Friday, January 29, 2010

Payday Ordering Spree

Today was payday, and of course that is a great time to stock up on old-school gaming products, so that is just what I have done.  Let me share the highlights of my three-part consumerist orgy:

1.  Ordering two classic TSR modules from Marketplace vendors.  There are two AD&D modules from the olden days that I have been wanting to obtain print copies of, both for the sheer fun of it (I fetishize books) and also because I intend to get working on Labyrinth Lord conversions of them as soon as they arrive.  Like JB at B/X Blackrazor has done with his excellent B/X conversion of White Plume Mountain, I intend to make my Labyrinth Lord module conversions available as free pdfs to all you folks in the blogosphere once I complete them.  I don't wish to reveal exactly which modules I ordered just yet, because my players could be reading this and there is a good chance (I hope!) that at least one of these adventures may find its way into my current campaign.  (Remember, I am extremely lazy so usually don't convert or adapt stuff unless I plan to use it.)  Suffice to say that I found the two modules I wanted for less than $10 each, cover price.  The shipping bumped them up to about $13 and $15 respectively, but that still feels like an excellent deal for two much-beloved classic modules in "very good" to "like new" condition that I know I will use again and again.  Score!

2.  Ordering a hardcover Labyrinth Lord Revised Edition rulebook and a print copy of Stonehell megadungeon from --  at a discount!  There is -- for two more days, until the end of the weekend -- a 10% discount to be had when ordering certain stuff from, so I took advantage of that deal to order two essential OSR products.  The first is simply a hardcover version of a book I already have and use, the Labyrinth Lord  rulebook.  My players have been using my paperback copy at the gaming table a lot, and despite the fact that my friend Carl brings his paperback copy too, those greedy players seem to like to refer to them a fair amount as we play.  So my desire to have an exclusive DM's copy of the rulebook, combined with my tendency to fetishize books in general, led me to the conclusion that I should purchase a nice, hardbound copy of the rules set I will doubtless be using for years to come.  This hardbound Labyrinth Lord book was my most expensive and extravagant purchase of the day, but well-justified I think, now that I have a weekly LL campaign underway.  My second Lulu purchase was the much-anticipated (by me) and much-lauded (by James Maliszewski and others) Stonehell megadungeon.  I have seen the pdf preview version of Stonehell, which I liked, though I kind of need a print copy of a thing in my hands before I can really get familiar with it.  So the pdf and the positive reviews of Stonehell whetted my appetite, and that combined with my general appreciation for the work of Michael Curtis -- do yourself a favor and check out his superb Dungeon Alphabet, reviewed here -- made my purchase of Stonehell in print inevitable.  The fact that the multi-talented Carl also has published artwork in Stonehell only sweetens the deal (support your local artists!).  I don't know exactly how I will use Stonehell in my Arandish campaign yet, but I know I will find plenty of inspiration and good material to hork (or possibly use whole-cloth) within its covers.  Score!

3.  Going to my favorite local game store and buying $10 worth of dice.  I have been feeling a bit short of d12's and d8's lately -- I only own one of the former and two of the latter! -- though this hasn't mattered to me all that much in recent years since I have mainly been a player in the game sessions with my former 3.5 group and my current Mutant Future group.  But now that I am the referee of a full-blown Labyrinth Lord campaign, I feel the need to have more dice on hand to share with dice-less players etc.  Plus, it is far more fun when rolling for things like starting gold or flaming oil damage to actually have three (or more) eight-sided dice to roll at once.   So today I went to Evolution Games in south Eugene and picked a grand total of twenty dice out of their 50-cent basket.  There were a lot of pretty ones -- I somewhat fetishize dice -- so I walked out with a bunch of d20's and d6's I probably didn't need, but also with 4 or 5 more each of those much-needed d8's and d12's.  Score!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Delzar - A Land Divided

In Old Calendar years 3021-3089, thousands of war refugees emigrated south from the high northern plains of Telengard to settle in the area they called Delzar -- which is Old Noffellian for “central plains.”  

The kingdom of Delzar has flourished in the intervening generations into a region of abundance, though its social and economic stability is constantly threatened by escalating border disputes between Delzar and its southern neighbor, Mizar.  Delzar thus finds itself a land divided: divided between the peaceful, bohemian northeasterners and the harried warriors of the militaristic south.

Delzar is ruled by an oligarchal triumvirate or ruling council, made up of one hereditary landowner often called the "king" or "queen" (by southern Delzarians) or "lord high councilor" (by northerners); one Delzarian Army general appointed by the military; and an elected member called the "approved councilor."

The ruling triumvirate of Delzar meets in the capitol city of Bilnhof, a cultural and arts mecca found in the foothills at the eastern end of this lush grassland country.  Bilnhof is in fact a cultural and artistic center for all of Ara: even non-Delzarian artists, musicians, and sculptors flock to Bilnhof to soak in the natural beauty, the temperate weather, and inspiration of other creative types.  Northeastern Delzar is an culturally diverse region where dwarves, rodians, and even some civilized ogres (!) are found living amongst humans in positions of authority and respect.  Many northern Delzarians see the country and its bohemian capitol city as leaders in modeling a non-violent way of life to the rest of Ara, and are embarrassed, saddened, and/or outright enraged about the country's ongoing territorial disputes with Mizar.

