Friday 28 March 2014

A very old school critical hit chart...

In real life, I've recently been reading a little about medical illustration. And I came across this brilliant image:

Now then. What I'm thinking is that something like this would make an excellent die-drop table, of the kind seen in Zak S' excellent Vornheim. Suitable for all manner of OSR games, but probably particularly suited to Lamentations of the Flame Princess. I'm imagining that, as with the supplemental critical hit tables for WFRP1e, there would be a different die-drop table for a different sources of injury, all graphically realised in gory faux-woodcut detail. In order to 'bulk' the supplement out to 16 pages (or whatever), there could be a few pages of similarly illustrated diseases, poisons, and 'advice' on healing. It would masquerade as a 'real' manual, complete with a pun-tastic 'German' name in the classic WFRP style.

Here's the front cover to von Gersdorff's manual. Now that has some serious Old School vibe!

But I can't draw, so someone else has to do it! And anyone who can draw probably wouldn't need me to supply the words. Especially the person that immediately sprang to mind when this idea popped into my head.

Thursday 27 March 2014

Old School Muscle

Percentile, or not?

When this dropped through the letter box, I thought someone had bought me a subscription to Rafael Chandler's Grognard Magazine.

I see there is also an article about Potions of Intelligence.

Wednesday 26 March 2014

The Goblin Tax (part two)

So, here are entries 7-12 on the 1d12 selection of GOBLIN encounters. These are not meant to be whole adventures, but some of these encounters might become significant events in a sandbox campaign. Or they might be just a little bit of colour to liven up the evening's goblin slaughtering session.

Oh, and I was wrong - these print on two sides of a 6"x4" index card when printed in Calibri at 11 point. If anyone actually wants the them in a printable format I'll see what I can do about putting a .pdf file up somewhere.

EIGHT near naked GOBLINS labour tirelessly, moving at a single, inexorable pace. They are lean and fit, working in total silence. They have lifeless eyes and blank expressions – a result of the dull grey metal headbands that they wear: BANDS OF DOMINATION (7a). The reaction check is not for these goblins, but their master – CHARNUM the MAGIC USER – who hides, wasting away, in the cellar of a cottage a mile away.  

GOBLINS (4) = AC: 7, HD: 1-1, HP: 3, MV: 30’ per round, ATT: 1 tool DAM: 1d4 SV: NM, MR: 12, AL: C, XP: 5

CHARNUM (MU 2) = AC: 9, HD: 2d4*, HP: 4, MV: 10’ per round, ATT: 1 dagger (-2 to hit), DAM: 1d4-2, SV: MU2, MR: 7, AL: C, XP: 25

Charnum has Magic Missile and Charm Person (or Sleep) memorised. Charnum will use the Crown to enslave the party if he uses Sleep. This might not be interesting. They will be slaves of Charnum for the final 3d4 days of his life.

Charnum recently stole the Crown and Bands from his tutor and used Charm Person (or Sleep) to assemble his ‘retinue’, planning to become a mighty wizard. If the reaction roll is favourable, Charnum will attempt to use the goblins to guide the party to his cottage. He is educated and polite, but will plead to be returned to civilization. But not to his tutor. If the reaction roll is hostile, Charnum will reason that the party are bounty hunters, come to reclaim the crown and deliver him to justice. He will use the goblins to keep the party away from the cottage at all costs.

Charnum has 20GP in a box decorated with his family crest, and a spellbook containing Read Magic, Detect Magic, and the above spells. These items can be used to trace Charnum’s origin and the previous owner of the Crown.

Each Crown of Domination is magically connected to 1d8 Bands. Both are made of a permanently warm, dull grey metal. The Bands are thin circlets, while the Crowns are heavy and broad.

The will of those wearing the Crown (‘masters’) immediately displaces that of those wearing the Bands (‘slaves’). Slaves lose one point from INT, WIS, or CHA per day. For each point lost so, masters lose a point from STR, DEX or CON. If INT, WIS, or CHA fall to 0, the slave is permanently without will. No more ability score points are lost by either master or slave. If STR, DEX, or CON reaches 0, the master dies. The Crown cannot be removed except by use of Dispel Magic, which cannot be cast by the wearer. The Bands can be removed by magic or one the death of the ‘master’. A Saving Throw vs. Spells in can be made to avoid the domination of both the Crown and the Bands. Ability points recover slowly, but only after the items are removed.

