Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Rift City - Session 18

We've reached 18 sessions now with the Rift City campaign.

At this session, the party consisted of:

Berg (1st Level Dwarf)
Galen (2nd Level Elf)
Gene (2nd Level Fighter)
Gwynthor (2nd Level Cleric)
Karensa (1st Level Elf)
Marl (1st Level Halfling)
Shazam (1st Level Elf)

The PCs decided to head back to the area they're calling the 'Bath-house of Blibdoolpoolp' - where, previously, they've encountered Kobolds, Orcs, Fire Beetle, Rats, Bats, Undead and Harpies. The Harpies had left the place in a bit of a state, with smashed furniture and guano all over the place, but as there was no fresh guano, it looked like the surviving Harpy hadn't returned since the last session.

Instead, the PCs found that the entrance rooms had been taken over by Bugbears. There were 5 of them and these proved quite tough for the party, as Berg (who was on point) found to her cost, taking a nasty sword-to-the-head that did 7pts of damage rendering her quite poorly. However, the superior armour of the PCs won out pretty quickly, as the Bugbears found it hard to make their attacks count, and the party butchered them (the Bugbears having passed morale tests that might reasonably have seen them flee). Gwynthor immediately healed Berg as best he could with his clerical magic, but she only got a few points back. She spent the rest of the session a bit more in the middle rank after that. Searching the room and the corpses, the party found some coinage, gems, jewellery and a shiny shield, that Berg claimed.

Heading south out of the Bugbears' room, the party crossed a corridor and barged down another door. Inside they found a Snake but managed to dispatch it without incident. It was a very weak snake I have to say, it only had 1hp. I don't remember putting that snake in that room, but I must have done... I wonder now why I did it. Searching around the room, the PCs found an exit taking them down to the second level. Leaving that for another day, they headed back to the areas that they'd already seen.

Coming out of the snake-room, the PCs encountered some Dwarves, who were also on an adventure. Taking the lead, Berg told them about the stairs down. They seemed quite pleased at that and headed in that direction.

Going the other way, the PCs headed for the waterfall that they discovered at the last session. The corridor beyond was dark, so the water acted a bit like a mirror, not giving them much clue as to what was beyond, or how thick it was. It was also cold and not susceptible to infravision. Marl volunteered to find out how far the waterfall extended, and holding his shield above his head like an umbrella, pushed his way in and found out is was little more than a hand-span wide. The rest of the party adopted the same technique with their shields, and they made it through the water-curtain easily and only a little damp around the edges.

Beyond it they discovered that the corridor branched into three, to the right (north), the left (south) and straight on (west). Opting for the right-hand passage, but unable to see the end of it, the party ventured along it until it reached a left turn. After that the corridor continued westward again.

The next room that the party encountered was large, and dark, and had pillars. The party (who mostly have infravision) worked out it was a square with a kind of balcony or gallery round it. Not knowing what was lurking up there, the demi-human PCs tried to cautiously creep around to see if they could find a staircase, while Gene and Gwynthor waited behind out of the way. After a short while, however, there was a shout (though none of the party speak Kobold, they've encountered plenty in the last couple of weeks and I told them it sounded like a Kobold shout) and arrows started to come from above as the party had been spotted. Judicious use of magically-induced sleep, however, rendered the Kobolds comatose and the PCs, finding the spiral stair in the corner, ran up and began slitting their throats. There wasn't much looting to be had however, so collecting their lantern-using colleagues, they pressed on.

Another room, this one apparently empty, and then a third room since passing through the waterfall that was a bit of a puzzle. There was a large and impressive doorway, monumental even, with carved and tiled sections, but unfortunately it was on the inside, and also pretty large. There was no obvious way to take it down or apart in order to get it back to the city to sell as looted art. While they were puzzling about it, some stinky lizardy humanoids wandered in - Troglodytes! Luckily the PCs made a lot of saves v poison (I don't think anyone was affected at all) but one PC (Marl I think) was injured. However, the Trogs were disposed of fairly rapidly and the PCs consoled themselves with looting the bodies before high-tailing it out and back to town before anything else nasty found them.

I don't think anyone went up a level at this session but I may have just forgotten. We shall have to see what the next session brings, when we shall take our annual holiday from our usual venue as February is the time of the Leicester Comedy Festival and paying punters will be using the room. We're decamping a couple of miles away to the abode of Galan and Berg, who have kindly offered up their dining-room table for the evening, so thanks muchly to them.

