Saturday, 16 June 2018

Creating a PC Class for Kobolds

Don't often post things so close together, but there's a discussion going on that I thought I'd record. This is a (slightly edited) series of my posts from the B/X Facebook group, where the topic of creating a PC Class for Kobolds (a B/X 'Race-as-Class') is discussed. The main point is that someone offered the opinion that Kobolds should be pretty much limited to what is in the 'monster' entry for Kobolds. I disagree and try to set out my reasoning below.


A Kobold chief has an average of 33 followers in his lair. Not sure that's really comparable to a 9th-level Fighter establishing himself as Lord of the Manor.

If you wanted to invent a 'Thief' class, and used Bandits as a base, you'd assume that max level for a Thief would be Level 2, but if you went above Level 1 you could retrain as a Fighter, Cleric or MU.

If you extrapolate from Acolytes to higher-level Clerics, you find that the maximum level for a Cleric is Level 5 and leaders fall in a curve of 40% L2, 30% L3, 20% L4 and 10% L5.

Max level for a MU ('Medium') from the Monster Lists is L3 (there are no L2 MUs).

My point here is that entries in the Monster Lists, for 'monsters that are also classes', are very sketchy as well as being underpowered (ie, what is statted is 'low level').

So if 'Kobold' is a class, then the 'Kobold' entry in the Monster List is not the whole range of what that class can do, and higher-level Kobolds are not provided for (why should they be? Your DM wants higher-powered opponents, that’s what Gnolls and Ogres are for).

PC Thieves are much more detailed and have more options (and different options, a PC Thief can't re-class as a Cleric at 2nd Level) and have much a greater level maximum than 'monster' Thieves, ie Bandits.

See also Mediums (Media?) and Acolytes and Veterans ie 'monster' MUs, Clerics and Fighters.

You can do the same for Elves and Dwarves and Halflings.

In all cases, the Monster List options are much more limited than the PC Class options.

Therefore, PC Kobolds will be much more detailed and have more options and have much a greater level maximum than 'monster' Kobolds. Their PC Class options will far exceed the Monster List just as the options and levels for PC Clerics, Dwarves, Elves, Fighters, Halflings, Magic Users and Thieves far exceed those of 'monster' Acolytes, Dwarves, Elves, Veterans, Halflings, Mediums and Bandits.

PC = complex. Monster = simple.

Kobolds as monsters are simple, just as 'monster' Clerics (Acolytes), Dwarves, Elves, Fighters (Veterans), Halflings, Magic Users (Mediums) and Thieves (Bandits) are simple. Kobolds as PCs need to be complex, just as PC Acolytes (Clerics), Dwarves, Elves, Veterans (Fighters), Halflings, Mediums (Magic Users) and Bandits (Thieves) are complex.

In short - the Monster List entry for 'Kobold' isn't equivalent to the PC Class 'Halfling', it's equivalent to the Monster List entry 'Halfling'. That can then be compared to the PC Class Halfling to show you what the PC Kobold class is missing. The Monster List entries are sketches nothing more. The detail comes in comparing Monster List and Class entries for the same categories.

... so in light of the comments above, comparing the Halfling Class with the Halfling monster entry, we see that Halfling PCs have on average 0.5hp less than monster Halflings, but there is no mention of their abilities re. large opponents, initiative bonus, missile bonus, hiding, or penalties on size of weapon for 'monster' Halflings. Also, though the 'Number Appearing' (ie, 'lair size') is 5-40, there are also Halfling villages with L2-7 leaders and 30-300 inhabitants, including 5-20 militia at 2HD each.

As for Kobolds, the monster entry ONLY details lairs (6-60, analogous to the Halfling lairs of 5-40, NOT the villages of 30-300). There is no mention of Kobold settlements like the Halfling villages. Why not? Because Kobolds are enemies and Halflings potential friends. PCs need to know about Halfling villages if they're travelling in Halfling areas, but needs to know about Kobold lairs if they're raiding them.

So what is missing from the Kobold monster entry compared to the Halfling entry is Kobold 'warrens' of (say) 50-500 Kobolds, each presided over by a leader of L2-7, and militia of 2HD each (importing directly from Halflings). This makes the guards of the Kobold settlements equal to the leaders of Kobold lairs (ie level 2) ( - actually, if the base for Kobolds is 1/2HD ie d4hp, a '2HD Kobold' should theoretically be L4).

Comparison of the Halfling entries would also suggest that what is 'missing' from the monster entry is: bonus against large opponents; bonus to hiding, bonus to missile weapon, bonus to initiative, restriction on large weapons, slight hp penalty, opportunity to go higher than highest listed level.

So, a reasonable way to stat Kobolds would I think be as Halflings with slightly worse hp (ie d4 base) and saves (Kobs use Fighter Saves) - still the same bonuses on missile fire, initiative, v large opponents, and hiding, and restriction on large weapons (Kobolds are 'small').

