Saturday, 29 September 2018


Chapter One Graverobbers

I decided to go to southern Italy in the summer and found myself in Taormina Sicily. Staying at a nice, reasonably priced hotel clinging to the hillside with a clear view of smoldering Mount Etna. The last bit might be poetic license it was probably just normal clouds clinging to the peak. I had a pretty mundane day and decided to go out at night for a walk. I took the path up from the hotel up the hill toward town and I took a wrong turn in the dark and ended up in a small cemetery.

The path had clearly led up to the cemetery but when I had done the same trip twice during the day I had not seen any sign of a cemetery. Just hotels, stone steps, and rocks. I looked about puzzled. It was a small cemetery. Not more than twenty graves in the plot surrounded by a brick wall. All of the gravestones looked old. Some did not appear to have names on the stones.

Then I heard the distinctive thump of a shovel digging into the dirt. I froze. Someone was digging a hole. In a cemetery. In the middle of the night. This had gone from mildly amusing travel anecdote to seriously scary.

I realized I had frozen at the sound and was not moving. Barely breathing. Everything was quiet. Even the normal sound of cars on the nearby winding road had stopped. The shovel noise was probably just my imagination.

Then I heard it again and someone speaking in hushed tones in a latin language. Which I knew all of two words so I could not make out anything. It sounded like “sestito qualcosa”? I held my breath for a moment.

“Niente,” came the gruff reply as clear as day. It was off to my right. Looking I could see a number of tombstones covered in overgrown weeds. And a mausoleum. A dim, flickering light reached around the edge of the mausoleum.

Before I had time to think things through clearly I had shuffled forward near the mausoleum and stopped behind a tombstone. Peering around its edge I saw two men armed with shovels busily scooping dirt out of the ground and laying it to one side. On a nearby tombstone was a red lantern lighting the scene.

Real graverobbers. I could not believe it. This could not be happening in the present day. I reached down for my cell phone. I needed to call the police but I could not recall the number for police in Italy. Maybe I could just take a picture and run to the police. I always had my cell set to vibrate so there was no fear of making a noise. Positioning it carefully I opened the camera app and pressed the button, and then the flash went off!

I dropped the cell phone in surprise and scrambled to run. Behind me, I could hear a cry of astonishment and more shouts of what I assumed were “get him” or “kill that guy”. I put my head down and ran. Straight into a tombstone at ankle height. I slammed my foot into it and went down hard. Pain lanced up my leg and I could feel that I had scraped my knee and elbow as well. A weight dropped onto my legs. I struggled and kicked but could not move. They had me.

There was a loud crack followed by a groan and suddenly my legs were free. Then another thwack and the sound of a something big hitting the ground. I rolled over onto my back to look. Both graverobbers were lying at my feet dead to the world. Standing over them was a man armed with a shovel. He was dressed like a renaissance gentlemen like the pictures I had seen in a museum in Palermo. A jaunty hat on his head. And most importantly, I could see right through him.

The “man” said something to me in thick Italian. I stared at him in shock. He also seemed taken aback and reached out toward me. I flinched and scrambled back and small a smile appear on his face.

“Well, Englishman you can see me, No?”


Sunday, 23 September 2018

Palace of the Jade Sorceress Completed

The continuing adventures of Shenhong Long using the Scarlet Heroes Solo rules.

When last we left, the hero, Shen had narrowly escaped death in the dungeon level of the Palace of the Jade Sorceress. Shen fell through a trapdoor into a sewer and fought off a number of giant rats. After a brief rest, Shen recovers 2 hit points (I read up on the rest and recovery rules for Scarlet Heroes).

The next room he entered was well decorated with a small crystal harp sitting on the floor in the center of a circle. Shen picked at the strings of the harp for a few discordant notes and the ghost of a woman appeared. The woman explained the disaster/curse that had befallen the Jade Sorceress and implored Shen to play a few notes (which she taught Shen) on the Ice Harp to break the Red Ruby in which the Jade Sorceress was trapped.

