Saturday, July 13, 2013

Status Ailments

The most common perils of a dungeon-delving career are probably injuries and death. But sometimes special effects kick in that don't kill a delver outright, but do make life a little more difficult for a while. Here are some of them.

The living dead hunger for the life-force of those still living. Any undead monster greater than ghouls and ghasts are likely to drain the living essence out of their victims. The effect is called Drain, and is normally inflicted one or two levels at a time. If the total of Drain levels exceeds the level of the character suffering from them, he is cursed to a living death.

Each level of Drain causes -1 to attacks, saves, and hit points recovered (both for spells and for any single stretch of rest & recuperation), and it blocks the highest available spell slot from being used (so with enough levels drained, you can lose all spells and it may be virtually impossible to recover hit points). Each week of complete rest reduces the Drain level by 1. If the PC goes a month without eliminating a Drain level, all remaining levels convert to permanent level loss.

A Remove Curse spell converts all Drain levels into temporary level loss (which, after you convert the attack & save stats, is usually a big improvement). A week of rest recovers one level, but going a month without recovering a level renders all remaining temporary loss permanent. XP gained while level is temporarily reduced should be recorded separately, added to the PC's total only when all temporary levels are either eliminated or converted.

Grave Rot
This ancient curse manifests the hunger of the grave, forever striving to devour the living. The victim of grave rot gains no benefits from magical healing and has only a 10% chance of recovering any hp on any given day of rest. Wounds and even minor abrasions begin to fester, so that the character soon looks and smells ghastly. Each day the character bears wounds and fails to recover hp, he loses 1 Charisma. When hp is full, he recovers 1 Charisma per day of rest.

The victim is helpless for 1d4+2 turns after combat ends. Any Cure spell can end this effect in lieu of other effects.

A stunned combatant can't attack, reduces speed to 1/3 normal, suffers -4 on AC & Saves, and can't focus on magic at all. This status normally lasts only a single round.

Each level of Weakness causes -1 to attacks and damage. Weakness persists for 1d6 turns. If additional levels are added before the first levels are fully recovered, roll duration again and start the count anew. If a character suffers more levels of weakness than her level, she recovers from half when the duration lapses, and compare again the following turn.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Arcane Lore: Echoes & Incantations

"Certain names have the power to echo across the worlds when intoned, and there are always things listening for those names to be spoken... The only thing that tethered the Children of Night to reality was their names, and each time a name was called, that tether pulled a Child closer to wakefulness... Taking the root of a name and changing it, or masking it behind foreign mortal languages enabled a sufficiently cunning priest to draw upon a fraction of a sleeping entity's might without rousing it... The Children sleep fitfully yet, and their dreams are less pleasing to them than once they were."
 -Lucien Soulban & Sven Skoog, Clanbook: Baali
Art by Vince Locke
And so I accidentally deleted this post and must reconstruct it. Or maybe it was eaten by the things that slumber beyond the bounds of time and space? Whatever. Let's see if we can improve on the original.

Traditionally, magic in D&D is a matter of resource management: memorize a selection of spells before the adventure, cast each once per day, and when you get back to town where your spellbooks are safely stored, you can change your memorization. "Once per day." It feels a little like a fairy tale, doesn't it?

But Partholon is a little less fairy tale and a little more weird tale, so I want magic to carry an edge of danger, a sense of temptation and consequence. I also happen to be fond of risk management as a game mechanic. Some brainstorming, some playtesting, and a little help from the Amazing Sam of Difficult Terrain, and we've got a fun twist on Vancian magic that continually offers players interesting choices.

Incantations & Echoes

When a spell's incantation and infra-rational formulae are memorized, that spell can be cast at any time. The first casting each day is as safe as chanting the names of dead-but-dreaming abominations in order to steal a fragment of their powers can be. A daring or desperate mage can "echo" an incantation, casting the same spell a second time, but there is always a price. The more a sleeper's deathly slumber is disturbed, the more exhausting it is to channel its dreams into the waking world, and the more difficult it is to conceal this transfer of power from the things that stalk the shadow-realm.

When a mage echoes a spell, he suffers 1d6 damage. If this damage would reduce him to 0 hp, he rolls on the Echo Table instead. Additionally, if the next chance encounter check is affirmative, there is a 1 in 4 chance that the encounter will be with a Thing From Beyond (see below).

Echo Table
2d6 Result
12 You got lucky, punk Everything is fine... for now.
9-11 Woops, something noticed! Roll again the next time you cast an Echo.
6-8 You arrogant fool! Roll again the next time you cast any spell.
3-5 Bad trip! Out of body experience or total comprehension of infinity. Either way you're catatonic. Save vs Magic each morning to see if you come out of it.
2 Ye gods, no! Devoured by invisible demons, or yanked to a higher plane. Either way you vanish. Roll for resurrection survival: if you pass, most of you comes back.

You may notice that this is frankly just a modified Reaction Roll. I like to get more mileage out of existing resources rather than compounding the number of charts I have to keep track of.

