Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Are we doing minis wrong?

I recall using 1" squares to represent 5 foot of dungeon floor going at least as far back as '86 or '87, when I ran Keep on the Borderlands for what had to be the third or so time.  Dave ran a barbarian named Bubba, using a local version of the barbarian class built using Paul Crabaugh's golden "Customized Classes" article from Dragon #109 and Eric played an elf that was always blasting stuff with attack spells.  I don't recall the rest of the party.  Anyway, we drew out the floor plan of the Caves of Chaos on a battlemat.  I've ran way more games without maps and minis than with, but whenever I've done D&D with figures I've always used this scale.

Since then the 1 inch = 5 foot rule has been practically set in stone for anyone playing D&D with a tactical display.  The "five foot step" of 3rd edition rammed that scale home a dozen times or more every session.  But back in the first edition AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide is another way of doing it.  Uncle Gary writes:

"Figure bases are necessarily broad in order to assure will stand in their proper position and not constantly be falling over.  Because of this, it is usually necessary to use a ground scale twice that of the actual scale for HO, and squares of about 1 actual inch per side are suggested.  Each ground scale inch can then be used to equal 3½ linear feet, so a 10' wide scale corridor is 3 actual inches in width and shown as 3 separate squares.  This allows depiction of the typical array of three figures abreast..."
(page 10, emphasis mine)

Before I started taking the battlegrid super seriously in 3e, my dungeon maps had a fair number of crappy little 10' by 10' rooms.  But a four by four square is no place to have a battle.  3 x 3 is slightly better in this regards.  Also, a smaller scale means that doors that are one square wide aren't so dang massive.  And the prospect of a three abreast down 10' corridors changes the dynamic of dungeon crawling.  You could put a henchloser with a ten foot pole in the middle, flanked by fighters, for example.

By the way, Empire of the Petal Throne conforms to this approach.  In EPT three abreast in a 10' corridor is standard, with three exceptions.  If a character is using a two-handed weapon only two will fit.  If that weapon is a two-handed sword only one character has room to operate in that rank.  And wimps like spellcasters can actually squeeze in four abreast in 10'.  Small characters like halflings probably also fall into that category.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Check this out

So over Mother's Day weekend my mom insinuated that she would like it if my Amazon wishlist was populated with more things that weren't books.  Today the thought occurred that maybe one could buy 25mm figures via the big A.  Every few years I consider getting back into minis and trying to put together a set that would allow me to run at least some straight vanilla BX dungeon crawling.  So I've been search Amazon for variations of the term "25mm."  I found a couple of things I wanted to share, both from a company called Litko Game Accessories.  The first is an item they call a "Horde Tray."

Horde Tray 12-25mm circles (1)

This accessory allows you to move an unorganized rabble of goblins, orcs, peasant levies, etc, as a group.  The circular depressions are supposed to fit their 25mm round bases.  These trays come in a variety of sizes of shapes, so no two hordes need to be laid out the exact same way.  I like the idea of pushing a mess of orcs across the table using something like this.

Horse, Character Mount Marker, Brown, 25x50mm Base (1)

Not enough figures come with mounted and unmounted versions and these markers allow any standing figure to be easily marked as on their horse.  Litko also makes dire wolves, bears, boars and even pink unicorn varieties.

And check out these torch bearer markers!  Hot damn!
Torch Bearer Marker Set

Anyway, just thought I'd share this neat find.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Make your own List of Kings

So I've been looking at the length of reigns of the Kings of Wessex/England through to 1139, the first year of the Wessex campaign.  There's about 50 monarchs in that period and a little math shows they reigned on average for about 13 years, with a breakdown something like this:
  • 16% of Wessex monarchs reigned less than 2 years
  • 30% of Wessex monarchs reigned 2-7 years
  • 26% of Wessex monarchs reigned 8-19 years
  • 12% of Wessex monarchs reigned 20-29 years
  • 12% of Wessex monarchs reigned 30-38 years
That doesn't add up to quite 100%, which is why I work in literature and not math.  But it allows me to make a chart for randomly generating the length of a reign of a monarch.  I cracked open my first edition DMG to pages 13-15 to look at the ages of demi-human races and cobbled together this chart:

rollmonarch reign
1d100 weeks
22 or 3 years (50/50 chance)
3d6+3 years
4d6+9 years
5d12+15 years
6d12+28 years
7d20+40 years
8d20+60 years
9d30+80 years
10d30+110 years
11d30+140 years
12d100+170 years
13-15d100+270 years
16-17d100+370 years
18-19d100+470 years
20d1000+570 years

