Saturday, November 28, 2009

Old School: Mining White Dwarf 2

Things are starting to get moving! Still not lots, but definitely a few items of interest to an old school fan in this issue.

First up is the second part of Fred Hemmings' Competitive D&D essay. In this he describes an excellent set-up for an old school competitive dungeon.  The PCs (pre-rolled characters, two per player) are all members of the same family, brought together for the reading of the will of a deceased patriarch, an adventurer of renown.  Each gets two basic magic treasures but are told that the real inheritance is hidden in a dungeon.  Nothing wrong with that!  Interestingly, the players were (it seems) given a list of tasks that would gain them points in the competition, but this was done in the form of cryptic clues.  Thus, visiting Mars (and living!) would gain them a measly 5 points.  This refers to standing on a painting of Mars in a room the floor of which was decorated with a depiction of the solar system.  The list of objectives is itself very evocative of old school tomfoolery.

Next up is a taste of things to come - a one page review of Asgard miniatures.  One of them, the Old Wizard, who looks more like an orthodox priest, still makes regular appearances in my campaigns as a Grey Sage.  To think he cost but 12p (around 20c) in 1977!  I'm also reminded of Asgard's giant dwarves, which were seemingly 3" shorter than humans on average...

Lengthy Lew Puslipher review of The Green Planet series or games (sigh), so let's move on, past the almost useless description of the famous Midgard play-by mail campaign, pausing only to observe Pulsipher's review of first edition Tunnels & Trolls, which he decries as silly (and therefore possibly appealing to the British!), and part 2 of the Monstermark system, until we get to Treasure Chest.  Now this is something.

There's a new magic item, the Needle of Incalculable Power, which essentially does whatever its user thinks it might do, but at a high cost - 5 prime requisite characteristic points, for a month. Heavy, but lovable. There's the Scientist character class, which contains some good jokes, but is notable mainly for being the creation of SF writer/reviewer Dave Langford.  Then comes the meat - five excellent new monsters, the Spinescale, the Dune Stalker, the Ning, the Giant Caterpillar and the Blood Hawk, all of which saw some use in my dungeons.  I love this, for instance, in the description of the least interesting monster, the Giant Caterpillar:
They are often hunted as their skins are highly sought-after, especially by Hill People, for manufacture of ceremonial dancing costumes.  Prices of up to 200GPs per skin are often paid.
Then we finish off with part 2 of the ridicualously complicated "what's wrong with D&D and what I'm doing about it," notable only for "grudge points," seemingly an early version of Hero Points.

Someone has archived White Dwarf 2 as a PDF here.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The World's First One-Page Dungeon?

I love the one-page dungeon concept.  Some of the entries in this year's competition were nothing less than inspired, and a few of them show up, suitably converted, in my Gloranthan sandbox, although none of them have yet been discovered, sadly.  Even the new megadungeon Stonehell was developed using them (note to self: buy Stonehell in book form!).

It was only after the contest, however, that I realized I'd seen it before, after a fashion.  Back when you used to send off a few pennies to Games Workshop for their latest price list or a sample copy of Owl & Weasel, you used also to get a two-page flyer that briefly described the new wonder that was Dungeons & Dragons, taken from the venerable Games & Puzzles magazine.  This flyer also contained a one-page dungeon, the Dungeon of the Ground Goblins, a remarkably simple yet evocative first dungeon level.  Elements of its architecture showed up in my own dungeons for years afterwards.

The page is probably unreadable in the jpeg on this post, so here it is in legible form for download.

Old School: Mining White Dwarf I

Those who only know White Dwarf magazine as a glorified miniatures catalog may be surprised to know that for its first 100 issues (or so) it was probably the best general RPG magazine anywhere, ever.  It never failed to be filled with useful, well-written material about virtually every popular (and quite a few unpopular) RPGs during the late 70s and early 80s.  The first issue I ever saw was Issue 4, but I didn't get round to buying the postal order I needed for a sample copy until Issue 6.  This was lucky, as if my parents had seen the cover to Issue 5 my fledgling hobby would probably have been strangled in the, err, nest.  In any event, I soon got all the back issues and subscribed.

Given that WD's glory years were the glory years of old school roleplaying, I thought it might be interesting to go through the early magazines' contents and see what there is useful to highlight and/or resurrect for the old school movement.  And there'll be Runequest material in here too!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Glorantha Background: The Ibex People

Note: I needed a "dead" people for a character background, preferably one that had the Lunars to blame for its extinction.  I thought to myself: who lives in the Eiritha Hills of Prax?  Not finding an answer immediately available in my Gloranthan sources, here was the result.

