Monday Pointers: April 19, 2010

D4:You at least know the plucky recruit is from Brooklyn
Eric at The Mule Abides explains why the meme “Old School D&D is a heist movie” is only half right and how the big picture is it is a war movie. Along the way he argues this demonstrates that instead of not naming your character until he levels because of the fatality rate you’re better off adding those points that make us cringe when Brooklyn buys it 15 minutes in.

D6:You know the OSR has made it when we have a theory
Swords of Athanor has the beginnings of a descriptive theory. We’re joining The Forge now guys, but at least our flamewars involve porn stars. On a more serious note, I think this theory has some good stuff and it certain meshes with my thinking on the nature of rpgs as accessible, group creative expression.

D8:Art That Screams “You Wish You Were in this Campaign”
Aos of The Metal Earth has an art post that introduces his new title art. That title art alone makes me wish I was one of his players (more than I already do). Given how often he gets into the Monday Pointers I’m going to say you should just read the whole blog. It’s a great example of the range of old school play which most people ignore.

Age of Freedom Tomb Features: Zombie Fonts

A common feature of heroic tombs after the fall of the Old Ones was the zombie font. While necromancy in general was shunned by those who overthrew the Old Ones (who generally didn’t engage in it either) it was used in that time for a handful of things. Given how the property of raising someone as a zombie not only desecrates the body but severs the soul’s link to it the executed were often used as menial labor in zombie form for a brief time after their execution. Given grave robbers were engaged in desecration anyway there was little thought to the horrific fate these devices were engaged in little thought was given to their fate. They were seen as having earned it.

Zombie Font, Dungeon Feature

A Zombie Font is a deep pool placed in many tombs to protect them from grave robbers and eventually use the robbers against themselves. Generally 20 feet in diameter and about 5 feet deep they were typically surrounded by masonry walls with a flat slate top. A deep necromantic enchantment, similar to that which creates huntsmen, was cast on the pool and it was filled with water and a mix of alchemical components.

Bodies of any dead or unconscious mammalian or avian (bird-like) creature placed in the pool will arise in 1d10 rounds as a mindless zombie. Every 2d4 weeks half the zombies degrade into skeletons. Zombies have two-thirds the hit dice of the creatures they were created from (minimum of 2) and skeletons half that of their zombie form (minimum 1). In a working dungeon the DM should track this number. Initially seed the two numbers with the “encountered in lair” value for both zombies and skeletons. Bodies of creatures eligible to be used in it can be considered retrieved and placed in it with 1d6 turns for every 300 feet their point of death is from the font. Add 1d6 for level traveled to beyond the one the font is in.

While these skeletons and zombies obey all the general rules for their type (including being controlled by other undead as per the Rules Cyclopedia) they have one special ability. Half of the zombies will guard the font (which was generally placed in the path to some feature they are to protect) the rest will roam the complex (or part of it) they are in. Not only do these patrols help prevent grave robbing they also retrieve bodies which can be made into zombies and place them in the pool, thus increasing their numbers. As they defeat tomb robbers they will increase their numbers via the description of those they have defeated.

While generally they will not try to drag bodies from an ongoing battle to the font the one exception is a battle in the font room proper. In that case if a character is take unconscious or killed the zombies and/or skeletons which killed him will immediately try to place him in the font. Any character raised as a zombie this way can only be destroyed. Even if taken to zero hit points resurrection magic will not work on him.

Due to the number of victims raised as zombies in these fonts the bottoms fill with treasure. In a normal dungeon the bottom of the pool will be filled with a Type D treasure. Any magic weapons generated, however, will be in use by the zombies and skeletons guarding it.

Random Campaign Idea of the Day

Privateers of the Anglo-Mexican War: In 1846 President Polk found him caught with two expansionists drives: the desire to annex Mexico and the dispute with Britain over the Pacific coast. As war with Mexico loomed over the annexation of Texas Polk tried to moderate his stance with Britain, but elements of his own party rejected the Treaty of Oregon. When word reached London of the declaration of war on Mexico Her Majesty’s Government decided a United States distracted by a Mexican war could easily be defeated and the extreme British position imposed.

So began the Anglo-Mexican War. The US Navy, struggling to blockade Mexico was too stretched to fight the navy of a global empire. The US Army, whose major units assembled in mass for the first time in decades, was similarly stretched.

