Sunday, April 22, 2018

The Three Crowns

Kord, half-orc fighter/cleric of Kord the god of strength, was seeking a means of advancing beyond the limit of cleric level 4 set for half-orcs. His god sent him a dream-quest: find the Black Crown of the Getae and make yourself their priest-king, and I will reward you with greater power.

Seeking out the aid of Axxl the Mask, one of the local sages in the Greyhame Game (and paying him a fair amount of gold for the sage's work and time), Kord is told something of the lore of the Three Crowns ... The short of it is:

The White Crown is hid in the Mouth of the River ...
the Black Crown is held by the Old Man Under-Mountain ...
and the Red Crown was lost, but has been seen again, on the brow of Veiteric, chief among the Getae ...

------

When the Brondings came down out of the north to seize their kingdom from the Chaotic princes and barbarians who had squabbled since time immemorial, Brond was at their head, and on his brow there shone the White Crown of the Brondings.

Brond it was who fell in love with a naiad queen on the banks of the Coldwater River, and it was there, later, that he was ambushed by the Getae under the falls. Rather than surrender his sword, he broke it against a rock, and was slain there; but the naiads took the sword at their queen's behest, and reforged it in secret, and gave it to Brond's son, Gram, for vengeance. And so the Brokenbrand Falls had got their name.

Roland blowing his horn Olifant at the battle of Roncevaux after failing
to break his unbreakable sword Durendal; but it may as well be Brond,
having broken his sword ...

Then the Brondings warred against the Getae of the forest and their Elfin masters; and they drove back the Elves to the eastern reaches of the Dwimmerholt, and overmastered the tribes of the Getae.

Ever had the Getae been led by two kings, the War-King and Priest-King; now the Brondings renewed that custom, but they gave to the Getae two crowns, the Red Crown for the War-King, and the Black Crown for the Priest-King, and the two crowns of the Getae were bound by powerful oaths and ancient magic so that those who wore them were sworn forever to serve the wearer of the White Crown (the rightful king of the Brondings).

For a time, then, there was peace in the land; and several generations knew war only as they went to seek it in foreign realms, for gold or for glory. ... But Chaos has a way of worming into the hearts of men, and corrupting the Order they have built when they think their cherished kingdoms are secure ...

So it was that the last of the Brondings, Durand-King, fell for and wedded a serpent in the guise of a woman, and her influence poisoned the realm. The tribe of Galad, scions of a knight who had served loyally under Brond and who were led now by his great-great grandson Aldanus, denounced the queen as a serpent; but Durand refused to listen, and he named the sons of Galad wolves and traitors to be hunted down. Armies were raised; the tower of the Galad tribe was reduced and taken, and the tribe was hunted down and destroyed root and branch.

But of old, the Galad tribe had been the keepers of the Crowns of the Getae, situated as they were between the Bronding kingdom and the forest realms of the Getae; and so they had their revenge. The Black Crown they secreted deep in the caverns below the Glimmervaults, entrusted to an elusive earth-spirit known only as the Old Man Under-Mountain. And with the Red Crown, the last surviving nephew of Aldanus, one Aldaric, raised the tribes of the Getae in rebellion against Durand-King.

So a great battle was fought in the depths of the Dwimmerholt--Aldaric Galad, nephew of Aldanus, wore the Red Crown of War; but he was cut down in battle, and the Crown was lost in the confusion that ensued. ... And for a long time it was lost or thought destroyed; but there are rumors now that a certain chieftain of the Getae, Veiteric hight, wears a band of red gold upon his brow, and that his glance cows all who look on him, and that his word is law among the forest tribes ...

As for the White Crown, it was taken from Durand-King after his victory in the Dwimmerholt, taken by a council of his own knights. They had stood by their king when Aldanus Galad first denounced him, but after the extermination of that gallant tribe, they came around to see Durand-King as the tyrant and wolf that he was. So they ambushed him one day while he hunted, and took the White Crown from his brow, though they left him his life--to their demise in the end.

Still, the Crown they took to the naiads of the Brokenbrand Falls, to secret away as they would, until one worthy of the Bronding kingship should come again and claim it. Legends say that the naiads hid the White Crown in the Mouth of the River--though that makes little sense when the mouth of the Coldwater lies so many hundreds of leagues to the west, pouring into Ocean ...

So that is the tale of the Three Crowns, so far as it goes; it touches upon much of the history of the realms, but not all of the history is needed to understand their significance.




