Sunday, 25 April 2021

Rift City Campaign - session 45

Once more unto the Rift, dear friends...

On Sunday 11th April the Wandering Monster Table had its 45th session, with Halvor, Berg, Inarra and Kate deciding they needed to stock up on silver and magic weapons to fight were-creatures in the ruins in the Rift.

At last everyone was equipped with something that could do damage to lycanthropes and other similarly-enchanted creatures, and they set off for the ruins, under which they encountered the were-creatures in previous visits. Ostensibly, they were there to rescue some adventurers that had been captured by Ogres and enslaved (or worse) by the lycanthropes.

Ironic, given what happened.

Lyracian at the 'Playing Dice with Universe' blog has already written up the session (link here). All I have to add is that the adventure was proceeding in distinctly un-lucrative fashion until killing an NPC party gave the PCs a bonanza of magic items; and, as I just hinted, slaughtering the NPC party was a pretty bizarre end to a session in which our 'heroes' (I use the term very loosely) were supposed to be rescuing some NPCs...





Sunday, 28 March 2021

Rift City Campaign -- Session 44

Well, the PCs had another go under the ruins in the Rift. Halvor the Cleric, Berg the Dwarf, Kate the Halfling, Brigham the Cleric and Gibbet the Thief once more ventured in search of excitement, adventure and big piles of loot.

The first thing they did was finish up exploring the tower. They've been there on two previous occasions and had failed to find the room with the trapdoor down to the lower levels. They also hadn't made a map and ended up exploring some of the areas they'd been before.

In one of the rooms, they came upon some undead presences. These proved a little tricky as the PCs don't all have magic or silver weapons. But with Berg taking two hits and losing two levels, and Gibbet losing one, they did manage to overcome the entities before they were all back to First Level. 

The PCs eventually came to a room they hadn't been before, as it was behind the only door they've found that they hadn't opened. Not in some Quantum Ogre sense, just because it was the furthest from the entrance. In the room, sitting on a rug that turned out to be top of the trapdoor, were a couple of prisoners and some Ogres. They Ogres died pretty quickly, the prisoners did not. Their names were Aben (a female Halfling) and Hames (a male Elf); they begged the PCs to rescue their friends (more prisoners had been taken down into the tunnels, it seemed), and agreed to come and help.

So, everyone rolled back the rug and opened the trapdoor, where they found a staircase heading down to the south. They followed it to a landing where stairs went east and west. The east stair smelled bad (probably Troglodytes down there) so they took the west stair. This opened into a wide E-W hall with various doors and corridors off. Taking a door on the north wall, they found themselves in a room where a man dressed in black was playing a lute and singing to to a female human, a female Ogre, and a couple of Giant Rats The female human was one of the captured NPCs, a young woman called Miranda, and there seemed to be some sort of magic going on. A fight rapidly ensued with the music-man being Held (then killed), the Ogre and the Rats being killed, and Miranda falling unconscious when the music-man died (and his spell was broken). On regaining consciousness, Miranda told them that the other prisoners had been added to a group already in the tunnels but that 'the man with the dark eyes' had taken a fancy to her and told the Ogres to hand her over to him. She agreed that coming with the party (given Aben and Hames were with them) was a good plan. So they looted the room as best they could and, after setting what was left on fire, they left.

On the way out, they ran into a couple of rough-looking fellows who seemed to be some sort of wandering guard patrol. Unconvinced by the PCs' explanation, the guards resolved to 'check with Eldwin' (the music chap with rats and women in his thrall, now dead and in a burning room). As they passed the party, a quick attempt at a surprise backstabbing was made... and failed. These guys too were immune to normal weapons apparently... so a short and vicious fight broke out between the PCs (five of them) and their NPC allies (three) on the one hand, and the two guards on the other. The only problem was that due to the lack of magical weapons, only about 4-5 of the PCs could fight anyway. But obviously, the PCs could deal with a pair of lycanthropes even so. Looting the bodies netted some sacks of low-value coins and a couple of pieces of expensive jewellery.

Deciding that by this point that is really was time to head back to the City, they made their way back to the exit. Heading out through the ruins, however, they ran into another patrol - this time 6 more lycanthrope guards. Again the fight was brutal but eventually 6 dead werewolves netted another 300GP for the coffers - and no-one from the party's side died. No-one was infected with lycanthropy either, though it was pretty close in some cases. 

High-tailing it back up the forest path the party was back in Rift City in time for tea and the division of spoils. What will happen 'tomorrow' is anyone's guess...


