Saturday, March 30, 2013

Random Encounter: Carcass

On vacation, we hiked through the Red & Blue loops of Table Rock State Park, in southwest Missouri.

It was a touch under 5 miles, so if we'd stretch that path into more of a straight line rather than a distended "8", I could pretend we traversed a 6 mile hex.

A quick encounter table was generated randomly in the field (d10):
  • 1-3: 1d3 bicyclers (these were also mountain bike trails, and those folks be crazy*)
  • 4-7: 2d3 hikers
  • 8: Woodsmen cutting trees (heard, never seen)
  • 9: A hunter with a hound (heard (hound baying), never seen)
  • 10: A turkey vulture carcass, spread across 3 locations
Depending on how you lay the hexes, we could have been in the same hex or one hex adjacent to Branson, MO, a city of ~10K. Either way, it's right next to Table Rock Dam, and the hatchery there, so there's no way it's not a civlized hex.

The '10' result on the above table is what generated the most interest during the hike. First, we found a piece of wing, about 4 feathers worth. The trail wound on a few hundred more yards, then, a good portion of the torso of the bird. After that, a larger bit of wing, this bit still with insects hovering around.

What happened? Was the bird caught on the ground by a bobcat or some such? Unlikely.

The torso was found hanging in a snag, about chest height. Dropped by another bird? Was there a fight? Bit of an argument over who eats what, and the group of the birds always flying about around the dam looking for trout turned on their own?

Or, as is the way of things, did one of their brethren fall to old age, and this was the obvious end, as a member of their venue turned into meat?

At any rate.

A carcass is a great encounter, or, a prelude to a possible encounter. What killed the thing? What ate it?

The additional detail of it being spread across some few hundred yards is the kicker here though - that implies much more than just a simple "pounce and feed" - there's implied conflict there. Predators taking a respectful distance from each other while feeding? An argument over the choicest bits? A combat between competitors?

The intent is to foster paranoia.

Imagine if that had been a youngish dragon. A bit of wing here, most of a torso there, more wing further along. What killed it? What ate it? A bigger dragon? A flight of griffons? A roc? Caught on the ground by a bulette? Intelligent humanoids, taking a rare opportunity to eliminate a dangerous species when vulnerable (or to harvest it's parts)?

It's a flexible introduction to a possible encounter or lair, and, if just left as that encounter and never followed up on, provides a bit of verisimilitude to the area, showing the PCs that the world is operating without them.

 * The best mountain biker encounter was the ~12 year old boy just killing it up the trail, he was in the zone and moving fast, in that way only kids can pull off. Some tens of feet behind, his poor dad trying to keep up, mutters " He's cruising for a flat tire" as he passes us by. :)

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Petty God: Neub, Mother of the Forgotten

Dunno if it'll make the cut or not. I like the general concept, I'm a little less confident on the interaction mechanics. I like the "call upon Neub to save your butt" portion better than the "call upon Neub to put down a uppity high-level guy".

Name: Neub, Mother of the Forgotten

Symbol: A broken sword, held within a teardrop

Alignment: Chaotic

Movement: 60'

Hit Points (Hit Dice): Variable HD (Attacks as a Fighter 1, see text)

Armor Class: As Chain +3
Attacks: Weapon and Special

Damage: 1d6+1 and Special
Save: As Fighter of current HD
Morale: 10

Hoard Class: Special, See Text
XP: As monster of equivalent HD

Born from the wailing death cries of uncounted farmhands, runaway apprentices, noble's cocky sons, and peasants with nothing left to lose, Neub, Mother of the Forgotten stands alone as the patron of novice adventurers slain on their first delving into the unknown.

Neub appears from afar as a well-equipped fighter, carrying herself as a warrior of great ability.

As she closes, however, one sees a changing vision of horrible fates. Her visible flesh - face and forearms - slowly morph through a series of gruesome, fatal woundings - cuts, crushing blows, partial severings, acid and fire burns, bites, and deep piercings. Her fine chainmail armor shows dents, slashes, melts away through her flesh, spouts arrow piercings, and all manner of appalling, seemingly unsurvivable events before reforming anew. Her weapon bends, breaks and rusts away. Every death and fate worse than death that has been suffered by the beginning delver is mirrored upon Neub's form in an everchanging milieu of horror.

