Things I Learnt about How to Present a Historical Fantasy RPG using OpenQuest Recently

A couple of months ago, I re-edited and brought up to date Paul Mitchener’s Ancient Roman OpenQuest adventure Non Semper Erit Aestas (or “It will not always be Summer”). It’s set in the immediate aftermath of Emperor Nero’s death, the Roman Rhineland, here’s Paul’s quick pitch for it.

In the year 68AD, the Roman Empire is torn apart from civil war, and the Empire’s defences are drastically weakened, in particular those on the Rhine frontier. The player characters are Vigilis Nocturni — special agents of the Empire who investigate hidden threats, both mundane and supernatural. Both types of threats threaten the local capital of Colonia Agrippina, and the player characters are the only ones who can prevent it from falling to barbarians and foul sorcery.

Editing it was quite an enlightening process and I learnt the following things about Paul’s approach to Historical RPGs from it.

  • Not everyone goes around armed to the teeth or laden with equipment and treasure.
  • Weapons and armour are more of a status symbol.
  • Magic is not as prevalent as standard OQ. In Paul’s adventure, only Priests and dedicated cult members get magic, even Personal Magic.
  • Deities can be in the physical world and encountered as creatures.
  • That historical fact can form the backdrop for events in the adventure, but the future is not certain, and the player character’s actions do lead to meaningful changes to the timeline.

I have no plans to make this available in print because Paul will be using it as the basis of a standalone game, set in the Ancient Roman period known as the Age of the Four Emporers, powered by OpenQuest in the new year. More about that here, as it progresses.

The Great Goblin Hunt

A combination of a small return to convention-going, Grogmeet at my local FLG Fanboy 3 in November, and the need for a gripping, exciting kick-off scenario for the next Season of OpenQuest Thursday, which sees our rough borderlands troubleshooters moving in noble circles at the Imperial Court, drove me to write this upcoming adventure.

The Pitch

Goblins running wild in the Empire of Gatan has always been a problem. Either feral packs from population explosions in their native lands or organised raiding bands led by their Orc brethren, from the Goblinoid Strongholds beyond the Empire’s Border. Ten years ago, Emperor Ilmar got so fed up with them, that he made an Imperial

Proclamation that was read out by town criers across the Empire. The proclamation classified Goblins as vermin and decreed by law that landowning nobles, should appoint a Master of the Goblin Hunt whose job is to coordinate the local peasants in efforts to exterminate any Goblin infestation found upon their lands. A bounty was placed upon the collection of Goblin heads, and the formation of a professional class of Goblin Hunter was encouraged throughout the Empire.

Every year the best Goblin Hunters, sponsored by the five Dukes of Gatan, assemble at Castle Uprising in the Imperial Heartlands, near the Imperial Hunting Forest. After a great feast, attended by the Emperor, they enter the Valley of the Hunt, which has been carefully stocked with Goblins and other related creatures.  Whoever brings back the most goblin heads at the end of the day, is declared the winner of the Great Goblin Hunt.

This year your band of adventurers have been invited to join the Fifth Annual Goblin Hunt, for the glory of your sponsoring noble and your personal financial gain.

This adventure is about getting the player characters to interact with the nobles of the setting, including the big movers and shakers, in a way that doesn’t involve lots of talking and chewing scenery. As previously stated, OpenQuest is a Fantasy Adventure Game.

So what better way to get both the intrigue and action by involving the characters in an Imperial Hunt.

Two castle visits came to mind as the inspiration for the adventure locations in the adventure.

Bolsover Castle in Derbyshire. Whole sections of the castle were built around providing the Kings of England with accommodation and entertainment on their grand procession of the Kingdom and getting a bump up in power at court. It was a tactic that worked and eventually saw the family relocate further down the road at Chatsworth House and being in the Royal inner circle of confidants and advisers. The castle is right next to the castle is a deer hunting run that was reserved for the nobles use.

Castle Rising in Norfolk. I’ve known this Norman castle from visits to my grandparents in my childhood. It has only been recently with family holidays that I’ve learnt about its history as a Hunting Lodge created by the Norman Earl who built the castle and created Deer Hunting land around it.

As well as the obvious thrill of the hunt itself, some other themes are working in this adventure.

Are Goblins evil or a victim of misrepresentation? The adventure deals with a genocidal hunt against Goblins. When I wondered what the Nobles would be hunting, I decided to push the boat out, this being a fantasy game and have Goblins as the target. In the Empire of Gatan setting, Goblins are presented as evil enemies, typical of most fantasy settings. But this adventure puts that under the microscope, and there’s evidence in the adventure about the true nature of Goblins being completely different to what the characters have been taught.

