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Saturday, April 21, 2018

Endgame, part 6: Elves and Dwarves aka Tree-huggers and Stumpies

I put the last two demi-humans together to wrap this p and because the rules aren't very elaborate with either of them. Like the halfling, elves and dwarves have level limits in BX, meaning there is a point at which (BtB) they aren't really gaining much mechanically from adventuring.

Side Note:

I know this is one of the complaints against race as class, and I don't want to get to deeply into that here, but I would mention a couple of things I've observed over the years. First off, I've rarely (if ever) played or run in a classic D&D game where characters who started at 1st managed to run up against their level caps, even 14th for humans. Second, it's my belief that by the time characters reach those levels, a few more hit points or incrementally better THACO or another spell slot just isn't going to be that crucial. Hopefully PCs involved in the end game at that point are focussed more on the roleplay aspects of being commanders and high priests, etc.

Not to mention that when elves and dwarves hit their cap around 600K XP, the humans are all at about 11-13th anyway. Even if the demi-humans don't level up again and keep adventuring while the wizard is trying for another 400K or so, they'd still be seeing HUGE gains in terms of treasure (coin and magic) during that time.

End of tangent.

Dwarves


The Dwarf Lord follows a very similar model to the fighter's. He builds a stronghold and protects it. At 270K xp to reach 9th, the dwarf should have acquired enough loot for constructing at least along the Tarnskeep level of complexity.  He attracts members of various clans to his territory. There is a lot of leeway given to the DM in how these clans are organized; be it by bloodlines, trades, homelands, or what have you. In keeping with the stereotype, dwarf holds are largely underground and often in mountains or hills. Dwarves will only hire or retain dwarf soldiers, but can hire other races as specialists, etc. One bit on X7 that intrigues me as plot-fodder says: 
"There will be many different clans of dwarves, each gathered under the protection of a Dwarven Lord, but usually only members of the same clan will live together. Dwarven clans are generally friendly with each other and may join forces in times of need, such as when there is a war of natural disaster."
(emphasis mine) 

So the implication is that the clans don't necessarily get along. That's not to say that there is open warfare in the tunnels, but perhaps rivalries or petty feuds? Dwarves are known to hold grudges, after all. 
In some worlds, they have a book full of them!

The "may join forces" line leaves the door open to the idea that they may not. A good leader would need to herd those bearded cats in times of crisis, and that could make for some fun diplomacy sessions.


Elves


Elves can become lords of their lands at 9th level, which takes them 400K XP to reach. This puts them later than everyone except, interestingly, Magic-Users. The assumed stereotype has these sylvan elves creating a base of operations in some spot of great nature beauty and seclusion. An interesting conceit to balance the cost to the PC is that the efforts of beautification (elaborate woodcarving, landscaping, statuary, or what-not) means that even of the elf-hold is not made of great stone blocks, it costs just as much. Like the dwarves, I find the default assumption of demi-humans retreating somewhat from human lands and being somewhat insular a definite, though not exclusive, trait of a BX setting. Like the dwarves, the elf lord attracts other elves to his hold, and only hire elven soldiers. 

Elves have the interesting twist that they protect the creatures of the forest around them and, in turn, all the critters are friendly toward them. These animals can even bear messages to and from the elf lord. (!) Does this mean he can talk to these animals innately? Or does he give them a little scroll to carry a la "Game of Thrones" ravens? I say it's up to the DM, but personally, I'd let him speak to them and they can make themselves understood to the recipients via the elf lord's bond with them and his magical nature. 

(I don't know why I went all Rankin-Bass on this post!)

What a wonderful plot device for low level PCs to be at a village and have a fox come out of the woods to deliver a warning from the local NPC elf lord about some imminent threat!

Speaking of magical natures, I should also mention that as a 10th level spell-caster, like the magic-user, the elf lord-wizard is theoretically capable of spell research and magic item creation. So in addition to his duties as a leader among his people he can also play mad wizard in his laboratory, adding to his arcane powers.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Endgame, part 5: Halfings, aka "There's a new Sheriff in Town!"

Down, down to Hobbiton. You go, my lad!

Halflings are an odd one in BX. I've already espoused their general kickassery as adventurers. Their name level/end game scenario is quite different from the human classes', and only slightly less so compared to other demi-humans. A lot of this can probably be chalked up to the Professor's influence on the class' conceptualization. The LOTR/Hobbit overtones are quite strong. Some later TSR products, like "The Five Shires", offer some different takes on halflings, but we're dealing with straight BX for now.

