Archive for March, 2010

Level Titles

March 25, 2010

Warlock’s Home Brew has a post about the old level titles of AD&D.
Every level up through 11th or so, for every class, had its own unique title. A 14th level Druid was actually called a Great Druid. A 5th level Thief was called a Burglar. Usually you reached “name level” at 9th or 10th and beyond that your level title didn’t change.

This is something really important, I think, even if just for the player to feel a sense of social advancement commensurate with his physical and mystical advancement.

Of course we can see the social effect of reaching “name level” (10th for most) and being able to construct a stronghold and gather followers. But clearly before then, Harald the Nomad should command less respect than Harald the Vindicator.

Another nice side effect of the names is what happens at 2nd level. In most cases you double your HP, spellcasters double their spell capability, Thieves gain a bunch of percentage points. It’s possibly the most important level of them all. It separates you from all the vast breadth of humanity and it is at this point that you truly become an adventurer. A peasant may get lucky and kill an orc or a wolf. But when he hits Level 2 he is no longer a peasant.

To make this point eminently clear, you are no longer an Acolyte, Medium, Apprentice Rogue, or Aspirant. Now you’re someone with an important title like Savage, Evoker, Warrior, or Strider.

Likewise the 4th level Fighter is now the equal of four stout Normal Men. It’s appropriate to call him a Hero. Or at 8th level when he is the equal of eight men. The equal of a small Dragon! Definitely Superheroic.

It makes sense that, with these social achievements, the common folk would seek out the help of powerful adventurers. But yet there is still a place for the ones who are starting out. You still need Runners and Acolytes.

But the dreams of these young characters might not just be about extra fighting skill and treasure. It’s also about people looking up to you hopefully, that you can make their world a better place.

Session 8 – Escape and Aimless Wandering

March 24, 2010

This session we had just two players. Two others were out of town and one had to work. I might try to pick up one more player, 6-7 is a good maximum. You don’t want to get too many because one night they’ll all show up at once.

The PC stuck behind the line of enemy Mushroom Men saw an Elder wander up with bodyguards. They used telepathy spores, against which he failed his save once and so he could “talk” with them. They reiterated that the group was not welcome here and let him escape through their lines.

Honestly I should have been harder on him, after all they did trash the nursery. But it wasn’t due to their decisions, it was a bad roll. So I didn’t think it right for him to lose his character. I’ve decided to not go easy on them in the future when this kind of thing happens – he brought this on himself by exploring away from the rest of the party at every single opportunity. If someone gets caught in a trap or encounters a monster, the world needs to act appropriately.

The two of them then got back to town, picked up an NPC hireling, and wandered around the wilderness mapping to gain the EXP for exploration. The latter 3/4 of the evening was this. Just pointing out which hex they were going to next, me rolling random encounters, them trying to hunt at the end of the day, searching rolls for each hex, and a little exploration of the things they found.

It was a little boring from my perspective, though they generally came across interesting things. The multiple encounters (and subsequent tree-squatting mass butchering) with wild dogs and wolves didn’t help. Rather than have them roll each attack, I averaged out based on how many they would hit per 20 shots, average arrow damage, and average wolf HP. Every 10 shots I rolled morale for the wolves to see if they would flee.

But is it really my place to steer them toward the most interesting stuff? I can’t outright tell them that the thing they’re doing is boring, especially since maybe they’re having fun doing it. I won’t even draw the line if they decide to settle down and found a village or something, as that’s clearly a legitimate direction for D&D play at high levels.

I talked with the players last week and got their feedback on how to handle treasure hoards.

Up until now I didn’t have a treasure type table. I explained to them that I was going generally off the 1E D&D table, but with more averaged hoards. The standard way to do it is to take a creature’s treasure type (let’s say it’s Type A) and then go across the line rolling for what treasure is in the hoard. First there is a percentage chance that any Copper Pieces are there, and if so then you roll how many. And then move on to Silver Pieces. It’s quite possible to encounter creatures with no treasure, and then others of the same species with the full treasure. Over time it evens out, but you experience a boom-and-bust pattern.

Previously I was placing treasure as if the chance of appearing was averaged. That is, if you had a 50% chance for 1d6 x 1000 CP, instead I just gave 1d6 x 500 CP. Over the long term it’s the same, but the boom-and-bust cycle is severely weakened.