As extra bonuses, they have 90' Infravision, and I would also give them some Thief skills. 'They prefer to attack by ambush' so hiding and backstabbing seem appropriate. Traps... maybe, if that's how you see Kobolds (I do, I think they're sneaky but that's mostly from AD&D).

No way would I give them 'Thief' experience progression. They would be Thieves with 90' Infravision and initiative and missile bonuses and with a bonus when attacked by large foes - their only penalties would be they can't use Longswords and Longbows,  and they have worse Saves (80 total for Kobolds v 71 total for Thieves - low is good for saves). So the Thief progression would be ridiculous I think. They're 'better' than Halflings in terms of their abilities, but have a lower HD base and worse Saves (80 v 60). I think that would even out and I'd peg them to the Halfling experience levels.

I'd also make NPCs Gnomes attack them on a 1-2 on a d6. The Gnomes don't know if these Kobolds are 'good guys' (ie PCs) - they're just wandering Kobold scum as far as the Gnomes are concerned.

So, for what it's worth, that's how I'd stat up Kobolds.

I also think level limits are stupid but then again PCs so rarely reach higher levels it's pretty academic I think.


I have to at this point put in a recommendation for Erin D. Smale's 'Building a More Perfect Class' - running the numbers on this might be a way of trying to pin down Kobolds as a class.

Friday, 15 June 2018

Rift City Session 11

The roster for the latest session of our open table, on 10th June:

Berg the Dwarf
Cnut the Fighter
Galen the Elf
Gene the Fighter
Gibbet the Thief
Gwynthor the Cleric
Karenza the Elf
Shazam the Elf (and Keith the Orc),

and joining us especially for this session, two new players with their PCs Brüna the Dwarf and Bunny the Halfling.

Maybe there will be some comment about over this at the Disoriented Ranger blog, because Brüna's player, in an amazing coming-from-a-foreign-country-to-play-games-with-you situation, was JensD of that very blog, who's been visiting the UK and made time to come to our open table. It was lovely to show Jens and his partner something of our city, and Mrs Orc and I hope they enjoyed being here as much as we enjoyed showing them around. Maybe we'll get to pay them a visit in the near future too.

The first thing the party did was try to return to the area of well-dressed stonework that they have recently been exploring. Unknown to them, one of the rooms that they had recently cleared, where the strange blobby creature lived in the dark, had been re-populated, by Orcs this time, as they seem to like to take over rooms in this area.

They managed to avoid too many wandering monsters on the way, the only disturbance being a crowd of bats that were agitated in the corridor. Something had disturbed them, though what that might be was not clear. The bats didn't really bother the PCs much, and the noise didn't summon any other monsters. The PCs have been bothered by enough bats to know they're a distraction and are best ignored. The worst they do is potentially cause enough noise that more wandering monsters might be summoned.

Having passed the place where the bats were, the PCs continued on to the spot where they'd fought some Orcs at the last session. The bodies were gone, seemingly having been dragged away, if the smears of black blood were any guide. Again, it wasn't clear what might have moved the bodies.

The octagonal room with the way down to the lower levels was as before - nothing has taken up residence there lately. The armoury room was also unchanged since 'yesterday'. Beyond that was a short corridor with a somewhat tricksy secret door. The party knows it's there, but it was closed, so I figured it's still invisible. There are 10 of them, and three of those are Elves, so rolling 7d6 trying to get a single 1 and 3d6 trying to score a 1 or 2, was bound to produce a result sooner or later, so they did find the secret door when Gene remembered it was the second brick over that needed to be pressed, not the third.

Opening the door, they discovered the room was still unnaturally dark. While hanging around trying to decide what to do, a guttural shout from inside alerted them to the presence of Orcs, who began shooting arrows at them.

Brüna set a flask of oil alight and tossed it into the room. It briefly illuminated some Orcs standing around. Brüna also asked one of the Elves to tell him some Orcish insults so he could shout at the enemy (he doesn't speak Orcish). A confused firefight ensued, with the Orcs shooting through the flames towards the door, and the party shooting into the room. trying to pick targets by the flickering firelight.

After a few rounds, where Karenza took an arrow (but didn't die), it was decided to charge the Orcs. The party definitely had the advantage as their better AC was turning the Orc attacks while their own attacks, though made into the low and flickering light, were taking a toll on the Orcish numbers. However, the Orcs passed a morale check and held firm. Bunny and Gibbet snuck in to find good firing positions as the rest of the party charged towards the now dying flames and engaged with the Orcs. The sudden charge and brutality of the assault, on top of the withering shooting, broke the Orcs' morale and persuaded them to surrender and throw down their weapons.

At this point the Orcs started trying to buy their lives with promises of treasure. The PCs decided to kill one of the Orcs to make sure the others knew they were serious. Gwynthor the Cleric dissented but he has a CHA of 3 so everyone is used to him being annoying and no-one took any notice. Brüna stabbed the Orc in the back of the neck as he was lying on the floor and the other Orcs, now deciding that they had no chance of surviving and were better off fighting for their lives, attempted to snatch up weapons and attack the PCs again. However, it didn't go well for the Orcs (they were lying on the floor, with weapons out of reach) and the party butchered them pretty quickly.

