Raised by Wolves, Bears, Whatever – Economy of Storytelling.

I finally caught the first two episodes of the HBO Max exclusive series Raised by Wolves. You can watch the first episode legit for free on Youtube here. I recommend you do, because it hooked me very hard. If you’re a fan of Warhammer 40,000 or crazy Sci-Fi with robots and uncomfortable religious cults, I think you’re going to like it.

Anyway, without going into spoilers/plot specific details, a scene in the second episode caught me off guard with how good it was at introducing five new characters in just a handful of lines and nonverbal acting.

Five characters are brought into an unfamiliar setting, and in we get their names, which I’m awful at remembering, but we also get little reactions from each of them about how they’re going to survive this new, incredibly perilous situation they find themselves in.

It caught me off guard because I know now these characters by their beliefs rather than their names, and all it took was a single line or reaction to a line from another character. For example one character immediately gives up her symbol of religious faith recognizing that their captor/liberator frowns upon it. Another character, the youngest, cries helplessly, and one of her fellow captives moves immediately to pacify and calm her. Yet another character scoffs at the situation, and finally a fifth character tells them all to stop arguing, stressing that arguments will get them killed.

These five characters are all children by the way, instantly raising the stakes by this nature alone.

What does this have to do with OSR and RPGs in general? Well not only does the group of children mirror the size of your average party of D&D adventurers, but we don’t have much time for character development, and the writer/director/editor all know we need to grow some attachment or at least meaning to these characters or we’re not going to care about what happens to them – we have to know what’s at risk of being lost so we care more about the threat.

DO THIS IN YOUR GAME. We all lament the lameness/boring aspect of “You all meet in a tavern” and often with good reason, but there’s no reason you can’t emulate the type of scene from Raised by Wolves in your own game, in a tavern, in session 1.

For example, take the “meet in a tavern” thing and inject some fear/danger into it immediately. There’s a couple of easy ways to do this. My first idea that comes to mind is to have the person calling them together – normally someone who needs a job done, right? – have this quest giver poison their food and have a partner of the poisoner somewhere else be the only person with the antidote.

Let each character react in turn to this news. You’ll probably only pull this off once as they will likely suspect someone in the future of trying the same trick, but it’s worth a shot as a way to inject some time and pressure on the players immediately. Character is what happens when obstacles are put in front of someone, and this is a great way for your players to show off their characters and questions them immediately on how their character reacts to personal threats.

There’s lots of other ways to do this – you could have a necromancer curse them at the start of the first session. You could run one-on-one sessions for each character getting poisoned individually and then told to go to the tavern and meet the rest of the team. Although this does take away some of the fun of seeing your player characters interact with each other, it does present an opportunity for your players to get a feel for their characters as they exist “in the wild” or when they have the spotlight on them.

I know in practicality this isn’t new advice – start your campaign with a bang! Right? But focus in on those character reactions. It doesn’t really matter what the threat is as long as it hits them where they live.

The Oscura Part 1 – a new project for the tabletop.

As part of my personal goals to push myself creatively and artistically, I wanted to stretch my kitbashing and modeling skills as well with this blog. This project I’m going to be discussing today isn’t strictly RPG related, but I do think the overall aesthetic I’ll be going for is OSR, if not the fantasy brand then something appropriate for Mothership and especially Rogue Trader-era Warhammer.

I’ve had for a while now a notion to start working on an army for Horus Heresy a.k.a. Warhammer 30,000. This is the era that puts grimness into the grimdark of Warhammer. It’s a time of civil war within the empire of humanity. It’s in ways both more brutal and more noble than the times of Warhammer 40,000.

Anyway, I wasn’t going to let myself dive in until I got through a lot of my painting backlog. In true hobbyist fashion, instead of getting through it by painting them, I’ve sold a lot of minis off!

I ultimately decided on the Night Lords Chaos/Traitors legion for Horus Heresy/Warhammer. I like the aesthetics, and just look at this chapter-specific model range from Forge World. What could be more fun? Look at these DUDES.

So contemplative…

They’re vampires who don’t believe in either Chaos or the Imperium. Sounds good to me!

So now I have a general theme, an army chosen, and have freed myself up to launch an actually planned army!

I’ve had a Primaris Impulsor vehicle kit on hand for a while when I thought I’d really want to take on a big Primaris army. I know, I know, literal heresy when we’re talking 30k to put one of the shiniest new vehicle types of 40k in play, but I have a plan! (And I don’t care!)

My goal is to take that Impulsor and tear it down to look something more akin to the function of the mighty Chaos Land Raider. That thing is a monster. A beautiful monster.

