Thursday, September 21, 2017

Optional Rules: Shield Wall!

Even the hot blood of the bravest on the battlefield grows cold in the daunting face of a shield wall. A barrier of wood and iron that makes assault upon those behind it difficult, and opens an attacker to a whole new level of danger. A small and determined group of defenders can successfully hold off a larger number of attackers using this simple technique.

Conditions For Forming A Shield Wall:
  • A shield wall must have no less than three participants, unless two participants are in a tight area that offers a solid defense on each side (i.e. corridor, doorway, etc.)
  • Each participant must be using a normal, heavy, or tower sized shield. Bucklers can not be used to form a shield wall.
  • Only fighters, paladins, and clerics (but not druids) have the necessary training to perform a shield wall.
  • Any character that can use a shield, and has spent time training alongside those with experience, can learn to participate in a shield wall.
  • A spell caster that has trained with companions may use a Shield spell to participate in a shield wall, and acts as a tower shield.

Advantages of a Shield Wall:
  • The armor class of those participating improves by 2, above and beyond what their shield already provides.
  • Participants are 50% immune to normal missile fire (1 in 2) when using normal shields.
  • Participants are 75% immune to normal missile fire (3 in 4) when using heavy and tower shields.
  • Magic Missile spells are subject to the above immunity rules, even if set to "autohit".
  • Enemy combatants can not directly attack those standing behind the protection of the shield bearers.
  • Enemy combatants that rush a shield wall automatically provoke a free attack by one (possibly two) participants of the shield wall.
  • Participants gain a +2d6 to their Unarmed Attack roll when attacking and defending. Losing to an Unarmed Attack means that a hole has been made in the shield wall that round.
Disadvantages of a Shield Wall:
  • Defenders may only use thrusting weapons, or one-handed striking/chopping weapons, no daggers, thrown, or two-handed weapons.
  • Those standing behind a shield wall may only use weapons with reach, like spears, polearms, etc.
  • a breach/hole must be made in the shield wall to allow a spell caster to send a spell through, unless the spell uses an indirect method of attack, i.e. Flame Strike, Call Lightning, etc.
  • The shield wall is limited by the speed of the slowest participant.
  • A shield wall loses all benefits when attempting to move into an area that does not allow the participants to maintain formation.
How to Breach a Shield Wall:
  • In order to breach a shield wall, an attacker must make a successful Unarmed Attack (Overbearing) against a participant. The defender gets a +2d6 to their roll.
  • Any successful attack that kills, stuns, or otherwise incapacitates a shield bearer opens a hole for that round, until someone else can step in, or the wall reforms. A wall can not reform with less than three shield bearers.
  • An attacker attempting to breach the wall, by overbearing, is subject to a free attack by one (possibly two) defenders.
  • Many spells are capable of opening a breach, subject to the DM's discretion.

(These rules are written to be compatible with Swords& Wizardry Complete, but may be suitable for use with other OSR-based systems.)

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Swords & Wizardry: Thieves' Skills For Everyone Else

Many times, during play, there will be times when someone wants to move silently, hide in shadows, or perform another task that directly reflect a thief's skills in-game. Personally I have no problem with this, but I have encountered DMs that either won't allow it (because those are class specific skills), or who will then use a completely different method of determining success than the one already established.

The table below is what I use in my campaign. You'll notice that each skill is slightly reduced (-5%) from those of a first level thief. The only exceptions to this are, Hide in Shadows, and Move Silently, as these two skills are something nearly everyone has experience with. Wearing armor heavier than leather can adjust the percentages of performing certain skills as the DM decides.

Yes, I do allow a very slim chance for non-thieves to perform delicate tasks (pick pockets), deal with traps, and possibly open locks. No, these percentages do not increase as the character levels up.

Climb Walls
Delicate Tasks
and Traps
Hear Sounds
Hide in Shadows
Move Silently
Open Locks
2 in 6

Climb Walls
Delicate Tasks
and Traps
Hear Sounds
Hide in Shadows
Move Silently
Open Locks
(Tables compatible with Swords & Wizardry Complete)

Optional House Rule

This rule is entirely a house ruling used in my personal games, and may not be suitable for everyone's campaign.  Rangers may perform almost all thief skills, as a thief of two levels lower than themselves (much like an Assassin), in a wilderness setting. This allows Rangers to find and deal with traps set in the wild, climb surfaces, and perform all the other logical skills of a wilderness scout. However, Rangers do not get the Delicate Tasks (pick pockets), or Open Locks skills of a thief (though they may still attempt these skills as per the rules above). Nor do Rangers gain Backstab , or any other thief skills outside of those shown above.

