Tuesday, March 31, 2009
I'm not a particular fan of this book. The charts are full of gimmicks whereby a 6 plus a devil face is a different result than a 5 and 2 or a 4 and a 3. That makes my head hurt. With the d30 books I can tell at a glance how likely a crazy ass result will occur.
Here's the page from Bones of Power I like the best. I think a scroll or item that used this summoning system would be a neat little item to drop into a campaign.
Monster Summoning And Control Charts
2. Special, see below.
5. Giant Rat
12. Flame Wraith
If the devil face is rolled when using this first chart instead of summoning the monster, the character is possessed by the spirit and polymorphed into the monster rolled. On a 2 the character is polymorphed/possessed by the spirit of a powerful chaotic evil barbarian.
Mood Upon Arrival (2d6)
2. Suicidally Aggressive
4. Grouchy and Aggressive
6. Agitated and Aggressive
9. Itching for Action
10. Dead Tired
12. Distracted and/or Bored
Prognosis for Control (2d6)
4. Great [Yes, there really is 2 entries for number 4.]
5. Only Fair
7. Bloody Unlikely
8. Not Impossible
10. Likely Bloody
12. Difficult at Best
Monday, March 30, 2009
I am seriously considering a con game based upon Search for the Emperor's Treasure. Turb here would be one of the pre-gens.
See how the cyclops is looking down at those two little dots to the right of his foot? Imagine those dots are your PC party.
Sunday, March 29, 2009
The first cool discovery was the OD&D version of the beholder. The eye tyrant is one of the truly iconic monsters of the game, like the rust monster and the bulette it's part of the new mythology only possible in D&D. But I never used beholders much because of the complicated facing rules suggested by the Monster Manual entry. The Supplement I version just says "From 1-4 of the small eyes are able to function at one time." With the beholder facing rules in AD&D I ended up worrying about which eye faced in what direction. That turned me off.
But rolling d4 and then throwing that many d10's on the beholder eyestalk chart is exactly the sort of thing that I would love to inflict on a party. The PCs get the advantage of maybe avoiding the disintegration and death rays eyes and I get to roll more dice. Without reading the Greyhawk version of the beholder I would never have thought about it that way.
The other cool part about the OD&D beholder? They are neutral with chaotic tendencies, not the uber-agressive lords of evil from later editions. You might be able to team up with one to pillage other beasties in the dungeon!
The otherfun discovery was the spell Monster Summoning VII. Nowadays it's just one link on the great chain of Monster Summoning spells. But when Greyhawk came out the monster charts only had six levels. MS VII buried the needle on the system and referees were supposed to come up with their own list of beloved and wicked monsters that this mighty ninth level magic summoned. I love that. Here's an off-the-cuff draft of my own version:
1. 2d6 Cave Bears
2. 2d6 Trolls
3. d6 Balrogs
4. 2d6 Skorpadillos
5. d6 Nilbogs riding Rust Monsters
6. one each of demon type I to VI
7. 2d6 Blackmoorian robots
8. Purple Dragon
9. Spawn of Shub-Niggurath
10. d6 Grisly Spheres
11. the Mad Unicorn
So here's my challenge to all you refs out there: share either in the comments here or on your own blog a custom Ultimate Monster Summoning chart for your campaign. Note that all monsters don't have to be uber-lethal. Packs of Hell Hounds and Displacer Beasts are listed as examples, seemingly just because the authors dig those critters.
Saturday, March 28, 2009
UPDATE: Also consider checking out Calithena's Campaign Compendium, 54 pages of notes from the editor's long-running fantasy world.
Friday, March 27, 2009
While Tim diced up his character (a halfling, no less) and Carl bought equipment for his gnomish henchman I spent a little time messing with Christy and Sonoma. Their characters were approached on the street by three stinking, filthy peasants who wanted to join the party. I had generated these dudes using the Thrall class from Knockspell #1, so they purposefully sucked but they were also useful in their own limited way. But the ladies were put off by these lowclass types, so they offered to let them in the party if they brought back the head of an ogre. The poor schmucks packed off and haven't been seen since. Since they don't know what an ogre looks like or where to find one, they could be gone a while.
So a party consisting of a third level magic-user, his gnome sidekick, a second level thief, a first level elf and a first level halfling continued the plundering of Stonehell. At some point I think Carl will be tempted to some wilderness adventuring to track down more spells for his magic-user, but for now the dungeon just outside of town is too convenient to pass up. Once again the party stayed on the first level (1A and 1C for those following along at home) but at least they found a set of stairs down this time. Previously the only known access to a lower level was a big ol' hole that would require ropework or levitation magic to get down it.
The session was short on loot compared to the last run. The biggest haul of the night money-wise was three suits of platemail they hauled out and sold. That wouldn't amount to much under many old versions of D&D, but in Labyrinth Lord the armor prices are inflated along the lines of the modern trends in such things. A new suit of plate costs 900gp! But the real treasure of the evening was the discovery of the secret mage's lab. The spellbook there had two magics previously unknown to any PC in the campaign: magic missile and web. That perked Carl right up, let me tell you! He almost missed the opportunity to get ahold of these spells, as Amyanna the Elf found the spellbook and tried to conceal that fact from the party.
Once Amyanna's deception was discovered rather than make a big deal about it they went back to town with the new spells. Reginald Featherweight (Carl's PC) had been investigating sources of new spells in the area but up until now didn't have much he could offer in exchange. He arranged for an appointment with Gwenavery the Alchemist (adapted from Iridia #53) but the reaction roll went poorly. We agreed that Reginald went in there and talked down to Gwenavery as if she were a small-time elixir witch as opposed to the retired adventuress she really is. Amyanna visited Gwenavery and the reaction dice went much better. She aquired copies of mage hand and Tasha's uncontrollable hideous laughter. And the two had a nice little spot o' tea.
