Wednesday, March 31, 2010

D&D is missing an Armor Class

You learn something new everyday. Yesterday I stumbled across this post about Linen Armor at Asshat Paladins. This lead me to the wikipedia article about Linothroax Armor and the links off of the Wikipedia article are interesting in their own right.

I would classify this as giving +2 armor class if using ascending AC or AC 7 if using descending AC. This what I assign to cuirbouilli or boiled leather armor. If it get wet though that will be issue unless it is protected.

If this the kind of stuff that "Being Lawful Good without being a dick" brings I want to see more of Matt's work.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Feudalism revisited

The Ghinorians are a culture in the Majestic Wilderlands that believe they are the chosen people of Mitra, a goddess of justice and honor. One consequence is that slavery and later serfdom are not widely practiced in regions dominated by Ghinorian culture. The main reason is theology, the church of Mitra teaches that all Ghinorians stand equal in judgment before Mitra.

But like any pre-industrial society the Ghinorian Society is not egalitarian. Economic power is a pyramid with a few very rich and a lot of very poor. The economic collapse and the loss of the money economy after the fall of their empire only exacerbated the social divide.

In most campaigns I played the Ghinorians pretty much as bog standard Western Europeans complete with feudalism and manors. However I wanted to get away a little from that and go with a presentation that emphasized their view as being the chosen people of Mitra.

So I did a little digging and think I found an a nice twist that doesn't render things near incomprehensible. Which is always a danger when trying to come up with your own cultures. The twist is the use of sharecropping. Commonly known from the post civil war South it turns out that it been practiced throughout history. The basic gist of sharecropping is that the landowner provides the lands, maybe even the seed and stock. In exchange he gets a share of the crop. At times it is a good deal as the sharecropper has incentive to make the crop yield as hight as possible and a poor person can get into sharecropper a lot easier than trying to build a farm. Of course in any situation where the powerful and the weak have a relationship horrendous abuse can and will occur. Especially in situations were the rule of law is weak.

In lieu of serfdom, Ghinorian Feudalism will rely on sharecropping as it foundation. Throw in tenant farming I got something that different but understandable.

Ghinorian Feudalism

The hallmark of Ghinorian Culture is their belief that they are chosen people of Mitra. In the northern successor states Church of Mitra will accept anybody as Ghinorian who converts to the worship of Mitra. As a consequence Ghinorian law, and custom treats all Ghinorians (native or converted) as equal before Mitra. The presence of these beliefs in Ghinorians lands contributes to the near absence of slavery, serfdom, and other various forms of unfree status for the lowest social classes

The collapse of the Ghinorian Empire also caused a collapse of the money economy. Settlements and regions focused more on self-sufficiency than specialized trade. The revival of the old imperial ideals in the Restored Ghinorian Empire centered on Kalnala (Tarantis) or the Dragon Empire of Caelam (City-State) only halted the trend. When these two empires collapsed the old money economy disappeared.

Among the Ghinorians, noble titles were attached to offices. During the days of the empire, these offices were funded by the Imperial Princes from the taxes collected and the coin earned from the Imperial Estates. With the lack of hard coinage the successor states had to turn to alternative arrangements. The offices were granted to large landowners along with a benefice consisting of several Imperial Estates. Contracts with the tenants where changed from money based to various tenant farming (if they own their own tools) or sharecropping arrangements based on the payment of a portion of the harvest.

While never reduced to slavery or serfdom the combined economic and legal power of the landowner considerably reduced the social standing and power of the peasantry. The worst cases found themselves in perpetual debt to the landowner. The trend for several hundred years saw individual farms consolidated into manorial villages so that the cost of tools, and livestock could be easily shared.

Manorial Villages saw a bailiff appointed to manage the landowner's interest. The villagers elected a Reeve (with the landowner's approval) to manage the day to day tasks. The Reeve in consultation with the bailiff appointed the village officers such as the Beadle, Hayward, and the Woodward. In regions that suffered from banditry, frontier marches, or attacks by monsters the appointed bailiff would be a trained knight. For landowever that owned only one estate would live in the village manorhouse himself.

A peasant's social status in Ghinorian villages was determined by land ownership. Freeman owned their land and tools outright. However many freeman paid some rent to use the village oxen and plot to benefit from the economy of scale. Crafters performed a trade like Tanning, Carpentry, Smithing, etc. Much of their business was conducted via barter and for a share of the crop.

Tenant Farmers did not own their land but owned their tools and stock. Like freeman they would often pay to use the village oxen and plow rather than maintain their own. The land they worked was rented from the landowner on long term fixed rent contracts. These contracts were
transferable to their heirs. Poor Harvests often saw them going into debt.

The lowest rung was occupied by Sharecroppers. They neither owned their tools or land. They worked for a fixed percentage of the crop (usually 1/3) and under the direct supervision of the village Baliff and Reeve. They often hire themselves out to Freemen and Tenant Farmers.

The land surrounding a Ghinorian village is organized in several ways. First is divided into broad agricultural use. Woodlot, pasturage, cropland, and finally wasteland. Woodlot is strictly managed by the woodward to preserve the village wood supply as well as supply of wild herbs, and a place for hogs to forage in the summer and fall. Pasturage is used for the grazing of livestock particularly goats and sheep. Cropland is divided into three great fields. One is left
fallow, another is planted with a cover crop, and the last with the village's main crop (wheat, barley, rye, etc). This three field rotation ensue that that the soil is not exhausted by the intensive farming.

Land Ownership is handled by strips that are measured in a amount of land that a ox team can plow in a day. While the fields are worked communally, the strip boundaries are marked so that each farmer's share of the harvest can be measured. The landowner's strips are either rented out to tenant farmer or sharecropped.

The nobles are those that held both land and a position of authority in a Ghinorian Realm. During the Empire military and legal authority were carefully separated. But as the money economy declined, the Princes began appointing wealthy landowner to both positions. This combined the power of both into one person. Along with the offices came Imperial Estates. As the centuries wore one many of these offices were viewed as hereditary and the current form of nobility achieved it's final form.

The office of Prince existed since earliest days of the Ghinorian. Originally a tribal leader, this was transformed into the office of the Imperial Prince when the Ghinorian Empire was formed. Below a prince is the Duke, originally a military officer equivalent to a general. The office of Duke was combined with the that of the provincial judge. Below a Duke is the Count originally a subordinate officer in charge of a army's wing. To the office of count was attached the power of a district judge. As the revived empires collapsed the office of Count disappeared in many Ghinorian lands. Below a Count is the Baron. Barons were originally legates in charge of specific units in the Ghinorian army. To their office was attached the judgeship of a settlement.

Ghinorian Knights originated as cavalry in the Ghinorian Army. The cavalry always attracted the upper social level and the position became synonymous with high status. With the rise of armored cavalry on the battlefield their position became part of the nobility.

For roleplaying purposes the effect on many settlements is similar to the 19th and 20th century company towns. In this case the company being the landowner who owns much of the surrounding land.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Google Sketch Up and the Tomb of Horrors.

