Saturday, December 31, 2011

Points of Darkness

Last night I was getting ready to create this post, when I thought I'd google "Points of Darnkess" to see who else had considered the idea. Not surprisingly, I'm not the first. Here's a recent post from Untimately: Points of Darkness.

The idea behind Points of Darkness is that the world basically feels mundane. The Sun rises in the morning, things fall when you drop them, and the world is heavily populated compared to say, Middle-earth. Rather than its inspired namesake, Points of Light, where isolated pockets of "light" (civilization) are scattered amidst vast wastelands populated by monsters, Points of Darkness are areas located just on the fringe of normalcy. They are the stuff of horror. A "point of darkness" could be cobweb infested basement, a mausoleum in a graveyard at the edge of town, or the last cottage on the left. It could be any one of the crumbling ruins dotting the hilltops which overlook the fertile valley where life is pleasant and trade is swift. It could be just a mile or two from town at the bottom of plain looking well, beside which lingers a curious looking old woman.

Calabria is primarily a "Points of Darkness" setting. Life in the Merchant's Republic more closely resembles Tolkien's Shire than it does some blasted wasteland with marauding orcs seeking the next village to plunder.  The vast majority of people have never seen an orc, giant, dragon, or other typical "monster", nor have they seen elves, dwarves, or any other non-human. Trade routes are dependable, travel is safe for the most part, and war is uncommon.

Yet the masses do not doubt that these unseen things exist. Nearly every abandoned building is believed to be "haunted." Folk magic is routine, with potions, charms, protections and the like relied on on a daily basis.

The dead do not stay so easily in their graves. The Bogeyman really is in the closet or under the bed. And Goblins want to steal your child.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Heroes need a World!

I responded to the I need a Hero post over at Tower of the Archmage, and it got me thinking about heroism in RPGs. The Archmage laments "It’s rare to find big damn heroes in classic Dungeons and Dragons. The entire game is designed around tomb robbers. Occasionally players will take on “altruistic” causes, but this usually involves their being able to keep a percentage of treasure that they find (aka loot)."

While it is common enough to have a world that needs heroes, my thought is that the real problem is that heroes need a world. That is, if participants want more heroism in their games, the game world should reward heroism. But before rewarding heroism, the game world should provide opportunity for heroism.

I think part of the problem with heroism in fantasy RPGs is that the worlds themselves tend to be anti-heroic. Compare lets say, Medieval France, in which the Arthurian tales of chivalry captivated the imagination of the people, with something like Mad Max. When adventuring becomes more about sheer survival than it does about being a champion of the people, opportunity for heroism can be limited. A world in which warbands of orcs control the wastelands is one that suggests survivalism more than heroism. However, a world that is densely populated with lots of farmland, small villages, and quaint hamlets offers opportunity for characters to right small wrongs; to be involved with the day to day affairs of the people who could really use a hero.

I think one of the reasons Pendragon plays as more heroic isn't so much the system, but the trend for most of the challenges to be about other humans, rather than monsters. Arthurian England is fairly heavily populated compared to the average fantasy game world. It contrasts to the "points of light" style of setting, with small pockets of civilization in a vast wilderness. You sort of have to go off the beaten path in order to find yourself in a wilderness.

When the adventurers are more likely to run into people than they are monsters, opportunity for heroism increase. After all, heroism is about aiding people who are in need. When their opponents are more often people, rather than monsters, opportunities for honor and courtesy increase. Adventures can become about things other than killing and looting and tomb robbing.

Once the opportunity for heroism is presented, then one can ask "What is the reward for heroism?". Aside from a warm and fuzzy feeling, the game world should react to heroes in a positive way. Fame should precede the heroes in all but the most isolated places. Small rewards should be presented in nearly every village and town. The world should be a more friendly place to heroes.

From a mechanic standpoint, experience should be rewarded for acts of heroism. Ignore body counts, gold pieces, and similar means of figuring experience. Award experience for acts of honor, selflessness, courage, courtesy, and diplomacy. You don't need a specific system to do this. You just need to decide to do it.

Of course, if you are looking for more of a Road Warrior type of feel to your game, ignore everything I just wrote.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Thanks to Tower of the Archmage!

David at Tower of the Archmage announced his contest winners, and was kind enough to have three winners. Thanks David!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Wolf's Ascent:A Calabrian Tale of the Clans of the Men of Old

The Gryphon spread its wings catching the updraft of the winds, the gift of Aeros, Lord of the Air. The beast felt the familiar and comfortable grasp of the knees of its rider, hugging its sides. The rider's chest was pressed tight against the Gryphon's back, the arms wrapped securely and lovingly around its neck. The Gryphon knew no days without its companion, and seldom took flight without her upon its back.

The beast's keen sight spied what perhaps no other creature in Calabria saw. Over a mile below, a blue Wolf crept to the edge of the Greenwood. Blue is perhaps as valid a color as any, for in the sunlight the Wolf glistened, the silvery pelt matching the blinding highlights of the stream; and out of the sun, the Wolf became one with the shadows for any lesser eyes than those of the Gryphon.

As the Wolf reached the edge of the cliff, a subtle transformation occurred. Surely a man of the civilized valley of the Merchant's Republic would have questioned what he saw, had he been able to perceive it at all. In a flash, the Wolf was standing on its hind legs. Where a moment before a lupine crouched, now stood a gracefully muscled Man. His hair was black, and his keen grey eyes gave a quick glance up in the sky towards the gryphon and rider. On his calves and forearms he wore leather greaves and bracers, dyed to a grey luster. A matching leather doublet protected his torso, and on his back he wore the grey fur of a wolf. A dagger at his side was his only weapon.

Fingus glanced up in the sky, and thought he could make out the silhouette of a Gryphon, dotted against the clouds. He had more immediate concerns, such as making the ascent as quickly as possible. He reached up, and grabbed a familiar handhold. He had climbed this cliff many times since his youth. It had been during one such climb that he met her. But never before had he climbed has high as he was going to today.

His well toned muscles and years of such activity, as well as his acquaintance with the cliff face, made the first part of the ascent nearly effortless. His brothers often goaded him as being lesser than themselves when it came to fighting. But he knew that none of them could climb as quickly as he could, nor could any of them climb as high as he was going to today. As for the commoners of the valley, there were few among them that would have any hope of such an ascent.

He had been to the valley. The people of the small hamlets were pleasant enough, and welcomed him graciously, if somewhat suspiciously. But he had only been to the Village of Harrow once, where he was greeted with a combination of fear and derision. From the village he looked upon the walled town of Carrnach in the distance, and could only imagine the reception he would receive there were he to stroll the paved streets.

The sun was well past the highest part of its arc in the sky when Fingus neared the top of his ascent. He welcomed the heat of Pyros against his back as he climbed, and his hands were grateful for the warmth of the rocks on this autumn day. The winds of Aeros increased as he approached his goal; a flat ledge some thousands of feet above the gorge of the Red River. As he brought himself up upon the ledge, he took a quick glance around.

The entrance to the cave was where he expected. The songs of old held many secrets, and he had hoped that his interpretation of the songs was correct. The cave entrance was a good sign. He looked back towards the gorge, and could see the Gryphon turning on its wing. From this distance, he could make out a rider, one of the Gryphonym, clinging to its back.

Steeling himself, Fingus crept toward the opening of the cave. There was a foul stench about the area, and the cave entrance was littered with bones. He crouched for a moment, but dared not disturb the bones for fear of making the slightest unnecessary sound. There were bones of Goats, Men, and creatures he could not identify. Some of the bones were larger than his entire leg. He was certain now that this was the place.

He crept forward, slowly and carefully into the cave. He was relying on every skill and instinct he had learned since his youth. The smallest misstep could spell his doom.

