Sunday, November 13, 2011

We have a fight booked. What do you think about that?

Slowly working my way toward a set of tables to generate tournament situations for modern martial arts RPGs (esp. Street Fighter). This time, it's attitudes and history between fighters. I'd use this for NPCs, not PCs, since I prefer to have every PC fight happen in the game. These kinds of relationships develop on their own in play. Tournaments often require 8-16 NPCs, many of which will be new, so a table like this can be a useful springboard for play. Full table here, or in pdf format here.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Tell me about your Sensei

Another update at my Street Fighter RPG blog. This time, it's a 1d100 table for generating facts about a PC or NPC's sensei. Should work for any relatively modern, pulpy game with martial arts, including supers.

The post is here, or go straight to the pdf.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Wizards of the Tower Cliffs

The wizards of the Tower Cliffs are a tightly knit community of egocentric misanthropes thrust together by the need to have someone else around who might comprehend their greatness. They only have each other. Whenever two wizards come together, roll once for each to see what their history and relationships are like. 

1. is envious of the (1-3) status or (4-6) skill of...
2. has unknowingly offended...
3. has purposefully offended...
4. has been spying on...
5. has been sleeping with (1-5) apprentice of, (6-7) lover    
   of, (8-9) spouse of, (10) the wizard him/herself
6. has stolen from...
7. covets the spellbook or magic item of...
8. secretly admires...
9. has betrayed...
10. is an old friend of...
11. has been trying to murder...
12. is the former apprentice of...
13. has stolen an apprentice from...
14. is a (1) friendly (2-6) bitter rival of...
15. is (1-3) openly (4-6) privately dismissive of the work 
16. is a former co-apprentice (they studied under the same 
    master) of...
17. owes...
18. is plotting together with... against...
19. is plotting against... with...
20. became famous through a brutal critique of the 
    scholarship of...


Inspired by Aristocrat relationships on p. 47 of Vornheim. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

1000 Traits

Just a quick table with 1000 personality traits, attitudes, reputations, and so on for use in generating a little character for off-the-cuff NPCs. Results were culled from tables I had laying around and web searches for personality traits.

Roll 2-3 times on the table. Sometimes, there's a contradiction -- you can discard it or just roll with it (people are complicated). We've used this kind of table to generate NPCs that players were going to run, like hirelings, locals, and so on. Usually you know when you've reached the point where you have a trait or two that you can work with. Stop at that point -- the next roll is tempting, but it usually doesn't add much.

Here's a pdf. Here's a plain text copy to make custom tables easier to put together. The full list is included after the jump.

Monday, September 5, 2011

A Ruined Castle of Aventurien

Another map courtesy of Das Schwarze Auge, in this case, a ruined keep on the water. I imagine the keep above plagued by skeletons and the ghosts, rats and ravens. The dungeons below waterlogged, home to more skeletons, as well as bullywugs and troglodytes, slimes and oozes.  

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Bellringer's Day

On new year's day, the streets of the rainy city are filled with the ringing of bells. 

It is a well-known fact that the ringing of bells drives away evil spirits, fairies, and storms, and the custom of ringing the bells to sound in a new year is an ancient tradition of the city. The ringing begins in the dim grey dawn and lasts throughout the dim grey day until the dusk returns the city to darkness and quiet. 

There is not a moment in the day when somewhere bells are not ringing.

Bells are sold on every street corner in Old Town in the days leading up to the holiday, and children rise early with their families on Bellringer's Morn to ring in the day. New bells are said to bring good luck, and it is true that lucky children have parents who can afford to buy new bells for the holiday. No labor is done on Bellringer's Day, except that which profits the people food and drink. Bells are fastened to carriages in the Mids and Embassy Row and to boats and ships' masts in Harboursides. All church doors stand open with a bellringer by the door. The city's gargoyles flock in Old Town, hanging thick as bats to the outer walls of the Alchemists' Guild and Opera House, ringing the bells they hold in their teeth. 

In the Mids, youths attach bells to kites, flying them as high as they can in the storm. Their mothers affix tiny bells to their cloaks and hang them from tea cups. Messengers secure bells to their boots. Barkeeps keep a gong next to the tap, clanging it each time they pull a pint. Bell races are held on the waters of the murk, as the ferrymen navigate the guide posts in the bay as fast as they can without allowing the bells on their barges to ring. Tower Cliffs wizards send their apprentices, and the occasional bound demon, to walk the streets of the city ringing sigil-engraved bells while proclaiming that evil and rain shall be banished in their master's name.

And, of course, everyone attaches bells to their umbrellas. 

In the gloom before dusk, the ten thousand mystery cults and fraternal brotherhoods of Levee Town emerge to walk the city in their full ceremonial regalia, bells in hand, fervently praying to drive the storm away. Some cults march in solemn procession. Others dash naked and screaming through the streets. The townsfolk fill the streets to watch the cults promenade. 

At nightfall, it is time for the Clamor. Every bell in the city is rung, from the lowly Sump to the high Tower Cliffs, until the din builds to a crescendo.  

As darkness settles in, so does the quiet. The people of the city retire to their dining rooms for their Bellringer's Night Dinners. And for one more year of rain. 

