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.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Labyrinth Lord / Desolate North House Rules Part 1a: Thieves

As promised last time, I'm showing my re-work of LL's Thief class. This is all based heavily on the write-up already in Hill Cantons and inspired by Unfrozen Caveman Dice Chucker (I refuse to accept the new name).


Requirements: None
Prime Req: DEX
Hit Dice: d4
Maximum Level: None

Note that a Thief can be of any alignment. In addition to any bonus languages for intelligence, the thief also knows Thieves' Cant, an argot of Common used by ne'er-do-wells to discuss nefarious proceedings.

9th level hideout shenanigans are still possible as per LL.

At 11th level, a Thief's backstab does triple damage.

Thief Skills

Instead of advancing along a percentage table with level, thieves are awarded Bonus Skill Levels. These bonus skill levels can be assigned into any skill the thief chooses.

 Starting Thief Skills
Scale Sheer Surfaces:5, max 12
Pick Pockets:2, max 15
Find/Remove Traps:2, max 12
Pick Locks:3, max 12
Hear Noise:4, max 11
Move Silently:2, max 13
Hide in Shadows:2, max 13
Read Languages (at Level 4):0, max 13
Read Scrolls (at Level 9):5, max 12

In order to succeed at a skill, the Thief rolls a d10 trying to roll below the skill level.

Double 12: Every time you roll a 12, roll again. A double 12 is always a failure, regardless of skill level.

Thief Skill Definitions

Scale Sheer Surfaces: This is not just 'climbing walls', but scaling sheer surfaces, viz. things that a normal person would just say, "That's impossible." Examples include the sides of skyscrapers, windy overhangs with few to no handholds, etc. However, some surfaces might still be outside the thief's ability at the DM's discretion.
Pick Pockets: As per LL, except for each level the target is above the thief subtract 1 from the skill.
Find/Remove Traps: Also works with Secret Doors and other such. Note that the DM will still require a description of your activities, and decide success, failure, and difficulty based on this. This is not preternatural, and is in fact a thing all adventurers do; thieves are just better at it.
Pick Locks: As per LL.
Hear Noise: Not just any old noise, but preternatural hearing - noises you wouldn't otherwise be able to hear. Picking up whispered conversations through keyholes, hearing footsteps far away by putting your ear to the ground, that kind of thing.
Hide in Shadows: Anyone can hide, but it takes a thief to hide in shadows. Area must be shadowy and dim, and you cannot hide in shadows while being watched. (If the thief fails the check, it is assumed he is still being stealthy - though maybe not with success.)
Move Silently: Anyone can move quietly, but it takes a thief to move silently. Thief must not be wearing or carrying anything noisy (e.g. clinking bottles, non-magical armor heavier than leather), and there are certain environments that either give a penalty to the roll or may make it impossible (e.g. nightingaled floors, wading through water). If the thief fails the check, it is assumed he is still being stealthy - though maybe not with success.

Thief Level Advancement
Hit Dice (1d4)
Bonus Skill Levels
+1 hp
+2 hp
+3 hp
+4 hp
+5 hp
+6 hp
+7 hp
+8 hp
+9 hp
+10 hp


I'm thinking of completely removing Find/Remove Traps in favor of just giving Thieves a flat 3 in 6 to notice secrets and traps when looking, and a note saying they're likely to be better at removing them than other characters. That skill in particular bothers me for all the reasons it's bothered other people more experienced and eloquent than I.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Labyrinth Lord / Desolate North House Rules Part 1: Character Creation and Classes

Inspired by a lot of people, including +Jeff Rients, +Peter V. Dell'Orto, and +Chris Kutalik, and
others. I'll try to include links to relevant posts/articles/whatever when I can, but if I forget or can't find it, that shouldn't be taken to mean I'm claiming to be the original author of the idea.

3d6 In Order. Few Exceptions.
The only exception here is noted by LL, where it points out you can trade 2 points down for 1 point up, with restrictions. Those restrictions are still in place. Further, you can only do this if doing so would allow you to play a class you wouldn't otherwise qualify for, not just to get your Prime Requisite into XP bonus territory.

Bonus Languages:
High INT score gives bonus languages as noted. However, these languages do not have to be chosen at creation. Instead, whenever a new language is encountered, the player may choose to roll a D6; on a result of 1-3, the character happens to know that language as a Bonus Language.

