Thursday 31 March 2011

A to Z April - Introduction and Explanation

Explanation For New Readers Who've Wandered in by Accident

Hi, and welcome to the Vaults of Nagoh. This is where I irregularly post about a game I run using old DnD. You remember the red box with the big dragon on it from back in the 80s? That kind of DnD; not the shiny new stuff Hasbro make.

Yes, people still play old DnD in the second decade of the 21st century. They get paper, pencils and dice, sit down together and talk about the made-up adventures of their pretend elf for hours and hours.

Why do they do it? Some do it because they're mad-eyed hermits who consider any game made after 1990 or so to be decadent lunacy. Others play it because they think old DnD is funk as puck (and a nice break from the porn-starring and high art); or because it allows them to use words like exegesis in polite conversation; or because they are inscrutable alien hiveminds from the future; or for any one of a hundred other reasons. Some few (like yours truly) play old DnD because we're too damn busy (or lazy) to keep up with the hundreds of pages of wordswordswords in the latest shiny newness. We're a broad church like that.

The people who play old DnD have so much fun doing it that some feel the need to write all about it on the electrowubz. In fact there's a whole cottage industry of people who legally make new versions of old DnD so new people can play the game. Some of them charge for books and pdfs. Others give their rules away free (yes, "free" as in "beer"). Why do they do it? Because they love the game so much they want a whole new bunch of people - even ones who weren't born first time around! - to have a chance to play it.

Just Google D&D retro-clone; it'll give you dozens of leads.

A to Z April at the Vaults of Nagoh

The white hair. The madness. The endless screaming. It's all their fault!

This whole thing is entirely the fault of Arlee Bird at Tossing It Out.

Over the next month I (and a bunch of other game bloggers) will be producing A to Z series of posts at a rate of 1/day. Other people have other methods for deciding what their topics are, but the subjects of my precious snowflake opinion-pieces were picked for me by (sexy, stylish) readers of this blog.

A is for "atrophy"
B is for "broth" (dodged a bullet there methinks...)
C is for "curtsey"
D is for "destiny" (Geordie Racer)
E is for "equinox" (Geordie Racer)
F is for "fisticuffs" (Geordie Racer)
G is for "geometry" (Ragnorakk)
H is for "haze" (Ragnorakk)
I is for "immortality" (Ragnorakk)
J is for "Jungian" (Sham, aka Dave)
K is for "kibble" (Sham, aka Dave)
L is for "lopsided" (Sham, aka Dave)
M is for "Maenad" (ckutalik)
N is for "nostalgia" (ckutalik)
O is for "orgasmatron" (ckutalik)
P is for "putrescence" or "pandemonium" (Flynn) or "parallax" (Carter Soles)
Q is for "quarrel" (Stuart)
R is for "ransack" (Stuart)
S is for "silver" (David) or "syzygy" (Erin Palette)
T is for "Thulsa Doom" (David)
U is for "unsettling" (Stuart)
V is for "vermin" (Byron) or "vagabond" (Trey)
W is for "wafting" (Byron) or "were-folk" (Trey)
X is for "xenium" (Byron)
Y is for "yew" (migellito)
Z is for "Zarathustra" (migellito)

Wednesday 30 March 2011

Pretty trumps Utility: Spiky Dice and Bony Cutlery

Oh dear, oh dear.

And I thought the Gamescience D-Total was an invention in search of a role.

Feast your eyes on these little beauties(?):

"Sure, I like the busyness and illegibility of Pathfinder dice sets. But what I'd really want is over-sculpted, likely-to-be-irregular dice reminiscent of bundles of barbed wire. That would really represent me as a gamer."

You can get them here. $28 a set. Also available in metal for anything up to $200 per set if you really want to scratch up your table.

Edit: Also in the "excessively baroque much?" category: skeleton cutlery by Raven Armoury.

Right-hand skeleton: "Peg legs? They are for pussies and part-timers!"

These might actually make for fun treasure/monsters. Something like animated cutlery scaled for giants and made from the screaming skeletons of halflings.

Party: "So, do we give them a decent burial, or sell them as curios?"

Pic Source
Vendor's website.

Tuesday 29 March 2011

Bestiary of the Vaults: Stonebonkers, Corngits and such

Just a couple of creatures from my game. I didn't realise until compiling them into a post quite how 'adversarial GM' they actually are. I am a bad man.


"Oh dear squire. See all the holes in the facade? Looks like a bad infestation of stonebonkers you've got there. The little buggers've wormed their way in good and proper. It'll take specialist squeezeboxjacks and stiltnetters to shift 'em, and they don't come cheap..."

Small, grey-feathered birds similar in appearance to woodpeckers, which famously make their nests in stone. Stonebonkers consume burrowing vermin, and will steal and eat small metal items (coins, buttons, seal rings, keys, etc.) to replace their rapidly-eroding beaks. Aggressive and territorial, stonebonkers are a totem symbol of war for certain tribes of the Wilds. The augurs of these tribes have developed a complex system of psycho-thaumic correspondences known as Stonebonking Mentalism.

Stonebonkers are no smarter than non-magical birds, and can be captured easily enough in nets and snares.  Keeping them caged is another matter however... They are used as a status symbol by master masons of the city states. Having a perch-stave with an ankle-chained stonebonker roosting on it is a mark of personal and professional success, as well as a handy protection against ruffians and yokels. Having a stonebonker with silvery or gold-tinged beak and claws (achieved by feeding them soft, beak-weakening precious metals over an extended period) is either cruelty or showing off.

