Thursday, June 18, 2020

The Gygax Challenge Part 8

The next step in creating the Town for the Gygax 75 Challenge are the NPCs. Otus suggests five (which nicely fits into a Wu Xing diagram) with what he calls DNA — Distinguishing trait or feature, a Need, and an Agenda or Asset.

Since I plan on using the Wu Xing diagram, I want the five NPCs to be representative of larger groups or ideas. I have already developed four:
  • Terran Empire
  • Sylvan Sindacate
  • Longshoreman’s Guild
  • The Church of the Holy Light
That just leaves me one…and I figure that should represent the general interests of the Dwarves and Gnomes. So, onto the NPCs:

Sir Donhall, Lord of Darkport Keep, Imperial Knight of the Brotherhood of the Sword
Noble AC 2 HD 3 AL Lawful
D: Sir Donall is an imposing figure at 6’7” and is a veteran of many battles. He has a star shaped scar where he was hit in the left eye by a laser. Magic healed the eye, but left his face disfigured. Colloquially known as “Star Lord,” no one dares call him that to his face.
N:Sir Donall is short on men. He doesn't have enough soldiers to spare to properly patrol the Wilderness around Darkport. Therefore, he is quite happy to work with adventurers and to tolerate their presence and antics.
A: Sir Donhall sees the growing influence of the Longshoreman's Guild as a threat. He seeks allies and ways to curb their power.

Gwydwyn the Elf, Alchemist of the Syndicate
4th level Elf AC5 HD 4+4* AL Neutral
D: Gwydwyn is the only NPC elf in town. Unlike most of her kin, she shows quite a bit of interest in humans.
N: Gwydwyn is actually a spy. The Syndicate are fearful that the Longshoreman’s Guild might begin to become interested in obtaining more magic. Gwydwyn therefore needs more information about the Guild leadership.
A: As an alchemist, Gwydwyn can offer PCs potions. As I noted in my last post, these come with the caveat that they may not actually work. This is also a means for Gwydwyn to monitor how much the PCs invade elf “territory.” Note: should PCs start to request more powerful potions, she is likely to have the ingredients fail on purpose.

Guild Master Tagta, leader of the Longshoreman’s Guild
Skinwalker Overlord AC 5 HD 4* AL Chaotic
D: Tagta is actually a Skinwalker Overlord. He avoids public appearances whenever possible.
N: As a Skinwalker Overlord, Tagta needs a steady diet of human flesh. Being the Guild Master gives him plenty of access to incoming ships, where he selects crew members that are not likely to be missed.
A: Tagta knows that there is a Winter Witch city underneath the Lake of Black Ice and wants to see it destroyed. He has agents working within the Dungeon and will happily sponsor any adventurers interested in creating havoc in the lake.

Fr. Ganby, Vicar of the Church of the Holy Light
4th level Cleric AC 2 HD 4* AL Lawful
D: On a good day, with  proper posture, Fr. Ganby is five feet tall with a shock of unkempt red hair. Normally, his attire looks wrinkled and out of sorts; however, when leading any kind of service, his garments are immaculate.
N: Fr. Ganby is deeply interested in the ancient history of the area, and not just out of intellectual curiosity. He is aware that there are ancient relics found within the area that grant access to high level magic.
A: Fr. Ganby is secretly in possession of a Staff of Healing, a Scroll with a Cure Disease spell, and a Scroll with Remove Curse. He will only use these items if the need is dire.

Master Smith Maice
4th level Gnome AC 5 HD 4* AL Lawful
D: The golden beard Maice proudly wears is long for woman.
N: Sir Donall is always demanding that Maice and the other Gnomes and Dwarves use their precious time on his soldiers. It is beginning to cut into their profits.
A: Maice is the only source in Darkport that for chain and plate armor, plasma swords, and laser guns. Other weapons might be found on ships coming into Darkport, but the quality will be inferior to what can be procured from Maice.

Here is the Wu Xing diagram for the various factions in Darkport:

 In other words:
  • Sir Donall (Empire) is willing to work with the Gwydwyn (Elves) to keep an eye on Tagta (Guild).
  • Gwydwyn (Elves) works with Tagta (Guild) to keep tabs on him, but resents Maice (Dwarves & Gnomes) because of her loyalty to Human Civilization.
  • Tagta (Guild) works with Maice (Dwarves & Gnomes) to keep his men well equipped but sees Fr. Ganby (Church) as a threat because of his moral influence.
  • Maice (Dwarves & Gnomes) likes Fr. Ganby (Church) because he (and the Church) see the value of Dwarves and Gnomes beyond their craft, unlike Sir Donall who often uses his position to prioritize repairing and maintaining his solder's equipment above serving other customers.
  • Fr. Ganby (Church) likes to work with Sir Donall (Empire) because it is easier to serve the people when law and order keep the peace; however, he is acutely aware that Gwydwyn is blocking many of his efforts at magical research.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

The Gygax 75 Challenge Part 7

The next task in creating the Town for the Gygax 75 Challenge is to do each of the following:

  • A political faction and its rival
  • The place where the characters could lose all their money
  • A place where people gather to hear news or speak their minds
  • A secretive guild hall and its reputation
  • The best place to obtain a hot meal and clean bed (or a crappy meal and a flea-infested pallet)
  • A religious center and the god(s) to which it is devoted
  • A feature unique to this town (view of a natural wonder, a strange clock, a healing spring, etc.)

As I have said multiple time on this blog, I prefer a political structure of five factions, so one might expect me to quibble at Otus’ suggestion of just two. I am not, for two reasons. First, this is an exercise in brevity and two is the minimum for creating political tension. Secondly, there is plenty of opportunity to use my “rule of five” with the major NPCs in the next step of creating a Town.

The most obvious political faction in town must be that of whoever is in the Keep. Whoever is in charge of the Keep is also most obviously an agent of the Terran Empire.

Given that the Terran Empire spans several worlds, an obvious choice for a rival political entity would be another star-spanning power. The problem with this line of thinking is that I would be setting myself up for creating a pair of entities whose interests are far more complex than a simple sandbox campaign on a map half the size of greater London would ever need.

Theoretically, the entity could be a represented by a monster group. The problem I have with this is that the Winter Witch monster group was always intended to be the original native population, the Lost World “faction” has no real political agenda other than survival (which could just as easily happen within the Terran Empire as without), and the Skinwalker monster faction would be way too powerful as an extant star-spanning entity. A large and organized collection of Doppelgängers could easily sabotage and take down the infrastructure of the Terran Empire with very little effort. My plan for them was always to be a tiny remnant left from a stellar empire that had collapsed a millennia ago.

Another option would be that of a demi-human civilization. Given that Halflings fully support Human Civilization and Dwarves and Gnomes are inclined to, that leaves Elves.

Elves are a neutral entity when it comes to Human Civilization. This means that their interests are not necessarily in direct competition, but it does mean that there will be times when the two are at odds.

This suggests that Elves may very well be a star-faring race but not necessarily a political entity in the way we normally think about politics. Given the fact that they have access to high level magic, unlike the humans, their concept of territory has more to do with knowledge than geography. Thus, humans can claim planets elves have inhabited with little conflict or interest by elves, but once they try to make high level magic their own, elves will see humanity as invaders.

This neatly solves my scale problem with two star-spanning empires, because the political goals of each are largely irrelevant to the other except for one tangible game mechanic: high level magic.

