Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Marsh Elves

In the Swamp of Dreadful Dreams and the Swamp of Submerged Secrets, the marsh elven tribes roam. Marsh elves look wizened, with flinty eyes and long gnarly legs & arms. There ears are large and pointed.

A marsh elven tribe usually consists of 10d10 people travelling in strang boat-like wagons with big spidery wheels. About 90% of a clan are 0-lvl individuals. 10% are marsh elves (as medium-sized halflings) of levels 1-10. The highest level individual will be the leader. There is a 50% chance that the clan has a marsh witch. The witch is a female of level 5+1d10 and casts spells as a magic-user of equal level. She usually has 1d3 apprentices of levels 1-6.

Clan Names: Use the tables below to create a two-part name. The table could conceivably be used to generate tribal or clan names for other species (orcs, gnolls, goblins, etc.)

First part (roll 1d10)
1 - Blood(y)
2 - Black
3 - Gray
4 - Rusted
5 - Gnawed
6 - Bleached
7 - Crimson
8 - Purple
9 - Rotted
10 - Ghostly

Second part (roll 1d10)
1 - Bones
2 - Skulls
3 - Teeth
4 - Eye
5 - Fingers
6 - Boots
7 - Gauntlets
8 - Swords
9 - Knives
10 - Wheels

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Land Beyond the Drowning Woods


I finally created the map using the Hexographer. It covers about 400 hex fields. I am not yet sure about the scale of the hexes. But I think I am going with 6 miles per hex. That's still a fairly large area. Considering that there are no roads and the terrain is either swamp, hills, forest or all of the above, an average adventuring party will cross a two swamp hexes in 3 days or three forest/hill hexes in two days.

The Cold Commands

I just have to link this. Judd mentioned "The Steel Remains" in his blog, which got me reading the book in the first place.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Races in the Drowning Woods

I don't very much like the standard races conceptually - or rather I like only elves (and tieflings, but they aren't part of OSR). But I don't like those flighty wood elves, frolicking in moonlight, singing and dancing for all eternity. That's boring and not weird. On the other hand, I like the Lotfp concept of the nearly unkillable dwarf with lots of hit points. For the halflings, I have absolutely no use. Even if they have the best saving throws in the whole game. Stop! I have just re-read the halfling class in Lotfp. Suddenly I find intriguing things: they have +1 bonus to their Dexterity modifier, are very stealthy and even gain a +1 bonus to AC when not surprised. So I guess, I'll keep the class around.

That leaves me with two options: divest race from class (which is not at all supported by Lotfp) or re-skin them. Leave the mechanics intact, but put them in a different make-up or put a different spin on them. The goal here: make the classes weird. Even weirder than in Lotfp.

Dwarves - Sailors in Ships of Stone
The dwarves are hardy (as mentioned above). I like that. I want to keep them around. But hard-working dwarves living in subterranean fortresses - not weird! Dwarves loving the sea and roaming the waves in their galleys of stone are different. So the dwarves are a sea-going people, who live on huge galleys made from stone. The secret of fashioning them now lost to time. On the other hand, a stone galley just wrecks your average wooden ship. They are the rulers of the waves, caught up in commerce and piracy. Yet, still a dwindling race. Ruleswise they stay as they are.

Elves become Tieflings - Spawn of the Netherworld
The elves in Lotfp are rather strange. They are aligned with chaos. They are vulnerable to holy water and holy symbols. Also, some spells specify that elves are immune to them. You could easily use the elves as presented in Lotfp to model Melnibonéans or other extra-planar creatures. I love tieflings. Therefore, I am reskinning elves as tieflings. Mechanics-wise it is not a complete match, but close enough. Tieflings will have small horns (not like those huge horns of the type IV tiefling) and faintly smell of brimstone or sulphur.

Halflings become Marsh Elves - Dwellers beyond the Drowning Woods
My rpg experience is heavily influences by the fighting fantasy gamebooks (and especially the Sorcery! epic). In "The Seven Serpents" you meet these shifty gypsy black elves. In "From the Pit", you find out that they split from the Dark Elves, because they didn't like their evil ways. Now they are ostracized from good and evil elven society. I just like the concept: a broken elven people condemned to roam the country side having lost much of their heritage. I've already re-purposed the elves, so the halflings remain. Let's make the medium sized, leave all of the other stuff in place and transform them into wretched Marsh Elves. They are chaotic and all the rules about elves regarding holy water/symbols and spell descriptions apply to them.

Beyond the Drowning Woods there is also one important rule (taken from Swords & Wizardry): NPC members of the dwarves, tieflings or marsh elves may have completely different capabilities than the PCs.

XP and Levels

It seems that I am not the only one thinking about the issue of XP and levels. I am not really comfortable with the way Lamentations of the Flame Princess is handling XP. You get them for treasure, but relatively few for slain monsters. Partly because in Lotfp you're not expect to slay that many monsters.

