Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Back on Hiatus

Missing the Tuesday Trap for the second week in a row, with only a post I'd been saving for a while in between, tells me that I'm realistically too busy to keep this blog up right now. I'm not going anywhere; I'm just taking a break. When things calm down, I'll be back. Keep up the good work, everybody; I'll still be reading, and possibly commenting from time to time.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Fr Dave's Magic Missile

FrDave had this very fun interpretation of Magic Missile a while back. Here's a formal write-up of it that spells out what he interpreted, with some tweaking of my own.

Magic Missile
Level 1 Spell
Duration: Until Fired
Range: 15 meter increments as a ranged weapon

The caster creates a magical missile that conforms to the player's design, as well as a quiver to hold up to 20 of these missiles. When the caster fires a missile, whatever means to fire the missile is needed magically appears, disappearing when no longer needed. The missile is +1 to hit and does 1d6+1 damage.  The caster may fire as many missiles per round as the caster's level divided by three, rounded up (level 1-3: one missile/round, level 4-6: two missiles/round, level 7-9, three missiles/round, etc.) and may have as many quivers as the caster's level divided by three, rounded up (as many quivers as the number of missiles  a caster can fire in a combat round.)

In my game, ranged weapons all have a rate of fire between one and three times per round. An interesting observation is that this spell allows magic-users of 10th level and higher to fire their missiles at a rate higher than any mundane archer or other practitioner of ranged fighting.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

No Tuesday Trap Today

Sorry about that, but things have been busy. I hope to get one up before the week's out.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Sometimes Things Go Badly…

So, when you run a typical open-ended, sandbox, Old School game, you leave things up to chance and make sure that there's a real possibility of failure. The idea is that if failure isn't a possibility then success isn't real.

Sometimes it works out really well.

Other times, though, necessarily, it doesn't. Like tonight.

I think it really started during a character generation towards the beginning of the session. I've been having my players roll on Arduin's special ability charts, which are tables of 100 quirky adjustments to characters, one table for each general type of class. (Arduin, unlike my campaign, has a LOT of classes.) Anyway, this player rolled a result that gave his character +3 to saves against magic spells, but -4 to Charisma because the character is now arrogant.

And then this character (Shevasta) fires into melee a few times. And actually does more damage to the other PCs than the monsters do, critical hitting one character (Tamaren) and cutting open his throat with a crossbow bolt. Despite Shevasta and Tormick's best efforts, they were unable to save Tamaren, who died.

I attribute this to a few things. One is that I messed up the order of combat towards the beginning of the session, so that may have confused things some. Another is that this player hasn't been able to make it to our virtual table in probably more than a month, so, though he's been able to run and play in 3.5 games, he's probably out of practice so far as Old School games go. He was definitely kicking himself over what he made his character do. So far as the player goes, he's really sorry he did what he did.

His character, though- Shevasta- isn't. Remember that she'd been given extreme arrogance by the chart? Well, her player had her do some soul searching, hoping that reflecting on her reckless behavior and the death of a party member that she caused would temper her arrogance. Taking a cue from Pendragon, I ruled that if he rolled at or under her Wisdom score, then she could have 1 point of Charisma back, reflecting a change in her character.

Even this roll was failed, much to Shevasta's player's dismay. Shevasta's player did have her forfeit her share of the loot for the night, though.

I'm blessed to have mature players who are good friends with each other. We knew each other for a few years before we ever started gaming together. While Tormick (who also was a victim of Shevasta throwing a dagger into combat) is on the verge of killing Shevasta if she does anything reckless again, my players are still on good terms with each other. Tonight was an example of when a player honestly plays a character's personality rather than what he wants to do. I think that's actually a key to determining the acceptability of the excuse "that's what my character would do": if the player isn't happy with the character's actions, it's definitely legitimate roleplaying, rather than just trying to cause trouble. None of them were exactly thrilled with the results tonight, though.

Tonight, in many ways (except for getting a few dozen silver pieces) was the kind of failure that is possible in open-ended Old School games– the cost of this kind of giddy, spectacular success. That's OK, though, since failure is the risk we all knowingly took when we went into this session. Tonight's session will sweeten my players' later successes just that much more.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Foray into Dungeon Building, Part 10

On Tuesday I made this:

And today I made this:

These are Level 1, Area 5 and Level 1, Area 7 of my megadungeon.