Stats: Appear in swarms. 1/2 HD, good AC and morale, treat physical armour as 2 points less. Repelled by the sound of accordions.


"That corn sure do got a purdy mouth."

Stocky, staring-eyed fey with more than a passing resemblance to Dwarves. They dwell in drainage ditches and hold farmers to ransom, threatening to blight crops and inflict horrible 'accidents' unless they are paid a tithe of the harvest. Especially fond of hanging around in wheat fields, although they like to infest fields of any grain which turn golden when ripe.

Corngits can be driven off by the presence of a "scaregit", a particularly horrific and old-school type of scarecrow usually made from the remains of an executed criminal.

Zoidergits are a particularly unkempt, rowdy variant that lurks in orchards.
Millgits infest local mills, and use the proverbial dishonesty of millers as cover for their greed.

Stats: Treat as 1HD Brownie 3' or so in height (LLAEC, p107)

"Dough-face, no-face,
Has no mouth or eyes.
There he lurks in the ground
'til the daylight dies

Dough-face, no-face,
Hiding from the light.
Tip-toes into your room
In the middle of the night

Dough-face, no-face,
Creeps up as you dream;
Takes your face and runs away
You can't even scream"
-- children's nursery rhyme
Doughy-faced humanoid night-creepers who do exactly what it says on the tin. Attempt to grapple and overbear humanoid opponents, then shove their blank, mushy faces against their foes to rob them of their features. This takes two rounds of uninterrupted face-glomphing. Save vs. p[olymorph/-aralysis/-etrifaction] or lose your face; full-face helmet gives a +2 bonus to the save.

While face stolen the character is blind, mute and unable to ingest sustenance. Their face is reduced to a featureless palimsest of skin. They can still breath, albeit with some difficulty, and can hear and respond through pantomime.

The stolen face endures on the skull of the facethief for about a month, during which time it either gleefully runs amok in polite society or spends hours obsessing in the mirror (50% chance of either). Killing a facethief will restore the face it wears to the nearest face-stolen person. You get your face back if you're lucky; that of a dead person, hunted fugitive, or member of the opposite sex if not. Whether magic can restore a stolen face is entirely at the GM's option (heal or regenerate *might* work).

Stories of cunning and ancient facethieves who can take your face from afar with no more than a gesture, and who have wormed their way into the highest echelons of human society, are naught but unsubstantiated rumour and scaremongering. Nose-stealers though: they're entirely too real; and the squat little horrors like preying on children best.

Stats: Closet trolls. Fast-moving and stealthy with some form of entangling attack or paralysing touch. Stat as Thoul (ahem) Throghrin

The People That Life Forgot
"They welcome you with broken arms
And wary eyes to stave off harm
And they move around exactly like we do.
They're paranoid, they keep their space;
They live in dreams they can't erase;
They carry ghosts around the place like glue."

-- "The People That Life Forgot", The Wildhearts

No. Enc.: 2-12Alignment: C
Movement: 90'/SpecialArmour Class: 4
Hit Dice: 5
Attacks: 1Damage: 1-8
Save: E5Morale: 6
Hoard Class: ???

Emaciated, demi-dead scavengers dressed in mouldering tatters of once-sumptuous garb. The repetitive tap-tap-tapping of canes precedes them. Generally enervated and incapable of innovation, they are reduced to endlessly repeating rote behaviours, pausing only to rob and kill weaker creatures for what they need.
  • Cowardly - low morale, generally non-hostile
  • Symmetric movement - can elect to move in synchronicity with a selected opponent. However and wherever the opponent moves, the Forgotten does the same maintaining a constant distance between the two creatures.
  • Repelling gaze - save vs. spell or suffer antipathy effect (as the spell, LLAEC)
  • Oneiric - if agitated a Forgotten has a 50% chance of acting as if under the effects of a confusion spell.
  • Haunted by their own semi-departed souls - appearance causes fear (as the spell), attack at range of up to 30 feet from their bodies with a chill touch (ignores physical armour, causes 1d8 damage).
Despite all this weirdness they're not undead. Just rather more than halfway to it.

Pic Sources
Woodpecker, public domain image from
Corngit by Boris Zaborokhin from Monster Brains post on the artist
People That Life Forgot from Project Aon: Lone Wolf gamebooks

Saturday 26 March 2011

Roll a d10 and Blog Puny Human!

Random table of bloggydoitnowness? Sounds like the rumble of a bandwagon to me. tells me to do number 2. (dammit! I was hoping for 10)
"Add something to the wiki, then explain why it was influential enough to you that you added it."
I took the liberty of adding a link to Dave "Sham" Bowman's OD&D Cover-to-Cover posts.

It might not seem directly applicable to a lot of people's games, but I found it a useful exploration of why (often otherwise unexplained) different game mechanics work the way they do in later editions of Classic D&D.

Dave's extended close examination of the original texts is classic Renaissance behaviour in the best sense. Go back to the original sources and re-examine what they actually say (not what received wisdom says they do), then decide if you should do things differently based on your new insights.

I commend this series to the House.

Tuesday 22 March 2011

The Universal Combiner

A simple enough trick I'm going to add into an as yet unexplored section of the Gearworks (level 3 of the Vaults).

Like this, only minus wheels, plus hoodoo

This immense, room-sized mechanism has two input hoppers at one end (each large enough to take something 2' x2' in size), a bunch of Willy Wonka odd-tech pistons, gauges, levers and gears on its body, and a large output hopper at the other.  Simply put any two things in the input hopper, pull the lever and stand well back. The selected objects will be slowly, inexorably drawn into the machine, exiting the output hopper irrevocably fused into one. Whether the new object is usable, and to what end, is entirely dependent upon the whim of the GM and the ingenuity of the players.

