Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A Dungeon Construction

It's the day before gaming night and due to real life commitments you have nothing planned. You could grab a dungeon from off the shelf, but that would take a lot of tweaking to suit the level of your characters not to mention having to change the stats to the system you are using. You could use one of the many random dungeon creators out there and wing it, but the same problems still comes into play. The players are expecting some kind of dungeon crawl. They spent last session researching an abandon fortification. They heard through a few well placed rumors that the army payroll for that post was never found. The carrot has been dangled, a sketch of a background is there, the type of 'dungeon', and last session some of the research said the place is haunted by the soldiers.

Maybe you're not in too bad of shape. You read over the game notes and find the map you drew. You said it was a fortification built into the side of a cliff. You trace over the map you drew them so you can give them the rough sketch for a player's map. A prop. It takes a few minutes to sketch out a dozen rooms. Hmm, not too bad, it's got some personality. You can see the story in the architecture, the shapes and design.

You have an hour before dinner and after that you have to take the wife out or she'll threaten harm on your tender areas. Better get a move on.

You calculated it will take three days travel to reach the dungeon. Two days will be spent going through a wild forest. You think about making a random encounter table, but decide to go with a few planned random encounters. The party will run into a few giant wolves as they enter the forest just to knock the rust off their dice. Later in the day they have a chance to spot a trail where it's obvious a patrol recently went though. It's an orc hunting party. The party can follow the tracks that led away from their destination. In this case the party has a good chance of gaining surprise. If an orc is kept alive he may tell the party his tribe has moved into the forest because of the noises. He can explain no further. Should the party continue on their way, later that night you can have the orcs attack the party's camp. Why waste a perfectly good orc hunting party. The next day in the forest they see sign of something very large has uprooted trees and left craters of footprints. A giant. At night tease the party with the ground vibrating. There'll be no sleep for them.

On the third day the party reaches the hills where the fortification is waiting. You're feeling generous and lower the difficulty level to find the place. Just to add some atmosphere there will be a bad rain storm making the terrain slick. Excellent. You figure to keep the dungeon as straight forward as possible at this point. You'll need to look through your monster manual to find an undead creature that would be a suitable challenge for the players to represent the restless soldiers. Shadows, they'll fit perfect. It will give the cleric something he can turn, something for the fighters to hack and the magic users to blast. In one section you decide to throw in a pack of Shadow Mastiffs. It adds some variety and will keep the players from getting too cocky. You populate the rooms then move onto who the boss. You thumb through the manual and reach the wraith. Hmm, the level drain worries you, but the party will just need to be more strategic than bull rushing every encounter. But, being a kind and generous master of the dungeon you make a note in the forest encounters to give one of the orcs a +1 bow with a few magical arrows so they can fight from a distance.

Now to put that chest of gold somewhere. Putting it in the wraith room is just too easy. You notice a mark on your map you didn't like and erased. That could be a good hiding place. The soldiers threw the bags of gold in holes. Anyone who can see in the dark or tosses a light down there will see them easily it will just be a matter of looking in there. You decide to put a few Shadows in there standing guard. Let the players figure out why they are standing guard in the crapper.

No dungeon would be finished without a trap. Let's take that original chest full of the gold and put it in the wraith room. Put a lock on it for the thief to feel useful. No needle trap in the lock that is too cliché. Maybe a fireball blows out the top when it's opened. Nah. Let's throw a teleport trap in there. The player gets a save, but if he fails he gets sent to a cell. The cell is at an undisclosed space. There are six dead bodies in the cell with the player. You could place the cell south of the dog pens, but maybe it could be used as another adventure seed. You note a few possibilities. Inside the chest are a handful of non-magical weapons to give it weight should the players decide to take it home without opening it. The teleport works once a week.

So there you have it. Let's break it down.
2 Random Encounters : If you need another encounter you can always throw in more orcs or that giant.
12 Rooms : A dozen room in the fort.
3 Monster Types : The monsters go with the theme and there is enough variety to keep the players interested.
1 Trap : Not only is it a trap, but a possible adventure continuation.
1 Twist : The treasure being in the crapper instead of the chest. Just slight enough to keep the players guessing.

And that's it. Within an hour you've come up with adventure that should keep your players challenged through the evening. It could easily stretch into a second evening and on to other adventures. The wife is calling. Dinner is done. You look over your quick dungeon. It's rough, but definitely doable. Tomorrow you'll have time before the game to smooth out some of the rough edges. The dungeon will be in part two.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Free RPG Day and the Great Stuff I Got.

