Saturday, April 14, 2012

Now that we think about it, maybe that Gygax guy was on to something after all

Sweet, sweet logo
Not to be snarky, but this may be the most surprising Fantasy Heartbreakers in the history of RPGs. Yeap, Jonathan Tweet’s 13th Age — which I must say has a truly delicious type treatment used for the logo — could quite possibly the most ludicrous idea I’ve seen in some time. Yes, that’s right, the 2 masterminds of 3.X and 4.0 (oh yes gentle reader, Rob Heinsoo the genius behind 4.wtvr is along for the ride) are now applying their formidable design chops to bring you their own version of Gary’s game.

“Our goal with 13th Age is to recapture the free-wheeling style of old-school gaming by creating a game with more soul and fewer technical details.”

Uh huh.

You can read more pearls of wisdom from the designers HERE.

Isn’t this the same guy who was telling us how BAD D&D was before himself, Montus Cookus Maximus and that other dude ripped the soul out of our game? Remember how “problematic all those saving throws” were? And of course, AC and thAC0 were so totally screwed up that no one even played D&D anymore. And perhaps the most egregious of sins, the one that absolutely HAD to be stomped out. I’m looking at you Mr Long Sword with your d12 for damage vs Lg targets. Don't stop me, I'm on a roll here.

Oh well. I wish these 2 OSR Converts well with their little game. Perhaps they have enough name recognition among the younger set of fans that this OSR game will bring in some new blood. I expect that it will certainly be a snazzy-looking product, but I think I’ll hold out for Monte’s Ptolus Whitebox Edition.

Bitter Vet Rant OFF.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Happy Easter!

A bit of Art History for everyone, love me some Caravaggio. Aside from being one of the most gifted painters to ever push paint brush, Caravaggio rejected earlier notions of depicting religious figures as idealized representatives of the perfected human form. Instead, he used models chosen from everyday life,  thus injecting a sense of realism that became a hallmark of European painting for centuries to come.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Is It Simply Nostalgia?

Whitebox RAWKS!
The Old School Gamers group on Facebook is now over 1200 strong and it's certainly made Facebook a more compelling site for this old grognard. If you're not in that group, by all means jump in and enjoy the discussions. At any rate, a recent post by old school TSR artist Jeff Dee sent the reader to a new school blogger who is an unabashed fan of post 2E and holds the rather bombastic position that old school games "suck". Jeff asked us all to post on the Facebook group our own thoughts on why this guy is wrong. Clearly, his intention was to generate traffic to his blog and surely there's no harm in that I think. The gentleman is
entitled to his opinion and all that (though he should be thrashed for his choice of font imo). One assertion that always rears its ugly head in these debates is that OSR players play the old games often for reasons of nostalgia.

 Is it nostalgia? Do you get a sense of "the good old days" when you play B/X or AD&D today? Do you find yourself recalling those glory days of yesteryear in your Mom's basement?

 I just don't have those moments really.

Occam's Razor suggests that those of us who still play, or in my case devolved back to playing, the older games do so primarily because we prefer those rules. Since it's usually the DM in the group who is the straw that stirs the drink if you will, I think that there is simply a percentage of players, that is to say DMs, who enjoy the experience of running the game using the old rules. It really is quite different than running 3.X or 4E and I think the new 5E design team would do well to consider the "DM Fun" aspect of old school gaming. Take 0E for example. I thoroughly enjoy running a good session of Whitebox. There's absolutely zero nostalgia factor for me with Whitebox since it predates my introduction to the hobby by about 5 years. There are no memories to rekindle and it is entirely the same for all of the dozen or more players with whom I've played Whitebox. It's simply a very liberating framework of a game for the DM and it's quick and easy to learn.

And finally, how much does the burn out created by grid-based combat, particularly in the case of the guy providing the grid and running the baddies, factor into ones desire to move back to earlier modes of gameplay?

For me, this is a very big deal and I suspect I'm not alone here, though it's pretty clear that I fall in the minority (as a non-Pathfinder, non-4E DM). I think one of the flaws of 3.X style gaming, and 4E really gets carried away with this, is that your game becomes overly focused on the use of the 5-foot square grid and the miniatures. This leads to lengthy combats, which again, that's a feature for folks who dig that mode of play. But I also think it can lead to burnout and in my case, that's a large part of why I still like the old games. They don't grind me down as a DM and I have more fun running the game.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

PDF for 20 Zombies Now Available

© Charlie Adlard
 Outstanding artist of The Walking Dead comic book
Sorry for the delay, but I wanted to include an illustration of my own for the first page of the pdf. I think the illo ended up looking like a Charlie Adlard drawing stumbled into a B/X illustration (with apologies to EO and the wonderful Mr Willingham), in a funny sort of way. I had hoped to complete it sooner but band practice for all of our St Pat's gigs and other stuff just seemed to get in the way (including the Dice Drop table which I needed for a 1E start up session).

So, there it is, enjoy and fill those halls with loads of zombies you evil necromancers.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Dice Drop table for AD&D Quick Start PCs

Dice Drop for Quickstart Weapons and Such
Here's a Dice Drop table for you to use to get CharGen accomplished quickly and get those adventurers down into the dungeon where they belong. You simply need a d6 & a d10, dropped into the center of the table. The sum of the 2 numbers (tricksy multiplication maths) produces starting gold (assuming they've spent most of it on weapons and what not) otherwise, the numbers on the dice mean nothing. The location of the d10 is cross referenced to the left banner for starting kit for all characters.

Armor and weapons are also determined by dice location on the table. Fighters get their pick from where the d6 & the d10 land. Other character classes are just a bit more complicated. All of the details are on page 2 of the PDF.

