Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Nulb set pieces: Cugel the Sage

Down the main way along the river a bit from the Boatmen's Tavern is an old ramshackle hovel hung with crude trinkets that glitter and jingle in the wind and rudely scrawled over in faded red paint with "Cugel the Wise". It's not much to look at, and neither is the proprietor.

Cugel is usually clean, but he smells and looks of poverty, his clothes mostly rags except for his hat, which is a nearly ridiculously large and floppy thing with a very gaudy hatband ornament that looks like a piece of cheap mother-of-pearl. His wares are almost without exception trash, though he swears up and down they're potent magical charms of all sorts - against illness and scrying and for love and against magics, etc. etc. If someone were to actually take the time to poke through all of it, and had an eye for such things, he just might (5 or less on 3d6) find something of actual value, though Cugel is unlikely to part with it without charging far more than its worth.

Cugel is a rat and a scoundrel who spends most of his time and money at the Boatmen's tavern cheating at cards and shilling his useless trinkets to the gullible. However, one thing he does have is information, and pretty much all the natives will vouch that, in this particular, he is both accurate and honest.

Given a day and $100, he will answer any question about the Temple and its surrounds. His answers won't always be complete, and very seldom they will be, "I don't know," but they will always be accurate.

Cugel's relevant skills, if they need to be rolled for some reason instead of just giving the information, include:

Area Knowledge (Temple of Elemental Evil) - 18
Hidden Lore (Temple of Elemental Evil) - 14
Hidden Lore (All other specialties) - 16
History (Temple of Elemental Evil) - 18

A note on price: I'm trying to set a price that's low enough Cugel might be approached, but high enough the PC's won't just dump cash on all their problems. It's open to adjustment, especially based on the local economy.

Monday, April 29, 2013

In which elves steal, dwarves are hairless and I'm sorely tempted to use horde pygmies: After play 4

I have some catching up to do due to my hiatus. Fortunately, today at work everyone left me alone so I could get my actual work done. And now I'm home at a reasonable hour. Yay!

Amalia - High Elf Cleric (Paraj)
Volbak - Dwarf Knight (Jim)
Lamaevhun - Wood Elf Scout (Tim)
Ilsildel - High Elf Wizard (Martin)
Chief - Wood Elf Barbarian (Catherine)

Calowas' player couldn't make it tonight. Since I don't have the luxury of having each session be a different trip into the dungeon, but I don't want hangers-on, the first thing that happened during the session was that an urchin-boy came running into the moathouse, exhausted and dirty, and handed Calowas a card. "Oh no!" Calowas moaned, "I"m late for the Thieves' Union meeting!" and he ran off into the wilderness, putatively back to Hommlet to attend at the local chapterhouse. (Obviously, they're an outpost from Nulb.)

Anyway, the party was nearly done with the top floor of the moathouse; there was some discussion as to whether it was worth finishing the place off, or if they should just try the door they found earlier that led downstairs. After not too much discussion, Volbak took the lead and opened the last door...onto a very moldy kitchen. It was obvious that this place hadn't been cared for for ages.

There was some interest in the mold from the usual suspect, but it turned out both to be not magical nor particularly hallucinogenic, so interest was quickly lost after Volbak took a salutary essay into the kitchen to look for something of value - old cutlery, pots, or something. No luck, but then, they didn't want to stick around to search. I can't say I blame them; the place reeked something awful.

That accomplished, they headed down the stairs, where it quickly became clear that the door had swollen shut due to long exposure to moisture. (The moathouse is in a swamp, after all.) With much banging (and a little hinge-oiling) they finally managed to slam the door open, whereupon Volbak stumbled through the arch...and some green goop fell on him.

Let me say here that I run green slime nasty. The AD&D Monster Manual states that in 1-4 melee rounds you're basically screwed, sorry, that's it. I ran this as 4d cor per turn until you die, and non-sealed armor protects for two turns as it seeps in. (I think in future, if there is future, I'll run it as 2d, but after 1d6 rounds the only way to make it stop is with a Cure Disease and Remove Curse.)

Volbak quickly went down while the party tried to figure out what to do. Isildel tried apporting it off, and got some, but it quickly grew to replace the lost mass. A quick Naturalist roll told them this stuff is vulnerable to fire, and they had ten gallons of lamp oil, but they were using Continual Light for a light source, and the wizard didn't have Ignite Fire...

Turns out, though, that he did have a lit rope. (It's his Signature Item; we discussed this beforehand and I okayed him having a 'comestible' Signature Item, simulating the fact that he always has some around.) So, with a splash of lamp oil (taking 1d6 seconds) and the application of an open flame (taking 2 seconds), the slime-covered dwarf went up like an effigy of Guy Fawkes, still making his various HT rolls to stay alive while the cleric, Amalia, poured holy energy into him as fast as she could.

