Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Spis Castle, Slovenia

I found this in a random search, but it's exactly the kind of castle that I want to put on top of a megadungeon. I've included the floor plan from this page. So for one of my challenges, I'm going to try to "populate" the first floor of this puppy. I'm pretty rusty, so I might just break out the dice and the stocking chart from either B/X or AD&D DMG.

So these kind of finds are a treasure trove for me. I love making maps, but my castles have always been the "Keep on the Borderlands" kind of square/rectangle/not real world kind of castles. I'll gimp these maps and start putting this together soon...

Monday, July 26, 2010

Lunch Hour Encounters

Here's an idea (I'll get to the cleric soon, I think) that I had the other day and I want to run with it while I'm thinking about it:

Lunch Hour Encounters

I was thinking the other day that I usually spend my lunch hour surfing blogs. Fulfilling, sure, but not very productive. So I thought, “What if I spent the hour writing out encounters?” I figure if I spent a fairly uninterrupted hour writing, I could get a fair amount done. So, why not?

So here's my ground rules for this project. I will spend no more than 60 minutes on a given encounter (though I may spend less, my life being what it is). If I don't finish, I don't finish. I may, at some point, go back and tie up loose ends, but I don't know that yet. I may also spend a 60 minute period or two tying the encounters together.

I haven't decided if these are going to be megadungeon encounters or outdoor encounters – maybe a little of both, I don't know. Here's the thing: I can't spend a full hour on a single room, I know that – or a single hex (unless it's like a 24 mile hex – but that's like 16 six mile hexes and...um...256 four mile hexes? Really? I could spend an hour doing that...holy cow...)

So, I guess I'm defining “encounter” as “theoretically interconnected areas”, though that may change, too...

Also, I may spend some of the hour creating a map or whatever, in which case it might just be a couple rooms, or a hex or two (depends on how inspired or uninspired I get). Then again, I might just start writing or I may use a pre-created map or something – in which case it might get long (like, if I pull off a 13 or 20 room dungeon map, I could probably stock the whole thing in an hour...I think...

Friday, July 23, 2010

Generating Treasure (well...sort of)

I found this a couple weeks ago, lost it, searched and found it again...

It's a nifty treasure generator which is intended to be used for Warhammer rpg - but I thought it gave some interesting results that could spice up the contents of just about any room because, unlike a lot of the stuff I've found on the net, it's not just about loot (and it doesn't have any of the later D&D editions' DC this and whatever in it...)

Here's a sampling of the items it'll generate:

• A scroll case holding ship captain's navigational charts cluttered with hand-written notes.

• An enormous red ox branded with the crest of Stirland.

• A water-damaged sheet of parchment inscribed with the name and address of a hostel in Nuln.

• A soggy and mouldering leather jack stamped with a coat of arms.

• A bow richly engraved with a motif of ravens and bare branches. It includes a flask of linseed oil, bowstrings, a pouch of extra feathers and needle and thread for repairing arrows.

• The pointed half of a broken knife.

• A simle oak coffin, thankfully empty.

• An ages-old 8-by-12-foot tapestry depicting the burial of the holy proseltye Stoemlitz, and likely of some value.

• A golden key marked with odd magister's symbols.

• An ancient axe with a pommel in the shape of a wolf's head.

Now, surely, any of these items could be valuable - but all of them are pretty interesting. Why is there only half a knife blade in this room? What are the symbols on the key? Who would be repairing arrows here?

And all of that can lead to other interesting adventures that would never have been. Why is there an arrow repair kit in this room of the dungeon? Hmmm...well, maybe a ranger came through here...got out his kit and was going to work on an arrow when something...distracted, ate, chased, whatever him... So where's the ranger now?

Whatever. It has recently occurred to me that if someone invaded my house looking for loot that, well, first of all they'd be really disappointed by the amount of anything valuable in my house, but second they would have to sort through all sorts of mundane, but potentially interesting, items. So why are dungeon rooms just: 10x20, 2 doors, monster, treasure. What did the monster have on it's person? What else is in the room? Does it matter? No, the PCs will likely get bogged down in the details. So what. It's a GAME - if we're having fun, then that's what matters, right?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

So...Why Not?