Clerics and Others

Clerics channel their power from the cosmic spheres and the higher planes, and Druids invoke the spirits of the natural world and the twilight realm of faerie, but the mechanics of echoing spells remain unchanged. Other spellcasting classes have not yet appeared in the campaign.

Things From Beyond

This is the perfect time to throw in any wild, weird, and awesome monster that just doesn't have a place in the normal campaign milieu. Sleestaks, xenomorphs, terror dogs, splugorth, mind flayers and beholders: whatever you've always wanted to use without making it a part of the world. If you're using this echoed spell concept in a more d&d-traditional or even a gonzo campaign, there's still plenty of room for eldritch weirdness. Use the Psionic Encounters table from the 1e DMG, make a Realms of Crawling Chaos encounter table, use the stat-block for an invisible stalker and play it like the Predator - this is a chance to go outside whatever your campaign's normal boundaries may be without consequence. Even a silly encounter with flumph philosophers in the middle of a grim & gritty adventure can work out just fine as long as the creatures are clearly manifesting from outside the campaign world.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Legends of Partholon: the Bloodreaper, Ariokk

Art by Steve Argyle
Names & Titles: Ariokk, the Bloodreaper, the Duke of Blades, Prince of the Seven Darks

Symbols & Depiction:  In Tyrhennea, he is depicted with the arms and armor typical of the Delian bronze-age - what the Imperial imagination considers primitive and semi-barbaric. His face is always kept hidden. Vagyars depict him as a savage cloaked in the skins and bones of his kills - beast and man alike.

Prestige: One of the few Chaotic gods in the imperial pantheon, Ariokk revels in bloodshed and brutality. He serves Valkas as a frenzied warrior who balks at nothing, and is regarded as a patron of warfare. Tyrhenneans prefer to keep his worship at something of a distance, but many Vagyars embrace his patronage - especially berserkers.

Veneration: Ariokk's windowless temples bear mosaics depicting the most horrifying scenes of slaughter, murder, and appalling violence of every stripe. Most soldiers disdain this mad god's patronage - at least while they remain at home or in a quiet garrison. In the fog of war, it is common to hear the battlefield prayer, "Blood and souls for Ariokk!" as kill after kill is dedicated in his name.

Any place or object associated with him is held as savage and dangerous. There are rumors that his cult includes certain priests or zealots who sacrifice to him through random murders and worse.

Legends: The poet Grucca frequently depicts Ariokk as a villain, occasionally as a treacherous and untrustworthy ally to the gods and heroes of his tales. Ariokk lends his blessings to anyone who shows strength, courage, or savagery, without regard to his supposed loyalty to Valkas. Grucca even claims that Ariokk is the god most hateful to the Lawgiver.

It is also said that Ariokk was the chief patron of lost Agha-yin. Some variations of the legend tell that he was once a wise sorcerer-god, but that he gradually devolved into madness, perhaps as a result of the growing depravities among his worshippers. In these tales, it was Ariokk who destroyed Agha-yin, smiting its towers and driving its armies to slaughter the populace before sending the entire island-continent to drown beneath the Sedrian Sea.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Fighters in Partholon

Art by Storn Cook
It seems that, by and large, the OSR as a whole has embraced the idea that the fighter needs a little something extra - the writeup as it appears in Holmes, B/X, or BECMI is lacking somewhat compared to other classes. There are some hints in Chainmail and the LBBs as to rectifying the imperfection, and some ideas have become so prevalent as to be almost standardized within the OSR. I've got my own ideas. 

The Fighter is already a veteran of several battles before he begins his dungeon-delving career. He may have been a member of a village militia or a city guard, or may have fought in some warlord's campaign. He may come from a lineage of knights or similar warrior-lords charged with safeguarding the realm. Whatever his background, he has left the battlefield behind and turned to crypts and catacombs, hoping that his battle-skills will keep him alive long enough to collect lost treasures.

The fighter is in many ways the easiest class to play.  He doesn't depend greatly on planning and forethought (though he will benefit from both!) and with proper equipment is about as ready as he'll ever be for whatever situations come up. He can adapt to most any situation as needed, but his standard tactic (kill monsters and stay alive) is a smart choice most of the time.

Basic Traits

Guard: When a fighter chooses to fight defensively, he gets the normal +2 bonus to AC, but can also grant an additional +2 AC bonus to a nearby ally. Guard bonuses do not stack, so a given individual can benefit from only a single fighter's protection.

Overkill: The fighter is trained to fight his enemies not as individuals but as a unit. When he deals damage in excess of that needed to slay a foe, he can deliver the excess damage to another foe in reach (so long as that target's AC is no greater than the fighter's attack). He can combine his movement and attack if needed to deliver the overkill.

Martial Skill: The fighter has learned how to get optimal performance out of all manner of weapons. A fighter can:
  • can move and shoot with bow or crossbow
  • use a spear one-handed, or set against a charge for first strike and x2 damage
  • charge with a spear or lance for +2 AP and x2 damage
  • add his Dex bonus to AP and damage when fighting with two weapons
Expert Traits

Hero: +1 to Command and Leadership [that's Number of Retainers and Retainer Morale]

Champion: a further +1 to Command and Leadership

Daunting: Starting at 8th level, when the fighter moves to engage enemies of 4HD or less, he may force them to make a morale check.

