Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Building Block

I have been thinking further on earlier writings about treasure, and treasure systems, and the distribution of treasure. If my gentle reader will be patient, I believe I will try to produce several posts outlining my concerns, and my proposal towards solving problems I discussed here. To begin with, however, I believe there needs to be some discussion on the outline of society.

For sometime now I have divided the various strata of society according to their status and economic position: I call these groups peasant, laborer, artisan, exemplary, attendant, adherent, zealot, adventurer, celebrity, title holder and liege.

The first group would be non-leveled persons. A peasant includes anyone who is lacking in all status, does not own land and in fact exists under a limited freedom (tied to the land). A laborer is anyone lacking in education and who performs unskilled work. An artisan has been given a directed education to perform a single skill. An exemplary includes persons who have obtained several skills and advanced education, but who remain untrained as leveled persons or who perform unusual occupations. An attendant would include those who directly support leveled persons, though they themselves remain zero level; a man-at-arms would be an attendant.

The second group would be leveled persons. An adherent would have the adequate skills to be leveled, without possessing extraordinary abilities; they would adhere to their class structure, serving as functionaries such as parish priests, city officials, laboratory workers and so on. A zealot would be an adherent who has adopted a particular political or religious calling. An adventurer would include persons who explore or who serve as freelancers. A celebrity, or hero, would be an adventurer who has had notable success. A title holder would include the nobility, or persons who have risen to the highest rank in their profession, such as admirals, bishops, marshals or guildmasters. Finally, a liege would include masters of primary political divisions, of religious groups or class-based organizations.

These classifications are meant to be flexible, and are not based on any moral principle. For example, both a harlot and a ferry operator would be considered exemplaries, while both mercenary captains and religious ascetics would be considered adventurers. The principal purpose of the above organization is not to describe the general occupation the individual serves within the society, only his or her general importance and/or success. I find the ordering useful for determining an NPC’s ability stats and probable level.

Having outlined the above, when I mention a peasant and a peasant’s possessions, I refer to the typical hovel, in enough repair to keep out the cold, utensils and furniture of a crude nature created by the individuals themselves. There would never be any coin, as peasants do not leave their small hamlets and things are never for sale in such places for there are no storefronts, not even peddlers. Possessions of every kind that a player might find valuable don’t exist. If a party were to attack an ordinary hamlet, kill everyone in it and seize every good they could find, there would be nothing in any of the peasant huts that should be of any hard value.

However…there would be food, and there would be livestock.

What exactly is a “hamlet”? By and large both gamers and movie makers plunk hamlets hither and there in fictional worlds with very little thought. Such villages usually lack any political structure beyond a token leader, who rarely has any more ability or status than the grubby peasants themselves—at best, he might have a bigger house, or in the case of Beowulf, a private room in the great lodge with a slightly better bed.

For a period in parts of Northern Europe, this has some basis in reality—if you see your world existing prior to 8th century Earth…in which case there should be no trade, no markets, and nothing your party does not make itself out of hide, bones and wood. Metal swords should not exist in your world, nor should stirrups or plentiful food. Most items, such as books, wands, magic rings and the like should be incredibly rare, and definitely from a land far, far away.

That is because once there are fields to farm and livestock to breed, the threat of such things being pillaged will demand the creation of a social structure which includes defense and the mastery of labor. But before we can continue with the description of that mastery, let me answer the lone voice in the gallery who will argue that Norse societies continued to be structured on the singular longhouse for all the members of society, from the king on down. I’d like to answer that the society so suggested was based upon an economy of pillage, wherein virtually everything was seized from everywhere the Norsemen of that period could reach. An examination of Norse history will show that virtually every present urban center in Norway and much of Sweden was founded after 1500, after the spread of agriculture to those regions, and that prior to that time the total population was scant, scattered and lacking in education, art, architecture, medicine and so on.

Very well. Let us take a typical manse from the middle European period, circa 1300 to 1500, and let us apply D&D to its organization. To begin with, the manse must come into existence through the spread of population. While many of the cities in western Germany or France were coming into existence in and about 800, much of Poland and Eastern Europe was founded between 900 and 1400. As groups broke new ground, labor was imported and fields cut and tilled along water sources. In many cases, peasants who had separated from society were the first to arrive, such as would later happen in Kentucky and Tennessee. In other cases, whole groups led by what I would call zealots (leveled persons with a single purpose) would seek a new land to establish a religious or political entity, such as what would later happen in Massachusetts or Virginia.

Either way, a typical manse would form around a dual relationship: the lord’s manor and the peasant’s village. Each peasant would be given the right to farm a section of land—in some cultures these sections were mixed up, as with communes, and some cultures would have isolated farms. Typically the amount of land that could be reasonably tilled and managed by a human being (often without animals to help) would be 30 acres. During the period, the amount of grain this would produce was paltry—yields were typically 1.3 bushels per acre. A bushel is marginally over 65 lbs., so the total production of the grains would be 2,535 lbs. This will give 42 lbs. of flour per bushel, or 1,638 lbs of flour, the equivalent of 2,457,000 calories.

If you eat 1,500 calories a day (and many peasants ate approximately that much, making them less than active would-be defenders), your 30 acre farm will produce enough grain to feed a family of four the year round, with 10% of your total yield available for shipping out as taxes.

