Sunday, December 13, 2015

Why do magic-users create so many magic swords?

One of the questioned that troubled me in my youth: if only magic-users can create magic swords, and the creation of magic items is vastly expensive in terms of time and coin, why would there be so many magic swords?

Reflecting on this as an adult, the answer seems obvious. It's the answer to so many questions in D&D: wizards are dicks. They're a cantankerous and vengeful lot, who go to extraordinary lengths in pursuit of petty vendettas.

If I had spent more of my youth reading Vance than Hickman and Weis, this would have been obvious to me.

This also explains why intelligent magic swords are dicks, more interested in their own (i.e. their creator's) agenda than the life of their wielder.

That magic-sword +1, +2 vs lycanthropes, with an 8 ego? Some magic-user was sick of his potion garden getting torn up by werehares, and wanted a local lughead to take care of the problem for him.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Stonehell book 2 on sale now!

The long-awaited second volume of Stonehell dungeon is on sale now.

I've played Stonehell and run it. It's a good time. It was also the first megadungeon to adapt the one page dungeon format.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Hidden Treasure of Lost Ahklop session recap

This is just a quick session recap, notable because we started a new campaign, playing fifth edition for the first time.

Beth was supposed to join us, but had to cancel for baby-related reasons. Ed played a human fighter and a human cleric. Karina played a hobbit rogue. Eric played a gnome wizard.

After finding a treasure map to allegedly un-looted ruins near the southern city of Ahklop, the party took a raft down the River Groob. Despite their curiosity about Ahklop's giant lizard market and trade in psycho-active garum, they set out into the forest without delay.

Following a brief stop to test the waters of a purple-glowing spring that left the gnome wizard invisible and the fighter with an enduring longing for an alien dream-city, they found the ruins of a step pyramid.

The pyramid, unfortunately, was not quite as lost as our treasure hunters hoped. In fact, it was thoroughly infested by electric space snakes and their mind-controlled zomboids (once indigenous tribes-people).

Following cautious scouting by the invisible gnome wizard, the party decided that a frontal assault was the best course of action (??). They charged the big mama space snake, which was defended by electrified rolling golden orbs. The hobbit rogue put her acrobatics skills to good use, firing arrows at the orbs mid-backflip, while the fighter and cleric engaged the giant snake. The space snake used her electrified Jacob's-ladder-like tail to taze the fighter unconscious and bit the rogue out of mid-air. Both would have died if not for the timely intervention of the cleric, but by that point the space snake had been hurt enough that it attempted to withdraw.

The snake would have gotten away, but as it slipped down a narrow staircase, the recently revived fighter shoved his halberd in its gut. It disemboweled itself, plugging the staircase with giant snake meat.

They mopped up the rest of the dungeon, and made off with a few hundred gold pieces, a golden mask with gem eyes, a vial with glowing green fluid, a small crucible filled with semi-solidified gold, a Remove Curse scroll, and a letter that seems to implicate the Grand High Potentate of Ahklop in a nefarious back-room deal to sell her own people out to the space snakes.

Impressions of 5e after this first session:

  • 5e runs more simply than an initial reading lead me to fear.
  • It's easy for characters to almost die. Intelligent monsters might target clerics?
  • We didn't remember to use advantage/disadvantage as often as we could have. I'll have to work on that, since it's my favorite 5e mechanic.
  • The skills got used quite a bit. I'm not sure they enhanced play much beyond what we'd get with simple ability checks.
  • Players found creative uses for the liberal allowance of cantrips. We saw more clever Mage Hand stuff than repetitive zap-zap.
  • I still prefer OD&D or Basic, but I have no problem playing or running this. Fifth is a solid D&D.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Sketch of goat-ish thing

A quick lunch hour doodle. I'm trying to spend more time drawing.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Welcome back, Huge Ruined Scott

In case any of you missed it, Scott, formerly of Huge Ruined Pile, has again take up blogging again.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Simplified encumbrance, movement, and wandering monster checks

One appeal for me of old-school D&D is that the rules are loosely coupled. This is less true of encumbrance, movement, and wandering monster checks. The relatively tight coupling of these systems makes them more fiddly to run, less amenable to house-ruling, and often ignored at the table.

