03 April 2014

C is for (Sandbox) Campaign


It should be apparent to anyone that's read my blog for any amount of time that I prefer sandbox settings. My favorite module for any system is GW1 The Legion of Gold that outlines the Barony of Horn for Gamma World followed closely by B2: Keep on the Borderlands that outlines the surroundings of the Caves of Chaos. And, of course, who can forget T1 The Village of Hommlet? Adventures that have add-ons, such as the wilderness areas for Rappan Athuk or Freya's Crucible (both originally by Necromancer Games coincidentally; RA was recently upgraded to Swords & Wizardry and Pathfinder editions by Frog God Games, the successors to NG) fall into the sandbox category to some extent as well. The focus of these modules is, of course, on the megadungeon or the plotline respectively, but sandbox material is provided as well. While I've stated in the past that Greyhawk is my favorite campaign setting, the Wilderlands/City State of the Invincible Overlord by Bob Bledsaw and the Judges Guild runs a very close second. The setting is very sandbox and gives sparse details on the campaign maps for the DM (Judge?) to develop.

The best thing about sandbox adventures is that it's a lot like a buffet. The DM sets out the food, and the players choose what they want. Admittedly, it is a lot of work for the DM, and he can't be a control freak. The players just might take their characters completely off-script. Now, occasionally, the DM will have had a busy and no time to think, much less plan for a game. The players might want to head off for Greyhawk City when the DM has only prepared adventure hooks (weeks before) around Hommlet (where the players are). In a case like this, there's nothing wrong with telling the players, "Guys, I've had a week from Hell. I know you really want to go to Greyhawk, but I'm not prepared at all for that. Could you go after a hook in town? I'll work up plans for Greyhawk City for next week." Most players will understand and go with it; we've all had those weeks.

The ability to improvise is a key skill as well. Maybe the DM is good enough to roll with the journey to Greyhawk and can come up with something on the fly that fulfills the players's expectations. If one can do that, great! Go for it. If the players feel like their choices and input influence the game, they become invested and interested in the setting and will want more! If they don't have that feeling and instead feel like they're on the Plot Wagon (TM), well, they may as well be playing EverQuest 2. Or, worse yet, WoW.

Another ability to keep in mind is recycling and I'm not talking about newspapers and aluminum cans, either. In this instance, it refers to using adventures that the players have bypassed; this is not railroading, either, but a labor-saving device. Let's assume that in the Hommlet setting mentioned above, the Judge had worked up a goblin warren to the southeast of Hommlet; however, the players have elected to take that journey to Greyhawk. On the journey overland, Fate intervenes and a wandering monster check indicates an attack by goblins. Rather than just randomly rolling the goblins up, the party is attacked by a patrol or raiding party from a goblin warren. The players decide to follow fleeing survivors and find the lair. Recycling in action. And note that this goblin warren is not in the same location; this could be three weeks out on the way to Greyhawk. It has been transplanted, and the DM has a week to work on Greyhawk! Also, be careful not to MAKE the players go where you want. If the players killed the goblin patrol or let the fleeing survivors go and don't look for the lair, so be it. But you were ready if they did!

Another good example of this is reusing vintage modules. When I first started the Guardians of the Polar Bear (my God, was that 2004 when Kat was nine and Rene' was seven?!!), I placed the Necromancer's mansion from U1 The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh on a rock atoll about a mile-and-a-half on the road north out of Hommlet. The caves at the bottom opened into a forest clearing. The necromancer had disappeared about the time of the Battle of Emirdy Meadows. The pirates became a detached group of bandits and gnolls from Lareth's moathouse and thus tied into the overall setting in a different way than before. Recycling; learn it well.

Finally, the sandbox DM should learn to use communication with his players. Help them determine a real background for their characters. Ask for their input after a game; see what goals that have and what they plan to accomplish. One can see this in the Hommlet campaign with the NPCs. Elmo mentions his brother Otis long before the players ever go to Nulb. A PC's family can be the source of new characters if the original character falls in battle, such as poor Kane Deathchant. Maybe the character is the young scion of an Elvan noble family from Celene. Upon reaching 4th level, news of the character's exploits have reached Celene and the character's family (or maybe even Queen Yolande herself!) sends the character a gift in the way of a Quiver of Ehlonna with 6 +1 arrows. Deus ex machina? Maybe a little; but it does help the characters in game and also helps keep them invested in the story.


