Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Old School Dragon's Lair - full walkthrough

Anybody remember this? I beat this game, back then, must have been like 12 years old. I remember being soooo excited when I finally got to the dragons lair.

Morale Checks and Saving Throw Table

The DM should use morale checks when PCs are battling any monster that would care about dying, which means pretty much anything outside of demons, devils, and the unintelligent undead. Morale checks can also be used for associates of the PCs, such as henchmen and followers.

A morale check is like a savings throw against the monster's morale score. The roll has to be BELOW the morale score for morale to hold. The DMG has a fairly complex morale modifier system, which can get rather tedious to administer, especially as you are supposed to check every round when someone is losing. For reference, I summaried the modifiers below***, but I prefer to use something a bit simpler.

Here is my rules-light version of morale checking, using d20:

Make a morale check at key points:
1) when things start to get tough (1/4 damage taken, i.e. "crap, this is not as easy as I thought") --> morale score lowered by 10% , -2 on morale
2) when things are going bad (over 1/2 damage taken, i.e. "holy crap, why am I doing this?") --> morale score lowered by 25%, -5 on morale
3) when you are about to die (over 3/4 damage taken, "sweet mother of Krom, one more blow and I'm done for") --> morale score lowered by 50%, -10 on morale

Momentum of battle modifiers:
winning --> raise by 25%, +5
losing --> lower by 25%, -5

--if the enemy has taken half damage (-5), and is not dishing out much damage in return (-5), its morale score would be lowered by 10.
--if the enemy has taken half damage (-5), but is generally winning the battle (+5), morale would be even.
--if the enemy is close to death (-10), but winning the battle, say, having already killed most of the party (+5), its morale still would be minus 5.

Morale Failure table
Compare the savings throw roll (d20) to the morale score:
--roll is 1-5 points higher than morale score: falling back, looking for exits, peace parley offered ("Listen friends, this was all a misunderstanding, perhaps we could work this out like gentlemen...")
--roll is 6-10 points higher than morale score: disengage fighting, an orderly retreat ("Alright lads, good work, you've shown us, we're done here, we're leaving..."
--roll is 11-14 points higher than morale score: flee in panic, a disorderly retreat, dropping treasure, weapons, and other valuables ("You win, ok, we give up, here, take it, just leave us alone...")
--roll is 15+ points higher than morale score: unconditional surrender, throwing away weapons, laying on ground, begging for mercy, offers of servitude and ransom, etc.

Base morale table (HD - Morale)
1 - 50%, 2 - 55%, 3 - 60%, 4 - 65%, 5 - 70%, 6 - 75%, 7 - 80%, 8 - 85%, - 90%, , 10 - 100%

+1% for bonus HPs as well.

*** DMG morale score modifiers:
25% damage taken --> lower score by 5
leader unconscious --> lower score by 10
50% damage taken --> lower score by 15
leader slain or deserts --> lower by 30
outnumbered 3 to 1 and outclassed --> lower score by 20
each friend killed --> lower by 10
each friend deserting --> lower by 15
taking casualties without giving any --> lower by 10
each enemy deserting --> raise by 5
each enemy slain --> raise by 10
inflicting casualties without taking any --> raise by 20

Friday, September 17, 2010

Monster Ecology in 1e MM - the role of Animals

The 1e Monster Manual displays a remarkable focus on mundane animal ecology. Almost a third of "monsters" in the MM are just plain old animals, some in giant form, a small handful with some add-on power, like killer frogs and fire toads.

Has anyone ever used a giant weasel in their campaign? I think, probably, no, no one has EVER included a giant weasel in a D&D game... But that is not the point!

The point is that the MM was designed to enable you to stock a holistic campaign, i.e., include life outside the dungeon, or even the town. Alright, fine, but outside of stocking random wilderness encounter tables, what else are they good for?

Adventure Hooks involving animals:

--Bad guy henchmen: evil wizard/warlord living in that dark forest/mountain lair, seems to somehow control an army of vicious animals, to act as his defense and spies on the approach to his hidden fortress.

--Gladitorial combat: a) Ending up on the wrong side of the law after a night of post-dungeon partying, PCs are sentenced for a night of Idiocracy-style "rehabilitation", on the stadium floor with a troop of hungry wolverines and cave bears....

--Gladitorial combat: b) down-on-their luck PCs turn to a local help wanted ad, for a high-wage position. The ad only mentions one caviat, that "applicant must feel comfortable working with animals"...

