Sunday, December 30, 2012

Some Clerical Reputation Mechanics

I recently decided to include Clerics in my game (currently that's not the case) and, as part of figuring out how I want to do this, posted a question about creating pantheons on Google+ and got some good responses and also a few links to Alex Shroeder's blog where he outlines how he's been running deities and Clerics in his games. I found his post about reputation especially interesting. I've reworked it a little bit and present it below. Along with tracking the alignment of my players, I'm hoping to expand this system and to use it not only for Cleric PCs' religious standing but for all PCs' standings with different factions or NPCs.

Feedback appreciated.


Clerics begin play with a reputation rating of 1 with their deity. At the end of each session in which a Cleric has performed an act on the following table, the Cleric’s player rolls the die that corresponds to the most significant act of the Cleric that day; if the rolled result is higher than the Cleric’s current reputation score, the Cleric’s reputation score increases by one.

d4: Fulfilled intermediate tenet of faith or service related to single believer
d6: Fulfilled major tenet of faith, service related to single local congregation or saved life or body of single believer
d8: Related to single order or sect, saved lives or bodies of single local congregation
d10: Related to whole religion or a servant of the god, saved lives or bodies of entire order or sect
d12: Related to the god, saved the lives or bodies of whole religion

Losing reputation is easier and more drastic than gaining reputation. At the end of a session in which a Cleric has blatantly violated a tenet of the Cleric’s faith or done an active disservice related to the Cleric's faith, the Cleric’s player rolls the die that corresponds to the act of the highest magnitude of the Cleric’s that day. The number rolled on the die is subtracted from the Cleric’s reputation score; in this way, negative reputations are possible. 

If the Cleric has performed both reputable and disreputable acts within a single session, increase the disreputable die size by two and compare the two dice; subtract the smaller die’s sides from the larger die’s sides and roll a die with the number of sides that results, applying the result towards or against the reputation in correspondence to whether the larger die was reputable or disreputable.

For example, Kolath the Cleric of Zeus, within a single session, stole some gold from a member of the congregation of the local temple of Zeus and also helped the rest of the party fend off an army of goblins intent on killing the entire local town. The theft from the fellow follower of Zeus corresponds to the d4 and saving the town, which includes the local congregation of Zeus, corresponds to the d8. Adding two to the four sides of the d4 and subtracting the resulting six from eight leaves a d2 for Kolath's player to roll to see whether Kolath's reputation rises with Zeus or not. Unless Kolath's reputation with Zeus is already lower than 2, Zeus is so non-plussed with Kolath's theft that even saving an entire congregation is not enough to impress Zeus.

Reputation with one's deity is important because Third through Seventh Level Cleric Spells are granted to Clerics by higher powers. In order for spells of a certain level to be granted to a Cleric, the Cleric must both be of sufficient level to have spell slots of that level (like the "normal," as-written Cleric in most systems) and must have a reputation rating with the higher power of at least the same level as the spell.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

A Blessed Incarnation Commemoration to You

Hail the Heav'n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings
Ris'n with healing in His wings
Mild He lays His glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth
Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!"

[T]he Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many. -Matthew 20:28 (NASB)

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Print Friendly

We've had a lot of great bloggers join the OSR blogosphere since Jeff Rients gave this sage advice on his blog last year, so I think it's a good idea to pass this around again. If you're a blogger, this button is a great thing to add to the bottom of each blog post; it lets readers print your post off or turn it into a PDF. I don't know how many great blog posts I've saved this way, and how many other great blog posts I've been frustrated to find I'd have to copy into a Word or Text document or lose track of. Please, give the OSR blogosphere a great Christmas present and make the stuff that you're already posting easily save-able for the rest of us. Thanks!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Shield of Wonder

The actual downloading method is lame (I really wish they were one document) and it's written for 3.5 and 4 (though that's not a huge deal in actual practice), but THIS is what I call a magic item.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The DMG, Section by Section, Part 20: Spell Explanations – Illusionists

Short post today, just wrapping up Illusionist spells, which in turn wraps up this section on magic in the DMG.

Phantasmal Killer
This is, as I understand it, an incredibly nasty spell. One way to escape it, however, is to go unconscious, "somehow." If I'm ever playing and my PC's buddy is being attacked by one of these, you can bet I'll be knocking my buddy over the head to save him.

Detect Magic
I was really interested to see Gary refer the reader to the Cleric, rather than the Magic-User, version of this spell for commentary. Comparing the Cleric and Magic-User versions of this spell, it seems that the Cleric version only can detect the strength of a magic aura while the Magic-User version includes a chance to detect the particular type of magic involved. By giving Illusionists the Cleric version of the spell, Gary is giving them the weaker, less effective version.

