Thursday, December 29, 2016

A bit of housekeeping

Happy New Year!

I'm going to use the fact that time is arbitrarily (though conveniently) marked in the Gregorian calendar in such a way that this time appears special to noodle on about this blog for a bit.

I seem to have continued writing decently regularly, much to my surprise. I think part of the reason is the start of grad school; despite having significantly less time to think about these kinds of things, now I'm also on a schedule and exposed to new people. Gaming is a social activity, after all, so meeting new people could easily get the gaming juices flowing. Maybe it also has something to do with the Tuesday-Thursday schedule (that evolved from my class schedule), which is much more manageable than the absurdly over-ambitious daily or semi-daily thing I first tried for when I started this blog.

I'm hopeful that my regular posting will still continue into the new year. After all, I still have a lot of work to do on the Desolate North and for gaming in general. I want to come up with a framework for figuring out the resources for settlements of various sizes, including how the PCs interact with them. (I'm thinking changing the markets by spending money, their militaries, how easy it is to find what kinds of items, and a domain-level view of what kinds of resources they possess and exploit, all without needed to turn this in to Spreadsheets & Secretaries. Something a little like AER, but lighter weight and in some places less abstract.) I have a whole bunch of hex contents ideas I want to flesh out on this here blog. I'm still writing that megadungeon, and I want to post what I can about how it's shaping up without revealing enough to spoil surprises for the players. And at some point soon hopefully there will be some play reports coming in as I get a group together.

All that said, I re-iterate that this blog is not a commitment for me. Posting might drop off again with no notice whatsoever due to life changes or a lack of interest. Take all this as a good sign, but not a promise.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Bisociation as dungeon device

Let me share something with you.

I committed to building a megadungeon for the Desolate North a while ago. Quite a while ago. The first thing I started with was an idea of what kind of place I wanted and a tie-in to the campaign. I decided on an old dwarven fortress, abandoned for centuries. I promptly made a side-view map (pretty cool, too, and pretty detailed, if I may say so myself)...and then got swept up in real life. This was back before my recent spate of posting, mind.

When I came back to it, I had this great side-view map, and some of the entrance to level 1 mapped out. sat there. I knew I should work on it, but it sat there. Why?

I just wasn't enthused about the idea. First, there was the setting idea - Oh, great, another dwarven fortress dungeon, just like other classic dwarven fortress dungeons! how original and wonderfully evocative! - and then there was the fact that, even if I liked the setting idea, I didn't want to play with it for a whole megadungeon's worth of space and effort. It sat there.

Until, talking it over with my wife one day, I came upon the solution. See, I still like the idea of an old dwarven fortress. It fits in very nicely with the Desolate North, as the first clue that this is actually an area of ancient history instead of virgin territory. But I didn't want to stick with it for the whole dungeon. So what to do?

Bisociate. The dungeon is two different things at the same time in the same place. (Hat tip to Kenneth Hite. Suppressed Transmission is a big part of my gaming bildungsroman.)

So at the same time as the dungeon is indeed an ancestral homeland for a civlization of dwarves that was never supposed to be here and is only in the crackpot theories of some discredited sage, it is also so much more, weirdly layered over it and shining through it and competing with it. Which set of myths is true? What exactly is the dungeon? Is it inside out?

This has a bunch of benefits. Firstly, I feel less like I'm leading the players on by the nose if I shove in discoverable bits about the lore. After all, through the bisociation they can come to their own conclusions about the history of the dungeon and the Desolate North, and I can't even say that they're wrong.

Further, it allows me to throw in a bunch of stuff that's interesting and Weird and cultish and oh-so-appropriate to what gets my creative juices flowing without feeling tied to the dusty and tired theme of 'underground mountain fortress for short people' that's just, by itself, missing that je ne sais quoi.

What this isn't is an excuse for the dungeon to not make sense or go 'gonzo.' I could use it that way, but I don't want to. ASE is all well and good, but I don't want to play it. Besides, Mr Wetmore is better at it than me by miles, despite sharing a first name.

But it does feel freeing. I can draw rooms without worrying overly about whether or not they fit with the dwarven theme, or (especially on lower levels) even if it exactly made sense for someone to build them this way. I can include whole other themes if I want without breaking stride, so long as I can tie them all together into the larger bisociative picture.

Ultimately, though, it passes the best test of all: I'm actually drawing it. I have the first (of four) sections of level 1 nearly completed (on graph paper, not keyed) despite the fact that my only time to work on it is in snatches and starts. (Mostly in the morning while waiting for my professor to come to class.) And I'm excited about the place, about drawing it and keying it and putting it all together and letting PCs loose to wreck it. Ask my wife; I won't shut up about it.

That's nice for you, but what can I do with it?

That's a valid question. After all, you're here reading for ideas about your own gaming. Here's the thing: you can do it too.

Let's say you have an idea for a dungeon. For the sake of an example, we'll go with 'ancient Greek with animal men' in the tradition of Jacquays. That's a good theme, but if you want (or if you're struggling) you can bisociate (the italics are traditional). The dungeon has another theme. Not a complementary one, a completely new one that's sufficient unto itself. Going with our example, you can also have 'original touch-down spot and temple to the Elder Things'.

How does this work? That's up to you and how far you want to take it. Maybe different levels are on different 'planes' or places and interpenetrate. Maybe the dungeon changes from visit to visit (making restocking potentially very interesting, if a lot of work). Maybe if you're on drugs you see things differently - not more or less true, just differently. Maybe if you go right at the fork, you find one thing, but if you go left, you find another. Maybe there are different groups of monsters in your factions that only make sense in one of the idioms but not the other.

The possibilities are endless.

Try it out.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to one and all. May your holiday be filled with cheer and possibly even gaming.

I need to think up some kind of Christmas-ish holiday for the Desolate North. Perhaps a Wild Hunt...

Thursday, December 22, 2016


Whew! That last post was a doozy. Let's go with something easier. It needs to get done anyway.

As part of a previous post about real-life adventurers, I mentioned that they practically always go on caravans. How can we encourage that in gaming?

One thing about dungeon- and hex-crawling is that it's all about the management of resources.

Caravans are an abstraction of resources. Here's how it works.

You pay an up-front cost for your caravan in some place with a caravanserai. (It becomes the DM's responsibility to figure out where a caravanserai might be. I suggest any city unless it's completely isolated, and to a limited extent any town.) That up-front cost probably costs a bit more than it would if you just went through the equipment list putting together stuff for an expedition. (Note also that caravan costs assume you buy mounts at the starting point, but sell them again when the expedition's over. If you decide to keep them or lose them, pay full price.)

However, if you do buy a caravan, you're completely covered for all normal, common items as long as you're with the caravan for some period of time. Rope, food, water, lights, arrows, mapping supplies - they're all part of the caravan. Gifts for the natives, too. If you need something specific that's not an extremely common item, but you nevertheless might have (like a white horse or a five-man tent) you roll to see if you have it.

All this comes with a number of servants and animals appropriate to the size. If the animals can't graze where you're going, it halves your number of supplies.

Caravans travel slowly; assume the speed of a heavily laden walking man for a standard pace. Follow roads.

Also, caravans can generally resupply on some stocks (not gifts, but yes to food and water, other stuff at the DM's discretion) in any villages/settlements/tribal homelands they come across. Prices are at the DM's discretion as well, but stuff is cheap out in the bush. I recommend starting at around 1/10th the caravan price for resupply.

Caravans can also set up base camps. A base camp is a 'safe place' - not that it can't get attacked if the DM decides that's reasonable, but it's a lightly-fortified location with guards (mostly just caravan servants) and food and supplies. If you go into the dungeon, when you come out again you can rest and resupply at the base camp, as well as dumping off your excess loot. (You can't spend it, though.)

Guards cost extra. Paying for guards you get standard men-at-arms, with variations appropriate to the area.

That's enough talking. Let's give some examples

Small Caravan
Cost: 500gp
Unusual item roll: 5 or less (on 2d6)
Five pack animals and ten servants, plus riding animals for the party. Supplies for one month. Gifts for four introductions. Pay 100gp extra for guards.

Medium Caravan
Cost: 1000gp
Unusual item roll: 7 or less (on 2d6)
Ten pack animals and fifteen servants, plus riding animals for the party. Supplies for three months. Gifts for eight introductions. Pay 200gp extra for guards.

