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 Miststücks' 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

Medievalists.net 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.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Calendars Old and New

The 1e DMG has a stern admonition on tracking time "YOU CAN NOT HAVE A MEANINGFUL CAMPAIGN IF STRICT TIME RECORDS ARE NOT KEPT."  Emphasis in the original

I never have.

In retrospect, part of it is the way my college group played - we did the modules and one shot adventures, never a mega-dungeon.  That type of episodic playing allows the group to hand wave the time accounting.  You adventure until you've cleaned out the local dungeon and then some undefined time later you're at the next dungeon having done your training and leveled up.  Don't get me wrong, it's nature and nurture that made me avoid doing the forensic accounting of strict timekeeping.  I don't want to fiddle with anymore paperwork than I have to, and as long I stick to running adventures for the group I can get away with not tracking time.

But now I'm running through Castle of the Mad Archmage, building a corner of my setting around it and time tracking has become important for determining when a room gets re-stocked and when background events occur.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014


Hack & Slash did a nice post on dungeon restocking in answer to a question from a reader.  And I have to say, I don't do restocking, mainly because most of the adventures I run are one shots and there isn't enough time for anything to creep back into the area between forays by the party.

In my soloplay with Castle of the Mad Archmage, I'm attempting to follow the restocking rules that +Joseph Bloch wrote into the mega-dungeon.  But those come down to after awhile the creatures will be replaced by something similar*.  That's pretty broad and leads us to the point of Hack & Slash's post.  There are a couple ways you can approach it.   You can come up with some sort of random stocking tables, such as a vermin table to determine what moves in after you kill the fire beetles in Room 27.  It doesn't need to be limited to just insects and arachnids, any sort of non-intelligent creature would do.  The second way is to have or steal a good idea and run with it.  I'm in the midst of doing that.  The party recently cleaned out the bandits on the surface, leaving me with the question 'What, besides more bandits, has a role similar to the bandit's role in he dungeon?'  The first step is determining what the bandits' role is in the dungeon - stealing the characters ill-gotten hard earned loot.  Now most humanoids and demi-human can be cast in that role, in fact that's what the dwarves and elves in the first level do.  But a group of orcs inhabiting a castle just a couple miles outside of town, sort of begs for the town to clean them out in the interest of hygiene and public safety.  Then I had what to me is a good idea.  Replace the bandits with tax collectors aka government backed bandits, pulls money out of the campaign, creates incentive for the characters to find alternate means of egress or practice hiding their loot.

One of the esteemed Mr Bloch's rules is that dead characters have a chance of rising as undead. Not exactly the same as re-stocking as whatever killed them is probably still there, nut an idea that I shall shamelessly steal when running other dungeons.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Soloplay - CotMA V - Befriend & Disruption

Continuing the exploration of the Castle of the Mad Archmage

Myrphines Ektomias - scion of the Heraclidae.  Recently castrated by a bandit
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

Scene: Returning the body of Thekitor to the dwarves in accordance with his last wishes.  Dwarven leader will volunteer another spy to accompany them.
Chaos Level 5, Roll 2 - Interrupt scene.  I've got nothing in mind and the opening is already set by the cliffhanger ending last time - a situation that Mythic doesn't anticipate.  Random Event: Action 22 - Befriend; Subject  62 - Disruption.

Interrupt Scene:  Unnoticed by the party, a large force of kobolds, accompanied by a giant weasel has crept up the passage and rushed into the open door right behind the party.  (Disruption) Assuming the some of the dwarves and party members survive, the party will be considered friends by the dwarves.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Neunage Affen or Lamprey Ape

Lamprey Ape
Breaking the sealed door and opening it allows a miasma of rotting fish to roll out of the chamber. A vision in pink awaits the party, but it's a vision that makes the characters wish for darkness to descend. From it's clawed toes to the tips of it's enormous flapping ears the ape-like body is pink. All shades of pink from bright fluorescent to the pink of blood spilled in water twist and writhe across patches of hair, scales and seamed wrinkly hide. From the center of it's triangular head, a single malevolent green eye balefully stare at you over the lamprey mouth dripping a disgusting yellow ichor on the scuffed out lines of the restraining pentagram.

Pathfinder Stats
XP 1,600
CE Large Aberration
Init +2; Senses darkvision 60 ft., low-light vision, scent; Perception +8


AC 19, touch 12, flat-footed 16; (+3 Dex, +7 natural, –1 size)
hp 63 (6d8+36)
Fort +11, Ref +4, Will +3


Speed 30 ft.
Melee bite +8 (1d4+5) + ichor, 2 tentacles +8 (1d6+5)
Space 10 ft.; Reach 10 ft.
Special Attacks rend (2 claws, 1d6+7)

Bite—injury; save Will DC 17; frequency 1/round for 6 rounds; effect become confused for 1 round. A creature that fails 5 saves in a row becomes permanently insane, as per the insanity spell ; cure 2 consecutive saves
save Fort DC 17 1 time. Effect – an egg is injected in the victim. If the initial Fort save is failed. Another one must be made the next day. Success means the egg failed to implant, failure means that the egg will hatch in 21 + 1d10 days, the larvae eating its way out of the host.


Str 21, Dex 14, Con 23, Int 6, Wis 9, Cha 6
Base Atk +4; CMB +10; CMD 22
Feats Intimidating Prowess, Iron Will, Skill Focus (Perception)
Skills Intimidate +9, Perception +8

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Game Report - Dangerous Statues: Part Deux

8 point buck outside the window as we
started.  Deer season opener is
next Saturday.
 Only three of our regulars made it up for gaming on Saturday.  Had to do an alternate location at Domus Thompsonii, as our usual host, who plays the elvish wizard/thief, was in South Carolina at Honorcon.  After giving the players a choice between continuing where they left off, doing one of two one offs or trying Castle of The Mad Archmage using ACKS, they (as the title of this post indicates) chose to finish off their current adventure.

The elf having inexplicably wandered off the party was reduced to the Tilean fighter, the Dwarf Magus and the dwarf monk with his human henchman of the clerical persuasion.  Prior to starting I informed the monk's player that his henchwoman, when encountering uncouth behavior would use her 0 level 'Create Water' on the offending character, like a squirt gun on a cat.  He asked if she could do it as ice water and I magnanimously agreed.

