Tuesday, April 30, 2013
But what I see is a lot of products designed as resources for Dungeon Masters. You had your Monster & Treasure Assortments and Dungeon Geomorphs. Judges Guild produced a gazillion products with dungeon and wilderness maps, random encounters, etc.
As I'm prepping my first "real" sandbox style game I have to confess I see the utility in them. Not knowing precisely what the players will do has me going through my not inconsiderable gaming library (stretching, if not back to the 1970s, at least to the 80s - when a lot of those old products were still in print). Lots of adventures I've used in the past seem just perfect for location x or location y. Heck I can see the value in random encounters, something I don't think I've used in ages. Once you have an idea as to who lives in that mountain range, it is not unreasonable that characters adventuring in that area will run into those beasties. It draws to mind the adventure of Bilbo Baggins, whose encounter with trolls screams "random encounter".
Thursday, April 25, 2013
|Continent Map. 24 miles per hex. Click to enlarge.|
It's been a little quiet here over the past week as I prepped for my new ACKS game. I thought it might be interesting to share the results, both in terms of general interest and as a resource for my campaign.
Unlike most fantasy RPG settings, ACKS does not have a pseudo-medieval setting as its default setting. Rather it is set in a period called "Late Antiquity", a period more commonly referred to as the Dark Ages. The Roman Empire had fallen - at least the western half of it had. The eastern half endured for another millennia, with its periods of growth and decline - at one point managing to reconquer much of the western empire. New nations came into existence, though it should be noted our idea of a nation is a rather new one.
For my setting I am making my Roman analogue the Corrin Empire. It still exists, though in a much reduced form. Several of the nations on the map nominally owe it allegiance though in practice they are self-governing. To the west (off the map) is another half of the empire, still enduring, inspired by the Byzantine Empire. The name is inspired by its similarity to the city of Corinth and the planet Corrin of the Dune series.
Geographically I'm inspired by a combination of the Mediterranean region and the Great Lakes region of North America. On the southern continent is the breadbasket of the Empire, a narrow fertile strip around a river within a vast desert. (This may sound familiar - Robert E. Howard made his inspirations obvious and I think that's a good policy.)
There are a few things I wanted to accomplish with the geography of the area.
Creative Commons, Photo by Devastator
- Some rough terrain - good for borders as well as for nasty critters to dwell in.
- A southern continent with a vast desert - good for Egyptian-inspired adventures.
- Lots of coastal region for some seafaring adventures.
- An inland freshwater sea. If you look close you'll see an escarpment to the northwest. This separates two areas of different elevations. It's based on the Niagara Escarpment found in North America. Niagara Falls is formed by the Niagara River going over the Escarpment.
It's a human world. There are demi-humans (primarily elves and dwarfs) and beastmen (orcs, goblins, and the like) but they are not assimilated. Demi-humans can be found in human cities but they tend to dwell in segregated ghettos. It is more like Middle Earth than the Forgotten Realms in terms of relations among species.
Elves are strongly influenced by their fae heritage. Their otherworldliness can be disturbing to humans. Ages ago, a branch of Elvenkind, the Zaharan, ruled a vast and cruel empire out of the southern continent. They are rarely seen today but the memory of them makes Elves in general distrusted.
Dwarfs are a bit more welcome but are a dwindling race. Their love of gold, silver, and mithril attracted the attention of beastmen, dragons, and demons who coveted their wealth. Many former Dwarfholds are now ruled by beastmen.
The Corrin Empire is cosmopolitan. Though trade has diminished over the years, they are made up people of a variety of appearances and religious beliefs. In historic Late Antiquity slavery was not as prevalent as it was in the glory days of the Roman Empire but it was still practiced. It is much the same in the Corrin Empire. Moreover a number of people are in virtual slavery, tied to their land.
To the east is the Rus Coast. The people there are akin to our world's Vikings. They are renowned for their seamanship and are feared for their coastal raiding. At the height of the Empire they would not have been able to strike as easily as they do. They also occasionally carry their ships over the mountains and raid on the rivers and great lakes.
The Empire was invaded over a century ago from the north by a variety of "barbarians", many of whom now rule over lands of the Empire. They are generically referred to as the Northmen (a term which sometimes includes the Rus) and their cultures are based on Native North American, Mongol, and Germanic cultures (typically not all at once...) In the northern nations the Corrin and Northmen cultures have intermixed.
