Friday, September 30, 2011

Treasure, Experience, and the AD&D Economy

For some reason, perhaps it is my reinvestigation into Harn as a setting, I've been thinking about the AD&D economy quite a bit lately.  I can't remember where, but there was a thread on some forum that discussed a comment from Gygax saying he might have changed experience for treasure to a 5xp to 1gp ratio.  A commentor stated that they believed this would be coupled with a switch to a silver system, which would actually mean an overall reduction of xp.*

Assuming for a minute the two do coincide, I don't think it would actually mean fewer xp.  When one looks at the Standard Hirelings Table on page 28 of the DMG, the monthly costs for most of them don't go above 5gp, with the notable exception of Limner.  So a tailor would make 18gp in a year.  This is less than the PCs would make in even an unsuccessful delve.  The general economy would likely be powered by sp.  The high prices for weapons and armor are reflective of the pseudo-medieval/early modern society that AD&D seeks to represent.  Gold hoards are found in dungeons because they're the remnants of the golden age that made them.

So let us assume that the 5xp/1gp ratio is designed with the current economy presented in the PHB and DMG in mind.  One thing I noticed using the treasure rules as written for Nightwick Abbey was that after 25 sessions (c. six months) only one PC was level 3.  This strikes me as an incredibly slow rate of advancement, especially if one remembers Old Geezer's tale.  Granted that's a different system than AD&D, but they're obviously related.

For the sake of argument, let's see what this new ratio does to a hypothetical dungeon.  Based on the stocking chart in the DMG, a 100 room dungeon should have 20 rooms with treasure in it.  Using one possible reading of the rules, which will skew high, treasure is determined entirely by the level of the dungeon and not the monsters present.  Using Kellri's  Old School Encounters Reference, our hypothetical dungeon has about 3,600 gp on its first level.  A party of 6 would only get about 600xp from clearing out all of the dungeons treasure.  Now I don't have to tell you that's barely a drop in the bucket on an Prestidigitator's path to becoming an Evoker.  If you assume 5xp for 1gp though, the total xp available becomes 18,000 on the first level.  That's 3,000 a pop for our hypothetical party of 6.  If we assume a high number of 8, that's still 2,250, which is a much bigger boon to that aforementioned Prestidigitator.

The problem then comes with Training Costs.  If that Prestidigitator managed to get the 3,000 experience from clearing all of the dungeon, he still would only have 600gp to spend.  Ignoring upkeep, he still can't pay the training costs to level up.  This brings up the ultimate question: what is the pace of advancement supposed to be in AD&D?  Even with the inflated xp advancement is just as glacial as it was in the Nightwick campaign.  It would possibly be even slower. 

Somehow, I don't think this is the goal.  It could be a function of Gygax's game meeting more often than most modern groups or it could be that I'm a relentless powergamer for my belief that it shouldn't take six months to get to level three or the system could just be poorly thought out.  A the end of the day, I'm still not sure what to think.  While I won't adopt it for my current Greyhawk campaign -- instead I chose to inflate the treasure -- the 5xp to 1gp system is very attractive, if only because it allows me to use the treasure rules as written. 

The training costs strike me as highly unrealistic.  In a world where a light-footman makes 12gp in a year, it would seem unreasonable that his sergeant must pay 1,000gp just to train for a few weeks.  I imagine it's a way to get gold out of the players hands, but if you're only getting 604gp each dungeon level, that doesn't really strike me as game breaking.

Swords & Cinema: Hawk the Slayer

I first became aware of Hawk the Slayer through Knights of the Dinner Table.  It is apparently Bob and Dave's favorite movie, and it's more or less lambasted as being the bottom of the barrel of fantasy movies.  I suppose it says something about my infamously bad taste that Hawk is one of my favorite movies.  It certainly isn't a classic by any stretch of the imagination, but there is something terribly evocative about it.

Our story begins "when the Legions of Darkness stalk the land."  Jack Palance, who plays the villain Voltan with all the range one would expect from Jack Palance, murders his father (who can't be more than 10 years older than him) in order to obtain a "secret."  He then leaves just before the younger borther, the eponymous Hawk, enters.  It turns out the secret was the power behind The Sword of Mind, and his father tells him how to activate it with his dying breaths.

At an unspecified amount of time later, a one-handed man finds his way to a matte painting of a convent. There he is welcomed by the sisters, who tend to his wounds.  He tells them that a "devil" destroyed his village and hacked its women and children to bits.  That devil's name was Jack Pal-- Voltan!  Our villain soon arrives and takes the Abbess captive, putting a knife in the one-handed man's chest.  He survives, and the sisters send him to their sacred fortress to raise a ransom.  There, he is told to seek out Hawk so that he might win the Abbess back.

Hawk, meanwhile, saves a witch from being burned, which seems to be a requirement in these movies.  Viewers may recognize her as the Rock Horror Picture Show's Magenta if she didn't wear a bandage that covered most of her face.  She tells him to ride south to meet the one handed man.  He does, only to find him being waylaid by a gang of bandits.  Hawk rescues him, and they return to the witch's cave.  From there, they embark on a series of adventures to recruit Hawk's old buddies.  Each is supposedly the last of their kind: an Dwarf, an Elf, and a Giant.

Once these demihumans are assembled, Hawk and his band attempt to rescue the Abbess and bring down Jack Palance.  I won't say much more than that because, unlike Deathstalker, I want you to watch this movie. The acting is a bit stiff, especially from our hero, and some of the effects are a bit cheesy.  However, considering their obviously low budget the makers of this movie did a pretty damned good job.  The soundtrack is a bit... odd.  It's a strange combination of Spaghetti Western and disco that somehow seems to fit the movie perfectly.

I think the best I can say about Hawk the Slayer is that it looks like the film version of a Dave Trampier drawing.  The sets and spell effects are especially interesting looking, even if they sometimes reek of the 80s.  If D&D didn't have some effect on this film, I'll eat my hat.

