Thursday, December 31, 2009
Here's hoping everyone has had a great holiday season, and has a debauched and (reasonably) safe New Year's Eve! If you haven't yet, he sure to grab your copy of the 2009 Beyond the Black Gate Compendium. Thanks for all the kind comments on this, I hope you get as much use out of it as I do.
Now on to my top 10 Gaming Resolutions for 2010:
1. More Gaming! While I enjoyed more old-school sessions in 2009 than in 2008, I still would like to get a regular weekly thing going. Optimistically, I've talked to quite a few local old-school ex-gamers over the last year or so, and with a little effort via phone and email, I can probably put something together.
2. More Writing! As I put the finishing touches on the Warriors of the Red Planet rough draft and an as-yet unannounced project (see certain past blog entries for clues!), I hope to get still more projects rolling for 2010. I have to say writing with an old-school ethic has certainly been liberating compared to the d20 projects I've worked on in the past. I've actually had to "re-train" myself to focus on real text rather than rules-crunching, and its been very educational.
3. See Warriors of the Red Planet published! As this gets closer and closer to a form I'm not terminally embarrassed of, I'm getting more and more excited about actually seeing it in print. Partnering up with the amazing Thomas Denmark really raised the bar on this for me, and made me seriously focus on turning what was basically a pet project of house rules for Sword & Planet gaming into something I can be proud of.
4. Convert at least one non-gamer. If you had asked me five years ago whether these great old-school games would actually see a resurgence, I would have had my doubts. I think its fantastic how things have taken off in just the last year or so, due in large part to the hard work of the RC, adventure, and supplement authors, the contagious enthusiasm of so many great bloggers, and the publishers of awesome old-school mags like Knockspell, Fight On!, and Green Devil Face. So here's hoping everyone does there part and brings at least one new gamer into the fold this year to enjoy this stuff.
5. Run a public Demo. I ran a couple of Megadungeon demos this year for friends, and this coming year I'd like to step it up a notch and run some at local cons. Also, 4E has made the local D&D Meetup chapter grow to huge numbers, and they welcome all manner of games, so I'm planning to run a few demos for these guys, too!
6. Contribute to Old-school Magazines. One of the more frequent comments I see on the blog is "you should submit this to (insert magazine title here)", so I plan on doing just that. Thanks for everyone's support and encouragement! You should see my first effort (already submitted) in print very soon...
7. Watch more Cheesy Movies. Since expanding my cable service (and, sadly, my cable bill *sigh*), I've rediscovered my love of cheesy sci-fi, fantasy, and horror flicks, and subsequently rediscovered how much cool stuff is out there to mine for great gaming ideas.
8. Expand my Pulp Library. Thanks in large part to Grognardia's awesome pulp library features and Paizo's wonderful Planet Stories, my appreciation for classic pulp fantasy and sci-fi continues to grow. I hope to post reviews of my more interesting finds here on the blog at least monthly.
9. Talk about Health. Is it gaming related? I don't know, but we all joke about "Gamer's Disease", and it's no secret our hobby doesn't involve a lot of healthy eating/exercise, and many of us are soon-to, or have long-since, passed the dreaded, evil, forty-mark. There have simply been too many health-related tragedies in our hobby in the last few years to pretend there's not a problem. Is there a way to effectively promote healthy living hand-in-hand with gaming? I'm not sure, but I have some ideas, so stay tuned for more on this subject.
10. Help Promote Retro-clones at Game Stores. With Swords & Wizardry and Labyrinth Lord in print, I plan on making a point of visiting any local game stores and encouraging ("we wouldn't want any accidents to happen, now would we?") them to get these on their shelves ASAP.
So what are your gaming resolutions for the big '10?
Friday, December 25, 2009
I Hope everyone's having a great Christmas! My guys have been up for hours already breaking in the Wii, who woulda thought, a video where you stand up and move around instead of sitting and staring with glazed eyes...;)
Click here to download my Christmas gift to all of you: The Beyond the Black Gate 2009 Compendium.
Its packed with charts and other fun stuff I use at the table. Print it up "little booklet" style for maximum old-school effect. Hope you like it!
