Monday, September 30, 2013

Day 30 - Best DM I've ever had (D&D 30 Day Challenge)

The best DM I've ever had was the one leaving a lasting impression on me. It was at least 16 years ago at a convention. It was our first time at a convention and we were eager to play some new games, so we looked for open seats and were lucky to join a Runequest game.

Buddha in a lotus position.
After making new characters (I made a halfling, don't blame for it, my buddy made a barbarian), we started playing. And had a blast. The DM was a fantastic story teller. He was a thin guy with long hair and was sitting on a bench in a lotus position. Not that it was a spiritual experience, but he was very relaxed and in control. He never checked the rules and it all came very natural. System mastery had been an ideal for me ever since.

Whatever we wanted to do, we could try and it became part of the story. If it was stupid, it had consequences. But we always got the impression that even some questionable calls from our side of the table just gave more opportunities for playing the game, never a dead end.

I have no exact recollection of the story he had told, only some faint memories, but that's more than I can say from other games I participated in. What I will always carry with me, though, was the impression of a perfect DM. Never saw the guy again...


And thus ends the 30 Day Challenge. I'm glad I went through with it. The questions weren't that good at times and it made me doubt my decision to join at a few occasions. But I've discovered some interesting blogs on the way and all the participants I followed did an excellent job with it.

So I'd have to say, it was fun and I hope some of my contributions were as entertaining as those of the others.

But now for something completely different...

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Day 29 - Least favorite question of the bunch... (D&D 30 day Challenge)

So the question was: What is the number you always seem to roll on a d20? And I'm at a loss. I've rolled the d20 many times since we first met 20 years ago. I guess it averaged out at some point. Sure, there were days when I thought nothing goes or the dice favored one character or another. I always roll bad when I'm rolling for myself, but roll like a mean bastard when rolling against my players (not in a bad way, but the dice can be harsh...). And yes, we like to see a pattern in those things. We all do, don't tell me any different. But as a question it is somewhat... uninteresting.

I've written too much words about this as it is.

The last question tomorrow is more promising and than this affair is dealt with.

So as a compensation for the lack of content, I thought I'd treat you with a lecture by Benoit Mandelbrot about complex structures. It has (in my opinion) some relevance to game design and it got me thinking about how simple rules are often able to produce extraordinary complex results. Combat in D&D is an example for that. Well, anyway, enjoy:

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Endurance and Skill Resolution System (Redux)

I just want to give this a clear write-up, adding some of the newer ideas regarding the system. After all, writing rules in a concise way makes them so much more accessible (and I have to admit, it's something I have to work on). This is about Endurance and skills (which are connected). I'm pretty happy with how those house rules work by now, but I never came around to write a short summary with all the changes and connections like I did for Weapon Mastery (Basic) a few weeks ago. I'll also link to the older versions of this house rules, but this here will be complete. So let's try this again...

Endurance and Exertion

Characters have CON -4 as Endurance (the endurance skill changes that, see below). Monsters and NPCs have 4+HD as Endurance*.

Basically every action a character could make, costs 1 point Endurance (a fight, an ability check, a skill check, etc.). Travel costs Endurance per mile depending on terrain** and weather. Only a full nights sleep or some sort of magical healing will recover those lost Endurance points.

Strenuous actions that need consecutive die rolls (like fighting or fleeing) exert a character faster. During the strenuous action they loose 1 point Endurance every round due to exertion. As they reach 0 Endurance, they can force themselves further with a successful CON-check (-4) or a skill-check (Endurance).

With zero Endurance a character counts as Exhausted. He is last in initiative and (playing with Rules Cyclpedia) his Weapon Mastery is down to Basic. MUs have to make an Int-check when casting or the spell (mana, whatever) is lost. Every round after that gives a cumulative -1 to AC, to-hit and check until it reaches the characters negative Endurance value (so if a character had 7 Endurance, his negative Endurance value would be -7).

After that the character goes down, breathing hard and only able to crawl.

The accumulated Endurance loss counts as basic exertion (a character had a busy day with already 4 actions, so for the next strenuous action the Endurance countdown starts with a -4). As soon as the strenuous action is over, the Endurance loss due to exertion is regenerated and all the character lost, is the one point because of the action (so the busy character in the example above would be at a -5 after the next fight).

If a strenuous action were to happen immediately after another strenuous action (fleeing after a fight, etc.), the DM is to decide how much breath the characters were able to catch again. An easy method to simulate this would be a roll with a d8 (or higher) with a threshold of 6 (lower that threshold by 1 for every 2 points a character is below zero). If the character rolls below 6, their Exertion is already recovered, if they roll 6 or more, that's the number of Endurance they had recovered before they have to exert themselves again***.

[Edit]: In addition to the damage due to a critical hit, the victim also looses 1d12 Endurance.

It should be very easy for a DM to keep track of those numbers for the players.

Skill Resolution System

Gathering skills is handled like the Rules Cyclopedia suggests:
"All 1st level characters start with four "blank" skills, often called slots. (When a skill is chosen, it stops being a slot.) Characters who have an Intelligence of more than 12 start with more than four skill slots. If the character has an Intelligence of 13-15, he gets 1 additional skill slot; if his Intelligence is 16-17, he gets 2 additional skill slots; and if his Intelligence is 18, he gets 3 additional skill slots." (Rules Cyclopedia, p. 81)
Characters get another skill slot every 4 levels. Skills are connected to ability scores. Which ability score is relevant at the time depends on the circumstances the skill is used under (a magic-user could intimidate another magic-user using INT instead of STR, etc.). The basic skill resolution is:


Unlearned skill use will get a penalty of -4 or more. At best players are unaware of the difficulty they're rolling against.

Skill checks and Exertion

If a skill check is not successful a player might decide to exert his character to get there. The difference between the failed roll and the difficulty (say the difficulty was 30, the characters ability score was 13 and the rolled a 5, exerting himself will cost him 12 points of Endurance to make it). This will cost him one additional point Endurance to the one for the action itself. This applies to every skill check (even searching a library or reading can be exerting).

Here, too, a character can force himself below zero Endurance with a successful check on CON (as the skill, CON -4 without the skill). See above for further penalties.