The Sword of Mind
This +1 two-handed sword acts as a +3 Sword in the hands of a Lawful character or creature.  The shares a telekinetic bond with its owner.  He or she may summon it from a distance of 30' (3") and may through it as if it were a dagger.  If thrown, the Sword of Mind still does damage as a two-handed sword.  When drawn, it gives the wielder a -2 defense bonus against missile attacks.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Greyhawk Session 3 Part 2

Part 1

Upon arriving in the dungeon's entry hall, they realized that their previous mapper had the East and West directions on the map flipped.  They decided they'd tell everyone they did it on purpose in order to confuse anyone who stole their map.  They decided to head south this time, and eventually wound up in a colonnaded chamber so large that they could not see it's end with their torches.

They decided to send Xel ahead to investigate, since he was already in the front of the party and could see without the aid of a torch.*  As he entered the chamber, a loud voice from the ceiling proclaimed "WELCOME TO CASTLE GREYHAWK!"  A giant lizard, attracted by the noise, came into the chamber looking for an easy meal.  While it did not spot Xel, the party's torches attracted the creature.

It rushed up immediately.  It then grabbed Synecdoche in its terrible jaws and shook him like a dog with a chew toy. This left Synechdoche terribly wounded and he immediately passed out.  Xel moved in to backstab the creature; however, he was unable to score a hit.  Nilrem managed to pelt it with a few darts, and Slimey similarly tried to use his sling.  Unfortunately, Slimey botched and hit the hireling in front of him square in the back of the head, killing him instantly.  When all seemed lost, Baldric -- Nilrem's hideous henchmen -- moved to the front of the formation with his two-handed sword and sliced the top of the lizard's head off (from the upper jaw up).  He made this into a grim, and huge, trophy necklace.

Realizing that they would need to get Synecdoche to a cleric soon, they immediately dragged him out of the dungeon and headed towards town.  At Castlegate they were stopped by an tax collector in a poofy hat.  They were able to get by him without wasting too much time, but the only temple near enough to service them was dedicated to Garl Glittergold.  They healed him, but due to the severity of his wounds he would need to rest for the rest of Brewfest.

The rest of the party either spent the rest of the festival doing foul deeds (Nilrem and Baldric) or at Synecdoche's bedside (Xel and Slimey).  Once that week was over, the players each payed upkeep, to represent the cost of their Rock'n'Roll lifestyle, and I rolled to see if any of them would suffer from some hideous disease.  It turns out Synecdoche had contracted scabies.  This caused his beard to fall out, and due to this humiliation he went to get it healed at the temple of Moradin in the Bad Food District.

After this, the party once again met at the Green Dragon to organize another outing.  Nilrem told Baldric to give a speech to motivate the hirelings in order to compensate for the fact that Slimey killed one of them on the last expedition.  His "speech" consisted of berating and spitting on them through his hair lip.

They then made their way back to the castle, once again with four light infantry and two porters.  This time, they decided to explore the system of hallways that had contained a strange demon and a chest filled with fake gold coins.  They found a large room containing a stagnant pool.  Disturbing the pool caused three killer frogs to emerge, but these were quickly slain.  Investigating the pool revealed that their were a number of silver coins at the bottom, and the party ordered the men-at-arms to get in it and fill some sacks with coins.  They then left the dungeon with their new booty.

That's where the session ended.  We forgot to ask them whether or not they plan to explore the dungeon more next week or if they want to go out into the wilderness.  I've tried to mix the mechanical information in a bit more with the text this time.

It was a tremendously fun session, and I'm glad I was able to inject a bit more flavor into the city itself.

* I typically rule that the presence of torches dulls this sense since it doesn't allow their eyes to adjust to the darkness.

Greyhawk Session 3 Part 1

Only four of the normal gang of six players could make it, so this session saw...

Xel -- a mysterious Gnome Fighter/Thief
Slimey -- a similarly mysterious Thief from a far off land
Synecdoche -- a Dwarf danger magnet
Nilrem -- Sinister wizard

lead an two delves into the dungeons beneath Greyhawk Castle.  The events of the session began on the first day of Brewfest, and Greyhawk was filled with various drunken activities.  The party met at the Green Griffin to plan their expeditions, but the tavern had filled to capacity.  Outside was a crowed of drunken revelers carousing in the typical fashion for the holiday.

Seeing that some of them were ignorant farm girls, Slimey tried to get lucky.  He found one who seemed interested, but when he asked her if her two friends could join them they all turned away in disgust.  I used a heavily handwaved version of the AD&D henchman hiring rules for this exchanged, and the entire table thanked me for not roleplaying that out.

While Slimey was so engaged, the party noticed a strange procession coming down the street.  It consisted of a few priests supporting a statue resembling this:

Behind them were a number of farmers carrying baskets filled with turnips, cabbages, and other produce.  Several of the revelers approached the priests and placed coins in various slots at the base of the statue.  Doing so caused a dark-ish liquid to shoot out of one of its breasts, corresponding to which slot was used.  The party pretty much unanimously agreed this was the best invention ever, and each set upon the priests so that they might partake of the alcoholic drink that lay within the statue.  Even Xel was able to get some, after a nearby farmer raised him up to the statue.  To their surprise, it was not beer but instead a delicious mead.

After this the party more or less split up.  Synecdoche and Slimey engaged in a drinking contest, which ended quickly as Slimey passed out after a single drink.  Their contest was decided with a save vs. poison by each player, and Slimey's botched the first roll.  Nilrem gave a coin to Baldric, his hideous henchmen, so that he might use the statue.  "Avail yourself of the contents of one tit," Nilrem told him.  Misunderstanding this, Baldric rushed immediately to the nearest brothel.  Nilrem then muscled his way inside the Green Griffin to speak to Boris the Bloated Bartender.  He managed to cut a deal with Boris that would secure the entirety of the Griffin's rooms for the party and their retainers.  My co-DM and I decided that the cost of this should be rolled into the monthly upkeep of the characters, since we are using that rule from AD&D.

