Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Play Report: A Siege, the NPC Railroad, and Problems With Resilient Sphere

Miracle of miracles, I have managed to play some D&D.  This has been a long time coming, with a good three or four still-born attempts to organise a session since the last game, but we finally made it.  It looks as though the next game might be fair way off for a completely different reason: the PCs will probably move on to new pastures, which necessitates me designing a whole new adventuring space.  That's a different post, though.

The game went a lot more smoothly this time, as is to be expected when the time between games shrinks from three years to four months.  I didn't burn out this time, as I had made sure to get plenty of sleep the night before, and there were no non-gamers wandering about to dissuade me from general DM acting silliness.  I felt a lot more comfortable running things, and that's an encouraging sign.

The game resumed with the PCs still in a castle under siege by an army of orcs.  They had recently resurrected some serious heavy-hitting NPCs, the sort of guys that I could not justify taking a back seat, and I was sure that this was going to be a problem.  The PCs had been in charge in all but name before this, and I was concerned about leading them by the nose and having NPCs giving them orders and suggestions.  On the other hand, it was their own choice to bring these guys into the game.  If you resurrect a legendary hero, you have to expect that you're going to take a back seat.  Resurrect three, and you're lucky to have a walk-on role.

I opened the game with a warm-up battle against nearly forty elite orc warriors, dropped on the fortress roof by dragons.  This was a little more time-consuming than I would have liked.  That's what happens when you generate the numbers with a random roll, then roll high.  It was a good hour of grinding through orcs, but I have always found that a battle eases me into the game very nicely.  We got through a decent amount of other stuff this time around, so I wasn't too bothered.

At this point, after the characters had rested and healed up, they actually got to the business of figuring out which of their powerful items could break the siege.  They have an arcane warsuit, a sort of mech loaded with magic wands, but that wasn't powerful enough to tackle a whole army; a sphere of annihilation, also impractical against so many foes; the Skull of Vecna, which could be used to create and control vast numbers of undead (and with the Eternal Battlefield, where skeletal armies of the past fight endlessly, just miles away); a barrel of distilled dwarven fire oil, the closest thing to a WMD this society can muster; the Hand and Body of the Light, actual fragments of this world's dead sun god; and lots of other goodies.  In the end they opted for the use of the Ram's Horn Staff, which had the power to animate the trees of the forest to do the wielder's bidding.  It was a good choice; even though the trees were eventually beaten back by a barrage of giant-thrown boulders and dragon breath, they destroyed a third of the army, and netted the PCs a lot of Victory Points.  (I was operating on a Victory Point system here, whereby various actions taken by the PCs or NPCs would gain or lose points.  The target for reaching the endgame was 100 points, and this single action got them to 50 all by itself.  It was perhaps too many points awarded for the risk to the PCs, but I felt justified in it given how deadly the adventure where they gained that staff was.  Blink dogs with levels of rogue and evil elves who can use true strike once per day are serious business.)

Following that, the leader of the army showed up, an orc called the Reaver who was thousands of years old and wielded two axes of sharpness.  He wasn't in my original plans for the siege, but I had noted him down as the most powerful figure around in my campaign world some time ago.  So when his ancient enemy King Peramis I comes back from the dead and shouting his name from the top of the battlements while waving severed orc heads around, I figure that I'm justified in having him appear.  He challenged the king to a one-on-one duel, which was accepted.  As a way to get the PCs involved, I had another NPC suggest to them that they try to find a way to break the rules and kill the Reaver before the duel can be finished.  This worked pretty well.  They had a vial of poison, made up of a few drop's of heart's blood from the god of evil, and given that the Reaver wore no armour they had a good shot at killing him outright.  If only the elf had not stopped to cast true strike, King Peramis may have survived instead of losing an arm and then a head.

(As a side note, it was only during the game that I noticed there is no equivalent to the sword of sharpness in 3rd edition.  Yes, there are vorpal weapons, but I didn't quite want to go that far.  I fudged it by having the axes of sharpness sever an appendage on a successful critical, which worked well enough.)

(As a second side note, the PCs are seriously lucky that they killed the Reaver here.  I had no qualms about throwing a divinely powered 20th level fighter at them at this stage of the campaign, and had he made it inside the fortress there would most probably have been a bloodbath.  I was looking forward to it, but alas.)

The killing of the Reaver pushed the PCs over 100 Victory Points, at which point the orc army went bananas, the Reaver's lieutenant lead a flight of dragons to attack the fortress, and a smaller dragon force tried to retrieve the Reaver's body.  There was fighting on two fronts, with some PCs defending the fortress while others tried to retrieve the body of King Peramis (not for altruistic reasons, but to loot his corpse).  At this point I would like to point out (to the surprise of nobody) that dragons are tough.  These weren't even true dragons; they were big and they had breath weapons, but they had little more intelligence than animals.  That two claw/two wing/bite attack routine is murder, though.  There were 4th level NPCs that were getting chewed up at the rate of two a round.  The Dwarf barbarian went from 80-odd hit points to under zero almost instantly.  Again, the PCs were saved because I have been super-gonzo with the magic items recently.

During all of this, the main NPC antagonist (named Elmyr) tried to make his escape.  He was an ally of the people who lived in the fortress, but he had been needling the PCs for a long, long time.  I was working up to a final confrontation, but it got lost in the siege and the arrival of the super high-level NPCs.  It couldn't have worked out much better though.  He summoned his erinyes ally, and together they tried to fly away.  One PC tried to capture them with Otiluke's resilient sphere, and here I had to make a few judgment calls.  Can this spell enclose a creature in mid-air?  I ruled that it can, which I usually do when presented with something that isn't in the rules.  Then the question arose: does the sphere stay suspended in mid-air?  And if it falls, are those inside hurt by the impact?  I ruled that the sphere stays in the air, as I didn't want to create a precedent that could cripple airborne foes in the future.  So the PCs had five minutes to figure out how to deal with those trapped within, which they did by preparing another poisoned arrow.  One shot and the erinyes was dead, while Elmyr fell 200 feet to the ground.

At which point everyone declared him dead, but just out of curiosity I rolled damage by the book.  He survived with three hit points left, which gave him a chance to surrender, and me a chance to have him explain his motivations a bit.  Best of all, the PC that he landed next to was the one that he'd had the most friction with, and he got to deliver the killing stroke.  I couldn't have planned it more perfectly.

It was a fun game, with I feel just enough chaos to offset the NPC railroad that had come about through no planning of my own.  I have problems for the future, though.  Besides having to design a whole load of new adventuring material, I have a party averaging about 7th level with an absolute shit-ton of powerful magic items.  It was a great thing to have when running an epic finale for the first stage of the campaign, but I know it's going to cause me headaches in the future.  I'm thinking I'll just leave it as is for a while and see how things go.  I would have frowned on this kind of magic-heavy party a few years ago, but my attitudes are a lot looser about this sort of thing now.  As long as all parties are enjoying themselves, and the game is still a challenge, things will progress apace.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

AD&D Monster Manual part 36

Ochre Jelly: Ochre Jellies first appeared in OD&D Vol. 2.  Their Hit Dice has increased from 5 to 6, and they now appear in groups of 1-3 instead of always being solitary.  The damage they do has changed very slightly, from 2-12 to 3-12.  The ochre jelly is an unusual case, in that it seems to have been simplified from OD&D to AD&D.  The basic monster is still the same, a giant amoeba that seeps through dungeons.  They are still split into two smaller jellies by lightning attacks, but in OD&D attacks from weapons did the same thing.  There’s no mention of that here.  (As a side note, these smaller jellies are now said to do half normal damage.)  There’s also nothing mentioned in AD&D about them being unable to eat through metal or stone, nor that they can dissolve wood (although they do eat cellulose, which I suppose could be stretched to include wood eating).  The only new ability it gets is that it can travel on the walls and ceiling.

