Friday, December 31, 2010

Keep on the Borderlands Session 1

I'm sorry I didn't post this sooner.  This session actually occurred on Monday but due to several distractions I forgot to post a session recap.  Sadly, we didn't play on Wednesday as originally planned, but we should have more fun in the keep this evening.

For this session I stole two rules from the Rules Cyclopedia.  One was the alternate death mechanics presented in the back, and the other was the way that neutral Clerics can eventually become Druids.  Obviously the second change wouldn't affect any party going to the Caves of Chaos much, but my wife decided to play a neutral Cleric anyway.  The PC Paladin that had delved into Nightwick Abbey returned and was grandfathered in.  Future Paladin's will have to be Lawful Fighters of name level and above.

The party arrived at the famous Keep and exchanged information (read: rumor table results).  However, two members were rather tight lipped about what they knew.  They had both been told that they should be wary of betrayal, and were not quite comfortable with their compatriots yet.  The Keep was largely welcoming, despite the fact that the party was overwhelmingly Neutral.  The Magic-User assured the guards that they were there to kill "icky monsters" within the caves.  This seemed satisfactory to all who heard it.

After getting a few supplies, and suffering through the constant repetition of the only British accent I was able to conjure up that night, the party set off to the Caves.  One of their hirelings had just returned from a failed foray that had been repelled by an Ogre working with a tribe of Goblins.  Still, he was willing to lead the party there and join them in their endeavors if they payed him enough.  I wanted to get them to whatever location they wished to explore fairly quickly and this NPC seemed to do the trick.

Once there, they entered the Kobold cave.  Before they had entered a full 10', they already heard footsteps heading down the corridor to their right.  Shortly after, the front rank of the party fell into a large pit.  A large number of Kobolds soon appeared in what could best be described as a phalanx formation.  The party engaged in some heavy fighting, losing their Magic-User in the process.  One of there number was captured, but they were able to ransom him back before returning to the keep with their tails between their legs.

Back at the keep the party met two thieves (one was a replacement for the Magic-User, and the other player had arrived late).  After a bit of negotiating in the tavern they set out once again.  This time they were considerably luckier.  They attempted to enter the Ogre cave, which only woke up the rather ornery beast.  They were greeted by something that more or less looked like this:

They attempted to negotiate with the lummox, but eventually talks broke down.  The party won initiative and killed the creature before it had time to swat at any body.  They search the lair and found a considerable amount of treasure within.  Bolstered by their success, they decided to take on another rank smelling cave a bit further west down the ravine.  This was the Shunned Cavern, and the Fighter was absolutely delighted by the sheer number of bones within.  He went about cracking them open to find treasure, as is his custom.  He did in fact find a few electrum pieces.  He also attracted an Owlbear.  Though the beast managed to get a few good shots in on the Paladin, it too was slain before being able to inflict any real damage on the party.

Crushing even more bones attracted an army of rats which quickly swarmed over party and ended one of the thieves.  Now significantly lower on supplies, the party beat feet back towards the keep.  The thief was quickly replaced by a Frogling who was apparently a traveling gourmand.  The Paladin was a bit irritated to find that the local Curate was quite uninterested in lending him any aid but was able to secure a bed for himself within the church.

Their final foray took them to the Goblin caves.  They were attacked by two organized forces of Goblins, but somehow managed to repel both with some effort.  The Paladin took to killing his surrendering opponents.  Since Goblins are born and bred for devil worship, I'm not sure whether or not this count's as an alignment infraction.  If he were Lawful Good I would say it does but since I only use the Lawful v. Chaotic scale I wasn't sure about what I should do.  Next they found a large chamber with a bottle necked entrance that they were certain contained Goblins.  Some negotiation took place, and the Paladin made a lone suicidal rush for the creatures, but was quite unwilling to engage once he discovered most were females and children.

This, combined with the perceived slight by the Curate, led the Paladin to renounce his ways and become a fighter.  Normally I probably would have handled this differently, but since i was eager to switch as much as possible over to the RC I let it go.

The last leg of this foray took them to the Hobgoblin's common room.  Tough fighting here led to the third character death of the Night (the other thief) and the party's general unwillingness to deal with non-combatants has soured them a bit.  The players themselves had quite a bit of fun, it is their characters who are a bit worried about returning for future forays.

All in all a good session.  I am a bit disappointed with the Caves of Chaos, but I do like the keep itself and the accompanying map.  The expeditions to the Caves did wind up being guerrilla attacks on humanoid encampments, but they were at least entertaining.  I would have liked to have a bit more exploration.  The "women and children" issue continues to bother me and my players, but hopefully we shall come up with some way to mitigate it before tonight's session.

I'm beginning to think that I've made the Church a bit draconian.  I'm perfectly fine with Neutral characters (and usually play one myself) but out of the three parties that have been created for the Dark Country only a handful of characters have been of Lawful Alignment.  I'm not sure if this is merely player preference or if I have unwittingly made the Church a bit too dickish.  I don't want them to be the "right answer," but they aren't supposed to be the bad guys of the setting either.

Monday, December 27, 2010

What Santa Brought

Here is my Old School Gaming hall:

D&D Rules Cyclopedia
T1 The Village of Hommlet
B4 The Lost City

Plus the Keep on the Borderlands, which I mentioned earlier.

Not a bad hall if I say so myself.  Are are in immaculate condition, and I'm quite tempted to switch over to a Rules Cyclopedia based game.

Edit:  I also received the 3rd, 4th, and 5th books of Lankhmar.  Not entirely D&D related, but I'd wager most who were interested in what D&D stuff I received would also be interested in my ever increasing Leiber collection.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Borderlands Update

I thought I'd do an update of where I am in the preparation process.  I've read over the module a couple of times, but will need to do so a few more so that I can better internalize the relationships between the different cave complexes.

