Friday, December 14, 2012

Session XLIX: The River Of Despair

Still lost and trapped in the caves beneath the palace of the hobgoblin king, our party of fearless mercenaries were face to face with a swarm of Steam Weavels and a Lava Lizard!  The insects swarmed the half-orc Arg but Gnarly the druid called forth a ball of flame which attracted the swarm to the heat and he tossed them down into the steam vent.  With Arg free he lead the charge against the Lava Lizard and soon hacked him to pieces with the only loss being a melted sword.

As they decided what path to take to find a way out of these caves, they cut the lava lizard up to make armor out of him if and when they ever escaped.

Exploring more tunnels they ran across another lava lizard then some Piranha Birds and eventually found a large cavern with a running river through it an out into a larger cave opening.

Thinking it best to backtrack and cover all their ground in hopes that they have maybe missed an escape route, they found a secret room guarded by some hungry striges guarding three chests of valuable treasure!

Not finding anyway out of their situation short of trying to build a scaffolding to gain entrance to the pit that sent them down here they headed back to the underground river.

To their right was the roar of underground rapids while to the left the river meandered deeper into the underworld.

Thinking that the traversing the rapids would lead them up towards the surface they began walking against the current but the further they traveled the stronger and more treacherous it became until one by one, they were being knocked down and sent tumbling back to the main cavern.

Hopeless and wet, they decided to travel downstream in the warm shallow river occasionally finding a dry shelf to rest upon.

Alas, being wet, wounded and lost was too much for the mighty Arg and he succumbed to fatigue and broke down and wouldn't leave the shelf.

At a loss of how to keep moving forward with an unwilling half-orc, Gnarly sent Tuk the owl on ahead.  Further down the river, the owl spied another shelf, larger with a cave opening and with an armored lizard-man standing guard!

It was here that the party decided to rest; on a tiny shelf, inches above an underground river hundreds of feet below the surface, wounded and wet...

This was our last RPG session of the year as the holidays become too hectic to gather together.  I was hoping to finish with more of a bang, and those of you who know the adventure know what I'm talking about, but, as usual, the players didn't go along with my unspoken plan.  So we ended on a bit of a grim note.  Not a bad thing by any means, actually.  It kind of felt like the ending of the middle of a trilogy.

So, a break for now and when we return there will be plenty of action and perils ahead!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Encumbrance: A Managed Resource

One aspect of a classic FRPG that is often overlooked or disregarded after the initial character generation is Encumbrance.

Encumbrance is the foundation of all movement and time based aspects of the game session.  It lets the GM and player know how much the character is carrying which in turn determines that character's movement rate which in turn determines distance traveled during a round or turn or day which determines when an encounter may happen or a resource or spell effect is used up.  Remember, a party only moves as fast as it's slowest character, which can cause all sorts of trouble during a dungeon delve or wilderness journey

As you can see, there is a lot tied into encumbrance but it is often something that is glossed over and estimated throughout a session by both players and GM.  There's nothing wrong with that.  Players and GMs have plenty to keep track of during a session; treasures, hit points, equipment resources, NPCs, quest clues, etc., and making encumbrance just one more thing to keep track of ends up being at at the bottom of the priority list, kind of like a dump stat. But I believe that every stat or ability is important and can and should be used in a game as well as encumbrance.

Encumbrance is a dynamic resource and fluctuates often; weapons picked up, dropped or armor exchanged and treasure gathered.  It changes more than most other 'managed resources' such as provisions or money spent or spells used.  Usually there is no place to recalculate a character's encumbrance and therefore movement rate on a character sheet which has always caused a problem with this very important rule.

I came up with an encumbrance tracking sheet for my Swords & Wizardry campaign and used it this past session.  It seemed to work out well and got all the players to constantly manage who was carrying what and how much coins one was carrying and what to drop in case of retreat and who wanted to stay spry and who didn't mind being bogged down.  It brought a whole different aspect of resource management that was missing from the game.  It didn't slow the game down a bit and added much more party cooperation at the table as they always thought about how weight would be divided up and ditching those 1,000 copper pieces.

No more unlimited weapons!  No more chests of thousands of gold pieces, accurate wandering monster checks!

I liked it and the players didn't seem to mind.

I used the Swords & Wizardry weight and STR/movement breakdowns which you should be able to use in almost any classic style game or feel free to use this format and come up with your own with what ever game you are playing.

Download PDF

  1. Circle the armor that is being carried and used and figure the total weight in the black box.
  2. Circle the type of weapon(s) being carried and multiply the weight by the number of item being carried.
  3. General pack weight is considered to be 10 pounds which include rations, ropes flasks of oil etc.  GMs and players should make exceptions to extreme items being packed and add weight accordingly using judgement call.
  4. Figure amount of coins being carried and divide by 10 to determine weight.
  5. Add Total weight and compare to character's STRENGTH in chart to determine base movement.
  6. Adjust weights and base movement throughout session as needed.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Wings of War - Solo Game

Like any great game, Wings of War has quite an enthusiastic online community built up.  Over at the Wings of War/Glory Aerodrome you can find all manner of house-rules, missions, campaigns, tutorials, rule questions answered and camaraderie!

Though the game Wings of War is geared for two or more players the Aerodrome has a great set of solo rules.  I gave them a run this weekend and found them to be quick and easy to use and kept the game pretty thrilling!

Here's my usual over-dramatic take on my first solo game duel...