These are the areas of my megadungeon my players are likely to explore tomorrow. I've begun stocking them, but there are quite a few rolls on tables left before they're totally ready. Fortunately, rolling on tables is almost all that's left.

The one other thing is my first placed encounter. These are the second important part of stocking a megadungeon, the first being randomly generated and placed encounters. I want this area of the first level to be inhabited by the Coeurl.

The first thing I'm going to do is have the Coeurl be an item on the wandering monster list for this area. If I roll a 1 on the chart, instead of using a Random Esoteric Creature, I'll use the Coeurl. Per Paladin's suggestion, the Coeurl won't attack, instead covering himself in darkness and telling the PCs about a monster that owes him somewhere a few levels down. What kind of monster? I'm not sure yet. I'll have to add figuring that out to the list of things I have to do between posting this and the game tomorrow.

Then I have to place the Coeurl's lair. I think I'll place him in room 6 of Area 7. He strikes me as the kind of character that would want multiple escape routes if attacked. That also means that the Coeurl's lair cuts off access to the right side of this area. I don't know what all of the implications of that will be, but it should be interesting.

I've also got some news to report on the "big ideas" front of the megadungeon. I woke up from a nap this last week with "the Mews of Methas" going through my head. I think my subconscious was probably trying to say "maws," but I looked up "mews" and found out that it means either a stables or a place where bats roost. Combining these two ideas, I figure one of the purposes of the dungeon (if not the original purpose) was to house the warbeasts of Methas, whoever that was. Three-headed, four-winged, genetically altered mammalian monsters sound pretty cool. I think I'll have them turned to stone. If the PCs can figure out how to un-stone and tame one, they could have a pretty sweet mount. I'm not sure if I want to have just one or a few left behind after the Mews was cleared out, or if I want it to be fully stocked. This will be quite deep, though, so I have a while to figure out the specifics. It's a good idea to start dropping hints as to the history of the Mews right now, though.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Tuesday Trap #9

Well, that was almost not Tuesday, wasn't it? (For some of you it will be Wednesday, but it's still Tuesday in California, so I'm good.) School's… making me really happy to have RPGs as a diversion right now. Anyway, per Simon Forster's request last week, today we have a trap in goblin territory, though any small humanoids will do the trick as well.

19: Restraints/Hazards
4: Latch/Switch Trigger
10: Ball Bearings

Description: In a room that is deep enough inside the goblin area of a dungeon for the party to believe it could be where they store their treasure there is a lever. The lever may have been built by the goblins or be a repurposed lever originally built by virtually any race. The lever is probably inscribed or labeled in Goblin by the goblins with something like "Don't Touch!" or "Ask Chief before getting some treasure!" or "Stay Out!"- anything to make the party suspect that the goblins access their treasure by using the lever. The lever has been rigged by the goblins to do two things when it is pulled: close all the doors to the room (which all open inward) and open a trapdoor in the ceiling. If any of the doors are blocked or unable to close, the lever cannot be pulled; if it is forced, the handle will break.

In the room that the trap door leads to is a large chamber filled with ball bearings that the goblins acquired from a source of your choosing; if your setting has steam-punk or Victorian leanings, they may have been stolen from an extant civilization, but otherwise the goblins likely found them or traded for them deeper down in the dungeon, as they are the remains of a lost and very advanced civilization, or else something magical. These ball bearings burst into the room, causing 2d6 damage to anyone standing underneath the trap door. (If you use minis and a mat, this is pretty straightforward; otherwise, give any character not pulling the lever a 1-in-8 chance to be standing under the trapdoor.)