Delzar's southern border disputes with the aggressive and honor-bound Mizarian people are an ever-present threat to Delzarian peace and prosperity.  Many southern Delzarians choose to enlist in the King’s Army, joining in the defense of the southern frontier against the unified clans of Mizar. Note that despite its name, the Delzarian Army ultimately takes it orders from the entire ruling triumvirate of Delzar.  Like their Telengardian forebears, southern Delzarians -- especially those in the Army -- tend to be stolid, bitter and strong-willed.

I have rarely taken adventure parties to Delzar; while I did begin one campaign in Bilnhof, the main action in that campaign quickly drew the party away from that city within the first session or two.  Interestingly, I think I am the only person ever to play a Delzarian PC, or at least a character from the Delzarian Army.  In one of Scott Peoples' campaigns, I played Edwin Pimmelfinnick, a Delzarian Army officer sent to investigate stuff with a group of non-military adventurers.  Edwin was a fun character and it was a great campaign, but despite his Delzarian origins we spent most of our time underground, so despite Edwin's intervention I still haven't spent much time in Delzar.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Arandish Campaign 2010 - Session 2

We had an excellent second session last night.  Another smallish group -- 4 players plus myself -- and that factor combined with the group's thirst for action kept things moving at a brisk pace.

Three of last session's PCs -- Innominus, Uncle Junkal, and Hazel -- were in attendance, plus one new addition, Barbarella Bootay, a female rodian duellist / gambler / mountebank.  Further, before game play started for the evening, at Hazel's player's request we shuffled Hazel's attributes around a bit (to favor STR and CON) and shifted her class from Bard to Fighter.

The group then picked up where they had previously left off, traveling to a glade about a half mile away from the suspected ravine lair of some sinister, raiding orcs called the Hidden Dagger warband.  Barbarella the rodian snuck close to the ravine and discovered two orc sentries sitting in the lowest branches of a tree, with crossbows in their laps.  She then returned to the party and proposed a plan whereby she would climb a neighboring tree, leap into the high branches of the orc tree, then tackle one of the sentries from above while the rest of the party picked off the second sentry with missile weapons.  A distraction would be caused by one of the hirelings whipping a goat -- the party had been able to literally con (via Barbarella's loaded gambler's dice) the villagers out of five goats -- so that the beast would run through the woods toward the base of the tree, bleating and causing a ruckus.

This plan worked beautifully, with Barbarella leaping from above and slipping a bag over orc #1's head, then dislodging him from the tree.  Meanwhile, Innominus made a particularly successful sling attack vs. orc #2, rolling his nightly d30 roll for the damage and rolling a 28 or 29.  So orc #2 was instantly killed, and in fact the damage was so great that I ruled the sling stone passed through the orc's body and broke the tree branch he sat on as well.  His corpse fell to the ground next to his bagged but still conscious companion.  Barbarella, who had rigged a harness for herself to prevent her falling out of the tree, dangled from a branch and slugged orc #1 on the head with a crowbar, knocking him unconscious.

The party then dragged poor orc #1 (named "Ug") to a nearby glade and tortured him for information.  Uncle Junkal stuck toothpicks under Ug's fingernails while Innominus, the only party member who speaks orcish, questioned the captive about the size of the Hidden Dagger, the names of its leaders, etc.  The group got a few useful tidbits out of Ug, including a rough map to the first few rooms of the warband's underground lair, but ultimately Ug was not high-ranking enough to know very much about the Hidden Dagger's hierarchy nor its plans.  Further, when asked if the orcs were in league with creatures of other species, Ug was evasive and would reveal nothing -- he insisted that they were just a group of orcs, but Innominus suspected otherwise.

Having completed their interrogation, the party killed and skinned Ug -- Hazel used her huntress' skills to skin him very carefully -- and then they prepared to enter the orcs' underground complex via a passage at the base of the large, hollow tree Ug and his fellow sentry had recently been sitting in.  The plan the party collectively came up with was: the party would enter the dungeon with Innominus in the lead, wearing Ug's skin as a clever disguise.  The other three party members and four of the Vedik hirelings would tie themselves together with rope to make it appear that "Ug" was bringing in a group of humanoid prisoners.  Then, at the right moment, they would attack.

Ug had revealed that the first level of the underground complex was in two sections, separated by a ravine crossed by a rope-and-plank bridge.  Thus, as an emergency precaution, the party instructed their remaining six hirelings left above on the surface to gather tinder and firewood and to be ready to throw it down into the ravine to set that bridge on fire should thirty (game-time) minutes elapse without the party returning. 

With Innominus leading the way with his orc-skin mask, the party and four of their hirelings descended into the orc lair.  The first room they came to was empty, but the second chamber contained four orcs, including one who questioned "Ug" about where he was taking the prisoners.  Innominus claimed he was taking them to Lieutenant Garchar -- a name the group had picked up from the real Ug when he was still alive -- but the orc guard told him that that was against procedure and that he should take the prisoners directly to "the pit."  He let them pass, and they filed through a narrow passage framed by a carved demon's mouth archway.  The orc guard sent two additional orcs as rear escorts for the prisoner group.  Note that I checked three different times to see if the orc guard would notice Innominus' orc-skin mask ruse, but the dice decreed that he was particularly unobservant -- it must have been near the end of his guard shift -- and he accepted the cleric at "face value" as Ug.

