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...?

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Intelligent Magic Items

A post many years in the making!

After finishing that "Knights in Orcus' Service" post and knocking around ideas for the other Chaos patrons in my setting, I realized I needed my own rules for demon weapons. Creating these items for my home game, I've been forced to cobble things together haphazardly. It's been rather annoying and nothing has felt quite right, so this is my attempt to streamline the rules for my home games - in whatever version of D&D I happen to be playing.

After using these rules several times in my home game, I feel good enough about them to post up. If I change them in the future I may come back and edit this.





First, let's examine the books I already have:

Realm of Chaos: Slaves to Darkness - The rules for Demon Weapons are cool as fuck, and clearly inspired by Elric. "Slays any unit it hits" is a bit much though. The magic effects from the Chaos Weapons section are good and the artwork is of course fantastic.

Awesome, but it will need some massaging to work within D&D.
We will come back to it later.


The Metamorphica Revised - The 'Ficto-Technica' section has tables for magic items. The best table is the one on pg. 208, "Demon-Possessed Items":


This will come up later on. 
Just get it, it's $10 for the revised pdf or get the classic version FREE!


AD&D DMG - Pages 166-168.

The standard to which all others are compared! Tables for personality and special goals are fantastic, but the whole system is pretty complicated and you have to flip back & forth. As usual, it could do with a bit of organizing.

I will be using the DMG as the baseline. From there I have attempted to streamline the mathematics and make things a little simpler while calibrating for my home setting.


*****



CREATING INTELLIGENT MAGIC ITEMS


0: Start

Per the DMG - we begin with an existing magic item. It could be a standard book item or one of the DM's own devising. This system was originally for magic swords but could be applied to anything: other weapons, wands, rings, armour or whatever.

From there, a simple 6-step process:
1: Roll for item INT
2: Roll for Alignment
3: Roll for Special Abilities
4: Roll for Special Purpose
5: Roll # of Languages Spoken, if applicable
6: Calculate EGO & Personality Strength


1: Intelligence and Capabilities (%)

We begin with the base tables from the DMG to see if it has intelligence and a mode of communication, and determine starting EGO rating:

01-50: No intelligence. Stop here.
51-75: No intelligence, but a strong alignment. Roll on Step 2 and then stop.
76-83: INT 12, EGO 1, semi-empathy
84-89: INT 13, EGO 2, empathy
90-94: INT 14, EGO 4, speech
95-97: INT 15, EGO 5, speech
98-99: INT 16, EGO 6, speech, read nonmagical languages/maps
00: INT 17, EGO 12, speech/telepathy, read magical writings

Or, if you are going to make an intelligent item anyway, use this chart expanded to the full percentage range to avoid a lot of rerolling:

01-31: INT 12, EGO 1, semi-empathy
32-56: INT 13, EGO 2, empathy
57-76: INT 14, EGO 3, speech
77-88: INT 15, EGO 4, speech
89-96: INT 16, EGO 5, speech, read nonmagical languages/maps
97-00: INT 17, EGO 11, speech/telepathy, read magical writings


EXAMPLE - I begin with a magical +2 sword. I have no particular plan for this item, so let's see what the dice give me on the top chart. Rolling for intelligence I got a 91, lucky! This sword has INT 14, EGO 3 and the power of speech.


2: Alignment (d20)

If you use simple law/chaos alignment like I do, just ignore the good/evil component of the result.
Remember that all cursed weapons are Neutral.

1-5: Lawful Good
6: Lawful Neutral
7: Lawful Evil
8-11: Neutral Good
12-15: True Neutral
16: Neutral Evil
17: Chaotic Good
18-19: Chaotic Neutral
20: Chaotic Evil

Simple alignment: if Chaotic, 30% chance of a demon item
AD&D alignment: if any Evil, 40% chance of a demon (or daemon or devil) item

Unintelligent but Aligned Items
Simple: Can be wielded or held by anyone, but activated & special abilities only work if alignment matches exactly. Plain +x items are reduced by one 'plus' for every step of alignment difference.

