Thursday, June 21, 2018

Thousand Year Sandglass at DriveThruRPG

My good friend B.J. Johnson, a.k.a. BigFella Games, has just released what may be his RPG magnum opus: the Thousand Year Sandglass, a fantastic Arabian-themed campaign that he's developed and run -- and which I've had the great pleasure in playing -- for about 10 years now. It has what I consider to be a uniquely and creative world, with never-before seen custom class, races, spells, magic items, monsters, etc. that have all popped out of B.J.'s genius skull. Plus top-notch art by the man himself.

That probably doesn't do it justice, though. B.J. is the single most creative producer of RPG setting content that I personally know. Here's a little slice of what it's like gaming in the Thousand Year Sandglass or any of his other games: Start out and get a customized setting with custom pre-generated characters, backstories, companies, handouts, cards, counters, and custom miniatures. Play for 4 hours and every encounter is fresh and novel, and has B.J. rolling out (again) custom landscape, buildings, miniatures, music etc. -- every one hand-crafted just for the game in question. Then at the end sit back for some extra hours as he shows off the other 70% of the encounters, battlemaps, miniatures, charts, sub-systems, etc., etc. that we never encountered. It's jaw-dropping and inspiring and truly humbling.

So some of us have been encouraging him for a while to pack up these ideas and make them public -- finally, you can take a look yourself and join in our amazement! After presenting the campaign setting, it even has no fewer than 8 adventures at the back to use in your games. Officially uses Labyrinth Lord but (of course) easily compatible with any classic D&D system. It gets my highest recommendation: Check out Thousand Year Sandglass on DriveThruRPG.

(Bonus: A post just about all the custom jinni miniatures he's made over the years for the game!)

Monday, June 18, 2018

AD&D Alignment Color Wheel

An alignment color wheel for AD&D. There are many places in AD&D where colors are associated with specific alignments (e.g., 1E Manual of the Planes color pools, or in Gygax's Gord the Rogue novels), but none were systematic in the following sense: I felt that oppositional alignments should be opposite colors (a.k.a. complementary in the traditional RYB model), and that adjacent colors should be close on a color wheel, and smoothly blend with each other (as a corollary: gray must be in the middle). I don't play AD&D anymore with its 2-axis alignment system, but back in 1996 I wrote a very small computer program to smoothly blend from one point to the other, and here was the result:

Saturday, June 16, 2018

The Master's Monastery, Ep. 5

Juno 15, 4729.
  • Personae: Long Tim (Hobbit Ftr3), Tahj Birdfoot (Elf Ftr2/Wiz2), Brother Maccus (Human Fighter 3), Penrod Pulaski (Human Thf3), Banjo Saskin (Dwarf Wiz 3). A month and a half since the last adventure, all are healed fully. Upkeep is 75 sp per person; restocked on healing potions.
  • One complication: While Banjo recently achieved 3rd level through a cunning stratagem, which expands his mind to possibly memorize a 2nd-level spell, he has none such in his book. So he satisfies himself with memorizing 3 1st-level spells, and the group departs for the ruined monastery on a rainy morning.
  • Traveling through passages previously explored. Looking down one passage, known to be trapped with hideous undead in cells, sees a glowing light -- reappearing even after the fake gem was removed before. Entering the lower storage chamber, Penrod hears a creaking noise: former bugbear hideout active again?
  • Group proceed to the ruined wine cellar, formerly with a swarm of stirges that caused several deaths, last seen in flames. Entering wine cellar, smoky and acrid, a few partly-burnt stirges angrily take the air, but are quickly cut down with slings, thrown daggers, and swords.
  • Enter a small nearby room, seemingly undamaged by nearby monsters. Pick up several bottles of aged, fine whiskey (value 2,000 sp total). Maccus open a door and several sacks of grain come toppling towards him. Passing through (and after some mapping confusion), realize they're back in the goblin storeroom, the door hitherto hidden by stacked foodstuffs.
  • Explore a northern hallway that turns out to exit via a secret door back adjacent to the entry chamber.
  • Having exhausted any obvious exits, the group decide to exterminate the two wood-store chambers full of giant fire beetles. Assemble at the first, Banjo throws a spike in to disturb them, and a half-a-dozen creatures run out. With the heavily-armored Tim and Maccus in front of the passage, and others launching missile weapons, they are defeated. Banjo cuts out a glowing gland and replaces his lantern with that item.
  • The second chamber is attacked likewise; this time, Tahj casts sleep and all the strange creatures curl up in balls and get eliminated. Maccus pulls down most of the rotten wood pile; the group find and ancient heavy leather-bound sketchbook. Among the schematic notes is an apparent wooden stage construction. There is discussion and then an "Aha!" moment.
  • Group returns to the large dead-end chamber off the entrance. Taking split cord wood with them, they affix the logs into the holes in the walls for a makeshift step-ladder. Tahj and Penrod climb and search for a secret door higher up the wall. Success! A hidden button pens a panel, and the group clamber into the dry, upper tunnel.
  • Travel south; enter into a wide 20' corridor with a double row of horizontal niches on each wall; the niches are filled with ancient rotting wood coffins, bones, skulls, mixed-up bits of human remains. Maccus starts bashing skulls and chests in, but the job seems endless.
  • Travel west and south. Here, a side-room with eight skeletons posted on the walls; the skeleton animate, stepping forward with rusty swords. The fighters protect the more vulnerable members. Tahj casts a magic missile and blasts one to splinters. Daggers get thrown in eye-sockets, ripping the skulls off. Maccus finishes off the last one with a mighty sword-blow.
  • A small tunnel northwest, north, then a side branch is explored for secret doors. This disturbs a swarm of 10 giant rats that come pouring out of the wall, biting legs and feet. The party runs back from where they came.
  • Once the rats have clearly settled back in their nests, the group returns north. Finds a half-octagonal chamber with a large stone sarcophagus and 5 painted panels on the walls; various scenes of a traveling monk, monastery, reception of gifts, training with arms, slavery of peasants. Maccus pushes the lid off the sarcophagus and a giant constrictor snakes slithers out? Tries to bite Maccus, who fends it off with a shield. Banjo casts sleep, but the creature is too large to be affected by it. This catches the monster's attention and it bites Banjo, casting horrible snaky loops around him and constricting. All of the party desperately attacks the thing, slashing and cutting. Banjo gets low on hit points and the party has only a few seconds to save him before more crushing occurs. Maccus gets a last hit in; is it enough damage? No, the snake has exactly 1 hp left, and it uses its dying breath to crush the life out of poor Banjo. Penrod finishes off the filthy thing.
  • The group returns from the apparent dead-end chamber, traveling south and then a wide hallway southeast. They are joined by another dwarven wizard from the same college: Bill of  RA. Step into a chamber with more coffins and bodies in the walls; consider exits east and northeast. As they pass through, they are horribly surprised by a half-dozen ghouls, disguised as corpses, stepping silently out of the niches. Ghouls are known to spread a horrible paralyzing fever with their bite, turning a victim into another ghoul. One is behind them, cutting off the exit.
  • Surprise round: Every party member is attacked by a ghoul. First target: Bill, who takes a natural 20 for a critical: The nearby ghoul grabs and bites into his skull, instantly killing him. Next: Penrod takes a hit, misses his save, and is paralyzed; the fever racks his body, gnashing teeth, helpless. Tim and Maccus avoid attacks. Tahj takes a hit, but is immune as an elf. Initiative follows: This the party wins.
  • Tim spins and attacks with his hobbit's two-handed sword, cuts the ghoul to the rear neatly in half at the waist, its diseased innards spilling out all over the floor. Tahj takes the opportunity and runs from the room at full speed. Maccus powerfully pushes the remaining party members back into the passage, blocking the entrance with his shield. Only two ghouls can attack, and they need a natural 17 to hit. The rolls: 4 and 17. Maccus misses his save and is paralyzed. Only Tim remains, facing 5 ghouls.
  • Tim has a ghastly choice; he can only carry one of the armored, larger humans away. He grabs Maccus and fireman-carries him off. Burdened, he either has to remain visible in the main hall or take a small side tunnel that hasn't been explored yet. He takes this to get out of sight. Unfortunately: It's a dead end, and the ghouls have the chance to bottle him up and finish off almost the whole party. Rules say that semi-intelligent creatures are 50% likely to be distracted by food, e.g., Bill and Penrod. Tim's player calls the dice "high". A d6 is rolled and the result: "6". So amidst the horrible rending sounds, Tim slips back out with Maccus, rejoins Tahj, and escapes the horrible place.
  • Back at the village with only 3 survivors. Aged whiskey is sold. Each gets 666 sp and 1633 XP. Tahj advances to a 3rd-level fighter. Have we seen the last of the ill-fated members of the Dwarven College of Magic? We'll see.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Rope Reckoning

In comments to the last post, G.B. Veras pointed to a nice web page on the economics of medieval rigging (MIT History Dept.), and asked how much rope costs in my games. The short answer to that is that by default, I just use the stock Original D&D equipment list, read as silver pieces, so: 1 sp for 50'. For things either not on the list or clearly broken, then I look to outside source like the Medieval Price List (or whatever) and convert with the interpretation that 1 sp = 1 groat (that is: 1 shilling = 3 sp). This usually comes out closer to the D&D equipment list than you'd normally expect.

