Wednesday, June 4, 2014

TESC: Closer look at the Ceraan Sea Region


Government(s): City-states with factional influences
The desolate deserts of Aztakh are no paradise, but a paradise of the mind can be found, if one looks hard enough and has the coin.  Aztakh was the Empire's foremost supplier of mind altering goods, including sitmulants like coffee and various psychedelic drugs.  Though it was once one of the largest territories by square mile, the true civilization in the region is quite small.  It is confined to a series of villages and cities near the Sea coast and edge of the Sunken Sea.  Legends speak of former dwellings deep in the desert, holding treasures and relics of great value but few are willing to enter the dangerous landscape.  Aztakh no longer has a central governing body, having collapsed back into various city-states.  Organizations such as the Dervishs of Selarh and the Momoti Priesthood do hold a tremendous amount of influence across the numerous states.  A number of religious leaders have advocated a unification and aggressive expansion of Aztakh culture, but so far such movements have not gained enough ground to be feasible.

Adjective: Aztakhan
Demonym: Aztakhans
Exported Trade Goods: Spices, Salt, Coffee, Drugs, Dyes


Government(s): Council of Slavers
Description: With a basin fed by the Boli River the region of Baboli is a welcome reprieve from the harshness of the Southern Ceraan Sea deserts.  The fertile lands around the river support a large grain trade, so much that many of the largest cities in the Ceraan Sea region would starve without Babolian wheat.  In order to harvest the foodstuffs there is a large slave trade in place, and though slavery is harsh in every region it exists, it is considered the worst in Baboli.  Legions of slaves of bred to work the fields, and those not fit to do so are often sold as slave servants wherever they can be sold.  Two distince ethnic groups of humans exist, the very dark skinned Manoi whose ancestors migrated from the far South and the lighter skinned Bolowi.  The two cultures live in relative harmony though there is a sentiment of disdain for some Manoi, who are seen as unwanted immigrants by the most conservative Bolowi.  Baboli has seen difficulty in recent years from the growing number of monstrous humanoid tribes taking deathly vengeance on the Babolians for the years of slavery experienced currently and in the past.  Baboli is ruled over by a council of slavers, who enforce and forge the laws of the land.  The constant goal of this council is to bring in more gold.
Adjective: Babolian
Demonym: Babolians
Exported Trade Goods: Grain, Salt, Spices, Linen, Slaves, Dyes


Government(s): Feudalism with Hereditary Monarchy
Description: A land of noble lords and ladies, Berneesia is now a sovereign kingdom head by King Machel IV after the coronation of the Imperial overseer many decades ago.  A feudal society with various lords ruling over several areas keeps the hierarchy of rule maintained.  Fertile lands for grapes, olives, and livestock keeps the people fed and complacent and the mines provide riches for the landowners.  Since there are few iron veins in the region, well smithed armaments are for the use of noble families as they are the only ones who can afford them.  Monstrous threats from the far North threaten normal lives of people and the wheels-within-wheels plotting of nobles seeking more power and the throne of Berneesia itself may bring the entire nation to war one day.  That day may come sooner than even the wise suspect, as more suspect forces are at play in the royal courts.  The concerns of landed nobles, claims, rights, and maintaining the realm has kept Berneesia from taking a more active role in the larger political stage of the Ceraan Sea region.
Adjective: Berneesian
Demonym: Berneesians
Exported Trade Goods: Gold, Silver, Copper, Tin, Livestock, Wine, Oils


Government(s): City-state regions
Description: It is said that every ship in the old Imperial Navy was built on the dry-docks of Galacia.  Shipbuilding is not only a profession in Galacia, it is a point of pride.  The best shipwrights in the known world work in the busy cities of this territory.  Like Sopojham, Galacia is in a prime location for trade and has a definite advantage in projecting naval supremacy.  The political entities of Galacia are a loose confederation of city regions.  Galacia's different culture groups are based on the major city region a person hails from.  There is no sense of national unity except to protect Galacia from external threats.  As a result, competing cities often sabotage one another's trading opportunities.  For foreigners, seeing a Galacian ship on the sea could mean anything.  If trade markets are stable, one may find a helpful ally, if Galacia's trade prospects are in peril, the ally may quickly become a pirate looking to seize cargo.
Adjective: Galacian
Demonym: Galacians
Exported Trade Goods: Ships, Pottery, Textiles, Wine, Silver


