Wednesday, 14 August 2019

Happy Birthday, Rift City! Session 25, and second anniversary

On Sunday 11th August, the Rift City Campaign, and my D&D group 'The Wandering Monster Table', had their second birthday. Technically, the second birthday of the Rift City campaign would not be until Tuesday 13th August, but 11th August was the 'the session on the second Sunday in August', and that's close enough as that was the day we inaugurated the group and began the campaign in August 2017. Calendar drift is not my fault! The campaign has been going for two years (and anyway, the 13th was yesterday so it's two years anyway)!

It feels like a decent time to reflect on what we've accomplished. We've had 25 sessions, which have included 30 days of playing-time (if my calculations are correct); we've had 18 players (and me) turn up to games in that time and 6 PC deaths; one of the PCs has reached 4th Level and several 3rd Level; they've explored around 100 rooms on Levels 1 & 2 of a dungeon that I've been building (slowly) that currently contains more than 1,200 rooms (I haven't checked lately, it may be more than 1,500). I suppose an average session has around 6 PCs, though the smallest number so far is 2, the largest I think 11. 22 of the 25 sessions have been in public places where anyone can join in, and that's the point (the other three sessions were held at Berg & Galan's house when we were temporarily homeless). Except one session when I was away, we've played on the second Sunday of the month in that time (I suggested that in order to keep the regular format, someone else could run a one-shot, but the players decided they'd rather I DMed so the session was moved by 1 week). That is a remarkable degree of consistency, I think

I have to mention the great staff at the Black Horse in Aylestone (Facebook page linked here). We've been going down there for the last few months, since our previous venue closed, and they've been very nice to us - making us little reserved signs with messages on saying things like 'Reserved for Elves, Goblins and Minotaurs' and 'Reserved for Questors for the Wand of Wonder' and similar messages. They really are very nice, and it turns out that one of the management used to play fantasy quest computer games back in the 1990s... which ones I don't actually know, but maybe Baldur's Gate? I have told her, she should book a Sunday night off and come and join us. We'll see.

A very different constellation of party-members this session. Of the people who were there last time...

Cnut's player is on holiday, so wasn't available.

Shazam's player was at a family wedding and also was not available.

Nelson's player however was there, the only one from last session.

Of the habitual attendees (obviously, there are a lot more people who've only attended one or two sessions)...

Galan is still suffering from a curse, and I think his player wants him fit before adventuring again.

Berg's player is also on holiday.

Marl's player was at a festival I think.

Karensa's player made!

Gibbet''s player made it!

Brigham's player made it!

Gwynthor's player... well, no-one really knows. He told us he was coming, but we didn't see him!

There was some discussion between Nelson, Gibbet, Brigham and Karensa as to whether they should venture down into the scary Level 2 or stick to the relative safety of Level 1; and as to whether they should hire some meatshields to help, but in the end they decided that it would be Level 2 with no hirelings - the most dangerous (but hopefully most lucrative) option.

The cave entrance they went for was the same as Session 23, the Level 2 entrance on the downhill side of the road. Entering they found it looked undisturbed from last time, but Karensa, remembering that last time they'd encountered a Gelatinous Cube, decided that a reasonable course of action was to shoot an arrow down the corridor and find out if it made a clattering noise or a kind of floopy plop. Happily, it was a clatter, so they crept on. As they ventured down the corridor however they realised that they'd been followed - a mountain lion had strayed inside, seemingly hunting them. They attacked it, and as it (insanely) charged them, arrows already sticking out of it, Nelson the Magic User used his Magic Missile to kill it - just before Karensa and Gibbet both shot it. Gibbet and Karensa retrieved their arrows. Nelson didn't retrieve his spell.

Not perhaps the most efficient use of a Magic Missile but Nelson really didn't want the first encounter of the evening to be up close with a rampaging mountain lion, and who can blame him? Never mind, he still had Web, as well as Read Languages... hoping that some scrolls might appear at some point. Poking around in the entrails, Gibbet found a coin-bag with some copper that the lion must have swallowed at some point.

