Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Some simple mutation tables

I was looking for some tables for mutations a while back, and couldn't find any suitable ones. There are a couple over over at Seventh Order of the Random Generator, but they're way to unpredictable for what I wanted, and anyway, I needed both tables for both cosmetic mutations and more serious mutations. In the end I made a few for myself. I needed them for magical mutations that could affect PCs, but they have other potential uses of course, and obviously I built them for D&D but with a little tweaking they could be used for other games. They can be treated as a form of Curse, and require either magical healing or some kind of quest to overcome.

The first is a table for cosmetic mutations which, though they may interfere with a character's normal social interactions (because trying to buy a drink when you have decayed flesh is something NPCs might find a little gross), are not in themselves going to change a PC's stats (except possibly CHA or similar).

The second is for more substantial mutations, involving growing wings and whatnot. These will definitely change a PC's stats. It's up to the DM how this might affect play.

Minor mutations (d6)

  1. Blue skin
  2.  Feathers (d12: 1-red; 2-orange; 3-yellow; 4- green; 5-blue; 6-purple; 7-white; 8-black; 9-multi-coloured; 10-copper; 11-silver; 12-gold)
  3. Decayed flesh
  4. Lizard skin
  5. Massively hairy
  6. Elf ears (if victim is an Elf-type, ears shrink and become Human-like)

Major mutations (d6)

  1. Lobster claws for hands
  2. Snake body
  3. Human/Elf to Orc, Dwarf/Halfling to Goblin
  4.  Become Minotaur
  5. Snake hands
  6. Wings (d6; 1-Angel; 2-Eagle; 3-Crow; 4-Dragon; 5-Butterfly; 6-Daemon)

I've created versions of these tables at the Seventh Order. The second-order tables for colours of feathers, and types of wings, are already nested into the generators.

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Naked Gaming part 4 - oh why can't this be easy?

Right, here's the thing; work has sent us to different sites this week, so me, Rolf, Lady Malice and Del Diablo are here, but Timmy the Halfling is a couple of hours away and we can't get there and back. We're going to try to skype him later. Next week, it being close to Christmas, people are going back home and Del Diablo at least will be heading back to his native Poland (and you thought he was Spanish!) at the weekend. So he's not going to be around next week anyway... oh the life of an unexpected DM.

Joining us though is another game-head, who has mostly played Swedish RPGs (being from Sweden and all) but is keen on playing old-school D&D anyway. So somehow we'll get him involved - I hope, as one of the people from the Old Mill who survived. I'd come up with an idea that the Old Mill was operated by Mr & Mrs Miller, their daughter and an apprentice. Our new player can be any of them if he wishes. The two Skeletons at the Mill were of course two of the inhabitants - but that still leaves two running around somewhere. One (see the post from a few days ago) was, I thought, the miller who had gone berserk after the Orcs attacked his home. But it doesn't actually have to be that way. Did the millers' daughter stay in her room, with her mother comforting her, while her father and the apprentice went out to fight the monsters? Or perhaps it was the youngsters who went out, the old folks sheltering inside. Or maybe, it was the young ones who stayed put while the adults went to deal with the monsters. The possibilities, if not endless, at least allow for our new player to take the part of any of the inhabitants - if he so chooses.

But there are other possibilities of course. He could take the role of one of the NPCs. Or he could just be a passer-by caught up in the action. I guess I'm going to see over the course of this evening...

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Naked Gaming part 3 - ahead of the game...

Right, I know I have some sessions with my new works-gamers, so I'm trying to get some stuff together right now.

I need a whole bunch of stat-blocks that I can throw in. There are going to be more Orcs, a higher-level NPC (who will probably be an enemy; he's the miller from the Old Mill who has gone mad and is now a berserker), and maybe a (very) small dragon or some other kind of hard monster at the end. Maybe a Minotaur or possibly a Medusa.

There's also going to a bit of weird magic I hope. Not sure what yet, some strange magical effect like a fountain where the water goes up into the ceiling/sky, or something. Just something a bit more fantastical than 'you're in a forest fighting some ugly dudes because reasons'.

So I've put together a random encounter list (partly from the monsters in a couple of runs of the Wizards of the Coast Dungeon Generator, and some from the Pathfinder random tables I found on the net here) and added info on what the humanoids and monsters are up to from the 'What Are Those Wandering Monsters Up To?' and 'wtf are those goblins doing?' tables at Last Gasp/Seventh Order of the Random Generator, which is as I think I may have mentioned a spiffing site, though maybe not easy to use in a hurry. Judicious use of the 'Carried by Goblin' and 'Whats in that goblins sack?' tables supplied some things that the Goblins on the list have with them. Other races will get a little further description.

The Naked Gaming enforced experiment is likely to be over this week anyway, as I've managed to get home for my dice and the Basic and Expert rulebooks. So things will be done a little less on the fly and with a little more forethought. But, as I'm also not going to be working with these fine people in a couple of weeks, this will probably be our last week of gaming anyway, which is a shame. I'll try to give them a few more fun evenings before they reach the bad boss-monster and either get the big pay-off, or all die.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Naked Gaming part 2 - At the Old Mill

More making it up again this evening - I really was just ahead of the party in terms of creating this world they're exploring. It's a bit exhausting to be honest!

The result of yesterday's action was that the party staunched the basically dead Del Diablo's wounds, made a stretcher from saplings and cloaks to carry him (the torch-bearer types being assigned to do this) then looted the Orcs (getting a small haul of coins, and several stoppered flasks of different kinds - one lamp-oil, one wine, and they haven't tried the rest). Walking wounded - Rolf, who told everyone he was fine, it was only a flesh wound, and Raul Derdue (that I'm now pronouncing 'Derdué') - are accompanying the stretcher while Timmy the Halfling is ranging ahead. Raul was quieter than yesterday, what with only having 1hp (and me not having had as much booze, so I wasn't doing silly Spanish accents as much).

In not-very-long, the mill hoves into view, and the party then has a bit of a debate about how difficult it will be to cross the water to get to it. Lady Malice volunteers so they tie a rope to her, in case she gets swept away or falls into a big hole, but she's fine and ties the rope to a convenient  protrusion on the other side. The party then crosses - stretcher and all - and everyone is safely deposited on the flat area just south of the mill.

I didn't have the map I made yesterday to hand so the mill looks a little different to the depiction on that map. The mill building itself, which houses the machinery, is two-storey; the cottage is like a crofters' cottage - single storey but with a loft-space - and the workshop range is single-storied.

The rest of the party stayed to the south while Timmy went forward, Spooked by spookyness (the mill was aparently deserted, dusty and making creaking noises) Timmy fled. So Rolf, with Halca and Guy, two of the more useful NPCs, went to investigate. They went for the western building first, and found it was a store-room-come-workshop. Bits of rusting machinery and 'things that might be useful' abounded, but they reckoned they didn't have time for a proper search. On to the centre range next, Rolf and Guy went in while Helca stayed by the door ready to call for assistance if needed. They found a room with a range, some basic furniture, a bed behind a curtain, and a ladder to the loft. Rolf cocked his crossbow and went up, into the loft-space where there were sounds of movement.

Upstairs were two Skeletons. As in undead monsters, not as in sets of human bones lying still (from an iteration of the WotC random dungeon generator I mentioned yesterday). Rolf beat a hasty retreat and warned Guy as the the skellies started to lurch down the stairs. He got a shot in with his crossbow, but the skellies kept lurching. They made their way outside as Rolf tried to remember about the difference between bludgeoning and piercing weapons and how they harm skellies (he's the guy who used to play RuneQuest and as it turns out some version of AD&D back in the day). So he readied his warhammer and told Helca to warn the others and bring any crushing weapons, then stood at one side of the door - Guy stood at the other - and they both swung for the first skellie through the door - the  one with Rolf's crossbow-bolt stuck between its ribs.

These skellies are a bit tougher than normal ones - they seem to have d12 as a base for hp rather than d8. I will make sure the XP given reflects this. The fight - Guy and Rolf were soon joined by a returning Helca, with Raul Derdué's club, Lady Malice, and Timmy, who's stolen Del Diablo's silver dagger thinking it might be good against undead - was long and brutal. As our heroes (especially as Rolf is heavily injured from the earlier fight with the Orcs) have between 2-5hp and the skellies have base d12, it went on for ages, with the skellies just trying to bash the party with the bits of wood (torn from the furniture) they had to hand. One lucky swipe even caught Rolf, opening up the wound the Great Orc had delivered, and knocking him down. Another party member 'technically dead'...