AD&D: Can be wielded by anyone, but activated & special abilities only work if all non-neutral elements of the item's alignment match the wielder's (a Lawful Neutral item can be used by anyone Lawful). This doesn't work in reverse - a Lawful Good item can only be used by Lawful Good characters. Plain +x items are reduced by one 'plus' for every step of alignment difference on either axis.

Intelligent Items
Simple: Handling an item of opposite alignment deals damage equal to item EGO. Handling an item one 'step' away (item or wielder is Neutral) deals 1/2 damage.

AD&D: All non-neutral elements of the item's alignment must match (as above), or handling the item deals damage equal to item EGO.

Demon Items
Can be used by characters of any ethos, all the better to corrupt them to the forces of darkness.

EXAMPLE - I use Simple alignment in my game. I rolled a 5, indicating the sword is Lawful.


3: Special Abilities

Roll for abilities based on item's INT:

INT 12: 1 detection ability
INT 13-14: 2 detection abilities
INT 15-16: 3 detection abilities
INT 17: 3 detection abilities, 1 extraordinary power

Detection Ability (%)

01-08 - detect shifting rooms/walls/sloping passages 10'
09-16 - detect traps 10'
17-24 - detect undead 20'
25-30 - detect opposing alignments 10'
31-36 - detect similar alignments 10'
37-45 - detect precious metals, kind and amount 20'
46-54 - detect gems, kind and number 5'
55-66 - detect magic 10'
67-69 - detect illusions 10'
70-74 - detect secret doors 5'
75-80 - see invisible 10'
81-85 - locate object 120'
86-93 - roll twice, ignoring this result or higher (add 2 EGO)
94-00 - roll for extraordinary power (add 2 EGO)

Extraordinary Power (%)
01-06 - determine direction and depth, 1d2/day
07-14 - enlarge/reduce on wielder, 1d2/day
15-21 - spider climb for 1 turn, 1d3/day
22-28 - clairaudience for 1 round, 30' range 1d3/day
29-35 - clairvoyance for 1 round, 30' range 1d3/day
36-40 - ESP for 1 round, 30' range 1d3/day
41-46 - charm person on hit, 1d3/day
47-50 - knock, 1/day
51-56 - strength on wielder, 1/day
57-61 - invisibility to item's enemies for 1 turn, 1d2/day
62-66 - levitation for 1 turn, 1d3/day
67-70 - fly, 1 hour/day (add 1d3 EGO)
71-75 - illusion as the wand, 120' range 1d2/day (add 1d3 EGO)
76-80 - x-ray vision for 1 turn, 40' range 1d2/day (add 1d4 EGO)
81-86 - telekinesis for 1 round, 1d2/day (add 1d3 EGO)
87-90 - telepathy, 60' range 1d2/day (add 1d4 EGO)
91-94 - teleport, 1/day (add 1d4+1 EGO)
95-97 - heal, 1/day (add 1d4+1 EGO)
98-00 - Roll twice, ignore this result again (add 2 EGO)

EXAMPLE - INT 14 gives 2 rolls on the Detection Table.
I rolled 03 - "detect shifting walls/rooms/sloping passages," and 71 - "detect secret doors." Not bad!


4: Special Purpose of Intelligent Item (d%)

Every intelligent item should have a special purpose. 
All these goals are filtered by alignment. A lawful sword that must 'defeat or slay' will only select chaotic enemies of its chosen category, etc.

01-15: overthrow opposite alignment (or "maintain balance" if Neutral)
16-85: defeat or slay:
     16-22: divine magic users (incl. divine entities, etc)
     23-30: arcane magic users (incl. magic-using monsters)
     31-37: fighters
     38-44: thieves
     45-55: all non-human monsters
     56-63: particular creature type (humanoids, undead, demons, etc)
     64-71: particular race or kind of creature (elves, orcs, ghouls, etc)
     72-78: servants of a specific deity
     79-85: everyone!!
86-92: defend a particular race or kind of creature
93-00: defend interests of a specific deity

Intelligent items generally prefer to use their powers in pursuit of their special purpose, but will do so for general tasks as long as they are kept happy. Using the item in opposition to its special purpose (aiding those the item wishes to destroy, etc) provokes an immediate personality conflict.