The Ibex People are named for the beasts they ride, giant Ibexes, or mountain goats.  Because of the nature of the beasts, the Ibex people range around hills or mountains far more than other beast nomads.  The Giant Ibexes are not quite as big as a Sable or High Llama but are formidable mounts, given their massive horns.  It is common, as with other nomads, for particularly impressive horns to be preserved as helmet ornaments or used as the basis for magical enchantments.

The Ibex People are (or were) divided into two clans: the Great Ibex and the Lesser Ibex.  The Great Ibex live in the Great Wastes, primarily around the Tunneled Hills and Plateau of Statues, although occasionally they range as far as the Iron Forts.  Because of the nature of their range, the males of the Ibex People venerate Storm Bull especially.  The Lesser Ibex inhabited the Eiritha Hills, and the Ginmuz Mountains especially.  It is not clear from the myths whether the Lesser Ibex were an offshoot of the Great Ibex or vice versa.  Each chieftain possesses a “Godhorn” that summons the Founder, who is reticent on the issue (it rarely comes up in conversation).

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Tip of the Hat to Popehat

Thanks to Patrick and the guys at Popehat for recommending my new venture!  As for Traveller, yes, I'm sure there'll be the odd reference here and there.

Runequest Campaign: The Borderlands

When we left our heroes, they were arranging for an auction of the priceless Bonesung Armor they had retrieved from the Big Rubble.  Let's just say the auction didn't go as planned.  Rather than selling it to a friendly cult, the players found themselves caught in a bidding war between Sor-Eel the Short, Count of Prax, Lunar Governor of New Pavis, and Duke Raus of Rone, Lunar Governor of the god-forsaken Grantlands in the Zola Fel valley to the south of Pavis.  Eventually, Duke Raus won out and the PCs found themselves the target of Sor-Eel's redirected anger.  The PCs were also somewhat miffed to discover that Duke Raus' winning bid was guaranteed but not yet actually manifest in cash.  The Issaries priesthood said they would hold on to the armor pending delivery of the cash.  Also part of the deal was a grant of land, the settlement known as Rabbit Hat.

The Governor's mood was not improved when a Moon Boat hove in to view on the horizon soon afterwards.  Rumors spread throughout the city that Sor-Eel had been replaced as Governor and the boat contained his replacement.  That night, the PCs dined at Gimpy's, where Krogar introduced them to Griselda and Wolfhead, and after a few tense moments between Xaraya and Griselda, the latter pronounced the party as worthy.  As the PCs left the tavern, however, they were set upon by three savage Sable Rider nomads, seemingly directed by a fourth, unseen assailant.  Unarmored, the party took some severe wounds while dispatching their attackers, and they stumbled back in to Gimpy's for healing.  Krogar and his friends provided it, while Wolfhead went out to examine the bodies.  They discovered notes implicating Lunar intelligence and GimGim the Grim.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Barrow: A Runequest Cameo

Note: I ran this encounter under RQIII rules.  Obviously the changes to spirit combat under MRQ rules will make it a little different, but it should still work.

While walking through farmland, the players are approached by a young girl, around 11 years old.  She is looking for a Humakti warrior.  Sample dialog, “Sir, are you a Humakti warrior?  We need one.  There is an Undead menace causing my family woe.  An evil ghost is haunting my grandfather’s barrow.  My father says if a Humakti warrior defeats the ghost, it will leave us.”

As the girl leads them towards the barrow she will explain that her grandfather was a Sword of Humakt and that her grandmother was very beautiful.  However, an evil companion of her grandfather’s desired her.  Spurned, he left the cult and joined the cult of Zorak Zoran, the troll god of hate and war.  He killed the grandfather and accidentally killed the grandmother while beserk.  After their burial he killed himself outside the barrow, but his hate kept his ghost in the area.  He continues to haunt the area, and has been getting worse and worse, now making the fields barren and drying up the cows’ milk.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

OD&D Sandbox: The Valley of Castles

On a recent trip back to the UK, I retrieved certain cherished artifacts from my parents' house.  The first edition Empire of the Petal Throne, the first edition Call of Cthulhu, the Chaosium Thieves World boxed set and, most impressive of all, the white box D&D little brown books, together with supplements 1-3 (I never bothered with Gods, Demigods & Heroes, for reasons that will be explained).

Now this got me to thinking.  Why not design an OD&D sandbox based around the most important points of the white box rules, with a twist or two?  So here goes.