After the slime was gone, the barbarian tackled him to the ground to put out the fire - and discovered the second dollop of green slime over the archway. Fortunately, the party was prepared, and Chief just lost her hauberk and gained a few scorchmarks.

That was enough of that. The party decided discretion was the better part of valor and carted off their severely wounded comrades back to Hommlet, where Canon Terjon (standing in for the absent Canoness Ydey) agreed to care for the wounded dwarf for a suitable donation to the Church.

The party spent the week in town. Unfortunately they didn't hear much they didn't already know, mostly because Hommlet is not the place to go if you want news. However, they did contact their debtors in Verbobonc, the local Wizard's Society, and they learned that they could erase their debts from underwriting the expedition by returning the book they had found. After their comrade was recovered, they returned to the Moathouse, determined to get at least something out of this debacle by claiming the Manual of the Sea. So, they rented a draft horse and a wagon, and they apported the huge chunk of valuable stone out of the Moathouse and onto the wagon. 

While they were dragging the book back, when they passed Burne's castle-in-progress, they were summoned to meet him by a page. Turns out, unsurprisingly, the local wizard is also interested in magical artifacts. While they couldn't come to an agreement (Burne was willing to offer a goodly amount of coin, but not quite enough to rid them of their debts), they did pawn off a few things they'd found in the Moathouse thus far, including a vial of pacified green slime.


From judging how things looked and sounded at the table, pretty much everyone had a good time.  I do badly need to work on my treasure document. At the moment I have it interspersed with the pages of the module, which works fairly well for linear treasure procurement, but doesn't work if someone has questions as to value or weight. I think instead I'm just going to have two folders - one with the module and monster/trap stats interleaved, and the other with treasure, for easy reference.

Also, I need to put together an Excel doc to keep track of treasure weight, so I can watch that appropriately. Best of all would be if each of the players had one, so they could track weight in real-time, but that might be asking for too much accounting at the table. I'm not sure how fun that would be for them.

Finally, I was glad that my post on portage for Dungeon Fantasy got some play. They needed to rent a horse and wagon. I knew how much that would cost, and I knew how much horse they would need, with a simple lookup.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Noodling around with DR in Dungeon Fantasy

There was a thread on the SJGames forums a while back by +Douglas Cole about rectifying melee weapons so that the damage doesn't scale up so quickly. It quickly spiraled out into one of those mega-discussions that frequently happen there in core topics, so unfortunately, I can't recommend reading it. However, his core points were, as I take it:
  • Gun damages are based on real studies of kinetic effect 
  • Our wonderful previously-mentioned author has done the same thing with bows, which dramatically changes their damage
  • Melee sw weapons are not thus rectified, which means they get way too much damage way too quickly
  • Rectifying melee weapon damage with real-world quantifiables is difficult or impossible due to lots and lots of factors
    • As a side point, it's far too easy to penetrate DR with a melee weapon.
It's with that side point I'm here concerned. Even Blunt Trauma with Edged Weapons doesn't fix this, though it goes some way, but a shortsword in the hands of a ST 10 man (arguably below the average for people who go around hitting people with swords) will penetrate a maul hauberk 33% of the time. If you bump that to ST 12 with a broadsword, he penetrates 83% of the time.

(If you're talking about a ST 20 barbarian with a maul, he laughs at your puny heavy plate layered with a double-mail hauberk. But maybe that's how it should be, at least for Dungeon Fantasy.)

Basic plate armor is fairly egregious if this sort of thing tickles your paideuometer. It's DR 7, which ST 14 will penetrate roughly half the time, depending on the weapon. Looking on B558, this lines up with 1/8" of mild steel. I'm no armorer by a long shot, but I don't think mild steel is used in plate mail. (If I'm wrong, I'm sure someone will be along to correct me shortly.) Plus, I have the most convincing of all possible arguments: sketchy anecdotal evidence from the biomed play-tester to Low-Tech who says that when the playtesters brought up that plate mail should actually have a much higher DR, they were told that it didn't for playability and legacy reasons.

The thread was inconclusive about a fix, and for good reason. The real fix would be to fiddle with ST-sw and weapon mods values until they lined up with real-world quantities on penetration and wounding with regard to various weapons. Unfortunately, that data doesn't exist and probably can't exist, and even if it did that's a huge amount of work, much more so than for firearms given the relatively orderly nature of firearm wounding compared to being hit with a baseball bat.

However, one of the easy quick-fixes put forward in the thread is doubling DR values and giving firearms a (2) DR divisor. This strikes me as simple enough to play and remember to maybe be worthwhile. It was pointed out that this just shifts the point where the system breaks upward, but I think I'm okay with that for Dungeon Fantasy; characters and monsters with high-ST should be pulling off scary, fantastic wounding shots. You should be afraid of that ogre even if you have plate mail.