The first thing I did was write up about 30 male names and 20 female names to use for the various unnamed NPCs in the keep.  I plan on assigning them in play rather than doing it in advance.  Most of these are names taken from the various crusade chronicles I've read in my academic career and therefore are medieval French in origin.  I rather like the fact that the module doesn't name the NPCs as it allows an enterprising DM to better customize the names to fit his or her campaign.

I've also written up room descriptions to replace the Orcish common rooms in B and C.  I won't be revealing what's inside until after the players have encountered it or until this whole thing is over, whichever comes first.

I'm working on a background for the Borderlands area that fleshes out the origins of the various dungeons and the Keep and also ties it into the World of Nightwick.  I'll post it here when I'm finished.

I still need to label the different geographical features on the wilderness map.  I'm not going to rename the Keep because I think people are generally unoriginal in their naming patterns and the Keep on the Borderlands might be as much of a name as such a structure could ever have.  I also need to figure out which demon the Shrine of Evil Chaos is dedicated to.

I'm also going to put my largely unfinished homebrew dungeon in place of the Cave of the Unknown.  I'm not very far in stocking it, but I may have more time to do so.  I also need to figure out a background for the Cave of the Unknown to explain why it's filled with all the weird shit I'm going to put in it.

The wilderness map is by far my favorite part of the module.  It really allows for the kind of exploration that I think is the heart of OSD&D.  I do have some issues with the Caves of Chaos.  They seem fairly deadly.  They also are a bit too inhabited to really provide the kind of exploration that I feel is so necessary to a good D&D experience.  I might be proved wrong once play commences, but it seems more like expeditions to the caves are guerrilla assaults on the forces of evil rather than exploring a location.  Still, the Shrine of Evil Chaos is the kind of thing that fits very well into the World of Nightwick.  I just wish there was a tad more weirdness and empty space.

My dungeon is going to largely be stocked along the lines of the Mentzer basic book and as such will have a bit more weird elements and empty space than the Caves do.

Board Game Idea

Players each take the role of a group of Dwarves seeking to take back their mountain home.  Each group has its own claimant to the throne of the Mountain King, but only one can actually sit upon it.  There are also the denizens of the hall itself to contend with.  It will not be easy to rebuild the kingdom of the Dwarves.

Each player gets to select a Dwarf Prince and the members of his retinue.  A combination of randomness and player choice decides the layout of the Dwarf Hold.  Same goes for the reason it was abandoned, which then also decides what terrors lurk inside for the Dwarves.  The winner is the group that survives the longest, or gets enough treasure and followers to clear out the mine and declare their claimant king.

Keep on the Borderlands

I have received Keep on the Borderlands as an early Christmas present.  I was quite surprised how just flipping through a few pages and scanning a few maps fired my imagination.  This is partly because my copy is in pristine condition and largely because of the quality of the product.

I'm currently in my home town, and next week I'm supposed to run three sessions of D&D for my old gaming/high school buddies.  Originally I was going to run a homebrew adventure, but now I'm dead set on running them through the Caves of Chaos and the surrounding wilderness.  I've never run this module, which as I understand it means that I haven't completed one of my OSD&D rites of passage.  I aim to rectify this.

The module itself is, from my skimming, broadly compatible with the World of Nightwick.  So far I've just had to change the word "Elf" to "Changeling" in a few places.  The biggest change I will be making to the module is designed to accommodate my take on Orcs.  Since they don't breed normally, I have removed non-combatants from those caves and replaced them with a rather nasty surprise for potential delvers.  Otherwise the caves will go untouched since the other humanoids of the World (at least the ones in this module) do mate in the usual fashion.  I may replace the Kobolds with Mites, but I may not.

I'll post play reports and development updates here.  Hopefully I'll be able to give you a good dose of behind the screen information in both.  This will be my first time running a TSR D&D module.  I'm very interested to see how it goes.

Wish me luck.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Monster Monday: Gibberlings

Gibberlings are horrible creatures who lair in the deep places of the world.  There they spring forth fully-formed from great, black pools.  When they emerge they are already armed with a strange sword that bears no resemblance to anything made by a human culture.  These weapons are horrible to look upon and bear strange patterns and etchings that seem to be a mockery of human art.

Their faces are bat-like, like the demon Azazel who they serve.  Their bodies are covered in a blue-black fur that makes them difficult to see in the darkness.  They are rarely seen outside of their lairs, and since there exist few people brave enough to enter the dark places in which they dwell they are rarely seen at all.  They communicate using only chaotic meepings.  They whine and gibber and cackle and pop and smack and screech.  Due to the large numbers in which they are encountered, the noise they make can be deafening.  Many a brave warrior or noble follower has fled even before the creatures came into sight.

Due to the fact that they seldom venture out of their dark lairs, the are the subject of scant few folk tales.  Those that exist are used to caution naughty children.  There is one which breaks this mold however.  Though the Gibberling connection is tenuous, some bards sing of a town that made yearly sacrifices to some force out in the forest.  One day a wandering priest entered the town and demanded that the good folk stop this demonic practice.  The next day the town was barren.  Not man nor beast was seen in the town or the woods around it for miles.  All was stillness.  And all still is, or so the stories say.  The legend places the town as whatever nearby ruin the bard finds convenient to scare his patrons. Still, stories start somewhere.

So this will probably suck

but I'll probably see it anyway.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Importance of History in a Fantasy Sandbox

As I've been stocking the Dark Country Wilderness map, I've been reminded of something that really impressed me about Rob Conley's Points of Light products.  Each of the sandbox settings he provides in those books has a history.  More interestingly, these histories are wed into the settlements, lairs, and ruins of that setting.  A ruined castle isn't just a ruined castle; it was destroyed in the war that took place 50 years ago.

