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Saturday, March 31, 2012

Kelvernia: The Armory

I can see going one of three basic ways with how I handle weapons and armor in the setting.

(I should mention that in these posts, Labyrinth Lord and Mutant Future are the systems I usually mean when I refer to "the rules.")
  1. A "refined" list that addresses certain issues that I have with the weapon and armor lists.
  2. A more abstract list that addresses the issues in a different way.
  3. Just use the list in the rule book and be done with it.
The list from option 1 is something I wrote up a while back. It's not exactly complicated, but it's one more table that isn't in the book that can potentially cause confusion. You can see it below:

Some of the choices made there are for flavor, but I also tried for balance. For example, I wanted the cleric to have a two-handed heavy weapon. I also folded in a couple house rules, like firing twice from a bow if you don't move. I also tweaked the armor list because a few things, like padded and leather giving the same AC, irked me.

Option 2 would take things in a less detailed direction without going all the way to "all weapons deal 1d6" rule. The idea would be there are small, medium, and large weapons (melee) and three different types: axes, blunts, and blades. All small weapons do a d4. Mediums are "hand and a half" weapons, dealing 1d8 one handed and 2d4 two handed. Larges deal 3d4 and are two-handed. Each weapon type has one of each size. The idea would also be that the weapons themselves are somewhat abstract. For example, a medium blunt weapon might be a flail, or a mace, or a hammer, while a small blade might be considered a dagger, or a poignard, or a dirk.

The idea is for the player to not feel "hemmed in" by the weapon stats and feel free to pick something that fits his character type. So the forester/scout might carry a short sword, while the pirate wields a cutlass, but the "meta" is the same. It means a new rule/table as well, but a much shorter/simpler one.

Option 3 just ignores any issues –real or imagined– with the equipment lists and gets on with the game. There's an appeal (for me) to all three possibilities, but I'm still ambivalent on which way feels like the right choice. I suspect that unless I experience a real epiphany about it, I'll opt for #3 and "First: do no harm."

PS- Futuristic weapons and the like will probably make an appearance, but will most likely be treated more like magic items than standard equipment. 

Friday, March 30, 2012

Paying Your Dues

Brian, of Playing DnD with Stuffed Animals, commented on an earlier post about character wealth. He suggested that training/guild fees might be a way to reduce a PC's assets. While not a new idea, I was reminded of it while considering what house rules to use with the Kelvernia setting.

The complaints I most often hear about things like training time and fees is that it's additional bookkeeping and that it penalizes the character by A) costing him hard-looted cash, and B) means he doesn't get to "level up" mid-adventure. Of the two, I more sympathetic to the latter. In some adventures, you might be stuck far from civilization and/or unable to take time off from a quest to train. This means the character (and the player) have done the work, put in the time, made the effort, etc. and are being denied their "reward." They've accrued the X,000 more experience and want their new spells, dammit! This can be felt even more acutely when a "storyline" is building toward some sort of final confrontation, and the player wants his PC to be at full capacity when the caca hits the fan.

Feeling kind of invincible, really.

On the other hand, not only is the idea of training "realistic." It gives the GM a plausible way of relieving a PC of some loot, as well as giving the character a "motivation" for wanting the gold. So, here's the training rule I am considering.

In order to level, PCs must train and study. The cost of training is 1000gp x the new level and takes a week. During that time, characters are doing nothing significant except training (8-10 hours/day+). Clerics fast and pray, rededicating themselves to their faith. Thieves pay guild fees and refine techniques for things like picking locks. Magic-users pay their guild to learn and copy new spells. Fighters work out, practice, and attend vigorous sparring sessions to refine their techniques.

Now, what about the "stuck in the wilderness/hot pursuit" scenarios? Well, here's what I propose. A character that reaches a new level but is not able to formally train still sees some benefit from their accomplishments. Namely, they still gain their new HD and saving throws. (I would give spell casters more spells per day, but that gives the advantage to clerics over MUs, as they don't have to copy new spells to learn more.) Other benefits like improved attacks, skills, new spell slots/levels, etc. have to wait until training occurs.

So, what if –for some reason– the PCs simply cannot get to a place where they can train for an indefinite period? Well, then the PC can train on their own. How does this work? The PC practices/prays/studies on their own for a week, or for 1d3 weeks if they are doing other things like traveling or adventuring while training. At the end of  the time frame, the PC makes an ability check on their prime requisite (classes with more than one prime use the higher score). A success means they have successfully self-trained. A failure means they cannot improve without formal instruction. A PC cannot self-train more than once without having formal training to level up the next time.

Now, this is by no means the only way to handle this. What I'm after here is a specific kind of game. One where the PCs are routinely in places like cities and towns, giving them plenty of opportunities to hear gossip and current events, meet NPCs, gather rumors of new adventures, re-equip, hire retainers, and so forth.

To be fair to the players, such a system certainly wouldn't have things like reduced treasure awards. A typical adventure would have the potential for earning/finding a reasonable bit of change. I could see a megadungeon-based game working well with this system; where player characters frequently return to a "base" after an excursion. In a more open game, where the PCs move about, I would want things like the guilds and training halls to be fairly ubiquitous, so the characters could find one without having to travel halfway around the world. Any good-sized town or city would have these sorts of resources. Is that super-"realistic"? Probably not, but if I'm going to bilk the PCs out of thousands of gold pieces, I'm not going to give them grief by making it hard for them to spend it.

What have other people done about this idea? What are you experiences with training costs, etc. as a GM or a player?

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Kelvernia: The Doges of Tyros

This little archipelago is arguably the richest nation in the world. A center for commerce, the merchant houses of Tyros trade in everything. They also boast the finest shipwrights in Kelvernia (save possibly the elves). The Doges are the major houses. Seven in all, the heads of these houses form an oligarchy which rules Tyros.

The islands are home to many skilled artisans, but most of the nation's wealth comes from brokering deals and acting as a middleman between buyer and seller. Even though the warehouses in the ports groan with goods, it represents only a fraction of the business done by the merchants here. The banks of Tyros often extend credit even to monarchs.

Tyros is a nearly true plutocracy. Wealth is status, and little else matters. Human, changed or elf, it makes no difference. Either one has what it takes to succeed, or one doesn't.

Nations of Kelvernia: Cramond

In an effort to stick to the "Avoid Minutiae" goal, I'm going to keep the "GAZ" section of the setting fairly light. The nations will end up slightly more detailed than the information below, but I want to set a baseline of where I'm going with each of them before pursuing any in depth.

Cramond: In many ways, Cramond is a typical "fantasy kingdom" with a western european feel. There are castles and forests, rivers and lakes, lords and ladies, knights, bandits, wizards, and the occasional monster. It is a large, agrarian, human nation. The capital city is Zaporta, and it is ruled by an elderly queen with grown twins (brother and sister) as heirs. The queen has named neither of them as her official successor yet. It is a very old dynasty, and Cramond is one of the oldest nations in Kelvernia. The land is divided into three duchies, with vassals under them.

The kingdom is currently having "border trouble" with its western neighbor, Jerimet. Such disputes happen occasionally, but the two countries have only rarely come to blows over it. The last "real" war between them was over thirty years ago.

