Thursday, May 31, 2012

Journal of Gallivan Stoneshield, Part 1

Fouler things can lurk in dark,
Indeed, than you and I.
So trust not words to make their mark,
When comes your final sigh.

Let all your hopes be stone and steel,
Your dreams all do or die,
And when death comes,
Let all your sons drink one for you and I.

- Callon Silvertongue, “The Adventurer’s Creedo”

(This post brought to you by Tim, recording in detail the events glossed over here.  I believe he provides a more-or-less hourly in-game summary, written during the rest turn taken every six turns. - ed.)

The Dardantine Razors, we call ourselves. It’s a foolish notion, to think we are strong, just because we have a name. We barely know each other, and it takes one traitor to remind us all how fragile we can be.

Of the 16 members of our caravan, only Errgumun, Yolanda, and myself survive. Argos the Mage is gone, without a corpse to mark his passage. The elf and I suspect that our magical stupor was his doing, and Yolanda fears the worst. Our employers and hirelings are dead, the goods we were transporting long gone. All we have is what little we carried with us. It may be enough to get back to civilization, but it will be a long time before we again trust a stranger so easily.

It has been two days since we were set upon, and we’ve managed to make it to the town of Deal. The hour is late, but we have found acceptable lodging for the night. No one in town has seen our missing mage, but I’ve instructed the barkeep to let us know if any news comes of him. On our march, we passed an enormous gate in the side of a canyon wall about 3 hours walk from town. Tomorrow we will return to it. It seemed relatively undisturbed, and lost treasures may lie within.

- Galivan Stoneshield, 23rd day of the 7th moon, 612 A.U.
(612 years after Iana’s Unification of Myrmydia)

I hired a young armorer today, to be my squire and receive instruction in the knightly ways. Tormund Smithson will accompany us on our expedition to the stone gate, to map its depths and assist us in fighting off the creatures of the deep. He’s a strong enough young lad, though he seems ill-at-ease in the company of strong warriors such as we. His parents are dead of plague, and he seeks some direction in his life. Perhaps we can provide it.

- Galivan Stoneshield, 24th day of the 7th moon, 612 A.U.

After replenishing our supplies and equipping young Tormund, we made our way south, to the stone gate. The march was long, given the heat and oppressive conditions of the Shieldlands. The gate seems even larger up close, a full 15 feet tall and twice as wide. It is adorned with images of dwarves carving stone and laboring over forges. The gate is flanked by many arrow slits that seem to cover the approach, and the thing itself is made of solid stone. Spires with what appear to be bowls atop them extend from the top of the structure, probably for catching rain. We have decided to dub the ruin the Dwarf Fortress for now.There is no visible way to open the gate, and its stone doors weigh more than even Tormund and I could ever hope to move. We plan to boost Errgumun through one of the arrow slits to scout ahead while the rest of us climb up after him.

- Galivan Stoneshield, 24th day of the 7th moon, 612 A.U.

Yolanda is dying. While we were exploring the ruin, a giant spider came upon Errgumun. In his panic, he called for help, and while Yolanda was able to get to him in time, I found myself harried by an enormous swarm of bats roused by the noise. While I struggled to find my way through the swarm, Yolanda and Errgumun fought and killed the spider, but not before it managed to bite her. She has only a few moments left before the poison takes her. She desires burial with a proper holy symbol of Iana, hers having been stolen by the bandits that ambushed us. We will do what we can to see her wish fulfilled. Tormund, who I instructed to hang back when the fighting began, has helped me to construct a crude litter with which we can carry her back to Deal. We mean to look around this ruin a bit more before we depart, but we will return here after we have had a chance to recuperate from our adventure. May Iana guide our friend’s soul to the Hall Among the Stars, and help us to carry on her works in this world.

- Galivan Stoneshield, 24th day of the 7th moon, 612 A.U.

After burying our brave friend Yolanda--may she rest in peace--Errgumun sold the treasure we recovered from the Dwarven ruin. A priest by the name of Agord wishes to join us on our next trip into the dungeon. He seems well-equipped, and his healing magic could make the difference between life and death in that dark place. He worships the elven sun god, a strange and foreign god to me, but Errgumun assures me that he seems to be a man of character.

After we finished selling our treasures, Errgumun disappeared off to the local tavern to drink and whore. I expect to see him in the morning, but for now, I rest.

- Galivan Stoneshield, 25th day of the 7th moon, 612 A.U.

Errgumun seems to have a acquired a war dog during last night’s adventures. It seems to be trained well enough. At least, it hasn’t bit me yet. After a long hike back to the Dwarf Fortress, Agord, Errgumun, Tormund, and I prepare to enter its depths once more. Errgumun informs me his dog’s name is Monty.

- Galivan Stoneshield, 26th day of the 7th moon, 612 A.U.

Undead! As we were exploring the dungeon, we came upon a pack of skeletal dogs... they would surely have torn us apart, if not for Agord’s timely intervention. He held his holy symbol aloft, and a burst of sunlight forced them back. I have a renewed respect for the elf god he worships.