I think this sort of thing is necessary for a good sandbox campaign.  I'm a huge fan of dungeons but I find them much more interesting if they have something special about them.  Making a dungeon or ruin unique is quite easy if you have an idea of the possible causes of its creation.  If these possible causes tie into the greater milieu of the setting, all the better.

Aside from making dungeons unique, it also helps to inform player decisions.  If one wishes to conduct a West Marches style game, one easy way to inform players of the various sites the can explore is to place bits of history in various other dungeons.  Maybe two sets of ruins on your campaign map were destroyed in the same war.  You could place a map showing the various fortifications in the area at the time of the war in one or both of the dungeons.  When the players find it, they now know the locations of some other possible places to get loot.

I think this works best if the DM creates multiple threads for the sandbox area.  D&D settings are by and large old worlds.  They have seen the rise and fall of many civilizations (and races), countless wars, and numerous natural disasters.  The key is to not overload the area with these sorts of things.  At some point if every single dungeon or ruin had a different catastrophic event lead to its creation they lose all since of grounding.  A few broad threads are best because they tie locations together and make them unique at the same time.

One tangentially related idea can only be seen in long running campaigns.  As PCs reach name level and begin to build dominions, they start to shape the history of the setting.  Assuming you keep the same milieu for multiple campaigns, some of the dungeons future players might explore were built by previous ones.  While this does not stress the importance of setting out the history of your campaign world, it does show how much more interesting a world that has a history is.

Needless to say I've taken this into account while thinking about the Dark Country.  I will possibly do a post later on how I've implemented these ideas into my campaign design.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Anti-Church

Once a great empire stretched covered the lands of the West.  Under the protection of the God of Law it was able to spread into the Dark Country and even the Desert Lands.  There were human civilizations who still venerated the Old Gods or even the Demons of the Pit, but none of them could match the power and majesty of the Empire.  In their jealousy they chipped and scratched at the lands and works of the Empire.  Eventually that wondrous realm collapsed under the weight of invasion.  Barbarians reigned where once an empire flourished.

But is this really the whole story?  The Church teaches that it was not external invasion thought brought down the Empire but internal weakness.  Secretly within the empire - and indeed within the Wester kingdoms and the Seven Cities today - priests of a sinister cult worked to undo the works of Humankind.  They were, and are, the Adversaries' servants.  Their black rites are a mockery of the rites of the Great Church.

These worshipers of Chaos sowed dissent among the peoples and leaders of the Empire.  Civil war begot civil war.  The Empire that the barbarians descended upon was not what it once was.  The machinations of demons and their mortal servants brought it low.  Now that the realms of the West have risen out of the ashes, they have begun their work once again.  The Church says that all should be ever vigilant against the workings of these men and women lest civilization once more be put on the fires of barbarism.

Whether or not this reading of history is true is up for debate.  Still, there are those who serve the masters of the Pit.  Many do so within the West and the Seven Cities, and those that do often create strange rituals based on the Church's own.  Some even operate within the Great Church's clergy.  Their miraculous power seem to be born from the God of Law's grace rather than the sinister workings of Orcus or Astarot.  These priest sneak away into the wilderness to perform their unholy duties and make deals with sinister beasts.

Those few who have witnessed Goblins and Orcs in their demonic revelries often claim to have seen a number of men and women in their presence.  Many peasants have claimed these people are the lords of the land, its very defenders.  More than a few of these peasants have been right.

Rumors say that Nightwick Abbey has recently become party to these wicked thralls.  Perhaps they are organizing the monsters who lair within, or perhaps they are searching for something.

Settlements in the Dark Country

Here are the regional maps of the Dark Country after my feeble attempts to populate them with human settlements.  Note: these only represent the settlements aligned with the Great Church and the Seven Cities.  I'll add Barbarian settlements when I start to add lairs and non-human settlements.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

Note: I've made some small changes from the original map.  This puts it slightly more in line with how the campaigns have gone so far.

B/X or BEMCI D&D Forum?

Does anyone know if there is a forum dedicated solely to Basic and Expert D&D?  I know of Dragonsfoot and OD&D Discussion, but they're AD&D and OD&D respectively.  Are there any whose main focus are Holmes, Moldvay, and Mentzer?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Ritual Magic

Let me preface this post by saying I have no problem with Vancian magic.  While I've had players who didn't care for it (read: hated it), I've never seen where all the bile comes from.  I rather like the idea of spells as a resource and I typically try to play Magic Users when I play D&D so I've obviously never had a problem with it.

That being said, sometimes I want a little more out of magic.   I want foul acts performed in the dark of the Moon.  I want dust created from the powdered bones of nine mummies from the steaming Jungles of Mu.  I want alchemical tar that when rubbed on the eyes of a corpse causes the deceased to return to his or her body and whisper secrets from beyond the grave.  I want salt circles to hold demons so that the sorcerer can force their demonic tutors to reveal ancient sorceries.  I want hooded figures chanting around a stone idol.  You know, that sort of thing.

This has some precedence in D&D.  Most notably in Dave Arneson's rules that would lead to D&D wizards had to use strange formulas to concoct various "spells."  Or something like that.  I don't have the First Fantasy Campaign to reference, but Rob Conley hints at it a bit in his discussion of that book and Dragons At Dawn contains a system supposedly based on Arneson's rules.  Granted Dragons At Dawn might have gotten it wrong, but it's neat enough that I hope Daniel Hugh Boggs is correct.

