In Book 2: Starships of the Traveller Little Black Box, it talks a bit about getting education and training. Easy enough to Apocalypse it up a bit. Here’s a different way to say something similar, drawing inspiration from ( or ruthlessly pillaging, depending on your POV) Apocalypse World and Burned Over:
But, Judd, you ask, what about stats?
I like that we’re saying that the limits of the human body aren’t interesting to us. What you use to change the world is your training and in order to gain training you have to go out and interact with the world.
What about non-basic moves?
Non-basic moves are all tech. Maybe the True Sword, a networked blade with an embedded AI, gives you a move like the Gunlugger’s Not to be Fucked With, where you fight as a gang. Certain drugs give you access to psychic powers.
At the start of the pandemic, a little more than a year ago, my friend, Anthony was feeling sick. It turned out to just be a cold but we didn’t know that. We were scared. I asked him if I could grab some groceries for him and leave them on his porch or get something from the pharmacy. He didn’t need any of that.
“Could you run a game?”
“Fuck yeah, I can.”
We’ve been gaming strong for more than a year now and this t-shirt celebrates that.
100% or the proceeds generated by this shirt go to Stop AAPI Hate (and Threadless throws in a few more bucks). We love the idea of our geekery and friendship somehow, in some way, making the world a better place. After the brutal hate crime last week our Asian siblings, friends and colleagues in the hobby, have had a brutal week after a particularly brutal year. It is nice to use our creativity to support them in some small way.
All of the items in this story go to wonderful charities.
I wrote down Water, Chaos of Limbo, Feuding Deities. I wrote down Lake Monastery and crossed it out. Then I thought about it a while and got excited about Xaos, the Portal City between the Outlands and Limbo. In the process of thinking about that, I forgot about the water aspect of this roll, which is just fine.
In the end, the players had to head to Xaos, a Portal City on the edge of the Outlands to end a God-Feud that was ripping the town apart.
Chaos Worshippers on Pilgrimage to look upon Limbo
Alright, let’s put these pieces together.
Taking a cue from Trophy Gold Incursions I’m going to break the Portal Town into sets. This is helpful to me because structure is helpful, especially with an idea as big as Gods Feuding in a Portal Town between the Outlands and the Elemental Plane of Chaos.
Front Gate, Portal Platform, Bell-Tower, Shrine-Town
Front Gate is built under a cyclopean statue of the ancient hero-saint Gith, cross-legged, meditating upon a sword, a broken chain and the elements.
Portal Platform has Githzerai with long polearms to keep out any chaos monsters that might spill forth from the gate. They are milling about but always with one eye on the portal, ready to spring into action.
The Bell-Tower is where the Abbot of the monastery lives and studies. The bell is only rung when something comes through the gate.
The Abbot’s Library – lots of planar theory about law and chaos, meditations on hierarchy, why the fist is more potent to the sword, martial arts manuals
The Bell of Chains – yes, it is made of melted chains from their days as Illithid Thralls.
Shrine-town is a ramshackle town where the chaos pilgrims stay.
The Eight-Pointed Star is the lone inn with shrines to Arioch and other Chaos Saints.
Squats – none really own land here, folks stay in the shacks here for as long as they need to and move on when they are ready.
One of my favorite parts of Trophy Gold adventure’s format is moments. Little things for the players to see, little things for the GM to say when there is a lull.
Front Gate Moments
Crow caged prisoner asks for water (Githyanki, Illithid and one other. to be determined at the moment or randomly..)
Monk meditates on four elements rotating around his head, changing the nature of each; she will talk about nature of the planes if folks want to chat about philosophy
Portal Platform Moments
Guards tell anyone coming too close to be careful but don’t hold anyone back CHAOS REIGNS
Chaos Pilgrims look upon the Chaos of Limbo, weeping on their knees
Fallen Paladin looking upon chaos; he came here to throw his broken sword into Limbo itself
The Bell-Tower Moments
The Abbot meditating upon the nature of lava.
The room, silent and inviting, only a sleeping crystal bat and Limbo’s portal lighting your way.
Chaos pilgrims debating hierarchies and their place in Law and Chaos…
But what do they DO?
They track down gods.
During the first session I had 3 player characters, so I based the gods roughly and loosely on them.
