Thursday, December 22, 2016

Fantasy Hack v1.4: Appendix I

Successfully running a game of FANTASY HACK (or any other role-playing game) is a challenging yet rewarding endeavor.  Besides; someone has to do it, otherwise there’s no game for anyone!  If you accept the challenge of being the Gamemaster, there are a few things you should know.  This section has a very small bit of advice, based on my own experience, followed by a fair number of tools that can help you.  In no particular order:

You’re a player too.  Although your task, and therefore what makes the experience rewarding and fun for you is perhaps a bit different than for the other players, this is still a game and you should be enjoying yourself too.  GMing is not a chore; it’s not a job, it’s not what the guy who gets the short stick has to do.  If you are not motivated and having a good time, the game will suffer because of it for everyone.  If so, consider giving the reins to someone else.

Be fair and be consistent.  One of the things that the players need most is feeling like they can make decisions for their characters based on reasonable risk assessment.  In other words, they need to feel like they understand the way the world works (and most likely they expect it work like the real world does.)  Although this is one of those “perception is reality” kind of things, especially on a highly rules-light game like m20, the players will rely solely on your judgement about how likely things are to be successful.  If they can’t get a handle on that because your rulings and DCs are inconsistent, or if they are consistent but out of whack with their expectations, either one, it will create the strong impression that the game is arbitrary and therefore unfair, which will dramatically reduce the enjoyment that your players feel.

Be varied and interesting.  There is a wealth of sources in terms of ideas for your adventures.  Don’t ever feel bad about borrowing from any and every source you can imagine; books, TV shows, movies, video games, whatever.  Just don’t borrow the same kinds of elements from the same kinds of sources.  Even Gary Gygax wrote (although this is often forgotten) that the game was not supposed to have been mere dungeon-crawling, and some versions of the game stressed doing other things (not that this was often appropriated by the players.)  Fantasy Hack m20 is flexible enough to be used for all kinds of activities, and it actually is not designed specifically to be a dungeon-crawling game at all.  In addition, if you pay attention to your players, you will before long find it easy to judge when they are engaged and entertained, and when they are more bored or frustrated.  Pay attention to this and give them more of what they like and less of what they don’t.  They may not all be on the same page about what their favorite aspect of the game is (and they may be in different moods to do different things at different times anyway) but some situational awareness is crucial for good GMing.

Be generous and say yes.  Although I personally dislike games that are overly concerned with the acquisition of character wealth and powers, in general, players tend to be happier when they get what they came to the table for, rather than feeling like it’s denied them.  This doesn’t mean give them “stuff” necessarily; but it does mean allowing them to indulge what they want to do as a character.  Fantasy Hack m20 is meant to emulate swashbuckling action stories.  Think of a well-known example like the Star Wars franchise.  Do the characters ever get bogged down looking for equipment that they don’t have access to?  While getting passage to Alderaan is a key plot element of the first movie, it’s easily accomplished.  When Luke needs a lightsaber, he has one.  When the characters have the opportunity to have a speeder bike chase, they’re readily available.  How does Luke even get his X-wing that he flies for most of the movies?  I dunno.  It’s there when he needs it.  This is the kind of story that I intend to emulate.  Hoarding of gear, doing tedious accounting and shopping are not at the heart of this kind of story; they are things that are typically breezed over because they are tedious and boring.  Now; some players actually do enjoy that kind of thing, so I don’t recommend excising it entirely.  But I do recommend a focus more on the action, role-playing and the solving of interesting problems than I do on making things arbitrarily difficult for the characters.  That’s the spirit of swashbuckling adventure stories, after all.

