Tuesday, 31 July 2018

'Minimum' D&D

There's a discussion in the B/X Facebook group about introducing young kids, in this case aged 5-7, to D&D.

I've been finessing the idea of a stripped-down character sheet - I started here:

... where anything in blue is just book-keeping by the DM and not necessary for the PC to know. Why should a player be bothered about a save against Death Ray if they never encounter a Death Ray? What does it matter?

Eventually, especially due to discussions with someone else on the thread, I started adding pictures, and arrived at this (where the 7hp in 'Health', and the 43 on the bag of gold, are pencilled in):

So I guess the question is, is this really D&D? Is the minimum information presented on this 'character sheet' enough to play something that's recognisable as D&D?

Thursday, 26 July 2018

By Order of the Mayor

It is the evening after the PCs return from the caves, and several of them are wandering around town trying to fulfil various tasks (getting a shield, trying to get hold of healing potions and such like). While doing so, they see a group of people affixing the following printed poster to various walls around town (which must logically have a fairly literate population, or they wouldn't bother... I presume that there will also be some sort of town crier-type announcement too, possibly in Common, Dwarvish and any other languages that might seem appropriate).

Oh, and it appears from the name that the Mayor might be a Halfling. I realised I hadn't named him (or her) and then I did and hey presto, Jasper Grubbily, a thoroughly respectable member of the Halfling business community, is now the Mayor...

The Eve of St. Sha-Un is taken from the Labyrinth Lord calendar of the Church of Law and Order in the city of Dolmvay, which I'm patterning the Church of Issek on (as detailed in a post from a couple of years ago here). It's the 20th of Fish-month, more or less our 12th March.

The deliberate use of 'f' instead of 's' is basically a joke. In Early Modern English (and German until they stopped using Black Letter in about 1920 I believe) the letter s was often written ʃ - which looks rather more like an f to a modern English-speaker. Cue lots of hilarious jokes about people reading old documents and getting stuck (or maybe 'ftuck') when reaching the word 'suck'... as in 'where ʃucks the bee, there ʃuck I...'.

So, I thought I'd ʃtick it into my ʃilly poʃter too.

But as the text is written (or maybe carved?) in three hands, not all of them show, or even ʃhew, this trait... either that or I got tired and forgot to make it all consistent. Jasper, at least, knows how to do an 's'!

Monday, 16 July 2018

A few more Fortunate Isles...

I was doing this ages ago (here and here). But I haven't really kept up with it, partly because there doesn't seem much chance that the PCs will be travelling to the coast, boarding a boat and heading for the 1,000 Fortunate Isles in the south-west of the 'Lands and Environs of the D&D Wilderness', which is the default world of the campaign, at any time in the near future; partly, because I thought it would be cool to build the Thousand Islands collaboratively, but no-one seemed to want to join in and submit any entries.

In my setting, divorced from the later 'Gazeteers' and suchlike which I never owned, The Kingdom of Ierendi (where the Fortunate Isles are located) is an Arthurian, pseudo-Celtic-Twilight sort of place, where doomed Knights, sorceresses and witches, fay-folk and such like inhabit a mist-shrouded land- and sea-scape of a destroyed Elven kingdom. That's the kind of feel I want for this - Excalibur meets The Odyssey.

A while ago I was on a 'weird landscape' tip that didn't really go anywhere. I was I think starting to fall under a Carcosa-y spell and generating hallucinatory terrain seemed like an interesting thing to do.

What I've realised is that some of the one can inform the other. If I'm already generating weird and hallucinatory seascapes, then combining my attempts to generate hallucinatory landscapes may make sense. So, to that end, I decided to combine the notes for one into the other and make these islands.

So, here are seven more islands in case my PCs do indeed go to the seaside this year.

Island 009 - the Isle of Rippling Hills - small island
This island is small and circular, about 3 miles in diameter. It is composed of concentric rings of earth. The undulating ground looks like waves on the sea. Ridges resemble breakers. Perhaps over a million years the waves will break. At the centre of the island a spire reaches up two miles to an impossible bulb of earth, like a droplet suspended in time. Powerful magic must be present here.

