Friday, January 28, 2011

Behind the Screen Part 3: Random Charts

It's always great to read how other DMs run their sessions and the tools that they use. In my previous posts I've touched on the rules and supplements that I use in our campaign and then I talked about the custom DM screen that I created.

Today I'm going to touch on one of the biggest aids in our sessions and those would be the random charts.

Randomness is almost the heart and soul of any good RPG and in a sandbox campaign I let the dice fall where they may. If I roll too tough of a monster for an encounter, the PCs better be smart enough to high-tail it out of there. Roll a hefty hoard of treasure guarded by a not so hefty monster, so be it - stranger things can happen.

In a sandbox campaign random charts can be a godsend as they can help flesh out, on the fly if needed, encounters, personalities, situations, reactions, cities, dungeons, treasures, names, magic items - almost anything that one might need.

If you've been reading this blog then you may know that I have given the campaign world just a broad-stroke and tend to fill things in little by little as needed in our adventures - NPC, situations, events, shops etc. Also, my prep time for sessions has diminished to almost nothing (though I do spend some time during the week fleshing things out in the back of my mind if need be but it's pretty minimal). So I've come to rely on the randomness of charts. It makes the game fun and surprising for the DM and the players. It can change the course of a dull session or open up new vistas of plot points that can be quite troublesome to the PC involved. A splendid time indeed!

With the interwebs and the fantastic community of bloggers, finding useful random charts are as easy as rolling for wandering monsters. There are soooo many great and creative charts out there that it's almost impossible to keep track of them all. Whenever I find a great random chart on someone's blog, I'll copy that material and paste it into a document (reformatting if necessary) so I can print it out and add it to my collection.

So here are a number of charts that I've found to be most useful in our table-top campaign. I've bound these all into a binder and pull certain charts out as needed.

Old School Encounters Reference - a must download!!

City Encounters for Swords & Wizardry (Matt Finch)

Tome of Minor Items (dragonsfoot)

Quick NPC Traits Checklist (DnDBorderlands Blog)

Adventurer's Ordinance: 110 Magical Items Part One by Jesse Muir

Adventurer's Ordinance: 110 Magical Items Part Two by Jesse Muir

How to make a fantasy Sandbox (bat in the attic)

Entering the City Taxes (Dungeons and Digressions)

Wilderness Encounters

100 Book titles

Caster prices (OD&D boards)

Resurrection (Dragonsfoot - though I think I got this from somewhere else)

Guards at the Gate (Gothridge Manor)

Carousing Mishaps (Jeff Rients - a must have)

NPC Personalities (Black Gate)

Weird Room Stuff (Black Gate)

Quick Hex Contents Generator (Black Gate)

Slum Encounters (Black Gate)

Beyond the Black Gate Compendium 2009 (Black Gate)

And the new "What In The Hole" (Black Gate)

Unique Treasure Generation (Hack & Slash)

If you haven't noticed yet, Al over at Beyond the Black Gate has some fantastic resources and creates some of the best charts. A huge thank you to Al! In fact, I nominate him for a Master of Dungeons Award for 2010! (we really should create that)

Great Online random generators

Fantasy Name Generator
Meatshield: Henchmen & Hireling Generator
Dungeon Generator
Check out donjon; RPG Tools

I also use the treasure charts in the Labryinth Lord rule book, some charts from Basic Fantasy RPG and, of course, the trusty AD&D 1st ed. DMG.

This is by no means an exhausted list but these are some of the charts that I've found to be useful. If anyone else has some useful charts that they've created or run across, let me know and I'll add them to this list.

When next we chat I'll talk about the use of miniatures on our table-top.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Ruins of the White Watch

A little shout out to Andrew Hamilton and his new adventure Ruins of the White Watch. An adventure module that he wrote and is available at Dragonsfoot. It's a nifty high level exploration of a centuries old long lost watch garrison with a cover illustration by yours truly with help from the wife. Check it out, it's a free download over at Dragonsfoot.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

I Don't Play Dungeons & Dragons Anymore

No I don't.

