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2012-06-19 Alignment, Paladins


Here are some comments I left on various discussion on Google+:

Mike Evans wonders about paladins and suggests “What if you take your oath and drink the blood and poof you gain certain abilities to your class.”

That’s exactly how I handle it in my game. Plus, the abilities vary between gods. At the moment only one character ever swore to dedicate this life to the service of Mitra and thus various minor at will abilities were offered in return: light fire at will, a halo at will, detect the presence of liars at will, preventing the utterance of lies in your presence at will, the ability to make any oath by willing participants binding.

I also tied this to a separate subsystem of reputation – you needed to a service for Mitra to qualify forthe fire making ability, you needed to save a person for Mitra to qualify for the halo, you needed to save an entire village for Mitra in order to qualify for the binding oaths. (See 2011-12-20 Magic Without Spells.)

If you don’t want to do that, you could also tie it to levels: light fire at will (minimum level 1), a halo at will (minimum level 2), detect the presence of liars at will (minimum level 3), preventing the utterance of lies in your presence at will (minimum level 5), the ability to make any oath by willing participants binding (minimum level 7).

(The picture shows a self-declared paladin of Arden, a dead elven god that does not grant any powers at all. He threw himself into a bottomless pit as the other character who had fallen into the pit had been carrying the Chalice of Arden. I love my players.)

Scrap Princess wondered about Law vs. Chaos and asked “why is the original neutral/chaos/law alignment system such a beloved artefact?”

I said: Law vs. Chaos is beloved (ie. popular with some, reviled by others, discussed by all) precisely because it is contentious. All the simple things are easy to decide. The undecidable things attract our attention and focus our emotional energy. I think JRR Tolkien said something about all good stories needing unexplained things to keep people interested and that is why there is no explanation for Tom Bombadil – and see how he pops up again and again even though he seems to be unrelated to the greater story. So much so in fact that he didn’t make it into the movies.

I also happen to think that contentious, unexplained elements fuel discussions and thus these items remain in the popular consciousness. I think there is little contentiousness around ability scores. There is some contentiousness but it’s all explainable when it comes to hit zones. But the stuff that is actually discussed endlessly are levels (vs. skills), saving throws (abstract vs. Poison or more concrete Fortitude saves), hit points and alignment (as opposed to the simple ethics of good or bad deeds). I don’t believe these issues can be “settled” and therefore they keep getting discussed.

Thus, I don’t think there’s anything special about the alignment discussion. Alignment just happens to have these properties: contentious and unexplained.

As for myself, I want to like Law vs. Chaos but find that it rarely has an effect at the table.


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2012-06-20 Hexcrawl Procedure


On Google+, Jeff Rients recently wondered whether he was feeling dissatisfaction with his hexcrawl procedure. I’m interested in comparing notes. How do you run wilderness exploration?

When I read procedures like the ones Justin Alexander recently posted on his blog, I realize that my own procedures are super simple in comparison.

Here are the basics:

  • My player characters cannot get lost.
  • When non-player characters tell the player characters about a location, it gets placed on the map in the correct hex.
  • When player characters enter a hex searching for a particular structure they will always find it.
  • The default is one hex traveled per day unless there are roads (rarely) or they are traveling by ship along a coast (in which case it’ll be eight hexes per day). As it stands, this ignores movement speeds and hex size. You travel one hex per day, that’s it. I usually think that one hex is five miles, but players don’t need to know that.
  • Many hexes have a structure in them seeded by the Wilderlands of High Fantasy but I add One Page Dungeons, I place other stuff I got from the net or from books I bought, all the intelligent monsters on my encounter tables have a lair in the region, and I will add more structures when the party moves through the hex again if it seems plausible.
  • There’s a ⅙ chance for a random encounter during the day and another ⅙ chance for a random encounter during the night.
  • The encounter tables usually reflect the general region’s makeup. A typical region is an area of 5×5 hexes.