Additionally, I discovered a powerful magical artifact amid some old boxes in a dwarven store-room. The sword (which I have not yet named), gives off a cool blue light in the dark, and it is elaborately made, with jewels inlaid in the hilt. I expect it shall be a constant companion through my future adventures.

Ah! Errgumun has just discovered a small room full of levers. I shall go investigate.

- Galivan Stoneshield, 26th day of the 7th moon, 612 A.U.

Alas, poor Agord. He saved us, but we could not save him... As we proceeded deeper into the dungeon, we came upon a corridor with a sloped floor. We should have known it was a trap. When he stepped on a pressure plate in the floor, grease shot out and a pit opened in the floor. Before anyone could do anything, he had slipped into the slimy embrace of a gelatinous cube. He was immediately paralyzed. He couldn’t even scream as his legs began to dissolve.

I asked Tormund to hold the end of a rope as I tied the other around my waist. He lowered me into the pit, and I attempted to grab Agord by the head, but the cube rose up to try and smite me. By the time I was finally able to grab him and haul him out of the pit, he was already gone. The paralysis stopped him from using the light of his lord to help himself, and there was naught we could do to bring him back, so Errgumun killed the foul creature with his bow. When it was dead, we fished an ornate runed gladius out of the dormant slime. Now we stand on the other side of the pit. A staircase leads deeper into the ruin. Though it pains me to leave him here, we are determined to see what it is Agord died for before we carry him out of this dark place.

- Galivan Stoneshield, 26th day of the 7th moon, 612 A.U.

Down the stairs were hallways gated with porticulles, a great hall with blind (but friendly) ogres, and a small pack of troglodytes led by their champion, Kirk. We also found a small chapel filled with cave dwellers. We chose not to engage them.

Above the great hall we found some spellbooks and dwarven ledgers and killed some rats. Now we leave this accursed place. We will bury Agord beneath the sand, in the eyes of his shining god.

- Galivan Stoneshield, 26th day of the 7th moon, 612 A.U.

Errgumun has hired a saucy dwarf named Durgrim. He can certainly hold his liquor. Well kind of. The other day Errgumun woke up in a jail cell with another nightblade. He stole her treasure map while she slept. The very same night, Durgrim went to bed with a local merchant’s daughter. Who knows what may come of this...

I also have a vague recollection of confronting the local priestess of Ashtar, and perhaps... fighting her eunuch guard? But... most importantly... it seems Tormund is not a man.

- Galivan Stoneshield, 3rd day of the 8th moon, 612 A.U.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

On Mapping

I think I realized how I handled mapping wrong during last session.

The first mistake was giving Tim graph paper instead of blank printer paper.  The second was giving him dimensions of the rooms.  These combined let him generate a more-or-less canonically accurate map with high precision.

For some reason, I get the impression that this isn't how things are supposed to work.  Like PC maps are supposed to be sketchy and iffy, with creating one being an act of artistic interpretation and reading one being an act of intuition and not a little trepidation.  To this end, I think ditching graph paper for players is probably a good first step.  I also think that having a rule of "DM is not permitted to look at player map" would likely help, but that's slightly more extreme.


Monday, May 28, 2012

Twenty Questions of Interest to My Players

By way of Jeff's Gameblog (yeah, I know I'm behind the times on this one, but it only just became relevant).

What is the deal with my cleric's religion?

Religion on the Inner Sea is much like that of ancient Earth or the Wilderlands of High Fantasy - there are a number of pantheons, all of which think the others are wrong, and which all grant spells to their followers.  There are even localized minor deities who only have power within certain areas (the frog-god of the marshes, for example).  Pick pretty much any ancient historical deity and you're good to go.  In addition, the following deities have been established:
  • Iana - Kind of an Athena-meets-Artemis type Myrmidian deity of planning, strategy, knowledge, and hunting.  Favored weapons are bow and spear.  While primarily worshiped by Myrmidian amazons, there are evidently a few male knightly orders dedicated to her outside of Myrmidia (probably based out of Talas, primarily).  Myrmidian males think that said knights are sissies who should be worshiping...
  • Myr - Ares meets Pan; deity of war and male fertility.  Actually a deified warrior-king, ancestor of all modern Myrmidians.
  • Harmakhis - A Sorosi mercantile deity with something of a dark side; he has several orders of assassins dedicated to his service under the motto "Even death can be bought and sold."
  • Ashtar - Urdukhar female fertility deity with many bladedancers dedicated to her service.  Rival of Iana.
  • Ammonar - Elven sun god, from whom the elves claim their imperial lineage is directly descended.  (Simple guide to elves: nightblades are ninjas, spellswords are samurai wizards, and Ammonar is Amaterasu).

Where can we go to buy standard equipment?

Any town of reasonable size can cover you for most weapons.  Armor can be a bit tricky, and finding horses or war dogs in any number will likely require a trip to Freeport.

Where can we go to get platemail custom fitted for this monster I just befriended?