Large Caravan
Cost: 2000gp
Unusual item roll: 9 or less (on 2d6)
Twenty pack animals and  thirty servants, plus riding animals for the party. Supplies for six months. Gifts for sixteen introductions. Pay 400gp extra for guards.

Meeting the natives

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Necromancers are pansies


Requirements: WIS 12 or below
Prime Requisite: CON
Hit Dice: 1d4
Maximum Level: 9
Alignment: Chaotic

Necromancers are reviled the world over, with the exception of the Qynarate, where they fulfill the role of both priests and slaves, forced by the Undying Empress to channel their grotesque craft toward the unholy task of keeping the state running. For all but the highest, it's perhaps a worse existence than everywhere else, where you'll just be hunted down by the locals and lynched or by the Church and burnt.

Further, necromancers are limited by their focus on thanatologies. They haven't the breadth of magic-users, and the day-to-day existence of a necromancer is often unpleasant - grave robbing and corpses, rotting flesh, and malevolent, life-hating intelligences.

So why do people turn to necromancy? Simple: it's easy, and it's fast. Necromancers gain power amazingly quickly, and all you have to sacrifice is your humanity.

Necromancers are restricted in arms and armor as magic-users. They also gain and cast spells like magic-users, but are restricted to the necromancer spell list.

In addition to their spellbooks, at 2nd level necromancers must make a pact with some malevolent intelligence. Non-exhaustive examples include a powerful undead, a demon, or another necromancer. As part of this pact, a necromancer learns 1 new spell whenever he gains a new level, but must complete some task for his patron (and may be required to do so between levels as well, if he wishes to keep the patronage).

Further, a necromancer may cast bonus spells per day. In order to do so, a necromancer must sacrifice a living, sentient creature. A necromancer gains bonus spellss equal in level to the number of hit-dice of the sacrificed creature(s), distributed as he chooses. A necromancer may never have more than one bonus spell of any given level. Bonus spells are kept until cast. (Example: the necromancer catches and sacrifices a 5th-level fighter. He may now memorize an extra fifth-level spell, a fourth and a first level spell, a third and a second level spell, or so on.)

Reaching 9th level: Upon reaching 9th level, a necromancer may create a stronghold, often a tower. He will attract a number (1d6) of intelligent undead (wights, wraiths, ghouls, but never mummies or vampires) and 1-3 necromancer apprentices of 1st level.
(Further, it will be difficult to attract peasants for tax revenue. 1/4th is a good starting point.)


Experience Hit Dice (d4) Number of Spells (by level)
1 2 3 4 5
1 0 1 1
2 1,251 2 2
3 2,501 3 3 1
4 5,001 4 3 2
5 10,001 5 4 2 1
6 20,001 6 4 2 2
7 40,001 7 4 3 2 1
8 80,001 8 4 3 3 2
9 160,001 9 4 3 3 2 1


Non-exhaustive list

Level 1

Charm Undead
As MU spell, but only works on intelligent undead (ghouls, wights, etc.)

Detect Evil
As MU spell

Protection from Evil
As MU spell

Foul Grave
Duration: Permanent
By means of this spell the necromancer desecrates a grave-site. A body interred in such a grave is practically guaranteed to rise again as an appropriate form of undead, probably a wight or a wraith.

Corpse Essence
Duration: Permanent
Range: Touch
The caster draws forth the lingering vitality of a fresh corpse and infuses it into himself, gaining 1d4hp per HD of the dead creature. The corpse crumbles to dust in the process. It must be fresh, having died no more than a week ago.

Preserve Body
Duration: One Week
The necromancer temporarily halts the decay of a corpse, fending off all natural sources of rot and dissolution. Magical rot and trauma (such as from attacks) will still harm the body, but it will not suffer from bacteria, vermin, etc. This spell only halts decay; it does not reverse it. This spell may be cast on the animated dead.

Cloak of Death
Duration: 3 turns
Range: 30'
The subject of this spell is perceived by undead to be 'one of them' or otherwise not a threat or target. Intelligent undead get a saving throw to resist the effect. If the subject attacks or otherwise harms the undead, the spell ends.

Level 2

Raise Ghoul
Duration: Permanent
This spell allows the caster to raise a new ghoul from the dead. It requires a fresh body no more than a month dead (or well-preserved) to work with. The ghoul thus raised is the slave of the caster and must follow verbal commands, but he doesn't have to like it.

Aspect of Death
Duration: 1 turn
Range: Personal
The caster's visage becomes supernaturally gruesome and chilling, striking terror into all who behold him and fail a saving throw vs. spells

Animate Dead
As the Cleric spell of the same name, but the necromancer can raise twice his level in HD of skeletons and zombies.

Drain Level
Duration: Permanent
Range: Touch
After casting this spell, the necromancer must make a melee attack at +4 to hit. If he hits, the necromancer drains one level from the target.

Level 3

Ward Against Turning
Duration: 6 turns
Range: 60'
The necromancer whispers his will to the undead, letting them add half his level to their effective hit dice to avoid turning attempts. A necromancer may ward up to his own level in hit dice of undead with this spell.

Rip Out Spirit
Duration: Concenration
Range: 20'
This gruesome spell allows the caster to violently separate the spirit from the flesh of the target. If the subject fails a save vs. death, he loses 1 level (or hit die) per round until he dies or the caster ceases to draw forth his spirit. The caster must concentrate and do nothing else for the duration of the spell.

A spirit drawn forth in this way may be stored as per Soul Jar, though it does not get the ability to possess other vessels. Intelligent creatures only. Elves are immune.

Inflict Rot
Duration: Permanent
Range: 60'
If the subject fails his saving throw vs spells, he is imbued with a supernatural rotting disease. He loses 1d6 CON and CHA and is unable to heal naturally or magically from any inflicted wounds. A cure disease followed by remove curse can end the effects.

Raise Wight
Duration: Permanent
The caster raises a new wight from an available body. The body must be freshly slain (no more than 1 week old) or well-preserved. The wight thus raised is slave to the caster and must follow verbal commands.

Raise Wraith
Duration: Permanent
The caster raises a new wraith from an available body. The body must have been slain over a year ago and buried with grave goods of no less than 50gp worth. The wraith thus raised is slave to the caster and must follow verbal commands.

Summon Shade
By means of this spell the caster summons forth a shade from the dead. He may then ask it three questions before it returns to whence it came. The caster must have some strong link to the shade - a part of the body, a dear object, or being in a specially important location - and any given shade may only be summoned once. The shade will only know things that it would have known in life. In order to cast this spell, the caster must sacrifice at least 1hp worth of fresh blood (though it need not be his own).

Level 4

Eldritch Life
Duration: Permanent
This spell breathes life of a sort into the dead. To cast this spell, the necromancer must spend 2d4 weeks preparing the body for its 'resurrection'. When first chosen, the body must be fresh, slain no more than 1 week ago, or very well-preserved (think formaldehyde, not mummification). This spell only works on humans and demi-humans (elves included).

When raised, the new 'person' will have no memories of his former life, and must be taught everything - how to speak, how to read, how to eat, etc. (Neither will he have any class levels from his former life.) There is a 5% chance that the raised creature will be subtly insane, gradually becoming homocidal and monomaniac.

Revitalization in this fashion will give the new 'person' unnatural strength and vigor, imbuing him with 2 (d8) HD, max CON, and max STR. If not insane, the creature will be strongly attached to the caster, as though Charmed (but permanent, and unable to be dispelled), unless and until the caster tries to kill or seriously harm him.

Any given caster may only have one such raised companion at a time, for if he raises another inevitably they will go to great lengths to kill one another.

Raise Mummy
Duration: Permanent
The caster raises a new mummy from an available body. The body must be properly mummified, which takes at least a week and 500gp of materials unless you happen to have a mummified body sitting around. The mummy thus raised is slave to the caster and must follow verbal commands.

Raise Spectre
Duration: Permanent
The caster raises a new spectre from an available body. The body must have been slain over a year ago and buried with grave goods of no less than 200gp worth. The spectre thus raised is slave to the caster and must follow verbal commands
Skull Spirit
Duration: Permanent
The caster raises a new skull spirit from an available skull of an intelligent creature. The skull must be clean of all flesh and not seriously damaged. The skull spirit follows the verbal commands of the caster. (Stats for skull spirits can be found at the end.)

