Monday, March 30, 2020

MINI REVIEW: Hex Kit software

A brief detour from our wildly successful foray into the True Scientific Realism of historical weapons & armour. Thanks to everyone who has commented on those posts so far with an idea, correction or suggestion. Doing those tables is hard on my hands & eyes (all those pointed brackets) and the last one will be the biggest yet, so be patient.


*****

I recently took a chance on Cone of Negative Energy's mapping program. Hex Kit and all the additional tilesets are available in this highly affordable bundle right now. I was booting around on Roll20.net and saw them available there as well. Check out their website for some more details.

Hex Kit is very simple, low-resource, bare bones hexmap software. You can buy the tilesets to use in Roll20 if you do that kind of thing, but the program itself (as bought from DTRPG) works perfectly for me at home for my own use. The great strength of this program is its utter simplicity and ease of use, and the gorgeous hand-drawn artwork.

Here is a player's map I made yesterday in about an hour. Most of that time was taken up with double-checking it against my paper map, to make sure I had it right! There is more territory beneath the black hexes but we don't want my shifty players looking ahead:


Click to enlarge

Hex Kit has a perfect balance between simplicity and depth. All you have to do is pick a tile and start clicking on your map to fill hexes. If you pick a category (eg: forest, mountains, haunted wood, etc) the individual tiles will be assigned randomly, which just makes things look great. Most terrain types have 20 or more tiles so duplicates are far enough apart that I never notice. If you want to fine-tune your map you can click over & over to cycle the look of an individual hex, or just go into the terrain type and pick from individual images. I haven't had to do this yet.

It uses multiple layers for icons like towns, castles, ruins, whatever - but also cliffs, rivers and coastlines that will overlap your existing terrain. The coasts especially are lovely, the Fantasyland tileset has hand-drawn pieces that cover any cross-section of a hex you could ever need.

Click to enlarge

Observe a work-in-progress above. This shows a few of the Traveling Through Dangerous Scenery tiles, and the workspace. Simple buttons for paint, erase, clear a tile, labels & descriptions, rotate a tile, flip a tile, zoom and select a tile. The layers interface which is straightforward, and then your tilesets below. If you've ever used photoshop, GIMP or the like this will be a snap, and if you haven't it won't be too hard to pick up. A few minutes of messing with it is all you'll need.

There is also a 'custom map generator' that I'm still getting a handle on. It allows you to fill a hexmap quickly with any number of types of hexes randomly, based a hierarchy of elevation that you set. At the very least it's nice as a starting point, because if you resize the map it will automatically fill the new hexes for you!

If you don't get the bundle, Hex Kit comes with a default black & white tileset called Classic which is nice, but not nearly as cool as the full colour tiles. At a bare minimum you have to get the Fantasyland tileset, but Traveling Through Dangerous Scenery is also fantastic. There is an outer space set and one made to look like a pirate's treasure-map as well - get them if they sound useful, they look great but I don't know if I'll ever need them myself.

I do enjoy doodling a map with my coloured pencils but CONE's work is just ridiculously good here and I'll be using it from now on. Go check it out for yourself!

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

[Guest Post] High Medieval weapons & armour

[The fourth in our ongoing series. This one is probably closest to your basic D&D equipment list. Most of this should be familiar to folks, except that plate mail hasn't fully developed yet. Let's check it out, with a couple of explanatory notes and links that reveal Steve's obsession with bows and crossbows... -HDA]

Previous posts in the series:
Primitive
Antiquity
Dark Ages

[EDIT: I guess we made it to the big time! Finally on the board at the OSR links to wisdom wiki. Chin-chin! - HDA]

[EDIT AGAIN: I can't believe I forgot to include pictures in this post. Here are a few illustrating the armours of the day. - HDA]


*****

-I spoke with a medieval anthropologist who shoots both crossbows and longbows and he shared an interesting theory with me. He's willing to swear by an academic work (the name escapes me) that the find of the Mary Rose has been misinterpreted to indicate that English archers used monstrously high draw weights like 185 or 200 lbs, because the bows are so stiff and the skeletons found had disfigured spines. The article's opinion was that remains of sailors were mislabelled as the skeletons of archers (supposedly there were only a few archers on board and a much larger crew) and that the back problems came from the crew's manual labour on the ship.

