This is just brainstorming, don' know that I'd ever inflict this on players. Trying to come up with ways that in-game effects might be "felt" by players as per here. So, as long as players are under the effect they must:
sit with their chair turned away from the table, their back to players/DM
turn their character sheet upside down and interact with it in that way
any notes or writing they do must be in something ridiculously hard to read like yellow crayon, or highlighter
no writing allowed, they must remember anything they would normally make note of
no talking allowed, either communication by note, or by gestures
all dice must be rolled with off hand
if using minis, must substitute their character's with a troll (unless troll use considered normal)
sit in another room calling out their player actions
write down plans of action for combat/npc interaction etc., give them to DM and then they must abide by those exact actions when the situations arise
always last to act in order of battle
Okay, some of those would definitely be un-fun. But I kinda like the "roll dice with offhand" rule. It doesn't seem too onerous and if I were the player it would bug me to have to roll to hit like that. I would want to do whatever to get that effect off of me.
It is lost to history whether Sivith was male or female, cleric or mage. In fact, little is known of, what some call, the Jewelled Corpse but that the power it possesses is vast and its demeanor quiet.
Tall and thin almost to emaciation, its corpse of hard, dry flesh sits and moves with excellent posture. Portions of it are covered in ornament: gold leaf applied in delicate scroll-work, traceries of platinum, and gems set permanently into the ancient flesh.
Sivith is graceful, tasteful, never immediately hostile, and its desires difficult to discern.
2nd appearance Some new portion of Sivith will be decorated, new lacquering, gilding, new lapis or pearls, new platinum wire work etc.
I've been scouring thrift stores for a while looking for wooden receptacles. But recently my familial duties revealed to me two redwood offering plates. I like that they have a little lip that helps keep dice from hopping off my cloth store felt. I like that it's round so it offers maximum rolling area without hogging the whole table:
Need to have a session to try it out. Unfortunately, if you all want one they're asking ~ $ 40 online.
Work is busy these days and that means I don't have the mental energy to go as deep into ideas as I like or respond to your comments in a way they deserve. I thought I might look back over last week's posts and add some comments and further thoughts before we move into another crazy week.
Monday I put out the idea of sharing NPCs in the way we share artifacts and relics. Zak offered up a great way to do that utilizing random tables already existing in the blogosphere.
Two thoughts: 1) I love the way the effort put in to make those charts now allows us to go further, building on them. By sharing we can all get something even cooler than our own individual efforts (which should go without saying, but hey we live in the age of intellectual "property"), 2) I think there might be more meat on the bone of what random charts you might plug into the shared NPC. Zak's "Hidden Traits . . ." chart is great because it hits all the notes, but it doesn't allow for customizing the way the DMG charts did. You might make up more specific charts of Shameful Secrets, or Phobias, or whatever strikes your fancy. If you make it and we know it exists we can offer up NPCs using this common language.
Tuesday I asked what the purpose of the art inside modules was for. I know it sounds lame, it's to make it look nice. But when I ask you all lame questions I usually get fascinating answers. Lot of good comments here, two ideas that struck me as notable 1) Trollsmyth mentioned Raggi using art as tone indicators to a DM. So, if you intend your module to be gonzo, and insert hyper-realistic art, you may be working at cross-purposes, and 2) Daen Ral Worldbuilder, offers up the idea of art as markers. Modules do serve as tools at the game table and if you can help a DM know where important chunks of the information begin and end, that seems very important to think about when placing your pics.
Wednesday I cogitated on the limitations we have in applying imaginary effects to player characters in the game world. There are some interesting comments there about how to evoke reactions from your players, but I was more interested in clever/innovative ways we might use the system to let us do more. Yes, we can certainly work to evoke feelings of fear in our players, but I don't know that I can make them feel charmed or feel the difference between being asleep during a combat or being petrified.
I forgot to mention in my post that there is another category of effects that I try to use, that of affecting the player character's appearance. Aging, height/weight, hair/eye color, while having no in-game mechanical effect, do seem to matter to players. Which is really an old idea, with the idea of gender-exchanging magic items.
So, no real progress here. I think the three possible areas to explore that I list at the end of that post might yield something new, but that is for a different time.
Thursday I posted about Snake Island and mentioned I think an island hopping campaign would be fun. Not much new to add here either, but I was thinking about how it would be cool if one-page island modules included the island profile; what it would look like as pcs approach from the sea. So, for example, volcanoes would be smoking, Snake Island has tons of birds (snake dinner), and some islands might be just austere spires of rock. It would help players decide if they should risk landing or not.
Friday I posted two word NPCs and invited you all to participate. I love doing that. Some of mine are silly, but some I found really intriguing. The first four especially. I've always been fascinated by the lich. I've long had thought of writing fantasy fiction and one idea was a sort of lich hunter, who hunts to find the secret of avoiding mortality, a sort of fantasy Gilgamesh. The idea of a lich gilding and bejeweling the hardened flesh of his/her corpse is creepy to me. In fact, I think I've decided to try and offer the first two as NPCs à la Zak's method.
Thanks for all the great comments. Here's to a good week.
I had a job that entailed a partner and me spraying weeds around dairies, in 100+ degree heat, in the county with the most dairies in the US. The ultimate in tedious boredom. But we found that the guy driving the rig, if careful, could read books. So we started taking turns adventuring through the Lone Wolf world.
Apparently Joe Dever is a cool cat, because he made all these books available for free online. And now there is a program that will let you play through the books. It looks like it's Windows only, but I was able to play on Linux with no problem whatsoever. The program seems well done from the quick playtesting I gave it.
I like the idea of playing through the books-- what was cool about them was you could be anywhere-- like a dusty road surrounded by lowing dairy cattle-- and enter that world. So, I think I'll refrain from using this program for now. But I wanted you all to know it was available.