--Resource acquisition: animals often have products that are highly valuable, which the perpetually poverty-stricken PCs might get involved with, such as:

- the royal jelly in giant's bees nests, that the royal princess demands and daddy/king pays a pretty penny for...
- the poison in giant scorpion stingers, as one of the street kids has a friend, who has a friend, who is willing to pay top dollar for the pure stuff, don't mention it to the town guards on the way in, though... no, nothing at all to do with the assassin's guild, of course not, don't be silly....
- eggs of various creatures, especially flying creatures, that the nobles are always trying to train as steeds or as aerial hunters or messengers.
- babies of various species, to be captured and raised as pets and/or zoo specimens by eccentric nobles, or guard animals by merchants, such as young bears, tigers, hyenas, wolves, crocodiles, etc.

--Bounty rewards: local villagers/farmers/ranchers post a bill offering rewards for the elimination of animal threats. "Looks like a hive of gaint wasps just popped up on the other side of that hill, in that hole in the side of hill. You guys clear the nest for us, we'll pay you 1000 gold...." or "Stupid wolf pack has been getting real aggressive lately, attacking my sheep, 50 gold for each wolf hide you bring in..."

--Hunting fodder: PCs will often need to eat while traveling cross country, needing to hunt and battle/kill the animals for food. Keep in mind, this will always attract alpha predators, who hear the dying cries and/or smell the spilled blood, and decide to come get a share for themselves.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

An Analysis of the Magical Economy and the Rarity of Magic

Reading the 1e DMG description of how to create magic items, such as potions and scrolls, I am left with the strong impression that magic is Not As Easy As We Assume. I mean, according to Gygax's description, even the creation of the ink for a magical scroll requires some expremely rare and potent ingredients.

I think our minds tend to zoom into that scene of the Mage's Dusty Laboratory, with shelves lined with mason jars stuffed with magical ingredients. Ok, that's cool, I get it, but think back one step... How did all those cool magical ingredients get into those jars? We are talking some crazy stuff, like Blood of Dragon, Liver of Doppleganger, Pituitary Gland of Rakshasa, Testicle of Mountain Giant... Not exactly stuff lying around and about, if you see what I mean.

Someone, somewhere, had to go pull a Major Bad-ass Power Move, and forcibly take that Stinger off the tail of the Wyvern, that Heart had to be cut from behind the ribs of the Troll, those Lungs had to be removed from the chest of the Red Dragon, the Poison had to be mikled by hand from the Snakes of the Medusa Head, etc etc etc, AND get them back to the magic user, in short enough time that he could extract their Essense, and get it into that dusty-looking mason jar on that shelf over back there in the corner.

Obviously, a magic user is going to be willing to pay good money for these rare and difficult to find ingredients. Thus, we open a window into the workings of the Magical Economy.

I think we all tend to default into the Harry Potter school of magic, imagining that it is just something that happens with the wave of a wand and the right magical words. D&D magic is more like chemistry, harnessing the power of magical ingredients. It is hard work, it takes a lot of time, and it is therefore RARE, and EXPENSIVE.

The magical economy provides a never-ending basket of adventure hooks. Rather than just hanging out at taverns hoping to hear of something cool in a nearby woods, we would expect to find a well-established network of Wizard Want Ads.

Attaining supplies is also the exact plot device we need to coerce Magic Users into adventuring parties. Why else would these pencil neck weirdo geeks endanger their precious and vulnerable skins, taking time away from their all-important research and study, to confront deadly monsters? Trust me, these low STR, low CON types would much rather be surrounded by books than slinking into dungeons WITH NO ARMOR. Think about it, every spell they cast burns through more precious and expensive ingredients, and its a total pain in the ass to prepare properly in the first place.

Rich mages will happily pay people to go do the dangerous stuff and bring the precious ingredients to them. But what about a wizard who is down on his luck, running short on the gold? To him, accompanying a war party full of big-muscled meat-heads is just a bargaining chip to help him acquire more of his precious magical components.

Yes, he will agree to accompany your party on its (insane) quest, AND (perhaps) support it with some magical assistance (when absolutely needed), IF he gets time (and assistance) butchering the bodies of the slain magical creatures. THAT is probably the typical attitude of the "adventuring" magic user.

Oddly enough, it is the Mage who is most likely to be into the Hack and Slash campaigning mode. The fighters and thieves are surely most interested in acquiring All The Gold and Jewels with as Little Blood Spilled as Possible. XP for GP rewards their clever manueverings. Mages, on the other hand, NEED BODY PARTS!!!