Government(s): City-states with factional influences
Description: Once the Ceraan Sea's greatest home of magical research and magical arts, the region today is a shadow of its former glory.  Once, the land was dotted with various magical academies and facilities.  Magical artifacts of many kinds were produced and improved here.  With the greatest concentration of power magic-users in the Ceraan Sea region, it posed one of the greatest threats to the growing Empire.  During the Supremacy Wars, Feltharos engaged in wizardly warfare of degrees never seen before.  The lights of the destructive magic would be seen from Salemha and Chaktau.  In the end, the coalition of Janpouri sorcerers failed and where many magical establishments once existed there was now the Sunken Sea.  What started as a salt water body created by Ceraan Sea water falling into a crater has now become a fresh water sea, thanks to the actions of a few remaining magic-users sworn to Emperor.  Most life in Janpoura now centers on the resources of the Sunken Sea, reliant on the not-forgotten creation of papyrus scrolls and beautiful glassware to stay relavent in trade.  Many magic-users come to Janpoura to find old magical artifacts from the days of old or attempt to rekindle the academic golden age.  There is no single governing body but the rivaling up-start magical schools.
Adjective: Janpouri
Demonym: Janpouri
Exported Trade Goods: Spices, Papayrus, Magical Artifacts, Glassware

Imperial Province

Government(s): Military Dictatorship with Emperor-in-Name
Description: The Imperial Province was once considered to be overseen by the God-Emperor himself but this task was routinely delegated to a Vizier.  These lands included the Chaktau Peninsula on which the Capital was built, the surrounding lands, and several islands in the Ceraan Sea which served as remote Naval fortresses.  The location for the Imperial Province was chosen due to its central location in the larger region, and was relatively easy to bend to the will of Feltharos.  The most tributes and monuments dedicated to the missing God-Emperor can be found in this region.  Since the Empire crumbled, the importance of this territory has drastically fallen.  No longer is it the major importer it once was as the hub of an empire, but the populous manages a living.  The importance of the Capital and the Spire still holds strong in many people's eyes.  Holding these lands can give an air of legitimacy to any would-be Emperor.  A man named Kroknell believed this, and with his private army conquered most of the Imperial Province.  He has installed himself in the Spire and named himself Emperor.  Though the other territories have largely ignored his proclamation, Kroknell's power is slowly growing.  Citizens of Vornlend, Rivlend, and Mayagar all whisper worries of a possible invasion.  When or if Kroknell will strike these lands are anyone's guess.
Adjective: (Officially) Imperial, (Natively) Chaktauan, (Foreign) Feltharon
Demonym: (Officially) Imperials, (Natively) Chaktauans, (Foreign) Feltharons
Exported Trade Goods: No major exports, primarily a destination of imports.


Government(s): City-states and several warlord fiefs
Description: The territory of Mayagar is named for the cultures that exist there.  The Mayarn, a culture of Dwarves, has inhabited the mountains longer than history can count and the Agras, a culture of humans, are descendants of migrate nomads from the Southwest that settle in the open fields and forsted in Southern Mayagar.  Rich in natural resources, Mayagar is a relatively self sufficent land.  The Mayarn and Agras work together, the dwarves in the mines and the humans tending livestock and lumberjacking.  A large part of Mayagar is currently under the yoke of a warlord named Danawer, who has been utilizing mounted archers and cavalry to quickly subjugate cities and towns.  Various dwarven clans have opposed Danawer but an equal amount has forged a non-aggressive trade agreement.  The territory is on the cusp of all out warfare in the human lands, as opposing warlords and more altruistic alliances hope to stifle Danawer's expansion.  All the while, creatures deep in the mountains stir and awaken to bring even more turmoil to the region.  
Adjective: Mayagan
Demonym: Mayagars
Exported Trade Goods: Horses, Livestock, Silver, Iron, Copper, Tin, Timber


Government(s): City-states with several Oligarchies/Theocracies
Description: Over half of the varied religions of the Ceraan Sea region originate in the wasteland of Salemha.  Whether by the slow branching evolution of a few religions or perhaps a godly convergance zone, many religious individuals see Salemha has a sacred land.  Many clerics make pilgrimages here annually to pay respects to the numerous religious landmarks.  Holy artifacts are known to be found here, though the relgious order they 'should' belong to may look down upon the sacrilege of looting.  Many religious orders' headquarters exist in this land, but the more militant ones find themselves in sectarian wars often.  Some believe the reason why the land is so barren is that the soil has been soaked in the blood of innocent believers of differing religions.  During the Empire's reign, all religions were made second to the Imperial worship, and when the God-Emperor vanished Salemha was one of the first territories to break free of the Imperial yoke.  The vast wastelands further west are home to nomadic tribes that periodically muster the courage to raid the zealous citizens.    
Adjective: Salemhan
Demonym: Salemhans
Exported Trade Goods: Olives and Oils, Religious Artifacts, Horses