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Six Villages of Aventurien

I've never played a Das Schwarze Auge, but two DSA books I picked up a few years ago have served me very well in Warhammer FRP and D&D games alike. The books are collections of 1-3 page location descriptions with very nice hand-drawn maps of common buildings, from shops and smithies to castles, and they show nice attention to authenticity. The image to the left, of 6 village layouts, is typical, and I've used some of these villages as central places in a small, regional Warhammer campaign. The players from that game know these villages well.

I'm not aware of any available source for these in markets outside Germany. The two softcover books I originally picked up have been collected in a hardcover and are available in German markets under the title Ritterburgen & Spelunken. I can heartily recommend this particular book for map fans, even if you don't speak German. They're part of a larger series of similarly marketed books, of which I also have the dungeon guide and guide to magical academies. Some books in this line diverge from the hand drawn style of the earlier books, to their detriment. I'll be posting a few of my favorite (or most used) maps from these books in the near future.

And, it goes without saying, I'm happy to remove them if requested by the rights holder.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Monsters, from symbolic beasts to natural animals

Monster Manuals are not the first time people have built elaborate taxonomies of the monstrous. The medieval bestiary (also not the first on the job, but well ahead of the monster manual) presents us with an earlier example of the cataloging and categorizing of monsters and animals and all their features. Take a look at a medieval bestiary, the source (albeit often mediated by literature) of some of D&D's core monsters. The urge to catalog, to categorize, to create a taxonomy, to explain -- the creative and exploratory instincts of man -- are on full display. But the results are very different than those of the modern monster manual.

In OD&D and throughout some of the life of 1st edition, monsters were, broadly speaking, things that you meet. You encounter them. Some of them will talk. Some will fight. Some will chase you. Others want to be left alone. Some are puzzles. Some are traps. Some are dirty tricks Gary came up with to punish you for rummaging around in corpses or listening at doors. Their roles are varied, except that they are out there, some sitting in rooms or living in lairs, some wandering about, but all there to be encountered, if you're in the right place at the right time.

Somewhere by the end of 1st edition, monsters were already taking on a life of their own beyond the encounter. Ecological naturalism was taking over, and monsters were increasingly becoming races and beings that lived and loved and died, with or without you. By this time, it doesn't raise an eyebrow to talk about the "typical" minotaur or "typical" medusa, or typical anything (pretty much): beings which were originally uniquely monstrous (or very nearly so) had become species. No more or less natural (within a magical world) than a dog or a cat. Monsters by convention, but essentially ordinary.

By 3rd edition many monsters were ready for a bit of reinvention: both the new art direction and in some cases the new stats gave us new angles on old monsters, or at least more consistent stats for the monstrous, with reduced information about ecology and lifestyle but no major changes. By 4th edition, consistency within the game rules was taking over, and it was time to reinvent and reimagine monsters once again. One part of this was the attempt to make the monster trademarkable and copyrightable and ownable. The monster needed to become intellectual property, something owned by Wizards of the Coast and by extension Hasbro. The Flame Blitz Shadow Orc isn't the result of Wizards's tin ear. It's a business move. Alongside this came another move, with the goal to reinvent the monsters, systematize them in a new overarching story/context (with primordials and titans), and in some ways an attempt to make the monster a monster again.

Unfortunately, 4th edition missed the mark on monsters. The 4e monster is not something that exists separately from the PCs, as was the monster of 2nd edition. And it is not even something that exists to be met, to be encountered, as it had been earlier yet. Rather, the monster is something to be fought. You don't encounter a 4th edition monster, you fight it. It does not frighten you, it does not chase you, it is not hiding under your bed. It may be a puzzle on some level, but it is mainly a combat puzzle. A monster is something you fight.

There's something right about that, the fighting monsters part. That is one of the things you do with monsters in myth and legend. But that isn't everything you do with them, even if you're a hero, and it certainly isn't everything you would have done with them in early D&D.

So modern D&D has the monster as natural animal (which reached its pinnacle in 2nd edition) and the monster as abstract combat challenge, a fighting algorithm, a sequence of attacks ticking away on a timer we call Hit Points. (Fixing the monster, in 4th edition, has mostly resolved around getting the timer to tick at the appropriate pace.)

What about the monster of the medieval bestiary? The bestiary too shares the D&D monster manual's concern with taxonomy. But what a different taxonomy it is! In the monster manual, the term "monster" eventually becomes a misnomer: "beast" would sometimes be better. In a great many cases, "animal," or "creature," would work just as well. The monster manual monster is not something that is wrong with the world. It is not something that does not belong here. It is not even something that is particularly unique or interesting, though there are plenty of wonderful examples where at least the D&D monster remains bizarre. But it remains something that we can classify, categorize, and taxonomize in a fairly naturalistic way. It can be explained. It has an ecological niche. It belongs in the world it inhabits. It is not symbolic. It does not carry a heavy handed moral, it does not stand in as a crude allegory for God or the Devil or sin or the sinner or redemption. It would not live long in a C.S. Lewis tale, and it would it live long in a medieval bestiary. The medieval beast is a creature of symbolism. In a bestiary, even a mundane animal, even a common, everyday, banal creature such as a mouse or an ant is something more. It is a symbol, a story, a little piece of Christianity and morality, of right and wrong, of spiritual warfare and the secret history of the world.

