Thursday, April 18, 2013

Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day - Part III - More Characters, and a cheat sheet for S&W.

Here are the other four characters for the Wastelands scenario, including a Bard, which is not in Swords & Wizardry Complete, but is in Knockspell 6. If you need more details to run the bard, drop me a line, or pick up Knockspell, which has a second interpretation of the Bard by the ubiquitous Tenkar (who, along with Chris Helton of Dorkland fame set up S&W Appreciation day) and lots of other cool stuff for S&W and other OSR games. At the end of the post is a cheat sheet (inspired by a cheat sheet I saw for the DCC  RPG) for playing S&W. Up tomorrow will be the DM version of the map, and some stats and guidelines for wilderness encounters of the Wastelands. 

Tall Tracker
Lawful Male Human 4th Level Ranger

Age: 36, 172 lbs, Blonde Hair, Blue Eyes

AC: 6 HP: 33 Save: 11

Str: 14
Dex: 13
Con: 15
Int: 12
Wis: 12
Cha: 11

Bastard Sword, One-handed +1 to hit, Dam: 1d8 Wgt: 10 lbs
Bastard Sword, Two-handed +1 to hit, Dam: 1d8+1
Longbow (Range 70, ROF 2) +1 to hit, Dam: 1d6 Wgt: 6 lbs

Charity: donate all excess treasure to poor.
Tracking: 90%
Alertness: Surprised only on a 1 in 6
Giant and Darklander slayer: +4 Damage

Leather 25 lbs
Backpack (30 lbs cap)
Rations (7 days)

Gold: 0
Electrum: 0
Silver: 10
Copper: 10

Purse: 2 Lbs
Arms: 16 lbs
Armor: 25 lbs
Gear: 10 lbs
Total: 53 lbs

Tall, ascetic, and blonde, with a face deeply creased by sun and wind.

After your exile, you no longer have a name, yet the Borderlanders call you the Tall Tracker, and depend on your ferocity against the Darklanders.

Tharkun the Dwerrow
Neutral Male Dwarf 5th Level Fighter

Age: 145, 235 lbs, Red Hair, Green Beady Eyes

AC: 4 HP: 27 Save: 10 (+4 vs Magic)

Str: 14
Dex: 10
Con: 16
Int: 11
Wis: 12
Cha: 11

Battle Axe +1 to hit, Dam: 1d8 Wgt: 15 lbs
Battle Axe, Two Handed +1 to hit, Dam: 1d8+1

5 Attacks/round vs. 1 HD or less.
Detect (1-4 on a d6): Underground passages, Large Stone Traps, Sloping Corridors, and Moving Walls.
Darkvision 60'.

Chain 50 lbs
Shield 10 lbs
Backpack (30 lb cap)
Rations (7 Days)
10 Spikes

Gold: 50

Treasure: 5 lbs
Arms: 15 lbs
Armor: 65 lbs
Gear: 10 lbs
Total: 95 Lbs

Long red hair and lustrous beard, braided and decorated with bits of fallen foes, with murderous green eyes.

All Dwerrow look murderous to humans. You are actually considered cold blooded, even for a dwarf, though your black humor gets you in trouble.

Eletherion the Ancient
Lawful Female Elf 4th Level Fighter/3rd Level Magic User

Age: 325, 125 lbs, Silver Hair, Violet Eyes

AC: 4 HP: 18 Save: 11/12 (+2 vs Spells)

Str: 12
Dex: 15
Con: 10
Int: 12
Wis: 10
Cha: 11

Longsword +0 to hit, Dam: 1d8 Wgt: 10 lbs
Longbow (range 70, ROF 2) +1 to hit, Dam: 1d6 Wgt: 6 lbs

1st Charm Person, Detect Magic, Protection from Evil, Read Languages, Read Magic, Sleep
2nd Strength, ESP, Detect Evil, Locate Object

Elven Chain (can cast spells in this armor) 25 lbs
Rations (7 days)

Gold: 0
Electrum: 50
Silver: 0
Copper: 0

Purse: 5 lbs
Arms: 16 lbs
Armor: 25 lbs
Gear: 10 lbs
Total: 56 lbs

Flowing silver hair bound in a silver circlet, slender frame guarded by mithral and gold mail, yet cold and remote.

Though consigned by the leaders of your people to consort with lesser beings, you still maintain the regal bearing of your ancient race.

Toman the Rhymer
Neutral Male Human 5th level Bard

Age: 26, 165 lbs, Brown Hair, Green Eyes
AC: 7 HP: 22 Save: 11

Str: 9
Dex: 11
Con: 10
Int: 12
Wis: 8
Cha: 15

Longsword & Dagger +1* to hit, Dam: 1d8 Wgt: 10 lbs
*If initiative is won.

Climb Walls: 86%, Delicate Tasks: 20%, Hear Sounds: 4 in 6, Hide in Shadows: 25%, Move Silently: 35%, Open Locks: 25%, Bard's Charm: 55%, Bard's Lore: 50%

Spells per day: 1st - 3

1st Detect Magic, Charm Person, Read Languages, Read Magic, Shield, Sleep

Leather 25 lbs
Backpack (30 lb cap)
Rations (7 days)

Gold: 10
Electrum: 0
Silver: 40
Copper: 0

Treasure: 5 lbs
Arms: 12 lbs
Armor: 25 lbs
Gear: 10 lbs
Total: 52 lbs

Long brown hair, handsome face and build, sparkling green eyes and a dazzling smile.

A trip into the Wastelands, surrounded by festering Darklings, to kill a fearsome beast? Sounds like a bit of a lark.

Note: Rules for the Bard may be found in Best of the Dragon, Vol. 1, or in Knockspell 6

Swords & Wizardry – How Do I...

