Friday, September 20, 2013

Megadungeon Bindings!

When I used to game all the time, most of my GMing took place in Waterdeep and Undermountain in the forgotten Realms.  In order to keep everything organized I used a huge zip up 3 ring binder like this one on Amazon.

I placed the sourcebook for Undermountain and for Waterdeep loosely in there, held in by the zipper.   I also had a 3 ring binder with clean tear-out pages, for in game notes, keeping track of NPC hp and status during battles, and writing notes on rooms and traps, and ideas about Gates, etc...

Then I had color coded folders.  One for water deep maps, for water deep sewers maps and other adventuring locales nearby Waterdeep.  One for Undermountain maps, one for traps, one for new monsters, and one for treasures, miscellany, and Gonzo stuff that didn't fit into anything else.

I also tucked a tube of dice into the binder.  It was the ONLY thing I needed to run all my games.  At the time, I had the entire contents of the 2nd edition AD&D manuals in my head.  I didn't need statistics for the normal monsters, and all the strange ones were in the binder.  My players typically brought 1-2 players handbooks, and I had a policy at the time of making up all my magic items (not using many of the ones from the Dungeon Masters Guide.  This was the strength of running one system over and over again, if I didn't remember the exact rule or HD of a monster, I made it up on the spot with a ruling and we kept playing.  We had played the same game system for so long, I began to have an intuitive feel for what could be flexed and pushed without "breaking" it by ruining the players fun or making them too powerful.  I'm sure many other long term GM's feel the same way about the system they spent the longest time with.

My players began to make jokes about it, calling it my Blue Binder of Death!  We were playing about 5-6 days of the week, sometimes split into 2 or more groups with a total of 7-8 players rotating in and out.  The players had set up an Archery store in the city, so whoever wasn't there for an adventure, was "tied up with business at the store".   This was the high water mark of gaming for me, and it really was enabled by this system I concocted to allow me to keep ~12 levels of dungeons, a city of >100000 people, and much, much more organized

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Tower of the Necromancer

Few venture west off the Tradeway where the great Delimbiyr river meets the Lizardmarsh.  Bullywug and lizardmen raiders and even gigantic lizard creatures are known to prowl these borderlands.

This is the location where the dark necromancer built his tower for study.  Constructed with undead labor and elemental magics, the four level tower is built atop a natural stone bluff at the edge of a deep pool that leads into the lizard marsh, littered with cat tails and choked with lilies.

To access the front door one must climb the steps carved in the natural stone bluff to where great wooden doors with elegant nickel handles and a great polished ivory knocker await.  It would be difficult to scrabble around the back of the rock face to the back door without sliding down into the marsh waters.  However, there is a backdoor, on this side of the tower, at the end of a short cave in the rock that leads down into the cellars below the tower.  This door leads out to a small landing containing a circle of stones at the edge of the water.

In the evening the bullywugs, and lizardmen bring corpses to the stone circle and are paid in baubles by the Hooded Attendant that can be found there each night [treat the Hooded Attendant as a wight].

The attendant brings the corpses into the cellars where the apprentices of the necromancer treat these bodies with ancient blasphemous rites that prepare them for undeath.  The door is wizard locked, but the attendant can bypass the magic.  There are cages on chains from the cellar ceiling that drop corpses into huge vats of eldritch chemicals used strip the flesh from the bones to create skeletons.  There are also several dissection tables for zombie preparation.  When the necromancer arrives, he calls forth the magic to animate them again.  There are also a couple of cells housing 4 barely clad snake people, held prisoner, but treated well and fed every day.  These snake people bodies hold the minds of 4 individuals from Daggerford (the snake people are currently wearing their skins and infiltrating the town).  They will try to explain this to the PC's if found.

On the first floor, 35'x35', are the reception halls, kitchens, and dining areas. 

The second floor, 20'x20', quarters the apprentices and the hobgoblin garrison of the tower.  The hobgoblins patrol the surrounding area, and walk around the balcony on the second floor that allows them to survey for miles into the marsh and out to the Tradeway and river traffic.  

The third and fourth levels, both 20'x20', are the home of the necromancer.  Some of the necromancers apprentices are allowed on the third floor and hobgoblins may report to the wizard during emergencies, but the fourth floor is off limits to all but the necromancers demonic family.   When the wizard is out of the tower, expect this area to have magical traps.

Map of the tower - I suck at creating electronic maps, perhaps I will add a hand-drawn map sometime soon.

12 skeletons
6 zombies
8 hobgoblins
2 Wizard Apprentices - the "Sisters"  (3rd Level)
The Hooded Attendant

Don't forget:
(4 prisoners)
Magical Traps - only on the 4th floor, the necromancer mostly uses undead for protection

The Sisters:

The sisters are twin women in their late teens.  They are followers of Talona, and sometimes have tea parties throughout the day.  They re-enact a scene where they poisoned their parents at a birthday party to honor the goddess.  Totally insane, loyal to the necromancer, they share twin-telepathy (adjudicate as you will), and typically will say the same things in unison or finish each others sentences.  They typically will try to use charm person followed by paralysis or sleep poisoned food.  If in trouble they will try to use invisibility and flee.  The hobgolbins are terrified of these girls and will do anything they say.

The Hooded Attendant:

Bound to the service of the necromancer through a pact, he waits each night in the circle of stones for bodies.  He will pay for these bodies with trinkets and a few silver or gold pieces (arbitrary amounts).  He is not bound to defend the tower, but may decide to attack the PC's if they mess with him, or try to enter the tower without delivering him a body.  He will moan, "deliver the dead unto me", several times, and if the PC's don't give him a body he may attack.  He will defend himself if attacked.  Treat this creature as a wight.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Daggerford Wilderness Sandbox

After the TPK of the Forgotten Realms, Whitebox, Blades of Daggerford Campaign (which lasted exactly 2 hours, on 1 fateful afternoon), my players decided to make an Elf and a Druid.