PDF download from MediaFire HERE

We used this today in our startup for an AD&D campaign at our FLGS and characters were up and going quite quickly. Of course, I had already tried this many times in "dry runs" as it were, but it was rewarding to use it in an actual session. You can probably adapt this for other fantasy RPGs and if so, just LMK how you did so.

The actual pdf will probably exceed the margins on most household or office printers so make sure you "shrink to printable area" when you print. You should get best results on a laser printer as they are typically capable of printing with much smaller margin space than an inkjet printer.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Let There Be Zombies; 20 Delectable Zombies for Your Campaign

PDF Download from MediaFire HERE.

I loves me some zombies and I’m quite sure that a lot of other DMs share my fondness for the Restless Dead. So to that end and in spite of the fact that the bog standard B/X or AD&D Zombie is already made of complete and utter win, sometimes you may enjoy throwing your players a curve ball. Maybe the old ruined keep was once home to a perverse cult of necromancers and the zombies therein are substantially different than the run-of-the-mill variety. Perhaps the zombies found dwelling in the Forbidden Crypts of Omeror, Petty God of Gratuitous Bloodshed and Violence are of a particularly vile strain. Or maybe a glowing green comet just struck that small village lying in the path of the hapless heroes.

1. Rabid Zombies: The zombies in this dungeon are not undead (can’t be turned) so much as they are “stricken by some bizarre disease” that fills them with a hatred for the living and a desire to spread their disease through blood, which they freely belch and spew. All combatants within 5’ of these fellows need to save each round vs poison or contract the disease. Failure means conversion to a Rabid Zombie within 2d6 rounds (DM takes control). The disease requires both a Cure Disease and Remove Curse to cure those afflicted. Rabid Zombies fight in a berserk fashion and add +2 to attacks. Consider 2HD***** for awarding experience.

2. Bloated Zombies: These poor wretches are filled with all sorts of unpleasantness and explode in spectacular fashion when a killing blow is landed. All living creatures within 30’ of the exploding zombie are covered by vile substances and fluids requiring a save vs poison. Failing this save results in violent sickness, throwing up, etc. Those sickened fight at -2. Missile fire, undead turning and spell casting are impossible during this period of illness, which lasts for a full turn. The Bloated Dead are hefty fellows and have HD 3+2. The DM should count them as 3HD** for awarding experience.

Liam (age 7) renders a particularly gruesome Minecraft Zombie
3. Rotting Dead: Sharing the same shuffling, brain-dead characteristics of the standard zombie, your PCs in their initial encounter with the Rotting Dead will surely be reminded of a certain zombie subtype created by a well-known vampire many, many years ago. These zombies are quite sturdy in spite of their withered and rotting appearance and have 4HD. Any blow of 5 or more HPs removes an arm/claw, which continues to fight on its own (doing a d6 of damage on a successful hit). A Rotter that loses both arms, still fights on by biting viciously. Claws are Scrubs (any blow of more than 2 points rolled on a damage dice destroys them, otherwise place a wound token, glass bead, etc. beside the mini, or make a note if you’re rolling without miniatures) but fight as 4HD monsters. Award experience as 4HD***.

4. Stirge Zombies: Possessing a ferocious thirst for mortal blood and attack with great ferocity these grizzly undead can make for a very dangerous encounter and are often confused with vampiric spawn. Any successful hit by 5 or more indicates that the zombie has become attached to its victim just like a Stirge. On subsequent rounds of combat, 1d3 of blood loss is inflicted and the undead will continue to pummel their victim at +4 to hit. Stirge Zombies may only be removed after their demise or by making a successful open doors roll, which causes a d3 damage of torn flesh. Consider 2HD*** for awarding experience.

5. Relentless Zombies: Whatever Hell-wrought energy that animates these zombies gives them a superior toughness. They are 3+3HD creatures and Regenerate 3 HPs per round. They can withstand tremendous abuse (bashing weapons do a mere 1 point of damage) and enjoy the effects of a Stoneskin spell when first attacked. Given their Hellish nature, these undead turn as Mummies. Consider 4HD** for awarding experience.

6. Brain-Hungry Zombies: The dreaded hordes of Omeror, Petty God of Gratuitous Bloodshed and Violence hunger for the flesh of the living, particularly brains and other squishy bits. These fiends are very dangerous to hirelings and the like as their predatory senses guide them to attack the weakest members of a party. Woe to anyone who falls unconscious during melee since d3 of the Brain-Hungry zombies will immediately begin to feed on the poor unfortunate (thus killing them). These undead are not all that different from the standard undead variety, though they are considerably slower with a Move 60/20. The key difference though is that a “headshot” is required to finish the Brain-Hungry Zombie. They will remain at 1 HP until someone succeeds in a headshot, thus dispatching them. Any Brain-Hungry that is successfully targeted by a headshot must save vs Paralysis or be slain, regardless of HP totals. Consider 2HD* for awarding experience.

Clare (age 4) gets into the action with this awesome Green Zombie
7. Brain-Dead Zombies: These beings aren’t really undead at all, but are rather dead bodies animated by evil, possessing spirits. Unlike other undead, they have no connection with the Negative Material plane and are in fact a construct similar to a flesh golem, only far weaker. To further confuse the issue, they are not overtly hostile and only shamble around out of curiosity. They will attack if the PCs become aggressive, but they are otherwise content to follow the PCs at range. Creepy no doubt, but otherwise harmless. Play these as normal zombies with the only change being their immunity to turning. Experience as 2HD*.

8. Voodoo Zombies: Victims of devilish Ju Ju these are living humans who only vaguely resemble zombies. Still, there is enough similarity that PCs will initially be confused. They are of course immune to Clerical turning, but fight as a 2HD Berserker in every fashion. Consider 2HD* for awarding experience.

