Archive for Fellhold

Fellhold Session 31 Recap (and rules for clerics of Hrokr)

Posted in Fellhold Campaign, RPGs with tags , , , on May 22, 2013 by Jeff Russell

This will be a fairly bare bones recap, as I’ve been busier than anticipated this week.

Yllgrad managed to escape the temple, and he even did so without murdering the initiates that he held hostage.  Of course, shortly after leaving, they told the high priest what had happened, and the priesthood of Gurgu decided to pursue the crazed dwarf.  When the characters who had undergone the initiation into the belief of Gurgu reached the shrine again, they found the priests and initiates looking agitated.  They disavowed knowing the dwarf well, claiming he had only just joined them on the voyage, and they agreed to help search him out.

When they reached the town, Varian slipped away to try to warn Yllgrad, but Yllgrad’s player had concocted a devious plan after his first reaction, which was to suit up in his armor and get ready for a fight.  Instead, he went out openly to the crowd and claimed that he had been overtaken by a madness, the same madness which had brought him to seek out the healing power of Gurgu.  The priests believed him, and agreed to perform a ritual to cleanse him of his madness, assuming he agreed to profess his faith in Gurgu and to be confined until the ritual was complete (for his own safety and that of everyone else, of course).  While they wait out the night, Dag (Bryni’s henchman and former bandit sergeant) and Kieghl (fighter belonging to a new addition to the play group) stumble down some stairs under the semi-plausible excuse of looking for towels after bathing.  When they start finding fancy statues and floors, they head back before running into trouble.

So they lock him in the very same robe closet from which he stole an oversized robe earlier in the day, and say that they will hold him until dawn to perform the ritual, as that is a time especially holy to Gurgu.  The rest of the party, having admitted to knowing him somewhat, are allowed to stay at the temple and to participate in the ritual to cleanse him.  Yllgrad is admitted into the faith by the same ritual undergone by the other characters previously.  After being initiated into the faith, the whole group (and a number of priests/initiates) were led to the lowest level of the temple in the volcano for the summoning of the avatar of Gurgu.

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Gurgu looked something like this, but made of lava

With everyone’s head bowed, Bjergmund retrieves the Heart of the Mountain from a secret room, and it really is a giant ruby, as big as two fists held together.  He tosses it into the lava and the imposing but passive figure of Gurgu rises from the magma.  Seeing the form, and hearing the priest talking about “cleansing this” and “power that”, Yllgrad decides to flee. The priests, initiates, and other PCs all go to tackle him so that the ritual can go forward.  Kieghl succeeds (with a critical) and Yllgrad is handily wrestled down to the ground and returned to the ritual.  Bjergmund beseeches Gurgu to outstretch his hand, take away the madness, and return to the fiery heart of the world to burn it away, and sure enough, Gurgu stretches out one hand (burning Bjergmund and Yllgrad from his proximity), and then returns into the magma.  After sinking back into the lava, the Heart of the Mountain pops back out onto the platform.  Yllgrad is declared healed, and everyone is asked to leave.

The party agrees and heads back to town, though now they’re wondering why Gurgu didn’t notice the lack of any real madness, and why he appeared so passive in the face of someone who was faking belief in him.  Back in the inn, they decided to investigate more and try to find their way to the temple’s library to learn more about Gurgu and the volcano, and that’s where we left them.

For rules, I’m going to have to cop out and just post the new spell lists I came up with for Clerics of Hrokr (trickster god of magic and hospitality and such like).  The main thing is that even though I left cure light wounds (mostly cos we had already used that a lot), clerics of Hrokr aren’ t so good at healing later on.  But they get some magic user spells, and they get to learn runes by prayer (instead of study).  So hopefully this will help to differentiate the from Clerics of Dwyn (our other cleric in the party is a cleric of Dwyn) who have some druid type spells.  I’ll post that another time.

Cleric of Hrokr

Spells

Level 1

1.     Cure Light Wounds

2.     Detect Chaos (Law)

3.     Detect Magic

4.     Light (Dark)

5.     Protection from Chaos

6.     Purify Food and Drink

Level 2

1.     Bless (Curse)

2.     Find Traps

3.     Hold Person

4.     Speak with Animals

Level 3

1.     Detect Invisibility

2.     Light (Dark), Continual

3.     Locate Object

4.     Mirror Image

5.     Read Languages

6.     Remove Curse

Level 4

1.     Invisibility

2.     Neutralize Poison

3.     Phantasmal Force

4.     Protection from Chaos, 10 ft Radius

5.     Sticks to Snakes

Level 5

1.     Commune

2.     Confusion

3.     Create Food and Drink

4.     Dispel Chaos

5.     Suggestion

Level 6

1.     Charm Monster

2.     Confusion

3.     Hallucinatory Terrain

4.     Massmorph

5.     Polymorph

6.     Wizard Eye

Runes

Whenever a Cleric of Hrokr gains a new spell “slot”, he may opt to pray to Hrokr to teach him a new rune.  Once a rune is learned in this fashion, it permanently takes up one spell slot of any level (make a note on your character sheet what level slot the rune replaced). For example, a cleric of Hrokr advances to 4th level, and opts to learn a rune.  He decides to replace one of his two 1st level slots with a rune.  He survives many adventures and reaches 9th level. At this point, he will have 2 level one spells available, because one of the 3 listed is still taken up by a rune. If a cleric learns a rune through study or a tutor, it does not take up a spell slot.

When a cleric of Hrokr gains a rune through prayer, he will receive one randomly determined rune.  Roll on the following table.  If the character already possesses the rune rolled, he gains special insight into his god’s secrets, and may instead choose freely.

1.     Victory Rune

2.     Opening Rune

3.     Ale Rune

4.     Wave Rune

5.     Heal Rune

6.     Curse Rune

7.     Ward Rune

8.     Fear Rune

9.     Berserk Rune

10.  Fire Rune

11.  Dead Rune

12.  Disease Rune

13.  Strength Rune

14.  Water Rune

15.  Earth Rune

16.  Air Rune

17.  Iron Can’t Bite Rune

18.  Fortune Rune

19.  Shield Rune

20.  Sealing Rune

 

 

Runic Magic in Fellhold

Posted in Fellhold Campaign, New Rules, RPGs with tags , , , on May 17, 2013 by Jeff Russell

Nota Bene: Pretty much this entire post is rules, but I’ve maintained the convention of bold italic type so that it will stand out if you’re scrolling up or down the page only looking for the useful stuff. 

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I’ve been wanting to come add magic runes to the Fellhold campaign for a while now, to get that delicious Viking flavor.  I contemplated a cool combinatory system with very modular runes, kinda inspired by sygalldry in Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicle books, but I decided that a) that would be a whole lot of work, and b) it would clash with the overall Vancian magical flavor of D&D the campaign has mostly relied on.  That being said, I’m a huge fan of different rule systems for Magic, and I fully plan on creating such a system for a campaign where it would fit better.  I also have an idea on doing something based off the way semitic languages have vowel roots and apply consonants in forms with loose semantic meanings to get words, but that’s way outside the scope of this here post.

So, I checked out the AD&D 2nd Edition Viking Campaign sourcebook, the Realms of Sorcery supplement for WFRP 2nd Edition, and wikipedia articles on runes mentioned in the Poetic Edda and sagas, and on Icelandic ‘Staves’.  Though I initially had high hopes for the WFRP runes, they were almost all blandly combat stat buffs.  Which is useful, of course, but not as flavorful as what I wanted.  WFRP’s heavily skill and talent based approach was also not the right answer for mechanical implementation.

