Saturday, 2 May 2015

Magic World solo - Part I - Left for dead

Pain filled her dim awareness, pushing everything else to one side as she struggled against the urge to drift away again, to succumb to the easy refuge of oblivion. "Must hold on," she thought, as the panic raced up her spine, "Just try to breathe." She tried to take a slow, deep breath, but the pain exploded in her chest as if she'd been stabbed.

The breath caught in her throat, and she went rigid. She then realised one thing with perfect and absolute clarity: she had been stabbed. She tried to compose herself, to take stock of the situation, and above all to stay conscious.

She was lying face down in muddy earth, bleeding from a hole in her chest. There was blood in her mouth, in her hair, on her hands. She wasn't aware of a part of her where it wasn't. Except perhaps, she thought, on the inside. She tried to roll herself over, and the dirt under her hand felt fine and dry. The supreme effort of rolling onto her back nearly overcame her. She lay on the forest floor, looking up through the canopy of green, hardly seeing it at all, nor even recognising the branches, the leaves, the daylight filtering through.

She knew she had to breathe. Steeling herself against the pain she knew must come, she timidly took another breath. Churning waves of agony once more seethed in her chest. Her numb fingers felt for the wound, gingerly palpating the sticky hole. She'd been run through; with sword or spear, she couldn't tell, but whatever it was broke the pair of ribs it slid between as it entered her lung.

She began to feel far away again and knew that if she didn't move she'd just slip away in the cool forest breeze. She forced herself to sit, to breathe slowly and evenly, to ignore the pain tearing away at her with every movement.

A dagger lay in the dirt a few paces from where she sat. She inched towards it, and used the blade to cut the single unbloodied leg of her trousers into bandages. It was harder work than she'd imagined to make a compress for the gaping hole and wind the strips of cloth round her torso to hold it firm, but at least the concentration made her forget her pain for a few moments. It was a far cry from masterful chirurgy, but at least the dressings would hold.

She looked about. There were four more dead bodies in the clearing, and bits of equipment strewn every which way as they had been looted. Maybe somewhere amongst all the refuse there would be something of use. She crawled towards one of the bodies, a young man of about 20, and noticed his hand was stretched out toward something that glittered in the morning light. She hastened towards it, and the object began to resolve in her vision. It looked like -- could it be? -- finally luck was with her. For lying in the dirt was a small flask of blue glass, upon which she could just make out some letters on the faded parchment label: ...ealin... ...ixir.

But as she picked up the bottle her elation ceased, for she found its stopper to be missing and its contents to have spilt out onto the ground. She prodded the spot with a fingertip; it was still moist. "How desperate am I, really?" she thought. Just then a cough wracked her whole frame, the convulsions sending white flashes of pain through her senses. Flecks of blood flew from her lips. "Needs must..."

She lowered her face into the dirt and -- the absurdity still vying with her desperation -- and did her best to suck the elixir from the moist earth. The taste of soil filled her mouth, but underneath was a hint of anise, and then the potion began to do its work. The magic sped through her veins; the suddenness of it sent her reeling. She felt the injuries in her chest dissipate, the air flow into her lung unimpeded. The pain was still there, but lessened. She could still feel the soreness in her ribs when she breathed. She peeked under the bandages to find the hole scarred over, and the flesh around it raised and livid. But the danger, she knew, had passed.

She looked about the clearing at the aftermath of the battle than had nearly cost her life. She felt distinctly odd, as if looking upon the scene for the first time. She tried to recall something -- anything -- to mind, but the memories would not come: only question upon question. Why was she here? Who had done this? Who were these people lying here dead? And who was she?

[Now that I have your attention, I'm going to back up a little from the opening scene of the adventure to do the usual campaign-starting prolegomena.

It may come as no surprise that the first thing I did when I got home from the game shop with my copy of Magic World was make an elven sorcerer. It's fun to make characters when you get a new game, though, so I also rolled up seven human PCs (all attributes in order, no modifiers or re-rolls of crap scores) at the same time, on the theory that my elf would be putting together a party for dungeon exploration in due course. I generated 3 human characters (mercenary, sorcerer, thief) straightaway, and left the other stat blocks to one side for later. As I was looking through the character Occupations, however, one caught my eye and gave me an idea. So the elf was shoved to the sideline in the name of taking an idea and running with it.