The racket of the machine's operation requires a wandering monster check.

Putting a living thing through the machine? I'd say a save vs. death (or perhaps "vs polymorph" is more fitting?) to come out relatively unharmed. Well, apart from their bizarre new appendage and a lasting grudge against the person who pushed them in*... Failed save: they're a mangled wreck of meat and organs.

* What? You thought the sullen-faced winged baby-head gargoyles were just a decorative feature?

Simple enough then. That is until your players get cocky and start dumping things like corpses, henchmen, magic items, the odd magical substances of a fantasy world (solid shadows, reified memory/sorrow/true love, etc.), and/or clever-clogs dichotomous oddnesses (a living being in one hopper; an undead in the other) into the machine. The cleverness and inquiring natures of such players should be rewarded in the customary manner (I believe "worlds of hurt" is the operative phrase).

Of course, if there's a universal combining machine, it stands to (un)reason that somewhere in the Vaults there's also a universal divider/renderer/refiner of some kind...

(I'm certain I've nicked this from someone, but for the life of me I don't know who. Any help with attribution appreciated.)

Pic Source
Victorian thresher from

Wednesday 9 March 2011

Rubblecrawl? Ruincrawl? *crawl, in a dead city.

"Yep. Looks like a massive 'X marks the spot' to me."

Inspired in part by Zak's excellent urbancrawl ideas, here are a few half-formed thoughts on a quick ruined city generator.

[note: This is a work in progress piece. I'll probably be tinkering with it and adding more stuff as it occurs to me]

Draw a flow chart of interesting, lootable places in your city (in the case of my own Ruined City of Nagoh this would include such cheesy soubriqued sites as the Toppled Colossus, the Intermittent Tower, the Electric Eye, the Ruined Palace, the Verdant Ziggurat, the Grand Gate, the Necropolis of Certain and Horrific Death, the Valley of the Wang, etc).

Make each such ‘tourist attraction’ the focal point of its own neighbourhood/ward, then arrange them in kind of a spider-web looking diagram of how everything relates together.  Don't draw out every street or building, because that’s simply not important. Oh, and don’t forget to merrily cut some geographically nearer locations off from easy access, simply because you are a GM and being a difficult bastard is your calling and vocation.  ("You can get there, if you swing past the harpy-infested Throne-Temple of the Triple Goddess.  Can’t go directly, unless you fancy running the gauntlet through the Ghoultracts, then climbing the Sanguine Cliffs into the upper city while the Hivers bombard you with rocks...")

Getting from A to B
Sure, you could just decree that there are vast unobstructed Parisian boulevards between the major attractions, but how dull is that?  Far more fun to make the PCs slog their way through furlongs of devastated, overgrown ruinscape on their way to wherever they’ve decided to Greyhawk first.  Try and get the music from the early scenes of Wall-E gets stuck in their heads...

Make an encounter table of things that could happen on the way to the next major landmark.  Either a simple big table, or a convoluted series of same, as you prefer.  Add trap/trick/terrain hazard stuff like:
  • Looters (not upstanding scholars of the past like our heroes)
  • Wandering monsters
  • Small lairs/shanties
  • Avenues of foreboding statues
  • Fallen buildings blocking the path
  • Overgrown gardens/parks
  • Flooded decorative pools/fountains
  • Massive sinkholes into the sewers/undercity
  • Magical effects gone bad over time
  • Inexplicable Wacky Crap [I like the Wilderlands of High Sorcery tables and/or BTBG’s Random Ruins]

Whether you elect to roll for random events/encounters/complication per turn (as in a dungeon), or per exploration turn (4 hours – after MF), or per hour, or every time the players say a particular word, is entirely your business.

Detours Along the Way
If the party decide to nose around in ruined buildings then use the tables below to work out what the hell they used to be, and if there’s anything entertaining/lucrative still in there.  Roll or pick for Function, Layout and Style, Structural Features, Condition, Contents:

What was this place? Choose, or consult the random building table in your preferred city sourcebook.

Basilica/council law/courts
Hospice/lazar house
Guard post/barracks

Shop, merchant*
Shop, craftsman*
Shopping Arcade
Masons/builders yard

* See list of example trades and services at the end of this article.

Slave Pens
Town house
Urban estate

Layout and Style (choose, then d8)
What does this place look like? Pick a letter or random syllable (jab your finger into a block of text or something...). The shapes of the letters, flipped and mashed together however you choose, define the general floor plan of the building. Rationalised rectilinear blocks? Sooooo 20th century.

Block off rooms, corridors, passages, staircases and such based on function, or as you see fit. This can end up with such apparent incongruities as a big old multi-floored palace divided up into loads of tiny, awkwardly-shaped rooms, blind staircases and voids. But there's nothing to say that this wasn't either: 1) intentional on the part of the designer (architects are nigh-on mad wizardly raving egotists at the best of times), or 2) a building repurposed halfway through its working life by a bunch of guys lacking access to the original blueprints.

(This section is partially urbancrawl's 'numbers as roads' idea, partially leximorph mapping as popularised by John of Nine-and-Thirty Kingdoms. Why re-invent the wheel?)