The dungeon exploration itself involved a good mix of monsters (giant toads, orcs, a dead fire beetle, kobolds, and a giant ferret off the top of my head) and some traps (a bigass magnet, a flamethrower, a teleporter and a green slime nozzle). Johann, the gnome NPC rescued last session and turned into the MU's sidekick, negotiated with both the kobolds and the giant ferret (it's a burrowing mammal, after all!). The gnome actually tricked the party into slaughtering the non-hostile kobold mushroom farmers, just because he doesn't like the scaly little buggers. On the plus side, he talked the giant ferret out of using the party as chewtoys. NPCs are fun.
One of the neat things about the session is that the party is starting to interact a little bit more with the inhabitants of their base town. It's leading to me making some on-the-fly decisions that are growing the setting organically, like adlibbing the fact that the smith overcharges for custom items, but if you pay in advance he'll throw in a little something extra. And I like the fact that the only alchemist in town likes on of the PCs but thinks another party member is a big jerkface. Since the group is so keen on working on Stonehell, I'm going to try to spend the time before the next session fleshing out the town a little bit more.
Thursday, March 26, 2009
Oh, man. My daughter wanted to go swimming after work tonight and I am dead dog tired. Session report tomorrow. Meanwhile, here's a spellbook from an Arduin adventure that completely blew my mind the first time I stumbled upon it:
THE BOOK OF AEONS authored by Ardaemus himself. This huge tome (54" tall, 39" wide and 40" thick, weighing 150 lbs!) contains every spell in the Arduin Trilogy.That emphasis on the end there is Hargrave's, not mine. Even he knew that thing was a completely over-the-top collection of spells.
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Now imagine an evil gnome living in your dungeon, constantly keeping the party under rodent surveillance.
That dude is creepy!
This chart nicely shows a problem I have with many hit location systems. No matter how you carve up the human body, it's going to be problematic. In this particular case I have a lot of trouble giving a crap about whether a particular hit lands on the upper leg or the lower leg. And any system that supports separate mechanical effects for the two leg segments is probably too complicated for my tastes. But other hit location charts sometimes omit the hands, which I think is kinda dumb. A strike to the swordhand ought to send the weapon clattering onto the ground. That's something I'd like to see in play once in a while.
And looking at that chart, a head shot could mean a lot of different things. Did the character lose an ear? Or his nose? Is a wicked cool scar a possibility? Similarly, if we agree that 20% of all strikes land on the thorax region, what's the chance of spearing a dude right through the heart? By going to a hit location system for information that whole can of worms opens itself up for scrutiny.
One thing this chart gets right on the money: "56-60% Genitals". If there's not at least a 1 in 20 chance of punching an orc in the nuts then your hit location chart is useless to me.
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
What is the goal here? To make spell casters even less useful in combat than they already are? If so, you'll definitely achieve that, with mages doing even less in battles than they already do, as they will be stood there, round after round, not contributing anything to the fight at all.I tried to articulate my goal Sunday, but I had just woke up and maybe didn't do a very good job of it. Here's the basic deal:
It might be simpler to tell your players that you don't like magic in your campaign - so don't use it!
1) Under most incarnations of the rules spellcasters risk losing their spells if they begin casting and are damaged before they are done.
2) My house rules on initiative provide for instantaneous casting, eliminating that risk that MUs must normally account for.
3) Therefore I'm looking for new ways to re-introduce the risk without scrapping my initiative rules.
My proposed chance of fumbling gives MUs a sliding scale of risk that the player controls. I like that. And I suspect that in a properly frantic campaign a spell going awry 1 time in 20 is probably more generous than the usual scenario of the goblins pincushioning the wizard with arrows before he gets his sleep spell off.
Also, I think it might be premature to judge my plan without seeing the fumble chart. Maybe I'll write a draft later in the week.
I think K. Bailey was on the right track in proposing that "instead of tracking the increasing negative modifier, may be easier to say that if you wait before casting, you halve the fumble chance (round down) each round waited." So if you want to throw a fireball you can choose the following options:
Instantaneous casting: 3 in 20 fumble chanceThe temptation inherent in faster casting greatly appeals to me. But again, whether a 15% fumble chance is fair or not really depends on how deadly the fumble chart turns out to be. We'll see.
1 round casting time: 1 in 20 fumble chance
2 rounds casting time: no fumble chance
Finally, the suggestion that I am anti-MU really made me smirk a bit. My needs-to-be-updated house rules document allows magic-users way more starting spells than baseline Labyrinth Lord, limited reuse of spells without re-memorization, easy-sleazy scroll creation from first level, and the option of learning to make potions starting at level 2. And just today I got done with the third draft of a one page list of leads for sources of new spells in my setting. If anything, I'm far too in love with magic-users to the expense of other classes.
Monday, March 23, 2009
What strikes me about both settings is that they are not brilliant works of genius by any stretch. Instead, I would call them workmanlike. Greyhawk and Mystara are sufficient as the place to have your adventures, and that’s it. No big whoop. And I think that’s a great thing. They fill a need for folks who don’t want to make their own setting but who want a larger background, a context for their adventures, and nothing fancy. In this way Greyhawk, Mystara, and the Wilderlands show a direct descent from Robert Howard’s Hyboria. I love the Conan tales as much as the next guy but Howard wasn’t an artiste building an intricate world, he was a dude writing macho tales of sex and violence. The milieu around Conan was little more than an excuse for the Cimmerian to fight rapier-wielding pirates in one adventure and axe-swinging Vikings in the next.
So while I don’t disagree that Greyhawk was probably the best setting TSR published, I would qualify that as only from a practical DM’s point of view. In terms of sheer artistic power, I’d look elsewhere. Empire of the Petal Throne is an obvious contender here. Some will say that EPT doesn’t count because it technically isn’t D&D. All I can say in reply is that EPT obviously took OD&D and tweaked it to better fit a set of needs, just like every D&D ref who has ever written a houserule and just like every later edition of D&D. But like gin, I can only take Tekumel in small doses before it completely messes with my head. That’s why I’ve imported some hunks of the EPT into my World of Cinder homebrew setting. Now I can engage Tekumel as much or as little as I want, then back off and return to the orcs and elves and whatnot.