Venturing on, the party came to wooden portcullis - 'slightly burnt' it said in my notes, as the last time they were here the PCs tried to set fire to it. It had been impossible to open, two days ago - now it opened with ease. On the far side, the PCs found a room, lit by torches stuck in sconces on the walls, that contained a semi-circular pool of water. Of course, what they did was throw the Mountain Lion carcass into the pool to see if there was any magical effect. Isn't that what you would do?

There were two other exits to the room, one opposite the door they'd entered and one to the right. They tried the door to the right and when they got it open, realised that there was a large hall-like room beyond the door. The far end was too far to make out, even with Infravision. Also, near the far end (I randomly determined how far away) there was a collection of gigantic ants. The PCs shot some arrows at them, then retreated to the door so they could control the frontage the ants could attack on. A couple more hits on the lead ant without it going down was starting to worry the players I could see. Gibbet was remembering the last time they'd encountered some, and how much carnage had ensued. This was in Session 21, and then Gibbet had had to beg a Healing Potion from Karensa because he'd sustained some heavy damage. Well, probably, this time he did too. Certainly there was some damage about. But, Nelson cast Web and the giant ants were stuck trying to get through the door.

This was the party's cue to run away (stopping only to definitely kill the one ant that had got through the doorway and grab one of the torches from the wall - Nelson was damn sure he wasn't wasting his own torches if people were giving them away for free), then start shooting arrows down corridors again, in case the Gelatinous Cube was lurking. Eventually, as they traversed a very long corridor, the Cube moved to attack; but they don't move very fast, so the party retreated up the corridor peppering it with arrows until it exploded.

Moving forward again (taking care to once more loot the gooey mess and this time pick up some gold) the PCs turned north, hoping I think to get into the rear of the ants' room. However, as they'd made a mistake with their map (they'd only drawn the corridor as 120', though I told them it was around 150') the corridor they went north up led them to a different room. This one had a sliding door on the east wall, which led to a room that contained some Shriekers, who of course freaked out at the light and noise. Shriekers don't harm adventurers, just summon things that do harm them, so butchering the giant mushrooms quickly became a priority. However, it wasn't fast enough to shut up the Shriekers' alarms, as shortly afterwards some shambling figures appeared in the room behind the party.

Zap! Karensa cast Sleep at them. Oof! the party said, as I told them it didn't seem to have any effect. Another spell wasted, as these were Ghouls. A short and vicious fight ensued, with no-one succumbing to Ghoul-touch, and the Ghouls were defeated, and quickly looted, whereup a nice haul of funerary jewellery was discovered. Also part of the treasure in the room was more coinage, and an axe leaning against a wall. In Basic D&D, Magic Users are only permitted to use daggers, and Clerics are not allowed to use edged weapons, so only Gibbet the Thief and Karensa the Elf could have taken the axe to use anyway; but Karensa already has a magic sword, so Gibbet took it.

Heading out again, the PCs realised that some more monsters were investigating the Shriekers' noise - this time some large flying insects coming down the corridor at them. The party disposed of them but several people were bitten. Again it was giant insects that ended up doing the damage, with the less-armoured Nelson and Gibbet getting the worst of it I think. I'm sure that, by the end of the session, everyone had taken damage but Brigham, and both Brigham and Karensa had used their healing magic (Cure Light Wounds and a Potion of Healing respectively, Brigham I think on Nelson and Karensa on herself).

So, somewhat depleted in resources, the party decided to head for home. As they passed the room where they'd fought the ants, they realised that the web, the ants and the lion had all gone, back they surmised into the room where the ants had been originally. Sneaking past they made a break for the exit - but between them and safety was a bunch of angry giant centipedes. However, they don't have many missile weapons, so the party again peppered them arrows from down the corridor. Five died; the other two, deciding they didn't like the hail of death much, retreated. The PCs ran the last bit I think and made it back into the clean air once more, to fight another day.

Heading for home, they would no doubt have noticed the beginning of the Lunar Eclipse that was a feature of the calendar I'd noticed recently (I generated the calendar some time ago from Donjon's Fantasy Calendar Generator). I'd told Galan's player that this was when the Elves at the Sanctuary would perform a Remove Curse spell for him, as eclipses were especially auspicious times for such magic.