The next chamber was immediately adjacent to the ravine-crossing bridge; it contained two additional orcs whose main job was to watch the bridge with crossbows at the ready.  It was here that the party chose to start their attack.  Innominus and Barbarella surprise-attacked the bridge guards, while Uncle Junkal, Hazel, and the hirelings ganged up on the two rear guards.  Innominus missed with his first swing, and Barbarella inflicted a minor flesh wound on crossbow orc #2.  Uncle Junkal threw two knives, missing with one but shearing off one of the rear guard's nipples with the other.  Hazel killed the other rear guard with one stroke of her long sword -- a natural 20 critical hit -- and the best of the Vedik hirelings, a fellow called Porkins, dispatched Uncle Junkal's half-nippled orc with his hand axe that same round.

The surprise round over, initiative was rolled for the second round; the party won.  Uncle Junkal pulled out his crossbow (which had been hidden under his cloak during the "prisoner" ruse) and shot one of the crossbowmen though the throat, killing him before he could raise the alarm.  Innominus swung again with his warhammer and all but killed his orc; I think it was Barbarella who stepped in and administered the coup de grace.  In any case, the orcs were dead without making a single attack nor raising the alarm. 

I rolled to see if the two orcs remaining behind in the previous chamber heard anything, but they didn't.  So the party waited for a few minutes, then Innominus-as-"Ug" stepped back through the demon mouth and started telling jokes about an unpopular orc named Ugluk ("Ugluk sucks" had been written in orc feces on the wall of the first chamber the group passed through), which got the remaining guards laughing.  Uncle Junkal and Barbarella shot crossbows back through the demon's mouth at the guards, while Innominus attacked one of them with his warhammer.  None of these attacks were sufficient to drop either guard, but we rolled initiative again, the party won (again!), and next thing I know, Hazel jumps into the room, swings her sword, and rolls her nightly d30 roll for the damage, scoring enough damage (18 I think) to simultaneously behead both remaining orcs!  Voila!  The party had achieved their goal of clearing out the complex on one side of the ravine.

They concluded the session by searching the three rooms they had passed through, finding about 200 gp worth of coinage and a few mundane weapons.  Overall, another action-packed evening with lots of inventiveness and clever ruses from the players.  I shall have to post soon about how I am dealing with xp distribution -- that is still something of a work in progress -- but for now suffice to say that the characters are performing creatively and well, and I am having great fun with this adventure campaign.

Rules update: Rodians have infravision to 30'.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Carter's Cartopia - Looking Ahead

I am not one to make New Year's Resolutions nor do I feel inclined to look back on the previous RPG'ing year in any comprehensive, reflective, or list-generating way.  Yet I do find myself in a looking-ahead mode as the New Year of 2010 rolls toward its fourth week, and especially now that my Labyrinth Lord campaign has actually begun, I feel I can share a few words about where I think this blog may be heading.

For one, I will continue to post about the Arandish Campaign sessions.  Now that the game is underway, those campaign updates may indeed become the main focus of the blog insofar as the Lands of Ara are concerned.  There are, of course, a few more region blurbs (Blint, Gannar, Delzar) to get written, and eventually I will probably tackle those danged elementalists, but there may not be a huge outpouring of new Lands of Ara stuff except as it emerges / gets invented during the course of the Arandish Campaign.

Indeed, one of the main things I have realized about myself as I "look ahead" into 2010 is that as far as RPG'ing is concerned, I am first and foremost interested in playing the game.  All the generation of content I do, all the Lands of Ara world-building, all the blogging, is simply to make my life easier during game play.  While I hope others find this blog edifying and its content useful, the main thing is that I am using the shit out of it as my Arandish Campaign 2010 unfolds.

Which is a fancy way of admitting that I am both selfish and somewhat lazy.  Sure, I am sharing this stuff with you and I truly enjoy posting to this blog, but I do regard it as a cybernetic servant of my campaign.

Okay, okay, that's not the whole story.  I must say it is truly a pleasure reading other peoples' blogs and participating in the OSR blogging community in general.  It may be true that I would not have started blogging if I didn't think it would serve my needs at the gaming table, but I feel quite lucky to have entered this particular virtual community at the time I have.  It is such a great time to be an old-school gamer and an OSR blogger: the products on the market are top-notch, the creators and artists share their work and creative processes over the blogosphere, and all of us have a great forum in which to share our experiences and insights as we play our individual campaigns and design our individual stuff.  A vibrant and inspirational community indeed, and I am thankful for its existence and support.

Beyond documenting the exploits of my Arandish Campaign adventurers and staying in touch with my fellow virtual Grognards, what else might be in the works for Carter's Cartopia?  Well. . .