The ball bearings fill the room to approximately armpit level on a human; the effect is such that small creatures can freely run about on top of the ball bearings, especially if they have large or webbed feet, while larger creatures sink and have a lot of trouble moving. Humans and elves have their movement rate slowed to as if they were as heavily encumbered as possible and are -4 on all their rolls. Due to the elevation difference and the lack of mobility, they are also -4 to their AC (if any players complain about this affecting elves, tell them this isn't snow in the wilderness, it's steel balls in the underworld, so if they want any magical exceptions because they're elves they can have 1d6 damage a round for exposure to ferrous metal). Dwarves are covered up entirely, but can still move around as if heavily encumbered, but must save against whatever you think is appropriate to keep from inhaling a ball bearing. Hobbits, halflings, goblins, kobolds and other small creatures that are in the room when the trap is triggered manage to get to the top of the ball bearings if they roll at or under their Dexterity score. They can move about as normal, but must continue to move in order not to sink into the bearings. If any of these small creatures don't manage to make it to the top of the bearings, they begin to be slowly crushed, taking 1d4 damage a turn.

The room that the ball bearings fall from is also connected to the other goblin dwellings by tunnels (that are set at 45 degree angles along the vertical axis to prevent the bearings from escaping down the tunnels). When they hear the trap triggered (and, really, half of a megadungeon would hear this trap triggered), they rush through these tunnels and down into the room with the party floundering in the bearings. What they do from there is up to the ref, but it will probably involve extortion or killing.

Detection/Disarming: Observant PCs will notice both the chains, cables or gears attached to the doors (to make sure they close when the lever is pulled) and the trap door in the ceiling. Since the trap door opens downward, it would make sense that it is triggered by the lever. Something that wants to close all doors and release a trap door in the ceiling is probably a trap. Goblins clearly labeling a lever as a way to get treasure may or may not be a clear sign that it is a trap, depending on how you run goblins in your game.

The chains or cables or gears that secure the doors may be destroyed, rendering the ball bearings much less dangerous if a door is kept open and the ball bearings roll out into the rest of the dungeon (all characters should roll at or under their Dexterity at -2 when walking among ball bearings or fall, though). Other than that, the party's best course of action is probably to avoid the trap altogether.

Designer: This trap is the result of goblin ingenuity, whether as a community (if you run savvy, clever goblins) or an exceptional goblin leader (if you generally run dumb goblins). They take great pleasure in the way this trap gives them an advantage over larger creatures in melee combat. When they are done with whatever triggered the trap, they will bag all of the bearings, take the bags up into the tunnels that lead to the room above, re-set the lever and trap door and pour the bearings into the room to prepare for next time.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

"Can't" vs. "Typically Won't": A Minor Semantic Quibble

One of the criticisms of Old School D&D, and all class-based RPGs, really, centers around how well class restrictions make sense. Why can't a thief carry a two-handed weapon, or a magic user use a short-sword or an axe? Will one of those characters really sit there and use nothing but their fists if they find themselves in a room with an orc, a restricted weapon and nothing else?

Another point that dovetails with this is how often monsters can use certain attacks; the classic example is dragons, which can only use their breath weapon every few rounds. That really clashes with my intuitive vision of dragons as not only capable of breathing limitless spouts of fire but as unpredictable in battle, at least from their enemies' points of view.  The last thing I want to be worrying about when running a battle with a dragon is having the dragon use it's breath weapon and a player exclaim, "OK, move in; he's got four rounds before he can breath fire again!"

I think both of these objections can be dealt with by characterizing the character or monster in terms of "typically won't" instead of "can't." Sure, just about anyone, including a pasty, thin, physically inept weakling, can use an axe in combat without even basic training, and it really isn't a stretch to think that someone who's trained to use a longsword will be able to use a two-handed sword effectively. An out-of-shape magic user who's spent his whole life indoors studying, though, won't know the finer points of using a bearded axe to get past an enemy's shield, and also won't usually want to lug a weapon that weighs a few pounds around on long trips underground or across the wilderness. A thief, by the same token, will want to carry smaller weapons, as much of her job will involve being agile and not having long lengths of steel poking this way and that as she scrambles up a wall or squeezes through a window. She'll naturally prefer shorter weapons to longer ones. Both classes can use restricted weapons (though, and this is an important point, I don't let classes using restricted weapons do any more damage with them than their class weapons do, nor do I let them pack them with the intention to using them at the outset of an expedition), but choose not to unless there is an emergency. Not being able to have your magic user include a battle axe in his pack isn't so much a matter of physical impossibility, but a matter of what your magic user wants; he doesn't want to carry the axe, even if you want him to.

