Sunday, 28 December 2014

More on 'Dragons & Dungeons', and a new Euro-game

Firstly, I should mention the post that inspired all of this, from Porky's Expanse! - 'Dragons & Dungeons'. This was an attempt to think about the relationship between monsters and setting, in which Porky wondered how things would have been different if the conceptual order of 'Dungeons & Dragons' had been reversed - if instead of a dungeon (space) that we filled with dragons (monsters) we instead started with the dragons and took things from there. Porky's original post, and the comments made on the responses, delve into philosophy and futurology - while most of those commenting stick firmly in the realm of games, which shows I think that Porky's imaginative scope is far beyond that of some of us (certainly me).

Then, my response over here to some of these ideas - 'Thoughts on 'Dragons & Dungeons' - which is an attempt to create a mini-dungeon from ecological rather than spatial principles, in line with the idea of thinking about how the monsters inhabit space, rather than thinking about the space and then filling it with random encounters. I'm quite impressed with how I ran with the idea and generated somewhat startling results from the relatively simple process of getting some monsters and really thinking how they 'live' together rather than just putting some numbers on a map and keying in pseudo-random encounters that way.

But now I want to look at a different way of examining the question of inverting the relationship between monsters and setting, one that we've kicked around as a concept already, but I'm going to mention a mechanism. Instead of a set rooms and random monsters, the idea was suggested for set monsters and random rooms. In other words, instead of building an environment and randomly generating inhabitants through a random monster table, the suggestion was for building an ecosystem, and then generating a random environment through some kind of 'random rooms table'.

Well, yesterday some friends came over who, like me and my partner, are big fans of games like Carcassonne, Alhambra and Settlers of Catan. They brought a lovely-looking game with them called The Castles of Mad King Ludwig (which I notice, in German, is called 'The Castles of King Ludwig' - perhaps calling him 'Mad' King Ludwig isn't considered polite in Germany, I don't know). The idea of the game is similar to Alhambra - the players are competing with each other to build castles (for King Ludwig, each player being literally a builder) by buying 'rooms' which are offered for sale through a semi-random process.

Illustration from BoardGameGeek - Castles of Mad King Ludwig, B├ęzier Games, 2014 — sample layout (image provided by the publisher) - link above



The game features around 80 tiles which are rooms of different functions - observatories, gardens, dining rooms, armouries, dungeons, fungus rooms - but, unlike Alhambra, also different sizes and shapes, ranging from small rooms (approximately 20' square?) to huge ones (perhaps 12 times the size of the smallest, around 60'x80' maybe?), that are square, round, oval, L-shaped and rectangular. They're a bit like the old 'Dungeon Geomorphs' that used to be around back in the day, but they actually have room names on them.

Because there is a randomised element to the game, also included is a pack of cards which more-or-less corresponds to the shapes/size, and therefore cost, of the rooms (all L-shaped rooms cost the same, but not all L-shaped rooms are the same type; all small square rooms cost the same but again are of different types). The cards are used to determine which room shapes are offered to the players each round. In theory the cards could be used to 'build' a dungeon through a process of randomising which room-shape comes next in the random sequence. There are also stair and corridor pieces to link levels and sections.

However, the cards do not match the rooms exactly - there are fewer cards than rooms, presumably so that some (random) rooms are always left unused (otherwise one could always go 'I'll hold out for the Observatory' knowing that it was bound to appear - this way there are always some room tiles that won't appear but there is no way of knowing which). Also, there is no way I could see to determine which type (as opposed to size/shape) of room could come next. I haven't closely examined all the pieces however, so I don't know whether it would be possible. But even if there isn't a way to do that, a random process which included all the possibilities (say, 'random room' tables for surface and sub-surface rooms which between them included all the options, perhaps more than once) could allow a randomised space in which a designed monster set could live.

If I bought it, it would of course be to play as 'The Castles of Mad King Ludwig'. If I could also use it as a 'random room generator' though, that would be an added bonus!

Monday, 22 December 2014

Orc-town - 4th Level lair - initial thoughts

Because there hasn't been much adventuring going on lately (probably something to do with me wiping out the party, I don't know), I'm posting once more about Silvergate. Recently I described the random (and somewhat unexpected) creation of a large lair of Orcs on the 4th level in this post here. About 640 of them, all together, with a fighting strength of around 160, and a couple of Trolls.

That sort of thing isn't necessarily easy to just slot into a corner of a level. 640 Orcs take up a lot of room, so I am in effect designing a lair the size of a small human town around the idea of an Orc-tribe holding a section of the Dwarf-city.

I need to think about a bunch of things:

food
water
waste
fuel
non-food/fuel supplies (eg wood for tools, weapons etc)
clothing, rope, leather straps etc
patrols
social activities (religious rites, community gatherings)

This I think relates in some way to this post about dungeon ecology. How do monsters relate to each other, and what are they actually 'doing' all the time? How do they live? What do they eat? Where is their water coming supply coming from?

More specifically, are these Orcs producing their own food from their territory? Are they essentially 'farming' a section of the dungeon (eating rats and fungus, for example)? Do they hunt for food in the caverns? Are the patrols they send out 'guards' or 'hunters'?

Presumably, their massive quantities of Orc-slurry become the food for something else, which then becomes the food for something else, which is then eaten by the Orcs, and thus the cycle of life continues. But presumably there are some inputs into the system from outside - unless these Orcs are completely self-sufficient. So the idea of sending out regular patrols of Orcs to both sweep the corridors and hunt for food, or strangers who might trade/be robbed of wood or other valuable surface-items seems reasonable.

These Orcs would perhaps see wood as too useful to burn - unless, of course, it's so valuable as fuel to that they don't make mere clubs and spears out of it. Either way I'd expect that they'd be making things out of bone, keratin, chitin etc. Likewise, though they can make leather from rat or lizard skin (for example) perhaps the Orcs would also be using Giant Spider silk for ropes or straps and maybe they've even learned to weave it into fabric.

Without a source of a lot of fuel, iron-working is going to be very difficult so metal weapons are going to be in short supply, unless someone outside is supplying them in exchange for something else. Perhaps along with the bone and chitin, the Orcs are goingto be working stone rather than metal. I think the trick is going to be to pick some things in which the Orcs are self-sufficient and some others that they have to acquire from outside their caves.

There will definitely be a source of water, of that I am absolutely certain. There are several potentials here. The city when it was in its heyday was heavily-populated and the Dwarves were water-engineers. Some aspects of this water-management system survive so maybe the Orcs inhabit an area where the water comes from the Dwarves' plumbing. There are cisterns and conduits - perhaps some of these still work, or perhaps the breakdown of this system just means that some rooms are partly-flooded and these areas become 'watering holes' - either guarded by one faction, or used as a 'neutral space' by different factions.

Food doesn't seem to be too difficult. There are plenty of things that Orcs could eat, that don't necessarily have to appear on the Wandering Monster list or in lairs. Animals, plants and fungi only really need stats if they're a threat to the PCs. Something that can't harm the PCs, but is no use to them either (like a giant woodlouse that is poisonous for humans and Dwarves but Orcs find palatable, that can't bite through human skin) doesn't need a stat because it's more like a part of the room description than a 'monster' as such.

Working with these kind of notions should allow me to make the Orc-lair a recognisable part of the megadungeon, without necessarily having to tweak the results of my random rolling too much, which I'm loth to do, as I'm trying to run the creation process as 'straight' as I can get away with.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Tower of Zelligar session 4: TPK = I'm a terrible DM

Well, it happened - TPK, due to .... everything.

I've been trying not to fudge rolls - maybe I should have done. When the party strayed into an area patrolled by undead (a kind called 'Brothers of the Pine', which are a sort of druidic forest zombie about as tough as Ghouls; I found them in old White Dwarf scenarios but I don't know if they were ever officially adopted, eg in 'Fiend Folio') I rolled a random encounter and... a lot of them turned up. Too many for the party to deal with anyway. Maybe I should have tried to adjust the numbers or give them another way of avoiding the encounter or both.

The party didn't capitalise on the advantages they had - the Brothers of the Pine are particularly susceptible to fire and the party had a campfire; if they'd taken burning branches they would have had fairly efficient weapons against the Brothers. Only one of the party attempted to do something like that - throwing his flask of oil at one and attempting to light it. Great idea on Tuh's part, but he failed to do so first time. Throwing the burning brand probably wasn't as good an idea as holding one end and fending off the flammable undead with the other.

Jericho the Elf used his Magic Missile on one; he could have probably used his Web scroll on some of the others, but he didn't. That meant that within a couple of rounds the whole party was under sustained attack, instead of trapping some and dealing with the attackers piecemeal.

The Brothers kept rolling high for their attacks - several 18s and 19s - while the party kept rollings 7s. Not that it mattered, the party didn't have enough magic weapons to deal with the Brothers anyway. The hits they did manage - Grrk's strike with his shortbow against one for example - didn't work. When Sir Norrin hit one with his magic sword, which should have worked fairly well (not as well as fire though) he didn't do very much damage because he rolled low. Fire was their best friend in this encounter and they didn't use it.

One after another, the members of the party were cut down under the swords of the Brothers. First to fall was Bork, then Tuh, and finally (as far as the PCs were concerned) Jericho. After a moment of stunned silence, and then some laughter, the players wanted to see how Sir Norrin, Grrk the Squire, The Mystical One (First Level Cleric and therefore no use at turning them, in the description I've got it says they're equivalent to Spectres but I pegged them at Ghoul status which is still really tough at First Level), and the permanently-injured Mohag the Wanderer managed to fare.

Not well was the answer. PCs and NPCs all butchered in a couple of rounds and, according to the description, ready to be filled with sap and turned into new Brothers - and Sisters in The Mystical One's case - of the Pine. A combination of my bad DMing - sticking to the Number Appearing roll when I knew that it was going to be very tough - the party's panic - not using their spells as well as they could and not capitalising on the fire as a source of effective weapons - and just unlucky rolls meant that everyone died.