Level 5

Soul Leech
Duration: Special, see below
By means of this spell, the caster consumes a stored spirit. Consuming a spirit may give many benefits. Choose one:
  •  Remove curse as per the spell
  • Cure disease as per the spell
  • Gain 1 bonus spell of each level you are able to cast. You may not do this more than once per day
  • Cure critical wounds as per the spell (3d6+3)
  • Restoration as per the spell
  • See invisible, See ethereal and detect magic as per the spells
  • Set any one stat to max (18) for 1 day
This spell functions like the clerical spell Commune, except that the caster must kill and read the entrails of some creature as part of the spell. Further, use of unintelligent creatures only grants 1 question.

Death Spell
As per the MU spell

Duration: Permanent
This spell infuses the caster with necromantic energies that prolong life into undeath. It must be cast three times exactly a year and a day apart from one another. If the caster misses a subsequent casting, he dies and his body turns to dust with no chance of resurrection. Further, each casting requires reagants costing at least 5,000gp and a week's careful, uninterrupted preparation.

If successful, there is at first no outward change to the caster. However, when he dies either from old age or any other source, he will not die. Instead, he will continue on as a lich. (Exactly how to handle this is up to the DM.)

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Lessons from real adventurers

I've been reading books by real world adventurers lately. These are people who actually did what we pretend around our tables to do: these men went out into the deep and untamed wilderness, crawled around the hexes, and even in some cases descended into dungeons.

I'm really not in the mood for more introduction today. Too much other stuff to get done, and my creativity wears thin along with my sleep schedule. So I'll skip the coy insinuations about 'verisimilitude' and 'howling empty wilderness' and so forth and get straight to the potentially gameable lessons about what their expeditions have in common and how they work. (Note also that I don't have any interest in claims about whether or not these adventurers were representing themselves and there adventures accurately. That way lies politics.)


Adventurers travel in caravans. For one thing, there's safety in numbers, but for another, for
any serious length of time you need to bring a caravan to carry all the stuff you need. Food, (sometimes water), tents, gifts, weaponry, various utility supplies (rope, lights, etc.), clothes, gifts (see below), feed for the animals, etc. Caravans will slow you down, since you have to deal with drovers and animals and all the little inconviences that crop up, but without a caravan you're just heading out into the bush to starve to death.

One further advantage of a caravan is that it gives you a disguise. You can travel as a merchant instead of an adventurer (or foreign conqueror).

Finally, bringing a caravan allows you to set up a base camp (see below).

Lots of hirelings

This is part and parcel with the caravan. Caravans need lots of people. At the bare minimum, if you're just bringing a feed pony and a gear pony along with your own mounts, you'll need a drover, a varlet, and a guide. With an actual caravan you need drovers, packmasters, servants, and possibly guards.

A decent rule of thumb is that you need roughly twice the number of (non-combatant) followers as you have pack animals, and if you need guards you need at least half that many. This doesn't include guides, retainers, or camp followers.

Settlement to Settlement (or well-to-well)

Caravans generally move from settlement to settlement. Cities and towns are few and far between, but small villages (mobile or otherwise) are more common. For one thing, paths are more likely to lead you that way, so unless you're blazing trail it's going to happen naturally. For another, native settlements are places to rest, resupply, and learn about the country. You can hire on more people (or animals) if you lost some. You can recover from sickness. You can set up a base camp to see local sights or hunt the local animals (or monsters). You're unlikely to be able to replenish food at a village, though (depending on temperment) the villagers may very well feed you.

Native guides

Central Asians have the best hats
You will want to hire native guides to the territory. They know the paths and the dangers, at
least until over the next hill. They also know the local people, which can be an advantage or a disadvantage. A native guide will probably steer you safely where you want to go, but he might think you're crazy for wanting to go there. He might have ulterior motives for trying to convince you to go somewhere or leading you along a particular path, like wanting to bring you to his home village so his family can sell you horses (and fleece you). He might be from a tribe with bad relations with another tribe in the area, and so want to avoid particular paths or settlements. (You might even get bad relations with that other tribe by being seen with him).

Still, a native guide is all but indispensible. Otherwise you're just wandering around in the wilderness.

Specific purpose (usually provided by external agent)

It is exceedingly rare for adventurers to just wander off into the blue to see what they can see. Burton was looking for Harare. Livingstone was looking for the source of the Nile (and Stanley was looking for Livingstone). Cortes was looking for El Dorado, which was supposed to be a specific place. Burnaby was looking for Khiva. Marco Polo was looking for a trade route. Examples go on.

Often this is further enforced by some other external factor that makes that goal worth attaining outside the simple personal notch-on-the-belt experience for the adventurer.  To use the above examples, Burton was looking for Harare because he was speculating and spying for the English crown. (The area around Harare later became the English colony of Rhodesia.) Livingstone was looking for the source of the Nile because the Royal Society put him up to it.

Knowledge of places and things therefore becomes important. External agents will offer rewards (or, if you're reputable, fund you beforehand) for specific pieces of information, such as the location and defenses of cities, the sources of rivers or other important geographical features, cultural knowledge from remaining artifacts, decryption of local languages, etc. Each power that wants something will want something specific, though (depending on the nature of the place) they might be happy with something else. The King is going to want military information, but the College of Sages might be overjoyed to gain mummies and surveys of a burial mound when they originally sent you to learn a new language. Or they might not.

Hirelings (and natives) are not equals

Generally speaking, hirelings are going to be hard-working or lazy. In either case, they expect you to be in charge of the expedition and act like it. We're not running a democracy here; you're the guy in charge. The lazy and duplicitous ones especially take a firm hand. An example from Burnaby: his drover didn't want to load up the pack animals at the proper times, because he didn't like the pace Burnaby set. Further, he would pack up sloppily, and when the burdens fell apart use the excuse that Allah wills all things, so what can we do? to which Burnaby replied by kicking and beating him soundly. When the drover protested, Burnaby replied, 'Allah wills that you be lazy, and Allah wills that I beat you for it, so what can we do?' After that, he never had another (large) problem with the drover.

The same goes for natives, although less so. When you first come upon a native tribe or village, the members are going to either assume you are higher status than they, or they will test you to see, sometimes to the point of aggression. If you try to be overly accommodating, that may be a sign of weakness. Of course this varies from people to people; knowing how to behave is earned by experience and good counsel.

What people like can be surprising

This is best illustrated with an anecdote from Sir Richard Francis Burton.

Crossing the Fiumara we ascended a hill, and found upon the summit a large kraal alive with heads of kine. The inhabitants flocked out to stare at us and the women uttered cries of wonder. I advanced towards the prettiest, and fired my rifle by way of salute over her head. The people delighted, exclaimed, Mod! Mod! —“Honor to thee!”— and we replied with shouts of Kulliban —“May Heaven aid ye!”

Bring gifts, lots of gifts

You aren't going to get anywhere with natives or others without bringing things to give away as a sign of your magnanimity and good-will. Even among those who prize generosity to strangers, if you're constantly taking without giving back you'll quickly sour your welcome. These don't have to be expensive, but they do have to be valued. At the same time, if you show yourself to have too free a hand, you're setting yourself up to have a train of beggars and thieves. Recognize who's in charge and be generous to him and his people.

Sir Richard Francis Burton, the original inspiration for this post

Monday, December 12, 2016

Gaming without minis

I don't have a miniatures collection. This is probably one of my biggest hang-ups when it comes to running a game.

I like minis. I enjoy the tactical and tactile aspect of setting up the battle-mat. I like the sight of them on the table, and I like the focus they give to the game. You break out the miniatures and everyone pays attention.

Problem is, I just don't have the money or time to build a collection. (And, unlike Gary, I don't have kids with their own toys I can steal and kitbash. Besides, kids are going more with video games these days.)

I get around this with a bunch of kludges, but I don't really like any of them.

Often I just don't use the tactical map at all. Especially for older versions of D&D, it's often unnecessary. You can discuss tactical positioning and make rulings on the fly all without positioning little figures. It can get difficult with areas of effect, however, and it can be difficult to keep moment-to-moment cohesion of vision and communication, especially in larger skirmishes.

I have in the past experimented with using paper minis, mostly for the PCs. This can work well for the pure representation aspect, but it always feels cheap. There's just something tactile and pleasing about small three-dimensional figures, and especially so with the added weight of pewter. It's the difference between playing chess with a cherry-and-marble set vs. the Milton & Bradley plastic version. It just doesn't feel the same, and it doesn't draw me in.