In much the same way, I imagine dragons (and other monsters with restrictions on how often they can use overwhelming weapons) as able to use their breath weapons as often as they want, but choosing not to. Why? Maybe they want to take stock of the battle and can't keep an eye on all those PCs and henchmen scurrying about when flame is bursting forth from their mouths. Maybe they're terribly arrogant about these things. Maybe there's some factor that makes them not want to use their breath weapon; maybe it's painful, or each use takes a day off their lives or something. The point is that what I'm willing to play as what a dragon will (at least usually) do in combats that I run should be what dragons choose to do, not what they are only able to do. It strips dragons of their magic and terror, in my opinion.

And if I ever catch wind that a player thinks that dragons only breath fire every few rounds, you can bet that the first dragon the party meets will breath fire for the first three or four straight combat rounds.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Light thoughts on Tonight's Game

Ran a game tonight. Just two players, but I'm hoping for two more next week. We'll see what happens.

An idea that I got during the game from the chatter of my players: a pool that can imbue mundane items with magic. Like, say, you dip your crowbar in the pool and now it's a Crowbar of Returning. You can throw it in combat and it'll come back to you. (Also, roll under your Dex or it'll hit you in the face.) Or choose some other magic effect, make sure it isn't too useful, or that it can have drawbacks so the PCs won't dip absolutely everything in it, and put it in a lower level of your dungeon: instant fun thing for your players to mess with.

One of my player's magic-user elf character died tonight in a fight with giant centipedes. They only had 1-2 hit points and had poison that (if a save at +4 was failed) crippled for 1d4 rounds, but there were eight centipedes to two PCs. A fighter, with the ability to make another attack whenever an enemy with less than a full hit die is killed, would have been really helpful for them to have. Using flaming oil earlier would have helped too. The nice thing is that she's still interested in using a magic user, something that is new to my players, who haven't been interested in them until very lately. Magic users are probably my favorite class to play, so it's nice to see them played by my players, especially since it means that I get to see some of the thought I've put into magic users actually used in my games.

So far that means that I gave my player her choice of having her magic user be a member of the Order of the Green Hand, have gone to a magic academy or be apprenticed to a higher-level magic user. She chose to have her PC apprenticed, so I'm going to have to roll up a master for her her character. Cool.

I'm going to have to do some more mapping this next week, as my players have almost reached the end of my mapped territory. Having dungeon dressing, the results of just a few random rolls per room, really, really slows them down. Perhaps wandering monsters will teach them to speed up, but none of my rolls this session brought any wandering monsters there way. Oh well, there's always next time. If they'd gone any faster, they would have hit the end of what I've got mapped, so it all worked out for the best.

But, yeah, dungeon dressing is definitely a must for a megadungeon. It slows the party down and also gives them lots of things to use in the dungeon as tools. For example, the main entrance of the dungeon is guarded by a bunch of kobolds that charge a toll of any who enter and one PC tried to get on their good side by giving them some mice that he found in the dungeon. The PCs are also deathly afraid of a mirror I left out in the middle of one of the rooms. It's mundane and harmless, but they're so afraid of cursed items (after one character went for maybe a month with Buck's Hat of Misery on her head last year) that, though they added it to their inventory, both of them took pains not to look in the mirror. Lots of fun.

And that's what roleplaying's about: fun with friends.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Tuesday Trap #8

I realize this is early, but last time I scheduled a post with this new Blogger setup it didn't post on time, so I figure I'll give them another week to work the kinks out before giving it a try. This trap write-up is longer than I'd like for such a simple trap; I'm not sure whether that's just because I'm tired or not. Oh well.