Octopus, Giant: Originally included as a rumoured monster in OD&D Vol. 3, giant octopi first got stats in Supplement II: Blackmoor.  Their Number Appearing has decreased from 1-4 to 1-3.  Their swim speed has increased from 9 to 12.  And their Hit Dice has doubled, from 4 to 8: obviously the average octopus now encountered is much bigger than before.  Even so, their tentacles do less damage, from 1-6 down to 1-4, but their bite has gone from 1-6 to 2-12.  It has gained the ability to constrict foes, which it couldn’t do before, and there are a whole host of rules about arms being pinned and how strong you need to be to stop from getting crushed.  Another big change is that they now have an alignment of Neutral (Evil), which makes them just that little bit more sinister.

Ogre: Ogres debuted in OD&D Vol. 2.  Their Number Appearing has changed slightly, from 3-18 to 2-20.  Otherwise their stats are the same, but their description has been substantially filled out.  They now have leaders like the other humanoid races.  They get bonuses to hit and damage if using weapons.  They have females and young in their lairs, and they also keep slaves.  (But they like to eat the demi-humans, so there’s not much chance you’ll find any dwarves, elves or halflings as ogre slaves.)  They have their own language, and can also speak Troll  and Stone Giant.  They mingle with trolls and giants a fair bit, and are sometimes enslaved by demons.  They get a physical description (big, ugly and mostly yellow-skinned) and their lifespan is at least 90 years.  The biggest change is that they no longer carry as much treasure as they once did.  A wandering ogre in OD&D could be counted on to be carrying from 100 to 600 gold pieces, but now the average one only has 20 to 80 gp.  It makes sense with the law of diminishing returns, I guess.

Ogre Mage: This monster first appeared in Supplement I: Greyhawk.  Statistically, it hasn’t changed at all.  Surprisingly, they’re still extensively referred to here as Japanese Ogres.  I thought that would have been gotten rid of by now, but I do think it’s inclusion is an important pointer towards the mythological source of the creature.  They still have the same boatload of special abilities: invisibility, fly, cause darkness, polymorph into a human form (now with a limit on allowable height), charm person, sleep, cone of cold (which now does 8d8 damage instead of 8d6), and regeneration of 1 hit point per round.  The regeneration has also been altered to allow the creature to reattach severed limbs.  They also get the new ability to assume gaseous form, as if they weren’t slippery enough.  The only other additions to their entry are that they have 9 Hit Dice leaders, and that they get a physical description.

Orcs: Orcs (of course) first appeared in OD&D Vol. 2.  The only statistical change made to them is that their basic damage has increased from 1-6 to 1-8.  Orcs of different tribes are still hostile to each other, but slightly less so: there is a 75% chance of leaderless tribes attacking each other, rather than it being automatic.  There’s a list here of known orc tribes, with names like Vile Rune and Leprous Hand, and those will definitely be going into my campaign.  In OD&D orcs always had high-level NPC fighters or magic-users as leaders, but now there are tougher orc leaders to do the job.  The only other monster you might now encounter in an orc lair are ogres, which is a big step down from the possibility of trolls or dragons in OD&D. Orcs encountered outside their lair still have a chance to be escorting a wagon train loaded with treasure, but the treasures therein will be much less generous.  To balance that out, they will now have slaves.  Like the other D&D humanoids, orcs now explicitly have females and young.  Their weapons are outlined (a varied selection), they can carry a standard that makes them fight better, and they get a physical description.

Probably the biggest addition here is the half-orc.  Half-orcs were first mentioned in an article on Birth Tables in #3, but only in passing.  It’s here that they are detailed for the first time.  Surprisingly, the entry doesn’t just talk about orc-human hybrids, but also orc-goblins and orc-hobgoblins.  The idea is that orcs will breed with anything, so I wouldn’t restrict it to those three.  The only combination specifically ruled out is elves and orcs.

Giant Otter: Giant Otters first appeared in Supplement II: Blackmoor.  They’ve been given a complete overhaul.  Number Appearing has decreased from 10-40 to 2-5.  Armor Class has improved from 6 to 5.  They’ve gained a swim speed of 18”.  Hit Dice has increased from 3 to 5.  Their bite damage is still a whopping 3-18, but they no longer get claw attacks.  Gary has a tendency to demystify the monsters that are basically Earth animals, and he does it again here.  In Supplement II giant otters had a “vast native intelligence” that prevents them from falling into traps, but it’s not mentioned here.  Nor is the possibility of domesticating them.  But in true Gygax form, he does give an exact value for their pelts.

Otyugh: The otyugh makes its debut here.  It’s a large monster with ridged tentacles and a huge mouth that lives underground and eats dung and offal.  Their primary ability is that their bite will transmit disease 90% of the time.  It’s not said if there is a saving throw to avoid this, but I would say not.  The disease is specified as typhus, though no further details are given.  Typhus was detailed in Supplement II, where it gave a 25% chance of death, and a chance that any survivor will have a relapse every 5 years.  I expect that this will be further expanded on in the Dungeon Masters Guide.  Probably the most interesting thing about the otyugh is that it often lives in symbiosis with another monster, scavenging droppings and carrion.  I just think it’s a shame that they’re so often solitary; having one mid-level monster following something more powerful around seems like a waste, but a whole horde of these suckers living in the bowels of a dragon cave would be cool.

Giant Owl: As far as I can tell, giant owls have only appeared in the wilderness encounter tables from Supplement III: Eldritch Wizardry.  They get stats here for the first time, and with 4 hit dice they’re pretty butch.  Their main ability is that they have a 5-in-6 chance to gain surprise.  They’re also very intelligent and can speak their own language.  They are said to sometimes befriend other creatures, but nothing is said about the circumstances this might happen in.  And as usual, their young  and their eggs get the patented Gygax monetary value.

Owlbear: Owlbears first appeared in Supplement I: Greyhawk.  The only statistical change is that they have 5+2 hit dice instead of 5, and there are no other changes in the description either.  They still get a bear hug attack if they roll an 18 or better on a claw, and the rest of the description is just a fleshing out of what was already in OD&D.  It is postulated that they are “probably the result of genetic experimentation by some insane wizard”.  And of course their young and their eggs are given a market value.  (Does anyone else find it weird that owlbears lay eggs?)

