Friday, February 24, 2012

20 Untimate Questions: OSR Dating Service

Following Rients's lead, I've filled out Brendan's survey to determine Olde Schuul Gamery Suitability.  Fortunately, no photo is required. 
  1.  Ability scores generation method? 3d6 in order, various abilities can be swapped depending on race
  2. How are death and dying handled? save vs death at 0 HP or lower, fail and you're dead; succeed and you're still probably dead but there's some potential for a Michael-Myers-type  "He's not dead yet?!" situation.
  3. What about raising the dead?  Did I mention that there are no clerics in my game?
  4. How are replacement PCs handled?  Roll 'em up and cram 'em in like they always belonged. 
  5. Initiative: individual, group, or something else? Group, with some individual action in special cases
  6. Are there critical hits and fumbles? How do they work?  If you roll a 1 or 20 you roll a 12 sider to determine the extent of the hilarity or badassedness. 
  7. Do I get any benefits for wearing a helmet? Stuff that falls on your head doesn't hurt so much
  8. Can I hurt my friends if I fire into melee or do something similarly silly?  Everyone knows that it is impossible to hurt your friends unless you blow off their birthday parties or make fun of their hair.
  9. Will we need to run from some encounters, or will we be able to kill everything?  Run from some, make friends with others, or you'll be the ones getting killed
  10. Level-draining monsters: yes or no?  They do exist, I suppose. Is that a big deal?
  11. Are there going to be cases where a failed save results in PC death?  This is D&D not T-ball.
  12. How strictly are encumbrance & resources tracked?  As long as everything seems reasonable I don't really bother too much.
  13. What's required when my PC gains a level? Training? Do I get new spells automatically? Can it happen in the middle of an adventure, or do I have to wait for down time? You have to wait for enough down time for me to assess XPs, but training is only required once every 3 levels to meet OSHA requirements.  New spells have to be found/learned/bought/what have you.   
  14. What do I get experience for? experience is doled out based on acreage of graph paper explored modified by things like encounter toughness, cool ideas, and re-enactments of  A-team "plan coming together" montages.
  15. How are traps located? Description, dice rolling, or some combination?  My players don't bother looking too often so...
  16. Are retainers encouraged and how does morale work?  They're highly encouraged but no one seems to take me up on it.  Morale is handled at my whim.
  17. How do I identify magic items?  What makes you think there will be magic items?  Just kidding.  I usually just tell the players what neighborhood the items are in and they figure out the rest from there, though I might poach Rients's idea of using read magic.
  18. Can I buy magic items? Oh, come on: how about just potions?  Sure, if you're in a big city.  But imitations and worthless nostrums are prevalent so buyer beware.
  19. Can I create magic items? When and how?  MUs can make scrolls and potions whenever they have free time and spare cash to burn.
  20. What about splitting the party?  Against each other?  that might be fun.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Appendix NF: Latin & English Dictionary

Since I'm wiling away the time on my all-expense paid vacation in Nulb, I don't have much to report.  But as I haven't done a nonfiction sourcebook update in a while, I thought I'd talk a bit about the holiday beach-reading I brought along with me: the good ol' Latin English Dictionary.  Mine, at 502 mass market pages, is pretty meager, but it's still pretty handy for naming monsters or characters or what-have-you so that they don't sound like I just pulled them directly out of Blipdoolpoolp's clunis.

We all know the cooler latin words like codex and sepulcrum, but what about invictus (something to do with rugby), sicarius for assassin, and arx for citadel?  And aren't elves +1 to hit when using an arcus or gladius?  Sadly, a hefty proportion of Latin words are either tragically familiar to English speakers--injury = injuria, insanity = insania, interdict = who cares--or just sound too clinical or downright silly; I can't read more than a few entries without being reminded of the Biggus Dickus scene from Monty Python's Life of Brian.  And to top it off, there just doesn't seem to be a good Latin word for dungeon: my book offers carcer and ergastulum, but these focus on the status of the people detained in them more than the subterranean connotations that dungeon requires.  Plus, they just don't sound very cool.  But still, a lot of Latin words have enough charm that they're worth using anyway; as long as the Padre isn't in your group, no one needs to know that your new character Furnax the Filcher is named after the furnace.