EXAMPLE - Rolling for Special Purpose, I get a 75 - "defeat or slay servants of a specific deity." Since the sword is Lawful, I decide to randomly select from the Chaotic powers in my setting. I end up with INMA, EMPRESS OF THE WORLD, a petty god worshipped by degenerated elves.


5: Languages Spoken

It's assumed the item can understand its wielder in any case. This determines the number of languages the item can speak aloud, if it is able. Per the DMG:

# of languages (%)
01-40: One
41-70: Two
71-85: Three (+1 EGO)
86-95: Four (+1 EGO)
96-99: Five (+2 EGO)
00: Six (+2 EGO)

What Language? (%)
Here is a chart from my game as an example.
01-15 - Imperial (aka Common Viridian)
15-20 - Alryan
21-25 - Antillian
26-30 - Dunael
31-35 - Ghinoran
36-40 - Skandik
41-45 - Tharbrian
46-50 - Amazon
51-55 - Altanian
56-60 - Avalonian
61-65 - Orichalan
66-70 - Old High Viridian
71-72 - Wild Speech
73-74 - Skeletongue
75-76 - Duvan'Ku
77-87 - Grimscribe
88-91 - Demonic
92-93 - Wild Elf/Bog Elf
94-95 - Lizardfolk
96-99 - Chthonic Elf
00 - Something really old/rare (draconic or something else cool)

EXAMPLE - Here I rolled fairly low, a 15. The sword can speak one language. I rolled Wild Elvish and decided it was made by the elves to destroy the heretical cult of Inma!


6. EGO Modifiers & Personality Strength

1 - Begin with item's starting EGO score as per Step 1.

2 - Add 1 EGO for every magical 'plus' an item has. Double this bonus for weapons that came into the process with special abilities (a +1 sword adds +1 EGO, a +3 sword of sharpness adds +6 EGO, etc) 
If the item is some weird thing from an OSR blog with no pluses you must use your discretion. Eyeball a power level between 1 (+1 sword, simple misc. magic item) and 10 (+5 holy avenger, staff of the magi). If you're completely stuck roll 1d10, or 1d6+1d4, or whatever.

3 - Include bonuses from Step 3 and Step 5, if any.

4 - Add the item's INT + EGO together to find its Personality Strength (PS).

EXAMPLE - The sword started with EGO 4. Add 2 for the sword's +2 bonus.
Total EGO of 6.

"Xyrxidon" Sword +2, Lawful
INT 14, EGO 6, speaks wild elvish
Detect shifting rooms/walls/sloping passages in 10' , detect secret doors in 5'


Resolving Personality Conflicts

Personality conflicts arise when the intelligent item's desires are not being met by its wielder. These contests are resolved with Personality Strength scores. 

The wielder of an item has Personality Strength equal to their INT + CHA + level.  This diminishes as the character suffers damage. The experience level component of this formula is reduced in proportion to hit point damage suffered.
 
The DMG explains it quite Gygaxianly, it's actually less math than it seems. The DM needs to calculate this just once (and when the character gains a level). Find the character's hp breakpoint at which the item's PS is higher than his, and make a note of it. There is no need to keep track of floating modifiers, since they don't matter most of the time.

EXAMPLE - Tjarg the Fighter is 5th level with 9 INT, 9 CHA and 30 hp. He normally has a Personality Strength of 5+9+9 = 23. For every 1/5 of his total hp he loses (6 points in this case) he deducts 1 point from his PS - so at 24 hp his PS is reduced to 22, at 18 hp it is 21 and so on.

If Tjarg is using our +2 sword above with its INT 14 & EGO 6 (PS of 20), you can see clearly at 12 hp he is tied with the sword and once his hp reaches 6, the sword's personality is stronger than his! All Tjarg's DM needs to do is write down "Tjarg loses contest w/sword at 6 hp."

