Friday, February 16, 2024

Choosing Gaming Music

(I was going to mention this in my last post on gaming prep & workflow, but it really is its own topic)

I have spent hours hand-picking music for my in-person games and I consider that time well spent - everyone comments on the atmosphere during the game! This is the kind of work that continues to pay off, since the same playlists can be used multiple times (with periodic updates to keep them fresh). That kind of work is useful prep. Plenty of other things, aren't.

If you use Spotify, maybe that works for you, I don't know. I still use mp3s on my phone because I grew up with Napster. For my current in-person game I have a wilderness playlist and a dungeon playlist which have each grown from about 2 hours of music to -- checks notes -- over 6 and 7 hours respectively, more than enough to run a session and not hear any repeats.



It has taken me a LONG time to build these playlists because I have very stringent requirements for in-game music, which I will try to outline here for your edification and amusement:


Rule 1 - Minimal Dynamic Range

When you first decide to play music during your games, you might run for the music of your favourite films. The problem is that most film soundtracks are written & produced just like classical music with much broader dynamic range than modern popular music: from near-silence to huge crescendos. This works during a movie but is absolutely insufferable to listen to even at home alone, when I'm trying not to turn my stereo's volume knob every goddamn minute. 

Most 'modern classical' compositions are simply way too over-the-top to work as background music anyway. Big orchestra hits, swells, violins attacking like swarms of bees, timpanis crashing... I'm trying to have a conversation here! Hans Zimmer is really bad for this. During a game this will amount to quiet sections being totally inaudible while everyone is talking, then conversation getting interrupted by a blast of sound. A non-starter. 

What you want is a constant volume level so that you can set it and forget it. Your game music must be quiet enough that it doesn't impinge on everyone talking & nobody has to raise their voice, loud enough that it can actually be heard a little bit. 

This is actually a very narrow band!

An additional oft-overlooked consideration with this rule is trying to find songs that are roughly volume matched to each other. I think Spotify or some other streaming services might do this for you? Just pay for premium because if I hear an ad during your game I'm strangling you.



Some examples of too much dynamics:




On the flip side, this track is consistent throughout. Howard shore is the GOAT but take care because not every song on this album is so cooperative.



Rule 2 - Not too 'song-like' 

I used to play extreme metal or folk music during my games, I don't do that anymore. I avoid anything with drums and most guitars. This contributes to the background sense of the music - I don't want the players to really take notice except in rare instances. Strings, synthesizers, things like that are all fine. Even in ambient music there are percussive elements and these should be considered carefully, some can work as long as they don't sound like an actual drum kit. 

Acoustic guitars can be OK, depending. Medieval instruments like a glockenspiel or something need to be chosen with care, as they can easily descend into terminal cheesiness. Anything with lyrics is right out, although some vocal chants or something might be okay.


Rule 3 - Not Easily Recognizable 

The hardest one to do, depending on your gaming group. The first time a player says "Hey, isn't this from Lord of the Rings?!" you'll never make that mistake again. Everyone is now imagining the scene where Gollum finds the ring, instead of the damned hexcrawl you're trying to run. Pretty soon someone is doing a Gimli voice, someone else is telling the story of Viggo Mortensen breaking his toe and the game has gone completely off the rails.

Just don't do it! Skip Hollywood franchise films, blockbusters and things your players will know (I can't tell you what those will be, you have to know your players - a DM's work is never done).

Dig deeper and find stuff people haven't heard. This is where being into underground music really pays off (a rare circumstance indeed!). Call up your much cooler friends and ask them what they're listening to. Dig into anime from the '90s, foreign films, non-triple A videogames, or fire up Youtube and poke around for some new microgenre that hasn't been saturated to death yet.


Rule 4 - Not Too Much Variety 

I stick to 3 or 4 artists for a particular themed playlist. This is not a hard rule. Since it's tough to find composers who have enough songs that fit my requirements, it ends up working out this way. I find creating strongly themed playlists works better - the players can feel the difference between different areas of the game world, different modes of play or even levels of danger!


Rule 5 - No Jazz!

No matter what Noisms says! (that article has some good stuff in it though)


Suggestions

Oh what, you want some songs that you should include, instead of a list of prohibitions? Okay, here are a few, you'd better thank me for bestowing my wealth of experience. I'm giving y'all the game here, so don't say I never did anything for you guys!

Remember, these are entire albums. You have to use the principles I just taught you to pick the appropriate songs from each!






There you go, no more excuses.

Now get back to your game, blogland!

Monday, January 1, 2024

Special Podcast Appearance!!!

I'm on the latest episode of Gus B's Classic Adventure Gaming Podcast, you can find the latest episode HERE. Go check it out, the latest episode is about the already legendary first Cauldron Con in Germany and has a star-studded cast of cool guys, scene VIPs, 10' pole forum goons and Discord chatterboxes from the deep end of the oldschool D&D pool!


I'm not an interview guest (nobody should be listening to my opinions, haha) but I did create the podcast's theme music! It took me a while but I'm quite proud of it, this is the first project I've finished since beating tendonitis and getting my playing back this year. Go follow them and listen to the back episodes, they're all great!