Even the pounding rain could not keep me away from the gaming store. The big fat "Free RPG Day" sign pulled me in like a siren's call. This year there were a lot more rain soaked gamers than last year. Books Galore took advantage of the day and had mad sales for books and gaming stuff. I bellied up to the bar to peruse the goodies. The clerk told me I could choose two. After several interruptions and other people wanting to see the freebies I selected the Castle & Crusades, A Primer and A Song of Fire and Ice, Quick-Start Rules. And like I stated in my other post, I brought my wife along and had her get me the elven looking dice, a d10 and d12. As I was checking out I asked the clerk about the commemorative dice. He smiled and said, "Someone's done their homework." And handed me one of those cool six siders.

Oh, but I am not done. No, no, no. I raided their shelves and scored the 5th edition of Pendragon, a game I have never played, but absolutely love the books and the feel of the game. I also bought Tournaments, Fairs & Taverns by Mystic Eye Games, I've had my eye on that one the past few weeks and now I had a valid excuse, one women have been using for years, it was on sale. And lastly, I got Goblins from the GURPS line. It was one of the few books I don't have and it has been a good addition to the GURPS shelf.

Books Galore had rearranged their front room some and guess what? They made more room for gaming stuff. Halla-fricking-lulu. It was interesting to see all the different gamers in the store buying a wide range of systems and supplements. It was good to see people being excited about gaming and trying out all the new stuff they got that day. So in my part of the world I proclaim Free RPG Day a success. You know what made it even better? I beat Rob to the Pendragon book.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Free RPG Tomorrow

A call to all the gamers to check out which stores are supporting Free RPG Day and get out there in force. Grab a few freebies,meet a few gamers, and start up a game. It's always good to expand the gaming goodie shelf even if it is about to burst. Here is a list of the participants:

Chessex Manufacturing, they are putting out commemorative dice. Check out the cool dice these guys make.

Claymore Entertainment is putting out a Hero's Bane quickstart.

Exile Game Studios is offering a Hollow Earth Expedition Adventure.

Fantasy Flight Games is presenting a Rogue Trader Adventure.

Goodman Games is donating two items, Hero's Handbook and Amethyst: Hearts of Chaos.

Lone Wolf Development donated a Hero's Lab demo with unique files.

Mongoose Publishing is the champion of giveaway by offering three items, The Troubleshooter Reference Manual, Introduction to Dragon Warriors and Grab the Cache.

Q-Workshop built unique dice.

Paizo Publishing contributed a Pathfinder Bonus Bestiary.

Troll Lord Games has a Castle & Crusades quickstart adventure.

White Wolf Publishing has a Geist quickstart.

And finally Wizards of the Coast presents Khyber's Harvest, a 4E Eberron Adventure and a tile bundle.

I'm not sure how each store allows you to choose. My store allows two items per person so it's going to be a tough choice for me. There is a ton of good stuff being offered. And don't forget to thank your gaming store for participating in Free RPG Day. Let them know you appreciate them supporting your gaming habit. Even better support them by buying a few new releases being offered and grab a few from the used bin. The only way we are going to get the gaming stores to support us is if we support them.

*bows, steps off soapbox, exits stage left*

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

What is a Monster Worth?

There have been several discussions over the years of how much a human body is worth. The range is anywhere from $4.50 to $45 million. I won't list the gruesome breakdown of a human body, but I thought it might be interesting to break down what a monster might be worth. Adventuring parties always hack through the monsters to get to that pile of treasure, but they may be leaving the most valuable item behind. How much are a basilisk's eyes worth? How much for the blood of a dragon? What about the mind of a mind flayer?

All the listed prices are arbitrary and pulled out of my arse. Prices are given in standard gold pieces (gp), but you GMs out there know what to do if you campaign only uses beads, lint, or orc lips as currency. And since I recently bought Castle & Crusades I will be selecting the monsters from there. Here are three breakdowns of monsters, the price and the use.

Hide: A player can earn 100gp per 10hp of the bugbear. If the bugbear was killed by slashing weapons the value is halved or if killed by fire the hide is worthless. Exotic leather workers like the hide of a bugbear to make insulated leather armor. A suit of bugbear leathers will reduce cold damage of each die by 1. If a 9th level wizard blasts the player with a Cone of Cold the damage rolled is 9d6, but because the player is wearing the bugbear armor it reduces the damage by 9. A full suit of bugbear leathers costs 2500gp.

Living Hair: A single strand is worth 2500gp. To gain a living hair a dryad must give it to the player. Hacking off a dryad's hair will cause it to lose all its power. A dryad's hair is used to create Charm Person wands, powerful broaches of Glamour, or Love potions. The cost of the items made from the living ranges from 10x to 50x the cost of the hair.

