Wednesday 31 August 2011

Old School Dungeon Encounter Table

I wasn't happy with any of the options for rolling up dungeon monsters. Strictly from desperation, I stocked the first level of my megadungeon with some heavily fudged use of a 3rd edition encounter web gadget, the kind that gives you dragonforged were-undead goblin rangers with the Mighty Cobra Clutch feat.

So over the months, I went ahead and cobbled up one of my own with a more old-school feel, both in source material, and in coming up with too-big-to-fight encounters every now and then. It has my usual table style - roll 2 keep low, d6:d6 rolls - and it manages to stock the lower levels heavily with Varlets & Vermin monsters. Download from the right. Let me know if it doesn't work; once again I've tried the "download from link only" version in the vain hope that Google Docs will actually work.

If you're interested in hacking it, let me know and I can send you a Word copy.

Tuesday 30 August 2011

Hit Points are Player Morale

One more thing left over from my examination of what hit points mean: Players act a lot differently with 30 hit point characters than with 3 hit point ones.

So, in a hit point based gaming system, the HP dictate player morale.

I like to reverse-engineer this fact. Hit points are also character morale. If you play that zero HP or below is a serious physical injury possibly killing you, then any damage prior to that is the wearing down of confidence by near misses and glancing blows. And, as long as you have enough confidence, you just cannot be killed. Welcome to a heroic universe.

This means:
  • Failure to regain HP losses when resting in less than optimal conditions makes sense. So does losing HP for staying in such adverse conditions. Inns where you can't bling out to the tune of X Gold Pieces/Level are just not going to restore your pampered morale!
  • Magical fear can be modeled - and created in players - by a process of slow but nonlethal wearing down of hit points when in the presence of a terrifying creature or area.
  • Clerics don't so much lay on hands most of the time, as restore confidence and will. This might be an argument for same-religion healing bonuses. If going this route there also needs to be a way they can heal serious injuries.
  • Zero hit points might be "unconscious" but might also be "whipped and weary."
  • Healing surges make total sense!!!! (Okay, forget I said that) How about ... bards can cast area effect cure spells?

Monday 29 August 2011

How to Rule the Fantastic?

One legitimate question that arises from yesterday's post - as some of my commenters professed their love for systems and worlds in which fantasy is treated in a predictable, rule-driven way - is ...

Isn't the whole enterprise of fantasy gaming about applying rules to a fantastic universe?

Followed immediately by ...

How can people who love the fantastic rather than prosaic find happiness in a rules system?

I don't have a comprehensive answer right now but here are a few tidbits that tend to push rules to the "fantastic" rather than "prosaic" side.

  • In 1st edition AD&D, the artifact descriptions with their powers intentionally left blank and to be filled in.
  • Any system that replaces mechanistic magic with animistic magic ... where social interactions with magical entities replace mere point-and-fire. Stormbringer's demons, Legend of the Five Rings' elemental kami, and Goodman's Dungeon Crawl Classics with its sorcerous patrons all come to mind.
  • The Birthright idea to have mythological monsters like the Chimera or Medusa be hugely powerful one-offs, as in actual Greek mythology, rather than whole species (let alone with an "ecology.")
Any others out there?

Sunday 28 August 2011

The Light Fantastic ... and Eight Other Fantasy Esthetics

Recently I was debating over whether or not to emphasize mundane abilities for wizards, finally making the call against. Then a number of other things blipped across my mental radar. Doing research on the history of D&D encumbrance rules, I flicked open the 2nd Edition Players' handbook for the first time in ages, marvelling at the mundane exactitude of its encumbrance rules and equipment lists. Zak had a long evisceration of a 4th Ed. module with special attention to the muddy art style. Then back to 2nd edition, trying to figure out what exactly galled me about the majority of the art pieces, and why that gall coalesced around the Elmore frontispiece ...

Yeehaw! All 7 feet of it!
Okay, one thing is that it's prosaic. There's actually some sly humor here if you look at it right. The adventurers are cast as a modern-day group of deer hunters or marlin fishers posing with their big prize. They've strung the dragon up - why, exactly? Who's taking the photo? It's a witty anachronism, but one that drags us away from the fantastic nature of dragons, into the realm of weekend warriors and twelve-point bucks.