Sunday, 7 February 2021

Gaming the Labyrinth - the inhabitants


I started posting about 'Labyrinth'. I've made a few notes about the general idea of trying to game it and some of the trickier aspects of how to translate something like the film to something like D&D, or possibly my newly-acquired game, Blue Rose (earlier post linked here). Photos have all been taken from the blog 'The Labyrinth' which seemed like a handy source. I tried to use the pics at IMDB, but they were all tiny so I gave up. It seemed really tedious to find more pics from different sources so I just went there and used what I could find. All photos are (c) TriStar Pictures.

Some of the inhabitants of the Labyrinth, Goblin City and Castle are pretty straightforward to translate into D&D terms. For Blue Rose, maybe not so much, but I'm sure I'll be able to find some ways to do at least some of it when I'm more familiar with the system. I've checked up what some of the characters are called, so will use the IMDB nomenclature.

Jareth

Jareth "is an Elf" in my notes. Seems obvious, and specifically, a Dark Elf. Also, sometimes disguises himself as a little old lady, or turns into an owl. He seems to sometimes use this latter ability to travel long distances (so it's a real transformation, not an illusion): at other times his mode of long-distance travel is not clear, but I'm going to assume it's always owl-form. He has crystal balls (steady at the back) which can become a peach with a forgetting spell (which wastes time, a vital resource in Sarah's quest) or a kind of floating bubble. He also has some illusion skills - he seems to transform a bubble into a crystal into a snake into a scarf, possibly then a Goblin... which (if any) are real is difficult to grasp (and the scarf may just fall on a Goblin already there). So they could be actual transformations or illusions. He possibly uses the bubbles to transport others to and from the Castle, but perhaps this is illusion too. If he's an Elf, he has a pretty direct Blue Rose equivalent - he could be some kind of corrupt(ed) Vata (a race similar to Elves; there are two sub-races called Vata'an and Vata'sha. Jareth is probably a Vata'an as they have pale skin and silver hair, which is more like Jareth than the Vata'sha, who look similar to D&D Drow, with dark skin and light hair). Alternatively, he could be a Human with arcane powers, in either Blue Rose or D&D. But he looks like an Elf to me.

Hoggle

Hoggle is a Dwarf who works for Jareth; one of his jobs is as a pest-controller in the garden. He's a coward. He has a spray that kills fairies, likes plastic, and has a (worthless) bag of charms that he values highly. He also has a kind of 'Portable Door' (which he only uses once, maybe only usable once, or perhaps once per day) and knows where to find rope. There may or may not be other Dwarves called Hogwart, Hedgewart, Heggle, Hoghead and Hogbrain. There are no Blue Rose Dwarves.

There are Fairies that bite (no pic of them on the blog where I found the rest of the photos). Hoggle has killed 60, he claims, but we don't know over what time period. He kills about 5 while Sarah is talking to him. A swarm of 10-60 is a possibility, I suppose. We do not know if they're truly intelligent. In D&D they could be something like AC9, Mv 90' (30') flying, hp1, save E1, Att 1 (bite), Dam d4, Ml 9 Al N, I would think. 

'Dennis', the Worm

There's a talking worm, that I decided is called Dennis (he isn't named it seems) who has a wife, drinks tea and knows the way to the Castle. He helps Sarah to identify what we might think of as 'secret doors'. On IMDB he is called "Worm".

Tilekeepers

There are tiny people (about 3" high?) that change the flagstones after Sarah has made marks on them. I have since discovered that these are called "Tilekeepers", but no-one has a credit as a 'Tilekeeper' on IMDB. They are perhaps related to Fairies (they seem to be about the same size) but do not have wings. They do seemingly have language and purpose however.

Goblins

There are Goblins - many and of different sorts, but they boil down to small and tall (mechanically these are probably many Goblins or even Kobolds, and a few Orcs or Hobgoblins, D&D terms. Blue Rose has no real equivalents to Goblins, just large Orcs, who are called Night People). Some Goblins have sticks with small bitey things attached to them. Two small Goblins are 'the Cleaners', who ride a kind of bicycle-powered boring machine. Others are the Goblin Guard, and come in Infantry, Cavalry and Artillery varieties. The Cavalry carry spears and ride two-legged lizards; the Artillery have cannons and machine-guns, and the cannons seem to fire tiny Goblins. Most Goblins are armoured - at least, the ones in the Labyrinth and City. There's also a giant-sized mechanical construct piloted by a Goblin. However, it's probably best to consider this in relation to its location.

Ludo with Sarah

There's Ludo, a kind of Horned Troll with the ability to call d100 rocks (in 13 hours he does it twice, perhaps he can do it 3 times a day).


