Saturday, July 30, 2011

What If...

You took a Rubik’s Cube… and 54 geomorphs each reduced to exactly the size of one square on the cube… and you glued them on. Every time the heroes leave a facet and come into a new one, you grab the cube and give it a few random turns. If and when the heroes step off the edge of the cube, you have a chance that they:

1. End up in a portal leading out of the Labyrinth
2. End up in one of the major lairs of powerful creatures that rule the Labyrinth.
3. Wrap around the corner and go to the next facet.
4. Hit a piece of unshaped ethereal space that the Minotaur King has yet to discover. If the heroes are powerful enough (or have recovered a fragment of the true map) they can actually shape this to their will, creating a home within the labyrinth that they can lay claim to.
5. Jump to the next Rubik’s cube you’ve developed, that has 54 different geomorphs affixed to it… (come on, you know you have the free time!)
6. Step off the edge of the universe and fall into the bottomless gulf at the edge of eternity.

Wow this is freaking me out.

I HAVE to build this thing.

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Abyssal Labyrinth

I blame Dyson Logos.

I was halfway through my draft (along with several maps) for the Chronicles of the Splintered Realm: Timbervale volume, when I started working on a series of dungeon geomorphs based on Dyson’s challenge… and that got me thinking about how these would go together… and this got me thinking about the Abyssal Labyrinth… and that got me thinking about Minotaurs… and that got me thinking about the Great Reckoning, and the part they played in it… and that got me writing… and that got me a dozen pages into a draft of a chronicle for the Abyssal Labyrinth, and as of right now, 24 geomorphs into my Labyrinth starter pack.

So, you see, it’s all Dyson’s fault.

My first chronicle is going to be for the Abyssal Labyrith, and it will be out some time in the next week or two. I’ll post some of the geomorphs once I fire up my scanner in the next few days, but I’m having a great time working through this. Let me give you the elevator pitch (this elevator pitch assumes that the elevator breaks down for a while, and you have time to kill to explain the whole thing):

Before the Great Reckoning, the Fates gave Bael (god of evil, twin of Yahalla, ultimate bad guy) a vision of the splintered universe to come. He commissioned one of his key lieutenants, the Minotaur King, to create a massive labyrinth within a huge (nearly infinite) tessaract that exists outside of time and space, and which Bael could then use after the Reckoning to ultimately re-unify the various realms, building a bridge between them that he would control. However, he didn’t account for two things…

First, he ended up trapped at the far fringes of Pandemonium after the Reckoning, beyond even the reach of the Labyrinth.

Second, the Minotaur King learned that Bael planned to destroy him after the Labyrinth was completed; so, the Minotaur King launched a pre-emptive strike and stole the keys from Bael, leaving him unable to navigate his own network, and leaving it totally under the control of the Minotaur King, who still lairs at its very center, deep within a complex network of facets.

I see the Abyssal Labyrinth as a sort of Rubik’s Cube… every time you encounter it, and for everyone who encounters it, it’s different. Basically, the randomization of the geomorphs is its central design component; unless you are a Minotaur (or are being guided by one), you can only travel backward one step, and you can never be sure where your next step will be. It’s a little complicated, but it makes total sense in my head. Let’s see if I can break it down…

You enter the labyrinth through a gate in Del Anon (let’s say an opening at the bottom of a tomb), entering a facet (geomorph) from the ‘west’. As long as you are in the first facet you’ve entered (the first geomorph), you can always turn around and go back… once you move off of this facet in any direction except where you came from (to the next geomorph ‘north, ‘east’ or ‘south’), you cannot go back- the gates that once led backward have been randomized, now sending you in a new direction.

In short, there’s always a random chance that the next facet (geomorph) will be the one you want to get to, but the chances are really, really, really (really) slim. Again with the Rubik’s Cube- you might be able to solve it by turning it randomly, but odds are against you.

There’s a lot more about this, and I’ll drop tidbits in the next few days leading up to the release of the volume.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Chronicles of the Splintered Realm

I’ve been plugging away for the last few days, going through boxes of old notes, finding maps I’d forgotten that I made, and generally unearthing a large chunk of material I’ve created for my games over the last few decades. In short, I like it, and I think that it’s lead me to a solution to my problem of ADD that I discussed last post.

While the Dragon Magazine approach was the one that appealed to me the most, I felt that even that was too schizophrenic, and it felt that way when I was creating material for my previous magazine efforts: Mythweaver Magazine and Mythweaver Adventure Journal. Yesterday, I actually started a layout for Resolute Adventure Journal, thinking that was the way I was going… and then it all came together in my head.

The answer seems to be a series of modules examining different parts of the splintered realm of Del Anon, through the eyes of an adventurer traveling the land. This would give first-hand accounts of places and people, while introducing new things each module: classes, races, magic, monsters and adventure locations that would be specific to that region. This wouldn’t be a highly-focused series of gazetteers, primarily insofar as you don’t get consistent content from issue to issue (or volume to volume seems more appropriate).