Let's face it. The stewards of the IP are hammering the final nails into the coffin of what the original game use to be. With their lack of focus on what the heck 4E is (is it Essentials, is the PHB(s) is it the "Red Box"), their total disconnection of all previous versions of the game, to their final 'Fortune Cards' (Hasbro/WotC call it the Pokemon Effect), the official game of Dungeons and Dragons is now something completely different and stand alone.

But that is not all. It has been talked about the blogosphere that Pathfinder is now outselling D&D 4E (see here, here and here).

Dungeons & Dragons is now just a couple of words that are loosing all meaning. Maybe not yet monetarily for some but the title Dungeons & Dragons is fast becoming a relic of the past. It use to be the best quick descriptor of what an RPG is. Many people have heard what D&D is having lived through the 80's even though they may not have played the game. The name Dungeons & Dragons has become a part of our pop-culture, a term used more as part of the background foundation of the history of RPGs than as a game - and that's it's only value right now.

And that's fine. I really don't care. I haven't bought an official D&D product in over 20 years so no money lost on my part.

So I don't play D&D anymore.

That doesn't mean that I don't roll my dice in my fantasy realms. The spirit of Dungeons & Dragons and it's creators has given us a game that can be what we want it to be and right now for me that game is Swords & Wizardry or Labyrinth Lord, or any of these other spin-offs and branches of the original game. Maybe for me it can even be Pathfinder.

WotC's D&D has too evolved and that's okay. The game was meant to evolve. Perhaps it will evolve itself into oblivion. But from this deep rooted tree has branched off an entire industry, sub-industry, hobby-craft, culture.

Besides, isin't everything just a house rule anyway?

So I don't play D&D anymore.

Again, to reward those of you who have read through this little rant I present to you yet another obligatory contribution to my fellow bloggers & loyal readers.

Out Of Dungeon Living Expenses

During a campaign, time outside of the dungeon tends to go by quickly. Below are charts to keep track of some general expenses based on the PC's chosen standard of living. These are very loose guidelines to help the GM deplete the financial resources of his party of adventurers. The GM should feel free to ad-lib these charts as he/she sees fit. Some daily expenses have been added for convenience.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Session: XXVIII: Moon-Tower

This session began four weeks after our party exited the deep tunnels beneath Zenopus' Tower carrying the body of the slain Adara.

During those four weeks of mid-winter, Arven's Avengers, persuaded strongly by Televon, decided to claim the ruined tower for their own and christened it Moon-Tower.

Going into Caladan to hire some men-at-arms to guard their new digs, Slick Vinny slipped off to the Green Dragon Inn and met with his secret brotherhood the Crafty Mages to inquire about some additional spells. In town, Gnarly and Televon hired some carpenters to begin work on rebuilding the tower's ruined third level. Afterwards,, Gnarly left the group to return to Harrowood to commune with nature and to rebuild his mushroom-man army.

At the end of the four weeks there is quite a bit of hustle and bustle amidst the tower and many townsfolk of Caladan were abuzz with talk of the new tenants of the tower, some quite excited about it while others apprehensive and fearful of a dread outcome to that venture. Of course, all this happening under the distant watchful eye of the Merchant Guild of Caladan.

Having depleted much of their resources and quite fatigued with logistics of reconstruction, the party, consisting of Gnarly Blunderbrush, Initiate 3rd Circle; Televon, Priest of Morpheus; Wofheir the Viking Barbarian; Tibag Backstabber - robber; Slick Vinny, Conjurer; Skwanky Furrytoe, Halfling Swordsman; Maudlin the Dwarven Warrior and joined by Adessa the Amazon Adept of the Goddess decided to once again brave the depths of the basements of their new Moon-Tower.

Returning to the deepest level yet below the ground, the party returned to the mysterious cat room and the pool of green mist. After much debate, Tibag volunteered to be lowered into the mist by rope. Skwanky would go along with him for back up.

