Saturday, May 26, 2012

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Apparently I suck at blogging

In fact, I've been needing a break from running the campaign. Even with a rules-light approach like vintage D&D offers, I still find that I need to invest a good deal of energy in to the game - detailing new dungeon levels and running the encounters is a helluva lot easier than in a lot of systems I've tried, but I still burn up plenty of mental energy in the process.

Well, that and playing the roommate shuffle, sorting out the new finances, getting back in touch with old friends, and trying to develop a stable schedule with my girlfriend now that she's both moved in and working regularly. You know, all that "life" stuff.

So I've been a little more enthusiastic about pick-up kind of games, like Magic, Bang, or Small World. I've also been thinking of occasionally dipping into some other games for a one-shot kind of thing, like having  a game of TSR's classic Marvel Superheroes one night, or playing out a Savage Worlds one-sheet scenario, or something.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Grimoire of Avathar

This book has seen better days.
This week, the party defeated the spectre of Avathar, Sorcerer of Akban-sham, in the crypts below the buried temple of Zhothoqquah. They found a pretty astonishing amount of jewelry, most of it adorning the skeletons that lay upon the lesser slabs - most likely concubines or the like. But in a hidden compartment beneath Avathar's own sarcophagus was a badly decayed codex - the sorcerer's grimoire! Bill the Green has begun to decipher it.

The book is in terrible condition. Most of what remains is but the fragments of spells and forbidden lore that hint maddeningly at what has been lost. At once time this tome held spells to conjure up storms of ice, shapeshifting magic, and even a spell to fold space itself. Sadly, these spells have been destroyed by the ravages of time. Fortunately, a handful of spells are whole enough for Bill to study them. Some are just common spells known to any journeymage, others are sorcery of a kind forbidden to the wizards of Bill's order, but a precious few are prizes for the young magician.

The spells that are complete and legible are of three kinds. Those that Bill already has in his own grimoire include Charm, Gloaming, Sense Motive, and Sleep. Those that are sorcerous include Flying, Phantom Double, Shroud, and Unseen Servant. It may be possible to derive usable spells from these, but the powers they invoke defy the laws of wizardry. Finally, there are spells which Bill can freely add to his collection, both at rank III: Binding, and Circle of Protection.

Transcribing a spell into his own grimoire will take at least three days, and could take more than a week depending on the alignment of the stars, the phase of the invisible moon, and other such details. And of course rare incenses must be burned, special inks must be mixed with exotic ingredients, and similar ritual measures taken, which will cost 10 silver per day of work.

Range: 120'
Duration: 1 hour
  This spell will paralyze up to 4 humanlike targets. If focused on a single target, that target saves at -2. The spell is ineffective against giants and undead. 

Circle of Protection
Range: 10' Aura or Ritual
Duration: 2 hours
   The caster radiates an aura that protects all allies within 10 feet, granting a +1 to AC and Saves. Additionally, creatures that are otherworldly, animated, or enchanted cannot enter the aura of protection or touch those within it. Warded creatures can still attempt ranged and magical attacks, of course. If anyone within the aura attacks a warded creature, the barrier effect will be broken (but the defensive bonuses will continue to apply).
   This spell can also be cast as a ten-minute ritual, enchanting a 20' x 20' area with an aura of protection. This can be used to block a passage or even to imprison a warded creature. This ritual requires the caster to draw a line of chalk to anchor the spell. If any creature unaffected by the spell's barrier should break this line, the magical barrier will be likewise broken.

Sadly, only another mage can see how badass you really are.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A little lick o' paint there and...

Attribute it to sleep deprivation if you must, but I kind of screwed up that last Legends of Partholon entry. It wound up posting while still incomplete. So, uh, it's fixed now. Not that anyone was exactly crying in anguish that Tanaris didn't have any legends or an artifact in his entry, but since Nylian kind of follows in the hammer-god's footsteps, at least inasmuch as she beats monsters to death with a big ol' sledgehammer, I figure I should try not to screw that particular pooch.

Still sleep-deprived here. It probably shows. 

Monday, March 19, 2012

Legends of Partholon: Thunderlord Tanaris

Found on the wall of many a forge.
Names & Titles: Tanaris, the Thunderlord, the Hammer-god, Lord of the Forge, the Wrath of Valkas.

Prestige: He is counted among the sons of Valkas, and is the smith and weaponsmaster of the heavenly court. In Tyrhennea, Tanaris is mainly the patron of smiths, but his patronage is seen as the foundation for the empire's rise to power. He is also recognized as a warrior who carries out the will of Valkas.

Among the Vagyar, Tanaris is a warrior first and a smith second. He champions mankind in the battle against chaos, and demands none of the weird devotions and sacrifices required by rival war-gods like Ariokh.

Symbols & Depiction: The hammer is his primary symbol, while lightning (poetically called "sky-fire") may represent either the fires of his forge or the flames of his fury. He is depicted as a robust man, with his hammer never far from hand, and is normally quite jovial. Only when he is called to battle does his fury erupt to shake the earth and burn the heavens.

Veneration: It was the secret crafts of forging steel and working mail that propelled Tyrhennea to dominance and founded the empire. His image adorns most forges, and most citizens see him as a god of crafts only. However, the military embraces him and supports his priesthood in order to celebrate his holy days and to praise him on return from successful campaigns. Veterans give him due credit for the quality of arms and armor that have kept them alive. Furthermore, Tanaris' willingness to set aside the tools of his craft to fight for the Lawgiver's cause is an example for all soldiers.

Legends: In the age when gods walked the earth, Tanaris and Alia came to the folk of Valinar in the north and taught them the Great Crafts. He taught them to work metal, wood and stone, while she taught them the crafts of textiles, leather, and pottery. Together they raised men from savagery to civilization, and the reign of Valinar is still remembered as a golden age for humanity. When the monsters of the elder world threatened to overwhelm mankind, Tanaris and Alia took to battle, and inspired heroes to follow their example, to battle the chaotic hordes. Many a book of tales has been filled with the exploits of gods and men hunting these spawn of the black eons.

When the vilest monsters of the northlands were slain or driven into the nightlands beneath the earth, the gods returned to their heavenly abode, and envoys of Valinar brought their crafts to distant corners of the world. For a time, it seemed that their greatest threat would be the ancient empire of Agha-yin, or the sorcerers of Arkhemea, but in the end it was the Kruthar savages that overwhelmed Valinar and smote its grandeur into ruin.

It is common these days for the elders of any tribe or the priests of any city to claim their folk as the true descendants of Valinar. Perhaps it is so, that the envoys of that great civilization seeded their blood as well as their crafts among the many tribes of the earth. Perhaps it is naught but hubris and superstition. 

Artifacts: Legend tells that when Tanaris was teaching his mortal students the craft of smithing, a Favaragh giant came upon them and thought to feast upon the hapless mortals. Tanaris hurled his hammer at the giant, slaying it, and continued his lesson. This hammer, the ur-hammer of Valinar, was left in the care of his students to be the prototype from which they would devise their own tools.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Chaotic, the Lawful and the Neutral

Monday, March 12, 2012

Exploring the Labyrinth: Doors

Since the party brings torches and lanterns into the otherwise lightless depths of the underworld, it is rare that they get a chance to surprise monsters. Doors present a rare opportunity to gain this tactical advantage.

