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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

RMA: Elf

Go ahead, ask them if they make cookies in a tree.

No, not drow, or aquatic, or any other elf "variant." I'm talking about your run of the mill NPC elf. 

You don't see elves terribly often as encounters, probably because they are a PC race/class. What's interesting to me is that –on the surface– they look like a pretty simple low-level encounter, but there are a couple of things to keep in mind.

Elf (from Moldvay)

No. Appearing: 1-4 (2-24)
AC: 5
HD: 1+1*
Move: 120' (40')
Attacks: 1 (weapon)
Damage: 1-8, or by weapon
Save As: E1
Morale: 8/10

Elves are basically NPC fighters as far as attacks and weapons are concerned. They get the higher morale if their leader is present (and alive). Now, let's look at a couple of fun bits:

Each elf gets a random 1st level MU spell. There are 12 spells in the list, so odds are good some less common ones might turn up. If you run into several elves, though, you get a group with a bunch of spells (or possibly a particular spell multiple times!) at their disposal, as opposed to a PC group with maybe 1 or 2 spells in their arsenal.

By the book, the elves are listed as 1+1 HD. That means a d8+1 instead of the d6 the PC class gets. So they are a bit tougher than "normal."

If you encounter them at or near their home, now you have up to two dozen of them, led by an elf of up to 7th level! There's also a reasonable chance he has magic items. Admittedly, that's the upper end of the spectrum, but still within the scope of the rules.

Also, remember, Elves are neutral, so they aren't necessarily nice!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

More REF: Hell Hounds

Whee! TIme for more random encounter fun!™ 

Let's get rolling. Last time, it was a wilderness encounter, so this time, let's use the dungeon charts.

OK, the BX table allow for levels 1-8+, so let's roll a d8

roll, roll
A 6!  That's Levels 6-7. Now we need a d20 roll.

roll, roll

A 9! That's "Hellhound" Nice!
It says there are 2-8 of these infernal pooches, so let's see what we've got. 

roll, roll
3 + 4 = 7! This could get nasty!
Their hit dice are supposed to match the level (6-7) so let's just say they are each 6HD (Saving as 6th level fighters). Let's roll hit points twice and take the higher total for the pack leader.

roll, roll
4+5+3+3+5+4= 24
5+6+3+7+6+5= 32

So we have a 32 hp pack leader and six 24 hp pack members. 

These creatures are described as reddish-brown dogs the size of a small pony. Their attacks are biting or breathing fire. BtB, you roll a d6 each round to see what it does (1-2 = fire, 3-6 = teeth). The breath targets one victim and does 6d6 (!) damage (save for half damage). Its range isn't specified in Cook, but the 1e MM says 1", so pretty close (melee distance).

While the random nature of the charts means they could be in any kind of dungeon, I'm going to go Gygaxian Naturalist here and say that the hounds' den is in a chamber/room of the dungeon which has a pool of lava in it, probably from a fissure in the rock tapping into a volcanic vent.  The hounds are immune to non-magical fire and highly intelligent, so they would know that most enemies couldn't tolerate the magma. They normally bed down on the far side of the lava from the entrance for added safety.

Now, since this is a wandering encounter, let's assume they are not in the lair. They are hunting the halls or tunnels in a pack, looking for dinner. 

Points to remember: They are smart, nasty, dogs. They can also detect invisible creatures within 60' most of the time (75%). If someone was invisible, the hounds might be smart enough to note his presence and pretend to be oblivious until they could catch him out.

The hounds would know the layout of the dungeon. If they are aware of the party, they would fan out and use any side corridors to flank them. A good blast of fire breath would spoil demi-humans' infravision right off. Then, depending on the party's numbers, they would probably target spell casters first (if possible). 

If the flanking was successful, the dogs would harry the rear. They'd also be smart enough to finish off anyone who was looking wounded. If the fight started going against them, they would retreat to their lava lair and –if possible– use the hostile terrain to their advantage (knocking attackers into the lava, etc.).

Kills would be dragged off to the lair and feasted upon. One hound is big enough to drag a human being without too much difficulty (provided it's not for miles and miles). Dragging the corpse through the lava would destroy most gear and items as well as cook the meat nicely! The odd trinket might avoid landing in the molten rock and constitute the bulk of the hounds' treasure.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Class, Status, and D&D

It's a topic that has been covered many times, and I'm not going to re-hash it all here. The gist of it is thus:

If your "standard" D&D/fantasy setting is supposed to be a quasi-medieval society, why is it that we don't see more emphasis on things like social class/caste? Where are the serfs? Where are the gentry? Sure, there's always a king to hand out quests, but it seems that the PCs are usually just regular shmoes, not nobles. 

I've been watching season 1 of Game of Thrones via iTunes recently. I also enjoyed the books (so far). One of the things that the books really brought home to me (and the show, to a lesser degree) was just how disparate in Westeros the lives of the powerful are from the masses. Look at the Knight of the Flowers. In one scene of the books he's wearing JEWELED ARMOR. Sure he's a pretty-boy, but that's just wacko! I bet the commoners watching the tilt couldn't wait for a few sapphires to go flying so they could scramble for them.

He and Legolas have "Who's the prettiest?"
pout-offs on alternate Wednesdays.

The levels of wealth that some of the families possess is so far beyond even "comfortable" commoners (like the armorer that employed Gendry) that it's hard to really picture.

This guy can buy and sell the both of us a hundred times over! 
So can the attitude!

Consider this modern-day comparison:

Bill Gates, widely considered the wealthiest man in the world, has a current (at the time of this posting) net worth of approximately $60 Billion (USD). If he were to never make another dime, and started spending a dollar per second, it would take him nearly 2,000 years to go broke.

The "average" American (whatever that means)  has a net worth of around $190,000 (reports vary). At the same rate of spending, Joe Average is broke in a little over two DAYS.

