Monday, March 29, 2010

Filling Out a Sandbox...a Musing

Saturday Rob Conley in his blog Bat in the Attic (and who, apparently, lives not too far from yours truly) wrote some Musings on Sandbox Campaigns that I enjoyed, particularly point 2:

2) Plot can occur in a sandbox campaign and it is best implemented as a series of events written as if PCs didn’t exist. Consider this as a plan that will change once the PC get involved. They also may not want to be involved so plan for that.

In the Daen Ral setting that I've worked off and on for the past like 20 years I have, at times, tried to completely detail areas (almost to the point of knowing what everyone had for breakfast the day that the PCs encountered them...) that I thought would be interesting for the PCs to play in...but I've always had a kind of sandbox approach to the game - so the players would always latch on to some throwaway comment that I made about "the north storms" or the "power gathering in the Midlands" or whatever - and they'd go chasing after stuff I never thought places I hadn't detailed. So I've used a ton of published adventures with "the serial numbers filed off" as it were back in the day - in fact, at one point I was hauling my big stack of hardbacks and anywhere from 20-40 dungeon magazines and adventure modules to my friend Jim's house - "just in case" the PCs took off in some unexpected direction (like when they were trapped under the ruins of the ancient elven city (using DL1 Xak Tsoroth for the ruins) when they (in their 4th level glory) ran afoul of 2 demons (Type V maybe? don't remember - never have scaled adventures much for the power levels) when the paladin was at zero hp, the F/MU and the T/Ill were in single digit hp, the MU was out of spells, so the cleric prayed to his god for deliverance - something to the effect of "deliver us to safety" or some such. I reasoned that he had about a 2% chance to be heard (I was so ready for a TPK) so I told him to roll d00 and if he got 99 or 00, he was heard. He rolled a 99. I hastily built a chart in my head of possible "deliverance" scenarios - rolled a die and they found themselves, in a brilliant flash of light, in a desert oasis... Eventually they found their way through about 2 pages of the Al Akbar module, then in the lost city of the Cynidiceans where they crippled the cult of Zargon by collapsing the temple on nearly all the priesthood (though they never even came close to destroying the creature himeslf) leaving the city in the capable hands of the party's cleric and a subdued/befriended blue dragon...

Anyway, the point - I guess that with enough material at your mental fingertips play can continue pretty much uninterrupted if the PCs go off in some unexpected direction.

So how all this relates to Rob Conley's, well, maybe not well. Here's the thing: I've always had these kind of background plots running - sometimes big, overarching, world shaking plots (the raising of the dead gods, or whatever), often kind of local scenarios that maybe the PCs completely derail or help along or whatever. Daen Ral I'm trying to detail the area around Jacob's Well and I keep going back and forth about how much detail to include and I'm thinking about doing a sort of general hex by hex description (hex-crawl, I think I hear people talk about) but on a more micro level - that is, the hexes will be maybe 1/2 mile across - but each hex ought to have something interesting in it (maybe a stand of trees burned in a recent lightning strike or small humanoid tracks or something) and then the major encounter areas can be more fully detailed (the Temple of Darkness, the Wyvern's Lair, Hope Cross village, Seeley's Glen, Hag Island, etc).

So the plots come in with, dare I call them, Adventure Paths - hmmm, maybe Adventure Tracks...yeah, that's more Old School...heh... Or maybe I don't have to call it anything...

Here's the deal - the adventure "Darkness in Hope Cross" involves the village of Hope Cross, the Southdowns, a section of Seven Stone Creek and the Temple of Darkness. If I have a general overview of all the hexes in the region in the Jacob's Well "sourcebook" (for want of a better name), then I can include in this "adventure whatever" just the areas directly detailed for the adventure (some special notes on some Hope Cross residents, what the shepherds in the Southdowns know about the situation, the Temple itself). But any hex not indicated in the adventure is fair game to be explored - so the party could still come across the Wyvern Lair (from a different adventure - A Question of Balance) or the Ettercap lair (from the Mysterious Disappearance of Silian Jass) and do as they may for those encounters - if it throws off later "adventures" so be it - maybe a few notes can be added in the adventures about what to do if the PCs have dispatched the Wyvern, for example, or found Silian Jass before they knew he was missing.