You may be aware that Brave Halfling's Swords and Wizardry White Box has already sold out its first two print runs.  I am one of the fortunate few who got in on the first round of pre-orders and should be getting that wonderful product in the mail in the not-too-distant future (pleeeze??!).  Once I get that S&W White Box in my hot little hands, I (tentatively) plan to concoct a whole new campaign setting around it.  I do not yet have a name for the setting, but it will be LOOSELY based upon -- or maybe I should just say it will be inspired by -- the world of Barsoom from Edgar Rice Burroughs' Mars books, which I am currently re-reading for the first time since eighth grade.  I love these books and I think I want to take PCs into a world that is at least somewhat reminiscent of it.  This Barsoom-ish S&W campaign setting I am imagining will be much more stripped-down (class-wise) and less Tolkien-esque than the Lands of Ara, obviously more of a science-fantasy setting that includes firearms, airships, vast dry sea beds, abandoned ancient cities, somewhat limited magic options. . . . I don't know the full scope or flavor of it yet, but this is what's been brewing in my mind as I loaf around here watching "T.J. Hooker" on recent evenings.  It may also be that -- I may be so lucky if -- the publication of James Raggi's LotFP: Weird Fantasy Role-Playing will be well-timed vis-a-vis my plans to conduct a campaign in a science-fantasy-inspired setting.  (Late in 2010 maybe?  Pleeeze????!!)

In any case, I will be sure to post developments on this and other RPG'ing fronts to this blog throughout 2010 and into the future.  Thanks for tuning in!

The Labyrinth Lord Society Rules the Multiverse!

As a Labyrinth Lord devotee, I have been intending to join the Labyrinth Lord Society for some time now.  However, like Michael Curtis and (I assume) many others, the recent offer of an Advanced Edition Companion preview motivated me to finally send that email and get on board.  So I proudly declare my fealty to the LABYRINTH LORD SOCIETY:

Not only is this fine quasi-secret organization offering irresistible perks -- as you may know, I have been anxiously awaiting the arrival of that AEC since about late October -- but it also serves as a model for how to effectively organize aspects of our grassroots OSR into something that can help promote the hobby to newcomers.  I have been most intrigued by the LLS's demo program, and may -- if time allows -- agree to host demo sessions of LL in the future, should the Society call upon me to do so.  There are a couple of decent gaming shops in my town (see comments here and here) where such a demo could probably take place. . .

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Dwarven Steel Update

Going through my notes recently, I found that I left some critical data out of my previous post about dwarven steel items, to wit:

Dwarven steel is immune to the metal-corroding acids of oozes, jellies, and slimes, and is impervious to rust monsters.

Put that in your pipe and smoke it!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Arandish Campaign 2010 - Session 1

My concerns about having too many players in attendance last night (given that my optimal party size is 4-6) proved groundless, for the party who met in the Erratic Crow pub in Swampsedge at the start of our session  consisted of just four PC's:  Uncle Junkal the Juggler, a rodian bard, Percival the Scribe, a human historian and magic-user, Hazel, a human bard, and Innominus, a human cleric. 

The party consists of two bards, a PC class I had not even considered allowing until these two players started describing their character concepts to me over the past weekend.  I am no great fan of bards in general -- like James M., I find them a bit nebulous and unfocused -- but it became clear that the bard would be the best class to use for these two players who wanted to play jack-of-all-trades type characters, so I swiftly ordered and downloaded Brave Halfling's Delving Deeper: Bard and used that class as the basis for Uncle Junkal the Juggler and Hazel the negotiator / charmer / mountebank.  Obviously, I tend to be far more interested in letting my players play the characters they imagine than maintaining any kind of fidelity to my stodgy preferences, so now we have two bards -- albeit very differently inflected ones -- in the party. 

After meeting each other and consulting a couple of Swampsedge locals to confirm some orc raid rumors, the party swiftly moved out of Swampsedge toward the north, heading for an orc-ravaged village called Vedik that they had heard about in the local Swampsedge rumor mill.  Vedik is a day and half march north from Swampsedge, and during the first watch of the first night camping out in a copse near the northbound road, the group was attacked by a band of seven troglodytes.  [This was a case where I had to stick to my promise to myself to honor the die rolls, for part of me hesitated about sending in seven trogs.  I might have been tempted to reduce that number by two given that this was a party of four PC's with no front-line fighters, but I rolled seven trogs and I stuck to that.  My new mantra: The dice are fate.]  

A dastardly troglodyte

The attacking trogs would have achieved total surprise had Hazel (who stood first watch) not noticed their foul stench a split second before they attacked.  She alerted her sleeping companions, who sprung into action; we rolled for initiative and the party won.  Percival unleashed a magic missile, then elected to roll his once-nightly d30 roll for the damage.  This proved a master-stroke: he rolled a 28 for damage (!), and I therefore ruled that the missile passed through the first trog and roasted two more of its vile companions who were running up behind it!  With three trogs instantly fried, now the odds were evened out a bit: four remaining trogs versus four PCs.  

Hazel got off a bow shot or two, then, once one of the trogs was upon her, she did an evasive maneuver and lured the trog closer to Innominus the cleric, who was a better melee fighter.  Innominus killed at least one of the trogs with his war hammer, though he did roll a critical fumble in there at one point, dropped the hammer, and had to switch to his morningstar.  Both Uncle Junkal and the trog he fought were unlucky die rollers, and went at least two rounds without hitting each other -- the poleaxe-wielding juggler would make a last-minute comeback though.  After his stunning magic missile triple-kill, Percival pulled out his bow and started shooting his companions' opponents in the back.  Combat raged on.  In time, Uncle Junkal dropped his trog with a mighty polearm strike, and Innominus and Hazel (who drew her dagger for melee combat) finished off the other remaining attackers.  Now the party was safe to sleep the rest of the night -- the two bards took watch shifts so the m-u and cleric could get full rest and recover their spells via memorization and prayer in the morning --  and to proceed onward to Vedik the next day. 