From the flight journal of Q. E. Watson
23 November, 1915

I was flying a solo patrol at 6,000 meters over the French countryside which had now become a dreary landscape of desolation, when J.R. Martin, my observer, spotted a Hun over his territory in what appeared to be one of those new Albatross bi-planes. 
The both of us moved in for the engagement, guns blazing! I know I scored some hits as I saw his canvas flapping in the wind. 

 Martin let loose as we passed and I immediately spun around to catch this devil again! 

 With the colorful plane in my sites I pulled the trigger on my Lewis MG.

But this Hun was crafty and he flew his maneuverable plane like the devil himself, twirling and spinning...

  and we danced in the air like two crossed lovers, firing our guns trying to steal that kiss.

 Suddenly I faltered and this German got in tight behind me and riddled me good! My engine smoked, my wings shredded. Martin tried his best to finish our enemy off as he was stuck right in my observers sites but curse our luck, Martin's gun jammed!

I thought it best to head low into the safety of the French territory to gain some cover from friendly troops. The German airman must have thought himself lucky as well and choose not to press his luck and did not peruse us.  Martin and I were happy to escape with our lives and looked forward to some brandy back at the canteen to calm our rattled nerves.

Solo Game Thoughts

This was the first solo game I ran using Richard Bradley's rules with the altered maneuver card sheets (with the die roll of a 1 or 6 giving a separate result). Running the single plane AI went surprisingly quickly and the game moved along well. It was a bit nerve wracking as I thought I would be able to press my early advantage but the AI was relentless in it's maneuvering and attacks. I did get the Albatross in my sites a number of times but kept drawing zeros from the B deck and couldn't finish him off. He did get fewer hits on my but they were more damaging. We both ended up with only 1 or 2 HP left when I decided to retreat. I'll probably add the pilot attitude table to my solo games as well. It may flesh out the AI pilot a bit more and give him the option to retreat if wounded too much which would aid me a bit as he wouldn't just be a killing machine!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Wings Of War Custom Mat

One game I don't talk about much but really enjoy is Wings Of War, a card based World War I dogfight game distributed by Fantasy Flight Games. You have a plane printed on a playing card. Each turn you pick three maneuver cards as does your opponent(s), then reveal, move and then fire.  A fast paced war game with no dice involved at all.

But what really kicks the game up a notch is using the Wings of War plane minis.  The dogfights become quite amazing as the planes buzz around each other on the playing surface.

After spending some money collecting the planes, many of which are not in production any more (the game has since been picked up as Wings of Glory and new models are on their way), I felt that the battle mat was the next item.  However, looking to purchase or print one on my own would cost quite a bit more than I was intending to spend.

So what do we do here at the Warlock's Home Brew?  We makes our own!

Some research on-line brought me to this example and tutorial by Wombat

I loved his final product of the hand painted battle mat.  It looked easy enough so for only a few dollars ($9) and just a couple hours of my time I'd have myself a pretty classy Wings of War battle mat.

Instead of the thicker plastic based faux-grass material Wombat went with, I purchased some nicely colored wool for only $9.  This was very nice material and had some tooth to it which I felt would help with applying the acrylic paint.  I wanted a 40 inch by 50 inch piece of fabric but the widest this particular material came was 36 inches.  I ended up with 36" X 50" which ended up working just fine.

Based on the tutorial linked above I quickly drew in black the field patterns, roads and rivers.

Following Wombat's directions, I used a sponge and painted in some of the fields trying to stay as close to the outlines as possible. I used a brush for the roads.

I added No-Man's Land across the center of the fabric using layers of black, browns and reds.  At this stage I still have to add the craters and trenches but... you can see it was quite usable as it.

So this holiday weekend we played a couple of games on the mat. It worked out great, and the game was fun (thought I got shot down all three games).  My wife, who had played the card version of the game and wasn't all that impressed enjoyed playing with the minis and actually requested to play the game again the next day - which we did and she proceeded to shoot me out of the sky again!

Looking forward to getting the group into playing some Wings of War in the near future.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Session XLVIII: King Arthur and the Fonzarellis

Still lost in the twisting caves beneath the hobgoblin king's domain, the party's Bugbear prisoner demands to be untied  and given a sword so that he may fight along with his captors for his life.  You see, no one has ever returned from these pits says the Bugbear Thak so "let me die like a Bugbear, with sword in hand, or just slay me now!"

Gnarly takes pity on the creature and votes to free him and reluctantly the others agree and hand Thak a rusty sword to fight with.

They continue exploring the winding tunnels eventually coming across a small cavern with shabby stone throne upon which was a mangy kind sat.  "Bow and pay tribute to the Lord of the Underworld" he shouts to the party. Surprisingly, Arg bows towards the "king" as his four rag-clad followers are already doing.  The rest of the party bows and King Arthur invites the visitors to come feast with him and the Fonzarellis as they are willing to share their single rat roasting on a stick.

The "king" is quite mad and Thokmorton, however, refuses to bow which enrages the king.  He sends his Fonzarellis to attack the cleric.

A battle ensues in which Thak falls as well as the Mad-King and his followers.

A quick search of the cave reveal a small chest and a secret passage.  Following the passage the party finds another eight sided room with doors on each wall very similar to the room they landed in from the pit-trap above.

