Sunday, October 31, 2010

Those Sneaky Thieves Part II

So now you have everything laid out and what happens when PC comes into conflicts with his rivals?

The basic gist is that the PCs buddies are going to kill or beat the crap out of his rival's buddies with the minimum amount of attention from the authorities. This continues until one of the two submit, or die. And losing leader likely will die no matter what and the loser's flunkies will be run by a new lieutenant appointed by the winner.

There is a lot more stupidity going on with turf wars. If they were that smart probably they wouldn't be thieves in a turf war in the first place. The exception is somebody younger who just starting out. Note this is a general observation that if you look at the everybody involved they are not as organized, not as smart, etc, etc as say the nobles, merchants, etc.

However the dividing line between what the thieves do and the rest of medieval/fantasy society does is inches. A war between two barons can have all the elements of a turf war.

What really counts is loyalty to your buddies. It will be defining element of the conflict. It will start for any number of reasons, greed, lust, or plain stupidity. But it will be fueled by revenge and the desire not to fail in front your peers.

It also about relative status. Conflicts that are not to the death are fought until one side acknowledges, by whatever custom dictates, the other is better/bigger/badder/boss.

Plus since we are dealing with the criminal element the relationships within and between the faction are distorted, twisted or plain abusive in any number of way. For example part of a lieutenant's loyalty to his boss may involve the fact his boss is supplies his girlfriend lotus power (a drug) for free. These connection can be exploited by the other side or be a source of a conflict.

Your character finds this out and destroys their supply of Lotus Powder making it look like the Boss' screw up. Now the Lieutenant is unhappy and you come along offer him an alternative supply for a few "favors".

The City-State of the Invincible Overlord has been one of the centerpieces of my campaign and I run several campaigns where thieves and the criminal class were the focus.

One of the most memorable was when two of my players played a pair of brothers. Thugs for the most part. They were given a job and fed inaccurate information. It got screwed up and they go blamed for it as well as not getting paid. They went chaotic and started with their boss and killed him, then killed their bosses boss and so on. Working their way up the hierarchy. They were given some information about the Prince of the Thieves Guild. When they followed up they found themselves in a trap and were killed.

The players weren't upset as they acknowledge they shouldn't have trusted the contact as much as they did. About midway through their killing spree one of the rival Princes, through intermediaries, started feeding them information and using the chaos they caused to advance his position. When their usefulness ended he laid the trap and killed them.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Those Sneaky Thieves Part I

Not everybody is keen on the Thief/Rogue/Specialist/whatever class in original D&D. But I think they are a vital part of the game. Along with being a classic source of conflict which means Adventure!

So your refereeing a Thief/etc and he hits 9th level. Unlike Fighter or Magic Users they don't build strongholds but instead buy a tower or house and his fame attracts followers. In most campaign the thief is not going to be existing in a vacuum. Likely or not there will be one or more other "name" levels around that PC is going to be horning into their action.

I recommend rolling up a 9th to 12th level thief and using Appendix P in the Dungeon Master Guide (pages 225-227) to equip him. There are also useful charts on page 194, Remember that he part of hierarchy and that he survived X years and Y adventures to get to that position. If he been established for any amount of time there going to be a little society of thieves with a hierarchy.

What I would do is create this background and introduce the players to through the normal course of the campaign. Realize that now the character is "name" level he is developing a reputation and people will naturally flock to him. That what the stronghold rule in AD&D about. It isn't about that you can't establish anything before 9th level but rather when you do reach 9th level your reputation is known.

Of course with this comes new problems. Ones that his adventuring career may not prepare him for. And it will draw the attention of other like him (which you already noted). The game becomes more about the society and culture in which all of them exist. Society and culture will form the battlefield on which these two fight. The focus will not the high level view of Kings and Princes but the underbelly of society.

For two concrete (and free) example I posted two writeup from my long running campaign. The Brotherhood of the Lion and the Beggar's Guild. The Brotherhood is a resistance group several generations after the conquest of City-State. The Beggars are dishonored descendants of the conquerors.

I also recommend tracking down any of the old Thieves Guild Supplement from Gamelords. What particularly valuable are the dozens of scenarios for thieves they include in each book.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Integrating commerce into your D&D game

The best merchant system for any edition of D&D I've seen is A Magical Society: Silk Road by Expeditious Retreat Press. It is exhaustive in its treatment of trade and trade goods. The best seafaring system I've seen is the Pilots' Almanac by Columbia Games. While for Hârnmaster, it is really a sub-system of its own that can be adapted for d20 use by remembering 5% = +1 on a d20. Silk Road can be found on RPGNow.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Gold Star Manor Part III

Ending our series of actual play reports at the Gold Star Anime is the in-game journal of Lady Janus, elven cleric of silvanus. This was submitted to me by Big Jerry and I thought you would all like to see a player's view of the campaign.
From the journal of Lady Janus.


Human Thug “Hazar”, Elven Cleric “Janus”, Halfling Fighter “Hunter”, and the Dwarf Runecaster “Heimdell” are now traveling back towards Oakwatch.

When we hear people rushing through the brush. Followed by people running out of the brush through a clearing and entering a rocky area off to one side of our position.

We soon see the reason for their flight, as a large band of Orcs rushes into the center to the clearing!

To our surprise, we recognize the other party as consisting of the Human Assassin (Claw of Kalis) “Leon Shadowwalker”, the Gnome Wizard “Typhon”, and the wizards Orc servant.

Battle is fierce, Janus casts sleep, Typhon casts sleep, Heimdell casts a fireball and takes out most of the first Orc attack wave, at least one Orc is so disheartened that he flees the battlefield, but remaining survivors continue to attack the party.

A second wave of Orcs enters the clearing! The will be close enough to attack in minutes!

A few of the first Orcs overwhelm the Wizard, he is down and at –4.

The Orc servant is leaning over the Wizard – Hunter thinks he is going to cut the helpless Gnome’s throat, so he rushes over with his Orc-slaying sword, and decapitates the Orc with a mighty blow!

Janus tries to heal him – but only manages +2 – Wizard still down.

Hazar attacks a large Orc with his sword, but trips over the Wizard and manages to slash Hunter for –7 damage! Janus heals Hunter for +7.

Hunter launches into a series of 7 lightning fast blows, striking 5 Orcs, and killing 3!

Then Janus heals Typhon to a +4, so the Wizard is back in the action. Even though the battle is still raging, Typhon is enraged (understatement of the year) at the death of his Orc slave! A natural 20 reveals that “his” orc was not cut down by his enraged fellows, but by one of the party members! Typhon and Hunter nearly come to blows, but the battle demands they put this aside until later!

Leon casts “Suggestion” and entraps 3 Orcs.

Typhon casts “Sleep” and 2 of the 3 Orcs go down, but one large one is still standing, and still under Leon’s Suggestion. A search of the fallen Orcs finds 400 silver.

To placate Typhon, (who nonetheless is still furious!) Leon even threatens to kill Hunter in his sleep for upsetting his close traveling companion so, but is convinced to stay his temper for now. Hazar suggests that the wizard should just take the still mesmerized large-sized Orc along as an improved replacement for his lost servant. Hazar even suggests that a larger sized Orc could be more useful to the party – being able to carry more than an ordinary one. After much glaring, a liberal round of threats from Leon, and a great gnashing of teeth by the Dwarf, the party agrees to continue their trek towards the village of Oakwatch.

Nearing the town, another familiar face is met on the road! The Human Thothian Mage “Alaghazar” has completed his magical studies elsewhere, and is also on his way to Oakwatch!

Arriving at Oakwatch, the party must pass two guards at the gate. They will not allow an Orc, even one under a wizards control, to enter the town. Janus loans Typhon some shackles and the rest of the party enters Oakwatch, leaving the wizard outside the gates, and the Orc further retrained by the shackles to a stout tree.

Party again decides to stay at the “Laughing Rabbit” inn while in town. 40 silver each suffices to gain rooms and meals for a week, and then the party separates to pursue various individual matters and re-supply. Janus arranges to purchase several rune stones from the temple of Thor. She pays the temple priests 14 gold for 6 runes to be completed, however, it will also take one week to cast the proper spells for each rune. Only one rune (cast fireball) is completed before the adventures depart on their next adventure, she will have to return to Oakwatch at some point in order to claim the others.