The Church of the Five is the recognized faith in Cramond. Folk worship and the like is discouraged, and occasionally a "heretic" gets run out of town (or even beaten), but the crown does not go so far as to declare the Church the "official" religion of Cramond. It was until about two centuries ago, when a schism between the crown and the priesthood caused a severing of ties. The church keeps hoping to reverse this.

There is an excellent university in Zaporta, full of sages and other experts. The Guild of Magic and Alchemy maintains their headquarters in the city as well.

Cramond is home to many of the changed and metalmen. They are afforded rights as citizens, but are in reality second-class citizens best, and heavily discriminated against.

The northern edge of Cramond holds the Spear Mountains, which is home to the largest known dwarf population. They consider themselves autonomous and resent human encroachment on their territories. That doesn't stop some human miners from trying to exploit the veins of gold and iron to be found there, though.

Kelvernia: A Word on Terminology

I mentioned "Mutants & Mazes" in the title of my last post. For those unfamiliar with the term, it's a name used for the alternate Mutant Future rules in the back of the book to make them more compatible with a Labyrinth Lord game. The idea is to allow for cross-genre characters, etc.

I'm not 100% convinced I'll use those rules as written. While I like the idea of having robots and mutants in the setting, I'm not sure having them as playable PCs is the way to go. At the same time, I did say I want to leave player choices relatively open. The middle path is to offer some limited options to the players. Right now I don't want to get bogged down in crunch, I want to envision and describe the game I want to run, then try to figure out the how.

In either case, I'm (currently) using the term as a description of the genre rather than referring to specific rules.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Kelvernia: My 'Mutants & Mazes' concept

The land of Kelvernia is a land of magic, gods, and monsters. Where dragons lurk in deep caves, goblins haunt the forests, elves sail on ships with golden sails, halflings farm in isolated villages, and dwarfs forge mighty works in their mountain halls. Wizards, warriors, and other brave men travel to remote and dangerous locales to seek adventure and riches.

Stories tell of a brilliant star that suddenly appeared in the night sky over a century ago. It grew larger and brighter until it could be seen in broad daylight. The star grew larger too. Oracles proclaimed it would consume the world. Many believed the apocalypse had come. 

When the star was nearly the size of the sun, the legends say that the five gods joined forces and destroyed the star with lances of green fire, shattering it to pieces. Since that time, the Church of the Five cast the gods in the role of the world's protectors, saying the star had actually been a demon servant of Baal trying to eat the world. They also say that only the Five stands between mortal men and the next demon star that might appear.

Not long after the hysteria of the star had died down marked the first appearance of the metalmen. No one knew where they came from, but the metalmen were so named for they appeared to be encased –or comprised- of steel and brass. Some stumbled about like a wizard's mindless golem, but others possessed a level of awareness and even had individual personalities. Many carried strange tools and weapons never before seen in the lands. Eventually some even came to "live" among men.

The world also began to grow strange around this time. Some people -changed. Becoming bizarre in appearance; some of these changelings seemed more beast than human, a few even looked like plants! Many of these changelings began to demonstrate almost magical powers. Sometimes a changeling would be born to "normal" parents, other times a full-grown man might suddenly change in the space of a fortnight.

Today, the metalmen and the changelings live among the men, elves, and dwarfs of Kelvernia. This coexistence is not without strain, but works well enough for folk to go about their lives in general.

Kelvernia: Taking my bearings

OK, so before I delve any further into this mess, I want to take stock and figure out my goals.
What I want:

  • To emphasize fun and creativity for myself and my players.
  • To provide a setting with enough detail and hooks to give the campaign a real "home."
  • To sprinkle some twists, both fluff and crunch, to add to the fun.
  • To provide consequences, but not restrictions.
  • A game with "grit" but with "gonzo" too.
  • I tend to run "realistic D&D" (whatever that means). I think I want a game that takes me a little bit outside my comfort zone.

What I don't want:

  • To design a system for sale or publication. This is for my edification and enjoyment.
  • To heavily house rule or change the game beyond recognition. 
  • To make a world so detailed that the players (and myself) feel overwhelmed by minutiae. 

With all that said, let's take a look at the map again:

I like this map. The coastlines, etc. were based upon satellite imagery of Saturn's moon, Titan (which amuses me terribly for some reason). I was in a Robert E. Howard kind of mood when I made this and I think it shows to a degree in things like the place names. I wanted a Swords & Sorcery feel to the world, hence lots of seas to sail, wilderness to explore, and several nations to potentially be at one another's throats. I deliberately left off a scale or a hex grid, since I didn't want to get into a lot of fine detail about rates of travel and so forth. The place names and so forth are fine, since they impart very little specifics by themselves.

I originally pictured a low-magic world. Now I am thinking of more standard magic/fantasy levels, and maybe adding a little twist of super-science, like Blackmoor or even Mutant Future. (I'll also have to look at Anomalous Subsurface Environment and Savage Afterworld's World of Thundarr again). 

I had written more here, but it quickly degenerated into quite the ramble. To be continued when I yet again reacquire my bearings...

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Papa warned us.

"The first draft of anything is sh*t." 

 -Ernest Hemingway

Ayup. Looking over my Kelvernia setting fluff from 2009, I am rapidly approaching the conclusion that it is pretty much junk. I think I will try to salvage the place names just because I want to keep the map (aka "I am a Lazy Sot"), but most of the written up stuff will need to go.

Why? Well when I wrote this, the setting was heavily house-ruled. This included things like no demi-humans and no clerics. As a result, the way the nations are described reflects this. Soooo, it's time to revise/scrap the old text and try again.