One thing I like about the D&D Eberron setting is it has a variety of faiths. The clerics all have powers but they tend not to have any definitive knowledge of the divine. They have their religion, they have their clerical abilities, but their deities do not directly speak to them nor can they be 100% certain of the source of their powers or divine messages. If you've ever read the Dresden Files there is an agnostic Knight of the Cross, a clearly Christian knighthood with swords incorporating pieces of the true cross. When asked about how he can be agnostic, he replies "as far as he knows the angels who communicate with me might actually be advanced aliens." But regardless of the source of his power he figures it provides him an opportunity to do good work.
There is also the idea of good and evil... Pretty much most people believe themselves to be "good". In ACKS the main conflict is between Law and Chaos. Law is representative of civilization. A Lawful person wants to preserve civilization - he might want to change it, possibly quite a bit, but he views it as a good thing and is willing to fight for it. Lawful people and nations can very easily go to war with each other. Chaos wants to tear down civilization - this isn't so much "and then remake it" but rather tear it apart. A Chaotic character would love the fall of the Roman Empire and its fragmentation into lots of tiny petty states. Most people are Neutral -they probably like civilization just fine but aren't obsessed or willing to risk their lives for it.
With that in mind I've developed the following religions for the area.
AnimismSpirit worship. Practiced by a number of civilized folks on the fringes of the Empire as well as by many beastmen. Followers of Animism can be of any alignment. (And would also have some druid-type followers as well).
Ancestor WorshipNot too big a faith in this area, but it is known in distant lands there are people who revere their ancestors for guidance and intervention.
The LawgiverThis is the official religion of the empire. It's inspired by Zoroastrianism as well as the worship of the Seven/The New Gods in "A Song of Ice and Fire". In both these faiths, real and fictional, there is an idea of a main, true god (or "God") and various aspects. To quote the ASOIAF wiki "The Faith worships the Seven, a single deity with seven aspects or faces, each representing a different virtue. Worshipers pray to specific aspects of the Seven for help and guidance depending on their need". In Zoroastrianism there is the concept of Amesha Spenta, the six divine sparks of Ahura Mazda. This tends to be a mysterious and muddy as Christian doctrine on the nature of the Holy Trinity. Clerics of this faith would ideally be Lawful but it is certain there'd be a number of Neutral and even some Chaotic.
Elder GodsThis is for your Call of Cthulhu type primordial beings. Extremely difficult if not impossible to understand, its clerics are almost always Chaotic and tend to organize themselves into cults. A good place for insane folks who want to end of the world.
Personal Deities/DemonsThere are a number of beings, some of which actually demonstrably exist, that are worshiped as gods. These are often very local in nature, though there are some demons like your Orcus or Demogorgon who get widespread worship. Followers of the Lawgiver would view these folks as mistaken in their worship, not recognizing they are actually worshiping an aspect of the Lawgiver (this tends to lead to a lot of preaching but not so much in the way of religious wars, as the Empire has too many practitioners of this). The Rus are big on this, though being pragmatists some Rus also subscribe to other beliefs. By Crom, Conan would appreciate this attitude.
I've only developed capsule views on nations - my goal is to paint them in broad brushes and only detail what is needed.
- Corrin Empire - Similar to the late Roman Empire. Its former capital, the city of Corrin, has been sacked several times. Its population is a fraction of the the great metropolis it once was. It is ruled by a descendent of a Northman and daughter of the last of the "classic" Emperors.
- Prefecture of Esterlyn - Though geographically isolated, by mountains, Esterlyn is a very wealthy nation due to its trade with the Dwarfs of the Mithril Halls and with the Free Cities. It is nominally part of the Corrin Empire but it holds much of the debt of the Empire putting the Empire in no position to control it.
- Diocese on Manhatpau - Also nominally part of the Corirn Empire, Manhatpau is ruled by a descendent of one of the great leaders of the Northmen raiders. The rulers of Manhatpau hold a grudge that they do not rule the Empire and have built up a military that rivals that of Corrin. They have delved into forbidden magics and are rumored to have made alliances with beastmen tribes.
- Kingdom of Tullachia - "Liberated" from the Corrin Empire 200 years ago by the Tullach Northmen tribe, Tullachia jealously guards its independence. It has developed a powerful navy and merchant fleet. It is allied with Esterlyn.
- Rus Coast - Viking cultures. The Rus are master seamen, traders, and raiders. Though renowned for their "Viking" raids they more commonly engage in trade.
- Free Cities - City is a glorified term for most of these, the Free Cities is an area of small domains, petty warlords, and vicious beastmen. The lords of the Free Cities are often traders and piratess and the cities themselves are often targets themselves of their neighbors and the Rus.
- Principality of Coravia - A frontier Northmen nation along the Great Lakes, frequently threatened by beastmen.