9. Frenetic Zombies: Some unknown, yet Hellish energy animates these restless undead. They are very fast (Mv 150/50), add +1 initiative (even if group init is used), and have an AC of 6 due to their agility. Due to their speed, they get 2 attacks per round (d6), but are a bit less sturdy than the standard Zombie (1HD +4). Consider 1HD*** for awarding experience.

10. Rapidly-Decaying Zombies: These undead are in an advanced state of decay and are literally falling to pieces as they attack the PCs. The first hit from weapon or spell, causes a random limb or other bit to fall to the floor with a sickening splat. The zombie of course, ignores all damage from this first blow. Any successful turning attempt destroys these creatures as they literally fall apart in their attempt to flee. Consider 2HD* for awarding experience.

11. Legions of Hell Zombies: Hell spawn zombies have a particularly evil aspect about them and each encounter features an additional number of zombies which are Newbs (Any successful attack that rolls more than a 1 on the damage dice will slay Newb.)  even though they attack at full value, etc. Newbs are indistinguishable from the regular monsters of their type, and kindly DMs may or may not allow extra attacks for fighters if they are only engaging Newbs. Add 100% to the normal zombie encounter numbers, all of which are Newbs. Hell Zombies are menacing in the extreme and this in addition to their numbers will cause all henchmen and hirelings to check morale at a -2 penalty (-25% for OSRIC) or flee as per a Fear spell. Standard experience award.

12. Knights in Rotting Satin Zombies: These undead fellows are quite often confused with animated statues or similar. Once engaged in melee, it becomes quite obvious from the stench that they are indeed undead of some sort. These zombies are identical to the standard zombie, except they have AC 3 and move of 90/30. Consider 2HD** for awarding experience.

13. Flaming Zombies: My son Connor’s idea… These shambling fellows are the product of some fire-obsessed necromancer and their combustible animating fluids cause them to smolder in an alarming fashion as they shuffle toward the hapless PCs. Striking them with edged weapons of any sort will cause them to spark and begin to burn violently for d6 turns at which point the flammable necromantic fluids expire, leaving the zombie to continue its undead existence as a normal zombie (should it survive the efforts of the PCs that is). While burning, they do an extra d6 damage and will set things alight much as a Produce Flames spell (bad news for PCs toting lanterns or flasks of oil). Consider 2HD** for awarding experience.

14. Acid Zombies: Connor again… These deliciously-decaying zombies are quite obviously in an advanced state of decay and have an odd, stringent odor about them. They are in fact animated via some bizarre, Herbert Westian fluid that is itself a very potent acid. Each blow from a weapon of any sort will create a splash effect that potentially ruins both the weapon that struck them and the armor of the splashed victim (normal save for those items vs Acid, does not affect magical items). Those splashed by the viscous reanimating goo suffer d3 damage from incidental acid. Consider 2HD*** for awarding experience.

15. Gelatinous Zombies: Extended exposure to some unknown vile, briny substance has played havoc with the necromancy which animates these unfortunate souls. The resultant undead creature though bloated, vile and thoroughly revolting in both aspect and odor, is actually a rather weak example of its kind. Damage from Jelly Zombies is a mere d3 and their AC is one point worse than the standard Zombie. Such is the revolting nature of these creatures that PCs suffer a similar effect to that experienced when fighting Ghasts. Consider 2HD for awarding experience.

16. Zombie Giants: Typically only encountered alone, in pairs or triplets, these ghastly nightmares are often turned loose into the world by powerful necromancers to wreak vengeance on the living. Zombie Giants are usually of the Hill or Stone variety in life and share the same HD, Move, AC & Damage abilities that they possessed before being animated. Some unknown Hellish energy drives them to collect the corpses of their fallen foes, stuffing them into their garments, bags, etc. all to be used in later encounters. They employ these bodies as both missiles to be hurled at opponents who do not close with them (doing 3d6 damage out to 150’) and as makeshift melee weapons when battle is joined. The sickening damage caused by these “weapons” can cause a random disease (save once at the end of combat, and only once, vs poison if stricken by either missile or melee attack) and extreme nausea to anyone within 10’ of the Zombie Giant or anyone stricken by one of the disgusting missiles (a failed save equates violent, disabling  nausea). Victims are unable to take normal actions other than movement and may save vs poison at the start of each subsequent round at -2, success indicating that the victim has “emptied their tummy” and may fight on as normal). Note that the disease effect and the nausea effect can only be triggered once per combatant no matter how many times they are hit. Zombie Giants carrying d6+2 of their special weapons and will close to combat once there supply is down to a single corpse. Of course, they are more than happy to restock with the PCs’ limp bodies should the opportunity present itself. Experience should be awarded as per the HD of the original Giant w/ 4 special abilities (as an example, the B/X Hill Giant converted to a Giant Zombie would be worth 8HD**** for calculating XPs).

17. Zombie Hordes: Yet another favored troupe of the Necromancers of Omeror, Petty God of Gratuitous Bloodshed and Violence, these undead minions seek to wear the PCs down through weight of numbers, overpowering them and pulling them to the ground in order to more readily dine upon their innards. A true Zombie Horde is represented by an additional 400% zombies added to the encounter and the entire group of zombies are considered Scrubs (any blow of more than 2 points rolled on a damage dice destroys them, otherwise place a wound token, glass bead, etc. beside the mini, or make a note if you’re playing without miniatures). Zombie Hordes are pathetic combatants and attack in a swarming manner. Opponents engaged by 2 or more Horde Zombies take automatic damage (d2 if the PC is wearing chain mail or better, d4 if less than chain mail) though from the sheer weight of numbers. At the end of each round, if a target is engaged by 2 or more Horde Zombies, they must make a save adjusted by any Str bonus (Petrify/Paralysis seems the likely saving throw, individual DMs may decide some other means is appropriate). Failure means they are pulled to the ground where the Horde Zombies can really get at them, with damage rising to d6+2 and d10+2 according, once again, to the relative armor of the victim. Tackled victims may fight from a prone position OR attempt a saving throw (as above) to rise to their feet. Individual Horde Zombies attack for only d3 damage if unable to gang up on an individual. Horde Zombies are very difficult to Turn, being Turned by clerics and the like as if they were 5 HD undead and then only ½ the normal number will flee. You really do have to mow these guys down. Consider 2HD** for awarding experience.