The combined attacks of Lady Malice, Timmy, Guy and Helca were at last enough to bring down both skellies, but not before Lady Malice had cunningly tried to grab the unconscious Rolf's warhammer - only to find that it was on a strap about his wrist, to great comedy effect. But at last the fight was over, and the process of saving Rolf's life began. They did what has rapidly become known as 'Rudimentary Staunching', and waited to see if they'd stopped the bleeding. He made his CON roll easily enough - he had 17 CON to begin with - so he will be back to fight again. Once they had done what they could, Lady Malice looted the house - finding a Healer's Kit (a randomly-rolled treasure on the donjon d20 Random Treasure Generator) along with some other useful stuff, and a small purse of money that she sneakily pocketed. Timmy made soup. While all this was going on, Lady Malice began wondering where these Skeltons had come from, why they were upstairs in a bedroom and what had become of the miller and his family? I don't think she entirely liked where her thoughts were leading her...

Mixing some salves and powders from the kit together, determined that no-one else was going to die there and come back from the dead, Lady Malice started by giving Raul some of the generally healing concoction, and Timmy gave him some soup - he seemed to perk up. They then went on to give some more to Rolf and Del. Both regained consciousness and proclaimed themselves a little recovered (though they're still not sure if it was the soup or the salves that helped more). Then Rolf suggested getting inside the mill building and barricading the door for the night. A good plan, and a convenient place to stop the session.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Naked Gaming part 1

Well, that was unexpected. I'm working away from home with some people I've worked with before and some new guys. Chatting to one of the people I don't know very well in the works van heading to site yesterday, he says he was at a games club at the weekend and played his first session of D&D. "Oh cool, I play too, old-school D&D that is" I replied. "Really?" comes a voice from the front of the van, from one of the older guys, same kinda age as me. "I used to play RuneQuest back in the day". "Oh, I'd love to play proper D&D" offers another of my colleagues. Then our supervisor chimes in "I've never played D&D, but I used to play Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play 15 years ago"...

I mean seriously, what? There are 8 of us in the van and 5 of us are gamers?

So the long and the short of it is that last night, after we got back to base, four of us played a game of Munchkin and after that, I helped three of the four interested people roll up Basic D&D characters (after playing Munchkin with us, our supervisor had to and make a Skype call, I suspect to his wife, so I'm helping him put a character together tonight). I don't have any dice. I don't have any rules. I don't have any scenarios. I don't even have access to a printer.

What I have is access to a couple of die-roller websites and apps, the knowledge that the equipment list is on the web, and a bunch of links to various OSR and other gaming sites. I created a random dungeon from the WotC site (that is only going to take us so far, I need to soften the party up I mean get them used to playing a bit first). I generated some NPCs from Meatshields!, and tonight I'm going to get some stats for a few monsters and start the adventure proper.

The players will begin in the small town of Rock Fort (when I described the town as 'a bit like Bree' one of the players said 'what, like Camembert?'... 'maybe, but I think Rock Fort is a better name'). Anyway, the party is coming together. Lady Malice De Vine (a thief), Timmy Song (a Halfling) and Rolf Ironhead (a Dwarf) will shortly be joined by Del Diablo (another thief, a mysterious and slightly Spanish one).

So here's the deal: a herald accompanied by a couple of men-at-arms rides into Rock Fort and issues a proclamation from the local Earl that monsters have been seen in the area and bold souls are needed to go and fight them, for suitable rewards, of course. Step forward Rolf, Timmy and Lady Malice, and sort-of-hang-back-mysteriously Del Diablo, while six of the townsfolk (the NPCs from Meatshields!) join them.

They set off to the north; the 'monsters' - described as 'orrible, 'ideous, monstrous fings! Wiff 'eads.., an' fingers... an' fings! - have been seen about four miles north of the village, near 'the Old Mill'.

This is the quick map of the surroundings of Rock Fort that I've just knocked up, It'll certainly do for the moment.

The party has made its way about 3 miles to the north, taking care to send scouts and look for signs of any monsters, and have been rewarded with ample signs of Orcs (yes, they guessed in advance that they were Orcs) in the area. Scouting and sneaking stood them in good stead; they were able to ambush the Orcs, killing 5 of them and only taking one fatality and two injuries in return. Alas, Del Diabolo succumbed to an Orcish sword.

True my 'other' campaign, I'm allowing the use of a roll against CON to survive 'fatal' wounds (should the injured party be treated by his comrades). Del Diabolo has made his roll and will permanently lose 1 point of CON as a result (to represent the debilitating injury from which he'll never fully recover). However, he will live to sneak another day (actually, without his shortbow shooting the party would have been sunk).

Rolf, (the Dwarf) and one of the men-at-arms, Derdue (who now has a first name as well, 'Raul') are both heavily injured. Neither should die but the company is starting to regret not having any healing magic.

I need to go to bed now, more pondering on this strange turn of events in due course...

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Creepy-crawlies... and creepy-flyies too

Due to the nature of my work, I'm around disturbed earth quite a lot, and I've noticed that wasps seem to like it; there always seem to be plenty around anyway, at least in summer and early autumn (not now the weather is colder), and they seem pretty curious about whatever is going on nearby.

This got me thinking about the possibilities for gaming, tunnels and whatnot (including fresh digging) being an important part of the setting of D&D. Killer Bees are of course a well-established monster, but what about giant Mine Wasps? They'd hang around Dwarven and Gnomish tunnels and disrupt the activities going on there, I'd suspect. I can imagine big wasps being a problem for Gnomes. Halflings too like burrowing in the earth, so perhaps their settlements would be plagued by these things. Or maybe, Halflings settle where there are no giant wasps. Maybe that's why Halflings stay close to home? In the Wild, there is too much change of encountering Mine (or Burrow) Wasps. It's a serious business, I guess, establishing a new Halfling community (or even setting foot out of your door, as Bilbo reminds Frodo).

Perhaps there are even Grave Wasps, that have some affinity with freshly-dug graves. These would naturally be good animals for Necromancers and certain evil clerics to have domesticated, to use as both scouts and guards (and wasps as we all know being made of pure evil anyway).

Giant Spiders (such as in Mirkwood, Shelob, Ungoliant) are part of the lore of fantasy worlds. Other arthropods too - Sam is plagued by 'neekerbreekers' in the Midgewater Marshes, and 'Hummerhorns' (giant flying insects) are at least referred to in Hobbit songs (if not necessarily as real creatures... but they could be).

I was also bitten (I should say nipped really) some time ago by a kind of green shiny bug. I don't know what it was but there seemed to be a lot of them where I was. They were very small (only a few millimetres long) but I definitely felt the nip. A scaled-up version would be at least as fierce I think, like a bright green Tiger Beetle perhaps; I decided that it should be called a Dragon Beetle.

A couple of years ago I was working at a place called 'Dragonfly Mews'. That got me wondering about who would need to keep dragonflies in a special housing, presumably using them to hunt. Some elven Court, perhaps? Maybe they use giant dragonflies the way humans hunt with hawks. In that case, what would they be hunting?

Perhaps it's Halflings who use them - probably, slightly smaller ones than theoretical Elven hawk-insects. Or perhaps the dragonflies are kept by some insane lord for hunting the Halflings. That would be pretty sinister. Perhaps these things are even the Hummerhorns of Hobbit folklore. I still haven't decided, but these questions will be bugging me for some time to come I'm sure.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

The Fortunate Isles - an invitation to readers

I'm going to open an invitation to readers to submit details of the many and various islands that make up the Fortunate Isles, Isles of the Blessed, the Summer Isles, Tir na nOg, or whatever one wants to call the mystic islands that lie in the uttermost west where the dead go, the fairies live, witches share eyeballs, evil sisters turn adventurers to stone, dying kings go to sleep in caves and whatnot.

All images from a Google image search for 'Isles of the Blest'.

This is somewhat inspired by people like John M. Stater (at Strange New World and Land of Nod), and Greg (at Gorgonmilk)'s frequent invitations to submit content for a variety of projects. Other people do it too, of course, but those are blogs that I've particularly liked being involved with providing content for.