Doors in the dungeon stick firmly in their frames - the wood warped by long ages of underground humidity. Opening such a door will often be too slow and loud to allow the party to surprise monsters that may be lurking on the other side. However, the party may attempt to breach the door in order to secure that surprise.

To breach a door, one or two party members will attempt to push or pull the door open swiftly enough for the party to rush through before the monsters get a chance to react. PCs with average strength roll a single d6, while PCs with high strength roll two dice.  If any die turns up a 1 or 2, the breach has succeeded. (PCs with low strength can't contribute meaningfully to a breach attempt - they can still force a door open, but the time & effort required blows any chance of surprise.)

With a successful breach, the party can rush in ready for combat, and roll a surprise check with 2 in 6 odds. If the party wins surprise, they get a round of combat before the monsters have even a chance of reacting. Surprised monsters usually lose any chance of First Strike and similar reactive abilities.

After this, the party rolls for initiative against the monsters. With luck, the party can win initiative and take a second round of combat before the monsters can take their first. This may well allow the party to finish an encounter without taking a single wound!

To summarize: Roll 1 to 4 dice with 2/6 odds to breach the door, depending on who's helping. Then roll 2/6 on a single die to surprise the enemy, and roll initiative as usual.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Armor in Partholon

Armor is a trade-off between protection and mobility.

Soft Armor such as soft leather, padded tunics, or the heavy robes favored by magic-users.
AC 11 for 10 silver. Counts as a heavy item, but does not hinder movement otherwise (120''turn, 40'/round.

Light Armor such as boiled leather plates, gladiator harness, or layered hides & furs.
AC 13 for 20 silver. Slows movement to 90'/turn & 30'/round.

Medium Armor such as chainmail or basic plate (breastplate, greaves & bracers).
AC 15 for 40 silver (plate) or 60 silver (chain). Slows movement to 60'/turn & 20'/round.

Heavy Armor layers plate & chain for maximum protection.
AC 17 for 100 silver. Slows movement to 60'/turn & 20'/round and counts as a heavy item.

Shields are wooden with metal reinforcements and may be painted with a design indicative of the bearer or his company or lord. Special: When the bearer would be reduced to 0 hp, the shield is destroyed and the bearer reduced to 1 hp instead.
AC 12, or +1 to other armor, for 30 silver. Counts as a heavy item.

In the Dark Age of Partholon, chainmail is the pinnacle of military technology. A smith who can craft mail is rare indeed, so most warriors get by with basic plate. A fighter in plate & chain might as well be Robocop as far as the peasantry is concerned, and anyone traveling in such harness will generate ripples of gossip.

Soft armors can generally pass for civilian garb and do not mark the wearer as a combatant. A padded tunic may be the outfit of choice for a career warrior whenever heavier armor would be socially unacceptable.

[Edited to reflect updates in my campaign.]

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Exploring the Labyrinth: Movement

Much of the gameplay in my campaign is centered around exploring the dungeon. Exploring speed is noted on the character sheet, modified by armor and encumbrance. Each ten-minute turn, the party can make a single-, double-, or triple-move.

Single-moves allow you to map the dungeon with more-or-less accurate measurements, and gives 1 in 6 odds for chance encounters. The party is assumed to be watching for unusual features that might indicate a trap, and will have a chance to approach such features cautiously to out-think the trap. If someone in the front rank has a mirror, the players will be given info about what's visible through doorways and around corners while the party still has cover.

Double-moves allow you to consult the map, but you get no measurements while traveling, so any mapping must be sketchy and brief. Chance encounters are checked at  2 in 6 odds, as the party is less stealthy than usual. The party is being less cautious about traps, and has only a 2/6 chance to spot potential trouble before walking into it. Mirrors are being checked only briefly, so that lights and creatures may be spotted while the party has cover, but details will not be immediately obvious.

Triple-moves are the swiftest pace that can be maintained without exhausting the party, being roughly a jog. The party can't consult the map, and check for chance encounters at 3 in 6 odds. Traps can be avoided only by dumb luck (assume a 2/6 chance of each rank passing by unless otherwise noted). Mirrors can't be used effectively, and the party make only 5 triple-moves before it must rest for 1 turn - these moves can be all at once or brief bursts of speed amidst turns of slower travel.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Melee for Metalheads Part 2: How to Kick All the Ass

Continuing my presentation of melee house rules for the players who don't want to read long, rambling posts. I don't know if this is any better. 

Dude, remember those slavering monsters that want to eat your lungs? Well, you just walked up to within lung-eating range. But that also means they're within ass-kicking range, right? Now, how are you gonna do it?

How to Be a Badass in Melee

First, remember that all dice hate you, and you must never ever trust them. You don't want to play the odds, because you aren't here to amuse a crowd of spectators and attract advertising revenue. You are here to get the other guy dead and find some damn treasure. So you want to fight dirty.

Make up stunts and change the battlefield and take advantage of anything that makes a lick of sense. When you have a clear advantage, like jumping on the monster's head from on top of some demon idol or whatever, that's worth a good +2 AP bonus. When you are completely batshit with awesome, like being fucking invisible or something, that's worth +4 AP.

Gang up on the monsters. When and your buddy are both beating on the same monster, you get a +1 bonus to AP. When you and your buddy are on opposite sides of the monster, you get another +1 bonus for outflanking it.

Do other stuff besides just beat on it for damage. You can try to disarm, stun, knockdown, or push a monster, or you can even try to break through the enemy line if you are made of solid badass.  You'll still roll your attack like usual, but if you hit, the monster can submit to your dirty trick or can absorb damage instead - a win-win for you. If you get a natural 20, call it out! Then the monster doesn't get to choose, it has to be affected by whatever you were trying to do. But hey, you have to say what you're trying to do before you make your roll, so no whining if you get that beautiful 20 and failed to say you wanted to kick that thing down that deep dark pit you've been fighting next to.

Defend yourself. Instead of trying to hurt the other guy, just concentrate on staying alive. You don't make any attacks, but you get +2 AC instead.

But wait! I'm a totally awesome fighter!

Well why didn't you say so? You're even better at this!

If you defend, you get a whole 'nother +2 AC bonus that you use to defend one of your buddies. But one dude can only be defended by a single fighter - so like if Ash and Nylian both wanted to defend Bill, only one of them could. Make sense?

Charge! If you can run in a straight line for 40 feet, you get +2 AP and +1d6 damage. This is why crazy people fight naked and why rich people ride horses, but if you run on foot for two rounds without getting interrupted, you could make it work.

If you have a spear and monsters are charging at you or pouncing on you or something, you actually get a First Strike with +1d6 damage because spears are awesome!

If you are a real BAMF like Ash, you can try the Ash Smash (a.k.a. the Massive Attack for trip-hop fans). You take a -5 AP penalty, but if you still hurt the monster, you roll your 2 or 3 damage dice and instead of taking the best one, you add 'em all up!

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A Word About Weapon Choice

If all weapons do 1d6 damage, shouldn't I be a cheapskate and just buy daggers?