Thus, the two political rivals are the Terran Empire and the Fychfa’el Ofa’el, which can be roughly (if alliteratively) translated as the Sylvan Syndicate.

The obvious answer to a “place where the characters could lose all their money” is some kind of gambling establishment. My problem with this answer is that I don’t like gambling. It’s not that gambling is inherently evil (if I accepted such a premise I would also on principal have see RPGs as inherently evil) and it’s not that I am risk averse (I hopped on a plane to Eastern Europe the day the Soviet Army attempted a coup against the fledgling Russian Federation). I just don’t find it entertaining.

So, in order to fulfill this requirement I am going to go in a practical direction that plays off the theme that Human Civilization is low magic. One thing that my players always seem to ask, regardless of the make-up of the group, is whether or not there is a place they can purchase potions. In this case the answer is yes; however, the purchase price is not for the potion. The Ardmar the Alchemist will explain that the purchase price is for the ingredients because there is no guarantee that the alchemy involved in making the potion will actually work. If it does, the purchaser gets a functional potion. If not…you lose all your money.

There is a large open plaza in Darkport. It can easily be used as a gathering place to hear news, hear debates, and give stump speeches.

In terms of a secretive guildhall, I am tempted to create a guild of magic-users. The problem with that is that it runs counter to one of the major themes of the campaign. I do; however, have a legal phenomenon that needs to be explained: why are no vehicles or animals of burden allowed inside Darkport?

What if the Longshoreman’s Guild was influential and powerful enough to make sure that such regulations were in place? This would not only guarantee their livelihood, but expand it. This would be especially true if they had exclusive access to the 1st level spell Floating Disc.

In other words, there actually is a Magic-user Guild, but its interests are not in magical research, but in the monopoly of transporting goods in and out of Darkport. As a consequence, the Guild is not exclusively magic-users. They need spies and muscle to enforce their economic hold on the city. Thus, the Longshoreman’s Guild would subsume all the functions of a Thieves’ Guild.

As far as a reputation goes, as long as one stays on their good side, they provide timely and efficient service. Once you attempt to subvert their monopoly, however…well, let’s just say it’s not healthy to talk about.

The best place in town to obtain a hot meal and a clean bed is the local Tavern: Bairby’s Bed & Beer.

The religious center is locally known as the Church of the Holy Light because of a brazier that continually emits a flame that does not burn. Technically it is dedicated to St. Photius (which means light) and has some of his relics, but this is usually only remembered by the actively religious.

Finally, Otus suggests creating a feature unique to the town. The randomly generated map indicates a pair of large rocks in the middle of the open plaza that are known as the Black Stones.

Given the fact that Darkport exists in an arctic environment, a very useful resource for any community would be heat. Thus, the Black Stones radiate heat in a radius of about ten miles. It allows the people of Darkport to live in relative comfort and it keeps the water around the port free of ice making it possible to travel via the sea regardless of the season. Given the large space given to the Salt Pans, it also suggests that its major export is salt — all made possible by the heat radiating off of the Black Stones.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Three Name Generators

So, I ended up going to the trouble of making three Name Generators. The first is based on Irish names, the second on Welsh names, and the third on Germanic names. Enjoy.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

The Gygax 75 Challenge Part 6

When detailing the Town for the Gygax 75 Challenge, Otus suggests by starting with the equipment list. With it, various locals can be intuited: “a smith for arms and armor, a stable for mounts, etc.”

I haven’t really looked at Moldvay’s equipment list in a long time. I am normally playing a clone due to the fact that having one or more physical rulebooks at the table is both satisfying and useful and my physical copy of Basic D&D is rather fragile. So I was rather shocked that there is a glaring omission from his list: there isn’t anything there having to do with travel. There are no horses, no other types of animals, and no vehicles whether land or water. I guess this stems from the fact that I actually never played with Moldvay’s rules back in the day. When I did play Basic, it was with Holmes and his list has a mule, four types of horses and two each for land and water vehicles.

So, strictly speaking, if I am staying within Moldvay as much as I possibly can (and I have only violated this limitation twice in this whole process: once to grab the pterodactyl from Cook and once to grab a 3rd-level magic-user spell for a treasuries my dungeon), I really only have two shops in town: the place that sells armor and weapons, and the place that sells everything else.

At this point, Otus suggests using a name generator. I don’t disagree; however, I do have a piece of advice. In order to give a campaign a sense of place and culture, it is useful to assign real world naming conventions to different cultures in the game world. For example, one of the coolest non-gaming books I own that I use almost exclusively for gaming is The Celtic Book of Names by D. J. Conway.  It lists names from Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. Each list of names could represent a different culture in my world. In order to give a fantasy flair to these lists, a random name table can be easily generated by choosing first and second syllables from each list of names. For example:

First Syllable (Irish)

  1. Aed-
  2. Bra-
  3. Cal-
  4. Con-
  5. Dub-
  6. Fin-
  7. Mac-
  8. Shan-
  9. Tor-
  10. Uil-

Second Syllable (Male/Irish)

  1. -ach
  2. -aed
  3. -an
  4. -art
  5. -bre
  6. -ger
  7. -ghus
  8. -lain
  9. -lum
  10. -thi

Second Syllable (Female/Irish)

  1. -ait
  2. -cla
  3. -dre
  4. -eal
  5. -een
  6. -ind
  7. -is
  8. -ith
  9. -na
  10. -ri

With a ‘3’ and a ‘5’ I get Calbre (male) or Caleen (female) and with a ‘9’ and a ‘2’ I get Toraed (male) or Torcla (female). A repeated letter here or there to make it look better is up to you. This exercise will result in names that sound slightly familiar, seem to be related, and yet are far enough outside the real world to fit in a fantasy setting. Of course, these lists can be expanded well beyond just ten entries. I limited myself for brevity’s sake.

My two stores can thus be called: Calleen’s General Store and Toraed’s Armory.

I know that I will eventually need to give my players access to Cook’s list of land and water vehicles, so I need to have a place for them. The randomly generated map I used for my town offers an intriguing solution to the problem. Outside the walls of Darkport are two small communities. In the north, there is Newsteps and opposite is South Ward. Given the harsh conditions of the immediate area (arctic), population growth isn’t a satisfying answer to explain why these two communities exist.

A far more satisfying answer is economic necessity. Vehicles and animals of burden are not allowed inside the walls of Darkport. Thus, all economic activity that relates to those items found on Cook’s equipment list would have to exist outside of Darkport. Thus, Newsteps and South Ward come about to cater to this economic need.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

The Gygax 75 Challenge Part 5

Week 4 of the Gygax 75 Challenge is dedicated to creating a Town. We finally come to a part of the process in creating a campaign that I personally rarely bother to do. For one, both T1: The Village of Hommlet and B2: The Keep on the Borderlands provide everything you need for a starting town for a sandbox campaign. Sure, I need to re-skin a few things to fit them into my world, but that pales in comparison to the amount of work I normally think necessary to make my own. Personally, the Village of Hommlet has been the foundation of my most successful campaigns.

In addition, even when I don't start with either the Keep or Hommlet, I rarely bother with creating shops or NPCs until the players specifically need or ask for them. This keeps my prep time down and allows me to play up elements of the campaign that are important to the players in the moment.

Those times I do go to the trouble is generally in context of an urban campaign, where part of the fun is exploring the city itself and the various factions and personalities that make that city into a character of its own.