Shen thanked the ghost which quickly disappeared. Moving on Shen is attacked by five zombie palace guards. In a pitched battle, Shen manages to put down all of the zombies. After passing through a few rooms he comes across the recent corpse of a human in a guard uniform. The guard has several burn marks on him. Nearby Shen sees a message, “Beware of Travis” scrawled on the wall.

Continuing along he sees a long hall with several doors. A flickering light shines under one door. Avoiding it Shen shoves open another door and surprises 4 shou (orcs) dressed in ill-fitting guard uniforms. Shen quickly kills the orcs. The room is a large mess, with a bloodied desk and a half-eaten wolf carcass. At that moment the door with the light opens and several orcs peer out. Seeing Shen, standing over the corpses of four orcs, bloodied naginata in hand, the orcs hold up their hands and back away.

Shen advances and follows the orcs into another room. Two orcs leap from behind the door with surprise and attack. Shen quickly dispatches them. The remaining 2 orcs drop their weapons and back away. Not understanding Shou speech, Shen threatens them to remain where they are and moves on.

Shen heads on further through natural caves. He comes across a cave full of life-like statues. From what the ghost told him he understands these are palace inhabitants that have been turned to stone.

Continuing upstairs, Shen springs a trap but nothing happens. Listening at a door he hears grunting and chewing noises. Shen kicks the door open and surprises three troglodytes eating a recently killed human (see the adventures of Ti Yasho). Shen kills the troglodytes quickly and finds one has a nice looking dagger that he keeps.

Shen advances up through the watchtower to the second level of the Palace. One of the first things he encounters is an iron statue in a laboratory. On his first attack, his naginata becomes stuck to the side of the statue. In a lengthy combat (11 rounds) Shen survives by using his recently found dagger which proves to be magical. Shen pauses and binds the wounds he received from the fight with the iron statue.

Shen encounters a playful black kitten in another chamber but ignores it. Moving on he comes across two human women examining large parchment drawings of a black cat. The women are briefly startled and on guard but eventually introduce themselves as Duchess and Candella. Duchess does most of the talking and attaches herself to Shenhong’s side. She explains she and her friend are novice adventurers who just want to find their way out of the Palace. Shen agrees that they can join him.

Duchess and Candella

The three adventurers enter a bedchamber full of interesting furniture. Shen looks on amused as Duchess and Candella immediately begin to ransack it. Duchess pulls back the bed-curtains and lets out a shriek awakening a bearded old man on the bed. The old man, who is dressed like a sorcerer introduces himself as Mirabilis. He explains that has the curse fell over the Palace he put himself in a protective trance and escaped the effects. To Shen the two women seem very suspicious of Mirabilis.

Mirabilis explains the curse to Shen. Shen tells everyone that he has discovered a way to break the curse. Everyone looks at Shen expectantly and he shows them the Ice Harp before putting it back into his pouch. Mirabilis asks Shen many questions about the origins of the Harp but Shen declines to answer. Shen asks Mirabilis about the layout of the Palace and he tells Shen that of course, he knows the way around. But he is not certain where the ruby gem might be located. He suggests the ballroom and leads them to that room.

As the group enters the ballroom, Shen begins to hear low, eerie music. Suddenly, a pair of ghostly figures appear dancing in the center of the room. Shen and Candella are overcome with fear and run through a nearby doorway out into the garden. The garden is open to the sky. As they enter the garden they see sickly looking bushes that fire sprays of thorns at them. Grabbing Candella by the hand, Shen makes his way toward a door out of the garden. The bushes fire two more volleys of thorns but miss.

Shen and Candella find themselves in a north-south hallway. From the north, Duchess comes running up to the pair. She tells them that Mirabilis ran away. Shen suggests looking for the old man but Duchess dissuades him.

Heading south they enter an ornate bathroom. Candella, declares “this is mine” and begins prying gems out of the walls and pocketing an ivory soap dish. Shen shrugs and moves on. Duchess asks to see the Ice Harp again but Shen shushes her. Just then Shen sees four hobgoblins rushing toward them.