Faced with a choice of going after the Swamp Witch or returning to the trap door in Crow's Hill, they decided to do the door first.  After an uneventful journey, they returned to the octagonal room with the red granite floor and walls covered with archaic holy symbols.  Lacking the thief they used brute force and a crow bar to open the trap door, discovering a shaft with a ladder  leading down to a stone door inscribed 'Correus, Fidelis Custos'.  Despite the a couple of the players being former altar boys, they couldn't decipher the dog latin.  They did guess had something to do with faith or fidelity, but that was as close as they got.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Old School Isn't Just Fun and Games

Spotted on the web -

The Old-School Cassette Player That's Connected to Spotify

Now I don't stream music, (I will admit to cruising with a Walkman in college, but hey, you're stupid then, that's why you go to school), and the Sailor, the Marine and their brother will snort beer out their noses if anyone calls me a hipster.

But hats off to Matt Brailsford for a cool case mod re-purposing a piece of kit that was new with D&D.  My only question is where does he get the cassettes to record his playlists?

Epic Safety Video & Viral Marketing Campaign

The Troll Dens has the Air New Zealand safety video.  Go watch now.  Then see if you can afford to book a ticket.

Not So Virgin Lands

The Wandering Gamist has a thoughtful post on Why It's Unexplored, looking at reasons why the PCs are the first (known) explorers in a hex crawl campaign.

I' have comments on a couple of the scenarios and one of my own that could be a playable campaign.
  • Cataclysm
    • A catastrophe has torn the land asunder.  It's scary out there, and all our maps are wrong.
    • Unfortunately, this sounds like something a competent army would put scouts on immediately.  Unless the army were busy suppressing riots in the capital, I suppose.  But in that case, there is an urban game to be had.  The other case is "the land has been torn asunder and we're right in the middle of it, and have no idea if the next town over is even still there.  There is no army, besides the garrison in the tower, and they'll be staying here thanks."  Problem: where do new and replacement PCs come from?

There is a false premise here, that fantasy/medieval armies operate like modern armies.  During the Napoleonic Wars, just over two hundred years ago, the Austrian Army noted that it's maps and knowledge of the south German states was so poor that it could be compared to their knowledge of America.  The recruits of the time were the dregs of society, even in Prussia the more economically valuable trades were exempted from conscription.  So any skilled work like scouting had to be performed by the officers.  At least up through the American Civil War, West Point's curriculum emphasized drawing and surveying for that reason.  Which made it's graduates very attractive to all the little railroad companies starting up at the time. And let's not forget that the European officers of the time were the privileged sons of nobility or at least those whose families were wealthy enough to purchase commissions - not exactly the best and the brightest.

  • Hadrian's Wall
    • The natural response of a decaying empire to Hostile Natives - throw a wall up, they can do whatever they please on that side.
    • Provides a very tangible boundary between civilization and wilderness.
    • Unfortunately very in vogue at the moment, what with the Game of Thrones.
You can add natural features such as rivers to this entry.  The Rhine/Danube boundary was the long term frontier for the Roman Empire.  Long before it began to decay, the rivers served as the boundaries of it's armies.  But it would be incorrect to assume that an empire has forted up behind such a feature; conquest is a matter of logistics.  Caesar's account of the Gallic War has several episodes where he is concerned about getting enough supplies to feed his legions.  Navigable rivers such as the Rhine, Danube and Mississippi are the most efficient means of transporting commodities in pre-steam civilizations   Even looking at what most people consider the exception to the Rhine Danube boundary, the province of Dacia in modern Romania, note that Dacia, along with Germania Inferior and Superior, was limited to the watershed of the east banks of the river.

Here's another scenario

   - You won

         - Your grandfathers sacked Rome/Byzantium/New York, now you are pushing back out through the fallen empire looking for over looked scraps

       - Provides a reason for all those ruins

       - New tribes are coming into the vacuum left behind, but haven't established themselves yet.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Soloplay - CotMa IV - Now Hiring

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

The Egyptian - Landlord of the 'Old Fish', cheapest lodgings in Scodra

Ikexanlas - The town physician

Scene:  Hiring extra muscle while the barbarian recuperates and another descent into the dungeon.  Chaos 4, rolled a 6.  Scene goes as planned.

After settling into rooms at the Unhappy Banker, they sent out for the town physician, Ikexanlas, a middle aged man with thin black hair and a large mole on his left cheek.   He appeared wearing a costly tunic, disfigured with blood, wine and other impolite stains from his rounds.  He examined and cleaned Segestes' wounds, and told them he would return daily to check on him.

The other three met to discuss their next move. Midymnoios and Thekitor pushed to hire more fighting men and attack the kobolds.  It turned out Midymnoios's oath to Athena required him to hunt down and wipe out kobolds and their ilk [Goblin Slayer Proficiency].  Thekitor considered them racial enemies, no better than the other vermin occasionally found in mines.  Myrphines was undecided, but had not yet shared his vision of a restored Corinth and a humbled barbarian Rome with his new companions.  He decided to say nothing of his own goals until he knew they wouldn't betray him and acquiesced to their plan.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Lizard Volk!

JB over at B/X Blackrazor had some thoughts on lizards (he doesn't like them) and Lizardmen (which he likes).  But he was musing on the change in terminology from Lizardmen to Lizardfolk and gave his opinion that Lizardflok evoked them as a culture rather than a race.  Softening the edges you could say.  But then the thought popped into my head the Lizard Volk!  As in 'ein volk, ein reich, ein fuerher!'

Think about it, great big lizard man stormtroopers kicking your door down.   I wonder if  Achtung Cthulhu! has them in it?  The concept also reminded me of this art work for the Venusian Lizardmen Schutztruppen from Space 1889


From Lynn Carter's The Warrior of World's End

"His sizzling tubular  blade flew past her ward to strike at her head.  Even in the last extremity of effort she glided to one side, avoiding the full force of the stroke.  But the energy sword left her a glancing blow on the temple.
     The numbing electric shock wrung the strength from her. Stunned and reeling, she let her longsword fall from nerveless fingers.  She crumpled to her knees, fighting against the impalpable darkness that surged up to drown her consciousness.  Then a sword point struck her unguarded brow.  The shock of it drove splinters of incandescence through her brain and she fell to one side and knew no more."