What architectural form does the building take within the footprint established? Roll d8:

1 Tower house (1d4+3 floors)
2 Insula/Block (1d6+4 floors)
3 Courtyard building (1d3 floors)
4 Terrace (1d3 floors)
5 Hall/Longhouse (1d2 floors)
6 Gable End building (1d4+3 floors)
7 Kraal/Ringhouse (1d3 floors)
8 Other

Structural Features (d8)
1 Balconies
2 Garrets
3 Turret/Belfry
4 Fortified ground floor
5 Overhanging upper floors
6 Colonnades
7 Atrium/Impluvium Pool
8 Other

50% 1-2 levels
1in6 chance dungeon/sewer/tunnel entryway

Condition (d6)
Is it still standing, and does it look safe? Or is heading in there tantamount to signing your own death warrant?

1 - Rubble (3in6 unstable)
2 - Dangerous Ruin (risk of cave-ins, possibility of deliberate traps)
3-5 - Ruin
6 - Partial Ruin (3in6 occupied)
  • Floor cave in: risk of collapsing floor 2in6, take 2d6 damage and make 2in6 chance again.  Yes, this can lead to a cascade effect...
  • Wall/roof cave-in: 2in6, [1d6]d6 as it caves in, save for half.  2in6 chance of any remaining roof collapsing if a wall goes.
  • Rubble-slide: 2in6 chance, 2d6 damage (save for half)
So, yeah, pack a sacrificial dwarf or two to check the quality of the stonework.

Contents (d6)
"Little pigs, little pigs. We've come to nick yer stereo." -- Dog Soldiers

1 Monster
2 Monster + loot
3-5 Empty
6 Empty (3in6 hidden/unusual feature)

Bear in mind that most of the original movables, fixtures, and fittings will have been looted or rotted away over time.

If the party decide to head deeper into the ruins, away from all the big, shiny feature you've spent hours detailing, they're probably going to end up in the remains of the low-rent areas that all cities try and airbrush away. Assume these are present by the hectare, and that they've got even more run-down and desolate than the rest of the city.

If you want, you can use them as 'rough terrain' to get the party moving in the direction you desire. Heading into uncharted, organically-developed slums should be tantamount to asking the GM to roll extra 'Getting Lost' rolls, just as if the party were out in the wilderness.  Either use a random dungeon generator or some urban geomorphs (the old Lankhmar, City of Adventure book had some ones). Do they want to risk climbing a building to get their bearings?

Example Trades and Services
(reproduced from Noonan & Wyatt - "Building a City")
A list of trades found in cities. Reproduced here because I have no intention of reinventing a well-researched wheel.

~Trades, Exotic~
Alchemist, art dealer, calligrapher, costumer, imported goods dealer, magic armour dealer, magic item dealer (general), magic weapon dealer, pet merchant, potion dealer, rare wood merchant, scroll merchant, soap maker, spice merchant, trapmaker, wand merchant.

~Trades, Upscale~
Antique dealer, bookbinder, bookseller, candy maker, clockmaker, cosmetics dealer, curio dealer, dice maker, distiller, fine clothier, gemcutter, glassblower, glazier, goldsmith, inkmaker, jeweller, map seller, papermaker, perfumer, pewterer, sculptor, sealmaker, silversmith, slave trader, toymaker, trinkets purveyor, vintner, wiresmith.

~Trades, Average~
Armourer, baker, bazaar merchant, blacksmith, bonecarver, bowyer, brewer, butcher, carpenter, carpet maker, cartwright, chandler, cheesemaker, cobbler, cooper, coppersmith, dairy merchant, fletcher, florist, furniture maker, furrier, grocer, haberdasher, hardware seller, herbalist, joiner, lampmaker, locksmith, mason, merchant, music dealer, outfitter, potter, provisioner, religious items dealer, roofer, ropemaker, saddler, sailmaker, seamstress, shipwright, stonecutter, tailor, tapestry maker, taxidermist, thatcher, tilemaker, tinker, weaponsmith, weaver, wheelwright, whipmaker, wigmaker, woodworker.

~Trades, Poor~
Bait & tackle dealer, basketweaver, brickmaker, broom maker, candlemaker, charcoal burner, dyer, firewood seller, fishmonger, fuller, leatherworker, livestock handler, lumberer, miller, netmaker, tanner.

~Services, Upscale~
Animal trainer, apothecary, architect, assassin, banker, barrister, bounty hunter, cartographer, dentist, engraver, illuminator, kennel master, masseur, mewskeeper, moneychanger, sage, scribe, spellcaster for hire, tutor.

~Services, Average~
Auctioneer, barber, bookkeeper, brothel owner, clerk, engineer, fortuneteller, freight shipper, guide, healer, horse trainer, interpreter, laundress, messenger, minstrel, navigator, painter, physician, public bath owner, sharpener, stable owner, tattooer, undertaker, veterinarian.

~Services, Poor~
Acrobat, actor, boater, buffoon, building painter, burglar, carter, fence, gambling hall owner, juggler, laborer, limner, linkboy, moneylender, nursemaid, pawnshop, porter, ship painter, teamster, warehouse owner.

S John Ross - Medieval Demographics Made Easy
Noonan & Wyatt - Building a City (DMG 3E web supplement)
Legoman of the GITP forums for his instant city builder method

Lost Empires of Faerun by WOTC
Lankhmar, City of Adventure by TSR
Warhammer City of Chaos by Games Workshop
Pathfinder: Spires of Xin-Shalast (Rise of the Runelords #6) by Paizo

Pic Source
Wayne Barlowe

Tuesday 8 March 2011

The Storied Mageries of Lux Familiar

The Vaults of Nagoh are an infamous weak spot in the fabric of the world, a place where echoes of things, creatures and people from numerous other worlds take on horribly distorted physical forms.  Among the reified cosmic echoes uncovered by greedy, crazy-brave explorers are the enigmatic and disparate objects collectively known as the Mageries of Lux Familiar.  Who (or what) the name Lux Familiar originally applied to is unclear, although rumours of a semi-human nature and a terrible auto-cannibalistic end have attached to this ill-omened moniker.