Let the PCs dictate the game.  Don’t overplan, because you will tend to get locked into your plans the more time you spend on them.  This isn’t your novel that the other players get to have a minor role in.  This is their game, and you’re supposed to represent the environment and the setting.  Let them be the stars of the game, not anything that you’ve created.  Let them decide what kinds of characters and what kind of party to create; don’t passive-aggressively punish them for not picking your ideal of a “balanced party” or whatever.  Don’t give them simply one solution to problems and ensure by fiat that anything else fails.  If you are too prone to trying to not let the PCs have their head, as the saying goes, then maybe you should rethink being the GM.  If that’s the only way you can enjoy the game, then you are probably not equipped to be the GM.  Being a successful GM means always remembering that it’s their game.  You’ll have plenty of interesting and fun things to do, and honestly, you’ll probably be a great deal more entertained by seeing what they come up with then you will be trying to ram them into your own ideas of what they should do.

That said, it’s also my experience that few groups have enough initiative, especially at early stages of the game, to know what to do from scratch if you give them total freedom.  Usually they will wander around aimlessly and even with a great deal of frustration “trying to find the game.”  Once they are able to anchor themselves a bit more into the setting and their characters, they are much more capable and willing to take the reins, start making things happen that they initiate, and pursuing character goals that they themselves have set, rather than plot goals that you have created for them.  So ease them into it, but when they’re ready to take control, absolutely let them do so.

Be prepared with things to do if the players seem lost, bored, or just need some kind of motivation.  To quote Raymond Chandler, “when in doubt have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand.”  An ambush by brigands, thieves, highwaymen, cut-throats, or dangerous wild animals is sometimes just the thing to get the game going again when it flags.  Have a list of names appropriate for your setting that you can draw from to give NPCs that you didn’t anticipate the feel of being more than a hastily constructed expedient.  If the PCs ignore threats or certain events, in the back of your mind think about what is happening while they’re not intervening.  Make their decisions (or lack thereof, as the case may be) have consequences that they can see in game.  Maybe they still won’t care, (although you should take that as an indication that you’re probably not presenting them with the kind of game that’s engaging or interesting to them if so.)  More likely, they’ll take the perceived failures personally and be more motivated to keep them from happening again.  Nothing gets players more motivated than a rivalry with an NPC that has gotten the best of them at least once in the past.  in short, make your setting feel like a real world, not just an environment for them to interact with.  This is the big benefit of table-top RPGs over computer ones; you can have flexibility to do all kinds of things that a computer programmer could not anticipate, and you can react to PC actions that they wouldn’t even be able to do in a computer game.  Do not make the mistake of sacrificing this advantage for your own convenience; your game will suffer from being too much like a computer game… but without the nice graphics.

But again, don’t over-prepare. You don’t need gigantic campaign settings the size of a continent.  You don’t need a lot, actually.  A very brief outline of what you think is likely to happen over the next session or two, including a few details about some NPCs, monsters, and locations that the PCs are likely to encounter is usually sufficient.  I rarely type up more than a page of outline, and it usually ends up lasting for several evenings worth of play.  But in order to do this well, you simply have to practice.  Don’t be afraid of not running the best game ever when you’re starting.  You’ll probably do better than you think, and even if you don’t, you’ll get valuable practice and experience and be better at it next time, if you pay enough attention to your group to notice what went well and what did not.
The Secret Roll. As GM, you probably need a few details about your characters—a single line will suffice, but have the character and player names, their stat modifiers, AC, and skill modifiers and level noted at least.  There are always times when as GM you will want to make rolls for the character that the player is not aware of, or at least cannot see the result of, because a failure would give them knowledge that their character could not have.  A great example of this is where another NPC is trying to sneak up on the character, or when the characters are traveling and may get lost but not realize it while traveling through the wilderness.

