Sunday, February 20, 2011

From the Treasury: Mygorum's Portable Librarium

Mygorum the archmage was a rather neurotic and absent-minded wizard. Over the many years of adventuring with The Company of the Blood-Tipped Spear, he accumulated volumes upon volumes of ancient and arcane lore. As the years went by, and his memory began to fade, he found it necessary to have access to his tomes as often, and as readily as possible. Thus, he crafted the device he named Mygorum's Portable Librarium.

The minor artifact is presented as an ornate golden pyramid with bright ruby gems inset along its edges. When placed on the ground, and the proper command word spoken, the mage is transported to an extra-dimensional space within the pyramid statue. Within this space, time stops effectively for 2-12 full turns once per day.

Inside, the librarium is lined with bookshelves along its walls and a small desk and chair at its center. The tomes within contain vast and various spell books, beastiaries, and other such sundries left up to the DM to decide. The mage may make use of this time however he sees fit within the librarium (memorizing spells, researching information on how to destroy a monster, etc.) Once the mage chooses to leave the librarium and return to the prime plane, he returns exactly where he left and time immediately resumes from the point at which he entered the librarium.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

My Appendix N Pot of Gold

Everyone in the OSR knows about Gary Gygax's Appendix N, but for those who aren't in the old school crowd, Appendix N was an added section of the old DMG in which Gygax listed an essential bibliography of authors and works which inspired the game of D&D.  As much as it pains me to admit, I have not read as many of the works from Appendix N as I would have liked over the years (Amber series, for example.  I know, I'm horrible.)  As such, like many of my fellow OSR bloggers, I have taken it upon myself to start cracking into these masterworks of sword and sorcery.  Most of the books are short, I presume because many of them are merely story collections placed into book form in the 60's and 70's (Fritz Leiber's collections for example.)  

Getting most of the books in Appendix N is not a difficult endeavor really.  Many are available for sale at affordable prices on amazon.  I'm not the very patient sort, though, and besides I wasn't particularly fond of paying a bunch of different shipping fees either.  So, this past weekend it dawned on me to check out one of the used book stores in my town, and it was the equivalent of walking into a dungeon with a hoard of treasure just laying there for the taking.  I poured over the dusty paperbacks in their sci-fi/fantasy section, my jaw dropping in amazement at the fact that I got much more than I bargained for on the trip.  Sure, I was certain I'd find a few of the books, but nothing prepared me for the fact that I'd find as many as I did.  By the end of my trip I was having to put some down to save for another visit.  Among the great finds I picked up were:

The Fallible Fiend by L. Sprague DeCamp
Nine Princes in Amber by Roger Zelazny
The Jewel in the Skull by Michael Moorcock
Swords Against Death by Fritz Leiber

There were more I could have snatched up, but I want to get through a few of these before picking up the rest.  I'm really looking forward to diving into these.  The fact that most of them are pretty short will be a nice change considering my time for reading fiction is extremely limited anymore, and many books I read tend to be of great length anymore.  So, have any of you had any great Appendix N finds?  I'm sure many of the OSR bloggers out there have probably had many of these books on their shelves already for years.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Islets of Rlloth - Sea of Os'r Adventure Path

Recently over at Planet Agol, the question of whether the OSR needs an adventure path was posed.  Several folks in the OSR blogosphere have taken the reigns and created a few island hopping site based adventures for use with a larger Sea of Os'r campaign adventure path including Paul over at Quickly, Quietly, Carefully, migellito of  The Grumpy Old Troll, and quite a few others.

So, I thought what the heck, I'll throw my own into the fray as well.  I present, the Islets of Rlloth, for inclusion into the Sea of Os'r adventure path.  A dangerous, small isle flowing with undead.

Here's a sample of what the map looks like.

Friday, February 11, 2011

The DM Who Knows Nothing

'The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.' - Socrates

The other night, my best friend Chris commented to me in a chat that he was sometimes amazed at how I knew so many things about the game of DnD.  I was curious as to what he meant, so I asked for an example.  He went on to talk about a particular encounter where essentially I had to make a ruling as a DM.  From his perspective, I made this ruling based on some obscure knowledge of the volumes upon volumes of text available to me in rulebooks.  In truth, I simply don't have time to dig up every little particular rule of the game, and most of the time, I simply make rulings on the fly, a trait common to those players and DM's who would usually consider themselves to be of an "old school" mentality, I suppose. 