I ended up drawing a lot more from the historical Viking Campaign sourcebook than I expected to on my first read through.  There were actually some kind of cool concepts about shaping the rune each and every time, because the nature of the thing inscribed and the specific circumstance and so forth all combined to give the rune a unique physical expression every time, and it had to be imbued with power.  So I took a little bit of that for my own so that just knowing how to scratch the symbol doesn’t give you crazy powers (even if I suspect that the historical basis for “magic runes” is at least a little tied up in illiterate people being impressed by literacy and what you could do with it – this is D&D, damnit, not a historical exercise).

I had a few basic concepts I thought would make runes interestingly flexible and open ended (the sort of magic I find coolest for games).  First, I struck on the notion that the permanence of the runes effect is related to the permanence of how it is inscribed.  Rather than flat out stating “runes must be carved into something”, I wanted there to be the option to hastily scrawl something with your own blood on an improvised surface, but it won’t last very long and it won’t be very powerful compared to a purpose made rune imbued with great power and cast into an armband as it is made.  Next, the power of the rune is effected by the quality and permanence of the item.  Both of these are for thematic as well as gameplay reasons.  Thematically, it makes magical thinking sense if more purposefully and permanently doing something to a thing of greater value gets you greater effects.  Gameplay wise, I don’t want players just chalking exploding runes onto every which surface they find willy nilly.  Which ties into another thing I knew I wanted to do with runes: make them not fire and forget.  You know a rune, or you don’t.  So the resource management aspect has to come in somewhere else than “times a day you can use them”.  You have to manage physical components, time to shape, et cetera.  Also, runes are heavily front loaded resource-wise.  You have to either spend a lot of time and money studying one, or else you have to give up a spell slot permanently.  The final thing I knew about runes going in was that I wanted them to be flexible and open ended and able to be combined by clever players (even if I ditched the idea of modular ‘programming’ style runes for build your own magic items).

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Which is where I ran into some troubles.  See, the uber-specific rules given in the 2E viking campaign book left me cold, and they were largely written as a low-magic replacement for traditional D&D Vancian magic users for the purposes of genre emulation, rather than as a supplement to that system that provided different tactical, strategic, and logistical choices.  I was also running up against a time constraint, because my clerics were about to level up, and I wanted to fundamentally tweak their options based on their patron before they got too high in level and locked into the pseudo-Christian crusader baked into the cleric class as written.  So I ended up copping out a little bit.  I just gave the runes brief, qualitative descriptions, and figure I’ll adjudicate rules for individual uses on the fly.  Hopefully this vagueness will lead to creative and cunning uses devised by players and a lack of restriction on my part, but I worry that they will be so vague as to lose out in comparison to known goods like healing spells and the like.

The last thing I ended up stumbling into with runes as I was writing the rules for learning them was the decision that anyone can learn them.  I just a) let priests of Hrokr get them by prayer (but then its random), and b) made it so that Magic Users learn them faster by study than do others (studying arcane things to unlock their use is sort of their entire job).  But if Clerics want a specific rune, or if fighting men want to stray into more mythic archetypal territory, they have the option if they throw down a lot of time and (presumably) money.

Runic Magic

Runes can be granted to clerics of Hrokr through prayer, or they may be learned through intense study of from a talented teacher.  A rune is not merely a symbol with magical properties.  Rather, it is a physical distillation of the true nature of a thing in relation to the world.  So, a berserk rune will vary depending upon what surface and for what warrior it is crafted, and understanding the forces necessary to apply this to any object is a matter of some insight.

Runes impart abilities to the objects on which they are inscribed or to their bearers.  Usually, merely writing or painting a rune is insufficient to unite the energies of the rune with the item upon which it is placed, but some runes can grant a limited or weak effect when so temporarily marked.  There is a direct relationship between the permanence and craft of the object and the method of inscription to the power of the rune.  Thus, a sword crafted by a master smith, with the runes worked into the blade as it is forged and quenched will be a far more potent item with more permanent powers than a dagger with a rune hastily scratched into its hilt. 

Sometimes the release of the energies of a rune will damage or destroy the item upon which it is placed, and this is more likely the more hastily crafted the rune is.

Learning Runes

A cleric of Hrokr can learn a rune whenever he gains a new spell slot.  If he chooses to do so, he automatically learns a randomly determined rune and it permanently replaces one of his spell slots.  He may choose which spell slot, and it need not be the newly acquired slot.  Once chosen, it may not be moved to a different spell slot.  To randomly determine what rune is learned, roll 1d20 and consult the list below.  If the result is a rune already known to the cleric, he may instead choose freely, as he has been granted particular insight by Hrokr.

Any character may attempt to learn a rune through study if he has access to obscure runic lore, or to a tutor (these will probably take some finding!).  These sources will have information on only a few, specific runes, and access to them will probably not be cheap.  If the referee has not established which runes the source can teach, and he can’t decide, he may randomly roll 1d4 runes from the list below. Learning a rune from pure study (no tutor) takes 20 – the character’s level in weeks if he is a magic user, and 20 – half the character’s level (rounded down) if he is a fighting man or cleric. A tutor will reduce this time by 5 weeks.  The minimum time to learn a rune is 1 week.  However much time it takes, it is a period of intense study, and the character is considered to do nothing else of consequence during this time.  If there are any interruptions, he must start over and take the full amount of time.  At the end of the period, the character attempts to roll under his intelligence.  If he fails, he may retest in another week.  Continue retesting once a week until the character gives up or succeeds.  

List of Runes

  1. Victory Rune
  2. Opening Rune
  3. Ale Rune
  4. Wave Rune
  5. Heal Rune
  6. Curse Rune
  7. Ward Rune
  8. Fear Rune
  9. Berserk Rune
  10. Fire Rune
  11. Dead Rune
  12. Disease Rune
  13. Strength Rune
  14. Water Rune
  15. Earth Rune
  16. Air Rune
  17. Iron Can’t Bite Rune
  18. Fortune Rune
  19. Shield Rune
  20. Sealing Rune 

Descriptions

These descriptions are purposefully left vague in order to facilitate their creative application.  Referees should make rulings on their use based on the desired level of fantasticness and power they want runes to bring to their games.  Just remember the guidelines: the more permanent the inscription, the more powerful the effect, the higher quality and more permanent the material, the stronger the effect, the more temporary, the more likely the rune will damage or destroy the object inscribed, and the rune must be crafted by the casters own hand.

  • Victory Rune – Improves a weapons chance to hit and imbues it with magic
  • Opening Rune – Causes a locked or sealed portal to be opened – doors, windows, et cetera.
  • Ale Rune ­– Will destroy a vessel that holds poisoned food or drink
  • Wave Rune – Improves the handling and speed of a ship
  • Heal Rune ­– Increases a specified target’s ability to heal
  • Curse Rune – Inflicts a curse on a specified target
  • Ward Rune – Protects against spells and curses
  • Fear Rune – Causes fear in the enemies of the bearer
  • Berserk Rune – Causes the bearer to become a berserker
  • Fire Rune – Brings about fire in the thing inscribed or protects against fire
  • Dead Rune – Summons a spirit of the dead to answer questions
  • Disease Rune – Causes disease on a specified target
  • Strength Rune – Grants great strength to the bearer
  • Water Rune – Provides protection against water
  • Earth Rune – Imbues an item with the nature of the earth
  • Air Rune – Imbues an item with the nature of air
  • Iron Can’t Bite Rune – Reduces damage to the bearer
  • Fortune Rune – Allows the divination of a specified targets fortune
  • Shield Rune – Makes an item or its bearer more resistant to ill effects
  • Sealing Rune – Seals a portal of some sort

 

 

Fellhold Session 30 Recap

Posted in Fellhold Campaign, RPGs with tags , , , on May 16, 2013 by Jeff Russell

Last night once again saw the absence of a couple of players due to finals-induced napping, but also saw the reappearance of the long absent player of Blum (the dead wizard) and Ash (the new wizard who has basically been played as a henchman up to this point). Varian’s player returned, and despite some good natured complaints that the rules were “unfairly targeting” him, sure enough gave the carousing rules a go and peer pressured Yllgrad’s player into joining him.  Unfortunately for me, both passed their poison saves easily and another one of the players agreed to cover Yllgrad’s excessive tab, so I was robbed of all opportunities for shenanigans springing from Mr. Rients’ excellent carousing table.  But it remains, waiting for its next opportunity.

