"Black Dougal gasps 'Poison!' and falls to the floor. He looks dead."

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Quality Time

My son and I just finished watching Episode 3 of Thundarr the Barbarian - Mindok The Mind Menace on Youtube. Holy crap, I love that cartoon!

A Day in the Life or When We Next See Our Heroes?

Over at Tankards & Broadswords the subject was raised of Episodic vs Campaign focused games. This came at a interesting time for me as I am finding myself increasingly focused on episodic style games. I know that this is a result to all of the heavy lifting I have done for my Northern Marches campaign and prior to that the work I did for my Castles & Crusades campaign.

I am enjoying the Northern Marches game immensely! It has been great to see so many things come together into a very enjoyable campaign and I am hoping it goes on for quite some time. But I have been discussing getting my old C&C group back together for some gaming and the thought of putting together another long-term campaign does not interest me. If they were interested in the Northern Marches game that would be great but they are not.

Ideally, I would like to run a series of short "arcs" each one taking approximately 6 sessions - micro-campaigns if you will. Each micro-campaign could be kicked off with a collaborative brainstorming session. What does everyone want from the game? What flavour? Epic or gritty? Sword & sorcery or high fantasy? Political or dungeon crawling?

This would also allow for players to say, "Hey, remember Oscar the fighter I played a couple of months ago? He was fun. I want to play him again and try to kill that rat bastard wizard that fireballed his horse...". Or they could say, "I have always wanted to try a political game set during a war. How about we roll up various advisors to the king and try to win a war?".

Favorites could be revisited or new things could be tried.

Now admittedly these small mini-campaigns would be slightly railroady but I don't have a huge problem with that as everyone would have agreed during the brainstorming session as to the goal of the game.

The ideal of having a finish line is attractive to me right now. The Northern Marches game scratches my ongoing campaign itch. To mix my metaphors, the horizon of the Northern Marches is vast and unexplored. I can't wait to see what is over the next hill. But for starting a new game, I want a light at the end of the tunnel.

What type of games do you prefer? what type do you usually play? Are there any pitfalls to watch out for in an episodic game?

Monday, April 27, 2009

Easy Come, Easy Go

Since I made the decision to leave my job back in January, the household has been pretty conservative on expenses. But after a few good months of gains in the market and careful management of expenses I went a little crazy at the Friendly, Local Gaming Store this weekend.

Purchases included:
- Dragon Warriors
- D6 Adventures
- D6 Fantasy
- Savage Mars
- Sundered Skies
- Slipstream
- 50 Fathoms

The Dragon Warriors was an impulse buy. When I saw it in the store I remembered all of the good talk about it.

The D6 games were also a bit of an impulse. I have not read or played a dice pool type game except Burning Wheel. I have heard that Burning Wheel is somewhat similar to D6. Reading through Burning Wheel it definitely had some gameist aspects that scratch my itch in that regard. But it is waaaaay to rules heavy for me.

The Savage Worlds settings, particularly Slipstream, were the reason I went into the store in the first place. I have owned the SW Explorer's Edition for some time but just lately got around to reading it. It seems very interesting. I picked up the settings to get a better feel for Savage Worlds.

Lots of reading to do...

Sunday, April 26, 2009

You got your Kingmaker in my Greyhawk

I have mentioned a number of times about using Barbarian Prince for a roleplaying setting or how I am adapting some of the mechanics from the game for my B/X campaign. This got me thinking about other wargames or boardgames that could be used to supplement a D&D campaign. We all know that Avalon Hill's Outdoor Survival was and continues to be used for a map for wilderness exploration. In fact part of it has been adapted into the Northern Marches.

One thought that came to mind was taking the mechanics and cards from Kingmaker and adapting it for a Greyhawk campaign. The game could be set in Furyondy or Keoland and it could focus on political intrigue.

Another thought could be to use Citadel of Blood to develop a wizard's citadel. Or the related Swords & Sorcery game's wilderness map could be used in a similar fashion as Outdoor Survival.

Awhile ago, Jeff Rients mentioned using Divine Right as a campaign setting.
Has anyone else used a boardgame's or wargame's mechanics or map for an unrelated RPG?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Are Maps Required?