Heck, if PCs just want to wander around the area and discover things, that's okay with me too. There's plenty of NPCs, ruins, hidden humanoid outposts and the like, not to mention a few monstrous lairs and such to keep PCs busy enough even without "adventure paths/tracks/trails/hooks/notions/whatever".

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Thoughts on Mages

Okay - I've got a draft of something to make thieves more versatile, now I'll turn my attention to mages.

In Daen Ral I'd like mages to be able to do certain things automatically (obviously, with a certain degree of concentration) - like detect and read magic. For the concentration mechanic, I'm thinking a simple d20 vs. INT (with bonuses if it is quiet and peaceful, penalties if the surroundings are noisy and chaotic).

So, I'd like MUs to be able to use cantrips - and pretty much at will. Not every cantrip, per se, but a certain number. These would represent the base magical lessons they learned from their master - and they would be so ingrained that they wouldn't even need to be memorized.

But here's the kicker in this. I was thinking that some cantrips are related to more powerful magics and could be the first steps in learning those higher level spells. So something like Smokepuff could lead you to cloudkill and cloudburst - maybe related to lightning bolt, too? You don't know Smokepuff? You can't learn cloudburst, etc.

Yeah, a logistical nightmare. But, hey, this game is a hobby, so it's my free time, right?

So mages become more versatile, in a sense (being able to do some minor things without expending any energy at all) but also become somewhat limited as well, if they don't know the right cantrips.

And how cool would it be for a 12th level mage to have to find a master who could teach him the right cantrips so that he can learn the Transmute Water to Dust? (what? You don't know the Dry cantrip?)

Okay - probably too complicated, but in Daen Ral, every spell won't be available to every magic using PC. Some will have to be found and then taught (or researched over time).

The flip side of all of this is that mages will be able to create scrolls, potions and charms relatively easily (if not cheaply) so they'll have even more utility, even with the standard spell level progression charts from AD&D 1st ed.

First run through on this idea (actually, brainstorming in blogger).

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A Rose By Any Other Name...

...might be scary.

I was thinking (while making tacos, for those keeping score at home) that some monsters just have stupid names.

The Roper (okay - and I'm not kidding - when I hear the name the Roper, I think of Mr. Roper from Three's Company - if don't remember the show, ask your parents) - really? Shambling Mound. oooo - slow moving veggies coming for me... Whatever.

I get why ADVENTURERS would call them those things - but wouldn't people - normal people who are afraid of monsters - call them things like Tentacled Horror or the Bog Beast or something?

Does it matter? Nope, not at all.


When the PCs come to a village near a swamp being terrorized by the Nightclaw - and the only description is "large, dark, hides in the shadows - leaves claw marks on the walls and blood trails to the swamp" they have to decide what they are facing. Maybe trolls are common enough in these swamps that people see them all the time, but they usually attack in the daytime, and this is a nocturnal troll and since it doesn't act like people think it should, they think it's something different. Of course it could be a vampire or some other undead creature, it could be a small black dragon, a demon, etc.

Gasp! How do the PCs prepare to defeat this foul monster? Well, they do the best they can, they go find it, get their butts handed to them, run away (now they know it's actually a Wyvern that has moved into the area, not normally native to swampy areas, the locals have NO experience with the creature) re-equip and tackle the beast. Do they succeed right off the bat? No. But for me (even as a player) that's half the fun. Not knowing EXACTLY what is coming.

That's just a random thought off the top of my head.