Since the halfling XP chart caps out at 8th, they reach name level ("Sheriff") before anyone else (120K). As Sheriff, they don't get troops or apprentices. If they build a stronghold, they get "a whole community of halflings." Numbers aren't specified, and I assume are at DM's discretion, but it's interesting that the halfling gets by default what fighters need to entice to their lands. It should also be noted that technically, a halfling doesn't need to wait until eighth level. X7 specifically states he can set up a shire "any time a halfling has enough money."

There isn't any overt mention of clearing a hex or getting a title from the local rulers, but since halflings "prefer pleasant communities in fair countrysides," it seems unlikely that such prime real estate would be unclaimed in any civilized territories. Again, JRRT's idea of hobbits having a secluded nature is coming through here.

In terms of gameplay. I suppose a halfling sheriff would get taxes and could hire mercenaries to protect his borders (bounders), but he isn't really set up to do a lot high level adventuring. Unlike the human classes, he isn't going to progress any further (not in BtB BX, at any rate).


I do see some interesting roleplay opportunities when it comes to things like trade and diplomacy. A fertile land producing goods and commodities, which a powerful character protecting its interests could influence a lot of things in the wider world. Assuming you break with Tolkien's isolationist model enough to have the halflings get involved in such matters.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Endgame, part 4: Thieves in the Night

"Behind every great fortune there is a crime."


I saved thieves for last among the "Core Four" human classes, since he's a bit unusual. For one thing, he reaches name level sooner than any other class (160,000 xp). For another, he doesn't build a stronghold, tower, or castle. He usually sets up shop in an established area. Lastly, exactly how his endgame plays out can vary a lot more than most other classes, depending upon the DM and how the player wants to handle things.

A ninth level thief is not actually all that powerful a PC. With an average of only 18 hit points, limited armor options, and no spells he is not making anyone quake in their boots.Of course he has probably picked up some magic items along the way and made enough money that he owns quality gear, but he still isn't all that intimidating on his own. A name level thief's strengths lie in his ability to operate "off radar." The underground world of crime and corruption is bread and drink to the higher level thief. Dark alleys and shadowy corners are fine for a low level cutpurse or thug, but master thieves need to think bigger.



I've always thought Charisma should have been a prime requisite for thieves. Sure, DEX is nice, but eventually being able to convince and persuade is going to count for a lot more potentially. Ah well, a topic for another time.

Cook says that name level thieves "...a thief may construct a hideout (a fortified house in a city, a cave network, or so forth). A thief who has constructed a hideout will attract 2-12 1st level thieves who have come to learn under a master."

2d6 apprentices is not a lot to work with, manpower wise. However, he's not manning a castle or patrolling a barony, he running a gang of crooks. Sure the gang might one day rule a whole city's criminal underworld, but that's not something most DMs would just hand wave away. They'd play that arc out (as well they should!).

Furthermore, thieves don't need to set up shop in a city. They can be highwaymen, smugglers, spies, or pirates. The Master Thief can arguably adapt to settings or individual player concepts to what they want more so than the other classes. 

To use the pirate example, a sailing ship costs much less than our Tarnskeep example. A small ship might even be crewed by your 2d6 apprentices alone. Not to mention it provides convenient transportation to various parts of the world for the PCs and the thief can sack ships or raid coastal settlements as they go.

Name level thieves need to be smart more than tough, and willing to look at the different ways they can profit from their newfound status in the shady underworld of the setting.





Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Endgame, part 3: Mages, Magical Studies, and Masonry


Magic-Users vary a bit from the previous classes since they don't necessarily have a role in a larger political or religious institution when it comes to reaching name level and building a tower. I like to think that the local rulers turn a bit of a blind eye to wizards laying claim to some lonely hill and starting construction. In truth, there are a couple decent reasons when I think about it:

  1. Wizards aren't (generally) trying to rule over an area. They just want a place to work.
  2. I mentioned in an earlier post how magic in a BX setting is somewhat limited in nature, so it doesn't really do to irritate high level MUs unnecessarily.
  3. Do you really want them doing magical experiments right in the middle of town?
While the wizard's redoubt is traditionally dubbed a "tower," I'm sticking with the Tarnskeep 175K price tag for simplicity. Also, there are other costs a name level MU incurs that we'll get to in a minute. At 600000 xp to reach 11th level (that's right, 11th, not 9th), The MU should be able to afford the place.

First off, I'm going to quote a chunk of Cook Expert's text about name level MUs from X7 and then break it down a bit:
"Magic-users may add more spells to their spell books through spell research. At 9th level (Wizard) or above, magic-users may also create magical items. Both of these activities are explained under Magical Research (p. X51). Upon reaching 11th level, a magic-user may choose to build a tower, provided that money to pay for the construction is available. A magic-user who constructs a tower will gain 1-6 apprentices of levels 1-3."
Spell Research:

So while any level MU can do research, it can get pricey. Page X51 sets it at 1000gp per spell level with two weeks' research. The other party members might find waiting around for weeks at a time as the MU plows through books a bit dull. Sure they can have a town adventure, but then the MU's player is left out, and that's no fun for them. Better to be in a play mode where people are more settled and have the facilities to do proper research. You can still have adventures. How awesome would it be for the wizard to find out that in order to complete the formula, he has to find the lost scrolls of Kalb-Th'arr? Time to go collect your pals and go raid a lost temple!



