February 29, 2012

Splitting The Party

Running the Keep On The Borderlands for my newb friends have proven to be easy until now. I made up the game so to have a pool of eight players, and three to all of them showing up from session to session. Now, this works well as long as I have all the action centered around a small area, and the party beginning the session entering the Caves and ending heading back to the Keep. Now that I want to introduce some plot, and enlarge the playing area, I have to make a decision about how to handle absent players. I don't really like the NPC-fication of half of the party from session to session, especially since I don't really want to have the "if you're not present your character can't die" rule back in charge. Thus, while figuring out an alternative, I came out with this.

The Rings Of Fellowship: Out of a single piece of Starmetal (yeah I totally stole it from OOTS), a powerful Wizard can craft 4 to 9 Rings Of Fellowship. Rings made out of the same piece of Starmetal are naturally connected to each other, and are called "a series". Every Ring has the following powers:
  • Teleport: Once per day the Ring can be activated to teleport the owner near the bearer of another Ring of the same series. There are no limits on distance, as far as the two are on the same Plane and no spoiling magic effect is active.
  • Message: Three times per day the Ring can be used to deliver a message of no more than 30 words to all the bearers of Rings of the same series. Sending the message requires full concentration for three rounds, otherwise the message is spoiled and may arrive with delays or incomplete.
Once worn, the Ring is bound to the bearer until his/her death. If the Character gets killed, it can be used by another character. Of course, if the Ring falls in the wrong hands it can be a really kind of a problem given its special powers.

I came out with this on the fly, so if you have any suggestion/improvement I'd like to consider making some changes. Perhaps we could work on a FLAILSNAILS variant.

February 28, 2012

B2 Player Handouts

Doing these have been a pain in the ass, but I think that they'll be much useful at the table. So here you are!

Let me know if they proof to be any useful to you. Also, if you manage to produce a PDF, it would be nice to upload it over at OCP.

Errata: Apparently, there's something weird going on with the 100ft level curve. It's not really something that screw up the map, so it shouldn't be a problem. Also, I forgot to add level curve's altitudes, and I'm just too lazy to get back and apply corrections.

Expanding The Keep On The Borderlands

I'm playing again with my friends this week, in our Keep On The Borderlands game I run under BX D&D (they're all newbs, so y'know, keep it simple stupid). Since I really look foreword to turn it into a regularly scheduled campaign, I decided to throw in some background elements in the game. Until now they have spent almost no time at the Keep, and only explored the Kobold Caves. So I brainstormed a little, and this is what I came out with.

I will scale the campaign world to the size of the Middle-Earth. I want one region controlled by the Elves, one by the Dwarves, one by the Halflings, two or three by the Humans, and one by the Archvillain and his minions. (Plus a couple of countries that doesn't show on the main campaign map). The Black Barony will be part of one of the Human kingdoms, so that all of this work can be recycled for my Tower Of Zordaz campaign.

The idea is that some hundreds of years ago, an evil army of chaos lead by the Archvillain (or his master, or a relative of him, or, well, you got it) emerged from the wilderlands behind the borders and attacked the Human Kingdom, carrying death and destruction. The war lasted for almost two years, and eventually the army of chaos was defeated and forced to withdraw. To keep the borders protected in case of a new assault, the King of Men built several strongholds, erect to stand between the forces of chaos and the free people of the continent. Unfortunately, the Humans are quick to forget given their short life span. A great civil war fragmented their reign, and the power of mankind were considerably lowered. What is to happen, now that a new evil is rising from the dark?

I do not exclude to throw the Rod Of Seven Parts in somehow. It's such a powerful (and iconic) Artifact that I could easily make it the Archvillain ultimate goal. (Or at least, something the adventurers are willing to obtain to lower down his plans). I know the whole stuff is nothing really original, but I think it'll work just fine. Also, what I really want is to let my players do basically what they want, while the Archvillain pursues his own goals, so I hope this really easy and linear plot won't screw me up too soon.

February 26, 2012

The Village of Vrestfall

It looks like I'm finally ready for tonight's game! Here you are a map of the Village of Vrestfall. Pretty awesome looking, ah? Good news is you can make one as good looking one too, by using La Grande Quest's terrific Generatore di Città e Villaggi. It's basically a Photoshop file, with some doodles you can move and duplicate and flip and rotate until you obtain the desired map. It takes a little to figure out, but it well worth it (as you can see). If you like it, you will find some more over at La Grande Quest (one for wilderness maps, one for male and one for female NPC portraits, and one to make awesome floorplans). Also, the guy running the blog is really smart and has a lot of interesting insights on both game and campaign design. I wholeheartedly suggest you to type the url in Google Translate and have a look yourself.