That being said, I am looking forward to going through this part of the Challenge specifically because I normally don't. I am eager to see what fruits Otus' suggestions bear.

Step One is to find or sketch a map of the town. I really appreciate Otus' advice here. There are plenty of old maps and generators online that will produce a map that far outstrips what I can produce in a significantly less amount of time (and I have a graphic design background). So I found this online generator and popped out a map I liked the general look of. I took into my old copy of Illustrator and finagled a few things and produced this:

So, now that I have an inspiring map, I'll continue with creating the town in my next post.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

The Gygax 75 Challenge Part 4

In a continuation of Week Three of the Challenge, the next step on the list is placing monsters. Otus suggests 11 (probably to make coming up with a Wandering Monster Table based on 2d6 (2-12) dead simple. Lets compare this to the math of my favorite style of stocking a dungeon — Moldvay:

The number of rooms in this dungeon design range from 21 to 36. At the low end, Molvay’s math suggests 7 monsters and 12 and the high end. With 28 rooms, my dungeon is representative of an average dungeon size using Otus’ suggestion of 1d6+6 rooms per level. According to Moldvay’s math a dungeon that size should have about 9 monsters and a dungeon with 11 monsters would have 33 rooms.

So, the monster density is a little high for my personal taste; however, it is not outside the realm of possibility if one were to use Moldvay’s random method rather than simply adhering to the math.

So here is the list:
1st level: 9 Stirges, 3 Dinosaurs (Giant Lizard, Gecko), and 4 Giant Crab Spiders
2nd Level: 5 Subhumans (Hobgoblins), 4 more Subhumans (Hobgoblins), and 1 Ice Walker (Ghoul)
3rd Level: 3 White Apes, 4 more White Apes, 1 Skinwalker (Wererat who can disguise himself as a White Ape), and 1 Skinwalker Overlord (Doppelgänger)
Chasm: 1 Winter Beast (Gelatinous Cube)
In terms of numbers, I followed Moldvay’s suggestions on his Wandering Monster Table.

The next step is to place 1d6 features through out the dungeon. I rolled a ‘4.’ This is a wild deviation from Molday. According to the strict math of Moldvay’s Stocking Table my dungeon of 28 rooms should have 4.67 traps and 4.67 “specials” — more than twice the amount I rolled up and 1.5 times the maximum roll of 6.

I will concede, however, that traps and (particularly) specials may very well be the hardest part of creating a dungeon according to the Moldvay model. So, in context of quickly churning out a dungeon with three levels, this is understandable. That said, if one is fortunate enough to own The Tome of Adventure Design it has tables that let you randomly create both traps and tricks. So, several rolls can get you well on your way to 8 to 10 traps and specials.

One can tell I am used to designing dungeons using Moldvay’s model by my choice of using a Crashed Spaceship for a theme — it allows for a lot of the Traps and Specials demanded of the style to be creatively dressed up. In making my map, I planned for three: two engines room (one intact, one melted down) and the bridge which has a window which looks out into a frozen lake and a domed underwater city.

That leaves me with one feature: neanderthal cave drawings in the entrance cave depicting a star falling from the skies.

The next task is placing Treasure. This is interesting, because this number is going to be higher than Moldvay. Had I used his math (and his distribution of monsters, specials, traps, and empty rooms), I would have 4.5 monsters, 3.1 Traps, and 2.3 Empty Rooms with Treasure for a total of 9.9. In contrast, according to Otus’ math 7.3 monsters, 2.67 features, and 2.1 Empty Rooms have Treasure, for a total of 12.

Whether or not you like this depends on what system you use. Since I am using Moldvay’s Basic D&D as my chassis, 1 gp = 1 xp. Thus, Otus’ method of distributing Treasure means more potential experience for my players. I see this as a feature rather than a bug. To put this in perspective, here is my list of monsters with their xp value:
9 Stirges = 117 xp
3 Dinosaurs (Giant Lizard, Gecko) = 150 xp
4 Giant Crab Spiders = 100 xp
9 Subhumans (Hobgoblins) = 135 xp
1 Ice Walker (Ghoul) = 25 xp
7 White Apes = 535 xp
1 Skinwalker (Wererat) = 50 xp
1 Skinwalker Overlord (Doppelgänger) = 125 xp
1 Winter Beast (Gelatinous Cube) = 125 xp
Total xp = 1362
An average party of 4 PCs needs between 8000-10,000 xp total to get to second level. That means if this dungeon is to advance the characters to second level, there needs to be a minimum of 6,638 gp in treasure. Distributed over 12 rooms, that is an average of 553 gp per room. To make things simple, we can round up and say 600 gp per room.

As an aside, if I use the average gold amounts for the Treasure Types as noted in Moldvay, and leave out the Individual Treasure Types, here are the monsters that have treasure and their treasure totals:
Stirges = 250 gp (no Magic Items)
Subhumans (Hobgoblins) = 4000 gp (15% chance of 3 Magic Items)
Ice Walker (Ghoul) = 2000 gp (10% chance of Magic Item)
Skinwalker (Wererat) = 1000 gp (10% chance of 2 Magic Items)
Skinwalker Overlord (Doppelgänger) = 2500 gp (25% chance of 5 Magic Items)
Total Treasure = 9,750 gp
Total Potential XP = 11,112 or 2,778 xp per PC in a party of 4.
I am actually really happy with that.

As far as Magic Items go, Otus suggests that 3 “Wondrous Items” be placed throughout the dungeon. He suggests pulling these from the source materials. I appreciate the use of the word “Wondrous.” This gives me the wiggle room to provide either actual Magic Items from Moldvay, unique items inspired by my source material, or “Specials” inside the dungeon that have “wondrous” effects. In other words, I can taylor this part of the dungeon design to how much magic I want in my campaign world.

Since one of the main points of dungeon delving in my campaign is to find greater sources of magic, I am sore tempted to use Moldvay’s Magic Item suggestions and re-skin them for my campaign. This would mean that I successfully rolled for either the Subhumans to have magic or I got lucky and I rolled for both the Ice Walker and the Skinwalker to have magic. Despite the incredible luck that I would have to have, I prefer the latter because it spreads things onto two different levels with the bigger reward on the 3rd level.

I (seriously) rolled up a Sword +1, +2 vs. Lycanthropes for the Icewalker (Ghoul). I’ll re—skin this as an ice weapon that is used against Skinwalkers and has a side affect of “freezing” them in a single form.

For the Skinwalker (Wererat) I rolled a Sword +1, +3 vs. Undead (seriously). This will be a plasma weapon usable by anyone that is extra effective against the “ice” creatures associated with the Winter Witch (Medusa).

Finally, I rolled up a Scroll with 2 spells on it. I randomly determined the spells and came up with Detect Evil and Dispel Magic; however, due to the hint of further adventure underwater, I decided to substitute the latter with Water Breathing.

The final step is the distribute any of the Theme Budget that is left (which, if you follow my advice from my last post, becomes irrelevant).