Skill Mastery

The abilities/skills a Thief already has are: Backstab (melee), Backstab (ranged), Acrobatics, Sleight of Hand, Stealth (moving, hiding, keeping a low profile or doing something like picking a lock in total silence...) and Sabotage.Using the skill system of the Rules Cyclopedia, every class has access to all skills but backstab (which even for the thief is only activated if chosen for skill mastery). 

At character creation a player of a thief may now choose 4 abilities/skills for Skill Mastery. So skills like Disguise or Alchemy are, too, relevant for Skill Mastery if the thief chooses to do so (but backstab is only activated if chosen, which might be done at higher levels, of course).

Basic Skill Mastery is one additional D6 either for the skill check or as backstab damage. Every 3 levels a Thief gets one more point Skill Mastery to distribute. Progression is: Basic +1D6, Skilled +1D8, Expert +1D10, Master+1D12 and Grand Master +1D20.

Echo applies.

So I hope this helps in understanding how I integrated those rules into D&D without bloating the system. The example I wrote about killing a horse should be much more transparent now, too (it's still pretty accurate, the only changes I made here were for characters...). It should be compatible with most (if not all) D&D variants up to (but not including) 4E.

A complete list of skills is on my to-do list.

*As an alternative one could roll a d6 instead the 4, interpreting the result as something between -1 and 5 to simulate activities of the day of an encounter. So it'd be 1d6 + HD...

**Suggested Endurance loss per mile:

Travel Mode      Trail    Clear   Hills   Mountains Desert

Foot              1/3      1/2     1/1       1/1      1/1
On a horse        1/12     1/10    1/10      1/8      1/4

Horse, riding     1/6      1/4     1/3       1/2      1/1
Horse, war        1/5      1/3     1/2       1/2      1/1

*** Using a higher die (a d10, a d12 or a d20) would allow for a higher regeneration, but the chances to roll below 6 get worse the higher the die.

Day 28 - Character I'd never play again (D&D 30 Day Challenge)

Sorry, but I'm at a loss with this one*. I regret nothing!

A much more interesting answer to a question no one minds to ask, would be:

So have fun with that!

*Here are the questions...

Friday, September 27, 2013

Day 27 - A Future Character (D&D 30 Day Challenge)

A character I want to play in the future?

3d6 in a row

Choose class

3d6 x10

Buy Equipment

Enter Dungeon



Thursday, September 26, 2013

Day 26 - Favorite Non-Magic Item (D&D 30 Day Challenge)

[HackMaster Edition]

I was there. I've seen the dice fall and destroy huge amounts of digits. A critical hit with a light crossbow. It dealt 68 points of damage that day in the dungeon below the moathouse. Think what a heavy crossbow could do...

Da Vinci did it [source.]
The heavy crossbow is one of my all-time favorites, but especially so in HackMaster. An arrow of a heavy crossbow will deal S 1d8 / M 2d4+1 / L 3d4. The icing on the cake are the rules for exploding dice, though. Normally, rolling the highest possible number on a die will result in an additional roll with the same die and a -1. Roll the highest number again and keep rolling. But there is an expansion of that rule for crossbows. They explode as soon as the second highest number is rolled, which means a whole lot of trouble for large creatures.

One arrow doing 3d4 damage will mean 50% chance per die to create more havoc. Even for the reroll. I mean, this puppy will rip a hole into a giant, his grandfather will feel the punch. It's the heavy crossbow that kept all the civilizations of smaller creatures save from those big evil creatures hiding in the mountains. It's terrifying*.

Even if a character of mine was not proficient with it, he'd carry one of those. Loaded. Hoping that the first roll will be a hit and the first orc/goblin/kobold will be smeared upon the next wall. Just as a first impression. That's why they say "it's worth a shot". And I like an unfair edge in a fight (as a player**).

The heavy crossbow is the single most enjoyable mundane item in D&D HackMaster.

*Try this in regular AD&D at your own risk. Only the 20 hp-kicker makes this work for HackMaster. A system assuming less hp per creature couldn't stand that kind of damage output.
**I don't mean cheating, of course.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Day 25 - Favorite Magic Item (D&D 30 Day Challenge)

I'll stay away from the classics for this one. My favorite magic items are those that manage to establish a personal connection with the characters. Of the top of my head I'd go with the cursed halberd one of my players "created". It nearly made the "craziest moment" in the challenge, but it really was just funny as hell.

It all began with a fumble. The character was a level 1 fighter and they were exploring a cave of mutated goblins. Anyway, he rolled the "1" and at the time we still used the Arduin Fumble Tables. He rolled the d100 and came up with a 99:
Fun fact: The Arduin Grimoire was the first to introduce Critical Hits and Fumbles into D&D (the scan was found here).

He critted himself. With a halberd. Being level 1, he couldn't possibly survive it. And he rolled an immense amount of damage. What made us laugh so hard was the players look and his question: "But... how?!" We ever since try to explain how he'd managed to kill himself with a halberd. As of yet it's inconclusive...

But the weapon kept killing those using it.

I kid you not, the same player lost his next character with the same weapon and another (not so harsh, but it was enough...) fumble. The player didn't have the chance to make a third character (busy life and all that), but they carried it along and finally, another player started to use the weapon and (you're already seeing where this is headed) he killed himself with a fumble!

The weapon was cursed, they were sure of it. Nobody would touch it after that and they left it behind to kill someone else.

Does that count as a magic item? I'd say so and the players sure believed it, superstitious bunch they are.

After that we also stopped using the Arduin Tables.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Day 24 - Favorite Energy Type (D&D 30 Day Challenge)


I'm totally into renewable energy and all that stuff, you know, against atomic power plants and the waste they produce...


A D&D energy type? Ah, well... There are... ? You have to have... ? What the...?!

I'd say, somebody ran out of questions fast. Can't promise this will be the last of my short answers in this challenge (and I really like what some of the others are doing with this, so creative answers are possible), but if I had to answer this, I'd say:


Monday, September 23, 2013

Day 23 - Least Favorite Monster (D&D 30 Day Challenge)

Yes, that is a question.

Caught a cold a few days ago, so I'll keep that one short too. I don't care that much for gnomes. There, I said it. They seem like an afterthought. And an unnecessary hybrid between dwarf and hobbit. Never got the appeal.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Soldiers! Aliens! Carnage!