In my campaign world, there is a region of islands which were once part of an Elf-Kingldom, but are now ruled and mostly peopled by humans. It's a bit like a version of Arthurian Britain, with Knights, quests, tourneys, maidens captured by giants or riding unicorns, riddles set by wizened crones, Pixies and wood-spirits, and what-not.

Toying with the idea used by noisms for 'New Troy' over at Monsters and Manuals, where there is a Fairyland that is a 'parallel universe' to the 'real' game universe, I thought that I could detail a set of islands to be randomly dropped into any attempts to sail around my 'real' archipelago. These islands would only appear in certain phases of the moon, under certain atmospheric conditions or just as a result of a random roll, in previously-open water or in the place of another island, representing ghosts of the former land, psychic projections of the lost inhabitants or just magically-hidden isles that PCs can discover.

My conception is that the Fortunate Isles are not so much a Mythic Underworld as a Mythic Otherworld. This will perhaps be a bit more 'wilderness-y' than 'dungeon-y', but I'm not going to be too hung up on that. Re-reading some of the 'New Troy' stuff, I see that I lifted that idea from there completely, even down to the way I phrased it. A very good idea then, that germinated in my head for 6 months before popping up again so that I thought I'd invented it.

Any way - each of the islands has a few distinctive characteristics that render it a bit strange compared to the 'real' world. Like different zones in a dungeon, different islands have different habitats and inhabitants, even perhaps different laws of nature. Maybe, another way to look at this is that each of the Isles is like a different 'room' in a mega-dungeon. However one wants to conceptualise it, the islands are different locations and I'm issuing a call to add short descriptions to help to make up the many ... many many, islands of the group.

I think there should be a thousand of them. That's a bit crazy to be sure, but... why not?

I will adopt the following conventions in description - a 'small' isle is one where no axis is more than one mile (1.6km) long; a 'medium-sized' isle is more than a mile and less than 5 miles (8km) in its longest dimension, and a 'large' isle is as least 5 miles long. Other terms like 'very large' and 'huge' may be dropped in but I'll try to remember to clarify what they mean in the description. Please, add further islands if you have any ideas... I may well die before I can sketch out all 1,000 of them!

The first few islands...

Island 000 - the Isle of Stones - small island
Three enormous monoliths stand together at the highest point of this unpopulated island. They are ancient and have symbols carved on them that defy attempt to Read Magic or Read Languages. There is space for perhaps six people to stand between them, Standing in the space between them at night will grant one PC access to a Wish spell. Only one character can take advantage of this, even if the space is fully-occupied.

Island 001 - the Isle of Storms - large island
Storms surround this island, and it always rains here. It is particularly likely to be found if the PCs have been experiencing bad weather for three days or more. The inhabitants are normal humans, but fire-based technology is almost unknown here. Iron (weapons, armour, tools and equipment) rusts (in 1d6 days, add one day for any magical pluses). The Islanders live in small villages - there are around 12 on the island and no central control - and cook food by placing it inside animal skins and lowering these into hot springs. Each village is built round such a spring. Even using torches is met with much disapproval. Only lanterns are used by the islanders to provide light; naked flames are considered evil. Any spell-casters using fire-based magic in public will be hunted down and thrown in a (very) hot pool as an affront to the Islanders' deity.

Island 002 - the Isle of Unicorns - large island
This large island is mostly grassy with some wooded areas. The weather is always warm. There is a lake, in a wood, at the approximate centre of the island. A breeze is always blowing out from this wood, and the whole island is wafted by it, carrying along white blossom from the trees,  no matter what time of year it is elsewhere. A herd of unicorns lives on this island. There are several unicorns with riders, and some without. The riders are generally young Elven or Human women, though other races (and perhaps males, depending on one's interpretation of the word 'maiden') can be represented if the DM wishes. If the PCs try to harm the unicorns, the riders will attack, while the rest of the herd flees. The riders wear no armour, but can carry any weapon. There is only one way to 'catch' a unicorn to ride. A maiden must sit naked under one of the trees by the edge of the pool all through the night of the full moon. A unicorn will come to her after 6+d6 hours. It might not be obvious if the PC is a virgin; to randomly determine this, subtract the PC's Charisma from their Wisdom. Add +1 to Wisdom for every Cleric level the PC has, unless it is in the service of a deity of Love - in this case +1 to Charisma for each Clerical Level. A negative score means the PC is not a virgin, and no unicorn will appear.

Island 003 - the Isle of Honey - small island
This island is the home of a giant swarm of Killer Bees. The whole island is the hive; vast quantities of healing honey can be found here, but the swarm is a formidable challenge.

Island 004 - the Isle of Wrecks - medium island
The shores of this island are strewn with wrecked ships. The inhabitants are former sailors turned scavengers, scattered among many small settlements, which generally spring up from the surviving crew of a beached vessel. Few are women, and many were pirates. There are very few youngsters, and much of the population is involved in feuding and raiding of other settlements. They are well-armed, and generally hostile, The reefs around the island are particularly good at smashing up boats; as such, there is never enough wood to build a viable craft from wreckage, and anyway, the inhabitants are so unwilling to co-operate with each other that they are incapable of pooling their collective resources to build an escape-vessel, or even a craft capable of raiding one of the other islands.

Island 005 - the Priestesses' Isle - small island
Seven Elven priestesses robed in white guard this isle. Three will be praying and singing in the sacred grove at the centre of the island; three will be sleeping in a bower nearby, ready to take over at dusk or dawn, and the seventh will be doing menial tasks concerned with cooking, cleaning and gathering food for her sisters. On subsequent visits, a different priestess will be doing the menial tasks, as they rotate their duties. The priestesses are not hostile unless the PCs initiate conflict, but they are uninterested in the events of the outside world. If PCs perform a quest for them involving visiting another island and returning with a specific item, they will use magic (healing or divination) on the PCs' behalf.

Island 006 - the Isle of the Healing Spring - medium island
A spring rises in a glade on this island, forming a small pool. The area is lush and looks full of life. Any PC bathing in the pool for more than 10 minutes can heal d20 lost HP, at the rate of 1HP every 10 minutes (they will never gain more than they originally had). In order for the healing magic to work, the PC must be naked and weaponless. They will not know how many points they can heal - the pool is fickle. After this time, they will age at the rate of one year for every minute they spend in the pool. Subsequent visits to the pool will produce this ageing effect immediately. The ageing effect is irreversible.

Island 007- the Isle of Strange Fruit - medium island
This island is covered in large trees which produce giant dangling, bulbous fruit with a leathery-looking skin, approximately man-sized. Any character trying to pick the fruit must make a Charisma test. Failure will mean that the 'fruit' falls from the tree, then splits open to reveal a random monster (use a Wandering Monster table for the character's level, or for a bad failure, of a level or two higher). The monster will usually attack the character. A successful Charisma test will produce enough fruit for a day's rations, and a small quantity of gold and silver coins (more coins for a spectacular success). The trees can also be Charmed to produce fruit rather than monsters. Treat the trees as level 5 monsters for saving throws. The fruit, if not eaten, will turn to dust at dawn the next day. Any attempt to eat this dust will require a Save v Death Ray, or the PC will turn into a tree themselves, over d6 x 10 minutes, unless a Remove Curse or Wish spell is deployed.

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Ruins by the Lake, part II

Well, it's been a while, because the lads have been having exams and I've been working hard on my thesis, but we managed to squeeze in another session a few nights ago. Bromeen and Bjorn (two Dwarves), Wizard (a Magic User), Wiz Khalifa (a Cleric) and Josef (a Thief), having been more-or-less thrown out of Threshold for being more trouble than they're worth, had decided to explore the ruins by the lake a few miles north of town. Once there, they ran into a merchant, on his way to market-day in Threshold, and then some Halflings (who referred to themselves as 'Nelwyn') on some sort of pilgrimage to sites connected to a mysterious Halfling hero called 'Willow'. After that, they ran into some giant White Apes - the last session closed with the Apes (who had a couple of very favourable reaction scores) hoisting Wiz K. on their shoulders and running round with him like some kind of giant doll.

The first thing that happened in this session was that the White Apes (who remained ridiculously happy) gave up on throwing Wiz Khalifa in the air, and buggered off, having been distracted by something else. So, what might have been a nasty encounter ended in some relief for the party (who had been saved by a series of perfect reaction rolls to be frank). After this, the guys started poking about in the ruins, and soon found an entrance to the catacombs under the ruined city.