Sunday, October 22, 2023

Never Say Die! or, How to Improve Workflow - Part I

"No updates since January!!! Where you been at TS?"

I flatter myself that you are thinking this. 

I've been short on posts for a few reasons this year. I have been playing and running A LOT of games in the last few years. I got on Discord, made new friends, played in some pickup games, joined some campaigns and had lots of fun (hails to all the cool and weird folks I've met on many different servers, too many to name). 

Mainly though, I was running my own games for my own players. No matter how much I use modules and steal material from everywhere I can, inevitably either my players take a weird turn forcing me to write new material and/or I get a cool idea I have to write up for myself anyway. As I've said before it takes me forever to write even a small dungeon, so there was no energy left over for blogging.


It'd be a lot cooler.


Several recent developments have hampered my gaming even further: 

I am studying for a work exam on evenings/weekends (normally this would be 3 months of full-time schooling, so doing it in my spare time takes a while). This really cuts into anything else I might spend my time on. I have put my online game (running since October 2019!) on hold for several months to focus on school stuff, and my in-person games (both of them) have slowed down completely over the summer/fall.

More importantly: due to a relentless and constantly-evolving rehab & weightlifting routine, the tendonitis that plagued me for years is finally in retreat and I can use my hands again! It is impossible to overstate how positive this change has been. For the last 5-6 years I haven't been myself at all - being unable to play music has really been wretched. Only now that I am out of it can I see, by comparison, what a deep mental pit I was in for a long time. Like having my mouth sealed shut for half a decade - all of a sudden the duct-tape has been ripped off! 

I only dived deeply into RPG gaming more intensely a few years ago because my hands hurt so much I couldn't play. Now that I'm back I am making up for lost time, spending hours in the studio, finishing up projects and taking on new ones, not to mention practising to regain my previous skills. Although my speed is nearly at peak levels I've noticed my endurance, accuracy and precision on my instruments are *not*. This will take time... time that I'm not prepping for games.


*****


"Okay TS, that's great (and verges on oversharing) but what's the point?"

I need to write more gaming material in less time than ever before. Running multiple original sandbox games (even using modules when possible) has placed a creative demand on me that I've never had to deal with before. Here are some of the ways I have kept the workflow going, and some mistakes I've made & lessons I've learned along the way.


Other People's Suggestions

First of all, I tried to find reading material on speeding up my prep time. I couldn't seem to find anything good. I asked plenty of other gamers and found that sometimes even communicating my problem was basically impossible - a baffling situation!

The Alexandrian has a lot to say on the subject. Many of you will find all of it old news, others will benefit. Start here. I read these articles a long time ago and they are helpful if you are currently a beginner or mired in counterproductive habits, but for me at this point they don't say anything new.

Sly Flourish's book The Lazy Dungeon Master just sucks, don't read it, fucking embarrassing.

If anyone else has suggestions for "smart prep" resources, I'm all ears, but strangely this is one area of gaming that I don't see too many people discussing. Am I an outlier? Am I just missing the conversation? Let me know in the comments.


A Short Tale

I was house-sitting for my brother a while ago, spending most of the time on the couch with the cats and watching all the streaming TV that I don't have at home. I eventually felt guilty I wasn't being productive so I brought over the gaming material I could fit in my laptop bag: the Sword & Magic rules, my campaign notes & maps and a 2 or 3 helpful booklets (more on that below).

I tell you, I created more dungeon rooms in my notebook on the couch with inane sitcoms droning in the background, than I do on my computer with a modern word-processor and access to a veritable mountain of gaming resources, tables, blogs, PDFs & books!

What can we learn from this?


Get The Fuck Off The Computer

The dangers of distraction are well-documented in the social media age. I have certainly killed a lot of time scrolling IG or hanging on Discord, but you know all about that stuff. 



My point here is somewhat different.

When I'm writing on my computer I try to stay organized. I want my dungeons to make sense, to 'fit' together into a coherent whole. So to help with that I have my dungeon map open in photoshop, a project overview & to-do document, a doc for the particular dungeon level I'm working on, my treasure tables, a stack of books beside me, my favourite generator tools, etc. Having all of this at my fingertips can drain my ability to do anything. Alt-tabbing around between documents, maps and different books is really distracting and soon, work bogs down utterly. Attempting to hold all the existing dungeon information in my mind while creating something new is pretty much impossible.

To an untrained observer I am "focusing" on creating a dungeon (after all, I am engrossed in these dungeon documents & maps, I'm not browsing socials or looking at my phone) but I can easily spend hours doing nothing of substance. I might be tweaking the map, reordering the to-do list, adding some inspirational source material I should eventually read, or re-writing the room keys to be more terse and evocative... 

But NONE of that help me decide what is in the next dungeon room - and that's what I need to figure out by game night!

Peter de Vries wrote "Write drunk, revise sober." Perhaps for me it should be "Write on paper, revise on the computer." Now on Saturday mornings I go down to a local hipster coffee shop with my notebook, get caffeinated and write down dungeon ideas. I just bang out cool rooms, monster lairs, dungeon dressing, 'specials' and anything else I can think of.