Item Creation:

Name level wizards can actually craft magic items. This is a time-consuming and expensive process. Having a "lab" and a place to work seems like an obvious choice. The expense of some items is why I leave the price tag for the tower as high as I do. Since a wizard (probably) isn't commanding armies or raising temples, he is probably adding to his knowledge and his magical skills. Not every mage is going to sell magic items, but they might. They might focus on strengthening their own power, or their tower's defenses. In either case, it can get expensive. It can envision some wizards seeking patrons instead, like powerful fighter or local rulers and going the "Court Magician" route. After all, spell research and item creation gets pricey when, "There is always a 15% chance (at least) that magical research or production will fail. This check is made after the time and money are spent." (X51).

Apprentices:

1d6 apprentices is not a huge following, but keep in mind some of these might be up to 3rd level MUs. While the idea is that they are there to study and learn from the wizard, not act as soldiers, they could certainly bolster the defense of the tower. Nothing prevents a wizard from hiring mercenaries, either! (I have a vague memory that one flavor of D&D or clone allowed for the idea that chaotic wizards might attract monsters into the lower halls of his tower, I couldn't find it. EDIT: It was in the Rules Cyclopedia) Apprentice MUs can act as errand runners, too. Perhaps allowing for a split-level campaign where recovering rare materials for the high-level mage is a task for the lower level (N)PCs.


Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Endgame, part 2: Fighters, aka The Lords of the Land.

Fighters are pretty straightforward. First off, the class information expressly states:
“High level fighters usually spend their time training and leading men-at-arms, clearing the wilderness of monsters, and expanding human settlements.” 
So the idea is that the whole “endgame” thing is a big part of what name level fighters do.

Tallyho!

Fighters reach ninth level at 240k xp, which is fairly middle of the road, advancement-wise. Using our earlier Tarnskeep example of a 175k gp price tag, it’s likely the new Lord would have enough scratch to at least start the construction process.

Unlike clerics, BX fighters don’t automatically attract followers to their castles. In fact, only clerics and thieves gain followers by default. Why is this? Well, it seems to me that a cleric’s followers aren’t really his. They are followers of his faith. We’ll talk more about thieves in a later post. A fighter must gather men with the force of his personality (CHA) and by the promise of rewards. If he hires mercenaries and leads them well, he might recruit more easily in the future, but in the end the soldiers will want their pay.

Another fun tidbit mentioned on X7 is that:
“When a fighter reaches 9th level (Lord/Lady), the character may become a Baron or Baroness  and the land cleared and controlled by that character will be called a Barony.”
So the assumption is that the fighter joins the ranks of his homeland’s nobility. (Note: While it’s not really a “BX product,” GAZ1 (Karameikos) does do a pretty nifty job of integrating these aspects of play into the societal/political structure.) DMs can harvest a lot of plot fuel from characters that are not only vested in the current power structure, but under an oath of fealty to serve it!

This also makes a Baron or baroness all the more interested in attracting settlers to their lands in order to collect taxes to help pay for their soldiers. When the crown calls in the banners, a lord that cannot respond might lose their fiefdom!

Monday, April 16, 2018

Endgame, part 1: Castles, Clearing Hexes, and Clerics


Turning on Retro-Scope, I dredged up a post on this topic from that iconic Old-School gaming blog of yesteryear, Grognardia called “on the Loss of D&D’s Endgame.”  Rather than regurgitate it all here in bits and pieces, I urge you to follow the link and give it a read. Mr. Maliszewski has been kind enough to leave the blog online even though it has long been mothballed. It reflects many of my thoughts on the subject. Not to mention James is a far more articulate writer than I.


Once a character reaches name -usually 9th- level (so called because that’s when the character’s experience “title” stops changing and they are referred to by such grandiose labels as Lord, Wizard, Master Thief and so forth.

Most classes are going to construct some sort of castle, keep, or tower. There are short, but functional rules in Cook for costs, times, and more. But before the PCs can build anything, Cook has a few things to say (from X52):

“When building a castle or stronghold, a character must first clear a hex or local area of monsters, entering the hex with a force of men and dealing with any lairs the DM has set up in the area. (The DM may also require the character get a land grant from the local ruler, if any.)”

