Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Classic Dungeon Designer Series

A few years ago, I came across a set of four PDF files, the Classic Dungeon Designer's Netbookswritten by B. Scot "Kellri" Hoover. They were written for use with 1st edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, but are also largely compatible with any OSR rules based on that system.

#1 Monster Stat Block Reference is a compilation of stat blocks for monsters appearing in the game. They make finding essential combat information easier to reference without having to pull out all the Monster Manuals and Fiend Folio. Very handy.

#2 Spells Reference is a comprehensive list of all magic-user, illusionist, cleric, and druid spells published for AD&D, and includes notes and commentaries.

#3 Geomorphs provides a set of 60 basic geomorphs to help give the DM a quick way to map an unexpected cave, cavern system, collapsed ruin, or dungeon, that the players might find. Simple and easy to use.

#4 Encounters Reference is the crown jewel of the set. The book is so full of useful information, that a quick description wouldn't do it justice. It talks about, and expands upon, everything the Dungeon Master may need when creating encounters..

Chapter I: Men
  • NPC Assortments by Class (Clerics, Druids, Fighters, Paladins, Rangers, Magic-Users, Illusionists,Thieves, Assassins, Multi-Classed NPCs, Bards, Monks, Sages, 1st and O-level NPCs)
  • NPC Details
  • NPC Experience & Progression
  • NPC Boons & Hinderances
  • NPC Motivations
  • Dealing with NPCs
  • Hirelings
  • Standard Human Types (Bandits & Brigands, Berserkers, Border Patrols, Buccaneers & Pirates, Cavemen,Caravans, Dervishes & Nomads, Tribesmen, Guards & Watchmen,Pilgrims)
  • NPC Adventuring Parties
  • Spellbook Assortments (1st-18th+ Levels)

Chapter II: Demi-humans & Humanoids
  • Humanoid Ability Scores
  • Tribal Spellcasters
  • Humanoid Groups (Bugbears, Centaurs, Gnolls, Goblins, Hobgoblins, Kobolds, Lizardmen, Locathah, Ogres, Orcs, Sahuagin, Troglodytes, Trolls, Xvarts)
  • Demi-human Groups (Dwarves, Elves, Gnomes, Halflings, Mermen, Tritons)

Chapter III: The Underworld
  • Dungeon & Cavern Mapping Symbols
  • Wandering Monster Encounters (Dungeon Levels I~IX)
  • Dungeons
  • Doors & Locks
  • Gaols & Prisons
  • Ruins
  • Graves & Tombs
  • Caverns
  • Mines
  • Tricks & Traps
  • Animated Statues
  • Quests & Geases

Chapter IV: The Wilderness
  • Terrain by Hex
  • Weather
  • Random Encounters
  • Random Encounters by Terrain Type (Arctic, Sub-Arctic, Temperate, Tropical)
  • Dealing with Dragons
  • Encounters at Sea (Freshwater, Saltwater)
  • Extra-Planar Encounters
  • On the Road
  • Living Off the Land
  • Castles
  • Druidic Places

Chapter V: Settlements & Civilizations
  • Settlements
  • Inns & Taverns
  • Markets & Bazaars
  • Schools & Training Halls
  • Shops & Structures
  • Shrines & Temples
  • Underworld Guilds

Chapter VI: Treasures
  • Treasure Assortments by Level (Dungeon Levels I~IX)
  • Treasure Assortments by Type(Types A~Y)
  • Maps
  • Miscellaneous Treasures
  • Literature
  • Quick & Weird Magic Items

Chapter VII: The Campaign
  • Adventure Design
  • Friends & Foes
  • Exotic Times & Places
  • Deities & Demigods
  • Arcane Magic

Chapter VIII: Forms & Appendices
  • Appendix A Dice Conventions & Ranges
  • Appendix B Bibliography & Sources
  • Record Forms