Xel, realizing he would not be able to sleep in the inn until after brewfest was over -- the Griffin was booked full for the festival -- headed to the park of pleasures to find a place to squat for awhile.  In the park where a number of troupes performing plays with odd masks and in strange dialects.  Xel also bumped into the park creeper that Slimey had met while looking for the Dryads who supposedly perform sexual favors.  The Gnome tailed him awhile, and saw the man duck into a secret door concealed in an ancient oak tree.

The next day, Synecdoche hid his gold under the floorboards of his room at the Griffin before meeting with the rest of the party.  They hired two somewhat-sober men to act as porters, and marshaled four of the fourteen men-at-arms they had picked up last session.  With that, they cut their way through the Thieves Quarter of the Old City into the Warrens and eventually out of Castlegate and towards the tumbled pile of Castle Greyhawk.

Continued in Part 2

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Halloween on the Borderlands

Since my favorite holiday is fast approaching, I thought I'd share an idea I had a few months back.  It's partially inspired by Mike Mearls's infamous B2 review.  Let's take the idea of the Caves of Chaos as a monster apartment building and screw with it.  How about this: once a year, on [the campaign equivalent of Halloween], the orcs and goblins take their little orc and goblin kids out trick-or-treating.  

Now imagine what their costumes look like.  I'm a bit sick in the head, so I think they'd have masks made out of tanned human faces and carry emptied out skulls to put their treats in.  They go from cave to cave collecting eyeballs and grubworms to take home and devour.  If you want to get silly, make them carry around fake versions of the trappings associated with the different classes in your version of D&D.

"What are you supposed to be, little maggot?" a bloated goblin crone might screech at the orc toddler before he proudly holds up his mace and belches "I'm a cleric!"

Now imagine this is the state the caves are in when the PCs next arrive.  Who says you can't do anything fun with all of those monster babies?

Nightwick Abbey in Hindsight Part 3

Part 1

Part 2

In part one I discussed what I thought the failings of Nightwick Abbey were and in part two I discussed it's key strength, strangeness, as well as what I will be changing if I continue to develop it for play.  Now I wish to discuss possible venues for my campaign dungeon.

The most pressing question facing the future of the demon-haunted abbey is whether or not I'll use it again for my current gaming group.  While I hope to be in Knoxville for the rest of my graduate experience, this largely depends on whether or not I can secure funding here for the PhD program.  As such, it seems possible that the Greyhawk campaign might be the last thing I do with this group.

If I do manage to get funding, it could mean I'll be in Knoxville for several more years.  If that is the case, it's possible that the Greyhawk campaign might wind down or become a stale and the players and I will decide to visit something else.  Whether or not this ends up being Nightwick Abbey at least partially hinges on how much of the material I end up folding into my version of Castle Greyhawk.  On the one hand, I want to maximize the usefulness of the material I've already developed.  I envisioned Greyhawk as a more low maintenance project largely made up of the re-flavored carcass of my old dungeon.

However, this is proving to be far from the case.  While zany, Greyhawk is much more in the vein of "classicist fantasy," to borrow a phrase, as opposed to Nightwick Abbey's romantic/gothic streak.  Granted, it still contains much of the mythic underworld in it, but the goblins and orcs who dwell with in mate in the usual fashion and are motivated by more or less the same (base) desires as the humans.  While I think this makes for a more unique dungeon, it does cut down on the re-usability of much of the Nightwick material.

This is both a good and a bad thing for Nightwick Abbey.  It's good because it means that Nightwick's material will stay in Nightwick.  If it was duplicated too much in Greyhawk, it'd be unlikely that I would run it again in the near future.  Since I won't get to use some of my ideas they'll stay fresh if the dungeon should see play again.  It's bad because it means I have to spend more time developing Greyhawk Castle, and I can't devote as much time to fixing Nightwick Abbey's problems and drawing up knew levels beneath its tumbled ruins.

One possible venue then could be google+; however, I'm fairly busy as it is and running anything more than the occasionally side game would probably end with my having a heart attack.  Still, I'll at least think about running a one-shot or two online.

Online gaming becomes much more attractive if I'm forced to leave the Knoxville area.  I have a fairly large following (for which I am extremely grateful) and I imagine that if I was deprived of a group I could leverage that into a semi-regular online game.  I used to be much more dismissive of online play than I am now, especially after I saw how well it worked with my skype-based Traveller game.

There is also the possibility of publication.  This is highly unlikely outside of a free download or some shitty pamphlet I freely distribute myself.  Nightwick Abbey relies far too heavily on others materials, notably the very excellent dungeon geomorphs the OSR has been so amazing at producing.  As such it would require extremely heavy editing before I could produce it in a form that I'm both happy with and that doesn't piss off someone with access to lawyers.  If I manage to produce further material on Nightwick Village,  I may include some notes on the dungeons various levels and specials.  These will not include maps and I'll attempt to avoid any actively AD&D material.

At this point, everything is up in the air.  I'm running a bit longer than I wanted to, so I will discuss the inspiration for Nightwick Abbey in part 4.

Friday, September 23, 2011

As if I needed another project...

In honor of both the first year anniversary of this blog and my new found love of Mongoose Traveller, I've decided to start a side blog dedicated to the development of my Terran Space setting.  You can find more about the project here.

I'll definitely be updating In Places Deep far more regularly, but I felt that another blog would both help me better collect my Traveller setting related material in an organized fashion and help maintain the OSD&D theme of this blog.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Greyhawk Session 2

The adventures who descended into the dungeons beneath Greyhawk Castle this week included...

Akzey -- Shield maiden of Kos, God of Dooms (cleric)
Leerc -- Laconic Elf fighter
Nilrem -- Evil wizard in training
Slimey -- a mysterious thief from foreign lands
Synecdoche -- Dwarven fighter and the newest member of the group

After meeting up in the Green Griffin in, they decided to hire a few linkmen and porters to replace those men who died in the expedition on the 8th of Harvester.  Four men, Ahlpa, Xofrot, Elarch, and Ovarb, offered their services in exchange for 10 silver a day.  After hiring these men, they decided to head immediately to the dungeon rather than waiting for Xel, who was no doubt out on Gnomish buisness.