I've never read any Pathfinder stuff - I think what they're doing is pretty cool - keeping an edition alive by publishing lots of stuff that people want to buy. I don't have much 3.5e stuff because it doesn't seem to be my style - but I'm kind of intrigued by the "adventure path" concept. Anyway, all that is to say that I'm entering this contest to win Pathfinder stuff... and posting it here gives me more entries :)

Money...What Is It Good For? (part I)

Okay, so in the classic forms of D&D, money equals XP. I'm not going to debate that or the mechanics of that. That's fine. The problem that I encountered back in the day was that players would accumulate more money than they could spend. My players were never all that interested in building fortresses or whatever. Now, we didn't have systems for "training" and "upkeep" and that sort of thing (never really crossed our 14 year old minds). It is possible to create "realistic" systems to deal with the amount of gold that PCs can end up amassing. And that's fine. But I'm not sure it's the kind of "resource management" I like to do (I'd rather deal with figuring out if the PCs have enough torches, oil, water, whatever while adventuring...I hate all that "in town haggling with the armorer" stuff...).

Anyway, so that's not really my cup of tea. Gold ought to be just another resource - not a means to gain levels (in fact, I'm toying with a system of level =x game sessions that someone online posted a week or two ago). Gold could be a reward for an action, that's fine. But there are lots of other ways to reward PCs, and they don't have to be tied to that which advances their level.

I've been reading the Conan stories. Sometimes it's wealth that motivates our favorite Cimmerian (Tower of the Elephant, for example, or the Servants of Bit-Yakin), sometimes it's revenge, sometimes it's defense (I'm thinking of Beyond the Black River here). Well, you get the idea. Even when money IS the motivator, like Tower of the Elephant, Conan does NOT do what your typical D&D character does. He doesn't knock on every table leg seeing if it's hollow, scoop up every copper piece and pry out every diamond chip from the idols. He's going after the BIG score, and leaving the "lesser treasures" alone. Why? He's not worried about leveling up (okay, that's not really it - he's way more into bragging rights, but still...this is D&D we're talking about, right?)

I'm not sure how to implement something like this in play. I guess you have to know what makes your players tick and play to their motivations. We're in a pretty greedy society, so most people ARE motivated by money, it's natural to transfer that to our games, I guess.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Zero Hit Points/Real Hit Points

Today's Post: Death and Dying...

Death's Door: at 0 hp, PCs roll on the following table. If they survive, the roll (that is, don't roll a 2-4 which have their own rules for what follows), the PC falls unconscious (if not using the CP idea below - if using that...then when CP reaches zero, do this - though that makes things more complicated). They begin to lose one hp per round thereafter. When the PC reaches a negative number = to their CON score, they die.

(The following chart is taken directly from Trollsmyth's Blog):



2 or lower

instant death (decapitated or other grevious wound).


fatal wound (gutted, stabbed through lung, broken back, etc.) die in 1d6 turns.


severed limb (DM's choice or roll randomly) will die in 3d6 rounds unless tourniquet applied, wound cauterized with fire, or Cure Serious Wounds cast (CSW used for this will not restore lost hp).


broken bone (DM's choice), 2d4+9 weeks to heal.


knocked out for 2d6 rounds, unless wearing a helm. With helm, only stunned for 1 round.


stunned for 1 round, unless wearing helm. With helm, only knocked down.


knocked down.


no effect.


a surge of adrenaline returns 1d4 hit points per every other level (1d4 at 1st and 2nd, 2d4 at 3rd and 4th, etc.) At the end of the combat, the adrenaline drains away, hit points are reduced to zero, and the PC faints for 2d6 rounds.

NOTE - additional attacks on "death's door" PCs are automatic hit... So, not only do fallen PCs have to be tended to - they have to be defended, too... AND, additional attacks are rolled on the table again...but with a SINGLE d6. The reverse holds true, too - NPCs who use the death's door rule (classed NPCs, I suppose) can automatically be hit when at death's door...


Now, I really like the idea that HP represent something like LUCK or ENDURANCE or whatever - that is, they are really abstract, so the reduction of HP doesn't affect your ability to fight...until you reach zero. But someone had a post about using something like CON for "real" HP, after HP run out, or something. So the HP regenerate at a quick rate (say 1/Turn or something) and quaffing some ale can boost HP since they are an abstract of bravado, luck, experience, etc. or whatever. CP (that would be Constitution based Hit Points) regenerate very slowly (say the standard of 1/day or whatever). And what if HP don't regenerate before CP?

PROBLEM: First and foremost - PCs are unkillable...Think about this: level 1 fighter 6 hp, CON of 15 (okay, so he was honest in his rolls) would give him, essentially, 36 hp til he dies. Admittedly, "only" 21 til he falls unconscious... and maybe rolls on the above table...but still. That's a pretty powerful first level character. Even the lowly MU at level 1 has 2 hp, CON of 9 - still has 11 hp before he falls unconscious...