The other thing that didn't match my gaming esthetic was the lightness of the piece. Not in terms of humor - humor can be dark, too. Rather, what I mean these are clearly a bunch of characters, blessed with 4d6-drop-lowest stats and maximum hit points at creation, who have just ganked what can only be a hatchling green dragon*. For this mighty feat the DM has seen fit to award a shoebox-sized treasure hoard. This piece conveys the exact opposite of "dangerous." The exact opposite of squaring off against a 30 foot high efreeti. The only sign that the party has faced danger are three little claw marks on the trouser leg of the hulking chainmailed fighter.

Call one axis, then, "light/dark". It's defined by danger - in a game system's mechanics and in the game's art. But what's the other axis? Going back to the first gripe, it's the fantastic versus prosaic. This is a hard distinction to define, especially in a genre where everything technically counts as fantastic. Let me throw out some examples that do it for me. In a prosaic fantasy world:
  • The plot is motivated by material concerns, like trade routes or dynastic politics. 
  • Full encumbrance rules are in effect.
  • Magic may be rare or common, but it is normalized and understood, more like a science than an art.
  • Character classes have "mundane" skills to go alongside their outstanding abilities.
  • The equipment list is long and comprehensive. It illustrates the importance of using and managing material resources.
  • The game system works like a textbook, with rules for every conceivable situation no matter how mundane. Halfway to this is the "almanac" apprach taken by first edition AD&D, where various micro-systems are sprinkled throughout as examples for DMs to improvise other material (and the first 10 years of Dragon magazine are packed with just this kind of improvised material).

The full esthetic alignment grid appears below; with "Tough" being in between light and dark (an environment that is difficult and dangerous, but ultimately surmountable through sheer force of will) and "Worlds Collide" being a commonly seen situation where prosaic characters are thrust into a fantastic universe. On it I've distributed a number of game systems and settings according to my overall sense of where they fall.

A couple of observations from this:

1. It's easy now to see why 2nd edition D&D was the way it was. TSR's mass-marketing of D&D, especially the kiddie market, required a diagonal flight from the Weird; a renunciation of the devils (and demons) and all their works. First to go were the BIG RED DEVILS on the core rulebook covers, then the comfy esthetic of 2nd edition followed suit in a big way. An important thing to realize is they didn't actually succeed in making D&D more attractive to kids, who always have reveled in stories, films, and comics full of blood, gore and evil. But they made it more attractive to parents. This is why I liked 2nd edition AD&D when it came out in my early twenties. I was trying hard to be a Grown-Up; the Light Prosaic, with its sober rules and materialistic detail, fit the bill.

2. I can't for the life of me fit 4th edition in here. There may be some kind of disconnection between its visual esthetics and its actual gameplay, though.

3. My current game is in the "Tough/Worlds Collide" sector, edging to Dark. What's your favored mode?

* Yeah, I know, a hatchling green dragon by the Monstrous Compendium has 7 Hit Dice despite being at most 5' long in the body. But that doesn't look like a 7HD monster.

Thursday 25 August 2011

Cleanup on One Page Spells

I guess I should also summarize my commenters' opinions on the higher spell levels, even though they're not going to get the one-page treatment (maybe Advanced One Page Rules will handle them):

Level 4: Polymorph is a big hit, with the suggestion that Self and Other applications be combined into one super-versatile spell. Charm Monster and Dimension Door were the other ones that got multiple votes.

Level 5: Teleport was unanimously chosen, and Animate Dead got multiple votes. I'm not super big on any of the alternatives - Conjure Elemental seems to outclass Animate Dead, although it might be a good substitution if I give necromancy exclusively to evil clerics. Cloudkill, Contact Other Plane, and Transmute Rock to Mud ... The spells get less iconic as the levels rise.

Level 6: As I've said before, this is the last level I'll seriously consider. Stone to Flesh and its reversal were unanimously chosen. Geas was also popular (even if I consider it more of an NPC spell). The rest were singletons, showing the fraying of consensus at these high levels that characters rarely reach.

Oh, and here are the 6 more low level spells I mentioned last time. Lots of spells at level 1 is a good idea, but after that, my brotha, you have to find your own...