Friday, April 20, 2018

Greyhame Mountain Dungeon Expedition 27

Orcs have returned to the caverns of the Glimmervaults ...
the Goblin King and the Lord of Werewolves have renewed their ancient alliance in the dungeons beneath the Howling Tower ...
the secret treasury of the Bronding Kings is said to lie hidden behind the Brokenbrand Falls, enchanted by haunting naiads ...
Jaer the Windlord looks down on the world below from the Eyries of the Eagles atop the Greyhame Mountain itself ...
and the Stars themselves are singing an eerie, eldritch song, night after night ...


5 April's roster:
June (cleric 1)
July (half-Elf magic-user 1)
Aethelwulf (paladin 4)
Lead (cleric 4)
Blackleaf (Elf 4?)
Koko (woman-ape 2)
Little Bob (travelling-man 5)
Kord (half-orc fighter 4/cleric 4)
Ham (cleric 4)
Thaddeus (fighter 1)
and sundry mercenary hirelings, though no dogs this go-around

In town, Aethelwulf bought a bee-stinger dagger from a passing merchant (from d12 oddments table).

Little Bob hired a merchant to go south to specifically find and bring him snake-killing weasels, spending 300 gold for the service; seeing this, Kord did the same, but spent 600 gold for the fellow to seek out orc mastiffs. The merchants won't return for another two sessions at least (one week travel there, one week back, at minimum).

The party then put their heads together ... and conspired to infiltrate Oakridge Castle to kill/kidnap Morholt, the usurper-lord who had taken power after the late lord Albrecht III died--and to boot, Morholt had taken the widow of Albrecht, Lady Sonora, prisoner and held her with the intent to force marriage upon her--until our heroes put an end to that plot by freeing her!

So, their plan was to repeat the success they had had with the last infiltration mission when they rescued Sonora, except that this time the entire party was going to climb the tower to penetrate the keep. From Sonora, they learned that Morholt's chambers were "down the hall from my prison, and on the right. You can't miss it."

Okay, so the party marched their way out of town and around to the northwest to the north side of the ridge on which the castle of Oakridge overlooks the village of Brakeridge to the south. They kept to the trees; and though the treeline had been cut back from the castle's walls, it turns out that spells like sleep and hold person have a range of 240 yards when outside of dungeons, which is pretty much like a lobbed longbow shot. So the 12 guards on the two turrets of the keep, 6 on the west turret, 6 on the east, were all well within range, even with the characters lurking in the trees.

So Blackleaf cast sleep over the west group, and all of the guards fell into a magical sleep. The guards on the east tower failed to notice; Blackleaf cast another sleep spell sent 4 into a magical sleep. As the last two guards stood by, trying to figure out what just happened, Kord cast a hold person spell at them and they failed their saves.

Koko then used her ape-ness to climb up the keep's walls and cast down ropes, and the party slaughtered all the sleeping and held guards, all without alerting any of the other guards on the other turrets. On the keep, a trap door opened down into the interior; the party dropped through and found themselves in an E-W corridor with a door pretty much in front of them (and down the hall to their left was the door into Sonora's former chambers).

Blackleaf used ESP through the door and detected a human thinking about his lordship and other more alien thoughts. This must be Morholt's room, the party said, but then dithered in the hallway long enough that a hear noise check for those inside the room succeeded. The door cracked open; a large spider peeked out and whispered to Koko, "Go up the ladder and shout."

Koko failed her save against spells and immediately turned to do what was said, but Ham cast a hold person spell on her, and she failed that save too, so she was paralyzed. The party then burst through the door! But the guy on the inside was ready, and initiative was rolled ...

So as Kord burst through the door, he was met by a sword swung by the thickly-muscled arm of a consummate fighting-man, broad-shouldered and narrow hipped, hair dark, face blackened with a fighting-grimace. At his feet were two serpents that also struck out at Kord and Aethelwulf.

Over the next couple rounds, Kord took several hard hits from the man's sword; meanwhile, Kord and Aethelwulf each took a bite from a serpent, and both failed their saves. Both took an antivenin passed forward from those in the back; Kord made his second save, but Aethelwulf failed his, and as the paladin's heart began to palpitate wildly and sweat break out over his pallid skin, he fell over dead the next round.

But then Lead threw a hold person spell at the warrior, and he failed his save, and became suddenly rigid and unable to act. The serpents were both quickly slain, and the party piled into the room.

Blackleaf's ESP established that this man was indeed Morholt. The party disarmed him, and tied him up (as well as they could with him being rigidly paralyzed). Then they heard a knock at the door: "M'lord, are you okay? We heard shouting ..."