Google Sketch Up is a simple to use 3D CAD mostly used to publish 3D models of buildings for Google Earth. I been aware of this program for a while and played around with it. As 3D CAD programs go is probably the easiest one to use. It is uncanny in how it predicts how you want to do.

The basic feature of Sketch Up is the ability to draw a shape and then PULL it. The pulling creates the 3D model. Then you can draw on on its faces and pull them as well. It is intelligent enough to realize that only that portion that you drew will get pulled. You can also push it in to create cavities and holes.

The reason I am blogging about it is because of this post on the Harn forum.

So I downloaded latest version and played around with it again. It evolved somewhat making drawing easier still. One thing I usually try the 3D Warehouse. It is a catalog of object that Sketch Up users post to the Google Server. They can downloaded whole or inserted into an existing drawing.

So I typed in Dungeons and Dragons.

And boy there is a lot more stuff. The best part all the house, walls and other items that you download and combine to make a 3D view of your town.

But perhaps the neatest thing was the complete mockup of some classic D&D modules like the Moathouse or the S1 the Tomb of Horror.

The Layout of the Tomb of Horror

The model is textured so it pretty neat to a walk through. Here the tomb's entrance (the real one).

Here is some more of the tomb ... opps, yiaeee! Oh drat!

Help anyone? I could use that rope now.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

From the Attic: Harn

The first time I encountered Harn was in a rack around 1984 at Games Unlimited in Pittsburgh. It came in a folder (shown to the left) with two books and a map. The Harnview and the Harndex.

Harnview was an introduction and overview of Harn. The first section was the Overview containing the Introduction, Culture Map, Cultures, Religions, Economic Map, Economics, History, Chronology. It is well written and packed a lot of information in only 20 8.5 by 11 pages.

The remaining 12 pages was titled Using Harn and consisted of a brief explanation of the regional map, a systemless method of character generation, an explanation of the pregame, time and motion, scenario suggestions, Encounter Tables, the infamous weather generation table, and the movement table.

The pregame was eye opening in 1983. It basically outline a simple procedure where you use the character generation chapter to come up with a background. Then in a one on one session with the player you bring the character up to the "present" in the campaign. The section is brief only taking up one column on one page. However it proved the key in keeping the Majestic Wilderlands approachable for all the players that I referee afterwards.

The Using Harn section has a lot of good information for use in other games. The weather table is one of the most straight forward I seen. It involves using a track with 20 elements. You have another table that you roll on that tell whether you move up 1, no change, down 1, or down 2. The track is structered so that weather changes happen naturally. It one of the more elegant solutions I seen.

The only problem is that is only for the cool temperate climate that dominates Harn. The Ivinia Regional Module as an additional sub polar chart but that where it stopped. In practice I use it only when weather makes a difference such as crossing mountains or venturing into the wilderness.
The encounter tables I used quite a bit. They reflect well the gritty medieval feel of the majestic wilderlands. Monsters are a part of the table and for that I go into Chgowiz's Swords & Wizardry Reference guide to roll up instead of the Harn sub table.

As for Harn itself it is a wooded isle the size of Madagascar and the climate of the British Isles. It's long axis runs east to west. Harn is part of the continent of Lythia which is on the world of Kethira.

The map is huge and one of the best map I ever seen for a roleplaying setting. It was ingenious at the time for it's depiction of both terrain and vegetation intermixed. Vegetation was represented by color. Terrain was represented by semi-transparent fills. This allow forests, heath, and plains to cross hills and mountains naturally.

Harn was the original arrival point of Kethira's Elves and possibly the Dwarves. For a long time it was a sylvan island until migrating barbarians made landfall. First the Jarin who made peace with the Elves and Dwarves and then later the Lythians who made war.

The wars with the Lythians ended the Elves rule of Harn and in the wake of their downfall scattered tribes and petty kingdoms made Harn their home. A dark lord by the name of Lothirm arose a couple of centuries later and threatened to conquer all of Harn. To cement his power he created (or imported) the Gargun (Orcs). He met his downfall in a war with the dwarves. After this dark period of history several kingdoms were created from the wreckage of the surviving petty kingdoms.

Melderyn, Home of wizards and perhaps the strongest Harnic Kingdom.
Kaldor, the largest Harnic Kingdom
Chybisa, the last of the old petty kingdoms now much shrunken due the surrounding barbarians.
In the west the geography is dominated by the Thard River and the Corani Empire was formed along it. It grew to be Harn's largest state and then collapsed in a series of civil wars. It was replaced by the Theocracy of Tekhos dedicated to the worship of the undead god Morgath. Eventually the Theocracy broke up. The northwest was conquered by barbarians who founded the Kingdom of Rethem. Rethem still allows the worship of Morgath and other evil gods. The northeast became the Thardic Republic and dreams of the restoration of the Corani Imperium. The south became the Kingdom of Kanday dedicated to the worship of Larani. Larani is a goddess of justice opposed to the evil deities of Rethem. All three vie for dominance in western Harn.

To the northern the last stronghold of the Jarins was conquered by Ivinian Vikings who founded the Kingdom of Orbaal. Azadmere is the last surviving kingdom of dwarves on Harn. And the Elves retreated to Evael in the south central portion of Harn.

All of these lands are surrounded by a dozen barbarian tribes each with their own cultures.
The details of all this are given in the Harndex which is an alphabetical listing of places, people and events of Harn. It is 64 pages, not long but densely packed with information. The most useful bits of the harn is the medieval information which includes an extensive pricelist.

While I only ran Harn as a campaign a handful of times the books have proven to be a gold mine of information that entered into my Majestic Wilderlands. Today they set next to my desk as they are used constantly for reference and inspiration.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

He who shall not be named.

It fantastic that the Rusty Battle Axe found to way to pursue what he likes yet not impact his day job.

So now he become the gamer known as the Rusty Battle Axe and if for whatever reason he appears in a photo this will be photoshopped in it's place.

Yes I indeed own a rusty battle axe.

As an aside I achieved the background effect by photographing it on the hood of my car in full sunlight. I need a large expanse of a single color and none of the background papers my wife uses for photographing her hairsticks was large enough. But after I saw the result I decided to go with the image as is.

A hairstick is a piece of jewelry used to hold a hairdo. Typically used by those with long hair. Kelly Anne's shop is here.

She does custom order which I mention because does do gamer related hairsticks as seen here. She doesn't have any listed at the moment hence the mention that she does custom orders.

She also makes glow in the dark hairsticks as well.

Musings on Sandbox Campaigns

Tried to get involved with a thread on Enworld but it appears the participants want to beat the hell out of each other rather than have a discussion.

Anyway I wrote down some observations on sandbox campaigns that I think the rest of you may find useful.

After Necromancer Games released the Wilderlands of High Fantasy boxed set was released the various authors, including myself, began to explain what the product was, and how they used it. Sandbox campaigning turned out to be the best term to package up what we were talking about and it stuck. No idea who came up with it specifically.

My own particular interest in the sandbox campaigns is developing the numbered hex map pioneered by Judges Guild and used in the Wilderlands Boxed Set. I feel it is a compact way of presenting a setting that is ready to run out of the box. Part of the reason behind my two Points of Light was to give an affordable example of format that didn’t involve shelling out $70 (the price of the boxed set).