Sometimes I come across a movie and think: this is the perfect frame for a role playing game. Battle: Los Angeles is one of those for obvious reasons:

  • The title alone indicates a franchise (Battle: New York, etc.).
  • It's squad based, perfect for a rpg.
  • The viewer never knows more than the characters in the movie, so you get first impressions what the game should feel like.
  • Simple premise (get to the safe zone) with weird encounters to add suspension (what are the aliens up to?!).
  • End of world scenario (always nice to have in a rpg...).

I'm totally aware of the fact that many games could emulate a scenario like this, but I want to try my hand on this. A small and light rpg, driven by the D&D engine. And I finally have the balls to write in public about it. Blogging can do that to you.

So I'm working on it. Here's my thinking so far:

  • Rules for urban warfare without miniatures.
  • Rules for squad-based game-play.
  • Random City Block Generators.
  • Escalating Random Encounter Tables.
  • Rules for 3d Ruin Crawls.
  • Instant NPC recruiting if a character dies (but new Marines only at the base, in the wild you'll get civilians).
  • Characters used by players are safer than the rest.
  • A player can (and should) control more than one character. It effectively enhances his combat rank (like level would).
  • Communication will be key, the better your line to command is, the better are your chances to survive long enough (or call an air strike).
  • Machine guns! Flamethrowers! Pistols! Alien technologies! For D&D and friends!
  • And some aliens, of course.
  • It'll be free for all.

Instead of levels for individual characters, it will have phases (some sort of dooms-clock for the setting). The phases are:
Phase One: Attack

Phase Two: Colonization

Phase Three: Terra Forming

Phase Four: Enslavement

Only beginning with Phase Two Characters that have no military background will have combat skills. I'm not quite sure if I want ability scores or just skills (or a hybrid?). Maybe DM-less?

Right now it's some ideas in my head and some house rules I wrote about in the past (like Wizard with a Shotgun). But it already feels finished and I'm pretty confident that play-testing will start some time next month. Expect more posts about this after the challenge-thingie...

Day 22 - Favorite Monster Ever (D&D 30 Day Challenge)

So now we are already at question 22 of 30. Favorite Monster Ever. Somehow it's one of the easiest questions for me and the short of it would be:


Creative evil diversity with a high power curve. No monster in D&D is that powerful, intelligent and versatile without at the same time being the odd man in the crowd. I mean, powerful Monsters disguise themselves as humans to get along.

But cruelty is not bound to level, it's bound to motive. A simple level 1 maid can put a whole lot of social pressure on a group, if she were so inclined. Greed can be a very good motive, too. Just so many possibilities.

And there is not only raw individual power given by the rules and the story, there's also the power of the crowd. Agitated masses will ruin a player's day anytime. Humans are everywhere and if they weren't, they want to be there or have already been there some time ago.

The final reason would be that humans are the one most effective origin of other monsters. The lich, the vampire, a wizards evil aberrations are all but examples how far the influence off humans in a setting may reach. They are my Favorite Monster Ever.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Day 21 - Favorite Dragon (D&D 30 Day Challenge)

Again, a short one. Future questions will be more interesting (and I hope the answers will be, too). I'll go for the red dragon with this one. He's the most classic of them all, breathing fire and whatnot. Sure, some variations are nice every once in a while, but the first dragon a group encounters should be a scary old red one.

This being a really short post, I'll go and give you a link to something worthwhile. This excellent essay about death in computer games and some thoughts about game design. Read it, it's worth the time. And it features this map:

Did I get your attention now? It's awesome!
And here is the essay: Exhausting Gameplay


An Anthropomorphic Character-Generator for D&D and Variants (a 2d10 idea)

I talked about this yesterday. The best DM-tools do several things at once. In this regard I belief a roll with 2d10 is far superior to all the other dice combinations. Think about it, you got d100, d10 minus d10, d10 plus d10 and d20. 4 independent results with just one roll. I like that very much...

But what to do with such a thing?

Originally I wanted an easy tool for a character generation resulting in anthropomorphic animals. I did that (see below), but soon realized, if handled right, there is a whole set of uses beyond that: more complex Random Encounters, Random Hex-Field Generators, buildings... you name it. It's really easy enough customized.

Here is what I did with it (so far):

I'll do a pdf if there is any demand at all for it (blank is also possible...).
You could do an entirely new campaign with this or just a strange episode of the regular campaign. Could be good for games with kids, because it uses tropes that might be familiar (Kung Fu Panda, etc.). Or it might be used as a Monster-Generator. One even might give it another flavor by changing the animals. Whatever, have fun with this (and let me know, if you do...)! If used for character generation, just let the players choose a class after rolling the 2d10.

It should be compatible with most D&D variants...

Comments would be very welcome, of course. If there are any mistakes, I'd change it asap.


9 (black, leading die)
4 (white)

Results in

A medium sized (random, uneven, high = 9, 4),
serene (uneven, 10 + 4 = +1 WIS) dog-man (9 + 4 = 13)
of chaotic alignment (4 - 9 = -5)

His Strength would be the next roll (3d6 + 4) and would have been 10. every result over 16 would have reduced the other ability scores by the balance ("18" would have meant -2 to one or two of the other ability scores...).

Friday, September 20, 2013

Food for thought...


It is a wondrous combination of dice. Today I just realized that one roll with 2d10 produces at least 3 different results without changing anything but the way how they relate.

Let me illustrate. Say we have a black and a white d10. For all further assumptions the black die is the leading one. With a roll of 3 (black) and 7 (white) we get the following results:
  • 1d100 = 37
  • 2d10 = 10 (with a bell curve, too)
  • d20 (here even results with the leading die need to produce results below 10, uneven those with above 10) = 17

Three numbers with just one roll! I already have an idea how to use this. Even started working on it. As a little teaser, I'd say D&D could look like this:

Just think about it [source]
Or this:
Or something like this! [donjon]

More tomorrow.