Traveling.  
Some game’s prefer to use what I call the Raiders of the Lost Ark red-line convention; travel is glossed over.  However, travel in any pseudo-Medieval setting was a big deal, and actually a big part of the fun in any good action/adventure story.  If you put a little effort into it, overland travel can be tons of fun.  There are all kinds of hazards to be overcome when traveling.  It’s handy when the PCs are traveling for you to have a regional map, and it’s also handy to overlay a hex grid over that.  You can use a keyed hex grid to have notes on things that the PCs may find in any given hex, and it also is handy for easily discussing distance.  By convention, hexes are a few miles across, which means that even within a single hex there’s plenty of opportunity for adventure.  The original role-playing game made assumptions about wilderness travel that was, in part, based on the medieval war-gaming background of the designers.  My background is more as a hiker and backpacker and to me that’s a better analogy of the wilderness travel of a small group of adventurers than the march of armies and soldiers.

In the world of long-distance hiking (guys who hike the 2,600+ mile Pacific Crest Trail, for instance) a really “big mileage” day can be up to 35-40 miles.  This is the equivalent of a “forced march”; a very long day of walking (starting before sun-up, most likely, and still going after dark) and represents travel on a well-marked and groomed trail across friendly, easy terrain.  Forty miles a day should therefore be probably seen as an upper limit in most cases (even if riding; Daniel Boone, for instance, did not bring a horse on his travels, because over long distances and over the course of a long day, a horse would actually rarely be able to keep up with him.)  Other factors, including lack of quality road or trail to travel on, the need to bushwhack through rough terrain, obstacles such as rivers, cliffs, etc. that need to be navigated, and more, can drastically reduce the ability of a traveler to make anywhere near that time.  When I backpack through the mountains, for instance, I usually find that 15 miles is a long, hard day.  For most normal people in normal conditions, 20 miles is a reasonable amount to travel in a single day, and distances achieved can vary from there.  If a person is traveling more than that, especially for several consecutive days, then they may start to become fatigued, and may take STR damage.

Getting Lost.  One major challenge for those traveling through the wilderness is being unable to find your destination.  If you’ve been given directions and a rough map telling you that the hamlet of Meadway is directly to your west, then most likely after leaving a hex on your map, your players will tell you that their characters head west.  Make a secret Survival + MND check for the party (have them nominate whose score is to be used.)  The DC can vary depending on various conditions.  It’s much easier to keep your heading when traveling through open hill country where the sky (and sun and stars) are readily visible and landmarks of enough distinction to be useful are easy to be found.  Deep in an old-growth forest, on the other hand, you may be able to see none of these things and keeping a consistent heading is much more difficult.

If the party fails its Survival check, then it may become lost.  Roll a d6 and consult the image above.  This is the direction that they are actually traveling.  Parties could get so turned around that they literally head the opposite direction that they think that they are; conversely, they may “accidentally” go the right way.

This check should be made every time a party leaves a hex.  If they reach something that would alert them to the fact that they’re lost, i.e.; “Hey, isn’t Balalock Hill supposed to be miles to our north?  Why is it visible just through the trees up ahead?” then the players can make another Survival + MND check to reorient themselves.

Food and Water.  One of the biggest challenges to traveling is being sufficiently provisioned for the journey.  Rations are generally not super expensive to buy, but can be challenging to carry.  Water is even more so; you can usually get it for free while at any lake, pond, river or stream, but it is heavy.  A quart of water weighs more than two pounds, and on hot dry days of travel, you can get dehydrated without at least a gallon of water.  Finding water is another MND + Survival check, and the difficulty is usually set by the type of terrain; up to 25 or 30 in really dry deserts, 20-25 in milder deserts, chaparral or steppes, 15 or so in some forests or mountains, but even lower in places that get lots of rain and therefore can have running or standing water ever few miles or so.  If your players can’t find sufficient water, they should be prepared to take STR damage every day that they cannot due to physical suffering from lack of water.  Food is a bit easier; the human body can go a few days without food and not suffer unduly.  While characters without sufficient water need to be prepared to take damage every day, characters without food are only likely to take additional damage every three days—although they will not heal whatever damage that they have already taken until they can get sufficient to eat.  Foraging and hunting for food is another MND + Survival check, and is again based on the environment.  It’s not hard to find edible roots, berries, nuts, etc. in the right environment, and almost every climate has large prey animals—even the desert has Barbary or bighorn sheep, gazelles or pronghorns, etc. although they may well be wary and hard to find except for accomplished hunters.  Setting snares for rabbits or other small animals is another possibility.  Even in the best case scenario, hunting or foraging takes several hours and should reduce your ability to travel by 50% in the day in which you do it.