Since these characters will be less tied to civilization, I think I'm going to run the beginning of this campaign as a wilderness sandbox based around the home of Elorfindar Floshin, just north of Daggerford.

I'm found this City of Splendors Web Enhancement by Eric Boyd.  In this document he goes into better detail about several nice adventure hooks for use in the Daggerford area.  

So I'm planning to start the elf out as one of the sons of Lord Floshin, and have the druid arrive at the keep for a meeting/assignment.  The Druids of the Misty Forest are combining forces with the remnants of the elves in the area to determine what forces have been mustering evil in the Ardeep forest and Illefarn Mountain Areas.

Ardeep Forest Points of Interest:


To this List I'm adding:

Illefarn Mountain
Laughing Hollow
Lizard Marsh
Bodysnatchers of Daggerford (Yaunti wearing the "skins" of townspeople)
Daggerford Cultists (human demon worshippers working with the Yaunti)
Tower of the Necromancer
Ruin of Dragonspear Castle

At the heart of this sandbox adventure lies the Necromancer, who is currently adventuring in the Ruins of the Dwarven Halls of Illefarn (under Illefarn Adventure).  I've made up a connection between him and the Yaunti - he is using organ transplantation magic to swap Yaunti brains into captured victims from Daggerford.  He will utilizing special vats to prepare undead specimen and hybrid creatures that will haunt his tower.   The necromancer is way too powerful for low level PC's (probably >10th level), but they can probably foil some of his plans without ever meeting him.  His power has been amplified by a artifact given to him by the demonic lords of Dragonspear Castle.

I'm going to be fleshing out some of these locations in my next couple of posts.  I'll try to keep things generic enough to be useful to readers.  That has been my goal since I kicked my blogging back up.  I want to focus a majority of my posts on gaming material for gamers. 

Friday, September 6, 2013

Initial Thoughts on Delving Deeper

I've been interested in Delving Deeper since about 2011, but just finally got my hands on the free pdf's from RPGNOW a few days ago.

After reading these rules, I would definitely try to purchase a boxed set of these rules.  I wanted to do that for Swords and Wizardry Whitebox but missed my chance completely...  I'm busy enough that I'm late to almost every party...

Anyway, it's another take on the original 1974 rules, and while I don't have a copy of these rules, I have read them a couple times.  My buddy has a set in his cedar chest, so I may go pull them out sometime and compare.  Things that caught my eye:

1.  They added in the thief class!  I'd like to see some method for advancing thief skills if you are gong to bring these into the game, but that would be easily added.

2.  The con based survival roll.  I'm pretty sure this was in the original game rules.   I missed it in the S&W white box rules system.  I think I will be adding it as a house rule to my FR game.  I also like to make each raise dead lower a PC's CON score by 1, sort of a raise dead downward spiral.  Only a wish or equivalent magical power can bring back this lost CON.

3.   They brought in some of the Dave Arneson GONZO factor.  Robots, androids, cyborgs... etc...  while this wasn't always my cup of tea, I kinda like the gonzo factor added in some campaigns.  It was why at the end of the Castle Amber adventure I was running under B/X I added in some mutant albino orcs, and their leader was carrying a Winchester 30/30 rifle.  Hey, they were stuck in a pocket dimension  Steven Amber created, so i threw in all sorts of stuff from lots of different genres as if this pocket dimension was "collecting" things from many different realities.

4.  Love the spell lists, the descriptions, and how they organized the spells Cleric Level 1 all on 1 page, then Level 2, all on one page.  Finding spells would be easier with this edition, saving time.  Characters could even print out the pages with the spells they can cast, so we don't have to search around.

Things I didn't like:

1.  I don't really like the 1d6 for all weapons approach,  I like some variation between weapons.  I understand that D&D combat is extremely abstract and not supposed to be a simulation extactly, but I think this is more of a holdover from Chainmail (although I've only read through those rules once or twice in my teens, so my memory of that isn't perfect).  I actually like the BX weapons tables, just enough weapon variation in damage for me.

2.  All movements are listed in inches?  What the heck does that mean?  Maybe they are assuming you will use mini's or maybe you are supposed to reference chainmail?

3.  Very little around combat times, how long is a round?   Rules for hex based movement are pretty sketchy.

I read through VERY quickly, so maybe all this stuff was in there.  I also get that they were trying to cling as much as possible to the original edition.  Everything I didn't like about these rules are quickly fixed.

In summary, a lot to love, leaving me with some things to think about.  What would my D&D mine look like?

Over the last 4 years I've gone back and played almost all the editions of D&D that were made.  I've played:  ODD, BX D&D (with stuff from rules Cyclopedia added in), 2nd edition AD&D (with stuff from 1e added in), 3rd edition, and finally Castles and Crusades.

Looking back through these different games I think I'm finding a trend:  I like lots of options for PC's added in, but I like shorter combat times (which mostly means lower HP).  I also like lower emphasis on stat bonuses from S&W/ODD vs. the BX, 2nd and 3rd edition, which have larger +/- based on stats.  I don't like skills, but I do like more abilities for characters as they progress through levels, so leveling up is more than another HD.

Ohhh boy, challenge accepted, its time to write up my own D&D mine!

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Can you run a game w/ Tolkein Inspired Magic (and have fun?)

This post comes from reading these articles here, here, and here.