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
One of my favorite bloggers, Doug of Savage Swords of Athanor, has put up his Weird Science Fantasy Goodness on LuLu. From the blurb:
"Savage Swords of Athanor is a science fantasy campaign setting and rules supplement for Swords and Wizardry. Athanor is a dying world with crumbling ruins, lost technology, dinosaurs, and ancient slumbering evil. Savage Swords of Athanor includes: new character class (the Rogue); modified spell lists and rules for magical mishaps; new races; a wilderness map, encounter charts, and key; and new monsters and items. This supplement includes material presented in the Savage Swords of Athanor blog, compiled, cleaned up and expanded as well as new material."
Get it here!
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
As I re-read several of Burrough's Martian books while working on Warriors of the Red Planet, I was surprised to note just how much action takes place in what we gaming fans would consider to be "dungeons". In fact, nearly every book features some sort of Underworld action. Burroughs was not alone; from the great cavern-factories of Kline to the mountain hive-cities of Norman, from a strictly literary perspective, "dungeoncrawling" seems more a part of Sword & Planet adventure than most "standard" fantasy fiction! To name a few:
The "Pits" - First introduced in A Princess of Mars, the martian gaol, or "Pits", is a maze of underground corridors and cells. Typically, these are huge complexes, but the martians seldom utilize more than a small area of them, leaving the rest to grow wild and frightening, inhabited by nameless, unseen horrors that feast upon forgotten prisoners. Most are also honeycombed with tunnels gnawed by the ulsio, the fearless, repugnant, hairless martian rat, a creature about the size of a large terrier and with the disposition of a wolverine. No prisoner may sleep peacefully in a martian dungeon for fear he will awaken with an ulsio trotting off with his arm in its mouth! Also, the gaols often feature hidden shops and laboratories, or may intersect with the buried ruins of long-dead cities.
Underground Rivers and Lakes - There are no true above-ground rivers or seas on Barsoom, but deep below ground are many tributaries leading to the River Iss, a mighty subterranian river. When the long-lived martian grows weary of the bitter struggle of life, he or she ventures into the underworld to follow the Iss to the martian paradise, the mythical Valley Dor, where they may rest amid peaceful surroundings (see Gods of Mars for more on this!). The course of the underground river is fraught with fearsome predators and natural hazards, and few indeed make it as far as Dor.
Ice Caves - The great glaciers of the north are riddled with tunnels and great caverns, many haunted by the fearsome Apt, a bloodthirsty predator. It is rumored that inhabited lands beyond the icy walls may be reached via these tunnels (see Warlord of Mars for more on this!).
Underground Cities - Some two miles beneath a great volcano lies the black underground sea of Omean, and on its shores and burrowed into its walls is the fables city of the Pirates of Mars, once rumored to come from the nearer moon of Mars. The city is a maze, with great chambers, flooded passages travelled by submarine, a great arena for gladitorial combat, sunless gardens of unearthly beauty, great temples that revolve with the passage of time, and trap-filled secret corridors and concealed doors linking every thing together. Elsewhere on Mars is a great underground city of tunnels, populated by repulsive, crablike creatures which ride headless humans like horses, and still elsewhere a buried, lost city populated by ancient undead who nonetheless believe themselves to be alive!
"Lost Worlds" - Subterranean cavern complexes and deep, shadowed valleys offer rich opporunties for the fearsome monsters of bygone ages to pick out an existence feasting on the occasional traveller or sacrificial victim. In Fighting Man of Mars, the adventure follows a cavern and underground river haunted by monstrous reptiles. Fighting through this only leads to the even more fearsome Valley of Spiders!
Megadungeon - Obviously, the potential for a Megadungeon in a Sword & Planet setting is immense, just drawing from a few resources like those mentioned above. A Martian Underworld location like Omean, perhaps a version conquered and left in ruins ages ago, to be populated only by rampant monsters, the degenerate remains of the original city's inhabitants, and the obscene, failed experiments of a mad scientist still plying his trade in the deepest Pits, would make for an immense dungeon that could span many campaigns worth of adventuring! Imagine an area like this:
Area 2.33: The Vault of Seven Chieftains -
The staggering dimensions of this natural cavern are almost too huge to define. Far above, ancient globes of irradium light still dimly illuminate the glittering strata of platinum and rubies that run through the ceiling. Opposite you, set into the wall, are forty-foot-high steel doors inscribed with the heiroglyphics of a bygone age. A crystal bubble filled with gold and silver clock-work gears joins the two doors together where a handle and keyhole would normally be set. A forest of stalacmites and stalactites obscures the far reaches of the cavern to either side of you, but you detect a hint of movement, and something dark scratches at the corners of your mind...