The occupation in question is titled Lost, Forgotten; the description gives a few options, from drifter to amnesiac. This last was the bit that arrested my attention. Not that it hasn't been done before, but I've never tried it. Just the opposite, in fact: I usually come up with too much background for my PCs if there's any time between rolling hit points and descending into the underworld. But as a solitaire experiment, it seems ideal. So, said I, I'll made a PC with no background, one that doesn't even know who they are themself. Nor will they know where they are nor what they were doing. Everything will come out in play, including the setting. I had a flash of inspiration about the first scene of the adventure, but everything else is going to be rolled up as and when. I think I've hit a new personal best at avoiding world-building.

There are, of course, plenty of choices to be made when making a Magic World PC. I will be randomising a fair few of them, but some things will need to account for my preferences as a player.

So, then: character creation.

There was an intriguing set of stats in the unused batch of 4 that I thought would make another good sorcerer, or perhaps a priest. I'm partial to characters with a high Intelligence anyway, so I thought this would be the most fun. Plus, this is Magic World; even though I'm not starting off with a sorcerer, I'd like a character who can use magic (in game terms, has a POWer of 16+) eventually.

The original rolls:

STR 15
CON 11
SIZ 12
INT 18
POW 16
DEX 14
APP  8

By the book, up to three points may shifted between attributes. I decided it would be best to move 2 points from STR to APP, as no matter what happens I don't want to play a mean and ornery badass.

The next step was to calculate Skill Category Modifiers, but as doing that is simple and obvious to anyone who has the game and woefully uninteresting to anyone who does not, I shan't be boring you with it. I will endeavour to keep mechanics at a minimum in this discussion save those which support the experiment.

There is a neat sidebar on choosing distinctive features for your PC, based on their Appearance attribute. With a 10, my PC qualifies for only one (you get more the higher or lower it goes). I haven't decided anything about them yet past their attributes, so I'm just going to note that they have one and roll it later, whenever they have a chance to interact socially with other beings.

Come to think of it, I don't even know the character's gender yet. 1d6=5; it's a girl!

Next comes culture, which is basically the standard RQ options under different names. I rolled a d4 and got Chiefdom, which equates to Barbarian. Each culture has a short list of skills, from which the player may choose 3, adding 10 percentiles to each. I randomly chose Track, Nature (= plant lore, animal lore, etc.), and Evaluate.

After culture comes Occupation (which I'd already decided) and occupational skills. Each occupation has a list of eight, with one at +60, three at +40, and four at +20.  Rather than trying to randomise the list, I just assigned points according to what would be generically useful for an adventurer. So,

Conceal Object +20
Fast Talk +20
Hide +20
Insight +20
Listen +40
Move Quietly +40
Search +40
...and one other skill as a personal specialty. I chose Sense, at +60.

Each character also receives 100 more skill points to be allocated to any non-occupational skills: one at +40, three at +20. I put the 40 in Sword, and the 20s in Dodge, Swim, and Dagger.

Characters start at age 17+1d6. I rolled a 1. I don't like very young characters, so I used the option to roll more d6s of age. The first d6 came up a 2, which made her all of 20. A second d6 added 5. After five rolls each additional d6 would grant skill bonuses, but attributes would start to degrade. This isn't Traveller; twenty-five seems a reasonable starting age, so I stuck with that.

Instead of Alignment, each character has a certain amount of Allegiance towards Light, Balance, and Shadow. This can be rolled as a percentage, and each changes individually based on your characters deeds. Starting characters get one at 25, one at 15, and the third at 5. Doing it randomly, a 1d3 put the 25 in Shadow. 1d2 put the 15 in Light, leaving Balance at 5.

Characters with a POWer of 16 or better start with a few spells even if they aren't full-on sorcerers. There are 93 spells in the rulebook, so I rolled d% and took the first plausible results. Starting spells are thus Moonrise (1) and Cloak of Night 2. Moonrise creates a ball of light, and only costs a single Magic Point to cast. Cloak of Night is a variable spell (levels 1-4) which adds +20% to hide per level. As she's only entitled to 3 levels of spells, she only gets two levels in her memory to start. Theoretically, she should have a grimoire laying around somewhere, but as that would contain valuable clues to her identity, I'm going to rule that it's missing, should it even exist. Maybe she learnt her spells some other way.

Discussion of the missing grimoire brings us to equipment. Her occupation provides 15 extra bronze pieces (the standard currency; 1 gold = 20 silver = 100 bronze). All PCs start with 5d100 + occupation bonus. Her starting funds were 378BP. I spent as much of it as possible on generic adventurer equipment: broadsword (230), dagger (75), canteen (10), 3 torches (1), tinderbox (not listed, I figured 10 was reasonable), backpack (40). 12BP were left over in cash. This all represents things that can be scavenged from the scene of her opening predicament. None of it is really worth selling, and no one is going to dig through the dirt for 12 bronze coins.

All PCs also get a set of clothes, a personal item or keepsake, and (potentially) a set of trade tools associated with their occupation. She's got no occupational tools to speak of, and will be wearing a set of simple, sturdy, and otherwise non-descript travelling clothes. The personal item is currently missing, and will be rolled on a random table in either the d30 companion or at the back of Labyrinth Lord AEC when it turns up.

So there it is, my (sorta) finished character:

Human female, age 25
Culture: Chiefdom
Occupation: Lost/Forgotten

STR: 13
CON: 11
SIZ: 12
INT: 18
POW: 16
DEX: 14
APP: 10

Damage Bonus +1d4
Hit Points: 12
Magic Points: 16

Physical (+7): Dodge 55%, Swim 52%
Communication (+5): Fast Talk 40%
Knowledge (+9): Evaluate 34%, Nature 44%, Own language ("Common") 90%
Manipulation (+7): Conceal Object 52%, Hide 47%, Move Quietly 67%, Repair/Devise 63%
Perception (+6): Insight 41%, Listen 61%, search 66%, Sense 81%, Track 26%
Weapon skills: Sword 62%, Dagger 52%

Spells: Moonrise (1), Cloak of Night 2

equipment: broadsword, dagger, canteen, 3 torches, tinderbox, backpack, 12BP

For the adventure, I'll be using my usual toolbox of Mythic & Mythic variations, d30 Sandbox Companion, DMG random dungeons, etc. I will be using the base Magic World rules as written, though I may pull in bits from other BRP games ad libitum. I will definitely be using the treasure tables from 2nd ed. Runequest. The adventure will be using the Mystery theme from Mythic Variations.

So, to throw my hapless PC in medias res:

Scene 1

Chaos 5

setup: regain consciousness in a forest clearing with amnesia and a Major Wound

NPC list: bad guy(s), bad guy minions, contact, quest giver, interested 3rd party

Who am I?
What am I doing?
Who did this to me?

[First things first. Since I am using the Total HP & Major Wounds rules instead of my beloved Hit Locations, I thought I should see how they work. And since I learn through doing...

A Major Wound is anything that does over half your total HP in damage in one blow, though there are also rules about losing half your hit points through a series of hits; I'll figure those out later. My PC has 12hp, so I started her off with 7 points of damage and rolled on the major wound table. Each result requires some interpretation and extrapolation (otherwise you'd need 6 zillion charts à la Rolemaster). A roll of 86 yielded a particularly awful hit to the vital organs -- I selected punctured lung --, with the potential permanent loss of 1D6 from both CON and movement rate. It also contained the notation 'Unable to fight', which would have dropped her out of the fight immediately. The permanent stat losses can be avoided with a Luck roll (POWx5%). It's bad enough starting one's first adventure at half HP, so I decided that she would make the roll automatically.

As you've seen above, the first thing she did was attempt a Physik (39%) skill roll to bandage the wound and recover some hit points. A roll of 74 was a failure, but at least she didn't fumble (99-00) and do herself further injury.

Q: Is there any helpful item nearby? Unlikely: 29, Yes. She needed to make a Search (66%) roll to find it, and succeeded (her roll of 08 was actually a Special Success, but this was a pretty much a pass/fail sort of test, so there was no additional effect for the good roll).

I ruled she found a potion that acted as the Healing spell; as it was seeping into the earth and needed to be ingested by less-than-conventional means, it would only be half- strength. 1d4/2= 2 hit points recovered, giving her 7 current HP. If the potion hadn't been spilt, it would have been looted.

This brings us to where the opening narrative left off. So, back to the adventure...]

She sat quietly for a few minutes, hoping her head would clear, but nothing made any more sense, and she had an awful suspicion that it wouldn't for some time. She decided to investigate her four companions. At least she assumed they had been her companions. None of them looked familiar, so she couldn't say whether they died fighting with or against her. Perhaps the attackers could not, or would not, carry off the bodies of their fallen comrades. Which, she suddenly thought, might even include her. [descriptions were truncated from random NPCs generated here:]

The one closest to her, who had dropped the potion, looked as if he had been a handsome fellow. His travelling clothes were well worn, and a rough cedar staff lay beneath him. He was the least bloodied of the lot, though his brown hair was matted down with blood in the back.

A tall and heavyset woman with grey hair lay in a pool of blood. Whatever had killed her was big and heavy and sharp; her chain hauberk had been rent from the shoulder to halfway down the front, and her arm practically severed underneath. A broken longbow lies near her body, evidently ruined in the attack that laid her low.

There was a very plain, black-haired, young woman lying crumpled in an ungainly heap. Her right leg had been shattered, and the bones were protruding through even the leather armour she wore. Her fingers still clutch the hilt of a well-used broadsword.

The last body belonged to a bushy-haired and bearded man wearing a quilted byrnie and breeches. A broken shield is still strapped to his arm, and his sword lies nearby. The crows are already at him.

She looked at the faces of the fallen, hoping for a flash of remembrance, but none came. Staring at the dead faces was making her flesh creep, so she turned her attention to the various items scattered about the scene.

[Q: Has everything of value been looted? Likely 68, Yes.
My PC's simple gear from character generation is present, plus the dead NPCs' weapons that no one would bother to take, plus a few miscellaneous goods. These I generated on the random pickpocket loot on Donjon (, deleting anything valuable.]

Her eyes lighted on a broadsword lying in the dirt. She picked it up, and gave it a few swings. It felt familiar in her hand; she surmised it must be hers. Its scabbard turned up next to a travelling cloak, which seemed to fit. There was a military flail which must belong to one of the others, probably the big woman in the heavy armour. She found a pair of empty leather backpacks; one had been sliced open, but the second was still serviceable. She filled it with everything she found that was immediately useful, or potentially important. There were three good torches, a tinderbox, a mostly-full canteen, a ring of iron keys, and a napkin enfolding a sausage, some dried berries, and a small pouch of spices. There were 12 bronze coins lying about, which her desperation could not overlook. She also found a long dirk, whose sheath she affixed to her belt, and a crudely-drawn and bloodstained map on a scrap of parchment.

1 hex = 1km

[Half-arsed world-building procedure #1: The map was generated randomly with Hexographer. I found an area of heavy forest for the general starting location, then used the tool to add random features, selecting town, city, village, cave, lighthouse, fort, temple, tower, and castle. I hit the add feature button until I got both a city and a cave on the screen, as I had decided that one or both of these  places would be important for the adventure. I turned the lighthouse into a fort, as it was far inland. I asked Mythic if there were a road nearby (50/50). It said yes, so I drew one in. I rolled a die to see which of the forest hexes adjacent to the road was the starting location and marked it with the crossed sabres.]

There was also the remains of a campfire. Someone had spent some time in this clearing. But there were no bedrolls; it did seem to be a mild spring morning. [A Nature (44%) skill succeeded, which provided this information. On the GM side, a 1d6 & 1d12 roll yielded ~10am.]

As she was looking round the clearing, she noticed some bushes had been trampled on one side, and that beyond them there was more damaged vegetation, and even a few specks of blood. [Track (26%) roll of 03, a Special success] Someone had both come and gone back this way. She though she saw the footprints of about [2d6=] half a dozen different people.

At a loss for what else to do, she decided to follow their trail.


  1. And a new adventure begins, eh? . . . well I am not so sure that I would set off to follow the people who (probably) almost killed me, but then I am not an adventuring amnesiac either.

    I'm looking forward to see where this ends up going.

    -- Jeff

    1. Well, fortune favours the brave, and all that. She's got good stealth and perception skills, so she hopes to find out more about her attackers without getting in another fight.

      I won't give any hints, but it didn't go the way I expected.