Warlord:  By ancient custom, only the most powerful warriors could be recognized as boyars, the warlords who governed and protected the clans. Imperial rule replaced the boyars with barons who grant their position to legal heirs, but with the decay of Imperial authority, the ancient customs are being revived. A fighter who declares himself a Warlord will attract a small army of followers above and beyond the command allotted by his Charisma. If he doesn't want trouble with the local barons or Duke Bellorum, he may seek to pledge fealty or claim a domain in the wilderness beyond Imperial control. If he doesn't mind defying the authorities, he may claim existing settlements as his own, or he and his men can live as brigands and outlaws within Imperial lands.

The Fighter
Level XP HD AP
1 0 1+1 1
Guard, Overkill, Martial Skill
2 2,000 2 2

3 4,000 3 3

4 8,000 4 3
1d8 damage, Hero
5 16,000 5 4

6 32,000 6 5
7 64,000 7 5

8 120,000 8 6
1d10 damage, Daunting
9 240,000 9 7
10 360,000 10 7

... +120,000 +2 hp ...

Saves: +2 Physical

Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Rangers of Partholon

Art by Kelly McLarnon
In my concept, a ranger is a stealthy character and an indirect combatant, an opportunist and a problem-solver. I'm treating the class as taking the role normally filled by the thief in classic campaigns, because I like this flavor more. Earlier versions of this class were more heavily influenced by the Dunedain of Middle-earth, but this version owes much of its flavor to Aspar White of Eslen.

The Ranger is an expert hunter and tracker, accustomed to traveling on her own through the wilderness and living off the land. Her nomadic lifestyle makes her a figure of suspicion when she ventures into settlements, but the opinions of ignorant strangers are a small matter in her eyes. Prior to her treasure-hunting career, she patrolled the wilderness, hunting monsters before they could become a threat to innocent villagers, and occasionally collecting bounties from whatever baron happened to be nearby when she needed money.

Rangers generally see one another as affiliates in a loose network or brotherhood. Most are solitary, but some work in bands, and some carry on a family legacy. Two of the most famous names among rangers are the Watchkeepers and the Stargazers.

The ranger's combat style emphasizes speed and mobility. She exploits opportunities when they appear, and creates them when she needs them. She is not trained to fight in plate or mail.

Stealth Skills 
(The referee should roll for stealth skills, so the player cannot be sure of the result. The PC will believe she is successful until confronted with evidence to the contrary.)
Hide in Shadows: Anybody can hide if they can actually get out of sight. The ranger can attempt to hide with no better concealment than the shifting shadows of torchlight.
Hide in Wilderness: The ranger is even better at hiding in the wild. With 1d3 turns of preparation, she can attempt to conceal her entire party. If she is only trying to hide herself, roll 2 Skill dice instead of just 1. 
Move Silently: When hidden, any movement will normally give away the hiding character's position. The ranger can attempt to move without giving herself away.

Professional Skills
Listen: Use the Skill Roll instead of the normal 1 in 6 chance for listening.
Tracking: Indoors & underground, make a Skill Roll with -1 TN for each turn of delay. In the wild, use the best of 2 Skill Rolls, with -1 TN for each day of delay, rain, or snow.
Wilderness Expert: A party with a ranger gets +1 to Travel rolls, including disorientation, searching, hunting & foraging. 
Free-climb: The ranger is skilled at climbing walls and rock faces without gear or assistance. She can climb 2d6x10 feet per turn, but never more than 100 ft or faster than allowed by Encumbrance. If the roll exceeds either limit, she is unable to make progress. If the roll exceeds both limits, she attempts progress but falls from the halfway point.

Combat Skills
Ambush: +4 AP & x2 damage if striking from hiding or by surprise. If the ranger has successfully hidden, the target may be on guard or even engaged in combat.
Dual Wielding: The ranger adds her Dex bonus to AP and damage when fighting with two weapons
Expert Archer:  When using a bow, the ranger can choose one of three special attacks:
  • Move and Shoot: 
  • Sharp-shooting: 
  • Speed-shooting:

The Ranger
Level XP HD AP Save Traits
1 0 1 1 15 Skill: 2 in 6
2 1,500 2 1 14
3 3,000 3 2 13 Skill: 3 in 6
4 6,000 +1 hp 2 12
5 12,000 4 3 11 Weapon damage: 1d8
6 24,000 5 3 10
7 50,000 6 4 9 Skill: 4 in 6
8 100,000 +1 hp 4 8
9 200,000 7 5 7
10 300,000 8 5 6 Weapon damage: 1d10
... +100,000 +1 hp ... 5 Skill: 5 in 6

Saves: +2 Physical

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Have Mule, Will Travel

A mule is a crossbreed of between a horse and a donkey. Mules are stubborn, and if bothered or excited they may either bite or kick... Mules cannot be trained to attack, but will fight in their own defense.
-The Red Book of Moldvay
When your adventure takes you out to the middle of the wilderness, you don't want to be caught short of food, torches, oil, or any other supplies. Every journey back to town is time wasted - and that means chance encounters rolled, and opportunities for death and mayhem without the payoff of treasure. The best way to maximize your carrying capacity without slowing the expedition to a crawl is to load up the extra gear on a mule.