Classic Dungeon Designer's Netbooks: (Good as of Aug 17,2017)
  1. Monster Stat Block Reference - CDD #1
  2. Spells Reference - CDD #2
  3. Geomorphs - CDD #3
  4. Encounters Reference - CDD #4
While you're at it, check out Kellri's blog, All Killer - No Filler. He has a lot of excellent material and more downloadable goodies than you can shake a Wand of Wonder at.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Going to the Birds

Duke Edwin Charlton was reknowned for his aviary. It was even said that ever since the Duke could walk that he longed to fly and be amonst the birds. They were a passion of his. A passion that young Nevan shared. The young servant loved to feed the small birds of paradise and the song birds that the Duke kept. But his favorites were the birds of prey that the Duke kept in the Mews. These were the ones that the Duke and his household would use to go hunting. Nevan loved to watch them spread their wings and glide high into the sky, circling and circling as they hunted. The Duke had many birds of prey. There were even some that Nevan could take hunting by himself, as long as he was catching something for the Dukes household to eat. 

He quietly walked amongst the falcons and the hawks, admiring the sharp talons as they sat on their perch, until he came upon the Duke's most prized falcon. It was much larger than the other Falcons and had snowy white feathers. Nevan knew that its plumage made him even more valuable. A pure white bird was the ultimate status symbol. It represented wealth and power. He dreamed of the day that he might be able to hunt with such a bird. With a heavy sigh, he walked over to a smaller hawk. While it wasn't as big, he could still see the powerful wings and sharp talons. He slid the leather glove on his hand and coaxed the bird on to it. The kestrel flapped its wings a few times as it got it balance. He felt the power from the wings and knew that this was still a fierce hunter.

"Come on, you. Lets go find some dinner for His Lordship." He said, as he opened the door and left for the open fields.

Falconry has been around for millennia, in all portions of the globe. It's been in Europe, the deserts, even on the islands of Japan. Until the invention of gunpowder, it was considered the sport of the upper class. So lets take a closer look into Falconry and how it can be applied to your campaigns.

The dictionary defines Falconry as, "The art of training hawks to hunt in cooperation with a person". Not much is known about where the art of Falconry started, but we do know that some of the earliest accounts come from Mesopotamia in roughly 2000 BC. From there we can only guess about how the sport was introduced to the rest of the world, but it spread all over the continents. It's a versatile sport that can fit just about any campaign setting.

While falconry was popular everywhere it went, it was also prohibitively expensive. The birds required special housing, food, and training gear, as well as an experienced trainer. It was because of the costs that Falconry was restricted to the nobility, and their servants, although some priests were allowed to keep falcons to help put food on the table at the monastery. The type of falcon an individual was allowed to use was determined by their social rank. Servants were allowed the smaller hawks, while a king could go hunting with a very large eagle. For creativity sake, you could probably include some mythological birds as well.

There were many birds that could be used for falconry, although not all of them were very practical. Restrictions of which falcons and hawks you could use based on your class. It was considered a crime to keep a bird that was outside your station. The lower classes were allowed kestrels and goshawks, while the upper class and royalty were gyr falcons, merlins, and even birds as big as vultures. The Book of St. Albans, written in 1486, gives a breakdown of what birds could be used and by what social class.

  • Emperor: Eagle, vulture, and merlin
  • King: Gyr falcon and the tercel of the gyr falcon
  • Prince: Falcon gentle and the tercel gentle
  • Duke: Falcon of the loch
  • Earl: Peregrine falcon
  • Baron: Bustard
  • Knight: Sacre and the sacret
  • Esquire: Lanere and the laneret
  • Lady: Marlyon
  • Young man: Hobby
  • Yeoman: Goshawk
  • Poor man: Tercel
  • Priest: Sparrowhawk
  • Holy water clerk: Musket
  • Knave or servant: Kestrel

It should probably be noted that not all types of vultures hunt, so they can't really be used for falconry. The Falcon Gentle, and the Falcon of the loch, are most likely different versions of the Peregrine Falcon. There is some debate about the Bustard. Some think that it might be a Buzzard, which isn't really a bird of prey. Others think that it might be a bird that can't be identified, something of an unknown lineage. The Sacre, or Sakers, were imported from abroad and were unlikely for a knight to have, unless they were wealthy, or had traveled afar.

