Thursday, December 15, 2022

World Building - The Monster List

This has been a hectic week. I've been at work before the sun rises and long after it sets. But I am thinking about these sessions and this campaign setting. 

I didn't describe one building, the one shop directly to the left of the fountain. It's a shed-like shop, a summer building for the general store to its north. It has heavy up-swinging shutters that open to large counter displays. 

Presumably, the town was abandoned in the fall and the shop was shuttered. There are many knickknacks left over from the summer. Urns of summer wine are probably the thing that will attract the PCs, but also household items such as paintings, and small curios like necklaces and lockets. There are the odd socks and tights, soaps, and cleaning agents. And perhaps incense and candles.  

Again, the idea is to point to a once vibrant town. 

Since it was abandoned, it has been taken over by various critters, some of which have already been introduced. The characters have stuck to this one tiny area for several days. They don't realize the extent of the town but they feel comfortable where they are. 

It seems that I have misplaced my notebook, so I have recreated the wandering monster list from memory. Before we get to the wandering monster list, there are two types of monsters that do not wander: the catfish in the fountain and the green whip snakes which are busy brumation, the cold-blooded version of hibernating. 

The rules of engagement for the catfish are:  

1. There is a 1 in 6 chance that they will be visible. 
2. The catfish respond 1-3 rounds after a person enters the water if not immediately visible.
2a. They may be tricked into coming into range by dropping stuff in the water.  
3. If they need to flee, there is a hole in the fountain.  

The rules of engagement for the green whip snakes are: 

1. There is a 1 in 6  chance they will be found in any house. 
1a. They are everywhere, not finding them in one particular house doesn't mean they are absent, just undiscovered. 
2. They are brumating, so they will not wake unless held by a warm person or a fire is lit in the house. 
3. The snakes do damage by poison, not through biting. The poison causes muscle spasms, pain, and long-term shaking, all of which prevent using Thieves Skills and spell casting for hours. It is more annoying that anything else. 
3a. If the players decide to milk the snake for poison, it requires a Dex or Wis save the first time. After that it simply requires a plan and care. 

Now on to the main list: 

1. Bandits, 3d4 appearing. 
2. Sheep, 3d6 appearing. 
3. Giant Ants, 2d6 appearing.
4. Ranger, 1 appearing. 
5. Troll, 1 appearing. 
6. Kobolds*, 3-6 appearing.
7. Mountain Goats, 2d4 appearing. 
8. Mage*, 1 appearing.
9. Wild Horses, 1d4 appearing. 
10. Wolves, 2d4 appearing.

Starred monsters are singular creatures. 

The bandits hang out on the north side of town, this is a waypoint on their patrol range where it is generally safe to camp. Since there are no people here, they don't engage in looting and raiding activities here. They don't wander the town much as the trolls prey on men. None of them seem particularly skilled at combat, but they do have swords, bows, and light armor. They also don't have horses and have been warned about taking wild horses found in the as mounts or as pack animals. 

The sheep and goats are more amusing than a threat. They are feral, so hunting them is easy but treating them like farm animals will end in disaster. The funnier the better. The goats can be dangerous if mishandled. 

The giant ants have tunnels all around town. There is a 50-50 chance that characters encountering them will find a tunnel entrance near the encounter site. Inquisitive characters will find clues that indicate the ants arrived either after the town was abandoned or that the same time but not before, which means they were not the cause.  

The Ranger is an associate of the bandits. He is more daring in his explorations of the town than they are. He will avoid combat, if possible. Every season, he picks a new house to live in. When encountered, the characters might find him in his home. There is a 1 in 6 chance of this. 

There are several trolls hiding in the town, but only one is on patrol in the town at any one time. The troll will fight anyone he can for prestige and food, but like all trolls, he or she can be bought off. The Ranger pays rent, so they leave him and anyone with him alone. They also prey on horses, wolves sheep, and goats. If the characters offer them gold, the trolls will offer them housing. The trolls are brain-bustlingly dense. They will not accept animal carcasses as food, but if they are properly butchered, they will accept the meat and pelts as highly valued resources. It's like they don't know sheep are mutton. 8912                  
The Kobolds are of the Tribe of Minwan that hale from the Kobold's Folly. The Kobold party numbers six, but they may be encountered in smaller groups. The tribe is oddly friendly so long as they don't witness anyone abusing the wild horses. They care for the horses and will happily eat people who harm them. They are willing to trade with the party, they would like daggers, knives, and hatchets. The Trolls avoid them like the plague. These kobolds are very furry like a pug dog and taste horrible. The trolls don't want to offer them the opportunity of renting space in their town. 