While not entirely the same as ritual magic, this system does appeal to me.  More recent examples, assuming the Arneson anecdote is correct, include Geoffery McKinney's infamous work Supplement V: Carcosa and Rob Conley's Supplement VI: The Majestic Wilderlands.  These two have very different takes on how ritual magic should work.  Conley's is largely based on 4e's ritual system.  It couples Vancian magic with the ability to pay gold and take several minutes to cast any spell the Magic-User knows as a ritual.  I'm not terribly keen on this, but it's a serviceable solution.   I've thought about adapting it to Nightwick Abbey, but I'm unlikely to in the near future, but it is a possibility.

I think McKinney's model, despite being squicky, is a tad closer to what I want.  Now, I am not going to represent the rituals in the kind of lurid detail he provides, but the idea that individual spells require rituals and can never be cast instantaneously interests me.  It could be combined with an otherwise Vancian system.  Perhaps summoning a monster takes time and tools, but producing a fireball doesn't.  This would be in line with the Roger Corman film The Raven, which I have cited as a source of inspiration before.  Another way of looking at this model could be that any spell over level 5 is a ritual of some form. 

They could also be coupled with Arneson's model.  In this version, a wizard would ready the powders and ichors required for whatever challenges he or she believes he will face in a dungeon or other discrete adventuring local.  However, while at home he or she might take days to complete some sort of ritual to summon a familiar or create a terrible storm.

Finally, the rituals could stand on their own as they do in Carcosa.  Magic is not something cheap and reliable.  It is strange and difficult.  Magic takes time to practice and master and invoke.

I'm going to be considering these models as I develop my two settings further.  While Nightwick Abbey and the Dark Country will still rely on Vancian magic, I would like for the various sacrifices made to terrible demons to actually do something.  The Underworld is still up in the air.  It might use Vancian magic, or I might develop a ritual magic system for it.  

Sorry to those who thought I would have rules for Ritual Magic in this post.  Perhaps I will once the ideas I have get more concretely formulated in my head.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Nightwick Abbey Session 3

Today Keelyn's player was not able to make it, but the player of the now dead cleric Jerome was.  So the party consisted of:

Alma -- Cleric
Wodewick -- Also Cleric
Slick -- Thief
Cornwell -- Magic-User
Their eight followers

Wodewick began his career with a trip to the local chapel.  As I believe I've mentioned before, this is essentially a peasant's hovel with a cross stuck on top.  There he found two monks who laughed at his speech impediment (Wodewick would wove to tawk to you about his winkboy).  Still, upon hearing that he wished to brave the dungeons beneath Nightwick Abbey they gave him a vial of Holy Water and sent him on his way.

Next Slick decided to purchase some wine at the Medusa's Head and take it to the scary looking tower on the outskirts of town.  Here he found the aging Halfdan the Black.  Halfdan, appreciating wine, let the thief in and discussed the dungeon with him a bit.  Halfdan revealed that on some level below the surface, the Brother's had forced a wizard to create an underground garden. (Cue jokes about heat lamps and illicit substances).  Halfdan offered to pay them for any samples which they might dig up, and even offered to let Cornwell take a peek at his spell book if they found something valuable.  Lastly, he gave Slick a scroll which he wasn't "using at the moment."  Cornwell was able to determine after a read magic spell that it was a scroll of ventriloquism.

The next day, after Cornwell had memorized sleep, the plodded off once again to the legend haunted abbey.  This time, they decided to poke around the graveyard a bit.  They found the same mausoleum entrance the test group did, and inside found the Candlemass inspired automatons.  The two Clerics, who discovered that the things wouldn't attack them, debated ways to destroy them, but found nothing which seemed to deter them.  Wodewick even got a bit of a shock when he attempted to hit one with his mace.  His mace became permanently embedded in the thing, and due to the approach of some skeletons they decided it was time to head back to town.

On their second foray they decided to return to the entrance they had been using, and proceeded down an as yet unexplored hallway.  At the end of this the found a small troop of Goblins, who they dispatched with lightning speed and flaming oil.  Continuing on, they discovered a chamber that contained 4 figures locked in mortal combat.  Each was heavily armored in antiquated gear that resembled what was worn by footmen in the era when the Abbey fell.  Two appeared to be Sword Brothers, the others appeared to be footmen in the retinue of a Western king who perished in the dungeons during the siege.  Alma, believing them to be some sort of undead creature, attempted to turn them.  The armor ceased their fighting, and collapsed into empty shells upon the floor.

Continuing from this chamber, they crossed over a trap which attacked the middle ranks of the party.  The wizard Cornwell was injured, but not enough to deter further exploration.  Not two far from that, they found a set of four hobgoblins (which are really big lanky Goblins) laughing about forcing several of their smaller brethren to look for some special skull.  Feeling they could gain no more information by listening, Slick entered with two jars of flaming oil.  "Hello fuckers."  They dispatched the Hobgoblins without a single injury.

One one their leader they found a fancy piece of jewelery, a gold necklace with opals laid in it, and a sword which they believe to be magical because I described it.  Good use of logic.  We called it a night, and after I divvied up experience they decided that it's time to "downsize the company."  The hirelings have been taking too much of the xp for their liking, and having been dying as much as they should.

All in all a fun session.  I had meant to describe the dungeon as constantly groaning and creeking, but I'll just remember to do it next time.  I added quite a bit to level one after last session, and I want there to be an in game way they can detect this.  Those of them who don't read my blog will just find it creepy.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Factions in the Dark Country

Much like Scott, I've been thinking about the combination of wargames and Roleplaying games quite a bit recently.  There are a number of reasons for this, but the main ones are that I'm a bit of an armchair general and I'm rather curious to see what kinds of armies I can come up with for Nightwick's World.

