The advent of Infernal materials, lighter and stronger than even the most advanced enlightenment metals, and Infernal magic capable of levitation and propulsion, opened the skies to humans for the first time. From the first experiments in balloons, to the massive and stately airships, and on to more advanced military technology, by the end of the Victorian era the peoples of Europe had developed a wide variety of airborne conveyances. This post provides examples of some of those more suited to adventurers. Most of these were developed after the period of the Compromise and Conceit campaign chronicled in this blog, being technology of the mid- to late-Victorian era.

The Cupola

One could hang a large insect from this...

The Cupola is a small and effective military observation and guard post developed and used extensively in the Crimean war. They are used heavily by the military as spying, forward-observing and aerial attack bases, and are generally designed to be invulnerable to small arms fire from below.  This flying machine is invested with powerful but simple magics inside its ponderous shell, which can carry up to 3 adult humans and a reasonable amount of equipment, both levitating and propelling them at a pace roughly equal to a horse’s canter. The cupola can operate for periods of up to 12 hours before needing to stop and rest for an equal period of time, during which it recharges. Most Cupolae also need to be returned to a major recharge point once every 360 – 720 hours, or the maximum duration of their operating periods begins to reduce considerably. Details as to how they are recharged and what their internal power source is are carefully guarded, and although most Cupolae are capable of operating even if large portions of their shell has been obliterated, they are designed to rapidly become inert and often to self-destruct if their operator is killed and they are shot down. Rumours abound that the power mechanism is somehow related to that of the Autonomous Sentinel Cannon, one of the more abhorrent developments of the modern infernal industry, so it is understandable that the secret of its power source is jealously guarded from outsiders.

Cupolae are currently only used in military and a few surveying tasks, and are always magically linked to their pilot, so that stealing them is extremely difficult. The simple magic involved in the Cupola’s flying mechanism prevents it from being scaled up, though occasionally one sees smaller, slightly faster cupolae in mountainous regions.

The Corvette

Treading only lightly on the laws of physics

The Corvette was originally designed as a small hermetically sealed flying vehicle, but has since grown into the most audacious and expensive Victorian project. The corvette is essentially a self-contained flying hull, varying in size from a 5 man reconaissance vessel to a massive troopship. The first vessels were used as transporters and heavy lifters for the initial actions in the Crimean war, and remained quite humble in design and scope. Subsequent developments in materials technology and the growing wealth of the Infernalist nations led to experimentation with the design, and by 1870 these ships had become much larger. They are powered by a combination of levitation magic, flight magic and various conjured creatures, and incorporate all of the various technologies available to the people of the time. The larger ones also incorporate a gas store for lamps, and possibly a steam engine (usually elemental-powered) to maintain atmospheric pressure or to move various objects (such as lifts) inside the ship. Almost nothing in a large Corvette is powered by anything mundane, however, and the vastly complex magic involved in their operation makes Corvettes ridiculously expensive. The English airforce possess only 3 Corvettes of appreciable size, and almost never field them in any but the most desperate situations. Most of the largest trading companies (such as the East India) possess one or two very small Corvettes, and most colonial administrations in the later Victorian era also possessed one or two light corvettes designed exclusively for the purposes of airborne terror. Although corvettes can be licensed for private use their purchase is always at the whim of the Queen, sold on only under extremely restrictive contractual obligations, and all Corvettes have built in self-destruction systems to prevent them being used by the wrong people, or investigated by their private owners.

Despite its possession of a small fleet of Corvettes of varying size, the mainstay of British Imperial power – such as it is – in the Victorian era remains the surface navy, with corvettes used primarily as support craft and advanced strike vehicles. Some scientists have claimed that a much cheaper and more effective airfleet could be built if infernal power were reserved only for propulsion, and more natural means – similar to the wings of birds – were used to obtain lift, but it is clear to all learned folk of the Victorian era that non-magical flight is purely the province of the birds, and cannot be achieved by men without magical aid.

Teleconveyancer Glyphs

One small step for man...

Probably the most expensive way to travel, Teleconveyancer Glyphs immediately transport anyone who steps on them to a distant location without crossing the intervening space. A simple magical glyph, they can be bought from the appropriate magical college at exorbitant cost. The cost of such Glyphs becomes even greater if their buyer intends for them to be reusable – in such a case they must be embedded in a specially designed plinth (usually referred to as a Ghost Step) which contains the energy for the Glyph’s repeated use. This can be a lump in the ground barely bigger than the glyph itself for a rune which teleports its target across the street, to a plinth taking up the entire floor of a church for a glyph which transports someone to Rome (such a glyph is rumoured to exist in Avignon).

Teleconveyancer glyphs are sometimes installed in the airships of the rich and famous, as single-use emergency escape devices, and are also rumoured to be used by certain spies and assassins. The infamous assassins of Araby are said to have their own, more esoteric methods of achieving the same effect, and of course it is known that some practitioners of dark arts can turn any pool of shadow into a teleconveyancer glyph of sorts. The military is rumoured to be developing a kind of rope or cord which behaves like a teleconveyancer glyph for anyone crossing it, and which throws its user a fixed distance forward in space. Some magical colleges are rumoured to be playing with movement through time as well, but such rumours are undoubtedly the mad ravings of heretics.

Nonetheless, the teleconveyancer glyph remains the ultimate escape mechanism, which every evil villain should invest in.

After yesterday’s post on reconfiguring Warhammer 3 for playing high fantasy, I thought about configuring it for Compromise and Conceit, and I realized not much would have to change, because there are many things in the Warhammer milieu that suit my Compromise and Conceit world. The encroaching chaos, the concepts of corruption and the European setting are very familiar to my campaign; and the way magic works in Warhammer 3, where mages can use their powers almost continually and have only a small selection to play with, is also quite familiar. I also didn’t use classes per se in my campaign, instead going on a skill-based system; a good alternative to not using classes is the career structure of Warhammer, with regular changes possible to create a varied and interesting set of characters.

So really, all I would need to do is adopt most of the Warhammer 3 rules, adjust the spell lists to suit the Orders of 18th Century Europe, and import a few new spells. So having thought about this, here are some basic ideas for how to make Warhammer 3 work for Compromise and Conceit.