- Diocese of Skanadario - Another frontier nation along the Great Lakes. It is inhabited by a mix of Northmen and Corrin. It is renowned for its Dwarf-built (and maintained) canal which bypasses the Mahatgo Falls, allowing inland trade all the way to oceans. It is coveted by Manhatpau. Though a part of the Empire, distance makes this more a nominal thing.
- Mithril Halls - Several Dwarfholds are found here, along with several conquered holdings ruled by dragons or beastmen - or worse.
- Elphame - A real somewhat contiguous with the realm of the fairy, the largest known settlement of elves. Uninvited visitors often meet bizarre and tragic ends.
Wilderness and Borderlands
Much of the map is not part of any nation. North of Corrin is a broken former par of the Empire, ruined in battle and magic over a century ago in battle between the Empire and Northmen. It is now inhabited by madmen, beastmen, and treasure hinters. Other wilds are home to nomadic Beastmen and Northmen, with many ruins of a more glorious age. There are older ruins dating back to the era of Zaharan Empire
The campaign will open in the Diocese of Skanadario, an area I am in the process of detailing. I am inspired by the Grand Duchy of Karameikos from the old D&D Basic and Expert games. It is a borderland region, not fully under the control of its leaders.
Saturday, April 20, 2013
|Boston Marathon Explosions|
Photo by Aaron Tang, used under Creative Commons
I've lived in the MetroWest suburbs of Boston since 1996, living about 30 miles away from the city itself. Being born in New York City I have to be honest that my sports allegiances remain those of my youth - the Mets, Giants, and Knicks. Yet my wife and I have grown to love the city and its surrounding area. (And I was most definitely rooting for the Red Sox to beat the Yankees in 2004.) Being a history buff, especially that of the American Revolution and early national period, I love the fact that Massachusetts celebrates Patriots' Day, commemorating the start of the American Revolution with the Battles of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775.
Part of the celebration of Patriots' Day is the running of the Boston Marathon. It is difficult to describe the importance of the Marathon to those outside the area - it's just a day of general goodwill, when we welcome and cheer on people from all over the country and the world. I work in Hopkinton, the town where the Marathon starts. One of the women killed in the bombing was 29 year-old Krystle Campbell who had been cheering on the runners annually since she was a little girl. And that's the kind of story that just fits in with the day - this really is our holiday. We're one of the few states in the nation to celebrate Patriots' Day and I suspect that it is by far most important to us.
So to have that day defiled with the blood of innocent participants and spectators is especially painful. It's not that this wouldn't hurt on any day, but it happening on Patriots' Day at the end of the Marathon just rubbed salt into the wound.
When I went to bed Thursday night I was reading of a shooting of an MIT police officer. At the time it was believed to be unrelated to the Marathon bombs. When I awoke this morning I found at that that was a mistaken belief. The morning saw a firefight in Watertown, with one of the suspects dead and another shot police officer. It seemed like something out of the novels and RPGs I often talk about in this blog. And the day saw the surreal sight of normally crowded streets in the Boston-area totally empty as state and federal law enforcement worked to find the remaining suspect. My brother, his wife, and their daughter lived in Watertown for several years, providing another jolt.
Thankfully, the surviving suspect was captured with no additional loss of life. And I found myself proud of my home's reaction - it was a homeowner who discovered suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev hiding in his boat, The way the various law enforcement groups and civilian populace worked together was inspiring. We faced great adversity but did not give into fear. But while I am thankful and inspired, I also find myself mourning those we lost and those who were injured.
Wednesday, April 17, 2013
A second post in one day. Eek!
My earlier post today for Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day was more on the practical side. I wanted to provide the community with something that might be handy in their games. I'm probably most proud of the idea of short-duration scrolls. What I was looking for was a way to give the magic-user a little extra while not unbalancing him, either at low levels or high levels. With scrolls that don't last indefinitely no magic-user is going to stockpile them and assigning a cost to them will make sure they aren't used flippantly. But it gives low level magic-users just a little something extra while still keeping them rather delicate at low levels.
For this follow-up post I wanted to reflect a bit on the Swords & Wizardry game as a whole. I've never been at the core of the "Old School Renaissance" - I've played and run lots of games, old and new, and bear none any particular ill will. Some I have more fun with than others. And there's some new school games I'd love to have a chance to try some day - I'm looking at you Trail of Cthulhu.