As long as the item has a lower Personality Strength than its wielder, it can make its desires known and refuse to use its abilities if frustrated, but has no power over the character.

When an intelligent item has a PS higher than its wielder it may dominate him at any time. It may force him to attack certain opponents or allies, refuse to strike foes, force him to surrender or to drop it, etc. The likelihood of this happening depends on the relationship between item and wielder. It may make other additional demands - encrustation with gems, a fancy scabbard or case to be stored in, other efforts toward favoured causes, things like that.


Optional Rule for Personality Conflicts:

One thing I don't like about the DMG rules: it is trivial to roll up an intelligent weapon that will never win a personality conflict! This doesn't seem that exciting to me. Maybe you want a bit more uncertainty in your game?

It requires a bit more note-taking. The DM must note the wielder's Personality Strength at multiple breakpoints. Perhaps full hp, slightly hurt, half hp and near death. Keep these notes nearby for reference. When a personality conflict arises, the DM rolls 1d8 for both the item and wielder, adding it to their PS scores before resolving the contest.

EXAMPLE - A magical boon has increased Tjarg's INT and CHA scores to 10. His Personality Score is now 25. His humble sword can only win a battle of wills when he has 0 hp left - not very useful! Instead, the DM notes his Personality Strength at 12 hit points (PS 22) and 6 (PS 21).

During a difficult fight Tjarg gets hurt badly, reducing his hp to 11 (therefore, PS to 22). His sword has new plans for him and attempts to take control. The DM rolls 1d8 for each of them. Tjarg gets a 3, totaling 25. The sword rolls an 8, totaling 28. Today isn't Tjarg's lucky day...

I have not tested this idea very much. It would have to be calibrated. You could make it more or less random by changing the size of the die. If you used a d4 or d6, upset results would be rare. A d20 would make the whole thing way too random. d8 or d10 seems like a nice middle ground - the die roll will count for about 1/4 to 1/3 of success or failure, with the remainder upheld by statistics. Just enough that one can't be certain all the time!


Optional Rule for Different Versions of the Game:

The DMG rules are calibrated for players with certain statistics. Probably using 4d6 drop-the-lowest method, or perhaps something more generous than that. From the anecdotal evidence I've seen, successful AD&D PCs tend to have 1, 2 or even 3 exceptional statistics (15 or over), with the rest hovering around average. Consider this when calibrating the PS of your intelligent items.

If you play B/X and use 3d6 in order, for example, maybe you would reduce all item PS scores by 10-20% to balance out the lower stats.


[CHANGES]

This system will generate intelligent items that are slightly different from the DMG version in some ways:

Section 1 - Ignore "no intelligence, but strongly aligned" and this is exactly as per the DMG, I just condensed the math for you.

Aligned items being commonplace adds a sense that they were created for a real purpose. Picking up a wand of fireballs that only works for Chaotics, an Evil sword of sharpness, or a suit of armour made by a Lawful cleric helps to embed these items in the game world.

Section 2 - I rearranged the order of the alignments so that law, neutrality and chaos were grouped together, but the chances of rolling a given alignment are still the same. Effects of opposing alignments are standard for AD&D 2-axis system, and extrapolated from there for simple alignment. [EDIT - I had to fix this. Before damage was impossible if the wielder was Neutral, lame]

Effects of aligned, but unintelligent weapons are my own. 
Demon weapons will occur about 6% of the time, and be explained in a later post.

Section 3 - The first table is BTB.

Extraordinary Powers are more likely (7% instead of 2% BTB), but the really powerful ones will occur less often so this seems fair. Some of the better Extraordinary Powers now add extra EGO to the item. This is fair, since rolling up an item that lets you teleport or fly every day seems like a really big deal!

I reworked the abilities so they fit my game better and have more variety. Sloping passages and trick walls are rare in my dungeons (unlike in the old days) so I combined them into one result, then I added some other cool abilities, etc.

