Wednesday, October 28, 2009

More locations in the MutantBox

A few more locations in my MutantBox.

The Tumbles
- once a vast array of public housing for a thriving ancient metropolis they have all since collapsed. The curiosity of this mass of ruins is how it looks like they all slipped and tumbled over with entire sections seemingly more or less intact before being enshrouded in rubble and overgrown as they are now. It's been known for scavengers to simply be walking along a well used trail and fall into a stories deep space that suddenly opens beneath them. (some megadungeoning here)

The Merry Gloom River- and ancient river that has walked east and west of it's former route a number of times. It currently is lost somewhere in The Crack. Surprisingly enough most of the fish within the river are edible and most of the vegetables seem to be generally edible.

The Groves- A patch of forest once a large swath of suburbia which was washed clean of a great deal of waste by the Merry Gloom in years past before it settled in it's current banks. the groves have a lot of good fruit and hunting ;who is the hunted and the hunter can change from minute to minute of course. (a couple trees from The Groves can be seen in the northwest corner of the map shot)

Pleasant Valley Tech- a large technical college that has long been surrounded by multiple layers of security fencing and other defenses since the before times. Some claim the barriers have been expanding outwards in recent years. Nothing is known of those who may live there as all attempts to breach it's defenses have failed and there is no front doro to knock on. (Partially visible on the map shot posted previously on the western edge)

Dry River Bed- this stretch of ground used to be the course of the river that became the merry gloom. There is a brackish marsh where the sea still laps inland during high-tides. It's widely known to travelers and scavengers that the Dry River Bed is the hunting ground of a large pair of Goliaths.

The Last Bridge- an ancient superhighway bridge spans the Dry River Bed and can be seen for miles about. The population of avian mutants that nest here can prove to be a challenge for anyone trying to cross.

175th Street- an amazingly well preserved stretch of high-rises, office buildings and shops somehow survived the destruction of most of the city and what remains proves a draw for scavengers and beasts to this day. It's an eerie reminder of what was lost.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Mutant Future Campaign Development (MutantBox)

So After a bunch of unrelated games I'm going for it and developing a mutant future campaign.
To coin popular current terms it'll be sandbox and megadungeon campaign. I suppose I'll be calling it the MutantBox for now. I sketched out the setting in a flurry of inspiration here is a bad webcam shot of some of the sketched crude map:

(yeah not amazing yet but it was whipped up quickly and shot on a webcam)

Some of the locations on the shot of the map posted here:

The Petrified Forest- an ancient forest transformed into a hard stone like substance, leaves like blades keep sane folks out. What secrets could it keep safe?

The Dead Flats- nothign taller then 6 feet occupies this pulverized stretch of scrub overgrown rubble. Avian predators are a menace during the day and at night it's rumored the dead roam hunting for the flesh of the living.

The Tar Pit- A vast flat patch of oozing tar with the remains of ancient vehicles and salvage materials serving as a haphazard maze to gain access to the structure in the middle. Predators and scavengers of all sorts are drawn to the edges and out along the makeshift bridges to feed upon those that find themselves stuck in the tar. (possible mega-dungeon location)

The Glow- A flattened stretch of land that glows with an eerie light each and every night.

The Dome- A great golden dome half buried within an age of rubble. (obvious mega-dungeon location)

The Crack- A huge fissure in the earth hundreds of yards wide in places and possibly a mile deep. A river ruins into it's depths ands is lost. Many dozens of cavities and entrances can be seen along it's shattered walls. (possible mega-dungeon location)

Green Hell- A vast and riotously overgrown span of ruins full of a bewildering array of mutant plants.

There are more areas shown on the shot above and several more off the edges of the area shown. As time goes by I'll update and expand.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Villains are not always much of a BBEG

Villains in fantasy gaming are often over the top, the BBEG, the boss monster. Step back from this and you can get a much more rewarding game playing experience.

In campaigns past I've gotten a lot of mileage out of one simple villainous feature- re-occurrence. For a villain to be really notable they have to be in play more then once. Players have to grow to hate them.

Black Pate an orc chieftain leading a modest sized tribe of raiding orcs. Black Pate wasn't tied to one dungeon and would sometimes hire his tribe out to other baddies as mercenaries. He was a cunning careful bully that cajoled his underlings and got them to take the blows and fled when needed. Stat wise he wasn't amazing being a pretty straightforward Orc chieftain as per the MM. He got his name form a noble woman's wig he had captured years earlier and liked to wear to make him highly noticeable (it also added a bit of memorable ick factor for the players). Eventually Black Pate met his end in battle against the PCs. The ick factor and his showing up for more then one fight made him a memorable villain.