Annals of Pyares
This richly decorated tome initially appears to be nothing more than the records and membership list of a long-defunct bardic college.  More thorough investigation reveals it to be an artefact of substantial but unpredictable power.
Treat as Artefact (per "Eldritch Wizardry", AD&D DMG, etc) with 4 Minor, 2 Major powers.  The book also allows a character to act as a sage expert in the fields of human and demi-human art and music.
Malevolent Power: when a major power is used there is a 1 in 10 chance of the book’s wielder coming under a delusion effect which makes dangerous situations appear to be a source of delicious savoury snacks (save vs spell, or throw self into harm's way to get at them).
Side effect: While the book is possessed by a party castle encounters never have a reaction more positive than "Neutral/Ignore"; the default response of inhabitants to the appearance of the party becomes "Quick!  The drawbridge!"

Azure Sigil of Abuse
This small rectangular device composed of paper and magically treated cellulose allows the wielder to simply get away with almost anything, so long as the sigil is presented openly and confidently.  Onlookers do gain as a save vs spell/device against this effect (test once against the best chance of all onlookers).  Those unaffected by the magic of the sigil, or who recover from its effects (1-3 turns after the sigil and bearer leave their view) will in future automatically be suspicious of - or even openly hostile to - the wielder.  The Azure Sigil of Abuse does not affect mindless creatures, intelligent undead, or creatures viciously evil by nature (devils, demons, etc).

Blessed Aircloth of Equanimity

Small sheets of clear membrane, the bubbles of which are filled with a generally harmless gas noted for its profound calming effect when released (bursting aircloth bulbs acts as a calm emotions spell).  Sheets have a curious secondary enchantment, in that they are regarded as a perfectly fungible medium of exchange by almost all intelligent creatures. A person offered the aircloth in trade must save vs spell or consider it a reasonable exchange (demands for magic items, daughters, or other outrageously unequal trades grant a bonus to the save).

Dead Man’s Season Ticket
This small cardboard rectangle allows the holder to return from the dead, one time only.  There is a non-trivial likelihood of weird sh*t following them back from the land of the dead.

Depressed Beyond Tablets

One of these acrid-tasting pastilles (treat as potion) will transport the ingester to a sunless pocket universe of chasms and abysms ruled by change and indifference.  If they fail a save vs spell they are affected as maze spell (LLAEC, p52), if the save is passed they are able to exit the gloomy realm at a point corresponding to a position of their choice in the ‘real’ world.  Move as per potion of ethereality oil of etherealness.

Dukla Prague Away Kit
A maroon singlet with short yellow sleeves protects its wearer as leather armour.  Once a week the wearer is able to invoke what chroniclers have described as “a travelling army of synthetic supporters”, an array of 10-100 minuscule humanoid servants who will labour or spy for their master to the best of their abilities.  They work at the same rate as full-sized human labour, but only when entirely unsupervised by human eyes.  The supporters will not fight under any circumstances, returning from whence they came if commanded to do so.

Equilateral Chainsaw
A large and clumsy melee weapon, -2 to hit, although it can hit creatures affected only by magical weapons (“Ain’t nothing immune to chainsaws!”).  The whirling, screeching teeth of the triangular blade do 2d6 damage per hit.  The wielder can elect to inflict this damage on two or more separate melee opponents within reach at a cost of themselves taking the same amount of damage.

Existential Limeade
This lurid green potion causes the imbiber to doubt both own existence and that of reality itself.  So profound is this anomie that they are rendered wholly immune to harm from any source no less than 50% of the time.  However, the mind-expanding effect of the concoction also renders the drinker prone to distraction (50% chance of foregoing action in a round).

Joy Division Oven Gloves
These thick fingerless black-and-grey gloves are almost limitlessly heat resistant; although unable to use their hands for fine work (picking locks, etc) the wearer is able to safely put their fingers in fire, handle hot coals, scoop up lava, etc.  The gloves have a secondary effect of increasing a wearer’s equanimity towards terrifying or aggregating situations (wearer enjoys +4 to saves vs. fear-causing effects).  Unfortunately the gloves carry a curse that reduces the wearer’s capacity for settled happiness.  So long as the gloves are possessed the owner becomes obsessed with wearing them in previously unvisited places (treat as geas effect).

Non-Organic Food
These curious foodstuffs from deep within the earth look like nothing so much as vividly coloured pebbles and are usually found in small paper bags.  A bag will contain 3d6 lumps of inorganic food, each of which – if recognised as edibles rather than misshapen and rather ugly decorative stones – will act as rations for one day.  Children and Xorn are especially delighted by these strange, sweet comestibles.  Inorganic food doesn’t go off, ever.

Perpetual Biscuit
A perfectly mundane-looking twice-baked biscuit, probably with some form of embossed decoration and a dry crème filling.  Detects as magic.  A source of never-ending rations, the Perpetual biscuit doesn’t entirely replace mundane food, but does supplement other foods (reduce to half requirements/day).
Note: a Perpetual Biscuit can only reduce the food requirements of a single person per day.  Why?  Duh!  Everyone knows that biscuits contain no calories if shared...