Nine Hrecha lurk in the far corners of the room, waiting for their master, Bors Borsinn, a 5th level Mentalist, to summon them to the feast. At even intervals around the cavern are seven crystal sarcophagi containing the perfectly preserved bodies of long-dead chieftains with faintly purplish skin (a race that died out eons ago). Their jewelled harness and ornate weaponry are worth in excess of 1200gp, but each sarcphogus is trapped with a gas that causes a slow rot (1hp per turn damage for 3d4 turns) to any standing within 10', failing a save. The bubble on the door can only be opened telepathically by reading a series of nineteen formulae inscribed upon the door. The heiroglyhics may be deciphered by a Scientist of 3rd level or higher. The skeleton of a Great Albino Ape lies just to one side of the door, covered in some faintly-glowing green fungus.
Hrecha: HD 5; HP 30, 25x2, 22, 20x3, 12x2; AC 5; Atk 4 claws (1d4) or 1 bite (2d8); Move 6 (fly 18); Save 13; CL/XP 5/240XP; Special: Fly-By Attack (-2 to hit flying Hrecha).
Bors Borsinn, Mentalist Lvl5; AC 5; HP17; Powers 3/2/1; Irradium Pistol, Gas Belt, 22pp.
Friday, December 18, 2009
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Of course, a skilled and reliable crew was as important to a successful expedition as a sturdy and reliable ship. With a crew of only about twenty sailors, every man had a place on the Caravel. Some of the more important positions included:
Captain - A good captain will have served in every other position on a ship, and know the workings of the ship inside out. Some captains, however, attain their position through wealth or position in society, and must rely more heavily on the other ranking crew members. A captain needs to be familiar with supplies, travel times, costs of provisions, materials, and repairs, and a dab hand at maintaining crew morale is a must, especially for long voyages.
First Mate - As the captain's right-hand-man, the mate needs to be just as familiar with the workings of the ship as the captain, and also serves as a force for intimidation and order as well, especially for smaller crews with no official "sergeant-at-arms", and may also serve as quartermaster, allotting provisions and alcohol rations as necessary.
Boatswain - The boatswain is essentially the foreman of the deck crew, overseeing the basic operation of the ship, inspecting the rigging, planning and scheduling sailor's work duties, etc. Getting on the boatswain's bad side was a good way to spend a long voyage scrubbing out decks and emptying slop buckets.
Pilot/Navigator - A must for any but the shortest, shore-hugging voyage, the Navigator is responsible for plotting a course and knowing where exactly the ship is at all times. A Navigator lives and dies by his knowledge of the seas he travels, and jealously guards his maps and charts (cool map at the link). A Navigator with an extensive and accurate collection of charts is able to hire himself out at a premium. Not unlike the priests of a mystery cult, Navigators closely keep their secrets, preferring the masses to remain ignorant of the scientific truths they utilize. They are able to use an hourglass, the stars, the wind, position of the sun, magnetism, and other less obvious clues of nature to know where they are at and where they are going.
Arms and Armor
Despite the popular Hollywood view of ship-board combat, sabres and pistols waving, the common arms of the common sailor were a lot less glamorous. Swords were typically the arms of the nobility, requiring expensive training, and pistols, also expensive, don't often feature in most pseudo-medieval fantasy campaigns.
Pin - The most common shipboard weapon was the Pin, a heavy wooden, clublike implement (sometimes filled with lead for added weight) used to secure rigging, hatches, and within easy reach all over the ship. It makes for a handy and deadly weapon. Suggested damage for the Pin is 1d6.