So, after recovering from hangovers, the party set out to engage the services of one of the captains they found out about last week.  They decided to go with Guth and Spir, the gruff ex-watchmen and his lanky partner, on the thinking that a couple of treasure hunters might prove hardier than some of the other captains if the natives turn restless.  After some negotiation on fees and some debates about the nature of insurance for faux-medieval shipping, they saved some money by pressganging their huge following of hirelings into rowers (to be fair, they were willing to take some turns at the oars themselves).

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Only even more Volcano-y

After making the necessary arrangements, they set out to the island of Fyrberg.  After some discussion, they decided it would be best to soft pedal things to begin with and get the lay of the land.  So after an arbitrary percentage roll to determine if there was foul weather (there wasn’t), around dusk they came up to the docks of Bjergby, the sleepy little fishing town on the island, and arranged lodging for their troupe.  They told the innkeeper there that they had come to check out the hot springs, and he told them to head on up to the shrine in the morning.

When they came to the shrine, they were greated by the high priest of Gurgu, Bjergmund.  He’s a friendly, enthusiastic-in-a-low-key-kind-of-way guy, and he informs them that all are welcome to enjoy the hot springs for a small donation (1 gold per person for as long as you like), but that all are invited to learn the ways of Gurgu.  Yllgrad declined to get in on this nonsense, not trusting the baths, so he hung back out of sight and out of mind.  Earn, the cleric of Dwyn and his followers decided to simply partake of the baths, while Caleb decided to feign interest in the cult of Gurgu.  He convinced Varian and Ash to come along as well.  I reminded him that as a cleric, he is a character who believes in his god so hard that he gets magic powers, but also that his god is a god of deceit and trickery, so he should factor those things into his decision.  He said he felt good about the fake initiation into a new religion and a delighted Bjergmund led them deeper into the volcano (did I mention the shrine is inside the volcano?).

Meanwhile, Earn and his three hirelings take a long, relaxing and rejuvenating bath.  They don’t know it, but had they been injured, they’d have healed at an increased rate, and if something comes up where being relaxed enmineraled seems like it would be a factor, I’ll come up with some other unspecified benefit.

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Earn’s the only PC who enjoyed a nice, pleasant non-baptismal bath

Also meanwhile, after the other two groups are led their separate ways, Yllgrad sneaks in and starts to listen at doors and snoop about.  I love how the default assumption in D&D that things are perilous informs players’ actions.  More on that later. At any rate, he finds a human sized robe of the initiates of Gurgu and puts it on, then hitches it up and continues on his snooping way.

The party following Bjergmund is led past a central open shaft in the volcano (totally unrealistic but also totally cooler than either a) spurts of magma coming out of a relatively short mountain or b) a tall, normal seeming mountain that suddenly explodes and kills everyone) and into a chapel.  He invites them to kneel and says a brief prayer to Gurgu, welcoming these new followers.  He directs them to a font of steaming hot mineral water and has them drink.  Then he leads them to a series of linked baths called the “cleansing path”.  The players are mostly passive through all this, though Caleb keeps spontaneously chiming in with expressions of devotion and converted zeal.  Each stop on the path is a little allegorical homily followed by a dunk in hot mineral water, at the end of which they are invited to pray as the spirit of Gurgu moves them.  Once again, Caleb whips out the new convert gusto and Bjergmund is impressed, almost like this guy knows how to lead a prayer or something.  He then leads them around a path, showing them some store rooms and a secret entrance known to the faithful, and then back to a statue where followers leave small candles and offerings in times of trouble, and then he invites them to dine with some of the other initiates and leaves them to attend to some other matters.

Earn’s bath continued to be lovely through all of this.

Yllgrad, on the other hand, begins to follow a path that spirals around down around the central shaft, lit by the glow of hot liquid magma hundreds of feet below.  He pokes his head in a few rooms, finds some storage areas, a kitchen (which he avoids, because he hears the sounds of cooking inside), and a darkened classroom with wax tablets covered in the runic alphabet, and a storage room with child sized robes.  He has a moment of awful revelation that they’ve never seen any children here until I tell him that, yes, there were children in the village, just none here in the temple he’s sneaking around.   So he decides to change into a child sized robe and hides the adult sized robe in the storage room before going back out to the central shaft and continuing down.

Well, it’s at this point that he gets hit by a jet of scalding hot steam.  I’ll admit to a little trepidation in their employment, for reasons that will become clear in a moment.  See, I wanted to have a hazard that could be spotted and avoided like a trap, but which was in fact just a natural hazard.  Unfortunately, basing their “activation” on a random chance when anyone passes them (1 in 6) makes them seem like they’re set off with intent.  Even if you allow his dwarven stone sense to notice there’s something weird (passed, described water in otherwise dry area, crack in wall – he tested by rolling a rock and throwing another).  And a listen check to hear the building hissing sound (failed), then a breath weapon save to take half damage (failed).  So he got rather scalded, and I’m worried I fell a little into ‘bad trap’ design.  I realize now I should have described the noise of the building steam rather than testing to see if he noticed it, because that was the key step to his agency in negotiating the hazard.  By randomizing it, his only options were “use my player knowledge that we’ve engaged this feature with a lot of rules already and go back rather than press on to presumably interesting stuff” or “press on since I don’t have a good reason to take any further precautions”.  I failed to build enough clues in for him to ask about to learn enough to make an informed decision.  Well, live and learn, I suppose.

And Yllgrad lived and learned as well, even if he did take 12 damage from scalding steam.  So, when he heard footsteps beyond the next door he gave a listen to, he concocted a clever ruse.  He imitated a child and said “help, help!”  Well, these folks come running, and he’s waiting for them.  They’re unarmed, so unlike his initial plan to hit one in the face with an axe (or rather, all 3, because they’re all 1 hd fellows), he instead grabs one and leans him out over the lava shaft and demands to know what is going on here.  He figures they activated the steam since there was no obvious trigger mechanism but it burned the crap out of him.

They blubber a lot because they were minding their own business helping to sweep the local church when some dwarf in one of their robes grabbed one of them and threatened his life.  But he pulls the guy back and holds him hostage with his knife and demands to be led the way they came from.  He asks them what’s back there, and they tell him the greater mysteries, they don’t know, they’re just initiates.  He threatens to kill their friend and they say the same thing. Well, he makes them lead him through the doors into the greater mysteries, and every time they object even a little, it’s again with the knife to the throat.  So, he finds some rooms with mysterious gold circle patterns inlaid in the floor, and they don’t know what they are because they’ve never been in there before.  And that’s where we left off.

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Only imagine Mario holding a Goomba over the edge by the throat

As I was saying earlier, it’s fun how the combination of a) the default assumptions of D&D, and b) some rumors they picked up at dockside bars in Mickleheim, have the players convinced that the seemingly innocent cult of Gurgu is not what it seems.  And maybe it isn’t. Their going theory is that Gurgu is a demon and the cult has been duped into thinking he’s a benevolent god, and that they’re going to find something sinister sooner or later, which will give them the chance to kick some ass and take the Heart of the Mountain, the rumored giant ruby they came here to find.  We’ll see, I suppose.

