Thursday, October 9, 2014

Upkeep House Rules (or, the Money Sink)

At the outset of every game session, I charge players upkeep if they begin the game in town, to simulate their expenses. They can choose Squalid, Standard, or Luxurious upkeep.

Squalid upkeep: 1 silver per 100 XP
Henchmen and retainers must make a Morale check or they bail. On a d12 roll of 1, something bad happens. If players pay nothing or less than the squalid rate, they automatically roll on the chart. 

Squalid Mishaps Chart:
1.       Disaster strikes! Lose all your possessions, PERMANENTLY. A fate worse than death?
2.       It’s one thing after another… Roll twice on this table.
3.       An attempt on your life! Save vs. Death or you were murdered in your sleep. Sorry.
4.       Violently attacked! Lose all your wealth and weapons. Begin adventure with 1 Hit Point.
5.       Mugged! Lose all your wealth! Begin adventure with 1 Hit Point.
6.       Snatch and Grab! Lose a random magic item you’re wearing.
7.       Robbed! Lose a random magic item in your inventory.
8.       Pissed off the wrong witch! Struck by a random curse.
9.       Off to tell the Cleric about your weird burning sensation... Contract a random disease.
10.   Debt collectors found you! Lose 50% of your wealth.
11.   Crappy sleep. -1 on all attack rolls and saving throws.
12.   Scumbag reputation. Permanent -2 on reaction checks until Luxurious upkeep paid.
13.   Bad food poisoning.  50% Hit Points for this adventure (Cure Disease removes).
14.   "Did I drop something?" Lose a random non-magical item.
15.   Subjected to terrible street poetry. Annoyed at everything, so -1 on reaction checks for this adventure.
16.   "So what do you wanna do, pawn it or sell it?" Lose a random magic item. Buy it back for 1g per 100 xp.
17.   Shabby reputation. Permanent -1 on reaction checks in this location until Luxurious upkeep paid.
18.  "I’m not cheap, I’m frugal." Penny pinching paid off! Treat as Comfortable Upkeep.
19. Made a friend with a local beggar. You owe him or her a favor, though…   
20.   You found a hidden gem as far as cheap hostels and taverns are concerned. Treat as Luxurious Upkeep!

Standard upkeep: 1 gold per 100 XP
Henchmen and retainers receive +1 Morale until the next upkeep.

Luxurious upkeep: 2 gold per 100 XP
Henchmen and retainers automatically succeed on Morale checks. +1 to Reaction Checks in this location until next Upkeep. 50% bonus to XP until next upkeep. Roll a d12. On a 12, roll on the perks chart.

Luxurious Perks Chart: (most perks last until the next upkeep unless noted otherwise)
1. Luck is on your side! You get to reroll any one die this session. Can't be saved for future sessions.
2. Feeling well rested. +1 temporary hit die! (Fighters roll d8, etc.)
3. Eye of the tiger. +1 to attack rolls.
4. Dreaming of dragons. +1 to save vs. Breath Weapons.
5. Dreamed of the Reaper. +1 to saves vs. Poison or Death.
6. Shook off a case of sleep paralysis! +1 to save vs. Petrify or Paralyze.
7. Dreamed of rainbows and unicorns. +1 to saves vs. Wands.
8. Vision of a baleful eye staring into your soul... +1 to saves vs. Spells and Spell-like Devices.
9. Excellently sharpened/maintained and polished weaponry. +1 to damage rolls.
10. Struck with a burst of inspiration!You can ask the DM for a hint or clue. Just once.
11. Happen upon a misplaced piece of jewelry worth d1000xlevel gold.
12. Get complimented by a local NPC. Make a useful contact.
13. Find a book of poetry that inspires you to greatness! Get one reroll you can use this session.  
14. Really? I never knew that. Someone provides you with useful information.
15. Someone offers to sell you a useful magic item for a good price.
16. My, but you’re dashing … you’ve attracted the attention of a powerful NPC of compatible background.
17. “In recognition of your service…” You’re given a medal. Permanent +1 on local reaction checks.
18. Cool and collected. +100% XP bonus. (Double XP) Lasts until next upkeep or when you level up.
19. Enlightened. +150% XP Bonus! Lasts until next upkeep or when you level up.
20. On a mission. +200% XP bonus. (Triple XP) Lasts until next upkeep or when you level up.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Interesting Game Mechanics vs. Restricting Roleplay

The assassin in my current Google+ campaign was recently drained down to 4 Intelligence by a yellow musk creeper. Shortly thereafter, he attempted to parlay intelligently with an enchanted talking door.