Others visit temples, or local thieves guilds, or magic sellers, the assassin buys poison.

Around this time, the Wizard and Assassin go off on an errand of their own, leaving the other 5 to continue adventuring together.

Meanwhile, back at the Laughing Rabbit, Hazar has been approached by a suspicious individual who claims to have some land for sale. Hazar being a gullible looking sort.

The man claims to be a nobleman down on his luck, and offers to sell his family’s estate and home. Checking around reveals that others have purchased this same land, but are presumed to have perished trying to occupy it.

While checking on the deed’s authenticity, we happen to learn that it is presently the year 4453 in the Wilder lands, and the estate was granted to the Noble Rump family in 4024.

So Hazar buys the Big Rump House from the former Noble Rump owner, Gains a fancy-shamancy title, and enlists the aid of the rest of the party to help him deal with the house’s apparent pest infestation.

Alaghazar thinks this would be a perfect time to guild our group of adventurers, talking Hazar into starting something they are calling “Acquisition Incorporated” Janus reluctantly joins also – not certain why a band of crooks need a name to steal from each other under?

Nearing Hazar’s new home, we see that it is incredibly large, and is in an unusually good state of repair for as long as it has been empty.

Janus asks the plants growing along the path about possible dangers they may have seen.

Plants tell her of the presence of Undead, Orcs & Spirits!

It is decided to check out a detached gazebo first.

Two statues stand near it, both appear also to be in a remarkable well preserved condition!

Janus casts “Detect Evil”, seems that the statues are merely under preservation spells, not evil. The spell does reveal that there is something evil located just behind the nearest windows of the house!

Alaghazar peers through the window – and spies a miniature red dragon sleeping on a couch!

Hazar tries to sneak in the front door, but makes a LOUD noise! He enters a huge room, and finds 3 corpses lying on the floor near the door. Along with the title to the place, Hazar now has a huge map showing the general outline of the structure, but lacking details. Hazar attempts to add maps of the areas we explore as we travel through and under the huge structure. Presumably, the corpses were previous owners that also bought it from Rump! Hazar beheads them just in case they are actually undead lying in ambush. Large painting on the side walls of the room. Hazar goes up to the first one, but before he even gets there, a very large reptilian creature approaches him.

Hazar bravely tries to run back outside of the house, but Alaghazar has already bravely run out before him and barred the door! However, the creature simply asks Hazar if he would like it to take his cloak? Hazar attempts to hand it his cloak, but it drops right through the creature’s hands – revealing that it is actually a spirit and not a living creature at all. At which point the ghost rapidly runs away into the building

Josh goes up to the first painting on the wall. Suddenly a scythe strikes Hazar in the back, does 2 damage.

Alaghazar checks out another painting, a small rain cloud forms over his head and starts following him around – while is raining only on him!

Janus casts “Detect Traps”, 4 more painting now show an evil glow!

Hazar loves trying to set off traps, so he approaches the nearest glowing painting and tries to disarm it by throwing daggers at it from a short distance away. One of the daggers hits the painting – and all of a sudden Hazar turns around and starts attacking Hunter! Hunter takes 6 damage, before Heimdell web’s Hazar to stop him from moving, and Janus casts 4th level “Protection from Evil” spell, it surrounds Janus and extends over Hazar, breaking the evil influence connected to Hazar from the painting!

Alaghazar casts “Invisibility” on himself, but thanks to the rain still falling on him, he still is visible as a kind of clear outline of himself! Alaghazar looks down a hallway leading off from the side of the room closest to where the dragon had been seen sleeping from the outside. Suddenly he screams and falls unconscious! He is awakened by the rain falling on his face.

Incidentally, the DM’s (Rob’s) real scream is so loud that it makes both physical Jerry’s and John to jump! D&D with Rob is really like being there with your characters themselves! Josh however seems unstartled – for him it was probably no louder than one of his usual farts!

In a hurry to activate more traps, Hazar ignores the hallway that caused Alaghazar to scream and pass out, and opens another door. No sooner has Hazar opened the door, than he is seen to slump down to the floor vomiting for several minutes. (Must have been a large mirror on the other side of the door?)

Alaghazar, now recovered from whatever he saw, opens an opposite door, and sees what must have been a jail. 3 skeletons hang from manacles on the walls. Janus is detecting evil from several places nearby behind the walls the party has already passed, and a VERY LARGE evil behind a door at the end of the hall! Alaghazar enters the room with the skeletons, and finds a ring of keys on top of a decrepit old desk, but nothing else, so he tries opening some manacles and cell doors (they work) part of a false ceiling collapses just inside one of the cells. He then opens a third door and finds another room looking like some titanic struggle had taken place in it sometime in the past. Alaghazar explores and finds a bottle labeled “Red Raven” in a trunk. He also finds a dug out hole with chewed edges.

Back at the room Hazar opened, Hunter tries to go in, there is a strong stink, and Hunter is also on the floor puking! Alaghazar tries to look in, and runs away! Not able to abide such evil near her, Janus calls upon Sylvanus to aid her in purifying the room, holding Sylvanus’ silver symbol before her, and averting her eyes from some pictures hung on the walls. The pictures are so evil, that the anger the God Sylvanus! Suddenly they all burst into flame, destroying the evil images of obscenities and abominations that merely looking at had defeated three men!

The room is not yet totally clear however, as from the back corner an evil demon-headed staff rises into the air and attacks her. Janus throws holy water on the staff, doing 4 damage to it, but not destroying it. Suddenly the staff stops as it hits the edge of Janus’s still active protection from evil spell. It can not pass through, and so Janus uses it to push the staff back into a corner where it can’t move, and Heimdell hits it with a magic missile – shattering the staff! Opening another door, and continuing into the next room in pursuit of the evil she had sensed behind the wall earlier, Janus sees a pool of darkness in one corner near the floor. She then cast “Light”, and revealed the hidden spirit to be the same one that had appeared to Hazar when he first entered the building. Janus tries to “Turn” the evil shade, and luckily casts a magic 20 – causing the ghost to be shredded! This type of spirit could have caused major bodily harm if it had not been so quickly dispatched. Nothing else found in the room.

Hunter now opens the door behind which Janus has been sensing the truly large evil energy! (Alaghazar is bribing Hunter to open things and test things like manacles and this door for him!)

Revealed is a large torture chamber with pits in the floor and torture equipment and tools scattered about, and a large statue of Kalis sitting behind an alter at one end of the room.

The evil seems to be coming from above the pit in the center of the room, where chains dangle down from above. The chains start to move towards us and lash out at Hazar. Surprisingly he dodges, then Janus repeats the move with the evil staff, and moves up so that the party is shielded from the questing chains by the circle of protection centering around her. Hazar then goes over to the evil goddess Kalis’s statue, and using a rope, he manages to topple it onto the floor where it shatters without touching it. Nothing happens? Still ignoring the evil in the center of the room, Hazar goes down a trap door he finds on the other side of the room from the statue (dodging past the chains on the other side of the pit this time) Before Hazar reaches the bottom, something grabs his legs and pulls him into the room below and hurls him to the floor! Somehow Hazar gets lucky and wins the sudden fight with an Ogre! Janus hears Hazar’s initial cries for help, and she and Hunter rush to climb down to help him, but when they get there the ogre is already dead. Hazar is badly wounded, partly from being thrown to the stone floor at the beginning of the fight. Janus heals Hazar. Then Hazar goes looking for traps on another door, but amazingly none activate and strike him!

Behind the door is a maze of tunnels. The party tramps along the tunnels for what seems like a long time without finding anything. Finally Hazar finds a room, containing undead of course! Four Skeletons and 2 Wights attack. Hazar and Hunter took out the skeletons, and Janus “turned” both wights! Then back into the tunnels! Find stairs leading upward, find ourselves back inside the house, but not sure where inside! Janus is detecting evil behind the walls on both sides!