Wednesday 24 August 2011

Don't Lab Me In

My path of thinking up until yesterday ran as follows:

Mr. Wizard
* Several of the classic magic-user spells can be duplicated by more mundane, "scientific" activities like research in a lab, digging in a library, or just straight up buying stuff. Why throw a low-grade damage spell when you can throw a dart? Why cast Mount when you can buy a horse? You can research, replacing Identify and Comprehend Languages; dowse, replacing Detect Magic; throw oil, pour acid, spread grease ...
* So it would make sense that if wizards are to have "at will" skills, they should be mundane skills like research or alchemy, while spells are restricted per day or effectively per encounter.
* Most of these abilities would require some kind of base like a library or laboratory, which the character could borrow from an established wizard at first, and work up to owning their own.
* The skills would automatically succeed in this base, or at least only fail on a very low chance. The wizard could also try to use the skills in the field at a lower chance of success; trying to remember how that ancient script goes, for example.

This would lead to a vision of the low-level magic user as a dart-throwing, horse-buying, half-mundane scholar; a scientist-wizard, as in historical medieval times when the realms of science, magic and medicine were not all that distinct. Very "Forgotten Realms, " Greenwoodian realism, the kind of thing that appealed to me in the fantasy settings of the 90's.

But the more problems I had implementing this, the more I started to kick against the very idea. The One Page idea doesn't have space to mess around. Its character classes need to shine in bold, distinct primary colors, not "realistic" but drab mud-hues.

Put this in your lab and smoke it!
The hell is SCIENCE? You want me to MIX CHEMICALS IN A LAB? Screw that! A wizard does everything by magic. He lights his pipe with his thumb. Has a minor demon do the dishes. Magic upholds her very costuming, in most cases! (see illustration)

And on top of that, your wizard is an adventurer. Can't be tied down to a lab for too long. Even renting out a lab in each new town is a bit too much of a chore. That kind of mundane stuff is for other people to do, and for adventurers to pay for in rich yellow coin looted from a moldering tomb.

So instead of lab abilities, I've decided to add one page of low level spells, and just increase the number of spells available per day. That's coming up next, along with a specific mini-debate about the Identify spell.

Did I make the right call?

Tuesday 23 August 2011

The Real Merit Badges

I hear there's an old school movement to give out merit badges to dungeon masters. Man, I dunno Stuart, I don't think my players are ready for the truth about how I roll.

Unknown, baby
Besides, I dug up all these badges from back in the day when I was gunning for Eagle Scout and a high school Dungeon Master.

Monday 22 August 2011

Stanley Kubrick: Asshat DM

Not much time to update the wizardly stuff, but I did watch a couple of really well-done Youtube videos (part 1, part 2) from a film scholar who shows exactly how the sets of The Shining have a lot of places where things don't connect or make sense: windows and rooms that can't exist, halls that come from nowhere, rooms that can't connect to anything. Interestingly enough, the spark for this analysis came from a first-person shooter level designer who found it impossible to reproduce the sprawling, mazelike Overlook Hotel faithfully in his medium.

Naturally, the explorers of mad archmages' dungeons are well accustomed to these effects being produced by extradimensional spaces, undetectable slopes, imperceptibly rotating and elevating rooms, teleporters, and straight-up Escher physics. A DM can probably get away with at most one of these funhouses over the course of a campaign. After all, mapping is a minor player achievement that gives rewards minute by minute, and it should only be pulled away with calculated cruelty.

All the same, it's a great moment when the party realizes ... hey, wait a minute, it's not the map that's wrong ... it's the dungeon that's wrong.

Lots more on Rob Ager's film analysis website.

Sunday 21 August 2011

Three Spell Monte: Two Pages of Spell Cards

No, not those cards.
Cards have been recognized as a great way to keep track of spells in a fire-and forget system since at least 2nd edition D&D. My insistence in the current campaign that each spell be castable only once a day makes this even easier, with no need for duplicates. Maybe, in fact, I'll work up some spell cards for those rules and my players.

I'm keeping text to 18pt, unlike 3rd ed ...
In the meantime, here are spell cards for the 12 magic spells that are all you need to play the one page starter rules (see here and here). The way these spells are going to work is almost tailor made for cards - or so I realized. You know as many spells as you have written down in your book, which varies with your intelligence and with how many spells you have found during adventuring. You can take a certain number of spells with you each day, ready to cast, depending on your level and intelligence.

