Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Lost Colonies Session 12

Having destroyed the "Gate" last session, the party reported their success to Bishop Iova; however, they feared that more evil lurked beneath the Necropolis. When the bishop mentioned putting out a call for adventurers, the party immediately begged for a first crack at the job (thus far, their exploration of the dungeon beneath the Necropolis has yielded a lot of combat, but very little treasure). The bishop gave them a week head start. Healed and with shields bought and repaired, the party set off to finish the job they started.

At this point, I have to make an admission. This dungeon did not turn out the way I originally planned it — at all. When I first loosely planned this campaign, I took existing dungeon maps, modules and adventures and placed them on the campaign map in order to be prepared for any whim of the players. Originally, I placed the castle of Ravenloft in The City (now Trisagia), knowing it to be a decent dungeon crawl if handled correctly; however, I forgot just what a major headache the map was.

Thus, after being frustrated for much of a session trying to decipher which part of the map led to which and what was supposed to be there, I abandoned the map and started making things up on the fly. At my earliest convenience, I grafted an old school map onto what had already been explored and went from there. This session saw yet another unplanned shift. My family has been beset with a lot of illness recently and, though I was loath to admit it, I was physically exhausted. As we began our session, I quickly realized that I was mentally exhausted as well. I was not going to be able to run an entertaining session if I had to do much thinking — handling monsters, running combat, etc. So, I pulled out some puzzles, in order that my players could do all the thinking. As the party made its way through unexplored sections of the dungeon, I placed puzzles in rooms instead of monsters. When the party got something wrong, they would get gassed, zapped, spiked, etc.

The end result was interesting and fun, tainted by a small amount of tragedy. While experimenting with one puzzle, Hamlen's favorite spiked club failed its saving throw when it took the brunt of a lightning bolt and was burnt to a crisp. I set each puzzle up in rooms that had mosaics on three walls. The left wall had visual instructions, the right wall contained a clue and the opposite wall had someone holding a chest. When the puzzle was solved, the chest could be opened like a drawer. Needing a future explanation as to why there were little or no monsters left, and a way for them to escape with little or no detection, each "chest" contained one of a series of keys needed to open another portal (as well as some other treasure).

Thus, the party ended up exploring much of what remained of the dungeon in an entertaining way that literally opened a whole new and unexpected door for further adventure. This is why I like the old ways as much as I do. When we allow ourselves the freedom to make stuff up on the fly, it can be awesome fun.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Taking Up the Challenge

Yesterday, James over at Grognardia challenged the OSR community to come up with tables for character background modeled after Aaron Kesher's article in Issue #1 of Fight On! Considering that I have defended them in the past, and certainly believe that they could use a good bit of contextual polish, I offer my own background table for the Cleric:

MANY CLERICS (Roll 1d20 three times):
1. Bless people and things by anointing them with oil.
2. Are ritually scarred to set them apart.
3. Pray by singing Scripture.
4. Take on the name of their patron saint when they are ordained.
5. Sacrifice the first fruits of their labor.
6. Are either married or celibate.
7. Wear a beard that they never cut or trim.
8. Are tonsured.
9. Fast twice a week.
10. Know how to read and write a special ecclesial language.
11. Regularly gather with other clerics to discuss issues facing Church.
12. Pray for those who can't or won't pray for themselves.
13. Know a non-ecclesial trade.
14. Rely upon the intercessions of angels and saints.
15. Cannot freely travel without permission of their hierarch.
16. Will not eat food that isn't prepared according to ecclesial law.
17. Wear different colored clothes according to the season.
18. Pray facing East.
19. Bow to the four winds of heaven before any large endeavor.
20. Are all related.

SOME CLERICS (Roll 1d16 once):
1. Wear dirt or ash on their heads and faces as a sign of humility.
2. Have seen God.
3. Will not enter a home without being invited.
4. Pray laying face down on the ground.
5. Eschew material possessions.
6. Are Hesychasts.
7. Speak with angels.
8. Are attached to a monastery.
9. Have spent time as a Stylite.
10. Are not native to the area and have travelled from afar.
11. Are in exile.
12. Wear a sackcloth or hair shirt.
13. Are former slaves.
14. Foresook a great inheritance and/or a position of power in order to be ordained.
15. Will not lend or receive usury.
16. Will not enter a tavern.

1. Some bones of a martyr.
2. A phylactery.
3. Incense and a censor.
4. A stole to wear during prayer.
5. A candle with a wick that never gets shorter.
6. Candy.
7. A piece of clothing worn by a saint.
8. A pouch full of ash.
9. An ecclesial hat.
10. A bell that tolls at the hours of prayer.
11. A letter of introduction.
12. A book of monastic order.
13. A keepsake from a former life.
14. A cup, spoon and knife which are never used.
15. An icon of a saint.
16. A bottle of myrrh.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Lost Colonies Session 11

This session saw the addition of a new player, who must get some old-school kudos because he immediately picked up 3d6 and rolled his stats in order without complaint or question. He then determined that a 5 STR, 8 INT, 9 WIS and a 15 CON would make a perfect Halfling. Thus, Ponshee joined our intrepid adventurers.

It immediately dawned on me that in 30+ years of gaming I have never once seen anybody play a halfling before, let alone want to play one at the outset of a campaign. The group I play with are fairly human-centric in their gaming. If allowed to arrange their stats in any order, 9 or 10 times out of 10 they would end up with a human (and I know for a fact that none of their characters in their 3.5/Pathfinder game are demi-humans). Yet, my campaign has seen two elves, two dwarves and now a halfling.