Basic Rule Adjustments: Character Development

The main change to existing character classes is to change the development rules for stances. All PCs start the game with a single slot of their choice on the stance meter (i.e. one conservative or one reckless). They can only add the others through advancement. Everything else at character creation is the same.

For advancement, I would adjust the advancement rules to allow each character class 7 open career advances, instead of 6. This allows them to buy an extra stance, and in their second career to advance a character’s prime attribute to 7 instead of the current limit of 6. I think this makes for more heroic characters at higher levels, which is quite important for Compromise and Conceit. These are the only rules I can think of for character development.

New Talents, Actions, Magic

Obviously there would be general sets of actions and talents to suit the infernal world. There would also be a new skill, Infernalism, which would be specific to the world, and a set of Summoning/Invoking actions which would match it. These would be limited, and would involve working with Infernal essence or summoning demons. I would make these actions rather than spells, so there is no equivalent to favour or magic points in the world.

Character classes

I don’t know what the list of advanced careers is for Warhammer 3 (I hope to find out soon) but in the meantime I would use all the basic classes, but drop commoner and gambler, and probably rat catcher. The new classes specific to the campaign would be:

  • Infernalist (a manipulator of infernal essences and, later, conjuror of demons)
  • Investigator (particularly important when the campaign is set in the 19th century)
  • Inquisitor (an interrogator for the church, possibly quite similar to an investigator)
  • Clergyman (a non-spell-using priest, I think)
  • Grenadier (a kind of mixture of military engineer and soldier)
  • Engineer (for the non-magical steampunk element)
  • Scientist (for the non-magical steampunk element)

Amongst the advanced classes, I would include:

  • Demonologist (this being essentially stage 2 of an Infernalist’s path)
  • Technomancer (a semi-magical version of an engineer, possibly using infernalism)
  • Assassin
  • Remaker (someone who combines animals and machines, to make the Remade)

I think for some of the basic classes (e.g. nobleman, clergyman) some kind of additional wealth or other benefit would be needed to distinguish them from priests and wizards. Traditionally in my campaigns people choose their PCs, and I would like to keep that option, but no-one would choose a nobleman without a good reason. This means that some of the commoner “best” classes like Wizard and Priest would need to have more limited ranges of skills, or some kind of entry requirements. Alternatively I could relent on this tradition and allow random selection of characters.

Possibly there could be some amusing French character classes: Jacobin and Musketeer spring to mind…

Essentially the game then proceeds as Compromise and Conceit with Warhammer rules. Worth a try, I think!

 

I really like the Warhammer 3 system, though I don’t know if it will work at higher levels, but I’m interested in adjusting it to work in a High Fantasy campaign style, rather than the “grim and perilous world” of Warhammer. To the extent that changes would need to be made, it seems that the main ones would be in character generation and advancement. I’ve been thinking about this a bit recently, and some of my ideas on how such a change might work are described below.

Characterizing High Fantasy

The High Fantasy ideas I’m used to basically seem to consist of the following:

  • PCs start at quite a weak and low-powered level, but progress to extremely high powers
  • Character classes follow quite a long development path, and career transitions are few and far between
  • Career transitions can be quite radical: from fighter to magic user, for example
  • Secondary spell users (like Bard, Paladin, etc.) exist

To incorporate these into Warhammer 3 would require a change in the base classes, and an extension of the duration of a single career (perhaps a doubling) so that a single career in the High Fantasy world is roughly equal to 2 or 3 careers in the Warhammer 3 rules. This would in turn lead to more dependence on Rank as a signifier of power.

Revising careers

I envisage 4 basic careers: Soldier, Initiate, Apprentice Wizard and Rogue. If one wants to include semi-spell users then one would also include the Paladin, Bard and maybe a Fighter/Magic User type (Warlock?).

There would then be a series of advanced careers, that represent improvements on the basic careers: Warrior, Cleric, Wizard, Thief. The additional careers of Ranger, Assassin and Druid could be introduced at this point, and maybe one would want to include Paladin and Bard at this stage rather than the previous stage.

Advancement would be simpler than in Warhammer 3. Any basic career can advance to any other basic career, but for the advanced careers the progression types are limited: Fighters can become Warriors, Rangers or Assassins; Rogues can become Assassins, Thieves or Rangers; Initiates can become Clerics, Rangers or Druids; Apprentice Wizards can become Wizards, Assassins or Rangers. Bards, Paladins and Warlocks(?) could fit into this scheme in the obvious ways.

There could then (perhaps) be a single additional class specific to each basic class: Barbarian for the Warrior, ? for the Cleric, Sorcerer for the Wizard, ? for the Thief.

Class distinction would be primarily through the use of talents, available skills, and maybe some specific action cards. I imagine that pre-requisites would be more complex than in Warhammer 3, and there would be spells for the different classes. Alternatively, semi-spell-users could be set to use lower-level versions of the other classes’ spells (this makes life easier for the designer) and can only be obtained by non-spell-using basic classes. So then we have the following progression rules:

  • Soldier: any other Basic class; Warrior; Paladin; Warlock; Ranger; Barbarian
  • Initiate: Any other basic class; Cleric
  • Apprentice Wizard: Any other basic class; wizard; Sorcerer
  • Rogue: Any other basic class; thief; Assassin; Ranger; Bard

I think I like this scheme since it gives a wider range of options for the initial non-spell-using classes. Alternatively you could put strict conditions on ability scores for the Initiate and Apprentice Wizard, and introduce the Bard or Paladin as more flexible versions of the same with access to weaker magic.

To get the effect of weaker magic, I imagine defining “petty magic” as 0 level, and allowing pure magic using classes to use spells equal to or less than their rank; semi-spell users can use Rank-1. Then, the number of xps required to gain a rank can be adjusted to match the demands of a weak starting point and a powerful ending point. Ranks of spell can also be exponentially more powerful (in this system, rank 4 or 5 would surely be the limit!)

