over the drunken Scots and get right to those red blooded Romanians, yes?

One of the elements that came from the Roman and Thracian celebrations concerned wolves. During this night, wolves are allowed to eat all the animals they want. It is said that they can speak, too, but anyone that hears them will soon die.

Ok, if you can’t spin a one night game session out of that, you might as well just give it up, right?  But it doesn’t stop there.

The best known tradition connected to this night concerns matrimony and premonitory dreams. Single girls must put under their pillow a branch of sweet basil. If someone takes the plants in their dreams, that means the girl will marry soon.

So basically its an Incubus’ holiday.  In fact, the whole night before St. Andrew’s Day throughout a sizable chunk of Europe is all about dreaming up husbands and matchmaking.  Back to Romania…

it is customary for young women to put 41 grains of wheat beneath their pillow before they go to sleep, and if they dream that someone is coming to steal their grains that means that they are going to get married next year. Also in some other parts of the country the young women light a candle from the Easter and bring it, at midnight, to a fountain. They ask St. Andrew to let them glimpse their future husband.

So there you have it.  Talking wolves that denote terrible omens (the Romanian version of England’s Black Dog) and dream magic.  What more could you ask for in a day?  The Witch Hunters think they are in the clear because they survived Halloween?  Are those poor sorry fools in for a surprise.

If nothing else, St. Andrew’s Day gives you the opportunity to build a Thanksgiving themed adventure for your European-centric characters, albeit with wolves instead of turkeys, but is that really a negative?  Let’s brainstorm a few adventure hooks:

  • Manwolves retain their human intelligence and capabilities on St. Andrew’s Eve.  Many meet in cabals on that night to discuss terms of territory.
  • Incarnate werewolves are especially vulnerable on St. Andrew’s Eve.  If the night falls on the full moon, they may not use their Infectious Personality Power.  If killed under these circumstances, they are permanently destroyed.  This is well known to the Crusaders Inviolate as well as the Unseen Hunt.  Unfortunately, it’s also well known to the Incarnates, who make a special point to go to ground during the last week of November.
  • On any encounter with wolves on St. Andrew’s Eve, roll a d10 for each Witch Hunter.  On a 1 or 2, the wolf speaks to the character.  This speech is only heard by the character in question, and forecasts his doom in the next coming year.  The character receives the Cursed Flaw and may not be rid of it until a year has passed.  The player should be encouraged to avoid wolves on that night thereafter.
  • A noble family is cursed and haunted by an incubus.  Each St. Andrew’s Eve, it returns to the family estate, stalking the grounds in the form of a monstrous wolf.  It invades the sleep of a daughter and feeds upon her essence, leaving the girl to wane and die in the coming months.  So far, the family has lost three daughters of five.  The lord has outlawed celebrations of St. Andrew in his lands, hoping that by somehow that will break the curse.  The incubus is but a tool, however, as the curse was laid by a powerful witch who lives in the forests nearby.  Her son was cut down by the lord and his men while on a hunting party some three years ago.  So now, she takes one of his children each year.  The incubus delivers a fragment of the dying daughter’s essence to the witch each year, which she is working into a rite that will usher in an even darker fate to the lord and his family once the fifth daughter is dead.  Twist: the fourth and fifth daughters are twins who have come of age this year.  Either one or both could be targeted by the demon.
  • As the witch hunters pass through a town, a young woman recognizes one of them from her prophetic dream.  She and her friends are excited, for they believe that the vision granted by St. Andrew is coming true.  If the witch hunter spurns her advances, she is heartbroken.  One of her friends advises her to pay a visit to an isolated pagan priestess, who secretly has ties to the Sisterhood of the Dark Coven or is an old adversary of one of the witch hunters with a score to settle.  She gives the girl a love potion…

I’m sure you can come up with more.  That’s what the comments section is for.




Failed Save: Gamer ADHD

Please excuse the radio silence folks.  Some of my favorite blogs have gone on hiatus for the holidays, but I’m not done quite yet.  But between Thanksgiving, dueling cases of bronchitis, the third circle of Hell that is Sears Appliance delivery, and the regular list of honey-dos, it can be hard to collect your thoughts, let alone put them down in semi-legible format.  Hell, this simple paragraph has been interrupted three times as the little one struggles with his spiralgraph.