Finally, in a note that seems to cover all spells, Gary points out that, "the reverse of any spell must be separately memorized, and that each requires special components." I've never liked the idea of having to choose between "normal" or reversed versions of spells during spell memorization, but I certainly can understand why Gary would rule this way.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The DMG, Section by Section, Part 19: Spell Explanations – Magic-Users

Comprehend Languages
I found it interesting that this can be reversed and cast on a scroll to make it unreadable, though casting the unreversed version of this spell twice on such a scroll will make it readable again.

Apparently Gary's players tried to kill opponents by enlarging them inside their armor, but Gary says that their armor will either come loose (if secured with buckles and straps) or be ruined (in the case of chain mail) rather than kill an enlarged subject of this spell; even clothes are assumed to "split away during growth." I would have thought that Gary would have just had what a subject of this spell was wearing grow with the subject, but leave it to Gary to surprise me, right?

Tenser's Floating Disc
I don't know why Gary's such a kill-joy with this particular spell. First he stipulates clearly that no Magic-User can begin play knowing this spell or Nystul's Magic Aura, and then he bans Magic-Users from riding the Disc. Lame. (Though I think Gary's reasoning for banning these two spells may have been to allow players to choose a spell on a result of 10 on the beginning spell tables. Still.)

Unseen Servant
This is the spell my players have played around with the most, stretching the limits of how much they can communicate with an inanimate force (being able to command it clearly means that some amount of communication is possible, I've ruled). Gary stipulates that this force has no shape and therefore cannot be clothed.

I hadn't ever realized that this spell requires at least two anchor points or the web will collapse in on and get tangled up with itself. I hadn't ever really thought about that, but it makes good sense.

Wizard Lock
I also hadn't realized that casters could freely pass through their own Wizard Locks. This has interesting possibilities if you want to take magic in the direction of different flavors of the same spells. (Brendan, I'm thinking of you here.)

Rary's Mnemonic Enhancer
I hadn't realized that this was in 1e as well as 2e. It came up in a previous discussion on this blog. (I prefer any one of my solutions, for the record, though the existence of this spell does settle what Gary thought about the issue.)

Wall of Force
This spell's commentary is interesting because Gary discusses two specific ways to defeat it, much the same way that prismatic spheres in AD&D and prismatic walls in Arduin are handled. These magical barriers that require specific, sometimes (especially with Arduin) non-sensical, unrelated magical keys fascinate me and seem under-utilized in the D&D I read about and play.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Ready Ref Diceless Initiative

Flipping through the Ready Ref Sheets recently, I noticed a really interesting initiative system.

Basically, different factors have assigned numbers, which you add together to determine what you could call an "initiative score," I suppose (the Ready Ref Sheets don't use that, or any, term). The higher your score, the earlier you go in the round.

In the Ready Ref sheets, they present the actual weapons used as the number and then everything else as a modifier, but I'm going to present them in reverse order, since it makes more sense to me to start with the factors that change the least, rather than the factors that change the most.

First off, the character's Dexterity score translates into an initiative number (identical to attribute modifiers in OD&D or some version of Basic, I think):

3-4: -2
5-8: -1
9-12: –
13-16: +1
17-18: +2

Secondly, armor and encumbrance factor in:

(Blank, so either no armor, or just not available to PCs): +3
Light Armor: +2
Heavy Armor: +1
Plate Armor: –
Encumbered: -1

Monsters also get numbers based on their speed:

18" and up: +3
12-17": +2
9-11": +1
4-8": –
3" & less: -1

Finally, the following weapons and attacks are associated with these numbers:

1: Read Scroll
2: Spell of 7-9th level
3: Short Weapon (Dagger, Hand Axe, Mace)
4: Medium Weapon (Sword, Hammer, Battle Axe) or touching
5: Long Weapon (Morning Star, Flail, Spear, Pole Arm, Halberd, Two-Handed Sword)
6: Very Long Weapon (Mounted Lance)
7: Spell of 4-6th level
8: Extreme Weapon (Pike)
9: Missile Fire
10: Spell of 1-3rd level
11: Breath Weapon
12: Glance

Numbers from all three (or two, in the case of monsters) factors should be added up and compared to the numbers of all the other characters involved in the combat; highest score goes first and ties are broken with "actual dexterity ratings."

It's a simple, elegant system, and one I may consider switching to. It's short enough that it could probably fit on a 2-page character sheet without crowding other records too much. Has anyone ever used this system before? Would you ever consider switching to it?

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Shrelft the Pilgrim Peddler

So, I'm finally running games again. We ran a session of Dawn of Worlds a few weeks ago and played some S&W last Friday. I'm really enjoying gaming.

We didn't get a lot done, which is fine. We rolled up some new characters, discussed keeping track of time better (we all agreed that using a Gregorian calendar would be easiest and the players decided to start on January 1; we don't have years yet), played out a visit by Shrelft the Pilgrim Peddler and then they had a run-in with a Lindwurm.