Section 4 - Basically the same but I added more purposes to the table to give it some variety.

I removed "special purpose powers," so you'll never get a disintegrate-on-hit sword, but those were only going to happen 0.02% of the time anyway, so who cares?

Section 5 - BTB, I just included the EGO modifiers to make your life easier.

Section 6 - BTB, I just helped with the math.



*****

This is already getting long, and even more tables are coming up so let's quit while we're ahead. Rules for Demon Weapons coming up in the next installment!



Wednesday, February 23, 2022

We Are Not The Same

Someone recommended I check out the Eberron campaign setting. I could see myself running it with a few tweaks. I would change the names a bit (way too many "Dragon-somethings"). But the magic-as-technology thing is intensely annoying. I would rather play in a game where wizards ride stagecoaches and helium zeppelins and send telegraphs, than one where every post office is run by a dude casting sending.

'High Magic' in D&D should be a lot less continual light streetlamps and more of this, and I am reprinting it here so I can link to it during internet arguments. 



Before the black-armored image there hung seven silver lamps, wrought in the form of horses' skulls, with flames issuing changeably in blue and purple and crimson from their eye-sockets. Wild and lurid was their light, and the face of the demon, peering from under his crested helmet, was filled with malign, equivocal shadows that shifted and changed eternally. And sitting in his serpent-carven chair, Namirrha regarded the statue grimly, with a deep-furrowed frown between his eyes: for he had asked a certain thing of Thasaidon, and the fiend, replying through the statue, had refused him. And rebellion was in the heart of Namirrha, grown mad with pride, and deeming himself the lord of all sorcerers and a ruler by his own right among the princes of devildom. So, after long pondering, he repeated his request in a bold and haughty voice, like one who addresses an equal rather than the all-formidable suzerain to whom he had sworn a fatal fealty.

"I have helped you heretofore in all things," said the image, with stony and sonorous accents that were echoed metallically in the seven silver lamps. "Yea, the undying worms of fire and darkness have come forth like an army at your summons, and the wings of nether genii have risen to occlude the sun when you called them. But, verily, I will not aid you in this vengeance you have planned: for the emperor Zotulla has done me no wrong and has served me well though unwittingly; and the people of Xylac, by reason of their turpitudes, are not the least of my terrestial worshippers. Therefore, Namirrha, it were well for you to live in peace with Zotulla, and well to forget this olden wrong that was done to the beggar-boy Narthos. For the ways of destiny are strange, and the workings of its laws sometimes hidden; and truly, if the hooves of Zotulla's palfrey had not spurned you and trodden you under, your life had been otherwise, and the name and renown of Namirrha had still slept in oblivion as a dream undreamed. Yea, you would tarry still as a beggar in Ummaos, content with a beggar's guerdon, and would never have fared forth to become the pupil of the wise and learned Ouphaloc; and I, Thasaidon, would have lost the lordliest of all necromancers who have accepted my service and my bond. Think well, Namirrha, and ponder these matters: for both of us, it would seem, are indebted to Zotulla in all gratitude for the trampling he gave you..."

-Clark Ashton Smith, The Dark Eidolon


"Listen, my lord. I was once a great sorcerer in the south. Men spoke of Thoth-Amon as they spoke of Rammon. King Ctesophon of Stygia gave me great honor, casting down the magicians from the high places to exalt me above them. They hated me, but they feared me, for I controlled beings from outside which came at my call and did my bidding. By Set, mine enemy knew not the hour when he might awake at midnight to feel the taloned fingers of a nameless horror at his throat! I did dark and terrible magic with the Serpent Ring of Set, which I found in a nighted tomb a league beneath the earth, forgotten before the first man crawled out of the slimy sea..."

..."Blind your eyes, mystic serpent," he chanted in a blood-freezing whisper. "Blind your eyes to the moonlight and open them on darker gulfs! What do you see, O serpent of Set? Whom do you call from the gulfs of the Night? Whose shadow falls on the waning Light? Call him to me, O serpent of Set!"

Stroking the scales with a peculiar circular motion of his fingers, a motion which always carried the fingers back to their starting place, his voice sank still lower as he whispered dark names and grisly incantations forgotten the world over save in the grim hinterlands of dark Stygia, where monstrous shapes move in the dusk of the tombs.

There was a movement in the air about him, such a swirl as is made in water when some creature rises to the surface. A nameless, freezing wind blew on him briefly, as if from an opened Door. Thoth felt a presence at his back, but he did not look about...

-Robert E Howard, The Phoenix on the Sword


Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Terrible City Guards

So I was having a few laughs with some other gamers about city guards in Swords & Sorcery campaigns. We agreed that well-done city guards should be the opposite of helpful in every possible way! I am running a game in the City-State of the World Emperor right now, and I think about this kind of thing a lot. 

In the spirit of Lankhmar, the CSIO and Melan's The Nocturnal Table, here is a list of assholish city guard behaviours to make your ne'er-do-well player characters' lives difficult.

EDIT - After Prince's comment, I've added some more entries to the table.
Enjoy the new 36-entry version!



Roll for individual guards or an entire group (or just the guard you're talking to).
For best fun, roll 2 or 3 times and combine!

City Guard Traits Table (d66):

11 - Lazy: doesn't want to lift a finger, no matter how serious the situation
12 - Mean: gets angry if spoken to without proper "respect"
13 - Greedy: loves to get bribed, makes up bullshit fees, skims off the top
14 - Upstanding: reacts negatively to a bribe attempt
15 - Inquisitive: follows up on everything, suspects everyone
16 - Party animal: looking for a drink, smoke or skirt
21 - Shady: trying to hide activities from the higher-ups & witnesses
22 - Vain: trying to look good, impress the populace, get chicks
23 - Slovenly: unshaven, ill-fitting armour, helmet askew, may trip on own boots
24 - Unwashed: scent is oppressive enough, stands very close
25 - Cowardly & Vicious: takes easy chance for cruelty, avoids any challenge
26 - Superstitious: fears magic, recent convert to weird cult, or keeps lucky charm
31 - Zealot: believes Overlord/local priest/etc is best possible ruler, enforces happily 
32 - Axe to grind: vs. particular race, class, religion, or everyone
33 - Bent: running own schemes, has contraband to buy & sell
34 - Drunk: raucous fun, maudlin despair, or sullen & violent
35 - Disbelieving: assumes citizens are liars, believes opposite of what is said
36 - Ultraviolence: Sanpaku eyes, ready for bloodbath at slightest provocation
41 - The good guard routine: easygoing & friendly, trying to extract information
42 - The bad guard routine: loves to beat on the citizenry, fights dirty
43 - Shit rolls downhill: blames nearest bystander for anything that goes wrong
44 - Shit rolls uphill: everything reported to the district commander
45 - Filling quotas: collects tolls & taxes, sliding scale based on seeming wealth
46 - Press-ganging: eyeing likely candidates for the Overlord's salt mines
51 - The boss is watching: strict & by-the-book, the more obscure the laws the better
52 - Entrapment: pretending to be on the take, ready to arrest anyone who takes bait
53 - In it for the pension: will not face even slight danger, makes any excuse
54 - On break: all the privileges, none of the responsibilities
55 - High alert: vigilant, notices any subtle/suspicious goings-on
56 - Informant: works for Overlord's secret police, rats out everyone
61 - Doing the job for once: asks all passersby difficult questions, needs answers now
62 - On the payroll: looks other way for local thieving, reports new operators to guild
63 - Judge Dredd: inhumanly Lawful, pursues even minor infractions unto death
64 - Private Pyle: pudgy dim-bulb would love a donut right now
65 - Fit a description: vaguely likes PC for crime that just happened across town
66 - Jam-up: new orders, crackdown on PC's next plan or favourite business


There you have it folks, a good old-fashioned random table that you can use in your home game today. Based on a blog comment section collaboration in the high & ancient style, no less!!! Who says the scene is dead?