Phase Spider
Eyes: A phase spider had 2d4 dozen eyes. Each eye is worth 10,000gp. The eyes are a highly sought after delicacy that induces an intensive feeling of euphoria as their consciousness lingers in the ethereal plane. This makes the eyes highly addictive and most kingdoms have banned the selling of them. So most phase spiders eyes must be sold and bought in a secret market. Wizards use the eyes in their formula to open gates into the ethereal plane. It is rumored one wizard replaced his own eyes with the eyes of a phase spider and can now move at will into the ethereal plane.

Poison: A player can earn 3500gp per 10hp of the phase spider for the doses of poison collected. The poison retains its dangerous effects. One dose can coat a dagger and will become innate after one day. Some have used it as an ingested poison to make the death look natural. A problem with the poison is it has a foul smell that is difficult to conceal.

Those are three samples of, What is a Monster Worth. There are a lot of ways to run with this in your campaign. I plan on developing an entire catalog. I think it will enhance a few areas of the game. It will help with components for the creation of magic items. Plus it will give the characters something else to think about when they loot the dungeon. "...leave the sword, grab the bugbear." (A very long stretch to twist a Godfather quote)

Monday, June 15, 2009

Random Ramblings #3

Over the weekend Rob and I did a day road trip and hit a few gaming stores. Rob was pushing his new Points of Light II and one of the stores already had copies on the shelf. We talked to the one game store owner and he used the first Points of Light as part of his campaign. He liked it a lot and already bought the second PoL.

My big purchases over the weekend were the Castle & Crusades Books and two more very large d20s. I have four now. Rob is afraid of my dice. He should be. Anyways, I've been tinkering with the idea of buying C&C so I finally broke down and bought it. (Hint, hint Troll Lord Games, how about that Castle Keeper Guide. We wouldn't want you to pull a Temple of Elemental Evil on us now would you?) I think Rob and I will use C&C to play test the current project he's working on.

Dwayne continues to run his campaign and Torrin of the Red Hand, the Paladin, is still figuring things out. Last week I went toe-to-toe with a demon champion and won. It was a good fight. Because I beat the champion I think we bought some time for the villagers. Now our concern is for the other villages out there. The demon 'queen' person mentioned other places so now we are looking for them. I got my first magic item, a +1 shield that only weights one pound. In GURPS that's huge.

I really liked the Gladiator book I bought a few weeks back. I plan on doing a review for it. Although if I never see the word 'Whilst' it will be too soon. It made me want to club baby gnomes.

I've made absolutely no progress on my project. Blame it partially on the nice weather, work, and the release of new maps for Call of Duty : World at War. I swear a lot when I play. Can you say Japanese zombies? Don't worry if you can't just bring your shotgun.

I enjoyed doing the Deck of Many Things blog entry. It's great to look through the tarot cards and getting inspired. I have about eight different decks. I plan on doing a few more cards. I'm looking at the ones I did and I'm not liking the Wheel so much. Oh well, that can't all be gems.

Finally, don't forget about Free RPG Day this Saturday, June 20th. Make sure you thank the gaming store for participating and pick up a copy of Points of Light II. It's the best edited product on the shelves.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Deck of Many Things and Then Some

The Deck of Many Things has been reincarnated in every edition of D&D and retro clones. Why? Because it's the closest thing to real gambling a player gets with his character. Draw one card and you gain a level. Draw another card and you're stripped of all your magic items. Gone. Give the paladin a hankie, he just lost his +5 Holy Avenger.

The Deck of Many Things has always been a favorite because the GM can use a regular deck of cards or cooler yet, tarot cards. Players get a tactual experience when throwing dice and using miniatures, but it is rare when they get to interact with a magic item.

A standard deck has 22 cards. Green Ronin released the Deck of Many Things and their deck has 24 cards. Two extra cards? Interesting.

Since we have all used the regular deck several times, let's throw my eight new cards into the mix. It's great when a player draws a new card. It keeps the mystery and the excitement of discovery fresh. For my tarot deck, I chose the Morgan-Greer Tarot, but flavor your Deck of Many Things with the tarot deck of your choice. Here are eight new cards you can slip into your Deck of Many Things and Then Some.

Tarot: 10 of Cups
Playing Card: 10 of Hearts

The player who draws the Rainbow will gain +2 to any rolls for that gaming session. If this card is drawn near the end of the session then the bonus will carry over to the next session. The drawback of the card is the player then must choose who will be penalized. The player can chose one person to give the -2 to all rolls or split the penalty between two players giving them a -1 each. This penalty can only be given to other players, not henchmen or NPCs.