Government(s): Elective (and Hereditary) Monarchy with Raja
Description: An area benefiting from one of the few fertile lands strips of the Southern Ceraan Sea region, the land of Sopojham is a rich trading land welcoming of most foreigners.  After the fall of the Empire Sopojham managed to remain a consolidated state, ruled over by a Raja descended from the old overseer. Access to the sea and the Endless Ocean enables Sopojhami traders to sail far and wide, including the jungles far south of the Ceraan Sea.  The threats to Sopojhami power come from the pirates that sail the Endless Ocean, trade disputs with Galacia, and the raiding mountain barbarians from the Ganden Mountain Range to the west.  The Rajas of Sopojham do not tend to last long before assassination.  The various political and religious factions are in constant shadow wars with one another, though done best to avoid disrupting trade.  Today the current Raja is Vanyaravvar ul Haz, but in fear for his own life, spends his days hiding away on the Palace Island off the east coast.  In practice, his sister Ranvanarra ul Haz is the true governing figure of the Rajadom.  Sopojham retains are strong slave trade, both monstrous humanoid or otherwise.   
Adjective: Sopojhami
Demonym: Sopojhamis
Exported Trade Goods: Silk, Cloth, Ivory, Precious Stones, Spices, Slaves


Government(s): City-states and Elvish domains
Description: The numerous rivers located here give the territory its name.  Like Vornlend, it is a land of humans, dwarves, and elves.  Originally it was primarily an Elven land, until during the Suprmeacy Wars split factions of Elves tore themselves asunder.  Humans have largely made up the difference since then, and the remaining Elves resent every human born in 'their lands'.  The Elves are currently split between two groups, the Telena, whom chose to fight against Feltharos centuries past, and the Seltana, whom sided with Feltharos in an effort to save their homeland.  Due to the wars, many Telenan homesteads were destroyed leaving the Telena transient and suffering from the population loss of the war.  The Seltana have retained their holdings, even after the Empire faded.  Many of the Elves who fought in the conflict are still alive today, so an unspoken hatred exists between the two elvish factions.  Both oppose the expanding human realms but are too divided to stop the rapid growth of human cities and towns.  Other than the loose Elvish polities, there are no other large governing bodies.  Ambitious humans have had ideas of forging new kingdoms here, but none have been successful so far.  Far more than elves lurk the forests and fields of Rivlend.   
Adjective: (Officially/Foreign) Rivlender, (Natively) Rivvish
Demonym: (Officially/Foreign) Rivlenders, (Natively) Rivvish
Exported Trade Goods: Horses, Tin, Honey, Timber, Beer, Preserved Meats, Furs, Finely Crafted Armaments


Government(s): City-states and Elective Jarldoms
Description: A land of tall mountains, dark forests, and deep lakes, Vornlend is a territory with just as much potential for greatness as it does horror.  Home to the hardy human Vornlenders (or Vornish as they prefer) and several groups of dwarves and elves, Vornlend is ripe with resources.  Mining, trapping for durs, and logging are all common jobs for a citizen.  The smiths, no matter the race, craft the sharpest, most durable weapons in the Ceraan Sea region.  A Vornish steel blade has no peer except those enchanted with magic, and such a blade with magic infused in it is truly a weapon to behold.  Following the vanishing of the God-Emperor, a coalition of humans, dwarves, and elves rebelled against their overseer and invaded the Imperial Province through mountain passages, soundly defeating a number of disorganized Imperial troops.  After solidifying their independence, the mountain passages were sealed, and the coalition dispersed.  Today, petty jarldoms are the largest polities in Vornlend.  The different races are happy to seclude themselves from each other but cooperation and acceptance are not out of the ordinary.  This is perhaps to the advantage of the other regions of the Ceraan Sea.  Should Vornlend ever truly unite, they would have a tremendous weapon and armor advantage over any adversary, and would be able to forge some new empire in the old's place.  Some of the Jarls in the region are looking to expand their holdings but there are no major campaigns in motion.  The forests and mountains throughout the land contain dangers enough to contend with.  
Adjective: (Officially/Foreign) Vornlender, (Natively) Vornish
Demonym: (Officially/Foreign) Vornlenders, (Natively) Vornish
Exported Trade Goods: Gold, Silver, Iron, Timber, Furs, Finely Crafted Armament

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

TESC: Campaign Overview - The Ceraan Sea

The Ceraan Sea

For centuries the waters of the Ceraan Sea were home to a multitude of various cultures, religions, and races.  These civilizations were merely beacons of light in a  world of darkness, however.  The threat of Chaos loomed on the horizon every day.  Barbarians, monstrous creatures, and evil far more foul haunted the lives of the Ceraan Sea.  During these years city-states existed across the land, all vying to increase their sphere of influence.  The only true and certain thing in life was that change was inevitable.  Lands exchanged hands.  Dragons burned villages.  Life was cruel, short, and precious.

A little over five hundred years ago a sorcerer named Feltharos sparked the series of conflicts known to history as the Supremacy Wars.  For one hundred years battles were waged.  What was once a small army led by Feltharos's dark magic soon turned into legions of evil.  One by one, the city-states were defeated and subjugated.  Their fallen raised once more as undead to further support the sorcerer's army.  Some states capitulated rather than be purged, willingly joining Feltharos's armies.  Nations of Elves and Dwarves would experience civil wars over whom they should side with.  Alliances were formed to pool strength to stop the dark wizard but they all failed.  