Basically in the world of Tolkien, magic is part of the world and was involved in its creation.  As the world became more "concrete" its ability to act in ways that don't seem to follow the laws of ordinary physics lessened.  Immortal magical beings: elves, spirits, the semi-angelic "wizzards" and the "gods" can interact with magic fairly easily.  However, these abilities have variable cost, and may take a split second to act, or could require years.  They move at the pace of the "plot" and don't fall nicely into an RPG system.

I've seen several decent attempts over the years to replicate this style of magic, but in each case... the results contain more quantifiable, and direct magic than what you would see in Tolkien's books.  In order to be easily used in an RPG, magic systems are typically quantifiable and contain in little packets of power with discrete costs associated. 

Examples of systems outside this typical stereotype are S. John Ross' Hedge magic system, which might work well in a Tolkien type universe.  Also, looser game systems like Risus or Fudge/FATE might be able to capture the spirit of tolkien magic due to their reliance on language instead of numbers.  I've often thought a game set in Middle Earth or a facsimile of that world could be fun, but I was never sure how to handle the magical elements.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Viking Swords and Dungeon Fantasy

I watched a really cool documentary on the Ulfberht viking swords.  It's on Netflix and I really enjoyed it.  I love watching this modern day smith recreating the methods of forming the blade and thinking about the trade routes from the middle east that brought this advanced alloy to the northern reaches of the world.

I've also picked up GURPS dungeon fantasy adventurers (the first one).  While I just started a campaign using the Swords and Wizardry Ruleset, I think I may pick up the GURPS 4e core books and try running this system for my next fantasy game.  One of my favorite sections of the adventures book was the equipment!  I really like the way you could add "attributes"to weapons ("Dwarven" "Fine", "balanced", mysterious alloys, etc...).   It really allows for great customization of weapons among a group of adventurers.  They also had other great non-magical but unique items for characters to spend loot on.

As a second edition AD&D DM I used to allow for "fine" crafted weapons to offer a +1 to either attack or damage, which could be lost on an attack roll of a 1 until you saw an expert weaponsmith to repair.  One of my players, started a game with a legendary crafted weapon +1 to both attack and damage (non magical) and then over time, converted that to a magical +1 to both, paying for enchantments with found magical items.  He then added some special abilities over time, and kept this singular weapon through the whole game up into the higher levels.

I really liked the idea of non-magical "special" equipment.  I've got to think of using some of this in a DnD game setting.  Maybe using some of it as loot.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Whitebox Snakemen

I love snakemen, serpent people, Yaunti, whatever you want to call them.  Maybe it is because I watched so much GI Joe as a kid.  Here is a workup I did for them for BX about 3 years ago now.  I'm bringing them into my whitebox forgotten realms game as a power group in the marsh area.  My idea involves them figuring out a way to switch minds with regular folks from Daggerford and infiltrate the town...

HD: 2-4
AC: 6[13]
Attacks: Weapon
Special: see below
HDE/XP: 3-9 (300-1100) depends on abilities

Snakemen are the result of the interbreeding of men with serpents during the dawn of mankind. Forced underground by men and elves thousands of years ago they were brought to near extinction. In the dark they prayed to their serpentine god Shurresh (an aspect of Set) and plotted. In recent years they have come to the surface again taking political control of the city of Hlondeth and exerting an above ground presence in the dinosaur infested jungles of Chult. They are also trying to establish control in the dalelands and in the north surging upward from their vast underdark cities.

Most serpent people appear as humanoids with fine scales as skin, and a snake like cast over their faces. They appear dark brown with a greenish purple tint and their eyes are of rust, yellow, or copper. War bands of serpent people typically wear fine chain armor and wield short curved blades and bows. They can see in the dark out 90 feet.

Some bands of serpent people will have either a cleric of Shurresh (1-10th level) or a magic user (1-10th level). Additionally, all serpent people have a 50% chance of having mental abilities. Examples of abilities include a charm like ability to fool humans into believing them to be human (save vs. spell to avoid), or domination/summoning abilities over snakes, or ESP. Serpent people are friendly [friendly as in attempt to control and dominate to their own ends] with other serpent/lizard/draconian monsters such as nagas and kobolds.

It is rumored that the serpent people have spies all across Faerun. Men whisper aside fires at night that the serpent people steal babies, that female serpent women lure men down dark holes with enchanting songs, and that they torture and breed captive men in their dark cities producing more abominations. There are also rumors that in these cities there are many other twisted forms of snake/men abonminations. Some that are nearly all snakes or men with snakes for arms, etc... there is no proof if these rumors are true.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Whitebox Undead, Energy Drain

I've always hated Energy Drain.  Roleplaying as a youth, it ended up stripping our group of resources as we tried to afford Restoration Spells to get our "lost" EXP levels back.  The whole point of D&D is leveling up, and if you can just be hit a couple of times by a wraith and end up at level 1, I think that is a pretty silly mechanic.

The swords and wizardry whitebox rules really made turning undead powerful, so as long as you had a party cleric, it is unlikely that fighting most wraiths or even spectres was going to happen once the cleric gets a few levels under him.  However, I really nurfed the turning rules for my forgotten realms game.

So, I think I'm going to swap the normal level loss energy drain for constitution drain.

Wights: each hit deals 1d6 damage plus 1PT of CON drain.  If CON reaches 0, the character dies and becomes a wight minutes later.  All lost CON returns after 60 minutes.

Wraiths: each hit deals 1d6 damage plus 1PT of CON drain.  If CON reaches 0, the character dies and becomes a wight thrall of the wraith minutes later.  A single lost CON point returns every hour after the battle ends.