You can then help subsidize your food intake by obtaining a few chickens (which will produce eggs or more chickens if they don’t die of disease), berries or game from the forest (if it isn’t a forest restricted to peasants) or gifts/festivals deriving from the manse. You can see why peasants might be inclined to poach from the forest or the local brook, remembering always that such places were often reserved for the use of the manse itself, which I will get to describe in good time.

The peasant’s week was divided into three parts: one day of the week, Sunday, working was not permitted for religious reasons. Three days of the week, the peasant was permitted to work on his land and gather food as he was able. And three days of the week the peasant was expected to pick up and head over to the manse in order to service the lord’s land or residence.

Usually the lord would have a considerable household to provide for, luxury needs and a desire for an income that would allow for the obtaining of goods and materials from outside the manse, so his land would be extensive. Typically a manse measured about three miles on a side, or nine square miles in total. I know that D&D would like this to be a 267 square mile area (20-mile hex), but I’ve never found any material supporting that claim, so lets just assume that Gygax pulled the number out of his ass or that he simply failed to mention that more than 96% of the land would be unoccupied forest. Of course, having mapped out a lot of Europe, I should point out that a 20-mile hex west of Russia without a sizable town (more than 500 persons) in it is a rare thing indeed … moreover, virtually every such hex would have upwards of 20 manses present. But setting that aside …

Within the 9-square-mile manse (5,760 acres), about 40 peasant families would occupy 1,200 acres; meadow for livestock would measure about 1,800 acres; forest for wood and for pigs, another 1,800 acres; and about 1,000 acres would be personal land for the manse itself: orchards, fields, fortifications, a wooden or stone central structure, possibly a pond and probably shops for the production of cloth, wine, oils and so on.

Those peasants serving the lord three times a week would typically elect two of their number to serve as officials: in my world, these would typically be zero level exemplaries, or possibly adherents, depending on the affluence of the town. In either case, both the hayward (or hedge warden) and the reeve would be elected by the peasants to oversee the work done and to ensure that no peasant failed to meet their obligations or duties.

Sometimes, certain peasants would have unusual skills: one family might be made of carpenters, who would serve those three days repairing the lord’s house before returning to his lands. Another family might be masons. Often designated families were made of herders or woodcutters … who nevertheless would also work as farmers in order to obtain their food. The wood that was cut would not be sold, you understand – that came much later. Instead, the wood would be cut during the days of service to the lord and that wood would be taken to the manse for use there. Such peasants would be considered laborers and artisans.

There would also be a class of artisans who did not farm land, but who were either subsidized by the lord for continuous labor, or who took a percentage from the peasants for servicing their needs. For example, the miller, who ground wheat into flour by use of the mill constructed with the help of the carpenter, would take a slight fee in flour for services. Vintners, chandlers (candle makers), tanners, weavers and so on working directly for the lord would take their wages in food from the lord’s land and from the tax gathered from peasant fields. All such persons would be considered exemplaries in my system, with laborers serving under them who would add their manual labor to the exemplary’s knowledge and skill.

Finally, a small contingent of men would serve as the lord’s personal retinue: as I said before, these would be attendants: men-at-arms. Other attendants might include personal, capable servants, dressmaids, cooks who produce food for the lord and lady, and so on.

The master of the servants, the steward, the official records keepers or accountants in the house, the clergyman who provided spiritual guidance – for the most part these would all be adherents. Leveled persons, perhaps half a dozen, who keep everything running smoothly. They have little interest in stepping outside their roles, but they are able to cast healing spells or cantrips when needed, or manage any slight rebellion that might occur as they would have more hit points and better fighting ability than the average peasant.

Depending on the importance of the manse, its period of existence, it might be overseen by a zealot, an adventurer or a celebrity. Any manse which would be managed by a title holder would be much larger, having expanded from its early beginnings to be a considerable citadel, the peasant village having swollen into a polis, complete with stockyards, warehouses, artisans, a criminal element and so on. For the description of a typical manse, however, it is most likely that the lord is only an ex-adventurer or a zealot, the offspring of a long family of lords who have always managed these lands. Keep in mind that the zealot in question would merely be a person bred into his state of mind, with no aspirations other than to manage the land itself. Not a fanatic, per se, but merely “single minded.”

This, then, is the substantial unit of income for my world. The farm producing food; the moderate factory producing agricultural goods or possibly stone from a quarry within the manse, or metal from a mine; a small church built for only the lord and the peasants; livestock raised for the lord’s table and managed by contractual labor. All other forms of habitation must evolve from here.

If I must think in terms of the availability of treasure, I must first answer, how much would be present in the above example?

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Campaign: Thursday Morning

After a somewhat muted celebration late into the night before (the city is wrecked but we're alive), a significant portion of the city has returned to their homes to sleep. Many are boarded by friends and neighbors, for they have no homes, and many more sleep under the stars or return to their wrecked dwellings to gather what they have in carts or on pack animals. The dawn finds them started on the road to Munich, or Ingolstadt, or Augsburg, to seek out distant relatives, to begin their lives again. Throughout the night those with energy seek out the dead for removal or burial.

The sun's rising on Thursday clarifies the horror for many. As the party rises in Helmunt's establishment, the city guard, the watch and disorganized volunteers work together, picking over the rubble, unearthing bodies, fitfully falling to their knees in shock or pity, then finally lifting the stones in their hands to be loaded onto waiting conveyances. The pit in the Kirche Platz begins to be filled. The front of the church crawls with the populace clearing rubble. Stones as large as a man are fitted with straps, blocks and tackle in preparation for their removal.

It is the beginning of a sad day.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Collateral Damage

Well, the boom got dropped today.

Today is my last day at work. Officially, I've been laid off.

This isn't a big surprise, it has been coming for weeks. The only unknown was what day it would happen. The management is a week late on our cheques, has just paid me half of what they owe me and asked if I'd like to work on severely reduced hours or be laid off. I picked the latter.

One thing I have not talked long and hard on this blog has been my job. I don’t intend to go into the details here, beyond what I’ve said before. I write, I work for a magazine. They’ve been a great bunch to work for and the collapse of the publication has been largely due to the terror and fear that exists on account of the banking fiasco. Banks will not make loans, even in the case of people who have perfect credit ratings or who own assets, assets can’t be sold because there are no buyers and advertising is a complete failure as everyone but everyone is cutting their budgets. If I would blame anyone, I would have to start with corporate governance and its influence on right wing governments, and I’m not up for that rant right now.

So I will no longer have access to my office computer, and will have to make do with my computers at home. I’m not going to be much for running any adventure until next week. In the meantime I will be getting myself sorted out, getting myself on employment insurance (which should not be a problem) and looking for a management position with some disappointingly normal company doing traffic, human resources or promotions. Not looking forward to any of that.

This is my second job lost (the previous job amounting to about a third of my income) in the last three months. Do I record myself as two unemployed people with regards to statistics? Probably.

Please spare me the concerned comments or notes of sorrow. I’m sure you feel for me, I’m sure I appreciate it. Many of you have been friends and good associates and I think we can assume all of that and feel as though we have already commisserated. We have all been down this route already with coworkers and family and I’m sure we’re all tired of it. This email is just to inform as to where I am and what I’m doing. I will find more time to work on D&D and play D&D and to work out the problems in my writing. I am never NOT working. It’s only just that for a little while I won’t be paid for it.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Let's Talk

Well, I'd like to talk to Insiders and Outsiders about the campaign so far. How did that whole scene (adventure?) go? Did people feel railroaded? Did people feel completely helpless?

I've read places where the complaint is that the players are always the "centre of attention." I thought it might be interesting to have something huge and shattering, where the players were pretty much outclassed but still doing what they could. Sort of like playing the Xander role in Buffy. You know you can't kill the monster, but you're involved and helpful.

And there was some experience that came out of it.

Particularly Outsiders. Comments, please. Sometimes I wonder if anyone reads this blog except the players.

Campaign: The Gate Closes

Anshelm watches as the giant fades away, not killed but drawn ethereally out of this plane of existance. For both Tiberius and Anshelm, and for thousands inside and outside the city walls, the quiet "rises" rather than descends. Though the inky blackness of night comes, with it comes no terror, but instead the comfort of a warm blanket bestowed before bedtime by one's parent.

For the first time in many hours, all at once, there is no fear. The populace sits, rests, feels their appetites restored, their will to live regained.

Peace has come to Dachau.

Campaign: Kirche Platz

I'm glad I was able to find a decent picture for this. It's reprinted without permission, so WOTC can demand that I remove it; in the meantime, I'm going to enjoy the effect it has.

Try to imagine this creature having one more arm on her right hand side, making seven arms altogether. Now imagine that she is 12 feet tall. There. We should have a degree of terror now.

She is standing in a pit which consists of earth scooped out, about six feet deep, but with shallow enough sides that Delfig can easily see into it. To the Demon's right there are the carcasses of two horses, more or less correct in proportions to her size (25' long, 11 feet at the shoulder), now obviously dead, and the broken remains of a cart somewhat attached to them. All about her, in the pit, in piles or scattered, are bodies and body parts, perhaps a hundred humans in all.

Against this huge demon stands only one individual, quite beautiful in appearance, in stature all of five-foot-nine. He is fighting with a long sword, toe to toe. Each round the demon's blows land in a series, one after another...but it is quite clear after less than a half minute (and Delfig stands agog during that time) that she is unable to hurt her opponent. There is some sort of invisible shield, which glistens golden-yellow each time one of her blows lands. Two of the weapons she is using, a mace and a morning star, each spin off a ball of green or blue lightning each time the strike the human fighter's shield of impenetrability, these breaking into bolts which then dance over the buildings surrounding the square, causing the effects Delfig witnessed from the top of the building a distance away.

Though it is clear that the creature cannot strike the human, it is equally clear that he is keeping her from moving off; he has her trapped against the sheer edge of the mound as it appears on this side; he occasionally strikes and causes her damage, and she cannot leave as long as he lives.

It is also true that he is growing weary. Often times he must use both his arms to swing his sword; his face and his body show that he is at the edge of his reserve to go on fighting.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Campaign: Dachau Streets

Kazimir and Delfig climb down two flights of steps inside the city wall and emerge into the Foreign Quarter. This would put them somewhere in the northwest part of the city. The citadel is to their right, the North Gate to their left and the cathedral dead ahead.

It is quiet, very quiet. The streets are deserted, and except for the distant sounds of destruction and booming, there is no sound at all. As our pair make their way towards the Pig Tavern and the cathedral, they move through streets filled with the bodies of humans and slugs--there are some giant rats feeding off the former. All the buildings seem empty. The smell is overpowering at times, and at several points both characters must overcome the urge to step to the side and vomit.

As they emerge from the Foreign Quarter onto the avenue that will lead them to the cathedral, now facing the city barracks across the thoroughfare, the stillness is disturbed for the first time by a gentle breeze. At once it does not feel natural. In the first instance, it seems to be conjured from nothing, as taking a step or two back from the direction of travel causes the air to return to its stillness. In the second instance, the breeze does not so much push against the skin but pull from it. Both Delfig and Kazimir feel drawn forth along the avenue. It is not a compulsion, but a temptation.

Kazimir's hand drops to his axe, his fingers moving impatiently on the handle. At the moment the handle very nice. Delfig's sword feels lighter. Twice he catches himself half drawing the weapon for no reason at all, only to return it to its sheath, feeling vaguely disappointed...

Monday, April 20, 2009

Campaign: Anshelm's Move

Anshelm watched Tiberius and the troop move off between the houses and disappear. The cleric who healed him moves away, to tend some of the other injured or frightened people who have lately begun to take refuge in the little square. Udo slumps against the doorway of the Hostel, having been unable to get anyone to open the door for him.

Anshelm checks his weapons, finds nothing missing, and feels a little more hearty for having had some of his hit points restored. At present, the east gate is somewhere behind him and to his left. The green fire and the Kirche Platz are ahead and to the left, a quarter mile away, and ahead and to the right the giant is still tearing apart the tower.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Campaign: In The Army Now

Tiberius is organized into the troop of men, now numbering about twenty. The master-at-arms gives his name as Wilhelm Vornamen; he separates the troop into those with bows/crossbows and those without, putting Tiberius and his bow in the rear. Then as a unit all move in the direction of the giant.

Campaign: the Tower V

This was the last comment, and serves fine as a post to begin the next thread. The view out the tower arrow slit is as follows:

You can see the wall as it stretches and curves away towards the east--from where you are you can see the north gate to the left, and further along the wall, the mid-tower between the east and north gates.

You can also see the top of the wall, between the crenallations (the wall is topped by stone blocks and spaces between the blocks--standard appearance). You can count about sixteen slugs that would be on that part of the wall to the left of the door; probably more that are hidden.

The huge giant still bashing its fists against the tower has its front somewhat towards you. There is no "face"...what you can see, from a distance of perhaps 250 yards, are ten two-foot horns arranged vertically in two vertical lines, with a maw opening between them, the "lips" of which would be such that the mouth would open apart like a curtain rather than like a lid (as human mouths do). The creature has no visible eyes.

What do you do?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Hard Times

I have found since venturing online eleven months ago with this blog that there is a definite sentiment against combat in D&D. While I’m sure that most of those whose blogs I’ve read would steadfastly defend the importance of combat when it is necessary to move the plot along, this does little to balance off the subtle and not-so-subtle repeated statements that combat is boring, that hack-and-slash campaigns are boring, and that the game is markedly better when players concentrate on character and role-playing.

I agree with the last—I just don’t see why character and role-playing must be viewed as the opposite of combat.

I have been reviewing the combats in my world as of late, both online and offline, and I find that there is a distinct pattern—invariably my players get stuck into situations where the combat happens under difficult or unbalanced conditions.

I don’t know if anyone out there is familiar with the 1973 and 1974 films, the Three Musketeers and the Four Musketeers. I have always enjoyed them, and in the last year had the opportunity to possess them in my library.

What is interesting about the various combats featured in the films is the ground on which they are fought. Richard Lester does not, until the very end of both films (they are essentially one long movie in two parts), have the protagonist and antagonist duel under convenient, direct circumstances. Prior, the swordsmen must fight amid hanging sheets, in a laundry, on an ice-covered river, atop a sieged, ruined wall amid gunfire, knee-deep in water and so on. One of the more profound scenes comes at the end of the first movie, where the two swordsmen fight in the dark, each carrying their sword and a bull’s-eye lantern, forced to flip on the lantern in order to see their opponent (while simultaneously exposing themselves in the process).

While the films suffer somewhat from film stock, lighting and camera limitations in accordance with 1973 technology (Lester was more ambitious than the instrumentation would really allow), the concept is clear: never, ever let your characters fight a battle on smooth, easy ground.

Whenever possible, cramp the space they have to fight in with obstacles—such as putting a small pond in a room, or an open hole. Have something break or shatter over the floor so that characters in soft boots cannot step without taking damage. Put your foes on horseback, or atop a long arduous slope the players must rush up in order to fight face-to-face. If you can think to do it, make the obstacle animated in some fashion, so that it is changing moderately over time.

I can give you an example. Two months ago my party fought a polar worm within an ice castle. The worm was dormant, not at all present, when the party entered the castle as a means of getting over the slit pass through the mountains. Everything on the castle walls was rimed in clear, blue ice. This suggested that the ice had been melted repeatedly, then allowed to cool and freeze in perfect transparency. But no one in the party guessed immediately what that might be (to be fair, none of them supposed for a moment I would throw something as nasty as a remorhaz against them).

From the central courtyard, none of the surrounding towers had doors. Each entrance snaked away in a tubular corridor, which again did not tip off the party (there was much head-smacking afterwards). As the party explored a method to get up into the tunnel, presuming it might lead them up to where they could seek means to the castle’s far side, they noted that a thin rivulet of melted water was beginning to run down the inside of the tunnel.

What was happening, in my imagination, was that the remorhaz had awoken, and having done so moved from a dormant, cool state to a heated, active state. This I played out as the ice around the remorhaz melting and running down the tube from the top of one of the towers. The players were mystified.

As the remorhaz warmed, the ice melted at an increasing rate, so that the stream at the bottom increased in size. But since it was moving on ice, all the party could detect was that there was something big moving above them (no sound of claws or such, as the worm would “slide”). It wasn’t moving quickly I reasoned, and the water flow increased to six inches wide.

Meanwhile, a pool of icy water was forming in the middle of the courtyard, a few feet wide and inches deep to start, but growing larger. The remorhaz paused, still not where it could be seen. Water now began to rush out of the ice passage. When the remorhaz finally showed itself, there was quite a lot of it.

At the same time, the walls surrounding the courtyard all began to sweat when the remorhaz stepped into the open. This too fed the central pond. During the combat, the party had to contend with the ice surface they were walking on (much falling down), as well as the growing inconvenience of an enlarging pond that made it harder and harder to move around the periphery of the courtyard. The remorhaz, of course, had no trouble at all moving directly through the pond whenever it wished.

I didn’t plan all this. I actually had described the castle’s ice covering, pretty much on the fly, before thinking what the effects might be of the remorhaz moving about above them. That is what a DM has to do. Create an environment which suits the monster, not the players. It isn’t just a question of traps—it is a question of having the whole environment one of inconvenience, difficulty and threat. One wrong step and the player is off the edge, his foot is wedged between rocks, his magic sword is skittering across ice or lost under the snow, unreachable for several rounds, the precariously stacked barrels are about to fall if the big monster backs against them one more time, the ruined ceiling can’t support the web thoughtlessly cast, the pelting rain is turning to hail, night is coming on, the fog is thickening, there’s no way to stab the enemy on this dew-glistened moss without potentially slipping down the hill, there’s no room for a halberd, the sunlight is blinding after a week underground, we’re all sinking inch by inch into mud, this fetid pond smells so bad my eyes are watering, everyone has been made deaf by the explosion, the smoke is so thick I can’t tell friend from foe.

Watch your players role-play when they must struggle against all the elements just to reach the combat, then struggle against all the elements to retreat again. Watch as it brings out the best in people and the worst in people, as it becomes more than their ability to roll a d20 in order to hit…when they will take damage if they remain where they are from the heat, the magical gloom or DM knows what else. Expose the bravery, expose the cowardice. Expose the character.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Campaign: Tower IV

Meanwhile, back at the tower,

Delfig has successfully dropped his opponent, the lead guard present, with a crossbow bolt to the chest. Kazimir has stunned his opponent with a decisively failed assassination attempt, and the third guard in the room is still surprised. Delfig and Kazimir's move.

(OOC: It might be appropriate at these moments to designate someone else who might run your character during particularly crucial moments, even if its me. I don't know if Kazimir will see this in time, but as he has indicated that he is to post sporadically over the next few days, I'm sure Delfig would appreciate a stand-in at this time).

Campaign: The Merchant's Quarter

Only wanting to start a new thread for simplicity's sake.

Anshelm and Tiberius have yet to tell me what they plan to do, now that they have decided to part from Mizer's house. They are in the lane outside, with Udo their guide urging them to move away from the center of town.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Campaign: Mizer's House IV

You will find Delfig and Kazimir under yesterday's post, Tower III.

Tiberius and Anshelm catch their breath in the stillness, the slugs dead. The shouts around them have moved farther away but can yet be heard, as can the continued noises coming from the centre of town. The gate hangs open, the body still lies in the doorway of Mizer's house.

What do you do?

Monday, April 13, 2009

Experience Solved

I am in love with my new experience system.

Just to recap, as that was quite a few posts ago, I have started keeping track of experience according to the following principles:

A) 20 X.P. are awarded for every point of damage a character suffers.
B) 10 X.P. are awarded for every point of damage a character causes. This is subject to a few addendums: a magic spell which affects multiple persons gives experience to the caster only for the damage total of the spell; thus, a fireball which delivered 26 h.p. to four creatures would only award 260 x.p. to the caster, and only if one of the four creatures failed its saving throw. If all four creatures succeeded, the fireball would only give 130 x.p. to the caster. Other spells like burning hands, magic stone, magic missile, call lightning and so on work similarly. I am at the moment unsure of how to deal with certain death dealing spells such as telekinesis or cloudkill, which do not have a specific hit point motif. Thankfully, no member of my party has a spell of this level as of yet.
C) All damage caused against the party is totaled, multiplied by 20 and then distributed to those party members who were witnesses and who specifically took some kind of action in the events, even if that action failed to cause damage or the member was unharmed. This is in lieu of at least attempting to take an action, taking a risk, and thereby gaining experience from it.

The principle of this method is that experience is something that is gained more through suffering and failure than through success, and that it is a much more profound experience to endure damage than to inflict it.

The main problem is keeping track, as I am not used to doing more than saying, “take such and such damage” and then forgetting about it. Now I must keep records.

I have now been running this system for two months, for four runnings for my offline party and for my online party. No one has complained about a decrease in experience because of the change in system, nor has anyone suggested that experience has been higher lately.

Here is why I love it. The old system demanded a highly subjective declaration of the value of a creature’s special ability, which was then assigned a flat number based on the creature’s hit dice. It did not matter that the creature never got to use its particular ability before it died, or that the ability was pretty much useless against a party that were all armed with magic weapons or silver weapons or none of which were spellcasters (thus magic resistance is pretty much meaningless). It did not matter that a creature which surprises 4 in 6 was itself surprised, or that a cave bear never hit with both claws and got the opportunity to mawl. Nor did it matter that a dragon got lucky with its breath weapon or that players on this occasion consistently failed their saving throws against ghouls, whose X.P. bonus is rather paltry as they have only 2 hit dice. It was expected that the DM would make another subjective call in this situation and decide what experience to award in light of these instances.

Well, fuck subjectivity. Suddenly I find myself no longer having to be concerned about any special abilities a creature might have. I can even add or subtract special abilities at will, creating subspecies of each type of monster, without having to concern myself with what experience this might award due to the change. If a 20 hit point monster goes down without a fight (usually because I can’t seem to roll above a 4), the party gains 200 X.P. delivered to whoever gets lucky enough to hit first. If, on the other hand, the creature rolls astoundingly well, causing 20 damage to the party before dying, the party gains 1,000 X.P., with 400 of that distributed to everyone.

Combat experience freed from ad hoc formulas. If the creature doesn’t threaten you, you get squat.

The second thing I’ve noticed about this experience system is that the monster doesn’t have to die! If you do 12 damage to a hill giant, which then does 15 damage to you, and you think to yourself, “Fuck this noise, I’m getting out of here,” you still get 420 X.P., just for standing up to the creature for two rounds of combat. Tell me that doesn’t make sense. Tell me it wouldn’t be an eye-opener to stand toe to toe with a giant for the space of two rounds.

Plus the added bonus that the party doesn’t feel as if running away means it gets nothing, encouraging it to fight things out to the bitter end, however that turns out.

At this point I can’t see myself going back to the old way. The new way will definitely require some fine adjusting, as I discover monsters that don’t quite fit the system as well as spells I’ve already mentioned—but I believe I am on the right track. I should have done this years ago.


There's something else that occurs to me, that I meant to add to this post. It concerns magic users.

Typically, I have found that mages at low level run out of spells almost at once, but because of their low hit points they are hesitant to get into combat unless absolutely necessary. This is understandable: they have the same to hit table as thieves and zero-levels (poor) and no hit points. Often a mage will take armor as a spell, which will let them fight for a few rounds, but they typically miss and then fall back. I have always advocated that a low level mage should stock up on daggers and get comfortable standing back and throwing.

However, a side effect of this is that by 4th to 6th level, when it still happens that they will run out of spells, they will refuse still to mix it up--even though by now with a standard 15 constitution (hardly anyone running in my offline campaign has less than a 15 constitution) they have an average of 17 to 23 hit points. In other words, they can take a couple of solid hits with a sword, or a round against a vicious tiger, without dropping below zero. Altogether, I'd have to cause 30 damage in a round (given that death in my system occurs at -10 hp) to actually threaten them.

But they won't fight. "What's the point?" they'll ask. "I'm just getting damaged and I'm going to miss anyway"--since at 4th and 5th they're still on the crummy table. Usually, I'll try to explain to them that if they could kindly accept 20 damage from some monster in some round, that's 20 damage I'm not causing one of the fighters or clerics, thus enabling them to do their jobs. Come on, I tell mages, take a hit for the team.

Still they won't. It is inbred in mages to be cowards.

With this new system, however, if the mage insists on hanging around in the back, they might get some experience for getting a few spells off, but they're not going to get any bonuses for being damaged. This works for me in a mental kind of sense--if you as a person were afraid of being hit with a sword, and you perpetually hid from the possibility, then you would be ignorant of how to take the hit, or that the hit was not as bad as you thought (ie., it didn't kill you). The opposite of ignorance is experience.

So if a mage wants to advance in levels, the mage better be ready to get dirty.

Campaign: Mizer's House III

The situation stands as follows:

Anshelm loads his sling, backing up across the courtyard towards the main gate while two slugs slowly make their way towards him. The first slug now 10’ away, the second 15’ away.

Meanwhile, Tiberius defends a suffering, frightened Udo against an invisible foe—who appears to be on the side of the slugs.

The sky above is a roiling maelstrom of black clouds and soundless lightning, while in the cathedral’s square, a quarter mile away, there is green and blue flame, flashes of white light and deep booming. The domiciles all around, before echoing with screams, have become alive with shouting.

Campaign: The Tower III

At last.

Kazimir and Delfig had just finished climbing the ladder onto the level of the tower which is equal in height to the top of the city wall. There are three guards in the room, all disturbed by the sounds of distant booms and pops coming from the core of the city—which can’t be seen without opening the door facing both the wall and the city centre. However, the scene through the arrow slits in the tower is enough to disturb all three guards.

Two guards hold heavy crossbows on the thief/assassin pair, and one of them will notice “fred,” who is tied up on the bed on the level below. “What is going on?” will ask the guard who seems to be the leader of the three.

Have I forgotten any details?

Thursday, April 9, 2009

What I Have Not Solved

The day is coming to an end and I find myself waiting on the sales department, so…

Allow me to explain one of the fundamental problems I am having with the development of a comprehensive treasure table. Keep in mind that this stems from insisting, constantly, that there be a rational logic in the simulation aspect of my game, so that whatever treasure might be found, there is a reason why it is there.

Let us consider the average goblin. The monster manual indicates that our goblin (and I’m not looking at the MM right now, so I’ll come back and fix this later) either a set amount of copper or a set amount of silver on its person. And that is it. Siss-boom-bah, kill the goblin and take its coin.

However…while we are sloughing away with this paltry, pathetic amount of coin, is not the goblin’s sword or mace worth considerably more money? Even if the mace is old and shit, it’s still probably worth three times as much as the pathetic copper I’ve just taken. And how about the belt it hangs on? What about the helmet and shield? What about the leather armor—even if it doesn’t fit me or you, a suit of any leather armor can be cut and split into soles for boots or made into thongs—how much would a cobbler pay for 5 pounds of raw leather? Ever priced leather in the real world? And what about the goblin’s boots? How many children are running around without footwear? The goblin’s pouch is worth several coin according to the equipment list. And if you note the player’s handbook, the goblin’s ichor (brain juice) is a spell component.

Where, exactly does it end? Just how much “treasure” does a goblin have on it? Where do you draw the line, as a DM? If I’m going to dress up a goblin so that it has the appropriate amount of treasure on his person, how much is too much, or how much is enough?

Look, a player has to pay (let’s say, because in my world it depends on what city you’re in) 10 g.p. for a pike. That takes into account the difficulty in fashioning a straight 18-foot pole (try it sometime) so that it can be used without breaking it. The materials are not the expensive part. I can’t simply assume that the pike in the hands of our friend goblin is worthless. If it works at all it bespeaks of craftsmanship, which means the old “well it is old and cruddy” argument doesn’t fly. During the combat I’m not applying negative modifiers to the goblin’s weapon when he attacks. Which means it’s a pole arm legitimately and it ought to be worth 10 g.p. in experience. Okay, it might be a little shorter for a goblin, so lets say 6 g.p. That’s still worth more than a paltry collection of silver coin.

The same argument holds for the leather armor, shield and helmet. They may look like shit, but if they give the goblin a 7 AC, then the have the same intrinsic value of your sweet-smelling defensive battle gear. How come my character can’t pay for all this “worthless” stuff and have the same AC he enjoys by paying ten times as much?

So we’re talking about a conservative 26 g.p. per goblin, not 2 to 12 crummy silver coins. Plus boots, backpack, clothes, copper holy symbol, probable minor junk like bone dice, playing cards (goblins get bored to), some sort of knife for cutting its food, a tinder box, torches, a waterskin, a small copper pan for eating/cooking, a tool for picking its nose and probably a collection of piercings with copper jewelry that it has out of vanity. These are things that practically every goblin would have with him on patrol…we’re not talking about stuff you wouldn’t carry yourself as your character. Odd goblins in a troop might additionally carry things like rope, grapples, wood axes, a carpenter’s hammer, spikes, a smoking pipe, an ice axe in snowy climes (along with snowshoes and ski poles), netting and shit knows what else. We’re talking 15 to 20 items per goblin, minimum, most having a value at least as much as 10.5 c.p. (the average for a J-type treasure) or more.

Suddenly as a DM creating a rational treasure table you have to somehow account for all this crap, or else turn a blind eye to it. For me, it would mean making some 200 cards of junk every time a party kills 10 goblins. As well, most parties don’t want to haul cartfuls full of various junk home even if it is worth 400 g.p. in totality. There is a mindset players have where they will kill 10 zero-level heavy footmen, pocket the 23 gold coins collectively found in their belt pouches and blithely leave behind the 10 suits of chain mail worth 750.

If you want sanity as a DM, you have to pick option B: “Please, ignore all this that you find which would cost your characters hundreds of gold pieces if you were to buy it as general equipment, since I’m compensating for that by giving you three nice shiny gems worth 100 g.p. each. No, all of their clothing and equipment is worthless…even though that worthless sword five minutes ago hit you a critical wound for 18 damage.”

That is the way everybody plays.

I have struggled for eighteen months now to build up some kind of system of standardized carried gear, tailored for level/power of the creature concerned, with the expectation that if the party can’t see the value of the gear, to hell with them. Do you think that a universal system, one which does not require an individual treasure table for every kind of creature in the bestiary, could be created?

I thought so for a time. So far it has escaped me. But I continue to pound my head over the problem, and over the other problem besides, the one I haven’t mentioned yet:

What treasure, logically, should exist in this part of the world?

Not Today Either

I know that I said today. I would guess that you are all waiting for me to start. But alas, my magazine which was not going to publish this weekend for cash flow reasons has decided to print this weekend on account of cash flow changes. Suddenly a deadline that wasn't going to occur is now occurring in spades, and things have gotten stupid here. Thus, while I could easily right now write the two posts necessary to set up today's running, I do not have the time to run.

Moreover, while I am going to work tomorrow, and could manage things over the two days, Delfig has indicated he is not free and others aren't working. So...

We will pick this up Monday.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Combat Actions

This old post includes rules that I no longer use for my campaign.  An upgrade of these rules can be found on the wiki, starting here.  -Alexis, 2015.