The catacombs area series of iterations of the Wizards of the Coast random dungeon generator. I ran the generator 4 times, producing small (12-24 room) dungeons, each with 4-10 monster encounters, then linked the maps with corridors and staircases. Keeping a tight control of the source-books means that isn't a great range of monsters - though Kobolds, Orcs, Goblins and Bugbears are all going to appear from the humanoid side of things, come here to loot the ruins and (they hope) establish a forward-base to attack Threshold; and as is often the case these nefarious chaps are accompanied by the odd wolf or dire-wolf. Some of the monsters I've had to substitute as I don't have stats/rules for them in any edition I have access to - Darkmantles (I think I had two of those) have been substituted with Giant Bats, and the Krenshar and Worgs of the original listing have been replaced with the already-mentioned wolves and dire-wolves. There are a few skeletons and zombies (the undead original inhabitants of the city, buried alive 60 years ago) and lots of various (and variously-sized) snakes, bugs and spiders.

Because the 4 different iterations use the same room descriptions for their contents, I needed a way to generate room descriptions for the duplicate rooms. So I turned to a place any sensible DM should consult as much as possible, Beyond the Black Gate blog, specifically, the 'Weird Things in Rooms table'. First result I rolled? A "19. A viking longship, far too big to fit through a door, fills the room."


A happy hour or so later, I'd restocked all the rooms I needed to. There are some crazy rooms in the catacombs I'm telling you.

Anyway; back to the PCs. Creeping down the staircase and into a junction of hallways, the PCs remembered to light torches and lanterns (they forget that sometimes). Their first decision in a complicated junction was to get Josef to look for traps on the door in front of them. Josef found the trap but couldn't disarm it. Luckily when the blade sliced down, no-one was harmed. In the room, they found a dome of black glass that made them fearful (94 on the Weird Things... table). But first, some small spiders (about the size of cats) charged towards them. They were quickly dealt with and it was on to the main event - the black glass dome.

Wiz K, being a Cleric and deciding this was some magic that, if it wasn't exactly ungodly, was at least the wrong sort of godly, decided the only thing to do was smash it. I kept telling them it made them fearful - they didn't listen. Time for saving throws.

Bromeen, Bjorn and Wiz K - the ones with the hit points and the biggest urge to smash things - all failed. OK, I told them, you're paralysed with fear of the black glass. Wizard and Josef, however, who have 1hp each, and who didn't want to touch the thing anyway, made their saving throws. "Err, are we completely paralysed? Can we still talk?" asked our paralysed PCs. "You can talk, and move, you just can't bring yourself to approach the dome" I replied, reasoning that the paralysing dread-effect was like a force-field of fear that the dome was pushing out. "Go and touch it, go on go on go on, and smash it!" chorused those too fearful to do it themselves. Wizard was not keen, asking instead what he could see, so I told him it appeared to be a dome of dark glass with some kind of swirling black gas inside that he could faintly see (I wish now I'd told him it showed stars he didn't recognise, but it's easy to be wise after the event); but Josef, goaded by his fellow-party-members, finally consented to put his hand on the glass. I made a show of rolling a die. "Nothing happens - it seems to be made of glass". Josef then decided he would lick (!) the glass. Another die-roll. "Nothing happens - it seems to be made of glass".

At this point Wiz K piped up: "if I'm not paralysed, can I throw my warhammer at it?" Of course, he could, so I decided that it would have AC 5 and 3 points of damage would smash it. I hadn't worked out what it would do if it wasn't completely smashed, but if I run this again I think I'll require a Save at -2 (or at minus-however-many-points-of-damage-the-thing-took) as the dome responds with a psychic-energy backlash. Anyway, Wiz K's hammer hit and did enough damage to smash it completely. "The glass shatters and the black gas billows out. Bromeen, Bjorn and Wiz K fall over". Some consternation. "Are we dead, or unconscious or something?" they asked. "No, the force-field that kept you away from the dome has collapsed, and you were knocked over with the shock - that's all." "OK - can we go and breathe in the gas?" Err yes, if you want to, guys... another roll even though I have no reason to think that the gas is harmful... and nothing happens. I really should be more responsive to what they're trying to do and give them more positive feedback. Or in this case, negative feedback along the lines of 'yes you breath in the gas, you feel it burn your lungs and your mind goes dark, now Save v Spells, if you fail, you're a ghoul' or something.

All that was left for them to do in this room was for them to collect some of the bigger shards of black glass and start looking for other ways out. Another door at the back of the room led somewhere new - this time to a room with a bloodstained altar ("Smash it!" cried Wiz K - it's rapidly becoming his catch-phrase) and some drums (presumably used to provide music for sacrificial rituals). This room had some snakes in it - not big ones, but they still managed to bite Bjorn (I can only assume, on the nose, as he's AC1). He made his saving throw against poison however so only took a couple of points of damage from the bite itself. As he's appointed himself as the party's Tank, he shrugged off the damage. Again, the critters were more of a nuisance than a threat.

A quick search of the room revealed this was a dead-end. The altar didn't seem to be connected with the snake-cult. Which meant the PCs didn't really care. They liked the drums though, Bjorn took one, convinced that it will come in useful (he's been trying to get a musical instrument for days now). Then they made their way back to the room of the glass dome.

Turns out there's another, untrapped, door back into the corridor they originally came from. But that door was stuck - so they took their chances with trapped one, Wiz K (AC2) going first and the others scurrying along in the time it took for the trap to re-set. Coming out of the room and turning right, they made their way down a corridor with a portcullis at the end. Finding that it was easy enough to lift (any 3 characters, or the 2 Dwarves, could have lifted it) they made their way into the room beyond - where hundreds of skulls, each with a melted candle balanced on it, stared at them from niches in the walls. There has obviously been some grim necromantic magic going on in this part of the catacombs. But the PCs didn't care, when a perfunctory search revealed no secret doors or hidden treasure. Back to the portcullis, and down the corridor again to the junction, where they took another door.

This door led into a room with a pit in the middle ("Smash it!" shouted Wiz K, to some hilarity) and some Goblins who were not very happy about being disturbed. The party had not been quiet or careful when approaching the door, and had not tried to listen or anything else that might have given them a clue as to what was beyond. Cue 4 Goblins attacking with initiative - especially when they saw the intruders included Dwarves.

However, as 3 members of the PCs' party are insanely armoured, the Goblin missile attacks (two thrown axes, an arrow and a spear) were ineffective. The PCs made short work of two of the Goblins and severely injured the third. At this point the injured Goblin and Goblin 4 (the weakest of the bunch) surrendered.

The two Dwarves are both Chaotic. The three Humans are all Neutral. This is not a mix liable to lead to 'nice' gameplay. They are fairly typical murder-hoboes. They grabbed the Goblins and wrestled them to the floor. "What are you doing here?" the Dwarves demanded, in their best Goblin. "We were sent here to stand guard - we don't know why, we're just doing what we were told", replied the terrified Goblins. "Who sent you?" "The Chief did - Chief Grrarthurrd". Bromeen had become bored with this interaction, and decided that decapitating one of the Goblins would make the other more talkative, and maybe provide more information. So, he hacked the head off the injured Goblin (a prone and immobilised opponent being an unmissable target after all).

I didn't quite know how to handle the morale shock to the other Goblin. It would be quite obvious that the PCs would happily kill it next, so I reasoned that it would only have one course of action open to it: to attempt to break free and attack the party. I decided to roll a d20 and the closer to 20 I got the more resolutely the Goblin would pursue this action, while the further from 20 the more terrified it would be. So basically, 20 and 1 were my extremes of desperation and terror.

1. I rolled a 1. Surely, the dice were telling me that this Goblin's escape attempt was doomed. And it probably know it.

"The Goblin, seeing that you've just cut its comrade's head off, screams, does a massive shit, and then dies of fright."

This provoked the most laughter of the evening, I think; the idea of a Goblin shitting itself to death (they are all 17 I suppose). But eventually they calmed down and did a search of the room (but not the bodies of the Goblins - they forgot about that) and tried the door at the far side. Now this door is locked, and made of stone, and too tough for the party to batter down. There is a key - but they haven't found it, because they've forgotten to look. So, having failed to pick the lock and failed to charge it down, they've wandered away from this room. This is a pity, as this leads to the rest of the dungeon. So I suspect they'll soon be back.