Some days I’m of the opinion that the best D&D setting TSR ever published is neither Greyhawk nor Tekumel. I’d give the gold medal to Minaria, the setting of Glen & Ken Rahman’s classic fantasy board game Divine Right. I’ve only played a handful of games of Divine Right and it’s been more than a decade since I’ve actually seen the inside of a copy. But the map continues to be one of the coolest I’ve ever seen. Click the image below to get a little taste of the awesomeness.
The various kingdoms are ruled by monarchs with names like Nualt the Dreamer, Archon of Mivior or Cemoii the Wanton, Queen of Shucassam. And the counter mix is full of hardy mercenary captains like Juulute Wolfheart and the Black Knight. The elves are Nazi bastards, the Gypsies are all half-elven refugees, and the ghouls have vulture-beaks. What’s not to love? And while the game itself was very sparse in fleshing all this stuff out, Glen Rahman wrote a couple dozen fabulous installments of “Minarian Legends” in the pages of Dragon magazine, right around issues 34 to 57 or so. Each legend is only three or four pages long, a size I find very easy to digest.
Two things really make the world of Divine Right a neat-o choice for setting D&D adventures. First of all, it is a pulpy fantasy world with just a hint of fairy tale creepiness. There’s no grand clash between good and evil, no Tolkienian angelic elves mucking up things, no epic plot. The game is about the struggle of nations, chock full of blood-soaked battlefields, alliances of convenience and backstabby betrayals.
And secondly, I sometimes think that the fact that the setting wasn’t created explicitly for D&D can be an advantage. One of the things that occasionally undercuts Greyhawk and Mystara for me is the close correspondence between the system and the setting. I know some folks think system should always support the setting and some days I feel the some way. But if you take that too seriously I think the game mechanics end up damaging the credibility of the game world. Or maybe I just prefer to engage the gaps between setting and system and when the two align closely I have no room for play.
Putting together a Minaria campaign would be a pretty straightforward, though it’d require some work and more than a little cash. For rules I’d probably go with OD&D, 1st edition Advanced, or Holmes Basic. But lots of other stuff could work as well: Tunnels & Trolls, Rolemaster, HackMaster, C&C etc. You’d need a copy of the boardgame, which isn’t cheap whether you’re talking about the original TSR version or the fairly recent re-issue by Right Stuf. The Dragon magazine CD-Rom collection provides all the Minarian Legends articles, though if you don’t have that I’m pretty sure I’ve seen them floating around there somewhere. Scribd.com maybe? Any PDFs on the net are probably outlaw copies, unless the rights have reverted to Glen Rahman or something like that. This d20 Minarian adaptation looks like it might be helpful as well.
The main thing that would require a little work from baseline D&D would be a few of the races. Divine Right goblins aren’t puny little fartknockers, for instance, but rather are described as averaging “four to six cubits” in height (which means an average height of 8 feet or so, I think) and are almost as strong as trolls. Bugbears, maybe? One of the really cool advantages of such a project is that, by dint of Minaria’s boardgame origins, you already have everything you need to generate events at the campaign level: just play out a few turns of the game before you set the PCs loose.
All GMs should also read Jeff Rients "How to Awesome-Up Your Players", I loved Jeff's writing style and his premise that "Your players are rock stars and they're here to rock your house" is a dandy one.Between the Hackmaster forum hate-on, the Chatty DM all but tattooing the article on his chest, and this review I continue to be utterly baffled by the amount of attention that particular post has drawn. Don't get me wrong: It's extremely gratifying that folks are reading the article and having such visceral reactions to it. But it seems like a lot of people take that piece way more seriously than I do.
--Daniel Donahoo's Wired review of the Open Game Table: The Anthology of RPG Blogs, volume 1.
Sunday, March 22, 2009
Your spell getting blown is a risk that I want magic-users to have to consider without messing up my super-simple initiative rules and I think a back corner of my brain was working on it will I was asleep last night. Fully conscious Jeff wasn't smart enough to look at MERP's spellcasting system for inspiration, but I eventually got it.
Under this proposal, spellcasters can continue to use instantaneous magic if they are willing to accept a risk of fumble equal to the spell level or less on d20. E.g. a third level spell thrown instantaneously fumbles on a 1, 2, or 3 on 1d20. Power Word spells would count as 1st level for these purposes, as would anything on cast from a scroll.
As an alternative, the caster can state "I begin casting [spell]". The following round the caster can throw the spell at -1 to the fumble chances, state "I continue to cast [same spell]", or state an all new action (i.e. canceling a spell is penalty-free). If the caster is hurt between beginning the spell and actually casting it, the spell is lost. Each additional round of casting lowers the fumble chance. As I woke up it was an additional -1 per round, but that really slows down casting higher level spells safely. Now that I'm thinking slightly rationally, perhaps each round should double the reduction of fumble chances: -2 for 2 rounds prep, -4 for 3 rounds, -8 for 4 rounds prep, etc.
Since I just woke up a wee bit ago I don't have that fumble chart yet, but obviously some bad stuff can happen. However, there would be a few escape hatches built into the chart: results that would allow the fumble to be avoided or diminished with a successful Int or Dex roll, or maybe a level check or something like that. I like systems with built-in narrow escapes like that.
Saturday, March 21, 2009
Friday, March 20, 2009
Jolly Blackburn: We really should send that Rients dude a free copy of Hackmaster Basic when it gets back from the printers.
Yorkus Rex: Yeah, and while you're at it you ought to give him a monthly column in Knights of the Dinner Table where he can write all the same junk he puts on his Gameblog, but he would get paid.
Dave Kenzer: *sigh* He's so dreamy!
Thursday, March 19, 2009
Prime Requisites: Intelligence (see below)
Hit Dice: d4 (flat amount, not per level)
Attacks: Normal Man
Saves: Normal Man
As a non-adventuring NPC class, the level of a hedge mage is based upon the number of years they have spent puttering around in labs, reading musty old tomes, tending herb-gardens, etc. A high Intelligence score reduces the years needed to advance a level (13-15 equals -1 year; 16-17, -2 years; and 18, -3 years) while a low Int adds to the time needed to advance (3, +3 years; 4-5, +2 years; 6-8, +1 year).