Neub favors the inexperienced. When facing imminent doom, a young adventurer can call on Neub, with so little as a cry of her name as the unfortunate fool falls to his death. If answered, some strange chance of fate may save the delver from impending death, or, give him or her a chance to run and hide. The supplicant must sacrifice to Neub the next 2,000GP in treasure the adventurer finds in coin, gem, or magical items, and must also forgo any XP award from that treasure found. If Neub is not repaid, a horrible death will soon follow the reneging character.

At 1st level, there is a 7% chance that Neub will save the doomed character. This reduces to 3% at level 2, and 1% at level 3.

Neub despises the successful explorer or hero, and can be called upon to harry the same until the targets are dead or Neub is defeated. Summoning Neub requires sacrificing coin, gems, and magical items worth the notice of a skilled adventurer - as a general guideline, a number of items, mundane or magical, and coins and gems worth 4 times the amount of XP the embodiment of Neub is worth.

Neub will take these items and engage her targets whenever they next enter any underground environment. Targets who have a habit of respectful treatment of the corpses (animated or not) of those lost early in their careers may only experience her as a visitation, being gifted with nothing but a sad smile and forlorn sigh.

While Neub can be drawn into the world at a variable strength, she forever attacks with her weapon as a level 1 Fighter. If melee proves unworkable, Neub begins to despair, and will, on an attack roll of 15+ that does not connect with a target, point, and with a plaintive, accusatory cry, drain a level (save vs Death).

Neub has no organized following, nor any temples. Her churches are the first level of dungeons; her altars are spiked pits and other deadly obstacles. Her prophets are the tales of bards and the hushed tones of those who called upon her and were saved.

What would their mothers think?

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Heathkit Dungeon

So, after mentioning it last post, I googled around a bit and found a .BAS and a .EXE for the Heathkit Dungeon!

Super exciting! A quick apt-get of dosemu later, and it's on! It's exactly what I remember. One of my late BASIC projects as a kid was giving this thing real graphics - I had a sprite for almost every monster. It was pretty cool - I may still have it on some old 5 1/4" disk somewhere, but, probably no working drive.

As if a gift from the past, the random number generator gave me this as one of my starting locations:


Look at that! Random dungeon generated with no way to go, only the stairs up - to a tavern where you turn in your gold for XP.

Making the best of it, I sat there, picking up items and fighting monsters (if you stay put, a random encounter may happen, despite the lack of entrances to my area) until a Level 1 Vampire drained me to Level 0. Interestingly, that's survivable, but it took 4 max hit points away - and, also, 4 current hit points - I was at 2 HP at the time so that killed me.

Note I'm a Squire - there's no classes - your moniker is taken from whatever your best stats are. Everybody can fight and cast spells. There's also a limited amount of magic items, monsters, and spells, but they're all staples - note the Elven Shoes I'm about to pick up there - they help you not fall into randomly encountered pits, and aid you in hitting a monster when it first appears (initiative, basically).

Funnily enough, it was "real time" - there was a timer built in, that if  you did nothing, the choice would disappear, and the round would restart - another random encounter may happen, or the combat round would continue with you having done no action.

It's good, good stuff from back in the day. If you've read Playing At The World, that right there is a direct descendant of what the author was talking about when he was relating how sysadmins around the globe would be stomping out these wastes of precious CPU time.

For the curious, it's here. Source code (Old school BASIC - this thing is nothing but GOTOs and GOSUBS). That site also has a lot/all of the old SSI AD&D games - from the original Pool of Radiance to the last Eye of the Beholder.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Prayers and Saints in Darklands

My old-school roleplaying credentials are pretty much all from PC games. Moria, a roguelike. Colossal Cave Adventure. The SSI Gold Box series. Sierra's Quest games. Origin's Ultima. My first experience with D&D was a BASIC program - the "Heathkit Dungeon", which shared a common ancestry with a lot of the Telengard-style DND games of the time.

It's also why I randomly type "DND" rather than "D&D".

In 1992, there was, from Microprose, known for their simulations and Civilization, a game called Darklands.

