Friday, January 31, 2014

+1 Bonus to damage is boring

Let's face it a +1 bonus to damage is boring. Maybe not at first but improving things from +1 to +2 isn't very exciting either.  How about beefing things up?  A simpel little change instead of a +1 sword being +1 to hit and damage it is instead +1d6 to damage. A +2 sword is +2d6 to damage.

 Sure it's just dice rolling but it's more dice, using that magic sword at the table looks different, it even feel different.

With more dice on hand magic swords become more significant and all of a sudden fighters gain a lot of ground compared to magic-users. Sure beating tough monsters becomes more likely.... since when is that a bad thing?

One also gains a mechanical method to add special effects to magic swords. With each 6 rolled on the magical damage dice something special may happen, depending on the weapon of course. On some weapons something bad happens whenever a 1 comes up; possibly an ego battle if you have annoying character stealing intelligent swords or a crackling backfire of magical energy... something that makes swigging the magic sword iffy even when successfully deployed.

Just a notion for now. I'm likely to go with more from here but I felt like sharing.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Two Sets of Monster Encounter Tables

I was playing with the monster determination matrixes from Seven Voyages of Zylarthen and a bit of programming. Here are 2 sets of encounter tables generated for dungeon levels 1 to 6 using the rules of that game. I did leave number encountered off the charts.

 Two sets of tables after the break.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Some Nice Knockers

Some knockers for your megadungeon.

A Door Table

A table to determine the state of a door in a megadungeon re open/closed/trapped

D100 Door Table
1.    Magically Sealed, Alarmed & Trapped
2-3. Magically Sealed & Trapped
4.    Magically Sealed & Alarmed
5-7. Magically Sealed
8-10. Boarded Up, obviously boarded up door. It will take 1-3 turns to get through this.
11-12.  Locked, Trapped & Barred, ,not just locked also barred. three times as hard to open as a stuck door.
13-14.  Locked, Trapped, Alarmed & Barred, ,not just locked also barred. three times as hard to open as a stuck door.
15-16.  Locked, Alarmed & Trapped
17-25.  Locked & Trapped
26-27. Locked Alarmed & Barred, not just locked also barred. Three times as hard to open as a stuck door. (after lock opened of course).
28-30. Locked & Barred, not just locked also barred. three times as hard to open as a stuck door.
31.  Barred, Alarmed & Trapped
32-35. Barred & Trapped, three times as hard to open as a stuck door.
36.  Barred & Alarmed
37-40. Barred, three times as hard to open as a stuck door.
41. Spiked Shut, twice as hard to open as stuck door.
42-45. Stuck and Alarmed
46.-79 Stuck
80 Unstuck & Alarmed
81-83 Unstuck (but closed), 2 in 6 chance it closes behind party 2 turns later if not spiked/propped open.
84.       Ajar & Alarmed
85-87.  Ajar, 2 in 6 chance it closes behind party 2 turns later if not spiked/propped open. Door locks shut on 1 in 12.
88-90. Spiked Open, 1 in 12 chance spike slips free and door closes 2 turns after party uses door.
91.     Open & Trapped, 4 in 6 chance door swings shut (and is stuck) when if trap goes off.
92-100. Open, 1 in 6 chance it swings shut and is stuck per person unless purposely held open,  2 in 6 chance it closes behind party 2 turns later in any case if not spiked/propped open.

Alarms: A door alarm could be magical, technological, a bell, a bucket of c.p. balanced atop the doorway, a pile of bottles anything that will make noise and alert folks a door has been opened.
There is a 3 in 6 chance of an alarm going off on an alarmed door each time there is an attempt to open it.
An alarm going off will cancel surprise in adjacent areas and most likely call for a wandering monster check depending on how loud the alarm is.
An alarm can be counted as a trap for detection and removal purposes but a thief will not spot both unless taking the time to look for both and something’s just can’t be spotted from the other side of a closed door.

Barred doors- a latch, a stout oak beam, an iron bar. This may or may not be defeated with thieves tools depending on the arrangement and weight of the bar. A bar is not linked to the door lock as it is additional security.

Two older door posts of mine:
Al has a good post on doors on his blog Beyond the Black Gate

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Why so close?

Is it just me or has anyone else noticed that D&D characters stand too close to each other?

Weirdness from years ago

I'm sure you've heard this D&D is 40 years old. While I haven't been playing it for all 40 of those years I have been playing for most of them. I was a self-taught DM, it was a year and a half before I gamed with someone I wasn't introducing the game to, so some weirdness creeped into my early games due to isolation and inexperience.

We played on big sheets of graph paper where 1 inch = 10'. We'd march the figures around a growing game board. we were savvy enough to realize each figure didn't actually take up 10' and generally only worried about where the lead figure was unless folks split up.

There was a while where my rulebooks were the original basic set, Greyhawk, Blackmoor, Eldritch Wizardry, and the Dungeon Master Guide. Play went over 3rd level in that period but not too far , O think the most powerful character we had was an elf fighter/Magic-users of 4/3. I didn't bay an eye at tough monsters vs the characters, sure 1st level was mostly 1st level monsters but if I felt a Minotaur or Dragon would enjoy a spot on the 1st or 2nd level of a dungeon that's where it was (I'm still prone to a bit of that).

Gargolyles were treated like another race of folk just like goblins and orcs, something had to challenge higher level characters right? I know I had "younger" ones with fewer hitdice that could be harmed with normal weapons so they weren't TPK material but for a while those pesky gargoyles were the monsters to beat and the few that had them as minions were truely spooky stuff.

If players could surprise attack monsters I usually let them win through clever descriptive action, heroes did it in mythology all the time, why not player characters? A little of that lingered for years and I still let a player pull a fast one now and again but they have to be really lucky and creative.

Phantasmal Forces was a king of spells. Sure a creation went "whiff" if hit in combat but if the foe missed the fight went on and being killed by an illusionary phantom still brought death. The party managed to off a red dragon with a phantasmal monster once due to the dragon missing the phantasm over and over again.

There were other oddities I can't recall at the moment and others I discovered as a I met more players, back then each group of D&D players was a sort of cargo cult with a limited range of books and not much experience and those were the days indeed.

A 10' pole

I've recently had a battle with an evil tree and a 10' pole was the instrumental device in resolving the conflict.

There was this one pernicious tree i was cutting down that simply refused to fall over.  This evil tree in question was growing up through the roots of a a huge birch and was threatening the integrity of the old sawmill foundation wall. It was a prime target for my wood gathering needs and property improvement. I notched the side I wanted the timber to drop, I cut the back and the cut opened slightly and the tree refused to fall.

Now normally I'd saw at it a little more and give it a push but the location this tree was in simply made that a virtual impossibility. It's been a Clark Griswold winter so far I didn't need to add to the fun by slipping in the snow, pitching myself off into a the old foundation, and getting squished by a 30-40' tall tree.

The ultimate solution was a 10' pole. A maple sapling had been uprooted sometime in the spring or summer by a large pine limb falling on it and was surprising intact, seasoned, and firm. with just a but of trimming I turned the sapling into a 10' pole (I'll confess i haven't actually measured said pole it may only be 9' long but that just doesn't have the same cache as a 10' pole so for the purposes of this tale it is a 10' pole). A 10' pole is an excellent tool, one of the most powerful tools of all: a lever.

With my trusty 10' pole in hand I did battle with the evil tree. I took about 2 weeks for me and the 10' pole to prevail. First the 10' pole and I battled to get the darned tree to actually break and it did and decided to come to rest exactly atop it's stump. Next the 10' pole was essential in leveraging the tree off the stump where it immediately came to rest on the old sawmill foundation wall.  Dislodging it from the perch on the wall resulted in the darned tree standing free on the old foundation floor, before I manged to get it's upper branches snarled in those of a another tree.

I made use of rope and the 10' pole and managed to pull the tree out of the one it snarled itself into and it immediately leaped into the welcoming limbs of yet another tree. I managed to rap myself in the head with the 10' pole at thus stage while trying to lever the bottom of the tree of the ground with soem rope and the 10' pole, I let it sit for a couple days so as to fool it into complacency and resume my attack when it wasn't looking.

Yesterday morning i renewed my assault on the evil tree. I abandoned the rope which was trying it's best to entangle, trip, or hang me. I fetched a big old log and used it so as to lever the base of the tree out further, this created more leaning but also dug the base of the tree into the ice, snow, and dirt. I gave up on that tactic and took the 10' pole back up to the foundation wall and very carefully deployed the 10' pole to poke the evil tree until gravity and my proddign defeated it's embrace with another bothersome piece of timber.