In the medieval bestiary, the even the most mundane of animals is made into a symbol. In the monster manual, even the most bizarre of monsters is made into a animal.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Knockers Guild

The Knockers Guild is a fraternal order of dwarves, goblins, buccas, kobolds, gnomes and other earth elves who have banded together to help a fellow out, make a little extra gold, and have a little fun by the by. Any grubby, ugly little man who lives in a mine or dungeon, and has a little good in his heart, might join. The Knockers walk the halls of the deepest megadungeons, tapping on the floor as they go with the distinctive silver-blue knocker's lanterns they use to light the way for travelers. Meeting a knocker is generally a good thing, though it can be bewildering -- their logic isn't always logical by surface standards. Knockers have been known to mention trivial dangers like a handful of greedy goblins while ignoring very big things like a dragon -- which really is very obvious, so why would anyone need to mention it? They've been known to charge small sums for maps to very large treasures, or vice versa. Some will treat you like a long lost friend the first time they meet you. Others you've met before might walk right by without even an offer of assistance. 

When you meet a knocker, he always has the silver-blue lantern that signals his membership in the guild. He will never part with it, and its light will go out forever if he dies or it is taken from him. 

He also has one of the following things to share (Roll 1d6). 

1. Local Map: The knocker has (or is willing to sketch up on the spot) a map of some of the local areas of the dungeon. He doesn't need it (he has a natural sense for which way to go underground, you see), but he's happy to part with it. If there are monsters in the rooms that he knows about, or other major features, he might mention those too.  
2. Treasure Map: The knocker has or is willing to sketch up a map to the nearest treasure cache he knows about. He may also tell you about guardian monsters.  
3. Naturalists Sketches of Wandering Monsters: Roll 1d6 times on your wandering monster tables. The knocker can tell you that these monsters are wandering about the halls. Feel free to liven up the gossip about each monster -- who or what do they like to eat, who do they hate in the dungeon, and who do they pal around with. 
4. Cakes and Wine: He has good cakes and fine wine, enough to refresh 1d6 adventurers. Each adventurer who partakes in the cakes and wine will regain 1d6 hit points. Of course, you've also just accepted food from a fairy. Which may or may not mean something some day down the road.
5. Knocker Weed: The knocker carries good pipe weed to share. Taking a pull from the pipe grants the character infravision 60' for the next 2d6 turns. 
6. The Key: The key opens any locked door in the dungeon. It must be rapped solidly against the door, at which point it makes a loud knocking sound and the door swings open. Each time the key is used, roll one die. On an odd roll, that was the last charge, and the key loses its ability to open future doors (don't tell the players until they try to use it again, at which point it vanishes loudly when used to knock). On an even roll, the key retains its charge. Any time the key is used, roll a wandering monster check due to the noise.

No goods or services are free, of course. That would be very bad luck. But the price of any given item will depend on your reaction check. On a positive reaction roll, goods and services cost a few copper pennies. On a negative reaction roll, it's gold and maybe even jewels -- the price will be higher the deeper your pockets are, and the deeper your need. On a very negative roll, the knocker might ask for something personal -- a treasured possession, a lock of hair, or even a debt. This may be harmless, and often is. But sometime in the future the knocker may come calling for a returned favor.  

Needless to say, if you deal badly with the knockers, they will deal badly with you.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Superhero Necromancer Summer (also Google+)

We all have other hobbies in addition to good ol' D&D. One of mine is trail running. This summer I took part in the Great Lakes Relay in Northern Michigan for the second time, and I made it out to Wisconsin for a Tough Mudder event (my first one). Both were a hell of a lot of fun.

Our Great Lakes Relay team was short a few runners, so we ended up all logging extra miles. I covered 35 miles of trails in the three days of the race. 
 (More pictures behind the link.)

The Wisconsin Tough Mudder course was a ten mile event. Obstacle 19 ("Everest") was a bastard for me to get to the top of, but everything else went smoothly. Here I am at Obstacle 5 ("The Funky Monkey"), which was right up my alley.

I'm settling back in for the fall now, and I may be able to get into some of the Google+ games. Just follow the photo galleries or this link if you want to find me there. 

Further (intermittent) gaming content will resume again in the near future. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Vornheim is very good

I am not at all sure why it took me so long to buy Vornheim. Our D&D campaign is set in a city, after all.

I can use nearly everything in Vornheim at the table in the rainy city.


  • The Immortal Zoo of Ping Feng: I have some scattered notes for adding a zoo to the rainy city. Ping Feng's zoo is better. Also, it is ready to run, rather than being just some scattered notes. I can drop a "living" version of it straight into my game. 
  • The Library of Zorlac: Again, this place will fit right into my town with no changes. It is interesting, atmospheric, and eminently gameable. Also, the random books table on page 49 is the kind of table I should have made a long time ago considering how many books have been looted in our campaign. And the rules for libraries on p. 41, as well. Zak, thank you for these. Combined with Chris Pound's Dying Earth Spell Generator, I'm much better prepared for dealing with books both arcane and mundane in an interesting fashion.
  • The floorplan shortcut: Ingenious. I often need floorplans for break-ins. For more complex manses, I have printouts of floor plans from here. For simpler domiciles of the well-to-do, I have relied heavily on Georgian townhouse layouts. Both require having things printed up and ready to use, which I usually can manage. But this little shortcut will add variety and simplicity when I need floorplans in the moment. It is one of many clever, useful shortcuts in the book that I'll be able to use directly. There's a lot of ingenuity on display in Vornheim's approach to on-the-fly city generation and play, and the floorplan shortcut is just one of many examples. 
  • The tables: Everyone loves these. I do too. I'll be filling the ranks of Embassy Row from the aristocrats table. And then there are the tables for city NPCs, for shopkeepers, for contacts, for connections between NPCs, for encounters, for searching the body, and for magic effects. All useful, all atmospheric, and all with gameability. 