February 25, 2012

The Junkyard, Archvillains & Heroes

If you were reading this blog before the posts mayhem, then you remember about The Junkyard column (aka Bedoos First-rate GADD Dealing Process). By the way, I was hit by this idea yesterday night when I was supposed to be sleeping, and thought I'd formalize it and share it on the blog for the future. In this post I will discuss a generic step by step method for planning very straight and simple plot based campaigns using a single archvillain for the characters to defeat; it is supposed to be used with fantasy games, but you will probably find it generic enough for use with many other settings, such as investigative horror, science fiction, post apocalypse and so on.

Step 1, The End
The first thing you need to figure out is how long you want the campaign to lasts. According to Google (type weeks in a year in the search bar), there are about 52.177457 weeks in one year. That makes for about 30 to 50 sessions for a weekly based game, depending on how long a holiday hiatus you take from time to time. Say you decide to keep the campaign running for two years, and plan about 80 sessions to be played before the ultimate goal (that is, archvillain slaying) is achieved. According to my experience, this is time enough to have a party of 6-7 characters to hit 20th level using Pathfinder, and probably also enough for the same party to reach Name Level using Labyrinth Lord.

Step 2, The Archvillain
So, say you decided you want your party to be 20th level by the time they meet the archvillain to confront in the ultimate fight. Then what you need is someone powerful enough to be challenging even at that point. Well, actually, a little more than challenging: the party should have reasonable possibilities of victory, and that's all. Some systems are better then other for planning this menace in advance, while others offer you more possibilities to go wild. With Pathfinder, you can use EL to perfectly balance your archvillain stats and powers; with Labyrinth Lord, you can go a little more wild giving him/her/it unique powers not described elsewhere in the books. (Well, actually you can probably do the same with Pathfinder if your 3E master-fu is strong enough. I'm not here to questioning about systems, so go your way.)

Step 3, The Archvillain's Servants
Ok so you now basically have an idea of how long you want this thing lasts, and a powerful Archvillain. Now we do a little learning from Tolkien. If you put all the villains in The Lord Of The Rings on a scale, you'll find Sauron on the top, Saruman, The Mouth Of Sauron and The Sorcerer King right after, then the Nazgûl, some not directly related villains (Shelob, Gollum, The Balrog, etc.), and finally the minions (Uruks & Goblins). That is exactly what you need too: so figure out the Archvillain's lieutenants, their direct submitted, some other nasty creature that will come into game at some point, and the army of minions. These will be the foes your PCs will confront with as they proceed by.

Step 4, The Plot
Think about your Archvillain objectives. What does he/she/it wants to get? Why? Why the adventurers doesn't want him/her/it to get it? And, most of all, how can the party ruin, or at least slow down, his/her/its plans? In LOTR they do it by holding The One Ring, for example.

Step 5, The World Around The Quest
We're not going adventure path here. No, not even railroading. No, not even illusion of choice. To be sure your players will not fuck up your plans, we will use another trick: build the world around the quest. Think about the Middle Earth, for instance. Do you think Frodo had alternatives to move straight to Mount Doom and get rid of The Ring? No he didn't. Why? Because the world was built around his quest, and had he decided to get rid of it and go find adventure elsewhere, The Dark Lord had 99% found him and slayed him before he reached 2nd level. And won the war. So, grab a piece of paper and scale the map to the campaign: continent-wide if you want to go epic, kingdom-wide if you want to go big, region-wide if you want to stay small. Now cover all the place you want your characters to explore in this quest. A short description of each should work by now, as you will expand it according to the directions they take. Don't bother with details when mapping, just map in big.

Step 6, Now You Play
If you have no planned plot, you can basically play it sandbox. The Archvillain has his/her/its plans he/she/it is conducting anyway, and you can have your players jumping in like it is a sandbox. The only difference, is that you want anyone in your sandbox to be quest-oriented: some NPCs and monsters will be allies of the Archvillain, some others will be opponents of him. Some others won't align (think about the Ents), but will be clearly connected to the plot in some way. Remember you're the DM, not some kind of writer. Let the players take on your quest the way they want. Right in the mouth of the Archvillain? Fine, they'll be soon dead but you won't have spoiled much work of prep. Too straight on? Fine until they inevitably meet their doom. Too slow? No prob, the Archvillain's plans going ahead should be enough to speed them up. And if they don't, well, they fail. Failing is an option.

Step 7, What About The Climax?
Yeah, the climax. Let me tell you something about climax: it never works if you plan it ahead. Place the archvillain with a knife in his hand ready to slaying the princess from scene 1, frozen until the party arrives. Well, know by now that your players will find another way to beat him/her/it, totally spoiling your planned climax. If you want your characters to do what you want, write a novel and don't fuck with roleplaying games. Instead, have your archvillain dynamic. Perhaps your player's tactic may be the one of keeping him/her/it busy planning counter-plans to their actions; perhaps they want to find a way to avoid direct confrontation; perhaps they find the way to defeat the Archvillain before reaching 5th level. It's all fine.

February 24, 2012

Untimately's 20 Quick Questions: Rules In The Tower Of Zordaz

Hey, look at this really cool post I just found over at Untimately! (Who, by the way, is also a player in my ConstantCon Zordaz game.) It's pretty cool so I decided to take it. It made me think about stuff I hadn't figured out in first place, and I recommend you give it a shot. The following are my answers for the Tower Of Zordaz ConstantCon campaign, I run under Labyrinth Lord.