Now, I'm not going on about this to foment an "Occupy King's Landing" movement. I'm just trying to say that I don't know that everyone really considers just HOW rich the rich are. I'm no expert on medieval economics (as I've said before), but the few were definitely better off than the many.

OK! Back on topic!

If you are considering using things like social class in D&D-type gaming, consider to what point or purpose you're doing this:

  1. Is it for historical verisimilitude? 
  2. Are you trying to provide "endgame" motivation to your players? 
  3. Are you attempting to add depth and new challenges to the setting? 
  4. Or are you just trying to screw the PCs over? 
Of the above, 2 & 3 are probably what I consider the "best" reasons. Let's take them in turn, shall we?

Historical Verisimilitude: Yes, Europe in the middle ages was not a very "socially mobile" place. "Realistically", the odds say characters would almost certainly be poor (to start with). If, as GM, you arbitrarily decide that PCs are all "lower class", then how "realistic" is it for them to potentially start with 100s of gold pieces in equipment? And if you limit their gear, do you unfairly weaken the fighting types who depend upon their armor & weapons far more so than the magic-users, thieves, or –albeit to a lesser degree– the clerics? What about demi-humans? They aren't very "realistic." Do you eliminate them as a PC (or NPC)? If not, are they subject to the same rules as humans?

Furthermore, do you limit the equipment based on culture and historic period? YMMV, but it seems like it could be quite a headache to me. Remember, it's not just the cost of an item, but perhaps the society's laws make certain goods and services restricted or out and out illegal. Armored knights might not be crazy about the idea of peasants with crossbows, even if they had enough coin to buy them. Another popular idea is that of certain weapons or equipment denoting status.

Engame Motivation: As was discussed in a previous post, one way to manage character wealth and motivation is to point them at a larger prize than just a nicer set of armor. If the PCs feel the weight of societal pressure keeping them down, they might decide to push back and climb toward the top of the heap. This must be balanced against the "fun factor" i.e. is this something the players enjoy dealing with? Or is it a huge pain in the kiester? 

Depth and Challenge: Tying directly into the previous point. Does including things like an upper class or caste tie in with other aspects of the setting? Does it make things more interesting for the players? Perhaps they go rogue and steal illicit weapons and armor and become outlaws. Or rebels. Maybe they are hedge knights and mercenaries who operate on the fringes of legality? Players whose PCs manage to claw their way up and carve a place for themselves may savor their "victory" all the more.

Screw the PCs: This is almost not worth replying to, but there are some cases where a group enjoys that adversarial dynamic and the players respond to the challenge. Really this is just an extreme of the above point, so it's important for the GM to be fair in the implementation of rules like these. Personally, I don't see a game like that having much staying power, but it takes all kinds.

Various products, both D&D supplements/settings and new game systems, have attempted to deal with this idea in various ways. Having read several of them, I've tended to adopt the stance that a D&D world is more "fantasy" than "medieval," leaving out most of the historical stuff that would –IMO– limit the fun. It's kind of like a renaissance festival, where you see folks dressed up in everything from "tavern wench" to "Jack Sparrow" to "WTF?" It's more of a halloween costume party than historical reenactment.  

Screw it, if a PC in Kelvernia has the gold, he can buy a sword and plate mail. He might need to go to a large town, but no one will stop him because his dad was a turnip farmer. 

Friday, April 20, 2012

A passage worth remembering

From Cook's Expert D&D (page 43):
"Often the treasure will be in unusual and possibly hard-to-recognize forms. Valuable silks, wines, rare books, small statues, furs, and tusks are only some of the forms such treasure could take. A party should always look for clues that odd items might be more valuable than they appear." 
 Food for thought, anyway.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

We live to tell the tale!

We finished our fledgling DM's dungeon last PM and a good time was had by all. It was a nice blend of classic tropes and atypical challenges that put in me in mind of some of my RMAs.

Without going into spoiler-ish details (she is submitting this for the 2012 One Page Dungeon Contest), the premise of the crawl is very simple: A demented nobleman had once created a vicious "funhouse" to torment those who had offended him. The Earl is now long gone, but there are rumors of treasure to be found within. Our group of thrill-seeking 2nd-3rd level PCs needed no more hook than that to head straight off into the woods seeking the place. Suffice it to say we found the dungeon and quickly discovered the real challenge wasn't just getting through it, it was getting back out!

Overall, I was intensely pleased with how we –a group of experienced players– found ourselves challenged. The nature of the challenges we faced were nasty. Many of the "monsters" we encountered were normal, but dangerous, critters like snakes (among others). Because we were trapped in the place, we also faced keeping careful track of things like torches and rations (and water!). Our DM had us use counters like M&Ms for consumables. By the end, our cleric was using Purify Food & Drink on what we'd killed to extend our rations!

There were many fun fights, but extremely scary as some involved "Save or Die" situations. We'd been given a few options to make them slightly more survivable (the option to purchase potions when we were in town, etc.), but we ran as much as we fought: because the goal wasn't combat. She also let us try nutty stuff like leeching poison from a wound after a failed save. Some DMs might not have been so lenient, but we HAD the leeches right there, after all!  Such improvisation and off the wall ideas are a hallmark of fun gameplay, IMO.

In the end, we found lots of loot (more than we could comfortably carry) and –we hoped– the means to get out. We then had a race to the surface where we picked our battles and concentrated on getting out before our rations were gone or we were killed in an unnecessary fight. When we stumbled into the daylight with packs full of swag, we felt like we had really earned it. We'd left more than we took (though we tried to get the most valuable stuff first). No one had quite died, but by the gods, it had been a near thing for all of us, and it made the finish all the sweeter.

This was one of the best classic style, resource-intensive crawls I'd played in for a long time. People who say they want an "old-school" adventure and care about things like rations or encumbrance should definitely look for this one among this year's contest entries. I think if she'd been a little more experienced DM she could have made it even more of a nail-biter, but it's hard to imagine how. So kudos to our GMs first trip behind the screen. Here's hoping to see you there more in the near future!

