Showing posts with label D&D. Show all posts
Showing posts with label D&D. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

"Passion is inversely proportional to information had."

The above quote is from Gregory Benford. And it's a truism for RPGs. While I build beautiful worlds in my notes, very little of that makes it through to the players. I might know precisely why a gang of whatevers are doing whatever they are doing, but the players are satisfied with the idea that they are merely jerks. 

It works. Players like to have that room to grow, and they can't grow if smothered with too much B.S. 

There is nothing better than the party discovering some sort of detail that just works for them, but there are many cases where they have no opportunity to gain such information without a data dump. Some things just go to the grave with the player's antagonists. It's fine. 

But sometimes, I like to give information. For example, I hope that every player knows how to use the to-hit tables and can calculate their own bonuses or minuses. It makes my game easier. In fact, I often have the players throw dice for even the monsters. It cuts down on paperwork, but sometimes it is an opportunity to give them a hint about something outside of combat. 

For example, if two equal-level fighters are side by side, shooting arrows at a target and both roll the same number, both should hit or miss the target. However, this is a good place to drop a hint about other stuff. Obviously, two great fighting men should know how good they are. For example, someone might have a cursed weapon or a magic weapon. The target may have some magical device that only applies under certain circumstances like once per round. Once the party is aware of some weirdness, they can start ruling stuff out by logic, just like the real world. 

It's probably magic. 
It saves on the "+1 magic sword" crap. 

There are times to hide some rolls, such as surprise or hiding in shadows. But even those rolls can give information. 

One of my favorite tricks is when the party is surprised, I'll drop a die out of sight and say, "You hear a noise." Surprise is a surprise, there is very little you can do to mitigate it due to the mechanics. However, it isn't very fun to be surprised. By making that announcement and letting the party act accordingly, I am cranking up the pressure AND pushing agency to the party. It creates an environment of anxiety while allowing for possible (slight) mitigation PLUS it allows the players to set a standard of expectation that can easily be read. 

For example, if a party thinks they are in an ambush situation, they may try to arrange themselves in such a way as to defend high-value players like Clerics and Magic-Users with meatshield Fighters and Rangers. On the other hand, if they never do this, you can set a different dynamic where those players are captured or incapacitated and the party is looking at a hostage situation rather than a TPK. It's up to the DM to receive the party's intentions or style and react accordingly. 

One of my favorite experiences was a Thief who decided to sneak up to the walls of a fortification for a little recon. The whole party seemed to support the idea. I rolled for his hide in the shadows and move silently attempts. Each time, I rolled amazingly well. No one saw or heard anything. They were such good rolls that I showed the player her the results. Obviously, these should have been secret, but they were so perfect so I decided to show her. 

Then, disaster. The player of the Barbarian was having a little sidebar with another player when he suddenly realized stuff was happening and asked, "What's happening?" 

Once the party explained the plan, the Barbarian nodded sagely and bellowed, "Look out! I can see you!" 

Well of course you can see him. He isn't hiding from you, you twit. 

The sneaking Thief got this "Oh, shit" look on her face. I leaned over and showed her that the dice indicated she was still not visible to the people on the castle wall. 

To add to the merriment, I decided that the Barbarian's actions would be taken literally. The lookout on the wall answered: "Oh geez," and stepped back out of sight. 

"How about now?" asked the lookout. 

The party was gobsmacked. I gave them a few minutes to work out a plan. The Barbarian was drooling dumb and for once, his actual ability score matched the player's actions. The party adapted to the situation and everyone climbed the wall while the Barbarian offered unhelpful tips to the lookouts. No one intended this possibility, but damn it was fun. 

You can't hide everything all of the time, but you also can't data dump on the players too much. Even if it is mechanical in nature. Also, you shouldn't try too hard to hide certain bits of data. 

As a DM, you build a scenario, a story if you will, but you can't know how it will be received and interpreted. Information from the DM to the players is a fluid thing. You are effectively trying to merge the player's fictional actions with the player's visceral need for information. The DM needs to decide from the get-go what information is worth hiding and what is not. 

Monday, May 9, 2022

Dungeons and Dragons and Amusement Parks

For years, I have wondered where my brain linked up D&D and amusement parks. 

Well, dang. It's half here: 


And the other half is right here at Darien Lake: 


From 1981 to 1987, I was a member of a church youth group. I wasn't that interested in the churchy aspects of the events, but really enjoyed the camping, trips to Darien Lake, and several other events. I mention Darien Lake and camping primarily because they involved games. All kinds of games. 

(Editorial note: My parents were church shoppers, I dug in my heels with this choice as the young group. It was something I really appreciated even if the religion was not my own. Don't look a gift horse in the mouth and all that. There are a ton of ministries that have excellent outreach to any and all who have at least some of the same beliefs. It's always worth a look. ) 

On one of the first trips with the youth group, someone busted out a brand new copy of Top Secret. We thought it was like D&D. 

Nope. 

Bang. Dead. Start again. All rainy weekend long. 

The girls didn't get it and neither did I. Eventually, we all ended up in the park. 

Future trips were a lot better. A kid named Ethan pulled out a game called Toon. Unfortunately, this was somehow mixed up with a copy of Bunnies and Burrows and the insert to Bone Hill but no cover/map. No one could make heads or tails of it, I can't even say we had a whole set or multiple sets. Obviously, it was an older siblings' boxed set.  

However, I did get the references as Watership Down is one of my favorite books. Being 12 or 13, I knew I wanted the girls to play, and soon there were a dozen of us kids sitting at the table playing a game half-imagined by me and completely bought by the others. Somehow, I made pine cones and rocks become creatures, and chips, pretzels, and chocolate kisses were resources. 

I knew I was winning when the Reverend asked us if we wanted to go on the rides and three of the girls said, "No." Invariably, we would play games until it was "last call", when the adults told us there would be no more time for rides and roller coasters. We'd cram in a handful of rides just to say we did. 

I eventually fell away from that particular church for one of my own choosing, but the memories of that youth group were amazing. And has shaped how I choose to play. 

Tuesday, April 5, 2022

How Ability Rolls Came to My Table

Even dusty old thieves   
are cool.
It's been a bit since I posted, so let's have an update. The counter to the right displays 25 days or 209 if you jumped into Old School Essentials' Kickstarter. I find myself putting stuff away lately rather than reading or gaming, which obviously decreases my post count. 

In my last post, I talked about table trouble. This one could have been called "Theif Envy", but the concepts are one and the same and tie back to OSE. 

I used to alternate between D&D and Star Frontiers campaigns (links go to DriveThruRPG). The idea of rolling against a skill is baked into Star Frontiers but is an add-on to D&D. Thieves have an array of skills that no one else has. Sure races have percentage skills for detecting doors and sloped passages, but a dwarven Thief character is like no other. 

It makes other class players envy those skills. 