You can easily see this conversation taking place:

Figher - "Great job, Thief, finding that secret entrance and hidden causeway. That led us right to the treasure!"
Thief - "Yeah, that idiot dragon surely don't need this huge pile of cash, he sure gonna be pissed when he comes back in to find it gonzo! haw haw"
Mage - "No, no, wait, guys, don't you think we should go back and take care of that evil beast, I mean, uh, think of the poor villagers, I really think we should kill it, and hack its body into small, easily-carried pieces...."

In a typical D&D society, how many people are even going to be attempting a career as a magic user? What, 1 in a 1000? In a decent-sized city of 10,000 people, that means there would only be 10 magic users in the whole city. How many of them would be a high enough level to even be able to create magic items??? Maybe 2, or 3? Think about it, only 2 or 3 guys able to create magic items for a WHOLE TOWN.

And on top of that, a potential magic item has to be crafted of only the finest, rarest, and most expensive material possible. If it is not a perfect physical specimen, the magic enchantment will not hold. Can't you just see this conversation happening with an ambitious young fighter:

"You want me to enchant THAT? Look, sonny, let me give you a clue. If you want a magic sword, you need to start with the finest dwarven-forged steel, crafted by their ancient master smithies, deep in the mountain under the earth, smelted from the purest alloys... NOT that half-bronze piece of junk hammered together last week in Billy's backyard furnace... Smack that up against a dragon's hide, it'll snap in like two second, kid..."

Ok, in summary, given 1) the need for only the finest (read: most expensive) raw material, 2) the scarcity of high level magic users doing the painstakingly slow enchanting, and 3) the perpetual shortage of magic ingredients taken from the dead bodies of powerful dangerous monsters....

Magic Will Be Rare. And Expensive.

But will give PC's endless adventuring hooks in their attempts to acquire those materials, and/or come to possess the magic items directly.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Predatory birds of AZ Adventures - the Rocs

The major predatory birds of AZ are the Rocs. There are two major Roc aeries in the state: on the southern coast, where their complex of aeries in the sea-side cliffs is known as Roc Point, and in the north among the cliffs of the Grand Canyon. From these two launching points, Rocs be found in air above the entire AZ region.

From Roc Point, the garganuan birds hunt over both the ocean and the Great Southern Desert. On the landward side, the Thunderherders of the desert sands are one of their favorite meals. The teeming Kobold hoards of the lower Gila River region also provide a plentiful source of snacks for the giant birds.

From the Grand Canyon, Rocs love to hunt the plentiful insects of the northwestern deserts, where the Mantis-men and Ant-men colonies thrive. They also suppliment their diet with sea food from Lake Powell, Lake Mead, and from up and down the Colorado River.

Due to their habit of swallowing prey whole, Roc droppings have been found to contain fabulous treasures. Of course, few people have been brave enough to approach so closely to the Roc's nests as to be able to collect their droppings. Fewer still have been skillful enough to return home safely with their prizes.

Rocs are notoriously aggressive towards anything approaching their nesting areas. While they don't typically treat them as food, even the largest Giants are not safe when approaching a Roc nest. Thus, the treasures contained in the droppings around their nests usually remain an untapped resource, even though their value is highly estimated.

Rocs are clearly the apex creature in the skys. Even dragons typically veer well clear of a full grown Roc, although on at least one occasion, a huge ancient dragon was seen fending off a Roc attack.

Rocs are known to hunt both in the day and at night. Few things are as terrifying as the sight of a hungry Roc flying in at full speed for the attack, but even more unnerving is their skill at night hunting. Silently dropping down at unfathomable diving speeds, out of the darkness of the midnight sky, on unsuspecting prey, the night attack by the Roc is fearsome indeed.

Magical researchers highly value all components of the Roc physiology. Roc feathers, Roc bones, Roc hearts, Roc eyes, pretty much any part of the fresh Roc can be sold for great profit on the magical market. Roc meat is also highly delictable and nutricious, and can fetch a premium price.

Map of the sentient races in AZ Adventures

As a Dawn of Civilization campaign, the wilds of Arizona have NOT been pacified. In fact, there are a number of biomes that are dominated by non-human sentient species.

The "human advantage" comes from the technology of farming and animal husbandry, which takes place mainly along the irrigated rivers of central Arizona. These are the only places which allow for high density human society, and thus, are the only places where humans reign supreme.

In the dry grasslands, mountains, forests, and deserts, other creatures leverage their natural advantages to be the apex sentients. Note: barbarian humans of the Dineh race live in cliff dwellings throughout the state was well, but they survive as low-density hunter gatherers. Powerful warlords and mages have also been known to carve out lairs in the middle of hostile country, to secure their privacy.

None of these groups is particularly high density, nor are they particularly organized. They are basically disorganized clans and warring tribes of hunters, not kingdoms. PCs passing through those territories can expect regular encounters, but unless they are really digging in and wreaking major havoc, they should not expect large-scale opposition.

