Friday, August 31, 2012

Independent Magic-Users

I'm going to spend the next few posts detailing the different affiliations and organizations Magic-Users can be involved with in my campaign (ignoring for the time being that I'm not currently running games).

Today's post is about independent Magic-Users, those Magic-Users who neither attended an Academy of Magic nor belong to the Order of the Green Hand, but, in much the way Gary outlines in the DMG, apprenticed with a Magic-User of at least 6th level and, having completed the apprenticeship, struck out alone to make a life for themselves. Below are the mechanics I've come up with; they necessarily include flavor to explain how they work, but I'm holding off on explaining non-mechanical flavor until another time.

Independent Magic-Users receive individualized attention and their education emphasizes exhaustive comprehension of magic. Especially intelligent independent Magic-Users have a small chance to be directed to a master who can teach them to understand magic well enough that they don't need spell books and instead permanently memorize a smaller number of spells (in the manner of the Order of Trehaen from The Majestic Wilderlands); Magic-Uses with Intelligence 17 have a 1/6 chance and those with Intelligence 18 have a 2/6 chance. Magic-Users who qualify for this are allowed to refuse.

The Magic-User automatically receives a spell book with four spells from the Magic-User's master upon completion of his apprenticeship. To determine whether, and for how long, the master will continue to aide and guide the Magic-User, roll 1d4 and add the Magic-User's Charisma bonus. Any result above zero represents the level after which the master will consider the Magic-User to be completely "on his own," when the master will no longer provide free help in usual circumstances. During each level the master continues to help his apprentice the master will send the Magic-User on a single quest.

Until the master considers the Magic-User to be on his own the master will send randomly selected spells to the Magic-User each time the Magic-User levels up. When the Magic-User gains access to a higher rank of spell slot, the master will send four spells; when the Magic-User levels but doesn't gain access to a higher spell slot, the master will send a single spell. The master will also provide guidance and advice if consulted and has a 75% chance to agree to answer questions in the manner of a sage for free.

Magic-Users who don't require spell books receive as many new spells as they have newly gained the ability to memorize (usually only one). They are allowed to choose from their master's repertoire (which, in all cases, should be determined beforehand; I haven't figured out exactly how yet, but plan to do so and include it in a future post).

All of this ends when the Magic-User passes the level rolled above; though the relationship may still be friendly and close, the Magic-User isn't getting any more free lunches. Rolling a low number, or below zero, should not necessarily be interpreted as having a poor relationship with the master; the master may simply be too busy or think too highly of the talents of the Magic-User to "coddle" him with spells and assistance.

Spells given as gifts to the Magic-User by the master are the only free spells independent Magic-Users receive; they do not automatically gain any spells just by leveling up. To acquire more spells, they must trade for them, research them or obtain them in the course of an adventure.

Because of the intense, high-caliber nature of their study of magic, independent Magic-Users automatically are able to learn any spell which they use Read Magic upon and have an appropriate spell slot for; unlike other Magic-Users, they do not need to roll to check whether they comprehend a new spell when they try to learn it.

In addition, independent Magic-Users are able to attempt to "catch" spells as they cast them, retaining them in their spell slots. Attempting this is optional and success is determined by making a save (versus Spells if you're not using S&W), modified positively by caster level and negatively by spell level. Fumbles occur on a roll of 1 for the top three spell levels.

Independent Magic-Users are, with good reason, a distrustful lot that generally keep to themselves, but they will occasionally interact with each other to trade knowledge. While a Magic-User is a certain level, he will be approached as many times as his level by other Magic-Users seeking to acquire a spell he has (once while first level, three times while third level, nine times while ninth level, and so on). The referee should roll on the lowest die that goes higher than the Magic-User's level (1d4 for first and third level, 1d10 for ninth level, and so on); this determines the level of the NPC Magic-User that approaches the Magic-User.

The PC Magic-User may propose any price in money, spells, magic items and quests for the spell in question. For most prices, the referee should make a reaction roll for the NPC; any neutral or positive result signifies acceptance of the terms. Referees should use judgment and automatically accept exactly fair offers (such as a strict trade of spells of equal level) and automatically reject only the utterly unreasonable and actually impossible offers; NPCs of the same or higher level than the PC will not accept quests. If the NPC refuses an offer, further negotiation is possible: the PC may make 1d4 further offers (which must be better than all previous offers to be considered), rolled on the reaction table as before, before the NPC walks away.

If the PC gives what the referee rules to be a "fair" (not necessarily "exactly fair," but very close) trade to an NPC of lower level the first time an offer is made, a second reaction roll should be made. If a positive reaction is rolled, the NPC has not merely congratulated himself for finding a good deal and moved on, but has noticed and appreciated that the PC made a fair offer and will seek to build a relationship of some kind with the PC. How this is done is left to the referee's option, but might include further offers of trade, sharing important information, offering to pool resources, offering charter membership to any organization the NPC starts, or applying to become a henchman.

