Monday, June 17, 2013

Beyond the Wall: Free Bestiary Available!

The ever amazing Colin Chapman has produced What Lies Beyond, a free, extended bestiary for the Beyond the Wall neoclone. The supplement has a nice selection of mundane and exotic beasts (e.g., the grindylow depicted above in one of my favorite Brian Froud images) as well as a template system for making unique undead (similar to the template systems already introduced in the BtW corebook for making unique demons, dragons, and goblins). Check it out!

P. S. I will be getting back to the BtW village blogtest soon. This week, however, I am up to my neck in packing for the move to a new home several blocks away. It's hard to believe just how many books my family owns—and how many boxes it takes to pack those books away!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Fantasy Course Now Underway

Although today was technically the second day of my Summer Session II ENGL 109 "Intro to Narrative" course, it was in actuality the first day that the students and I discussed fantasy literature. Our author for this week is Lord Dunsany, and our story for today's class was "The Sword of Welleran." I began by giving the students a mini-lecture on the concepts of liminality and threshold experiences in ritual and literature. There was much talk of weddings as liminal rites we all know from life, books, and mass media. There was also a nice exchange about Batman as a liminar. Then I shifted class into discussion mode by asking the students to identify all of the liminal elements in Dunsany's story. They did a great job of this and were also quite alert to Dusany's ironic conclusion to the tale (which I won't spoil here for those who might want to read it).

I won't bore you all further with regular updates about the class, but I thought that I'd at least mention it was up and running. Anyone who's interested further can look at my syllabus. We finish up Dunsany this week with "The Fall of Babbulkund" and "The Kith of the Elf-Folk," then it's on to Robert E. Howard and "The Phoenix on the Sword" next Monday.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Fate Accelerated: Mr. Baggins of Bag-End, Underhill

This is my one hundredth post on Vargold: The Wolf-Time, so I thought I'd dedicate it to J. R. R. Tolkien's Bilbo Baggins, the character who sparked my love of fantasy fiction back in the spring of 1979. I've never liked most of the RPG write-ups that I've seen for Bilbo; he usually ends up being awkwardly shoe-horned into a system designed for sword-and-sorcery action, something that's very far from his tea, cakes, and handkerchief-laden wheelhouse. Fate Accelerated does a much better job of accounting for this genteel fish out of water, so that's what I've used to generate the character sheet below.

Bilbo Baggins

High Concept: Respectable Gentle-Hobbit
Trouble: A Took on His Mother's Side
Aspects: Would-Be Burglar


Clever +3, Careful +2, Sneaky +2, Forceful +1, Quick +1, Flashy +0


Because I am a Lover of Puzzles, I get a +2 whenever I Cleverly overcome obstacles generated by puzzles, riddles, and other conundrums.

I decided to express Bilbo's fuddy-duddy Baggins qualities in his High Concept, leaving his suppressed Tookish penchant for adventure to his Trouble. Most of "An Unexpected Party" is about the conflict between these two sides of our protagonist. His remaining Aspect—"Would-Be Burglar"—reflects his position within Thorin and Company and will be repeatedly compelled by the dwarves' players to make Bilbo take the risks they hope to avoid. Because it's so perfect for his character, I stole Bilbo's Stunt right out of the main FAE rulebook (p. 31); at the start of the novel, it's encapsulated in his fascination with Thrain's map. My assumption is that Bilbo's remaining Aspects and Stunts will be determined in play. (In fact, I'd be tempted to skip ahead to "Inside Information" and make use of Bilbo's list of self-epithets to generate them.)

Thanks again to all my readers for sticking through my first hundred posts; I'm hoping to take much less than three years to produce the next hundred!

Monday, June 3, 2013

Beyond the Wall Blogtest: My Dwarven Adventurer's Raw Numbers

Everyone in the Beyond the Wall blogtest has agreed to first present the results of our playbook dice rolls and then to discuss those results before generating final character descriptions. Handling the process this way will also help us to collaborate on the village map and NPC list (rather than having to back away from decisions made in isolation).

Brett has already posted his dice rolls for his Would-Be Knight; Henry has done the same for his Self-Taught Mage. What follows are my results for my Dwarven Adventurer.

According to the playbook, my character has the following stats before any dice are rolled: STR 10, CON 12, DEX 8, INT 8, WIS 8, CHA 6.