I got my start with the "Magenta Box" D&D Basic Set. At the time (4th grade) it seemed incredibly complicated. But it was so engaging. It fired off my imagination in a way no other game had, whether board game or Atari 2600 game. And in those days of middle school there was so much time for gaming. Lots of adventures to buy at Toys R Us or Kay-Bee Toys. And easy to make your own. As I got older it became harder to keep a group together and time for gaming diminished. By the time I was late in high school and in college my gaming was limited to some one on one time with my brother (whom I still game with and is always welcome at my gaming or dinner table) and the occasional game in the dorm at UConn.
A few years after graduating college and moving to Massachusetts I was able to get a group together. We started off with Last Unicorn Games Star Trek, had a great D6 Star Wars game, and then, years after my last D&D game, kicked off a D&D 3.0 game. It was great to be playing D&D game. But I noticed something about playing 3rd edition D&D. We had a lot of fun but as Dungeon Master I was spending more and more time preparing for it. And while playing was great fun its encounters took longer than I would have liked. Please don't misunderstand - I didn't hate the game. A few years later I kicked off a D&D 3.5 group set in Eberron and we had an absolute blast - and there's still a few players left from that group in my current group. But as my wife and I had children and those children required more and more of our time the prep time for these games was a luxury I didn't have - and being able to play only once every two weeks I wanted to be able to get as much activity into a session as I could.
You might think that the next step would have been for me to pick up and Old School game like Swords & Wizardry. As it turns out, it was not. Around this time I was actually following the development of games like OSRIC, Basic Fantasy Role-Playing Game, Labyrinth Lord, and Swords & Wizardry. But I wasn't quite able to convince the group to give one of those a try. And to be honest I wasn't quite pleased with Swords & Wizardry as it was then - it's evolved quite a bit and the game(s) now available are far superior from the initial efforts. These were efforts that had a lot of good in them, but they got better with time and refinement. A lot of the development of Swords & Wizardry was done publicly, on various Old School forums and on the Mythmere forums. And watching this development, making the occasional comment, studying the results that were produced got me really thinking. Could I run a game in the way I used to. Getting away from those rules that handle every possible scenario. Get away from the safety net of guaranteed balance. Be willing to allow the players to try anything. To go off the beaten path and embrace the times that they surprise me.
I wound up launching another game that I'd been itching to play for years - Call of Cthulhu. It worked wonderfully. We had games set in the 1920s and 1890s. We had memorable PCs and adventures. In the middle we tried out Dungeon Crawl Classics, another fun experience. And one I think did a superb job selling the idea of getting away form rules for everything. When you have players having an unforgettably enjoyable as their characters suffer horrible deaths you know something is right.
As part of a goal to expanding our group - it's small enough that we can easily not have a quorum - we decided to switch gears to fantasy and do some recruiting. As it turns out we've had tons of people interested, with Swords & Wizardry attracting the most attention. But we also got a lot of interest in Adventurer Conqueror King System (ACKS) and that's the game we've decided to go forward with.
"What kind of lame Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day post says 'hey I'm not going to play Swords & Wizardry'"? Actually I'd love the chance to play it and quite likely will in the future. For me, the appeal of ACKS was that it refined the version of D&D where I got my start in gaming some thirty(!) years ago.
But even then I'm planning on getting a ton of use out of Swords & Wizardry. It has provided a lingua franca for the Old School gaming community. Products from it can easily be used in similar games like OSRIC, Labyrinth Lord, ACKS, Basic Fantasy Role-Playing. And other games have material which can easily be imported into it. If we were to have played Swords & Wizardry for this campaign I would have been borrowing a ton of ACKS rules. On the other hand, as I'm prepping for ACKS I have to confess I'm not fully pleased with the monster selection there. But I have two enormous tomes of monsters from Swords & Wizardry, the Tome of Horrors and Monstrosities. And I will be using them and Swords & Wizardry adventures in my ACKS game.
This reminds me of the environment when I first started gaming. We mixed and matched D&D with AD&D, freely made use of materials from companies like Bard Games and Mayfair Games and didn't lose a ton of sleep over full compatibility. The games and their supplements used terminology we all understood. And they all flowed from a set of assumptions we all understood as well.
DM: "The box is the size of a small trunk; it is latched but not locked."
Dougal: "I'm looking for traps on the box."
DM (rolling for Dougal's "find traps" ability. The roll indicates that Dougal has failed to find the poisoned needle in the latch.) "You don't find a trap."
Morgan (the group's leader): "Black Dougal will open the box."
DM: "Black Dougal, you find out that you missed a tiny discolored needle in the latch. Roll a saving throw vs. Poison, please!"
Dougal (rolling): "Missed it!"
DM: "Black Dougal gasps 'Poison!' and falls to the floor. He looks dead."
Fredrik: "I'm grabbing his pack to carry treasure in."