The Extra Credit for this week was to map out on graph paper the map, which I did as default (and interestingly it is suggested that Gygax saw this step is imperative) and to create a Wandering Monster Table. Here is mine:

Wandering Monster Table (2d6)

2. Skinwalker (Wererat)
3. 1d6 White Apes
4. 1d4 Dinosaurs (Giant Lizard, Geko)
5. 1d10 Stirges
6. 1d10 Neanderthals
7. 1d8 Fire Beetles
8. 2d4 Subhumans (Goblin)
9. 1d6 Subhumans (Hobgoblin)
10. 2d8 Winter Walkers (Zombie)
11. 1d6 Ice Walkers (Ghoul)
12. Winter Knight (Thoul)
Here is the final map with all of my notes:

Monday, June 8, 2020

The Gygax 75 Challenge Part 3

Otus quotes Gygax as an introduction to the third week of this challenge, saying that it “is very difficult and time consuming.” Which is why, I believe, Otus has gone out of his way to simplify the process of creating a dungeon. While I understand why, his methodology deviates in many significant ways from my own, so this should be interesting.

The first task is to describe the entrance in 7-10 words. As someone who blogs, writing to 7 to 10 sentences is more in my wheel house; however, I appreciate the challenge of brevity. Sometimes it brings out creativity in a way that length does not.
A natural cave opening that looks like a dragon’s mouth.
I am sore tempted to write more, but the point here is to channel that creative spirit into the dungeon itself and to actually get the dungeon finished.

Step two is to draw out the dungeon, by which he means a simple point-to-point map. Here is my first real beef with Otus’ methodology; however, I must fully acknowledge that my beef is personal and not general. I don’t hate point-to-point maps (I tend to use them myself as a player when I am designated party mapper), but I find them next to useless in terms of dungeon design. The reason being that I am an (extremely) visual person. With a bunch of bubbles on a page connected by lines I have a really difficult time “seeing” the dungeon and how it works. Placing traps, monsters, treasure, etc. becomes an exercise in arbitrariness. I cannot begin to understand why those things exist where they do.

However, for the sake of demonstrating this process, here is the “bubble” map:

Admittedly, this is not my first draft. It is a copy of the map that best represents my final map. It just goes to show how much I struggle “seeing” this map…I had to draw out a full-blown dungeon map in order to be able to create an understandable point-to-point map!

Despite my problems with this step, I will actually use it in future — as a way of planning out the layout of my final map on a page. I tend to find ways to complicate maps because I like to have things in my dungeon that give players access to multiple dungeon levels in one go. I can trace the concept back to the side-view map of Stone Mountain in Holmes, except I like that shaft to have connecting points to all the other levels:

So, when trying to plan how to lay out a complicated map with three different levels all connected to a large chasm on a single page, I found this step to be kinda useful.

Otus calls for 1d6+6 rooms per level. While on the small side in terms of an Old-School aesthetic, it makes the prospect of creating a three level dungeon in short order doable. For the record, I rolled 9, 9, and 12 for the number of rooms. Due to the fact that I was struggling with the point-to-point mapping style and making it sync with my final map, I ended up with 8, 8, and 11 rooms plus the chasm which reaches all three levels. So, technically, I did 9, 9, 12 if you count the chasm as a room for each level…

Otus suggests having 1d3+1 ways up or down on each level. This is classic Old-School design. It provides players options when exploring and planning expeditions. This is especially important if there is something they wish to avoid that is preventing them from getting to a destination lower in the dungeon. On my “bubble” map, all the squiggly lines are elevation changes: 4 on the first level, 3 on second level, and 3 on the third level.

The next task is to come up with a theme for each level. Personally, this is of greater importance to me than anything up to this point. Again, as a highly visual guy, I have a hard time “seeing” the dungeon without knowing the theme before conceiving of the layout of the map. This was an impossible ask in my case, so I must admit, I did this first:
Level 1 = Caverns
Level 2 = Ice
Level 3 = Crashed Spaceship
Otus also suggests creating a “budget” of 1d3+2 references to the theme for each level. This is the first time in this exercise where I have to vehemently disagree with Otus. While I understand the need for brevity in order to minimize how daunting this project can be, limiting the top end of references to the theme hamstrings the creative process and will make for a worse dungeon. One of the important features of Old School dungeons are empty rooms. They are an important feature to the aesthetic, but they can and will turn a dungeon crawl into a grind if they are simply empty rooms. Giving each a bit of flare by tying them into the theme of a dungeon level transforms the experience into actual exploration as the players try to piece together all these data points to paint a larger picture and understanding.

Thus, I would suggest that rather that placing an upper limit to the “theme budget” of each level, I would place a lower limit. This gives a designer the ability to minimally dress up the dungeon in order to get the process done quickly, but doesn’t limit imagination. I found myself completely shackled because most of my monsters fit the themes, blowing my budget. Thus, rather than spend time making my dungeon better by coming up with more ways to fit the themes, I wasted time trying to justify why the monsters didn’t reflect the themes. For the record, I rolled 3, 3, and 4.

This is turning into a really long I'll stop here and continue the rest with my next post.

Sunday, June 7, 2020

The Gygax 75 Challenge Part 2

Week two of the Gygagx 75 Challenge focuses on The Surrounding Area — the terrain around the beginning settlement and the dungeon. Otus points out that Gygax suggests:
...sitting down with a large piece of hex ruled paper and drawing a large scale map. A map with a scale of 1 hex = 1 mile ... will be about right for player operations such as exploring, camping, adventuring, and eventually building their strongholds. Even such small things as a witch's hut and side entrances to the dungeon can be shown on the map. The central features of the map must be the major town and the dungeon entrance.
To that end, Otus suggests getting a sheet of hex paper and drawing several features on it:

  • One settlement of a significant size
  • Two other settlements (camps, larger or smaller towns, a keep, the unusual home of a fantasy race, etc.)
  • One major terrain feature (covering at least three hexes) 
  • One mysterious site to explore
  • One (main) dungeon entrance

For the purposes of this exercise that is a really good start. Being someone who loves maps and has the graphic design experience and various computer programs to take advantage of those skills, I look at this and see a very sparse map. This is also where I am going to repeat some practical advice I gave earlier.

I knew I wanted an area with a lot of mountains, possibly a pass through those mountains to something dangerous on the other side. Having a frozen lake wouldn't hurt. Instead of trying to do all that myself, I leafed through an atlas. Two areas fit the bill nicely: Bhutan and Kyrgyzstan. While I think Bhutan more strictly fits what I was originally imagining, the map of Kyrgyzstan was too visually interesting to pass up:

I flipped the map 90 degrees counter-clockwise and began placing all the features on the map:

It should be quite obvious that I look some liberties. That is the point. Using a map helps ground the world in reality, and most of the geographical features will make sense; however, I wanted the area controlled by the Terran Empire to feel tinier and more isolated. Converting the plains in the southwest corner of the map into a sea accomplished that while following the geographic outline of the original. I also added some thorps and hamlets in between my two other larger Settlements and an extra mysterious site at the top of the map, representing the danger that lurks beyond the mountains.

As an aside, I did follow the 1 mile = 1 hex scale suggestion; however, I also included some larger 6-mile hexes to make things easier on myself if I ever decide to make a larger map with a  6 miles = 1 hex scale. I also added hex numbers. This makes the process of keeping track of various things on the map so much easier later in the preparation process, even well into a campaign.

Note: naming things is probably the most difficult thing for me when making a map. I'll usually do the following things to help out:

  1. Come up with a theme. In this case it was all things cold: ice, snow, dark, etc.
  2. Choose a cool language as a basis to translate my conceptual words. I used Hungarian.
  3. Decide which geographical features will have been named by Civilization (usually important things, or things natives would not have been interested in or keen to talk about).
  4. Name things using English for those that Civilization named and a transliteration of the translations for everything else (I am not going to bother trying to make people try to pronounce the long and short umlauted vowels found in Hungarian, and sometimes changing a letter or two just makes it sound cooler).