A small cart rumbles along, piled high with bones and animal pelts. The cart is drawn by FOUR WOLVES. THREE GOBLINS (Gatta, Krun, Lod) ride and walk alongside. They are traders, travelling between petty goblin kingdoms. 

GOBLINS (3) = AC: 6, HD: 1-1, HP: 3, MV: 30’ per round, ATT: 1 short swords DAM: 1d6 SV: NM, MR: 7, AL: C, XP: 5

WOLVES (4) = AC: 7, HD: 2+2, HP: 10, MV: 60’ per round, ATT: 1 bite DAM: 1d6 SV: F1, MR: 8(6), AL: N, XP: 25

The goblins are minded to react positively (a +2 modifier to the reaction check). They are traders after all. If the party receives a favourable reaction, the traders will attempt to bargain with the party. They are especially interested in metal weapons and armour. Abstracted, the party can trade for pelts that will sell in a human settlement for double the value of the objects traded, but at double the encumbrance. Many of the bones are marked with intricate carvings; transcriptions of ‘epic’ poems, jokes, and other aspects of goblin culture – including erotica. These will also sell for double the value of the objects traded, at a one-to-one encumbrance rate, but only to a tiny market of secretive scholars and collectors. If the party receives a hostile reaction, the goblins will see the party as the sort of people who kill goblins and take their treasure. Their wolves make them dangerous opponents. The goblins will take the wolves by the reins and use them to menace the party. If the party do not retreat – or above the growls and shouts offer generous trade terms – the goblins will let slip the wolves.

Goods in the cart; 300gp of pelts, 200gp of carvings and a goblin gambling set worth 10GP (these artefacts of goblin culture will flood the tiny market). Strapped underneath the cart is a small box containing 50GP of silver jewellery. If the party have killed or driven off the wolves, how will they get the goods to market? 

A ‘first level’ adventuring party of FIVE GOBLINS are exploring the same area as the party. The party consists of two ‘Fighters’ (Jagga, Prok), one Shaman (Wratta), one Wicca (Shonk the Magnificent), and one ‘Thief’ (Dirty Agg), together with a decrepit old mule laden with rope, torches, etc.

GOBLINS (‘Fighters’ and ‘Thief’) = AC: 6, HD: 1-1, HP: 5, MV: 30’ per round, ATT: 1 spear DAM: 1d6 SV: NM, MR: 8, AL: C, XP: 5

WRATTA (SHAMAN 1): AC: 6, HD1, HP: 5, MV: 30‘per round, ATT: 1 silver sickle, DAM: 1d4, SV: C1, MR: 8, AL: C. XP: 10

SHONK (WICCA 1): AC: 6, HD1*, HP: 5, MV: 30‘per round, ATT: 1 bone dagger, DAM: 1d4-1, SV: MU1, MR: 8, AL: C. XP: 13

Wratta has no spells, but can command the spirits (Turn Undead as a 1st level Cleric). Shonk knows Light, which he uses to impress (and blind) other goblins. 

The standard behaviour of the PCs should be reflected back at the players. These goblins are adventurers, and the PCs have established what that means. Nevertheless: if the party receives a favourable reaction, the goblins will offer to trade information with the party. They will know details about 1d3 nearby adventure locales. The goblins may be persuaded to temporarily ally with the party if a profitable adventure is proposed. Goblins are unpredictable, and additional reaction rolls should be made mid-adventure. If the party receives a hostile reaction, the goblins will react much as the PCs would to a dangerous monster.

The goblins have 25GP between them, along with poor quality adventuring gear. This gear has a 10% chance of failure in critical situations. They also have a map to an adventure locale with scribbled details (roll twice on the rumour table).

A group of FOUR GOBLINS (Ak, Jud, Brong, Degga) have escaped from a sorcerer. They are a pathetic sight; snivelling, terrified, near naked. They are being harried by THREE of the sorcerer’s SCOUTS (Bran, Krevan, Hart), humans with tattooed faces trained in bushcraft (PCs are surprised on a roll of 1-3 when in the terrain of the type inhabited by the scouts’ tribe, i.e. the terrain in which the initial encounter takes place). These will not be encountered together – once the party has encountered the goblins the next wandering monster rolled will be the scouts.