As it turns out my memory is fine for this purpose - I don't need all the keys and maps in front of me in order to write rooms that make sense in the context of the dungeon I'm working on. I can remember the basic organizing principles, and don't need to know exactly whether the pit trap is in room 10 or 11 in order to write something down the hall.


Use What You Have & What Works

The other factor in that house-sitting success story was my limited access to game materials. Instead of having access to my crammed gaming bookshelves (not to mention an unimaginable horde of PDFs on my computer) I was forced to make use of the books I brought along. Instead of browsing for that "one perfect table" I rolled on what I had, noted down the result and moved on. This kept me focused on generating ideas instead of "comparison shopping" indefinitely.

What many folks know already is that not all gaming materials are created equal. I have been running a city campaign for 4 years and never once have I used anything from Vornheim. Meanwhile The Nocturnal Table features in my game consistently. Coincidence? Um, just, like, my opinion, man? I think not! Good game materials deliver results when you need them. When you find powerful tables or useful reference works, use them all the time instead of indulging your inner magpie and looking for the next shiny object. I wasted years beating my head against substandard tools, trying to make them work because everyone else said they were great.

(This is where the dudes at old-school bastions like K&KA will steer you right. Ask them what kind of tables & reference books they use. I know they seem scary, just be cool and don't talk about B/X.)

Here is a short list of highly useful tables and reference works that I can recommend to everybody. It isn't anything earth-shattering, and most of these you probably know already. Some are hard to find but don't @ me. Get these in physical copy or download & print them, stack them beside your desk, turn off your computer and get more shit done than before:

- The 1st edition DMG

OSRIC (get the Black Blade hardcover if you can) 

- Hack & Slash - Treasure (the best thing Courtney ever wrote, fight me. PDF only but I printed it out for my gaming binder. Yes, it's that essential)

- Judges Guild - Ready Ref Sheets, Wilderness Hexplore Revised, Wilderlands of High Fantasy, City-State of the Invincible Overlord (and plenty more, but these are the best)

- Matt Finch - City Adventures, Tome of Adventure Design (Honestly I don't use the TOAD as much as some people, but certain sections of it are gold. There is a bit of a learning curve while you get familiar with what it can do and where to find things)

- Melan - The Fomalhaut Oracle from Fight On! Magazine #3, The Nocturnal Table

- Muddle's Wilderness Location Generator (the dungeon one isn't too bad either)

- New Big Dragon Games' d30 Companions (duplicates some DMG stuff but both have useful shit)

- Ktrey's Wilderness Hexes. Too bad this is not available in book form. (hint hint bro, my money is yours for all the use I've gotten from these over the years) Also you can browse his blog for even more material.

I'm sure I omitted your favourite book or table. There are lots more, but the point is that these are some of the basics. Start with a useful core of books that definitely work and expand one piece at a time as you find useful things. For further reading, some of these and more are mentioned in Melan's blog article Great Tables of D&D History.


*****

A lot of this advice comes down to working on what actually gets results.

This post got really long, so I cut out some for a future article to make things a bit more digestible. Maybe writing post was a distraction in itself... Oops, time to go! I hope this was useful or interesting. I'm still out here gamin' hard, and I hope you are too. 

Have fun everyone!

To return to the reason for this post: here is one guitar player who wouldn't let a little setback - an industrial accident that cost him TWO FINGERS - prevent him playing some of the heaviest shit ever committed to tape:






Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Just got Lynched

Bryce Lynched that is. 

My adventure Gilded Dream of the Incandescent Queen just got reviewed at tenfootpole and received a coveted "The Best" rating!




Some carefully selected quotes from the review:

"It's doing everything right ..."

"So, surprise surprise surprise, Terribly Sorcery gets it."

"Again, if I really think about this then it seems pretty nifty. And it is ABSOLUTELY better than most of the garbage I run across. (This is what praise from me looks like. Its not the best food ive ever eaten in my life. Why is that the case?)"

"The ability to create, and communicate, the truly MYTHIC in quite well done. The designer understands the need to do this in an adventure and has the ability to do it."

He didn't quite like my minimal prose stylings, but you can't have everything in life. Anyway, as usual you can get the adventure for FREE in Footprints magazine #25.

Thursday, January 5, 2023

New OGL Contro

Well, various people have jumped in with their opinions on this latest nonsense from WotC about a new 1.1 version of the OGL. Some say it invalidates the old version, others say it can't. (A great deal of talk is happening on Reddit, but that language I will not utter here) 

[DOUBLE EDIT - I'm going to add more good links as I find them (or you can also just go on youtube and search 'OGL 1.1' to find a million videos)]

Here's Rob Conley breaking it down.
A bit from Ryan Dancey himself.
This guy 'My Lawyer Friend', who seems pretty lucid.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation weighs in.
Cory Doctorow with an essay on Pluralistic, including lots of links.
The Alexandrian wrote a brief history of the OGL.
AD&D legend Grodog posts up a collection of resources.

