Mongol Home

Mongol Home

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Other Viking D&D stuff

Trying to work on the house rules document for my proposed Vikings game, a good set of house rules sets the tone for the game, here I am going for something serious, kind of grim, but also heroic. 

The shield needs to get more love, because there's not much in the way of other armor. I was leaning towards making a shield give 50% cover from missile attacks, provided you aren't surprised or engaged in melee; along with some kind of level scaling fighter class bonus to AC, and a shield wall bonus. Shields Shall Be Splintered is an obvious choice here too, although I did recently see something about usage dice for the shield that could be good too.; a usage die makes for a good compromise between tracking shield damage and having essentially indestructible shields. A shield needs to be both more useful and more destructible for this game.

The helmet should get something better than the standard nothing too I guess, I am thinking a +1 to AC there. Seriously in standard D&D there's no good reason to wear a helmet. I have always like that in Talisman the helmet basically gives you a saving throw versus losing your hit points, but that seems to over powered and fiddly for D&D.

The equipment list could stand to be shortened, simplified, tightened up. I am thinking one armor – chainmail, you are either armored or unarmored, that's it. Lighter armor is not attested to in the sagas, nor has any evidence been found by archaeologists. A few lamellar plates have been found at a single site in Sweden, so I think it's safe to skip. Make chainmail a base AC of 5 [15], unarmored a base AC of 9 [11]. 

The weapons list can reasonably get edited down to Knife, Sword, Axe, Spear and Bow. Technically there is some variation there, 2 main styles of knife, one of which can overlap into sword, axes should probably get split into one and two handed varieties, and there are some small variations on spear type, but I don't think they are large enough to bother making them extra weapons based on that. The sagas speak of a type of polearm similar to a glaive, but none have ever been found, and given the funerary practices of the Norsemen, that makes their existence seem less likely.

Weapons need to have properties that make them mechanically different, other than just the damage range, in part because I am considering a class based damage system. The axe seems simple, give them an advantage of some sort against shields, which plays into the shield rule ideas I have. Spears can have reach. Swords though? Other than their obvious prestige item status, what should they get? Bows are a ranged weapon, and I kind of want to encourage melee combat, because it seems more Viking in spirit, and actual historical practice too. Knives might be used in an off hand, and could be thrown, maybe they also can be used while grappling/being grappled?

Berserkers need to be in the game, although I have had mixed results having berserkers in adventuring parties in the past, it just wouldn't feel like a Viking game without them.

The concept of Fame or Glory is one I like from the Saga minigame from TSR and have always wanted to steal for an RPG. Basically it rewards you for the things you are already getting rewarded for in D&D, but kind of the inverse of the way that D&D does it for leveling. In OSR D&D at least, you get more rewards for treasure than combat, Fame is the opposite. In practice it tracks whether or not you are going to enter Valhalla, attract the notice of the Gods (for good or ill), and, as a zero sum game, decides the “winner”, that is to say who is the greatest hero of his age. I have been thinking about adapting it to D&D since Saga was new.

On to Wyrd, or Fate. On the one hand I like the idea of having a secret stash of “get out of jail free” cards for the players, maybe a hidden number, perhaps rolled randomly at character generation, that will keep a character from dying at a given time. They are simply not fated to be dead yet, “the length of my life and the day of my death were fated long ago” and all. I admittedly have stolen the idea from TSR's Top Secret RPG. I also have considered the idea that Wyrd might be a “mana” pool, for spell casting or whatever. I am still hazy on this, but magic, in an old Norse context, is about manipulating Wyrd. 

So classes then... A straight up Warrior, a Berserker, a Skald and what else? Some kind of Thief/Scout type? Say “to hell with the initial concept” and hand wave in some magical classes? The zero level NPC crew members will be like the Torchbearers and Men-at-Arms in my current game, they work pretty well and have possible advancement built in to them.

I have a seed of an idea for some background/social class stuff too, I figure anything that helps define the character for role-playing purposes has to be good, right? That might be some kind of old school heresy there, but I liked the family, birth right and ancestry from AD&D's Oriental Adventures book, despite it actually making character generation take twice as long. Some kind of pared down version of that might be nice, and the extra time is made up in not having nearly as large an equipment list for players to obsess over. Maybe something quick and dirty like the “Gifts” table in the Viking Campaign Sourcebook? Although I kind of want to avoid some of them, based on my desire to take absolutely normal humans and place them in a fantasy setting, which is a campaign set up I apparently keep coming back to; I did it with the Mongol invasion of Japan, I did it with Vikings once before, I did it with ancient Gauls and Romans. That's just off the top of my head, I've probably done it with others too.