Humans roll d6 on this chart, halflings d8, dwarves d10, gnomes d12 and elves d20.  The basic idea is that longer lived races can have longer average reigns, but the normal vicissitudes of war and politics can also cut them short just as readily as they do humans.  If you are big on alignments you might use the better of two rolls for lawful societies and the lesser of two rolls for chaotic ones.

You can also grant each monarch on your list a 1 in 6 chance of something really memorable happening to them.  Here's a draft chart for that:

d12 roll....deal
  1. Ruler either establishes a new dynasty or reestablishes an old one.
  2. Ruler has the same name as a previous ruler.
  3. Ruler introduced significant religious innovations (1-2), a fundamentalist revival (3-4), or an entirely new religion (5-6).
  4. Ruler known by some epithet like "the Great" or "the Bald" (1-3 positive epithet, 4-5 neutral, 6 positive)
  5. Ruler's reign split by a temporary ursurpation by another monarch.
  6. Some (1-5) or all (6) of reign spent in contention with a noble with a better claim to the throne.
  7. Ruler married into dynasty, leaves another branch with a strong claim to the line.
  8. Reign ends with vaguely-reported scandal or ridiculous accident.
  9. Reign ends by assassination.
  10. Reign ends by abdication.
  11. Ruler under some sort of magical curse or affliction.
  12. Roll again twice
Someone else can probably expand that to a d20, d30 or d100 table with a little work.

If, like I do, you want to map these rulers to a real-world timeline, just throw d% to find out how far a monarch is into their reign at the start of your campaign history.  Example: The Wessex List of Kings begins in 519AD.  The first gnome king I generate has a reign of 45 years and I roll 23%, so his entry in the Gnomish List of Kings would begin 45*.23 or 10 years before the first Wessex king.  Not that the gnomes have their own monarch in my campaign world; they're all vassals/slaves of the immortal Crimson King.  That's why they wear the red hats.

But the elves and dwarves of Wessex have their own monarchs.  Using my own dwarf name generator and this elf name generator I googled up, here are my lists for them.

recent Kings of the Upper Dwarf Realm (the one closest to the surface)
Oyfur, r. 388-503, founder of new dynasty
Gili, r. 503-503
Ori, r. 503-515
Thwalin, r. 515-521
Dworin, r. 521-653
Fombur, r. 653-750
Bili I, r. 750-817
Bili II, r. 817-819, founder of a new dynasty
Gin, r. 819-822 [starting now in my world the drink is named after this guy!]
Doin, r. 822-874
Owalin, r. 874-888
Bhorin, r. 888-917, spends part of his reign fighting a descendant of Bili I
Nori, r. 917-993
Bili III, r. 993-994
Thifur, r. 994-1026
Korin, r. 1026-1129, reestablishes dynasty of Bili I [Is this the guy who fought Bhorin, or maybe his son?]
Gifur, r. 1129-1132
Bwalin, r. 1132-1136
Oomdur, r. 1136-present

Thanks to creatively interpreting some randomly generated stuff, I now know that two dynasties have fought for the dwarven throne since at least the year 817 and that the present king of the dwarfs has only worn the crown for a few short years.  Neat stuff!

recent Queens of the Elvish Realms
Tûr, r. 71BC-421AD, reestablishment of old dynasty
Mindonel, r. 421-434
Ceven, r. 434-474
Lagorúthes II, r. 474-519
Bronwe, r. 519-866, accursed & abdicated in favor of Cerendelil
Cerendelil, r. 866-956, also accursed 
Hithfaerphen, r. 956-964
Melil, r. 964-present

The two cursed queens in a row is super interesting.  Could this be the work of that spooky jerkwad the Crimson King or is some other treachery afoot?

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The sensational character find of 2015!