Pieces of advice to anybody wanting to run a sandbox campaign are

1) Things don’t happen in a background, unless there a special reason people for miles around are going to know there is a dragon lair on Grimbolt Mountain. They may not know exactly where it is but the fact there a dragon in the general area is going to be obvious. This the same for a variety of locales with dangerous creatures. Most however will have to be discovered by the PCs actively looking for rumors.

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.

3) The most effective use of a sandbox campaign comes when the character have a background that ties them into a region, culture, religion, or organization. This gives the player a context in which to start making decisions about what direction they want to pursue. I find this works best when limited to a page and developed from a private session between the referee and players talking back and forth.

4)Detail is important but you will never have enough time or interest. The technique to overcome is to develop of a bag of "bits". Bits are situations, locales, npcs, props, etc with the serial number filed off. They can be combined in different ways to provide on the spot locales and encounters. You can fine tune the exact mix in order to impart a specific feel to the setting. Much of my bag of "bits" revolve the medieval theme which lends my campaign a more gritty and serious feel. Your may be different.

Friday, March 26, 2010

More Scourge of the Demon Wolf

Ten died. They were mauled beyond recognition. The Baron sent his huntsmen to kill the beasts and for a fortnight they tramped across the countryside. Between their whoring and drinking they killed twelve wolves, parading their skins through the village. They were hung on poles as trophies of victory. Then they left, the beasts slain, the village saved… so we thought.

As the fields turned golden under the summer sun the killings began again. Four more died. Then the Baron's man, the bailiff, was killed on the high meadow in sight of Mitra's Temple. His screams could be heard well into the village. He was only identified after we reassembled the pieces.

With the priest's help I wrote a report to our liege, the Baron of Westtower. My report ended with,
There will be no harvest until the beast is slain and the killings stopped.

The Beggar Camp - The Beggars are wandering Tharian horselords who lost their horses or committed dishonorable acts.

The Barony of Westtower where Kensla is located

Thursday, March 25, 2010

My Current DM Kit for Swords & Wizardry.

Jeff of Jeff's Gameblog showed his best of the best.

My Best of the Best is my entire Harn collection which I don't use for playing in Harn or Harnmaster. It serves as the best damn game reference for all things medieval.

What I use right not in play are these.

Of course the Swords & Wizardry Core Book. I really should reformat it for digest size and get it printed for my own use.

In the lower left is my Majestic Wilderlands, the lower right the calender system I use. Inside is where I keep track of time.

In the upper left is Chgowiz's S&W Reference sheet followed by my Price list for the Majestic Wilderlands. Really need to get the Magic item pricing down pat right now we are using my old GURPS magic pricing as guideline.

In the center is the Paper Mache book where I keep all my digest sized stuff. I have separate book where I keep my original D&D stuff.

In the upper right are the three harn charts I use the most. The travel times, on it's back is the infamous Harn weather tables. Then a double sided Harn Encounter chart. I use this in conjunction with the charts inside the S&W Reference especially for fantastic creatures.

Along with this I would normally have a campaign binder but I don't have one, yet, for the Viridistan area. Slowly building it up as the players explore.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

How big are those City Hexes for Viridistan?

This may be a long shot question. If you looked at the images I posted yesterday they were scanned from the original Viridistan City Map. The city map uses numbered hexes. The only problem is that it appears that nowhere the size of the hexes in feet (or yards) is noted.

I been assuming they are 120 feet as if you put the big map of Viridistan next to the big map of City-State the building are of equivalent size. The hexes are very close in size to the square grid of CSIO. But if it was stated somewhat how big those hexes really were I sure like to know.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Which house would you buy? A Majestic Wilderlands Tale

I always wonder how soon the players would start making a "mark" in any MW campaign. It starts out small an alliance here or investment here. In the current campaign with Dwayne of Gamer's Closet, Tim of Gothridge Manor, and the Rusty Battle Axe, they took their first step by buying a house in Viridistan.

The main adventure was an adaptation using the Creature of Rhyl from Dragon #55. It was presented as the underground chamber underneath the Circle of Hwath. The twist I added was that the Dragon of the module was captured by a full blood Viridian, Astylis, and enslaved. For those you have the Majestic Wilderland it was a copper dragon. One of those dragon that betrayed their oath in protecting the Crystals in the maelstorm that forms the entrance to the Abyss where the demons are imprisoned. Unlike the Black Dragons, the copper dragons are not evil but are hedonistic and mainly out for themselves.

So the dungeon was cleared and the party wound up in Viridistan with a fair amount of cash. It came out to several dozen gold crowns worth 32 gp of regular D&D coinage. Dwayne playing the Elf Eoleander (you guess is as good as mine as to how to pronounce it) convinced the rest of the party to buy a house. After looking at the treasure a budge of 45 crowns was set or 1,440 gp. After consulting my Harn Real Estate article I figure they can buy a max of a 50 by 50 two story building.

Currently in my campaign the year is 4452 BCCC, 16 years after the events in the MW Supplement. In that time a group of player characters overthrew the Set led alliance described in the supplement and formed the Council of Viridistan. They allied themselves with the Elves of Elsenwood and Smyrsis to form an alliance for good in the Viridistan Civil War. In the last decade the council has put in a lot of adventure friendly laws to spur the economy that was wrecked in the death of the Emperor and the overthrow of the Set Alliance. Unknowingly this benefited the party by making it real easy for them to buy a house in Viridistan. In addition they already gained tax free status for a year because of them finding Astylis' head in the dungeon of Hwath. Because of the housing laws they gain another year free of property tax (but now any other city tax).

So last week I picked out six houses they could afford with 45 crowns.

This house is near Swordsmen Sward and had only residence surrounding it.

This one is on Artisan's Lane and had several potters, a Rug and Tapestry shop, and in the back a Tavern known as the Beanery that sell nothing but beans; Bean Salad, Bean Soup, Bread, Butter, and Bean Jam.

Then another house betwen Usurer Alley and Guildhall Street. It was next to two ropemakers.
Another on Usurer's Alley with only residences around it. It has a back entrance.

Finally the one on Scholar Street with a back entrance as well. It next to the Sage School of Ancient Verities, and across the street are a Scribe and a Seal maker. This is the house they bought.

Which one would have you gotten?

Monday, March 22, 2010

Thanks for taking the time, Older Edition Books

Thanks for everybody answering the questions on owning the original books. The comments were interesting. I believe it is safe to say that a determined gamer can still buy a desired edition but some are much harder and expensive than others.

Mike Mearls commented that some are buying up older editions and marking them up. If that so then it may be in a year or two will see a sudden price drop. Or it may be a true trend marking that at as we get older thing get harder to find.

It weird that people noted that 2e seem hard to find.

Next year I will ask if anybody tried to buy an older edition and see how the responses go. While not authoritative by any means it should give a weather eye view of how things are.

A totally unscientific survey: Do you own an older edition?

Prompted by this and the fact the question comes lot on the TheRPGSite a lot. I have some questions for my audience.