6: Ranged Attack
16: Magical Proximity Trigger
18: Spear
12: THAC0 14 (+6 to hit)
5: 1d8 Damage

Description: Over the entrance to Kobold territory in a dungeon, there is set a small sapphire surrounded by 10 oval holes that are about 4 centimeters across at their narrowest. When any non-Kobold approaches within a meter or so of the entrance, a spear (+6 to hit, 1d8 dmg) shoots out of one of the ovals (which are really cylindrical shafts for the spears, but are tilted down to hit targets below them). Each of the 10 shafts contains a spear, so the trap will fire again and again as more non-kobolds come within range. Unless a victim moves quickly, more spears will fire. When Kobolds are within 20 meters (the room this trap is found in) the trap does not activate. Kobolds periodically check on the trap, resetting it by feeding spears back into the ovals and cranking the sapphire with a special tool to keep the energy level up.

Detection: Kobolds are an enthusiastic lot, so, out of excitement and a desire to be emphatic, rather than any real malice, they have filled this room with all sorts of warnings against going any further and trespassing into their territory; this includes banners, signs, graffiti, heads and bodies of previous trespassers impaled on spikes or hung from the ceiling, etc. The comparatively small and subtle trap, then, should not be automatically announced to players who do not state that they examine the exit of this room that leads to Kobold territory, as those who do not specifically examine this doorway will miss the sapphire and holes amid the gaudy, over-the-top, harmless dressing of the room. A merciful referee may allow a passive check or saving throw to notice the trap before it goes off. Spells such as Detect Magic will find this trap with no problem.

Disarming: Once detected, this trap may be smashed to pieces or Dispel Magic may be cast upon it. Magic holds the spears in place, so if the trap is in any way destroyed to the degree that the magic fails, the spears will slide out; they are no longer magically aimed and propelled, so they now attack at +0 and do only 1d4 damage. There are, however, 10 of them unless some have already been fired. Clogging the holes, capturing a kobold to be on hand and removing all the spears are other possible means to bypass or disarm the trap. Stolen spears will be replaced by the Kobolds the next time they check the trap. If removed, the sapphire is worth 300 gp.

Designer: This trap is both uncharacteristic of the enthusiastic nature of Kobolds and beyond this tribe's capabilities. A captured magic-user bought his freedom by creating this trap for his captors and teaching them how to maintain it.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Extant Religions in RPGs

A few days ago I posted about using made-up religions in RPGs, and I created a set of tables to generate these made-up religions. I mentioned in passing that using real religions was something I thought was cool, but didn't give it much more mention.

There were two reasons for that. The first is that I try (often unsuccessfully) to keep my blog posts unified and not excessively long. The other reason is that, while I know more than most people about a lot of religions, I don't know much at all about using real religions in RPGs. I've never done it and never seen it done.

I know that some other bloggers out there use real religions in their games. FrDave is the classic example. I was surprised and interested to see that one of the first characters Rob Conley ran the Wilderlands for was a Christian. Antion commented on my religion post that one of his clerics follows a real life religion. Of course, the inspiration for this series, Jeff Rients, is currently running a campaign with clerics who follow extant religions as well. There are probably more of you that are reading this that also run games with extant religions.

I'm wondering if you could talk about what that's like. Is that really different in any way from running games with made-up religions? Do you have a mix of real and made up religions in your game, or only extant ones? Do you make an effort to be at least basically accurate in your portrayal of these real religions?

Also, does anyone at your table follow any of the religions in your game? Does that complicate things? How do you deal with the differences between the actual religions and the way Clerics work in D&D? One of my biggest hesitations in using real religions is that I can't think of any extant religion that offers power, but only a certain level of power until you reach the next level the way D&D works… instead, most religions that offer supernatural power usually will teach that the power will meet the problem, not the person who is the channel of that power. I'm especially thinking of Christianity here, but it's true about every other religion that comes to mind. Anyway, do you, and how do you, deal with that?

You can answer in the comments if you want, but many answers will probably be too long for the comments. If you answer this with a blog post and let me know about it (or I see it on my own) I'll add a link to your post to this post. Thanks!

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Megadungeon is a Go!

So, my two most regular players lost their character sheets in the move to their new house and still haven't been able to find them. Last time we tried Risus out, but this time we rolled up some new characters for them.

Quite quickly, one of them started complaining about his attributes. I use 3d6 down the line. In the past, I've allowed re-rolls of attributes when the sum of the modifiers is less than 0. This time, though, I remembered this.