My goal is to have Chronicles of the Splintered Realm Volume 1: Timbervale done my August 1. I’d love to get one out monthly after that, but if I can go bi-monthly, that would be a win. I think that a reasonable expectation for each of these chronicles would include a checklist to the effect of:

- at least 1 adventure (or a few short ones)
- at least 6 new monsters
- a sizeable addition to the game’s magical background (a new spell book with 5 spells one chronicle; a dozen potions when the area boasts a powerful alchemist; special armors when I outline an important dwarven community of smiths; etc.)
- something for players (a listing of new abilities; a handful of new races; lifepath character builders)
- something for referees (rules for specific situations; a handful of trap designs; encounter or location generators)
- a significant contribution to the flavor of the realm itself. This could be an essay on the realm, a viewpoint of a particular creature, relating an important historical event, or an in-depth discussion of beast lore about a specific creature or creatures as a companion to the monsters listed.

While I see these chronicles being somewhat themed; if I detail a section that borders a large waterway and relies on water-borne trade, I could see ship rules, water-breathing races, sea monsters, and an adventure involving pirates all finding their way in.

This feels like it accomplishes all of my goals for the game, and gives me a chance to work on everything at once.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Hi, I'm Mike... and I have Gamer ADD...

I know that I’m not alone in my gamer ADD. I get a few pages into a project, and I get an idea for something else, and start jotting notes… and before I know it, I’m a few pages into the next project. I’ve got a bunch of material done for Resolute, but it’s all over the place and I’m not sure what to do with it… for instance:

- I have several pages, maps and a ton of notes for a campaign guide to the north coast. This would be an updated and expanded gazetteer to the lands of Del Anon immediately after the Reckoning.
- I've got pages and pages of notes on the City of Beldin Mere
- Ditto for Jurris' Crossing
- I've got several different starts and drafts for a book of monsters
- I've got a few pages of notes for a player/hero companion that could be included with, or could be separate from, a book of magic
- Adventures I've got several short adventures in various states of completion, and a handful of longer adventures with the foundation going...

I am trying to decide how best to build the game. My instinct right now (as of this minute that is- this is subject to change before I go to bed- and then again at 3 in the morning- and again tomorrow during breakfast) is to focus on adventures. As a kid, I liked that each adventure you purchased not only came with some cool maps, but also included a handful of new monsters, some magical items, a piece of the world (with some historical background and maybe even a town or city map). You got chunks of it at a time, and eventually started to piece it all together. I already see how all the pieces fit; I’m just trying to figure out how to put it out on a consistent basis. The only things that don’t fit here are the expanded notes for players, although those could easily be a one-off micro-book.

Going the adventure route, I could work out rules for sea travel and boats in the expedition to the lost island, and I could work out overland travel and hostile environment survival for the adventures in the Vale of Eternal Winters…

But, I also know that this gives you drips and drabs of ‘new content’ for the game, rather than solid books. At this point in the game’s development, a full round of monster/hero/gm books is probably in order, if for nothing else than to solidify a base of content for players…. Hrmmm…

See, I was wrong. It didn’t even take until bed time to change my mind again!

Lastly, I could go back to the magazine route, with each issue having some monsters, some setting material, some spells, and the whole Dragon Magazine vibe that everyone and his brother is trying to do right now... the only difference is, this one would be me!

Okay, now that's the one I want to do! See?! It's driving me CRAZY.

Thanks for your time.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Adventurer Archetype: House Rules

Unlike the other archetypes that give you access to a unique ability, the adventurer archetype gives you access to all abilities from every archetype; however, your role as ‘jack of all trades’ also includes the limitation ‘master of none’, meaning that you can never invest more than 9 CPs (a +5 rating) into any one ability. Your lack of focus limits you from achieving mastery in any one field. However, the adventurer archetype allows you to use an aura of healing while swinging your sword (in which you are specialized), using your arcane bolt after stealthily moving in on a foe.

You may use magic (from items and spells) to increase your ability ratings beyond this +5 threshold, and your racial bonuses apply normally.

Since the game doesn’t allow you to cross-class, this becomes the cross-class archetype; the meeting place of all the archetypes. Now you can make your elfin fighter/thief/mage without figuring out the best archetype for it; good luck finding enough points to make it work, though!

Here’s a 30 CP adventurer trying to do everything…

Arcane Bolt +3; Arms +2; Aspect +2; Aura +3 (Healing 2/Evade 1); Burglary +2; Evade +1; Intuition +2; Might +3; Resolve +1; Stealth +3; Weapon Specialist +3
Sword attack (attack +3/damage +5)
Spell attack (attack +3/damage +3/range 3)
Soaks +2 physical/+3 magic

Conversely, here’s a 30 CP fighter who just wants to be good at fighting…

Arms +5; Evade +2; Might +6; Resolve +1; Weapon Specialist +4
Sword attack (attack +6/damage +9)
Soaks +5 physical/+0 magic

And here’s a 30 CP magician who (you guessed it) focuses on magic

Aspect +4; Arcane Bolt +6 (2 spells); Evade +2; Lore +3; Resolve +2
Spell attack (attack +6/damage +4/range 6)
Soaks +4 magic/+0 physical

- The adventurer has an average attack of 10 and average damage of 9.5
- The warrior has an average attack of 13 and average damage of 16
- The magician has an average attack of 13 and average damage of 11.

On the whole, the adventurer is going to give you less damage output (in terms of pure combat ability) but has so many cool things he/she can do. In a small group (or solo), the adventurer is going to be exceptionally handy to have around; in a larger group, the adventurer is going to play second fiddle to everyone...

By the way, if we take our sample adventurer above and push each of his abilities to +5 (9 CPs), that puts him at exactly 99 CPs, the human limit; this doesn't factor in picking up some spells to link with arcane bolt, shield use, two weapons, or a little bit of lore to supplement his arcane knowledge. In short, the character is going to be about difficult decisions with every CP you get...

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Stacking and Bonuses: House Rules

I’m thinking about shields, auras, and gear. Basically, as I’ve been playing (managing up to 6 heroes and 4 villains at a time), I’ve found the numbers a bit unwieldy when it comes to shields, auras and gear.

Here are the problems:

The way the numbers crunch (especially in play) becomes a bit cumbersome. I like the crunchiness of the numbers (since it gives you a great deal of granularity in spite of the limited total ratings inherent in the system)… however… I find that this is a lot of math to do in play. I’m also somewhat dissatisfied with how magical items (armor and weapons specifically) feel in play; you pick up a magical short sword, but it is no better than your normal short sword, because you are already at your cap. Unless the sword (or another item) actually increases your arms rating, you can’t get a benefit from this weapon at all. That feels wrong. Finally, I’m finding that every time I go to build a hero, I don’t want to take shields, only because it means I’ll have too much math to do in play. This is wrong… Similarly, the math with auras gets tricky in play; if you activate an aura of might +3, you have to figure out every hero’s existing might (including full CP investment), and then add +3, and re-calculate. When you switch between multiple auras during a fight, this gets to be a bit of wrangling.

I’m going to play with house rules that simplify these abilities. Here’s what I’m going with:

For auras, you have a total number of bonuses from auras based on your rating, but you can never have more than half of your aura points in one aura. For instance, with auras +8, you can have an aura of healing +4, and aura of evade +3, and an aura of might +1; this restores 4 wounds to allies when active, gives a +3 shift to allies when evade is active, and gives a +1 shift to might of allies when active. Everyone gets the same shift, whether it’s based on a +0 rating or a +10 rating. I’m a bit concerned about a hero with aura +10 granting a +5 shift to might (since this grants upwards of 25 CPs of might), but since it’s hard capped at +13, that solves the problem to some degree. It also limits the effectiveness of healing, which I rather like… aura of healing can now end up no better than +5. Previously, to get aura of healing +5, aura of evade +3, and aura of might +2, you spent 15 CPs, but odds were good that the people you really wanted to get the boost from might and evade, your main front-line fighters, had abilities beyond these bonuses anyway, and they were wasted. Now, everyone gets that +2 might; the magician with might +0 and the fighter with might +9 both benefit.

For shields, you get a progressively better shield based on your melee arms ability, not your might; a hero with low might ended up with no shield, and I found that the heroes I wanted to have the best shields were those who were trying to compensate for low might with something else; it became counter-intuitive.

- With arms (melee) +1, you can wield a small shield (a level 1 item), granting +1 to all evade rolls against enemy attacks (physical and magical).
- With arms (melee) +3, you can wield a medium shield (a level 3 item), granting +2 to all evade rolls against enemy attacks (physical and magical).
- With arms (melee) +6, you can wield a large shield (a level 6 item), granting +3 to all evade rolls against enemy attacks (physical and magical).

Further, magical shields, swords and armor are going to be rated based on their magical power:

- Enchanted items (DR 10) grant a +1 shift to the rating. Considered 2 levels higher.
- Mystical items (DR 20) grant a +2 shift to the rating. Considered 4 levels higher.
- Relics (DR 30) grant a +3 shift to the rating. Considered 6 levels higher.

The DR is for rolling as part of a treasure; when a weapon, armor or shield is found, roll 2D + foe level (modified by treasure rating); at 10-19, it’s enchanted, at 20-29 it’s mystical, and at 30+ it’s a relic. A dragon of level 14 with treasure +4 has a slight chance of having a relic hidden in his lair (needing a roll of natural 12 on the dice), and anything less than that won’t have a relic in its lair. This makes sense. You don’t find relics just sitting around.

A character with arms +1 can wield a dagger +1, but he can also wield an enchanted dagger +1/+1 (dealing +2 wounds), a mystical dagger +1/+2 (dealing +3 wounds), or a relic dagger +1/+3 (dealing +4 wounds).

- A normal dagger is a level 1 item, valued at 1 gold
- An enchanted dagger is a level 3 item, valued at 10 gold
- A mystical dagger is a level 5 item, valued at 100 gold
- A relic dagger is a level 7 item, valued at 1000 gold. It is quite unlikely that anyone would bother making one of these... the bonus far outstrips the item itself

(and I think I'm going to house rule as well that relics have to have at least a +3 base rating... if not higher. It makes sense to me that enchanted items could be as low as +1, while mystical items would be at least +3, and relics would be at least +6). The last thing you want to have happen is for your fighter of level 2 to decide he's putting aside his magnificent Dagger of the Valhallan Archangels +1/+3 because he can pick up a bastard sword +4 in a shop in Beldin Mere that will do the same thing...

Now, there’s a bit of benefit for a hero with lower ratings to take enchanted weapons; for instance, a young fighter with a short sword +3 (linked to his arms +3) finds an enchanted long sword +4/+1. He can only get +3 from the base weapon (his rating, the same as his short sword), but can now get the benefit of the +1 enchantment, giving him a +1 to his existing damage rating; when he increases his arms to +4, he gets another +1, and now uses the weapon to its full potential. The weapon is effectively as powerful as a +5 weapon, but can be used by a hero who normally could only use a +4 weapon; however, the weapon costs as much as a +6 weapon if you were to purchase it in store (which in Del Anon you can’t).

I am somewhat concerned about shields specifically here, but I think I can accept it; to fully abuse the system, you take arms +6 (12 CPs), you take shield use (2 CPs), you take evade +6 (12 CPs), you take auras to +6 (12 CPs) and designate +3 to evade; you purchase/find/beg, borrow or steal a relic large shield +3/+3 (shields have to be the exception to the rules I listed above... darn. I'll have to work on this). Your evade is 6+3+3+3=+15… you would be hard capped at +13. You’ve invested a great deal into being able to evade your enemies (an investment of 38 CPs), but you are virtually untouchable. You may as well only have an aura of evade +1, since you’ll hit your hard cap of +13 anyway. You are VERY difficult to hit, although at this level (looking at 50+ CPs at minimum to get this many points to distribute), you are going to face foes taking at least +8 to their attacks, giving them a chance (albeit a slim one) to hit you; foes will need at least +10 to really have a shot, although I’d suspect at this level you’ll be facing many of those; as well as foes who can charm, stun, mesmerize, breath weapon, paralyze and generally impede you in other ways that your shield cannot stop. If a foe is dumb enough to walk up to you and try to go toe-to-toe, that’s its fault.

Capping Out the Game

I've spent the evening jotting some notes... here is post 1 of 2 for the night:

I’ve conceived of 99 CPs as max level for the game, and this is all well and good, but I think that the realistic high end for gaming is going to end up in the 50 CP category. I basically see every 50 CPs as approximating an old school D+D level 10, based on this:

5 CPs = level 1
10 CPs = level 2
15 CPs = level 3
20 CPs = level 4
25 CPs = level 5
50 CPs = level 10
100 CPs = level 20

This means that Resolute characters cap out just before achieving ‘level 20’ in D+D terms. It also means (as I always felt with D+D back in the day) a hero hits his max playability around level 10 or so (i.e. Resolute level 5, or 50 CPs) and beyond this, becomes quite powerful and difficult to truly challenge. Resolute appears to do the same thing, on the whole. At 50 CPs, with access to excellent gear, you can build a killer character who can take on pretty much anything. I'm using this as my rationale for some of the house rules I'll be proposing and playing with over the next while...

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Mount Brim Keyed

Here's the keyed map of Mount Brim, for your reference...

Magicians and Spell Books

I've been working on finding a good balance for magicians, their spell books, and resolve. In the rules as written, magicians have access to any spell in their book with a resolve point; the magician can choose to cast an spell from a scroll/book on his/her person as long as a resolve point is available.

I'm playing with limiting this to the magician's casting stat; you can have a number of spells at the ready based on your arcane bolt rating. If you move one of these to your prepared spells (through upgrading as an application for 2 CPs), you move it out of your repertoire, and this frees up another slot.

For instance, you play a magician with arcane bolt +4, and you have 7 spells in your spell book. You spend 2 CPs to purchase 1 spell as an application. This means:

- You have your basic bolt spell that you can cast at will.
- You have 1 known spell that you can cast in 1 turn, once per scene. This spell, by virtue of being a known spell, allows you to use a resolve point to increase its power or effectiveness.
- You have 4 repertoire spells; these are written in your spell book (or notes, or you carry scrolls); you can cast these in 1 turn by using a resolve point, but you cannot further upgrade these spells with resolve.
- You have 2 spells that you cannot use in combat unless you are willing to read the spell directly from the book or scroll, erasing the spell from your book/scroll in the process.

I like the variety of this for magicians, and it makes them more tactically interesting to play; even though you start with 5 spells in your spellbook, your arcane bolt +3 at level 1 is still going to force you to make some decisions; and every time you pick up a new spell scroll, you're going to have to wait until you increase your arcane bolt rating before you can use it in combat.

This hits a great balance for me between the open-endedness of spontaneous spells in Mythweaver and the more rigid system in D+D. It also means, just because two magicians have a copy of Heldack's Arcanum, they aren't necessarily going to have the same spells in their repertoires.

I'll be play testing this as I go.

Friday, July 15, 2011

In Play 02

I've decided that instead of posting the full actual play results here (they're a bit long to read on a blog), I'll only post the design notes and what I've learned from the session (a recap) rather than the full post. Those I'll throw on the forums, where they are easier to navigate and read.

That said, the two sessions I've run so far have shown me several good things about designing only what you need as you go. By leaving a number of entrances into the dungeon from other places, I can create any number of means by which others entered, and I can leave all sorts of dangling plot hooks for later.

I also see the huge benefit of actually play testing the adventures you design; you learn all sorts of cool little things once you actually pick up dice and play it out.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

In Play 01

From Garth’s Journals:

After a long night of talking strategy with Uncle Trom (as we have come to call him) and an aggressive discussion of both the name of our group and Trom’s cut, we’ve arrived at the following agreements.

- Trom is a full member of the group; he gets 1/5 share, or an even share among survivors. We will all cast lots for order of selection on items. If you die, you and your heirs get nothing. We all agreed.
- Someone can be voted in or out of our fellowship only by unanimous agreement (of course, kicking someone out requires unanimous agreement of the others- your vote doesn’t count in that case!)
- We argued over Trom’s Hammer, Trom’s Fist, Trom’s Torch and Trom’s Echo as names for our team, but none could agree on any. Ultimately, we went with Trom’s Reach, despite some minor objections. It was getting late, and we were all a little tired at that point.
- We decided to set out at first light into the dungeons below; our first objective is to recover the Axe of Echoes, and bring this back to Trom.

Scene 1: Into the dungeons

From Xeric’s Journals:

The morning brought with it our descent into the cavernous underbelly of Beldin Mere, the tunnels that remained of the once-fearsome prison complex of Mount Brim. The rudimentary library of Beldin Mere had granted little by way of lore regarding this complex, and I determined to record as much as I could for posterity. The first thing one must notice is the smell of brimstone that hangs in the air, polluting the cellars of the Inn of 99 Ears as soon as the capstone over the shaft opens. We descended carefully into the 3’ wide shaft, deciding that this would be our order of progress through the tunnels:

Ziroh, Runyon, Me, Garth

We descended carefully, arriving at the western end of a balcony that overlooked a temple. The temple had a handful of statues in various poses scattered beneath. We checked around the area carefully before we made our decision…

In Play:

Since I know all of the obstacles that are here, it’s not reasonable that I’d be able to role play as well and think through problems. I’ll assume that my four heroes represent the full range of options. In general, I’ll roll 2D6 and get results that I’ll generally interpret like this:

2-4 The most dangerous or foolhardy course (Runyon’s view)
5-6 A risky or somewhat unknown course (Ziroh’s view)
7-9 A moderate course with some risk but possible reward (Garth’s view)
10-12 A conservative, safe course (Xeric’s view)

So, if I roll 2, the heroes just go for it; if I roll 12, they are exceptionally cautious, crossing their t’s and dotting their I’s before progressing. Sounds good.

They check the balcony, and find nothing. They scout out the west, and find a hallway that continues on, although they cannot see beyond the 30’ of torch light.

Xeric’s Journals:

We decided to first examine the statues below. They seemed to be of remarkable craftsmanship, and we wanted to inspect further…

In Play

They lower themselves without a problem, noticing the northern door is ajar, and the southern door is apparently sealed. As they search, there is a 1 in 6 chance that the cockatrice rolls in… I roll and get a 6. Nope. The cockatrice is unaware of the visitors. I also roll for wandering encounters, and get 3. Also no wandering monsters this scene.

The heroes investigate the statues. The conservative course is to leave things as they are; the careful course is to move the statues around so that they face the walls away from the heroes (maybe giving them more time to get situated should they come to life), and the reckless course is to smash the statues. I roll and get 7. They collectively decide to leave the statues be for the present, since they aren’t sure what’s going on. They move carefully to the north door, and Ziroh decides to sneak in and check the room out (area 2). He rolls 8+2=10, and the cockatrice rolls 8+2=10. Ties go to the action, so Ziroh barely slips into the room to see the cockatrice picking at its feathers in the northeast corner of the room. He comes out and tells the rest of the team… Xeric rolls lore to see if he knows anything about cockatrices… he rolls 6+2=8….

Xeric’s Journal

I knew little about the cockatrice, and had only minimal suggestions; it turns its foes to stone, so the statues herein must be its victims. How to turn them back, and how to fight a cockatrice, I had no idea. I knew that some creatures had to touch you to turn you to stone, while others could do it only by sight. I suggested that we move back to the balcony, prepare ranged attacks, and use one of the statues (I suggested the spider) to draw the creature into the room, avoiding its gaze if at all possible.

In Play

There is a 1 in 6 chance that the cockatrice comes in as they prepare (since this takes several minutes). I roll 2, so they finish just as the cockatrice is about to go for a stroll. They position themselves so that Runyon is to the west (in case creatures entered that way), Ziroh is to the east, Garth is to the north, and Xeric is to the south. Runyon and Garth will work together to pull over the spider statue (using ropes they tie to it), ducking beneath the balcony side, while Ziroh and Xeric pepper the creature with ranged attacks. Ultimately, both Runyon and Garth can throw rocks at it, as needed. They both gather a handful from the chamber (they aren’t hard to find, from pieces of broken statues)

Pulling over the spider statue is DR 10. Between them, they have 8 CPs invested in might (+4), and Garth’s +1 shift brings them to +5. They roll and get 6+5=11. They easily topple the statue, and it smashes to pieces on the floor in a loud crash. The cockatrice enters carefully, investigating the room, moving around the pillars towards the center. Once it crosses between the pillars on the west side, the heroes attack.

For sequence, they roll:
Garth rolls 7+0=7
Runyon rolls 6+0=6
Xeric rolls 7+1=8
Ziroh rolls 9+1=10. He also rolls for stealth, getting 6+2=8.
The cockatrice rolls 10+2=12. Additionally, it rolls to notice Ziroh’s stealth, getting 8+2=10. It sees him up on the balcony right away.

Round 1:
- The cockatrice will leap at Ziroh, attempting to bite him and turn him to stone. It has to move 3 units and leap 2 more, so this will be a considerable effort… leaping to the 15’ balcony will normally require a DR 15 might roll, but the cockatrice (although it cannot fly) can use its wings to ‘flutter’ to one of the statues, and again to the balcony. I rule that this will be its full action this turn, if successful, but will put it in melee range for its next turn. It needs two might rolls (both DR 7) to make it to the balcony. It rolls 9+5=14, and easily gets atop the statue. It then rolls 5+2=7, and narrowly perches on the balcony rail, next to Ziroh. There is a 50% chance that this action knocks over the statue. We’ll say evens on a D6, and it falls. I roll and get 4; it falls! Evens it’s the fighter, and odds it’s the scout. I roll and get 2; the fighter falls to the floor with a heavy crash, shattering his statue. The cockatrice prepares to bite Ziroh on its next turn.
- Ziroh fires a bolt at the cockatrice in midair, as it prepares to land on the balcony. He rolls 4+3=7, and the cockatrice rolls 4+3=7 to evade. He narrowly clips it with a bolt in midair, and rolls 4+1=5 for damage, but the cockatrice soaks 7+0=7 wounds. Ziroh fails to wound it, but a flurry of feathers cascade to the floor below.
- Xeric throws an arcane bolt; he rolls 5+3=8 to hit, and the cockatrice rolls 2+3=5 to evade; Xeric hits by +3, and for damage he rolls 9+3+2=14 wounds, and the cockatrice soaks 5+0=5; he deals 9 wounds, leaving the cockatrice at 11.
- Garth will use his turn to close for melee. He has to move 3 units, so he can travel and still strike at -3. He does so, rolling 7+4-3=8 to hit, and the cockatrice rolls 6+3=9 to evade. He misses. He’ll save his resolve point in case he really needs it later.
- Runyon cannot cross the chamber in one turn, but he thinks about using the rope that the heroes descended from; I rule that it’s anchored near him, and he can use it to swing to the cockatrice as a single turn (with a -3 attack linked to it), on a successful roll. He needs to roll might, DR 10, to cross the expanse. He rolls and gets 8+4 (from the aura of might) =12, and manages to traverse the room, leaping from the rope and he swings with his sword at the cockatrice, getting 10+4-3=11, and the cockatrice rolls 7+3=10 to evade; he hits by +1. For damage, he rolls 2 (blech) +4+1=7 wounds, and the cockatrice soaks 5; it’s now down to 9 wounds remaining.

Round 2
- On its turn, the cockatrice bites Ziroh, as promised. It rolls 8+2=10 to hit, and Ziroh rolls 6+2=8 to evade. The cockatrice hits by +2. For damage it gets 8+2=10, and Ziroh soaks 5+1=6, so he takes 4 wounds and is down to 6. He also has to resist the petrification; he rolls 6+1=7. He has no resolve, so he turns to stone. One down!
- Ziroh uses his turn to look like a handsome narglyn statue. He succeeds (no roll required).
- Xeric throws an arcane dart, getting 7+3=10 to hit, but the cockatrice rolls 9+3=12 to evade, and Xeric misses.
- Garth swings his hammer, getting 8+4=12 to hit, and the cockatrice rolls 7+3=10 to evade. He hits by +3, and for damage rolls 4+2+3=9, and the cockatrice rolls 7+0=7 to soak. It’s now down to 7 wounds remaining.
- Runyon swings his sword, getting 10+4=14 to hit, and the cockatrice rolls 3+3=6 to evade; Runyon hits by +8! For damage, he rolls 6+4+8=18 wounds, and the cockatrice soaks 7+0=7 wounds. The cockatrice suffers 11 wounds, and dies, falling from the edge of the balcony to the floor below in a pile of feathers and blood. Its head has been severed.

I’m going to house rule that you have to make a ‘system shock’ roll of sorts to recover from petrification. This would be a might roll, with a relatively low DR… we’ll say DR 7. The gnome is not yet an ally, so gets no bonus to this, but by virtue of being teamed with Garth, Ziroh has a might of +2 from the aura. The gnome scout rolls 6+0=6, while Ziroh rolls 8+2=10. Ziroh makes it, but the gnome is not going to… Garth uses a resolve point to allow the gnome to be part of his aura of might, so that the gnome makes the roll and survives.