I ran a session of Northern Marches last night where a small party of adventures investigated a small dungeon below a ruined temple.
I ran the entire dungeon without a prepared map. I quickly made up a list of creatures that I thought would be present and used tables from Dungeon Bash to make the dungeon as we went.

This brought up a thought... Are dungeon maps necessary for the enjoyment of B/X Dungeons & Dragons?

Would it instead be possible to use an abstract system for goal driven scenarios, such as that from WarpQuest?

For example, the party in my Northern Marches game is looking for some clue or evidence as to what happened to a witch that might be able to help with a disease outbreak in a nearby village.

For an abstract system I could mark off 30 squares on a piece of graph paper. Square #1 would represent the dungeon entrance and #30 would be the goal (in this case the clue). Roll a d6 and mark off that number of squares on the graph paper and have an encounter (monster, trap, whatever). After that encounter roll another d6 and move that many squares on the graph paper and have a second encounter, etc. When the party reaches square #30 they have reached the Big Bad End Guy and the goal.

A larger example of this is the Palace of the Silver Princess Warp Quest Module. The mechanics don't match B/X so it would have to be adjusted but it is illustrative.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Physics of that World

The other day I was thinking about different campaign ideas and my thoughts evolved to a short list of different campaign worlds (either published, literary, from movies, etc) for each old school game system I am familiar with. The trick is that I wanted to come up with some different ones - games and campaign worlds that normally people would not put together. Here is what I came up with:

- OD&D or S&W: Whitebox in Leigh Brackett's solar system. Not really a world but worlds. The ferocious heat and savagery of Mercury, the mystery of the dark jungles and fetid swamps of Venus, the corrupt hive of Earth and the dusty dying world of Mars.
- Holmes in Dark Sun. Get rid of all of the crappy metaplot and you would be left with low power rule set to reflect the danger of a dying world ruled by Sorcerer Kings.
- B/X in the world of the Sinbad movies. Fast and furious action in a setting from movies watched on weekend mornings - goes together like peanut butter and jam.
- Tunnels & Trolls in Talislanta. Just coming up with all of the kindreds would be great fun.
- Castles & Crusades in Greyhawk. Okay, this one isn't different. To me, C&C and greyhawk work great together.
- S&W: Core in the Old World of Warhammer Fantasy.It might be too depressing to actually play.

Are there any game systems and campaign settings that you would try to mix together?

Monday, April 20, 2009

B/X is my Favorite

Below are a number of reasons why the Moldvay/Cook edition of Dungeons & Dragons is my favorite. I know that a number of them are not exclusive to the B/X version but, when combined with the aspects that are unique, I find the complete system and how all of the pieces interact make this the best version for my games.
These are in no particular order.
1. A complete system in 128 pages
2. Unified bonuses & penalties due to attributes
3. Strong archetype classes
4. Race = Class and meaningful level limitations
5. Clerics have to prove their worthiness to their deity before getting a spell at 2nd level
6. Fighters are good with all weapons
7. The spellbook system
8. A tight power scale with a max of 14th level - I know this one is serendipitous given the unpublished Companion Supplement but I think the power level of the Expert set is about perfect for my games.
9. Complete but small subsystems for adventuring in dungeons and the wilderness
10. The Reaction Roll subsytem
11. It takes about 5 minutes to make a character.
12. It is unapologetically gameist in nature - doors in dungeons are stuck closed. You need to roll to force them open. Why? Because the rulebook says so and it is fun.
13. The importance of retainers.

14. The combat sequence
15. Abstract narrative combat system with just enough to make tactics important. Do you charge into the room or try to draw the monster into the hallway?
16. The BEST morale system EVER!
17. The examples of play - I don't know how many times I have read through the exploits of Black Dougal and his ungrateful companions
18. The roster of monsters - I find the roster of monsters in B/X to be very interesting and a large part of why B/X feels the way it does - a subject for a future post.
19. A "magical" array of magic items.
20. Intelligent magic swords
21. The entire "Dungeon Master Information" section - how to make a dungeon (see my Pit of Tortured Souls, which I really need to do some work on) and how to make a wilderness.
22. The first appearance of Save vs Abilities
23. A simple and very concise Spell Research system that is very important given the spellbook system.
24. An endgame
25. Three alignments and not good vs evil but instead law and society vs chaos and anarchy
Edit: 26. Erol Otus I can't believe I missed that one!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Northern Marches on the Road

I ran a session of the Northern Marches campaign at Revolution Games this afternoon. It marked the participation of the 9th player in the campaign. There has been a "core" group of about five players that have participated in the bulk of the sessions and another, now, four players that have participated in one or two sessions each. Today's session had three players that have been in most of the sessions and a newcomer that saw my posting at the store.