Day 20 - Favorite Fey (D&D 30 Day Challenge)

[HackMaster Edition]

The Barbarian Brownies

For this part of the challenge I will (mostly) review some of my favorite HackMaster monster variants. HackMaster 4E did an excellent job in providing all the AD&D monsters a DM could probably need (and then some). We're talking more than 1600 monsters in 8 "Hacklopedia of Beasts" volumes here, with aliases and ideas for the use of special monster parts in addition to a description and the stats. And it's funny.

Here's about the Barbarian Brownies.
The Willow Brownies.

This goes back a while. When I saw the movie Willow for the first time, I didn't care that much for the little guy, but I loved the Fighter and the brave brownies. I was young and didn't know better (didn't see that film for a long time now, but my appreciation for anything George Lucas has been faded for some time now...). But yeah, those guys were fantastic. Fighting and drinking, always at a disadvantage, but not really that aware of it. Perfect.

But it wasn't before I had read the Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett and saw the entry for the Barbarian Brownies (aka Savage Fairies or Pictsies) in the Hacklopedia of Beasts, Vol. 1 that I started to connect the dots. At the time the group was exploring the town Tharp (which some of you might know under the name Hommlet) and I had to breathe some life into the village. The reasonable thing to do was to put a brewery in there. The beer had to come from somewhere (an often neglected fact...).
Rob Anybody, Big Man of the Nac Mac Feegles.

So the local brewery had some problems. Beer was gone missing and some rumors made the rounds that the brewery was cursed (accidents had happened, too). It was a classic plot. It took the players some time to find out that some savage fey had come down from the mountains and discovered the brewery as their holy land (it all became a bit clearer when the characters found a dead drunk blue fairy with red hair and a kilt, of course).

They had a regular occurrence as comic relief after that*. Loved those guys.

As far as stats go, HackMaster was pretty generous to the Barbarian Brownies, they got 2 HD +2, they only eat meat and love a good fight (count as fearless, fear spells don't affect them). They live in barren lands, have to fight for their survival and are quite strong (four Nac Mac Feegles could steal a sheep, each of them grabbing one leg). They save as fighters level 9, love to use traps to get an advantage and do 1d5 damage. If they have 2 rounds time to prepare, they can invoke a berserk rage, dealing 1d6 points of damage for 3 rounds. These small warriors know how to blend with their surroundings (surprise an enemy 9 in 10 times).

They don't like other fairies that much and are an intimidating enemy.

Need to do a character class some time in the future...

*The Nac Mac Feegles speak sort of a Scottish dialect, which is hilarious. Took me half a book to understand what they were saying (not being a native speaker and all that). For our game switched that to Bavarian, which worked just as well.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Day 19 - Favorite Elemental (D&D 30 Day Challenge)

Cutting it really close today (here is still half an hour of the 19th left)... I need to write something else tomorrow (and a favorite fey is easy, so that won't be a problem).

I like all plants, the HackMaster monster varieties idea isn't working that well (just didn't have the time, it was a busy week), so I'll go with the favorite elemental. It's the:

Earth Elemental

They remind me of the troll in the Scandinavian folklore, and that's all I need to know. Behold:


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Day 18 - Favorite Outsider (D&D 30 Day Challenge)

This one is easy and will be very short. I'm way over my posts-per-month ratio by now. And 9 rather uninspired Favorite Monster Questions start to make this a challenge after all. Well, I'll make this short. Favorite Outsider:


Check out the Wikipedia page for Orcus.

Or, better yet, listen to some Corvus Corax:

Neo-medieval music with an orchestra and authentic instruments (more information from the Wiki). Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Day 17 - Favorite Animal/Vermin (D&D 30 Day Challenge)

[HackMaster Edition]

The Dungeon Anemone

For this part of the challenge I will (mostly) review some of my favorite HackMaster monster variants. HackMaster 4E did an excellent job in providing all the AD&D monsters a DM could probably need (and then some). We're talking more than 1600 monsters in 8 "Hacklopedia of Beasts" volumes here, with aliases and ideas for the use of special monster parts in addition to a description and the stats. And it's funny. Here's about the Dungeon Anemone.

Hacklopedia of Beasts, Vol. 2 (p. 116)
Not much time today, so let's make this a short one. As a DM I like a broader palette of vermin and animals. Monsters in general are a DMs best friend. Anyhow, like I tried with my other entries, I go with the weird and unexpected. Like an anemone floating in dungeons and caverns.

Creatures living in the Underdark or any other underground setting with flora and fauna, really, often resemble things living in the deep sea (or should, anyway). Those beasts don't need to be magical or otherworldly to be strange and dangerous. Also I like the idea of a mushroom forest with these things floating around (to the right...).

Those beasts sure are big. It goes for the heat signature of creatures and is difficult to fool.

Eight tentacles (AC 6), if they hit, they keep strangling the victim. And their touch is toxic, paralyzing a victim (save vs. poison +4 negates). As soon as the prey stops moving, they start pulling them towards their body for digestion (1d6 damage per round).

If hit by a sharp weapon, there is a 20% + damage chance that the gas bladder is hit that keeps the thing afloat. Only full recovery will let it fly again.

I'd add a smaller glowing variant (the original likes to stay in the shadows...). 

Monday, September 16, 2013

Day 16 - Favorite Aberration (D&D 30 Day Challenge)

[Tome of Horrors Edition]

The Gorbel

For this part of the challenge I will (mostly) review some of my favorite HackMaster monster variants. Today, however, has to be an exception. The original Tome of Horrors (by Necromancer Games) was one of the first additional monster books I bought while we still played with the 3E rules. Basically they took many of the creatures WotC didn't care to revive for the 3E and updated them for The Game. It's where I first encountered the Gorbel.
The art makes the monster... (source)

The gorbels are distant relatives to beholders. They made their first appearance in the Fiend Folio in 1981, but would be reduced to a footnote in the AD&D Monstrous Manual and would have vanished if it weren't for the Tome of Horrors. For me they are the right mix between dangerous, funny and weird. Check this very nice entry.

They'll try to eat anything that moves and are very curious, but dumb. The gas they float on smells like rotten eggs. They are immune to blunt weapons (bouncy), but will explode for 1d4 damage (in a 5 foot radius) if hit by anything else. They appear in herds, but are not immune to explosions of their kin (chain reaction occur on a regular basis).