Check for Surprise? – This is Tall Tracker’s responsibility to check. Roll 1d6, On a 1, the party is surprised, and the enemy gets a single action.

Roll for Initiative? – Before initiative, declare if you are casting a spell. Then, roll 1d6. This is Jomes Wolf’s responsibility to check. If the result beats the enemy’s roll, then you may go first, otherwise you go second.

Decide what to do in combat? You can move, or make a ranged attack, or cast a spell, or execute a melee attack. You might be able to combine some of these; ask your DM. You may also attempt a crazy or unusual stunt

Move my character? – You can move a distance equal or less than your combat movement, listed on your character sheet.

Make an Attack Roll? – Roll 1d20, add any modifiers, and look at the bottom of the character sheet to see the AC you hit. If you do hit, then roll the damage listed for the weapon you wield.

Execute a cool stunt? – Describe fully and entertainingly what you are attempting to do. Then roll 1d20, like in a normal attack. The DM will tell you if you succeed, and what the effect of the stunt is. If your stunt does not involve attacking, your DM will tell you what to roll and whether you succeed or not.

Cast a Spell? – Select a spell from your list of prepared spells and state that you are casting it before Initiative is rolled. If you are struck by a spell or damaged before you cast the spell, then the spell fails and you lose the capacity to cast the spell for the day.

Make a Saving Throw? – Roll 1d20, add any modifiers, and look at the Saving Throw number listed at the top of the sheet. If you roll higher than this number, you succeed, and mitigate or escape the threatening effect in some manner.

Use a Thief, Bard or Ranger Skill? – Choose the skill from the list on your character sheet, and most importantly, describe how you are using the skill. Then, roll percentage dice. If you roll less than or equal to your skill rating, you succeed and the DM will explain the results.
See when it is dark? – Torches and lanterns cast light in a 30 ft radius, while Dwarves and Elves can see in the dark for up to 60 ft, though this ability is spoiled in the presence of torches or lanterns.

Detect a secret door? – Explain how you are searching and what you are searching for. The DM will then roll 1d6, and if the die roll is a 1 or a 2, the DM will tell you if you have found what you are looking for. Elves search successfully on a result of 1, 2, 3, or 4 and can even get a roll for just passing within 10 feet of a secret door, if the DM gets a result of 1.

Detect a large trap? – You don’t need a specific skill to detect a large trap. Tell the DM where and how you are looking, based on his description of the area. Smaller traps (like poison needles in a treasure chest) may require a Thief to disarm, but you can use this same method to detect them. A Thief does it faster and more easily, and can sometimes disarm traps without springing them.

Avoid a trap? – If you pass over an undetected floor or other large trap, your DM will roll 1d6. On a 1 or 2, you do not trigger the trap, and the next person to trigger the trap will also have this check made for them.

Open a locked or stuck door? – Roll 1d6, and on a result of 1 or 2, you tear the door down. Subtract you STR bonus to hit from this roll. If you have crowbar, or if someone is helping you, subtract another point from the roll.

Listen for noise? – The DM will roll 1d6, and on a result of 1, you hear noise if there is any in the area or behind a door you are listening to. Non-humans and Thieves have a better chance of listening than others, due to their natural talent or training.

Escape from a wilderness or dungeon encounter? – If you win initiative, you may try to withdraw from a fight. If your movement rate is higher than your opponents, you succeed. If their movement rate is equal to or higher than yours, then you will have to drop food or valuables in hopes of distracting them long enough to allow you to escape.

Negotiate with a Non-Player Character? – Role-play your conversation with the NPC or monster. Let the DM know what your charisma is. They will determine the success of your negotiations. 

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day - Part II - The Characters.

The Company of the Wolf

The Company:

The Company is a band of professional mercenaries who specialize in highly dangerous missions involving Darklander suppression, investigation and salvage of the ancient ruins of the Aldonai Codominium (and sometimes even older ruins), wilderland exploration, as well as more traditional activities like killing and looting. 

Nonetheless, despite their reputation for getting difficult jobs accomplished, they hold to older Codominium beliefs in a changing world – honor, fair treatment of the weak, including women and children, and loyalty to both person and contract.

Jomes Wolf is the Invictus, or military leader of the company. In a fight, his word is law, and he expects it to be obeyed in any martial conflict. However, he is sort of leader who thinks first, and then acts. He is always willing to investigate non-violent options if they get the job done.

Sarmanes Trebor is the Magister of the College of Newhold, and a student of the Lineage of Kritias. The company’s arcane master, he oversees all things arcane in nature, from the identification of magical items, to the production of potions and charms. He is also its premiere Battle-Mage.

Tork the Grey One. This weaselly looking individual is the Company’s Master of Spies, and an accomplished thief, to boot. He decides for the company in matters of espionage and whenever ‘discretion’ is required.

Patros Consagus Theremenes is the Company’s religious advisor and chaplain. He is also an Initiate of the Mysteries of Solus, and able to invoke the God’s aid in ritual and spell.

Tharkun the Dwerrow is a Dwarf, and exile from the Retreat of Khondas-Mearg, where political infighting among the Dwerrow is endemic. He is extremely loyal to Jomes Wolf, who took him in and gave him both a hearth and purpose, which Dwerrow in exile do not often get.

Toman the Rhymer is a free-lancer with the company, taking on assignments as it pleases him. A bard of some note, his knowledge of ancient legends and songs is unparalleled.

Tall Tracker is also a free-lancer, but one whose aid may be invaluable. Said to be an exile from one of the northern duchies (though for what reason, none can say), this Ranger is a scourge of Darklanders, and has been invaluable in his aid to the Borderlanders.