This was all too much for Keith, the charmed Orcish lantern-bearer. I figured that this was an event traumatic enough to give Keith a shot at throwing off the spell, and he did so. The result was that he remonstrated with his 'friend' Shazam asking how he could support murdering Keith's other friends after they'd surrendered. It seemed to be news to the party that these Orcs are from Keith's tribe. To be fair to Shazam, he'd taken no part in the butchery but he hadn't done much to stop it either. Keith anyway 'woke up' from his illusion that the PCs were his friends, threw his burning lantern at Bunny (it missed, smashing spectacularly on the wall near her), and launching an attack on Gwynthor (ironically one of the PCs not involved in the murder of prisoners, but Keith doesn't speak Common and Gwynthor soesn't speak Orcish) who was close by.

Keith fumbled his attack. There are no actual fumbles in my rules, a 1 is a 1 and a fail, a 20 is a 20 and generally a success, that's all, but given the darkness effect (not to mention Keith's blind rage) I decided that Keith's 1 should genuinely represent a catastrophic failure at this point, and he tripped over one of the corpses as he launched himself at Gwynthor, going sprawling at the latter's feet. Gwynthor decided, probably quite sensibly, that sitting on Keith's back was a viable way to keep him under control, while he called to Shazam to come and subdue Keith somehow. Deciding that disposing of Keith was the only option, Shazam killed his one-time 'friend' (dupe? pet? slave? I'm not sure really, Shazam did seem to have some sort of fondness for him) with a swift stab. That's how it goes sometimes.

Meanwhile, the rest of the PCs were looting the Orcs, snaring some money-pouches containing several hundred GPs and a couple of gems. This turned out to be a considerable haul in the end worth around 950GP. I don't make the party bargain for gems, I can't see the point. If the gems are worth 350GP they get 350GP. Turning treasure into GP to turn into XP is a tedious enough business without requiring them to constantly check their CHA against the Morale or Reaction Rating of a bunch of NPCs, in order to determine what percentage of the value they are given. If they want to up the 'town game' element they can, if they want they can spend their entire time buying and selling gems at the various establishments around town, but that really isn't D&D for me. D&D is fundamentally an exploration game, not a trading game. I'm sure there are other games with more advanced trading systems. But if the players want to do that they can - there is no 'wrong fun' so it's up to them. I don't think they want to at the moment. Kicking in doors and robbing monsters is more fun.

Having looted the Orcs, Brüna suggested nailing Orcs to things as a warning to others. He volunteered to attach various Orc corpses to some of the doors and weapon-stands in the armoury. The rest of the PCs agreed and gave him some iron spikes to help.

Moving on from the Orcs' room they came to the last room that they have already explored. This was a room with a large statue, where they had found a secret compartment at the previous session containing a treasure-chest. No treasure-chest this time but only because I remembered that they'd found it - I'd forgotten to cross it off my list. Must get better at that, in fact I might go and do the paperwork before I get any further with the write-up. That dungeon won't master itself, I have to accept! I may have some simple systems, but it isn't yet fully-automated.


So, I've done my paperwork. Next session is prepped. Back to the report...

Brüna, busy trying to attach Orc-corpses to things in the armoury, met a strange wood-like beast. I have an image of I am Groot in my mind that I now can't shake. The thing was a Wood Golem, but I'm not sure Brüna knows that, he's never met one before. It seemed to approve of Brüna's treatment of the Orcs, not to mention his own polite greeting to it, and his lack of hostile action. In the end it decided it would be friendly, but Brüna, his task done, left to find the rest of the party.

The rest of the party meanwhile were exploring the next room, which seemed to be a trap-room, with spikes and blades all over the place from rusted traps. None however appeared currently dangerous. The room also contained some doors. Gibbet listened at the closest and heard noises from behind it. The party opened the door, and yet more bats were the result. There was also an old campfire (with some cold rat on a stick) and some bed-rolls. Ignoring the bats (they're little more than room-dressing really), Bunny decided she would play up to a Halfling stereotype, and ate the rat-on-a-stick. There was also a leather satchel with cash in it. It seems that someone had left not only their dinner but their treasure in something of a hurry, in the relatively-recent past.

Brüna rejoined the party at this point, not realising that there was a large crowd of Fire Beetles on their tail. Seven of them had come along, perhaps summoned by the sound of the bats, perhaps following some other instinct, and the party decided to try to take them out.

In fact it was a short and bloody combat. Some good shooting by the party on the one hand, and some hand-to-hand work, left the Fire Beetles dead pretty quickly. I ruled that some had been killed so convincingly that their glow-glands were ruined; any beetle who took more than twice its hp in damage I reasoned had been pulverised rather than surgically dispatched, and I diced for a few others, so only 11 out a possible 21 glands were available in the end. These were collected for sale at 5GP a pop to Gisuintha, the MU back in the city who fancies herself as an Alchemist.