An RPG set in medieval Germany, you led a group of four through the country eradicating evil. It was a sort of sandbox, limited only by the fact it was a computer program, and hence there were a limited number of encounter and interaction scenarios. It was neverending, however, even after you'd defeated some of the end-game scenarios, you could continue adventuring, and you'd eventually have to recruit new party members as you lost your originals to the decrepitudes of old age. The only "win" condition was the amount of reputation and regard you had amongst the populace.

It was a very involved RPG. There was equipment and encumbrance management, reputation management, random encounters, puzzles, dungeons and mines - with the game and the later published Hint Book you could stock out a sandbox that's a gamist approximation of medieval Germany.

What I want to look at here is the system of Prayer and Saints that covered the "clerical magic" portion of this RPG.

Prayers and Saints

In Darklands, you could pray to a large list of Catholic saints, and depending on the saint, receive bonuses to your statistics, or a specific bonus to a type of encounter or interaction scenario. - Thomas Aquinas would give you bonuses to interacting with university scholars. Erasmus (St. Elmo) would help you with sailors. Both give bonuses to abilities or skills.

There were 3 statistics that governed your interaction with saints. Every skill and ability in Darklands went from 0 to 99.

Divine Favor: A 'depletable' statistic that started off at 99, and you spent it in prayer to gain bonuses.

Religious Training: A skill that indicated how much you know of the workings of the Church and various general religious knowledge. It also dictates your natural recovery of Divine Favor, as well as the amount you gain when you pray specifically to regain favor.

Virtue: Another variable statistic - this measures in game terms how virtuous your character has been - whether you've been defeating evil or aiding it. This also determines which saints you're pious enough to be able to pray to - too low, and you just can't reach some of them.

Praying for Aid

When a character would pray for aid, the player would pick a saint from the list of saints that character 'knows' - in Darklands, you discover and learn saints at places of learning or worship. It's described as a mystical experience, a deep spiritual knowledge of sorts, which is why you can't trade saints amongst your characters.

Bonuses gained would stand for the next 24 hours. Most bonuses only apply to a single targeted character; in the game, some would apply to the "party leader" when choosing to pray during an encounter. Some apply to the entire party.

Each saint had it's own values. We'll look at one from the Darklands Hintbook, where the math was laid out.

St. Aidan [23v,15-99df,25%]: WoodWise +(25-29). In interactions with animals, this saint may prevent attacks.

So, we pray to St. Aidan before a journey through woods known to be thick with wolves.

The minimum amount of Virtue a character requires to talk to St. Aidan is 23.

There's a 25% base chance of success from St. Aidan - for every 2 points of Virtue the supplicant has above 23, he or she gains 1% extra chance.

We can spend from zero to 84 points of  Divine Favor on St. Aidan to increase our chances - each point spent nets us another percentage point. (the minimum expenditure is 15, to a maximum of 99 total)

In game, our priest prays to St. Aidan on behalf of the party member with the most WoodWise skill, to help get the party through the woods without getting lost or attacked by wolves.

The priest has a current Virtue of 79. He expends 20 points of Divine Favor, and ends up with a base percentage chance of 25% + 28% (56 point Virtue difference) + 5% (Divine Favor spent over the minimum 15.) == 58% chance.

A 47 is rolled, and St. Aidan hears and responds to the prayer. This will last for 24 hours.

Virtue and Divine Favor Recovery

I've trawled many a message board for what could be found. It's amazing how much stuff is still out on the Internet for all these old PC games.

Virtue: Donating money to the Church will increase your virtue. The amount you gain was evidently equal to your Religious Training, divided by 30, rounded down. A donation was always 10% of your monies - you would continue to gain virtue until that 10% was below some threshold (4 Florins for a party of 4, rumored).

Systemically, that meant you could donate multiple times, getting virtue each time, paying less and less until you hit that lower limit.

The main way to raise Virtue was via noble acts - simply playing the game. Defeating robber knights, witches, the odd dwarf, immoral nobleman - anything considered a "Lawful" act in the parlance of D&D's alignment.

Divine Favor: Praying will restore Divine Favor. For every 5 points of religious training, you gain 1 point of DF when actively spending the day in prayer and contemplation. As Religious Training also maximizes at 99, that's 20 points per day for maximum skill level.