One more corridor lies on their side of the locked stone door - a corridor with two doors at the end. Deciding on the left-hand door, Josef tried his 'detect traps' skill - but failed to detect the scythe-trap that sliced out at him seconds later. I gave the trap a 'to hit' roll - against Josef's AC the trap needed a 13. And of course I rolled 16. Not particularly massive blades on the scythe, let's say d6 Damage, and I rolled a 3. How many hp does Josef have? Oh, yeah, 1hp...

As has been the case all the way through this campaign, I've allowed the PCs a procedure to come back from 0hp. First, other party members must be able to administer first-aid, which they did (this means if there's a TPK, there's no-one around to save your life). Having staunched the bleeding, the next thing is to make roll CON or under on a d20. If this works, you go to 1hp but permanently lose 1pt of CON (to represent the permanent effects of this major injury). You can then heal as normal. This procedure has saved the lives (briefly) of several PCs since I started playing with this group.

Josef took the d20 and made his CON roll - but missed by 1pt. So that's it, Josef just died of his wounds at the door.

And there the lads decided they should leave things, as time was getting on. What is behind the door? Who will replace Josef? Will Wiz Khalifa get to smash anything? Will the Dwarves get to murder any more prisoners? Find out in next week's episode of ... no wait, that's something else isn't it?

Saturday, 11 April 2015

From Threshold to the ruins by the lake

There are 'ruins' marked on the map of Threshold, or, at least, indicated as being off the map to the north, and arguably, by the lake-shore. For those who have access to the Known World Gazetteers, this is probably Castle Mystamere or something. I don't have access to them, so I've never incorporated that info into 'my' Grand Duchy. I've just bolted on stuff as necessary. There's a very detailed map of the region at the Vaults of Pandius site, but I know nothing of the majority of places noted on it.


The ruins near 'my' Threshold are a destroyed city that stood on the lakeside 50 or more years ago, at the time of an evil witch-queen who previously ruled these lands. She was defeated and killed (or, possibly, banished to some shadow-realm, no-one's very sure) by a young Halfling wizard and a good witch.

The Halfling wizard is a legend whose whereabouts are not known. But the retired Halfling adventurer who grows Wolfsbane in Threshold shares his family name of Ufgood, and if you ask around you can find out the Halfling's name is Ranon. Did I mention that the Halflings in these parts are known as Nelwyn (there are three kinds of Halfling in my campaign world - Hin, Kender and Nelwyn)? There used to be a small settlement of them downriver, and those that still live in the district tell crazy stories of how one of their number helped defeat the witch-queen. None of the humans believe it of course, they all know the witch-queen died in the battle that re-united the northern and southern halves of the Grand Duchy, that used to be known as Nockmaar and Galladoorn...

Anyway, the PCs are at it again. They've recruited two new members - Wiz Kalufa, a cleric from the Temple of the Mother in Threshold; and Josef, a thief who the party found tied up in the basement lair of the Snake-Cultists and their Bandit allies. They've cleared the tunnels under Beren's warehouse, by defeating the last Fire Beetle (they forgot to collect its glow-glands however so couldn't sell them to the Alchemists) and also killing three Bandits, as well as finding some of the loot and other goodies that the Bandits and Cultists had hidden down there - some +1 Leather Armour (which will look great on Josef if they ever work that out), a Wand (of Magic Detection), and a rather nice Ring (of Protection +1) - and they're frankly too grateful for the 20GPs Beren agreed to give them. Perhaps they need some real treasure.

Having finally run into the map-seller at the market, the PCs bought a map. An old one, to be sure, but it gave them the idea to go aventuring in the ruins north of town - even though (thanks to the Simple Weather Chart from The Clash of Spear on Shield) it was raining (lightly). Frankly, the Town Guard were glad to see the back of them. And what did they find in the ruins? Well, a few rolls on the Wandering Monster Charts, let me tell you! First up, a party of traders! Errm, presumably on their way to Threshold for the market. And for the number appearing... 1. So, a single trader wandering around the ruins. So, I decided the party encountered a single trader who was eating a late breakfast.

They chatted to him for a bit and made their way onwards. Next up, a party of ... Halflings. Damn that Wandering Monster table! 12 Halflings. Or, as they introduced themselves, Nelwyn. So the party joined them at their singing and dancing. Quickly deciding that a CHA roll would stand in for singing ability, Bjorn and Bromeen, the two Dwarves, attempted to join in with the Halflings' songs. Unfortunately, Bromeen has a CHA of 7 and Bjorn a CHA of 8. They're not very charismatic, and therefore they're not very goo at singing. "'Ere! You've got a 'orrible voice! Don't ever sing to anyone ever again Mister Dwarf!" as one of the Nelwyn said.

The dancing went a little better. Josef the Thief, who has the tolerably-good DEX of 12 (he really had terrible rolls, 12 is his highest stat), attempted to join in the dancing. Hey! A success! The Nelwyn were impressed and invited the party to sit and join them for a tale... the tale of the Wizard Ufgood who helped to defeat Bavmorda the witch-queen.


After a while, the party went on with the exploration. Hearing some screeching from behind some bushes, Josef crept forwards to take a look. Peering through the undergrowth, Josef saw some big white apes. Like, gorillas. Why? Well, tiring of the stupid results from the random monster tables, I consulted the list of prepared encounters I had. Hmm, acolytes, apes, bats, bandits, beetles... I hadn't gotten very far down the list I'll grant you, and the acolytes, bandits, bats and beetles had already been assigned to the cellars under Beren's warehouse. So apes it is then - six of them, approximately as powerful as Ogres.

Enter Wiz Kalufa. Taking a mace he had purloined during the clearing of Beren's cellars, he lobbed it over the bushes. For some reason, he had the idea that he could entice the apes out so that the Halflings would deal with them rather than getting the party to do it. But the apes didn't see where the mace had come from, they just picked it up. So Bjorn decided he would try a more direct method, of actually running into their midst and then running away again. The rest of the party, led by Wizard the cowardly Magic User, had already fled back towards the Nelwyn by this time. Bjorn gave chase, dressed in his plate-mail of course. The apes were in hot pursuit. As Bjorn was in plate mail, the apes were twice as fast as he was. They cought him, and ...a rum little encounter developed as the rest of the party attempted to grab Halflings and throw them towards the apes as a distraction. All of a sudden they were staring down a dozen Halfling archers. But Wizard, being diplomatic, talked everyone down and the party waited to see, with bated breath, what the gorillas would actually do with Bjorn. As I threw '12' for the reaction dice (as I hadn't decided yet what they actually wanted), they hauled him up in the air and carried him around on their shoulders for a bit. When Wiz (Kalufa, nor -ard) attempted to distract them with his rations, they dropped Bjorn and hauled Wiz onto their shoulders instead (somewhat luckily for the party, I threw 12 again for the apes' reaction).

That unfortunately was all we had time for that evening; if the party can get the apes to clear off long enough, they may find that there seems to have been some clandestine digging activity at the ruins of the city of Tir Asleen. If they do find such activity, it should let them into the secret of where 'the bad guys' have been trying to break into as-yet-uncleared cellars and undercrofts of the town. And perhaps, just perhaps, some monsters and treasures await...

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

DM maps and player maps

I've been thinking about maps this week. Not maps for me, but maps for the players. Handouts; treasure maps, maps they don't come across very often, maps of the continent or their planet, maps of other worlds that may or may not be accessible to them, maps of lairs or cities or citadels they may visit.

This was inspired by a post (really, just a wonderful list) over at Beyond the Black Gate (there are many inspiring posts over there to be fair). The table is a 'what's the stall at the market?' list.

I'd already decided that I was going to throw a little weirdness the party's way; the market-traders will include the denizens of 'the Itinerant Bazaar', a WotC 3.5Ed (I think) creation found round about here. I needed some other merchants; so I made 30 rolls on the table. Some would be locals bringing their wares (generally vegetables, booze of varying kinds, or wooden, leather and clay goods) and others would be the traders from the Itinerant Bazaar. So, a bunch of rolls to get the traders, and one of the stall-holders I rolled is a seller of maps.