Hook - Used for hauling cargo and pulling heavy ropes, rigging, and sails, the Hook was another weapon always within easy reach, and was often used in combat to pull an enemy sailor into a death-blow from a knife or hatchet. Suggested damage is 1d4, and target must save vs. Paralyzation or suffer automatic damage from a weapon held in the assailants other hand.
Hatchet - The hatchet was also kept within easy reach at all times, as often rigging needed to be cut free quickly to avoid damage to the ship or sails in inclement weather. It's short handle made it an effective weapon in crowded shipboard conditions. Suggested damage for the Hatchet is 1d6.
Crossbows - Crossbows were a common weapon of medieval ship-to-ship combat, and special oils and grease were needed to keep strings, screws, and cranks functional in the salty sea air. Quarrels dipped in pitch and set afire were a particular menace. Unlike traditional long or short bows, crossbows required little training and were more effective in cramped conditions.
Armor - Armor is typically not worn on ships, more due to its restriction on movement than for any fear of sinking (many sailors couldn't even swim, and freezing cold often finished off those that could!), but some more militant crews wore piecemeal scraps of leather, helms, bracers, coats, boots, and the like (this sort of "armor" should convey a bonus of no more than 1 or 2 to AC). Ship's marines usually wore whatever armor their infantry counterparts wore, though they typically engaged in sea-to-land combat, not ship-to-ship. Sailors, spending months or even years aboard their ships, become intimitately familiar with their confining deck conditions, and its recommended that ship-to-ship attackers suffer a -1 penalty to-hit defenders.
Sand - An another important defensive implement on ships was sand, and many barrels were kept on board. Sand was used to douse fire (such as that from naptha or "greek fire"), and to give slippery or bloody decks more traction.
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
One of my favorite comics as a kid was Elfquest. Short of the Conan comics (and Epic and Heavy Metal, to an extent), there just wasn't a lot out there to offer the fantasy and comic fan, and I stumbled across Elfquest well into its run. For several months strait, I would go out to breakfast with mom on Saturday morining, and run across the street to the local book/comic store (this is Wilson's Books and the Family Kitchen, if any of you are familiar with St. Petersburg, FL; both, amazingly, are still there, and still fantastic) for a back issue, and a large part of the week would be spent poring over the pages, caught up in the rich imaginary world of its creators, Wendy and Richard Pini.
If you're not familiar with the comic, it follows the tale of a tribe of elves who are driven from their idyllic forest home into a savage prehistoric wilderness. They are the dimished scions of a group of tall, powerful elves that accidentally "crashed" their plane-travelling castle into "our" world, where magic is weak and hard to come by. They were vulnerable to the weak but vicious tribes of humanity they encountered, and were scattered across the world into small enclaves fighting for survival. Despite the often "cutesy" art, the story ventures into some surprisingly dark territories as the main characters encounter other tribes of elves, many twisted and changed by their circumstances, some irredeemably.
I bought four compilations gathering the original 20 issues of the series together in full color (the original comics were black & white) several years back, and was surprised after a recent re-reading that the story still resonated with me. The Pinis and others have since continued the story in later editions, but those new storylines seem unfamiliar to me and nowhere near as stirring (perhaps an inevitable change from the freedom of underground comics to the sometimes unkind influence of more corporate publishers), but I highly recommend those original 20 issues. You can read all 20 of them here at the official site (labelled "The Original Quest"), or buy them in the current editions of the four anthologies (a bit more expensive than the $12.95 price tag of the originals!).
Saturday, December 12, 2009
I'm not sure if this is a limited-time promotion or not, but you can get several of West End Games's "d6 System" .pdfs free at this link, including their Fantasy, Fantasy Creatures, and Fantasy Locations.
In other news, their seem to be some copyright issues with Outlaw Press, a publisher of Tunnels and Trolls stuff. Someone's getting naught but coal & lawsuits for Xmas this year... A side by side comparison of some of the more egregious alleged infringements is here.
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
Traveling by ship is a staple of fantasy gaming. By far the most popular ship of the mid-medieval centuries was the "Caravel", an extremely versatile vessel sturdy enough to travel long distances and yet small enough to navigate the shallower rivers and coastal regions. This makes it a great choice for both merchants and explorers, and a reliable means of long-distance transportation. Along with the cog, the carrack, and the Norse knarr, the caravel saw use for centuries and was often modified/customized for widely different, specialized purposes. Combat modifications to this ship would eventually result in its specialized evolution into the huge, notorious fighting galleons of the late Middle Ages and Renaissance.