18. Cyborg Zombies: Yet another example of a creature that ostensibly, looks like a zombie, but is actually something else entirely. These zombie-look-alikes are in fact a very advanced Animated Statue (Iron type see p 98 LL) with zombie skin stitched over the iron frame and then slathered in blood and gore. Of course, being statues, they’re immune to Turning and will certainly puzzle your PCs as their weapons become jammed into the armature of the creature. Particularly diabolical DMs, or those who have higher level PCs no longer concerned with common zombies, may decide that perhaps the underlying armature is in fact a Command Cyborg from Mutant Future (MF p. 68).  Experience should be awarded based on the actual creature used (either animated statue or the Commando Cyborg which will require some XP calculations on the DM’s part).

Connor's (age 10) wicked Flying Zombie
19. Flying Zombies: One final idea by Connor… Surely the result of some delirious necromancers fevered dreams, these wretches possess rudimentary wings, mere strips of necromantic skin stretched from wrist to ankle, allowing them to attack from above the hapless PCs. Due to their agile nature and speed, these undead gain a +1 to initiative and unlike the common zombie do not strike last in the round. Flight speed is 150’ (50’). Consider 2HD** for awarding experience.

20. Doom Zombies: The apex predator of all zombie kind, the Doom Zombie is occasionally mistaken for a ghoul due to the ferocity of their attack. They are however a zombie and in fact, a variant of the dread JuJu Zombie. Doom Zombies are superb combatants with M 120 (40) AC 5 HD 5+3 Attk 3 (d3, d3, d8, special) and possess all the characteristics of undead. Unlike standard zombies, they roll initiative normally and are immune to electrical, cold and magic missile attacks in addition to the standard undead spell immunities. Any opponent struck by both claw attacks will be savagely bitten for an additional 2d4+2 damage. Most frightening of all is the Doom Zombie’s delayed Regeneration ability. A Turn (10 minutes) after being dispatched, if the bodies are not completely burned, disintegrated, or the heads removed, they will bounce back up at 50% of their original HP total and ready for more carnage. Some Hellish magic imbues the Doom Zombie with the ability to track the living and they will pursue PCs with unerring accuracy (90%) often doing so after the initial encounter once they have reanimated. Such is the strength of the necromantic magic that created them, they are turned as a 6 HD Undead. Truly they are fearsome foes and wily necromancers will often include them within a pack of normal zombies to disguise their true nature. Other zombies will of course follow the Doom Zombies. A skilled cleric may discern them from the standard zombie by their more substantial bulk and the leathery nature of their hides. Consider 5HD***** for awarding experience.

Just a final note on Newbs and Scrubs, this is a trope that I developed and it is clearly derived from both Savage Worlds and 4E D&D. It certainly makes combats entertaining and may puzzle your PCs the first time you use it. Alert them to the fact that some of the creatures you are using have special qualities that are keyed to minimum weapon damage. Alternatively, if you’ve only a few players, you can simply watch the damage dice they roll. The number on the damage dice is key here so total damage is irrelevant. It simply comes down to “did you roll a 1 or a 2”. Newbs die in droves and Scrubs very nearly so.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Vermistadt and 20 More Questions Answered

So, I'm quite late to Jeff's original challenge, but since I'm fleshing out Vermistadt for an upcoming 1E AD&D campaign, I thought I'd go back and tackle those original questions. The setting is really meant for 0E D&D (though most of it was from a mini campaign I developed for Advanced Heroquest many, many years ago), but I see no reason that it can't host some 1E AD&D play.

What is the deal with my cleric's religion?
The Gods of the world of Moog and by extension the City State of Vermistadt, are a dark and dour lot, wholly unconcerned about the grim existence of their mortal supplicants. At best, they are distant, pitiless figures who like Howard’s Crom value courage, tenacity and persistence. Clerics are empowered with spells and use them to try and further the religion of their deity, but it is a difficult task particularly since the agents of the Dark Gods are aligned against them. Evil is ever present in the world and the Dark Gods happen to be far more active than their counterparts.

Where can we go to buy standard equipment?
There are markets in most neighborhoods within Vermistadt though certain rare items (plate mail and firearms for instance) may not be readily available and you’ll need to travel to a different neighborhood within the city.

Where can we go to get platemail custom fitted for this monster I just befriended?
That’s a tough one. There are master armor smiths in the city, but not many of them and they’ll be located in the more wealthy boroughs, where you may find travel a bit difficult. I’d recommend talking to the locals who trade in weapons and arms.

Who is the mightiest wizard in the land?
Most would answer The Green Lady, Queen of Spring, The Emerald Witch, Her Most Benevolent and Serene Majesty Caelfyrnael the Dread Queen of Vermistadt. Now, most would say that because they fear her spies and assassins, widely held to be hiding everywhere in the city. Those who dare speculate on such matters might suggest that, though the Dread Queen is indeed fearsome, that her sister the Summer Witch Maethnir is considerably more adept at the deep magics. The learned understand that the wizard Rambrecht Hofstetter whose tower lies in the Ten Markets neighborhood is virtually unsurpassed in the Arts, though his rival the wizard Faustus Niederlitz of Blighting (the Coliseum district) is equally admired for his abilities. Beyond the city gates, Dietmar Tolzen, the Archmage of Isendorf is reckoned to be a wizard of unsurpassed lore and arcane acumen.