Piccalilli’s Shinpads
Tiny hand-long greaves of verdigrised bronze decorated with rich art nouveau engraving detailing.*  The greaves are far too small to fit even the puny legs of a halfling, but may be strapped onto the legs by humanoids of any size (provided they don’t mind looking a little... silly).  These shin guards provide a +1 to AC, allow the wearer to pass without trace in sylvan environments 3/day, and improve Reaction Rolls from all encountered non-evil fey creatures by one bracket.

* Wishing I had Taichara’s way with descriptors about now.

Post-punk Postcard

Small flat card, the edges of which are decorated with blotchy, low-quality woodcut art.  Usable only after backstab.  The thief smears their bloodied weapon across the face of the card and - unless the intended victim saves vs. spell – it bodily draws them into itself over the next round, reducing them to a moody-faced stylised monochrome portrait.  The captive can be released from the card at any time by tearing it in half.  There is a 50% chance that a random creature (type limited by backstab rules) is trapped in the card when it is found.

Sea Bass Man Bag
Appears to be a satchel in the shape of a fish (the shoulder straps attaching at the fish’s mouth and tail).  If emptied of its contents (50% chance of 1d6 random pieces of non-magical dungeoneering kit when found) the bag can be pulled entirely over the head and provides air and resistance to pressure as a Helm of Underwater Action.
Note: the wearer’s vision is obscured by the bag.

Shining Singlet of the King of Hyviz
Brightly coloured over-garment decorated with silvery straps.  The singlet greatly increases the likelihood of the wearer being noticed (no Hide in Shadows possible) but all viewers who fail save vs spell believe (and act as if) the wearer is perfectly entitled to be wherever they are as a normal part of their duties.  Save may be taken again if the wearer does something outrageously suspicious.

Sign of Deceitful Enticement
Viewers of this crudely hand-lettered sign must save vs spell, those who fail feel compelled to follow the seemingly nonsensical directions on the sign (“Asparagus Next Left”, etc.) for 2d6 turns (or until the GM becomes bored with it).  Usually this merely results in exasperating detours to recover hypnotised party members, but there is a 10% chance that the sign instead creates a dirt track to a darker place (Bottomless Perdition).

Studious Banjo
All auditors must save vs spell or descend into a reverie of well-loved memories, initiating no hostile actions for as long as the banjo is played.  1in6 chance of acting as drums of panic instead. Playing the banjo requires both hands.

Surcoat of the Knight of the Shining Dome
This long, shabby duster coat improves NPC reactions to the wearer by one bracket, and acts as Scarab of Protection on the wearer, but increases rates of WM encounter.  Wearable by any class, although thieves, dwarves and Halflings are likely to find in annoyingly billowy...

The 'Roids
Potion, appears to be potion of Giant Strength. Actually acts as cursed berserking (as the sword) potion of Giant Strength.

Ultimate Gorilla Gig

A small, lightly built one horse trap.  Bodywork, wheel hubs and traces are elaborately decorated with motifs of lachrymose apes.  The runabout is capable of seating two people in comfort (four if they’re prepared to get cosy).
The coachman of this buggy can cast implant emotions (despair) 3/day and summon 1d6 white apes 1/week; the primates act as the master of the gig commands.

Wai-phur Hanging Baskets
These small, chain-suspended planters allow the possessor to use Contact Other Plane 1/week if filled with soil and carefully tended.  The medium of communication is a human-sized mouth composed of roots and leaves which grows from the soil.  Contact is always with a malignant other-planar vegetable intelligence that answers questions in cryptic euphemisms.

(Yes, the Perpetual Biscuit Reference is intentional.)

Sunday 6 March 2011

Super-Simple Stat Advances

Inspired by something read in the Humanspace Adventures playtest document, although I vaguely recall seeing similar in a blog comment somewhere, or possibly in the multi-layered morass of detail that is HackMaster...

Each time your character levels up pick one ability score.
Roll higher than the current score on a d20 to advance it by 1 point (max 18).
(note: this doesn't count as being during gameplay, so Jeff's Big Purple d30 Rule doesn't apply.)

Intent: this little gimmick models increasing capability as characters gain progressively more experience and versatility. The 'roll over' mechanic makes it easy to improve on a gimp ability score, but offers less chance of improving those lovingly polished Prime Requisites.

Yeah, it's a little bit Runequest for some tastes, and a shuffle away from the strict purity of "3d6, in order", but I'm an obsessive user of Ability Checks (LL, p55).

Pic Source
Randy Glasberg, syndicated cartoonist

Friday 4 March 2011

Simple Mass Combat - Birthright Style

[Please excuse the re-post. Blogger decided that Edit is synonymous with Send To Memory Hole.]

"Fool! You cannot harm me. I am protected by tons of ferociously loyal ablative meat!"
"Eh? Is he raving about us?"

Our games are getting close to the 'evict Team Monster, take their land, build immense phallic memorials to self' end game stage.  With the spectre of mass combat looming I thought I'd share my preferred swarm fightan system.

This is, in essence, a B/X-ified version of the super-simple AD&D Birthright skirmish system (which appears to be a simplified take on Battlesystem 2E, which in turn was more or less good old Perren+Gygax Chainmail in a party frock).  Some bits and wrinkles come from WFB, others from the general sea of unattributable common references in which all gamers seem to float. BECMI War Machine gets no love; it's naught but a monstrous spreadsheet-requiring mess IMO.