"No, no, perfectly fine!" someone in the party shouted back gruffly. "It was nothing--just knocked a desk over!"

A high reaction roll and cowed servants led to the servants slinking away, back down the hallway, leaving the party to do what they might to loot the chambers. They found themselves in a kind of antechamber with tapestries and with shelves of books. Through a second door, they found the master's chambers, with a number of obviously lootable items--a boar-hunting spear on the wall with a hunting horn, robes of fox and ermine furs, etc. etc.

The party grabbed what seemed easily movable and then headed back out to the corridor to go up the trapdoor and escape. But they heard thoughts/talking on the wall above. They almost talked themselves out of going up out of fear, but finally agreed to send someone up the ladder with Morholt and a dagger at his throat to try to get the guards above to surrender.

What ultimately happened, though, is that once the party got up onto the fighting-floor of the keep's roof, they had to fight through six guards, and try to prevent other groups of guards running to intercept them from other turret-tops. Blackleaf poured oil on the stairs and lit it on fire to prevent other guards from getting to the fighting-floor while Kord held the line against the last few guards. Six more guards were killed in the melee, but the party managed to descend their ropes while the oil-fires held the last few guards at bay.

So they had captured Morholt! They agreed to take him to Sonora; and she elected to take him and a number of her loyal fighting-men and go north to the courts of Vialar, the king of this northern kingdom, and to sue Morholt in the king's courts for his injustice in usurping the castle of Oakridge and holding Sonora hostage.

Meanwhile, other party members took Aethelwulf's body to Lailith, local cleric high enough level to raise dead. She raised him, but alas, Aethelwulf came back with heart palpitations left over from the poison's effects, so he heals at half the normal rate from his sickliness. He paid Axxl the Mask 2000 gold to research means of ending these palpitations ...

And lastly, Lead and Astia (Lead's hireling-woman) caroused, and Astia had a wild trip with some powerful drugs so that she feels like she has some kind of insight that she can call up as to the nature of reality, or something! And also, she earned her way out of normal womanness to being a full-fledged character.

------

Remembrance for the Fallen:
Clara and Ilana (normal women), Marlo and a number of dogs, Gram, Dorcas, Frida, and Johann Haybaler (normal hirelings), Hauka and Wilmerand (weasels), Blade and Boar (boarhounds), Hubert the Peacock and Lysimmachus (normal men), a nameless mastiff, Livy (normal man), Orkie (orc mastiff), Fang (boarhound), Droopy and Snoopy (mastiffs), Dream Destroyer (ghosthound), Arrow (pack dog), Freyja (normal woman), a nameless cur, Hot Dog and Cross (mastiffs), Orion II (lion dog), Bacon (boarhound), Tore (half-orc fighter 1/cleric 1), Jimmy the Snitch (dog), Orion (lion dog), Harambe (man-ape 1)

and for those Enchanted away:
Dol (fyrdman hireling)




Wednesday, April 18, 2018

New Class: the Ogre

Back when the Greyhame Game was just picking up, only a few sessions in, one of the prospective players asked me if he could roll up an ogre character for the game. No, I immediately replied, wishing as referee to retain control of the game and its B/X basis (this particular player was familiar with 3rd edition and its rules for monsters as characters).

But then I relented. After all, directly from Holmes, "At the Dungeon Master's discretion, a character can be anything his or her player wants him to be. Characters must always start out inexperienced and relatively weak and build on their experience. Thus, an expedition might include, in addition to the four basic classes and races ... a centaur, a lawful werebear, and a Japanese Samurai fighting-man." (p.7, Dungeons and Dragons, by Gygax and Arneson, edited by Eric Holmes, 1979 edition)

So I agreed that he could play an ogre-character, but not until another character in the game had reached fourth level (given that ogres start off with HD 4+1). Well, today he remembered that conversation, and told me he was going to roll up an ogre tonight (probably for Thursday's game). I told him to roll it up as usual, 3d6 in order, and I'll write an ogre-class ... so here goes.

------

The OGRE
Strength is the prerequisite of the ogre class, and STR 13+ provides a bonus of 5% to earned xp, while a STR 16+ provides a bonus of 10% (non-cumulative). Ogres may not be of Lawful, Clannish, Good, or Evil alignment; Ogres of less than INT 13 also may not be of Arcane alignment.