Don’t get too caught up in modeling this challenge.  It’s meant to add color and interest to wilderness travel, so it’s not just a boring, “you travel for three weeks and then arrive at Penlock Tower” affair.  Use these suggestions as much or as little as is of interest to you and your group.

Encounters. Of course, the real meat and potatoes of wilderness travel is coming across potentially dangerous encounters.  Hex descriptions of some area maps will have some keyed encounters already written in, but the PCs might either avoid the encounter suggested in the hex for various reasons, or may pass through hexes that do not have any encounters.  This, of course, doesn’t mean that traveling is uneventful.  The following random encounter tables can be useful when you feel like, as Raymond Chandler suggested, the game needs “a guy with a gun” to show up and create some tension, interest, or just something for the player characters to do.

Keep in mind that “encounter” does not necessarily mean “combat” and in fact the game will be much more varied and interesting if encounters end up being very different and offer opportunities for all kinds of things from combat to stealth, negotiation, and occasionally just color.

The following charts can be used to generate encounters that you may not have planned.  The charts are keyed based on terrain type.  The best way to use these is to spice up wilderness travel and exploration by making it more tense than simply wandering through the woods (or grassland, or desert, or mountains, etc.)  You can use your dice to generate random encounters, or consult the table and pick an entry that seems appropriate to you, reading the table and determining what is most likely to generate more fun for your players.  Don’t overdo it; players don’t expect to encounter monsters three or four times a day on their commute, but the chance of an encounter is part of what makes wilderness travel exciting (just ask anyone who’s ever backpacked through grizzly country vs a place where grizzlies don’t live!)

Unless you deem otherwise, the chance of an encounter is 1 in 6, i.e., if you are checking randomly for encounters, the players will only have one on a roll of 6.  Once you determine that an encounter does happen, roll a d8 and consult the appropriate table for your terrain type.  For each result, you’ll need to also then roll again on the “derived table” for the category of encounter that you get.

Wilderness Encounter Table

No.
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8

No.
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
Grassland
Men
Flying creature
Non-human
Animal
Animal
Unusual
Horror
Swarm

Desert
Men
Flying creature
Non-human
Men
Animal
Horror
Undead
Animal
Forest
Men
Horror
Non-human
Non-human
Swarm
Unusual
Animal
Animal

Settled
Unusual
Flying creature
Non-human
Non-human
Men
Men
Swarm
Animal
River
Men
Non-human
Aquatic
Aquatic
Undead
Swarm
Flying creature
Horror

City
Men
Men
Men
Men
Men
Men
Undead
Non-human
Swamp
Men
Swarm
Non-human
Aquatic
Aquatic
Undead
Undead
Horror

Open Sea
Men
Flying creature
Aquatic
Aquatic
Aquatic
Aquatic
Aquatic
Unusual
Mtn/Hills
Men
Flying creature
Non-human
Non-human
Animal
Unusual
Non-human
Horror

Jungle
Men
Flying creature
Swarm
Swarm
Non-human
Animal
Animal
Horror


Derived Table, Unusual (1d12) Derived Table, Undead (1d12)
No.
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12

Daemon, Nosoi
Daemon, Servitor (1d4)
Daemon, Servitor
Daemon, Succubus
Daemon, Succubus
Hell Hound (1d4)
Ifrit
Imp
Sasquatch
Elemental (choose type)
Elemental (choose type)
Fell Ghast
No.
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12