GOBLINS (4) = AC: 6, HD: 1-1, HP: 2, MV: 30’ per round, ATT: 1 rock, DAM: 1d3, SV: NM, MR: 5, AL: C, XP: 5

SCOUTS (3) = AC: 6, HD: 1, HP: 5, MV: 30’ per round, ATT: 1 short sword or sling, DAM: 1d6 or 1d4, SV: T1, MR: 8, AL: C, XP: 10

There are two reaction rolls here. A favourable reaction from the goblins will see them offer magical treasure (2d3 Potions of Healing in the form of pellets of sweet, thick paste wrapped in leaves) if the party escort the goblins to their tribe (a 2d3 day journey). A hostile reaction from the goblins will see them flee the party, who they presume to be agents of the sorcerer. If the goblins do escape, this will complicate further encounters with goblins in the area as news of the party’s affiliation spreads.

A favourable reaction from the scouts will see the party approached as possible collaborators in the schemes of the sorcerer – initially the capture of the goblins, for which the sorcerer’s agent will reward them with 2d3 Potions of Healing). A hostile reaction will result in the scouts seeing the party – particularly any magic using characters, as better prizes than a band of wretched goblins. The scouts wear silver medallions bearing the symbol of the sorcerer – worth 20GP when melted down – and 5GP a piece.

A GOBLIN (Lottagrob) in shining plate armour sits astride a well groomed DIRE WOLF (Lope), a brightly coloured pennant flying from his spear. A second, smaller GOBLIN (Kip) serves as squire to this ‘knight’, holding a spear shield and two spare spears. Lottagrob was captured by human knights, and before escaping developed a fascination with chivalry.

LOTTAGROB = AC: 3, HD: 2, HP: 10, MV: 30’ per round, ATT: 1 spear or short sword, DAM: 1d6, SV: NM, MR: 8, AL: L, XP: 20

LOPE = AC: 6, HD: 4+1, HP: 18, MV: 50’ per round, ATT: 1 bite DAM: 2d4 SV: F2, MR: 8, AL: N, XP: 125

KIP = AC: 6, HD: 1-1, HP: 2, MV: 30’ per round, ATT: 1 spear, DAM: 1d6, SV: NM, MR: 7, AL: L, XP: 5

Lottagrob will block the party’s path. He will challenge the party member who most resembles a knight to a contest at arms. If the reaction roll is favourable, Lottagrob will challenge his opponent to a non-lethal dual- subdual damage only. If he wins, he will take the loser’s weapon to melt into ‘warrior rings’. He will also claim the loser’s shield, or other item carrying an emblem to keep as a trophy. Throughout, Lottagrob will be polite, and after the contest will offer the party the hospitality of his motley patchwork of a tent. If the reaction roll is negative, Lottagrob will list the crimes of the party (some real, some imagined, some cases of mistaken identity). He will then demand that the party’s champion face trial by combat. If defeated, and his life spared, he will see it as proof that the party is just, and will offer to serve the party until he has paid his debt (one adventure).

He is wearing a finely crafted suit of Halfling-sized armour. Of Elven manufacture, it is worth triple the price of plate, but encumbers only as much as chain. Lottagrob has no money, being of charitable nature.

The party hears a whimpering from the underbrush. The whimpering is silenced. If they listen carefully, they will hear a gruff ‘hush’. THREE GOBLINS are hiding; a female (Nush), a youngling (Vankagh), and an old warrior (Vrang). Vankagh is the spawn the dead king of a local tribe. The new king killed Vankagh’s siblings, but his mother fled with the help of the old king’s champion. They hope that a rival tribe will see fostering a pretender to the ‘throne’ as a source of long term advantage.

NUSH = AC: 6, HD: 1-1, HP: 2, MV: 30’ per round, ATT: 1 knife, DAM: 1d3, SV: NM, MR: 7, AL: C, XP: 5

VRANG = AC: 6, HD: 2, HP: 10, MV: 30’ per round, ATT: 1 sword +1, DAM: 1d8+1, SV: NM, MR: 8, AL: C, XP: 25

GOBLINS (2d4) = AC: 6, HD: 1-1, HP: 4, MV: 30’ per round, ATT: 1 spear, DAM: 1d6, SV: NM, MR: 7, AL: C, XP: 5

With a favourable reaction, Vrang has assumed the party to be of a mercenary bent. He will promise them riches if they can be delivered to the rival tribe. They will be pursued by 2d4 goblins (the next wandering monster encounter). There is a -4 penalty to any reaction roll with the pursuers if the party is with Vankagh. With a hostile reaction, Vrang attempt to frighten the party with COWARD MAKER. The screams of his sword will trigger a wandering monster roll. Regardless of morale rolls, Nush and Vrang will not flee without Vankagh.