Shen fires at the hobgoblins with his bow but misses. Duchess tries to grab Shen’s loot bag but he blocks her. Duchess and Candella flee north leaving Shen to deal with the hobgoblins. Shen pulls out his naginata and kills the hobgoblins in 4 rounds.

Alone again, Shen heads back to the vandalized wash chamber and bandages the wounds he received from the hobgoblins.

Heading south in the direction the hobgoblins came from, Shen finds a pair of ornate double doors. Pushing them open he finds the throne room. Statues of courtiers are positioned about the room facing a dais on top of which is a throne. Sitting on the throne is a large ruby.

Shen approaches cautiously. Moving up the dais a step at a time expecting an attack. Shen sets his naginata and reaches out for the glowing gem. There seems to be a tiny figure trapped inside of it. Just as he is about to touch the gem red vapors billow up and surround Shen. He grabs his naginata in a defensive pose. The smoke clears and a human in glowing red full plate armor steps forward and attacks armed with a red, glowing sword and shield.

In a desperate combat, Shen strikes the red knight several times with his naginata with no effect. Tossing aside the weapon he leaps at the knight with his dagger. Just as he touches him the knight disappears. Shen realizes it was only an illusion.

Shen walks up toward the gem again. This time he does not hesitate but pulls out the ice harp and plays the notes he was taught. The gem shatters and red mist pours out of it obscuring the entire room from Shen. A thin figure emerges from the mist as it begins to dissipate.  Shen readies his dagger.

“Relax my hero. The curse is ended!” states a young woman in a fine silver dress with a crown on her head. Looking about Shen can see all of the statues in the room have turned back into humans and dwarves.

Argentia thanks Shen for rescuing her. She was trapped in the gem by the evil sorcerer Catharandamus who has now fled the palace with his shou followers. She was unable to do much while trapped but she could observe what was going on and used all of her willpower to open a path through to the gatehouse for Shen and another earlier adventurer who arrived a few days ago and unfortunately perished.

Argentia sends out messengers to bring stability to Haven and knights to attempt to locate Cathararandamus. She insists that Shen stay in Haven for a week while things are put to order and throws a feast in honor of Shen bestowing upon him a Silver Medal of Honor and 1,500 gold coins. She also exempts Shen’s village of Darga from taxation for the next five years.

Session Report

One of the main reasons why Shen was able to survive the Palace of the Jade Sorceress is that I re-read the rules and realized that I should be healing 2 hit points of damage recently received after a battle. This is huge at lower levels when you only have single digit hit points.

Thursday, 13 September 2018

Rats in the Walls

I recently bought a copy of the Rats in the Walls RPG on RPGNow. Rats in the Walls is a rules-lite horror roleplaying game by Livres de l’Ours. A company I have not heard of before. The author is listed as Kobayashi.

The blurb notes that it is a game of cosmic horror inspired by Lovecraft but not using the Mythos. I have read a lot of Lovecraft but I am not actually a big fan of using the Mythos in a horror game because it is quite apocalyptic. The horror games I have run in the past used the Mayfair version of the Chill game and were more noir than horror.

What prompted me to buy the rules was the price and the evocative cover art. In the book, the author gets right to the point. There is a single page bullet point introduction and by the second page, you are right into character creation. The writing is very sparse, with few examples and not a lot of extended explanation. But the rules are simple enough that it is really not necessary.

Characters have Attributes and Secondary Attributes. The attributes are Brawn, Dexterity, Violence, Wits, and Willpower. You pick a profession and reputation to get a unique advantage and then gear. Done. Very simple.  Weapon categories are very broad, One-handed, Two-handed and bigger.

Players state what their action will be and make an attribute roll (2d6 + Attribute). A score of 8 or higher is a success.  Easy actions get a +2 and hard actions a -2. Actions in combat like an attack or made using the violence attribute. Based on the level of success the GM or player picks the consequences.