Monday, April 16, 2012

RSA: Feeblemind

This is one of those spells I always hear people refer to, but have rarely seen cast. Looking in Cook Expert, I was surprised to see its exact effects under those rules. It's not that it reduces a target's INT score, it "...makes a magic-user or elf unable to think or cast spells, becoming a helpless idiot." Also, "The spell will have no effect on creatures or character classes other than magic-users or elves." (emphasis mine)

This is a spell designed specifically to mess up fellow spellcasters.

While it is pretty cool to essentially nerf a big-bad-evil-nasty-wizard-type with one spell, he still gets a saving throw (albeit at -4!). Also, Dispel Magic gets rid of it, assuming anyone around the victim is able/willing to do it.

I could see really screwing with the PCs by hitting the party's mage with this, but once they are at the level where opponents are chucking 5th level spells at them, odds are good that there is a party cleric who can at least pray for Dispel Magic the next day. Of course, if it took a mage out of a "boss fight," it could really tip the scales.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Random Encounter Fun! (REF)

Let's build an encounter!

For giggles, I'm going to try and take a truly random monster and build as interesting a "set-piece" encounter as I can, more or less within the Rules As Written (RAW).

I think I'll try a wilderness encounter for greater randomness. In Cook Expert, there are ten "terrain types": 
  1. Clear/Grassland
  2. Woods
  3. River
  4. Swamp
  5. Barren/Mts./Hills
  6. Desert
  7. Inhabited
  8. City
  9. Ocean
  10. Jungle

Let's start slinging some polyhedrons!

So we'll just roll a d10 and see what we get. 
roll, roll

A two! That's "Woods."

Next up, let's roll a d8 for the monster.

roll, roll
A five! That's "Unusual." Oooo! This could get fun.

Now it's off to the Unusual Subtable. That's a d12.

roll, roll
Four! "Displacer Beast." Neat!

Off we go to the monster listings.

We have 1-4 of them (roll, roll). A four! Getting scary!

Okay, they have six HD. What I'm going to do is roll twice for hit points, they larger of the two totals is for the pack leader, the other three each get the smaller total.

roll, roll

25 & 27

So we have a leader with 2 more hit points than the other three. 

They have treasure type D, so let's figure out their loot.

roll, roll, roll, roll, roll, roll
  • 3,000gp
  • Shield +3 (Wow!)
  • Potion of Speed
  • Potion of Invisibility

Not a bad haul.

Okay, so ten minutes of rolling and scribbling later, we've got a handle on what we're dealing with. Now let's make the encounter FUN!

(This is the sort of stuff that fills my head instead of sport scores and getting work done!)

A pack of four displacer beasts live in the forest. At some point in the past, a young knight and his squire were traveling through the woods. Sir Bannon had only recently won his spurs. He was charged with safely delivering a payment from his lord to another nobleman in the next province. The knight and his squire were attacked. The squire and the pack horse were killed. Sir Bannon's horse bolted. Since he was using his great-sword (2H), his shield was on the packhorse. It was a family heirloom from his grandfather's time and bears the family crest. 

The beasts dragged the bodies (with the saddlebags) back to the lair, devouring the horse & boy. The goods are still intact and tumbled in among the gnawed bones. In the saddlebag with the coin is a letter charging Sir Bannon with delivering the cash.

Between losing the money, the magic shield, and appearing to run, Sir Bannon was disgraced. He is now a shell of his former self and badly in debt to his lord. If the PCs were to recover his shield and/or the money and return them to him, they would gain a true friend among the gentry.

The beasts are quite cunning, if not actually "intelligent." They not only use their displacement power, they take advantage of the forest's undergrowth and the trees for cover and ambush. They also prefer attacking under cover of darkness when possible (see below). A favored tactic is to hide in the middle branches and strike their victims from above with their tentacles. They also sometimes lower themselves with their tentacles, attacking with teeth and claws* then pull themselves back up into the canopy again. 

The beasts also move through the branches from tree to tree. This affords them good cover and concealment while stalking their prey.

Small targets (halfling-sized or smaller) might be hauled up into a tree with a tentacle and killed in the branches, then the displacer beast takes its prize back to the lair. They are also intelligent enough to double back on themselves and take to the trees occasionally to make tracking them back to their lair quite difficult. They feel no need for a standup fight. The pack is perfectly happy trailing a group for days, picking them off one or two at a time or killing a horse and hiding until the group moves on, leaving the dead animal behind.

The beasts' territory extends for miles and it takes a group walking or riding through the dense forest at least a few days to get clear. Horses and the like grow hard to control when they scent the creatures (morale checks for mounts and DEX rolls to keep control of a spooked horse). If the party camps at night, the beasts may try to panic the picketed mounts into fleeing before fading back into the forest. That way they can hunt the horses down later one by one. The displacer beasts also love wear down their prey by hanging back from the camp at night, roaring and screaming and making enough noise to prevent the characters from resting (or regaining spells!). 

*The RAW only describe DBs as attacking with tentacles, but it says they resemble six-legged pumas. So, OPTIONALLY, you might give them some claw/bite attacks. As long as the damage and the number of attacks per round are the same, it shouldn't matter, balance-wise, and it would let them use their tentacles as prehensile limbs. Or, you can just run it as written.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Kelvernian ray guns (and the like)

A first take at a few tech artifacts.

A much more simplified list than GW/MF, but I figure these will be like magic items, and relatively rare ones at that. The power cell will be a standard "battery." But larger, belt-pack power sources may be their own special item.

RMA: Sea Snake

After our recent adventures with snakes, I was reminded of this dilly.

Sea snakes in real life are relatively common only in certain waters. While it is true they are venomous, and some extremely so, deaths from encountering these reptiles are fairly rare.

In classic D&D, sea snakes are an unusual encounter even in an aquatic environment. Their low morale means they aren't going to hang around a fight for long, either. There are a couple things that make this little fella insanely scary, though.