Starting weak and ending strong

To achieve this effect I envisage the system putting stricter limits on the  starting attributes for a PC (maybe a maximum of 5) but weaker limits on how many advances can be expended on attributes, enabling characters to develop to a maximum of 7 or 8 by the end of their second career. This would mean that careers would span twice the XP range, and allow more advances. Typically, I imagine a set of advances for one career being something like:

  • 1 Talent
  • 1 Action
  • 2 Wound Threshold
  • 1 Fortune
  • 1 Skill or specialization
  • 1 Specialization
  • 8-10 Open Career Advances
  • 2 Trait Advances to Maximum Rank 5

So by the time a character has reached the end of this they have spent a maximum of about 25 points (not including non-career advances, which could also be more flexible). The open career advances would be handled the same way as now (on the career card) but would obviously allow more advances, i.e. more skill advances or action cards. I would introduce more scope by reforming the stances a little and giving more flexibility to assign points to them.

Reforming stances

Stances are a powerful effect in the game (though I think the Reckless Stance can be a little bit pointless at times). At low levels I think high fantasy characters shouldn’t have much flexibility to adjust them, so I would suggest changing the stances to give all PCs at first level 1 stance step in one direction (of their choice). They then buy additional stance dice as they proceed. They might even start off neutral-only, and be able to buy 1 stance per career. This prevents them from having lots of stance dice early on and gives monsters a huge advantage. It also means players have more incentive to buy up attributes – with stance dice being limited, increasing attributes is important.

It would also be a good idea, I think, to make some actions – and especially some types of spell – benefit more from specific stances. Pyromancy and necromancy should benefit from reckless stances, as should anything a thief or barbarian does, while Paladins and Conjurors should benefit from conservatism (taking your time about summoning demons is a good idea). Fighters should be able to adopt very different styles by changing stance options, and I like the idea that early decisions a PC makes really limit their future development. So if a PC has bought two steps on a conservative stance, that basically means that becoming a thief is a bad idea.

I also pondered linking stances to alignment (Law/Chaos) and I’m interested in the fact that the original Warhammer rules don’t do this.

Conclusion

I’m still thinking about whether any changes to WFRP 3 would be necessary to make it into a high fantasy game, or whether they’re mainly about play style. But if one did choose to change the game, the image I have is of keeping the same basic resolution system for actions, keeping fatigue/stress and action cooldowns, and changing character advancement so that it reflects the classic D&D-style classes. Along with a bit of tinkering with stances and some adjustments to the pre-requisites for the basic classes, this could be sufficient to make the game into a high fantasy system with an excellent (I think) skill resolution system, and some cool ideas for handling resources. I’ll be looking into this more over the next few months, and possibly also considering ways to convert the system directly to Compromise and Conceit.

 

This is a speculative post, since what I’m suggesting would require a lot of effort and probably be a huge waste of time. My experience so far (in 3 or 4 sessions) of Warhammer 3 suggests that the system is something I really like, and I’m interested in whether it could be converted to use in non-warhammer settings. The rules themselves are very simple and easy to understand; but there are huge elements of it that make it very specific to the setting, but these elements are kind of modular and can probably be used to make the flavour of a new setting quite easily. So I’m wondering if I could convert the system to suit my Compromise and Conceit campaign world (or any other!)

Why I like warhammer 3

There are several aspects of the warhammer 3 system that I really like. The dice and skill resolution system contain a lot of role-playing hooks that enable a GM to very easily create interesting outcomes for actions, including success-with-cost, failure-but-some-minor-benefit, extreme success and failure, and unusual outcomes. The combat system is fast and deadly, and the rules for Actions give non-magic users a lot of options for things to do, as well as applying costs to non-magical manoeuvres. The system for handling fatigue/stress and other side-effects of actions is quite straightforward, and the easy way that cool-down effects are worked into the system is very clever. I also like the method for having continuous access to spells – no 1-a-day magic-users here – but limiting the frequency of use by the simultaneous mechanism of rechargable power points and rechargable actions. None of this would be possible without the simple counter-based tracking systems, of course.

I think all of this is very innovative, and very suitable to the style of game that I like to run, which is roughly like this:

  • combat is realistic and deadly, but handled quickly and simply
  • death spirals make multiple combats risky
  • magic is powerful and almost unlimited, but magic-users don’t have many spells
  • i.e. essentially fighters’ or thieves’ actions, and magic-users spells, are broadly similar in number
  • spell-use and other special actions are limited by a cost
  • skill use applies to non-combat, non-mechanical actions and can be stunted to get benefits from role-playing or good planning
  • partial success is possible in skill use, and simple to manage
  • PCs are slightly more heroic than the average person, and become quite powerful with time, but are always vulnerable

Rolemaster had almost all of these components, but was hideous to run. The simple mechanisms of the Warhammer 3 system seem to balance the kind of details this type of system requires with the kind of playability that stops a single action from taking forever.

Basic adaptation of the Warhammer 3 system

Basically, to adapt the Warhammer 3 system to a new setting, you need to change the careers (and associated advancement system), and the actions and talents. I don’t think it would be necessary to change the skills even if you were switching to a completely different setting (such as cyberpunk or space opera) though a wider range of advanced skills might be necessary. So the key thing is the careers, actions and talents. Of course you would also need to adjust equipment.

Changing the careers and advancement system

In the current warhammer 3 setting, there are a (fairly) large number of careers, and PCs are expected to progress through several over a long adventuring career. Essentially you pick up a number of advances – like experience points – that you spend on acquiring new actions, improving ability scores, or gaining skill slots over one career. Once you’ve spent about 15 (I don’t know the exact number) you can advance to a new career, retaining (most) of what you collected in the old career. You can’t advance an ability score past 6, and typically when you’re in one career you can only pick up 3 new actions; and in one career you can only train any one skill once.

The obvious way to make a more heroic and classically fantasy-centred game is to reduce the number of basic careers, and increase the length you can be in them. By requiring, say, 30 advances rather than 15, and allowing PCs to increase ability scores up to, say, 8, (or, say, 5 for non-career scores) you would basically turn a career into a longer-lived, more heroic style of “character class.” You could then allow PCs to progress to a set of prestige classes with new and better abilities. So, I would probably consider restricting the initial careers to Fighter, Specialist, Wizard or Cleric. Then subsequent advanced careers might be things like Paladin, Guildmaster, Archmage, High Priest, Necromancer, etc. I would probably also produce a dabbler-type basic career which allows a mixture of thieving or fighting and magic, but with more restricted access to spells (only level 1, for instance).