With this in place, players will usually learn about a new location from NPCs, decide to travel there, have one or two random encounters on the way providing side-quests, other plot-hooks and adding to the wilderness. After exploring the dungeon or doing whatever needs doing, the party will travel back, sometimes picking a different path for their way back in order to learn something about the area they’re in.

Thus the actual procedure at the gaming table is simple:

  1. When the players enter a new region, prepare a new random encounter table with eight to ten entries. See the Swiss Referee Style Manual for more information.
  2. Players tell me where they want to go. Roll 1d6 for a daylight encounter and 1d6 for a nighttime encounter for every hex traveled. Combine encounters if that spices things up. sardonic

That’s it.

If your procedure is more complicated, I’d love to know what you do and why you do it. Maybe it’s something I could add to my own procedure! :)


Comments on 2012-06-20 Hexcrawl Procedure

Personally I’ve not done any proper hex crawl style adventures since I was a kid, so I don’t have a procedure of my own.

I did notice this though: “When player characters enter a hex searching for a particular structure they will always find it.”

This is how I’m leaning towards handling secret doors these days. Players rarely search for them, and I feel it’s nice to reward it if they happen to look in the right place, whether by chance or by deduction.

Gavin 2012-06-21 21:52 UTC

That’s my approach to all thieving skills, bard skills, knowledge skills or whatever you want to call them. Unless there’s a very good reason to roll dice, I’d rather the characters know something or find something.

If you don’t run hex crawls, how does travel work in your campaigns? Is there a map with all the known locations on it, players point at their intended destinations and say “we go there” and you respond with “two weeks later, you finally reach the elven palace of Mirkwood?” Or do you have an abstract flow-chart like map that involves other locations to pass through—and potential encounters?

AlexSchroeder 2012-06-21 22:00 UTC

Well, the LL games I’ve run the last couple of years have involved very little overland travel – they were mostly centred around a huge city and a few surround areas. So, yeah, the few times the PCs went between places on a larger scale I just told them how long it took to get there and that was that.

Gavin 2012-06-22 17:57 UTC

As Claytonian JP and others said on Google+, humans can walk much further than five miles per day. Based on the d20 SRD Terrain and Overland Movement tables and the rumors you find on Google (such as the thread How far could the legions travel in a day where you’ll find people saying “the carolean army under normal circumstances marched between 20 and 30 kilometers a day with a days rest every other day, and they used the same means of transportation” ie. 6 to 10 miles per day or “Tacitus (or was it Iosephus Flavius? - I’m far away from my books) wrote, that the standard distance for a legionaire was 20,000 steps/day, […] the Roman pace or passus was 2 steps, total length of about 5 feet. Hence the mile is from millia passus or 1000 paces, 5000 feet” ie. 20 miles (on a Roman road).

As I said in the original post, however, it seems to me that the exact distances covered aren’t really necessary at the table. A day’s march is a day’s march and only the most basic logic needs to apply: how big of a detour would you take around a swamp of trackless forest? Will you save any time by not following the road? How much faster will you be by ship? How many hexes do you need to settle in order to build a castle?

AlexSchroeder 2012-07-13 15:23 UTC

Justin Alexander
There are a couple things I notice from your procedure:

(1) By using invariant movement rates, you are removing one of the major incentives my players have for investing in horses. I’ve found that horses can make for a lot of interesting gameplay ranging from the common (the security precautions necessary to make sure they don’t get eaten while waiting outside the dungeon) to the unique (over the past couple sessions I’ve had one player invest in a scheme by the Halfling Mafia run by another group of players to use illusion magic to disguise nags as high quality horses, which resulted in an entertaining sequence resulting from random tables in which a third player ended up buying three nags in a row from the same horse dealers)

In short, interesting trade-offs of encumbrance, expense, and logistics that I’ve found have interesting impacts on practical gameplay and interesting story outcomes.

(2) By limiting the number of potential encounters per day you are affecting the strategic/tactical balance of wilderness vs. dungeon gameplay. Probably not a big deal, but something to think about.