After this encounter, the PCs decided to be on their way rather than explore any further. They nearly made it back without incident too. However, they did run into a couple of Skeletons, but Gwynthor compelled them with the power of the Mighty Yrt, He Who Manifests in Pinecones (according to what we understand of Gwynthor's weird theology anyway), and the bony undead ones were backed the wrong way down a passage while the party made its way towards the exit, Gwynthor bringing up the rear in case of further undead harassment.

Scampering from the caves, the party made it back to town to divide up their hard-gained loot, and that was another session wrapped up...

I think that was pretty much what happened anyway!

EDIT: except I forgot possibly the most important part, at least as far as the long-term progression of the table, the campaign and the PCs go - Gibbet the Thief, who has attended approximately 8/11 sessions (it might be 9 I can't remember but I know he's missed 2-3 sessions) has now made it to the dizzying heights of Second Level! WHOO-HOO! (Cue: small fireworks, bunting, a marching band playing a stirring fanfare and speeches by civic dignitaries, before we all have cake.)

Sunday, 3 June 2018

Rift City Session 10

Unfortunately I started writing this then got distracted. It's several weeks ago now, and I can't really remember much of what happened - so at a certain point, details become very sketchy! But as the next session will be coming up soon, it's probably best to post this up in its somewhat-truncated state.


We had our 10th session of the Rift City campaign on 13th May. This time the party was composed of:

Berg the Dwarf
Cnut the Fighter
Galen the Elf
Gene the Fighter
Gibbet the Thief
Gwynthor the Cleric
Karenza the Elf
Polly the Magic User
Shazam the Elf (and Keith the Orc)

and a new player, running Flenzack the Cleric.

The game started with the party assembling at the inn where they met a new chap called Flenzack who was looking for adventure. They teamed up (naturally - that's kinda the way the game has to work) and went off to the Rift together. Entering the cave-complex at the now-traditional fifth entrance they made their way through to where the finished stonework in the area run by the alliance of Orcs and Necromancers, disturbed only by some bats that were themselves disturbed by the party's lights. Instead of attacking the bats and making the situation worse, the PCs stayed calm and let the bats settle down again.

Continuing through the caverns to the nicer bits of dungeon, the PCs spied some Orcs ahead. Berg the Dwarf immediately threw a handaxe at them and charged. The handaxe missed (it was pretty extreme range) and the Orcs ran back round a corner. Taking a little while to charge after them Berg, Karenza and Flenzack rounded said corner to be met with a hail of Orcish crossbow-bolts. Karenza sustained a fleshwound but otherwise the party was OK and made short work of the Orcs. Looting the bodies turned up some gems for the which the party was quite grateful.

A little further on and the party came to a door. Listening revealed the fact that there was something inside making a rustling, scrabbling noise. So they knocked. The noise stopped.

Eventually, Shazam went in and poked about a bit. It was very dark. A thing moved, and he stabbed it. Turns out it was a sort of giant centipede, which didn't manage to bite him as he's somewhat tank-like (plate is the armour of choice for these guys, they didn't even bother starting with chain until they'd made some cash, they all just bought plate from day one). Not knowing whether the darkness was due to the centipede or the room itself, Polly came in and suggested cutting its head off to take back to Gisuintha the zooicidal Magic User back at the city.

Unfortunately, on going into the room, Polly set of the room-trap (a large pit) that Shazam had not, and failed her saving throw... shinning down a rope to try some elementary staunching, the party wasn't able to save her and unfortunately Polly, one of the the three PCs from the very first session, gasped her last on the floor of a 10'-deep pit. Then Gibbet, who was down in the hole but had tied up everything to the end of the rope to be hauled up, slipped as he was climbing out and fell back in, injuring himself rather... it was a bit of a comic catastrophe. But what can you do? There he was, trusting to his 87% climbing skill or whatever it was. It wasn't enough.

Gibbet, however, survived, and made it out with Polly's equipment. Apparently she's made a Will leaving all her worldly goods to the Home for Retired Cats or some-such. There isn't one of those in Rift City but there is a temple to a southern cat-goddess (which is infested by strays as the priestesses keep feeding them) so that will have to do.

Leaving the room where Polly died (I do need to find out what they did with the body as I now can't remember) they went north towards the room (also pretty dark) where the shambley squishy blobby dwarf-thing was. They found it and they killed it quickly. They also managed to get a little more treasure, but not much.

They tried to search of some of the rooms about, but ran out of time, I'm not sure how, as they didn't seem to do much. Some Robber Flies, and some Skeletons, may have been involved, but I may be mixing up the month before. Anyway, hell-for-leather out of there (fortunately not setting off any wandering monsters) and back to town for them, ready to adventure out another day...


Two things are becoming clear about the area the party is currently exploring. First, the monsters aren't tough enough. The party generally consists of 7-10 PCs, of which maybe 6-8 are around AC2. That makes it hard for monsters to hit them (as they're also mostly around hp4 though, it means anything that does hit them stands a good chance of killing them). Often the PCs outnumber the monsters too. For party that averages at 8xAC3 (let's say, it's a bit wibbly-wobbly) then 4 Orcs at AC5 are not a significant threat.