Monday, October 10, 2011

AD&D Monster Manual part 35

Naga, Guardian: The guardian naga (and the other two types detailed below) debuted in The Strategic Review #3.  It’s a human-headed snake generally used to guard the treasures of lawful good types.  Their Armor Class has improved from 5 to 3, and their bite attack damage has improved from 1-3 to 1-6.  In OD&D they only had one attack per round, but now they can both bite and constrict.  They still have a lethal poisoned bite, as well as a spit attack, and they can cast spells as a 6th level cleric (all as before).  The only new thing we learn is that they have green-gold scales, silver triangles on their backs, and golden eyes.

Naga, Spirit: Spirit naga are the obligatory evil variety.  Their Armor Class has improved from 5 to 4 since their debut, but their Movement Rate has lessened from 15 to 12.  Their abilities from OD&D are mostly unchanged: they still have a gaze that can permanently charm their victims, and they can still cast spells.  Their spellcasting has been majorly nerfed, though: before they cast as 7th-level magic-users and 6th-level clerics; now they cast as 5th-level magic-users and 4th-level clerics.  We learn for the first time that they like to live in ruins and dungeons, and their scales are black and crimson (duh, they’re evil).

Naga, Water: Water naga are neutral, and usually don’t attack unless provoked.  Their Movement Rate, previously listed as 15, is now 9 on land and 18 in the water.  They still have a poisonous bite as before, and their magic-user spellcasting remains at 5th level.  But in OD&D, they were forbidden from using fire and lightning spells. Now the restriction is only to fire spells, so look out for those underwater lightning bolts.

The only new thing we learn is that they have emerald scales (with a whole bunch of other colours) and green or amber eyes.

There’s one big difference from their original presentation that makes them much less interesting: in OD&D they were said to live in palaces beneath the water.  Now they are said to live in places.  The former was much more magical and fun, but somewhat impractical.  And was probably a typo.

One thing that I never noticed about the naga is that only spirit naga have human heads.  The other two types just look like snakes.  I did not know that!

Neo-Otyugh: The neo-otyugh are appearing here for the first time.  The entry here references the otyugh, as these guys are a bigger and tougher version of that monster.  From what I can see here, they’re solitary and physically very powerful, with high hit points, low Armor Class, and the ability to do a lot of damage.  They’re also telepathic, which probably accounts for their ability to never be surprised.  They also carry diseases, which is not surprising from a monster that looks like a trash heap with tentacles and a mouth.  More on them when I get to the actual otyugh entry.

Night Hag: Night hags also make their first appearance here.  They rule the plane of Hades, and only ever appear on the Prime Material on solo missions to harvest the souls of very evil people.  Their primary method of capturing such a soul is to cast a powerful sleep spell (one that can affect up to 12 Hit Dice creatures) and then strangle the victim.  If that doesn’t work, the hag visits the victim in an ethereal state, invades his dreams, and then – ahem – “rides the victim until dawn”.  Each such ride drains the victim’s constitution, until he is eventually dead.

Night Hags get a whole bunch of other good abilities.  They can cast a powerful magic missile, as well as ray of enfeeblement.  They can become ethereal at will, know alignment, polymorph, and gate in other demons or devils. They’re immune to sleep, charm, fear, fire, cold, and any weapons other than silver, iron, or magic weapons of +3 or better.  There’s a nice bit with the gate ability, in that any demon or devil summoned will demand a larval soul from the hag.  I’m picturing these Night Hags as running a sort of trading post between Hell and the Abyss, with souls as the product on offer.

Every Night Hag forges their own periapt in Hades, which they can use for astral projection.  Anyone who steals one of these will be immune to disease and get a bonus to all saving throws, but it will decay in the hands of a good character.  A hag whose periapt is stolen can “leave the plane she is in at the time of the loss”.  I’m not sure what this means.  Is it just a way of ensuring that she isn’t trapped in the Astral Plane at the time of theft, or does it mean she can leave Hades for the Prime Material to hunt for the thief?

Nightmare: Nightmares make their first appearance here, and it’s surprising to me that Gary resisted the pun for this long.  Also known as Hell Horses and Demon Horses, they are black with flaming hooves and nostrils, and glowing red eyes.  They come from the lower planes, and are often used as steeds by demons, devils, night hags, and less commonly by undead such as spectres, vampires and liches.

They’re a decent mid-level opponent, having 6+6 Hit Dice, but what strikes me is their Armor Class of -4.  It’s better than all the dragons, and just about all the demons and devils.  Add the blinding smoke that comes from their mouths during combat, giving all opponents -2 to hit, and you have a monster that is terribly difficult to damage in melee.  It's Armor Class is effectively -6, and from what I can see only the Demon Princes and Arch-Devils have better defenses.

Nightmares can also fly, become ethereal, and roam the Astral Plane.  And they attack all material life, which is what I want from a D&D monster.

Nixie: Nixies first appeared in OD&D Vol. 2.  Their Number Appearing has been reduced from 10-100 to 20-80.  In OD&D they only had a Movement Rate of 12", but now they move at 6” on land and 12” when swimming.  They previously had 1 Hit Dice, but now they only roll a 1d4 for hit points.  In essence they are the same monster, being water sprites that like to charm humans to serve them for a year, but they’ve had a number of changes and additions.  The biggest is probably their ability to cast water breathing once per day, which nicely clarifies whether their charm victims survive underwater or not.  Their charm is also a little bit more powerful, with its target suffering a -2 penalty to the saving throw.  To balance that, a dispel magic now has a chance to work after the victim has gone underwater, which it didn’t before.

Nixies still have fish servants such as pike and gar, but the absurd number given in OD&D (10-100) is used for their ability to summon small non-combatant fish.  The larger types that will fight people are limited to just a few. 

Nixies have gained a Magic Resistance of 25%.  But they’ve also picked up an aversion to fire and light, which seems to be a garbled reading of the rule from OD&D.  In the old rules a flaming sword could be used to keep their fish at bay, but now it can be used that way on the Nixies themselves.  A light spell affects them the same way, but they can summon fish to block it (a lovely touch).

Other than that, we get a physical description and learn that they inhabit lakes and live in houses made of seaweed.

Nymph: Nymphs were first mentioned in Supplement II: Blackmoor, but only as a type of underwater dryad.  Here, they really are a completely new creature.  They appear as beautiful young women, and are found only in the loveliest wilderness areas.  They don’t like intruders, though.  They can dimension door once a day to escape, but they may not need to.  Not only can they cast druid spells as a 7th level caster, just looking at one may make you blind.  And that’s if the nymph has its clothes on; if it’s naked there’s a chance you’ll die instantly.  The nymph is only favourable towards good-aligned human males of 18 Charisma, and very occasionally to other good-aligned creatures.  Needless to say, nymphs were the subject of several ill-advised D&D adventures when I was a teenager.

As a final note, I would just like to call foul on Gary and TSR for not providing a picture of the Nymph.  For shame.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

AD&D Monster Manual part 34

Minotaur: Minotaurs, the bull-headed men of classical mythology, debuted in OD&D Vol. 2.  Their Hit Dice has been raised slightly, from 6 to 6+3.  It seems as though they get fewer attacks than they did before.  In Supplement I: Greyhawk, it looked to me as though they could attack with a headbutt, a bite, and a weapon, all in the same round.  In the Monster Manual they get two attacks, once with a weapon and once with either the headbutt or the bite, depending on how big the target is.  They usually use a huge axe or a flail, and get a damage bonus due to strength that they didn’t get before.