Another thing I do is to use dice to represent the monsters. This actually works well, and I like it. Dice come in enough different shapes and colors that you hardly ever have trouble remembering what's what, and instead of having to mark the bases they are themselves the markers. Rather than 'that hobgoblin mini in front' you're tracking 'red six' or 'white eight', which is nice. Plus, it gives large groups of monsters a more cohesive effect than if they're all represented with minis, even similar ones. A tribe of orcs is a bunch of six-sided dice, and visually - even with different pips showing and different colors - there's a sameness about them that marks them as 'together' and 'different from the PCs' in a way I like. At the same time, if you want to mark off some monster or group thereof as 'same but different', e.g. these hobbos are carrying polearms instead of swords, that's really easy - use different colors or numbers, but the same shapes. Also, there's the effect of pulling out the d100 or d30 for something truly Big and Nasty, which I like better than pulling out some custom mini for the Balrog or whatever-it-is. Using a die adds to the mystery: the monster is more of a cipher in the players' minds, rather than a concrete representation, and that adds to the fear and tension.

There is one big problem with this, though: it doesn't work well with paper minis. With paper minis it just takes the 'cheap' feeling and emphasizes it. If you have a few boxes of painted pewter to represent PCs and important NPCs it's different, because you have those nice figures there on the table in contrast, but without it just attenuates the link even further.

I'm not going anywhere concrete with this. There is no solution, per se, except for me to buy and paint some, or pony up even more to get them pre-painted, which isn't going to happen. At least not anytime soon.

Broadly speaking, gaming without miniatures is certainly possible, and even in some cases (or partially) preferable. But having a collection of painted and ready-to-deploy is definitely a luxury that I'm missing, and I think it's part of why I'm a little reluctant to put myself out there as a person actually willing to run an actual game.

I should get over that and run anyway.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

My brain is melting

We're entering crunch time in the Halter household, what with the end of the semester coming up, along with the impending occupation of various (mostly in-law) relatives for the holidays. On top of that, my mind is beginning to wander: I was eaten by Factorio for a few days (an addiction that thankfully wears off quickly) and other such things.

On top of that, I'm starting to run into the question of how much to put here, on this blog. I have a bunch of cool ideas I want to flesh out, but how much setting-specific info do I want to publish? After all, while it's unlikely, a player might stumble upon this blog (once I have any).

I'm probably going to publish a lot of it anyway, since this space is primarily geared toward getting my head on straight and my ideas past that vague beginnings stage where, without sufficient impetus, I always keep them, because I'm bad at content production.

All that said, I have made some (slow) progress on my megadungeon. I have an entryway that's five different entrances disguised as one, and I'm about halfway done mapping the first section of Level 1. By the time you see this post, I hope to be a good bit further along. When I'm done I might post the map for criticism and to talk about some interesting things I've run into as a newbie mapper.

At the same time, whenever I start thinking about the Desolate North and what I need to do to get to play, my mind stubbornly refuses to stay on task. Instead I think of hex contents, weird history and hidden stories, other settlements, how to handle tribes, new rules for expeditions, what kind of monsters I want stocking my wilderness, and on and on and on. These will probably make it into this space, subject to the caveats above.

The more I dwell with it, the more I like the Desolate North. It started out as a kind of Great White North/Nanuk thing, purely because I like the cold. But that quickly becomes boring if you stick to it too hard. So over time it's morphed into a kind of Alaska meets Central Asia schtick, giving me more room for varied environments, other settlements, and possibly even (depending on interest) a fantasy version of the Great Game focused more on colonization instead of vassalization. Still, at least at first I want to avoid town adventures and political intrigue - at least until I and my players are comfortable with the decor and want to move the couch and paint the walls a bit.

A lot of the way my thinking has evolved is due to +Hill Cantons. I've already borrowed his concept of the Weird and given it my twist. I'm hopeful that Queen's Landing will slowly twist into something strange and beautiful layered over that Cold Botany Bay core I've set out. We'll see.

I'm hopeful that through the holiday season I'll be able to keep up my enthusiasm and my impromptu twice-a-week schedule. Wish me luck.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Review of Tower of the Stargazer

What's this? A post potentially useful to someone else? Yes, in fact! I know, I know; you come here to listen to useless prattling. But not today!

If it's any comfort, I'm getting to this either two or six years late, far after everyone else has bothered themselves about it.

So at least I'm late to the party, as usual. Around these parts we call that 'fashionable delay,' or, 'the reason nobody invites me to parties anymore.'

One note: I'm not clear on how covered this thing is under the OGL or any other license, so I won't be giving any quotations or the like. Better safe than sorry, even in this tiny corner of the backwoods Internet.

Why you might care about this review

Tower of the Stargazer is an introductory module for LotFP written explicitly not only for beginning characters but beginning DMs. I am a beginning DM - sort of. I 'ran' a long-running GURPS Fantasy 'campaign' for several years during high school, but I only had one 'player' and it was almost exclusively over the phone. I've run D&D a handful of times based on pre-made modules, but I can count the number of dungeons I've ever created on one hand, and the number of rooms each had on two. So if you want a beginning DM's perspective on something made for beginning DMs, you've come to the right place.

Overview and First Impressions

Just in case you've been hiding in the Underdark these past few years, Tower of the Stargazer takes place at a wizard's tower. According to Raggi's pre-script, it's his attempt to show people who want to run LotFP what kind of 'weird' Raggi has in mind for that game system. It's also, as mentioned above, written as a playable example of 'How to Write (and Run) a Dungeon'.

The central conceit is that the PCs are exploring a wizard's tower, with the twist that that wizard is still alive and trapped inside. It's pretty stripped down: there are no wandering monsters, and very few monsters at all. Instead it's a series of traps designed to only punish those who stick their noses where they don't belong.

The first thing I noticed when I picked this up is that the booklet is small. The pages are about half the size of a standard 8.5"x11" sheet, and there are 30 pages. No Temple of Elemental Evil here; it even beats out Keep on the Borderlands for brevity.

In addition, the inside is filled with grey boxes that contain advice on running, constructing, and interpreting both the module and further dungeons, meaning that the actual 'playable content' is about half as much as you would expect. That's not a bad thing, since the advice is more than half the point. It is, however, something to be aware of if you're thinking of picking this up.

Tower of the Stargazer is written for LotFP, which means it's compatible with other D&D retroclones with a minimum of fuss. Further, the only specifically LotFP-centric bit are the Armor values, which are easily converted, and the use of silver instead of gold as the basic currency.

The Good

A lot of the advice was helpful to me personally, either by sparking new ideas/reminders for my own creation, or calling out areas for personalization, or explaining the thought process behind including some particular piece of the adventure. There's one especially helpful aside about patterns in the dungeon 'architecture' - the purposes of rooms and whatnot. Others include advice on thinking outside the box (regarding what an 'encounter' or a 'trap' are) and a reminder to engage in cooperative creation by sticking unexplained red herrings into your work.

Beyond the advice, this is an imminently runnable adventure. I haven't played it, sadly, but it's definitely making its way into my game. It manages showcase the weird without necessarily imposing itself on your world, and is easy to place into practically any sort of game (so long as that game involves wizards and towers). It also pretty much immediately teaches players to be careful in the dungeon and not take things at face value, a useful lesson for beginners. Finally, it just looks and feels fun.

The adventure as written almost certainly will leave the PCs with a powerful, insane wizard out for their blood. The DM can control when this happens, and if this kind of long-term consequence isn't your bag, you can either ignore it or write it out. (Raggi's clear that the wizard will escape eventually, but this could be well after all the PCs are dead if you like. Or it could be tomorrow.) In any case, I like the idea of choices having consequences, and long-term enemies are definitely consequential.

The maps are all on the back two pages. They're well-drawn, and their placement makes them easy to use.

The Bad

As mentioned above, this module uses no random encounters, which puts the onus purely on the DM - rather than the dice - to provide a sense of urgency. In several places the DM is reminded to be tracking light sources and other resources, but this can be difficult to remember at the table or something which your players dislike.