Also, on a completely unrelated note, did I just dream up the idea of Elves being turned as though they were Undead of equivalent Hit Dice? Because they are soulless creatures of Chaos? So, I was sure I had read that somewhere, I have even used it in a campaign before, but I thought I had seen it elsewhere, like on a blog somewhere, back when blogs were where the OSR was happening, before G+ and all that. To be honest, I was sure it was a Lamentations of the Flame Princess rule, but I looked it up and their Clerics get Turn Undead as a spell, rather than an innate ability, and there's no mention of Elves in the spell. I am happy to claim credit for the idea if it was mine, but I was sure I saw it elsewhere. I have been looking, on and off, for weeks though and found no evidence of it. In my mind's eye I can see a black & white illustration of an Elf recoiling from a Cross even, so this is some Mandela Effect territory here.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

D&D, Vikings & “Land of the Lost”

How D&D does your game have to be to still be D&D? D&D is the lingua franca of RPGs, and I use the D&D chassis to run games in any genre or setting. I am currently running a pretty standard D&D campaign based around Stonehell Dungeon, although set in my own long running Garnia campaign setting. I was going to start a second group in the same world, in a different area and stick in the Isle of Dread, WotC decided it travels around anyway, so why couldn't it come to my campaign world? Anyway, I have also been fairly obsessed with the idea of running a Norse/Viking campaign lately, my girlfriend likes Vikings and said she'd be interested in trying it, so that's a plus there.  I have been adding in a few house rules, and “Shields Shall Be Splintered”, along with “Death and Dismemberment” have crossed my path again, and they are both pretty Viking-ish rules, which got me thinking some. Then I saw on Facebook that it was the anniversary of “Land of the Lost”, and started thinking of Vikings and the Isle of Dread combining into a Vikings enter the Land of the Lost combo of the two, which seems pretty cool to me. Obviously the Isle of Dread and the Land of the Lost aren't the same, but they do have a bunch of similarities. The video game “Lost Vikings” comes to mind too. 

So now I am mentally altering the Isle of Dread to more closely resemble the Land of the Lost, conceptually, and I got to thinking that these Vikings aren't going to be a “regular” D&D party. For a more “realistic” campaign, they should all be Fighters or Thieves, or maybe port the Specialist from LotFP into my OSE based game? No magic though, for sure, right? Or maybe? If I look at how the Norse saw magic as existing in their own world, maybe I could somehow adapt it. Rune magic was done in “The Northern Reaches” gazetteer for BECMI I think, although I have not read it. It is also present in the “Viking Campaign Sourcebook” for 2nd edition AD&D, although I don't remember liking it there. Norse magic is about subtly altering wyrd, not blowing your enemies up with fireballs, it can include divination or communing with the dead, but mostly it's about altering luck, either yours or an enemy's. Runes, seið, Galdr, none of those are flashy D&D magics, even magic healing isn't instant; so I guess magic could be an issue. My thought is maybe make a “Cleric” class that can do these things? Or add them as a skill set of some sort to any PC? Or just go the “no magic” route? I was thinking of a Skald class too, that had some skills that could help the party? Maybe non-magic oriented? 

Something else entirely? How much D&D can I strip out of D&D and have it still be D&D? Does D&D require magic? I am thinking that the Isle of Dread is going to have some weird magic stuff going on, and probably some high tech too, in keeping with the spirit of the “Land of the Lost” series. Can we have D&D without Magic-Users and Clerics? Will people want to play such a game? Who knows. Maybe let PCs take on these classes after getting to this world? Is that cheating the system?

I am also considering starting the PCs at roughly 4th level (the recommended starting level for X1) and having them already have as many retainers as they are allowed by their charisma scores, to represent their personal households, warbands, what have you; my thought is that they are all members of a single ship crew to start. I may have them shipwreck on the isle of dread, I have had some good success with that as a start to the module in the past; although taking away the party's greatest asset at the beginning might be a bad idea too.

My memories of “Land of the Lost” are pretty distant, I may need to track down and watch the series again before I launch this thing, assuming my players want to play a “Lost Vikings” type of game. I might suggest some movies for my players to watch leading up to the game too. “The 13th Warrior” comes immediately to mind, maybe the TV series “Vikings” too. Need to get people into the spirit, portray Norse characters as well as they can, without me recommending a slew of Sagas and history books.

Monday, July 20, 2020

It's been a while now...

Picture unrelated to text, purely to grab your attention

A number of things have been running through my mind lately about D&D, well really RPGs in general and D&D, my favorite RPG, in particular. D&D is the 600 pound gorilla of the RPG world, and some of it's modern controversies occasionally cross my field of view. Racism has been a big one lately, between the “Orcs are inherently evil, and therefore a racist stand in for non-whites” and the “Oriental Adventures is racist and should be taken down from Drivethru”.

I think both of these arguments are wrong, but I can understand why they were made, and I also understand that my feelings on this should not be the focus here, when people say that something is bothering them, we should listen, and try to help where we can. I think WotC made a good call putting a disclaimer on the old TSR stuff, not so much with the wording as with the intent behind it, even if it was maybe just to cover their own behinds while continuing to sell “offensive” materials.

I am the Admin for the AD&D Oriental Adventures group on Facebook. I created the group years ago when I saw there wasn't a group for OA fans already. I have never really had to actively moderate this group until the past couple of weeks. I had to add rules to the group, to keep things civil, and I have still had to delete a couple of dozen posts recently. It's frustrating for me, and I am sure for the people that have had their posts deleted for violating rules. I get it, you are upset that there has been a call to remove OA from distribution. I don't think OA is racist myself, and it was pretty enlightened as a treatment for east Asian themed AD&D when it was written. The name was a bit tone deaf in 1985, but not especially so (no real defense for the 3e version having the same name in 2001). 