Jeff Rients' 20 questions vs. Kelvernia

  1. What is the deal with my cleric's religion? - There are several deities in the world, each with a particular sphere of influence in the world. There are also spirit-worshipping shamans and a nasty demon cult.  A PC cleric can follow any of those, but some might get you in trouble in some parts of the world.
  2. Where can we go to buy standard equipment? - Most towns of any size have a general goods store with things like lamp oil and coils of rope. Starting armor and weapons are often heirlooms, but a large town or bigger probably has an armorer who keeps at least a couple of hauberks and longswords in stock.
  3. Where can we go to get platemail custom fitted for this monster I just befriended? - Most "civilized" areas will shoot things like an ogre on sight. But enough gold can convince an armorer to make house calls for a fitting
  4. Who is the mightiest wizard in the land? - The head of the Mage's Guild is a good bet.
  5. Who is the greatest warrior in the land? - If you believe his press, Lord Tavris of Lem
  6. Who is the richest person in the land? - Doge Gerard of Tyros
  7. Where can we go to get some magical healing? - Even a middling village probably has a low level cleric willing to cast Cure Light Wounds for a modest donation.
  8. Where can we go to get cures for the following conditions: poison, disease, curse, level drain, lycanthropy, polymorph, alignment change, death, undeath? - Better hustle to a large town or find a successful abbey.
  9. Is there a magic guild my MU belongs to or that I can join in order to get more spells? - MUs train with a guild approved mentor and get their new spells by paying a fee to a representative in a given town. The guild is international. Magic was learned from the elves, so any elf is considered an honorary member, but he still must pay his fees.
  10. Where can I find an alchemist, sage or other expert NPC? - Zaporta has a university. Try there.
  11. Where can I hire mercenaries? - The Sword Brothers can be found at any of their god's temples. They aren't cheap though. You might get a better price among the Lossarian horsemen.
  12. Is there any place on the map where swords are illegal, magic is outlawed or any other notable hassles from Johnny Law? - The inner city of Zaporta (the palace district) forbids weapons. Some towns peace-bind weapons. Anywhere in Cramond or Jerimet, a magical attack is considered as bad as attempted murder.
  13. Which way to the nearest tavern? - Swing a dead cat, you'll hit a pub of some sort.
  14. What monsters are terrorizing the countryside sufficiently that if I kill them I will become famous? - There are tales of a sea dragon who eats ships. There is a standing bounty on marauders like bandits or goblins, but it's doubtful that will get a song written about you.
  15. Are there any wars brewing I could go fight? - Cramond and Jerimet have rattling their sabres a bit lately. And the Cramond succession is shaky since the heirs apparent are twins.
  16. How about gladiatorial arenas complete with hard-won glory and fabulous cash prizes? - pit fighting is popular yet, illegal. The purse is small, but the side bets can add up.
  17. Are there any secret societies with sinister agendas I could join and/or fight? - Rumor says the demon cult of Baal still has secret worshippers. 
  18. What is there to eat around here? - Beef and mutton are staples in Cramond.
  19. Any legendary lost treasures I could be looking for? - The old Sulati empire is said to have ruins aplenty in the jungle.
  20. Where is the nearest dragon or other monster with Type H treasure? - You could look in the Spear Mountains for a red dragon, or go to Tolkat and look for an ice-wyrm, who knows?

A Small Fish

"Govern a great nation as you would cook a small fish. Do not overdo it."
-Lao Tzu

After playing several different systems in the space of a few days at Garycon, and buying several new shinies to read, I am –of course– pondering new kinds of things to run at my table. 

(We'll now take a brief pause to let readers get over the shock.)

One of the great things about con gaming is not only getting to play games you don't normally play, but also seeing the way people run their games and getting new ideas. Whether it's a different system whose mechanics vary from your standard game, or house rules, the wheels start a-turning.

I spent most of the flight home thinking about different modules I might run and different house rules I might use at the table. I would start to get pretty elaborate, but kept coming back to the idea that You Can't Fix D&D (YCFDD).

Now, at first that seems to say don't house rule anything, don't tweak, add-on, or fiddle with the rules as written. I believe, though, there is a little more (and less) to that idea, though.

My current thought is: Don't try to "fix" the game, but there's nothing wrong with more FUN.

So here's the rule of thumb I'm applying to my current noodling. Go ahead and add to or take away from what's in the book(s), but do it because it makes things fun, not to try and make something "more realistic", or "balanced." That doesn't mean I may not customize some stuff like equipment lists or house rule some stuff, but I will make an effort to tread lightly in those areas. "Fun" does not = "Easy" in this case, but it should be something that make playing the game more interesting. If players are getting confused because they have to keep flipping between your HRs and how its done in the book after the first or second time the rule comes up, you've probably gotten it wrong.

Too often, house rules primarily weaken the PCs. Things like limited spell lists, classes, etc. Anything that makes it harder for a character to survive or succeed is probably bad. At the very least, the rules should apply equally to monsters. Some examples I've fiddled with and seen posted over the years include:

  • Forbidden core classes ("No clerics" etc.)
  • Limited spell casting/spell failures
  • Added skill lists/proficiencies

These sorts of things may add a certain amount of flavor, but they also can make it hard on the players to keep their PCs alive and/or succeed at their goals. Ask yourself, is it really more fun for the 1st level MU's player when his ONE spell for the day fizzles because he rolled a 1? Or when the 3hp PC's player comes up with a clever plan to avoid getting killed, but can't try it because "he doesn't have that skill"? 

I've been looking at a setting I made up a couple years ago (map and all) that was riddled with these kinds of house rules, and now I'm cringing. I suspect that if I want to run it, I should tear everything out but the map. I'm thinking it may be for the best. Even the setting fluff may need to be be subjected to Jeff Rient's Twenty Questions


I may even make this into a series of blog posts as I sift through it and try to come up with something I think is worth playing/running. It is iffy whether the result even get used, but I'm interested in seeing what I can do with it.

(You can just HEAR the "Unfollow" buttons being clicked!)

Monday, March 26, 2012

vlog Episode 30 is up!

Talking about the class mechanic in "class & level" RPGs.

Back from Garycon!

And a good time was had by all.

If you are a tabletop RPG fan, this is a terrific con for just getting a chance to play. Especially some of the classic games that maybe you never got a chance to before. You get to sit at the table with some of the TSR old guard if you want, or just sling dice with whomever is up for a game.

The highlights for me:

  • Played Amber Diceless for the first time ever. It was a blast (I got to be Caine, hee!)
  • Tim Snider of Savage Afterworld ran an excellent game of Mutant Future in which I played a two headed telekinetic covered in spikes. Honestly, what can compare?
  • I squeezed in at Jeff Rient's Myrddin B/X game and a good time was had by all (I hope he runs again next year). And yes, I was there when the Mad Unicorn was slain.
  • Spent a lot of time hanging around the vendor room jawing with Jon Hershberger, Michael Curtis, John Adams, and Dan Proctor.
  • Got my dwarf torn to pieces in Hackmaster, which sounds like a bummer, but was actually tons of fun. I would recommend playing in one of George Fields' HM games, but apparently he was swamped with people trying to get into his (full) games this year, so... yeah! Man he stinks! ;-)
  • Played a cold-war era game of Cthulhu d20 (a version of the game I've read but never played) and managed to (barely) defeat the Shining Trapezohedron. I think I may have been the last PC standing, iirc.
  • Had a spectacular breakfast on Friday and Saturday at the Egg Harbor Cafe in downtown Lake Geneva. Try the strawberry orange juice, you won't be sorry.
In any case, I am looking forward to next year. I may have to run something to get in on that GM concierge service deal!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

RSA: Let there be light

Light  spells (continual or otherwise) are not uncommon. I don't know about you, but as soon as my players have the chance, they ditch most of their torches and lanterns for "Continual Light Sticks." I can't say as I blame them. It certainly is less encumbrance and book-keeping. I've previously mentioned in passing how I consider CL a world-changing spell. Or at least, it would be if carried to its logical conclusion.

I didn't want to talk about Continual Light today, though. I wanted to talk about how insanely powerful the plain old 1st level Light spell is in combat. It's to the point where it's the only spell a low-level cleric might consider to replace Cure Light Wounds on their prepared spells (though that's unlikely).