Donations to a monastery (5 groschen (Darkland's "silver coin")) restores 5-10 DF. Taking confession in a church also restores 5-10, with the additional requirement you spend some time that day in penance, which is inversely variable to your local reputation (the higher your rep, the less time you are allotted).

A donation to a Cathedral starts at 30 Florins (Darkland's "gold coin"), or 33% of the party's wealth, whichever is more. You gain 10 to 30 DF from this option, scaling from the minimum 30 Florin.

Donating a relic to any institution restores each party's DF to the maximum of 99, and increases the party's reputation locally to 'hero' status.

Darklands Attributes & Skills

In order to continue, we'll start talking about what you get out of prayer, and that means I'll have to introduce what Darklands mechanics are necessary. There's a lot of fiddly bits, since it was a computer game, they could afford a lot of re-referencing for a more complete 'simulation'.

Of the Attributes - the scale is from 0 to 99, but human norms are generally from 10 to 40, averaging around 25.
  • Strength- Important for weapon use, this is also reduced by taking physical wounds (Darklands armor is somewhat ablative)
  • Endurance - Endurance is reduced by action - which means actions in combat. Encumbrance  relative Strength, all play a role in how fast it's used up.
  • Agility - Noted in the manual as being most useful for climbing walls and avoiding missiles, reduced by encumbrance.
  • Perception - for avoiding surprise, and intuiting NPC's reactions.
  • Intelligence - Important for alchemists, and interacting with the intellectuals at the time (universities, the Church)
  • Charisma - as in D&D, it's the people skill.
  • Divine Favor  - described above.
Skills range from 0-99 as well. From 35-60 in your chosen skills is usually the norm, absolute masters in their field get up to 90 or so.
  • Weapon Skills - there are 7 discrete weapon skills in Darklands. Edged, Impact, Pole, Flail, Thrown, Bow, and Missile Device (crossbows, and "handguns", a sort of musket thing)
  • Alchemy - Darklands has a detailed alchemical system which I might get into later.
  • Religious Training - General knowledge - affects your Divine Favor recovery.
  • Virtue - Not sure why it's lumped in with skills, but as described above.
  • Speak Common - Fast-talking regular folk, and speaking diplomatically.
  • Speak Latin - the same as above, but towards intellectuals and officers of the Church.
  • Read & Write - Reading and writing the above. If I remember correctly, there were some puzzles and options in-game that wouldn't be passable or available if someone didn't have a good enough Read & Write skill.
  • Healing - Mundane doctoring. Affects how quickly the party's Strength returns.
  • Artifice  - Disarming traps and picking locks.
  • Stealth - as expected.
  • Streetwise - Improves interaction outcomes with city residents (and guards)
  • Riding - Combined with horse quality, indicates ability to outrun or overtake wilderness encounters.
  • Woodwise - avoiding wilderness encounters.

Results of Prayer

Having plugged everything into a spreadsheet, there's not a lot of pattern to what the saints hand out - the only real guideline is that saints that have higher Virtue requirements also have a better base chance to succeed, as shown below, two examples from the extreme range of Virtue requirements.

St. Edward the Confessor [5v,20-99df,10%]: Endurance +4-7, Int +6-11, Perception +8-15, all weapon skills +6-11, Ride +8-15 - Each character in the party with virtue below 20 has their virtue raised to 20. In interactions with nobility, this saint is sometimes helpful.

St. Francis of Assisi [10v, 10-60df, 1%]: heals Endurance 30%, Strength 10%; Endurance +6-11, Charisma +15-29, Perception +6-11, Spk Common +4-7, Heal +10-19, Artifice +12-23, Woodwise +4-7

St. Maurice [81v, 30-50df, 70%]: Edged Weapons +20-39, Alchemy +10-19

St. Ita [85v, 10-99df, 70%]: Heals Endurance 50%, Strength 100%; Charisma +8-15, Heal +20-39

Healing is somewhat spread out - there's a slight tendency for the higher virtue saints to give higher values in both types. Skill values are all over the place. In general, then, it looks like (aside from the virtue-to-base-percentage correlation) things were done organically.

