Monday, July 16, 2018

Wounds and Criticals in WFRP

That goblin is feeling it.

I am what is know in horror movie circles as a gorehound.  During some theater-going experiences it has taken all my willpower to not throw up the horns and scream "Rad!" at the display of human viscera.  Spewing blood, glistening intestines, and swinging limbs - I like it all.*

Naturally this propensity has made it into my refereeing.  Nightwick's rooms are often blood-spattered abattoirs and enemies often fly apart like the clay and goo effects of Evil Dead.  In the early days of my DMing the PCs were just as likely as the monsters to be described as walmart bags full of blood and wet chicken parts.  This led to my having a reputation as a killer DM even more than I do now.

That was until what remains either my first or second favorite rpg: Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay (2nd edition).** In WFRP (1e and 2e anyway) instead of hit points you have Wounds (which are basically hit points but their name is taken from the wargame rules).  When a character runs out of Wounds, they do not die as they would in OSD&D, but instead they go to something like a OSR Death & Dismemberment table.  These are called critical hits.

It is a bit more detailed than a typical Death & Dismemberment table, with hit location mattering (though usually only for crits) and some optional tables differentiating results based on the type of weapon used.  This is maybe a bit much for many refs, but I found reading off the hideously detailed descriptions of evisceration very appealing.

Another difference between a WFRP critical and a Death & Dismemberment table result is that the character could very easily still be alive and capable of taking actions, though at a penalty.  A character who has had their knuckles jammed can push on if they feel brave enough, but may end up losing a leg or dying of gut rot.

This is an obvious inference from what I've already said, but I think it bears reinforcing: WFRP crits were not like D&D crits.  They did not happen on a special die result, they happened when you ran out of wounds.  They were a buffer between the character and death, but they were a buffer that allowed me to revel in spilled blood.  The characters no longer had to die to satiate my desire for gore; in fact, the means by which I got to describe the gore usually meant the PCs were alive longer.

For a lot of you this may be common knowledge - though I know from various G+ conversations that their role as a buffer is often lost on people. I bring all this up because of my disappointment with the modern inheritors of WFRP.  Zweihander has exchanged this beautiful system for one that is much more like the damage track in d6 star wars and having special wounds occur on special rolls.  This makes combat in that game more dangerous than it would be in old school WFRP.  A preview of Cubicle 7's upcoming edition, which I had been looking forward to, states that

"Critical hits are a staple of WFRP, and in Fourth Edition occur on especially successful blows, as indicated by the roll of a double. In addition to extra damage and special wounds, critical hits can inflict a variety of Conditions that change the way combat works for those who receive them."

To my mind, that misses a lot of what made the original system good, and when combined with the weird meta resource of "advantage" it looks like I'll be sticking to 2e for any adventures I want to have in the Old World.

One last thing: There's a kickstarter where I'm a stretch goal. 

*I suppose I am not one for scenes of torture, preferring instead the explosion of sudden violence.

**One of my players in my first WFRP campaign said that "[I had] been waiting for the system my whole life" in order to express his view that WFRP fit me like a glove.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

5e Froglings

Froglings are frogs that walk and speak in the manner of men.  They are short, only about 4' in height on average, and range between thin and stout.  Froglings make their home in a distant, marshy country known as Hoppland; however, they are found throughout the World of Nightwick as brewers, merchants, and adventurers.  Their skin ranges between slick and bumpy, and is usually a dull green or brown - though more exotic colors and patterns are not unheard of.  They favor flamboyant clothing and jewelry in garish colors.

Ability Score Increase. Your Dexterity increases by 2 and your Constitution score increases by 1.

Age. Froglings reach maturity by age 10 and live to be as old as 60.

Alignment.  Most Froglings are neutral, caring more about profit and hedonism than the fight between good and evil.  In worlds with the full nine point alignment they sometimes tend towards Law, because of their belief in personal honor, but often still seem capricious and madcap to the other races.

Wary. You have proficiency in the perception skill.

Size. Froglings grow between 3' and 4'.  Your size is considered small.

Speed. Your have a walk, climb, and swim speed of 25'.

Amphibious.  You may breath both air and water.

Resilience. You receive advantage on saving throws made against poison and disease.

Standing Leap. You may long jump 25 feet and high jump 15 feet from a standstill.

Water Dependency. If you are unable to immerse yourself in water for at least 1 hour a day, you suffer one level of exhaustion.  You may only recover from this exhaustion through magic or by being immersed in water.