The Caravel typically sported 2 or 3 square-rigged masts, with a triangular lateen sail on the mizzen (a small mast near the back of the ship) to help with fast tacking and manueverability. The ships weighed in at about 50-150 tons, and had a hull length of 60-90 feet, with a width of 15-20 feet. Crew size was typically 15-20, and the crew usually lived on deck, under canopies in times of inclement weather. Below-deck was reserved for cargo and stores, particularly during long voyages, and a couple of small cabins were available for the captain or important passengers. Cooking was done on deck with small coal braziers, and experienced sailors knew to supplement the usual "hard-tack" biscuits and salted meats with the occasional lemon or apple to avoid scurvy.
A good sized caravel could carry roughly 150 tons of cargo.
The average speed of the caravel was roughly 4 1/2 mph, and the ship could often manage 100 miles per day in open seas, and up to 150 miles per day - weather permitting. The narrow width of the ship made it capable of bursts of speed up to 10mph if wind conditions were favorable. In stormy conditions, the main sails would be furled to prevent the masts from breaking, and in calm or still conditions, up to 20 oars could be deployed for short periods.
A good, short glossary of ship terminology may be found here.
Monday, December 7, 2009
Last Summer I had the privilege of getting a thorough look at the working draft of Rob's excellent Wilderlands supplement for Swords & Wizardry, and even got to play a variant Magic-User class from the book. If you're a Wilderlands fan, this is a must have; Rob offers up tons of dense, exciting content here, some of which he's been working on in one form or another for decades! If you're a Swords & Wizardry fan, the book is a great example of how very customizable the system is as a tool box to create something familiar and playable, yet totally unique at the same time.
Go here to see more.
Saturday, December 5, 2009
Here's a sample from my campaign journal, again from the summer of '07, when I was running a lot of hex-based action. I use my campaign journals to keep track of dates, locations, and the players' most important actions. Its proved to be a great tool for running a cohesive wilderness game, and is also a good way a remembering some fun sessions that occured years ago!
Session Journal: 4436 Portly Pomp Month(4)
PP17 Hex8-3519 Party encounters Giant Slug en route to Onhir, just on the border of Arthiop mudflats. Slug injures Belegost with acidic spray. Magnus loses halbard in action, draws greatsword found in Witch-queens fortress. Kills slug in one great chop, which creates a blast like thunder.
PP18 Hex8-3411 Barrens devoid of usual dire rats. Reason becomes clear when party encounters large pack of Denuvian dragon-dogs, a reptile/wolf crossbreed not seen in great numbers since the days of the Orichalan empire. Unnaturally cunning and well-armored. Party decimates them with missle weapons and several spells from Rho.
PP19 Onhir Party met by borderwardens 3 leagues outside of Onhir. Forced to wait for special permission to enter city due to presence of the partys dwarven ranger Horthe. Permission given, elven slaves given into the care of Onhir.
PP20 Onhir Annual Beltene Fete of Brilliant Fire celebrated in Onhir. Party made guests of honor for return of slaves. Festivities include phoenix rebirth, ceremony of the fire witches, blessings of the groves by druidic circle. Other guests of feast include a visiting Antillian merchant and Lady Cilborith of Anatal. Party is gifted with masterwork strength bows by the Onhiri. Horthe adopts runt elven hunting dog (cooshee) as his animal companion.
PP21 Onhir Rho pays after-midnight visit to quarters of Cilborith to talk shop. Surprises assassin just entering sorceress' chamber. Kills him instantly with empowered fire spell. Cilborith rewards Rho with Pearl of Power 2, identifies partys takings from DCC17 for free. Notables include Thundering Greatsword (now christened "SlugBane" by Magnus), a type-2 Bag of Holding, a string of lesser Prayer Beads, and a ring of Counterspells. Antillian merchant and his retinue are discovered to have left mysteriously in the night, and a search of the assassins corpse reveals a tattoo consecrating him to Harmakhis.