Anyway, gamer ADHD.  Lots of people struggle with it.  Lately, I’ve been battling an acute case of it.  Now, I have no interest in ditching my Witch Hunter game.  But it doesn’t help that most of the stuff they’ve been doing over the past two years, I scribbled notes on in 2013 when we started playing.

In September/October, we went a month and a half (that’s three game sessions for us) where we just didn’t play.  Either I was traveling or we couldn’t make a quorum.  That didn’t help matters any.  During that time, a steady procession of older games got a second look (and sometimes more from me): Dangerous Journeys, Lejendary Adventure, Elric!, Atlantis and Omni, multiple flavors of D&D.  Even my old Darkurthe Legends books came out of deep carbon freeze!  Yes folks, it’s that bad.  Geez, you’d think I had a good idea for a fantasy campaign but…not really.

bullwinkleAnother problem is there just isn’t much going on in Witch Hunter circles.  It’s just…damn quite.  I’m no stranger to games with small player bases (Lejendary Adventure and TSR’s SAGA come to mind), but never this quiet.  Hell, even the creators and publisher are nearly silent on the game.  A lot of times, I worry that I’ve either become the loud mouthed know it all (who really doesn’t know much at all) or else that guy who sucks up all the oxygen in the room.  Either way, I do more harm with my contributions than by shutting up.  It can be hard to maintain a certain creative pace when your only encouragement is a “+1” in the Google+ group.

I know, first world problems, right?

I wish I had easy answers for how to beat this dire affliction.  It really does kick time management in the scrotum.  But here’s the thing: as long as my players are willing and motivated, I EASILY have another year of Witch Hunter in me.  Yes, some of the elements date back to my old 7th Sea game nearly 12 years distant, but a lot of it is fresh, new and cool.  Stuff that I’ve been wanting to do in a game for a looong time.

The Devil’s in the Details, Part 2 [New Math]

Ok, so as we established last time, I think the idea of bringing numerology into the Witch Hunter game universe is pretty dang cool.  I just wish the realization of it match up to the potential.  Right now, I think it’s half-hearted at best.

Ok, smart boy.  What are you gonna do about it?

My solution is likely to generate as much criticism as the issue itself, but after a day of brainstorming, I’ve come up with a direction I like.  For one thing, it doesn’t really mess with anything already established.  Any Witch Hunter GM could drop this into his game and never miss a beat.

First of all, the Devil’s Numbers Talent is hereby demoted to a Basic Talent.  The Requirements stay the same.  Why?  Well, the requirements are decent enough, but the Talent itself requires you to make a successful roll to earn bonus dice for a second roll.  Nothing is guaranteed; either roll can fail, bonuses or no. By comparison, I could apply Expertise to my Mysticism roll and be guaranteed a +1d bonus, or Talented and re-roll any 1s on my roll.  Guarantees are better than maybes, so a Basic Talent it is.  Besides, that sets us up for…

Devil’s Arithmetic.

Ok, first a word about Damnation.  Damnation is Witch Hunter’s vile twist on the “Benny Economy” (to borrow a phrase from Savage Worlds critics).  Those of you familiar with Dark Side points from the old d6 Star Wars game, or a similar mechanic from the old Ravenloft D&D setting will get the gist.  Players can spend Damnation just like hero points to get immediate benefits.  Monsters can tap into a player (or group’s) damnation to boost their own powers.  Accumulating damnation is generally not a good idea.

But it just fits too well with Devil’s Arithmetic.

So here’s the BIG IDEA: A player character with the Devil’s Arithmetic Talent gets access to a handful of minor benefits depending on his or her damnation score.  The more damnation, the more powerful benefits become available.  I’ve capped this at 3 damnation because a) I’m not a jerk and b) accumulating damnation is NOT the point of the game and I don’t want to encourage it.  But if any of these benefits look too powerful to you, feel free to goose up the damnation requirement by a point or two.

Once per game session, a PC with Devil’s Arithmetic may attempt  to create new or manipulate existing patterns and mathematical glyphs, adding subtle deviations and changes to the fabric of reality.  Doing so requires at least 1 hour of uninterrupted concentration and work.  At the end of this hour, the player makes a D3 Scholarship (Trained Knowledge: Mathematics or Science) roll.  The effects of this manipulation typically last no longer than 1 day (or until the next sunrise).  No more than 1 effect may be in effect at any time.