While the party's peasant informant in Swampsedge (who had fled Vedik some weeks before) implied that the village council of Vedik might offer a reward for vanquishing the orcs, once the party arrived in Vedik it became clear that the locals did not have anything in the way of resources or wealth to offer.  The party negotiated with the Vedik locals for a future payment based upon the villagers' next years' crop yield and a promise of future assistance if the party should need laborers or henchmen.  We left off the session with the party preparing to head for the nearby orc caves with some local Vedik farmers / fighters coming along as hirelings.  There was also some talk about goats -- Innominus seemed keen to bring some goats along and herd them into the orc caves ahead of the party -- but I am not sure whether or not that issue got definitively resolved by the time we quit for the night.  

My thoughts on the party: A very promising group!  They were able to keep their wits about them and survive the trog attack despite none of them being fighters.  Also, I am excited by the ideas I hear this group bandying about as they strategize: at one point, one of the players (Hazel's I think) brought up the idea of negotiating with the raiding orcs to get them to stop attacking Vedik and its environs.  Of course, orcs are not known for their willingness to parley with humans and their allies, so this suggestion may not be actualized, but the mere fact that such an idea got raised bodes very well for this party and its ability to "think outside the box" and not necessarily rush into every situation with weapons swinging.  Then again, Innominus seems to have a strong penchant for killing, so he may resist party efforts to negotiate with foes, and there's also Uncle Junkal, who wanted to "trade" the party's orc-dispatching services for complete dictatorial control of the village of Vedik upon their return!  So who knows where these whacko PCs will take things next?  I only know I am looking forward to it immensely.  

My thoughts on the rules: So far, so good.  I think Labyrinth Lord is excellent and accessible, though I am still getting used to the layout of the book, and personally I wish the "Encounters and Combat" and "Labyrinth Lord Lore" sections were closer together in the book since those were the main sections I referred to during the session.  There were also a couple of additional house rules I decided to invoke at the last minute -- i.e., maximum HP for all characters at 1st Level, and yes to DEX-based initiative modifiers -- but overall Labyrinth Lord seems to be working great.  Even our total first-time rpger had no obvious difficulties in grasping the basic mechanics of character creation and combat, and this speaks volumes about the potential for old-school rpgs to lure in new players.  And for the first time in my DMing career I used morale checks!  I did two separate monster morale checks during the trog battle, once after Percival blasted three of them away with a single magic missile, and once after they were down to two trogs standing.  The trogs succeeded at the checks both times and fought to the bitter end.  I think I like the morale rules, and it makes even more sense to use them now that we have bards in the party who may want to influence the party's or their enemies' morale in future situations.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Pirated Rodian Artwork

A couple of posts ago you may have noticed some great penciled images of rodians.  I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge the creators of those images since I have posted them here without anyone's permission.  I think it is very rodian-like of me to have pirated them, and I hope the artists involved will not object to my using them here, since I have so few other images of rodians and not much drawing ability of my own.

These first two images, the full body shot above and the profile head shot below, depict Rajannara, the first-ever rodian PC, played and drawn by Nick Edgar.  Both of these images were scanned from Raja's original Crimson Blades of Ara character sheet, which must have been created circa 1990 or so.


According to Nick's character sheet, Rajannara was a thief type, which probably reflects our (subconscious) impulse to have rodians fill a halfling-esque role in CBoA adventure parties.  At the beginning, they were more thieves than warriors, though we knew from the outset that rodians were expert sailors and sea pirates, so you can see (top illustration above) that Raja carries a curved cutlass-type sword.

This third illustration is by CBoA's co-creator, Dave Miller.  Dave really deserves most of the credit for fleshing out rodians.  Dave introduced the famous Karibekian clan to Ara via his legendary rodian duellist PC, Saladar Karibekian.  Through Karibekian and his relatives and successors, Dave gave rodians more credibility as fighters, and introduced the whole concept of secretive rodian magical research and the Black Cloister.  This drawing above shows the direction Dave envisioned for rodians beyond being sneaky thieves.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Custom Encounter Tables

Gearing up for my campaign start later this weekend, I have been furiously banging out a few last-minute random encounter tables for areas in Ara that my PC's might just want to explore.  Since I am simply starting the PCs out in an Arandish town, Swampsedge, and baiting a few (widely varying) adventure hooks, I really have no idea which direction the party will leap, geographically or otherwise.  So I want to be ready, and for me, part of readiness is preparing my own custom wilderness encounter tables.

You see, as much as I love randomness and being surprised, as DM I like to have a say about the range of possibilities of what can randomly occur once game play starts.  I like to create a certain feel to the Arandish game world by customizing my own tables.  When taking parties into the Lands of Ara, there are certain monsters (goblins, giant lizards) I like to filter out, and others (owlbears, orcs) I like to see appear a bit more frequently.  Plus, as I've stated before, Ara is a human- and demi-human-centric world, where other types of monsters just aren't as common -- at least not out in the wilderness -- as standard D&D / Labyrinth Lord rules seem to assume.  So I stock my encounter tables with humans, NPCs, and the particular monsters I want to see pop up most in Ara, and I almost never use the stock wilderness encounter tables from any published rulebooks, except in a pinch.  Hell, even in a pinch I would probably prefer to modify one of my own tables than use the one from the book as-is. 