For most purposes hedge mages and magic-users are mechanically interchangeable: The magic-user rules for spellbooks and memorization also apply to hedge mages. Hedge mages can use magic items otherwise only useable by M-U’s. Spells developed by hedge mages can be learned and cast by magic-users, etc. In fact, the members of each class do not see the other class as a separate profession. Rather most magic-users consider hedge mages to be MU’s who have failed to live up to their potential for awesome power and many hedge mages tend to see magic-users as corner-cutting slackers. Magic-users may have apprentices who go on to become hedge mages and vice versa.
Lore: Starting at 2nd level a hedge mage gains a non-spell ability called a Lore. No hedge mage may have more than one Lore per level over first, but some have fewer than that. Some sample Lores are listed below:
Identify Magic Item
Enchant Magic Items
Summon, Bind, & Banish Ethereal Spirits (or demons, elementals, etc.)
Decipher Ancient Languages
Hear Whispers on the Wind
Knowledge of the Hierarchy and Protocols of Hell (or the Fairy Kingdom, Atlantis, etc.)
Assigning and adjudicating these abilities is left to the individual referee. Most Lores cannot be taught to magic-users, who rarely have the patience required, but at the referee’s option some Lores may be ‘translated’ into spells. Consider this as a research project that takes half as much time and money as developing a new spell, but the hedge mage must assist during the entire project. Some Lores will require more than one spell (Summon Spirit, Bind Spirit, Banish Spirit, for instance).
Given a hedge mage’s abysmal combat abilities and potential if they stick to the books long enough, you can see why most hedge mages would be extremely loathe to go adventuring.
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
The problem is that I don't always dig the AD&D solution of picking a race from column A and then a class (or more than one class) from column B. More and more I envision the classes Fighter, Magic-User, Cleric, and Thief as specifically Human classes. Those four classes say something about human society in the gameworld and opening the classes up to non-human races muddles that message.
Instead, I think a better solution would be to add more demihuman classes. These would be unique classes that might overlap the Human Four in some ways but aren't the same. Here's my current list of ideas:
Do you see how just looking at the classes available to each race tells you something about how they fit into the setting?
Each new class would have the same level limits, saving throws, and racial abilities of the normal racial class. Everything else would be up for grabs. Some of the basic work of building the classes could use the material from Paul Crabaugh's "Customized Classes" (Dragon #109). I've already got a rough draft of a Spelltwerp using Crabaugh's numbers. Other classes could benefit from the adaptation of existing classes. The Elf Baker produces cookies with potion-like effects, so one of the zillion existing alchemist variants could probably be made to work. The Dwarf Alchemist, on the other hand, actually makes all sorts of magic items, in the vein of the Rolemaster version of the Alchemist or the norse dwarves that can whip up things like Mjolnir.
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
The Wampler isn't a very good monster. It's basically an intentionally lame vampire elf. But it has two (slightly) funny stories attached to it.
1) The monster is named after a local politician. When Mr. Wampler ran for office a couple years back the town was plastered with signage asking for you to elect Wampler. In my mind the name Wampler looks like a variant of wampyr a.k.a. vampire. So everytime we'd drive past a Wampler sign I would say to my wife "Beware the Wampler, it stalks in the night!" My first draft of the monster write-up even contained that line, but I eventually cut it for reasons that I don't recall now. (Note that my creation is not political satire in anyway. I don't know the guy from Adam.)
2) Space constraints forced the editor to cut the Wampler from issues #2 and #3. Getting my buddy Pat to draw the creep was a sneaky little plan to make sure Wampy got into issue four. I figured he wouldn't be able to use the illo without the creature. Normally I am incapable of the requisite craftiness required for these sorts of machinations, but this time I was able to actually devise and execute a cunning plan.
Monday, March 16, 2009
Going Underground - A guide to dungeoneering in the world of Tékumel
A Hamsterish Hoard of Dungeons & Dragons - Already on my blog list, but I wanted to highlight it as a Grade A source for DM's in search of new monsters, treasures and drop-in mini-adventures. Don't let the silly name fool you!
Judges Guild Journal - Read the first two installments online
Random Impedimenta - A d100 chart o' stuff.
Saturday, March 14, 2009
This die has been in my collection for so long that I can't quite remember where I got it. It's made for a casino, the Golden Nugget in particular, so I suspect my parents bought me a pair of casino sixers on their one trip to Vegas in the 80's.
Outside of to-hits and saves, nearly every roll I make when running Labyrinth Lord/OD&D/etc. is with this single six-sider. Searching for secret doors, listening or opening doors, and checking for wandering monsters are well known uses of 1d6 rolls. I also tend to roll number of monsters appearing, and damage with 1d6 even when the particular edition I'm running uses other dice for those tasks. Like Vegas, what happens behind the screen stays behind the screen, so the players never know that I've used the wrong dice. They probably wouldn't object anyway, since a lot of monsters that do d8 or more damage end up being slightly weaker.
More importantly, during standard dungeon operations I tend to envision nearly all situations that might need random input in terms of an X in 6 chance. Do the orcs in room 24 hear the fight in room 22? Are the 10' poles going to snap when the players use them to lever the big boulder out of place? Will the ogre fall for the PC's bullcrap story about needing to deliver a pizza to the evil overlord in 3 turns or less? Sometimes I make a snap judgment on these sorts of questions, but a lot of the time I envision them as a chance on a six sider and throw Big Red.
I didn't really start using Big Red until the last couple of years, and it's kinda weird why. Back when I had a pair of these dice they were just an oversized set of 2d6. They didn't fit comfortably in my hand, so they never got much play even when I ran 2d6-based systems like Traveller. Only by losing one member of the pair did I finally figure out what to do with the lone survivor. Now I have this big shiny candy-like die that I can find with no difficulty. When Big Red was half of a pair of dice I didn't even take them out of the bag.