Fireys

There are Fire Spirits or "Fireys" - there are five of these (No Appearing d6+2?). They may be some kind of weak fire-elemental. Pretty sure I can find some sort of analogue in both D&D and Blue Rose.

Sir Didymus

There is Sir Didymus, an anthropomorphic Fox-knight (other people think he's a dog, but I think he's a fox), who rides Ambrosius, an Old English Sheepdog. Sir Didymus is brave, but somewhat blinkered. Ambrosius is a bit of a coward. Though Blue Rose has rules for animals with psychic communication, it doesn't have rules for foxes that dress like 14th Century Landesknechts, talk as if they're human and hold weapons. In D&D, I might use the rules for Haflings (not as crazy as it sounds... honestly).

Wiseman and The Hat

There is a sage-type ("Wiseman"), with a talking bird hat ("The Hat"); the sage utters gnomic wisdom (or not), the bird-hat is sarcastic.

Trash-Lady

There is a kind of bag-lady ("Trash-Lady") who pushes memories as a distraction (.which again waste time).

Then there are lots of guests at a ball. These appear to be human, but there's an outside chance they're Elves (or Vata) like Jareth. Again though, no pics at The Labyrinth blog.

There are also other sentient beings - the 'Helping Hands', the 'False Alarms', the door-knockers and the 'logic guards' who don't know how their answers work - but these seem to be tied to particular locales. Of course, those above may be too - perhaps the Fireys cannot be found outside the jungle, or the Wiseman outside the garden, but we don't really know. I've pretty much assumed that those with some obvious means of perambulation might move around, those who don't (or whose job keeps them in place like the four guards who either lie or tell the truth) do not and are more like features of the location.

Locations will be what I get onto in the next post, I should think.

Monday, 1 February 2021

Questing in Elfgames X - Are the PCs special?

Another post I've neglected then re-discovered as I've been thinking about some of this stuff again. This one is on the question of what the PCs represent in the world they inhabit.

Are the PCs supposed to represent normal people in extraordinary circumstances, or are they in and of themselves extraordinary? I think there's a general feeling among what could vaguely be referred to as 'old-school' gamers (though some people I know are beginning to reject that label... I just don't have a better one) that PCs are not special. The assumption is PCs will die fairly often and as a result there's a certain disposability about them. This is the flip-side of the criticism that we (ie 'old-school' gamers) have about millennial snowflakes and their over-precious 3E+ characters who aren't allowed to die. "If character death isn't a possibility, how do the PC's actions have meaning?" we howl. "If you can just re-spawn in 5 minutes, how does PC death have meaning anyway?" the millennial snowflakes reply somewhat baffled, and they really do have a point. If we just pick up another character sheet and say 'and there's another adventurer coming at you round the corner' then... so what? How is that any better? I used to do that when I was playing 'Japs and Commandos' (this is what we used to call it, I believe it's now called 'LARPing') as a 7-year old. We'd 'get shot', fall over going "aiee!" and then we'd get up and say "and now I'm another one". That's basically how we treat a potentially endless succession of replaceable PCs. In one of my recent campaigns, when one of the PCs (a Dwarf called Harald) died, his player wrote 'son of Harald' under his name and he turned up the next day saying 'has anyone seen my dad?'. I thought this was perfectly reasonable.

But, I think this idea that PCs are not special is a mistake. Firstly, because even blacksmiths, among 'Normal Men' in the Moldvay rulebook, only get 4hp and NM saves (and you have to assume that blacksmiths are about as hard as 'Normal Men' get). 'Normal Men' are approximately as tough as a single Kobold and it's a weak PC that can't take a Kobold in a stand-up fight. They are pretty much the weakest thing that PCs will go up against (OK, normal bats, normal rats and insect swarms are pretty weak too... as befits actual things from the real world). So, the PCs can do things 'Normal Men' cannot and if this is true of Humans, I think it's safe to assume that PC Dwarves, Elves and Halflings stand in the same general relationship to their respective races as PC Humans do (though perhaps not quite as starkly, 'monster' Demihumans are a bit tougher than undifferentiated 'monster' Humans). Anyway, mechanically, PCs go beyond the 'ordinary', so by definition, they are extra-ordinary.