If the referee rolls the most negative reaction on this second reaction roll, the NPC perceives the PC's fairness as weakness and pretends to pursue a relationship, as above, with the PC, scheming all the while to destroy the PC and profit thereby. This will, ultimately, result in the entire party's lives being put in danger.

Because of their deep understanding of magic, independent Magic-Users are able to research spells more effectively than other Magic-Users. For spells the referee rules are not too obscure to be discovered in this way, the Magic-User may spend time in libraries of sufficient value and size (probably double the value that gives the highest bonus to regular research in whatever rule-set you're using) researching a particular spell, hoping to piece together the formula for the spell. At the end of the period of research, the Magic-User gets a single percentile roll to have discovered the spell; the chance to have discovered the spell is the number of days spent researching divided by the level of the spell they were researching. For example, if a Magic-User spends 75 days researching a third level spell, the Magic-User will have a 25% chance to have discovered it.

Finally, in my campaigns all spells may be cast as rituals that take ten minutes per spell level to cast and cost the spell level squared multiplied by ten gp in components to cast, but rituals do not need to be memorized and do not take up spell slots (much as in The Majestic Wilderlands). Rituals approach magic without trying to understand why anything works the way it does and so do not come naturally for independent Magic-Users, but they make up for this with the depth of their understanding of magic. Independent Magic-Users may cast rituals of any level up to one third their caster level.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Avaricious, Zero-Sum Magic-User Culture

So one of the important things from yesterday's post was the way Magic-Users in AD&D don't share spells with each other easily; in fact, they only agree to share spells when they get an unfairly good deal. For example, getting two spells for one, or two spells and a magic item, or something of that nature; Magic-Users, then, in AD&D treat each other very unfairly, taking advantage of each other whenever they get the chance.

Having read the Dying Earth books, I can't help but make the connection that Rhialto and the other magicians in his conclave treat each other in much the same way, except for one major difference: they flat-out don't trade spells or items with each other.

There are, however, cases in the Dying Earth books when wizards engage in trade for knowledge and spells. Let's look at two:
Soon he came to a long low manse of red stone backed by dark trees. As he approached the door swung open. Turjan halted in mid-stride.
"Enter!" came a voice. "Enter, Turjan of Miir!"
So Turjan wonderingly entered the manse of Pandelume. He found himself in a tapestried chamber, bare of furnishing save a single settee. No one came to greet him. A closed door stood at the opposite wall, and Turjan went to pass through, thinking perhaps it was expected of him.
"Halt, Turjan," spoke the voice. "No one may gaze on Pandelume. It is the law."
Turjan, standing in the middle of the room, spoke to his unseen host.
"This is my mission, Pandelume," he said. "For some time I have been striving to create humanity in my vats. Yet always I fail, from ignorance of the agent that binds and orders the patterns. This master-matrix must be known to you; therefore I come to you for guidance."
"Willingly will I aid you," said Pandelume. "There is, however, another aspect involved. The universe is methodized by symmetry and balance; in every aspect of existence is this equipose observed. Consequently, even in the trivial scope of our dealings, this equivalence must be maintained, thus and thus. I agree to assist you; in return, you perform a service of equal value for me. When you have completed this small work, I will instruct and guide you to your complete satisfaction."
"What may this service be?" inquired Turjan.
"A man lives in the land of Ascolais, not far from your Castle Miir. About his neck hangs an amulet of carved blue stone. This you must take from him and bring to me."
Turjan considered a moment.
"Very well," he said. "I will do what I can. Who is the man?"
Pandelume answered in a soft voice.
"Prince Kandive the Golden."
"Ah," exclaimed Turjan ruefully, "you have gone to no pains to make my task a pleasant one… But I will fulfill your requirement as best I can."
"Good," said Pandelume…
In this passage, Turjan approaches Pandelume seeking training so that he can successfully grow humans in vats and Pandelume agrees to train Turjan to his "complete satisfaction" (and will in fact do so later in the story) in exchange for Turjan stealing an amulet from Prince Kandive. The encounter is guarded – Pandelume won't even let Turjan see him – and business-like, but Pandelume, in my judgement, isn't asking Turjan for something out of proportion with the training Pandelume is willing to give; I think Pandelume is serious when he talks about "equivalence," and isn't just describing a bad deal for Turjan in flowery terms, as typical as that would be of most Dying Earth characters. Pandelume equips Turjan for his quest and Turjan accomplishes it with little trouble. There's certainly some quid-pro-quo going on here, but no outright exploitation.