One interesting thing about running this location is that I kind of inadvertently ended up with a “Village of Hommlet” kind of scenario, where the interactions with and within the village will end up being important, and the NPC personalities will be big factors (for now at least).  I also gave some thought to Zak S.’s talk about places sometimes being dungeons and sometimes not, depending on what’s going on there.  The shrine was not a dungeon to most of the group, but it was to Yllgrad.  Later on it might be a dungeon to everybody or to nobody.  I didn’t really set out intending such a scenario, but it’s turning out to be fun and an interesting departure from the default assumptions of Fellhold itself, the wilderness, or even Mickleheim.

Once the players finish up with Fyrberg, I’m going to post a full write up of the location as an adventure and map, but I don’t want to give anything away just yet.  In the meantime, here’s a steam vent hazard for some quickie rules:

Steam Vent

A crack in the wall is covered in condensation, and the floor in front of it is damp compared to the surrounding area. Every so often, a jet of steam bursts from the crack, scalding anything in its path.  When a party passes, there is a 1 in 6 chance of the steam venting.  It is preceded by a telltale hissing noise, like water about to boil in a tea kettle.  Randomize which character in an affected group is in front of the vent when it goes off, and then apply a cone to ft long and 5 ft wide at its widest.  This cone does 4d8 scalding damage, save vs. breath weapon for half.

Fellhold Session 29 Recap

Posted in Fellhold Campaign, RPGs with tags , , on May 9, 2013 by Jeff Russell

Last night’s session saw us with about half the usual group due to a confluence of work and finals for three of the players.  So, that left us with Caleb, Earn, and Yllgrad in the big city of Mickleheim.  Their players were pretty pumped about getting stuff sold and getting to the Volcano, but a) I wanted to flesh out Mickleheim some, b) I wanted to give some of the Vornheim city kit rules and others that I’ve compiled a test drive, and c) I needed some more time to properly prep the volcano adventure, so we ended up zooming in on their errands in the city.

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First, the group helped the gate guard come to a decision on whether giants warranted a Slave duty or a Beast duty by simply paying him for his guard duty (or lack thereof).  They decided to play up the whole spectacle of arriving with captive giants (again, why didn’t I cause more trouble with them, why?) so they hired street performers and tossed out coppers to the crowd and swung torches around and such.  Very prince Ali of them.  Well, Cnud, the seneschal for House Dagaeca is a rather poker-faced chap, so while he was impressed, he didn’t make a big fuss out of it.  He ended up offering the party a fair price (gold = xp for the critters, and they had already received full xp for capturing them) which they accepted on account of prior good relations, even though they were a bit disappointed by the value.  Due to some later events, I may end up helping them out some more from House Dagaeca so that they feel like the relationship is going as well as I mean for it to be so far.

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Having offloaded their giants for some sort of amusement, they now decide they need to sell the wine discovered in the cellar with the hideous undead abomination.  They took Cnud’s advice and headed to the wine merchant his kitchen patronizes.  Well, let me just say that the Vornheim shopkeeper table is a lot of fun.  It made the whole business of trying to sell the wine a lot more complicated and interesting than it would have been otherwise. At least, I thought so.  Hopefully the players weren’t just frustrated.  At any rate, the first merchant turned out to offer terrible prices and tried to get the wine for a criminally low price, after helping himself to a bottle to sample.  They realized they were being had due to Sir Varian’s vague alcholic’s knowledge of wine, and so said good day, sir.  The next merchant was a crotchety old man with a monkey, who was just on the verge of giving them a reasonable (but not great) price when they made the mistake of being kind to his monkey.  They figured out their mistake, marched in, roughed up the monkey some and made an offer.  After some consideration, he accepted it, but then they told him they had to think about it (aah, intra-party debates).  Well, they tried one more merchant, and this fellow was an eccentric butterfly collector, but gave them an excellent price in exchange for the promise to bring him any butterfly specimens they find.

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Again, the Vornheim shopkeeper chart was a lot of fun and opened the city up to being more characterful and weird than I probably would have let myself do on my own, so I’m grateful for that.

Oh, and Yllgrad arranged with an apothecary to have some worg fangs turned into a berserker potion, half paid up front, and half to be paid upon receipt.  The apothecary was a fat, friendly fellow who rather cheerfully dealt with a somewhat dour Yllgrad.  More on him in a moment.

The party then had the option to rest for the night or to carouse.  Again, I was anxious to flesh out the game and introduce more wacky complications.  Up until this point, I’ve allowed players to blow money willy nilly on booze and wenching in order to convert unwanted gold into xp (we’ve been playing where gold/treasure only earns XP when spent or used, and you only get it once.  There’s some wonky bookkeeping for stuff like fine tapestries decorating their personal home, but it’s been working out).  I wanted carousing to be more interesting, and Jeff Rients’ awesome carousing table seemed to be just the ticket.  Unfortunately, though my players will act all manners of foolhardy in order to obtain gold, they balk in the face of risk in *spending* gold.  I worry that it’s a bit fair to be putting strings on spending gold for XP just as they’re getting to the levels where you really need to spend *a lot* to level up, but hopefully this will result in them doing things like getting involved in local politics, building up their town, et cetera.  We’ll see. I also think some of the absent players (Sir Varian’s in particular) will dive right into carousing and potential mishaps with great abandon.

keg_endheader

So, my players are chicken and decide to rest peacefully.  Yllgrad awakes to go pick up his potions and finds that poor Hengist – the fat, friendly merchant – has been brutally murdered at his work! Yllgrad looks around for some obvious clues, gathers the partially ground worg fangs, and then notifies a rather dim-witted city guard about the murder, but otherwise decides not to get involved.  Fair enough. For a moment I was afraid that my players, used to plotlines and quests would assume that I was dangling a “necessary” plot opening in front of them and that they would feel obligated to look into this random act of violence in order to find the fun.  I mean, I fully intended to wing an interesting and exciting investigation if they did, and things may still come of all this, but I don’t want to give them the impression that they “ought to have” investigated if they didn’t care.

The others have started the morning by asking after rumors of the Volcano and ships that can take them there.  Earn’s player seems a little bored with the whole “buying rounds of drinks to learn rumors” thing, but the others are doing okay with it.  I end up naming a string of dockside bars after places in Austin (well, two of them, then I had to make up a third because I ran out of plausibly nautical themed names).  Investigating, they heard a number of interesting stories about the Fyrberg (the volcano): there’s a fishing village on the island, they worship the volcano by the name of Gurgu, there’s a giant ruby called the heart of the mountain, it was actually built by a wizard, the priests can make the volcano erupt at will, there’s a demon in the volcano, and so forth.  We’ll have to see how true they turn out to be.

As for the search for captains, I used the chart at the end of this entry that I came up with to randomly determine some ships’ captains that were in port and looking for work.  They ended up being referred to Acca, an enormously fat merchant with a crack crew and a high price, Guth & Spir, a gruff retired watchman and his sarcastic partner who are rumored to be treasure hunters, and Stol, a nervous, twitchy fellow who works for the great house Anlaf, but will take passengers on the side.  If you use the ship’s captain table, I’m sure you’ll recognize a few of the fellows, but just use names appropriate to your campaign and change a few details and they should fit right in.  Oh, and feel free to make any and all of them women, or randomly determine the sex ahead of time if you so desire.