As he rounded a corner, and his eyes adjusted, he could see a large cavern, lit by smokey torches. He was grateful for the smoke, as it would make his concealment easier. He followed the irregular patterns of wavering shadows. He could now hear the unmistakable snoring of a very large creature.

Continuing stealthily across the chamber, he could now see the shadow of an immense manlike form against he wall. The chest was rising and falling steadily, if at a much slower pace than that of a sleeping man. He knew his goal lie in the opening at the far side of the cavern, and continued on his way.

Reaching the opening, he stepped into the darkness. At this point he knew he needed to risk some light, and nervously reached for his flint and tinder. Three times he struck before he was able to light the candle he had brought. The Giant's snoring became fitful.

Before him was a wondrous sight. Coins and gems. Swords and shields. Crystals and objects of wonder.
But he did not come here for any of this. His goal was singular. The songs told of it. Of the hero Brian Convel, and how he had lost his life in this very cave. The brooch he wore to hold his cloak had to be here, somewhere in all this clutter.

Fingus said a prayer to Phanes, Lord of all creatures, both beasts and men. He then closed his eyes and relied on his senses... his sense of scent. Even after all this time, surely the brooch would still hold a scent of his people? Slowly, one by one, he blocked out his other senses. The snoring of the giant faded away. The red beyond his eyelids turned to black. The salty taste of the deer meat he had eaten earlier in the day melted to nothing. Even the firmness of the stone beneath his feet became numbness. All there was was smell. Hundreds of smells. Thousands of them. But somewhere, mixed in with all of them, was the smell he was searching for. He caught a waft of it, and stepped towards it.

The smell grew stronger and stronger. Now it was before his nose. He opened his eyes, and was staring at a small pile of treasure. He had to reach in, to move it about. Carefully, one by one, he set aside jewel and coin, necklace and dagger.

And there it was. A pair of diamond eyes glistened at him in the candlelight. His heart raced as he beheld the visage of the Wolf. He reached for it, and as he tugged on it, the entire pile of treasure came cascading down to the floor.

He had no time to lose now. He dropped the candle, tucked the brooch in a pocket of his doublet and raced out of the small cave. Too late, the Giant stood now, blocking the exit to the large cavern. It held an immense club, and was just waiting to swing at him.

Fergus darted this way and that, and the Giant's club came crashing down inches away from him. Before the creature could take another swing, Fergus tumbled between its legs, and ran for the cliff with every bit of speed he could muster.

He heard the Giant's steps close behind. He dared not look back, but trusted in the friendship he had kindled in his youth, and forged through his adolescent years. He ran. Ran towards the brink, which dropped thousands of feet to the Red River below. He ran. And he leapt.

A bone came whizzing by his ear as he fell gracefully into nothingness. He panicked for an instant in spite of himself.

Then he felt the immense talon of the Gryphon grasp around his waist. As the beast turned into the sun, carrying him effortlessly, he could hear the endearing taunting of her voice from above its back. "You didn't think I wasn't going to catch you, did you?"

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Short Adventure: The Stolen Child

This adventure is written as an entry for the Ruin Givaway over at the Tower of the Archmage.

The adventure is set in Harrow Parish in County Carr of the Merchant's Republic.

Harrow Parish, County Carr

The adventuring party is strolling along the road between Harrow Ferry and the town of Carrnach, when a frantic woman approaches from a lane to the north. The town of Carrnach (population 7000+/-) looms up to the right. To the left, the hilltop ruins of Harrow Keep offer a silhouette against the sky.

The woman explains that a child has gone missing in their hamlet, which lies about a mile to the north on the southern shore of Harrow Lake. The child is a girl, age 8.

Following the woman up the lane, the party is informed that the girl was discovered to be missing at dawn, as the fishermen were getting prepared for their day's work. The entire village has been searching for hours.

Questioning of the girl's parents will reveal that she has not been sleeping the past week or so. Further questioning will reveal that she was obsessed with the "Red Man", who wanted her to come with him. She had also taken to singing a lullaby over and over:

"Time to play, oh child!
Awaken from your nap
You've soft and lovely hair
You have dye for my cap"

The adventure will take a bit of investigation. A tracker among the group will be able to tell that the girl walked barefoot to the shore. An organized inquiry among the townsfolk will reveal that a small boat is missing.

The lake is a large area to search... over a mile wide and some three miles long. There are numerous small islands in the lake, more than one of which contain ancient ruins. A search of the lake will be fruitful in 1d6 hours, and reveal a small boat on the shore of one such island. The Island is overgrown, and contains the ruins of a small tower. All that remains of it is the lower level of the stair tower. The stair is home to a giant spider.

Prize being given away at TofAM!

Section of Tower as it was Once Constructed

The stair tower, about 30 feet in diameter, was once part of a larger tower, which had a 30 foot diameter interior room, with 10 foot thick walls. With searching, the remains of the larger wall are discernible through the dense briar growth that covers the area. There is a small (halfling size) tunnel through the briars, which is discoverable by a tracker. The party will have to hack away the briars to follow the trail of the tunnel. Forcing one's way through the briars results in 1d4 hitpoints damage for anyone over halfling size. A halfling would have to crawl to get through the tunnel.

The tunnel ends in the center of the larger circle. A  3' x 3' door is hidden in the ground. This was once the bottom floor of the tower, and the door led down to the dungeon.

The door is locked from the inside. It is stone, inset into the stone floor,  which is covered with centuries of soil and growth, and will have to be forced open. Opening it reveals a dark hole 5'x5' going down into the ground 10 feet before opening up into a larger chamber. A foul smell comes from the hole. Characters will need a rope or ladder to descend.

Lowering a lantern down will reveal a floor some 30 feet below. The room is 30 feet in diameter. There is assorted debris on the floor.

Dropping down to the floor, the party will see that the debris includes bones of animals and people (ranging from children to adults). There is a ladder propped up against the wall. The roof of the chamber is domed. The side walls are 8 feet high, and it is 20 feet up to the top of the dome, with the 5'x5' chute in the center. The walls are carved from solid bedrock.

Rats will swarm into the room from cracks in the walls and attack ferociously. They behave as a swarm from Varlets and Vermin from Rolls, Rules, and Roles

After dispatching the rats, a search of the room will reveal the presence of a secret door on the north wall. The door has no obvious way of being opened. As the door swings outward, it can't be forced by strength.
Singing the children's lullaby will open the door.

"Time to play, oh child!
Awaken from your nap
You've soft and lovely hair
You have dye for my cap"

Otherwise, the party will have to wait until nightfall to open the door. Trying to break through will take more than a day, as it will require returning to the town of Carrnach or the Village of Harlow for proper equipment, then require a total of 20 man hours of labor to break through the 18" thick granite door. (20 people working for one hour, 5 people working for 4 hours, etc...)

Opening the door can have three results:

1) Party waits until nightfall:

As the sun fades from the sky, the door pivots open with a rumble. The room is cast in total darkness as Continual Darkness is cast. The party is attacked simultaneously by the returning rat swarm, and the inhabitant of the tower, a Red Cap. (Move 90, AC 4 (due to high dex) Attack 1, Dam 2d4 (axe), save F2).

The Red Cap will get +2 to its AC and +2 to hit while the rat swarm is attacking. It also gets an AC bonus due to the Continual Darkness (treat as blind fighting), but can see through its own spell. The Red Cap gains strength through dipping its cap in fresh blood, so for each  point of damage it deals, it will gain 1 hp.

Defeating the Red Cap disperses the swarm of rats. The girl will be safe, dirty but huddled against the far wall as described in result 2.