Game balance. It's a tricky concept in RPGs. D&D 3rd and 4th editions made a very strong effort to balance the character classes with one another as well as to balance encounters. For my purposes, they went too far. As a Dungeon Master I found prepping for a 3rd and 3.5 edition game to be far too onerous a task. there were certain assumptions about balancing encounters, assumptions about what sort of magic items characters had, etc. Coming from a background of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st and 2nd editions where I was used to making judgement calls it was a difficult adjustment for me.
On the other hand, you want to avoid creating a super-class or race. For those of you who remember the 2nd edition of AD&D there was the infamous Elven Bladesinger - a "kit" available to fighter/magic-users. It gave a large number of bonuses with, what most people felt, a small number of disadvantages.
In my opinion, Original Edition D&D and 1st Edition AD&D did the following to achieve balance:
- Magic-Users were very weak at low levels but became very powerful as they reached intermediate and high levels
- Fighters were extremely dominant at low levels but did not see as large a rise in power as Magic-Users. I have seen this described as the Linear Fighter, Quadratic Wizard problem.
- Clerics are generally useful at all levels - they start off nearly as good in combat as fighters and gain magic which tends to assist the party.
- Thieves always suck. (OK I exaggerate - thief abilities improve quite a bit but at low level thieves tend to be very poor at the abilities which define their class and failure at using these abilities can result in instant death - alas, Black Dougal.)
- Non-humans are discouraged by having lots of abilities early on, the ability to advance in multiple classes at once, and limits on their advancement. This, I found, did not achieve what it set out to do. Most campaigns I was in maxed out in the mid levels. before level limits became issue.
Swords & Wizardry Complete is designed to model D&D as it was played just before AD&D came out. Overall, I think it does a good job of doing this. There's a few wrinkles here and there. I suspect most of there to avoid copyright violation - it recreates the feel of the Original Edition by using the System Reference Document of D&D 3.x and going backwards.
With regards to game balance it makes use of the same methods applied by Original Edition D&D. For me, that leads to some issues I had "back in the day". I should note that none of these problems were crippling - we still managed to have a ton of fun. But I suppose the engineer in me must tinker and I've been thinking of some house rules I might apply to a Swords & Wizardry game.
My general belief is all characters should be balanced for "fun". You should, in general, always be able to feel useful to the group. Not useful in all situations. If you are a magic-user you should be getting some enjoyment out of shepherding your resources for maximum effect. A fighter is not going to have much to contribute to examining dusty tomes of arcane lore. But in general you should not feel like a bump on a log.
My other guiding principle is that house rules should be as minimal as possible. Ideally they would mean no changes to a character sheet at all. A new player bringing a character to the table should be able to have the house rules explained to him very briefly and his character sheet should be useable as is if at all possible.
Going forward I will bring up the various issues I see and how I would address them.
In addition to level limits, Swords & Wizardry Complete limits demi-human characters to the four core classes - fighter, magic-user, cleric, and thief. For the first three there are level limits, for the thief there are no so such limits. Therefore, aside from for roleplaying reasons there is absolutely no reason to play a human thief.
I would, in general, keep the level limits as they are. I would also give some tweak to all of the core classes for humans only - a little advantage to being a human member of that class. For each of the core classes I will mention what human bonus I would give.
At early level I find the fighter is in pretty decent shape. However, at high levels there is a tendency to find the fighter lagging behind the magic-user in combat utility with the mage wiping out rooms full of enemies.
To be honest, I rather like the simplicity of fighters generally having one attack per round save vs. foes of minimal hit dice (where they can make a number of attacks equal to their level). Adventurer Conquerer King System (ACKS) has adapted the Cleave feat from the SRD as an ability of all characters, with fighters being best at it. With Cleave, if a character brings a foe to 0 hit points or lower, he or she can immediately attack another foe. And if that foe is dropped, there can potentially be more attacks. Fighters can do this a number of times equal to their level whereas other classes can do it less. For Swords & Wizardry I would give this to fighters and only to fighters. I would also not allow it to be combined with their regular multiple attacks ability. My inclination would be to let humans do this a number of times equal to their level and demi-humans equal to half of it.
Generally speaking I think clerics are pretty well balanced. Even without starting with a spell at 1st level they are still good at combat, able to wear any armor, and able to turn undead. It's not a bad deal. As they level up they lag behind fighters a bit in combat but begin to get a nice combination of spells - healing and otherwise.
There are two general modifications I would make. First, I would allow a cleric to prepare short-term scrolls, a concept I will discuss below with magic-users. Secondly (and this would be a slight reduction of ability), I would be strongly inclined to allow intelligent undead a saving throw to avoid destruction when being turned. If successful I would rule that the undead is still harmed, taking 1d6 of damage per level of experience of the cleric.
