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?