What I like about this idea is that it delays death enough that a combat can be finished and the PCs can tend their wounded (staunching wounds, etc). I also really like the fact that this doesn't "scale" - that is, it's a real boon for low level characters, but as PCs gain in levels (and HP), they still retain the same "death's door" abilities (they have the number of rounds = to their CON to be tended to or they die, assuming the roll on the table wasn't deadly...) and the same number of CP (CON based HP). So, really, it's not the death's door rule that I need to fix (I rather like that even during a long combat, it would be possible to save a fallen comrade) but the CON based HP that I need to figure out if it's too overbalancing. I DO like the idea that characters are more survivable at early levels. I'm concerned that they'd be TOO survivable...

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

xd6 Skill Resolution

I read here the other day - G Benedicto talking about ability checks based on rolling d6's (which makes sense since ability scores are based on 3d6) which basically looks like this:

  • 1 (E) Easy: Roll 2d6*
  • 2 (S) Standard: Roll 3d6
  • 3 (D) Difficult: Roll 4d6
  • 4 (V) Very Difficult: Roll 5d6
  • 5 (A) Arduous: Roll 6d6
  • 6 (N) Nigh-Impossible: Roll 7d6
Cyclopetron posted his ideas for this here regarding dual attribute ability checks (using the usually-orphaned d12) which looks like this:

  • Easy: 2d12
  • Standard: 3d12
  • Difficult: 4d12
  • Very Difficult: 5d12
  • Arduous: 6d12
  • Nigh-Impossible: 7d12
So Jim at carjacked seraphim puts this together:

One Ability
Two Abilities (summed)
(E) Easy
Roll 2d6
Roll 4d6
(S) Standard
Roll 3d6
Roll 6d6
(D) Difficult
Roll 4d6
Roll 8d6
(V) Very Difficult
Roll 5d6
Roll 10d6
(A) Arduous
Roll 6d6
Roll 12d6
(N) Nigh-Impossible
Roll 7d6
Roll 14d6

And so I thought I'd throw my two cents worth in on this, too. First, I think I'd limit ability checks to a single attribute, I think trying to figure out which two attributes are being checked gets terribly complicated. So the complicated long jump, oil flask thing that cyclopetron was talking about - well, I'd probably pick either strength or dexterity but make it either Arduous or Nigh Impossible (depending on exactly what he's wanting to do). Granted, you could call it either of those and use the two stats (str & dex) and have roughly the same chance to succeed.

So, I think I'd stick with the original list - though I might add a couple more categories. Here's why:

There might be opportunities for two or more characters to combine a single attribute to attempt something - especially strength (can't think of any other attributes that can be combined off the top of my head, but I'll come up with something...). So a huge bolder could be moved by three or four characters combining their strength and rolling against xd6.

  • 1 (E) Easy: Roll 2d6*
  • 2 (S) Standard: Roll 3d6
  • 3 (D) Difficult: Roll 4d6
  • 4 (V) Very Difficult: Roll 5d6
  • 5 (A) Arduous: Roll 6d6
  • 6 (N) Nigh-Impossible: Roll 7d6
  • 7 (H) Hopeless: Roll 8d6
  • 8 (R) Ridiculous: Roll 9d6
  • 9 (T) Titanic: 10d6
But...if three or more are combining their abilities, even 10d6 becomes just an average challenge (since three characters represent 9d6 in their ability scores and four 12d6). Then again, maybe that's not such a bad thing - since the idea of combining abilities would be to make a task easier.

And, of course, if I go this way, I'll completely have to ditch my last "skill resolution" ideas. But that's what this blog is all about, brainstorming the rules...

Monday, July 19, 2010

On the Godwars...

On what is generally referred to as the Godwars:

As people perceive it:

Sometime, eons ago, the gods created the land and walked among the mountains and valleys. There were many gods, but the world is large, and the gods each chose areas to call their own, to cultivate and to create in. But some gods grew jealous of other gods and their lands and war began. Each of the gods sought to destroy the others, calling forth terrible creatures and powerful magics to rain death on their rivals. In time, the gods destroyed one another, until only one, the strongest of them all, survived. He withdrew from the world, but left the fell creatures and strange magics which distort the world.