I know I mentioned in a blog post before about how I loved the way these books let you randomize numbers, basically closing your eyes and stabbing at an array of random numbers with a pencil. But looking back, I see that it was probably a big influence on what I'm trying to make now-- a clean, simple, iconic representation of equipment that new players can quickly understand.
Take a look at these weapons:
This illustration was meant to let you randomly pick a weapon specialization. But imagine the numbers being, instead the damage each weapon does. That is what I'm trying to make, albeit with public domain images. No muss, no fuss, no charts, and everyone can see the difference between, say a broadsword and long sword.
Fit for a dragon's hoard. How many gold pieces would you make this worth in your campaign? Bidding starts at $5 million U.S.
"The carpet is traditionally believed to have been created as a gift for the tomb of the Prophet Mohammad in Medina and was commissioned by “Gaekwar” Kande Rao, the Maharaja of Baroda."
"This splendid carpet has a surface that is entirely embellished, created using an estimated two million natural seed pearls, . . . The design is picked out in coloured glass beads and the whole richly encrusted and embellished with gold set diamonds and precious stones in their hundreds. . . .Across the centre there are three large round ‘rosettes’ each made of table cut diamonds set in silvered gold. Further smaller diamond rosettes in the border, all of which are embellished with sapphires, rubies and emeralds set in gold."
I don't know if all you Lovecraft fans have already seen this or not. In August of 1978 a panel at IguanaCon met and discussed the subject of this post's title. The panel consisted of: Dr. Dirk Mosig, Dr. Donald Burleson, J. Vernon Shea, Fritz Leiber, and S.T. Joshi.
I wanted to humbly offer this pic to the venomous pao to represent The Clockwork Bird Of Muzza’im. It isn't my art, but I did scavenge it from the wreckage of history.
Here are a few other pics for folks: ps: If you're the type of person that really gets a thrill from finding cool new art on your own (like me) let me know and I'll lay off the archaeological illustration hunts. If you just want some kickass illustrations but looking for them is a chore let me know-- I'll do my best to surprise you with what I dig up.
I've always wanted to do a Dawn Treaderesque campaign with pcs hopping from fantastic island to island. Ilha de Queimada Grande off the coast of Brazil would be the model for one of them:
"Researchers estimate that on the island live between one and five snakes per square meter."
"The lancehead genus of snakes is responsible for 90% of Brazilian snakebite-related fatalities. The golden lanceheads that occupy Snake Island grow to well over half a meter long, and they possess a powerful fast-acting poison that melts the flesh around their bites."
I think there would have to be something astoundingly valuable on that island to get the players to brave the snakes.
ps: What's with Brazil!? First a fire tornado then an island of deadly snakes that I've read about today. They need to channel the tornado towards the island, haha.
I'm realizing that the kinds of effects magic items and monsters can have on player characters is fairly limited by the gaming situation.
I first started thinking about this with Brandyvein Beetles. They make dungeon explorers drunk which is a totally cool idea if it were in a piece of fiction or a movie. But the only way to really simulate it at the table is to push the responsibility onto the player: "Okay, pretend you're drunk" (or have players like mine, which are well on the way to "simulating" drunkenness no matter what the situation, hah).
There are a few effects that the system can handle decently. Because the DM controls access to knowledge of the game world, effects that cut it off can be simulated-- blindness, disorientation (getting lost). And effects that cut off the players' ability to interact with the game world are easy-- sleep, paralysis, petrification.
But that's about it. And you can see some of the classic effects are already huddling around the few, true ways to affect characters. In essence, the difference between sleep and paralysis to the pc is flavor.
The other thing a DM can do is apply modifiers to the system-- strength, speed, and pretty much anything that gives negative modifiers to combat. "Okay, you're drunk, you have +2 to strength, but -4 to hit."
But what happens when you want pcs affected by something else? This came up in one of my sessions when a magical statue made a pc paranoid. On the note I handed him communicating the effect I'd tried to apply the effect to the player rather than just his character. It said something like "Someone in the group wants to do you harm." But the player knew what was up. The only real way to simulate it was for his player to act paranoid. It was immediately apparent to everyone at the game table that he was under a magical effect and proper measures were taken. Yeah, it was sort of funny to see him act paranoid for a bit. But it seems like the potential for interesting things to happen is pretty limited by the nature of the game.
The nature of the game is that the players share a consciousness; any information one of them knows will tend to be known by all of them. And I'm not talking about "bad" players or players "cheating". Just the fact that we're all sitting around a table means it takes great effort by the DM to prevent everyone from knowing everything (individual notes, ear-whispering, talking in a separate room). And, even those efforts will tip the rest of the players off to the fact that something fishy is up.
This is not meant to imply that players roleplaying effects isn't or couldn't be fun. I'm just trying to think here about how much system can do for us, and if there are any ways we might creatively get around this hurdle.
Here are some effects that would be hard to simulate without pushing it onto players as a roleplaying responsibility:
any kind of insanity, really
Confusion could be crudely handled by making a chart of possible actions and having a player roll randomly each round.
I just realized that the way the 1e DMG handled insanity was for the DM to take over roleplaying the character from the player, so no help there.
Hallucinations and some forms of insanity could fit into the DM's parceling of game world information. It's just that the goblins fighter bob keeps hearing behind doors never materialize.
Look for new ways to obscure/filter game world information.
Look for new ways to mess with the shared pc consciousness.
Think about ways to actually affect players in lieu of their characters.