Nice additional information from the Tome of Horrors:

"A gorbel eats, breaths and excretes through an aperture best described as a mouth."

They also give birth through that mouth.As soon as they're attached to their next meal they start to mew like kittens.

What to do with those?

I'd put them anywhere a strong breeze could bring them. They'd need to breed fast. Put a herd of those in a small town and have fun with it. Or a wizard might want some parts of them for his research. Or they block a passage in a dungeon. There are countless possibilities for this weird beastie to ba a nuisance. However, done right, a first encounter with the gorbels could be a fun experience for DM and the players

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Day 15 - Favorite Undead (D&D 30 Day Challenge)

[HackMaster Edition]

The Brain-Eating Zombie

For this part of the challenge I will (mostly) review some of my favorite HackMaster monster variants. HackMaster 4E did an excellent job in providing all the AD&D monsters a DM could probably need (and then some). We're talking more than 1600 monsters in 8 "Hacklopedia of Beasts" volumes here, with aliases and ideas for the use of special monster parts in addition to a description and the stats. And it's funny. Here's about the Brain-Eating Zombie.

I like Zombies in general and looking at the list of D&D Zombie variants, I think I'm not alone in this. It's a classic trope and, if done right, a good Zombie scenario never gets old in The Game. I even wrote a Zombie Advancement Table a while back to add to the diversity.

The Brain-Eating Zombie (aka Cranium Cracker) has a special place in my heart, though. Those Zombies are result of the strange emanation of a meteor. They are clever and fast, even able to talk or change strategies, if necessary. But all they really care for is brain. It's a classic setup. Now for the specifics.

2 HD creatures with one attack per round (for 1d8 damage) for 270 xp. First attack is always to grab the victim, every attack after that is a called shot to the head (-6). If bitten, a victim is infected if a save vs. poison is not successful and will become a Brain-Eating Zombie 24 hours later (Cure Disease and Remove Curse heal a victim completely).

It gets better.

They are pretty tough to kill. Only total dismemberment will stop them from attacking and only critical hits might affect the hp. If left for dead (that is: totally dismembered), they will regenerate completely in 2d6 days and come back to hunt down those who hacked them to pieces. Only permanent destruction of the body will avoid that. Burning the corpse will result in very poisonous fumes, killing and infecting everybody within 50 feet if a save vs. poison is not successful. Eating it's flesh will immediately infect the victim.

Normal undead immunities apply and they can't be turned (because of the alien origin...).

What to do with this?

This is a huge little monster. It's not unstoppable, but to find a suitable strategy is not easy either. It's far more classic than your basic D&D zombie. Land that meteor somewhere in your campaign setting and see what happens. Might be worth an Adventure, might change the campaign world. In the end it's an intelligent infection out for your brains. Give them a chance to conquer the world and see how they start breeding humans for brain before they run out.

Now I have to ask myself if a wizards brain tastes different than, say, a barbarians and if dwarfs and elves and some such could be infected. Or, say, not humans become infected but the dwarves have it. The result would be an intelligent dwarf zombie race out for (invent table for what specific brain they'd need, roll appropriate die) brain...

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Day 14 - Favorite NPC (D&D 30 Day Challenge)

My favorite NPC got to be the torchbearer. Those poor guys have always to fear for their lives. Most of the time they're treated like some sort of slave with a "sacrifice" option. Some like to call them meat shields or trap-grinders. To be honest, I have killed them too, instead of harming a PC. Who wouldn't?

But is there a braver soul than the torchbearer among the NPCs?

No, there is not. The grit it needs to take a burning stick into dark places, with no backup from the people that hired you, no weapons and possible maiming or even death in the near future, is most admirable.

Love to DM those guys, too.

Here are the questions, here are the others.

Friday, September 13, 2013

D&D 30 Day Challenge - Day 13

Today's Question is:

What's my favorite trap or puzzle?

My favorite traps or puzzles are those that are difficult enough to be a problem for the players while creative and engaging, but without bringing The Game to a standstill. Used a chess game once as a key to open a secret door. The players needed to make the right move and had to interpret a riddle they had found to solve it. I even had brought a chess board with me to visualize the puzzle.

The most fun puzzle I can remember, though, was the painting of a naked lady on a couch. It was hanging in a small closet in a brothel and looked something like this:
Nude Woman by the impressionist Gustave Caillebotte, ca. 1880 (Gallery)
Now, the painting will radiate magic, if someone is looking. Touching it will move the woman. One finger will move the head, two will move the head and one arm, etc.. To move the whole body, a second hand needs to be involved. Moving the dame in the right position (I did go for sleazy, it's a brothel after all) will open something (in our case: a secret door, the pun was intended).

You could go all kinds of directions with this. The picture could show the same room (did in my case) and a variant could be that some compartment is in the picture that isn't in the real room. Only the woman is able to open it. Stuff like that.

It's just fun to watch the players search for the right solution. And it is something that's easy to visualize and everybody can participate. So yeah, could be my favorite puzzle.

My favorite illustration in the 4E HackMaster Gamemaster's Guide (p. 323),
can't look at it without getting my Evil-DM-Grin (TM). 
So day 13 is dealt with. Let's see what the others are up to...

Thursday, September 12, 2013

D&D 30 Day Challenge - Day 12

Favorite Dungeon?!

[Fast and easy answer]

Rappan Athuk
The Dungeon of Graves


3E just wasn't for me. I'm not hating or opposing it, we just didn't get along. That's it. No hard feelings. As a player, I don't care that much, even liked it on low levels (well, character creation takes it's time, but I see the appeal). And of course it is nice for players to believe they have more control over the game. But it makes a DM's experience of the game a lot more, well, mechanic? Less control, more fiddly parts, rules over rulings, etc.. Preparation sucked or you were to buy products with the work already done.

One of the more fun aspects of 3E was the shitload of third party products. Most of them were crap, to be honest, but there were some pearls among them. I consider Rappan Athuk one of those pearls. It's deadly and mean. Players had to bring their A-game or they'd get eaten alive. It was famous for being the deadliest dungeon crawl for 3E (and one of the deadliest of them all) and really didn't disappoint.