Wearing armor heavier than leather can adjust the percentages of performing certain skills as the DM decides.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

DM's Toolbox: Random Dice Tables

Once again we'll be looking at dice rolls, but dice rolls of a different sort. Today's topic is using random die rolls to help stimulate your brain when you get stuck for inspiration. Exact interpretation of the die roll isn't necessarily important as long as it gives you a point of reference to start with. These tables go along very well with Redcap's Universal Table.

  1. Open
  2. Stuck
  3. Blocked
  4. Trapped
  5. Locked
  6. Locked and Trapped

  1. Minor Coinage
  2. Gold
  3. Gems
  4. Potion / Scroll / Other Minor Magic Item
  5. Weapon / Armor
  6. Magic Item

  1. Sunny
  2. Partly cloudy
  3. Rain
  4. Thunderstorm
  5. Whirlwind
  6. Snow / Blizzard

  1. Trap Door / Pit
  2. Falling / Crushing
  3. Spiked Pit / Walls
  4. Projectiles
  5. Guillotine / Scythe
  6. Gas / Spray

Armor / Clothing:
  1. Head
  2. Torso
  3. Feet
  4. Hands
  5. Arms
  6. Legs

Time of Day:
  1. Early Morning
  2. Late Morning
  3. Noon(ish)
  4. Afternoon
  5. Early Evening
  6. Late Evening

Encounter Difficulty:
  1. Easy
  2. Easy
  3. Easy
  4. Equal
  5. Equal
  6. Tougher

Roadway / Corridor:
  1. Obstacle / Doorway (Mud, Fallen Rocks, etc)
  2. Intersection (Tee or Cross)
  3. Left Turn
  4. Right Turn
  5. Straight
  6. Incline / Decline (Hill Up or Down, Stairs, Ladder)

Saturday, September 2, 2017

DM's Toolbox: Quick Tavern & Inn Name Generator

A quick search online will reveal dozens, if not more, name generators for taverns and inns. These lists aren't uncommon or hard to find, but most all of them aren't public domain, or free to use in your own products. That's where this article comes in. You are free to use, alter, and publish these tables as long as you give credit to myself, Gerald "Redcap" Williams.

Roxburghe Ballads c1633

To generate a name, first roll 1d6
1 – 3 List of Colors
4 – 6 List of Actions

Then roll another 1d6
1 – 3 List of Animals
4 – 5 List of Birds
   6 List of Fantastic Beasts

List of Colors (Roll 1d8)
  1. Red
  2. Blue
  3. Green
  4. Yellow / Gold / Golden
  5. Brown
  6. Black
  7. White
  8. Gray / Silver

List of Actions (Roll 1d8)
  1. Laughing
  2. Dancing
  3. Sitting
  4. Drinking / Drunken / Hungry
  5. Singing / Roaring / Barking
  6. Sleeping
  7. Fighting / Rampant / Raging
  8. Jumping / Leaping / Running

List of Animals (Roll 1d12)
  1. Bull / Cow / Calf / Ox
  2. Bear
  3. Deer / Hind
  4. Lion / Leopard
  5. Boar  / Sow / Pig
  6. Badger
  7. Horse (Stallion, Mare, Foal, Pony)
  8. Dog (Fox, Hound, Wolf)
  9. Goat (Sheep, Ram)
  10. Rabbit (Hare, Coney)
  11. Weasel (Stoat)
  12. Beaver (Otter)

List of Birds (Roll 1d6)
  1. Rooster (Cock)
  2. Hawk
  3. Goose
  4. Owl
  5. Swan
  6. Seagull / Gull

List of Fantastic Beasts (Roll 1d6)
  1. Chimera
  2. Dragon
  3. Wyvern
  4. Unicorn
  5. Griffon
  6. Harpy

Click HERE for a free copy of these tables in PDF format.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Recommended Video Series: Voices & Accents by DawnforgedCast

Making NPCs come to life is an important aspect of Game Mastering. No matter how well-written an adventure is, if the non-player characters are as interesting as flat cardboard cutouts, your players probably won't become as invested in interacting with them as they should. Your NPCs will virtually become little more than walking experience point totals, and loot drops.

While researching different accents and character voices on-line, we came across a five part series by, DawnforgedCast on YouTube, called Voices and Accents. It starts off with basic human-type character voices and accents, progresses through common monsters, and eventually presents the Diabolical inhabitants of the Nether Realms.

Part 1: Monstrous Voices: The Core Races - Runtime: 20m 30s
Part 2: Monstrous Voices: Female Voices - Runtime: 2m 55s
Part 3: Monstrous Voices: Orcs, Goblins, Kobolds, Giants.. - Runtime: 9m 40s
Part 4: Monstrous Voices: Elementals - Runtime: 5m48s
Part 5: Monstrous Voices: Demons and Devils - Runtime: 8m 22s

After you're finished with this series, you may find yourself interested in their other videos. Be sure to leave them a comment and maybe thank them for posting useful content. 