We locate a huge dinning room, with statues located all around the side walls, remains of magnificent tapestries along the back wall, and two huge tables around each of which are seated 12 skeletons! Here Hunter decides to pull a Hazar-like stunt, and instead of trying to determine a plan or course of action, Hunter starts throwing rocks at the nearest seated skeleton! The first stone misses – nothing happens?.. He throws again and hits the helmet of one – BONG! Now ALL the skeletons leap up and attack Hunter, and KILL him in the first attack! (I said it was a stupid move, only surprised it wasn’t Hazar who did it!) Heimdell casts a fireball into room, and manages to do so with such accuracy, that 23 of the 24 skeletons are destroyed! Janus then turns the final one. Just inside the room we find an active teleport circle! Alaghazar is overjoyed! While they are standing there examining it, Hazar suddenly attempts to push Hunter and Alaghazar into the circle! They manage to catch their balance, but what was Hazar thinking? Oh Wait, WHEN does Hazar ever think!!! Alaghazar is still excited though, so he ends up stepping onto the teleport circle along with Hunter after all, unable to resist seeing where it will take them!

Now we have Alaghazar and Hunter fighting 5 giant rats in a chamber they have no idea where it might be at! They killed the rats, and decided to explore further before trying to return via the circle.

Meanwhile Hazar wanders over and pokes one of the statues in the dinning room, and immediately starts screaming! His eye is blinded and in pain! Janus tries to “cure” him to no effect, then tries “Remove Curse” and the screaming stops! Cured – Hazar starts looking for more death traps to try.

Heimdell notices that around one of the pillars are triggers set to make it fall on the unwary. For some reason Hazar doesn’t go and step on these?

Investigating further, Heimdell notices a secret door hidden behind the tapestry.

Hazar and Janus join him, then they open the door.

On the other side they discover a courtyard that is open to the sky, like nothing that is shown on the map of the estate Hazar has! Statues line both sides of the courtyard, and one is set so close to the secret door, that one has to touch it in order to pass by it. Janus casts detect magic, and discovers that the near statue, and one other are enchanted.

Hazar pokes the first one. - it looks at him – then it utters something that sounds like a prophecy that might have come from Sylvanus. So Janus thanks the statue for sharing it’s wisdom. Then Hazar goes up to the second enchanted statue and SLAPS it! This releases a spell that puts Hazar under a geas – to seek out the bride of the coven and slay him. Hazar thinks it is unimportant, and goes back to exploring. Although the statue also told him that if he fails to fulfill the geas he will die!

Hunter and Alaghazar find another room, and 2 more giant rats. After dispatching them, they proceed down a 5 foot wide passage, passing more rooms, plus a bedroom with a statue at one end (The floor looks badly corroded, as if by acid, so they decide not to enter it). Looking out of a window, they are able to a small courtyard about 5 stories below them.
This was where we ended this adventure for this week.

Next Adventure sets out from Gold Star Anime on November 20th!

This being the “Gilligan’s Island” of Gaming…

New (And Old!) adventurers are still welcome to join in our quest to “De-Louse Hazar’s House!”

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Gold Star Manor Part II

Part II
Cast of Characters
Jay - Heimdell - 4th level Dwarven Runecaster
Josh - Hazar - 6th level Human Thug
John (“the other John”)– Alaghazar, 4th level Human Thothian Mage
Jerry (“big Jerry”) – Janus, 5th level Elven Cleric (female)
Jerry (“little Jerry”) – Hunter, 6th Level Halfling Fighter
In the last post we left the party in the crypt of the Undead. They wandered the dungeon for a few more turns and found a flight stairs leading upwards. Halfway up they discovered a rathole leanding south and decided to continue up. They reached the ground floors. Peering down Footsteps Hall they see ornate doors and tapestries.

After carefully checking for traps and not finding any they opened the door to reveal the Great Hall of Tegal Manor! Amid six gigantic pillars were two banquet table each with a dozen skeletons One were dressed in blue tunics and the other Red. (I used my Official Guards, Red, and the Official guard, blue, that Tim of Gothridge Manor gave me).

Hunter the Halfling thought to be funny and chucked rocks at the skeletons. When it got up his next throw beaned it in the head. At this point ALL the skeletons got up and marched in formation to the party. As they were wielding spears the second ranks was able to attack and the halflings fell after being impaled by a half dozen spears.

Hemidell the dwarven runecasters quickly cast after Hunter's fall and activate his run of fire and casts a fireball in the midst of the skeleton leaving only two. They were quickly dispatched. Fortunately despite multiple stab wounds Hunter was only unconscious and was healed after a half hour of rituals.

Investigating the room they find an active teleport. After almost being pushed into the circle by Hazar, Hunter and Alaghazar, the human Thothian Mage, decided to try it anyway and promptly disappeared from sight.

Hazar wanders away from the circle and looks at one of the statues and fall down screaming as he is blinded in one eye. Actually one eye was made extraordinarily sensitive to light to the point he had darkvision in that eye. But with it being daytime who knew the difference. Janus had a Remove Curse handy and lifted the blindness.

After evading a few traps scattered about the hall, Heimdell found a secret door behind the tapestries hanging from one end of the hall. It opened into a strange courtyard open to the sky. Janus uses Detect Magic spell to determined which one are magical. Of course then Hazar goes up and investigates each in turn. The first gave him a prophecy about the prices that yet to be paid and the choice that will be made. Janus recognized the voices of being of the god Silvanus. The second unleashed a Geas on Hazar. He must seek and destroy the Night Bride Coven or die!

Investigating the north door Janus, Heimdell, and Hazar discovered a corridor that connected back to the Torture Chamber. Hazar happily filled in his map.

Meanwhile Alaghazar and Hunter found themselves in a giant rat infested maze. Including rats of unusual size (Monstrous Rats from S&W). They were easily dispatched and they found several holes leading up back to Ground Level.

They emerged in a bedroom with two more giant rats which were quickly killed. They looked out the windows and saw a courtyard with several statues. They looked at the next door which opened up into another bedroom. However there was strange statue in there and the floor was badly corroded so they decided to leave that room for later.

So here it was ended for the next. I never ran Tegal Manor before despite owning it for nearly 30 years. It is definitely the original crazy ass funhouse dungeon. I really like how the map had notes all over place and I think it is a style that can be explored more. James at Grognardia had a recent post on the topic.

The room descriptions are really sparse and all the statues are randomly rolled on the startling statues table. For example the bedroom at B19 is written like

B19 40'x30'20' H Two Giant Rats; 2 HD, 9-3 HTK, AC 5, 1-3/bite.

Refereeing this meant I had to combine the map description with that short entry to come up with something interesting. It is a challenge but a lot of run. I don't if it would be viable as a commerical product, you paying good money not only save time but get a different vision of how an adventure can go. The authors simply can't communicate in such as terse description.

An exception perhaps when you are trying to do something of a grand scope and Tegal Manor is certainly grand.

But for the referee preparing his own material I think the terse format is all that is needed. The rest can stay in your head to use as needed.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Indirect Bow Fire

Most wargames and a few RPG games use a scatter diagram and relative degree of success to represent indirect fire.

You roll to see if you hit a designated area. If you miss you still hit an area but at some distance from the target. You roll to see if you hit armor class 10 modified by bow's range. If you can't see the target you are at an additional -3. For every one you miss by you shift one hex or square.

If you are using hexes roll a d6 to see which hex face you shift.

If you are using squares then roll a d8 to see which direction you shift.

If there is a target in the square Then make another to hit roll. You are looking to beat the person's AC or roll a natural 20. This represents the chance whether the arrow penetrates the armor and is basically pure blind chance. If the arrow magical then apply that bonus to this roll.

If you are using Ascending AC and the to hit bonus for levels then this is a straight roll against the target's AC.

If you are using Descending AC and the level charts you roll as if you are a o-level human against the target's AC.

The chances stink if you are single archer trying to use indirect fire. However if you have some retainers and the party coordinates their bow fire the result can be devastating if target are otherwise hard to get at.

Again the first roll is to see whether you hit the target area. The second whether the arrow penetrates the armor.

Monday, October 25, 2010

If you are roped into refereeing D&D 4e.

Combat takes longer. I can't stress this enough. Once you initiate combat you are committed for the next 1/2 hour or hour resolving it if fought to the finish. In a four hour session the most I seen somebody do was resolve three combat encounter between the same number of roleplaying encounters. This can be a big shock for somebody used to 1st edition AD&D or OD&D. I was used to it because of GURPS so it wasn't a big deal for me.