Alexander Macris, the ACKS guy, shoots across the bow on his Substack.
Mythmere himself, Matt Finch did a video.
Frog God/Necromancer games make a statement (link to an image).
Goodman Games makes a statement.
News about Paizo creating their own open license for everyone to use (paizo.com is down, everyone is obviously stoked on this, here is an archive of the original post).
Penny Arcade steps on up to the plate, thanks Tycho (includes some links too).

This shit even made it into VICE and The Guardian (I ain't linkin it)!

I find the debate mildly amusing but it really doesn't change a damn thing. The OGL isn't even necessary for what we do! Although I do hope this latest round of blood-from-a-stone tactics will convince a few people dumb enough to still play Corpo-D&D to throw away their expensive 5e books and come over to play with the cool kids.

Either way my message to Hasbro & WotC is, was and always will be the same. I hope you will all join me, dear readers, raising your voices as one in a righteous chorus to say:



License this dick, suits.


That's all for today, but here is an old video that may shed some light on the subject. Watch and at least try to pay attention:



Tuesday, January 3, 2023

Land's End II: Druid class, house rules & character sheets

Hey, long time no blog. Since a few of my players (Steve & my brother for example) read this sometimes, I can't post too much sensitive info! Anyway I have been busy as hell prepping and running games, so blogging has fallen by the wayside, which is a good problem to have. There are some posts around I can dust off and maybe more play reports if I'm feeling ambitious - one group has been storming through The Vaults of Volokarnos and another is adventuring in my megadungeon based on Tomb of the Serpent Kings, both having a lot of fun. Meanwhile my CSWE group continues to explore the Night Wolf Inn, encountering deadly foes and serious challenges at every turn!

***

Anyway, Like I said before, running Sword & Magic has been good so far and is great for introducing players to the hobby, since the rules are so damned simple & straightforward.


I printed this out and stuck it on my binder. You know how we do.

Here is my porting-over of the druid class. I hope I got this one right - I made a few tweaks to things, but tried to keep the class in line with the original as much as possible. One of the characters in Land's End II has just become a druid of Partressa, the goddess of deep waters (a JG/Wilderlands deep cut for you). This is kind of fun because Partressa is chaotic so it's a bit harsher than most druidism - human sacrifice, reading the future from entrails, and ensuring those hungry fish get their due will be the order of the day!


DRUID

Subclass of: Cleric
Attack bonus: Cleric
Favourable saves: Fortitude, Will
Weapons: club, dagger, dart, staff, scimitar, scythe, sling, spear, javelin
Armour: light and medium, non-metallic only
Hp: 1d8 per level, 2 per level over 9th
Prime Stat: Wisdom
Alignment: usually Neutral
Skills: 7 (at least 4 must be druidic)

Spellcasting:
Druids cast spells from the druid spell list, using the same spells/day as other casters.

Skills:
Similar to thieves, druids can pick four extra skills at character creation from the following list:

Animal Training, Brew Poison, Find Tracks, Heal, Knowledge: Local Area, Knowledge: Wilderness, Knowledge: Plants, Read Signs, Sneak, Stargazing

The character's normal allotment of starting skills can be used on these as well if desired.
Druids also begin play knowing the secret Druidic language.

Special Abilities:
Gain +1 to saving throws against fire and electricity.
At 3rd level, can pass through overgrown areas at normal movement rate without leaving a trail.
At 7th level, immune to charm from woodland beings (Nymphs, Sylphs, etc).

Wild Shape:
Starting at 5th level, druids can transform into any small or medium sized animal (small as a mouse, up to about 2x human weight) for 10 minutes/level. Druids retain their to-hit bonus but gain the animal's natural attacks, movement, vision and similar traits. Can communicate with other animals of the same type. Can end the effect at any time. Can only transform into animals they've seen before.

At 7th level, animals up to Large size (albatross, bear, big cat)
At 8th level, animals as small as an insect are possible.
At 10th level, any size at all (elephant, small roc, giant versions of regular animals)

When transforming into an animal, a druid heals hp as if they had rested for a night.
Usable 3 times per day.
Can only transform into a particular animal once per day.

Druid Circles:

Every druid is a member of a circle - a group of druids bound to oversee a particular area. He may travel far & wide on his adventures, but must always return sometimes to tend to matters at home and obey the dictates of his superiors.

There are a limited number of high-level druids in any circle. Every druidic circle has their own challenges for high ranks. A druid cannot reach 10th level, nor any levels beyond that, without passing a test. Sometimes the druids must duel (to the death or otherwise) for the rank, otherwise a quest or some other task will be imposed. While a druid is 9th level, his experience total is capped at 89999. Any gained in excess before his task to reach 10th level is complete are wasted.

*****

Druid Spell List

I transposed over most of the AD&D druid spells, and added a few from later editions that I like. I did skip a handful (animal summoning) that I don't dig, but I'm willing to revise later depending on how the class does.