The bow staves being carried were actually half-finished munitions bows in transportation. The idea is they get shaved down by a bowyer to suit the individual man who would draw them, therefore reducing draw weight. Maybe they think so because the natural texture of the wood was left on the back of the bows. Anyway, if you believe that as this guy I talked to did, he was sceptical that any war bows were heavier than 110 pounds, arguing that a 190 pound bow is impossible for even a very strong man to draw. He thinks that the emphasis on the superhuman strength of English archers is a kind of historical myth perpetuated by England because it reinforces national pride and glorifies their ancestors. However, there are archers today who can draw and shoot the Mary Rose bows and they haven't trained from the age of 8. [Of course today we have access to a high-calorie, high-protein diet and fitness gyms. English peasants didn't. I saw a video of a dude squatting 1,001 lbs for 3 reps the other day. You be the judge. -HDA]


-Similar to the ancient Sica, the Baselard of the late Medieval had the connotation of a scoundrel's weapon, used by criminals, murderers, etc, and banned in certain places and towns. The high medieval/crusade era was trickier, but I did find a reference to an 11th/12th century short sword called a servile. It was assumed to be a boy's sword, or blade for a servant. They could have it wrong, it could have been a perfectly good weapon for war. Either way, in a fantasy context, a boy's sword is perfect for the Frodos and Bilbos and it might be an unassuming weapon for a rogue.


-Basically, everything we know about splint mail, banded mail, whatever, throw it all out. There is mail, and there is plate. One grew into the other over time. At the beginning it was "plated mail" or "mail & plate", which was just plates covering important parts. Europeans started putting plate over their mail, until it was all plate with just mail in the gaps (called transitional armour). Then they got so good that they didn't need the mail and just had a shirt with mail armpits that they put on beforehand.


-Lamellar is better scale armour using bronze wire to lace the scales to each other instead of to a backing. It was popular with the Byzantines and spread to the Byzantine-influenced areas of Poland, Lithuania, Russia, Turkey, Persia and into Asia from there. The cataphracts would upgrade their mail with a shirt of lamellar on top which then turned into mail-and-plate armour (or plated mail), and then the mail limb armour went back to higher grade lamellar (the same style as Roman lorica segmentata), so the highest levels of armour in the era were a composite of chest plates and segmented limb armour.



High Middle Ages (11th-13th century)
Simple Melee dmg notes
Club D4 B light or versatile
Dagger, knightly D4 P finesse, light, thrown (10/30)
Handaxe D6 S light
Javelin D6 P thrown (30/90)
Mace D6 B -
Mace, footman’s D6 B versatile
Military flail D6 B -
Morningstar D6 B -
Peasant flail D8 B two-handed
Quarterstaff D6 B two-handed
Sap D4 B finesse, light, knockout
Sickle D4 S light
Spear D6 P thrown (20/60), versatile
Simple Ranged
Crossbow, hand-spanned D6 P ammunition (60/120), loading (1), two-handed
Crossbow, belt-spanned D8 P ammunition (80/160), loading (1), two-handed
Dart D4 P finesse, thrown (20/60)
Shortbow D6 P ammunition (80/160), str 11, two-handed
Sling (stone) D4 B loading (0), ammunition (30/90)
Sling (bullet) D6 B loading (0), ammunition (30/120)
Martial Melee
Battleaxe D8 S versatile
Greataxe, dane axe/sparth D12 S heavy, two-handed
Lance, light D6 P reach, thrown (20/60), versatile
Lance, heavy D8 P heavy, reach, two-handed on foot, versatile
(couched charge) 2D8 P heavy, reach, two-handed on foot, versatile (2D10)
Pike D8 P heavy, reach (15 ft, cannot attack 5 ft), two-handed
Polearm, fauchard/guisarme D10 S heavy, reach, two-handed
Polearm, spetum D10 P heavy, reach, two-handed
Shortsword, servile D6 P finesse, light
Sword, arming D8 S/P -
Sword, falchion D8 S -
Sword, long D8 S/P versatile
Sword, scimitar/sabre D8 S finesse
Whip D4 S finesse, reach, knockout, no opportunity attacks
Martial Ranged
Longbow D8 P ammunition (150/300), heavy, str 13, two-handed
Longbow, heavy/recurvedD10 Pammunition (150/300), heavy, str 15, two-handed
Net - special, thrown (5/15)
Shortbow, recurved D8 P ammunition (100/200), str 13, two-handed
Special weapon rules:
Light: Ideal for off-hand use when dual wielding.
Versatile: May be used in one or two hands. Roll the next higher die for two-handed damage.
Finesse: May use DEX modifier in place of STR for attack/damage rolls.
Heavy: Small creatures have disadvantage on attack rolls.
Reach: Adds 5 feet to striking distance, unless more is indicated.
Ammunition/Thrown: A ranged weapon. The first number is short range (attacks incur no penalty), the second is maximum range, in feet.
Loading (x): Require the user to spend an indicated number of actions reloading the weapon. If the number indicated is 0 it can be fired once per round, but no more.