Most hawks were trained when they were young or from the time they were hatched. It was essential to have a good trainer. They were responsible for teaching it to fly to a persons hand, getting it used to being around humans, and for hunting prey. The birds require constant attention or they become wild and unreliable, so a trainers work is never done. The common tools they used for training were the hood, jesses, bells, and lures. Jesses are the leather straps that go around the ankles and bells were often attached at the ankles so that a falconer could listen and keep track of the falcon.

As the sport grew, a good Falcon became worth it's weight in gold. If the bird was pure white it was worth even more. There are cases in history where falcons were used to pay ransoms or given as diplomatic gifts to improve relations. They were so valuable that laws were put in place to discourage people from harming the birds. Destroying falcon eggs or harming a bird could result in imprisonment. Killing or stealing a bird could result in death. A good falcon was a status symbol and something to be protected. Nobles often traveled with their falcons in order to show them off at grand hunting parties.

All in all, falconry is a pretty easy sport to work in to any campaign setting. The sport died off for a while with the proliferation of firearms, but it's been revived on just about every continent lately. Most people think of it as a sport that is just limited to medieval campaigns, but it can be set to any location. You don't even have to limit yourself to local birds. Falcons and Hawks were often imported, exported, and gifted. You can even introduce fictional ones. Be as creative as you wish. It's sure to add some extra authenticity to any campaign.

Suggested Further Reading:

Falconry on Wikipedia - Here
Ancient & Medieval Falconry: Origins & Functions in Medieval England (Includes terms and vocabulary of the sport) - Here
Falconry in the Middle Ages - Here
Falconry is an Art - PBS - Here

About the Author

Today's article is by our special guest contributor, Rachel Williams. Rachel is a manager at a popular national food franchise, and long-time gamer in both video and table-top media. She is an avid history buff and can often be found glued to the PBS channel and streaming documentaries.. usually far later into the night than she should.

She lives in Upstate New York, with her adorable cat and equally adorable husband (the Editior). 

Friday, August 4, 2017

Audacious Adversaries: The Knights of the Blackbriar

The Backstory:

The Knights of the Blackbriar, once formally known as the Benevolent Order of the Revered Blackbriar Priory, are a very old company of mercenary warriors. Rumored to have once been a legitimate knightly order, formed during the time of the Runic Wars, they are now said to be nothing more than seekers of gold and political favor. Regardless, they are also known as mercenaries with a well-earned reputation for fierceness in battle.

During the Runic Wars, the Blackbriars were charged with the recovery and safekeeping of dangerous and malevolent religious artifacts found in the possession of the Mages of Astrogoth. These foul and tainted relics, believed to be gifts of unearthly dark powers, corrupted all but the most faithful and pious of men. The Blackbriars, entrusted with the sacred duty of destroying or hiding these terrible objects away forever, performed their duties without failure or incident for many decades. Or, so it had been thought.

Knight, Death and the Devil, c.1513 - Albrecht Durer
After the end of the Runic Wars, various church elders began to clamor about wishing to examine the dark artifacts, to verify that they were either neutralized, or secured satisfactorily. The then leader of the Blackbriars, Prior Kostan Armbach, refused their requests, citing that the very nature of the impure objects made them too dangerous to examine and that the locations any such objects had to be held in the strictest of secrecy. His steadfast refusal prompted the leaders of the churches to question his motives, and rumors began to circulate that the holy order may have become tainted by long exposure to the mysterious powers of the vile objects they had been tasked to guard over.

Soon, political leaders under the influence of various church factions, began to undermine the position and authority of the Benevolent Order. Falsehoods and innuendos, once spoken in private, became topics of open discussion. Accusations of sorcery and the practice of blasphemous rituals were levied against the Order and its membership. Lands and treasuries were confiscated from the knights, as many of them were arrested and put on trial for their supposed crimes. Once this wealth began to spread into greedy hands, the innocence of the Blackbriars was no longer a concern. The trials took a decidedly nasty turn, always favoring the accusers, never the accused.

The once Benevolent Order, and the Revered Blackbriar Priory, were reduced to a handful of members, driven from their homes and lands as they fled to escape persecution. But never were any of the dark artifacts in their keeping ever recovered, nor their secrets revealed.

Behind the Story:

Whether or not the accusations against the Blackbriars were true is completely up to you, the Game Master. The influences of the evil artifacts, and whether or not they even still exist is also up to you. Either way, the current Blackbriars are a mercenary company that cashes in on the supposed mysteries of the original Order. Their current leaders curry favor through bribery, extortion, and political favors. They would make a potent and formidable enemy to the players should the PCs arouse their anger by interfering with their plans, or attempt to steal one of their supposedly evil artifacts.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Master Your Game: Do It Like Dyson

I'm sure I'm not alone in being frustrated with the look of my own hand-drawn maps for my adventures. Even though I'm often the only one that will see them, they drive me nuts because I hate sloppy work. Call me obsessive compulsive, but I feel that I run a better game when I'm satisfied with the quality of the work that I've put into it. A badly drawn map to me feels like I'm putting perfume on a pig and foisting it off on my players.

Just about everyone in the OSR circles knows about, or has at least seen examples of, Dyson Logo's map work. To be sure, there are many other talented cartographers in the community as well, but out of all of them I'm most familiar with his work. There isn't a week that goes by one his social media accounts where someone doesn't ask him about his tools, methods, and everything else that he does to create such excellent pieces. Fortunately, he's always been gracious enough to share his tips.

The following are links to Dyson Logo's blog, with details of how he makes his maps, and the different tools he uses.

Dyson gives a 3-step tutorial on drawing a map from start to finish here, A Dyson Mapping 1-2-3 “Tutorial”.

Here is Dyson Logo's Tips & Tutorials,  the full collection of his infographic images on his work.

Here is his article, On the drawing of maps, concerning tools, paper, and scanning methods.

And here is a collection of his early pencil drawn maps in the Lost Maps Archive.

And finally, a time elapsed video of his process. Watch!

Monday, July 31, 2017

Adventure Seed: Grendel Keep

It is said that during the reign of, King Álvis, the last to rule from the Ivory Throne of Albion, there was a time of darkness. A cruel and malicious spirit, known only as The Grendel, had taken hold of the hearts of the people of Albion. War and strife swept the once gentle kingdom, setting brother against brother, mother against child. It was a time of discord and plague. Only the Ljósálfar King and his faithful lords and servants, were immune to the darkness that corrupted the land. The Grendel's hold began to tighten as an army of the strongest began to form under his black banner. The Kingdom of Albion would soon be forever lost, if not for the last desperate sacrifice of the Ljósálfar King.

King Álvis, and his champions rode into battle before The Grendel had finished consolidating its power. In disarray, the Armies of the Black Lord, were unable to keep the king and his men from entering the citadel of their master. A great struggle was joined between the Darkness and the Light. King Álvis, discharged the last of his legendary magics and with it the last of his immortality, bringing the fell horror of The Grendel to an end. The citadel was brought to ruin, and the armies serving the black banner dispersed across the land.

The surviving Ljósálfar lords, built a keep on the ruined site of The Grendel's citadel, and interned the body of their fallen king. Legend has it that the holy site serves as both a reminder of those dark times, and also to keep the powers of, The Grendel, from ever reforming.

Grendel Keep

Image courtesy of Wizards of the Coast - Map-A-Week Archives
Grendel Keep, can be located anywhere you wish in your campaign. The background story and the mythical Kingdom of Albion, are tales far older than anyone remembers, so they need not interfere with current, or past, story lines. These are just suggested story elements, and need not be used at your discretion. It is left to the Game Master whether or not "dungeon" levels from the Black Lord's Citadel still exist under the foundations of Grendel Keep.

The current lord of the keep is, Lord Aethelwulf, and Lady Bronwyn.

Ground Level: 
  • Courtyard (Lower Left) - Stables, and blacksmith's shop
  • Outer Bailey (Right) - Chapel (with guarded room down to the Tomb of King Álvis), well, training grounds, workshops, and storage
  • Inner Bailey (Upper Left) - Barracks, servants' quarters, kitchen, well, storage, basement of the Lord's Hall with servants' quarters, and the front steps leading up to the Lord's Hall entrance (accessible only by drawbridge)

Image courtesy of Wizards of the Coast - Map-A-Week Archives

Upper Level: 
  • Courtyard - Wheelhouse for portcullis at main gate
  • Outer Bailey - Living quarters over the chapel, library
  • Inner Bailey - Drawbridge and front doors to the Lord's hall (lowers out to top of steps out front), front hall, reception hall (middle wall can be opened to either side to extend the reception hall)

Image courtesy of Wizards of the Coast - Map-A-Week Archives

Upper Tower Levels of Lord's Hall:
  • Third Story (Left Map) - Private receiving room, council chamber, the Lord's study
  • Fourth Story (Right Map) - Private quarters and rooms of the Lord and Lady

Image courtesy of Wizards of the Coast - Map-A-Week Archives

Suggested NPCs:
  • Lord Aethelwulf - Lord of the surrounding lands, experienced knight
  • Lady Bronwyn - Both sorceress and priestess, she follows the Old Religion
  • Dame Llothbrau - Captain of the Guard, 8' tall half-ogre, looks almost completely human
  • Father Porthos - Shepherd of the Faithful, defender of the Crypt
  • Golden Tigeress & Silver Lion - twin brother and sister monks of the Gemini, pose as lowly servants of Father Porthos
  • Kilraven - Mysterious thief with a raven familiar, failed magician's apprentice turned priceless art collector.. (Up to no good?)
  • Schnickelfritz - A magician convinced that the Golden Grimoire can be found somewhere within the Keep

Suggested Adventure Ideas:
  • The Grendel is slowly re-awakening after centuries of recovery, causing bizarre random acts of violence to occur in local villages.
  • The Black Cult, once dedicated to The Grendel, have grown in power and are testing the waters to see if it is time to make a play for control of the area.
  • A maturing black dragon, driven from its parent's territory, has settled in the swamps not far from the Keep.
  • A clan of berserker raiders has landed on the shorelands, seeking wealth and glorious battle.
  • Legend tells that using a relic (a mummified body part) from King Álvis, can be used to cast Resurrection on a recently deceased mortal (that has died before their time).
  • The Golden Grimoire is rumored to be inside the Keep, guarded from prying eyes.

Resource Links:

Maps courtesy of Wizards of the Coast - Map-A-Week Archives. No claim to ownership, or copyright implied by this website.

The original Upper Tower map, in larger format can be found, HERE.
The original Upper Level map, in larger format can be found, HERE.
The original Ground Floor map, in larger format can be found, HERE.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Using the Dice to Improvise - "Alea iacta est"

"Alea iacta est", translates from the Latin as, "The Die is cast."

One of the oldest pieces of advice I've heard, and have since passed on numerous times myself, is that the GM doesn't always have to arbitrate every situation themselves.. sometimes you simply leave it up to the roll of the dice. And I'll admit, sometimes I like to be just as surprised as my players.

Now, over the years I've used many different methods of using the dice to help make decisions. Often my default has been to take a die, any number of sides doesn't really matter, and give it a toss. Low roll is a bad/negative outcome, while high roll is a good/positive outcome. With lower, the worse, and the higher, the better, as a guideline, I simply increase the size (denomination) of the die to be rolled to determine the scale of success or failure.

For example, if my players ask me about the quality of the food and drink being served at the tavern they are in, I might decide upon rolling a 1d4.. and judge that a roll of 1 means poor, a 2 or 3 is mediocre, and a 4 is much better than to be expected. If I want more variation in degrees, I might choose 1d6 or larger, as the situation calls for.