White Dwarf #46 (October 1983) isn't one of my favorite issues of that venerable gaming magazine, but it does have some neat stuff in it.  The three Traveller patrons are quite nice.  There's an installment of Irilian, the AD&D city that came out in bits and pieces.  But as I was flipping through the issue last night I spotted something in an add that I hadn't noticed before.

I love the ads in White Dwarf.  Part of it is drooling over products I never saw in the U.S., part of it is the slightly different feel of fantasy gaming in Britain, a little more of a black humor edge.  And part of it is just plain old geeky Anglophilia, as I delight at seeing game companies and stores with addresses in places like Lancashire and Manchester.  That's ordinary stuff for folks living in Britain, but a little part of me will never quite stop believing in a magical land on the other side of the sea.

Anyway, here's the advertisement I took a second look at last night:

Ah, yeah.  That's the ticket.  A nerd shop with a cool name and a super rad logo.  You got planets lurking in the background, your basic spaceman with a bubble helmet and laser rifle, a comely sorceress type, Axebeard Rustbutt the Dwarf, and...

Waitaminute, is that an orc with an Tom Selleck moustache?!?

All hail Mustache Orc!
Maybe not an orc, but some sort of muscled-up  humanoid at least.  The ears are pointy but no elf I know has fangs like that.  If he isn't an orc, he at least has me asking why so few orcs are depicted with sweet-as-heck facial hair.

"Worlds Apart" and this art would make for a neat add for a sci-fi fantasy campaign.  Something like this:

Jeez.  Now I want to get my table into playing some Encounter Critical.  Also, while scanning the cover and the ad for this post I think my hand slipped and I may have accidentally scanned and uploaded my favorite article from this issue.  Oopsie.

we need more giant hogs

Giant hogs were on the OD&D wandering monster matrix.  This is why.

"Before the rules for D&D were published Old Greyhawk Castle was 13 levels deep. The first level was a simple maze of rooms and corridors, for none of the participants had ever played such a game before. The second level had two unusual items, a Nixie pool and a fountain of snakes. The third featured a torture chamber and many small cells and prison rooms. The forth was a level of crypts and undead. The fifth was centered around a strange font of black fire and gargoyles. The sixth was a repeating maze with dozens of wild hogs (3 dice) in inconvenient spots, naturally backed up by appropriate numbers of Wereboars. The seventh was centered around a circular labyrinth and a street of masses of ogres. The eighth through tenth levels were Caves and caverns featuring Trolls, giant insects, and a transporter nexus with an evil Wizard (with a number of tough associates) guarding it. The eleventh level was the home of the most powerful wizard in the castle. He had Balrogs as servants. The remainder of the level was populated by Martian White Apes, except the sub-passage system underneath the corridors which was full of poisonous critters with no treasure. Level twelve was filled with Dragons. The bottom level, number thirteen, contained an inescapable slide which took the players 'clear through to China', from whence they had to return via 'Outdoor Adventure', It was quite possible to journey downward to the bottom level by an insidious series of slanting passages which began on the second level, but the likelihood of following such a route unknowingly didn't become too great until the seventh or eighth level. Of the dozen or so who played on a fairly regular basis, four made the lowest level and took the trip: Rob Kuntz, now a co-referee in the campaign went alone and three of his friends managed to trace part of his route and blunder along the rest, so they followed him quickly to the Land of China. Side levels included a barracks with Orcs, Hob-goblins, and Gnolls continually warring with each other, a museum, a huge arena, an underground lake, a Giant's home, and a garden of fungi."

from "How To Set Up Your Dungeons & Dragons Campaign Gygax," europa 6-8 April 1975.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Ten Foot Pole Q&A

If you've got better answers, please leave 'em in the comments below.

Sutherland illo from B1 In Search of the Unknown

Q1: What is the function of a 10' pole?

A1: The main idea is to find the traps before the traps find you.  I've seen two main methods for how to make this happen.  The first is to post one or two guys at the head of the marching order.  As the party moves down corridors at dungeon exploration speed, these guys sweep their poles back and forth, tapping the floors.  The goal is to reveal hidden tripwires, pressure plates, etc., by triggering them while at hopefully a safe distance.  In a universe where even some lifeforms evolve to fit the 10' graph paper grid, it's nice to be able to say that you are, at worst, at the very edge of the 10' effect.  I once met a guy who, to make assurance doubly sure, always got custom-made 11' poles.