Why is it such a powerful spell? Take a look at the spell description (from Moldvay):

Light Level: 1
Range: 120'
Duration: 12 Turns

This spell casts light in a circle, 30' in diameter. It is bright enough to read by, but not equal to full daylight. It may be cast on an object. The light may be cast at a creature's eyes. The creature may make a saving throw, but if it fails, the victim will be blinded for 12 turns. In the D&D BASIC rules, a blinded creature may not attack. 
(emphasis mine)

So, you've got a 1st level spell with a 120' range (120 yards outdoors!), where a failed save vs. spells means most targets are basically out of the fight and practically helpless. In my campaigns, the player with clerics –lacking offensive spells like Sleep or Magic Missile– absolutely LOVE this spell.

The best part is when the PCs cut off the head and use it as a light source until the spell fades!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Cash or (in) Charge?

Player 1: "This is nuts! My character has got twenty THOUSAND gold pieces here! That's like Bilbo at the end of the Hobbit! Why would I go off into the wilderness looking to get killed? I can live off room service for the rest of my life here in town!"

Player 2: "C'mon, man! We need a melee tank! If your fighter sits it out, then we're hosed. Besides, why come to game if your PC is gonna just sit in town?"

Player 1: "I'd have fun doing town stuff."

DM: "No offense, but I didn't prep a town adventure, and -"

Players 2-X: "We don't WANT to stay in town, we want the dungeon!"

DM: "CAN I FINISH??… Thank you. AND I'm not going to spend the evening bouncing back and forth between your shenanigans and the rest of the group."

Player 1: " 'Shenanigans'? What are you, eighty-two?"

DM: "Shut up and buy your trail rations."

Player 1: "Oh, all right! I was just saying…"

You know the type. The player whose character doesn't want to adventure. I'm not talking about the one that would rather go one way while the rest of the group wants to go the other, I mean they genuinely feel in-character that their PC wouldn't keep risking horrible death after a certain point. It's not that they are necessarily disruptive to a campaign, but it's a wrinkle GMs have to deal with from time to time. 

It's a fair point, to a degree. Even mid level PCs can have amassed an impressive level of wealth compared to the typical peasant type. Let's face it, most turnip farmers have never even seen a platinum piece, let alone worrying about whether they can exchange all that bulky coin for gems or jewelry to reduce their encumbrance. 

Consider that, in a game like B/X, your typical XP spread is about 80% treasure, 20% combat (kills). So by about 5th level, most PCs will have had over ten thousand gold pieces pass through their hands. That's enough to buy a ship, or a galley (albeit small ones). I imagine if a character got into the adventuring business for the profit, they'd probably be starting to wonder when to cash out before they cash in.

As a DM trying to sustain a campaign, there are a couple of ways you might approach this issue…

  1. Let it happen. If a player thinks his PC wants to retire, let him. There's no point in forcing someone to play a PC they don't want to play. If the other PCs try to convince him in-game to keep going, fine. That's called roleplaying,  and the more the players do amongst themselves, then the less work for you! Of course, if the player wants to bring in another PC, there may be some back & forth about thing like starting level or wealth for the new PC, but if he ends up wimpier than the rest of the party, that's his choice.
  2. Wealth reduction. In other words "Screw the PCs out of their hard stolen loot!" Pickpockets, thieves, taxes, con games, crooked gambling houses, larcenous whores, the list goes on. One way to make a PC want/need to go treasure-hunting again is to TAKE AWAY HIS TREASURE. This can be effective, but too much of this kind of thing can feel like vindictiveness to the players. After all, they battled monsters, they disarmed traps, they slogged through swamps and caves to get that loot, and now some street urchin has just lifted a pouch holding  5,000gp  in gems! Unfair! It will also lead to rampant paranoia while they are in town.
  3. Let the engine do the work. In this case, the 'engine' being the setting. This involves a bit of prep work, but even an existing campaign could have some of these ideas bolted on without a lot of fuss. The main thing is to make is consistent and impartial. This is an idea that I'm just developing a bit to see if it has legs, so bear with me. 

I'm no medieval scholar, and I'm not striving for historical accuracy here, but I think it's fair to say that feudal/medieval life was fairly different than modern times. I'm not talking about things like science and technology, but the way things worked socially and economically. People today talk about the upper socioeconomic echelons of "the 1%", but back in the day, it was a lot less than 1% that could be considered wealthy. You had SCADS of people who were stultifyingly poor. I mean miserably so. The middle class hardly existed and the rich were ridiculously rich. The idea of rising through the ranks of society and "making your fortune" were pretty alien concepts for the time.

Now obviously you can't equate the economics of a D&D fantasy setting perfectly with feudal Europe, but certain truths can be taken into account with both.

  1. That societies are usually designed so that whomever is at the top stays there.
  2. Playing by the rules is not necessarily the best way to gain upward mobility (see point 1)
  3. Those who don't play by the rules had better win.

Now, a fantasy world where PCs can come into a middling size town and sell ancient jewelry, buy a full set of plate mail, and maybe even pay a cleric 1,000 gp for a Cure Disease spell just in case the thief did catch lycanthropy from that weird-looking wolf creature is not an economy where the "lower classes" have NO wealth. However, it doesn't necessarily follow that the jeweler can pay full value in hard coin, or that the armorer doesn't have to turn around and use most of that money for expenses, or that the local temple gets to keep that money. There's always a power structure taking its cut (sometimes more than one). Consider things like guild fees, church tithes, and –of course– taxes. At the end of the day, those townsfolk who took in all that wealth from the PCs might end up with relatively little of it. 

Now PCs tend to be a transient lot, like Bruce Banner in the Hulk, they keep moving from one adventure to the next. 

But, you know, with less of Liv Tyler in a wet shirt offering you a ride.

This means it's a little harder for them gosh-darn revenooerz to catch up and ask you for a 1040-DnD Form, but once you settle down and open a bar or something? Guess who's gonna come a-knocking? Next thing you know, that stack of gold ain't gonna pile up quite so high. Unlike a shopkeeper who is making a few gold here and there over the course of months and years, someone who literally just walks out of the wilderness with bags of cash and set themselves up in a town is likely to pay a premium for that privilege. Oh, sure, you can hide the loot or bribe officials, but even if you don't end up losing most of your nest egg, you're a lot less comfortable than you were. Like a lottery winner who gets a decent (but not humungous) jackpot and decides to quit their job, you can live off your windfall for the rest of your life, or you can live big, but you can't usually do both. And once you aren't idly well-off, you know what you've got? The adventurer's worst nightmare: WORKING FOR A LIVING!!

So what's an ex-adventurer wannabe to do? Simple: Beat them at their own game. 

I don't mean get out your +2 longsword and gut the tax man. I mean, get so STINKING rich that –like in the Count of Monte Cristo– you can buy your way into the power structure and become insulated from the oppression. This is, in a sense, part of the theoretical "End Game" of D&D. The PCs begin to move within the constellations of power, gain titles, political power, and acceptance amongst the "haves." They may not invite you to tea, but they aren't going to push you around either. Whether you're an archmage in a tower, a church patriarch, a crime boss, or landed gentry, you've got a position that gives you leverage. Just climbing to middling only means you'll take a little while longer to fall back underneath. 

You can go the other route as well, and strike out for the wilderness, staking your own claim. This is simply building a new power structure with you on top, and accomplishes much the same end. No one says you can't be benevolent, but at least you aren't relying on the kindness of strangers.