Minotaurs are now harder to surprise than they were before.  They’ve also gained the ability to track by scent, which should prove a great aid in their tendency to pursue prey.  I figure that these abilities are linked; the scent not only allows the tracking ability but alerts them to attackers as well.

Minotaurs are now Chaotic Evil (formerly they were either Neutral or Chaotic).  They have their own language as well, and it is said for the first time that they live in labyrinthine places.  These can be underground or in the wilderness, and I kind of like the idea of a maze-like forest of shifting trees that is crawling with minotaurs.

The only real change to incorporate here is the scent ability of the minotaur, and I’m chalking that up to their growing familiarity with adventurers.  They’ve always had the ability, but now they’re better at figuring out what adventurers smell like.

Mold, Brown: As far as I can tell, the brown mold is making its first appearance here.  Brown mold grows underground, and feeds on heat energy.  Any creature that gets too close will suffer 1-8 points of damage for every 10 degrees of body heat over 55 degrees that the creature has.  This is a rule I’ve never spotted before, and I’m really not sure how to adjudicate it.  A human has a core body temperature of 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, so if I’m reading this correctly, brown mold deals 4d8 points of damage.  And that’s just to a person, it’s going to be more for red dragons and fire elementals and the like.

The mold grows if open flame is brought near it, so it’s not unlikely that a small patch could expand if a torch-wielding party stumbles by, or happens to cast a fireball near it.  Pretty much the only thing that can kill it is magical cold, specifically a cold wand or white dragon breath.  Ice storms and walls of ice only cause it to go dormant.  So there is literally one by-the-book option available to a party if they want to destroy this stuff.  Harsh.

Any creature that uses cold as an attack (specifically called out here are white dragons, ice toads and winter wolves) is immune to brown mold.  I’m instantly picturing a white dragon lair covered in the stuff.

Mold, Yellow: Yellow mold first appeared in OD&D Vol. 2.  The changes here are negligible.  It still causes damage to flesh on contact (which has been raised from 1-6 to 1-8) and releases lethal spores if broken.  In OD&D, if a character failed the save he was dead.  In AD&D, a character killed by yellow mold spores can be saved within 24 hours with a cure disease and a resurrection spell.  Why this is different from just using resurrection to return them to life, I have no idea.  Unless the cure disease is necessary to remove the spores from the lungs before the character can be revived?  Maybe the spores can’t be killed that way after 24 hours, and your character will just die again instantly if he is raised.  Something to think on.

I’m pleased to see that large colonies of yellow mold retain the chance to be psionic, and can attack with a powerful id insinuation.  The wording here is exactly the same as it was in Supplement III: Eldritch Wizardry.

Morkoth: Morkoths made their debut in Supplement II: Blackmoor.  They probably need a bit of explanation, because I’ve never quite sorted them out in my head.  They’re shadowy monsters that live at the bottom of the ocean in a series of spiralling tunnels.  The tunnels have a hypnotic pattern, and anyone passing over an entrance to one will be drawn inside, where the morkoth uses its powers to control its mind and eat it.  Got that?  Because I think that’s the first time that I have.

Morkoths didn’t have a movement rate in OD&D, but now they get a quite fast swim speed of 18.  Their Hit Dice has dropped from 8 to 7.  Their only attack in OD&D was listed as “Special”, but now they get a bite attack that does 1-10 points of damage. Basically, they were useless unless their charm power worked, and Gary has fixed them.

The creature gets a vague physical description for the first time, as “possibly humanoid”.  It’s nice and mysterious.  The only other additions and changes are a lot of things that clarify exactly how their abilities work.  The only thing that has been really messed with is their ability to reflect spells back at the caster.  It’s still there, but a might negate it if cast at the exact same time as another spell.  Also, a reflected spell only affects the caster, unless it has an area of effect.  In OD&D, the caster and everyone within 10 feet were affected, regardless of whether the spell had an area effect or not.  (I’m wondering if anyone has ever used this rule to their advantage?  I’m picturing a cure light wounds being cast at a Morkoth, then reflected back to the caster and the rest of the party.  It’s a loophole that’s now been closed off, anyway.)

Mule: Mules were briefly touched on in the Horse entry in OD&D Vol. 2, but this is the first time they get an entry of their own.  The first thing that leaps out at me is that their Hit Dice has increased from 2+1 to 3.  The old value was nothing to scoff at, but now the average mule could conceivably do in a small party of novice adventurers.  They also get damage ranges for their attacks for the first time ever.  They’re still agile enough to be taken into dungeons, and strange smells can still spook them.  But in direct contradiction to OD&D, they are now not panicked by fire.  The maximum amount of weight they can carry has also increased from 3500 coins to 6000 coins.  It looks like average mules are now being bred much stronger and more well-trained than before.

Mummy: Mummies appeared for the first time in OD&D Vol. 2.  Their range for Number Appearing has decreased, from 1-12 to 2-8.  Their Hit Dice has increased from 5+1 to 6+3.  I usually don’t note down any changes to the % in Lair chance, because almost every monster has a small variation between OD&D and AD&D, but mummies had a whopping increase, from 30% to 80%.  This means that any encounter with mummies is much more likely to yield some treasure.

I’m interested to see that mummies are said to exist in both the Prime Material Plane and the Positive Material Plane.  Pretty much all of the other undead creatures are connected to the Negative Material Plane.  This may very well be a typo, but I think these sorts of anomalies are more interesting than any uniformity.  I’ll need to return to this once I have a better idea of what the Positive and Negative Planes actually are.

The mummy’s rotting touch is nowhere near as crippling as it was in OD&D.  It still causes you to heal at a rate ten times slower than normal, but now it can be cured completely with a cure disease spell; before, that spell stopped you from dying, but still left you with a rate of healing twice as slow as normal.  In OD&D, there was a very slim chance you might recover without magic, but here you will die in 1-6 months, and you now lose 2 Charisma points a month on top of that.  Oh, and the rotting also now negates all cure wounds spells completely.  If someone is killed by a mummy, you will now need to cast a cure disease spell in addition to a raise dead to bring them back, and it has to be done within 6 turns.  I’m guessing here that the mummy rot destroys dead tissue pretty quickly, and past a certain point there’s nothing to bring back to life.

Mummies have gained a new ability, an aura of fear that can paralyse people if they fail a saving throw.  If you’re in a larger party you get a saving throw bonus, and for some reason humans are more resistant to this fear than other races.  Mummies are specifically said to be undead humans, so there’s probably something in that.

Mummies are still hit only by magical weapons, and even those deal half damage (rounded down!).  And they’re still vulnerable to fire.  Some specific attacks, such as torches and flaming oil, are given damage ranges, and magical fire now deals an extra point of damage per die.  On top of that they gain a whole load of immunities that they didn’t specifically have before: sleep, charm, hold person, cold, poison and paralysis.