  1. Do you own an older edition of D&D (prior to 2e)?
  2. If you didn't keep your copy from "back in the day" or just wasn't old enough; how difficult it was it for you to find your copy and buy it. Do you consider the price a good deal?
Finally any opinion on how difficult for a new gamer to get an older edition is appreciated.

As for my opinion, I noticed that the availability of older editions in local game stores have plummeted. The only place where I now a NW PA gamer to reliably find copies is the Wargame Matrix in Cleveland. Online prices are creeping up and at some point a year ago it has become impractical for gamers to just pick up a copy of OD&D as prices gone up over $50 for the later printing. Add in the supplements the prices become really unattractive. My impression is that is becoming the same for the Moldavy Edition although not quite there for Holmes. The same for the Rule Compendium for D&D. AD&D 1st and Mentzer D&D still appear readily available.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Comments on Marketing of the OSR.

Al from Black Gate has an interesting post on marketing the OSR. The main reason for the marketing issue is the result of our diversity. None of companies specifically making OSR products individually have the budget for marketing of even a 2nd or 3rd tier publisher. Collectively we sell a lot but each only spend our little slice.

Given time, a handful of OSR commerical publishers will grow large enough that they would be effectively a 2nd or 3rd tier publisher accompanied with a bigger budget for marketing.

However if folks want to jump start the process then it seems to me that a manufacturer's associations focused solely on pool advertising dollars. It would have a membership fee of between $50 to $100. Large enough that only folks serious about commercially publishing will pay it but low enough that it isn't a barrier to entry. In short signing up means you are committing yourself to be a professional.

Again it's focus needs to be limited or politics will be a big problem. It will be little problem as it is. Plus there are groups like TARGA, GaryCon, etc that focus on convention, and other aspects of the OSR. This doesn't need to duplicate what they do.

To summary what I am suggesting If ten publishers sign and the fee is $100 then it will have a $1,000 budget. The members appoint a marketing team and they design the ads, buy X amount of adspace on the web and print. Part the budget will have to be used to pay artist and layout folks leaving the rest for the actual ad buys.

This summary leaves out a lot of details that would have to be hammered out like the ad content, who gets to approve stuff and so forth and so on. One thing I do suggest that a omnibus website be maintained by this manufacturing group. That space on the site be reserved for ANYBODY involved in the OSR. Just submit a link and it will made part of the directory. The content of the actual paid ads will be reserved for dues paying members.

Also if an existing group, like TARGA, want to expand themselves to do this that would work just as well as long as the publisher have collective control over how their dues are spent.

The philosophy of doing this is that making people aware of what we do keeps our hobby healthy by having new gamers come and start playing the games we love. It helps both the commercial and non-commercial side of the hobby.

Unfortunately I don't have the time to take on a project of this magnitude. But I hopes this inspires folks to think about this issue and certainly if it comes into existance Bat in the Attic Games will be joining.

Friday, March 19, 2010

From the Attic: Nobles of the Ancient World

Normally my from the attic is stuff I pulled from way way back. This is a little more recent.

Before I got the license that allowed me to do the Majestic Wilderlands I had a few idea for different projects. Some I will do under Bat in the Attic others are of less priority now that I have the Majestic Wilderlands to deal with.

One of the project was a highly cultural centric project focused on humans. The idea was to use race as culture. The nominal target was D&D 4e but that fell by the wayside when the GSL Version 1 proved to be a really bad deal.

The idea was go through the Ancient, Classical, and Medieval periods of history and work up major cultural groups of society. They would be generic so that the referee could adapt them to his setting. This excerpt is the Ancient Noble roughly of the same time period as Ancient Egypt, and Babylonia.

Nobles of the Ancient World
Paragons of humanity, they are the rulers and defenders of civilization.

Special Abilities
+2 to Charisma

The noble of the ancient period is the best of humanity; he knows that life is too unforgiving to allow the weak to survive. Unlike later eras he does not assume that her special status is by right. He knows that he has to prove himself worthy of the responsibilities. He know that the nobles are all that stand between the monsters and the utter ruin of civilization.

Play a noble if you want…
to be a leader.
to defend civilization against the depredations of barbarians and monsters.
to have a chance to create a lasting legacy.

Physical Qualities
Being born of a king does give the nobles access to more food and the time to train and hone the body. Because of this they are taller and heavier than the average peasant. Having the luxury of time to train, their appearance is more muscular and fit then the rest of the people of the land.

Nobles wear fine linen and wool for their clothing. Using the harvest surplus they hire artisans to work at the palace not only to create weapons, tool, and armor but luxury goods as well. As the leaders they are expected to look their finest as a shining example. Their first duty is to defend the city-state against its enemies both monsters, barbarians, and rival city-states. To this end they train incessantly for war and the hunt.

Playing a Noble.
The noble is about duty. They receive the best because they are expected to be the best. They continually train, and are busy with their duties assigned by the king. They often find themselves in harm’s way so that the people and the city are protected. The nobles supervise the various construction projects that are underway after the harvest is in. They provide leadership and guidance to ensure that the walls, temples, and buildings are properly built.

The king is the leading noble of the land. In the late centuries of the ancient age the creation of the empire required the king to appoint governors to rules the subject city-state in their name. Within those cities the governor fulfills the king’s role as leader. The remaining nobles form his elite guard, and advisors. The king supports them and their families with the surplus from the harvest. The first bureaucracies are established as favored nobles are chosen by the king to supervise the distribution of the harvest to the peasant and artisans.

Weak nobles soon become scorned. They will be challenged time and time until they either reform or they lose their position. Those who suffer the loss in status often will live the city in shame to live in exile. A weak or tyrannical king will soon lose the support of his court, the priest, and the rest of the city-state and be deposed usually in favor of a close relative.

The noble’s view of the peasant’s is that they are the backbone of civilization. It is by their labor that he has the food he eats. It is by their labor that the great temples, walls, and palaces are built. If they grumble then the noble should listen. If they are attacked then they must be defended. The priests can be rivals but they are important to ensure that the city-state remains in favor with the gods. They are also the first line of defense against the supernatural. The artisans produce much that is useful and pleasing. Their wit and skills give the nobles the means by which the city-state can be defended.

When peasants are lazy, artisans do shoddy work and the priests neglect the altars, it is up to the noble to set matters right. He will give the elders a chance to rectify the problem but if it continues then he will enforce discipline. If fellow nobles are faltering, even the king, then it is the noble’s duty to issue the needed challenges. The noble is also sought by those who been wronged by a crime. Using the law set down by the King he will judge the accusation and decide. If justice is granted, those who have been wronged are free to seek equal retribution from the perpetrator.

A Kaddian noble feels loyalty to his king or governor first. The establishment of the empire has begun to broaden many noble’s view of the world. They have become aware of other lands like Goshen and Archonia. In some ways they are no better than the barbarians but it is obvious that they are far wealthier. Many nobles have started accompanies the artisan on trade missions to these far off lands for glory and opportunity.