But let's talk about Shrelft the Pilgrim Peddler, since there's been some interest expressed in him. I've refrained from sharing him before now because the majority of his inventory is from the Arduin Grimoires (specifically Grimoires IV, V, VI and VII), but I figure I can share the parts of Shrelft that I came up with and a few examples of his inventory so that you can have Shrelft show up in your games too, if you want.

Here's how I've described Shrelft for myself:

Shrelft shows up at the PC's home base occasionally, selling minor magical items and dungeoneering gear that is pretty much unavailable elsewhere. Shrelft will show up in a particular session on a roll of 1 on a d6. No one knows much about Shrelft, especially concerning where he obtains his wares. When asked about his sources, Shreflt only smiles, and those who try to follow him always lose him around a corner, over a hill or behind a tree; Shrelft also ceases to visit those PCs until a 2 is rolled on 2d6 (roll once per session), at which point Shreflt has apparently forgiven the PCs and will resume his normal schedule.

I then list 20 magical alchemical items for purchase. I usually roll a d20 three or four times to determine what Shrelft is selling today, and d4 for each item to determine how many he has for sale. The four Grimoires I mentioned have a lot more than 19 alchemical items, but I decided that, until the PCs get richer (switching to using the ACKS method of dungeon stocking will make that happen more quickly, it's looking like) there's no point in teasing them with anything that costs more than 1000 silver (I'm using a silver standard).

Some examples:

Saethryth's Salve (500sp): A thick green paste that smells of mint and fish. Applied to a freshly cut body part, even a head, it will keep that part alive and viable for up to a week. If the part is bound to a fresh wound within that week, it will grow a healthy connection. (This is, I think, the only item I didn't get from the Arduin Grimoires. It's a favorite with my players, understandably. It's probably under-priced, but that's OK.)

Sigestamundo's Silver Screamers/ “Banshee Stones” (105sp): The size and weight of steel marbles and silver colored, when sharply struck, they ignite and take off in random and crazy flight patterns, trailing sparks and grey metallic smoke while screaming and wailing. They fly for 1d8 seconds but take flight again once they hit something. They last for 20 minutes.

Zartan's Outfire Fog (330sp): Comes inside sealed glass containers, which hold enough fog to fill an area of 100 cubic meters. The fog is heavier than air and puts out all mundane fire in one second and all magic fire in three seconds. The fog dissipates in one minute, after which magical fires return.

Zorn's Instant Armor (250sp): Small grey cubes with a red button on one side. When the button is pressed, it unfolds into a simple shield which lasts for 1d100 minutes before crumbling away.

Lalamaluna's Liquid of Lasting Luminescence (25sp): This yellow-gold liquid glows brightly for 20 years after its manufacture; anything soaked in it will also glow, provided the liquid, which is water-soluble, is not washed away.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Beginning Storytellers

I find this really encouraging, especially considering how much my megadungeon needs work (which I am putting in to it; enough of the second level is done to provide for a few sessions, no problem, if my players make their way that far), and how much room for improvement I see in my refereeing style.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Grey Elf Exegetes AD&D

I recently ran across another blogger reading through AD&D (all of it, though he's starting with the DMG and hasn't finished it yet) and posting about it, over on The Wasted Lands. If you'd like to see another take on the DMG (and one that's significantly further along than I am), give it a look. Reading up through where I am myself, it's been interesting seeing similarities and differences in what we find interesting and worth the most attention, as well as where we do or don't disagree with Gary, all still from an Old School perspective. At first glance, the DMG's (dis-)organization seems to bother me a lot less, while he seems to object less about Gary's DM style advice.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The DMG, Section by Section, Part 18: Spell Explanations – Druids

The truism that often accompanies ridiculous laws is that they are often only laws because people have behaved in the now-outlawed ways. This truism strikes me as applying to a good deal of Gary's comments on spells, and certainly to a number of Druid spells.

Animal Friendship
Animals, Gary says, will always be able to sense "ulterior motives," when subject to this spell. Because Gary's players were apparently shameless enough to run Druids that would take advantage of animals.

Charm Person or Mammal
Gary gives some nice guidelines concerning how to adjudicate this spell; namely, this spell only changes the subject's basic orientation towards the caster into one of friendship and acceptance. This is not, as Gary says, "enslave person or mammal," nor does the subject's attitude towards the caster's associates change significantly (though presumably the caster's associates will not be attacked except in self-defense or if provoked).

Create Water
Hilariously, Gary needs to point out that this spell will not create water in any part of any living thing. Because one of his players clearly tried to do that, most likely with the aim of making said creature explode.

Warp Wood
Held or Wizard Locked doors can only be affected with this spell if the Druid is of higher level than the Magic-User who held or locked the door, and then only with a 20% chance for every level the Druid is higher than the Magic-User.

Call Lightening
This spell is presumably useless within, say, the confines of a dungeon, but, conveniently, a Druid may call half-strength lightening out of a whirlwind created by a djinn or air elemental.