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Redcap's Universal Table For Almost Everything

Longtime players of D&D will most certainly remember the original "Reaction Table", which was also used in the first edition of Gamma World, by the way. This table utilized the simplified mechanic of rolling two standard 6-sided dice, adding the total, and comparing to the chart. The beauty and simplicity of this minor table was never lost on me, and followed me throughout 39 years of gaming. Even when playing other game systems that didn't use a similar device, or have rules governing a particular circumstance, I would default to grabbing two dice and wing it. Not only has this kept the action moving along without interruption, but has kept my behind-the-screen decision making fairly consistent. Players can often sense when dice rolls are arbitrarily random, which does much to breed mistrust.

Back in July, I wrote an article on using Decision Dice ("Using The Dice to Improvise"), that touched on the subject of using random dice rolls during games, but only gave generic guidelines. The primary focus of that article was on showcasing Decision Dice. This article covers my personally preferred approach, using only two normal dice.

I prefer this method because rolling two dice allows for 36 random combinations, for 11 possible unmodified results, which I then further break down into 5 categories of severity. While this might appear very math intensive, it's actually quite simple in practice. The odds and percentages have only been included for those who are interested in how the system is derived.

2d6 Odds and Probabilities

My system uses five successive levels of possible outcome, ranging from the worst to best possible results. The Game Master may apply any bonuses or penalties depending on situational conditions, precautions being taken, quality of materials being used, a particularly favorable (or unfavorable) character trait the character might possess, etc.

Unfavorable, Complication
Favorable, Beneficial
  • 2 - Unfavorable, Complication - Not only don't things look good, but this result will further complicate the situation.
  • 3-5 - Unfavorable - Things don't go well, but aren't overly complicated by further misfortune.
  • 7-9 - Neutral - The situation is neither favorable, nor unfavorable.
  • 10-11 - Favorable - Things fall into place in favor of the situation.
  • 12 - Favorable, Beneficial - Not only are things good, but are further beneficial to the situation

Here are a few examples of possible outcomes, depending on the situation being determined:

Encounter Reaction:
  • Attacks immediately
  • Hostile, will probably attack unless the situation changes
  • Uncertain, guarded behavior, but willing to parley
  • Not hostile, possibly friendly
  • Peaceful, makes overtures of friendship in good faith
Daily Weather
  • The worst possible type of extreme weather for the climate, season, and region, be it a typhoon, massive blizzard, sand storm, whatever!
  • Bad weather, possibly dangerous depending on prevailing climate
  • Typical weather conditions
  • Favorable weather conditions
  • Best possible weather conditions
Character Attempting An Action:
  • Not only has the action failed, but the proverbial Fickle Middle Finger of Fate makes an appearance!
  • The action fails, possibly resulting in further problems (alarm goes off, etc)
  • The character succeeds, but only just
  • Clear success, fortune smiles upon the character
  • Outstanding! Not only does the character succeed, but gains an advantage or added benefit doing so
Success of A Project: (for example -  crafting a magic item)
  • Dismal failure! Not only are all materials ruined and wasted, but research notes may have been compromised (accidentally set on fire, etc)
  • Failure. Only the natural results of failing may occur as a result
  • Success. The item is crafted and functional
  • Well done. The item is well crafted as though by a master craftsman
  • Eureka! The item is an exceptional specimen of its kind, possibly with an unforeseen benefit

Optional Rule - Rolling Doubles:

Rolling doubles results in hard preset results that supersede any modifiers that may have been applied to the dice roll. This is done to ensure nothing is guaranteed to be an automatic success or failure.

The Jolly Roger!
1 in 36
1 in 36
Automatic Failure
1 in 36
Automatic Success
1 in 36
1 in 36
1 in 36

  • The Jolly Roger! - Named after a particular set of dice I had that replaced the 1 with a skull and crossbones.
  • Consequences - Unfavorable outcome, resulting in possible consequences (alarms, broken equipment, etc)
  • Automatic Failure - Despite your best efforts, you just fall short. You may attempt a re-do
  • Automatic Success - Yes! Well done
  • Beneficial/Excellent - You make this $@#! look good
  • Bonus! - You succeed beyond expectations, and may enjoy an additional unexpected bonus

Monday, August 28, 2017

Adventure Seed: The Village of Nusquam

In my recent campaign, I had to come up with a reasonably sized village to base my players out of. I've planned out several starting adventures meant to take the characters from levels one to four. Should the players wish to stay in the area longer, I've planned for the possibility of expanding on their earlier missions.

As a starting "base of operations", Nusquam, had to have the basic necessities needed to support the player characters. They'd need an armorer and weapon smith, a temple for clerical support, a shop to purchase material components for spells, and a tinkerer's shop for those hard to find specialty items (cough cough.. lockpicks). By leaving several buildings uncommitted, there is room for the addition of other needed service providers as necessary. Should the characters require unusual items or services, there is the possibility of traveling merchants and tradesmen.

To help the players, should they become stumped or require guidance, I've included the venerable sage, Grisvaldor. He plays a central part in the campaign as quest giver, advisor, and as means of getting wayward PCs back on track.

As envisioned, Nusquam, is near a trading route, but out of the way far enough that pesky critters can cause problems, and morally ambiguous NPCs can plot questionable deeds without invoking the immediately wrath of the kingdom's military.

Village of Nusquam - Artist "hornbook1776" from Reddit
Right Click on picture and Save for larger map

How do you pronounce Nusquam? The locals have settled on saying, Nus-kom or Nus-ka. In Latin, "nusquam" means, "nowhere" or "not anywhere".

The map is left intentionally un-keyed to allow the Game Master to place NPCs and businesses where they feel like. In my experience, personalization is important in adding verisimilitude to a location. Each GM should make every adventure their own, never running something straight out-of-the-box. Several key NPCs are included to help get the ball rolling, but feel free to rename them or change them in any way you wish.

Notable NPCs

Grisvaldor - Sage and wizard. Lives in a unique little cottage down by the end of town. Locals say he is a retired adventurer, a bit peculiar, but trustworthy. He has come to the defense of the village more than once over the years, but usually serves in an advisory role to the village elders.

Throdan - Dwarf blacksmith, armorer, and weapon smith. Can reasonably identify common magical weapons and armors, though items with a "curse" appear normal. Throdan's daughters take after their human mother and are quite buxom, and flirtatious, a fact that keeps the blacksmith wary and suspicious of handsome young adventurers.

It is a known fact that nobody but Throdan is strong enough to lift and carry his anvil. It is not a known fact that this is accomplished by a locking mechanism installed under his anvil that prevents anyone else from lifting it. This secret has helped keep loose peckers in their owner's knickers and out of his daughters'.

Brother Timmer - A rather homely, but charismatic parish priest. Though a non-adventurer, Timmer has access to up 2nd level spells. He is knowledgeable about the local Druids is suspected of taking part in their seasonal festivals, which conveniently involve wearing masks and hoods during the celebrations.

Bernadette - Apothecary and herbalist. Bernadette is vivacious woman, of indeterminate age. She has access to minor healing magics, and there are whispers that she is a druidess. She and, Brother Timmer, are friendly rivals for the well-being of the villagers, and can often be seen discussing religion and local traditions in public. Many suspect the two are lovers, but everyone respects their privacy and would never spread malicious rumors.

Spell components for most common spells from 1st to 3rd level can be purchased from her. She carries enough components, per week, for the casting of any one particular spell two or three times. She will stock more at the request of  regular customers.

Binks - Binksy, as he's commonly called, is the local tinker and mechanic. He keeps the local grist mill running, and fixes mechanical device both great and small. Mistaken for a small human, Binksy is actually part-gnome. He has most of the skills of a 3rd level thief, but does not practice larceny.

There is no "guild" in Nusquam, but Binksy can help hook a character up with some connections "in the city".

Dargo - Barkeep and innkeeper. Once a pirate of some small repute, he retired to run the local tavern after he won it in a honest card game. He's tough, but fair, and quick with a joke or information as needed. He makes a practice of giving free room and board in the common room to PCs that don't cause trouble, in exchange for their help keeping trouble out of his business.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Rock-Paper-Scissors.. GO!

Rock, Paper, Scissors (R-P-S), has been around for centuries, possibly as far back as 200 BC. Every country, on every continent, has its own variation, but it's still basically the same game with the same rules. In a pinch, whether because you don't have dice or are playing in a car, R-P-S can be a fun and convenient way of deciding a gaming outcome. Yes, I'm aware that there are dice rolling apps for your phone, but you can't use your phone while driving, and sometimes you're trying to save those last precious few % of your dying battery.

Basic Rules - As If You Didn't Already Know.

One player counts out loud.. 1.. 2.. 3! and both players then "throw" out their chosen hand gesture.
  • Rock (Solid Fist) beats (crushes) Scissors
  • Paper (Flat Hand) beats (covers) Rock
  • Scissors (Two Fingers) beats (cuts) Paper

However, just as you can use R-P-S instead of dice, now you can use dice to substitute for hand gestures. Several manufacturers make Rock-Paper-Scissor dice, from d3, d6, to d12. 

They also make d10 dice for the Rock-Paper-Scissor-Lizard-Spock variation of the game.

And, of course, you've always got this guy.

Rock-Paper-Scissors on Wikipedia.

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.