2) Party opens door by singing the lullaby

The 5' wide door opens into a passage 15 feet long. At the end of the passage is a room that is 20 feet in diameter. Huddled against the far wall is the girl, unharmed. A perception roll will discover she is looking up over the character's heads. Otherwise, the Red Cap surprises, leaping down from a ledge above the entrance onto the third character to enter the room. (If there is no third character, the Red Cap flees out the entrance). It will fight ferociously, but will flee as soon as possible. (It will have to set the ladder in place unless the party has already done that. Setting the ladder will require one turn).

3) Force the door open with tools

Unfortunately, this will result in the death of the girl. As long as the party is hacking away at the door, the Red Cap will not come out. Just as the party breaks through he will douse his cap in the girl's blood, giving him the following temporary stats: (Move 120, AC3, Attack 1, Damage 2d6, Save F4). If it is night, (50%) chance, he will be able to summon the rat swarm and cast Continual Darkness.

The Red Cap has a treasure of 132 gp, 236 sp, three gems worth 20 gp, 80gp, and 100 gp, and a +1 dagger. His axe radiates evil, and does 2d4 damage. Using the axe for a prolonged period of time will turn the user into a Red Cap.

Edit: If the death of the girl is too intense for your game, an alternative is to have one of the fishermen beat the party to the Island. In this case, there would be a second boat moored on the Island. The fisherman's tracks would lead to the tower, where he would have been dragged through the briars by the Red Cap.

When the party breaks through the door, it is the blood of the fisherman the Red Cap bathes his cap in, leaving the girl unharmed.

Stolen Child Adventure Map

Mapping: Rural Population Density

In my post Mapping: Representing Civilize Areas, I was toying with icon use for representing population density in rural areas. Thinking that the population of villages and hamlets would range from perhaps a hundred or so up to nearly a thousand, I was wondering if a single icon could effectively communicate the varying population densities. I'm rather happy with the way this turned out.

Each dot represents 50 people. Small clusters of 100 to 200 people are spread out every mile or so along the rivers and roads. The village of Fenrow hosts about 850 people. Even if that number were not known by the person reading the map, they would still get a very good sense of relative population density. It would also be easy to "tweak" populations for campaigns that were more sparsely populated, merely by lowering the number of people each dot represents. The large brown hexagons represent towns with populations in the thousands. The icon in the hex is intended to represent a stronghold, but I'm toying with it representing a thousand people. There would be one to ten thousand people in a town (an so, one to ten icons).

One "dot" = 50 people

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Ten Thousand Adventure Sites

In my post Mapping Wilderness I estimate that there could be a good adventure site for every 9 square miles of wilderness. In a wilderness that is 300 miles by 300 miles (90,000 square miles (about half the size of Spain), there could be some 10,000 adventure sites.

Smaller countries make for more nimble adventure design. It doesn't require a three week trek to get from adventure location "A", to adventure location "B".

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Mapping: Wilderness

I just put this map up today over at the Shatterworld Campaign Blog. It is created at a scale of 1" = 3 miles, and covers an area of roughly 800 square miles. There are two villages towards the bottom of the map, but otherwise the map is 95% wilderness.

One of my contentions is that fantasy lands don't have to be enormous in size, and there doesn't have to be hundreds of thousands of square miles of wilderness in order to have adventures. Things a few miles outside of heavily trafficked areas can be quite "wild".

The Greenwood is divided into three main sections. The Weald of the Merchant Princes is the most "tamed" of the wild areas. It was once known as Kingsweald, and was the private hunting grounds of the king. Today, it is a free territory, but the members of the Merchant's Republic police one another to prevent exploitation and destruction of the resources. This area is roughly 150 square miles.

The Clan of the Wolf is one of the Clans of the Men of Old. Their territory spans from the Red River to The Greenrush. It covers about another 150 square miles. The clan has a timber steading hall, inspired by the mead hall Heorot from Beowulf and halls from the Ulster Cycle:

Craebruad was the best known of the 3 great halls at Emain Macha. It had nine rooms of red yew, walls of bronze, and King Conchobar's apartment had a silver ceiling and bronze pillars topped with gold.

The second hall, Craebderg (ruddy branch) contained the treasure house that held, among other valuables, the heads of slain enemies.

The third hall, Tete Brec (twinkling hoard) held the weapons and armor. 

Wolves are honored and protected by the clan, so anyone foolish enough to kill a wolf in their territory is asking for trouble.

The Clan of the Bear is quite similar, and controls the area from the Greenrush to the northern edge of the forest.

Now, just because they control the territory, doesn't mean that if you step into the shade of the trees you'll meet one or more members. Generally, if you spend more than a day in the woods, they will be aware of your presence through tracks, litter, campfires, etc...

They also don't "own" the woods. There are a lot of other things besides them that call the woods home. Hobgoblins and Bugbears are likely candidates. Wyvern Falls is hunting grounds for more than a few Wyverns. And there are certainly the usual suspects like giant spiders and other forresty creatures.

A mere 10 miles west of the forest is Gryphon's Spine, a ridge with an elevation of some 10,000 feet, which the Clan of the Gryphon calls home. Just a few miles away from the ridge is Barech's Peak, which is "said to be home to giants". While the Gryphonym can fly over to Barech's Peak in the twinkling of an eye, to actually travel on foot from the ridge to the peak would be about a two day trek.

Maren Vale is a cozy place, only a mile or so wide and six miles deep, but it is a "valley of the dead", housing tombs of Imperial and pre-Imperial rulers. Any one of these locations should provide multiple adventure sites. I would estimate that there should be at least 75 to 100 good adventure locations somewhere on the map, or about one every 8 or 9 square miles. Adventures can range from boar hunting and tomb robbing, to dealing with some type of Giant. Who knows, there might even be a Dragon sleeping in there somewhere.

It would take about 100 maps this size to cover the whole of Calabria.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Random Town Generator from the Nine and Thirty Kingdoms

The Nine the Thirty Kingdoms has been doing a nice series on small to modest settlement generation. Impromptu Towns is a great on for determining what kinds of services might be available in such settlements. Here's a sample Talysman gives generated from a table he has created:

Ducksborough (Small Village)
exports: duck meat and bags of down
has: food/down packer, blacksmith, weekly market, tavern, priest, posse when needed
trades: 2

Highly useful stuff!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Mapping: The Castle Tower

I've been playing around with 3D modeling on and off for a decade or more. A couple of years ago a friend told me about Blender, which is wonderful free 3D modeling program.

I've created this image in Blender. There is no photoshopping done. I had to tweak lighting, layers, and textures to get it go behave the way I wanted as a playable battlemat. If you print it out at a scale of 1" = 5 feet, the interior of the castle room should be 6" for a 30 foot diameter room. The walls are 10 feet thick (2"). The staircase is 5 feet wide (1"), plus arrow slits. That funny little room to the right of the staircase is the garderobe. It would actually protrude from the castle wall so you could dump your dump, if you know what I mean.

Castle Tower, 30 foot interior, 50 foot exterior

The little square in the upper left is a fireplace. I've shown light from a torch to either side of the door, with light coming in the arrow slits and the big window in the room. My goal was to indicate shadows where a thief might hide. For instance, if a guard were coming up the stairs, a thief could potentially hide in the lower right arrow slit space, and the guard walk right by him. The garderobe is also a good place to hide, as long as that isn't where the guard is going!

Note, the only part of the tower that is wood is the floor. When the tower deteriorates, the floor would be the first to go. When all the floors and roof rot out, you have an open space the full height of the tower.

Also note that the large window ledge is 10 feet wide, and about 7 feet deep. That is virtually a room unto itself! Wall construction would have been a course of stone on the inside and outside of each wall, with rubble in the middle. I've made this rubble section 5 feet wide, which is plenty of space to hide a secret passage.

