Sunday, July 26, 2015

Of the Lost Darokins

Way back in 1981 the D&D expert set included the module X1: The Isle of Dread and it served as an example of an outdoor adventure and setting for D&D campaigns. The primary focus on the module was the isle of dread itself a prehistoric lost-world not far removed from King Kong and a host of other tales that was decidedly non-Tolkien in flavor also of interest was the continental map included which while it included the Isle of Dread it also included the remainder of The Known World.  In a two page map spread and one page of notes an entire campaign world was presented to millions of D&D players.   There was little elaboration on this setting beyond tidbits from modules for several years and undoubtedly many a DM developed them differently from one another. I played with one group of players that used them in a setting that moved among the group of players and was called “The Wars” , these wars took place in that groups ever changing adaptation of The Known world. In time the Kown World of the Wars morphed into an almost duplicate of the official published version of Mystara with a host of campaign related oddities that can only come from a host of PC lords ruling the countries on the map. With encroachment of officialdom The Known World as uniquely developed by those players faded, I can only wonder at home many thousands of versions of The Known World there were played all over the world.

I tended to use settings created whop-cloth by myself but at one point I myself had taken he known world and post-holocausted it up turn gin the kingdoms and territories into an odd Gamma World meets D&D setting. It was under developed with only a few pages and maybe a half dozen sessions of play but it was a good half-dozen pages in size larger than presented in the original iteration.  I wonder now at all the campaign that must have flowed from that one page of notes and two page map spread that were not based on anymore canon than that. 

How many Darokins have we lost. How many thousands of hours of game play took place in unique empires of Thyatis unlike any other? Imagine all the myriad variations of Karameikos that were adventured within by DM and player alike with histories different from that which followed later in official canon.  Sure Karameikos had a little more detail in the expert rule book itself as an example wilderness map but not all that much just one and a half additional pages; i wonder at what detailed maps DMs crafted of their own Darokin and Atruaghin Clans using the Grand Duchy of Karameikos writeup and maps as example? 

The Empire of Thyatis was an autocracy similar to the medieval Byzantine empire (which may as well have been Mars to the knowledge of the average middle school reader of said description). The Atruaghin Clans is a wilderness region of simple rustic folk descended from an ancient hero that only unites temporarily under a single elected leader if threatened by war; I must admit I was surprised when the Atruaghins turned into Native Americans in the official version.   How many myriad variants of Thyatis have there been? Who were their emperors and how did their histories vary?  Has anyone ever read about other DMs elaboration from the expert set Known World setting before we knew it was called Mystara?

Towards a Living Megadungeon

Breath some life into your dungeons. A dungeon and more importantly a megadungeon shouldn’t be just a big collection of meat-shields and traps between PC and treasure; a dungeon environment can be a living/dynamic environment for a campaign. When a DM decides to invest a little emote time and effort into presenting a dynamic environment over one carved in stone the campaign and game play should improve.

The classical perceived notion of a dungeon crawl goes like this: party creeps through dungeon being wary of traps and secret doors mapping as they go, party finds a door, party kicks in door and kills monsters on other side of door and rounds up treasure, repeat…
Which at some basic level most certainly works but is also limited and holding the game back from being more exciting, more interesting, and rewarding a wider range of play. Part of this issue lies in the nature of how dungeons are written each encounter area, typically a self-enclosed room, is presented as a constant and fixed situation awaiting the intervention of the PCS; if room 12 has 7 kobolds guards in 800 sp it’s going to have 7 kobolds guarding 800 sp until the PCs get there. This is because of an economy of labor for the DM who has to prepare things for all the other players, there’s only so much that can be done at a time but this is a self-limiting situation. A DM should be updating the dungeon as the players explore it both during the session and between sessions.

Now in the paragraph above one classical feature of the players “mapping as they go” is often ignored and that is because of the static nature of many a dungeon as there is no real point in mapping an empty space that is going to stay empty. A map is only of value if someone plans on returning to a space later and why would someone return to an empty dungeons chamber? Because it isn’t likely to stay empty, just as a section of corridor may go from being a dangerous rout ego one that lets you bypass danger if the dungeon is a dynamic environment. The less dynamic a dungeon the less reason there is to map the place.