This is a damned good game book. Even the first part of the book, which presents Vornheim itself, is full of material that can be directly incorporated into any city campaign. The whole book lives up to the subtitle ("The Complete City Kit"), not just the ingenious shortcuts and excellent tables.

I haven't actually used very much published OSR stuff at the game table directly. Our rainy city adventures have been played using either the D&D Rules Cyclopedia or The Fantasy Trip, so I haven't needed retro-clones. Other than my rulebook and my own notes and printouts, the only other stuff I've actually used so far in the campaign are Jason Alexander's Halls of the Mad Mage and Jeff Rients's Miscellaneum of Cinder. Vornheim goes straight into the gaming bag for future rainy city sessions.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

AD&D Character Sheets with a DiTerlizzi Touch

Tony DiTerlizzi has just shared some a nice set of illustrated AD&D character sheets at his blog, for those who are interested.

See the end of this post for the sheets (an elven fighter, elven mage, half-orc, halfling thief,  human fighter, human cleric, and human thief).

Friday, July 1, 2011

If you don't understand wargaming, you shouldn't be a D&D designer

Or, "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." -- "wargame" edition.

This is not a new idea, just my take of something plenty of other people have said in their own ways. It comes with caveats. I'm talking about D&D, not other RPGs. Also, not really talking about homebrewing and hobby culture as a whole. If you're working on something for D&D, do what you like, and all that. I'm thinking about the paid professionals who have the (admittedly often thankless) responsibility of husbanding Dungeons & Dragons.

The simple version is this. The designers of D&D need to understand wargaming. Otherwise they are poorly suited to work on D&D. By wargaming, I don't mean they need to understand the mechanics or rules sets of a large number of wargames in great detail, though cross fertilization is a fine thing. I mean wargaming as a phenomenon, including how wargamers think about what they're doing. Not all minis games are part of wargaming culture, and a lot of popular tabletop strategy games don't count. Click-based tabletop games, for example, are generally more akin to CCG's in terms of their cultures of play. Their cultures of play are rule-oriented and reward rule-oriented cleverness and playing to win. Wargames aren't like this, a point I'll come back to. I don't know about Warhammer or 40K or similar major minis games, but I suspect they're outside wargaming culture. It's easy to lump all "wargames" and "competitive tabletop games" together (as M. Tresca does, very badly, in his recent book). These games all include head-to-head competitive engagements, after all. But they're not all competitive in the same ways, and the ways they differ as competitions turn out to matter quite a lot.

CCGs and click-based games have a competition culture more in common with that of head-to-head video games than with wargaming. I'll use Street Fighter as my point of reference for how competition works in video games, since it's a game I know a bit about. Also, I can let someone better than me explain it.

Here's how you play Street Fighter.

You play to win.

Sirlin spells it out here: Part I, Part II, Part III (To see the culture in action, start here or here and work outward).

In competitive video games, you play to win. That means the game rules are what they are and you apply cleverness and skill to the task of winning using all available means. In CCGs, you get a similar effect. The rules are interpreted legalistically. They don't model anything but themselves. You win by applying cleverness and skill within the rules set. There is no essential fictional component to gameplay. Dungeons and Dragons has moved toward this type of approach, as noted (to choose a prominent example) in Justin Alexander's "Dissociated Mechanics" essay.

In this respect, modern D&D is very different from wargaming, in spite of the superficial fact that miniatures are an important component of most wargames as well as modern D&D. Wargaming isn't found in the use of minis and rulers or hex maps and so on. Indeed, the move from wargames to D&D is not particularly surprising when real wargaming is taken into account. In wargaming, fictional content does affect gameplay. Dissociated mechanics are antithetical to wargaming in general, not just to RPGs.

Bob Cordery summed up a few basic principles for wargaming design (and, in fact, for wargaming play as well) in a recent post at Wargaming Miscellany. I'll repeat them here in brief, but I'd encourage you to read the post for more explanation.

Fred T Jane’s ‘Reality’ or ‘Primary Rule of Wargaming’
‘Nothing can be done contrary to what could or would be done in actual war.’ 
Golf’s ‘Spirit of the Game’
‘Wargames are played, for the most part, without the supervision of an umpire. The game relies on the integrity of the individual players to show consideration for other players and to abide by the rules. All players should conduct themselves in a disciplined manner, demonstrating courtesy and sportsmanship at all times, irrespective of how competitive they may be. This is the spirit of the wargame.’
Joseph Morschauser’s ‘Dice’ ruleJoseph Morschauser had a simple rule for adjudicating events that were not covered by a specific rule. It states:
‘Let the dice decide!’

Probably best to just read Bob Cordry's post. It isn't long!