Here I offer an example of something I stole from 3rd Edition. I didn’t think very much of the table I found in the book (and I can’t remember which book, I honestly can’t), so I redesigned the table and fit it to my campaign.

I’m including it now as we are involved for the campaign in some combat, and it would be helpful. This is generally meant to be used with a hex map, which I haven’t been using for the online campaign (I’d have to post an update of the combat positions each round, which isn’t worth it for small combat tactics), but this still may help with comprehending what may be done in a six second round. Notes are below.

I’ll go through the table in order, for those things which seem to obviously require explanation. I’ll answer any questions as necessary.

Where it reads “maximum –x feet,” this means the distance the character may move. Thus, if the character’s move is normally 25’, and attacking at “maximum –10’” the character may move 15’ and still have time to attack.

Charging/running: as the character runs forward in a steady, straight line, they pick up speed. If they had a move of 5 hexes (25’, normal speed for an unarmored person), the second round they would be able to increase their speed by that amount each additional round. Thus, they could run at 5 hexes, then 10, then 15, then 20. If, however, for the second round they chose to run at 8 hexes, then the third round they could move no faster than 13 hexes, then 18.

Activating a magic item: refers to wands, rods, staves and various miscellaneous magic, but not scrolls or potions; potions may be found under “drink” and scrolls require as long to read as the spell would normally take. Most magic items don’t need activation.

Applying poison to weapons: like similar actions, this assumes the poison and the weapon are already at hand.

Bestow spell effects: this assumes the spell is already cast and needs to be deployed, such as with shocking grasp, cure light wounds, magic stone, chromatic orb and so on.

Concentrate to maintain spell: spellcasters may move a maximum of 5’ per round without losing their concentration. I play that spells, once cast, can be “maintained” before deployed, provided the caster does not lose his or her concentration.

Direct combat spell: the maximum move that may be made after the spell has been cast.

Dismiss a working spell: spellcasters may dispel any spell of their own casting at will. This is the maximum move that may be made after the spell has been dispelled.

Initiate charge: charges must be announced if bonuses are to be gained from them.

Load bow quickly: I play that the long bow may be fired once per round, but after the initial shot additional shots are performed at –4 to hit. If the character chooses to shoot every other round, there is no penalty modifier.

Loose a shield: remove it from the arm.

Overrun: movement is reduced from the character having to avoid tripping over the fallen body.

Ready a shield: “no movement” should read “no move” as elsewhere. This is just a typo.

Retrieve an item form a backpack: “replacing” the back pack means returning it to the character’s back.

Slowing from quadruple/triple speed: indicates the drop in speed that can be managed without tumbling for 1-4 damage. Characters cannot drop from quadruple speed to normal speed/stopping; likewise, they cannot stop from triple speed to a stop.

Speak: presumes the character has chosen to reduce other actions in order to convey the message; the penalty reflects the lack of concentration.

Spellcasting: maximum move possible while casting a spell.

Touching unwilling/willing creature: this does not include instances where the character is discharging a spell; accepted, other circumstances where a character may wish to touch another person for some other reason are rare, but they do occur.

Use special ability: like spellcasting, the maximum move a character may make while making use of some inherent power the character may possess.

Campaign: Mizer's House II

Brave Tiberius, whence will thou slay the slug?

As the slug’s skin bubbles forth milky fluid, will Tiberius lift his sword to slash it again? Will Udo be able to crawl away before he is struck again?

And what of Anshelm…who pounds on the door of the house, the slug moving ever nearer, a mere fifteen feet away? Will anyone within hear? Will they rush to aid? Or could it be that the screams emitting throughout the neighborhood suggest that some fate may already have befallen the occupants within?

Is this the end of Zombie Shakespeare?

Campaign: Tower II

We find Kazimir and Delfig on the second floor of the watchtower, two nasty four-foot-long slugs moving towards them. The slugs reach out but cannot quite reach our intrepid duo, who prepare to smash an lit oil lantern onto the floor with the intention of sending the slugs back whence they came. Will it work?

Delfig readies his hand; he throws; a hush falls over the room as both lantern and die tumble forward through the air….

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Campaign: Mizer's House

For Tiberius and Anshelm, who are outside, all at once there is a definite increase in the amount of electricity in the air. They can both feel the hairs on their arms and on their necks stirring with the static. Udo shouts into the wind, which is not at the party's backs and is actually putting pressure there, to "COME ON!" Though his mouth shows that he did shout, much of the sound is carried away and Anshelm and Tiberius barely here. Udo picks up his feet and starts to run through the lane.

The sound has climbed several levels. It is difficult to talk to one another, and a throbbing has grown in the party's heads from the pressure drop.

Udo comes to a difficult stop (he has to grab the gate handle to end his progress) in front of Mizer's house. It is a fair-sized merchant's property, with a courtyard, a large double-doored gate 8' high and 14' wide, made of solid wood. The house beyond rises three stories, is separate from the other houses and is about 40' by 35' in size.

Udo shouts something but it is lost in the wind.

Campaign: Tower

We pick up Delfig and Kazimir inside Dachau's North by NW tower, an unconscious soul bound hand and foot on the floor. A trapdoor in the floor and a door in the wall are the only practical exits, as the trapdoor in the ceiling shows no means of passing.

Gentlemen, you may begin.

(Tiberius and Anshelm continue to operate on the previous post, Slipping Through Dachau)