Marking these doors they decide to back track and explore some of the side passages they missed.  In doing so they come across an Owlbear which they hack to pieces and a couple of giant shrews.  They collect the meat from these dead animals and lock themselves into their original eight sided room, resting and smoking their kills.

Continuing their exploration they are ambushed by a Gelantious Cube which is slowly burnt as it peruses the party. 

Continuing down the cave that the Cube had blocked, they once again, find themselves in the second eight-sided room. Exploring the passage beyond one of the doors they come across a cavern with a steaming chasm in front of which was a giant lizard.  But before they can react to that creature, from the steam vent comes a swarm of Steam Weevils.....

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Session XLVII: Between A Throne And A Hot Space

After having defeated the Hobgoblin king and sending his guards on the run, our so-called heroes locked themselves in the throne-room for a little rest and looting.  However their resting is sporadically  interrupted by taunts coming from the gathering of Bugbears and Hobgoblins on the other side of the barred door.  Realizing that there is no other way out except the way they came they prepared themselves for their final battle with the Hobgoblins.

During a lengthy lull in the taunting, they peeked out the door and discovered that the hallway had been littered with wooden furniture.  Suspecting a trap of some kind, Gnarly sent Tuk the owl down the hall to investigate.  Through the eyes of his trusty owl he spied the Bugbears and Hobgoblins gathered together and hidden down a side passage.  

Examining the floor they also discovered that it has been covered with oil.  The humanoids have set a deadly trap! 

To beat them at their own game, Televon ignited the oil spoiling the Bugbear's trap.  Throkmorton wanted to rush out there an confront the enemy in combat.  Seeing as there is no other way out they slowly moved forward down the corridor with Throkmorton singing insults at the Bugbears and Hobgoblins.

Finally face to face, the Bugbears offered the party their freedom if they let the Bugbears into the throne-room to declare themselves the new kings.  Throkmorton challenged the leader to an arm-wrestling match - winner takes all.  The Bugbear leader took him up on that and as they sat down to the match, Throkmorton clobbered him with a mace.  The Bugbear just grinned and all hell broke loose!
A melee began in the tight confines of the hallway but with a hold person spell cast upon the bugbears and flaming oil being tossed, the battle was short lived.  As Arg the half-orc cut his way through the hobgoblins and began to pursue the fleeing enemy the rest of the party captured the remaining Bugbear and tied him up.  

Giving up his persuit, Arg returned to the party and after a brief interrogation of the Bugbear they found that they have slain most of the opposition.  What better plan then to loot the place!

Confidently walking down the corridors suddenly a forty foot long portion of the floor opens up dropping most of the party into darkness below with Gnarly being the only one left up top!

Tumbling down hundreds of feet through the rocky vertical shafts, they found themselves battered and wounded in an eight sided room with a door on every wall.

Suddenly, two crazed and dishevelled men burst into the room and attacked the party but Arg and Throkmorton made quick sport of those devils.

Without a way to get his companions our of the lower depths, Gnarly climbed and slid down the opening to meet up with his comrades.  

Having numbered the doors with chalk, the party explored through one of the natural passages beyond.  Passing through a very stinky area they avoided any side passage and continued forward. 

After exploring a cavern and coming across a number of side passages they were attacked by some ghouls!  Not to worry, there were two clerics in the party!  But, alas, the ghouls were resistant to both of their holy symbols and attacked! (Both clerics need only a 4 to turn them but both rolled under!)

After slaying the ghouls and sifting through the trash to find a smattering of treasure play ended for the night.

Looking forward to the next session.  It's always fun (for the GM) when the party is lost/trapped underground!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Day Of The Dead: A Brief History Of Death In Our Campaign

Arvin ArdmoreAcolyte of Mithra
First appeared in session 1
Died bravely in session 5 during a melee with Sgt. Morak of the watch and traitor of Caladan.  First campaign death was quite shocking.  Arvin wouldn't be avenged until session 42.

Gedleessmote Hammersend - Dwarven Axe-bearer
First appeared in session 1
Died not so smartly when he forgot to heal his lost hit points from one session to the next.  This legendary character fell in session 20 covered in lava from a living statue.

Adara - Stygian Strider
First appeared in session 10
Succumbed to the icy touch of a wight in session 27. Laid to rest in the graveyard above Caladan.

Tibag Backstabber - Half-elf Robber
First appeared in session 1
After hacking to pieces a helpless Owlbear, Tibag slipped on the ice ledge above some blue lava and died upon falling in.  Session 33 was a very sad day.

Radius Longshadow - Human Fighter
First appeared in session 35
Died the very same session paralyzed and engulfed by a nasty gelatinous cube!

Maudlin - Female Dwarven Warrior
First appeared in session 21
Also died in session 35 by a different gelatinous cube (yes, the DM killed his wife's character)

Slick Vinny - Human TheurgistFirst appeared in session 1
Went missing in session 42, believed to now be Xenopus' vampire sex slave.

But adventuring if for the living and for that we have the longest surviving character Wolfheir the viking who has lived through all 46 sessions.  Next we have Skwanky Furrytoe and despite his many near death experiences has managed to survive from session 3 to the present.

Other characters have joined the party including: Gnarly Blunderbrush - Initiate 4th Circle, Televon - Curate of Morpheus, Adessa - Priestess of the Goddess, Flora Fawn - Fairy Wildflower, Arg - Half-orc Grunt and finally Throkmorton - Curate of Khalk'Ru.

