Saturday, August 27, 2016

5E Dragonlance: How to do a Solamnic Knight?

Lots of options.

You don't need to be a stick in the mud like Sturm to be a Solamnic Knight, but it sure helps.
The simplest way would be to make Squire of Solamnia a special Background. Fighters with that background then get access to three special martial archetypes, one for each order of Knighthood. Knights of the Sword are like Eldritch Knights, except their spell list is the Paladin's, while Knights of the Crown and Knights of the Rose get custom (or cribbed) martial archetypes.

Of course, then I also need to consider what happens when other classes take that Background. I suppose they remain "squires" and serve a support capacity for the Knights. 

Option 2, also fairly simple, is to have all Knights be Paladins, but only those that take the Knights of the Sword path get spells. Crown and Rose get other abilities (or maybe give them feat selections) to make up for the lack of spells. But then I need to worry about balancing out spell casting with other abilities.

Option 3 is to just make a new class that fits between Fighter and Paladin. It's the most work for me, but may be the simplest way to go for the players. And in the end, it would probably look a lot like Option #1, just without the need for a specific Background.

Knowing myself, I'll probably go with Option 3.

As I mentioned before, I'll probably be borrowing some ideas from other places. The Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide suggests using the Fighter archetype Purple Dragon Knight for Knights of the Rose. And I agree, it looks good. They have some good abilities to boost allies, which is a bit different from other Fighter types.

For Knights of the Sword, they suggest the Paladin with Oath of the Crown. Again, not bad. If it can be ported onto the Fighter, along with Eldritch Knight style spell-casting from the Paladin list, it would work well.

I'd thought about the Unearthed Arcana Cavalier path for the Knights of the Crown, but while it's got some interesting things, it's very lance combat focused. A Knight of the Crown with a dragonlance would be a force to reckon with using this path, but there's no guarantee in a sandbox version of Krynn that a dragonlance would ever become available. Lances are also less than ideal weapons in many dungeon environments. So I may need to borrow a few ideas here and there and make up my own Knight of the Crown martial archetype.

Oh, and just for the record, Dragonlance Adventures lists Barbarian, Cavalier, Paladin and Monk as available classes in the setting, so I will be allowing the 5E Barbarian, Paladin and Monk as options, and if I don't give the Cavalier powers to Knights of Solamnia, it will be available for Fighters.

Paladins, like Clerics, will need to wait until the gods have been rediscovered before they get all their cool powers, though...

Friday, August 26, 2016

5E Wizard of High Sorcery

I just spent a few minutes (didn't take long) comparing the eight magical traditions in 5E with the various spell schools in 1E, and how in Dragonlance, your wizard's robe color determines which spell schools you can know/cast. And it turns out they easily map together, giving five of 5E's eight groups to each robe color. Also, the influence of the three moons seems like it will be pretty simple to apply to 5E's Wizard class.

Class: Wizard of High Sorcery
Except as noted below, identical to the basic Wizard class.

2nd Level: Arcane Tradition
Wizards of High Sorcery have limits on which arcane traditions they can choose from, based on their alignment. Wizards of Good alignment can select from Abjuration, Conjuration, Divination, Enchantment, and Evocation. Wizards of Neutral alignment can select from Conjuration, Divination, Evocation, Illusion, and Transmutation. Wizards of Evil alignment can select from Conjuration, Divination, Enchantment, Illusion, and Necromancy. [Note that the Law/Chaos axis does not matter for this choice, only the Good/Evil axis.]

3rd Level: Robes
After achieving 3rd level and before gaining 4th level, the wizard must pass the Test of High Sorcery, which is pass or die. The wizard who passes joins one of three orders, White (good), Red (neutral) or Black (evil) and is issued appropriately colored robes. From this point forward, they may only cast spells of the spell schools allowed as valid choices for their Arcane Tradition. Spells of prohibited schools in their spellbook are unusable, and the wizard may select any one such spell, if any, to be removed and replaced with another spell by the Conclave of Wizards upon completion of the Test.

3rd Level: Moon Influence
After passing the Test of High Sorcery, the wizard's magic is influenced by one of Krynn's three moons: Solinari (White), Lunitari (Red) or Nuitari (Black). When the wizard's influencing moon is in High Sanction (full), the wizard gains a +1 bonus to their Spell Save DC and Spell Attack Bonus. They also gain one additional spell slot that they can cast, of the highest level of which they can cast 2 or more spells. When the influencing moon is in Low Sanction (new), the wizard suffers a -1 penalty to their Spell Save DC and Spell Attack Bonus. They also lose one spell slot of the highest level of which they can cast 2 or more spells.