Spectre: each hit deals 1d6 damage plus 2PT of CON drain.  If CON reaches 0, the character dies and becomes a spectre thrall.  CON drain from a spectre returns at a rate of 1pt/day, but if drained over half then the character must make a successful CON check vs. their normal CON score or be permanently drained of 1pt of CON.  In this case the touch of the spectre leaves a permanent wound on the soul of the individual.

Vampire:  The bite of a vampire drains 2pts of CON/round.  If the vampire is also biting savagely the creature takes 1d6 damage, although the vampire can bite carefully to keep a charmed individual alive, taking their blood for weeks or years as sustenance. CON drain from a vampire returns at a rate of 1pt/hour, but if drained over half then the character must make a successful CON check vs. their normal CON score or be permanently drained of 1pt of CON.  This permanent CON drain may come with cosmetic changes in the characters appearance (white hair, weight loss, etc...).

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Good TPK?

I couldn't help feeling a bit bad when I killed all my PC's in our last face-to-face game.  We only get to game face-to-face twice a year, so killing them with 6 goblins seemed a bit harsh....

After thinking about it a bit I think it may have been the best way to start out our gaming with the Whitebox system.  The set up for the encounter found them watching goblins pelt some person who was hiding in a thicket of bushes.  Whoever it was passed out from injuries just as they arrived.  The goblins were singing songs and firing arrows down at the victim. 

My PC's were joking that maybe they shouldn't rescue anyone weak enough to be brought low by 6 weak goblins...  then they proceeded to be slaughtered by said goblins.

I think this encounter gave them perspective on the lethality of the system.  They aren't superman, they have no "feats" or superpowers.  They are just an "adventurer" with a bit more skill than the average guy.  I don't think I could have conveyed this to them verbally with the same emphasis that 6 goblins wiping them out did (that typically doesn't happen in newer editions).

We then moved right into making characters to play again.  I noticed a huge difference in how they approached it.  They just rolled 3d6 down the line and started picking class/race based on the stats.  They let the stats speak to them and started making up their descriptions and quick 2 sentence histories based on whim of the dice.  They focused on ranged attacks, stealth over blunt force, talked about choosing an elf to get some spells along with fighting.  Induction into the 0e gaming system by experience.

The good TPK?   Maybe...

Saturday, August 3, 2013

ghosts of dragonspear castle

Man, I just got excited about a D&D product, and then I find out I can't get it...

Keep in mind this is the first D&D product made in the last decade or so that I've cared about (the last thing I purchased was the Greyhawk Gaz which was produced in 2000 - 13 years ago..)

The adventure is called Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle and it is really 4 adventures in 1, for $30.  I heard about it on some forum, and then googled it, looking to buy it, and then found out it can only be purchased if you go to GENCON.  I'm hoping that copies of this adventure end up for sale on Drive Thru RPG or Ebay or something.  It is eerily similar to what I was planning for my next campaign:

My plan - start the PC's out in Daggerford (a place I have NEVER used before in my ~20 years of running the realms), have them adventure in the lizard marsh and the orc infested hills, and then head to either Waterdeep/Undermountain, Dragonspear Castle (which I was planning to flesh out the ruins), or Neverwinter (where I planned for them to get involved in fending off a plague of small dragons).

The description of the Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle, from here:

Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle
Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle is a D&D Next preview and mini-campaign comprised of four thrilling adventures designed to advance characters from 1st level to 10th level. The over 200 page, perfect bound, soft cover book contains everything a Dungeon Master needs to run the adventures, including D&D Next game rules developed during the massive public playtest, monster statistics, spell descriptions, magic item descriptions, and background information on the coastal town of Daggerford, where the campaign is based.
Against the backdrop of the events of the Sundering, brave adventurers must protect the town of Daggerford against an insidious foreign threat while forging alliances, exploring dungeons, and battling monsters. The action moves from the Lizard Marsh to the orc-infested hills, finally culminating in a deadly altercation amid the crumbling ruins of the legendary Dragonspear Castle.

Wow! that is almost exactly what I was thinking.  I have no idea what this "Sundering" thing is, but it is probably like the spellplague and the Time of Troubles, another realms shattering plot monkey.  I would probably ignore the whole thing.

However, I got really excited that I could pick out little pieces of this adventure (convert the stats to S&W Whitebox) and use them for my game.  Maybe just some nice maps of the ruins of Dragonspear Castle!  There really aren't any on the net, so I was thinking I would have to whip something up if my PC's went in that direction.

Anyway, this is a total bummer!  Dear WOTC, I would really like to buy this...

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Forgotten Realms NPC Level Comparison: 1st vs 2nd Ed.

This post follows on my post showing the statistics for the 1st edition AD&D "grey" boxed set.

I finally had time to get out my 2nd edition Forgotten Realms boxed set and type in the data on the NPC's from that edition.  Here is a quick summary of the differences between these two editions:

1st Edition (70 total NPC's):
 Class              Level                  
 Bard   : 2        Min.   : 1.0       
 Cleric : 9        1st Qu.: 6.0    
 Druid  : 3        Median : 7.5 
 Fighter:16      Mean   : 8.8                    
 Ranger : 6      3rd Qu.:11.0                    
 Thief  : 4         Max.   :27.0
 Wizard :30

 2nd Edition (51 total NPC's):
 Class              Level          
 Bard   : 2        Min.   : 2.00         
 Cleric : 5        1st Qu.: 6.50   
 Druid  : 3        Median : 9.00 
 Fighter:12      Mean   :11.12                    
 Ranger : 5      3rd Qu.:14.50                    
 Thief  : 3         Max.   :30.00                    
 Wizard :21   

The list is still dominated by wizards, in fact the overall all split between represented classes is about the same between editions.  There were about 20 less NPC's in the 2nd edition boxed set.  While the level spread is about the same between editions, the mean level increased from ~9th level, to ~11th level.  Mostly, since the same characters were represented in both editions and a bunch of time had passed in Faerun, I'm thinking Ed thought that many of his notable NPC's should have gained a few levels.