Next time a PC says "Hey, I got a little set aside. It's a lot more than most people have. Why should I keep risking my neck?" Maybe give him a little rope, he'll do the rest. The best part? It's not like the character died, or even lost levels. He can leave it all behind and get back in the saddle, ready for adventure again after his little trip down reality-lane.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Look! Up in the Sky!

Flying in old-school D&D

The power of flight is one those nigh-universal fantasies. Whether it's being a super-hero, or riding a magic carpet, or any of the other methods that can be found throughout mythology, folklore, and modern fiction; flying is something people find extraordinarily cool.

In classic D&D, flight is achieved by three basic means. 
  1. A spell
  2. A magic item
  3. A mount

Without going into the detailed specifics of each and every possible way to get airborne in-game, I thought I'd talk a little bit about the ways that flying characters and creatures can complicate –and enliven– a campaign.

Complication: The "Z"

Adding verticality to a combat means tracking in three dimensions instead of two. Everything from relative elevation to the hypotenuse of distance & elevation for ranged attacks is now a factor to keep track of. To me, this is one of those cases where less is more. Versions of the games that don't relay on a careful mapping/grid of a combat make it easier to run things like this. Instead of trying to precisely plot out everything visually (with minis), the players can simply ask the GM and he can describe it. Now, I do use minis as a rule, but I don't worry about representing changes in altitude on the battlement. I might put a mini on top of a plastic box to represent that it's airborne, but that's all. This means that PCs might not know exactly how far away that dive-bombing dragon is when they try to shoot it, but chalk it up to the fog of war and move on.

Once the PCs are flying around too, then it gets a little trickier. At that point, it's up to the players to be ready with the numbers when the GM asks. For the most part, how far off the ground only matters when you target something on the ground or when you fall. Otherwise it's just distance between you and everyone else.

This can make a fight really exciting or deadly dull, depending. Like I said, less is more. Players should concentrate on finding ways to use combat flying in useful and creative ways, not sweating complex rules. GMs need to provide a reality check, but likewise allow for things like dive bombing out of the sun, loop de loops, or even barrel rolls. Of course, things like fighting with weapons (ranged or otherwise) can be difficult, but it's certainly more exciting!

Fun: Look, Ma! I'm FLYING!

It's like dinosaurs, take any situation and add "And you're flying" to it, and it gets better. Give a PC some way to get airborne and you'll be amazed at how often the player will find a use for it, even out of combat. While GMs sometimes lament when their carefully thought out challenges are unexpectedly circumvented ("Well, heck! I just use my flying carpet to get us all up the cliff!") –and I am sometimes guilty of this as well– I think that anything that encourages players to problem solve creatively is an overall plus. 

Fun: Be vewy, vewy kwiet. I'm hunting hippogwiffs!

While any mage of a certain level is potentially able to cast Fly, other characters might like to get airborne too. Finding a magic item is a nice way for that to happen, but that's going to depend upon the GM placing or rolling up said loot. What the players can do is go looking for flying mounts. Can you say "Instant Player-Driven Adventure Hook"? I knew you could! Whether it's climbing rocky crags in search of a griffon nest, fighting off the mama as you steal her eggs, or tracking down rumors of pegasus herds, it's all great fun. Certainly not an easy task for beginning PCs, but a good way for those mid to high level characters to spend some time. Not to mention money on a trainer capable of making the beasts usable as a mount! Not to mention that some of these critters will be a problem if you try to stable them with horses (Does the term "fox in the henhouse" ring a bell?) You can also give up keeping -ahem- a "low" profile riding around on these kinds of beasts. The same holds true for a lot of the items like carpets, brooms, cloaks, etc.)

Complicated Fun: ZOOOOOM!!

While flying is not radically faster than riding in the game rules, it does have the added advantages of:
  1. Avoiding difficult/"slow" terrain
  2. Bypassing many possible encounters
Both of these tend to add up to quicker travel times. It also makes the party less isolated when you want them to be. "Oh no! the bridge is washed out!" doesn't mean diddly to them. Now, while I do not advocate trying to screw the PCs over because they've gotten a new toy, there are a couple of ways to make it a bit less of a universal remedy. 

First off, you can increase the chances of an aerial encounter slightly. Obviously if they never saw wyverns flying all over when they were on the ground, it wouldn't make sense for them to show up all the time just because the party is in the air. However, perhaps that pack of griffons that might have ignored a party on foot feels threatened by this challenge to their air space.

Secondly, and this shouldn't be limited to use when flying: weather. Throw a thunderstorm at them. Or a blizzard. Groups traveling overland should deal with weather too, but if you haven't been mixing it up meteorologically before, start now.

Third, visibility. Yes, being up on your pegasus lets you scan the horizon, but it also means everyone sees you, too! Whether it means you're making it dead easy for those bounty hunters to track you down ("Yep! I was working the fields yesterday and a whole group of fellas flew right over me heading north! On winged horses! Can you believe it?!") or just being a big target, it's something to keep in mind.

Fourth: Good for the (Flying) Goose. If you're party gains access to flight, who's to say the bad guys can't? 'Nuff said.

In conclusion, while I don't think it's necessary for all campaigns to end up with everyone whooshing around the sky, flight comes up often enough (even if it's only when the dragon strafes the village) that thinking about ways to make it work for your game is well worth the effort.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Mystara ebay find!

I picked these beauties up on eBay for < $40 (w/shipping)! The boxes are slightly beat up, but the contents are near-mint! I own the pdfs and printed them out at Kinko's, but having the color hex maps and books is such nerd-joy. 

John Carter Movie: Review

Let me state first off that I have read the ERB "Barsoom" books multiple times, I have looked forward to this movie since the first teaser trailer was released. So in that, I was biased to like it. I also heard and read many negative reviews and comments on the intertubes stating the movie was a mess before I went to see it this past weekend. So in that, I had prepared myself to be disappointed.

How wrong I was.

This movie is AWESOME! It is probably the most enjoyable science fiction movie (I exclude "comic book" movies from the genre, though it beats out most of them too.) that I have seen in years, especially in theaters. I may have to go back to the first Matrix movie to top it. The critics who gave it poor reviews, claiming it was difficult to follow must have been tweeting instead of simply listening to the dialogue, because everything was explained in a way that was actually internally consistent; a fact that puts it in the 99th percentile of sci fi films (and leaves the pathetic Star Wars prequels wallowing in the dust).

Spoiler-Free Part:

As far as the source material, it does vary slightly, but not in any way that tampers with the tone of ERB's stories. The brutal honor of the Tharks, the nobility of the Heliumites, these rang true. Even the look of Barsoom was neatly achieved through a combination of CGI and the Utah desert.

The movie is not about sci-fi action, it's about the characters. Burroughs wrote action romances: Carter's love for Dejah Thoris, Tarzan's love for Jane Porter, these themes run deep in his stories. While Carter's character is giving a slight tragic tweak, and Dejah is made into somewhat more than a trophy, I felt these changes made for a more engaging story.