Call Woodland Being
An interesting list of possible beings that could respond: brownies, centaurs, dryads, pixies, satyrs, sprites, a treant and a unicorn. I almost expected a dragon, a la the Ranger follower charts.

Fire Storm
The reverse of this spell can be used to quench, and strip of its magical properties (!), a flaming sword. On the one hand, this is a seventh level spell; on the other, that seems like an awfully easy way to disenchant a magic sword.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The DMG, Section by Section, Part 17: Spell Explanations – Clerics

Gary now embarks upon six and a half pages of explaining spells. A good bit of this is expressly banning certain liberal interpretations that players might attempt to use with spells, much as Gary previously dealt with the abuse of Thief abilities, but a good deal of it is also explaining tactics that can be used with certain spells or just plain explaining how to execute the effects of a spell from behind the DM screen. Today let's hit the Cleric spells I find interesting.

Light & Continual Light
Gary quite helpfully points out that both of these spells can be cast on an enemy's eyes, effectively blinding them (permanently, or until dispelled, in the case of Continual Light), as well as suggesting that Continual Light can be cast on objects and then used in place of torches.

The idea of allowing any kind of prophecy or means of knowing the future in a sandbox game has always left me feeling uncomfortable and unsure regarding how to handle it, but Gary gives some decent guidelines here: basically, it's OK to just go off of what you guess will happen. The example he gives is if a player asks, "Will we do well if we venture onto the third level?" and a nasty troll guards a great treasure near the entrance to level 3 then an appropriate response is, "All who survive will be rich!"

Dispel Magic
Gary gives some nice mechanics here. Any item this is cast at that fails a saving throw is inoperative for one round; items only get saving throws if they are in a character's possession, and only have to make saving throws if they are specifically targeted. Relics and artifacts (I don't think Gary's discussed the difference between those two categories yet) are immune to this effect.

The referee is encouraged to gauge the player/PC's sincerity of repentance and require penance accordingly. If the referee believes the player/PC is truly repentant, a few coins in the money box may suffice to fully restore the PC, while insane, nearly impossible quests, such as capturing and sacrificing rival high priests, may be handed out to players/PCs who don't seem sincere. Personally, I like the help of an actual alignment charting system to help me gauge just how much a PC is in trouble, rather than having to figure this out by ear.

Plane Shift
Planar adventures have never really interested me (I'm certainly open to that changing in the future), but I find Gary's description of each plane having a corresponding musical note, with the potential for an octave of planes, to be intriguing. Not enough for me to build on right now, but if I ever do run planar adventures, I'll be sure to incorporate the "planar scale" into the way plane shifting works. Has anyone seen planes run like this? Do any settings use this at all?

Counterintuitively, at least for me, characters are more vulnerable or susceptible to this spell the more they agree with the Cleric casting the spell, not even receiving a saving throw if the quest is just and they share religions with the Cleric. Also interestingly, characters who agree to a quest, even if forced to do so, do not receive a saving throw.

Holy/Unholy Word
I wasn't aware that there were any spells that banished beings back to their native planes, but this spell does exactly that. I'm undecided on whether to allow this spell in my game since I had expected to get so much traction out of the Carcosan banishing rituals that require special components. We'll see what happens.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The DMG, Section by Section, Part 16: Character Spells – Recovery of Spells, Spell Casting and Tribal Spell Casters

I'm still – slowly – working on the ideas I've got from the last section, but it's high time I resumed this series.

Recovery of Spells

Gary gives a short table for how long you have to sleep to be able to memorize new spells; these range from just four hours, if all you want to memorize are first or second level spells, all the way to a whopping twelve hours if you want to memorize a ninth level spell. The implications for this are interesting: low level Magic-Users, Clerics and other spell casters now have no excuse for not standing watch at night, and there may come times when a high-level character chooses not to rest long enough to memorize their highest level spells. Interrupting a high-level enemy Magic-User's 12 hours sleep certainly becomes an attractive strategy. While I find all of these ideas interesting, though, I just don't expect them to come up that often in gaming, or perhaps to even come up at all.

After a spell caster has rested sufficiently, each spell takes 15 minutes per spell level to memorize. Even more than resting times, I've always had a problem with this approach, for a few reasons. Again, I don't really see the point of the extra math, it doesn't fit my reading of the source material in the Tales of the Dying Earth (specifically in the first few pages of Turjan of Miir), and, least logically but most viscerally, it clashes with my preferred metaphor for Vancian magic: loading bullets into a gun, which is quick and easy.

Insight into how variable rest time and lengthy spell memorization times make the game better is very much appreciated.

Spell Casting

Gary goes into a half page of explanation of how AD&D Vancian magic works, in-game. Basically, each spell brings energy from another plane to the caster's plane and channels it into the spell's effects. In exchange for the energy from the other plane, material components (the caster's breath, when none are listed) are destroyed to provide the energy to send back to the other plane.