Allow me to state that dungeon encounter tables are a different matter, for I agree with Philotomy and others that the world of underground dungeons should be strange and uncanny and obey its own twisted "mythic underworld" type laws.  Thus I tend to stick to more standard random encounter tables in dungeon delving situations, where I think things should be more truly random.  I may use a custom table for a particular section of a given dungeon level, of course, but generally speaking, I am less picky about the parameters of my tables once the party goes underground.  Unlike on the surface of Ara, I like underground dungeon delving to be somewhat inexplicable, illogical, and weird.

But topside, I want the various regions of Ara to feel quite distinct from each other, with certain monsters prevalent in some areas and others in others.  Plus, there are some monsters I just personally don't like and/or find boring, so of course I don't want too many of those mucking up my charts.  Therefore, I am a big wilderness encounter table customizer. 

What do other DMs out there do?

Saturday, January 9, 2010

A Few Words About What Kind of DM I Am

I just read a really terrific post on player vs. DM expectations over at B/X Blackrazor.  Given that I am swiftly approaching the beginning of a collaboration with a new set of players, JB's thoughts about the role of the DM really struck home; I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiments he expresses in that post. 

Here is a key excerpt about the role of the DM:

The DM's role, sometimes forgotten, is one of facilitator. What the DM does is facilitate this world/story/reality creation. Adventures are designed, settings are written, NPCs and obstacles placed...and then there is acting as adjudicator and referee for the players as they explore the game world. This exploration, in collaboration with everyone at the table, is what CREATES the shared environment. NOT the DM alone.

When a DM "puts on airs" and thinks he or she is wholly responsible for world creation they are deluding themselves. Pure and simple. If you want to author a world, write a book, don't play an RPG. If your players abandon your game, all the background and backstory in the world means nothing.

AND (this is the important part) if you DO allow players free reign in your carefully designed game (in other words, if you're a good and competent DM that doesn't force your players down your own linear story arcs, etc.), they are going to muck it all up. They will go "off book." They will want to push the game and exploration into areas you haven't detailed or thought of. They will not "do what you want them to."
I hope that my blogging for the past four months about the Lands of Ara campaign setting (which will continue into the future) has not misled anyone into thinking I am one of those "deluded," hyper-narrativist DMs.  I am definitely NOT "authoring a world" on my own here; all the information I have posted on this blog about the Lands of Ara is completely open to change once Arandish Campaign 2010 game play starts in a week and a half.  Hell, even most of the stuff I know about Ara to this point was contributed by past players, was discovered over years of game play, and was NOT invented whole-cloth by any single person, myself or otherwise.  The Lands of Ara is a collective, collaborative, ongoing creation, and I cannot wait to see what these new players will bring to the table and the game world.  Via our collective efforts and, above all, shared fun, Ara is about to experience another growth spurt.

Thanks to JB for a provocative post.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Pre-Order Mania!

This is such an exciting time to be an active consumer of newly produced OSR products.  Not only am I one of the lucky folks who got in on the Brave Halfling S&W White Box pre-order special, and am eagerly awaiting the arrival of that "box of treasure," but guess what just showed up at my door yesterday?  My copy of The Dungeon Alphabet from Goodman Games.  To echo James Raggi, now that I have the tome in my hands, I can hardly believe what I got for the low low price of $9.99!  The DA indeed deserves to be singled out as an exemplary old-school product: technically system-free, it introduces the OSR "rules light" vibe to any gamer who might pick it up, and I assume that it would be a useful resource for almost any referee, regardless of system.  And very well produced with absolutely top-notch art.  Kick ass!

Suhl - Island Home of the Rodians

Suhl is the name of the island where the first rodians made landfall after the fateful voyage of the Tarandis.  Actually a small cluster of three separate islands, the rodian territory of Suhl lies at the southeastern end of the Bay of Noffel, hundreds of nautical miles south of the nearest Noffellian or Blintian ports.  The only mundane way to reach Suhl is via a seagoing ship, which typically means booking passage on a Noffellian or Suhlian vessel out of one of the southern Arandish ports on the Bay of Noffel.  

The Suhl island cluster consists of three heavily forested islands:

1.  Suhl, the largest and most populated island, also called the Big Island.   The Big Island is long and somewhat boomerang-shaped, 75 miles long and 20 miles wide.  Its capitol city, Suhl (a medium town, population 8,000), is also its largest and most commercial port.  The city of Suhl is also where the Lord Governor of Suhl resides.  While there are many non-rodian merchants and travellers who visit the city of Suhl, there are few non-rodian full-time residents; for the most part the town and its island are inhabited exclusively by rodians. Some judgmental Noffellians have been known to snidely refer to Suhl as "Buccaneers' Port," which causes some Suhlians to anger and others to grin with roguish pride.  Further inland on this same island is the small town of Awra's Gate, where stands the Rodian Invokers' Guild.

2.  Desolation, the northernmost Suhlian island, so named for its treacherous reefs.  Desolation Island is the second-largest Suhlian island but is nevertheless quite small: it is roughly circular and about 30 miles in diameter.  Desolation Island is a haven for local pirates -- including many non-rodians -- and is also called by many locals L’Stoog, after its current most famous illegal resident.