First, I want humanity to be under pressure.  This isn't an Arthurian world with other races and monsters hiding in the margins.  Instead, it is a world where humanity is almost extinct, with monsters and other races wanting to finish them off.  This is the backstory:

Once upon a time, mankind ruled the world.  While other races were limited, mankind alone could reach dizzy heights of martial prowess and magical power.  Moreover, mankind alone was granted divine favor.  Man's fortresses and cities dotted the land.  Graceful wizard's towers reached to the sky.  Cathedrals, crypts and catacombs signified the favor of the divine Creator.

However, man's pride proved his downfall.  Led by ancient dragons, the monsters attacked.  Orcs, ogres, goblins, gnolls, hobgoblins and kobolds poured out of the caves and caverns where they had been preparing.  This had happened before, but this time the dragons had an ally.  Evil High Priests, servants of the Destroyer, enemy of the Creator, cursed their own race.  From this day on, virtually all children born to human women were not humans, but hobbits.  These weak creatures could not stand against the evil hordes, and human settlements slowly but surely fell to the opposing races.  Dwarves and elves filled the gap in some places, but for the most part, the ancient towns, towers and sacred places were occupied by the rivals of man.  Those humans who survive in what is now called Wilderness have become bandits, brigands or beserkers.

Save for one land, the Valley of Castles.  In this place, man's divine favor still held true and women still bore human children.  This valley contains three cities, one for each alignment, and each one dominated by a different class.

At the head of the valley, beneath a cliff-face and a towering waterfall, stands Dunnkkarganstad, the City of Chaos.  Dominated by the most powerful wizards in the world, Dunnkkarganstad knows no law.  There is no constabulary, no courts.  Power projects from the towers of the wizards, and what order there is exists simply to keep people from bothering the wizards.  Thus, around the base of the Tower of Aedward the Earth-Mover exists a fortress where his guards live, an inn where his guests can stay (and others so long as they don't bother him), a shop where his agents sells things he no longer needs and other small vestiges of civilization.  Beyond these pockets, the city is a hell-hole, with people occupying what ruins they can or eking a living in slums.  The cliff-face that looms above the city is dominated by a long, twisting staircase carved into the side of the cliff.  The Long Stairs lead not just to the plateau above the city, but to dungeons carved into the cliff by successive powerful wizards to host their experiments and provide bolt-holes for when their towers were not strong enough.  Some wizards still live in these dungeons, while others have been taken over by the creatures once imprisoned there or by other denizens.  The Dungeons of Dunnkkargan, as they are known, are therefore fabled repositories of lost knowledge and great treasure.

The waterfall mentioned above falls into a lake from which flows the River Voana, whose waters are clear and drinkable despite the filth poured into it by the residents of Dunnkkarganstad.  The valley around it is lush and green, with forests inhabited by friendly elves and villages of hobbit refugees.  Then comes the great city of Turesme, centered on a tight bend in the river that forms an incised meander, with an easily defensible peninsula.  On this spit of land is the Cathedral and Castle of Turesme, the seat of power of the Prince-Patriarch, who rules the Church of the Creator.  This is a city of Law, ruled by the clergy.  There is a law for virtually every form of behavior known to man and visitors must be careful to acquaint themselves with the law or they will find themselves in court for looking the wrong way on a one-way street (literally - on Brown Cow Street, which leads up to the Cathedral, all pedestrians must face the Cathedral at all times; those riding animals may face away as it is difficult to get animals to obey this particular law).  Turesme is a bright, shining city, kept that way by force of law.  Many goods are illegal and its economy is fragile, to say the least.

The river flows on until it reaches the sea at the port of Leutheria, a stunning natural harbor made stronger by fortified piers.  Leutheria is a Neutral city, dominated by the Guild of Fighting Men, who hire out their services but also guarantee that the one law of the city - the rule of contract - is respected.  All social interactions are contractual in some way in Leutheria, which leads to a thriving economy and a serious disrespect of cheats (they are driven out of the city to Durrkkarganstad or to throw themselves on the mercy of the Turesmic priesthood).  The port maintains trading relations with dwarven, elfin and hobbit settlements that hold out against the Wilderness and its nominal leader, the Harbormaster, employs the Guild to man a significant navy that fights pirates and sea monsters alike.

The valley is called the Valley of Castles because it is a frontier.  To north and south the forces of the Wilderness encroach on a regular basis.  When fighting men, clerics and magic users reach enough power, they generally attempt to push back the wilderness a bit by building a castle of some sort on the frontier.  Sometimes these castles thrive and become the centerpiece of a new settlement, but sometimes they fail and are ruined or, worse, become occupied by monsters.  Only through the bravery of such adventurers can humanity hope to survive.