Cyclopeatron posted an illustration one of his players made for their Gamma World session. What's so cool about it is it looks good enough to be inside a module, but it wasn't pre-peplanned, or drawn solely for coolness or aesthetics, it was emergent, the way I like my oldschool adventure plots. This brings up something I've been pondering for a while now:
What is the purpose of module art? Not cover art. I understand the importance of it; really, the one chance to convey to a possible customer the genre, tone, and content of your adventure. But usually you don't get to see interior art until you've already purchased the thing.
And not player handout art, which is fascinating in its own right, but much less common than the illustrations I'm talking about.
Also, it's not like you can show players the art, however cool, because it probably contains spoilers of some sort. And after the adventure you might show them something especially noteworthy, but chances are their adventure was more exciting than the illustrations in the book.
So interior module art has DMs as intended audience, right? But not to sell them on the module. Is it meant to help DMs imagine the location? The denizens of the dungeon? To set the tone of the piece?
Has there ever been an illustration in a module that was explanatory somehow? I mean, it would have been more difficult to run the adventure without it? I'm talking about aside from maps and cross-sections, obviously. Maybe a trap illustrated?
If you are an artist, what do you see as your goal for a bit of interior art? If you are a DM how do they affect the way you relate to a module?
As a thought experiment, we could imagine a continuum of Interior Art Quantity on a line. On one end, 0, would be no art (maybe not even maps), on the other end, 100 would be all art (a comic book dungeon!). Where would your preference lie?
What if we wrote up and shared NPCs in a way similar to the way 1st edition AD&D handled artifacts?
Instead of long backstories, you would be limited to a paragraph, two at most, describing the person. Then certain strengths or weaknesses would be left up to the DM. Maybe the "powers" would be something like Minor Weakness, Minor Strength, etc. Or, maybe Flaws, Vices, or Quirks?
Hmm, not sure, seems like what's interesting about characters is their specific strengths and weaknesses. "Frail, albino noble with a soul sucking sword" is pretty explicit isn't it? Maybe what "frail" means or how soul-sucking would work mechanically would be left to the DM?
When a great Eastern Emperor came to the philosopher-priestess Aristoclea for relief from pain accompanied by terrible visions she told him that she needed a week to consult the oracle and meditate on a remedy. She stressed that during this week he must rest and contemplate his place in the order of things. After a few days the Emperor felt better and decided to celebrate, throwing lavish parties and going hunting with an entourage of hundreds. It is said that the crude solution provided by Aristoclea is in fact the consequence of his disobedience.
The Emperor's prescribed aid was a crude leaden head with approximately thirty small areas marked out upon it. Upon the onset of suffering he was to hammer an iron nail into the area most afflicted. At the end of the day the nail would work its way out of the head's mouth to be used again.
At first use, the Emperor found not only did the pain abate, but that he was granted a small boon for a day. Unfortunately, there was also an ill effect. Worse still, using the head 3 days in a row brought on additional ill effect so that the cure was little better than the sickness. Frustrated, the Emperor threw the head into the sea and retired to his palace to live in quiet and complete darkness.
Hammering the nail into a particular spot will clear any charms, geasa, glamours, or insanity. It will also provide a Type I and Type III effect. The benevolent effect granted will always be the same if the nail is driven into the same spot, but the malevolent effect will be random.
I ____ once a day (x ~ 30 associated with particular spots on the head) III ____ with each use IV ____ after three consecutive uses
Just some brief thoughts. If you're unfamiliar with the artifact and relics power/effects tables from first edition AD&D, Mr. Jeff Reints explains them here.
If you're like me, those tables have fascinated you for decades. To look at Baba Yaga's hut and know it was an artifact of mythic power but not know what powers it had, was tantalizing. It makes me long to either find the Hut as a player, or run a campaign as a DM that the has the Hut.
In a way, that evocative uncertainty is what makes D&D work. We know of dragons, and wizards, and the City of Brass. But we don't really know about those things. Nothing definite; I don't know the street plan of the City of Brass, though I feel it's more real for me than a city like Baltimore, or Ottawa, places I've also never been but that evoke nothing for me personally. Likewise, we've all read about powerful mages, but the stories all differ. And so each DM can have their own vision of such wondrous things as wizards, and dragons, and Baba Yaga's Hut.
This is especially fascinating in that it's counter to the whole Gygaxian tendency to codify everything in 1e. It really is a quirk of a wargamey desire to not have players knowing all the game secrets that ended up giving DMs some creative breathing room.
I'll go farther and say those tables are the best thing in the 1e DM's guide and their real benefit was unintended.*
And it's interesting how we can have this cross-blog conversation about artifacts using this simple system of roman numerals and understand each other. I think that other loose but simple standards might help us DIYers communicate back and forth, maybe poison types, or treasure types, anything that would benefit from a kind of communal short hand.
Artifact power tables are a perfect example of just the amount of detail in a game product; enough backstory to get me interested but not so much I can't make it my own.
The system used for categorizing their magical effects is a simple and useful tool for facilitating communication between all of us.
Now that I think of it, I guess that's what I was going for with my unfinished Mix-n-Match charts; a sort of community effects table. Just imagine if a module even used such a system for traps, rather than spelling them out. Saying something like "Triggering will result in two Type I effects." And the DM could customize to their liking.
(*I don't mean to be provocative, but this is why I don't get all starry-eyed thinking about Gygax. Yes he helped create something really new under the sun. But I don't think he really understood it, because he almost immediately started down a path to make D&D more centralized, codified, and focused on tournament play. All features in no way new under the sun. If he had only focused on empowering DMs the way he had in B1, B2 and these tables, rather than constraining them, imagine what we might have had by now.)
Scholars have long speculated on the fabled city of Commissum. Its location and the nature of its inhabitants lost to time, some doubt its very existence. But some few, rare manuscripts speak of it with certitude, its strange inhabitants always somehow fantastic-- invisible, ant-like, or tiny-winged fey folk--its promise always of great personal power to those who find it.