In other news, I'm a bit astounded that we have kept this going to be honest, 18 months is not the longest I've played in a campaign but probably 18 sessions is the longest I've managed to keep a campign running! This has happened once a month for a year and a half in a public place (except for when we have to vacate in February) as an open table and I'm quite impressed that we have managed to do that - hurrah for us, and thanks to every one of the 20 or so players who've been involved, whether you've been to one session or 15 (I know I'm the only person to have been to every one)! I'll say here's to another 18 months - and certainly I'd be very happy if the Wandering Monster Table keeps going for another 18 months or more. Whether that will necessarily be the Rift City Campaign I don't know but the experiment in 'public-access gaming' I think has been pretty successful so far, and Basic D&D seems a really good game for this format - so long may it continue!

Saturday, 5 January 2019

Questing in Elfgames IX - It Ain't What You Do, It's the Way that You Do It...

I mentioned previously that 'how' the PC can fulfil a quest will depend both on what the relationship is between party and patron(s), and on how open-ended the nature of the task is. I'll be looking at the second of these criteria in this post.

I'm pretty certain that a quest that is too tightly-controlled is not going to be as satisfying as an open-ended one. If the 'plot' is that the PCs must collect the relics of McGuffin from various locations, and the Sage Andonion tell the PCs to "bring the Spoon of Density from the Dank Citadel to the Unpr'Onounc'Eable Temple in 7 days for the Night of the Moon of Blood or all will be lost", this is a pass/fail situation. The party takes four days to get to the Dank Citadel, and another day to battle their way in to get the Spoon. Unless there's a dragon or magic carpet or teleport spell to get them back to the Temple double quick, they've already failed if they can't get it to the Temple in time.

There is nothing wrong with that setup that can't be solved easily, though. The 'dragon or magic carpet or teleport spell' could be real enough. Andonion could give the party a scroll and tell them, 'when you have the Spoon, read this scroll and you will be brought back to this place'. If they ask why they can't just do a 'reverse-scroll' to get them into the Dank Citadel, then the scroll is a homing-spell and will return to to the place it was made (the Temple, not at the Citadel)... Lord Doombad's return-point would be at the Citadel, but they don't have Lord Doombad's scroll. I like this idea, I may even institute it in a game.

Or, there could be a dragon (perhaps an enchanted or otherwise compelled one) who might be persuaded to fly our heroes home. Or the tapestry on the wall might turn out to be a magic carpet that the PCs could fly back on. There should be multiple ways of reaching goals. But putting in time-constraints just for effect is probably not the way to go.

Letting the PCs fail because they ran out of time is perhaps not the PCs fault, it's maybe bad DMing I think. If they've taken too long to get to the Citadel and now can't get back in time because they faffed around in the Forest of Illimitable Mulch for too long on the way there, then their way probably wasn't clear enough for them to do what you expected - unless the idea is that they fail. Which, I'd suggest, it isn't. It should be possible for the PCs to fail for sure, but I think it's peculiar to require them to fail. It's also pretty railroady, as much as requiring them to succeed would be.

'Bring the Spoon of Density to the Unpr'Onounc'Eable Temple because we can use its magical energy to bind Lord Doombad' is better, because there's no real pass/fail condition. The PCs don't know about the Moon of Blood, it's OK if they take four days to get there and a day to find it and four more days to get back, that's fine. But I'd still have the teleport scroll and the dragon and the magic carpet just to be safe (or a flight of hippogriffs or or magic mirror that acts as a portal or some pretty heavy and speedy magical effect like dust that you sprinkle on your feet and you move ten times faster or whatever). If the point is getting the Spoon to the Temple then there should be ways to do that. If the point is the journey, then, maybe there aren't ways to short-cut it, but then, that shouldn't have a time-limit. What you can't have is a time-limited quest with no short-cuts, because that's a railroad.

'Bring the Spoon of Density to the Unpr'Onounc'Eable Temple because we can use its magical energy to bind Lord Doombad - but I urge you to hurry, his strength grows every day' is probably even better still, it puts a weak time condition on things that maybe will still be a motivator not to dawdle (as the 'Moon of Blood' condition) but doesn't have a binary pass/fail setup. Ultimately the PCs will still 'lose' if they take too much time but 'too much' is less clearly-defined.