Several of the traps are rather deadly. I'm of the opinion that characters who mess with them have it coming, considering just how much effort goes into setting off some of them. (Most of the 'traps' are more "messing with stuff in a wizard's tower," instead of, "specifically in place to discourage looters.") That said, you might disagree.

Finally, and here's the big one: as written it would be very easy in two places for the module to end in an effective TPK. One of these would be more than deserved; the other seems a bit like an oversight.

The maps again. Because the booklet is small and the maps are put all on the same two pages (the tower has 7 small levels), things can get a little dense, especially if you're looking for individual specific details. (This is a small problem, only barely worth mentioning.)

Also, the top two levels of the tower are bigger than the other above-ground levels. This isn't called out in any explicit way, and might lead a DM who's not paying as close attention as he might to mis-describe either the inside or outside of the tower.

The Ugly

There are a few places where Raggi gets overly moralistic in the advice boxes. This grates a little, not least because it sounds like he's taking himself too seriously. Really, chill out a bit. It's a game about killing things and taking their stuff. That doesn't mean we need a lecture about war crimes*.

LotFP is a silver-based system, so all the prices are given in terms of sp. It's an easy conversion to make for gold-based systems, but it drove home to me why I don't want to switch to a silver basis. 'sp' just looks uglier than 'gp' typographically. 'gp' maintains an almost-symmetry, whereas 'sp' just looks lopsided and asymmetric. It's not quite as bad capitalized: SP vs. GP. But still.

Finally, Raggi's most useful comment (to me) about dungeon design involves how the last three rooms screwed over the PCs and why. He points out (wisely) that good dungeon design involves patterns like this, though they're hard to find unless you know how to look, and hard to build.

...and that's where he leaves it. I want more information! How do I analyze modules to see this sort of thing in action elsewhere? How can I apply it to designs other than just for screwing the PCs over? Is there some framework I can use in my dungeon design to make sure these patterns remain both subtle and present, so the players can pick up on them and use them to guide decisions, but have to work at it? TELL ME! DON'T LEAVE ME HANGING, RAGGI!

I'm not going to advise you to pick this up or not. That's your decision based on the above. However, I will say that I enjoyed reading it, and I think I'll enjoy running it. It was definitely worth the $12 I spent to pick it up at the FLGS. If you've found the above convincing, you can also get it from the LotFP online store.

How's it with GURPS?

Pretty easy to run, I would think. There are practically no monsters involved, and most (all?) of the traps operate on the player-decision layer rather than the mechanical layer. (You do this, then this, then this, and then you're screwed - no save.) On the other hand, what monsters there are would need beefing up significantly to go up against your typical 250pt DF party, not least because they're one-on-many encounters. Of especial note is the trapped wizard himself: in order to keep the original feel of a 13th level wizard vs. a 1st level party, you'd need to bump him up to....lots of points.

The other thing you'd need to change would be the last room, which relies on impassible force barriers. A DF wizard with the right spells could trivialize these pretty easily. It's a simple fix (magic resistant materials or a mana-drained area) that would make sense in context (it's the treasure vault).

Over-all I give this a 4/5 on my Completely Objective Critera Scale (hereafter in this briefing referred to as COCS - why are you laughing? This is Serious Business!)

Thursday, December 1, 2016

House Rules 3: treasure, XP, play, and that sort of thing

You might actually want to read this one! But probably not, in all honesty. I'm not really breaking new ground here. I'm mostly just following people like Jeff Rients and Zak and those guys at Ten Foot Polemic and the Hill Cantons and probably a good few others to boot.


Studded leather doesn't exist. Leather is AC 7.

Torches are good for setting fire to things, blinding yourself with an open flame, and making lots of smoke. If people insist on using them in dungeons they light an area of 20' radius and you'll probably constantly be blinding your companions and dripping pitch everywhere and coughing on the smoke. Bring a lantern.

Plate armor is expensive, rare, and custom-made. The price listed in the book is the price for getting a found set re-fitted to you. It must roughly fit you already (no resizing dwarfplate to fit your human fighter), you have to find someone who works with the stuff, and wait about a month. Getting a new set for yourself costs about 300gp and takes 1d4 months to complete.

Weapons all do 1d6. Using a two-handed weapon allows you to roll twice and take the higher result. Using a weapon in your off hand gives you +1 to hit.

Using a silver holy symbol (or one otherwise upgraded) gives you a +1 to your Turn Undead roll.

We're using my simplified encumbrance rules.

Helmets come with all armor, unless you're a halfling. If you're unarmored and wear a helmet, it won't change your AC but might help you out in specific situations (like not causing you to take extra damage from a falling rock trap).

Treasure and XP

Coins are 50/lb. They're still big, but not absurd. This makes a copper piece roughly the size of a £2 piece, a silver piece slightly larger than a quarter, and a gold piece between a dime and a nickel. Assuming they're pure. They're usually not, which would make them somewhat bigger or smaller (but still weigh the same).

Treasure liberated from the dungeon or wilds is worth 1xp per gp shared equally with the party. Magical treasure does not give XP.

Further, some activities in town are also worth XP. Carousing is worth 1XP per gp spent up to the maximum. Other frivolous spending is worth 0.75XP per gp spent up to the maximum, and 0.5XP per gp spent afterward. All expenditures must be from treasure; reinvesting after staking a wildcatter who makes good on his claim might be a good idea, but it doesn't earn you XP.

Carousing: In order to carouse, roll d6x100gp. (This will be larger in well-connected places, and smaller in dinky backwater villages.) This is how much you spend. If you don't have enough, you can borrow from other PCs. If nobody's willing to spot you, you end up indebted to some local of the DM's choosing. Thieves may choose to take +1 to this roll.

Further, roll a Wisdom check. If you succeed, everything's fine - you managed to keep work and play separated and didn't wake up next to anyone you didn't intend to. If you fail, you roll on the Carousing Mishaps table stolen shamelessly from Jeff Rients. (I tried to improve it, but really: can you?)
Carousing Mishaps
1) Make a fool of yourself in public. Gain no XP. Roll Charisma check or gain reputation in this town as a drunken lout.
2) Involved in random brawl. Roll Strength check or start adventure d3 hit points short.
3) Minor misunderstanding with local authorities. Roll Charisma check. Success indicates a fine of 2d6 x 25gp. Failure or (inability to pay fine) indicates d6 days in the pokey.
4) Romantic entanglement. Roll Wisdom check to avoid nuptials. Otherwise 1-3 scorned lover, 4-6 angered parents.
5) Gambling losses. Roll the dice as if you caroused again to see how much you lose. (No additional XP for the second carousing roll.)
6) Gain local reputation as the life of a party. Unless a Charisma check is failed, all future carousing in this burg costs double due to barflies and other parasites.
7) Insult local person of rank. A successful Charisma check indicates the personage is amenable to some sort of apology and reparations.
8) You wake up in a barn with no memory of how you got there and no clothes. Your stuff is: Roll 1d6 1-3 buried in the cowbyre 4 carried off by thieves 5 impounded by the authorities 6 nowhere to be found
9) New tattoo. 1-3 it’s actually pretty cool 4 it’s lame 5 it could have been badass, but something is goofed up or misspelled 6 it says something insulting, crude or stupid in an unknown language.
10) Beaten and robbed. Lose all your personal effects and reduced to half hit points.
11) Gambling binge. Lose all your gold, gems, jewelry. Roll Wisdom check for each magic item in your possession. Failure indicates it’s gone.
12) Hangover from hell. First day of adventuring is at -2 to-hit and saves. Casters must roll Int check with each spell to avoid mishap.
13) Target of lewd advances turns out to be a witch. Save versus polymorph or you’re literally a swine.
14) One of us! One of us! You’re not sure how it happened, but you’ve been initiated into some sort of secret society or weird cult. Did you really make out with an emu of was that just the drugs? Roll Int check to remember the signs and passes.
15) Invest all your spare cash (50% chance all gems and jewelry, too) in some smooth-tongued merchant’s scheme. 1-4 it’s bogus 5 it’s bogus and Johnny Law thinks you’re in on it 6 actual money making opportunity returns d% profits in 3d4 months.
16) Wake up stark naked in a random local temple. 1-3 the clerics are majorly pissed off 4-6 they smile and thank you for stopping by.
17) Major misunderstanding with local authorities. Imprisoned until fines and bribes totaling d6 x 1,000gp paid. All weapons, armor, and magic items confiscated.
18) Despite your best efforts, you fall head over heels for your latest dalliance. 75% chance your beloved is already married.
19) When in a drunken stupor you asked your god(s) to get you out of some stupid mess. Turns out they heard you! Now as repayment for saving your sorry ass, you’re under the effects of a quest spell.
20) The roof! The roof! The roof is on fire! Accidentally start a conflagration. Roll d6 twice. 1-2 burn down your favorite inn 3-4 some other den of ill repute is reduced to ash 5-6 a big chunk of town goes up in smoke. 1-2 no one knows it was you 3-4 your fellow carousers know you did it 5 someone else knows, perhaps a blackmailer 6 everybody knows. 