This system isn't set up to cope with magic-heavy combats or packs of monsters with special attacks.  It's meant to resolve what the kind of havoc the non-speaking extras are inflicting on one another in a die roll or two so we can all get back to the cool stuff (i.e. the PCs single out enemy generals, casters or monsters for their personal attention).

1d6 each side. Winner chooses whether to move first or second.

As normal, or per GM discretion.
Units moved in order of increasing agility: infantry > then cavalry > then fliers.

Treat HD in the group as hp total. Ignore "+n" hit point adds.
So 60 hobgoblins (1+1HD) has 60 HD, as do a unit of 20 F3 (3HD). Ditto a herd of ten rhinos (6HD) or a gang of four Storm Giants (15HD)...


Damage per Round = HD up to 7 (then +1/2 HD over 7, "+n" to die = +1 HD) +/- opponents' AC
  • Multiple attacks/round = +100% to DPR
  • Max damage/round >12 = +100% to DPR

Each side rolls die, higher wins.
  • Winner only adds difference between rolls to the DPR. 
  • Loser inflicts DPR only.
  • Both sides lose on a tied roll.

HD remainingResolution Die
Full to 3/41d10
Full to 3/41d8
1/2 to 1/41d6, half DPR
1/4 or less1d4, half DPR

+1 to die per 2 combat-relevant spell levels cast by side that round
+1 bonus if side has PC/unique NPCs
+2 bonus (one round only) if ambushing
-1 penalty if enemy has terrain advantage

Engaged Groups
Normal engagement rules usually apply: group engages with group on 1 for 1 basis.  Leftover groups can choose where they engage for maximum effect.
If multiple groups attack one group, roll 1 resolution die per group.  Total the side's dice then compare scores.

Morale checks per B/X, because 2d6 Reaction Rolls are the path of righteousness. ;)
  • Check after losing first round of combat;
  • Check again at 1/2 starting HD. 
  • Fearsome monstrous enemies may require a Morale check to charge, or if they charge (no one wants to be the first to face *that*).
What happens:
  • Pass one morale check = "Fight on!"
  • Pass to morale checks = "To the death!"
  • Fail first morale check = shaken (fighting withdrawal)
  • Fail second moral check = "Leggit lads!" (rout)

Fleeing Combat
1 unopposed strike (DPR, no dice roll) against routing side.

Routs and Pursuit
Pursuit comes down to relative speeds. 
Base speed in tens of feet/inches +1d6 (+2d6 if cavalry, +3d6 if flying). 
  • Fleeing side wins: no damage inflicted. 
  • Pursuing side wins: inflicts DPR. 

Half of casualties are deaths, the remainder wounded/incapacitated.  Victors can recover their wounded, take prisoners and hostages, butcher their foes, etc.

Not really advanced, more 'one step up from basic mutual face-stabbery'.
  • Missile Weapons: DPR inflicted automatically.  Melee-armed troops can't counter attack until range is closed.
  • Lances or charge attack: double damage 1st round only.
  • Reach weapons: double damage if charged.
  • Mamuk-riders: archers riding gigantic beasts should be treated as a separate unit of archers unengaged by non-archer troops until their mount is slain.
  • Aerial Troops: flying troops should be treated as having terrain advantage vs non-fliers. Fliers can't be pursued by non-fliers if they rout from combat.

The long slow slog of blockade and barrage aren't covered here.  Consult your GM.
  • Sallies: resolve as normal.
  • Mining: no reinforcing groups can be added to a combat in progress.
  • Escalades: land-bound assaulters roll 1d4 to defender's 1d10 until they win a round of combat; defender enjoys terrain advantage.  Aerial attackers fight as normal.  Yes, this makes escalades a slog requiring overwhelming numbers and a run of good luck.  I'd call that accurate.
  • Storming: assaulting a breach should be resolved as normal, with defender having terrain advantage.

Monstrous Creatures and NPCs
These brutes will generally just munch their way through spear-carriers (don't even roll for them, just inflict DPR and describe the carnage) until PCs get in their way.
  • Monstrous creatures with special attacks (basilisk, dragons, wraiths, medusae, etc) should be treated as casting one or more appropriate spells each round (flesh to stone, cause fear, fireball, death spell, etc).
  • Monstrous creatures with special defences can either be treated as casting spells per round (couerl, troglodytes, etc) or as ignoring mundane damage entirely (shadows, wraiths, elementals, etc).
  • Troll units regain 1HD per troll every other round of combat.
  • Hydras and similar multi-attacking but essentialy non-magic-using brutes can be fought as a unit in their own right. 


JOESKY'S LAW Compliance Content:
Not applicable. This post is about mechanics for stabbing large quantities of dudes in the face at once, and is thus already relevant to The Mighty One's interests.

Further Reading
Nine and Thirty Kingdoms on non-mass mass combat
Grendelwulfs Combat Scale mass combat system (simple and elegant)

Pic Source
The inimitable Ian Miller (purveyor of only the finest nightmare fuel) of course.


Appendix: Examples
(This is just me thinking aloud and getting a handle on relative balance. You'll probably want to skip this entirely.)
Note: the DPR figures used here are exclusive of any modifications from Resolution Dice.

Knight vs. Giant Gobo-Ninjas
30 1HD knights (30HD, AC3, +1 TH, lances)
vs. 12 3+1HD bugbears (36HD, AC6, +4TH, axes). 

The knights will inflict (1+6=) 14 DPR in round 1, 7 DPR in subsequent rounds. 
The bugbears will inflict (4+3=) 7 DPR.

This is likely to be a close fight, with the outcome heavily affected by situational factors (Are the bugbears ambushing or in good cover? How good is the relative morale of the two sides?), or by the luck of the dice.