Allowing ability scores to advance to 8 is particularly important for magic-using PCs, since it enables them to cast more spells before they have to draw more power, and reduces the risk of stress from carrying power above their usual limits. Because skill checks depend on abilities it also gives fighters solid combat powers to take on the types of monsters you don’t see in a standard warhammer campaign.

Changing actions and talents

I already have a set of spells for Compromise and Conceit, some of which I tried to represent as actions for a D&D-style game. It wouldn’t be difficult to rewrite these (and some new, demonically-influenced talents) as actions for warhammer 3. Most of the combat actions could stay as they are. There would be a new set of Infernal-style actions which would be semi-spell-like and available for all characters, wizard or not, but quite basic. There might also be some interesting technology-related ones, particularly to do with building stuff; for example a “grenade” action which requires that you previously spent some time in a lab creating grenades using your advanced tech skills.

Basically, however, the system would retain a bunch of core actions, and only the spells and infernal talents/actions would change.

The downside

The challenge of doing this is that it would be a huge amount of work, and a lot of the results would probably be unbalanced. The warhammer setting as it stands is almost translatable to Compromise and Conceit without much change, so it might not even be worth the effort. I’m also not sure if the warhammer system breaks at higher power levels or not. But it could be worth finding out…

In a recent skype conversation, one of my players from London accused my GMing style of being “very sandbox,” and even went so far as to imply that there is little difference between me and the OSR. This has me a little confused as to what sandboxing is, since I don’t do any of the following:

  • Random terrain generation
  • Random monster encounters
  • Random adventure generation
  • Morale checks, or any kind of non-deliberative decisions about monster behaviour

and, as far as I know, most of my campaigns have a strong plot element (though I tend to allow the players to decide what direction to go, including which side to pick).

So I’m wondering – if I don’t do any of these things, and I like “story,” is it possible to be a sandbox-GM? Jesus, these days I don’t really even make maps.

Here are a couple of examples of “actions” based on the skill-based d20 system I developed a while ago, combined with the Actions framework discussed yesterday. One is a spell, one a “supernatural ability” and one a “mundane” (and hideous) special ability. The Cost line in each description gives the attribute against which damage is done if the action fails. The cost is always 1 wound. In my conception of magic, arcane magic incurs a physical cost (it is exhausting) while divine magic incurs a mental cost (it drives you a little bit.. irrational and loopy). So failed arcane spells incur a wound against strength, while failed divine spells incur a wound against intelligence. In this system, a critical is achieved by a roll of a 20, at which point 2d10 are re-rolled and added to the previous roll to get a new total. On rolling a critical, all maximum effects (damage, rounds of duration of effect, etc.) are increased by some amount.

Grendel’s Demise

Type: Spell

Level: 7

Cost: Strength

Conditions: Must have one hand free and be unencumbered, not wearing metal armour. Target must be within sight, and have at least one arm or other limb.

Skill check: Intelligence (Offense) vs. Target Strength (Defense)

Critical: Yes (Double)

Effect: This spell attempts to tear off the target’s arm. It does maximum damage 7, and the target is stunned for one round plus one round per point of success (maximum 7, double on a critical). The target is also bleeding (1 wound/rd) until healing is administered. The target loses all use of one arm, either temporarily (due to massive injury) or permanently (due to amputation) at the GM’s discretion.

Hideous death

Type: attack, reaction

Level: 1

Cost: Charisma

Conditions: Attacker must be visible to the targets of the action, who must be allies of the target. Target must have been reduced to 0 hps in this round, by the PC or one of his/her allies.

Skill check: Charisma (Offense) vs. Charisma (Defense)

Effect: The character turns an opponent’s death into a lurid display of horror and gore. Any ally of the dying enemy who witnesses his/her/its death is shaken for 1 rd plus 1 rd/point of success. The target experiences a -2 penalty on all actions and will attempt to avoid combat with the character if possible. If the target is already shaken due to witnessing a hideous death in this engagement by this character, they move from shaken to terrified, and will immediately attempt to flee the battle.

If this action is being used on an enemy the character did not kill, apply a -2 penalty to the skill check.

The GM may choose to allow the player to describe the type of hideous death for an attempt at a bonus on the skill check. This is strongly advised! Note that failure to successfully terrify the target merely makes the PC look like a bloodthirsty maniac (charisma damage).

Infernal Essence

Type: Ability

Level: 1

Cost: None

Skill check: Wisdom (Use) vs. DC 20

Effect: The PC conjures an infernal essence to enhance their weapon or armour, giving a +1 to maximum damage or damage reduction for 1 min + 1 min/pt of success (maximum=character level). This is an infernal effect, so can be dispelled by demon-binding or abjuration effects, but not by magic-dispelling effects. It is usually visible as a faint glow and/or feeling of discomfort or unpleasantness surrounding the PC.

Higher-level versions of this effect are possible, and give an effect equal to the level of the action.

A while back I introduced a simple skill-based d20 system, with 12 skills and 24 “disciplines” all connected to 6 attributes. If you have training in a discipline connected to an attribute, you use the primary skill based on that attribute; otherwise you use the secondary skill. On a first pass, primary skills increase at 2 ranks per character level and secondary skills at 1. There are some additional points to scatter through the skills to make for a little diversity (beyond that obtained from discipline selection) and some discussion still to be had about how fast skills accrue and what they start at. The four disciplines are offense, defense, use, and state. The last indicates the amount of damage you can sustain on a given attribute; the use discipline indicates proficiency in applying that attribute to all ordinary tasks, and the first two should be obvious. As a PC accrues damage against an attribute, that damage applies a penalty to that attribute and all those below it on an ordered list.

Under this system “hit points” are handled by the Constitution (State) discipline; if you have trained in this discipline you have your primary constitution skill bonus as your wound level; otherwise your secondary skill. There are various types of attack for each physical attribute; Charisma (Offense) indicates intimidation, and the remaining two mental skills’ offense disciplines are for use with magic.