I have an hypothesis as to why — rolling stats in order increases the number of demi-humans in a party. Ponshee is a classic example. He does not fit into any neat category — he'd make an equally lousy Fighter, Magic User or Cleric. Yet, despite the level limitation, the racial abilities that come with being a halfling offset the lower stats and "fits" better than any of the three core classes. Indeed, the +1 to missile fire that LL gives halflings has defined the way Ponshee does combat and he has proved to be an extremely valuable asset to the party (even if he sometimes refuses to engage in any combat if pure HTH is required).

I'd be curious to know if any one else using the "stats in order" method of rolling up a character has seen a similar phenomenon.

This session was quite straightforward. The party contacted several powers that be (including Bishop Iova and Turgon's mentor) in order to explain the impending danger of "the Gate." As a result, they received several one-use magic items including a few potions, a couple scrolls and a wand. Thus equipped, they descended into the dungeon below the Necropolis and fought the remnant goblin population, which seemed to be poised for one last defense. Having spent most of our session in this running battle, the party finally came upon "the Gate" guarded by four tentacled zombies. Immune to both non-magical weapons and the party favorite (fire and oil), the party was forced to retreat and lure the creatures into a narrow, where they could deal with each zombie one at a time. Hamlen, boosted by a potion of Heroism and the healing spells of his brother and armed with the scimitar Liberator, stood in the gap and hacked away until all four were defeated.

The Gate itself was a pit, full of churning blood with a pedestal in its center. On the pedestal was some kind of control mechanism. Having sabotaged the machine that powered the gate, playing with the mechanism only opened the gate briefly — the blood turned into a portal to an alien city encased in a blue cloud. The session ended with the party successfully destroying the mechanism, which resulted in the pit disappearing — replaced with a stone floor as if it had never existed in the first place.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Meditating on Psionics

Although I have always had a soft spot for psionics in D&D (it is a great concept), I have never allowed them in any of my campaigns. This is due to my one experience with 1ed psionics. I had convinced a DM of mine to allow me to play the NPC Psionicist class from Dragon Magazine (I forget which issue) in a campaign of his. The exercise was not very entertaining. My DM felt completely justified in sending high HD monsters after us because, not only could my character easily dispense with them using a Psionic Blast, but he also felt the need to deplete my character's psionic attack strength so that when our party got into the meat of an adventure, I couldn't simply use my psionics to blast past something meant to be challenging for a normal party.

Though I won't label his tactics as unfair — he once pointed out that though he had purposely ambushed our 3rd-4th level party with a 16HD froghemoth, my character did kill it in one round (though not before it had incapacitated or killed most of the party) — I was acutely aware that he was doing this. In the end, it wasn't very fun for anybody. My DM was constantly threatened by the level of power psionics brought to the table, I had to play with a target on my back and my fellow players had to put up with otherwise outrageous encounters that would kill off the entire party in most other circumstances.

Over the years, I've looked with interest on attempts to make a more palatable version of psionics. To be perfectly frank, I've never been quite satisfied with any of them — mainly because they've understood psionics as a kind of alternate point-based magic system, which I have no interest in. Recently, I have taken to meditating upon how I might make my own version for use in some of the D&D retro-clones. I decided to start with psionic combat because that is the part of psionics that both interests me the most and is the least comprehensible aspect of the system as presented in 1ed.

The concept that inspired me to pursue this meditation was that I hit upon the idea of treating the various attack and defense modes of psionics as equipment rather than powers. Attack modes could then be seen as weapons and defense modes as armor. This leads to the very simple idea of attaching a Mental AC to each defense mode:

No Mode = No Armor
Mind Blank = Studded Leather
Thought Shield = Scalemail
Mental Barrier = Chainmail
Intellect Fortress = Bandedmail
Tower of Iron Will = Platemail

In turn, all the various Attack Modes would be assigned a different damage roll:

Psionic Blast 1d4
Mind Thrust 1d6
Ego Whip 1d8
Id Insinuation 1d10
Psychic Crush 1d12

According to the need to each campaign, each mode could have a cost representing how common or rare psionics are. It also allows for the concept that psionics need not be mental powers but actual pieces of equipment that can be found/taken away. In fact psionic training vs. psionic items could have different price points. This then opens up a whole new classification of magic items. For example, a common device in a psionic world might be a crystal mind shield which would serve the same function as an ablative shield. These small crystals could be worn anywhere on the body in order to make the wearer harder to hit by a psionic attack and be destroyed in order to negate the damage done by a psionic attack.

One option for psionic damage might be to use Psychic HP which would be based on Int, Wis and/or Cha. When employing a psionic attack, all damage would go towards reducing PHP (with the possible exception of Psionic Blast, which would always do damage to normal HP). When reduced to zero PHP, the character would then make a save vs. death or be rendered unconscious. Should the save be successful, the character could continue to fight, but all damage taken from a psionic attack would be applied to normal HP.

This system could be easily integrated into the existing combat system. Each attack would take one round; however, psionic attacks happen simultaneously with all other attacks, including other psionic attacks. Thus, if a psionic character killed a sword wielding orc with his psionic attack, the orc would still get to attack with his sword that same round because both attacks happened at the same time. Psionic attacks would have no range limitations, but require line of sight.

Although I like this set-up because of its simplicity, it does not reflect the kind of tactical mode vs. mode choices that seem apparent in the 1ed rules. This feel could be accomplished by a kind of Weapon vs AC chart where the "to hit" rolls remain static and different attack modes are more or less effective against different defense modes. As characters gained levels, they would gain a number of attack rolls equal to their HD (also making conversion for psionic monsters reasonably easy).

The table might look something like this:

.......................Blank.....Shield.....Barrier.....Fortress.....Iron WIll






If you are wondering, these numbers are quite arbitrary. The only logic I am using is that Blast works better against the most accessible defense mode, where as Crush works best on the rarest defense mode. From there I made sure that each row and column had all of the following "to hit" rolls: 12, 14,16,18, & 20.

I invite comments and criticisms.