Here's my super-clever Mule Record Sheet:
Obviously I have played Diablo II a few times
If a PC's backpack was laid out the same way, it would only have three or four rows. So, like, a mule can carry a whole lot. If the party is traveling on foot, their usual movement rate is the 60'/20' speed of a fully laden mule, so that's handy. However, if the party is riding horses, their movement could be significantly faster, and they might be wise to ensure their mule never slows them down below 120'/40' speed.

By my encumbrance rules, every item takes up a whole slot - every torch, every day's worth of rations (for each person!), to say nothing of bringing feed for the horses. As great as the mule's carrying capacity may be, sometimes you need an expert to do the packing for you. For a proper adventure, you'll want to hire a teamster or a carter. A carter can pack bundles of objects (such as a week's rations or a six-pack of torches) to take up only two spaces on the Mule Sheet. The carter will also tend to the party's mule and horses during travel and while camping, but will need an assistant if tending more than six animals.

The best carter in Sham is Randol, and he normally charges ten silver pennies a day, twenty if his assistant Maya is required. However, he has been known to offer discounts in the past provided that his employers cover all necessary expenses (food, camping gear, etc). The negotiation will depend on a Reaction roll - a good result will get the discount, a neutral result will require further negotiation, and a poor result will see him stand firm - or possibly insist on some additional 'hazard pay' for traveling into the heart of Kruthar territory!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Travel Rules

Up to this point, most of the campaign play has focused on local adventures, within a few hours' travel from town. Occasionally the party has made longer journeys, but in most cases this has been fairly straightforward, following a trail or a map. Now that the party is getting set to venture into the wilderness, it's time to lay down the rules for an old-fashioned hexcrawl.


Travel overland uses a hexmap, where each hex represents 6 miles of travel. This hex system is a little abstract compared to exploring dungeons and other adventure sites, but it's a useful way to streamline days of travel, and it simplifies mapping. From the center of a hex to the edge is just about the horizon line in clear terrain, but the entire game of Skyrim would fit into a single hex on this scale. The party can pass through on their way to a known destination, or explore for other adventure sites as much as they like.

Where dungeon exploration is divided into turns of ten minutes, overland travel is played from day to day. Each day, the party begins with a number of travel points based on its exploration speed. Those points are spent to enter hexes until the party runs out of points, and the day's travel is concluded. Often, there will be points leftover, not quite enough to enter the next hex. In that case, these extra points can be invested into a desired hex, which will reduce the cost needed to enter that hex on the next day of travel.

When the party enters a hex, roll a d6. On a 6, the party finds a major site as marked on the referee's map (e.g. ruins, lair, castle). On a 5, the party finds a landmark or settlement that helps to point the way (+1 on next search). The party may spend the hex's cost again to search further. If the refree's map shows nothing but terrain, a successful search will point the party toward an encounter, with the option to avoid it if desired.

Travel Points
None 120' 12 points
Light 90' 9 points
Medium 60' 6 points
Heavy 30' 3 points

Hex Costs
CostTerrain Types
2 points Imperial road
3 points Clear, trail, lightly forested, grasslands, settled & civilized
4 points Heavily forested, hilly, desert, broken land
6 points Mountain, swamp, jungle

Special Terrain Notes
Much of the Shimrod Forest is a "black forest," where trees grow so thick that sunlight can barely penetrate. In this terrain, horses cannot be ridden and the party must travel afoot leading their mounts.

Usually a hex must be entered to be mapped, but the party can spend an extra point to find a good vantage point (such as a sturdy treetop) from which to map surrounding hexes. From Hilly terrain, the line of sight extends up to 3 hexes away, but is blocked by hilly or mountainous terrain. From mountainous terrain, the line of sight extends up to 7 hexes away on a clear day. These elevated hexes can also be mapped from lower elevation at similar ranges. Mountains can be dimly seen, though not mapped, at 10 hex distance - even up to 20 hexes for some peaks.

Each day of travel, the referee will check for encounters. Normally a single check is sufficient, but in more dangerous territory as many as 4 checks might be rolled. The default is a 2 in 6 chance, reduced to 1 in 6 in clear and inhabited hexes, or increased to 3 in 6 in swamps, jungles, and mountains. Encounters may happen in the starting hex, in any of the hexes traveled, or while camping at night.