Kleep was a goblin flunky of a more obvious BBEG (Kurg the Fearsome a Half-Ogre anti-paladin). He served as a combination lapdog, court lackey and jester for the great Kurg and when Kurg met his end Kleep was quick to praise his slayer as king. After a time it turned out Kleep was untrustworthy and dangerous, he managed to escape justice and turned up now and again in the service of an evil wizard or accompanying other balckhearts; kleep was last seen on a pirate ship the Pcs were fire-balling (mostly because Kleep was on it). Kleep was slightly exceptional having 5 or 6 levels of thief, he was still no match for a mid-level band of PCs.
Turning up again and again made Kleep a memorable villain.

Don't suicide your villains on direct attacks. Give time to display personality. Let them escape if they rightly can. Their recurrence will mean far more to your campaign then all the HP and speical powers ever will.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Split the Party

An old RPG adage runs "never split the party". It's both to make life easier for the belabored DM and increase the odds of PC survival and effectiveness. It makes some sense indeed for the players to always have their PCs pool resources and capabilities, that's why there are adventuring parties after all. For the novice DM or one with a host of immature players it's a good tactic to keep everyone in the same mob sometimes DMing can indeed feel like "herding cats". After years of play it's my considered opinion that never splitting the party is cheating the players and the DM of a wider range of adventure experiences.

The DM needs to master 2 techniques to make splitting the party work: record keeping and the cut scene. With record keeping the DM must keep track of where and when PCs are active, PCs will quickly displace themselves in time given the opportunity to do so and the DM has to be accurate and firm in keeping track of this.
Note doors kicked in and bodies and loot left behind.
The cut scene should be used to create cliff hangers without otherwise upsetting the flow of play. A random encounter is much more exciting presented as a cliff hanger then the standard presentation and pretty easy to pull off with careful record keeping aiding the DM.

Additional tricks to keep splitting the party fun:
Verisimilitude in encounters: have encounters that make sense, more low level monsters present as opposed to high level monsters that always conveniently are the right level to challenge 6-10 adventurers of the dungeon level. Big tough monsters that folks get plenty of warning about so they can decide to gather the adventurers together since they can't be tackled by just 1 or 2 PCs.

A pair of ghouls is short work for all but the most inexperienced of parties but a lone fighter or 1 or 2 thieves will feel very differently about such an encounter than an entire party would.

Small treasures worth winning for 1 but not for 1 dozen.

The chance to harm allies. Keep descriptions of folks trying to creep down tunnels and go unnoticed vague. "You see three shadowy figures sneaking down the corridor avoiding the center of the passage. " gives a lot more room for misunderstandings and accidental assaults on fellow adventurers than dose "you see Mort, Nelson and Valdra walking down the hall". Check for surprise for each party, if surprised allow for a save of some kind and on the first round the surprised party can act they will act as if they were in a typical dungeon encounter (flight or fight). You have to be loose and fancy free with this and every now and then someone is getting fire balled by a friend.

Scouting missions. The quiet sneaky guys can move ahead of the rest of the party and check things out an hopefully not have to deal with major encounters. This is the easiest method of split part to encourage

Have players play some monsters. You want to see the dungeon beasties attack with cunning and awful ferocity, let one of the uninvolved players take the role of one or more monsters during an encounter; the fight will be more memorable for everyone involved.

When a wandering encounter comes chasing some of your friends down the hall it's a lot more exciting. Since folks can move around over a larger area of the dungeon they are going to be encountering more foes if they are not careful and possibly bringing them to their friends to deal with.

Let players do what they want. Don't let players act on knowledge their characters couldn't reasonably be privy to. It's safe to assume all the PCs at a table know about a trap when all the adventurers meet up at the local tavern but not while they are in two separate parties crawling about the depths until they are able to meet up in space and time. By letting players do what they want with the knowledge they have when the party is split up the actions of one player do not always immediately impact the play experience of everyone else at the table. The pesky thief doesn't' have to be ruining the game for everyone at the table with his exploits and failed pick pocket rolls if the whole party isn't present (the last one thief was seen in a campaign was his boots on the feet of a beggar a day or two after he went on a pub-crawl)

Get the players used to giving up time. Keep one fraction of the adventurers to no more then 15 or 20 minutes of table time.

Multiple characters per player. Let players run multiple characters if they wish but encourage them to split up by time sharing, the folks that can't bear losing table time will split up their characters or face large swaths of waiting for their turn.Sometimes players can end up playing the retainers and henchmen of other players, I like this arrangement but it's a tricky method that one shouldn't forcefully encourage.

With these techniques I had PCs running about on different continents, three time zones and multiple planes of existence all in the same gaming session, in a campaign that lasted for years.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


Dming last night for my regular weekly game and I got one of those, "gee you guys could pay a little more attention" moments.