A 10' pole proved to be an essential piece of gear. Thank you D&D.

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Player Character Economy and the obfuscation it causes

The economy of the game world and the player character in that economy causes bizarre distortions and distractions. Campaign worlds and rule books are written to a Player Character Economy not an economy the rest of the campaign world actually operates within. The lack of awareness of this player character economy causes situations where people treat magic items as just another commodity and normal folks couldn’t afford a pint or two after work at the local.

Many folks have noticed the prices in rulebooks are out of whack with seeming reality. Gygax noted the prices in D&D were those of a boom-town economy similar to a gold-rush and yet folks act like the prices are constant and true across kingdoms, on the other side of the world, and on other planes. Wages for low ranking hirelings and many men-at-arms sure aren’t boom-town priced they are wargame overlord end game priced (an abstraction all of their own). The prices in most rulebooks couldn’t hold with the wages listed, they’d be a starting point that would most certainly be going up. Prices are written for an environment where the gold disappears after the players spend it, because it’s fake gold (of course) used as  lever to move things along no one worries where the money goes and what it’s spent on after a sword is bought, ship is built, or 200 crossbowmen are hire. It doesn’t matter where the gold goes in a Player Character Economy until the players start leveraging their wealth and changing the campaign with that wealth.

One area where the Player Character Economy wracks havoc with campaigns is in the buying, selling, and manufacture of magic items. Many a rule set breaks things down into a simple equation with a coast in gp which implies everyone anywhere can have any magical item they want if only they had enough gold pieces. This is because the costs are written for the Player Character Economy where gold is a product of risky action and it disappears after it’s spent. Folks don’t realize the prices for magical item creation are an abstraction for the resources of the player character, as long as only one band of player characters is buying and selling magical items a campaign world may not be undone but expand thast past the special focus of the player character economy and things get whacky.

Special ingredients are the limiting factor on magical item production not gold pieces. When a game doesn’t brign these ingredients into play for expedience (or laziness) everyone is being cheated. How special are +1 swords when you can go buy one when you want? Why would anyone be crazy enough to go to the most dangerous place in the world to earn the funds to get one? If it isn’t special well it isn’t magical.

In the player character economy anyone has the funds to train to be who they want to be, this causes the illusion that the frequency of spell-casters seen among player characters will be seen in any fashion in the population at large. Folks disregard there are 20 or more people working in the fields for every man with a weapon in his hand. Every parish can only have so many priests, every town will only support so many actors or doctors. In the real world everyone can’t afford to be who they want to be all the time, that’s the same fate for 99% or more of the NPCs in the campaign.

Rulebooks gloss over or grossly distort how long it takes to become trained in a field and become really good at a particular skill set. In the real world it takes 8 to 10 years to become a doctor (and they aren’t bending the laws of reality), in some martial societies it takes a decade or longer to become a recognized professional warrior, all it takes for a PC to be the class they want in a lot of rules is a simple act of selection. Perception of player reality and the player character economy has a distorting impact on what is possible for the campaign at large.  Player characters and those able to do as they do are an extreme minority.

Aw come one the rules say a 6th level Mage and 9,000 g.p. is all it take to manufacture the Arcane Doodad of Reality Bending. Really juts a 6th level mage? How does one become a 6th level mage in this game where the Arcane Doodad of Reality Bending costs “only” 9,000 gp? They do so by earning experience points and these experience points are generally earned by going to the most dangerous place in the world possible, surviving and profiting 20 or 30 times (at least). How many characters can pull this off in a campaign and why don’t they feed on each other for the experience points?

If your rulebook Says it takes a 6th level mage and 9,000 gp to make that doodad and 30,000 exp to be 6th level (as an example) it actually costs as much as it does to make that character 6th level plus the manufacture of the item for the economy at large. One must consider what the mage isn’t manufacturing when not fashioning the doodad, why isn’t the mage producing the geegaw instead?

Here and there in rulebooks you’ll see things like: the material component for this spell is a 2500 gp diamond. Really a 2500 gp diamond? How is this diamond different from a 500 gp diamond or a 50 gp diamond? It doesn’t really matter in the Player Character Economy where there are only so many diamonds that will be needed but when one thinks about it would make more sense for that to be a large flawless diamond instead of a 2500 gp diamond. The world has as many 2500 gp gems as customers willing to buy them at that price but there is a limit to how many large flawless diamonds there are. Scarcity drives the value and how special a given spell (or item) is.

Therein lays a big issue with a Player Character Economy the obfuscation of scarcity. The rulebook makes the assumption there will only be so many gp in the coffers of the player characters and this is a valid assumption given how dangerous getting gp typically is. Special goods priced in gp assume the scarcity exists universally but this doesn’t hold up as across a campaign there is no real scarcity of gp in a typical fantasy campaign.

So where’s all this going? It’s really coming down to the recommendation to campaign builders, DMs, and inventive speculators out there to recognize there is a player character economy and a wider campaign economy. What works for a small number of player characters will not work for a wider world. It may cost $600.00 to fill your home oil tank but it isn’t filled with abstract dollar bills but by gallons of oil, if the oil isn’t there no amount of dollars will fill the tank. Keep in mind the relative scarcity of goods and the materials used in manufacture of those goods and going beyond abstract gp of the player character economy will benefit the campaign

Thursday, January 16, 2014

SEVEN VOYAGES of ZYLARTHEN review part 3 (and the last)

My third and final installment of the review of  Seven Voyages of Zylathen bring us to Volume 4: The Campaign. Volume 4 serves as collection of charts and tables referenced in the first three books and gives advise and tools for a referee in running a campaign.

The book begins with advice on setting up an underworld for a campaign. The ref is advised to have monsters occupying no more then 1/3rd of an underworld along with the advise a level should have no more sp up for grabs then exp needed to gain a level x expected party members x 2 (or so), pretty formulaic but not senseless.

Rules concerning underworld adventuring are included in this volume and cover the traditional territory (opening doors, finding secret doors, falling in pits). Falling includes the risk of breaking a limb but falls  of 20’ or less will not kill a PC unless they arer equiooed with spikes or other implements of doom.

Wandering monsters and monster determination gets several pages of tables seemingly meant to be deployed by a ref in building their own encounter tables. The tables for each level/grade of monster are split up with dice ranges that aren’t 18 sided, 19 sided, and 13 sided dice just aren’t’ out there. The tables do include the monsters and npc types from the monster book of course and men-types turn up about 15-20% of the time ( a plus in my reckoning). All in all a good concept annoyingly put together.

Wilderness exploration is built about hex-crawling in 30 mile hexes, a good size for voyaging a bit large for day to day adventuring. Jungles are a great place to get lost and eaten by a monster based on the chart in the wilderness section. Food and water isn’t too much of a problem in Seven Voyages unless one dares to brave the desert where inadequate supplies cost you up to 1-6 points of constitution per day and no healing by non-magical means. The not worrying about it in most terrain and then having to worry about it in deserts could get a careless party killed quickly if they are used to living off the land not sure if this is a pro or a con. 

There is a section entitled “How create a world in under an hour” that recommends use of hexographer and outlines how to go about setting up a campaign setting. The tables and methods in this section look useful but would likely take a couple evenings as opposed to an hour to get ti right.

Languages get a fair bit of coverage throughout the rules (it’s a stat for many intelligent monsters) but I don’t think I’ve touched on it elsewhere in the rules. Tables are provided for what languages are spoken but it’s all really just the big laundry list approach to languages that will leave the referee asking the players “anyone speak gargoyle” every now and then.

In conclusion Seven Voyages of Zylarthen is a decent retro-clone that I could see being a useable set of quirky bit simple rules. I can hear many a reader asking does the world need another retro clone? The answer is of course no but Seven Voyages of Zylarthen reads like a complete and comprehensive set of house rules with a style of it’s own that is thought out and a good read for old school gaming enthusiasts and a plausible basis for an old school campaign. It's certainly worth taking a look at.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014


Seven Voyages of Zylarthen comes in 4 booklets Volume 1: Characters & Combat, Volume 2: Book of Monsters, Volume 3: Book of Magic, and Volume 4: The Campaign. I covered characters and combat in the first part of my review, this time volume 2 and 3 will be getting some attention.