Each day of travel, the referee will check for disorientation unless the party is following a river, trail, road, or a reliable guide. The default is a 2 in 6 chance of disorientation, reduced to 1 in 6 for clear, open terrain like grasslands, or increased to 3 in 6 for swamp, jungle, and desert travel. In the event of disorientation, the party's travel will be rotated either sunwise or widdershins by one hex face. The party is assumed to reorient the following morning (barring such conditions as would conceal the sunrise, such as terrible weather or camping within a black forest), but runs the risk of becoming disoriented again as usual.

Hunting & Foraging
It's recommended that the party should pack rations for their intended travel time, plus 50% in case of delays. The party extend their supplies at the cost of some travel time for hunting or foraging.

Foraging requires the party to spend 1/3 of its travel points (4, 3, 2, or 1 on foot) and roll:
1-3 Consume rations as usual
4-5 No rations spent today
6 Add 1d6 rations to supply!

Hunting requires a full day of activity, and requires one extra Encounter check
1-3 Spend no rations
4-5 Add 1d6 rations to supply
6 Add 2d6 rations to supply!

Forced March
The party can push for greater time or speed to cover more distance, but the following day must be spent resting. No foraging is possible during a forced march, and no hunting or exploration is possible during a rest day.  The party gains an additional 50% of travel points (6, 4, 3, 1)

Faster travel rates are possible with good mounts.
240' 24 pts -8 +12
210' 21 pts -7 +10
180' 18 pts -6 +9
150' 15 pts -5 +7

Art by Larry Elmore

To whatever degree the system above has merit, a debt is owed to Mentzer, Proctor, Cook, and the Judges Guild. To whatever degree it is flawed, the blame is largely my own. My sole intent was to recreate the results of these designers through a system that I find simple and fun. If it proves to be a useful plugin for your own campaign, I will be thrilled beyond words.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Lore of the Kruthar

Updated - the party has fought a skrag now.
Art by Talon Dunning
Partholon is famed throughout the empire for its haunted forests, mysterious faeries, and the murderous Druid cult, but the greatest peril throughout the frontier baronies would have to be the Kruthar barbarians. These savages dwell in the Bleak Hills to the north, where they worship and breed with the foul spawn of uncounted hells. They strike suddenly and mercilessly, stealing livestock and equipment and abducting villagers, the fates of whom may never be known for sure, but are the subject of grim speculation. Common theories range from slave labor to sacrifice to cannibalism and worse.

Most Partholonians will tell you that Kruthar aren't actually men, but merely man-like animals. And it is true that when barbarian corpses are cleared from a battlefield, many seem to bear but a brutish approximation of human features, and others appear more animal than human, but for many the tattoos and war-paint and ritualized scars seem to disguise the face of mere humans.

Recently, Morgana of the Iron Wolf clan became attached to the treasure-hunters operating out of Sham. She has learned a little of the common tongue, and has taught her lover Brianne a little of her own. Though communication remains difficult, the party is at last learning a little about the Kruthar. Some of this new lore is summarized here. 
The Kruthar refer to themselves as the Free People. The ancient Firians, ancestors of modern Partholonians, referred to themselves the same way. They believe they once ruled over the whole of Partholon, but that they were driven into the bleak northern hills and mountains by the Firian tribes. To survive in the rugged highlands, they made pacts with the creatures of Chaos they found lurking there, and bound these pacts with their bloodlines. To this day, status is closely linked with the purity of this eldritch blood, as seen manifest in mutations and deformities.

Kruthar society is divided into clans, castes, warbands, tribes, and hordes. The interaction and overlap of these groups is more complicated than Morgana can fully explain, but their practical function seems to be to give warriors an excuse to fight for status and power while simultaneously giving them a way to join their strength against outsiders.

Kruthar religion venerates the spirits of the wild and demons of the underworld. They hold destruction, killing, and cruelty as sacred. Many believe their role in the world is to purify it of weakness. Some believe their role is to burn the world down, and that the only purity to be had is the silent eternity of oblivion. Kruthar ethics are mostly variations on "Might makes right." What you are strong enough to take is yours for the taking. What you are strong enough to keep is yours to keep.