Eletherion the Ancient is an Eldar (Elf) of the fabled Shadowed Isles. She has aided the Company before, but never for pay, presumably in furtherance of her own aims or those of her mysterious people. Her appearance at the start of the mission was unexpected, but welcome.

The Contract:

The Company has been contracted to enter the Wastelands of Zin, a notorious area full of Darklanders, arcane monstrosities and ancient ruins. It is also the reputed nesting ground of a powerful dragon that burned and ravaged castle and village of Lord Teremen of Farcourt. The Duke of Helicon has contracted with you to slay the beast, lest he return to the Duchy to kill and ravage other holdings. You must enter the Wastelands, identify the name of the dragon and its location, and then ambush and kill the thing. Any loot you acquire you may keep. You have determined that a small band, moving quickly, may succeed where a larger mercenary army could not.

·         The Company begins in the ancient city of Lareth, whose ancient towers now crumble and sway from neglect (Hex 0602 of the Wastelands map). An old race, the Consagh, still dwell within their towers, served by half-caste slaves, who virtually rule the lower city. Much vice, including slaves, poisons and weird drugs may be found in its market, the Plaza of Resplendent Sin. But your path lies elsewhere, to the south. What do you do?

·         Please now take a look at the map of the Wastelands. Each of you may know rumors about the map, which you may or may not reveal to your fellow members, as you wish. You determine where to go, and tell the DM where you wish to travel.

·         Each hex on the map is six miles, and you may travel on horseback, or on foot, as you choose.

On foot: 2 Hexes a day.

On Horseback: 3 Hexes a day.

Force marching increases these distances to four and six hexes a day, respectively, but may kill your horse or injure you.

·         While in the wastelands, you can expect to run into bands of Darklanders, and these murderous humanoids will certainly try to kill you. The more hexes you travel through, the more encounters you can expect to have, which will drain your resources and keep you from accomplishing your goal. On the other hand, you will need to investigate different areas to discover the lair of the dragon. Choose you path wisely.

·         You start with seven days of rations. While in the Wastelands of Zin, characters can hunt or scavenge for food.   Scavenging for food is an activity that can be accomplished without hindering travel by gathering fruit, nuts, or small animals. For each day of travel while scavenging, roll 1d6. A result of 1 indicates that sufficient food for 1d3 human sized beings has been acquired. Hunting follows the same procedure, but succeeds on 1-2, and must be engaged as the sole activity for a day.  No traveling is possible.  In addition, there will be one encounter check, from the table appropriate for the terrain, while the group is hunting.     

Jomes Wolf
Neutral Male Human 5th Level Fighter

Age: 38
186 lbs Black Hair, Brown Eyes

AC: 2 HP: 25 Save: 10 Move: 12

Str: 17
Dex: 09
Con: 10
Int: 10
Wis: 12
Cha: 14

Longsword +2 to hit, Dam: 1d8+2 Wgt: 10 lbs
Lance +2 to hit, Dam: 2d4+3 (Horsed only)
Dagger +2 to hit, Dam: 1d4+2 Wgt: 2 lbs
5 Attacks/round against creatures with less than 1 HD

Plate Mail Wgt: 70 lbs
Shield Wgt: 10 lbs
Rations (7 days)

Gold: 20
Electrum: 0
Silver: 10
Copper: 0

Purse: 3 lbs
Gear: 10 lbs
Arms & Armor: 92 lbs
Total weight: 105 lbs

Bear of a man, attired in soldier's Plate, with cropped black hair and short beard.

Taciturn, yet given to grim humor when things look dangerous.

Sarmanes Trebor
Neutral Male Human 4th level Magic-User

Age: 45
162 lbs Grey Hair, Blue Eyes

AC: 9 HP: 10 Save: 12 (+2 vs Spells)

Str: 8
Dex: 15
Con: 13
Int: 16
Wis: 11
Cha: 11

Staff +0 to hit, Dam: 1d6, Wgt: 10 lbs
Dagger +0 to hit, Dam: 1d4 Wgt: 2 lbs

1st Detect Magic, Light, Hold Portal, Protection from Evil, Read Languages, Read Magic, Shield, Sleep
2nd Continual Light, Knock, Magic Mouth, Mirror Image, Web, Wizard Lock

Rations (7 days)

Gold: 30
Electrum: 0
Silver: 20
Copper: 0

Gear: 10 lbs
Purse: 5 lbs
Arms: 12 lbs
Total: 27 lbs

Short cape, form fitting leather shirt and pants, boots, staff.

Close cropped hair and beard, all white.

Being a member of the Company means access to ancient ruins, powerful artifacts and great secrets - why would you want to be anywhere else?

Consagus Theremenes 
Lawful Male Human 5th Level Cleric of Solus

Age: 38 172 lbs, Bald with Brown Eyes
AC: 6 HP: 18 Save: 11 (+2 vs. P/P)

Str: 10
Dex: 7
Con: 9
Int: 9
Wis: 15
Cha: 6

Turn Undead
+2 bonus on saving throws vs. paralysis/poison

Staff +0 to hit, Dam: 1d6, Wgt: 10 lbs

Chain Wgt: 50 lbs
Rations (7 days)
Holy Symbol

Gold: 30
Electrum: 0
Silver: 20
Copper: 0

Purse: 5 lbs
Arms: 10 lbs
Armor: 50 lbs
Gear: 10 lbs
Total: 75 lbs

This man appears years older than he is, with a balding pate, prematurely grey, slight paunch, and a thin, narrow face. But the eyes burn with the inner light of an Initiate of Solus.

Grumpy and not altogether solicitous, he constantly complains about Company members that take for granted his gift of healing.