Americans, however, had always been an entrepreneurial sort and Congress, using the dormant power to issues Letters of Marque and Reprisal tapped into this spirit. Thus were born the Free Companies of Oregon and the Free Fleets of the Pacific, privateers of land and sea fighting for glory, treasure, and Manifest Destiny.

The campaign would have players take the part of leaders of mercenary units, both ground and sea, in the free for all that conquered the Northwest up to 54 40 for the United States. Mass combat, establishment of forts, and diplomacy would be the mark of the day as groups struggle to not be defeated separately by the British but to maximize their own gain.

The game would be closer to the original Braunstein games in Minnesota that Dave Arneson participated and drew upon than a traditional RPG campaign.

Monday Pointers: April 12, 2010 Edition

D4:If I were to run 4e
Jeff Rients proves you can bring at least one aspect of the old school to fourth edition. Specifically the gonzo, “there is more to imaginative literature than Conan and Tolkien”, whatever is in front of me right this minute can be absolutely cool as a setting piece mindset can fit fourth edition. Depending on what is in front of you it might actually be done better in fourth edition than OD&D. I think Jeff’s example is a perfect one idea which just might work better.

D6:Lessons from Land of the Lost
Erin Smale has a discussion of why Land of the Lost is a great outline of how to design and reveal a campaign world. I think this is worth reading if you think, like I do, your campaigns all seem alike and pretty generic. He mines the show for ideas on making something weird and unique but familiar enough to be accessible to players.

D8:Be an Odysseus
RPG Blog 2 has a great article on surviving old school dungeons. Instead of a simple list of things to do and not to do though, he takes an more interesting tact. Comparing the motivations and styles of two of Homer’s greatest heroes, Achilles and Odysseus, he argues that old school players would do well to emulate the king of Ithaca.

D10:Things that few think to change.
A series is beginning over at The Metal Earth about food and water. This rarely get a lot of attention especially in terms of agriculture. Yet with a simple change in how food is grown we have potential for huge changes in the campaign world.

D12:eBooks of Lankhmar
Charles at Scrolls of Lankhmar points out an eBook deal for you Kindle types. Also, Scrolls has joined our blog roll so head over and give Charles some love.

D20:I’m Not Locked in Here With You
Over at RPG.net there is a discussion of an urban fantasy/horror campaign idea where the masquerade turns out not to protect vamps, weres, and the rest from being discovered but to prevent them from realizing humanity is working to exterminate them. Well worth reading.

D30:Jitterbug Perfume?
Okay, this link really has nothing to do with the novel except the idea of bottling something rare, but Noisms over at Monsters & Manuals has a great post about what we see in first time players and perhaps forget about as we get involved in our games.

This Monday Pointers is a first. After missing the prior Monday due to time commitments I decided to try Blooger’s scheduled posting feature. So, this was written from Thursday to Sunday night and automatically posted while I was asleep. I think this will allow me to capture the “wow, that’s cool” factor to drive the page. I will probably also mean I’ll need to add D30 and D1000 more often.

An Idea Has Been Eating My Brain

I came across this comment by the Trollgod himself via Grognardia:

Yes. My conception of the T&T world was based on The Lord of The Rings as it would have been done by Marvel Comics in 1974 with Conan, Elric, the Gray Mouser and a host of badguys thrown in.

Original Source

I think this could be the basis of a second alchemical proposal with three ingredients:

Rules: Pick a core rules set. You can use any game but only the core rules. Then add a single supplement for any game, not necessarily the one you are using.

Setting Inspiration:Pick the core book of your favorite fantasy setting. You may pick any setting but go for the core book/books. If you want Valdemar you get the original Heralds trilogy. For Pern, you get Dragonflight and Dragonquest. For Narnia you would get the four books with the Pevensie children. However, you’re not directly taking the setting but using it as an outlines: geography, character types, magic style, etc. You can also get characters and broad setting plot lines (wars, etc) from here.

Imagery and story types: Use one entire year’s output of your favorite comic company. From these get your imagery to describe fights, plots and motivations for NPCs, and even NPCs outright. Where the fantasy books provided your macro scale outline the comics provide your micro scale inspiration. For me it would probably be either 1977 DC or 1984 DC (I was always more of a DC fan), but you could do some minor or even indie company. The reason I say pick a year at a company over the run of one comic is there is more likely to be a distinct flavor to a given year than to a given comic, especially at the two majors.

For example, imagine your next Microlite20 supplemented with Testament game built using Narina (as above) with the DC 1984 run. Or imagine a Mutant Future game supplemented with Palladium’s After the Bomb that took its broad outline from Farmer’s Dark Is the Sun and the 1971 DC run (which brings in all of Kirby’s Fourth World among other things).

I think Jeff’s proposal was a brilliant idea. I think mine is pretty good, but I’d love to see others of you post formulas that you’ve used or just think would be interesting. Limited pallet is a powerful creative force. A sense of direction is as well.

Ape as Class

The Marvel comic Planet of the Apes has gotten me on a bit of an ape kick. Which got me thinking, why not use it (modified) as a D&D setting. Use the old sci-fi classic of nuclear war restoring magic to the world. For people who complain of elfly/dwarfy fantasy this could be a new twist.

What’s really great is how the original movie even helps us map the ape types to character classes. Based on the films, especially the first two, it is obvious that gorillas would be fighters. The scientist types are all chimpanzees so they would be our magic users. Finally, Dr. Zaius and the Lawgiver are cleric types which gives us the orangutans.

Grab the cave city inspired architecture (especially if you can find the old 70s comics) and use James M’s Stranger for Taylor like visitor humans and you’ve got all you need for a great classic D&D version of the classic franchise.

Plus, no elves.

Mentzer Dungeon: Special Monsters

With a scenario and a setting for my Mentzer Dungeon the next step is to select special monsters. Mentzer provides even less details for special monsters than he does for setting. He gives a brief example that a ruined tower might be inhabited by a few hobgoblin lairs with their pets and friends. The rest would be filled randomly.

Given our scenario involves kidnapped individuals the kidnappers are the obvious choice for the special monster. In my scenario I called the kidnappers subhumans. At the time I figured I’d use orcs or goblins as generic fantasy subhumans. However, in creating the setting I decided that the location of the adventure, set in some anoymous wastes, was in a location not unlike the forbidden zone of the Planet of the Apes movies. With that in minds, why not make the subhumans gorillas. The idea of raiders lead by a General Ursus (or Urko if you prefer the TV series) is very appealing. Consulting the red dungeon master’s book, however, results in disappointment.

There are no gorillas in it. In fact, there is only one primate, the White Ape and one monkey, the Rock Baboon. Neanderthals, however, do appear.Their entry, however, is not encouraging. While I did intend this to be a red box only project I did look in the Rules Cyclopedia and both creature books produced for the separate D&D line and didn’t find many more options. I could go even further afield, but one of the goals of this project was to produce what I wanted just using the red box. I wanted to see how creative I could be using a limited pallet and formal structures.

So, I have decided to use neanderthals as my special monsters. A small tribe of neanderthals with some white ape pets will give the closest feel to what I want. Rolling 1d4x10 I get 10 neanderthals plus two 6 HD leaders. Rolling for the white ape lair I get 8. Clearly, I’ve rolled up not a lair with family units but a warband with their war apes. However, this goes against the monster entry saying neanderthals are normally peaceful. I’ll leave that as a mystery that might not even be in this dungeon.

Before I finish selecting special monsters there is a brief sentence at the end of the paragraph describing them, The entire ‘dungeon’ could be used for several adventures. This is good given I’ve just included ten level 2 monsters (neanderthals), eight level 4 monsters (white apes), and two level six monsters (the neanderthal leaders). It should take several forays to eliminate these threats and explore the area.

One thing I’ve always loved about superhero comics is re-occuring villians and if we’re going to do several adventures here I’d like to include some. So, I think I’ll add rival adventurers as well. They are discussed extensively in the monster section. I’ll roll up a few characters and pick a party identical to my player’s characters who are also looking to rescue the women. While I won’t have the NPC party be inherently hostile they will be after the same goals.

So, with two groups of special monsters, a neanderthal raiding part that has kidnapped slave women and a rival rescue party, I’m ready to draw a map. The next post in this series will cover the first steps in mapping and ask the question, “Can I turn a local apartment building into a dungeon?”

Other articles in this series:
Introduction
Scenario
Setting