Gender roles are assumed but not rigid. Men normally become hunters and warriors while women typically see to the clan's home and rear the children, but there is no social stigma for those who deviate from the norm. Breeding is a sacred responsibility, as the harsh lifestyle and unreliable fertility of the Kruthar means extermination is a perpetual threat. Contributing many children to the clan is a good way to gain status, and many Kruthar of both genders take on multiple partners. It is uncommon, but not rare, for Kruthar to take lovers of their own sex. As long as such affairs don't distract from the clan's need for new blood, there is no stigma involved.  
They respect strength as the primary virtue, but their definition of strength is quite broad. Charisma, cunning, and supernatural powers are included alongside battle-prowess and mere brawn. In essence, whatever lets you get your way is considered a virtue.
The caste of a Kruthar is determined not by his parentage, but by the mark of Chaos - the degree of visible mutation and deformity. Greater mutation corresponds to greater status. The castes usually segregate their warbands, but intermingle freely within their clans.A warrior of any caste may be gifted with the sacred madness of the berserker rage. Any Kruthar can advance beyond the status accorded by his caste by proving his strength. Tattoos, piercings, and ritual scars serve to mark improved status.
  • The majority of Kruthar are born to the caste known as donadar, bearing little or no sign of Chaotic deformity. Although they have the lowest status, they are the most fertile, making donadars prized as mates by all castes.
  • About one in four Kruthar will be a shalgar. Shalgars are bigger, stronger, and tougher than donadars, and are visibly marked by Chaos.
  • Less than one in twenty Kruthar will be a morlak. Morlaks are huge, hulking brutes, sometimes twice the size of a man, but frequently stooped or hunchbacked. They are heavily mutated, barely human at all, and some even grow one or two extra arms. Morlaks frequently have little more than animal wit, but the few who are gifted with both strength and cunning become great warlords.
  • The very rare skrag is among the most powerful of Kruthar. Skrags are even larger and more powerful than morlaks, more heavily mutated and frequently gifted with a burning madness. They are almost entirely inhuman, often growing scales, fur, and thorn-like spurs in patches. Extra arms are common, and some even grow an extra head. 
  • Clans are frequently led by a grugak, a magician with the power to bestow curses and change shapes. A strong clan will have a chief grugak and his lesser apprentices. 
With Morgana's information and the party's experience fighting Kruthars, some game data can be made available.

Kruthar Warrior
AC 14
HD 1
AP 1
Morale 8
Alignment: Chaotic
Sacred Madness: When Kruthar fail a morale check or are subject to any fear effect, there is a 1 in 10 chance that they will be overcome by a berserker rage. A berserk warrior of the common caste will have the following statistics:

Kruthar Berserker
AC 11
HD 1
AP 4
Morale 12
Alignment: Chaotic
Hard to Kill: A berserker with 0 hp can continue to fight until wounded again.

1 in 4 warbands encountered will be of the elite shalgar caste.

Kruthar Elite
AC 14
HD 2
AP 2
Morale 9
Demon Eyes: These Kruthar can see in total darkness, but reduce AP by 1 in sunlight.
Savagery: These Kruthar can fight with tooth and nail even if they are disarmed.
Sacred Madness: as above.

AC ??
HD 6+3
AP 7
Morale <11

The party has not encountered morlaks, so no reliable data can be extrapolated from Morgana's lore. They have battled a grugak in Stonehell, and are aware that changing form seemed to heal his wounds, but have no more concrete data beyond that.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Wages of Death

The players in the Partholon campaign have been fortunate enough that in the years we've been playing, only a single PC has died (and technically he's been petrified, and may well survive in a state of suspended animation). Partly this is due to my incapacitation rules which create unpleasant consequences for letting your character run out of hit points without necessarily losing the character, but partly this is due to the players' mix of skillful play and dumb luck. However, in our most recent session Bill the Green was incapacitated and may yet die (we suspended play before we could confirm his status), so this seems like a good time to review what happens when a PC actually does bite the dust.

For one thing, this being Dungeons & Dragons, there is no certainty that death is permanent. There is a sacred grove just one or two days' travel from Sham where, with proper sacrifices, the spirits may be petitioned to raise the dead. The sacrifices would be costly, and results are not guaranteed, but there is some chance at least.

Second, if a party member is given proper burial (or an appropriate pyre, or whatever funeral rites seem appropriate), the party will actually gain xp for any treasures they bury with him (including artifacts!). Tyrhennean culture has a minor but noteworthy tradition of sacrifices to departed allies & ancestors that can provide PCs with some options to translate spare wealth into xp later in the campaign as well.

Naturally, the player will want to get back into the game as soon as possible, and there are two readily available options.

Take over an existing NPC: The party frequently employs mercenaries and retainers who accumulate treasure and experience. One of these characters could be upgraded to PC status quite naturally (for example if Ash died, it would be appropriate for either Spurlock or Molin to step up to fill his role in the party). The advantage here is, of course, that the character already has equipment, money, and experience, so the player isn't forced to start over from scratch. Unfortunately, since these characters have most of their necessities already paid for, they are prone to frittering their wealth away off-camera. When an NPC is upgraded to a PC, we discover that they only have (5d20)% of the listed treasure hoard (averaging around 50%).

Generating a new PC: A new PC can be generated and added to the game, and can even be introduced as the heir to the fallen character's fortune. This is a good way to start off with a preferred class or just get a fresh start on the game, and to retain 90% of accumulated treasure (that remaining 10% is lost for any number of reasons - funeral costs, traditional sacrifices, inheritance tax, legal fees, etc). The downside is, of course, the fact that the new PC starts from first level and may have a hard time facing the sorts of dangers the rest of the party is used to. On the other hand, if the party takes care to protect their new ally, the kind of expeditions they can handle should ensure he gains levels rapidly.