Having watched over 10 hours of the “Asians Read Oriental Adventures” videos, I found them frustrating, as they didn't seem to understand AD&D, and complained pretty ceaselessly about how AD&D wasn't the kind of story game they liked, and assumed that some AD&D rules were simply racist ways to play Asians in D&D. They also took serious issue with the fact the OA is a mash up of all east Asian cultures, which I found annoying, as it is exactly the same thing AD&D does with European cultures (along with elements from the rest of the world, but especially western Asia and north Africa), while they also complained that it was too Japan oriented. The Japan-centric focus of OA makes sense for the time it was produced as we had recently gotten the extremely popular Shogun novel and miniseries, the Karate Kid, and the ninja craze was in it's bloom.

Were there racist things in OA? Yes. Certainly there were. The implication that east Asians all have Ki powers, making them all more mystically attuned is certainly pretty racist, for example. Ki powers are also a pretty important part of a lot of the media we were getting from Asia at the time though, so it might have been odd to leave them out. In any case, I think Oriental Adventures was a product of it's time, and that at that time it was an American made love letter to the Asian fantasy were were getting from Asia. OA also stoked my love for Asian culture. I have studied a lot of Asian history and OA was probably at least partially responsible for that.

Now, on inherently Evil species, and Alignment in general. D&D has always had this Alignment based cosmology, and I think it's important here to note that it is literally a declaration of what team you are supporting in a cosmic struggle. In my opinion that's the more important part than the code of behavior that your Alignment dictates. I think that adding the Good/Evil axis to Alignment may have broken it a bit, mainly because Lawful was generally considered to be the “Good guys” and Chaotic was already seen as Evil; creating a Lawful that was Evil, or a Chaotic that was Good messed with the dynamic. 

Now all Orcs being inherently evil smacks of biological essentialism, and that's the sort of thing that justifies things like colonization, slavery, or eugenics; all of which are bad (and I really wish I still lived in a world where I didn't need to state that). I get where these people are coming from when they say it's racist to have all Orcs be Evil. I also have seen Tolkien's statement about Orcs being like ugly Mongols, and he really is the father of that species in modern fantasy. The issue I have with this is that I never saw them that way. At worst I saw them as a generic savage “other”, my earliest DM used Orcs basically as Viking analogues raiding and plundering against our civilization, so I really have always cast them in the light of an implacable barbarian foe, the tribes of Germans that brought down Rome, or the Huns, or the Vikings, or the Mongols, or at least a caricature of those peoples. They were savages from elsewhere, seeking to destroy civilization and plunder it's wealth, usually thoughtlessly destructive, almost a force of nature. Looking at this I can see how it could be seen as racist, but most of the named savages are white folks. 

Now we need to factor in one more thing though, the Gods are real, and there really is a grand cosmic struggle between Good and Evil (or Law and Chaos if you prefer). In my Garnia campaign this is a constant, real factor, although the struggle is referred to as one between Light and Darkness, which, apparently, has it's own racist connotations when Light equals Good and Darkness Evil. Anyway, Orcs, in standard D&D cosmology, are created beings, the minions of Gruumsh, of course they are inherently Evil followers of an Evil god. The same is true in Lord of the Rings, they are essentially slaves of Sauron, as I recall they were originally Elves that were corrupted. In my campaign Orcs are created beings used as shock troops by the real forces of Evil for use in their interplanar war. There's a lot of backstory there, but Orcs are a newer species in my game and haven't explored their full potential. 

But, Humans are inherently Neutral. They have free will to choose which side to support, but most of them will happily enjoy the benefits of civilization without ever committing to it via a Lawful Alignment, both in my world, and in OD&D. Cosmologically speaking, Humans are free agents, their Gods come in all Alignments, and they have many, many gods, some petty, some mighty. There's a bit more to it, the plane that my campaign world is on is a good aligned one, albeit only in a minor way, so it slightly shifts the Humans to favor Good Alignments more than usual, but the choice is still there.

Also, there are examples of creatures breaking free of their pre-ordained Alignments. Dark Elves are an example of this (at least it's my campaign's explanation for Evil Elves), but I also have a single culture of Goblins that have broken free of their Evil Alignment, although they are not generally speaking Good Aligned, and some choose Evil, they broke free and got a choice.

And I assume that the stated Alignment for any given species is the general Alignment for them, not the only Alignment found there. Maybe 1% or fewer members of the species shake the stated Alignment, but it could happen. I assume that's what's going on when players choose a non-species standard Alignment for their characters. Dwarves are Lawful Good, per the book, but most PC Dwarves vary from that, in my experience. Elves, on the other hand, are Chaotic Good in AD&D, and you see that pretty regularly, occasionally dropping to Chaotic Neutral for the Edgy ones, or Neutral Good for the nicer ones. D&D literature already gave us Drizzt, decades ago.

I guess what I am saying is that a certain degree of bio-essentialism seems to make sense in a fantasy world, where there are real forces of Good and Evil out there creating sentient beings to do their bidding, and if all Orcs aren't inherently evil, where do we stop on the Evil food chain? There are a lot of Evil monsters out there. Ogres? Giants? Dragons? Outer planar creatures like Demons? How about the sentient and free-willed Undead, like Vampires or Liches? 

