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.

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!