Secondly, and this is kinda more to the point in terms of the design-philosophy or ethos of D&D, it is arguable that it is in some way supposed to mimic the episodic adventures of Conan, Bran Mak Morn, Kull and other picaresque pulp-heroes. I read (years ago, and I went looking for it but can't find it now) an exposition of the idea that D&D is rubbish at epic fantasy (à la LotR) because it is set up for dirty episodic picaresque fantasy (à la Conan). This may not be true - there's certainly a decent argument (that I don't actually agree with but I do think the argument should be taken seriously) that D&D is a wargame and nothing to do with fantasy literature at all. Whatever - some people believe that D&D is set up to simulate picaresque fantasy, and that's good enough for me, for the purposes of this argument. The point being that Conan and other pulp heroes were 'special', in so far as they had, at least, extra-ordinary skills, drive etc. And PCs, to my mind, are already special too (due to point 1 above).

If this adventuring lark is supposed to simulate fantasy literature then PCs need to be special. This is an important aspect of my wondering why we aren't telling the stories that we are reading (if that's what we're trying to do, which it may not be). Also, ten years ago now, Beyond The Black Gate had a post outlining a seven-step approach to building an epic-quest-style escalation into (something like) a sandbox - The High Fantasy Campaign. I think it's neat. It left me with the distinct impression that it is possible to use 'old school tools' to make something a bit more epic than what I have previously described as 'shopping at the local cave-mall'.

Hence looking at how to do 'quests' and how to create 'Mentors' a while back. Both mentors and quests are part of epic fantasy literature in particular (not so much the picaresque Conan-style adventures) and somewhat missing from D&D. But there's something else missing from the equation I think, and that's the notion that the PCs are somehow important in the world.

Frodo is important because he has inherited the Ring from Bilbo. Without the Ring, there's no reason for Hobbits to be involved in the grand events that bring the Third Age to a close at all. It could be possible that Aragorn still went to challenge Sauron and re-unite the kingdoms (maybe, because in a dungeon-bashing expedition from Rivendell with Elladan and Elrohir, he stumbled on Gollum and the Ring himself). Aragorn is important of course, but he might have died in the struggle with Sauron. Then another 'Heir of Isildur' would have to be found... But the point is, Frodo was important because he was the Ringbearer. Aragorn was important because he was the Heir of Isildur. It's not just the things they did that were important, not just the actions they took and the choices they made (though of course these were important, and in game terms, this is what the PCs are doing), it was something about who they were (and this means 'how they fitted into the history and relationships of Middle Earth').

If (I said if) D&D is supposed to simulate the literature, the PC then is by definition important in the scheme of things. However, the protagonists of D&D games frequently die (unlike the protagonists of fantasy novels, who only die occasionally), so declaring one of them 'the Last Scion of the Kings of Old' or 'the Last Heir of the Mystic Masters' or whatever makes little sense. The world must continue even if the PCs die. Circle of life, and all that. More PCs must come along and continue to believe there's a point to what they do, so like open-ended quests, binary pass/fail conditions are not appropriate. Determining that the PC is a Scion of the Kings of Old or an Heir of the Mystic Masters is good enough. If the PC reaches 9th Level and has been on some grand adventures, the potential existence of other Heirs and Scions is not relevant. If the PC dies in a cavern surrounded by Goblins while still 1st Level, other Scions and Heirs can continue the good fight and the world has not fallen into unending evil as a result of their death. Perhaps there is a prophecy - but as many of us assumed JK Rowling would make more of the prophecy that could relate to Harry or Neville, prophecies should be ambivalent enough to allow for the death of the one that the prophecy relates to. They may not be the only baby born under the Wandering Star, or with a grail-shaped birthmark, or the only child of the Last Hope Gone Bad - they may have a sister. That heirloom may not be the only mark of kingship or magical power, the favour of the gods or the bloodline of the master-thieves of old, or whatever it is a sign of.

This is something I've apparently been puzzling about for a long time now without really getting anywhere, if this post from March 2018 and a follow-up from October 2018 are anything to go by.

What I haven't managed to work out is a procedure for doing this. There are a few possibilities I think.

The first is just making a massive list of possible heroic secrets. This is fine, but is hard work and a bit 'flat' somehow. Also, there's the problem of 'using up' entries... should the same option be open to more than one character? If I have (say) 100 entries I think they're probably be quite specific (1, orphaned heir of House Nyleth brought up in secret; 2, flame-haired child prophesied to bring about end of reign of Ice-lords, etc).

The second is just to get the players to do it, as I tried to do some time ago in the Rift City campaign (see the post I linked to from October 2018, above). This can be complicated, or maybe I was just unclear. Either way, it was much messier than I thought it would be, but there is still some mileage in the way I have done it in the Rift City campaign - the PCs who have given me something to go on have had some hooks to do with their family secrets. Perhaps more will come out.