No. Don't be stupid. If you are swinging a dagger and the other guy has like a claymore you are in bad shape. We represent this by giving you a -2 penalty to your AP, because you just don't get as many opportunities to slip past his guard when his guard is like the length of your entire body. Get your self a grown-up weapon!

On the other hand, if you're bold enough to leap past that six feet of pointy death and like wrap your legs around the guy and just keep stabbing at him until he stops twitching, the advantage is yours, because it's really hard to use a claymore or a spear or something to scrape a crazy bastard off your chest. So that's useful.

Also, different weapons are good for different things. Like, chopping and stabbing isn't the best way to go against things that are already dead. They don't really bleed and the meat you cut off is probably just slowing them down. For those guys, you want to whack 'em with something blunt, like a mace, until the bones are powder. Stuff like that.

Melee for Metalheads Part 1: Getting Close Enough to Kick Ass

Since some of my players have lousy eyeballs or poor attention spans or both, and they happen to play fighters, I'm re-writing my melee house rules just for them.

Dude, a fight broke out! All those slavering monsters want to eat your lungs or something. Go kick some ass!

Where am I?

Either you're "engaged in melee," meaning you're standing toe-to-toe with some other guy that wants to kill you - or some slavering monster that wants to eat your lungs or something - or else you're "not in melee," meaning you can mover around a lot more freely so you can decide who you want to go toe-to-toe with. Or maybe throw stuff or something, whatever.

But if you're not in melee and you want to be, you need to get moving.

How Far Can I Move?

If you just want to move around the battlefield and not do anything else, you can run up to your Exploring speed. That's useful when you're chasing or running away from the monsters. 

If you want to do something useful, like charge into melee or pull a flask out of your pack, you can only move your Encounter speed. That's way slower than running, but at least you can still attack.

If it's your ass that's getting kicked, you can try to leave melee, but the monsters might not let you off the hook. You can either withdraw, which means you back away but you're still ready for a fight, or you can retreat, which means you just want to get the hell out of here.

If you withdraw, you only move half your Encounter speed, but if a monster advances you get First Strike - you get to attack it on its own turn and maybe kill it and be all, "You shoulda just let me walk away."

If you retreat, you get to move your full Encounter speed, but if a monster advances you're boned - it gets +2 AP and ignores your shield. But hey, if the monsters don't advance on you, you're not in melee anymore, and you can run for your life or drink your potion or whatever you wanted to do.

And if the monsters chicken out and try to get out of the fight, you can let 'em go or you can advance on 'em at full Encounter speed, and try to cut 'em down while they flee your awesome wrath. Just pay attention to if they're withdrawing or retreating, so you know if they've still got some fight left in 'em.

Next time: how to kick all the ass. 

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

20 Questions for Partholon

 Brendan of Untimately has organized a fantastic set of simple rules questions  that should make it easy to translate between referees. Here's the answers for Partholon:

Ability scores generation method? 3d6 in order, make a one-time swap of any two scores.
How are death and dying handled? At 0 hp, you are incapacitated and might die. If you survive, you will be saddled with a hampering injury. Details here
What about raising the dead? Bring offerings to a sacred grove of dryads and score a good reaction roll. 
How are replacement PCs handled? So far: promoting a retainer to PC status. PCs can also designate heirs to their wealth (minus 10%). New characters always start at 1st level.
Initiative: individual, group, or something else? Group d6 at start of encounter, high roll wins, ties lead to roll-off. Groups alternate for remainder of combat.
Are there critical hits and fumbles? How do they work? Natural 1 always fails and natural 20 always succeeds. If you're trying some fancy stunt, the referee may interpret rolls more elaborately.
Do I get any benefits for wearing a helmet? It could save your life at 0 hp. It's definitely helpful when green slime or spiders are dropping on you from above.
Can I hurt my friends if I fire into melee or do something similarly silly? Yes, absolutely. Ranged attacks target the melee group, with hits distributed randomly among the combatants.
Will we need to run from some encounters, or will we be able to kill everything? I'm often surprised by what the party manages to kill, as well as what they have to run from. Setting things on fire is usually a good idea one way or another. 
Level-draining monsters: yes or no? Yes, but you can recover the lost levels with extensive bed rest. 
Are there going to be cases where a failed save results in PC death? Usually a failed save just means you take massive damage, so it's likely to be fatal, but there remains a slim chance of survival. 
How strictly are encumbrance & resources tracked? Pretty strictly, but I use a simplified encumbrance system similar to LotFP.
What's required when my PC gains a level? Training? Do I get new spells automatically? Can it happen in the middle of an adventure, or do I have to wait for down time? With rare exceptions, XP and advancement is handled only during down time, and no training is necessary. Clerics get new spell access automatically. A magic-user will be offered a new spell by his/her mentor at each level-up through 4th level.
What do I get experience for? Treasure, defeating foes, unlocking new campaign resources.Magic-users get xp for money spent on each original project (e.g. the first time you make a given type of potion).
How are traps located? Description, dice rolling, or some combination? If the party is moving at mapping/sneaking speed, I assume they're looking for signs of traps. The locations of traps are therefore usually fairly obvious. How to get past them is a puzzle for the players to work out. Once a strategy is in place, dice rolls help to see if anyone goofs up. Influenced by Ben Robbins "Bad Trap Syndrome," part 1 and part 2.
Are retainers encouraged and how does morale work? Retainers are awesome, and I use B/X morale. 
How do I identify magic items? A magic-user with proper equipment can run some tests and eat up time and resources, and it might even work. Or you can just try doing things and see what happens. 
Can I buy magic items? Oh, come on: how about just potions? Not currently. Opportunities may be discovered in the future, though.
Can I create magic items? When and how? The rules I use are modified from LotFP. I'm also looking at the Crimson Pandect for additional refinements. 
What about splitting the party? I discourage it under most circumstances. As a tactic for outflanking opponents or investigating an enigma, it's fine. As a strategy for exploration, I'd rather not deal with it.

And I'm appending a couple of extras:
What kind of saving throws do you use? Modified from Swords & Wizardry: Whitebox, one target number based on class and level, with modifiers based on class and ability scores.
What's your base currency? Prices and XP are based on a silver standard.

Update: Beedo, of  Dreams in the Lich House, had some good add-ons.
How is alignment used? Among PCs, it's an ethical measure of just how trustworthy the character is, in a Sword & Sorcery or Spaghetti Western way. Among Monsters, it frequently reflects a more cosmological significance.
Are demi-human level limits enforced? Until the players find and make alliance with some demi-humans, there aren't any in the party.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Legends of Partholon: Death's Jester, Rakhir

If you see him in a dungeon, go the other way.
Names & Titles: Rakhir, the Red God, Death's Jester, the Devil Clown, Rictus Mortis, the Clown Prince of Chaos

Symbols & Depiction: Rakhir is imagined as a skull-faced jester in red and black. A skull with a jester's cap or even a harlequin pattern of red & black can be used to signify him.

Prestige: One of the few chaotic gods recognized in the Tyrhennean pantheon, he is regarded as the jester in Valkas' court. He is associated with death and the underworld, and the most absurd and tragic deaths are considered evidence of his uniquely sick sense of humor.