There is a quick list to cover some other situations, chases, social, vehicle combat and range in combat. There is a page on Sanity rules. The sanity rules in Rats in the Walls are not as onerous as those in Call of Cthulhu. You lose Sanity when experiencing the supernatural. When your sanity reaches 0 you can faint, do something stupid or gain a scar. Once the chosen effect occurs you get back 1-6 sanity.  It is possible to permanently lose sanity but that appears to only be possible if you and crazy enough to cast spells.

There is a fair amount of time taken explaining Sorcery rules. Spells are a Will roll, if unsuccessful you likely pass out, even succeeding you are likely to lose sanity.

The rules are very simple but they work for my style of play. When I run contemporary or horror games they tend to be about investigation rather than combat. The art appears to suggest a contemporary setting. The only setting actually mentioned in the rules is a Medieval one - which would be interesting. The rules really allow for any time period.

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

Scarlet Heroes Further Adventures

A few weeks ago I ran a solo Wilderness adventure of Scarlet Heroes on the Isle of Respite. The Wilderness adventure and an encounter with an Ogre allowed Shenhong Long to advance to Level 2.  Now it was time to enter the Palace of the Jade Sorceress which had proved so deadly to my level 1 magic-user, Ti Yasho.

Session 2 - Palace of the Jade Sorceress

Shen continues his journey across the island. He spends the better part of the day reaching Haven. Reaching Haven without incident he finds the town is in an uproar. There is a crowd of people leaving the town fleeing to the coast. Above the town, the Palace of the Jade Sorceress can be seen rising above a thick red mist.

Shen pushes his way through the crowds and makes his way to the local armorer. He sells his leather armor for 2 gold and manages to buy a set of Banded Armour. Shen sets up his camp on the edge of the red mist near the gatehouse of the Palace. He cannot see any way to get inside.

Just before dusk, a path to the gatehouse opens in the mist. Shen leaves his camp and carefully approaches the entrance. The portcullis to the gatehouse is up. Shen enters but breaks a tripwire triggering a poison dart trap. The dart misses. Shen continues into the gatehouse and the portcullis crashes down behind him.

In the gatehouse, Shen discovers a secret room with some weapons and armor in it. He also fights a pair of skeletons and later a giant rat. Killing all of them without taking any damage.

Heading east he enters a flooded cavern but flees from three giant ferrets. In the next hall, Shen spots a door and listens. Hearing nothing he opens the door to a room with a green slime in it. He quickly slams the door and jumps back. The slime starts dissolving the door to the room. Shen runs down a corridor and scrambles down a stair. Deciding this is a good spot for an ambush he sets down his naginata and readies his longbow.

Two minutes later the green slime slithers along the hallway. As it comes down a 20-foot stair Shen opens fire. Striking it several times without effect. Shen angrily tosses his torch at the green slime and sees that the slime tries to avoid the flame and appears damaged. Shen throws another torch and the slime lights up and is burned to ash.

Fighting Green Slime

Continuing east, Shen finds some damaged areas of the Palace and a room with a tapestry showing the Jade Sorceress. Shen is attacked by two crystalline statues and destroys both of them. Entering a library, a giant crab spider lands on Shen’s shoulder. He tosses it off and crushes it underfoot.

Continuing south, Shen enters what appears to be a kitchen. Unfortunately, he steps on a trapdoor and is dropped ten feet into a sewer. The water in the sewer sweeps Shen up against a metal barrier. Three starved looking giant rats attack Shen and he is bitten by one on the hand. He quickly kills the rats. Against the metal gate, Shen finds the skeletal remains of an unfortunate adventurer. Searching the corpse he finds a sack filled with mixed coins and a jade ring with dragons carved into it. The ring looks very valuable to Shen’s untrained eye.

Eventually, Shen manages to clamber back up into the still open trap door to the kitchen.  He collapses in exhaustion.

Fighting Giant Rats in the Sewers


The second level fighter did a lot better in the Palace of the Jade Sorceress then my first level magic-user managed. The +2 attack bonus plus +2 Strength bonus allowed Shen to hit frequently and his AC was low enough to prevent monsters from hitting him. I assume I am doing it correctly. I judged that the monsters should have at least +1 attack bonus. Possibly I should have given them +1 per HD. Shen benefited from some lucky rolls but was only hit once (by a giant rat). The Fray die was less helpful for Shen. Many of the monsters encountered were at least level 3 so he could not use the Fray die.