I make four checks per day, with cumulative odds of roughly 1/8, 1/8, ¹⁄₃₂, ¹⁄₃₂, ¹⁄₃₂, and ¹⁄₃₂. This totals a 38% chance of at least one encounter per day, which is not disparate from the 33% your 1/6 and 1/6 checks have. But I have a significantly higher chance of generating multiple encounters per day.

(None of which is to say “you’re wrong!”. I’m just answering your question about why I do things differently.)

@AlexSchroeder: I find the hexcrawl to be useful if exploration is the name of the game. If exploration isn’t the name of the game, then there’s generally a reliable map available that the PCs can base their travel plans on. This either takes the form of them planning their intended journey which I then prep with appropriate stops and scenery (either in detail or “montage”). Or it takes the form of a “flowchart” of decisions, although these are rarely preplanned.

Another way to look at it: If the game is structured around making a map, then I use a hexcrawl. If the game is about using a map, then I do travel montages or travel decision-points.

Justin Alexander 2012-07-14 21:08 UTC

Thanks for the comment, Justin.

Indeed, horses are a topic that I’ve been most frustrated with as a teenager playing AD&D 2nd ed and one or two years ago when I wanted to play a mounted archer using D&D 3.5. Taking care of horses always seemed like a chore. I’d be interested in giving it another try.

Currently, horses haven’t come up much. I guess this is due to two reasons:

  1. Terrain: My wilderness is mostly trackless mountains, forests and jungles. It seems to me that horses are better suited to plains and roads. Mules and donkeys might be more appropriate to my campaign.
  2. But even if I had more plains and roads in my setting, I’m thinking that using horses should not increase the distance covered per day. I know this is not what the SRD says, unfortunately. Based on what little I know horses need to rest much more often than humans or they’ll overheat and die.

Apparently horses are only faster if you can change them every so often and this is how the old communication networks did it: have manned stations along the roads where couriers can get fresh horses.

You are absolutely right regarding the number of encounters per day. The only fix I have is this: I roll for a few consecutive days of exploration and combine the results as I see fit. This mostly applies not when exploring the wilderness but when travelling from town to town or from town to dungeon and back.

Perhaps adding a simple additional step to my rule provides a similar result: Just roll for an additional random encounter whenever there is one? Keep rolling until there is no additional random encounter.

Interesting that you make a distinction between making and using a map when travelling. I confess I used travel montages exclusively when I ran adventure paths or just strung modules together. As soon as I started running my sandbox, however, I’ve used my hexcrawl procedure to cover all travel.

I guess I would not use my hexcrawl procedure if the party was moving through an area that was 100% safe. I’m not sure such an area exists in the Wilderlands of High Fantasy. I suspect it does not.

Perhaps I’ll change my approach if my players are getting tired of the constant stream of random stuff they meet on the road. This is something I’ve done in my D&D 3.5 game once the party reached level eight and nine: I just described how they sometimes saw orcs or lizardfolk patrols fleeing them and skipped random encounters unless they were moving through areas controlled by giants, dragons or vampires. Absolutely something to consider if my current campaign ever makes it to the mid levels.

AlexSchroeder 2012-07-14 23:07 UTC

Just found a hex crawl exploration procedure by John Bell. It seems somewhat complicated for my taste. I like the feel of keeping landmarks in sight, the roles of timekeeper and quartermaster and and the easiest path being randomly determined.

AlexSchroeder 2013-09-10 06:46 UTC

John Bell

The procedure’s actually pretty simple to run in practice. What makes it look complex is all the reminders to have people keep accurate records and to remember to ask the relevant questions. In play each chunk goes something like:

“Are we lost?” “No. You have the river on your right still.” “Where’s the path going?” “North.” “We’re going to head north at a normal march keeping the river on our right.” “K. Anybody want to talk with anybody else?” “Naw. Nothing’s changed since this morning.” “OK. You enter into a forest hex. You find some … lizard scales… just before you stop for your noon rest. Looks like a shed skin.” “Do we see the lizards?” “Nope. You want to search the hex?” “No.” “K. You take a noon rest. Mark off a ration of food and water for everyone.”

It just looks complicated when written out.

John Bell 2013-09-10 17:51 UTC

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2012-06-25 Monster Stats


Google+ feels like a big torrent of discussion—and just like forums, Facebook and Twitter it seems to me that little things I said I would like to come back to are lost. Not even I can find them anymore! In an effort to remember some of the things I said, I’m going to copy some stuff to this blog of mine.

Evan Elkins of In Places Deep wondered about the stats needed to run a monster.

Here is an example from my submission to Fight On!:

Bel, Slayer of Men (HD 10; AC 2; Atk 1 flaming whip (no damage but on a hit it grants +4 on the hit with the sword in the same round and on a 20 it disarms the opponent), 1 flaming sword (3d6); MV 9; flaming aura deals an extra 1d6 to everybody nearby; immune to non-magic weapons; immune to fire)

Atk lists damage and any other special abilities which take effect upon a hit whereas the special abilities listed at the end are spells and other abilities that can be used in addition to or instead of actual attacks.

At first I also wanted to add Labyrinth Lord style saving throws: F5 and the like, but then I looked at Swords & Wizardry and decided a simple save (SV) would be good enough and simpler to use. Then I discovered that the save was simple to determine based on HD and I decided to not include it at all. If this was a monster manual I was writing, I’d add it as well.

I feel bad for not having added morale (ML). I find that morale is extremely important when playing old school games. It’s not hard to improvise: cowards use 5, weaklings use 6, men use 7, well led humanoids use 8, disciplined use 9, fanatics use 10, lunatics use 11, unnatural creatures use 12. When sustaining the first loss and when having lost half the number, but no more than twice per fight, roll 2d6. If you roll over the morale score, they break and run or do a fighting retreat depending on alignment.

I didn’t add % in Lair. At first I felt bad because I liked the idea. The number can be used when facing an empty hex map that hasn’t been “stocked” with lairs, yet. As characters encounter creatures, the lairs get placed. Then I thought I could use a simple ⅙ chance to place lairs. The differing % in Lair numbers mean that some lairs of creatures on the random encounter tables will be hard to find because apparently the creatures travel a lot. But how much difference would this make at the table? Now I feel pretty good about dropping this stat.

I also didn’t add hit-points because I prefer rolling them at the table. What I hate is sorted hit-points for a group of enemies, ie. 2, 3, 3, 4, 5, 5, 6. Do I need to mix it up again? Do the weaker ones just fall first? What I usually do is throw a handful of dice when combat starts and whenever a creature is hit that doesn’t have hit-points, I quickly roll for them and subtract the first damage roll.

Finally, let me plug the Old School Monster Wiki: Campaign:Monsters.


Comments on 2012-06-25 Monster Stats

These days I use the following when copying stats into my prep notes:

10 orcs HD 1 AC 7 1d6 F1 MV 12 ML 7 XP 5

Number, hit dice, armor class (descending: 9 unarmored, 7 leather, 5 chain, 3 plate), damage, save (fighter, cleric magic-user or thief; if unsure, use 19-HD±2), movement rate (multiply by 10 to get feet per round of combat or turn of exploration underground), or yards per turn exploring outside), morale (6 are cowards, 7 humanoids, 8 well led, 10 bosses), XP (for convenience; alternatively, use HD×100).

AlexSchroeder 2013-09-17 06:45 UTC

That’s pretty similar to the old TSR statblocks which look like this:

1-4 Shadows*: AC 7; HD 2+2; hp 10 each; MV 90’ (30’); #AT 1 touch; D 1d4 + drain 1 point of strength for 8 turns; Save F2; ML 12; AL C; xp 35 each; THACO 17; BD36.

I have not figured out what the star behind the name means, probably ‘special abilities not listed here’.