My hope is to get the roster of players up to about 12 to 15 from which to draw for any particular session. I am hoping that, with this number, different groups of characters begin going in different directions.

From the beginning of the campaign I adopted Jeff's Triple Secret Random Dungeon Fate Chart of Very Probable Doom. This is to heavy-handedly encourage characters to get back to civilization by the end of the session so that the roster of all characters is available in the same location at the beginning of the next session. So far, there has not been the opportunity to subject the characters to random fates but it was close today.

Today was a fun session from my perspective. I went to the game store thinking that the party would once again descend into the haunted silver mine that they have spent the last few sessions exploring (last session they found the entrance to the second level). Instead they decided to talk to a few of the important local NPCs and see what rumours/information they could dig up and then decide what to they were going to do. This gave me the opportunity to roll on a couple of tables. I have mentioned numerous times how I enjoy DMing when I get to weave together a number of random elements.

First, I rolled on a table from Dragon issue 145 "Holding Down the Fort" that gave me the result of a disease outbreak.
Second, through the interaction with the local NPCs a couple of reaction rolls resulted in the local ranking cleric (actually not that high level) sending the party to a local midwife.
Third, a good reaction roll with the midwife resulted in her asking for aid from the party.
Fourth, I then rolled on a "Quest Generation" table that I have adapted from a couple of sources. This resulted in "Recover an Object". I just recently read an entry about an abandoned witch's hut in Points of Light, so I decided that the midwife would send them to find an old witch that might have a cure for the disease.
Fifth, where was this witch? A d6 roll to see which direction and another d6 for distance showed that the witch's hut was rumoured to be located 3 days travel north of the village.

To this point most of the dice rolls and development of the adventure hook had been done while the party was talking to NPCs, making plans, etc.

The party decided to go so as the party was traveling north and amid rolls for encounters, I made a few rolls to see if the witch was there. The result was that she was not there but instead the hut was occupied by a Living Crystal Statue. I decided that the Statue was an old servant for the witch that was left to guard the hut while she was gone. The witch had been gone for a few years now and the statue was hoping the characters would find her.

Another roll on the "quest generation" table and a couple more rolls to see why and where the witch had gone resulted in the party finding a notepad/diary where the last entry was about how the witch was going to a seek a "treasure" in a glade in a nearby forest.

A couple of rolls more and I had a ruined temple in the glade with goblins and wyverns. I decided that the wyverns would be very young and thus have only 1 hit die. A tough battle ensued and the young wyvern killed a hireling and nearly killed a Elf PC.

Will the ruined temple contain the answers to the whereabouts of the witch and/or the disease in the village? We'll have to see what I roll next time. Unfortunately, I had a mind blank and forgot to take pictures.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Northern Marches Optional Class - Rangers

Rangers are humans that are adept at woodcraft and tracking.

The prime requisites for Rangers are Strength, Intelligence and Wisdom. A Ranger character who has a score of 13 or more in any two of his prime requisites will receive a 5% bonus to earned experience. Rangers whose Strength, Intelligence and Wisdom are 13 or greater will receive a bonus of 10% to earned experience.

RESTRICTIONS: Rangers use eight-sided dice (d8) to determine their hit points. They may not wear metal armour or use a shield but they may use any weapon. Rangers must have a minimum score of 9 in Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom and Constitution.

