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.