The second thing is that there isn't enough treasure. There have been 10 sessions so far. Gibbet and Gwynthor did 8, Galen has done 7 as did Polly, Shazam 4 I think. Sven did about 6, and other characters who died also did a fair amount of sessions. Only Gibbet is even close to Second Level at this point. So I need to offer more rewards, I think.

Too often encounters are brutally short and offer no challenge to the party, then the rewards are paltry, barely covering the cost of food for the day. Then once in a blue moon, for no good reason, a massive load of gold arrives. There's just too much faffing around for too little result.

Probably need to toss a bit more magic into the pot too. Healing potions, scrolls and whatnot.

I need to find a way of balancing all that out a bit better. This week I shall try to work on the balance a little more carefully.

Monday, 14 May 2018

Guardians of the World-tree... perhaps some progress

Some lore and other ancient history...

In the distant past there were only Elves. Some myths say that Eru created the Elves but they slept until Eru had made the stars; then the Elves awoke beside a lake. Some myths say that Corellon Larethian fought the demon Lolth and the Elves sprang from the drops of Corellon's blood shed in the fight (in one version, the Drow from Lolth's blood, the ancestors of the good Elves from Corellon's).

I don't know other Elven myths, but certainly in Azeroth there is (or was rather) a 'World Tree' that the Elves lived around. They're supposed to be the oldest race, and they have split into different kindreds, primarily the Night Elves and the Blood Elves (the Blood Elves, originally High Elves, were the ruling class of Elven society).

Whatever the version, the Elves are divided. In at least some versions, there are World Trees.

Malekith the King of the Dark Elves (Marvel) is certainly the inspiration for Malekith King of the Dark Elves (Warhammer). The Marvel Dark Elves also imply 'Light Elves', and obviously, these are all derived pretty squarely from nordo-germanic myths with the 'svartalfar' and 'liosalfar'. Why have I never realised Malekith of Marvel's Dark Elves are blue? This might explain those blue Citadel Dark Elves that used to pop up in the late 1980s. They weren't 'Drow' per se, they were Marvel Dark Elves not TSR Dark Elves.

Anyway, I've been painting Elves again. Maybe they'll see action in Warhammer or Kings of War someday soon. Maybe they won't in the end but hell I like painting Elves. And not those camo-clad guerrilla-fighters that GW have been pushing for the last 10 years or so. No, proper guards-of-the-Fairy-Queen type. They wear blue, and red, and white, and bright green, as well as cloaks of dappled green that hide them in the forests. Some of my Elves are Blood Elves, some will be various kinds of Dark Elves, some will be Night Elves and so on.

Some of my Elves
It's only about 10 years since I started on this idea of a united force of Elves. That's probably slow even by my standards!

Monday, 30 April 2018

A new setting... as if it were needed

I'm working on a setting. Not a wildly individual supercool and sideways offering - in some ways, rather the opposite. The idea I'm going for is more generic than that. In fact, what I'm aiming for is to smash right through 'generic' and end at somewhere near quintessential. Generic deals in stereotypes, I'm more aiming at archetypes.

Hyboria is an original setting. Middle-earth is an original setting. Barsoom is an original setting. Mostly what came after was somewhat derivative of these and some other examples of what came to define the genre. But we can take what is derivative, and in turn boil that down and find out what is near-universal. This is what I'm trying to get at. A setting that will be particularly useful I think for relatively-inexperienced players.

There are a bunch of inspirations for this. A while ago I was talking about the 'Tough Guide to Fantasyland' by Diana Wynne Jones (this post). It's the point of departure for this project, for reasons which I hope will become clear.

Angry GM has a great post from the end of last year called 'How NOT to teach newbies D&D', which (in ironic and convoluted fashion, because he's pretending that the idea is to put off new players) has the excellent advice that you should try to make the setting easy to grasp. Instead of your own totally original setting with all of its own monsters and an arcane and convoluted background, something familiar will help the new players make the adjustment. I think this is extremely sensible. It's not so necessary for more experienced players, but if you're unfamiliar with both the rules and the setting of the game, then I'd think it would be very easy to get lost and be put off. Going for the familiar in setting terms makes it easier to accept the novelty of the rules.

Trollsmyth's blog had a recently looking at something similar, or at least related. In 'Would you play with E.L. James?' Trollsmyth puts forward an argument that boils down to something like: 'Old gamers have old cultural reference points; people coming into gaming now have different cultural reference points'.  I think is also very true and sensible (though I've simplified an important argument almost to the point of tautology). Teenagers aren't reading Michael Moorcock and Fritz Lieber like we were 30 or 40 years ago, they're much more likely to have read (or watched) Harry Potter and Hunger Games.

The consequence of all of this is, 'our' references won't have the same resonance for younger/newer gamers that they did for us. So - and this a bit of leap - if we 'old gamers' are trying to get new gamers to play 'old games', we need to be mindful of how to play 'old games' with 'new content'. How do we adapt D&D for people who aren't so well-versed in Jack Vance and Robert E. Howard, who haven't read Lord of the Rings but have seen the Peter Jackson films, who know Twilight and maybe some of the vast amount of fantasy literature out there written in the last 40 years?