Damnation 0:

  • You gain a +1d bonus to any one Reaction roll that day or +2d to one in the following scene.  You must specify which at the time this ability is employed.

Damnation 1:

  • For every two successes rolled, you may add 1 effective rank to your dice pool (up to 1/2 of your Scholarship rank) for purposes of preparing or casting a hermetic or necromantic rite, or an alchemical formulae.  This may allow you to safely boost the power of the Rite without issue.
  • You may cause any single opponent (or ally) to fail a single roll at your time of choosing.  The subject should roll normally as any complications roll will be applied to the result.
  • When another character’s Sin is activated, you receive a Hero Point.  The other player may not use a hero point to avoid the activation.

Damnation 2:

  • You can predict the location of a known person or thing.  You must be familiar with the subject or item, either through observation or research.  Every two successes above the difficulty allows you to insert one variable into the equation, allowing you to manipulate the target’s movements from afar (ie. the baron will be in his bed chamber, unless the captain of the guard has been detained in his mistress’ chambers).
  • You may cause a known subject to become unsettled and agitated.  For the next day (or until the following sunrise, whichever happens first), the subject suffers -1d to all Reaction and Interaction rolls.

Damnation 3:

  • When facing a villain or threat, you may give that subject one of the following Prices: Avoidance, Damage, Vulnerability or Weakness.  You may choose the conditions of the Price, but it must be a reasonable (and common) variant and is subject to GM approval.  This new Price is in addition to all those already possessed by the threat.  This condition persists until the next day or the following sunrise, whichever happens first.

As you can see, the idea is to start with Devil’s Arithmetic being a sort of creepy means of divination.  But as the character flirts more and more with damnation, he or she gains the ability to manipulate fate.  Which is kinda cool.  The Damnation 0 power is a limited form of the Blessing Basic Prayer Rite, so that seems fitting enough when you consider the rest.

Welcome to the War against the Adversary! Are you a fan of Witch Hunter? Active on Google+? Then come join the conversation on the Witch Hunter: The Invisible World Google+ Community. It’s new, outnumbered and needs your support!

The Devil’s in the Details, Part 1: Basic Math

[Sept 4, 2015: Part Two of this article is available here.]

A few weeks ago, the PDF of Rites & Relics, the Witch Hunter sorcery companion, finally debuted on DriveThruRPG.  I snapped it up almost immediately.  I won’t say my players have exhausted the possibilities of the sorcery presented in the core book, but with a Jesuit priest witch hunter and a full blown Hermetic Magi joining the group, I like to have options available.  Besides, it meant I could swap out a chunk of my Converted Talents from Blessed and Damned for official conversions, which is always nice.

Now among the Talents in Rites & Relics are conversions of Devil’s Numbers and Devil’s Arithmetic. These talents offer Witch Hunter’s vision of Supernatural Numerology, which I think is damn cool.  In theory, anyway.  I haven’t made these available in my game for a couple of reasons.  First, they don’t fit anyone’s current concept, so I’d rather spend my energies doing other things.  But mainly, they don’t…really…do…anything.

Devil’s Numbers is nice enough.  Make a Scholarship roll to gain additional dice to a subsequent Mysticism roll.  I’m not sure that’s worthy of being a Greater Talent, but the benefit is clear as day.  The follow-up “advanced” Talent?  Well…here’s the descriptive text.

As you continue your dark path, you have uncovered new and forbidden insights that man was simply not meant to know. By now, your understanding of numbers and the Invisible World has reached such a level to where you may now design mathematical glyphs and patterns. These assembled shapes provoke feelings of fear, paranoia, and madness in those who witness them.

Your strange symbols must be made with precision and care, because the angles and curves of the shapes you create must be absolutely precise in order to function. To create your patterns, it takes at least an hour and a Scholarship (Science) check.

Those able to witness your symbols must make a Resolve (Courage) check with a difficulty equal to the result of your Scholarship roll. Those who fail their roll suffer a -2d penalty to all Interaction and Professional skill rolls until they leave the presence of your symbols due to their inability to concentrate on anything else but your garish glyphs. Keep in mind that publicly displaying your symbols would be a sure sign that you are a witch in most circles. Forcing someone to stare at your symbols is most certainly a form of torture.