So, the surviving members of the party were Yor, the Magic User who fled in session two, and Betsy the horse, who ran away in the midst of the fight with the Brothers. She will, presumably, after many adventures, turn up at South Reach (Sir Norrin's manor) riderless, and with a sack of Giant Spider-legs in her saddle-bags, much to the consternation of the servants there.

The lads have rolled up new characters. They've also decided that they want a trip to the sea-side so these PCs look likely to be leaving Threshold and the mountains behind them and heading south towards the coast. It's a wild place, the Grand Duchy; they won't be short of adventure as they travel through it. Hopefully though they might get to the seaside before they all die.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

The Tower of Zelligar - 3rd session

Friday saw the boys come round for another session of our D&D introductory game. Having decided that B1 is just too much of a meatgrinder for a First Level party with no magic items or real idea what to do, and being somewhat unsatisfied with the B1 introduction, I decided that the watchtower built above the complex, and the immediate environs, might provide a useful area for encounters before the main action, the assault on Quasketon, begins.

The players decided that the best course of action was to explore a little further but to leave Mohag behind at the tower to recover. They pulled up the ladder and let themselves down with a rope as it would be easier for Mohag to pull it up after them. Then they wandered off to the west, away from Threshold, in search of Giant Spiders (which is after all why they came adventuring in the woods in the first place).

Their first encounter was with a single Goblin, who was standing in the forest path doing something with the saddlebags of a horse. I was interested to see how this was going to play - they're a bit unpredictable as players, and I wanted to know whether they'd just charge in (or shoot the Goblin full of arrows) and ask questions later; or if they'd hide and sneak up trying to spy on it, or capture it even.

But they didn't do any of those things, they hailed the Goblin, and started a conversation with it. Now, in some ways, that's an incredibly dangerous thing to do. If there were 10 of its Goblin mates in the bushes and it was busy robbing the saddle-bags of a traveller they'd waylaid, the party could have ended up with a big fight on its hands. But, perhaps because they're inexperienced, they don't really know that I suppose.

I take it as axiomatic in my campaign that alignment is a matter of personal philosophy not any kind of racial or genetic bias. It's entirely cultural and can therefore be rejected. Bork, the Dwarf, is from a race labelled 'Lawful' in the monster lists. Yet, the Bork the individual is of Chaotic alignment. The overarching Dwarven culture may be Lawful, and most Dwarves will therefore be Lawful, but some throw off aspects of their culture and think and act differently.

So it is with Grrk the Goblin. Far from being a cave-dwelling wolf-riding back-stabbing terrorist of Chaos, he is gainfully and Lawfully employed (if that's the right word) as squire to Sir Norrin of South Reach, a rather bluff and posh (though not particularly wealthy) human Knight from the lands around the capital. It wasn't exactly a trap for the party, but I suppose in some ways it was a test (it wouldn't have mattered either way, either the party encounter some friendly NPCs or they encounter some unfriendly opponents so whichever way it goes, they get an encounter out of it) but to their credit (I think) they didn't just assume Goblin automatically equals bad guy.

Talking with Knight and Squire, they learned that Sir Norrin had set off from Threshold the day after the party, having also heard some rumours from trappers and the townsfolk about goings-on in the wooded hills to the west. Sir Norrin had heard some different rumours to the PCs - 'funny chitterin's from the Old Watchtower' were mentioned (the Stirges that Tuh the Fighter dealt with last session) and 'horrible fierce humanoids roamin' the woods' (the Hobgoblins soundly killed by the party in the first session). Sir Norrin also told them he knew who they were, as he'd met a 'rum fellow in a robe' (Yor, the Magic User), shared his camp with him the night before, and sent him on his way back to Threshold that morning.

Of course, I now have to keep up the personas of the bluff Knight (a bit like Sir Ector from Disney's 'Sword in the Stone', but with a more convincing English accent) and the Goblin Squire (a cross between Dobby the House Elf and Yoda). I suppose it serves me right.

As all were united in their desire to go and kill Giant Spiders, they teamed up and headed on up the forest path (actually, there were a bunch of paths - luckily the one they took did indeed lead them to a Giant Spider).

Massive panic on behalf of the party as I describe something with a body the size of a cow or maybe a hippo and legs at least 12' long. Only, as these are British kids, they don't really know what 12' means even though all the adults they know use feet and inches most of the time. They've only been taught metric in school so I'm converting on the fly.

Anyway, those with missiles use them and the rest of the party charges. Both arrows (Jericho the Elf and Grrk the Goblin, using some stats for a Halfling I found lying around, remembering to apply a -1 penalty for full daylight) went wide. The Spider is somewhat bewildered it seems by the sheer number of attackers and only manages to get one decent strike in on Bork (a 14 I think), but as he's dressed like a tin of pilchards the Spider does no damage. Bork, Tuh, Sir Norrin and The Mystical One all take swings at the Spider but only two of those connect. Spider won the second initiative roll but failed to capitalise on it (I think this is when it chewed on Bork's armour). Tuh (who kept hitting it but rolling 1s for damage), Bork (who managed to drop it by about 6hp) and Sir Norrin all had another go and it was actually Sir Norrin who offed it taking the last 2hp. He was of course a total pillock about it and claimed it was 'his' kill.

Bork cut off its head and put it in a sack and Tuh and Jericho cut its legs off and folded them into more sacks - they had after all promised to bring back a sack of spider-legs to the townsfolk. When Tuh suggested eating the Spider, I told the party that it was black with a red hourglass shape on its back. Bork (who knows a thing or two about spiders it seems, or at least his player does) told them it probably was highly poisonous. I didn't tell him that all the poison is in its head which he had cut off and put in a bag.

As no-one had sustained any injuries they wandered about a bit more but failed to find any more Giant Spiders. What they didn't do was search the area around where the combat took place; if they had they'd have found some treasure from a previous victim and also the half-eaten carcass of a smaller Black Widow. This might have tipped them off that the spider they killed had recently mated. They'd also have found a web-bundle with eggs in it. Of course, they didn't look. In a few weeks there's going to be plague of Giant Spiders hatching from the nest.

After a while, they decided they weren't going to find anything else that day. They made their way back to the watchtower and were relieved to find that Mohag hadn't been murdered, kidnapped, or otherwise invaded while they were gone. Of course, it was at this point that they realised that horses (Sir Norrin's horse is called Betsy) can't climb ladders. Grrk stayed at the bottom of the ladder with Betsy, and the rest of the party climbed up into the watchtower.

The next day saw the party ranging off even further - this time accompanied by Mohag who had recovered enough to walk without dying. I know - but they don't - that there are no more Giant Spiders to find, though there are of course wandering monsters and a few other placed encounters. As it turned out, the party met - or rather heard - a bunch of Bandits coming along the forest trail. Throwing surprise out the window they hailed the people approaching (as yet unseen round a bend in the path) but when the strangers went completely silent, the party all hid in the undergrowth by the side of the path.

Bork and Mohag were in front, on the south side and north side respectively. There was furious dice-rolling on my part while the party argued about who exactly had gone in which direction. Bork saw a human in leather armour and carrying a bow creeping past him very close, and yet again decided to say hello. The Bandit swung round and shot an arrow at Bork - which missed - and shouted "they're here!". At the same time, Mohag, on the other side of the path, shouted "Aaaargh!" as he wasn't so lucky and had been attacked by an unseen assailant. Bork's reaction was to smash the Bandit with his warhammer and he killed him instantly. Then, to 'draw out any others', he leaped into the centre of the path and smashed his warhammer onto his shield, yelling at the top of his voice.

Four bandits raced towards the various shouts - two towards Mohag and two towards Bork. That meant they broke cover and Jericho managed to get a lucky shot in that felled one of them as he was running. Three bandits then fought with Mohag in the bushes, quickly joined by Sir Norrin, The Mystical One and Tuh.

Bork then moved to engage the single bandit left in the path, as Jericho ran up in support. Grrk stayed in the bushes minding Betsy. Bork's impressive ability to hit anything failed him for a moment but the Bandit couldn't get past Bork's Plate and Shield. Jericho, however, having drawn his two-handed sword, managed to get a decent blow in (d10 damage +2 STR bonus) that killed the Bandit instantly.

Meanwhile, Mohag (despite major wounds) killed one Bandit, Sir Norrin and The Mystical One another and Tuh saw off the third. The only injury to the party (bear in mind, the last encounter with 2 bandits left one party-member technically dead, and they'd just seen off 6) was to Mohag - who fainted as soon as it was all over. He's back down to 1hp again - he has no luck that guy.

Just time to loot the bodies before we had to pack up and the party has gained a few trinkets - instead of rolling up treasure from the Treasure Tables, I instead rolled some random treasures from the Aeons & Auguries 50 inexpensive pieces of jewelry table to represent the treasure of the Bandits' last victims. Good table that, very useful. The party didn't care, I ended up converting it back into cash values anyway - though now, as the Dwarf has a "small simple bronze signet ring of a military order" (no. 24 on the list) I've introduced the idea of the 'Companions of the Black Fist', a mercenary company (derived from proper probably 4e D&D which serves as a guild in my campaign).

Next time - maybe they'll get back to Threshold with the spider-legs. Who knows...?

EDIT: forgot to mention one of the dafter parts of the fight between Tuh, Mohag, The Mystical One and Sir Norrin on the one hand and the three Bandits on the other - Tuh suddenly announcing he was going to take the potion that the party had found back at the watchtower, "in case it could help". What Tuh didn't know was that it was a Potion of Levitation. Luckily there being plenty of trees about he had loads to grab on to and didn't float away... but as he didn't have any missile weapons he couldn't help with the two combats that were still going on.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Random Adventuring

So... I know there are random dungeon generators out there, but is it possible to determine the whole thing using a random process?