That's actually well-covered under the combined "prices for large armor" and "commissioning an item" rules.  It might take a couple days, but most large towns should be able to do it.  Whether or not they'll be willing to deal in monstrous armor is another question...

Who is the mightiest wizard in the land?

Across the entire Inner Sea, it could be any of the Talasi archmages or whatever mysterious force rules Dardantus.  Within the Shieldlands, it's likely a high warlock of some chaos cult or other.  In either case, it's not well known.

Who is the greatest warrior in the land?

Within the Shieldlands, it's likely the lord of the Myrmidian outpost of Pike.  There's some speculation that the Dirk of Dirk Hill could give him a run for his money, but since the position of Dirk changes hands so often, and since they're on the other end of the trade road, this speculation has never been tested.  Redjack of Freeport is also a renowned swordsman, and there are a lot of old tales about the toughness of the Judge of Deal.  Finally, there are any number of small-time bandit chieftains out in the badlands who manage to keep control of their cronies and not get eaten by monsters, which takes a fair amount of skill.

Who is the richest person in the land?

The merchant factors of the Caravaners and the Boatmen are no doubt quite wealthy, and it is believed that Redjack has a large stash of hidden treasure from his pirate days.

Where can we go to get some magical healing?

Temples, naturally.  Even in Deal, there are 17 castings of Cure Light Wounds available per day from the temple of Ashtar at 10gp a shot for worshippers, or twice that for those who worship other gods.  Non-magical doctors are also available for hire, and while less reliable than magical healing, they're also much less expensive.

Where can we go to get cures for the following conditions: poison, disease, curse, level drain, lycanthropy, polymorph, alignment change, death, undeath?

Again with the temples.  Well, poison will generally kill you straightaway, but disease and curse can both be taken care of at temples.  Level drain isn't a thing; I'm trying out the rule that undead which would drain levels instead apply aging.  Lycanthropy is curable with Cure Disease or belladonna.  Polymorph can be fixed via Dispel Magic, alignment change by Remove Curse, and death or maiming by Restore Life and Limb (incidentally, there is one casting per day of Restore Life and Limb available from the temple of Ashtar in Deal for 500gp for worshipers, twice that else).  The solution to undeath, naturally, is redeath followed by RL&L.  Non-magical healers can also cure disease much more cheaply than clerics, but again with a much higher rate of failure.

Is there a magic guild my MU belongs to or that I can join in order to get more spells?

There's no large, regional guild in the Shieldlands, no.  There are a few wizards about in large towns like Deal, and while they may form small local organizations, their level caps out around 4th and they don't have access to long-range resources or high-level spells.  Might still be worth making contact with for help finding sages, getting items identified, and having books translated if you plan to be in one particular town a lot.

Where can I find an alchemist, sage or other expert NPC?

Alchemists and sages are much more likely to be found in Freeport than anywhere else in the Shieldlands, but mage's guild connections might let you find amateurs out in the sticks.

Where can I hire mercenaries? 

Ha!  Where can't you hire mercenaries is a better question.  Even the smallest villages are likely to have a few down-on-their-luck guys with spears looking for easy money.  Now, if you want good mercenaries in quantity, you're going to have to head to Dirk Hill, Pike, or Freeport.

Is there any place on the map where swords are illegal, magic is outlawed or any other notable hassles from Johnny Law?

Not in the Shieldlands, no.  Hell, even murder won't get you in all that much trouble most places.  The common folk fear magic, and might not feel particularly kind towards those who use it, but it's more of a "pitchforks and torches" type response than orderly law enforcement.

Which way to the nearest tavern?

Down towards the docks, generally.

What monsters are terrorizing the countryside sufficiently that if I kill them I will become famous?

There aren't really any of regional scale presently.  The towns of the Shieldlands are relatively independent, and each is plagued by their own troubles.  Solving those would earn you heroic status in a particular town, and you might be heard of elsewhere, but 'famous' would take some doing.

Are there any wars brewing I could go fight?

Well, there's some rumbling of a bandit lord south of Deal gathering an army...

How about gladiatorial arenas complete with hard-won glory and fabulous cash prizes?

There are some small-scale back-room type operations in Freeport and Dirk Hill, but if you want serious gladiatorial action you'll have to head to Dardantus and fight your way up the ladder.

Are there any secret societies with sinister agendas I could join and/or fight?

Yes, yes there are.  No, I will not tell you who they are, what they want, or where to find them.

What is there to eat around here?

Roast goat and dates if you're feeling fancy, rat jerky and beans if you're not.

Any legendary lost treasures I could be looking for?

They're out there, but I don't know what they are yet.  Fortunately, until you go do research on them, I don't need to.

Where is the nearest dragon or other monster with Type H treasure?