Level 1 -- Bully                       -- 4d8 HD     -- 0 XP
Level 2 -- Brute                       -- 5d8 HD     -- 16,000 XP
Level 3 -- Masher                    -- 6d8 HD     -- 32,000 XP
Level 4 -- Ogre                        -- 7d8 HD     -- 64,000 XP
Level 5 -- Bluebeard               -- 8d8 HD      -- 120,000 XP
Level 6 -- Chieftain                 -- 9d8 HD     -- 240,000 XP
Level 7 -- 7th Level Chieftain -- 9d8+4 HD -- 480,000 XP
Level 8 -- 8th Level Chieftain -- 9d8+8 HD -- 600,000 XP
Ogres may advance no higher than 8th level.

Languages known are Ogre, Orc, Troll, Stone Giant and a pidgin Common. Ogres with INT 13+ may learn additional languages (or be fluent in Common) normally. All ogres start play as illiterate, and remain so until/unless they spend time in-play learning to read and write.

Ogres fight and save as a fighter of a level equal to their hit dice (i.e. an Ogre 1 fights and saves as a Fighter 4). They may use any weapon or shield, but armor must be fashioned specifically for their frame, at great cost. Magic armor may not be worn unless fashioned for a giant-type creature to begin with.

Without armor, Ogres have an armor class of 6; they start the game with a suit of piecemeal armor that lowers this to armor class 5 when worn. To fashion armor for an ogre, the cost is 100 gold for leather (AC 4), 400 for mail (AC 2), or 1000 for plate (AC 0), at minimum.

Because of their great strength, ogres deal 1-10 damage when striking with clubs of their own make. Any other weapon in their hands deals an additional +2 to damage (i.e. a spear would deal 3-9 damage, rather than 1-6). This is in addition to any bonuses or penalties from an ogre's strength score, so an ogre with STR 13 will actually deal +3 damage on every hit with a normal weapon (or 2-11 damage with his own club).

All Ogres begin play with only three items: piecemeal armor, a club, and an ogre-bag. The ogre bag may carry up to 4000 coin of weight, and contains an additional 2-5 random items according to the table at the bottom of the post (roll once at first level; after that, what's in your bag is what you put into it).

At 4th level (Ogre HD 7), an Ogre may invest 5000 gold into raw materials, magical components, etc., in order to complete an esoteric ritual to sew and create a new ogre-bag which is actually a bag of holding. The creation of this bag takes from 1 to 3 months to create, though--as the ritual is largely involved in the slow process of stitching everything together--it may be interrupted by periods of adventuring. Nevertheless, any time spent adventuring does not count toward time spent creating the bag.

At 6th level (Chieftain HD 9, so basically "name level") an Ogre may carve out or seize a cave or some other underground complex as his lair. Depending on the Ogre-character's proclivities, the referee will provide the details for this adventure. Once the lair has been secured and any inhabitants driven off or subdued (or, if carving it out, any attempts to take it by other creatures are driven off), the Ogre will attract a tribe of 2-20 normal HD 4+1 ogres to join him. These do not serve per se, but may be bullied into doing the Ogre chief's bidding.

------

Contents of an Ogre's Bag
Roll 2-5 times on this table at first level. After that, what's in your bag is up to what you put into it.

11 - hemp rope 100'
12 - a battered lantern
13 - a week's worth of hardtack and pemmican
14 - two halves of a 10' pole
15 - a large, tarnished hand-mirror
16 - a scroll which is actually a randomly generated treasure map; you can't read it, of course
21 - a lump of wax
22 - a tangled mass of string and twine
23 - a large jar of lard
24 - 50 pieces of greasy parchment
25 - 2-12 iron ingots
26 - large cast iron cooking pot
31 - 4 large, round, river rocks
32 - a broken-off stalactite/stalagmite--may be used as a club that deals 1-12 damage
33 - a cool geode; you think it's worth something, but it probably isn't
34 - a little box of dirt you took off some halfling; doesn't seem worth much
35 - 1-6 chunks of ore; could be copper, might be gold
36 - 1-6 pieces of fool's gold
41 - a large bone whistle fashioned for your lips/mouth
42 - a long braided sling; casting large stones with it, you deal 1-8 damage
43 - soiled laundry (jerkin, etc.) that even you won't wear anymore
44 - a sewing kit with large bone needles--sometimes even ogres need to stitch something!
45 - a large whetstone and a large knife (shortsword) sharpened by it
46 - an idol of your god or giant-hero, whittled with some patience
51 - the corpse of a giant rat
52 - a live troll arm--you've got to keep eating from it day-to-day or it will grow into an angry troll
53 - 1-6 of what might be dragon teeth (the kind that grow armed warriors when planted)
54 - 2-12 orc heads
55 - a roper's gizzard containing 1-3 gems worth 10-100 gold each
56 - a wyvern's sting with one dose left
61 - a giant's femur, scrimshawed with scenes of battle
62 - a cask of fine wine of excellent vintage; you've been saving it for a real shindig
63 - a battered old book of poetry worth maybe up to 600 gold (except you can't read it)
64 - a rolled-up old tapestry worth maybe 100 gold to the right collector
65 - furs worth 100-600 gold
66 - 1000 gold



Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Radiation Damage

I've been chewing on an idea for radiation, its damage, and the sickness caused therefrom, for my game ... for reasons ... mostly involving the Star Things currently descending over the Greyhame Mountain region.

The first glimmering of this idea came to me through listening to episode 9 of "The Hall of Blue Illumination", a podcast dedicated to M.A.R. Barker's Tekumel setting; around the 1:20 mark (first link, episode 9), Victor J. Raymond mentions radiation damage and how Barker adjudicated that neither cure disease nor neutralize poison spells worked against its effects. What its effects were, alas, we know not--but the idea of radiation as a separate damage has stuck with me over the past few months ...

So anyway, I've got some super-secret write-ups for monsters and spells that cause radiation damage; this damage will apply to hit points as normal damage, but has the added effect that after certain thresholds, the damage causes "radiation poisoning/sickness." Trouble is, what's the threshold?

The chart on Wikipedia for "Whole Body Absorbed" Grays (Gy) seems like a good place to start, given its clear number values and possibilities for nausea, headache, and mortality. Unfortunately, the chart jumps from 1-2 Gy absorbed with 0-5% mortality, to 2-6 Gy with 5-95% mortality! Admittedly, this mortality is over the course of weeks; but dealing 3 damage to a character and having them die ~50% of the time after several weeks regardless of level ... just doesn't seem sporting.

So let's assume 1 radiation damage = .5 Gy (half a Gray). It can still be lethal pretty quick (6 such damage gets one to the "50% mortality in a few weeks" range), but still allows concrete understanding plus the possibility to run away really fast / put something between you and it really fast.



------

Radiation Effects

1) up to 2 radiation damage: sunburn, no other side effects

2) 3 to 4 radiation damage: save v. poison at +2 or nauseous all session, at end of session save v. poison or at -1 on all rolls for 1-4 weeks

3) 5 to 12 radiation damage: save v. poison or nauseous for 1-4 weeks, at end of session save v. poison or die in 1-4 weeks; successful save indicates survival, but nausea continues additional 1-4 weeks (i.e. 2-8 weeks of nausea)

4) 13 to 16 radiation damage: save v. poison at -2 or nauseous for 1-4 weeks, begin vomiting and otherwise incapacitated by severe headaches in 1-6 turns; at end of session save v. poison at -2 or die in 1 week, successful save indicates survival, but incapacitated for 1 week, nauseated for 2-8 weeks after that

5) 17 to 60 radiation damage: save v. poison at -4 or confused per the spell by nausea and severe headaches for remainder of session; at end of session, save v. poison at -4 or die in 1-3 days, successful save indicates survival but with 2-7 weeks incapacitated by sickness

6) 60+ radiation damage: save v. poison at -8 or die in 1 turn; success indicates that death is staved off 1-6 turns, but the character is confused per the spell for their last few turns

------

There should probably be additional debilitating effects of radiation sickness after, but I'll admit, I'll probably be more generous than Barker as regards spells like neutralize poison etc. curing radiation damage.

Still, we'll see. This is a rough draft. It hasn't actually presented itself in my game yet ... yet ...



Sunday, April 15, 2018

11-66 Table for Fighter Abilities at First Level

I wrote this table back in December, and only just rediscovered it. I was reading Jon Peterson's Playing at the World at the time, which is a history of our hobby from its roots in wargaming up through the early years of D&D. Alas, I cannot find the reference in the book at the moment, but apparently a number of referees came up with variant abilities for the Fighting-Man class to roll at first level, to help distinguish one from the next, somewhat in the way that Magic-Users and Clerics are distinguished by their choice of spells.