Let's look at the next passage:
Prince Kandive the Golden spoke earnestly to his nephew Ulan Dhor.
"It must be understood that the expansion of craft and the new lore will be shared between us."
Ulan Dhor, a slender young man, pale of skin, with the blackest of hair, eyes, and eyebrows, smiled ruefully. "But it is I who journey the forgotten water, I who must beat down the sea-demons with my oar."
Kandive leaned back into his cushions and tapped his nose with a ferrule of carved jade.
"And it is I who make the venture possible. Further, I am already an accomplished wizard; the increment of lore will merely enhance my craft. You, not even a novice, will gain such knowledge as to rank you among the magicians of Ascolais. This is a far cry from your present ineffectual status. Seen in this light, my gain is small, yours is great."
Ulan Dhor grimaced. "True enough, though I dispute the word 'ineffectual'. I know Phandaal's Critique of the Chill, I am reckoned a master of the sword, ranked among the Eight Delaphasians as a…"
"Pah!" sneered Kandive. "The vapid mannerisms of pale people, using up their lives. Mincing murder, extravagant debauchery, while Earth passes its last hours, and none of you have ventured a mile from Kaiin."
Ulan Dhor held his tongue, reflecting that Prince Kandive the Golden was not known to scorn the pleasures of wine, couch, or table; and that his farthest known sally from the domed palace had taken him to his carven barge on the River Scaum.
Kandive, appeased by Ulan Dhor's silence, brought forward an ivory box. "Thus and so. If we are agreed, I will invest you with knowledge."
Ulan Dhor nodded. "We are agreed."
And later, once Ulan Dhor's adventure is complete:
"Quiet, girl, quiet," admonished Ulan Dhor. "We are safe; we are forever done of the cursed city."
She quieted; presently: "Where do we go now?"
Ulan Dhor's eyes roved about the air-car with doubt and calculation. "There will be no magic for Kandive. However, I will have a great tale to tell him, and he may be satisfied… He will surely want the air-car. But I will contrive, I will contrive…"
This is a little more confrontational, but still the agreement is to share the spoils equally. When Ulan Dhor's expedition across the sea doesn't turn up magic that is easily shareable, then Ulan Dhor begins to scheme as to how he will keep what he wants, namely the air-car, but, from the way he dealt with his Uncle Kandive earlier, this scheming seems likely to be planning ways to convince Kandive to let him keep the car, rather than outright cheating him.

I think it's important to note that when wizards in the Dying Earth trade with each other they certainly push hard bargains and aim to acquire what they desire, but that they also strike reasonably fair bargains. The most greedy, scruple-less wizards, like Rhialto and company – the ones I can't imagine striking fair bargains with each other – tend not to trade knowledge or spells or magic with each other… probably because the risk of being had is so high!

Rhialto and his "buddies" also seem to be much higher-level than Turjan and Ulan Dhor. While Turjan depends on Pandelume for transportation and Ulan Dhor sails across the ocean in a boat, Rhialto's conclave is able to traipse about the galaxy. Turjan and Ulan Dhor are much closer to the traditional idea of what a Magic-User in D&D is, both in power level and because they engage in deals with other Magic-Users for knowledge.

Why, then, didn't Gary allow for hard-bargained but fair deals for Magic-Users trading spells? Why do the PCs always get the short end of the stick when dealing with NPC Magic-Users?

I think it's probably due to two things. The first is that Gary stresses over and over again in the DMG that it's important to relieve the PCs of their wealth, and this is just another way to do that. The second is that Gary developed an adversarial DMing style that he included in the DMG and this is just one more way to stick it to the PCs. I don't think that this is necessarily a bad thing on Gary's part; from what I understand, he had power-gaming players that practically forced Gary to play in this way if he didn't want himself and his campaign world to be walked all over by his players. Clearly, both Gary and his players enjoyed playing this way - otherwise D&D would never have been published - so I don't have a problem with it, but it's also important that I take Gary's advice that worked so well for him in his DMing situation with a grain of salt if I'm in a completely different DMing situation (which I am, since I've never had power-gamers of the caliber of Gary's at my table).

I certainly don't think the avaricious nature of Magic-Users in general needs to be changed that much; after all, it's quite flavorful and, I think, adds a lot to the setting. I do think it does need to be moderated and tweaked some, and that's what I'll be doing, among other things, in some posts that I plan to begin posting soon.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The DMG, Section by Section, Part 15: Character Spells – Spell Acquisition

This next section is super interesting to me, which, along with real life lately, is why I've taken such a long time to write it up. Expect some non-DMG magic posts in the near future.

Day-to-Day Acquisition of Cleric Spells

The big thing about Cleric spells, that I actually don't think I've heard about in ~3 years of following OSR blogs, is that Clerics don't get their spells directly from one source, but from three:

–1st and 2nd level spells are acquired through the Cleric's training
–3rd, 4th and 5th level spells are granted to the Cleric by supernatural servants of the Cleric's deity
–6th and 7th level spells are granted directly to the Cleric by the Cleric's deity

This is very interesting flavor, first of all, especially since the interaction with the supernatural servants is left very open ended and I think it has a lot of room for roleplaying, but the main practical ramifications of this three-tiered system seems to be that Clerics have trouble getting access to high-level spells if they haven't been acting in accordance with the desires and ethos of their deity. Basically, every time they pray for spells above 2nd level they also get chewed out and told to atone for any bad stuff they've done. DMs are supposed to keep track of concrete actions the Cleric has performed that don't line up with what the deity is all about and lay them out whenever the Cleric prays for spells. The Cleric's deity is even stricter than the supernatural servants, but both will give quests to Clerics that are difficult enough that Gary says that the Cleric will be granted the spells necessary to complete the quest. This all applies to Paladins and Rangers, at least when it comes to spells, as well, which strikes me as interesting, since it seems to be saying that Paladins can greatly displease their deities without breaking the terms of their Paladin-hood.