There’s a nice touch, in that a raise dead spell can be used to bring a mummy back to life.  I don’t recall that being something that can be done to any other undead. It has to tie into the Positive Material Plane thing somehow.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

AD&D Monster Manual part 33

Merman: Mermen first appeared in OD&D Vol. 2, and were expanded upon in Supplement II: Blackmoor.  Their Number Appearing has lessened from 30-300 to 20-200.  Their speed on land has decreased from 3” to 1”, but their swimming speed has increased from 15” to 18”.  Their Hit Dice has gone back to 1+1; in OD&D they had similar characteristics to berserkers (including the HD above), but in Supplement II they had been reduced to 1 Hit Dice.  Supplement II had also given them a bite attack and two hand attacks; now they simply use their weapons.

Of course mermen are aquatic, but we learn that they favour the warm and tropical areas.  It’s said that they sometimes leave the water to sun themselves, and this is interesting, because in Supplement II they take damage while out of water.  The damage is higher in daylight, as well.  Obviously this is no longer the case.  Mermen dwellings are described for the first time, with most of them being a reef or cliff riddled with tunnels, and the rest being villages of shells and coral.  We also learn that they have women and young, but that’s generally true for most of Gary’s monsters.  Also, they speak their own language, and some speak locathah, implying either a friendship or an enmity with that race (almost certainly the latter).

Barracuda are introduced as common pets and guards for mermen, but something that has been taken away from them are seahorses.  Supplement II describes them as riding seahorses, but I think it’s pretty clear in the Monster Manual that we’re dealing with the standard fish-tailed mermen that wouldn’t be able to mount anything.

In OD&D mermen used tridents, darts, slings and crossbows.  Here they can have tridents, daggers, crossbows, javelins and nets.  The slings are gone, because they make no damn sense as an aquatic weapon.  Many are also armed with hooks for grappling ships, just as they were in Supplement II.  The rules for that are pretty much the same.

With the great number of differences between the mermen of AD&D and those from Supplement II, I think that I’m going to have to declare that there are two different species.  The ones from Supplement II live in and around the Blackmoor area, and have legs.  The others from OD&D and AD&D live further south, and have fish-tails.  Sorted.

Mimic: The mimic is making its first appearance here.  It’s not really certain what a mimic’s true form is, but they can disguise themselves as anything made out of stone or wood.  As soon as someone touches one, it secretes a glue to hold him fast then slams him with a pseudopod.

I was interested to discover that there are two varieties of mimic.  Regular mimics have less Hit Dice, but are smarter, and will probably be friendly if offered food.  Then there are the “killer mimics”, which are bigger, meaner, and only semi-intelligent.  I’ve only ever seen mimics portrayed in the latter fashion, but the more potentially whimsical nature of the former strikes my fancy.  They even have their own language.  I’m wondering about the distinction between the two.  Are they different types of the same race, or is it perhaps a natural part of the mimic aging process to go insane?

Mind Flayer: Mind flayers made their debut in Supplement I: Greyhawk, and were greatly expanded with the addition of psionics in Supplement III: Eldritch Wizardry.  Gary must have been super-happy with the stats for these guys, because all he’s changed is the addition of a single hit point.  About the only other thing that has been changed is that their mind blast is now a cone instead of having a blast radius.  The DM doesn’t get to pick their psionic abilities now: they all get levitation, domination, ESP, body equilibrium, astral projection and probability travel.  Otherwise you’re looking at basically the same monster, with the small addition that there are now rumours going around of a mind flayer city beneath the earth.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

AD&D Monster Manual part 32


It’s probably no coincidence that this project went on hiatus when I got to this entry, because it’s probably going to be a little more complicated than usual.  It begins with a general overview of men.  We learn that normal men have 1-6 hit points, something that was pretty well implied in OD&D but not outright stated.  Groups of men encountered always have high level characters leading them, which says to me that high-level types aren’t particularly rare.  There’s a section on randomly determining magical equipment for them, which is an expanded version of the chart used for bandits in OD&D.  Each item category has a 5% chance per character level to be present, and they even get a re-roll for cursed items, so it’s not like magic items are a rare thing either when you’re going by the book.

Bandits: In general these are the same as in OD&D, but with some of the numbers jigged around.  Their number appearing has lessened from 30-300 to 20-200, but the numbers they need to have high-level fighters in their ranks is about the same.  It is, however, far more likely now that a bandit group will have a cleric or magic-user. The number required for this in OD&D was 200 bandits, but now it is down to 50.

Bandit lairs get a brief mention.  Most live in informal camps, but some have caves with a secret entrance, and others live in castles.  They also have important prisoners and camp followers.  The 2-20 prisoners usually found in bandit lairs is much the same is in OD&D; there are still one prisoner per ten bandits, but the number of bandits has decreased.

Bandit weaponry is detailed, with mostly the same results as in OD&D.  Most are light foot with leather armour and swords, and then there are a scattering of light bowmen and crossbowmen, light horse, and medium horse.  The numbers were screwed up in OD&D, as the various categories added up to 110%, but that’s been fixed here.  There also a category added for bandits with pole arms, because Gary is obsessed with pole arms.

Brigands in OD&D were just Chaotic bandits with better morale, and the same is true here; you just need to swap Chaotic alignment for Chaotic Evil.  As in OD&D, they only keep half as many prisoners as bandits.

So it seems that in my campaign the bandit gangs will be getting smaller for some reason, whether that be a concerted effort from the PCs or the local law enforcement.  On the other hand, they’re getting more organised in terms of connections to evil wizards and the Church of Chaos.

Berserkers: Like bandits above, the numbers of berserkers encountered has drastically dropped (from 30-300 to 10-100).  Here it is said that they scorn armour, whereas in OD&D they wore leather.  They still have an Armour Class consistent with wearing leather, so I guess they only scorn metal armour.  Their battle lust was previously modelled in OD&D as a +2 bonus to attack against Normal Men only.  Here they instead get either two attacks per round, or a single attack at +2.  As far as NPC fighters go, they have a lot more with them than they did in OD&D, and they also get a very high level war chief.  In OD&D berserkers could only have fighters with them, but now they have a chance for a “berserk cleric”.  The numbers here are ridiculous – for every ten berserkers, there’s a 50% chance of there being a 7th level cleric present.  That could be a lot of high level clerics, far more than I always thought would be the norm.

The biggest change here is that the berserkers have found religion, and this added zealotry can account for the change in there berserking bonuses.  Their newfound religious nature could also be a result of their dwindling numbers.

Buccaneers: In OD&D these guys were pretty much exactly like bandits, but here they get slightly more individuality.  The first thing I’m struck by is their 80% chance to be found in their lair, but that makes sense when you consider that a buccaneer is most likely to found on a ship.  They don’t get as many high-level fighters as bandits or berserkers.  The number of prisoners they will have has dropped by a lot.  Their NPC clerics can now reach the lofty heights of 15th level, another example of the ridiculous frequency of what I always assumed to be legendary figures.  They can have magic-users as well, but the levels there are a bit more sane.  Their troop types are also broken down a little more precisely than they were in OD&D, though it’s still infantry and crossbowmen.