The Bandit God, The Hanged Man, the Road Agent
Escape, Ambush, Criminal Recruitment
The Sorcerer God, the Wizard-Toad, The Blesser of Towers
Spells, Lore, Towers
The Elder Ring, Dryad Crone, The Holy Willow
Roots, Seeds, Secrets
The first game was travel and getting used to the area. The second game I started with a bang. The Bandit God mugged one of the players at knifepoint while the kids of the town were watching a puppet show about Gith liberating her people from the cruel Illithid.
I decided the gods were weak and had trouble healing. They’d have 4d10 hit points and powers that went with their spheres of influences.
The Toad-Wizard-God tossed an acidic mist spell into the plaza, trying to kill the Bandit God and a brutal battle followed. I liked it. I haven’t run a good D&D combat in a long while and this one was fun.
At the end of the game, the players were gathered around Trundle as he tried to destroy the stone that had done the first murder in the gods’ dead world. It was a brutal death artifact. The Elder Ring approached. I rolled an encounter table and rolled a 10 – considers offers/leaves. She was not willing to jump them; they were right in front of the portal to Limbo. She asked them to give the stone to her. They refused.
She nodded and walked away.
On the Bingo XP table, I covered, Players make an enemy and told them I did so. There’s an angry tree goddess from a dead world pissed at them.
Next game the players are heading to a party in Faery. Dark Powers are afoot. I won’t tell you what I rolled but I’ll post the notes just like this once I’m done.
The players are an Outland Exhibition Team (O.E.T.) operating out of Sigil. O.E.T.’s are city-funded adventuring parties that head out into the Outlands and restore balance to situations that arise there. When they return they sit down with the community where they live and discuss the philosophical and moral implications of their choices.
“I just want to point out that outsiders entering a community to restore some idea of balance is colonial nonsense that is harmful to the world.”
“Do you attend every O.E.T. community discussion to say this?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Fair enough. So noted…”
I rolled up the adventure and mapped out an outline using the Trophy Gold incursion structure (more on that in a future blog post). The players were heading to Xaos, Portal City between the Outlands and the Ever-changing Chaos of Limbo to stop a god-feud happening there. Gods from a dead Prime Material World were feuding and causing problems.
I decided that there was a rival group of assassins known as the God-killers on their way to Xaos to kill the feuding gods. I wasn’t sure of much else about them. Would they get there first or show up later to heighten the tension? Not sure.
I rolled on the Encounter Table for their first day of travel.
Lost Souls…Dead Adventurers. I think my encounter just told me that the God-killers are dead.
INTERESTING. I did not see that coming.
The gods heard about them and panicked. They set aside their differences for a bit, made sure they were killed and then went back to their in-fighting. If the players find out that they set aside their differences once, they can figure out how to get them to do it again.
It also was a nice way of giving an info dump because assassins who call themselves the God-killers definitely did their homework.
One of the God-killers was a Tiefling and asked Kuru the Halfling Thief to burn some incense at the shrine to Asmodeus back in Sigil. Love it.
For the next day, I rolled a 12.
On the third d6 I got a 6. The dragon is taking treasure. Cool. But from who? I rolled again. I could’ve chosen but I was curious to see what the table would say.
Merchants. Makes sense. More simple than a dragon mugging an angel but sometimes simple is good.
I described the players arriving to a one-inn town with a merchant caravan leaving as a thunderstorm began. The players noticed right away and asked the inn-keeper why they were leaving into a storm. She told them that the caravan had a delivery that was time sensitive (what was that about? I’m still not sure and I’m not sure I ever will be) and so they left despite her warnings. She said that the storm wasn’t natural and they were leaving into doomful circumstances.
The next morning as the players were leaving, lightning-scorched survivors from the caravan were in the common room, talking about how they survived a dragon attack the night before. The blue dragon had attacked the caravan and pillaged its treasures before flying away.
I decided the rest of the journey went by without a hitch. I roll every day or two of travel.
Why did I roll these encounters? There weren’t any fights.
That is okay. Friendly and neutral encounters are fine. We’re into our third session. It fleshes out the world. I get to learn about what the characters are like.
The players could’ve gone after the caravan and talked them into staying. They could’ve decided to hunt the blue dragon. For now it is just color.
Sometimes I roll. Sometimes I choose. Sometimes they players sprint headlong into a brewing situation that has nothing to do with the oncoming adventure. Sometimes they hang back and smoke a pipe in the rain, under the eaves of the inn. Sometimes the players’ actions make something on (or off) the table obvious, so the encounter for that day is taken care of. Sometimes they get the jump on the encounter and other times they encounter will get the jump on them. It all depends on the circumstances and what the fiction demands.