Handing out XP for treasure has its own issues. Because suddenly I feel compelled to place enough treasure everywhere so the PCs can level up. To me that's not helpful. If they don't find the treasure, they don't level up and I can't bring on greater challenges. For my group that's further complicated by a player pool-style of the campaign.

Therefore, I need another solution. Either I am going to hand out a large sum of flat XP each session. So that you can be sure if you show up, you'll get maybe 750-1.000 XP per evening plus XP for monsters. Also, I tend to award additional XP, if you come up with something game-related that makes the game more fun for the other players or the GM. That could be, but is not limited to: a character portrait (either self-drawn or found on the internet), a character backstory (nothing fancy, just a couple of sentences describing who you are, where you are from and what you want) or even a session log. That would fit right into an XP model. Say 1.000 XP for attending and 500 XP per thing you do for the game.

That's huge chunks of XP at lower levels. But that's me. I want to play through the low levels, but not get stuck there for ages.

The alternative system would be to award a new level as soon as the character has participated in a number of game sessions either equal to his level, equal to his level +1 or even double his level. Thus honoring the investment of time and getting each character to advance roughly at the same time. I am not worried about game balance for the same reasons the blog post mentioned earlier isn't. You are hyper-specialized. You can as well get better at the same time everybody else is.

But currently, I think I am going with the flat XP model for honoring the time spend in the game.

The Weird Warlock from Beyond the Drowning Woods

Zak suggested a very efficient way to make things weird. I'll use that as one design principle of my campaign setting.

Not weird: The lands beyond the forest are ruled by the benevolent and just Marquis de Carabas. He lives in a castle attended by loyal servants and steadfeast men-at-arms. The marquis levies modest taxes and dispenses fair justice.

Weird: The lands beyond the Drowning Woods are ruled by the decrepit and shrewed Weird Warlock. He lives in a ramshackle village, surrounded by the wretches who failed to live up to their bargains with him. The Weird Warlock levies seemingly random taxes and dispenses cruel and unfair justice.

It really helps to think in non-weird terms first and then make it weird.

Mermaids

Currently, I reading Death's Master (part of the aforementioned Tales from the Flat Earth). The hero Zhirem is currently captured in an undersea kingdom. That reminded me of my take on mermaids.

Mermaids are of course no gentle creatures. They are murderous monsters bend on drowning and devouring sailors and other unfortunate men. So lets build a mermaid. Again, I am going for the lower end of the hit dice spectrum. Merman are usually given 1 HD. But I find that a bit underwhelming. So lets settle for 3. Enough to be a more serious threat. Armor class is probably going to be 12. They are unarmored after all. Let's add one more point for higher dexterity. They will be very fast in water, but not so much on dry land... Morale will be above a snivelling creature (6) but below a courageous monster (9). So I am settling for an eight. Damage will be by sharp teeth or claws. Somewhere around d6. Of course they are able to breath water and air. Also, they can cast charm person at will (instead of an attack). But the spell will only work on males.

All in all, nothing special here. They want to drown and eat you, so better forget any romantic notions about live under the sea.

Mermaid: HD 3, AC 13, Speed: double that of a walking man in water, practically nil on land, Morale 8, Damage: d6, Able to breath in water and air, charm person at will, AL: Chaotic.

A further bit of inspiration

I totally forgot to mention Tanith Lee's Tales from the Flat Earth as inspiration. I like the strange ideas and small stories she weaves together into a big epic about demon lords bringing about the ruin of men.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Vampiric, crimson etc. mist

Again, a monster that conjured my imagination when I read about it. There was a short passage in a play report where a magic-user cast a fireball at such a mist monster and it retreated. The actual stats disappointed again. Here is my take on the mist monster. Let's call it Mist of Betrayal for no particular reason than liking the sound of it.

The monster should be a challenge and withstand a fireball (at least theoretically). So it should have at least 6 hit dice. It's not particularly hard to hit, but all the various mists seem to be immune to anything less than a magic weapon +1. Let's keep that and intensify: the mist is immune to any weapon attack. But they are vulnerable to any sort of fire. If hit by magical fire they must make an immediate moral check or withdraw. The mist doesn't do conventional damage. It is deadly cold and sucks your life energy away. If you remain conscious, the betrayal will happen. A random member of the group is charmed to attack his comrades (save vs. magic; save can be repeated each round). Effects wear off, as soon as the group leaves the mist.

That's what my mist of betrayal looks like. It's more of a natural hazard than a monster. But still it can be "killed".

Mist of betrayal: HD 6, AC 14, Speed: half that of a walking human, Morale: 6, Damage: special (see below), Immune to all weapon attacks, vulnerable to fire (if attacked with magical fire must pass morale check or flee), AL: Chaotic
  • Hard to perceive: Succeed at a bushcraft check to notice the mist before it solidifies.
  • Cold, clamy mists: Save vs. poison each round inside the mist. On first failed save, you are knocked out. On second failed save, you die. If only knocked out, you regains consciousness one round after leaving the mist.
  • Betrayal: A random party member who is not knocked out must save vs. magic or be charmed to attack his comrades. Save can be retried each round. Leaving the mist ends the effect.
  • Leaving: Take a round to flee outside the mist. Do not attack during that round.

The Peryton

When I first saw an illustration of a peryton: half-eagle, half-deer, I found this very inspiring. But the actual monster stats aren't that interesting. It has 4 HD, an AC 7, a fly speed about twice as fast as a human, it is immune to normal weapons and gets +2 to hit due to sharp antlers. I also remember reading that they hate elves and harvest hearts from a freshly killed body. Strangely, their claws are sharp enough to tear a heart out and even carry some aloft, but too weak for fighting? Seriously?

Here is my take on the peryton: let's keep the HD, 4 is a nice challenge. AC 7 would equate to AC 13 in a straight conversion and proly AC 15 in Lotfp. Let's say they are tough and their AC equates to chainmail (AC 16). Then, since they are flying birds and have big flapping wings that will mostly likely disorient the combatants, I would give them AC 17. Tough critter. Since magic weapons aren't common in Lotfp, I would do away with the resistance to ordinary weapons. Rather, I would do it backwards: the peryton is vulnerable to magic. Magic attacks do twice their hit points in damage. That's also why they hate elves. Elves have magic. The get an attack bonus for sharp claws. That's also rather contra-productive in Lotfp, where magic armor is also rare. So rather than an attack bonus, let's have them do extra damage. They'll use their sharp claws, because using the antlers for anything more than mating games is impractical. The Monstrouos Manual gives their damage as 4-16 (4d4 I guess). A bit much... I'd scale that down to 2d4+2 giving an average of 7 damage and making them quite lethal.

The end result is a weaker peryton useable at lower levels, but one I feel will still be a challenge to the adventuring group.

Peryton: HD 4, AC 17, Speed: flighing twice as fast as a human, on the ground half as fast as humans, Morale: 9, Damage: 2d4+2, Vulnerable to magic (twice damage), AL: Chaotic

Tactics and special abilities: they will always attack elves first, because they just hate them. A peryton will not change the target of its attack, until either the target or itself is dead. As soon as they have slain an opponent, they will tear his heart out (obstacle to raise dead...), this will take one round during which they are vulnerable to attacks (AC reduced to 14). When they have the heart, they will end the attack and fly away.

Monsters!

Back when I was mostly reading about D&D instead of playing, certain monsters grabbed my imagination and they just sounded wonderful. Monsters like the peryton or some sort of vampiric mist. I imagined what kind of interesting abilities they might have and how an encounter with them would play out. Then I did my research and was very disappointed. Instead of cool abilities they just were big bad monsters. Big bad equated a lots of hit dice (more than any beginning group of players could hope to handle), being invulnerable to normal weapons, enjoying some sort of special to hit bonus and doing massive damage. In short: booooring!

Some articles of this blog will revisit the old monsters, try to spark the imagination and turn them into interesting monsters Lotfp style.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

World Building

As I stated earlier, I like designing fantasy worlds. This time around, I am trying to do this differently. Not so many flowery sentences, or useless facts, but instead a sandbox style game that describes the world in terms of who you meet, which treasures you find and which dangers you face.

I'll be heavily inspired by:
Zak's random tables are a very efficient way to populating your campaign world and generating story ideas. Also, they have a certain "weird" element that I like.

Evan's site has very useful bits on designing dungeons and standardized Lotfp monsters. Also, I like the inspirational sources gathered for the Nightwick Abbey setting. They help to inspire me for my as own, as-of-yet-unnamed setting (tentative working title "Beyond the Drowning Woods").

Richard Morgan just writes kick-ass sword & sorcery fiction. I especially like his take on the main character Ringil Eskiath.

What's in a name?

I almost named the blog "The Weird Warlock from Beyond the Drowning Woods", but that would've been a tad too much. I got the name by some creative of Raggi's Weird Fantasy Module Names generator. He is also the publisher of a great game called Lamentations of the Flame Princess. Go check it out. It is cool, it is weird and it is an old school rpg.

Old school, because I am not really comfortable anymore with new school gaming and the 21st century batch of the oldest fantasy game in the world: Dungeons & Dragons. It's just too complicated, too involved and ultimately too time consuming in preparations. Just my 0.02 € on this.

I like to create worlds, I like to let my imagination run wild and spring my creations on my players. As a reference for rules, I'll be using aforementioned Lotfp, because I like the weird bent it has, and because I already own the grindhouse edition, and the rule book sans art is available for free at http://lotfp.blogspot.com/. That'll help my players.

So that's what this blog is going to be about.