For example, at 7th level, a Wizard has 1 4th level spell slot and 3 3rd level spell slots. At High Sanction, the Wizard would gain an extra 3rd level spell slot, for a total of 4. During Low Sanction, the Wizard would have only 2 3rd level spell slots. Once the Wizard advances to 8th level and has 2 4th level spell slots, the Wizard would have 3 4th level slots at High Sanction and only 1 4th level slot at Low Sanction.

Renegade Magic Users
A Wizard who continues to advance in level beyond 3rd without having taken the Test of High Sorcery is considered a renegade. The renegade may cast spells of any spell school regardless of alignment, and the moons have no influence on the renegade's spells. Any Wizard of High Sorcery who encounters a renegade is bound by the Conclave of Wizards to attempt to capture or kill the renegade.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Mentzer Basic Cover to Cover: Monster General Notes, part 2

My previous post was post number 1066 on this blog. I feel like I should have written something about the Norman Conquest of England rather than giving a review of a mediocre Star Trek movie. Too late now. And I've got nothing at the moment to connect the Norman Conquest with D&D, so...on with the Mentzer Basic Cover to Cover series!

This post continues from here, covering the introduction to the new DM of how to read monster entries and how to run them in play.

This very short section lets us know that it's usually easier to run monsters than running a PC in combat, and that higher hit die monsters can hit more easily. There's also a truncated (up to 3+ to 4 HD) monster hit table presented here. Despite this being quite explicit (as I've mentioned many times before), this was THE big mistake I made as a starting DM. Since the back cover of the Players' Manual had typed in numbers to hit each armor class, we somehow got the impression that those numbers never changed, and we used them for EVERYTHING (either by not grasping the rules thoroughly or by some sense of "fairness" - to be honest, it was over 30 years ago, so I can't remember which, but probably the former). This made fighting dragons a little easier, as it was still hard for a dragon to hit a character with plate and shield, although it also took PCs longer to finish battles because as we got into the Expert Set levels, they also didn't improve.

We likely would have had a lot more PC deaths in the early days if we'd gotten this one right.

Saving Throws
Just like the PCs, monsters get saving throws, and they're the same types as the PCs have. In fact, monsters just have a note in their stat block about which PC saves and at what level, they should use. Not much to say about that.

Special Attacks
This section describes some common special attacks monsters have. It also gives us a note that most allow for a saving throw, but Energy Drain does not.

Blindness: If you're actually blind, blinded by magic, or just fighting in the dark without infravision, the simple rule is "the victim of blindness may not move or attack" (p. 23). Simple. Effective. But then right immediately after that, is the optional rule: if someone can guide and direct you, you can attack with a -4 penalty to hit, and all opponents get a +4 bonus to hit you, and movement can be made at 1/3 speed, 2/3 if guided.

Most DMs I know (and I'm sure the official rules from 2E forward, possibly as an official or optional rule in OE, BX, and 1E as well) have tended to use the optional system, although the details may vary. It's fairly unrealistic, but very cinematic. It played great with Han Solo, Chewbacca, and Lando Calrissian in the Sarlac Pit. And as WotC assures us, everyone always being able to take part in combat is the most fun part of the game. I disagree, sometimes being taken out of combat can be more exciting, as that raises the tension and the stakes of the combat. But yet, here we are with an optional rule that was so popular it has become the standard rule.

Frank also notes that invisible creatures cannot be attacked, but a Magic-User with Detect Invisible may be able to direct others where to attack, so that they can attack with the penalties given above. Oh, and there's the bit about using Silence 15' radius to effectively blind giant shrews and bats.

Charm: We get a little information on the charm effect here that is different from that provided by the spell, or in the previous section on charm effects in the Procedures section. It states that a charmed PC is "confused and unable to make decisions" (p. 23), which includes casting of spells or use of magic items which require concentration. The spell doesn't mention anything about confusion or prevention of spell casting/magic item use. It is similar in that if the charming monster can speak your language, it can give you simple orders and if you don't speak a common language you will still try to protect the charmer.

Energy Drain
The very first words of this section are, "This is a very dangerous attack form, with no Saving Throw allowed" (p. 24). It then goes on to describe the basic effects of the attack (lose a level, including hit points, spells, and so forth) immediately. The PC's XP is now at the midpoint between the new level and the old. 1st level characters are killed. That's pretty simple, right? Yet somehow, back when I was a frequent reader of Dragonsfoot Forums, this was such a common topic! Right up there with demi-human level limits and alignment.

Oh, and for a cure? There is none save for "normal adventuring and earning the Experience Points over again" (p. 24). So stop whining and go find some treasure hoards to loot, ya big baby! [Oh, but if you get up to Companion Set levels, there's a spell for that.]