This will help develop a linguistic feel for your world and an easy method to come up with names on the fly in the future. For example, if the party stumbles upon  a village I haven't named, I can go to Google Translate type in "village" and out comes the new name of the place: Falu.

Don't be afraid to name things simply. For example, I named the river next to a lot of the settlements River North because it literally is the river people take to go north. Ft. Frontier is literally a fort on the frontier. Despite maybe sounding too simple, it is useful to name things by a descriptor to give players a sense of the world.

The Extra Credit of this second week involved "pimping" the map. I do that by default. In addition, there is the challenge of coming up with a simple Wandering Monster Table based on a 2d6 resulting in a range of 2-12 in a bell curve. In other words, whatever creature ends up at 2 or 12 is going to be very rare while those at 6 to 7 are going to be common. Here is mine:

Wandering Monster Table (2d6)

2. Skinwalker Overlord (Doppleganger)
3. 1d8 Skinwalkers (Wererat)
4. 1d6 White Apes
5. 1d4 Dinosaurs (Giant Lizard)
6. 1d6 Berserkers
7. 2d4 Pterodactyls
8. 1d10 Neanderthals
9. 2d4 Subhumans (Orc)
10. 1d6 Ice Walkers (Ghoul)
11. 1d6 Winter Knights (Thoul)
12. Winter Witch (Medusa)
Note: My monster list includes a number of non-standard monsters that are simply monsters that primarily exist in Moldvay (Pterodactyl is from Cook's Expert) re-skinned to fit the concept of my campaign world. This is another practical tip that I feel is often over looked: there are a ton of creatures in D&D that have nigh-identical stats but feel different simply because of how they are described. Re-skinning monster stats is a quick and easy way to create a bevy of new monsters without having to do all the statistical work. Just rename things, describe them how you want and go!

Also note: The number appearing is largely based on the Wandering Monster Tables in Moldvay. The two exceptions are the Skinwalker Overlord and Winter Witch. Moldvay gives a number appearing as 1d6, but I want these creatures to be very rare, so that even when encountered, there will only be one.

One thing that is missing from my WMT is something Otus suggests:
...include adventure hooks, like “Three goblins looting the corpse of a dead noble. Characters might recover the body and/or signet ring for a reward.”
I am not a big fan of these kinds of notes in connection to a random table, not because they are bad (adventure hooks and notes associated with various hexes are an essential parts of a sandbox campaign), but because they are not that useful to my style of play. Random tables are very capable of giving nonsensical results. When I am forced to find a reason why the result isn't nonsensical, that reason often ends up being a better hook than I ever could dream of in my preparation process.

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Laser Guns and Plasma Swords!?

In his Introduction to The Gygax 75 Challenge, Ray Otus very specifically warns me:
If you are an inveterate tinkerer and are trying to redesign your system as you create the setting, or if you create a setting that will force you to redesign some elements of the system, you are committing to a lot of extra work and you may have trouble finishing within the expected time frame of five weeks.
Given that I want lasers, plasma swords, and Halfling Cleric/Thieves in my campaign, I find myself in a predicament. To which Otus states:
If you find yourself in this predicament, I have a suggestion. Ignore the problem for now. Go ahead and build out your campaign setting and assume the things you need are in the system.
Well, I could do that…but, fortunately I have been trying to figure out ways of emulating firearms and the like in D&D for years. Rather than seeing these additions and house rules as extra work that may endanger my ability to finish this experiment in a timely fashion, I see this as an opportunity.

One of the things I actually like about 5e is a tactical choice it gives spell casters when it comes to damage spells:

  • Automatically do damage but risk missing a “to hit” roll.
  • Automatically hitting but risk the target making a Saving Throw to take no damage.

I see laser guns as a way to give every class an opportunity to make the second tactical choice. Unlike cantrips, however, guns can only be fired so many times before they run out of whatever you consider to be ammunition.

Again, 5e is a nice source of inspiration here. Take a look at the description for a Wand of Magic Missiles:
This wand has 7 charges. While holding it, you can use an action to expend 1 or more of its charges to cast the magic missile spell from it. For 1 charge, you cast the 1st-level version of the spell. You can increase the spell slot level by one for each additional charge you expend. The wand regains 1d6 + 1 expended charges daily at dawn. If you expend the wand’s last charge, roll a d20. On a 1, the wand crumbles into ashes and is destroyed.
The item has a certain number of charges that are required to be spent in order to use it. At the end of every day, a certain number of those charges are regained; however, if the number of charges are reduced to zero, there is a chance it is destroyed.

I think this is a good model for thinking about how a laser gun might work. Since a quiver can carry 20 arrows, I think that might be a good number for a rifle and we can half that for a pistol. At the end of the day, the laser gun recharges; however, the batteries are notoriously unstable when completely discharged and destroy the gun on a ‘1’ on a d6.

The damage a laser gun does, like every other weapon, is based on class:

  • Fighters 1d8
  • Clerics and Thieves 1d6
  • Magic-users 1d4

Things like cover would give a target a bonus on their Saving Throw:

  • Shield (when facing into the shot): +1
  • Partial Cover: +2
  • Half Cover: +4

When it comes to Plasma Swords, it is all about the cool factor. They function exactly like a normal sword except that only spell casters can get them to “unsheathe” themselves. I did say, however, that I wanted players to be able to deflect laser shots with a plasma sword. Simple: those wielding a plasma sword get a +2 on their Saving Throws when shot at with laser guns. This is in addition to any other cover they may have.

One other thought that might be interesting to play test: Armor can be allotted toward normal combat or as a bonus to a Saving Throw against a laser gun. Thus, the Imperial Riflemen could all wear Plate that give them a +6 on their Saving Throws against being shot with lasers, but gives them an AC 9 when in melee. That +6 (or +4 or +2) could be divvied up however the purchaser wants (+5/+1,+2/+4,+3/+3, etc). It adds another wrinkle to tactical choices at the table.

Friday, June 5, 2020

The Gygax 75 Challenge

Given my recent focus on practical examples on how to home-brew things for D&D, I would remiss if I didn't mention The Gygax 75 Challenge by Ray Otus. It is a short work (36 pages including the article by Gary Gygax that inspired this work) but does claim to help the reader to "Create an RPG setting in five weeks!"

Since I've been in the mood to record practical examples and since I've been inspired by my own exploration of Human Monster Stats in B/X, I thought I would document my own experience doing the Gygax 75 Challenge here.

Week 1 of this Challenge includes the following Tasks:
  1. Get/Create a Notebook
  2. Develop Your Pitch
  3. Gather Your Sources of Inspiration
  4. (Extra Credit) Assemble a Mood Board
For the first Task, my "Notebook" will be this blog. I will record all of this process here.

The Pitch is supposed to be 3 to 7 bullet points to "sell" the campaign to potential players. Working in the background of all of this is an assumption that you are using a specific ruleset, since that will affect every step of this process.