The best thing about an ongoing campaign is the collective history that is created by game-play.  Character death adds to that history and makes it memorable.  

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Pulp Triple Feature!

As many of you know, most of today's pop entertainment had it's birth in the original pulp fiction that began coming out in the early 20th century.  Comic heroes, space opera fantasy, sword and sorcery adventure all had it's beginnings with cheap and trashy dime magazines.  Star Wars, Jack Kirby's creations, Dungeons & Dragons and RPGs in general can all be traced to the early creators of fantasy adventures; Robert E. Howard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, H. P. Lovecraft. What better way to wrap up October with a triple feature based on classic fantasy, horror and pulp adventures!  Lock yourself indoors, make yourself a big bowl of buttered popcorn and enjoy!

First Feature:
H.P. Lovecraft's modern-day silent film!

Feature Two:
Edgar Rice Burroughs space fantasy hero brought to life!

Feature Three:
Robert E. Howard's classic swords and sorcery hero!

Available via Video on Demand or at your local video store!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Session XLVI: Hack And Slash

Having battled and decimated a camp of hobgoblins and freed a prisoner, Throckmorton, a priest of the chaotic god Khalk'Ru the Destroyer, the party continued through the woods. At dusk they discovered some very ancient ruins smothered in the overgrowth and spent the night hidden amongst the rubble.  In the morning they explored some doors and rooms of the ruins coming upon a pristine and peaceful open air garden containing a large pool and a magic fountain...
After everyone had a taste of from the fountain with varying effects, well, all except Gnarly the Druid, Wolf discovered a secret door that lead deeper into the ruined structure.  There they found a door and upon opening were greeted by a garrison of hobgoblins and goblins.  Arg the half-orc, looking to test his newly acquired strength (raised to 20 from the fountain) and along with Skwanky the halfling warrior eagerly greeted the incoming onslaught!  After loosing their weapons the two began to just pummel their way through their enemies.

With one hobgoblin captive, they "persuade" a map to the throne room out of him and he guides the party beneath the ruins and into the underground complex of the hobgoblin king.

Sneaking through the hallways they are waylaid by two Bugbear guards whom they defeated.

Finally making their way to the throne room they burst in (of course) and dispatch the guards and begin questioning the king about his alliances between Lord Blackmoor or the followers of the Black Sun.  Having been "backed into a corner" by an emissary of the dark cult, the king felt there was no choice but to ally with the cult.  Televon talked the king into turning on the Dark Sun cult and the king called to his guards to bring forth the emissary who was making a temple within the kings dungeons.

But the guards not only returned with the Black Cult priest but also with armed hobgoblins! 

A fierce and bloody battle ensued in the hobgoblin throne room and finally ended with the hobgoblin king dead and a berserk Wolf the viking pursuing the retreating hobgoblins down the hallway!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Politics & Dragons

At an art gallery in NYC, there's an exibition where the titans of politics battle it out D&D style.
“Two volunteers will take up the roles of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney and audience members will get to decide the fate of the election using Dungeons and Dragons dice, rules and attacks,” said the gallery. “Smith will act as Dungeon Master of the game, and the ultimate prize is his vote.”
Yes, presidential voting decided by classic D&D!

Character sheets and all!
(though I think the alignments are debatable as well as CHA)

Results of the D&D Smackdown here.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Undead And Level Drain

I've been thinking a bit about the concept of Level Drain mostly inspired by a post on "A Horrible Night To Have A Curse" (you know, the site where Porkins is his Co-Pilot).

I've taken a peek through the internet as well and it seems that the concept of Level Drain has been debated and dissected and analyzed since Sir Fang roamed Blackmoor.

Since our campaign has revolved around the vampire Zenopus, undead level drain has always been in the back of my mind.

I like the concept of the draining of a life-force but the mechanical execution of it is quite the pain in the ass, not only for the players but for the GM as well (and we're playing a rules lite S&W).

Being touched by the undead has always been a creepy and detrimental thing - as it should be.  From Ghouls paralyzing touch, to a Shadow's strength drain to diseased Mummies.  Undead should strike fear into the hearts of players.  I know mine have had just about enough of Ghouls!

But when you get to Wights, Wraiths and Vampires we get into Level Drain.

Again, I have no problem with the concept of draining the life force from a character.  As mentioned in the link above there are plenty examples in fantasy literature (The Earth Sea Trilogy and the Wights and Wraiths in The Lord of the Rings), but in game it's a momentum stopper.  I agree with some of the criticism as it goes directly to the mechanics of the game (loosing character levels and all that goes with it).   There also doesn't seem to be much of a consensus on how to 'solve' this issue.

On the one hand these Level Drains or Life Drains should be deadly, feared and avoided, but mechanically in the game it's just too much work.  And for our campaign that has taken three years just to get to levels 4 and 5, it just might be too much to ask for the players to take.

So how to fix.

I've been thinking of changing the term from Level Drain to Life Drain but how should that be reflected mechanically?

A drain on Constitution?
It would make a character's Life Force practically the same throughout his career. Which may or may not be a bad thing.
How would you recover constitution?
Complete bed rest and one point per week?

A loss of the Character's Hit Die per hit
Hit Dice are a reflection of a character's Life Force.
When touched you loose a roll of the character's hit die per hit.
MU loose 1d4 per hit, fighters 1d8 per hit.  Gives them a little bit of a fighting chance.
These losses can't be recovered easily.  Maybe a remove curse spell for each hit die recovered, or restoration per hit die lost.