Like all poisonous snakes, you've got a save or die potential. However, with sea snakes, there are a couple of oh-so-fun twists to keep in mind.

  1. Half the time, the victim doesn't even necessarily know he's been bitten (tiny teeth).
  2. Even if Neutralize Poison is used, 25% of the time the spell fails vs. the venom's potency. That's right. A one in four chance that 4th level clerical spell designed to stop poison from killing you just won't cut it against this stuff!
In the game, sea snakes are aggressive and may even attack a human for food (Moldvay). While I don't know that this makes real-life sense (snakes swallow their prey whole, and a human is a tad big for that), it makes having 1d8 of them swimming toward you more than a bit unnerving.

A new angle

I'm thinking about taking the whole "Mutants & Mazes" thing with Kelvernia in a different direction. The difficulty I keep running into is the few, but significant differences between the Labyrinth Lord (B/X) and Mutant Future systems. I would say they are 75-80% compatible, but the parts that aren't keep giving me fits.

First off the characters progression system is different enough to make is kludgy to blend characters from each game. Things like saves, to hits, etc. are more random in MF, so it "feels" unbalancing next to the more uniform D&D style progression in LL. 

Next are the hit points. While this is one of the most obvious changes, it is actually the easiest to fix. You just give the MF character types LL-style HP (likewise the monsters that vary between systems). 

The other problem, related to hit points, is weapon damage. Specifically, the "artifact" weapons (e.g. lasers, etc.). These weapons do a crazy amount of damage compared to things like LL PCs and monsters. Consider a vibro sword. It does 1d8 (longsword damage) +16(!!!) per hit. It can maintain this ability for up to 240 rounds before its battery dies. This thing could kill an average dragon in two (non critical)hits. That's too powerful for the game I want to play, but I don't want to make such items unheard of, either.

So what to do?

Well, in my case, I'm taking inspiration from a slightly different source, but one with a pedigree that most can appreciate.

Kind of a no-brainer, once I thought about it.

Instead of blending the systems, I'm going to port over and convert and scale the tech I want into D&D/LL terms/stats. This means I might not include certain items and monsters, but even using the MF book, it's doubtful any campaign would cover them all. Also, the Mutant Future book will be there as an awesome reference for any future needs.

This will also require updating/converting some of the mutations' descriptions, but I'm hoping that will be relatively minor.

In a future post, I'll give some stats for the "fantasized" versions of the MF weapons and gear. 

Life imitates art (or game imitates blog, whatever)

We've been playing a fun little crawl designed by one of our group for the upcoming One Page Dungeon Contest. It was also her first time GM-ing. Without giving away too much, we had an encounter with some spitting cobras, and it was pretty close to what I described in the earlier post. As a result, we ended trying to deal with a blind PC for a large portion of the adventure.

I was quite amused.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Kelvernia: Bullet Points for Nations

Here's the quickie blurb for each country as I would describe them to a player:

  • Cramond: "Baseline" euro-fantasy kingdom in setting. Possible uncertainty about succession. Changed and metalmen tolerated but not well-accepted.
  • Jerimet: Up & coming recent dynasty. Territorial ambitions. Ships changed and metalmen to a quasi penal colony.
  • Tyros: Plutocratic sea traders, run by an extremely wealthy oligarchy. Think Venice mixed with the Islands of the Purple Towns.
  • Lossara: Horse tribes. Cross between arabs and mongols. 
  • Tolkati: Northern barbarians. Eskimo Conan.
  • Arganta: Viking pirates from a desert land. 
  • Glaw: Mysterious forests.
  • Subat: Fallen empire. Kind of like Melnibone and Stygia mixed with Mayan overtones.
  • Elves found in remote, wooded areas of Jerimet and Cramond. 
  • Dwarfs primarily from Spear Mts.
  • Halflings live among men in farming communities.

RMA: Yeti

This one is more of an AD&D 1e monster, but since it's in the Labyrinth Lord Advanced Edition Companion, I figured what the heck.

I think yetis are unusual encounters because extreme climates tend to be unusual in-game environments. As I have mentioned in other posts, I think this is a shame, because of the fun it can add to the game.

Yeti (Stats from AEC)

No. Enc.: 1d6 (2d4)
Alignment: Neutral
Movement: 150' (50')
Armor Class: 6
Hit Dice: 4+4
Attacks: 2 (claws)
Damage: 1d6/1d6
Save: F4
Morale: 8

At first glance, yetis are basically "polar ogres," with a similar –though not identical– stat block. There are a couple of fun things about these abominable snow critters to remember, though.

  1. Hug: If either yeti claw hits with 20, it squeezes the target to its freezing body, causing an extra 2d8 damage from the cold.
  2. Stare. Looking into the yeti's eyes forces a save vs. paralysis or the victim is "frozen" in fear for 3 rounds, during which time the yeti can automatically hit with its claws AND hug. That's 2d6 + 2d8 damage, for those keeping track at home. (The 1st edition MM says this only happens if the target is surprised, the AEC says anyone within 30' must make the saving throw.)
  3. Camouflage: This beast is very difficult to spot in snowy/icy lands until it's practically on top of you (30% invisibility at 30+ feet). 
  4. Cold adaptation: Yetis are immune to cold-based attacks, but suffer 150% damage from heat/fire attacks.
Even though their AC and HD are nothing amazing, encountering a half dozen of these while floundering through the snow would be less than amusing. 

"There's a what behind me? 
Pull the other one! It's got bells on!"

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Kelvernia: Sulat

Okay, I've been boring everyone with these setting nation blurbs long enough. This is the last one. I saved Sulat until the end because I felt it was the most interesting (or at least crucial) to the setting's history, as well as being a potentially rich source of adventure hooks.