I can’t think of any likely explanation for why those 15th level clerics are hanging around with buccaneers.  Unless there’s some sort of holy relic rumoured to be buried on an island in the high seas, and all of those clerics are racing each other to find it…  Yes, there’s a definite plot hook there.

Pirates: In OD&D pirates were just Chaotic buccaneers. Now they’re Chaotic Evil.

Cavemen: Compared to OD&D, the number appearing has dropped from 30-300 to 10-100.  Cavemen wear no armour, just as they did in OD&D.  Their exact AC was never stated in OD&D, but I assumed it to be 9, the standard number for an unarmoured man.  In the Monster Manual it’s listed as 8.  Whether that’s a function of high Dexterity or just a tough hide isn’t said, but I favour the latter.  Otherwise Cavemen are greatly expanded upon. They get some high-level NPC fighters and clerics, which they never did before.  Their treasures are more precisely detailed, as they are said to carry gold nuggets, uncut gems and ivory tusks.  They’re still cowardly, and as in OD&D they get a -1 to morale.

It looks as though while caveman numbers are dwindling, their greatest warriors are growing stronger.  I can’t say why that may be, but it’s something to think about.

Tribesmen: Tribesmen are a new category of Men that debuts here.  They are said to live in tropical jungles and islands.  They are similar to cavemen, but their cleric NPCs (or witch doctors) can reach higher level, and are actually druids.  It’s also implied that they’re all cannibals, which isn’t exactly the most PC thing that Gary has ever written, but it does make for better adventuring.

Dervishes: Dervishes are almost exactly as described in OD&D: highly religious Lawful Good nomads that fight with a fanatical fury that gives them +1 to hit and damage, and means they never need to check morale.  In OD&D they only got the +1 to hit and not to damage, but otherwise they’re the same.  They do get more NPC fighters now, and their cleric leaders are higher level.  We also get a description of their usual lair (a walled fortress) and a breakdown of their arms and armour (they’re pretty much all mounted).

Nomads: Statistically nomads are much as they were in OD&D, although they’re now much better at gaining surprise than they were (I assume that this only applies in their native habitat).  Like most of the types of Men detailed here, their NPC leaders are stronger and more numerous than they were in OD&D, although the nomads don’t get anything too outrageous.  We learn that they are 90% likely to lair in tents near an oasis, with the other 10% living in small walled cities.  The composition of their troops have been slightly re-jigged, but it’s still mostly lancers and mounted archers.

Merchants: This is the first time that merchants have been detailed with statistics in D&D.  It’s not the statistics of the merchants themselves that are important, however, but the merchants' caravans.  The entry goes into detail about what guards you can expect to find in a merchant caravan, as well as the treasure available.  Raiding merchant caravans would be a profitable business, as you’re never going to find one worth less than 12,000 gold pieces going by the book.

There must be some explanation for the sudden proliferation of very wealthy merchants encountered on the road.  I could always chalk it up to the influx of treasure coming out of Castle Greyhawk, or maybe tie it in to the growing slave trade and the Slavers modules.

Pilgrims: Pilgrims, detailed here for the first time, are simply groups of people on their way to visit a holy place.  As usual they’re accompanied by high-level NPCs, with a much greater variety than the other types of Men.  Depending in the alignment of the pilgrims, there could be paladins, rangers, druids, or even assassins.  The alignment chart given here only has five possibilities (lawful good, chaotic good, neutral, lawful evil, chaotic evil), evidence that the Monster Manual is still operating within the parameters of OD&D.

There’s a 5% chance that a high-level pilgrim will be carrying a religious artifact.  I wonder how literally I’m supposed to take that.  Are they carrying an actual "capital A" Artifact from the Dungeon Master’s Guide?  Or just a random holy object that may or may not have powers or value?  I lean towards the latter without discounting the possibility of the former.

Again, an explanation for the growth in pilgrim numbers must be explained in my campaign.  I can probably tie this into how I plan to treat religion in the game world, by starting out with churches to Law and Chaos, then shifting into the rise of churches to specific gods.  Once the worship of specific gods comes into fashion there will be a lot more pilgrims wandering around.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

On Conan the Barbarian

I was scheduled to run some D&D on Saturday, but that fell through.  It's annoying, because I just have to get through this one game before I can restructure things into a sandbox style where the absence of a player doesn't matter.  But that's life as an adult, I'm afraid, and we made the best of it by going to the movies to see Conan.

I've been a Conan fan for a long time, starting with the movies from the early 80s.  I still love the first one despite its less than accurate portrayal of the lead character.  That Conan may not be much like the one in the stories, but Schwarzenegger is undeniably charismatic in the role and I feel like the atmosphere of movie Hyboria is very cool.  I'm not so keen on Conan the Destroyer, but it's still a fun movie despite lacking the thoughtfulness of the original.

From there I moved into the comics, around the time that Roy Thomas returned and pretty much disavowed everything that had happened since he left.  (I think he declared that the last decade's worth of comics was a year in Conan's life, and then got back to adapting Robert E. Howard stories.)  I'm a big fan of Conan in comics, particularly the 70s stuff and the current Dark Horse run.  If you haven't read any, the first volume of Savage Sword of Conan is out there, and is fairly cheap.  That's about as good as Conan comics get.

The comics, and most especially the essays Roy Thomas would include in them, got me to read the Howard stories, and those I love.  Red Nails and Black Colossus are probably my two favourites, but I've got time for just about all of them.  Howard's a great writer.

As for the new movie, on the whole I enjoyed it, and this is entirely based on the performance by Jason Momoa.  When he's not on the screen, it's terrible, in the way that all modern swords-and-sorcery movies are.  But Momoa has real presence, and is very much recognisable to me as Howard's Conan.  And the dude knows how to glower.  He's got that look down, where you just know some guy is going to get killed hard.

Of the Conan movies we've had, the modern one has a great Conan, and the old ones has a great Hyboria.  It would be nice to mesh the two together at some point.  And, of course, I'd love to see an actual Howard story get the treatment.  Hour of the Dragon is the one that I think would make the best movie, but Momoa's not old enough to play that Conan.  It doesn't even have to be a Howard story, just a good script would do, because I really want to see Momoa have another crack at the role.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Save or Dying! And an Announcement

Okay, first for the announcement.  I was looking over my posts just now and I saw that I started blogging my way through the Monster Manual in September last year.  That's unacceptable to me, so I'm forcing myself to start up the Ultimate Sandbox again.  Expect the posts to start rolling in soon enough.

And now for the game mechanic stuff.  Now a lot of the design decisions in later iterations of D&D have come about as a way to make the game less deadly.  Or less unfair, depending upon your perspective.  Chief amongst the changes the game has undergone is the nerfing of save or die effects.  I'm personally ambivalent about the subject; in principle I like that the save or die stuff is there to keep the players on their toes, but I've also seen some characters killed in pretty crappy and unsatisfying circumstances.