Gary also mentions the the first two Dying Earth books (The Eyes of the Overworld and The Dying Earth) and John Bellairs' The Face in the Frost, a book I haven't heard of before or remember reading any reviews of on OSR blogs, as inspiration for the way AD&D magic works. I'm guessing that a good deal of the elements of AD&D magic I don't recognize from Vance are from the latter work, which seems to be highly recommended by Bellairs' fellow fantasy writers. The Face in the Frost is now on my reading list.

On the other hand, even if I thought that Vancian magic needed this level of explanation, I don't like this explanation of how magic works. This isn't making it into my game.

Tribal Spell Casters

Certain humanoids and a few other groups (cavemen, ettins…) have spell casters in their tribes. Shamans are the tribal equivalent of Clerics and may go up to 7th level, depending on species, while Witch Doctors are the tribal equivalent of Magic-Users and may go up to 4th level, depending on species. Both NPC classes have limited spell lists and only Cavemen may have both a Shaman and Witch Doctor in one tribe. Altogether, a helpful but not terribly exciting section.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Extended Random Character Generation

One of the oversimplified differences between playing Old School or New School style D&D as I've seen the issue laid out is that Old School character generation is quick and random because Old School gaming revels in the disposability of characters and the beautiful surprises of the dice while New School character generation is lengthy and almost completely controlled by the player because New School gaming revels in details and preparing the character to fit the game.

These are generalizations of course, but actually pretty helpful ones, so long as we remember the limits of generalizations and don't fall into the trap of a false dichotomy. Most OSR referees, so far as I can tell, emphasize very quick, random character generation, with a few recent posts about using algorithms to determine class and random rolling to determine equipment, and I don't think anyone argues that creating a 3.5 character is a short, choice-less process.

The thing I'd like to point out with this post, though, is that random character generation doesn't have to be a quick affair. One could, instead, significantly lengthen character generation with the use of numerous random tables that can be found in gaming products from the 70's and early 80's.

For example, let's say I'm rolling up a Human Magic-User. Using tables from multiple books, I could determine...

[AD&D DMG (there may be more charts I haven't read yet)]

...that my character is 36 years old (Age Category: Mature) and will live to be 137 years old if allowed to die a natural death.

...that my character is "competent" at Sleep and Charm spells, but vulnerable to dragon's fire, is six feet tall, weighs 172 pounds, has roan-colored hair, hazel-colored eyes, a birthmark that looks like a bird, Caucasian skin pigmentation, is double-jointed, and is obese (-1 to Con and Dex).

...that my character has three siblings and grew up in a rural, inland setting, where he was apprenticed to a Hosler (fine horseman, +3 with all riding beasts) and to a Riverman (excellent swimmer, +1 to Strength, +1 to Constitution).

...and that my character carries four yarpick thorn javelins among his possessions (though he probably can't use them).

Like many in the OSR, I enjoy tables to roll on, like these, and I've incorporated many of these into my game. One wrinkle with so many tables to roll on, though, is that character generation is not as trivial and quick as it is in your favorite flavor of D&D, as written, with perhaps some modifications to make it go even more quickly.

I think that actually fits my gaming style, though. I don't run a game where PCs drop like flies in a DCC character funnel (though I've certainly enjoyed playing in such games), so it's OK if players invest a little more into their characters, even if that investment is simply rolling the dice ten more times. On the other hand, PCs absolutely do die in my games, so it's good that each PC isn't the product of a week's worth of free time.

What about you? Would you be interested in using these charts in your games, or do they take too much time and create too much background details for your taste, or even perhaps take too much control over the characters from the players?

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Magic-User Master Spell Book Contents

Independent Magic-Users apprentice with a master who is unaffiliated with any of the large magical organizations. Most of the mechanics for such Magic-Users are in an earlier post, but this post deals with important information about the master that was not included in the previous post: level, intelligence and the contents of the master's spell book.

Master's Intelligence: 2d4+10 (12-18)
Master's Level: 2d8+4 (6-20)

Spell Book Contents

First Level Spells:
Determine spell quota by dividing INT by two (round up). This is the number of first level spells the Master's spell book will contain.

Automatically include Read Magic. Count Read Magic as the first spell towards reaching the quota (unless it is a zero-level spell in your system).

If your first level spells are divided into Offensive, Defensive and Miscellaneous spells, roll on each table in turn to select spells until the number of spells is met. Re-roll spells that are selected more than once.

If they are not divided into separate lists, roll to select spells until you have reached the quota. Re-roll spells that are selected more than once.

Second Level Spells and Higher:
Subtract one from the spell quota of the previous spell level and roll on spell list until quota is met, re-rolling spells that are selected more than once. Repeat for each spell level until the maximum spell level for the Master's level is reached or quota is lowered to zero.

Example 1:
For this first example, we'll use the LotFP (Deluxe) spell lists and Magic-User class. Note that LotFP doesn't divide first level spells into three separate lists of offensive, defensive and miscellaneous spells. Also, note that while this master is able to cast up to ninth level spells, she's only actually acquired spells up to sixth level. I'm rolling a d20 for each of these spell lists, since each of the LotFP spell lists I'm rolling on have 20 spells (higher-level spell lists have less).