The Itinerant Bazaar is basically a collection of teleporting merchants who travel around from world to world, plane to plane, trading and telling stories as they go. That's totally what my map-seller has been doing anyway. She has maps of the area round about - as it existed when the bazaar was last here, 50 or 60 years ago, when it was perhaps her grandparents who were running the stall - which may provide clues to possible adventures. She also has maps of star-empires, a desert planet in a galaxy far, far away, islands of pirates where iron is valued and gold scorned, a prosperous country of peaceful Halflings, a red planet where an accidental traveller from another land becomes a warlord by marrying a princess, and a world where a crazed albino prince talks to his black sword, among others. Somewhere, she may even have a map of a world carried by four elephants standing on the back of a giant turtle.

If they don't get my party's fingers itching (think of all the loot!) I really don't know what will.

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Cults part II

This is a follow-up to 'How do you run your cults?', in which I outline different ways of getting to grips with religion, from taking deities from history, to getting them from literary sources, to using 'Official' D&D deities, to making them up, and also whether keeping the same name or changing them around or just giving them titles is the order of the day; so whether one prays to Zeus or Mörnir or Vondar or the Sky God might not matter, if all of these things are functionally the same thing.

Of course, it could be that (either) Vondar (or the Sky God) is a laughing god who wields a spear and rides across the sky on the back of a blue dragon, singing songs, and his priests worship him in mountain caves where he brews storms with his laughter and singing. In other words, Vondar might not be like Zeus.

There's a sort of table that comes down to an axis in one direction - called 'nature' perhaps, or maybe 'powers' - with 'derived from sources' and 'made up' on it, and another - called 'name' - with 'derived from sources', 'made up' and 'title' on it. The example of Vondar above would get a 'made up' in both boxes, as both the name and theology of Vondar are different from Zeus. 'The Sky God' (who gets a check for 'Title' on the 'name' axis) could refer to a god like Zeus, or a god like Vondar. It would be perverse I feel to have a mythology of a dragon-riding god who brews storms by singing in mountain caves, and call him 'Zeus' though, unless I was planning on running a specifically Ancient Greek campaign, and wanted to show lots of different local theologies and legends for my gods (basically, each city or region having their own version of the gods).

Having looked at this excellent post on Beyond the Black Gate, in which Al simply puts down some features of the deities and cults in his campaign, I've been inspired to try to do the same with the gods of my campaign. Two of the gods of this area, Kos and Issek, come from the Nehwon mythos and I won't describe them here. One notable feature I suppose is that on reaching Second Level and actually gaining Clerical magic, in this campaign Clerics must take a weapon appropriate to their deity if there is one. This is, essentially, because it makes no sense to me that Clerics don't use their deity's 'sacred weapon'. So I've detailed the sacred weapons of the deities below and indicated when a Cleric needs to adopt one.

Isi (life & magic) also known as The Great Mother and the Queen of the Stars. She usually appears as a queenly woman of middle years with a sceptre in one hand. She presides over many aspects of fertility of plants, animals and people, and is also connected with stars and the sky. Any may join her clergy, who wear scarlet kilts. There is a temple of the Great Mother in most settlements, and often some of the other gods have only shrines inside her temples, particularly Rosh, Nefu and Resek (see below).

Rosh (oaths, vengeance) – also know as The Avenger. Rosh is the son of Isi, and oversees the giving of oaths, which are often sworn before his altars. He appears in his depictions as a powerfully-built bare-chested young man who wields a sword in one hand and a wand in the other. He wears a kilt of bright blue; his clerics, who can be male or female but are always human, wear similar kilts, but clad themselves in leather armour and wear helms in the shape of hawks, Rosh’s sacred animal. Clerics of Rosh at Second Level and above must only use normal swords as weapons.

Nefu (water and weather) – also known as the Lady of the Waters. Nefu is the consort of Rosh, and the sister or cousin of Resek. She presides over rivers and streams, springs, rain and all falling or flowing water; when angered, she summons thunderstorms. Both the fish and the lioness are sacred to her. Her clerics wear rusty-red leather armour and helms that resemble fish-scales. In cities, they are particularly concerned with the provision of fountains of clear water, which they call ‘the blessings of Nefu’.

Resek (light) – also known as the Lord of Light. Resek is regarded as being a close kinsman of Nefu; as such he, Nefu, Rosh (Nefu’s consort) and Isi (Rosh’s mother) are regarded as being closely-linked. In smaller settlements, their cults will often all be found in the same temples, generally a temple to Isi with several shrines of the other gods. Resek seeks out evil everywhere and turns his searching light on it. His clerics wear white tunics, and helms with hawk-feathers attached to them. He wields a halberd and a mace in battle, and his clerics must pick one of these weapons to use on reaching Second Level.

Tas (cats, the household) – also known as the Lady of Cats. She protects the household from the evil powers of the underworld, particularly represented by snakes and rats, and is also regarded as being a goddess of luck and plenty due to protecting the grain harvest. She appears as a beautiful bare-breasted young woman wearing a cat-mask or helm with cat-ears. Her clergy (who may be of any race or sex) wear similar helms and grey kilts, and encourage the killing of snakes whenever they can. In smaller settlements she may have a shrine in the temple of Isi rather than a temple of her own.

Huran (war) – also known as the Lord of War. Huran is the personification of the male warrior-ideal; he always appears as a very tall man, and wields a spear which flames with the light of the sun. He usually appears in his depictions armoured for war, and his clerics – who are always human males – wear leather armour and war-helms when they go forth from the temples, whether or not they are going to battle. From Second Level, clerics of Huran must use spears as weapons.

Ets (evil, the underworld, snakes) – also known as the Lord of Night. His cult is very secretive and will never share its temples with other gods of the pantheon. He is the implacable enemy of Rosh. Representations of the god show him with the scaly skin of a snake, which is a sacred animal to him. He uses a great black spear in combat. His clerics, who may be male or female and of any race, wear black helms and leather armour; his sign, a coiled serpent, is usually bright green and is prominent in his depictions and on the gear of his priests – when they are not hiding their true natures. Clerics of Second Level and above must use a spear as a weapon.

Alol (sun, archers, music) – also known as the Shining One. He is a complex deity with responsibility for the sun, music, archery and bears. He appears on all his depictions as a beautiful young man with a bow or carrying a harp. Sometimes he wears a bearskin around his shoulders, and in the stories of his cult can assume the form of a bear. His male priests wear gold or yellow tunics and leaf-crowns. They must use the bow as a weapon upon reaching Second Level. Alol is a fickle and jealous god; his clergy will not have friendly contact with any other cult. His temples usually stand in naturally-beautiful places such as by waterfalls or in groves.

Ras (war) – also known as the God of Battle and the Wolf-God. Ras is depicted as a powerfully-built older warrior, always wearing a helm, breastplate and crimson tunic. He is the lord of battle-lust, delighting in slaying. He carries both a sword and a spear; his clerics must pick one upon reaching Second Level and may from then only use that weapon. Non-humans may not join his clergy though they can make offerings to him before battle. Wolves are sacred to Ras and sometimes are trained to guard his temples. Like Alol, he is a jealous god and will not share his temples with others.

And now, with Orem-Thep added (I forgot about him as I was only looking at the temples in the PCs' town, and he doesn't have any temples)...

Orem-Thep (creation, benevolence) – also known as the Good Lord. Orem-Thep is, if the tellers of his tales be believed, the creator of the human race and the inventor of all civilised arts. He has no temples as such, but there are preachers who take to themselves an amber-coloured tunic and an iron ring as badges of his faith and preach his benevolence and wisdom, leading prayer-meetings in public places or at worshippers' houses. They also use a torch as a symbol of their devotion, signifying the illumination that Orem-Thep brings to the world through his benevolent wisdom. The cult of Orem-Thep hunts griffons whenever it can, as they hold them to be uniquely evil.

Monday, 16 March 2015

Giaks and Warhammer

It's a bit of a rarity at the moment to post about Warhammer, even though that was why I started this blog. I've been posting much more about D&D in recent months because that's what I've been doing most often, due to the campaign I'm running with my son's mates. I've not played any Warhammer or even Kings of War (which has actually been my default fantasy battlegame over the last couple of years) in ages.