The Mage is a singular person. He is mute yet can somehow cast spells. He has both clerical and arcane magic. He will heal characters in need. He can disappear and appear at random and often does. 

The wild horses and wolves are just typical beasts. They are comfortable in the town, but if put to flight they try to exit the town. They are not troubled by human dwellings, sometimes appearing inside buildings or peeking in open windows and doors. Obviously, this trait makes the wolves very dangerous. 

Introducing intelligent creatures into the town allows the characters a chance to dig for clues about the town. The troll, the kobolds, and the bandits will all be in agreement that the town has been abandoned for a long time. The trolls will term it as "forever" while the bandits and kobolds say, "many, many seasons". If trying to nail down a specific timeframe, it becomes obvious that the trolls and kobolds don't live very long so "forever", "many", and "seasons" may not mean much to them. The bandits don't recall a time that the town was inhabited and the individuals here aren't very knowledgeable. It seems that this is a newbie outing with only a few bandits having much experience at all.  

The Ranger has the most information which he himself finds to be odd. He indicates the town always appears to have been abandoned within the last 1 to 2 years, but he has been visiting the site for a decade. His mother and father knew of the place, so he feels like there is magic at work.    

Thursday, December 8, 2022

Refined House Rule Armor Class in Old School Essentials

Facial hair is impressive, 
but does not
 contribute to defenses

I have thrown a bunch of ad hoc rules at D&D over the years. And my favorite and most workable is Armor Reducing Damage. In Unearthed Arcana, they had a suit of field plate armor that acted like a limited pool of hit points. I don't necessarily like giving the characters a way to purchase hit points. 

What I do is slightly different. I offer damage reduction based on how low the AC is, to a practical limit of AC 2 for non-magical armor. 

The AC scale is 9 to 2 for damage reduction.  

AC 9 - No armor, no damage reduction. 
AC 8 - Only a shield, no damage reduction. 
AC 7 - Leather armor, -1 to damage. 
AC 6 - Leather armor  + shield, -1 to damage.
AC 5 - Chainmail, -2 to damage
AC 4 - Chainmail + shield, -2 to damage
AC 3 - Plate armor, -3 to damage
AC 2 - Plate armor + shield, -3 to damage
AC 1 or lower, no further damage reduction except for magical armors which can reduce damage to -4. 

The damage reduction is a property and advantage of armor over speed, toughness and/or magic properties. A wolf or dragon does not receive a damage reduction because they probably don't have armor. An orc or horse in armor or barding does receive damage reduction. 

Wearing all of the armor
helps a lot. 
In exchange for this reduction of armor, the character must be fully dressed, meaning they have all ancillary parts of their armor for it to reduce: ie helmets, boots, greaves, bracers, gloves or gauntlets, etc. Having all parts covered simply removes the possibility of a light hit (a dagger or a punch) from doing harm. 

There are two weapons that are unaffected by this reduction - Long Bows and Crossbows. These arrows and bolts have so much mechanical advantage they simply won't bounce. They do skip off angled bits which is represented by a poor damage roll, not the quality of armor.  

There are two corollary rules to this. 

Each type of armor is made up of the lesser armor types. What this means is, chainmail is made up of a layer of leather armor plus the mail. Plate armor is composed of chainmail and leather. The end result is, your character's investment in an expensive suit of armor means you also have a functional lesser suit of armor in addition to the full set. Plate armor can be worn as plate, chain, or just leather. Also, you can save time by only suiting up to your comfort level. This can also come into play for retainers and followers, giving a soldier an ability to suit up in layers quickly. 

There are many stories where the hero only suits up to the first layer and fights to defend his page or squire as they suit up. This injects a bit of drama and heroism. 

History is full of examples where soldiers wore what they thought made sense at the time, say the undergarment but not the protective metal cover. Of course, what makes these commentaries notable is the soldier won or lost a battle seeming based on what they had on. 

Harald Hardrada's troops got caught wandering without their mail shirts but were also completely surprised by a massive army bearing down on them with no warning. 

Several times gladiators were pressed into service as soldiers in the Empire's legions. It could go either way. In the Year of the Four Emperors, the gladiators had the advantage of the heaviest armor but made a poor showing when thrust into traditional set-piece battles. However, in urban settings, they were dangerous in combat. Later, Marcus Aurelius pressed gladiators into the role of soldiers. The Empire was decimated by a plague so there was no lack of legionnaire standard armor for them. Or they served in a role where armor wasn't a factor. 

Numerous times, the legionaries got ambushed while wearing only their tunics but were holding heavy pickaxes and turf cutters. They destroyed heavily armored enemies. If there was one thing legionaries were more practiced in than sword fighting, it was using tools to make camp. 