Frivolous Spending: This includes all spending that doesn't specifically help you be an adventurer. Donating to the local temple, handing out money to beggars, commissioning a portrait, having your armor engraved, and purchasing real estate in town all count. Restocking supplies, upgrading your weapons, and spending gp on rumours do not.

Further, money spent in the 0.5XP range is reflected in the prosperity of the settlement. Drop enough into the local economy and you'll get people moving in, more market opportunities, etc.

XP from Monsters
Monsters are worth a flat 50XP per HD. Monsters of <1HD are worth 10XP.

Heroic Sendoff
When an adventurer dies and the party is unable (or unwilling!) to have them raised from the dead, a PC or retainer (see below) may opt to give the corpse a Heroic Sendoff. This requires at least 24 hours and something cool like a bigass funeral pyre, the raising of a burial mound, or a funeral ship floated down the river. The corpse must be armed and armored for combat, as appropriate to the class of the character. Each party member may donate up to 100gp times the level of the stiff as additional grave goods, the amount being spent is converted to bonus XP for the donor. Each party member may also donate one magic item to the grave. Scrolls, potions, and other one-shot items net a bonus of 250xp, while more permanent items get you 1,000xp or more. Magic items that would have been unusable by the deceased do not count.

Player Roles
Certain roles taken on by the players accrue a 5% bonus to XP for their characters. These include, but are not necessarily limited to:
  • Cartographer. The person who actually draws the party map. It is not necessary that this player's character be the party mapper.
  • Chronicler. The person who writes up session reports. These need not be terribly in-depth, but should give someone who missed a session a good idea of what important things happened
  • Snack-bringer. Self-explanatory
  • Other roles as I think of them or as they are invented around the table.

Once per session, the players will decide who was MVP for that session. This person gets a 5% bonus or 100XP, whichever is greater.

Exporation is also worth XP. Here are some guidelines. These are per individual involved, but will only be given out once. If it's your first time, but not the first time, too bad.
  • New hex discovered: 20
  • New hex explored: 50
  • New town, village, landmark, or site discovered: 100
  • First time a dungeon is entered: 100
  • Alternate dungeon entry found: 100

Other exploration awards may be added to this list or given in play at the DM's discretion.

Gameplay and Miscellaneous

Shields Shall be Splintered!
This old Trollsmyth beauty. For a magical shield, roll 1d6. If you roll at or under the plus value, it doesn't shatter. Otherwise it does.

Retainers, Henchmen, and Hirelings
Here's the difference, laid out plain.

Retainers are limited by your CHA score. They gain half a share in all XP, and the standard agreement is half a share in treasure plus expenses. Expenses include room and board, plus any equipment replacement or upgrades the retainer may require. (New armor or weapons, a mount, etc.) Retainers typically come with their own starting equipment. Retainers must be lower level than the PC hiring them. Yes, this means you can only start hiring a retainer at 2nd level. Further, retainers are the only sort of follower who has or gains class levels.

Henchmen are mercenary sorts who have hired on for pay to help explore a dungeon or local dangerous wilderness. For dungeon exploration, typical rates are 20gp per diem plus all expenses, though rates may be lower for less-dangerous jobs (e.g. guard the caravan while we go exploring). Henchmen typically come with their own arms and armor (usually along the lines of leather and club). If a henchman survives long enough, he may become a retainer.

Hirelings are non-combat day-laborers. Linkboys, porters, drovers, lackeys, and that sort. Hirelings do not count as skilled labor; if you want to hire a cartographer or a locksmith look elsewhere. Hirelings do not engage in combat or other dangerous pursuits if they can at all help it, and will revolt or abandon the expedition if forced into dangerous situations. A typical agreement for dungeon exploration includes 1gp per diem plus room and board.

Good Help is Hard to Find
Hirelings may be found in pretty much any centre of civilization from the smallest hamlet on up for short-term work. For long-term work, find a town or offer more. If actual numbers are needed, roll 1d10x20 for a village, 1d10x200 for a town, and so forth.

Henchmen are harder to find, but still potentially available even in wide spots in the road. For villages, roll 1d6. For a town, roll 1d6x10, and so forth.

Retainers are hard to find, since people with class levels are rare. They are effectively unavailable in villages, whereas you can find 1d2 in a town, 1d2x10 in a city, and so forth.

Extensive advertising (costing 25gp) will double the number of followers to be found, as will doubling the offered remuneration.

Sancho Panza to my Don Quixote
In Labyrinth Lord, retainers make a Loyalty Check at the end of every adventurer/foray and never return if they fail. However, the player whose character has retainers may decide upon one who will not do so. He still makes a Loyalty check, but if he fails, instead of outright leaving, he requires something more of the PC. This may be a pay raise, better equipment, some time off, or help with something (getting out of debt to the local crime boss, finding a cure for his sick mother, rescuing his brother from bandits, and so forth). If the PC acquiesces to the demands, the retainer will stay.

Planning for the future
A PC may bank wealth and up to one magic item for inheritance. If the PC dies, his heir inherits this money, -10% in straoge and security fees.

Bob is dead, long live Bob!
If a character dies, the player has several options for making a new character.
  1. Roll up another one. Starts at level 1 with 0 xp. Can enter play any time, even in a dungeon. The DM will work it in.
  2. Discover an heir. The heir will only be able to join once the party returns to civilization, but will be entitled to anything put away as an inheritance.
  3. Promote a retainer. A retainer of that PC may now be played as a PC with his current experience and equipment.
Dungeons is Dangerous!
At the end of every session the party must end up back in a safe place. This is not necessarily a town, though all towns count. It could be a base camp, or a caravan, or an idyllic spot in the woods, or even certain seldom-visited portions of the dungeon. If the party fails to make it to a safe spot before the end of the session, make a save vs death. If you succeed, you escape unharmed. Otherwise, roll 1d20 on the table below shamelessly stolen from Jeff Rients:

Triple Secret Random Dungeon Fate Chart of Very Probable Doom (d20)

1. You lucky dog! You manage to somehow escape the dark forces of the dungeon. You return to civilization, naked and half-delirious.
2. Waitaminute, Lefty’s not right handed! Situation appears to be #1, but you’ve been replaced by a shapeshifting badguy.
3. Maimed. You escape but suffer the effects of a random critical hit. Also, 50% of your stuff is gone, randomly determined.
4. Alas, you are no more. If any comrades escape they are able to bring your remains and your stuff back to civilization.
5. Pining for the fjords. If any comrades escape they are able to bring your remains back to civilization, but your stuff is lost.
6. Dead as a doornail. The general location of your body is known to any surviving comrades.
7. Your stuff has become part of a monster’s hoard and your body part of a monster’s supper.
8. That is an ex-character. The location of your body is unknown to all.
9. Bought the farm. Your body and possessions irretrievable due to dragon fire, ooze acid, disintegrator beam, etc.
10. Also dead. Your body is irretrievable due to dragon fire, ooze acid, disintegrator beam, etc. but your stuff is still around for some other jerk to nab at a later date.
11. Held for ransom by seedy humans. A member of the Thieves Guild can arrange release for 1,000gp per character level. 1 in 6 chance the money disappears.
12. Captured by monsters. Escaping comrades know the level you were captured on and the type of monster holding you captive.
13. Captured by monsters. Escaping comrades know the level you were captured on, but not the type of monster involved.
14. Captured by monsters. Escaping comrades know the type of monster involved, but not what level to search.
15. Captured by monsters. Unseen monsters spirit you away to an unknown location.
16. A fate worse than death. Drafted into the ranks of the monsters. Roll d6: 1-2 undead, 3 lycanthrope, 4 charmed, 5 polymorphed, 6 other.
17. You and your stuff are sacrificed to the loathsome Frog Gods in order to gate in d6 Croaking Demons that are added to the dungeon key.
18. A gorgon or somesuch has petrified you. Escaping characters know what level to search for your statue.
19. Lost in the dungeon. GM sets your location each session. Re-enter play if the party finds you.
20. Opportunity for betrayal. Pick one other character who got away safe. Roll 1d6, 1-4 he takes your place and has to roll on this chart while you escape, 5-6 you both suffer the fate rolled by your victim.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

House Rules 2: Spells

Mostly durations, really. I seriously suggest you skip this one; it's just going out here because it needs a home somewhere and I like to keep stuff all in the same place. But hey, have some Otus to lighten up the night.


