Thursday, December 18, 2014

Encounter Balance

Balanced scale of Justice     Yet another thought provoking post over on Gnome Stew, this time on Encounter Balance in the game.  As my players will tell you, I stopped worrying about it.  I stopped worrying about it in reaction to their behavior several years ago in a 3.x campaign that lasted three or four years.  I was originally excited by the Challenge Rating concept and wasted much time calculating CRs for encounters; which isn't straight forward when the numbers of players showing up varies from three to fourteen.  I noticed occasionally players seemed to get frustrated when their character approached single digit hit points.  From their reaction I realized that the concept of Encounter Balance had morphed into meaning the characters must always 'win' and that killing a character had become seen as a sign that the game had degenerated into a contest between the DM and the Players.  So I pulled a few punches and the game sucked to run. I ended the campaign and took a break.
     When I came back with a new campaign I explicitly stated that character death is an option, advising them to have a couple of characters handy.  Sure enough, a character died in the very first (random) encounter. In my current campaign, one player has had characters die not once, but twice.       Usually character death is the result of the player's and party's actions, like being the first in the room with the troll and having the next person fall and cause a pile up outside the door.  Or being 15 feet behind the thief when they blow the disarm check and the portcullis drops. And once, unfortunately, I goofed and forgot to provide the right clues that this is was encounter to run from.(Feel bad about that one.)
    Instead of worrying about Encounter Balance and calculating CRs for every encounter, I just  try come up with encounters that challenge the players to think and role play, providing clues for them to misinterpret or ignore.  As long as we're having fun, encounter balance isn't important.

Friday, December 12, 2014

in media res

Gnome Stew has a post by screenwriter and DM Patrick Regan about starting an adventure. He begins with an example of starting with the action, in media res, a delightful latin phrase I first encountered in Forester's Hornblower book, Flying Colours .
  No build up, don't even worry hown the characters got there, just go.  That's even more radical than Nine Virtues of Magnus the Pious, which at least gave the characters a mission before the action started.
   This technique would play very well in an episodic campaign where continuity is not strictly enforced.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Building Campaign Maps with Google & GIMP 7 - Scodra takes shape, but doesn't gel

I've been playing around with GIMP again, wanting to start mapping the local area, especially the town of Scodra and the location of the Castle of the Mad Archmage (Gentius' Palace in the campaign).  While the techniques I documented in the previous posts (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6) on the subject work, I find myself scraping the bottom in terms of granularity of the image.

The technique I used was to drill Google Maps down to the highest magnification, remove modern features and replace them with features and names for the setting. I made extensive use of the Smudge tool to soften the edges of the areas I masked. So far so good,

The hexes are approximately 1 mile center to center, I've added the walls of the town roads and a latifundium centered on the twenty year old remains of the legionary camp (Castra Appius).  The black dot on the hilltop is the location of the Castle of the Mad Archmage, just outside of town.

I then selected the center of the image, moved it into a new xcf file and scaled it up by a factor of three.  I immediately noticed that the line I had added pixelated badly when they were blown up, but a little editing and running the Smudge tool over them helped with the appearance.

I then started laying out the interior of Scodra, starting with the king's palace and garden at the east end.  So far so good.  Then the street grid, and because the area is not aligned with the screen pixels, I ended up with jagged edges and blobs.  Not great, but reasonable.  Then I tried placing the 'Old Fish' by the gate - and even at the scale of this image it's visibly not parallel to the street grid.
Perhaps if I can increase the pixel density in the image or go back and blow up the image further, I can improve the quality.  Otherwise I'll leave off buildings and just note the contents of the block.
Not everything succeeds at the first try, the trick is not to be afraid to take the second try.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Game Report - Ravenloft I

I started the group on the last Pathfinder adventure that I intend to run.  Actually, when it was on sale a while ago, I picked up the PDF of the 3.5 version of Ravenloft.  Oddly, none of us has ever played it.  It having been released at the start of my hiatus from D&D.

     The party having returned to Altdorf from recovering the petrified bear, was contacted by Fanny (the ersatz nun) and told they were tasked with investigating the disappearance of one of Oldenhaller's agents named Jeref Maurgen in a place in the Grey Mountains called Barovia.  Maurgen had been investigating the location of a powerful artifact known as the Sunsword.  Oldenhaller has a customer who was interested in purchasing it.  They do not to recover the artifact, although that would be appreciated, but they do need to recover the signet ring Maurgen wears.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

CotMA Vb - Spies like these


Midymnoios Moncheri - Paladin of Athena, called One Hand after losing his left to a carnivorous fly.
Segestes One-Eye - Barbarian warrior of the Harii.  Came south along the Amber Road.  Lost an eye fighting kobolds.