There are I think some games that have started to tackle that, particularly from the angle of gaming 'romantic fantasy (link to the wiki)' rather than the 'sword and sorcery' angle D&D has traditionally promoted. I don't know how many other games there are like Blue Rose, that are specifically designed for such settings, but I want to combine something like that with more 'standard' D&D. Is it possible to render those sorts of stories with 'our' sorts of rules? Is it just a question of the setting? Some posts on Against the Wiked City here and MetaFilter here (which heavily references Against the Wicked City) go into more depth, and at least indicate ways that D&D can be used to tell different stories from 'smash the door, kill the monster, take the treasure', in particular by more extensive use of Morale and Reaction rules, and de-emphasising combat. Not that I'm trying to eliminate combat but the default for PC actions perhaps shouldn't be 'stab it in the face'. At the very least, 'stab it in the face' should be one among a range of potential actions the PCs can take. So I'd like to emphasise the existence of other possibilities at least. And in case this seems like a bit of a weird concept in D&D, I'm going to mention A Song of Ice & Fire/Game of Thrones, which is the most popular fantasy franchise in ages, and includes, among the spectacular and bloody violence, intrigue, politicking and manipulation on a grand scale. Complex characters abound and everyone has conflicts and motivations, secrets and desires. It's not all about the fighting.

Mostly, fantasy stories are set in a self-contained world. There are great numbers of examples. Conan, Lord of the Rings, the Belgariad and the Lankhmar stories come to mind, Willow, Dragonslayer and Krull as fantasy movies that are also based in self-contained worlds. But I've also been thinking about what might be called 'portal' settings. These come in some different, though related, types.

Probably the most common type involves someone - or very often a group of people - from our world who make a journey through some sort of portal to another world. The 'heroes' must adjust to a strange new world - literally learning the rules - while (generally) working to defeat the Big Bad in order to come home. This is literally the plot of the old D&D cartoon from the early 1980s. The Chronicles of Narnia, Red Moon & Black Mountain and the Fionavar Tapestry are of this type. It's also by analogy what new players are doing as they learn to cope in a strange new world.

Then there is the portal setting where something from another world comes to this. Elements of the story in Elidor are of this type, though Elidor contains both types: it is the a journey-to-another-world which precipitates the magical invasion of our world. Labyrinth is certainly something like it, but is the opposite of Elidor - the journey to the Otherworld is prompted by the invasion into this. Stranger Things is probably a modern version of this type, though honestly it's hard to know whether 'the Underneath comes to Hawkins' is before or after 'Evil Scientician Dudes go to the Underneath'. One is a consequence of the other but is it the scientists sending 11 into the Underneath that summons the creature to the boundary or is it the existence of the boundary that draws the scientists? It doesn't in the end matter: from the point of view of Will, Mike, Lucas and Dustin, as well as for Nancy and Steve, it's the invasion of this world that sparks the story.

A third type of story, which is very closely related to the second type of portal setting, though it doesn't actually involve a portal at all, is the story which is set in our world, but one where magic secretly exists. The Weirdstone of Brisingamen/Moon of Gomrath, Harry Potter and Percy Jackson are of this kind, as are many superhero stories (where magical effects are generally given a pseudo-scientific rationale). Here the hero generally discovers a secret which means they have power in this strangely-altered world, and they must learn to use it. This power may be intrinsic (Harry Potter and Percy Jackson) or the result of an inherited or found magical object (Weirdstone) and they 'ways in' may be many and various, but often boil down to 'impossible forces attack for unknown reasons' and the hero(ine)(s) must discover why they're involved in this secret war. Even for those few that don't (eg Twilight, in my understanding) the set-up isn't massively different.

I'm going to make a special mention of Dr Who here as it combines all of the above. The TARDIS of course is a portal in its own right, taking the Doctor and the Companions throughout time and space; but also, aliens and other malevolent intelligences often visit Earth; and finally, things what man was not meant to wot of but that have been around for ages are sometimes turned up (Silurians, I'm looking at you). So Dr Who can go anywhere and do anything (story-wise). One reason why Dungeons & Daleks is such an awesome concept.

So - where is all this going? Is it possible to leave the mechanics of B/X-BECMI D&D relatively untouched, but have a setting that includes a) a world containing quintessential fantasy tropes; b) the ability to use other mechanics than combat to solve problems and c) the option to use this in conjunction with 'real world' characters or in a 'real world' setting? In other words, to tell stories a bit closer to the fiction that people are actually reading, and is maybe therefore a bit more culturally-familiar to people who might be interested in D&D but currently aren't?

I don't know, but I hope to have fun finding out.

Saturday, 28 April 2018

Rift City Session 9

I've left it too long to be able to provide much detail on this: what I can remember is that the party was composed of:

Cnut the Fighter
Galen the Elf
Gene the Fighter
Gibbet the Thief
Karensa the Elf
Shazam the Elf

and we were joined by a new player, who was running Marl the Halfling.