Veneration: There are special coins minted in Tyrhennea, stamped with Rakhir's likeness, that are reserved for offerings at graveyard shrines. As a patron of the dead, he is privy to their lost knowledge, and may be petitioned to reveal what he knows. Such revelations inevitably come in the form of riddles and puzzles, or more subtly as absurd (and even horrible) accidents that inspire insight.

Ancient Delian pottery has been discovered which depicts a skull-faced archer dressed in ragged red and black, shooting down warriors and kings. Gravesites in the distant north sometimes feature a human skull affixed with ram's horns, or statues depicting such a form, often with onyx and ruby gems in the eyes.

They're usually underground,and less cheerful.
Ancient ruins from the height of Agha-yin's dominion occasionally feature a "bone chapel," a temple or shrine dedicated to Rakhir, whose architecture incorporate real skulls and bones. The tradition was continued in ancient Arkhemea, and bone chapels have been commissioned by a handful of Tyrhennean emperors and aristocrats over the last two centuries.  

Legends: Rakhir is said to be charged by Valkas with enforcing the Law of Death, that the dead remain dead, and remain confined to their tombs and the netherworld. Unfortunately, it amuses Rakhir to see this law broken, and so long ago he gave mankind the forbidden knowledge to raise the dead. He is also said to interpret his duties rather loosely, so that the dead are permitted to haunt graveyards and tombs, and wherever their bodies lay unburied.

He appears in the tales of other gods and mortal heroes as a foil, where he may taunt them with valuable knowledge concealed by riddles. He is also depicted playing pranks with dire consequences, which may be as simple as slaying a hero's friend or loved one in a tragic accident, or something that appears quite harmless but leads to great and terrible things. The devastating war that destroyed the ancient kingdom of Ilion began with a prank Rakhir played on the goddess Yuna.

Rakhir has fathered three sons, all considered demigods: the Red Death, the Black Jester, and the Fire Clown. Each has been prophecied at least once either to conquer or destroy the world.

Artifacts: Rakhir is sometimes depicted carrying a kind of scepter bearing the likeness of his head. Many sorcerers believe it is his symbol of authority over the dead, or of his license to jest, jape, and defy the gods. Of course, any mortal who discovered such an object must question whether the Devil Clown has carelessly misplaced his scepter, or has merely set in motion one of his grisly pranks.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Combat Rules II: Melee

Edited because I realized something nifty I wanted to tweak. 


If not in melee, a character can move at at Encounter speed and still take actions (such as casting spells or pulling equipment out of a backpack, etc). This can be used to close into melee and attack. Alternately, a character can move at up to Exploring speed at a run, but can take no other actions.

A combatant in melee can maneuver around an enemy at Encounter speed, given sufficient room, while still attacking. Thus a party may attempt to 'wrap' around an enemy unit to outflank and even surround them. A combatant in melee may also choose to withdraw or retreat from combat in lieu of attacking. A withdraw action moves at 1/2 Encounter speed, and grants the combatant First Strike against an advancing enemy. A retreat action moves at full Encounter speed, but makes the combatant vulnerable against advancing enemies.

If a combatant chooses to advance against an enemy that is withdrawing, the enemy gets First Strike: it makes a melee roll against the advancing combatant as soon as contact is reestablished. Only if the combatant survives does he get to make his own attack against the enemy. In the case of advancing against an enemy that is retreating, the combatant gets +2 AP and ignores the enemy's shield (if any). If no combatant advances on a withdrawing or retreating enemy, the enemy is no longer in melee and can move as normal, including fleeing at a run.

Weapon Choice

I don't use variable damage or Weapon vs AC modifiers, but I do want weapon choice to matter. A few guidelines seem to be sufficient: Swords can be drawn and used in the same round. Blunt instruments are more effective against undead, where cutting and stabbing them generally does half damage.  Axes are normally bearded, and therefore are better at disarming and similar maneuvers. Spears and other long weapons can attack from the second rank. Bows are capable of indirect shots, arching over the line of skirmish to strike further enemy ranks. So on and so forth.

As a general rule, if a combatant is attempting to fight an enemy with superior weaponry (e.g. bringing a dagger to a sword fight), he is "outclassed" and suffers -2 AP. What constitutes "superior weaponry" may change contextually (e.g., once you've slipped past a pike's superior reach, it's the pikeman who is at a disadvantage).

Tactics, Stunts and Maneuvers

If two allies are attacking the same enemy, each enjoys a gang-up bonus of +1 AP. If the allies are on opposite sides of the enemy, they also enjoy a flanking bonus of a further +1 AP. Thus, if the party has completely surrounded a monster, each attacker enjoys a full +2 bonus.

Any combatant can declare a stunt in order to achieve some special result or advantage. Stunts are adjudicated by the referee. In general, if the stunt or tactic provides a clear advantage on par with outflanking an enemy, it's worth a +2 AP bonus. In rare cases, an overwhelming tactic may actually be worth as much as +4! However, stunts can be risky - a poor combat roll may leave the combatant at a disadvantage. The classic example is the fighter leaping off a balcony to attack foes below. This unexpected move could provide a substantial bonus, but an unfortunate roll - say a natural 4 or less - may leave the fighter sprawled at the feet of his enemies.

A combatant may also declare a special move, such as attempting to disarm, push, knockdown, stun, or break through an enemy line. The combat roll is made as usual, including the damage roll. If the AP roll indicates a wound, the enemy can choose either to accept the damage as rolled or to suffer the effects of the special move. On a natural 20, the enemy does not get the choice.

A combatant may fight defensively, foregoing all attacks to concentrate on defense, for a +2 AC bonus. A Fighter gains an extra +2 bonus which may be given to  an adjacent ally. Only a single fighter can defend a given character. 

A fighter armed with a spear or lance can charge the enemy if able to move 40 ft in a line and attack with +2 AP and +1d6 damage. This is most effective when mounted or unencumbered, but the movement can be split across two rounds if not interrupted (such as by being attacked in between).  

If the fighter is defending against a charging enemy and is armed with a spear or lance, he may "set the spear" to gain First Strike and +1d6 damage against the enemy. This counterattack can be attempted as long as the fighter is not surprised.

A PC with "best of 2d6" or "best of 3d6" damage can declare a massive attack. The attack suffers -5 AP, but if a wound is scored, the damage dealt is the total of all damage dice, not just the best. This maneuver is also known as the "Ash Smash," at least by Ash Slayum's allies.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Combat Rules I: the Basics

Philosophically, I regard combat as a complication in the exploration/treasure-hunting game that is D&D. Monster encounters are a risk that can totally derail an expedition, or use up valuable resources (spells, arrows, flasks, hit points, etc), not to mention eating up table-time (of particular importance with my Black Fog rules in play). The party is awarded XP for these encounters as a kind of consolation prize for the resources, or as a reward for good tactics & strategies that allow them to overcome the encounter at little or no cost.