I am a little uncertain if I'd give additional abilities to human clerics. The only other race that can become a cleric in Swords & Wizardry Complete is the half-elf, a race that gets somewhat modest abilities. At most I would grant human clerics a single spell at 1st level, but I am uncertain that is needed.
The poor 1st level magic-user. 1d4 hit points. One 1st level spell. A dagger or staff. No armor. This is not a character who should engage in melee combat.
I believe the Holmes Basic D&D rules has a very minor enhancement to the magic-user which I would be inclined to make in a modified form. Swords & Wizardry does not provide hard rules on how much a spell scroll costs to make or when it can be made. Original D&D suggests that a spell scroll should take 1 week per level of the spell. While this is fine at low levels it quickly becomes unbalancing, with a high level wizard able to make a nice collection of 8th and 9th level spell scrolls for a fairly small amount of cash.
With this in mind I began thinking of the Dresden Files series of books. In them, the protagonist, the detective and wizard Harry Dresden, often prepares a series of potions that he believes may be of utility on the case or mission he is on. He doesn't seem to have a stock of potions on reserve with which to draw from. That makes me think they don't last long. So what I propose is that magic-users be able to scribe Lesser Spell Scrolls (for lack of a better term). They cost 100 gold pieces per spell level and take either a week or a day per spell level to scribe. However, they only last a number of weeks equal to the spell level of the scroll. The magical energy can only be contained for a limited amount of time. This allows a magic-user to prep for what he thinks he will face in his adventure but prevents him from amassing a gargantuan collection of scrolls with the cash he will build up at higher levels. My inclination would be to allow clerics to do this as well. It is quite possible a 1st level magic-user would have enough cash to scribe a single one of these scrolls, giving him more utility in his or her first adventure.
I would keep these Lesser Spell Scrolls separate form more traditional spell scrolls. I would apply more thorough requirements for scribing traditional spell scrolls - costly and rare components, more cash to be spent on rare materials, etc. The advantage to these greater scrolls would be that they last as long as the scroll they are written upon does.
Note that there is no reason these Lesser Spell Scrolls need be actual scrolls. They could, for example, be imprinted upon an otherwise non-magical wand, staff, or holy symbol with the approval of the Judge.
I've spent a lot of time talking about these Lesser Spell Scrolls. However, I believe this is also a case where human magic-users likely need an edge over their elven counterparts. I'd considered an additional spell per level but that seems too much an advantage. When reading the Complete Rules the following gave me an idea:
In Swords & Wizardry, a beginning Magic-User’s spellbook contains as many of the eight basic first level spells as the neophyte character can know. Check each spell to see if the Magic-User can learn and know it, using the “Learn Spells” column on the table in the description of the Intelligence attribute.
[Note that there are actually ten first level spells in the Complete Game.]
I'd propose the following modification. All characters start with Read Magic, followed by the check described above. Then, human characters can swap out one known spell and make it unknown and in its place know a spell they failed to learn (and include it in his or her spellbook). This is a modest improvement but could prove quite useful.
Poor thieves. At least the magic-users 1st spell will always work. At 1st level they have a 15% chance to pick pockets, find traps, and remove traps. One can see why Black Dougal met such a terrible end. And that 15% chance to pick pockets seems to suggest there's a lot of thieves who lose their hands after a day in the market. I would suggest the following modifications to thief skills:
- If a thief triggers a trap, he or she gets a saving throw at +2 to avoid the trap. If they fail this save but the trap allows a normal save (for example, a poison needle allows a save vs. poison) they may still attempt that as well. (This is in keeping with the statement "Thieves gain a +2 bonus on saving throws against devices, including traps.")
- The extraordinary nature of hiding in the shadows and moving silently should be emphasized. I would rule that failure does not automatically result in detection but rather allows for a normal surprise roll.
- If a thief fails at picking pockets by more than 20% he or she will be detected unless a saving throw is made. (I'd suggest no bonus to this roll.)
- The rules suggest applying a penalty when trying to pick a difficult lock. I'd also allow a bonus when picking an easier lock.
Given demi-humans can advance without limit in the thief class as well as gain bonuses to certain skills I'd strongly suggest giving some bonus to human thieves. While I'd be tempted to give humans variable bonuses to these skills as well, that adds a little more complexity than I'd prefer. Rather I'd like to have something that reflects some inherent "luck" of humans or make them a little tougher in combat like the Grey Mouser. My inclination would be to give them 1d4+1 hit points per level. It makes their average hit points on par with clerics, with a higher minimum but lower maximum.