Exploration of blood sports. As well as practicalities of how the hunt is conducted, there will be opportunities to see in action and get involved in the various social games of one-upmanship that are being played out between the nobles, for whom its merely part of a social calendar of events throughout the year and an important chance to impress the Emperor who is in attendance. Also how species have been created specifically to provide sport for the hunters.

The Class System. The Hunt is conducted in a valley where peasant farmers lived before they were relocated by the Emperor’s decree to live around the Castle that is the Great Master of the Goblin Hunt’s seat. Therefore, those peasants are still about and look on unhappily as their Noble masters feast at the castle in preparation for the Great Goblin Hunt, which is the sole reason for them being kicked off their ancestral lands.

As with all my convention games, this will get a write-up and be published at some point, probably as part of a book about the Empire of Gatan that I’m planning called “Dark Corners of the Empire”.

The Duck Crusade at Virtual Grogmeet 2021

I had an epic game of The Duck Crusade at VirtualGrogmeet, an online convention organised by the Grognard Files Podcast,  yesterday afternoon. As bonkers, with moments of grimness, as I envisioned it being. It was wonderful to see the foul land of Grogland and its mad cultist inhabitants come to life in full evil glory

Here’s the Player’s Introduction

You are all members of the Order of Lizard Killers, who live at Fort Fury on the edge of the Groglands.

Two hundred years ago Groglands was your people’s sweet, moist homeland, and was called Green Marsh. Then the monstrous giant walking three-headed lizard known as Grogzilla came and laid it to waste with its vile breath of corruption!

The survivors settled at the Fort. A human outpost, that they very kindly allowed to settle in by the local human tribe.

You are the last of your Order. You’ve just received word that your mentors – the Duck Pack – have been killed while patrolling the Groglands. And worse than that while Grogzilla sleeps in a cave beneath the ruins of Fowlton, it has laid an egg, and its corrupt human priesthood has brought it to the surface! That they plan to hatch it and soon there will be a SON OF GROGZILLA!!!

 

This system uses OpenQuest, a D100 system inspired by the classics with modern mechanics for smoother play. No system or setting knowledge required, but Mature Themes of madness, unnaturalness, and horror will feature heavily.

 

The Duck Crusade by Dan Barker, on the Left one of the Crusader Ducks and on the Right one of the Grogzitte Cultists.

Despite a very downbeat send-off speech by their Grandmaster (“you don’t stand a chance, you’ll probably die and your body will sink into the swamp”), the Ducks cut a bloody swathe through the cultists, and killed the Son of Grogzilla!

They triumphed and have become the new elite Heroes of Fort Fury, the fabled Duck Pack. Big thanks to Andrew Jones, David Haraldson, Lee Williams, and Roy Duffy who played Buffo the Baboon raised as Duck to a hilt (picture below).

This is the first time I’ve run the scenario, and due to it being effectively 2.5 hours once we got into playing properly, it was a slightly abridged version. On reflection that’s fine. There’s a lot of material in the current draft of the adventure. So much so that you can pick and choose which parts of it to use, and the resolution is pretty obvious from the word go so you can just drop it in when you need to wrap things up quite quickly without it being jarring. The players threw themselves into it with great gusto, with none of the caution that some players exhibit when they look at the skill ratings of 60% in their signature skill and the number of hit points (usually between 10 and 15) on their character sheets 🙂  This may because that I use a much more concise format for characters in convention games, where signature skills are in the 70-85% rating, non-important skills aren’t listed (and are taken at 20% if they turn up in play) and the character has double the amount of personal magic than a starting character does, with personal magic casting being POW X 5 instead of POW X 3.

The Duck Crusade is currently in draft form and is being worked up to be released as a A5 format booklet, with notes about how to run it from the Cultist’s point of view, and a mini-guide to the lands of Grogland. Current ETA late Apirl/early May.

More Detail About The Lost Outpost

This is the OpenQuest Quickstart Rules + Adventure. If you are new to OpenQuest or a returning old hand wanting to see what’s changed, or simply want to pick up an introductory adventure suitable for newcomers this is for you.

I posted about this when I released it, but here’s a more detailed view, along with some design notes at the end.

OpenQuest Quickstart Cover by Jonny Gray

OpenQuest Quickstart Cover by Jonny Gray

A bit more about what it contains.

The Rules

The Rules is a cut-down selection, that has the basic mechanics explained, one of the three magic systems (personal Magic), a slightly cut down version of Physical Combat (with some of the combat actions left out). In short just enough rules so you can play the Adventure.