Both companions were lowered into the pool of mist. After a very short time of being in the mist, they found themselves within a chamber, to their left a twenty foot alcove with a luxurious couch, a table atop of which was a small wooden chest; to their right, another twenty foot alcove with a twisted iron stand holding a gilded gold sphere! Below, a bottomless pit of doom!

Tibag and Skwanky were swung over to the left side and explored the couch and chest. The chest was discovered to be locked and after a quick probing for traps, Tibag picked the lock. In doing so, his finger was pricked by an unseen needle but the poison didn't have any affect on him. Inside the chest was a vial of smoky liquid and a small gold key.

Being carried over to the other side by their companions above, Tibag and Skwanky began to examine the iron stand and the golden sphere. Inside the sphere is spied a large spherical crystal looking much like a cat's eye marble. Tibag placed the key in the hole and no sooner does a lynx appear behind them. Skwanky quickly dispatches the lynx and they get back to the crystal within the golden sphere.

As Tibag unlocks the sphere they heard a growl from behind as there had appeared a mountain lion! Again, Skwanky fought this cat, and nearly dying forces the mountain lion over the edge. It is decided to send Maudlin down.

With the dwarf below, Tibag opens the lid to remove the crystal. In doing so, a Lion appears. Tibag and Maudlin fight the lion and soon defeat it. The crystal is put into Maudlin's bag while Skwanky and Tibag are hauled up. Televon yells down to Maudlin to not forget the couch to begin furnishing the Moon-Tower!

With Maudlin tied to a couch the mushrooms begin hauling her up but at the moment in which Maudlin breaks the surface of the mist there appeared a Tiger from the open passage. As the mushrooms pulled up Maudlin and the couch the rest of the party with a healed Skwanky battled the lion. Skwanky ended up wounded once again!

Once the Tiger is dispatched appearing from the other opening is a large Sabre-tooth Tiger charging at the party!

Televon shouts at Maudlin to speak commands into the sphere but the dwarf pays no head to the cleric's calls and instead tossed her dwarven hammer at the oncoming beast while the rest of the party bombard it with ranged attacked. As the beast finally slides dead at the foot of the party, brought down by one of Vinny's magic missiles, it is discussed whether to return to the surface to lick their wounds...

Friday, January 7, 2011

A Vist With The Campaign Gods

As we get ready to restart our campaign after our holiday hiatus, I thought I'd take this time to visit with some of the grim gods of our little world. The worship of the gods have been part of the background wash within the campaign - never taking the forefront but always leaving their guiding impression for the PC's to find. Most factions are broken along religious lines with the gods and their followers and cultists manipulating from a distance.

So I bring to you the Realm of the Gods....Behold and tremble

I feel that besides spells, these gods should give their devout follower a special minor ability  that a PC can use once per day or per session depending on the type of game.

Worshiped by The Holy Order of Light they await his return from beyond the sun!
Once per day/session, a cleric of Anu, with the proper prayer, is able to cast a light spell that lasts 1 turn / level of caster as per the spell

Saint Mellon
A follower made saint of Anu.
Once per day/session, a  cleric of St. Mellon, with the proper prayer, is able to cast a light spell that lasts 1 turn / level of caster as per the spell but with a radius of 5 feet.
The Northern Host
The Viking and barbaric gods; Lawful Odin, Neutral Thor and Crom!
Once per day/session, a  cleric of the Northern Host, with the proper prayer, is granted a +1 bonus to hit AND damage for one round/level during combat against Chaotic foes
The Black Church
Azathoth, Hastur, Cthulhu and of course, Dagon.
Once per day/session, a  cleric of the Black Church, with the proper prayer, is granted a +1 bonus to hit AND damage for one round/level during combat against Lawful foes
Perhaps the most widely worshipped is the god of law and truth.
Once per day/session, a  cleric of Mithra, with the proper prayer, is granted a +1 bonus to hit AND damage for one round/level during combat against Chaotic foes
The Goddess
The beautiful, iron-willed and physically powerful goddess of Amazonia
Once per day/session, a  cleric of The Goddess, with the proper prayer, is granted a +1 bonus to hit AND damage for one round/level during combat against Chaotic foes