Commissum is, in actuality, a great helm with an intricately-shaped city in steel mounted on its crown. Those who don the heavy helm will be granted a great power but there is a price. If the city tips past its horizontal plane the wearer will suffer ill effects. And even if a wearer manages to keep Commissum steady, there is a price to pay for its power.
I ____ III ____ (each time the city is tipped) IV ____ V ____
Design notes: I thought of this while up in the mountains, but after Jeff posted the artifact challenge, this seemed perfect-- because I have no idea what benefit having a tiny, living city on your head might give someone-- I just liked the idea. This way YOU can decide :)
I couldn't resist giving it a prime power, 'cause that's what artifacts are for, right? Give me a day or two to come up with the other lesser artifact required by the rules of the challenge.
If you have any suggested powers for this let me know, I'd love to hear them.
I know that it's no fun to have the whole party enslaved by mindflayers in thirty seconds. And I know that wading through hordes of little monsters gets boring fast. But there is something about level appropriate adventures that has always bothered me.
You know, those labels: Suitable for 2-6 adventurers of 3-5 level. Sure, there's always some wiggle room, always hyphens because party power is hard to determine if you don't know which classes are present and how well the players rolled their hit points. But it still feels a little tidy to me. It gives me the impression as a player that I will encounter nothing I can't handle. It constrains the Mythic Underworld.
My challenge to you all, give me an adventure locale suitable for all levels.
Some thoughts on this.
Hirelings can serve as a powerful DM tool here. They can be a buffer that reduces party size as a factor. They can also help bulk up the power of a lower level party through sheer numbers.
Part of the problem here is thinking of all encounters as combat encounters. Who says the dragon even cares about your first level schmucks? Maybe the Sphynx likes talking to visitors and will only eat you if you annoy her, whatever your level.
There would definitely need to be decision signposts for players, so they didn't stumble into packs of beasts that do only want to eat them.
Geography is probably the key. Think of the Caves of Chaos but also how other topological features of a place might partition different monster communities- elevation, water sources.
Verisimilitude could work to our advantage here too. Maybe the lower level creatures work for the higher level creatures. Maybe the powerful planar creatures are observing the ecology of the place, and that's why they don't blast it all to kingdom come.
Puzzles are difficult for players, not characters, and thus should be level neutral.
Environmental hazards- rock slides, lava, geysers, mud pits- could make places equally deadly regardless of level.
I would like a place in my campaign world that's interesting and dangerous whether you're first level or tenth. A place that has enough personality, or features that it can be re-visited by parties again and again. Is it possible?
I've started to get the feeling that player actions in a dungeon might be generally predictable. If this is true, designers should know because it will effect how every dungeon is explored and experienced. (Do they know this for video games? They must. They could easily run hundreds of playtesters through fps maps and record their every action)
I had this idea when I noticed that players found checking behind curtains irresistible both times they were encountered in my recent session. Then, when I thought about it, I realized I would do the same as a player. Maybe a curtain feels like more of a threat, less "wall-like," even though a door might be used just as easily by monsters trying to get at a party.
I hypothesize that any time curtains appear in a room, players will want to check behind them and if they conceal an exit, players will use that exit before opening the "hard" exits. You might even be able to channel a party in a dungeon by covering certain passages with curtains, the passages you want them to take. I also have a feeling this might extend to a general tendency to use certain exits before others. I'll call this the Hierarchy of Egress. (Or, if that sounds too snooty-academic, we could call it Door Priority, which has a nice ring to it.)
I know that context and player knowledge will make a difference here, but, all those things being equal, players will use exits in this order:
Or, something like that, anyway. We'll have to pay attention as we DM and make adjustments to the order or decide if the whole idea is rubbish.
I started working on a post-play narrative post but it's dragging, so, rather than get bogged down I'll reflect on some things about the session I got to DM recently in LA.
Since this was a con-type, one-off game I was thinking of giving players individual goals to shoot for. Luckily this little adventure has a goal built in already: escape. So, instead I decided to try out randomly giving each player a perk that incorporated player mini-games.
This is what I distributed:
1. You have a seashell that will answer any question asked of it in 1 syllable words.
2. Once an hour you can take the shape of any animal that you can describe 2 features of without using the letter "a."
3. You have taken a vow that gives you power:
First to enter, first to battle, Always first, and no blade shall harm thee.
4. You have a magical tarp that, when thrown over you, makes you invisible. But it also prevents you from seeing anything.
5. You have 3 clay eggs, that when broken will act as your eyes for one turn.
So, how did they work out? Some of them fabulously, some not so much.
The seashell was used 4 times, I think. It worked out nicely because the player decided his character Cadric the cleric would worship a sea goddess. He asked if he could use the shell as his holy symbol and I said of course. The info the shell gave wasn't super useful. But it did allay the parties fears about a small figure in the dungeon. Asked if it was a danger to them if they left it lurking behind them, the shell told them "No."
For some reason David decided, not to use the shell often. Because my houserules for petitioning the gods give you diminishing returns as you ask for more and more, it may have just been roleplaying, applying the same idea to the shell-- even though I wasn't applying that mechanically.
The shell failed to answer once. It was asked a question containing the word "trapped" which I ruled was more than 1 syllable. I can see others ruling differently, but, hey, the sea goddess is strict like that.
This seemed fun. Javi turned into a hummingbird, by using the words: "quick" and "humming." I'd imagined the mini-game requiring sentences describing the animals, but this worked out just as well. I think he turned into a hummingbird when things turned dicey with a ghoul bear. They managed to overcome it, but if they hadn't he would have survived by flying off.