I take is as read that the Donjon Fantasy World Generator can generate a complete world for adventuring in. Enon 1410821796 is something I'm planning on doing something with I think. I know that with a bit of effort, I can turn a world map into 16 regional maps. But, a regional map with 3 or 4 locations on it isn't a campaign or even an adventure. It might just qualify as a wilderness, though it will still need stocking. 16 of them is just a world that needs stocking, an unstocked wilderness on a bigger scale.

I also know that some generators such as WotC's dungeon generator will generate 'plots' for you, though I'm somewhat unconvinced as to their utility. Here's a sample:

You begin the adventure in the deep forest.
You meet the mentor of one of the player characters, who gives you your mission.
You have to resolve the unexplained deaths among the local nobility.
 They've determined it is the work of the nemesis of one of the player-characters, and it's up to you to stop it.
You must travel to the ruins of an abbey to find the nemesis of one of the player characters.
End the threat in exchange for your armour and weapons repaired for free.

That's not terrible, but more difficult to use as if, for example, you have new players and they have neither nemeses (is that the correct plural?) nor mentors. The specific reward of 'armour and weapons repaired for free' is a bit iffy if you don't use armour/weapon damage rules. It boils down in my games to 'hey we got you some arrows to replace the ones you used'. So straight off I'd have to change that to 'person of local importance, errm, maybe the castellan of the loal castle' gives the PCs a mission to resolve deaths in local nobility by going to a ruined abbey (no shortage of those luckily) to confront a 'local villain' in exchange for 'all the weapons and equipment they can need plus a lot of goodwill from the local rulers' - even so, that's quite a paltry reward for stopping killings of local nobles. Sometimes the 'patron', quest and the reward really don't match at all - a notorious rogue giving the PCs a mission to resolve the deaths of local nobles, that results in the adulation of local people (and no material reward from the nobles), which is another generation I obtained, is a bit weird.

There is also a generator available at Seventh Order of the Random Generator - it's called 'Random Sword & Sorcery Adventure Generator' - that produces results such as:
Mission 15: Recover (roll thing to be recovered)
Thing 14: Priest / Prison / Sarcophagus
Hook 16: Overheard conversation
Antagonist 1: Angry ghost
Potential Ally 15: Sybil with an important prophecy
Complication 12: Money lender comes to collect from a PC
Obstacle 13: Magical wards or guards
Twist 8: Betrayal by supposed ally or friend
Reward 7: Loyal henchman


That's a lot better than the WotC generator, but still a bit bare-bones. There are no locations, and no details about the NPCs involved. 'Thing 14: Priest/Prison/Sarcophagus' is a bit odd as a plot point. A priest imprisoned in a sarcophagus? The sarcophagus of a priest, who used to administer to prisoners? I suppose the ghost (of the priest from the prison) might want to be re-united with the sarcophagus. Maybe there was a sarcophagus that the priest was supposed to go into but instead he was imprisoned and died, and now is an angry ghost who wants to go to where he should, and his sarcophagus is how he's supposed to do it - perhaps his spirit was supposed to sail to the afterlife in a soul-boat or something and his ghost cannot rest until he does. Something like that.

I want to see if I can generate a bit more. As far as possible, I'm only going to use (for the purposes of this post, other random generators are available!) the generators on Seventh Order of the Random Generator.

There are a lot of strange generators on there. I'm using them to produce results that make sense for my game, not tailoring my game to suit the generators. For example, there's a generator called 'Forest Encounters Near a Spaceship Crash'. I don't have spaceships in my game, nor radiation poisoning or anything analogous that isn't magical. So I read that as a 'Magical Landscape Taint' generator. Likewise the 'Maleficar - Insanity' generator I will read as a 'Curse' generator, and 'Hoard of the Dragon Queen Cultist' generator that I will read as an 'NPC with Religious Convictions' generator.

A vital NPC around whom the plot revolves to act as a patron or hook is a good place to start I think. Whatever comes up here will be the basic motivating factor in the plot. Either, the NPC is trying to do something, or trying to stop something. The PCs will be either trying to support the NPC or trying to stop the NPC. So that's basically four relationships between NPC, party and whatever the event is.

So this is a result from the 'Random NPC generator':

An elven aristocrat who loves children

Right, so plots involving noble feuds and missing children are the obvious places to go here. But not the only ones. An Elf. Possible racial disharmony? Or maybe something more environmental - is someone cutting down all the trees? Of course we don't know anything about this aristocrat. Let's see if they're male or female (50-50 chance) and good or evil. There are some random number generators on the site so I'm going to roll 2 d6s - the first will tell me if the NPC is male (odd number) or female (even number) and the second if they're good (odd) or evil (even). If the Elf loves children and is good, presumably s/he is trying to protect them from some evil. If however the NPC is evil, perhaps their love manifests itself in a highly destructive way, being far too protective and psychotically exterminating imagined threats to the children? If the Elf sees adults as being a corrupting influence, for example, then perhaps he or she is 'saving' children by exterminating their parents.

'Die Roller' random roll 1 - male or female?
1 - so male

'Die Roller' random roll 2 - good or evil?
1 - so good

So, that's fairly straightforward, The (male) Elven aristocrat (hereafter 'the Elf-Lord') is likely trying to protect children from some menace or atone for some failure to protect children in the past.

There's a place, from the 'Fantasy Locations' generator, that is crucial to what is going on:

a field of ruins, dwelling of a horde of spectres

Is the Elf-Lord trying to protect the children from the spectres in the ruins? Why are the spectres there? Were the ruins caused by the spectres (they drove off the inhabitants) or did the place become ruined and the inhabitants rise as undead? Or was the place abandoned and the spectres came later? Are the spectres undead children that the Elf-Lord couldn't save?

I think there should be some sort of curse on the land. Using the 'Forest Encounters Near a Spaceship Crash' generator, I get:

Animal zombies crawling out of the ground

So, more undead. Perhaps that could be part of the theme.

Some antagonists are surely needed - so I'll generate a cell of dark magicians from the 'The Dark College':

Their sorcery is powered by  a book bound in gold. Must read directly from its pages to work their magic.
They have adorned themselves with a mask shaped like a rose blossom
Their magic falters in the presence of rowan wood
They are served by  a beautiful woman with sharp fingers and breath as cold as snow
These servants are remarkable because they can fly through the air wildly, on great gusts of wind (though that should probably be read as 'this servant')

We don't actually know what the Dark Magicians do (the generator description says 'Necromancers' but they don't have to be). But, an evil cult of magic-users seems like a reasonable antagonistic group (no matter what the party's actions are). There are however already some mentions of undead so perhaps I'll leave them as necromancers. Their cold flying servant is interesting, a sort of evil nymph-of-the-air. The fact that their magic is susceptible to failure in the presence of rowan-wood is also interesting. If the NPC and the magicians are enemies, it may be that the Elf-Lord is using tree-based magic against them.

Whatever, there should be a relationship between the antagonists and the NPC. I'll roll a d6 again. Odd - they're 'at odds', even - they're allies (even though the NPC is good and the Dark Magicians aren't; if the relationship is allied, I think we have to assume that the NPC has been duped by the Dark Magicians, rather than the other way around).

'Die Roller' random roll 3:
3 - so enemies. Perhaps the Dark Magicians are doing something that threatens the children and the Elf-lord is trying to stop them? The Dark Magicians then should probably be the 'primary baddies' here. I will generate more; but they'll be plot complications and minions I think rather than the primary antagonists.

Maybe I need a magic item mcguffin. I'll look for 'Magic Items'. Only two tables there, and '100 potions' isn't what I'm after. I'll try the other one - 'Lost or Abandoned Weapons of the Grigori', whatever that means:

Former Owner (no angel of the First or Second Sphere has been exiled. More powerful weapons means a more powerful owner, who will go to great lengths to get it back): Missing. Roll again on this table to determine damage.
Device: Chariot, piloted 
Power: 5d6 uses
Adorned with... Heavenly Verse
Wrought from... Ivory and Ivory
Medium (Vanishes after impact): Invisible Force
Trajectory: Medium erupts from ground beneath target (can't strike high-flying targets)
Miraculous Properties: None.
Range: 300ft, +d6 damage to demons and the undead.

Not all of that makes sense to me but I'll understand it in my game as being a holy relic, a chariot (that's what it says) with the power to attack undead within 300ft. Maybe the Dark College is a college of Necromancers after all and they want to neutralise the power of this magical undead-destroying chariot.

There are a couple of chariot-using gods and goddesses I can think of. No Thor in my campaign world though, so probably not him. Both Apollo and Ishtar had chariots and they (under other names) are in my campaign pantheon. I can't see Apollo in particular as being happy about undead. Perhaps this holy undead-destroying chariot is something to do with him.

How it ties in with the Elf and the children - well...

A location from the 'Rural Inns and Taverns' generator:

At the Sign of the Lusty Rose
Noted for... A conclave of rival necromancers meet here once a year under a truce to talk shop. They are particularly fond of the pheasant.
This Happens: Eloping couple are pursued by an agent of the girl’s father, who can be glimpsed through the window, dismounting from his horse. The couple beg the PCs to create a distraction while they slip out the back.

Necromancers again. The previously-mentioned Necromancers had rose masks, and this is at the sign of the Lusty Rose. I see some connections here.

As for the side-plot, lovers and the 'Lusty Rose' could easily imply that the inn could be a noted haunt for young lovers, eloping couples etc. If it's also a home (a front?) for necromancers, maybe not all the lovers who 'run away' actually make it...?

The text has 'dismounting from his horse' there. It says horse, but what I read that as is "try the 'What is that NPC riding?' generator".

Option 1: A Set of Animated Barding
Option 2: An Eager, Purple Bronco


Two for the price of one there. Why not? Either a kind of golem-horse, or a purple one, I'll go with either for the moment, until I know a bit more about this shadowy agent.