Phalanx vs. Lucanian Cows

2 9HD war elephants (18HD, AC5, +9 TH, trample 2x2d8)
vs. 100 1HD spearmen (100HD, AC6, +1TH, spears)

The elephants will inflict (8+6 x3=) 42 DPR plus (1+6=) 7 DPR from archers in the howdahs.
The spearmen will inflict (1+5=) 12 DPR if charged, 6 DPR otherwise.

This is likely to be a squash match with Dumbo and Babar curbstomping the poor bloody infantry unless they can either panic the pachyderms or skewer them like pincushions as they charge.  There's a reason that elephants were used as shock troops by any army that had access to them for nigh-on 2000 years...

The Legion of Blue-Nosed Doom vs. Old Ten Heads
A ten-headed Hydra in a swamp (10HD, AC5, +8 TH, multiple attacks, terrain advantage)
vs. 80 Hobgoblin legionaries (80HD, AC6, +2TH, melee weapons)

The hydra will inflict (9+6 x2=) 32 DPR.
The hobgoblins will inflict (2+5=) 7 DPR.

The hobs probably have the sheer numbers to beat Old Ten Heads to death, but they'll lose dozens of warriors doing so.  This type of "No time to wait for the archers.  Drown the beast beneath our dead!" situation is what Morale checks were created for...

Orcs vs. The Mighty Orcgrinder
1 Superhero (8HD, AC-1, +6 TH, sword)
vs. 15 Orcs (15HD, AC 6, +1TH)

Superhero will inflict (6+6=) 14 DPR exclusive of magical effects.
Orcs will inflict (1-1=) 0 DPR

A one-sided 'buzzsaw through raw meat' situation.  The Orcs will be relying on luck alone (the score from their die roll) to come out ahead.  They should also probably roll a Morale check when they see their opponent hove into view (as the Chainmail rule).  Let's face it; he's only leaving that last survivor alive to spread the tale...

Gnawers,shield vs. Gnawers,flesh

10 2HD Ghouls (20HD, AC6, +2 TH, multiple attacks, paralysis)
vs. 30 Berserks (30HD, AC7, +2 TH, never check morale)

Ghouls will inflict (2+7 x2=) 18 DPR.
Berserkers will inflict (2+6=) 12 DPR.

A surprisingly close fight.  Ghoul paralysis (treated as Hold Person cast each round) and multiple attacks will tip the balance against the berserkers, not that they're likely to care less.  In the immortal words of Spoon: "I hope I give you the shits you WIMP!"


Tuesday 1 March 2011

The Map Knows More Than I Do

Doing a bit of random hex-map generation this evening (using a tinkered-with version of Victor Raymond's Wilderness Architect method from Fight On! #2).

Here's the generated terrain in question (just so the following makes at least a little sense).

It's supposed to be the Vorra River Valley, south of Adburg and the ruined City of Nagoh. Yes, I called my adventureburg Adburg. It's easy to remember in the heat of play.

So, yer pretty boggo area of forested hills descending from mountains to a well-watered plain; so far, so fantastic realism. But suddenly the dice decree that there's a 5-mile diameter desert in the middle of this verdant landscape. Wuh?!

Now, to me an out-of-place desert hex that just screams adventure hook. I'd be totally remiss as a GM if I just left this as a blank space on the map. A few quick rolls on the appropriate tables in the ever-handy Ready Reference Sheets reveal the salient feature of this particular hex is a keep, ash-covered, and situated on a rocky outcrop. The environs are crystallised and petrified and the local inhabitants are Giants.

Ashes, crystals, keep and giants says to me the obvious: Fire Giants. Probably digging in to protect/exploit something of use in their forthcoming runt-squishing crusade.* They've likely happened upon (or been sent down by some Big Bad to secure) some form of climate-altering artefact or heat-based weapon that, even inactive, is able to create a microclimate hot and arid enough to bake the land for miles around. All that crystallised, petrified stuff is probably the result of this mini Death Valley effect: roasted trees and dried out ponds and the like. Sounds like a proper nasty place that eats adventurers for lunch. *grin*

 * There's always a runt-squishing crusade in the offing for giants IMG; it's kind of a default state of existence for them in a world which - from their elevated perspective - is over-run with tiny, hyperactive vermin.

And blow me down if that doesn't also explain the sparse settlements and assorted ruins the dice have decreed shall be scattered around what should - in any sane world - be a densely populated area of settlement. Obviously the giants have already made a start on clearing the surrounding areas of its infestation of annoyingly short people. ("You must be THIS tall to continue living. Surtr commands it!")

I picture them rocking up 13th Warrior style (hellhounds, salamanders and fire imps in tow) and setting fire to local villages at night. Or standing on a rise hurling lava bombs (treat as fireball or something) down on unsuspecting bargemen plying their trade. A few instances of that is going to have refugees fleeing the area and will royally screw the economy of everywhere along the river: crops from the farming villages and recovered artefacts from the Vaults can't get down the river to the cities; manufactured and luxury goods can't get up-river to Adburg.

I'm already getting a wacky War of the Triple Alliance meets Against the Giants vibe off the situation...

"We want you to head up-river and dispose of the crazy fanatics blocking river traffic."
"Sure, we'll set out right away. Should have them run off by the end of the week."
"Oh, by the way; they're Fire Giants..."

All that from one hex! Random terrain generation: giving you more than you expected since 1974.

Pic Source:
Me, with a little help from AKS Hexmapper
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