Light Armour AC notes
Padded aketon 11+dex -
Padded gambeson 12+dex -
Medium Armour
Mail shirt 13+dex (max 2) stealth disadvantage
Mail coat 14+dex (max 2) stealth disadvantage
Scale shirt, lamellar 13+dex (max 2) stealth disadvantage
Scale armor, lamellar 14+dex (max 2) stealth disadvantage
Plated mail shirt 14+dex (max 2) stealth disadvantage
Coat of plated mail 15+dex (max 2) stealth disadvantage, str 13
Heavy Armour
Suit of mail 16 stealth disadvantage, str 13
Suit of plated mail 17 stealth disadvantage, str 15
Shield +2 -


*****

[Here are some great links for more info:

The mighty Delta explains archery, range & accuracy in D&D Plenty of further reading. Archery is much more complex an issue than I thought!
Military kits of British soldiers, 1066-today with lots of pictures
How did swords work against armour anyway?

Firing speed of bows & crossbows:

Friday, March 13, 2020

Thoughts on Reaction Rolls & Campaign Updates

Remember when I reviewed the mathematics for my random encounter tables? Today I have been thinking about the humble reaction roll. I use these and the morale rules (taken straight from Labyrinth Lord) in every game I run. I transplanted them into my Mathfinder game and they work fantastically. These days I would at a minimum hesitate to run a game without these kinds of rules.

So here are a few things I like to do to mess with reaction rolls. Some I've been doing for a while, but I was inspired to post about them when I remembered a conversation on d4 caltrops quite a while back. Ktrey really ran with the idea of overloading various rolls to create more information about a monster! This breakdown is a bit simpler but these techniques work well for me, and hopefully the reader may find them useful.

By The Numbers

Note: I've inverted the normal "lower is better" reaction roll for ease of use, so +1 is an improvement and -1 is a penalty. No need to confuse things.

Reaction Table (2d6):
2: hostile, attacks
3-5: unfriendly, may attack
6-8: neutral, uncertain
9-11: indifferent, uninterested
12: friendly, helpful

Normal PF stat modifiers are +1/-1 for every 2 points away from 10. Obviously I use the stat modifiers from Labyrinth Lord to match the reaction rules. This is funny because my players ask "What does my 'Reaction Skill' mean? Why is the bonus so low? Why can't I put points into it?" I have to explain it all every time.

LL's CHA modifier table looks like this:
3: -2
4-8: -1
9-12: +0
13-17: +1
18: +2

Not much of a bonus, but on a 2d6 roll it really changes the game. Jeff talks about this here. Even a 13 CHA makes "instant hostility" impossible, and that 18-CHA paladin makes friends with a monster on 10, 11 or 12! As always with classic D&D, the rules support each other if you use them all together: rolling stats straight down the line means having a character with the gift of gab is a lucky situation not to be overlooked.


Circumstance Modifiers

The basic thing I do to mess around with reaction rolls is a flat modifier based on the temperament of the creature, or circumstances in the dungeon or wilderness region. A few examples from my Land's End random encounter tables:

Lizardmen: Neutral, standoffish.
Jungle Bear: +2 to reaction. Rarely hostile unless provoked or near food/cubs.
Goblins: -1 to reaction. Jumpy and irritable from being cooped up inside the fort.
Mosquito Swarm: Thirsty!

Three basic possibilities: roll unmodified, roll with a bonus/penalty, or instant attack. These modifiers could be likened to a 'slide' of the probability curve up or down. Note how they can drastically change results at the extremes, so keep that in mind.


Reaction Rolls based on Modifiers (%):

Modifier Hostile Unfriendly Neutral Indifferent Friendly
-4 41.7 41.7 16.7 0 0
-3 27.8 44 25 2.8 0
-2 16.7 41.7 33.3 8.3 0
-1 8.3 33.3 41.7 16.7 0
0 2.8 25 44 25 2.8
+1 0 16.7 41.7 33.3 8.3
+2 0 8.3 33.3 41.7 16.7
+3 0 2.8 25 44 27.8
+4 0 0 16.7 41.7 41.7

Going beyond +/-2 obviously can only happen by combining extreme CHA scores and situational modifiers. I include them for completeness and info-tainment purposes. Be careful when that 18 CHA PC starts taking the lead!