0th level

Create water: creates 5 litres of water per level
Detect magic: detects the presence of magical auras
Detect poison: detects if the subject is poisonous or poisoned
Light: provides light of approximately torch strength
Purify food and water: makes food and water pure and harmless
Read magic: deciphers magical texts


1st level

Charm Animal: charms an animal subject for 1-4 days + 1/level
Detect Animals/Plants: detects the presence and location of particular animal or plant types
Detect Snares & Pits: detects natural snares or traps
Entangle: pins enemies; -2 to hit, -4 DEX, half movement, pass concentration to cast spells
Enthrall Animals: fascinate a group of animals for up to 1 hour
Faerie Fire: illuminates creatures so they cannot hide
Goodberry: 2d4 magical berries heal 1 hp each and count as a meal
Invisibility to Animals: animals cannot detect through sight, sound, smell, etc for 10 mins/level
Pass Without Trace: one creature/level can pass undetected through wilderness for 1 hour/level
Protection From Elements+: immunity to a selected element, 10 hp shield vs. magical or concentrated
Produce Flame: creates torch-like flame in hand, can strike with it or throw for 1d6 + 1/level
Shillelagh: stick becomes magical +1 weapon in caster’s hands, deals 2d4 damage in melee
Speak with Animals: can speak with & understand any mundane animal for the duration
Wall of Fog: a wall composed of swirling mists obscures vision


2nd level

Animal Messenger: send a tiny animal to a designated place to deliver something
Barkskin: Natural armour +2 AC, +1 for every 3 levels above 3rd
Cure Light Wounds+: heals 1d8 + 1 hp/level
Enlarge Animal+: 20% growth per level, maximum 200%. Every 20% increases STR by 1 point.
Flame Blade: bar of fire deals 1d8 + 1 dmg/2 levels as a touch attack
Fog Cloud#: creates fog cloud; assumes powers of drugs or airborne poisons
Gust of Wind: knocks over or blows away lighter opponents
Heat Metal+: Heats held/worn metal over 7 rounds; 1 & 7 – 0 dmg; 2 & 6 – 1d4; 3-5 – 2d4.
Hold Animal+: 1-3 targets; if 2 targets, -1 to save. If 1 target, -2 to save. 4 rounds + 1/level.
Slow Poison: halts the effect of poison 1 hour/level
Spider Climb: walk on walls and ceilings
Summon Swarm: swarm of bats/rats/spiders that pursues enemies. Lasts for concentration + 2 rounds
Tree Form: become a tree for 1 hour/level, appear totally mundane. Aware of all that happens around
Wood Shape: reshape 10 + 1/level cu. ft. of wood into desired shape. Cannot create machines or moving parts


3rd level

Call Lightning: call bolt of lightning every 10 mins while outdoors, each dealing (Level-2) d8 damage
Cure Disease+: cures a disease
Cure Moderate Wounds+: heals 2d8 +1 hp/level
Dominate Animal: animal follows your commands; can ask it to do complex tasks with concentration
Neutralise Poison+: dispels the effect of a poison
Plant Growth+#: create overgrown jungle in 20’x20’ area/level; or enrich harvest in half-mile radius for one year. Second function requires a living sacrifice, or burnt offerings worth 1500 sp.
Protection from Energy: immunity to one energy type; absorbs 6 damage/level, maximum 60.
Rusting Touch: nonmagical iron-based items crumble to rust. Vs. metallic creatures does 3d6 + 1/level
Speak with Plants: can speak with plants or plant creatures
Spike Growth: ground becomes field of natural spikes; 1d4 damage and halves move. Spell DC to spot
Stone Shape: molds stone into the desired form
Water Breathing: allows breathing underwater 30 mins/level
Wind Wall: deflects gasses, breath weapons and projectiles


4th level

Anti-Plant Shell: magical barrier plants cannot pass
Clairvoyance/Clairaudience: spell to observe distant locales
Command Plants: plant creatures perceive caster’s words favorably; can be convinced to do tasks
Control Water: lower or raise the level of waters in an extensive area
Cure Serious Wounds+: heals 3d8 + 1 hp/level
Dispel Magic: cancels spells and magical effects; check of [1d20+spellcaster level] -vs- [1d20+spellcaster level] for active, or [10+spellcaster level] for passive effects
Flame Strike: 6d8 damage divine fire
Hallucinatory Terrain: envelops an area in illusion
Ice Storm: 5d6 damage in target area
Reincarnate#: dead creature comes back in a new form
Sticks to Snakes: turns 1/level of sticks into snakes; 5%/level of deadly poison


5th level

Animal Polymorph+: change a creature into any animal or giant version; 20 mins/level for caster or permanent for others. Will save, or intellect changes to that of the animal after INT number of days.
Atonement: lifts the weight of a great sin
Cure Critical Wounds: heals 4d8 + 1 hp/level
Commune with Nature: learn about surroundings; 1 mile/level outdoors, 100 ft/level underground
Control Winds: whip up winds in 40’ rad/level; up to tornado force at high levels
Insect Plague: summons spider, centipede or locust swarms; 1/3 levels
Plant Door: pass between two plants of the same kind over any distance
Rock to Mud+: turns a stone surface or object to mud
Stoneskin#: grants DR 5/- until 5 dmg/level is absorbed (max 75); requires diamond dust worth 3500 sp
Wall of Fire: 2d4 damage in 10’, 1d4 damage in 20’, 2d6 + 2/level damage when stepping through
Wall of Thorns: spiky brush must be cut through, moving deals 21-AC damage

*****

DM Notes: Extra skills *and* spellcasting *and* special abilities *and* they can transform too? All these druid special abilities are balanced out by the druid's spell list, which is heavily weighted towards very specific tasks. In a dungeon the druid will have to work hard to pull his weight at low levels, especially with no turning undead and delayed access to curing magic. 