He didn't like the idea of me saying that he couldn't ask intelligent questions of the door, so instead of restricting his ability to roleplay by just saying he couldn't ask questions while he was dumb, I said he can ask the door anything he wanted -- as long as he only used one- two- or three-letter words.

I had him type out anything he wanted to say into chat and I'd eyeball the sentence to make sure it met the criteria. He failed to gain any useful information, despite the other players in the group feeding him perfectly reasonable lines, but that was mostly for lack of trying. (I read plenty of board books to my toddlers. You can tell entire stories using only the simplest words.)

Another example: A few of the characters in the party became deaf during a recent game and old school Labyrinth Lord doesn't have a Cure Deafness spell. I'm allowing players to make a donation of 3000 gold to a powerful church to remove the affliction, but until it's gone, they suffer a 50% chance of spell failure, can't take orders in combat, and are more easily surprised. This works much better than simply telling them that they can't communicate with each other, which stifled roleplay and just wasn't fun.

Since my players generally don't want to self-enforce any of the interesting afflictions they've acquired, I'll try to game-ify any situations where I would normally try to restrict their roleplay.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Bookkeeping and XP

My Google+ Labyrinth Lord game is going strong now. We have a couple new players who are super-enthused about the game and we've had three great Saturday night sessions in a row. 

I did encounter an issue with last night's game, though, and that was individual experience rewards. I've been handing players their XP mid-session and accepted it as a given that they'd be keeping track. I asked for an update on everyone's XP totals and got all sorts of different responses:

"I don't even have a character sheet," said one player.

"723," said the longtime friend of mine who loves to "break the system," picking apart the rules to his advantage. (This number would have been impossible to reach, as another player has attended all sessions and received the most bonus XP rewards had a grand total of 650."

"How much did we get for the first game? I forgot," said a newer player.

And so on. 

I think from now on I'm going to just track player experience on my end and update them when they've earned enough to go up a level. It's a simple matter of keeping an Excel worksheet open during our game and updating their totals as I hand out rewards. Since we play strictly online games, this shouldn't be an issue.

I think this is the best way to handle tracking XP for a group of mathematically-challenged (and occasionally mischievous) players without asking them to shoulder the load of updating a shared document on our group's Facebook page or anything like that.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

My Next Campaign -- An Experiment

My previous game stalled out in December, so I'm going to be experimenting with something new in the near future. The plan is to run a Labyrinth Lord old school hexcrawl with some strategy elements that allow for asynchronous participation outside of our game sessions.

Basically, the players are introduced to the world and become aware of an impending global calamity. They have three months to save the world. (More on this later.) Calendar days in the game world will pass in real time, analogous to our real world calendar. The clock is ticking.

Players will schedule expeditions with each other and the DM. We'll play over Google+ or face-to-face.

Expeditions are limited to a single day/evening. Camping out for the night ends the session, so you want to get back to town or camp out somewhere safe, lest you risk an untimely death.

Between sessions, players have a couple choices for what they'd like to do on any given day.

Carousing:
  • Spend gold for XP. 
  • Similar options include philanthropy, ostentatious purchases, gourmandising, etc.  
Shopping:
  • Standard goods are available in towns and cities. 
  • Rare goods travel from civilized outpost to outpost on moving caravans. ("The Alchemist caravan is in town! Let's stock up on potions.")
Travel:
  • You can move up to two hexes by foot or caravan, four by horse.
  • Random encounters are resolved by a straight-up die roll. 
  • The roll is modified based on party size (safest to travel in a group), total levels, whether or not you're in a caravan, etc. 
  • Results vary, but can generally be broken down into Death, Capture, Escape, or Victory
  • Most hexes on the map are "unexplored." It's possible to get lost in unexplored hexes.
  • Some hexes are much deadlier than others.   
Recruit: Hire mercenaries or hirelings. Eventually, hire troops before the final confrontation.

Research (cost incurred):
  • Maps (unlock additional visual information on the shared hexmap, including location of dungeons)
  • Legends (treasures or monsters, including the locations of the Artifacts needed to save the land)
  • Rumors (spread knowledge of events taking place in and around towns and cities)
  • Spells, Magic Items, Alchemy
  • Rituals (including a method for delaying the inevitable cataclysm)

Rest: By default, your character is recuperating from the last adventure.
  • Paying more money provides better rest. 
  • If players can't pay a minimum daily fee, they end up on the street. 
  • Every night spent on the street results in a roll on a dangerous random table. 