Ghost
Ghost
Ghoul
Golem, Flesh
Lich
Mummy
Mummy
Skeleton (1d6)
Skeleton (1d12)
Vampire
Wight (1d4)
Wight (1d8)

Derived Table, Horror (1d12) Derived Table, Swarm(1d12)
No.
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12

Byakhee
Byakhee (1d4)
Dark Young of Shub-Niggurath
Fury (1d6)
Gug (1d4)
Gug
Hound of Tindalos (1d4)
Invisible Stalker
Nightgaunt (1d6)
Nightgaunt (1d10)
Shoggoth
Gnophkeh (2d4)
No.
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12

Bats
Bats (1d4)
Bats (1d6)
Bats (1d8)
Insects
Insects (1d4)
Insects (1d6)
Insects (1d8)
Rats
Rats (1d4)
Rats (1d6)
Rats(1d8)

Derived Table, Aquatic (1d12) Derived Table, Flying Creature (1d12)
No.
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12

Crocodile
Crocodile (1d4)
Crocodile
Deep One (1d4)
Deep One (2d4)
Elemental, Water
Sea Serpent
Sea Serpent
Shoggoth
Snake, Constrictor
Snake, Constrictor (1d4)
Scylla
No.
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12

Dragon
Dinosaur, Pterodactyl
Pseudodragon (2d6)
Eagle
Eagle (1d6)
Elemental, Air
Fury (1d4)
Gargoyle (1d2)
Griffon
Hawk (2d4)
Swarm, Bats
Nightgaunt (1d4)

Derived Table, Animal (1d12)

No.
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
Grassland
Baboon (3d6)
Boar, Wild (1d4)
Rhinoceros
Elephant (1d6)
Raccoon
Horse (3d8)
Lion (2d4)
Rat, Giant (3d6)
Sabertooth (1d4)
Snake, Viper
Hyena (4d4)
Bison (1d4)
Forest
Ape (1d6)
Bear
Cat, Wild
Raccoon
Tiger (use lion)
Rat, Giant (1d6)
Sabertooth (1d4)
Snake, Constrictor
Snake, Viper
Swarm, Insect
Wolf (1d6)
Wolf (3d4)
Mtn/Hills
Bear
Bear (2d4)
Boar, Wild
Boar, Wild (1d4)
Cat, Wild
Horse (2d8)
Lion (2d4)
Rat, Giant (2d8)
Sabertooth (1d4)
Snake, Viper
Wolf (2d4)
Wolf (2d8)
Desert
Baboon (2d8)
Bear
Boar, Wild
Boar, Wild (1d4)
Camel
Camel
Horse (2d8)
Lion (1d4)
Snake, Viper
Snake, Viper (1d4)
Hyena (2d6)
Wolf (1d4)
Settled
Bear
Boar, Wild
Cat, Wild
Raccoon
Raccoon
Horse
Horse (1d6)
Horse (2d6)
Rat, Giant (2d4)
Swarm, Bats
Swarm, Rats
Dog, Wild (1d8)
Jungle
Ape
Ape (2d4)
Boar, Wild
Cat, Wild
Monkey (2d4)
Monkey (4d6)
Elephant
Elephant (1d6)
Lion
Lion (1d6)
Lion (2d6)
Hyena (3d6) 

Derived Table, Humanoid (1d10) (No. appearing is up to the GM, but are often in groups and equipped)

No.
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10

No.
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
Grassland
Cursed
Dwarf
Elf
Goblin
Halfling
Kemling
Orc
Ratman
Wose
Mixed

Desert
Dwarf
Elf
Goblin
Goblin
Kemling
Kemling
Jann
Jann
Orc
Mixed
Forest
Dwarf
Elf
Halfling
Goblin
Kemling
Orc
Ratman
Thurse
Sasquatch
Mixed