There's a simple way to alleviate save or die effects.  It only works if you're using the optional death's door rule of death at -10 hit points, but to be honest I never see games being run with out it.  Anyway, this is how it goes: if your character is hit with a save or die effect, roll 1d10 and subtract the result from 0.  Voila, that's how many hit points your character has left.  You might die outright, but it's less likely.  I don't think I'd use it in a regular game of D&D, but in something more story-based like the Dragonlance campaign I might put it into practice.  It seems like a good rule to me for preserving story flow, for DMs who like that sort of thing (which I do on occasion).

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Castle Zagyg: The Upper Works - Initial Thoughts

Castle Zagyg finally arrived on Monday.  I haven't had a lot of time to read it (I have too many comics to read, as well as Grant Morrison's Supergods) but I'm quite impressed with what I've seen on a casual browse.

For those that don't know, Castle Zagyg was released a few years ago by Troll Lord Games, and it was to be the first in a proposed series detailing Gary Gygax's Castle Greyhawk, the original D&D campaign.  Alas, Gary wasn't able to complete the project before he died, and now it's somewhere in publishing limbo, almost certainly never to see the light of day.

For anyone who has been following my presumptuously named Ultimate Sandbox series (on hiatus, not dead!), Castle Zagyg is a vital piece in that campaign.  I want to centre the campaign around Castle Greyhawk, and I want to make said castle as authentically Gygaxian/Kuntzian as possible.  To that end, Castle Zagyg is the only possible starting point.  So when I saw it available as a Buy It Now on EBay I didn't have to think very hard about snapping it up.

A few thoughts.  The dungeon map is much sparser than I was expecting.  I've studied the various maps of Castle Greyhawk that have appeared on the Internet, and they use every available space on the page.  The Castle Zagyg maps (part of which are visible above) are much more spread out.  I'm not sure if it betokens a change in the way Gary's game developed, or a desire on his part to make a more commercially appealing product to modern sensibilities, or something else entirely.  They're still cool maps, though.

I'm also pleased to see that the book doesn't stray too far from the monsters in OD&D and Supplement I.  My initial desire for the campaign is to use only the things that appear in the original D&D booklets, and Castle Zagyg is set up in a way that will let me do that.

I can't wait to really dig into this product, which means that the Ultimate Sandbox posts will probably remain on hiatus for a while longer.  (Currently they're being delayed by the fact that I have to prepare for actual gaming, something I haven't had to do in years.)  I'm sure I'll post more about The Upper Works in the next month or so, when I find the time to read it.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Castle Zagyg is mine!

Holy shit, I just bought Castle Zagyg: The Upper Works!

I'm stoked.  More when it arrives in my hands in a week or so.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

A system for determining starting character level

In my last post I talked about some ideas I had to solve the problem of what level I should introduce new PCs at. I’ve been getting annoyed at the way these guys just show up a out of the blue with no history, not having earned the levels they have. So here’s an example to illustrate the system I’m tinkering with.

Okay, so Jim-Bob’s character was just eaten by a ghast, and it’s time for him to introduce his new character. He decides to play as a fighter named Brorg, a wild hillman from the north. Normally I would have had him start at 4th level (two levels below the lowest level character in the party), but instead I decide to use the system below.

First we determine the maximum level that this character can be. This is easily done, as it’s the same level as the highest level character in the party. In this case, Brorg could potentially begin the game at 6th level.

Next we need to work out the pivotal encounters of Brorg’s adventuring life thus far. There will be one such encounter per level to be gained. Brorg will have five encounters that could possibly raise him to 6th level (he gets level 1 for free).

It’s chart time!

Roll - Encounter Type
1-3 - Combat (CR -1)
4-10 -  Combat (Equal CR)
11-13 - Combat (CR +1)
14-15 - Skill Challenge (Easy)
16-18 - Skill Challenge (Medium)
19-20 - Skill Challenge (Difficult)

Brorg rolls on this chart five times and gets the following results: two combats with an opponent one level lower than himself, one combat with an opponent equal to his level, a difficult skill challenge, and a medium skill challenge.

Easy combat:

Brorg has an encounter with an opponent whose Challenge Rating is one lower than his own level. Since he begins at level 1 this isn’t possible, so he’ll have to fight something with a CR of ½. There are 24 such monsters in the 3rd edition Monster Manual, and a random roll gives me the result of a locathah. A weird result for a northern hillman, but such are the vagaries of random tables. Brorg must fight it out with this Locathah, and the table below determines how well he has done.

Result - Reward
PC loses battle - Nothing
PC wins, but has lost over half hit points - 50% chance of level gain or treasure (player’s choice)
PC wins, but is wounded - Level gain, 50% chance of treasure
PC wins without being harmed - level gain and treasure

Brorg wins this combat, and only loses a couple of hit points. He advances to second level, and also has a 50% chance to gain some treasure. The dice favour him, and Brorg gets to roll on Table 3-5: Treasure in the Dungeon Master’s Guide. Alas, all he finds is a lowly 500 silver pieces, but it’s better than nothing.

Medium Combat:

Brorg now has an encounter with a creature of a level equal to his own. He’s at level 2 now, and there are 45 monsters of the same level in the Monster Manual. Oh no, it’s a monitor lizard! Hardly the stuff of legend. Brorg has a hard time of it fighting this guy, and gets hammered before taking it down. With only a couple of hit points left, he gets a 50% chance of gaining some benefit. If the roll goes against him, he gains neither treasure nor a level.  If the roll goes in his favour, he can choose to either gain a level or roll for treasure. Luckily for Brorg he rolls well, and chooses to advance to third level.

Difficult Skill Challenge:

Brorg has to make a difficult skill challenge, which I am defining as three skill checks of Difficulty Class equal to 20 plus your level (which in this case would be DC 23). We need to randomly determine what skills will be tested. The three I got via random determination were Sleight of Hand, Survival and Craft. It’s up to the DM and player involved to come up with a rationale for the three skills required. The above three to me seem like Brorg went on an arduous quest into the wastelands to recover a treasure and fashion it into a gift for his chieftain. Anyway, Brorg fails the Sleight of Hand and Craft checks, but makes the Survival check. Let’s consult the table below.

Result - Reward
PC fails all three skill checks - Nothing
PC makes one skill check - 50% chance of level gain or treasure (player’s choice)
PC makes two skill checks - Level gain, 50% chance of treasure
PC makes all skill checks - Level gain and treasure

Again, Brorg has a 50% chance of gaining a reward. He makes a bad roll, and is stuck at 3rd level.

Medium Skill Challenge:

I’m defining a medium skill challenge as three skill checks of DC 15 plus your level (in this case 18). Random determination this time gives us these skills: Intimidate, Intimidate, and Concentration. Perhaps Brorg was sent to browbeat some lesser tribes into submission, and had to impress them by firing an arrow while his hair was set on fire. Brorg makes all three challenges, is raised to 4th level, and also gets to roll for some treasure. Given that this is a medium challenge, Brorg rolls on the level equal to his own on the treasure table (3rd level – always roll for treasure before levelling up!). He ends up with 100 gold pieces and a minor magic item: a potion of spider climb.

Easy combat:

Brorg gets another easy combat. Now that he is 4th level, he has to fight something of CR 3. A derro! Alas, the little bugger’s poison use and spell-like abilities do Brorg in, and he loses the battle. No level gain or treasure for him this time.