The electro-sword has a tubular 'blade' with a conventionally shaped ceramic hilt.  Despite having two blunt points or prongs on the tip, it is a bludgeoning weapon that does 1d4-1 damage on a hit.  It's power lies in the disabling electrical shock it delivers with each successful attack.  If you're system has a Hit Location mechanic use it, or use the following chart to determine hit location and effect,

Roll d20LocationEffect
19-20HeadSave vs Blast /Fortitude DC 18 or fall unconscious for 2d6 minutes and staggered for an additional 4d6 minutes
16-18Left ArmSave vs Blast /Fortitude DC 16 or arm becomes numb for 3d6 rounds.  Anything in the hand is dropped.  A shield on the left arm only protect against attacks from the left.
13-15Right ArmSave vs Blast /Fortitude DC 16 or arm becomes numb for 3d6 rounds.  Anything in the hand is dropped.  A shield on the right arm only protect against attacks from the right.
11-12ChestSave vs Blast  /Fortitude DC 14 or Die as ventricular fibrillation sets in.  Add four to your die roll when saving vs Blast.
9-10AbdomenSave vs Blast /Fortitude DC 16 or your diaphragm convulses forcing the air out of your lungs.Lose all attack actions for the next 3d4 rounds.  Plus you are flatfooted for the first three rounds as you gasp for air.
5-8Left LegSave vs Blast /Fortitude DC 16 or your leg becomes numb for 3d6 rounds.  Make a balance check DC 16 or fall.  No combat maneuvers or tumbling may be done while your leg is numb.   Lose half your Dexterity adjustment to AC and -1 to melee damage as you concentrate on staying upright.
1-4Right LegSave vs Blast /Fortitude DC 16 or your leg becomes numb for 3d6 rounds.  Make a balance check DC 16 or fall.  No combat maneuvers or tumbling may be done while your leg is numb.   Lose half your Dexterity adjustment to AC and -1 to melee damage as you concentrate on staying upright.

Critical Hit - save as for a Chest hit.  If the origial hit was to the Chest, save again.

These weapons are especially sensitive to sundering.  A successful Sunder will cause 3d6 damage to everyone within 5 feet.

Metal armor makes it easier to receive a shock, for every two points of protection provided to the defender by metal armor, attacks with the electro-sword receive a +1 attack bonus. No modification to damage.  For example in ACKS, Plate Armor is AC 6, Electro-swords attacking someone wearing Plate Armor receive a +3 Attack Bonus.

Electro-swords hold up to twenty charges.  Recharging them is the stuff of legend, some say they can only be recharged by slaying a blue dragon, others say they require new 'batteries' a strange power device from across time and space, another says they need to be planted in the sunlight like flowers and Petocles the Mad claims you just rub them with cats.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Oddest Places

I was searching for information on Zverts - my search term was 'monster zvert' - and Mr Google threw up this a link to this document.

What's odd about it is that it's from USAF SAMSO TR 78-57 on GPS Navigation Algorithms from May of 1977.   I don't remember seeing the Navy including footnoted myths in technical documentation, but then I was a ship driver, not a wing wiper.

Book Report - The Warrior of World's End

Lin Carter was the last of the great? pulp sci-fi/fantasy writers.  At least the last one I read with any consistency.I started picking up odd volumes of his when I was in high school, these aren't great literature, but they are (usually) fun reads.

This is the first volume of his World's End series, following the career of one Ganelon Silvermane.  Despite it being a series, the books are essentially standalone volumes. I picked up the third or fourth book in the series first and didn't find any of the others until sometime in the last five years.

Ganelon isn't a human, rather he is a construct of the mysterious Time Lords (no I don't know if Carter had been to England and caught the first Doctor on the telly, but the timeline would be right).  Released from his vault fully grown but with the mind of a new born, he is found and adopted by Phelsco the Godmaker and his wife during the Eon of the Falling Moon.

In quick order (the book is only 151 pages) he almost singlehandedly defeats a horde of 60,000 rampaging Indigons, is apprenticed to the Illusionist of Nerelon to escape being sent to serve the The Queen of Red Magic, is captured sold in slavery, escapes while rescuing the nubile Sirix Xarda, girl-knight of Jemmerdy and saves the Tigermen from the Airmasters of Sky Island and their Death Machine (all capitalized terms from the book).  It's a quick romp through a gonzo future and Ganelon's adventures are just starting.

I give it three skulls for the writing and the fourth because it consciously and conspicuously  lacks all seriousness.

Let the Players Tell the Story

Gnome Stew has a post Don't Describe Combat that somewhat tangentially makes this point.  Encourage the player to describe the final blow, it immerses them into your narrative and develops the character.  Obviously, the first time you ask some players may look at you funny and say "I stick it with my sword/Blast it with my ray gun", a follow on question about macabre details should prompt them to be more creative the next time.  It's really good advice to add more places where the players can add to the narrative and I'm hoping to remember this piece for my next session.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Alternative Means of Interring Vampires

Here's a brief survey of some folk remedies for keeping the dead quiet.

Bulgaria - iron stake through the left side of the chest PLUS removal of the lower left leg.  Apparently it makes them tip over when they try to hop after you.

Bulgaria - bind the hands of the dead

Romania - remove the heart of the corpse

Italy - put a brick in the corpse's mouth so they can't feed

Poland  - cut off the head and bury it between the legs.

Colonial America - bury the head in skull & crossbones position (not sure how you do that without complete dismemberment)

The source of these is a Daily Beast article, which is fitting as we're talking fantasy.  [Trigger warning: Do not read the article if you are easily offended by incoherent grammar, fifth grade level factual mistakes (Thracian is the name for the historical inhabitants of Bulgaria, not the name of a city) and/or use of the word ancestors to describe descendants of people previously alive.]

Another Take on Stymphalian Birds

Follow Me and Die has posted his version of Stymphalian Birds for Ad&D.  I really like the shooting bronze feathers as arrows.  But I thought they were encountered in mountains rather than swamps and forests.  Well, variety is the spice of life.  My take on the little beasties is here.  You can find all of Hercules labors on Tuft's Perseus site

Monday, October 13, 2014

Soloplay CotMA III - Of Ghosts and Vision

Myrphines - scion of the Heraclidae
Midymnoios Moncheri - Paladin of Athena, called One Hand after losing his left to a carnivorous fly
Thekitor - dwarven delver
Segestes - Barbarian warrior of the Harii.  Came south along the Amber Road.