Wandering monster checks are made every turn (or every N turns). Turns, like in chess, are a matter of tempo --- the productivity of a turn of movement is determined by encumbrance. Moving more slowly per turn results in more monster checks while exploring a given area.

Do you count the number of squares over which the characters move to determine when a turn ticks over? Do you make wandering monster checks based on that? Or are the rules fiddly enough that you eyeball it? I admit that I often feel my way through these things, rather than keeping a careful account.

How do we simplify this at the table, while keeping the relationship between encumbrance, movement, and wandering monster checks?

First, encumbrance. We simplify it by eliminating gear counting. Armor is the single heaviest bit of standard kit, and it also has the greatest mechanical importance of any piece of gear. So, we simplify encumbrance by making armor the only piece of gear considered.

Very simple encumbrance:

Armor Worn      Base Movement
None/Shield     18''
Leather         12''
Chain           9''
Plate           6''

Shields don't affect encumbrance.

Use common sense. If the characters haul something very bulky or heavy, movement drops to the next lower movement tier. A fighting-man in plate dragging a statue, for example, falls to 3''.

We have one further consideration. The Original edition measures all equipment weight in terms of coins. This may seem odd and fiddly, but it nicely encapsulates the idea that every ounce of rope, spikes, or candles a character carries comes at the cost of one gold piece they don't have strength enough to remove from the dungeon. To preserve that idea, we add one wrinkle to our very simple encumbrance system:

Every 250 coins of found treasure carried drops the character's movement by one tier.

What about wandering monster checks? Even with our simplified encumbrance, we don't want to be counting squares on the map. Instead, make one wandering monster check per real hour of play time.
                                 Odds of A Wandering Monster
Armor Worn      Base Movement    per Real Hour
None/Shield     18''             1 in 6
Leather         12''             2 in 6
Chain           9''              3 in 6
Plate           6''              4 in 6
+Encumbered     3''              5 in 6

Add an additional check at 1 or 2 in 6 when the characters do something that might attract monsters, like noisily bash down a door or roast a kobold.

Monday, February 9, 2015

The Road Not Taken in D&D Art

It's not far fetched to imagine D&D might have started with a different artistic direction when we look at book covers of the period, including those from the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series, Penguin Science Fiction, or Arkham House.

Wargames of the era offer similar examples, including one from Gygax.

While thinking about this, I wrote:

Game art is largely illustrative in function. The text describes an idea, the art shows it. Realism as a technique is more accessible and less open to interpretation than abstraction. For game rules (but perhaps not other game products?), accessibility and specificity are generally more desired than difficulty and ambiguity.

That's obvious and not absolutely true, but it gave me two further thoughts.

First, abstraction is used extensively in wargame design for the sake of clarity. Tokens evidence this especially, probably necessitated by their small scale; abstraction in this case is taking away inessential elements, like Picasso's bull.

Second, the little brown books of OD&D are often described as difficult and ambiguous. What if the game was graphically as abstract?

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Stonehell Risen!

It's been a long time since I last ran Stonehell, but on December 21st the party finally returned to those night-haunted halls. Back in 2012, I was a bit lackadaisical about campaign reports, so I might have missed a couple at the end. The following, played more than two years(!) after the last report, is probably session eleven or twelve of the campaign.

Our dramatis personae include party leader Slim Charles, the Conjurer; Pope Leo, the Village Priest; and Balian, the Swordsman. Joining them are henchmen Derric, Gilgrim, Nartan, and Colwin.

The party searched several stone-doored crypts on the first level of Stonehell. Pope Leo succeeded in turning a ghoul, and found a concealed coffer containing a large amount of silver, some jewelry, and a couple of blueberry-colored potions of salty taste.

The party descended to the second level of Stonehell. They delivered there in tribute the erotic tapestry promised to the intelligent apes as tribute. In thanks, the apes warned them (Slim Charles speaks Ape) that the faerie ring in the theater to the southeast leads to a strange area with great risk and great reward, and that the duplicitous faeries had already charmed a member of their party.

To the south, the party found a large room with several collapsed columns. After defeating the giant spiders lurking in the darkness of the high vaulted ceiling, the party discovered its first major magic item: boots of levitation.

This was a short session, but a good start to our new, resurrected Stonehell campaign.