What would the effects of this be, I wonder? The easiest way to visualize it for me is to separate the advantages from the disadvantages.



  • My sense of plausibility will be less tickled, as will that of several other players at my table.
  • Knights and barbarians get even more awesome - the first because they can become tin cans that much more easily, and the second because they're the only ones who can still crush those tin cans with brute force.
  • It forces the use of tactical options, like striking at limbs or other places that are less armored, chinks in armor, and picking weapons based on armor penetration vs. damage (e.g. bodkin arrows).
    • Specifically, the All-Out Attack (Strong) option might get used once in a while.
  • It helps with the survivability of the PCs. I'm not actually sure this is a plus, but I'll list it here anyway. It also helps with the survivability of the monsters.
  • It makes the invasion force from the Barrier Peaks that are coming down to take over all of Oerth even scarier



  • It marginalizes people in combat who aren't primarily combat oriented, or some of their options. That puny bard or thief just can't do much to the lucky goblin who has a mail hauberk.
    • Most of them have other options in combat, like the Wizard or Cleric can use magic
    • Specifically, it might be worth giving Missile Spells the (2) armor divisor, 'cause they're magical and fast.
  • It could lead to long combats without either side being able to accomplish much by strength-of-arms. This is a big potential failure, though I imagine it's more likely in a low-powered non-heroic game than Dungeon Fantasy.
  • It makes thrusting weapons even less attractive. Who wants to use a spear when an axe won't even get through? Where's the point?
    • Maybe targeting Chinks in Armor should be easier with thr/imp weapons? Maybe it should give a (4) armor divisor instead of (2), bringing it back down to the level already given in the Basic Set (and making it very attractive).
  •  It lowers the utility of Fortify enchantments. Oooh, +1 DR! Great! I already have 8!
    • I'm hesitant to also double the DR granted by Fortification, but maybe I shouldn't be. Or maybe it should grant other benefits somehow - being cheaper or more effective on lower-DR armor, or not taking the (2) divisor from various attacks that normally have it, like Missile Spells and that monster on level 3.
  • It raises the bar for fodder monsters. A bunch of puny goblins just aren't scary unless they're truly a bunch of puny goblins, because they just can't get through your armor. Unless you're the Wizard. Oops.
Does anyone see anything I'm missing? With the above list, I think I'm going to try it in my game, for a few sessions at least. I think my players are amenable - in fact, they first broached the idea.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Temple History and Hazards

One of the things I like about the backstory of the Temple of Elemental Evil is that it has been sacked before. This has several advantages, and a few quirks to it:
  • This explains why the Temple, despite being the seat of serious Evil, is fair game for a set of character ~ 4th level by removing organized resistance
  • This allows really cool faction play by removing a central power structure
  • This allows really strong foes to be present for the 'oops' factor, but gives a good explanation of why they don't just stomp on the PCs posthaste
  • It gives the Temple some cool history that can be discovered in the game, through PC events (rather than through narration)
  • It gives hints about archaeology in gaming for those interested - that is, Gary's group (and Chainmail before) was involved in the sacking of the temple.
That last one is purely a GM's pleasure, of course. However, the other four bullets can be appreciated by players, either passively or actively - that is, the GM can bring them out in play and they can be noticed and enjoyed. I'm particularly interested in doing so with the fourth bullet, because I think the module itself handles the first three pretty well.

This is a formerly-sacked temple. Furthermore, it hasn't had any serious upkeep since after its desolation, nigh around fifty years ago. It's an imposing and impressive artifice, but it should still probably be falling apart. This fact isn't well-represented in the materials, though it's certainly available to inference. So what should we do with it?

First, the Temple should be dirty. Old leaves, vines, encroaching roots, rats, and just general grime and dirt, as well as old bloodstains and in some under-travelled portions even old, old corpses either dehydrated or mostly collapsed and scattered. This isn't just atmospheric; this can attract vermin (like rats...hordes of rats) as well as obscure signs of traps or other important dungeon features. It's not all one-sided either; the occasional body may contain valuables, or a rubbish pile might have accumulated some interesting detritus over the years.

I don't want to go so far as to have players digging through trash to find valuables in the same way they might in a first-person-shooter, though. Video game memes should stay in the video games. Anything that is valuable will be pretty obvious to the most cursory inspection, I think, and just have been not encountered by the intelligent denizens.

The other part of making the Temple old involves architecture. Specifically, portions of it should be falling apart, or dangerously unsound. The easiest way to model this in the game is with descriptions and with 'traps' - that is, pits and deadfalls and broken flooring and whatnot. These should be fairly obvious, since they aren't set specifically to trap adventurers, but should nevertheless present an obstacle, especially to a party not able to take its time due to being chased by monsters or whatnot. Possible other nuisances include unintelligent denizens, like black puddings and cubes and the like, mostly cleared out but still attracted to the edges of humanoid activity and the detritus of old battles.