The dreaded empty room is a feature associated with boredom and a waste of detail in DM dungeon preparation but this is because of non-dynamic play. Two paragraphs up I mention room 12 with it’s 7 kobolds that are often written as if they will be there forever, in a slightly dynamic dungeon the kobolds in room 12 might be bright enough to notice there is a band of treasure hunters working through that part of the dungeon and they just might be bright enough to evacuate themselves and their loot from room 12 to “empty” room number 9 which is out of the path of the death squad seemingly heading their way.  The empty room now has sensible utility for the DM and value to the players who might have discovered it earlier and are able to figure out the kobolds have relocated to it. The impact on the DM is sos very minimal the details of empty room 9 get replaced with much of the details of room 12, requiring as potentially little work as switching the room labels on the map and keeping the dungeon key as it is.

The room switch mentioned above is handy and simple tactic to making a dungeon more dynamic but an additional mechanic is the room replacement list.  A room replacement list is the bothersome “encounter restocking” done in advance while the dungeon is being created.  The room replacement list can have new and fresh encounters either randomly or specifically assigned to locations on the map to reflect the practices and reactions of the locals, it can be tied to the level or (even better) to sections of a level.  Some rooms can of course be written with their own replacement in place to be sprung on the players the next time they return to the encounter area or next raid into the dungeon depending on the activity level of the dungeon and time spent within it. 

Mobile monsters add to a dynamic dungeon. Wandering monsters have been with dungeon adventuring as long as most of us have known about the concept and the method odes serve to maintain the illusion of a dynamic environment and encourages players not to have their PCs dilly-dally too much but the “mobile monster” is something else. A mobile monster has a plotted route it travels throughout a dungeon and there’s plenty of room to keep track of such things on the relatively spartan maps most DMs employ with a penciled in path showing where the monster roams.  A DM can decide to keep track of where the mobile monster is based on time of day, have a set of points the monster incrementally progress through tied to events (or random rolls) or simply assign a chance to bumping into the mobile monster on its path. A mobile monster needn’t be a solitary monster it can be work parties, hunters, or a patrol  from a larger population/base.  The chief advantage to keeping track of mobile monsters on the DM’s map is it relieves the difficulty of tracking such an encounter through multiple written room and encounter entries. A mobile monster may only be active and “released” on it’s path under conditional situations caused by the PCs dungeon raiding or the actions of villains/NPCs.  A mobile monster that is active upon discovery of the dungeon however is one that the players can learn about ahead of time if they note it’s spore or discover it’s presence talking with dungeon occupants and empty rooms come into play again as places to avoid a mobile monster or perhaps they are places other occupants of the dungeon tend to avoid so as to avoid the mobile monster itself.  The path a mobile monster takes can vary and be redrawn as the environment and other dungeon occupants change around it.

Support staff is an often ignored feature that can add to the dynamic nature of a dungeon and the range of options PCs can use in tackling the dungeon. Support staff are encounters that aren’t treasure guardians or direct threats to the PCs but are part of the verisimilitude of a living dungeon. The support staff may be slaves or laborers tasked to repair the dungeon, cook food, and carry water. Support staff can be keyed into encounters as any other encounter with NPC/monsters, as wandering monster entries, or as mobile monsters.  While there may be long term strategic sense in disrupting the support staff there will likely be limited short term treasure or experience point gain but PC can question, recruit, or lead support staff in rebellion against their masters as opposed to simply vanquishing them.  Less dangerous but involved monster that aren’t there for a fight add to the appearance of a dynamic and living dungeon.

The traditional encounter key of a dungeon isn’t all that is there in a dungeon; expressing who and what is in a dungeon in a wider range of methods will add to the dungeon and provide more reason for players to have PCs approach in a wider range of tactics and play styles  to have a more exciting campaign with dynamic living dungeons.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

What's going on in the Domain?

Konsumterra of Elf Maids and Octopi has an excellent post Year on the Domain here:

A handy month by month break down of what folks are doing, simple weather, and flavorful seasonal encounters/events for a rural domain.

This guy posts some pretty cool tables for encounters, filling in details, or shaking things up in a campaign get on over and take a look if you have not done so lately, or at all.

Fish Wives and Gutter Snipes

A list (with brief descriptions) for populating the alleys and side-streets of an urban setting. Many of these are Victorian era and may be out of place in a pseudo-medieval setting but since when was fantasy RPG shy from anachronisms?

Fishwives- a coarse woman prone to shouting and banter
Gutter Snipes- a poorly behaved child that haunts the streets
Fogle-hunter:  young thief that steals handkerchiefs and scarfs.
Skin and sneezers-  thieves of snuff boxes and small purses.
Flimper- able to snatch jewelry and small items right off a mark’s person in a tight press.
Rampers- a small gang (4-6) that will lift small personal items, jewelry, purses and hats by tripping or jostling a mark.
Cracksmen- burglars, well actually break in men once they crack a place open they depend on speed not stealth to get the goods.
Screwsmen- burglars noted for use of false-keys and elaborate lock-picks
Sneaksmen- gains access posing as a tinker or petty peddler and lifts small items while busking.
Bawdy Basket- a female sneaks man that may also covertly ply her trade as a prostitute
Lob-sneak- a thief that sneaks into a premise on all four and crawls about to snag the till or choice goods.
Dog-Fancier-  a dog thief.
Bit Faker- someone who passes counterfeit money.
Duffer- sells stolen goods
Palmer- a shoplifter
Nobbler- a criminal punishment enforcer
Bludger- nobblers and hired beatersthat made use of bludgeons.
Snoozer- steals luggage and belongogns from travelers and inn guests
Skinners- women who lure children and the hopelessly naive into alleys and strip their victims of all they wear.
Dollymop- an amateur part-time streetwalker.
Toffer- a prostitute of good looks that draws in higher end clients
Abbess- a madame/brothel keeper, her husband would be an Abbot
Almsman- a beggar
Anglers- thieves who steal with hook starves, poles, and lines through windows.
Blag- a smash and grab thief
Blower- a low down dirty snitch
Bonnet- a covet assistant to a sharp..
Broadsman- a card sharper
Buck Cabbie- a dishonest cabbie that cheats fairs, robs passengers, or delivers them into the hands of tother thieves
Buttoner- a sharpers assistant that entices marks
Bug Hunters- robbers of drunks, usually late at night
Chaunter- low end street performers, usually singing.
Crow- a lookout
Curbers-  anglers that pretend to be infirm, or blind so as to conceal purpose an easily conceal their thieving gear in plain-sight
Demander- threatens marks into giving them money
Dipper- a pickpocket
Don- a distinguished person a leader, at least in the neighborhood
Dookin Seer- a palm reader, probably not legit
Dragsman- steals from carriages and wagons
Fanner- one who can quickly feel someone’s clothing to search for valuables
Glimmer- a petty arsonist that lights fires to distract marks.
Hector- a pimp or assistant pimp that is a whore’s minder.
Judy- a professional prostitute but not a brothel worker.
Lurker- a lookout and sneak thief that poses as a beggar
Mandrake- a male prostitute that dresses as a woman.
Gigolo- a male prostitute that caters to female clientele
Moucher- a vagrant that depends on the kindness and charity of strangers
Nose- informer or spy
Palliard- a beggar that uses unguents and nasty materials to feign illness
Platterer   a hawker that earns money by oratory
Prater- a bogus itinerant priest
Roller- a prostitute that steals from clients
Screever- a scribe that fashions forged papers
Scruf- a gang leader, maybe a lieutenant in a larger mob.
Snakesman- a thin or young thief that can squeeze into tight spaces
Snoozer- a thief that steals from sleeping inn patrons
Speeler- a cheater/gambler that does sidewalk games
Jigger- defrauds customs a smuggler
Bubble-men-  sham business men that con hapless victims
Drummer- drugs a dupe and steals from them when they are overcome
Mud lark- steal small bits of wood, rope, and fule left on the docks or on worksites
Burglar- break in men
Assassin- a hired killer that will strike from stealth most of the time
Busker- street performer
Thief-Takers-  urban bounty hunters both honest and dishonest acting for publicly posted reward but also blackmailers of criminals, and liaisons Some can locate stolen goods and get them returned for a fee, sometimes by direct payment to the thieves themselves.
 Kidnapper- steals children and others for disreputable land lords or for ransom.
Highwayman- literally highway robbers.
Road Agent- a highwayman who acts in concert with an established chain of other thieves and scoundrels. Road Agents sometimes act as hired killers striking on the roads between towns in the countryside where there are few possible witnesses.
Rake- a swashbuckling freebooter.
Footpad- a sneak and mugger
Scoundrel- an all about con-man and rogue
Charlatan- a fake magician
Mountebank- scoundrel/charltans
Grave Robber- some rob the tiny bits of treasure folks bury with loved ones, other take the funeral clothes, some are in it for the corporeal remains of the dearly departed.
Bravo- a rough and tumble mercenary hired as a bodyguard and bully-boy
Thug- another name for assassins but also applicable for lowlife ruffians.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

What does the monster know?