Even power armor has limits, 
say if your feet leave the ground

This has an interesting social side effect on D&D which also has a good history at the table. Padded or studded leather, banded and ring mail are transitional types of armor that cannot be broken down like chainmail and plate types. They are all one piece with metal bits attached directly to the cloth or leather. They aren't layers and don't come apart. They have a place and are very descriptive of a specific type of character. A barbarian or cleric would be expected to have the heaviest but cheapest armor available, ring or banded types. A Thief or an Assassin looks like a ruffian, but never a guard. 

Back to the corollary rules for armor. I run with the idea that a person wearing armor is unencumbered in combat or movement until "one more thing" is added. Don't wear a backpack in armor. Don't walk in mud in armor. Don't let peasants jump on your back in armor. Don't get hit with a mancatcher or take a pilum to the shield. All of these will immediately encumber a character in armor in rather disastrous ways. 

When reading through those examples of historical battles involving mismatched armors, the side that moved smartly won. 

I have tried a couple of rounds of combat first level characters using the Old School Essential rules.. Damage reduction increases the loiter time of first level characters while not eliminating death. This is give combat an epic feel as one Fighter with 8 hp and plate armor can survive 1 good hit (more than 4 or 5 hp damage) or 2 average hits (3 or 4 hit points of damage) and a whole series of weak blows. 

When facing heavier damage, say 2d8 hp from a serious bite, the same 8 hp Fighter (or Dwarf) in plate is more likely to survive due to damage reduction but is by no means assured of it. An average roll would be 9 hp of damage reduced by 3 leaving just 2 hp left. On the other hand, reducing 15 points of damage does nothing. 

It is an interesting mechanic, if anything it can make your fighting types much tougher. You can try out Old School Essentials CharactersMagicMonsters, and Treasures on DriveThruRPG. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Write What You Know - Zing!

I'm watching Wednesday on Netflix. The second episode leads with the line: 

"I've always hated the expression 'write what you know.' It's a hall pass for the imagination-impaired." 

Wednesday then shifts her opinion. To paraphrase, "if the things you know are weird, maybe you should lean into it." I like that. It comes up very often in role-playing games. Here is the odd thing, the DM or game master is trying to offer scenarios that make sense to the players, no matter who they are. Since the players don't know what the referee has in mind, things get weird. 

For example, in my last post, I refused to say, "Solo Play". I know how some people will react to that phrase. When I shared the post, someone commented exactly as I expected even though I tried to avoid it. Such is the world of RPGs and social media. I tried to avoid the probable and walked right into it anyway. And this happens at the table, too. 

Anyway, Wednesday is right. A game master and a player really don't know what is going to come of the words. Things are bound to get weird, so lean into it. 

If you design things from the exclusively top down, you start with big topics and get smaller. The larger and more vague a topic is, the more likely that basic concepts will get skewed by the listener. My next project (recap - part 1, part 2) is being built top-down but the solo adventure I am running is in that world and is very bottom-level. Facts over concepts. 

How and why do I link small details to large concepts? 

Well, let's look at the basic map in relation to what is happening. There are 3 buildings, a tree, and a fountain. Or more simply, it's a hub with spokes. The center of the hub is the fountain and stuff radiates out. The three buildings and the tree are the edges of the hub and the start of the spokes. It's designed like many cities and towns, and amusement parks. The mini-map is simple, familiar,  and hard to get lost in. The reason for this is player and character comfort. They can forget mapping and wander for a bit. 

The buildings are much the same way. The general store is very much like a free-standing market stall, the store in Little House on the Prarie, or any number of old buildings in a zillion cities around the world. The image makes itself, which is very player friendly. You don't have to see it to know it. The details build themselves. 

Let me press on with the adventure for a moment. The players entered the shop to the east. It's a rug shop. The players checked it out and found nothing of interest. Until they tried to leave. Then a couple of them fell through the floor in front of the door. This is a subverted pit trap. 

If I had real players at the table, they probably would have picked up on the slapstick amusement of slowly sinking into a carpet over a hole in the ground. It was hard to get out of but not too hard with friends to help. How many old TV shows and movies have someone sinking into quicksand or Tom Hanks getting trapped in a hole in the Money Pit. 

But it isn't just for humor. The characters and the players will discover the why in a bit. 

Moving on, they hazard the church or temple. Actually, the structure is neither. It's a mansion. Outside, they find a couple of decaying bodies which presents the first mystery. Entering the building, they realize that it had collapsed first and caught fire at some point, much later than the collapse. 