The Region of the Ceraan Sea eventually became united under the Empire of Feltharos.  The gods of the people took second importance to the worship of the God-Emperor.  Languages and currencies were standardized.  A common tongue and standard of precious metals were instituted.  The various regions of the Empire were divided into eleven Imperial Territories, governed by an Imperial Overseer.  The oppression of the Empire impacted every creature in the region.  Men and women were drafted into service for the Army and Navy.  Weapons and armor were restricted from the commonfolk.  Humanoid creatures were enslaved, their cultural identities stripped.  The elves and dwarves whom sided with Feltharos during the Supremacy Wars were given opportunities to serve the Empire and keep their homelands relatively unharmed.  Magical teachings and research became heavily controlled by the Empire, no hedge wizard would suffer the will of the God-Emperor.  Dragons and other monsters were hunted and driven back into the dark places of the world.

Feltharos built a grand dark spire on the Peninsula of Chaktau and a grand Imperial capital grew around it.  It's central position in Empire meant both the Army and Navy could project its power equally across the realm. 

For all of the darkness Feltharos brought to the Ceraan Sea, he did bring a measure of Law.  Where once peoples suffered the Chaos of the darkness beyond their city walls, the strong arm of the Law of the Empire kept the other forms of darkness at bay.  For three hundred years the Empire would hold dominion over the Ceraan Sea.  Feltharos was the unifying force in land, but this was not to be for eternity.

A little over one hundred years ago, a fellowship of fifteen heroes, tired of the oppression of the Empire, staged an assault on the dark spire in the capital.  Their goal was to cut the head off of the beast so the body would fail.  It is unknown how the fellowship faired, truly.  After the assault eleven bodies of the fifteen heroes were found in the halls of the spire, fallen in battle.  What IS known, is that at the end of the conflict, the remaining four heroes and the God-Emperor Feltharos were nowhere to be found.  The servants of the dark sorcerer could no longer hear the commands of their lord in their minds.  Many magics held in place by Feltharos failed.  The spire burned and spit flames, many parts collapsing on itself.  Whatever had happened, the Empire shook.

When it became evident the God-Emperor no longer held power, the Overseers of the Imperial Territories began warring amongst each other to claim the Imperial throne.  The conflicts have been raging for over three generations now.  Many territories have collapsed back into city-states.  Others are now ruled as independent Kingdoms of the old Overseers.  Some regions have attempted to exert power over the capital in order to proclaim their leader Emperor.  Today, an Emperor named Kroknell takes residence in the abandoned spire of Feltharos, but Kroknell's power only reaches a few dozens of miles out from the city walls of the old capital.  The civilization and Law of the old Empire, for better or worse, has vanished, destroyed through constant warring and the encroachment of darker evils at the borderlands of the known world.  The monstrous humanoids break free their bonds of enslavement, now practicing their own form of slavery on any creature weaker than themselves.  Slowly, sleeping dragons wake.  Greedy and power-hungry warlords feast upon the weakened world.  Old imperial ruins fester with old relics and treasures once lost.  Your adventures await.         

Commentary: Bill Webb's Book of Dirty Tricks Houserules

So while I just did a write-up for my houserules in an potentially upcoming campaign, I figured it might be a good idea to do some commentary on a recently released product from Frog God Games, since a chunk of it has to do with houserules!

So as the result of some kickstarters and FGG's ongoing work for the Pathfinder RPG and Swords & Wizardry they release Bill Webb's Book of Dirty Tricks.  I must say Bill Webb's illustration on the front cover is a little scary! :)

Bill is a great guy, I've met him a number of times now thanks to PaizoCon.  He has done a lot of great work as head of FGG and supporting old school gaming in a mainstream sort of way.  The book of dirty tricks includes tons of tips (and tricks obviously) for running a RPG in the 'old way'.  There are tons of devious things a DM/referee could use to spice up some dungeon crawls.  The little booklet is valuable for all of this alone.  What I want to write about today are Bill's houserules that he has graciously included in the booklet.  I don't want to 'review' it because I feel like it's a little too subjective.  I want this to instead be commentary on the houserules and talk about why I like some ideas vs others and why someone might want to use them.  I've broken down the commentary by section.  Anyway, enjoy. :)

Experience Points

Bill goes the typical route I think most OSR players are familiar.  It's not just a matter of killing monsters, you ideally want the treasure more than anything.  Any arguments about gold = xp aside, this is pretty standard.  What Bill does that not everyone does is make it so XP is gained by spending gold.  There is a sort of common sense to it I suppose.  I think it matters on the type of campaign.  In Bill's games I assume the characters are always going dungeon-crawling.  What's the use of 100k in gold but to spend on frivolously?  Other types of campaigns however, may have the players wish to use it on building a stronghold or otherwise.  That sort of thing isn't ruled out in Bill's explanation but the focus seems to spend it on "wine, women, and song".  Bill is pretty stingy on monster XP though.  Killing even strong monsters results in paltry XP.  Even the base values for S&W are pretty low to begin with, so we're really only comparing pennies to nickels in the view of the huge XP requirements for leveling.  It takes the old school mentality of "takes forever to level" a little bit more heavily.  I'm not sure if this is a good thing but it's certainly a valid style.