The way wandering monsters work in a dungeon is in part dependant on how much time the PCs take to do things. 'Get in, don't search for traps and secret doors, kill monsters, take treasure, get out' will result in fewer wandering monsters than 'Get in, search carefully for traps and secret doors, kill monsters, take treasure, get out'. It will probably result in more deaths from traps, and less treasure from secret hiding places, than the second procedure. It's a balance the party must come to between being meticulous and being fast. And as a corollary, searching for secret doors should entail the party getting rewards some (most?) of the time. Else, why bother?

The same procedures can be applied to fulfilling quest-goals. Encounters in the wilderness or at the Dank Citadel should depend on how much time the PCs have 'wasted'. This why '... but I urge you to hurry, his strength grows every day' is probably a better time-condition than 'do this by then or all is lost'. All should not be lost. It may be harder ('...  his strength grows every day' might equate in game mechanics to 'add another Gnoll patrol for each day spent in the Forest of Illimitable Mulch, and increase the level and number of the Undead servants at the Citadel by d6' for example, because Lord Doombad is resurrecting the dead of a thousand years of war in the environs of the Dank Citadel), but there shouldn't be a point where the PCs calculate that a conclusion is inevitable. If the actions of the PCs don't make a difference, then there's no point playing (others may disagree, but to me at least if player action is meaningless, in the end it's just the DM reading a story with the players providing some dialogue. Some people might want that. That's fine but it's not what I do). The loss of time leading to a build-up of enemy forces should be balanced by some possibility of reward (if it's a deliberate loss of time at least), and without it necessarily entailing the PCs breaking the quest.

So, the PCs get diverted in the Forest and go to the Vale of Silky Death in the centre of the woods. There they fight the Giant Spiders, who have nothing directly to do with the quest. The PCs acquire the Wonderweb Cloak (a powerful magic item in its own right that may help them in the quest) and also make allies of the Grubmen (who were the Spiders' slaves), but as a result Lord Doombad has recruited more Gnoll soldiers in the Forest, and when the PCs get to the Citadel there are more, and more powerful, Undead around.

The PCs could have saved time and bypassed the Giant Spiders, in which case, they'd have met fewer Gnoll patrols and faced less serious enemies in the Citadel, but wouldn't have the Cloak or the knowledge of the secret way into the Citadel that the Grubmen gave them. That is a reasonable trade-off, and even though the PCs shouldn't necessarily be able to calculate that in advance (they don't know the Wonderweb Cloak is there, they don't know the Grubmen could give them useful information), they should at least have the expectation that 'having adventures' will not be detrimental to the game. If the DM is penalising the players for exploration and adventuring, then I'd say something has probably gone wrong somewhere.

Going through the Vale of Silky Death, fighting the Spiders, rescuing the Grubmen and gaining the Cloak, means that instead of facing one Gnoll patrol and finding 10 Skeleton guards at the Dank Citadel, they fight two Gnoll patrols and find 14 Zombie guards. If they also go to the Mountain of Mumbling Medusae and fight the residents there, they might get their hands on the Mirror of Madness and befriend the Rockmen; but then they'll find three Gnoll patrols in the Forest and 19 Ghoul guards at the Citadel. If they also go to the Lake of Lachrymose Lycanthropes, the PCs can find the Flying Dagger of Flamfloon and get information from the Purple Pixies, but they'll run into four Gnoll patrols and 23 Wight guards, and so on.

So yes, if the PCs want to go off on side-quests it should be a question of balancing risk and reward (roughly, because they shouldn't necessarily know the specifics). They have been warned that Lord Doombad will grow stronger if they delay, but they should also have an inkling that there is more than one way to reach the destination. Otherwise it's just a railroad.

More, possibly much more, on this to come. With lots of diversions for interesting byways I suspect.

Thursday, 3 January 2019

Questing in Elfgames VIII - Mentors and Motivations

There is a very interesting post at Campaign Chronicle, entitled 'Character motivation in OD&D'. It is a d20 table of reasons why PCs are going adventuring. The posts says the table is '...to use as-is or to inspire more original ideas...'. I can see it being useful for a particular campaign, either getting PCs to choose one of the options or randomly assigning them (it makes more sense to have a 'card' system rather than a table I think, so each backstory is only given out once, rather than having a situation where three of the seven PCs have randomly or unknowingly chosen the same motivation).

I want to break the system down however and build a way of generating this kind of stuff from random tables.

The first thing I want to do is give each PC a patron or mentor. A simple system I think for that, I'll limit mentors to PC classes, rather than having the ability for a Werewolf or a Treant or a Centaur to be a mentor (of course I now want a 'Centaur Mentor' because in British English, if not American English, it rhymes. But no, keep it simple, stupid, at least for the moment: PC classes only).