When you cast them, you turn them face down; the extra moons and hourglasses are to paste on the back of the card so you can see when they'll be recovered. Spells require either 10 min (hourglass) or a full night (moon) to recover; I've ditched the at-will casting for now, finding it hard to balance. The number at top right is the minimum caster level at which the spell is available. That's it; no such thing as "spell levels", or rather, those equal caster levels.

Here they are shrunken; click for full size:

In the next couple of posts I'll fill in the wizard class with the actual spell rules and with ... Lab Abilities.

Thursday 18 August 2011

Three Spell Salad: Levels 2 and 3

In our quest to strip down the classic spells of D&D to the essentials, we have a new contributor, JD Jarvis, whose picks don't change our 1st level selection smuch but get added in to the next 2 levels.

Invisibility is the clear winner for super wizards everywhere, with 4 out of 6 desert-island spellbook compilers choosing it. Behind it we have a pack of four, each tied at two picks: Web, Levitate, Mirror Image and ESP.

Mirror Image is cool ... but it serves much the same function as Invisibility. Some people would give ESP the heave-ho on the grounds it's a plot spoiler. I just nerf it into Detect Thoughts, and if the being fails a Mind save the caster gets to sample one thought from its stream of consciousness. Levitate and Web, together with Flaming Sphere, are the more physical spell effects that would anchor the Day list if I picked three "Day" (straightforward) and three "Night" (arcane) spells. But with Feather Fall being expanded to Weightlessness, Levitate is too much like that and too much like a certain spell coming up next level. So the final three are:

ESP: Overnight recovery at (caster) level 3
Invisibility: Overnight recovery at level 3
Web: Overnight recovery at level 3

By the way, I'd probably pick Knock/Wizard Lock for the third of the level 2 Night list.

I'm not sure of the wisdom of allowing turn recovery for some of these, but the levels in question are high enough that the "Basic" rules don't have to worry about that.

The level 3 spells ... well, Fireball and Dispel Magic are clearly the A-listers, with all 5 contributors choosing them.  This is where the limitations begin to grate; Fly gets 2 votes but there are some other strong contenders, like Haste, Clairvoyance and Monster Summoning. The Day list would really start to shine here with Fireball, Fly and Haste, while for Night effects, the ability to summon a stronger monster, dispel magic and use clairvoyance would have to do. For now, let's go with:

Fireball: Overnight recovery at level 5
Dispel Magic: Turn recovery at level 5 (with no re-tries to dispel any one effect)
Fly: Overnight recovery at level 5

Next: up some comments on how this approach would fit into a class system, plus spell cards!

Wednesday 17 August 2011

Three Spell Rhumba: Level 1

So ... the 49 Page Rules will be a "Basic D&D" - like product, with rules for player character levels 1-3 but allowing for NPC foes up to level 6. This means I get to focus on only the first three levels.

Four of you weighed in redoubtably on my three-spell challenge: Courtney of Hack & Slash, Changeling Bob, the Rubber Duck and Paul. There was actually quite a bit of consensus, so that I could pick six spells at first level and three at first that had all gathered multiple votes, and very few multiply-endorsed spells were left on the floor. This was as I had suspected; with the classic spell lists and even up through 3rd Edition, some spells clearly stand out as winners.

Here's the first level. You get to pick one each of a spell that takes the whole night to recover, a spell that takes a ten-minute turn to recover, and a spell you can cast at will. At character level 2 a wizard gets to pick another spell. Spells can get easier to recover as you gain levels; I put these power-ups on the even numbered levels because you get new spell levels on the odd-numbered ones.


Charm Person
Night L1
Turn L4
Feather Fall
At Will L1

At Will L1

Magic Missile
Turn L1
At Will L6
Turn L1
At Will L4
Night L1
Turn L6

I like to tweak spells to make them maximally useful. So yes, Light can be cast on someone's eyes, but they get a save to see if it lands on their hair instead, and let's also say you can only have one Light on at any given time. Shield basically creates a disk shaped force field no more than a yard off the ground that can be used to haul treasure, block a door, and thousands of other uses. Feather Fall can make you feather light for six seconds, enough to be hurled by the party strongman up onto that remote ledge.