Thinking about this has also helped me coalesce my ideas about the Nightwick campaign and the milieu's various movers and shakers.  12 out of the 25 squares on the large map I made are devoted to the Dark Country, so there is some room for armies to move about and battles to be had.

Here are some brief descriptions of the various factions and/or leaders.  These only cover the ones that can be found in the Dark Country parts of the map.  There are other factions to be found in the World, but they won't have a large enough presence in the Dark Country itself to warrant an army list yet.

The Seven Cities  -- The Sword Brothers and the merchants who funded them founded these cities at various points during the attempted conquest of the Dark Country.  They are\ still controlled by various Westerners, but settlement has slowed to a trickle due to the disbanding of the Sword Brothers and losses to the barbarians.  The cities are not unified, but usually band together against their common enemies.  Some cities are ruled by bishops, others by merchant houses, and others by exiled Western nobles.  I would most likely do up one army list, but paint different armies to represent the different cities.  Culturally speaking they are Western European c. 15th century (particularly French and English) sans gunpowder.  Their fantastic troops are probably going to be various clerics and magicians rather than out-and-out monsters.

The Petty Kings  -- Barbarians who lived in the Dark Country before the arrival of the Sword Brothers.  They're who the Brothers wanted to convert.  They aren't the natives, but threw out the natives centuries before the Sword Brothers set up their monasteries so they might as well be.  They're even less unified than the Seven Cities.  Culturally speaking they're Germanic tribesman (think Saxons and Goths not Vikings).  Their fantastic troops will most likely be things such as Giants, giant wolves, and bone witches.

Novgova -- A pseudo-Russian City-State that lies across the mountains.  They hold a key mountain pass to the East and use it to trade with the Petty Kingdoms and the Seven Cities.  They worship the God of Law but their Church is considered heretical by the West.  They're similar to the Rus c. Alexander Nevsky and have some Steppe People allies.   I'm not sure what kind of fantastic troops to give them.

The Mountain King  -- The last Dwarf King who still retains his hold.  His army doesn't move that much from his hall because of constant goblin threat.  Still, he might be persuaded if something was to threaten the place of Law in the Dark Country.  I'll probably have to settle for the typical Norse style Dwarves, but if I can find some that resemble ancient Semitic peoples I'll snap them up in a second.

The White Lady  -- Fairy bitch from hell.  Her army issues forth from the Witch Wood and carts people off to God knows where.  Mostly Orcs but the elite troops are elves and fairies of various types.

Nightwick Abbey -- For Roleplaying purposes, the Abbey is more or less dormant, but I can see wargaming scenarios in which the unquite dead ride to ruin and to slake the blood lust of their demonic masters.  The Sword Brothers are modeled after the Teutonic Knights, so some of those minis painted to be ghostly and blood covered should work.  All of their troops are fantastic (being undead) but some demons and ghosts will help to add to the other-worldlyness.

Thats all I have for now.  Again, that's only the factions that are in the Dark Country itself.  The West will have a number of different kingdoms, and the Desert Lands and the remnants of the old Empire haven't even been touched yet.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Campaign Plans

As my recent post about making a wilderness map should show, I am starting to give a bit more thought to the world outside of Nightwick Abbey and the nearby village. 

I'm also starting to consider how I want to run the campaign outside of the dungeon.  So far both groups that have ventured into the dungeons beneath Nightwick Abbey have spent very little time in town.  This usually consists of buying supplies and hiring hirelings.  I'm fine with this, but such activity can't sustain a campaign for very long.

My current idea is to have the world creep in on them.  Have NPCs make themselves known as they hear about the party's adventures.  Present mysteries within the dungeon that can only be solved by talking to people in the village. That sort of thing.

If you play in my campaign stop reading now.

Ultimately I'm going to stick to the Basic/Expert divide and allow them to spend their first three levels mostly in the dungeon.  I'm going to have the entrance to the fourth level of Nightwick Abbey sealed off with some strange, magical sigils.  The party will have to travel to a city with a library or some similar thing in order to figure out how to open them.  This will, I hope, cause them to interact with the world outside the dungeon but still keep the dungeon as the focus of the game.

Eventually I hope to get into the Companion rules for BECMI D&D and let them build their strongholds and manage them and what not, but that is a long way off.

Nightwick Abbey is the focus of the campaign, but it is a tent pole and what use is a tent pole without a tent?

Post 100


A lot has changed since I started this blog roughly three months ago.  Well, maybe not that much, but I have a group now and I'm running a game for the first time in months.  That's something.

Anyway, I just wanted to thank those of you who have followed me this far.  I've decided to give you a small gift.  It's a Labyrinth Lord class I developed for a campaign where I replaced all of the standard demihuman classes with weird equivalents.  I've taken some liberties with the source material.

Requirements: STR 9 CON 9
Prime Requisite: DEX and CON
Hit Dice: d10
Maximum Level: 8
Saves: As Dwarf
Attack Table: As Fighter

Ghul's are strange humanoids who live in tribes in the colder reaches of the world.  Some, but not all, enjoy the taste of human flesh and conduct raids on human settlements to obtain it.  Players are encouraged not to play this sort.  Others hire themselves out as mercenaries in human lands, and their skill in combat is legendary.

They have transparent skin and appear to be skeletons with a strange membrane around them.  This makes them quite difficult to detect.  In darkness they have a 5 in 6 chance of being undiscovered even while moving.  In other settings this is reduced to a 2 in 6 chance and to do so they must remain completely still.

Since they wish to take advantage of this, Ghul's are not trained to use any sort of armor.  Such armor would cause their body to be more visible.  They can, however, use shields and any weapon they can get their hands on.  Ghul's have the ability to regenerate injured tissue.  They regain 1 hit point per turn unless the injury was caused by fire.