The Goshen Nobles know he lives in paradise on earth. The gods have truly blessed him with the annual flood creates the bounty of the land. The pinnacle of the Goshen nobles is the Naswet the supreme king of all Goshen. In recent decades the faith in the Naswet has begun to shaken as the Naswet is unable to stop the raids of the Sea People. Travelers from the far off land of Saggiga tell stories of heroes who rise in times to depose weak kings and save the land. The nobles have begun to wonder if such a time has come for Goshen.

The Black Wizards have backed the Nobles of Archeronia against proverbial wall. Either they fight and die true to their ideal, or sell their souls to the wizards for the glory of conquest and pillage. In either case weak nobles quickly die in Archeronia. The ones that survive are of the stuff that legends are made.

Noble Adventurers

Urnungal was appointed to the court of Dumishar the governor of Kishnar. Dumishar had just arrived in Kishnar replacing the previous governor who let the city and its defenses fall into disrepair. As a consequence, Guti barbarians and monsters continually raided the region with impunity. Urnungal proved to be an adept leader, inspiring his men to victory and leading them on successful hunts. Dumishar has rapidly promoted Urnungal giving a larger share of the Kishnar’s defense. This has drawn the ire of Irmunkal, one of the few holdovers from the previous governor’s court. Irmunkal had expected to be rewarded for being one of the few to continue to be faithful their duties. But Urnungal’s rapid rise has eclipsed Irmunkal’s efforts causing her to be jealous.

As the fifth son, Sanakba had little prospect in the court of the Naswet. He was sent to be trained as a priest in the service of Ament the Sun God. His love of fighting and the outdoors proved ill-suited for either scholarly pursuits or the patience need to perform the exacting rituals for Ament. He was trained as a champion of Ament, a paladin, and sent to the court of Governor Nefkhare of Spaimeh, a province of the Goshen delta region. There he grew outspoken about the need for actions against the Sea People and offended Governor Nefkhare. For his offense he was exiled to the desert province of Herun. Reduced to chasing the elusive desert herdsmen he rages at Goshen’s continue impotence against the Sea People.

Eumenes was captured when the Black Wizards sacked his father’s citadel at Pylos at age 14. Taking advantage of his early training the Black Wizards had him fight for their amusement at various games they held for entertainment. Restless the night before a fight he explored the ruins of the amphitheater he was currently staying at. There in a forgotten store room he found scrolls detailing the pacts an individual can make to the powers of nature. That night he made his pact and escaped his confinement in a mist. Since then he has found others fighting the Black Wizards and joined them, resolving one day to retake Pylos.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Switching classes in the Majestic Wilderlands, a questions.

I like to get your opinion on an interesting question that Dwayne of Gamer's Closet asked me.

Many of you with the Majestic Wilderlands know that the additional classes I created originated in what my players did throughout the years. Some were created from antagonists while most were created as result of the players wanting to roleplay being a member of a particular part of the society I created.

Because I referee using sandbox techniques where the player drive the direction of the campaign. It is plausible that a situation may come up where a character may want to switch classes. Say a fighter worshiping Set decides he "seen" the light and becomes a devout adherent of Mitra to the point where he wants to be a member of the priesthood. Or one of the magic using classes deciding to learn the traditions of another magic using class. Order of Trehaen to order of Thoth etc.

While the d20 method of multi-class certainly solves the issue it is not in the spirit of OD&D and require a lot of messing around with the character class system which is what I don't want to do.

I come with several ideas

1) Drop the current class completely start at 1st level in the new class.

2) Do #1 but when you equal the level of the old class you get to use it's abilities again. You get to keep your old HP total tho.

3) You quit earning XP in the old class, keep all it's abilites and start as first level in the new class. You don't get any new HP until you exceed the level of the old class.

4) You start dividing XP between the old class and the new class advancing in both. The new classes starts at first level.

I am currently leaning to #3 as it make the most sense from a realism point of view.

Before folks go debating me on realism, my point of view that given X alternative for a given game system with all other things being equal I am inclined to go with the option that feel most realistic. So my first criteria for switching classes is to make sure all the alternatives are in the spirit of OD&D. Then I will weigh the pros and cons including which feels more realistic.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Swords & Wizardry Combat Notes

The basic combat procedure in Sword & Wizardry is pretty straight forward but a bit vague on specific. This is not an issues as it gives each referee some latitude to customize the combat portion of the game to his taste.

First understand that for over twenty years I played Fantasy Hero, Harnmaster, and GURPS all featuring combat system with a lot of options and a strong use of miniatures. Even when I used AD&D 1st edition I was noted for being a referee that used miniatures.

Since I started running Swords & Wizardry on a regular basis I customized the basic S&W procedures to my taste. Here are some of things I do. Hope you find some of them useful.

1) Everybody rolls individual initiative every round adding their Dexterity Modifier.

2) You can move up to 1/2 of your movement and get your full range of attacks.

3) If you get multiple attacks in melee you get one attack during your initiative and the rest at the end of the round.
4) You can 1/2 move and attack, and attack and 1/2 move.

5) If you have multiple melee attacks you can step on one square before each attack

6) multiple ranged attack all go off on your initiative.

7) you can choose to move up to 1/2 move and split multiple ranged attack at any point on the move.

8) There is not attacks of opportunity or free attacks you can roam the battlefield how you feel like it.

9) The only exception is that you must stop movement when entering a hexes or squares next to a enemy. If you are already next to an enemy you can always take a step of a single hex or square before attacking. This includes multiple attacks.

10) Spells goes at the caster's initiative. If the caster takes damage before their initiative then they can't cast a spell.

11) Take a round to get up if you are knocked prone

12) 1 results in a miss and you throwing your weapon into a really inconvenient spot.

13) 1 while using unarmed combat results in you falling down and going prone

13) a 20 results in a critical hit that is your normal damage + max damage. You can keep rolling and for every 20 you roll you get to add max damage again. For example if Able rolls three 20s in a roll with a longsword and a +1 str modifer then he would do 9+9+9+1d8+1 damage.

14) See the Majestic Wilderlands for various rules on weapons like polearms, crossbows, shields, and mounted combat.

15) attacks from the rear are +2 to hit or flanking a target will grant a +1 to hit to both flankers.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Human Question

In this thread Iamtim asks about what benefits to give humans if he removes level limits. As I am not a fan of level limits myself I am interested in the answer.

Later in the thread timmyd comes up with an idea to give Human a XP bonus. He suggests +40%!. While I think that is a bit excessive I think set to about +10% is a great way of making human attractive compared to their demi-human counterparts.

+2 to any stats of choice (can be split to +1 to two stats)
+10% XP Bonus

This can be combined with the +5% prime requisites bonus for a total of +15% to XP.

The XP Bonus seems more in the spirit of OD&D than any of the other solutions I been mulling around in my mind. Thanks Timmyd and the rest of the S&W forum crowd.

Monday, March 15, 2010

A preview of the Scourge of the Demon Wolf

I am hard at work on my next product an adventure titled the Scourge of the Demon Wolf. It is representative of how most of the adventure I run in the Majestic Wilderland work. Most are highly situational and results from the PC poking around. After I ran this one it turned out to be able to work well as a standalone adventure and I have run it several times at gaming conventions.

Here are some maps that I recently completed for the adventure.