Friday, March 13, 2009
# Encountered: d2(d6)
Movement: 510' (170')
Hit Dice: 4
Attacks: 2 claws, 1 bite
Save: Fighter 8
Hoard Class: VI
These felinoid menaces from another world cause d4 heat damage per round to anyone within 10' due to their intense metabolism. They take half damage from heat-based attacks but double damage from cold. Fluorine-silicon panthers do not count as elementals or fire-based creatures for any purposes.
The numbers came from Star Hero for HERO System 5th, which is an excellent book if you want your sci-fi game to be based upon present understandings of science. (Or at least the present understandings of science from about five or ten years ago.) The FUDGE column was part of my own attempt to consider a combat system for a FUDGE sci-fi game where your body temperature was used to set your Initiative modifier. It doesn't exactly work, as snails and panthers would both be rated at zero in this plan. But if you compare carbon-based panthers to fluorine-silicon panthers, then my table might actually be useful.
And here's a list drawn from an excellent little pamphlet of old called Understanding Traveller:
FOURTEEN WAYS TO ENJOY TRAVELLER
1) Generate Characters
2) Practice Combat
3) Build Some Starships
4) Practice Space Combat
5) Generate A Typical Subsector
6) Produce A Single World
7) Try Trade and Commerce
8) Generate Other Characters
9) Create A Mercenary Unit
10) Build Large Starships
11) Check Out Psionics
12) Fight More Starship Battles
13) Think Up Some Situations
DON'T THINK THIS STEP COMES LAST
14) Play Traveller
That's the last line of the section entitled Example Of The Referee Moderating A Dungeon Expedition in The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures (Volume 3 of OD&D). It's probably best read in the same voice you'd use for "The beatings will continue until morale improves."
Thursday, March 12, 2009
Last night was another rousing game of Labyrinth Lord. I had five players total: Carl, Christy, Squirrel, Wheels and newcomer Snow. This was Snow’s first go at the Game, though she indicated that she was familiar with other roleplaying games. When I asked her if she understood the basic deal of dwarves and wizards going on underground adventurers she answered sardonically “I’ve seen the Lord of the Rings movies.” Sometimes I forget that I no longer have to explain to most people what an orc is. Thanks, Hollywood! Snow ended up rolling 9 for Strength, 15 for Charisma, and 10 for everything else. After mulling it over with some of the other players she opted to play the first elf of the campaign, a polearm wielding adventuress named Amyanna Isis.
The group ended up pretty well exhausting the adventuring possibilities in level 1A of Stonehell and began conquering section 1C. Nearly all the foes of the evening were orcs, which worked out really well for the party. The two magic-users and the elf all had sleep memorized and got a lot of mileage out of the spell. Amyanna Isis got ‘realistic orc mask’ as her item from the Deck of Stuff. Combining that with her high charisma and ability to speak orcish allowed them to trick the orcs a couple times. A brief transcript:
(orcish arrows pepper the party)
Anyanna (quickly pulling on mask): Wait! Don’t shoot!
Orc #1: Who are you? What tribe are you with?
Amyanna: Uh… the Oonga Boonga tribe!
Orc #1: Hey, Lenny! Are we at war with the Oonga Boonga tribe?
Orc #2: What tribe aren’t we at war with? Mort, you ever heard of an Oonga Boonga tribe?
Orc #3: Can’t say that I have.
Reginald: Sleep spell!
Other PCs: Stabbity stabbity!
Later Amyanna was in a spot where some orcs asked why she was associating with a bunch of humans. Snow’s PC coolly explained that they were her slaves, but she didn’t have a ready reply when the orcs inquired about buying some of them. Some of the players seemed to genuinely take offense at the offer.
Poor Bethany Shadowalker (Christy’s thief) joined the ranks of the campaign dead alongside such worthies as the dwarves Old Salty and Basaltbeard, the halfling Sly Mishchivin, and Deric Holyborn. I thought the party was going to make it through the old kitchen without a hassle, but Bethany managed to unleash the green slime. She held on quite a while but no one could figure out how to get the stuff off of her face. Her replacement character was also a thief, named Sylvia Corvine as I recall. With better kills and more loot this session, Sylvia made level 2 even though she entered play partway through the night. In fact, everyone at the table leveled except the elf, of course. Wheels is now an MU 2, Sylvia a thief 2, Reginald Featherweight made 3rd level (which I misreported as happening last session) and Eric Holyborn achieved an astounding fourth level of clerictude.
Now that Carl’s dude can cast 2nd level spells he noticed that the spells available for him to pick from are pretty weak. I explained that he has only the starting PC spell array, as per my house rules, but there are more spells in the Labyrinth Lord rulebook and other spells in the campaign at large. He indicated that between now and next run his character would be following up on sources for new spells. I love that sort of wizardly seeking after knowledge so I’m working on a draft list with a bunch of possible leads. Some of them are in town, others are on the Wildlands hexmap (from Points of Light) and still others lead to additional campaign regions.
These leads are part of my sneaky plan to lure the party into some wilderness adventuring, but I only want them to go where they want when they want. So, for example, I gave Wheels a rumor he picked up in a tavern, about a magic cup hidden in a ruined castle. The party opted not to follow up on that one, at least not yet. And that’s okay. The wilderness wandering monster charts are pretty brutal, so sticking with dungeons close to town is probably the smart thing to do at this stage of the campaign.
Towards the end of the night the party rescued a lost gnome adventurer that was suffering at the hands of orcish tormentors. Reginald showed Johann some kindness so he offered to serves as the magic-users henchman. So now I need rules for Gnome adventurers. Here’s my idea: start with the Halfling class, remove all the special abilities except the AC bonus versus big monsters and put in some infravision and some languages, including the ability to speak to small burrowing mammals. Working off of an established class saves me a bunch of heartache compared to building the class from scratch. Part of me is tempted to add some illusionist magic or techno aptitude, but I’d really like to push that small burrowing mammal thing as the gnome’s big special ability. “I can talk to prairie dogs” doesn’t seem all that great compared to the stock halfling stuff, but I’m not that interested in making the class better (or even as good as) the regular options.