I think there are good arguments both for and against the way it’s written in the old books (boom-and-bust). For one thing, it allows for occasional truly huge hoards by compensating and giving less elsewhere. Huge hoards are just plain awesome. But an argument against is that players don’t always show up to every game, and might participate in 90% of the struggles while missing the Boom Hoard on the session it comes in.

They liked how I was doing it before. Normally I wouldn’t explain my reasoning or rules for something like this, but I could go either way and it strongly impacts their fun level. I think it was a good choice to talk it over with them and get their opinions.

Summer is coming on, which means people will have other activities they want to do. Usually gaming winds down during the summer, in my experience, but perhaps this group will be different.

Session 7: Assault on the Mushroom Men

March 16, 2010

This session a couple players expressed interest in buying land near town and building on it. One wanted to build a school, the other a casino.

For reference, the “town” is a palisaded motte-and-bailey built in an ancient, ruined stone city. The population is about 200 people. There is one shop and one tavern. Few women, no children. This will change as immigration occurs, but for right now it’s a pretty standard frontier town.

So I explained that they would just need to go out and “stake a claim” by actually putting down a permanent marker of some kind and inscribing a claim on it for some radius around the marker.

Construction would require hiring workers, scrounging the ruins for stone or chopping down trees for lumber, but in the end it would just be a GP cost and construction time. I need to figure out those guidelines. I also need to figure out how to handle them running a business. I don’t want to write a settlement simulation mini-game, but that’s what I would lean towards.

They decided to explore the rest of the Sunken Grove dungeon. They found a crypt full of (non-moving) skeletons and a pit-nest of vipers. They killed the vipers with arrows and one player took all their fangs. Later the adventurers found a block they could pry up, and underneath was a purple light that shone out and animated the skeletons – and the dead vipers! Luckily they were all defanged and posed no threat. The skeletons dispatched, they pulled the block all the way out and found a toad carved from purple stone, holding a gem in its mouth.

They descended a chasm they found into the next level down. They found, immediately, a further sinkhole leading into a roiling cloud of black smoke that seemed otherwise stable. They left that alone. Exploration of the second level, caves mostly, revealed cultivated fungus and glowing quartz deposits in the walls. They met and attacked some Mushroom-Men, who used defensive spores to overwhelm the intruders with peaceful thoughts or confusing hallucinations. They also telepathically urged the intruders to leave.

A fumble by a party attack dog led to it falling down and rolling around on the ground, destroying little “baby mushroom-men” that were being tended by one of the adults. An angry mob formed and began pelting the party with stones from their wicker-slings (like a narrow lacrosse stick). One party member split off on his own to explore every time they came to an intersection. Now he is separated from the rest of the group by a large upset mob of Mushroom-Men.

Going out on your own to explore is always a bad idea. Not just because you waste time at the table, and secure the referee’s entire attention away from the rest of the players, but it’s dangerous! If the worst should happen, nobody even knows where you are to save you. And the worst will happen more frequently because you don’t have the strength of the others to help overcome obstacles.

With the mind-affecting spores, I just told the players what their characters were feeling. I didn’t tell them what they could or could not do. Until one of them, affected by the Pacify Spores, tried to attack with a Magic Missile. I described how at the last moment he realized that he didn’t want to hurt anyone after all, and he shifted the missile to strike the wall. Until then they didn’t know whether they could attack or not.

But I look at that as an appropriate ability for an opponent. They received saving throws to avoid the spores each time, and even if affected it was not an instant-death effect. And the duration was only three rounds. And the Mushroom-Men were willing to just usher the invaders out rather than kill them, until the dog killed a dozen babies in the nursery.

It’s interesting how it played out. They might still be able to salvage the situation. The Mushroom-Men might become a source of various magic powders and potions for sale. Or the party may flee and return to destroy them, deciding that as monsters they should be killed.

When we started down to the second level of the Sunken Grove dungeon, I had no idea what I wanted to put there. I made a dungeon map, room contents, and creature tactics on the fly as we went. I had ideas floating around in my head, and the Mushroom-Man stats were already finished. But that was about it. I think it came off pretty well, doomed lone explorer aside.

Session 6: Everyone is taking Polymorph

March 11, 2010

This session we had everyone show up, which was cool after being short the last couple weeks.