As ever with this reconfigured D&D system (and the earlier versions I have introduced here), the issue comes with handling magic and combat. Having played a little warhammer 3 now, and also some Double Cross 3, I am really enamoured of the concept of actions (effects in Double Cross 3). They seem to fit very well with this revised version of the d20 system, and I think they can amalgamate unusual combat moves and magic into one system. This post is intended as a brief outline of how.

A skill check is a basic game mechanic to determine if something a PC does is successful. Out of combat or any challenge against another NPC/PC, skill checks are resolved according to the basic skill vs. Difficulty Class (DC) rule. However, in combat a PC’s actions are restricted to the range of available Actions he or she has learnt. An Action is an activity challenged against another PC or NPC, or performed in combat, with an outcome positively affecting the PC or their ally, or negatively affecting a foe. It is characterised by an effect and a cost (which may be 0), with the cost typically measured as damage against an attribute. Every discipline has associated with it a basic action that has 0 cost and can be enacted every round. PCs can typically use one offense or use action in a round. Defense actions are typically passive, and determined by the attacking PC/NPC, but there may be active actions the PC can also use.

Spells are simply Actions based on the offense or use discipline associated with the Intelligence or Wisdom (or maybe Charisma) attribute. They are enacted as actions in the combat round, carry a potential cost (if the caster fails their skill check) and have an effect which may include damage, and various status effects. This makes them no different to physical actions. However, because the cost of physical actions also affects mental attributes, non-magical physical effects will have a slightly lower level or cost for the same effect. But some effects will be rarer with physical (non-spell) actions, and combinations of effects almost impossible.

In my next post I’ll give a few examples of spells from my Compromise and Conceit game, converted into actions for this system.

A final note

I think this is largely irrelevant because actually Warhammer 3 seems ideally suited to Compromise and Conceit. So I may try converting a few of the same spells into Warhammer 3 Action Cards to see how they work.

At the end of the campaign described here, the characters destroyed a sinister force known as The Iron House. However, a previous group (run in Australia) played in a campaign set in 1872 where they worked for an organization known as The Iron House, in the interests of the Queen. In an early session, they were dispatched to the 1872 Manchester Cornucopia of Arms and Armour, where the latest battlefield technology would be on display and one of the inventors was planning on defecting from Prussia to Great Britain. The characters’ task was to identify agents who might interfere with the defection, and if necessary kill them. This meant spending two days in the grounds of the Cornucopia posing as merchants, and so they were able to witness displays of a couple of the latest developments in infernal weaponry. Here are three examples of the kinds of things they saw.

The Steam Tank: In the age of the Essential Compromise, steam engines can be rendered very small through infernal summoning and materials, though the process is very expensive. A steam engine consists of two chambers separated by a turbine; in one chamber an imp boils water to impossibly high temperatures, which then passes through to a turbine before entering the second chamber, where it is condensed back to water and pressurized by a second imp. This imp forces it back through another turbine to the first imp. Thus a perpetual motion machine is produced based entirely on steam and the ceaseless labours of two very unhappy imps. The latest infernal materials prevent heat or cold leaking between the chambers or from the engine into its environment, so the small engine can be mounted in the middle of a small room or vehicle – though heaven help the occupants in the rare occasions that the engine bursts and the imps escape their confinement.

This engine has been put to its ultimate use in the development of the Steam Tank, a wheeled armoured vehicle crewed by two intrepid soldiers, one who directs its movement and one who fires a small cannon mounted atop the vehicle. In early models the cannon was a static mortar, and the vehicle little more than mobile artillery; but realizing the cost of the engine was such a great part of the whole, the Prussian Steamworks expanded its power and used it to drive a mobile turret, which now contains the latest in heavy infernal weaponry – an infernal cannon, or a nest of field rods of some kind. Rumour has it that a larger version is in development, that carries prisoners of war (or just prisoners) who feed an autonomous sentinel cannon from within cramped cells on one side of the vehicle, though the experimental version is said to have been simply a tumbrel dragged behind the tank itself.

This tank is being used only by the Prussian military but – perhaps as a political symbol of Prussia’s growing military might – one and one only has been sent to the Manchester Cornucopia for demonstration purposes[1]. Invulnerable to infantry weapons and too mobile for artillery, it forebodes a revolution in cavalry warfare.

The Reanimator Field Rod: The ultimate in infernal field rods, the Reanimator Field Rod carries this line of weapons to its ultimate conclusion. Usually carried into battle by a priest or wizard, the rod fires a cone-shaped blast of dimly visible grey-green light, which animates any fresh corpse in its area of effect. This corpse is then under the control of the Rod’s wielder, who must himself be attuned to the rod through a specialist ritual. The French army is said to have established a few squads of their infamous battle-priests armed exclusively with these rods, and will send them to the rear of the first wave of soldiers to enter the fray. Though these soldiers may be cut down or horribly decimated, their opponents will find themselves then facing the dread prospect of fighting again not only those they just killed, but those of their friends and allies who were also sacrificed in the melee. Every defeat of the enemy is redoubled by these priests, and every loss partially reversed. Who can doubt the terrible effect of this on the morale of those who fight, and on the judgment of those who lead[2]?

Persian Anti-personnel bombs: aka Turkish Delights, are a nasty little invention of the Ottoman Empire, which has been developing considerable skills in pacifying aggressive populations during the food riots of the past two years. These bombs are barely large enough to significantly injure an armoured man, being roughly marble sized. Presented by the handful in a special magical bag, they are completely inert in the bag, so a Turkish soldier has no risk of blowing his chest out when he dives for cover from an Anatolian death-archer. However, once out of the bag they are immediately primed, and explode after three sharp impacts, such as occur when they are thrown down steps into a basement, bounced along a corridor, or skipped across the surface of a fountain. The resulting explosion is concussive, but will easily kill or seriously injure an unarmoured rebel (or his family, if they are sheltering in the basement with him). Such devices have obvious uses in England, given the recent riots over corn laws and the other unrest being fomented by capricious foreign powers. They are also useful in ship-to-ship warfare.

fn1: During the adventure this tank was stolen by the defector’s Chinese lover, and they finished the adventure chasing it through the streets of Manchester while Prussian agents attacked them and tried to capture it and the defector it held. Much of central Manchester was laid waste in the process.

fn2: Not to mention the judgment that will be placed upon those who use such a weapon…

Fame & Fortune is running this month’s blog carnival on the theme of preparation, which has inspired me to do something I had been thinking about for a while but never got around to – posting up the contents of one of my session preparation documents, in order to show what I do to prepare for a session. Unfortunately most are too long or involve too much knowledge about prior events in the campaign, but I have managed to find one from late in the Compromise and Conceit campaign which provides a reasonable example. I may put up some other background material too, for the players of that campaign to see how I planned the final stages of the campaign, and also to share some ideas I had that I’m quite fond of.