Here is a boxplot of the 2nd edition classes by levels:

Here is a comparative histogram between editions:

What I noticed from the histogram, is that they ignored low level PC's when they shrunk the list from 70 down to 51NPC's (probably to save paper).

All in all I don't think the power bloat that occurred in Forgotten Realms material occurred at the publication of the 2nd edition boxed set.  I noticed that the Under Illefarn has NPC's with much higher level that the averages for the 1st edition boxed set so the power bloat probably crept in with the supplementary materials as different writers piled on.  Also, the novels didn't help, and the splat books.  I'm guessing all hell broke loose in 3rd edition.  I mostly kept my head down and ignored all of this, I played in my own version of the realms that stayed away from "notable" NPC's and any character from any of the novels.

I don't own the third edition version of forgotten realms, but it would probably be hard to pin down characters to a certain level and class, since in 3rd edition, there were all sorts of "dual" classing, and "prestige" classes.  I never played 3rd edition D&D so I really don't know.  If somebody had the books and wanted to type up the NPC's for me, I would run this analysis on that set.

All I need is a .csv file with the following format:

Class, Level, Ed
Wizard, 6, 3rd
Fighter, 6, 3rd

and so on...

Friday, July 26, 2013

Whitebox Realms Spells

Here are a couple of forgotten realms spells translated from the FR Adventures book into Whitebox rules from 2nd ed AD&D.  My players will recognize these, and I think it will be a fun nod to prior games.   I've changed a lot of the parameters to shift the spells to the power level of Whitebox D&D.

Range: Touch
Duration: 2 rounds

The magic user touches any bladed weapon, which will immediately glow with a magical blue flame.  This spell gives the weapon +2 to attack for the next 2 rounds (no bonus to damage).  This bonus to attack stacks on top of any normal magical or non-magical bonuses to attack.  Only 2 bladethirst spell can be used on an item at a time, and cannot be made permanent.

Snilloc's Snowball
Range: 100 ft
Duration: Instant

This spell creates a mystical snowball that must be thrown at a target within range or it melts away.  The snowball will strike unerringly, like a magic missile, and does 1d3 damage to normal opponents and 1d6 damage to cold sensitive, fire dwelling, fire using opponents.  This spell requires a bit of ivory to cast, which is consumed during the casting.

Agannazar's Scorcher
Range: 60 ft
Duration: 2 rounds

A jet of flame erupts from the casters hands and blasts out at one target.  These flames deal 1d6 damage each round for two rounds.  The target gets a saving throw vs. spells each round, which reduces the damage to 1pt if succeeded.  In addition, fire resistance can further reduce or avoid the fire damage.  If firing into a crowd or creatures step in the path of the jet of flame, the DM may rule that creatures in the danger zone must make a saving throw or take 1d4 damage.

Undead Mount
Range: 10 yards
Duration: 1 day

Using this spell the caster animates a dead horse or other beast of burden (camel, mule, elephant, deer, moose).  The spell generates a zombie or skeletal mount depending on the condition of the remains.  The spell can create an mount from a collection of different creatures bones.  Regardless of the physical shape of the mount, it has the following characteristics: 1HD hit points, movement of 18, can carry up to 300lbs, and does not attack.  It responds to simple verbal commands, is unintelligent, and is considered a skeleton for turning, magic spells, etc...


Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Whitebox Session 1: Total Party Kill

Well we played our first game of Forgotten Realms using the Swords and Wizardry Whitebox rules last night.  It started with one of my players rolling up his guy because he had lost his character sheet.  It ended with both of them rolling up new characters.

How did we get there?  Is it that we played too late into the night on a week day (when two of three of us needed to go to work?  Was it the crippling bad rolls both of my players had in the 4 rounds of combat?  Was it the 3 natural 20's I rolled (using a double damage rule) which inflicted 10-12 points of damage per strike?

Let me back up a bit and explain the session.  It started well enough.  My players took vows as militia men in the town of Daggerford (I'm vaguely following the outline of the Under Illefarn adventure but I'm not planning to use the dungeon).  We did quite a bit of roleplaying, then the PC's had a call to action and went out to a local Baron Cromm's hold and investigated an attack by lizardmen.  They followed the lizardmen into the swamp, befriended a tribe of lizardmen led by a Shaman "Redeye" found the guilty lizardmen, defeated them and returned to town.  They ended up with some good loot, semi magical healing salve packets from the shaman and a ring of fire resistance.

At this point the tired GM called for an end of session, but my players insisted that we continue on.  An earthquake rocked the town, and they first helped with the clean up and then found out that the river had been polluted.  They left the village following the river up into a wooded region known as "Laughing Hollow".

They found a group of goblins dancing, singing, and shooting arrows at an elderly Elf who was almost completely hidden in a thicket between two trees.  I rolled a random check and the elf passed out due to his injuries (this was one of the factors that led to the total party kill).

The two PC's (2nd level dwarven cleric, and 2nd level fighter) and their 1st level fighter henchman, were all killed in 4 rounds by 6 goblins (none of which had more than 3 HP)...  all due to a volley of arrows.  A roll of 20, 10 damage!!! by the GM dropped their henchman.  The PC's charged in anyway (another factor leading to the TPK).  Another roll of 20 and I took down the dwarven cleric with 12 damage!!!! (I was rolling attacks and damage out in the open, so even if I had wanted to fudge it and make it a 19... I couldn't).