Roll d12 - the PC's mentor is a:

1 - Cleric
2 - Dwarf
3 - Elf
4 - Fighter
5 - Halfling
6 - Magic-User
7 - Thief
8-12 as PC's class

This should produce a distribution where 50% of the time the Mentor is the same class as the PC. A d8 would produce a result where the PC and the Mentor were the same class 25% of the time, a d20 the same result 70% of the time. All of these are possible of course...

I created a party of PCs to test the numbers on. As there are 7 classes I rolled a d8 several times to generate some numbers for class-distribution, with 1-7 standing for the classes above. As luck would have it the first number was an 8 so I decided that was the number of PCs I'd create.

My numbers were 812445667 (I tidied the order of the numbers to make it easier for me). That should mean '8PCs - Cleric, Dwarf, Fighter, Fighter, Halfling, Magic-User, Magic-User, Thief' which looks like a pretty cool party to me. I rolled on the table above to determine the classes of the PCs' Mentors. Tabulating that produces something like this:

PC Class:                          Mentor Class:

Cleric                           9 (as PC – Cleric)
Dwarf                          5 (Halfling)
Fighter                         1 (Cleric)
Fighter                         4 (Fighter
Halfling                       5 (Halfling)
Magic-User                 7 (Thief)
Magic-User                 8 (as PC – Magic User)
Thief                            4 (Fighter)

I decided I'd rather have fewer Mentors than more. There's no particular reason that each PC should have a different Mentor, it may be that some PCs have the same Mentor. So, I decided to double up; any time I had a repetition of a class in my Mentor column, it would be the same Mentor. Thus the two Clerics are one Cleric, the two Fighters are one Fighter and the two Halflings are the same Halfling.

So we have five Mentors - a Cleric (Mentor to a Cleric and a Fighter); a Halfling (Mentor to a Dwarf and a Halfling); a Fighter (Mentor to a Fighter and a Thief); a Thief (Mentor to a Magic-User); and a Magic-User (Mentor to a Magic-User).

The relationship of the PC to the mentor is very tricky. Alignment should be an issue I think but can't work out how (or indeed why) it could (should). It seems like it is adding a layer of unnecessary complexity (what happens if the PC's alignment is different to the Mentor's alignment? Does that make the relationship between them more difficult? Do I want that? If not, what purpose would alignment serve? If it doesn't serve a purpose, why bother about it? So, I decided to leave it alone). There should definitely be some sort of discernible connection between the PC and the Mentor  though. I decided to roll a d6 again and see what connections I could come up with.

I got 6 after some thought:

1 - Parental (or foster-parental, as 3, where this is not biologically possible)
2 - Avuncular, materteral or other family (or inherited, as 4, if this is not biologically feasible)
3 - Foster-familial
4 - Inherited (Mentor is a companion of a relative of the previous generation)
5 - Geographical
6 - Professional

Basically there's some chance the Mentor is actual family, a parent or someone or less-directly related - if the PC and Mentor are not the same race, then there's an automatic bump to foster-parent/friend of the family instead. Then there's a chance that the Mentor was either a foster-parent or a friend of the PC's parents. Finally, there's a chance that the relationship between them is something more societal - I'm not actually sure how I'm defining the difference between 'Geographical' and 'Professional' here. My idea for 'Geographical' was that the Mentor is some kind of local 'power' (the Lord of the Manor; the Priest of the local temple or some such idea); but then, this bleeds over into a 'Professional' relationship (where the Mentor has taken an interest in the PC for some professional reason). I suppose really this latter doesn't rely on much power on the Mentor's part. If a 'Geographical' result could mean "you came to the Lord of the Manor's attention as a likely lad about the village, and he took an interest in your training", 'Professional' could mean "you came to the Guard Captain's attention as a likely lad about the village, and he took an interest in your training". I think 'Geographical' implies 'you sought out the Mentor because...' whereas 'Professional' implies more "the Mentor sought you out because..." but it's a subtle distinction.