The Egyptian - Landlord of the 'Old Fish', cheapest lodgings in Scodra

They remained in the noisome inn while the paladin recovered from his maiming and while they considered their options.  Myrphines decided to sell the ring they had discovered in the dungeon in order to finance a move to more salubrious quarters and to purchase a weapon Midmymnoios could wield one handed.  Afterwards they would enter the dungeon following Myrphine's map.

Chaos 5.  Rolled a 1 Altered scene - the party goes to sell the ring and re-equip as originally planned but they encounter a pickpocket along the way.  the first level thief rolled an 18 on the pickpocket check and the target was randomly determined to be Segestes the barbarian.  He never felt it as the Silver Wrist band was slipped from his arm.

 Thekitor took them to a jeweler in Fire Beetle Lane, who he said his cousin had recommended.  Selling the ring put 67 gold in Myrphine's purse (Thekitor lost his Bargain roll resulting in a 10% loss in value).  Then they went to the smithies by Bridgegate to purchase a spear and shield for the paladin.  When they returned Segestes gave an oath - one of the silver bracelets he had won on his journey had been stolen from his arm.  Perhaps it had been the Epriot barmaid while they were listening to the Scordisci tell the tale of the Grand Druid in Gaul whose daughter is a tree, or man who had tripped and bumped into him outside the jewelers.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Navy Commissions First Death Cultist Chaplain

The Sailor,  my eldest,  sent me this link from Duffel Blog this morning.  Fortunately,  I didn't receive the text until after I had finished speaking at my own local chapter of the Esoteric Order of Dagon; otherwise I don't think I'd have been able to deliver my talk without laughing.

Friday, October 10, 2014

How Big is that Town?

Urban Population Density in Antiquity
I like the world building aspect of gaming. That's probably the biggest attraction for me to being a DM is to be able to create campaigns and settings. But one of the unanswered questions in all of the RPG materials I have picked up over the years is how big is the town? Not in terms of population size, that goes back at least to AD&D, but in terms of area. Not surprisingly, this is dependent on the type of civilization you are modeling. As Scheidel says concerning urbanization rates in his paper Roman population size: the logic of the debate "we must allow for the possibility that direct analogies between urbanization levels in antiquity and in later periods may simply be irrelevant because they seek to equate conditions in two very different environments: Greek and Roman societies, with their poleis and civitates that fused cities with their respective hinterlands, [than] post-Roman Europe, with its much more pronounced boundaries between city and countryside" Given that caveat, I did some research based on the area figures of classical cities mostly from Ancient Town Planning by Francis Haverfield, generate a correlation between population and area that can then be used as a guideline when constructing urban areas.

For those of you who would prefer not to wade through the numbers below the jump, heres the outcome.
Cities - 326 persons per hectare or 330 ft2 per person
Towns - 233 persons per hectare or 462 ft2 per person

Note that this includes roads, alleys, public buildings and spaces, so the actual size of living quarters will be much smaller.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Game Report - Dangerous Statues

  The party having been half wiped out last time in a massacre that I couldn't face putting down in pixels, safely arrived in Altdorf where they were rejoined by the dwarven magus left behind in Smalplotz and joined by a dwarven monk they had encountered on the road from Nuln.

They were referred to one Conrad Vraßlin, a wealthy art lover. He showed them his collection of statutes, demonstrating the difference between human art and the realism of petrification by basilisk and cockatrice. Having heard of a petrified bear near the village of Rettindorf, he offered the party 2000 gold apiece, 10% up front,  to retrieve it for him.

[I realized that with composition of the party having become elf, dwarf, dwarf, human and one more dwarf who couldn't make it Saturday, that my hopes of running a converted Enemy Within Campaign were gone.  The remaining human has clearly identified himself as Tilean; which makes using the character as the object of the mistaken identity central to Enemy Within, simply too much of a stretch. Such is the fate of all DM's plans.]

After a bit of a false start where the party expected the patron to provide logistical support beyond the earnest money, they split up to equip themselves for the expedition.  The dwarven magus set out to the College of Noble Sorcery, where he encountered a rather bent apprentice, who agreed to sell two salves of Stone to Flesh, the apprentice even agreed to allow the dwarf to purchase them at a 25% discount - of course the dwarf did agree to pay 50% interest on the remainder.  After all the apprentice has assumed the entire risk that his master will discover the shenanigans, he also offered to buy parts and especially any eggs.   The elf went off and purchased a wagon and team and hired a driver.  The dwarven monk, after inquiring on the cost of a wand of Cure Moderate Wounds, decided it would be cheaper to hire a henchman - or in this case - hench-woman, as the die roll determined.  So a yet to be christened Cleric of Myrmidia was added to the troupe.

Arriving in the thorpe of Rettindorf, a half a dozen sturdy houses on the Steinwasser, I proceeded to punish the players for not taking note of the name of the local nobleman they erroneously thought they needed to find by having Old Lanzo the drunken swineherd creatively misunderstand every question the elf and monk asked.  In the midst of that confusion, the village herbalist approached the magus and the fighter from the other end of the 'town' to welcome them.  Which set Old Lanzo off accusing the herbalist of being in league with the 'Swamp Witch', while the herbalist explained that he had driven off a force of bugbears with some 'special knowledge' (keeping in mind that unlicensed magic is a terminal illness in the Empire.)  The elf's player rolled a Sense Motive check and announced that he believed the herbalist, the other players rolled their's and I refused to tell them what the rolls meant - because this is role playing damnit, the players need to decide what their characters believe and do.  Having gotten the players in the right state of uncertainty, I relented and gave them the gist of what the characters had learned.  Most of the adult men in the area had been summoned away to fight with their lord, Freiherr Harderer.  Stone creatures had been reported by some local hunters (who seemed to have gone missing since), but no one was sure if they had been seen at The Table or at Crows Hill.  No one had seen this Swamp Witch, who the herbalist urbanely explained was a figment of the villagers uneducated imaginations.  While the swineherd insisted the herbalist was in league with her.  The party did a little local exploring and then retired to the herbalist's house for the night, despite the warnings from the swineherd that it was a trap.  They were cautious and set watches - the dwarf magus in particular watched the herbalist walk out during the last watch, with the muttered explanation that some of the plants had to be gathered with the dawn.