The third option is to try to come up with a table using something like the idea expressed in the post from March 2018 that I linked to above, about using story elements and recombining them. This seems to me to be the way that will produce the most flexibility, but it's also probably the most complex in the end. Whether it's possible to do this in relation to the numbers that make up the stats and gold that a character rolls on creation is I suppose the Holy Grail here. It would link right back to the conversations I was having with Jens years ago, along the lines of 'roll a 1 and you're an orphan brought up by Dwarves...' which ties you to the world by giving you a backstory and you a potential mentor in the lord of the Dwarf-hold you come from... but it will be a complicated business coming up with a 7x6x6 grid of possible combinations.


Tuesday, 26 January 2021

Gaming the Labyrinth - some thoughts

 

It was my birthday a few days ago. That's not the point but it comes into the story. There are two reasons for mentioning my birthday - the first is a treat, the second is a present. It's also 5 years this month since David Bowie died. That's not the point either but it may explain some coincidences.

I was thinking that I was going to force my family to watch Labyrinth, because on your birthday, you can maybe insist that people do things that maybe they're not super-keen to do but you can say it's your special treat and they should just humour you.

But, I didn't have to. Two days before, Mrs. Orc was flicking through the channels and suddenly there was David Bowie in his surprising hair and even more surprising trousers, so we settled down to watch it. She didn't mind, she thinks it's a good movie too, and we thought we'd let Orc Minissimus off to do whatever he wanted. He can watch it any time he likes (we have the DVD). And, TV being what it is at the moment, with companies desperate to provide content to captive audiences, four days later it's on again right now as I'm typing up this part of the post. Possibly it's on because, as I say, Bowie died 5 years ago and somebody thought it was a good excuse to put one of his movies on telly.

From https://www.empireonline.com/movies/reviews/labyrinth-review/

Anyway, I started making notes on it because I want to run the Labyrinth (or something like it) as a D&D setting. I tried to note locations, personalities, magic items and whatnot to construct some kid of dreamworld or pocket universe with a similar logic or framework or whatever. I'm not thinking of running this as part of my regular gaming sessions, I think this would have to be a little side-project.

No-one reading this, I assume, is unfamiliar with the film. But just in case you've been living in a pocket universe of your own for 35 years... Sarah's baby brother, Toby has been taken by Jareth and his Goblins. Sarah has 13 hours to rescue Toby from Jareth's Castle beyond the Labyrinth, or he will be lost forever.

One of the most important parts of the film, which perhaps is a bit difficult to get across in gaming, is 'time'. Sarah is on a time-limit and Jareth keeps altering the rules. There are various distractions that eat up time. I suppose, one way of doing this would be to run this as a self-contained session: the Labyrinth must be solved by the end of the session or the PCs fail in their quest. So, turning Labyrinth (or, Labyrinth-like, maybe) into a one-shot.

Obviously, Sarah and Toby come from our world. Not sure how to game that in D&D terms, whether it would be easier to assume that all of this happens 'in universe' or to have a framing where the PCs are actually brought in from outside. I've been thinking a little about portals - (link here). Co-incidentally (maybe not, the point is that it mirrors fantasy literature), 'portal fantasies' are mentioned in the game Blue Rose - this is the birthday present I mentioned earlier, because I have now got a copy of the game. I will be reading it carefully to see what I can draw from it to either inform my D&D gaming or whether it might be better to jump in with both feet and run a game using the Blue Rose rules.

Is it possible to run something like Sarah's journey using Basic D&D? Possibly. But there's a certain amount of what might be called 'alliance-building' that goes on that is difficult to simulate exactly. Sarah's relationships with Hoggle and Ludo, particularly, look easier to 'role-play; than 'rule-play' and that is sort of the point, but also sort of not. Especially for NPCs, reactions should be 'rulable'. All else being equal, if Sarah is kind to NPCs, they should be well-disposed to her. If she is not, they should not be. Jareth may in the end be her enemy but Hoggle, Ludo, Sir Didymus and the other more minor characters should be friendly or not depending on their own motivations and Sarah's interactions with them. There should be a way of constructing systems for developing friendships. Again, Blue Rose has 'Relationship' rules - these I think are more intended for longer-term relationships than the ups and downs of a single session's adventuring, but perhaps there are things to be gleaned from how they handle it. Certainly, part of the charm (for me at least) of Labyrinth is the inter-relationships between the characters that help Sarah to grow as a person. Her relationships with Hoggle and Ludo help her to be less selfish - she's kind to them, and in return they help her on her quest (not it it's about 'returns', because virtue is its own reward, but... having a friend that can summon rocks is certainly helpful). Anyway - alliance-building is a key theme of the film. But whether it's possible to game that in D&D, using the Charisma,  Reactions and Morale rules is something I'm going to have to think about. Several years ago now 'Against the Wicked City' blog had a series of posts (using the tag 'Romance') looking at some of this stuff. I've been re-reading them and hope they'll help me to work out a way forward (there's a metaphor there somewhere). 