Master's Intelligence: [1,1] 12
Master's Level: [6,7] 17

Quota: (12 divided by two) 6
Maximum Spell Level: 9th (but we're not going to get there)

First Level Spells:
Read Magic (automatic)
[17] Sleep
[18] Spider Climb
[20] Ventriloquism
[6] Floating Disc
[4] Enlarge

Second Level Spells:
[9] Invisibility
[1] Audible Glamor
[12] Locate Object
[3] Continual Light
[15] Phantasmal Force

Third Level Spells:
[19] Suggestion
[12] Hold Person
[11] Haste
[20] Water Breathing

Fourth Level Spells:
[1] Charm Monster
[19] Wall of Ice
[15] Protection from Normal Weapons

Fifth Level Spells:
[3] Chaos
[16] Telekinesis

Sixth Level Spell:
[11] Legend Lore

Example 2:
For this second example, we'll use John's excellent Vancian spell lists, but only roll up the contents of the spell book through spell level two, since levels 3-6 work the same as level two. Note that John's spell lists count The Arcane Cypher (read magic) as a zero level spell and split the 30 first level spells into ten offensive, ten defensive and ten miscellaneous spells (so two rolls of "1" are fine, since they are rolls on different lists).

Zero Level Spell:
The Arcane Cypher (automatic)

First Level Spells (rolling 1d10):
[1] The Charm of Appersonation (Offensive) 
[1] The Apotropaic Circle (Defensive)
[10] Tenser's Floating Disc (Miscellaneous)
[4] The Importunate Insult (Offensive)
[6] The Howling Rune (Defensive)
[3] The Call to the Unseen Servant (Miscellaneous)

Second Level Spells (rolling 1d30):
[15] The Pattern of the Immanent Sublime
[20] The Spell of Barring and Broaching
[22] The Spell of the Imponderous Bounty
[9] Leomund's Escalatory Escape
[5] Hornung's Deleterious Deflector 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Mechanics for Magic-Users of the Order of the Green Hand

Much of this post will build on my previous post on the Order of the Green Hand. I'll try not to repeat too much, and I'll put a bit more history into this post than my previous posts.

The Order of the Green Hand was originally founded by a Sorcerer (think Carcosan Sorcerer, but with the ability to cast any spell as a ritual; we'll get to Sorcerers later in this series) who discovered the Ritual of the Green Hand and numerous low-level Magic-Users from the various Magical Academies who were disillusioned with the zero-sum culture, constant infighting and politics of the Academies. The Order, then, is based on the idea of cooperation and mutual aid. All of the Magical Academies found this idea dangerous both because it shook up their comfortable world and because they recognized that Magic-Users cooperating together, and with Sorcerers, would be much more powerful and effective than the Academies, divided as they were by petty squabbles. They hunted down as many of the early members of the Order as they could, coordinating their attacks on a single night of purging, known as the Night of Green and Red. Most members were killed, but some escaped; most that escaped lost their spell books and were only able, at a later date, to copy the spells they had memorized (and not used during their escape) onto new spell books. A very few members of the Order were able to abscond with a few higher level spells; to this day, the Order's spell books are skewed towards many low-level spells and few high level spells.

The Magical Academies continued to hunt the Order, citing the Order's connection to sorcery to the authorities and expending considerable political capital to convince them to ban the Order and eventually founding an order of Purgators to stamp the Order out of existence. The Order eventually found safe havens, however, in the good graces of kings, lords and city-states which did not have Magical Academies within their territory and desired reliable access to court mages, advice and magically capable agents. Eventually, the Order became established enough that the Academies no longer challenge it openly outside of their own cities (which the Order still has not been allowed to establish a presence in) and the Purgators have dwindled in number and their ranks are now filled with more Assassins than Paladins. The Order, as it has gained power, forged an alliance with the Assassin's Guild to combat the Purgators, who violate the Assassin's strict insistence on their own monopoly on assassination.

As described in my original post, members of the Order have access to many shared resources at the Order's many dormitories. One of these resources is the dormitory spell books. Whenever a member of the Order discovers or obtains a new spell, it is copied into the dormitory's two spell books. Every month the dormitories send one of their spell books on to the next dormitory in a set rotation and once the new spell book arrives any spells that one book has but the other does not are copied into the book that does not have them. In this way, the number of spells available to a member of the order is constantly, if slowly, growing. Mechanically, every month there are (1d6-4) new spells of (3d6-9)th level. (No new spells if either roll goes below 1.)