At high levels of course, the druid will rule the school - just look at that spell list!! Once again there is a balancing factor - the druid's circle gates these spells off until he has proved his worth on a difficult quest, or a duel to the death! The DM is encouraged to make this as hard as he likes.


HOUSE RULES

I only have a few of these, mostly to fill in a few gaps or to fit the campaign world. The more I play, the more I want to keep house rules to a bare fucking minimum wherever possible. If the system doesn't work for you, play a different one bro!


MONEY

Land's End uses the silver standard, so 1 sp = 1 xp. Sword & Magic almost does that anyway (1 gp = 5 xp), so I'm just going a little bit further. I had to recalculate treasure values, but it wasn't too hard. As in the original Land's End game, everything is expensive and good gear is hard to find! After using it for a while, I am confident the silver standard is not generally a good idea for most D&D campaigns (it seems to break down around 5th level). For the sword & sorcery jungles of Land's End, it works fine. 


ENCUMBRANCE

I use unit encumbrance. A character can carry a number of significant items equal to their strength score without penalty. When items exceeding STR are carried, movement speed is reduced by 1/3. Beyond double STR, movement is halved and skill roll or saving throw penalties may be assessed as well (nobody ever carries that much, so I haven't thought much about that part yet). Carrying more than 3xSTR worth of items makes any movement other than staggering impossible.

Examples of one significant item: a one-handed weapon, a bag of 100 normal coins, a coil of rope, 2 torches, 2 days' rations, 2 bottles (potions or oil flasks), 20 arrows, 4 darts, a shield, a spellbook, a worn backpack, etc.

Examples of two significant items: a two-handed weapon, a bedroll, a small wooden chest.

Armour: armour counts for as many items as its AC bonus (eg. chainmail weighs 5)

Small items: a pouch of gems, a letter, a ring of keys, worn clothing, jewelry, paper currency and the like are not counted towards encumbrance.

Sword & Magic has no encumbrance system, so I had to add one. These are the same rules I use for every game I run, more or less. They are simple and easy to work with. I have been fiddling with them over multiple campaigns with multiple systems, so this is just the current incarnation. They are not perfect - a longsword & dagger weigh the same - but they are straightforward & playable.

The core priority is that the system be easy, otherwise players, shiftless as they are, just pretend it doesn't exist. The baseline I started from is "carry weight = strength score." From there I push the items' weight up & down until it fits. I don't like to change things mid-campaign unless I make an egregious mistake, so it has taken a few tries to smooth things out.

The focus is on a system that is coarse-grained enough for players to work out encumbrance problems fast, without having to do math. I want my players asking "do we drop the ammo, the food, or the mysterious crate so we can carry that gold statue?" not "I need to free up 2.5 pounds..."

(Remember also I am running these campaigns in person, with paper character sheets. Online it's a bit different and I just use character spreadsheets so players can see their encumbrance totals instantly.)


REACTIONS & MORALE

I use B/X-style 2d6 reaction rolls and morale, as always. I consider these rules (or something like them) indispensable. I made them fit into Pathfinder without a problem, so they should work fine here. They are not specified in the Sword & Magic rules although Melan does mention morale rules in his zine.  Charisma modifiers to the reaction roll will be stepped down to B/X standards, as usual (13-17 = +1, 18 = +2) because a +3 to reactions is impossibly too good, and even +2 is absurd.


CHARACTER SHEETS

I made these in GIMP based on the old D&D Basic character sheets. Very simple but effective. I found a font that is almost exactly like the original. Pretty cool right?



Catch you on the flip side blogland!

Monday, August 8, 2022

[Play Report] Helvéczia - The Seven Knaves

A few months ago, I got the wonderful Helvéczia boxed set from EMDT (read all about it here, and then go buy it here). One day when my online B/X group was a bit short-handed, I decided to run the starting adventure included in the book. My players had a great time. I thought I would have to explain everything to them but they understood the premise instantly and got right into character. Now they ask me when we can play "the fop game" again!

Here is how it all went down:


THE SEVEN KNAVES



Meeting on the Road

Three wanderers ambled along a cliffside highway after sunset:
Tarasz Lobodou - a handsome Cossack wearing expensive boots and a feathered hat;
Wilhelm Rudd - a sure-footed, sharp-eyed Dutchman with a crossbow, at home in the wilderness;
and 
Zenzi - formerly an innkeeper, this German was now pursuing his education in arcane sciences, while carrying a sack full of grenades.