I've even used this off-the-cuff arbitrary system for things not usually covered under the normal rules of whatever game system I might be using at the time. Such things as, does a PC catch an STD from a prostitute, does a character impregnate another, or what state of affairs the PCs return home to after being away for an extended period of time. My wife is still mad at me because her character once returned home to find the village had been attacked and burned down since she had left. (The couch is bad for my back, so I no longer burn down my wife's home village because of bad dice rolls.)

“Chance is not the same for all” - from The Ninth Gate, the Movie

Now recently, I chanced upon an article (linked below) by, S J Grodzicki from over on Low Fantasy Gaming, about using specialty Yes, No, But Dice, also called Improv Dice or Decision Dice. Then after further research, I found that several games made use of a similar mechanic, and that several dice manufacturers even made custom dice to facilitate such a system.

The basic idea is to use 1d6, and assign a negative or positive value, with modifier, to each side. You may use a staggered progression, or straight low to high progression. I prefer the straight progression, lows being negative and highs being positive.

  1. No.. And
  2. No
  3. No.. But (Not quite)
  4. Yes.. But (Sort of)
  5. Yes
  6. Yes.. And
No.. And - The character does not get nor accomplish what they wanted, and there is  a further complication or twist.
No - Denied, the character neither gets nor accomplishes what they set out to do.
No.. But - The character does not get what they want, but it’s not a total loss. They may try again later, or when circumstances change.
Yes.. But - The character gets or accomplishes what they wanted, but at a cost or complication.
Yes - Straight forward, the character gets or accomplishes what they set out to do.
Yes.. And - The character gets or accomplishes what they wanted, and something else.
As you can see, this simple system mechanic can be used independently of any other rules you may be using, and can be instantly modified to suit any situation you might need it for, from bad hair days, to weather, to will there be a bar fight that evening. The possibilities are endless.

Further Reading:

You can read the full Low Fantasy Gaming article Here.
Freeform Universe talks about several different sets of Yes No And But dice available, Here

Friday, July 21, 2017

Adventure Locations: Tower Castles

**This article is about Tower Castles in general, and their use in adventures. It is not meant to be a technical discussion about such structures.**

Image in the Public Domain¹ - Eugène Viollet le Duc, c.1856

"A tower castle is a small castle that mainly consists of a fortified tower, or a tower-like structure, that is built on natural ground. It is thus different from the motte-and-bailey castle, which it may resemble, but whose main defensive structure is built on a motte, or artificial hill. The tower castle is occasionally also described as a tower house castle or a tower house." ²

Technically there are several differences between a round tower and a square tower. A round tower offers more protection from siege engines, sappers, and projectiles. Square towers are easier to build, but their corners leave them vulnerable to mining. Unless your campaign uses advanced technical warfare rules, neither structure really matters for game purposes.

Many adventures seem to revolve around this type of structure in fantasy gaming. They are rather straightforward affairs, easily drawn up, and just as easily redressed to be used as a different location for later re-use. Often they are used in a gauntlet-style tier of encounters, with each successive level being more difficult than the last, until the Big Bad Guy (the BBG) is encountered at the top. This approach, however, has several drawbacks such as characters scaling the outside of the structure, or magic spells allowing characters to fly, thus skipping most of the encounters to confront the BBG. Often the whole party isn't present to help the characters that went on ahead.. leaving them without backup, so be prepared with a contingency plan for your adventure.

Tower castles are the most likely to have "dungeons" underneath them as they either sit on a natural rock foundation, or on solid ground. Motte-and-bailey castles have artificial mounds under them and underground construction would make them unstable, or at least limited in size. The legendary Tower of Zenopus, is an example of a tower castle.

Example Tower Castles:

Comlongon Castle

Image in the Public Domain - MacGibbon, D; Ross, T c.1887

Hedingham Castle

Image in the Public Domain - An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Essex, Volume 1, c.1916

Suggested Reading:

The Project Gutenberg EBook of British Castles, by Charles H. Ashdown, c.1911 - Has numerous drawings and sketches.


¹ - Source - Dictionnaire raisonné de l'architecture française du XIe au XIe siècle, c.1856
² - From Wikipedia - Tower Castle