They wrapped up the evening by going back to Cnud and letting him know that maybe Beorn is a bit of a rip off.  Cnud says they’d just always used the guy and he’ll look into it.  I’m sure he’ll be pretty grateful when he discovers one of the reasons his house has had trouble with finances.  They wrapped up the evening and decided that when we come back they’ll talk to the captains and settle on one of them, and then hopefully set sail for Fyrberg and adventure (Earn’s player is really anxious to get to that volcano).

 zpage119crop

Rules: Random Ships’ Captains

When characters wish to hire a ship, determine how many options they have/hear about/discover and roll a d12 that many times and consult the chart (or just pick).  If you need more than 12, scratch out any who are used and make up your own. “Base control stat” refers to what the captain and crew as described will need to roll under on a d20 to maintain control in a storm or other special circumstance. This can be modified by player actions, hiring additional/different crew, et cetera. If you have a different system, I arbitrarily decided that 15 was average for a professional captain and went from there.

1)     Sober, clean shaven, cautious.  Former smuggler turned honest.  Asks a high price, but crew is very skilled. Base control stat: 18.

2)     Reckless drunk.  Looking for work, unreliable, crew is drunk and unreliable.  He’s cheap, though.  Base control stat: 10

3)     Charming smuggler and his mountain of a first mate.  A local crime boss has a bounty on their heads.  His ship is remarkably fast.  Base control stat: 15. Ship speed +5 miles per day

4)     Enormously fat merchant.  Dresses in high style, happy to take on passengers or high-value cargo, employs crack mercenaries as guards.  Expensive, but well connected.  Base control stat: 15

5)     Foreign, doesn’t speak the language very well.  Finishing up unloading a cargo that turned out unprofitable, sour mood, wants to get the hell out of here.  Base control stat: 14 (10 if crew is local)

6)     Stereotypically piratical.  Y’arrrr, parrot, peg leg/eye patch, flamboyant clothes, you know the guy.  May or may not actually be a pirate. Base control stat: 16

7)     Big talker, promises the moon, talks about his extensive exploits at sea.  Just purchased his first ramshackle vessel crewed by rank amateurs.  He starts out high, but can be bargained to extremely low prices.  Base control stat: 8

8)     Gruff, bearded retired watchman and his lanky sarcastic partner.  They take the jobs they can get, but mostly are after treasures.  Base control stat: 14

9)     Old man with a great big bushy beard injured by a great beast of the waves.  He seeks to hunt it down with a maniacal intensity.  Base control stat: 15

10)  Employee of a great house willing to take some passengers on the side for his own profit.  Thin, nervous, and flighty.  Base control stat: 12

11)  Captain is stubborn, quick witted former military officer who just wants his space and his freedom, and won’t look too closely into the legality of a job he takes.  He might have a light hearted pilot, a hard assed female first mate, a cheery female engineer, some hired muscle, and a sheltered surgeon.  Base control stat: 16

12)   A cunning and accomplished reaver with a crew of seasoned raiders.  He considers passengers an unworthy source of income, but times are rough.  Base control stat: 16

Fellhold Session 28 Recap

Posted in Fellhold Campaign, RPGs with tags , , , on May 2, 2013 by Jeff Russell

So, after a two week hiatus due to my visit to the exotic orient for school, we resumed our regularly scheduled game on Monday.  Everybody, not least of all myself, were a little bit rusty, and a few players had connection issues and/or reasons to show up late and leave early, so it was a bit rocky, but overall a good time. Probably even more kibbitzing and joke making than usual, including a rather inappropriate one involving ents that had the whole group rolling, but is best left unrepeated.

The thing I’ve noticed about campaign prep is that no matter how much time is taken, you never get everything you want ready.  I have great faith in my ability to improvise in just about every activity in my life, but I’m discovering that my D&D improvisation benefits from some robust support.  There are just so many cool things I want to incorporate from what I’ve seen online, read in published material, or stolen from heavy metal songs.  Oh well, the important thing is that the game keeps going so I keep having a chance to use this stuff and improve.

We picked up with the characters getting ready to high tail it away from outside of the giant cave after their fight with the trolls.  They decided to risk being surprised and injury/damage on the mountain path to move faster, not slowing down until they made it into the woods.  I spent a lot of my prep time coming up with some random adventure sites, focusing on the wilderness areas between the giant cave and Silverdelf, and overall I’m really happy with what was added.  The Kraal is a crazy awesome crowdsourced hex map of an arctic area, and I’ve stolen a lot of good stuff that has really started to make the wilderness feel like a living place, not just a vehicle for burning rations between marked locations on the map.  I still need to flesh some stuff out, but I like what’s there so far.

Speaking of which, as the group was coming to a stopping point near dusk, they spotted the ruins of a small inn and trading post, apparently as ancient as the Volsungril mine and probably serving the traffic that used to pass that way.  They burned some torches and got their hirelings in a police line and searched the place pretty thoroughly, but didn’t find much.  Then, during the night, Yllgrad the dwarf was on watch and heard a faint scratching sound.  Investigating, he found a trap door buried under some rubble, and when he opened it, he found a cellar.  He impetuously jumped into the cellar after sending calling for the rest of the party to wake up, but didn’t wait for their help.  He found a wine cellar, then a storage room and around that time everybody else showed up.

So, they’re checking out the nondescript storage room with an enticing strongbox when BAM! a huge, disgusting undead beastie bursts through the cellar wall and attacks! Now, I made this monster up myself (rules below) because all I knew before they found this place was that there should be something creepy there at night.  I was all excited to run this (I thought) scary monster against unprepared and largely unarmored (!) characters, but you know what? They wasted it in like 3 rounds, with only a scratch to the dwarf, damage-wise.  And that was without their minions.  I really need to work on my sense of challenge scale.

I’ve actually arrived at a new philosophy due to this, and other experiences: your players can handle it.  Anytime you’re wondering if you should spring something on the group, repeat that mantra.  It might take desperate creativity, multiple character deaths, and unorthodox solutions, but they will totally wreck every dangerous thing you throw at them.  So don’t pull your punches.

Anyway, after dispatching this fat nasty thing with a gaping maw, they break open the strong box, finding a fair amount of gold ,and then our alcoholic former nobleman checks out the wine and determines that he’s maybe heard of the vintage, somewhere, and it ought to be worth some money.  So they drink one bottle, then haul the other 159 out and take some special precautions to transport it, and hope to get some money for it.

After that, they start out again for Silverdelf, and one of the clerics (Caleb, cleric of Hrokr, the Crow Father) uses his favorite spell, speak with animals to try to get some info about the area.  I ended up doing a lot of animal impersonations this game (squirrel, sparrow, owl).  I try to give each animal a personality based on what they’re like, vague memories of Redwall characterizations, and what seems fitting at the time.  I also make it a point that they’re, you know, animals.  They can have perfectly intelligible conversations, but they don’t care about the same stuff we do or make the same distinctions.  They don’t have the same concepts of distance or time, they care a lot about food.  That sort of thing.  The more ‘supernatural’ the critter (like crows and cats, maybe) the more person-like their thoughts and conversations will be.  At any rate, they heard about some Great Owl that “knows things” and decide maybe that’d be cool to find, so they vaguely set their course in the direction indicated by a helpful sparrow, but mostly keep heading for Silverdelf.  The next night of camping, they end up encountering the Great Owl. Now, they had learned from one of the animals or another that it will answer questions, but only a limited number (turns out it was 3).  Earn (Cleric of Dwyn, the Oak Mother) wastes the first question with “What’s up?” and gets the response “the sky”.  The owl won’t engage in conversation besides answering questions, and mostly just stared at the party.  They ended up asking about the Volsungril mine and mostly just confirming what they already knew about it (I wish I had thought of more details to make it even cooler, I hate to waste a cool mystical question answer about something the players are already invested in), and then about what Trolls fear (fire, being bested in a deal, and their gods).  Then it mysteriously flew off to the Northwest.  They hope to find it again sometime and maybe learn some more things, and I think that’s cool.  I need to work on more connections across the map so things feel interrelated and point in different directions.