Well, this is a minimal wizard. But she's guaranteed to get two out of three of the Most Useful Spells at first level, and has the weaker powers compensated by at-will use. It's a way of smoothing out the magic-user power curve by boosting first level powers, while making the higher-level powers not multiply so dramatically.

I'll do levels 2 and 3 next post, and I'm also thinking about splitting the spell lists into, for want of a better word, Day and Night paths. Where, for example, Day = Light, Feather Fall, Shield, Magic Missile, Create Rock, and Grease/Glue ... and Night = Ventriloquism, Unseen Servant, Summon 1 HD Monster, Comprehend Languages, Charm Person and Sleep. That gives a little more choice but doubles the spell list's size.

Monday 15 August 2011

Give Me Three Spells ...

Last summer I expanded on all those color magic spells. This summer I'm considering stripping them down.

What's the thickest part of any D&D edition or clone? Easily the spell listings, followed by the magic item listings. Does it have to be that way? Hell no. Especially not as I gear up for the 49 Page Rules Project  ... an entire clone-like adventure game presented in modular, "one page rules" format that you can rip and plunder for your own games.

After all, we all know what the "staple" spells are at each level, the ones you keep memorizing over and over again. Then there are the "weird" specialist spells like Spider Climb and stuff ... but maybe those could be bought on scrolls, or found as treasure. After all, what you do is just hoard them up anyway.

Imagine there's only 6 spells at 1st level and 3 at each level thereafter.

And picking up a good idea from 4E, that was ridiculously overextended to character classes it shouldn't have reached: you start with one of the two weakest 1st level spells as an at-will power, then one of the next two as a power you need to rest 10 minutes to recover, then one of the two strongest as a power you need to sleep on. At 2nd level you get another 10 minute power. At 3rd you get one of the three 2nd level spells, and at 4th you get another, at 10 minute or overnight levels depending on their strength. And so on.

6 pages. For everything.
Are there other spells out there? Hell yeah. In the hands of nerd wizards with more time to do scholarship than adventure. But they will have to be found. They're in the DM's treasure section, not the players' handbook, which now has a grand total of 24 magic-user spells through 7th level, or 12 spells if you're writing a "Basic" book that only goes up to character level 5. That's just 6 pages, or 3 pages for Basic, at 4 spell descriptions a page.

So, participation time. Pick a magic-user spell level (any edition D&D, really, because I have a suspicion the answers across editions are going to look very much the same).

If it's first level, pick 6 spells. If it's any other level, pick 3. Those would be the only spells any adventuring magic-user had at that level. What would you pick for power and interest value? And are these any different from what players pick in your game, especially if it enforces pre-memorization?

Sunday 14 August 2011

What's Happened To Your Stuff in the Inn?

Kind of old news by now, but while I was away from the blogosphere, my table submitted to the Fight On! / Magician's Manse contest took an Elite Honorable Mention, and is headed for their Big Book of Tables. Its title: What’s Happened To Those Dead Bodies You Left In The Dungeon Yesterday? So if you want to see it, hang tight until the BBoT comes out!

Has anyone done a table dealing with another common "what's happened" situation - leaving goods in a tavern room while you scour the dungeon? I seem to recall one somehow, somewhere, but it's not in the Links to Wisdom. The ransacking of my party's lair by NPCs in the last session, albeit NPCs under the control of two of the players, brought this to mind. So here's my stab:

Roll d% first. The "happening" score is 1 if away up to 6 hours, 2 if away up to 12 hours, 3 if 24 hours, and +2 for each day thereafter (so 10 days is 23). You can also double or triple this number if in a particularly dangerous environment.