As it really happened:

Eons ago, when the Exiles were first cast out of heaven for their rebellion, they lived in peace together. But as time went on, some sought power over other Exiles and some sought to rise up and assail the gates of Heaven and "take back what was theirs" while others remained content in their exile or chose to withdraw altogether. The Exiles drew forth terrible elemental creatures and conjured powerful magics - some with the intent to attack the Creator, others with the intent to quell this second rebellion. The rebellion was crushed and the twice rebellious Exiles who survived slunk off into darkened places to sulk in bitterness and hatch more plots. The Exiles who remained (largely in the northern reaches) could not undo much of the damage done by the rebellious Exiles, but continue to aid where they can. The monstrous creatures still roam the land and the powerful magics called forth warp the very fabric of reality.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Evolution of Kobolds

So here's something interesting... I was perusing one of the free 4e adventures the other day (Keep of Shadowfell). There are a few encounters with kobolds in the adventure and they are these "high powered" kobolds - dragonshields, wyrmpriests, whatever - they're level 1,2 & 3 and they have scripted out powers...and...um...stuff...

Anyway, I looked over the history of kobolds - not to see if they're dog-like or reptilian or...yeah, whatever...

It was how Kobolds went from these little goblin-like 1/2 HD critters to having all kinds of specific powers...

And I think it was all Roger E. Moore's fault. You know. Tucker's Kobolds.

Here's what I mean. Roger E. Moore, in that editorial from Dragon Magazine #127, told us how a bunch of kobolds on the first level of a dungeon terrorized a bunch of mid to high level PCs.

In fairness, the evolution of the kobold (and everything else in the later editions) isn't really Roger E. Moore's fault. In fact, I think he revealed to some of us different ways to play monsters rather than as simple cannon fodder. Give them brains, tactics, weapons. Give them survivability. But do it on your own terms. At least that's what that editorial did for me...

But it strikes me that what has happened (and started in second ed) is that the powers that be at TSR/WotC whatever felt it best to detail out these possibilities - instead of leaving it up to individual DMs to do themselves (inspired by Tucker's Kobolds). A good example of how to do this (without necessarily changing who kobolds really are) can be found in the 2ed boxed set Dragon Mountain.*** I bought that puppy as soon as it came out...but, sadly, never got a chance to play it. But I think it's fair to say that the kobolds in Dragon Mountain have not been "powered up" so much as "smarted up" (um...is that a word?).

Now, I readily admit that I'm a fan of 0e/BX/1e monsters - fiddly bits and just a hint of "society/ecology/blah, blah, blah" and I never read a single "Ecology of..." article in Dragon Magazine (even though I bought them all) because, really, I don't CARE why a peryton craves hearts or what the digestive tract of a piercer looks like. Why does anyone care? I can make that up if it becomes relevant to the campaign, but when would it? And there's the rub, at least for me. Too much of "tell me everything" and not enough of "I'll make it up on my own, thank you very much." And I confess, that's a really fine line - they have to provide SOME detail, but really it got out of hand in 2e and beyond (it's cool that "the peryton tears out the victim's heart with its teeth" - but, and I had to read some of the "Ecology of..." article...ugh... do I really want it to be because the female peryton has to have a balanced diet? I'd much rather it be because the peryton is a wild, magical, mythical evil beast...that's enough for me...and if the party wants to know why, they can find out for themselves...and I'll make it up when they get back to the nest...but the answer might be...just because...)

And in 3e kobolds get levels, right? And in 4e they're specialists with special tactics and...well, I don't know the later rules at all...just what I try to decipher from the free and floating adventures that I find on the 'net...

So, really, it's not Roger's fault - it's everybody who wouldn't think for themselves, who waited for the game's designers to script out every possible action for the monsters, who became more interested in power levels and balance and whatever than trying to creatively use what we have in the books. The truth is, Tucker's Kobolds were a pattern for my lower level encounters from the day I read the editorial - I think it's genius. And it's exactly what monsters should be - each DM's interpretation (mixed in with a ton of inspiration)...

Okay - so that's my little rant about the...um...newer editions of my favorite game.

***You can see Dragon Mountain misunderstood and misapplied here - the review is clearly from a d20/3e point of view (which is fine, just misses the point of the adventure in my opinion).

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Skill Bonus

When I was musing the other day about skills it did occur to me that there might be some reasons for bonuses in the initial 10% that everybody has to accomplish anything extraordinary.

Then I read this over at the Land of Nod and thought that maybe bonuses based on ability scores*** is a pretty good idea. Use the standard bonus for higher ability scores in Daen Ral: 16=+1, 17=+2, 18=+3. Or, since I'm dealing with percentages, 16=+5%, 17=+10%, 18=+15%.

Now, this is really DM fiat territory here, though. How to determine if something is best linked to a an ability score. Is jumping across a chasm more strength or dexterity? Is running a long distance more strength or constitution? Is trying to tell a lie more charisma or wisdom or intelligence? So, you get the idea.