We need some NPCs - a young woman, a young man, and the agent. Here's one of those (don't know which yet) - an NPC from the 'Corpathium NPC Birthing Sacs':

RACE: Urgoth/Saxon
GENDER: Female
DEMEANOUR: Casually
AESTHETIC APPEARANCE: Ostentatious
PHYSICAL PROPORTIONS: Imposingly Big
MOTIVATION: Sociopathy
QUIRK: Scarred/Branded Body Part

OK, I don't have 'Urgoths' or 'Saxons' in my campaign but I guess I understand what they imply. So we've got a big Viking-ish woman with scars or brands and who is casually ostentatious. That's something to go on. Two more will hopefully do the trick.

Another NPC, this time from the 'Hoard of the Dragon Queen Cultist' generator.

ENESHA, officious and hair to the waist, is exercising. Joined because cult gives respect and commands it. Wants to fulfill duty. Cultist notably comforts the sick, wounded, dying, and grieving. Useful because knows identity of important sleeper agent (king, mayor, magnate). Reaction: thinks you look ridiculous.

Right. Is this the young woman who is eloping perhaps? In which case, the fact that she has high-up connections and has joined a cult (the generator calls it a cult, it could be a perfectly harmless religion) might suggest that her father disapproves of the match because she is perhaps from the aristocracy (she is officious) and her lover is another member of the cult/religion.

The previously-detailed NPC is probably the agent sent to bring her back then. The text says 'he', but we didn't generate a 'he'. So, we need a boyfriend, and probably something about her family too.

Boyfriend - I hope - from the 'NPC Profession etc' generator:

Profession: leathersmith
Gender: Male
Ethnicity: Local human
Level/Rank: 4
Age: Teenager
Disposition Toward PCs: Neutral
Intelligence: 13


That works OK, though I don't know what a Level 4 teenage leatherworker is. Maybe I can give him some Thief or Cleric levels, perhaps. I should also find some names for the agent and the boyfriend.

From 'Brackenwoldian Name Generator':

MALE NAME: 
1st Syllable: Han
2nd Syllable: ­(g)gle
3rd Syllable: ­(v)en
 

FEMALE NAME
1st Syllable: Ys(a)
2nd Syllable: ­nora


So, the leatherworking boyfriend is called Hangleven, and the Viking agent is Ysanora. Handy that it gives you two-for-one.

Enesha's noble family, from the 'For the Creation of Noble Clans' generator:

House: Lascelle
Source of Power: Sorcery
Secret: Participating in a conspiracy of centennial length and ecumenical proportions
Leader: Megalomaniacal genius with childlike sensibilities
Stronghold: Contemporary urban estate
Wealth: Massive reserves, little income
Dubious Allies: Pack of half-starved, semi-trained, and uncannily sapient wolves


If their source of power is sorcery, perhaps they give their agents golem-horses, rather than purple ones. Is the 'centennial length plot' some scheme that the college of necromancers is involved in? Are the members of House Lascelle essentially evil and Enesha has broken away to join a good cult where she comforts the sick and grieving? Is the cult disapproved of by the local ruling house because it gives comfort to the dying and bereaved in some magical way that prevents the dead rising as undead (which fate House Lascelle, linked to the Necromancers of the Rose, is seeking to promote)?

Ysanora needs some equipment anyway, from 'Random Loot':

Weapon 47. Serpent Wand
Armour 66. Riveted Gloves
Miscellaneous 98. Little Fire Elemental in Bottle


More sorcerous gear. Perhaps Ysanora is a magic user too. She can definitely have the golem-horse.

Hangleven and Enesha can have the purple horse. It's probably what they're going to flee on.

A random place from the 'Fantasy Locations' generator - I think; I copied it over then forgot which generator I'd used, which is bad form. Apart from anything else, I was trying to use all generators other than the die-rolling generators only once. I regard my mistake here as being a bit bad, like fudging a die-roll. My systems were supposed to work better than this. Still, I'll manage to live with myself.

The location is probably where the young lovers are planning to flee to:

This sunken walled town is mentioned in songs of an arch-enemy of elves.

Good, we're back to Elves. Is this the same place as the ruins where the spectres live, or not? There's some connection for sure. What does 'sunken' mean here however? I assume underwater, in the sea or a lake, though it could (like a 'sunken lane') mean a town in a large depression.

There is a song generator, called 'Bard Song Titles'. I'll give it a go and see if there's a song that makes sense as a "song of an arch-enemy of elves":

Lament for Amrathreal

Hmm. Interesting I think. Is Amrathreal a person, or a place? Perhaps what is being lamented is the destruction of a city? It sounds more like an Elven song than anything else, but maybe a reasonable translation of "songs of an arch-enemy of elves" is songs about rather than songs belonging to. Maybe the sunken city, and the ruins in the field, were once elf cities that were destroyed (leading to the deaths of the children?) and they are sung of in laments. Or maybe it is what it says and the enemies of the Elves sing songs lamenting the loss of Amrathreal (whether person or city) which mention the sunken town.

The word 'amrathreal' to my ears sounds Elf-ish. It also suggests (by association) both 'amaryllis' and 'amythest' - so, jewels and flowers. If it is the name of a former city of evil sorcerers, perhaps the Dark College regards it as a sort of spiritual home, or maybe they're just trying to get their hands on its secrets.

Plot complication - from the 'Rural Encounters' generator.

While walking down a country road...
PCs hear giggling and splashing up ahead, and spy a trio of water-nymphs bathing in a nearby stream, their garments left on rocks. These garments, if successfully stolen and worn against the skin make the wearer proof against drowning.


They may be useful if the 'sunken' town is actually underwater. Does this stream flow into a lake where the town is sunk? Is this group of water-nymphs at all connected with the evil air-nymph servant of the Dark College? Or the encounter may be totally without further significance at this stage.

Plot complication - some bandits from the 'Bandit' generator:

Bandit Leader HD / # of Bandits
2 HD / 10 bandits
Who is the Bandit Leader?
Excommunicated clergy


How are they acting? From 'What are those Wandering Monsters Up To?':

Hunting for food (quiet, wary, and hard to surprise)

Their random treasure, from 'Shipwreck':

Shipwreck Results
8    A well-leafed pamphlet of smutty woodblock illustrations, pouch of scrimshawed knuckle-bones, d4 sling, 6 bullets, bullet extractor, d4 Quality 2 black iron dagger, 10ft barge pole, Quality 5 rusted breastplate medium armour.
Curios
16    A wax-sealed glass pot of dark blue dye.

Not a shipwreck, instead they've ambushed a caravan (unless they've dredged the lake?). I can make most of the gear fit into my campaign. They live in/near the sunken walled city. Do they need the heretical clergyman to keep back the spectres? Is he the leader of the cult the young lovers have joined?

All in all I think that's 22 generations from the random generators. If not quite an 'adventure' there's certainly a hell of a lot to be going on with there. There's a holy relic that destroys undead, a location of spectres, random undead animals, a group of necromancers, a sorcerous noble house, some young lovers who have joined a cult and are running away, and the agent sent to bring them back, some bandits who are led by the leader of the cult, who in turn wants to save the local population from returning as undead, and behind it all an Elf-Lord trying to ... well, I still haven't decided. But I think, as we have 'the sunken city mentioned in the songs of the enemy of the Elves' I think probably that the Elf-Lord is trying to make for a past defeat where he was unable to protect 'the children' that he loves, and presumably they died. That raises the possibility that the spectres are the spirits of the children.

Right; the mcguffin is in the sunken city; but the Elf-Lord and the Dark College both think it's in the 'field of ruins' hence their rowan-wood-v-spectres conflict about it. The Excommunicated Clergyman however knows the 'songs of the arch-enemy of elves' and has realised that the sunken city is the place. He's trying to find the chariot to use against the undead. If the Dark College knew what he was up to they'd be trying to stop him - luckily they don't as yet. The young lovers are just a complication and potential source of information to help put all this together. The PCs merely blunder into the middle of all of this and can jump whatever way they like - helping Ysanora (hang on, isn't 'Ys' a sunken city in real-world mythology? Just thought about that) to track the lovers; helping the Elf-Lord counter the Dark College, or vice versa; helping the lovers to escape and dealing with House Lascelle; investigating tales of young lovers who have run off never to be seen again; or merely stealing clothes from magical women and exploring the city at the bottom of the lake.

Now, to go about putting this little bundle of plots and locations onto the world map I'm going to use...

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Orcs? What Orcs?

Oh, those Orcs...

Now you may remember in a post a couple of days ago I was boasting of creating a dungeon with a very few Orcs in it and many other things - something of a first for me, Orcs and/or Goblins are pretty much always my 'go-to' monster. I have been fighting the Dwarf-Goblin Wars for around 35 years now and don't seem to show any signs of stopping soon. They are to me pretty much the archetypal Minion of Dread Powers. In fact, this very evening I was reading Lord of the Rings to my youngest as a bedtime story. We reached the part in Mordor where the two Orcs, the brown-clad snuffling tracker and the soldier-orc from Cirith Ungol (probably) argue and fight near Sam & Frodo's position. Great stuff. Gotta love a bit of Orcy-Gobliny action, I say. Oh, and I am 'Red Orc' of course.

But, in creating Silvergate, I was for a while steering away from the Orcs, going where the dice took me. It's been quite a liberating experience. OK, I know, Bugbears are just big hairy Goblins. But never mind.

However, what I didn't bank on was the nature of random rolling. In the same post as I mention the lack of Orcs, I also outline my method for rolling either smaller numbers of higher-HD monsters, or larger numbers of lower-HD monsters, for filling the levels I'm detailing. And I rolled a few '1's while filling in monsters for Level 4. That brought me back up into the heady realms of monsters from Levels 1 and 2. What did I roll? Yup, Orcs.

Now, I'd said that there were only about 30 in the dungeon. That wasn't quite right. There were about 30 in the lair. Of fighting Orcs. Plus chief and bodyguard. Then there were a few wanderers, about 10-12 all together. Then there were the non-combatant Orcs both adult (described in the rules as 'female' but frankly I think the idea of female Orcs being like frightened Victorian ladies having fits of the vapours to be a little ludicrous) and young. So by my reckoning roughly 160, of which around 45 are combatants.