Drain on Constitution and Hit Die damage
A combination of both ideas that I kinda like.
Constitution can only be recovered at one point per week at complete bed rest.
Lost Hit Points can not be recovered until all constitution is recovered.
Loosing hit points can cause death but loosing constitution can turn the PC into the creature.

I don't know.  Does anyone see any issues with these ideas?  Have you tried some of your own solutions?  I'd love to hear what some others have to say.

UPDATE:  Another fantastic take on the concept of level drain and undead in general can be found over at The Other Side Blog here.
Exactly who you DON'T want to run into in some dark gloomy chamber.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

More On Megadungeons

No, not moron megadungeons, you jokers!  We're going to talk some more about this game foundation and current hot-topic!

Two level megadungeon.
Got a couple months to spare?
Having started in this 'hobby' back in the late 70's the concept of the dungeon being the tent-pole or hub of the campaign has been ingrained in my brain.  Needless to say I love megadungeons or at least love the concept of what they are.

There's been a lot of chatter in recent days about the decline of the megadungeon (history repeating itself).  If it were the decline of the mega-church, I don't think I'd be writing a post.  But it's megadungeon and so here we are.

Perhaps many OSR gamers have their own definitions of what a megadungeon is.  Besides being a huge (mega) underworld complex (dungeon) I've recently defined what it is to me:

Megadungeon: A funhouse. A nightmare. A dreamscape.  An ever changing endless twisting of tunnels, chambers, caverns and worlds within worlds ruled by all manner of creatures, denizens, cults, sorcerers, races, demons leading deeper beneath the surface or out into cosmic realms or into the depths of a soul or just out into a back alley.  In other words anything can happen and real world rules don't apply. When you walk in be prepared for anything.  ANYTHING!!

 That there pretty much sums up a great campaign - open-ended, anything can happen, constantly changing based on PC interaction.  In fact, the campaign itself, with all it's dungeons, forests, cities and towns is a megadungeon.

In recent years there have been a number of 'products' produced, and taken out of mothballs, by many of those faithful OSR enthusiasts that have taken the megadungeon concept to it's full potential; Stonehell, Dwimmermount, Castle of the Mad Archmage, Xlarthen's Tower (direct to pdf), Mines of Kuhnmar(somewhere around there), the Darkness Beneath and others.


We're not schoolkids anymore with hours to kill and days to play.  With adult life, most of us are lucky to get a session in once a month.  Our group gets a generous two per month and even then it's rare when every player shows up.

So with that in mind, does exploring the same underground complex session after session make for a good campaign?

Since I feel a Megadungeon campaign is interchangable with a general campaign (various dungeons and wilderness settings) yes, it does.

That said, a megadungeon is a lot to explore.  If you figure a level is mapped out on a standard piece of graph paper, you've got a ton of square footage of dungeon to explore. With sporadic play that can take months or more just to get through a single level.  Even the OSR's one page dungeon format (30 X 30 squares) can and has taken three or more sessions to get through.  At our play rate that can be two months or more.

Does that really matter in the scope of a campaign?

No, I don't think so.  After all, I run a sandbox and let the players decide where they want to go and what they want to do.  If they want to hang out and explore one dungeon until they are satisfied (or killed) so be it.  Who am I to say no you can't do that.  If they're bored, they'll move on and I'll let them.  In fact, Our campaign started around Holmes' sample dungeon which I extended into a megadungeon.  I've tried to get the players 'out of town' and explore other areas, which they have, but they've always ended up back where it all started.  Zenopus' Tower.

So whether a megadungeon is a multi-level funhouse of doom beneath the surface or the campaign world itself, it's all the same to me.  And in that sense, Megadungeons will always be an eternal part of this game.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Empty Room Syndrome

There was a post on Joe the Lawyers blog about playing James M's infamous Dwimmermount dungeon and the tedium of exploring empty rooms.

So called "empty" rooms in dungeons have been a part of the game since it's beginnings with every classic iteration of the rules' original authors (Gygax, Holmes, Modvay)  having added it to their dungeon creation process.  In general, roughly 1/3 of the rooms should be 'empty' while the rest are filled with monsters, monsters & treasure, treasure and tricks or traps.  Delta's D&D Hotspot has a great summary of this dungeon stocking process from the early rules and supplements worth reading.

What exactly are 'empty' rooms?

I like to think of an 'empty' room as another type of dungeon encounter. It is my feeling that empty rooms shouldn't be empty at all and most aren't but they should have something of interest for the PC'.

Dungeon philosophy falls into two general camps; Dungeons as a realistic setting and dungeons as a fun-house.

I prefer the dungeon as a fun-house with a sprinkling of realism thrown in. A journey to the Underworld should leave the players in an unexpected environment where anything can happen and the usual rules don't apply.  You mix 'realism' up with some wacky goings on, your players will always be on their toes not sure just what might happen next.

"Empty" rooms can help with that if you think of empty as being just a concept. 

As you all know, I've started my campaign with Holmes' sample dungeon.  What's great about that dungeon is that it has a good mixture of monsters, tricks and traps but it also has an abundance of empty rooms.  These empty rooms are not keyed or anything, they're just empty rooms.  There was always a good chance that players would just hit empty room after empty room which really made exploration a bit dull.  Sure, there might be an atmospheric aspect to tossing in a gloomy empty room every now and then but to have that happen more often than not can make for a tedious session or two.