The Black Cloister

3.  Arkian [AR-kee-yan], home of the Suhlian Illusionists.  This tiny (20-mile diameter) island houses only one structure: the Black Cloister, the tower stronghold of the Suhlian Illusionists.  Some Suhlian Invokers and rodian merchants regularly deal with the denizens of the Cloister.   Most rodian commoners -- that is, non-adventuring residents of Suhl -- somewhat fear Arkian and its arcane denizens, and few rodians would come here uninvited except under dire circumstances.  Outsiders -- that is, non-rodians -- are discouraged from visiting Arkian at all.  The Illusionists of the Black Cloister prefer their seclusion.

As has been previously recounted, rodians first came to Ara many generations ago, establishing a few small (and now largely defunct) colonies and one large city, New Port, along the Arandish west coast.  Unfortunately, this is land that the elves of Aldoria also consider to be theirs, and a bloody conflict has raged between the elves and rodians there for some years now.  Despite this racially charged conflict, some seafaring rodians have established trade relations with the elves of Al-nurna, though most such traders are wary of their elven business associates and do not typically form lasting friendships with them.

The Suhlian rodians have also made contact by sea with the kingdoms of Noffel, Blint, and Kaladar, and a prosperous trade has grown between the Suhlians and these Arandish nations.

It is said that those wishing to explore the southern half of Rakar’s Peninsula would do well to first pass through Suhl, for there are many rodian seafarers who have knowledge of its coasts, and perhaps even a few of its inland secrets. . .

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Or What About This?

As Geoffrey describes here, there exists a startlingly simple yet potentially quite elegant and fun solution to my recent self-debate on how to distribute experience in my Arandish campaign.  I quote at length from Geoffrey's comment:

My solution has been adopted from Korgoth. Here it is:

At the conclusion of each session, each player rolls 1d20 for his character. On an adjusted roll of 20, the character gains a level. The roll is modified by +1 for each previous failed leveling roll at this level only.

Thus a newly 3rd level fighter completes a session. He will gain a level again on a roll of 20. If he fails, the next time he completes a session he gains a level on a 19+, then 18+, etc.

Thus it's totally outside the control of both the players and the Ref. So everyone can feel free to do what they like during play! (My one requirement is that the PC engages in actual adventure. Sitting around the entire session in the tavern doesn't count as adventure.)

Thoughts?  I am sorely tempted by this because it seems to capture something of the old-school predilection toward randomness (I am reminded of Carl's recent discussion of Mutant Future character generation) and completely eliminates any need for me to do math, at least in this one area.  Would any of my players squawk if I opted to go this way???

REVISED Arandish Campaign House Rules

The start date for my Arandish Labyrinth Lord campaign is imminent, and as I was talking with my friend Carl last night about experience point distribution, it dawned on me that I need to revise / amend my campaign house rules slightly before we get underway.

For the most part, these house rules are unchanged from the previous house rules post; the only change I've made is to experience point distribution, where I have decided to default to the "traditional" 1e practice of awarding xp for treasure.  As a young lad, I rarely played in or refereed campaigns where that happened -- I was enculturated to think that xp should be awarded for killing / outwitting monsters and for successes in game play including the dreaded "good role-playing" reward.  But given that it looks like I will have a large group of players (7-8!), and given that I really want to get familiar with the old-school methods as they were originally intended, I think awarding xp for treasure (as delineated in LL p. 49) is going to work best.  So here are my Revised Arandish Campaign House Rules:

Generating Attributes
Attribute scores are generated by rolling 4d6 and discarding the lowest die roll. The player then orders them in any way s/he chooses. 

The following list of the six available Arandish alignments is originally borrowed from here, and is also posted here.  (Please also note this succinct breakdown of the meaning of alignment terminology and a follow-up post for first-edition gamers by James Raggi.) 

Chaotic: Inimical to civilization and possibly reality itself – the alignment of demons, Faerie, and the insane.

Neutral: Apathetic and/or unconcerned with the battle between cosmic forces.

Neutral (Balance): The philosophical stance that a balance between Chaos and Law is necessary for the well-being of the cosmos.

Lawful (Good): The philosophical stance that civilization exists to foster the common good.

Lawful: The philosophical stance that civilization, regardless of how it is organized, is preferable to other alternatives.

Lawful (Evil): The philosophical stance that civilization exists to allow the strong to lord it over the weak.

The "Five Things the Character Knows" Rule
Horked from Ken at the Rusty Battle Axe, this great rule (or some modification thereof) will likely be deployed during character generation / our first session.

Critical Hits and Fumbles
Any time a player rolls a natural ‘20’ on a to hit roll, it is a critical hit. Damage is doubled.
Likewise, if a player rolls a natural ‘1’ on a to hit roll, it is considered a critical failure or fumble. Typically, this means the combatant hurts himself, drops his weapon, breaks his weapon, or just plain falls down – GM discretion.

The optional encumbrance system in the Labyrinth Lord rulebook (p. 44) will be ignored; if how much a character is carrying becomes an issue, it will be dealt with intuitively.

Except in special circumstances, NO individual initiative is rolled (see LL p. 52), just initiative for each group, rolled on 1d20 (not 1d6) once per combat encounter, NOT once per round as per LL p. 50 – that is too much die rolling for me!