The small crossroads hamlet of Denison's Crossing.

The lair of some nasty bandits.

The village of Kensla one of the main locales of the adventure

I am going to try to make this product useful both as an adventure and as a collection of locales that you can place in your game. So while Kensla is part of the adventure additional detail is supplied so you can use Kensla as a typical farming village in your campaign. The same with the bandit lair, and other locale featured in the Scourge of the Demon Wolf. Finally I hope the adventure give a sense of what life is like in the Majestic Wilderlands. A low level view compared to the high level view in Supplement VI.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Power of Tolkien

My eldest son just turned 13 and has discovered Tolkien and the Lord of the Rings. Not just the movies, although that how it started, he branched out into the books. Luckily for him I have two sets of books. A good set that I keep on my shelf consisting mostly of stuff I bought in the 1990s like my red leather bound one volume Lord of the Rings. A beat up set that I inherited from my older brother along with a few paperbacks. These include Unfinished Tales, Simarillion, and other book I let him have the entirety of the beat up set and he been reading through it. During this he has engaged the interested of his little brother as well. While I am always happy for my kids it always special when they start to like something you like as well.

One of the tradition that Kelly Anne and I have with our kids is that we read to them nearly every night. So recently I started with the Tolkien's Lord of the Ring for my eldest. Because of our reading books tradition I have read a lot of authors out loud. Some read well doing this and other well... not so good.

I have to say that Tolkien is about the best author I ever read aloud. Not by a little but a lot. From his foreward to the Lord of the Rings itself his words flow off the page when read aloud. Also when reading aloud it is very evident the guy has a sense of humor, in a British sort of way. Even in the drier sections of his foreward and Concerning Hobbits my kids were laughing at his turn of phrases. Of course it helps I am using a light faux British accent while doing this.

While I always respected Tolkien for his achievement as an author and knew that he did a lot of work as a Oxford scholar. The fact that he is truly a master of the english language never really sank into until I started reading the Lord of the Rings out loud to my kids.


TimmyD ask how I handle the poems/songs.

The short answer is that I sing. The long answer is that I memorized most of them. Basically what happened is that around 15 I read about how bard, poets, and shamans would memorize the epics and songs of their culture. The articles went into a little on how they did that so I decided to try it out on some of the tolkien poems I liked the best. And it worked after some practice. I used to know about 13 or 14 of them by hearting including a couple by N Robin Crossby of Harn fame. Probably I am down to about 6 or 7 now only because I don't practice near as often. But even the ones that I can't do off of the top of my head I can just look at the first couple of word in LOTR and the rest follows.

Even did one of my own. I wouldn't say it great but from the few that heard it isn't bad either. The reason for it was that I wanted to see how they did it back in the day and I composed it without writing anything down until it was finished. It was an interesting experience it took a couple of months to do.

The main trick is to remember the first line of each part. And use those to link the rest in your head. It helps when you have a good sense of the rhyme or meter of the poem as the cadence aids memory.

In the end there is no real magic just the willingness to practice at it until you get the hang of it. It is about as time consuming as playing a sport or practicing a hobby. Part of why it worked out for me is that at various points of my life I was doing these two to three hour drives to and from my home or college. So instead of playing the radio I would practice reciting these poems.

The thing that sucks about the whole exercise is that I have a poor singing voice due to the fact that my 50% deafness renders my singing way way off key. However there is more than one way to recite them than singing. You can do a sing-song or just plain recite them.

Some of the poems the kids like, other creep them out, and some they find boring. Their favorite is the Man in the Moon (sung by Frodo in the Prancing Pony). My eldest find the Hoard really creepy and sad. My youngest like Princess Mee from the Tom Bomdadill collection of Tolkien's poems. He got right away it would about Mee see her reflection in the ice as Princess Shee and found it very funny.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The underdark map from D (Drow) series

I seem to remember there was a project done by somebody in the OSR where they finished detailing the underdark map found in the D series. For the life of me I can remember where it is. Does anybody know what I am talking about? I think I found it a 1 1/2 to 2 years ago.


Thanks to James and Mr. Castle I found it here the Encyclopaedia Subterranica and the corresponding Dragonsfoot thread.

What I liked about this project was that it filled in the rest of the map from the D series. While I was never really into the underdark for my campaign I hate unknown spaces on maps. I just want to know what there. Thanks to the Dragonsfoot team now we have a version that fills in the unknown.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Concept of Level

Sometime it good to revisit the basics.

The question asked over on the RPGSite was "Why do Fantasy Games use Levels".

The short answer is "Because of D&D". That led naturally to the question where to do levels in D&D come from?

The answer is found in Chainmail. When the fantasy supplement was added Gygax needed a way to represent the heroes found in myth and novels. The route he choose was to represent them as X number of fighting men. So a Hero was worth 4 fighting men, and a Super Hero was worth 8. Wizards are not as neatly pegged but also have distinct levels of ability from the Seer to a full Wizard. The genesis from Chainmail to D&D saw this simplistic setup expanded by Arneson and Gygax into the full range of levels we see in the original edition of D&D.

Levels have endured over several editions of D&D and been imitated in other RPGs as well. The reason is that it is a easily grasped concept by the novice gamers. With the confusion of combat, character generation, spells, monsters, etc Level stands out as a clear and easy to use method of comparing the power of two character and denoting advancement. That simplicity allowed it to endure despite it early uses not being very realistic or amicable to character customizations

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The truth about the Pizza

Well there is no truth. Rusty Battle Axe has the story here.

The simple fact the map had a 30 to 20 year old pizza stain on it when I scanned it.

This is how it looked to me.

This is how it looked to them.

Pizza the food that keeps on giving

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Otherworld Minatures + Goblinoid Games = Something Awesome

A couple of weeks back I was approached by Richard from Otherworld Miniatures about contributing a small adventure to the upcoming boxed set of miniatures of Labyrinth Lord. I said

"Mmm let me think about it, yes!"

Basically the process is that it starts out with a background, then that is handed off to the first author who does his section and then the whole package is handed off to the next author and so forth down the line. Each of has a particular theme and a roster to use (Forest, Level 1, etc) . My own contribution will be involving a swamp some boglings, lizardmen, and well the rest will have to wait.

The nice thing about this project is that is plays to my strength from being involved running NERO live-action. Unlike a table top game every NERO event is essentially a collaborative effort. So while I have some ideas for my swamp I won't know what I will be doing with it until I get handed the "package" and see what the previous authors have done. With the caliber of folks involved I am sure there will be plenty of good ideas for me to weave in with my own.

Monday, March 8, 2010

My son's first map

My youngest is 5 years old. I was helping his older brother put together a school project and he wanted to do a project too. One of leftover was a big sheet of yellow posterboard. So he took and went away to his "project". An hour or two later he returned with this. It hard to take a good clear picture of a large posterboard so I annotated it.

The title of the map is Lego Land. Here is his account of who lives here.

Cloud Land
Where the clouds are.

Spring Land
The ground keeps going up and down like a spring

Where the really bad people are. Note his older brother has developed an obsession with the Lord of the Rings so the youngest been getting an education on Tolkien lately.

