Barbarians of Lemuria Playtest

2019-01-30

The two Barbarians of Lemuria adventures I ran provided me with information on how readily my current group would accept the system, how easily I could handle the system, and inevitably my failings as a GM.

“The Plains of Death”

This was one of the short adventures in the back of the core book.

In this adventure, a shady merchant hires the PCs to protect his carts on the long journey from Oomis. Sooner or later the PCs realize that a Blue Giant riding an elephon (Lemurian mammoth) is pursuing the merchant. In our playtest, one of the PCs approached the giant to hear his side. According to the giant, the merchant stole one of his tribe’s idols. After the players discussed the ethics and professional consequences of the situation at length, the PCs opted to step aside and let the Giant take his revenge, with maybe a little help. The giant asked them to escort him and the idol back to his tribe; in return, he’d escort them wherever they were going next and give them whatever help he could. (Plundering the merchant’s other wares made a nice bonus.)

The Giant scouted ahead each day; one day he didn’t return. Following his tracks, they discovered he was ambushed by a hostile tribe. The PCs came upon the enemy camp and saw their Giant in a metal cage suspended over a large pool. As the stealthiest was cutting him down, the enemy tribesmen came out. While the enemy tribe attacked the PCs, the shaman summoned a giant crocodilian creature from the pool. The PCs and their companion escaped without tangling with the lizard and with only three of the dozen or so enemy warriors.

As GM I was expecting a big combat at some point, probably in the enemy tribe’s camp against them and/or the lizard. However, the players rolled well and decided discretion was the better part of valor.

“Children of the Void”

This adventure was one of the stretch goals in the Kickstarter campaign. It’s available standalone or as part of a collection of other stretch goal adventures.

A scholar hired the PCs to investigate and take notes on a mysterious lighthouse. On the way they ran into an unfriendly but greedy goatherd and his seven delinquent children. After staying overnight – and hearing a necrophage (ghoul) sniffing around in the dead of night – they went on to the ruined port town near the lighthouse. There they discovered two notorious robbers and their gang, who the PCs slaughtered with very little difficulty. The PCs took their heads to cash in on the bounty, and also pocketed the robbers’ loot.

The PCs then climbed the strange lighthouse, eluded a mundane boobytrap and reasoned their way out of a magical boobytrap. They investigated the top floor of the lighthouse, noting (literally) several magical features that indicated the lighthouse came from a prior, more enlightened age. One such feature was the light in the lighthouse: a glow which magically appeared at sunset and disappeared at sunrise. They also discovered the goatherd knew magic, and had been conducting strange rituals at an alter in the top floor. They let him draw a magical circle around himself – part of his “religious observance” – just before invisible creatures started attacking the PCs.

Here I as GM goofed, several times. First I misread the stat block for the invisible star spawn (the eponymous Children of the Void), so their attacks were much weaker than listed. Somehow I also got the impression that they attached themselves to victims; they didn’t. As written, they also got two attacks per turn. The adventure said to roll 2d3 for their numbers, and I rolled 5 … vs. 3 PCs. So I decided to skip the multiple attacks. What ensued was a slow and very not fun grind of using the magic circle to shake the creatures off while striking through their substantial armor. To give the PCs a chance, I used the listed rolled protection (1d6-2 in this case) rather than the static equivalent (4).1 The final and perhaps biggest problem was that my brain was foggy and so I kept forgetting whose turn it was to attack and where we were in the round. I finally called the fight: the two (three?) surviving creatures fled.

Between this and the previous adventure I’d run, I begun to wonder:

  1. Was I making fights too easy? Were the NPCs/monsters behaving stupidly?

  2. Why was I screwing up initiative? It’s basically

    1. PCs who succeed at an initiative roll.
    2. major NPCs (“villains”), if any.
    3. lesser NPCs (“toughs”), if any.
    4. PCs who failed their initiative roll.
    5. nameless, stat-less, easily hurt “rabble”
  3. Why couldn’t I keep NPC and monster stats straight?

  4. Were the adventures poorly written, or did I just not read them right?

Improvements for Next Time

Players really liked the system.2 One suggested it might work even better in a campaign, where characters could improve and extend their abilities. Even with its little quirks, I’d like to run BoL again. But I definitely have to do better as a GM.

Read, Summarize, Make Notes

The last adventures I ran I read through once or twice beforehand, then picked through the text to find specific facts. No doubt that slowed me down. Instead, what I should do after reading the adventure is summarize it, maybe in a similar format to Weird Discoveries from Monte Cook Games. At the very least I should outline basic timeline(s), note branching points, andmake an index card for NPC stats, item abilities, and anything else I might need in a hurry.