Coward Maker is a Sword +1. It is a crude falchion that screams as it is swung. This is part of the regalia of kingship of the tribe, and the new king is as concerned with its return as he is with killing the youngling. Hidden in Vankagh’s swaddling is 100GP of jewellery.     

Monday 24 March 2014

Paying the Index Card Tax...

Much of my current sandbox game is run using index cards. Now, I need a better system of sorting and organising these cards - at the moment the principle, as with most of my campaign notes, is that they get shoved in the folder at the end of a session. Organisation aside, being able to flick through a stack of cards with concise and game-relevant details allows me to have the NPCs, locations, and encounters allows me to keep the engine of the sandbox to hand.  

The colours, they mean nothing. NOTHING!

But, I figure it is time to start paying my taxes. One of the things that I've been doing is creating 'interesting' encounters to flesh out the perfectly ordinary Wandering Monster tables. And if I'm paying my tax, I have to do something a little more organised, a little less piecemeal. So a 1d12 table of GOBLIN encounters, fleshed out as index cards ready for use at the table, ready for use in Basic D&D/Labyrinth Lord games...

Goblins?! Boring! Yeah, well, I like goblins. Goblins are a big part of Basic Level D&D. And interesting doesn't have to mean weird, or gonzo. And (hey, I'm getting defensive here!) I know that these are nothing that you couldn't do yourself. But then, that's part of the point. Here's my contribution to the collective body of things that we *could* all do ourselves, based on how I run things at my table.

After I've posted up the goblins, I'll probably do some low-level undead.

All of these fit on two sides of a 6"x4" index card when printed in Times New Roman at 12pt Calibri at 11pt. 

[EDIT: Oh, and while I know you can't remember NPCs from one session to the next, but if you are playing in my game (yes, YOU!), there are spoilers ahead.]

GOBLIN ENCOUNTERS 1-6 (of 12, 7-12 tomorrow)

FOUR scrawny GOBLINS (Polg, Hruk, Jargo, Bukk) are hunting. Armed with long spears and slings, they have bagged several birds, and are now on the trail of a dangerous BOAR. They call the Boar Old Tusk-Gore, and by all accounts it is a large, dangerous alpha male.

GOBLINS (4) = AC: 6, HD: 1-1, HP: 3, MV: 30’ per round, ATT: 1 spear or sling, DAM: 1d6 or 1d4, SV: NM, MR: 7, AL: C. XP: 5

No modifiers to the reaction check. If the party receives a favourable reaction, the goblins may invite the party to share lunch with them, even inviting them to help with the hunt. A hostile reaction will likely not see the goblins attack directly, but the party will be tracked for some time (check for Hear Noise) as the goblins evaluate the prospect of taking bigger game: the party!
The goblins are wearing simple silver jewellery worth 15GP in total.

Old Tusk-Gore is a hulking boar, bigger than a wolfhound and covered with scars. As the boar charges through the undergrowth he will seem much bigger to startled low-level PCs. Remember to check Goblin Morale as the beast’s grunts and snorts towards them, a squealing roar heralding its charge, with snot and drool dribbling from its scarred mouth!

WILD BOAR (Old Tusk-Gore) = AC: 7, HD: 3, HP: 21, MV: 30’ per round, ATT: 1 tusk, DAM: 2d4, SV: F2, MR: 9, AL: N. XP: 35

A -3 modifier to the reaction check – Old Tusk-Gore is very aggressive. A favourable reaction will see the beast retreat, almost as if the party were not there. A hostile reaction will see the boar charge at the lead or largest PC.

A SINGLE GOBLIN dances and sings and waves his gri-gri around as the party approach. High on mushroom tea, DUNJA DEM is on a spirit journey and is only half in this world. He wears layers of animal pelts, giving him the appearance of a quite horrible toy bear.

DUNJA DEM (SHAMAN 2): AC: 6, HD2*, HP: 10, MV: 30‘per round, ATT: 1 silver sickle, DAM: 1d4, SV: C2, MR: 7, AL: C. XP: 35

Dunja Dem knows Protection (from Evil/Good), which he casts waving his gri-gri and singing a guttural ‘nursery rhyme’ about bugbears eating children.