If, in desperation, a mage picked up a sword to defend himself (or, since this is heroic fantasy, to defend the innocent child and puppy that are trapped in Cthulhu's pantry) would he have some chance to actually use it? I'd say yes - 10% (probably MINUS 5% or 10% since he's likely to be a weakling). And 01% ALWAYS succeeds in my estimation. There's always SOME chance... But the mage is not a sword wielder. He wants to try it again, no bonus for having been successful once, since he's not training with the sword (and if he wants to do so, he becomes a FTR/MU and deals with the bonuses and penalties that entails).

If the Fighter tries to read a foreign language - 10% chance he'll work it out (I'd do some kind of scaling so that rolling 01 means he reads it all, 02 he gets 90% of it right, up to rolling that 10, just making it...but just kind of getting the gist of what it says - and, if pushed, I might have him do it per page or even per paragraph if it's key). And, yeah, higher INT gives him a better chance to do the reading...but I'd still use the actual roll to determine how much of the text he really "gets".

Hmmm, maybe that's the way to adjudicate all the skills. Rolling a 1 means complete success at the skill attempt - rolling a 10 or more means just making it (modifiers only boost chance for success - not successful-ness...um...is that a word?). So, the fighter who jumps across the chasm and rolls a 2 - made it, just slid a bit on the landing, turns around and yells, "That was easy." The thief tries the jump rolls a 23, no sweat because he's got an 18 DEX (that's what I would modify this jump with) so he makes it...but JUST BARELY . I'd narrate that it doesn't look like he's going to make it but that he reaches out as the edge of the cliff is falling past his eyes and just catches a hand on the ledge. What are you going to do now? (and so on - we'd then play out getting him up the ledge - depending on what he was carrying, whether or not they're being harried, etc.)

So...what about thieves? I guess an additional 5%-15% at character generation isn't a deal breaker - especially since they have 15 thief skills to divide it up among. I'd call it a one time only bonus, though - not something that they get to apply to every skill, either, though that's kind of arbitrary, isn't it? Would starting a thief at first level who has an 18 DEX wtith 25% in the Fine Skills, with a 17 STR starting with 20% in the Physical Skills or with a 16 INT starting with 15% in the Mental Skills really be a problem? After all, the thief is SUPPOSED to be good at this stuff, right? Maybe that doesn't bother me as much as I thought it would...

*** I have a lot riding on ability scores in this game - obviously the initial bonuses, maximum level is tied to ability score, going lower than 0hp is tied to CON, class abilities, spell abilities...off the top of my head. I've never seriously played with MIN/MAX-ers (well, in Junior High...and once after) but the temptation will really be there in this system that I'm putting together...

On Undead

So where do all those undead baddies come from, anyway? Does somebody cast an animate dead spell and then make it permanent? I know that some undead...um...make more of their kind, and some aspire to lichdom (really?) but there's a lot of undead floating around Daen Ral.

And it occurred to me that if in Daen Ral the Elves and the Dwarves are spiritual beings cast from heaven during a rebellion who actually repented of their rebellion (thus weren't cast into the underworld with the demons and devils who are still rebellious angelic beings), then these beings are immortal, right? That is...I think they kind of "live on" no matter what. So...when their physical bodies are "killed" they...become something else.

Here's the skinny - though no non-dwarf or non-elf has ever witnessed it, when a dwarf or elf dies, their kin or comrades bury them in elaborate (and very guarded & trapped) tombs and then the "Spirit Watch" commences. The Spirit Watch is a 10 day watch at the entrance of the tomb. If the demihuman died with "evil in its heart" then it rises as an undead creature. The Spirit Watch is to assure the creature (which will rise on the 8th day, if ever) can't break out of the tomb. Yes, demi-human tombs are secured and trapped and guarded to keep the dead IN the tomb, though to a tomb raider, a trap is a trap... Anyway, after ten days, the tomb is abandoned and is a place that the demihumans will avoid if at all possible. Generally, these tombs are constructed as far from the elven and dwarven lands as possible.***

However, sometimes elves or dwarves die and their remains are unburied. Then if the demihuman rises as undead, there often isn't anyone around to stop it from wreaking havoc on the living. These are the roaming undead of myths and legends (well, most of them).

So here's the stuff:

Skeletons are non-undead, just animated bones, so they can be the remains of literally anything.
Zombies are human undead. They're the only "natural" human undead (see below).

Dwarves become the "earthy" undead - ghouls, ghasts, etc.
Elves become the "ethereal" undead - wraiths, vampires, liches, etc.