Ghul's must have a 13 in one of their prime requisites to get a +5% experience bonus and 13 in both to receive a +10% bonus.

Reaching 8th Level: At 8th level a Ghul founds a tribe.  This attracts a large number of other Ghuls to them, and they look to him or her as a chief.  This tribe is most likely nomadic and will not be supported by a stronghold or other permanent structure.

Advancement Table

Campaign Handout

Here is my feeble attempt at a manageable campaign handout for my current players.  I've been having a bit of trouble getting this sort of information to them and I hope this will rectify that problem.  It's based on Jeff Rient's handout for his World of Cinder campaign.

If there is something I could slim down, let me know.  Also, if there is something that grabs you about the entries I've put up so far that didn't make it on the list tell me and I'll add it.

Top Ten Things You Need to Know About the Dark Country

A Campaign Dungeon: Nightwick Abbey is as big as you want it to be.  By that I mean if you keep going down I’ll keep designing levels.  It’s hypothetically infinite in size and can serve as the focus of a whole campaign if you want it to.

The Sword Brothers: The builders of the abbey were a group of holy men tasked with converting the surrounding countryside.  They decided it would be more fun to kill everyone who lived there and worship the devil.  The Church didn’t like that so it sent an army and managed to destroy the order.  Still, some remnants of the past show up now and again, and the unquiet dead stir beneath the hills of the Dark Country.

Life on the Frontier:  The barons and bishops of the West have tried to conquer the Dark Country for almost 200 years.  They’ve built many cities and have a military presence here, but the land is not theirs.  Barbarians and monsters teem in the wilderness and they will not give up the land easily.  Since the destruction of the Sword Brothers, settlement has slowed to a trickle.  Still, this is a place where someone can make their mark.  Or die horribly.  That’s always an option.

That’s not what Orcs look like!:  Most monsters commonly found in D&D are also found in the Dark Country.  Some cosmetic and substantive changes have been made to many of these in order to set a tone for the campaign.  For example, Orcs are half-man half-animal monstrosities created by evil wizards and demons to be their servants.  The players will have to discover the differences on their own.

Dwarves, Changelings, Froglings, and Gnomes: This campaign will use race as class except as noted below.  Dwarves are pretty much what you’d expect, if a bit more melancholy.  Changelings replace Elves.  They’re humans who a bunch of fairies messed with when they were children.  Now they  have magical powers.  Froglings are drunken Dutch Frogs who are really good at brewing beer.  Gnomes live in hollowed out tree stumps, small hillocks, or big mushrooms.  Wizards like to capture them so they can eat them or turn them into gold or something.

You've Unlocked Dwarf Runesmith: If you can find and befriend a community of Dwarves, Froglings, or Gnomes that the DM feels is large enough, you can now make characters who are of specialized race based classes.  These are things like Dwarf priests or Frogling fighters, but with a bit more flavor.  

Where do they go to the bathroom?:  Some dungeons – particularly Nightwick Abbey – distort space and time and don’t do a very good job at obeying the laws of physics.  Monsters leak out of walls.  Doors appear out of nowhere.  Strange pools can teleport you 1,000 miles away. You get the idea.

Three Alignments, Three Religions:  There is one religion for each alignment in the Dark Country.  Lawful characters worship the God of Law, who is essentially the Christian God with the serial numbers filed off.  His church resembles medieval Christianity with weirder saints and less Jesus.  Neutral characters are either agnostic or pagan.  Pagans don’t so much worship their gods as appease them.  I’m too lazy to come up with a pagan pantheon, so do it yourself.  The only guideline I have is that they’re generally associated with nature and sinister.  Evil characters are demon worshipers or deluded souls who don’t realize they’re demon worshipers.  Demons have horns and goat legs, but may come in odder shapes.

I’m a DM not an author: The players can do most anything they want within the confines of the world.  The focus of the game is supposed to be on Nightwick Abbey, but that shouldn’t prevent the players from striking out into the world.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Making a Dark Country Wilderness Map

I spent most of today trying to work up maps for my Nightwick Campaign.  I will discuss in a future post why I have only started to do so recently.  The short version is that the characters aren't level 4 yet, and I'm following the Basic/Expert model of waiting until that level to introduce wilderness adventures.

Still, I like making maps and the bug bit me this morning.  I followed a mixture of Rob Conley's advice and the Welsh Piper's hex-based system.  First I made a Hexographer file roughly the size of the Welsh Piper's continent scale map.  I added some extra lines to it so that it would fit my purposes and then set about to find a  suitable model for my map.

I mentioned before that I wanted to make the Dark Country map resemble Romania.  In order to obscure its origins, I tried to find a map of some future continental alignment and extrapolate where Romania would have ended up from one of those.  Most of these were unsuitable, but a Google image search for "future Earth maps" located this:

Click to Enlarge

It appears to be a map of Europe after a doomsday level of Global Warming.  I'm not entirely sure.  Anyway, it has a nice inland sea next to far-off Transylvania, so I decided to nab it.  One thing I was not previously aware of is how big Romania is.  Luckily I needed more room for various barbarian kingdoms and merchant controlled cities, so it should be fine.

I guesstimated how much of it would fill the continent-scaled Welsh Piper map and filled it in.    First I filled in the sea portions, then I added a rough estimate of where the various mountain ranges should go, and finally I added in rivers.  The result was this:

Click to Enlarge

Next I picked an appropriate section.  I decided to map the are where several rivers converge since I figured it would be heavily contested.  I followed Rob Conley's suggestion of filling in the mountains and rivers first, but after that I basically used Welsh Piper's system.  Here is the result:

Click to Enlarge

The last thing I did was blow up the hex I wanted to put the Abbey in.  No player character had been outside three hexes, so I made sure to keep them the same as the original map.  I then plopped Nightwick Abbey down with its accompanying village.