Wizards had opted for a specific style of presentation for 4e adventures. One that most of the 4e community has come to expect. If you use pre-made adventures they will seem constrained and linear compared other RPGs.

The good news is that the individual encounters are often well written, challenging and fun. Another benefit of 4e is that it lays out the math for you. So you can quickly come up with encounters of different power levels.

Remember you don't have to run 4e the way the Wizards presents it. If you have any experience with other RPGs with tactically detailed combat systems, whatever technique you had developed will work well with D&D 4e. How I managed GURPS worked fine with D&D 4e.

I typically run a sandbox campaign. And whether it is GURPS, Fantasy Hero, Swords & Wizardry or my original AD&D 1st, the setting is what it is and players encounter whatever was in the locale. What this means in practice is that around 5th to 6th level (or double GURPS starting points) most of the encounters are underscaled. Only when they go to truly dangerous areas or encounter experienced enemies will they find anything comparable to their current skill level. The effect the few D&D 4e game I ran is that most combat encounters are quickly resolved when the players reach mid heroic levels (5th to 6th).

Hopefully this illustrate that there is more than one way of running 4e than what is typically talked about. The only part of D&D 4e that is hard to work around is the how the power system makes everything seem like heroic high fantasy. But that is a minor issue. Again pretty any type of style or plot that you ran in AD&D 1st you should be able to do in D&D 4e.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Gold Star Manor Part I

Two weekend ago I had another session of Swords & Wizardry at the Gold Star Anime. I didn't post about the previous sessions. To recap, the party killed the Minotaur in the Maze. Janus the Elven Cleric died when Hazar foolishly shoved the lid off of a tomb and poison gas flooded the room. The party decided to take Janus to the wading pool in the level above and after Hazar promised to pay the "price" Silvanus resurrected her. The party cleared out the rest of the temple. Discovered a passage to a section that was ruled by a demon. Killed the demon.

Cast of Characters
Bob – Leon Shadowwalker - 4th level Human Claw of Kalis
Tate - Typhon - 5th level Gnome Magic User
Jay - Heimdell - 4th level Dwarven Runecaster
Josh - Hazar - 6th level Human Thug
John (“the other John”)– Alaghazar, 4th level Human Thothian Mage
Jerry (“big Jerry”) – Janus, 5th level Elven Cleric (female)
Jerry (“little Jerry”) – Hunter, 6th Level Halfling Fighter
This session begins with the party above ground and flushed with treasure. They decided to head back to Oakwatch Keep to cash in and reequip. There was talk of reclaiming the temple as a base for the party.

On the way they encountered Leon and Typhon running for their lives from a horde of Orcs. Whatever tension existed from before were put aside as the entire party was engulfed by a horde of on rushing orcs. In two successive waves nearly 50 orcs were brought down through blade, and spells.

Unfortunately Typhon's Orc henchmen was killed by Hunter the Halfling. Fortunately for the Hunter Typhon was unconscious due to a tremendous hit by an orc shaman's magic missile. When he was revived his grief knew no bounds. While the party mouthed platitudes how it was an accidental hit. Typhon noticed that his beloved orc head was taken cleanly off the shoulder (Hunter rolled a nat 20). He secretly vowed vengeance against the unknown perpetrator.

Rob Note: Back in the day I would have rather uptight about the "unrealistic" result of a party taking out 50 orcs. This time around I just go with the flow. I have come to even appreciate how even mid level characters can feel like heroes overcoming great odds. The key elements are the powerful low levels spells like sleep and fireball. And the fighter ability to get 1/attack per level against 1 HD creatures or lower.

They came back to Oakwatch Keep and quickly refitted. Typhon and Leon had other business so made other arrangements (the players had to leave early). They spent a week training and refitting (Hazar was learning to be proficient with a long sword from Hunter, Heimdell was recharging some runes to replace the ones he expended, and the rest buying charms from the Temple of Thor).

Near the end of the week, while eating in the Tavern, the party talked with a certain Sir Runic Rump who mentioned that he had a manor to sell as he was down on his luck. (At this point I show a fancy deed I created and had printed). The party was impressed and Hazar decided that the Manor needed to bought. They negotiated a price of 20 crowns (6400 silver pieces). Heimdell was suspicious so he asked around and found out that four other parties had bought the same deed but only to return and demand a refund which Sir Runic Rump gave them. One party only had half of it's members. Even after being informed Hazar was determined to close to deal.

The next morning they left Oak Watch Keep and headed down to the Estuary of the Roglaroon. After crossing it they handed to Tegal Manor (I shifted it location for this campaign).

To say the place was huge is an understatement.

So they poked around the outside noting the strange statues that seem to be common. They investigated a gazebo on the northeast corner of the house.

However they got the first inkling that something was seriously wrong with the manor when they peeked into a window and saw a lounge room and sleeping on the couch was a MINIATURE RED DRAGON.

Taken aback Hazar decided to see what this was about and went around to the main entrance where the Master Foyer awaited them. When they opened the door they saw several pillars and the walls adorned with paintings of the Rump family. Hazar went in followed by Alaghazar. Hazar started to go the pictures on the west. When the two saw a two headed demon walking towards them. Alaghazar immediately left and shut the foyer doors leaving Hazar inside!

The demon won initiative and went up to Hazar and demanded his cloak. Dumbfounded, Hazar fumbled and handed it over only to have it fall to floor as it passed through the unsubstantial form. The demon was really only a ghost. The ghostly demon wailed and cried and stomped off in a huff disappearing into a wall.

After this Alaghazar and the rest of the party came back into the foyer. After a few sharp words with the Alaghazar, Hazar went to investigate the painting at 49. It was a pictures of a Rump in farmer's clothing wielding a scythe. As he approached the man in the painting turned and planted the scythe in the middle of Hazar's chest! Cursing his luck he backed away and proceeded to throw daggers at it until it was destroyed.

Laughing Alaghazar went to look at the picture in 40. Labeled Rushrat the Rainmaker the party saw a miniature rain cloud form over Alaghazar and started raining on him. It followed him wherever he went. Janus decided it was a good time to cast Detect Evil. From the spell she learned that beyond the east door there was a great evil. Janus also found by focusing on the painting she could sense which ones were baneful.

After hearing about the great evil Alaghazar decided to cast invisibility on himself. Almost immediately the rest of the party burst out laughing as they could clearly see the rain outlining his body. Irked he slugged Hazar, and stomped off becoming visible again.

The party decided to see what behind the east door. Opening they saw a dark corridor stretching 50' to the east ending in another door. When Hunter stepped into the hall the entire party almost ran in terror as a blood curdling scream was heard.

Rob Note: They moved their miniatures into the hallway and when they did so I let out a scream as loud as I could. I think I almost give Big Jerry a heart attack and the rest of the players looked ready to bolt.

Investigating these room revealed chambers of horror. To the south was the horrific Room of Fear. Painted in black and lined with horrible paintings it caused nearly everybody who looked in to be overcome with nausea and vomit. After discussion it was decided to lob a fireball into the room destroying the paintings. Investigating the Cells to the north found little of value except a door to the north. To the south the bedroom held a strange darkness in SW corner. When shot with an arrow it withdrew into itself and revealed another two headed demon! Janus stepped forward and called on Silvanus. The god's holy light leaped from the holy symbol and revealed the demons for an illusion.

The party then decided to look beyond the eastern door and the worst room yet was revealed. The torture chamber of Tegal Manor! Over the center pit were barbed iron chains that writhed of their own accord. Hazar went to investigate and barely escaped when they attacked him. Janus had a Protection from Evil 10' radius and stepped to the chains which were repelled by the aura of magic.
There was a hole in the SW corner that was three foot in diameter. It looked to be dug out and a strong animal smell was detected. On the North Central wall a trapdoor with a ladder going down was found. While the party was deciding what to do Hazar climbed down. When he reached near the bottom he was grabbed by the ankle and thrown about the room. (B in the map below). The party quickly scrambled down to help him dispatch an Ogre who leaving down there amid the bones of the Torture room victim which were thrown down there.

The party then decided to investigate the dungeon they found. Wandering around they found nothing at A. However at I they found six crypts. With Janus Detecting Evil the party positioned themselves as the lids were shoved off. Wights and Skeletons emerged but the party quickly dispatched them.