Limits

Another possibility. Less extreme than +/- modifiers, more consistent results. Simply determine the best or worst possible reaction the creature might respond with. I would use this only in specific cases, as I think it's more fun to have a wide range of possibilities. For example:

Charau-Ka: Demon-worshipping ape-men. Disdain other humanoids, especially hairless ones. Best reaction is Neutral.

An encounter with the Charau-Ka has the same chance of being instantly hostile and a huge chance of being neutral (6-12). That charismatic paladin won't make friends with them, but has some chance of being able to defuse the situation without violence. This sets a limit to how well (or poorly) the encounter will go, while leaving some room for chance and stat modifiers to play their part. In a sense it is a halfway point between "instantly hostile" and a numerical modifier.


Quantum Reactions

A fun technique is to build other random determinations into your reaction roll. Look at this entry from my encounter tables:

Wildmen: Reaction roll for tribe
2: Wolf or Jackal. Hate everyone.
3-11: Any (1d6 - 1 Wolf, 2 Bear, 3 Caiman, 4 Bat, 5 Spider, 6 DM's choice)
12: Caiman. Welcoming to travellers, enjoy games & contests.

This combines the Limit technique with some baked-in detail about the game world. I am not 100% sure about this method yet, but it continues to work well for me in Land's End. The players don't know what the rolls do, it all happens behind the scenes. It just so happens that all the belligerent locals wear wolf pelts, and the friendly ones crocodile-skin masks. In the middle, anything can happen and relationships will be determined by player character actions and circumstance. This does mean that you can have "indifferent" reactions from the Wolf tribe and "unfriendly" reactions from the Caiman tribe. These groups are still people like everyone else. Ultimately this saves time and allows the DM to absorb setting information with one glance at the local encounter table.


More Suggestions

The possibilities are endless. I have not tried these yet, but they might work:

Motivations. I am considering this in a dungeon I'm working on right now, but care must be taken. If you have an array of interests or goals for a group of monsters and can't choose one, a reaction roll would be one way to decide. Eg: If the neanderthals want to make contact with the gnolls on level 2 and are also fighting with the goblins for control of the main corridors, perhaps the initial reaction roll sets the tenor for their attitudes throughout the dungeon delve: 2-5 indicates they are on war footing against the goblins and 9-12 suggesting diplomatic efforts towards the gnolls. Later on, other neanderthal parties will be in the midst of pursuing this same goal.

What are the monsters doing when you meet?
Hostile: patrolling territory, on a raid
Unfriendly: hiding loot, hunting, getting high on cave fungus
Neutral: guarding an area
Indifferent: trying to sleep, absorbed in a game,
Friendly: recovering from another fight, selling something, on a religious holiday

What condition are they in? A 'friendly' result might mean they're wounded or low on manpower, willing to bargain. A 'hostile' group is at full strength and ready to throw down. Modify the # encountered by 10-20% depending on the reaction roll.

Let's hear suggestions in the comments, or maybe some links to other folks that have discussed this!


***** Campaign Update *****


It had to happen: the Land's End game is going to slow right down since my brother just had his daughter. Cigars all around folks, I'm an uncle now!

As a rules-heavy, character-driven sandbox with only three players, it will be tough to play without him. My brother is one of the best players I've ever DM'd for, and his serpent oracle Vuk Thuul seems to drive the campaign along just by showing up. Luckily the drop-in game is taking off, new people keep showing up and we're having great fun.

There are still plenty of articles in my 'Drafts' folder about Land's End, including the last dungeon they explored but I'm going to be shifting my focus to the other side of the campaign world and the escapades of a brand-new group of 1st level scrubs trying to survive all my LotFP adventures and the encounters from The Nocturnal Table!

Pursuant to this, YOU dear readers can expect more of:

-Play reports on various OSR modules as I run my players through them. I don't like "standard narrative play reports" but I am writing them up for my players anyway, so you'll get something between a review and a play report - what went wrong, what the players liked, what was easy to use, what was difficult, what I'd do differently next time.

-Making the Wilderlands my own, likely by borrowing more from Book of the New Sun

-Nameless Cults and Gifts of Chaos

-The return of Fun on the Velvet Horizon

-More demon-summoning rules

-New Labyrinth Lord rules and less pathfinder content!


Next week we're back with High Medieval weapons & armour. Now here's an unreleased gem of an album from years back. Enjoy it before it gets taken down!!!