The funny area to the outside of the wall is supposed to be the tapering of the wall outward at the bottom.
Don't count that as part of your 10 foot wall thickness. Enjoy!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Mapping: Representing Civilized Areas

So I've been toying around with my latest map, which is on a scale of 1" = 1 Mile. I've been looking at Google satellite imagery, and you can see quite a bit of detail at this scale, including individual fields in farmlands. With that in mind, I actually snagged one such image and used it as texture to overlay my farmlands. Now, the farmlands I used are modern day, so I imagine back in the day, the fields would have been a bit smaller. But I like the feel this gives me. It certainly evokes a sense that the lands are "civilized".

I also like the little brown dots. They give a sense of population density. I've set it so that each dot represents 50 people, except for in the Village of Harrow. Those dots represent 100 people. I don't know if I should keep it at 50 per dot, or use a different dot to represent more people (sort of like Risk, where you get a "10" piece that is kind of star shaped). I think there is an advantage to keeping it all at one symbol, because it can give you a quick visual on relative population density, even if you don't know what the actual numbers are that the symbol stands for.

Another neat thing about this map is that it gives you a real sense for when you are going off the beaten path. Up top there, between the Greenrush and the Red River, there is some farmland, and then a another little hamlet about three miles up the road with some 200 people. Think about this in terms of today's travel. It is an hour's trek by foot. So, imagine driving an hour into the countryside, to a little place where the nearest people are an hour away. That's pretty isolated. I'm imagining that the people who live there cling to some really old traditions, and are considered "peculiar" by everyone else around.

It is about three hours to the Greenrush from the town of Carnach. Then you have to take a boat, and cross the Greenrush to get to the isolated hamlet of about 250 people. Then another hour up the road to find that old woman who has just the right ingredient for that potion your client is trying to make. But first you have to get through her brothers. And cousins. And uncles. And there is probably a lonely sister or two.

Here's a great post from the Nine and Thirty Kingdoms that ties into this post nicely!

Hamlet, Village, Town

Friday, December 2, 2011

Spell Flavor: Detect Evil

Detect Evil is one of those enigmatic spells that can be practical and useful, or it can be an over-the-top game ruiner.

My own take on it is that it detects powerful psychic energy of malicious intent. Powerful meaning it is a lot more than just a guy thinking about doing something bad. Powerful in this case means it is energy coming from a powerful spirit. "Negative energy" is one way to describe it, but I think that is limiting.

In Shatterworld, since nearly all magic is performed by the summoning of spirits, and those spirits generally resent being summoned, it seems that "Detect Evil" would detect the presence of most spells. It wouldn't be too far from detect magic. An Unseen Servant, a Phantasmal Force, an Interposing Hand or Clenched Fist are all high candidates for emanating "evil". I'm thinking maybe the issue it the very definition of the spell. To me, something called "Detect Other" seems more like what I'm going for. It gives the power to detect a presence that is unnatural. Maybe simply "Detect Spirit". And the spirit gives off a vibe... angry, sad, etc...

Likewise, instead of "Protection from Evil", it would be "Protection from Spirit"

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Mapping: The Adventure Zone

The map below is at a scale of 1" = 1 mile. At 8-1/2" x 11", this makes the map 8-1/2 miles by 11 miles.
It should take about four hours or so so travel from one end of the map to the other, terrain notwithstanding.

Harrow Parish, County Carr, Merchant's Republic: 1" = 1 Mile
The a winding road climbs up to the fortified town of Carrnach, which sits perched atop a hill overlooking Harrow Lake. This road happens to be part of the paved Via Imperium, a relic of a fallen empire. A smaller road continues west with several forks. There is a small fishing hamlet on the shore of Harrow Lake. South of Harrow Ferry, another small hamlet hugs the Greenrush river for about two miles. The Village of Harrow is on an Island in the midst of the Greenrush, accessible by ferry.

Harrow Keep is a ruined keep dating back to the days of the empire. Beyond the keep (ah! just caught the typo!) on the north shore of Harrow Lake lie two small hamlets, fairly isolated even though one of them lies within two miles of Carrnach. Across the Greenrush are two more small hamlets. It is quite conceivable that the people who live there have never been to Carrnach, even though they can see it in the distance on a clear day.

There are numerous opportunities for adventuring in such an area. Besides political and commercial  involvements with the town, village, or any of the hamlets, there may be numerous ruins to explore or discover. Harrow Keep is the most obvious of the ruins, as the crumbling towers can be seen from miles away, but there may certainly be others along the river. The Greenwood and the Dire Bogs can hold all sorts of adventure worthy secrets, and there may even be forgotten caves or dungeons in the hill beneath Harrow Keep. Perhaps there are submerged caves within Harrow Lake. The Islands up the Red River are substantial in size, and any one of them could be the home to an inhuman host.

The adventure is in the space between... in what is not shown, rather than what is shown.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Mapping: Style and Scale

I've spent a lot of time experimenting with different styles of mapmaking. Two issues continually arise: Style, and Scale.

With Style, there are really two issues at play: GM maps vs player maps. A GMs map by definition has more detail. But in addition to detail, what (if any) should be the stylistic differences between a players map and a GMs map?

To me, a players map should evoke a sense of style about the game setting. It should feel like a prop that the characters would actually hold in their hands, sort of like a primitive pirate map, perhaps complete with tea stains. If using tea stains, I would lean towards scanning the map after staining it, and giving the players a printed copy. This way, they can make notes, add information, and should they ever lose it, you can print out another. Making a gen-u-ine tea stained map is a bit more time consuming.

As for GMs, the more accurate and clear the information is, the better. Icons tend to obscure actual geographical location, while a topographical map can seem noisy and contain simply too much information that isn't really that critical.


I've heard and seen good things about Campaign Cartographer, and there seems to be a wide variety of styles to the maps that can be made.

My own approach is to use Photoshop. I can paint each terrain type on a different layer using a solid color. The Noise filter adds a bit of variety. Drop Shadows, as well as Bevels with Contours and Textures offer a huge variety of possibilities. Here is my map for the known lands of Shatterworld:

To me, this map offers a wealth of information on land masses and terrain types. The premise is that they were once all a single land mass, and a cataclysmic event called The Shattering split the world into separate islands some 1300 years before the time of the campaign setting. It is easy to identify forests, mountains, hills, desert, lakes, and tundra.

The next issue is one of scale. My thoughts on my campaign world is that I don't really need an area much larger than Europe to run a very expansive campaign, and could in fact run 90% of my campaign in a setting the size of Spain. I've taken that center landmass in the middle of the map above, and made it the centerpiece of my campaign. I decided that it would be roughly 300 miles across, for a total area of some 90,000 square miles. Considering that most villagers never wander more than a few miles from where they were born, this affords plenty of space for isolated communities, wilderness, and ruins.

Calabria: 1" = 30 miles

I've dubbed this central area Calabria, and blew it up to fit an 8-1/2 x 11 format. I've settled on a scale of 1" 10 leagues, or 30 miles. A league is roughly the distance a man can travel on foot in an hour. 10 leagues becomes roughly 1 days travel. It should take 10 days, more or less, to walk on foot from one end of Calabria to another.

Note that there is a lot of information about Calabria that is not apparent on the world map. This seems an obvious point to make, but it will become an important one as we continue enlarging our maps and zooming in an an area. I've named mountain ranges, large forests, a few political regions, and five cities.