Who is the greatest warrior in the land?
The current Champion of the Pits is Klaus Konigsman though many would argue that gladiatorial sport does not compare with the daring do of adventuring and mercenary work. The swordsman and famed adventurer Johannes Hirtzelteuber of the legendary Young Rascals mercenary group is widely esteemed for his skill with the blade. The dwarf Baragon the Bald carries a fierce reputation as being a slayer of both men and fell beasts. The master duelist Elendaine Swiftwing is also a terrible foe, known throughout the city for his skill with the rapier.

Who is the richest person in the land?
Again, we must discount the Dread Queen and her vast estate and holdings, but beyond Her Most Benevolent and Serene Majesty, this must surely be Lord Mandred Falkenheim. Lord Falkenheim is of course the patriarch of the great Falkenheim family, the first name in the gold and mineral trade so closely associated with Vermistadt.

Where can we go to get some magical healing?
There are six temples in Vermistadt and the priests there can often be found administering to the sick and needy, though a tribute of gold talons is typically a requirement. Most neighborhoods have a practicing alchemist or two that you should get to know.

Where can we go to get cures for the following conditions: poison, disease, curse, level drain, lycanthropy, polymorph, alignment change, death, undeath? The Sisterhood of Our Lady of Mercy that administers to the poor and others in the Temple of C’pu are known for being the most benevolent healers in the city. Supplicants are rarely turned away, though some may not willingly agree to their price, nor the tenets of the Faith of C’pu.

Is there a magic guild my MU belongs to or that I can join in order to get more spells?
There are a few in fact, and players may apply for consideration at such time as they can demonstrate the ability to cast second level spells. The Esoteric order of the Dragon is the most highly regarded and consequently the most selective. The Consorts of the Lady are firmly aligned with the Dread Queen and her court. Though they enjoy much largesse within the city due to their status, the Consorts are not entirely an independent organization and are often regarded as nothing other than talented thralls. The Ancient Order of the Laughing Mage is a pseudo religious order and secret society which adheres to the teachings of Vat Oldy M’m. A number of noteworthy magi are members of this guild, Faustus Niederlitz being the most well-known. The Silent Fellowship, another secret society with a presence throughout the Duchy seems to be actively working against the crown which is off-putting to say the least, at least within Vermistadt itself. Membership is widespread and it’s a common belief that both Rambrecht Hofstetter and Dietmar Tolzen are among the leadership.

Where can I find an alchemist, sage or other expert NPC? Vermistadt has fourteen distinct neighborhoods and most support an Alchemist. The Royal Academy and the Grand Library of Vermistadt are both excellent places to procure a Sage or do one’s own research if one is so inclined.

Where can I hire mercenaries? Mercenaries may be found throughout the city. Generally speaking, it’s best to hire criers and post notices while working the local taverns in order to attract the best candidates. Certain neighborhoods are best avoided due to the scoundrels and lowlife that reside there. On the other hand, if you’re actively seeking murderers, cutthroats, and other low-born villains well then Blackhill, the Dumfries and the Devil’s Breakfast Table might be where you should be focusing your recruiting efforts.

Is there any place on the map where swords are illegal, magic is outlawed or any other notable hassles from Johnny Law? The Law in the city is quite harsh and armed folk of low-born status, which is almost everyone really, are considered a threat to civil society. Insurrections can begin with the single thrust of a war sword and the Dread Queen does not allow folk to travel Her streets in armor, brandishing weapons of war. Certainly the Watch are exempt from this edict and are found throughout the city. There are a few exceptional neighborhoods, where a nobleman of long, distinguished lineage maintains the peace for Her Most Benevolent and Serene Majesty. In these districts, the noble is responsible for arming his men and the local militia.

This certainly creates an opportunity where thieves might expect to profit, should they be successful in evading the Watch or the Militia. To that end, no Gentleman, not even one who is of low-birth is forced to walk the streets unarmed. Daggers, rapiers and flintlock pistols are considered fashionable and along with cudgels and quarterstaffs give no offense, nor pose little threat to Her Majesty’s peace. Similarly, leather jerks, outer garments and the like maybe worn with no more than a buckler.

Wanton sorcery is considered an affront to civil society and imposes an extra level of Circumstance when employed in the commission of any crime. Of course, those who are in a proper Wizard’s Guild are not as concerned so long as one does not burn down an Inn or the like.

Which way to the nearest tavern? Out the door, and left down Leasing Street, then take the 2nd alley on the left. Stairs up at that point lead you to the Randy Ferret and it’s a proper tavern for the locals. Since you’re clearly not from Butchertown, you may wish to keep walking on Leasing ‘til you hit Tanner’s Way, bearing right there. Just a few short steps you’ll see Handsome Molley’s a fine inn for visitors such as yourself.

What monsters are terrorizing the countryside sufficiently that if I kill them I will become famous? The Black Wyrm of Cragnaowan is a plague upon the country folk living in the low hills northwest of Ründfell. The demise of that fell beast would certainly profit its slayer. The Beastlord of the Southern Gloamingwood is also a notorious villain, sending frequent war parties to harry villages throughout the Duchy.

Are there any wars brewing I could go fight? Not really. Things are quite peaceful here in the Duchy. The last war of significance was during your Grandfather’s time and took place in another region of the Olde Empire. It was quite a long and sordid affair concerning land disputes and the rights of succession of some Duke or Lordling. Mercenaries from Vermistadt were involved, but history suggests that the Dread Queen remained neutral.

How about gladiatorial arenas complete with hard-won glory and fabulous cash prizes? Absolutely. The Royal Coliseum in Blighting is one of the city’s noted landmarks and many adventurers and mercenaries have gotten their start in the pits. One can also find considerable sport in the prize fighting and wrestling of Grievinghall. Most of these events take place in the large taverns of the old fishing village, now the principle port of Vermistadt. Larger events are scheduled in the Royal Gymnasium also located in Grievinghall.