I’m not calling them random encounter tables anymore. They’re Inspirational Encounter Tables.
Thank you for joining us as we play Stars Without Number. When we played together last year we all wanted to get together again and play some more. Here we are. We’ve agreed to give it a shot for three episodes and see how we’re feeling.
This is our first session. Misha and Jay are playing Envoys, here to bring Sector Alas Theta back to the Terran Mandate after 300 years of isolation. Inspired by Star Trek: Discovery, we’ve decided that the Terran Mandate is a benevolent organization, with people who are doing their best in a bad situation. The Envoys will be briefed on what initial scans picked up and choose a planet to set their orbital platform HQ into orbit around.
Tonight their characters are getting to know each other as we explore Alas Theta’s factions and the sci-fi mysteries that drive them.
We’ll catch you up right here so you can watch along with us.
In the first arc of the game Nara was a baby and in that game she was declared an elf-friend (so that a cruel elf wouldn’t murder her) and prophesied to be the Arch-mage. When we learned this before we knew what an Arch-mage was, what the title meant or that Nara was going to be a character in the third arc.
Since then we have learned that the ages of this world are marked by Arch-mages, one per generation. If Nara is the next Arch-mage she will be the 5th, an auspicious number. An Arch-mage is a wizard who picks up the Burning Wheel, an artifact left on a mountaintop in the care of the Dwarven Wheelholdt clan, and carries it down the mountain.
Nara has been feeling the pressure to pick up this dangerous and powerful artifact while also feeling unprepared and unready to do so. Despite all of these pressures, when violence broke out in the city she picked up the Wheel and tried to stop this outbreak of violence with magic. She failed and is burned. That is where we find her today. Burned, frustrated, ashamed and trying to figure out what comes next for a wizard who tries to pick up the Wheel and fails.
Sean and I are playing Burning Wheel (Technically, Burning Wheel Gold Revised), a rules dense system that revolves around the character’s beliefs. Below are the beliefs Sean has written for Nara over the sessions of this game, to give you an idea of her growth and what interests Sean about the setting. It is Judd’s job to push these beliefs.
Theses are ambitious beliefs Sean has written.
Bury your own heads has become a kind of unofficial campaign motto since Nara made a deal with a powerful spirit and it led to her playing a role in the death of over a dozen bandits.
Sean putting Nara in a position to change the world. We don’t know how much she’ll change the world or how much the world will change her.
“I am excited to make many rolls on this wonderful table. Boon companions, when searching the gutters for my body, remember to look for the fellow wearing the dashing hat.” – Drew
I don’t know why coins are dice. I found a notebook from a few years ago with a nearly abandoned D&D hack and some of those notes made it to a Google Doc. Said doc read:
Discuss what you are buying and figure out how many dice in which coin.
1’s disappear. All other results degrade one level.
Buying below the coin you are using (for example, using Gold to buy from the Silver level or Platinum to buy from the Gold) it takes only half the coin.
Buy above the coin you are using takes ten times the coin and no need to roll, they all disappear.
If you want to buy something really special that seems within the bounds the DM can say the coins will disappear at a greater rate (on a 1 or a 2 or a 1, 2 or 3…etc) or can say that the coin will disappear entirely.
8d4 | Village rent / Subsistence lifestyle / Beast of burden / Dependable but quirky local guide who will run at the first sign of trouble
Journeymen, hedge knights, heroes after their first good haul
2d6 | Food in the city for a few days
4d6 | Professional soldier’s weapons
6d6 | Armor / Master Tools / Riding Mount / A hard night of carousing and drugs in a village at the crossroads
8d6 | City rent for a season / Simple lifestyle for a season / Slumlord bodyguards for a few weeks
Landed knights, minor lords, successful merchants, established tomb raiders after smart investments who have survived the many dangers
2d8 | A fine meal / Domestic Staff for a few weeks / a messenger who will personally deliver your missive to the neighboring city in peace-time
4d8 | Noble’s weapons, custom-made to fit wielder / Veteran adventurer’s services on a reckless exhibition with promises of a generous cut of the wealth and glory
6d8 | Fine armor / War-horse / Custom barding for your griffon / A hard night of carousing and drugs in a city
8d8 | Noble’s lifestyle for a season but only with intense effort to not let the courtiers see the signs of impending poverty / House knights for a season
Ducal houses, kings, merchant houses, adventurers with reputations who have gained titles and lead their own guilds, cults and armies
2d10 | The finest meal you will ever eat /
4d10 | Personal diplomat/agent / A trainer for your feral wyvern /
6d10 | Personal priest / Adventuring Party / Feed visiting king’s retinue for a season / a season’s tutoring with this generation’s finest swordsman / A hard night of carousing and drugs in the sleaziest city in the world
8d10 | Purchase land / Personal Wizard / Purchase Ship
Dragons, emperors, popes, arch-mages with a head for social engineering and heroes who fancy themselves world-breakers and demi-gods
2d12 | Legendary Assassin
4d12 | Ducal support
6d12 | Build Cathedral or a Castle / A hard night of carousing and drugs in the Emperor’s palace
8d12 | King’s Ear
Is this better or worse than counting beans? What will making buying things a die roll accomplish? Time will tell. I asked the Thursday night group if they’d mind giving this a try and they agreed.