Settled
Dwarf
Dwarf
Elf
Halfling
Halfling
Kemling
Kemling
Jann
Wose
Mixed
River
Cursed
Dwarf
Elf
Halfling
Jann
Goblin
Orc
Ratman
Wose
Mixed

City
Dwarf
Elf
Goblin
Halfling
Kemling
Jann
Orc
Wose
Mixed
Mixed
Swamp
Cursed
Goblin
Goblin
Orc
Kemling
Ratman
Ratman
Thurse
Thurse
Mixed

Jungle
Elf
Goblin
Goblin
Kemling
Orc
Orc
Thurse
Thurse
Wose
Mixed
Mtns/Hills
Dwarf
Dwarf
Elf
Goblin
Jann
Orc
Yeti
Wose
Mixed
Mixed













Derived table, Men (1d12) (May appear as classed NPC characters, often appear in groups)

No.
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12

No.
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
Grassland
Bandit
Bandit
NPC Adventurer
Merchant
Barbarian
Merchant
Noble
Sorcerer
Mercenary
Bandit
Priest
Nomad

Desert
Dervish
Nomad
Adventurer
Merchant
Nomad
Nomad
Pilgrim
Crusader
Sorcerer
Soldier
Noble
Nomad
Forest
Highwayman
Bandit
NPC Adventurer
Merchant
Hunter
Bandit
Pilgrim
Priest
Sorcerer
Soldier
Bandit
NPCs

Settled
Highwayman
Trader
NPCs
Adventurer
Merchant
Veteran
Bandit
Soldier
Pilgrim
Farmer
Artisan
Noble
River
Pirate
Bandit
NPC Adventurer
Merchant
Buccaneer
Buccaneer
Priest
Sorcerer
Soldier
Merchant
Traveler
NPCs

City
Thief
Trader
NPC
Trader
Veteran
Artisan
Expert
City Watch
Mercenary
Priest
Scholar
Noble
Swamp
Bandit
Bandit
NPCs
Merchant
Pilgrim
Trader
Barbarian
Hunter
Soldier
Sorcerer
NPC Adventurer
Bandit

Jungle
Brigand
Merchant
Adventurer
Pilgrim
Savage
Savage
Trader
Explorer
Soldier
Buccaneer
NPCs
Brigand
Mtns/Hills
Highwayman
Bandit
Adventurers
Merchant
Barbarian
Barbarian
Priest
Sorcerer
Hunter
Soldier
Caveman
Homesteader

Open Sea
Privateer
Pirate
Merchant
Adventurer
Pirate
Merchant
Merchant
Merchant
Pirate
Merchant
Privateer
Sorcerer

Magic Items.
Magic Weapons: Magic weapons are better at hitting and causing damage than standard ones.  Most range from +1 to +3, some +1 weapons have a greater plus versus specific types of monsters. Magic swords sometimes have a special spell-like power or two. A few swords are intelligent and have a number of spell-like powers (some even talk). A few weapons are cursed and reduce one’s chance to hit. 

Magic Armor: Most are plus +1 to AC, with a few +2 or +3. Magic shields exist with similar pluses.  
Scrolls: Most hold one to six spells that can be cast even by characters who don't know them (finding the scroll does not give you access to the spell once it has been cast, however). A few place curses on the reader.  

Potions: Potions  are magic items that mimic the effect of a spell that directly affects the character that drinks it (therefore spells that do not affect the caster or a target directly cannot be placed in a potion).  Some potions are poison, cause disease, cause delusions, etc. 

Rings or amulets, etc.: Create a permanent affect on a player, as described by a particular spell, when they are worn (the effect ends when the amulet or ring is removed.)

Wands or staves, etc.: Usually store a certain number of "pre-cast" spells that can be accessed for their effect to be shown when needed.  Once the total spells are exhausted, the wand or staff, etc. has no magic left and is a mundane item.

All magic items may (at the GM's discretion) cause insanity damage on those using or witnessing them, but the default assumption is that they do not the way casting the spell would.

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