Sulat was once the seat of the Sulati Empire, which ruled nearly all of Kelvernia. From what is now Lossara to the edges of Glaw, all peoples were under the thumb of the serpent empire. The sulati ruled the seas in their bronze war galleys and conquered wherever they went. The subject nations tithed food, wealth, and slaves to their masters, and sorcerer-priests sacrificed prisoners to their dark god Baal. The demihuman races were hunted to near extinction, and fled from human lands.

Such was the way of the world for over twenty generations, until nearly all the conquering forces were suddenly withdrawn from the vassal states, ordered to return immediately to Sulat. The native peoples seized their chance and rose up against the reduced garrisons, defeating their oppressors. When the newly freed men of Kelvernia mustered enough forces, they sailed on Yarlat, the imperial capital.

What they found was desolation. Nearly half the city was leveled and corpses choked the streets. Signs pointed to some massive battle, but only Sulati dead were found. Later, the invaders discovered that some of the Sulati had fled into the jungles, but attempting to track them all down was a useless endeavor. The power of the empire had been broken.

Today, Sulat is a shell of its former self. Its people are dark and thin. In place of their former arrogance is now a low cunning. Some trade still occurs at Yarlat, as the jungles yield rare plants and woods, but the city is still mostly ruins, with ramshackle structures littered around the harbor.

The changed are common here, moreso than in most parts of Kelvernia. Some folk believe this is related to the empire's demise, but the demon star appeared hundreds of years after Sulat fell. Metalmen are conspicuously absent, however.

The dread worship of Baal, once the state religion of Sulat, is now outlawed everywhere. The "new" sulati claim to follow the Five, but rumors persist of hidden jungle temples that still practice human sacrifice.

The language of Old Sulat was never the lingua franca of Kelvernia. Rather, it was the tongue of kings and priests. Much magical lore and ancient history is written in its script. Today's Common Tongue –or "New Imperial"– is a descendant of the "Low Sulat"tongue and a pidgin of various indigenous languages.

OK! That sums up the basics of the geography. The (initial) info I would give the players would be much shorter. Probably just a line or two. Next up I think I need to make a few more rules decisions and then move on to working up some actual campaign/adventure hooks. 

Kelvernia: The Wildlands of Glaw

Far to the northwest, lies Glaw. To most people in Kelvernia, it is a land shrouded in myth.  Few have ever seen it. Even in Jerimet, Glaw's closest neighbor, the nearest towns and villages are separated from the border by miles of trackless plains.

The Straits of Glaw are a sea of wicked currents and shoals. Since there is little to no trade that far away, even sailors have rarely caught a glimpse of the Glaw coast. A few bold explorers have landed on the coasts, but there is no tale of a successful expedition into the interior.

Glaw is said to be a primeval wilderness. It's described as a land of giant trees, heavy mists, and no trace of civilization. Rumor says that there is vast wealth to be found there, that veins of gold run through the hills and raw gems litter the stream beds. Rumor also tells that strange beasts and stunted aborigines make quick work of any who venture there.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Kelvernia: Arganta

To the south lies the arid land of Arganta. Most of the population lives along the coastline, fishing and sailing. There is a long history of piracy and raiding among the Argantans, and many merchant ships have fallen prey to their swift longboats. 

The Argantan people are swarthy and tend to be shorter than northerners. Culturally they have a great zest for life and tend to be somewhat fatalistic about danger. While many make living off plunder and theft, they are not without their own peculiar code of honor. The corsairs value their reputation for courage above almost everything, so anything that might make them look craven is avoided at all costs.

Despite its seafaring prowess, the wealth of Arganta lies in the interior; in the wastes. There, rare spices and herbs grow amid the blasted rock and sands. Many expeditions to collect such commodities never return. Those that do can make a man rich. 

The changed roam the wastes in vicious bands and some of the wildlife has "warped" as well, making it doubly dangerous to venture there. It is even said that there is a town of metalmen somewhere in the desert, but most dismiss this as mere rumor.

RMA: Devil Swine


Once upon a time, I asked Frank Mentzer (on his Dragonsfoot Q&A thread) who came up with this monster. I explained it was one of my all-time favorites from classic D&D. When he graciously answered my query, he said it was most likely Cook or Moldvay. He also wanted to know what it was that I liked about the creature. My reply was quite simple, which I will quote below:


 Let us pause for a moment to let that sink in.

110% Pure Win.

So! Lets look at my incredibly detailed thoughts one at a time, shall we? But first, here are the stats:

Devil Swine
No. App.: 1-3 (1-4)
AC: 3 (9)
HD: 9*
Move: 180' (60')
 -Human: 120' (40')
Attacks: 1 gore (or weapon)
Damage: 2-12 (or by weapon)
Save: F9
Morale: 10

Point the first: It's HUGE

Devil Swine are by far and away the scariest of the classic lycanthropes, IMO. They have 9 hit dice. NINE! That's averaging 40-odd hit points. They transform into huge boars that "...are carnivorous and especially fond of human flesh." So it goes out of its way to eat people. In the Labyrinth Lord rules, the "Demon Boar" is described as 9' long. Here's a pic to give you an idea of what that might look like.

Yes, that's a real photo.

2nd point: MIND-CONTROL

The DS can use a potent Charm Person ability up to three times per DAY! What's more, saves against it are at -2. So while in human form (usually an obese person), they might gather flunkies about themselves. In fact, they might have a couple with them even when transformed. The idea of this "person" manipulating the local populace into trusting/liking him and then feeding upon them is pure awesome, IMO.

What a charmer!

Lastly, WERE-PIG

Devil Swine are actual lycanthropes. This not only gives them the immunity to non-silver or non-magic weapons, but means they can infect others with the disease. A delightful bit of Mystara trivia: According to some fluff, Orcus –demon immortal lord of undead and lycanthropes– was a devil swine in his mortal form (the first of his kind). This cracks me up, not to mention the delightful tie-ins that might be added to an adventure involving these creatures.

...did I mention there can be FOUR of these things hanging out together?