The wound their way through the streets of the Thieves quarter into the slummier sections of Greyhawk's East Side.  Exiting through Castlegate they made their way up the hill towards the tumbled pile of the old fortress.  Entering once again, they attempted to return to the chamber that held the strange statue with the coin slot.  Unfortunately, they were intercepted by a giant lizard who terribly wounded Synecdoche.  This was made worse when slimey hurled a flask of oil onto the beast, despite the fact that Akzey and Synecdoche were in melee with it.  Both were wounded, and Synecdoche fell unconscious.  Akzey quickly healed him, and the party continued onward.

They managed to move the lizard's carcass out of the way and push onward into the room without further incident.  This time, Akzey decided to place a gold coin in the slot.  After whirring around and playing strange music once again, Akzey was treated with information on the true nature of the cosmos (500xp).  This time, the statues face became that of a smiling, disheveled man, lacking the sinister teeth it did previously.

The same runes appeared on the dais as did last time, but Nilrem had prepared read magic in order to analyze them.  After casting it he was able to interpret the strange glyphs.  "OUT OF ORDER: CONTACT ADMINISTRATOR."  A bit bemused by this, the party explored a passage beyopnd this chamber.

Due to an error on my part, I had accidentally described a nearby room (since they had indicated a different door than I thought they had).  In reality it was a hallway, but I had already rolled their search for secret doors checks for the room, so I decided to keep the rolls.  The hallway did in fact have a secret door containing a chest bursting with treasure.   Greatly pleased with this, the party changed their formation to allow two of the porters to carry the chest and for them to be surrounded by the more combat capable members of the group.

On their way out they encountered a large number of kobolds.  Neither side seemed to want to engage in hostilities, and talking to them revealed that they were merely trying to get to the statue room.  When jokingly encouraged to go in, the kobolds revealed they simply wished to repair the statue for further use.  These seem to be the the "administrators."

Once back in town, Akzey and Slimey spent most of their money on training costs, which I am using because my co-DM is more or less a by the book AD&D sort of fellow.  Meanwhile, the others decided to find more men at arms and possibly a few henchmen to employ with their copious amount of gold.  Nilrem managed to attract a hideous fighting man named Baldric to be his body guard.  It was decided that he would keep Baldric's morale up with a copious supply of doxies, courtesans, and other such working women.  Meanwhile, Synecdoche managed to hire 14 light footmen to aid in their dungeon expeditions.  He and Nilrem contributed to their equipment and prepared for a dungeon delve for the two of them and their servants.  Leerc placed a notice for a henchman, but as yet has received no applicants.  It is likely this will change next week.

Nilrem and Synecdoche decided to take their small army on a raid into Greyhawk Castle while the other party members were busying themselves about the city.  They explored a bit down a new corridor, finding a large chest of treasure guarded by a strange, bloated humanoid with glowing white eyes.  One of the light footmen popped him with his spear and he dissipated into a fine mist.  They took the chest back to the surface, only to discover the coins it contained were merely copper pieces painted gold.  

This is where we more or less ended the session.  I believe the party is going to attempt to find a house or other building to act as a hq for their expanding operation.  I'm not quite sure how to price such property as yet.  I do like the idea, if only because it will prevent them from dragging twenty retainers into the dungeon each session.

Inconsistencies with other versions of the Free City of Greyhawk are to be expected.  I've been using Zak's urbancrawl system to make the city.

Question for Traveller Fans

What does PBG stand for?  I've noticed it in some online Traveller tools, but there is nothing on it (that I can find) in the Mongoose book.


Monday, September 19, 2011

Nightwick Abbey in Hindsight Part 2

Part 1

Before I discuss my future plans for Nightwick Abbey and the Dark Country, I need to establish what I think "worked" with the Nightwick Campaign.  Despite my inability to get the dark tone across through my descriptions, the things in the abbey itself were significantly weird enough that they elicited the desired effect from my players even when my descriptions failed to do them justice.  A prominent recent example was the mite spawning pool which occupied much of the player's time due to their curiosity about its function and nature.  The sense of weirdness pervaded nearly every session in which they went into the dungeon.

I will be working some of this into Greyhawk castle.  Greyhawk will definitely be weird, but in a more artificially constructed way.  Much of the weirdness behind Nightwick Abbey was due to the fact that the dungeon acted not unlike a cancer, constantly adding new tumorous rooms and passages onto itself.  Since Greyhawk is a more stable structure its weirdness comes from the maniacal will of its creator.  It will also lack my characteristic love of spontaneous generation as the ecological explanation for dungeon monsters.  I think some of the more hard core AD&D players were a bit put off by the fact that my orcs did not mate in the usual fashion, or that these weird "mite" things had replaced the more familiar kobold.  For the most part this displeasure manifested in eyebrows being raised before they engaged with the weirdness on its own terms, so I definitely still consider it a positive.

While I'm discussing how it informed my ideas about Greyhawk, I should note that some of the specials and maps I had planned for Nightwick Abbey will probably get lumped in with my Greyhawk project.  If I am to run the abbey again for this group, it will likely mean that some of the lower levels of the dungeon will need to be retooled in order to prevent repetition.  Admittedly, the amount of these specials that are usable is quite small due to the differing nature of the two locales.  Ultimately though, Greyhawk is a side show for me.  While I plan on running it indefinitely, my true baby is Nightwick Abbey and as such I'll be taking a great deal more shortcuts with Greyhawk in order to facilitate more work on the Dark Country.  Of course, Greyhawk might capture my attention as I continue to work on it, so I'm willing to let it take over if I get inspired.