This is a sandy place where the Bionicles lives. I think he means Baramanga.

Where people live snow cave.

Road 1
Where people take off and land.

Road 2
Another place where people take off and land.

The Shuttle between roads
Taking people between the two roads.

Riding on her motorcycle. She has special powers.

Pot Bot
A monster village

Another monster village

A Bionicle Beach

Pot Not
Still another monster village

where all the good people are but nobody sleeps there

I hope you enjoyed this as much as I have.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

It is a mapping weekend.

Various things have caused me to build up a backlog of things to do for my gaming endeavors. So my spare time for the past couple of days have been spent clearing getting stuff done. Two of the project were some maps I promised to the friends.

The first a local area that a friend of mine wanted for a 4e campaign. It was fairly straight forward to do and I decided to use my color style.

Like my Gormmah map this feature my new swamp texture setup which I am way happier with. The trick is that I use the same blue as the water but apply a 50% transparency. The resulting greenish blue give the right color to the swampy terrain. My color maps use a harn type of terrain mapping. The color represents vegetation and the fill terrain. The dotted terrain are hills and the rough looking terrain in the SE corner are mountains.

As relayed by Zach here I polished his map of the Middle Isles. While it looks more professional it is still very much his work. What I do is create a bottom layer and paste the image that he sent me. I then traced over it and replicated the notes and terrain he had marked.

This is what I typically do when working other people's products. My job is realize THEIR vision not impose one of my own. I may suggest and inject a few details that flows from what they are trying to do. But the result is still very much their work. I manage to take some pretty rough drawings and still retain the essence of the author work.

Generally island intensive projects like this take a while to do because of all the coast lines. But my Bamboo Pen Tablet made this a lot easier on my hand and quicker. I was very glad to have this.

Today I am doing the maps for my upcoming Scourge of the Demon Wolf. This is an important steps as it will guide the organization of much of my final draft.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Old School Night at the Gold Star Anime

Gold Star Anime is a store in Edinboro that has gaming days, both roleplaying and card games. The owner, Jerry, invited me to come to his store to run a game of Swords & Wizardry for his customers. I happily agreed.

So last Thursday I drove up there and setup. Unfortunately there was no customers to be had that night. But Jerry's son, also Jerry, showed and we decided to run a game anyway. I got to introduce another player to D&D for the first time but it was the elder Jerry not his son.

Elder Jerry rolled up a Elven Cleric of Silvanus, probably the closest thing I had to a ranger in the Majestic Wilderlands. Younger Jerry rolled up a Halfing fighter. They both rolled well on Jeff Rient's level charge. Elder Jerry got enough XP to gain 4th level and younger Jerry enough to be 5th level! Coupled with the fact that halflings get 1/2 off of their armor meant he was able to get plate armor and a shield along with his gear and weapons.

The adventure was the dungeon from the Swords & Wizardry Quick Start. Like most of these one-offs it started with a request from the Baron of Darkfield for help. In this case several of his villagers were carried off by goblins. Due to other issues he had only two guards left and needed their help to go recuse them.

Our intrepid adventurers were guided to a ruined tower where the stairwell was found that the goblins went down. They carefully investigated the tower uncovering a giant spider that they attacked and killed. Elder Jerry elf took the opportunity to harvest some of the spider's poison to use with his heavy crossbow.

Down into the dungeon they went. They emerged into a large room with many pillars with a demonic looking idea at one end. After throughly investigating the room they went west. There they found a cross passage. Forward there was short westward passage ending at a door. Again carefully checking they heard voices from the south. Pulling their cover on their hooded lantern they noticed that the corridor to the south led to a room lit by a fire.

Slowly they crept down the hall. Peering around the corner they saw 8 goblins, cooking, gambling, and sleeping. Whispering between themselves they decided to attack. The elf attacked and missed with the heavy crossbow. The halfling, named Hunt, rushed and attacked. Using every ounce of his skill, the halfling warrior slaughtered the goblins. Getting five attacks per round he managed to kill every goblins in the room. Finally he was especially happy with the finding of 200 gp in loot.

To the west was a pair of double door. Again carefully checking they opened the door to the room beyond. It was empty with only some scattered debris. However their carefulness paid off when they noticed the two secret doors, one to the north, and the other to the east. They examined the east secret door and found a corridor going further east.

Before proceeding they decided to examine the north door. It opened up into a room where 5 goblins were in a conversation. Unfortunately the goblins were quicker and one of them cast a spell on Hunt the Halfling! But by sheer force of will Hunt's threw off the Charm spells and rushed in. Again using his skill to good effect he proceeded to slaughter the goblins almost single hand.

The room opened to a corridor going west and east. Faced with a multitude of direction they decided to let the dice decide their fate. The roll indicated that they should examine the westward door they found when they exited the first room. Again being careful they heard only the slow drip of water. Entering the room all they found was a broken helmet and a damp ceiling. Fortunately there were doors on the NE wall and the south wall.

They decided to check out the NE wall. After casting a spell the Elven Cleric determined there were no traps. Listening at the door only indicated silence. Opening the door slightly while in darkness resulting only in smelling a damp earth smell and that there was room beyond. When the lantern was unhood it revealed THREE GIANT ANTS!

The light was the catalyst for the ants to attack. The confidence of Hunt the Halfling was shattered when he took two grievous blows in succession that brought him below half his hitpoints. The two acted in concert to stand outside the door where only two of the ants could attack.

The resulting fight was a grueling. Both the Elf and the Halfling suffered wound after wound. Even after the Cleric healing spell the fight remained desperate. Finally an ant went down and the Elven Cleric noticed the original westward door they entered the room in was a lot smaller. So they retreated back through that door forcing the ants to attack only one at time. The Elven Cleric pulled out his crossbow and began shooting.

After downing the second ant and suffering more cuts and bites in the process they figured discretion was the better part of the valor and fled the dungeon. (Note it was the younger Jerry bedtime so the game had to be ended).

It was fun experience and a lot of fun to GM. Despite the two newness to the game the played very well. It was only dumb luck that the ant fight turned out way more difficult than it supposed to. That is the luck of the dice.

I am looking forward to going back up in April to game some more. This time I am going to design some flyers that Jerry can hand out. Hopefully that will drum up some more interest.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Sandbox and Player Character Backgrounds

My post yesterday on structuring your sandbox has been making the rounds of other blogs. Like this one at Trollsmyth. This caught my eye.

There’s been some talk about getting players “plugged in” to the campaign. Most of it has focused on front-loading character involvement in the campaign. I’m going to respectfully disagree. While I certainly enjoy working with a well-detailed character history, my players will report that it’s more a toy for them to play with than for me these days. I’m much more about giving the players all the rope they need to hang their characters.
It is hard to explain all the assumptions you have when you write about something. And I don't feel I did that when I talked about character backgrounds. The traditional view of character backgrounds is that the player writes a paragraph, one page, or god forbid ten pages of material that the GM weaves into the campaign.

That not what I do.

My method is more akin to the Traveller method of character generation but without the tables. It is replaced by a mini session or an exchange of email between me and the player. From that comes the player's background. The "context" in which he exists in my Majestic Wilderlands.