The first, and most important piece of advice I tell anyone interested in game mastering a RPG, is to realize that you know nothing about the game.  Not only should you realize this, you should embrace this philosophy.  The rule books are there to be a guide first and foremost, but the DM is the final say at the table on any ruling.  That is not to say that a DM should not look through and utilize any of the rules in the DMG or any other supplemental book.  Rather, this philosophy simply means that you don't rely on these books for every little thing that pops up.   They are meant to serve as a guide, not a crutch.

New DM's are often terrified at the notion of sitting at a table, having prepared what they think to be a well planned adventure, only to have a player do something out of the ordinary, requiring a ruling.  I know, because I have been there myself.  Having 3 or 4, or sometimes even more, people staring you down and waiting for you to come up with something can be a lot of pressure.  Immediately, the new DM feels the need to whip out a book to make sure he/she "gets it right."  Resist this urge.  Think about the situation, utilize the stats available, along with the circumstances, and make a ruling.  Because if you pull out that book, and start digging, the rules lawyers at the table are going to expect you to do that every single time something out of the norm pops up.  Unless you just started playing RPG's yesterday, you know that "things out of the norm" are essentially THE norm at the game table.  You have to be prepared to make judgments on the fly, and be willing to make those judgments. 

Yes, having a firm grasp on the DMG will make it a lot easier to make good judgments, but in the end, you are the DM.  As long as you remain impartial to the players and the game, the rulings you make will be fair.  I have never had one of my players question me on a ruling in a game, or somehow perceive that I was "out to get them."  That is not to say that the DM should never be willing to listen to a player on a subject.  If what he/she says makes sense, or seems the best way to handle it, use it to make your ruling.  Remember, as a DM, your first, and most important function, is to create a living and breathing world of adventure for the players to explore.  This is where the DM should focus most of their time, as opposed to learning every little penalty associated with exceeding a certain character's encumbrance by one pound.

As a new DM, once you make the realization that you don't know anything, and don't have to know everything, the game will begin to open up in a variety of ways.  Realize and embrace the fact that you know nothing. 

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Thursday Links from the OSRsphere - Feb. 10th, 2011

Time again for some links from around the OSR blogosphere. Enjoy.

Tenkar's Tavern - Spotlight - Sacrosanct Games $1 Old School Adventures 4 OSR adventure modules on sale for $1 each.

Risus Monkey - Monkey Maps Vol. 1  A PDF file collection of RM's first 100 dungeon geomorphs.

A Character for Every Game - d12 Pages of Awesome – Dyson’s Dodecahedron Issue 2!  A great little PDF zine created by Dyson Logos. Great stuff.

The Caffeinated Symposium - My Short-Lived Conan Campaign  A great essay on crafting and running a sandbox city based campaign. While focusing on the d20 Conan RPG as the platform, the guidance can be applied to any RPG system.

Swords Against the Outer Dark - The Science is the Dice We all know Gamescience dice are the de facto dice for old schoolery. Find out why here.

Gothridge Manor - Creating an NPC Tim discusses how he goes about designing an NPC, getting them involved with the party, and developing adventure hooks around them.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Arrived in the Mail: MERP Box Set

Recently I was surfing over at Troll and Toad Games, and stumbled across some of the old MERP stuff by ICE from the 80's.  I recall dabbling with this game back in the day, and couldn't pass up on the opportunity to pick up a copy of the 1986 boxed set for only $19.

After about a week, it arrived, and I must say, considering the fact that this boxed set is 25 years old, it was in fantastic shape. Just some minor wear on the bottom edge, but the rest of the set was well put together and in fantastic condition.  No page tears in the rulebook, or missing parts from the set.  The two 20 sided dice that were included are not the original dice included, but that's okay. 

Having simply skimmed over the rules last night briefly, it seemed the system is a bit cumbersome in areas.  While I played this a couple of times years ago, the mechanics are lost on me.  Still, the opportunity to do a fantasy role play in Middle Earth has always intrigued me.  Sure, a campaign could easily be adapted using a clone or some form of DnD rules, but I wanted to give the old system a shot.  I'm not exactly sure when, or even if, I will get a chance to play this again, but it's a nice thing to have for the collection anyway.