My next Map is of the central region of the Merchant's Republic. For this map, I chose a 300% magnification from the map of Calabria:

Merchant's Republic: 1" = 10 miles
Note that there are four fortified towns (Wilksbury, Moresbury, Carrnach, and Carrdech) that appear on this map that are not on the map of Calabria. Their absence on the map of Calabria does not mean they do not exist. Rather, if you are using the Calabria map, and adventurers are traveling from say, Pitkin to Birk Nor, you know that it will be a journey of a week and half or so, maybe more. All the information you can really provide is that "after traveling for nearly two weeks, and passing through several towns and villages, you arrive at Birg Nor. The key is to make this the only information that is really important for the time being. The party can always travel back down the road and encounter some more specific details for their journals.

I think the key strength of the map of the Merchant's Republic is that it gives the GM an area to set adventures in. There are forests, bogs, rivers, and fortified cities to choose from. Towns and villages can really be dropped in anywhere. Just be sure to make a note of their location.

Next comes a map of the region I'm calling the Lower Dire Bogs. I've once again magnified 300%, bringing a bit more information into view:

County Carr, Merchant's Republic: 1" = 3 miles

Here some more details come into play. First, it becomes apparent why Carrnach and Carrdech are located where they are. They are each on hilltops, and able to surveil the surrounding lands. The river winding through the Greenwood has a number of interesting islands in the middle. The Via Imperium actually passes right through one of the bogs. There are seven unnamed towns or villages on offshoots of the Via Imperium.

This map probably has more information than a player needs, or should even have. The map the players are given for the area really shouldn't have any more information than the map of Merchant's Republic has,  unless they grew up in one of the towns or cities and are intimately acquainted with the area. The players can fill in details about lands they visit as they adventure and learn about the territories.

I'm planning on one more enlargement; a map of the scale of 1' = 1 mile. This will actually be for a specific adventure, where building sites will be indicated, cave entrances notated, and other various adventure information.

Something to consider is that it will take 9 maps the size of Merchant's republic to map out the majority of Calabria. It will take 81 maps the size of the Lower Dire Bogs to detail those nine maps. It will take 729 maps of the next enlargement to detail one magnitude further. Basically, I should have ample room for 1000 different adventure settings in Calabria, each spanning an area of roughly 8 x 10 miles, and mapped out 1" to the mile. That's about the distance from my house to my mailbox.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Labyrinth Lord Spells in Shatterworld

Magic in Shatterworld is centered around the summoning and control of spirits. As such, even casting simple spells is a dangerous matter. The Spellcaster must wear a talisman that protects him from the spirits which he summons. Otherwise, the spirits will attack the spellcaster, seeking to break the spell. Here is an example of how spells from Labyrinth Lord work in Shatterworld. Note, these are purely mechanical descriptions. Actual results of casting such spells may be unpredictable. Use of any of these spells may attract the attention of powerful spirits who are not bound by the spell.

Animate Dead:
This spell summons a spirit, which inhabits the body of the dead. The spirit will obey the caster per the spell, but the spirit will also have its own agenda. It may relish experiencing the shadow of "life", or resent it. As such, it may aim to prevent the spell from ending, or seek to end it.

Animate Objects:
As in Animate Dead, a sentient spirit is summoned to temporarily inhabit the inanimate object. This is a more powerful spirit than the one summoned to animate the dead, as "objects" are not naturally attuned to hosting sentient spirits.

Arcane Lock:
This spell is similar to Animate Object, in that is infuses an object with a spirit which allows only the spellcaster to pass. Dispel Magic banishes the spirit. Knock simply commands it to allow passage.

Arcane Eye:
The spellcaster links his mind with that of a summoned spirit, which can travel as the spell description.

The spellcaster essentially "freezes time" for everyone else, allowing him to move 2 feet in the direction of his choosing. The target can not move or otherwise harm objects until he returns to moving in standard time.

Clenched Fist:
The spellcaster summons a spirit, which manifests as a ghastly hand.

Contact Other Plane:
The spellcaster summons a ghostly spirit which answers the questions as the spell. 

Continual Light:
This spell summons a weak Fire Elemental. The longer it manifests, the stronger it grows. After one day, the light will ignite objects as a torch in the 60 foot diameter. The temperature and brightness will double every day thereafter until dispelled.

Continual Darkness:
This spell tears a hole in the Void, creating a vacuum which pulls all the light out of it. After one day, the area will be bitterly cold. The temperature will drop 30 degrees each day thereafter until dispelled.

Dimension Door:
The spellcaster essentially "freezes time" for everyone but the target. The target can not move solid matter, but can pass through air unhindered. The target can move up to 360 feet running, but can not open doors or otherwise move or harm objects for 3 rounds from his perspective. The world seems "gauzy" to the target, and there is a chance he may encounter other beings which are not bound by time.

Detect Evil:
This spell allows the detection of spirits with powerful evil intent. I does not detect the presence of members of the Monstrous Races (goblins, giants, orcs, etc...) other than Bogeymen. It may 
detect the Enchanted Undead (golems, skeletons, zombies) if the spirits animating the bodies are malicious.
I can sometimes detect the presence of the Restless Undead, and will usually detect the presence of the Cursed Undead.

Feather Fall:
A summoned spirit physically slows the descent of the spellcaster. The spellcaster must endure the embrace of arms reaching out from beyond the void. The recipient may perform no action while under the influence of the spell, and saving throw vs. paralyzation is required or the recipient is stunned in horror (for 1d6  rounds if the recipient is someone other than the spell caster, and for 1d6 - 3 rounds if the recipient is the spell caster himself) after the spell expires.

Hold Person:
Unseen tendrils are summoned and attack the victim's mind. The victim will suffer nightmares long after the spell is broken.

Magic Mouth:
This spell binds a spirit, which must obey following the spell description. 

Mirror Image:
The spell summons 1d4 spirits who mimic the spellcaster's actions. There is a small chance (GMs discretion) that one or more of these spirits will refuse to leave after the spell expires.

Summon Monster:
This spell causes the affected creatures to travel outside of time, essentially "freezing time" for everything but the creature. They may not move or harm any object while traveling. Thus, a monster may not be summoned into a room with a closed door, but instead may be summoned just outside the door, as long as there were no other closed doors, missing ladders or bridges, etc.. that the monster would have had to pass.

True Seeing:
The spellcaster subjects himself to being temporarily possessed by a spirit capable of seeing reality as it is.
The spellcaster's senses and the spirit's senses are one and the same. The spellcaster must make a saving throw vs paralyzation or fall to his knees in horror. A critical failure is cause for a second roll. A second failure causes the spellcaster to tear out his eyes. A second critical failure causes permanent madness.

Unseen Servant:
This spell summons a spirit, which behaves according to the spell description. It will refuse to obey commands to attack in any way.

A Calabrian Tale of the Ancient Dead

Behold! Gentle Reader,

Our Story begins some 200 years before The Shattering, in the area of Calabria today known as Merchant's Republic. There, between the Iron Hills and the Mern River, is an area rich with peat, known as the Dire Bogs. There is a woodland at the base of the Iron Hills called the Greenwood from which it is said that in ages past a squirrel could travel tree to tree, from the Greenwood to Woodbury Forest of which it was part, and further into the lofty halls of the Elves, without ever descending to the ground.

At the edge of The Greenwood was the home of one of the clans of the men of old, which was led generation through generation by the wisdom of the Druids. Alas there fell a time of corruption, and the wise-man who was entrusted with their well being had darker aspirations. Heeding the call of voices of the void, his cruelty and corruption grew, until his people would have no more of it.

The Druid was bound, and led to the Dire Bogs, where he was subjected to the Tri-fold Death. His name was expunged from the songs of the Skalds, but echoes of the truth persisted in rumor and fireside tales.

Many a child of the surrounding area has been warned more than once that if the did not behave, Gnarleybones would come in the night, from whence they would be bound, stabbed, and drowned in the Dire Bogs.