The lone fighter started to retreat but it was too late at this point, I rolled a few attacks on him and got another 20, the damage roll of 10 took him down and ended the adventure.

We ended the night with them rolling up new characters.  They decided on a Ranger and an Elf.  Both players are planing to have missile and melee weapons (I do think they learned something about the brutality of the whitebox rules system last night).  Although both of these players go back ~15-20 years of experience, they have been playing very little in the last decade and most of their gaming was with 3rd edition, in which a pack of 6 goblins are complete fodder.   In the whitebox rules system, any enemy can be lethal with bad rolls stacked against you.

Both the elf and ranger have spells, so they should be pretty well rounded.  I also said to them, spend a little money, get some extra henchman!  Get a party healer, and maybe another archer or a shield bearer...  lets see how next session goes...

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Lady's Coins

Minor holy artifact.  There is no estimate of how many of these coins are currently in circulation about the realms.  In addition, the origin of these coins is a mystery.  From time to time they will be found, typically mixed in with other gold coins.  There may be a single coin, or thousands of these artifacts.  Clerical records suggest that these coins always appear with unique images on them, each time they are found.

A worshiper of Tymora, cleric or lay person, is 100% likely to notice something special about the coin. It will not radiate magic to a normal detect magic, but a cleric of tymora will find that it detects magic, and they will feel that it has a holy essence.  Any worshipper of Tymora who has this coin will be given an image or dream of the coins purpose and how it may be used.  A non devout of Tymora would still notice that the coin bears an unusual marking of unknown origin.

If any character, regardless of their faith, has the coin carried on their person once per gaming session they will be bestowed with a +2 (or +10%) to any roll throughout the day.  Arbitrary instances of better than normal "luck" is a major method by which Tymora proliferates the faith, gaining followers.  These coins circulate the realms, reminding the unbelievers of her power.

However,  worshipers of Tymora who understand the purpose of the coin (granting luck), may choose to use the coin, by grasping it before a chancy moment and activate the power.  This action doesn't interfere with normal actions, but they must have a "free" hand if they want to attack and use activate the coin in the same round.

Each time the coin grants a lucky advantage there is a 1 in 6 chance it will disappear shortly after.  Devotees of the lady understand that others may need the luck of the lady more than they and her blessings must always be spread around.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Swords and Songs

Very early in my roleplaying days, I read the Songs and Swords books by Elaine Cunningham.  Those books really set the mood of Forgotten Realms for me.  I've been re-reading them recently and they are a bit of fresh air.  I've been delving into a lot of modern fantasy that seems to be moving in a very "grim dark" direction lately, with a lot of authors exploring Fantasy Noir and ultra violence.

At times, I don't want my fantasy to be grim dark.  I've always liked forgotten realms because it is a pretty balanced game/novel world.  There is darkness and light, and a sense that while some parts of the realms are beset with turmoil and disaster, there are parts where people could live out good (maybe a bit boring) lives in the dales and villages and keeps.  I've always enjoyed the descriptions of the elves drinking their Elverquist, the amazing Aurora's whole realms catalog with an entire selection of cheese!  It really does give it a sense of place.

Anyway, as I re-read the books, Elaine touches quite a bit on Song Magic.  This was echoed by my reading of descriptions of Illefarn, which is the background for my current game.  I really liked the concept of poet-mages who could create "song path" gates between places in Faerun and portals to other places.

Song magic in D&D never really got a fair shake.  There have been various incarnations of "bards" in AD&D, none of which I've ever really been a fan of.  They typically are given a handful of morale boosting powers, and charming style magic along with mediocre fighting (and/or thieving) ability.  I think that really is just the tip of the iceberg of what could be done.  What about using spellsong to heal, or call forth the elements, or alter time, or create portals?

I'm really thinking about working on a ODD bard with some new abilities, but I'm not sure how to handle them yet.   I think they shouldn't be vancian in nature, but a Bard or Spell Singer shouldn't be able to keep doing all of the different effects over and over continuously...  I'm thinking about some kind of fatigue system if you call forth powerful effects maybe.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Black Wizard White Wizard

I remembered something random from the earliest days of my gaming career.  When I was around 10 or 11, I had only played a few games of D&D at this point and the only gaming books I had read were "The Hobbit", the "Lord of the Rings" and a ton of kids fantasy books. 

Lacking an actual materials (which only one of us in our group owned any D&D books at that point) my buddy and I created our own game/comic book.  I remember we only used d6's and I was the only player and my friend was the DM.  I had two characters: Black Wizard and White Wizard.  

I explored "The Dungeon" and there might have been a "Castle" above the dungeon, where other people lived, but all I remember is little bits from the dungeon itself.  We would play and then the next day my DM, who was a pretty good artist would draw all the adventures.  I think maybe there was a real comic that was really similar that he had based all this on.  

The wizards he drew looked a lot like the one from Final Fantasy at the top, they had really big hats and little beady eyes.  One of them had a staff and the other a wand or rod or something.  The white wizard had control of the wind and could heal; the black wizard could create fire n lightning and might have had other powers.

Anyway, not sure how interesting all this is to anyone else.  When I think about these games/comics, we were just roleplaying, making the rules up, and just having fun with imagination.  When folks get into edition wars, and fights over what is good and bad in rules systems, we should just remember this kind of play from when you are a kid.  Rules don't matter, it is just having fun.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Treading "over" Illefarn

I finally got a chance to update my blog list with the blogs I'm actually reading which was good.  Now onto the whole reason for my post.