Then Drew said his character was going to drink what remained of his gold away and I knew I needed a carousing table and suddenly, my coin dice had a purpose. This hideous table was born. I think this table deserves better but here we are, rolling coin dice that might not make much sense on this strange, ugly table.
This isn’t for every time you go out and have a drink. This is when you get back from facing certain death in the Outlands and want to celebrate life or throw life away in the face of pitiless powers that care not for mortals. This is when you go out seeking something, even if you aren’t sure what it is or why.
Coin spent on carousing don’t degrade. Those coins spent on drink and smoke and laughter disappear, money tossed into the gutter.
After 4 hours of play we’ve got one level. They decided to give it to Bugwump, the frog-kin wizard, whose spell slinging was key to the group’s success in their first job in Keymont.
On their way back to Sigil, I rolled Godless Pilgrims. I decided they were refugees from a dead world, killed by warring gods. They had hired holy knights from the Outlands to guard them on the last leg of their journey. I rolled Ioun, so they were arcane knights. When the thief, looking for an opportunity for another score, asked how they had paid for these leal bodyguards I said that they had done so by giving books from their world, the last of their kind.
The corpseflea is a neat option from the Five Torches Deep Origins supplement. It is a death cleric and is helping the pilgrims to say last rites over their world, first talking to them about their world. “How do you say last rites over a world?” is one of the coolest things I’ve gotten to say while gaming in a long time.
The group met when they were all sentenced to the Labyrinth. Now they are an Outlands Expedition Team, officially sanctioned by the Lady of Pain, heading out to deal with imbalances that crop up around the Outlands. We’ve been using some flashbacks to strange things that happened while in the Labyrinth.
“I remember when we got attacked by that Bear back in the Labyrinth and Trundle talked the beast down. Trundle should talk to the town.”
How is the Bingo XP Variant?
I like it. It is a little slow so far but I think it’ll speed up with a few levels all in a jump. When bingo is called, I’m keeping any chips that are in another line that is in motion already.
I like it and like coming up with new ideas for bingo squares with the group. I wonder if the XP will speed up as we get better at coming up with them.
Having the jamboard where I keep the bingo card also be where we keep character art and NPC names might help us all interact with it more.
It is coming together as we make it our own. Next game will be our first full session in Sigil. We’ll carouse for three days and then have a community discussion about the expedition to the Outlands. I want that philosophical vibe that the original Planescape boxed set promised. Essentially, that’ll happen by the community that hosts the O.E.T. (Outlands Expedition Team) gathering to discuss the morality of their decisions in an open forum. Discussion
And then we’ll pick the next expedition.
Five Torches Deep is a fun and fast D&D variant. If I had to run D&D, it is what I’d use, without a doubt.
I’m using Moldvay reaction table with Charisma adding to the roll when it makes sense to do so. I’d imagine the way I’m using the proficiency checks is very Apocalypse World-y. When the halfling wanted to know more about the knights guarding the pilgrim, I asked the player to roll a Charisma check to see what they noticed. When they rolled successfully, I told them to ask questions about what they wanted to notice during the interactions and I’d answer them.
Need to be careful about that, don’t want those cool questions to get in the way of players questions should be asking all of the time.
I realize now I’m using stats as different types of perception, rather than just using Wisdom. Charisma as a kind of social perception? I dunno. Hm, we’ll have to discuss that and make some decisions together.
I’ll go over the characters in the next post-game AP post. It is an odd group but I don’t have trouble finding the humanity in them and I dig that.