Let's use G.B. Veras' cited MIT page as an exercise.
  • The page in question says that over three years or, 4,327.3 kg (9540 lbs) of rope were sold out of Bridgeport at a cost of 134 pounds sterling (including 20% transport cost).
  • We must convert that weight into a standard length, which is predicated on the standard width of our rope. This site on climbing says that something a little under 10mm (0.39 inches) is common. Then we can find that Home Depot sells a brand of manila rope that is 3/8" (0.38 inches wide), 1200 ft., at a weight of 45 pounds. (Side note: This is rated for a load limit up to 243 pounds.) 
  • 1200 ft/45 pounds is proportional to about 50 feet/2 pounds. Dividing this into the Bridgeport figure, we get 9540/2 = 4770 lengths of 50' rope. Dividing that into the price figure we get 134/4770 = 0.028 pound sterling. Then 0.028 × 20 = 0.56 shillings. Then 0.56 × 3 = 1.69 silver pieces. And if we back out the stated shipping cost, then we get 1.69 × 0.8 = 1.35 sp. So once again I'd say that's "close enough" to the book D&D prices, if we read them in terms of silver pieces/groat coinage (namely: 1 in this example).
  • A side issue is that the weight of the example 50' rope is only 2 pounds, which is less than half the weight currently specified in the OED rules supplement (specifically: 1/3 stone, that is, 14 × 1/3 = 4.6 pounds; whereas the AD&D DMG specifies 75 coins = 7.5 pounds). Presumably that's okay in OED if we assume the number is inflated for overall bulk/awkwardness in carrying it.
Thanks to G.B. Veras for the data and the interesting exercise!

Monday, June 11, 2018

On Pulleys

Only on the Hotspot: A post about how pulleys work. I've made at least one really bad call in-game about them previously. So here's my homework-atonement.

I've got a house rule in OED  that provides a small chance for a rope to break in any critical situation. My players totally hate it! (That said: I relaxed it a bit recently.) In dealing with this, sometime in the last year or two one of my players asked if they could purchase a pulley mechanism. I said, "I don't think that's available as medieval technology". Whoo-boy, was that super wrong. (If you have a mechanical engineering background you probably knew that.)
  • Pulleys have been in use since antiquity. Archimedes in the 3rd century BC studied it as one of the three most basic machines (lever, pulley, screw). Heron of Alexandria in the 1st century AD included it in his list of five basic machines (lever, windlass, pulley, wedge, screw), and described crane mechanisms using several pulleys. Renaissance scientists identified it as one of the six "simple machines".
  • Specifically in the medieval period, pulleys were used to hoist materials when building castles. Later drawbridge mechanisms used pulleys. They are part of the mechanism for a trebuchet. Some crossbows incorporated pulleys for cocking as early as the 13th or 14th century. On sailing ships they are referred to as block and tackle (although I couldn't confirm the earliest date of such use).
  • How much should one cost? Looking at the Medieval Price List, we can compare them to a vise, which seems like a machine of comparable sophistication (a large screw, basically). In the early 16th century this is documented at 13s 4d, or about 40 silver pieces in our silver-standard conversion of 1s = 3 sp groats. (In D&D book inflationary money, that might be 40 gp.) Note that if used for climbing or hauling, PCs would still need to find a solid structure to hang one on.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Underworld Overhaul, Pt. 6: Revised Monster Determination

For your consideration: A revision to the OD&D system for underworld monster determinations. We suggest using this in place of the tables on Vol-3, p. 10-11:

Click here for PDF version.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Target 20 at OD&D Discussion

Over at the OD&D Discussion Proboard, user Piper started a poll on people's preferred AC/combat mechanic, specifically: OD&D RAW Tables, Swords & Wizardry Ascending AC Conversions, or OED Target 20. I'm intrigued by the results so far. Thanks to Piper for thinking to survey that!