If the roll is equal to or lesser than the "happening" score then something may happen. Roll again on this table:

1-5: Your Biggest Fan, Stan: You have attracted an annoying would-be henchman to your doorstep, attracted by tales of your derring do. Negated if you have no reputation in the vicinity.
6-20: Amateur Thief, from outside inn. A light-fingered zero-level civilian passes by your room and can'r resist. Steals anything in view or in an obvious container, as long as it can be concealed in a pouch or tunic. Negated by: lock, watchdog, guard, vigilant innkeeper, concealment.
21-40: Amateur Thief, from inside inn. One of the fellow tenants gets a curious itch. Same as amateur thief, negated by lock, watchdog, guard, concealment, or if the party are the only tenants of the inn.
41-45 Inside Job. One of the employees of the inn has a similar idea. Negated by: lock (if party or innkeeper has key), watchdog, guard, vigilant innkeeper. Will look for concealed items, but not too hard.
46: Real Inside Job. The innkeeper is a crook. He/she schemes to rob the party but will set it up to look like a burglary, or will create a ruse to replace jewels with paste, good coin with counterfeit, magic items with ordinary and so on. This will happen over many inspections of the room, so that it will be difficult to conceal anything - especially with the keeper knowing the obvious hiding spots in his or her own establishment. Will try to get around watch animals or guards by ingratiation and bribery. Negated by: loyal guard, lock (if key is only with party).
47-50: Vandals. Anything from street urchins to wild baboons. They mostly want to destroy things but will run off with any coins that can easily be spent. Negated by: lock, watchdogs, guard, concealment, vigilant innkeeper.
51-60: Professional Thief. Take the maximum of (i) the "size category" of the settlement or road where the inn is located (where 1 is the loneliest village and 10 the hugest metropolis) and (ii) the party's highest level character. If that number or below was rolled on the "ones" die of the d% roll (60=10) the party has attracted a member of the thief class having character level equal to the number rolled. The thief will try climb, sneak, pick locks, disarm traps, drug or distract dogs, search for concealed goods, all at the appropriate skill level. He or she will, if successful, get away with the most portable and valuable of the party's goods. With this and all other thief results, play out the thief's assulat against the defenses.
61: Training Day: A first level apprentice thief backed up by a 11-16th level master. As above, but the master is able to intervene if anything happens to the apprentice.
62: Master Thief: If any member of the party is 5th level or above, an 11-16th level master thief comes calling. Very thorough and discerning in what gets taken away. May pay several visits to prepare the scene, create duplicates of magic items and jewelry, etc.
63: Larcenous Wizard: As 62, but a 3rd or higher level party attracts a 5-10th level magic-user gone rogue who knows all the right spells (spider climb, sleep, knock, you name it ...)
64-69: The Law: Agents of the local law enforcement, Inquisition, mages' guild or what have you demand to search the premises for contraband or black magic. If you locked the place, they bring crowbars and axes. If you have a dog, they'll bring five. Negated by: Being on good terms with local government, having no mysterious artifacts or unpaid taxes.
70: Crooked Law: As above, but a cop who bends the rules to declare your stuff illegal. Negated by: Good terms with local government.
71-77: Enemy Action, Larcenous: If you have any local enemies, they show up to steal stuff from your room (on 1d6, they have a thief on 4-5 and a magic user on 6). They will do a basic search, otherwise acting like a thief from the 51-60 result. Negated by: Not having any enemies.
78-80: Enemy Action, Devious: As above, except they are looking to plant stuff in your room, and then alert the law or other authorities. On an 80 the plan is truly devious and may involve sabotage of equipment or introduction of a malevolent being...
81-84: Enemy Action, Murderous: As 71-77 except they have broken into your place in order to ambush and kill you.
85-86: Mistaken Identity. Roll a d20 and add 64. The agents from that roll on this table are supposed to be targeting the room next door but chose yours by mistake or misdirection instead. Ignore if you are the only tenants of the inn.
87-92: Rodents. They have dug into your room and anything they can gnaw to in order to get to food, will be gnawed. Paper and leather are considered food by these rodents. Negated by: Very posh inn, cat in room.
93: Wererats. First they act like Rodents (above), then they turn into human form and act like thieves (51-60).
94: Wee Folk Tricksters. Leprechauns, brownies, jermlaine, mites, snyads, whatever. They'll go crazy setting up an elaborate practical joke on you, cruel or otherwise. Negated by: City or bigger settlement.
95: Smoke on the Water! The inn burns.
96: Rains and Flood! If your room is on the ground floor or top floor (in a cheap inn with a leaky roof), your goods take water damage.
97: Go Ape! If your room has a window, and you're in a city or metropolis, an escaped menagerie or circus animal enters and makes the place its home.
98: Profuse Apologies: A set of very important individuals (criminal gang if staying at a lowlife inn) has commandeered all rooms in the inn. Not to worry, though, the landlord has gathered all your visible belongings and is holding onto them, and offers a double refund of your night's stay. There is a problem if you have hidden anything in the room though...
99: Keep Out! The inn has been sealed off by the local authorities as a disease quarantine, crime scene, or just because the landlord is in debt. Your goods are under the watchful eye of the city guards for the indefinite future.
00: An Anonymous Gift: Oh, and here's something nice. A sack of gold, a magic item, a basket of fruit and bottle of wine. Just sitting there in your room, or in front of your room if it was secured. Honestly, it's not sabotaged ... not at all ...