I'm using the old Under Illefarn adventure as the seed point for my new campaign.  I think Daggerford is a great starting point for this particular venture into the realms.  I'm going to have to lower the statistics for most of the NPC's - here is a quick approximate go at it:

Duke Daggerford - Fighter 4
Bronwyn - Wizard 3
Sir Llewellyn Long Hand - Fighter 6
Kelson - Fighter 4
Delfen Yellowknife - Wizard 5
Gydion - Wizard 8
Sir Elorfindar - Elf 8
Derval Ironeater - Dwarf 3
Fulbar Hardcheese - Halfling 4
Bando The Lame - Halfling Cleric 3 (Tymora)
Maerovyna - Cleric 5 (Chauntea)
Liam Sunmist - Cleric 2 Lathandar
Baergon Bluesword - Cleric 5 (Tempus)

My plan is to completely scrap the dungeon portion of the module.  Derval's dwarven family are down in the dungeon doing fun things, but I'm not going to invite the players to join in.

Instead I'm going to start the players on a couple of the militia based adventures all the while throwing out some hints about events going on around the surrounding area.  Here are a couple of rumors and threads, I'll work on more over time:

The recent lizardman attacks on surrounding keeps and towns may be spurred on by Yuanti snakemen and Naga from the marsh of Chelimber.  They worship a great snake god in the dark of night.  Are they using demon magic to infiltrate Daggerford?

A plague of small red dragons the size of horses has beset the lands north of waterdeep.  These dragons are obsessively collecting every piece of gold they can take from caravans, but where they take their treasure  and to what end is unknown.

The thieves guild has explosively returned to Waterdeep.  Rumors tell that they have assassinated at least half of the lords of Waterdeep, taken over the dungeons under Mount Waterdeep, and led a prison rebellion freeing most of the prisoners in the city.

Attacks originating from Dragonspear Castle have intensified.  The orcs and goblins are more organized than usual, could these attacks be infernally inspired?

Reports of missing persons abound in the streets of Waterdeep, what group or force could be responsible for these disappearances?

More ideas to follow....

I'd like to try to keep long term plans out of my mind for this game.  I just want to keep "plot" out of this game and just throw rumors and challenges at the players and see what happens.  I was listening to a podcast where the hosts were talking about their "plots" as GM's and I feel like they were really putting their players on the "rails" - I don't want to do that.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Old School Forgotten Realms NPC's

While as power creep expanded out of control in the the Forgotten Realms, the NPC's in the original grey boxed set are actually not that powerful by AD&D standards.

I took down the class and level of all the NPC's listed in the grey boxed set and this is what I came up with:

Summary of Notable NPC's (70 total listed) from the Realms:

     Class           Level    
 Bard   : 2        Min.   : 1.0 
 Cleric : 9        1st Qu.: 6.0 
 Druid  : 3        Median : 7.5 
 Fighter:16      Mean   : 8.8 
 Ranger : 6      3rd Qu.:11.0 
 Thief  : 4         Max.   :27.0 
 Wizard :30

The average NPC is around 8-9 level, the notable NPC list is dominated by Wizards and Fighters!  I lumped paladins in with clerics, so that list is inflated some due to that fact.  Visually you can see how the list is broken out here:

Looking at the overall distribution of Notable NPC levels:

Most of the notable NPC's are between 4-11th level.  This would mean that the majority of folks living in the realms are probably commen "men" or at most 1-2 level fighters.  The people in this list are stand outs. 

In my game I'm not really planning on using any specific NPC's from the books, just as inspiration and guidance for my own version of the realms.  For my current game employing Swords and Wizardry Whitebox I'm going to scale the average NPC level back even further, probably dropping the average level for "Notable" NPC's to around 5th level and removing all the 20+ characters.

Here are the same NPC statistics broken out by class:

One of the things I noticed from this list, is that high level clerics are rare.  This means in order to find somebody to raise dead, you are going to have to travel, and then probably prove your worthiness by gold or deed to obtain the spell (at least until the party cleric can cast the spell).  I also think there should be some kind of permanent penalty for dying so I will probably make each raise dead lower your constitution score by 1 and maybe make the player roll under their Con on a d20 to actually be raised.  That will limit the number of raise dead attempts in any game.  I don't want death to have absolutely no bite.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Ware the Metagamers

I was reading through one of my forgotten realms books, I can't for the life of me remember which one, and Ed Greenwood had written, something like..."I know it seems impossible, but I've heard that adventurers have been known to read!"  He was giving DM's the advice of "change it up" - vary the contents of the adventure, the HD of the creatures, change your traps up, give monsters them a new special ability from time to time without warning... all of these things bring back the feeling of not knowing what is going to happen.  That feeling is much more common when you are new to the game, not a player of 20-30 years.

It made me think about my personal pet peeve against obvious use of metagaming.  My pet peeve is one of the reasons I always hated "Detect Good" "Detect Evil"... I wanted my games to be a little more shades of grey and a little less black and white.  You use wits and role playing to determine who the villain is, not Detect Good/Evil on the entire village!  I banished the "combat machine" ability from my new Swords and Wizardry game because I don't want to tell my players, "yeah, you can't use that ability on Lizard Men, they happen to be 2 HD creatures..."  It takes you right out of the role play environment and into a board game.

Don't get me wrong, some amount of Metagaming is going to happen, it is human nature and might even be good for the game itself.  However, I really don't like setting the game up from the start for an overabundance of it.