Attributes and Bonuses

This section isn't terribly surprising if you are familiar with the Whitebox version of Swords & Wizardry.  In fact, a lot of Bill's houserules seems derived from the Whitebox rules, which really means it's derived from the original three booklets of OD&D.  It is nice though, keeping the bonuses restricted to a +1 or -1.  It does take the 'fun' out of getting lucky with an 18 in strength, but overall S&W favors player skill over character ability, so it's not a big deal.  I'm already used to S&W Complete so I don't see myself using this, unless I was going strictly Whitebox S&W anyway.  I suppose I just prefer degrees of 'better'.

Table Dice Rolls

This one is short and sweet.  Do you roll in front of the players or not?  It's a tough one.  I surely admire the practice.  It makes things more transparent, and the DM certainly feels more like a 'referee' in this case.  Bill points out its more often that a DM 'cheat's in favor of a player than otherwise.  I agree completely.  I've don't this more often than I'd like to admit.  I don't like ruining fun with player death, but that is a very new school mentality to get over.  I saw do this if you can be brave enough and the players understand this.  There is no safety net, play carefully.

Damage Rolls and the Value of Magic Weapons

Here is another OD&D(Whitebox)-ism.  Using d6 for all weapon damage.  I do like it, though I don't use it myself.  My players are too used to the varied weapon dice to change.  I agree, 6 damage is enough to kill someone.  The only real issue I have is that a dagger isn't nearly as dangerous a weapon to say, a dragon or storm giant, as a sword would be.  That isn't reflected well.  I have a feeling my thought process is similar to what spawned the weapon vs size table from (I think it was) AD&D and the first instance of varied weapon dice.  Still, if I were running Whitebox Bill's specific listings in this section would be apt.  I do like giving magic weapon bonuses to attack rolls AND damage.  I thought it was always this way, so go figure that.  I don't use double damage on criticals in S&W either, so I'm with Bill on that one.  

Hit Points vs Rolls to Hit

Bill is right to say this one gets the most controversy.  I gotta say I'm still wrapping my head around it.  I disagree that getting more hit points and better attack bonuses is "double-dipping".  Double-dipping what?  If we think leveling up means a character is more resilient, can't that also mean they are better at fighting?  I can see the merit in this though.  Having static attack bonuses that don't increase except through magic gives another level of 'grit' to the game and levels the playing field a bit.  It does favor thieves' backstab as Bill says but I feel it stifles the Fighter a bit by only giving a very marginal fighting advantage.  "It's still tough to bust through plate armor even with 70 hp", except that some monsters' attacks may be better than others.  A dragon claw is surely more dangerous than a mace.  A dragon is much more likely to pierce through that armor than the mace right?  I've tried a few mock-battles, but I don't think I've done enough to see how much it impacts the game.  Bill does allude to it making fights a little longer.  I suppose if you were righting something with a -1 AC (meaning an 18 or better for a fighter) you only ever have a 15% chance to hit it each round and you are still whittling away at a large amount of HP assuming you are only doing on average 8 points of damage.  I'd be afraid of the quick back-and-forth swing-and-miss rounds just to resolve combat.  Anyway, I may need to test it more, but I don't figure I'll adopt this in my game unless for a special occasion.  

Travel and Getting Lost

Pretty straight forward stuff.  Similar to any other 'traveling' rules you may find in another RPG book.  I suppose if you didn't already have a favorite you could use this just fine.

Food and Water

Pretty straight forward stuff here too.  I don't know how much it is needed if you follow existing rules (and ration weights).  It does seem a little more strict on keeping track, which would be useful in making the game more realistic.  I'd just be afraid of slowing the game down.  I think I'll tentatively use it in my next campaign... we'll see.

Surprise, Initiative and Melee Order, and Spellcasting in Combat

Nothing really new here that isn't already described in S&W rules.  Might be interesting for a Pathfinder group.

Hit points, Death and Dying.

First level max HP, kind of a no-brainer for practicality's sake.  No one wants a fighter with 1HP.  Bill seems pretty generous with raise dead possibilities which may or may not match your campaign assumptions.  His way of dealing with when a character dies with negative HP makes sense.  I may use it but it seems everyone has their own little variation.  I sometimes prefer that a character dies when he has negative HP equal to his CON score or half of it.  Character with 18 CON dies at -18 for instance, or -9.

Doing Things Rather than Rolling Dice

This final topic is huge and I support it 100%.  I think most OSR games support this.  It a damn shame games like Pathfinder/3.5/4E threw this out the window.  I do like that Bill describes how in the 70s he let thieves into his game by letting the thief automatically detect there was a trap, but they still had to describe dealing with it.  I may include that in my game, and leave the disarm trap skill check to be for things a player can't help.  The player may say they are using a thieves' tool to do something inside of a mechanism but to be sure they don't accidentally hit something (like the game Operation) we need a skill check roll.  I do enjoy the tables Bill has provided, showing a great number of door mechanisms to use for secret doors and the like.   Will definitely be making use of this.