Cleric Spells

Cure Critical Wounds and its reverse heal/deal 3d6+3 damage.

Detect Evil is reversible.

Dispel Evil is reversible (though good luck finding an application).

Earthquake has effects that are largely to the DM's discretion, with the described situations to be used as guidelines.

Insect Plague might very well work underground. It all depends on the local insect population. Also, 'insect' should not be taken in its technical meaning. Bug Swarm sounds stupid, though.

Know Alignment is reversible, and protects the subject from Know Alignment and similar means of alignment-scrying for the duration.

Lower Water functions like the MU spell of that name.

Part Water functions like the MU spell of that name, and is 5th level.

Protection from Evil and Protection from Evil 10' radius can be cast on an object.

Raise Dead requires a CON check to succeed (multiple tries are allowed, 1/day). Further, if successful, the raised individual's CON score is permanently reduced by 2. Casting Raise Dead (though not Ray of Death) requires reagants costing 1,000gp.

Resurrection requires reagants costing 10,000gp. Destruction does not.

Symbol is permanent until triggered.

MU/Elf Spells

Bigby's spells are all put on notice: you may have your levels reduced in a coming installment, because you truly suck. 8th level to hit someone for 1d6? Really?

Crushing Hand cannot be attacked by the opponent it's currently crushing, except with special biology or the like, at the DM's discretion.

Glass Like Steel is 5th level.

Grasping Hand cannot be attacked by creatures it successfully immobilizes, except with special biology or the like, at the DM's discretion.

Invisibility is reversible, though it does not always work on things that are natively invisible, e.g. an Invisible Stalker.

Irresistible Dance has a range of 30' and can affect all creatures in a 20' radius. Country dances need groups. Further, dancing is not always 'in place', but can take the affected creatures all around the spell area, depending on the dance.

Lightning will bounce, rather than just stop at a barrier it doesn't break through.

Maze has a duration measured in Turns and Hours, instead of Rounds and Turns.

Meteor Swarm uses a d8 instead of a d4.

Reincarnate uses a custom Super Secret Gonzo Reincarnation Table instead of the one in the book. Also, monsters (and talking badgers especially) totally can gain in levels.

Reverse Gravity is reversible, and requires anyone in the area of effect to make a save vs spells or fall prone and be unable to do anything that round. If the save is made, the creature may move at half speed and attack at -2 to hit.

Stone to Flesh can definitely be cast on objects that were not originally the subject of a Flesh to Stone spell. Boulder-sized meatballs are to be encouraged.

Symbol is permanent until triggered.

Teleport can send you low without instant death. 'Low' on the table works as 'high', but below the target. This might not mean in the ground! Smart wizards build raised teleportation platforms at home.

Time Stop lasts for 1d4 rounds.

Wish and Limited Wish can't simply be prepared and cast daily in a spellbook. If you know either spell, talk to the DM about uses.


What? You're still here?

Go kill some monsters and take their stuff already!

Thursday, November 24, 2016

So you ransack a wizard's laboratory and find a bunch of 'potions'... or: wizards don't use GHS

One of my other hobbies is rockets; specifically, the history and eccentricities of liquid-fueled rockets. (Don't worry, all you solid afficianados - I appreciate a tonne of PSPC just as much as the next guy.)

I don't remember how, exactly, but this got crossed the other day with thinking about D&D and potions.

D&D has potion mixing and potion tasting charts. Often they do nothing, or create a poison, or mix effects, or whatever. In any case, it seems like the common thing to do with strange bottles of weird liquids recovered from a wizard's study is to try them out. I imagine the conversation going like this:

DM: You've slain the basilisk standing guard out front, and you open the door to a crowded laboratory. Bottles, flasks, and retorts line the walls and teeter precariously on a large wooden table, covered with illegible notes and scratches. Everything is covered in dust.
Player: Cool! I look through and see if there's anything that looks valuable! Are there any potions?
DM: You grab a whole bunch of bottles and stuff them into your knapsack, but there are too many to fit all of them, so you have to leave the lion's share behind-
Player: Oh, we're definitely coming back here, with a caravan!
DM: Right, but for now you have to leave some behind.
Player: OK, OK. Are any of them potions?
DM: You don't know. None of them have readable labels. Some of them have no labels at all.
Player: Fine, how can we test them?
DM: Lots of ways. The same way you test anything, really. It's not like you're carrying a Potion Testing Kit in your backpack - are you?
Player: No. Huh. Okay...potions are meant to be drunk right? I drink one, and see what it does!
DM: Are you sure? It might have hostile effects, and you'll have used it up regardless of what it does.
Player: Okay, okay...I got it. I'll uncork it and try a little taste. That should work, right? I mean, even if it's poison, it'll only be a little bit.

The thing that struck me is that ransacking the wizard's laboratory is one of the few actual touchstones we have with real life. Arcane alchemy captures a sense of wonder and strangeness that doesn't have much place out here in Paper & Paychecks, but one thing we do have is strange arcane chymical laboratories with truly strange and wonderful things on the shelves outside normal human experience.

However, in real life, most of these things aren't exactly meant for human consumption. In real life, wizards have rocket fuel on their shelves.

The thing about these strange and wonderful chemicals is they require careful handling. Some of them are so reactive that uncorking the bottle might kill you, if you're careless about it. Almost all of them are so reactive that yes, a tiny sip is a very bad idea.

What's a thousand words worth when you can have some examples?

High Test Peroxide

Peroxide's normal, right? I have some under the bathroom sink right now! Sure, but that stuff's at 5% strength. At 40% the stuff starts getting interesting. At 70% it's a rocket monopropellant - meaning it's so reactive (in the presence of lots of catalysts) by itself that it'll violently explode.

Here's an example

I was unable to find an example of someone reacting HTP with meat, but you can extrapolate from what happens when you pour your household stuff onto an open cut what'll happen - except those bubbles will be strong enough to become an explosion.

HTP should be stored in an opaque bottle in a sealed place, else the light and heat will cause it to slowly degrade. Or quickly.

Why a wizard wants it: You mean your wizards need excuses to play with explosives? Fine. HTP can easily also be used to spark other reactions, and probably has a pivotal role in the distillation of Bloom of Giant's Eye (a solid, metallic substance that's one of the primary 'less dangerous' sources of small amounts of orichalcum, since it only involves harvesting the eyes of storm giants).

Fuming Nitric Acid

(Also all sorts of other nitric substances)

I don't really need to say much about this, do I? It's nitric acid; it's an acid. But concentrations powerful enough to be used as rocket fuels exist and should exist in a wizard's lab. (It's also useful for other stuff.)

Two 'common' variations are called White Fuming Nitric Acid (or WFNA) and Red Fuming Nitric Acid) or RFNA. These things are so nasty they're usually mixed with a 'inactivating agent' to keep them from eating away the bottle you want to store them in.

(Skip to 4:42 if you don't care about the rest.)

Why a wizard wants it: Fuming Nitric Acid is an essential tool for the distillation of just about anything. In the real world, nitric acid is an industrial chemical for a reason: it's too damn useful. Same thing in fantasy; fuming nitric acid is probably an essential reagant in many, many reactions that eventually lead to those Potions of Gnome Control that litter your campaign world. There's a reason not just anyone becomes an alchemist, and most wizards are crazy.


Hydrazine is an odorless, colorless chemical that to the eye and touch seems just like water. It's also pretty stable on its own, but when mixed with oxidizers (like the nitric acid shown above, or many of its byproducts) will violently explode.

In fact, the explosion is so violent that hydrazine is still used in rockets today. The Soyuz rocket that sends astronauts to the ISS runs on hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide (one of the byproducts of a nitric acid reaction in some cases). Careful jostling it around with other potions; if a flask breaks your backpack may explode!