PP22-30 Onhir Party spends next week or so recuperating, selling loot, repairing equipment, training, researching, and carousing. Also participates in Dire Boar Hunt in the forest, with Magnus scoring the killing blow. Rho and Cilborith spend much time together talking shop before she departs back to her small city in the Ered Perack.
Session Journal: 4436 Yellow Moon Dog Month
YMD1 Onhir Party departs Onhir in full strength, determined to reach CSIO by the War Festivals (YMD28 ) .
YMD3 Hex8-3408 Encamped for the night by River Magevin, 4 giant spiders steal silently into camp, drawn by the horses. Man-at-arms Nok on guard duty, takes poisoned wound while alerting camp. Party quickly roused, spiders killed or driven off without hardship. Wounded spider tracked to lair in the morning. Among the desiccated corpses hanging there is found a +2 Dagger and about 60gp worth of various coins.
YMD4,5 Hex8-3308 Party reached Bellystone Ford, invited to stay at Southmarch Castle under Lord Cairnols hospitality. Party treated to performance by some of the best bards in Altanis. Tibal participates on zither, only barely restrained from practicing his pick-pocketing arts on his fellow musicians by a stern eye from Magnus. A feast that night features flank of catoblepas, a rare and dangerous delicacy.
YMD7 Hex8-3105 Party climbs up into Black Baron Pass. Horthe soon notices trail of a band of ogres, probably lying in wait to ambush travelers through the pass. Stopping their party well before a natural ambush point, PCs leave NPCs behind with wagon and horses while they advance to surprise the ambushers. PCs assault ogres, driving them from the cliffs with little trouble. Horn sounds from wagon party down the trail. The party has been duped, a larger party of ogres led by a huge raging chieftain tears through the small caravan like wildfire. Party arrives to find their companions all dead or dying, only the cooshee pup still standing defiant. They rush forward into pitched melee. Magnus and Belegost are both taken down to negatives by the savage ogres, and Horthe is nearly felled as well. Things look ill until a well-placed Deep Slumber from Rho takes down the chieftain and a nasty sneak attack fells another ogre instantly. A few flee but are taken down by Rhos spells while Horthe revives Magnus and Belegost with a wand of CLW. One remaining ogre surrenders. The party takes stock of the damage: the wagon is smashed and worthless, at least half of their provisions are scattered and ruined, 2 horses slain, and they dig graves on the bluff overlooking the pass for 5 long-time NPCs: Dewer and Nok, the 2 men-at-arms, Ofreda the cook, Dalmidge the teamster, and Chuffrey the page (a teenage thief rescued from the streets of the CSIO) who actually put up a good fight against the Chieftain before meeting a gruesome end (-18hp!). Of all the supporting cast, only Sergeant Hancy (leads the partys men-at-arms) and the Cooshee are able to be saved by Belegosts healing magic. Gathering the surviving horses and provisions the battered party continues north with heavy hearts!
*I would have allowed the party's ranger to discover the tracks of the other ogres, thereby discovering the feint, but they never looked around, just took off - getting cocky!
*It took all of 3 rounds(!) for the ogres to decimate the party's caravan. Leaving the ogres 2 rounds to begin looting before the party arrived back on the scene, already a little battered from the first fight.
*The party's fighter, Magnus, actually fumbled his first attack against the ogre chieftain, and "SlugBane" flew out of his grasp. The ogre chiefatin then scored a critical hit against him, dropping him in 1 hit. The cleric Belegost got dropped by a critical hit from a thrown javelin. Fortunately, the elven wizard Rho had only engaged in melee in the first attack and so had a full complement of spells for the next attack, which made the difference between victory and a possible tpk.
*The sole-surviving NPC, Sergeant Hancy(War3) has been with the party since their 1st adventure "Whispering Cairn" and received enough xp in this fight to reach level 4. Most of the other NPCs were recruited during DCC3, and Chuffrey was "saved" from the mean streets on the way to DCC17. Ofreda was notorious for making stew out of every monster the party killed. Other than the ubiquitous "red-shirt" men-at-arms they go through all the time, they'll have a hard time replacing the rest of them, and a grudge against ogres for some time to come...