Overall, like most houserules people talk about, it comes down to taste.  Some of what Bill does is great and I want to incorporate.  Other stuff just bounces off the backboard.  It's always good to check out other folks' houserules though.  It can often spark your own ideas on how to do things.  Again, the houserules are just a part of what is in the book of Dirty Tricks.  There is plenty of useful advice and resources included that I'll probably keep my copy close at hand while running TESC

TESC Houserules

So it's been a little over a month since my last post.  Real life happens I guess.  Had some life stuff to deal with.  My girlfriend's father passed away unexpectedly, went to a friend's wedding, work things.  I have been able to think a little bit more about my proposed The Episodic Sandbox Campaign.

One thing for sure is that TESC is going to have some houserules.  And nearly everyone is going to be inspired by or lifted from Adventurer Conqueror King.  I just love that rules system.  A lot of modern 'enlightened' rules are in there and I took the best ones to be imported into Swords & Wizardry.  I didn't choose them because they facilitated TESC any better, but because they are just neat ways to make S&W a little more interesting.

Anyone familiar with ACKS will recognize these but here they are:

  • Fighters do additional bonus damage based on level, that stacks with strength bonuses.  This is taken from the ACKS fighter table.
  • Fighter (and ONLY fighters) get cleaving.  This is again per ACKS, but comes down to killing an enemy means an extra free attack, going up to the fighter's level.  The fighter may take 5 foot steps between attacks up to their movement rate unused in their turn. 
I make those changes to give fighters a buff.  They need it.  They can become truly awesome killing machines this way.  I didn't want to give it to any other class like ACKS does because Paladins, Assassins, Rangers, etc. all have other good stuff going for them.  Monster are not getting cleave, as they usually get multiple attacks anyway.

  • Thieves use the skill chart taken from ACKS instead of S&W Complete.
  • Assassins similarly use the skill chart taken from ACKS but now get move silently, hide in shadows, and backstab at the same level as Thieves instead of two levels behind.  To be more clear, Assassins ONLY get move silently, hide in shadows, and backstab from the Thief class.  Other skills are not included.  They do retain their expertise in poisons.  
I want this because rolling a d20 for skills is easier than the different scales in S&W.  I also buffed Assassin skills because in S&W behind 2 levels behind never sat well with me.  They don't get the other skill monkey abilities, but stay good at what they are supposed to be good at.

  • Clerics and Magic-Users now have repertoires, as per ACKS.  Quick summary is that a spellcaster can cast any spell in their repertoire up to their spells per day.  They don't need to memorize each spell for the day.  They can choose like a sorcerer would in 3rd edition of D&D.  A Cleric has all spells in his repertoire the DM decides (default spell list).  A magic-user's repertoire is equal to his spells per day plus extra based on high intelligence.  A spellbook can contain many more spells than a repertoire can have, but if a spellcaster wants to put in a new spell, money and time is required.   
Vancian magic is sort of funky.  Always has been.  ACKS found a good compromise, so I'm using repertoires to make spellcasters less OCD about spell selection.  I absolutely love ACKS's flavor explanation about why a spellcaster can only have so many spells in his repertoire.  I recommend reading it!

  • On character generation, instead of wealth and initial spell selection, the class templates from the ACKS Player Companion will be used.
This one may or may not work out.  It's still fundamentally rolling 3d6 for wealth, but it's taking away the options of the player in favor of a more flavor-driven gear-set.  I think they are neat so we'll see how it goes.

  •  Mortal wounds and tampering with mortality charts from ACKS to be used
Another one of those 'neat' things from ACKS.  When you are brought to 0 hit points or incapacitated in combat the mortal wounds chart is consulted to determine how bad you really got it.  Lots of cool results here.  Tampering with mortality is the result of raise dead and resurrection spells.  Also fun stuff.


Now I think that may be it.  The campaign isn't near happening so I can change this if I need.  It's very much a "peanut butter in my chocolate" set up, but ACKS does so many things right.   You might say, "why not just use ACKS?"  Well, trying to have my players learn yet another system would be annoying I'm sure.  They have the PDF or print version of S&W so giving them some houserules is a lot easier than having them buy new rulebooks and relearn some things based on the mechanics of ACKS.  I don't need the proficiency system or any other frills.  I'm just taking what I think is the best of the best and grafting it onto my S&W.

Anyway, if any of my players read this, I'll have a single page handout with all the applicable rules for you.  Should be good stuff. :)

Friday, April 25, 2014

GAGP's Solution: The Episodic Sandbox Part 3

Continued from Part 2

The Episodic Sandbox Campaign (which I may refer to as TESC for my personal campaign when I run it) relies on the shorter independent adventures for ease of drop-in-drop-out of players and on the evolving sandbox to retain player agency and a feeling of a living changing world.  The last important piece of the puzzle is allowing for player flexibility.