Now there are a lot more. I mean, really, a lot more. I rolled both a wandering group (how do you scale wanderers from Level 1 or 2 to Level 4? Have lots more of them, obviously) and a lair. Wandering group? Make up the Number Appearing. I rolled a lot of dice. A group of 33 Orcs appeared. That's the size of the entire fighting force of the lair a couple of levels above. And that's a Wandering Monster.

Then I rolled for the lair and things got a bit mental. Now, I may not be scaling things correctly. But I reasoned, if you run into x-amount on Level 1, you must run into 4x-amount on Level 4, right? Well, it turns out if you do that, you get 160 fighting Orcs in the lair. Plus 160 more adult non-coms and 320 young. And 2 Trolls. No Ogres though. I thought 'for every 20 Orcs there is a 1-in6 chance of an Ogre living with them' was more likely to mean 'roll a d6 for each 20 Orcs' not 'add 1 to the probability for each 20 Orcs'. The first would produce 0-8 Ogres (it produced 0), the second would definitely produce 1 Ogre and a 1/3 chance of a second. Plus, 0-8 Trolls, or, 8/10 chance of a single Troll. Those aren't the same probabilities at all. But, of course, that may not be how other people interpret that rule. I've never had to configure it this way, as I've never before tried to make a lair for more than 600 Orcs. So I'm flying somewhat blind here.

I like the idea of a series of caverns filled with Orcs. Maybe not much part of the main goings on in the dungeon - just off to one side somewhere, doing their thing, settling down to live in an old Dwarf city and getting on with their lives. They've not made much impact on the lands around, that's for sure. Indeed these may well be proper subterranean Orcs - they don't have any direct access to the surface, so they're more likely to be focussed on what is going on around them in the dungeon than the usual thing I do with Orcs, which is use some caverns as a base for attacking the wider area. Maybe they just don't care about the surface.

So what do Orcs do when they're not attacking human settlements? I need to give the workings of a proper 'Orcish society' a good hard think. I mean, there are 600+ of them. If that was a human settlement, I'd be thinking hard about water-supplies and taverns and bakers and craftspeople and where all the food was coming from and where the shit was going. It's a bit bigger than a village - 160 'families' is a small town. They're also somewhat out of their Level 1-2 comfort zone. They're surrounded by nasty nasties. OK, there are hordes of them, but even so...

So now, in amongst my 'lair building' (on the basis that a 'lair' averages 2 rooms - yeah, right) I also have to find room for a small town of 640 or so Orcs.

I love dungeon-building.


Friday, 12 September 2014

Darksouls - a new look at a Basic D&D monster

Darksouls are beings from the Plane of Horror, who have come to this world to feed on the life-energy here.

Darksouls are the hungry souls of those who have done great evil, given a new horrific existence by their dread and unknown masters. 

Darksouls are pieces of the Shadow-plane ripped from its bearings and stranded in our world.

Darksouls are the images of evil left behind when one turns away from a mirror.

Darksouls are the extremities of a single vast, blind and mindless parasite that lives below the plane of our world, merely the feeding tubes it sends into the world of life and energy we know.

Just as sunlight can be trapped in rocks and plants to leak out in the dark, so Darkness itself can be trapped to take the form of Darksouls, even in the light.

No-one knows what Darksouls are. They just know what they do. They feed, they feed off the life-force of people who go into the Dark.

They look like shadows. But they're shadows cast by no visible light, without a body to be the source of the shadow.

Sometimes, when they're attacking, they look a little like people. They seem to have limbs and a head atop a vague swirling body-shape as if of a robed cowled figure.

Is that because people understand them as people-shaped?

Or is it because the Darksouls themselves will mimic their prey?

What do the shadows look like to dogs or mules or giant spiders? Do they appear to be humanoid? Or does the Darksoul project an image back into the mind of the being it is hunting?

Are Darksouls actually intelligent at all? Or are they merely drawn to living flesh as water is drawn to flow downhill, blindly hunting for the life-force they dimly sense?

No-one knows. No-one has ever interrogated a living Darksoul, no-one has ever examined a dead Darksoul, no-one has ever captured a Darksoul. They have killed Darksouls, or been killed by them, or fled very far away. Darksouls cannot be reasoned or bargained with, they cannot be distracted or amazed, they cannot be confused. They are as implacable as Winter or Age or Gravity. They can only be fought or outrun.

 =====================================================

In D&D, Shadows are not undead. They are creatures made of Darkness. Their origin is mysterious and they are - or should be - terrifying. Many years ago, in 'tidying up' D&D (cutting a lot of extraneous and 'silly' monsters, generally being quite 'logical' about it all), I decided that Shadows were Undead - somewhere around Wights, I think, on the Turning Table. Years later, I found out that AD&D had done the same.

Obviously I was wrong. Shadows are not just the souls of evil people or those who have died in torment or the result of a particular necromantic spell. They are Manifest Darkness itself.

And I've randomly generated a lot of them on Level 3 of my megadungeon. I think there will be some sort of portal there. Not too - that would be too horrifically deadly - but at the very least from. A wound in the fabric of reality through which the Darksouls seep from the Plane of Horror, always and forever seeking to feed.

That'll be nice for a party, eh?

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Silvergate Megadungeon creation rumbles on

Two weeks or so into the process and I'm progressing nicely with the creation of Silvergate, abandoned capital of the Dwarves. The Dwarven name for this city is Zaborhegaznazun, or 'out-coming-place of metal of the moon', and not, as humans seem to think, Baraghegaznazun or 'doors of metal of the moon'. In Dwarvish, 'Silver-doors' is really not the same as 'Silvergate'. Obviously, the Dwarves first came here as miners, for the moon-metal. They stayed and built an enormous city.

I have developed a methodology for fairly quickly filling the levels. Each level will have some rooms that I'm determined to fit in - set-piece rooms, really. I 'know' I want a large Bugbear lair on Level 3; I know I want a vast throne room on Level 5. But much of the levels will be 'randomly' stocked (but even so, having randomly-generated a lot of Bugbears for Level 3, that's fine, I'm just clustering a lot of them together).

First, I'm breaking each level up into sections and sub-levels, each with 4-8 lairs in it. I count an average of 1 lair = 2 rooms. Not all lairs are 2 rooms - some are more, some are only one room. But it's good enough as a rough average. So sections and sub-levels will generally include between 8-16 occupied rooms (roughly, not including the places where wandering monsters might turn up, and maybe with a few extra-special rooms thrown in). At my standard rough-and-ready calculation of 1/3 of rooms with monsters, that should give me about 25-50 rooms per section or sub-level. More or less.

To find the monsters for these randomly assigned rooms, I'm starting with the wandering monster lists. For each random lair, I'm rolling a d6 and if it's a 1, then that it is the lair of large number of creatures from the Wandering Monster list for the level above, and if it's a 6, it's a small number of creatures from the level below's list. On a 2-5, I roll on the Wandering Monster list for that level. I have extended the principle with Level 1, if I roll a 6 for a Level 2 monster, I then repeat the roll and if it's another 6 I consult the tables for Level 3 and cut numbers even further. No reason that a single Ogre can't lair on Level 1 - just not 8 of them, that really wouldn't be at all good for the party's survivability. I'm pretty sure I've finished Level 2 but I haven't quite finished Level 3 - I will be continuing the idea with deeper dungeon beasties as I go down.

In sub-level 2a ('The Guardrooms', with 45 rooms), there are 6 random lairs, with Hobgoblins, Berserkers, Giant Black Widows, Robber Flies and Rock Baboons (two lairs of these, Rock Baboons featured strongly in the random rolls for Level 2). That gives me 12 out of 15 rooms occupied by my random monsters. The other 3 rooms I'm assigning to specific creatures and features I want to see. The humanoid groups both control 'suites' as a territory rather than single rooms while the Spiders, Robber Flies and Baboons might patrol a territory (several of them are on my Wandering Monster tables - these are specific to each sub-level or section) but they use single rooms as home bases.

Once I've got a creature, I roll another d6. This is to determine if a creature is lairing, is a wanderer, or if it's both. 1,2, it's wandering, 3,4 it's both lairing and wandering, and 5,6 it's just lairing. It could be that all the first 5 creature-rolls produce wanderers and lairs, but it hasn't happened yet. If they do (I'm only having 5 wanderers per section) the 6th won't. If 6 random lairs don't produce 5 wanderers, I'll roll again on the table until I have my 5 Wandering Monsters. When I roll a wanderer that's the same as a lair (either because the lair has wanderers, or because I randomly rolled a Hobgoblin lair, which doesn't have wanderers, but then, in rolling for wanderers, I get a Hobgoblin result again) the wanderers always count as 'extra'. So the number of Hobgoblins in theory in that section or sub-level could be greater than the maximum number of a Hobgoblin lair. Doesn't matter, it's all gravy.

Other sections on Level 2 feature more Berserkers, Robber Flies and Rock Baboons (I must use the Rock Baboons in the approaches to Silvergate too, it's sort of beginning to resemble Gibraltar in my head, a great fortified rocky outcrop covered in screeching primates). The Berserkers are local barbarians who are battling Hobgoblins for the upper levels, but neither the Berserkers nor the Hobgoblins are particularly unified. In fact, with 3 or 4 different Berserker groups across Levels 1 & 2, I'm considering giving each Berserker lair a distinguishing feature (perhaps utilising this table from The Dungeon Dozen to chose Barbarian styles) and making them hostile to each other (though not necessarily the party). If the party wants to go around enlisting barbarian-berserker allies, or doing something as 'silly' (not silly) as getting themselves adopted into the tribe so they have a 'safe base' to retreat to, they might have to put up with the negative consequences from other groups. Like when 'The Warriors' have to cross New York City to get home through an environment where their gang's jackets are going to get them into trouble.