I had him make up his own attribute scores. Then his wife wanted to do that as well.

Here's the attribute scores he decided on: 18 13 13 9 3 4

And here's her's: 10 13 10 16 8 13

Wow, that didn't break the game, even when you let a player with very gamist tendencies do it!

The way he put it, "It's no fun to play a character that's good at everything."

No arguments here. Thank you, Jeff Rients.

We actually spent about three hours doing character generation, mostly because we took our time. I also had them roll on charts for their background from Monsterous Civilizations of Delos and the special abilities chart from Arduin. Those worked as well as I hoped they would and added some nice flavor. Once I've tweaked and worked and changed them to the point where I feel sharing them wouldn't be a copyright violation, I'll do so; in the meantime, both books are for sale…

Then, since we only had an hour left, I decided to run them through the start of my megadungeon. I only have 18 rooms done(or mostly done) right now, but I figured they wouldn't get too far. I was right; they only went into three rooms and only had one combat, with a Saucer Fungi. They interacted a lot with the dungeon dressing. If I had been using my wondering monster tables, they would have had quite a few rolls on those, but it was interesting to see them take every random piece of debris I had lying in a corner of a room (or the middle of the room) seriously.

This is also motivation for me to get cracking on expanding my megadungeon! There needs to be more ready for them by next week! So hopefully you'll see some more megadungeon posts around these parts soon.

Also, I have some kobolds that guard the main entrance to the dungeon and charge a toll. It was fun to see one player irked at having to hand over a silver to the kobolds. He expressed a desire to fight them, though he knew he was too weak and outnumbered right now. This should be interesting, as the kobolds are one of the most powerful factions in the megadungeon as I plan it, so getting on their bad side can make life very, very interesting.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

"But I don't Wanna Prepare Meteor Swarm!"

So, say you're running Grimpa the 20th level magic user. Grimpa's high up on the totem pole of the Order of the Green Hand, so it's her turn to help make a Wand of Magic Missile (we'll be using LotFP:WFRP rules for this exercise). The wand needs 99 charges; that means that Magic Missile needs to be cast into the wand 99 times, all at once. Grimpa, though, only has eight 1st level spell slots. We've got a problem. Either she's is going to need a whole lot of scrolls, which take a long, long time to make (and are expensive!), or she's going to need 12 other 20th level magic users to help her out.

Or does she? She's not going adventuring today. Her colleague Melmok, who has the unfortunate propensity to accidentally open gates to The Place Where Large Things That Kill You Live, is gone for the month. Her plans for the day include some pleasure reading, checking the library to see whether any lower level Guild members need any help and eating out with a couple friends. There's really not a need for any other spells. What about Grimpa's 37 other spell slots? Could she use those?

Which brings up a good question: can magic users fill spell slots with lower level spells?

I'm thinking of three pretty good answers for this.

1) No. That's not the way Vancian magic works. Everything has to fit exactly. You can't put a 9mm bullet in a .45 chamber and expect it to fire, can you? Don't complain, you get to break the laws of the universe every day while your buddy Thog over there only gets to bash skulls.

2) Sure, why not? Fill your spell slots with any spell that is of the appropriate level or lower. If you really want to cast Magic Missile a few more times instead of Web or Knock, what's that going to hurt? Now Grimpa only needs two colleagues to help her make the wand.

3) Yes. Also, you can cast more spells if they are lower level than your spell slots. You can fill a spell slot with 1.5 spells that are one level lower, 2 spells that are two levels lower, 2.5 spells that are three levels lower and so on. So Grimpa can cast three Magic Misiles with two 2nd level spell slots, two Magic Missiles with one 3rd level spell slot, five Magic Missiles with two 4th level spell slots and so forth. With this system, Grimna can cast her 99 Magic Missiles and doesn't need anyone's help in making her wand. She can even cast the Permanency spell that's also necessary for making the wand; all told, she could prepare 114 Magic Missiles if she wanted to.

What do you think? Is there another good answer to this question? I personally like the third answer the best. I doubt this kind of thing would be used by PCs very often, but I'd be interested to see whether they would in fact use this at all. It feels like this would open the door up for more creative spell use, but is it too lenient?