As implied by my post yesterday, this campaign will be built upon the chassis of Moldvay’s Basic D&D. Here are my bullet points:

  • Science Fantasy: Lasers! Plasma Swords! Magic! Explore ancient alien civilizations! Chart and claim new territories on the Colony Planet Vurush in the name of the burgeoning Terran Empire!
  • Demi-humans are Race-as-Class, but are also all functionally multi-class: Dwarves are Fighter/Thieves, Elves are Fighter/Magic-users, Gnomes are Magic-user/Thieves, and Halflings are Cleric/Thieves.
  • The universal struggle is between Light & Heat (Life) vs. Dark & Cold (Death). The Terran Empire is the current champion of Light & Heat.
  • Divine Magic represents Life Magic. Arcane Magic represents Death Magic.
  • Low Magic: Human Civilization is only capable of casting up to 2nd level spells.
  • Dinosaurs: The edge of Civilization has a Lost World atmosphere.
For the third Task, the bibliography should also include a sentence or two about what each item brings to the campaign setting. Here is mine:

  • Martian Chronicles by Edgar Rice Burroughs. I want this campaign to feel like the Mars Burroughs portrays: old civilizations, multiple native species, and I love white apes.
  • The Black Amazon of Mars by Leigh Brackett. This is the source for the universal conflict as being between Heat and Cold. It also depicts the way I want Turning to look and feel like. Lycanthropes, barbarians, and berserkers are all represented here.
  • Star Wars novelization by Alan Dean Foster. I want magic to work similarly to the Force: it is an energy that can be used for Light or Dark. Light Sabres are the prototype for the Plasma Sword and I want them to be able to block laser shots. Plus, I love the open possibilities of Star Wars before the Extended Universe and all the other movies.
  • The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle. Give me dinosaurs, neanderthals, and saber tooth tigers!
  • Fire and Ice (1983 Film). Subhumans, dragonhawk riders, more barbarians and (again) the conflict between Heat & Cold.
  • Thundarr the Barbarian (1980-81 TV Series). The sunsword is another way to portray the Plasma Sword. Although the ancient civilization is our earth, there is this notion that there was a catastrophe that destroyed it. Plus, powerful wizards are most often depicted as the villains.
Finally, there is the suggestion that you put together a Mood Board — a collage of images that give you and your players a feel for what your campaign looks like. Normally, I wouldn't do this. I am a fan of letting players create their own version of what I am trying to describe to them; however, I also know showing pictures to players is a long standing practice in the hobby and I use it myself when words fail me. So,  here is what I came up with:

Click to Embiggen

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Human Monster Stats in B/X

I was recently asked by an old buddy of mine to look at how D&D stats up humans as monsters to see what that said about the game and by implication the game world. Given my proclivities I thought it might be an interesting exercise. The first place I went was Moldvay, not only because his is my favorite version of D&D, but because I know that humanity is well represented in the Monster Section.

I decided to make a chart for easy comparison. I threw in Dwarves, Elves, and Halflings because all of them are PC classes in Basic and I included Gnomes because I like them and I thought it would be interesting.

Click to Embiggen

Hit Dice

One of the first things that jumps out to me are the Hit Dice. In Basic D&D all monster HD are d8. Therefore, most human and demi-human monsters have a higher HD than their PC counterparts. I think this is a hold-over from 0e, where all PCs had a d6 for a hit die. Interestingly, Berserkers and Elves are the only “fighting men” that retained the ‘+1’ given to the HD of that class in the original rules.


The second is the amount of Damage each type of “monster” does. Outside the Acolyte’s preference for using a mace, this suggests a universal damage die based on class where Fighters do d8, Clerics and Thieves do d6, and Magic-users do d4.

Armor Class

Also fascinating is the Armor Class. Basic D&D doesn’t assume or assign Ability Scores to monsters. Indeed, Moldvay suggests that DMs “may” want to roll ability scores for NPC parties. As a consequence, it can safely be expected that all of the human and demi-human “monsters” have ability scores that fall within the ±0 range of 9-12. Thus, the armor class of each entry tells us something about what armor a particular “monster” is using. The results are fascinating from both a cultural point of view and as a comparison to the rules for PC classes that these monsters emulate:

  • Acolytes (AC 2) wear plate mail and shield. This reveals that the average 1st level cleric is much more likely to be a Knights Templar than a village priest. In other words, it appears that the primary role of the cleric is fighting, not necessarily praying.
  • Bandits (AC 6) wear leather and shield. This suggests that Thieves actually do know how to wield a shield counter to what the rules for PCs say.
  • Berserkers (AC 7) wear only leather. Due to their battle rage, Berserkers are the most monster-like entry on this list; however, from the perspective of the Tinkerer in me, this entry also suggests another option for a fighter class — one that lives by the axiom that offense is the best defense. By forgoing the ability to wear armor heavier than leather, this new fighter-type attacks as a fighter 3 levels higher and gains one extra hp per HD. Alternatively, maybe all Fighters get that 0e +1 to their HD and receive a bonus "to hit" based on their Movement Rate: 120 (40) = +2; 90 (30) = +1; 60 (30) = 0.
  • Dwarves (AC 4) wear chain and shield. Notice their movement rate. Based on the movement rates of others on this list wearing plate mail, one would expect an AC of 2. This suggests that Dwarves have a base move of 90 (30) instead of 120 (40). Thus, chain is the heaviest armor they bother to train with because plate mail not only slows them to 30 (10), but prevents them from carrying any gold. Another option is suggested by the Gnome below. Maybe Dwarves fill the roll of Fighter/Thief and they have access to the same type of quiet chain that Gnomes do.
  • Elves (AC 5) wear chain. Firstly, this suggests that it requires two hands to cast magic, therefore Elves don’t use shields. Secondly, look at the movement — 120 (40). Either chain mail has the same effect on movement as leather, which is contradicted by the entry on Dwarves, or all Elves have access to a special type of Elven Chain that weighs as much as leather.
  • Gnomes (AC 5) wear chain. Note that gnomes have the same movement as dwarves but do not use shields like elves. This suggests that gnomes have a reason to keep both hands free like elves. Given the lower damage die (d6) suggests that gnomes fill the roll of Magic-user/Thief in the same way Elves are Fighter/Magic-users. The fact that they can wear up to chain and are not limited to leather like Bandits suggests that they, like Elves, have a special type of chain. While not light like Elven Chain, Gnomish Chain is quieter than normal chain.
  • Halflings (AC 7) wear leather. The Halfling is an outlier. The AC, HD, Move, and Damage all compare unfavorably with the other entries. Given my own bias, I would be tempted to dump the Halfling as a character type; however, given that the lack of a shield has been used to justify spell casting, the Halfling may very well play the roll of Cleric/Thief despite the fact that both of those classes are allowed to use a shield (a nod to the better saving throws?)
  • Mediums (AC 9) wear no armor. No surprise here; however, it does go to show that these “monster” versions of the class are considered to have ability scores of 9-12 (no implied AC bonus).
  • Noble (AC 2) wear plate and shield. Again no real surprise, but it does suggest that nobles are not only expected to fight but that there is a need to.
  • Normals (AC 9) wear no armor. The only real surprise here is just how incompetent at fighting normal humans are with the d4 HD, low saving throw and lowest morale of all the entries. This is especially shocking when compared to the other races. This suggests that humans are prosperous and numerous enough to have the luxury of professional armies to protect them. Given that every other entry on this list is at least as competent as a goblin or orc (and often better), there seems to be a real need for armed conflict.
  • Traders (AC 6) wear leather and shield. What I find fascinating about this entry is that they are specifically described as Fighters, despite the fact that statistically they more resemble Bandits than Veterans. Does this suggest another fighter-type that forgoes both offense and defense for a variety on non-combat abilities? Or, does this simply suggest that a Thief is a fighter who gave up on fighting in order to pursue other mundane skills? Interestingly, the Saving Throw seems to suggest the former.
  • Veterans (AC 2) plate and shield. No real surprise here also, other than the fact that plate mail is so common among those that society expects to fight.