Sunday, 9 September 2018

Golden Sands

I have finally made it to 200 posts. The first 100 posts took a few months as I was posting almost every day with a pile of old material to post. Since then I have had to write new material as I go which has taken a lot more time. I am attempting to keep my posts up to at least 5-8 per month. This week I add a very short, pulp sword and sorcery adventure.

Golden Sands
A short adventure that takes place in an empty expanse of the desert far from civilization. I have written it for Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells since I recently reviewed the rules.

The City of Namrut was the center of a large kingdom in the distant past. Despite being located in an area of the desert that rarely gets rain. The discovery of an enormous underground aquifer allowed the deserts around Namrut to be farmed. I some point a catastrophe struck Namrut, the origin of which has been forgotten, the people left and the sands of the deserts covered over the city. Recently, some nomads claim to have discovered some ruins they claim are those of Namrut and they have been selling maps to the location.

Golden Sands

(1). Ruins of Namrut
Not much of the city is visible above the sand. One large, stone block building and a few piles of rubble. The building is 30 by 20 feet and 20 feet tall. Built of cyclopean stone blocks it is crumbling but intact. There are 3 alcoves on the west side. In two of the taller alcoves stand stone statues of a god-like figure. One is missing its head which is nearby on the ground. The third alcove is only 4 feet tall and appears to be a glyph-covered stone door.

In the shadow of the building, a skeleton of a man sits upright in the sand. The skeleton has been completely picked clean by the blowing sand. On his lap rests a pitted sword and he is clad in studded leather armor. About him, several leather sacks and equipment poke out of the sand.

The door can be opened by depressing one of the glyphs.  Characters must make an Intellect check (-1) to spot the glyph that can be depressed. The door will grind slowly upward and then become stuck. No amount of pushing will move it further up. The level of sand against the door drops as it goes up suggesting that it is spilling into the chamber beyond. The door has actually moved up 4 feet. Characters need only scoop out enough sand to slip under the door. This takes about 30 minutes. While characters are digging a group of desert bandits on camels attack.

Once a few feet of sand are removed characters can slip under the door but they will immediately slide down a short ramp of sand leading to the pit in area 2.  Characters must make an Agility roll at -2 (quite easy) to avoid tumbling into the pit.

The skeleton has the following equipment:
2 Short swords (small weapons d4 damage)
2 bundles of rope for a total of 120 feet.
10 iron spikes
1 hammer
2 empty clay bottles (water bottles)
1 bag of dried out food
1 tent
1 bedroll
1 change of clothes
1 suit of studded leather armor (Medium, -1d damage reduction).
1 pouch with 45 silver coins in it.

Judging by the state of the equipment and the vintage of the coins, this unlucky traveller died no more than a few weeks ago.

Bandits: No appearing 4, HD 1, Gains positive die if attacking with 2 companions.

(2). The Abyss
Inside the ruin is a roughly 20 by 30 foot chamber with a 15 foot high roof. A 3 foot wide ledge goes around the edge of this chamber around a shaft descending into darkness. The shaft drops sixty feet to the roof of area 3 below. There is an additional 50 foot drop to the stone floor at area 3. Characters falling in the pit will be killed when they strike the stone floor 110 feet below.

The Shaft

(3). The cistern of Namrut
Beneath area 2 is a large cavern. The rock of the cavern is hard and smooth and holds in most of the water that falls (rarely) as rain in the desert above. The cistern is enormous and is the reason Namrut could exist in the first place. A huge lake of water fills most of the cavern. A narrow ledge of stone on the west side of the lake is above the water level. The shaft from area 2 is over a path of cut stones that runs along the west side of the cavern to area 4 which is 80 feet to the north. The water in the cistern is clean and very cold.