This new heir might be a relative of the fallen character, or perhaps a (previously unseen) protege, or similar. For example, if Bill dies, he could be replaced with an apprentice who is retconned into the game, or perhaps Bill's mentor, Incanus, could send another student of his to ensure that Bill's arcane lore doesn't fall into the wrong hands. Such a character would of course benefit from the magical research Bill has previously undertaken.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Return to Partholon: Prologue to Season 3

In the last weeks of autumn, our party returns to Sham from their foray to distant Stonehell, with new guests: Brianne and Morgana. Morgana's tattoos, characteristic of the Kruthar savages, spark some concern among the villagers, but Nylian is quick to assure everyone that the girl is a captive rescued from Kruthar captivity, and that the winter will be spent teaching her how to live among civilized folks. Nylian has a reputation for honesty - brutal honesty, in fact - so no one seems to realize that she is lying through her teeth.

Thus, the young women are able to settle into their winter routine as guests at Ash's townhouse without any hassle. Gradually each learns a bit of the other's language and culture, and lay the foundations of a strong bond between them. Morgana is pleased to have been claimed by a strong warrior, and the party is obviously a powerful war-band, so she hopes to assist Brianne in building strength, status, and renown. Although love between two women is as uncommon among the Kruthar as it is in Partholon, neither culture attaches any serious stigma to it, and they are free to discover whether theirs will be a brief affair or a lasting romance.

Clementine and Bill the Green spend most of the winter in seclusion, working on the means to interweave their magicks and awaken the potential in the alicorn they had recovered from the goblins' lair. Their approachs are very different - Bill spends hours and days pouring through his collection of obscure and arcane tomes, while Clementine spends equal time in meditation seeking inspiration - there is enough common ground between their crafts that they are able to produce results. The spirit of the unicorn has been invited to rest, to lend a measure of its grace into a sacred spear which will be an instrument of healing as well as a weapon against the hordes of Chaos.

Vennet is similarly hard at work through the winter, calling on her spirit guides and giving them generous sacrifices in order to expand her spell-trove. She spends a great deal of money through the winter buying the finest animals and butchering them - and while the spirits feast on the steam of  spilled blood and the smoke of burnt fat, the villagers share in a feast of hot roast meat, and Vennet builds strange totems from the bones. These feasts help to assuage the effect of the famine, and serve as an occasion to retell the old stories and sing the old songs handed down from their Firian ancestors, from before the coming of the Empire. Though the cult of the druids is banned by Imperial law, here in Sham it has taken root once more.

Nylian's father is recovering from his illness, and she devotes herself to helping him regain his former strength. He is pleased with how well she has managed the forge in his absence, and she is freed from the responsibility of overseeing the various specialist smiths who work under her father. Though the Kruthar savages continue to raid through the winter, she is now free to face them toe-to-toe and make them remember why they fear "the hammer girl." She and the Freestone brothers come to be seen by the militia as an elite squad that dives into the thickest fighting and leaps into berserker mobs and always returns with a trio of savage grins.

Ash and his men are likewise a welcome aid to the militia. Long experience has made them a solid fighting unit, but their greater contribution is the ability to inspire and organize the village warriors. With Ash, Spurlock, and Molin each taking charge of a squad of fighters, the barbarian raiders frequently find themselves outflanked, outfoxed, and out of luck. The Kruthar have always preferred to hit hard and carry off supplies, beasts, and victims as quickly as possible, before defenders can organize enough to return substantial losses. More and more, the savages are forced to strike quickly and withdraw immediately to avoid getting mired in a grueling battle. Before the Storm Moon is through, the raids grow less and less frequent, less and less determined, and the villagers of Sham can enjoy a measure of peace at last. 

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

A Bad Year for Sham

It's been a bad year for Sham.Early in the year, villagers were disappearing, abducted by goblyns and sacrificed to the chaos-god Zhothaqquah. Unnatural storms brought about a terrible flood in Spring, and a plague swept the region in Summer. The flooding from Spring, coupled with early frost and early snows in Autumn, have done serious damage to the crops. Worries about a possible famine were realized when a fire in the village destroyed much of the stored harvest, not to mention the buildings and lives consumed by the flames. Woodcutters are braving the winter snows, the worst in years, to help the village rebuild. The nearly constant harassment by Kruthar raiders means that militia volunteers are needed to guard the woodcutters each day, and more are needed to patrol the stockade each night. Before Winter is through, Desmond the Elder estimates that the population of Sham has been cut to half what it was the year before.

What this means to the party

To begin with, the famine and the fire means that upkeep costs are double throughout the winter.  Unfortunately, winter is also when we assess the cost of maintenance on the characters' houses - normally 10% of the house's value, but with the fire and all the cost is doubled to 20% - 100 silver coins for each house-owning PC.

Second of all, with the very existence of the village threatened, Nylian is highly motivated to take drastic measures against the Kruthar horde. The frequency of the raids suggests that they have established a nearby camp from which to strike, but the party can also strike out for the lair itself in the northern hills, to hit them where they live. If the party opts for this action, they'll have the choice of their usual tactics - a small, elite strike force conducting guerrilla raids against the barbarians - or they could attempt to raise an organized war-band to conduct a larger-scale military strike. The party might be able to convince Prontis Blackhart to lend some soldiers, but will probably have to recruit mercenaries from a larger city like Nemedia to make the army effective. That would be a time-consuming and expensive affair, and would drastically undermine the party's usual goal of nabbing maximum treasure and XP, but it remains an option.