Legend has it that in elder days, when the dwarves lived in the Shieldlands, they had a veritable mountainhome here which fell to a dragon.  The location of the city has been lost, but there's likely a dragon there if you can find it.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

ACKS: First Session Complete

Well, first round of reviews of the first session of ACKS are in:

"More fun than 3.5" - Tom

"More terrifying than that OD&D game I played on the internet once" - Joe

"It's not cursed!" - Tim, about his sword (it's cursed)

Mission accomplished, I think.  Monsters were stabbed, treasure was gathered, PCs were slain (sorry Joe), and fun was had.  In eight hours of playing, the Dardantine Razors managed two expeditions into the dwarven ruins south of Deal with the aid of their trusty henchman (er, woman) Tormond and their pyrophobic war dog Monty.  About an hour was spent before the game finalizing character sheets and hiring, followed by about two hours of adventuring for the first expedition, then an hour of pizza and dividing loot, three more hours of adventuring for the second expedition, and a final hour of more hiring and carousing (note to self - in future, roll once on the debauchery table, rather than once per 100 gold pieces spent.  I think since the PCs decided they were going to bum around Deal for a week, I might have to spread those rolls out, because otherwise that was one hell of a night...).  One thing that this timing analysis leads me to believe is that a 3-4 hour weeknight session is probably very viable, especially if hiring and purchasing is done via internet beforehand.  This pleases me.

Other miscellaneous notes:
  • Clerics and bladedancers may have the best saves except for craftpriests, but you wouldn't know it from the way Joe was rolling...  On the other hand, turning undead turned a "We're screwed" encounter into an easy mop-up operation.
  • Gelatinous cube paralysis lasts a long-ass time.  Far too long for Joe's cleric to save himself from bleeding out.
  • I was pleased with Tim's immediate response to "Well, you've lifted the portcullis, but it doesn't want to stay up." - "We nail it open with iron spikes!"  Now if only they'd remembered to use the ten-foot poles on the gellycube pit trap...
  • Reaction tables - with Diplomacy, +1 Cha, and no weapons drawn, sometimes the ogres are friendly.  Likewise, sometimes the rodents of unusual size lurk around the edge of your torchlight, waiting for either an opportunity to attack or a reason to flee.
  • Dungeon mapping - actually got Tim to map this session.  He found it somewhat fun, I believe.  I might be helping a bit much, but I have yet to develop a precise vocabulary for describing what they see in a mappable fashion.  (See also this post from the future)
  • Gridless combat - ye gods, why did we never do this before?  Worked pretty well, I think.
It's bedtime now, though.  I think Tim's going to write up a journal-style report in exchange for bonus XP; it will likely find its way here.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Mapping Progress, and Thanks

Three levels mapped, one more described fuzzily enough that I could probably wing it (not that I expect the PCs to make it that far in one session).  Time to stock.  This is, I think, the first time I've properly designed an abandoned dungeon; did all the mapping first with the perspective of the original occupants / constructors in mind, and the stocking of completely unrelated creatures comes after.

I'm...  fairly hopeful about this one.  I've been jayquaying to the best of my ability; there are at least two paths between each level, and generally more (challenge to players: find them all!).  I'm looking forward to seeing random encounter / time pressure on the players (in a kind of academic way), and tweaking the stocking tables (and then reusing them as wandering monster tables) is the next thing on my to-do list.  I've got traps and secret doors, but only in places where the occupants would reasonably have put them, and the traps are reasonably supportive of player agency.  I've got a how and why for the dungeon to exist in the setting, and it has links to other dungeons.  I've got a hook to kick the players into the dungeon in search of loot, and while I don't like restricting them to that course of action, I've come to terms with the necessity of a railroady first session premise even in what is ideally (and will hopefully become) a very free sandbox.  I have no idea what classes any of my players are playing yet; the setting and the adventure exist independently of the characters.  It's not tailored to anyone's backstory, or capabilities, or anything else.

In some sense, this is the culmination of the last year or so of reading OSR blog posts.  It's been that long since I last GM'd seriously; I ran Traveller in the spring of '11 (it was actually ending as I wrote my first post), and while I was beginning to use some old-school techniques (particularly small / simple stat blocks, randomness as inspiration, PC death happens, and sandboxing), there were also a lot of new-school things there (skills for everything, little focus on resource management or loot, little focus on player skill, research, or interrogative play).  I've played and seen the problems of high-level 3.x (again) since, and am quite looking forward to the speed and simplicity of both old-school and low-level play.

So, I guess thanks, gentlefolk of the OSR blogosphere, for the advice and for keeping the flame alive.  Also, this one's for you and your crazy stories of 1e in college, dad.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Prep Time

Well, the ACKS game is launching hopefully in the next 4-5 days.  It's crunch time as far as prep goes.  Have enough setting fleshed out; time to build a dungeon.  It was going to be a small dungeon...  but after writing the specs for it, I'm not sure I'm going they're compatible with that aim.  So the time has come to dust off BtBG's megadungeon resources (though I'm really looking at a mediodungeon), and to break out the graph paper...

Hey cool, I found a reasonable use case for traps and secret doors.  Dear players: you may wish to consider bringing one or more of the following: thief, elf, ten-foot pole.  It is worth noting that one of these things does not want a share of the treasure and won't steal your stuff.

Sunday, May 20, 2012


No, not that Freeport.  Well, actually kind of.