I was quite taken with the idea, and I thought an 11-66 table, with 36 entries, would provide enough variety for few fighters to be the same, but not take too long to write (also, I have a fondness for 11-66 tables after playing so much of Avalon Hill's Samurai, which uses one for random events each turn). So this is what I came up with; it probably could use a bit more creativity (like Zak S.' random advancement Alternative Fighter), but I'm still using bog-standard fighters in my game:


Fighter Abilities
When generating a fighter-character at first level, roll once on this table using 2d6. Read one as the tens and one as the ones.

11  +1 to hit with swords

12  +1 to hit with pole arms

13  +1 to hit with axes

14  +1 to hit with maces

15  +1 to hit with bows

16  +1 to hit with slings

21  +1 to hit with crossbows

22  +1 to hit with spears and javelins

23  +1 to hit with daggers

24  +1 to hit with hammers

25  +1 to hit in melee

26  +1 to hit with missiles

31  -1 AC with shields

32  +1 damage in melee

33  +1 damage with missiles

34  +1 damage

35  +1 to hit

36  +1 to hit when fighting alongside a companion

41  -1 AC in mail armor

42  -1 AC in plate armor

43  grant -1 AC from your shield to your companion next to you

44  may climb sheer surfaces as a same-level thief when in leather armor

45  may move silently/hide in shadows as a same-level thief when in leather armor

46  may open locks as a same-level thief (when not wearing gauntlets)

51  knows one first level magic-user spell (cannot cast it while armored)

52  knows one first level cleric spell

53  may turn undead as a first level cleric

54  +1 hp per hit die

55  may dual-wield weapons for -1 AC

56  may dual-wield weapons for +1 to hit

61  eldritch aura--may use normal weapons to strike creatures only struck by magical weapons

62  25 gp income per month

63  100 gp income per month

64  knightly title--some discretion as to what this entails, but certainly deference from inferiors, exemption from taxation or some other legal burden, access to a higher social circle, etc.

65  +1 morale to followers

66  +1 to number of retainers one may lead



Friday, April 13, 2018

Greyhame Mountain Dungeon Expedition 26

Orcs have returned to the caverns of the Glimmervaults ...
the Goblin King and the Lord of Werewolves have renewed their ancient alliance in the dungeons beneath the Howling Tower ...
the secret treasury of the Bronding Kings is said to lie hidden behind the Brokenbrand falls, haunted by enchanting naiads ...
Jaer the Windlord looks down on the world below from the Eyries of the Eagles atop the Greyhame Mountain itself ...
and the Stars themselves are singing an eerie, eldritch song, night after night ...


29 March's roster:
Lead (cleric 4)
Baby-Face (thief 5)
Valor Justice (Elf 1)
Little Bob (travelling-man 4)
Aethelwulf (paladin 4)
Blackleaf (Elf 4)
Koko (woman-ape 2)
and a coterie of hirelings and dogs


To the Howling Tower, to deal with the Goblin King and his meddling with Star-Things!

On the second night out, the characters came across a pair of wolves, unconscious and lying in the woods, with a strange and shimmering silver cord rising from each up into the night sky toward the singing Stars. The party was baffled. Baby-Face suggested that the stars were sucking information out of them, but who knows?

Aethelwulf decided to put one out of its ... misery isn't quite the right word. Still, he slew one with his sword; the silver cord snapped as soon as the body was slain.

After that, Koko attempted to use her ring of animal control on the "surviving" wolf, to no avail; Blackleaf tried to read any thoughts in it with her amulet of ESP, but detected nothing within--not even an animal intelligence. It seemed the bodies were mere shells, alive in the barest sense of the word, and Aethelwulf killed the second one.

Then the party made camp, and I telegraphed that something was coming by asking for a watch schedule. Alas, but I have only just introduced actual encounters that require a watch schedule in the wilderness; I should probably request one as a matter of course when setting out from town.

Anyway, four watches were set over the course of the night, and I rolled the first watch, which Lead and Blackleaf had taken. So as they stayed up to watch over their comrades, Blackleaf suddenly felt as if some kind of insect were crawling over her back--and yet nothing was there!

The invisible thing's attack failed against Blackleaf. Hands attempting to find it failed to touch anything, but the swordpoint of a magic sword carefully pressed into the area around the weird crawling feelings resulted in contact with some kind of invisible presence. Those individuals who were wakened and had magic weapons proceeded to attack the invisible thing; despite penalties to their attacks, they managed to hit the thing and avoid hitting Blackleaf until finally whatever it was seemed to fall off; searching the ground with magical swordpoints finally revealed something on the ground that didn't seem to be moving around. The thing was dead? They couldn't see it or touch to really ascertain ... so they went back to their regular watch schedule.