   A couple of hours after dawn the herbalist returned and after an argument at one of the houses, dragged a sullen lad of some 13 summers by the name of Rupecht, who he announced would guide them to The Table and Crows Hill.  The party having decided not to look into the reports of the Swamp Witch.  As they went along they explained to the lad what sort of creatures could turn animals into stone.  Rupecht suggested that perhaps they should go back instead of hunting them.  But they jollied him into continuing to accompany them with the assurance that they would tell him when to run.  The Table turned out to be a stone slab covered in a blood red lichen, except for an off center patch the size of a hand that was covered with weathered chips and scratches.  Completely non-magical, but searching did turn up a petrified mouse in the rock pile below the slab.

Afterwards they set off for Crows Hill, which turned out to be a barren mound in the next valley.  They did find a number of very lifelike statues, including one of a rather ticked off bear, when the dwarf magus noticed something moving in the grass.  Rupecht willingly took off for home at their suggestion and the dwarf monk tried to sneak around whatever was making the noise so that he could avoid it's gaze.  Unfortunately, he found himself staring into the eyes of the cockatrice; which of course have no effect, the petrifaction being linked to the bite attack.  After a brief combat where in no one was turned to stone, the party had a discussion on how to transport the bear and several petrified deer, as the paths they had come in on were impassible to the wagon while the dwarf magus gutted the cockatrice.  Various schemes to use levitation and Tenser's Floating Disk were discussed, but the party didn't have the spells prepared to essay the task.

The party decided to scout around and see if there were more of the foul creatures they could harvest and of course hope to find a nest.  Which they did in the tangle of roots of a fallen tree at the top of the hill.  A henatrice was sitting in a nest of petrified twigs on a stone shelf.  Again they dispatched it without much danger and even manged to avoid smashing her egg.  The dwarves noticed that the stone shelf had been worked by tools and that there was an opening they could crawl through into the top of the hill.  Crawling through, they found a large domed chamber with a hole in the floor, the elf quickly made it a two-holer, when part of the floor gave way underneath him.  He didn't fall through, but they did hear a scuttling sound from the chamber below.  The dwarves decided that floor collapsed because he was an elf, but weren't sure about who built it.  With choice of really rotten dwarven workmanship or very good human work using imitate dwarven techniques, they opted for 'Pretty good work for amateurs'.

With two humans in the dome, the cleric cast her light spell which revealed the walls are painted with scenes of a man interacting with a horned, bearded man and a woman next to a tree.  First greeting then taking his leave of them.  The party figured out that the horned man and the woman were the Old Gods, Taal and Rhea, their cupidity was piqued by the jeweled torque and bracers the man wore.  About this time, the cleric got fed up with the elf's unsubtle innuendos and the human fighter's suggestion she cast two light spells on her breastplate and have headlights - and left the party in the dark.  The players were a little taken aback, as we've always been somewhat crude, but I pointed out they were treating the henchman as a piece of paper, rather than an NPC they had to deal with.  The fighter finally remembered that he had a sword that shed light, so they didn't need her spell.

Looking down the hole, they found that there were three cave scorpions in the chamber below, the elf considered casting acid fog off a scroll they had found, but decided that the spell level was too high to be worth the risk.  In the end the dwarf magus used the flaming sphere spell he had used to blow up the airship to kill the scorpions.  Descending to the large circular chamber below, they found it had a large exit to the east and a small closed door to the north west.  This chamber too, was decorated with scenes of the same hero, accompanied by a large snake and several companions.

The large exit opened into an odd triangular room, with stone walls and a packed earth roof, which sloped down to the floor thirty feet away.  The walls were painted with scenes of the hero as a young man forging a spear.  There was a glint of gold in the jumble of bones down at the narrow end, the room had an aura of necromatic magic.  The elf cautiously went in to investigate the gold, which turned out to be a pair of gilded ox horns, intact, not hollowed out.  He showed them to the party then thrust them into his pouch, claiming them.  This of course triggered the skeleton of the thief cursed to lust for these baubles, to reform with a rapid clicking and attack.  The elf quickly put it down and backed up, watching the bones, which reformed and attacked and were defeated again.  And then the dwarf magus did something I never expected, he announced he was taking the leg bones out of the room.  I had written in that the skeleton wouldn't pursue out of the triangular room as the limit of the curse - my players probably doubt it, but I really enjoy it when they do something unforeseen.  Temporarily stumped, I decided that the skeleton would reform, but if defeated outside of the room, it would be permanently slain.  Of course, this meant the skeleton reformed on the leg bones the dwarf was holding up in his hands, and since the dwarf was holding it, the dwarf was flat footed.  Alas, it availed the hapless skeleton not, and the dwarf quickly dashed it on the floor.

Deciding to continue their foray into the dungeon, the monk decided at this point he should go and make amends with his henchman, as they didn't have anything but a partially charged wand of Cure Light Wounds which they could occasionally make work.  Afterwards they investigated the door and entered into a chamber containing a sarcophagus on an elaborately carved bier.  The walls in this room were painted with scenes similar to those in the dome, but here the man was only shown as an outline.  Leading to speculation that the painter was attempting to show the being becoming invisible ala Space Ghost. [Damn, we're old. We were talking about the original Space Ghost cartoon series, not the Robot Chicken Space Ghost.]  With trepidation, the party opened the sarcophagus to discover it contained a skeleton wearing a jeweled torque and bracers, with a rusty spear head on a rotting shaft.The party picked up on the disconnect between the scene of the spear being forged and the contents of the sarcophagus, doing a quick appraisal of the jewelry, they determined it was gold foil on lead with paste gems.  [They never checked the skeleton, otherwise they would have figured out it was female.]   This lead the dwarf magus to start searching the bier for secret compartments, what he found was a carved spear that moved, pulling the head out caused the bier to grind out of the way revealing a hitherto hidden staircase.

Fighting the zombie boa constrictor
The door at the bottom of the stairway opened into a round rotunda having open arches to the right and left and a door on the other side.  The dwarves determined that they were probably back under the main chamber and dome at this time.  The left hand arch opened into a room that contained sections of trees wedged between the floor and ceiling, their branches interlocking about five feet above the floor.  Miraculously, the leaves on the branches were just beginning to droop.  The whole room had an aura of necromatic magic.  The right hand arch opened into a room with several coffins and scenes painted on the walls.  The party left the elf to watch the tree room, while they went in and made short work of some zombies.  The paintings showed the hero ad individual companions doing significant deeds and the manner of the companion's demise.  Usually at the tentacles and maw of a strange creature with an ape like body with foxy head and huge ears.  Deciding that the apelike being must be in the room with the trees, the dwarf magus cautiously advanced into it and was surprised when the zombie boa constrictor dropped out of the trees onto him instead. Dispatching it, the party turned to the door, unsuccessful in opening it the old fashioned way, they resorted to spending a charge on their Chime of Opening.  Inside they found an octagonal room, floored in red granite containing a locked trap door in the floor.  At this point they decided they should return to Rettindorf for the night.