And so it comes that our tale arrives at a time not to distant from our own, when a doughty Ranger, those men who track the wilds ever on watch against the wiles of the Monstrous Races, came to rest in a small village which lie very near to the Greenwood and only a league or so from the Dire Bogs. Thinking only to get a night's sleep, the soldier of the wilds was recognized as an adventurer by townsfolk, and soon found a local by the name of Goodman Cooper imploring him for help.

It seems the Goodman's wife was suffering from an affliction. Each morning she would awaken with scratches on her feet, and her spirit most fatigued. The Goodman feared for her very life, and moreso her spirit; he was sure there was some evil afoot which plagued his wife.

The Ranger promised to help, and instructed the Goodman to spread flower upon the floor between the bed and the door. Sure enough, the following morning, the footprints of the goodwife were found in the flour, leading out the door, and then returning back to the bed.

Borremos Man
The following night, the Ranger set watch outside the Goodman's cottage. As he anticipated, the Goodwife came out into the open, whence she proceeded to dance barefoot down the village lane. The Ranger followed, and she led him through the countryside to the brink of the Dire Bog. There the Ranger beheld such a sight... there were many Goodmen and Goodwives, cavorting in unseemly fashion. Leading this procession in revelry was a ghastly sight. The mummified body of  the ancient Druid, returned to a semblance of "life". He performed upon a Harp which shone in the moonlight, conducting the crowd as if they were puppets on strings.

As he found his way closer, he heard the Druid cursing and mocking the ancestors of those who had killed him, promising that their suffering would be long and cruel.

The Ranger lie hidden until nearly dawn, when the revelers departed and returned to their homes. He watched as the Druid placed the Harp in the hollow of a great oak tree, and waded into the depths of the bog. The Ranger took the Harp, and destroyed it in a fire amid incantations and blessings. The Goodwife knew no more sleepless nights.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Defending with the Alternative Combat System

There are two fundamental ways to defend with the alternative combat system:

Dodging and Parrying.

Each character has a Combat Penalty (CP) derived from calculating their encumbrance and subtracting their weight allowance. This number can be as low as zero, and the upper limit is the carrying limit for the character.

An opponent attacking the character adds its Combat Rating (CR), which is basically its hit points, to the characters CP to get a percentage chance to hit. Example:

A 5th level monster with 30 hit points attacks a 5th level fighter with 35 hit points.

The Monster has an AC of 6, a CR of 30, and a CP of 0, and a damage mod of +4

Fighter has an AC of 4, a CR of 35, and a CP of 20, a damage mod of +3, and a dex bonus of 10

The Monster has a 50% chance of hitting the Fighter, the Fighter has a 35% chance of hitting the monster.

The Monster will do an average of 5 points damage per hit against the fighter. (roll 5+4 on the damage chart)

The Fighter will do an average of 8 points damage per hit against the monster.

The Monster will do an average of 2.5 points damage per round against the fighter, killing him in 14 rounds.

The Fighter will do an average of 2.8 points damage against the Monster, killing it in 11 rounds, and taking 28 points damage during the fight.

The Fighter has other monsters to fight, and doesn't want to cut his odds that close. He has a few options:

1) ATTACK!: Use his dex bonus to hit, giving him an extra %10 to hit per round. This ups his to hit chance to 45%, increases his average damage per round to 3.6, and shortening the fight to 9 rounds, taking 22.5 points damage during the fight.

2) Dodge: Using his dex defensively, reducing his CP to 10, and reducing the monster's chance to hit him to 40%.

This reduces the monster's average damage per round to 2 points per round, and will take the monster 18 rounds to kill him. He will take 22 points damage during the 11 rounds it takes him to kill the monster.

3) Parry: Use primary or second weapon to block monster's blow

The second weapon can be a sword or a shield. If using a sword, normal "two weapon fighting" penalties apply. If using a shield with shield proficiency, there is a -10 to the primary weapon hand and no penalty to the shield. Shield stats are on the shield chart below:

We are going to give him a medium steel shield. This increases his Combat Penalty by 10 due to the weight, giving him a CP of 30, and upping the monster's chance to hit him per round to 50.

He now gets two "attacks", one with the shield, and one with the sword. The shield give him +10 to CR, so when he block with his shield his CR is 45. Using the shield detracts 10 from his sword arm, so attacks with his sword are at 25.

When he uses the shield, he subtracts the shield CR from the opponents CR. So the Orc is at a modified CR of -15. The orc now has a 5% chance to hit.

His CR is 25, giving him a 25% chance to hit the orc.

When using a shield for defense, if the opponent "misses", it automatically hits the shield. This reduces damage significantly, but does not eliminate it. Here's the chart for reducing shield damage:

Lets say the monster rolls a 5, and adds its +4, for a 9. The shield is AC4. The 9 reduces the effective roll to a -5. Damage is calculated on the normal damage chart below: 

-5 against AC4 does 0 points damage. There is a pretty good chance the fighter can get through this battle unscathed, doing an average of 2 points damage per round and dispatching the monster in about 15 rounds.

Keep in mind that with lucky rolls, the monster can do as much as 7 points damage per round, killing the fighter in as few as 5 rounds. If the fighter is lucky, he can do as much as 11 points damage per round against the monster, killing it in as few as 3 rounds. In fact, the fighter stuns the monster on a damage roll of 7 or higher, giving him a +20 to hit the following round, upping his chance to hit to 45% that round. The fighter should do quite well against the monster.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Monsters and the Alternate Combat System

For those of you interested in DMing using my Alternate Combat System, here's how to make a quick conversion using Labyrinth Lord stats.

LL Orc:

AC6, HD 1, Attack 1, Damage 1d6

First, Subtract the AC from 10 to get the equivalent AC in the Alternative Combat System. AC6 in LL = AC 4 in the ACS.
Now, AC4 = plate mail in the ACS. As orcs are subterranean creatures navigating caves and such, I don't want to give them plate mail. I'd prefer they wear leather armor, unless outfitted for war. So I'm going to give them studded leather (AC7). This penalizes them 3 armor classes from "standard", so I'm going to say that they have a natural tough skin and sheer brute-ness that increases their AC by 1(making them AC6). I'm also going to give them a -10 to their defense, as they are much more nimble than someone wearing an armored coat or similar. The -10 also makes up for two armor classes.

In the ACS, zero level characters get half their stamina for hit points, so I'm going to give all monsters an extra 5 hit points for zero level. So HD are 1+5. I'm also going to assume 5 hit points per hit die for simplicity.

As for weapon, I'm going with a long sword for the standard orc. The long sword is 0 to hit, 0 to damage.

So, standars orc stats are:

AC6, HD 1+5,  HP10, CR 10, Damage 0, CP 25

So, one orc attacking another has a 35% chance to hit. A d10 is rolled with no modifier for damage, and it is indexed against AC6. It will do an average of 7 points damage per hit against AC6, or 2.45 damage per round against an equally matched orc. A battle between two such orcs should last an average of 4 rounds.

Now lets pit our first level thief, Stealthshadow against an orc.

Stealthshadow is fighting with his rapier. His CR of 27 vs the orcs CP of 25 gives him 52% chance to hit per round. His rapier will do an average of 5.5 damage against AC 6 per hit. It will take him an average of 4 rounds to kill an orc.