SPECIAL ABILITIES: Rangers are very accurate with all missile weapons and gain a bonus of +1, in addition to Dexterity adjustments, to their "to hit" rolls when using them. Outdoors Rangers are difficult to spot, having the ability to seemingly disappear into woods and underbrush. Rangers have only a 10% chance of being detected in this type of cover, and even in dungeons there is a one-third chance (a roll of 1 or 2 on a 1d6) that a Ranger will not be seen in normal light if that character finds some cover and remains absolutely quiet and still. Rangers have the ability to track the path of most creatures when outdoors and even in dungeons. Rangers are able to follow tracks outdoors one-third of the time (a roll of 1 or 2 on a 1d6) when looking for them. In dungeons Rangers have a 1 in 6 chance of following tracks.

COMBAT: Rangers fight and save as Fighters.

LEVEL PROGRESSION: Rangers use the Fighter experience table.

If you look carefully you can see that this is not much more than a halfling with higher hit dice, a tracking mechanic, armour restrictions and Fighter saving throws.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Taking the Northern Marches on the Road

I made arrangements to run a session of my Northern Marches campaign at Revolution Games in Calgary this Sunday afternoon. It will be an open game and anyone that wants to stop by is welcome to join in.

I have mentioned in a previous post that this is an important part of the Northern Marches campaign. When I started the campaign it was with the idea that it would specifically be designed to allow for people to drop in. Hopefully they enjoy themselves and continue to participate or maybe even look at setting up their own old school game.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Sites for Adventure

Oh, my players may find this in the Northern Marches.

More Reading of Holmes

Reading through my recent posts I am obviously on a Reaction Roll subsystem kick so I might as well keep it going. In my rereading of Holmes D&D, I have noticed a few interesting aspects about this particular subsystem.

First, in the attribute descriptions for Charisma on page 5 Holmes says,
“Charisma is a combination of appearance, personality, sex appeal and so forth. Its most important aspect is leadership. A character of charisma below 13 can not hire more than 5 followers, and their loyalty will be luke-warm at best ~ that is, if the fighting gets hot there is a good probability they will run away. On the other hand, someone with a charisma of 18 can win over a large number of followers (men or monsters) who will probably stand by him to the death. Also a female with high charisma will not be eaten by a dragon but kept captive. A charismatic male defeated by a witch will not be turned into a frog but kept enchanted as her lover, and so forth.”

Second, in the TABLE OF BONUS AND PENALTIES DUE TO ABILITIES beginning on page 5 and continuing on page 6, there are no modifiers listed for Charisma. No maximum number of Henchmen, no morale of Hirelings, no reaction modifiers, nothing.

Third, the beginning of page 11 shows the HOSTILE/FRIENDLY REACTION TABLE. The table is very similar to the B/X version. The paragraph following the table says,
“The Dungeon Master should make adjustments if the party spokesman has high charisma or offers special inducements.”
It is up to the DM to determine what adjustments are appropriate.

I find the description of Charisma to be interesting as it gives hints and ideas of what may happen if a character has a high charisma and also hints at some actual mechanics but I have been unable to find where these mechanics are given in the rules. A character with a charisma below 13 can not hire more than 5 followers and a character with a charisma of 18 can hire “a large number of followers” but, these mechanics are not spelled out beyond a couple of very general paragraphs regarding NON-PLAYER CHARACTERS given on page 8.

The Holmes Reaction subsystem including the impact of charisma is very open ended. In fact more detail is given in Men & Magic – Volume I of Dungeons & Dragons. That original rulebook had a table detailing the impact that charisma had on the number and loyalty of followers a character could employ. But I always find the qualitative examples given in the Charsima description regarding the female and male with high charisma to be fun and interesting.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Holmes Introduction

A Happy Easter to those that celebrate. We have had a bunch of family in town for the weekend. This morning everyone went over to my brother's house and I decided to stay home for some "me" time. While the Masters is on TV, I began to flip through my second favorite version of D&D - the eclectic Holmes Basic.