The PCs are on a long ocean voyage and after a messy ambush by Sahuagin they had to land at a nearby port and let the capatian recruit soem fresh blood to replace the sailors lost to the Sahuagin raiders.

A bit of poking about and the PCs discover there is a small band of bandits harassing the farmers and ranchers of the islands uplands, 2,5000 gp for the female Leader of the bandits alive or 2,000 gp for her Dead.

after some quick and clever play the party locates the suspected hideout of the bandits in a ranch they may have taken over. The party sent in a scout under protection of invisibility, who discovered most of the farm family and hands trussed up (but still alive) in a smoke house.
On the porch of the meager ranchhouse a scrawny an shifty fellow greeted the PCs and invited them in for dinner where they discovered an woman cooking and preparing to serve the guests and an older man sitting at the table. Just before it was too late one of the party members spotted a couple figures moving in the rafters above them and the battle was on.

The bandits occupying the ranch house turned out to be lycanthropes a number of wererats a pair of werewolves and a weretiger. The fight was quick and furious. The weretiger grabbed the party MU and dargged him back up to the rafters to where she could deal with him. He luckily got off a disintegrate spell before the were tiger killed him; the rest of the party dealt with all but one of the wererats that escaped with some loot, they even managed to capture the female wererat that was pretending to serve them food.

To their horror when they got the wererat back to the governor of the island and it was discovered the wererat was not the leader of the bandit gang, the weretigress had been and alas no body no reward.

One of the players went "oh crud I knew it" havign noticed me mention "she" and "her" a few times describign the wer tigers actions but hadn't caught on enough to warn the other players. If the MU had paid a little more attention they might just have gotten their reward.

New Character Race: Mutak (first draft)

Hit Dice: 1d6 per point of CON
Mutations: 1 mental and 1d4+2 physical mutations

Mutaks are amazingly mutated descendants of humanity. They are considered freakish even by the standards of the Mutant Future. They are ever changing and one would be hard pressed to recognize a specific Mutak from year to year. Mutations that are physically noticeable are always extremely noticeable (even outlandish). Mutations that may not typically have a physical manifestation may indeed have one should the ML and player wish to create one.

Mutation Development: For each mutation rolled determine it's development according to this table. 1d8 at character creation, 1d10 when gaining a level.

Die Roll....Development
1-2.............Latent, the mutation is present but not currently useable by the Mutak
3-4............Vestigial, the mutation is present but minor. the mutation may be used but once per day. If normally always active it is only usable for an hour day. If a drawback it can be willingly suppressed for 1 hour a day. All variable numbers are lowest possible score no roll required.
5-6............typical, as per description in book.
7-8...........Developed/Chronic. Usable twice as often. Fixed score are improved by 1. Damage causing mutations receive a bonus of 2 pts per die. Drawbacks are twice as severe.
9-10.......Purged, the mutation disappears.

When a Mutak gains a level it re-rolls the development of all mutations. A Mutak could find an effective mutational power becomes undependable or a scourge could disappear.

If a Mutak fails 3 saving throws versus radiation in one day the the Mutak develops a new mutation. When a Mutak gains a new mutation there is a 20% chance it is a mental mutation, otherwise it is physical mutation.

Mutaks are considered unstable and undependable by most who are aware of their true nature. This prejudice and their own personal attitude about others being likely to treat them poorly gives Mutaks a -2 to their CHA score.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

"some characters might want to do this."

Among a hosts of topics in a recent post over at Grognardia ( a poster claimed there was little or no support for the "supposed" D&D end game of stronghold/barony building that there was little more than "some characters might want to do this." I say this claim is bogus and ill-informed. Here are where the rules and guidelines for one wantign to brign the "end game" into play may be found-

on page 6 of Men&Magic "Top-level fighters (Lords and above) who build castles are considered "Barons", and as such they may invest in their holdings in order to increase their income (see the INVESTMENTS section of Volume III). Base income for a Baron is a tax rate of 10 Gold Pieces/inhabitant of the barony/game year. "

Already more then "some characters may want to do this" on the first mention of strongholds and baronies.

on page 7 of Men& Magic "When Clerics reach the top level (Patriarch) they may opt to build
their own stronghold, and when doing so receive help from "above". Thus, if they spend 100,000 Gold Pieces in castle construction, they may build a fortress of double that cost. Finally, "faithful" men will come to such a castle, being fanatically loyal, and they will serve at no cost. There will be from 10-60 heavy cavalry, 10-60 horsed crossbowmen ("Turcopole"-type), and 30-180 heavy foot.
Note that Clerics of 7th level and greater are either "Law" or "Chaos", and
there is a sharp distinction between them. If a Patriarch receiving the above benefits changes sides, all the benefits will immediately be removed!
Clerics with castles of their own will have control of a territory similar to the "Barony" of fighters, and they will receive "tithes" equal to 20 Gold Pieces/ Inhabitant/year.