Now, having said this, I heard about, but have not seen or read, a 5th edition D&D supplement that separates culture from ancestry (species). I don't hate this idea, although it does lean hard into some new ideas that are popular in RPGs, namely what I call the “no humans” trend, where it seems like every player wants their character to be somehow absolutely unique. I am guessing this comes from story games, and I was a little surprised when I watched the Asians Represent videos how strongly they seemed to feel that the DM should not be able to dictate anything to the players about what type of characters they might play. As a DM I found the concept intriguing, but also annoying enough that I would have smote them for their attitude if they'd brought it to me like that.

Anyway, I am guessing ancestry (species, race) is the genetic component of your character, and culture is how you were raised. In my campaign world I have Dwarves called “Broken Dwarves” because they no longer live within their culture, they live amongst the Humans that have come to dominate the world they live in, and have relatively little tying them to their ancestral ways. Where there are communities of Broken Dwarves they tend to dominate certain trades, based on their ancestral ties to those trades, but then again they might just become sailors too.

Now that I think about it, most of the PC races available in the 1st edition AD&D PH tend to live in Human communities in my world, which isn't to say they all do. There is still an extant Dwarven kingdom (really a bunch of smaller sub-kingdoms tied together by a shared past, but with large swathes of lost territory between them). There are entirely Halfling villages, although mainly under the protection of the nearby local Human communities. Elf PCs mainly come from a background in Human communities, their empire having long ago fallen, although some “wild” Elves exist in wilderness areas beyond Human reach.

Now all of these being different species, I am not sure how the cultural part works, but the genetic part seems pretty straightforward, Dwarves are heartier, so they get the +1 to CON. Elves are quicker than Humans, so a +1 to DEX, etc. Humans are the base line, so no +/- anywhere, my guess is the -1 to CHA for Dwarves is based on their comparison to Humans, but it seems like a CHA bonus or penalty maybe should have been a cultural thing, which implies then that either Dwarves are genetically predisposed towards gruffness, or maybe that penalty should go elsewhere. Half-Orcs even more so.

Speaking of Half-Orcs, they are somewhat problematic. Orcs being inherently Evil, and apparently super fertile, they clearly go around raping everything they can, which would imply a lot about the setting of D&D that I'd really rather not have to deal with. I like to keep the level of my D&D games roughly PG-13, although pretty much every D&D game would get a R for violence. I am not squeamish, but the rape backstory of the entire Half-Orc species is pretty bad, and kind of racist. I wasn't really comfortable with that once I gave it due consideration, and it was particularly awkward when I played with my wife and kids. I included them when I created this campaign setting back in the day, because they were in the PH as a PC race, but I would give them a pass these days. 

I might consider them as a separate type of Human in a species plus culture context, essentially as Humans raised in Orc culture. I did that in another campaign with Half-Elves, I made them Elf-Karls, who were Humans raised by Elves in my Ostschild setting a couple years back. They weren't playable then though, but it makes for an interesting take on Half-Orcs, and it removes the rape background, as well as, quite likely, the racist connotations of miscegenation. Problem solved? Maybe. Maybe I'll revisit the idea of Elf-Karls for Garnia too, so it removes the “Star Trek” issue of every species being able to interbreed with every other species. 

Maybe not though. I had previously explained the genetic compatibility to the species being related, Elves essentially being an uplifted variant of human, infused by the forces of light into a new species, nigh immortal, with a greater natural affinity to both nature and magic; Orcs, on the other hand, deliberately created from humans infused with wild boar via magic (Pig-faced Orcs in my world). The benefit of Half-Orcs was that they could act as 5th columnists in Human society. The ability to interbreed with Elves just a random accident of being related. Elves and Orcs not being able to interbreed being a function of the opposite natures of their creation.

If we're pulling apart culture and species though, I think we should also consider social class. Cultural values are important and all, but I think a lot more of what makes you comes from the social class you are born into. Even today in the USA the zip code you grew up in is a better indicator of how well you are likely to do in life than any other single factor. A rural peasant's background is going to give you an entirely different outlook on life, and a different skill set, than someone born to the nobility, or even a tradesman's child.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Contest ends

The Celtic themed short adventure contest ends, not with a bang, but a whimper. I got a single entry for it was all, despite the many questions I was asked.

No worries, we can do another sometime when things are more settled.

I have had a lot going on during this quarantine, I lead a great Klingon house now (Kurkura, the line started by late KAG founder John Halvorson [Thought Admiral Kris epetai-Kurkura], and thus the oldest line in Klingon fandom), I started a classic Battlestar Galactica costumed fan club (currently on Facebook and Discord), and I have watched a lot of TV.

I am currently watching season 2 of Netflix' Korean zombie show “The Kingdom”, which of course makes me want to play some AD&D Oriental Adventures. It's a seriously cool show, best zombie thing I have seen since the early seasons of “The Walking Dead”. I put it off for a long time because I hate to watch things subtitled, they require my full attention, so I can't multi-task. Now I have the time, and I am glad I started it.

My late sister's birthday was yesterday, so I thought quite a bit about her. Today is my mother-in-law's birthday, we haven't spoken a lot since Mona died, but I sent her a birthday greeting, and got a response; so that got me thinking about Mona again. Truly, she's never far from my thoughts, my house is full of reminders of our life together, but this was in a more active way.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

The State of The Great Khan Today

I am not going to lie, this has been an odd month. I started the month on fire with a renewed zeal for blogging, gaming and all the historical themes for old school D&D that I love. We entered our quarantine, which has sucked. I had a couple of recent deaths hit close to home, one was a kid that grew up in my tiny neighborhood, younger than me. The other a friend, and something of a mentor, older than me, but not what I'd call old. I am a little amused that my definition of “old” keeps changing as I age. In July I'll be 51, when I was a teenager 30 was old, now it seems like you need to be maybe 80, at a minimum, to qualify.