I forgot to post the picture from the previous session:
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
As I recall you’re allowed to roll once on the table below for each full decade of age of your starting PC, but you can choose not to roll if you don’t want to. Nearly every item on the chart is beneficial (37-41 and 85-86 being notable exceptions), so only the faintest of heart would skip the opportunity. I’m not familiar with P&P to be able to explain any of the game mechanics below, but I love charts like this and wanted to share.
21–28 Increase your Current Ability in one characteristic by 1d6
29–32 Increase your Current Ability in two characteristics by 1d6+2 or in one characteristics by 1d10+2.
33 Special Attribute
34–36 Increase any Current Abilities by a total of 2d10. The total may not exceed the number rolled.
37 Your face bears pox scars from an old disease. Reduce Appearance 50% rounded down.
38 You have a pronounced limp from an old wound. Reduce Agility by 20% rounded down.
39 You recently escaped from a prison in a neighboring nation. You are a wanted felon in the land of the Referee’s choice.
40-41 As for 39 except you escaped from a prison in the nation that the adventure is starting in within the last 1d6 days.
42 You are under a powerful Geas, the referee will set all parameters of its effect.
43 You were raised among the Faerry. In addition to normal human Knowledge, you speak the tongue of the Faerry Sidh with an EL of 60.
44 Special Attribute [Roll on a second table of bonus magical powers]
45–47 Past luck garners you d100 SC.
48 As 45–47 except 2d10+10 GC.
49 As 48 except 1d3 bars of Silver.
50-51 You possess 1d3 Small Jewels of unknown value. If your Station is zero, you stole them.
52 You have 1d2 Medium Jewels of unknown value. If your Station is 1 or less, you stole them.
53 You possess 1 Large Jewel of unknown value. If your Station is 2 or less you stole it.
54–56 Roll 1d6. On a 1-3 as for 50-51, 4-5 as for 52 and 6 as for 53, except you know the value of the jewels.
57 Increase any Native Abilities by a total of 1d6. (Increase Maximum Abilities as appropriate afterwards).
58 You have a piece of Jewelry. You have no idea where you got it or what it is worth. You have had it since birth. The Referee will determine the type of jewelry.
59–62 Take any 3 items from the Equipment List with a combined value under 40GC and an individual value of at least 5GC.
63 Take any 1 item from the Equipment list with a value between 10 and 100GC
64 If your Station is 4 or higher, you are a prosperous land owner in your homeland. Roll 1d10x1d10 to determine the hundreds of acres that you control. (Your income from this is 1SC per acre per year). If your Station is 3 or less you control 1d10x1d10 acres as a personal freehold. (Income from this land is 3CC per acre per year). All income figures are gross values.
65 You have a random Magic Amulet.
66 Special Attribute. [Roll on a second table of bonus magical powers]
67–70 Training with a Skilled Master raises your Expertise with all weapons in a weapon type of your choice to the maximum EL currently possible for your Character. No Expertise Cost is assessed for this training.
71 You have a random magic weapon.
72 You have a random type of magic armor.
73 You have an authentic map to a large treasure. Referee will roll 1d6+14 on the Map Table for it’s value.
74 You possess 1d6 doses of a random Potion or Elixir.
75 You possess 1d6 doses of a random Natural Magic material.
76 You have 1d6 doses of a random Powder.
77 Special Attribute. [Roll on a second table of bonus magical powers]
78–81 You have a Pet. It is a normally wild animal. The Referee will determine its species and full parameters.
82 You have a Magic Item. The Referee will determine what it is.
83-84 Apprentice in the Magic Path of your choice if your Native Intelligence is 15 or higher. If not, as for 82.
85-86 You have a powerful enemy. Gain 1d10x10 Experience Points and D100 SC. The Referee will determine the enemy based on your actual gain, i.e. the more gained, the more powerful the enemy. The enemy will seek revenge whenever possible.
87 Raise your Native Ability in any Mental Attribute by 1d3*. (Raise Maximum Ability as appropriate afterwards).
88 Special Attribute. [Roll on a second table of bonus magical powers]
89–91 You have a Personal Contact among your people. The Referee will determine his or her parameters.
92-93 As 89–91 except the Contact must reside in the area that the party is starting in.
94 As for 87 except Native Ability in any Physical Attribute, including Constitution and Appearance, may be increased.
95–96 You have a friend. You are accompanied by a Character Class NPC. The Referee will determine the attachment and all parameters of the friend. The CEL of the friend is 1d6+4. He may not be a magic-user. He will defend his friend to the death.
97 You were raised among the Elves. In addition to Human Knowledge, you speak the tongue of the Elf Sidh with an EL of 60.
98 An old friend, who once saved your life, is lost in a hostile land. You are aware of his whereabouts. He holds the key to a great treasure that both of you were searching for.
99 You are the master of a Firesnake.
100 You have come under extraordinary influences. The referee will determine something exceptionally good or bad. If he does not wish to do so, roll three times on this table or twice on the Special Attribute table.
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
Amazon.com recommends "Dungeons and Dragons Core Rulebook Gift Set, 4th Edition"
Thanks for the hot tip, Amazon!
My Prussian homie offers this little tidbit from one of the androids at Wizards*:
It might have been more accurate to call this editorial, "When your group tries to jump the shark but doesn't make it."Just to sum up: the 4e boosters keep saying that making characters is easier in 4e, everything is more balanced thanks to chucking out all those dang sacred cows, and fights go much faster than in the previous WotC edition. Yet the dude is scared a TPK is going to drive away players, he has to fudge mid-fight with this preciously balanced system, and he couldn't get the combat done in one session so they had to hit pause. Did I get all that right? This is the slick new edition Amazon is ready to sell me for 66 bucks, being run by one of the game company staff, and he's facing a basic problem that has plagued DMs for years.
I might catch some flak for this one, but recent events compel me to talk about something that every DM has to contend with: party suckitude.
First, no offense to my players or anyone who's had a rough day in the dungeon. The best groups have off sessions. Sometimes they forget to use their encounter or daily powers. Sometimes they spread their attacks too thin. Sometimes they race around an encounter area like poodles on a 24-hour caffeine bender.
Sometimes, they do all of the above, and then some.