Are there any secret societies with sinister agendas I could join and/or fight?Indeed there are, but they are so numerous that it would be deserving of its own post. This is a massive city so intrigue and "sinister agendas" are sort of stock and trade. The Ancient Order of the Laughing Mage and The Silent Fellowship mentioned above certainly have agendas that players may find themselves aligned against though some groups may wish to align themselves. Within the neighborhoods, there is generally an organization or two that holds power and certainly presents a challenge or opportunity for the players. Some of these groups like the Young Rascals are rightly famous and known throughout the city. Other are more secretive like the Minions of the Beggar king.

What is there to eat around here?
Vermistadt is a river town that's grown into a thriving city so fish, eel and mussels are still found in abundance. A wide variety of goat cheeses are also popular among the populace. Salted shiners, pickled and wrapped in brown bread is a local favorite.

Any legendary lost treasures I could be looking for?
Beneath the very cobblestones of Vermistadt itself, the buried city of Hollowheim awaits the bold explorer. Abandoned by the dwarves in ages past, Hollowheim has 5 known entrances, 4 of which are fiercely guarded by certain organizations. There are rumors of other means of egress, but these secret entrances are either jealously guarded or lost and forgotten.

Where is the nearest dragon or other monster with Type H treasure?
One need look no further than Hollowheim beneath the city, rumored to be crawling with dragons and other fell beasts.

Monday, February 27, 2012

20 Questions for AD&D in Vermistadt

I thought I’d take the opportunity to join in the fun, so here’s my answers to 20 Questions regarding my Vermistadt setting for 1E AD&D

Ability scores generation method?
Method 4 produces the sorts of dudes I’m interested in. For those who can’t recall, it’s 12 different sets 3d6 stats in order. This gives you a very workable PC while maintaining the feeling that Rangers, Paladins and others are a premium class and very rare. This is a gritty campaign so the 4 basic character classes will be the norm.

How are death and dying handled?
By the RAW, at 0 you go unconscious and start to bleed out, expiring at -10.

What about raising the dead?
Sure, if you’ve got the funds and there is someone in the neighborhood willing to do so. Expect to pay a premium and probably “owesky” someone or some institution a major favor.

How are replacement PCs handled?
You come in at the average experience level of the party.

Initiative: individual, group, or something else?
By the RAW of AD&D so, group initiative and all the merry segmented madness that IS AD&D initiative. If you haven’t read the ADDICT document over on Dragonsfoot, you can if you wish. Otherwise, I’ll walk you through it as we go.

Are there critical hits and fumbles? How do they work?
Yeah, I think so. We’ll use the Pathfinder cards and just wing it. I like random stuff and since it’s been a while since we played full on Crit/Fumble, what they Hell.

Do I get any benefits for wearing a helmet?
You betcha, I’ll be using the LL rule otherwise which would mean your naked skull is AC 10 adjusted by magic and DEX and intelligent foes will be swinging at it.

Can I hurt my friends if I fire into melee or do something similarly silly?
Yeap, so says the RAW.

Will we need to run from some encounters, or will we be able to kill everything?
This is AD&D so yes, evading is part of the game.

Level-draining monsters: yes or no?
Yes. They add a tremendous amount of tension to the game.

Are there going to be cases where a failed save results in PC death?
Yes, again, this is AD&D.

How strictly are encumbrance & resources tracked?
Reasonably so; I think resource management is one of the features of the game.

What's required when my PC gains a level? Training? Do I get new spells automatically?
You may only level up when returning to the City and training expenses, taxes, living expenses, etc. will be assessed at that time. This will require some 250 gp per the new level you are attaining. Spells generally must be found, however, you do have a mentor in the campaign who will give you a random, yet suitable spell at each level until such time as you reach 5th level. You’re on your own at that point.
Can it happen in the middle of an adventure, or do I have to wait for down time?
Experience is awarded at the end of a session and if you’re in the City, well, certainly you can level up.

What do I get experience for?
Killing dudes/things and taking their stuff. Also, acquiring/using magic items and the much beloved Carousing rolls that may take place from time to time.

How are traps located? Description, dice rolling, or some combination?
Check by description, then the DM secretly rolls dice for you.

Are retainers encouraged and how does morale work?
To some extent yes and morale works exactly as per the RAW which is best interpreted via OSRIC imo.

How do I identify magic items?
With the spell Identify and its resultant cost. Bards might also be available and friendly wizard types.

Can I buy magic items? Oh, come on: how about just potions?
Generally no, though you may occasionally trade for them. Potions are available from an Alchemist, though these are primarily curatives.

Can I create magic items? When and how?
Sure, but we can worry about that once you hit Name Level.

What about splitting the party?
This happens from time-to-time and isn’t usually all that big of a deal.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Cultural Weapon Choices

A lot of my posts are directly related to the campaigns I run, primarily B/X D&D with bits from 1st ed AD&D. Of course, given the fact that my players range in age from young 20-somethings to 40-somethings, it’s just much easier to base our game on Labyrinth Lord since it is currently in print. This particular entry stems from my desire to add a bit more flavor to our campaign, some granularity without adding too much fuss and muss. Would it work for the average OSR campaign? Sure, if the DM wants to reward players who subscribe to cultural norms, this idea should do just that.

The idea here is that cultures (in my campaign, the various sub-races of humanity, demi humans, etc.) often gravitate toward weaponry and styles of combat that they perceive as being best, even when there may exist other choices that would otherwise be superior. There should certainly be some cultures that place great emphasis on the spear and shield maybe, or perhaps the short sword (gladius for example), or even the hand axe (the franciscan throwing axe). Now certainly, the DM could go a step further and make actual variants of each of these, but that certainly makes the game a bit more complicated and you’ll need to seed some of those into your game world loot tables. This technique makes the weapon immediately superior to other hand axes for instance and that’s fine, but what if we viewed it in different terms?