For this sort of duty you probably want lightly armored and unencumbered characters, thieves or henchweenies in leather armor.  You need these guys to be able to drop their poles and clear the way for the fighters to engage with wandering monsters.  In an ideal situation you don't want the party tanks on this duty, because then you give the DM an opportunity to be a dick about the time needed to drop the poles, draw weapons and ready shields.

The other key thing you can do with a 10' pole is to poke stuff. Specific dungeon features can be probed.  Is that green stain just dungeon dressing or actual green slime?  Is that an ugly statue or a gargoyle playing possum?  Exactly what sort of horrible vermin is hiding in that trash in the corner?  Obviously the DM isn't going to play ball every time (e.g. this particular gargoyle isn't ticklish), but it's safer than daring the bard to touch the spooky thing.

Finally, some DMs will allow the 10' pole to bear some weight or be used to apply leverage.  I've seen them used to pole-vault over walls and across gaps, usually by high Dex thieves  And I've at least heard players discuss hauling a goblin prisoner around like Han Solo captured by ewoks.  (This scenario never actually happened, by the way.  The players just slit the goblin's throat.  As always.)  You might want to talk to your DM before trying this sort of nonsense, as it relies on a specific model of the material properties of the pole.

Q2: Does using a 10' pole in these ways actually work?

Personally, I think there are plenty of situations where the 10' pole treatment ought to just plain work, no die throw.  If the guys in the front rank are sweeping the hallway, they should set off trip wires and locate simple pit type traps with no real difficulty.  A poke in some acid or a viper nest ought to provoke a useful result.  Only for more complicated situations would I throw dice, like finding out if contact is made with a small pressure point.  In such a scenario whatever chance there is of a PC setting off the trap would be the roll I would use to see if it was set off before the PCs got there.  On the other hand, if the party is actively tapping every surface with a wooden pole, they might make extra noise and take extra time.  Maybe throw an extra random monster check every once in a while to compensate.

Note that I don't believe that a 10' pole would make a good implement for vaulting, but I'd give anyone a 2 in 6 chance to do just about anything under the right circumstances.  The house wins in the long run under those odds, but I love to see players attempt the improbable.

Q3: Why not just use a spear or quarterstaff?

I hear this one again and again when people are buying equipment.  First, there's the economic factor.  In OD&D a 10' pole and a spear both cost 1 gold each, but later editions got smarter.  In BX a spear is 3gp, a quarterstaff 2gp, and a ten foot pole is 1gp.  In the AD&D1 Players Handbook the cost difference between spear and pole is one gold piece versus only 3cp.  LotFP shows a similar gap.  I've heard players blithely remark that they can just go to the woods and cut their own pole, but I've never seen anyone do it.  Which is probably good, since someone with a fancy title and oathsworn knights and catapults probably owns that tree.

Then there's the length issue.  Per the AD&D1 PHB a quarterstaff is 6 to 8 feet long.  A spear can vary from 5' to 13' or more.  You probably don't want to argue about the length of your spear after the DM tells you a 10' diameter puff of gas shoots out of a hidden nozzle.

more Sutherland, more B1
More importantly, if you want to stick one of your weapons into a pool of mysterious liquid, I say bring it on.  I'd be happy to relieve you of that spearhead.  Or if you want to sweep hallways with a metal blade I'll be thrilled to blunt its point or let it make some extra clangy noises.  Maybe it can even kick up a couple sparks in a room with an excess of flammable gas.  Sounds like my idea of a good time.

Q4: Any downsides to using 10' poles?

I think it would be really interesting to purchase a ten foot length of PVC pipe and try to go about my day hauling that sucker around.  I imagine fitting through doors, on elevators, tight turns on winding staircases, etc., would be a gigantic pain in the ass.  Yet another reason to leave the ten foot polling to the henchweenies.

Also, unlike spears and staffs, the 10 foot pole is clearly not intended to be useful as a weapon.