Languages can also be learned in play through other means.


New classes: None yet. But I might add some (like Battle Nuns).

I'd love to make clerics start with no spells at level 1, but that sounds exactly like the kind of modification to make players not familiar with the OSR grumble.

Clerics must be either Lawful or Chaotic. Lawful Clerics are Clerics of the Church (more on religion in the Desolate North later) and must be male. Players are encouraged to create sects or brotherhoods or orders to which their clerics belong.

Some Clerical sects (even within the Church) may have different weapon limitations.

Clerics are the only class to automatically know an 'alignment language' - which is the language of their religious proceedings. (In the Church, it's a Latin-analogue.) Well-educated monsters may or may not know an appropriate alignment language.

Clerics may create scrolls as per Holmes: usually 100gp and 1 week per spell level.


Clarification: a dwarf hiring folks for the stronghold can hire dwarves for any job, though it may be hard to find a dwarven spellcaster. However, they cannot hire any other races as mercenaries or soldiers.


Elves have no souls. This means they are immune to spells that directly inflict death or act on the soul; e.g. Ray of Death, Disintegrate or Trap the Soul, but not Prismatic Sphere. However, they cannot be brought back from the dead, either.

Elves can cast spells while using weapons, shields, and armor.

Elves do not have spellbooks. Instead, they gain (and can cast per day) spells as on the below table:

Elf Spell Progression
Spell Level
Level 1 2 3 4
1 1 0 0 0
2 1 0 0 0
3 2 0 0 0
4 2 0 0 0
5 2 1 0 0
6 2 1 0 0
7 2 2 0 0
8 2 2 1 0
9 2 2 2 0
10 2 2 2 1

Spells gained are usually randomly determined, though there may be exceptions.

Elves may create scrolls as per Holmes: usually 100gp and 1 week per spell level.

Fighters with DEX 16 or higher may Parry, sacrificing 1 attack per round to give themselves -2 AC.

Fighters get +1 to their hit dice at 1st level, so a 1st level fighter is 1+1 HD.

Whenever a fighter kills a foe with a melee attack, he may immediately melee attack another foe in range. Each new attack is at a cumulative -1 to hit.

Fighters start gaining bonus attacks at 10th level instead of 15th.

At 4th level, any time a Fighter rolls a natural 20 to hit, it hits automatically and rolls max damage. Note that no other class gets critical hits.

At 8th level, a Fighter's damage dice explode. The max damage from a critical hit counts for this purpose.

Halflings may only carry 1 Large Item, and it counts as two. (See house rules for encumbrance here.)

Halflings are universally bald, and they have a parietal eye. Whenever their heads are uncovered, they receive a +1 to saving throws from threats from above at the DM's discretion. When forced to wear headgear they feel distinctly uncomfortable.

Magic Users:
A Magic User starts play with 2 1st-level and 1 2nd-level spell in his spell-book. All other spells must be gained in play. (Not a change, just a note.) One of those spells is Read Magic; the other two are randomly determined. (Not everyone gets Sleep and Web.)

Magic Users may create scrolls as per Holmes: usually 100gp and 1 week per spell level.

Thieves effectively get a complete re-write, based on the alternate thief skill rules from the Hill Cantons and then further modified by Timrod. More detail follows in another post; it's too big to throw here.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Starter dungeon for the Desolate North

While I have your attention, can I point out for a second that it feels weird to have a buffer of posts? I'm writing this about two weeks before you'll see it. Anyhow...

I've finally completed my first real attempt at a dungeon. A mega-dungeon it is not. It only has one level, and will not get a standard party of 5 level 1 adventurers up to level 2 even if they find all the treasure (OK, that's a bit of a lie given the special items.)

I'm posting it here because
  • It might be useful to people who want to run it, though I seriously doubt that
  • It might be interesting to people to see a newbie post his work, either for historical or analytical reasons
  • (Most important) I'd love feedback from people with more experience than I about how I can do this sort of thing better. It was a lot of work, though ultimately fun.
Given that this isn't a mega-dungeon, I eschewed all normal 'random' stocking rules in favor of going with the theme of the place and the world. It might be terribly unbalanced. I don't know.