There is another area - an old necropolis that the party can find out about before they go in if they want to do some research - that is mostly composed of Ghoul and Zombie lairs. I did this on purpose as I knew I wanted this necropolis to be there. I just put all the random undead results that I generated in one section, and made sure that there are some rumours that indicate that there are undead in the upper levels. Research about the complex should turn up these rumours and then the party can begin to prepare themselves. I'm very much in favour of the party doing some forward planning - this place was 1,000 years being built and used (or more) and has been abandoned for 400 years. Plenty of information (not all of it recent or necessarily accurate, for sure) should be available if the party ask around either with adventurers or Dwarves (or both), consult libraries and sages, etc. I see no reason to change the stats of Dwarf-Zombies or Dwarf-Ghouls, just because they're shorter. Not so many humanoids in this area, but some giant animals of varying kinds all the same.

The hard parts of this process are deciding what sections there should be; justifying the large numbers of Sprites/Pixies/Halflings that come up in a random megadungeon; and knowing when to stop.

I can decide on some sections (such as the Guardrooms for 2a, and the Necropolis on Level 2) but my creativity may start to flag when I have done 60 of them. I'm going to use some random map generations for these areas, probably using some of the generators from The Dungeoneering Dad's 'sweet arse random dungeon generators' which look very handy, and might suggest some themes to me; and maybe I'll use some random name generations for different sections as well, perhaps from the Seventh Sanctum Adventure Site Generator. I've just tried it out and among less-suitable names, it's produced Abyss of Monsters; Bloodstained Labyrinth of the Cannibal King; Grotto of the Sorcerer; Metal Dungeon; Profane Catacombs. Not sure what makes catacombs 'profane', but there's a certain amount there to be going on with.

As for the Sprites etc, there are a lot of potentially friendly lairs in the upper levels. Dwarves, Gnomes, Halflings, Barbarians... but perhaps this is necessary, it's not really convenient for the party to pop back to the nearest village to restock and recover. They will need some safe bolt-holes. I'm confident that they'll be less comfortable past Level 3 and wishing for a corner inhabited by more-or-less-friendly Gnomes.

It's so easy to produce results however that I think I've probably overstocked the dungeon. Which means I could create even more of it, if only I could produce that many maps... hence the random generators of course.

If I were doing all this out of my brain and not using the tables, I probably wouldn't put in as many giant insects (I know spiders aren't insects), baboons or berserkers. My default setting is 'add more Orcs'. There would be thousands of them. My abandoned Dwarf city would be like Moria, with a couple of bits of the Paths of the Dead. So far, having fleshed out a goodly chunk of Levels 1-3 (with just over 100 lairs and more than 500 rooms accounted for I think... I'm close to finishing the monsters for Levels 1-3), I think there are about 30 Orcs in total. Which is fine. In my gameworld, Orcs aren't particularly associated with this overground region, so why put Orcs in the tunnels of an abandoned Dwarf city? It wasn't attacked by Orcs, it was abandoned after a war between Dwarves and Humans, and subsequent Dwarven civil war. It was partially sacked by vengeful Humans, and colonised by squatters.

Obviously, given the dice rolls, those squatters included Rock Baboons and Giant Spiders, which seems reasonable enough. The Barbarians - sorry, Berserkers - are there because their tribes send warriors in to a) test their hardihood (I was going to put 'manhood' but these are equal-ops barbarian tribes) and b) to smack anything too vicious before it becomes a threat to outside. The mountain range where Silvergate is situated borders a region of horse-nomads and other 'barbarian' tribes. They don't want hordes of Gnolls and Bugbears or the odd dragon or two popping over to make a mess of their horseflesh, no thank you. Much better to keep some 'Cave Guards' in the city to watch for monster incursions. Or is that 'excursions'?

Can the PCs exploit the fractional/factional nature of the 'ecology' of the upper levels? Maybe. Getting the Berserkers to unite and wipe out the Hobgoblins might be a bold move. But, it is a sensible one? Are the Hobgoblins (who hold an important staircase/junction point) actually preventing the Bugbears from coming up the stairs? And who from further into the complex are the Bugbears blocking? If the Bugbears move up into Hobgoblin territory, will a horde of Ogres come up and rule Level 3? Perhaps stirring a hornet's nest isn't such a good idea - not at least when the chief hornet is 200 feet long, has a 300 foot wingspan and breathes fire.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Always/never: personality quirks and character creation

I'm talking at the moment to some old friends about starting a campaign. I've never gamed with them before; despite the fact that I've known them for years, I met them after I stopped playing, and it's never really been convenient until now to start gaming with them since my rediscovery of D&D with my kids (of which, see any other recent threads).

Kicking over ideas with them about character creation, I mentioned to them an idea I'd had about character quirks, as well as something I picked up on a blog (and I wish I could remember which, it may have been Porky's Expanse but to be honest it might not) and they were telling me about one they'd come across and had used successfully in their games.

Theirs was 'the good the bad and the ugly'. Essentially, pick three people in your life. One is a positive or helpful influence - a friend, relative, lover, ally, someone you need to protect or who will try to protect you. One is an enemy or rival, who may of course be a relative or have been a friend at one stage but doesn't have to have to been. The final person is as random a weirdo as you like, as long as you have some connection to them. These people can obviously be used to drive plot. I liked it.

Talking to them about this I realised that I'd been doing something similar when I started my last game, a little over 2 years ago (it quickly fizzled out). Somewhere, perhaps as I say at Porky's Expanse but perhaps somewhere else (I lost some links in a hard-drive failure, so I'm a bit unsure of anything pre-September 2012) I'd picked up an idea that was pretty similar. I'd made my players each give me sketchy details about two people from their background. I had the idea one would have a character class, and the other would not. I hadn't warned the players about this, just gave them it as a 'by the way, I want you to come up with some characters for background that you know in the village where we're starting the adventure, one can be an adventurer but the other shouldn't be'. Neither Ishi nor Nalyd's player were very experienced, in fact this was Nalyd's player's first game. But their 'friends and relations' were great.

Ishi's player told me about Lartholeus, the baker, who was down on his luck but struggling to keep enough money coming in to feed his family, sometimes relying on Ishi to provide a little extra, and Nurtz, who was a Thief who in turn had a brother (called Lurtz or Gurtz or something that rhymed) who was obsessed with trying to create a golem (so far unsuccessfully. "You see all those wires, Homer? That's why your robot didn't work..."). Fantastic, I thought. Plenty of hooks there.

Nalyd's player didn't disappoint either. He told me about Karl, 'a sad drunken shell of a man', who was Nalyd's bosom drinking-buddy (Nalyd was a fairly stereotypical hard-drinking but garrulous Dwarf, I'm not certain but 'Nalyd' might have been a jokey reference to Dylan Thomas and 'Llareggub'). Then he went on to tell me about Ornlotte, who was a monk, and had a big beard and a kind of cart or wheelbarrow. I still don't know why a wheelbarrow. We didn't have monks in this campaign (it being old-school D&D) but Nalyd's player was happy for me to make Ornlotte a Cleric.





Dylan Thomas's map of Llaregub - not all maps are for D&D after all - in the National Museum of Wales


So they'd given me a couple of solid usable NPCs who might accompany them on adventures, but also some vulnerable characters that could kidnapped, blackmailed, or whatever I liked to get them involved in a plot. I didn't have to twist their arms or anything. The players could have said that they knew the Mayor and a Master Weaponsmith, the head of the Mapmaker's Guild or the Captain of the Guard. It was like they knew instinctively that some chinks in the armour would provide better hooks.

I'm calling the idea I pitched to my new group 'Always/Never'. These are character foibles that define who we appear to be to other people. I'm sure we all have these things in real life. They could be religious vows, they could be cultural constraints, they could be philosophical positions. I started thinking about how I'd apply this if I were a PC. I decided that 'Always wear black; never eat meat' might be appropriate. Some examples I thought of were 'Always wear green: never use a shield'; 'Always address people first in Elvish: never eat indoors'; 'Always pray before a battle: never take the life of an enemy who is subdued'. Hopefully, not things that will prove too crippling to the PCs to always and never do, but which will allow them to have little personality hooks that others will remember them by, and which might just provide some little bits of role-play as situations develop where a player has to go out of their way to keep to their always/never vow.

One of the things I like is not doing things. I like the restriction Clerics have on edged weapons. It gives them, for want of a better word, character. You can do this; but to do it you have to give up doing that. Always/Never is a bit like that, but with characters not classes. It's an individual embracing and renunciation, and hopefully a way to get the players to think about (some aspects of) the behaviour of their characters in a couple of easily-expressible personal 'rules'.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

SuperDungeonFantasyQuestHammer... or 'D&D'?

Partly inspired by this post at Aeons & Auguaries I thought I'd share some thoughts about systems and conversions between them. Like JD Jarvis, I've run campaigns incorporating elements from lots of different games - in my case Runequest, MERP, WFRP and C&S spring to mind alongside the D&D/AD&D mashup that was my standard fare. Should I ever get round to running either my Golden Heroes or Star Frontiers campaigns, there will be plenty in them from Traveler, Marvel Super Heroes, Call of Cthulhu, Judge Dredd Role Playing, Gamma World, Doctor Who, Paranoia, Heroclix gaming and all sorts of other places.

I was thinking recently about 'conversion' from one system to another and I think 'style' is more important than substance. When I was adding such things to my D&D games, I tried at first to convert things closely but then gave up. Now, I've got a bunch of charts about how to convert 3d6 abilities to a 2d6 format or a percentage system, but in the end, a Trollkin is pretty much the same a Goblin, a Dark Troll is basically a Hobgoblin or maybe like a Gnoll. So does it matter about strict mathematical conversion? Apart from anything else, that requires some complicated work on how abilities actually function in different gaming systems.