No modifiers to the reaction check – Dunja Dem is unpredictable. If the party receives a favourable reaction he is liable to give them plenty of information about the area, and gossip as to the politics of the local tribes, which he intersperses with empty aphorisms. He will offer to brew up some mushroom tea. PCs drinking the tea must Save vs Poison if they wish to resist the effects, which involve a hallucinatory(?) visitation by whatever beings would reinforce the already existing motivating ideas and principles of the PC. If the party receives a hostile reaction, Dunja Dem will attempt to curse the PCs (though he has no real magic in this regard). His promises of doom, however, should unnerve, even though they are hopelessly general; he will promise that they will die when they pass between the stone teeth, that when they will lose all that they love under the green roof, that the blue salt desert will devour them, skin, blood, bones, and all, etc. The next time the PCs travel through the mountains, into a dense forest, or across the open sea they should shiver at the memory of Dunja Dem’s curse/s. Dunja Dem may attack the PCs – he is high and a little unhinged after all. 

Dunja Dem’s only treasure is a simple silver sickle (used for cutting herbs and fungi for his ‘potions’), worth 30GP.

FIVE pathetic GOBLINS (Tunk, Regba, Weel, Nesh, Sokka), wrapped in bandages, trudge wearily. Four carry sacks while the goblin taking the turn to lead the procession scourges itself. They stink, and green pus stains their dressings. They are suffering from the Weeping Buboes*. They are travelling to a stone circle nearby, where they plan to burn offerings to Bargrivyek. The sacks contain small animals (chickens, a kid, two puppies, rats), except for one that contains a naked, bruised, concussed, and bound and gagged HALFLING (Bundy Strawhair). Returned to his village, the party will be rewarded with the family heirloom; an elven Dagger +1.

GOBLINS (5) = AC: 7, HD: 1-1, HP: 2, MV: 20’ per round, ATT: 1 dagger (-2 to hit), DAM: 1d4, SV: NM, MR: 6, AL: C. XP: 5

If the party receives a favourable reaction, the goblins will beg for a little food. The goblins will tell the party where they are going, and will welcome an escort to the stone circle. Travelling with the goblins will expose the party to the Weeping Buboes. Avoiding close contact grants a +3 to the Saving Throw (being spattered in infected goblin blood will result in a -1 penalty). If the party receives a hostile reaction, the goblins will offer the party 25GP to escort them to the stone circle. They will wheedle and beg, and make extravagant promises. Once at the stone circle, they will attempt to add the party to the burnt offerings.

*The Weeping Buboes: SAVE VS POISON. On a failure, after two days swellings develop in the groin, the neck, and the armpit (-1 to hit, -2 penalty to CHR modifier). After two more days, these begin to ooze a green liquid that smells unpleasant, reminiscent of strong cheese (-2 to hit, -2 to CHR modifier, penalties to other rolls). The character will die as their lungs fill with ooze in 2d4 days after that. A Cure Disease spell is the only sure cure, though a sage or other knowledgeable person might know of a remedy, the ingredients of which are expensive or dangerous to recover.    

EIGHT GOBLINS (Gurgan, Hukk, Lendol, Skan, Iggmal, Posk, Bosk, Jrunt) are armed and armoured and looking for plunder. Dressed in leather armour, decorated by copper coins sewn in rows, they each carry a spear, a short sword, and a shield. These are more dangerous than the average goblin (see AC and Morale). Gurgan is the leader of the war band, and is one of the champions of a local goblin ‘king’. He can be easily angered.

GOBLINS (7) = AC: 5, HD: 1-1, HP: 5, MV: 30’ per round, ATT: 1 spear or short sword, DAM: 1d6, SV: NM, MR: 8, AL: C. XP: 5

GURGAN = AC: 5, HD: 2, HP: 9, MV: 30’ per round, ATT: 1 spear or short sword, DAM: 1d6, SV: NM, MR: 8, AL: C. XP: 20

If the party receives a favourable reaction, the warband are returning from successfully desecrating a temple. Gurgan has no wish to risk his plunder by taking on a party of adventurers. He will offer to trade with party, and is particularly keen to acquire a good steel longsword, and other weapons and armour of human (or better) craftsmanship. The war band have a chest containing 200GP, two tapestries that could be sold for up to 100GP each, and an altar piece made from silver and semi-precious stones worth 100GP. The tapestries and altar piece will be difficult to sell except through a fence, but could be returned to a temple.

If the party receives a hostile reaction, the pickings have been lean – though they have still to probe the defences of the temple. Gurgan is minded to kill the PCs and strip their corpses of loot. In this case, the only treasure is a golden torc worth 25GP worn by Gurgan. If he is surrenders, he will attempt to preserve his own life by claiming, truthfully, that his king will ransom him (for 100GP).