Tarasz, introducing himself: "People outside Zaporizia can't pronounce my name very well."
Zenzi"Yes, and those inside don't want to!"

Having just been turned out of Oberwalden village by the sullen residents, they were on their way to the next town and the next adventure when they came upon an old moss-covered stone cross by the roadside. A dishevelled vagrant slept beneath it, his hat over his face. Tarasz shook him and he woke with a start of fear, only relaxing when he noticed the group wasn't hostile.

The tramp introduced himself as Bernard, explaining that he had been begging for alms at a house up the road when he was set upon by a gang of toughs who took what little money he had and gave him a thrashing for his troubles - they posted a few guards on the road by a stone arch, so he wouldn't come back. 

Moved by the poor man's plight, Tarasz gave him a few coins [+1 Virtue]. The group thought they might investigate these ruffians to see the truth of his story.

But first, Wilhelm's keen eyesight spotted a distant red glow in the nearby forest and the group decided to investigate, with Bernard in tow. Walking along a narrow path through pine forests that had never known a woodsman's axe, they came to a small patch of glowing red mushrooms with fireflies dancing above. Each adventurer took a piece, and the glow persisted after they had been picked.

The forest path continued past the mushrooms until the group came upon a small mountain lake (more of a pond, really) surrounded by rushes. A cave opening in some rock formations was visible beyond. Peering into the water, Zenzi noticed a yellow glow amongst the weeds at the lake's bottom. Wasting no time, Tarasz stripped to the waist, set his sword & pistol carefully aside, held a dagger in his teeth and dove into the water.

Lucky he was to bring a weapon, as the brave Cossack was immediately attacked by a gigantic man-eating frog! The horrid beast almost swallowed him whole, and only swift action with his main-gauche allowed escape. Meanwhile two more of the creatures leapt towards the group on the shoreline, one almost swallowing Bernard whole.

Zenzi, noticing one of his areas of study is Amphibians: "This is the greatest day of my life!"

While Tarasz swam for dear life, a keen-eyed crossbow shot by Wilhelm and a blast from one of Zenzi's grenades taught the other amphibious predators a lesson. Making it to the shore just ahead of his pursuer, Tarazs managed to put a final bullet in it a split-second before it bit him again! After the fight, Tarasz swam down and recovered a glowing golden cross from the bottom of the lake while Wilhelm managed to treat Bernard's wounds [a very lucky Medicine roll!].

In the cave was a tomb, showing an armoured man and an inscription: Von Oberwalden. Part of the carving was movable and had a place for a key or signet of some kind. Zenzi made an impression of the symbol, but lacking any such key the group moved on.


The House

Emerging from the woods, the party espied a moss-covered stone farmhouse across the road. Cheery light shone from its windows and the sounds of song & merry-making could be heard. Further back up the highway, a stone arch was visible against the starlight.

Deciding on a 'divide-and-conquer' strategy, Wilhelm snuck through the woods while the rest of the group walked up the road with a lantern towards the stone arch. Lurking in the trees, Wilhelm could hear the two guards playing dice and grumbling about their posting.

Tough 1"We have to sit out here, watching out for that bum! Meanwhile Raoul and the lads are drinking in a nice warm cabin. Pfaugh!"
Tough 2, notices the party appraching: "Oh, what's this? Mayhap we've got some relief after all."

But it was not to be. As the party got close enough to recognize, Tarasz whipped out a pistol and the game was up. Caught by surprise, they considered their options but were thoroughly demoralized to see Wilhelm emerge from the trees at their flank, crossbow levelled. The toughs were forced to admit they had robbed Bernard, were interrogated, then bound & gagged and left in a roadside ditch. The beggar was overjoyed to get his handful of coppers back [+1 Virtue for everyone].

Tough 1"As a good Christian, you wouldn't shoot an unarmed man?"
Tarasz, brandishing pistol: "Mayhap I'll send you to G-d and let him be the judge of that!"

The group learned very little except the gang's leader was a rich gentleman named Raoul, and something important was happening tonight. 

As the party returned to the house, the Oberwalden town church bell tolled ten o'clock. The sounds of merriment still issued from inside. Listening carefully, Wilhelm felt sure there were no more than six men inside. The stables held only a fierce-looking, night-black warhorse nobody dared approach. The party decided to lie in wait for a while, reasoning that after all this drinking somebody would have to come outside to relieve themselves.

Half an hour later, their patience was rewarded when a shabbily-dressed thug stumbled out towards the forest. Tarasz and Zenzi crept up on him carefully, the latter preparing to cast a spell on him: The Mirror of Narcissus.

Zenzi's player: "And just as he whips it out, I step forward and meet his eyes..."
Tarasz's player: "I take some small steps back from the scene."