They also solve the minor mystery of the missing tools. They were used to recover the bodies. Each body shows signs of trauma from falling or having things fall on them. They were obviously cared for after being recovered and placed in repose. Unfortunately, burial never occurred. The Clerics and the Magic-User might surmise some sort of magical protection was used on them. 

As the players explore, aside from the tools, they find nothing of value except information. A lot of debris has been moved. Strangely, more than what could be done by the shovels and pickaxes they found. They also find several openings leading to a cave system. As they advance in the dark, they are ambushed by giant ants. 

They fight a retreating battle in the tunnels of the anthill until they discover a soft squishy cloth covering an exit. Hum... they are back in the pit trap in the carpet shop. Fearing pursuit, they run through the fountain and back to the general store, baring the doors. 

You see, these tiny details have been placed not randomly but purposefully to echo the overreaching theme of romanticism.  Seeking answers in places and people long gone. The players will see that someone who cared about something lived here.  

And then there is the weanie in the middle of it all. The fountain and table are what is called a weanie. It towns and cities, the center of the hub has something significant like a fountain or a town hall. Those things draw your attention, they pull you in. For Walt Disney, the weanie was the Castle. It pulls people in and pushes them out to the edges in a repeating pattern. The Castle as a hub insures that people are always pulled in no matter how many times they move out. 

(Walt Disney used to have a dog that he would lead around with a hot dog, which is where the term comes from. I can't imagine he was the first to think of it, but he was known to make the comparison. There I go again, putting amusement parks in my games...)

What gives the table and fountain drawing power is what they do mechanically. The party was dumped there by the Game Master, a ridiculously petty person who teleports away his problems. The party can't be depleted because more characters will appear at the table. 

The fountain also has a purpose that is far less deadly than it appears. The giant catfish are a replenishing food source. The party doesn't have to enter the pool to hunt them, they can be hunted without entering the water. It's not entirely safe, but much safer than starving. 

I had thought that giant catfish were fantasy monsters, but they are real and do like brackish saltwater. They can often get to be hundreds of pounds. Taking one down feeds the party for an incredible amount of time for minimal risk. 

The players, I hope would be left with a feeling of wonder. Wonder at who lived here. Wonder at where they went. That sense of a real living place is the core concept behind romanticism. It's deviated but still there. 

PS: You can pick up a copy of Old School Essentials CharactersMagicMonsters, and Treasures on DriveThruRPG. You can also try Wordlographer before you buy.  

Saturday, December 3, 2022

OSE, Solitary Playthrough

I have my new boxed sets of Old School Essentials. Right now I am sticking to the Basic set and generated several characters. In no particular order, they are 2 Clerics, a Thief, a Dwarf, an Elf, a Magic User, a Fighter, and a Halfling. My intent is to roll as many dice as possible, covering as many scenarios as my players want to do. So, one of every character type in a freeform environment. 

I took inspiration from a photo I took in Disney's Epcot. I have this weird mental association between amusement parks and D&D

This was taken in the United Kingdom pavilion, I think. This is close to what the characters are experiencing. 

The dark circle in the middle of the map is the party's table. Each square is 10 feet. To the north is a willow tree that blocks their line of sight. East and west are a couple of buildings, clearly shop fronts. To the south is a working fountain and what appears to be a damaged church or temple. It is also nighttime here. 

The party landed on top of a monster's lair. In the fountain is a group of giant catfish. We'll get to them in a bit. 

The party gathers their gear and seeing no immediate trouble,  finishes their drinks and meals. They notice their money, chips, and cards are gone from the table. There are several candles, a lantern, and a lamp on the table, just like in an Italian Bistro. 

Their first real move is to explore the tree. 

Nothing... it's a tree. 

On the other side, there is an intersection of roads, three of the roads meet here and curve back to the north. There is also a couple of shops and houses. They decide not to go that way because this is solitary play and I say so. 

The characters hang the lantern from the tree limbs on the north side so as to silhouette anyone approaching from that direction. While this is sort of the right idea, it is kind of like saying "Oneth by land" to any wandering monsters. I haven't been rolling for wandering monsters because the party hasn't been loud or there long enough. 

They go to the larger building to the west. It's a general store with large windows covering the eastern side. The Thief goes into thief mode and accesses the building. The northeastern door is made of wood and glass and it has a lock. She notes no traps but knows the bell will ring if she forces the door. The southeastern door is barred with a heft piece of wood. They can't see into the back of the building. 

Plans are made and they decide picking the lock is best. The whole party works together to get a small sack around the bell to prevent it from ringing. 