They made it back to Silverdelf and commission some wine racks for their new haul, and otherwise stock up on provisions and set out the next morning for Mickleheim, giant captives still in tow.  I *really* need to be making them more of a pain in the ass. So far all they’ve done is eat extra rations.  I ought to come up with escape chances and increased likelihood of wagons breaking down and all that jazz.

So, the road to Mickleheim has been established as pretty safe, so I let them get there no problem, but we call it a night as we were coming up on our time limit (midnight, my time). I’ve adopted from Zak S. the incredibly wise procedure of stopping play about to go somewhere/start something rather than after resolving something.  This allows me to go “hey guys, what are you planning on doing next time?” Now, sure, often this changes or is just vague, but it allows me to triage prep time most effectively.  I certainly don’t try to plan out what they’re gonna do when they get places, I just try to make sure there’s stuff there for them to interact with, and I have enough of a rough idea of everything else that I can wing it for a session or so, it just might be a little flat.

At any rate, this discussion led to the decision to go check out the volcano on the newly detailed and awesomed map.  I think I discovered a principle of refereeing: Checkhov’s Volcano.  “If there is a volcano introduced on the map, players will go there eventually”. It’s the one thing our usually fairly “along for the ride” player has strongly pushed for, so I want to do it justice and really bring the awesome.  I also see it as my chance to do my first real stand alone dungeon entirely from scratch for this campaign.  I’ve used lots of geomorphs, random generators, pieces from published adventures, and otherwise mostly kitbashed stuff rather than doing it from scratch.  And where it has been from scratch, it’s mostly been as part of Fellhold, which has its own stuff going on.  So the chance to do a stand alone, strongly themed dungeon of a decent size as a complete unit is new and both exciting and scary.  I just have to have enough for one night’s worth of play ready for next Monday night, and I want it to be awesome.

For rules, the Disgusting Undead Abomination the players made short work of in the basement:

Disgusting Undead Abomination

HD: 5

AC: 4

Attacks: Claw/Claw, Special: Bite (1d6/1d6, 1d8)

Saving Throw: 12

Special: On a natural hit of 16+, grapple and bite for 1d8 damage and drain 1 point of CON. Anyone reduced to 0 CON dies, and anyone killed by damage or CON drain raises in one round as a ghoul that will eventually turn into a Disgusting Undead Abomination

Move: 12

Alignment: Chaotic

Number Encountered: 1

Challenge Level/XP: 7/600

A Problem

Posted in Fellhold Campaign, RPGs with tags , , on April 25, 2013 by Jeff Russell

So, in my ongoing Fellhold campaign, we’ve been using Akratic Wizardry’s rather good “weapon damage by class” rule as a compromise between “all weapons do d6” and “all weapons have their own unique damage”.  I think if we weren’t already 6 months into using these rules, I’d probably tweak some of the damage a little bit, and maybe recategorize a few weapons (having short bows, long bows, and crossbows all do “medium weapon” damage, and treating hired swords as level 1 fighting men means that players have access to cheap and plentiful d8 damage – I gotta remember to play up the hirelings as people more).  Altogether, though, I like the rule, and it has allowed players to use stuff they think is cool while still giving the fighters a useful role as damage takers/dealers.

I ran into a small problem recently, however.  In my zeal to go all OD&D, I gave everyone d6 hit dice.  Everyone, even monsters.  Those of you more clever than I will have already spotted the problem it took me 6 months to deduce.  In OD&D, the baseline assumption of weapons and hit points was that an average guy has d6 HP, and an average weapon does d6, so any given blow has an average shot of killing someone if it connects.  So far, so good.

When you plug d8’s in as effectively the “default” damage (medium weapons in the hands of fighters and fighty hirelings) against d6 hit dice, all of a sudden the difficulty of monsters as related to their hit dice is thrown way off.  Mobs of hirelings offing hill giants in one round with a volley of short bow fire.  Trolls getting cut down faster than their regeneration can work.  In other words, we’ve gone from damage dealt scaling nicely to damage capacity to slightly (but significantly) favoring the players.

Now, I am by no means suggesting I want carefully crafted “Challenge Levels” for encounters, or even that I want things to be harder for the characters per se.  What I think bothers me is that right now, the meaningfulness of player choice is being undermined, even if it is generally in their favor.  As it stands, fighting men, and employers of hired goons, choose between “bigger damage die than monster hit dice” or “way bigger damage die than monster hit dice” (the latter having the marginal cost of foregoing a shield).  Small weapons are pretty much completely ignored (except for the occasional thrown axe or knife).

By bumping monster HD up to d8s (as was done pretty early on – what, in Greyhawk? Definitely by AD&D) I get to a) keep using the damage scale we’ve been using and which has started to be automatic to players, b) increase the upside of going for a big, two handed weapon and foregoing a shield, making that a more meaningful choice, and c) make monster longevity more in line with their ability to hit, make saving throws, treasure awarded, XP given, et cetera.

So, the rule for today is both short and easy: All monsters have d8’s for hit dice.

Adventurer as a Meta-Class

Posted in Fellhold Campaign, RPGs with tags , , on April 25, 2013 by Jeff Russell

hireling

So, I’m reading through the excellent analysis of skills in D&D over at Hack & Slash.  It touches on what the functions of a resolution mechanic are at all, and especially digs into what 3.x/Pathfinder style skills bring to D&D (and don’t).  Considering some of my recent forays away from a pure lack of skill systems at all (using the “Good at” and “Bad at” cues, considering the use of roll under stat checks more often, et cetera), this is striking me as very useful analysis.

The main approach I’ve been taking when skill type things come up is to ask myself if I figure the situation is the sort of thing a class would cover.  Considering we’re still rocking the original 3 classes only (Fighting Man, Magic User, and Cleric), this gets broadly interpreted to “General Outdoorsy/Rugged stuff, smarty pants stuff, and healy/religious stuff” respectively.  With some consideration for the Dwarf knowing dwarf stuff.  In the Hack & Slash series, the author mentions in a couple of posts (those on ride and heal specifically that I can think of) that there’s some stuff that it’s just assumed adventurers can do, and I kind of like the idea of “Adventurer” as a meta-class for OD&D.

What I mean is a baseline assumption that all PCs know a thing or two about adventurery stuff in the same way that fighting men are assumed to know about combat and weapons and the like.  Now, this gets dangerously close to the whole “adventurers are a special class of people, a cut above everyone else from the get go” mentality of later editions.  I much prefer “your adventurer is just some schmuck until gameplay shows us otherwise.” Overall, though, I don’t think the idea that characters can be assumed to have a basic level of competence in things like riding horses, bandaging wounds, checking doors for traps and so forth clashes with the basic assumptions of a class & level game where fighting men start out tougher, magic users start out knowing a spell, and clerics start out, hmm, well, religious and able to swing a mace?

Clearly, there are play styles where you would not want to approach things this way – a Dungeon Crawl Classics style 0-level “funnel” approach, a Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplay weird horror tale, a career or lifepath system like WFRP or a “our first adventure” story or whatever.  But I think that acknowledging “adventurer” as a factor for the referee when determining if a character can know or do something comes pretty close to what ends up being the default assumption at many tables anyway, especially in a skill system light approach, where the players have plenty of “dungeoneering/adventurism” experience and use it, regardless of who their characters are.