There are some things that it's not clear to me yet how to solve. But the inhabitants of the Labyrinth, Goblin City and Castle however are pretty straightforward in terms of their physical abilities (certainly for D&D, I haven't really assimilated Blue Rose yet) - I'll put them in their own post.

So, that's what I'm thinking about at the moment...

Monday, 18 January 2021

Portal Fantasy

This post has been dragged out of the oblivion of 'Drafts', for reasons that will probably become clearer in the not-so-distant future. It's is a continuation of my thinking about how to make D&D more like the literature that inspired it and also the literature that people who might be interested in playing could be reading. 

However, I may be a bit off base here as I don't really belong to the age-bracket or cultural context that didn't read LotR and Howard and Morcock as a youngster... because I did. So I'm not the best judge of what exactly would be high on the reading/watching list of the people who aren't playing but might be... I'm not so familiar with that literature, so in some ways I'm going into this a bit blind.

Anyway, one of the things that is part of a lot of the fantasy literature I do know about is portals, which I mentioned in the linked post. The idea that people from our world venture (often by accident) into another is a mainstay of fantasy literature, TV and film from Alice in Wonderland and The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant to The D&D Cartoon and Stranger Things.

So I'm kicking around some aspects of this question of using portals. I'm looking at the notion of bringing people from our world to the fantasy world to start with.

How does someone from the modern world survive? Classing modern people in D&D terms is tricky.

People from our world will generally be human - unless they have also been transformed while being transported, in which case anything is up for grabs. I can't think of a work where someone's body changed by going through the portal, perhaps there are. More likely that the journey releases unknown abilities (you can't do magic in our world but maybe you can by travelling to 'Fabulosa'? Can't think of any works where that specifically happens but it seems like there would be some. Certainly in the Fionavar Tapestry there is a certain amount of 'magic acquisition' but I'd have to re-read them to work out the particular causes). That might have  a bearing on what class you could be in the new world.

I can't think of a single portal fantasy where the transportee(s) did not speak the language. Red Moon Black Mountain, the Fionavar Tapestry, Chronicles of Narnia, Labyrinth, Magic Kingdom for Sale - SOLD! and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (which to my chagrin I've never even read... though in my understanding the film doesn't depart massively from the book) wouldn't work if Mr Tumnus, Oliver, Loren, Dorothy and so on couldn't communicate. So for starters, the transportees speak 'Common'. Any other languages one might speak in the real world are superfluous. So what if you know English, French, German and a bit of Spanish? Only one of those equates to Common, the others don't exist. Dwarves don't speak Icelandic, Elves don't speak Gaelic. Probably. Though as they're both pretty conservative languages perhaps if the portal takes you back to 10th-century Norway or 5th-century Ireland, maybe the Dvergar and Tuatha de Danaan do speak a recognisable language. But, if you're in 10th-century Norway or 5th-century Ireland, you probably still speak 'Common' - which therefore would probably be Old Norse or Old Irish anyway.

What about skills? Most things modern humans know would be utterly useless. However, we have a much better understanding of stuff like communicable diseases and infection than people living in our own past and that might be a useful survival skill if transported somewhere Earth-like. Most of us I guess know a few things that might be considered somewhat arcane in a different world, like how to make steel by adding carbon to iron, or how to distil vodka. In general terms we might know more about meteorology, astronomy and such like (especially as regards Earth - portals to completely different world would render such knowledge more problematic) but in practical terms we would know less. 

Generally, non-physical skills are a bit more problematic than physical skills. Things like Mixed Martial Arts, archery, and various types of sword-fighting might equate fairly well (though if you're trained with an epee and then get a broadsword maybe not), and some things like being able to chop down a tree with an axe or hunting in the forest would be good for many 'fantasy' settings but otherwise, the sorts of skills that it would actually be beneficial to have are often going to be non-gaming ones. Woodworking and such like, though very practical in a real-world setting, are not exactly skills that feature high in character classes for D&D.

Thief skills are not really a problem. Picking pockets is picking pockets (and sleight-of-hand and misdirection play a part here too I think). The Thief skills seem to be among those that it might be reasonable to directly import.

Unless (see above) the transportation process sets of latent magical talents, Magic Users and Clerics will not be applicable here. Could a devout religious person from our world, whether through faith as an internal mechanism, or from an external source (some god), derive power that enabled them to be a Cleric? Maybe. But I can't see how a Magic User could exist.