Expeditions (adventure sessions) are how the players will gain power and eventually save the world.
  • You can only enter a dungeon or adventure site within a day's travel.
  • "Clearing" a "same-level" or higher dungeon (recovering the key treasure) will instantly level up a character, regardless of group size. Large expeditions are encouraged. 
  • Fleeing a dungeon before recovering the key treasure will only grant a partial reward. 
  • You need to clear two "lower level" dungeons to gain a level. Trivial dungeons can provide financial rewards and magic items, but won't provide character levels. 
That's the basic idea. A few artifacts of great power, secreted around the region in hidden sites, must be brought together to summon and challenge the entity bringing about the end of the world. This big bad could then be defeated in face to face combat, perhaps after being weakened by a costly ritual, or maybe even banished.

Ideally, the group is large enough that players can split into mini-parties focused on different tasks. One group could head off to the wintry north in search of a key artifact, while another sets up home base in a capital city to focus on information gathering and conducting necessary research and rituals at the High Wizard's laboratory. Another group could be focused purely on exploration, filling out the map and sharing the information with the rest of the group magically, allowing for better overall strategic planning.

The players should have a few different paths to success, with some easier (and less direct) than others.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Fixing Summon Familiar

The magic-user player in my Labyrinth Lord campaign voiced a very legitimate concern not too long ago.

I'll summarize the argument here.
"Familiars suck," he complains. "They're too risky for the mage, so it's not worth owning one. I rolled d4 hit points, and it starts with 2d4. If it dies, the permanent hit point loss would kill me. Our game is dangerous enough that using it to scout would put me at far greater risk than just sending a hireling or Thief instead."

Familiars (as written) are too great a risk and they don't do enough. My primary fix is to replace the lost 2d4 hit points with a  "Constitution modifier loss" instead, which can be remedied by a friendly cleric's Restoration spell. A Constitution modifier loss basically drops the ability score down below your current hit point modifier threshold.

If the magic-user has 18 Constitution (+3 HP), it drops to 17 (+2 HP).

If the caster started with 13 Constitution (+1 HP), it drops to 12 (0 HP adjustment).

If the caster started with 12 Constitution (no adjustment), it would drop all the way down to 8 (-1 HP).

That sounds complex but it should be quite simple at the table. The caster must still  wait a full year before summoning a new familiar.

I'm also a fan of making familiars more valuable to their masters as the bond between them grows over time. This will also make their loss that much more painful. Here's the three-part plan for scaling familiars.:

  • Familiars gain a bonus hit point if they live to see their master gain a level, and this bonus hit point is conferred to its master as well, just like its base 2d4 hit dice. For tracking purposes, the familiar should be considered to have "gained a level."
  • A familiar who has survived long enough to become "3rd level" can deliver touch spells on behalf of the wizard. 
  • Those long nights with your study buddy have paid off! A "5th level" familiar provides it owner with the ability to memorize an additional 1st level spell. 

The 2d4 bonus hit points gained by summoning a familiar is the equivalent of two levels for a mage, making it a no-brainer as to whether it's worth summoning one. These changes should make the risk/reward analysis more favorable, but I don't think the spell becomes too powerful either.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

New Hirelings 1-16-13

My players kick off nearly every session by recruiting new hirelings or purchasing wardogs to replace those that died on the last adventure. To save a little time, I'm going to run these negotiations between games in our Facebook group (where we organize play sessions and chat between games).

The group spent 10 gold pieces, springing for a town crier and buying drinks at the local pub. I proceeded to refer to a handful of NPC tables and rolled up their hireling prospects for the next game. This is what I came up with. (Between us, the hirelings have high opening demands but will settle for more modest salaries.)

While many able-bodied men and women show up to take advantage of your offer for free drinks at the Blue Moon Alehouse, only a handful appeared to seriously consider your offer of gainful employment. After weeding out the rest, you're left with three interested candidates.

First, is Keegan, a dark-haired human male of average height and wiry build in his late 30s. When he flashes a smile, you notice he has several silver teeth. You also notice, to your chagrin, that he doesn't appear to bathe often and smells strongly of goat. He claims to be a brave and experienced warrior, and is armed with a nasty looking club, leather armor and a shield.

Keegan says that he's heard of your adventures and will consider accompanying you on your journey, if the price is right. He'd like to be paid 2 gold pieces a day for his services.