Dungeons & Dragons is a fantastic, exciting and imaginative game of role playing for adults 12 years and up. Each player creates a character or characters who may be dwarves, elves, halflings or human fighting men, magic-users, pious clerics or wily thieves. The characters are then plunged into an adventure in a series of dungeons, tunnels, secret rooms and caverns run by another player: the referee, often called the Dungeon Master. The dungeons are filled with fearsome monsters, fabulous treasure and frightful perils. As the players engage in game after game their characters grow in power and ability: the magic-users learn more magic spells, the thieves increase in cunning and ability, the fighting men, halflings, elves and dwarves, fight with more deadly accuracy and are harder to kill. Soon the adventurers are daring to go deeper and deeper into the dungeons on each game, battling more terrible monsters, and, of course, recovering bigger and more fabulous treasure! The game is limited only by the inventiveness and imagination of the players, and, if a group is playing together, the characters can move from dungeon to dungeon within the same magical universe if game referees are approximately the same in their handling of play.
- Page 5: Dungeons & Dragons by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, Edited by Eric Holmes

A few things I find interesting while likely reading too much into it:
1. Reading the second sentence I am struck by how much it sounds like Moldvay’s race = class.
2. The strong focus on the dungeon. It doesn’t talk about games of political intrigue or exploring the wilderness.
3. The last sentence is really neat. It talks about taking your character “on the road”. While I have heard stories from the “old days” about people taking there character to different games, I have never actually seen it. It would make playing an Adventure Path difficult.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Another Northern Marches Session

We have had a good run of gaming for the Northern Marches campaign the last few weeks. Last night we had another game with three players and myself.

The party was light on manpower but decided to return to the mines and fight goblins and bandits. Wandering monsters were their downfall. Only Konrad the Fighter made it out alive and he was grievously injured.

He went to the local temple to seek aid for himself. This gave me the opportunity to try out some more subsystems I have developed. A good reaction roll with the high priest, with some bonuses for helping the community with the bandits, resulted in the PCs hearing the tale (a Key Rumour) of a self-proclaimed Duke that has a stronghold to the west who is actually an evil undead that lives off the suffering and torment of the living. Also, in return for some healing, the high priest had Konrad the Fighter swear to investigate a recently discovered nearby tomb.

Investigating the tomb resulted in the PCs finding the first large treasure trove for the campaign. They have been unlucky in that regard to this point.

My goal in the development of the Northern Marches is to use a handful of simple subsystems based on existing mechanics in the B/X rules so that the campaign is nearly usable for solo play - something akin to an open ended version of Barbarian Prince. Then I, as the DM, can just sit back and enjoy meshing the results of these subsystems into a workable campaign for the players. I have mentioned in previous posts that the thing I enjoy the most about DMing is when I get to take a few randomly generated elements and use my imagination to mesh it together into something usable. Using the subsystems allows me to determine a larger history and story to the setting without a metaplot thus keeping the sandbox nature of the campaign. By parsing out random rumours and elements of the setting the players can ignore them if they wish but still get a sense of a larger world with a past and other forces present.

I have been enjoying not only the gaming sessions but also the construction process.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Rumours in the Northern Marches

The players in my Northern Marches game are very exploration focused which makes things easy for me since the it is an exploration based sandbox game. A key thing that is making the players get out there and explore are the rumours that they hear. I am using two types of rumours - the General Rumours one picks up in taverns, markets, etc. and what I am calling the Key Rumours for the Northern Marches. I am working with a very basic structure for the General Rumours:
Goals + Location + Obstacles = Adventure

To begin with the Goals have been very simple - the hint of the unknown and/or treasure!
The locations and obstacles to date have been my megadungeon (which has taken much of my time away from the Pit of Tortured Souls, sorry) and four pre-placed, published adventures.

As the campaign continues, I will begin to use the players to generate the Goals portion of the rumours equation. For example, the magic-user reaches 2nd level and is looking for someone to teach him Read Magic. He approaches the Striped Mage of Hareth but learns that for the Mage to teach it to him, the magic-user must bring back the feet of a Bugbear. The goal then becomes Find Bugbears.

The Location portion of the rumour equation will be handled in one of three likely ways: 1) I will have already placed some Bugbears somewhere in the Northern Marches, 2) I will randomly generate the location for some Bugbears, or 3) I will just pick some place cool to stick some Bugbears.

The Obstacles will also be handled with a similar method. For this example, the obvious one is the Bugbears themselves. But what if they are looking for a Potion of Fire Resistance? I can use the Wandering Monster tables or just pick something I want to use - maybe a Cave Bear.

Things won't be so random for the General Rumours about the megadungeon. As it is the so-called "tent pole" of my campaign it will be much more structured and thought out. And since I want to stress not only the megadungeon but also the exploration of the wilderness of the Northern Marches most of the locations of these General Rumours will be rather small - for example, a 20 room dungeon, a small shrine or a beast's lair.