Special, more spell-like effects abound. Here's the general list:

  • Increase local reputation in nearest city or in nearest city if it's of a certain cultural background
  • Bonus to interacting with people or a group of people (nobility, Inquisition, peasants, sailors..), including reactions, providing information, or discerning motives.
  • Grants a poor party money
  • Can banish demons
  • Cause a foe or type of foe (animals, demons...) to flee
  • Prevent death from wounds (Strength never goes below 1)
  • Free the party from prison 2
  • Destroy pagan sites/purify an area
  • Protect the party against pagans or demonic beings
  • Sense evil (in general, or from a certain class of people - peasants, nobles)
  • Grant prophetic dreams, visions, or messages
  • Save a party from suffocation
  • Teleport the party away from danger/to the nearest city
  • Increase armor quality
  • Give knowledge of another saint.
  • Cause demonic magic to fail (50%)
  • Grant a longsword to someone without one
  • Increase the overland speed of the party (reducing encounters) for up to a week, which reduces wilderness encounters overall, or of a specific type (animals, brigands...)
  • Increase the quality of armor or certain types of armor (metal, leather)
  • Cure diseases (in a person or an area)
  • Take wealth in exchange for Virtue (10% of wealth)
  • Protect an area from earthquake, or call one to destroy a pagan/demonic site
  • Travel on water as if it was land for one day 
  • Improve defense against flame, or lightning, or missiles
  • Grant one character a once-in-a-lifetime escape
  • Provide light for the party for one day
  • Prevent attacks unless the party attacks first 
  • Prevent natural disasters while travelling
  • Provide a 'deus ex machina' solution to a problem/improve luck
  • Help party withstand/escape torture
  • Levitate over obstacles
  • Improve weapons (or certain types of weapons)
  • Save ships from storms
Some of it's subtle, some of it's overt, some of it's a bit random based on the lore of the saint involved. Much like DND's cleric spells.

So, could we replace divine magic with this? Probably. Do we have to?

No. Why?
Because, everyone can pray. Anyone in Darklands can learn saints and pray to them - they all have Virtue and Divine Favor - it's just the Religious Training makes it easier to recover that favor. This was 15th Century Germany - before the Reformation, and making it so those "in" with the Church would regain favor faster despite, perhaps, having not as virtuous of a mien, is accurate enough to the thoughts of the time.

Into Dungeons & Dragons

We have something from D&D that can emulate this enormous, multifaceted, all-present Church - the forces of Law. Any Lawful god, perhaps some infamous paladin, an ancient king, a gold dragon, a particularly responsive celestial. Options abound, and it's a fine chance for the DM to outfit her world with legends and history.

If you're the type, you could complicate matters with multiple religions by repainting Virtue as a 'reputation' score with each individual religion - that way you can cover multiple pantheons who represent various flavors of "Law" or "Good" and have some set interplay between them and the party's actions.

You could go even farther by letting a PC fall into "negative Virtue" - and let him or her call upon the forces of Chaos for help.

I'll have room and time for a half-assed system later, but, at first blush:

  • Limit Virtue and Divine Favor as stats to a maximum of 20, and, if using negative virtue, -20
  • Convert all the percentage chances to a roll on a d20 - essentially, divide by 5.
  • If you're playing a game with a static-point skill system, use that, or, base the Divine Favor regeneration on level - perhaps change your version of THAC0 to "To Regain Divine Favor 20 (TRDF20)", and give clerics/paladins the fighter's THAC0, wizards keep their own THAC0, and the rest of the classes one of those or the cleric's THAC0 as a middle choice. 

There's something in there somewhere that may be worth sussing out for the right type of game, or, the right type of campaign world.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Updated d3 to d100 Conversion Charts

Over to the right, probably down a little, I've changed where I've uploaded my d3 to d100 conversion charts.

I've also updated them - there's two new versions, one with all the DCC dice, the other with just DND dice. The original one is still there.

I've added a new column for each dice - so now there are three per -

  • -X, for rolling at or below the target number
  • X+, for rolling at or above the target number
  • X%, the percentage chance of doing the above.
It may just be me, but I was working on something the other day and I kept brainfarting on a d100 to d20 (X+) conversion.