Akus - a slinger (and failed mage) hired as muscle
Jumilanas - a mercenary crossbow man hired as muscle
The Egyptian - Landlord of the 'Old Fish', cheapest lodgings in Scodra
Ikexanlas - The town physician

   The lamp lit their faces along with the bowl and beakers on the small table, while the rest of the room was shrouded in shadow.  The open window let in the quiet sounds of the night on the gentle breeze.  And the moon's radiance lit the clouds without trickling down to illuminate the ground below.
    "Ravens beg wolf for meat" said Segetes, as he mixed the wine and water in the bowl.
     The paladin smiled, "Rather than hunting for themselves or waiting for the wolves to finish? That's a good way to put it.  I suppose we should have expected the attention when we brought back the gold.  Still, they're not wrong, with Myrphines and Thekitor's deaths we do need help if we are to go back down after the kobolds."
     Placing the bowl back down after his drink, the barbarian suggested, "Spears not enough, we must find the little schuppig Mistst├╝cks' nest.  For that we need hunters."
     Picking the bowl carefully with his crippled hand, Midymnios nodded, "A hunting party with those who have skills we lack.  Still there was something about that Carthaginian mage that wasn't right, I wouldn't trust him."
     "Sirras, I like. Still he a local thief, probably set us up for an ambush," responded Segestes,
     "The other four as equal partners? But only agree to escort them once, and do not show them the map!"
     "Smart", grunted Segestes as he drained the bowl.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Vikings in the Arctic has an article about determining that a 1000 year old Inuit stone pot found on Baffin Island was actually a crucible Viking traders used to melt bronze for casting ornaments.

Makes the Alexandria Runestone  less implausible, but still fake

Friday, November 21, 2014

Soloplay - CotMA Va - Coda

In doing the accounting after the last foray, I noticed that one of the scrolls they recovered was Explosive Runes.  That's not an ACK's spell, so I looked up the definition from ADD 1e.  A mage has a 5% chance per level to notice the runes.  Myrphines rolled a 54 -BOOM!  The details were recorded in this letter to S. Cornelies Cethgi, the Publican (Tax Farmer) for Epirus Nova from his son Tertius.

                                                                                                              Scodra, Illyria - Kal. Dec.

    I am in Scodra at the request of Lactitus, the local king, to discuss trade opportunities.  Despite being part of Illyrium, Scodra is separated from it's cities by rough mountains, while the plain opens to the south towards Epidamnus and Apollonia.

   Rest assured that even in my absence our mercator, Fronieus, will have departed from Apollonia on the Pride of Corcyra no later than today.  He has over 1500 amphora of dried fruit and fortified wines for Aqueleia.  We should make a good profit from that trip, not just from the traders of Noricum but even from the Germans and perhaps the Sagitarii.  For I have heard that traffic along the Amber Road is higher this year.  I have even encountered a grim German here in Scodra!
     From our point of view, Lactitius' most attractive product is a freshwater eel, from the large lake the city is situated upon.  I have had it served several ways, the pickled was the most palatable.  At most this will be a modest increase in the cargoes we send north.  I suspect it might be more attractive in Syracuse and Utica where their firey dishes will mask it's rather greasy taste.
  However, while visiting here I have come across not only an opportunity for profit, but also a chance to bedevil old G. Hirtus, who has the tax farm for Illyrium.  The day of my arrival there was a terrible explosion and fire in an inn called the Unhappy Banker (no one in our family!)  It turned out that some Corinthian (I thought Mummius Achaicus had sold all of them) mage had destroyed part of the building - and himself.  Speaking with his companions, including the afore mentioned German, through one of their retainers who spoke excellent Latin, I discovered that they had recently returned from an expedition under Gentius' old castle, just outside of town.  And that they had each brought out hundreds of gold and silver coins, even the retainers had been lavishly rewarded.  Apparently, old Appius Claudius failed to bring home much of the treasure.
    Here in lays the opportunity I have broached with Lactitius.  He pays his taxes through G. Hirstus as part of the Illyrian tax farm.  Hirstus does not know of the increased revenue and having based his tax gatherers in Issus and scattered through the mountains, only visits Scodra once a year to collect.
  I am also attempting to place an agent with this group, I have sent to Hellieon in Epidamnus, he has a son who has come of age and has skills that would be useful to the German and his companions. Having an agent in the group will ensure that we do not miss levying the tax on any major treasure the group brings out.  I'll offer his son 1% of the additional taxes as a reward.

AcrocorintoWanting to date the letter is what prompted me to develop the calendar page,which I have now made dynamic and added recurring events.  The comment about Mummius Achaicus refers to the sack of Corinth in 146 BC, at the prompting of Roman mercantile interests.  The picture is of the ruins of the Acrocorinth or fortress.