In encouraging players to expand their methods of tackling an adventure a DM has to invest more in the details of the campaign, players aren't going to root about for more if there isn't "more" to be discovered. One means players can expand the power and have richer play is finding out what monsters know about the dungeon/adventure area. What do the monsters know?

The structure of an adventure is certainly going to dictate what monsters know but not all adventure and dungeon write-ups are very explicit in this. Do the kobolds on level 1 know there is a dragon on level 6, do they know it's a black dragon, do they even know there is a level 6 ?

 If a dungeon overview has factions and a rough hierarchy spelled out keeping track of faction knowledge and what members of different rank may know will serve the trick in some manner. If the kobolds on level 1 are part of the Crimson Tide (faction) they may indeed know The Ebon Watch employs the services of a dragon, the leader of the kobolds may be aware it's a black dragon, members of the Crimson Tide may or may not know how deep the dungeon is an perhaps none really know if their faction hasn't delved beneath level 3 or so itself. Noting the general knowledge of a faction will serve the purpose a lot of the time.

Another way to record and keep track of monster/NPC knowledge of a dungeon is with tiered knowledge pools. A Tiered Knowledge Pool (or just Knowledge Pool) isn't as pretty as a prose based explanation of faction knowledge but it can provide the opportunity for a DM to quickly note what a monster knows.

The Knowledge Pools can be categorized by faction, or areas of knowledge and then broken down by rank, intelligence, or some other relative factor. 

Orc Mercenaries:  Crimson Tide Faction Plans-2, Level Layout (level 1-3)-2, Crimson Tide Membership-2.

sample knowledge pools:

Crimson Tide Membership
1-  Crimson tide members wear red sashes most of the time.
2- Berand the Baleful is the Leader of The Crimson Tide
3- Can identify all leaders of subcomander hand higher 95% of the time.
4- Can identify all figures of authority 90% of the time
5- Can idnetify a memebr of The Crimson Tide even without a red sash 80% of the time.
6- Can name the last 3 Leader of The Crimosn Tide (Leper Lou, followed by The Termagant, follwed by Fejj and now Berand th eBaleful).
7- Knows The Termagant is still alive and rumored to be secretly plotting to reclaim leadership of The Crimson Tide.

Level Layout (1-3):
1- Can quickly locate the main entrance and exit of level 1
2- knows the secret knock to get past the red gate on level 2
3-  knows where each faction is roughly located on levels 1-3
4- knows where all the sources of water are on levels 1-3
5- knows to avoid the green slimes in an about room 32 on level 2.
6- aware of rumors of ghouls on level 3
7- knows of all entrances from surface to level 1 to 3.
8- knows where the 3 most valuable treasures on the level are located.

I'll admit it I like the Knowledge pool layout (you can tell by how much I wrote about it) as it allows for a quick listing of information and in brief notation in monster writeup with a modest amount of specifics if the monster/npc knowledge pools are extensive enough.

A knowledge pool doesn't need to have all the detail of dungeon written up and simply adding a tiny bit of relative information about what a monster knows about it's neighbors will build up reasons for players to question before slaying.

12 Orc Mercanaries: HD 1; HP (6 each) AC 6 [13]; Atk spear (1d6) or scimitar (1d8); Move 9; Save 17; AL C; CL/XP 1/15. Knowledge: Crimson Tide Faction Plans-2, Level Layout (level 1-3)-2, Crimson Tide Membership-2. The Orcs are on good terms with the Ogre Twins in room 15. One Orc wants to trick his captain into getting bitten by Giant Spider that hunts the NW sector of level 2.

The previous has ta standard monster stat-block, goes into knowledge of dungeon at large with knowldge pools and gives some extra tidbits to offer a wider range of actions and reactions that can be built off of.  If the Players bribed The Ogre Twins last session the Orcs might know this and react accordingly. The write-up doesn't say which orc wants to trick the captain just mentions there is one of them that want to do so allowing the DM to spring this on the players based on how they interact with the orcs, if one is taken captive it just might be this orc and the knowledge of the Giant Spider might be used to escape or trick the PCs or the info can be used when restocking the dungeon later. Just a few extra notes can add an awful lot to what the players will be able to learn from the monsters.