Languages. You can speak, read, and write Common and Croakish. You may speak the language of Bullywugs.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Unfocused Thoughts on the Fyrdlands

For a bunch of reasons I don't want to get into I wrote a new setting that would allow me to hand someone the PHB and make a character without my telling them X or Y thing was off limits.  It started out as a C&C project but quickly became a 5e one for more reasons.

Anyway here's some stuff to know about it and to help me crystallize some of the ideas in my head.

  • The Fyrdlands is a coldish border region north of the Realm of Man.  It was previously colonized by some humans who wanted to escape the Realm of Man but now the Realm has begun to push into the region itself.
  • The area lies on the southern border of what was once the land of a powerful entity referred to primarily as the Prime Evil but also as the Dark Enemy and the Shadow.  He was destroyed long ago but many of his lieutenants and evil spawn remain.
  • Some of the most famous of these surviving "lieutenants" are Elemental Evils, which some ancient texts believe only came about when the Prime Evil was destroyed.
  • There may be other big-time lieutenants (Vecna maybe?) who have quasi-god like powers.
  • There are also the races he created: Goblins (from Dwarves), Hobgoblins (from Elves), and Orcs (from Men).
  • Some evil wizards have used the work the Prime Evil did to create their own monsters, such as the Dragonborn which may only be chromatic due to their being an evil experiment (though their personal alignment is up to them).
  • Elves and Dwarves lived in peace for a time but warred because the Dwarves supposedly did not actively help in defeating the Prime Evil.  Both those races dwindled and it allowed for the servants of the old Enemy to return, filling the Fyrdlands with goblins and orcs again.
  • Tieflings are the descendants of Men who chose to side with the Prime Evil.  They founded a strange culture known as the Nations of Night which flourished sometime before the birth of the Realm of Man and ruled the goblinoids of the Fyrdlands through governors.
  • The Nations of Night collapsed for reasons unknown to Realmish folk.
  • The original wave of Realmish settlers (actually fleeing the Realm) came a few hundred years ago.
  • The PCs are assumed to have arrived in a Realmish settlement from the direction of the Realm.
  • Some new evil is stirring in the wilderness in the area causing orcs and goblins to return and breathing out fresh horrors.
  • The local town (which I think I need to rename) is ruled by a Marques (who also needs to be renamed).  He generally would like to control the old settlements as well.
  • The chief religion is the Unconqured Sun who, in addition to having other divine aspects, allows for the worship of smaller gods.
  • Many of the setting elements not present here will be stolen from the Jennell Jaquays penned Forgotten Realms supplement "The Savage Frontier," which is a book I think is phenomenal attached to a setting I basically hate.
That's probably enough for now, though this one might need multiple posts.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Unfocused Thoughts on the 5th Millennium

A Traveller thing I've been working on to fight the Blues.

  • It's a homebrew Traveller setting that keeps as many of the assumed setting elements of Traveller as possible.
  • I'm keeping the name "Imperium" but it is not set in the "Third Imperium."
  • The overall political situation of the Imperium in the 5th Millenium is not unlike the Roman Empire during the Crisis of the Third Century.  The imperial throne is contested (and most people in the further provinces of the Imperium don't even know who the candidates are) and large swathes of territory are becoming de facto independent.
  • There are also parallels to later Roman history - for example, Terra has been "sacked' by human and alien "barbarians," but since it is no longer the Throneworld its relevance is mostly psychological.
  • Play will focus on the Zenobia sector, which lies close to (on?) the border with [Click] Space.  It is normally ruled by a Warduke, but due to the confusion about the emperors there are currently two Wardukes in the sector gearing up for war.
  • I'll be using the aliens from the Directorate setting I made because I like them and don't really have a good sense of what the OTU aliens are like.
  • The players will start in the only subsector I've developed so far, Palmyra.  Here's a map:

  • The Palmyra subsector is at the heart of the dispute between the two Wardukes.  Warduke Ignatius Casso has built a powerful defensive line at the capital of Palmyra and the planets of Hannibal and Sinbad.  His rival's primary toehold in this subsector is Al-Mahdi
  • In addition to the the looming presence of the [Click] (subbing in for Sassanids) and the two Wardukes threatening to war with each other, the region also holds a large number of ruins of an ancient alien empire. 
  • The [Click] claim to be the successors to this empire, but archaeological records clearly show it was ruled by a different species.
  • I'm using Mongoose Traveller (1st edition) because it's the one I have and I like it.
  • I'm not sure I'll actually keep the time as the "5th Millennium" because it seems too distant from our time for a lot of the references in the planet names. 
  • However, the far off date allows me to explain some of the clunky technology of Traveller.  Progress is a myth.
  • One thing I want to establish very clearly is that there is no FTL communication.  If you want news from another planet you need to get it from a free trader who has been there recently.
That's more or less what I've got for now.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Nightwick News Catch Up

My Nightwick players have been so busy with things in the dungeon that I have neglected the news for several months (since January!).  Here is a short summary of the major events that transpired while they were more interested in uncovering the secrets of the dungeon...