I am not in fact a heavy wargamer (half a year of regular attendance at the Leeds Wargames club and miscellaneous other play outside that), but Cordery's principles were immediately recognizable to me. They described a lot of what I saw at the club. They are also strikingly at odds with Sirlin's "Play to Win" philosophy as well as the general philosophy of play in CCGs and many other competitive games, a philosophy that is often applied to modern Dungeons & Dragons. Under the broad umbrella of "competition," it's very easy to conflate these approaches, and I've seen them confused more times than I can count. Each approach has its merits, and I happen to enjoy both. Still, it's important that the designers of D&D have a clear understanding of how they differ, and I'm not always sure that they do. Furthermore, confusions about how wargames work is common in online discussions about the relationship between D&D and wargaming, where it's easy to make facile analogies based on surface similarities like the use of minis while missing out on the stark differences in the underlying procedural and play assumptions. I am not opposed to structurally-oriented, and even dissociated systems in principle. I do, however, think it is essential that designers are making informed decisions when incorporating "competitive" elements into their designs. And it's especially important for D&D, given its heritage.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

There are no Coincidences...

This is a principle, if you like, for a Mage game that's just starting out. The game's inspirations include a simple little bit of dialogue from Planetary: "It's a strange world." "Let's keep it that way." (Inspirations also include just about everything else about that book. Also, The Twilight Zone will probably be due for some dedicated viewing.)

Basic assumptions include that none of the setting from Mage is the setting for this game, or not necessarily. We'll build upwards and outwards. The rules are what they are, though, and we build from there. They're the chassis.

It's requiring me to dust off some different GMing tools than I've been using much lately. And maybe develop some new ones.

Today's principle is this.

"There are no coincidences."

This arises from both practical and fictional stuff. Practical because it's the modern world (sort of) and it's also an RPG (really) and some kinds of implausible things are bound to happen or have happened. Like the police officer might not arrest or properly question a group of suspects about an event that must have looked very suspicious from the officer's point of view. Why not? Practical reasons, maybe. It's an RPG. But that's not good enough.

On the other hand, fictional reasons... now we're talking. So that happened. The question now is why.

There are no coincidences.

If it seems strange, it probably is...

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Heist Clock

I've praised the classic D&D turn before, and how it ties into the cycle of wandering monster checks, surprise, reaction checks, morale, escape and pursuit, searching, trapfinding, forcing doors and working at locks, and rest to create "mission time." I've also mentioned my fondness for the idea of twisting D&D for heist style games.

The Heist Clock is an idea for how to leverage the classic exploration turn cycle to run heists in D&D. Here's the basic idea. 

Start with your favorite version of D&D. I like B/X as a starting point for this, but any classic version will do out of the box. With 3rd edition and newer versions, you'll have to institute your own timekeeping and wandering monster check conventions or borrow the ones from a pre-3rd edition version of D&D. 

Here are a few basic assumptions I started with: 
  • 1 turn equals about 10 minutes.
  • Many actions cost 1 turn worth of time, including movement at cautious exploration speed, and also things like combat, searching an area for traps, picking a lock, and so on. These items move the clock forward.
  • Every 2 turns, check for wandering monsters. Monsters are encountered on a 1 in 6. 
  • Check surprise for each party. On 1-2, the party is surprised. 
  • Reaction checks: 1 attack, 2 hostile, 3-4 uncertain, 5 no attack, 6 friendly/helpful.
  • Working traps are sprung on a 2 in 6 chance if passed or if an action is taken that might trigger them. 

For the Heist Clock, the turn becomes somewhat more abstracted. A turn is often ten minutes, but it may be five minutes or less. The GM can still keep rough track of time, but what becomes more important is ticks of the clock

When the heist begins, the clock starts ticking.
The following actions cause an additional tick of the clock. 
  1. Cautious, stealthy movement (i.e., movement at the default exploration rate)
  2. Climbing or overcoming a physical obstacle
  3. Picking a lock on a door or vault
  4. Evaluating a lock, door, vault, or object for traps
  5. One attempt to disarm a trap or other device
  6. Any spellcasting that includes a verbal component
  7. Forcing a door (quick, but loud)
  8. Taking out a sentry, if done relatively quickly and without too much noise
  9. Leaving evidence that you've been in the place (the room is a mess after you searched it, there was a fight and you can't cover it up, you're scattering the bodies of sentries all over the place, etc.) 
  10. A combat
  11. Checking a 10 by 10 area for traps
  12. Checking a small room for secret doors and hidden treasure caches
  13. Stopping in the middle of the job to plan, plot, argue about shares, etc.
  14. Anything else that might increase the likelihood of a complication arising
Every 2nd tick, a check is made for complications. Complications are roughly equivalent to Wandering Monster checks, but a bit more varied. If the place is not on alert, a complication occurs on a 1 in 6. If the place is on increased awareness because you've made a little noise, a complication occurs on a 2 in 6. If the place is on alert, a complication occurs on a 3 in 6. 

If a complication occurs, roll 1d20 on the following table to see what kind of complication arises. This table is a template table, created with the rainy city in mind, but fairly adaptable. When prepping for each heist, the DM should review this table and personalize selected entries to reflect the particular location that the PCs are hitting. If it says "Magic/Weird Trap," for example, the DM should decide what that trap will be as part of prep. And so on. Here's the template: 

Roll 1d20 for a Complication
  1. Magic or weird trap
  2. Locking bars/gates/doors
  3. Silent alarm calls in external help
  4. Mundane trap
  5. Alarm is tripped, raising alert level or calling guards
  6. Guest of the house
  7. Family member of the house
  8. Servant
  9. Small guard patrol (define "small" based on the locale)
  10. Large guard patrol (define "large" based on the locale)
  11. The Lord of the house
  12. False cache is discovered (cache is alarmed or trapped)
  13. Animated object
  14. Genius Loci
  15. Ghost or poltergeist
  16. Cursed item (item is locked away, alarmed, or trapped)
  17. A curse/geas is triggered
  18. Magic or weird guardian
  19. Cross a pentagram, something is released
  20. Rival crew of thieves robbing the place at the same time
In addition to the above random complications, it's also possible to seed the place with random discoveries. I'm using a bunch of floorplans from mansions and large houses for most of these break ins, with some D&D style maps thrown in as well. It's easy to assign 2d4 locations in the house as sites for potential discoveries. If the players search an appropriate room and succeed in finding secret or hidden things, they find the discovery in addition to whatever else might be there. This table can be tailored to the mission as well, or these can be rolled up ahead of time. 