Gary also outlines the hardships involved in Clerics switching deities (the second time they switch deities, they'll just be struck dead).

Acquisition of Magic-User Spells

In AD&D all 1st level Magic-Users are newly "graduated" apprentices of other Magic-Users of at least 6th level. Their master, as a parting present, gives them a spell book with four spells in it: Read Magic and one defensive, one offensive and one miscellaneous spell, randomly chosen by rolling d10s. It seems that AD&D has exactly thirty 1st level spells, but since every Magic-User gets Read Magic and Nystul's Magic Aura and Tenser's Floating Disc are never given to a Magic-User by a master, a roll of 10 on one of these rolls means that the spell is chosen by the player. This is a really nice system, I think, and it's replicated and slightly tweaked in John's awesome document here. (Thanks, John! I'm planning on using your document as the foundation for spells in my games from now on. I wish you had a blog I could link to.)

Gary also hits on the effect of Intelligence on the Magic-User's ability to learn spells. First of all, Intelligence will limit the number of spells of any one level a Magic-User can know. Secondly, with the important exception of the original four spells in the spell book given to him by his master, a Magic-User has a percentage chance to be able to learn a spell that must be rolled when trying to learn a spell; if the Magic-User fails, apparently he will never be able to learn the spell.

Acquisition of Illusionists' Spells

Illusionists differ from Magic-Users in two important ways: Firstly, they don't use Read Magic, but instead use a secret language that all Illusionists know for their spells; Read Magic, or anything of the sort, is not needed. Secondly, they only have 12 1st level spells, which aren't divided into offensive, defensive and miscellaneous categories; the player simply rolls a d12 three times to determine the 1st level Illusionist's starting spells. There is no mention of whether Intelligence affects the ability of an Illusionist to learn spells, but my guess, from the way the section on Illusionists seems to imply that Illusionists work like Magic-Users in every way except for the exceptions listed, that this works the same way for Illusionists as for Magic-Users. My guess is that this is spelled out in the PHB.

Spells Beyond Those At Start

Each time a Magic-User levels up (not when they gain access to a new spell level, which was news to me) he gains a new spell, presumably of the highest spell level available to him. Gary is silent on how to determine which spell this is or what the in-game justification is (I assume that at least some of this is included in the PHB). This means that unless a Magic-User finds spells in another way, the he will always only have a number of spells equal to his level plus four.

Magic-Users, then, will be constantly seeking to find spells in other ways. The first way Gary discusses is getting spells from other Magic-Users. "Superior players will certainly cooperate; thus, spells will in all probability be exchanged between PC magic-users to some extent," Gary says, and advises the DM neither to suggest nor discourage doing this.

PC Magic-Users obtaining spells from NPC Magic-Users, however, is another matter entirely and Gary expects DMs to play the Vancian-style zero-sum game Magic-User culture to the hilt. Gary advises that PCs buying spells from NPC Magic-Users should "pay so dearly for [spells] in money, magic items, and quests that the game is hardly worth the candle." Gary assumes that the PCs will still pay for these new spells, thereby draining the PCs of excess wealth. Henchmen and hireling Magic-Users will offer only slightly better terms: if an employer proposes a trade of spells, the price will be a spell of equal value plus a bonus; if a PC compatriot of the employer proposes the trade, the price is double the value of the spell and a large bonus (from the example, it sounds like sets of three expendable items or a single magic item is a good guideline for the larger bonus). Gary does allow for the previous nature of the relationship between the PC making the request and the henchman/hireling, as well as the personality of the henchman/hireling, to modify the price of trading spells.

Gary points out that this extreme reluctance to share spells on the part of NPCs will make spells found in dungeons or through research extremely valuable to the PCs Magic-Users. He states that, "Magic-users will haunt dusty libraries and peruse musty tomes in the hopes of gleaning but a single incantation to add to their store of magic." I'm unsure whether that is a direct reference to spell research or a separate, flavorful phenomenon that Gary doesn't flesh out; my guess is that it's the former.

One mechanic I wish Gary would have included is how to handle NPCs coming to the PCs for spells; surely every other Magic-User is just as desperate for spells as the PCs, right? So why wouldn't they be coming to the PCs, willing to make unfair trades for the new spells the PCs found in their last dungeon delve? Mechanically, this would even out the zero-sum game so that the PCs don't always get the short end of the stick. This might ruin the constant leeching of money from Magic-User PCs, but it also doesn't strain my suspension of disbelief.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The DMG, Section by Section, Part 14: Time


Thus, famously, wrote Gary in today's section of the DMG (pg. 37), and I tend to agree, if not with the severity of the statement (the all-caps are his, not mine), then with the general high desirability of keeping "strict time records."