The way that combat itself plays out has been fine-tuned over the years as I increase my understanding of what works for me and what my players enjoy. We have a thorough mix of Combat as Sport vs Combat as War perspectives, so I've tried to aim toward a middle-ground. My players like to meet monsters head-on, but they have also learned not to rely too much on luck or statistics to keep them on their feet.

The combat mechanics start from the Swords & Wizardry: Whitebox rules. Many of my alterations are inspired by the various editions of Basic D&D, from B/X through RC, with borrowings also from AD&D 1st edition and of course the OSR. A number of terms have been renamed either to guide interpretation of the mechanic, or to borrow terminology familiar to my players (so a number of terms have been borrowed from Warhammer 40,000 and Magic: the Gather, for example).

Mechanical Overview

The Partholon campaign uses ascending Armor Class. My calculations differ from those used by S&W, so that an unarmored character is AC 10, and the descending AC 0 is converted to AC 20. Similarly, my calculation of combat modifiers differ slightly, so that a level 1 PC starts with an attack bonus of +1. I do not use variable weapon damage, so all attacks deal d6 damage, and I don't normally use multiple attacks for monsters or for PCs. If a monster attacks twice in a round, that's a special ability.

A natural 20 always penetrates armor, a natural 1 always fails. I don't normally include critical hits or fumbles, but circumstances may call for similar outcomes - such as when a PC attempts some inspired stunt and the dice just hate him.

Time & Movement

A combat round is roughly 10 seconds of game time. A character or monster may move at Encounter speed and still take an action, or run at Explore speed without taking any other action. 

AP vs AC

Attack modifiers are termed AP, which stands for either Attack Power or Armor Penetration. AP is based off of class & level primarily. Dexterity modifies Ranged AP, and Strength modifies Melee AP only when a heavy weapon is being used.

If AP equals or exceeds AC, a wound is scored for 1d6 hp. A PC with HD 4 or better deals the best of 2d6, while a PC with HD 8 or better deals the best of 3d6 damage. A monster with HD 5 or better deals a full 2d6 damage, while a monster with HD 10 or better deals a full 3d6 damage. Monsters with these improved damage ratings may be able to split their attacks among multiple targets, rolling AP vs AC for each target and dealing a single d6 to each.

A damage result that is no more than the target's HD is very minor, suggesting the fatigue of fending off deadly strikes and the dull aches of repeated blows foiled by armor. Of course, this damage adds up, and an exhausted combatant may be unable to mount any meaningful defense. Being nickled and dimed to 0 hp is every bit as dangerous as being dropped by a few brutal hits.

In the course of a round, each combatant is understood to be making several physical attacks against an opponent, as well as parrying and evading incoming attacks. The combat roll abstracts the progress of the entire round to simplify the whole process. Rather than testing attack skill versus defensive skill, and then testing to see whether any damage penetrates armor, D&D checks first whether any damage is scored, and then interprets the damage roll to indicate the relative skill of attack and defensive routines in the process.


When reduced to 0 hp, the PC is not automatically slain. He collapses unconscious and must roll a d6 to determine his status. On a 1 or 2, he is revived after combat ends, but suffers a hampering injury for 2d6 days. On a 4-6, his wounds are more serious and may prove fatal. A roll of 3 is treated as a 1-2 result if he was wearing a helmet, in which case the helm is ruined but his life is surely saved. Without the helm, a roll of 3 is treated as a 4-6 result.

In the case of serious wounds, the PC will not revive after combat ends. The following turn, if he is not revived by magic, he may roll a d6 again. On a 1, he recovers on his own. On a 6, he succumbs to his wounds and dies. On a 2-5, her remains unconscious and must roll again the following turn. In any case, when and if he recovers from this state, he suffers a hampering injury for 2d6 weeks.

If a PC is already injured and receives the same injury again, the effect is extended. If the existing injury has less than two weeks remaining to heal, a repeat of short-term injury is upgraded to long-term. If the existing injury is long-term, compounding the injury makes it permanent. Adding a long-term injury onto a short term injury is a special case: roll a Save with a Con modifier. On a failure, the injury is permanent. On a save, the injury's duration is extended to 3d6 weeks.

Hampering Injuries
1 Arm rendered useless* Cannot put the afflicted arm to use.
2 Eye damaged* -2 Ranged, or blinded if both eyes have become injured
3 Leg impaired* Reduce speed by one level
4 Hideous scars -1 to Reaction rolls, Command, and Leadership
5 Enfeebled (broken ribs or similar) -2 AP, AC, & Carrying capacity, and run at x2 rather than x3
6 Skull-cracked Must roll Int or Wis to cast spells and becomes Berserker**

*In the case of arm, eye, and leg injuries, roll even/odds to determine left/right.
**Berserker characters become irrationally violent during combat. Must roll Wisdom to resist plunging into melee when combat begins, and must similarly roll Wisdom to withdraw or retreat from melee. While in melee, the character gets +2 AP and -2 AC.

I like my players to have some investment in their characters, rather than treating PCs as pawns to play with and discard during the game. At the same time, I want to give players a strong incentive to play smart and retreat from a fight that is going badly. So far I find this injury system serves both goals well.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Supporting Cast: Incanus

Incanus is not amused by your tomfoolery.
Gaius Incanus Figulus is a wizard of the Order of the Silent Circle, and mentor to Bill. In traditional Tyrhennean fashion, he goes by Incanus to all but his closest friends and family members. Even his former apprentices are kept at a rather formal arm's length. He is known in Blackhart's barony as a scholar of some breeding but unexceptional wealth, and his wizardry is not widely known. He upholds the principle that the needs of the community outweigh those of the individual. He's also an expert on fine wines, and maintains a respectable collection.

Incanus is of somewhat imposing presence and sober demeanor, with little appreciation for frivolity. He is diplomatic, compassionate to those in need, but harsh with those who who cause trouble, even to themselves. He has an unfortunate jealous streak, a miserly attachment to money, and a tendency to covet what others possess, but is a truthful man and always gives the gods their due.

Incanus is an expert linguist. In addition to the common tongue and his native Tyrhennean, he is fluent in the languages of Teyzir, ancient Arkhemea, and the Kruthar barbarians, as well as the tongues of both Dark Faeries and Water Faeries, and the arcane tongues of Thiolain and Cydereal.

He is trained in the swordsmanship of the noble class, and Bill can confirm that Incanus casts spells of at least the third rank.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Legends of Partholon: The Lawgiver, Valkas

A bronze statue of Valkas
Names & Titles: Valkas, the Lawgiver, the Skyfather

Symbols & Depiction: Symbols include the eagle Kuros, often seen clutching bolts of lightning in its talons; the Solkar, a pentagon in a circle; and the Trishulion, Valkas' trident-like staff of power. He is depicted as an aged warrior, stern and unyielding, but subject to occasional whims.

Prestige: The Empire of Tyrhennea holds Valkas to be chief of the among the gods. It was he who subdued the titans, the dragons, and the abominations of the Elder World, and he who decreed or divined the natural laws of the cosmos. His bride, Yuna embodies the harmony of family, society, and the World. Alcidine is either his earthly son or his very avater. Taranis and Valkarrea, primarily patrons of craft and wisdom, also go forth in warrior aspects to enforce the Lawgiver's will. Even his brother Grivenar serves as adviser and seer to the Skyfather's court.