The orc has a CR of 10. Stealthshadow has a CR of 4. He also has a dexterity bonus of +10 which he can use each round. He can put this either in his attack roll, or he can subtract it from his CR. His strategy is going to be to avoid being hit, so he is going to subtract it from his CR, giving him a new CR of -6. The orc has a 4% chance to hit. The orc will do an average of 10.5 points damage per hit against AC8.
The orc will hit on an average of one round out of 25, and it will take an average of two hits to reduce Stealthshadow to zero hit points. However, odds are that a hit will stun Stealthshadow, and the orc has an extra 30% chance the following round to hit (+20 for stun and another 10 because Stealthshadow can't use his dex bonus), now needing a 34 or less to hit.

The odds are in Stealthshadow's favor, but a lucky swing or two from the orc can take him out quickly.  Fighting orcs should not be a habit with Stealthshadow.

Labyrinth Lord AEC House Rules

Here are my house rules for playing Labryinth Lord.

1) Use the Core Rules and the Advanced Edition Companion
2) Players play Human characters only
3) Stat Generation: Roll 4d6. Re-roll 1's.  Drop lowest. Arrange as you like
5) Hit Points: You get half your Constitution(rounded down) at zero level, and max at 1st level
6) Hit Dice: Advanced HD rule from LL AEC (Magic User d4, Thief d6, Cleric d8, Fighter d10)
7) Saving Throws: Ability Score Bonuses modify Saving Throws as follows:

  • Breath, Wands, and Spells: Dexterity
  • Poison: Constitution
  • Petrify: Wisdom
8) Surprise:

  • All Characters can deal double damage when surprising.
  • Characters who can not move silently must wait in ambush to get the double damage in melee
  • Thieves get a "called shot" if they are successful in sneaking up behind someone or when ambushing
  • Ranged attacks are eligible for double damage when surprising
9) Coins weigh 50 per pound, instead of 10 per pound
10) Combat per my Alternative Combat System
11) Death, Dismemberment or Mortal wounds occur at negative Constitution
12) A character with a mortal would dies in 1d20 - 1 hour. (0 to 19 hours)

Creating a Character using Labryrinth Lord AEC

OK! So now that I've settled on a system, I had to do a little bit of thinking on how to implement my combat system into Labyrinth Lord Advanced Edition Companion.

First, you'll have to go to the website for Golinoid Games and download the free pdfs for Labryrinth Lord Core Rules and Labyrinth Lord Advanced Edition Companion (AEC).

The rules are quite close to Basic D&D from the late 70s. What is nice is that the AEC adds rules for it to play more like AD&D 1e, but those rules don't contradict the Core Rules, but rather expand on them, allowing for example Paladins, Rangers, and Assassins, and freeing up race/class restrictions but keeping the same to-hit and saving throw charts from the Core Rules.

Now, you are ready to roll up a character. In my own campaign, I will be using a variation on the 4d6 rule. Roll 4d6, drop the lowest. Re-roll ones. Arrange to order. Apply racial modifiers. My campaign will be a human only campaign, so racial modifiers won't apply.

Now it is time to create a character sheet. I'll have a blank sheet for your use at the end of the post. Here is a sample sheet for Sleathshadow, a 1st level thief.

His name is Stealthdhadow, and he is a Thief. His is male, and is from the Merchant's Republic in Calabria.
He is 17 years old, 5'-9" tall, and 163 pounds. His eyes are brown, and his hair is black. His is Chaotic Good, has no known foes, and is left handed. He casts no spells.

He has a Strength of 14, an Intelligence of 14, a Wisdom of 14, a Dexterity of 17, a Constitution of 11, and a Charisma of 16. He chose to put his second highest score in Charisma because as a thief, he may find himself having to bluff his way into or talk himself out of many situations.

I'll be using the Advanced HD rule from Labyrinth Lord AEC. With this rule, Fighters get d10, Clerics d8, Thieves d6, and Magic Users d4 for Hit Dice. Since my combat system is particularly brutal as you near zero hit points, I'm giving extra hit points at "zero level". Basically, everyone in Shatterworld starts out at zero level with half (rounded down) their Consitution score for hit points. Stealthshadow has a Constitution of 11, so he gets 5 hit points at zero level. I'm giving also max hit points at first level, so at first level he gets 6 hit points, for a total of 11. The chart in the upper right of the character sheet keeps track of hit points per level gained, in case the character ever has the unfortunate experience of losing levels.

The character sheet keeps track of the d20 ability score bonus from Labryrinth Lord, and also a d100 bonus, which is merely the d20 bonus multiplied by 5.

I am using a house rule that ability scores modify saving throws. Breath Weapons, Wands and Spells benefit from Dexterity Bonus. Poison benefits from Constitution Bonus, and Petrify or Paralyze benefits from Wisdom Bonus.

Now it is time to Armor Class. Using the Labyrinth Lord AEC rule, the most amor he can wear is leather. Using my Alternative Combat Rules, Leather Armor is AC8, and a full set weights 15 pounds.

He is going to use rapier and dagger as his weapons. The rapier offers a weapon with reach that is light and quick (+15 to hit on d100). The damage is low (-3 d20), but he isn't planning on going up against armored foes. Even a -3 on the Alternative Rules damage chart does a healthy 7 to 17 points against an unarmored opponent. He would rather have the plusses to hit than be a a powerhouse of damage. He is also choosing a dagger because he can throw it up to 20 feet.

In my house rules, I'm going to allow him double damage on both his rapier and thrown dagger back attacks if he can execute them stealthily. This double damage applies to all classes. However, since the thief is the only class that can move silently, the other classes must plan an ambush to achieve the bonus. If the thief can get a true up close and personal back attack with his dagger, he can also do a called shot, attacking whatever body location he chooses. Thus, if an unsuspecting opponent is wearing armor but no helmet, he can go for the unarmored head for a throat slit.

For miscellaneous equipment, he has thieves picks and tools in a pouch on his right side. The weight of these is negligible. He has a large empty sack over his back. He has 50 gold pieces in a pouch on his left side. In my house rules, 50 coin pieces weigh one pound. He has 50 feet of rope slung from his right shoulder down to his left hip, which weighs 5 pounds according to the Labyrinth Lord equipment chart. His total misc. weight is 6 pounds.

He has 15 pounds of armor, 7 pounds of weapons, 1 pound of coins, 6 other pounds of misc. for a total weight encumbrance of 29 pounds. All characters have a 20 pounds allowance, which brings him down to 9 pounds. He has an additional 5 pound allowance for his d20 Strength bonus. His Combat Penalty is 4.

His is not permitted a shield due to class according to Labyrinth Lord AEC.

Character Sheet, done!

Almost forgot... a Character Sheet for your use!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

And the Winner is...

I'll be going with Labryinth Lord Advanced Edition Companion from Goblinoid Games.

I have to do a new layout for the character sheets, getting rid of Skills and Feats, which will make life a WHOLE lot simpler.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Narrowed Down System Choices

Looking like a choice between OSRIC and Labryrinth Lord AEC. Leaning towards LL AEC.

Settling on an OSR Game

I've been doing more comparisons today. I'm now convinced, I want to go pre 3.x for my core rule system.
The question is, what to pick? I seem to have narrowed it down to OSRIC and Labryrinth Lord.

Choices, Choices...

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Considering Feats into the Mix

I was kind of psyched when I first came across Feats in D&D version 3.0. But the more I look at them now, I see them as patches for an incomplete system. Adding Feats into my Alternative Combat System really winds up making the Feats way too powerful. For many of the Feats, I think the answer is to make those powers the rule, rather than the exception.

Here's one example: Power Attack. Benefit: You can choose to take a –1 penalty on all melee attack rolls and combat maneuver checks to gain a +2 bonus on all melee damage rolls. 

In my system, that isn't Feat. It's a weapon. You want to get more damage, with less accurate to hit? Pick a weapon that does that. You want more accuracy, but less damage. Pick a different weapon. The Feat is superfluous.

How about Cleave: You can strike two adjacent foes with a single swing.