Tork the Gray

Neutral Male Human 5th level Thief

Age 33 160 lbs, Black Hair, Brown Eyes

AC: 6 HP: 14 Save: 11 (+2 vs. devices)

Str: 9
Dex: 13
Con: 10
Int: 11
Wis: 9
Cha: 8

Short Sword & Dagger +1* to hit, Dam: 1d6, Wgt: 7 lbs
Sling +1 to hit, Dam: 1d4, Wgt: 6 lbs
* If Initiative is won.

Read Languages: 80%, Climb Walls: 89%, Delicate Tasks: 35% Hear Sounds: 4 in 6, Hide in Shadows: 30%, Move Silently: 40%, Open Locks: 30%
Backstab: +4 to hit, requires surprise and attack from behind - x3 damage.

Leather 25 lbs
Backpack (30 lb cap)
Picks and Tools
Grappling Hook
3 torches
Rations (7 days)
Rope, Silk (50 feet)
Large Sack (30 lb cap)

Gold: 20
Electrum: 0
Silver: 20
Copper: 10

Purse: 5 lbs
Arms: 13 lbs
Armor: 15 lbs
Gear: 10 lbs
Total: 43 lbs

Slick back hair, weasel face, bad teeth, large ears, and skinny, to boot.

You're not bad, you just look like you are... heh, heh, heh. Yeah, that's it. 

Next four characters tomorrow, plus a cheat sheet for Swords & Wizardry.

Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day - Part I - The Wastelands of Zin.

The Wastelands of Zin Player Map
So, what do you need to start your new Swords & Wizardry campaign? How about a world?

The Wastelands of Zin are a sandbox scenario that I ran at Owlcon, a local gaming convention in Houston, Texas. Essentially, the players are given the map above, and a goal, and are then invited to experience sandbox style play for the four hours of the round. For the next several days, I will be posting the material I prepared for the round, as well as additional material that will allow you to use this material as the basis for your own campaign. I also have an super-secret ulterior motive for providing this material, which I will discuss after I have posted all the stuff for the round.

Let's start with a glossary I put together for the Wastelands. it's really meant for the GM, but there is nothing in the glossary itself that provides spoilers. See you next post, sometime later tonight!

The Wastelands of Zin – A Glossary

Aldonai CoDominium – The former empire that stretched across the Eiossan Continent. Today, only the twelve or so Dukes of the North lay claim to be the inheritors of CoDominium culture.

Invictus – The field leader of a Free Company.

Adventuring Company – A somewhat satirical name for a Mercenary Company, especially subsets of the full company detached for special duties, such as Darklander suppression, ruin looting, etc.

Free Company – A small military company that takes contracts from the dozen or so Dukes of the North to conduct military operations. They often include non-military specialists that act as an Adventuring Company.

Darklanders – Inhabitants of the Wastelands of Zin, and the Dust Plains to the east. They observe no common codes or rules of conduct, indiscriminately slaughtering all they come across. They are divided into several sub-races.

Solus – God of the Sun and Illumination of the Dodekatheon.

The Church – Formally, The Restored True Faith of the CoDominium, the Church organizes and controls all expressions of faith within the territory of the Dukes of the North. While the church technically worships the Dodekatheon, it is actually more of a monotheistic religion with its roots in a polytheistic practice.

Sevren – The city of Magisters, which by ancient compact is the only institution allowed to teach magic by the Church.

Magister – A master of arts of Theurgy, or “acting on the Gods”.  A Magic User.

Dukes of the North – Twelve nobles houses that rule the duchies of the northeast of the continent, last remnant of the Aldonai CoDominium. They constantly engage in small scale intrigue and battles, relying on feudal forces and the Free Companies.

Wastelands of Zin – An area of devastation that underwent a vast disaster some 200 years earlier. There are ruins of ancient cities in the wastes, which are mostly inhabited by The Dead and Darklanders.

Freeholds – Independent small holdings on the borders of the Wastelands of Zin. The Borderlanders stave off Darklander incursions (and worse) from the wastes, sometimes with the help of the Dukes of the North, but most often alone.

Consagh – An Ancient race, found only in the city of Lareth in the Wastelands.

Dwerrow – An Ancient race, found usually in their mountain Retreats. This fractious people regularly produce exiles who serve humans throughout the North. Dwarves.

Eldar – An Ancient race, found usually in the Shadowed Isles. This arrogant and proud people occasionally provide aid to the people of the North, and their wandering ‘ambassadors’ are often found meddling where they don't belong.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Dangers of OSR and DIY Gaming

This is a bit of hyperbole on my part. These are not the sort of dangers that lead to nasty acid burns or wigging out because your character died. Instead, it’s more akin to a kind of faux pas that comes along with taking what can be an unpopular course of action.

A bit of background. About six or seven years ago, I told myself, “Self, you like gaming. Really like it. You are a fairly decent GM. Why aren't you doing it more?” I didn't really have a good answer, so I made a concerted effort to play more, and not just RPGs, but other types, like board and card games. I was running RPGs a lot more, at least two or three sessions a week, and had three official games running. My reasoning being that if one or more games were cancelled, I would still have at least one day a week that I would be playing. It worked out, and even though I burned out running 3.5, I got to spend a lot of time with my friends, and played a lot of games.

On Saturday nights, I played Pendragon with one group of friends. That campaign lasted for several years, until one of the players decided that he was dissatisfied with the game and asked for a change. I complied, and we started playing a number of different games, which eventually led to people stopping playing altogether. I tried playing both LotFP and the DCC RPG with this group before it finally fizzled out, and those were the games that finally broke the camel’s back. One player in particular felt that the game restricted his ability to accomplish the heroic stuff he wanted to do, an old complaint about OSR games that I disagree with, but have to accept when others hold this opinion. None of these players have moved to any of my other games, but I still see most of them on an irregular basis, and count them as my buddies. This group had three regular players, and three floaters.