This system evolved because only I know all the details and choices of my setting. It is unfair and impractical to require a player in my game to just come up with a background that works in all aspects.

So what I do is sit down and ask them for a rough idea of what they want to play. Then I give some details and choices with the pros and cons. After a half dozen or so rounds of this the result is the character winds up with some allies, some responsibilities, and yes a background.

At no point I am requiring the player to do anything. Most of the time I am giving benefits in the form of resources and allies that the freebooter adventurer would not have. The players realizes they have much to gain so they start to think carefully of their choices. The few times that doesn't result in a benefit is because the player wants to have a challenging role. The player chooses to exist in difficult circumstances.

There is a very practical reason I go this length. Because I found that players get more adventures this way. They wind up caring more about the adventure they choose to go on beyond the loot and gold. There is more at stake, their reputation, prestige, or losing valuable resources and allies. As a result they are more immersed in the campaign.

Another reason to do this that it makes roleplaying easier. I am capable of coming up with quirky personalities coupled with voicework to make a memorable character. But it is far easier to roleplay when I am drawing inspiration from what motivates my character than trying to act out a role. And I find this helps other roleplayers regardless of what their skill level is.

Finally I find this is what you have to do for the long haul. If you want a campaign that last 30 years or even just stick to the same genre. You need to go beyond the tabula rosa.

If you want to see what this looks like from a player's point of view I refer you to these three posts at the Rusty Battle Axe.

Character Creation Part 1
Character Creation Part 2
Character Creation Part 3

And how this impacts the initial sessions of a game read these posts

Majestic Wilderlands Session #1 Part I

Majestic Wilderlands Session #2, Part II

Majestic Wilderlands Players Log

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Some structure for your Sandbox campaign

In this post at the Old Guy's RPG Blog Chgowiz talks about a difficult session he had as a DM. One comment caught my eye

1. Make some defined missions available. Not everyone wants to go out and explore and just figure out the world on their own. The thing about my sandbox is that while I made this wide open dynamic world that keeps moving on, the players don't feel connected. So I will give them direct opportunities to get connected.
For the past several years I participated in several forums discussions on Sandbox campaigns. One point that keeps coming up is the idea that players can pick their own direction. All too often I see sandbox proponents or novices take this to an extreme. Basically saying that the campaign is devoid of any type of plot, story and the referee is there just to adjudicate what the players do.

Which is a recipe for having a bunch of a confused players and a referee not having fun.

I call what I write for my campaign plot. Unlike a story it is a plan comprised mostly of events that happen in the future. The initial plot is written as if the PCs did not exist and unfolds what happens in your setting for the next year or two. The crucial difference between what I do and what "narrative" RPGs do is that after every session I modify my plot to account for what the players did (or not do). Sometimes everything changes and the future is going down a completely different path than I originally planned. It is immensely fun for me when that happens. Remember all the NPCs (unless dead) and all the locales (unless destroyed) are still available for me to use. The context is completely different now that the PC have acted.

As for helping out the PCs with a sandbox campaign you have to remember that they are part of a living breathing world. Like our on live their characters will have family, friends, allies, and enemies. This what gives the players a context in which to make their initial decision. As the campaign progresses often it will take a life of it's own as the consequences of the consequences start propelling the game forward.

Especially for older edition D&D the PC's background are often useful when a character dies. One of the original PC's allies, family, or friends can be selected as the new character for the player. While losing a character always sucks in this case some measure of progress and continuity can be retained.

Most milieus have societies with religions, nobles, and other organizations. Characters that are members these have a instant source of allies, resources and most importantly adventures. There often a price attached in terms of loyalty and/or duty. But for truly interested players these details easily merge in their character's backgrounds.

The key thing is that none of this imposed by the referee. You give the players some choices, and a little guidance and help them to fill in the blanks in their background before playing. The result will be an initial starting point from which they can start wandering the setting.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Where is Margash Blackblood? A one page dungeon tale.

You can find out where here. My friend Tim of Gothridge Manor did not just manage to write a kick butt one page dungeon entry but also managed to make it a four parter! Along with a twist ending. So download and enjoy.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Regions Sizes in a setting

On the Swords & Wizardry forum here a question what asked on how size different realms on a map. This is my answer

Fundamental unit of feudal societies this is typically 1,500 to 3,000 acres supporting a landower household, 5 to 10 yeoman/crafter/freemen and 15 to 30 households of peasants. Household average about 5 individuals.

A barony is usually anchored by a Keep or Castle and is surrounded by 10 to 15 estates. 2/3 are run by vassal knights The Keep and Castle is either a large village or small town depending on it's location in relation to trade routes typically will have from 75 to 200 households. The Estate surrounding the Keep or Castle will be towards the higher end of the scale say from 2,200 to 3,000 acres. There will be a small number of urban households, more crafters, freemen, and yeomans.

A count is originated from a Roman military office of the late empire. A count was in charge of a protection of a region. In a feudal society a count will have between 1 to 4 Barons as vassals. The Count's personal residence is usually a castle and setup similar to the Baron's above.

Another late empire military office transformed into a noble titles. Dukes will have up to a half-dozen major vassals (Barons, Counts) along with 0 to 3 other keeps and castles that are directly ruled by the Duke and administered by a bailiff. The Duke's nearly always resides at a castle and it is usually a large town or small city.

A region that is a borderland between one realm and another. It varies in the number of baronies however a Count Palantine or a Duke Palantine is placed in charge. Sometime a Warden which is a royal officer is appointed to administer the territory in the name of the King.

Grand Duchy
A Duke that probably an independent realm.

The same as a Grand Duchy except with a fancier title.

A realm ruled by a King. The best way to estimate it's size is to figure how many baronies there are. After that you can arrange them in a feudal hierarchy. Remember that Kings can have Duke, Counts AND Barons as vassals. So a Baron may be the vassal of a Count or could be a vassal of the King. Make it as simple or complex as you wish.

The classic empire consists of a metropole or the heartland ruling a number of conquered peripheries (other realms). Imperial Administration consists of representatives of the emperors journeying or living in the periphery realm making sure the local render proper tribute and do what the emperor tells them to do. Colonies may be established throughout the periphery to give imperial troops allies and supplies in the case of revolt.

The barony and estate are the fundamental units you want to use to size your regions and realms. Generally a 2.5 mile hex will have one estate. So a Barony with 15 estates will cover 16 hexes. The 15 estates plus the Baron's castle estate. Generally a Barony will occupy a distinct geographical region like a valley bounded by hills. Also remember that feudal societies tend to disperse the estates of great nobles to prevent them from having a continuous territory.

So in the region of the Barony of Applegate there may be 15 estates. 5 of which are royal estate run by a royal knight or balliff. 10 are owned by the Baron of Applegate. 8 of which he granted to his knights and 2 are run by baliffs in his name. The baron has 5 other estates, 2 are in the Duchy of Newbourne, 2 in the Barony of Oppeln, and the 1 in the County of Westmarr. 3 of these estates are given to his knight while the other 2 are ruled by baliffs in his name.

100 acres = .156 sq miles.