If any of you readers out there have some of the old MERPS stuff from ICE just laying around collecting dust, I'd sure like to have it. Just drop me a line at robertchandler AT gmail DOT com.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Tenevar's Traps: The Trapping Mirror

Tenevar the gnome made a name for himself throughout the realms as an innovator of death and dismemberment. His mechanical and magical traps were the envy of kingdoms far and wide. High lords and monarchs called upon his services to design complex and ornate trappings and tricks to ensure that grave robbers and looters would meet a nasty end should they attempt to raid their tombs. The following trap comes from within the tome containing his journals and notes on design.

The Trapping Mirror

When the party enters the room, at the very rear of the chamber they see an ornate and beautifully designed statue holding a mirror at eye level so they may see their reflection as they approach. Once any party members gets within 30 feet of the mirror, and sees his/her reflection, the party member must make a save vs. spells, or disappear into the mirror. The party will have no idea what happened to their friend(s), or where they went. They will simply have vanished. The mirror is a Mirror of Life Trapping. In order to free the party member(s) from the mirror, it must be broken, which can be done by any conventional means. The problem, however, is getting to the mirror. Five feet directly in front of the mirror is an invisible Wall of Force cutting off the party from the mirror, which cannot be penetrated (treat as the wizard spell of the same name). It cannot be dispelled with dispel magic. Only a Disintegrate spell, or a wish can destroy it. It is possible, however, to teleport on the other side of the wall in order to break the mirror. If the mirror is broken, all creatures trapped within are released (some of them could include nasty monsters).

This trap is designed using the AD&D 2e rules, however can easily be incorporated into any RPG system.

Campaign Journal: The Northlands and Beyond Chapter 1

So, I thought I'd start posting my campaign journal entries here, in a brief summary format.  For a more detailed version, you can check out the Obsidian Portal site for our campaign.  Because this game is played via a play-by-post method, there are no real "sessions" as we pretty much play every single day.  Instead, I've divided the entries up by chapters.  They don't really act as chapters of a story, per se, but rather offer a break or change in events, so to speak.  So, here is the abbreviated version.  Again, for those that don't already know, this is an adventure played in AD&D 2e in the Forgotten Realms setting (using 1993 boxed set).  The year is 1368DR.


Xilus - Lvl 1 Fighter/Mage/Thief half elf, played by Chris
Davrun - Lvl 1 Paladin, human played by Billy F.
Stanley - Lvl 1 Cleric of Torm, human played by Rouse
Flute - Lvl 1 Bard, half elf, played by Billy C.
Bazhur - Lvl 1 Ranger/Thief, human played by Ron
Tymel - Lvl 1 Cleric of Tyr, human NPC

Xilus, Davrun, Flute, and Stanley arrived at the Hall of Justice in Neverwinter on the morning of Hammer 5th, 1368 to answer a call to arms. Over the past two weeks, 4 merchant caravans had gone missing while traveling south along the High Road near the Neverwinter Wood. The party was commissioned to find the bandits raiding the merchant caravans, rescue any survivors, and bring the brigands to justice in Neverwinter. Tymel Greyhammer, cleric of Tyr, and priest at the Hall of Justice accompanied the party.

They departed on Hammer 6th using a cart disguised as a merchant cart in order to lure out the bandits. That night, after traveling along the High Road the group set up camp. During the night they were attacked by a pack of wolves. 

During the late afternoon of the following day, Hammer 7th, the party came across 3 people standing by a broken cart along the High Road. They claimed to be from Neverwinter and in need of assistance to get back on the road. Xilus noticed that there were no fresh tracks to indicate the cart had been moving. From the back of their own cart, Davrun the young paladin, who was hiding in order to surprise brigands, sensed evil nearby. 

While questioning the 3 humans, the party was ambushed by a group of 5 orcs.  During the fray, Xilus cast a sleep spell on the humans. After the orcs were slain, the 3 humans revealed that they were survivors from a previous caravan raid. The raids were not being conducted by bandits, but rather by orcs. The orcs somehow knew of the party's coming and forced the humans to act as bait for an ambush.

The humans informed the party that the orcs had a camp a half-day's journey into the Neverwinter Wood and that there were other human survivors. They also mentioned that every other night an elf would come into the camp, speak with some of the orcs, and sometimes take a few of the humans. Those that were taken had not been seen again. They also suspected that the elf was behind the ambush.  One of the 3 humans, a woman named Myrtha, revealed that her son was still alive in the orc camp. The other two humans agreed to take some horses and ride back to Neverwinter to report the news.

The party then departed through the forest of the Neverwinter Wood headed for the orc camp with Myrtha in tow. Upon finding a ravine with a tree fallen across in the forest, Xilus went forward to scout the orc camp. As he was scouting the camp he encountered another human, this one armed. He revealed himself to be Bazhur Kahn, a warrior from Calimshan. He informed Xilus that he had been scouting the camp for several days, but could not act to free the captives because he was severely outnumbered. With the party waiting back at the ravine about 100 yards back, Khan and Xilus proceeded to the orc camp.

After stealthily taking two of the orc guardtowers, they signaled the rest of the party to come forward. The ambush didn't go as planned, and a battle ensued. The party managed to kill most of the orcs including a chieftain and a shaman. They also freed the remaining survivors. One of the survivors, a merchant named Dalos Ironwinter, attempted to sneak into the chieftain's tent after being freed, but Xilus spotted him and secretly followed him. After observing Dalos, he realized the man was looking for something extremely important in the chieftain's tent. He revealed himself to Dalos, and after some questioning, discovered that Dalos was commissioned by one of the Neverwinter Nine, a man named Balar, to create a map of the city of Neverwinter, and deliver it to Waterdeep to a contact with the Lord's Alliance.

After creating the map, and disguising his journey as a mere merchant's caravan, he was ambushed by the orcs along the High Road. He told of a mysterious elf who came into the camp every few days. He would take a few human captives with him, but the captives would never return. Dalos was digging through the merchant cargo stored in the chieftain's tent looking for the map of Neverwinter. Unable to find it, Dalos feared it may be in the hands of the elf, or worse yet, on it's way to the Arcane Brotherhood in Luskan, bitter enemies of Neverwinter.

While Xilus questioned Dalos, Davrun spoke with the little boy held captive, Myrtha's son. He told the boy that Myrtha was with the party, and after looking around, discovered she was missing. He went to the outskirts of the camp where he discovered a blood stained trail leading into the darkness of the forest. Putting the pieces together, he reasoned that somehow during the melee, Myrtha was taken. Angered, he wanted to pursue her captor into the wilderness, but the party members convinced him to wait until dawn.

At dawn on Hammer 8th, Davrun and Tymel went searching for Myrtha. The rest of the party prepared to depart with the remaining survivors, and return to Neverwinter. Davrun and Tymel discovered a beaten and bloody Myrtha hanging from a tree with a note attached which read: "I will kill them all if you follow me -e.v." Davrun and Tymel wrapped her body in a blanket, and returned to camp. Her son was horrified with the sight and Davrun attempted to comfort him.

The party agreed to take the survivors to Helm's Hold just south of Neverwinter. They arrived at Helm's Hold on the evening of Hammer 8th. Xilus gave the note to a sage at Helm's Hold who revealed a hidden watermark on the note. The symbol was that of the Eldreth Veluuthra, an organization of elves bent on ridding the world of humans and half-elves.

The party determined they must hunt down the elf, and bring him to justice for his crimes, and also recover the map of the city before falling into the wrong hands. They agree to take Dalos with them as he would be able to identify the authenticity of the map.  The party headed out of Helm's Hold, towards the village of Conyberry, a small, human village, and home of Xilus, on Hammer 9th.

So ends Chapter 1 of our heroes' tale.

Friday, February 4, 2011

My Favorite Dice

The polyhedral dice set is the gamer's talisman. These dice are the way by which we identify ourselves with our characters. They serve as the physical link to the fictitious figments of our unbridled imaginations. For most of us in the hobby, our dice become as integral to the game as we are. We wait to hear the DM utter, "roll to hit" or "give me a saving throw vs spells" so we may pick up that favorite d20, roll it between our palms, and cast it on the table as if it were some sort of ancient rune. We live for those moments, watching intently as that die rolls across the surface of the table to land on that all important number, because we know more than one character's fate has been decided by the roll of a single die.

For nearly two decades I have relied upon a single set of 7 dice, which I call affectionately "the blues" not only for their sky blue color, but also because of the many cases of the blues they have set upon me. Of course, the great times have been better than the bad with these dice.

The Blues

I've lost some along the way as gamers are wont to misplace these things. They've rolled mysteriously under a couch or fridge, only to be found and returned to me much later, either by myself, or one of my friends. These dice have stuck with me as I have stuck with them over the years, and no matter what, they always make their way back to me. Odd as it seems, it's the truth.

I recall several years back, when I had convinced myself I'd probably never play DnD again, and I donated my library of DnD material, I picked up those dice in their little black dice bag. I contemplated tossing them in with the things I was giving away, but I couldn't bring myself to do it. Instead, I tucked them neatly away in my desk drawer. Later, when I came back to the game, there they were, waiting patiently for my return.

I have recently ordered a new set of dice, sky blue with white hand-painted numbers, the dice are from Gamescience and should be arriving soon. Still, as balanced and amazing as the gamescience dice may be, I don't think they'll ever replace my "blues."

These may seem the ravings of a mad man, and maybe I am a little strange for having such an attachment to a few dice. If that is the case, then so be it. Certainly I can't be the only gamer out there who has a favorite set of dice he/she has retained over the years. I hope I'm not anyway.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Thursday Links from the OSRsphere

So, this is a new thing I'm going to try on the blog.  Every Thursday, I'll be sharing interesting links from throughout the OSR blogosphere, which I've found throughout the week.  If you have something you'd like me to take a look at to link, just shoot me an email at robertchandler AT gmail DOT com.

Zero XP Adventures - Fateful Finds: The Sword of the Brown Mountain  - The history and properties of a magical blade of orcish design.

Dreams in the Lich House - Winter is Coming...and so is Gamer A.D.D. -  An article on staying focused when there are so many distractions out there in gaming.

Daddy Grognard - An Adventure for Every Monster: Ape and Carnivorous Ape -Continuing on his awesome series in which he designs an adventure based on every monster A-Z in the Monster Manual.

Cyclopeatron - The Fastest Growing Old School RPG Blogs - A list of the blogs in the OSR community which have seen the most growth over the past month or so.  A great way to find some awesome OSR blogs.

A Character for Every Game - [Random Thursday] Potion Containers - Some random tables to help you add a little extra awesomeness to your potions.

Underdark Gazette - OSR News from the Underdark Gazette - Sunday, January 30th, 2011 - Make this a weekly read.  Every Sunday, James posts a comprehensive list of the best of the best from the OSR community from the previous week.

Some good reading to get you through Thursday.  Happy Grognarding.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

BHD: One of the Fastest Growing OSR Blogs?

*BHD being my own little abbreviation for Black Hole Diaries

According to a recent post by Cyclopeatron, BHD made the top 5 fastest growing OSR blogs from Dec. 16th to Jan. 31st with a net gain of 36 followers over that time.  This led me to think, is this truly an accurate reflection of a strong growth, or am I merely just lucky in my first month?  My blog is just barely 6 weeks old, and I've been very fortunate to have been stumbled upon by other bloggers in the OSR who linked me early on.  Tim Shorts over at Gothridge Manner linked to my blog when it was still in its infancy.  Recently I got a significant bump in followers thanks to James from Underdark Gazette, who linked my crypts of Azeoul Vhezian dungeon pdf and my map of Numendyr.

I like to think that I write enjoyable and entertaining posts, but I find myself scratching my head at the sudden bump in followers.  I guess people like what I'm posting, which is good.  I have tried, in these first 6 weeks, to "bring something to the table" so to speak in the OSR/gaming community by posting useful things such as the crypts, or my low level magic items, etc.  More of that type of stuff is coming in the future as well, along with my very opinionated rants/posts sprinkled in here or there. 

Still I've found it curious that the blog has gained such an increase so rapidly particularly because of my focus and lean more towards 2nd edition AD&D, a format reviled by many in the OSR community.  In fact, a great many don't even consider 2nd edition to be part of the "OSR" at all, which is fine.  I've often chimed in that I'm not sure where I fall in the old school/new school debate, I just know what I like and what I'm most familiar with, and that is AD&D 2nd edition. 

Regardless, I'd just like to take a moment and thank everyone who has stumbled upon my musings and clicked the little follow icon.  Also, I'd like to thank all those within the OSR community that shared my blog and gave me a chance to grow.  Hopefully I can continue posting interesting entries, and keep the momentum rolling.

The Northlands and Beyond Campaign: Meet the Players

First, let me say that none of my players know about my blog here, although I'm sure they will eventually find out.  I didn't tell them about it intentionally, as I plan to use this blog to discuss and share opinions and tips on game mastering.  As such, game plots about my campaign tend to be revealed here or there, so I thought it best to keep them out of the loop about Black Hole Diaries, at least for now.

As I've mentioned in previous posts, we currently play in a play-by-post game using AD&D 2e rules set in the Forgotten Realms.  Of course, it doesn't beat playing at the table, but considering it's the first time all of us have been able to play DnD together as a group for nearly a decade now, it works out quite well for us.  I detailed how I have made it work for us to be as close a simulation of the table top experience in another post, so go take a look if you haven't already, and you're interested in exploring the play-by-post method.

Since I plan on discussing my adventure quite a bit on this blog, I thought it best to introduce those curious enough to read all this to some of the players in the game.  I've known some of these guys for over 20 years.  We have a great cohesion together, because we've been playing so long.  While that sounds good, and overall I suppose the pros outweigh the cons in that regard, it can be terribly difficult to design a game that can be both surprising and enjoyable because they have seen and done it all.  They know my style as a DM, and I know their styles as players.  Fortunately, they are all very talented gamers.

Here they are.  The cast of the Northlands and Beyond.

Chris - I've known Chris for 26 years.  We have been best friends our entire lives, and truly he is more like a brother to me than just a friend.  Then again, the same can be said about all the guys in the group.  Chris has a very eclectic taste when it comes to DnD.  He doesn't tend to favor any one particular class or race.  He's often careful in how he approaches a situation, taking the time to assess as thoroughly as he can.  He tends to play this way due to past games where he has been tasked with accomplishing something major for the party, and being unable to get it done.  This stems mainly from poor dice rolls rather than bad play on his part.  He is the king of the "fumble."  The joke in our group is never tell him "all you have to do to hit is NOT roll a 1," as this is often the kiss of death.  Truly, he has fumbled more times in critical situations in previous games than I can even recall.  His character in our current game Xilus, a Fighter/Mage/Thief half-elf from the village of Conyberry just south of the Neverwinter Wood.  Yes, a Fighter/Mage/Thief.  I told you he was eclectic.

Ron - Throughout most of our time playing DnD as a group, Ron has always been the primary DM.  His imagination is unreal.  He has crafted brilliant home brew worlds, and some of the most brilliant adventures one could imagine.  He doesn't use modules, preferring to run his own adventures, and honestly, they are better than any module you could pick up.  I say this having experienced some module gaming, and also running characters in his games.  There is no comparison.  Why he isn't working for WotC or some other gaming company is beyond me at this point.  He lives far from us all now, which makes getting together to play at the table impossible, so the play-by-post works perfectly.  In fact, he's created his own system of rules which he's been using to run his own games for over a decade now.  As to his style of play, he tends to put a lot into his characters.  He likes to flesh out a great background for them, and make them a little different from the rest.  The brilliant thing about this is the fact that he can turn the basic race/class combination from the PHB into something unique without having to devote it to kits and the like.  His current character, Bazhur, is a Ranger/Thief from Calimshan.  He's stuck in the northlands by accident pretty much, his ship having crashed ashore there.  He is in search of his wife and child, who were taken by slavers some time ago.  Readers might recall a recent post in which I pointed out how he played a rather remarkable heroic situation for a 1st level character.  Give it a read if you haven't already.

Billy F. - I've known Billy F. for about 17 years.  He and I tend to get pretty crazy when we get together if there's alcohol involved, which we do pretty routinely.  He's a funny guy with a sharp wit.  In DnD, he generally tends to play the warrior type.  I can't recall an instance where he ever played a mage, in fact.  Most of his time has been devoted to playing melee fighters.  He decided to try something new in this game, and play a Paladin.  He chose this, I imagine, because he knows that often in games I run, it becomes nearly impossible to play the Paladin class.  I wouldn't say I am necessarily strict on how I look at the Paladin class, however there are certain benefits derived from the class, and it is one of the few classes in the PHB that must stick to a straight and narrow line in terms of alignment and the like.  I simply hold players to those terms, which in an adventuring party full of different alignments and classes, often results in a challenge.  It's been pretty interesting thus far, because his presence in the party creates a great dynamic in how they work to accomplish certain goals.  Oftentimes, they work behind his back to achieve an end, not because they are doing something evil, but because he simply would not allow it if he knew about it due to the lawful good alignment.  So far, he has done a good job playing the character although I have often questioned if he's really having fun with it, because it is such a departure from what he's typically used to running.  His character, Davrun, is a human Paladin of Ilmater.

Rouse - Rouse was a latecomer to our group about 15 years ago.  He's currently in the military and deployed, so I've been running his character as an NPC for quite some time.  Rouse tends to play the lawful good type in just about every game.  He loves the Paladin class, but I have sort of broken him from this in the past.  We played a one-on-one campaign for about a year in which he played a Paladin that nearly lost his Paladinhood.  He generally tends to play the same way with all his characters.  I can't think of a time that he's ever played anything but a Paladin or Cleric.  In our game, in fact, he's playing a human Cleric of Torm named Stanley.

Billy C. - Billy C. is a large man.  He's a very heavy guy with a heart just as big.  Truly, he's one of the nicest people I've ever had a privilege to know.  His tastes are eclectic as well when it comes to DnD.  He has played everything from the large melee warrior, to a devious female thief.  He enjoys intrigue and shady plots in the background, and working to expose them.  He's also prone to going his own way to look for things when the rest of the party is focused on something else entirely.  Sometimes this is rewarding, and other times this has proven to be disastrous for the party in other games.  One of the most dreaded things to hear at the gaming table is Billy C. saying "I'm opening the door."  He is a good player, however, and his risk/reward style is always something I have to prep for well as a DM.  He is Murphy's Law epitomized at the gaming table.  If you suspect the party is going to do one thing in an encounter, you can pretty much count on Billy C. doing something entirely different.  No matter how much I prepare to plan with him in mind, it never matters though.  He always catches me off guard with his antics.  Currently in our game he's playing a half-elf Bard named Flute.  His main goal being to write tales and sing songs of the party's exploits wherever they go.  Currently, he's recovering from an attack from a doppleganger, which nearly cost his character his life.  Another instance of his inquisitive nature almost getting the best of him, and the party for that matter.  Yet, were it not for his prying, the doppleganger would have likely inflicted even more damage on the party as a whole.

Paul - Paul is currently in the Navy and is deployed at sea.  He also tends to be careful in how he handles situations.  He rarely takes the lead, but often works in the background with his characters to achieve his own ends.  He has a tendency to play the thief in our games.  He enjoys slinking about, hiding in shadows and sneaking up on opponents.  Much like Billy C., he also relishes in intrigue and the like, and he's prone to go against the grain, although not to the extent of Billy C.  He's a good player, and his ideas and input on certain situations have saved the party on more than one occasion.  His current character is a human thief named Rabe Branty.

There you have it; the cast of The Northlands and Beyond campaign.  Now, that I've taken the time to introduce you to them and their characters, some of my posts about the campaign will make more sense.  If you're interested in reading up on the campaign, take a look at our Obsidian Portal page, which we update regularly.  Check out the Adventure Log there as well.  Several of the players are using the Adventure Log to post entries from their own characters' perspectives, and some of them have been very awesome. 

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Call of Cthulhu Anniversary

So, it dawned on me today at work that it was the 1st of February, which means time to flip my demotivation calendar in my cube. When I flipped it, I happened to notice this little gem penned in the awesome calendar.

That's right; this day 83 years ago the world was first introduced to the cult classic "The Call of Cthulhu" by H.P. Lovecraft. The calendar got it a bit wrong there. The story was written in '26, but didn't see publication until February of 1928.

Happy 83rd birthday you bulbous, tentacled beast of unimaginable horror, you! Cthulhu fhtagn!
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Designing the City Campaign: Part 3

In parts one and two of this series, I focused on brainstorming some basic ideas about my city and some interesting locales the PC's might visit.  I gave two examples in part two, but at minimum you want to have a couple of inns/taverns, an armor/weaponsmith, and a magical sundries shop.  It wouldn't be a bad idea to flesh out how religions are dealt with in your city as well.  Ask yourself, what are the dominant gods of this region?  Do any of them conflict with one another?  Where are the temples devoted to each god located within the city?  Religious motivations can make for excellent adventure hooks within a city, so don't overlook them.