My preparation typically consists of writing a single document that covers the main goals of the adventure, with an introduction linking it to any campaign arcs, and sometimes some material on key scenes I want to describe. I plan adventures from 3 main starting points:

  • A simple cog in a campaign that needs to be turned
  • A set of scenes that I’ve had in my mind and want to play out
  • An idea for an adventure setting that occurred to me and that I want to run

and usually a bit of all 3. The adventure given here is purely a cog in the campaign, but easily worked up into some quite frightening and ferocious scenes. Here is the essential background:

The setting is a magical colonial America, in about 1770. The characters have previously established that there is a sinister fourth force at work in America, and that it employs Irish mercenaries to help it fight. Following the trail of a dragon bone they stole from this group, they learnt from a Dragon in Greenland that the bone came from a Dragon in Ireland. Since dragon slayers tend to be unforgettable, they travelled to the Irish village to find out what people there knew of the dragon slayer, and discovered upon arrival that the village had been enslaved and all the men-folk turned into mercenaries; the womenfolk were trapped there and doomed never to die. This magic was invoked using a powerful ritual based on a dragon’s corpse, the dragon having been killed nearby and dragged to the town. The characters also happen to have a special summoning book that enables them to summon a powerful demon of Lore, and that Demon can tell them what to do to reverse the dragon ritual and free the Irish mercenaries. This will significantly weaken the mysterious fourth force, and they can then travel to its hideout and learn what its goals are. They know where its hideout is because they caught a wizard who works for this organisation, and it just so happens that a wizard “not yet in the fullest of his powers” is a good sacrifice for the Demon of Lore ritual. The players have decided that they’re going to go through with the ritual (and boy aren’t they well placed to do it!) so the adventure is about the ritual, its consequences, and their subsequent journey to Bodmin to infiltrate the fourth force (called The Iron House).

The preparation document follows, and constitutes the background material for the adventure written up here. I think some of the information had been shared over email ahead of time (my players could be a little bit dithery, so I got them to discuss some decisions in between sessions).

Introduction

In this adventure the characters enact a reversal of the ritual of the dragon, to free the men of Killarney from service to the Iron House; in order to do this they enact a ritual of Lore Demon Summoning, which will involve killing the mage they hold captive. First they may want to question him, to find out what he is doing. They will then travel to Bodmin to infiltrate the newly-weakened base of the Iron House and learn more about its purpose. By the time they arrive the land around Bodmin will be in uproar, as the newly-freed men of Killarney go crazy trying to find their way home. The characters can perhaps lead the way.

Summoning the Lore Demon

First the characters will have to summon their lore demon, using the book they obtained from the lich and the mage they captured. The Lore Demon will be able to tell them what to do to complete the ritual, and they can choose to use the existing magic circle (though they will need to refresh it). The characters can decide the content of the ritual, the key points being:

  • The mage must die, preferably horribly (Dave Black’s responsibility – base DC 22)
  • A priest must conduct the ritual

The base DC is 30, with every point above the target giving a +1 to the roll in the subsequent dragon ritual. Dave Black’s success grants a +1 on the priests’s roll for every point above the killing target (to a maximum equal to his level)

The Dragon ritual

For the dragon ritual:

  • A part of the dragon must be used (they need to remove a rib from Anna’s corset, -1 DR on her gear)
  • A priest and a mage need to conduct the ritual together (Anna and David – the better each of their DCs the more powerful the effect)
  • The circle needs to be imbued with infernal essence (Ganymede – base DC 17)
  • It is better if the ritual is conducted in a storm (+5); perhaps Brian can conjure this

Every point of success on Russell’s roll increases Cantrus’s roll by 1 (to a maximum equal to his level). The information gained from the lore demon gives a bonus to Anna’s roll (+1 per point of success, maximum equal to her level). Anna’s roll determines what proportion of the soldiery is affected; Cantrus’s roll determines the means by which they are freed and their degree of lucidity:

DC Anna’s effect Cantrus’s effect*
20 Failure Death
25 25% Frenzy: 2 days/pt below
30 50% Confusion/lethargy: 1 day/pt below
35 75% Suggestibility: 1 day / pt below (contest against Cantrus’ roll)
40 100% Clear

*Cantrus’s effect only applies if Anna is successful

The effects are cumulative, so after frenzy comes suggestibility, etc.

[editor's note: I actually meant by this that the soldiers have to step their way through the success grades, so if Cantrus rolled a 36, they would be frenzied for a day, then confused for a day, then suggestible for 4 days, then clear. In the event I think that's what happened. But Death doesn't step through anything - the mercenaries just die - and "clear" doesn't step through anything. So really the DC for this roll is 40, and lower results are partial success. Also, I think that Anna's player wasn't here this night, and whoever rolled for her rolled up a fumble. We - the players and I - consulted extensively about this and decided that since this was a really important roll for her and she wasn't there, it was unreasonable to keep her roll. The campaign could go on without her success (this was just a side adventure to weaken the Iron House) but they thought it was a bit cruel for her PC to screw up so badly the one time she wasn't there. So I called her (she was studying) and got her to reroll the result].

What the mage can tell them

The mage can tell them that he was asked to keep an eye out for people journeying to Killarney on suspicious grounds, and paid with a piece of dragon bone which he has fashioned into an amulet, which he will one day use to make a powerful magic item (when he has more power – this day, obviously, will never come!) The man who told him to do this was called William de Bouverie, 1st Earl of Radnor, the seat of Bodmin. He pays the mage an annual retainer for the service, which he is saving to help him go back into training.