Incidentally it's also one of the few legit published Megadungeons out there. Sure, the OSR produced a few more (and still is), but before that? Castle Greyhawk, (maybe) Tegel Manor and Ruins of Undermountain. That's it. It's one of the best things D&D 3E produced.

Someday I'll revisit that dungeon with a few willing victims players. Maybe with one of the newer versions? We'll see...

[Bonus Material]

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

D&D 30 Day Challenge - Day 11

This day's question revolves around my favorite adventure and it should be one I've run, too. I'll keep it short today. As far as published Adventures go, I did buy a lot of those and downloaded some more (back when WotC had a lot of the adventures online for free) and I don't need to mention the huge amounts of free goodness the OSR is producing on a regular basis. I've ran only a hand full of those, all in all. I'd love to run more and maybe will do so in the future, but for now my choices are pretty limited.

On the other hand it wasn't that difficult to find a favorite adventure (the favorite dungeon location is part of tomorrow's question). It's the HackMaster variant of the infamous Temple of Elemental Evil:

The Temple of Existential Evil (T1-4)

I'd have gone with
The Temple of Mental Evil (with the handy acronym ToME)

We didn't finish the whole module, but we had a great showdown in the moat-house. Played for 3 years (real-time) in the area, too. As far as I'm concerned, it was the perfect mix of HackMaster charm and the classic module. Would have loved to run the whole thing, but the group fell apart. Someday, maybe.

HackMaster 4E really was the first retro-clone. Now that I think about it, they were quite successful at the time, "old school" was one of their most favorite words and they offered pdf support (maps, battle sheets) for their modules and they revived all the classic old modules for their game. I'm glad nobody paid attention at the time...

Sometimes I miss running HackMaster.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

D&D 30 Day Challenge - Day 10

Has it already been 10 of those?! And this is a tough one, too! The question is:

What's the craziest thing I've seen
happening in the game?

I couldn't remember anything really crazy up until now. Funny and weird I could manage, even scary is possible. But outright crazy is difficult. Well, it's a challenge, after all, so let's get at it....

This was during a convention. I DMed a Samurai game* using HackMaster 4E as the game engine of choice (it worked rather well with what I know about Japanese culture (which isn't that much, I have to admit), the honor system was suitable and the hp-kicker complimented the fact that they had samurai swords but no armor- anyway, I'm digressing...).

I can't remember the specifics of the adventure (I know the characters were all Samurai and had reason to travel on one of the main roads to the capital. I think their fates might have been connected to some Ronin and they had to confront them for one reason or another). Anyway, they were sitting in a road-side tavern and were mocked by some shady characters and one had already lost honor in the process. More loss of honor was at stake, but drawing a sword first had various implications other than being very deadly.

So I had managed to get them into a pickle. They had to defend/regain their honor, but they couldn't just attack the culprits. Also: they were outnumbered (of course). There are non-violent solutions to regain honor in HackMaster. One of them was a skill called the "Manu Weasel Dance" aka "Showing Yer Ass Dance". It does exactly that. You show your ass to the enemy (AC 10) for at least one combat round and you drain them for 1d10 honor points and regain half of that in the process. If you get hit while being exposed, you loose face (-1d10 honor points).

The one guy who had already lost some honor, decided to go for that. His chances of success were slim and he asked what he could do to improve them. You sometimes get bystanders at convention games and I had one at this table. Hearing the specifics of the skill, he suggested (jokingly, I might add) the player could "play it out" to get a bonus...

The player (a total stranger to me, by the way) liked that idea very much. Hell, the whole table liked the idea very much. At that point I was pretty sure he wouldn't do it if I made it difficult enough. I mean, we weren't drunk or anything. This was at a convention, it was a more or less public place. There were no excuses for something like that, right?

So we began discussing terms. A small crowd was already gathering around us. I kid you not. People need a good show every now and then. I ruled, if he was to do this, he needs to do it for at least a minute to get a bonus. I still didn't believe he'd go all the way with it.

It turned out to be some very embarrassing 60 seconds. Really, he even shook it...

*The basic premise was that Elves ruled this small continent (maybe as big as Australia). They had a Forbidden City in the Capital and were considered the most holy subjects by everyone else but the Dwarves and some rebels. People went as far as copying what they perceived as the elven way of life. The result was (in fashion, philosophy and life style) very similar to Japanese culture during the time of the Samurai. I mixed it with fantasy tropes, a bit Wuxia, Daoism and Chinese culture for good measure and had a Samurai game going...

Monday, September 9, 2013

D&D 30 Day Challenge - Day 9

[Question] Favorite character I haven't played?

As a DM I've encountered many characters. On rare occasions it happens that a player finds the character for him to play and it's always a treat to see. One of those characters was a halfling thief in HackMaster. This was no Shire Hobbit by a long shot. He was dangerous and the best fighter in the group.

While making the character, Mr. K was not in the mood to invent a name, so he opened a random page in a English Dictionary, dropped a finger on the page and took whatever he had landed on. It was Debris. So unbelievably fitting. With time, the pronunciation would change from English to French (the "s" went silent and he sounded like a cheese). He looked somewhat like this:

Done years ago with the character portrait creator
HeroMachine 2.5.
Stories he'd tell you for a beer (and your purse...)

One time they were exploring a moathouse* they had heard some rumors about. After killing the bandits living there, they went room by room and finally found some stairs ending in a dead end. Debris searched for secret doors and found one in the east wall. They opened it a bit and saw light in the room behind. What followed was, of course, a discussion about how to enter the room. The group could never agree on stuff like that and there was always a point where Mr. K would snap and do something reckless.

This time he just said: "Throw me into the room." The group went silent. "I mean it, just throw me!"

Little did they know that the Ogre living in the room behind the secret door had heard them. While they were discussing strategy, there was more than enough time for the Ogre to position himself behind the door. It was one of the moments where I had a hard time keeping a poker face. He wanted to be thrown into the room, so that's what they did. But before he even hit the floor, the secret door was slammed shut. Problem was, he had been the one finding the mechanism to open the door in the first place. The rest had no clue how to open it, they were locked out.