Going back to player attendance, there is always the chance that the only guy playing a Cleric can't make it.  Who wants to go dungeon delving without turning or healing right?  To deal with this, I will allow players to have more than one character.  I'm not quite sure what the limit might be, but there would be a restriction that a player can only take ONE of their characters on an adventure at a time, except in maybe dire circumstances.  There are pros and cons here.  If Phil plays 4 different characters and changes them up, he will take longer to have a higher level character than someone who focuses on a singular character.  The option does allow for players to try out different classes, so they don't get bored of always being the Fighter, for instance.  This also allows for newer players to fit into a group.  If Kim joins the group and starts with a level 1 magic-user (and needs time to get used to that class's capabilities and how to play in general), the other players can use their lower level characters and go on less dangerous adventures.  This means the group can bounce between high-level giant lair jaunts, and the more classic, low-level goblin slaying as needed.  This may also create interesting scenarios.  A particular dungeon may call for a magic-user to open a door.  The party that day didn't  have it's magic-user.  The party could go back and get him/her.  That magic-user may be much lower level, and now the adventure takes on a more "protect the VIP and get them to the important location safely" shade, than just dungeon clearing.

The goal here is flexibility.  I want the players to make decisions about their party composition.  This may not always need to be an important decision, but it could be interesting to have the players need to make the decision on whether or not to bring a Cleric to hunt the vampire, as the Cleric is a neophyte and may not last long.  The opposite coin being the stronger characters must contend with the vampire without divine assistance.

In addition to some extra house-ruling (like adding the cleaving mechanic from ACKS to Fighter abilities and ACKS's mortal wounds and tampering with mortality charts) one idea I am also toying with is restricting starting classes to Fighter, Thief, Cleric, and Magic-User.  More of the advanced classes like assassin, demi-human races, etc. can be "unlocked" by completing certain adventures that are presented.  This gives a feeling of progression for the overall gaming group.  In one adventure, the party may end up with a choice of supporting the Assassin's Guild and gaining an uncertain ally, instead of some other action of consequence.  After this adventure, the group has the option of creating assassin characters for the party.  They will start at level 1, so advancing these characters means taking time off their original character.  I may or may not be clear about which adventures might unlock more races/classes in the adventure hook descriptions, but if for instance Dave really wanted to be a ranger, I may specifically create and advertise that particular adventure to the group so they know it's there to tackle.

This means the longer the campaign goes, the more it grows, and the more options that players have.  If eventually they wish to create stongholds or keep new bases, I can support that as well.  Some high level characters may retire and become NPCs with occasional player control, while allowing them to continue playing their lower level characters.  If the sweet spot of DnD is level 3-7 or similar, there will always be an option to play in that sweet spot, while retaining the familiarity of the setting sandbox they have been developing with me.  In the mood for low-level, spring the trap and you're dead? Play your new level 1 assassin, ranger, bard, and druid.  Want to deal with expanding your strongholds?  Play your level 12 fighter, cleric, thief, and magic-user.  Or anything in between.

I think that does it for describing the solution to GAGP, or my planned implementation of it.  I may make additional posts if there are other things I feel I can expand upon.

Let me know what you think in the comments below!

GAGP's Solution: The Episodic Sandbox Part 2

Continued from Part 1

So the idea of an episodic sandbox is predicated on episodic adventures that can stand alone and be enjoyed by players in attendance, and those that can't make it that week won't feel like they are missing a big part of the story.  The setting and sandbox the players interact in SHOULD be familiar though.  When you are adventuring, certain elements should be familiar.  The town the players live in is the one that is attacked.  The same lonely mountain that the player's delved into for treasure may have a hidden bandit fortress somewhere on the other side.

Though the adventures are episodic, I want player agency to remain important like any other sandbox campaign.  If the players are unable to finally hunt down and kill that manticore, they may find a few friendly NPCs have gone missing at the start of the following game session.  If the bandit leader escapes death and flees his fortress, he may come after the players with assassins to get revenge.  Choices during the episodic adventures still matter.  The consequences of the player's actions will spawn new adventures down the road.  If the players discover and take over control of a borderlands fort, their adventures may include defending the supply lines to the fort, defend it from attackers, etc.  If the player's start acting more evil, they may have to contend not only with other villainous creatures, but also the forces of "good".