*The party is concerned about the assassination attempt on Cilborith, and wonder what the connection is to the temple of Harmakhis. They will be following up on this in the CSIO, especially Rho, who has taking the attack on his "girlfriend"(if you can call a terrifying 9th level elven wizardess "girlfriend") personally.
Friday, December 4, 2009
Here are some notes from a 2007 Wilderlands campaign journal detailing how I prep my hexcrawls for the Wilderlands of High Fantasy (JG).
Typically, I would gauge where the players were likely to travel, between point A and point B, and make a quick list of what was probably going to be in each hex. I was also very strict about the players maintaing the proper provisions, pack animals, etc, so I'd be sure to know how much resources would be needed.
With wandering monsters, I like to have certain "iconic" monsters for each area (such as werewolves in the Blighted Forest and Ankhegs in the Sunken Hills, etc), rather than a mixed bag, as it gives those areas a more distinct flavor. I would then assign a chance for an encounter based on my perceived density of the local monster population. I try to use a lot of mid-powered creatures when possible, because its easy to scale them to the party's power level by simply adjusting their numbers (ie 1 ogre for a 1st-lvl party, a band of ogres for a higher level party etc).
Here's an example of a hex-crawl prep-sheet from the back-water Altanis town of Zothay, to the secretive Elven city of Onhir, as the players were going to return some freed slaves. The numbers refer to the map (Altanis is Map 8) and the specific hex number, and I usually note the general region the hex falls into (Arthiop Mud Flats, etc).
Black Iron Band
Hex Crawl: Zothay to Bellystone Ford via Zothay Trail (Map8, Barbarian Altanis)
6 Hexes: 8-3711, 8-3710, 8-3609, 8-3509, 8-3408, 8-3308.
Total Distance: 30 Leagues (5 Leagues per hex)
Travel Time: 1 hour/league/on horseback, 10 leagues/day, 3 days.
Party Size: 36humanoid(6PCs, 30freedslaves), 14livestock(6 riding horses, 2packhorses, 6wagonhorses), 3wagons.
Food needed: 108man-days, 42horse-days worth.
8-3711: Zothay Trail/Arthiop Mud Flats. The swamp encroaches closer to the Zothay Trail every year, and the damp stones are always haunted by clouds of biting midges and flies. Slime trails criss-cross the road for several miles. Encounter Chance: 40%.
Encounter: Giant Slug
Giant Slugs have haunted this stretch of road for years now, finding food ever scarcer in the swamps due to the rapidly increasing population of lizardmen.
8-3710: Zothay Trail/Arthiop Mud Flats. The swamp encroaches closer to the Zothay Trail every year, and the damp stones are always haunted by clouds of biting midges and flies. Slime trails criss-cross the road for several miles. Encounter Chance: 40%.
Encounter: Giant Slug
Giant Slugs have haunted this stretch of road for years now, finding food ever scarcer in the swamps due to the rapidly increasing population of lizardmen.
8-3609: Zothay Trail/Batstone Bridge. An ancient bridge spans the Murmering Stream here, each block of purplish-black stone bearing the weathered imprint of a stylized bat. Encounter Chance: 100%
Encounter: Rufus the Swamp Troll
Rufus lives under Batstone Bridge and will attempt to charge tolls to anyone crossing the bridge that does not appear to be a resident of Zothay. He only charges 5gp per traveler, and will take less from obviously poor travelers. Most travelers find it easier to pay the toll than to face the crackling javelin of lightning Rufus holds aloft while demanding his toll. Rufus is not too unpleasant for a troll, and converses merrily with those he robs, though he often includes someone named Clem in his discussions (like, "Wow, Clem, lookit this pretty necklace!"). Clem was Rufus's brother, and was killed several years ago by a war-party from Zothay, which is why such warriors now pass free of charge. Rufus would welcome a chance to cause them mischief, though, as long as his personal risk is minimal
8-3509: Zothay Trail/River Mageven. The north bank of this wide stagnant river is always swarming with clouds of biting flies and midges. The stink from the river is nauseating. Encounter Chance: 40%
Belabras, large floating jellyfish, hover through this area, scooping up whole swarms of flying insects for sustenance. They have no problem with tackling larger prey when it presents itself.