For defeating the cockatrice, the heroes each earn 3 XP. For saving the gnome, they will get an extra +1 each, so all heroes are now at 4 XPs.

The gnome does not want to stick around. The heroes tell him how to get out, and he gladly takes the escape- but not before he tells the heroes that he suspected that his partner was ready to betray him, and he hid a small treasure in the area he and the fighter had used (19) as their safe haven.

Design Notes:
- The cockatrice is a capable foe against level 1 heroes; it took out Ziroh in one attack, and odds were in its favor with each hit beyond this. I was tempted to add a second cockatrice (returning from wandering the halls to find its mate in battle) at some point, but decided against it because this is the first encounter in the dungeon (or at least it is likely to be), and the encounter already presents the possibilities of adding a spider, fighter and maybe even a gnome to the combat depending on how things go… in this case, the heroes got lucky and handled things well, so the encounter was easier. If that spider had sprung to life, if they’d been battling on the first floor, or if the gnome had died instead of the human fighter, we’d have a very different situation here.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Heroes 2.0

I’m going to trade out one of my heroes; instead of a forge gnome, I’m going to make my scout a narglyn. I’ll change his name to Ziroh Zanisak. Instead of a bonus to evade, narglyn get a bonus to precision; as such, I’m changing out his weapon from darts to a crossbow. Additionally, I changed out Runyon’s axe for a sword; at least one hero should be a sword wielder, and I know that Trom collects axes, so it’s a good swap out.

Ziroh Zanisak, the Narglyn Scout (10 CPs) Soak physical +1
Arms +1; Burglary +2; Evade +2; Intuition +1; Precision +3 (2 CPs/ +1 racial shift); Stealth +2
Light Crossbow +1 (attack +3/damage +1/range 4), dagger +1 (attack +3/damage +1); leather armor +1

Runyon the Human Fighter (10 CPs)
Soak physical +2
Arms +2; Might +3; Resolve +3 (2 CPs; +1 racial shift); Weapon Specialization (swords) +2
Hide armor +2; long sword +2 (attack +3/damage +4)

Xeric the Moon Elf Magician (10 CPs) Soak magic +2
Arcane Bolt (eldritch) +3; Aspect +2; Evade +1; Lore +2; Intuition +1 (from racial shift +1); Resolve +1
Wand of eldritch +2 (attack +3/damage +2/range 3); cloak of warding +2
Carries a dog-eared edition of Heldack’s Arcanum; wears cloak of warding +2

Garth Thunderheart, Dwarf Disciple (10 CPs) Soak magic +1/physical +2
Arms +2; Aura of Might +2; Aura of Healing +1; Aspect +1; Intuition +1; Might +3 (2 CPs, +1 racial shift); Resolve +1
Studded armor +2; cloak of warding +1; war hammer +2 (attack +3/damage +2)

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The map is done for level 1, and I absolutely love it… although I can’t claim credit for the design. I was more than inspired by this map; both the circular layout and the artistic technique in drafting it were things I emulated. You should check out Dyson’s blog- he’s brilliant. His work hits the exact sweet spot for me in evocative, helpful and clear design. I plan to cop his style for my future maps, and to limit the use of computer-generated designs as much as possible. The blocky designs have an old-school charm, but maps like this one are 5x better in all respects, to my mind.

Working from his original design, I cut down the number of crossovers from 4 to 3, cut down the total number of rooms, and added the natural cavern that includes a waterfall into the central pit. The heroes immediately have any number of choices in direction, and they can move around the thing with quite a bit of freedom.

Four immediate access points are in the northwest corner and in the west; these are both connections to rival dwarf mining clans. Both clans have established portcullises as a ‘fence’ between the dungeon complex (as unclaimed territory) and their mine complexes (as per official charters granted by the Council of Beldin Mere). Both clans clearly mark their borders, have magically-sealed portcullises, and leave guardians as well. There are several ways to get to the next lower level (an entrance at the bottom of the central pit, and the stairs on the eastern end are two ways), although others surely exist… eventually.

My group of heroes will enter through the temple complex at the far eastern end. This temple rests directly beneath the Inn of the 99 Ears, and Trom Trollslayer has petitioned for and been granted a ‘special writ’ granting him property rights to all land directly beneath the confines of his inn. He therefore claims the temple itself as his (by property right), and wants to explore further down, to see what else may be his by right. Further, he wants to live vicariously through a group of young explorers; his wife would never allow him to undertake such reckless activity as dungeon crawling, but he craves the excitement of the adventuring life, and he’s hoping that by acting as the brains behind a young team, he can relive his glory days. He’s intentionally picked young, inexperienced but relatively trustworthy and honest folk for his fellowship, and expects to be fair with them; he sees them eventually becoming part of his extended family, but also knows that the life can be dangerous, and that it’s quite likely some (or all) will not survive long.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Mount Brim

I’ve had Mount Brim in my notes for several years, and I’ve decided to make this the location of my mega-dungeon. Here’s what I already know about Mount Brim:

- Surdur kept a fortress atop the mountain that was the symbol of his power and influence. While in the Barrens, he warred with Beldin Mere for two centuries; the two fortresses (his and the dwarf complex) were located at opposite ends of the horizon- so maybe 20-30 miles separated them in the Barrens. During the Reckoning, Mount Brim was moved intact, while Beldin Mere was cut loose and ended up floating through the Celestial Sea for some time (upwards of a year, I’m thinking) before crossing over into the lands of Del Anon.