Despite the enmity between the Order and the Academies, the methodology of their practice of spell-casting is basically the same; after all, the founding Magic-Users of the Order all came from the Academies. The relative inexperience of the founding members was balanced out by their practice of mutual aid as well as the desperation of the early days of the Order, so members of the Order today are able to cast spells just as well as alumni of one of the Academies, save that they don't specialize in certain spells like the Academies do. Like graduates of an Academy, members of the Order must check against their Intelligence scores whenever attempting to learn a new spell; failure means that the spell may not be learned at the member's current level, but a new attempt may be made each level until the spell is successfully learned.

In the methodology of magic outside of casting spells, however, the Order owes much to the Sorcerers within its ranks. Ready help and teaching from Sorcerers enable Magic-Users of the Order to cast rituals of one half their caster level. In addition, members of the Order may copy spells they have not mastered into their spell books and may cast them as rituals, something alumni of the Academies are not able to do. In addition, members of the Order benefit from Sorcerous training in the crafting of magic items; mechanically, they craft them as if they are one level higher than they actually are and as if the laboratory they use is one increment more valuable than it actually is.

Higher-level members of the Order often take administrative positions within the Order, helping to run a dormitory, manufacturing magic items and protecting and advancing the Order through diplomatic and political means. At least one of these members will always be on duty in each dormitory to give help and advice to any members that need it, though they will be most knowledgable about magic and local politics and generally ignorant about other subjects. (If a PC is a member of the Order, when the PC established a stronghold, it will be, or will at least include, a dormitory.)

Each dormitory possesses a modest library and laboratory, serviceable but nothing like the libraries of the Academies. Tables for determining the their value, as well as the mechanical benefits of staff of the dormitory, will be forthcoming.

Finally, it should be noted that Sorcery, that is, the casting of rituals by those without the capability to memorize spells, and especially the casting of rituals which cannot be memorized as spells, has never lost its stigma. The continued presence of Sorcerers within the Order is a secret, even if it is suspected by many. Low-level Magic-Users in the Order are not told of the presence of Sorcerers within the Order and Sorcerers of all levels are aided in passing as Magic-Users. Once a Magic-User has reached fourth level (also the level where one no longer must surrender magic items to the Order, and when the hands turn green), the Magic-User is told of the membership of Sorcerers and introduced to the dormitory's book of sorcery, which contains all the rituals the Order possesses (mechanically, three kinds of rituals will be in the book of sorcery: rituals for which the Order does not have the spell, since rituals may be cast from spells, but spells cannot be cast from rituals as the ritual "write-up" contains less information than the spells do; rituals that may not be cast as spells at all, such as Carcosan rituals; and, finally, the ritual write-ups for all the spells that the Order has, including all the information necessary to rebuild actual spells, as back-up).

When first given this information – the membership of Sorcerers, the reality of Cthuloid beings, the possession of horrible Carcosan rituals by the Order – the Magic-User must roll at or under Wisdom or go catatonic (and unplayable) for d100 days; this same risk is repeated the first time the Magic-User attempts to study a Carcosan ritual (so it is in the PC's best interest to study one at the first opportunity so that this risk doesn't have to be run when time is of the essence).

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Airship Jumper Test

In my series on the DMG, I've commented a few times about Gary's very adversarial approach to refereeing and how it would be totally inappropriate of me to bring that into the games I run with the players I run them for. I don't begrudge Gary his adversarial style (only his apparent belief that all games should be played this way) since it seemed to work well with his players, who are reputed to have been shameless power-gamers; after all, they kept coming back to play, which I hold to be the first test to see whether a referee is doing a "good enough" job.

Part of the reason why I try not to be hard on Gary on this point is that, while I've never had players who engaged in or initiated adversarial play styles in my games, I've talked to players who do look at D&D as primarily a contest of wits and will between players and referees, so I know they exist. When dealing with these kinds of players, Gary's adversarial DM advice starts to make sense!

I bring this up because the recent OSR definitions posts going around include the terms "railroad" and "sandbox," and that reminded me of a conversation I once had with a friend who definitely falls into the "adversarial player" category. For some reason we were talking about airships in D&D and my friend told me that I wouldn't want him in my D&D campaign because he would "mess it up."

I asked him how he thought he would be able to do that and he replied that, while flying in an airship, he would have his PC jump out of the airship, without a parachute or any other velocity retardant, just to watch me scramble to save his PC so that the plot could continue. He didn't seem able to fathom my explanation that, in that scenario, I'd just let his PC die; I went on to explain how I didn't consider myself responsible for writing a plot or ensuring that the plot was actually carried out, but I'm not sure whether he got that or not. I'm actually interested in running a game or two with my friend as a player, just to see how many PCs he'd kill before realizing that I wasn't going to save any of them; I think I'd find that very entertaining.

My point, though, is that our difference in play style and assumptions about plot and the preservation of PCs became clear in the differences between the reaction he expected a DM to take and the action I would take. I think this is actually a pretty good litmus test for whether a campaign is a "railroad" or a "sandbox."