Later when Udo the magic-user was on death's door, there was talk of him turning into a bison to carry Udo's body (I see the words "big" and "furry" written down), but it hadn't been an hour since the hummingbird transformation and Udo was later revived anyway.
Vow of Power
This was the first vow I've tried. It worked out perfectly. My buddy Jeff drew this one and even though he was diligently going first through doors, down wells etc. he was surprised during the first combat to have blades slip across his skin as if it were made of stone. Even better, after playing for about two and a half hours Jeff slipped up. He allowed Urugul the fighter to explore a muddy passage first. Then the next combat he was surprised to have his skin sliced open by blades.
I really like how that worked. Although they weren't explored this time, it could allow for some tactical decisions too, when you have one warrior immune to a certain type of weapon. But it isn't overpowered if the rest of the party is normally affected.
One question is: if this were campaign play would Jeff's fighter be able to reinstate the vow, or is it gone for good? Not sure.
Tarp of Invisibility
This one is more of an awkward magic item than player mini-game and, unfortunately, I think its suck outweighed its cool. It never came into play. I was hoping it might allow for some tactical uses, but thinking on it now, it seems I would probably only use it to eavesdrop on intelligent, talking creatures, or to hide and let a monster pass. Hmm, it could have been useful if they wanted to let the Gulo pass them on its rail, but these foolhardy adventurers charged the thing the first time they saw it, haha.
Eggs of Chinweike
I was too muddy on the description of what these would do, going through multiple drafts of the little perk card. I had envisioned the eggs letting you see the past of an area while holding them, and functioning as a kind of wizard eye when set on the ground somewhere. But I didn't want to confuse players so I just mentioned the latter, and hoped to creep the player out by surprising them with the past-seeing ability when they cracked open an egg for the first time.
The truth is, that first power is far more useful. It could have given the party ideas of how the dungeon was made and foreshadowed the Gulo, creating dramatic tension. I can't think of too many uses for remote eyes, unless you are spying on someone. I suppose you could roll it around a corner and avoid being surprised. Anyway, these were never used.
The Sixth Sense
I actually had six players and only five perks. For the life of me, I couldn't think of a sixth on the drive to LA or the morning of the game. It turned out that one player, Staples had read the Undertavern, so I kind of copped out and told him he wouldn't get one and we would just say he was semi-psychic. I was assuming it would be hard for him to un-remember facts about the dungeon. And, while he certainly didn't abuse it, he did mention "row, row, row, your boat" in the ark room. Players didn't pick up on that at first, but tried the song as the puzzle solution later. I don't know that they would have ever guessed it without that little mention by Staples. So, Staples' psychic power saved the day in the end.
F. Fremiet, from Cent dessins : extraits des oeuvres de Victor Hugo
What the heck!? I've never heard of this. It's from a Victor Hugo story? Can anyone fill me in? I love how it's his bronze eagle blinding him. That's my kind of treasure/trap combo. He probably broke a vow.
A fine grey powder that, when mixed with water, becomes a noisome sludge. When mixed with any liquid containing alcohol it turns into a fine mortar that bonds stone to stone immediately and will be as strong as the stone itself. An experienced or patient mason can cross a chasm by building a rock bridge under themselves.
Dwarven mortar is rare and the recipe is lost, except perhaps to dwarves. A one-stone bag will join, roughly, 150 stones and require four wineskins of liquid to mix. Once mixed, unused mortar will set up in a few hours and become unworkable.
Found underground as well as above, these exquisitely plumed birds are most often encountered singly. Appearing unfrightened and curious, the dove will observe for a few minutes before flying off to the largest natural predator nearby. Predators have learned that blood doves mean prey and will follow them wherever they lead. If the predator is successful in scoring a kill, the blood dove will dart in to eat scraps and bathe in the blood of the slain prey. Their iridescent red feathers are rare and valuable.
Just got back a few hours ago from LA and the SoCal Mini-Con III. It was a blast. Thanks to Bedivere and Cyclopeatron for helping organize it!
I got to play a mage in Tavis Allison's game in which the opening act saw 17 of the party's henchmen fall to their deaths when our sky chariot was attacked by a type VI demon!
After that, I got to run my one page dungeon The Undertavern with a great bunch of players: Staples, Mobad Deathprong, David, Tavis Allison, his son Javi, and my buddy Jeff. They were creative, funny, and nice. Except for two unfortunate deaths right at the very end, the party escaped the dungeon successfully-- sailing out over the Undersky in a crystal ship!
I also got to meet T. Foster, Brunomac, a bunch of the Dragonsfoot/Knights & Knaves crowd, and Cyclopeatron, who was nice enough to invite me to his fabulous pad and chat about gaming for a bit.
With that last post I'm going to have to take off for about a week. Now that I have my ride back I need to finish some work on the cabin before work heats up. I'm building some stone steps up there (Dwarf work!) I'll have to show you pics when I finish.
The laptop I was using to get online previously is no longer available so this will be a true internet break, lord help me. I'll take some good books and maybe have something interesting to post from them when I get back.
I'm really interested in vows and taboos in relation to the granting of power. One of my favorite stories of all time is that of Samson, chosen of God to be a freaking superhero, as long as he observes a few prohibitions. The Nazirite vow of not touching unclean things would include, you know, stuff like jawbones and lion carcasses. So even as he's fulfilling God's mission Samson breaks these prohibitions and loses his power.
Vows, Oaths, Taboos, & Geasa
These seem ripe to be incorporated into an old school adventure game. Whether they be a fate-like prediction given to the character at creation, "He will never _______ until ________," or a kind of self imposed spiritual restriction, "I shall never _____," these could add the flavor of folklore and religion to play. But more interestingly to me, they could function as an ongoing and individualized player mini-game. Yeah it would be fun for a player to have a power, but it would be more fun if they have to be on their toes to keep it.