- Once Surdur’s forces and the dwarves realized that they had all arrived in the same realm, the battle heated up again in all of its glory; however, this time it was different, seeing as the dwarves were 20 miles up, and 200 miles away.

- Eventually, the dwarves found a way to control the movements of their aerial city, and decided to set a course for Mount Brim. They launched the final volley in their battle when they positioned Beldin Mere directly over Mount Brim- and then dropped it. I stole this image from an episode of Battlestar Galactica, wherein Adama has Galactica drop into a planet’s atmosphere.

-The dwarves succeeded in taking out the entire upper prison complex, squishing the upper levels of the caverns below and collapsing large sections. They believed at the time that they had succeeded in destroying the bulk of Surdur’s forces. If this were true, would we be talking about this right now?

- They used the last of the magic that held the fortress aloft to keep it from totally falling apart on impact; the city sustained some considerable damage, although this was minor relative to the impact of the fall. Dwarf engineers and meticulous manipulation of storm magic prevented the entire city from imploding upon impact.

- Surdur kept power by pitting his lieutenants against each other. He had dozens of powerful servitors who, since they were evil to the core, would inevitably gang up on him in an effort to seize personal power; he prevented this by keeping them pitted against each other. This means that individual sectors of the complex were personalized by the individual wardens, and many are still individual lairs of the warden and his/her/its personal entourage.

- Surdur may or may not still survive. I think that he does in some form (although almost assuredly not as a normal fire giant). However, his direct links to his former lieutenants have fallen apart, so many are either dead, acting in the ways they think Surdur would have wanted, or working to claim the complex for their own.

- It has several access points (as any good mega-dungeon should).

- Its main gates are quite powerful, and should be for heroes of level 6+. I’ll design these later, although I have some ideas/notes about that already. All in good time…

- Two access points lead into the section I’m designing… one is located below the Inn of the 99 Ears, and the other is located beneath a tree on the mountainside (outside of the city proper) that is haunted by an evil spirit. New heroes can use either access point, or ultimately both. I think that mine will be using the one through the 99 Ears (since I am working up backstory for that), but I want to include the other as an equally viable option (that leaves the heroes untied to any secret benefactor, if so desired).

Who's the Leader of the Club?

Who exactly is my team’s leader? I suppose I should decide that now, too. Dran is motivated by traps and puzzles. This is not a bad motivation, but doesn’t necessarily make him a leader… Runyon is not much in the brains department as I see him, so I don’t like the idea of him making strategy. Xeric is a bit of a bookworm, and doesn't really have a mind for battle, so he’s out. Though he was the last hero I made, Garth seems the best fit for leading; he’s got the most ‘group utility’ in his build (he thinks of others), and he’s got motivation to go here; it was a dwarven prison complex, and he’s a dwarf. Let’s generate some rumors about the place that would hook Garth to seek it out:

• Surdur has become one with elemental flame. Since Garth would one day like to become one with elemental storm, he’d like to pick the old guys brains (preferably after removing them from the skull) to see how he did it.

• Garth’s father’s line met its end in the complex; he was the youngest son, so he doesn’t have the right to continue the clan. Only the eldest living son has the right to take the clan name; if any of his older brothers lives (and at least one must; he hasn’t received the mystical clan mark yet), he can’t carry on the line. Odds are good that someone is still imprisoned somewhere within; he has an obligation to attempt a rescue.

• Surdur had in his possession one of the six Hammers of Thunder, prized relics of the dwarves. Many believe that Surdur either has the hammer within, or disassembled it and spread its pieces throughout the complex (this one is better- keeps the heroes exploring every nook and cranny to find pieces of the hammer, and they get to feel a sense of accomplishment as they find pieces).

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Revisiting the Early Days

As I’m working on my dungeon and its heroes, I have been reading about the old Greyhawk days and early adventures. I was struck by several things, but the one that really hit me was this- you always started at level 1, and you had to earn everything. I know that for many of you this won’t be much of a revelation, but I’ve fully embraced the idea of starting a new character at whatever level you want, and going from there.

If, by rule, you have to start new characters at level 1, and you have to earn every scrap of money, experience and treasure, a level 5 hero means a LOT more to you. For my own gaming, I think that I might go this way going forward.

I was also struck by how much personal pride Gary Gygax took in the dungeons below Castle Greyhawk; several things I’ve read have spoken to how much it bothered Gary when a player outsmarted part of the complex, or when they got past a particular challenge. It seems like there were two opposing forces at work in those early days: a general desire to flummox the player characters, and a strong ethic that it had to be fair. As the DM, level 1 had to be appropriate to level 1 characters; you couldn’t suddenly have a level 7 monster that could wipe the party out. On level 7, you had level 7 opponents. If the PCs were dumb enough (or didn’t take care) not to inadvertently end up on level 7 while they were still level 1, well- that was their problem.