Dividing up the loot the PCs found they'd come away with a decent haul - a couple of thousand in jewellery and platinum pieces and a couple of hundred in loose change, as well as a potentially magic hand-axe, which was OK between four. And nobody died!

Thursday, 1 August 2019

Seven NPCs, and the lifespans of Demi-humans

Here are seven NPCs, one of each of the character classes from Moldvay. Details are random generations from Seventh Sanctum and Seventh Order of the Random Generator, where they aren't directly generated by rolling electronic dice from the WotC electric dice app. I rolled d10 Level; apparent/equivalent age is 20+d20, except if Level is less than 5, in which case it's 15+d10, because if they're less than 5th Level, they're effectively a youngster (and I rolled Level first, instead of making Level a function of age, which would have been more sensible).

These people are essentially magical prisoners, and the magical effect is a kind of stasis. My PCs may at some point stumble on them, but of course, they may not. Apparent age is subjective age - I don't know how long they've been imprisoned, so 'apparent age' is basically 'number of years from birth until magical trapping'; equivalent age for the Demi-humans is pretty much what I reckon the developmental stage of the individual is compared to a human lifespan - which is what leads on to the second half of the post.

Female Cleric - Braeth Carellen - 7th Level: apparent age 23
Str 11 Int 14 Wis 16 Dex 7 Con 10 Cha 13
Content and systematic; she is concerned about the heretic toadmen in the salt-marshes

Female Dwarf - Eida Grimsilver - 10th Level: equivalent age 32 (age in years 128)
Str 15 Int 5 Wis 11 Dex 6 Con 15 Cha 8
Stereotypical, but insincere; she only has one eye

Male Elf - Taraneer Moonsword - 4th Level: equivalent age 19 (age in years - don't know: 19... 100... 1000?)
Str 13 Int 15 Wis 16 Dex 11 Con 10 Cha 12
Shrewd and selfish; has tattooed eyelids (a lion surrounded by petals on left lid chases a winged fish on the right)

Male Fighter - Ryon Crawn - 9th Level: apparent age 25
Str 14 Int 5 Wis 11 Dex 9 Con 11 Cha 17
Alternately savage and fussy; he wants to trap a giant lizard

Male Halfling - Bonifer Warren - 4th Level: equivalent age 23 (age in years 36)
Str 13 Int 12 Wis 9 Dex 15 Con 8 Cha 12
Upbeat and enigmatic; he used to be a gladiator

Male Magic User - Howland Banroth - 6th Level: apparent age 36
Str 7 Int 15 Wis 8 Dex 12 Con 11 Cha 8
Both softly-spoken and fabulous; wears high shiny boots

Female Thief - Thealil Ember - 8th Level: apparent age 35
Str 7 Int 5 Wis 14 Dex 14 Con 5 Cha 13
Comes across as engaging and receptive; is a recovering addict

All of this raises questions. Taraneer Moonsword for example. Why 'Moonsword'? Is this a family name, a gang-type nickname or because he owned a special blade called the Moonsword? If the Moonsword is a thing, does Taraneer still have it, what are its powers and its value? And what (if anything) do his tattoos mean?

Will Ryon Crawn get to trap his giant lizard? Where? How?

What was Thealil Ember addicted to? Is she going to go off the rails now she's been freed?

Why is Braeth Carellen concerned about the toad-men? What is the nature of their heresy? Are they really so bad? And what have they been doing since she was imprisoned?

And that's another set of questions, regarding how long these people have been here. Days? Years? Millennia? Do they know, or will it be a s
hock? Is everyone they know dead? Has the Moonsword rusted, have the toad-men gone to hell with their heresy, are the giant lizards extinct? Or have they only been gone a matter of months or years, and can pick up the threads of their lives?