Another wonderful thing about the way the film was done is the lack of stupidity. I can't think of a case where a character does something dumb just to advance the plot (a transgression present in nearly EVERY FILM EVER MADE!!) The mistakes they make are honest ones, and their successes are earned by overcoming a dangerous foe, not dumb luck.

Overall the plot is a pastiche of the first two books, with a few additions to make a more cohesive plot. Viewers expecting a page by page rendition of A Princess of Mars will be disappointed. People who want to see John Carter having an adventure on Barsoom with many elements of the original material will be thrilled.

All this isn't to say there is no action. JC leaping into battle nigh-single handed against a horde of green martians, airships battles, flier chases, gladiatorial arenas. My one minor peeve was that Carter's prowess as the "finest sword on two worlds" wasn't emphasized. He kicks major buttock, no doubt, but it's a little more Conan and a little less Errol Flynn.

The inclusion of ERB as a character (in keeping with the way the books are written) was a very nice touch, and the slight deviations from how John Carter first arrives on Mars actually hold up better in some ways than the original text, IMHO. The ending was also a slight tweak, but kept the major elements of the story well intact.

Minor Spoilers Ahead:

  • The real villains are the Machiavellian Therns, who are manipulating events for their own agenda. They are mysterious, they are deadly, and they are smart. Their technology and powers explain much of the tension in the film and even how Carter gets to Mars. A neat trick, I thought, and it made the story that much more interesting.
  • The presentation of the Green Tharks, and several of the other CGI creatures, was exceptional. Making the white apes gigantic was probably the greatest liberty taken.
  • Woola is nigh-perfect. He skirts the edge of pure comic relief and cuteness, but stays believable and uncloying. He is portrayed as loyal, ferocious, and so-ugly-he's-kinda-cute calot he is supposed to be.
  • At first I thought Lynn Collins wasn't pretty-pretty enough to be the "Deathless Beauty" that is Dejah, but seeing the character portrayed as more than just a trophy (which is pretty much what she is in the books), I found a more "real" appearance satisfying. Also, Ms. Collins on screen, acting and emoting, as opposed to simply a still, are two very different things. She is positively radiant. No, she is not naked in the film. She is sexy enough five times over in her clothes. Get over it. 
  • DeFoe as Tars Tarkas is perfect. 'Nuff Said.
  • The never really get into the whole issue of Carter never aging or Barsoomians living to be a thousand. Which is just as well, as it would have been an unnecessary complication and muddied the waters in regard to the Therns supposed immortality.
  • Kantos Kan was always one of my favorite minor ERB characters. I viewed him as a Barsoomian Faramir; not quite on the level of Tarkas or Carter in prowess, but a close second and totally their peer in honor. James Purefoy does not disappoint. The escape scene was one of my favorites in the whole film.
  • The ending gave a delightful twist and was extremely satisfying to me.  

That'll do for now. Ignore the film critics that dismiss the film. Go see it. 

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Up or Down the Drain?

The lead quote in my previous ramble about turning to stone also mentions Energy Drain (I use this term and 'Level Drain' more or less interchangeably here, btw), which is another marvelously contested "old-school" mechanic. I won't even go into how much the topic has been debated, house-ruled, championed, and railed against. Let me just say I like it, but also recognize its imperfections.

Beedo, over at Dreams in the Lich House, had a nice little poll and post about E.D. last fall that's worth a read. It covers most of what I consider the salient points in the Pros & Cons of any E.D. discussion, including:
  • It's scary, and scary = cool.
  • We old farts don't have as much time to game anymore. Losing a level or two can take a WHILE to bounce back from, which some find frustrating.
  • Everybody and their blink dog has taken a stab at house-ruling it. 

There is a saying that comes up at my table from time to time, usually when some mechanic of classic D&D or a retro-clone is brought under scrutiny. "You can't 'fix' D&D." This doesn't mean D&D is a "broken" or hopeless game. It's the idea that for all its rough patches and quirks, it's still the patriarch, the fount from which our hobby springs. While house-rules and so forth are perfectly acceptable expressions of our interest and involvement in the game, to try and "fix" the game's foibles is an often futile attempt to make it into something other than the inspiring mess that it sometimes seems to be. 

Now you can take that idea or leave it, but the upshot of it is that I tend to play the game more or less as written. That's not to say I don't have my own pet house rules and heartbreaker concepts; I most definitely do! That said, I feel that it's often better to step back and say "It's a GAME! And the rules say ___ works like that." If it really rankles, then it may be time for a house rule that keeps it fun for your group. Of course, one can always look at it for what it is, and choose to play a different game too. There are so many good ones out there to try.
[Stepping off the soapbox and back on topic.] 

Let me assume the role of the Old School Energy Drain Apologist (OSEDA) here: So losing a level sucks? Yer damned right it does! You say it took you 6 months of game play to reach 4th level and now you're 1st again? Wow, maybe next time run away! You say it's 'not fair' that your 8th level magic-user effectively lost 70K experience, but the 8th level thief 'only' lost 40K and that the 3rd level fighter henchman only lost 2K? News flash:
  1. Life ain't fair.
  2. A seventh level magic-user is still WAY more powerful than the 7th level thief and 3rd level fighter COMBINED.
  3. If you're that torqued about it, find a powerful cleric and shell out some loot for Restoration Spells.* 
  4. You COULD have been drained to 0 and be that Spectre's towel boy by now.
*Which, I know, isn't in BX. But it is in the Rules Cyclopedia and LL's AEC.

I could go on, but you get the gist of it. Now, I'd like to present a few caveats and addendums, if I might.

  1. Like petrify, monsters with this ability should be rare outside of certain environments (i.e. a vampire's castle, a necropolis teeming with undead, etc.). I'm guilty of periodically tossing a level drainer at the party in a random encounter, but that doesn't mean it was my finest DMing moment.
  2. Most creatures that have this ability are turnable by clerics. 
  3. A DM should make it possible for the PCs to be forewarned about the threat. i.e. rumors in town, hints in the dungeon, etc.
  4. A DM ideally should know his group well enough to judge how to balance the "Fun vs. Fear" factor of such an encounter. 
  5. Players need to remember that older D&D is more about exploration and treasure, and less about a series of toe-to-toe fights with monsters. (There's a reason most XP comes from loot.) If you encounter some wights and the cleric's turn attempt fails, consider whether this is a fight you really need to have. If not, spike the door shut and run away! 
  6. Higher level PCs with more XP to lose should conversely be better prepared to face such foes, and more able to "heal" the effects if they get unlucky.
  7. There's nothing inherently wrong with house rules about things like temporary vs. permanent drain, saving throws, etc. Use 'em if they work for you. 

D&D already has so many things in it that reduce consequences: magical healing and raise dead; spell-casting that nearly always works in a predictable  and consistent manner; escalating hit points, a plethora of magic items, saving throws, etc. Most DMs (over 12) aren't on an ego trip, trying to squash the miserable PCs, they want to play the game with their friends, but also maybe have a cool story emerge. A cool story needs challenges and sometimes those challenges need to be daunting, or even scary. It seems to me that having a few things in the game that are unequivocally bad news –beyond just a bigger damage die– isn't such a bad thing.

Great minds...