Colorado River: Giant territory, as detailed before, extending south from the Grand Canyon as far as Sedona (with Minotaur colony at Bullhead City, of course).

SE mountains and deserts: the Tombstone realm of the undead, as detailed before.

NE dry deserts: Insect territory, with the plains dominated by Mantis-men (Thri-kreen) and the mesas dominated by the Ant-men (Formians).

NE grassy plains/rolling hills trasition zone: Lion-men (Wemic) territory. The Little Colorado divides them from Mantis-men territory, although scirmishes are frequent.

E-central mountains: magical forest, headed by Elves. On the northern edge, Horse-men (Centaurs) and Antelope-men (Hybsil) wage perpetual war with the Lion-men of the transition zone.

E-central mountains below the Salt River: humanoid territory, Gnolls and Bugbears occupy the higher mountain areas, Goblins the lower.

Central river valleys: human territory. Dwarfs occupy mountain homes in the E and NW edges of this region, providing a nice border buffer to the humanoid zones. Halflings can be found in the green valley region on the edge of the Elven forests.

SW desert zone: Kobold territory. Their underground lairs make this region appear to be uninhabited, but woe to the human who finds himself unprotected among the Kobald swarms after the sun falls.

NW mountains: humanoid territory, with Ogre, Hobgoblin, and Orc tribes separated by rivers.

Colorado river delta: the malicious race of Stork-men (Eblis) controlls this wetland region

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Food Chain Competition in game play

Watching one of those National Geographic shows about food-chain competition on the African savana really got me thinking. Monster combat in the D&D world would certainly not be a "one and done" event.

If you are a cheatah on the savanna, you have mere minutes to feast on your kill before some tougher beasts arrive to take it from you. It can really go in cycles too, and depend on numbers, leading to a number of "chain battles".

The vulture pack might show up first, but then the dogs. Then the lions. Then the hyenas. Anywhere near water? Crocs are a sure bet to be on the prowl too. See what I mean? A bunch of different groups arrive at once and it turns into a total clusterfuck. A D&D world is going to be even more competitive and full of would-be alpha predators.

The rule book recommends a 1 in 6 chance of a random night time encounter, checked once per night. But how does that stack up against your experience, for example, camping in a forest? Better not have any food in your tent, because bears WILL sniff it out. How much more danger would you face in a magically-enhanced forest, full of magical uber-predators??? I'd say at least one encounter a night is guaranteed, especially if the party didn't take means to cloak their presence.

Anyway, after a deadly battle with animals or monsters in the wilderness, you can EXPECT the alpha predators to show up, it is GUARANTEED. Simply roll a 1d20 for rounds till they get there, and a 1d12 for type of monster. Roll 1d4 for how many times this will happen, i.e. how many different alpha predators will show up.

Alpha predator table

1 - Humanoid/barbarian hunting party
2 - Bear family (incl. werebears, Aurumvorax, etc.)
3 - giant Insects (incl. Thri-Kreen, Formians, etc.)
4 - Canine pack (dogs, wolves, werewolves, wolfweres, etc)
5 - Lion pride (incl. Wemics)
6 - Giant (incl. ogres, trolls, etc.)
7 - random monster
8 - Dragon
9 - giant Birds (incl. bats, Harpies, Vulchlings, etc)
10- undead
11- giant Snake (incl. Behir, Boalisk, etc)
12 - giant Rats

Note, the alpha predator will probably just be interested in some food, i.e. dead meat at the scene. Intelligent alpha predators may also be interested in treasure, which means the PCs escape may be complicated....

Monster Actions - table for random encounters

Monsters are doing something when you come across them. This is a nice little random table to help you figure out what they are doing, which also gives a nice narrative context for the encounter. Roll the "in lair" percentage to determine if you found them there or "out and about".

1 -- Sleeping (in lair or some temporary location)

2 -- Eating (preparing, devouring, chewing on bones, etc)

3 -- Resting (includes relaxing and playing)

4 -- Fighting (same species for territory or mating rights, or another species for territory or food)

5 -- Traveling (going somewhere, 50/50 to or from lair, or hunting something)

6 -- Stalking (the PCs, that is. Yeah, it's on.)