As for the abbey itself, I have a couple of thoughts swimming through my mind.  One is inspired by my return to reading C L Moore's Jirel of Joiry stories.  The underworld she describes was a fairly early inspiration on the dungeon, and I think it might be neat to include a few more "natural" chambers.  In this model, the Abbey sits on top of its stores that sit on top of its dungeons that sit on top of a sprawling cavern system with its own ecology and natural laws.  Sort of a micro-underdark with a more Satanic bent.  I will note that I may avoid this if I redesign the dungeon because it muddies the water a bit when it comes to the abbey's origins.

What I know I'll be doing is drawing a sharper contrast between the tone of the Dark Country as a whole and the tone of the area beneath the Abbey.  The Dark Country itself is filled with werewolf haunted woods and cursed mountains.  The country itself is filled with a terror of what moves just beyond one's vision.  The Abbey on the other hand should have more of an emphasis on the "weird."  It is a place that vomits up obscene forms that writhe and skitter about its halls.  While both obviously represent a horrific setting, there is something palpably different about the two images and I think that the dungeon becomes better once one draws a clear line between the underworld and the "overworld."

Lastly, I plan on developing the upper works a bit more.  Much of the inspiration for Nightwick Abbey came from images of Brick Gothic structures in the Baltic, and the only reason I did not include more detail on the ruined pile was a time constraint.  Coincidentally, Greyhawk castle is really just a tumbled bunch of stones over the dungeon rather than a locale in its own right.  I may change that if time goes on (and the players permit).

Since this one went a bit long, I'll discuss future venues for the dungeon and the original inspiration in part 3.

Guest Report: Greyhawk Session 1

As I discussed in the last session report for Nightwick Abbey, I was going to have one of my players (my wife) do the recap to break up the monotony of my droning.  I also hoped to both get and give an account of what the players' experience at my table.  What follows is her recap, which includes some lovely pictures she drew.  Since she was rather vague about it, I'll state that she played the cleric and move on to the report.


Evan asked me to do a write up of Tuesday’s session, which I accepted but was reluctant to do. Mostly because I find it difficult to express myself verbally, but also because I’m not part of the Old School Gaming community,  and really, I’m not too familiar with D&D aside from just being a casual player. But I guess that’s the point of this, to take a peek at the game from a player’s point of view. Since so many of us players were not familiar with the AD&D rules we spent the previous session making our characters and discussing the mechanics. That made this our first session in the City of Greyhawk and its nearby castle.

We found ourselves at the Green Griffin Inn, where one of our Fighters, Brevian, our Magic User, Nilrem, and our Gnome, Xel were engaged in a game of darts as our other Fighter, Leerk, and our Cleric, Aczey, watched on. We were all pretty sure that Nilrem would win, because he was trained with darts, but when the game was done Brevian was the victor and received the grand prize of three whole gold! Eventually we decided the party was drunk enough to brave the Castle Greyhawk and we set off to recover our Thief, the creepy park lurker, Slimey.

From what I understood there is a large park in the city proper, filled with trees and uppity people strolling about. Apparently some rumors were floating around that some Dryads were giving away their, um, goodies to men who could catch them. Silmey just so happened to hear that rumor, so that’s where he was, and had been for nearly a week straight. I’m pretty sure he smelled lovely to all those Lords and Ladies strolling around. He was actually reluctant to leave with us, but we eventually were able to convince him he would be getting all the treasures he needed, to impress any kind of woman he could dream of, in the Castle.

The Castle itself was pretty interesting!  We found a trap door that lead to a section that seemed to be all storage. The two men we hired were killed by what I think were fire beetles, but I got the impression they were large lightning bug types with pincers. 

We spent a lot of time combing through boxes, trying to see if they contained anything interesting or useful. They didn’t. One room we came across was filled with crates of rotting foods, and since it was a larger room some of us really wanted to get into it and check the place out. Some of us didn’t, because of the huge, disgusting grubs feeding on the meaty sludge. To determine whether the carrion eaters proved a threat we threw the body of one of our slain hired men into the room. He was quickly covered in the things and we decided to just burn it all! Once the fire died down and the room was relatively safe we were rewarded with a secret door that took us to something, well, new.

The room we wound up in was like any other room in the Castle, only it contained a silly faceless statue with a coin slot on its chest. Brevian stuck a copper piece into the slot, which activated the thing. Its hands started whirling about while it played circus music and its face started to appear.  It pointed a finger at our poor fighter and he was instantly zapped to dust. Glowing magical runes scrolled over the pedestal and its face settled on one screwed up in anger. We couldn’t read the runes, but terrified and fascinated by the thing our Cleric, Aczey, tried to shove a few gold pieces in, which just seemed to get stuck.

We checked another room, it had a few more of those fire beetles, which we lobbed some flaming oils at until we could get away. By then, with three of those we came in with dead, we decided it was time to leave, and also call it an evening well spent.


So there you have it.  I hope you found it enlightening.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Nightwick Abbey in Hindsight Part 1

Due to the approach of Halloween, which I spend much of my waking time anticipating, and due to the beginning of my co-DMed Greyhawk campaign I've been thinking a lot about Nightwick Abbey.  Despite the fact that my campaign, for the foreseeable future will not deal with that demon haunted church, it's still the epitome of what I do when I do D&D.  As such, I'll be continuing my work on it's several levels and environs in anticipation either future campaigns, G+ one offs, or some other as yet unforeseen medium for the dungeon and its setting.

I've largely created my version of Castle Greyhawk (built by Vennax the Mauve instead of Zagyg) as a reaction to Nightwick Abbey.  Greyhawk is actively designed to be different from its predecessor.  It's a great deal sillier in tone and relies a great deal more on "traditional" D&D monsters such as kobolds.  I've also placed a great deal more emphasis on different factions within the dungeon.  The ultimate adversary of the Nightwick campaign was the abbey itself.  The monsters inside were expressions of the Abbey's sinister will, and as such it was quite difficult to reason with them.  In Greyhawk, the monsters and dungeon NPCs are motivated by the same things that motivate the PCs: greed and survival.  This is a function of the events that created the two dungeons.  Nightwick Abbey's walls are soaked with the evil of its previous tenants while Greyhawk is instead a funhouse created by a mad wizard for his own amusement.

