Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Lessons Learnt Running Megadungeons

Disclaimer: Some of the links below are affiliate links (meaning I get a small percentage of sales without extra cost to you).

I have been running megadungeon products a lot. I've run Barrowmaze (the first volume) for two regular players in person, I am still technically running Dwimmermount for a face-to-face group (although we only played like 3 sessions each year, and none so far this year), plus I am actively running Rappan Athuk online (we spent about 20 sessions down there, but the campaign is on the cusp of turning into something very different).

I have tried to summarise my thoughts about running megadungeons, focussing on some of the issues that I have. I must add that I immensely enjoy reading and running megadungeons, so these concerns aren't about invalidating the concept but rather things that if solved would make it an even better, smoother, and more rewarding experience. I should also add that these issues may come up in other types of adventures as well; they just seem exacerbated in megadungeons.

TL;DR: (1) consider the costs and benefits of grids and gridless dungeons; (2) add environmental cues around branching off points on the map; (3) use observable warning details around traps consistently; (4) secrets doors should always be interesting; (5) random encounters should have details that you can build on

Sunday, 17 June 2018

Current AS&SH House Rules

Attribute Generation
Roll 3d6 in order to generate your first array. Your second array is the inverse of this (18 and 3, 17 and 4, 16 and 5, etc.). Choose whichever array you want. Make sure you qualify for the class you want to play.

This house rule is taken from Esoteric Enterprises (aff link), and it's supposed to provide a nice middle ground between 3d6 in order, 4d6 drop lowest, and 3d6 arrange to taste. I personally haven't tested it; I just assume Cavegirl did.

Hit Points per Level
Upon attaining a new level, either roll a single HD (plus CON modifier) and add the resulting amount to your total HP, or reroll all your HD (and CON modifier times your new level) to determine your new HP total. If the reroll would result in no increase in HP, increase your total HP by 1 instead.

This is a house rule I have been using for years now. It has worked fine so far. The intent is to alleviate the impact of really bad hit point rolls in the long run.

Scroll Use
Spellcasters can identify scrolls of any tradition. They can also use scrolls of any spell level. When they use a scroll of a different tradition, there is a 2-in-6 chance of miscasting (1 random target, 2 half efficacy, 3 half duration, 4 lose 1d4 random ability points, 5 opposite effect, 6 different spell of same level).

This one's a bit trickier. I haven't actually tested it at all. Since AS&SH uses so many different spell schools, the scrolls in most OSR modules would need to be tweaked, otherwise only Magicians and Clerics would have a chance to find usable scrolls (let alone learn new spells). This house rule is basically my lazy way of handling that instead of rerolling every scroll found on the fly using the tables in the rulebook, while also helping out casters in situations where I actually do roll on those tables.

Encumbrance
Encumbrance limits are calculated based on one’s Constitution score.

This one we haven't tested yet, although The Nighmares Underneath (aff link) already does this. It makes more sense in the fiction (because encumbrance isn't really about raw strength but endurance, plus STR already has so much going on for it.

Critical Hits
If an attack roll is a natural 20, use the standard critical hit table in the rulebook. Furthermore, critical hits add a notch on the target’s armour (or shield, if they so choose).

Critical Misses
If an attack roll is a natural 1, the attacker chooses among the following options:
1) Weapon gets a notch (-1 to-hit and damage per notch; breaks at 3 notches)
2) Attacker is disarmed (weapons falls 2d6 feet away in a random direction)
3) Attacker gets off-balance (-2 AC penalty for 1 round)
Unarmed attacks always result in off-balance, while ranged attacks always result in a notch.