Random Slum Encounters

Pure city-adventure gold, from Beyond the Black Gate (here)

You never know what you'll run into (or what may run into you) during a trip to the seedy side of town. Roll on the table below to see what occurs!Random Table: Slum Encounters (d100)

1. A trio of young pickpockets. They are members of an immense gang that will torment the party for months if a member is harmed.2. A haggard, bearded man preaches doom outside an alehouse.3. The princess of a fallen noble house now despondently sell her favors as a common streetwalker.4. Two old women kick and mock an obese old veteran with no legs.5. A dog runs past with an emerald necklace around its neck. A screaming little man chases it.6. A ruffian hangs from a rope off a balcony, slowly strangling and pleading with passersby for succor.7. Something unnatural moves in the murky waters of a large puddle in the road.8. Bat-like creatures with glowing purple antennae swoop down at passersby.9. A slovenly woman stands in a doorway, waving you in. Two ruffians lurk inside.10. A black cat runs out of an alley, crosses your path, and disappears into another alley.11. An overturned cart blocks the road, a foot deep in mud and rotting cabbages. An elderly farmer stands beside it and weeps while the locals jeer him.12. Four men are beating a drunken fop in an alley.13. A roadside grill offers strange dog-sized insects cooked over charcoal.14. A drunken woman runs shrieking out of a stable.15. Five men in matching floppy red hats walk arrogantly down the avenue, shoving everyone out of their path with stout wooden cudgels.16. A man in a wizardly-looking robe and pointed hat offers you a selection of charms and amulets.17. A woman in a transparent silk shift with rotting teeth tries to pull you into her tenement, whispering rough suggestions in your ear.18. A single, lush pine has grown 14' tall in the muck of an alleyway.19. A man rolls a barrel of ale down the street, whistling a familiar tune.20. A vulture perches over the doorway of an alehouse.21. A row of seven lepers plead for alms.22. A physician works frantically in the street on a man who has been stabbed while onlookers stand around them and whisper.23. An unnatural darkness hangs over the mouth of an alley, and a cold breezes issues from out of it.24. A high-pitched scream is heard from the topmost floor of a nearby tenement.25. A group of musicians marches down the street, loudly playing revolutionary tunes while a dwarf scampers along behind them collecting tips in a hat.26. A line of laborers passes crates into a warehouse.27. A fortune teller squats at the side of the street, stacking small bones atop one another.28. Two muscular men wrestle in a square while onlookers place bets.29. A elderly woman sells handmade books of poetry.30. A human-looking creature with black eyes growls at you.31. A man pulls a cart filled with fresh fish. He offers you a bargain to buy the lot.32. A tremendous stench of blood wafts up from a sewer grate.33. A maddened horse plunges into a screaming crowd, hooves flailing.34. A vendor offers delicious skewers of meat and vegetables.35. A sad-looking maiden sells flowers for a pittance.36. A group of scruffy men gather around a hookah, while the owner invites new customers to join in.37. A pale woman in black robes walks past with her chin high, scattering white flowers petals behind her from a basket as she goes.38. An impossibly tall and thin man performs contortions for tips.39. A man hawks peeks at the growling creature within a covered cage.40. A buxom woman pulls a cart with a keg of ale, offering to fill tankards for a copper piece.41. Two merry prostitutes skip down the street hand in hand, flirting with passersby.42. A married couple bicker loudly from an upstairs window while the children cry.43. A pair of heavily armed men stand to either side of a doorway, glaring at passersby.44. A dark-skinned man leads a midget rhinoceros down the avenue.45. A man plays a set of bongo drums in a nook while a half dozen intoxicated revelers dance wildly.46. A line of cultists sway down the street, chanting and waving incense burners on chains.47. A solitary soldier leans drunkenly against a wall, his helmet slipping down over his eyes.48. Exotic music and feminine laughter comes from an anonymous building.49. A thin-mustached man stands beside the door of a lotus-den, nodding at prospective customers.50. Three old veterans enter a bathhouse, chatting and smoking pipes.51. A gang of children torment a sickly looking goat.52. A tall old woman attempts to sell you her slave, a young man with one arm.53. A hooded man watches you intently from a second floor window.54. A green-skinned man performs feats of strength for a crowd of sighing washer-women.55. An airship passes by far overhead. Children run out into the street excitedly to watch it go.56. A pair of thin, blue-robed women sing religious hymns and hand out cheap prayer booklets.57. A small group of young men and women rush excitedly down the avenue, passing a bottle and giggling.58. Two toughs chase a young ruffian into a blind alley.59. Flames burst out of a pair of store front windows. Everyone starts running and screaming.60. An ageless looking man with amber eyes and pointed ears plucks the strings of a harp while a trio of gangsters stand mesmerized.61. A unit of the city guard trot down the street in haste, armor jangling with every step. They disappear around a corner up ahead while onlookers whisper to each other.62. A squealing pig races through the throng, chased by a screaming female dwarf.63. A deep rumble shakes the ground, and black smoke rises into the air from somewhere up ahead.64. Two men walk apart with upraised rapiers - a duel is about to begin!65. A tear-streaked young woman begs you to rescue her from this hellhole.66. A building nearby sags, and then collapses! People run screaming for cover as choking dust fills the air.67. A clown makes rude gestures at you as a crowd gathers to laugh.68. An enraged harlot chases a man from her hovel, shrieking and beating him with a stuffed weasel.69. A turbaned man charms snakes from a basket with his flute.70. A man standing near you gasps and falls to ground, dead, a crossbow bolt jutting from his back.71. A fat man kicks a cowering stable boy, accusing him of theft.72. Cultists throw books and scrolls onto a raging bonfire in the middle of the street.73. A boy herds a flock of chickens down the street, ever wary for dogs and thieves.74. A city official walks into a brothel with a pair of guards.75. A group of northmen chant and sing loudly in an alehouse, pounding the tables with their tankards as they profess their admiration for a particular preserved meat product.76. A woman in silk garments hawks costume jewelry.77. A well-dressed gentleman negotiates with a mushroom vendor.78. A man tends three barrels of hot water, selling baths for two coppers.79. An old woman wearing a tiara sells fruit and small wire sculptures from her stall.80. A worn-out looking prostitute loudly disparages your manhood to a crowd of onlookers if you refuse her favors.81. A wild-eyed man carries on a lively, though one-sided, conversation with his mule.82. A clanging sound comes from a nearby sewer grate.83. A raven follows you down the street, fluttering from rooftop to rooftop, as if spying on you.84. A red-faced man with a small gang of angry followers points at you and screams "there he is, get him!"85. A beautiful and fey fairy-like maiden lies dying in an alleyway.86. A middle-aged woman rushes out of her hostel to you, pleading for forgiveness.87. A duelist eyes you contemptuously as he sharpens his rapier.88. A priest leads a defeated looking group of chained slaves past you and into a grim temple.89. A chimney sweeper hangs by one hand from an eave above you, howling for assistance.90. A criminal in stocks loudly proclaims his innocence in between clods of filth.91. A bruised and battered looking prostitute collapses in front of you. A strange red jewel rolls out of her hand...92. A muttering man in a black robe inscribes a magic circle in the filth of the road with a curvy silver dagger.93. An armored bully swaggers through the crowds looking for a fight.94. A wailing maiden flees past you, pursued by laughing ruffians.95. A barroom brawl spills out into the streets.96. Two rival gangs face off in the middle of the street.97. A jolly group of pointy-hatted goblins walk out of a brothel, laughing and shoving each other.98. A teary-eyed woman pushes her son at you, pleading for you to take him on as apprentice.99. A dozen sultry young priestesses, with coal-dark eyes and intoxicating perfume, dance through the crowd inviting all to the fertility rites at midnight tonight.100. The road in front of you collapses into a tentacle-filled sinkhole!

