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...