So I started thinking about a couple of the creature statistics in this addition of the game, Dragons for example.  In S&W whitebox, dragons are given fixed HP and fixed damage breath weapon.  Well, any seasoned player of a few adventures, or an avid reader, is going to know exactly how many HP a given dragon will have just by how many it dealt when it used its breath weapon.  I can tell you that I will be giving dragons a much more variable HD range, and actually roll the dice to generate HP.  I'll also give them a breath weapon dice pool and roll those too.  We are playing over skype so I'm mostly using an online dice roller anyway, so rolling 10d6 takes just about as long as 1d6.  In fact, maybe soon I should post a custom stat block for dragons up here.  I like adding in things like tail slap attacks, wing attacks, etc...  

While I'm at it, there will be the random firebreathing Bugbear, the random troll that can handle sunlight, but has allergies, etc... The beauty of Swords and Wizardry, is it should allow for more adaptation without "breaking" anything.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Turning Undead in the White Box rules

One of my players made a cleric of Moradin in my Whitebox FR game.  So I was reading the Turn Undead ability.  Woah... no range described, "all creatures of the type are turned" etc... so a single 4th level cleric could turn an entire army of skeletons to dust without a roll...  I'm not sure I like that.

I'm not sure why the saving throw system wasn't used for turning undead (I wonder if there is a historical context for this table that I'm not aware of, dating back to Chainmail...).

If you used the saving throw system, the cleric would use the turn undead ability and then the undead critter would get a saving throw to resist the ability,  Higher Undead/Demons would automatically be harder to turn.  You could give a penalty to the save equal to the clerics level/2 and if the save is missed by 10 the creature immediately turns to dust.  I'd give it a range of 100 ft, so:

Turn Undead (Lawful Cleric Ability)

When using Turn Undead, a lawful cleric channels the might of their god, sending penetrating waves of power toward the undead foe, within 100 ft.  All undead in the range must make a saving throw or flee the cleric, the undead get a penalty to this saving throw equal to the (cleric's level)/2, round down.  If trapped, or otherwise unable to flee, the DM may rule that the undead may attack.  If the saving throw is missed by 10 or more, the undead is destroyed in whatever way the DM describes (turn to dust, explode into buckets of ectoplasm, etc...)

To further limit this powerful ability a DM may rule that it may only be used 1 time per level of the cleric per day.

I think this balances the power of the ability in a way that will work for my game.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Whitebox House Rules Part 6: Char Gen and Adventuring Mods

Stat generation: Roll 4d6 drop lowest in order.  Then switch any two stats.  Human PC’s get to add +1 to any stat.

1st level HP:  roll twice for HP at first level and take the best roll.

Combat Time:  a round is assumed to be approximately 10 seconds.  There are 60 rounds in a turn (10 minutes).  A battle is assumed to last ~ 1turn counting “clean up” and resting.


A character with move 12 can move 120’/turn in a dungeon (moving slow, mapping), they can move 1/3 their normal turn based move in feet per round in combat (40’/round), and 120’/round if running.  This equates to 4ft/second hustle/ walking rate, and 12’/second if running.  The GM will determine overland movement rates depending on road conditions, weather, and the PC move rate.
Missile Weapons:

Due to the shortened combat round, characters with bows can fire at 1/round.  Light crossbows can fire at 1 missle everytwo rounds.  Heavy crossbows can fire 1 missile every three rounds.  Higher level archery fighter specialists have been known to achieve faster rates of fire.


Characters do not die when they reach 0 HP.  Instead they go unconscious at 0HP.  If a character takes a hit sending them to negative HP, they begin losing 1 HP per round.  Characters die when they reach -5HP or -1HP/level whichever is greater.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Whitebox House Rules Part 5: Thieves

I wasn't even sure if I should add this class, I'm still not sure... since I'm allowing fighters to specialize I thought about keeping all the rules behind this class a secret to my players and have a specialized fighter "kit" called the "second story man" or the "bandit" or the "thief".  I was thinking that they could choose to wear light armor, focus on stealth over brawn, without the skill list to go with it.  If I do decide to use an actual Thief class, this is how I would do it:

Thief: humans/half-elves (10th), halflings (8th), dwarf (6th)

Exp, hit dice, and combat abilities as cleric.  Dex of 15 or higher = +5% exp.  Dwarves and halflings suffer a -10% experience penalty (which can be partially off set by high dexterity).

Thieves only wear leather armor or lighter and use light weapons and short bows, and light x-bows.  +1 to saving throws vs. traps.

Back Stab:  if a thief sneaks up on an opponent, they get the normal attack bonus  against an unaware opponent.  If they hit, they gain x2 damage.  At 5th level they get x3 damage and at 8th level x4 damage.

Challenge Resolution System:  handled by rolling 1d6, roll of 6 always fails, all characters (fighters, elves, dwarves, etc… can perform these, but thieves get a better chance)

Normal Class Skill
Thief Starting Skill
Find Traps (secret doors)
Remove Traps
Move Silently/Sneak
Hide in Shadows
Open Locks
Hear Noise
Climb Walls
NA (use equipment)
Pick Pockets

Dwarves automatically get 4/6 chance at finding/removing underground traps.
Elves automatically get 4/6 chance at noticing secret doors.
Halflings automatically get a 4/6 chance at sneak, and hide in shadows.

At each level a thief can improve one skill by a single rank.  The same skill cannot be increased two times in a row.

*The Core concept of using all d6's to resolve thief skills is a combination of earlier posts of mine, here, and here, combined with the "Delver's Delve" article by David Bowman p3 of Fight On Winter issue 2009.  The "normal" class skill is a suggestion of how to resolve the action but I'm planning to think about this.  I've always appreciated the theory behind not having a thief class.  Since none of my players have decided to play a thief yet... I'm keeping this one fluid, and will rely on situational rulings not rules for now...