Monday, July 23, 2012

Castles & Cutpurses

OD&D Rules for Stocking Castles; Adding Thieves and Their Expected Behavior

Thinking a bit more on my convention game exploring the Outdoor Survival map using the rules from Original D&D Vol-3 (the DM's booklet) -- the following are the rules for stocking Castles (p. 15-16). Note that in these rules the only classes are Fighters, Magic-Users, and Clerics; so for my game I had to think about how to replace the Clerics with Thieves (consideration follows page scans; recall that for me, basins are caves, and buildings are castles):

A few comments: Note that the "occupants" are all either "name level" or "one below name level" in their respective classes (as usual, with Clerics as an outlier: they're either "lawful name level" or "chaotic name level"). Note also the weird wording on fighter/wizard alignment: they're either "hostile to adventurers (die 1-3) or neutral (die 4.6)" -- I read that first option to mean "chaotic", although obviously if your PCs were Chaotic you might as well make the hostiles Lawful for some action-packed gaming.

Anyway, as mentioned above, I wanted to strip out the Clerics and replace them with Thieves (more in-line with the Fighters and Wizards in terms of levels and alignment distribution, in fact). So in the first table, my last two rows look like this:

The monsters I used were almost all from Sup-I Greyhawk, but I think that's acceptable since it's where the Thieves themselves come from (the elves in the top-right are Hero/Theurgists, i.e., 4th-level in each class). For the second table I gave Thieves a 25% chance of having a Magic-User, level 5-8 (same as for Fighting-Men).

Open questions -- Per the text, "Occupants of these castles will venture out if a party of adventurers passes nearby", so as to make certain demands for tribute/treasure/toll, as indicated for each. One question is: What men do they bring with them? -- Initially I presumed just the castle leader himself with the Guards from Table 1, but in hindsight it seems a bit suspect that the castle ruler would jeopardize himself in such way (e.g., instead of using the castle itself for protection; perhaps that's good for the game, or perhaps they should bring a host standard men with them?). Second question is: What should Thieves do for analogous challenge/demands? -- I tried to come up with something, and frankly couldn't see anything in-flavor except for Thief-types to lay in hiding within their castle, hoping to ambush unwary intruders (which seemed to make sense until my PCs went to explore said castle and I had to make up reasons for how hundreds of men could remain hidden at once). Maybe you've got better ideas for those reactions?


  1. This might not be terribly helpful for your purposes, but I have name level thieves establish or take over a thieves guild in a urban area. Instead of civilizing a wilderness hex before building a castle, thieves must clear an urban area of competing organized crime interests.

    Perhaps a thief's castle would be part of a small "company town". Any adventurers wandering into town would be "asked nicely" to meet with "da boss". Neutral thief-lords might ask to PC's to steal something, while chaotic ones would ask them to assassinate someone.

  2. Paul, that might be a reasonable point, that Thieves fundamentally work better in a city. And it's backed up by AD&D PHB language -- a thief's fortification "must be within, or not more than a mile distant from, a town or city"; and for assassins, "the headquarters of a guild is always within a large town or big city". (Although for the Grandfather of Assassins, "the headquarters must be located well away from all communities".)

    But you're right, for this particular game I did want to complete the triad of possible classes encountered. Maybe there's a reason I was so stumped.

  3. Hmm. I suppose if the Thieves are running a castle rather than having an urban hideout they could be putting up a front as if they were a Fighting Man. Same tithe demands, same challenge to a joust. If the Thief wins a joust (despite the handicap of being ill-prepared for it) they take the loser's armor and call it a good profit; if they lose, they make the same offer to host that a genuine Lord/Superhero would make and then rob the party blind while they're staying there and/or hold some of them hostage to force the party into going on a mission without the help of a Quest spell.

    Or something along these lines, possibly; I'm kind of rolling this together as I go.

  4. What would a PC do?

    He might saddle up and head right out with a bunch of retainers, such that he's not leaving his castle defenseless but his force is big enough to overwhelm the wandering encounter.

    Or he could send a messenger to demand payment of a toll and see what happens. This way if the wandering monster attacks, he can gauge its strength and will lose only a few men. Based on the result he might let the intruders pass because he's afraid they can beat him, or attack in stealth with foreknowledge of their abilities. This method is more appropriate for Thieves.

    I could see a Wizard sending an illusion of himself demanding a toll. If the wandering monster attacks, he seems invulnerable and attacks pass through him.

    In any case, the inhabitants should have great advantages in terrain knowledge. It should be assumed that if the wandering monster is traveling along a road or river or some other regular route, that the castle inhabitants can set up an excellent ambush from behind temporary fortifications virtually at will.

    Further, any expeditionary force should be well equipped with fighting or hunting dogs, or even trained leopards etc. and these will be thrown against the enemy as shock troops to avoid human casualties. Attackers will fire missiles from behind screening vegetation and possibly defenses like caltrops or a short cliff. After the initial attack, which acts as retaliation for slaying the messenger or refusing to pay the toll, the attackers could demand surrender or else continue the attack. They'd lose initiative on the following round if the wanderer refused, but wouldn't lose any turns.

    After all, these are all things that any Name-level PC would prepare and demand.

  5. 1d3: Those are really excellent ideas. With the the one counterpoint that I do frequently see players/PCs who want to "get in the saddle" and handle action immediately themselves, and not have it be done out-of-sight by NPC helpers (which actually helps explain why the castle leaders are heading out to confront travelers).

  6. Great post and comments. I bought a copy of Outdoor Survival but have yet to use it in play. Nor have I used the rules for castles yet, but they're waiting for when the PCs go exploring in the wilderness.

    As far as thieves' castles go, my immediate reaction was that a ruler of a castle who is a thief should be a bandit lord. Bandits are a crucial type of human encounter in D&D. Check out the Wilderness Wandering Monster table for Typical terrain (U&WA, p. 18): 5 out of the 12 encounters are with bandits or brigands. This reflects the important threat posed by bandits in the life of medieval and other traditional societies (and in undeveloped countries to this day).

    Granted that the abilities of the thief seem to presume an urban setting, when it comes to a wilderness encounter with a thief, the role of bandit chief still seems most suitable. Perhaps the castle should be re-interpreted as a bandit's hideout, but it would presumably still be a fortification of some kind.

    With regards to the ruler of a castle exposing himself by leaving the castle to encounter passerby, it's true that this would be a foolish move in response to an obviously superior force traveling through the region. But if a group of travelers seems reasonably small in size--say, the size of a typical party of adventurers--then the lure of easy loot (or the desire to levy a toll) might tempt the lord out of the castle, together with a retinue of sufficient size to deal with the seemingly small and insignificant party. With respect to a thief or bandit lord, the purpose would presumably be not to challenge anyone to a joust, but rather just to deprive the travelers of some or all of their worldly possessions (this being the business of bandits, after all).

  7. ^ Yes, that's very much in line with what I was thinking when I first added them myself -- a "bandit lord". And an excellent point about reasonably sallying forth to confront a small party.

    Maybe an idea for the thief (bandit) challenge would be to have them semi-random: like (1-2) simply demand payment of money/jewels, (3-4) pretend to be a wizard and demand magic items (I can see Cugel or the Gray Mouser doing that), (5-6) invite group to rest in the castle where they get waylaid (possibly after fake joust or archery contest).

  8. Thief castles seem like a perfect opportunity for Robin Hood and hillbilly shenanigans. Roads and trails covered by ambuscades, smuggling operations, deliberately cultivated potholes to break wagon wheels and horse legs (only to sell you shoddy replacements at ruinous rates), traps designed to divide the party, and other such low trickery.

    More broadly, I would expect high-level established thieves to have some established type of specialty crime for which their castle serves as a base of operations. The ACKS table of hijinks might form a nice basis for this, with the PCs either being preyed upon by or enlisted into the master thief's schemes.

  9. ^ Excellent ideas, thanks for that!

  10. The fake joust / archery thing sounds great actually. I was thinking of it as a one-knight affair, but imagine if the whole bandit fort were in on it:

    There's a boastful, arrogant knight ... a young and quiet but talented knight ... etc. It's all an act, and they're all bandit thieves. So the PC jousters just always win. Success!

    There's a maiden faire whom an amorous PC can woo the wimple off of, winning in the joust of courtly love over those feckless NPC knights who just seem to always be stumbling over their words. Awesome!

    Then the PCs end up losing a lot of their stuff to theft and the NPC knights are nowhere to be found. Which of the dastardly villains was it? Well, says the lord of the castle, Robert the Boast lives in a tower to the north. Alan Newblood lives at the edge of a desert to the east. The PCs are left to believe that they were robbed by these evil knights and encouraged to ride off after them.

    Of course, these knights are just bandits living in the fort. They hide out until the PCs are well gone. When another adventuring party comes by they bring out the heraldry and armor and pick a couple new "knights" to be the thespians.

    Oh, and the maiden? Roll CON vs. disease.

  11. ^ Ooh, freaking BRILLIANT! :-D

  12. A Thieves stronghold could also be kind of like the pirate havens of the Caribbean in the golden age of piracy (Tortuga, Port Royal, etc.), free for all comers but packed to the gills with cutpurses and swindlers.

    You can camp out there, buy, sell, and trade there, but you'd better keep a close eye on your stuff. You might find bargains, but you're probably going to get ripped off.

    The "Lord" would essentially be the head of the strongest, most ruthless faction in town. Auntie Entity of Bartertown from "Mad Max, Beyond Thunderdome" springs to mind.

    The fortifications could be the sacked remains of a legitimate castle, now occupied by squatters and scavengers. It's enough to keep the monsters and goons away, but a dedicated attack from a local lord (or a PC party with enough clout) would send the rats scurrying in all directions.

  13. ^ Also fantastic. Totally makes sense, and one I absolutely wouldn't have come up with myself. Thank you!