The twenty-five sessions the Nightwick Campaign ran exposed some weaknesses in my preparation and presentation.  The primary one was that I was under-equipped to deal with adventuring outside of the abbey. While I'm sure no one would fault me for still struggling with the Dark Country map, I still have have only a faint idea what Lichegate is like, despite the fact that the PCs visited it numerous times.  One can obviously point out that such things should be decided through play, but I failed to have enough of a skeleton on which to hang such information.

I also think I failed to correctly convey some of the atmosphere I wanted.  While many commentors have noted that my write ups for various Dark Country things are evocative, this largely failed to come across at the table.  This is at least partially the result of things beyond my control.  Our play time is very limited (only about  two and a half hours) and theres also a lot of bullshitting at the table.  Since gaming is a social activity I see this bullshitting as part of the point, but it does demand that I cut down some of my descriptions and leave out certain bits of town descriptions in order to cut to the dungeon.

This necessity especially became noticeable by sessions 23 and 24 about half of which took place in the village, to the disappointment of some of my players.    I emphasize the word "some" because at least one of my players was more at home outside the dungeon, even if the majority seemed to prefer skulking down its benighted halls.

The other problem lies partially with my inability to accurately describe things.  Part of this was (initially) nerves, since I was uncomfortable doing my terrible English accents in front of people I barely knew at the time, and part of it was general incompetence on my part.  The first problem has more or less been rectified, while the second persists.  I believe I shall have less difficulty with Greyhawk, which is a bit easier to wrap one's head around.

The final problem was the lack of treasure available in the dungeon.  While there were certain points when I felt random generation had given the players magical items beyond their level, the lack of monetary treasure was a major hindrance to advancement.  I used the Labyrinth Lord/AD&D treasure tables by the book, including treasure per individuals vs. hoards.  My change away from that is due to the fact that the players were still hovering around level 2 and 3 after 25 sessions.  I tend not to pull punches, to paraphrase my current co-DM, and the increased treasure created by the new method should help to mitigate that fact.

Thus ends part 1.  In Part 2 I'll discuss what I think I did right, the future of the Abbey and its dungeons, and the original inspiration for the project.

The Periphery: Subsector Map and Updated UWPs

click to embiggen

Ceres     0102   B557565-8   T C    Ag Ga NI      GG
Pepin     0104   A547477-11  N R T  Ga NI         GG
Laconia   0107   C958963-6   S R    Ga Hi         GG
Hohenstaufen 0108 B794422-8  T      Ga NI         GG
Enaar     0202   DABA988-7   S      Fl Hi In Wa   GG
Guthrum   0204   E646440-5   P      Ga Lt NI      RG
Nibelung  0206   B1219B9-10  S R T C   Hi In Na Po G
New Iconia 0304  A5A95A9-11 N T C  Fl NI          GG
Antioch   0305   B547551-11 T      Ag NI          GG
Diteen    0306   C9A9878-9  S P    Fl           AG  
Prometheus 0307  C615000-5         Ba IC Lt NI    RG
Shalom    0309   C888566-5         Ag Ga Lt NI    GG
0ndizak   0405   E326500-9  S      NI             A
Hattin    0408   D330766-3  S      De Lt Na Po    G
New England 0503 B551754-7  T      Po             G
Crecy     0504   C657A99-10 S C    Ga Hi          GG
Kasander  0505   C250689-7         De NI          G
Martell   0508`  B575763-5  S R    Ag Ga NI       GG
Clovis    0509   A100524-15 S T C  Ht Va          GG
We Made It 0701  D310879-6         Na             GG
Minerva   0703   A6578C9-12 R T    Ga Ht Ri       G
Caesarius 0803   C2018B9-10 T C    IC Va          GG
Thule     0804   C7CA552-11 S R P  Wa             AG
Alexios   0805   D3226B6-8  S      Na Po          GG
Aor       0806   X767310-4         Ga Lo          RG

Not sure if anybody cares about my Traveller nonsense, but here is some more of it anyway.  I'm rather smitten with Mongoose's version of the rules, and I might start another blog to service my development of a setting for it.  Not sure if that'll happen yet, but I'm thinking about it.

The key for the maps can be found here.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

City States of Arklyrell: Mystara Style

click to embiggen

A few months ago Jeff suggested using City States of Arklyrell as a campaign map.  I then posted some thoughts on using it as a setting.  I found that the images of the map on the internet are a bit hard to make out, so I decided to provide the above map for those wishing to use it.

The "glacier" hexes at the top represent a wall of ice that covers the frozen side of the planet.  Any terrain off the map either to the North or the South is completely inhospitable to life (other than Elves in the North and Undead in the South).

I may post more ideas on the setting later.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Star Traveller

I've been watching quite a bit of Star Trek recently, as is my custom,  and I've given some thought to how I would run a game in the style of Star Trek.  This is unlikely to happen in the near future, since my main group seems more interested in D&D and Star Wars, and my Traveller side game is more properly a Firefly-type set up.  It is difficult to stop my wandering mind.

The thing I most like about Star Trek is what Starfleet does: exploration.  The universe of Star Trek is pretty damn cool, but I think the greatest strength of bot TOS and the early episodes of TNG is their episodic nature.  Each (good) episode has a cool sci fi premise based around the idea of exploring new worlds or making contact with alien species. 

I often find it weird that Star Trek gaming thends to skew to the more military aspects of Starfleet.  I'm speaking (or rather writing) here more about Star Trek video games as I have little experience with the various TTRPGs made for Star Trek.  I think though that the Star Fleet Universe material bears this idea out.  You don't really do Star Trek things in Star Trek games.  Instead you have big space battles.  Now, I like big space battles, and I've been drooling over Federation Commander for a few months, but in a roleplaying game I want to think my way out of the Tholian web.