A Map of the Dark Country

In March of this year (1393), an Inquisitor from the Realm of Man arrived to investigate certain rumors that surround Bishop Notker the Unshaven and the death of Arn, son of Arnawald of Waldheim.  A short month into his investigation, the inquisitor was himself killed.  Now a new inquisitor has arrived and displaced the bishop from his palace until the matter can be resolved.

Meanwhile Baltzer the Bold, Lord of Blackleg since the death of Arn and Bishop Notker's Man, married Arn's wife to protect her from further depredations.  Unfortunately, she died tragically in a riding accident during torrential rain in May.  After what he felt was a suitable grieving time, he has announced he will be married this month to a young noblewoman from Nunshead.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Yavana Session 5: The Dwelling of Demons

KC as Sable (Nodron Druid 2)
James as Diomedes (Ilionian Fighter 4)
JP as Janster (Margive Assassin 3)
Chris as Adom (Khemian Rogue 4)

The party once again started out in Asterion, but not knowing the location of Xenephon they decided to put all Babashek-related hooks aside for a week.  Instead they decided to deal with Sable's constant dreams of the Cube shaped structure in the desert and the Moon.  Diomedes, an initiate in the cult of Dionysus, had been told of a location in the jungle which could shed some light on the dreams and the personage that lies within the cube.

Once again purchasing canoes (they have a bad habit of abandoning them forever), the party made their way up the turquoise river until they reached a small village they knew to be near the shrine of Dionysus they sought.  They hired a guide and headed off into the Jungle of Serpents.  They soon regretted not waiting until the next day once they became exhausted in the jungle and needed to set up camp earlier than normal - a day of canoeing can really ware you out.

That night they were troubled by the passage of four men who resembled none of the races known to the PCs.  They were lanky and had strong, pointed features and red-brown skin.  They wore not but loin cloths and carried swords similar to the ones wielded by skeletons in the tomb they looted in the last session.  These men seemed friendly, but often laughed ominously in ways that suggested they would soon return in the night.  Diomedes in particular found this laughter unsettling, wondering if it was some joke from their culture that did not translate well.

Later that night, Janster's watch was disturbed when he was attacked by three pit vipers.  His screams awoke the party as he was bit in the face by one of the serpents.  Then they became aware that three more snakes - giant, red-brown constrictors - were advancing on their position.  The party slew the creatures in a protracted battle.  Afterwards they speculated that the constrictors were, in fact, the men they had seen earlier after having undergone a hideous transformation.  Janster's life was saved by the skillful application of delay poison.

Sending a scout up a tree the party was able to determine the exact location of the Dionysian shrine.  On the way they had a brief setback when Adom's foot went crashing into a snake hole, causing him to be bitten by another venomous pit viper.  Luckily this one was not nearly as potent as those they had faced the previous night, and they were able to back away and let the snake go about its business without anyone being in danger of dying.

The shrine itself was a small, open-air affair with a fountain pouring the teal wine of Yavana into a large basin.  The party quickly determined that the wine was mystically potent - causing sleep and portentous dreams.  Sable and Diomedes drank and were sent a vision of a strange giant who seemed in some way to be tied with the moon.  They saw him at the head of a large Aramite army, casting the men of other races down a mountain.  Then they saw him chained with glowing silver thread by his own people and the vision melted into an image of the black cube in the desert.

Still greatly confused, the party resolved to head to the town of Olizon, a city in the Moonshadow Desert which reports say has a cube like the one from Sable's dream within a few miles of it.  Realizing they would have to pass through the High Keep again, Janster went about disguising his fellows so they could slip through without being recognized. 