Failing his Temptation save, Witless Heinz (for so he was called) saw Zenzi for a simple rogue just like himself, happily having a few drinks. He spilled the whole story: Raoul was a tough & fearsome leader who sometimes ventured into the woods all alone and showed signs of knowing magic (his boots were shoed in reverse). He had told the gang that an important visitor was arriving tonight, commanding them to return to the house at eleven o'clock. The group sent Heinz back inside with a commandment to keep silent about them [he made a Temptation save to keep his mouth shut, another of the company's lucky rolls this night!].

The group heard Oberwalden's church bells ring out eleven as they deliberated on their next move. Finally they decided on the direct approach: Zenzi threw a grenade through the window while the rest of the group charged in through the stable door! There was the crash of gunpowder, screams of agony & fear, fire and smoke. Tarasz spotted the rogue Raoul standing in the front doorway, lace spilling from his cuffs. The black-clad Spaniard held up a crystal globe which seemed to absorb Tarasz's mind, drawing his whole consciousness towards it - but the Cossack's will was stronger than this black magic and he resisted. Inside, Wilhelm cut down some Frenchman who tried to blast him with a blunderbuss, while Bernard went wild with a club in the confusion & smoke.

Seeing things were turning against him, Raoul tried to flee down the highway, but Tarasz managed to hit him with a flying tackle, knocking the crystal sphere from his hand just as Zenzi came around the corner! Together the two of them subdued the rogue.

As the smoke cleared, Wilhelm saw that poor Witless Heinz had been laid low by Bernard in the latter's zeal to punish the ruffians who robbed him. Taking pity on the fool, he saw to his injuries [another great Medicine roll, and +1 Virtue!].


The Visitor

With the villains subdued, the group searched the house and interrogated Raoul. They found a few Pfennigs on the ruffians, and Zenzi took Raoul's spare set of fancy black clothes, putting them on so he resembled the dashing criminal.

Searching Raoul was illuminating: the party found a catalogue of grave sins (murder, arson, etc), each one signed by himself and another called Goodfriend. The man was tough-minded and resisted interrogation, but the group did manage to get a few details out of him - the mysterious midnight visitor was to be the Devil himself, with whom Raoul would make a bargain most foul!

A plan began to form. The group tied Raoul to a tree outside and cleaned up the house as best they could. Zenzi carefully cut Raoul's moustache off and stuck it to his own lip. 

As midnight tolled, the clatter of wheels and neighing of horses could be heard. An elegant black carriage pulled by four fierce chargers pulled up to the small country house. Its driver was obscured by a cloak & broad hat, with clouds of red sparks issuing from beneath as if exhaled by a furnace. Stepping jauntily out of the coach, dressed in an elegant vest & monocle was the sooty-faced Devil, horns and all! 

He rapped sharply on the door and Zenzi invited him in. "Ah, nice to see you again Raoul. Do you look a bit different...? No matter." Whether Zenzi's hasty disguise had fooled the demon [another fantastic roll this night!] or all men looked much the same to him was unclear.

"You have the papers?" Zenzi produced Raoul's paperwork and Goodfriend reiterated the terms: worldly fame, wealth, magical power & skill at the Devil's Bible (playing cards) in exchange for a sequence of heinous crimes... and one immortal soul! After signing the contract, Zenzi really didn't feel any different, but Goodfriend said the changes would take effect the next day. He offered to do deals with the rest of the group, but when they weren't interested he bid everyone farewell, jumped into his carriage and was gone with a clatter of hooves.


Return to the Crypt

After this, Raoul gave up some of his secrets under intense pressure from Wilhelm [torturing a captive, uh oh, -1 Virtue!]. The group was able to recover his treasure - a lockbox with some coins and a signet ring showing a snake coiling around a sphere - the same symbol as in the Von Oberwalden tomb.

Returning to the forest cave, the signet ring unlocked a deeper passage inside. Descending the stairs, Tarasz just barely avoided a hidden spear-trap [lucky save!]. At the bottom was a large stone coffin with a carving of a bearded man with a mace & shield, while four moldering coffins lined the walls. 

Opening the sarcophagus revealed an ancient armoured corpse with a sword on its chest, holding a scroll-case. When Zenzi's Faithful Servant spell retrieved the scroll, the sword rose into the air and attacked! A tense struggle ensued but with Zenzi's quick thinking, a chunk of coffin-wood and Wilhelm's net, the sword was thrown back into the sarcophagus and the lid slammed shut.

Opening the scroll case revealed an ancient paper: The Testament of the von Oberwaldens. This ancient will seemed to indicate that anyone who held it and the signet ring is the true and rightful master of Castle Oberwalden and the whole valley around it!

With this new windfall, the group wonders what strange escapades might come next?


The Catalogue of Sins:

Tarasz - offered charity to Bernard (+1 Virtue)
Everyone - returned Bernard's stolen money (+1 Virtue each)
Wilhelm - showing mercy, healing Witless Heinz (+1 Virtue)
Wilhelm - torturing Raoul (-1 Virtue)
Zenzi - using Student spells (-1 Virtue)
Zenzi - making a pact with the Devil! (-3 Virtue)

Tarasz: +2
Wilhelm: +1
Zenzi: -3

Zenzi's future...?