What if instead of, or even in addition to, a plausible tweak to the weapon itself, we offer a tweak that suggests that these cultural fighting styles actually have meaning? That is to say that Aesclepius who is a fighter having spent his entire young life in a culture that valued the spear and shield approach to battle, followed up by a short sword when the fighting gets incredibly close and personal. The idea here is to allow a form of weapon specialization to reflect that, gained at 2nd and 7th level and available to fighters (or in my Avelorn campaign, everyone in the fighter column). There is no double specialization so you would be forced to choose 2 different weapons (which need not be chosen from the cultural list). You receive a very simple +1 to hit (which is plenty really), but if you follow your cultural bias choosing a weapon from those listed, you receive a +3% XP bonus for choosing one cultural weapon and then a +2% XP bonus should you choose the 2nd one at 7th level. Here’s a collection of the cultural weapons in my Avelorn Campaign:

Star Elves (Elf Class)
long sword, short sword, long Bow

Moon Elves
Elven sword, long bow, spear

Sea Elves
Elven sword, Sea bow, Dragon spear

Human, Volkyr
Sea bow, Dragon spear, long sword

Human, Thugee
Thugee axe, battle axe, great sword

Human, Theban (Ardrois)
spear, short sword, long sword

battle axe, short sword, crossbow

Dwarf, Bhakshani
battle axe, great axe, hand axe

Dwarf, Guild
battle axe, spear, crossbow

sling, short bow, short sword

Of course this list could go on to great length given the needs of your campaign, and it’s not a major benefit, but certainly the choice of two of the cultural weapons would be the equivalent of an extra boost in your prime requisite. The weapon spec aspect of it could be as robust as the 1st ed version in UA if you like (that’s more than I want, but YMMV). This approach represents a small incremental improvement for fighters, but the effect will encourage your players to contribute to the sense of place that you’re trying to establish in your setting, and they get a nice little bonus for doing so. Add a small smattering of special weapons (like the Dragon spear and Thugee axe that I mention above) and you’re starting to get those little details that enhance a campaign without adding too much complexity.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Off the Reservation, Thoughts on the 5E Train Wreck

Although we don't currently see universal consensus on this, it seems likely that there are a handful of things from prior editions that we don't want to bring forward into a new iteration of D&D. Not everything about every version of the game was absolutely golden.

For example, it would be difficult to imagine that THAC0 would make a comeback. Armor Class values going down to represent them getting better. System shock rolls. Racial level limits. Gender-based ability score maximums. Lots of bonus types. And so on. But here's the thing: if I'm wrong about that, get involved in the open playtest when it starts and let us know. If you would like to see things like that be a part of the core rules set, or if you would use rules like that as optional modules, that's the kind of information we are looking for in order to make this a game you want to play.

Further, there's stuff that is kind of on the fence in this regard. What about a system that resembled the weapons versus armor table in 1st Edition? Could we make that work as a part of a simulationist rules module? Maybe. Racial class restrictions? Sure (but why?). Are these good ideas? Bad ideas?

Monte Cook

Bad Ideas.

Unless you care nothing about all of those players who’re going to be lapping up the 1E AD&D books, and that will be a substantial number unless I’m mistaken.

Anyone familiar with Monte Cook's work should have seen this coming. Let's face it, here's a guy that has never seen a rule that he couldn't improve, a game or system that he couldn't make even more complex. Maybe it stems from his early association with Rolemaster, but Ol' Monte likes it crunchy and has a casual disregard for the 25 year history of D&D before he deconstructed it. Now, don't get me wrong, the guy is a fine writer and prolific, but I've seen enough of his work to know what's coming. With 3.0 D&D,  Monte and the gang decided that having multiple saving throws was "inelegant" and so, we got saving throws paired down to 3. Now of course, given one more go at destroying D&D, saving throws are apparently gone altogether (as evidenced by playtest reports circulating in the blogosphere).

Not content to be boxed out by Monte and the gang, I made a valiant though brief attempt at participating in the screaming going on in the D&D Next forums over at WotC. I shouldn’t have wasted my time. It’s becoming increasingly obvious that D&D Next is nothing more than an attempt to hold onto the 4E crowd while figuring out some way to bring the Pathfinder players back into the fold. Almost nothing I’m reading makes me want to play this new abomination and certainly nothing about it seems an improvement over Pre 3E D&D, nor will it be a better game than Pathfinder.

The Ford Edsel Model of Design
I’m not surprised that WotC is going down this road again. Surely, in their eyes at least, the previous approach of “survey the fan base, then build a system that matches up with the results” seemed to have hit the mark. I’ve long maintained that 3E wasn’t just successful because of the profound changes it made to 2E, but largely due to the enormous amount of marketing WotC threw at it and what should be obvious to anyone, the OGL and SRD. I posit that equal sales numbers (possibly better) would have occurred had they simply did a slight tweak to the 1E rules accompanied this with the same marketing effort plus the OGL and SRD.

That obviously didn’t happen though and after a while, a percentage of players grew tired of Monte’s and Skip’s “grid-based combat game in the guise of an RPG” and moved onto other things, a good number even moved back to prior editions. In the due course of time, WotC decided that they needed another reboot and allowed the smart guys over at Paizo to polish their “grid-based combat game in the guise of an RPG” while they moved onto a “grid-based combat game in the guise of an RPG”  which, on some level, looks like it was meant to plant a meat cleaver into the Skull of Fantasy Flight Games’ Descent. This resulted in yet another fracturing of the market.

And now, they’re about to fracture the market once again.

I’ve argued for over a decade now that the 3E design team had one fatal flaw, a flaw that continues to this day. TSR did not fail because there was anything wrong with D&D. It failed as a going concern because of what was wrong with TSR. Once the IP was liberated the only thing that WotC really needed to do was put their own stamp on D&D.

We don’t really need another fantasy RPG, but that’s exactly what WotC is doing here. This will be Monte’s 2nd or 3rd Fantasy Heartbreaker to use B/X Blackrazor’s terminology and somehow it’s supposed to unite or unify the editions. How can you do so when you’re dead set on getting rid of a great many of the things that make those editions unique? The mounting evidence suggests that Uniting the Editions is nothing more than a marketing ploy.

For more on Monte's lunacy, check out Will's excellent post HERE.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Averlorn House Rules and Clarifications for B/X D&D UPDATED 1/17

Here are the current house rules that we're using in our B/X + AD&D (LL/AEC is our clone of choice) game. We've now move beyond the village of Hommlet and are exploring the area.

ABILITIES: Create 3 or 4 characters by rolling 4d6 drop the lowest. Choose the best set of stats and retire the other characters. Abilities for Prime Reqs may be adjusted as per p. 7 LL Choosing a Class. This approach that produces relatively heroic OD&D characters, yet makes Rangers, Paladins and others quite rare and "fun to shoot for" when rolling up a new dude. Characters with a total of “0” in ability bonuses may be considered hopeless and re-rolled.

HIT DIE: Basic Hit Dice as per AEC

HP AT FIRST LEVEL: Reroll 1s & 2s for a primary character at first level. After that reroll 1s at every level.

SECONDARY SKILLS: Pick 1 or roll 2. Alternatively, ignore this and your PC had a very average upbringing and began life as a wandering adventurer at an early age

SIMPLE ALIGNMENT: You can have Good or Neutral tendencies, but keeping it simple is cool.

RACE AS CLASS: Dwarf, Elf, or Halfling can use either option (essentially choosing a B/X character or a 1e AD&D character). NPCs, hirelings, etc. are almost always racial class for simplicity.

DEATH AT 0 FOR EVERYONE BUT...: PCs, NPCs, Boss Monsters, Big Scaries, etc. (let's call 'em Star Players) get a chance to hang in there via the Death & Dismemberment roll (we'll use my own chart from Moog with death usually occurring at -10, thus allowing your friends time to save you). Recovery times for nasty wounds may be greatly reduced by various healing spells. Cure Serious for instance will completely heal a broken limb.

NO SHIELDS FOR ARCANE CASTERS: Arcane spell casters need to travel light, hands at the ready to cast, etc. This brings some degree of balance to the Elf class.

VARIABLE COMBAT DAMAGE: As per the B/X Companion, p 24, basically, use the weapon you find to be most fluffy, damage is determined by class and weapon size.

WEAPON SPECIALIZATION: The Fighter Column gains weapon spec at 2nd level, then again at 7th level but may not double specialize. One of the weapons chosen MUST be a cultural weapon detailed in the Player's Guide (or ask your DM). Bonus for all weapon spec is +1/+0.

SET SPEAR & LANCE ABILITY: As per RC all members of the Fighting Column may do this though halflings may not use the lance attack.

FIGHTER COMBAT OPTIONS: As per RC, kicks in at relatively high level, 12th for most of the Fighting Column, 11th for Elf and Halfling class.

THE FIGHTING COLUMN MAY CLEAVE: Swinging again is fun and heroic in HtH, though only once per round and you must be in range. Mooks are 1hd or less, at 5th level, 1+ hd creatures get added to the list. At name level, you may cleave a number of time per round equal to 1+ your DEX bonus.

20 IS A CRIT FOR STAR PLAYERS: Max Damage. 1s always miss and always fail a saving throw.

DWARF, ELF & HALFLING CLASS: switch over to the RC level system (and benefits therein) once they achieve a level beyond their LL progression.

HIGHER LEVELS FOR DEMIHUMANS: May advance beyond LL AEC limits at a 50% penalty to bonus points, applied BEFORE any bonus from Prime Req.

RITUAL SPELLCASTING: From Beyond The Black Gate 2010 Compendium, available to both divine and arcane casters.

Like peanut butter and jelly, dwarves may use them and in the hands of a dwarf, it functions as a Bastard Sword.

TWO-WEAPON FIGHTING: +1 to hit and you will hit with whichever weapon you consider to be your main weapon (stating so at the beginning of combat)

TWO-HANDED WEAPON: +1 Damage, strikes last when using individual initiative.

LEVEL DRAINING: New save each day to remove a lost level.

IDENTIFY SPELL: All wizards have this one and after handling an item for a day, they discern all of its properties. The Elf class has some ability here as well needing a 5 or 6 on a d6 and may try on subsequent days if they fail to identify the item.

CHARGING: You need at least 10 feet of space, straight line required and a clear path to your target. You receive +2/+2 and lose your Dex bonus to AC, or a flat -2 whichever is higher. Both penalties and bonuses last until the start of your next action.

MOVING PAST READIED OPPONENTS: Isn't really supported in the rules. Doing so triggers an attack from enemies just as if you'd fully retreated from combat (including the bonus). You may avoid this by making a Dex roll on 4d6 (your Dex stat or less).

DECLARING ACTIONS: Only spellcasting need be announced and you do not have to name the spell until you cast it it. Losing the spell due to combat damage causes you to lose a spell of your choice.

MOVEMENT: Simple movement here. All PCs can move 30 feet in a combat round, double that if they charge or hustle (which is simply a move and do nothing else sort of action). Running has its own rules, but for our purposes in combat, you run at either 120' (leather or less), 90' (chain or less), or 60' (heavier than chain mail) depending on your armor.

ENCUMBRANCE: Simple rules here. Your Max load is 160 pounds and coinage weighs very little in our game. Carrying over 100 pounds of loot will reduce your combat speed to 20 feet and your run to 60'.