Click to Enlarge

I have yet to stock anything else, but I think this is a good place to start.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Froglings for Labyrinth Lord

Requirments: DEX 12 CON 9
Prime Requisite: DEX and CHA
Hit Dice: d6
Maximum Level : 9
Saves: As Dwarf
Attack Table: As Fighter

Froglings are frog-like humanoids from the distant county of Hopland.  They are no more than 4' tall, but their weight varies wildly.  Their skin coloration also varies, but most have green or dark brown skin.  They are excellent brewers and craftsfrogs.  Froglings are primarily found in the West or the Dark Country in mercantile roles.  They may wear any armor, though some may have to be specially adapted to fit their squat frame, but may only use one handed weapons.

Due to the dangers of their swampy home, Froglings are always on the lookout for danger.  Froglings may roll an extra die in addition to the Party roll for surprise.  The Frogling then gets the better of the two results.  They also have a 50% (1-3 on 1d6) chance of finding food in a marshy, swampy, or forested environment.  If they do so, the Labyrinth Lord must roll another d6.  If the result is a 6, the food is poisonous to all but the Frogling.  The Frogling should not be aware of this.

Froglings are also adapt climbers.  They gain the Climb Sheer Surfaces ability as though they were a Thief of the same level.  (If the alternate Common Tasks system from Lamentations of the Flame Princess is being used, this translates into a 1-3 on a 1d6 chance to climb regularly, or a 1-2 on a 1d6 to climb a sheer surface).

Froglings may hop up to 30' horizontally and 15' vertically.  They do not take any damage from falls less than 40', which they treat as 10' for damage purposes.

Reaching 9th Level: At 9th Level a Frogling can establish a Merchant House.  This must be done in a major city or a community that receives a large amount of traffic from various traders.  This Merchant House will attract both Froglings and Human Man-at-Arms to the Frogling's service.  The Frogling will act as the Guildmaster for the Merchant House.

Froglings may swim as fast as they can walk unless encumbered.  They need less oxygen than other characters while swimming.  The effects of this must be determined by the individual Labyrinth Lord.

Advancement Table

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Advice Sought (Again)

I need a handy-dandy one word term for the followers of the God of Law.  Right now I have pagans and... monotheists?  I don't want to use Christian, but I need a term like that.


Great Geomorph Mapper

If you read this blog, you've probably already seen this, but I thought it was so good I would bump it anyway.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Nightwick Abbey Session 2

I'll be brief since, once again, our would be heroes retraced much of what the original party had done.

This time we had:
Slick -- A pagan Thief
Keelyn -- A pagan Changeling
Cornwell -- A non-committal Magic-User
Alma -- My wife's character Cleric from the Hattiesburg game.  The general consensus among the players was that she could keep the character so that we could get to gaming faster.

The party hired a few more hangers on, putting them up to four men at arms and one linkboy, then headed off once again to the ruins.  Once there, they found that a number of squat figures (goblins) were rooting about the ruins of the church itself.  The Changeling and the Cleric attempted to parley.  Just before negotiations broke down, Keelyn was able to make the Goblins realize they were out numbered, and the creatures scampered off into the woods.

They looked a bit around the torture chamber they had to retreat from last time, paying little attention to the room that had perplexed them in their initial descent.  They rather methodically checked the contents of the cells, and then perused other avenues of exploration.  They eventually found themselves in the room with the altar and the deer headed Orcs.  These the slew with a well slung sleep spell.  Unfortunately, Slick and Cornwell had taken some damage, and Clodivec the linkboy met his gruesome end before the first round was over.

They debated whether they should return to town or continue exploring.  They came up with an odd compromise that worked splendidly but could have gotten them killed.  Alma cast Cure Light Wounds on Slick who then elected to go exploring more or less on his own.  Alma and one of her men at arms followed a good distance behind, but for the most part he was alone.  The rest of the party stayed in the room and examined the altar.

Slick explored very intelligently.  He found where several passages, a number of doors, and what appeared to be a crypt.  He fell into a pit trap and decided it was time to turn back.  When they regrouped with the rest of the party they were attacked by several giant spiders.  Flaming oil caused these villainous arachnids to meet their end, and the party went back to the surface.  There, the sold most of the orcs equipment and rearmed themselves with oil and spears.

The second visit was a tad shorter since we had to wrap up the session around 10:00.  They found the room with the painting zombies, and Alma turned them (making the third time if we include the Hattiesburg game).  They decided not to explore much beyond that for fear that they would be jumped by more.

Instead the went down a corridor that led to a room with freshly dead bodies in it.  These bodies were obviously killed by violence, and were dressed in the livery of the Sword Brothers.  Even so, they looked as they they died within the last few minutes.  Slick stripped the bodies, but once their possessions left the room they decayed and crumbled to the point of uselessness.

That's where the session ended.

I haven't had to do any planning for the past 3 times I've run the dungeon.  That's a rather nice feeling.  I need to start involving them more in town and roleplaying NPCs a bit, but right now I think we're fine.

I may have a post later about how actual play has changed the tone of the dungeon and general setting.

If you guys still find these interesting let me know, otherwise I'll only post them when they have some direct effect on my gaming philosophy.

Sunday, December 5, 2010


Gnomes are woodland sprites that can be found throughout the World if one knows where to look.  Few do.  Though they have much in common with the various fairies and elves that lair in the dark places of the world, Gnomes are much less hostile to humankind.  In fact, it would seem that Gnomes have much more to fear from Humans than Humans do from Gnomes.

Gnomes live in small (both in population and size) villages in fey haunted forests.  They often make their homes inside of various natural features such as trees, rocks, hillocks, or extremely large mushrooms.  Here they busy themselves with their strange industries.