Outside The Setup portion, which isn't in my notes at all (doesn't need to be), I'll be writing this up exactly like it is in my notes. The exercise is show and tell, for the reasons listed above, not 'clean this up for production'.

The Setup

Production has stopped at the salt mine that was the principal reason for the founding of Queen's Landing. The overseer cannot get the slaves back into the mine - they simply won't go. A few days back, a section of the mine floor collapsed into a subterranean cavern underneath, and several of the nearby prisoners swear they saw some hideous man-things come up out of the hole, grab two of the miners, and escape back down it in the confusion.

There are indeed two missing prisoners, though the overseer thinks they just used the confusion as an opportunity for escape. (A search has been mounted, but the general feeling is that if he shows up in town he'll be caught, and he's welcome to try surviving in the wilderness. Prisoners have escaped before; they usually die anyway.)

Regardless, the miners won't mine. They're spooked by the rumours, and if the prison staff tries to force things, they might fall into open revolt.

The Lord Steward Merriweather has put out a call for any adventurous wild-cat sorts who want to check out the collapse and see whether things are safe, and on the off chance that they aren't, make them so. He's offering 25gp worth of town scrip, because this is supposed to be just a cake walk. If it turns out there's something serious, well, you can keep what you find down there, and taking care of the problem will earn the town's gratitude.

(If nobody decides to take the job, production will start again in a few months after the staff get some reinforcements and clear out the place themselves. But the town will suffer and go down 1 market category or whatever system I decide to use, as production will be slowed for a year until staff gets back up to strength.)

Assuming the PCs take the job, they'll be escorted through the salt mine to the hole in the floor, and

The Saltmine Dungeon (or Ast Knarveth)

Click to embiggen. Grid didn't scan; little rooms are 1x2


(1)   MuDwarf Patriarch (as ogre)
AC 4 HD 4+1 HP 26 #A 1 D 1d10+2 M 30' Save F4 ML 10
Hideously mutated, unintelligible gibbering, very strong
always w/ 2 LTs
Uses dwarven ax silver-inlay w/ emerald pommel & maker's mark (picture in notes) 300gp

(2)    MuDwarf LTs (as hobbo) ML9 AC 6 1d6 (bone spears)
AC 6 HD 1+1 HP 6,8 #A 1 D 1d6 M 30' Save F1 ML 9
Always w/ Patriarch
Dwarf-sized chain badly misfit, old, rusty
Matching (1 each) ruby-silver earrings, 100gp each

(20)    MuDwarves (as orc) ML7 AC 8 (tough skin, rags) 1d6-1 (bone spears, clubs)
AC 8 HD 1 HP 4 #A 1 D 1d6-1 ML 40' Save F1 ML 7
Carry worthless trinkets & fetishes made of bone, stone, rags
3 (roll randomly) have small, dirty gems in their trinkets 1d6x50 each

(6) Skeleton warriors (room 4) ML 12, Save F1, AC 7 (bones, naked) D 1d6 (fists)
Remains from early deaths. Triggered by messing w/ remains.

Wandering Monsters
When players enter dungeon, roll 2 x 1d6

Patriarch Others
1-3) in room 9 w/ LTs and most others 1-2) all in room 9
4-6) in room 1 w/ LTs & 1d6 others worshipping/rutting 3-4) 2 on patrol in r 1d6
5-6) Dispersed
posted in:
r1) 2 on lookout near corridor
r3) 4 in r3 on lookout
r5) 1d8 rooting around

If wandering monster check succeeds, that means 1d6+1 MuDwarfs stumble into party as per normal rules. Subtract from total (20)

    Roll reactions. On low rolls, will probably try to alert others. Not stupid.


(Editors note: Room Descriptions)

Air very musty everywhere

1) Natural cavern. Mine collapsed ceiling. Salty rubble everywhere.

2) Old storeroom. Dusty, ancient cobwebs. Some barrels/boxes so far gone it's just a dried-out mess w/ hoops of rust.
    Recent footpath cleared across floor.