He who conquered death
Upon death, a cleric of Ozymandius may roll a save.  If successful, the character conquers death and  is only unconscious with 0 hit points.
The God of Magic
There are no clerics of Artaban, only Magic Users who aspire to be knowledgeable of all things.
The Lord of Hell and the ruler of the Underworld
Once per day/session, a  cleric of Asmodeus, with the proper prayer, is granted a +1 bonus to hit AND damage for one round/level during combat against Lawful foes.
The God of slavery
Gains slave/lacky/toady 3 levels below PC (minimum 0 level).  The slave/lacky/toady has no  additional skills but is just subserviant to it's "master's" needs including self-sacrifice if asked.  The PC only gains 1 slave/lacky/toady and if killed, does not receive another until next level is achieved.
God of sleep
Once per day/session, a  cleric of Hypnos, with the proper prayer, is able to cast a sleep spell that affects 1 npc one HD lower than the PC.  The spell lasts for one turn.
The Alluring Goddess of Pleasure and Luck
Once per day/session, a  cleric of Istar, with the proper prayer, is able to reroll one die roll.
The Destroyer
Once per day/session, a  cleric of the Black Church, with the proper prayer, is granted a +1 bonus to hit AND damage for one round/level during combat against Lawful foes
Lord of the Dream Realm and the brother to Hypnos.
Once per day/session, a  cleric of Morpheus, with the proper prayer and meditation, has the ability to gain a very brief dreamlike vision of what may or may not come to pass as determined by the GM.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Are Playing FRPG's An Expensive Hobby?

No, it's not.

We'll, it doesn't have to be.

When I first got into fantasy gaming back in, oh '79 or so, the business model (if there was one) for the D&D game was quite simple. Here are the rules, get some graph paper, dice and some friends and imagination and have at it. You really didn't have to buy anything more than a $10 set of rules. Sure there were modules and Minis but when your allowance was a dollar a week, that didn't get you much (okay $5 for mowing a lawn - still!) but you really didn't need any of that stuff. It didn't stop us at all from playing any of the RPGs that came out back then, Top Secret, Gamma World, Traveller. We all just made everything up. That was the simplicity and fun of the game.

It was one hell of a hobby but it really wasn't a good business model which is probably why many small game companies back then vanished and TSR slowly evolved and got eaten up.

So an RPG, (d)evolving from a hobby into a business has to constantly feed the 'consumer' with product they think they need or are forced to need. Case in point: one certain Wizard's 4th edition of everyone's favorite game. Book upon book (expensive hard cover no less) of crap that is wound ever so tightly into their official version of the game, The Box(!), Essentials, online subscriptions and now a bunch of 'optional' power cards. Sure, maybe you don't need it all but then you're really left out if you start playing in other groups or in stores, etc. So the entry into this game is a considerable investment of ever scarcer dough. And then there's this online service to gain access to updates to their rules. More money. Official campaigns - more money. Minis and battlements - more money. If you don't play it the right way, you suck - more money.

So, can an RPG game actually be a viable business? Sure if you think of yourself as a 10 HD Vampire sucking 2 levels of cash out of your loyal customer base. 'Cause once the rules for the game are out there the publisher is kinda out of the loop. The bottom line doesn't look so good at that point.

The game as a hobby, however, is something to talk about.

As a hobby the game can be whatever you want it to be. And that's just what it is; a hobby. Get yourself some rules, many of which you can download for free, some graph paper, some friends and imagination and have at it.

And the hobbyists of the OSR and pre-OSR have produced a ton of material, most of which is free or modestly priced from print on demand versions. There's also a great community of bloggers and forums here on the interwebs that can supply you with endless resources which didn't exist 30+ years ago. But don't let that stop you from picking up some of the many items put out by the DIY publishers, 'cause they're awesome!

For me the game will always be a hobby. A fun and inexpensive hobby.