Alas, time is something I've struggled to keep track of, especially in the dungeon, so I was excited when I saw that today's section was on keeping track of time… and disappointed that Gary gives only the smallest bits of advice for keeping time in the campaign and almost no advice for keeping track of time in the dungeon. In fact, Gary spends the vast majority of this section arguing that keeping track of time is important… so let's deal with those arguments first. (Gary says a few other things, but, as with every entry in this series, I'm discussing what I find to be most interesting, not dealing with every last point Gary makes.)

Time in the Campaign

The first reason Gary gives for keeping time is that when the party splits up and one group uses more time than the other group then it becomes possible to encounter weird time-related conundrums; for example, if on Monday group A goes on a week-long journey, returns and kills a dragon on Day 7, game time, and then on Wednesday group B visits the dragon's lair on Day 2, game time, what happens? The DM must realize that group B won't be killing the dragon, as group A has "already" killed the dragon on Day 7. Whether the DM makes sure the dragon isn't at home, leads the encounter away from violent confrontation or just makes sure the dragon is invincible, this is an important point for DMs to keep in mind, especially when running a campaign where different players can play on different days.

Gygax goes on to point out that the loss of time is what makes healing hit points meaningful; otherwise healing full hit points is costless and assumed between each adventure. PCs also spend time away from their bases while adventuring, incurring bills if they rent and risking attack and capture of their homes if they own them. Perhaps even more significant than either of these is the time it takes to craft magic items, which must be uninterrupted and so necessarily cuts into adventuring time. Additionally, though Gary doesn't elaborate, and I wasn't aware of this stricture in AD&D, time is a factor in leveling and training. Keeping track of time also gives an impetus for players to play their PCs' henchmen while their "regular" PCs are otherwise occupied, giving the henchmen character and a chance to level up and possibly set out on their own.

Finally, Gary states that keeping track of time, that is, making time an element of the game, is worthwhile simply because it is the addition of another interesting set of choices to the game. I buy that.

Time in the Dungeon

Keeping track of time in the dungeon is important because the DM must know when to check for wandering monsters, when spells with certain durations cease their effects and when the party must stop for a rest (every 50 minutes and after every strenuous activity). Gary also lays out that a round is one minute and a turn is ten minutes and explains that time records should be kept on a separate sheet of paper.

OK, so that, in my mind, pretty satisfactorily settles the question of the desirability of keeping time records, but my personal question is not "why?" but "how?" especially for inside the dungeon.

I suppose this is actually pretty simple, on paper. As a referee, I just need to figure out the slowest member of the party's movement rate and count out the party's movement on my map as the PCs move through it. In practice, though, I find this really difficult. Maybe it's just me, but all the times I've tried to count spaces and calculate time while providing description of the dungeon to my players, listening to them describe their characters actions, figuring out the immediate consequences of those actions, answering their questions and keeping the greater workings and context of the dungeon in mind… I've ended up giving up on keeping track of time within the first five or ten minutes, real time.

What I have been doing is using Faster Monkey Games' Turn Tracker (they seem to have a new print version here) and advancing a turn whenever it felt like a turn had past, in game. Hardly exact, but also better than nothing. I have a feeling that many in the OSR would approve of that sort of time tracking by "feel" (or find even that too confining), and maybe I just have too strict a definition of "STRICT." On the one hand, using the Turn Tracker has been working for me, so it can't be all that bad; on the other, both for my own satisfaction and to keep the fairness to my players as high as possible (I probably track time by "feel" too quickly or too slowly… or both), I'd like to be more exact. Any advice on this would be appreciated.

Friday, August 17, 2012

The DMG, Section by Section, Part 13: Henchmen

This section is taken up with two main topics: acquiring henchmen and the loyalty of henchmen (and hirelings) once acquired.

Before we get into that, though, I want to point out something that comes up a few times in this section: why henchmen sign on with PCs. Gary is clear that henchmen sign on with the PCs because they aren't doing well on their own; henchmen are professional adventurers who are unsuccessful, for whatever reason. This explains why the PCs must provide equipment for henchmen and why only first level henchmen will be attracted to PCs of fifth level or below; if they were doing well enough to have advanced in levels or even well enough to keep or provide their own equipment, they wouldn't be desperate enough to apply to be another adventurer's follower.

Gary first outlines the steps that must be taken to acquire a henchmen. Basically, the DM must first determine how many henchmen are available wherever the PCs look, and of what race. Gary is extremely vague here, throwing out some rough numbers (one prospective henchman per 1000 people), but then advising that they should be adjusted situationally… without providing guidelines on how to do that. (ACKS, which it's basically impossible not to compare these sections of the DMG to, is immensely more helpful, detailed and streamlined here.)