Item Saving Throws
YES, see LL p. 55.

Ability Checks
YES, see LL p. 55.

I prefer high-powered monsters with little fear, so I am leery of morale checks for any but the weakest or most disorganized Arandish monsters.  But since so many old-school RPGers I respect seem to favor morale checks in D&D combat, I may use this rule some in the early phases of my campaign to see how it goes, particularly if the combat circumstances warrant it (see LL p. 56). 

Multiple Chances to Detect Secret Doors
As James Raggi IV has recently written:

Apparently the Moldvay Basic and Labyrinth Lord state that a character gets only one try to find a secret door, and if that fails, pffft, tough shit! I have never played like that, and as I said was never aware that such a rule existed.

Doublechecking yesterday morning to make sure I haven't been playing wrong for a quarter of a century, I did confirm that OD&D, Holmes Basic, Mentzer Basic, AD&D, OSRIC, and Swords & Wizardry do not have this "one try only" language in the rules for secret doors.

I'm truly flabbergasted that a game that so features exploration as a primary activity would have such a limitation. To me, secret doors are time sinks, and if a party wants to take the time to make an extra check (or five) at the cost of a turn each, running down their light sources and risking wandering monsters, that's great!

I agree with Mr. Raggi and hereby waive the "one try only" rule as printed in LL.

Shields Shall Be Splintered! 
This brilliant set of concepts originates with Trollsmyth, but I like this nice encapsulation by David at The RPG Corner, from whom I horked many of the best of my own house rules.  Here's the rule:

Shields provide the usual +1 bonus to AC. However, they may also be used to "soak" damage from a single attack, thereby reducing damage to zero. Soaking damage destroys the shield.

Shields may also be used against any attack that allows a save for half damage, such as a fireball or dragon's breath. In that case, the shield is destroyed, as above, and the save is considered automatically successful, thereby guaranteeing half damage.

For magical shields, each +1 enchantment bonus gives a 10% chance of surviving a damage soak.

The D30 Rule
Once per session each player may opt to roll the referee’s d30 in lieu of whatever die or dice the situation normally calls for. The choice to roll the d30 must be made before any actual rolling has occurred. The d30 cannot be rolled for generating character statistics or hit points.

Awarding Experience Points
Experience points are gained from two sources, treasure and monsters. Characters only gain XP from treasure of a non-magical nature, at a rate of 1 XP per 1 gp value of the item.  As James Raggi has discussed, this only counts treasure/money gained during adventuring, NOT from opening a profitable inn or becoming a ruler and taxing one's subjects. All defeated monsters (either outsmarted or killed), grant XP based on how powerful they are (see LL p. 49).

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Lands of Ara - West Coast Cities

Particularly since I am starting my players off in the northwestern Noffellian town of Swampsedge, which offers swamp barge access to points further west into and beyond the Great Western Swamp, it feels high time to say a few words about the four major settlements that lie along Ara's west coast.

Note that those who set off via barge from Swampsedge will typically travel through Marsh Town before reaching the west coast.

Here are brief descriptions of the four Arandish West coast cities, proceeding from north to south:

Al-nurna is a very large (pop. 16,000) elven city, ruled by an Aldorian prince.  Humans (except those few who serve on rodian crews) have never seen this port city, for the coastal Aldorians will not do business with humans nor do they welcome human visitors.  But seafaring Suhlian rodians have traded with the elves for some time, though most rodian captains are wary of their elven clients and do not typically form friendships with them.  I have never had an adventure party visit Al-nurna so I know little else about it.

New Port
New Port, today a large (pop. 12,500) and thriving trading port, originated as a rodian settlement and is still governed entirely by rodians.  In fact, New Port is called by some "New Suhl."  However, all are treated fairly by the rodian government and militia here, and inter-racial and inter-national trade is widely encouraged. Members of the various branches of the Karibekian family are (in some cases prominent) citizens here, and Captain Hokka is known to bring the Sea Scorpion to New Port with some regularity.  As previously mentioned, another rodian family, the Borasukians, have a respectable cargo transport operation in New Port. 

Bay Town
Bay Town is a medium sized (pop. 8,000) town founded and maintained by affluent human nobles from the inland Arandish kingdoms.  It is a popular trading port for those dealing in expensive or rare goods, for the specialty markets of Bay Town are legendary up and down the west coast and in all the major cities of Ara.  Bay Town's local ruling council retains a formidable militia (commanded by and largely made up of retired Noffellian soldiers) that successfully keeps piracy and black marketeering largely at bay, or at least out of the public eye.  Bay Town is undoubtedly the most cosmopolitan west coast city, and most small-scale and/or law-bending sea captains are loathe to put in here, due to strict inspection laws and exorbitant harbor fees.  

New Bay Town
New Bay Town is a small (pop. 3,500) yet seedy hive of scum and villainy, with lots of untrammeled coastal piracy nearby as well.  In fact, many locals call New Bay Town "Black Market City" because of the high volume of illegal materials that come through here from Marsh Town and elsewhere.  There is also a growing contingent of legitimate merchants and idealistic settlers who attempt to maintain law and order in New Bay Town despite the fact that they are always getting raped and robbed.  As you can see, this is a town ripe for adventure!