Tomorrow Part II

Friday, October 22, 2010

Creating Cultures for your campaign.

The first thing to remember that culture develop through Larmarkism not Darwinism. That through processes like syncretism cultures develop over time. Consider each cultures we know about as a descriptive list. From time to time not only culture add and subtract from their own list they grab stuff from neighboring culture list. Mind how this happens varies and it is not always voluntary (i.e. conquest).

The approach I found to be the most gamable is to go through what I know about real world cultures and make up descriptive lists of the one I am interested in. This includes customs, rituals, beliefs, religion, government, and so on. Whatever you think is you can portray in a roleplaying session.

Then for your setting you take these lists and make unique combination that represent your in-game cultures. For example my Ghinorians in the Majestic Wilderlands are a hybrid of Hebrews, Western Medieval, and Roman culture. Basically the hebrews found my setting's equivalent of the Roman Empire and later fragmented into medieval states. But they are not entirely hebrew as I borrowed elements from India, China, and Japan. The first two for the Imperial phase of their history and the latter for one of the successor kingdoms.

Remember to look at non-western cultures from India, China, Japan, Southeast Asia, and so on.

I strongly suggest you do not deal with skin color in your setting. I also refer to things like "You see a Ghinorian, a Tharian, and an Elessarin talking together). Rather than a black skinned individual, a fair hair white skinned individual, and a freckled red haired individual talking together.

First whether we like or not race is a charged issue in western society. If you don't have to get into it don't.

Second physical descriptions are a burden on your players. Not only they have to remember what a Ghinorian is but also that they are dark-skinned. I cut them some slack and just jump to the label and go from there. In the end what important that they react to what the culture is not play a guessing game. So when I say they they see a group of Thules walking down the street they suspect they may be dealing with Setites as their culture is noted for the worship of the Lawful evil god Set.

Remember that people are people. Human being have common considerations that cut across all cultures. For example the rules of hospitality are fairly standard. The few tribes/culture we know of that don't practice these rules are considered assholes by their neighbors and even by the anthropologists that study them.

Non-humans in contrast may have different consideration. The trick here to make up the list what all members of that race are concerned about. Then the various cultures of that race have a baseline from which they add to or vary from. For example my Dwarves have a low fertility rate with makes their culture very clannish and obsessed with protecting the females and young compared to the human norm.

Whatever you come up with remember to keep it playable and understandable. It is not always the same as realistic and accurate.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Those old time GMs and their PCs

In this post James of Grognardia talks about GMs running a PC in their campaign. In it he makes a statement.
When I read about the Lake Geneva Greyhawk campaign, I always thought it odd that Gary Gygax was both a player and a referee in it. Somehow that seemed to be "cheating."
I eluded in various posts that I was heavily involved in NERO Live Action Roleplaying for over a decade. I was also one of the organizers and General Manager of a NERO chapter, NERO ARGO, for several years as well. Along the way I ran over two dozen events that for the most part have been well-liked.

How this ties into James' statement is that when I read the Gary's, Rob Kuntz's, David Arenson's and Major Welsey's accounts of those early sessions was how much they seemed like LARPS as well as tabletop games.

Where they intersect was managing game sessions that could easily have 15+ players and campaigns with even a larger group of player. This exactly the type of issue that LARP chapters have to deal with. The anecdotes and what they did to handled things sounds eerily familiar to what I had to deal with as a event director and general manager for NERO. As D&D and RPGs developed most of the LARP elements went away in favor of a referee with a dozen or less players. Typically between 4 to 8 players.

In LARPS is very common for a person to be a event director one month and a player the next. The key element that makes this work is the fact there are multiple event directors running different plots. For the most part each event director is doing their own thing in the context of whatever background the LARP setup for the setting.

While I ran many events but I still didn't know what Josh, or Chris were doing for their events. So I could come and be a PC without any undue advantage over other players. In NERO events what usually happened that a chapter had two or more plot teams that alternated events for a year. That way both group could play during the others event.

Reading Gary and Rob Kuntz accounts of Greyhawk, accounts of Blackmoor that seemed to be what happening for the most part. Multiple GMs using the same setting but each with their own plot.

Finally, yes it is prone to abuse for many obvious reason. In NERO and I assume for the early campaigns as well, it is mostly checked by peer pressure. It is embarrassing to be caught friendship gaming (i.e. running a event giving stuff away to your friends), and doubly so if you were caught using inside knowledge which was considered cheating. Most LARP groups and certainly the early campaign groups were small enough and the activity popular enough to make this effective in stopping people.

The biggest problems would come when both sides believe they are right. This often caused groups to split. With Tabletop RPGs is is very easy for new group to meet on a new night and run a new campaign so it doesn't surprise me that multiple GM, shared settings disappeared quickly.

However it made a comeback in the past decade with Living Campaigns where the figured out how to get around the issues of the past.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

My Fifteen

Looks I am joining in the fun.

1) Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st Edition
The single greatest influence in my gaming history.

2) Traveller
THE sci-fi roleplaying game. Loved it from the get go and never looked by. Although I never refereed this as often as I would have liked.

3) Champions
First opened my eyes to possibility of skill based systems. Champion extended that to everything with Advantages, Limitations, and Powers

4) Harnmaster/Harn
Brutally realistic fantasy both in the game and the setting. The only game where player get pissed off at the NPCs for hitting them due to the graphic detail of the injury system. And they managed to make playable.

Currently my favorite RPGs. Although I question how they present the system at times this RPG is in my opinion the best written and best design out there.

6) Ars Magica
I mined this extensively for ideas and plots. Although never played it in of itself.

7) Vampire the Masquerade
One of the best monster manual ever, especially the GURPS version Probably not what the designer intended it to be used for.

8) Tactics II
The original hex and counter wargame and one of the first I learned to play

9) Swords & Wizardry
Such a great version to build and publish stuff off of. Thanks Matt!

10) Civilization
One of the greatest boardgames ever made. TRADE EMBARGO!

11) Diplomacy
No chance involve just your wits and ability to manipulate your friends

12) Star Fleet Battles
Loved the hell out launching a full spread and watch my opponent mark those boxes off his SSD.

13) D20 System
Without this I would not be blogging, publishing or writing professionally today

14) Battletech
My bread and butter wargame of the late 80s. Piloting giant robots and blowing the hell of your opponent what is not to love.

15) 2300AD
Loved it almost as much as Traveller. Very different feel. Liked the use of realistic star maps.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

RPGNow and Doctors without Borders

RPG Now is running another charity sale. This time to help Doctors without Borders. They are working in Pakistan to help survivors of the floods.

The Haiti Relief bundle was chocked full of goodness and this is no different.

The items that caught my eye are

Harnmaster 3rd Edition
. You can see why Harnmaster is one of the most realistic, and playable combat systems out there. Used to be top dog in brutality until I played 2nd edition Runequest and it's flying limbs.

Icons - a rules light superhero game that everybody talked about. Now I will see what the fuss is about.

Starblazer Adventures
- another game people talked about favorable. A general purpose science fiction RPG using the Fate rule system.

If you like my map from yesterday you will like The Cursed Chateau. It has several maps by me detailing the Chateau and the dungeon underneath. Oh it has an adventure by James Maliszewski in it too. ;-). It is a pretty neat cursed manor adventure.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Oakwatch Keep Map

An unkeyed Motte and Bailey Castle Village I completed for last Saturday's session at the Gold Star Anime. I tried using a roof tile pattern on the building but it didn't come out as well as I expected. I had it for a long time without the buildings inside the walls. So I spent an hour to finish it and print it out to use for the game. There a ruin in the southwest corner to use as an entrance into your dungeon.

The walls are wooden as well as the Keep on the Motte. The village portion is the bailey.

Note: The dark gray stuff along the stream is mud, the trees are individually marked, the bushy fill are bushes and hedges. The textured gray along the eastern edge are crop land. The texture meant to evoke plow farrows. The line of dashes are 5' contours.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

GURPS Low-Tech PDF is out!

SJ Games is preparing to release their first new GURPS book in a year. It is Low-Tech a summary of technology from the Stone Age (TL 0) to the Renaissance (TL 4). The PDF has been released on e23. While somewhat rules heavy it is an excellent reference and can be used as a source of equipment for just about any Fantasy RPG. For D&D and retro-clone, the pricing would convert at roughly $4 for 1 D&D silver piece. This book will followed by three smaller PDF releases dealing with advancements in government, warfare, and economics.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Still no Wizard PDFs but Lulu?