The party encounter FIVE savage GOBLINS (Esh, Kift, Grutt, Wast, Puv), naked but for daubs and red-brown across their bodies and a few scraps of poorly tanned leather. The daubs are, of course, dried blood, and the leather is flayed human skin. Their teeth are filed to points. They are members of a flesh-eating cult, treated with fearful reverence by the local tribes. They carry no treasure except an ornate brass key for a private box in the city bank.

GOBLINS (5) = AC: 6, HD: 1-1, HP: 5, MV: 30’ per round, ATT: 1 flint dagger or thrown stone, DAM: 1d3, SV: NM, MR: 7, AL: C. XP: 5

The goblins know that they are little match for a well-armed party. They are not concerned with self-preservation but with feeding the evil deep under the roots of an enormous tree. They worship a shrine that whispers promises of power in exchange for brains. Five marble skulls sit on the altar with empty brainpans. If a brain is placed in each of these, the ‘worshipper’ is granted a +2 to all to hit rolls and saving throws for a week (with other bonuses as appropriate), while the shrine consumes the brains. There is 50GP in loose coinage scattered about the remnants of the eaten. The entrance to the shrine is trapped with a staked 7" deep pit. The disguise (branches and leaf litter) is obvious if approached carefully (at exploration speed) but not if moving quickly (SAVE VS DRAGON BREATH to avoid falling and taking 1d8 damage).   

There is a -4 modifier to the reaction check – these are beings of rare malevolence. If the party receives a favourable reaction, it is because the goblins have even worse enemies. Two bugbears are searching the area, looking to seize the shrine. The goblins will wheedle with the party, trying to persuade the party that the bugbears are carrying great treasure.  If the party receives a hostile reaction, the goblins will encourage the party to pursue them back to the shrine, to lure the party into their trap and onto into the twisting, narrow tunnels that lead to the shrine.

The party encounters SIX GOBLINS (Lom, Bont, Grund, Gedd, Ploo, Henk), their eyes piteous, an air of total defeat about them. They are bound by chains that link them, neck and wrists, to the goblin behind and in front. A pair of mules brings up the rear, laden with travelling gear (tents, food, wine, etc.). They are being led by THREE large, ruddy-faced, pot-bellied MEN (Vint, Pascal, Antrem) – slavers. They are armed with nets, whips, and swords, and wear leather armour.

MEN (3) = AC: 6, HD: 1 HP: 6, MV: 30’ per round, ATT: 1 Sword, DAM: 1d8, SV: T1, MR: 8, AL: C. XP: 10

The slavers carry little treasure (just 30GP between them), though they have plenty of useful (but worn and poor quality) equipment. The goblins are their main treasure – but even these sell for little more than 10 GP each. The goblins are wretched, and will do little to win their freedom. If they can be armed and given some inspiration, they will fight as normal goblins.

If the party receive a favourable reaction they may be invited to share a meal. The slavers are looking for more merchandise – they have chains for up to 30 goblins – and will quiz the party about local humanoid tribes. If the party appears to find the business distasteful, the slavers will try to recruit the party to their goblin hunting by telling them a tall tale(?) of missing children – a brother and sister – they are been tracking, kidnapped by goblins. If the party appear interested in slaving, the slavers will suggest that they could introduce the party to their patron, a rich merchant in the city always on the look-out for enterprising men. If the party receives a hostile reaction, the slavers will see the party as either 1) rival slavers, out to steal their ‘goods’, and will not entertain any dialogue, or 2) valuable merchandise, if only an iron collar could be slipped around their necks. 

Thursday 20 March 2014

Fantasy Religion?

I have never been convinced by advice that when building a D&D-esque game world, a Referee should model their fantasy religions on those in the real world. Sure, draw on them for inspiration and motifs, etc. But when a D&D-esque fantasy world have a multitude of very real gods (or Immortals), each granting countless miracles each day to their priests, I wonder what room there is for some of the *best* bits of real world religion.

Well, it is a *best* bit when it is a fantasy world and you are hundreds of years removed...

In particular, what room is there for the corrupt priest? Or the secret heretic?

Of course, in a fantasy game world in which the gods are distant and inactive there is room for secret heretical cults with a church and worldly priests who abuse their robes. And distant, inactive gods are one answer, but they're not the answer for the assumed D&D game world. If the gods are active, intervening in human life, if there are unmistakable signs of divine favour (spells, for instance), these sinners and unbelievers will struggle to masquerade as blessed members of the church of the god who they offend.