Among the Vagyar, his prestige is much diminished. Although recognized as the Skyfather and conqueror of monsters, his veneration is eclipsed by that of his children and his brother.

The Solkar
Veneration: Valkas is often invoked to witness binding oaths, and swearing such an oath before witnesses while sketching a solkar or trishulion is by Tyrhennean law the equal of a signature or seal. Even the Vagyar recognize that Valkas will hold a man to his word, and that ill-fortune will follow those who defy him. The typical Vagyar's pragmatic solution is to avoid making promises, or else to break them with such regularity that Valkas can't possibly take such oaths seriously.

In Tyrhennea, the Law for which Valkas stands is built upon a foundation of loyalty to one's society, community, and family. Personal integrity and self-sacrifice and seen as great virtues, and misfortune is frequently attributed to transgressions of cosmic law. Sacrifices and penance may placate the Lawgiver, but Yuna is often beseeched to intercede for mercy. In the Delian cities, it is widely recognized that Valkas has a soft spot for those who can impress him with their daring and panache. "If you cannot be meek, be astonishing," as one Delian proverb puts it, "and the gods may smile on you yet."

Legends: There are two main cycles of legends about Valkas. The first is focused on his exploits at the dawn of time, slaying or subduing the monsters of the Elder World and ordering the cosmos according to Law. The second normally centers around a mortal who transgresses against the cosmic Law, and either suffers some terrible fate or serves as the god's champion on one or another epic quest. Valkas acts as little more than a judge or patron in these latter tales.

Artifact - Thunderheads: Valkas is occasionally depicted shooting thunderbolts from his bow, either to warn or to slay those who have offended his judgement. It is said that the arrows that channel this sky-fire are burnt to cinders, but that the arrowheads may sometimes survive. Treasure-hunters have been known to scour the sites of lightning strikes in hopes of finding such relics.

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Village of Sham

Sham could fit into this space.
Sham is a small village on the north side of the Shimrod Forest, east of the Imperial territories of Partholon. With a population of about 200, the village takes up less than seven acres. Most houses are clustered inside the wooden stockade that protects against Kruthar raiders and marauding wolves.

Sham supports itself mainly by fishing and woodcutting, with some farming and other trades rounding out the village life. A volunteer militia protects the village. At any time a handful of lookouts patrol the stockade and when the warning bell rings, dozens of villagers race to arm themselves and defend their home. Most of the militia are "normal men," 0-level NPCs, but a few have seen enough action, either here or in service to the Baron, to count as 1st level fighters.

Desmond is lost in thought.
The village falls under the rule of Baron Blackhart, whose castle lies two days' journey south, on the coast. He requires little of the village save their taxes, and they ask little of him in return. The village elder, Desmond, is the nominal local authority, but little governance is actually required on a regular basis. Town meetings are usually sufficient to deal with any special concerns that may arise. This is probably fortunate, as Desmond is very knowledgeable about a variety of topics, but is quite senile and possibly a bit mad. His granddaughter, Rosalyn, takes care of him and supports the household primarily by accepting bribes from those who would consult with the absent-minded sage. She typically greets visitors by informing them that "The Elder is quite busy," and will follow it up with, "His time is very valuable," if they don't seem to get the hint.

Weyland the Smith is something of a craftsman-polymath, being the village blacksmith, bladesmith, whitesmith and brightsmith. Upkeep of the militia's armory is his chief responsibility, while his several apprentices usually see to most of the standard tasks of the forge. This is the man to see for ordering new weapons and armor, as well as to have jewelry appraised. He recently fell ill, and his daughter Nylian has taken a break from her treasure-hunting to take over his responsibilities.

Mr Barliman appreciates your custom
The Blue Boar Tavern is the social center of the village - the place where locals relax after a hard day's work, socializing, recreating, and gossiping. Harlan "the Boar" Barliman offers a selection of food and drink as well as a roof over the heads of rare travelers. Private rooms, for lodging or for parties, are available for a silver coin a night.

Adventure opportunities abound, for those willing to look around a bit. Just a few miles west of town are mysterious ruins, where the Company of the Burning Fist have been delving for months. The dungeon they've been exploring has been identified as an underground temple of Zhothaqquah, and evidence suggests the ruins were once an Agha-yin city.

A half-day's journey to the south is "Snake Den," the cave where a pair of giant adders had nested, before the company slew them and destroyed their eggs. In the nest was a caern of stones spattered with black wax, before an immeasurably deep pit that intimidated even the normally-fearless Nylian. Plans to explore this pit have been delayed by logistics and by the more tempting opportunities in the ruins.

And somewhere in the northern hills are the Kruthar barbarians, savages that are more animal than man. They've been raiding more frequently of late, and much of the militia has been stricken with plague.

Room & Board

If you've been wanting a house like this, then this is the house for you!
Up to this point, I've been charging my players a flat rate of 1 silver coin per day for room & board. Any treasure they were not carrying on their persons could be stored in the village treasury, with a 10% surcharge  (also noteworthy, I use a silver standard for this campaign).

The food & services chart from Keep on the Borderlands suggest that 1 sp would cover a private room at an inn, but since I assume my PCs are eating, (and since this podunk village doesn't have a proper traveler's inn), I assume that they're just renting a little space in the common room of the tavern. That would be 1 cp; with the remaining 9, they could afford stew, beer, bread, cheese, and fruit for dinner, with leftovers for breakfast and dungeon rations for lunch. And this is the cheap beer, pretty much just water with enough alcohol content to make it safe to drink - so pretty much your typical American beer, I guess.

A number of the PCs actually have family in town and maybe had their lodging sorted out, and they may have been eating better, but were also contributing to the family expenses, so I rule that it evens out.

Now, Ash, Bill, and Svaarden saved up enough money to buy houses, which is a good investment. A house is 500 sp, fully furnished, and allows PCs to store their treasure hoards with no additional fees. Having a pantry and an address also makes shopping a bit cheaper: 20 sp a month should do. Wow! You're saving 8 sp a month, plus 10% of the grocery money - the house will pay for itself in just four years! What a deal!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Blue Pearl Ring

This artifact is a silver ring with claws clutching a blue pearl. Cantrik glyphs inscribed around the inside of the band give an incantation for the protection spell. The ringbearer enjoys a +1 to AC and saves, and a magic-user can use the ring as a talisman to cast protection. The ring's normal effect, the talisman spell, and the magic-user's own spell can all stack together, if desired.

The ring was round in the tomb of the Agha-yin prince Mayna-yood-sashai, in the catacombs beneath the temple of Zhothaqquah.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Ring of Shadows

The Ring of Shadows is a blood-red gem set in silver, with a Vhoorlish glyph for "shadow" inscribed. Inside the band is another inscription, in the script of Agha-yin, which translates to an imperative: "Do not see me," or possibly just, "Ignore me!" Speaking this message aloud activates the talisman, which casts a spell of invisibility on the ringbearer. 