The Adventure

The Lost Outpost is set on the borderlands of the Empire of Gatan setting, which is the example in the OpenQuest Rulebook. Intertwined with the numbers you need to run it, there are lots of bits of explanation about the non-player character’s motives and what they are doing in the adventure in the context of their cultures and religious beliefs. I was very keen that the adventure shows that these more intangible things are just as big a driver in play as the numbers on the NPC’s profiles. Even for the “mooks” who are the accompanying warriors of the higher ranking NPCs.

Structure wise it’s a simple three-beat adventure in that the Referee presents the set of the situation in-game, the players explore the encounter area where the situation is, and then with the Referee’s help bring it to a resolution. Within that explanation that I try to show that player choice is central to the Quest plays out at the table.  If this sounds a bit worryingly story-game to you, don’t worry its presented with a reassuringly old-school introduction for both the Players and Referee, an adventure (or Quest as I call it in OQ) made up of six encounters – all placed on this wonderful map by Glynn Seal (of Midderlands fame).

The Garrison House, map by Glynn Seal

The Garrison House, map by Glynn Seal

Take note, this edition of OpenQuest is a lot darker in tone than previous ones and the quickstart reflects that. There’s a section that points out its mature themes in the introduction of the Quickstart. I’m not sure whether this tonal shift has been because of the fact that this edition’s art is black and white, or (more likely) because of the implied Dark Ages/Early Medieval setting, combined with I’m an adult playing with other adults.

Six Pre-made Characters

I used the full character generation rules, with six of the ready-made concepts, to make these starting level characters. From playing them you’ll get a good idea of how powerful new characters are, and what their limitations are. If you choose to continue the adventure, by either using the adventure in the main rulebook or the upcoming adventure pack (The Edge of Empire) you can continue to use them.

Here’s one of them Amon Durak, with comments on the pdf that explain how he works as a starting player character in OpenQuest.

Overall the Quickstart aims to give players new to D100 roleplaying games, a taste of what the full rulebook contains, and how D100 role-playing is different from D20 Level based games.

So if that sounds like something you’d like to use.

Designer’s Notes

This is probably the most involved adventure I’ve written since Life and Death, a three adventure collection that I released for OQ1 and revised slightly for OQ2.

I had three aims with it.

  1. Show how OpenQuest 3rd works.
  2. Provide clear examples to new Referees, and a clear structure that is easy to follow while allowing player choice to be king.
  3. Explain in a show not tell fashion the Empire of Gatan setting, without getting too deep and involved.

It was a struggle to get the three aims of the adventure across without vastly expanding the page count, and necessarily padding it. I think I got there 🙂

On a personal level, I want to be able to point to people new to OQ and say, “that’s what OpenQuest is”. Not have to, recommend they read the rulebook and then a follow on adventure pack to get what the game is all about.

Welcome to the Shambles

Catching the Wyrm is the Early Bird Quickstart that people who backed the Kickstarter in the first 48 hours, and Art Level backers, will be receiving. This Quickstart adventure is a little different from what I normally write for OpenQuest. Its made of up the first two adventure areas of a bigger ruined city known as The Shambles. It’s not quite what older roleplayers call a Sandbox, where the adventure presents the information that the characters may encounter as they make their own way around the unifying adventure location, more what I call a Toybox. Where I present various objects or Toys (adventure locatinos, non-player characters, rumours, encounters ) that the referee can place together to create an adventure.

So with that in mind, let’s see what is in this particular Toy Box.

A Taste of the Shambles. A quick introduction to this ruined city, its history and the current state of affairs. This gives an overview of fo the complete package.

Adventure Areas This Quickstart has features two Adventure Areas from the city.

  • Tent Town. A mishmash of scavengers, professional treasure hunters and wise people keeping watch over the ruined city, right next to its walls.
  • The Squares. A residential area just inside the walls, with Tent Town on the other side. So-called because the houses are built around squares, each of which have a different focus for the well to do residents that once lived there.

The Quest of Catching the Wyrm. This is the adventure itself in a short digestible form that draws already detailed information from the Locations.

Non-Player Characters Rooster. All the character profiles (or references to the relevant page in the main OpenQuest rulebook).

Design Notes.

Unlike the publically released Quickstart Adventure, which comes with its own concise version of OpenQuest, this Quickstart pulls from the main rulebook, for both a wider collection of magic spells and creatures.

Also, the adventure will feature the three characters and the Dragon (!) that feature on the cover of OpenQuest 3rd Edition (and the detail of which is used for the banner for this site) 🙂