I am sliding into depression. I have had a tendency towards depression as long as I can remember. I am a Gen-Xer, so we're a little more open about talking about this sort of thing than say, the Greatest Generation, but not really much; Millennials and Zoomers are a lot more keen to share what we'd consider weaknesses. I take a little comfort in knowing that I am not alone, and it has touched the lives of great men like Winston Churchill (not really an opening for a debate on Churchill, he was a complex individual and a product of the British empire at it's height).

The short adventure design contest. There are six days left in the contest, and I assumed a general quarantine worldwide would make it a wee bit more popular. Maybe it's because I never announced prizes? Maybe because I failed to get sponsors like in contests past? I have received a single completed adventure and perhaps a dozen or so inquiries about the parameters of the contest itself. Several people have stated that they'd love to enter, “if they have the time”. I could extend the deadline, I could cancel right now, but I don't think either would help. I've extended the length of a contest in the past to allow more time for entries, and it didn't really work. Canceling seems like admitting failure.

The Klingon Assault Group, a Klingon centered costumed Star Trek fan club I have talked about before here on the blog, lost it's founder, John Halvorson (AKA Kris epetai-Kurkura) on March 26th. He was also the founder of House Kurkura, of which I was a member. He was the friend and mentor I mentioned above, and the reason I had the KAG logo with the black line through it as my Facebook profile picture. Last Saturday I was selected from among the Kurkura to lead the House, the oldest in KAG. This has drawn a good deal of my attention for the last couple of weeks away from gaming and any other pursuits. I pray I am up to the task of leading them, and that I might honor John's legacy in doing so. He was a lion of a man, may he rest in peace.

As far as gaming goes, I am having a hard time moving online. My internet connection gets really spotty pretty much every evening, I am having trouble keeping Roll20 and Discord working at all. I am also having focus issues with running things on Roll20, and I pretty much hate using the maps there. I have tried playing in a couple of games since the pandemic started, to get my sea legs back, as it were; but the quality of my internet connection has prevented me from really participating. I cannot wait to get back to face-to-face gaming, and I really hope my group sticks together after this is over.

My overwhelming feeling about setting things up on Roll20 is that, if I am going to go to this much effort to set up the maps, why wouldn't I just make it a Neverwinter Nights module? I ran the Norseworld server for like 18 months before catastrophe struck there. I spent days creating new areas while the kids were in school and Mona was out of the house, the kids would playtest/stress test new stuff when it was ready, and when te bugs were worked out I'd add it to the server. The added bonus was everyone got to play there. I could run as DM or play a character. I didn't hate that.

Not seeing people has made me start to miss people I haven't seen for years along with the ones I still see regularly, old friends I fell out of contact with for one reason or another, people I used to game with especially.

Possibly related is that I have sought out the things I used to love, comfort TV and books, to pass my time. I am currently running through the classic 1978 Battlestar Galactica as my obsession du jour. I was pretty deep into it's fandom back in the 1990's. I wonder why it never got the cosplay fandom that Star Wars and Star Trek both got? I remember as a kid I thought those BSG uniforms were the coolest, and I really wanted to order the Colonial Warrior jacket out of Starlog when I spotted it.

No hate for the new Galactica, if that's your jam, mine will always be the original though. Man I loved that show! BSG taught us how to swear without swearing, with words like “Frak” and “Felgercarb”, which was useful when I was 9 years old. I built those models as a kid, and I was terrible at building models. I owned the Viper toy, and it fired it's missiles. I remember BSG being as big as Star Wars had been the year before, maybe bigger, because it was on every week with new episodes.

Let's not forget the absolutely epic score either -

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Contest Update for April 1st

We have 15 days left to this contest. The Celtic theme, which seemed so popular in the poll, has apparently stymied the creativity of many of you, so I have loosened the restrictions and opened the contest up for any short, TSR era D&D edition Compatible adventures. Now adherence to the Celtic theme will grant bonus points for an entry, but is not required.

I am a little concerned that I have only received one entry thus far, but since there have been a myriad of questions concerning the contest, I remain hopeful that we will meet some minimum threshold for this to be considered an actual contest.

I have been told that we should avoid sending out physical prizes as long as the plague still stalks the land, so I will instead give DrivethruRPG gift certificates. I am thinking the prizes will be proportional to the number of entries received, the more entries, the greater the value of the prizes, and the number of prizes as well.

I don't think it makes sense to give more than a single prize for fewer than ten entries, and I don't think a single entry even constitutes an actual contest. So I am thinking a single small prize when we reach five contest entries.

I have heard from a few of you out there that you would write something for this contest, but you've never written an adventure before, or you've never written anything for other people to read. My advice is be bold, everyone starts somewhere, and most of us have this kind of anxiety over whether or not it's going to be “good enough”. The worst thing that happens is you fail, however you define failure, and failure is a great teacher.

Anyway, good luck, and I hope that you all receive some inspiration to write and adventure for the contest.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Just write Something

unrelated Erol Otus art

You know what? This corona virus related out of work time is pretty stressful, so I am going to open the contest up to any adventure, and just give bonus points for adherence to the Celtic theme. So if you all want to write any style or type of adventure, feel free. Any of you that voted for another theme as your preference, write an adventure in that theme, or no theme at all. 

All adventures are welcomed here. I am now thinking I will look towards gift certificates at DrivethruRPG as prizes, as I am told that parcels should start being kept to a minimum for the duration of the pandemic crisis.

In non-contest related news, I am going to be running my Stonehell Dungeon campaign on Roll20/Discord starting Thursday evening at 6:00PM (EST), let me know if you'd like to join.

Keep yourselves busy during this difficult time, but take care of yourselves.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Gaesatae Class for B/X (OSE)

Starting as far back through the mists of time as I can, I am creating a class for the Celtic Adventure Challenge Contest in hopes that it may inspire some more of you to enter. To be honest there isn't a whole lot known for sure about the Gaesatae. Polybius tells us the name means “mercenary”, but it literally means “armed with javelins/spears” in Gaulish, and is a cognate to the Irish Gaelic Gaiscedach “Champion”. You can learn that from wikipedia though, I just looked it up there as a refresher myself. I am making them an alternate take on the Fighter class, one that eschews armor other than a shield and helmet (maybe). They appear to have been a pan-Gaulish warrior movement, similar in nature to the Norse Jomsvikings, but with more evidence of their actual existence. It's partly a warrior society, partly a religious cult, so I'll be adding a few religious bits there too. These are the “naked” Celtic warriors that struck fear into the hearts of the Romans.

A few cultural bits might be useful going into playing this class, so, in no particular order of importance we have-

Head Hunters. The Celts are head-hunters, they take the heads of important or valiant enemies as trophies. They would preserve them and bring them to feasts and talk to them, there was also a trade in prestigious heads.

The Torc. A torc is a neck ring, and it has some religious significance to the Celts, they were known throughout the Celtic world and were important enough to a warrior that he would rather not go into battle without it, even non-Gaesatae warriors wore them, and it is said would put them on before armor or weapons in an emergency situation. They were generally made of as precious a metal as the warrior could afford, examples have been found in bronze, copper, silver and gold (although primarily bronze and gold); and as ornate as possible. It is also possible they were used as a form of currency. In any case, every Gaesatae should have one.

Fearlessness is somewhat religiously motivated. Celts were said to be fearless in battle because they were certain of their afterlife. An account I read spoke of warriors making deals to pay back debts to each other in the next life if they died in battle. Their fearlessness is such that they accidentally disrespected Alexander the Great when he asked them what it was such great warriors as themselves feared, expecting the answer to be some idle flattery like “you alone my lord”, instead they answered that “they feared only that the sky above might fall”, which is to say “nothing really”.

The head is the seat of “personhood”, this may be the motivation behind head hunting.

All right, the bullet points about the Celts and their culture done, I guess you can see why the Romans saw them as barbarians. We have inherited much more of the Roman attitude than the Celtic one about most things in our culture.

Completely untested, and no doubt with balance issues, I present the Gaesatae

EXP Table
Level                         XP                                       HD        Class Ability
1                                 0-2,250                               1d8              A
2                                 2,251-4,500                        2d8
3                                 4,501-10,000                      3d8              B
4                                 10,001-20,000                    4d8
5                                 20,001-40,000                    5d8              C
6                                 40,001-90,000                    6d8
7                                 90,001-150,000                  7d8              D
8                                 150,001-225,000                8d8
9                                 225,001-325,000                9d8              E
10                               325,001-650,000               10d8
11                               650,001-975,000               10d8+2
12                               975,001-1,300,000            10d8+4

A – All Gaesatae have a base encounter movement rate of 45'/round when unencumbered. The Gaesatae has a natural unarmored AC of 8. The Gaesatae gets double the normal bonus to AC from DEX (13-15 +2, 16-17+4, 18+6). When the Gaesatae lands a killing blow on an opponent, they immediately get another attack on an opponent within their weapon range, up to as many opponents as the Gaesatae has hit dice.

B – Gaesatae base encounter move goes up to 50'/round unencumbered. When a Gaesatae defeats an opponent of equal or greater level/hit dice and takes a round to remove it's head as a trophy, they cause fear as per the 1st level Cleric spell. This only applies to humanoid creatures with heads, creatures that are immune to fear will be unaffected. Natural AC increases to AC 7.

C – Natural AC increases to AC 6. Base encounter move increases to 55'/round unencumbered. 1d4 1st level Gaesatae approach to become apprentice/followers, treat as retainers with a base morale of 10.

D – Natural AC increases to AC 5. Base encounter movement rate increases to 60'/round unencumbered. The Gaesatae now causes fear (as the 1st Level Cleric Spell) in all opponents of 4HD or less within 120'.

E – Natural AC increases to AC 4. May establish a Stronghold and attract followers of appropriate classes (Fighters, Gaesatae, Druids, Bards).

Gaesatae must have a minimum STR 12, DEX 12 and CHA 9, they have no Prime Requisite and do not receive XP bonuses.
Gaesatae can use any weapon, but they eschew the use of armor other than a shield and helmet. They must be unclothed save for wearing a torc to use any class abilities. Gaesatae save as Dwarves of equivalent level.