Next up is Ceon Brightsun, a brawny, bronze-skinned young human male of about 20 years, with a completely shaved head and a brilliant smile. His most distinctive feature is a tattoo of a sunburst over his right eye. Ceon says that he grew up in Redwall at the House of the Sun, the local church of Pelor. He wears a holy symbol (a face in a sun) over his leather armor and has a hefty mace at his side.

Ceon is on a holy quest and would appreciate the companionship, if the terms are agreeable. He'd like a one-time 50 gold piece donation to the Church, a half share of any treasure the group finds, and a vow by the party that the group will aid him on his quest within the year.

Last, you have Chelette, an athletic-looking young woman in her late teens. Her hair is styled in a spiky auburn mohawk and her right arm is wrapped in a brightly-colored green dragon tattoo. She seems restless and fidgets in her seat. Chelette wears a cutoff leather vest and is armed with a wooden cudgel and a dagger, with a shield slung on her back.

Chelette claims to be in search of adventure. She's grown up listening to stories of dragons and exotic monsters from her father, who raised her on his own and passed away recently. She dreams of being the hero of her own tale one day and will accompany you for 2 gold pieces per day.

If you'd like to make an offer to any of these hirelings (or negotiate the terms), let me know your character's Charisma.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Actual Play Report 1-6-13

Here's a cut/paste of the summary I typed up for the players in my Labyrinth Lord sandbox campaign who missed out on this Sunday's live game. I typed this directly into a Facebook comment box, so forgive the poor writing.

TL;DR: The group killed a giant toad, some dogs, and some stirges, but lost three hirelings including a trusted henchman. Everyone gets 230 XP, 50 gold, and 185 silver. Details below:

Our cast of characters: 
Burr: Trueborn marksman, seeking adventure alongside his friend Edmund. (Jason)
Clyde: One-armed dwarf cleric, still mourning the loss of his twin brother. (Laura)
Doc: Dwarven amnesiac with an axe. Took a “Bad At” without a “Good At.” (Tere)
Himeriax: Arcane explorer, dog handler, and sexual deviant of loose morals. (Miguel)
Malapan: Musclebound gambler and self-professed ladies’ gnome. (Hildy)
Tezl: Lanky cleric and self-defense instructor who lacks confidence. (Leigh)

Determined to return to the tomb of Erastus the Mischievous with greater numbers, the group went out in search of reinforcements. First, they visited Redwall's famous dog breeder and handler, Syrio Milan, to look into acquiring a few more war dogs to join Himeriax and Clyde’s two surviving dogs, Otto and Chula. Four new canines were acquired: a pair of Bluenose pit bull siblings named Mackie and Malinda; Rye, an agile dog who can snatch arrows from the air; and Mariquita, who looks and acts much like an oversized raccoon. That’s six dogs in total, equaling the number of adventurers.

The group also paid a town crier to aid them in enlisting three new hirelings: Ephesta, a shrouded woman of pale, ghoulish countenance on a mission to collect rare skulls for her collection; Vera, a fiery-haired, axe-swinging, heavily-scarred warrior woman of the north on a quest for redemption; and Manse “the Mighty,” a flawless, statuesque figure of a man of such strength and beauty as none in the group had ever seen. 

Manse spent the night training in the martial arts with Tezl, and proved to be a quick study after a night of instruction, though he strangely didn’t sweat so much as ‘glisten.’

Vera and Malapan also spent the night together after she lost all her silver to him at craps. We didn't need to go into any details.

Ephesta suggested that they make a quick stop in Redwall’s northernmost cemetery on their way to the tomb, as she believed that a certain mausoleum contained a secret basement where treasure and a rare skull could be found. The group begrudgingly agreed (despite Clyde’s displeasure) and upon arriving at their destination, they encountered a pack of feral dogs.

It was a dog-eat-dog fight, and Vera the warrior-maiden was determined to prove her mettle in combat. Sadly, she was struck in the head from behind by Burr, who recklessly fired into the melee with his sling. Bleeding from a gushing head wound, poor Vera was then torn apart by the dogs. Her last words were a curse upon the traitorous party who saw fit to bring her out of town only to shoot her from behind and loot her corpse. Whoops.

Malapan didn’t express much sorrow over her death, for whatever it’s worth. Manse claimed her battle axe. 

The wild dogs were quickly put down, though Manse “the Mighty” proved to be embarrassingly ineffectual in battle. The group quickly buried Vera, then investigated the mausoleum, finding two sarcophagi decorated with strange eagle-headed gargoyles, each with one feathery wing and one leathery wing. By pulling the leathery wings (using lengths of rope from twenty feet away), the group revealed a hidden staircase leading to an underground burial chamber. 