Though I have an 'Oldhammer' logo on this page, I feel like a bit of an outsider on the Oldhammer forums sometimes - because the 'Oldhammer' that gets talked about mostly is 3rd Ed, and the Oldhammer I know is 2nd Ed. I know that Skaven are Ratmen, for instance, but I don't know why. I don't know when the Empire got so good at shooting, because according to the version I have it's the southern city-states (what would become Estalia and Tilea) that are the advanced human cultures in the NW of the Old World, and only they use black-powder weapons. Maybe I don't play 'Oldhammer' at all. Maybe it's 'Archaeohammer' (in which case, I guess 1st Ed would be 'Palaeohammer').

Anyway, one of the things I've been interested in since about 1985 is the possibility of fielding an army of Giaks in Warhammer. For those who don't know, Giaks were a goblinoid race from the Lone Wolf books. They're described as greyish, militaristic (which I think means organised as well as nasty) and a bit bigger than the Common Goblins of Warhammer. GW had the licence to produce minis for them, and released a boxed-set and a few blisters in the mid-'80s. All told there were 7 Giak models, including a banner-bearer, none of which I own. They also printed two pages of rules in the Citadel Journal (1 & 2). The pages include enough rules for 2nd Ed to make an army of 324 Giaks, arranged in 9 infantry regiments of 36 each. There are also notes about support troops such as wolf-riders. For anyone interested in further research on the Giaks, there's also Project Aon here where among other things there's loads of information on the Giak language.

There's no way I'll ever get the Giak minis to make up this army, because apart from anything else there are several units for whom no Giak minis exist. The Giaks in the list are armed with a variety of weapons - two regiments with bows, one with slashing weapons, one with pole arms and one with bludgeoning weapons. The weapons of the other four units are not listed but cannot include bows (no more than 25% of Giak armies may be armed with bows). The breakdown of the existing models is one banner-bearer, 3 with sword & shield, 1 with a sword only, 1 with spear and shield, 1 with a bow.

Unfortunately, given that the current 'Goblin Regiment' from Citadel only comes with options for bow or spear/shield, that means that a load of the weapons options will be unavailable even if one uses Goblin minis instead of Giaks. No hand weapons for Goblins? C'mon Citadel, what do you think you're doing? Even taking spear as being an acceptable substitute for pole-arm, I'd still need (at the very least) to find enough Goblin-arms for a regiment of swords (or other slashing weapons), and a regiment of club- or mace-wielding Goblins too. That's assuming that I make an army in which 2 regiments have bows, 1 has spears instead of pole-arms, and every regiment not listed as having a particular weapon has spears. So 5 spear-armed regiments out of 9. That really isn't what I want to do.

I fear it will be a long and slow slog before I get to the 360-or-so Goblins I will need for this project, and how I get at least 160 of them with weapons that Goblins 'can't have' I'm really not sure. Ah well, we'll see...

Sunday, 15 March 2015

On Treasure

I'm a big fan of not just giving the party sacks of gold. It seems a bit silly to be honest. Why would Orcs collect bags of gold, that are fairly useless to them and are an attractor of looters (ie, PCs)? OK, so in checking the archives at The Dragon's Flagon here in the article on 'Orconomics' there is the suggestion that the Orcs pay for things in coin to local bandits - and by extension, though this isn't mentioned in the post, barbarians, evil temples, anyone not that bothered about the existence of Orcs or too concerned to follow 'the Law'. It may be that the Temple in the Caves of Chaos is actually laundering money that the humanoids are taking from passing caravans, while at the same time supplying the humanoid tribes with some necessities that the priests are buying in the Keep. But even so, large chests of cash should I think be exceptional rather than the rule.

On the other hand, I'm a bit lazy about converting the gold into other things. There's a great article from an old WD about economics in RuneQuest that suggests that the majority of treasure should be made up of tapestries, goblets, necklaces, silks, spices, and other small and large tradeable goods. Seems like a great idea. Over at Land of Nod last year, John Matthew Stater was examining the question of treasure hordes in this post but no real conclusions were reached I don't think - other than that bags of gold are unrealistic but coming up with viable alternatives is hard. Though the 'bags of gold' idea is unsatisfactory, it beats thinking about every treasure you roll up and trying to make it interesting and different, if we just take the 'bag of gold' as being 'miscellaneous treasure'.

Another post on the Dragon's Flagon from quite a while ago is also looking at the same question. It seems it bothers a lot of us at some time or another - where does all this gold come from, why, and what are the implications and alternatives? This questioning - which leads to examining 'Storage Wars' as an inspiration - does produce a potential answer however, in the form of a link to the Hack & Slash blog which hosts something that might be considered a treasure in itself: this post links to a pdf entitled 'Treasure'. I haven't seen this before. I have now of course downloaded it and will be poring over its contents with great interest.

How easy it will be to use these treasure tables in practice I don't know - but another shot in the arm of 'trying to find alternatives to bags of coin' is most welcome to be sure.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Not quite Fantasy, not quite Adventuring...

... but not entirely unrelated.

Some time ago, I started a project to design a boardgame. It was based on a specific historical setting and period - the Anglo-Scottish Border around 1500 - and would basically be a territory-conquest game. Somewhat like Risk, but with simpler rules for conquest and more resource management (and, at least in my head, a lot faster because the setup is simpler and the procurement stage is easier).

Like many such projects I guess, it started well. In a few days I had the basic concept down, and wrote a fairly simple ruleset. I had a look around to find places where I might be able to get some pieces. I thought about how the board- and card-design would work and worked on some simple artwork for playing pieces. I had a plan to source some temporary pieces for playtesting. I even had some thoughts about expansions, and ways to reskin the game for different periods (even a space-version). The background work was all done really.

Then... nothing. I think it's been ages now, and I haven't even playtested it.

Pretty sure that the mechanics are sound. Pretty sure that the gameplay will be relatively smooth, and that the concept is interesting enough that people will want to play it. And yet, development has stalled at a not-very-great hurdle. Basically, I need to put in a bit of effort to make the necessary bits for the playtesting stage.

Why can't I even take this to a simple round of playtesting? Is there something wrong with me?

Sunday, 8 March 2015

My one-time 'Dark Age' campaign...

Jens D over at the Disoriented Ranger has been asking me about my Arthurian campaign that I never really ran but did a lot of work preparing. This is mostly because Jens is working on his 'Lost Songs of the Nibelungs' project, and his AD550 setting is conceptually pretty similar to my AD500 setting... his is focussed more on Germanic Europe (though not exclusively) and mine was focussed more on the ex-provinces of the Western Empire (particularly Britain, but extending into other areas, both in and without the Empire); but neither of these settings is considered to be exclusive an anyway, they're only 50 years and a few hundred miles apart - practically identical in gaming terms, no?

So what is there to say about my Arthurian setting that I haven't said already?

Well, first it's so old-school it barely exists electronically at all. I 'wrote' it - what I wrote at all, and didn't just imagine - using a curious system called 'pencil and paper'. I have some things, written and overwritten and scribbled out and recopied and changed on other bits of paper. That's going to make it difficult to actually stick up here.

Secondly, I never really ran it as such. It was just a structure to hold things together. The players would be operating in this world with big plots going on around them that they could interact with but the basic nitty-gritty of being murder-hobos would be... well, pretty much the same as most other D&D games. They'd still be going round taking rewards from villagers who needed saving from the Orcs who'd taken up residence in the caves north of town, or tracking down rumours as to where the Wizard Valerian had his tower so they could loot it. That sort of stuff. Only, conceptually, the Tower of Valerian might be an old Roman watch-tower, and the silver coins that the party got as a reward for killing the Orcs would be sesterces.

I started with a bunch of assumptions. Some were about the 'story' aspects and some were about gaming, how the rules would work. The two aren't separate of course, but teasing out the different aspects is probably easier if one assumes that they were. So I'm going to to describe the assumptions about the game-world first, and then specific rule-tweaks or interpretations that flow from that.