Island 010 - the Isle of the Red Plains - medium island
Here, the coast is rocky and there are many cliffs. Only small boats can approach and parties must climb up to the cliff-tops. Predatory birds and other flying creatures live on the cliffs. The flat ground at the tops is like red marble, with veins that change colour as you observe them. Sleeping here restores spells and promotes healing twice as fast as usual.

Island 011 - Isle of the Red Trees - small island
The red earth sprouts fleshy trees that produce red sap and inviting fruit. Three of the fruit should be enough food for a day. This fruit is mildly addictive - anyone trying it needs to save v spells or continue to consume it (save once per day to try to break the addiction and have the will to flee the island). Anyone killed here will produce a new tree in 3 months.

Island 012 - Isle of Mists - large island
The rocky ground is streaked grey and yellow. A dull green fog hangs over everything – visibility 50 yards. A castle, hidden in the hills at the centre of the island, reputedly houses a fearsome guardian but also a portal to another world.

Island 013 - the Isle of the Towers - large island
Towers of black glass dot the landscape. Some of these towers contain ancient magical items. Monster encounters are more common near the towers. Though the sun is shining, the sky is black and stars can be seen.

Island 014 - Isle of the Spectral City - large island
It is difficult to be sure of the size of this island - it seems when one circumnavigates it to be around 10 miles long and 6 miles wide. However, when journeying across the island, it seems much bigger, taking at least 3 days to cross at the narrowest point, and at least 5 days from end to end. There is a mirage of colossal city on a mountain in the distance. The city is extremely difficult, perhaps impossible, to access, but reputedly contains ancient wonders.

Island 015 - Black Rock Isle - medium island
This island of black rocks has little to recommend it except for clear water springs that can replenish the ship's stores. Storms of black lightning are common – every hour from the PCs' ship approaching within 1 mile of the island, roll a d6: on a 1 or 2, a storm blows up that lasts lasts d6 hours, save v death ray every hour or take d6d6 damage. If the PCs return to their ship they will need to stand a mile off from the island to escape these effects.

Saturday, 14 July 2018

Rift City Session 12

Has it really been a year? Not only have we managed to keep running a genuinely open session on the second Sunday of the month for the last year (except one Sunday when I was busy and the guys said they'd rather wait a week for me to DM than have someone else run a 1-shot 😍 - or maybe no-one else was prepared to do it!) at the same venue (except one month when the Comedy Festival was on and we de-camped to Galen + Berg's house), I've actually managed to blog about it after every session too (even if some of my reports have sometimes been a bit sketchy). No way are those last reports of the other two campaigns (Naked Gaming and The Tower of Zelligar AKA New Old Campaign) ever going to see the light of day. This is the one I've put the commitment into - because in theory at least, it's the only one any of the people who read this blog might turn up at (I'm looking at you JensD!).

So, Session 12...

Slightly reduced party this week - no Berg, no Gene, no Gwynthor... so the roster looked like this:

Bonjella the 1st Level Elf (this was the new character that Polly's player brought to the table this month, and like most other PCs she's in plate - unlike other PCs she's also completely skint, couldn't even afford breakfast);
Cnut the 1st Level Fighter;
Galen the 1st Level Elf;
Gibbet the 2nd Level Thief;
Karenza the 1st Level Elf;
Shazam the 1st Level Elf.

Very strong on Elves this party. Bonjella (apparently it's pronounced something like 'Bon-haya') and Shazam, AKA 'Bonj and Shaz' went up front, the humans in the middle, and Galen and Karenza at the rear.

Making it to the cave entrance that the party went to before, there was some discussion about where next. To the left, the caves that the PCs have been to before. To the right, a path down to another entrance that would likely get them to Cave Level 2. Ahead, a rocky outcrop blocked sight what was further down the path.