In this hidden crypt, the group found skeletal remains around a bejeweled coffin decorated with ancient script and a slender man’s face. The coffin glowed with an evil radiance when examined by Clyde’s Detect Evil spell. The group found the prize that Ephesta was looking for: a wererat skull, as well as a silver longsword, a silver dagger, a suit of chain armor, a backpack full of silver coinage, a handful of gold coins, a gothy velvet-lined cape, a pair of golden urns, and a few small gems. Manse was given the chain armor. The group decided not to open the coffin or to mess with the mysterious set of double doors (eerie stonework hands were carved all around the archway) on the far side of the room, choosing instead to continue to Erastus’s Tomb.

Upon arriving at Erastus’s Tomb, they found that the entrance had once again been sealed and barred. Hitching Burr’s donkey outside, they reopened the doors and made their way into a mossy, unexplored chamber with an open air view where the eastern wall should have been. Inside, they found a corpse in platemail armor, its blood being drained by flying vermin that looked like small, winged anteaters with hooked claws. These pests flew toward the party to attack, but were put to sleep by Himeriax’s spell. The group quickly stomped them to death and Tezl put on the plate armor, which fit nicely.

Further exploration led the group past a secret door, propped open by the corpse of a goblin with a dart stuck in its back, holding a sack containing a pair of shears and a leather strap. Down the hall, they found a smallish alcove with a strange boulder sitting smack-dab in the middle. Burr’s stalwart companion Edmund chose to climb over the boulder, which turned out to be a giant frog, angrily awoken from its slumber! 

Edmund was promptly chomped in half and swallowed before Manse was able to deliver the killing blow. Burr grieved openly over the loss of his lifelong companion. The toad was cut open so that Ephesta could claim its skull, and its innards unveiled a silver bracelet; the only valuable remains of its previous victims.

The group decided to press on despite losing yet another valued friend, this time opening a door leading to a chamber littered with gnawed bones. “Fuck that,” was said, and the group closed the door and decided to explore elsewhere. 

This led them to a door where conversation could be heard, likely from goblins. The party concocted an elaborate plan to leave the previously encountered goblin corpse in the hall (in plain view), to send Manse to knock, and then lie in wait, ready to ambush the goblins once they came out to investigate. 

Manse knocked, he ran back, and the door opened, but the goblins weren’t gullible enough to investigate. Having alerted them to their presence, the party decided (despite the inherent danger) to charge into the room by force. Bad things would soon happen.

Doc and one of the dogs charged into the room, where he slipped and fell on some oil. The goblins, a group of six, had two wooden barricades erected and immediately perforated the dwarf with crossbow bolts. He would survive this volley, but wouldn’t fare so well once one of the goblins dropped a lit torch onto the oil.

Manse would be the next to fall, taking a perfectly-aimed crossbow bolt to the heart and another to the neck. The group was stunned, believing their newest ally to be unkillable. 

Tezl, who miraculously decided to come to the dungeon prepared with a Create Water spell memorized (has this ever happened in this history of D&D? I think not.), and doused the flames burning up Doc and the dog. The party was preparing to beat a hasty retreat before suffering additional casualties when Himeriax ended the fight by successfully casting Charm Person on one of the goblins, who called off the assault on his “friends.” 

The goblin, who goes by the name of Rak-Chak, shared some pantomimed information with Himeriax, a bro-hug, and bid the group farewell as they made their way back to the surface to call it a night.

Doc would survive, though his body is now covered in horrible burn scars and he’ll probably never grow a beard (or hair) again.

After safely returning to Redwall, the group sold the silver bracelet (100 gp), the two golden urns (50 gp each), and the three gems (25 gp each). Each adventurer receives 50 gp. In addition, the group enjoys a split of 185 silver. 

FYI: Your coin pouch can hold 100 coins. Every 500 coins after that takes up one inventory space.

I also need one ration ticked off for each dog in the group. So that’s two for Himeriax’s dogs, two for Clyde’s, one for Burr, and one for Malapan. I have to remember that you guys need to feed and water your dogs.

Experience: I’m awarding discovery and quest XP for completing Ephesta’s task, and some exploration XP for mapping more of the Tomb of Erastus. Every surviving adventurer receives 230 experience points. Humans, remember to add 10% (253 total XP).

Let me know if you want to spend some of your hard-earned gold for more XP: options include carousing, gourmandising, ostentation, philanthropy, and research. I’d be happy to explain more if you’re interested.