However, we're interested in a taste test. Unfortunately for adventurers, its reactivity is outmatched by its toxicity. A mouthful or even a sip may very well kill you.

Case Study of Hydrazine Poisoning

In a 1965 correspondence from F. James Reid to the British Medical Journal, the effects of accidental hydrazine ingestion can be seen.
A young English sailor had been drinking beer during the afternoon before being placed on duty in the evening. He was considered to be fit for duty and competent until the accident. While working in his ship's engine room, the young sailor ingestion between a mouthful and a cupful of concentrated Hydrazine believing it was water.
  • Hydrazine, greatly diluted, was used on board the ship to prevent corrosion in the ship's boilers by seawater.
Immediately upon drinking the chemical, the sailor vomited and returned to the deck to report to his superior officer at 11:30pm. After having been given a raw egg and milk, he vomited once more and collapsed, unconscious onto the floor.
Upon admission in a West African Hospital at midnight he was flushed, afebrile, unconscious, continent, and vomiting. His pupils were dilated, central and reacted to light; however, there were no chemical burns on his lips or mouth and he was able to swallow. At this time the respiratory and central nervous systems were normal upon clinical examination.
In response to the accident, the stomach was washed out with warm water which was partially siphoned and vomited back. He was given intramuscular chloroquine sulphate due to the prevalence of malaria in the region; cyanocobalamin, because the chemical was believed to have a cyanide-like effect; and ascorbic acid all intravenously with dextrose, dextrose-saline, and Hartmann's solution. These chemicals were given in all three liters over a period of 16 hours. The patient then passed 600ml of alkaline urine via a catheter, with the condition of his bladder at that time remaining unknown.
Twelve hours after the ingestion of the hydrazine, his condition remained unchanged with the exception that vomiting had ceased and the pupils were smaller and divergent to the right. Two episodes of violence requiring restraint by four strong African nurses also occurred.
Sixteen hours after ingestion, the patient was more flaccid and once again violent; it was decided to send him to the U.K. by air. 33 hours after the accident, the patient was flown out; however, once reaching France, the pilot of the aircraft refused to accept responsibility of the patient as his respiration became irregular and shallow.
48 hours after the accident the patient was admitted to a Paris hospital. His condition upon arrival was described as comatose and convulsive. He was intubated under anesthesia and given mechanically assisted respiration for the next ten hours; he was also given 10% dextrose and vitamin B.
The patient improved hour by hour, though the main concern was for his neurological state. His psyche, memory, voluntary motor skills, and higher functions were normal. However, he had ataxia even with his eyes open, a lateral nystagmus to the right, and a loss of vibration sense. He was unable to write, though he could draw. There was paresthesia of all four limbs at the extremities and he was unable to reproduce one hand movement imposed upon the other. Severe hypoesthesia of the hand (especially the right hand), in distribution of the radial nerve ensued. E.E.G. results were within normal limits and tendon reflexes were normal. Fortunately, the ataxia was improving to the point that the sailor would able to travel unescorted by air to England, only two weeks after leaving Africa.
  • The final condition of the young man is not known.

With all that in mind, I recommend the use of a new table:

Sipping random bottles from a wizard's laboratory table: (roll 1d6)
  1. The stuff explodes in your mouth. Save vs. poison or die messily. If you pass, take 1d4 damage.
  2. Horrible poison. Save vs. poison or die.
  3. Nefarious poison. No immediate effect, but you will die in 1d4 days and start feeling ill in 12 hours. No save.
  4. Hyper-volatile! Uncorking the flask causes it to react with air. Save vs. wands or have your hand blown off, taking 1d4 damage, and everyone nearby save vs. paralysis or get splashed. Those splashed take 1d4 damage.
  5. No effect. It's inert, I guess.
  6. Huh, this might actually be meant for human consumption. Roll on another chart to determine what potion it is. (Don't forget to include lamp oil and 'normal' poisons.)

Don't swig random chemicals. Get an expert, or test them with objects other than your body.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Alternatives to Death: Cripples & Crutches

At 0 or fewer HP, you are effectively dead. You are completely irrelevant for a combat, except
as a tripping hazard. Exact effects can be established if they matter; you might be unconscious, screaming in pain holding your guts in, or whatever.

If you take any more damage, see rules for replacement PCs.

After combat, roll 1d6 and subtract your current negative hp. So if you are at exactly 0 HP, roll 1d6. If you are at -4 HP, roll 1d6-4. This is the number of turns it will take you to die without help.

If you are still alive, you can be bandaged or otherwise aided. This does not restore any HP, and you remain completely disabled, but you will not die so long as you do not take more damage and are given more comprehensive medical care soon. (For each day you remain this way, make a CON check, with penalties as decided by the DM.)

If you recover from this state, roll 1d20 on the table below:

Cripples & Crutches Wound Table

1: Lingering death. Sucks to be you. You will die in 3d4 weeks. But maybe it can be remedied if your friends go find The Hermit in the Swamp...
If you somehow recover, roll twice more, ignoring any result of a 1 or 2.

2: Permanently bedridden or otherwise disabled. If this is somehow remedied, roll twice more on this chart and ignore a 1 or 2.

3: Your close brush with death leaves you horribly scarred. Feel free to make up something truly gruesome at the DM's discretion. Permanent -2d4 CHA

4: Slightly less horrible scarring. Maybe it's all mental this time? -1d4 CHA

5: Permanent injury to a limb. Roll 1d4:
  1. Left Leg
  2. Right Leg
  3. Left Arm
  4. Right Arm
If a leg, you've picked up a limp. Reduce move by 1/4 base value. If an arm, you've developed restricted range of motion or palsy. -1 DEX, occasional other penalties at DM discretion.

If you roll a result that this character is already suffering from, instead treat it as #8 below.

6: Loss of (roll 1d4):
  1. 1d3 fingers. -1 to hit; -2d6 to all Thief skills that involve manual dexterity; other situational penalties at DM discretion. If you lose more than 5 fingers, treat as losing a hand (see below).
  2. 1d3 toes. Situational penalties to do with balance or sneaking at DM discretion. If you lose more than 5 toes, treat as losing a foot (see below).
  3. Left eye. -1 CHA, -2 to hit with missile weapons. On the plus side, you can get an eyepatch without being a poser.
  4. Right eye. As left eye, but the other side.
If you roll an eye you've already lost, you lose the other. If you lose both, you're blind! Learning to play the piano could make you famous.

7: Lose an extremity. Roll 1d4:
  1. Left foot. Half base move.
  2. Right foot. Half base move. Lose both and you can only crawl (effective 0' move).
  3. Left hand. Can only use 1-handed weapons or other 1-handed objects.
  4. Right hand. As left hand, above.
A simple prosthetic foot can halve the move penalty (to 3/4 move). Penalties (and modifiers) are cumulative.
A hook hand is an inadequate replacement for the real thing, but it does act as a dagger and gives you +1 to reaction rolls with pirates and other ne'er-do-wells. More exotic attachments can be obtained at the DM's discretion.

8: Lose a limb. Roll 1d4:
  1. Left leg. Cannot stand and you can only crawl (effective 0' move).
  2. Right leg. Same as above.
  3. Left arm. Cannot use two hands or a shield; furthermore, things like backpacks, armor, and the like require modifications that cost 10% extra or they will cause various annoyances. Further, if using JDIMS, you can carry one fewer Large Item.
  4. Right arm. Same as left arm.
If you lose both arms, you cannot hold or use any items except in your teeth; you cannot attack or cast spells. Prosthetics arms might look cool, but are non-functional except to make clothing and armor easier to wear. Prosthetic legs (peg legs) will restore half move, or 1/4 move for both.

9: A wound that just won't heal. -1d4 CON (refigure HP). Subtract 1 from save vs poison, disease, and other things that would be harder to resist with an open wound.

10: A wound that just won't heal. -2d4 CON (refigure HP) Subtract 2 from save vs poison, disease, and other things that would be harder to resist with an open wound. Further, before each session roll 1d6: on a 1, the wound is acting up: you're horrible pain that makes you (additional) -4 to everything if you can be bothered to get out of bed.

11: Horrible scarring. But it looks awesome! +1 CHA

12: Got off scot free, you lucky dog! No long term effects.