It was late and they didn't catch up to Rupecht until moon-rise.  Sadly, what they caught up to was the remains of his tortured body.  They quickly deduced from the herbalist's story of driving off a party of bugbears and bugbears' known proclivity for torture, that bugbears working for the Swamp Witch had done it - and that the herbalist had probably told them where to go!  Hot for revenge, they decided to track the nefarious goblinoids.  What followed was the second most surprising series of die rolls I've ever seen.  The party has no (surviving) rangers, but the monk had a few points in Survival skill.  His player made at least 10 rolls, only one of which was under an adjusted 20.  And that one was a 16.  He successfully tracked the bugbears when the changed paths and when they left the path and cut through the woods to intersect another path at a deserted cabin.

From the spoiled pelts and general lack of cleanliness of the cabin, the party deduced that it belonged to the missing hunters from the area.  Figuring that the path they had intersected went back to the village in one direction, they followed it in the other direction.  Soon, the came upon a stand of pines and spotted two figures with crossbows hiding in the shadows.  The dwarf monk attempted to sneak up and in karmatic justice for his tracking rolls - rolled a one, snapping a dry branch like a gunshot.  The figures didn't react, and they soon realized that they were statues of two hunters that had been smeared with mud to disguise the stone.  Fearing that the Swamp Witch is a medusa they advanced cautiously up the trail to a point where a smaller trail intersected it.  A quick track check by the bloodhound dwarf monk found signs of recent passage on the smaller trail.  Changing direction, they went twenty feet up it until it turned around a dense bush and they saw it came to an end  - or rather the rest of the party saw the monk disappear into the pit trap.

Retracing their steps, they proceeded up the main trail to a group of squalid huts surrounding a large fire ring with prominent roasting spit.  The party immediately decided it was big enough to roast humans, with out my describing it that way - interesting.  At this point the ambushing bugbears launched a salvo of pretty ineffective javelins, then charged into melee.  The elf took out two on the end with color spray, leaving them blinded and staggered.  The rest of the party began trading hacks with the bugbears.  The bugbear sergeant having hung back, immediately charged the elf who had revealed himself as a magic user.  The dwarf monk and his clerical sidekick double teamed one, while two others double teamed the human fighter.  The fighter quickly polished his off, while the cleric fell to her foe.  The monk at this point was completely ineffective, having blown all of his luck for the night on the tracking rolls.  After a few rounds of ineffectively hacking at the elf and being unable to disrupt his casting, the sergeant ducked behind the now no longer stunned bugbears and commenced a fighting retreat with his remaining forces, one of whom was quickly cut down, while the elf kept poking the other with a rapier; several rounds later it died - death from a thousand holes.  When the sergeant fled, the dwarf magus, being without a foe at the time, nailed him in the back with magic missile.  The bugbear stumbled out of sight and was heard crashing in the bushes.  The dwarf magus pursued and fell over the body, resulting in bruised dignity and one point of damage to his beard from skidding along the forest floor.

Out of spells and dinged up, they decided to retreat to the village ad rest - when they realized they hadn't recovered the boy's body.  They had to return to the village and go back out on the trail they had used the day before rather than risk getting lost in the woods.  So about mid-morning they returned to the village with their sad burden.  And proceeded to tell a cock and bull story about having been fighting the bugbears when the boy was killed.  Old Lanzo invited them over for a private chat while they dug the grave and pointing out that the boy's wounds were from knives, not swords or morningstars, asked them to tell the truth.  They admitted they had been fighting cockatrices when the boy ran, but omitted to say that they had told him to, nor did they discuss what they had been doing between the fight and going to look for him.  Still it was close enough to satisfy the old drunk, but he did make a suggestion that they be generous towards the lad's mother as she was a widow, now deprived of her child.

We broke at that point.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Friday - Oh Beer Thirty coming up

Flying Dog Barrel Aged Gonzo Imperial Porter

Went to North Dakota last weekend to return the former Marine his laundry, see his new place and the campus and had a close encounter of the beer kind.  Dark, rich and just a bit chocolaty,  an excellent accompaniment to a burger and fries it will stand up well to smoked meats.  But probably be over powering for most chicken and fish.

Flying Dog Brewery is out of Frederick MD, this is one of their limited distribution beers which made it out to Grand Forks, ND.  Kind of blows your mind when you think about the logistics involved. 

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Balcony in the Campo, St. Benedetto, Venice

Another drawing from John Ruskin's The Seven Lamps of Architecture .

Who will emerge onto this balcony, a maiden needing help to escape her family or Saruman?

Monday, September 29, 2014

Tracery from the Campanile of Giotto at Florence

In trolling through Project Gutenburg, I've found several books with architectural drawings.  I'll post the images that strike me as being evocative and useful to a DM who needs an inspiration or wants to provide a description of what the players see.

Source: John Ruskin's The Seven Lamps of Architecture.
Campanile is Italian for bell tower.  Imagine your players chasing a thief through the tower as the bells begin to toll.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Soloplay - Castle of the Mad Archmage II - Flies by Night

   Myrphines lay on the pallet and thought about failure, his failure.  His companions had been killed and he had run.  Gontus had been a family retainer since he was a lad and had been sent to Alexandria with him as a servant and bodyguard.  He'd met Trinor in the library there, researching the beliefs of an obscure Coele-Syrian cult, they'd been friend for years.  Altites, of course, troubled him not at all.  Merely a local thief he had hired as a guide and probably a spy to boot.
     At least he could sell the ring they'd found and find better quarters than the 'Old Fish'.  The price had been right for a near penniless exile, one gold stater bought the cramped room for a month; but the smell from Senedj's real business of buying up the last of the day's catch and selling it to farmers as fertilizer - and unsuspecting travelers as fish stew, permeated the neighborhood.
[Chaos factor = 6, rolled a 4.  Interrupt scene.  I had been planning on just going into the dungeon with the new characters, but decided this would be the meet and greet scene.  I rolled story cubes and didn't get any ideas, so I checked the background event table and rolled 59 - Monster Appears.]
     A droning in the background grew in volume until it filled his ears, as a strong breeze began blowing through the myriad cracks in the old door.  He heard cursing and the sound of doors opening in the hallway.  Grabbing his ave, he swung open the door to find the other occupants of the short hall doing the same.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Good Reads

Saw these over lunch today and thought I'd link out and give a big Bravo Zulu to The Mad Adventurers Society.  They're postings on handling prejudice against gamers that you might run into out in what we laughingly call 'the real world'.  It's not something that I've run into much in the last couple of decades, of course I was out of gaming for awhile due to life and duty stations, and since I came back in I've been in a stable albeit infrequently meeting group for the last fourteen years.