I always disliked the empty rooms in Holmes' dungeon and it wasn't until this recent campaign that I keyed the rooms in myself. I feel that no room in a dungeon should be just empty, there should always be something in there to reward the players or set them back, but in just a minor way;  a found key (could be to a room in the current dungeon or used by the DM in the future), a weird reflective mirror that shows the PC's as the opposite sex; anything to get a brief laugh at the table or make the players stop and think.  Anything to just break up the monotony of killing things and taking treasure but more than just exploring rotting furniture. 

With low level dungeons it's easy to fill in 'empty' rooms with items players might need like torches or barrels of food or wine but here is where you can get fun and creative with things to just freak the players out.  Why waste an opportunity for some role-playing and table fun.  Plus PCs waste game time examining the room allowing for additional wandering monster checks - but give the players something to think about.

Some of the things that I've added to the empty rooms in Holmes dungeon include:
  • A room with rotten furniture with the exception of a wardrobe with a collection of shrunken heads. Oh and there were magic doors that looped the characters back into the room.
  • A completely empty room except for  a shiny red apple on the floor in the exact center (this was great as the players spent 10 minutes debating examining then avoiding this apple, in fact I brought the apple back in a lower level, this time it was eaten and bestowed the PC with growth).
  • The bones of a chained up prisoner hiding a gem in his mouth which has a chance of biting the finger off of a greedy PC scaring them for life.
  • A looted temple that just so happens to look exactly like the cover of the Player's Handbook with eternal burning flames.
  • A pool of mist that hides a hidden chamber - not easy to get down into nor easy to remove found treasure.
Most of these were just quick minor afterthoughts (well, a little thought was put into it). An 'empty' room is a great game opportunity, as DM don't let that pass you by.

Pretty much you can do anything you want here. Let your imagination just have fun - the players will too.

There are plenty of resources out there to get you thinking about fleshing out those 'empty' rooms.
So for some stocking ideas here are a couple of resources that  can help you fill in the so-called 'empty' rooms and give your players something to brag about at the tavern:
That said, I don't like purchasing a dungeon where the author has keyed half the rooms and leaves the other half for the DM to flesh out.  I expect the author to do that, that's why I'm picking up someone else's dungeon.  I have no problem adapting a fully keyed dungeon to my needs within a campaign. If I have to key half the dungeon I'll make my own, thank you very much!

Friday, October 5, 2012

Session XLV: Where's That Damn Halfling When You Need Him?

After capturing a patrolling Hobgoblin, Arg had 'gently' persuaded some pertinent information from him about the whereabouts of the Goblin King (okay, so he began chopping off fingers). With the afternoon spring rain coming down in the thick forested Howling Hills and the path to the ruined monastery and the entrance to the Hobgoblin king's domain blocked by a camp of Hobgoblins there was nothing else to do but sharpen blades - for blood was about to be spilled!

 Gnarly swam across the lake to get close to the camp while Arg and Wolfheir, along with their prisoner followed the path to the open clearing.  However they found three Hobgoblin guards guarding the entrance to the camp grounds.

After trying to distract their attention and failing, Wolf pulled back his bow and shot an arrow with the intention of only wounding the guard.  Unfortunately, the arrow pierced the skull and killed the guard killing him instantly.  With the advantage on their side, Arg rushed the surprised hobgoblins skewering one with his spear.  The third hobgoblin tried a hasty retreat but was run down by the half-orc and slain.

After Arg had collected the fingers of his slain victims, the viking and half-orc preceded across the clearing to the camp.


Gnarly had got within range of the hobgoblin camp and called down lightning to destroy one of the shelters.  Surprised by the 'freak' occurrence, the hobgoblins ran around trying to put out the fire.

Gnarly sent a cloud of obscuring mist to hide the advancement of his companions while he sent another burst of lightning down from the sky. The hobgoblin captain disappeared in a mist of blood.

With that, the hobgoblins ran around in shock and disarray as Arg and Wolf burst out of the mist.

Slaying took place.

One lone hobgoblin stood with his sword to the throat of a formerly unseen prisoner and bargained for his freedom.  Suddenly he stopped moving, freezing in place as the prisoner slipped out from his captors grasp.  The hobgoblin had been enchanted by his prisoner!

The hobgoblin's prisoner introduced himself as Throckmorton, a priest of the chaotic god Khalk'Ru the Destroyer, who of course, joined the party.

Arg questioned that last hobgoblin but he was quite resistant so Arg sent the enchanted hobgoblin floating into the lake to helplessly drown.  Then he killed his original hobgoblin prisoner and stole his fingers.

After looting the camp, pouring the undrinkable hobgoblin swill upon the ground and piling up the dead bodies, Gnarly called down lighting once more and set the bodies ablaze.

They proceeded onto the opposite trail through the forest and at dusk they stood before some ancient ruins.

Before making camp in hidden in a pile of rubble, they are attacked by giant centipedes which poison their new companion.  The next morning Gnarly cures the chaotic cleric of his poisonous bite and Arg leads them into a larger structure.

After killing some rats and finding an old library filled with rotten books they stumble upon a glorious garden with a sparkling fountain.
(It is here that Skwanky (played by Zach) was sorely missed.  We all agree that the impetuous Skwanky would have jumped right into the fountain thus testing the magic water before anyone else.  Alas, this came down to Throckmorton)
 Drinking the enchanted water from the magical fountain, Throckmorton was affected quite negatively losing his strength, looks and a bit of all his godly attributes. 