Now, the powers a character might gain from observance of these strictures would be a tricky thing; we don't want every pc running around super strong or immortal. Before we try to come up with possibilities let's narrow it down a little.
I'm thinking these benefits might be better as a continuous power (i.e. strength, great size) and not daily powers or spells. It also might be better if they were just one clear benefit and not many. Both of these would make it more obvious and dramatic if the strictures are broken and the power is lost.
I'm thinking it might be better if it is limited to affecting them and their body. Not something like pyrokinesis. But I'm less sure about that.
I feel like these could also be more interesting and flavorful if they were slightly ambiguous or had room for interpretation. You know, like "can never be killed by man born of woman." And then MacDuff of the Cesarean shows up.
Here are some ideas:
a silver tongue (great persuasive ability)
immune to poisons & sickness
immune to charms and glamors
great ability with a certain weapon
always first to strike (win initiative)
always last to fall (keep fighting even below 0 hp, until all foes fall or flee)
never be felled by steel (can be rendered unconscious, but not killed by steel weapon)
At What Cost?
I think the magnitude of the power granted should be balanced with the difficulty of keeping the vows. And this is related to picking vows that would work mechanically in-game. For example, an ascetic vow of vegetarianism, or a vow to avoid alcohol would rarely be an issue to an old school character unless the DM or player consciously made it one. I'd like something a little harder to avoid.
To help us generate we can think of them as obligations, things the character must do, and prohibitions, things they must never do. My general feeling is that the latter would be easier to use for our purposes but let's go with it for now and see what we can come up with.
You will have X as long as you never:
kill a living thing
draw first blood
raise a hand against a man/woman/elf/etc
strip the arms off a foe (in the sense of weapons and armor)
be first to _________ (to stop fighting?)
be last to _________ (in marching order?)
keep bad company (whatever that my be defined as)
reveal secrets (whatever they are established as)
To keep X, you must always:
draw first blood
blood a bared weapon
strip the arms off a vanquished foe
be first to _________ (enter buildings?)
be last to _________ (yield?)
I'm thinking this might need some more thought and a second post. But I'm curious to know what you think.
It's safe to make cracks at THAC0 again! Also, Zak, you're off the hook . . . for now.
Your humble host was imbibing 1d6 hops-containing potions when he got a call from the local pd. The chariot was found! But with no gas-- bring some gas. Now generally pd has a working relationship with local tow companies that costs gentle citizens like your's truly $160+ to retrieve their stolen chariots. But officer Yang had heart, he had moxy, and called the victim directly so the idea is to get to him before he loses patience. Unfortunately, being of what is called "Okie" stock 'round here TelecanterBrother's chariot has no working headlights! Yes, so the race is on-- get to the gas station and then to the land of Angus on Bullard as fast as possible and back before dark, and its about 7:30 PM and the sun is waning. And . . . we made it.
Just barely. A gallon of gas in the tank and a jump and away we went. Now I'm back, nestled with my hops potions and a car in the parking lot. Hopefully someone isn't stealing it as I type!!! Oh, yeah it's almost out of gas. They won't get far. :)
I like the theme of the "Jaquaying The Dungeon" posts over at the Alexandrian, making dungeons that have more complex geographies, but what struck me more was when Mr. Alexander went and applied those principles to the Keep on the Shadowfell.
To me that's awesome in more than one way. First, its a little poke at the industry: "Look, we hobbyists have learned a thing or two that your products aren't giving us." But also it's about DIY too; you don't have to complain about it, hope some game company hires a Jaquaysian designer, produces a product, and sells it to you-- you can do it yourself.
Yes, of course you could just start a dungeon from scratch. I know. And you should do that too. But like the article I saw as a kid in my dad's hotrod magazine about putting a big block in a Pinto . . . sometimes you do it because you want to prove you can. Or just because it's crazy (and shouldn't be done?).
I'm talking about more than changing the number of orcs in a room here. Or even just switching all the orcs to Drow. I'm thinking major changes. Maybe you switched a published module's level two and level three. Maybe you completely Frankensteined one module's dungeon onto (or into) another's. Or parked the big bad from some low level module in a side chamber of a high level one. I don't know, anything.
So two questions: 1) What's the biggest mod you've made to a published rpg module(s)?
2) Which modules do you think would be excellent candidates for such surgery?
I don't think I ever posted this. It was the map found after much effort in the depths of an abandoned nunnery. It shows a path three days travel by horse, past the ruins of an ancient city, and into the hills.
Of the two characters that made it to the maps' destination, only one made it back. Neither even knew who had made the map or what it led to.
I accidentally slipped when talking with one of those players today. I said something like "Oh, you mean the map to the tomb of St. Cecily?" And he said "That's where that map led!?" Whoops.
Anyway, I made it by chopping up bits of I-don't-know-how-many illustrated manuscript pics and pasting them together. I like the way it came out, although I wish I'd found a better representation to use for the ruined city.
These fired clay balls are the size of eggs but when cracked reveal an otherworldly iris and pupil that flicks quickly from side to side. It is said that if a person holds one of the eggs and points it at the world they will see terrible things through their own eyes. What, exactly, is uncertain: past massacres, the dark world that exists beside ours, or, perhaps, even their own death.
I know this has nothing to do with gaming, but I'm just flabbergasted. I took a break from catching up with the latest episodes of I Hit It With My Axe to take out the trash and lo and behold my car's been stolen for the second time in ~9 months. Same car, same parking lot. Is this karma for making a THAC0 crack or something? : (
A chunk of cloudy-grey crystal, as long as it is held the veil obscures the presence of the holder; no one will notice or remember their presence. Unfortunately, it also obscures the world to the holder; everything is a swirling grey, all sense of direction and memory of landmarks is lost. Only those most driven by vengeance or passion have dared try the Veil as a tool.