On Tuesday nights, I ran the Age of Worms Adventure Path for D&D 3.5, and by the time the thing was half over, I was sick and tired of the system, as I have spoken of before. The adventures were fairly cool, and mostly not too broken as conventional D&D adventures, but I still really hated both prepping and running the thing. I stopped running it as we were beginning the very last adventure, which should tell you something about how I felt about the experience. Three of the players (out of six) eventually participated in my new, OSR inspired Friday night game.

On Monday nights, I played in an online game, my Miskatonic Legacies Call of Cthulhu game. This had been going on for five years, with three to four regular players for most of the run. I had one player drop out halfway during the campaign. We played using a Teamspeak server, which was perfect for CoC, for the majority of the run. All those guys, with one exception, live out of state. We plan to play again together, but without me as the GM.

Three years ago I got married, which began to restrain my available free time somewhat. (Ahem.) I have actually tried to run a couple of other campaigns during that time, along with some one-shots and tournament rounds. I tried to run classic Traveller three times, once with the CT rules, once with Mongoose Traveller, and once using FATE, but I wasn't able to sustain more than half a dozen sessions each time.

The Saturday night game ran through a number of systems after Pendragon, including Eclipse Phase (which I aborted before it began – I loved the background, but hated the system), LotFP, Runequest 6 & 7, Grimm, and the DCC RPG, which goes to show just not what to do with your regular group, I think. When I first started blogging, one of the players wrote me, impassionedly detailing his objections, which were based on the fact that he felt he expressed himself through character builds with more complex systems, not through role playing.

So now I am left with a single game, the Friday night Wilderlands campaign, which is an S&W hack using elements of B/X-LL-LotFP, along with a long list of my own variants. That meets about twice a month on average, given the inevitable cancellations. It has had a total of nine players. Two have moved out of state, and two only showed up for a couple of sessions before leaving, both former players of my 3.5 game. One was explicit in his disdain for doing all the stuff he had already felt like he had done 20 years ago, and the other left for reasons having to do with it being too long a trip to the game. I think.

So, I am down to one campaign out of three, and many of my former players (say 3-4?) simply are unwilling to play an OSR style game with me. And, frankly, I have to be OK with their decision. It’s their decision, after all, and they have the right to decide for themselves what kind game is to their liking and what kind of game is not. I know that I am having a blast, and am looking forward to seeing how the current roster of characters grow and adapt in unexpected ways, rather than being built, Frankenstein-like, right out of the gate. They still haven't grokked the amount of freedom they possess, in terms of character actions that are outside of the box during combat, as well as in terms of the campaign, but they are starting to grasp at it. They are already dizzied at the amount of rumors and scenario hooks present in the Wilderlands, which communicates that sense of possibility and mystery I get when I look at those wonderful maps.

Some people are never going to want to play this way. They are always going to want more character options, faster advancement, more power, etc. But I have to say that I believe that I have learned a lesson that they have not.

Sometimes, less is more.

I had to stop blogging the previous semester in order to work on my Honors Thesis, but that being almost done, I wanted to start blogging again in time for Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day. Tomorrow, tune in for an entire campaign, exclusively for S&W. No foolin’. 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Variants - Oh where have all the Magic Items gone?

The dustbin of history, I hope. Seriously, I cannot tell you the amount of times that players have found and sold that +1 sword in my career as a Ref/Judge/GM. Or the potion of healing, or any other of the various bags of holding, wands of restoration and the various other flavorless drek that has crowded the backs of character sheets over the years.

The fact that something so inherently interesting as an enchanted item would be reduced to so much clutter means that there must be something off. The various fixes with this, from RuneQuest to EarthDawn to DragonQuest and all the other noun-mashed RPGs over the years show us the way. Simply turn what was magical into something a player can produce and that can be treated as if it were a commodity. After all, these sorts of items are commodities anyway. This does have the potential to disrupt certain elements of the system, but only if we let them.

What about providing magic weapons to hit creatures that can only be harmed by magic weapons?  - Allow the ‘superior’ weapons detailed in an earlier post to harm corporeal creatures that require magical weapons to hit, and/or say that un-enchanted weapons do only half damage vs. these creatures. This makes the creatures more dangerous (a good thing) and makes a those few, interesting, significant magic weapons even more treasured, and not something to be cashed in when you reach a higher level.

As for the items itself, use the Earthdawn model, where each magic item may be presumed to have a detailed history, secret name, or an inhabiting spirit. The magic item starts out weak (that +1 Sword or Ring of Invisibility) and becomes more powerful the more that one discovers about it. “Bah! That’s no mere enchanted sword, you fool, but Dargaeron’s Arm, inhabited by a spirit of slaughter, which foments discord among those who wield it!” “Ring of invisibility? And you say you won it in a riddle game...?”

As for potions and scrolls, having items with single charges of magic strikes me as not only silly, but beside the point. Resources like this are made to be lost, unintentionally duplicated on a character sheet or ignored. “How many potions of extra-healing is your character up to this week, Sara?” “Thirteen...” If they are needed, it might be better for the players not to be on the adventure that requires them until they have grown in power. Further, players always remember character abilities more than they remember consumable resources. Maybe an invocation which allows one to strike creatures that cannot be otherwise harmed, for a limited number of rounds, is in order.