Of course, there are still some gray areas. When losing a level, we used to roll the hit die to see how many hit points were lost. And then when the character regained the level, they got to roll again. If you got lucky and had rolled high for the level's hp to begin with, then rolled low for the amount lost to level drain, then got lucky again when the PC leveled up again, it was possible to end up with more hit points than normally mathematically allowed for the level. I asked Frank one time (yep, over on Dragonsfoot) what he did. He actually records each players' rolls for all levels so that when they get energy drained, he knows exactly how many hit points they lose (and how many they get back once they've regained the level).

Paralysis: Unlike real world paralysis, this is 50's B-movie/Saturday Morning Cartoon paralysis, where you get frozen in place and can't move a muscle. Frank notes that the PC is still awake and aware, just unable to make any movements, including speaking. If you're paralyzed, you are automatically hit, no need to roll, just take damage. Ouch! Oh, and a Cure Light Wounds spell will cure it, but not heal damage at the same time. Good to be reminded of that. It's in the spell description, but players seem to often forget about that.

Poison: Again, another dangerous attack. Save or die! (Unless you have Expert Set level characters, then there's a spell for that.)

Frank does give us an optional rule, Poison Damage. Instead of save or die, a failed save means extra damage. Frank suggests picking a number between 1 and 4 and multiplying that by the poisoner's hit dice to determine how much extra damage is taken. Having seen the 5E method of using poison (which is basically like this), I'm tempted to use it some time. Chanbara may also be getting a slight tweak to its poison rules because of this...

Monster Descriptions
This section describes the various lines of the monster stat block.

Name: Obviously, the monster's name. If there's an asterisk after the name, it can only be hit by magical or special weapons.
Armor Class: Frank notes that this takes into account not only actual armor worn (if any) but also size, speed, thick skin, etc. And the DM is free to modify it. He gives an example of a hobgoblin in plate mail instead of leathers.
Hit Dice: We've already had a section on hit dice specifically, and we're referred back to that section (see the previous post, link up at the top). Any asterisks after the number refer to special powers of the creature, which makes them worth more XP.
Move: First is the movement rate per Turn (10 minutes), then the movement rate per round (for encounters). Now, we all know the Turn movement rate is really slow. It's often justified that exploring dangerous underground places by torchlight isn't easy, especially if you're also trying to map it, so movement is slow. But most monsters move just as slowly...
Attacks: Simple, this is the number and types of attack each monster has.
Damage: Again, simple. The amount of damage each attack deals, listed in the same order as attacks. Damage "by weapon" is assumed to be 1d6, unless the DM uses the alternate Variable Weapon Damage system (most of us do), but even then I often default to 1d6 just so I don't need to describe exactly what weapons each monster is using.
No. Appearing (Number Appearing): There was already some discussion of this previously (again, in the last post in the series, link up top), but we get a bit more in depth description of what the numbers mean. The first number is the number normally encountered in a dungeon, the second, in parenthesis, is the number usually encountered in the wilderness. If there is a dungeon lair for the monsters, use the outdoor number for the lair. Outdoor lairs may have 5 times this number! We've also got a reminder to adjust the numbers based on the monster's hit dice and the dungeon level, as described previously.
Save As: Again, the class and level to reference when rolling saving throws for the monster.
Morale: There was a good discussion of Morale back in the Procedures sections (part 3). One interesting thing to note here is that Frank says the numbers given are suggested values. Feel free to have emboldened kobolds or cowardly lizard men as you like.
Treasure Type: Fairly straight forward. Reference this to get the line to roll on on the treasure charts on pages 40-41. Frank helpfully explains that "nil" means none. Which is good, because I'm pretty sure this was the first time 11-year-old me had run across that term. Frank then explains that the letter is the lair treasure, unless it's in parenthesis which means it's individual treasure carried by each monster. For monsters without a parenthesis, they carry no treasure with them.
Alignment: Once again, which alignment is the monster? Frank does mention that animals are always Neutral, and that the DM should consider alignment when running the monsters. Oh, and only intelligent monsters can speak the alignment language (but sometimes it's up to the DM to judge which monsters are intelligent and which are not...Frank doesn't mention this, though).
XP Value: How much XP each individual monster of that type is worth. "However, the DM may give more XP for monsters in "tough" encounters, such as an attack on a well-defended lair" (p. 24). I think that's important to consider. Normally, the lair would be worth more XP because that's where most of the treasure is! But just like with most other numbers here (AC, Morale), the DM is free to adjust them as he or she sees fit.
Description: And we finally get the text that tells us about the monster - what it looks like (sometimes), its habits, special abilities, etc. Oh, and we get a brief explanation of the terms carnivore, herbivore, insectivore, omnivore, and nocturnal. And again, thanks Frank for helping teach me some new words! I'm pretty sure I knew nocturnal, but the technical terms for animal diets were, IIRC, new to me.