Running these numbers with the previous results produced this:

Cleric                    9 (as PC – Cleric)              1 (parental)
Dwarf                    5 (Halfling)                        5 (geographical)
Fighter                  1 (Cleric)                            4 (inherited)
Fighter                  4 (Fighter)                           3 (foster-familial)
Halfling                 5 (Halfling)                        3 (foster-familial)
Magic-User           7 (Thief)                             5 (geographical)
Magic-User           8 (as PC – Magic-User)      3 (foster-familial)
Thief                     4 (Fighter)                           1 (parent)

Assuming that I'm sticking to the idea of combining the Mentors where I get multiple classes, so having 5 mentors, I now know that ...

the Mentor Cleric is the parent of the PC Cleric and the companion of an older relative of one of the PC Fighters;
the Halfling Mentor is the foster-parent of the Halfling PC and has a geographical connection with the Dwarf PC;
the Mentor Fighter is the foster-parent of the other PC Fighter and the parent of the Thief;
the Mentor Thief has a geographical connection to one of the PC Magic-Users;
the Mentor Magic-User is the foster-parent of the other PC Magic-User.

This all seemed reasonable enough but I want to know if this group of Mentors has any relationship to each other. I rolled a d6 for the following results:

1 Old companions
2-5 Thrown together by circumstance
6 Old adversaries

I actually rolled a 1 which is nice but I don't like this table. Maybe if the divisions were 1-2, 3-4 and 5-6 it would be better. Anyway, I tried to generate connections another way, by stealing JensD's idea from Lost Songs of the Nibelungs about using repeated dice-numbers to stand for connections (a lot of this is directly or indirectly inspired by Jens... much of it can be traced back to something I told him some years ago, "every Hero should have been fostered by Dwarves" which was something of an exaggeration but still, I think, has a core of truth to it). As soon as he comes by to tell me where it is, I'll link to it (honestly Jens, I went back through about 5 years of posts looking, I really did).

Anyway, I rolled a die for each of the five Mentors, intending that each Mentor who shared a number with another had a connection with them. I used a d4 so I would guarantee some repetition, and came up with 12413 (the least connected possible result of course). That means the Cleric and the Thief Mentors know each other. I rolled for their connection (only looking for 'old friends' and 'old adversaries' results... I already know they know each other, so results in the middle don't count) and came up with 'old adversaries'. Somehow having two Mentors as old adversaries and the other three unknown to each other doesn't seem as satisfying as having all of them as old companion, though I am pleased it was 'Cleric' and 'Thief' - there may be mileage in dramatic situations to be created there. But I'm sure I shall play about with this aspect somewhat (what I'm currently thinking is that I'm going to use all of it - the five are old companions, and this is the most important relationship, but the Thief and the Cleric have an antagonistic personal relationship).

I decided to set the Mentor's Level at d4+3. Especially when the PC is at low levels the Mentor should be an important personage, at least on a regional scale. However, I think a Mentor should not be a deus ex machina. Nor the other way around, for that matter. The Mentor should not necessarily take any direct role in adventuring, and it should be on the whole difficult to access their help. The point is that the Mentor has set the PC on the quest so that they can learn their true powers, not come running to Uncle Alrund Elf-Lord if the going gets tough. The occasional help with decoding Moon-Runes or identifying a sword should be OK, even helping to find the best Elven weaponsmith to repair that broken heirloom, but not so much kicking down the doors in of Bigbad Central and killing Lord Nasty in the face with the +5 Shining Sword of Ultimate Cool. The PCs should not be outclassed by their own aunts/teachers/random old friends of their dad.

As the PCs gain in Levels perhaps the Mentor can too, but at a slower speed I think, and taking into account level limits. In any case, mentors should probably be capped at around 10th-12th Level, by which time the PCs should be well on their way to overtaking them, if they haven't already. It may even be that the Mentor doesn't increase in level at all and the PCs start to overtake them from about 5th Level. But, it's around 8th-10th Level that PCs start to establish strongholds and I think this seems a natural point to stop Mentor advancement. You establish the Last Homely House East of the Sea, get together some old comrades in arms, build a library, and get on with the business of protecting the Heirs of Isildur through the long dark of the Third Age. You know the score.

The Level results I came up with were 22211. This equates to Levels 5 (Cleric), 5 (Fighter), 5 (Halfling), 4 (Magic-User) and 4 (Thief). I imagine that this is some adventuring party of a previous generation. If you're really together and have access to 30-year-old character sheets this might even be an adventuring party of a previous generation, and you can skip most of the exposition actually. I don't know if I need levels at the moment but maybe I will. I may as well generate them.

That all seems like a usable set of results. I shall mess about with them more in a future post, however, as it's late and this is getting a bit large I'm ending this one here.

Have I mentioned lately how much I hate the formatting on Blogger?