Darva, over at Stocking the Dungeon, is posting again (yay!) and makes some similar points to my petrification post, but in more general terms. Definitely worth a read!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Stone Cold Killers

"Old school players are only scared of two things: energy drain and things that turn your ass to stone."  -'Clip', from Dragonsfoot
I read that line on a message forum a long time back. (If someone knows who originally said it, please let me know and I'll credit the quote.) It's an interesting statement, and encapsulates a lot of what folks consider "Old School" play. I'm not going to get into the merits of one style of play vs. another, or if those mechanics are good or bad. Rather, I just want to say a little bit about one of those two threats: Petrification.

I'm going to say right up front that, in my games, I've got no trouble with people being turned to stone. I'm sorry, but it's too firmly rooted in fantasy and mythology to leave out.

Oh yeah, him!

Now, I will say it should probably be pretty uncommon. When you look at the ways it can happen, you've only got a few options (without custom traps/monsters). 

  • Flesh to Stone spell (6th level MU)
  • Some magic items (Eyes of Petrification, etc.)
  • Certain monsters
    • Beholder*
    • Medusa
    • Basilisk
    • Cockatrice
    • Gorgon

*The Beholder is a 1e monster, but a variation appears in Labyrinth Lord's AEC, so I put it on the list. 

If you go by the random encounter charts, the first creature that shows up is the cockatrice, and that's on levels 4-5. So it's not something PCs are sweating right out of the gate. Plus, a cockatrice's petrification power is dependent upon a successful melee attack, unlike a medusa's gaze or a gorgon's breath. 

Such creatures can put a good scare into the party, and might even be best avoided (run from). Fair GMs often leave some tell tales, like a hall filled with statues in poses of fear, etc. If the PCs have been thus warned, then it's on them to deal with the consequences. I don't think putting a medusa or similar in an adventure is a "Screw the PCs" move necessarily, but a total bushwhack might be harder to justify.
[Apologies for the brief 'At the Table' story: In a Ylaruam-based campaign I ran, the party heard of an abandoned place known as the Valley of the Statues, where some curse had petrified dozens of townsfolk a century ago. The remaining villagers fled. There had indeed been a basilisk at work, and its descendent still lived in a cave near there. The PCs were adequately warned by the rumors and were suitably cautious.]

The particulars of how the effect occurs aside, there are a couple things to keep in mind when/if it happens. 
  1. In almost every case, there is a saving throw allowed.
  2. There is a specific spell that reverses the effects (and can be used by the players if they have access to it!)
Frankly, I think it makes more sense to leave the statue behind and come back to it. 6'-7' cubic feet of rock can weigh close to half a ton! Not to mention its fragility. Break off that arm, and you'll be calling him Lefty.

While getting his PC turned to stone in the middle of an adventure is no fun for the player, he can always take heart in the fact that:
  • His stuff is safe from pilfering PCs.
  • Wandering monsters won't feast on his corpse if the party leaves him behind.
  • Unlike Raise Dead, there isn't a time limit on Stone to Flesh.
  • Even though it's 6th level, you might get a StF scroll and have the party mage/elf read it, regardless of level.

In the meantime, play a hireling and get on with the game. No hirelings? I thought we were talking old-school here! ;-)

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

RSA: Clairvoyance & Clairaudience

While I have seen some "psychic" spells used in games, mostly it's been ESP, usually to help interrogate a prisoner or dupe a guard. I've got no problem with either scenario, but it seems that the other scrying spells are less common (at least in my games).  Like Wizard Eye, these spells could be very handy for scouting and intel gathering. They have their limits, to be sure, but I can't help but feel they get short shrift because of players' leanings towards combat spells.

Clairvoyance (from Cook)
Level: 3
Range: 60'
Duration: 12 Turns

Clairaudience (from Labyrinth Lord/AEC)
Level: 3 
Range: 60'
Duration: 12 turns 

First off, their ranges aren't great for 3rd level spells. They are also blocked by 2' of stone or a lead coating. It takes a minimum of 1 full turn to "tune in" and hear/see anything, so it's not a quickie spell. Check out the durations, though! That's two hours of eavesdropping! Because they are 3rd level, I think they also get kind of drowned out by the MU's clamor to get Fireball and/or Lightning Bolt.

There are other limitations, like only targeting one creature, needing to have at least a general idea of in which direction the folks you want to spy on. In first edition AD&D, the spells center on an area/vantage point, so there are no saving throws. In B/X-LL, the spells link to a target's senses/mind, allowing a Save vs. Spells. This weakens it somewhat compared to its "Advanced" brethren. Still, there are so many possible applications for these spells. They are another great case for a mage that's something other than walking artillery. 

Monday, March 5, 2012

RMA: Water Termites

I honestly don't think I've ever seen this monster used, in any of its three varieties. It's such a strange creature compared to things like orcs or dragons. Like the Cave Locust or the Robber Fly, it's got the whole "giant bug" thing going on. At 1' to 5' long, they certainly qualify. What's interesting is –as far as I can tell– their main use in a game is as an indirect threat to the PCs.

The stats: (from Cook)

Termites, Giant

Swamp/Fresh Water/Salt Water 
No. App:  0 (1-4)/0 (1-3)/ 0 (2-7)
AC: 4/6/5
HD: 1+1/2+1/4
Move: 90' (30')/120' (40')/180' (60')
Attacks: special
Damage: 1-3/1-4/1-6
Save: F1/F2/F3
Morale: 10/8/11

The special attacks consists of a toxic spray if above water, which can stun a foe (possibly causing him to sink?), and an ink cloud underwater (like an octopus). They only bite if cornered, which makes me wonder at their relatively high morale. 

The fun from these guys comes from them latching onto a vessel underwater and dealing structural damage to the hull. If they chew it enough, it starts to sink! This could be a fun way to get the PCs into the water (and off the nice, safe boat) to deal with the threat. They'd have to move fairly quickly too (before the damage is done). Of course, looking at the damage they do and the Hull Point ratings, it's unlikely the termites would sink a larger vessel. Although a few leaks might make people nervous. Perhaps a swarm of salt water termites follow a ship like dolphins, feeding each night? The non-marine versions are quite scary in their own way, too. Imagine your canoe getting trashed when you're miles into a festering swamp. Personally, I'm a fan of anything that underscores the differences between an encounter on the water vs. one on land.

Something Rotten

I should probably mention that Mr. Joel has (finally) finished the newest Faster Monkey release. The PDF is now available and we are accepting pre-orders for the print copy. Enjoy!

Over Heard

Most folks who read this blog probably also read Dreams in the Lich House, but I saw that Beedo has posted about a new blog by Bruce Heard. For anyone interested in Mystara, it's worth checking out.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Intelligent Swords: A Dumb Idea?

Disclaimer: There are several variations of the intelligent sword rules in different editions. I am basing the mechanics discussed here on the B/X "Cook Expert" rules. 

Turning the WayBack™ machine to 1983 and the salad days of TSR, I remember many a 1st edition game after school, on weekends, vacations, etc. We were kids and we were sometimes shamelessly Monty Haul by our standards today. Multiple artifacts and relics floated through the campaign, millions of gold pieces rattled around in bags of holding, and more than one PC was psionic and/or had an 18/00 strength (along with maybe a belt of storm giant strength). 