As for the ages of the Demihumans... I've never really had a settled way of working them out, instead just picking numbers that 'feel right'. I tend to assume something like Tolkienish lifespans for Halflings and Dwarves. I've been a Tolkien fan for longer than I've played D&D - in fact, I got into D&D as a way to 'play' Middle Earth (or something like it), so it's always been a huge influence on my thinking. Playing B/X, my Halflings in effect 'are' Hobbits - a sort of rural race of short Humans who like pie, beer and practical jokes, if they don't take too much effort. Some of them may call themselves 'Nelwyn' and refer to a hero called 'Willow'; some others might call themselves 'Hin' or 'Kender'. Players may have their own ideas about their PCs. All that doesn't matter. Halflings mostly still live in agricultural villages, elect their own magistrates (who are often called Sheriffs) and have big feasts. They are definitely like Hobbits even if not necessarily identical to them.

For Hobbits in the Shire, 'coming of age' is 33 - at least it is for males, and that's all I have to go on. Past 50 is regarded as a settled and respectable age. 111 is a grand old age, 120 is extremely noteworthy. So, more or less humans + 50% I reckon. 33 is close to 21+10.5. 50 is approximately equivalent to 34 for humans, 105 is 70+35, so 120, at 80+40, probably would be noteworthy. As a rule of thumb it seems to work OK. So for Bonifer Warren (above) his 'human' age of 23 - early manhood in other words - equates to about 36 as an actual Halfling age. If I wanted to get really granular, I'd say he's 35, and close to his 36th birthday.

Taking a similar tack with Tolkien's ages for the Dwarves: 100 is still young - Fili and Kili hadn't reached their first century (being 82 and 77 years respectively), and were the youngsters in the Quest for Erebor and regarded as 'rookies'. But more than 200 is pretty venerable; up til now I've somewhat flown by the seat of my pants and multiplied by between 3 and 4 to reach a Dwarf-age. But perhaps it should be 4-5 that is the proper range. If Fili and Kili were conceptually at least in their late teens or early twenties, and inexperienced compared to the likes of Thorin, Balin and Gloin, who were seasoned warriors, but Dain Ironfoot was very old (at 252) at the time of the War of the Ring, that implies the flourit of a Dwarf male (again, pretty much all of the information we have is about males) is approximately from the first to the second century of life. I guess this corresponds more or less to 25-50 for humans. Dain's 252 years on 4x reckoning is therefore the equivalent of 63 for a human male - when perhaps being a war-leader is not generally high on the list of men's priorities, and an old warrior could maybe have expected some sort of retirement, leaving the actual fighting to younger men. Fili on the other hand would be the equivalent of 20, and Kili 19. They might be very well regarded as young and inexperienced. If we take 5x as the base, then Fili would be the equivalent of 16, Kili 15, and Dain 50. These seem low estimates. Of course, Fili and Kili would be young and inexperienced at 15 and 16, but they're young untried warriors, not children, in the Hobbit, and if Dain is 50, that doesn't seem so old that he'd be venerable; so perhaps 4x is about right for Dwarves.

Elves are a problem for many reasons in D&D; one of the problems is age. How old are Elves, exactly? I'm not sure there is a definitive answer. Tolkien's Elves are functionally immortal, and some at least in the stories are thousands of years old. Elrond has lived for more than 6,000 years, Galadriel perhaps between 8 and 9,000 years. We don't really know how old Legolas is; he is the most active Elven character in the stories (at least, Tolkien's stories - I'm not concerned with Jackson's retellings here), the closest to a 'young warrior' and therefore - maybe! - an analogue for the PCs at the beginnings of their adventuring careers. The best and brightest minds among Tolkien scholars seem to think that Thranduil lived in Menegroth in the First Age, making him more than 6,000 years old; he made the move from Southern to Northern Mirkwood, around TA1000, and Legolas seems to have been after this, because it was after the separation of the Elves of Mirkwood and Lorien. However, Legolas was vastly older than the other members of the Fellowship, whom he called 'children' (presumably, excepting Gandalf, but not Aragorn). Aragorn is at this point 87 (approximately equivalent to 29 for the Dunedain) and Gimli is 139 (140 would be equivalent to 35 by my reckoning of 4x). So, if this is accepted, 2,000 years seems to be the maximum age for Legolas, but surely not less than many hundred years for his minimum age. He also says that he has 'watched many an oak grow from an acorn to ruinous age', which may imply he's more than 1,000. In Rohan he declares that the 500 years or so of the history of Rohan are 'but little time' to the Elves. It seems reasonable then that Legolas is around 1,500-2,000 years old.