Scrolls and potion need not disappear entirely – after all, there is alchemy, as long as the concoctions produced do not duplicate the effects of already existing spells. In the 2nd wave RPG Bushido, players can acquire Suryas, which are scrolls that allow for effects to be produced as long as the words on the scroll are recited. The words do not fade after use, and may be reused. I stole this directly, and they now substitute as the older protection scrolls in my game. Scrolls as treasure maps, clues and rumors still appear regularly, but now as sources of information rather than as a minor effect, promptly recorded on a character sheet and then forgotten.

As for wands, staves and such, I prefer them to be magical foci, as they are in historical magic.

Here’s a wand or three as an example:

Wand of Jet – A silver rod of perhaps five inches in length, topped with a stone of Jet. This wand focuses mental energy, especially for healing and protection. It increases the variable effects of a spell or invocation by +1, up the maximum allowed by the effect, as long as healing or magical protection is involved. It also adds +1 to all saves vs. fear or magical domination while wielded.

Wand of Fire – An Ironwood wand, with a Fire Jasper at the base and a Quartz crystal tip, focuses vibrant energy, allowing a caster to re-roll any 1s, 2s, or 3s with any fire-based spell that causes damage. In addition, it can kindle the fires of men’s souls, providing +2 to morale checks for the duration of a single encounter.

Wand of Jade – This wand of Jade stone, banded with Silver, and tipped with a carved sphere of Quartz crystal, give the wielder a +2 save vs. all curses. In addition, if used to focus protective spells, it increases their strength, either by raising the caster level by two, or by maximizing their random effects.  

The final benefit of treating magic items in this manner is to reintroduce a sense of mystery into play. If the player can’t look at the back of the book and immediately see what the item is and how it works, then these elements begin to regain their original aura, and become genuinely magical.

Note: Sorry if you read this post earlier. It really needed a second round of revision, which I have now provided, which will hopefully make it a little more clear.  Next: The Dangers of DIY

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Variants – Milestone Quest System

You may remember in previous blogs my complaints about systems where feats are granted to players on a regular basis, and are used, generally, to min-max various character builds in those systems. But I don’t object to special abilities being gained by characters, I just object to players being able to pick from a cafeteria list for these options.

The crux (IMNSHO) of a campaign is how the characters interact within the campaign. When players design builds for their characters, using feats as one of the building blocks, they are not really connected to the campaign as a whole. Rather, they are building their characters in a vacuum, which can lead to all sorts of problems.

So any system which has characters acquiring special abilities should allow for them to do it within the confines of the greater campaign, so that these abilities are added organically, as the result of the choices that characters make, rather than the choices that players make.

This is the reason for a system that I call Milestone Quests. These aren't formal quests in the game itself, but rather a simple mechanic for gaining non class-related special abilities.

A character may gain a special ability when they accomplish a major goal. A ‘major goal’ varies by level, being composed of a number of Milestones equal to the level of the character when the Quest is initiated. A Milestone is a simple, specific goal that can be accomplished during the course of a single session of play.

Here’s an example. For a third level Quest, a character needs to complete three Milestones. As his village has been torched by a dragon, the character desires to find a dragon slaying magic weapon. The character already has clue that such a weapon may be found at the tomb of a long-dead dragon slayer. For the first milestone, the character cleans out the dungeon-tomb and find parts of the magic weapon. Then, he must re-forge the weapon to recreate it, which requires another adventure. Finally, he journeys to an ancient library, where after defeating various undead librarians, he learns the secret of the weapon, which allows him access to the anti-dragon magic of the weapon. After all three Milestones have been completed he gains a +2 attack bonus against dragons as a permanent character ability, separate from the weapon itself.

As you can see, the gain of permanent character ability matches (roughly) the power level of a feat, and was earned by accomplishing tasks within the campaign. The referee decides the exact details of the ability, and the character simply expresses a desire in a general way (I am looking to get better at fighting dragons) and takes actions which would lead to such an end.

All this is very casually dealt with during play. I’ll turn to a player, and ask, “Does your character have a quest for this level? What is it?” I’ll then talk it through with the player, just asking in general how he or she thinks the character would accomplish the task.

Here’s another sample. The character in question is a third level fighter.

Ref: So what’s your quest for this level?

Player: I don’t know, I hadn't thought about it yet.

Ref: Didn't Josiah (the character in question) say he wanted to learn to fight with two weapons?

Player: Yeah, that would be cool.

Ref: Well Josiah has heard of dueling masters who fight with a sword and dagger. They supposed to train students in the City-State of the Invincible Overlord.

Player: That hell-hole! I don’t want my character going anywhere near that place! Are there any other ways to learn the skill?

Ref: Well, you might ask a bard or a sage, if you don’t know any other rumors.

Player: Fred’s character is a bard. Hey Fred, does your bard know where to get two-weapon fighting?

Fred: My dear Josiah, if one seeks to advance oneself in the art of combat, I, Turin the bard, advise you to seek out those masters of the dueling art in the City-Sta...

Player: I don’t wanna go there! Anyplace else you know of?

After a quick lore check, the Referee tells Fred: You know of an ancient manual, Hanko’s Fechtbuch, which contains the secret of two-weapon fighting. You think it might be buried in the ruins of Ostval, which is on the Skandik coast.

Fred relates this (in character, of course) to Josiah’s player.

Player: Great, so that’s my Quest for this level.

Ref: OK, but you need three milestones to achieve a Quest at your level. So, in addition, you will have to get the Fechtbuch translated, and then you will also have to learn how to read, or get someone to read it to you.

Player: Fine, whatever (eyes the bard). How far is it to Ostval?