The other classes would need less changes in my opinion. I'd not share cleave with other fighting classes. The Lesser Spell Scroll is probably not needed for druids. The interpretations for thief skills should be shared with other classes who share those skills.
Swords and Wizardry Appreciation Day
I wrote this post for Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day Frog God Games is offering a 25% discount on purchases at their store with the coupon code SWApprDay for today (April 17, 2013 only). I've no affiliation with Frog God Games but would like to share this. The blogroll at 2000 Coppers lists other blogs for this day.
Thursday, April 11, 2013
|"Are you frightened?"|
The idea of a sandbox game is the Dungeon Master/Game Master/Judge (I'm just gonna go with GM) sets up the environment and lets the players adventure. There is no plot the players have to follow - heck there is no dungeon the players have to go to. They can go wherever they want. For some, the preferred sandbox is a "megadungeon". For others it is a wilderness setting. And for others it could even be a political game. I'm having visions of a game based on the legend of King Arthur where players get to choose their own destinies. "No, we do not acknowledge Arthur as our king." And such players could conceivably win.
I've been looking at expanding my group for a while - right now it's me and three players. It's a decent number but ver susceptible to the "real world". We've got parents, engineers, educators, IT professionals, and mixes of all of those. We can endure losing a single player, though I find one GM and two players less than optimal. What I've found is the magic lower bound to be four people - the GM and three players. With that you've got lots of dynamics and variety. Bump it up a little more and you increase the dynamics, though you do reach a point where the nature of the game changes. It has been a long time since an upper limit has been a problem for my gaming.
I did some poking on Google+ to get an idea of what gaming communities are the busiest and while my beloved Call of Cthulhu community is rather small, I found some very active communities dedicated to Swords & Wizardry, Dungeon Crawl Classics, Basic/Expert D&D, etc. So we decided to look into expanding simultaneous with kicking off a fantasy campaign. The idea of doing a sandbox campaign holds a certain appeal to us so that's what we're going to be doing. I've also posted some recruitment posts on Google+, advertising we'll either be doing Swords & Wizardry or Adventurer Conqueror King System (ACKS). Swords & Wizardry has gotten a lot more interest - more than I'd've anticipated. Truth be told, if we do use Swords & Wizardry, I'm going to borrow a lot from ACKS. I suppose that's one of the appeals of "old school" gaming - it is super-easy to customize and house rule. One thing I found early on in playing D&D 3.x was that houseruling such a system was tricky. It's not to say it can't be done, but one must be very careful. For example, if you get rid of miniatures and switch to abstract combat, you must be cognisant of the fact that a number of feats and abilities are based around grid-based combat.
I've begun developing a sandbox setting. Truth to tell it's a bit of a first for me. I've run some pretty wide-open dungeon crawls in my gaming past (I seem to recall weeks and months spent in the Temple of Elemental Evil) but never what I would consider a full sandbox. The development of this has been an interesting process. My first pass at this has revealed a number of things...
I think the most important thing I've learned is I will never have enough time to "fully" prepare it. It will almost certainly mean some "winging it". That's also illuminated to me why so many of the early gaming products were maps, encounter tables, etc. I can see how such things are invaluable to the running of such a game. I remember in 6th grade study hall we'd sometimes manage to convince the teacher to let us play D&D where the DM would basically just roll up an encounter for us and we'd have at it - or figure out how the heck to get away from it.
I've also learned that things aren't totally outside of the GM's control. I'm establishing a home base at the borderlands of a realm that used to be part of an empire, though that empire has since withdrawn and is a shadow of its former self. Looking through wilderness encounter tables one can see how dangerous going far from civilization can be for novice adventurers. So for the first few games I'll be giving some options but realistically, the characters are not going to go on a journey of a thousand miles. It makes me think of how long Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin would have made it had they not run into Strider in Bree. 1st level adventurers in a sandbox game are not going to have the advantage of running into a Strider who is willing and able to assist.
From this you can see a number of things about my thought process. For me, the sandbox is a wilderness one. I absolutely love fantasy novels that feature engaging trips through the wilderness. Vance's Dying Earth, Lewis' Narnia and Tolkien's Middle Earth all leap to the mind. A dying sun overhead. A winter that never ends. Traveling to the ruins of Weathertop.
Also, I'm going with some common D&D tropes - a fallen empire to explain all the treasure and ruins and beginning on the borderlands. A dangerous region but not one so dangerous that our budding adventurers can't test their skill and luck with at least a chance of success.