Nothing further happened.

Arriving on the ridge atop which stands the Howling Tower, fronted by its two pyres of goblin and ogre corpses, the players agreed to enter through the insect tunnels on the north side of the ridge, which lead directly into the first dungeon level and bypass the Tower itself. Lead left his mule Sparkly outside (mules don't fit in the tunnels), guarded by Baby Face's hirelings Thorn and Cadmus.

The party made their way through the first dungeon level seeking for the stairs down to the second level. They encountered what seemed to be a mobile puddle of water as a wandering monster, but easily destroyed the ooze with an overwhelming number of attacks.

Descending to the second dungeon level, the party headed south. They passed through the room that contained the star pool, which has once been seen to contain a Cthulu-ish tentacular horror; but it seemed empty of anything but stars at the moment. Passing to the south, the party found a door that opened into a chamber with three statues in the NE, SE, and SW corners. One was of a beautiful, seductive Elf-maiden, one of Anglamorath the Dragon, and the last of Astora Queen of Stars in full regalia.

Through the eastern door of that chamber, the party found a north-south corridor that they followed south. They ultimately walked into a chamber which was a goblin-barracks containing more than a dozen goblins. A sleep spell incapacitated many, and the others were slaughtered. The party killed two, but tied up four of the sleeping goblins (amusingly, my notes read "sleeping orcs", a Tolkienian slip); questioning those left alive, they learned from the poor creatures that "the Goblin King can be found through the western corridor and down the stair," while "treasure could be found north with the webs and the snakes."

Leaving the goblins behind, the party went west through further corridors. They ran into a party of goblins and one wolf as wandering monsters. My notes are sparse; I believe that what happened was that the goblins were driven back into another room, which contained other goblins. But ultimately, the party encountered a party of goblins including three that seemed less crooked than their fellows, all of whom began casting spells when the party moved to the attack.

One of the goblin magic-users doused the party's lights so that all was darkness. One of them threw a web spell, incapacitating most of the party (I think initiative was simultaneous, though, because I remember dogs and frontline fighters getting into melee); the last of the goblins cast a sleep spell which dropped all the frontline dogs except Panzer, Little Bob's orc mastiff.

A short melee round ensued; meanwhile, for the webbed party, Lead the cleric lit a torch and set the web alight. So it burned up (in one round; in retrospect it takes two rounds in the rules, but whatever), causing 1-6 damage to all those stuck within. This fire damage killed the hirelings Clara and Ilana of Blackleaf, but the rest of the party was thus freed.

Beyond that, the combat was short--one of the goblins got off a second douse lights spell, but the characters lit another torch; and another one managed to get off a mirror image, which allowed him alone to survive the combat. After all the other goblins were slain, this last fellow was finally subdued and tied up. He directed the party to the Goblin King's inverse-tower in return for his life, and also let drop a mention that the captured children were turned into goblins by the King by being spun up in spider-silk; and then he was left behind by the party. Meanwhile, some characters were looting the room--they found a good deal of gold, a magic helm, a magic shield, a potion, a scroll, a bow, and a spear (much of it loot from the dead goblin-magic-users).

Through another short corridor, the party finally opened a door onto a long spiral stair down into the darkness. It seems to lead down to dungeon levels three and four, but our time was short ... behind a door on the landing, Blackleaf detected the thoughts of scared children. The door was forced open, and the party found a group of five scared and emaciated children.

Our time was short, so the party ushered the children out of the dungeon. The only thing of note on the way out was that passing through the room with the three statues, the party found the statues changed into images of horrid hags, and as the party passed through, they were all subjected to a kind of curse.

Nothing else happened on the way back to town. Local high-level cleric Lailith (who won't adventure in Greyhame until the other characters are closer in level) agreed to lift the curses for 1000 gold altogether. And with his share of the wealth, Baby Face paid off the last 1600 gold of his debt to the Thieves' Guild.

------

Remembrance for the Fallen:
Clara and Ilana (normal women), Marlo and a number of dogs, Gram, Dorcas, Frida, and Johann Haybaler (normal hirelings), Hauka and Wilmerand (weasels), Blade and Boar (boarhounds), Hubert the Peacock and Lysimmachus (normal men), a nameless mastiff, Livy (normal man), Orkie (orc mastiff), Fang (boarhound), Droopy and Snoopy (mastiffs), Dream Destroyer (ghosthound), Arrow (pack dog), Freyja (normal woman), a nameless cur, Hot Dog and Cross (mastiffs), Orion II (lion dog), Bacon (boarhound), Tore (half-orc fighter 1/cleric 1), Jimmy the Snitch (dog), Orion (lion dog), Harambe (man-ape 1)

and for those Enchanted away:
Dol (fyrdman hireling)



Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Skills in My Game

Over at "The Retired Adventurer" is a wonderful post about character backstory for an OSR type game where the characters explicitly don't have backstory: "The Pack of Lies: Backstory as Equipment and Resource" (with the opening counterpart being a 3.5 game with a great deal of backstory).