No one has ever seen evidence of a Gnome farm though some have witnessed them gathering various mushrooms, berries, and nuts.  Instead they spend their days making items no one ever seems to use.  They make shoes too large for Gnomeish feet and in too plentiful numbers for their village.  Some make toys, though there are no Gnomeish children. They make bizarre effigies of themselves out of stone.  They often leave these near areas inhabited by humans in order to frighten them.  This rarely works.

Few have any ideas on how Gnomes reproduce, but some scholars are keen to guess.  A popular theory is that they spring out of the rocks and mushrooms and hillocks that make their houses.  The empty area left by their birth is then where they make their homes.

Though the practice is rare, some Humans find that Gnome flesh is quite delicious.  Individuals who have tasted it yearn for it always, and wander the forest in vain for these creatures.  Sorcerers also have reasons to look for Gnomes, as their various body parts are often ingredients in arcane rituals.

Gnomes can occasionally be found in human settlements.  Some are merchants who are too brave or too stupid to pay attention to their neighbor's warnings about humankind.  Others are captives forced to make shoes, toys, and what have you by various cruel overlords.  The life of a Gnome is ugly and short, much like they are.


Gnomes in the Nightwick Campaign are a replacement for Halflings.  They are statistically identical, and some humans may even call Gnomes Halflings, though the Gnomes rarely appreciate this.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Labyrinth Lord House Rules Mk II

Heres a revamped version of my Labyrinth Lord house rules.

  1. 3d6 assign to taste
  2. If combined bonus is not +1 or greater, roll a new set of stats
  3. Max hp at first level
  4. Common abilities: Climb, Search for Traps, Languages, Open Doors, Search, Survival, Sleight of Hand, Stealth, and Tinkering
  5. Race Abilities: Stonecunning, Outdoor Stealth (needs a more halfling/gnomey name), Seceret Doors (needs a more Changelingy name)
  6. Elves renamed Changelings and Halflings renamed Gnomes
  7. Ascending AC -- No armor: 10, Leather: +2, Studded +3, Mail +4, Scale +5, Plate +6, Shield +1
  8. LotFP:WFRPG Encumbrance system, along with removal of weapon and armor restrictions
  9. Magicians need both hands to cast or a staff.
  10. Fighters gain Combat Dominance: Fighters may attack a group of monsters with 1HD or less a number of times equal to their level.
  11. Magicians only gain spells from research or scrolls.
  12. Secret doors and traps can use different die types a la AD&D
These are also designed to work with the Mentzer version of the Basic rules, and it's possible that if I get a copy of the Expert and Companion versions of those rules I'll switch from Labyrinth Lord all together.  Since the characters haven't advanced past three yet, I haven't worked out the Base Attack Bonus tables for the Ascending AC system.

I'm hoping that this version is a bit more clear.

Thursday, December 2, 2010


A post over at the Land of Nod has caused me to think about a setting I started to develop a little over two years ago.  Post-apocalyptic fiction is probably my third favorite subset of genre fiction (after Horror and Fantasy); however, I've only used it as the basis for about four sessions of roleplaying.

Those sessions were all set in my short lived Apocalyptia setting.  The name was shamelessly lifted from Fallout 3, but thats how I do things.  I conceived it as a combination of post-apocalyptic, spaghetti western, and hexcrawling campaign.

Prospectors set out on expeditions into the wilderness to find "ancient" ruins where technology lay waiting to be discovered.  Raiders mounted their 'Orses (scaled creatures that disturbingly resemble and don't resemble horses) and rode out to terrorize the various settlements and take slaves back to their unseen masters.  Mercenaries accompanied ranchers on their long cattle drives, where they would take the Big Pigs (exactly what it sounds like) from settlement to settlement.

One thing I changed from the normal post-apocalyptic setup was that this setting was not a desert.  Well, I suppose it was of a sort, but not due to any lack of rain.  Most of the vegetation was either completely dead or rough and poisonous.  The rain was actually the cause of this: whatever caused the end -- I was usually vague on this point -- also caused massive amounts of pollution to enter the water supply.  Rain itself was acidic and horrifying, though a few settlements had makeshift filter systems that allowed them to harness it to grow crops.

Interestingly enough, I decided to set it in Knoxville long before I knew I was moving up here.  Technically it was set between Knoxville and Nashville, which were both in states of terrible disrepair, but never the less it's still set where I'm living now.  The main settlement was Petrol Hill, a small settlement based around an old gas station.  The fuel had long since run dry, but due to clever trading on the part of the original "owner," the settlement was able to acquire other things that made it attractive to possible settlers.

Despite 'Orses and Big Pigs, this was not a zany Gamma World type of setting.  Though few people had them, guns weren't as unheard of as they are in most Gamma World setups, and the general nature of both mutations and adventures was much darker.  I used the BRP yellow book combined with some charts on movement rates and provisions I cooked up the few times I ran it.

I only ran it twice, each time for two sessions.  The first was a murder mystery set in Petrol Hill that the players never solved.  In the second, I converted the lay of the land and general conventions to the Fallout setting and had the players be science oriented vault dwellers stepping out into the world for the first time.  What they found was rough justice and cattle rustlers.

The ultimate reason I dropped it was a lack of clarity in the design.  I wanted my gritty, the Road + Once Upon a Time in the West setting but also wanted something with mutants to stalk the ruins of the past.  It became the kind of conceptual nightmare that Scott of Huge Ruined Pile turns into brilliance, and I turn into a quagmire.  I still daydream about it from time to time.

Since it isn't designed for D&D or one of its variants I'm unlikely to post any further material about it unless there is an extreme amount of interest.  The setting is more or less dead, I was just reminded of it.