You know where this is going. What do you do when your group just shanks it? Sucks rocks? Can't pull it together? They can't blame it on the dice this time. They're not coordinating, communicating, or thinking tactically.
This happened to me recently. I'm running my group through "The Shadow Rift of Umbraforge" from Dungeon #158, and the group is at the third encounter under The Happy Beggar -- the one with all the wraiths. It's a tough encounter, I'll be the first to admit. It comes right after a fight against the shadar-kai witch, dark creepers, and shadow hounds, which is no walk in the park, either. But wraiths are insubstantial, which means they take only half damage, and they regenerate 5 hp a round.
As soon as the fight started, the mistakes started piling up. One defender charged a wraith near the portal. The second defender charged … a different wraith. The rogue charged a third. If you do the math on expected damage for a 4th-level PC, you'll find that half damage is around 5 or 6 points -- about what a wraith regenerates. Against regenerating monsters, spreading out your attacks is a losing game.
The mistakes didn't stop there. The party striker got distracted by a dark creeper skulking in the corner, so one of the best characters for hurting regenerating foes wasn't attacking the wraiths at all. And that dark creeper wasn't even attacking anyone. It was after something the PCs had and was trying to figure out who was carrying it.
What's a DM to do? Some might "punish" their players by letting the dice fall where they may. That's not my style, especially when the group is having a bad night. I think the DM's first job is to make the game fun for everyone, even if that means compensating for the players. That's right, I cheated … in their favor. I dropped the wraiths' regeneration to 2. I put a secret button on the portal which created a radiant energy zone that shut down their regeneration altogether. I made some gentle tactical suggestions. Finally, I left a clear line of escape open.
It's important to keep some contingency plans for these occasions in your DMing pocket for when things go south -- really south. A TPK, as much as we toss the event around in gloating terms, isn't good for anyone. You lose campaign story continuity. Everyone is bummed. You might even lose players.
We'll see what happens. The session ended mid-fight, with lots of anxious and frustrated faces. I hope they pull it out, or at least run away to try the encounter again later. Most of all, I hope that next month, I'm not writing about how to jump start a campaign after a TPK. What about your campaigns? Got any stories of encounters gone horribly awry?
I like happy players just as much as the next referee and it seriously breaks my heart when someone wants to quit a game. But if a TPK is going to make someone leave my table then all I can do is wish them luck in their next endeavour. As a longtime D&D and Call of Cthulhu guy let me state this unequivocally: if you are doing your job right you can kill every damn PC in the campaign and the players will pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and start rolling up new PCs. I'm not saying look out for opportunities to make this happen nor should you gloat when the whole party is dead. My point is that an entertaining game run by a referee with his wits about him for fully engaged players can survive a total party kill.
Now I am not dogmatic nor am I perfect. There have been situations where I'm sitting behind the screen and I think things like "Uh oh. I screwed the pooch designing this encounter. I better tone down that shaman's spell list." But I'm running one of those crappy old editions that aren't as precisely balanced as the flavor of the month, I expect to hit some rough spots like that. Part of being a good DM is rolling with issues like that.
On the other hand, I'm not sure I like the general concept of invisibly adjusting the game to account for player incompentency. Android Chris calls this attitude "punishing" players. I prefer to think of it as "not teaching them they can slop their way through encounters and still win". Some of the best sessions I've ever played started out with the PCs doing a half-assed job of exploring the dungeon, getting the crap kicked out of them, and then returning another day with their "A" game. It's extremely rewarding for the players to be able to say "Yeah, the Vampire Lord chased us out of the dungeon last session, but we got the bastard this time!"
BTW, that's the plot of like half of the Spider-Man comics I've ever read: some bozo like the Scorpion hands Peter Parker his ass in the first act, later Spidey gets his shit together and when they tangle the second time our hero is victorious. I know a couple ways a GM can make that happen in a game. One is to be a railroady prick who cheats the first encounter by making the villains unkillable. Another is to not mollycoddle the players and just let it come naturally.
*Note that I don't actually use the word 'homie' in conversation nor do I think Wizards employs androids.
Monday, March 09, 2009
"After a few rounds, we ran like little girls." isn't the sign of a mechanically broken encounter, just one that didn't go the PCs' way. Hell, a good ol' fashioned party route can sometimes be the best encounter of the night: the wide-open eyes of the players, the heavy breathing, the frantic mental search for a way their character can escape their doom, the high fives when its clear that the PCs made it through.
Times like this make me suspect that it's a good thing we've got shiny new titles like Swords & Wizardry, OSRIC, and Labyrinth Lord for our old versions of D&D. It's getting harder and harder for me to see any real relation between Wizards' product line and what I do. I'm not one of those dudes who scours the internet for stuff to get mad at, but when I stumble across something like Trask's article linked above I feel a little weirded out. Reminds me of a TV movie about Elvis I saw as a lad. As I recall old fat jumpsuit Elvis was watching TV, flipping through the channels. He happened across something like a New York Dolls performance. The King's brain broke a little when he realized you could draw a straight line from his earliest material to these guys.
Some days it feels like Gygax and Arneson invented Craps and these new guys are selling Go with a picture of two six siders on the box. That's a pretty weird situation even if you like playing Go.
Friday, March 06, 2009
Finding Carcosa just across the mountains from Aragorn's homeland might make some folks' head a splode, but it pretty much sums up how I like my D&D.
Thursday, March 05, 2009
The first two d30 books weren’t bad. One oddity had all the interior illos be miniature sketches from the Asgard line, presumably to save on the art budget. I seem to recall that one of them was considerably more pedestrian than the other. My gut tells me it was Dan Cole’s 30 Sided Gaming Tables that was the weaker entry, but I can’t swear to it. Even so, I tried hard to get some use out of all three books. I think Cole’s tome had the d30 chart, for instance, that listed thirty different weapons so you could roll up a fighter’s starting proficiencies. I used that one for quite a few NPCs in my Bandit Kingdoms campaign. But the other two written by Bob Liddil had more mojo. I’m pretty sure it was Liddil’s The 30 Sided Character and Other Tales that contained a character quirk chart that I used on some of Baron Phostarius’ followers. That experiment resulted in my campaign’s first canonical lesbian when a female NPC ended up with “passionate for gypsy women”.