My plan now is to add actual rocket engine nozzles to the bottom of the Impulsor, throw a bunch of chains on it, maybe some dead bodies, and of course spikes. I also bought a little box of five Chaos cultists that might be hanging off the sides of the thing like little Mad Max style crazy marauders.

I went to Michael’s Hobby Store yesterday and browsed around a bit for suitable shapes and found these cake piping attachments, and they were absolutely perfect! And cheap!

I found some cheap little LED tea candles that flicker at the store for cheap as well, and now I’ve got some momentum.

I need to pick up some polyfill and Hodge Podge spray so I can create a smoke cloud coming from the engines and filling up the space below the vehicle on its base.

r/Kitbash - Follow up post to my question about rocket engine nozzles with solution and pictures!

I hope to magnetize these nozzles as well so I can detach them and turn them on! Who knows if it’ll all work, but it’s going to be fun to try!

Hopefully this wasn’t too much of a distraction from the main theme of the blog, but I intend to give updates for the project with plenty of pictures!

The Terror of a Modern Dungeon.

I recently went down a Reddit rabbit hole and ended up rereading a legendary terrifying post on /r/letsnotmeet – The Bridge. I’d suggest reading it if you’re both not squeamish and can handle some pretty graphic material, including pictures.

Now, I don’t know if this post is 100% real, and honestly I don’t care. I don’t read scary stories for a history report, I read them for entertainment, and The Bridge provides entertainment and then some.

I’m a big fan of the horror genre – a bunch of games I love are horror, and it’s generally my favorite type of movie if I’m looking for something fun to watch. I’ve read (and written, honestly) a fair amount about efforts made to run horror RPGs and the difficulties – and rewards – that come along with it.

Dungeons should be terrifying. I agree with the common belief that fantasy and horror are a hard mix. Horror often comes from some sense of powerlessness, and fantasy usually provides the opposite – power we don’t have access to in real life.

But the dark is still scary, even in a suit of armor, kite shield, and greatsword in hand. No one is impervious, invulnerable, and the darkness represents potential. It can hold that thing each person is especially weak to, or that thing we all want and are afraid to actually get. Anything can be in the darkness, and this is what the dungeon represents.

This goes hand in hand with cartography. When players map out the dungeon, they are conquering it, in a way, even without defeating any enemies. Those potentials are made certainties (or close to), and the unknown becomes known. That fear of the dark dissipates as they outline of the dungeon becomes apparent.

But that’s great! That’s a huge part of play that I think gets taken for granted. Having run a medium-sized dungeon with The Black Hack and paying attention to lanterns and sources of light has been a revelation for me as a GM. Just the act of asking “who has a light source?” when a player character opens a new door can be just as exciting as telling players to roll initiative.

If we put ourselves into the shoes of the author of The Bridge story from above, suddenly the sharpness of the fear of the dark should become clear. But why is that story so scary? Two reason jump out to me – 1. As mentioned above, there could be anything in those tunnels, but even a mundane answer is quite terrifying – perhaps even more unsettling than a supposed supernatural explanation, and 2. We (or most of us) have absolutely no training to fight someone or something, and even if we did, the tunnels are so small at points that the other option – running – isn’t readily available.

You’re going down there simply for the sake of curiosity and hoping you don’t find anything worthy of that curiosity! That’s pretty interesting to me, and I want to do some more thinking on that question as well down the road – motivations for PCs to enter such an awful, dangerous place as a dungeon in the first place.

Shard of Thrashkil

They say every shard is cursed, but maybe this one, this time, it isn’t…

DESCRIPTION

Thrashkil was forged in the before time – when the world was but one Bridge united and unified under one banner, one great house. Just as the shattering began, the mighty axe Thrashkil was forged for the giant Protule. Queen Protule attempted to keep the house together, but it was not meant to be, and with the finally sundering of the one true Bridge, so too was the mighty axe torn apart, shards of its gleaming purple-blue axehead strewn across the world and Bridges as creation spewed forth and mortals entered the world.

Or that’s what I heard, that’s the legend, and how it goes. I’ve carried the damned thing everywhere since my father gave it to, and when I die, it goes to my daughter, and to her children after her. They say they’re cursed, but it’s always seemed to bring luck to me and mine…

RULES

Whoever shall possess a Shard of Thrashkil shall risk the wrath or favor of the dead giantess queen Protule. At the beginning of each day, the GM flips a coin in secret. Heads – the Shard provides a blessing. Tales – the Shard provides a curse. The GM should note this in secret and announce to the table that Protule has made her silent judgment. This judgment is only determined and applied once each day no matter how many shards a character possesses.