I suggest using this generator for names here

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

I Am The Historical D&D Guy

I am the historical D&D guy. I realized that today after watching Jason Graham's FB Live video this morning, and I don't know why it hadn't occurred to me before. I went to college for history, it's always been a passion of mine. My living room is encased in book cases, most of which are filled with history books (most of the rest are RPGs). On some topics I have a better selection of works than the universities I attended.

My wife Mona used to say that my D&D campaigns come with homework, and it was only half a joke.

When I prep a new campaign I almost invariably read some kind of history, even if it's just a “daily life” kind of a thing. I create new equipment lists as a matter of course, keeping the gear to a specific time and place that fits my historical/cultural theme, and there is always a theme, whether I planned it or not.

Sometimes my stated goal was to immerse the players in a campaign setting modeled on a historical culture completely. I started doing that before the 2nd edition AD&D HR series arrived on the scene, my first “Viking” campaign predating the Viking Campaign Sourcebook by maybe a year or so, I don't remember when it came out, but my Viking campaign started in September of 1990.

I can't stop myself from making pseudo historical settings. My longest running D&D setting “Garnia” (created circa 1982, long before I went to college and studied this sort of thing) was essentially a “what-if” you took groups of people from earth and planted them on a fantasy world. It started with ancient Celts, a pan-Celtic religious movement really, started in northeastern Gaul by a Druid Seer that saw the coming of the Romans and the destruction of their culture and way of life. In the late 1990's I ran a campaign set on earth during that time, the PCs were essentially early converts to the cause, being from the tribe where the Druid resided, the Boga-Treveri (who I made up as an offshoot of the historical Treveri tribe). They wandered Gaul attempting to unite the tribes into a single nation to avert disaster, as well as spread the word to the rest of the Celtic nations. I don't remember all of the characters now, and the campaign notes are long lost, but I do remember one of the PCs was a Druid that studied under the Druid Seer that had made the prophecy, another was a half German warrior bard.

I created Ostschild for a random group of D&D players I threw together, it was set in a mythical kingdom in central Europe, it's king was an elector in the Holy Roman Empire, the entire place colonized by Frankish warriors from the period of Charlemagne to hold back the hordes of the Elf-King who was invading from the Fairy realm in the east. There's more to it, but I did that for a campaign I started as “straight” D&D with B1.

I used to think I was the Oriental Adventures guy, but even there the hodgepodge of D&Dism, fantasy and east Asian culture needed refinement for me. I turned to history to make it happen, then Japanese samurai films, then their historical novels, manga and anime. OA has always been, more or less, feudal Japan for me, probably because of OA1 being such a good sandbox to run. OA1 “Swords of the Daimyo” is set in Kozakura, Kara-Tur's fantasy Sengoku Jidai era Japan analogue.

Most of my D&D games tend to be fairly low magic, more gritty-realistic than the high fantasy that we usually see in D&D. Most of my players avoid playing magic using characters too, I don't know if they are reading subtle signs I am sending out, or if old school D&D just has too great a reputation for being hard on Magic-Users. Like EGG, I assume that people are going to want to play the fighting man, the hero, you know? But I don't think I am projecting my bias onto the players.

Anyway, I am good with being the Historical D&D Guy.

Now, on the contest front- I have already received one submission, and it's pretty good. I do need to add an end date for submissions though, so I am going to say April 15th, Tax day here in the US (and my late sister's birthday), so it's easy for me to remember. Midnight US Eastern Standard time April 15th for submissions, just like taxes.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Poll is Closed – Celts Win!

Cool Todd Lockwood art I found on the internet to set the mood.

I closed the poll this morning and “Celts” was the clear winner among the proposed themes, with roughly 50% more votes than it's closest competitor “Norse”. The people have spoken, so the fairly broad theme of Celts shall be the theme of this short adventure design contest. Given that my long running “Garnia World” campaign has a Celtic theme, these adventures could prove quite useful to me personally, and I hope that they will be equally valuable to the rest of the community.

I am still working on prizes, but I am thinking the grand prize may well be a copy of the green cover AD&D 2nd edition historical reference series “Celts Campaign Sourcebook”. I'll see what else I have here and update you all.

I am thinking I will make the submissions available, after the contest, for free on DrivethruRPG, unless those of you that submit entries specifically ask me not to. I had similar plans for earlier contests, but never got around to it, as I had not set up a publisher account there yet.

Adventures should be short, no more than 10 pages, including any maps or art. Adventures should be compatible with TSR era D&D or their retroclones.
Adventures should have a Celtic theme. I understand this covers a broad swath of history, so I should limit it to ancient or medieval, but I also think it might be pretty cool to see an adventure set in the Scottish highlands around the time of the Jacobite rebellions, maybe featuring Bonnie Prince Charlie as an NPC? So go where your muse takes you, head-hunting Celts vs. Romans in a darkly magical version of ancient Gaul, to King Arthur's knights of the round table, to the Easter Rising of 1916; and that's just historical fantasy, feel free to take us in other fantastic directions with the Sidhe or the Fomorians.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Stonehell Dungeon and an Adventure Design Contest

A cool bit of Erol Otus Art to set the mood.