Of course, to bring any city to life you're going to need some interesting NPC's.  Note that you don't really need to spend hours upon hours creating NPCs for your city.  A lot of wasted time and effort can go into making up NPC descriptions for each and every citizen of your metropolis.  Do you really need to spend 20 minutes writing out a long description of Nook the chimney sweep?  No, you don't.  It's a common misconception that in order to be prepared to DM, you have to have a grimoire full of detailed NPCs down to every small minutiae of detail.  That simply isn't true.  Sometimes you are allowed to wing it.  That said, you will want to spend some amount of time focusing on fleshing out the major NPC's of your city, especially the ones your party is likely to run into.

In my example of Crestfall from part two, I have at least 3 important NPC's created simply from spending time developing a couple of locales, and defining some particulars about the city.  We have Magrem, proprietor of Magrem's Marvels and Delights, Esmelra Ravenpeake, owner of The Harpy's Haven Inn/Bordello, and possible leader of the thieve's guild, and a yet to be named, former adventurer who is now the figurehead ruler of the city.  Again, we don't have to spend a lot of time on each major NPC.  Just a few minor details and notes will go a long way for you.  In the examples I will use, all three of these NPCs are adventurers or former adventurers so there will be some notes on their stats included.  Keep in mind, these really won't be necessary when creating 0 level NPC's. 

Here are some basic examples of my brief NPC notes:

Magrem the mage (H male, MU L15, AC: 0, NG, INT 17, WIS 12, HP 35)
Description: Old man with a slight hunch in his back, thin and short graying beard, spectacles.  Often found reading over some ancient text in his shop.  Tends to be absent minded and dishevled, his mind easily wanders off to other topics.  He is a friendly man, but is impatient with those that wish to dig around in his shop especially those who aren't magic users.

Esmelra Ravenpeake (H female, T L18, NE, THAC0 12, AC: -2, DEX 18, CHR 16, HP 54,)
Description: Beautiful woman in middle years with long, black hair past her shoulders and blue eyes.  Very charming and flirty personality with patrons of her establishment, but also shrewd and cunning.  She is the leader of the city's theives' guild, which meets below The Harpy's Haven Inn.  She keeps a Dagger of Life Stealing on her person at all times.

Deardemont Ironhold (H male, F L12, CG, THAC0 9, AC: -3, STR 17, DEX 15, WIS 9, HP 65)
Description: Middle aged man.  Slightly short in stature, with brown hair and goatee speckled with gray.  He is ruler of the city of Crestfall, but only in name, although he isn't wise enough to understand this.  He's rash and prone to ill judgment, but the city coucil keeps him under control.  He spends most of his time focusing on stopping the thieves' guild within the city, however they always manage to lead him along on wild goose chases.  This allows the council to focus on more important matters like running the city.

These are a few examples of how you'd describe the major players in your city.  You'll see there isn't much there.  Just a few notes on what they look like, some key stats, and a bit about their personality.  It's not a bad idea to link them together in certain ways, such as Deardemont always chasing after the thieves' guild, which surely is a major point of frustration for Esmelra.  Certain things you'll want to focus on when fleshing out your NPCs is deciding who is influential in the city, why they have the influence they have, and what possible implications this could have for the PCs.  Once you start developing the NPC's along with the places you've created, things will begin to come together and adventure hooks will begin to reveal themselves.

As another tip, I'd recommend having a handy stock of NPC names available.  Just a small piece of paper in your DM notebook with various insignificant names which you can quickly give to the random NPC's the players are sure to encounter in the city.  If you find yourself stuck on NPC generation, have a look at Kellri's Classic Dungeon Designer Series #4 - Encounters Guide.  On page 26 there you'll find quite a few handy tables which will help you randomly generate traits and descriptions for your NPCs.  I highly recommend the guide in general as it contains a wealth of information any DM could use in his/her game.
In part four, I'll talk about some techniques to go about mapping out your city and keying it with special locations you've created.