Friday, October 16, 2015

Fantasy Maps (B2 Players Map!)

Well, things have changed and developed much since my last post. In time I will return and attempt a little catch up. In the main, I post and discuss things on the various fora out there, because I get more immediate and helpful feedback. Blogging is a pretty silent thing. Find me and talk with me on these two fora:

Finarvyn's Original D&D Discussion


ThePerilousDreamer's OD&D Campaigns and House Rules Discussion

But I want to share some pictures with my forum buddies and I can't upload them to the fora unless they are somewhere on the inter webs: so here goes!

My players have found, so far, three treasure maps. So I decided to make good on it and deliver. I found some cool map paper at my FLGS. I also found this cool book online, "How to Create Great Fantasy Maps," from Draken Games. So I decided to put it to use!

This is my fantasy map version of B2, the Keep on the Borderlands. Because if is fantasy in style, with very little detail, it felt appropriate to share with players. They still have to find everything!

This is the version I gave my players. I call the K on the B, "Agnor Keep and Town," and the borderland is "Agnor March."

Here is the wilderness to the east of Agnor March. It is the Fay Wild of Dun Kells! (My main developed campaign wilderness setting.) I made a detailed hex map for myself. Again, this is the fantasy one for sharing with players. (Special thanks to the Mrs. for her fabulous elven-like hand writing!)

And, finally, here is the map I gave them for the entire "campaign world." It is an ancient medieval mappe mundi. Dun Kells is somewhere in Europe!

Share and enjoy!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Party Balance

I agree with most old schoolers that "game balance" is not what we are going for. Just as in the "real world," you never know what you are going to come up against.

I think this is certainly the case for encounters, construed in the broad sense to include monsters, traps and NPC intrigues. But I approach "game balance" a bit differently. I would place planned game-balance to total random possibility along a continuum and I would place different aspects of the game along that continuum. From least to most balanced I would go like this:

  • Random NPC encounters
  • Planned monsters
  • Planned traps
  • NPC intrigue
  • Class balance
  • Party balance

Here is what I mean. I want it to be at least possible that I might roll up a purple worm on lvl 1 of my dungeon. Low lvl PCs would just need to run. Yeah, for sure!

But I have no problem with designing the game to have a fair balance in class descriptions and abilities in order to achieve a "balanced party."

There are several reasons for this. Mechanically, I think the adventuring "unit" is not the character but the party as a whole. I want the different characters to "need" each other and their skills and possibilities to compliment and assist one another. This is really, finally, for "fun." I want each player to feel like his/her character has a reason for being there. I want each player to have a time to shine. I think this is okay to design in advance. The game is, after all, a game. It needs to be fun for everybody.

The other reason is in terms of the legendaria I want to engage. It is certainly the case that a lot of medieval literature is of the "solo hero adventure" model. But then there were the allegories. In the allegories, one often had the personifications of the various virtues, learning to work together in harmony, in order to overcome the personification of the vices. Now I think that is what we are engaging in D&D. The vices, passions, and problems are the monsters and traps. The virtues are the characters, the PCs, and, especially, the "prime requisite" abilities that each class personifies.

So in my Dun Kells rules I've made both prime requisites and secondary characteristics. And they are exactly spaced two distant from each other (I think this is particularly cool from the design sense. I think it is elegant. The elegance is pleasing to me). The prime requisite gives you 10% increase to XP PER BONUS (yes, that is right, and I use the BECMI bonus curve, as discussed in a previous post) and 5% increase to XP per bonus for the secondary characteristic. Hypothetically, that means a character could get as much as a 45% increase to XP: if they were astronomically lucky in the rolls and got an 18, twice, spaced exactly one apart! Let me show you what I mean:

Prime +/-10%
Secondary +/-5%

Of course, another interesting astronomical possibility is someone with a 45% penalty to XP! Imagine a weak and foolish knight (okay, not too hard). How about a stupid clumsy mage (a little bit more difficult), a faithless sickly priest (okay I have met these people), a clumsy awkward "scout." Hardest for me to imagine is the fay (but still within the realm of the possible): a sickly weakling dwarf, an awkward stupid elf.