Weapon notches have been part of my game for a really long time (about 30 sessions, probably more), and they have proven to be a very nice addition. The intention is threefold: (1) to incentivise bringing more weapons along, while balancing encumbrance; (2) to surprise the GM and the players at the table at times; (3) and to provide another resource to juggle, one which is decoupled from levelling. Repairing weapons costs one-third of its gold value per notch, which is especially expensive for magical weapons (although they are able to withstand more notches in general). High quality weapons are easy to model in mechanical terms without introduction to-hit and damage bonuses, too. It also generates anecdotes, like the fight with a bunch of skeletons, where the party suffered like 10 notches and had to retreat immediately, even though they had plenty of HP and spells. Even trivial fights may deplete precious resources now, which is a huge positive for me. As for the other options, I have tried similar outcomes in the past, but this is the first iteration I find actually fitting. This way every attack has a possible negative outcome, but there is also player choice involved for most cases.

Thursday, 14 June 2018

City of Masks - First Peek

Here is a little preview of something I have been working on: a city supplement presented as a random encounter table. Below you can find a work-in-progress description of a district, plus a piece of the encounter table expanded.

Thursday, 7 June 2018

Review: Songbirds

Note that some of the links below are affiliate links (meaning I get a small percentage of the sale without extra cost to you).

Songbirds is a fantasy game based on the system of Into the Odd, albeit with a lot of changes. It mixes the simplicity and adventure game core of its parent game, and then mixes it with indie narrative concepts. It is similar to Whitehack in that regard.

Monday, 28 May 2018

Review: Ghastly Affair

This review is part of a series on thematic OSR games (as defined here). Also note that some of the links below are affiliate links (meaning I get a small percentage of the sale without extra cost to you).

Ghastly Affair is a romantic horror game. It is a genre variation that features all the classic elements of D&D (classes, levels, hit points, to-hit and damage rolls, etc.). Mechanically the game strives for simplicity first and foremost, and the genre emulation part comes from the content (classes, spells, and antagonists) and referee advice.

Thursday, 24 May 2018

Personal Trad Game Manifesto

I am trying to make an all-encompassing guide that I personally follow when I run traditional games, such as AS&SH, Call of Cthulhu, Runequest, Warhammer Fantasy, Ars Magica, Numenera, Rifts, Exalted, Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate, Zweihänder, GURPS, Traveller, Dragon Age, or World of Darkness - any game that has distinct player and referee roles, and their mechanics are concerned more about success and failure than narrative rights. Here is what I have so far.

The setting is separate from the characters and exists independently. Locations aren't designed and power levels aren't necessarily considered with the player characters in mind. If something sounds dangerous, it probably is. In the lich's mansion you will likely run into the lich, whether you are level 9 or level 1. Similarly, numbers aren't tweaked based on the number of player characters.

There is no plot in the sense that no encounters are planned to take place in a given order (or at all, sometimes). The events of a session will naturally form a narrative, in the sense that each day or lifetime of a person forms a narrative. Some of it makes sense immediately, some of it never will. Some of it would make a good movie, while some will be a chaotic mess. Importance is not inherent but recognised either retroactively or spontaneously.

Locations, NPCs, monsters, and items are all treated as stolen cars. I don't invest much into them emotionally, and the players are free to interact with them as they please. The consequences follow the logic of the game world (which is a combination of realism, genre appropriateness, and gaming conventions).

Dice are rolled in the open, and once a roll is declared, there is no going back. If you ask, I will tell you what happens on a failure, and you can decide not to go forward, but once the die is cast, both parties have implicitly accepted all the possible consequences. Impossible or trivial things aren't decided by dice rolling, though. They fail or succeed automatically.

Monday, 7 May 2018

Review: Pugmire

This review is part of a series on thematic OSR games (as defined here). Also note that some of the links below are affiliate links (meaning I get a small percentage of the sale without extra cost to you).

Pugmire is a DnD-esque game about uplifted dogs exploring a post-Man world. The dogs (along with other uplifted animals, such as cats, rats, badgers, and lizards) are capable of using tools and language, and they have built their own society upon our ruins (the details of mankind's disappearance are kept intentionally vague). It is a very upbeat and moderately cinematic game: a beacon of optimism in the despair of murderhobos and grand futility of gonzo adventuring. It's post-apocalyptic from our point of view, but to the characters, the Ages of Man are parts of their mythology rather than history, and the remnants of our civilisation are more like holy artefacts than archeological evidence.