So, the rules section is easy this time:

Adventuring Skills

All characters are assumed to be basically competent at skills common to an adventuring life style – riding, camping, cooking, first aid, orienteering and so forth, unless stated otherwise by the player.  No tests are necessary related to these skills except in unusual or extremely difficult circumstances (riding a giant lizard, say, or determining directions in a sorcerous fog, et cetera).

Every Version of D&D Part I: Introduction

Posted in Every Version of D&D, Fellhold Campaign, Projects, RPGs with tags , , on April 24, 2013 by Jeff Russell

DDsmall

So, for some blog fodder, I’ve decided I’m going to take on the rather ambitious project of going through every version of D&D and comment on the rules.  To keep myself sane, I’ll be sticking to core books only.  I’m up in the air on OD&D if it will include the supplements or only the the original three LBB’s.  The idea is to hit up White Box, Holmes, Moldvay, Mentzer, Rules Cyclopedia, AD&D 1E, AD&D 2E, D&D 3/3.5, and 4E.  And I’ll probably have to get to Next if it’s out by the time I get through all of the other stuff.  Then, maybe I’ll hit up the retroclones for the sake of comparison.

Now, I’m sure somebody’s done something like this before, and I have read some “cover to cover” posts about specific editions, but my goal here is going to be to a) highlight the differences and think about why they are there, and b) identify those rules, tools, and ideas that are most useful to me for actual play, to aid me in kitbashing the Frankenstein’s monster of a “perfect version” for my campaign.   In large part, though, I just want to get to know the versions I’m not as personally familiar with (basically everything besides 2E and 4E). I expect it will take a while, but hopefully it will keep me gainfully blogging whenever I’m running short on ideas.  First up will be the original three LBB’s in the next post in the series.

Meanwhile, Fellhold Hex Stocking

(Using Welsh Piper’s Regional Hex Template, with 5 mile sub hexes and heavily cribbed from Lore.Keeper0’s Hex Crawl)

The lands around Fellhold are comparatively sparsely settled, so I’m going to modify the chances of an “outpost” (settlement type place) to be lower.  I’ll be running this for the regional hexes the players are currently traveling through first, and eventually flesh out the whole map.

For Each Regional Hex, determine the dominant terrain type (if you can’t tell, just use the center hex). In the case of dual terrain (like wooded hills) go down this list in this order for precedence. Roll the appropriate die for the number of outposts/settlements in the regional hex.  Then roll to determine size and inhabitants for each. Place as desired, or decide on a method to randomize placement:

Terrain Type

Number of Outposts

Size of Outposts

Inhabitants

Tundra/Glacier

1d2 – 1

Tiny (01-60)

Small (61-00)

Dwarves (01-10)

Men (11-00)

Mountains

1d3 – 1

Tiny (01-60)

Small (61-89)

Medium (90-00)

Trolls (01-40)

Trollkin (41-80)

Giants (81-90)

Dwarves (91-95)

Men (96-00)

Swamp/Fen

1d2 – 1

Tiny (01-70)

Small (71-00)

Trolls (01-20)

Trollkin (21-30)

Men (31-00)

Forest

1d3 – 1

Tiny (01-50)

Small (51-89)

Medium (90-00)

Trollkin (01-30)

Dwarves (31-35)

Men (36-00)

Hills

1d4 – 1

Tiny (01-50)

Small (51-80)

Medium (81-90)

Large (91-00)

Trollkin (01-30)

Dwarves (31-50)

Men (51-00)

Plains/Grassland

1d6 – 1

Tiny (01-50)

Small (51-70)

Medium (71-80)

Large (81-00)

Dwarves (01-20)

Men (21-00)

Outposts

  • Tiny: Individuals or very small groups, hermits, inns, mining/logging camps, homesteads
  • Small: Villages, trading posts, forts
  • Medium: Towns, keeps, market fairs
  • Large: Cities, castles, fortresses, tribal encampments

Next, roll the number of adventuring sites per regional hex by dominant terrain type:

Terrain Type

Number of Adventuring Sites

Tundra/Glacier

2D4

Mountains

2D6

Swamp/Fen

2D6

Forest

3D3

Hills

3D3

Plains/Grassland

2D4

Adventuring Sites

Adventuring sites are ruins, monster lairs, encounters, and so forth.  Detail as you like or use a cool random generator. Abulafia has lots of great stuff.

A Brief Interlude on Rule Systems

Posted in Fellhold Campaign, RPGs with tags , , on April 23, 2013 by Jeff Russell

dd-ibox

Not exactly what I’m talking about

So, after a discussion with Bryni’s player (GM of many of my favorite gaming moments, and fellow game design enthusiast) as well as working my way all the way through the archives over at Zak S.’s Playing D&D with Pornstars, I’m thinking rather a lot about rules.

When I started out the Fellhold campaign, I was pretty high on the “player skill not character skill” and “rulings, not rules!” rallying cries of the Old School Renaissance, and the accompanying rules light approach that I found appealing.  Now, don’t get me wrong, these are still principles I think are good and valuable, but I’m starting to wonder if my game is suffering from an overly strong attachment to some “pure” vision of those ideas.

From the beginning, I intended to take a similar approach to James Maliszewski in his Dwimmermount campaign and add on rules as they became necessary or desired, but in practice I haven’t really regularized that many rulings or added that many brand new rules.  Even if I were to, Bryni’s player pointed out an interesting analogy in the above mentioned conversation.  He said that OD&D (or retroclones thereof, like our current S&W Whitebox) is an excellent bicycle – spare, efficient, gets you where you’re going.  But when you start adding on all sorts of gewgaws and motors and horns and whatnot, you end up with a crufty bike when maybe you would have been better off with a moped or a motorcycle.

This conversation came up because he is a fan of the crunch.  In addition to the tactical and outside the box thinking of play, he enjoys having a meaty rules system to sink his teeth into and engage with as a game. And I can certainly sympathize – I just tend to get that fix with board games and wargaming more than from RPGs.  When I suggested that we can add more systems and subsystems to the game as we go, he made the analogy above and it got me thinking about what the rules are doing now, what we might want them to do that they’re not, and how best to serve those goals.  Most of all, I don’t want to let some silly sense of pride in playing D&D “like it was” get in the way of playing it in the most awesome and fun way possible for me and my friends.  It’s not like I have any personal attachment to how D&D was played before I was born.

So all that has me thinking about how the rules are contributing (or not) to the awesome in my campaign.  One area I’ve been giving a lot of thought to is rolling for skills and stats.  I’ve shied away from doing it much at all in the hopes of encouraging player creativity and problem solving, rather than using character stats and skills as a crutch.  This post by Zak S. made an excellent distinction about what rolling stats is for in D&D, though, and may be the necessary step to break my otherwise loathe to roll stats mentality.

I’ve been so worried about letting the game slip into “roll vs. whatever stat/skill” in place of engaging with the fiction and actually thinking, that I may have gone the opposite direction and made the only useful character distinction how well you hit in a fight.  We’ve had some really good times with stats being little more than a way to color your impression of characters (and the occasional precious +1 hit point), but I think I’ve closed off whole sections of the game to the delights of the oracular power of dice that I’ve not only discussed before, but named my damn blog after.

What I mean is that when social interactions, or trying to notice things or whatever are entirely based on my rulings on what the players describe, then there is no unexpected content at the decision point. I may be surprised by the player’s actions, but I will have incorporated those actions into my mental model before making my decision, so there is no surprise (to me) from the actual decision. With dice added to the mix, I can shape the probability with modifiers, but the actual result still has the chance to surprise me and even force “unwelcome” outcomes, as Mr. Baker would say, which makes the game more interesting and textured overall.