3) Kitchen. Complete disarray. Pans/post mostly rusted away. Food scattered & so old it stopped rotting long ago.
    Careful or you make a noise.
        If players spend 2 turns digging, find ancient jar of 'old man's feet' - fungus spice, ~ 200gp

4) Rudely carved crypt w/ dwarf remains tucked into niches and some bones scattered about.
    Bodies jointly contain tarnished/hard to find jewelry & talismans worth 150gp
                               show ancient dwarven lineages, sage would want

Messing w/ corpses causes 6 (dwarf) skeletons to rise
           (6) Skeletons: HD 1 HP 4 AC 7 #A 1 (1d6) Save F1 ML 12 Move 40'

5) Great Hall. Lots of furniture, mostly broken up. Rags, stains everywhere. Old fireplace on W wall.

On south wall, old china cabinet intact. Covered in dust/age, so hard to judge. But made of rare wood, still in good shape 550gp
    Lots broken, but 2 intact china plates: 100gp
(Margin note: Covered in shit. Mudwarves shit here.) (Editor's note: Never claimed to be a family-friendly blog.)

privy has nothing, just old shit

6) Entrance hall. Old rotting tapestries in mouldering piles. Piles of rust and rubble.
6a) (Editor's note: designation added after scan, this is the main room west of 6) Barbican. Bare, collapse west prevents exit. N is old gaol w/ ancient bloodstains (actually rust - manacles & bars are no more). 1 man at a time through entrance.
    Dust trail to 8.
  S is old guards' post. Bare.

7) Guest room. Powerful smell of ancient rot (doors never opened) Nothing of value

     S) Secret door @ end of hall only opens from this direction. Simple rotating wall (push to open)

8) Alcove holds a well (still good! but stagnant) Impressive stonework

Faint smell of moisture. Most of west room covered in dried mold (no effects)

Foot trail to 9

9) MuDwarf Lair. Wset portion collapsed in rubble. Monsters usually here.
Reeks of close bodies & alien musk. Rags & bones & confusion everywhere, clumped into old piles. Everything soiled.

One pile larger than the others: MuDwarf patriarch keeps treasure here, including Book of Records


6 gems
Star rose-quartz250gp
Fire opal (roll-cut1000gp
(in LT bundle) Jasper250gp
(in LT bundle) Lapis Lazuli50gp
(in LT bundle) Rock crystal250gp
Onyx75gp (Total 1875gp)
Book of records (see elsewhere
500ep (small sack)
Set of silver (2 forks, 4 spoons)200gp
3 mithril ingots750gp
Scroll (Sleep, Hold Portal, Arcane Lock)Total 4875gp
Treasure map to lvl 1 of megadungeon (P's old quarters, for 3000gp)

10) Halway to quarters. Pillar is loadbearing.
Each room: complete disarray. Low stone shelf held mattress. Everything torn/soiled/scavenged by MuDwarfs.
Search for 1 turn: 5% chance to find coins/trinkets worth 1d6x25gp. One search only

S door locked, diff 9

11) Shrine
    Fouler smell here than anywhere.

Gruesome stains everywhere, broken masonry
NE corner holds dais long since w/ statue smashed off

SW corner holds bloody altar on low steps.
Altar has remains (gore, arms, legs) of the 2 missing miners. Also holds Black Orb (see below)

Black Orb: Responsible for dwarves surviving & mutating. Seamless, slippery sphere that "glows" w/ blackness. Strangely attractive.

If PCs keep it, town starts to go weird, and it will whisper visions of megadungeon & other places.Wizard tower will show.

If PCs sell it (sage), will gain 1000 gp (haggle) & wipe out sage. Town (& sage) will go weird, wizard tower will show.

If PCs give it to Church, will gain much favor there & w/ town. (Marchand) Town will not go weird & nasty.

Book of Records: Written in High Qellem (ancient Dwarf) by Parakel (Patriarch) of founding of Ast Knarveth (this place). Describes old Mon Daerdul (megadungeon) & passable directions (in form of 'we traveled from').

Starts normal - years pass, place grows, births & deaths - but slowly becomes obsessed w/ "Godsphere".

Chronicles sealing in, & attempts to get out. Notes strange survival w/o food, and growing comfort. Abandonment of efforts. Descent into madness & barbarism.
Last entry crude & centuries ago.
Bound in old cracked leather. Vellum. Worth 3000gp to sage.


That's 4875gp in treasure, plus a Scroll and Treasure Map. If the party sells the book and orb, that's another 4000gp - for 875gp over the amount needed to go up to level 2 for a party of 4. (Though selling the book and orb won't directly grant XP in my game.)