Ok, can you spot the benefit in there?  If so, please spell it out to me, because I can’t.  In fact, other than make other people uneasy around you, it’s almost entirely a RP-centric Talent.  Which would be much cooler if it didn’t cost you 75 experience for the privilege to inflict a penalty on the rest of the group and your allies.  It’s as though something got cut out or forgotten in the editing process.  This text is almost word for word from the original version in Blessed and Damned, so this Talent has been in the wild for a long time.  So if “design[ing] mathematical glyphs and patterns. These assembled shapes provoke feelings of fear, paranoia, and madness in those who witness them” does something more than the obvious, please let me know.

Ok, I suppose you could break into a grand Sherlock Holmes style soliloquy in front of the big bad and all his minions, explaining to him how you’ve foiled his desperate, diabolical plan and then leave all witnesses at a disadvantage while they fret over their failing geometry grade, but that tactic is easily foiled with a pistol-full of “shut the hell up!”  Definitely not worth the points there.  Not to mention that, as written, its pretty clear everyone BUT YOU is at the same disadvantage.  Maybe even the other characters with this Talent (“Crap, how did I miss that?! That’s going to keep me up for a week!”).

So yeah, just not feeling it.

But I love the concept!  And it isn’t as though I haven’t missed the forest for the trees before.  Perhaps there is some masterful benefit hidden in there that breaks the game wide open and turns Witch Hunter into an irreverent lost episode of NUMB3RS.  I just don’t see it.  I’ve put the word out, though, so hopefully all will be revealed soon.

In the meantime, I’ve been rolling the concept around in my head for a few days now.  How can I turn these lemons into lemonade?  How much sugar do I need?  Will it go well with vodka?

It all boils down to this: “To create your patterns, it takes at least an hour and a Scholarship (Science) check.”  Devil’s Arithmetic means you’ve gone beyond using these symbols, equations and formulations to predict things and moved into the realm of manipulating the data to serve your own ends.

These assembled shapes provoke feelings of fear, paranoia, and madness in those who witness them.”  What you are doing is clearly wrong on a very fundamental level.  You are playing with God’s Creation in ways that were never intended and flirting with damnation at every turn, enough so that the merely showing your work is enough to weird out even the bad guys.

Surely there MUST be something cool we can do with that, right?

I think there is.

Tune in tomorrow when I turn a bunch of meandering scribbles and brainstorming into something suitably cool.  In the meantime, if you know the secret of Devil’s Arithmetic, or just been justly inspired on your own account, please leave a comment!


Welcome to the War against the Adversary! Are you a fan of Witch Hunter? Active on Google+? Then come join the conversation on the Witch Hunter: The Invisible World Google+ Community. It’s new, outnumbered and needs your support!

I Melt His Face! (New Tools for the Witch Hunter GM!)

One of the things that annoys me about creating new threats in Witch Hunter (and plenty of other RPGs, too), is the powers menu is just a big alphabetized mess.  I want my giant demon snake to have a nasty bite.  But other than slapping a Rank and Damage Modifier on that, what can you do with it.  Is that a Crippling Strike or a Maiming Strike?  Or neither?  These powers are all over the place, and once you start getting down to matching them with Prices, I can see where new GMs are going to be flustered.

So dovetailing with the previously released GM Threat Summaries, today I’ve rolled out a two-page aid that should help with all that: the Special Powers Summaries aid.  That’s the boring descriptive title of it, anyway.  It more colorfully goes by “Claw/Claw/Bite” and “I Melt His Face!

Claw/Claw/Bite includes descriptive summaries of the various physical attack powers in Witch Hunter.  This is going to save you time while trying to decide what that big demon snake’s bite is going to do.

I Melt His Face! focuses on big, splashy magical effects.  Things like Hellfire, or Blast Attack, or the various damaging auras.  They are all in there.  The descriptions are a bit more robust, because you kinda need to know these things when building your threats.

These two aids have helped speed things up when I’ve been working on new critters, and hopefully they will work for the rest of you Witch Hunter GMs, too.

Welcome to the War against the Adversary! Are you a fan of Witch Hunter? Active on Google+? Then come join the conversation on the Witch Hunter: The Invisible World Google+ Community. It’s new, outnumbered and needs your support!