(4). Temple of the Forgotten One
There well-preserved temple along the north wall of the cavern. Doric columns hold up a stone roof 40 feet above. In the front of the roof, stone stele depicts several unknown gods. Stone steps lead up to the interior of the temple. At the back of the temple is a 14 foot tall stone statue of a forgotten god. Before the statue the stone slabs of the floor of the temple appear to be loose, covering an empty space beneath.

Temple of the Abyss

The stone floor stones are too heavy for one character to move. Two or three characters would need to work together (allow a Physique check). However, as soon as anyone comes within two feet of the loose stones they are flung aside by a multitude of green tentacles.

The Thing in the Pit (1 appearing) HD 6, makes 6 attacks dealing 1d6 damage each (tentacles), gibbering voices force any within melee range to make a Willpower test or suffer a Negative Die to all actions until they leave its presence.

The creature is a nameless entity summoned by an evil sorcerer of Namrut. It caused the destruction of Namrut by cutting off the population from their water supply. It looks like a six foot in diameter blob with six, 15 foot long tentacles. In the center of the blob are three yellow eyes and a large mouth filled with 2-inch teeth.

The creature is resting on a large sum of Silver and gold coins (450 silver, 250 gold).

Monday, 3 September 2018

Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells

When last I checked I had over 600 files in my RPGNow account.  A great many of these files are rules for Roleplaying games. This is part of my still unfilled quest to find the rule system that fits me. I suspect it will never happen.

I started playing using the B/X rules for Dungeons & Dragons. I moved on to 2nd Edition AD&D then RuneQuest, Stormbringer, HarnMaster and countless others. Recently, I have been playing a fair bit of 5th Edition Dungeon & Dragons. While I quite like 5th Edition it still falls short for me. My ideal game is somewhere between RuneQuest and Dungeons & Dragons.

This long weekend I had a chance to read 3 of my recent purchases so here is a description of Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells (4S).

Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells.

If the Internet is too be believe these rules hail from Brazil. Which brings some interest right away. It is always interesting to see what people are playing in other countries.  They are put out by Old Skull Publishing. I got my copy on RPGNow.

The core mechanic of 4S is a roll vs. Attribute. Players generally have to roll equal to or lower than their attribute while GM’s need to roll higher than the character’s attribute score. So the character is what is important and not the monsters’ controlled by the GM. I think this is okay but a little odd. It is always best when the same rules are applied to everyone.

The twist on 5th edition advantage/disadvantage is positive and negative dice. Pretty interesting take on it actually. You add a positive die or subtract a negative die.

Characters can also attempt to push a roll - they make an extra effort to overcome a failed roll. They need to explain what the effort is to get the reroll option. If they fail again the GM can make the situation worse. This seems open to argument. 4S also uses a Luck die roll.

Characters are pretty similar to OD&D in terms of class - Warriors, Specialists, and Magic-users. The attributes have been reduced to just Physique, Agility, Intellect and Willpower.

Combat is familiar as well, although the initiative is based on HD. To attack players roll equal to or lower than their attribute core (Physique for melee and Agility for ranged). Monster’s attacking characters need to roll above the character’s agility score. Damage is based on weapon type in some rather broad classes of weapons.

Healing is pretty much only accomplished with rest. Short rests heal 1d4 on a successful Physique test and long rests heal 1HD in hit points.

Spellcasting is discouraged but appears to me to be quite powerful. To cast a spell a mage makes a willpower test at a difficulty equal to the power level of the spell. Most spells can be cast at any power level. But the higher the level the harder to cast. If the spell attempts fail the mage loses the ability to cast for the day - or gets a complication decided by the GM. So mages could cast their best combat spells repeatedly. However, if a mage fumbles his willpower test (rolls a 20) a catastrophe occurs.

The rules also mention that magic items are very rare with the knowledge of how to make them mostly lost.

Leveling up is an increase in HD (more hit points) and the chance of increasing an attribute.

The rules do a very good job of recreating a Conan-style gameplay. Mages are powerful and chaotic. Combat is deadly. I would not mind running 1 or 2 stand-alone adventures in this system but it is not for me for Campaign-style play.