The primary port and largest settlement of the Shieldlands is Freeport, located at the mouth of the Tongue.  It's a lawless, pirate town without much in the way of government; technically there's a mayor, one Redjack, but he's a retired pirate himself and there's not a whole lot of power that comes with the office.  The remnants of his crew make up a nominal police force, but...  they're pirates.  People, including thieves and cultists, mostly do as they please, and a body in the gutter is by no means an uncommon sight.  Naturally, this makes the place somewhat popular with merchants moving questionable merchandise, provided they can provide for their own protection.

Freeport was not always so free.

Before the Zaharan cataclysm, Freeport was the seat of the merciless House of Nacht.  The nearest humans to Zahar, they paid tribute to it and worship to its gods, and were greatly favored, to the point of marrying into the Zaharan nobility.  In time, their sorcery grew strong enough that they raised a castle of solid black stone from the earth beneath Freeport itself, and in the labyrinthine catacombs beneath it they performed rituals most foul.  When the Zaharan War came, they stood with the Zaharans, and paid the price.  It is unknown whether any survived, but their legacy remains in the looming form of Castle Nacht over Freeport Harbor.  The castle is now thoroughly haunted; pirates and cultists alike go in, seeking forgotten treasures and ancient knowledge, and those that come out tell terrible tales of the walking dead and fouler things.  Their stories are occasionally verified when things that were imprisoned in the bowels of the castle get out into town...  [Meta note - I'm looking to make the basements of Castle Nacht a smallish megadungeon type thing.  In due time.]

It is well known that several chaos cults to the myriad chaotic powers are active in the seedy underbelly of Freeport, but which ones are anyone's guess.  Cults come and go in an ideologically-consistent random fashion.  Fortunately, much of their scheming is directed against each other, though the city's poor often feel the sting of their sacrificial blades.  It is unknown whether there is something in the Castle that draws cultists naturally, or if at this point it's just an established cultural institution.  No significant outside force has attempted to eradicate the cults with any success since the War, though individuals have certainly carried out bloody vendettas against individual cells, which are soon replaced.

Caravans through Freeport are highly uncommon; to the south lies blistering desert, and while to the north are festering mires.  Riverine and sea travel are about the only ways into and out of the city.  Boats traveling upriver are most often headed up the north fork to Deal and Ironbridge, while ships out the bay are usually bound for Dardantus or Soros.  Small coastal schooners occasionally run north to Fishtrap (though the rumors of that place are fell), and to Myrmidia beyond.  Most reputable merchant cartels avoid moving cargo through Freeport, leaving that risky business to independent captains.

In short: as dangerous a city as they come...  but a class II market, which means you might actually be able to buy or sell permanent magic items there.

Friday, May 18, 2012

More Notes from the Road

So it turns out that once you start taking notes of names, it becomes a fun habit.  Here're some more:

  • The Crazy Mountains
  • White Sulfur Springs
  • Bear Canyon (gee, I wonder what lives there?)
  • Pipestone
  • Tobacco Root Mountains
  • Anaconda
  • A town called Opportunity
  • Gold Creek
  • Bearmouth Recreation Area
  • Beavertail Hill
  • Sapphire Mountains
  • The town of Superior
  • Dry Creek
  • Lookout Pass
  • Spirit Lake
  • Treaty Rock
  • Fishtrap
  • A town called Deal (sounds like Bartertown to me...  this one is definitely seeing use)
  • Stampede Pass
NPC names (towns in real life, but probably better as NPCs for my purposes):
  • Absaroka
  • Tarkio
  • Mullen
  • Cataldo
  • Kootenai
  • Kittitas
  • Kachess
I've also started reading the Black Company series.  There were two primary reasons for my interest here.  I first encountered mention of the series through True Sorcery, which is a standalone version of the magic system found in the Black Company Campaign Setting.  That there was a setting which had magic resembling TruSorc intrigued me, but wasn't quite enough to push me to pick it up.  What did that was Daztur's Combat As War post on EnWorld, which cited the Black Company's exploits as canonical combat as war material.  I finished the first book last night at around 2AM PST / 5AM EST, and I was not disappointed.  It started with combat as war, then gradually shifted to focusing more on the high sorcery of the Taken.  Particularly interesting here is that the 'PC' wizards of the Company appear to be around 5th level by TruSorc's standards (focusing mostly on Sense and Illusion), while the Taken are in the 10ish range (with powers like Shapeshifting, Healing, and Air Lore; I really liked Stormbringer, since I quite enjoy building True Sorcerers who do that), and the Lady seems to be in the 10-15 range (the Ritual of Taking, at the very least, should require Create Undead, and she definitely has Telepathy as well).  Given that the Company's wizards have already had their lives extended by magic, and the Taken are kind of undead, this means that reaching high levels takes a loooong time in this world.  Combined with the way these level ranges match up nicely with ACKS', this pleases me.

TODO: write True Sorcery Lite for ACKS.   Yeah, that's happening...