Harald 2013-09-18 17:41 UTC

Definitely. I’m just trying to save bytes when scribbling notes. :)

In B/X, each special ability was worth a star, and HD plus stars was used to determine xp. As this monster already comes with xp, I’m not sure why the stars were kept.

AlexSchroeder 2013-09-19 07:43 UTC

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2012-06-27 Mystara


I got interested in Mystara after reading the reviews by Lowell Francis, seeing the new maps on Bruce Heard’s blog and the other maps by Thorfinn Tait. If only the printed copies were not so expensive. I checked eBay and felt that the price was far beyond what I was willing to pay.

The argument I find convincing from Francis’ last thoughts on the gazeteers:

IMHO Forgotten Realms and some of other recent settings aspire to be Tolkien-esque: historical, detailed, logically consistent, rich and deadly serious. The Gazetteers and Mystara as a whole take another approach. They’re closer in tone to earlier D&D material. […] I do believe that lighter tone makes the setting feel more accessible, more friendly. As bizarre as it might sound, given some of the horrors in the setting, I feel like Mystara’s a good and happy place. I feel like my characters would be welcome there- and could make a difference.

I think I’m appreciating this more right now because when I try to describe my Labyrinth Lord campaign with the Shields Shall Be Splintered and Death and Dismemberment house rule, I often fall back on the images of murder hobos and killer clowns. It’s deadly and dangerous and in order to deal with all this danger and their flawed characters, players are ingenius, ideas are awesome, events are goofy, and we have a great time at the table. I’d say retro-stupid according to Jeff Rient’s threefold model.

I’ve seen this sentiment expressed on another blog, recently:

Slapstick isn’t something anyone would ever imagine adding to fantasy, it’s been quietly ignored in all D&D licensed comics, books and movies, it makes no sense - and it works. The massive infusion of humour and unpredictability it adds is totally vital to RPG’s as I play them. – Critical Fail by Rotten Pulp


Comments on 2012-06-27 Mystara

Bruce Heard
Dear Alex. I’m glad you enjoy the work I do, however, in the future I would prefer you only posted a link to my maps, rather than posting them directly on your site. Many thanks.

Bruce Heard 2012-06-27 14:05 UTC

No problem. I’ll use a map of mine instead.

AlexSchroeder 2012-06-27 14:23 UTC

Bruce Heard
Or you could use a thumbnail. Cheers! :-)

Bruce Heard 2012-06-27 17:40 UTC

Bruce Heard
You can upload a portion of the map from here: https://docs.google.com/open?id=0ByHsRdpWU3qeQXJjSm1vb2xoU0U This would help illustrate your page.

Bruce Heard 2012-06-28 17:43 UTC

Thanks, Bruce. No worries about the map. :)

AlexSchroeder 2012-06-28 21:41 UTC

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2012-06 Book Club

What: Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts

When: 20 June, 19:30 – RSVP on Meetup (optional ;))

Where: Bistro Lochergut (tram 2+3 ‘Lochergut’)

In 1978, gifted student and writer Greg Roberts turned to heroin when his marriage collapsed, feeding his addiction with a string of robberies. Caught and convicted, he was given a nineteen-year sentence. After two years, he escaped from a maximum- security prison, spending the next ten years on the run as Australia’s most wanted man. Hiding in Bombay, he established a medical clinic for slum- dwellers, worked in the Bollywood film industry and served time in the notorious Arthur Road prison. He was recruited by one of the most charismatic branches of the Bombay mafia for whom he worked as a forger, counterfeiter, and smuggler, and fought alongside a unit of mujaheddin guerrilla fighters in Afghanistan. His debut novel, SHANTARAM, is based on this ten-year period of his life in Bombay. The result is an epic tale of slums and five-star hotels, romantic love and prison torture, mafia gang wars and Bollywood films. A gripping adventure story, SHANTARAM is also a superbly written meditation on good and evil and an authentic evocation of Bombay life.

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