Embracing this notion, however, starts to point to some of the areas ripe for change in OD&D.  Though I never played D&D 3 or 3.5, the open endedness of ascending AC and difficulty kinda makes a lot of sense, and allows a little more range than roll under a stat.  On the other hand, moving to a totally open ended system like that quickly minimizes the role of the actual D20 that the system is named for.  If you’re adding and subtracting values over 20, then the probabilities get a little weird.  The very strength of having no limit to modifiers starts to become meaningless when they get big enough that the dice roll only matters to check for a critical hit or failure.  Of course, if you want huge amounts of granularity to base stats, skills, and modifiers, all within a reasonable range, you can go to a percentile system, but man, I just kind of hate them for aesthetic reasons that I can’t quite explain (sorry WFRP).

So what to do? I flirted with the idea of a Dungeon World style 2d6 + modifier derived from 3-18 stat with a 2-6 fail, 7-9 mixed success, 10-12 full success model, but again, Bryni’s player pointed out that the basic assumption of such a system is not “does this make sense?” but rather “succeeding while creating problems is the most interesting outcome, so it should happen the most.”  I think making that assumption for some parts of the game but not others is ultimately more problematic than it looks on its face.

What about 3/3.5 style modifies added to a D20 roll against an ascending DC set by me? I feel like this is only slightly different from a straight up decision on my part based on description.  Sure, it’s technically different to set a difficulty, then award a bonus or penalty to the player’s roll, but overall I’d still be largely shaping how a thing goes down based on what sounds right to me, minimizing the surprising effects of the dice.  I’m sure lots of GMs are super good at doing this fairly, but it’s not a skill I’m exactly practiced at right now, and I don’t know how long it would take me to train that skill to the same hard core old school “let the dice fall where they may” approach I’ve been taking so far.

When I started this post, I didn’t know exactly where I was going with it, but I think I’ve figured it out.  Rolling for stats will be a simple roll under affair.  Modifiers will be limited to +1/-1 for both the player and the difficulty, which is consonant with what I’ve been doing for combat rolls (I’ve based this on something I read in either DNDWPS or Grognardia, I can’t remember, which pointed out that the early rules intended a +1/-1 to be a pretty big deal, that was mostly all you got if you got anything).  This means a maximum swing of +/- 10% probability, which still makes the importance of the stat and the D20 roll itself important, which I like.  Plus, it makes my job of judgment a lot easier by making it effectively binary (well, trinary if you count “no effect”): Is this thing unusually hard (-1 to stat) or unusually easy (+1 to stat)? Is your description especially useful (+1 to roll) or especially not (-1 to roll)?.  We’ll see how this works out as time goes on.  So, I guess I’ll cheat a little bit and use the above as my “rules content” for this post:

Fellhold Ability Checks:

When a player cannot or will not expand on an action his character is performing, and the outcome of that action depends to some degree on an inherent trait of the character, then the referee will call for an ability roll.  The player rolls 1D20 and attempts to score the relevant ability or lower. The referee may modify the ability or the roll as follows:

  • If the player’s description significantly improves his chance of success: -1 to the player’s roll
  • If the player’s description significantly detracts from his chance of success: +1 to the player’s roll
  • If the situation is unusually easy: +1 to the character’s relevant ability for the purposes of this roll
  • If the situation is unusually difficult: -1 to the character’s relevant ability for the purposes of this roll

Note that if using the “Good at” and “Bad at” skill rules, these should normally grant a -1 and +1 to the player roll respectively.

Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day!

Posted in Fellhold Campaign, RPGs with tags , , on April 17, 2013 by Jeff Russell

It’s the first official Swords & Wizardry Appreciation day! Considering Swords & Wizardry Whitebox is the ruleset we’re using for the Fellhold campaign, I thought I’d like to jump in on this.  I’ve expounded earlier why we went with Whitebox, but basically I found the simplicity attractive as a foundation to add house rules to, rather than trying to cut out pieces of other versions.  As play has gone on, it has both taught me to value and enjoy the lack of some rules but also it has pointed out exactly how other rules came to be by experiencing the desire to have them in game.  My only real regret about using Whitebox is that it means my beautiful full core rules I got in the kickstarter are only pulled out when I’m looking for guidance on making a ruling on something outside the scope of the Whitebox rules. A small price to pay for an excellent slim set of D&D rules that is far more in-play reference friendly than the actual Little Brown Books.

I’m working on a quickstart character sheet that will hopefully have everything a player needs to create a character A) on one page, and B) logically sequenced and labeled to be as new player friendly as possible, but I’m traveling and wasn’t able to get it finished yet.  So, instead I’ll post my custom Fellhold character sheets (heavily inspired by the Dwimmermount character sheets), and, unimaginatively enough, a couple of magic Swords and an example of some Wizardry.

Fellhold Character Sheet

Fellhold Character Sheet

Some Swords

Grief, the Foemaker

Grief is a finely made long sword with intricate knot and runework on the crossguard and round pommel.  The steel of the blade is dark, almost smokey, and the scabbard  is black leather with inlaid silver in the form of a knotwork wyrm.

When Grief comes into the possession of a new owner, it is a +1 sword that increases its wielder’s chance to fumble by 1 (so, a 1-2).

Every time its owner rolls a fumble, increase the to-hit bonus by +1, to a maximum of +4, and increase the chance to fumble by 1. This works out to:

  • +1 = Fumble on 1-2
  • +2 = Fumble on 1-3
  • +3 = Fumble on 1-4
  • +4 = Fumble on 1-5

In addition to an increased chance of a fumble, as Grief’s to hit bonus increases, the severity of fumbles should increase.  This is left to referee discretion, but anything that increases discord and endangers allies should be preferred.

Whenever the owner of Grief is present during an interaction with strangers, any reaction rolls will suffer a penalty equal to Grief’s current to hit bonus.

Grief cannot be freely given to anyone its owner considers a friend or ally.  If Grief is ever used in the presence of a former owner, any fumbles will automatically strike the former owner (provided it is even somewhat reasonable).

Grief’s powers “reset” whenever it comes into the possession of a new owner. 

Woe, the Blooddrinker

Woe is a “viking style” sword of regular size, effective at both stabbing and slashing.  The broad fuller is bronze, and the crescent shaped upper and lower guards are inlaid with copper knotwork polished to a bright red sheen.  The hilt is wrapped in simple, well-worn leather. It is currently housed in a weather and sweat stained simple leather scabbard.

Woe gives no bonus to hit, but instead any damage dice rolled “explode”, meaning that if the maximum value is rolled, save that value, roll again and add them together.  If this second roll is also the maximum value for the die, roll again and add, and so on.

On a critical hit, automatically consider the damage die to have rolled maximum value and proceed from there, in addition to any other usual effects from a critical hit.

Woe always inflicts vicious, nasty wounds when it is able.  Any time its damage die “explodes”, NPCs and monsters with HD equal to or less than the victim must test morale (yes, this applies to both friends and foes).

Woe’s owner will find it hard to keep his or her hand off of the hilt and the blade in the scabbard anytime his situation is uneasy or dangerous, unless he exercises iron will (a good way to reflect this is for the referee to assume that the owner does these things in these situations unless the owner’s player specifically says otherwise).  NPCS will likely interpret such actions as hostile and react accordingly.

Some Wizardry

Altered Guise

Spell Level: 1st

Range: Self

Duration: 8 hours

The caster may take on the appearance of any person of roughly the same size and shape provided he obtains something that belongs to the person being imitated. He may change appearance within the duration as many times as he likes, though once he returns to his own appearance the effect ends.  The greater the disparity between the caster’s appearance and the imitated person’s, the more likely something will seem off, and people familiar with the imitated party will have a greater chance of spotting the deception.