As a result of leisure reading and traveling, though,  actual prep work for ACKS has suffered.  Now I have names and ideas, so things should go faster.  Hopefully?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Notes from the Road - Place Names

I've been doing the annual-ish roadtrip move for the last couple days, so I've had a decent bit of time to think on gaming topics.  Not terribly productive, since I'm ever-so-slightly exhausted (haven't had an 8+ hour night of sleep in May so far that I recall, what with final projects and then 8:30 finals and now moving), but better today than yesterday or the day before that.

First, place names.  The Midwest has some pretty good ones which may have to see use in ACKS.  I submit for your consideration:
  • White Lake - lakes aren't usually white.  Is it white sand, or bubbles, or some eldritch contaminant rendering its waters like unto the Dyne?
  • Tongue River - dare I ask...  ?
  • Crazy Woman Creek - Is it called this because a crazy woman lives here, or as a general statement?  The first is more useful; could be a hag, a witch, a sorceress, a whole band of female berserkers...  who knows, as long as she's crazy.  And crazy folks make great PCs, enemies of PCs, and quest-sources.
  • Dead Horse Creek - Maybe somebody's horse died here, or maybe the water kills all horses that it comes into contact with.  Or something stranger still.
  • Mead Creek - Well, this is an easy one.  Readily distinguishable from other creeks by the fact that nothing lives in it and the fumes sometimes ignite during lightning storms.  Perhaps it has its source in a dwarven brewery automation project gone awry (but that's Dwarf Fortress talking again).
  • The town of Acme - Renowned for the works of its most famous resident, a demented (and possibly not-so-skilled) dwarven machinist.  Responsible for Mead Creek?
  • The town of Reliance - What do they rely upon, I wonder?
  • The Busted Nut Bar and Grill - I kid you not.  Probably not going into ACKS, though.  Unless it sells a variety of alcohol produced from fermented legumes...  ?  Now that I'm entertaining the notion, I suppose The Busted Nut Tavern might actually have to be a place.
Along similar lines, I realized that if a GM tried to name a mountain range "The Rocky Mountains", he'd get shouted down hard by his players with cries of "What's next, the Sandy Desert, Muddy Swamp, Plains of Flatness, and Frozen Tundra?" The fact that a name of such quality is in common use in real life therefore amuses me.  There's also the counterargument of "Yeah, it might not be inspired...  but your players will definitely remember it."

I also had some thoughts on linking the availability of the ACKSPC classes to actions in-game, but it's late and I'm tired, so that's a post for another day.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Still Alive II: Electric Boogaloo

Finals complete, and now I'm just waiting for mechanical checks on my vehicule before I ship out for the summer.  As often happens during studying for finals, I came across a few distractions during the last week:
  • First, a fine gentleman by the name of James Jeffers put together a web app for generating random map regions for ACKS in pdf format.  Got me some no-terrain maps with a nice smattering of towns and dungeons in thought-provoking patterns (line of towns?  River, coast, or main road.  Area devoid of any settlements?  Inhospitable desert.  Cluster of dungeons?  Giant cave system).  Excited to by finally actually mapping stuff; sometimes a little inspiration via random table is all you need.
  • I was looking for this Black Company for summer reading, but found this Black Company instead, along with its knight-commander Florian Geyer.  He seems the historical instantiation of a PC if ever there was one.  This started a little more research in to the German Peasants' War, which also turned up Götz von Berlichingen, who is similarly very PC-like.  It looks like historical 1500s Germany would be a hell of a setting...  Guess I'll add that to the "To Run" pile, down there with Iron Heroes and Legend of the Five Rings...  (Whatever happened to historical settings, anyways?  That's probably its own post, but it'll take a little research first)
  • There's now a Stack Overflow equivalent for RPG-related questions.  It's mostly 4e and Pathfinder, but also a smattering of other systems and general GMing questions.  If you feel like imparting wisdom, or are wondering about something ("Why does the darkness spell block infravision, anyways?"), it's a good time.
  • Printed a copy of the ACKS pdf at 1AM while I was working on a research poster in a building with a printer, then picked up a pair of binders for it (one for the players section, one for the DM section).  I'd forgotten how nice gaming books in paper can be.  Need to print a second table of contents for the DM binder, and I should really graphics-up some covers for them (but that's tricky business without a mouse).
  • The ACKS Player's Companion draft 6 released on Kickstarter; more on that below.
But yeah...  I've started mapping for ACKS.  Guess we're playing in the Shieldlands; areas not detailed so far will likely get paragraph-length blurbs and class templates. 

I've also stumbled across a few balancing features for some of the Player's Companion classes which lead me to think that they might actually be balanced!  Notably, the Dwarven Delver, while better than a Thief at its various skills, able to use better weapons, and possessing better HD, lacks two important features: the ability to disarm traps with a roll, and the ability to backstab.  Likewise, the paladin, while receiving a number of supernatural features that fighters don't, has only d6 HD and is not proficient with ranged weapons.  Medium hit points + melee only...  looks like you might need Lay on Hands for yourself, never mind your friends.  Dwarven Fury compels me to allow it out of sheer force of dwarfsomeness (it's basically these guys minus mohawks) and, while powerful, has a pretty hefty XP-to-level, so it might be OK.  I also quite like the Priestess; better-than-cleric divine casting on a mage chassis (no armor, low HP, weak weapons).  There's definitely a niche for those.