This has been causing me a few problems. While I have something like 200 rooms on the First (and part of the Second) Level fully detailed (they just require upkeep to make sure the Orcs that the party killed yesterday are removed and something new may or may not take their place, instead of the PCs turning up to find an identical bunch of Orcs to the ones they killed 'yesterday'...) the next 400 or so rooms are not so well sketched-out (they may say '9 Orcs' with no other details or they may just say 'MONSTER'). I haven't created the whole megadungeon, just the bits that I thought it most likely that the PCs will visit. Deciding to go off-piste means I have more creation to do. So I spent a couple of days working on new rooms, new maps, new connections, new wandering monster tables... just in case the party turned right instead of left, went into Cave Number 6 or 8 instead of 7.

The multiplication of possibilities means I can't accurately predict what I have to work on, so I pretty much have to work on everything in a reasonable radius. This is one of the problems of a non-railroad, non-quantum structure. Would the players know if I'd just done one second-(sub-)level and dropped that in? No, but if they find the treasure-map then they'd know I cheated. So now the four closest parts of Level 2 are done. Would they know if they went into Cave No. 8 but got the content from Cave No. 6? Probably not, but the passageways and staircases would line up with things that weren't there, and not with the things on Level 2...

Anyway, they decided to go past the area they've been exploring the last few sessions and push on down the path to Cave No. 6. This is ironic as it's the one part that I'd done months ago, so the extra work was unnecessary for Sunday's session anyway - kinda. It helps me get my head around what's where though, and I found a few bits that needed tidying up.

So Cave No. 6... this was a section originally generated using Donjon's Random Dungeon Generator here. What I do with these is generate the dungeon, but use this only as a skeleton (as it were); I change monsters and rooms as seems most sensible, knowing what I know about the rest of the dungeon, and delete room descriptions that are obvious enough for the players to remember they've had it before ('this room is hot' or 'a mist covers the floor' is OK to be repeated I feel; 'a set of demonic war masks hangs on the north wall', not so much).

So, anyway, Cave No. 6... who lives in a cave like this?

This Donjon generation was where the name 'Temple of the Wraith Princess' came from. It's a great name - it became the name of the area immediately to the east of here, and indeed inspired the necromantic cult that hangs out in that vicinity. Bits of stuff pertaining to necromancy gravitated that way and viola, I had a theme for that area.

There's still some undead in this area, but the name has gone. Now, these are the Caverns of Ulfang the Black (not in any official way, just because I needed to call them something). Ulfang has been mentioned a couple of times in the city as a Kobold warlord on the rise, who lives in this area. The PCs did run into some Kobolds - but more of that later.

The PCs explored a bit and found some skeletons hanging on a wall (there was a big discussion as to whether they were 'skeletons', as in bits of dead people, or 'Skeletons', nasty bony adversaries that surely should have realised that they had already died). But they were the first sort and didn't do anything more sinister than hang manacled to a wall (thereby demonstrating that they weren't completely skeletal, they must have had some connecting bits too... as some of us are archaeologists, there was a danger of this degenerating into a discussion of disarticulation of human remains). There were plenty of tracks in the dust, of small humanoid feet, animal prints, and parts where it looked like something or things had been swept over the floor.

Venturing further into the caves, the PCs disturbed a rats' nest. The party went for the rats, and mostly missed them (except for a single spectacular rat death). The rats then swarmed at Bonj, but the quick action of Gibbet with a torch scared them away again.

After the rats fled, the party searched the room. Among the bones littering the floor, they found 600 silver pieces, a lump of crystal that turned out to be worth 30gp, and a broken metal box, which sadly turned out to be pretty worthless.

Very shortly after this however, they became aware of a noise behind them - Orcish voices! Quickly hiding, the party staged a highly-efficient ambush and slaughtered some wandering Orcs who sadly had little by way of loot. Some swords went into backpacks and that was that (the Orcs came from a source that specifies that they were 'scavenging for food and treasure', rather than say 'patrolling', which to my mind says they were not so much a military unit as a working party - I decided that they had probably come hunting the rats for the pot back in the Orcish kitchens, wherever they are).