I do remember the newspaper articles from the early 80's, may even have been the fall of '79 about D&D and devil worship.  When I was stationed out in Virginia Beach, I recall that the controversy was getting so much press that I wrote a letter to the editor myself debunking some of the BS that was being spewed.

So here's  Gaming In The Wild: Culture Shock about people's reaction to gaming based on their past as being addicted to or knowing some one who was addicted to gaming.

And here's The Mad Cleric: Dealing with Intolerance about dealing with people who's religous world view prejudices them against gaming, you know the D&D = Devil Worship crowd.

The recommendations they impart go beyond dealing with prejudice against gaming to general ways to deal with people who don't agree with you due to differing past experience or philosophical assumptions.

Of course I'm a crusty old salt, so my advice is always listen to people with respect for their beliefs and don't expect them to return the courtesy.  They'll appreciate you and you won't be disappointed that way.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Solo Play - Castle of the Mad Archmage - I

Myrphines Map
Having determined how to handle NPC conversations, I'm ready to start my solo play campaign in the Castle of the Mad Archmage.  I'm editing the dungeon to fit my Epirus Nova campaign setting.  The names will be changed to something Greek-ish or Latin-ish.  I'll try to provide the canonical names from the booklet as well, just in case anyone bothers to follow along.

Result of the first play test
Write up is below the jump, but there was only one survivor.  I liked the results from my Background Events table and NPC Conversation Model.  Using Mythic for generating details on the fly works well, but does take some time.

This was my first time running ACKS, so it took some time to look up some of the mechanics.  I've been playing 3e/Pathfinder too long so were a couple of wasted hours trying to find a mechanic for Spot and Search checks.  And I wasn't consistent on remembering to check the creatures morale when they were injured or companions were killed.

Overall I'm liking ACKS clean combat mechanics, especially monster morale rules, but I need to generate a new party before the next venture.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Background Events and Rumors

   In the last two posts, Zadok and the Grocery Boy and A Modest Proposal, I mentioned that Rear Echelon NPCs are usually interested in, and want to talk about something other than the dungeon.    Normally, these conversations are irrelevant to the party and are often skipped in play.  But these are prime opportunities for the DM to inject background material that make the campaign more than a painted backdrop for the theater of the dungeon.  Often there will be little no effect on the party from learning something about the world outside the dungeon, but they may also spark players interest in the broader campaign world.  I'll let you know how it works out.

In the table below the jump, percentile dice are used to generate a Background Event.  These background events may happen locally, in the immediate region of the dungeon or somewhere else in the world.  Local events are the most likely to have an immediate impact on the players and are the only 'true' events.  When these events happen in the province or somewhere in the world at large, they should be treated as rumors.  And the further away an event took place, the more the rumor grows.  Look at the examples for War

          Local - A large force of humanoids is approaching, all free men are required to muster at the East Gate in two days.  Here we have a consequence for the party, they'll either need to go hide out in the dungeon for a couple of days until it blows over, or expend some resources in defending their base.

          Regional - Rumor of war in the province. The governor is hiring mercenaries, the Scythians are going to attack or a coalition of Illyrian tribes.  No real consequences for the party, although some players may decide they'd like to recruit a troop of warriors and get paid in gold and loot.  That's up to the campaign, how it will work out.

         World - Rumor of war in a far away land. Not just the Seleucids and Ptolomey are fighting, but the Seleucids have replaced their elephants with dragons or Ptolomey has resurrected Alexander to lead his army.  Note how the much more fantastic the rumor is than the more prosiac Local and Regional events.  Is it true? That is completely in the DM's hands.

My intention is to roll d100 for the event, then d6 to determine if it is local (-3), regional (4-5) or world (6).  That gives me a rough distribution making far away events less common.  That too may change in play as I get a better feel for how those odds work out.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

A Modest Proposal for Modeling NPC Conversations

   As I stated in my previous post, NPC interactions in solo play require a means to limit the DMs omniscience.  What I'm looking for is a system that will let me determine degree of success the party has in obtaining information and the type of information they obtain.

Degree of Success
   Way back in the 1980's when I was attending a Safety Officer course in the Navy, the instructor informed us that in the real world, plagiarism is a form of research.  He was being a little over the top, but the gist was don't reinvent the wheel, if someone is doing it right use their system instead of building one from scratch.  In the context of degree of success in gaming, I'm turning to Mythic, I consider it an invaluable resource for solo play and a great aid for regular play.  I won't go into a lot of detail, but the core of Mythic is the Fate Chart which indexes Ability (Acting Rank) against Difficulty.  It's non-system specific, so it uses adjectives instead of ability scores, here's a snippet from the table..
Difficulty Class
Acting RankAverageAbove Average
Average10  50  91 7  35  88
Above Average13  65  9410  50  91

Interpreting the table - each cell has three numbers, the center number (larger) is the target for success.  Rolling that number (on percentile dice) or below indicates success.  Rolling above the number indicates failure.  The small number in front indicates what must be thrown to achieve exceptional success, the trailing small number indicates exceptional failure.  For example, a character with Average Strength would have a 50/50 chance of smashing through a flimsy door.  Rolling anything from 11-50 indicates that the character succeeded.  Rolling from 51-90 indicates they failed but may try again.  From 01-10 is an exceptional success, smashing the door into splinters and probably gaining surprise.  From 91-00 is exceptional failure, not only is the door still intact, but they hurt themselves in the effort.