Again far more than "some characters may want to do this"

Pages 12 and 13 of Men & Magic cover recruiting NPCS to a PCs employ and NPC loyalty. I consider such territory essential as I'm pretty sure a stronghold/barony is going to have a few NPCs on it.

Pages 20 & 23 of Wilderness and Underworld Adventures
gives a "draw it yourself" castle design method and costs for typical features/constructions. It covers a whole lot with a paragraph and a page of illustrations and list of expenses.

Pages 20 & 23 of Wilderness and Underworld Adventures
cover specialists and the monthly wages they are to be paid when in the employ of a PC. The functions of these Specialists are clearly in support of a stronghold/barony. What good is an armorer in a dungeon? An animal Trainer? An essential role of these specialists is to support a lords holdings.
Men-at-arms are listed and these fellows are far more use marching on another Lords Barony then they would be in a dungeon. What role would Heavy Horsemen play inside a dungeon?
Costs for all these NPCs are given as "Monthly Costs" and surely these months are not meant to be taken up in a dungeon where such types would be fodder at best for the teeth and claws of the dungeon denizens.

Pages 24 of Wilderness and Underworld Adventures
We are given a the guidelines for Character support and upkeep and are informed A PC must pay 1% of EXP a month in support and upkeep until such a time as they build a stronghold. Again more about strongholds than "some characters may want to do this"

Within the section discussing Baronies we learn what the requirement for claiming an area as a Barony is, the population a Barony may support, the revenues a barony may generate and possible investments a baron may make to improve a barony. These improvements are indeed a simple list and construction times are already given for buildings and the costs for some specialists are given.

All told there are more then 1200 words in the original D&D rules (a work of about 41,000 words) that cover rules and guidelines that cover the stronghold/barony building "end game" of D&D. Decidedly more than "some characters might want to do this."

Sunday, October 4, 2009

What's in a Name? or Ability Scores and their names

Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom, Dexterity, Constitution and Charisma are the old school ability scores. Many a game-night and many a tale that followed did flow from using those six ability scores and the names they were given. But would different tales and games unfold if those abilities bore different names?

Let's start with Wisdom, this is often the most essential attribute for clerics and sometimes provides an advantage to save vs magic. Let's call this ability Piety; it'll do everything a Wisdom score used to do but will have a tighter reflection on how devout a character is and how in tune they are with the spirits/gods of their faith.

Next Dexterity, this often is used to apply a modifier to chance to hit with ranged weapons, get the heck out of the way in combat and possibly dodge traps, well let's call this Luck and see how it feels. Characters with high Luck scores get lucky shots in, manage to not be standing in the wrong place and are good with cards. Thieves are often linked to Dexterity, with that becoming luck a Thief shifts very slightly from a capable nimble fellow to an opportunist willing to test their fortunes in a wild and dangerous world.

Now Charisma, hmmm this is leadership and appeal let's try calling it Glamour not fashion celebrity but the ability to sway others opinions and perceptions of oneself. The quasi-magical nature of this can add an air of mystery and otherness to those with extreme scores.

Intelligence is often used as a measure of how much one knows and their ability to learn. Unfortunately the player of the character is often not always as intelligent as their character so how to make this work in play possibly by redefining as Lore a characters ability to know and use information.

Next up Constitution this is often used for health and hardiness. Change it to Spirit to reflect a oness drive and determination and we have a new definition for a set of modifiers that is otherwise identical.

finally we have Strength reworked as Stature which reflects one size and reach. A character with greater stature still get the combat modifiers associated with strength but with the reworking of the score as it relates to size it's application to non-human races can have some impact.

Let's look at the same character with the old and new Definitions

Str: 15 ,Int: 12 ,Wis: 9, Dex: 14, Con: 9, Cha: 11
A strong character, on the brighter end of average, not the most sensible of people but certainly nonbodies fool, failry agile and coordinated, of ordinary health at best and pretty average appeal.

Sta: 15, Lor: 12, Pty: 9, Luk: 14, Spt: 9, Glm:11
A large character, with a bit more knowledge then the avergae man but not exceptional, no great faith but also hardly a slacker or heretic in his faith, with better then average luck with a a lack of overt determination and no notable ability to dissuade or influence others.

Identical scores, identical modifiers that go along analogous but not completely identical characters. Playing with names and definitions and we get a different campaign.