The Book of Monsters is about 60 pages of monster descriptions that cover a lot of familiar and classical monsters. Some of the monsters most readers should be very familiar with but some attention was paid to areas other editions and versions of the original game haven’t given much attention to. Monsters have a classic range of stats but some data is omitted when unnecessary, monster are assumed to do 1-6 pts of damage per attack unless otherwise described. Languages known by the various monsters gets some attention.

A selection of barsoomian (martian) creatures that appeared in the original rpg game as names only are in the book of monsters. Apts, Banths, Calots, Darseen. Martians (several various races and best of all their technological gear and inventions), Orluks, Sith, Tharks, Thoats, and White Apes are all satisfactorily stated out.  

A number of giant insect menaces are covered that didn’t and haven’t received identical treatment in the past. Some of the giant insect are simply menacing, others bothersome, and some down right surprising.  

Man types get a lot of coverage in the monster book it includes entries for: Amazons, Assassins, Bandits, Barbarians, Buccaneers, Cavemen, Dervishes, Druids, Evil High Priests, Evil Lords, Evil Men (Evil fighters, thieves, and Magicusers with their own level titles), Evil Priests, Magi, Necromants, Nomads, Paladins, Prisoners, Rangers,  Soldiers (with over a dozen types and a half dozen general dispositions to help determine behavior in various situations), and Vikings. Many of the man types include data on leaders and specialists present along with equipment and some general behavior. The comprehensive coverage of man types is pretty decent and provides plenty of different adventure opportunities.

The monster Book provides descriptions of twenty gods but no stats, elsewhere in the rules it’s implied Gods are very high hitdice but here in the monster books no stats so it’s up to the DM to decide if an encounter will be with a God in all it’s glory, a limited disguise, or a follower. Each god gets a brief but adequate description for their use in play. Some folks will dislike the lack of stats for something in the monster book but I think the treatment works it gives room for individual DMs to decide how powerful various gods are within their campaign.

All in all the monster book is satisfying and definitely provides an adequate range of monsters for a wide range of character levels and promotes a play style beyond “kick in door, kill monster, take treasure”.

The magic book provides a listing of all the magic-user spells, NPC spells, and Magic items. As this game doesn’t have a PC clerical class a few classic cleric spells are mixed into the familiar magic-user lists with a number reserved for NPC spell caster types.

The spells are divided up between levels 1 to 6 and will mostly do what experienced player expect them to do with a few specific variations or ambiguities cleared up. Cure light wounds takes an entire turn to take effect  and can only be used on an individual once a day so it’s not a tactical spell in this game. The sleep spell is still a king of spells and will put a mod of creatures to sleep. Fireballs are of the 40’ diameter area filling variety and lighting bolts will expand back towards caster if there isn’t enough room for them. 

Nothing amazingly new but the magic-user being the only spell casting class offers a lot more interesting options in spell selection for casters, there’s a lot more room for debate over having sleep or cure light wounds memorized than one ever would have between a selection of 1st level clerical spells.

Evil High Priests, Priests, and Witches have their own spell lists with a few extra spells PCs will not have access to without dealing with these NPCs. This separation of player and npc spells offers opportunities to enforce the players and their characters interacting with the NPC of the campaign and actually widens adventure opportunities.

Magic items get familiar treatment and a host of them is provided in the magic book. There are a few spins here and there that may have impact on a campaign.
All magic swords were created hundreds of years ago during the wars between law and chaos and all have an alignment and language. Magic swords in these rules can be annoying control freaks that rob a player of free choice now and again, not a feature I’m very keen of  but it certainly alters how players will feel about magical swords in a campaign.

Magical Armor doesn’t change a characters AC, it modifies the number required to hit. Magical shields may black a blow entirely once per day without being splintered (the game makes use of the “shields shall be splintered” variant). Enchanted armor is less encumbering than normal armor.

High level Magi users (level 11 or higher) may craft magical items. Listings of expense and time required for each is given with time being the most extreme limitation; spell scrolls coast but 100 sp per level but also take a week per level to create, some magic items take over a year to fashion.

Few surprises in the magic book but adhering to the rules as written will provide a slightly different campaign than has evolved as the seeming default over the years.  You can see the effort to keep the strange, wondrous, and powerful special throughout the life of the campaign.

more to come...