When the PC possessing a Shard makes their first attribute roll that day, apply Protule’s judgment. If it’s a blessing, the roll gains Advantage. If it’s a curse, the rolls gains Disadvantage.

There are 16 shards of Thrashkill, one in each of the four Bridges and 8 in the world of mortals. Once all 16 have been collected, it is possible to begin the quest to reconstruct Thrashkill, resurrect Protule, and bring about the reunification of the bridges. Only once the bridges have been reunified can The Wall be brought down, freeing all souls to transition to the Great Sea.

A Shard cannot be used to forge anything else, and is generally unaffected by any means to do so.

DESIGN NOTES

What’s a little piece of metal gonna do in your campaign – lead to the apocalypse? Perhaps! I’ve been painting the frost giant from Steamforged Games’ Epic Encounters line. Not only is this “miniatures” literally gigantic, gorgeous, and a ton of fun to paint, but it’s really inspiring my love of giants in general.

So that’s the beauty of a homebrewed world – only just recently am I introducing giants, and because I now have giants, it inspired me to write a bit of the creation myth. And what good’s a creation myth if it doesn’t help us understand the end of the world?

A Shard of Thrashkil is a very simple thing. It’s a flip of the coin to change one roll each day. However it opens up potentially 15 (15!) side quests and can be a constant background feature for your campaign.

Will we see the Axe itself written up in the future? Time will tell…

Aberrant Leather Buckler

Yeah, the leather’s a fashion statement, but the METAL… Forget about it!

DESCRIPTION

Small metal sheild, most commonly made of iron but just as likely to be made from metals most associated with the Bridge from which the leather was harvested. Rather than a smooth circle, these bucklers tend to favor severe edges and hooks to allow their users to utilize the agility advantage a buckler provides over a more traditional shield.

The leather that is sewn into the framework of the shield provides various benefits to it welder tied once again to the Bridge from which it was harvested. Sometimes these bucklers are named after the aberrant that provided its hide for the leather, there are even known to be several sets of bucklers from a single, larger aberrant, and when bringing them together can result in surprising effects – sometimes the power of the buckler is multiplied and others it is replaced entirely.

The appearance of the buckler also depends on the Bridge that spawned the aberrant. For example, a Buckler of an Aberrant of Stone gives off a more scaled, reptilian appearance to reflect the most common types of creatures found there whereas a Buckler of an Aberrant of Wind might have scales or feathers to reflect the fauna found there.

RULES

The GM may roll 1d4 on the table below to determine the origin of the Aberrant leather. This determines the appearance and ability of the item. The buckler provides no inherent defensive capabilities to match those of a mundane buckler or shield. Instead, the item has Ud4 charges per day of its listed power.

Source of Aberrant/Appearance/Ability
1 – Flames – Burnt, blackened fur/Advantage to Remember a Spell or Prayer.
2 – Stones – Reptilian, grey and craggy/Advantage to STR to defend an attack.
3 – Trees – Feathered, bright and vibrant/Advantage to DEF to defend an attack.
4 – Winds – Scales, shiny blue and green/Extra use of Background.
Roll 1d4.

When an Aberrant Buckler has no more charges, it may be used one final time to avoid all damage from one attack. If it is used in such a manner, it is completely destroyed. On a 50/50 chance, the character welding it when it’s destroyed gains the ability of the buckler and the arm it was one taking on the appearance of the leather before it was destroyed.

Under no circumstances can the buckler be repaired either way.

DESIGN NOTES

Random effect buckler! Today I’m showing off once more a feature of my setting and also providing a nice, low level magical item which is actually four potential items in one.

As I’ve mentioned before, Bridges are where magic comes from in my setting. They’re parallel realities where souls go after the body dies, and the souls walk the land until they find The Wall (it’s a whole thing I’m not going into at this time). Some souls take too long and start to… go bad. If you’ve seen Pixar’s Soul, it’s actually not too far off from that, oddly enough.

These souls break back into our reality and present as horrific monsters – it’s one of the main monster generators of my setting. These monsters are called Aberrants, and they appear in settings appropriate to their Bridge in places where the veil is thinner. For example, an Aberrant from the Bridge of Winds (a realm that’s one large ocean) appear as sea monsters in great depths in the real world.

So if you kill one of these things, their skin still carries a charge, and someone had the bright idea of utilizing it for magical item creation.

And now you’re caught up to why it’s important which realm the leather comes from!

I recommend not telling players about the sacrificial nature of the buckler but rather allow them to discover it on their own. Should make for a fun surprise that makes it worth it potentially to lose their shield!