The first two players to arrive decided to scrounge around for some easy EXP before everyone else showed up. So they went out to map out some nearby 5-mile hexes to get the 10 EXP award per hex (equivalent EXP award to slaying a first-level monster). They found a haunted grove of twisted trees and nasty helmet-sized black squirrels. At first they sensibly left it alone, but one player wanted to run into the ruins in the middle and run back out. The grove seemed sentient, and malicious. Nothing horrible happened to him this time, but that’s a pretty deadly habit for an adventurer!

Then everyone else showed up. I split EXP for what had been done so far among the three players present at the time. When EXP are awarded, everyone at the table gets a share even if their character wasn’t present. I find it actually discourages individual exploration and splitting of the party, because there is less reward for doing it.

They decided to explore the ruined moathouse out in the hills, the one they passed as they fled the giant ticks. Its moat was blocked by debris and the land was swampy. They got in without much trouble, using the Fabricate spell to cut down a few trees to make a crude bridge.

The Fabricate spell lets the caster work as if he had a full suite of excellent hand tools. So he sat there sawing with his hand at the tree until it fell down, and shaved off branches by swiping at them. It’s pretty cool, and it’s honestly just about right in power for a first-circle spell. It also helps cement the spellcaster’s image as a strange and mystical person even at low levels.

So they got inside and found it ruined to the first floor, which was somewhat intact but full of rubble. Stairs down led to the cellars. They fought a swarm of giant rats in a large central storage room, and the noise drew the two Ogres who lived there. They found their first big treasure hoard, and then searched around and found the old treasury of the moathouse.

Records were on shelves along the walls, and under each shelf was a big metal chest. Some writing desks and chairs. A wave of dryness washed over them and what looked like a block of salt in the middle of the room. The block dried out everything in the area, and they didn’t want to search the room with it present. So someone shoved the block with a tool into the well. It boiled and threw dust upward, but they did get rid of it!

The treasury contained only copper and silver coins in the chests. The defenders long ago had fled with only the gold and jewels, for weight reasons. But it was still a huge chunk of treasure. The Ogres had some too, plus a magic potion! Woohoo!

The well I mentioned was carved with the Underworld glyphs and faces that they found in the other Sunken Grove ruins. Under Detect Magic the well seemed to breathe forth magical air, but with less intensity than the Sunken Grove shaft. That interested them.

They traveled back to town and blew most of their money partying and squandering money. They get EXP for squandering money at the rate of 1 EXP per 10 GP. This is meant to encourage treasure-seeking behavior, and carousing in town. To give a comparison, they needed 250 EXP to reach Level 2, and 500 to reach Level 3. Almost everyone is Level 2 right now. The extra Hit Points will definitely help.

We have two characters with Polymorph, and a third player said he’s saving up for it. There’s a Polymorph spell, which requires that you have observed the creature type both alive and dead (so in captivity for some time and then dissected). The Polymorph skill is separate, requiring that you hunt the creature and consume its heart. In both cases, the rules for Polymorping are the same:

1: You leave all your equipment behind. Some shapes can still carry things. For example, a bear shape can wear a modified backpack.
2: You must have eaten the creature’s entire heart. Some creatures don’t have a heart, and you can’t share it with other Polymorphers. The heart of a dragon may take a week of solid eating to consume. Massive attacks can destroy a creature enough that the heart is gone.
3: You don’t lose your abilities, but you gain only the physical abilities of the creature. So if you turn into a dragon, you don’t learn its spells or the location of its hoard, but you can breathe fire (or whatever) and fly. With a little practice.
You become the Level of the creature you killed. If it has higher Level than you, you roll the HP for its level. If you have two forms of 4th level, you roll HP only once and use that number for all your 4th-level forms. Once you reach the form’s level, or your HP are higher, you just use your own.

This skill is expensive to learn, but not prohibitively so. The benefits you gain are great, in that you have access to flight for scouting and very small forms for eavesdropping and sneaking very early. If you’re lucky you can acquire a form with much higher Level than your own, giving a huge HP boost.

The mobility benefit is less important because you can’t carry all your junk with you. You have to rely on other characters to carry your things. Very mobile forms tend to be ones without the ability to wear a backpack (like a mouse or a sparrow).

The fighting strength benefit is less important because it’s not a stacking modifier. You eventually surpass the animal form on your own. For example, a bear is 5th level. Once you hit 5th level, there is a lot less benefit to being in bear-form, and in fact you suffer for not being able to use most of your magic items.