Oh, and Shazam's Charmed Orc, who is called is called Keith, not Barry.

The party wanted to get to back to the area with the good corridors, where the Orcs were. So, they headed back that way. In the room of sarcophagi, where previously they'd encountered Skeletons, they came across some Ghouls. There seems to be some malign influence in that place that keeps bring back Undead. The party doesn't seem to have noticed, but maybe a spring-clean with some Holy Water might keep things quiet for a bit. The Elves went point and took out the Ghouls, due to a general immunity to Ghoul-paralysis. Someone was injured, but not paralysed (can't remember who it was now).

Scouting a bit further the party came to the room where Keith had been stationed as a guard. As there were now only two guards there (Keith's old mates) they rapidly surrendered rather than face the wrath of 7 PCs and their henchorc. Searching about the party found another door. It was the Orcs' privy, occupied by a few more Orcs. A quick fight and it was all over. I can see I'm going to have to beef up some of the encounters in this area, I think they're more geared for parties of 3-5. 8 (or even 7, Keith is basically a torch-bearer) is just tending to overwhelm the monsters.

That part of the dungeon done the party headed north from the room with the Orc/Ogre corpses and big pit. They found a room that had most recently been used an armoury, but the majority of weapons had gone. Certainly those that were left looked mostly broken or at least rusty, except one. Karensa took that, a sword. There was also a chest with a false bottom that contained a small amount of treasure.

North of this room they encountered a meditating Elf who had barricaded himself in and was attempting to regain his spells, having been separated from his adventuring party, made up of some Dwarves.

The party did find the Dwarves, who said it was the Elf's fault he'd got lost.

On the way out, the party ran into some Fire Beetles, which were quickly defeated, and even though Polly the Magic User wasn't there, the PCs harvested the usable glands to take back to Guisintha at Rift City. They've been trained well.

One of the players produced this lovely sketch of the day's shenanigans:

Session 9 by Cnut Cutlet - clockwise from top: Keef the lantern-bearing Orc, a dwarf, a Ghoul Rising, a Fire Beetle and a Ghoul Attacking

Saturday, 17 March 2018

Rift City session 8

Another new player joined us for this adventure with a Fighter called Gene, and Shazam the Elf's player made it back too. Long-time PC Gwynthor the Cleric, and our occasional Dwarf PC Berg, missed this one however, so the party looked like this:

Cnut (Fighter)
Daisy (Halfling)
Frost (Fighter)
Galen (Elf)
Gene (Fighter)
Gibbet (Thief)
Karenza (Elf)
Polly (Magic User)
Shazam (Elf), with his attendant Charmed Kobold Norbert (I think)

I've been a bit busy with real-world stuff (and my posts about questing are a kind of procrastination) so I'm not going to deny I wasn't massively well-prepared for this one. I'd grabbed some monster-stats from online lists to plug into gaps caused by previous attacks in this area, but hadn't double-checked the blocks of text. But more of that in a moment...

I have a relatively simple procedure for re-stocking the dungeon. I roll a d6 for each day that passes between the party trashing an occupied room, and their return. If a '1' comes up I'll re-stock from the Wandering Monster Table to represent some monster moving in, then place another monster from my master-list on the Wandering Monster Table. I'm currently re-thinking this system. This area of the dungeon is patrolled and occupied by relatively-well-organised forces - primarily, the Orcs and Death-cultists I was talking about in the last report. They should probably be better at re-occupying cleared areas than 'random' monsters would be - it's likely that if the PCs clear an Orc guard-post, a few days later those Orcs will have been replaced with more Orcs, or some Cultists, or some Undead, rather than Killer Bees or Lizard Men or Pixies.

Anyway - rooms are re-occupied. It needs to make sense in terms of the organisation of the dungeon not just randomly. I think I shall prioritise the 'organised' inhabitants for re-occupation rather than the opportunistic squatters. But I should also take care to read the entries not just copy them over.

Things started reasonably enough. The party set off for the caves, and almost immediately bumped into another NPC party. This is the third party I think that the PCs have found so far, and I would say a sign that dungeon-delving is the closest thing in Rift City to an organised sport. Negotiating a division of the caves so that the two parties weren't chasing each other's tails, the NPC party went east, the PCs went west.

So, having already cleared these areas but nothing yet having moved in, the first few rooms in this area were empty but for the detritus of previous fights. The PCs quickly became aware however that there were some Orcs up ahead. Deciding that a sudden and overwhelming show of force was in order, the PCs took them down brutally, quickly and without mercy.

And then I did a foolish thing. As intimated, I'd just copied-and-pasted some stats from elsewhere to plug a gap. That's not the problem, the problem was reading the information I'd copied without mentally filtering it.

"We search the bodies," the PCs said.

"You, errm, notice that all the Orcs have backpacks on, with sacks inside that make suspicious clinking sounds," said I, desperately wondering why 4 wandering Orcs were carrying 3,000GP and jewellery worth another 900GP.