The ring was found in the tomb of the Agha-yin prince Mayna-yood-sashai, in the catacombs beneath the temple of Zhothaqquah.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Legends of Partholon: the Rune-lord, Grivenar

Grivenar encountered on a foggy night
Names & Titles: Grivenar, the Grey God, the Twilight Eye, the Rune-lord, the Father of Magic

Prestige: A major god, but one whose attention is best avoided.

Veneration: The Vagyar deem him the most powerful of all the gods, and therefor their leader. In Tyrhennea, he is depicted as brother to Valkas, and his adviser on eldritch matters. His ravens bring news and omens that even Valkas' sharp-eyed eagle might overlook.

The Vagyar generally deem all magic-users his priests, and fear to cross his will. Nonetheless, Vagyar warriors distrust magicians, for Grivenar acts on his own purpose and not for the good of mankind. Even a hero who wins the Grey God's favor is still a pawn that may be sacrificed.

In the Empire he is little-worshipped and rarely beseeched, save by those who seek protection from or mastery over magical forces. He is associated with guardianship of dead souls, and ravens and crows are said to be his spies and servants, as well as carrying newly-dead spirits to the underworld.

Overall, he serves only his own schemes, and it is deemed wisest to avoid his attention.

Legends: It was Grivenar who gave to mankind the secret of the Cantrik glyphs, the runes and hierograms that codify magic into spells. It is said that he journeyed through the Nine Beyonds and suffered great agonies to discover the secrets of spellcraft. Some legends say that even the fundamental concept of the written word was taught to humanity by Grivenar.

Many Vagyar legends tell of heroes who were given magical trinkets or enchanted blades by Grivenar, or by a nameless traveler as he is often depicted, or even by a great, one-eyed raven. In virtually all of these tales, the hero met his doom when his artifact was inevitably lost to folly, or fate, or to the god's whimsy. One legend tells that Grivenar collects the souls of great heroes to form an army somewhere in the realms of the dead, and that he will guide aspiring heroes along the path to greatness, only to lead them to their dooms when they have proved themselves worthy of his collection.

Artifact: The Runestaff. This gnarled, wooden staff is inscribed with runes in winding patterns along its length. Some legends claim it is the heart of the world-tree, and is therefore the very incarnation of the axis mundi, the center of the world. Its runes are said to encode many spells, and it is also called "the Key to the Outer Gate," referring apparently to the ability to travel beyond the world's edge. The Runestaff has come into mortal possession several times over the ages, sometimes for years, sometimes for scant days. In every case, the staff eventually disappeared.

Seeker: a Rune-sword

This rune-sword was created to seek out and destroy the supernatural forces that may threaten the world. It possesses a kind of will, and may overwhelm a weak spirit. The self-discipline typical of Lawful alignment is the best bulwark against Seeker's arcana; wielders of other alignments had best beware, as the effort of mastering this rune-sword will be exhausting and may well prove deadly!

Seeker grants a +1 bonus to Attack Power and Damage. Against spell-casting enemies, the bonus increases to +2. The sword can be commanded to sense arcana three times a day.

Seeker has Int 7 and Psyche 7, with a Will of 14. Its optimal alignment is Lawful.

Artifacts with Will

Edit: I'm refining this material a little. When I do, I'll probably delete this entry and post a new one entirely. 

For the most part, a magical artifact is a tool or object with supernatural powers, and is detectable as arcana. Very rarely, an artifact may possess a will of its own. Most are subtle, with psyches that can't really be called minds, and intelligences that aren't quite human; any direction or communication will seem like intuition. A few have such clear personalities that they can carry on extended conversations with their bearers. All artifacts with will use the same system.

Such an artifact is rated with an Intelligence score, a Psyche score, and a Will score. Will is Int + Psych, modified by the artifact's magical powers. A bearer's Will score is Cha + Wis, modified by Str. The difference between these Wills is called the Control Factor, or CF. A positive CF indicates that the bearer is normally in control, but this control may be tested from time to time - particularly when the bearer has been injured or weakened. A negative CF means the bearer is normally allowed free reign, but the artifact can and will seize control whenever it desires.

 Control is tested when the bearer first picks up or attempts to use the artifact. It will be tested again when the artifact has an opportunity to pass to another, more desirable bearer, or when the bearer attempts to discard or replace the artifact. If the artifact has a special purpose or motive, it will test control whenever it has chance to pursue its ends. It will also test control when the bearer first falls below maximum HP, and again when the bearer falls below 50% maximum.

When a test of wills is indicated, dice will be rolled: 1d6 if the bearer is at less than maximum hp, or 2d6 if the bearer is at less than half maximum. If the bearer is the wrong alignment, roll an additional 1d6+1. Thus, if the bearer is of the proper alignment and unharmed, then as long as the CF is positive, the artifact is unable to exert any control. If the CF is negative, the bearer will automatically fail any test of wills.

Any artifact with will has an optimal alignment. This alignment may or may not reflect the artifact's own purpose; it is simply the alignment best suited to maintaining control over the artifact. Sometimes there is a true arcane compatibility at issue, but in other cases it's simply the fact that a mind that works a certain way can best curtail a given artifact's attempts at dominance. Wrestling with the artifact's will can be exhausting; a would-be bearer of the wrong alignment will lose 1d6 or 2d6 HP to exhaustion, depending on how much his alignment differs from the optimum. (This loss of HP will affect the test of wills, making it very difficult to successfully master a hostile artifact.)

Legends of Partholon: Rune-swords

There is a legend that tells of a time long ago, when humanity was still young. The elder race of Agha-yin had long fallen to decadence, worshiping obscenities and things from Outside. The sorcerer-kings of Arkhemea embraced wilder and darker magicks in their endless struggle for primacy. These litanies and incantations echoed across the chasms beyond space and time, and terrible things turned their attention to this small realm of light and life. 

Out of the north came a sage cloaked in grey, and with him he brought three great secrets. The first was the secret lore of wizardry, a more constructive magic that attuned its user to the harmonies of the cosmos. The second was the secret artifice of the rune-swords, that would give any stalwart soul the means to battle the spawn of chaos. The third secret has been lost to time. 

There are other legends, of course. There are texts that were written in scripts more ancient than any human tongue, and fragments still survive, copied and annotated in tomes of forbidden lore. Among those scholars and sorcerers who have read these passages, there are those who have claimed that rune-swords were known to these pre-humans, and that even the princes of Agha-yin had rune-swords of their own.  

Legends of Partholon: The Grey Sage, Zagyg

A statue of the Grey Sage
Names & titles: Zagyg, the Grey Sage, the Mad Mage, the Labyrinth Lord, the Catacomb Keeper

Prestige: Demigod or legendary hero

Veneration: He is a patron of magic, moreso of temperance in spellcraft, and wizards claim him as the founder of their tradition. He is commonly invoked for protection from malign spells, and sorcerers call upon him to keep their incantations from drawing otherworldly attention.

He is widely regarded as a champion of the gods of Law, and credited with sealing of the Underworld's many entrances with sprawling labyrinths, filled with tricks and traps to keep the spawn of Chaos locked in their dark world, and to deter those who might be tempted to ally with them.

Perhaps as an extension of this aspect, Zagyg is also deemed a protector of tombs and crypts. Paradoxically, treasure-hunters and tomb-robbers often sacrifice in his name, in hopes of currying guidance and luck, or at least mercy.