Anyway, all this links the party to one another in interesting ways. Strength links knights and dwarves, intelligence links magi and elves, etc. Again, I like this, I find it elegant and interesting. And it weaves the party together in interesting ways.

In terms of link-up with the classical legendaria, I imagine it like this:

  • Strength = fortitude, courage, guts
  • Intelligence = knowledge (scientia)
  • Wisdom = wisdom! SOPHIA (sapientia)
  • Dexterity = balance, say, "temperance" (I know I am pushing it here)
  • Constitution = justice (in terms of balance of parts that leads to soundness of whole)
  • Charisma = perhaps St. Paul's "gifts of administration"
So, all cardinal virtues are present, plus knowledge and "administration." I like it. It takes a whole party to achieve the quest. Just like, in St. Paul, it takes the whole corporate body to achieve the totus Christus.

Here are some other ways that I tried to differentiated the six core classes so that they would truly compliment one another and so that each added something interesting to the mix and each needed something from the other. It is based upon differences in core mechanics that progress by level, and they are always shared by two classes. The mechanics are level change rate by XP accrual, combat skill ("to hit" progression), relative AC together with HP accrual and renewal rates, and base saving throws:

Level change rate by XP accrual from fastest to slowest:

  • Clerics and Scouts
  • Knights and Dwarves
  • Magi and Elves

Skill in combat from best to worst:

  • Knights and Scouts
  • Clerics and Elves
  • Magi and Dwarves

Quality of AC from best to worst AND Hit point accrual and renewal rate from best to worst (so, defensive capacity):

  • Knights and Dwarves
  • Clerics and Elves
  • Magi and Scouts

Base saving throw from best to worst:

  • Clerics and Dwarves
  • Magi and Elves
  • Knights and Scouts

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Risk, house ruled, for a Dun Kells campaign war

I am getting ready to run a play-by-post game over at "ThePerilousDreamer's" new forum that discusses Campaigns and House Rules for OD&D.

I am psyched. It will be at the highest level, "campaign level warfare." The players will act in the persons of the characters who will be the monarchs of each major kingdom: Byzantia, Germania, Iberica, Gallica, Logres and Slavia. I will be working on rolling up around level 10 characters for each of those roles and sharing them with the players soon. Above is my "map" for this game. I designed it in a more abstract, "London Underground Map" style to make connections clear and because I am no artist. I think it is usable.

The main game mechanic will be that of Risk combined with a kind of Diplomacy-style of play. Players will publicly announce publicity and "spin" from their monarchs on the public boards. They will negotiate treaties and trades by PMs (that include me as ref). They will issue orders for each of the main phases of play to me, simultaneously, by PM.

So, the main play phases will be:
1. Negotiate and trade
2. Reinforce
3. Attack
4. Fortify

They will only know what their armies immediately hold and immediately neighbor. They will have to trust what their fellow players tell them or send out spies for any other knowledge. I will keep campaign level accounts vague for that reason.

For reinforements, they will get one army for every two realms they control, rounded down, never less than two. They will get "kingdom" bonuses when they control every realm in a given kingdom: 2 for Iberica, 4 for Byzantia, 3 for the rest. I will call "territory cards," "trophies." The trophies for victories will be three different resources: wisdom, power and wealth. They can turn these in for 1 more army the first time, and these will increase by one each time resources are turned in. They may trade these during the negotiation phase.

I still have to work out how attacks will need to be worded, as they will be resolved, simultaneous, by me as referee. I still need to work out fortification, but I will allow formal allies to fortify one another.

I am getting excited about this!

Sunday, February 15, 2015

a game where anything can be attempted

My title to this post refers, or course, to Jon Peterson's definition of a role-playing game.