Determining Acting Rank - I'm using ACKS for solo play and it's not skill based so I'll use the character's Charisma score, with a +2 for the Diplomacy and Mystic Aura Proficiencies if they have them.  I will not give them a bonus for a high Charisma score as that is already factored into the Fate Chart.  So to transfer Ability Score (+ Proficiency) to the Fate Chart Adjectives

Ability Score+Acting Rank
7-8Below Average
13-14Above Average

Difficulty Class - Getting information is not easy, especially if the parties aren't already acquainted.  So default will be High, but I'll readily modify it for bribes, purchases or other favors done by the party for the NPC.

What Do They Learn?
Depends on the type of NPC, RENPCs (Rear Echelon NPCs) will know general answers to 1d3+1 questions.  iNPCs (NPCs living in the dungeon) will know detailed answers to 1d4+2 questions.  If which questions are being asked aren't obvious, I'll roll a d6 (1) Who, (2) What, (3) Where, (4) When, (5) Why and (6) How.

Exceptional Success
For RENPCs, they have the knowledge chances of an iNPC.  Essentially, you lucked out and asked the one guy in town who knew exactly what you wanted to find out.  For iNPCs, they know detailed answers to all questions, they may be a former ally or disaffected employee of the villain.

Exceptional Failure
For RENPCs, they make sh*t up and ask you to pay so you think it's valuable.  Don't expect to see them around if you make back out of the dungeon.  For iNPCs, they'll either tell you something to get you into trouble, like 'The door isn't trapped' or they'll immediately hie off and let the bad guy know to expect you.

What's on their mind?
The last piece is what do the NPCs want to talk about.  As I discussed in the earlier post, iNPCs want to discuss getting rid of their heavily armed visitors.  RENPCs will inform the party of Background Events and Rumors.  I'll post a generic table of those later.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Zadok and the Grocery Boy: A Tale of Two NPCs

     In HP Lovecraft's tale The Shadow Over Innsmouth , the protagonist, while visiting the town, has conversations with two NPC's: the grocery boy at the First National and Zadok Adams, the ancient town drunk. I bring these up as examples of two types of NPCs characters can interact with and of the information that can be gathered from each.
    While visiting the nation's capital after Labor Day, I was working on a way to model NPC interactions for solo play.  Traditionally, the party needs to ask the correct questions of the DM in order to gain information.  In solo play, the option is either the proverbial Chinese Wall inside your head or develop a way to model asking the questions.  Naturally, I chose to try to model it.  I wasted a lot of time building random tables based on my solo play milieu, Castle of the Mad Archmage before I realized that not only are there only six questions, but there are two types of

The six questions, as we should have learned in about fourth grade or at least in Journalism 101, are Who, What, Where, When, Why and How.  Obviously, these six basic questions have a near infinite number of permutations, but they can be used to categorize the type of information the NPC imparts.
     Who - Personal information, such as the true name of the wizard.
     What -  Consequences. What happens if I assemble the Puzzle Door?
     Where - Location, for example, of the temple of Orcus.
     When - Time of occurance
     Why - History of an object, location or person hat explains their existence or motivation.
     How - Activation words for wands or methods to get past three headed dogs.

Modeling a conversation isn't just about which of the questions can be answered, unless of course, the part has captured an NPC and are interrogating them.  Instead both sides have agendas, or topics that they want to discuss.  For the party, it is getting answers to the questions, but the NPCs are usually interested in other things.  And this leads into categorizing NPCs.

Two Kinds of NPCs
  Broadly and with an acknowledged overlap in definitions, NPCs either reside in the dungeon or outside of it. Having said that, NPCs are by nature mobile and where the encounter occurs does not necessarily dictate the kind of NPC encountered.

NPCs living inside the dungeon (iNPCs) can usually answer more of the questions and in greater detail than those living outside the dungeon.  When the party interacts with an iNPC for the first time, the iNPC's primary agenda is almost always getting rid of these heavily armed intruders who just showed up to chat.  That's not saying that they're going to make the party's attempt to get information easy, the iNPCs will always present their knowledge to protect themselves and if possible harm their rivals.  One group of orcs might tell the party truthfully that they can access the next level down a certain way, but not volunteer that they'll be traversing another group's territory. After all a fight between the party and the other orcs will at least soften up the rival group.

NPCs living outside the dungeon, or to borrow a term from the Army, Rear Echelon NPCs (RENPCs) tend to possess less detailed information and their main concerns have nothing to do with the dungeon.  Examples of RENPCs are innkeepers, clerics and merchants the party obtains goods and services from.  They may have gained incidental information from other groups of adventurers, but it's not central to their lives.

Talking to Zadok
To illustrate these concepts, lets go back to Zadok and the Grocery Boy in Innsmouth. The dungeon is the town of Innsmouth, which observant readers will note is where both of the NPCs are encountered.  Yet the Grocery Boy is a RENPC, as I said the categories are broad and location does not determine the kind of NPC encountered.  The first thing the protagonist learns from the Grocery Boy is the topic the Grocery Boy feels is most important.  He's not from Innsmouth, he rooms with a family from Ipswich and he only lives there because of the job.  Afterward he imparts information the protagonist actually wants.
     Where - a sketch map of the town and locations to be avoided.
     Who - Zadok Adams, the 94 year old town drunk can give more detailed information
     How - get Zadok liquored up and he'll talk

Old Zadok is an iNPC, having grown up in Innsmouth and witnessed it's transformation to a place of horror.  As he's a counter-culture rebel within the town, (and the protagonist is only armed with bootleg whisky) he's not trying to get rid of the protagonist right away.  After a couple of blown Gather Information skill checks on the part of the protagonist, Zadok finally provides a lot of information.
     Who - Obed Marsh, sea captain and wizard
     What - Summoned and made a pact with the Deep Ones that ended up with half the town being killed off.
     Where - Devil's Reef, visible at the mouth of the harbor is where human sacrifices take place
     When - Obed encountered the Deep Ones in the Pacific in the 1830's and took over the town in 1844.
     Why - To obtain gold for himself and good fishing for the town initially.  Later for the promise of immortality for his descendants.
     How - Throwing a carved lead tablet into the deep waters off of Devils Reef summoned the Deep Ones

Obviously, having a single NPC that could provide the entire back story was a plot device for HPL, but this still illustrates the difference in the breadth and depth of knowledge available to NPCs.  In my next post I'll detail the system, based on Mythic , which I will be using for solo play.