You'll note that the Valley has a simple, dualist religion.  I've always thought D&D lost something when the idea of religion being pantheon-based got foisted on the game with Gods, Demigods & Heroes (even if that supplement seemed to provide just bigger, badder monsters to fight).  That's not to say there aren't demons that Evil High Priests can worship or perhaps even summon, but to me it makes more sense of the cleric class if it is focused on one benign deity.

Anyway, there we are.  This is a world in which people have a reason to go adventuring and fight monsters, a choice of three alignments and three classes, a choice of other races (including hobbit "should any player wish to be one") and the general hostility of everything else in the world.  There's an initial megadungeon and any number of ruined castles providing small dungeons for one-off adventures.  Now if only I had the Outdoor Survival map...

Mongoose Runequest: The Good and the Bad

So we've now been playing Mongoose Runequest (MRQ) for about 6 months.  I have to say I'm generally happy with the system, with a few provisos as outlined below.  Here's my brief analysis of the best and the worst points of the rules:

The Good

  • I like the abolition of distinction between parrying and attack. It always seemed odd to me that you could reach high levels in one and not in the other.  Not using a weapon to parry should be more of a function of the unsuitability of the weapon (weakness or vis-a-vis a shield, for example) than lack of skill, or so it seems to me. It does make for faster advancement, but I can live with that.
  • The combat actions/ strike rank system seems to work well. It's important to have a degree of randomness in deciding combat order for variety, but the quicker characters do still tend to act before the slower characters.
  • We haven't used it much but the fatigue system is much better than any other version I've seen
  • In general the rationalization of the skills system works very well, although the brute force vs general athletics distinction is confusing.
  • I like rune integration. Seems very Gloranthan, even if Runecasting, holding physical runes etc doesn't.
The Bad

  • The lack of a general Hit Points system has led to some ludicrous combat situations akin to the Black Knight from Monty Python & the Holy Grail. I think I'll restore a general HP total of CON + SIZ for PCs and important NPCs.  The alternative combat rules from Signs & Portents #54 have certainly helped with arrow fodder less important NPCs.
  • Magic appears to have been nerfed. A character with high Persistence can normally shrug off even major spells from powerful opponents, and less powerful magicians often don't even cast the spell successfully in the first place.  And vice versa, so my PCs don't use target-affecting magic very often, while when considering what tactics to use for their opponents I generally only use such spells near the beginning of a combat.  Now in my Glorantha, most combats are supposed to have magic crackling all over the place (something HeroQuest reflects quite well) rather than fizzling or bouncing routinely. This needs to be sorted out.
  • Various systems that worked very well with the Resistance Table (most notably spirit combat, poison and disease) don't work nearly as well with the replacement rules.  I think I'm going to bring back the Resistance Table for spirit combat.  Not sure about the others.
As we work out the House Rules, we'll post them here.  Of course, with MRQII coming, it may all be moot.

Gloranthan Legend: The Bull Hunt of Murharzarm

This is a strange, almost universal legend, which appears in myths throughout Western and Central Genertela. The generally-agreed details are this: an enemy or rival of the Emperor god (most often Murharzarm) let loose a great bull upon the world. The bull was a chthonic beast, equal in power to gods. It ravaged the lands, slaying many mortals, and in most versions was responsible for the creation of the Elder Wilds. The Emperor sent out a call for aid, which was answered by gods, demigods and heroes, who set out to hunt the bull, across the entire world. Most legends cover only the trials of the particular focus of the legend, with some interaction with friends and rivals. In all cases, the particular god or hero has to fall out of the hunt, as a result of injury, trickery or distraction. Often, the interactions of the protagonists contradict each other (eg in the legend of Orlanth’s participation, he was tricked by his brother Ragnaglar, whereas the legends of Yelmalio and High King Elf both put the reason for Orlanth’s withdrawal down to those figures). All the legends agree that a victor caught the bull and brought it back to the Emperor, who skinned it and took the hide as a trophy, but no legend actually says who the victor was.

Because of the various conflicts, some scholars have theorized that the Bull-Hunt is the result of God Learner myth-conflation. The myth is almost always set in the pre-Gods War Godtime, but Waha has a myth as well, as do some First Age heroes. Some theorists even suggest that the mystery of the victor indicates the God Learners erased a god from myth, although this is regarded as unlikely by most. A less extreme theory suggests that the God Learners changed the myth of the victor into a failure, leaving a “blank god” as the victor, presumably to “map” a figure of their own into the myth. Most scholars suggest instead that the legend has simply been lost, but could be discovered by a determined HeroQuest.