As far as the setting goes I'm finding myself borrowing from a variety of sources, historical and gaming related. I rather like ACKS assumption of a "late antiquity" inspired setting. The classical empires are receding and their replacements aren't fully developed yet. A great opportunity for adventure. For the immediate region of the campaign I've been inspired by the Great Lakes region of the United States and Canada. My younger daughter has been loving the American Girl stories of Caroline, a young girl growing up on the shores of Lake Ontario during the War of 1812. I have visions of something like Niagara Falls plunging into a river leading into the lake. And I see a dwarf-built canal that allows one to bypass the falls.
As I thought of Niagara Falls I thought of a city from an old Necromancer Games adventure, one I never used - The Grey Citadel. It features a small city in the middle of a ford before a great waterfall - perfect for our needs. It's a frontier trading city, just what we'd want from a home base. Not a teeming metropolis. A good base to venture into the wilds for brief trips.
I don't have a detailed timeline of the formerly great empire - I don't know if I will to tell the truth - I'm learning broad strokes are my friend. I have found myself putting pieces in play. Orc tribes in the nearby woods. Nomadic humans who often encamp in the area. Ruins of an even older fallen empire, one defeated in the early days of our Roman Empire equivalent. I'm looking forward to doing a local campaign map I've just finished a larger scale map to give me an idea of the general surroundings of our starting area. It's got Vikings. I suppose I'll need to add robots and ninjas too at some point....
Friday, April 5, 2013
Starship Troopers tells the tale of Johnny Rico's joining and service in the Terran Federation's Mobile Infantry. The Federation is at war with Arachnids (aka "bugs").
However, the plot of the novel is somewhat secondary - almost incidental. It is really a political manifesto. What is interesting is in the multiple times I've read this novel my own politics have shifted. Socially, I've always been liberal but over time my other views shifted from the right to the left.
The Terran Federation of Starship Troopers is a government in which the right to vote is only earned through at least two years of Federal Service. This service is implied to often, though not always, be of a military nature and is always dangerous. Much of the novel takes place in classrooms or training sessions, leading to criticisms that the novel is something of an "author tract" for Heinlein. There's a ton of things I could list but I'll try to summarize the premise briefly.
Heinlein advocates a society where full citizenship is gained solely by voluntary Federal Service, something which illustrates a willingness to put one's life on the line for the sake of society. In the military, everybody fights - there seems to be no exclusively logistical component to the military. Service is only voluntary - there is no draft. Officers come exclusively from the enlisted ranks. Also, a large discussion is dedicated to how horribly the obsolete democracies of the 20th century handled the problem of juvenile delinquency.
There's a lot more to it than that - indeed, I'd argue the point of the book is an expression of Heinlein's views. I know people that his society as ideal. I view it as interesting, though one I disagree with. I find that he confronts counterarguments to this theories with straw men arguments. For example, to dispute the idea that "violence never settles anything" he states:
Anyone who clings to the historically untrue—and thoroughly immoral—doctrine that, ‘violence never settles anything’ I would advise to conjure the ghosts of Napoleon Bonaparte and the Duke of Wellington and let them debate it. The ghost of Hitler could referee, and the jury might well be the Dodo, the Great Auk and the Passenger Pigeon. Violence, naked force, has settled more issues in history than has any other factor, and the contrary opinion is wishful thinking at its worst. Breeds that forget this basic truth have always paid for it with their lives and freedom.”
This isn't a political blog so I'll keep my own politics to a minimum. But I can think of countless examples where violence, as opposed to solving something, makes an issue more unresolved. World War I toppled empires but left an unstable structure in Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. The Iraq War left Iraq more chaotic than it found it. Yes, violence can solve some things. But far, far, from everything. I'd not even agree that it has settled more issues in history than any other factor. For all the violence of the 20th century, the Soviet Bloc toppled with barely a shot fired.
That said, Starship Troopers is a book which, by implication, invites the reader to participate in these arguments. I don't believe you could read it without putting a lot of thought to these types of issues, whether you wind up agreeing or not.
I've not said much about the plot. While it is secondary to the society Heinlein posits, the story of Johnny Rico is an interesting one. He winds up enlisting on little more than a whim and endures a brutal boot camp, all the more brutal as he can quit at any time. Unlike many of Heinlein's protagonists he is not hyper-competent, something which makes his tale far more interesting.
Technologically speaking, Starship Troopers is one of the most famous examples of the use of powered armor - soldiers which effectively become mobile tanks. I don't know if it was the first example of this or not, but it is science fiction trope made famous by this work.
Despite my own reaction changing over the years - or perhaps, because of that - I've always found Starship Troopers a worthwhile read.