The basic idea is that there are several items a character could have in one's inventory that imply backstory (a diary, a published personal memoir, ingredients for s'mores that inspire campfireside stories, or a lucky charm), and that a player-character could invoke one of these items by telling those at the table an anecdote about their backstory (true or not) to justify why they're "Good At ..." something. This trait for being Good At ... lasts for but a session with most of these items/invocations, which is an elegant mechanic for allowing otherwise skill-less OSR characters to take on some kind of mechanical skill while still keeping their character sheets and home rules uncluttered with miscellaneous entries.

I'm tempted to nab this idea entirely for use in my games (especially the 5e Jungles of Chult game, given that 5e explicitly includes a random table of weird charms/things a character can start with--a perfect random lucky charm table).

Still, I'll have to think it over; my game already has a homebrewed rule for character "skills" and their acquisition. It was formed in the rough-hewn origins when I was trying to navigate the space between player skills and game mechanics ... especially for certain situations that would have used an opposed roll in 3.5, which we were used to, but which I didn't want to fall back to.

For example, say the party has captured an orc and want to tie him up securely (while I, nefarious referee, planned secretly for the orc to attempt escape to warn his fellows deeper in the dungeon). In 3e I would have asked for a Use Rope skill from the players, and compared their roll against the orc's Escape Artist roll; but this is B/X! I don't want to have to enumerate all the potential skills and have players select from among them, that would defeat the purpose of playing B/X to escape the rules. Still, I wanted a means of random adjudication ...

So the new skill rule was instituted. "We tie up the orc!" the players say. "Roll a d6," I answer. "On a 1, your character is skilled with ropes, the orc is firmly secured, and you can note your skill with ropes on your character sheet. In the future, you may invoke that note for any plan involving ropes, and I'll give you better odds for it working or just adjudicate success."

This followed from two sources, 1) Jeff Rients' general rule that any action may be attempted with a roll of a d6, with a 1 being definite success and a 6 being definite failure (and with further gradations according to referee consideration); and 2) adapted from the 1e Dungeon Master's Guide page 60, "LISTENING AT DOORS ... Keen-eared individuals will gain a bonus [to their "hear-noise" roll] ... Use the chance of hearing a noise to determine if a character is keen-eared the first time he or she listens at a door, and if it is indicated, tell the player to note the fact for his or her character. ..." (modified to use the B/X rules rather than 1e, so a keen-eared demi-human "hears-noise" on a 1-3 on a d6 rather than a 1-2, while a keen-eared human "hears" on a 1-2 rather than a 1)

At any time in the game, a player may ask if they can invoke a kind of "skill" regarding a task or plan in which they're engaged. On a 1 on the die, they may note that their character is skilled in whatever task it was. This has resulted in some great "skills"--a friend of mine has a fighting-man who is an Art Critic, who can judge the value of obscure art; another has a character who is a Religious Scholar, who can identify various details about obscure cults, their symbols, and theological minutiae. There are, of course, a number of characters who are skilled rope-users, appraisers of treasure, or other more usefully banal skills, but the openness of the rule allows for surprising and strange skill-sets that make a character just that much richer.

I don't have a hard limit on the number of "skills" a character can have noted on their sheet, but three seems like a good boundary beyond which something more would be required than just a d6 roll (like maybe going to a sage/expert and paying them to teach you over the course of several months/years ...). Plus, the rule doesn't usually get invoked often enough for characters in my game to have more than one or two skills yet.

As a final note, a further de facto rule that has arisen is that characters don't roll for the same skill twice ... except I don't have players note that on their character sheet because I've never actually ruled against it. Players just assume that they can't and leave it at that. I mean, I probably would rule that within a single session, only one roll per "skill" would be allowed, but other than that I'm open. Maybe the character learned it during downtime?

Well, those are my rules for "skills". I really do like the item => background => "good at" idea, though, so I'm considering adding it to my repertoire of home rules. Maybe even just as an alternative to my own skills-rule.