  1. Trapped demon, imp, ifrit, ghul, fairy, or other magical being tied to a pentagram or item
  2. Magic pool, fountain, deck of cards, other source of random good and bad things for the risk takers
  3. Magic gate, goblin door, wardrobe
  4. Secret room
  5. Spell components or lab ingredients
  6. Incriminating evidence against the owner of the house, e.g. of conspiracy, cult membership, etc.
  7. Scroll(s)
  8. Potion(s)
  9. Gem(s)
  10. Coins
  11. Jewelry
  12. Art objects
  13. Papers, deeds, letters of marque
  14. Magic item
  15. Genius Loci who will help the party, dislikes the owner of the house
  16. Spellbook
  17. Other ally (servant, family member, guest, etc. who dislikes the owner or wants a cut)
  18. Memento mori of value
  19. Vault or hoard
  20. Secret escape tunnel or other passage out of the house

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The AD&D 2nd Edition Monstrous Manual that might have been

The AD&D 2nd edition Monstrous Manual is one of the high points of 2nd edition, a fact that has been rightfully championed by noisms both on his blog and at It's nearly a perfect monster book, and it could have been even better.

But what if it had been entirely illustrated by Tony DiTerlizzi? Wishful thinking?

It almost happened.

Over the last couple days, thanks to the work of a colleague, Ari Berk, Central Michigan University has been hosting "Imagining the Fantastic," and Tony is one of the guests. The talks, art, and panel discussions have been fantastic, and Ari really pulled it off with this one. It's a rare opportunity to have artists of such caliber visiting mid-Michigan. It's been especially great because it has been relatively small event. Big for Mt. Pleasant, certainly, and a success on all counts. But still much smaller than the usual conventions you might find these folks at, allowing just about anyone to have real conversations with the guests.

Thanks to this, I had a chance to meet Tony, and he was a friendly, engaging guy who was a pleasure to talk to, and who seemed genuinely pleased when I asked him if he had any favorite illustrations from the Monstrous Manual. He didn't say, but instead told me the story of his involvement with it. After working on Dragon Mountain, his first job with TSR, he was invited to be involved with the Monstrous Manual and asked which creatures or creature types he'd be interested in working on. He'd responded by submitting a variety of things and telling them to let him know what they'd like him to do, based on his samples. And to his surprise, TSR asked him to illustrate the full book.

Unfortunately, at the time, they also wanted it with such a short deadline that he couldn't possibly have done it. Instead, he only was able to do certain creature types, and other artists worked on the rest of the monsters. If you've ever looked at your Monstrous Manual and thought, as I have, "Why isn't this whole book illustrated by DiTerlizzi?", now you know. To TSR's credit, they recognized the genius of asking him to do the whole book. Unfortunately, deadlines and publication schedules got in the way. It's still a fantastic book, but damn, that is a "might have been" for the ages.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Imagining the Fantastic: Mythic Art, Music, and Conversation at Central Michigan University

April 15 & 16, 2011 Central Michigan University will be host to a two day event featuring Ari Berk, Brian Froud, Wendy Froud, Tony DiTerlizzi, Charles Vess,
Elizabeth-Jane Baldry, Carolyn Dunn, Edward Gamarra.

Imagining the Fantastic: Mythic Art, Music, and Conversation at Central Michigan University

It's nice to have something like this right in my own backyard! Kudos to Ari Berk for putting it together.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A Walk in the Sump

Welcome to the Sump -- The Rainy City's boggy, waterlogged slums -- a place of rotting huts on tilted stilts, of murk and muck, of shaky walkways over muddy pools, and of beggars, rafts, and rice. Watch your step!

