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2016-10-28 Classifying Treasure and Number Appearing

I’m still working on my Monster Manual. Up to dragon! Until now, I just wrote whatever I felt like into the treasure line. For giant apes, for example, I wrote the following:

Treasure: When encountered in a ruined temple, they might have collected some shiny stuff. 20% for 1d4x1000 silver, 30% for 1d6×1000 gold, 10% for 1d6×100 platinum, 10% for 1d6 gems, 10% for 1d6 jewelry.

Basically I as myself some question:

  1. is going to steal from common people? → more silver
  2. is it going to steal from rich people? → more gold
  3. is connected to ancient empires or elves? → more platinum
  4. super rich stuff? → more gems
  5. ostentatious stuff? → more jewelry

At the same time, I wonder about numbers appearing. For bugbears, I wrote:

Numbers: 1d12. Typically you will encounter a small Commando or scouts. Where they are found, their elven masters are not far behind. If they are not in the service of anybody, they are elusive and hard to find.

But for dwarves, this will have to be more complicated, however. Perhaps I can use a table like the following for all people but vary the die? A sort of classification of numbers appearing… Something like: bugbears use 1d4, gnomes use 1d4+1, halflings use 1d4+2, bandits use 1d6, elves use 1d6, humans use 1d8.

  1. Lone scout
  2. Scout party (1d4+1)
  3. Encampment (2d6)
  4. War Party (3d10)
  5. Hamlet or keep (5d6)
  6. Village or castle (5d8)
  7. Town and tower (3d6x10)
  8. Large town and castle (5d6x10)

I’m still unsure of where I want to go with this. I guess the two tables should be related? Dwarves in a city have a triple A treasure, a war party probably only has a bit (or 24% for coming back with lots of loot?), a lone scout has nothing, right? That’s the part in the traditional monster manuals where they say you should adjust treasure and take into account the number of creatures encountered. I want it codified!

Discussion on Google+, or here. :)


Comments on 2016-10-28 Classifying Treasure and Number Appearing

I started drawing up a lot of tables until I discovered that I actually don’t want to roll on three or four tables in order to figure out whether the party runs into a small group of scouts, a war band, or whether it discovers a settlement. It’s too much work. So I think I’m going to fall back on typical Labyrinth Lord numbers. Maybe write a suggestion for what larger settlements would entail.

– Alex Schroeder 2016-10-29 01:59 UTC

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2016-10-18 Sandbox Link

An excellen introduction to the Sandbox at Raven Crowking’s Nest. I has a number of links, starting with what is great about the Sandbox and discussing the rules that enable it, and the rules that thwart it.


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2016-10-15 Common House Rules

Dave Baymiller presents his house rules for common situations on Google+ and asks for how we do this. Here’s what I said:

Climbing: anybody can climb without armor if there are good handholds. Otherwise, only thieves using their thieving ability (I use 1d6 with numbers similar to Hear Noise).

Disguises: anybody can disguise themselves. The particular situations he listed have never come up in my game, so no rulings. I’d probably simply use a Reaction Check. Neutral = Suspicious. Positive = They fall for it.

Interrogation: we just talk at the table for a bit, no dice rolling. If trust is required, I let them make a Reaction Check. Positive = they trust you to help them out and are ready to make deals.

Languages: the common tongue for anybody, a few basic words for elves and dwarves as per the book, an extra language per Int bonus, to be picked whenever it’s convenient. A kind of Schrödinger language slots: you don’t know which languages the character knows until you look. :)

Swimming: anybody can swim without armor. With armor, save vs. death every round or drown.

Torture: I ask the players what they want to hear. Then I say that this is exactly what their victim is saying after the maltreatment. And if they want to go into the details, I tell them I don’t want to hear about it. Ugh!

Scars: I use a Death & Dismemberment table with limb loss and one particular entry that has the loss of eyes, ears, nose, teeth… We don’t have simple scars.


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2016-10-08 Monster List

Sometimes I wonder about writing and illustrating my own monster manual. Basically for Halberds and Helmets – I don’t really need it for anything. When I run my game, I usually refer to the Labyrinth Lord monster list and if that doesn’t help, I’ll get up and get the Advanced Edition Companion (which only ever helps for a handful of creatures) from the shelf, or rarer still, the Rules Cyclopedia. By then I usually notice that I lost focus and the game is dragging, so I try to stop doing that.

What I need, I think, is my own monster list, my own illustrations, my own treasure tables, and so on. Something specific to my campaigns.

One place to start looking would be M20 Hard Core where I tried to simplify monsters and their damage is always d6 based (sometimes multiple dice).

So, looking at the Labyrinth Lord monster list…

  • Ant, Giant. Boring; who needs them? Use giant bees instead? Formians for Planescape?
  • Ape, Albino Ape, Giant. Yes please, excellent guards for hobgoblins and others.
  • Baboon, Higher. Just use more albino apes?
  • Basilisk. Definitely, an interesting solo monsters early in the game.
  • Bat. Boring. When have they ever been anything but a nuisance? And how do giant bats even fight a party in the dungeon?
  • Bear. Yes please. Remember I wrote some spells for bear magic, Ursomancy. Also, war bears used by dwarves.
  • Bee, Giant Killer. Yes please, interesting wilderness encounters and mission generators for low level parties. Maybe this can handle giant ants and giant wasps.
  • Beetle, Giant. Yes please, tough dungeon encounters for low level parties
  • Black Pudding. I don’t know, sounds more like a trap to me?
  • Blink Dog. Blinking makes for a frustrating fight and they’re lawful so most parties won’t fight them?
  • Boar. I don’t know. Maybe. Perhaps we need more halflings and dwarves riding on boars and goats. I guess we need goats, too?
  • Bugbear. Definitely. Evil sneaky bastards, yes please!
  • Camel. I don’t know. For a desert game instead of horses? Or just use horse stats instead? They seem to be a bit slower and do a bit less damage than riding horses. Using horse stats seems reasonable.
  • Carcass Creeper. Definitely. Eight paralyzingly attacks is a classic.
  • Cat, Large. Yeah, why not.
  • Centaur. I never used them, but they’re a classic.
  • Centipede, Giant. I used them countless times.
  • Chimera. I’ve never used them but I think I need Greek myth represented.
  • Cockatrice. A classic. But… It’s the same as the basilisk! “The cockatrice hight Basiliscus in Greek, and Regulus in Latin” says Bartholomaeus Anglicus [1]
  • Crab, Giant. Yes please!
  • Crocodile. Yeah. Also, useful as dinosaur stand-ins.
  • Cyclops. I like Greek myth. Then again, why not just use giants?
  • Demon Boar. Best boar ever. Maybe a general demon to fight? Actually, just one of the boar variants.
  • Doppelgänger. Classic.
  • Dragon. Classic! Sleeping dragons, surrendering dragons, spell-casting dragons, dragon age… I don’t know. Just use the dragon stats as is and you’re good.
  • Dragon Turtle. I used it once, but not as a classic monster. Talk to this mountain or die, basically…
  • Dryad. They can’t move away from their tree. I don’t know whether that makes them useful monsters?
  • Dwarf. Of course.
  • Efreeti. As I said above, yes please.
  • Elemental. As I said above, replace them all with genies. This also makes the spell conjure elemental much more interesting. The division into three kinds of elementals based on whether you used a staff, or another magic item, or a spell, is useless.
  • Elephant. I never used it. Have you? But perhaps… But does keeping the elephant mean I should also keep the camel?
  • Elf. Of course. Maybe have more of them in the wilderness? I guess in general I think I need to have numbers for patrols and settlements. A group of 2d12 elves sounds cool. No towns larger than 24 is strange… Perhaps that just needs an adjustment for my campaign. Or perhaps I’m simply wrong and 24 elves is good enough?
  • Ettin. Another classic.
  • Ferret, Giant. I don’t think I ever used it. Another riding animal for halflings and dwarves like the boards? Perhaps… Then again, who cares about the differences between giant ferrets and giant weasels? Weasels it is!
  • Fish, Giant. I never used them. Underwater adventures usually don’t involve fish in my game.
  • Fly, Giant Carnivorous. Just use giant killer bees?
  • Gargoyle. A classic.
  • Gelatinous Cube. Sounds more like a trap, if you ask me. They show up often enough in my games, but as a monster, they’re actually boring.
  • Ghoul. Classic! Elves being immune to their paralysis is weird, though. Where does that come from?
  • Giant. Yes please! I like simple hill giants shepherds, weird stone giants magic users, ferocious fire giants smiths and warriors, and classic mythic frost giants. I think cloud and storm giants are a bit lame, but cloud giants are the lamest. Also, sometimes I want norse mythology giants. How does that work? Or is any creature from 15 HD upwards practically semi-divine in D&D terms?
  • Gnoll. I don’t know where hyena men come from but now that they have arrived in my game, I like them.
  • Gnome. I like them as sillier intelligent encounters. I like my gnomes with long red hats. Does that mean I need giant badgers?
  • Goblin. I don’t know. I liked the Pathfinder goblins. But do I need goblins to be different from orcs? Maybe not.
  • Golem. Yes! But what kind of golem? I think I keep using golems stats for all kinds of artificial monsters. Looking at the Labyrinth Lord golems, I think I have no use for amber golems and I wonder about those huge bronze golems filled with molten metal. But OK, why not.
  • Gorgon. I was always confused (and not alone) about the Gorgon. Wow, I just fixed a reference on Wikipedia for Gorgon!
  • Gray Ooze. I don’t know. All these slimes and oozes. Are they interesting as monsters? I used a gray ooze as a trap. It’s always funny when I reply to a question about the environment with “the room looks super clean… as if somebody had licked it clean, in fact.” But as I said above, it feels like a trap and the exact AC and HD and all that don’t really seem to matter much.
  • Gray Worm. Is this a Dune sand worm? I don’t know. But I like worms.
  • Green Slime. Another trap.
  • Griffon Gryphon. Another mount or pet. Perhaps these need to be in a separate category. (Googling for “gryphon” gives me the right images, googling for “griffon” gives me dogs, so gryphon it is.)
  • Halfling. Yes!
  • Harpy. Another Greek classic.
  • Hawk. Useless? Is this for the one time the party gets shrunk to mouse size? Or as a pet? What about crows? Owls?
  • Hellhound. I need those for the fire giants.
  • Herd Animals. Use horses and you’re good to go.
  • Hippogriff. Another Greek classic. Or is it? The Wikipedia disagrees and mentions that the Greeks knew a similar creature named Hippalektryon. Who cares about their hunger for Pegasus meat.
  • Hobgoblin. I like well organized humanoids. Too bad they have practically no visuals to recommend them. Large goblins are orcs? Elite orcs?
  • Horse. We definitely need a list of pets and mounts.
  • Hydra. A classic.
  • Insect Swarm. An interesting fight for low level characters. But I still prefer giant bees (or wasps).
  • Invisible Stalker. There’s a spell that goes along with it and I like it.
  • Jinni. Classic! I want the other genies, too. Efreeti, Dao and Marid. But sometimes I feel that they should replace elementals entirely. Elementals are boring. Actually I only ever used air and fire genies.
  • Kobold. I like dog men. I like fairies. But little lizard people? I don’t know. So we have kobolds and lizard men, goblins and orcs, halflings and humans… It’s a bit weird.
  • Leech, Giant. Definitely!
  • Lizard, Giant. Maybe one, as a mount?
  • Lizardfolk. Sure! I keep using them.
  • Locust, Subterranean. I never used it.
  • Lycanthrope. A classic! I usually limit myself to werewolves, though.
  • Manticore. A classic. Yes!
  • Mastodon. Perhaps if you want a stone age game? Wolf Packs and Winter Snow, for example.
  • Medusa. Greek myth classic!
  • Men Human. Do we really need the subtypes? Perhaps we need a bit more about the various groups we can encounter in the wilderness. Or this: roll 1d100×10 for size (or use the gem table?); make a reaction check without modifier: negative = bandits, raiding party, marauding mercenaries or robber knight; neutral = a community fallen on hard times, eager for cash; positive = a mill, a guest house, a trading post, a village, then apply reaction bonus and see how they react to the party.
  • Merfolk. Underwater adventures don’t need merfolk.
  • Minotaur. Greek classic. Also a good potential class for new player characters?
  • Morlock. Underground men?
  • Mule. Horse?
  • Mummy. A classic. The mummy rot is usually lame in my games, though. So perhaps we need to add some more punch to mummies?
  • Neanderthal. No stone age stuff.
  • Nixie. I like.
  • Ochre Jelly. Trap.
  • Octopus, Giant. Yes! Then again, I like the giant squid stats better and there only needs to be one creature with a lot of attacks.
  • Ogre. A classic brute.
  • Orc. My pig men!
  • Owl Bear. It’s very D&D but then again, I think bears are good enough.
  • Pegasus. More pets and mounts.
  • Phase Tiger. It’s weird. Forget about the blink dog enmity.
  • Pixie. Yes.
  • Pterodactyl. I have never used dinosaurs in my game.
  • Purple Worm. This is the near divine sand worm, perhaps? My current thinking is that HD 15 and above indicates some sort of divinity or natural force. The Labyrinth Lord entry says the worm is 100’ long or more. The Wikipedia entry says: “Sandworms grow to hundreds of meters in length, with specimens observed over 400 meters (1,312 ft) long and 40 meters (131 ft) in diameter”. I don’t know. Perhaps we should keep them but change them to sand worms. Or perhaps sand worms should be a setting specific thing and since they don’t appear in my game, I can just leave them off.
  • Rat. Who fights rats? It’s lame.
  • Rhagodessa, Giant. It’s a giant spider and it should be listed under spiders.
  • Rhinoceros. Unless we have rhino riding giants?
  • Roc. I’ve never used it and if I did, I wouldn’t have people fight them. HD 36? That’s divine levels.
  • Rot Grub. It’s a trap.
  • Rust Monster. It’s a trap.
  • Salamander. I don’t know about frost salamanders but flame salamanders show up in my games all the time.
  • Scorpion, Giant. Yes please!
  • Sea Serpent. I used a plesiosaur in a game of mine but I should have used sea serpents instead.
  • Shadow. Yes! Two dimensional beings are great and need to be used more often.
  • Shark. The only fish you need for your underwater adventure. Die, bone fish, die!
  • Shrew, Giant. More rats? No thank you.
  • Shrieker. A random encounter generator? Sounds like a trap to me.
  • Skeleton. Yes.
  • Snake. I usually just need the Giant Python, Conan style.
  • Spectre. Nazgûl. Cool!
  • Sprite. Another name for pixies?
  • Squid, Giant. It has better stats than the giant octopus. Who wants to roll 1d3 when they could be rolling 1d4 instead?
  • Statue, Animate. Is that the same as robots? As golems? I’m conflicted.
  • Stegosaurus. No dinosaurs.
  • Stirge. A classic.
  • Throghrin. Never used it.
  • Titanothere. No stone age rhinos.
  • Toad, Giant. Yes please.
  • Treant. Ents. Cool!
  • Triceratops. No dinosaurs.
  • Troglodyte. What are these, evil cave frog men?
  • Troll. My favorite. Guarding “guardians of places of transition: bridges, mountain passes, magical gates,” as Brian puts it.
  • Tyrannosaurus Rex. No dinosaurs.
  • Unicorn. As a pet or mount? OK.
  • Vampire. The best!
  • Weasel, Giant. Another pet or mount option.
  • Whale. Who fights whales? Is this a sick whaler RPG? No!
  • Wight. Yes, I want barrow wights!
  • Wolf. Absolutely. And dire wolves or worgs, too.
  • Wraith. More undead stuff, yay.
  • Wyvern. Why have small poisonous dragons when you can have real dragons?
  • Yellow Mold. Yet another trap.
  • Zombie. Yes of course.

OK, so with that I have a list of monsters to illustrate and practice my iPad pen, haha. I’ll be adding these to Google+ while I work on them and then, when I’m ready, I’ll do my monster manual.

I think I also have to add some demons and devils to this monster manual but we’ll see about that.


Comments on 2016-10-08 Monster List

Oh goody! Now we can disagree about something meaningful and important!

For me, as I mentioned on G+, what made a creature for me was the art I saw about it, or it’s excellent use in a story or movie. So for a lot of these, I can point to a particular piece of art that really made these cool to my eyes:

Elephants - I use ‘em all the time. They let the PCs know that they’re not in Kansas (or generic-replica-of-medieval-Wester-Europe-#846). Also: https://thevelvetrocket.files.wordpress.com/2010/05/frank_frazetta_the_mammoth.jpg

Ferret, Giant - mounts? Oh, hell yes! https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/564x/d8/b2/90/d8b2909c633c966e08d9dd38d671161a.jpg

Goblins - there’s a great pic of a swarm of goblins carrying wicked-looking hammers in Alan Lee’s Castles book. (Can’t find a link, alas.) Since then, goblins have been my Underdark budget smiths, mass-producing cheap weapons for every dark wizard’s slave army. When they weren’t these guys: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/9b/3b/69/9b3b691e6db380b3316e2382bcce069b.jpg

Hawk - they make awesome pets, lending an air of aristocracy to the owner: http://s3.amazonaws.com/auteurs_production/images/film/ladyhawke/w1280/ladyhawke.jpg

Hippogriff - everyone with a pegasus mount cares about a hippogriff’s love of pegasus meat.

Hobgoblin - was always meh on these guys until I saw di Terlizzi’s take: http://diterlizzi.com/home/wp-content/gallery/games/1993_hobgoblin.jpg

Lycanthrope - I mostly limited myself to werewolves as well, until I saw this by Elmore: http://www.larryelmore.com/core/imgs/prints/DND-ENDLESSQUEST-RETURN-TO-BROOKMERE.jpg

Roc - not for fighting, but rather to pick up the PCs’ trireme and flying it across the sea. Also, epic mounts for giants.

Very much looking forward to seeing your take on the critters that made your cut. :D

Brian 2016-10-08 20:36 UTC

Oh, and almost forgot, you said, “…and I wonder about those huge bronze golems filled with molten metal.”

Have you seriously never seen this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LxA3wFYxUB8

Brian 2016-10-08 20:39 UTC

Yes, sadly I have not seen a single Harryhausen movie! :)

Your links to art samples make a good point. I’m not sure the hawk needs stats but you are right about the nobility of keeping birds of prey!

Perhaps I should use more elephants… I love that mammoth (?) pic.

– Alex Schroeder 2016-10-08 21:07 UTC

Regarding ghoul paralysis, as I’ve heard it explained, a ghoul’s touch paralyzes because it is the touch of the grave. It is a psychological effect rather than physiological one. The victim of a ghoul’s touch can’t move, they see their loved ones about them mourning, they see the coffin lid close, they hear the dirt hitting the lid, they feel the worms & beetles burrowing into their flesh and no one can hear their screams. With that in mind, elves are extremely long lived, if not immortal, so the grave holds lesser fear for them than it does for more mortal races.

– Steve 2016-10-08 23:20 UTC

Oh wow, interesting! I had not heard of that before. Definitely an image I must use. :)

– Alex Schroeder 2016-10-09 07:24 UTC

Moving the entries I have into a separate Referee Guide PDF.

– Alex Schroeder 2016-10-16 11:18 UTC

Martin Kallies wrote The Monster in its natural habitat, “the most useful presentation of a monster is something that inspires encounters and adventures based around the creature” – and I agree. But then he goes on that he wants art to show “the creatures in action, in a context that suggests situations to steal for my own campaign” and I’m not so sure about that. Not only am I sadly unqualified to produce the necessary art, but I also don’t study the images carefully. I fear an action shot would provide input for a tactical setup: darkness, ledges, two dogs, snow, moon, lake side, campfire… I don’t know. Those are not the things I’m looking for. I’m looking for “these are the spells the Jinn will teach you” and “orcs will use boars to guard their villages”. I think the focus is not on the scene but on the background. I don’t care about Modron military organization, but I do care about a typical unit my party would encounter, and I’d love to hear what they might be thinking and saying. Are the bugbears willing scouts of the dark elves? Apparently they are!

– Alex Schroeder 2016-10-24 17:23 UTC

Collecting the monster manual entries on Google+ using a hash tag. My Drawing G+ Collection.

– Alex Schroeder 2016-11-10 09:29 UTC

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2016-09-23 RPG Modules and LaTeX

I just saw an impressive LaTeX class for B/X adventures in a private share on Google+.

I’ve been using a different, much simpler class by +Peter Fröhlich, latex-bx.

Sadly, I didn’t get far with Raising a God.

I’m not even sure I want “a tool for authors to typeset RPG modules in a style reminiscent of the old-school adventures of the 1980s” – I like the Tufte class I’ve used elsewhere, eg. Halberds-and-Helmets.pdf.

But there are probably many ideas worth stealing in there. For example, all the stats of all the B/X monsters. Then again, I might as well go back to writing some more instead of tinkering with the tools.

But now that I’m trying to install a new class, I’m running into problems with my LaTeX installation.

alex@Megabombus:~$ tlmgr update --list
Unknown directive ...containerchecksum c59200574a316416a23695c258edf3a32531fbda43ccdc09360ee105c3f07f9fb77df17c4ba4c2ea4f3a5ea6667e064b51e3d8c2fe6c984ba3e71b4e32716955... , please fix it! at /usr/local/texlive/2014/tlpkg/TeXLive/TLPOBJ.pm line 210, <$retfh> line 5579.

I need to get the latest TeX installed. And since I’m really into Homebrew:

alex@Megabombus:~$ brew search texlive
Installing TeX from source is weird and gross, requires a lot of patches,
and only builds 32-bit (and thus can't use Homebrew dependencies)

We recommend using a MacTeX distribution: https://www.tug.org/mactex/

You can install it with Homebrew Cask:
  brew cask install mactex
alex@Megabombus:~$ brew cask install mactex
==> Downloading http://mirror.ctan.org/systems/mac/mactex/mactex-20160603.pkg
######################################################################## 100,0%
==> Verifying checksum for Cask mactex
==> Running installer for mactex; your password may be necessary.
==> Package installers may write to any location; options such as --appdir are ignored.

Later, run TeX Live Utility and select Update All Packages. All of this will take a long time.

And finally, you probably want to trash the older installations?

alex@Megabombus:~$ du -sh /usr/local/texlive/*
4,2G	/usr/local/texlive/2013
4,5G	/usr/local/texlive/2014
4,7G	/usr/local/texlive/2016
584K	/usr/local/texlive/texmf-local

The key to installing extra packages on a Mac is finding the right directory:

alex@Megabombus:~$ cd Library/texmf/tex/latex/
alex@Megabombus:~/Library/texmf/tex/latex$ unzip /Users/alex/Downloads/rpg-module.zip 


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2016-09-13 Rescuing the Sandbox

I’ve blogged quite a bit about running a Sandbox, and I’ve added my Swiss Referee Style Manual to my house rule document, Halberds and Helmets, which also has some points on how I run my sandbox. And yet, perhaps the author of the Sandboxes and Quagmires blogpost is right: we should also talk about failure modes and how to prevent them. +Ed Ortiz mentions the following problems:

  1. players monopolizing the plot, or more generally:
  2. players competing for plot
  3. players paralyzed by too much choice, or maybe
  4. players unable to choose for lack of information
  5. players mistaking a sandbox for laissez faire

What works at my table:

Clearly establish which plot elements belong to which character. This is how we make sure that plot time is distributed fairly even though many players have a thing going. It sounds weird, but saying it at the table makes it easier for people to make fair decisions. Resurrecting Arden is Johannes’ plot element. Building the ivory tower is Claudia’s plot element. Going after bandits is Flavio’s plot element. Sometimes it isn’t easy to say. Samuel is easy going and he seems mostly interested in spreading poisonous giant frogs wherever he goes, for Tsathoggua. Michael is mostly interested in getting treasure and better armor and avoid all dangers. (Chicken!) Lilly is new and hasn’t found her thing, yet. Stefan is interested in things, but I haven’t felt a particular push in any direction. But, knowing that we’ve done a number of sessions pursuing Johannes’ plot, it makes it easier to say that the next few sessions will be about Claudia’s plot, out of the game. This is not an in-game decision.

Explicitly list open plots and ask for preferences concerning the next session. Even if players cannot decide, or no majority can be found, at least you can prepare for one of them and tell people that you’ve decided that they were going to go after X. Narrate the transition and off you go. It’s not “pure” sandbox—the players can see the man behind the curtain when they read their emails, but I don’t think that’s a problem. They couldn’t make up their mind and the referee picked Limbo and Slaads for the next adventure. If you didn’t like it, why didn’t you say so when you got the email? Sometimes this will fail and the referee will have to improvise. It happens. It’s OK. But this is important to me: This, too, is not an in-game decision.

Provide enough information. When I recently listed the open plots, I provided more information than the characters actually had available at the time. It went something like this: You could a) go look for the Formian city mentioned by the slaad spies and try and prevent the spread of the iron shadow, or b) visit Limbo, the home turf of the slaad, looking for a grey elf wizard who supposedly researched the iron shadow, or c) learn more about said grey elf wizard by visiting his home town in the astral sea, or d) continue exploring the mirror labyrinth (and stumbling into the Red and Pleasant Land, which I didn’t tell them). Provide more information than is strictly available in-game.

Make sure there are consequences and announce them. You don’t have to be super explicit, but if you take the golem armor made of old brass magic off the dead dwarven hero and envoys ask you to give it back, and you don’t, and instead you write a letter to the dwarf clan saying that you’ll wear it and use it wisely—then there will be consequences. The enjoys will fume. The scribe will shake his head. And the campaign news page will describe the dwarfs raising an expeditionary force of about two hundred dwarves and there will be interesting sessions ahead. Make sure that interesting actions have interesting consequences and make sure your players know.


Comments on 2016-09-13 Rescuing the Sandbox

The blog post by Jens D. and the discussion on G+ left me confused, however.

For example: “What happens when people are allowed to do what they want? […] They start thinking that there are no (social?) rules at all and - in a worse case scenario - you’ll get anarchy. […] I’ve seen it happening […]” – what? That sounds like very dysfunctional people. How about talking to them? “A sandbox game is different to those traditional games in that it takes away as many limitations as possible, beginning by the world and going as far as designing rules towards the same principle.” Huh? “The DM should provide a strong sense of place and culture, so they know where they come from and a just as strong sense of the stories people tell, so they know where they are headed.” Huh?

As I said, I felt like I was reading a blog post from a different gaming culture that had used all the words I was used to in surprising ways.

– AlexSchroeder 2016-09-13 22:53 UTC

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2016-09-13 Positioning

Recently, Brendan wrote about character roles in Roles for common adventurer jobs. Basically, players write on their character sheet, if their character always does this or that. It’s like an Instinct in Burning Wheel. The example Brendan picks is positioning. Characters can “always” be part of the Vanguard, Rearguard, a Scout, or a Torchbearer.

I like the general idea and I recently had a similar discussion at the table where a player said their character would always do this or that, and I thought of Burning Wheel’s instincts and said, that’s cool—write it down on your character sheet so that next time we won’t have to talk about it.

I’m not sure positioning requires this sort of mechanical support though. Does it lead to discussions at your table? I usually just start with assumptions: “So, it seemed like you were in the front, riding your raptor, right?” That’s when others can speak up and say that no, actually they were scouting. Or if nobody speaks up, then that’s that. Or something is going on at the front and I’ll ask, “So, was anybody guarding the back? I’m guessing the dwarf and thief and their retinue are in front by the door, right? So who’s in the back? Not the wizard? So it’s going to be your guys, Michael?” If find that this helps establish the situation, and since it is framed as a discussion, players will accept the resulting positioning more readily. They practically volunteer for this or that role, as we talk about the situation.

Thing I can’t do is “Roll for surprise, Michael, your guys are being attacked!” This will lead to players arguing that they weren’t there and all that. So I’ll ask who’s in the back, Michael agrees that it would have been his guys, and then I say, “OK, time to roll for surprise, then! One and two is bad!”

Brendan’s reply is that yes, these discussions take up a little table time because he wants to know before stuff happens – a bit like buying equipment before you know what you’ll need.

I guess I see it as a different thing because players know that they are volunteering for something bad to happen.

And I make similar decisions elsewhere: I don’t want to know about who takes which watch. I’ll roll for a random encounter, and for a random person on watch right then and there. They get to pick a friend who is up with them. So, “lazy” determination. Another example is sneaking: they only need to roll when there is somebody that can hear them. Again, “lazy” determination.

Since this doesn’t seem to hurt my immersion or suspension of disbelief, I am free to consider: is predetermination leading to an interesting trade-off? Buying and carrying equipment? Yes. Vanguard or Rearguard given that you don’t know from where the enemy will strike? Not so much.


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2016-09-01 NPC Treasure

I was wondering about non-player character treasure, on Google+. I like rolling on a table and I might say stuff like “this magic user is so powerful, I’ll just use the Vampire treasure type”. What else might I look into?

I knew about the treasure table in the Dungeon Masters Guide but I remember them resulting in a very different mix of magic items than has been common in my campaign.

So here’s my table.

Fighter, Dwarf, Elf, Halfling

This is stuff for a fighter that’s part of a non-player party, the leader of a few men. Armor appropriate to stature. This is what fighter levels usually mean in my campaign, and the bonus for the treasure table below.

Level Bonus Role
1+0guards, bandits
3+2veterans, village heroes, sergeants, squad commanders, leading ten men-at-arms
5+4town leaders, captains, company commanders, leading a unit of a hundred men-at-arms
7+6lieutenants, second-in-commands
9+8rulers of a castle, of a hex, of a tribe, barons

In the treasure table below, horses and chariots are all found only outside a dungeon, obviously.

1d6Equipment Treasure
1Poor: chain, spear 1d4×10 gold
2Solid: plate, shield, helmet, sword 1d6×10 gold
3Rich: as above plus lance, horse 1d10×10 gold
4Noble: as above plus barding 3d6×10 gold
5Loot: as above plus bow 3d6×10 gold, 1d4 gems
6Benefactor: as above but with elven sword +13d6×10 gold, 1d6 gems
7Aide: as above but with elven lance +13d6×10 gold, 2d6 gems
8Elf Friend: as above but with elven bow +13d6×10 gold, 2d6 gems, 1d4 jewelry
9Ruler: as above plus special item (see below)5d6×10 gold, 2d6 gems, 1d6 jewelry
10Lord: as above but with a set of elven arms and armor: plate +1, shield +1, matching helmet 5d6×10 gold, 3d6 gems, 1d6 jewelry
11Delver: as above but with a set of dwarven arms and armor: plate +2, shield +2, matching helmet, sword +2, and a chariot 5d6×10 gold, 3d6 gems, 2d6 jewelry
12Powerful: as above but with a flaming (+1d6 damage) sword +2 or a dwarven throwing hammer +3 if a dwarf, gauntlets of ogre power (strength 18)5d6×10 gold, 4d6 gems, 2d6 jewelry
13Higher Calling: as above but with angelic or hellish and armor: plate +3, shield +3, matching helmet, special sword of light or darkness +3 (see below)5d6×10 gold, 4d6 gems, 3d6 jewelry
14Special: as above but with a very special sword (see below)5d6×10 gold, 5d6 gems, 3d6 jewelry

Jewelry: 3d6×100 gold (average is about 1000 gold each) – rings, hair bands, crowns, bracelets, necklaces, amulets, hair needles, etc.

Gems: use the table below (average is about 200 gold each)

1–410 gold
5–950 gold
10–15100 gold
16–19500 gold
201000 gold

Special item:

1d6Special Item
1A random potion, roll 1d8: 1. diminuition (6”, 2h), 2. ferocity (double damage, 2h), 3. fly (2h), 4. healing (1d6+1, 3×), 5. invisibility, 6. love, 7. shape-changing, 8. speed (two action per round)
2A random ring, roll 1d4: 1. djinni calling (1/day, for a day), 2. fire resistance (immune to normal fire, +2 to saves, all fire damage dice -1), 3. minor creation (non-magical, portable things, 2h), 4. protection (AC +1)
3A random miscellaneous item, roll 1d4: 1. bag of holding (opens a small portal to another sphere), 2. boots of speed (double movement speed), 3. elemental summoning device (it takes 10min to perform the ritual, the element is determined by the device: bowl means water, brazier means fire, censer means air, stone means earth), 4. elven cloak (hiding 5-in-6 when not moving)
4Their weapon is special: it can glow as bright as daylight produce a dark mist like the continual light spell and its reverse, at will
5Their weapon is special: it grants them a permanent aura of authority (charisma 18)
6A horn of battle that will summon 2d4 barbarians from the next world to fight for you until killed, HD 1+1 AC 7 1d6 MV 12

Swords with a higher calling:

1+1/+3 vs. lycanthropes, forged by the high inquisitors
2+1/+3 vs. spell casters, forged in the philosopher’s war
3+1/+3 vs. undead, an angelic sword forged in heaven
4+1/+3 vs. dragons, an old elven sword forged in the dragon wars

Very special weapons:

  • Poison Dripper is a sword +3 blessed by the demon lord Set, anybody hit must save vs. poison or die
  • Frost Hell is a sword +3 blessed by the devils of an icy hell that turns into a sword +6 against any fire creatures (creatures with fire breadth or other fire damage dealing effects)
  • Hammer of Earth is a hammer +3 that will smash any structure made by man with but three blows

Add more special weapons as needed…



Use the special item table above.



Use the special item table above.


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2016-09-01 Mass Combat

Recently, Ken Baumann asked about huge battles on Google+. Was it fun, how did it work?

How big is a huge battle? I regularly have fights with dozens of participants on each side. The party alone is usually a dozen characters and a dozen dogs, raptors, war bears and more.

How often? I use big battles every now and then, maybe once a year in each campaign. That is, there will be one or two sessions for “the big battle”. Often there will be many sessions before the actual battle where people try to find allies, make peace, sabotage the enemy and all that. It’s a whole campaign arc.

As for the Rules: For up to maybe 100 individuals per side, I just use lots of d20s, with groups of 10 or 20 doing this or that and resolving the rounds as we go.

Example: Yesterday was the first session of a siege and I just wrote up a session report.

Mass Combat: For more than that, I split them into units of “about 100 each” and resolve combat as if each unit was a single monster. I’ve tried various methods, and I’ve tried each of them exactly once. :)

My first mass combat session used Mass Combat Made Easy by Robin Stacey which he wrote for M20. I used them when we still played D&D 3.5 and they work well. As combat scale is proportional to the number of individuals in a unit, those need to be recalculated after every hit, which needs a calculator person at the table.

Next I tried the mass combat rules in the B/X Companion by Running Beagle Games and they were OK. Basically you add up all the hit points and deal automatic damage based on your to-hit roll. This means that each unit has hundreds of hit points and you still need a calculator person at the table.

Next I tried the mass combat rules An Echo Resounding by Sine Nomine Publishing and they worked well. The only issue I had was that I didn’t like the domain level management required to pay for upkeep and related stuff. It worked very well as at the table, but if and only if all the units are “about 100 each” or if you can translate a monster into an equivalent “unit” – it’s easy if you’re fighting orcs and goblins but what about ogres and dragons if you don’t have units of 100 each? You need to translate them into “warbeasts” and similar units, which is where you need to improvise.

Other Options: Other options which I haven’t tried but I’d be interested in hearing how it went at the table:

Domains at War by Autarch, but since their Adventure Conqueror King System seemed to offer more detail than An Echo Resounding, I didn’t look at it.

By this Poleaxe by the Hydra Cooperative for “small-scale battles or skirmishes involving 15-120 combatants on each side”… I’d be interested to hear comparisons!

Book of War by Daniel R. ‘Delta’ Collins is based on OD&D numbers, so I didn’t look at it.

Rules Cyclopedia has The War Machine section with rules that tell you how to compute a battle rating for each side and resolving it using a single d100 roll per side. It’s short, but it seems more appropriate for multiple engagements in a longer warfare campaign. I don’t think a single engagement would be a satisfying conclusion for a campaign arc.


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2016-08-19 Romantic Fantasy

I recently read a blog post by +Brian Murphy explaining the difficulty inherent in the romantic fantasy genre for roleplaying games, Romantic Fantasy and the Heroine's Journey.

I feel this is very similar in Science Fiction. There, if you don’t want “D&D in space” (what I might call Space Opera) then I find that Science Fiction is about extrapolating a trend we can all relate to in the present. Essentially, it turns into social commentary of the present and it would seem to me that the players at the table would have to pick such issues and develop them. Actual political issues to develop and personal stories that intersect incidentally, it’s tricky to pull of. I heard Shock might do it; I never played it.

But reading Brian’s blog post game me an explanation for why pulling off Pern or Darkover stories using D&D and its descendants might be harder than it looks. Perhaps it’s not even a problem in the rules themselves but in D&D game culture. We expect settings, classes, levels, treasure and so on to have certain effects. If anybody pulled it off, I’d like to hear more about your campaign!

Thinking about it some more as I was sitting in the train, I wondered about the rules such a system would have. Combat would be deadly. The number of friends you had would be important. Love would be important. My first scribbles are now in a PDF called Best Friends (also on GitHub).

If you want to discuss this, see this post of mine on Google+.


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