There are some problems with the standard Star Trek setup, however.  The most notable one, I think, is the fact that whoever is playing the captain can pretty much tell the other players what to do.  One could circumvent this by having the captain be an NPC, but then the players don't get to make the kinds of decisions that make this sort of game interesting.  Who cares if some NPC makes up some bullshit about corbomite, he's an NPC.  If he needs to have the bridge crew (i.e. the PCs) come up with all his clever plans, then what kind of captain is he?

How does one overcome this?  Well theres nothing really about "exploration" that requires the PCs to be in the Flagship of the Federation.  The chief example here would be the Scouts from Traveller, or at least my understanding of them from Mongoose's core rulebook.  When starting up my online Traveller campaign I described them as a "rent-a-center Starfleet," and I think that metaphor holds true.

So what about a campaign where players play scouts on some remote border of the Imperium?  One could make a Traveller sandbox in the same manner one normally would, modifying it a bit to make the demographics skew away from the dominate races of the Imperium.  Instead it's a barely explored region filled with pre-space flight peoples and a few space-capable races that are as yet unknown by the Imperium.  

The players are the crew of a single scout vessel (c. 4-6 people) who have to respond to the same sorts of problems the Enterprise normally would (rock creatures attacking space miners, space radiation that enhances psychic abilities, gangster planets, etc.) but now instead of a massive crew of experts, they have to figure out how to deal with these things using their extremely limited resources.

The other advantage gained by switching it to a Traveller setting is the fact that humanity's baser elements still exist.  One thing that always bothered me about Star Trek is how much it relies on capital p Progress.  As a student of history, I find these ideas arrogant at best, though the shows typically handle it in a way that is as inoffensive as possible.  Still, now you have a space setting where greed and ambition are still major motivating factors for the various empires, peoples, captains, and even random enlisted men.  If you can't make exploring such a setting into the stuff of great gaming, then there is no helping you.

I should note that I started this post before finding out that today is the 45th anniversary of TOS.  Go out and celebrate by watching your favorite episode!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Attention CRPG Fans

You can grab Ultima IV for free from Good Old Games!  I'm sure that can't last too long, so get yours today!

Stocking Castle Greyhawk

As of yesterday, I have completed the maps for the first three levels of Castle Greyhawk, ignoring sublevels and the surface ruins.  I thought I'd go over my stocking process since it's a bit different than the one I used for Nightwick Abbey.  It primarily comes from reverse engineering random dungeon generation charts in the DMG, with a bit more standardization.

First, I fill up a hole punched 8x11" piece of graph paper (about 5 lines to 1") with dungeon, trying to squeeze in as many rooms and corridors as possible.  This will usually constitute one level.  I've based this on Gary's maps, seen below:

click to embiggen

While it's entirely possible that more than one of these make up a level, I decided to stick to the one sheet = 1 level rule that I used for Nightwick Abbey simply because in 25 sessions the party never even came close to mapping all of the first level, let alone the ones beneath it.  I figure that if I need more, I can add it later and explain it away fairly easily.

Unlike Gary's maps, I tended to use straight corridors and square or rectangular rooms.  As Jeff noted in an earlier post, odd shaped rooms are usually more of a headache than they're worth.  This isn't to say there are no oddly shaped rooms in the dungeons beneath Castle Greyhawk, just that the majority of the rooms are easier to describe to a mapper.

But enough about mapping, this post is about stocking.  First, I guesstimate a sheet of graph paper to be able to hold c. 100 rooms.  I have no idea how accurate this is, and I don't really care.  I've broken down the stocking chart (Table V. F. on page 171 of the DMG) into the following:

  • 25 rooms will have monsters
  • 5 rooms will have "specials"
  • 5 rooms will have traps (I include "tricks" as specials)
  • 5 rooms will only have treasure.

I generate the monsters randomly using the charts in the DMG and a few monsters from the FF to spruse things up a bit.  I will say that by and large Castle Greyhawk relies much more on the MM than Nightwick Abbey did.  I want this to feel appreciably different, and so I've decided to go to a bit more into traditional D&D territory.  I'll still be sticking in some gorbels and grells though, don't you worry.

After generating the monsters, I generate treasure.  To do this I ignore the treasure "per individual" -- only using that for wandering monsters -- and instead always generate treasure as if the monster were in its lair.  For an example, a group of 6 elves would generate G, S, and T type treasure.  This treasure is not assigned to specific monsters yet.  Instead I tally it all up together, generating magic items, gems, and jewelry accordingly. After the incident with the Staff of Power in the previous campaign, I've been a bit more selective with magic items.  I've more or less stolen this system from Scott and use it for more or less the same reason.  I hope that it will help keep advancement at a smooth pace despite the amount of death typically seen in my dungeons.

Finally, I place the specials I've developed.  These include weird things like the Talking Tomb from Nightwick Abbey or complexes controlled by dungeon factions.  If new monsters are required, their hp and treasure are generated now.  These treasures are added to the total pool.  I then distribute these first, placing in them an amount of treasure that is proportional to their difficulty.

Next I distribute the monsters in a way that makes sense to my deranged brain.  This is usually done by just eyeing the map and trying to make sure rival monsters don't live too close together.  This will have increased importance in Castle Greyhawk because I plan to place considerably more emphasis on dungeon factions than I did with Nightwick Abbey.  I then distribute the treasure among these monsters in a way that makes sense, leaving a little to be put into trapped and empty rooms.  Next I place traps in places that make sense, followed by the treasure that goes with it.   Then I place the remaining treasure.

That's more or less it.  I do sublevels a bit differently (a bit more like regular lairs), but this is how I do the vast majority of the dungeon.  I may do a post on the different factions in the dungeon, or at least the first three levels of it, shortly.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Periphery: Patron Encounters and Rumors

Here is the information for steps 11-13.  This is the last of the information I created for the campaign, and I'll return to regularly scheduled D&D content soon.