I think that's accurate for my intent. I don't want the characters to level up off of this place; instead, I want to give them a small taste of dungeoneering and reveal the existence of the megadungeon (which will be a few days' travel away from the town), along with a sense of the Weird.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Battle Nuns: a LL or B/X class

Thanks to +Thomas Pluck (here) I give you:

Battle Nuns
Nuns of the Supernal Sisterhood of the Hunting Rifle.

Requirements: ST 9
Prime Requisite: WIS
Hit Dice: 1d6
Maximum Level: 12
Alignment: Lawful
Save: as Clerics
To hit: as Fighters

Battle Nun Level Progression
Experience Level Hit Dice (1d6)
0 1 1
1,501 2 2
3,001 3 3
6,001 4 4
12,001 5 5
24,001 6 6
48,001 7 7
96,001 8 8
180,000 9 9
260,001 10 +3 hp only *
300,001 11 +6 hp only *
440,001 12 +9 hp only *
*Hit point modifiers from constitution are ignored

The first Order of Battle Nuns was started five hundred years ago back when the Church was aiding the Kingdom of Nurian to fight off the Qynari heathens. After years of bitter fighting against their necro-melded  armies, the Qynarate held the upper hand. They were poised to sweep over Berthold's Pass and into the Nurian heartlands, whereas the Nurian-led coalition army was mostly put to flight in a previous battle, leaving only a small handful of defenders to hold the pass and keep the enemy at bay.

With the defenders was a 12-year-old peasant girl named Therese Olon. (Olon was a nearby village.) On the day of the battle she stood forth, and eyewitness accounts say she was filled with the Light of Salvation and, wielding a mace made for a much larger man, enabled the defenders to beat back their gruesome enemy, thereby saving Nuri from certain destruction.

After the battle, Therese went on with the army for another four years, culminating in yet another victory and the sacking of the Qynari city of Akarim Gel, thus putting an end to the threat. In the last battle she was fatally wounded, but she had gained a following of other women and girls to carry on her legacy.

That following became the first Order, the Sisters of Unfailing Humility. Therese was canonized and the Order recognized by ecclesiastical authority a mere ten years afterward.

All Battle Nuns are members of one of the militant female orders of the Church. Examples include the Little Sisters of Mercy and the Most Humble Daughters of Her Supreme Mitre.

Orders of Battle Nuns specialize by weapon type. A Nun of a particular Order may only use weapons of that Order's chosen type, which must be decided at character creation. (Players are encouraged to create Orders to which their Nuns belong.) A Battle Nun may use any sort of armor, but no shields.

A Battle Nun gets some recompense for her restriction in weapons. At level 3, her weapon counts as magical for the purposes of damaging enemies that can only be hurt by magical weapons.

At level 6, a Battle Nun rerolls any 1's she rolls for damage with her chosen weapon. If the new roll is also a 1, it stays.

Turning Undead: A Battle Nun may Turn Undead as a Cleric 2 levels lower.

Reaching 9th Level: On attaining 9th level, a Battle Nun may establish or build a convent. So long as the nun is currently in favor with the Church, she may buy or build a keep at half the normal price due to ecclesiastical intervention. Once a convent is established, the nun's (now abbess') reputation will spread and she will attract 1st and 2nd level followers of the Battle Nun class (numbering 5d6 x10). They are completely loyal (never checking morale).

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Switching sytems (again): LL/BX incoming

Last post was about a bunch of things that have gotten in my way to playing recently.

One of the things I didn't mention was Swords & Wizardry not lining up well with everything I wanted.

Don't get me wrong; it's a good system. You can start playing a game in 15 minutes if you have even the most casual experience with D&D, and all the parts are well-fitted.

But it's missing a few things. Specifically, the things that bothered me the most were a lack of morale rules, reaction rules, and a lack of explicit support and guidelines for domain or hex-crawl play.

Those are both easy enough to get around. Higher-level play guides abound across the OSR and are largely agnostic about the exact system. And I could just steal ML scores off of a different version.

Ultimately, however, it got to be one of those roadblocks I was talking about. I wanted to go through the monster selection and add in ML scores in-line, rather than having to look them up or just wholesale use stats from somewhere else. I wanted to splice in rules for henchers/retainers/whatever. I wanted to do a few other things, and it added up to a bunch of work.