Because most of the legends involve failure in some way, this myth is rarely HeroQuested.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Runequest Campaign: The Trouble With Trolls Part II

At the Kyger Litor stronghold, the night was disturbed by a massive wagon guarded by Rubble Trackers. The dwarves unloaded crates and barrels. Gragkizzie, leader of the dwarves, said that they were secret weapons and had Garrath employ an Oath spell to ensure the PCs would not reveal any of these secrets to outsiders. The dwarves were going to use these weapons on the trolls: a Disorder Keg, a Wonderbuss and two Pistoles. The PCs expressed some skepticism to their value.

The next morning the PCs, their Dwarf allies, Leotychidas, Stars Like Night, Njall and two of his followers gathered at the “back door” of the temple where the Dwarf assault had stalled previously. The dwarves threw down rocks and made noises to alert the trolls to their presence, hopefully gathering the trolls to a close defensive formation. Gragkizzie then lit what she called “fuse” to the Disorder Keg, a barrel the size of an average human, and rolled it down the stairs. Witha cry of “Fire in the trolls!” the assault party took cover. An explosion ripped back up the stairs and Gragkizzie and her followers Runi and Harc grabbed their secret weapons and charged down the stairs.

The sight that greeted the party was of a troll mob in disarray. Several trollkin were dead or severely wounded, with dark trolls also clearly wounded. A pair of Great Trolls and the Death Lord Magrak, however, appeared to have escaped serious injury. Gragkizzie leveled her Wonderbuss at a dark troll… and saw it blow up in her hands. Runi and Harc missed with their pistoles. Thinking, never send a dwarf to do a man’s work, the PCs and their allies charged in.

Runequest Campaign: The Trouble with Trolls Part I

The combined force attacking the Temple of Zorak Zoran had been joined by two others, ‘Bob’, a sneak thief born and bred in Pavis, hired as a scout, and Embla, an enormously tall (6’11”) and glamorous merchant woman, hired to use her detection magic to find the gems the temples had had stolen from them.

With Garrath Sharpsword’s force occupied by about 10 Great Trolls in the main entryway and the Flintnail Rubble Tracker dwarf force having run into heavy opposition coming down the back door, it was up to Xaraya’s force to press on into the temple alone. The shaman Stars Like Night went discorporate, while Bob advanced stealthily down the hall, taking advantage of his Dark Sight ability. About 50m down, Bob was lucky to notice two holes, one of either side of the hall. Theorizing these might be spy holes, Bob jabbed his dagger through one of the holes with great force. It just happened (01 on the roll) that a troll was just “looking” through the hole at that point and the dagger went through the hole and the gap in his helmet into his ear and brain, killing him instantly. Bob hurried back up the passage as trolls broke through the wall on either side, rounded a corner and concealed himself against the wall.

RuneQuest Campaign: The Road to Pavis

When we left our party, they were on a trek to find the Ficus Aureus, or Money Tree, tied to Bullford’s Esrola shrine. Accompanied by Griswald and Salvidienus Cansor, a Lhankhor Mhy sage, they overcame many obstacles to find the tree, although Griswald was carried off by a gigantic bird of prey just before they found the tree. On the way they found a terracotta jar they later learned was sacred to Xiola Umbar.

On the way back to Bullford, the PCs were forced by a storm to seek shelter in a hut which appeared to have been occupied by a Lunar scholar of some sort. In the hut, they found a sleeping baby covered by a thin layer of dust. The baby was impervious to harm and would not wake up. Simple tests by Cansor suggested it was extremely magically powerful. That night, the hut was attacked by trollkin, although their Dark Troll mother intervened when it became apparent the PCs were not Lunars, but not before Grom had sliced off a couple of arms. The PCs then witnessed an epic fight between heroes on a distant hill. A Lunar magician wielding two scimitars defeated a Mistress Race troll, then sat down to play his Aulos.

The PCs earned the friendship of the troll mother, who sheltered them before setting them on the right path to Bullford. On the way down from the hills, the PCs encountered a ghost-ridden barrow, haunted by two lost souls of faithless lovers.

Is This Thing Still On?

Completely forgot about this blog, but a few things have happened since I last updated it. First, the campaign has gone on and reached a convenient pause, so I'll update what happened. Secondly, I've invested quite a bit in Mongoose Runequest so will be reviewing those products. Finally, I've had an idea for an old school D&D sandbox that I'd like to outline here. Hopefully I'll remember to update this time.