Firstly, that the earliest legendary or pseudo-historical sources for 'King Arthur' and the history of Britain were more-or-less accurate. So, in this conception, Arthur was a warleader who fought against both 'Saxons' and other British leaders, fighting a series of battles in various parts of Britain. These battles are numbered; these numbers would provide an approximate framework for the passage of 'campaign time' over several years (it became 9 years in the end). The locations would also pattern the geographical space of the campaign as well as the time. I fixed the locations and used these as the regions of Britain that the adventurers would be adventuring in. The assumption would be that the results of the PCs adventures would somehow affect the overall structure of the story in the campaign-world. For example, if the PCs were successful in disrupting the humanoids' plans in 'The Keep on the Borderlands' (in this instance, relocated to the East Midlands of England, near Peterborough if I recall correctly) then this would mean that at the subsequent 'Arthurian' battle in space & time (at the ford of the river Dubglas in Linnius, which I took as being in Lincolnshire), the humanoid enemies would not be able to send their full contingent to the battle. Of course, if the PCs failed to significantly disrupt the humanoids'/evil priests' plans, then the humanoids would march off to battle undisturbed, making the eventual victory of Arthur's forces less likely. In this way, the PCs would be acting as commandos or partisans, disrupting the enemy's supply lines and infrastructure, in order to make it more difficult for the forces of chaos to wage war.

For reasons already explained elsewhere, I identified the Angles with Orcs, and played many of the invasions of the lands of the Empire, and sometimes the races inhabiting it, as being by 'monsters' or demi-humans - apart from Angles = Orcs (also, Orkney ie the Orcades would be Orc-islands - it was much later and mainly for a joke that I decided that most of Northern Englland should be 'Orkshire'), Goths/Jutes = 'Giant races', Franks = werewolves, Irish (Gaels) = Ghouls, Greeks (Hellenes) = Elves and the Langobardi (Longbeards, Lombards) = Dwarves. Later I decided to assimilate the Burgundians to the Nebelungs and make them Dwarves too, and the Danes (and any other Dan- or Tan- names) Elves of the 'Tuatha De Danaan'. Mostly I was assuming that things would be set in Europe but I was also working on other areas being visited - in which case Uruk in Mesopotamia would be an Orc-city, the former kingdom of Elam would be a land of Elves and Judea, much like the land of the Eoten in Scandinavia, an abode of Giants. This is what is currently what is feeding into the idea behind the 'Observer's Book of Monsters' - monsters have particular distributions based on their legendary distributions.

Second, I assumed that some of the really fantastical sources had some validity in terms of quests and whatnot; the Quest for the Holy Grail, which in some ways is a retelling of a story about sailing (possibly to Ireland?) to find a magic cauldron (itself a theme of other Celtic legends) can be part of the overarching plot too. So, I knew I wanted a plot about a quest for a cauldron. Swords, too - the Sword in the Stone and Excalibur (AKA Caliburn or Caladvwlch), the finding and getting and losing of which play an important part in the stories of Arthur would be important. Celtic legends mention swords as well as cauldrons. In fact there is a quartet of treasures from Irish legend made up of a sword, cauldron, spear and stone. These are the four treasures that appear in Alan Garner's Elidor; and I wanted to take the idea from Elidor and such works as Song of the Dwarves (by Thorarinn Gunnarson, who it seems also wrote some Mystara-based fiction) the idea of linked adventuring worlds too.

The Four Treasures - two of which had become the direct objects of mythic quests already - would each be linked to an element in the classical system of elements (Earth, Air, Fire and Water). Each element would also be linked to a race. This goes back to a very early stratum of my campaign-design, the first campaign notes I ever wrote in about 1981. Back then, I assigned the elements on the following basis: Dwarves - Fire; Elves - Air; Halflings - Earth; Humans - Water. This time, I assigned them as Dwarves - Earth; Elves - Air; Humans - Water; Orcs - Fire. The four races in turn would each be properly linked to a home-world that the players would journey to. This world-element-treasure-race linking would then determine the character of that homeworld/adventure zone.

So, I had four linked worlds, each with its own special treasure, each the home-world of a particular race, and some idea that the point was that the players adventure through these worlds as part of their mystical questing. The overarching quest-thing (following the years of fighting in Britain with odd side quests) would be a sort of restoration - the idea would be to get rid of a treasure that didn't belong, and restore it to its rightful world. The first of these quests would be to take Arthur's air-sword (by a process of assimilation this I considered to be the Sword of Nuada Argetlam, AKA Nodens, AKA Ludd Ereint Llaw, formerly worshipped at Lydney in Gloustershire) to where it belonged - the next world along, which would be the world of Air/Elves.

This was going to be the world of Warhammer. Yes, each world would have its own rule-set. The world of the Elves would be governed by the rules of WHFRP, and completing quests there would lead to the next world; the world of Orcs. This would be accessed from Warhammer World by finding the Fire-Spear, would be governed by a mish-mash of the Runequest and Stormbringer rules, and would feature a geography that was substantially the Young Kingdoms with as much of Glorantha as I knew about mushed into it, up in the north-east corner. Restoring the Fire-spear to the Kingdom of Org (a realm of degenerate ab-humans in the Young Kingdoms, located in the Forest of Troos, which with the addition of Trolls from the Runequest setting became an ancient Orkish kingdom in my conception), the next bit of the journey through the worlds would see the PCs finding the Earth-stone and taking it to the next world, that of the Dwarves, where they would find that they were in Middle-Earth.

Now, I know the Tolkien's Middle-Earth is also our Middle-Earth. But then, the world of the Young Kingdoms is also our Earth, as Elric proves when he summons the soul of Roland. It doesn't matter. In this campaign, they're all linked parallel worlds. Anyway, in Middle-Earth, the PCs would restore the Stone (of Destiny) to the Dwarves, and then find the final treasure, the Cauldron that they were after all along, and return to our world with it, thus restoring the cosmic balance and all that jazz.

That then was the overarching conceit of it all. Pretty much every bit of D&D stuff I owned, as well as all the Warhammer, MERP and RQ/Stormbringer stuff I had, was going to be shoe-horned in somehow. There would be about 9 years of battles and adventuring in our world - which I more or less assume would mean that in the first year, they'd be First Level, and in the ninth year, they'd be Ninth Level - and then instead of settling down to build a lordship and a dynasty, I thought I'd send them on a weird dimension-spanning quest. In each world they visited, they'd have to translate that character into a functional equivalent in the new system. It never reached that point, but I'd have been perfectly OK with them leaving that character in that campaign world and bringing another character along to the next world, should they decide to do that (or you know, if someone died).

As for assumptions about rules, the most important was that - as I outlined in a post the other day - what was in the books was assumed to map onto reality as it was perceived by the people involved. Armour, for instance. I assumed that 'plate mail' in the rules meant 'the best armour you could get'. Therefore, the best armour in the late C5th arguably being old Roman armour, I reasoned that this must be functionally equivalent to plate. Everyone wearing 'plate mail' in the sources I had must logically have been wearing lorica segmentata, as there was no such thing as 'plate mail' in AD495. I did wonder about cross-bows - as far as I knew at the time (pre-internet days!), though the Romans had ballistae, they didn't have personal hand-held cross-bows. But for the most part, I used the weapon- and armour-lists as written.

One major change that I decided on was to scrap the Experience rules. Character advancement is painfully slow in OD&D, as John Arendt points out in this very cromulent post from Dreams in the Lich House. If it takes a First Level Fighter the same amount of combat as embodied in 200 Orcs to reach Second Level, whereas in modern games it takes the combat necessary to defeat 3 Orcs, this explains two things: why my current party spends so much time complaining that they're never going to reach Second Level and if this were Skyrim they'd all be 3rd Level by now (they've defeated 3 Fire Beetles, 3 Robber Flies, 1 Giant Centipede, 4 Acolytes and a L3 Cleric), and also, why I never managed as a player to take a character past 3rd Level. My revised conception (as these events were all going to take a long time, ie several years) would be that each year would constitute a Level. The first year of the campaign would be AD487; this would be the year of a lot of First Level adventuring round the East Midlands and the Battle of the River Glein (the Lincolnshire Glen); the second year of the campaign and Second Level aventuring would also mostly happen in the East Midlands, culminating in the battles of the River Dubglas in Linnuis (also Lincolnshire - I don't want to get into arguments about 'actual' sites, I picked some that made some sense to me). Eventually, after 9 years of adventuring, the last battle would be Badon Hill in AD495. Jens D is currently examining some other aspects of the question of time over at Disorientated Ranger in this post.

Otherwise, everything was pretty much as written, I didn't have to change very much. I wasn't overly concerned about the vast amount of gold in D&D for example, I really don't care if the economy is inflationary, though at various times I've tinkered with reforming the coinage. But it isn't all that important in the scheme of things.