Exposure Damage in an Outdoor Campaign

These rules (taken from Delta, here, slightly modified) are important in a campaign like Arizona Adventures, with so much wilderness stuff going on, in a Dawn of Civ mileau, and such extremes of climate.

Rules for Exposure -
Characters lacking certain physical necessities accrue 1d6 damage per time unit, as outlined below (no savings throw):

--No Air: 1d6 per minute (starting when the air is cut off)

--No Shelter: 1d6 per hour (starting below 40 degrees and above 110 degrees)

--No Water: 1d6 per day

--No Food: 1d6 per week.

Under deprivation conditions, PCs suffer a -2 fatigue penalty to hit and AC, per unit of time, as well.

Monday, September 13, 2010

How to Introduce Dragons

Great post over at ChicagoWiz (here) on dragons, perhaps the most under-used monster in the game ostensibly named after it. As he puts it,

"I don't care who you are... but when a dragon gets thrown into the game, especially to 1st thru 3rd levellers... hearts get racing, dice and pencils get clutched and PCs go running for the hills. It's just the coolest. I love the build up too... nervous horses or dogs, sounds, strange smells... then WHAM, the thing goes gliding overhead. Sinister, nasty, hungry... and totally in control of its domain."

This really resonates to me, because the basic mileau of my Arizona Adventures campaign is dawn of civ, and is therefore, "dragon and giant" heavy. It is my basic premise that outside of the immediate protection of the armed forts, there are no "scaled down" areas which just happen to be perfectly suited for beginning low-level characters. In short, if you choose to go into the wilds of magic Arizona, you better be ready to bring it, cause all the bad ass shit is there waiting for you. (see the previous post on "keeping PCs alive" for the necessary attitutude of latitude that must accompany such a natural and dangerous campaign mileau.)