The idea is to write treasure found in easy to decipher sections: scroll, potions, weapons and armor. There should probably be other sections.
I'm not that satisfied with it, but hey, I just spent like an hour looking for a damn public domain image of a halfway decent jewel and failed. I may revise this for myself later, but instead of inundating you with a bunch of revisions, in the spirit of fostering DIY, here's a zip file of all the images in the above document as pngs. Use them as thou wilt.
The thing about a list based system of encumbrance is that you can use any lined piece of paper, index card, or scrap of napkin you've scrawled some line across. Very DIY. But, if you want something a little ritzier to give your players I made another sheet that might be more generally useful.
I may be too conservative on my total weight. So, going with Swords & Wizardry's 75 pounds with no movement penalty, I've made a new encumbrance record sheet. Going with my previous post's 7.5 pounds per line, you have 10 lines. Going with the system of a new line for every 2 points above average Str, there are for dotted lines beneath that strong pcs can use and others ignore. I put one hireling on. Pdf here.
Looking over S&W's weapons list, most entries are either 5 or 10 pounds. So, it might be more convenient for you to make the lines represent 5 pounds each. That would mean this record sheet has too few lines. But I think 7.5 per line would probably work out better. Hopefully for every spear a character carries she'll have a dagger and they'll balance themselves out.
Choose How Many Lines You Want
I wouldn't worry about it too much, the point is to find a number of lines that feels about right to you as a DM. And, of course, there's always room for rulings if player's abuse the system. I remember back when I was an embryonic gamer, my DM's DM had a player that had so many magic swords they joked he wore them like a skirt. Yeah, that would be too much. Ten suits of chain or something would be crazy, but I want to be as hands off as possible and let the lines do the work where they can.
Coins As An Exception
So . . . is a backpack full of 300 gp one "item"? I would say, no. Everything is an item until you get to coins and then they slop across the lines. You fill all the containers you have, adding their weight to the total.
But if you are using that standard D&D 10 coins equal 1 pound, then every two of my lines is 150 coins. Pretty easy. You would probably want to have some standards worked out for container weights/capacities (does any one have a list of these already?). The max our poor hireling could carry is 750 gp. But hey, that's a good profit :)
Update: I think need more coffee. I probably should have put spots on the pdf for the chracter's max load possible and how far they can carry it. Maybe later.
So, I left off with the idea of a binary system of dealing with how much crap characters in adventure games can carry: little enough that it doesn't matter, or enough that they can barely carry it.
Again, this is an abstraction. If you don't have a problem calculating movement rates for all pcs/npcs, then that's cool. I personally don't want to deal with calculations if an abstracted system will give me similar results-- namely the feeling that people have limits to what they can carry, and that because of this they'll have to plan ahead if they expect to find heavy treasures, or else make hard decisions about what to leave behind.
A Full Pack Hinders
Now, I think a simple addition to the binary system would help along those lines and not cost much in complexity: if you have at least one slot left in your pack, it doesn't affect you in any way, if you have a full pack you can't run or jump.
I'd have to see how this works in play, but I think it might prevent the binary system from feeling overly simple. I'm guessing it would put pressure on players to always have a little room left in their packs.
If you wanted a little more grit you could give pcs with full packs a -1 to all combat rolls (thanks Dan), or require them to have to make the standard rest breaks twice as long / twice as often (thanks anarchist). Both are simple enough that you could probably get away with using them without confusing players or slowing down play.
Carrying, Just . . . One . . . More . . . Thing . . .
Okay, what if their packs are full and players still want to carry something? I don't have a brilliantly elegant idea for this, I was just thinking pcs could carry up to their Str in 10s of pounds for a distance of their Str divided by 2 in 10s of feet. So an average adventurer with a full pack finds a bag of coins and wants to carry it with her. She can carry up to 100 more pounds, but only 50 feet. So she could drag it or schlep it 50 ft and then have to rest, huffing and puffing.
Someone with exceptional Str would be able to carry an additional 180 pounds 90 feet. if that doesn't sound like a lot, remember that I was going with an average pack weight of 45 pounds + 4 x 7.5 for exceptional strength. Which put the total weight at 255 pounds. That isn't too far off of the Swords & Wizardry maximum limit of 300 pounds.
How many of these over-encumbered carries can a pc make? Again, something I'd have to try in-game to see how it goes, but I might just let them keep doing one after another, except the noise they make grunting and continually dropping the weight would call for a wandering monster check each time.
The cool thing about having an inventory list based encumbrance is that you can tailor a character sheet to be ready for the assumptions of your campaign. If all your fighters start with leather armor you can cook that in to your sheet and have it ready to go. If all your mages have to carry extremely heavy spell-books, same thing.
Here is my workmanlike draft of how I might incorporate my starting equipment with this system:
What everyone gets by default is listed. I currently give them a choice of three other items which can be entered on the first 3 lines below the default gear. That leaves them three lines for junk they find in the dungeon, more if they're strong.
This could actually simplify my starting equipment down to "Here choose three things off this list."
Since most of my players like hirelings and end up with at least 2, it would probably be a good idea for me to work up a page similar to the draft in the last post. But it would have an inventory list for one pc and lists for 3 hirelings.
Bags of holding, mules, Tenser's floating discs, could all be easily worked up into sheets with a certain amount of available slots too.
Anyway, the details can be worked out. I'm more excited about the way ignoring encumbrance effect on movement rates could streamline play.
If you've followed my blog this summer, you know I've been struggling with the tangle that is movement rates/encumbrance. I came up with what I thought was a pretty streamlined system of checkboxes to keep track of these. But two things happened, 1) I realized that the whole idea of more weight slowing a person's pace is wrong and 2) James Raggi came up with a much more elegant way to track encumbrance.