So lately I have been running an Old School Essentials (B/X) campaign centered around Stonehell Dungeon. We're 10+ sessions in, have had several PC deaths along the way, and about half finished with the dungeon's first level (the north half). I created a pretty half baked new campaign world for it, just a nearby town to rest and resupply at, with a steady flow of Meatshields created help to hire on. Essentially dungeon/town. Kind of Keep on the Borderlands inspired.

I am not going to lie, it's a tad outside my comfort zone, and I keep forgetting to do some standard megadungeon stuff, like track torch/oil use. I also need to start restocking the dungeon some in the cleared areas. I have been running overland/political adventures with smaller locations and dungeons, mostly using AD&D for a long, long time now, and that's how I am comfortable. I am still getting used to the more frail characters in OSE (B/X), and the save or die poisons are somehow also a bit of a shock to me (that's killed a few PCs and NPCs now), despite their use in AD&D as well. Maybe I have been relying on using my own material for too long, and subconsciously avoiding the use of poisons?

I have traditionally preferred to use my own settings and adventures to run games, so running any canned adventure is going to be a bit of a challenge for me. They make me less certain somehow, like I am always thinking I missed or forgot something, and sometimes it's true. I have occasionally screwed up an encounter, or missed a locked door (or added one) or any of a number of other minor things here and there when running other people's adventures over the years. The one page dungeon format works pretty well for me, what with all the relevant information being right there, and being pretty close to how I write stuff for myself to run. That said, my stuff could never be run by anyone else, my adventures are more like notes used to trigger my own memories, and I change things on the fly to fit what we're doing or because I got a better idea in the moment pretty often. Plus sometimes I just make stuff up along the way, I have gotten pretty good at things like turning a random encounter in to something that seems like an important planned encounter, and random lair generation in my head on the fly.

Anyway, that's what I have been running lately, Stonehell.

I do have a contest coming up here on the blog though, and I am running a poll to see what the theme will be. There's a poll in the Facebook Group running, if you don't have FB just comment here on what you'd like to see and I'll add the votes here to the poll tally. The poll choices are Celtic, Norse, Roman, East Asian (China/Korea/Japan), Mongol, Norman/Crusader, Greek, Egyptian, Gonzo D&D, and “Straight up D&D (No Theme)”. You can also add a category to the poll if you like, suggest it here and I'll add it there too, Voting through the weekend, I'll do the final tally Monday morning; vote for your favorites, but no more than three please!

Friday, March 13, 2020

A world building questionnaire.

I spotted this on the Facebook Group Dungeons & Dragons B/X(Moldvay/Cook/Marsh), posted by a gentleman named Jarrod Crough. I am posting it here lightly edited and with his permission.

A world building questionnaire.

Are the PC's:

Average people rising up.
Exceptional individuals destined to greatness.
The cream of crop...natural leaders and legends yet unknown.

What is the ratio of normal people to arcane users:

10:1 everyone knows a wizard.
100:1 there are a few in town.
1000:1 there are a few in the country.
10000:1 few and far between.
100000:1 rare and unusual.

How many divine channelers (clerics) are there:

Those who dedicate themselves to the divine reap the rewards.
Only the pure and pious are touched by the divine.
Conduits of the gods are rare and mysterious.
There is no divine, white magic instead. AKA the Final Fantasy route.

The PC races:

A. Human, Elf, Dwarf, Halfling.
B. A plus Gnome, Half Orc.
C. A plus B plus Dragonborn, Tieflings.
D. Anything goes.
E. Just Human. Aka The Conan route.
F. Other:

How does a Wizard learn his craft:

Master and apprentice.
Arcane Schools.
Hard work and experimentation.
Secret societies and covens.

Race as Class or choice:
Race as Class.

How common are Dragons:

Common...seen one fly over head yesterday.
I hear that there is a dragon north of here...couple of weeks travel.
Legends say that Treogg the Red lived in the mountains during my grandfather's years.
You are mistaken, dragons are myths, stories to frighten children.

What is the greatest threat to the civilized peoples:

The hordes of evil humanoids, Orcs, Goblins, and Giants.
The old, evil powers in the beyond.
The foreign power and their foreign ways.
Greed and decadence of the "civilized" people.

Who built these dungeons and ruins, enchanted these items:

The ancient peoples, before the great dark times.
The unknown precursors, be they evil or good.
We are unsure, legends say…

Can you buy magic items:

A. Potions from an alchemist. Scrolls from the scribes. Expensive but needed.
B. A plus enchanters can make some of the weaker items.
C. A plus B plus the great enchanters can make a cost.
D. PC's can make them with the rare materials and time.
E. No you can't.
F. Other:

Honestly I think this is a pretty cool little worksheet, and it asks mostly different stuff then Jeff Rients' did.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

New Contest Here

It's been literal years since I ran a themed adventure contest here, some were super successful (by my standards anyway), some less so. I have a bunch of swag here to use as prizes, I haven't sorted any out, but will probably base them around the adventure theme.

Which brings me to theme. You all know I like to run with a historical fantasy adventure theme. We've done Vikings, Romans and Mongols, just off the top of my head. Should I repeat an older theme? Or come up with a new one? St. Patrick's Day is right around the corner, so maybe a Celtic or Irish theme?

Format should be short adventure, I am thinking just a few pages, but I know some of you need a little extra space to stretch your muscles and really get an adventure out, so maybe a hard limit of 10 pages? Including maps and art.

I guess I'll put a poll up on my Facebook Group I set up for this blog here.