It was a perfect David vs. Goliath situation. HackMaster 4E can be pretty brutal with it's exploding dice and hit point kickers (creatures and characters have a +20 hp kicker, so, as a matter of fact, there is a lot of hacking). The Ogre certainly was a tough enemy to face alone. But he had no chance. None what-so-ever. Debris used Dirty Fighting, Cricket-in-the-Tea Pod** and every other trick up his sleeves. And he got lucky with the dice. Very lucky. It was almost embarrassing. The Ogre was dead in three rounds. Without even landing a hit.

Took the rest of the group six rounds to open the secret door again. They found the halfling proudly posing on top of the dead Ogre. He'd even left a graffiti on the Wall: "Debri was here". His reward was a small-sized Cloak of Elvenkind from the Ogre's treasure***:

Really one of my "favorite characters I didn't play". Debris and Edal Worfang did actually meet to face the Caverns of Chaos. But that is another story...

A well-used character sheet.

*HackMaster variant of the famous moathouse in Temple of Elemental Evil (in module T1-4 The Temple of Existantial Evil, of course).
** A HackMaster Combat-Skills. One lets a character gain a better to-hit and more damage, if he gives up some defence, the other gives you a better initiative and, if you're faster than your enemy, an attack to the rear...
***I didn't put it there, it was already in the module.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

D&D 30 Day Challenge - Day 8

Question: What's my favorite (D&D) character as a player?

It was not the first time I played AD&D that generated my favorite character ever, but it was a year or two later at the same convention and under the same DM. Those games were 14 to 16 hour affairs and I came to believe that AD&D has a nice flavor, but, after all is said and done, it seemed less elegant and slower than other systems I knew. But the guys we played with were three years older and "far more experienced", so, naturally, I must have had the wrong impression...

Anyway, it was fun playing with the big dogs, so we decided to join another game by the same guy (well, "were allowed to" may be a bit more fitting...). Nothing published, but some adventure he'd done himself. High level. I was asked what I wanted to play, I went through the options and decided for half-elf bard. Level 12. He had Fire Balls, Lightning Bolts, Invisibility, some Magic Items and an Attitude. I called him:

Edal Worfang

One of our first encounters was a Nymph. No fights and not much game until then. The gladiator was the first to see her - and dropped dead. The DM described her as "the most beautiful thing on earth" and I was like, hey, I'm an artist, I gotta see this. So I took some paper and a drawing pencil, failed the save by one fucking point and dropped dead*. Well, would have dropped dead.

But the DM started to fear a TPK by the first (and non-violent, I might add) encounter, so he was eager enough to look for a +1 bonus to my save vs. death. Luckily enough some character (could have been a blade singer? a paladin?) stood close enough to provide a +1 with his aura. I was saved. "The game must go on!" and all that.

That day I started to love this character. But I wouldn't get many opportunities to play him. I don't play that much and on the rare occasions I do, it's hard to implement a level 12 AD&D character. We did redo him for a few HackMaster sessions. This time I started him at level 1. But it turned out he was the same competent no-good bastard**. Good times.

And something else occurred to me while writing about my favorite character:

The Bard as class works because it doesn't...

Many people don't like the bard. And I get that. System-wise he is a bit problematic (in most cases). But I guess, for me at least, that's the point. His unfitness might be seen as a chance for a player to experience a freedom of movement he wouldn't discover with a fully "functional" class. I don't think I realized that at the time, but now I'm pretty sure that's why I loved the character so much back in the day. In the end, the limits of such a class open so much more possibilities for the player. In it's essence, this is what role playing is about...

*As soon as I'm a player, I suck at rolling dice. Can't help it. As a DM I'm a killer with the dice, as a player the dice will always fail me.
**They tend to get an own will with time, don't they? Even when playing the same class over and over again, the individual result will play different than those before him.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

D&D 30 Day Challenge - Day 7

What's my favorite edition?

All explained in one picture (by the Doc Rotwang)
I love the Rules Cyclopedia for so many reasons. For me, it's all D&D needs to be. But I'll keep this short today. Anyone in the mood for a RC love letter, should go over to Doc Rotwang's ingenious blog (with the even more ingenious name) I Waste The Buddha With My Crossbow and read "D&D Is Terrible For Anything But Combat": The Myth Asploded*. It's good to see him alive and kickin'. Enjoy!

*The blog was silent for a while and I thought he was a goner. Seems to be back now and it's good to see him back. I certainly love that picture! That and The Dukes of Biohazzard...

Friday, September 6, 2013

D&D 30 Day Challenge - Day 6

Today's question: What's my favorite deity?
[A plea for the DIY attitude and a Rules Cyclopedia Oddity...]

I looked for a comprehensive list of D&D gods and was appalled ("sad" a few sentences ahead links to a wiki-list...). So: None. Seriously. They're all crap not that good. It's not their fault. Those poor guys couldn't help it. So many companies invented, reinvented, censored, added, subtracted and changed them, they never were consistent enough to be anything more than an unstable accessory. Not one as iconic as, say, Cthulhu or as mainstream-compatible as Crom or... Ah, it's just sad. Add a Satanic Panic or two and some copyright infringements and you're left with a incoherent clusterfuck of boring ideas, spreading and meandering through the game like cancer.

Or should I just write Lolth...

No. There are better ways to handle this. And I'm not just thinking it would be a very good idea to let Orcus finally ascend to godhood and be done with it. Well, I it is a good idea, but not what I'm aiming for.

Another Rules Cyclopedia Oddity

There are no specific Gods here*, only some general words about what they call the Immortals. Just using the Rules Cyclopedia will force a DM to build his own pantheon. It's a boring and/or difficult task, but a huge step in the right direction. Plus: the problems with this tell us something worth realizing about this iteration of the game.

An Immortal must have walked the earth before he could become one of the mighty few. He had to manage to get to level 36 before he even could start to become a immortal being. We're talking at least ( for the cleric) 2.900.000 xp here! He had to leave a huge footprint in a setting. Even if half of that was gold pieces, he moved in his time 1.450.000 of those. What did he do with all that money? What did he build, etc.? And this is about one who at that point only tries to become a god. What if he failed. How many shaped the world and did fail in the end. And those that made it, are they all still well known? For what?