So, how to introduce dragons into play with some kind of panache? Here are some ideas (1d6 + 1d4):

2 - Flying far overhead, you see the small outline of a dragon. Appears to be flying over you and away, but wait.... was that its head twisting to look down in your direction?

3 - As you scramble over the hilltop's rocky edge, in the valley below you see scene of chaos and mad movement, as a herd of horses/goats/cows flees in all directions in panic, a dragon having alighted in their midsts, clawing and biting wildly to bring down a meal....

4 - Your horses are suddenly snorting and skitish, rising and ready to bolt. As you struggle to keep them down, a terrifying roar emanates from the thich grove of trees to your right. You turn to see two little dragon heads peer quizically out from the brush on the ground-level. Suddenly the loud roar again sounds out from back in the trees, but closer this time... Mommy is apparently looking for her wayward babes...

5 - You see smoke rising in two columns from a dark medium-sized cave opening in the hill in front of you, and the whooshing of air from what sounds like the breathing from some large sleeping beast. Suddenly the loud regular breathing stops, replaced a second later by the sound of shifting rocks.... You see glowing eyes peer out from the darkness, surveying you silently, and the dim outline of a dragon's snout barely visible in the cave's opening...

6 - As you scan around in the bright distance, two hilltops to your east, you see what appears to be a laying dragon, curled up upon the hot rocks, sunning itself in the heat...

7 - Off in the distance to your left, a movement catches your eye, what appears to be a dragon digging his claws and snout into the rocks and dirt, seeking some unknown object in the small hole before it....

8 - As you stumble through the rocky ground around a turn at the base of the cliff wall, your feet stop cold and your blood freezes at what lies no more than 50 feet in front of you: a dragon, clawing and tearing into the dry bones of some unfortunate creature lying on the ground in front of it... Your mouth turns to cotton as that idiot Fighter calls out loudly from behind you, "Hey, what the holdup?" The dragon snaps its head up from the bones and turns to look, settling its gaze right on you....

9 - Crashing and loud screaming break out in the trees ahead of you, followed by a loud roaring sound... Suddenly a dragon comes crashing through the trees towards you, twisting at a rope slung arounds its neck. As it stumbles forward, you see a mountain giant dragging behind it, desperately holding onto the rope, and another giant running behind, trying to catch up, calling out to his partner....

10 - The distant sound of two furious beasts in combat quickly gets much louder, rapidly approaching... Suddenly, over the treetops near the river, a flying horse hurtles forward and down, a roaring dragon right behind it. The singed and bleeding creature whinnies in pain as it hits the ground running. As it turns to look over its shoulder at the pursuing dragon, it sees you, and quickly changes course, running straight at you, whinny-ing for help...

A straight 1d8 roll for dragon size can be used for the truly random experience. Or, just roll a d4 for its age, to give a young party more of an incentive to man-up and fight.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Keeping your PCs Alive

Different gamers put different emotional investments into their characters. Some don't mind losing characters, because they just enjoy the Game itself. TPK? No problem. Roll 'em up, get it on!

Some, however, develop elaborate back stories and personalities for their characters, and the loss of their personal in-game avatar is traumatic. My girls for example, love elaborate characters, with intricate and complex backgrounds full of webs of intrigue and unique personality traits and family histories, etc... Such characters cannot simply be cast aside lightly.

Thus, I need ideas that facilitate keeping characters alive. This is treating the game like a heroic movie, which gives the lead character chances to escape what in harsh game terms should have been instant death. Think: Luke Skywalker knocked out by Sandpeople, but not killed, hung from the roof of the ice cave, but not eaten, dropped into pit to be eaten by monster, rather than directly executed, and so on.

Some of it became cliche and trite, think of Austin Power's take on 007's various escapes... "Why don't you just shoot him, numbnuts?" But in game terms, such devices are there to allow the characters to lose, yet not be eliminated, to be set back severely, yet keep the game fun and give them a second chance at success. So, how can we do this in the AD&D environment?

First of all, keep in mind, not all battles are to the death, or even to the pain***. The results of losing fights can vary considerably, depending on the monster faced, sentient or non-sentient, and the impetus for the fight in the first place.

Also, remember the importance of Charisma checks. Most of the time, sentient creatures will attempt to bluff and bully their way to domination. The word here is role-playing, you know, the RP in RPGs! Charisma scores and reaction tables play a big role here, so use them. Don't forget, the goal is to accomplish some task, acquire some object or reconoiter some information, not just slaughter everything. That is called Hack-and-Slash, which has its place, but that place is not foremost.