Okay, since I ranted a bit, here's my obligatory contribution to my fellow bloggers & loyal readers.

Not all wilderness encounters need to be NPC's or monsters. I like to throw in something odd to throw the players off or make them think. So here's 10 wilderness encounters to toss around.

  1. A hollow whistling call can be heard off to the left that is soon answered by another from the right. The source cannot be found.
  2. The breeze stops blowing and no animal movement or call is heard. Complete silence. After a few moments, the breeze begins to blow and birds start singing once again.
  3. A large black raven is seen perched on a branch or rock and appears to be watching the party. Miles later, the same raven again appears.
  4. A colorfully painted abandoned gypsy wagon or tent lies just off the path. It is empty but for a small shiny black spherical stone.
  5. An incredibly large fresh pile of dung fills the path. There are no signs of tracks.
  6. A large rock or tree with a magic mouth spell cast upon it says to the party as they pass, “I wouldn’t go that way if I were you!”
  7. An impaled body is hanging from a large spike in the ground. Vultures are picking at it’s flesh and bones.
  8. A child’s laughter can be heard. If searched for, the source cannot be found but the laughing moves deeper into the wilderness.
  9. Along the side of the path is a wooden table. On the table are two flagons filled with red wine.
  10. A large smiley face with devil horns has been drawn into the dirt. A stick is on the ground nearby.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Warlock Visits Castle Ravenloft!

Over the holiday some of us in our gaming group got together and played WOTC's Castle Ravenloft. It's a dungeon crawl adventure board-game based on the D&D 4th ed. rule-set.

First of all I have to say that it's a very well packaged game. Tons of plastic minis, nice dungeon pieces that fit together quite well. Once the game gets moving it has a good pace to it.

The players choose from your standard cache of adventurers; rogue, cleric, wizard, fighter (dragon-kind) to explore this Castle Ravenloft which changes with every play. Each of the character roles has a number of 'powers' and daily powers that can be used throughout the session which you use during this combat heavy game. The party survives best if they use their powers together, something which seems to be the core of 4th ed. adventuring.

The dungeon tiles are quite nicely done and fit together well - like a puzzle! There are also a number of different quests so the game can be a new excitement for quite some time. Over all it reminds me of a more complicated version of the original Dungeon! game from TSR.

I think this board game translates very nicely with the 4ed. base concept of all these crazy powers. To me, 4e seemed very combat heavy with not much room for adventuring or role-playing. Castle Ravenloft fits this concept like a glove! In fact, it's a better fit for 4th edition rules than fitting 4th edition into the role-playing game genre. Something for WOTC to think about. Of course you can only advance up to a second level character; not much there for the Hasbro bean counters to look forward to.

The only other thing that I would mention is that the rules for this game seemed to be poorly written. All of us are veteran gamers and we still had trouble interpreting what the rules were tying to get at. Maybe it was that giant ham sandwich we all ate before we started to play but I don't think so. We had to tweak things to get the game moving and we still weren't sure if we played it totally correctly.

Overall it was a fun time and we all looked forward to giving it another go. If you're looking for an afternoon of relaxed dungeon crawling adventure, Castle Ravenloft would fit the bill. Of course, with the $50 + price tag it's a bit of an investment but I guess that's better than having to buy all the 4e crap that WOTC markets to it's client-base. I hate that manipulative crap! Remember the good ol' days where you can dish out just a few bucks for a game? Progress I guess.

Oh, and keep the party together.

More fantasy board-game goodness...

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Happy Who Year And All That...

Yes, after a nice long and needed holiday break, the Warlock is heading back to the keyboard to blather on once again about stuff no one really cares about except for a handful of old school gamers such as yourselves!'

Our gaming group has been on break for a number of weeks now and I think we're all looking forward to diving back in to our table-top sessions next Monday. Some of us did get together and play WOTC's Castle Ravenloft which was pretty fun. I'll give my thoughts on that shortly.

Here's to the new year, may your rolls be ever higher (unless you need to roll low)!