Now I actually remember when the idea of rolling for certain actions came to my table. The party was at the last door in the dungeon and had plenty of warnings that the exit door would be trapped. The Thief took the lead and easily detected the dart trap in the oversized, dragon-shaped door handle. Then THE PLAYER got cocky. 

"I'll detect for poison!" he shouted. 

"You found some!" I shouted back. 

It was too good to pass up. I made him roll against his constitution score. He failed and was paralyzed. The party escaped, dragging the butt hurt Thief behind them, but as they closed the door on the dungeon, I could not close the door on "ability rolls". 

Oh, man. What a can of worms. Not because it's hard, but because it's so easy. Like being pelted with dice. 

Perversion is too many die rolls
in a role-playing game.

"I'll roll for this..."

"And I'll roll for that..." 

The one thing that could have stopped this from happening was a simple and clear acknowledgment of the player's humor vs. the character's intent. There was no way that character was that stupid. Or funny for that matter. Every other social encounter this character and player had was decidedly taciturn or even sour. 

I shouldn't have let it happen, but I happen to like this style of play... To a degree.

If a character needs to do something that can be described easily and doesn't invoke any sort of fantastic ability, the die roll itself is suspect. As much as some people can be funny like the aforementioned thief, some people's reactions to situations can be just as good. 

When the player of the Fighter hears a threat from an opponent and puts on their game face, the perfect, bone-crushing game face, he or she shouldn't roll for anything. They are not intimidated and perhaps turnabout happens where the mouthy NPC has all of his buddies fail a morale check right from the start, leaving the Fighter and the Mouth to work it out. 

You see how that's different, right? A morale check is hardcoded into the rules. But an ability check isn't. What would I have a Fighter roll against for bone-crushing aggressiveness? 

No idea. 

In all cases, I believe the characters should be able to do whatever they want when they want. It might not work out, but you know, I let them try. Unless someone proposes a task that maps directly to an ability score, I don't want the roll. 

A trivial example is leaping on or off horses. I'm not rolling for that because 99.99999% of the time, the action is merely flashy and not necessary. The times when it's necessary, eating a face full of dirt is better than what would happen. 

A not-so-trivial example is when the party or player comes up with the perfect plan, one that seems to have no flaws or problems and is delivered with confidence and flair? So long as all of their assumptions are correct, what is a roll going to do to improve the situation? 

Nothing at all. 

I can give a hysterical example of not rolling. I had a Magic User with a fly spell that he used all of the time. He got his hands on a ring of delusion, which he believed was a ring of flying. 

"Oh, shit," muttered the rest of the party. 

In talking this out with the DM, we decided that it was really a ring of double delusion. Not only did my character believe it was a ring of flying he would also be deluded into forgetting that he cast a fly spell to make it work. So the ring appeared to be a ring of inconsistent flying. 

This was preferable to making a saving throw against the ring's influence. We kept track with a token, when I cast my one and only fly spell or invoked the ring's power, I handed over the token to the DM. Without the token, any attempt to fly would fail, usually with disastrous results. 

My character would suggest ariel solutions to every problem even if it wasn't reasonable to fly at all. Again, this is a ring of delusion after all. 

In Old School Essentials, you generally have a 1 or 2 in 6 chance of pulling some random activity for a skill that isn't quantified. That's a great compromise because usually, these events don't map at all to a skill. 

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Antiquity Tuesday - Coinage and Brilliant Minds - February 13th

I've always wanted to write about the subject of coinage in D&D, but haven't had time to do the research until recently. And not half the research I wanted to do. 

But from what I have, I can lead with the chart from the e1 PHB:


If you are playing a game based on D&D, this chart should be familiar to you in some form or another. Two weeks ago, I wrote about what a Roman soldier would carry and got into the coin-based encumbrance system. That led to a follow-up post from Ian Borchardt on Mewe that he graciously allowed me to post here. And this morning, I spotted a post from Stephen Wendell about "Holmes on a Coin’s Weight", which covers a realistic treatment of the mass of coins. 

OSR style games really went out of their way to make a system that while idealized, is actually excellent enough to hold up for decades and decades. It's actually amazing. 

But what about Antiquity Tuesday?

One of my favorite historical personages is Diocletian. He lived from 242ish to 311ish and brought about the Crisis of the Third Century. Yes, the 3rd Century was chaotic enough that we don't know the exact years. Whole books exist about the Crisis of the Third Century, but one of the crises was the triple problems of coins, inflation, and prices. And Diocletian actually failed to fix it. But he tried. And it was a hell of a try. 

Just like in AD&D, he decided the issue could be resolved with a simplified system of just 5 coins. The system was based on a silver coin worth 100 denarii. There is some variability in these values and please forgive me, but I don't trust this table in name or values. Take it as a guideline: 

aureus 1,200 denarii 
argenteus  100 denarii
nummus (a silver-washed coin) 25 denarii 
bronze radiate 4 or 5 denarii 
copper laureate 2 denarii 

What is interesting about this order or valuation is that bronze appears as a valuable metal. Both brass and bronze are alloys of copper, and that meant that bronze age implements had an innate value due to the material that they were made of. 

When compared to the AD&D valuation, we still have five coins, but electrum and platinum appear on Mr. Gygax's list. Electrum is an alloy of silver and gold which would have been more valuable than just silver and platinum wasn't discovered by Europeans before the 1600s. They may have known about it but it wasn't described until it was discovered in the New World. 

What I find wonderful about these two lists is that both are meant to be simply used. And they are perfectly logical for the system each is attached to. 

Unfortunately, Diocletian was unable to resolve Roman's economic problems, which were many. After he reformed the coinage, he call back tons, literally tons of old coins and replaced them with new ones. The Romans understood market forces, a lack drove up prices, and a dearth dropped them. What they didn't get was the variable value of coins themselves. To a Roman, a coin was a coin, was a coin. 

I bought my first PBH for $9. Used. 
This replacement was priced $15 and
I actually paid $50ish. Uhh. Inflation.

Parallel to this, Romans understood the dangers of debasement which is why Diocletian replaced so many coins. And this was also the very reason that other emperors debased coins in secret. They knew it was playing with fire. And Diocletian believed he fixed it but he didn't call back nearly enough coins to fix a centuries-old problem. 

But this was not lost on Mr. Gygax, debased coins or washed coins show up a couple of times in modules like B2 Keep on the Borderlands

A possible explanation for this lack of vision on Diocletian and every other emperor who monkeyed with the coin system was the hands-off nature of minor transactions. Roman grew in both space and time. Diocletian was trying to fix hundreds of years of bad coins on top of not seeing the effects of how Romans used coins on a day-to-day basis. As regions were absorbed into the Empire, so was their coinage. Who cared if people bought bread with denarii-based coins or some old copper from a defeated enemy? A coin was a coin. Fixed and constant. 

He had no idea what a battle he was fighting. But Diocletian didn't accept the failure of logic or reason. He decided that the actual problem was the merchants. Those evil little price gougers were running up the prices. So he tried to put a stop to it. He penned the "Edictum de Pretiis Rerum Venalium" or "Edict Concerning the Sale Price of Goods" or when we are placing blame, "The Edict of Diocletian". 

This is one of those seminal works, like the Domesday Book. It is a list of maximum prices allowed for 1200 goods or services in denarii communes or "common coins". Unsurprisingly, it looks suspiciously similar to a gamer: 


Brilliant minds work alike. This is a totally workable system... except Diocletian had to abandon his because it simply didn't work in his world, unlike Mr. Gygax who built from the ground up. If only Diocletian could have wiped the slate clean, I bet his system would have worked as well as Mr. Gygax's. 

What is awesome about Diocletian's cataloging of items is it reveals how people in antiquity thought. We know the Romans like to have 8 soldiers together carrying 3 pilums or 3 caltrops. But when it came to quills, they wanted to have a set of 4 in a leather box. We also know that most wines were of the same value when fresh, but worth somewhat less as they age. What is notably missing from Diocletian's list is weapons. No one bought a weapon, they paid for the services of an armorer who made weapons. Oddly, sharpening a sword, an axe, and a spear appears under several different categories of services. There is a difference in the task depending on the object. 

It really is amazing that someone would think of such a system several different times for completely different purposes. For the Romans, it was life and death. For us, it's a game. 

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Session 2 - Bounty on the Beach and a Ghoulish Discovery

Session two covered two days, which brings us to the 3rd day on the island. We break off from the action at midday of day 3. 

The party rested up uneventfully the first night and is trying to figure out what to do next. Not having horses has them hamstrung. They have too much equipment to carry and some of it like the saddles is pointless to take along with them. Bartholomew, Masha, Alex, and the two sailors are charged with determining what will go and what will stay. 

While they are busy with that, the rest of the party splits up into two teams, red and blue. Red Team is the Cleric Garven and William the Ranger. Alice the Elf, Rolf the Fighter, and Gerwinder the Paladin make up Blue Team. They decide to ditch most of their gear and set out exploring to the south by two different routes. 

And much to my embarrassment, I realized that I accidentally set up the party on the map of Sardinia, not Corsica. I scrolled too far south. Oh... I'll just roll with it.  

Each small hex is 1.2 miles and the weather is good. It's been cloudy and warm for winter, in the 60s (or 16° C). Since this map is based on a real place, I have simply been looking at the real weather in Palau, Sardinia. Why reinvent the wheel?  

Red Team moves to the grasslands at a slow pace. On the way south, they encounter nothing. Blue Team moves down the beach and onto the grasslands. The blue team has an animal encounter right away. They notice two strange-looking donkeys or mules following them. They are unable to approach them too closely but determine they must be some sort of feral ponies. 

On the way home, Red Team encounters Ezekiel the warhorse. The animal can speak to humans but is rather closed-lipped about how he got there. As the two teams return to camp, an odd thing happens. The feral ponies start to follow Ezekiel. The warhorse advises the Paladin that there is a herd of ponies and he has been trying to avoid the beasts since he got here. 

That of course begs the question of how he got here. 

Ezekiel tells the party that the horse sling fell overboard as the sailors tried to take it down. Two sailors went in the water with it. The horse jumped in to rescue them. Having done his duty honorably, he was annoyed when the men walked off northwest. 

Back at camp, everyone greets their newest adventurer. Bartholomew and the sailors are super excited to see the extra pack animals and tried to lasso one of the ponies. The thief took a kick to the chest for his trouble. 

While Garvin quickly ministers Barth's chest injury, Alex, Alice and William assess the ponies. They are too small to ride and too skittish to capture. It's an odd standoff as the ponies seem to be attracted to Ezekiel but too scared to approach the adventurers. 

The party settles in for night two on the island, no further along than when they landed. But they discover quite a few things about each other. It turns out that both sailors were rowers elevated to seamen. Sammy likes to fish and the George likes to whittle. They were leading the mules because neither is very adept at seamanship, yet. 

Ezekiel shares that the other two sailors took off towards the northwest. Gerwinder explains that the horse is being literally accurate. The last time the horse saw them, they probably walked exactly direction up the beach. 

Alex discovers that Sammy and Alice can sing and the music brings the ponies closer. Alice was able to toss some fruit at them and they tolerated it. Once to food was gone and the music stopped, they retreated. They hope the routine will tame the ponies, but they have their doubts. 

The day three plan has the party moving westward and then south. It wasn't the plan, but the two missing sailors are without food and water. Also, the party has more food than they can easily carry. The Ranger and Theif want to hang it in a tree. They can see the foliage of shrubs and small trees to the southwest. They'll be moving pretty slowly due to the load, but if they can find the other sailors, they can share their supplies and load. If not, they'll cache the extra food. 

I am using the item-based encumbrance tracker for OSE. The party is trying to tote their personal gear, two tents, and 24 saddlebags full of extra food and supplies. I've decided that each individual saddlebag is a little smaller than a backpack so two together are about the size of 1 and 1/2 backpacks. Each mule can carry 4 or one of the tents. Ezekiel can carry two saddlebags and a rider. 

Before setting out, they fill the rowboat with the saddles, extra baggage cover it with the tent, and rope it down. The sailors were great at this. 

They have 24 saddlebags. The equines are carrying 10, the two sailors are carrying 4. That leaves 10 extra bags. They leave the remainder at the campsite with the intention of reaching the stand of trees and shrubs by midday. This should leave time for them to cache some food in a tree and return for the rest. However, the party is of the opinion they may not want to or have to. 

They make it 3.5 of the 5 miles to the shrublands before trouble occurs. William spots footprints leading south. He gleans that two men passed through the area at a run. The terrain is undulating, so they don't see anyone in the distance even though it's grasslands. 

In a low spot, Ezekiel freezes and Misha lets out a shout of warning before unleashing a magic missile. Five men are approaching from behind the party, the magic missile strikes the first to little effect. Alice, Barth, and Alex pull their bows and step in front of Misha. The sailors form a second barrier between Misha and the attackers. The 4 fighter types have to turn around and rush back to defend the rear of the party, with Gerwinder and Ezekiel looping wide to avoid missile fire. 

In the first round, a flurry of arrows and missiles hits three of the men, but none drop. They are approaching fast. Misha and Barth with the two sailors start backpedaling. Alice advances with Rolf, Alex, Garvin and, William. The Paladin is just out of striking range. 

In the second round, the Paladin surges forward and slashes one of the men. As one, they turn on her. As the party rushes to her aid she yells out, "Ghouls!" Since all of the ghouls have attacked, the party runs straight into them. They down 3 ghouls as the horse stands over Gerwinder. 


Round three starts in a tie for the initiative. Alice barks, "Get back!" but no one listens. Alex and Barth have moved to each side hoping to angle an arrow into the ghouls next round. Everyone gets hit. All of the ghouls are down, but Rolf flops to the ground paralyzed moments after the last ghoul falls. 


Bartholomew makes an executive decision and unloads the tent mule so that Rolf and Gerwinder can be carried to the shrublands. He will stand guard over it with Alice. Once the party makes camp, they can come back for them. Garvin the Cleric makes only one change to this declaration, he will also stay with the Theif and Elf. 

This brings us to midday of day 3. We'll pick back up next session. 

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Antiquity Tuesday - Guest Post by IAN BORCHARDT

This week, I would like to welcome my first guest poster, Ian Borchardt. I have annotated this post with some images for clarity. Also, my thoughts are in italics. I managed to keep my commentary to a minimum, which is also for clarity. This post came about as a MeWe response to last week's Antiquity Tuesday and Ian has graciously allowed me to use his response for the Blog. 

Thank you, Ian. And thank you readers. 

A legionary conturbium after the Marian reforms consists of eight soldiers, two slaves, and a mule. The items required to set up the camp were shared amongst the conturbium, which was the lowest indivisible group of Roman troops for that reason. Thus they were often assigned duties together. The two slaves and mule stayed at camp, so were often ignored in accounting for the components of a century. Thus you have the strange situation of a "100" only having 80 soldiers. The military slaves/servants (servus) made up the other 20 since they also had to be fed. Camp and the baggage therein was a pretty important part of military life, hopefully, kept separate from battles. Until you lost.

Tents highlighted in yellow, 1 per conturbium.
Image from http://www.trajans-column.org. 

Unlike D&D the legionary didn't fight whilst carrying this load. The two advantages of the furca, or carrying pole, was that you could wear armour whilst using it to carry goods and that it could easily be dropped if you were ambushed en route so that you were unencumbered in a fight. And you could carry the three pilums along with it fairly easily.

Ian's Icon

The furca continued to be a very convenient way to carry baggage for a long time (cf my icon, for example). The alternatives tended to be large wicker baskets and porter's trunks, which are not readily shed and more often used for carrying heavy loads. Slinging loads were poles was pretty common.

Wonderful inventions, poles. Although not very useful in a dungeon, but then any sensible legionary would have left the bulk of his gear back in the camp before they went exploring a dungeon.

The loculus, or goatskin satchel, was made from a single goatskin because that was the only way to keep it pretty watertight (as far as the rain was concerned). They were not particularly large as a result. It generally held the few personal possessions of the legionary. This and the other gear of the sarcina were carried in baskets or nets slung from the furca. Including food supplies and tools. All readily discardable in an ambush.

Loculus details from Trajan's column. 
Image from Wikipedia.

Most legionary food was prepared normally, and locally sourced. Again supplies were delivered to the conturbium as a whole to be prepared for all of its members by its members. This was fairly standard for most armies up to the 18th Century. technically the locals, if neutral or friendly, were given scrip for any supplies that were "requisitioned," but the ability to redeem that scrip depended on the local tracators. Iron rations were never really a thing until the 17th Century when you could determine an army was thinking of going to war because cheese and sausage were suddenly impossible to get for love and money (food that could easily be eaten cold). Most military preserved rations still needed cooking, even if they had a longish shelf-life and could be easily be transported. For example, salted food needs to be soaked to remove a lot of the brine before being prepared.

Next week, I will be trying out a recipe for Roman Hardtack from Pass the Garum, a food history website. As the recipe only has 4 ingredients, hardtack was probably invented and reinvented a zillion times over as a way to preserve the wheat harvest for lean times. (Edit - this has been canceled due to my daughter's Birthday Party. We will properly have cake instead.)

I also base my encumbrance rules on the Roman legionary but tend to consider armour as the primary encumbering item for determining movement rate. The next question is asking what you are doing with your hands, which I often find to be a more useful question to ask when you are carrying stuff than the weight of a thing. 

In many regards this is similar to RQ1/2 method of measuring encumbrance in the amount of things. The last question is the weight of what is being carried, which is the strength requirement. Usually such loads are self-encumbering from step two: what is he doing with his hands? Strength really only comes into it when they are trying to lift a specific load.

And I much prefer using Constitution in these matters, not least because it is the characteristic most associated in my game with the Peasant Caste.

Ian has saved me a post on Old School Essentials encumbrance rules. OSE has an item based encumbrance system which trades mass and weight for an item/bundle system which is intuitive and easy to use.

Sunday, February 6, 2022

Session 1 - A Very Bad Day at the Beach

I have the party all set. There are eight 4th level characters. The quick details are: 

  1. William, Ranger
  2. Gerwinder, Paladin
  3. Alex, Bard
  4. Rolf, Fighter
  5. Misha, Magic User
  6. Garvin, Cleric
  7. Alice, Elf
  8. Bartholomew, Theif

Their goal is to land on the beach of the island and move south, tracing the shoreline. They are looking for furred animals, freshwater sources, and any trails or paths that hint at the location of the shrine of Terminus. Their ship, the Zephyr will check in on them from time to time. The captain of the ship has found a nice place to put the explorers down, a rock shelf with very shallow water. Due to the wind and currents, the captain has to put the starboard side of the ship closest to land. 

The party briefly explored the beach while a group of 4 sailors brought their gear to shore using a large rowboat. Two of the sailors were left on the shore to watch the gear while everyone else waded out to the ship to help with the mules and horses. 

The ship used a sling to lower 4 mules down to the water. It took two people to settle the mules and get them wading ashore. Gerwinder and Rolf awaited the first horse, Ezekiel the warhorse to be lowered to the water. 

At that moment, the crew on the deck sees a surge of water coming towards them. There are sea serpents bearing down on the party in the water. 


Since no one is surprised due to the range, the captain bellows orders to raise the anchor and drop the oars in the water. Bedlam ensues because of the men in the water near the ship, the horses on the deck and the sling is still in the way of the oars. Only the port-side rowers get into the water. The ship is backward with the port side facing out to sea. 

The party loses the first round of initiative. The first sea serpent lashes out at the third mule but accidentally bites a sailor between it and the mule. Satiated, it turns away as the party is knocked to and fro. The first two mules make for the beach taking Garvin the Cleric and Bartholomew the Theif with them. Masha is pushed away by surge while the fourth mule and Elf use the same push to move away from the beasts.  

The Ranger, Fighter, Paladin, and Bard splash forward to meet the second sea monster with swords. Everyone else tries to get out of the water with the mules. 


The party loses initiative again and the sea serpent tries to devour the mule. The mule takes 4 points of damage and cannot land a hit. Only Rolf and Alex are in range to strike and manage to roll a 20 and 19, doing a total of 11 points of damage. 


The Serpent is hell-bent on taking the mule and stays in place giving Gerwinder and William time to close. It mistakes the sailor as an attacker and bites him. Onboard the ship, the captain gets the crew moving and the ship rows backward and sideways a bit.  


The mule thrashes away while the serpent finishes off the sailor. The Bard and Ranger miss, while the Paladin hits with another 20 for 7 more points of damage. Rolf barely manages to hit but rolls enough damage to kill the sea serpent. The first serpent has disappeared in the distance while the third is confused by the thrashing oars and combat. 


The last sea serpent rushes behind the party and they manage to wack it a few times. 


The sea serpent manages to grab the mule but takes a series of fatal blows for its effort. 

The tired party stumbles ashore. While not mentioned in the above notes, the party has taken minor damage from being battered by the surf. They don't have a lot of good options as the ship has pulled back away from the shelf. The first sea serpent is circling the corpses in the water. No one wants to wander out there and the ship doesn't have any weaponry. The crew does have slings and bows, but the crew is not confident in their own abilities considering the serpent could attack the ship and sink it. The bard and ranger have taken a couple of potshots with arrows, but it's ineffective. 

The captain and the explorers have a frustrating shouting conversation across the water. The explorers will take the two sailors with them south. They will leave the horses on the ship. The party takes stock of its resources and realizes how lucky they were. No one was wearing armor in that fight. 

They have their supplies, three mules, and two extra sailors in tow. The mules were meant to carry two large tents, water, and food, plus some equipment like lanterns, oil, firewood, and a handful of spears. Additionally, they have 8 saddles, 8 saddlebags full of supplies, and a rowboat. It's beginning to look like they have too much stuff. 

They decide to set a watch for the afternoon and set up one 8 man tent for the night. Since there are two extra members of the party, setting watches is easy and the night passes uneventfully. 

By morning, things are looking better. Bartholomew, Alex, and the two sailors have cobbed together a 3 or 4 man tent out of horse blankets, a pair of reasonably serviceable backpacks from some saddlebags, and hatched a plan to cache the saddles and extra supplies with one of the two 8 man tents. 

Two serpents are circling in the sea. Maybe more because the corpses are all gone. The ship nowhere to be seen.  

Also on the downside, someone has named all of the mules Barth-a-mule. The Bard pointed at the Paladin and she muttered an ungodly oath that it wasn't her. She also roundly curses her armor and the lack of a horse. These are real problems, she can't walk fast in plate armor and they have far too much gear for 10 men and 3 mules to carry easily. 

The Cleric, Theif, and Bard urge the party to stay in place one more day and night while they try to get a handle on all of the gear they have to transport.

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Antiquity Tuesday - The Sarcina Revisited

Back in September of 2021, I wrote about the sarcina as an alternative to a backpack. It's a stick carried over the shoulder by a Roman legionary. The sarcina came into its own around 107 BC, when the statesman Gaius Marius pushed for a professional paid army for the Republic. And it's been around ever since. 

Marius's goal was to eliminate the dependency of the army on a baggage train. To this end, all carts, and wagons were eschewed except when absolutely necessary. The average Roman soldier didn't travel by horse, they walked and carried everything they needed on their backs. While the Marian Reforms meant to eliminate the baggage train, it did not eliminate horses and sometimes the troops used donkeys or mules for support. 

Being that every rule has an exception, there was the Legio X Equestris, or 10th Mounted Legion which did travel by horse. In a strange case of history rhyming without repeating, there exists the 10th Mountain Division. Based out of New York, the 10th specializes in mountain warfare and makes limited use of vehicles and equipment like artillery. Being specialized in moving troops and equipment without support places the 10th at the forefront of humanitarian deployments. 

While I'm revisiting the sarcina, I want to compare what a Roman soldier would carry to what a D&D character would have. 

A soldier would have his sandal-like boots, leg wraps, a tunic, a cloak, a scarf, lorica type armor, a gladius or short sword, a dagger, a shield, and a bag to carry it, a helmet, and possibly some darts or pilums or caltrops, plus his sarcina. For some reason, when it came to darts, pilums, wolves, and caltrops, they were carried in threes.  

From that list, we can remove all of the clothing which is normal and customary. That leaves the following list (with weights) for soldiers in combat: 

Shield 100 cns or 10 lbs
Lorica 200 cns or 20 lbs
Gladius 30 cns or 3 lbs
Dagger 10 cns or 1 lbs
Helmet 0 probably counted with the armor
Darts 10 each or 1 lbs
or Pilum 20 each or 2 lbs

D&D seems to get these weights correct most of the time. No one thing would have a standard weight as they would scale to the wearer. A lorica is typically 11 kg or 22 lbs, which almost matches the list. So a Roman soldier would be carrying about 37 or so pounds in a combat setting. Where D&D slides is in the armor types slowing the base rate of movement down. The Romans ability to move and to maneuver was pretty much the gold standard in antiquity until they met eastern forces like the Huns and Seleucids. Armor wasn't much of a factor in speed of movement. 

But this essay is about the carrying capacity of a sarcina. So what is in one? A lot: 

satchel 20 cns or 2 lbs
cloak bag 20 cns or 2 lbs
shield bag 30 cns or 3 lbs
spare tunic 10 cns or 1 lbs
a pot 10 cns or 1 lbs
a mess kit (called patera) 10 cns or 1 lbs
a bag with 3 days of food 60 cns or 6 lbs.
iron rations 
a bedroll 70 cns or 7 lbs
a pickaxe 100 cns or 10 lbs
a turf cutter 70 cns or 7 lbs
a saw 50 cns or 5 lbs
a sickle 10 cns or 1 lbs
3 wolves (a type of spike) 15 cns or 1.5 lbs
a basket 
a water container 20 cns or 2 lbs
tinder kit 10 cns or 1 lbs
toiletries 
personal effects 

Some of these items have an unclear weight or mass. A basket would have been wicker and those weigh next to nothing. Toiletries and personal effects were probably less than 50 cns or 5 lbs all combined.  It's attested that those with too many toiletries or personal effects were roundly mocked by hardcore soldiers. Before Marius, some soldiers had a slave (or if you prefer, a worker with a job and no pay) in tow just to rub, perfume and oil a soldier before and after combat.  

The iron rations were a lamentable and dubious item. Bucellatum, as the Romans called it was hardly edible. Losing a tooth to the biscuit was a common war wound. Soldiers were actually called bucellarii or "biscuit eaters". Let's call it 2 lbs. or 20 cns.  

There are a couple of standout items on that list. The bags were made of leather or hide and heavy. They provided some structure to the sarcina so they were also necessary. 

All told, without the mysterious items without weights, the average Legionary was packing 50 lbs or 500 cns in the sarcina plus the 37 pounds of weapons and armor. Surprisingly, that is in the realm of what modern soldier carries on a good to a great day. 

What is interesting about that list is what is missing. The Romans had a great road system with mile markers. They also knew the lay of their own land. This meant that they didn't remotely carry as much water as a modern soldier. So long as they weren't going the wrong direction, they knew where the next stream, spring or well was. In foreign lands, they would have scouts looking for such things. 

The other thing that is missing from the list is a tent. The Romans had 8 or 10 man tents called a contubernium. There is no way for a man to carry one. Basically, they would set up camp with what they had and if necessary move the tents to the camp later. 

That sounds pretty poor, but if you think about what the sarcina is, it provides a solution. It's a pole with 3 different bags, a tunic, and a cloak. Two of them put together could be cobbled into a makeshift tent using the cloaks, shields, and bags. A Roman shield at its smallest is 2 feet by 3 feet and could be as big as 3 by 4 feet. The bag is bigger than that so the shield fits. While I wouldn't want to sleep in the snow with such a ramshackle tent, it's doable in three seasons. 

Now looking at a typical D&D character, they should be carrying just as much as a Roman soldier, but in a backpack. And judging by my players, they often don't carry that much by half. The players never think to bring a pickaxe, a turf cutter, a shield bag, or any of the other stuff a real person would need. Some of them think a 10-foot pole is ungainly. 

What I find amusing is, a lump of 1600 cns worth of gold is only about the size of a couple of two-liter bottles of pop. "Soda", to you demi-humans. That would totally fit in a backpack, but your spine would scream. This is another case of needing some other method to move something. Neither a sarcina nor backpack would help much in moving that much coin. 

This isn't to drag down the idea of coins to pounds for encumbrance, it actually proves the system works. And reasonably well. The flaw is in the idea that treasures would be limited to gold coins. I think everyone has had that campaign where the party ignores copper pieces because they aren't worth enough to pick up. 

The other thing is the dubious nature of iron rations.

But those are essays for another day. 

Monday, January 31, 2022

Mapping Monday and Session 0 - Mark of Terminus

I ordered Into the Wild by Todd Leback aka Third Kingdom Games. I've really meant to use it sooner than now. Over the weekend, I rolled up some OSE characters and got brewing. 

I had to develop my own map, which is plenty large enough for a long series of play sessions. 

As per normal, the setting is my own, based on Rome. This is a rough map based on the island of Corsica (EDIT - no, it's not). The red hexes are 30-mile hexes, the sub hexes are six miles because I really have a rough time with scale. I am using Worldographer for the mapping and somehow botched my math. I'm no stranger to screwing up math. Corsica is 114 miles from north to south while this map shows it as over 150 miles. (EDIT - This is true, but I scrolled down too far on my map and I am looking at Sardinia, not Corsica. You can ignore the next sentence.) 

I think I goofed on the proportions of each hex, which per Worldographer is 46.18 tall by 40 wide. Still, I like it. It's based on the island of Corsica but is a fantasy version of it. So math can take a hike. 

The red hexes are an overlay created with my
DriveThruRPG offering, The Hex Pack.

The characters have a couple mission targets. Item one, restore the lost Western Marker of Terminus. Item two, map the region so as to find the best place to hunt rock seals. Third, it would be handy if sources of freshwater were known. 

Since this is a test mission, the characters have been dropped by a lembus, a ship type similar to a trireme. They are meant to carry men or cargo. This one is named the Zypher, however, at some point in the recent past, it was used for cattle. The party has been bothered by seasickness and the smell of cattle sparked a new secret name for the ship, "The Heifer". They hate it. 

The party will start on the northeastern point of the island. The party of 8 adventures is not the typical group having a paladin, a cleric of a different sect from the paladin and thief who annoys everyone by aggrandizing theft. The only thing the 8 agree on is they hate sea travel and want off the ship. 

The party's initial goal is to work their way down the eastern side of the island, with the Zypher popping in to check on them. They built a small hut at their landing point and will proceed south with only two pack mules in support. They do not have the supplies or capacity to climb mountains, so not every hex will be explored this time around. 

If the party is successful, they will meet the Zypher in a week or so on the southeastern point of the island. If unsuccessful, the Zypher will scout the coast looking for survivors. 

Wish them luck! 

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Adventure Review - 'No Tears Over Spilled Coffee!'

I have to be honest, I don't play e5 much. People cry over it. There should be no crying in D&D. I wouldn't have noticed this adventure except for the hue and cry people put up over it. 

The free adventure is called 'No Tears Over Spilled Coffee!' and is available at D&D Beyond

Allow me to throw up the standard stat block before I get into the review. 

Title: No Tears Over Spilled Coffee
Author: Michael Galvis
Year: 2022
Pages: 6 pages
Rating: 2 of 5 stars

The hue and cry over this adventure revolve around the premise of a band of characters working in the Firejolt Cafe, a coffee shop. Let me tell you, every person who offered this criticism is wrong. Flat wrong. 

There is a long history of landing adventures in the wrong role for the rule of funny. Robert Asprin's Myth Adventures come to mind rather easily. If Asprin can have Skeve walking into an Expy McDonalds in search of a trollop and finding trolls waiting tables, then so can you. 



I have to put an ad in here to honor the late author Robert Asprin. His characters, much like the characters in Coming to America, know their version of Mcdonald's is treading dangerously close to some sort of infringement. It is the rule of funny. 

The setting is not where this adventure falls apart. 

The Crew

The character's mission starts with a call from Ellina, the owner of the Firejolt Café. She has lost all of her staff and the party of new hires is her last chance to stay open. Unfortunately for all, Ellina is starting to get sick, so this first day will include some training, then Ellina will absent herself from the rest of the adventure. 

Literally. Like her employees, she never comes back for the rest of the adventure. 

There are a couple of problems with this scenario, beyond being snatched from the headlines, possibly right from your player's typical workday. 

Some of the problems could be reworked to be funny as opposed to problems. For example, it seems the author thinks there are cell phones in this world. "Called..." Yeah, if you accept some sort of anachronistic coffee shop, then you get cell phones. 

But imagine the contrary. Metron the Mercilous is lost, at sea between campaigns. He hires a band of criers to advertise his willingness to cut on people and burn villages.  In response, a crier approaches him with an excellent, turn-key opportunity with Ellian. Metron orders his henchmen to assemble as he reaches out to his assassin and thieving friends, plus a cleric of dubious intentions to seal the deal. He and his warband march off to the Firejolt Café to claim the prize appointments, prepared for the obvious campaign of bloodletting. 

To his surprise, he finds a gang of union members around the Café trying to get him to join. They promise Metron and his boys a minimum of 15 coppers an hour. Metron reaches for his battle-ax as Ellian quickly runs out to separate the gangs before anyone is separated from their heads. 

Yes, the whole premise could be seriously funny. 

Anyway, back to the actual adventure. 

Ellian (and the DM) walk the players through the game mechanics for play. Some characters can gain an advantage by being observant and utilizing the offered materials in the Café. Eventually, the party breaks common tasks down and gets to work. 

The day progresses without offering the players and their characters any option using strategy or tactics or any bit of creativity to succeed. 

Yawn. 

The Challenge

Finally! A challenge presents itself. The party has to work together to deal with a particularly difficult task. Ok. This is fine. 

The party has to come up with a perfect drink for a difficult customer. This is where the whole thing unravels. 

Up to this point, the characters have had an easy time of it. In order to complete this challenge, they must pass 5 successive DC 11 skill rolls. And here in lies the problem. 

Do you know the chances of rolling an 11 or higher on a 1d20? It's 50-50. A coin toss. Players generally know how to measure their chances and this one will ring out as carney style game. 50-50 sounds pretty great. That's easy. 

But 5 in a row... ah... That works out to be a 3% chance. That's exactly like flipping a fair coin 5 times in a row and getting tails each time. 

Worse than 3%

But it's worse than the numbers hint at. As each player attempts to roll an 11 or higher, there will be a crystal clear point where someone's failure will screw the party. 

Essentially, as the party rolls, someone has a 50-50 chance of blowing it and that failure will land on a single player and their poor die rolls. Even if the characters have a skill that pushes up their chances to say 12 in twenty, the chances rise to a mere 7%. The check would have to push to 18 in 20 to give a better than 50% chance of success. 

It is one thing where a party snatches victory from the jaws of defeat by careful application of skills and talents. It's something different when you have some to roll less than an 18 which sounds like a challenge until you flip it around and ask them to roll over a 2 on a twenty-sided die. 

Presentation

As you can see, under 18 and over 2 sounds like two different things because of the presentation. This adventure's saving grace is the slick presentation where it sounds like the party can do something together. But the math shows otherwise. 

While the premise could be interesting, the given purpose and tasks offer little or no reward to the players and are actually crocked to ensure the party fails. 

I gave this adventure one star for being free and a second for being creative. It is an excellent learning experience for DM to learn how not to create an adventure. 

Sunday, December 26, 2021

Trip Hop By The Light of the Silver Cords

I have some idea of what I'll be doing in 2022. It all starts with a theme and some tunes. This is a playlist for my next campaign, "Trip Hop By The Light of the Silver Cords". 


  1. Nuits Sonores - Floating Points
  2. Wandering Star - Portishead
  3. Feel Life - POLIÇA
  4. Trip & Glide - Love And Rockets
  5. 6 Underground - Sneaker Pimps
  6. Rocking Horse (Acoustic Version) - Kelli Ali
  7. The Gaudy Side of Town - Gayngs
  8. Zero 7 - Destiny ft Sia and Sophie Barker (2002) - Sia Argentina
  9. Back To Front (Circular Logic) - DJ Shadow
  10. Diet Mountain Dew - Lana Del Rey
  11. Blue - MARINA
  12. Limerence (Orchestral Mix) - Dmitriy Kuznetsov
  13. Stay The Course - DJ Shadow
  14. Roads - Portishead
  15. Blood Moon - POLIÇA
  16. Sonic Boom - Venus Hum
I haven't even started writing a premise yet, but judging by the soundtrack, "Gonzo" should cover it. Normally, I start with an idea but this time I have a sensation. My players need to grab their guns and gasoline to save the world. This promises to be no holds barred insanity.  

Monday, November 8, 2021

Chaotic Good Fun - A True Lie

Ever have one of those players that creates a character that just doesn't make sense? You know the kind. The person who shows up with a Chaotic Good Assassin. 

Actually, this story is not about me. Well, sort of. 

I did create a Chaotic Good Assassin as a part of a party tasked with killing off the evil overlord of the land. I can't remember the lord's name but let's call him Lord Farquaad. 

Now for the setup. I was late for the session that night and missed the bit about killing the lord "someday". Since I was late, the DM handed me a set of pre-generated stats. I was only allowed to shift scores around or swap points for prime requisites so I didn't have the stats to be anything interesting. 

The DM looked mulled over my sheet while describing the villain and prompted me to fill out a character description. You know, the boring eye color, hair color, skin color, etc. Since he just described the lord, I simply wrote down what DM said. Since I just pulled a fast one with the alignment, I didn't wait to draw attention to myself by flat out stating that my assassin character looked just like his quarry, Lord Farquaad.  

Right off the bat, I had a humorous way of wrecking this campaign and went for it. My character infiltrated the castle and promptly failed to kill the lord. The only person to see my assassin was Lord Farquaad and the would-be assassin managed to escape by a dangerous and inexplicably lucky leap into the moat. 

Rather than getting upset by my shenanigans, the DM ran with it. Since Lord Farquaad was hunting just one obvious assassin, it gave the party all kinds of opportunities to bushwhack him. Ultimately, the lord survived all of these attacks and went on a crazy, bloodthirsty hunt for the party. He used my foolishness to really make this lord despicable. 

That's where my rouse kicked into high gear. The party fled to the silver mines. We infiltrated the lord's own most secure outpost posing as guards. At this point, my character's secondary gambit was discovered by the DM. A Magic-User was detecting alignments on new guards and the DM was non-plussed to discover my assassin wasn't evil. 

Where it became laughable was when my character got his hands on some forged paperwork that said his name imperfectly matched Lord Farquaad's. His cover story was his mother had a tryst with Lord Farquaad and she had high hopes for becoming the legitimate Lady of the Kingdom, to the point of naming her son "Lord Farquaad". His first name was actually "Lord". This got snickers all the way around the table. 

Suddenly, the whole theme of the game shifted to a ridiculous, fantasy version of the film, "Catch Me If You Can". 

Now here is the really funny part. I didn't come up with this on my own. 

There was a family friend that had a name that matched a landed person in England from the 1700s. In the early 80's, the UK did something that I can only equate with an "estate last call". They wanted people to claim abandoned estates so that they could get back to collecting taxes or clearing their records for sale or perseveration as needed. 

This family friend was big into genealogy and laid a claim to an estate back in England. It was kind of a big deal. He managed to provide all of the documents necessary to back up his claim as his family had the same name and this particular Englishmen did visit Western New York. 

It turns out that this landed gentry from England came to New York in search of a criminal. The criminal escaped all attempts at capture by taking the name of the Lord pursuing him. Annoyed, Lord went back to his estate empty-handed. 

Here is where the story goes south and where the U. S. Government got involved. It turns out that this family friend was not related to the Lord, but the criminal quarry. Which he was fully aware of, it's is kind of illegal in rather surprising ways when you seem to have documentation that says one thing, but the reality is another. Forgery isn't always required to produce "correct" documentation, sometimes hiding contradicting documentation is better than an outright fictional document. 

I'm not sure where the B.S. starts and ends with this story as this story is about the 1700s criminal leading to a land claim in England in the early 80s. I would have been about 8-11 years old myself. While I was aware of what was happening, I didn't really understand. While it's funny enough for people to retell, it's the sort of story that gets changed with every telling. 

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Review - Dyson's Delves (Part 1)

Today I am taking a look at an older book called Dyson's Delves by Dyson Logos. From the moment I hit buy on DrivethruRPG, I had remorse about not ordering this title in print. It's a good thing I didn't because not many things made their saving throw. C'est la feu. 

DriveThruRPG's excellent library app saved my bacon as I wouldn't be able to keep doing these reviews with quick access to the hundreds of titles I've purchased there. 

Title: Dyson's Delves I 
Rule Set: Any OSR 
Year: 2012
Author: Dyson Logos
Pages: 153 pages
Rating: 5 gold stars of 5 stars

This is one of those titles that shatters my rating scale. I love art and this book has 60+ pages of Dyson's excellent maps, arranged into 5 delve adventures plus 44 blank maps for you to key. Each unkeyed map has a key page for you to fill out and the keys themselves are stylish and match the maps.  

The delves are prekeyed and all of the monsters are thematically grouped like the beasts in Keep on the Borderlands. Dyson doesn't spell it out in the text, but even a cursory look at the critters provides connections that the DM can weave together to fit their own campaign. If you wanted to repeat a particular delve, I suggest rekeying the dungeon using Shane Ward's 10 Monsters idea from the blog, The 3 Toadstools. These delves are cool and repeatable. 

I'm not sure what I like more, the stylish maps or the way this title was put together so that the reader can adapt the work to be their own table. Dyson gives permission to photocopy pages so you can write on them, but if I had this title in print, I would take the other path and write in the book. Yes, it destroys the ability to "start over" but with 5 complete delve adventures plus 44 single-page maps, exactly when will I have the time to just "start over"? 

I'm in full-on heretical mode. The author is wrong, go ahead 'n write in this book. This is basically more than a year of content if you run 1 or 2 maps a week. Date each map as you run through it. When you're all done, either print a new copy from DriveThruRPG or order another book from Lulu. I get nothing for pitching a $20.00 book from Lulu, except the reward of knowing you will have a keepsake worth far more than the multiple purchases or reams of paper you burn to reprint the pdf. It's a kind of a keepsake journal.  

As I mentioned before, I have a copy from DriveThruRPG which is all fine and dandy, but as soon as my house is in order again, I will be ordering a print copy. 

Monday, September 27, 2021

Bilingual Bonus Review - Cruce de Río

I only have a few more reviews to hit my goal of 52 for 2021. A few weeks ago a reader gave me a whole set of e5 books. So, e5 it is. One of the best ways to learn a ruleset is actual gameplay. 

Cruce de Río by Sebastián Pérez is a great introductory scenario for D&D e5. 

Title: Cruce de Río 
Rule Set: D&D e5
Year: 2018
Author: Sebastián Pérez
Pages: 10 pages
Rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ok, right out of the gate, it's a little much to call this a "module". It's 10 pages. However, Cruce de Río is a gem of a product. The format of this booklet is scaleable, it works for characters between 1st and 6th levels. It verges on being ruleset agnostic because the scenarios spelled out in this book have crystal clear mechanics for several common events that take place in a fantasy setting. 

The gist of it is, the party needs to cross a river. Three possibilities exist: find a ford, find a bridge or make a dangerous attempt at crossing someplace else. Cruce de Río spells out each of these possibilities with great detail and excellent mechanics. These events can be sequential or run as individual events. There is a challenge for each choice and that challenge scales to suit the DM's need. Any one of them could be deadly, but Sr. Pérez spelled out the possible dangers and their outcomes so that each event need not be lethal. That purposeful planning allows a DM to pick which challenge to present meaning you could get several uses out of each. 

Sr. Pérez gives a couple of reasons for a river crossing, all of which are great. But river crossings should be commonplace for your band of plucky adventures. This is straight-up plug-and-play worldbuilding. This could happen in almost any campaign which makes this title so useful. 

There are bits of details and lore buried in the book that can enrich your campaign. For example, the ogre is motivated to take gems over gold because the government doesn't tax them. He is also not terribly inclined to kill the party as he is just doing his job of collecting a toll. 

I love details like this because these are far-reaching for a campaign setting. It says so much with so little. The kingdom has toll roads, the kingdom has the infrastructure, the kingdom employs non-humans, the tax system is a bit exploitable, etc. If you wanted to jump your 6th level party to hexcrawling, this is your entry point. 

Sr. Pérez has also kindly bolded keywords for quick rule lookup. There is also a reference sheet of Monster Manual pages for easy access. When events call for advantage or disadvantage, those are clearly spelled out with good reasons for each. Based on this, I suspect Sr. Pérez is a hiker with actual experience fording rivers. 

All and all, I enjoyed this book greatly, even though I struggle with Spanish. This book is a part of the Before 2020 Bundle over on DriveThruRPG. 

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Party of 6 for the Castle - Experience

In my last post, I ran a series of characters through the Ghost of Lion Castle using the Basic and Expert D&D and Rules Cyclopedia sets. This was a solo run so I totally determined the outcome of adventure. The party crossed a half dozen challenges in the form of traps. Ultimately, they found the main entrance and two dead bodies loaded with loot. 

Thematically, this fits in with the character's backgrounds. The young characters want adventure while the two older characters want to safeguard them, but Nicholas and the Dwarf are also treasure and relic hunters. The younger characters did find some relics in the form of two magic journals and two maps. 

This is a case of character backgrounds and details meshing with the shared campaign world. 

What did not come to pass was the distribution of treasure and experience. I skipped the first due to lack of time, that will be the first thing I do in the next session. Experience is a tougher judgement call. Under B/X and Rules Cyclopedia, experience is awarded in a 1:1 ratio to gold plus whatever experience a monster would provide. 

In the last session, the characters encountered only traps and treasure, some of it magical. I can easily map out found items to coin value excepting magic items and weapons. They don't have clear price in these rules. It seems the intent was to have the object be the reward. I'm of two minds on that as it makes perfect sense. But there is the kid of the 70's who used to make wish lists from the Brand Names Catalog that wants everything to have a value.  

What I came up with was a value of about 250 experience points divided among four characters. (Two characters are sitting at a base camp.) 

This has happened because I should read the rules of this module strictly for solo play. The party has no thief and even if they did. the traps they encountered are not the sort a thief can disarm. No experience for them.  

If I had a "live" party, I could see many opportunities for the party to gain experience off of the traps. The traps in this section of the module was the very reason I selected the front door as the party's destination. In solo play with a single character, any of these traps could be deadly. The traps the party encountered would be unpassable to a single magic user with max hit points. However, 4 characters can eat up that damage. I did it because I've always wanted to do it in solo play but couldn't with an individual character. 

The traps are a series of obstacles, two magic missile attacks, a molten metal trap, two sets of murder holes and several slamming doors and dropping portcullis's (portculli?) to force the characters forward. 

As described, the magic missile attacks and slamming doors are unavoidable, the molten metal trap plus the dropping portcullis's both requires a save, and the murder hole attack requires judgement. 

Were I DM'ing this with real characters, the potential to judge situations allows for experience awards for these traps. For the doors, murder holes and portcullis traps, the simply decision to act as one and move forward or back allows for roleplay. Tricky PC's could fill sacks with dirt to prop the doors or prevent the portcullis from closing. The magic missile and murder holes are interesting traps for the PC's because there is that small chance of evading them through trickery but then wandering back into them by poor choices. 

Ah, let me tell you about parties and poor choices... 

But all of that implies thinking through an immediate problem and receiving experience for it. 

This Friday, I am looking forward to reading some materials I received plus another session in Lion Castle.