Note: In Hammerstein!, my own game world (even though we're currently exploring Titan again), I have tried to give the schisms and heresies that are so interesting in real life (at least when you are removed by several hundred years) a fantasy analogue by having humans reject the 'Gods' (a race a cosmic superhuman beings) and instead worship 'Saints'. These are something like the Immortals of Mentzer D&D - humans who, by great deeds, magic, or the veneration of a community, have achieved some kind of intercessionary afterlife. This means that there are a multitude of Saints, some worshipped across the known world, others, such as the heroic ancestors of a single tribe, unknown beyond a single valley or town. This allows me as the Referee to create an endless number of [not-]gods, each with overlapping portfolios and rival interests. It also allows me to plug in all manner of localised real world pantheons by recasting them as heroic ancestors. At the same time - as they reject the Gods - they are all nominally part of the (Lawful) Church of Man, a civilising, unifying project that has a number of rival anti-popes. This gives me room for 'internal' religious conflicts that can range from bloodless doctrinal disputes (hopefully something more 'adventuresome' than to which of the competing Saints should the cobblers of Byzantium offer their devotion) to priests wading in gore as nations clash in war, rallying under the ikons and relics of their heroic ancestors. 

Anyway, do you have corrupt priests and heresies in your game? And what does their (watchful) god do about the bastards?

Wednesday 19 March 2014

Weather tables?! I don’t need no steenking weather tables!

I love weather tables.

Wait, what?! What about the title of this post?

Let me explain. I love weather tables. I love the way in which they can succinctly, and without the confusion of poorly written prose, tell a Referee about the types and frequencies of weather that a region (a region that might be quite alien to our 'real world' knowledge) might experience in any given season. But I don't roll on them. At least not when I am playing a D&Dish game, or a game that aspires to the abstraction of Basic/Expert D&D - as my current rules melange tends towards, combining a D100 game (Magic World with bits and bobs from the rest of the 'family'), but bolting on the Mentzer D&D wilderness exploration rules (and the reaction table, and morale rules, etc).

I don't roll on weather tables because, in this type of game, weather only really matters when it is going to have a game effect. I might describe the weather, based on the region and the season. And sure, if we were playing a very crunchy game we might have mechanics where spring shower might hinder the PCs' ability to use their bows, risk ruining a spell book, and so on, but D&D is a game of abstractions. And in Basic/Expert D&D I have a roll that abstracts the game effects of the weather – the roll for ‘getting lost’.

I used to puzzle over the roll for getting lost. How on Mystara should a party of adventurers get lost so often? I didn't understand how to apply the getting lost rule because I was living with all the privileges of a 20th/21st century citizen of the 'West' and I have never been particularly 'outdoorsy'. But getting *dangerously* lost in even the limited 'wilds' of the UK is perfectly possible, and pretty common, even in an age of advanced meteorology, mobile phones, superb cartography, GPS devices, fantastically weather-resistant clothing, etc.

In Mentzer D&D, a party will become lost once every six days of travel in 'Clear or Grassland' terrain, every other day when travelling in 'Swamp, Jungle, or Desert', and once every three days in 'All Other'. In the books, there isn't much guidance to lead a Referee to use the rule in a way that is any more interesting than the party setting off in the wrong direction after breaking camp. 

But the vast majority of D&D rules are like that, from reaction rolls, to combat, to morale, to wandering monsters. You are provided with a short cut to a game effect, and it is the job of the Referee to rationalise and describe that effect in ways that are interesting both descriptively, and that lead to further opportunities for the players to make decisions for their PCs. So, sure, the PCs might simply veer off course, but in the abstraction of D&D, I have come to use the ‘getting lost’ roll as and an ‘environmental encounter’, or, more interestingly ‘travel obstacle’ roll. 

So, when crossing a Grassland, if the Referee rolls a '1', it might simply be a particularly overcast day, causing the party to lose their bearings when trying to navigate by the Sun. It might have be a spring shower, that leads to their cart (you do use encumbrance rules, yes?) getting stuck in the mud. It might have be a minor river swollen by spring rain and meltwater from the highlands, that appears too dangerous to ford (though the party can try their luck... if they don't want to deviate from their path). The party might be using a functionally poor map, with landmarks misplaced, making navigation confusing. There might be a bushfire ahead. In mountains the travel obstacle might be even quite mild weather. It might be a ravine, a rockfall, cliff face. And so on. Or the party might come across an 'encounter' that seriously tempts them to delay or deviate in their travel. I suggest that a 'getting lost' roll used to throw an encounter the PCs way should be peaceful (at least initially) encounters - things designed to delay and divert the PCs, distinct from the direct dangers that I reserve for the wandering 'monster' tables. So, a village reduced to smoking ruins for the PCs to pick through. A caravan of traders. A column of refugees. Or pilgrims. Lost children. A leper colony. An opportunity to hunt a magnificent stag.