Friday, April 6, 2012

RSA: Contact Other Plane

Despite its power, it's easy to see why this spell might not be first on everyone's list. As a 5th level spell, it's competing for attention against such favorites as Cloudkill, Telekinesis, and Teleport. Unlike many other D&D spells, it has no guarantee of working, in that the entities contacted may either A) not know the answer, or B) just plain lie about it. Lastly, there is a decent chance of the MU going bonkers if he tries for the "higher" planes. 

Not quite as bad as this, but still...

There are several interesting things about this spell. First off, the planes are numbered "3rd-12th" in the spell description, with no real mention about what the sequence refers to.  I assume the 1st & 2nd are the material and the ethereal planes, respectively. DMs are expected to assign the others as they see fit, I expect. Personally, I approve. I'd hate to shoehorn a cosmology into my game that doesn't fit for the sake of one spell.

Secondly, the idea that the wizard can push this spell as far as he wants, choosing the plane he tries to reach. Want to play it safe and just ask on the 3rd plane? Go ahead. You won't get to ask as many questions, but you'll probably keep your marbles, and whatever picks up the phone is less likely to lie. They are also less likely to know the answer to begin with, however. If you kick it up a notch, the risk/reward goes up too. I love this kind of thing, where the player has to weigh their choices. 

I also love that the DM can feed the players false info. I'm not trying to screw over the PCs, but it's sort of what you'd expect from some extraplanar being that got the equivalent of an annoying phone survey call right at dinner. While the lying could take the form of the entity claiming ignorance, the opportunity for mischievous misinformation here is more than I could resist. 

Last, but not least, almost like it's straight out of Lovecraft, is the insanity factor. The idea that the caster could just go gaga with NO save is pretty impressive. Granted, the insanity is temporary, but the wording also states he is "out of the campaign." In other words, this isn't a case of slight anxiety, this fella is wigged out and no use at all on an adventure.


It sort of makes you wonder what the wizard wants to know THAT badly. The answer is usually 'nothing' so the players never use the spell. While it is tempting to drop a scroll or spellbook containing CoP into the loot to see what the party does with it, I think this is the kind of spell that would need to be used multiple times before all the different wrinkles it presents could be explored.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Languages in Kelvernia

I've been going back and forth about how to use languages in Kelvernia. One thing I mislike in games (and never use) is the idea of alignment languages. What I do like is the idea that not all humans speak some "Common Tongue" fluently, or that this lingua franca is as detailed as a normal, "native" language. I also like the idea of using languages as a challenge and to add flavor to the game. 

What I don't want to do is make it so players are either: 
  1. stuck with all playing characters from the same background or nation, or 
  2. unable to communicate with one another in-game
Neither of those sound like they would be much fun over the long haul. 

So here's what I'm thinking of using, house rules-wise.

  • All PCs speak their native language AND the Common Tongue.
  • As per the LL rules, characters with an INT of 9+ are assumed to be literate.
  • "Common" is a pidgin/trade speech which can convey most straightforward ideas and concepts, but is not a great choice for composing epic poetry or making flowery speeches.
  • Many NPCs will not know Common.
  • Demi-humans gain no automatic bonus languages. (i.e. Kobold for dwarfs, etc.)
  • As per rules, High INT gets additional starting languages.
  • It is possible for anyone to learn additional languages after start of play, but it takes weeks of study, practice with a fluent speaker, and/or immersion in the language's culture.
  • Once per week, the character trying to learn a new language attempts an INT check, three total successes means the character has gained basic fluency. 
  • A character cannot learn more languages than a total of half their INT score (rounded up).

In Kelvernia, the people of Cramond, Tyros, Jerimet, and Sulat all speak "New Imperial", a modern form of the old Sulati language. The other nations each have their own languages. Elves and dwarves have the own racial languages. There are also dead languages in Kelvernia also possible to learn.

Since all PCs know the Common tongue, no one is required to go out of their way to learn more languages. It might make some challenges easier if you have someone in the party who can speak Glaw, but no one is pigeonholing a character into it.

("Let's see... How would one decline 'Guisarme' in Ogre?")

Kelvernia: Lossaran Steppes

The Lossaran Steppes are a rolling, semi-arid, grassland. The Lossars are horsemen without peer. They live in semi-nomadic clans, moving their tent cities every few months. They live by herding cattle and trading between the clans.

Lossaran steeds are the finest in the world. Unlike the heavy draft horses of the west, or the small shaggy ponies of the Tolkat, Lossaran horses are sleek and fast, but can run for hours. As a result, the Lossars favor mounted fighting, favoring spears and curved swords with light armor. They also employ a style of horse archery using short bone bows that is particularly deadly. Some clans will hire out warriors as mercenary light cavalry. 

Once a year, the clans bring their horses and cattle to market at the town of Rat, on the Cramond border. For two weeks merchants come to trade with them and buy their livestock. It is a time of contests, races, auctions, and general high spirits. A clan with good herds can make a great deal of money to use in the coming year, so the Lossarans are eager to see all goes well. 

The Lossarans are not very religious. They believe in respecting their ancestors, and in the turn of the seasons, but not much else. Their clerics are more like shamans or medicine men than priests. 

Like anywhere in the world, the changed can be found in Lossara. Each clan has their own attitudes toward these individuals. Some are tolerant, some kill them on sight. Metalmen are treated in much the same way. 

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Kelvernia: Saving Throws

Mutant Future and Labyrinth Lord are about 90% compatible with one another. The two areas that I've run into so far that need tweaking are hit point/hit dice, and saving throws. Namely, MF characters start with more hit points and several monsters (especially humanoids) reflect this as well (e.g. Morlocks with 9HD as opposed to 1)

For hit points I'm simply sticking to LL for PCs and will adjust any monsters that need to be  tweaked on the fly. Generally sticking to the lower power levels.

For saving throws, the Mutants & Mazes section has some decent advice, basically giving equivalents for the save types between systems. Rather than bog the players down with it, I'll just keep these equivalents in mind when asking for them to roll.