My version is this: Drop a guy from full hit points to zero in a single swing, and you get to roll to hit the next guy with half your CR. Do it again and keep on going. Anyone. No Feats required.

How about Combat Expertise: You can choose to take a –1 penalty on melee attack rolls and combat maneuver checks to gain a +1 dodge bonus to your Armor Class.

Again, this is the default ability in my system for everyone. No Feat required.

It seems to me Feats were invented to allow players to do the obvious.

The Power of Anticipation

OK, so as indicated in A Word or Two on Parrying, it becomes important to be able to read your opponent.
If they are attacking full out, do you want to parry? Or do you want to try to hit them before they hit you?

Fortunately, it isn't too difficult to anticipate the actions of monsters. They tend to attack full out, with little thought for self defense. But when dealing with human opponents or the like, it seems like the higher level character should have the advantage.

One way to handle this is to make the lower level character declare his actions before initiative is rolled. The higher level character can declare his action after initiative is rolled. It would be interesting to bring Charisma into the mix, allowing for more charismatic characters to more easily fool their opponents in battle. Maybe Wisdom helps you see through the charade.

Some things for me to chew on...

A Word or two on Parrying

Parrying can be the key to survivability. In most systems, as your level goes up, so does your chance to hit. Eventually, hitting is almost guaranteed. In a system where a single strike can stun an opponent, this becomes a bit too powerful. Add Feats into the mix, and death is likely around any corner.  Wading into battle with both sides swinging full force is a recipe for quick demise.

Parrying allows for strategic decisions. The basics is this:

Lets say we match up 2nd level Sebastiano against 5th level Arn. Both come to the table with the following stats:

Sebastiao: CR: 27, CP:3, Dex bonus d100: 15, CMR: 39

Arn: CR: 50, CP: 19, Dex bonus d100; 10, CMR: 41

Ok... the two foes come face to face and roll for initiative to see who gets first blow. I like the standard d6 for initiative roll. So I'm going to modify the CMR and give it a secondary vaule based on d100 by dividing by 5 and rounding. So now the CMRs are: Sebastiano: 39/8 Arn: 41/8

Both have a CMR of 8 on the d20 scale. The two are tied. Arn is higher level, but he is slowed down by his chain mail.

Both roll d6, and add their d20 CMR. Sebastiano rolls a 5, and Arn rolls a 4. Sebastiano wins.

Sebastiano is attacking full out. He needs a 42 (His CR +  dex bonus) + 19 (Arns CP) to hit for a 61.

Arn decides he is going to parry. He parries with his CR + Dex Bonus, Subtracting 60 from Sebastiano's "to hit". Sebastiano needs a 1 or less to hit. But we're playing with the equivalent of the rule that a 1 on a d20 is an automatic hit, so he needs 01-05 on d100 to hit.

Sebastiano rolls a 12 and misses.

Arn gets two attacks per round. His second attack is at at CR of 25. He needs a 38 (25+3+dex +10) or less to hit Sebastiano. He rolls a 42, and misses.

Sebastiano now realizes he is in for it, and probably won't survive long if he keeps this up. Next round, he decides to parry Arns attack. Arn attacks full out. Arn needs a 63 to hit, and Sebastiano parries with a 42, reducing Arn's to hit do 21 or less. Arn misses with a 79, but still gets his second attatck, needing a 38 or less to hit. He rolls a 39 and barely misses.

At this point, Sebastiano should be thinking of a way out of this fight, or have some creative ideas on how to get the advantage against Arn.

Sample Character: Arn, the Knight Templar

Here's a sample character sheet for Arn, the Knight Templar. Arn is a formidable knight, but perhaps not the very best in the land. In the E6 framework, I've made him level 5.

As he displayed an innate talent at an early age, I figure he's got some pretty healthy base stats. I've given him a chain hauberk, which goes down to his knees and has full sleeves. Here's a pic of Arn from the movie:

He has a chain hood, long chain sleeves, and his hauberk goes down to his knees. I've given him leather (AC8) on his shins, otherwise he is AC5. He wields the light two handed sword, which is meant to represent a real two handed sword. The heavy two handed sword it the mythical dragon slaying variant.

Ok, so here's Arn's sheet:

I've held off giving him Feats, as that's another matter entirely and depends on the system you are using.
He has a CR of 50, a CP of 19, and a dex bonus of 10 to add to the mix. I've added a box for Combat Maneuver Rating (CMR). This is his CR, minus his CP, plus his dex bonus. It is representative of his overall strengths and weaknesses, and is a great indicator of initiative rating. This number can be used for a wide variety of things.
Edit: the CMR dex bonus rating is d100, not d20. I'll fix the character sheet soon.

At a CR of 50, Arn fights equivalent to a 10th level fighter. As such, he gets a second attack at +25 each round.

A great strategy for Arn would be to parry with his first attack. A parry subtracts the CR from the opponents CR,  potentially forcing his opponent to roll a 01-05 to hit. He then gets a second free attack in the round at +25.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Shield Usage

I've experimented with a number of ways of implementing shields in the combat system I use. The most obvious way, subtracting 5 from your Combat Penalty, just doesn't give enough of a benefit, particularly if you are a "walking tank".

I've played using a 50/50 rule. That is, for any attack roll, there is 50% chance that the attack hits the shield.
I've never been thrilled with that approach.

The one that makes the most game sense to me is to treat the shield as a weapon. That is, fighting with a shield is not unlike fighting with two weapons. However, rather than require the "Two Weapon Fighting" Feat, it requires a proficiency in shield usage. A member of the Fighter Class automatically gets proficiency in light, medium, and heavy shield use. Rogues are limited to light shield use, which requires a proficiency.
Normal non-proficiency penalties apply.

Here is a table for Shield Weights, combat values, and such.

The first column lists the weight of the shield, which is added to the user's combat penalty. The second column gives the combat value of the shield, which counters the weight. A small leather shield will give an opponent +5% to hit you because of the weight of the shield, but -10% to hit because of the combat value of the shield, resulting in a net combat value of  +5%.

The leather shield has an AC value of 8. Using the shield does not affect your attack with your weapon hand. The shield provides partial cover against ranged attacks. It offers no bonus to a Bull Rush. Using the shield as a weapon, the shield has a -15 damage modifier.

Lets go to our character Sebastiano. He had a Combat Rating of 27, and a Combat Penalty of 3. He is going to use a medium wooden shield. The 15 pounds of weight brings his Combat Penalty to 18. However, the shield has a combat value of 15, which is added to his Combat Rating. Defending with his shield gives him a Combat Rating of 27 + 15, or 42. He subtracts this from his combat Penalty, for a new Combat Penalty of -24.

When defending with a shield, any attack that "misses" the defender automatically hits the shield. The shield mitigates any damage to the defender.

Example: A Hill Giant a Combat Rating of 40 takes a swing at Sebastiano. Without a Shield, Sebastiano has a Combat Penalty of -3. The Giant would have to roll a 37 or lower to hit.

Instead, Sebastiano uses his shield, with a new Combat Penalty of -24. The Giant must now roll a 16 or less to hit.

The Giant rolls a 30, a "miss". The blow strikes the wooden shield. The Giant rolls for damage. He wields a club 2 handed, and has a +11 damage modifier. The giant rolls a d10, and gets a 5.   5 + 11 is 16. The table below is consulted, and the damage reduced accordingly.

16 damage against a wooden shield reduces the damage roll to 3. The standard damage table is consulted, as well as the hit location table. A roll of 47 indicates a hit to the upper left arm, which is protected by AC8 leather. A 3 against AC8 does 9 points of damage.

Had he not had a shield, he would have taken 19 points damage to the same location.