Many of us are going to be less fit than people in the past, but conversely - perhaps - more healthy. We often do not lead such active lifestyles as people even 30 years ago, let alone 300 or 3,000. But we don't have anything like the prevalence of rickets, scurvy, polio, leprosy, smallpox or numerous other diseases or other complaints. A year into a global pandemic it seems odd to claim that we're healthier than previous populations but if you went back to Europe in 1349 and talked about a plague that killed 1/1000 of the population, the 60% of the population that survived the Black Death would think you were very, very lucky.

But perhaps some of this is not so relevant. Sarah only stays in the Labyrinth for 13 hours (actually less as Jareth keeps advancing the clock so maybe it's more like 9 hours). Yes, language is pretty fundamental to interact with the inhabitants, but perhaps disease resistance is not so important. The Fionavar Tapestry is perhaps the most 'realistic' attempt at the portal fantasy I can think of, but even then the 'party' (for want of a better term) don't all come down with cholera from drinking polluted water.

So there are problems to say the least with using D&D as a baseline for how you could do this kind of thing in a game, in terms of character generation and classing. Probably not a problem to establish basic stats: STR, INT etc are fairly generic categories, but if you've ever tried to convert D&D to be a space-game engine, for example, it's maybe a bit limited. However, 'how to do magic' is a problem that needs addressing for those classes.

There are a lot of other considerations around portals. I'm sure I haven't even considered a bunch of important factors.

A fundamental question - Who or what has brought the PCs to this world?

a Good Deity
an Evil Deity
a powerful Good Wizard
a powerful Evil Wizard
an accident
an ancient spell
a book or scroll
an ancient magical device
a secret portal (mirror, pool, wardrobe etc)

Not sure if this list is particularly exhaustive. Sometimes there can be more than one answer. An accident, for example, may involve an ancient magical device or spell gone awry. The PCs might be the unintended passengers of a spell meant for someone else, either from a good or evil entity. An Evil Wizard may use a spell or device to trap a questor, etc. Alternatively, an ancient magical device may have been created by an Evil Wizard. So the point of this list is more a 'first cause' than a set of exclusive possibilities. It's probably worth delving into deeper levels of answer that depend on the initial one.

I've just acquired a copy of the game Blue Rose which has a section on using portals in games - I'm going to be reading that section with some interest (along with the rest, of course - I didn't want it just for that section!). I hope, as it's actually part of the fabric of the game, that it might be easier to sort some of this stuff out

So, yeah... portals... they're a thing. Not a huge part of what I'm thinking about right now but I guess connected. It's sometimes difficult to know exactly where to put all the speculation.





Thursday, 14 January 2021

Rift City Sessions 41-42


I didn't get round to putting up December's session (Session 41) so this is partly about that - what I can remember - but I guess it's really going to be about what I recall of Session 42 (which was only a couple of days ago).

The first thing that happened was that three new PCs joined the party. These were (alphabetically) Helvor, a Cleric; Inarra, a Magic User, and Kate Short For Bob, a Halfling. This is because of the deaths (or at least temporary petrification) of Karensa and Kraghelm, and the retirement of Galen. About 3 years ago, I asked the PCs to come up with a fact about their PCs. Galen's player told me Galen was seeking to restore his family's fortunes so he could marry his lady love. Having amassed 20,000GP he's taking that back to the Elf-lands to hire retainers and give some presents to local dignitaries to re-establish the clan's standing. So, Helvor, Inarra and Kate joined Berg (Dwarf), Brigham (Cleric) and Gibbet (Thief) to brave the caves.

The first thing the party decided to do - and I have no idea why - was go to the Level 1 cave of Ningal the Magic User and kill her as a witch. They seem to have decided that she's the one who was controlling the Undead, but having killed her, they found her journal that said she'd been having problems with them too, so that wasn't it.

Then they went back to the cave where Kraghelm and Karensa had been petrified. Nosing around there they found a peculiar upside-down pit trap: it was a patch of water on the ceiling, and Kate failed a saving throw and fell 'up' into it.

Now; things that look easy to grasp from my side of the screen look somewhat different from the other side. I thought it was pretty obviously a gravity-reversal trap, limited to a very small area. I expected the rest of the party to throw a rope so Kate could climb down (or, 'up' from her point of view).