1. Ability scores generation method?
You pick what you prefer. 3d6, 4d6, straight down the line, arrange at taste, pool o' points, cheating, all 18s, whatever. The cool thing about Labyrinth Lord is Ability scores don't mean that much, so it's pretty much up to what makes you feel more comfortable at the table.

2. How are death and dying handled?
Characters die as soon as their hit points total reaches 0. I do allow maximum hit points at first level, though (+/- constitution modifier, of course).

3. What about raising the dead?
With the proper spell, of course. You can even buy it at the local temple.

4. How are replacement PCs handled?
This should not be a issue, as long as each session starts with the PCs going on adventure, and ending with the party heading back to the home-base. Just roll up a new character, it takes like 5 minutes. (And this is another reason why I play Labyrinth Lord, by the way.) As a general rule, you begin with one/two level less than the lower level member of the party.

5. Initiative: individual, group, or something else?
Group initiative, on a d6. And surprise check.

6. Are there critical hits and fumbles? How do they work?
A natural 20 on the to hit roll is always a hit. Also, if you roll a natural 20 and actually beat the opponent's AC, you also score maximum damage. (That doesn't necessary mean you also actually wound your opponent: some of them are protected against non-magical/non-silver/whatever weapons.)

7. Do I get any benefits for wearing a helmet?
No. But it's cool to have one horned one if you're a warrior, y'know, so go for it if you are so inclined.

8. Can I hurt my friends if I fire into melee or do something similarly silly?
Yes, it happens if you roll a 1. Any other similar situation will be adjudicated on the fly.

9. Will we need to run from some encounters, or will we be able to kill everything?
You will need to run from time to time. Encounters in the dungeons beneath the Tower are usually level scaled (i.e. the deeper you go, the tougher they get), although some side-levels and sub-levels may have some really tough encounters or monsters you don't have the proper weapons to hit.

10. Level-draining monsters: yes or no?
Yes. I'm a sadist.

11. Are there going to be cases where a failed save results in PC death?
Yes. Save or die poisons are a good example of this.

12. How strictly are encumbrance & resources tracked?
This is up to you. Personally, when I play I like to keep track of everything, but I'm a maniac! I don't want to lower anyone else's fun. Obviously, hardly I will let your Halfling to carry the entire Dragon's hoard all by his own.

13. What's required when my PC gains a level? Training? Do I get new spells automatically? Can it happen in the middle of an adventure, or do I have to wait for down time?
No training, but you automatically get the new spells only if you have access to some magic academy library or higher level mentor.

14. What do I get experience for?
Defeating monsters (as per monster's HD), looting (1gp = 1xp), and exploration of the dungeons beneath the Tower Of Zordaz (5-10xp per new room discovered). Bluffing, killing, forcing to fail morale checks all counts as "defeating a monster".

15. How are traps located? Description, dice rolling, or some combination?
Dice rolling. We have thieves after all!

16. Are retainers encouraged and how does morale work?
Yes as long as you're willing to pay for them. Morale works accordingly to the Labyrinth Lord rules.

17. How do I identify magic items?
Casting the proper spell. If you fail the identification, then you'll have to ask someone else to identify the magic item in your place, or find a way to figure it out yourself (like, wearing the mysterious magical ring).

18. Can I buy magic items? Oh, come on: how about just potions?
Yes you can, usually by magic-users. Potions of healing are usually sold in temples too.

19. Can I create magic items? When and how?
Yes and again, by the book.

20. What about splitting the party?
I'm fine with it, but remember: I'm a horror movies addicted.

Starting Over With The Yaqqothl Grimoire

And that is about everything I have to say about it. Lots of things have changed since I started this blog a little more than a year ago, but I see no reason to drop it out completely in change of something new. It was lame and dork to eliminate the old posts but hey, what's done is done. So, let's speak about future plans.

For first, I decided to break with all and any publication purposes. I think the whole stuff kinda spoiled most of the fun I used to have when practicing in both world-building and dungeon design so I'm done with it. If anytime sooner or later I will find that I produced something worth of sharing, I will just go ahead with it. This is not to say I will produce free content no more. I love making character sheets way too much.

For second, I want to play MORE. This is the point of dealing with D&D after all, so let's just go for it. I'm now playing a Human Sorcerer 5, Thief 3 in a Pathfinder game on a weekly basis I enjoy a freaking lot, and running the Tower Of Zordaz ConstantCon game each and every Sunday (although that may change with the approaching semester). Also, once in a while I run a Keep On The Borderlands game for a couple of noob fellas that I would really like to turn into a be-weekly Zordaz game. The main problem is we don't have a proper place to play, which is a real pain in the ass for a proper schedule. Oh well, I will figure it out.

May your dice fall where they may, peace.
Il Male™