1d20 Sump Happenings
1. A Barge Bar: A flat swamp barge with a rough tarp to keep off most of the rain. Patrons sit on the floor of the barge, drinking rice wine from bowls, dipping their cups in buckets of the stuff for refills.
2. Leech Hunters: A team of 1d4+1 men sitting in a flat bottomed boat. Leaky empty casks on heavy ropes trail off the sides of the ship, each with a piece of bloody meat in the bottom. When enough fat leeches make it into a bucket, they pull it in and add to their stock.
3. Slumming Midtowners: Probably looking for cheap thrills, cheap rice wine, and small frogs.
4. Will O' the Wisp: Faintly glowing lights dance through the shadows just off the path. During the day, they flicker away immediately. At night, save vs spells or follow them. If followed, roll 1d6: on a 1-4 they lead you into a muddy bog (swim, if you can), 5 into a tar pit, 6 to the door of a sunken crypt.
5. Poison frog: Don't lick it if you have any work to do today. (Roll 1d6, on a 1 tripping, sweating, puking, save vs poison or die, 2-3 tripping, sweating, puking, but ok, 4 tripping, sweating, nauseuous, 5 tripping, sweating, 6 feels good man.)
6. Giant poison frog: Don't lick it. (Roll 1d6, on a 1-5 tripping, sweating, puking, you die (no save), on a 6 tripping, sweating, puking, save vs poison or die.)
6. Bog Wight: A lot of corpses get dumped in the Sump. Some of them come back up. (Roll 1d6, on a 1-2 treat as Skeleton, 3-4 as Zombie, 5 as Ghoul, 6 as Wight.)
7. Fresh Tar Pit: Tar bubbling up from the muck -- fresh tar pit emerging. Roll 1d6, on 1-3 it's just a little tar, maybe a bucket full, 4-5 it's enough for a few days of tar mining, 6 there's a tar geyser and a new tar mine will be opened here for 1d6 months).
8. Wine Wife Needs Help: A wine-maker will pay 1d6 good pieces of copper and a free cup of rice wine for help unloading rice from her boat to her distillery shack.
9. Mad Cadger: A crazy beggar spouting dire predictions about the future, 1 in 6 chance the cadger is a true diviner.
10. Wisper Men: A group of 1d4+2 men with wide brimmed hats and lanterns on poles. During the day, they're resting under a canopy. At night, they're out hunting Will o' the Wisps. They catch the lights and separate them, neutralizing the charm effect. Individual wisps can be sold for lanterns. When hunting, each man is chained to the raft. The keys are with the Wisper Master back at the hut.
11. Sump Gang: Local gang members are watching you. Make a reaction check. On a friendly result, you look like a potential customer. On a hostile result, you look like competition. They are armed with knives, hatchets, long razors, and hand axes.
12. Drunken Tar Miners: Off duty tar miners, drinking, gambling, and swapping tales about weird crypts hidden in the mud of the Sump, tar demons, and lost treasures.
13. Chemist: Chemist down from Old Town to collect herbal ingredients for alchemical drugs and potions. Has a small boat and 1d6 apprentices. Myriad bags, baskets, boxes, and vials litter the boat.
14. The Worm's Man: Old man in rags, carrying a cottonmouth in his left hand, out on an errand. He is the servant of the worm that lives in the ruined well at the heart of the Sump. The worm will make your wish come true, but you must make a wish come true for it in exchange. The worm's man is still paying for his wish, whatever it was.
15. Logging Jack Crew: Logging Jacks cutting good wood for sale to Old Town craftsmen. They're busy with work, but may have news about current wood prices or recent Old Town rumors.
16. Cormorant Fisher: Fisherman with a cormorant with cord tied about its neck. The cormorant dips below and brings up fish but can't swallow. The fisherman harvests his catch but gives the cormorant its due.
17. Jaunty Hat Floating in the Muck: If recovered, it bestows upon the wearer a certain panache. If worn in the middle class neighborhood of Prominence Bluffs ("The Mids") after dark, there is a 1 in 6 chance each hour that the wearer is attacked by the Mids Murderer and his Demon Arm.
18. Uncle Snapper: Ancient snapping turtle, roughly the size of a bull. Floating aimlessly. Harmless unless provoked.
19. Allspice: Grocer boat, possibly heading to or from Bridger's Market. Selling rice, cattail, kelp, leeches, shellfish, lampreys, frog, and eel.
20. Lily Mourners: Water lilies float up from the spot where someone has drowned. A group of sorrowful mourners (1d4) prays near a new lily. Roll 1d6, on 1-4, they are praying for the lost soul, on 5 they are letting down hooks trying to dredge up the body to rifle its pockets, on 6 they're doing both.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Genealogy of the Two-Weapon Fighting Ranger

Thoughts prompted by flipping through various AD&D books in just the right order.

In AD&D 1e, rangers don't have two weapon fighting.

In AD&D 2e, they do. Drizzt is, I think, commonly cited as the source. But where did Drizzt's two weapon fighting come from?

Unearthed Arcana.

It was Unearthed Arcana that introduced the Drow as an official PC race. And as Unearthed Arcana (p. 10) notes:

Dark elves do not gain the combat bonuses of the surface elves with regard to sword and bow, but may fight with two weapons without penalty, provided each weapon may be easily wielded in one hand.

This ability may have precedents in the D series of modules or other sources (Dragon?). Anyone know?

So here's what I'm seeing. A two weapon wielding dark elf ranger who is an exile from his homeland (see UA p. 10, again) is a legitimate starting character type in AD&D, via Unearthed Arcana. The books take off, people dig Drizzt, and the two weapon fighting thing gets transferred/associated with the character class (ranger) rather than the race (dark elf) in a lot of people's minds. AD&D 2e makes it official. From 3e (3.5, especially) on, it is generalized even more, leading to weapon styles, which are especially numerous in Pathfinder.

Maybe you already knew this. I just realized it (assuming I'm getting the major lines of descent right).


The literary inspiration for the original D&D ranger was Strider.

Now it's Drizzt.

Modern D&D -- Ouroboros or Oedipus?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Fisticuffs in D&D

Bar brawls.

Man, did we have bar brawls when we played D&D in junior high and high school. I think some days our D&D campaign would have been better titled "Punch a Cavalier in his Arrogant Face: The Role Playing Game."