8-3408: Zothay Trail/River Mageven. The north bank of this wide stagnant river is always swarming with clouds of biting flies and midges. The stink from the river is nauseating. Encounter Chance: 40%
Belabras, large floating jellyfish, hover through this area, scooping up whole swarms of flying insects for sustenance. They have no problem with tackling larger prey when it presents itself.
8-3308: Bellystone Ford. Encounter Chance: 75%.
Encounter: Patrol from South March Citadel. Dujik Panpipes (Bard4 w/Wand of Hideous Laughter(12 charges)), 4 Veterans (Ftr2,chain, l.shield,longsword,heavy crossbow), 8 Men-at-arms (HD1, Sd.leather, l.shield,handaxe,javelin).
Water at ford unusually high for this time of year, crossing takes 1/2hour, roll extra encounter chance during crossing.
Dujik Panpipes is friendly, but thorough. Will demand search of partys posessions: coinage in excess of 100gp per individual will be taxed 5%, illegal substances or items will be seized, names of characters will be recorded. Dujik will accept a bribe of 50gp per individual to forgo his search. Will use force if needed.
Of course, the actual notes in my journal aren't quite so neat, but the above gives you a good idea of what my shorthand info means. I've found that just a quick sentence or two of description for each hex can really help me expand more greatly in-play than I would going into it blindly, and takes only a few minutes of prep-time.
Thursday, December 3, 2009
Yes, I know, its not Torgo Tuesday, but Torgo's been complaining that his presence on the blog has been light lately, and he's concerned that his servitude here won't lead to the lucrative reality TV show contract he's obsessed with getting.
So I'm giving him a Thursday this week.
As many of you no doubt know, Torgo loves nothing more (during his infrequent days off) than to raid my attic cache of cool toys from the 70's and 80's, even though he knows this typically results in a vicious beating. Last weekend I found him imaginatively engaged in a titanic struggle between two mighty forces of Japanese 80's toys: A Shogun Warrior, and the noble Space Battleship Yamato!
Which got me thinking: There's got to be a game in there somewhere, right? I mean what could be cooler than massive, brutal battles between Shogun Warriors and the powerful starships of the Star Blazers universe? I may have to put together a quick set of rules for this (scribble scribble)! I could even throw a Plush Cthulhu into the mix...
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Riddles can be a fun part of RPG game sessions. Whether presented by helpful or harmful creatures, demanded in payment by fey and inscrutable oracles, or scrawled on the magically locked door of the treasure vault, they can be a nice change from combat, traps, and the other more typical challenges of an adventure.
I find it a good idea to keep a few riddles on hand on the chance an opportunity presents itself to use one. As old English and Norse literature is full of riddles, which were every bit as important an oral tradition to those cultures as the great Sagas were, its not too hard to track down some good ones to use at the table.
Riddles can range from simplistic:
Q- What is yours, yet your wife uses it much more than you do?
A- Your Name
To Long and Complex:
Q- Time was, when I was weapon and warrior, Now the young hero hoods me with gold,
And Silver. At Times men kiss me. At times I speak and summon to battle
Loyal companions. At times a courser, bears me o'er marchland. At times a ship
Bears me o'er the billows, brightly adorned. At times a fair maiden fills me with breath;
At times hard and headless I lie on the board, bereft of beauty. At times I hang
Winsome on wall, richly embellished, where revelers drink. At times a Warrior,
Bears me on a horse, a battle adornment, and I swallow, bright shining, the breath from his bosom. At times with my strains I summon the heroes proudly to wine, at times I win back
Spoils from the Spoiler, with sounding voice, put Foemen to flight! Now ask what I'm called...
A- A Horn
I prefer mid-size ones that are not too easy, but not too hard that they'll never be figured out, and with the possibility of an easy misinterpretation:
Q- A strange thing hangs by a man's thigh, hidden by a garment.
It has a hole in its head.
It is stiff and strong and its firm bearing reaps a reward.
When a man hitches his clothing high above his knee,
He wants that hanging thing to poke the old hole
Of fitting length it has often filled before.
A- A key
Some good resources for riddles are here, here, here, and here.