En route to the keep they spied a the gleam of a large, metallic object - possibly copper - several miles off their path.  The party elected to check it out and found that it was a large copper golem playing discus with a group of wild dogs.  Approaching seemed to frighten the dogs and enrage the golem.  It attacked Adom, who tried to show he was a friend rather than run.   After he was rendered unconscious the golem went off in search of the dogs and the party was able to resuscitate him by binding his wounds and feeding him good-berries.

The party then moved on to the hills outside the high keep.  While camping they found that they were in the way of a large merchant caravan that sought to move through the hill-valley towards High Keep.  Pickets from the caravan mistook(?) the PCs for bandits and attacked them with a hail of arrows.  Janster was wounded but the party as a whole was able to slink into the dark and climb up into the crags to hide from further horsemen.

At dawn they made their way to the High Keep.  Their disguises seemed to work, but not for want of trying.  Diomedes was about to attempt the "I'll gladly serve as a mercenary" trick he used when they stole the arrowhawk until he saw the same golden-mailed captain of mercenaries was in charge of this caravan.  They paid for passage and made their way to the town of Olizon.

They found Olizon a strange and foreboding place.  The city seemed to be made of large, mud-brick towers higher even than Babashek's tower of metal in Asterion.  However, they were only allowed on the first floor of these buildings due to their foreign status.  From the city they could see -at least when the skyline allowed it - that the cube lay on an island in a great salt lake.  Asking around the city provided few answers until Sable was approached in an alley by a burned out old beggar.  He informed her that it was known as the "Dwelling of Demons" and that great peril lurked therein.

The party rested a night in the Red Jackal inn, the only establishment it seemed that would take their mercenary type, and then purchased a large raft to take them across the lake.  They noticed that no traffic crossed the lake and that no fishermen cast lines into its waters.  They shrugged this off and made their way to the island.

The cube bore a faded inscription across its faces warning that "whoever opens this tomb shall cast down an empire and raise up another."  The party, seemingly unhappy with the status quo, decided that was a good thing and entered the strange dungeon by an almost imperceptible door.  A second warning, a lead seal over a door of bronze in the dungeon itself, proclaimed that "whoever opens this tomb shall have bad stomach problems, piss locusts, and grow hair on their palms."  Adom recognized this as a fairly route curse for ancient tombs.

Once they had broken the leaden seal, they found themselves in an immense hallway with strange alcoves on its left side.  Realizing this was likely a trap, Adom through a small pebble down the corridor only to find it goo-ified by a strange, red ray that emanated from the alcove.  After several further tests with pebbles, the rogue was able to determine the exact scope of the ray's effective range and attempted to throw a handful of pebbles while he ran by it.  This worked, but was unsuitable for Janster, who merely found a nook where the ray wouldn't reach but where he could see the eye-like glass that shot it.  He then fired at it with his crossbow, destroying it.  This he did to the others down the hallway until they came to a door.

The room beyond the door contained a gilded bowl of immense size that held a black liquid.  Realizing that something was amiss, Adom attempted to stab it with his rapier. As he did so the liquid raised up forming a great mouth-like void which engulfed him.  The rest of the party, shocked to see their companion once again eaten, set about it with magic weapons.  They slew the thing fairly quickly, but not before it did considerable damage to Adom who lamented coming into the dungeon.

Further on the party found a secret passage that led to a series of chambers where a group of strange men practiced ancient rites now lost to Aramite religion.  They were albino and had mole-like skin growths over their useless eyes.  They wielded bronze scimitars to great effect, but not great enough to save them from the slashing and stabbing blades of the party.  Adom in particular showed great alacrity at thrusting his rapier into the hearts of his foes.  Sable, too, lopped off a few heads with her scythe.

The degenerates had been praying before an idol of gold depicting the figure from Sable and Diomedes' dreams - a man in Aramite dress holding up the Moon.  Taking the gold idol back to the chamber with the gilded bowl, they decided the best course would be to leave the dungeon for now and sell their lucre back in town.

I edited the treasure amounts since last session proved to be so wonky, and this time I think the payout was exactly perfect.  The party is likely to start in Olizon next time and head straight to the dungeon, which is closer to my normal mode of operation.

If any of you made it through that and would like to know more about the world of Yavana, ask your questions in the comments and I will try to address them in posts.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Mastering the Megadungeon

Several months ago I got the idea for this post when a person on the Swords & Wizardry G+ group asked for advice on making a megadungeon.  I have two - Nightwick Abbey and Uz's Undercity - and I have run them quite a lot.  By my (probably flawed) math, I have run Nightwick alone for more sessions than James ran his original Dwimmermount campaign and online playtests combined.   My online group often asserts that megadungeons are my bread and butter.  Presumably I've learned something about making them and running them in all that time, and this is my attempt to try to organize that learning.