Of course, stupid names can work in reverse, too. I had a PC try to hide away from his enemies. One night he heard a sniffing sound outside his cabin door. When he inquired to the locals what it could have been they told him the children's stories of the Snufflers - fat, hairy creatures that could sniff out a person even to the underworld. The player laughed at the name (okay with me, though I really thought he'd take the stories more seriously...) and dismissed it all as just children's stories until the bad guys kicked in his door...

Monday, March 22, 2010

Return to the World of Daen Ral

ARGH - blogger lost the post....

So, here I go again. I've been gone a long time from this blog, but I haven't stopped thinking about and tinkering with RPGs - especially D&D. I just haven't had time to post. So I'm back - with, of all things - a post about thieves.

Back in the day the closest I ever got to running a thief character was an NPC elven Illusionist/Thief in my friend Jim's Ezra campaign. I generally ran fighters, clerics and paladins (yeah, yeah - so I'm a pastor now, so what did you expect?).

Anyway, I was reading Jim of LotFP's draft of his upcoming rule set and he's proposing that only fighters get better in combat as they progress in level. It was a bit of an epiphany for me - makes perfect sense - clerics and mages get more spells, thieves get better at their, uh, thief stuff, but fighters (yes, they get added attacks and some other stuff...but that's the point - they get better at fighting...). Now, I realize that combat in any edition (that I'm interested in playing, anyway) of D&D is purely an abstraction of attacks, feints, defensive maneuvers, etc - and, theoretically even the lowly mage can get better at dodging the sword or whatever - but I still like the idea.

And since I'm sort of putting together my own little houserule set (who isn't these days?) I'm considering the ramifications of the idea.

The thing is, the other classes have to be MORE useful than before if they're not going to get better in combat. Clerics, more miracles/prayers. Check. Mages - more, well, magic. Check.

So I thought I'd tinker a bit with thieves, to see if they could be more useful (in my opinion - bear in mind, I don't play the buggers, so it's all theory for me). I was watching TV the other day when I was sick and saw an ad for the TV show White Collar and thought, "That guy is a thief, but not a thug or a mobster. No he's a really specialized thief."

So I went poking around my rules sets and (re)discovered that 2nd ed had a system to do something like what I wanted. PCs start with certain %ages in each of their thief-y abilities and then can spread around 60 points to customize the character they want.

But the white collar guy can do forgeries...and disguise himself... So, 2nd ed was a start - but I wanted more skills (right now, thieves, rangers and druids are the only classes with "skills" and they are all VERY specialized - I do NOT want to go down that road with everybody - swimming skill, campfire making skill, nose-picking skill - bah...) and more customization.

So, here's what I've come up with (rough ideas - no detailed descriptions)

Thief Skills

F Pick Pockets 10

F Find Traps 10

F Remove Traps 10

F Sleight of Hand 10

F Open Locks 10

P Move Silently 10

P Climb Walls 10

P Hide In Shadow 10

P Disguise 10

P Climb Overhangs 10

M Detect Noise 10

M Read Languages 10

M Create Traps 10

M Forgery 10

M Counterfeit 10

All thief skills begin at 10 % (further modified by race and dex). All thieves at first level receive 90 discretionary percentage points that they can add to their base scores. No more than 30 points can be assigned to any single skill. Other than this restriction, the player can distribute the points however he wants.

Each time the thief rises a level in experience, the player receives another 50 points to distribute. No more than 15 points per level can be assigned to a single skill, and no skill can be raised above 95 percent, including all adjustments for dexterity and race. DM option, some portion of the points must be applied to skills used during the course of the adventures played to gain the level.

NOTE skills are separated into three categories: F- Fine Skills, P - Physical Skills and M - Mental Skills. After First Level, all 50 points gained per level must be applied to a single category of skills (representing the group of skills the thief was working on during the adventuring time)

(NOTE – reaches 95% in all skills at level 24 – wherein, new skills could, perhaps be added – or before – like apprenticing or appraising or something…)