Winter Expenses [revised because math hates my brain]

Food & essentials for long-term residence is normally 20/month, while long-term stabling & feed of horses is normally just 2/month. While the famine & shortage of both lumber & labor persist, these will be doubled to 40 and 4. The costs below will see to all needs through the Wolf Moon and the Storm Moon and have everyone stocked up for the Crow Moon, when we will resume play.

Ash has a house with three residents, three horses, and a mule. Between maintenance, stabling, food, and other essentials, he's shelling out 508 silver to cover the three months until the party can travel again.

Brianne and Morgana are assumed to be staying as Ash's guests, but I'm also assuming Brianne is chipping in for their expenses. Including her horse's stabling, she needs to pay 252 silver for the winter.

Nylian, if I recall correctly, has rooms for Vennet at her house, and they both have horses. Between the two of them, they'll have to cough up 364 silver.

Clementine has a house and horse, but lives by herself. 232 silver.

Bill doesn't have a horse, so he only needs 220. Svaarden and Gottfried are both listed as inactive, but they'd have the same expenses as Bill. 

Saturday, April 20, 2013


I'm re-posting this section for ease of reference

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, he remains unconscious and must continue to roll on each subsequent 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, the duration is extended to 2d6 weeks. If the existing injury has more than two weeks remaining, compounding the injury makes it permanent.

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/disfiguring -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.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Loving and Hating Hit Points

I love how simple hit points are as a mechanic. I hate how abstract they can be, especially as levels add up and totals rise. I love how easy it is to go from "6 damage? Run for your lives!" to "6 damage? Whatevs, I got this." I also hate it.

I love how, at low levels, players have good reason to avoid battles because one or two wounds could easily prove fatal. I hate seeing players burn through PCs like extra lives in a circa 1985 arcade game. (But I kinda love it, too.)

I love how, at high levels, players can press on through more dangers and get themselves deeper into the dungeon before they have to turn back and hope they didn't push their luck too far. I hate how the mechanic pushes toward either a slog of multiple melees in which the PCs are gradually whittled or a tac-nuke monster that barely cares that the PCs have leveled up.

I hate how environmental hazards, like fire, falling, and traps, wind up being less dangerous at higher levels just like melee. I hate how healing spells are less effective on high-level characters than on low-level ones.

I've tried to get around a few of these issues in my campaign. For example, I base most healing on hit dice - a Cure spell restores hit points equal to 1d6 + the recipient's hit dice (e.g. if you have 3 HD, it's 1d6+3). Likewise, a hazard that doesn't care how good you are at taking a hit in combat will roll your hit dice in damage (instead of "Save or die," you might call it "Save or possibly die, depending on the luck of the dice, and if you're already wounded the odds are against you, but hey you might get lucky").

I like the game being pretty gritty, but I like the odds in favor of survival - if the party survives by the skin of its collective teeth, I feel like everybody gets the maximum excitement. I respect the mathematical architecture of 4e - or Type IV, or whatever the kids call it nowadays - for providing that experience pretty reliably, but that math is pretty fragile, and a simple thing like changing the number or composition of the party can have dire consequences (this is what killed my attempt at a 4e campaign in its infancy, and eventually led me to the OSR).

I like to ramble, but I hate the fact that I'm rambling (and I like to end paragraphs with pointless parentheticals, for some reason).

So here's an idea the combine gritty, survive-by-the-skin-of-your-teeth action with that-was-exciting-now-let's-keep-going adventure. The idea is that PCs begin with a Hit Die full of hit points, as usual (and you can use your favorite Hit Die rules - max at first level, reroll 1s, variable or standard, whatever). When the PC would normally gain a new Hit Die, he adds +1 to his hit point maximum and gains a "reserve" point. A reserve point can be spent to recover a Hit Die's worth of hit points. You can't go above your maximum, as with any hit point recovery. Spending a reserve point this way should take a full turn of rest.

The idea is that every battle remains gritty and stark, although the PCs will gain an edge in toughness over time; but the more remarkable and heroic development is the reserves of strength that enable them to carry on even when hurt and exhausted. I envision a scenario in which the party finishes a battle and spends the rest of the round catching their breath and binding their wounds, and the players roll their reserve dice to discover who was simply running out of stamina and who has a serious injury.

I wouldn't implement this system for monsters. Monster Hit Dice are more related to the size and toughness of the monster than its melee skill, and there's no need for every PC mechanic to be paralleled in monster mechanics (that way lies the excess of 3.x). I'd probably give Reserves equal to HD to any monster that's a named individual (e.g. Brok the orc warlord, Anton the evil high priest, Skaldar the legendary ogre, and Azraphael the dragon). Everybody else is an extra, and runs by the book.

I'd love to test this system out, but I'm pretty sure my regular players would rebel if I imposed it on their long-standing characters. Maybe I can test it in some side project, like a scifi one-shot or something.