But they didn't. They thought it was some aquatic (or at least watery-looking) ceiling-monster with a paralysing/levitating attack - so Inarra the Magic User fireballed it, with Kate still sitting in the puddle. Having done that - bear in mind Kate has now taken d6 damage from falling 'up' 10', and 5d6 damage from the fireball (half if she made her save, I guess she must have done or she'd probably be toast) - the rest of the party decided they'd then dispel the effect, causing Kate to fall again and take another d6 damage. Poor Kate, but honestly, it was hilarious. It also took about an hour before all this was done. Not bad for something from a room description that had originally read, I think, 'the water is on the ceiling'. I don't really want my PCs to know my sources but rest assured, room generator, I am very grateful, those 6 words generated a lot of gaming content. 

It took up so much time that I think there was only time for a fight with some Giant Ants and the PCs decided to head for home.

For Session 42, they decided not to head back to the Medusa Caves, as they're too difficult to map (being a bit wiggly, again, I don't want to reveal too much about my sources, thanks Dyson Logos).

So, instead, they headed on down the path to find another cave entrance.

Now, I haven't designed this area beyond a few rough notes. There is a ruin further down the path, that the party found rumours about 3 years ago (and have probably forgotten).

However, what has been established already is that the wilderness will get more unforgiving beyond the bend in the road. Given the division between 'Basic' and 'Expert' rules, this seems to me to be a reasonable way to conceptualise moving further from civilisation. We joked at the time when Gibbet went up to 4th Level that now the Wilderness could attack him, but having zones of increasing wildness makes more sense. From the Edge of the Rift to the First Bend, is a kind of liminal zone - not completely wild, not completely tame; but beyond the bend, civilised writ does not run. So, a short way down the path, the party encountered some humanoids, at some range. As Berg the Dwarf went to investigate, and the humanoids in question were Goblins, arrows soon started to fly. The party charged the Goblins and saw off about a dozen or so, either dead or chased away.

Again, not really wanting to give too much away but I looked at my maps for the 'next level past the Medusa Cave' and realised that in fact there are no cave entrances to that level. Not that I have established anyway. So they kept on going until they arrived at the ruins.

I knew that at some point the PCs would get here but did not expect to have to flesh them out 'on the hoof' as it were. I had a map and some room descriptions - but the original had 5' squares that made no sense. There is a pit-trap that is only 5' square in a corridor - I can't see what would prevent some even relatively-tall human (it was Helvor who triggered it) from just grabbing the lip at the far side to stop themself falling, or at least slowing their descent so they could hang from the edge and just drop the last few feet.

I told them the squares were 10'. That seemed to solve the problem. It meant all the room descriptions were off and I had to convert everything on the fly. The descriptions were also for a Level 1 dungeon, so I was pulling monsters out and substituting ones of a more appropriate level. As it was, the only monster I remember them finding in the ruin was an Ochre Jelly. It was a little while before they found out that fire was their friend, but they did manage to fireball it and its spawn eventually.

After that (they'd only searched a couple of rooms of the ruin) they decided to head back to civilisation, with not very much loot. But from my point of view it seemed reasonable that they could have another encounter in the wilderness on the way home (one possibility in the morning, one in the evening... both came up).

Consulting the tables it was a Frost Giant (1-2 appearing). Well, it was only one that appeared, looking for 'its' Goblins. When the PCs cheerfully admitted they'd killed some Goblins, the Giant got angry and started throwing rocks at them. The PCs being PCs charged (someone was injured by a rock but I can't remember who) and Helvor saved the day by turning some sticks (that he'd said he was collecting at the previous session) into snakes. The spell is a bit underwritten so I decided to dice for the properties of the snakes - turns out, he'd made 11 Pit Vipers. 3 of them managed to make attacks on the Giant, and of those the giant saved one throw... so, as far as I can tell, the Giant died. Cue looting the corpse where, in the treasure tables, the giant has a 25% of 3 magic items plus one scroll. I can't remember what I rolled but it was less than 25. So I told the PCs that they'd found some cash (the best haul in the session, obviously), and also that they'd found a scroll. Then I rolled the first random magic item... a scroll! And the third magic item... a scroll! And the fourth magic item... a scroll! So four magic items, all scrolls... consulting further rolls these were two scrolls of Protection from Undead, one of Protection from Lycanthropes, and a treasure map. I'm so glad they found that at the end of the session, now I have a month to knock up some sort of map for them to go and investigate for the next session...

What I'm pretty certain is that it will lead to the Sepulchre of Riha the Bejewelled (thanks Donjon for I'm sure at the very least you gave me the name!)

I really don't know where this session would have been without loads of internet content out there - thanks to all I haven't mentioned too, but some at least will have to be kept under wraps until my players have pushed on a bit further.