I want to stress that this is not some hard and fast rule, but rather more of a guideline. It’s framework for introducing a way of integrating the character with the campaign, while rewarding a character for working with the environment. If, for reasons of suspense, you don’t wish to negotiate all of the milestones ahead of time, that’s fine, but I would resist ‘springing’ a Quest on a player with their input. This, as much as humanly possible, should be a player-directed activity. A player should never be forced into this sort of Quest, as I am defining the term.

The abilities granted by a Quest should be in the 3.5 feat range, getting a little bit better as you go up in levels. Here are some guidelines:

1: +1 attack, leather which allows an elf to cast spells while wearing it.

2: +2 save vs. some specific circumstance.

3: +2 Attack vs. specific target type.

4: Ability to attack ghost or other incorporeal, 3/day

5: At about this level, the benefits should top out, and stay consistent, because at this level you leave the power scope encompassed by feats, and enter the level of minor magic items.

Next time: Where have all the Magic Items gone?

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Variants - Curses!

One of the interesting things about the OD&D magic system is that it takes all sorts of different practices and subsumes them under Vancian Magic. Because of this we are asked to make choices about the sort of spells we want to use (in a bog-standard campaign) and if curse is the same spell list as a fireball, which would you pick?

The lesson in this, I believe, is not to have fireball or curse on the list. When you decide to make changes to things like spells lists,  many of the seemingly problematic elements of D&D cease to be an issue. You note in my previous variant on Vancian magic, there weren't any spells that affected more than one creature. This is deliberate. Of the following two images, which is more emblematic of sword and sorcery literature; a wizard casting a fireball that destroys many foes while the warrior guards the mage? Or a warrior slashing his way through a horde of foes, while the alchemist/shaman/sage prepares the ritual which will force the great old one back to the void from whence it came?

Hence curses. They become all the more interesting and useful if we divorce them from the Vancian model of Fire & Forget and treat them as a power that is usable whenever the caster chooses. Or, at least as much 1/day per level or hit dice.

Here are my standard three curses that I use when the party fights humanoids that have Shamans/Witch Doctors among them:

Curse of Weakness
Effect: Character may defend himself, but not attack. Treat strength as three for all other purposes. 

Curse of Cowardice
Effect: Character drops his weapons, and collapses in abject fear. 

Curse of Darkness
Effect: Character is blind (+4 Attack bonus to hit the blinded PC, and the PC may not attack).

For curses, always allow the curse to work and last a single round before calling for a saving throw. This is the character ‘throwing off’ the curse. In the event of a failed saving throw, continue to allow a save every round until the curse is thrown off. Curses of 3rd level and above may limit the number of save attempts before the curse becomes permanent.

Since these curses  are in the unintelligible goblin/orc/gnoll tongues, they can’t be learnt by a PC.  (Hint, at the start of your campaign don’t let the player learn any of the dark tongues.) If they do try to learn such magics, require them to undergo awful experiences to do so, far greater than the utility of the magic provides. The dark side has its price, you know.

As for players, curses should be available, but slightly more varied in power. Here are some PC curses from my campaign, along with spell level equivalents.

“Bright-coiffed Hekate, turn your triple-gaze upon mine enemies!”
Level: 1
Effect: Curses a single enemy with a -2 to attack. May cause a morale check, and 1s in Attack rolls result in self-injury.

“May all the demons in Hell damn your soul!”
Level: 2
Effect: The curse victim dies automatically at 0 hit points, and may not be resurrected. (Note: nasty villains will wait until you are nearly dead before casting this spell.)

“By Janus, let your weapon be turned against you!”
Level: 2
Effect: Any failed attack roll causes the victim to make a second attack roll, against himself.

Curses are like Invocations in that you can know any amount of curses, you can learn them from other players, NPCs or written sources, and you are limited to amount per day equal to your level. Curses always affect others, and always affect the target in a negative manner. You player is always required to role play and recite the words of the curse.

One thing I neglected to address is my earlier post on invocations is how expect these rules to affect play. Well, I hope to improve role playing by encouraging players to yell out these really flavorful utterances. I want to make magic users more flexible and interesting (by letting them access invocations and curses that affect magic-users only, or giving them access, through grimoires, to little known or powerful curses and invocations), while not overshadowing other classes. 

So far, play testing has turned out well. But the mage in my group just broke 2nd level, so time will tell how this works out at higher levels. 

Next: Quests and Milestones; or, how to have feats without breaking your game.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Variants – Invocation: Magic for Everyone

Some variants exceed the bounds of the base rules set you happen to be using so much that they end up overwhelming the original rules. So this variant, which started out in a really minor fashion, has grown now to the point where it is a significant part of a few classes.

Invocation is the act of calling upon a god or other supernatural being, not with the expectation that they will show up, but with the intent that they will spiritually aid you in some way, which leads to a minor magical effect.

You may wish to note that I am using ‘invocation’ in the original sense of the word, and not in the modern occult sense, which is somewhat different.

This rule has its origin in many other systems, the only two which now come to mind are Mark Smylie’s Artesia and Sword & Sorcery’s Scarred Lands. This rules variant, in complexity, falls somewhere between the two.

An Invocation is a short phrase or poem that is recited by a character to create a magical, though subtle, effect. Any character may use an Invocation, at any time, though the character will only receive a magical effect once per day per level. That is, the character may use the phrase as much as he or she wishes, but will only gains a benefit a number of times of day equal to their level.

A character may know any number of Invocations. In addition, the player must recite the invocation, in character, in order to gain the benefit for the character.

Other than that, there aren't that many restrictions. I expect that some invocations are dangerous to use, either because you are invoking a god unpopular with those listening, or because there may be hidden effects associated with the invocation that the invoker doesn't know about.