Now that in itself isn't a problem. It's a bribe from the Cultists to keep the Orcs on their side, destined to be the Orc-soldiers' pay-chest. It's loot from lower in the caverns that the Orcs have collected together and are using it to buy equipment from the Cultists. It's the result of wiping out another adventuring party and taking their stuff, which must have included treasures from lower levels. It's the profits of overground banditry waged by the Orcs in recent weeks. It doesn't really matter. Any and all of these are plausible suggestions in line with what the Orcs are doing.

The problem is more in terms of risk-v-reward, and how the sudden acquisition of wealth makes the party do weird things. Immediately they realised they'd hit the jackpot, they decided to go home. This was still early in the day, only their second encounter, and 4 Orcs had produced more loot than the party had gained in the previous 7 sessions combined. As far as they were concerned, carrying that amount of treasure for the rest of the day would be ludicrous. And really, I agree with them.

What I should have done is knocked a zero off the loot. If they'd found 390GP in coins and jewellery, I'm sure they'd have been very pleased. But they'd have kept going. As it was, there was a 5-hour section of the day when they trekked back to town, sold the jewellery (the 'Faberge Egg' as they referred to it), bought more jewellery (because it's more portable than coins), and then went back to the caves with 3900GPs' worth of necklaces, jewelled daggers and gold cutlery sets. And Shazam went to the Elven Sanctuary and gave the mystics there 400GP to keep up the good work. They were very happy and slipped him a Healing Potion in return.

Now, I'm not particularly bothered about screwing the PCs out of cash here. If they want to play D&D as a trading game that's fine, we'll do that. At the moment, if they want to turn cash into gold because it's easier to carry I don't see I need to tax them as I do it. So they sold everything for its value and bought things for their value.

To their credit once the PCs were back they carried on as before. Checking rooms, bashing down doors, trying to find gold, information, the glands of magical animals...

They ran into some prisoners of the Orcs, who told them their captors were close-by with large amounts of cash. On being re-assured that the Orcs were dead and the entrance was close, the slaves took the opportunity to run for it. The party took the rope that had held the chain-gang together though.

In the tunnels the party also found a snake. Not a massive one but it didn't matter, they killed it with a sling-stone and cut off its head in case Gisuintha the Wizard wanted any parts of it. On the way, they also bumped into some Gnolls! Big buggers they are but there are currently 9 PCs and their Kobold-friend so the Gnolls didn't last long. Only 40SP of treasure but so what? They'd already had the big haul...

After that it was back to raiding for the PCs. One room was full of spiders (not giant-sized, and quickly dealt with via a Sleep spell), as well as the remains of a battle between Orcs and Ogres. It looked like the Ogres might have come up a well-like shaft in the centre of the room, which seemed to go a long way down according to one of the Elves who checked it with infravision (it goes to what will be an Ogre lair on Level 3). A quick search of the bodies revealed that they'd been stripped of useful weapons and equipment already.

The party exited that room and took a door across the corridor. Here they found a large and strange room, containing a large cage with the corpse of a Hobgoblin in it. It looked like the cage might have originally swung from the ceiling but it had fallen at some point either before or after the Hobgoblin had died, it was difficult to tell. Another corpse, with no head, was also present. There was a door from this room to the east, but when Daisy the Halfling found a secret door in the south wall, the party headed for that instead.

Here was another large hall-like room, this one with carved pillars that resembled trees with spreading branches, holding up the ceiling. Four Orcs occupied this room, and again they proved very little challenge to the party. Once the first one was dead the others surrendered. Shazam the Elf, using his Charm Person spell, decided he was sick of Norbert the Kobold and used Charm on one of the Orcs (who Shazam is now calling 'Barry' I believe... still, at least he actually speaks Orc so can communicate with this friend/servant/pet).

Charm is a bit of a weird one. Saving throw once per month as long as you don't treat the Charmee too egregiously, but no other notification of how and why it wears off. I know this lot, if I let them get away with it, they'll just charm one of everything they encounter every day and build an army of a months' worth of Charmed monsters. So I ruled that only one Charm can be operation at a time, which seems right. Having Charmed Barry the Orc, Shazam realised that Norbert the Kobold was freed from the spell, and the little dog-like monster fled... to some dank cavern no doubt, possibly one close by. Now Shazam has an Orc for a companion, which might not be too popular a move in Rift City. The Orcs had an unidentifiable potion and some 'shiny stuff'. The party took it all after Barry helpfully showed Shazam where it was.

More wandering monsters appeared - a Dwarf, shortly followed by some other Dwarves. They were all part of a party that had got split up. By this time the party was wanting to leave. Leaving the Dwarves to find each other (or not) the PCs started heading for the exit.

So it was off back to the city (we've joked that the Wilderness can't kill them until they reach Level 4) to flog their loot and get the Orcs' potion identified and to see if Gisuintha wanted a snake-head. She took the one in exchange for identifying the other. I might make them wait a session or two to get that back, I haven't decided yet how easy it is to identify...