And that's that. The next post in the series will start in on monster entries.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Movie Review: Star Trek Beyond

I was turned off of Abrams Trek by Star Trek Into Darkness, but I'd heard some positive reviews about this newest film, so I decided to put off my dissertation writing yesterday morning and catch a cheap matinee showing.

Obligatory Question: Is there cursing in the film? Yes, Bones and Spock discuss the relevance of horse shit to their current situation at one point, and Bones has a few more weak swears he uses. Not much, really. Probably not enough to worry about letting your kids see it or not.

So, I"m going to give a quick capsule review without spoilers here, then a break, and then a full review with spoilers, as I don't think I can talk much about the movie without spoiling it.

Was it entertaining? Yes, but not amazingly so. The good thing was that this Abrams movie finally felt like honest-to-Q Star Trek. The initial movie went out of its way to be different. The second was bipolar, trying to be different while also trying to be like older Trek. This one was firmly in the traditional Trek zone.

The bad thing was that the plot was just a conventional generic action movie plot. Like, take any Lethal Weapon movie's basic plot, put it in space, bam, there's this movie.

Is it worth seeing? If you're a Trekkie, I'm sure you've already seen it (it released late in Korea). If you're Trekker like me, you'll also probably want to see it for completionist purposes. If you're just in the mood for some summer popcorn action movie fare, sure, why not? If you're looking for intense drama, or thoughtful science fiction, this isn't the movie for you.


Is that enough of a break? OK, spoiler time.

There were some things that really bugged me about the movie, even though in the end I thought it was OK. I think if these things had been addressed, it could have been a much better Star Trek movie (although not as good as Wrath of Khan or Generations Whoops, meant First Contact. That was the good TNG movie.).

First of all, Spock. His motivations were clear, but every single significant choice he made in the movie was to choose the ILLOGICAL option. Or maybe, if you look at it a certain way, there was a warped personal logic to it, but considering Vulcan Logic, he was the most illogical he's ever been portrayed. Yes, he's got the hots for Uhura, and yes, BBEG had her close by so he could explain his evil plans to her (and us). But Spock's been wounded severely, could help Scotty just as well as Checkov, but has to go on the rescue mission because his girlfriend's in danger. Then he's got to pilot the stolen "bee" craft with Bones, except Bones does all the flying and Spock is there (still wounded, no medbay on the USS Franklin) for moral support? The only logical thing he did was consider leaving Star Fleet to help repopulate New Vulcan (and even that, in the end, gets overridden by the picture of Old Spock with Old Kirk, Old Scotty, Old Sulu, Old Uhura, etc. circa Star Trek 4?).

Next, I love Idris Elba, but could he have been playing a more generic villain? He's motivated by hate. Only hate. He hates the Federation. That's all he's got. Seriously boring. I was hoping he'd pull a last minute turn, and help Kirk shunt the alien bioweapon McGuffin into space. That would still have been cliche, but at least it would have shown something to motivate him besides hating the Federation for being soft. And the whole big reveal, that he was a former Star Fleet captain, was pretty much for nothing, character wise. It did explain why he was so familiar with English, Federation technology, etc. But it did nothing to affect his motives, actions, or development. Lame bad guy is lame, even with Elba behind the makeup.

Kirk actually had a decent (if predictable) character arc, but again, watch any Lethal Weapon movie and compare. "I'm getting too old for this shit." "One last mission." "Hey, you know what? I actually enjoy doing this after all and will continue."

Oh, and if I have to see that 'ship/airplane in freefall, dives down behind mountain between ship and camera, then zooms up from behind that mountain' scene again, I'm gonna puke. They really were taking all their cues from other movies plotting this one weren't they?

I did like how they set the film three years into the five year mission, implying that this crew may (or may not) have gone through events similar to the TOS episodes. There's even one point where Kirk jokes about how life on the ship is feeling "episodic." Well except for Space Seed, since they already mangled the Khan plotline in Into Darkness. But well, you can assume that this version of the crew tangled with Klingons, Gorn, Romulans, tribbles, and all that if you like. The film makers can do whatever they like from now on -- which was the promise of the first movie, which they reneged on in the second, and have now artfully bypassed the issue with a time jump.

So again, as I said above, it's not a bad movie, but it's not a great one, either. Unless you're a huge Trek fan, you won't miss much by waiting to see this on VOD or whatever cheaper option than seeing it in the theater, if that's your thing.

Monday, August 22, 2016

5E Dragonlance: Feasibility

So, having skimmed over certain parts of Dragonlance Adventures (the 1E sourcebook), the 5E PHB, Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide, and several of WotC's Unearthed Arcana articles, I feel like from a player perspective doing Dragonlance with 5E wouldn't be too hard.

It won't be an exact fit, but then I didn't expect it to be. But by limiting the races, classes, and class specialization paths (and switching a few around), it could work.