(Keep in mind that litmus tests are helpful, but also pretty crude, devoid of nuance and can result in inaccurate results; to mix metaphors, another way to look at what I'm proposing is that it is a "rule of thumb," a generalization, not a "one size fits all" definition that takes every possible way to run a campaign into consideration.)

If a player in a game (willingly or unwittingly) makes the PC do something that will result in death (or perhaps just merely will result in a result other than that expected by the referee) how does the referee respond? If the referee allows the PC to die without interfering, the game is probably a sandbox game. If the referee scrambles to return the PC back to the referee's expected plot line, the game is probably a railroad game.

Or, to put it more succinctly:

If you save a PC that just jumped to certain doom because you want to save the plot, it's probably a railroad. If you let the PC die, it's probably a sandbox.

Now, I think it's important to remember that the issue of "sandbox vs. railroad" isn't binary but is instead something that can be plotted on a spectrum between the two poles of "sandbox" and "railroad." All the same, this test, I think, provides an easy, quick, if crude, way to determine which pole of the spectrum a campaign or play style is closer to.


Monday, September 3, 2012

GameScience Dice: Rolling More True, Kinda

Awesome Dice has a really interesting blog post up about the claims that "sharp" GameScience dice that haven't been tumbled like most other dice produce more even, "true" results. To test that theory, they rolled two d20s, one from GameScience and another from Chessex, 10,000 times each (and double checked by rolling two more 1600 times each) and compared the results. You can go read the article for the specifics, but the bottom line is that GameScience's dice don't roll true enough to be depended upon to act as a high-quality random number generator, but they do roll "true-er" than dice that have been tumbled, with one notable exception: GameScience d20s don't roll 14 nearly as often as they roll every other number, almost certainly because of the "flash" left on the opposite face that sticks out from the die. I've been using GameScience dice for a while now as my personal set (except for my d30, which I haven't seen a GameScience version of); it's nice to have that choice confirmed, but it looks like I need to figure out how to take the flash off of my dice…

[Disclaimer: This isn't exactly a review, especially of Awesome Dice, but I do want to point out that Brian of Awesome Dice is the one that brought this to my attention.]

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Graduates of the Academies of Magic

Today's post is about Magic-Users who attended and graduated from an Academy of Magic. Like yesterday, I'm going to try to save description that isn't related to the mechanical until later; hopefully this will result in a shorter post than yesterday.

A Graduate of one of the Academies of Magic leaves his Alma Mater with a Book of First Level Spells in hand. This book contains all the first level spells that are known to the faculty at the Academy. When sufficient funds are raised, the Magic-User is allowed to buy the Book of Second Level Spells, the Book of Third Level Spells, and so forth; similar to modern university textbooks, these texts are over-priced. They are also basically huge scrolls, so the Magic-User must copy them over into his own spell book in order to be able to memorize them. (The Academies and which spells they have in their spell books are generated using this method.)

Sadly, the Academies of Magic are not solely dedicated to the understanding and use of magic; byzantine politics distract professors and students find it difficult to compete with each other for enough attention and training to fully grasp the principles of magic in a deep, exhaustive way. Because of this relatively more shallow understanding of magic, compared to apprentices of independent Magic-Users, graduates from Academies of Magic might not be able to master a spell upon first casting Read Magic upon it. Each time a graduate tries to learn a new spell, the player must roll at or below the graduate's Intelligence score or the graduate will not be able to master the spell; the graduate may not attempt to learn the spell again until a new level is gained, at which point another Intelligence check is allowed to determine whether the graduate's increased skill, knowledge and understanding have made the spell accessible to the graduate. Note that the graduate will normally roll on every spell in a Book of N Level Spells after buying it. Possession of these texts do not automatically constitute being able to use every spell within; in fact, it's unlikely.

Alumni of an Academy of Magic may pay (100 gp/hour or fraction thereof) to have "office hours" with a professor, who, so far as mechanics are concerned, may be treated as a sage but isn't limited to only serving that function; politics, role-playing, advice-giving and so forth are encouraged. If PCs bring a question or problem, along with new information of some sort, to a professor who specializes in a field related to the question or problem, there is a 1/6 chance that the professor will do the research for free out of gratitude and to encourage the PCs to bring further new information to him.

Each academy specializes in certain types of spells and magic and so graduates from each academy are able to cast certain spells more effectively than others. These will be detailed in future posts about the specific academies.

Each Academy of Magic has an extensive library which is open to all alumni free of cost. Graduates may freely research here, but they must still expend resources as normal when researching spells, since material components are used when figuring out spells. The precise value, and the mechanical benefits, of each academy vary and will be detailed in the future.

Graduates of an Academy of Magic are used to approaching magic in a workmanlike, methodical way that matches better with conducting rituals than the more thorough approach of independent Magic-Users. Still, their less complete understanding of magic keeps them from truly excelling with rituals; like independent Magic-Users, graduates of an Academy of Magic may cast rituals of one third their caster level (with the same component and time costs as well).

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.