In my Dun Kells house rules, I try to make this quite explicit.

Any character can engage in combat. Knights are just the best for melee, scouts for range. Knights and dwarves get the best armor class possibilities.

Any character can attempt to cast an arcane spell. Magi are just best at it. It is safest for them. Other characters ability check intelligence for success and save against insanity. Clerics loose the favor of their patrons until they confess and do penance.

Any character can attempt to call down a patronal boon. Okay, well, almost any. Fay characters, dwarves and elves, cannot. They are not baptized so they have no heavenly patrons. Clerics do this best and it is the safest for them. Others characters ability check wisdom for success and save against "blight."

Any character may explore and attempt to use those skills associated with the "thief." Dexterity modifiers apply in most cases. "Scouts" (my lawful "thieves") get an additional bonus every three levels, starting at level four.

That seems to me to cover just about all of the kinds of actions that get parceled out as class specific. In the main they are no longer class specific. Class just makes you better, safer, or both. Players who choose a class still get to feel that they have a special role in the party and that their role progresses. But, in the main, characters can "attempt anything."

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Campaign and House Rules Discussion Forum Board

Announcing a new discussion board focused on Campaigns and House Rules. 

The primary purpose of these forums is to discuss fantastical medieval wargames campaigns and house rules in all threads, unless otherwise noted. The primary focus is on OD&D, other Classic D&D rules and their various simulacra as the assumed foundational rule-sets for our campaigns, as well as, the house rules used therein. 

This will be a place to vet house rules and discuss them before they are tried out on the unsuspecting players. We will post new monsters and all types of new material for our campaigns; including, but not limited to, setting ideas, setting/world building and the like. Tips on how to run a campaign, how to ref/DM and other related topics are also welcome.

This new forum is not an attempt to replace any existing forum, but rather to complement and spur more creativity. The focus is more on using and adapting the rules to your personal campaign. We hope it will be a great deal of fun to look at other people's campaigns and see how they do things. Even on those rare occasions when there is nothing that you directly want to borrow, we hope the discussion will always prove inspiring.

If this is of interest to you, please join us in this joint creative effort to harness the synergy of sharing ideas and mixing them to get more old school goodness out of many minds than what one mind working alone could accomplish alone.

You can find us at: Campaigns and House Rules Discussion for OD&D.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Ability Scores and "Modifiers" in Dun Kells

One of the things that some folks complain about in 0e is that "ability scores don't mean anything." Some say this to the degree that they simply drop them.

In Dun Kells, I have decided that a 3d6 check against ability is something I want to do, but not all the time. For normal exploration and combat I want role-play and rulings to determine the outcome. But sometimes players want their characters to attempt something pretty crazy, gonzo, or, well, just difficult. I want ability checks, as a referee, so that the dice can play the "oracle" for me that I can interpret. I don't want it to turn into "New School" style "feats" and "skills." I just want some probability to be added to the mix so that I, as ref, have something else to help me to interpret what is going on and the likelihood that characters are successful, and the degree to which they are successful.

I also decided, contrary to what A LOT of fellow Old School folks like, to use the B/X modifier table:

18 = +3
17-16 = +2
15-13 = +1
12-9 = n/a
8-6 = -1
5-4 = -2
3 = -3

I like this, because it allows me another way to get ability scores to "mean something" in the game. The modifiers apply to various game mechanics such that one's ability scores affect other game mechanics than simply ability checks.

So, some examples: strength modifiers directly apply to melee "to hit" and damage, dexterity modifiers directly apply to range fire "to hit," constitution modifiers to hit point rolls and restoration, etc.

I realize this makes my game a bit more "crunchy" than many Old Schoolers like. I am willing to take that. I just want the ability scores to "mean something"! And I don't think it is too much crunch, just a little arithmetic. Players might choose simply to factor it into their "to hit" schedule directly rather than adding it per roll. There are ways for them to get used to it. And I believe they can and will get used to it.

Finally, I think it adds to the "flavor," or "feel" of a character, making role-play more fun - both for me and the players. And not just in the "bonus" category. Imagine someone who, astronomically, rolls a 3 for strength, but is determined to play a "knight" (the "fighting man" of my campaign). Well, now that is going to grant some very interesting situations that the player is going to have to role-play!

Saturday, January 24, 2015

A Fantastical Christendom Wargames Campaign

So what I have been working on developing is a fantastical Christendom wargames campaign. Emphasis on the word "Christendom." Why?

Well, interestingly, it seems to me that this should be fairly obvious, or assumed in the first published rules for fantastical medieval wargames campaigns, but it was and is not. So let me explain.

By the time Gygax and Arneson developed Dungeons and Dragons modern, "medieval fantasy" fiction had already grown in directions that attempted to divorce the Middle Ages from the church and religion that actually defined it, and, I think it could be fairly easily argued, made it possible.

Right now medieval fantasy is very popular. The "middle ages" or "dark ages" are not. They were too Christian! It is hard to believe it, but it is true. For over a millennium there was a culture and "society" on earth defined by a major religion: Christianity, and a single recognized authoritative institution: the church.

This is not popular because a.) Christianity is not popular in culture these days and b.) the "Christianity" that is most popular in modern, Western culture is not continuous with the Christianity of our Western Medieval inheritance. It sees itself, in fact, at times, as at odds with it. Let's just state this baldly for the record: it is "Evangelical" vs. "Traditional," at least in the inner-Christian culture wars. This does not help.

I think perhaps this fanned the flames of the fires of controversy in the early '80's about D&D. The Evangelicals that hated it were probably unaware of how their hatred was part of their anti-traditionalism and, again, to state it baldly, their anti-catholicism. Bummer.

But most non-religious or averagely-informed (is that a word)? folks who play D&D aren't even aware of the link. So let me make this clear. No (traditional, interesting, literarily and philosophically rich) Christianity, no middle ages. No middle ages, no medieval literature. No medieval literature, no medieval romance. No medieval romance, no medieval fantasy. No medieval fantasy, no D&D! Oh the beauty and simplicity of the logic!

I remember gaming one day and something came up about Christianity. But of course, in modern America "Christianity" for most means the popular, individualistic, anti-traditional Evangelical thing that is, well, fairly unique to North America despite its universalizing claims. So when I mentioned the link of D&D to medieval Romance and Christianity, I got a response from a fellow player something like "Christianity! Forget that! I don't want to have anything to do with that." I understood what he meant, in our American context. But I couldn't help it so I just said: "What are you talking about?" I pointed to all the iconography on the DM screen of paladins fighting demons and clerics turning undead and said," all that just is Christianity. Where do you think we got all this stuff from?"

D&D doesn't need a "Christian" version. It already is just insofar as it is trying to engage the classical medieval Western legendaria. There, I said it. That doesn't mean you are Christian for playing it. That doesn't mean your campaign or campaign world is very Christian. It does not mean you should be Christian to play it or enjoy it. It does not mean it will make you Christian to play it. It does not mean it will make you a bad Christian or no Christian at all if you do play it (we are past the '80's scare now, thankfully). All it means is that the tropes, metaphors, cliches and archetypes are all derived from the medieval project with its understanding of the nature of things, its myths and legends, its hopes and values, its Romantic and folk literature and tales, etc.

This really deserves a series of posts. But let me give the overview here.

Part of the medieval project of morality plays, allegories and Romances was that of building analogies in narratives for the Christian spiritual path (a spiritual path you do not have to be a Christian or even a believer in God to appreciate; even Jung and Campbell like it). Many of the over-arching narratives that became key archetypes and tropes within the medieval project have become definitive for what we now consider "medieval fantasy."

These over-arching categories and archetypes show up even in the names of the first three little brown digest sized books themselves: Men and Magic; Monsters and Treasure; Underworld and Wilderness Adventure. (Sadly, the beautifully obvious link to these tropes is lost in the later 1e name of the "core rule books," as the titles become far too driven by the practical use of the books themselves!)

A group of MEN (the adventuring party, broadly construed) must work together against all odds using what wonders they have available to them to make their way through a wonderful world. In ancient medieval morality plays, different virtues and vices (good and bad habits, addictions) were personified and portrayed by different actors. In the end, the virtues had to work together to defeat the vices. This "team effort" was the final integration of the (Christian) soul. Many fantastical things would happen along the way. "MAGIC," was all around.

The Hero (in this case, the adventuring party, taken as a whole) must descend unto the underworld, the very bowels of the earth. He will be surprised and confronted by many dangerous MONSTERS. He must defeat them, often slay them. When he does he will discover treasures hidden away for ages - TREASURES that truly belonged to him (or his civilization) that were stollen and hoarded by creatures who could not even appreciate them.

The UNDERWORLD is the "bowels of the earth." In the ancient and medieval Christian project, the bowels were the seat of our emotions and sometimes even the center of consciousness itself. But those guts can get all twisted up and sick. They are to be trusted, ultimately, when purged (I just had to go with my gut), for they are the source of our courage, our resolve (boy does he have guts!), but until purged they are not to be trusted for they are misleading (he's got no guts!) (I was over come by my passions!). So we have to go down there and purge out the monsters: the monstrous, the passions, the vices, the "skeletons in our closet." When we do, we find that most important resource: GOLD. And, as any good alchemist knows, this is the truest and most noble of metals, the metal which mystically corresponds to the purified soul on the one hand, and the rays of light of day on the other.

Once the Hero (again, the adventuring party working together as a virtuous team as a whole) has defeated the monsters in the bowels and regained his hidden treasures, he now has the wealth and acclaim necessary to do his next task: to raid the WILDERNESS and rid it of CHAOS. The wilderness is the realm of wandering devils and demons, the haunt of jackets and worse. What poor souls live in those desolate regions live in constant fear of the impinging chaos. The Hero conquers the even more dangerous demons of the wilderness, bringing LAW and order to the CHAOS and loss, reestablishing hope, renewing peace. He builds and maintains a stronghold - a place that makes other souls, weaker, less brave souls safe and sound as well. (Up to a 20 mile radius according to the rules!) These are the "wilderness wanderings" of the People of God (Law). This is the Dark Night of the Soul.

"ADVENTURE," of course, is another word for "Quest." And this is the Quest of the Knight Errant: the Christian warrior-soul conquering his own, internal demons first, so that he can be strong enough to help others conquer theirs.

I realize that what I am doing in trying to come up with a campaign setting that really engages this allegorical aspect of the legendaria is really what "DragonRaid" should or at least could have been. Less Evangelical, more classical, traditional. But that renders it unnecessary, of course. All the tropes are ready for exploration in the original game.

One of the problems with DragonRaid is the one-to-one allegory between the PC and a concrete Christian soul. But the allegory implicit in the traditional medieval fantasy, and therefore in D&D, is not a one to one player to one Christian allegory. Rather, the allegory is the adventuring party to a questing Christian soul. The party itself is so important (more posts to follow).

(So, in terms of my house-rules mechanics, coming up with balance between characters so that each represented a kind of virtue of the soul was important to me. I still wanted to make it that anybody could attempt just about anything. And that is where some of that complexity of my house-rules comes from!)

So, the subtitle of my house-rules "Dun Kells" document is "A Fantastical Christendom Wargames Campaign." Because, although "medieval" should say the same thing, it does not anymore. By claiming "Christendom" as the campaign context, I am making it clear that I am willingly trying to engage the more obvious over-arching Christian tropes of "medieval fantasy." But I did not use the word "Christian," but "Christendom." That buys me some distance so that I am not trying to game-i-fy anybody's religion. But explaining that and its importance is for another post!