Not sure what to make of this at Lulu. Wizards of the Coast trying new techniques to keep products in print? Although the presence of Esstential don't really doesn't fit that theory.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Analyzing Dungeons

One of the most brilliant analysis of dungeons was written by Melan and can be found on Enworld here. It was posted a while ago but I don't think many know about it outside of a few forums like Knights and Knaves and of course Enworld.

He develops a technique of analyzing how various dungeon flows by using line diagrams. He uses it to analyze several newer and older dungeons including some classics. To summarize, dungeons that are laid out where their encounter proceed in a linear fashions are generally not as well like as those which branches and in his opinion the best dungeons are where the encounters are in various loops that allows the players the full freedom to pick where they go.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Cartography and Harn updates

That if you want the low down on all kinds of cartography and how to make various types of maps one of the best places to find this information is the Cartography Guild and their forums.

Harn folks have new free updates over on Including a

A fortified Manor

A Townhouse along with details on it's wealthy inhabitants.
A new type of herb to make potions with.
Several villages and keeps.
And a Inn with a classic name.

Over on the Kelestia website they released a gorgeous PDF map of one of the mainland regions off of Harn, Shorkyne. Harn is an island off the the continent of Lythia where Shorkyne is located. Shorkyne is roughly equivalent to medieval Germany.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Culture Motivations

Two days I had a post about motivations of a culture. Telecanter and FrDave asked for some specific examples of motivations.

Using examples from the Majestic Wilderlands. Note that I am focusing on human cultures for this post. If there is interest I will be glad to go into the other races like Viridians, Elves, Dwarves, etc.

The Uttermost War
The common myth that nearly all cultures in the Wilderlands share is that there was a Dawn Age set in a Garden of Eden. The Demons revolted and enslaved the world driving the gods themselves into hiding. Then in the Uttermost War the Gods battled the Demons and liberated the survivors. The Demons were thrown into the Abyss and imprisoned. The survivors were given their freedom and the gods withdrew from the world and left priest to teach the mortal races how to survive and live together. Variants of this myth are found in all the religions and even the most tyrannical and twisted of the gods teach that the demons are to be feared and shunned.

The Powers of the World

Gods are real. Their power is vastly beyond the mortal races but they are not omnipotent or omniscient. The way I visualize is that they are the parents and the mortal races are six year olds. For various reasons they decided to spread their teachings through faith and are able to grant power to true believers. There are only a dozen greater gods who are known by different names in different cultures.

While their are a few other twists the main effect of this is that there a catholic or universal aspect that alway been present in the Wilderlands. Just as Christianity, Judaism, and Islam share some common belief and history. Many of the religions of the Wilderlands recognize a common origin beyond that of mere chance. So far it hasn't ignited a Renaissance, Reformation, or Enlightenment but it has been noticed.

Then there are Elves. Immortal they provide a living memory back into the depths of time for the cultures they come into contact with. It as if in the 21st century we have people who knew and spoke with Julius Caesar, Charlemagne, and other historical figures of the past. Cultures impacted by the Elves share common traits and are loosely grouped as Sylvan.

But Elvish influences has a dark side in that it acts as a deadweight around cultures of the shorter lived races. Most Sylvan cultures are by all accounts pleasant places to live but they are also stagnant. The vast experience of the elves is very useful for solving problems they encountered in the past. however fails when events occur that fall outside of elvish experience. Regions under Sylvan influence often have centuries or millennia of stable existence followed by a catastrophic collapse.

Humans are the baseline. Generally characterized by their sociability and loyalty to various groups starting with their immediate family.

The dominant thread running through the Ghinorian culture is their relationship with the Goddess Mitra. Mainstream Ghinorian culture believe they are her chosen people called upon to be the shining example of justice and honor in the wilderlands. To be the vanguard against the evil of the demons. The day to day application of their central myth is their adherence to the Mitra's law and their love of organization. The negative side is intolerance to other cultures with differing belief. The central drama of their culture since the fall of their Empire has been the conflict believe that Mitra's law is for all the Wilderlands versus who believe that Mitra's law is only for those born Ghinorian.

This is not to say that every Ghinorian is a feverant devotee of Mitra's law. Only that their upbringing is defined by it. Whether they love it, indifferent, or hate it.

The Thules are not really on-stage but after they discovered the existance of the demonic Viridians and their Empire two millenia ago they been sending missionaries northward into the Main Campaign Area.

Like the Ghinorians they believe they are the chosen people of a god. In this case Set. Set has adopted them as his sword-arm to rid the Wilderlands of Demons and their minions. Whatever the cost the Demons are to be destroyed or cast back into the Abyss. The Thules are noted for their love of Order, and their society is highly regimented and is considered tyrannical by other cultures. The central tension of their culture is with corruption. If it wasn't for Set's involvement through his priests Thule society would have long collapsed like the Mongols, Assyrians, Aztecs, or the Soviet Union.

Thules are not all order obsessed, demon haters. But like the situation with the Ghinorians and Mitra, those are born into Thule society are defined by their reaction to it.

The Sarnic are perhaps the most tragic of the Wilderland's cultures. Like the Thules and Ghinorians they believe they are a chosen people. In this case the chosen people of Hamakhis, Lord and Judge of the Dead. Originally they were peaceful and their defining quirk was the highly ritualistic natures of their daily life. For every actitivy they had a ritual invoking the name of Hamakhis, from the laying of the wood for the morning fire to the tucking at night of the children. Because Hamakhis was Lord and Judge of the Dead many of the ritual had necromantic trappings involving bones and other death symbols. Although at this time the undead were not part of mainstream Sarnic culture.

However at the height of their empire's power the Ghinorian made contact with the Sarnic. They were repelled by death symbols used everywhere in their lands and this led to conflict. Eventually the Ghinorian Empire launched the Sarnic Crusade and conquered their lands.

The conquest was the defining event for the Sarnic. To liberate themselves they turned to true necromancy and began the practice of human sacrifice. The war was bloody and long and left the Sarnic in the hands of ruthless warlords willing to do anything for power. Centuries after they freed themselves most Sarnics were slaves to the warlords and their necromancer priests.

Finally several hundred years ago the Order of Pangana appeared with the blessing of Hamakhis. Focusing on his aspect as Judge the Order checked the worst excesses of the priesthood and the warlords. Today the Sarnic are just coming out of a long dark age. Under the aegis of the Order of Pegana a Renaissance is beginning to sweep their City-States as they begin
to rediscover their pre-conquest culture.

The central drama of Sarnic Cultures is will the Renaissance take hold or will the necromancers and warlord reassert themselves and renew their tyranny. Those born Sarnic have a wide variety of backgrounds depending how and where they were born. Some experience their early years as slave while other experienced freedom under the protection of the Order of Pegana.

The Tharians are horse nomads from the Sea of Grass far in the west. Four centuries ago they swept into the Main Campaign Area carving out petty kingdoms from the husk of the Dragon Empire and eventually came to rule the City-State of the Invincible Overlord.

They are a clan based society and struggle to be loyal to anything beyond their clan. They believe that the spirits of their ancestor join the Lars under the watchful eyes of the High Lord. The Lars guides and defends the clan through the Mystics (clerics). The Tharians are noted for defending the honor of their clan to the death. The defining symbol of Tharian wealth are the number of horses an individual owns. Most Tharians conflicts are caused by horse thieves raiding other clans.

The central conflict of Tharian society is their success in conquering much of the Main Campaign Area and the City-State. Their own culture is suffering due to having to rule the older and more sophisticated Elessarian and Ghinorian Cultures. Their history have not prepared them to rule city states, and judge commerical disputes of merchants. Their society is fracturing as many are attracted to other religions and cultures that provide the answer their own lacks. The remainder wrap themselves in tradition and try to hold back the world by any means they can. The arrival of Thule Missionaries bringing the teaching of Set has particular appeal to many younger Tharians.