One other cool bit: The Latin version of the saying "Making a mountain out of a molehill" is "Arcem facere e cloaca" which,  literally translated--if my flimsy little Latin & English dictionary is to be trusted--means "Making Citadels out of Sewers" which describes to perfection what it is that I do around here.

Monday, February 20, 2012

One Other Thing I learned While Obsessing Over Hommlet:

The real bad guys of Dungeon Module T1 The Village of Hommlet are not Lareth and his band of Scary Men or even the evil traders back in town.  No, the true villains of Homlet are the two captive merchants in Lubash the Ogre's pantry.  "How do you figure, D-Chuckles?" you ask? Here's how: these two dudes promise their rescuers
"large rewards for their release, vowing to send monies to Hommlet as soon as they return to Dyvers."
Four weeks after their rescue, a passing caravan will deliver to the PCs a sack laden with--wait for it--one hundred silver pieces. Are you kidding me?? That's only 5 freakin' gold pieces at AD&D exchange rates, just barely enough cash for the entire party to split a half gill of Ulek Elixir at the Welcome Wench.*

A hundred platinum would have been a worthy reward, sealing a bond of mutual goodwill between merchants and party; 100 gold would have been a respectable gesture--at least fueling a nice post-dungeon bender.  A friggin' thank you note would have been appreciated--it's always nice to know that your good deeds are remembered.  But 100 silver?!  That's just an insult.  If I were a PC I would be all "Screw the Temple, let's hunt down those cheap-ass merchants!"

* According to the handy conversion tables at the back of my notebook that I have not bothered to ever use in a hundred years there are 4 gills to a pint, so a half gill is [avert your gaze--mathifying taking place] ... 2 ounces or approximately 66 mL if your feeling metric-dependent.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Top Ten Cool Things About Holmesian D&D

In case you haven't heard, J. Eric Holmes would have been 82 years old today.  Thanks to Zenopus Archives for the birthday alert; and in response for his request for anecdotes, I prepared this little top 10 list of my favorite Holmes-isms:

10. The Original Adult Fantasy Role Playing Game--Yes, this was the tagline from the cover of the book.

9.  Wisdom--"is the prime requisite for clerics."  That's the extent of it.  No mumbo jumbo about judgement or senses or guile or connection to a deity.  If you're not a cleric you can lower your wisdom score to raise your other abilities.  Nice. 

8.  Alignment Graph--In a classic example of how a picture is worth a thousand words, this little graph made alignment selection a snap.  No need to understand the merits of law vs chaos--decades later, folks are still debating that to no avail--just pick your favorite critter from the diagram and be done with it.  If TSR had ever produced pre-printed character sheets specifically for Holmesian D&D, they might as well have replaced the word "Alignment" with "Chaotic Good."  

7.  Dagger (in boot)--From the Encumbrance section on page 9 you will learn that the primary function of boots was to carry your dagger.  Secondarily they offered some protection for your feet. 

6.  Harpy Breasts--Before the days of the internet, pre-pubescent kids didn't have a lot of options when it came to getting illicit glimpses of naked boobs.  For that, DCS's Harpy illustration was a thing of wonder.  Plus, the fighters are all wearing backpacks; a nice bit of realism for your adult fantasy game. 

5.  Stone Mountain--This bad-ass dungeon cross section is one of the iconic images of D&D.   Though uncredited, it's stylistically closest, I think, to the work of Tom Wham who, for comparison, also drew the Gnolls on page 27 and had a few entries in the Monster Manual. 

4.  "They may have other powers, do additional damage, etc."--The tone of the whole affair is "here are some cool rules, but they're not set in stone; you're allowed to monkey with stuff."  Once you moved on to AD&D, there was a definite sense that these were the Rules that Moses brought down from the mountain; diverge from them at your own peril. 

3.  The Parry--Parrying was such an important element of swashbuckling sword fights that it always struck me as unfortunate that parrying got the brush off in AD&D.

2.  G--Gloomy--Letter-coded dungeon rooms have their limitations--like, say, if you have more than 26 encounter areas in your dungeon--but I like that the letters could also carry meaning that numbers are not as well equipped to handle.  E meant empty, C was for corridor, RT was Rat Tunnels.

1.  Undisputed Sample Dungeon Champion of the Universe--It's got a magic sundial, a trick statue, loads of sarcophagi, 3 goblins holed up in a room the size of a high school gymnasium, rat tunnels, catacombs, an underground river, a sea cave full of pirates, a damsel in distress who's probably tougher than your party, and, to top it all off, an evil Thaumaturge with a mutinous pet gorilla.  How awesome is that?!

Monday, February 13, 2012

DMG Sample Dungeon Part 4: Cult of the Fiery Eye or Palimpsest of Hommlet

After much delay--my dissertation committee asked for some additional graphics before I put it out for publication--I'm finally getting to the conclusion of my analysis of the Sample Dungeon of the Dungeon Masters Guide.  Today we're speculating what to make of the unfinished portions of the dungeon based on the clues provided in the few room descriptions, background, and the wandering monster tables. Without further ado...

Sample dungeon site analysis.
The author provided wandering monster encounters for the two distinct areas of the Dungeon, the Non-crypt Area and the Crypt Area which conveniently included the room numbers of the wandering monster's lairs, a Gygax standard that I failed to appreciate for too long.  Non-crypt area wandering monsters include bandits, goblins, giant rats, and fire beetles--the fire beetles emit a fiery red glow which illuminates a 10' radius; that's kinda' cool.  But are there any running themes here?  The only one that comes to mind is that these critters are all just looking for a quiet place to lay low, somewhere with a roof overhead where no one will ask any questions.  So the non-crypt area is going to be filled with "volunteer" monsters; whatever manages to crawl, slither or hop down here from the swamp above.  Giant snakes, lizards, ticks, maybe a pack of voracious giant frogs even.  And lots of the rooms will just be empty old store rooms littered with moldy crap and the occasional fungus or slime.

Now let's see what the crypt area has going on in terms of wandering monsters: more rats, ghouls, skeletons--your standard crypt fare; one could expand on this a bit.  But then there's the evil cleric with the hobgoblins in tow from areas 35-37.  An evil cult in league with humanoids occupying several rooms; that's got potential.  Let's say they're beholden to some demon lord and let's riff on  Nunya's notion (from the comments section of Part 1 of this series) and say that the fire opal the monks were hiding was the prized jewel and symbol of power stolen from the temple of this demon lord and turned over to the monks for safe keeping.  The enormous, smouldering opal represents the demon lord's baleful, fiery glare. Indeed, reflecting the significance of this symbol of power, the hobgoblins have an emblem of a fiery eye painted on their shields while the cleric has the same stitched into his robes.

My eye!
So these cultists of the Fiery Eye have set up quarters here in the crypt area, perhaps because they're still looking for that damn fire opal.  And since, as Zenopus points out, using the secret door to area 3 is not a very convenient means of egress--it being 10 feet above ground--they use the stairs up at area 39 which leads, as Zenopus further suggests, to a long tunnel eventually daylighting at a narrow opening amidst rocks and thick briars and brambles over at the stand of brush and tamaracks beyond the monastery.  The cult uses this tunnel for occasional sorties to pillage passing caravans for supplies, treasure, and prisoners which they use for either ransom, slaves, or food.  So a few of the other rooms are occupied by their humanoid allies, some gnolls, bugbears, and maybe an ogre who's got a few human or demi-human prisoners in his pantry.  And perhaps the cult has contacts in the nearby village, other cult members who might feign to provide assistance to the PCs but whose real intent is to obfuscate and assassinate them...

Wait, what's that?  This sounds exactly like the premise of Dungeon Module T1 The Village of Hommlet you say?  Good!  Now we can get to the real thesis of this post which is that the Sample Dungeon in the Dungeon Masters Guide was the original dungeon associated with Gary Gygax's Hommlet campaign back in the 1970s.  For real.*

Monastery vs. Moathouse: One and the Same

First, here's a little historical background for those unfamiliar or who've forgotten the details.  In Gary Gygax's 1979 dungeon module T1 The Village of Hommlet, he included the following bit of background on the origin of the module:
"The area here was developed to smoothly integrate players with and without experience in the Greyhawk Campaign into a scenario related to the old timers only by relative proximity...  and many of the NPCs in the module are the characters and henchmen developed through play... the situation and surroundings have been altered because of the actual experiences of these participants." (Gygax, Village of Hommlet, pg. 3)
Also in 1979, Gygax published the Dungeon Masters Guide which included an unfinished Sample Dungeon composed of a map of a single dungeon level underneath a ruined monastery, descriptions of 3 of the encounter areas, and some background info about the dungeon including a description of the adjacent terrain and a legend that there was an enormous fire opal of exorbitant value hidden within.  I contend that the Sample Dungeon is the original dungeon that those "smoothly integrated players" of Hommlet went through.  Check it out:
"After two miles of distance, the land begins to sink and become boggy... and tall marsh plants grow thickly where cattails and tamaracks do not... A side path, banked high to crossover the wetland to either side, juts north to the entrance of the ruined place."
"[A]fter about a two mile trek along a seldom used road, they come to the edge of a fen... with little to relieve the view save a few clumps of brush and tamarack sprouting here and there.  A narrow causeway leads out to a low mound upon which stand the walls and buildings of the deserted mo*******. "
Pretty similar, right?  A "side path banked high to crossover the wetland" sounds a lot like a causeway through a fen, no? And those ubiquitous tamaracks.  If you haven't already reached for your DMG, the first one is the description for the approach to the Moathouse in T1, the second is from the Monastery in the Sample Dungeon.

Design concept
Each adventure is distinctly divided roughly in half between areas that are easily accessible from the obvious entrance to the edifice and those areas that are accessible only if you find a secret door.  Thus, an uninspired or very unlucky party could easily wander through half the dungeon and think their work was done.  Also, between the accessible portion of the adventure--we'll call it the Outer Dungeon--and the secret Inner Dungeon, there is a pronounced shift in the mood of the encounter milieu.   In the Moathouse, it is the upper levels--those that are part of the moathouse proper, including the cellars directly directly beneath--that form the Outer Dungeons while in the Monastery it's the "non-crypt areas" on the north side of the map.  In both cases, the Outer Dungeon is inhabited by whatever random outlaws and freeloaders moved into this subterranean tenement seeking shelter from the elements--bandits, giant lizards, goblins, fire beetles...  it's your classic dungeon crawl.  The Inner dungeon, however, is inhabited by those with a reason for being there; those who belong.  In both cases there is a crypt area inhabited by the undead; both also are inhabited by an Evil Cult, the evil cleric and his hobber bodyguards in the monastery; in the Moathouse the cult includes Lareth and his gang of flaming stormtroopers, but also the various humanoids mercenaries--the ogre, gnolls, and bugbears--as well.

Clues to the Beyond
But Gygax was not willing to leave things purely to chance; in both adventures he supplies a hint that there is more to this place than a casual exploration might divulge.  In the monastery, this clue comes in the form of the the map and key found amidst the abbot's skeletal remains in room 2.   In the moathouse, this hint is the locked cache of food, weapons, and Flaming Eyeball sweatshirts in the storerooms (rooms 2 and 3, dungeon level).  Also, to make it clear that this crap doesn't belong to the bandits above, he placed the green slime trap on the stairs up to their lair to indicate that they don't bother coming down here too often.

The Secret Door
In both the moathouse and the monastery the secret door to the hidden, Inner Dungeon is located in a room dedicated to death--the funerary room of the monastery where the passage from the world of the living was celebrated, and the torture room in the Moathouse where the same passage was celebrated in a much more pro-active fashion. More importantly, neither door is located in a typical fashion, each is positioned in such a way that a specific effort by the players will be needed to find it; nine feet above the floor in the Sample Dungeon or hidden in the column in T1.  By strategically locating these secret doors, a generic, "we search for secret doors" is clearly not going to be good enough, no matter how well the dice work in your favor.

However, there are clues to be found that will lead the observant PC to the location of said secret doors--the wall sockets in the Sample Dungeon and the faint trail of blood to the pillar in T1.  And on the other side of that secret door in T1 you will find the same 4 ghouls who ate the gnome in the Sample Dungeon.  

First encounter
Monastery:  Room 1 contains a large Spider lurking on the ceiling over a  "a central litter of husks, skin, bones, and its own castings" patiently awaiting its prey.  In the heap can be found a treasure of 19 sp and a garnet worth 50 gp.

Moathouse:  Area 4 is likely to be the first encounter inside the moathouse (we can only assume that there was a gang of hungry frogs waiting in ambush along the causeway to the  monastery) and it contains a huge spider lurking over "a scattering of husks and a few bones on the floor" and a small treasure trove of 38 sp, 71 cp and an ivory box worth 50 gp.

The descriptions are similar though not exact.  "Husks" and "bones" are constant but the spider in the moathouse has been ratcheted up a notch and the treasure slightly increased: the silver has been exactly doubled and a few coppers have been thrown in for good measure, but the main treasure remains set at 50 gp in value, though its manifestation has altered from a garnet to an ivory box. On its own, this encounter doesn't carry much weight, but as the evidence mounts, the similarities are certainly worth noting.

Flaming Eye/Fire Opal

Figure 3. Flaming Eye meet Fire Opal
If you were a member of a cult whose emblem was a flaming eyeball, wouldn't the fire opal be the front runner as your candidate for sacred gemstone?  (see comparison, Fig. 1.a.) Whether the cultists in The Monastery wore a flaming eye or not is impossible to say, but I think I made a pretty fair case back in paragraph 3 about how one might easily extrapolate such.

What is more, and this is the clue that sent me down this rabbit hole in the first place, in T1 Lareth's prized possession and the single most valuable treasure in the entire Moathouse is a string of matched fire opals.

Even Scully should be coming around by now but the best is yet to come.

Hall of Zombies
Check out these two maps, and read the description below as it might apply to area 4 on the left map and area 10 on the right:  
CORRIDOR LINED WITH CELLS: Anyone entering this area will be attacked by the monsters lurking in pairs in these cubicles: 12 ZOMBIES (H.P.: 15, 14, 13, 12, 3x10, 9, 8, 6, 5, 4)
If you had to choose one of these two as the map for the encounter area described wouldn't you choose the map on the right?  It looks like a standard AD&D corridor--10' wide, leads to a room at the end--and it's lined with 3 cubicles on each side of the hall which provides exactly enough room for 12 zombies hiding in groups of two in each cell.   Area 4 on the left looks more like a chamber than a corridor--what with its 20'-wideness, pillars down the center, and lack of a portal at the end--plus it's only "lined" with cubicles on one side.  But most importantly of all, it has only five cubicles which leaves two of the zombies homeless!

The encounter description is from T1 area 4 of the dungeon level of the moathouse, the map on the left, while the map on the right is from the Sample Dungeon.**  By now it has to be pretty clear that this description was originally written for area 10 of what became the sample dungeon of the DMG and was then transcribed word-for-word into T1--including hit points for all 12 zombies even though most people who ran T1 back in the day, lacking accommodations for the 6th pair, only threw 10 zombies at their players.***

Exit Strategy
Adjacent to Lareth's den under the moathouse was a long tunnel leading up to a concealed opening at the surface that allowed his cronies to come and go without disrupting the ecosystem of the moathouse above.  The hobbers and cleric in the monastery presumably cannot live off of mold and ghoul-droppings and, as already mentioned, it's unlikely that they use the secret door in the ceremonial chamber, so it seems rather likely that they have a separate way out of the crypt area.

While it's not obvious that such an exit exists in the Sample Dungeon, several clues do allude to such an egress.  As Zenopus Archives pointed out, there is mention of a "secret entrance/exit  from the place" indicated in the background material for the Sample Dungeon.  I had always, assumed that this referred to the stairs down to area 1, but since this area is not indicated to be "secret" it opens up the possibility that indeed, there is a separate, secret portal to the dungeon.  And the conspicuously noted "fairly dense cluster of [brush and tamarack] approximately a half mile beyond the abandoned place" provides the most obvious location for such an emergency exit.  Add to that the presence of a stairway leading up not far from the chambers occupied by the Cleric and his band of hobbers, you have some evidence that the Sample Dungeon had a similar escape tunnel.

And so forth
In light of  this evidence, some things about T1 Village of Hommlet start to make a bit more sense.  For instance, it always struck me as odd that Lareth--who we know has been going to great effort to throw off interest in his location by staging his caravan raids far away in disparate locations--would allow another gang of brigands to operate out of the same location.  Possibly the Great Hope of Chaotic Evil isn't aware of the bandits in the moathouse above, but more likely these are the same bandits transposed from the areas 4 & 5 of the Monastery. Like the extra pair of zombies, they're a relic that doesn't quite fit into the New Order of Hommlet.

This might also explain why T1 was named the Village of Hommlet rather than the Moathouse of the Flaming Eye or some-such.  When EGG decided to modulize the endeavor, he may have wanted to showcase the village as a setting, but also needed some sort of adventure to go along with it.  By the standards of the time, a module with the entire monastery adventure would have been too large for a single module.  Remember, the only other modules around at the time were the G and D series which were originally published as separate, emaciated adventures of only ~16 pages.****  So he took the first level of the monastery dungeon, re-worked it as the moathouse in T1 and used the affair as an outpost of the greater dungeon, which would eventually be the Temple of Elemental Evil which, by the way, had turned from a monastery sacked long ago by forces of evil to a temple sacked long ago by forces of good. 

So if you've ever wondered what the original "Hommlet" dungeon Gygax mentions in the intro to T1 may have looked like before it was infiltrated with PCs, sullied by Lolth and/or Zuggtmoy, and afflicted with battles over at Emridy Meadows, the answer may have been right in front of you all along.  This humble, seemingly unfinished dungeon hidden under a monastery is actually a vestige of the campaign that spawned one of the great modules of the AD&D era.  The dungeon from which The Moathouse, Lareth, the Cult of Elemental Evil and its affiliated Temple all sprang from this unassuming labyrinth on page 95 of the Dungeon Masters Guide.  Sadly, this connection to the very roots of the game was one of the things we lost as Gygax's creative impact at TSR diminished.

*Well, as "for real" as you can get without confirmation from anyone who actually knows the score.

**In T1-4 Temple of Elemental Evil the zombie:cubicle disparity was resolved by hiding the two extra zombies--who presumably had just lost a game of musical chambers--behind one of the pillars in area 21, nee area 4.  

***Case in point: in the used copy of T1 I now own (acquired at a used book sale a few years ago), the previous owner left pencil markings recording the dwindling hit points and ultimate demise of the first 10 zombies while the last two zombies  are unsullied by graphite.  Perhaps the players suffered a TPK at the hands of Wimpy and Gimpy, or, perhaps, lacking a sixth cell to release them from, the DM never put them into action.

****This is based entirely on my recollection of how slender those modules were; I don't have the modules on hand and thus don't know the exact page count.

*******This wasn't intended to be a footnote but since you're here, it just so happens that monastery and moathouse have the same amount of letters.  I am unaware of Gygax's stance on numerology or alphabetology or whatever, but I'm going to write this one off as coincidence and nothing more.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Lookin' for some AD&D modules ter go with them shiny new books?

... to go with your snazzy new AD&D rulebook reprints?  Check this list out for some sweet deals.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Giants of Blackmoor: New York-Newark MSA after the Fall

Blackmoor in the 212
Tired of the prattling of Islanders fans, the good citizens of Queens took a saw and--holding on to the Throgs Neck for balance--lopped off the rest of Long Island at the Cross Island Pkwy.  Meanwhile to the west, New Jersey sated its lust for Lady Liberty by lunging to the east and having its way with her and her little brother Ellis; kicking Staten Island to the side in the process.  Whether Jerseyites wanted the lost souls of Long Island or not is open to debate, but Nassau County drifted across the Raritan Bay, latching onto Sandy Hook just in time to avoid falling off the continental shelf.   The Hamptons remain unmoved off the map to the right and are still accessible from the City via Water-Jitney.

Friday, February 3, 2012

DMG Sample Dungeon Part 3: Room 3 and the Portal of the Jerk

"You come into the the northern portion of a 50' x 50' chamber.  It is bare and empty.  There are no exits apparent.  It seems to be a dead end place."  Gary Gygax, DMG p. 99
No exits are apparent.  It seems to be a dead end place.  If this isn't enough to make you search for secret doors, then maybe you're not playing the right game.

So you've just entered the nexus of the land of the living and the dead, wherein the deceased brethren of the monastery make their secret voyage to the under world.  We know that the dead were lain in repose here on an elevated stage and, after some amount of time, they were taken through a secret door and lain to rest in a sarcophagus somewhere in a long, wide corridor in the crypt area to the south.  It is telling that the entry to the netherworld is via a secret door rather than some grand, awe-inspiring edifice or even a modest  tunnel.  It is reinforcing an aura of mystery regarding the afterlife that most undoubtedly is of significance to their religious beliefs.

DM: "You might be in for a nasty surprise, so I'll let you roll a six sider for me to see your status."  
This is the equivalent of Javier Bardem showing up at your house with a compressed air canister in his hand and asking you to flip a coin.

Ghouls?  What ghouls?
For some reason which we will never understand, the Sample DM in the campaign narrative which accompanies the Sample Dungeon has chosen this moment to reveal that he is a complete dickhead.  We learn that, on finding the secret door, "the gnome" of the party is immediately surprised and devoured by a party of 4 ghouls waiting behind the portal.  Now look at the map of the crypt area beyond the door, there is not a labelled encounter within 120' of the secret door; obviously the author of the sample dungeon did not intend for there to be ghouls loitering there.  Maybe they're wandering monsters--except that we the readers have always been informed when the Sample DM has rolled for wandering monsters in the past, yet no roll was made at this juncture.  Further, the wandering monster table for the crypt area indicates "1-2 ghouls" might be encountered, not 4.  We must conclude that the Sample DM ad libbed 4 ghouls waiting at the secret door to attack the party when they're in a very precarious situation--propped up in a human pyramid!   Now tell me this guy is not a dick!

And more dickishness: the secret portal is described as being only 8-1/2' wide in the room description yet the DM tells the party that it's 10' wide!  You might ask: "Uh, now who's being a dick, Dice-chucker?"  Too-shay, my friend.

As all y'all who've ever held the DMG in your hands knows, room 3 is where the description of the sample dungeon--and the accompanying narrative--ended, the rest was up to the reader to fill in if they so chose.  I might be one of the rare old schoolers who never did fill in that dungeon, mostly because drawing maps was my favorite part of making a dungeon back in the day. And, like the Sample Dungeon, the descriptive text of my dungeons usually trailed off by somewhere around room 3.  Now I've come to the complete opposite end; I much prefer taking other author's maps and descriptions, over-analizing their words to find meanings that probably shouldn't be there, and layering my own interpretation on top of their work.  So that is what we'll do in Part 4 of the Series: What Lies Beyond Room 3.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Thursday of the Castle Keeper: SIEGE this!

Hey SIEGE engine!  Looking for an easier way into the castle?  Next time try the damn drawbridge!

Presenting the DRAWBRIDGE Universal Action Resolution System©:
Rather than rolling either a 12 or an 18 on d20 to determine success, using the DRAWBRIDGE Universal Action Resolution System© you need to roll an 11 or higher on d20.* This applies to virtually everything you want to attempt**--even combat!  Since not all tasks are created equal, each action you attempt has a challenge level.  But to keep in the drawbridge theme, we'll call it the Bascule--combat Bascules are commonly referred to by the acronym AC.  Just like a real Bascule, which is the counterweight in the drawbridge, the Bascule in the DRAWBRIDGE Universal Action Resolution System© balances the difficulty of the task at hand with the likelihood of the character achieving success. Exceptionally easy tasks can be assigned a negative bascule.
How to use the DRAWBRIDGE Universal Action Resolution System©:
  1. Add the Bascule (or opponents AC in combat) to 11; this is your target number.  Roll this number or higher on a 20-sider to succeed.  
  2. Add ability bonuses/penalties, combat bonuses, and/or appropriate levels to die roll.  If the total equals or exceeds 11 + Bascule/AC, you did it!  Climb the wall/roll damage/take half damage/whatever.  Roll less than 11 and you get to roll up a new character while the rest of your party is left to the task of parsing out your belongings. 
Converting SIEGE Engine to the DRAWBRIDGE Universal Action Resolution System©: 
Combat: Subtract 10 from AC, add AC to 11 -- this is your target number.  Or, since AC in C&C is derived by adding all your armor bonuses to 10, you can just leave off adding 10 in the first place
Other: depending on the primeness of your attributes you will need to add either 1 (primed) or 7 (un-primed [ouch!]) to the appropriate Bascule.
Next week we'll discuss how to convert AD&D combat to the BARBICAN Combat Resolution System©, a subsidiary of DRAWBRIDGE, LLC and Dice-Chucker Productions.

*This represents a 50% chance of success for a normal--which is to say, not-cool--person.  It is also the minimum requirement for a 0-level human to hit AC10 (no armor) in AD&D; i.e. it is the bedrock upon which all combat is built.  Thac0 can suck itself raw.
**Assuming of course that the activity you are attempting has, in the Castle Keeper's sound opinion, a reasonable chance of failure.  It is up to the Castle Keeper and, to some extent, the players to decide when to use the DRAWBRIDGE Universal Action Resolution System© and when to just role-play the situation instead.