Suggestions for additional entries that can be wedged in are welcome!

Saturday 13 August 2011

Trossley: The Inquisitors

Well, it's been a long hiatus for this blog and my campaign. The four of us were all getting set to play last night when disaster struck ... my wife came down with a headache and couldn't join the session.

I really don't like running a campaign with a player absent. None of the well-known solutions are satisfactory in a small party (running the PC as an NPC, rendering her temporarily infirm). Compounding the problem was the long break from the campaign. It would be a struggle to regain the bearings of this increasingly complicated plot even with all four of us around.

And then a crazy idea occurred to me. What would have happened in this run is that the party limps back to town, to find that a long-awaited event has come to pass. This is something I'd planned beforehand, only to see the party take the opportunity to adventure out of town.... the arrival of the Inquisitors of St. Damian and St. Hieracon. The party thought it would be a good idea to send for holy help, way back at the beginning of their adventure with the Dark Mother cultist at the millhouse. The sacred bureaucracy being what it is, it's taken a month or two for the response to come. Since then the players have had regrets ... yes, it's fair to say that the prospect of meeting these dreaded agents of orthodoxy  brings a shudder every time they're brought to mind.

So, two players, two inquisitors ... why not run a one-off game with those NPC's, whom I'd been already forming in my mind as Hildegarde, the heretic-hunting devotee of St. Hieracon, and Radigund, the demon-hunting devotee of St. Damian?

Now picture the left hand one with a war maul and plate armor.

Their levels were duly rolled up (5th level priest, 5th level militant), stats and equipment handed out including an impressive set of manacles, torture tools, and an iron stake loaded onto a patient mule. After receiving a briefing from the Sub-Hierarch of Utherton, who seemed more interested in the heresies and disrespect for the church shown in former years by the Mad Archmage than in the Dark Mother doings ... and having a chat with Joya, the mentor of the party's wizard, who showed exactly the opposite concerns ... the inquisitors were on their way to Trossley.

After taking inventory of the evilly tainted wood, which mostly still sat in the western square, our inquisitors found and interrogated the Busiacquo brother lumberjacks who had found the stand of "elven" trees. Much of the session they were trying to find ways to use their spells to exorcise the evil wood, but progress was slow. Our independent-minded ladies of the church refused lodging in an inn, choosing to take up residence in an empty house ... right next to the main party's house.

Recall that the main party had bought some crude furniture from Lucille the woodworker which turned out to have been made with the suspect wood. In the middle of the night, then, the inquisitors had to get up and contend with six rolling log chairs and an angry animated table. In the combat, a memorable fumble had Hildegarde's two-handed, blessed, illuminated war maul pulverize the head of a civilian who had rushed up to help with an axe. It's not really clear what the aftermath of this will be, but a disturbing postscript is that the main stockpile of logs had also rolled and banged around in the night.

This was a great setup for some memorable NPC's, and a good way to ease back into the plot, focusing on just one part of it. The players showed verve and class inhabiting their potential adversaries, making sure to impound everything they found in the main PC's home after the furniture had been smashed to splinters ... even to the point of destroying the hard-earned bedding made from the Mad Archmage's canvas tents. For being good sports and playing the Inquisition to the hilt, the two players' main PC's each earned 100 experience points.

Having players take a turn as higher-level NPCs is definitely not for every day or every campaign, but I judged it was what the campaign needed yesterday and it turned out to be the right call.