Character Saving Throws
Mutant Future **** Labyrinth Lord
Energy Attacks **** Breath Attacks
Poison or Death **** Poison or Death
Stun Attacks **** Petrify or Paralyze
Radiation **** Wands

Spells or Spell-like Devices has no equivalent in MF, so I'll just the PCs'/monsters' LL saves for that.


Make sense? Or am I missing something?

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Kelvernia: Tolkati

To the north lies frozen Tolkati. It is a land of taiga and tundra; with rivers and snows and tall spruce trees. The people of Tolkati are barbaric nomads, organized into small clans. They ride small, shaggy ponies and live by hunting, trapping, fishing, and raiding. They are a warrior culture, emphasizing personal bravery and honor through combat. A tolkat army would be a fearsome thing, but the tribes would never work together to make it happen.

Tolkati is a land of spirits. The religion of the tribes is one of nature spirit and ancestor worship. They consider the Five to be just more spirits. The spirit world often plays tricks on mortals and there is little to be done about it other than persevere.

There are few metalmen in the snowy wastes –they seem to prefer civilization– but the changed are relatively common for some reason. The tolkat viewpoint is that the changed are as they are because the spirits willed it. As a result, they are treated pretty much like anyone else.

RMA: Dragon Turtle

Oh boy, oh boy! Do I loves me the DT! Despite it's complete awesomeness, it's a sort of unusual critter. I think that's for two reasons:

  1. Aquatic encounters are more unusual because aquatic adventures are more unusual.
  2. This fella is the badassedest* thing in the BX books.
*If it wasn't a word before, it is now! Hooray for English!

Take a look at that picture by Steve "the Man" Zieser. That's nearly to scale! This monster eats ships! Let's take a look at the stats:

(From BX)
AC: -2
HD: 30
Attacks: 3 (2 claws/1bite) & Steam breath
Damage: 1d8/1d8/10d6
Save: F15
Morale: 10

OK, first off this is one of the only creatures in Moldvay/Cook with a listed negative AC! So that shell is pretty tough. Thirty HD (30!) means you're capping out at 240 hit points, and averaging about 135. Its bite attack is dealing up to SIXTY points in a go! That's a siege weapon! While it would take several such blows to finish off a large ship, chances are the crew would be long dead before that was an issue.

Most alarming however is that this thing also has a breath weapon. Following BX rules, the cloud of superheated steam it exhales does its current hit points in damage. That's right, so an average dragon turtle does 135 hit points of breath weapon damage to everyone in the area of effect (30' x 90'). To put this in perspective, a maxed out gold dragon is dealing 88 hit points of fire damage in the same area. Even if you make your saving throw against the middling DT's breath weapon, that's still 67 hit points damage! In other words, a 6th level fighter with an 18 CON and maximum hit points (d8 hit die), is automatically killed! Using average HP and no CON bonus, even half damage still kills a 14th level fighter with room to spare. 

Can you say 'eek!' ?

Add in the fact that it's swimming around the ocean and could capsize a good sized ship before you even knew it was there, this is one nasty, nasty encounter.

(*wipes away a tear* "So very beautiful!")

Monday, April 2, 2012

Kelvernia: Combat House Rules (a first take)

OK, I want to tread lightly here. What I'm after is to increase the fun but not the overall complexity. At the moment, here are a few things I am considering adding.

Jeff Rient's Big Purple D30 Rule
Once per session each player may opt to roll the Labyrinth Lord’s big purple d30 in lieu of whatever die or dice the situation normally calls for. The choice to roll the big purple D30 must be made before any roll. The d30 cannot be roll for generating character statistics or hit points.

Of course, my d30 isn't purple, but you get the idea.

Critical Hits & Fumbles: I intend to include these. Some people think it ends up screwing over the PCs, but as long as crits and fumbles affect monsters too, I say it's fair. The exact charts are in flux, but criticals will most likely include extra damage, gaining a free attack, and knocking an opponent off his feet. Sample fumbles are things like dropping a weapon, breaking a weapon, or losing your next turn. "Nat 20s" = crits and "Nat 1s" = fumbles. Using the d30 to hit means any roll of 20+ is a critical.

Quaffing: Taking a stiff drink (ale, wine, spirits) can restore temporary hit points, but runs the risk of getting drunk and gaining temporary penalties to attack rolls.

Follow Through: Killing an opponent in melee allows a free "swing through" (cleave) to an adjacent foe. Magic-users, thieves, and clerics lack this ability.

Trained warrior: Fighters (and only fighters) get one attack per level vs. creatures of 1HD or less if they (the fighters) do not move that round.

This list is far from final, but it should give an idea of the direction I'm going with combat.

Technology and Kelvernia

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."
-Arthur C. Clarke

Unlike a typical post-apocalyptic setting, the idea behind Kelvernia is that long-lost technology resurfaces into a fantasy world (somewhat like Expedition to the Barrier Peaks). As a result, there aren't "modern-era" ruins littering the landscape to search for things like grenades and submachine guns. The tech that appears in Kelvernia is "sci fi" tech. Ray guns, force swords, etc. There are two basic reasons for this:

1) It fits the setting: with a highly advanced civilization having left behind technology. Some of it is in disrepair due to the aeons that have passed.

2) The technology is orders of magnitude beyond the current levels of learning in Kelvernia. No one is going to disassemble a ray gun and figure out how to make more. 

I plan on treating such artifacts pretty much as magic items. Unlike a ring or a flying carpet, it will require more than just discerning a command word. Player characters will need to make technology rolls to learn how to use it. Failing that, they may need to employ the services of a Technomancer.

Technomancers are sages who study such devices and their origins. Because technological artifacts are so rare, much of their "studies" are simply theories, and frequently wrong. Nevertheless, many do have a knack for figuring out how the gizmos work. Further, sometimes successful technomancers may hire PCs to look for such objects. 