However, Arg the half-orc, taking a sip from the clear water, turned into a hulking mass of muscle becoming even stronger than he already was. (Literally, he's a battle-hulk now with a strength of 20!)

To be Hulkinued next time!
Arg the half-orc, now with 20 Strength!
 Bonus Points:
The first reader to comment with what classic TSR module I'm using for this portion of the campaign will win a free copy of my adventure module "The Outpost On The Edge Of The Far Reaches".  Clue below...

Monday, October 1, 2012

Book Of War

About a year ago I was in search of some kind of quick and easy yet accurate skirmish rules for use in our Swords & Wizardry campaign.  There was a large battle coming up between our heroes and some rebel watchmen of Caladan and a small army of undead and I wanted not to have to roll the entire combat out.

At the time I experimented with the S&W mass combat rules but they didn't quite work for me.  I mixed that up a bit with simple streamlined Mass Combat rules created by Justin from Old School Psionic.  I also looked at Song of Blades and Heroes.  None of these quite worked for me.

I even looked at Warpath, a Pathfinder supplement for larger scale combats but I have to admit I was turned off by, what I felt were overcomplicated rules and cross rules.  There is no way I'd remember any of that in this day and age.

I ran some skirmish combats on my own and just wasn't totally enthusiastic about any of it.  I wanted the larger combat to flow seamlessly in and out of the general campaign play at the table.

Alas, I ended up running the combat in game at the table at regular scale.  It didn't hurt the session at all and everyone seemed to have a good time during the hack and slash battle (though it did take a session and a half).

Always in the back of my mind I hoped to find a set of rules that I can easily adapt to the campaign.

With another possible larger scale battle looming in the distant horizon I've returned to seeking a solution to Mass Combat.

I think I may have found it in Daniel Collins' Original Edition Delta Book of War.

I don't know how I missed these rules (or this blog, it's filled with plenty of useful classic D&D info).  I like his philosophy on creation of these mass-combat miniatures rules, compatible with original D&D and similar systems.

Apparently this has been a quest for "Delta" for many years and he released these rules late last year.

He seems to have put a ton of thought into the scale and balance of his mass combat rules to fit seamlessly into an OD&D campaign and it's ilk (or to be played on it's own).   In fact, one might even say that Book of War is a direct descendent of the original Chainmail.

With simple d6 mechanics that mirror the results of actual played out combat at full OD&D scale it appealed to my rules lite mentality.  The rules also covered Heroes, Wizards and Magical Creatures.

I read through the compact 24 page set of miniature rules this weekend and was pretty enthusiastic about it.  I'm giving it another read now and will probably run some test skirmishes later this week.  I'll keep you posted on my findings.

If you're looking for some mass combat rules to fit into your campaign you  might want to give Book of War a look.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

...Shadowy Definitions of the OSR...

Seeking the shadowy definitions of the OSR I have followed the dusty trail from Tenkar's Tavern to The Chronicles of Ganth.  And so....

Megadungeon: A funhouse. A nightmare. A dreamscape.  An ever changing endless twisting of tunnels, chambers, caverns and worlds within worlds ruled by all manner of creatures, denizens, cults, sorcerers, races, demons leading deeper beneath the surface or out into cosmic realms or into the depths of a soul or just out into a back alley.  In other words anything can happen and real world rules don't apply. When you walk in be prepared for anything.  ANYTHING!!

Railroad: Start of an adventure; point A.  End of an adventure; point Z.  Don't worry, your not going to die while traveling from B through Y.  Stay off the grass!

OSR:  A revival in the interest and workings of the origins of the loose play-style of out of print Role-Play gaming rules putting good times, friends, adventure, carousing, gratuitous violence, raunchy jokes and beer above rule-lawyering and character builds.

Crunch & Fluff:  The ratio between complicated rules and dice rolling involving charts and bell curves and story padding with the sweet-spot being whatever a group prefers.  (Me, I gave up crunch back in 1982 with Champions and Top Secret. Never looked back).

Multi-classing: Face it, every character is multi-classing; you're a thief and a grave-robber with some other skills such as wielding a blade or casting a spell.

Clones, Retros, Sims, etc etc etc:   Interchangeable terms for DIY rules and house-rules that are made public in creation of or support of the OSR (see above). 

Module/Adventure: An interchangeable aspect of a campaign setting that can be inserted at any time and at any place during an ongoing adventure.  Can be customized as needed to compliment the mood or story presented in the campaign.

Hit Dice: Type and amount of dice that determine how much damage a character can take before he/she/it dies, usually from a horrible death, rendered meaningless if bit by a spider, centipede or other poisonous creature or after having consumed the wrong liquid.

Sandbox: An anything goes campaign setting where player actions determine the fate of kingdoms, destinies of characters, explorations of hidden lands but usually means getting drunk and setting fire to a tavern.  No planning required.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Animation Preview #1

Here's the first 53 seconds of the intro scene from my animation project Beneath the Ruined Tower of Xenopus, based on the radio play my players and I did last year.

If anyone's dabbled in animation you'll know that 53 seconds is quite a bit of work!  But in this day of digital film-making it's not as long as traditional old school painted cell animation.  I'm pretty happy with the way it's turning out though I'll make a few adjustments; namely the final shot in this segment I'm going to make a bit longer.