They quickly explore. There is an apartment upstairs, the backroom is for supplies while the front room is for home goods. It is musty, dry, and smells vaguely of the sea. All foodstuffs have rotted so long ago, they don't smell. There is no money in the till. The party also notes some odd things missing. In the supply room, there are all sorts of tools, but no pickaxes or shovels only rakes and hoes. Upstairs, the family's clothes have been tossed like someone packed in a hurry. Everything else seems normally well-kept. 

They return to the fountain. Since the catfish stay in the water, the party doesn't notice them. The fountain smells of the ocean and the fountain's water moves with a heartbeat-like pulse. This attracts the Dwarf's attention. At first, he wants to know how it was done. On inspection (and die rolls), he determines that it used to be a freshwater fountain, but the sea has infiltrated the source waters and the pulsing is from the ocean waves. He notices that the bottom of the fountain has collapsed and is where the sea water comes in. There is nothing to indicate that a group of catfish are down in the deep.  

Now for the amusing part of random. 

The Thief finds a couple of coins in the fountain and goes to look for more in the water. The rest of the party is disinterested in a few old coins and goes to investigate the shop to the east. 

Surprise time. 

The Thief and by extension, the Dwarf surprise the catfish. I could totally see this in real life. The catfish don't expect invaders and don't normally investigate stuff. They take time to warm up to prey entering from above.  

The Thief finds a few coins and attempts search the waters in the first round of surprise. Just because she has the advantage doesn't mean she is ready for a fight. She is barefooted, holding a lamp in one hand and fishing around with the other. In the next round, the water boils. The catfish launch themselves at the Dwarf and Thief. 
Dice can be dirty.
I had high hopes for this part. A Catfish springs at the Thief from behind, who is wearing leather armor, and another snaps at the Dwarf in plate armor and partial cover from the wall of the fountain. 

I had expected to use THAC0 or ascending AC. In order to calculate either, I need to look in the Adventures book on Page 30, then look at the Character book for character's THAC0 number then go back to pages 26 to 28 in the Adventures book before finding out that I need to look in the Monster book for information on Catfish. 

Or... I could look at one table on page 31 and be done with it. There is no difference in any of the methods except extremes are more with the table. This really is a case of never using either rule before and having to access the info. It really is just a matter of remembering stuff so I will try it again next session. 

The Dwarf sees that catfish rising to strike the Thief from behind and swings his warhammer at it for 4 points of damage. The Thief is running, not attacking and also takes 4 points damage from a leg bite. Since that is all she has, she goes down narrowly avoiding setting herself and the Dwarf on fire with the shattered oil lamp. The catfish doesn't land any hits with the feelers.  

The rest of the party comes running and gets the double dirty from the dice rolls. 

Since there is a virtual riot of activity, I roll for a wandering monster. The result is a herd of wild horses. They enter from the east of the map, see the fire and mayhem, then loop around the store and retreat into the dark as the party lofts arrows at them. The Clerics attend to the Thief.  

I use a -10 HP as house rule for death, so the Clerics are able to stabilize the Thief with first aid but she is not able to convey any information about the threat. The party decides that the general store is a great place to hold up for the night and retreats.  

Since only the Thief and the Dwarf know what actually happened, the rest of the party is mystified by the fire and blood spatter caused by horses. 

They forget about the bell on the door and there is another die rolled for wandering monsters. Nothing answers that dinner bell. 

They post a watch downstairs and take the Thief upstairs to a bedroom to sleep it off. I have some of my house rules for healing in Zero to Hero: Uncommon Commoners, if you are interested. They are useful and timely in this case as the Clerics can't cast spells but can perform first aid or use healing skills. I have a priority of healing: aid (1 hp), then doctor or healer's care (a die roll), then rest (as per whatever rules) and finally magical healing. No one can render first aid or skill-based care after magic has been cast, but the reverse is NOT true. It annoys healers to no end when Clerics cast magic first and then drag someone to a healer. It forces a healer to use only magical means. Magic is a consumer product in my world; it has consequences for society.  

By sunrise, the Thief comes to with 3 hp. She wants to thank the Dwarf for rescuing her. There is a sheepish look from the party as they realize they didn't do a headcount after their retreat to the general store. In splitting the party between upstairs and down, they had no idea he was missing.   

By the fountain, they find a warhammer and a boot. In saving the Theif, a second catfish hit the Dwarf. He had 9 hp and the first bite did 15 points of damage. Then came the 4 feeler attacks. -10 was not enough HP. The second catfish pulled his body into their lair. 

I could calculate XP, but the party doesn't even know if they found anything or killed a monster... yet.

I think I'll end it here. Next post, I will talk about the Temple and the Missing Tools from the general store.