Kelvernia: Jerimet

Jerimet is a relatively young kingdom. It had long been a loose amalgamation of petty baronies and princedoms, each with petty rivalries and frequent skirmishes with their neighbors. All that changed a little over twenty years ago, when the old lord of Kasjar (a small coastal province) died, leaving his son Drew to rule. 

Drew, though a young man, proved a capable leader. When his southern neighbor encroached upon Kasjar farmlands, Drew took his troops and pushed the southerners back. Not content with this, the young lord continued his advance and defeated the entire province. 

Thus began a ten year campaign of conquest. Drew proved a fearless general and a capable warrior in the field. In the end, the entire peninsula bent the knee to Drew I, king of Jerimet (called thus for the old imperial name of the land). 

King Drew is now a middle-aged man. A greater warrior than ruler, he is nonetheless conscientious enough to appoint good advisors and the kingdom runs smoothly enough. He married a Doge's daughter several years ago, and has an heir of his own now. The crown prince is only a boy, but should be more than old enough to take the crown before the king would die of old age. 

In the meantime, much of the crown's energies are spent keeping the old rivalries between the provincial lords from flaring up. As a result, Drew I wonders if a unifying cause might not be useful. He eyes expanding eastward into Cramond, and tests his neighbor's resolve occasionally. 

In a further attempt at unification, King Drew has made the Church of the Five the official state religion, and the patriarch is on the royal council. The king hopes that the presence of the official church in every province will preach fealty and loyalty to his subjects.

Jerimet is not friendly toward the Changed or the Metalmen. Those found among the populace are sent to Berkut, a "settlement" on the shores of Lake Rabine to the north. Foreign mutants or androids are required to carry papers at all times, and can expect to be stopped frequently by the town watch.  Many establishments will not serve them. Outside the cities, it's usually worse, where "papers" mean little to nothing and a mob may turn ugly if a mutant come to their village. 

RMA: Unicorns

Despite being a fantasy staple, I think I haven't seen this creature come up more often because:
  • They aren't really a "monstrous" monster, aka "Something PCs are likely to fight."
  • Very few of my players choose to play young maidens.

Back at Garycon last month, Jeff Rients ran an adventure with an insane unicorn prowling the caves. After that was over, I looked at the thing's stats, comparing it to a war horse (the scariest normal equine).

I just couldn't bring myself to use one of the 
seventeen MILLION "sparkly" images Google turned up.

It's faster than a war horse, has a better AC, more HD, and does more damage per attack (1d8 vs. 1d4). NTM it gets a third attack (horn). Unicorns also get that freaky teleport ability, so it'd be hard to finish one off without it escaping, especially with their skittish morale.

A wandering encounter with these creatures has a herd of 1d6 galloping about, which could really spell bad news for someone who decided to mess with them. The 1st edition version is even scarier, with human-level intelligence and a horn that does a d12 damage (doubled when charging!). 

All this makes me wonder about a good way to include a unicorn encounter that is not geared toward 8 year-old girls. Perhaps a woodland guardian? Or maybe a reincarnated NPC? Or maybe someone hung the MacGuffin around the unicorn's neck (a la "Amber") and it flits about resisting attempts to capture it? Anyway, it bears further thought. 

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Bring on the Mutants!

OK, now to get down to the nitty-gritty. One of the things that I'm having trouble with is the question of how to handle mutants and androids in the setting. Are they monsters/NPCs? Can players play whatever they want? What's the best way to balance the power levels, etc.? Since the idea is that Kelvernia is a "fantasy" world, and the PA (post-apocalyptic) stylings are a recent occurrence, I want to use LL/BX as the "baseline" system-wise.

(Yeah, kinda like that!)

At the moment, I am leaning toward allowing "changed" humans as a playable race, but not using every mutation on the Mutant Future list. Here's where my version is at right now:


  • Attacks/HD/XP/Saves as Halfling. Also, level caps at 8th.
  • Start with 2 random mutations at 1st level. Drawbacks are part of same tables. 
  • The Changed gain a new mutation at 3rd, 5th, and 8th levels.
  • Save at -4 vs. mutating energies.
  • The Changed suffer a reaction penalty of 4 when dealing with any other race (NPC or monster).

The player can choose to be a changed animal, human, or plant. Changed are assumed to be at least halfling-sized (but no larger than human), of human range intelligence, and capable of speech (though perhaps having some difficulty articulating certain sounds depending on the shape of their mouths). Changed humans or animals roll once on the physical and once on the mental charts at the start of play. Changed plants are also assumed to be mobile. At start of play, mutated plants roll once on the plant and once on the mental mutations.

When a changed PC gains a new mutation (i.e. at 3rd level, etc.), the player rolls a die. An odd result means they gain a mental mutation, even means they roll on the physical (or plant) table.


I realize the above makes for an extremely random PC, but I figure that's sort of the point when playing a mutant!

I'm still on the fence about the MetalMen (androids). The version I came up with used Elf progression for XP, saves and to hits (with the 10th level cap). PC Metalmen are humanoid constructs whose AI has developed self-awareness and free will (to a degree). Their background programming causes them to tend toward Lawful alignment. They do not sleep (magical Sleep doesn't work), are immune to most normal poisons and diseases.

Androids start with a fixed number of hit points (probably 50), but cannot be healed (magically or otherwise), they must be repaired or repair themselves (self-repair rate is 1d3 per day, assuming it has at least 8 hours to work on themselves and basic equipment, which most androids have built-in or on their "person" by default). More elaborate repair kits and facilities exist, but are like Healing Potions, with limited supplies/doses. If an android is "killed", it cannot be raised, resurrected, or reincarnated. Only direct divine intervention or a Wish can bring it back.

Androids have an affinity for hi-tech artifacts, and can figure out how to use such objects with relative ease. Androids gain a +20% to Technology rolls.

We shall see. Perhaps they should stay NPC-only. 

Thoughts? C&C?