Short Distances, Not Slow Speeds
So, 1 first. This is one of those things that seems so intuitive but just isn't right. First, yes, carrying weight can slow your pace, but the amount your pace slows is nowhere near that given in most rpg rules. Check out these world's strongest men carrying the Husafell stone:
That thing is 300 to 400 pounds. Notice how they are walking at about 3 mph, in other words, normal walking pace. You could do this experiment yourself: go to the local building supply store pick up an 80 pound bag of ready-mix concrete and carry it around the store. I'd wager, if you can pick it up, that your problem won't be how slow you're moving, but how far you can go before your tired muscles give out completely. At some point the weight we carry flips from "I don't really notice this" to "Just a few more steps, just a few more steps." So I'm proposing a binary encumbrance model:
you carry it with no effect on your movement rate
or, it's so heavy you can only carry it a limited distance.
A Normal Load
First, we need to know what is the weight that flips us over to too heavy. In real life this has all kinds of influencing factors including body weight, height, and genetics but we'll keep it simple. We'll only vary it by the Strength attribute, 18's like the guys in the video will carry more than the rest of us. But to start let's hold strength steady at 10. What weight can be carried with no penalty?
If you go by Swords & Wizardry, the most a character can carry without suffering movement rate penalties is 75 pounds (5 stone). If you use my revised starting equipment pack, all characters will start with ~25 pounds of gear (1.5 stone). That would leave them with ~3.5 stone leeway.
To complicate things, I actually think the 75 pounds is much too high. My vague recollection of backpacking into the sierras is of having ~60-70 pound packs, and those were heavy, and those were modern packs made with aluminum frames, plastics, and designed to put weight on your hips. I'd be much happier if we lowered the default weight carried to ~45 pounds (3 stone). You could easily make this higher or lower. I would keep it multiples of 15 to make conversion to stones simple, say 30, or 60 pounds if those feel more right to you.
But, after the fast pack, that only leaves 20 pounds, you might think. But remember my fast pack is giving them almost everything they need going in to the adventure. If they find treasure they can always ditch some rations, oil, etc. Also, don't forget those lovely non-combatant hirelings, what do you think they are being paid for exactly?
Encumbrance as a Limited List
Okay, now 2. Anyone who has played crpgs has probably wished for an encumbrance system as simple. The packs in, say, Baldur's Gate had a certain amount of room and items took up a certain amount of that room. If you're a freaking pack rat like me, you would spend a lot of time in that game juggling gear, trying to decide what to throw out, learning what had the most value per weight/size. Encumbrance was a real part of the game experience. But how to translate that to the non-computer world where calculations get in the way of time spent making quips about portable holes? James Raggi proposed slots on a character's sheet. Each line could have one piece of equipment written on it. As these slots are filled characters pass predetermined encumbrance levels affecting their movement rate.
Now, first, this is a genius idea of abstracting levels of weight to lines on a sheet of paper. It, like most elegant solutions, is a matter of granularity; yes a sword weighs more than a potion, but that is not the level of detail we want to mess with if it requires us to do math every time we pick up new gear. An item takes a slot. That's it. (okay, you can actually fudge a little here, and I might, making oil bottles and ammo come in standard sized bundles in your world, to allow for say 3 bottles of oil on a line).
But, if you combine this with my idea above I think we can make this even simpler while still giving a feeling of verisimilitude, about things in our worlds having weight and people having limits. So, I would limit the lines available for gear to total our flipping point weight of 3 stones.
A sticky decision to make is, roughly, what weight should each line on the encumbrance record sheet represent. Again, you could vary this to your taste, but I think 7.5 pounds (1/2 stone) is a good middle position between a heavy mace and a lighter dagger, averaging things out in the end.
So, 45 pounds divided into 7.5 pound chunks would give us 6 slots. Players in my games would only have 3 slots left. We can round these numbers off and be a little sloppy, it's supposed to be an abstraction.
But what about characters of different strength? The easist solution would be to give pcs more slots or more stones according to their strength attribute modifier. This could probably work for Labyrinth Lord or Osric, but S&W and oe have more limited bonuses. I want to keep this simple, how about add a new slot for ever two points of strength over 10, remove a slot going down the other way. So, someone with 18 strength would have 10 slots.
I propose hirelings, unless a trait noted otherwise would be average 10. You could make them weaker than average if you wanted. Here is a draft of what a record sheet using this system might look like:
Pdf is here. Hirelings on the bottom. You can see the players have 6 lines available with 4 additional dotted lines for those lucky enough to have exceptional strength.
I think I'll stop here and post tomorrow about what to do when the weight goes over the normal load.
Even with fast packs there are often equipment choices for players to make when outfitting their expeditions to the underworld. I figure a really easy way to smooth these decisions, speed things along, and maybe also help with bookkeeping later is to have a party equipment record sheet.
I've been wanting to do this for a while but finding the right art has been an exercise in frustration. Anyway, think of it as a draft. And if you like the idea, you don't even need this pdf, just quickly sketch the items on a piece of paper and make your own on game day. But I do think images ease the reading of the sheet.
The idea is player one picks her gear, writes her character's name by all the stuff she chose then hands it to the next player who does the same. People are usually making these decisions simultaneously, but it could be helpful for inexperienced parties to be thinking about what they might need that they haven't purchased yet. I think it could be really helpful later when all hell breaks loose and you need to know which hirelings had torches-- just check this sheet, their names would be by torches.
There's room for an item or two more. I'm not sure what else should be one the sheet. I thought maybe bags or coffers, for when the party is carrying booty out of a dungeon. Other ideas?