Originally posted at Sword's Edge Publishing on January 13th, 2009.
So, the first session.
I had forced the players to provide character concepts without the mechanics. This was kind of a history meets character niche posting. This was what we used to build the characters in True20. It worked surprisingly well--at least for me. The biggest problem during character creation was that I only had one book and there were five players. I really liked building from concept to mechanics, and the structure of True20 allowed for a pretty open process. With only three classes and builds based on feats and powers, the class decision was pretty much made for us.
I also devised some character backgrounds and updated others to match the historical setting. That was fun.
My only issue with True20 was how it approached multi-classing. Maybe it’s the d20 Modern guy in me, but I like multi-classing as a means to create unique characters and complete character concepts. The only real penalty in True20 to multi-classing was to saving throws. While the impact is minimal, especially at higher levels, as I was hoping to create real heroes, I waived that penalty, and allowed character to multi-class freely--however, the character only had one core ability, based on the character’s first class.
The character creation actually took a bit of time because we only had one document. One of the players already had True20, but we were using the revised version, which had a few minor changes. Another player had the quick-play rules, which are apparently significantly different. Given that, the Revised True20 book was in great demand.
The characters were:
Holm: an older Viking who lost a hand to access the Odinpower, much as Odin lost his eye
Audun: an Orkneyman who is part Celt and has access to that culture’s magic through his mother’s blood
Blatik: a Frank who was fated to kill a god or forever suffer servitude
Theodore: a Byzantine scholar, out to learn about the world
Nimet: a Magyar wanderer
Finally, characters all ready, we embarked on the adventure. The players had been asked to provide a reason why their characters would gather at Ravenwood, a small hold on the shores of the Baltic, near modern Rostock. The hall at Ravenwood is the fastness of Hygelac, who calls himself the Goth (purposefully anachronistic, and referring to the Germanic tribe rather than the modern emo-culture).
At the hall, a seeress, called the Angel of Death in the village, indicates that the group have a shared destiny, and marks each of them with a rune, granting each access to a “mythic power.” Most of the group picked their power from a list, though some accepted random assignments. We had two characters who already had limited access to magical powers.
As he had dreamed of Holm coming and taking his sword, Hygelac precipitated a battle, which drew in all the PCs due to their shared destiny.
And this is where I fell down as a GM. I’m familiar with the d20 system, but not totally with the True20 system. Toughness saves were new to me. Further, I hadn’t noted the Minions rules. Minions would have worked perfectly for what I had envisioned, but instead, the group struggled through a very difficult battle.
This led me to do two things. First, I reread the rules, and noted the Minions rules. Second, because I wanted every character to be somewhat useful in combat, I created “iconic weapons,” a weapon type that is tied to a character.
Each character would chose a specific type of weapon (longsword, scimitar, longbow, whatever) and when using that type of weapon would gain three benefits. 1) A +4 bonus that could be applied to attack or defence, based on the player’s decision at the outset of combat. 2) A +4 damage rating. 3) Can be used in ranged or melee without penalty.
The reason for 1) was to allow the character to excel beyond their mechanics in combat. Even a character built to be a scholar would have a fair chance in combat. Those who are built for combat are truly frightening.
The reason for 2) was that I wanted characters to choose weapons based on concept and style rather than mechanics. If you want to play a dagger-man, you can, and it can be as effective as a sword! True20’s more abstract combat system makes this workable even with two-weapon fighting, as it only adds a +2 to the damage.
The reason for 3) was simply based on the cinematic and action-adventure bent of the campaign. In many books and movies, characters are using bows like clubs and throwing swords as a last resort. This allowed for that level of cinematic action.
And all of the bonuses for the iconic weapon were based on a concept of cinematic action rather than realistic. The more abstract combat system of True20 helped this along tremendously. I also made a ruling that there was no need to track ammunition. I adapted the Savage Worlds system for Allies which gives a variety of categories to track ammunition usage rather than tracking each and every arrow. This means that we can go with the fiction of a 6 second combat round that includes multiple attacks or attempts, all defined by a single roll. I’ve discussed my thoughts on that elsewhere.
Defeating Hygelac and his warband, the spirit of the Angel of Death reveals the existence of the Bulgar Gold and divulges that Thorgil of Visiby in Gotland knows its secret. Off the PCs go to Visiby, only to learn that Thorgil was just murdered. At first, the PCs are suspects, but they are able to gain the trust of one of Thorgil’s friends, and through him, Thorgil’s wife. Thorgil’s wife could not help them with information on the Bulgar Gold, but directed them to Thorgil’s sister in Balagard.
Through his mythic power of Object Reading, Nemit saw a vision of a red-haired man in a red cloak murder Thorgil with his own sword during a friendly conversation. The murderer was identified as Sven Helmcarver, a sea-king (leader of a large warband and fleet, but without any land) of some renown. Sven and his ship, the Wolf’s Breath, had set sail the morning before the group arrived--the morning after Thorgil’s death.
The group set off after Sven, believing he too sought Thorgil’s sister in Balagard.
All in all, I thought it went pretty well. I was wrong, though, as we lost one player. The player who ran Blatik did not feel the game was suitable for an inexperienced player. I asked, through email, for more information on what the problem might be. I wrote that if the player enjoyed the campaign, then we could fix whatever deficiencies he may have encountered. I never heard back, so I figure he either didn’t enjoy the company or the campaign.
Down to four players, which, for me, is the sweet spot. I would have liked to have heard more from Blatik’s player, and since a lot of the plot was altered to suit his character’s background, I was sorry to lose his character. In the end, though, the players that remained expressed enthusiasm for the campaign.