I'm not familiar enough with MERP or Runequest to do those conversions 'accurately' and I couldn't even hope to start with C&S or WFRP - except by getting a feeling for what supposed to be happening and transposing the feel. Is the wild boar special? No; in which case I'll use an average wild boar in D&D. Is the trapper really an expert swordsman or anything? Doesn't seem to be, but he has the feel of someone who isn't a complete pushover, so I'll give him a Fighter's stats but only arm him with a staff and a dagger and say his jacket counts as leather. Are the cultists at the inn really powerful? No, but there's a couple of them know how to fight and one is a coven leader, so I'll make that 3 Normal Men, 2 1st Level Fighters and a 2nd Level Cleric.

In thinking how to stat 'The Hulk' for D&D recently, I came to the conclusion that there was no way I was going to find some official Marvel stats and try to do a straight conversion. Instead I decided to explain what I know about the Hulk in D&D terms. As Bruce Banner is a scientist, he would be a sage (probably; possibly even a Magic User) who is under a curse that means in certain conditions he transforms into a large, strong, angry humanoid that is capable of taking an extraordinary amount of punishment. So I decided he is a kind of Were-Troll (I could have made him an Ogre but I like the idea he regenerates) - when he's 'stressed' either through taking damage for the first time, or in a situation he finds it difficult to deal with, he has to make a WIS roll. Failure means he transforms into a troll for 7-12 turns or until rendered unconscious (eg by a Sleep spell or similar).

It's not exact but it fits pretty well as an explanation of what's happening, in terms that the D&D system understands. The players do it all the time anyway - when my party found a scroll with a Web spell on it, they described the Elf who cast it as 'Spiderman'. Why not? Maybe Spiderman, in D&D terms, has the ability to cast Web a bunch of times per day.

There is a different possibility of course - that I could get a bunch of special rules together and create an entirely new set of stats for a Hulk. But even then I think I'd probably end up trying to find a D&D analogue. Maybe he's a magic berserker? Well, thinking that has certainly made me remember that I included Slaine mac Roth in one of my games, who can perhaps be regarded as a pre-historic Hulk. Not that he's a physicist the rest of the time of course. But maybe looking at Berserkers would be another way to take this.

But maybe there is a way to do it. OK; for D&D, the special rules could work something like this. Bruce Banner has 4hp - he may not fight much but he's reasonably fit as a human, so I'll give him the maximum allowed by his class. The Hulk's special ability could be that any attack that doesn't reduce his hp to 0 in one go, adds that damage to his current hp, up to 18hp total (average basic points for a 4th Level Fighter or 'Hero'). Once he has acquired 1 extra hp, he counts as a 2nd-level fighter, once he's reached 10 hp, he counts as 3rd Level, once he's reached 14hp, he counts as 4th. He also uses his current Fighter Level as a strength bonus for melee combat - so if you hit him, he's going to get stronger and better at hitting you, until he's gone beyond maximum human strength, which seems reasonable enough.

I don't know if that is any better than making him take a WIS roll to become a Troll, though.

More from the Tower of Zelligar...

So, I have played another evening with the lads, where they continued to explore the Tower of Zelligar (AKA, The Old Watchtower).

Much resting was the order of the day, as wounds abounded. The NPC Fighter, Mohag, was reduced by the Hobgoblins to 0hp and under the rules should be dead. But, as I explained last week, he was saved by making a CON roll and the intervention of the other NPCs, the Cleric (who calls herself The Mystical One) and Yor the Magic User. But he needed (still needs) some time to recover, along with permanently losing one point of CON. Bork the PC Dwarf also took a lot of damage in the fight with the Hobgoblins and Gnoll, so decided he too needed a lot of rest before any more fighting.

Meanwhile, the PC Fighter, whose name is Tuh, decided to go exploring. Making his way to the roof, he poked about in a pile of straw and sticks, only to be attacked by three Stirges. Luckily, he managed to kill them and only took 2 points of damage, though that was after all half his total. Rummaging around in the straw and sticks he did find a wooden tube that it took him ages to look inside. Good job he did as it turned out to be a scroll-holder with a Web spell inside.

Jericho, the PC Elf, decided for some reason to pick on Yor the Magic User. Yor's reaction to this was so extreme that he left the tower, at which point Jericho tried to restrain him and a dagger-fight ensued. For the second time since leaving Threshold, and only really a few hours since recovering from 'death', Jericho lay unconscious in a pool of his own blood, reduced to 0hp. Yor has vanished. Luckily, The Mystical One, having finished tending to Mohag, went looking for Jericho and Yor, and found Jericho at the bottom of the ladder that is visible on the drawing here from the Oubliette blog.

Getting Tuh to help manoeuvre Jericho up the ladder, The Mystical One again bound Jericho's wounds and I made the CON roll. Luckily, he made it again, but I don't think he can sustain this for long. By the end of the week he is going to be down to CON 4 and unlikely to take many more serious injuries. Already, he's gone dropped from an initial Con score of 11 to 9. He's now more likely to die at 0hp than survive. Perhaps that might make him more cautious. Perhaps not.

Tuh and The Mystical One, the least-injured members of the party, pulled up the ladder from outside for the evening, just in case. However, shortly after sunset, they heard a weird shrieking coming from somewhere below them (one of the rumours that led them here in the first place was 'weird shrieking coming from the Old Watchtower'). They rushed down the ladders to see what had happened to Bork the Dwarf, who was sleeping in the Gnoll's bed in the (first) basement level - to find him peacefully asleep, but the eerie sound coming up form the floor. Queue more searching for a secret door.

Long and the short was they left exploring the lowest level of the cellar and tried to sleep as best they could. Deciding that rest and recovery was what was needed was probably a wise move. As Jericho had had a good long rest by now I rolled for his recovery - as he only has 3hp, he luckily managed to fully recover. Tuh only managed to regain one of his lost hp. Bork gained 3, but had lost 7. Still at 5hp he considered that he was pretty fit - so they lifted the flagstone that it took them ages to find, and went down to confront the thing-that-shrieked.

There they found, not surprisingly, a Shrieker. They also found a Skeleton, which seemed to have something wrong with its legs. They didn't care about that detail. Sensibly deciding that the Skeleton was a bigger threat than a singing mushroom, they attacked it as brutally as they could manage, easily disposing of it in moments. Turning on the Shrieker, they made short work of that too.

Then all that was left was to loot the room. A trapped chest was no problem, as Bork made his saving roll. Another scroll, and a mysterious bottle that they haven't dared to test yet. But at least the party has fully explored the Old Watchtower, and if Jericho can avoid provoking any more fights with the NPCs (and being randomly killed in the face), perhaps they can get on with exploring a bit more of the wilderness and maybe, just maybe, get back to Threshold with some of the giant-spider-legs-in-sacks that they promised the frightened townsfolk so many days ago...



Tuesday, 26 August 2014

First game with my new group

Well, after about eight months of hum-ing and hah-ing, the lads rolled up some characters this evening and began their first adventure. They bought some equipment, made an excellent speech in the marketplace about how they'd overcome the monsters menacing the town, negotiated with some NPCs to get supplies, henchmen and information, and set off into the woods towards the Old Watchtower.

Two fights down, and one of the NPCs and and one of the PCs only survived due to a house-rule I've picked up through the OSR. I cannot now remember where I saw it, it was way back six or more months ago, but I wish I could because I'd thank the person who blogged about it.

The long and short is, for us Basic types, combat is especially deadly because there's no 'hits to unconscious'. If you reach 0hp you're dead. So what are you to do after the first maybe hour of play, a couple of minutes into the first combat and one of the PCs (who only had 3 hp to start with) is hit by an arrow (at AC3... I mean, come on!)? I really did think 6 members of the party were likely to hold their own against 2 bandits. But no, Jericho the Elf had to go and die on me.

This particular house rule is that, if given emergency first aid (the battle was over a minute later, the bandits dealt with, and the party now gathered round their fallen comrade staunching the bleeding and so on) and sufficient rest, a character can survive - if they make a CON roll - but at the cost of permanently losing 1 point of Constitution. The idea is that they can never fully recover from that near-fatal injury.

I like it. It means that there isn't so much possibility that they'll die in a low-powered conflict, but they're not unkillable; they still have to be very careful as CON isn't inexhaustible and anyway, the more you lose the fewer hp you're going to be getting, not to mention that each time it happens the system shock is just straight off more likely to kill you; but you don't have to hide every time you see a dagger.

They made it - after resting up - to the Old Watchtower. They successfully (and somewhat luckily) killed the Gnoll and 3 of the 4 Hobgoblins inhabiting the place, though poor Mohag the Wanderer (NPC Fighter) took a nasty dose of sword to the head. But the first-aid and the CON roll mean he'll survive (the PCs don't know that yet, it's a 'web exclusive'!). When the last Hobgoblin surrendered, they killed it anyway. The Cleric wasn't happy about that.

They haven't found the secret room yet. Nor have they investigated the roof. That comes next time, I guess, and then if they survive that, they're going hunting in the woods for giant spiders. Or do they stay and work out who built the watchtower and who the watchmen were? I don't know yet!


Monday, 25 August 2014

Research & Rumours

This post was originally going to be entitled 'Intelligence, rumours and research', but I decided that maybe 'Research & Rumours' is a good analogue for 'Dungeons & Dragons' in the context of what's bothering me at the moment. This is partly I think due to my own work situation - as an archaeologist, I'm a researcher myself: 'it's not about the treasure, it's about the knowledge' archaeologists tell people. I wonder if there are treasure-hunting characters in D&D who are similarly self-deluded about what they're doing? I've recently gone back to university to begin a Masters, and that has also given me some fresh perspectives on the relationships between knowledge and data, research, speculation, and great big libraries (and of course the internet which is where we have a significant advantage over D&D characters).

Hence, 'Research & Rumours; or, How does Intelligence work in relation to knowledge of the game-world?'

I've been working on a re-keyed Quasketon for starting with a new group - my son and his mates who are teenagers and know little of OD&D. There is a rumour table in there - the mechanic for it is to roll a d4 for each player. On a roll of 1-3, that is how many rumours the character knows. On a 4, no rumours are known.

I think this mechanic is fairly unsatisfying. Intuitively, I think the number of rumours should have some relationship to the amount of research that the characters do. I was considering making the mechanic dependent on Intelligence - or rather on the modifiers derived from the Intelligence stat. -3 to 0 modifier = 0 rumours known. +1 modifier = 1 rumour, etc.

On the other hand, I understand that Rogahn and Zelligar were famous in their day. Now, if they're famous like Albert Einstein and Muhammad Ali, it may be that knowledge of R&Z's activities comes not from consulting old tomes but from having conversations about these 'celebrities' in the pub. Sure, Magic-Users might know about the point of some of Zelligar's research, but details of his exploits and living arrangements might be much more 'common knowledge'. This then is the basis of the 'Players' Background Sheet' - that which is generally known about Quasketon and its inhabitants.

But saying Rogahn & Zelligar were famous in their day raised another question - when was their floruit (or is that floruerunt?) anyway? The module claims it was decades ago: it says 'some years ago', twice, and then claims that they marched out of Quasketon 'perhaps in the decade before you [the characters] were born' - so, maybe 20-30 years ago, assuming the PCs are young humans around 18-25. But some of the systems they had in place still seem to be functioning as if it were months at most when they disappeared. If it was decades ago, why then are the guards still there and still (relatively) recently attacking intruders? Aren't they all pretty old now, as well as unpaid and underfed? How come everything hasn't been completely looted? Is it likely that any of the food won't be completely spoilt? If there are still guards then all the monsters - Trogs, Orcs etc - must have either been there from the beginning, or sneaked past the guards, or come in the few months - maybe - since the adventurers attempted their break-in. Or, if the bodies have been around for longer than a few weeks or months - 'the stench of decaying bodies is disgusting' according to the text so they can't have been there so long that they've completely decomposed, not that I know how long that would be anyway - then why hasn't anyone moved them? If, as seems to be the case from the lack of any other berserker-fighter guards about the place except for the 2 wanderers, the guards have been getting more and more attenuated in the 20-30 years since R&Z left, why did the last 4 even bother attacking the adventurers? I'm at a loss to make any sense of the time-frame in a way that allows the evidence to work even relatively sensibly. Perhaps, the last dozen or so guards attacked the intruders, 2 were killed, 1-2 have remained behind and the surviving 8 or 9 fled the complex as it was finally impossible to defend it? It doesn't explain why they stayed for 25 years with no masters (or booze, women, imports of food or anything else one might consider a luxury), but it might be a clue as to why rumours have started surfacing now - drunken old beserkers letting slip that they might have been guards at Quasketon.

Anyway: if rumours are scraps of information relating to an adventure hook, then working at finding them must be a way of getting more. Even if they are 'common knowledge' it should be possible to research them further. But what does this mean?

I find this a difficult topic to deal with - not just in terms of the Quasketon rumours but generally in terms of the relationship between what the player knows of the world and what the characters know (and can be expected to know) of the world. It's too easy to present the players with a set of rumours about something and for them to think 'right this is the hook, obviously we have to go and find the Orb of Ploon as that's what we've suddenly heard about'. On the other hand, the notion of presenting the players right at the beginning of the game with a world-history of a thousand years mentioning a bunch of plot hooks alongside a load of stuff that won't turn out to be relevant and saying 'this is what you know by the time you start adventuring' seems like a terrible idea. Does the 'Player's Background Sheet' get it more-or-less right, with its mix of 'common knowledge' and its specifics of additional rumours? It's still all about 'this is the data about the adventure, just accept it'.

One notion I had was to regard information as being essentially an opponent; in this case, any given bit of information is to be regarded as having a 'Knowledge Class' analogous to Armour Class. Commonly-known facts (including untrue ones?) would have a low (= high) Knowledge Class. To learn about a piece of data, the researcher would have to make a d20 roll similar to an attack roll. THAC0 would be replaced by TLKC0. INT modifiers would apply like STR or DEX modifiers. A successful 'attack' would imply - what? That the researcher had located the fact? Would he or she then, perhaps, roll to 'learn' or possibly synthesise the fact, thus seeing if it were true or false? A hit but no kill might imply that the rumour is rejected as untrue. But is it? What about given rumours that are untrue - is there any way a player can separate the true from the untrue?

But of course, the idea is unworkable. Why, with an 'attack knowledge' roll, should a Dwarf from Grurt have the same chance of knowing about the Orb of Ploon, as a tribesman of Ploon does? On the other hand, with random generation (as per the Quasketon rumours) it's possible that the Dwarf of Grurt could know 3 rumours of the Orb of Ploon but the tribesman of Ploon know none. But then, with an INT-based system, there's no intrinsic reason why a Magic-User from Terencia should know about the Orb of Ploon, just because he has a higher INT stat , than the tribesman of Ploon. Consider that the culture of Ploon is entirely oral, and no Sages of Terencia have ever written the stories of the Ploonic nomads; on the other hand, the tribesman grew up with stories around the campfire of the hero Vangel who stole the Orb and brought it to Ploon where it was a mighty artifact of good magic and was passed on to his sons until it was stolen by Gargrax the Betrayer, bringing about the Time of Troubles. Should there be a 'cultural' dimension to this knowledge-base?

Getting back to Quasketon, the questions must be, who knows what, why and how? Some Magic-Users might know a little of Zelligar's work - maybe, if he wasn't so very secretive - but everyone in the Grand Duchy knows that Rogahn and Zelligar lived in Quasketon and disappeared years ago fighting barbarians. It might be possible to find some detail such as that the complex had two levels by researching accounts written by visitors to the complex in years gone by, for which an INT check in a library might be necessary. But other things must just be common knowledge that can be found out by the liberal spending of a small bag of SPs in any tavern between Threshold and Specularum.

One way of approaching it would be to divide the rumours (true and untrue ones) into 'legends' and 'information'. 'Legends' would be the tavern-talk stuff - rumours about the treasures Rogahn has amassed, or some of the more lurid rumours of curses etc. Surely, most people know that Rogahn's mistress was Melissa, he rescued her heroically, and she lived at Quasketon too. If no-one in the party does, then there are numerous people who'd surely tell them, for the price of a drink? It's a big part of Rogahn's personal story. Is it not part of his legend too?

Other rumours should require more effort on behalf of the party - essentially, the result of a roll - either, for INT to find a detail in a library (a single account by some visitor to the complex 30 years ago, let's say, that the PC must find having navigated access to to some sage's library), or against CHA (plus heavy bribe in money or drinks or both) to charm someone into spilling their story (of how they were a guard and left when the Troglodytes invaded, or whatever). Listening to old men in pubs talk about their 'war stories' may be just as rewarding as consulting old tomes. Either way, they at least have the benefit of involving 'role-playing'.

A compromise: how I think I shall structure the table -

Character makes a roll against time spent in the Grand Duchy (1-20 years, I presume, and the PC has to explain some character background to justify this time): +1 rumour
Character roleplays a situation of visiting a library or temple or sage, and makes roll against INT: +1 rumour
Character roleplays a situation of going to an inn trying to find someone with a story, and makes roll against CHA: +1 rumour

If a character has done none of these things they will have no additional information. Any other result will replicate the results of the original table (1-3 additional rumours) but they will at least relate to the character's background, activities and personality. And provide some opportunity for a little 'role-play' along with the 'roll-play'.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

The Tower of Zelligar?

I'm currently re-keying Quasketon, for a party of First Level newcomers (my teenage son and his mates who know little of Old-School D&D). I have a few problems with it to be honest, partly because it isn't, in fact a great Level 1 dungeon. I'll come back to my other main problem in a different post. But this does hark back to what I was posting a couple of days ago about 'The Haunted Keep' skeleton or shell or whatever in the Moldvay Basic rulebook. Quasketon doesn't work for a 'beginning' dungeon.

It's pegged as 'for a party of 3-8 adventurers (player characters and henchmen or hirelings) of up to the third level of experience... the carrying of one or two useful magic items will likewise be of great help...'.

Now I'd say it's probably a Level1-2 dungeon. If your 3-8 adventurers (say, 4 PCs and 4 hirelings?) have reached about 6,000XP and have perhaps started to go up in level (Thieves & Clerics, I'm looking at you) - and gained a few magic items then perhaps as it stands it's OK. Don't get me started on 'Keep on the Borderlands', that's even worse for First Level PCs but at least they can run away - there's nowhere to run from Quasketon.

But is it possible to run it all as 'Level 1'? If the lower level isn't made too spectacularly dangerous can it be survivable for First Level characters? Alternatively is there a way of using information in B1 as a bigger Level 1 setting so that the players can gain some experience and potentially get their hands on a magic item or two, before they even get into the caverns?

Hence the title. I haven't heard of anyone picking up on this part of the 'Background':

A single tower was constructed above ground for lookout purposes, even though there was little to see other than a hilly, forested wilderness for miles around (p.6).

A tower, with a small number of monsters (especially if those monsters have access to the odd magic item), might be just the starting-point the party needs. Instead of the Quasketon build-up (with its faintly ridiculous 'and you have a map with a Q on it so you thought you'd go adventuring...') the party instead finds itself forming over the tale of some trappers come back from the woods who report monsters up near the Old Watchtower...

So, when I've finished keying Quasketon, I shall devote a little time to 'The Tower of Zelligar', AKA 'the Old Watchtower' - a Level 1 lair in the forest that the party can go and trash. This could even provide a more believable starting-point, if a very little is known of the history of the complex. "What if the Old Watchtower up in the forest is in fact the Tower of Zelligar? That would mean that the fabled stronghold was very close by... ".But that might require a little research on behalf of the party, which will be subject of my next post, I'm sure.