Finally, a recent addition, the Venturer, intrigues me as a character concept.  It's not dissimilar to Traveller's merchant career; you get social bonuses, price cuts, and market class bonuses.  And d4 HD, thief to-hit, and not much in the armor and weapons department.  Such a character is a strategic asset, able to secure henchmen and needed equipment with ease, but a tactical liability.  Sounds like fun, and I'm really interested in how it fits into ACKS' mid-level region; I think at low levels, it'd be tough to survive and be useful, and at high levels I suspect that they become a bit less useful, but in that 4-8 range I think they could be a lot of fun.  As with all 'support' classes, they'd make good henchmen, too (though they drive a hard bargain in hiring...).  Kind of a pity they got stuck with a bland name, though.

There are a couple that I'm definitely not permitting, though: Gnomish Trickster and Thrassian Gladiator.  Reason: infravision.  None of the core races have infravision, in order to keep the party on the same level of light-usefulness (else elven nightblades would utterly outclass thieves, for example).  This stance makes light management a definite part of the game, regardless of party composition, unlike in 3e where most of the party would end up with low-light or darkvision except that one guy who played a human and ended up having to carry his own damn torch.  Gnome and Thrassian damage that dynamic which was solidly established in core, which is something I kind of want to preserve.  The other classes in the Player's Companion mostly leave me kind of eh, except for Barbarian, which has a very neat class feature regarding the Mortal Wounds table.  Said feature might make a very nice class proficiency available to most fighting classes, though; it hardly warrants the addition of an entire extra class.

And today, we fight the dragon, and Fjolkir finally dies (or worse).  Exciting times.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Final Projects Week

That lovely moment at 3AM when you realize there are more things due in the next three days than were due in all of April, and that about 45% of your GPA for the semester will be decided in the next week.  So I'm doing this, basically.  Updates will resume probably next Friday or so.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Lands of the Inner Sea - Myrmidia

North of the Shieldlands on the western coast of the Inner Sea lies the land of Myrmidia.  Here the soil is rocky but rich, and the climate is pleasant.  It is peopled by a copper-skinned, warlike folk who bore the brunt of the force of the beastman legions during the Zaharan War.  As casualties mounted, the then-king Myr made a pact with forces unspeakable, that his bloodline would have many strong sons to stand against the beastmen.  His prayers were answered, but perhaps not quite as he had intended; his line was indeed fecund, but from that day forth three out of every four children of his blood were born male.  These sons also matured with incredible speed, reaching adulthood at 12 years of age.  When the Zaharan War was won, the descendants of Myr quickly came to dominate the other human cultures of the area, forcing them into servitude as serfs (or helots in their tongue), and a proper kingdom was established with Myr's children and their descendants as the armed nobility.

When Myr himself died, though, his many heirs began vying for the throne, each real contender with the backing of a city-state.  Shortly thereafter, two unfortunate side effects of Myr's Bargain were discovered.  First, Myr's sons were discovered to have a short lifetime commensurate with their rapid maturation; they began dying of old age at around 40 years, and none are known to have survived past 75.  This meant that even as they warred for the throne, Myr's successors were themselves dying and their own children fought over their city-states.  Second, the shortage of women of Myr's blood put the bloodline in peril, as violence between Myrmidians over "true-blooded" women intensified.

In time Myr's eldest daughter, Iana, grew sick of the civil war, assassination attempts, and marriage proposals and, in proper Myrmidian fashion, decided to re-unify what she considered her rightful kingdom by force.  She gathered a group of maidens sympathetic to her cause and vanished into the hills.  Several years of training later, she emerged with a cadre of fanatically loyal amazons skilled in spear and bow, and set about retaking cities and extracting oaths of fealty.  Time was on her side; as female descendants of Myr neither matured nor aged faster than any other human, she and her warriors had the lifespan for grand strategic maneuvers and could often simply outlive her opposition.  She was ultimately successful, and installed herself as the first in a long line of amazon queens which rules to this day.   Iana instituted a matriarchal caste system, with female descendants of Myr as the ruling class, male descendants as a warrior caste, and the helots at the bottom.  The amazons themselves exist as a kind of bridge; any woman, even a helot or foreigner, may join the amazons, but most are found wanting, and only amazons of Myr's blood are eligible for queenship.  After Iana's death, the amazons developed into a sort of ancestor or personal cult worshiping her as a goddess of order, planning, maidens, and law (think kind of Athena meets Artemis; also, game note - "amazon" is a variant bladedancer class).  Likewise, the male descendants of Myr worship Myr himself as a paternal deity of war, strength, and vigor.  Both groups partake in hero worship for other minor deified and demideified successful ancestors as well.  The helots worship a wide variety of pre-Zaharan agricultural gods, who are disdained by the Myrmidians.