Overall, sandbox settings are a lot of work to set up. However, properly executed, they can create a world that feels as vibrant and alive as anything in the works of fiction and definitely better than a static MMO.
Until tomorrow, gentle readers, dream of glory and adventure!


02 April 2014

B is for Bob


. . . .and not just any Bob but Bob Bledsaw!

One of the most heated debates in the OSR is who the true Father of Dungeons and Dragons truly is. Is it Gygax or Arneson? The thing that always disturbs me about this is that Bledsaw gets ignored quite a bit it seems. I realize, of course, that he's not in the running for Father, but (no offense to Rob or Ernie or Luke) I feel he deserves the title  First Son of Role-playing. Why, you ask?

1975, not long after D&D was released, Bledsaw created the Judges Guild. Now, that doesn't seem like a lot today with all the gaming companies out there in the wake of the OGL, but at the time, it was revolutionary. He was a man of vision. Judges Guild received permission from TSR to put out adventures and other supplements for D&D. TSR would not put out an adventure module until 1978! Even then, if reports are to be believed from those in the know, Gary was somewhat bewildered as to why people would want to use prepared adventures rather than create their own.

Another good thing was that JG added some organization to the mess. If one plays 0E today, there is no resource more valuable than JG's Ready Ref Sheets. Some collected charts, sure, but the majority was new material for the Judge to use in making his campaign come to life. And the adventures, maps, and settings! Wilderlands, the City-State, Thracia, Duck Tower! Both Kevin Siembieda and Jennell Jacquays started out with JG as well. Imagine what we would have lost without Bledsaw. Don't get me wrong; I love me some Hommlett and some B2. But JG's adventures are somehow better. Much as I love Gary, part of the creativity was channeled into balance and polish leading to what WOTC and Hasbro have become--souless.

And, as an aside, CSIO is coming back. Please support the Kickstarter here.

Until tomorrow, gentle readers, dream of troublesome strumpets in the City-State!

01 April 2014

A is for Aardvarkian


Inspired by the comic hero Cerebus the Aardvark, Aardvarkians were included in the Hackmaster RPG's Hacklopedia. An enterprising Hackmaster DM, Jan Monk, wrote them up as a PC race in Hackjournal #7. Therefore, in the interest of spreading this race for OSR play and also in the spirit of the day, I give you the Swords & Wizardry Complete stats!

Aardvarkians are short, furry humanoids with features similar to that of the common aardvark. They love foraging for insects and gain +2 to hit insects of any kind/size. However, they also have poor eyesight and have -1 to hit targets in ranged combat at medium range and -2 at long range.  They gain +1 to hit with spears and javelins due to its extensive use among their tribes.

Aardvarkians tend to be somewhat misogynistic; however, their lack of contact with other races and poor eyesight means that they have a base 50% chance (-5% per level above 1st) to mistake females as males. They also tend to avoid water because a wet Aardvarkian smells horrid; until he dries out, the Aardvarkian cannot surprise any being or creature with  a sense of smell. They are twice as susceptible to alcohol than humans; this is left to the individual referee to adjudicate.

Another feature of their physiology is their sharp claws. They can attack in melee with these claws for 1-3 points of damage. The more important feature of these claws is their use in burrowing. An unencumbered Aardvarkian can burrow through soft earth at 1/4 of their walking movement rate. In their lands, Aardvarkians use this skill to burrow into the earth and attack trespassers by surprise (3-in-6 chance).

Aardvarkians adjust their stats as follows: -1 Strength, +1 Dexterity, +1 Constitution, +1 Wisdom, -2 Charisma. They can become Fighters (9th), Rangers (6th), or Thieves (12th). If the referee has a Barbarian class, that is an option as well (unlimited advancement). They are not able to multiclass. Aardvarkian thieves make the following adjustments to thieving skills: Hear Sounds +10%, Hide in Shadows +10%, Move Silently +5%, and Open Locks -5%.