The simplest solution to losing a fight is always...

A) Highway Robbery!
Waking up in a lot of pain, stripped of all equipment and treasure. Returning to home base without weapons or rations will be quite an task, won't it? Used to thinking outside the box? I hope so...

When fighting sentient monsters, a battle loss might also result in...
B) Capture!
This could involve any number of end-points, which would create entire new adventuring hooks, and might depend on charisma checks as well. Some possibilities...
-The forced march.... Remember Frodo's capture and forced march deep into enemy territory? This may actually result in the advancement of the PCs progress. Can our heroes find a way to escape and continue their quest???
-Pressed to row aboard a pirate ship.... Nice fresh sea-air sounds fun, hope you can swim well, when the Kraken rips the ship in half...
-Saved for use as sacrafice to demon-gods in evil temple... Being well-fed and carefully groomed is just the beginning...
-Taken deep below ground and forced to dig for Drow at the end of a whip... Oh, shazzbot...
-Field laborer in foreign kingdom.... Too bad you spent so much time building up that physique, tough guy, how you gonna get that chain off your neck....
-House slave in some mad magician's castle... Sounds pretty interesting, doesn't it? What happens when your master loses control of the creatures he has been summoning/creating, or decides you are the perfect test subject for his new spell...
-Chained to a wall in an Orc dungeon... Better hope your family likes you enough to pay the ransom...

Non-sentient creatures will fight for territory or out of hunger. This brings up many different fight loss scenarios.
-Dropped off into the nursery... The little hatchlings need sustenance, don't they? Can our heroes ward off the little ankle-biters and get out of there before mommy comes back?
-Put in the storage box... The big nasties are busy feasting on the horses and NPCs, the heroes appear to be on the dessert menu...

Of course, the fight loss might be interrupted by...
C) Outside intervention!
--Priestly prayer has a certain percentage of being heard and answered... What is rule, 1% per level of the character, for getting some divine intervention?
- Competing monster.... The sounds of battle attract many onlookers, some of which might be hostile to the attacking monster, perhaps trying to muscle in on the food, or take advantage of the weakened creature... "The enemy of my enemy is my friend" would seem to apply here, perhaps giving the heroes a precious few seconds to escape or hide. Of course, this might also lead to an "Out of the Frying Pan Into the Fire" scenario...

--Helpful monsters... The MM is full of powerful creatures who love to intervene on behalf of people supporting their alignment. "The heat from the dragon's breath sears your skin as you dive behind the rock for cover. The huge beast rises to its full height above you as you raise your broken sword in one last gesture of defiance. Suddenly a powerful sound rings out, like a giant lion's roar, and the earth shakes as huge flat feet smash into the ground behind you. You turn to see what appears to be a giant lion, with pegasus wings and a man's bearded head, which then leaps over you, clawing savagely at the dragon's head, driving it back from you and your almost-broken companions...."
See: Lammasu, Shedu, Hollyphant, Ki-rin, Deva, Planetar, Agathion, Moon Dog, others....

-Helpful humans, demi-humans, semi-humans to the rescue... Hearing the sounds of battle, some locals decide to intervene, to thwart their ancient foe, or to gain some allies, or some appreciation money, or out of sheer goodness.... Could be a wandering adventurer, a band of elves, a troop of centaurs, etc. Wheew, good thing they arrived right in the nick of time....

Anyway, keep a few of these options available and in-mind, to avoid any unwanted TPK's that your dice might lead you into.

*** "to the pain" :
Prince Humperdinck: First things first, to the death.
Westley: No. To the pain.
Prince Humperdinck: I don't think I'm quite familiar with that phrase.
Westley: I'll explain and I'll use small words so that you'll be sure to understand, you warthog faced buffoon.
Prince Humperdinck: That may be the first time in my life a man has dared insult me.
Westley: It won't be the last. To the pain means the first thing you will lose will be your feet below the ankles. Then your hands at the wrists. Next your nose.
Prince Humperdinck: And then my tongue I suppose, I killed you too quickly the last time. A mistake I don't mean to duplicate tonight.
Westley: I wasn't finished. The next thing you will lose will be your left eye followed by your right.
Prince Humperdinck: And then my ears, I understand let's get on with it.
Westley: WRONG. Your ears you keep and I'll tell you why. So that every shriek of every child at seeing your hideousness will be yours to cherish. Every babe that weeps at your approach, every woman who cries out, "Dear God! What is that thing," will echo in your perfect ears. That is what to the pain means. It means I leave you in anguish, wallowing in freakish misery forever.