The party didn't seem terribly impressed with the loot so far. Thinking that perhaps more riches were to be had further on, they pushed further into the caves, ignoring multiple side-passages. After a short time, they came upon an area where the caves were lit with torches and someone actually seemed to be living there, with a tapestry hanging from the wall, attached by iron spikes. Going a little further, they triggered what turned out to be the main encounter of the day.

For reasons I don't intend to divulge at the moment, I placed a low-level Magic User in the caves. I generated a MU character using an online NPC generator (again from Donjon I think) and copied her stats over. She's Chaotic, wears blue robes (this is what had been sweeping the floor), and has a CHA of 17. I thought she'd be a bit of a change of pace from the usual - in this part of the dungeon, that's mostly humanoids, some undead and lots of crawly things. Maybe someone with a bit of magic would be a different challenge for the PCs.

Things turned a way I didn't expect. The first unexpected thing was how completely the PCs got the jump on her. The dice completely went their way - all the dice. She was surprised, they weren't; that led to my second surprise.

Instead of attacking, one of the two female PC Elves (can't actually remember if it was Bonjella or Karenza, the former I think) said 'hello, are you a prisoner'?

OK, I thought, reaction dice it is then... oh, 12 (I did say all the dice went their way), 'Enthusiastic Friendship' - didn't expect that...

Shazam: 'I hit her with Charm Person.'

OK, roll for Save... missed it (do I need to belabour the point about the dice going their way at this point?)

Ningal the Chaotic MU: 'Helloooo! Lovely to see you all! What can I do for you? Come in, come in, I'd say sit down, but I don't really have any chairs, I'm not used to visitors really, I say you're very handsome aren't you...?'

In the end she told them a bit about the caves, how she'd found some interesting things in the tombs to the east (she showed them a kind of stretchable rope that the Ancients had left, and a kind of powder that fizzed and flashed when flame was brought near it), drew them a rough sketch-map of the caves (luckily I had one of those on standby for an as-yet-unrevealed purpose), and generally acted as a lovely but slightly absent-minded host. She ended up giving them the fizzing powder when they left.

Ningal's dungeon sketch-map - her cave is in the top left between/beyond 'rats' and 'spyders'
This then led to one of the weirdest bits of the evening. In a brief out-of-character moment, I said to the PCs that they'd been very lucky that the encounter hadn't gone differently, if she'd been hostile and got to use her Sleep spell on them it would have been very different.

'Not really,' says one of the players, 'Elves are immune to Sleep.'

Silence. Like actual hear-a-pindrop silence.

'What?' says I.

'Elves are immune to Sleep,' says first player. 'Elves don't need to sleep, so they're immune to it,' says another player.

'OK,' says I, flipping through my battered copy of Moldvay, having never heard any such thing. 'Shadows are immune to Sleep and Charm, says so in the monster description... Skeletons are immune to Sleep and Charm, says so in the monster description, let's check the monster description for Elves... nothing about spell immunities there... let's check abilities of Elf PCs... immune to the touch of Ghouls... nothing about Sleep there. Right, I don't know where you've got this from but Elves are not immune to Sleep.' Apparently (because the player who originally said it looked on his phone) in AD&D Elves had something like an 80% immunity to Sleep. Not to my knowledge in any game I ever played though, and certainly not this one. But this seems to have come as something of a surprise to some of my players. Who knew? Not me for sure.

So in the end they said goodbye to Ningal the Crazy Magic Lady, promised to give her professional greetings to Gisuintha back at the city, and went on their way with their flashpowder. They encountered some Kobolds when they did, but the firepower of the party, both physical and magical, is pretty heavy, so the Kobolds didn't really stand a chance. A Sleep spell from the party put them down to have their throats cut, but again these chaps weren't carrying much - the biggest treasure was a handful of coins. I used the table from '20 Things to Loot from a Dead Kobold' here from Raging Swan Press. As there were six PCs and six Kobolds I used the 'treasures' (I use the term loosely) numbered 1-6. Bonjella, who has no money for food or equipment, was happy with the dead rat I think.