So it looks like the PC is going to be busy before the first stone can even be laid. There are critters to clear out! A character might pay some men at arms, or lower level adventurers, to do the dirty work. The bit about the local ruler is not insignificant, either. That’s the sort of thing a DM needs to think about for his setting ahead of time if he plans on getting into this aspect of the game eventually.

As sort of a baseline cost for these posts, I took the description of Tarnskeep from Threshold in the Karameikos Gazetteer and priced out something roughly equivalent. Without getting into all the particulars, a character wishing to build Tarnskeep would be looking at approximately 175,000 gp, including hiring two engineers from the specialists section, and a little under a year in building times.


Not to mention Tarnskeep's owner is a high-level cleric!

I thought we’d look at the human classes first, as they are the most common. Going alphabetically, we’ll begin with the Cleric. The cleric is also the class that’s going to reach name level sooner than most in the XP charts, so it seems as good a beginning as any. (Thieves are a bit unusual, so I’m happy to save them for later).


The cleric PC hits 9th level (Patriarch/Matriarch) at 200,000 xp. Considering that most of a character’s experience is coming from treasure, this means he should have a fair bit of coin to work with. Of course a good bit of it may well have been spent along the way, but he should still be pretty flush.

When looking at the rules for clerics, Cook Expert has several things to say about 9th level. Rather than quote a great block of text, I wan to take each point in turn.

“When clerics reach 9th level (Matriarch/Patriarch), they may choose to construct a castle (see p. X52) or stronghold.”

Seems straightforward enough. This next bit is interesting:

“...the cost of building the castle will be half the normal amount due to miraculous assistance from the deity.”

So if you were wondering how those ancient civilizations managed to build such elaborate temples before you dungeon-crawled their ruins, now you know!

Once a keep or temple or whatever is built, it needs to be manned. No worries for a cleric though:

“Furthermore, once the castle is completed, fanatically loyal troops (the "faithful", who never need to check morale) will come to defend the cleric. There will be from 50-300 soldiers (5d6 x 10), from l-2nd level, armed with various weapons.”

Wow. No morale check for an average of over a hundred soldiers. That is not insignificant in a portion of the game where things like having troops to call on can have a real impact. Never mind wars, take a look at this bit from the castle construction section again:

“When the building is complete, the character may want to clear the surrounding area of monsters. The cleared area will remain free of monsters as long as it is patrolled.”

Finally, there is a section about settlers moving in if areas are cleared and improvements are added as enticements (mills, inns, etc.). This can yield 10gp annually per family of settlers. That will help pay for a lot of the day to day expenses once things are up and running.

So even after looking at a fairly simple clear & build model for just one class, we can already see some of the shifts that this sort of play would lead to in a campaign. I can understand some folks questioning whether this sort of thing would be fun, or just more book-keeping. But I also have to ask, if you’ve run a character all the way up from first to ninth level or higher (after all, you don’t need to start building right at ninth), don’t you think you might be ready to try something different? Of course you could always just start a new campaign or play a different system for a while, but it seems a shame to me to shelve a character that has paid such heavy dues when there is a whole new sphere of play awaiting them. The potential scope and depth of the plot-lines that could unfold. Whether it’s the responsibilities of leadership, political intrigue, or even militarily.

The Endgame: Getting to Name Level (part 0)

Old-school D&D systems in general, and "non-Advanced" versions in particular, have a bit of a reputation for slow advancement and lethality (not necessarily in that order). How many 1st level corpses lie in he caves of chaos? How many brothers, sisters, sons, or cousins of the original PC had to take up the mantle before one of them made it to 2nd, or even 3rd (!) level? Some players are frustrated by his, and that's a fair point. The PC that perseveres may one day not only graduate from the red book to the blue, but eventually reach the airy realms of 9th level. A world where strongholds and wizard's towers may be built, followers start following, and the PC can move from murder hobo to robber baron.

Of course the party might choose to continue their wandering ways, slaying bigger and badder monsters and taking bigger and cooler stuff. Perhaps they need to gather a bit more hard coin before they can afford that moat for the castle. Maybe they're trying to impress the king so they can receive a title and fiefdom. In any case, a campaign that manages to get to this point is likely to see the dungeon crawl for crawling's sake as getting a bit stale. Players may well be ready for a new kind of challenge.

I confess that I've never run a BX game that got to this level. The closest it ever came was having a couple of Labyrinth Lord PCs reach 5th-6th level by the end of B10: Night's Dark Terror. Back in the day, our 1st edition game saw name level PCs and strongholds, etc. but we were pretty monty haul as kids & teens in the 80s. We hardly explored the political or military aspects that could have been integrated into the campaign.

For the next few posts, I plan on taking a look at the "name level PC" rules in BX, as well as some of the secondary rules associated with this level of play.