Morale also tells an interesting story. Most humans have a Morale of 7, whereas most demi-humans (Halflings being the outlier again) have an 8 that increases to 10 if their leader is still alive and kicking. Rather than speaking to a level of professionalism, as is suggested by the Veteran’s Morale of 9 versus the Noble’s Morale of 8, it suggests a level of desperation. Whereas humans have a place to retreat to, most of the demi-humans do not.

Treasure Type

The story suggested by Morale is reinforced by the Treasure Types. All of the human entries (as well as the Halflings) list individual Treasure Types. If a normal Treasure Type is listed, it only exists “if encountered in the wilderness.” In contrast, there are no Individual Treasure Types for Dwarves, Elves, and Gnomes. The implication is that when one of these demi-humans is encountered they are not very far from home and hearth.

Movement Rate

I find it interesting that the Movement Rates of all these monster entires contradict the normal encumbrance rules. Moldvay has leather armor at 90 (30), and metal armor at 60 (20). These entries support the idea that both unarmored and leather should be 120 (40), chain should be 90 (30) and plate should be 60(20).


I find it fascinating that Normal humans (most often) have a Lawful Alignment. The suggests that the Alignment System centers not on morality but where one stands with Human Civilization. The fact that most human monster entries indicate that they can be any alignment says more about the fickle nature of humanity than anything else. This concept of Alignment is confirmed by the Neutrality of Dwarves, Elves, and Gnomes. While willing to work with humans, they don’t necessarily support their Civilization. Note, that Dwarves and Gnomes seem to be split on the question, though. Once again, the outlier here is the Halfling. Like Normal humans, they are Lawful. This makes me wonder if there is more of a connection between the two than the monster entries are letting on.

Monster Descriptions

There are a couple of interesting tid-bits in the descriptions of all these entries. Almost all of them refer to leader types of up to 8th level. The exceptions are not surprising: Berserkers, Normals, and Traders. What is surprising is the levels of the various leader types. Nobles are "always 3rd level," Veterans max out at 3rd level, Bandits have leaders from other classes, and (most shockingly) Mediums have a 50% chance of being encountered with their Master — a 3rd level Magic-user! 

In contrast, Gnomes have leaders up to 4th level, Clerics up to 5th, Elves and Halflings up to 7th, and Dwarves up to 8th. 

I think this speaks to the relative youth of Human Civilization and the fact that magic is largely unknown. Both Acolyte and Medium leader types can't cast more than a 2nd level spell! And remember, 1st level Clerics in B/X can't cast at all. In other words, if a PC Magic-user wants to get ahold of a 3rd level spell, they have to go outside of Human Civilization. Gnomes (if they are Magic-user/Thieves) seem to be in the same boat. The fact that Elves can routinely fire off 4th level spells speaks to their mystery and power. This might also explain their ambivalence toward Human Civilization.

So, does this make you want to tinker, house-rule a few new classes, and play? I am certainly tempted.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Home brewing a "High-Level" "Dungeon"

So, one of the comments on my post on How I Homebrew a Dungeon, I was asked If I could do the same for a dungeon for characters 6-9th level. My short answer to the question is: No.

I have never been a fan of high-level play and neither were most of my friends. We loved those low-level campaigns and usually accomplished something earth shattering by 6th or 7th level. Indeed, I have only ever gotten one character from 1st to 9th level in my entire career as a player and have only ever seen one character survive to 9th level from 1st as a Referee. Both characters are retired.

In other words, by the time my players have advanced to 4-6th level, they have accumulated enough power and influence that the focus of the campaign shifts from that of dungeon exploration to politics, clearing out wilderness areas, and spending a bunch of money on building stuff (this is nicely encouraged by the Arneson rule where 1 xp = 1 gp spent).

So, I have never really had to homebrew a 6-9th level dungeon. As predicted by Cook’s Expert edition of D&D, by the time my players’ characters get to 4th level, I am usually designing wilderness areas, encounters, and lairs — not dungeons.

That doesn’t mean I can’t or I won’t, especially since folks seemed to find my last outing useful. This endeavor, however, does come with a major caveat. What I have in mind doesn’t really qualify as a dungeon…it is more of an elaborate lair. For me, the word “dungeon” is indicative of the Mystic Underground where no matter how deep you go, there is always something else deeper and more dangerous and the place itself is trying to kill you, not just the monsters.

There are two main reason I am choosing this particular path. First, without the previous 5 levels of a megadungeon and a campaign to riff off, doing the 6th level of such a place is both too daunting and too boring. Secondly, I’ll probably never see a day when I’d actually use it in play. By going the route I am, this will go into my folder of stuff I can pull out on a moments notice to fill a need in an ongoing campaign.

Since this is to be a type of lair, I need to figure out what monster lives there before I go to making or finding a map. So, I pulled out The Tome of Adventure Design and rolled up a person associated with the place, the last significant event that happened there, and the original purpose of the place.

As an aside, when I use random tables (especially one where a d100 is concerned), I freely read the dice in as many ways as I am allowed in order to give me more than one option when it comes to results. This allows me a bit a wiggle room and the ability to be inspired.

For example, I wanted to keep my options open on this one to see what kind of stories might emerge from the random rolls. The person in question was either going to be an Assassin or a Cleric and the place in question was either a place of guilt or a place of burial. Music was involved and it created something that would be dangerous to intruders about 10 years ago.

I then rolled an original purpose and who built it: that was when things began to crystalize. I rolled up a Scriptorium that was built by a unique type of Giant.

The Cleric no longer made much sense, so I went with the Assassin and I ended up using both a place of burial and a place of guilt.

This place was built by a blind giant who was a scribe and a scholar. He needed a way to record the research he had done and so came up with a writing method akin to Braile (note to self, Read Magic is necessary to interpret his writings). For this purpose, he needed someone to dictate various texts to him so that he could study and record his findings.

This role is taken up by an Annis Hag and the two end up falling in love with each other. Whether or not the Giant’s love was voluntary at first or not, the important part here is that the Annis Hag ended up in love with the Giant because he saw past the ugly exterior.

This love story, however, has an ugly underside because the Annis Hag still had an appetite for human flesh. When she made the mistake of lunching on a local prince, an assassin was hired to take her out. The killing blow, however, fell upon the Giant who sacrificed himself for his love.

Among the things and knowledge collected by the Giant was the True Name of a demon and a magical harp that would summon it. In a fit of anguished rage, the Annis Hag used the harp to summon the demon and commanded it to torture the assassin as long as she was alive. Unfortunately for her, summoning the demon destroyed the harp. Caught in the magical explosion, she suffered grievous wounds which have never fully recovered. In order to make sure the assassin suffers as long as possible and to guard her own life, she has since drawn a protective circle around the demon and its prey. At this point the demon is kept at bay virtually by will alone.

In the meantime, a group of hobgoblins have taken up residence. According to my own calculations, hobgoblins are eugenicists who love to experiment with breeding techniques.

Thus, they see value in the knowledge found in the Giant’s lair, the demon trapped there, and the hag that keeps it at bay. They have turned the lair into a house of horrors and feed the rejects of their experimentation to the hag to help keep her alive. For her part, she is grateful for every day the assassin is tortured.

So here is the challenge for the players: this is the location of a McGuffin. Whether a magic item in possession of the assassin, a particular piece of information on one of the Giant’s “scrolls,” or something else, it is inside the protective circle keeping the demon at bay.

Since this set-up is kinda mean, I want to reward the characters by providing a lair that could be converted into a stronghold if they so desire. As a consequence, I am looking for a map of a castle with a dungeon. I found that here. As I did with my 1st level dungeon, I proceeded to number each of the rooms:

Between the castle and the dungeon below there are 63 rooms. Using Moldvay’s “Stock the Dungeon Table” we get the following break down:
11 Monsters without Treasure (technically 10.5)
11 Monsters with Treasure (technically 10.5)
6 Traps
4 Trap with Treasure (technically 3.5)
10 Specials (technically 10.5)
18 Empty Rooms
3 Empty Room with Treasure (technically 3.5)
I rounded up on the number of monsters and traps with treasures and rounded down on Empty rooms to make the math work. I erred in the direction of more stuff.

Holmes suggests that it is possible to encounter wandering monsters within a range of two levels up and two levels down. Thus, at 6th level, it would be possible to encounter creatures anywhere from the 4th level through the 8th level. The math would look like this:
2 Level 4 Monsters
5 Level 5 Monsters
8 Level 6 Monsters
5 Level 7 Monsters
2 Level 8 Monsters
I can already sense some confusion because the main monster group I will be using are hobgoblins, which are Level 2 monsters according to Moldvay. This is where S&W becomes really useful. The Wandering Monster Tables found therein are organized according to Challenge Level. Hobgoblins are CL 1; however, Carnivorous Apes (which hobgoblins are known to associate with) are CL 4. The Wandering Monster Tables suggest combinations of different CL monsters and since hobgoblins are interested in genetic and breeding experiments, it opens up a lot of possibilities for higher level monsters:

  • Ape-like creatures like Flying Apes (CL 6), Gorilla Bears (CL 4), and Girallons (CL 6)
  • Thouls (CL 3)
  • Creatures necessary for breeding the above such as Basilisks (CL 8), Cave Bears (CL 7), Ghouls (CL 3), Perytons (CL 6), and Trolls (CL 8) and Cave Trolls (CL 7)
  • Experimental failures represented by Gibbering Mouthers (CL 6)

Following the suggestions from S&W we come to the following totals:
1 Annis Hag (1400 xp)
3 Basilisks (2400 xp)
26 Carnivorous Apes (3120 xp)
3 Cave Bears (1800 xp)
8 Cave Trolls (4800 xp)
1 Demon, Erinyes (1400 xp)
2 Flying Apes (800 xp)
28 Ghouls (1680)
7 Gibbering Mouthers (2800xp)
15 Girallons (6000 xp)
14 Gorilla Bears (1680 xp)
112 Hobgoblins (1680 xp)
3 Perytons (1200 xp)
42 Thouls (2520 xp)
4 Trolls (3200 xp)
Total xp = 34,800
In case anyone is wondering where I am going to fit 117 hobgoblins, remember that this place was built by a Giant. Thus, everything is twice the size a map normally would be — giving me plenty of room to stuff all these creatures wherever I want.

The average Treasure Roll is going to be 2.5, so the base treasure is going to be 87,000 gp. Going by math (because I don’t want to roll this many times), the 100 gp Trade Outs will result in 83 Minor Gems and Jewelry and 4 Minor Magic Items. The 1000 gp Trade Outs will result in 8 Medium Gems and Jewelry and 1 Medium Magic Item.The 5000 gp Trade Outs will result in 2 Major Gems and Jewelry and no Major Magic Items.

Thus, there will be 13,500gp in Minor Gems and Jewelry, 5,200 gp in Medium Gems and Jewelry, 6,500 gp in Major Gems and Jewelry, and 67,000 gp in Miscellaneous treasure for a grand total of 92,200 gp.

There are 18 rooms with treasure. If each has 5000 gp I will have 2200 gp left over to place where I deem fit in the moment (probably with the Annis Hag hidden inside the tomb of the Giant).

There is a total of 127,000 xp available, or 31,750 per character in a party of 4. This should be enough for most characters to go from 6th to 7th level easily.

Now to place all of this stuff in the dungeon:

The Annis Hag will be in Room 1.38, an appropriate place for a bedroom turned tomb.
The Erinyes will be trapped in Room 2.21, being the lowest part of the entire structure.

As for the rest of the monsters, they can be categorized into three types:

1. Hobgoblins and their allies
2. Prisoners used to do breeding experiments
3. Failures

The failures would be the Gibbering Mouthers, which are locked away in Room 2.20, since that is nice and isolated.

The prisoners could all be stored away in Rooms 2.3-2.10. These include the basilisks, cave bears, cave trolls, ghouls, perytons, and trolls.

To fill out the dungeon level, I would place Thouls in Rooms 2.12 and 2.18 as guards.

The rest of the monster populate the upper floor, with the hobgoblins, carnivorous apes and gorilla bears primarily occupying the towers — Rooms 1.35-1.37 and 1.39-1.43.
girallons and flying apes would occupy Rooms 1.1 and 1.9.

That’s 22 rooms with monsters. Also note: I’ll probably sprinkle hobgoblins, thouls, and carnivorous apes throughout the last 20 rooms to demonstrate the basic theme of its current use.

Now I need 10 Specials:

Room 1.3 is a magical hall of perfumes. The central section of the hall rains down clouds of the stuff from the ceiling when someone passes through. The stuff is so strong it reduces the chances of surprise to 1 in 6 for 24 hours.
Room 1.5 is a magical hot tub that automatically undresses anyone entering and drying and clothing anyone leaving (with a small percentage of some kind of screw-up)
Room 1.6 is a magical gallery; however, the “pictures” are designed for the blind.
Room 1.8 is a magical music room with various levers and buttons that create various sounds. The music is designed to play throughout the castle, alerting everyone of the player’s presence.
Room 1.21 is a magical kitchen and 1.22 is be a magical ice room for storing food.
Room 1.27 is a library with a device that fetches certain books, but only works if the commands are given in the language of giants.
Room 1.33 is the scriptorium, with a special device used to create the “Braile” scrolls created by the Giant.
Rooms 2.11 and 2.13 are incubating and birthing chambers for the breeding experiments.

Now for 4 rooms with treasure guarded by a trap:
Rooms 1.14, 1.16, 1.30, and 2.2 all suggest themselves because they are dead-ends.

The six remaining traps:

Rooms 1.15 and 1.17 are suggestive because of the portcullises indicated on the map.
Rooms 1.2 and 1.31 are good candidates to alert the hobgoblins in the towers.
Room 2.17 has access to the demon.
Room 2.19 keeps the Gibbering Mouthers at bay.

Finally, I need two Empty Rooms with treasure:

I like Rooms 1.25 and 2.16 for this for no real particular reason.

For the rest, I might note some things to indicate this was once the home to a scholar with servants. Servants quarters, storage rooms, guest rooms, supplies necessary for scholarly work, etc.


Note: I have sprinkled some cool features within this castle that might prove useful should the players ever want to claim this as their own. Consider it an incentive and a reward for putting up with my dark sense of humor.

Also note: The chances of me ever actually using this are not high. But who knows, it may one day prove useful...if not to me than someone out there who wants to take this and run with it.