After the DM has done this, the PCs must advertise, spending their money posting notices in public, hiring criers, hiring agents or going around to taverns and inns, buying rounds for the house and paying barkeeps to send potential henchmen their way. Each of these methods cost different amounts of money and have different rates of effectiveness – that is, the percentage of actually available henchmen that will hear and actually be attracted to apply to join up with the PCs. Using more than one method decreases the over-all effectiveness of all methods used (du to "overlap"), but not by enough that it isn't theoretically worth doing if you want to have a wide choice of henchmen.

Once that number of potential henchmen who will respond and apply has been determined, they begin to show up at whatever location the PCs indicated they would take applicants over a period of 2-8 days. The PCs interview them, but must be careful not to ask questions about religion or alignment or to frisk or search them or cast any magic upon them except for Know Alignment or Detect Good/Evil, as these will probably offend the potential henchman and make him unwilling to join the PCs. There doesn't seem to be much justification for this, especially in a world where crazy evil/chaotic characters are likely to be infiltrating parties for their own or a master's nefarious ends; this possibility actually strikes me as exactly the reason why Gary banned inquiries in this direction. The personality and other characteristics of the prospective henchmen should be rolled up on the NPC traits generator further on in the DMG.

If the PCs want to hire the prospective henchman, they make an offer and the DM rolls percentile dice; if the roll is at or under a percentage determined by how good of a deal the PC is offering and the PC's charisma modifier, the prospective henchman accepts the offer and is now a henchman. (It was interesting to me that ACKS leaves the specifics of this up to the judge, but LotFP:WFRP actually has a short, simple list of modifiers that are quicker to tabulate than AD&D's. I'm unfamiliar enough with Basic D&D not to know whether that's something LotFP inherited or if that's just another of Raggi's mechanical innovations that is overlooked because of the atmosphere of LotFP.)

Gary then moves on to the loyalty of henchmen and provides a good page or more of variables that affect henchman loyalty. Unlike D&D systems for morale and loyalty that I've seen that use a d12 or 3d6 system, AD&D uses a percentile system; henchmen begin at 50% loyalty and that score is adjusted as situations arise and conditions are met. For example, on the extreme, if a PC kills a faithful henchman in front of witnesses, that's -40% to the loyalty score of any henchmen from that point on. If a henchman has known or been a follower of a PC for more than five years, that's +25% to loyalty. If the PC is Lawful Good in alignment, that's +15%, but if the henchman differs from the PC in alignment by two places, that's -15%, and so forth.

Finally, I find it interesting that Gary allows for the PCs to recruit NPCs they've captured as henchmen. This is a rule I don't think I've ever heard about. It's the once exception to the rule that henchmen come unequipped and also seems to be the only way to get henchmen that are higher than third level – henchmen (or associates as Gary calls them, presumably because they will rank and be compensated on a comparable level to that of the PCs) acquired this way may be up to two levels above the PC recruiting them, though they will only stick around for one or two adventures. If prisoners are forced to join the PCs, they will have very low loyalty, but if the prisoners are offered very good terms and given a genuine choice, they may sign on as permanent henchmen with a good loyalty level.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The DMG, Section by Section, Part 12: Hirelings

Standard Hirelings

Most hirelings will be employed after a PC has reached name level and established a stronghold, as Gary envisions it. Pre-name-level PCs, however, will still likely hire:
  • Bearer/Porters
  • Carpenters
  • Leather Workers
  • Limners (paintings, heraldic devices, etc.)
  • Linkboys (lantern/torch-bearers)
  • Masons
  • Pack Handlers
  • Tailors
  • Teamsters
  • Valet/Lackeys
Gary gives the daily and monthly costs of retaining these hirelings, as well as short explanations of what they do.

Gary also includes a great mechanic for commissioning something from a hireling: for a retained hireling to create something specific, it costs, on top of the cost of retaining the hireling, 10% of the standard cost of an item. This is a neat way of working through the problem of, "there are no longswords for sale in this town," a way that certainly costs money, but cuts down on paperwork and hassle. I don't remember this (or an analog) being in ACKS, but it's such a short mechanic to write down that it's quite possible that I just missed it. The only problem with this that I see is that it's important to know how long it will take to make whatever is being commissioned.

Expert Hirelings

Beginning this section, Gary spells out the difference between henchmen and hirelings: henchmen are the PCs' followers while hirelings are the PCs' employees. This is a great, succinct way of phrasing the difference that I'll probably use.

Gary lists fifteen types of expert hireling, with one entry– mercenary soldier– distilled into 19 types, along with their monthly upkeep cost; only non-officer soldiers are available for daily hire, and they charge a month's pay for hazardous work, no matter the length of time.