The final component of these General Rumours will be whether they are true or not. I will use a dice roll to determine if the Goal, Location and/or Obstacles are true or false. So if the party was looking for the legendary sword of Cirso and they heard that it might be found in the Forest of Terror and it is rumoured to be guarded by the Fire-Breathing Giant of Belal, some or all of that may be true. Maybe the sword is in the forest but it is guarded by a normal Fire Giant, maybe the Fire-Breathing Giant of Belal makes his lair in the Forest of Terror but the sword is not there or maybe the Fire-Breathing Giant does guard the sword but his lair is actually in the Mountains of Nyght.

The second type of rumour, the Key Rumours, are specific rumours I have developed about the key figures in the Northern Marches. These rumours can only be obtained from other key figures such as the Lords, Mayors, High Priests, etc. Each key figure has been given two things; a Key Rumour about another key figure and a desire/quest (think video games). By gaining an audience with these key figures and rolling a very positive Reaction Roll, the party can learn either one of these. These Key Rumours are always true and they are designed to tell the story of the Northern Marches. The desires/quests are designed for more significant adventures and may give the party other benefits, for example Duke Belamor desires a famed diamond called the Heart of Zeus. If the party brings it to him he will reward them by making the Fighter with the highest charisma a General of his army. I am also toying with the idea that to learn a Key Rumour from a figure the party must first fulfill the figure's desire (once again think video games).

The Key Rumours may be such things as "the Lady Estir is actually a succubus and is harvesting souls to activate the Gate of Xull and allow her master to enter the world." If you string a bunch of these Key Rumours together you get a picture of the history and goings on in the Northern Marches.

In the last session of the campaign, some of the adventurers travelled to Silverton and heard the rumour that there was an abandoned mine near by that might be the hideout for some bandits (a General Rumour) and had an audience with the Mayor and rolled a very good reaction roll to hear his desire - to find the bandits that have been raiding near by silver mines. If they had rolled a bit better or maybe if they succeed in ridding the area of the bandits, the Mayor may tell them a Key Rumour.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Paizo can no longer sell WotC's PDFs

I received this email earlier today:
Dear Patrick,
Wizards of the Coast has notified us that we may no longer sell or distribute their PDF products. Accordingly, after April 6 at 11:59 PM Pacific time, Wizards of the Coast PDFs will no longer be available for purchase on paizo.com; after noon on April 7, you will no longer be able to download Wizards of the Coast PDFs that you have already purchased, so please make sure you have downloaded all purchased PDFs by that time.

If there are some D&D books that you want to pick up in PDF you have to do it right away.

Northern Marches - Session 3 and a future Open game

We had another session of the Northern Marches. There were three players, all of whom were part of the previous sessions, and myself. Some things of note:
- After running into the wraith on the first level of Castle Hareth, the party decided that the castle might be too dangerous for now.
- They developed a plan to try to capture/kill a known bandit in the area.
- They explored a bit of the surrounding wilderness and began to fill out the common "Table Map", an idea that I stole from Ars Ludi and have seen others use.
- They had an audience with the mayor of a nearby village, see my previous post about Reaction Rolls and my discussion about how I setup and use urban environments.
- The audience with the mayor gave the party enough info to begin to investigate an abandoned mine that might house goblins and bandits.
- Due to the lower number of players, the party didn't have as much muscle and the evening ended with a huge running battle against said goblins and bandits which resulted in some of the PCs severely injured.
- The magic-user proved his worth with a couple of well placed sleep spells

I have also been making arrangements to run sessions of the Northern Marches campaign at a local gaming store. It is important to me to get out and make Northern Marches an "open" game. By open I mean that if someone stops by the store and takes an interest I want to invite them to sit down. This is important to me for three reasons:
1) I want to try to attract new players into my group;
2) I want to do something to support the local gaming shop (we have had a couple of long time gaming stores close down over the past 2 months); and
3) I want to try to give something back to the game that has given me so much enjoyment over the years. By getting out and showing how much fun the old ruleset can be I am hoping to increase exposure of the old school movement.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Reaction Rolls - My favorite sub-system

I have previously written that I love that randomness and subsystems in my D&D. One of my favorite B/X sub-systems, and likely the one that I use the most, is the reaction roll as detailed on page B21 for retainers and B24 for monsters. A quick 2d6 and you can determine all sorts of wonderful things. Just about any type of interaction can be determined with this mechanic.

