Posted by: NiTessine | November 23, 2009

The RPG Course – A Session of Praedor

This is, yet again, a post on the roleplaying studies course I took at the University. By the way, I received my grade a couple of days ago. On the scale of 1-5, it ranked a full five. I am currently very satisfied with myself, which probably has to change since my ego is currently so bloated I have to buy it a separate ticket on the bus.

Aaaaanyway. As I’ve mentioned, the requirements of the course decreed that I had to study two games from a preset list, and play or run one of these. I’d never played any of them, but Praedor was the one closest to my usual style. Access wasn’t an issue with any of the games, since most of them were included with the course materials download and the rest I just happened to own. Even Tähti. I’ll probably cover the rest of the games in a future post.

What’s This “Praedor” Thing, Then?

Praedor, for the foreign devils reading this, is a Finnish fantasy roleplaying game. It’s based on the comics of the same name by Petri Hiltunen, which ran back in the old days in Magus, an RPG magazine, since deceased. The style of the game is rather gritty, kind of a medieval Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play in tone. Movie suggestions would include Flesh + Blood, The 13th Warrior and Kingdom of Heaven (director’s cut – the theatrical is useful only as a coaster). It is inspired also by the Strugatsky novel Roadside Picnic. Ville Vuorela, the designer of the game, later went on to write a game based on the novel. Both Praedor and Stalker are pretty good reasons to learn Finnish, in addition to knowing the language of the ruling class after our inevitable world conquest.

Were one inclined to be pretentious (and as an English major, I certainly am), one could describe Praedor as deconstructing the fantasy adventurer, the Unforgiven to D&D’s Fistful of Dollars. This adventuring thing, it’s glamorous. It’s not, generally, for people who have a choice. The life of the average praedor (the in-setting name for adventurers) is nasty, brutish, and short. There’s one short story, where Ferron (the protagonist for most of the stories) is taking a young would-be praedor to the cursed ruins of Borvaria to seek treasure. Despite Ferron’s warnings, the kid strays into one of the buildings. We see him plucking a large jewel from the grip of a skeleton, one of a pair that has seemingly fallen in battle with another over the treasure, both slaying the other. There’s a shadow with burning eyes rising behind him, and we cut to Ferron on the outside, when he hears the blood-curdling scream of his protégé.

Ferron’s reaction: “Shit. I wonder how much his horse is worth.”

The Praedor stories are full of this stuff. Life is cheap, death is meaningless, and while you can find treasure to make you rich beyond your wildest dreams, you’re far more likely to be crippled for life or die an ignominous death in the jaws of some nameless creature somewhere in the cursed, haunted wizard-ruins of Borvaria. Violence has ugly consequences and is best avoided, but leading the life of a praedor means that this is not an option nearly as often as you’d like. There’s another story, where young Ferron meets a legendary retired praedor, now a blind and crippled man, disfigured by horrible burns. Did he receive them while exploring Borvaria or the wizard city of Warth? Why, no, he received them when the party was out carousing in a tavern, someone tipped a candle and he was too drunk to get out from under his whore in time. It doesn’t really get much more pathetic.

That said, praedors really are tough customers, a notch above the common man. They’ve got a dangerous attitude and the steel in their balls and sheaths to back it up. When you prick them, they bleed, but they’ll do their damnedest to prick you back.

The system is pretty light, and has a certain elegance. It uses dice pools of six-siders, roll under, with degrees of success. I could learn it well enough to run by studying it for a few hours and ignoring subsystems I deemed unimportant for a one-off game, such as alchemy.

The Session

I generated the characters myself since I ended up with five players. With one book and five players, none of whom had any experience with the system, characters generation could’ve taken hours. So, no. I asked what kind of characters they’d like to play and ended up with a bunch of fighter and ranger types and one roguish sort. The system is classless, but the rulebook does present four broad character archetypes, which could be translated as warrior, ranger, rogue and sage, the last one being the guy who knows stuff and mixes healing potions. The game is pretty low-magic and the true wizards aren’t really PC material. They’re immortal recluses, subtle and quick to anger.

For the adventure, I adapted an old Living Greyhawk module, Stuart Kerrigan’s COR5-18 Kusnir. I debated between that and Lamentations of the Flame Princess’ Death Frost Doom. While the latter is by far the better module, I felt it wasn’t really right for what I was doing, since it relies a lot on playing off assumptions the players have about how a D&D dungeon crawl runs, and I was gamemastering for five newbies. So, Kusnir it was. The module also had the advantage that I’d both played and run it before and knew how it worked in play.

Kusnir is a pretty straightforward module. The PCs are hired to rescue an old man from a village ruled by a madman with a powerful magic item. I just felt the atmosphere of the module was right for Praedor. I rewrote parts of it to fit the setting and the system better. I lifted the NPC stats sheet from one of the free online adventures for the game to use with the barbarians and berserkers the party would encounter in the village. Kusnir isn’t the best of modules, but it does its thing well.

The game started with the party, who already knew one another, heading to the warehouse/brothel of a local criminal underworld figure, to ask about a job offer his cronies had posted to the tavern. It was in a seedy part of town, and on the way there, they encountered things such as a father trying to sell his daughter to slavery, and a beggar who was selling his own cut-off hand as a good-luck charm. One of the praedors (with the Superstitious drawback) even bought it.

The prince of thieves here turned out to be a morbidly obese lecher, transported around on a palanquin carried by some very unhappy slaves. He wanted someone to go down south, a week’s journey, to the town of Kusnir, where a mad cult leader had taken over with the help of a strange magical item. They were to rescue an elder of the town, should any still be alive, and bring him back to be pumped for information on the madman and his rule.

The party accepted the terms offered after a bit of haggling and hit the road. They travelled for a week without incident, and noted that the severed hand purchased as a good-luck charm was beginning to smell. They’d encountered no trouble, so the character who’d bought it deemed it to have served its purpose well, and buried it at the side of the road.

Nearing the village, now only hours away, they encountered a camp of soldiers. After some scouting and finally being spotted and captured by them, the PCs learned that they were former soldiers of Kusnir, who now sought to reclaim their village from the madman leading it. However, their leader was a raging egomaniac and the party was unable to recruit any great help from him, though he did hand over a prisoner who’d bitten off his own tongue in case he’d be more useful to them.

He really wasn’t. The party ran into an ambush by some savages, presumably Kusnir’s berserkers. They managed to spot the hiding warriors before the ambush was sprung, and a vicious melee ensued. The berserkers were all dispatched, and the tongueless prisoner was likewise slain. However, the lethality of the system reared its head on the players’ side as well – one of the characters lost his left hand to a barbarian’s axe. Ironically, this was the guy who’d bought the beggar’s hand. Other than that, it was just scratches for the PCs. They bandaged their wounds, and the one-handed man insisted on going ahead with the mission.

They scoped out Kusnir from the cover of the forest and waited for nightfall. The plan was to head to a small, dead orchard adjacent to the palisade and go over the wall from there. However, when they got to the orchard in the night and snooped around, they actually found a trapdoor covering an underground tunnel that led under the walls.

The party opted for the tunnel. It took them to the lower levels of a temple of some description, where they found torture implements, manacles, and someone’s dismembered corpse. They headed to the upper level, surprised a priest of some description, beat him up, tied him down, and pumped him for information. After sufficient applied violence, the priest told them that there indeed was a surviving elder in a wooden stockade next to the temple.

One of the characters grabbed the priest’s robe with its face-concealing hood, and left the temple to check out the stockade. He called out the elder’s name, but the prisoners quickly figured out this wasn’t the usual priest and pulled the Spartacus stunt. In order to get the elder, they had to set free the entire stockade, which they then did, but not surprisingly, attracted the notice of the local warriors, who came in hot pursuit. The party picked out the elder from among the prisoners and hoofed it, after barring the temple doors. They ran back to the underground tunnel, up to the orchard, and across the exposed ground between Kusnir and the forest. Fortunately, it was night, and visibility was low. The party’s ranger lagged behind since he stayed back to close all doors, and had to hide in the grass when the berserkers came up from the orchard with their torches. They passed him by and ran after the rest of the party, who were slowed down by wounds and the weak elder. They caught the party in the forest after some cat-and-mouse, and there was another fight, which the ranger-type joined soon after. The berserkers fought hard, but in the end, all the PCs survived and the barbarians were slain.

However, the superstitious guy sustained a serious injury. Yeah, he lost his other hand. I’d be superstitious, too…

After this, they got out of the woods, camped, healed their wounds, and travelled back north to claim their reward. We’d already been playing for four hours at this point, so I decided not to have them doublecrossed.

Analysis

Praedor is a good game. It does its thing well, doesn’t get bogged down even in combat, and is easy to learn. I learned it after just a few hours of perusing and the players picked it up very quickly. We spent almost no time flipping through the rulebook, since even the combat charts stuck to memory and were pretty intuitive to begin with. After reading the rules again, I couldn’t even find any rule we’d misinterpreted.

There wasn’t much of what is traditionally considered “roleplaying” in the session. It was light fun, no great immersion. That said, some players did get in character on occasion, especially when provoked by me playing as an NPC. To put this in the terms of Gary Alan Fine’s frames, very little of the dialogue around the game occurred in the diegetic frame. I didn’t really even try to push the game into the diegetic frame and just went with the flow.

I converted the module to Praedor on the fly, adjusting numbers and types of enemies and required skill checks as needed. I think I managed to estimate the lethality of adversaries fairly well, since while no PC croaked, they were certainly challenged.

So. Good game. Fun session. The system is light and seems ideal as a gateway game and for one-shots at conventions. I have some convention game ideas that Praedor might work with very well, with some bending and adaptation.

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Responses

  1. A very nice summary of the game session and its (sometimes apparently hidden) learning content. As has been the whole series so far.

    No wonder they gave you high marks for the course.

  2. […] like playing a Finnish RPG? The title of the blog kills me… giant space […]


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