The largest of the Silvan influenced cultures they arrived in the Main Campaign Area several millienia ago after traveling from the Sea of Grass far to the west. They originally settled in the Elphand Lands to the west of the Elven Kingdom of Irminsul. There was some initial conflict but after a century the two societies became allies in the Elvish wars against the Viridians. They proved instrumental in the fall of the First Empire and afterwards spread eastward into the rest of the Main Campaign Area.

For the next two Millenia their fortune waxed and waned. Some of their lands like the Kingdom of Dunador in the Elphand lands and the Kingdom of Antil to the south of City-State are free kingdoms. While others are subjects of the Viridian Successor Kingdoms or the Tharians of City-State.

Their cultures is clan based. But the clans are smaller than Tharian clans; being more of an extended family than a entire tribe. Individual clans focused on a single estate or occuputation like blacksmithing or tailoring. Their contact with the Elves awoken a love of learning and bards became one of the highest callings in Elessarian society. From the early Bards the the druidic order of Trehaens developed. Today the Trehaen incorporate clerics, druids, magic-users, as well as bards. In the free kingdoms of the Elessarians the Trehean are the keepers of the law and judge all legal dispute based on an extensive body of common law . Elessarian nobles act more as police and military commander then rulers issuing decrees. Even Elessarian Kings are subject to the law of the Trehaen.

Currently the central conflict of Elessarian society is the feeling is that their culture is waning. While they learned a lot from the Elves it left them unprepared to deal with younger and more dynamic cultures. Several time in the past millenia they had to deal with other cultures sweeping into the Main Campaign Area. Each time they adapted often emerging as full partners with former rivals. Now with the Tharians, the Elessarians struggle again. But there is hope with the collapse of the Viridistan Empire and the fact there are still free Elessarian Kingdoms.
There is lot of information to digest here. There is a lot that I didn't put into this post. To be honest it is mostly timelines and king's list. While useful to me to keep all this organized in my mind. Many don't find them interesting.

My job as referee is to take all these specifics and distill it for the players. As I explained in earlier posts, I ask the players what they want to play in general terms and then lay out options and explain their implications.

If the player is starting City-State and wants to play a thief. I know that City-State is a cultural crossroads with Ghinorian, Elessarian, and Tharian cultures. I would explain that there is the Bortherhood of the Lion which was originally a Ghinorian resistance group to the conquest of City-State. Now it is a century later and they are little better than a gang of thugs. There are also the Beggars which are dishonored horseless Tharians who banded together for survival. Finally there are a few Elessarians down on their luck who hang out in traveling minstrel bands do what they can to scrap a living by their wits.

From these broad descriptions I work with the player to refine his character concept to specific allies, and enemies along with bits of information. All of this provide an initial point for the player make decisions about his character in the larger sandbox campaign that is my Majestic Wilderlands. It also lessen my workload as often there only a handful of reasonable choices that I have to do prep for. It provides for future adventure as the players works towards achieving his goals and resolving the conflicts of his background.

It is also works for players who can't roleplay as this process sets up what I call natural situations. Even if the player is roleplaying a version of himself in the setting his reactions still ring true as he adventures and reacts to the consequences of his background.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Dragon's Sage Advice collected

Stumbled across this site where all the various Sage's Advice from Dragon Magazine are collected.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Helping your players roleplay a culture

A lot of people focuses on external details of a different culture. Things like the funny clothes, different manners, and different customs. That is hard to do because it involves memorizing details. If you try to simplify things then you wind up with caricatures which can be also unsatisfying.

My opinion is that the heart of having different cultures is that they have different motivations. That what you need to focus on. The High Elves have different concerns from the Grey Elves, who have different concerns than the Mountain Dwarves, who have different concerns from the humans of Imperial Ghinor and so on.

The way I implement this in the backgrounds for player character. Before each campaign I sit down with each player and together we work up a background for their character. The player throws out some ideas and I give her some choices as to how they would work in my setting. We go back and forth until we have a background that both of us are happy with.

The key element is in the choices you give the player. I know the cultures and societies of my setting in detail, the player generally doesn't. The choices are tailored to reflect the origins of the characters. An elf focused on revenge for orcs killing his family is going to look different than a dwarf with the same issues or a human. All of this comes out when developing the background.

Also this processes teaches the player how you implement different cultures. Even they don't pick certain options you give them just the fact you presented them and talked about them teaches the players how that culture works.

Ultimately the reason you put work into this is that because cultures have different motivations they may come in to conflict when they conflict. This conflict is fodder for an adventure which is the heart of tabletop roleplaying games.

I am not too enamored of mechanical rewards for roleplaying. I find that mechanics for roleplaying often lead to unrealistic results as players game the mechanics. The best one I seen are traits systems, like in Pendragon. In effect, they are short concise descriptions of the longer verbal descriptions I talk about above. They help players remember what important to their character.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Tactics II: Day of Defeat

The Greyhawk Grognard talks about a day of pushing cardboard and go into detail about a game of Tactics II. Tactics II and Blitzkrieg are two of my favorite hex and counter wargames. I am pretty good at Tactics and only ever been beaten once in the three dozen times I played the game. Therein lies a story.

For over a decade I was involved in NERO live-action roleplaying (a boffer LARP), I made some good friends there and from time to time we got together outside of NERO to play tabletop RPGs or other games.

Stuart was one of my friends and the smartest. He had a genius level IQ and was very difficult to beat in any boardgame or Magic the Gathering game we played. One game we didn't play a first was a hex and counter wargame. By the mid 90s the collapse of the wargaming hobby was all but complete and newer folks simply had no experience with them.

So one day dragged out my copy of Tactics II and got Stuart to play with me. I generally introduce novices to wargaming with Tactics as it is straightforward, easy to learn, and has the major elements of all subsequent wargames.

At first Stuart wasn't doing well, and was getting frustrated. A few turns in we had a discussion about what he was having difficulty with. He didn't know about tactics in a wargame sense so I started explaining the line of battle, and flanking. How it not just positioning that is important but also the time it takes to get to a location.

But where the lightbulb went off in his head was when I said in general you want to have 3 to 1 odds when you attack. The defender has powerful advantages and generally throughout modern warfare you need to 3 attackers for 1 defender to ensure the success of an attack. More is overkill less is not sufficient.

Well after that I was doomed. He ignored everything else I said and proceeded to move his forces to achieve 3 to 1 odds all over the board. Despite the advantages of terrain and position I developed to that point my forces were caught in a meat grinder and were chewed to bits. By reducing the issue of tactics to achieving 3 to 1 odds, Stuart was able to use his superior math analytical ability to figure out how to get more 3 to 1 combats then me.

A few turns after that I lost my first game of Tactics.

Friday, October 8, 2010

The City

In the previous post I critize the naming of the Keep in the Keep on the Borderland. Is it even plausible to name a place with a generic name like The Keep, or the City-State? Well as it turns out there is a real-life example, Constantinople now known as Istanbul.

For several centuries Constantinople was THE city of the Mediterranean, it's fame known throughout Europe, Africa, and Asia. For the Greek speaking population it was simply know as The City. The Slavs called it Tsargrad or the City of the Emperor. The Norse, who served as the emperor's bodyguards the Varangians, called it Miklagard, or "Big City."

Even it's current name, Istanbul, is the turkish language adaptation of the greek phrase, "To the City".

Dammit it's just the Keep!

I did have one complaint about the recent D&D Encounters session. They, WOTC, gave the Keep a name!

Restwell Keep

Some things just don't need names like the City-State and especially the Keep.

Brought to you by the grumpy grognard department. ;)

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Keep at the Source and some 4e reviews.

I was able to participate in D&D Encounters at The Source on Wednesday Night. They have a large groups of not only roleplayers but a table playing Magic the Gathering, a 3.X table (I think they were playing the Wheel of Time RPG), and two grognards slugging it out as Romans vs the Germans.

I had my dice with me but little else. Luckily they had pre-gen so I picked up a Eldarin Wizard to play. D&D Encounter are weekly with each session centered around a single encounter in a larger adventure. The current set of encounters is focused on D&D Esstentials adventuring in the venerable Keep on the Borderlands.

The session was refereed by Bryan, and my comrades in arms were Rachel playing a thief named Merrick, Caleb playing a priest named Hagen, Mike who played the lady fighter Eldits, and finally Rob who played a dwarf (I think) named Trollay. I played Berian, an Eldarin Wizard.