I'll try to come up with a more comprehensive list once I break out the Daen Ral Beastiary (which I've been compiling for a year or so now...sigh) and see just what undead exist in the world of Daen Ral.

Vampires, Wraiths and the like can cause slain opponents to rise as "lesser" types of undead - I'll still allow that, and a human slain by a vampire becomes a lesser vampire, a human slain by a wriath becomes a lesser wraith, etc. Still on the fence about things like Death Knights and the like. We'll see...

So that gives me lots of opportunities for undead haunted tombs that are really nasty (Tomb of Horrors can have a purpose now...) and the megadungeon from my youth that's really just a series of unrelated tombs now has an anchor.

And maybe lots of treasure is buried with the body because treasures somehow "soothe" undead spirits - so that even if they do rise as a lich or whatever, when they are surrounded by gold and silver and gems and the like, they are less likely to rampage across the countryside.

Another hook in this is that if, say, a spectre was raiding a village, there could be elves in the forest nearby trying to hunt it down to destroy it - but also trying to stay hidden from the humans in the area...

Food for thought....

*** One of the few times a human being might see elves is when they move their dead to a tomb. They always move at night and try to stay far away from human civilizations as they can, but the tomb complexes that they bury their dead in sometimes force them through human lands. The dwarves move through the Deeps, so they never pass through human lands with their dead. Eversnow Mountain in the Midlands is one area that is riddled with elven and dwarven tomb complexes.

I Swear...

I'm this close to turning off all these blogs...

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Toward a Humanocentric Campaign

More and more I want to have a humanocentric campaign. I'm not sure I can really explain why - I guess it's that I want the differences between PCs to be completely class based and not race based. But that's not all of it, I guess.

Maybe it's Conan's fault. I've been reading the stories and, well, it's only people. Anything not human is really there to be killed. None of that elf and dwarf stuff there. Just demons and ancient beings from other worlds and...well, you get the picture.***

Maybe it's de-Tolkien-izing the game.

Whatever. I want elves to be way more than just humans with pointy ears and some cool powers and dwarves to be way more just short grumpy humans with Scottish accents.*****

I'm toying with the idea of having some racial diversity among humans, if players want the "special abilities" I can go that route.

But...why? I'm working out a bit of a skill system (sort of) that can customize the PCs (not to the level of kits and all that from 2e, though I may end up just playing 2e by the time I'm done with all this). The idea is that just about anything "out of the ordinary" has a 10% chance of success - but that training and practice increase this. (I've already posted a bit about that here).

So, without demihumans, what do I lose? Seeing in the dark, detecting sloping passages, what did gnomes and halflings bring to the table? Some magic resistance... I guess what I lose is "diversity" or whatever. I've rarely DMed a world where race made much, if any, difference.

But this world, Daen Ral, is different. The intent is that race really does matter. Dwarves HATE humans. Elves are angelic beings kicked out of Heaven for rebellion. Monsters are not exactly flesh and blood -but are fabricated out of elements and darkness and evil.

And in the midst of this chaos, human beings are trying to carve out some order and peace - human beings who are, themselves, exiles from another part of the world where powerful mages have decimated an entire continent in their magic wars.

And it really is Conan's fault, I think. My greatest role-playing days were with a single player and me as DM. The single PC could be the "star" - and the player and I created a cast of NPCs surrounding the PC (much like Conan is the star - yet in many stories there's someone else - often an ally or a victim to be rescued - sometimes both) in which the Player always played humans - though the world was a typical "vanilla" RPG world where dwarves and halflings and the like wandered the streets of the cities and villages and men walking around in full plate were not a unique sight.

So, it's people at the center of this RPG universe.

So...I just realized it's also George Lucas' fault. I'll blog some other time about how Star Wars rewired my brain (or maybe not, I forget to do stuff like that), but think about how humanocentric the Star Wars universe is... Yeah, it's George's fault, too....

*** Or not. Until I read REH's stories, I certainly didn't get it. But I'm starting to now...
***** Whose fault is the Scottish accent? Dunno, but it's certainly the stereotype, isn't it?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

I Found A Castle...

I found this online - I love stuff like this.

I find stuff like this useful for generating ideas for a campaign or adventure - or for when the PCs unexpectedly find a castle*** and I need to have something ready with really little or no notice.

Anyway, here's the description from Wikimedia Commons:

Floor plans of Dirleton Castle, East Lothian, Scotland.