But D&D Elves aren't necessarily Tolkien Elves. It seems that in different editions of D&D, Elves live for between 500 and perhaps 1200 years, and 'young' Elves beginning their adventuring careers may be between 25 and 125 years (not that I remember that info from any B/X-related material). B/X doesn't really deal with this as far as I've ever found. I've never come across anything to do with it in the modules or stuff from Dragon either. I do have some things from the old Pelinore setting from Imagine, which is a) official D&D and b) B/X compatible - I shall check there and see if there is anything that has bearing on this issue (I don't remember if people's ages are given in the text - if they are, the ages of any Elf NPCs might provide some useful information).

Anyway, 'young' Elves who are mortal and die after about 1200 years (I think this is how it worked in AD&D 2e, if I recall correctly) might not be how it works in my campaign. I don't have a problem with vastly old Elves, as long as it's understood that that doesn't mean that they have extra knowledge - not about anything useful at any rate. Sure they were alive on 12th Grune, 406 years ago, but that doesn't mean they attended the burial of Jarl Ragnald or know anything about what happened to his magic sword. They can however tell you exactly how the light looked through the trees (and what sort of the trees they were, in what season) as Marulan played the harp and Aldriana sang the Lay of Lost Tarathiel (and how her cloak wove patterns in the air, and who wove the cloak, and what the names were of the grandparents of the person who wove the cloak, and what was the smell of the air in the twilight as Aldriana sang, and every single word and how it referred to all the Tales before of the Age-long yearning heartbreak of the Elves...) because at the time, that was much more important.

Now some buzzing Humans want to find a stick or a bauble or something. How does that compare to 10,000 years of tragedy? Why would Elves notice what Humans, Dwarves, Orcs or whoever else was up to, most of the time? Going adventuring might be diverting, especially if involves new things, places, people, but in that case, they're deliberately trying to go beyond what they know, and probably therefore don't have special knowledge about it. Some big-picture stuff maybe ("before the Time of the Warlords, the Ebon Empire flourished - but now that people are like the leaves of a forgotten Autumn..."), but maybe not even that. As Legolas's quote about Rohan shows, even Human kingdoms are fleeting to Elves. Maybe some legends about dragons, but any detailed stuff? Maybe not. Details about a specific time or place might be details about something utterly inconsequential, from a quest point of view. How would they have known, 406 years ago, exactly what they were going to need to know in the future? Elves are pretty clever, but unless they have precognition and already have found out what they will need to know, they may not have better access than anyone else to relevant historical data. Seems like that could be how it could work to avoid the logical problem of the Elven characters being expected to know details that would help the party.

So, I'm rather minded to say that any Elves in my campaign can be as old as their players like, from about 20 (assuming growth of infant Elves at more-or-less the same rate as humans) to perhaps 2,000 (which I'm assuming is about 30, probably at the top end of Legolas's apparent age). This implies that Elves would age on something like the following basis: 1-20 - as humans; 21-2,000 - 1/66 the rate of humans; then maybe 2,000-4,000 - 1/200 the rate of humans (4,000 is about 40?); 4,000-9,000 - 1/500 the rate for humans (9,000 is approximately equivalent to 50). If players want their PCs to be older than 'early 20s or equivalent' they can use this rough guide. One of my players wanted to play a middle-aged human Fighter, so perhaps someone will decide they want a middle-aged Elf too. I probably don't need any Elves in my campaign world who are more than about 10,000 years old, so I'll regard 9,000 years (as I say, Galadriel's approximate age at the time of the War of the Ring) as the top end of Elven ages for practical purposes. But in terms of 'quest-knowledge', the point is that all that time, the Elves weren't paying attention to anything that might be important, unless it directly involved Elves, and even then, maybe they just don't know what Queen Faliria was up to. Would some random Wood-Elf from Lorien know what was going on in the White Council? Probably not; so probably some random Wood-Elf from Canolbarth Forest or some such probably wouldn't know what the Elven aristocracy in Mystara had been up to either, except in general terms.

Whether the PCs should be just 'some random Wood-Elf from Canolbarth Forest' is another matter however...