Add in that LL/BX is (are) probably the most popular system in the blogosphere, meaning you have a bunch of (admittedly low-effort) conversions if you want to use most things out there, like new classes or spell ideas or whatever, and there's a fair bit to be gained by switching over.

There were some things that were keeping me back. Primary among them were the level-system expansion from 10 to 20 levels, split saves, to-hit matrices and race as class. I'm over these, now.

I like 10 levels. It's nice and clean and doesn't bog down higher-level play. I might even keep it; PCs don't gain much by getting higher level. Or I might cut it off at 15. Ultimately, though, it doesn't really matter; levels in the double digits rarely actually happen anyway. It's certainly the end-game, and I can treat it that way while still throwing you a sop for going out adventuring. Or you can retire.

Split saves are kind of a pain. They're a little silly, too, in that they don't necessarily match up well with categories that would be useful in play. That said, they're also a little attractive; there's something 'traditional' about the system. Plus, unlike with a unified save number, you won't forget you have a +2 against poison. At least, not usually.

Related to that is the fact that in LL/BX monster saves are written as 'F3' or 'C1' or whatever. This means I have to look it up on the table. That's not as big a deal as it felt at first, though; the tables are small and easy to read, and I can excise them instead of flipping through the book for them.

The big objection is Race As Class. This was a full-stop no for me for a good long while. Recently, however, I've been re-thinking things, and it doesn't seem that bad. The race/class system with multi-class elves and the like is a little clunky anyway. It's still a little weird, but I'm willing to give it a try and see how I like it.

To recap:
  • Switching over gives me a fairly large set of advantages with low cost. I can more easily use a broader range of material, and it obviates a good set of work I wanted to do to make S&W more to my liking
  • Plus, I have the B/X books, so I can compare and decide in any given case. (I also have the LBBs, but S&W is much more different from those than LL is from B/X, and they're hard to read.)
  • There are some obstacles that were previously keeping me from seriously considering LL, but I'm over them.
If you've made it this far, you've earned an Otus Tax.

Vegepygmy is best pygmy

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Things keeping me from playing and how to get around them

I've been giving this a fair bit of thought lately. I like gaming, a lot. Yet it has been a few years since I had a regular group, and that was a couple (great fun, but) sadly abortive attempts back in Wisconsin that only lasted a few sessions before I had to move.

That was years ago now, though. Why don't I still have a game? I have a few roadblocks:

  1. Grad school. This one's new, but it's a bear. I'm now devoting the lion's share of my time here.
  2. Other hobbies. Most of these are things like video games and other computer-based past-times.
  3. Creation is stressful. I get fired up about ideas for things in play, but actually putting pen to paper and drawing up maps, keys, encounters, and even just descriptions is emotionally draining, rather than restorative. This is especially a problem because of #1 meaning I need restorative time.
  4. Setting. I want my own homebrew setting with its own set of things that make it unique. This is one of the things I love about DMing. Unfortunately, coupled with #3, this can be a lot of work to pull off.
  5. Regardless of everything else, recent moves mean I don't have a group.

That's a fair list. There's probably other stuff involved too, but that's the most of it.

#5 is the most important. I need to start advertising that I'm interested in playing a regional game and put together connections for folks who might be interested in giving mine a try. This should be easy once I know some people in the area, especially because I like inducting completely new players. (They don't come with preconceptions about how D&D should play.)

For #1, there's not much I can do. Grad school is grad school, and it's more important than gaming. It also takes up a large amount of my time. However, maybe I can work around it.

Instead of shooting for weekly sessions, I could go for one every two weeks, maybe one a month. Generally I get uncomfortable with this level of play, because it saps engagement from the players (and me) and it takes forever to get anything done. One way to get around this (if I can find a group) would be to run my game parallel with another DM, either as a co-op (long ways away, that) or on an alternating schedule. That could work.

For #2, something's gotta give. If I want to run a game, I need to dedicate some time to it. Plus, I probably should spend more time with the wife anyway. I'll think over some way of restricting my (non-work) computer time. Probably a schedule with a once-or-twice-a-week acceptable computer day... or something.

#3 is tricky. I am under the impression that most members of the OSR don't share this problem, and that for you guys creation is a restoring outlet that you go to to recover from the stresses of the day.