The first set of tables answer the question "How did you come to the lands of men?"

In this section, the first subquestion is "What is the history of your clan?" I rolled an 8: "They have always worked the deepest mines, mining the richest veins of precious metals and gems." The mechanical bonuses for this result are +2 STR, +2 CON, and Skill: Mining. This subquestion comes with a map icon, indicating that I get to add a location to the village map. Since my character is from out of town, this decision is a bit tougher than the ones the human characters' players have to make. Perhaps there is a jeweler in town or a goldsmith who purchased the minerals dug up by my character's clan?

The second subquestion is "What drove you from the lands of your people?" I rolled another 8, getting the tragic result of "Your hold was destroyed by goblins." My STR gets another +2 bonus; my CON, a +1. Was my character the only dwarf from the hold to survive?

The final subquestion in this section of the playbook asks "When you left your own people, you found it difficult to live with humans. However, the other characters became your fast friends. Who else became your friend?" My roll of 3 on this table turned up a rather strange result: "Most humans found you too strange, and were frightened of you. You spent much time alone." Since this subquestion is supposed to generate an NPC for the list, it seems counter-intuitive for the playbook to produce a result that provides no hook for generating an NPC. My inclination is to roll again, but I thought I would consult with the group first about doing so. The mechanical bonuses for my roll are +1 CON, +1 INT, and +1 WIS.

At this point, I'm done with the first of the playbook's two major questions. My character's abilities are now as follows: STR 14, CON 16, DEX 8, INT 9, WIS 9, and CHA 6. He also has Skill: Mining.

Becoming a Level 1 Warrior, the character gains the class abilities Weapon Specialization and Knacks as well as a craft skill of my choosing. Since the specific nature of my class abilities will be decided by subsequent rolls on the tables, I initially thought that this skill would be as well. But that doesn't seem to be the case. Since the character came from a precious metals mine, I decide to make this skill "Goldsmithing."

Now I move on to the playbook's second major question: "What have you learned on your adventures so far?"

The first subquestion here is "How do you plan to build your hoard?" My roll is a 4, "You hold in your memory the location of the entrances to several lost elven tombs and plan to take their faerie gold." The mechanical benefits are +2 CON and Skill: Trapping. Can anyone say "plot hook for the GM"? I thought you could!

The next subquestion is "Like all respectable dwarves, you bear the weapon of your fathers. What is it?" With a roll of 2, my ancestors' weapon is apparently "A short but broad blade of heirloom steel." I get +3 CON and Weapon Specialization (+1 to hit, +2 to damage) with the short sword. I'm also supposed to add a building to the village map. Since this entire table is all about weapons, my choices here seem a bit limited: blacksmith, armorer, guardhouse. I'll take votes from the rest of the group.

(I'll also note that my character has run afoul of Beyond the Wall's maximum in-chargen ability value of 19. After these two tables, his CON should be 21—but it can't, so I settle for the 19 and hope I don't get another CON bonus.)

On the third subquestion table ("What was your first big hassle amongst the tall people? The friend to your right was there with you."), I roll a 1: "You were waylaid by a pack of giant spiders near the mountains. Your friend burned their webs as they descended from the trees, and gains +1 STR." My mechanic bonus is a +2 to STR and the Knack: Defensive Fighter (+1 AC). The friend bonus is a good one, given that the player to my virtual right is Brett's Would-Be Knight; he can definitely use a STR boost. We've also learned that the village is near the mountains.

The final subquestion is "What treasure do you keep that first drew the other characters to you?" My roll of 5 gives me "An untarnished silver chalice," a useless CON boost of +2 (that's four points of extra CON down the drain, boo-hoo), and a "cup which purifies its drink." I expect that the other players met my character in the tavern where he routinely drank from his own cup, the one family heirloom he rescued from the destruction of his hold. An NPC creation is signaled here. Since I earned a cup from this table, I think the NPC has to be the man or woman who fills that cup with strong ale: either the bartender at the tavern or the barmaid.

At this point, I'm done rolling. My character's abilities are STR 16, CON 19, DEX 8, INT 9, WIS 9, and CHA 6. My skills are Mining, Goldsmithing, and Trapping. About as classic a dwarf as you could expect (albeit clumsier than most—was he injured escaping from the goblins?). Time for the rest of the players to make comments and suggestions, I think!