So your party is in yet another bar brawl. When you roll to hit, also roll an extra 1d6. If you hit, refer to the following table for the results:

1 One-Two Punch (you are +1 to hit this target next round)
2 Kidney Punch (victim is -1 to hit next round due to pain)
3 Low Blow (if male, victim must save vs paralysis or lose next action)
4 Uppercut (+2 damage)
5 Head Butt (victim must save vs paralysis or be stunned next round: may move or attack but not both)
6 Haymaker (+1d3 damage)

This is loosely inspired by the brawling and wrestling tables from AD&D 2nd edition, and should be usable with your favorite version of classic D&D. I went with a d6 to keep the number of possibilities small, thus better creating a coherent sense of a particular style of fighting. This way I can do other styles like so:

Halfling Folkstyle Wrestling
1 Foot Stomp (victim may not move next round)
2 Double Leg Tackle (victim must save vs Paralysis or be knocked down, automatically losing initiative next round)
3 Bear Hug (victim must save vs Paralysis or be held next round; fighter may apply damage to held victim next round without an attack roll)
4 Clothesline (victim must save vs Paralysis or lose next action getting up from the ground)
5 Ear Clap (victim is -1 AC next round from stun)
6 Uppercut (if victim is halfling sized, +2 damage; if victim is human sized, treat as Low Blow)

Or so:

Monkey Kung Fu
1 Drunken Monkey (fighter gains +1 AC for one round)
2 Stone Monkey (fighter takes -1d3 damage from all attacks for one round)
3 Lost Monkey (fighter is at +1 to hit due to the trickiness of their attacks)
4 Standing Monkey (fighter attacks from distance; victim must move in again to make a melee attack)
5 Wooden Monkey (+1d3 damage from barrage of attacks)
6 Monkey Steals the Peach (if male, victim must save vs paralysis or lose next action)

Or weapon-based systems like so:

Sword and Board
1 Defensive Slash (+1 AC)
2 Hold the Line (opponents may not move past the fighter)
3 Shield Bash (+1d3 damage)
4 Shield Rush (victim is knocked back one square and fighter may enter the breach)
5 Shield Pin (victim must save vs. Paralysis or be pinned and unable to move next round)
6 All Out Attack (+2 damage)

Or monsters like so:

Dragon Bite
1 Rending Bite (victim is -1 to attack next round from pain)
2 Piercing Bite (victim is -1 AC next round from damage to armor)
3 Shaking Bite (victim is shaken up and takes 1d6 additional damage)
4 Chew 'em Up (save vs paralysis or be caught in dragon's jaws; dragon may deal bite damage next round without rolling to hit)
5 Spit 'em Out (roll dex or lower on 1d20 or be spit out of melee range; must spend next round getting back into range or use a ranged weapon)
6 Flaming Bite (+Dragon's HD in additional damage from breath weapon crackling out during the bite)

The effects assume you're not using minis, so they abstract things a bit. If you're using minis, you can probably translate the effects of throws and the like into inches or squares pretty readily. It would be fairly easy to expand this into a bunch of different fighting styles and weapon styles. Fighters could learn one unarmed or weapon style for every so many levels (e.g., 1st, 3rd, 6th, 9th). Rogues could learn a style or two (e.g. one at 3rd level, another at 9th). Clerics could learn one at 3rd and 9th as well. Magic Users might be allowed one at 6th, if at all. Monks/Mystics might get as many as one style every level, with the requirement that 2/3rds or more of the styles be unarmed. Anyone with more than one style must declare which style they're using at the beginning of the round, before dice are rolled. If you don't declare a style, it's assumed that you are using the style you used last round. If it's the first round of the fight and you don't declare a style, it's assumed you're just attacking normally.

The effects are kept small in most cases. I don't want these to circumvent the basic "to hit roll + damage roll vs hit points" economy of the game, just add a little random, fun spice without requiring players to improvise elaborate descriptions of what they are doing each round.

Other Notes
  • No effects last more than one round, to avoid adding a bunch of modifiers to track.
  • Only one style can be declared active per round.
  • The really minor effects just happen.
  • More serious effects (leading to lost actions, etc.) provide a save to avoid the effect.
The system is pretty loose, so GMs will probably have to adjudicate details and extrapolate from context (e.g., A halfling can't take down a dragon. Should be able to tackle a human to the ground, though, if you're running a somewhat unrealistic adventure style game.)

Also, here's another take on kung fu for D&D, in case you're in the market and it better fits your style of game.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Fantasy Trip Reference Sheets

The Fantasy Trip is a fantastic game, but not one of the best organized. This is especially true for the listings of talents and spells, which aren't very efficient when needed for quick reference during character creation or at the table. Because of this, I've created a few of summary sheets and alphabetical reference booklets, which I use when we play the game, alongside David O. Miller's excellent play aides. Thanks to Fenway5's recent Melee/Wizard/TFT kick, I've decided to share thesee. I hope someone find them useful.

The following are simple summary tables of the talents (along with prerequisites) and spells. There are two versions of each table: one full alphabetical listing and one organized by IQ requirement.
Reference Booklets
I often find that I need to look up a talent or skill, and finding its specific effects goes much faster with a full alphabetized list. The following files are meant for booklet style printing. I keep a copy of each handy whenever I'm running the game.
Also, check out Fenway5's recent series of posts. He's been talking about Melee, Wizard, and The Fantasy Trip over the last few days, not only sharing a cool link to a copy of Melee he found, but also releasing his own Sword & Shield combat game for free on his Roguish FRP blog.