Enhance the NPC Stats

In addition to the standard array of attributes, abilities, careers, and so forth, I may add an additional table of all attacks the NPC may make. This would include a total modifiers for attacks and damage like animal listings in the main book. For example, if an NPC has Strength 3, Agility 1, Melee 2, and Ranged 1, plus a Sword and a Knife, the “attack matrix” would look like this:

Attack Modifier Damage Special
Sword +3 d6+3 -
Thrown Knife +2 d6L+1 Range Incr: 10’

The Void Children would have the following:

Attack Modifier Damage Special
Tentacle x2 +0 d6-2 first LB drained makes visible

When I use random protection, I may add the following

Protection 1 2 3 4 5 6
Non-terrene flesh (d6-2) 0 0 -1 -2 -3 -4

Yes, in the heat of battle I struggle with basic subtraction.

Write My Own Adventures

During the previous adventure, I found myself stumbling through descriptions and pausing to check how the writer thought NPCs should behave.3 It’s easier for me to remember things I’ve written myself.

Using my own adventures may exchange one set of problems for another. For example, can I write adventures better than the professionals? Some of my initial attempts have been kinda railroady, and others have been open-ended to the point of players not knowing what they’re supposed to do. Sandboxes, especially, I don’t quite get. If I had a regular group I could tailor adventures to them, but so far I’ve been the “substitute GM” for whoever shows up.

Devise Initiative Tracker(s)

Obviously I need to keep track of initiative during combat rounds: which segment of the round order we’re currently in, who has and has not acted during that segment, and how many rounds we’ve done. (For example, a Mighty Success in initiative means that rabble and toughs don’t act in the first round.) The “Children of the Void” group suggested a few solutions:

  1. Tracking turn numbers and segments on a chart, whether for myself on a piece of paper or on a fancy board visible to all.

  2. Each player using a token or card to indicate which turn segment they’re supposed to act in and whether they’ve acted yet. NPCs may need something similar, although usually there’s only one villain and 1-3 toughs in any combat. Monsters count as rabble, toughs, or villains depending on their size. (Roughly, smaller than human, roughly human sized, and substantially bigger than a human, respectively.)

  3. A turn tracker borrowed from Pathfinder or D&D, where we simply list each character in order of actions. (With the caveat that PCs in each segment can swap positions.) I think I have one of those somewhere.

Bring a Whiteboard

A few times I found myself sketching a rough battle map, either because the adventure didn’t provide one or it was awkward to keep the book open at that point. I know I have a foldable wet erase (dry erase?) map thingy, blank on one side and squares/hexes on the other. Next time I need to bring it.

Be More Ruthless?

For some reason I suspect I’m not playing the NPCs right. For example, the robbers in “Children” pretty much charged out to be slaughtered. The leader, at least, should have hung back and used his crossbow rather than his sword. Likewise in “Plains” the enemy tribesmen caught the PCs after they’d liberated their captive. Sure, they rolled well on stealth. But maybe they should have noticed sooner. Wouldn’t they have had a couple of guards out?

Maybe I just want to see (Life)blood spilled. Or maybe my players are smarter and more experienced than I am. If it’s the latter, I should increase the challenges.

Future Plans

Since my regular group seems to like this system, I’d like to keep running it. (If only for the experience.) Sure, we were founded as a Numenera group, but we’ve also done FFG Star Wars and Shadow of the Demon Lord on a regular basis. If I can shore up my GMing deficiencies, I’d like to try the following:

A BoL Campaign

Everyone in my group has a Barbarians character they’ve played at least once. Maybe as counter-programming to the regular Numenera campaign I could run BoL on a regular basis. That probably means running a sandbox with several lures – easy when the game also defines a complex setting – and/or writing my own adventures and/or adapting third-party adventures that mesh.

Everywhen One Shot?

Everywhen, as mentioned in a previous post, is a multi-genre version of the current Barbarians of Lemuria system. Filigree Forge has published three settings. One of them, Blood Sundown, is almost exactly the sort of supernatural Wild West campaign I’ve been fiddling with for a while. While I’m not that impressed with the sample adventures, there’s enough there and in other Old West resources4 to whip something up.

Other possibilities:


  1. As mentioned previously, armor subtracts from damage points. ↩︎

  2. One told me he liked the system several times. In the state I was in, I kept hearing “but not the GM”. ↩︎

  3. “Children of the Void” described the floor of the lighthouse as being made partly of “quicksilver”, i.e. mercury, which made no sense the moment I read it (aloud); I quickly retconned it to silver. ↩︎

  4. GURPS Old West, Down Darker Trails for Call of Cthulhu, Aces High and Devil’s Gulch for BRP (Chaosium’s generic d100 system), “Cowboys and Xenomorphs” for Traveller(?!?), Deadlands, some parts of Aces & Eights, … ↩︎