Gary goes on to describe these hirelings. One thing of particular note is that certain hirelings will be outright necessary to retain once a PC goes about establishing a stronghold. Obviously, men-at-arms will be needed, though for most classes a certain number of these show up at the stronghold without effort on the PC's part (but do need to be paid). In addition, however, each group of 40 soldiers needs an armorer to maintain them, each group of 40/160 men need a blacksmith to maintain them (only the first blacksmith is limited to maintaining 40 men for some reason) and every 80 men need a weapon maker to maintain them (and Gary suggests dividing weapon makers into those dealing with archery, those dealing with swords and daggers and those dealing with everything else, potentially doubling or tripling the number of weapon makers needed to maintain 80 men). These hirelings would work full-time on maintaining their men, not having any time for commissions from their PC employer; for commissions, the PC will need to retain a hireling caring for less than the full number of men they can maintain. In addition, the wise PC will retain an engineer-architect for any serious building, or risk the building falling over in 1d% months. A PC will likely also want to employ a steward/castellan, who will not actually do the work of establishing a stronghold for the PC but will maintain, run and defend the stronghold, even in the absence of the PC.

One thing I should point out that I liked is that Gary has the DM roll for the skill level of a few of the hirelings, like the jeweler, armorer and sage. Skill levels for armorers and sages are known to players, but skill levels of jewelers (and thus the chances of wonderful success and utter failure) are not.

Finally, Gary spends by far the most space in this section on sages, the walking, talking, "encyclopedias, computers, expert opinions and sort of demi-oracles of the milieu all rolled into one." Sages have a major field of study, of which they specialize in two or more special categories, and one or two minor fields of study. For the most part, PCs will retain sages to answer questions. Gary provides charts to determine the chance that the sage will be able to find the answer to the question based on how general or specific it is and whether it is in one of the sage's areas of special study or not, as well as the cost of the research and the costs of maintaining the sage, which include providing for up to 100,000 gp worth of material relating to the sage's areas of study, research grants and even more expenditure if the PC commissions the sage to master new areas of study. Sages, unlike other expert hirelings, may be consulted before a PC reaches name level and establishes a stronghold. My speculation is that Gary put so much work into sages because his players were always asking questions about things in his game; since Gary included the sage as a mechanism for them to have their questions answered, he could get them to stop asking him all their questions out of character and point them to the sages. I like these sages a lot; my players aren't so persistant as I'm guessing that Gary's were, but I like having a way to give my players information when they really want it without having to mess with what the characters in the game world should be able to know.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

NPC Personalities

I've thought about using real-world personality tests (such as Myers-Briggs) when creating important NPCs before, but I've been thinking more seriously about it since the TCK seminar I was on last week, when I was introduced to the DISC personality test, which is much simpler than Myers-Briggs. DISC also has the perk of including what each of the four personalities (D, I, S & C) want. To put it in a messy, probably inexact way:
  • D's want power
  • I's want fun
  • S's want stability
  • C's want correctness
Because these four personality types include goals, they strike me as being an easy, quick way to give NPCs depth, especially if each NPC's second dominant personality type is included. Potentially, it could take just the roll of a d4 or two to make sure that NPCs feel different from each other to players. I don't have time to investigate more before I fly out for a wedding (so no more posts this week), but this definitely merits further thought.

Have you ever seen or used real-life personality tests, or another method altogether, to give NPCs depth and make them feel different from each other to players?

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Summoner Wars

I've been staffing a transition seminar for TCKs since last Monday, which has been awesome, but which also meant very little time for blogging or RPGs (I scheduled the last three posts over a week ago). I did encounter two things which may be of interest to my readers. The first is a strategy board game called Summoner Wars that uses cards as pieces; I realize that CCGs generally get little love in the OSR (with some exceptions, of course), but this game has set decks that you don't have to buy in random packs or organize to your advantage. In fact, in the standard game, there is no "deck-building" whatsoever. Instead of continuing to explain it, though, I'll let them do it much better:

This game struck me as a cross between chess, wargaming and CCGs (mind, I've done very, very little wargaming or CCGing so I may not know what I'm talking about) and was a lot of fun. Each faction has different strategies that work best, from sudden berserk charges to sneaky backstabbing attacks to slow advances or setting up defenses and letting the enemy kill themselves on your walls. If you want to try it out for free, there is an app you can download here (though you have to pay for more factions). It's a very simple, well-designed game with really tight rules.

Plaid Hat Games also has a game called Dungeon Run which I wish they had an introductory video for. The rules are free to download, but I haven't had a chance to read them yet. They say, "If one of your fellow players comes away from Dungeon Run with their feelings a bit hurt, that's how you know you were playing it right." It looks similar to Lego Heroica or Dungeon!, but since I haven't played those either, I could be totally wrong about that.

Plaid Had Games' website is here. As usual for a review, I haven't had any contact with them besides playing Summoner Wars three or four times this last week.

Friday, August 3, 2012

The DMG, Section by Section, Part 11: Armor, Armor Class and Weapons

Types of Armor and Encumbrance

Gary lists types of armor, including shields, along with how "bulky" they are (he doesn't explain what significance that has in this section, though a note on shields later on implies that it has something to do with encumbrance separate from weight), their weight (adjusted to take into account weight distribution and the armor's effect on mobility), the base movement rate of an individual wearing the armor and short explanations of each type of armor. Both price and AC are missing; I suspect that AC will probably be in another section of the DMG, but a quick skim of the combat section didn't turn anything up.