1.       A corporate agent wants the party to investigate a murder committed within his organization using a strange weapon.
2.       A Noble wants the party to retrieve data from a crash landed research vessel on a hostile planet.
3.       A thief needs you to plant some illegal trade goods inside a police station.
4.       A courier cannot get a message to another traveller because the traveller is being monitored by the Imperium.  He asks the party to find a way to deliver it.
5.       A contact or ally of the PCs wants them to hijack a Korx ship in order to seize the “juice” aboard it.
6.       A minor noble wants the party to see if pirates are building a base in a system in the Rift.

1.       An imperial agents wants the party to hijack a ship tacking important imperial intelligence to the Korx.
2.       A farmer, who claims to be a member of the resistance but is actually an Imperial agent, wants you to rescue his brother who is on a damaged laboratory vessel in deep space.
3.       The starport administrator wants the party to transport a member of the consulate to a more secure world.  He is being stalked by Derengin assassins!
4.       A tribal leader asks the party to investigate the murder of a farmer by a group of thugs.

1.       An Iconian ambassador wants the party to find the wreckage of a research station in the rift and bring back any information they can.
2.       A human agent working for the Korx will attempt to deceive the players into being attacked by pirates.
3.       A naval pilot wants the crew to bring some illegal items (food) to the downtrodden inhabitants.
4.       A revolutionary wants the crew to plant a weapon on a pro-imperial noble.

1.       A scout officer wants you to explore a ruined part of the underwater city, against the wishes of the Iconians.
2.       A human ambassador wants you to retrieve data from an imperial contractor that has been arming saboteurs.
3.       An imperial official wants you to sabotage a ship bringing goods to the workers under the surface.
4.       A human leader wants you to investigate some criminals who have stolen an alien artifact.

1.       A human agent for the Korx wants the crew to salvage a wrecked free trader the Korx had hired to investigate Ancient ruins.  The ship currently houses a number of Yor prototypes.
2.        A “union” leader wants you to investigate the theft of some medical supplies.
3.       A corporate agent wants you to steal the cargo of another free trader and deliver it to his employer.
4.       A Korx wants the crew to transport some weapons off of the planet quickly.

New Iconia
1.       An imperial agent wants the party to steal an Iconian artifact from a museum.
2.       An assassin wants you to steal a mercenary ship with obvious markings so that he may use it to assassinate an Iconian leader.
3.       An Iconian terrorist wants you to destroy a public statue guarded by imperial marines.
4.       A corporate agent wants you to find out what happened to an Iconian government official.  He is currently being held by imperial authorities.

1.       A clerk serving one of the local nobles wants the party to salvage a space station.  Unfortunately it’s already being salvaged by the Korx.
2.       A financer wants you to pick up a large shipment using a massive cargo hauler he has stolen.  He will not tell the players the last bit, but it will show up on any scans made by authorities.
3.       An assassin in the employ of one of the local lords wants the party to retrieve an artifact that was stolen by another lord.
4.       A Korx wants you to assist in the theft of goods being supplied to one of the lords by another group of Korx.

1.       A financier working with the Imperium wants you to prevent the theft of computer data by a group of Iconians.
2.       An Iconian terrorist wants the party to sabotage a shipment of supplies to the imperial outpost.
3.       An embezzler wants the party to plant faulty computer data in the imperial records in order to get him off the hook.
4.       A free trader wants mercenaries to attack the pirate base in the system.

1.       An Imperial diplomat wants the party to stop a heavily guarded shipment of juice.
2.       An imperial spy would like the party to pretend to be pirates looking for work with the Korx to see what they’re up to.
3.       A Korx administrator wants someone to steal a shipment of “juice” from a pirate who is holding out on them.
4.       A Korx wishing to make some money on the side wants to ship weapons to one of the occupied worlds in this subsector.  He’s willing to provide a cargo hauler if he can find a crew.

New England
1.       A resistance leader wants someone to infiltrate the governor’s compound and steal evidence of his abuse.
2.       A researcher is looking for someone to take him deep into the Rift to find a world he suspects will provide the Imperium with various trade goods.
3.       An Imperial police officer wants someone to prevent the theft of a Yacht by one of the Noble’s flunkies.
4.       A corporate agent would like help in convincing the governor to allow some dubiously legal enterprises on his planet.  Unfortunately, he has a shrewd vizier.

1.       A Corporate agent wants someone to recover a cargo lost near the Aor system.
2.       A scholar wishes that someone would discover what happened to the starport on Prometheus.
3.       A Clerk needs an outside party to investigate a freetrader working for a megacorp.
4.       A corporate spy wants to dig up dirt on a financier working for an Imperial supplier.

1.       An embezzler needs the party to salvage a datapad from a wrecked cargo hauler.  Unfortunately it’s currently being investigated by the Imperial government.
2.       A smuggler wants someone to sabotage a medical center housed in a laboratory ship so that she can steel medical supplies.
3.       A belter wants someone to murder a meddlesome police officer while he’s in his police cutter.
4.       A scout officer believes someone has set up a research station on Aor.  Someone needs to take it down!

1.       A researcher needs someone to bring him a large amount of illegal radioactive materials.
2.       A noble wants to explore the Aor system, despite the fact that it’s a capital crime.
3.       A clerk wants someone to hijack a laboratory ship that’s performing illegal experiments.
4.       A minor noble wants someone to go to Prometheus and recover an alien artifact.

1.       A new drug called “juice” only affects aliens.
2.       No one knows what caused Prometheus to fail.
3.       Farmers and workers in the Periphery have been arming themselves.
4.       The Imperium wants things to go smoothly in the region because another war with the Derengi is looming.
5.       A crew that misjumped into Aor was executed publicly in Clovis.
6.       The Imperium is thinking about closing the route from Kasander to Diteen.
7.       The Iconians are scared of something.
8.       The researchers on Prometheus discovered evidence of a previously unknown alien race.
9.       There are habitable planets in the rift, they’re just too far away for most engines to reach them.
10.   Resistance movements on multiple worlds are starting to discuss unification.
11.   The Korx’s biggest trading partner is actually the Drengi
12.   The Imperium isn’t ready for the eventual rebellion.