I could go on, but I won't. I believe the main point is already made: the game has a very huge (if not intimidating) scope. To do this the way it's intended to be done is difficult. It needs plausibility and consistency. The Immortals are the roots of a setting, the power-structure and a DM needs to stay on top of that to make it work. In my opinion, it's worth trying. Or...

About my favorite list of Deities:

If a player wants to play a cleric, he might choose a deity from the Petty Gods supplements or make his own Petty God in the same fashion**. If I need a god or two for a region, I'll just randomly choose 1d4 of them, maybe play a bit with the names. If I have another idea or two for the collection or see something I like, I'll write a short description and add them to the roster. All are Immortals as per the RC.

It makes for a very colorful pantheon where a cleric's profession is more an individual expression of what the player had in mind than some pseudo-spiritual ideas forced upon him. It also fits the idea of a world where civilization struggles after some big apocalyptic event, where small fractions of communities are isolated enough from each other to have a different belief system.

*May be true for all the older editions. I am not that familiar with those. But the D&D Rules Cyclopedia was supposed to be the final Edition of "old" D&D and they didn't even call them "gods" in the end.
** For those not familiar with the Petty Gods Project (are there still people out there in the OSR who aren't?) or those new to my blog (more likely...) are two examples of some Petty Gods here and here.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

D&D 30 Day Challenge - Day 5

And the question is:
What's my favorite set of dice?

As a DM it's only natural to have a very intimate personal relationship to the own bag o' dice. I was a bit reluctant at first to let mine go public today, but you guys seem alright, so here are my favorite dice [play]:

My Bag o' Dice & The Shaker
More teasing & a d12 showing off.
The Horde (all of them)
Close Up 1: The Lucky Sixes
Close Up 2: "Red" & The Black Mamba
Close Up 3: New to the family
That's all, folks. Day 5 of the challenge here at the Disoriented Ranger. You don't have to leave, but if you have to go, you might want to check what the others are up to...

More of the same tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

D&D 30 Day Challenge - Day 4

Cut it a bit close today, but here is my entry...

The question for today would be what my favorite gaming world is. Again nothing I could answer fast and easy. I don't care that much for sold settings (but did use a bit Forgotten Realms when I started playing 3E). As far as worlds go I could go several directions. One day I should shovel it all into one big gaming world and call it my home brew setting.

The curse of every DM is that the mind explores imaginary lands so much faster as a character in-game ever could. Because of this, I fall in love with new settings on a regular basis. Maybe it's a minor form of Gamer ADD. I don't know.

Here are a few glimpses of worlds I fell in love with. My favorite gaming world is somewhere hidden in here:


Your basic fantasy tropes, but with very small people (source)
Didn't care that much for the story, but the setting was hitting all kinds of sweet spots. It's about, let's say, nature spirits (a bit like elves) living in a forest, fighting decay (orcs, goblins, etc.) and keep order in general. Classic black vs. white fairy tale, but with dogfights and races on fast birds and some swordplay. Especially nice were the ideas about how the "big world" physics influenced the "small world".

Maybe it began with the smurfs back in the day, but I always thought a world like this was ripe for a role-playing world. It's in a clearly defined area, but could fit everywhere in every setting, even in a backyard with a whole house as the campaign world or in the middle ages, even in a fantasy setting. Characters could be anything, stories could be anything, but the world is distinctive, easy to communicate and, of course, as dangerous as a DM cares to make it.

Thunder Rift

A big world, but with very clear borders. All it needs, really. (source)
There is no need to read or even own the setting. You just need the map, an idea why they call it "Thunder Rift" and what all the names on the map could mean and you're good to go. Finally you'd need a cryptic explanation why nobody is able to leave the Thunder Rift canyon. The mind could do anything in this confined area. It's all a DM could ever need for a campaign world.

I'm pretty sure I like this because of it's simplicity and I'm starting to see a pattern. How big should a campaign world be? How much preparation is advisable? One could start and never finish. But if there are some limits to the scope of a setting, it's not that difficult anymore to fill in the blanks. A map of Faerun just wouldn't do that for me, because it delivers so much, the details and features become insignificant.

Crash Canyon

The show may be ho-hum, but the premise is pure gaming gold! (source and a very harsh review of the show)
I saw this by accident one night on tv. I swear I couldn't sleep that night. Not because the show was that good, but because I couldn't stop thinking this would make a brilliant gaming world! Here is the basic idea:
"Crash Canyon is a Canadian animated series. It tells the story of the community living at the bottom of a canyon. The Wendell family is looking for an original holiday by caravan but their trip ends sooner than expected at the bottom of a canyon in Alberta, Canada. Canyon walls are too high to climb and there is no way out. Soon they find out there is a whole community of 25 survivors from previous crashes down there. Dollars are not accepted and they use golf tees as a currency." (from the Wikipedia page linked above)
Anything goes in this world,
and not because of GURPS.
A bit like Thunder Rift above. But there is one major difference: you could put anything in there you'd want. Dragons, roman legionaries, robots, strange artifacts or parts of weird architecture. It could be a trash bin of the universe, a trap, the result of wonky magic. And of course it would build new and strange communities. Maybe even factions. It could be a world like a megadungeon, but totally random at that (I'm thinking: hex field generator with results like "rusty WW2 submarine, Mushroom forest, two warring communities, one led by an A. I.., one by a viking with a chainsaw, main predator: owlbears" or anything else a crazy person DM could think of).

Basically I'd take Crash Canyon, make a world of sorts out of it and mix in some Riverworld.

Impressions 1 (source)

Impressions 2 (source)
Impressions 3 (source)
Impressions 4 (source)
Dragon Hunters is a cartoon series for kids. It's not that interesting. But the setting, on the other hand, is totally fantastic. It consists completely of floating islands and strange landscapes. Could be very difficult to reproduce in the game (at least the map would be a graphic designers nightmare...), but looking on those pictures makes me believe it should be possible...

Sometimes a picture is enough...

All of the following were found on konachan (beware explicit content over there...).

More random pics from the hard drive:

I could go on and on. Worlds are not "genre", they are wallpaper or a background. But most of all they are impressions and ideas. I couldn't possibly give a whole impression of what makes me like a gaming world or not, but I guess a hint is enough for now.

More picture may be found here.

What I'm up to right now is here (Tales of Karek Thel).