Saturday, March 7, 2020

[Guest Post] Dark Ages weapons & armour

[We're back with more of the period-piece weapons you crave! This is the beginning of familiar territory for most D&D settings. This is a nice easy weapon list before we get to the huge and complex arms proliferation of the high middle ages and beyond. Don't get cocky though, there are some key differences between the Dark Ages and latter times. -HDA]

Part One - Prehistory
Part Two - Antiquity

*****

Francisca - The classic one-handed axe, a few fellows hold them in the picture just above.

Shepherd's Axe - Similar, with a bigger head and longer handle.

Dane Axe - Long-handled axe with a differently-shaped head. [See link below]

Angon - Very similar to the pilum and maybe derived from it, used by the Anglo-Saxons.

Peasant Flail - Originally used for threshing, the two-handed versions had cylindrical heads unlike many one-handed flails.



DARK AGES (6th-10th century)
Simple Melee dmg notes
Club D4 B light or versatile
Dagger D4 P finesse, light
Handaxe, francisca D6 S light, thrown (20/60)
Handaxe, shepherd’s D6 S versatile
Javelin D6 P thrown (30/90)
Javelin, angon D6 P thrown (20/60), near miss disables wooden shield
Mace D6 B -
Mace, footman’s D6 B versatile
Military flail D6 B -
Morningstar D6 B -
Peasant flail D8 B two-handed
Quarterstaff D6 B two-handed
Sap D4 B finesse, light, knockout
Sickle D4 S light
Spear D6 P thrown (20/60), versatile
Simple Ranged
Crossbow, hand-spanned D6 P ammunition (60/120), loading (1), two-handed
Dart D4 P finesse, thrown (20/60)
Shortbow D6 P ammunition (80/160), str 11, two-handed
Sling (stone) D4 B loading (0), ammunition (30/90)
Sling (bullet) D6 B loading (0), ammunition (30/120)
Martial Melee
Battleaxe, bearded D8 S versatile
Greataxe, dane axe D12 S heavy, two-handed
Lance, light D6 P reach, thrown (10/30), versatile
Lance, heavy D8 P reach, heavy, two-handed on foot, versatile
(couched charge) 2D8 P reach, heavy, two-handed on foot, versatile (2D10)
Shortsword, seax D6 P finesse, light
Sword, Carolingian/Viking D8 S -
Sword, sabre/scimitar D8 S finesse
Whip D4 S finesse, reach, knockout, no opportunity attacks
Martial Ranged
Longbow D8 P ammunition (150/300), heavy, str 13, two-handed
Net - special, thrown (5/15)
Shortbow, recurved D8 P ammunition (100/200), str 13, two-handed

Special weapon rules:
Light: Ideal for off-hand use when dual wielding.
Versatile: May be used in one or two hands. Roll the next higher die for two-handed damage.
Finesse: May use DEX modifier in place of STR for attack/damage rolls.
Heavy: Small creatures have disadvantage on attack rolls.
Reach: Adds 5 feet to striking distance, unless more is indicated.
Ammunition/Thrown: A ranged weapon. The first number is short range (attacks incur no penalty), the second is maximum range, in feet.
Loading (x): Require the user to spend an indicated number of actions reloading the weapon. If the number indicated is 0 it can be fired once per round, but no more.



Light Armor AC notes
Padded aketon/vápntreyja 11+dex -
Padded gambeson 12+dex -
Medium Armor
Hide armor, elk/reindeer 12+dex (max 2) -
Mail shirt 13+dex (max 2) stealth disadvantage
Mail coat 14+dex (max 2) stealth disadvantage
Scale shirt, iron 13+dex (max 2) stealth disadvantage
Scale coat, iron 14+dex (max 2) stealth disadvantage
Shield, wooden +2 -
Byzantine Cataphract Barding
Light Barding AC notes
Padded barding 11+dex -
Leather scale barding 11+dex -
Medium Barding
Hide barding 12+dex (max 2) -
Scale barding, forequarters 13+dex (max 2) stealth disadvantage
Scale barding, body 14+dex (max 2) stealth disadvantage




*****

Here's a nice link that relates back to the previous post. A beautiful Roman-made dagger.

Types & shapes of Norwegian Viking-age swords, up to the 10th c.
Various shapes & sizes of axe heads, including the Dane Axe and others.

If anyone else has links to historical footnotes or resources, have at it in the comments!
Now that we're in the Viking Age, some appropriate music: