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 R├╝ndfell. 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.