Key: Ground floor: A Kitchen. B Well. C Postern. D Inner courtyard. E Guard rooms. F Entrance passage. G Cellars. H Ovens. I Former postern. J Prison, with pit below. K Courtyard. L Demolished ranges. M Bases of demolished 13th century towers.

First floor: N Lord's hall. O Lord's bedchamber. P Dining room. Q Chapel. R Priest's chamber.

Second floor: S Gun emplacement on roof. T Murder hole. U Kitchen. V Kitchen fireplaces. W Buffet. X Great hall. Y Lord's chamber, base of tower house.

SO I know where most everything (important) is. Just grab (or make up, heck it's not rocket science) some NPCs:

Argus is the guard at the main gate (F2, hp7, sword & chain - NG). He's gruff and a little surly (often he is sarcastic). He respects the lord of the castle, but not his advisor. He will defend the lord's family with his life.

Father Bartemean is the keep's priest (C3, hp 11, LG). He's a jovial man, prone to drink a little too much on occasion. He is loved by all in the keep (except one of the acolytes who believes he has disgraced his position with his drinking) and he attends most official functions. He is the lord's second advisor.

Bertram is the Lord's advisor (NH, hp 3, N). Bertram is extremely even-minded, never favoring one or another in a dispute, but always weighing things logically and with the best interests of the lord and his holding in mind.

Lord Andor (F5, hp 29, NG). Lord Andor fought in the Goblin Wars and lost two fingers on his left hand. He is very well liked by most of his subjects because his tax and tribute burden is fairly light. The people of the land will rise to defend their lord if he is threatened.

So, that was like 5 min. work and I have a keep and a few personalities to populate it.

This picture is not public domain, but it's CC hope this suffices as attribution:

*** I'm learning about "hexcrawling" and it could happen that the PCs would go "off my map" and onto another area where I didn't have anything significant planned and I might roll up a keep...

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Dungeon Is Hell

While I was mowing the other day I had a realization: The Dungeon is Hell.

Now, not in the "war is hell" kind of sense,*** though many a player losing a PC in "Tomb of Horrors" will feel it in that sense, I think. But, as I was mowing some concentric circles (I mow oddly) I got to thinking about hell (I hate mowing) and Dante's conception of the afterlife and I realized that it was a 9 level dungeon...

It's, in fact, the classic dungeon. A very brief (almost handwaved by the DM...um...author) wilderness trek to the entrance of the dungeon. The characters enter and descend from layer to layer (levels anyone?) going past worse and worse sinners (stronger monsters) to the deepest level wherein dwells the BBEG (and, yeah, the ORIGINAL BBEG, right? Lucifer himself). And once they've beaten the "goal room"...there's more - a portal to another land (Purgatorio) and further adventures...

I mean, Divine Comedy could almost be the original adventure railroad, right? What choice does Dante have but to keep going thru Hell, Purgatory and finally Paradise... ascending levels...well, you get the picture.

I realize that Dante and Virgil didn't battle their way through Hell or anything. But from a design standpoint, it strikes me that this is really the way dungeons are designed - and maybe for good reason. Dante is part of our Western Cultural DNA. His concept of Hell has permeated our culture in a way that when I say that Walmart is the Third Circle of Hell, people who I know have never read Dante get it.*****

Now, this whole thing might be old hat to everybody else (heck, it's probably in Underworld and Wilderness Adventures in the 3LBB - or Holmes Basic or something) but it was a revelation to me. And it explains why having the dungeon structured this way (B4 "The Lost City" Zargon's Lair, as a prime example) "feels" right to me.

The Dungeon really is Hell....

*** One of my favorite exchanges from the series M*A*S*H goes something like this:
Someone: "War is hell."
Hawkeye: "War isn't hell. War is war and Hell is Hell. And of the two, war is a lot worse."
Fr. Mulcahy: "How do you figure, Hawkeye?"
Hawkeye: "Easy, Father. Tell me, who goes to Hell?"
Fr. Mulcahy: "Well, sinners, I suppose."
Hawkeye: "Exactly, Father. There are no innocent bystanders in Hell. War is chock full of them - little kids, cripples, old ladies. In fact, except for some of the brass, almost everybody involved is an innocent bystander."

*****The third circle is gluttony, after all - and doesn't Walmart represent, at least a little, our cultural obsession with more?

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Castle of the Mad Archmage Finished...

...well, the "basics" are finished...