Bodmin

Having conducted their two rituals, the characters can travel to Bodmin, Cornwall, to find the home of the earl of Radnor, a stately home called Lanhydrock. Here they can enter the building and hope to find the truth of the mission of the Iron House. It takes about 3 days to sail to Newquay, and then another day to travel overland to Bodmin by fast horse, through Bodmin moor. On the outskirts of Bodmin the characters will find evidence of the movements of the soldiers of Killarney, depending on the results of Cantrus’s spell.

Death: the soldiers will be scattered in the lands around lanhydrock, in concentric rings, dead but peaceful, and strangely untouched by animals.

Frenzy: the soldiers will be scattered about the land in small uncontrolled bands, looting and destroying anything they find, in battle with the local constabulary or other soldiers of the Iron House (who are better, but in the minority). Signs of this battle will be clearly visible on the horizon as smoke.

Confusion/lethargy: the characters will find groups of the soldiers wandering confused through the area around Lanhydrock or on the moors. They can be gathered together, fed and watered but will not be open to any kind of orders or commands.

Suggestibility: Similar to confusion/lethargy, but slightly more active and they can be directed to, for example, travel overland to the boat at Newquay. They can also be suggested into becoming troops for the PCs. Suggestion is a social attack at -1 per target, lasting initially for 1 day per point of success (or 1 week per point of success if done magically). Note that other people can do this and the characters may meet groups of soldiers subject to the same effect.

[editor's note: I think Anna Labrousse used the suggestibility effect on the first 4 soldiers they met to enlist them as assistants in an assault on Lanhydrock].

Those soldiers from Killarney not affected by the spell will fight their affected friends. They will be distributed evenly between Bodmin and the Americas.

Once the characters reach Lanhydrock they can try and invade the house, since they will find it largely empty and/or partially burnt. They should still have to deal with roving bands of Iron House soldiers.

I am presenting a Special Lecture on Global Crime and Public Health this semester, which is really the culmination of my work on international drug cartels, prohibition and harm reduction. In preparation for the lecture on harm reduction, at the end of the lecture on sex work and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) I thought I should give an overview of the “changing” attitudes towards public health and sex work and STIs in the medical literature. I remembered a few years ago reading an archived letter to the British Medical Journal (BMJ) in which a doctor advocates not treating syphilis because syphilis serves as a moral warning to society of the dangers of promiscuous sex (this was before Tuskegee, by which time we were so enlightened that only black people got no treatment). The BMJ now has all its issues since 1840 online, so I went trawling through back issues looking for admonitions against sleeping with “loose women” and ways of preventing said women from returning to their “vicious life,” and although I didn’t find that original letter I found a lot of other fun stuff. However, in the process I stumbled upon a doozy of a letter from a certain Surgeon-Lieutenant-General E.M.Wrench, MVO, FRCSEng (and if ever anyone deserved a medal this man did!) describing his experiences as a military surgeon in the Crimean War. It was published in 1908, so by that time he must have been quite old, but it presents a crystal clear image of his experiences in the war. Reading this I was both impressed by how primitive British war-making was in the mid-19th century, and reminded of why I really enjoy working with medical  doctors. Their sense of humour, their writing style, and their earthy view of the world is truly a rewarding combination to work alongside.

I’ve put in a few bold elements to indicate the bits I find truly disturbing, and a series of footnotes (of course) with cynical/salutary (take your pick) lessons for the modern NHS. But please don’t let them distract you from the horror that is a Doctor’s cynical report on life in the Crimean war. Incidentally, this report was entitled “Lessons from the past.”

The surgeon begins with discussion of the nature of his arrival, but we’ll skip that…

I will not, however, talk of these generalities, but describe my experience when in charge of a ward of what might be called the base hospital at Balaclava in November, 1854, shortly after the battle of Inkerman, some of the wounded from which were under my care, together with cases of cholera, scorbutic dysentery, and fever. It was situated in what had been the military school of St.Nicholas, which contained several rooms about 30 feet square. There were no bedsteads or proper bedding; the patients lay in their clothes on the floor, which from the rain blown through the damaged windows and the traffic to and from the open-air latrines was as muddy as a country lane. There were no nurses, no washing conveniences, either personal or for clothing. Two old soldiers, called orderlies, did their ignorant best to attend to the wants of the patients, but were chiefly occupied in rude cooking and burying the dead. There was no bread, of course no milk, and if I remember rightly, no tea, only the famous green coffee. There was certainly no beef tea – Liebig’s extract and similar substitutes had not been invented, and tinned meats were almost unknown. About midday a large iron witch’s-cauldron was carried into the middle of the ward; the patients crowded round to dip in their tin canteens, those bedridden dependent on the generosity of their comrades for a share of the contents of the pot – a mixture of lean mutton and fat salt pork[1], floating in the weakest of oily broth. Notwithstanding the shortcomings of the commissariat each surgeon had to make out a daily diet role, showing what each patient should have – full, half, or spoon diet – to satisfy the red tape system and prevent the purveyor being surcharged for the cost of the scanty food he was able to supply. We were practically without medicines. The supply landed at the capture of Balaclava was exhausted, and the reserve gone to the bottom of the Black Sea with the winter clothing and several surgeons in the Prince-steamer, so that in November, 1854, the base hospital was without opium, quinine, and ammonia. Sanitary science was in its infancy, and sanitary precautions were not capable of being carried out when the living were so hard pressed to live and dead men were for days floating about amongst the ships in the harbour.