In other words, I use the getting lost roll, with a 'lost' result indicating that something has disrupted, or has the potential to disrupt their planned journey. And because of this I ignore the guidance that getting lost rolls should not be made on roads, or rivers, or when following a coastline. Sure, the PCs are less likely to actually get lost. But when following a road (say), the PCs are far more likely to encounter 'peaceful' delays and diversions - so it all balances out in the abstraction of D&D. While a 1 rolled when crossing a Grassland might be a day's delay as the party veers off course, on a road it is the potential for a day to be lost dealing with an interesting NPC (or taking the consequences of refusing to engage with the NPC). Or it is simply a broken wheel on the cart, leading to a decision the players need to make balancing the urgency of their travel and the need for all that gear they are lugging around.

I am ambivalent about whether I need to build random tables for 'travel obstacles'. I haven't as yet, and think that the variety required - terrain, season, level of civilization, etc. - might make it a fool's errand. And then we have the problem that a 'travel obstacle' is not the same for one party as it is another. These are the problems, not that that some of the encounters briefly described above are 'unique' is not a problem. I use wandering monster tables - I think the 'mechanisation' of the presence of active dangers by region/terrain is a useful thing - and while my encounter tables sometimes have 'unique' encounters baked into them, there is plenty of generic encounters too (and must be if you are accommodating player freedom without burning yourself out on preparation). But when I roll up some Orcs, the encounter is not just 2d4 Orcs appear 4d6x10 yards away. Fight! These random rolls provide the bones for making an encounter unique. 2 Orcs appearing 40 yards away presents different opportunities for Referee rationalisation than does 8 Orcs appearing 240 yards away. And then the reaction table provides another bone for the skeleton. Could we (I) build a series of analogous rolls that would add a few bones to the 'travel obstacle', allowing Referee interpretation and improvisation, without needing a huge list of unique encounters, or something as big as one of the Books of the Tome of Adventure Design?  

Anyway, I've got diverted, slowly slipping into a broader discussion of my admiration of D&D as a 'procedural' game...

Monday 3 March 2014


Not something collected from Sand Worms, but a description of the patchwork of rules in play at my table during last week's session. The Party had found the Skin Mandala, were found by a little trouble in Salamonis (I should write up those session reports), and were then recruited by the King's spymaster to ensure that the trouble brewing between the local Goblin tribes (trouble likely caused by some unprovoked murder-hoboism by the Party) was turned to Salamonis' advantage. The reward was membership of the Order of the Brass Sceptre, a minor 'knightly' order populated by merchants and professors, but nevertheless a step into Salamonis society. 

The players were given some brief details on five local Goblin tribes, their customs and allegiances, and decided that the Party would begin by visiting the savage Moondance Goblins of the Forest of Spiders. The plan is still nebulous, but seems to be getting towards, 'unite the Goblins and sack Salamonis'. Indeed!

But in the sort term, that means a bit of a wilderness crawl. Out came the numbered hex paper and the index cards, and I started generating interesting encounters in and around the Forest of Spiders. Giant Spiders. Zharradan Marr's Rhino-Men and Soulless Ones. Mundane animals. Trees festooned with gory charms. Sinkholes of corruption. A village of Sprites. Etc. 

Now, on the table there were three d100 rule-books; Magic World (which we're using), RuneQuest 6, which is filled with interesting stuff, and OpenQuest 2, which has tended to be my go to d100 bestiary. Also on the table were Titan, Out of the Pit, and Advanced Fighting Fantasy 2e, to provide me with quick setting reference when I didn't just make it up. But that I resorted to using the next two books is something that I found quite surprising. In play, I referred both to Menzter Basic and Expert D&D. From the Basic D&D DM's book I took guidelines of 'monster' reactions and handling morale. From the Expert D&D book I took the procedures for wilderness exploration - getting lost, random encounters, and so on.

It made me realise just how much, as a DM, I value the D&D 'procedural game'. I've been meaning to write a proper blog post extolling the virtues of D&D's abstract, procedural (but simple) systems, so we can add that post to the list of things that I have promised to do. In the meantime, who else indulges in a cross-system melange?