As a culture, the Myrmidians remain athletic, warlike, and fiercely independent.  Unable to wage war against each other by edict of the queen, the warriors of the city-states instead content themselves with  mercenary service to foreigners, raiding parties into the wilderness of Zahar and the Shieldlands, and skirmishes against raiding Skanucks and beastmen.  Indeed, mercenaries are one of the region's chief exports, and these myrmidons as they are called are its primary emissaries to the rest of the world.  They are widely renowned as soldiers for their discipline, vigor, and skill, and are widely believed to be the best medium infantry that money can hire.  They favor round shields embossed with faces and symbols of deities, monsters, or animals, and fight with long spears; many also carry short swords or daggers, but they consider bows unmanly and dishonorable (as those are favored weapons of the amazons).  They are usually armored in a breastplate, greaves, and plumed helm, eschewing heavier armor in favor of speed.  The extent of Myrmidian metallurgy is bronze and wrought iron; they favor bronze, as the Myrmidian hills are rich in tin and copper.

When not engaged in warfare, the Myrmidians enjoy footraces, spear-throwing, and wrestling.  These are, in fact, one of the primary means of selecting mates for noble Myrmidian women, alongside mock combats and tales of great deeds in battle.  With a ruthlessly competitive warrior class and a dearth of noblewomen, this ensures that only the most fit of Myr's descendants continue his line.  Likewise, among the amazons comprising Myrmidia's administrative nobility, contests of wits, piety, art, philosophy, and fitness are used to determine who gains in rank.  This rule applies even to the queenship, though here divine revelation is the most common means of determining the succession.  The Myrmidians generally do not mate for life as a result of the large difference in lifespans between males and females.  Some noblewomen hold a single tournament and keep a consort indefinitely, while others hold yearly tournaments and change consorts regularly (though repeat winners are not unknown).

The soil of Myrmidia is good, but rocky; tilling and plowing is quite a pain, so instead orchards and vineyards are the primary form of agriculture.  Grapes and olives are local favorites, with barley being the primary grain grown in available flat areas.  Herding of sheep and goats are also widespread, as are fishing and diving for urchins along the coast.  The Myrmidians favor loose, flowing clothes of light wool and sandals.

Myrmidia is well known for its bright, fruity wines and olive oils, and possesses a small fleet of merchant vessels which transport these across the Inner Sea.  Pirates are generally loathe to attack such vessels, for the myrmidons are fierce fighters at sea, being unburdened by heavy armor.  The queen also maintains a fleet of triremes with skilled crews for transporting large forces quickly (as is sometimes necessary for the pacification of rebellious cities), as well as for engaging Skanuck war fleets at sea when necessary.  The Skanucks and the Myrmidians keep a reasonably good humor in such matters; a Skanuck sailor might be aboard a trading ship one season and a raider the next, and friendships made in port sometimes persist even during battle.  Gambling debts do too, though, and the Myrmidians are uniformly poor gamblers and liars.  The Sorosi and the Myrmidians maintain something of a cold naval war for control of the western Inner Sea; the Sorosi possess more and faster sloops, but they are smaller and less disciplines, while the Myrmidian triremes can crush any one Sorosi vessel, but are trouble engaging.  It is widely held that much Sorosi pirate activity in the western Inner Sea is in fact at the behest of the crown as spoiling and scouting measures against the Myrmidian navy.

As noted above, the Sorosi and the Skanucks are both common trading partners of the Myrmidians.  The marble dwarves to the west, while close, desire little that the Myrmidians produce, though their steel is greatly valued and demands exorbitant prices.  The Myrmidians regard the Shieldlanders as a combination of vagabonds and country bumpkins; many a myrmidon has considered conquering the Shieldlands, but most have decided it wasn't worth putting up with the people.  The Dardanians come to Myrmidia most often as employers seeking mercenaries, though their secrecy and love of bloodsport are widely considered distasteful.  Myrmidian views on the Talasi are conflicted; while they dislike the Talasi penchant for wizardry, viewing it as weak, the Talasi are one of their primary suppliers of wood and share in the Ianan cult.  Likewise, the Urdukhar are religious rivals, as Urduk is the center of the Ashtari bladedancer cult (considered by the amazons to be a rowdy bunch of temple harlots with swords, while the Ashtari consider the Ianans prudes and cowards for fighting with bows).  The Myrmidians know of the Sajuk horsemen, and are glad that distance and terrain provide a natural defense against them; their first mercenary engagements against the Sajuk went poorly, and forced the development of a longer style of pike and more coherent formations to counter this foreign cavalry advantage.

In sum: Sparta, but ruled by amazons with divine backing.  A good place for fighter or bladedancer PCs to be from.  Also good for picking up trade goods, hiring mercenaries, and non-violent contests for a temporarily elevated / noble position.  This is, however, a bad place to try to commit crimes (highly mobile, widespread warrior population?  Yeeeah...  On the plus side, the punishment might just be banishment, which isn't so bad), and also a tough place to try to carve out a kingdom (for that, try the Shieldlands to the south or Skandia to the north).