I've never really created a lot of dungeons or encounters. While I was a 'GM' for a long period of time in middle- and high-school, it was for a one-player over-the-phone game. I'm fairly good at improvisation, so coupled with a few GURPS Fantasy Yrth modules (Orcslayer anyone?) and a focus on overland travel and social interaction I very rarely got out the graph (hex) paper.

Part of the problem is also that I tend to aim too high. I want a cohesive idea to my dungeon, and that comes with specialized random encounters that draw from the local population and detailed faction maps and careful room descriptions and asking myself if this map makes sense for an old stronghold and where the privies are and how the denizens eat and and and and and... which might be great if it didn't keep me from getting things done. Finished dungeons with holes and static encounters are better than a bunch of really cool half-finished ideas.

I'm hopeful that setting myself some basic goals and meeting them will help with this. I mean things like 'This week we're going to create a three-flour dungeon with ten rooms on each floor,' or, 'Make a four flour dungeon with fifty rooms on each floor; you have to complete at least two rooms a day.' For one, this will get it done regardless of stress, if I can bring myself to prioritize it. Secondly and more importantly, I suspect this is the sort of thing where practice makes it less stressful. You probably learn to go faster, feel easier, and not sweat the small stuff.

I think I'll set myself a goal: I have a megadungeon with a side drawing already worked out. I want to get at least the first level and part of the levels above and below drawn and stocked before I begin play, since this may very well be the tentpole dungeon of the setting. In an upcoming post I'll outline my goals for this in detail with deadlines, and give a brief overview of the concept.

#4 has been a major stumbling block so far. The Desolate North setting I've been (oh-so-slowly) developing in this here space is my choice for a homebrew. I'm not exactly satisfied with it, though, which has retarded work.

For one thing, hexcrawling through wilderness is fun, but so is over-arching political tension. Native settlements, other towns (with the possibility of re-basing the PCs if they so desire), skirmishes, wars, and the like are fun. I want the world to feel alive. Unfortunately as originally conceived, the Desolate North wasn't really set up to support that. It was based on an Arctic Circle feel, which just doesn't leave much scope for the population necessary for frontier geopolitics. I've changed that by lengthening the growing season, and I'm shifting the 'feel' of the place from Alaska or Antarctica to Central Asia (with a touch of Siberia and Alaska still). I still like the cold, but I want more people.

For another, a homebrew setting makes it difficult to take tings whole-cloth from other sources, especially if you have design goals like 'no goblinoids.' Something like that is fun to think about - it helps make your place unique - but something needs to replace orcs or all your dungeons will be empty. Which means you have to work that up, with little help from established TSR/WotC support and modules.

Finally, I aim high here, too. For making my own setting, I want custom encounter tables, a grand sweep of history, hidden mysteries, fleshed-out cultures, etc. My first inclination is to go all M.A.R. Barker on the thing, but then creation-as-stress comes back to bite me.

I'm not yet sure about my solution for The Orc Problem. Probably what I'll do is keep them entirely and just call them something else with an aesthetic reskin. Men of some sort; maybe they're neanderthals or savage elves or mutated dwarves or whatever. Or maybe I won't, and I'll have orcs and goblins (but seriously, cut back on the huuuge proliferation, Gary; we don't need hobbos and buggies and and and) but have something different about them.

My solution to overcreation, thanks yet again to +Chris Kutalik over at the Hill Cantons, is to enforce on myself bottom-up creation. Have an idea for a setting element? It goes on an index card and you stuff it in a binder. Once you have players, then you can play around with the setting elements as they explore them.

Beyond that, I've set myself a strict limit: all I need to begin play in the Desolate North is the town of Queen's Landing (now done), a starter dungeon (nearly done), house rules (basically done), 30 rumours (without bothering with true or false), and a hundred rooms or so of the tentpole dungeon. At some point soon after that, I should put together a DM hexmap.

Which I guess means it's around time to start soliciting players...

The fifth and last problem is the easiest to solve. I just need to meet some new people, and either find a local group or put one together. That just means finding and devoting the time. Once the rest of these problems are solved, it'll be easy.


Whew, that was much longer than I intended. I guess when I have something to say I really can write a large amount in a single sitting...

For the three of you who've made it down this far: have you faced similar problems? If so, how do you deal with them? If not, what kinds of problems do you face as a GM?

And do you know a gaming group in the DC metro area looking for another member?

No relevance