I've got the rough mix of the sound track attached to it as well.

One minute down and twenty-nine to go!

Enjoy and feel free to comment.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Session XLIV: Rainy Days

Resting for the evening at the Hacky Shack, a friendly tavern in the town of Berkenstoke, Arvin's Avenger overhear the cynical one year anniversary celebration of the appearance and subsequent disappearance of Fumark The Foul as he and his band of soldiers were in search of the unguarded treasure of Medora the dragon.  They have not been heard from again since they had passed through Berkenstoke exactly one year ago.  Apparently, the 'unguarded' treasure wasn't so unguarded after all!  The last to see them alive was Abner the ferryman who ferried the band across the Blackmoor River and into the Howling Hills.

But the night wanes on and Sgt Lucius of Blackmoor stationed in Berkenstoke escorts Arvin's Avengers to Blackmoor early the next morning.

Meeting with Baron Blackmoor late that evening, they discuss the invasion of Kushanna's troops into the land of Eir'ian and that the Stygian wizard Zadir now rules Caladan.  Televon, priest of Morpheus, wants to return to Caladan and rescue it from the usurpers, mostly to just get his tower back.  Baron Blackmoor is more concerned with the growing strength of the Cult of the Black Sun in the Valley of Skulls and of a broken truce with the Hobgoblin King.

In exchange for the weaponry to help retake Caladan, Arvin's Avengers agree to spy on the Hobgoblin King to see if he is indeed planning on breaking he truce with Blackmoor and is building an army.

The next morning, the Avengers head out into the wild to spy on the Hobgoblin King.  They travel throughout the rainy day and arrive at the wooded hills in the evening, spending the night just inside the forest.

Early the next morning, the Avengers explore the forest trail heading deeper into the wooded hills.  As the rain continues to fall, Gnarly sends Tuk the owl out above the forest to scout ahead.  Eventually they come upon an intersection in the path with a giant horned chameleon  munching on some trees.  Gnarly takes the opportunity to chat with the beast and finds that there are Hobgoblins nearby but that is all he learns from the large peaceful reptile.

Again sending Tuk above the forest canopy, they spy a Hobgoblin camp.  While Gnarly cuts through the tangled forest to take a closer look at the camp, Arvin's Avengers and a pair of Hobgoblins stumble upon each other.  Arg quickly and aggressively skewers the first one causing the other to high-tail it out of there but he is cut short by a spell cast by Televon.

The Hobgoblin is captured and Arg question's him (with a little persuasion of missing fingers) about the nearby camp and the whereabouts of the Hobgoblin King.  Wanting to just see his family again the Hobgoblin tells the party all he can about the outpost camp and the ruined monastery beneath which lives the Hobgoblin King with the only path leading there through the Hobgoblin camp...

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Animation Background: Caladan

Here's one of the fully illustrated backgrounds featuring Zenopus' tower and the city of Caladan for the animated version of last fall's radio play.  This also gives you a general idea of the feel and mood that the background  images will have.

Again I tried to simplify and stylize the background just as I'm trying to do with the characters which is always a challenge for me but it's a great practice to loosen up my drawing style.

I've included the original sketches that started with a more realistic approach and ended up with the above image.

I'm still working on animating the final shot of the first scene but it's coming along.  I should have a clip to post soon.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Animation Character Design: Xenopus

Here are some of the sketches of my development of the sorceress Xenopus for my animated short based on the radio play my friends and I did last summer.

As with my earlier post I thought it would be interesting to show how I work thorough the character and the scene it self.

I knew for Xeopus I wanted to have a character that expressed a sinister quality and corrupted by her dark magic, but I also wanted a bit of allure to her as well.
I go through initial sketches just to see what I come up with and where it takes me.  Usually I know what I'm going for but actually translating that to paper can be a challenge.  I also know that in the scene she appears she will be conjuring up a demon so I wanted to express that madness of dark power.

Seeing some things I like in the initial sketches, I begin to refine these.  Feeling I had a general idea on the character I begin to refine the face a bit.

 I was liking where I was going with the face but had a problem with the hair.  It looked too proper.  I wanted her to be more mystical so I worked in what I thought was Kirbyesque headgear

I also knew that in the scene she would be studying her spellbook so I began a few sketches bringing her into the scene.  You can see I actually begin working out some of the props and action details with notes written within the sketches themselves.

A bit more revision on the clothing and I ended up here.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Animation Character Design

I've been working on the Tower of Xenopus animation project and making quite a bit of progress.  I'll be posting throughout the week and perhaps next ending with an actual thirty second clip from the narrated intro.

I wanted to document my progress so today I'm going to discuss the beginnings of my character design.

My goal was first to create a good cartoon character that would be easy to animate and position in various angles.  I began work with the characters of Slick Vinny the wizard and Geedleesmote the dwarf.

My initial sketches I felt were pretty good if I were to do something like a comic book but I wanted to simplify the characters even more.  I really wanted to just capture the 'essence' of the character with as few lines and possible - a real challenge for me but I think I was finally getting somewhere.

Here I got to just the simplified characters of Geedle and Vinny.
Below is a test "cell".

I'll be adding a bit more details to the dwarf's armor.  After working with the animation software a bit I think I'll add a bit more detail to the characters but as of now, this is where I'm at with them.

Next: Xenopus Character Design