A megadungeon needs a theme.  The standard theme is, of course, "a wizard built it for weird wizard reasons."  That is a fine one and allows for a wide variety encounters, tricks, and traps, but for reasons I will reveal later I don't think its necessarily the best idea.  I think you need something stronger - more particular to the dungeon.  Make sure the theme is something that speaks to you.  It needs to come from some kind of media you don't mind revisiting to draw from the well when you're not in the mood or stuck for ideas.  For me that meant horror movies.

It is also important for levels and sublevels to have themes that, while tied to the dungeon as a whole, make them unique.  One of the bigger problems with the first version of Nightwick Abbey is the first level showed all of its cards too early.  The "new"* version instead has much more themed levels - a cloister, a garden, torture chambers, catacombs, etc. - that help the DM and the players keep from getting bored.  It also means there's a greater sense of discovery because either the thing you discovered is new and interesting (a new level with a different theme) or it hints at something about the level currently being explored.

The Player's Map of First Level of Nightwick Abbey.  Letter Designations were Assigned by Players.

I use geomorphs for Nightwick and the Pettigrew Papers for Uz, and both of these sources allow me to have micro-themes within the bigger themes of the level and the dungeon.  In the case of Nightwick Abbey each geomorph has a broad description of what it is before I start stocking it.  The geomorphs have since become fairly obvious to the online group - who keep track of their divisions, but I'm not so much bothered by that.  Geomorphs are a very easy way to Jaquays your dungeon.

Stocking algorithms are incredibly important to the way I design dungeons and run games in general.  The main reason I use them is the help keep the voices in my head quiet, but I think its worth commenting on how they affect my games.  Once I have assigned a geomorph/pettigrew complex a theme I divide the number of rooms in it by three (always rounding up if I have to).  That gives me the number of rooms with monsters in them.  Then I use Courtney's Treasure Tables to generate an equal number of small caches (1d3 treasure parcels each).  Half of these will go in rooms with monsters, a quarter of the ones without monsters will be trapped, and a quarter will just be free treasure.  If the theme of the geomorph/complex necessitates a boss monster then I will increase their treasure parcels to the 4 + 1d4 - 2 one.  I give each geomorph or complex a special if I can think of one.  If I can't think of one then in the case of Nightwick Abbey I don't sweat it that much because Nightwick's entire operating mode is a special.**

On the level map I posted there are only maybe two truly empty rooms.  Only 1/3 of the rooms have a monster encounter, but the rooms without them often have elaborate decorations or clues as to the nature of the dungeon.  These are usually based on the geomorph, level, or dungeon theme.  This is why it is important to have a very personalized theme: when you're stocking an 80 room level, eventually you will run out of ideas; however, if the themes you've picked are resonant enough with your brain you should be able to fill in the gaps with something.  It also important to remember that something is better than nothing.  All D&D is hackwork and a half-assed idea that gets your game on the table is better than a perfect one that takes months.

Imma Stock all the Rooms!

Back in the dim antiquity of 2009 when I first started thinking about the dungeon that would become Nightwick Abbey, there were a lot of hot takes saying that megadungeons needed to be huge.  At the time I felt that Nightwick was too small but was unwilling to enlarge it due to laziness. Then I ran level one.  For five years.  ~77 rooms got me about 5 years of play without my needing to make a second level (though I kept promising I would).  Experience with the Uz Undercity - which is a little less traditionally designed - has convinced me that 60 - 80 rooms a level is plenty mega for players to get lost and have plenty of options to explore.  I wouldn't advise trying to get by with just one level, but the current version of Nightwick has 2 60 - 80 room levels and two ~30 room sublevels.  This has been enough prep that I haven't touched it in two years and it seems like I may not have to for a long while yet.

One thing to remember is to restock your content.  A simple version I use is that a room restocks on a 1-2 on the dice.  The first week after the room has been explored you roll a d20, the next week a d12, then a d8, then a d6, then a d4 and you roll that d4 for each additional week until it restocks.  This has worked very well for me, when I remember to do it.

I'll end with some pictures of my "Nightwick Abbey Prototype" - the graph composition notebook I keep my dungeon notes in.

*It is some years old.

**It's a living dungeon that shifts when the PCs do things it doesn't like.