When I DM I have a tendency to do a lot of it using third person context. I try paint a picture that the players can "see" in their mind's eye by using lots of description and adjectives but I rarely roll play "in character". One of the offshoots of this is that I can abstract some of the less important interactions and introduce some randomness so that things don't always have to come to their logical conclusion.

An example of this from the last Northern Marches session was when the magic-user went out to see the local mysterious magic-user, the Striped Mage, who has a tower just north of town.

Barbarian Prince has a couple of rules about gaining audiences with various NPCs, for lack of a better term for that game. As a daily action you could spend the day trying to gain admission to the hall, court, etc for an interview with the town mayor, castle lord, high priest, etc. You would roll 2d6 and consult a table and each result would lead you to some other event.
2 - Grievously insult the town council
3 - A slanderous aside about the mayor's wife is blamed on you
4 - Meet hostile guards
5 - Encounter the Master of the Household
6,7,8 - Audience refused today, you may try again.
9,10 - Audience permitted
11 - Meet daughter of the mayor
12 - Audience permitted

I took this same idea and fit some of the results into the B/X reaction roll framework where:
2 = real bad
3-5 = bad
6-8 = neutral
9-11 = good
12 = very good

The magic-user spent 2 days trying to gain an audience with the Striped Mage. The first day resulted in him being told to come back the next day and his second visit saw him escorted from the property for being a nuisance. These were just the results for trying to gain an audience. If he would have met with the Striped Mage another reaction roll would have to be made.

Now not everything is completely random. Special steps can be taken by the party to, if not ensure the result, at least put the odds in their favour.

For example, there is a character who is getting a bit of a reputation in town for poor treatment of hirelings. He went to look for a musician that works in an inn to compose a little song about how great he was. In speaking with the musician, he made sure that it was known that he would pay lots of gold for this song. This was enough to give him a bonus on his reaction roll so that it was likely his offer would be accepted.

It is also funny how a couple of random results can give an NPC some character. Now the Striped Mage is a bit of a pompous jackass.

I find this system also puts a premium on charisma. Using the reaction roll and stressing the importance of hirelings keeps this attribute very important.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Northern Marches - Session two

A group of five players and myself met for a second session of the Northern Marches last night. All of the players were present at the initial session last week. It was fun and everyone seemed very eager to get together.

The party returned to Castle Hareth. They were able to explore a good portion of the first level of the castle. A few observations that I find really neat and that give a great old school vibe:

1) the focus on exploration - the party thought through the best ways to explore new areas. They kept in mind paths for retreat, where was the best defensible positions and strove to discover what was in the unknown sections of the level.
2) They put their map to good use - they looked at the map to try to discover areas that they had not explored, to find areas that appeared unusual and to find gaps where secret doors might be present.
3) Learning from their previous foray, they stuck to the first level - They have learned that the further you get from the first level the more dangerous things get.
4) They ran - While ransacking a barracks room, they attracted a wraith from a nearby room. This showed two things: 1st - that even on the first level there are things that will kill you, and 2nd - that their plans and preparations about how they explored the dungeon paid off when they were able to flee (however, not before the wraith killed the elf and zapped the cleric down to 0-level).
5) They hired a bunch of retainers - the more help the better. However, one PC is getting a bit of a reputation in town about the poor treatment of his hirelings. However, this also gives an important lesson in that their actions do impact the world.
6) The magic-user is finding his place - We are using the B/X rules for magic-user spellbooks. He hired a shield-bearer and a guard dog. He has also been trying to get an audience with the local, mysterious mage. This allowed my to try out a little sub-system I put together using the B/X reaction tables and the Barbarian Prince tables for gaining audiences (I love sub-systems!).
7) They are making plans! - They are getting the sandbox nature of the campaign. They are making plans that will allow them to interact wit the wider world and pursue their own goals. I love it.