The next question is, how do player's get hooked into these adventures?  When we accept this type of campaign, we must give up notions of some save-the-world story.  Things are more local, gritty, and since we'll be playing swords & wizardry, deadly.  The player's will operate out of some sort of base.  To start, this will probably be the cliche'd tavern in town.  We can accept cliches because it facilitates the campaign style needed.  In typical fashion, the players will begin their adventures here but also end them.  At the end of each episodic session, they will return to the tavern to rest up, count treasure, etc.  When the characters in drinking ale, they will become privy to adventure hooks.  There may be a bulletin board with rumors, ads for 'heroes needed', etc.  May also include the occasional bursting in of a troubled NPC with an immediate problem.  This will be summarized to players by me describing what's new or current on the bulletin board, what they have heard around town, etc.  Either at the end of the session or via email between sessions, the players will vote on which lead interests them most.  This will allow me to make sure I have time to properly prepare.  The player's can then prioritize what they want to do.  Dave really wants to hunt down that hydra but can't make it next week.  The others decide to leave that trail alone for now and instead look to take down the slavers' operations down the river.  That hydra can wait for Dave, though it may ravage a few farms in the mean time.

I will be looking to craft a sandbox out of the steps shown in the ACKS rulebook, but I will allow for "Schrodinger's Dungeon".  That is, a particular adventure site may or may not exist until I need it.  Sure the player's have been to hex 1016 before, but the wizard's tower wasn't really "there" until I had an adventure set there.  Perhaps it was illusion'd.  No, the player's did not notice the cave in hex 2034 until they had the treasure map leading to it.  The large amount of square mileage available to me means the players will never truly explore every nook and cranny.  I can fill the sandbox as much as I want.  Goblin hordes move in from the north and set up new villages, earthquakes unveil new cave structures, etc.

So far I have explained facilitating adventures and making the sandboxes feel alive.  In the next post, I'll discuss how player flexibility will keep things interesting and allow for progression of the campaign over time.

GAGP's Solution: The Episodic Sandbox Part 1

In today's previous post I talked about the Great Adult Gaming Problem.  It is not a new problem by any means, but I think I have a solution that will work for my future campaigns and maybe it can help yours too.

First and foremost, I must give credit to Beyond the Black Gate, as most of the underlying concepts are taken from the blog author's series on episodic play.  You can read them here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

The essential bits to be taken from that post series, is that episodic play relies on bite-sized adventures that can be done in 3-4 hours and are relatively compartmentalized from each other.  Al, the author of Beyond the Black Gate, gives a short list of adventure types: Relics & Ruins, Tiny Dungeons, Monster Hunting, Megadungeons, and Random Generator Travel.  For my purposes, I ideally want to narrow this down to basically three types of adventures: Small dungeon delving, monster set pieces, and multi-terrain objective.

Small dungeon delving is essentially Al's Relics & Ruins and Tiny Dungeons categories combined.  These would be micro-dungeons with 5-10 rooms, able to be explored within a session.  They would probably include typical dungeon denizens inside, typical treasure, but the reason for being there is clear.  There is an artifact to be found, a bounty to be collected, a hostage to retrieve.  These areas need not be underground, but it is the idea of a multi-roomed structure to explore, possibly clear, with a goal in mind.

Monster Set Pieces are much like Al's monster hunting.  I don't like to use the word hunt because the situation could be that the players are reacting to monster attacks, not specifically hunting them.  The monsters serve as set pieces, wherever they are encountered.  An entire adventure is dedicated to a specific monster.  This monster is probably much stronger than the players, and thus each encounter will be dramatic.  For example, the town and country-side is being ravaged  by a roaming manticore.  The player's must find a way to eliminate the threat.  This will include tracking the creature, fending off the creature when it attacks the town, and possibly going after it's lair to neutralize it.  I've been looking at numerous monster books, thinking about which ones make great singular monsters for these types of adventures.  They should be monstrous, iconic, and be something that requires proper preparation by the PCs.  I fortunately have many monster books to use and select unique monsters from, especially ones the players have never encountered before (standard trolls are too easy!).  For old school rules (including Swords and Wizardry and OSRIC/1E) see: Monstrosities, Tome of Horrors Complete, Tome of Horrors 4, the Teratic Tome, and Monsters of Myth(free!).  Since OSRIC is so close to Swords & wizardry Complete, I will be able to use any of those monsters pretty easily in my S&W games.

Multi-terrain Objective adventures are the catch-all for anything else I can think of.  Perhaps it's an urban investigation, diplomatic role-playing story, hexcrawl of discovery, etc.  The idea here is that the player's should have a clear goal to accomplish, but it is neither a dungeon crawl or pure monster slaying.  Perhaps the characters must race to find the location of a lost city or temple.  This in turn might lead to further adventure possibilities.

Al does some great write-ups about these general ideas, so again I recommend reading his posts as well to get a deeper understanding of how to prepare these adventure types.  Supplements like the Tome of Adventure Design and the D30 Sandbox Companion provide tables and ideas for creating the episodic adventures.

Now, so far this has all been based Al's work, but here our my personal plans.  These individual episodic adventures are more like episodes of the X-Files rather than Game of Thrones.  There will be the one-offs, but also some possibilities of several of these episodic adventures be connected.  Like the X-Files' overall plot about government conspiracies, certain things will be recurring elements because they are parts of the sandbox world that exists around the characters.  More on this in the next blog post.