One of the more interesting items that crossed the party's path was a +5 Holy Avenger. Rare enough, to be sure, but it was also two-handed and it was sentient.

Leaving aside the odds of all that (if rolled randomly), it had several additional powers beyond the impressive array that the +5 H.A. already boasted. The player was ecstatic, and the sword was his favorite new toy. Over time, I came to see such items as unbelievably munchkin and disliked them on principle. 

Back now, in the present day, I recently re-read the B/X and Labyrinth Lord rules for such items and it got me to thinking; just how good or terrible an idea is such an item in a campaign, really? 

A few things that I noticed looking at the rules as written. First off, I hadn't realized how COMMON an intelligent sword is! 30% of magic swords have an Intelligence score (!) The second thing I noticed about intelligence and swords is that some sentient swords are quite dim (INT 7-8).

What's much rarer is for a sword to have a "Special Purpose" (Deliberately skipping the obvious Steve Martin jokes). Only 1:20. An oddity I hadn't picked up on before is that a special purpose swords are automatically maxed out at INT 12. 

Sword alignment heavily favors Lawful (65%), which chaotic swords comprising only 10% of the mix.

Although they have their superstars.

Fun fact: conflicting alignments between the sword and wielder results in automatic damage to the wielder, at up to 12 points per round! So your lawful PC picking up that chaotic sword might be instantly killed.

The Primary Powers of the swords are an odd lot. 30% of the time it has to do with detecting things like sloping passages or shifting walls (isn't this why we let dwarfs into the party? jk). While you can use most of these abilities over and over, they aren't all terribly powerful.

Every now and then, though, you get an Extraordinary Power. These powers are bit cooler, like ESP and teleportation. Plus, most can be used 3/day!

To me, what's far cooler are the Special Purpose powers, but obviously these are much rarer. For example: A chaotic sword that was forged to slay magic users (and elves) will, upon striking a lawful MU or Elf, force a save vs. spells. Failure means the target is TURNED TO STONE! You can bet this is working its way into a game at some point! (hee!)

Finally, after all the rolls and charts you figure out the weapon's Willpower. Basically this is number that is used when the sword decides it has a chance to take over its wielder's mind! Considering a typical sentient weapon has a Will of around 19 and the PC's rating (STR+WIS) is more like 20-22, this won't be a gimme. But if the PC is badly wounded (at less than 50% hp), things can change quickly, deducting 2d4 pts from his Will score. 

Once the sword is in control, the DM is supposed to have it control the character's actions in certain situations. Some fun suggestions in the book include:
  • Making the PC spend all his money on a fancy scabbard, etc.
  • Forcing him to surrender to an opponent that the sword thinks would make a better wielder. 
  • Discarding other weapons.

So, after looking at all this, the question remains; are intelligent swords a good idea in a game? Looking over the number crunching, the odds of a really POWERFUL one is fairly low, and the ones that are more likely to turn up are a nice way to add some spice to "generic" magic weapons.

I decided to roll one up randomly to see what I'd end up with. I started on the magic sword table and went from there:

% roll on Magic Swords =17: Sword +1
d20 Special Purpose = 5: No special purpose
d20 INT roll = 16*: INT 8 (2 Primary Powers), Communicates via Empathy
d20 Alignment = 8: Lawful
% roll for first Primary Power = 84: Detect Magic
% roll for second Primary Power = 59: See Invisible Objects
d12 for Ego = 9
Will: 18 (9 Ego + 8 Int +1 to hit)

*I did re-roll this to get a result with an INT score. 

So what have we got here? Well, the +1 is no great shakes, but seeing invisible at 20' range 1/round, and detect magic (but limited to 3/day) is SWEET and no mistake! With a lack of special purpose, it's unclear why this sword has a sentience locked inside it. It's not bright enough to talk, so I guess the DM doesn't have to develop some huge backstory. It has a high Ego, so I'm guessing a level of "stubbornness" about it. 

Here is my "stab" (hur hur!), at what the sword's deal is.

A scrying spirit was bound into the sword at its forging for use by royal bodyguards,  who used it to check that no hostile enchantments or invisible foes threatened their charges. The spirit was aware of the pomp and ceremony that surrounded it on a daily basis and, as a result, has a rather high opinion of itself. If it succeeds in seizing control of its wielder, it will force him to take the lead, checking for danger in each room or situation before allowing anyone else to enter. 

I think I'm going to have to try this a bit more often when I randomly roll magic treasure. If it seems to work out, I may add other weapon types into the mix, who knows?

A Little Monkey Business

So Mr. Joel has posted a little teaser info about our (Faster Monkey Games) next product, "In the Shadow of Mount Rotten." So I thought I'd point you all at it in a shameless shill. What he doesn't out & out state in the post over at EVTS is that it's (partially) about running humanoid PCs; specifically goblins, orcs, and hobgoblins. The product is in final edits and should be going to the printers soon.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Vlog Ep.29 - Alignment is up!

Almost through my D&D tropes ramblings:

RMA: Living Statues

These always seemed sort of the "poor man's golem" to me. They are much less powerful overall, and fill basically the same niche. They are immune to Sleep, but lack the other "golemic" immunities. Nevertheless, there are some fun bits in these entries for those who care to give them a whirl.

The B/X rules list three examples, but suggest the DMs feel free to make up their own living statue types. Here's what Moldvay gives us:
  • Crystal: No. App 1d6; AL L; AC4; HD3; MV 90'(30'); Att2 (1d6/1d6); Save F3; Morale 11
  • Iron: No. App 1d4; AL N; AC2; HD4; MV 30'(10'); Att2 (1d8/1d8 + special); Save F4; Morale 11
  • Rock: No. App 1d3; AL C; AC4; HD5; MV 60'(20'); Att2 (2d6/2d6); Save F5; Morale 11
A couple of things strike me as I'm looking at the stats. First off, they have different alignments. Not to mention having alignments at all! This, coupled with the lack of Charm immunity, makes me wonder if they have sentience of some sort. This is further reinforced by a morale of 11. Not 12 like a golem, 11. So that means it's possible for the thing to flee. Verrrry interesting.

Crystal statues offer a lot of interesting possibilities. Imagine one that looks like a crystalline rock formation, ambushing spelunking PCs and blending in with the cavern walls. I also imagine beautifully formed ornamental statues in a palace or temple that serve as guardians when needed. PCs might even be loathe to smash one because it looks valuable. They aren't too scary by themselves, but up to six of them with 2 attacks each? That's a rough encounter for low-ish level parties.

Iron statues have the amusing feature that they seem to be giant magnets. A non-magical weapon that strikes it gets stuck until the statue is killed. I would find it amusing to have it flee with the party's gear stuck to it except that the thing is so darned slow. Even without that, two 1d8 attacks per round is a rough time for someone.

Rock statues are kind of like the Bronze Golem with their lava innards, but instead just heat and scalding hemorrhages, they spray this stuff out of their fingertips like a super-soaker for 2d6 x2 per round! Hilarious!