Finally, an interesting point is that with the Polymorph skill, you gain the shape of precisely the individual creature you killed. One character killed a cat in town, and found the other cats talking with her as if she were the slain one (Hey Muffins, how you been? Old Lady Beechcraft is handing out bacon! You seriously have to get over here and check this out!).

I decided to let them learn the animal languages in a couple weeks or months. So Polymorph also gives you a very limited form of Speak With Animals (which is a first-circle spell I believe that also gives you some kind of friendship with the animal too). Not a big deal, more for roleplaying than information-gathering.

They’re still dividing treasure weird. It seems like whoever finds something can claim it, and nobody complains. Or they all decide to give something to someone without making sure everything is split fairly. When it’s coinage they split it up evenly, but not objects. Hopefully it doesn’t cause friction in the future. But I haven’t stepped in to offer suggestions, because it’s fascinating to see how they handle things on their own.

Hirst Arts II

March 7, 2010

We received our order of two Hirst Arts molds. They came with a letter from the owner giving some instructions and advice, and thanking us for the purchase.

We also picked up a lot of supplies. In total, with the molds and shipping and tools and plaster, it’s $150. But that includes enough plaster to make a lot of blocks.

The molds came in excellent condition. Despite warnings that the first few castings might come out poorly or with a lot of pits (from bubbles in the plaster), the first three sets of blocks look great.

The instructions say to pour the plaster, wait 6 minutes, scrape the excess, wait 25 minutes, then pop the blocks out. Because the basement is cool, it’s taking 10 minutes and 40 minutes respectively. Warmer areas of the place can’t be used for plaster work because it’s too messy.

The mixing, pouring, and demolding is simple but time-consuming. I haven’t had a block break yet.

One thing that surprised me was that every block is individually sculpted. That is, in the flagstone floor mold you get 10 of the one-inch square floor tiles. As far as I can tell they’re all different.

We’re using 1/4″ birch plywood from the hardware store as a base, for extra strength. The floor tiles are 1/4″, which helps with measurement. We could have used 1/4″ foam and carved it to match the flagstone walls, but I wanted strength rather than appearance – plus, carving foam is a pain. The early Hirst Arts instructions suggest using cereal box card. While easy, I don’t think it’s strong enough on large pieces.

We decided on Plaster of Paris to start with. It looks like after painting and finishing, it’ll be durable enough so long as you handle the structures as carefully as you handle your figures (so none of that *clack clack* “Look they’re fighting!” stuff). If we were going to build larger structures that require a solid foundation, we’d buy dental plaster. I have handled both now and I can attest that dental plaster is more durable than you need, and Plaster of Paris is less durable than you need.

So, I’m happy. We’re still planning what the modular dungeon is going to look like. I’ll post pictures when it’s done.

Session 5: First Hireling, First Hireling Death, First Level-Up

March 3, 2010

We were down to two players this session. Two of the others were sick, and one was moving that evening. The two players who came decided to hire an NPC to help fill out the group for that excursion.

They met a young shepherd, an old farmer, and a young dwarf. They picked the dwarf, convinced him to buy an axe, and off they went into the wild.

Their goal was picking up some easy EXP while they had such a small group to share it with. Previously the party had just traveled around the wilderness around town, not mapping, and so they weren’t getting the exploration EXP. So the pair decided to circle the town mapping as they went.

And “looking for trouble” …

They encountered some suspicious vines, twice, which they avoided. And plenty of Giant Wasps (it has become a joke). Another batch of Giant Ticks. A pair of Black Bears. As they traveled, because they were exploring intensively, they moved slower and found more interesting ruins and natural features. Not full dungeons, more like single-description locations. They were all off the cuff, aided by random tables.

They came close to death a few times, but pulled through. Not the dwarf, though, who perished under the onslaught of a dozen Giant Wasps because he was the last one to run away. They were sad about that, because they liked him for his positive attitude, willingness to take risks, and the nickname they gave him.

All that bonding and loss happened within four hours of gaming.

On a happy note, one of the two PCs gained a level, the first level-up of the campaign! All the exploring really made a difference.

It’s interesting how the flow of the adventure works out. The players decide among themselves where they want to go that session, whether they’re in the mood for some wilderness exploration or some more structured (and more dangerous, and more rewarding) dungeon crawling. The only thing I’m steering them away from is spending a lot of time in town chatting up the locals.