You will not be surprised to hear that many of our patients died, but, probably owing to our unglazed windows, we were free from what was then aptly called ” hospital gangrene,” which carried off, I believe, every one of the thirty wounded Russians in the Town Hall not many yards away[2]. The stench of that building I shall never forget. You may ask why, with so many ships in the harbour, we were not able to obtain bedding and medical comforts. The reply is: The medical department was, in those days, powerless to incur expense[4], and the purveyors’ department was likewise in such a subordinate condition that they were afraid of responsibility. It was to Miss Nightingale’s bravery in setting all red tape at defiance that the success in reforming the great hospital at Scutari was due, and if there is one lesson more than another to be learnt from the breakdown of the medical department in the Crimea, it is that if the department is to be held responsible for the cure of the sick and wounded, it must have the power not only to administer pills and potions, but to secure at all costs the quite as – nay, more – important food, shelter, and equipment of the hospitals. The initial breakdown in the Crimea was the result of the military – monopolizing all the transports, and hence the landing of the army devoid of hospital equipment and the absence of hospital ships, so that the only apology for bedding in a ship full of sick and wounded, of which my brother-in-law, Mr. Swinhoe, had charge from Balaclava to Scutari, were the mats previously provided in the ship when conveying horses to the seat of war[6].

The condition of the base hospital being such as I have described, that of the field hospital, seven miles away on an exposed plateau under canvas, was, if possible worse; hence it was the object of most regimental surgeons to send away their sick and wounded, as often as the French could lend their mule litters, for embarkation at Balaclava; though their chance of arriving alive at Scutari was not good, for 10 per cent during the winter were cast overboard as corpses during a voyage of 160 miles, none of the ships being fitted for the purpose, and some, as I have already described, intended for the conveyance of horses.

Much was said in days gone by of the advantages of the system of regimental surgeons, and as one who spent eight years in that capacity I can endorse it as very pleasant for the surgeon, and possibly, in those days of long service, of some advantage to the regiment, from the knowledge acquired of the history of the men, but in time of war no system could be worse. To give an example: During the month of June, 1855, my regiment, the 34th (now the Border[7]), in addition to their share of the fifty daily wounded[8] in the trenches suffered heavily at the assaults of the quarries on the 12th and 18th. On the latter date I marched down to the trenches with twelve officers, and back to camp with two, the other ten being killed or wounded. The men suffered nearly as heavily, and there being no division hospital we had to convert three regimental barrack huts into hospitals, and staff them with men from the ranks entirely ignorant of ambulance duties. Two of the three regimental assistant surgeons soon knocked up, and were temporarily invalided. The surgeon was very shaky; he died of delirium tremens shortly afterwards, and I had to work single handed. As a consequence some of the slightly wounded were not properly attended to for several days, the wounds became infected by maggots, and operations were performed under the greatest difficulties. I remember a case of amputation at the shoulder-joint, when I had to administer the chloroform, compress the subelavian and pick up the axillary artery, whilst the surgeon, with trembling hands, tied it; yet possibly in the same brigade there were several regimental surgeons almost unemployed.

Here I may allude to the dread of the use of chloroform (then recently invented) by the older surgeons, and to the famous memorandum issued by the Director-General condemning its too frequent use, and adding that the cries of the patient undergoing an operation were satisfactory to the surgeon as indicating the absence of syncope, and that pain was a stimulant that aided recovery. Surgery was then little advanced from classical times; antisepsis was unthought of, and the resection of a wounded joint so novel, that Fergusson invented the term “conservative surgery ” to describe it.

The duties, as well as the practice, of the regimental surgeon differed from those of the present day; one of his most unpleasant, was his enforced attendance alongside of the prisoner, at what was called “punishment parade,” when his duty was to watch the man being flogged lest he die under the lash of the cat-o’-nine-tails or faint from loss of blood, which usually flowed freely after the first few strokes. The parade over, the man was removed to the hospital for the surgeon to cure him and render him fit for duty as speedily as possible.

Wars always have been, and always will be, cruel. It is, however, the pride of our profession that, while sharing the fatigues and dangers of the campaign, our sole duty will be the protection of the soldiers from what, after all, is his most deadly enemy – disease[9] – and the alleviation of the sufferings of the wounded. The report of the Royal Commission on the Crimean War reported that the medical breakdown was the result of the system, and not of the surgeons – a lesson that I trust will not be forgotten by the nation. The medical department, unless made efficient and given proper authority[10] during peace, cannot be expected to do its duty satisfactorily during war.

Of course, in a Compromise and Conceit-style campaign, this would all be different, since there would be magical healing, the healer’s guild would have “a long, low-roofed white building” set up to receive the injured, and all would be peaceful sage candles and tender moments between red-headed chicks and their injured lovers. When, oh when will the NHS find faith healing?[11]

fn1: So, the hotel services in the NHS haven’t changed…

fn2: Hospital Acquired Infections were novel even then… and, the Daily Mail was right, it was all the foreigners’ fault[3]

fn3: You may laugh at this silly joke, but I have actually read newspapers in the UK trying to blame hospital infections on foreigners… more than once!

fn4: Whereas, under the current straitened conditions, the NHS is “quarantined” from cuts, and able to purchase such luxuries[5]

fn5: I have worked in an organisation subject to hiring freezes and budgetary constraints, so I understand exactly this man’s feelings

fn6: I think it’s worth noting that, while modern armies are well capable of providing hospital services, in certain recent wars their administrative organs certainly seemed to forget other aspects of planning for the post-invasion situation, with similar consequences (for the Iraqis, at least)

fn7: That’s right, the same regiment as George McDonald Fraser, of Flashman fame. Do they teach writing classes in that regiment, perchance?

fn8: It’s quite well-remarked (as we’ll see below) that compared to subsequent wars casualties in the Crimea were remarkably low, and in fact military engagements of the time were remarkable for their low casualty rates compared to modern wars between mechanized armies. The main killer in the Crimea was disease, which makes the war all the more tragically pointless.

fn9: In fact, the Crimean war had a role to play in the development of epidemiology, since the aforementioned “Miss Florence Nightingale” led a campaign to change conditions in military hospitals, and did so using some very cunning graphical devices, which presaged later methods for the comparison of disease. As I discovered in my trawling through the annals of Britain’s response to sexually transmitted infections, the military and their fighting fitness have played an important role in the development of modern public health practice, not just through direct intervention in their health problems, but through the peacetime health policy implemented in support of the health of soldiers.

fn10: And out of tragedy… a doctor demands more institutional authority!!! Who could have guessed it would end this way?

fn11: when some quack gets Prince Charles’s ear, obviously.

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