Races: Human, Elf (no Dark Elf/Drow), Half-Elf, Dwarf (both subraces OK), Halfling (Kender subrace only, abilities taken from Play Test materials), Gnome (Rock Gnome subrace only, expanded tinker stuff from DLA), Minotaur (using Half-Orc race - DMWieg pointed me to a UA Krynn Minotaur, but just using the half-orc seems easier to me, although I will give them the horn attack from the UA class).

Classes: Barbarian (DLA mentions them), [Cleric - only after someone finds the Disks of Mishakal or some other relic], Fighter, Knight of Solamnia (spell-less Paladin, can use spell slots for smite, with UA Cavalier (Fighter) path for Knights of the Crown, standard Oath of Devotion path for Knights of the Sword [gain spells after Clerics introduced], and the Purple Dragon Knight (Fighter) path for Knights of the Crown), Ranger, Rogue, Wizard (home-brewed White/Red/Black robe specializations instead of the normal spell school specialization, with custom spell lists based off of the guidelines in DLA)

Backgrounds don't really need to be changed.

That's fairly simple (although I wonder if players would go for it if I also instituted 1E style race/class restrictions...).

From the DM perspective, it's a little harder. I printed up the "important" parts of the first two modules. The first has a bit of a sandbox feel already (if I ignore the plot roadblocks built into many encounters), plus the ruins of Xak Tsaroth. The second was less useful as the first half was very plot railroady (get the PCs captured, rescued by elves then sent to Pax Tharkas to rescue everyone), but the second half has the fortress of Pax Tharkas and the Sla Mori tomb under it, which is useful to me.

There are 11 more modules in the main storyline, plus two supplemental ones, stuff I may need to look for in DLA, box sets, etc.

Now, I don't need to do all of this at once, of course, but I'll need to get my hands on a 5E Monster Manual (only have the PHB in hard copy ATM) and see how easy it will be to switch out monsters from 1E Dragonlance to 5E (and how hard to convert those that aren't in 5E).

Anyway, it's doable. I just need to find some time to get Chanbara finished first (and hope Gamer ADD doesn't get me off on some other tangent in the meantime!).

Friday, August 19, 2016

5E Dragonlance?

Over on G+ I was asking about the feasibility of running the old DL series of modules as a sandbox.

The game would be set during the events of the War of the Lance, but the Heroes of the Lance may or may not emerge. Tanis Halfelven and co. aren't around. The players can choose to try and take on the dragonarmies, join up with them, or just go around exploring ruins and looting them while the world burns.

All the dungeons from the modules would be there, I just wouldn't be pushing the players to recreate the novels.

And I'd run it with 5E. Just because. (Of course, by the time I actually get around to playing this campaign, if ever, I may decide to go with AD&D 1E, or LL/AEC, or my own modified BECMI system...)

The thing I like about 5E is that it seems fairly modular enough to mold it into the tropes of Krynn.

For example, races.

Human, Elf, Half-Elf and Dwarf work as is.

Orcs and Half-Orcs don't exist on Krynn [except in that one crappy Tasselhoff novel], but Minotaurs (smaller than normal D&D minotaurs, but still big and tough) are a potential player race. And reskin the 5E Half-Orc as a Minotaur and you're good to go. All you need to change are the name and starting language from Orc to Minotaur.

One of the 5E playtest packets had Kender as a race. Exchange the Halfling's subclasses for the Kender abilities from the playtest (trust me, if you didn't see it, it handles the kleptomania in a way that won't butthurt other players). Done.

One of the Gnome subraces is the tinker/alchemist type. Only allow that one.

Tieflings don't exist. Done. Dragonborn don't exist [and the similar Draconians that do exist aren't playable at this time period]. Done.

For classes, things get a bit more complicated.

Clerics are just being discovered again at this time. So they're out (at least at first). I'd probably ban Druids as well for similar reasons (they're still sort of religious type magicians and the gods of Krynn are deaf to mortal pleas).

Paladins could work for Knights of Solamnia. Rijigger the Oaths to the three orders of knighthood (Crown, Rose, Sword). It's not quite how I remember it working in the novels or the Dragonlance Adventures sourcebook, where the Knights of the Rose and Sword were like prestige classes a Knight of the Crown could graduate into, but this doesn't need to be perfect.

Wizards and Sorcerers would both need to conform to the strictures of the Towers of High Sorcery (or be labeled as rogues and hunted down). I'd need to develop paths for the White, Red and Black robes that both classes would need to choose from. Warlocks (if I allow them - I've yet to witness anyone use the class yet actually so the question may be moot) would always be considered rogue mages. Bards would also either be banned (as Clerics/Druids) or else also need to conform to the three robes subclasses.

Or maybe these aren't paths (the normal paths for these classes could be used), but the choice of robes is required, and still affects spellcasting depending on the moons' phases.

Barbarians, Fighters, Rangers, problem. Monks may be allowed, but probably not. Eldritch Knights and Arcane Tricksters may have entanglements with the Towers of High Sorcery.

Backgrounds probably don't need much work.

Half Time

I was thinking about 5E's races the other day (considering joining a new 5E game in RPOL and thinking of characters I might want to play led me to this).

One thing I like about 5E is that most of the races get a choice of subrace. These are excellent ways to differentiate the various types of dwarves and elves that populate most Tolkienian fantasy worlds, and also a nice way to customize 5E to suit your world. If you don't have Dragonlance style tinker gnomes in your world, do away with that subclass, or replace it with something more fitting.

But I realized there's an obvious place where WotC's designers dropped the ball: The Half-Elf and Half-Orc.

Neither one has subclass options. Now, some might say that's because they're part of the "less common" races section. But Gnomes are too, and they get subclasses. Dragonborn, by selecting one of five types of breath weapon/energy resistance, have de facto subclasses.

Why not the Half-Elf and Half-Orc? As they stand now, the HE is fairly split in favoring elf and human traits. The HO, on the other hand, is VERY orcish.

Why not subclasses for both, one which favors the human side, and one which favors the non-human side?

If I ever get around to running a proper 5E game, I think I'll work something up for these races.

Oh, and Tieflings, too. They could easily have demonic/devilish/daemonic subclasses (or a subclass that favors their human ancestry as the HE and HO subclasses I suggest) to choose from. But I'm not a huge fan of the race, so I might just leave them as is if I don't just disallow them period.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Mentzer Basic Cover to Cover: Monsters - General Notes Part 1

Before getting into the monster listings, this section has three pages and a bit on the fourth describing some aspects of monsters and how to play them for the new DM. The introduction notes that monsters may be friends or foes of the PCs, and can be normal animals or fantastic monsters. It's good to note that not every monster is there to be killed, although that's a style of play that certainly has become common.

I've noted several times in the course of this series that growing up with D&D and video games may have adversely affected our games, leading to a more kick-in-the-door/hack-and-slash style of play. But even in those early games, there were times when we would converse with monsters, and sometimes even making friends (or making enemies out of what could have been allies). A lot of times it depended on the mood we were in.

This section starts out saying, "Many non-human monsters have infravision, in addition to normal sight" (p. 22). It then explains the basics of infravision -- see heat, normal light disrupts it, halflings and thieves can't hide in complete darkness from it, but if there is light casting shadows they can.

Now, I remember reading somewhere that in OD&D, all 'monsters' (by some interpretations even human monsters like bandits) have infravision when in the dungeon. No, it makes no sense, but it does explain why everything in the dungeon is in complete darkness until the PCs arrive. Here, we don't have anything so broad (human monsters are excluded). But reading that line, I asked myself how many monsters are listed as having infravision? And it turns out, there are only five (or seven) creatures explicitly noted as having it: gnome, goblin, kobold, tuatara (giant lizard), and pit viper (snake). The entry for the dwarf and elf don't mention it, but since the character class descriptions do, it can be safe to assume the monster types do as well. Five (or seven) isn't really many, especially considering there are about 100 types of monsters listed in the book.

So that leads to a question. The dwarf and elf aren't listed as having it in their description. The gnome, goblin and kobold all have notes as having "exceptional infravision, 90' range" and the tuatara and pit viper seem to have it listed to show they are exceptions among the giant lizards and snakes (the other types don't). Which monsters, actually, have infravision?

From the above, it would seem that all humanoid type monsters have it (bugbears, dwarves, elves, gnolls, hobgoblins, lizard men, medusa (?), ogres, orcs, pixies, sprites, thouls, troglodytes all have normal 60' type, the three explicitly listed as having it above have exceptional 90' type. Most normal animals do not. Human monsters (bandit, berserker, human*, normal human*, NPC party) do not. Everything else, from slimes to dragons, is up to the DM. It does say "many" not "most" so this seems to be a fair interpretation.

A strict reading, though, limits the monsters with infravision to five or seven only.

*Yes, I'll get into the fact that "0-level" NPC humans are listed twice later in the series.

Hit Dice
Monsters use d8s for hit points, and the hit dice tell you how many dice to roll, and give you an idea of how big and/or tough the monster is. There are lots of examples explaining the addition or subtraction of extra hit points for some monsters (like Hit Dice 3+1). Nothing special here.

Dungeon Levels
Frank explains that many dungeons are bigger than just a few caves (like in the players' book tutorial), and have multiple levels (like in the "first group adventure" in this book). Deeper (or higher or farther back) areas get more dangerous and have greater treasures. This section basically lays out to the new DM that multi-level dungeons are a risk-reward system.

Monster Levels
Monster level is equal to hit dice, ignoring any plus or minus. Monsters are usually encountered on the dungeon level equal to their monster level, and rarely more than three levels different. Again, we're getting the risk-reward structure of dungeon delving explained to us.

Number of Monsters
The fourth part of this risk-reward system's explanation tells us to adjust the standard number appearing when monsters are on a level higher or lower than their normal level. So bugbears may be found on level 1, but not very many will be in one encounter. If bugbears are encountered below dungeon level 3, there should be more than the normal number appearing.

The DM may change the number appearing as desired. These guidelines are not rules, but are offered to help in creating good, fair dungeons. If low level characters encounter tough monsters on the first and second levels of a dungeon, they might be overpowered. Even using these guidelines, they might encounter dangerous monsters, but in very small numbers. (p. 22)
Now, some might say that what Frank is saying here is just the same thing as 3E/Pathfinder's Challenge Rating/Encounter Level system, or 4E's encounter budgets (I think that's what they were called). And the intention is the same, but the execution -- at least as far as I've seen it done in 3E/4E, was quite different.

Here, we've got a location divided by regions of increasing danger (and potential reward). Players choose what danger level they want, and the commensurate amount of reward they expect to gain for it. The DM just sets up the situation and lets players decide. If 7th level PCs want to tromp around Dungeon Level 1, smacking around orcs and kobolds, and getting a few hundred silver coins for their effort, that's their choice. If 2nd level PCs want to attempt a quick foray down to Dungeon Level 5 to try and score one big haul, that's also their choice. That's the intent here.

Now, in newer editions, sure you can set up the game that way. But most games I've played in, and most adventure modules I've read for these editions, don't do that. You're not expected to try and run low level characters through Heart of Nightfang Spire (10th level adventure) just to see if they can score one big treasure haul and then retreat. The lack of officially awarding XP for gold discourages this, actually.

When Frank talks about setting up a fair game here, he's not talking about setting up encounters only of the appropriate level for the PCs. He's saying don't stick a sabertooth tiger or red dragon on level 1 without any warning, because the players should have the the agency to choose their level of danger and commensurate reward. If they get in over their heads, it should be their own fault, not the DM's. At the same time, it's not the DM's job to prevent them from getting in over their heads IF THEY SO CHOOSE.

And here we have the much lauded (recently, anyway) Monster Reaction Chart. Unless badly influenced by video games (as I sometimes was as a youth), monsters may not always just attack when encountered (although Frank does note that some monsters will, and if so it's noted in their descriptions). Like others, I've found this chart to be a great way to work out all sorts of social situations besides simply deciding if the monsters attack, negotiate, leave, or act friendly.

There are two things that can influence the roll: character actions, and Charisma scores. For character actions, talk or gestures might affect the roll, from a -2 penalty up to a +2 bonus. If the PCs can speak the language of the monster or vice versa, then Charisma modifiers also affect the roll (but note, Cha only gets a bonus/penalty of -2 to +2, not -3 to +3 like other ability scores).

So, if the party acts friendly and has a charismatic character who speaks that language, they could get up to a +4 bonus on the 2d6 roll, which is huge. In such cases, the worst possible result is a 6, which is uncertain. Then on the next roll, the worst possible reaction is Negotiate, and on the third roll then the worst reaction is that the monsters leave. If the initial reaction roll is 8 or higher with both of those bonuses, the monster is immediately friendly!

Of course, the opposite is true. If the PCs can only speak to the monsters through a low Cha character (-1 or -2), and make hostile, threatening gestures, then there's little chance of a friendly reaction and a high chance of combat ensuing. But if the only character who speaks Harpy has low Charisma, character actions can make up for the deficit and leave you with a standard roll.

And people say Charisma is a dump stat in this edition! Well, if you play hack-and-slash, it is. But it shouldn't be and wasn't intended to be.

We get a small section here describing how to handle negotiating with monsters. If the monster thinks the PCs look powerful, it may make offers of friendship or treasure to keep the PCs from attacking. If it thinks the PCs look less powerful, it may try to extort treasure or food to keep it pacified. And we've got a reminder here that Chaotic monsters usually won't keep their bargains, and Neutral monsters only will as long as it seems advantageous to them, while Lawful monsters will always keep their bargains.

It's telling that Frank says here:
Reactions can make the game much more fun than having fights. With some careful thought, a good DM can keep everyone interested and challenged by the situations that can arise. Remember that no creature wants to get killed, and if the party looks or acts fierce, many creatures can be scared away or forced to surrender -- although large and tough monsters probably won't scare very easily. (p. 23)
If anyone ever tells you that TSR D&D or OSR games are just nothing but orc-and-pie dungeon delve combat simulator games, have them go read this section of this book. Then ask them what they think.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Setting Sail (again?)

In between bouts of pounding away at my dissertation (fingers crossed I'll have it ready for defense in November), I've been curating my RPOL Chanbara game (three new players, maybe four) and working on filling in things in my old Maritime Campaign document.

You'd need to be a long-time WaHNtHaC... reader with an excellent memory to remember, as I was working on this, and ran two sessions of it before it collapsed, back in 2010.

"What is this?" I hear new readers and old readers without such excellent memories asking. Well, it was nine sheets of A4 maps of coastlines and archipelagos, and a few notes on running a massive oceanic sandbox game. I did the math. At 24 miles per hex, and 52 hexes top to bottom (portrait orientation), it stretches from arctic territory to tropics on an Earth-sized planet. Basically, the top 15 or 16 hexes on the top three maps are above the arctic circle, and bottom 15 or 16 hexes on the bottom three maps are below the northern tropic (fantasy world, so the tropics would have other names than Cancer and Capricorn).

There are coastlines (mainly peninsulas) on all the maps but the center one, obviously, and LOTS of islands, some big, some small.

The idea for it is to throw lots of rumors and quests at the players, but let them sail around exploring as they please in a Jason and the Argonauts style ship full of heroes. The Argonautica, the Odyssey, the voyages of Pytheas, Harryhausen Sindbad movies, actual Sindbad legends, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Pirates of the Caribbean movies, stories of Zheng He, Treasure Island, 20,000 Leagues Beneath the Sea, King Kong... All sorts of inspiration.

Back in 2010, I'd filled in some planned encounters on one of the maps only, plus I had some Random Encounter Tables (one of my old posts has them). That was about it. I had some vague ideas of teasing the players with an artifact quest, but leaving it up to them if they would bite or not.

Now, I've filled in information about each region on each of the maps -- culture/government/religion, languages, terrain types/climate. I'm working on random tables for determining what's on any particular island (or hex of larger islands, or mainlands) that makes it interesting (or not). I will also have a dozen or so planned encounters per map. All of the maps have some pirate/buccaneer, dragon, and "other big monsters" lairs marked on them. I need to also plan some artifact quests, lots and lots of rumors, inaccurate starting player maps, and a few other little things (like noting places other modules might fit in well), and I may have a marketable adventure module here.

A nautical sandbox. Wave Crawl? Seabox? Get on the ship and go to the place to do the things to get the things? I'm working on the catchy label for this type of adventure. And to make it more marketable, I'll probably either release it with dual stats (OSR/5E) or release two versions of it. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Against the Ghouls

Another fun session of Dean's 5E Eberron game!

Against the Ghouls
Being a part of the continuing adventures of the redoubtable Green Knight Jack Summerisle, and companions various and sundry, in the subterranean kingdom of the most horrific ghouls.

Into the ghoulish capital! Our party, consisting of myself and my reliable giant cave weta steed Cassius, Rhea the Witch, Flagan the Halfling pugilist, and Jade the Ranger, penetrated into the streets of the dark cosmopolity. Few of the ghouls were in the streets, as most seemed to be attending to the great battle our allies were staging to give us this chance. We encountered a pair of ghouls standing before a floating, severed head, which sprayed some sort of black clouds from its mouth. The ghouls seemed to be using the clouds to observe the battle. We decided haste was in our best interest, and left them to their unholy viewing.

In the distance, red smoke rose from some sort of hellish manufactory, and we decided to head in that direction to investigate. We passed an elderly ghoul woman, sitting on her front stoop, who paid us no mind. She also seemed to have some means by which to view the battle, and was enraptured by it. Unfortunately, her giant zombie rabbit smelt our party, and attacked. It was a vicious brute, the size of a horse, and while it managed to toss both Rhea and myself around with its fearsome bite and a flick of its head, we managed to destroy it, along with a pony sized undead dog which apparently was attracted to the sound of combat.

Reaching the manufactory, we found it a nightmare place of slave labor and belching smog. A lone overseer ghoul stood watch over a group of slaves. My first instinct was to attack the monster, and free the unfortunates! Yet, my companions reasoned that it would be best to locate Connor, Jade's captured father, first, and free the slaves later. We managed to sneak past the overseer, and into the slave pens.

What luck! We found Connor, along with Morax a valiant Half-Orc and several other slaves. Curiously, all were dragon-marked. Rhea had some magical healing meat which could relieve a handful of them of the opiate stupor in which they were kept passive, and as to the shackles which held them to the walls, I hit them with my axe!

With a small party of freed slaves, we then set about the task of defeating the overseer. While he had some magical items that could move around the various stairways, gantries, and catwalks of the manufactory to hinder our progress, Jade's bow and Rhea's spells wore the overseer down, and Flagan managed to land the finishing blow. Keys located, we now need to find some place where Morax can brew a poultice to revive the other slaves, and then to escape from the city!