So that leaves Brorg at 4th level, pretty much where he would have been had I went with my usual method. He does have a little more treasure, and a minor magical item, which is more than I would normally give out; I don’t allow new characters to start with treasure beyond a normal first level character. What he does have now is some background. He’s a hill tribesman, but it might be worth making him from warmer climes given the encounters he had early on. He went on some raids with his fellow tribesmen on a number of locathah settlements. Once proven as a warrior he was sent across a lizard-infested wasteland to get back his clan’s stolen ruby, but he was unable to do so. Still later he was part of an expedition sent to intimidate some villages into servitude, and was forced to beat them in an archery contest while they set his hair on fire to impress them. Later he set out alone for a life of dungeon delving adventure, and deep in the underground he had a disastrous encounter with a derro. After his first setback as a solo adventurer he decides to seek out some companions, and that’s where he comes in to the campaign.

Obviously this system could become unwieldy at higher levels, but by that point the PCs have access to raise dead, so it’s pretty unlikely that it will get used beyond level 8 or 9.

Note that at no point can the character die during this process.  The combats involved here are symbolic of the trials the character went through to gain those levels, rather than representing actual combats that he fought.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Starting Level for New Characters

I was thinking last night about what level new characters to a campaign should start at.  My knee-jerk old-school instinct tells me "Level 1", as my preference really is for characters to be built from the ground up.  And while I get the feeling that can work in earlier editions of the game, particularly in sand-box play, I don't think it's a viable option for a 3rd Edition campaign that's mostly plot-driven.  Either that first level character is going to die very quickly, or the campaign plot is going grind to a halt while that character is nursed to the higher levels.

My current method is to start a new character at two levels below the lowest level character in the party.  This keeps new characters useful, while still a little bit less powerful than everyone else.  But I've recently gotten annoyed with the necessity for these mid-level character to just pop up out of nowhere.  And as I said above, I don't like starting characters at higher than first level.  It's kind of like cheating if you don't play through it.

So I'm thinking of methods that I can use for players to sort of simulate the experience of playing through those low levels.  In my younger days I might have contemplated just running the character solo, but time is at a premium now, and besides that there's always a chance that the character could die.  Another much quicker method would be a simple chart that determines your character's starting level.  Like this:

Roll :   Result:
1         Start at Level 1, loser!
2-5     Three levels below the lowest level PC in the party
6-10   Two levels below
11-14 One level below
15-17  Equal to lowest level PC
18-19  Equal to highest level PC
20       One level higher than highest level PC

That gives a greater spread of potential levels, but doesn't really solve the problem I have with these characters springing up out of nowhere with no background.

Here's another thought I had.  Get together with the player and hash out the rough background of the character.  I generally don't require a background for first level characters, but I always like one for characters of higher level.  From this background, work out a number of pivotal moments in the character's life equal to the amount of levels he could start at (for me, this would be equal to the highest level character in the party).  For each of these levels, design a simple encounter that represents that moment, possibly a combat or a skill check or even a bit of roleplaying.  The result of that encounter determines whether the level was gained, and possibly if the character gets some other benefit like treasure or a magic item.  If the encounter is botched the character won't die, but he won't get any benefits either.  Play through every encounter, and eventually you'll have a history for that PC and some levels that feel like they've been earned.

This is all pure thought experiment on my part at the moment, as I haven't tried it out yet.  And it does require some prep work.  But I like the idea, and I might try and work up an example in the next few days to test out.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Post-Game Roundup

Finally, after three long years, I have played D&D.  It was a good session, though not a great one.  It's to be expected after such a long hiatus.

The first thing to note is that I was incredibly rusty and self-conscious.  In my old games I was guilty of some amateur dramatics when acting out my NPCs, and it took me a little while until I was comfortable doing that again.  It probably didn't help that there were some non-gamers floating around.  It took until the first combat for me to get back into the groove.  The next session won't be at least for another month, but I suspect that I'll be better next time.

The game itself was supposed to focus on the siege of the PCs' home base by an army of orcs, but we didn't really get that far.  (It's always the way; we never get through as much stuff as I'd like to.)  While the siege was going on, the players spent most of their time exploring a dungeon full of wonders from a previous age, looking for things that can help them beat the orcs.  The first thing they dealt with was a pit to the land of the dead that they had found last session, from which they could summon people back to life.  (Read my last post for some of the issues surrounding this.)  They submitted their freakishly long list of fifteen characters, and had to defeat a skeletal monster of my own devising to get them back.  The catch was that this monster had an extra hit dice for every dead person requested, so I ended up with four characters of level 6-8 against a 20 hit dice monster.  They would probably have died, except that I went a bit stupid with the magic items in the last session.

They have what I named an Arcane Warsuit, which is kind of like a small mech with wands mounted on the arms like a gatling gun.  I think I got overexcited when designing this thing, because I'd forgotten that it has the capacity to fire meteor swarms, and to cast disintegrate.  I don't know what I was thinking.  Luckily it's an experimental model, and it's eventually going to explode and mess up whoever is inside it at the time.  No such luck this time, but eventually the dice will fall that way if the PCs keep using it.  In this game the meteor swarms may have saved them from a TPK, so I don't mind.

So the PCs destroyed the skeletal guardian and resurrected a bunch of guys, including three very high level fighters.  Legendary guys like King Peramis I, the First King of Men, and Gwynian Purehand, founder of the order of paladins.  I think I managed to succeed in having them not take over the game, but I was helped in that most of the action took place in the dungeon and not during the siege.  What did happen was that a lot of my long-standing NPCs got lost in the shuffle, including one guy who I want to make the shift into major antagonist very shortly.  I have to remember not to get too caught up in playing the high-level guys.

The majority of the rest of the game involved a lot of the players following clues and deliberating about how to follow them.  And I do mean deliberating; I threw them a number of nuggets to help them get where they wanted to go.  They did find the Skull of Vecna, a leftover from my 2e campaign, which they may be able to use to raise an undead army.  They also found "The Body of the Light", part of my campaign's shattered sun god.  This one involved a lot more difficulty, in that it was housed in a series of rooms full of random teleporters, each room with a monster inside it.  The result was a lot of bouncing from room to room with characters getting into solo combat.  It was fun at first, but eventually the random teleporting got a bit tiresome.  It even resulted in the death of the thief, who was unlucky enough to be paralysed by a ghast and eaten alive.

The biggest problem with the game was that I crashed and burned at around midnight.  Perhaps it had something to do with me getting up at 7:30 am and looking after three kids all morning.  It could just be that I'm three years older than I was the last time I played.  But it wasn't just that I got tired; my head was friggin' killing me.  I seriously could not think any more.  I frequently stay up until 2 or 3 in the morning without any ill-effects, but for some reason D&D just fries my brain.  If anyone knows how to head that off, I'd appreciate the help.

The next game should wrap up this whole siege thing.  The players have the means in their hands of repelling the invasion already; they could seriously wrap this baby up in about an hour.  But I figure that with all of their deliberating and dithering around that will stretch out to a decent session.