As to effects, most should be in the +1 or +2 to some roll or another. Any more than that seems too strong. Also, I think that the sort of minor invocations that I am talking about should always affect either the invoker and/or the companions of the invoker, not the invoker’s enemies. If you want to affect your enemies, use curses, to be covered in a future post. I allow invocations to be used concurrently with normal actions; most of them are short, anyway, and this encourages their use.

Characters can learn Invocations by visiting temples and offering a donation. 100 gp doesn't seem to me unreasonable. Others are learnt from books, and characters can teach each other, as well.

Here are several examples, with the wording of the invocations drawn from history or fiction. Since most of the Gods of the Wilderlands are drawn from history or fiction, deriving the invocations isn’t all that difficult.

Oh Mighty Asa-Thor, who smashed the limbs of Leikn; you bashed ├░rivaldi;
you knocked down Starkadhr; you trod Gjalp dead under foot.
Let your hammer guide me to throw down my foe.
Type: Lesser
Effect: This gives a +1 Attack bonus, and if fighting giants, increases the bonus to +2.

Mitra, whose speech stirs men to labor!
Type: Lesser
Effect: This allows the invoker to inspire others to bravery. The invoker’s allies are less likely to desert (If you use the B/X inspired Morale rules, all allies and followers gain a temporary +1 to their Morale scores).

Hermes Trismegistus, bless us with your triple wisdom!
Type: Lesser
Effect: This invocation allows you to recall a single arcane spell of up to third level after it has been cast for the day.

You will note that these invocations are typed as lesser. I’ll cover greater invocations in a future post. 

Friday, November 16, 2012

Variants – Mixing it up: Alchemy

Essentially, I added an alchemy system to beef up Mages and other casters so they would have more to do at low levels. In my own mind, there is a real difference in herbalism, ancient chemistry, poison making and actual historical Alchemy, but I congealed them into one blob so that the list of things you could make would be more extensive. I stole freely from many systems that utilize herbalism, without taking too much from any one thing directly. There are a couple of fan net books for AD&D 2nd edition that I draw from, as well as Rolemaster’s herbalism, the Bard Games version and some others.

Basically, a player learns a recipe, which once learned, he or she never forgets. Once you know the recipe, have the ingredients and proper laboratory, and finally expend the time necessary, you can make the product.

Here’s a list of recipes, some from Irtaxes’Grimiore that I discussed yesterday, and some that my players have learned since. 

In these entries, you will note a level requirement; this refers to the level of character (usually mage). This is the only limit to recipes; you must be of sufficient level to be able to understand the recipe and use it. You will also note that that some requirements are very specific ingredients, while others are quite generic, this allows some flexibility in determining how easy it is to create certain recipes.  

A Basic laboratory requires 250 gp and weighs 20 lbs. It may be transported, and takes two hours to set up and break down. It consists of beakers, tubes, lamps, wire and metal apparatuses, along with common reagents.

An Advanced laboratory costs 1000 gp, and has the same basic equipment as a basic laboratory, but requires a 10’ by 10’ ft area protected from the elements, and is not portable. There is more equipment, which also more diverse and sophisticated, such as the alembic and athanor.

Creation times refer to a total amount of time to prepare, which is invariable. The creator need only spend 6-8 hours per day required on labor, however.

Snake Venom Antidote
Level: Alchemy, 1st Level
Form: Greenish potion
Ingredients:  1 Giant Snake Venom pouch or 1 dozen normal viper or adder venom pouches.
Creation: 2 days
Requires: Basic laboratory
Effect: If drunk or poured down the throat within one turn (10 minutes or ten rounds) of death by snake venom, this will revive the recipient.
Spider Venom Antidote
Level: Alchemy, 1st Level
Form: Clear potion
Ingredients:  1 Giant spider Venom pouch or 2 dozen normal black widows.
Creation: 2 days           
Requires: Basic laboratory
Effect: If drunk or poured down the throat within one turn (10 minutes or ten rounds) of death by spider venom, this will revive the recipient. (Note: this may be useful against all insect venom, at the discretion of the Referee.)

Fungal Antidote
Level: Alchemy, 1st Level
Form: Thick yellow potion
Ingredients:  6 drams yellow mold spores.
Creation: 5 days           
Requires: Basic laboratory
Effect: If drunk or poured down the throat within one turn (10 minutes or ten rounds) of death by fungal spores, this will revive the recipient.

Phosphorescent Formula
Level: Alchemy, 1st Level
Form: Dimly glowing green potion
Ingredients:  30 drams phosphorescent fungus
Creation: 3 days           
Requires: Basic laboratory
Effect: if this potion is smashed on the floor, it will provide dim light in a 20’ radius for ten minutes.

Herbal Bandages
Level: 1st Level
Form: Damp bandages, infused with herbs.
Ingredients:  5 drams medicinal herbs (common), boiled bandages (common)
Creation: 1 day             
Requires: fire and iron pot
Effect: These bandages, if used after combat, restore 1d3 hit points.

Herbal Poultice
Level: 1st Level
Form: Soggy mush, wrapped in gauze
Ingredients:  20 drams medicinal herbs (common), boiled gauze (common)
Creation: 1 day             
Requires: fire and iron pot
Effect: This poultice, when applied to a wound during eight hours of sleep, restores 1d6 hp. If used for a full 24 hours of rest, it restores an additional 1 hp.

Alchemical Fire
Level: 2nd level
Form: Small ceramic jug
Ingredients:  10 gp of Naptha (uncommon) quicklime, and sulfer (common)
Creation: 1 day             
Requires: Advanced laboratory
Effect: When tossed, this jug will explode upon impact (successful attack vs AC 10, range 5) and cause 1d6 damage in a 5 ft radius. In a subsequent round, unless a save is made, it will cause and additional 1d4 damage, at which point the flames will die out.