More interesting are the notes Gary follows this list up with. For example, if PCs don't wear helmets, 1/6 attacks against him are aimed for his AC 10 head; if the opponent is intelligent, then it's every 1/2. There was some discussion a few years back in the OSR about helmets, but I don't remember that harsh consequence for not wearing a helmet ever come up; on the one hand it makes great sense but on the other hand it's both very harsh, especially to characters who can't wear helmets, and it calls for an extra die roll for every attack against helmet-ed PCs.

Shields are only allowed to improve AC against the front and the left. Gary justifies large and small shields providing the same abstract amount of mechanical benefit because, while large shields protect more area at one time, they also cannot be moved around as easily as small shields and they fatigue the user. Gary does allow for an optional rule: large shields provide a +2 bonus against projectiles, instead of the standard +1.

Dexterity and Armor Class Bonus

Gary explains that any penalties to dexterity from wearing armor are already taken into account, so a high Dexterity always provides a bonus to AC…

Except for attacks from behind that the character can't see coming, large (siege weapon style) projectiles and certain magical attacks.

Weapon Types, "To Hit" Adjustment Note

Gary points out that the optional bonuses to weapons against certain types of armor are against certain types of armor and not against the armor classes themselves; that is, if a weapon is +1 against an armor with AC 7, the armor isn't +1 against a monster not wearing any armor but with a natural AC of 7. By the same token, the DM may give that weapon a +1 bonus against another monster with a natural AC of 5 which has natural armor resembling the type of armor the weapon gets a +1 bonus against.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The DMG, Section by Section, Part 10: Money

Player Character Starting Money

Gary doesn't actually spell out how much money characters get during character generation; I assume both that that's in the PHB and that the amount of money characters get is 3d6 x 10 gp. Gary stresses that it is important for characters not to have everything that their players want them to have, for the characters to always need more (at least to keep up their lifestyle; Gary points out that the assumption is that adventurers [except for monks, so apparently including paladins and rangers] are living the high life whenever they aren't risking their lives in the dungeon). Gary argues that this is the way to make sure that players are still interested in adventuring. From what I've heard, that might be necessary for some players of the "YOU-give-my-character-his-motivation" school; I've had the good fortune of never having players who don't provide their own characters with motivation. Actually, most of my players who thought about any motivation past "exploring, fighting and getting rich" found the idea of the Old School endgame very compelling.

I realize that's not every player, though, and this is an easy way to give a PC motivation (here's another).

Also, it can't be denied that there's a certain pulpy romance to the PCs constantly making do with less than they want and constantly going into dungeons to get the gold to acquire it. I prefer justifying PCs being less wealthy than they'd like because, well, that's what this game is about rather than because the player's won't play if I don't adversarially inflict poverty upon them.

Player Character Expenses

Characters spend 100 gp per level per month for room, board, equipment maintenance and entertainment. I like this a lot, as it's incredibly simple; I'm not sure I'll use that exact amount, but this is definitely going into my game (my players tend not to be interested in living the high life quite as much as Gary expects). Characters also have to pay henchmen 100 gp per level per month, in addition to their standard treasure shares. Once they have a stronghold, they also need to pay 1% of the total cost of their stronghold per month. Gary also suggests taxes, fees and levies, but he leaves those to the discretion of the DM.


Gary provides tables for determining what and how valuable gems are. The basic mechanic is to roll on one table, which provides a base value ranging from 10 gp to 5000 gp. Rolling on the next table, that base value is adjusted to its final value. Finally, a roll is made on the appropriate table corresponding to original base value to determine what the gem actually is.

At least I think that's how it works. Gary is less clear than usual in this section, and the fact that most of the "what gem is this" tables have 13 or 14 items makes me wonder whether Gary wanted me to roll on them or not.

Reputed Magical Properties of Gems

Here, Gary gives a long list of gems with the magical properties they are supposed to possess, according to the general culture in the game setting. Which is pretty cool. He then points out that these properties are only what NPCs say these gems have. In actual gameplay, Gary is emphatic that merely possessing, say, a chrysolite, won't ward off spells. Which makes a lot of sense to me, since I don't want my players' first level characters running around with a pocketful of 10 gp gems they found in their first dungeon crawl getting to be invisible and controlling weather and being immune to magic, fire, venom and plague!

Gary does allow for the reputed magical properties to actually be true when gems are incorporated into some magic item, like a potion or ink (or a non-expendable magic item, I say; to craft a ring of invisibility, you should have to have a chrysoprase to set into it). That makes his list a lot like the components list from the Ready Ref sheets, except that it's a lot less dangerous to buy an amethyst than to acquire, say, a displacer beast's tentacle.

Values of Other Rare Commodities

Gary spends maybe a quarter of a column on the prices of other stuff you might find in a treasure hoard, like silk, tapestries, rich furs and spices. That's actually pretty helpful, as I don't recall most other RPGs having prices for those.