And that was it - three short fights, a little bit of treasure, and an actual role-playing social encounter that has - unless they do something to jeopardise it - made them a new ally in the caves. All in all, a very curious session indeed, that raises a lot of interesting questions. Primarily - will the PCs want to capitalise on their good relationship with Ningal to get as much info/leverage out of her as possible? If so, how will they do it? I'm interested in how this plays out for sure!

Friday, 6 July 2018

Getting Freaky

Went back to 'Build a Dungeon From Me'. I do from time to time. It's a great resource, it's a great idea, and it's a pity that it isn't updated any more. It's also a pity I really can't work out how to do something like that with Blogger. I'd love to be able to add random pictures from Pinterest (for example... I don't care, I'd do it with Photobucket if I could) to the blog as a gallery like the 'Build A Dungeon From Me' gallery. Apparently adding a gallery like that to a Wordpress blog is easy, but not Blogger. Ho hum. - and now, in a week, every time I try to go back to it it redirects me to a dating site. If I've inadvertently broken 'Build a Dungeon From Me', I really am sorry.

Anyway, I've been messing around with 'Build A Dungeon From Me'. I generated a bunch of random images. I wrote a short description of each. I fed the descriptions into a randomiser to mix the order again. When I first encountered 'Build A Dungeon From Me', I had the idea that the basic concept was to take three images to make an adventure from them - I don't know why, the number three isn't mentioned on the site, maybe the suggestion came from whichever blog it was where I found out about it: anyway, I've grouped the descriptions in threes and started expanding them to make encounter zones. I'm thinking hexcrawl, like Carcosa.

Many images on 'Build A Dungeon From Me' are quite 'Carcosa-y', at least how I see Carcosa. It is by turns epic, bleak, decadent and barbaric (my version of Carcosa has more than a hint of Barsoom about it). I think it has helped me to see what Carcosa (the setting book by Geoff McKinley) can be in relation to my current campaign. I'm trying to make Carcosa a parallel world, exactly mimicking the campaign world the players are adventuring in - except it's Carcosa, so maybe not 'exactly mimicking'. It may be in the unimaginable future (but there's a problem in the theoretical possibility that our world is in the PC's future) or it may be in the unimaginable past (at the moment, this seems more likely, though it might also cause 'continuity problems'), but it should certainly be in the same 'landscape'. Either the PCs should be able to find faint traces of Carcosa in their world, or they should be able to find faint traces of their world in Carcosa.

Simply put, there is a region of the world (maybe more than one?) where Carcosa is bleeding through, into the world the PCs know. It may be that the PCs can 'bleed back' and end up in Carcosa. If I map them one-to-one, the correspondences should be obvious and will both suggest sites in the PC's world (because for example, 10,000 years after Carcosa, there should still be remnants of that horrific and brutal time, even if one of the suns has vanished), and it  should give me suggestions of places where it might be possible to cross from one reality to the other (by accident or design).

I've found part of the world the PCs are in where I think I can add 'Carcosa' as I envision it - a weird wasteland where decadence and barbarism collide. The campaign-world is a stripped-down version of the 'Mystara' setting, or maybe, a version starting from the same roots as Mystara, the map of 'The Lands and Environs of the D&D Wilderness' from 1983, but not quite the Mystara that was later elaborated. The potential resting-place of Carcosa is somewhat to the west of this area, which is where most of the action has been concentrated so far (The Rift, and with it Rift City, is more or less in the centre of this map, in the south-west part of Rockhome).

This version from Thorfinn Tate Cartography - link here

As a result, I've been working out details of the horned Forest Witches; I've been mapping a city built on spires of rock, with a palace - or maybe a monastery, I haven't quite decided - at the centre; I've been wondering where the Prince is going on his boat on the Black River; I've been trying to determine who was the skeleton sitting on the throne, with a headdress and a giant sword?

Perhaps the PCs glimpse some towers across a lake. Perhaps they even find a scroll that refers to lost Carcosa or the King in Yellow or the Yellow Sign (oh, yeah, my Carcosa probably has more reference to R.W. Chambers' short stories than the Carcosa sourcebook does). However I do it, Carcosa needs to bleed into my players' reality. It's really just too interesting not to.