However, Zagyg is also called by some "the Mad Mage," and credited with 

Legend: Perhaps because he is such a minor figure, no single, unified version of his legend has yet risen to prominence. The accounts that do exist are so varied as to be contradictory. Some tell that he is the son of, or even the earthly incarnation of, the grey god Grivenar. Others claim that he was an Arkhemean sorcerer-king who repented and abandoned the perpetual struggle for power to pursue a higher calling: crusading against the creatures of Chaos and the Underworld. One version says simply that he came out of the north bearing spells and artifacts to raise a crusade against the vile decadence of Agha-yin and the sorcery of Arkhemea.

Artifacts:  Any rune-sword might be considered an artifact of Zagyg, but he, like any magic-user, was unable to wield them himself. When confronted with physical force, Zagyg often relied on his Serpent Staff.  He would hurl the staff at his foes, or simply throw it down at his own feet, and it would become a great serpent, crushing his enemies in its coils or even devouring them whole. When none still dared oppose him, the serpent would return to his hand and resume its former shape.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Alicorn Spear - the Artifact

The Alicorn Spear is an artifact weapon best used in the hands of a cleric, but of some use to a magic-user of the order of Wizardry.

The spear has a +1 bonus to attack and damage rolls. This bonus improves to +2 against the undead. Like any spear, it can be used to fight from the second rank. However, the spear's greatest quality is as an implement of healing.

A cleric or wizard holding the spear can heal wounds with a touch, as the cure spell. Any individual can benefit from this power only once per day, and the power is limited. The healing touch can be used only thirty times before it is exhausted. Fortunately, a cleric or wizard can restore this power via sacred rites, but this requires six days and 3,000 silver worth of ritual components.

The spear's aura interferes with sorcery and most other forms of magic, but wizards and clerics have no difficulty with their spellcraft. However, a wizard's arcane aura will interfere with the spear's attack and damage bonus.

The Alicorn Spear - Crafting

 The delving party found an alicorn, a unicorn horn, amongst the junk and refuse of a goblin storage room. Bill's player is interested in making a magic item out of it. 

After some consideration, I believe Bill may be capable of creating the Alicorn Spear but it is an expensive, involving, and uncertain project. Bill would need to spend 6,000 silver on equipment and rare materials for the rituals and construction, and would have a 45% chance of success. He can improve the odds by acquiring rarer and better quality components: 12,000 silver would give a 70% chance, or 18,000 silver for an 85% chance.

It will also require time. Bill can go into seclusion for about a month and a half, doing nothing else, and spend all the costs at once. Or, he could work on this project in his spare time, paying the costs gradually as funds become available. However, this start-and-stop procedure is much less efficient, requiring about 60 days total devoted to the work.

Additionally, since the horn was in the possession of goblins, there's a good chance it had been taken by force, and may have been tainted by a unicorn's murder, or corrupted by its time in the underworld. Bill would be well advised to seek out a unicorn to purify the horn. If he relies on his own rituals to purify it, there is a small chance (call it 15%) that the result could be a cursed artifact, warped by the powers of chaos.

Monday, January 16, 2012


The campaign is set in the borderlands of Partholon - to the west is the Imperial Territory, to the east lie the Small Kingdoms. On the northern edge of the Shimrod Forest is the tiny village of Sham - a peaceful hamlet of woodcutters and fishermen, only occasionally bothered by savage Kruthar barbarians raiding from the northern hills.

It is the year 295 AC - that is, the 295th year After the Crowning of the first Emperor in Tyrhennea. Early in the spring, villagers began disappearing, and rumors circulated of goblyns being sighted in the woods. Search parties found mysterious ruins and numerous tracks in and out of a doorway, beyond which lay a stairway winding deep below the ground...

Ash Slayum is a veteran warrior, dungeon-delver, and treasure-hunter. His martial prowess is exceptional, his survival instincts are keen, and his word is his bond (which may be why he rarely gives it). He speaks little of himself or his past, but his men-at-arms have occasionally hinted at a tragic love with a woman of the Faer Folk.

Svaarden is a wandering holter and hunter, an expert archer and master of woodcraft. He is, however, very short on people-skills, but rarely lets that stop him from putting his foot into his mouth. He's also untrustworthy and unpredictable, but he's never turned against the party, technically.

Ash and Svaarden met in the dungeon when their respective search parties were wiped out by the underworld's denizens. They have delved successfully together for many months, and eventually incorporated the party into an official treasure-hunting company, endorsed by Baron Blackhart. The rest of the party looks to them as unofficial leaders, a fact complicated by their conflicting ethical perspectives.

The rest of the party includes:

Clementine, a cleric of the Sacred Order of St Alcidine. She is a holy warrior dedicated to battling the restless dead and all the eldritch horrors of the underworld. Capturing the treasures of the spawn of Chaos is a victory for her order and for the gods of Law.

Billium Dedpulius, or "Bill" to his friends, is a magic-user of the secret fraternity of Wizards. His order devotes itself to constructive spellcraft and forbids the destructive and world-warping magicks of sorcery. His mentor, Incanus, attempts to provide the guiding light of wisdom, but Bill's obsession with vanquishing the creatures of darkness has led him to be tempted by the forbidden lore of sorcery.

Nylian is a native of Sham, the daughter of Weyland the Smith, and has always been restless in the quiet village. Even as a child she was a rough-and-tumble tomboy, constantly getting into fights with boys twice her size - and often winning. Her father tried to teach her the Hammercraft to channel her energies toward productivity, but where he embraced the constructive aspects of the Thunder Lord Tanaris, Nylian was drawn to his warlike aspect. She joined the militia before even completing her apprenticeship at the smithy, and Kruthar savages have learned a wary respect for "the hammer girl." When the delving party began returning to town with great treasure and harrowing tales, she informed them in no uncertain terms that she was now joining them.

Gottfried also grew up in Sham, and like Nylian he longed for more excitement than the little village could provide. He was raised on stories of his piratical uncle, Magnus the Raver, and joined the militia with hopes of learning the skill to fight at his uncle's side. When called upon to defend Sham against Kruthar raids, Gottfried displayed a berserker's spirit, heedless of danger, knowing only the drive to slay his foes. When Magnus  came to visit his sister and nephew, he and Gottfried joined Ash & Svaarden's party in hunting monstrous adders in the woods. Magnus was calcified by an adder's toxic blood, and Gottfried swore to find and destroy the monsters' nest. With the party's help, he succeeded, and earned his place among the delvers.

The Stars are Right

After almost a year (really?) without updating, I'm finally taking the time to use this blog for its intended purpose again. Madness!

The campaign has been awesome. The players, despite coming mainly from 3.5 backgrounds, have responded enthusiastically to the old-school vibe - the most enjoyable and most intense game sessions are not the ones where they fight a huge monster, but the ones where they have to figure out a trap or a puzzle. Still, some of the guys prefer their options to be spelled out more plainly. Between that desire from certain players and my own desire to work out a few of the kinks that still bug me in the whitebox rules, I've been working out a lot of house rules that I'd like to organize and present plainly for easy reference.