Okay, so I started playing in like 81 with the Basic and Expert sets just released (Moldvay? Is that right?). Anyway, once I was hooked, I spent every dime I could scrounge on D&D stuff - advanced, basic, whatever - if TSR put it out, it was gold as far as I was concerned. I picked up a copy of the Best of Dragon Vol I and read tantalizing bits about this "Castle Greyhawk" thing that some guy named Gygax dreamed up (what? His name's on a bunch of D&D stuff...he must be somebody important). Then I saw the Greyhawk supplement (to OD&D) which I picked up (mistakenly) thinking that it would have some details about this Castle Greyhawk and the dungeons beneath. Still it was a great little item to add to my Basic/Expert/Monster Manual collection and there were a few more hints about this mysterious castle.

In the intervening years I bought them as they came out: EX1&2, Isle of the Ape, the "Supermodule" style Castle Greyhawk (argh!!), 2e Greyhawk ruins. Actually, I picked up everything published for Greyhawk until kind of late in 2e era when I quit playing.

But...sadly, nothing really said Castle Greyhawk like those little hints in my early purchases...

I got back into gaming and Troll Lord put out Castle Zagyg co-authored by Gygax...but I didn't have (and still don't) the cash for that purchase. Besides, I've always been a "wait until the whole series is published before buying" kind of guy when I can be - so I thought when the whole series was finished (I was figuring around 2120 - heh...) I'd look into mortgaging my home to pick it up... And...well, that Castle seems pretty...inflated. Lots and lots and lots of words...I mean Gygax has always been pretty verbose, so I guess I should have expected it...

Anyway, Gygax passed away and TLG lost the Zagyg license.

All the while I'd search for "fan made castle greyhawk" and simlar Google searches (actually, alta vista and hotbot and...wow, the search engines of the past) to find Castle Greyhawks on the web somewhere. But usually they were fruitless searches.

I'd hit on Grodog's Greyhawk (and his castle) some years ago...but for him it's clearly both a labor of love and a labor of convenience, so while he has some really great information on his version, it's just a skeleton, really (though he has a TON of research regarding both the castle and the world at large).

So a year and a half ago or thereabouts the OSR (is it still called that?) blogosphere lit up a bit when Greyhawk Grognard (Joseph Bloch) indicated that he was going to flesh out the lower levels of the dungeons.

Well, the other day he finished (at least the "basics" - sub levels and upper levels and - finally - the Black Reservoir to come) thirteen levels beneath the Castle Ruins. You can find it here. I haven't read more than the first level yet, but it looks like a worthy homage to what Gygax started decades ago. I'll have more to say about a project that I'm thinking about working up soon...

Friday, July 2, 2010

Some Skill Ideas

Woo-hoo - 100 posts (oh, dangit, a couple are drafts...argh - so, 99 posts !!)

Anyway, James over at Grognardia was talking about skills in a recent post and it got me thinking. I don't know if I ever really bought into 2e NWPs...I mean, it really did lead to a lot of rules lawyering and the dreaded "if you don't have the proficiency, you can't ride a horse" stupidity which, come on, really?

Anyway, I'm working on my system and have taken the 2e approach to thieves, sort of, and I give a T0 a 10% chance to do any of the "thief skills" on my list (I have more than the 2e PHB lists) and a T1 can divvy up 90 points to spread out (you can read the "rules" in the above post).

What this suggests, however, is that any and every schmoe in Daen Ral has about a 10% chance to pull of anything. So...if you want to add a "skill" - well, I guess that's DM fiat territory here - you find a teacher and, depending on how much money, time, energy you spend on it...you increase your %age chance to do a certain skill.

Now, I won't put up with the "can only ride a horse 10% of the time, then" junk that got NWPs in trouble. Here's my take on it. In a medieval-esque society, some skills are a given (again, DM fiat - my world, my rules, right?) so you can ride a horse, build a fire, gut an animal, find water, etc. Skills are for when you want to do something extraordinary like - ride a Water Buffalo or have a horse do tricks or jump a small chasm, for building a fire that will only damage a certain section of a house or to build a fire in a downpour in a swamp, or to gut a dragon or whether or not beholder meat is edible, or finding water in a desert... Yeah, you get it.

So, how to adjudicate it? Dunno. Maybe something like 10% or 20% per level (or per amount of money and time spent?). And some skills just have to cost more of one resource or another (alchemy would have to cost a lot of money for materials to practice with as well as taking a fair amount of time but very little energy, though learning trick riding should cost a lot of time and energy, but not so much in money necessarily).

How to simulate the cost in energy? Perhaps a temporary CON drop or hp drop? Or STR? Maybe it's not necessary. I'm not thinking of "balancing" these things - just trying to figure out how to throw this stuff at my (as yet theoretical) players.