The session picked up where the last encounters lefted off which was picking up some cultists left in a grotto outside of the keep. It was noisy and I am partly deaf so it was a miracle that I picked up any of the back story. It appears there was some underground cult worshipping Tiamat in the Keep and the eventual goal was to bust it wide open.

Written from Berrian point of view.

So we picked up the cultist who turned out to be poisoned and so we had to hurry back to the keep. Nothing unusual happened and the person feeding the info was a herbal so she was able able to take the cultists under her care. Somehow it was revealed that the Banker was the possible leader of the cultists and one of his guards was a secret ally that we can turn too for help.

We retired to the tavern to eat and during this several of the party noticed a halfling keeping a careful eye. I believe it was Hagen and Trollay who noticed this first and decided to approach him. The halfling bolted, the two raised a hue and a cry and the chase was on.

We stepped out of the tavern and we were ambushed by several rogues, the halfling's buddies. Every body but Merrick and I charged into the town square to battle the ambushers. When it came around to me, I decided that halfling needed a little lession in etiquette. I succeeded on calling on Mandos, and succeeding in weaving a Charm of Misplaced Wrath around the halfling. Stumbling in a daze he attacked one of his comrades successfully scoring a critical. Through his daze the halfling saw the threat of my power and tumbled (or something like that) and hit me with a fierce blow.

The next round Merrick came out and missed the halfling while the fight was raging several feet away in the town square. I stepped to flank the little scum, but decided my power was better used in the main fight. Calling on Manwe I unleashed a Fountain of Flame in the midst of the Ambushers severely burning several of them. Unfortunately before Merrick could strike the wily halfling tumbled away. I moved around the edge of the main battle calling on Eldereth to unleash Arc Lightning which killed several of the Ambushers.

The halfling ran through the still gushing Fountain of Flame to attack me one last time leaving me bloodied. Hagen was aware of my plight and was able to heal me of my wounds. The rest of the party charged the halfling and in a few quick blows brought the little beast down. Calling on Eldereth one last time I sent Arc Lightning down on the few remaining survivors and smote them down.
Bryan and the player did a great job and a fun time was had by all. Mike generously let me use his Rule Compendium and it is a great reference to use during play. If you play D&D 4e you will find this book invaluable.

I got to look through the store copy of the Dungeon Master's Kit. Thanks to the Source staff for letting me do this. I It is $40 boxed set. Half the price is the DM book which give DM advice and goes into the nuts & bolts of creating encounters, adventures, and campaigns. The other half are the adventure books, counters, and maps also a solid $20 value. Combined you get the $40 price for the box.

The adventure books are about Harkenwold in the Nentir's Vale. One of the thing I thought that 4e missed out on was following up on the sandbox setting they laid out in the 4e DMG. The DM Kit corrects that oversight by giving you details on the Harkenwold area and a couple of linked adventures. I think a lot of 4e referees will be quite pleased at what in here. Harkenwold portions details a small sandbox region and while the adventure are organized in 4e fashion they appear to be more a natural part of the setting.

For myself I spotted a copy of Troll Lord's Fields of Battle for $20. I am fan of BattleSystem from AD&D days so I decided to pick this up for myself. I will review this in a later post.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Journeying to the Source

This week I am on the road to Minneapolis. I managed to get to the Source probably one of the largest game stores in the country. It is a big store that has lots of aisle space and lots of gaming stuff. I was there a decade ago and was able to find some nice Judges Guild stuff.

This time the pickings for older material was a lot slimmer. They still have a few Judges Guild prices but the best material (A copy of CSIO and CSWE) were at premium prices. But there is a few modules at a reasonable price I never had which I may pick up before returning home. The selection of other rpgs is amazing and comprises nearly 20 yards worth of shelves and drawers. While not quite the treasure hunt that is Warzone Matrix in Cleveland it still fun to open drawers to see what is within.

The staff is friendly, knowledgeable, and helpful. Whatever your interest in gaming (or comics) they can help you find it. Plus the store has lots of gaming space including a wall that pays homage to older D&D with a line up of classic modules and supplements.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Wanderer Progress Report

Many of you probably had seen this image.

It was originally made by a Game Store owner to determine how customers quickly pick up a product when it shelved in various positions.

Whenever this image appears it nearly always gathers a positive response with more than a few going "How I wish this game existed." Since the release of the Traveller SRD for Mongoose Traveller more than a few people tried.

While there may be others, Doc Grognard over on Crawdads and Dragons seems to be the furthest along. He has a beta version of the rules available here and still working on the "Book 3" portion of the game.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

A Fantasy Sandbox in Detail Part XVIII


This is the eighteenth in a series detailing the 34 steps I recommended for making a Fantasy Sandbox Campaign. Today's post will cover part of the following step.
Use Medieval Demographics to get an a idea of how many shops are in the town.
From previous steps we know that Mikva has a population of 800 people. Looking at Medieval Demographics we see that tailors have a value of 250. Diving 800 by 250 we get 3 plus change. So we know there are at least three Tailors living in Mikva.

While Medieval Demographics by S. John Ross is a great article the professions lists seems incomplete. I have Life in the Medieval City by Joseph and Francis Geis and found the list that S. John Ross started from. There the authors admitted that while taken from the Paris Tax Roll of 1292 the list was truncated and paraphrased. So taking a chance I did a search and sure enough the Paris Tax Roll of 1292 in it's original form can be found on the internet. Thanks to the SCA and Colm Dubh.

I knew that if you look at an actual list of medieval occupations it would look rather insane. A combination of lack record keeping, the trend to protect even closely related profession from competition, and the fact that in real life everything is just more complex means there is a bewildering array of distinct professions.

This is a case where a referee needs to apply some editorial judgment to make something gameable out of reality. I been a big fan of Harn and it's price list. I think how the guilds are organized under that setting is about at the right level of detail for gameable realism. So inspired by Harn I came up with a similar list of guilds and professions. I then went through the Paris Tax Roll categorizing everything into one of the guild/professions I created.

You can see the result here in the form of an excel spreadsheet. I even added a little generator. Just change the cell next to Population and the calculated number will change by each guild. I also wrote an article summarizing my own research with the new numbers I calculated. You can download it here.

Note this is a first draft so it is bit skimpy on explanations. I intend to gather all these "How to make a fantasy Sandbox" into a book that I will publish. This is a part of one of the chapters I intend to include. The basic gist is that you divide the value for each profession into the total population. If it is 1 or greater that is how many of that profession is present. If it is lower than 1 then it is a percentage change that profession will exist.

So I plugged in Mika's 800 population. This what I got.

artist          1
baker           3
carpenter       4
chandler        1
finesmith       3
fisherman       1
herbalist       1
jeweler         2
laborer         5
leathercrafter 10
legal           1
mason           3
merchant        3
metalsmith      1
miller          2
ostler          2
physician       2
religious       1
sailor          1
scholar         2
servant         5
tailor          8
tavern          6
weaponsmith     1
weaver          6
Roughly 75 shops in the castle town of Mikva. Now the key to creating a Sandbox Setting is managing the level of detail. Which is why in the next step we are only going to pick 6 to 12 of the most interesting shops and just leave the rest as one line entries to be used in later campaigns.

That it for part XVIII next is Part XIX where we go into further detail about the shops of Mikva.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Stack Exchange Update (with chat)

Traffic on the RPG site Stack Exchange has leveled off. But there is a steady stream of questions and answers on a variety of topics. I realize that many of you are not keen on the whole being able to edit other people stuff. But the moderators are up and running (I am one of them) and we dealt with a few situations already. So you may want to stop by and give it another try. Plus there are now history features that allow you see to see the edits being made and tools to manage those edits.

In addition they added a chat room to the site. The software behind it is pretty good in my opinion. I like how you can pop in and see the previous conversation as far back as you want to go. You can set up rooms of your own with the tools there. It is a new feature so feedback is appreciated.

Note that the questions are dominated by D&D 4e which can be off-putting to many readers of this blog. However questions about other RPGs have been answered and unlike system centric these questions tend not to be crusted with opinions proponents of other systems. The tag system allows you to filter out all the questions you don't want to see. And one good thing about how Stack Exchange works is that people put a lot work into making sure the tags for questions are accurate.