The Thirty Sided Adventure and Other Tales was part book o’ charts, part adventure module, and part campaign guide for Liddil’s goofball Strange Lands setting. Sometimes when I read the Strange Lands material I find it delightfully corny. Other times I find it lame as heck. (Maybe this is how normal gamers react to Arduin?) Even when I’m not digging the material, I still appreciate the fact that Liddil put himself into the material. Not everyone is going to want to adventure in a world where the sailors are all lycanthropes and the Grand Canyon is crawling with snake cultists, but I gotta give the guy credit for trying. And his chart Things Slipped Into Your Rucksack By Your Aunt Millie (Because She Loves You) is the direct ancestor of my Deck O’ Stuff.
Last I checked these books still came up on eBay and Noble Knight every once in a while for not-completely-unreasonable prices. Oh, wait, I just checked Noble Knight and they want forty freakin' bucks for 30 Sided Adventure. Never mind. Liddil is selling a fourth installment in the d30 series online, with a sample page here.
Wednesday, March 04, 2009
Things You Can Do To Keep Gygax's Memory Alive
- Play some OD&D or 1st edition AD&D, or one of the other games Gary created.
- Adapt one of his modules to whatever fantasy system you are using nowadays. B2 The Keep on the Borderlands is a particularly good choice for "serious" role-players, if you focus on all the intrigues surrounding the various factions of humanoids in the Caves of Chaos.
- Name your next pet Gary, Gygax, or Mordenkainen. (I am not taking any responsibilty if you name your next kid Gygax or Mordenkainen. You're on your own on that one.)
- Build that Dragonchess set you've been meaning to construct ever since you read about it in issue #100 of Dragon.
- Players: Specialize in an oddball polearm, swear "by Gygax's beard", play a cleric of Zagig.
- DMs: drop the Ring of Gaxx into your setting, sprinkle some scrolls of Mordenkainen-brand spells about your dungeon, use a rust monster or a bulette.
- Write that module or game or whatever that you've been meaning to get around to. Submit it for publication or publish it yourself.
- Keep a sharp eye out for the next weird little game that might become a breakout hit, spawning cartoons, films, comic books, novels and countless imitators.
- Tell the hobgoblins "It's okay, Gary sent us!"
- Crack open your 1st edition DMG and just luxuriate in the unmistakeable Gygax prose.
- Send a letter or e-mail to another game designer thanking them before it's too late.
- Introduce someone else to the fun that is this crazy little hobby.
- Game like there's no tomorrow.
Monday, March 02, 2009
So, hey, I'm working on a book. Think of it as the juvenile delinquent lovechild of the Arduin Grimoire and one of the Armory's D30 books.
My plan is a simultaneous PDF and print release via Lulu, and maybe some ashcan-esque photocopies from the local print shop. The print book will be sold at my cost rounded up to the next half dollar, with the PDF going for like a buck ot two. Some of the contents will be reprints of items appearing here and in the pages of Fight On!, but a bigass chunk of it will be new stuff.
Page count is still up in the air. I want a stapled booklet, so the upper limit will be 88 pages. I'm really keen on the book easily laying open flat, which bigger perfectbound books don’t always do. And 88 pages seems like a reasonably goal I can achieve in a weeks rather than months of work. If I can’t get at least 32 pages of material together I plan on abandoning the book idea and mining the text for Gameblog posts and submissions Fight On!, Knockspell, etc. (So those of you too cheap to pay a buck or two for the download can hope I fail, cause then you get a big chunk of the content for free. )
That "laying flat" part is sorta key to the psychology behind this proposed tome. I'm trying to write a book that I want on the table, open in front of me, at every single session of any dungeony dragony game I run. Yes, I am selfish enough to tell you all about a book that's written primarily for me. But if anyone else likes it, that's super-great. After all I wouldn't consider publishing the darn thing if I didn't hold hope that others might dig on what I have to offer.
If I continue to write at my present pace, I might have the manuscript done in March, with the book on sale in April. That'd be cool. Or I might be completely wrong about that. If I put together everything I have right now into a single file, I'd probably already be very close to the 32 page minimum I set for myself, but I still have a long list of crap I'd like to go into the text.
In case anyone cares, I'm not using any OGL or secondary type license. Since I'm running Labyrinth Lord right now some of the results might be skewed toward that particular incarnation of the Game, but others of it will not be. For example, the section where I threw together six ready-to-go sages started life as me holding some dice and a copy of the 1st edition DMG open to page 32. Labyrinth Lord isn't going to tell you what to do with a neutral evil sage that casts druid spells.
When there's lightning - it always bring me down
Cause it's free and I see that it's me
Who's lost and never found
I cry for magic - I feel it dancing in the light
But it was cold - I lost my hold
To the shadows of the night
There's no sign of the morning coming
You've been left on your own
Like a Rainbow in the Dark
Do your demons - do they ever let you go
When you've tried - do they hide -deep inside
Is it someone that you know
You're a picture - just an image caught in time
We're a lie - you and I
We're words without a rhyme
There's no sign of the morning coming
You've been left on your own
Like a Rainbow in the Dark
When there's lightning - it always brings me down
Cause it's free and I see that it's me
Who's lost and never found
Feel the magic -feel it dancing in the air
But it's fear - and you'll hear
It calling you beware
There's no sign of the morning coming
There's no sight of the day
You've been left on your own
Like a Rainbow in the Dark
Sunday, March 01, 2009
A final word to the Dungeon Master from the authors. These rules are intended as guidelines. No two Dungeon Masters run their dungeons quite the same way, as anyone who has learned the game with one group and then transferred to another can easily attest. You are sure to encounter situations not covered by these rules. Improvise. Agree on a probability that an event will occur and convert it into a die roll — roll the number and see what happens! The game is intended to be fun and the rules modified if the players desire. Do not hesitate to invent, create and experiment with new ideas. Imagination is the key to a good game. Enjoy!