Tarot: 5 of Pentacles
Playing Card: 5 of Diamonds

When the Healer is drawn the player can heal any damage of one person. This includes the curing of all physical maladies such as poison, disease, blindness or restores a lost limb. It can even resurrect one person, creature or monster. The player can wait to use it, but it can only be used once. If the card is used to resurrect someone the Healer will vanish from the deck forever.

Tarot: X. Wheel of Fortune
Playing Card: 10 of Spades

When the player draws the Wheel the GM will make a secret roll. If an odd number is rolled the result will be negative. If an even number is rolled the outcome will be positive. The next item the player discovers will be more powerful than described. Chargeable magic items will have the maximum charges. Potions will double in duration or effectiveness. Scrolls will be of higher level. Or if the magic item is not usable by the character class then the item will change to suit the character's class and abilities. A negative outcome will result in the next magic item the character could have used to be non-magical.

Tarot: Ace of Pentacles
Playing Card: 3 of Hearts

Once the Gate is drawn a portal will appear before the character and he may choose to go anywhere. This includes the outer planes, god realms and the abyss. All the player needs to do is announce where he would like to go. The gate will remain stationary and remain open long enough for the entire party to enter. The drawback to this card is it's a one way entrance. The return trip is the player's responsibility.

Tarot: 3 of Pentacles
Playing Card: 3 of Spades

The character who draws the Worker will gain the service of a craftsman. The craftsman will reflect the need of the character. For example a fighter will receive the services of a weaponsmith, a cleric will gain an acolyte, or a thief will gain an important contact. The worker will always be loyal. The only drawback to the card is the player becomes the worker's patron and must feed, clothe and protect him from enemies.

Tarot Card: The Magician
Playing Card: 10 of Diamonds

If a spell caster draws the Mage card he will learn four new spells. The spells must be selected immediately upon drawing the card. If a non-spellcaster draws the Mage, the card will explode doing 5d6 fire damage and destroy the card.
Note: If a GM is using a level-based system the player can learn any four spells within his class. An illusionist cannot learn cleric spells. If the GM is using a point-based system one point can be put into the four new spells.

Tarot Card: Knight of Swords
Playing Card: 4 of Spades

When the Enemy is drawn the player will see his home destroyed. If there are loved ones or henchmen at the home they will be captured or killed. Any valuable items will be destroyed or taken. The vision will give the identity of the enemy, but nothing more. Should the character be at home at the time of drawing the player can defend his home. The enemy should be slightly higher in skill than the player and matching in the number of henchmen.

Dying Heart
Tarot Card: 3 of Swords
Playing Card: 3 of Clubs

The player who draws the Dying Heart will take maximum damage for 1d6+3 hits. This effect can last for one or several fights. The character defends normally, but only when struck will the counter go down. A GM will roll secretly for the number of maximum damage hits the player will sustain.

That's it. That's all I got for now. It's fun making these cards and I may have more in another blog. If you've created new cards for your Deck of Many Things let me know. Now if I could only draw the Gem so I didn't have to work tomorrow.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Free RPG Day

This time last year I return to the gaming community. Rob Conley got me involved in a few products he was working on, 4th edition of D&D was ready to hit the shelves and the 1st issue of Fight On! had been released. There was a lot of buzz and excitement going on. Then on a Saturday I visited a used book store I like to visit and one of the few stores (if not the only) that sold RPGs. Outside the bookstore was this weird sign, Free RPG Day. What the hell was that? I went inside and asked. The clerk explained that if I came in the next week they were giving away free RPG products. Holy shit, I love free stuff. I love gaming stuff. I penned in a visit for next Saturday.

The next Saturday I pulled up to the book store and expected a crowd, but there wasn't one. I thought maybe it got cancelled. I went inside and the clerk said nope it was still going on and I was welcome to choose 2 things. Hmm. There were so many to choose from. Then the clerk told me if I bought a membership I could choose 3 things. Okay, ya got me. Sign me up. I selected Iron Heroes, Bloodwood, Revenge of the Kolbold King by Pathfinder and then Field of Daises from Harnworld. Every single one of these was excellent. And my favorite, Field of Daises I thought was exceptional. (The first two are still free PDFs. Field of Daises is now $16.99. yowch.)

Using my gamer's keen strategic mind I sent my wife inside to select two more things. I carefully described which ones I wanted and scored two more freebies. This time I felt generous and got some dungeon tiles for Rob in case he didn't make it up for Free RPG Day. Then I thought of Rob, man, if he made it up here he had a wife and two kids. Good god he could score eight things. Later I found out he did not use his family for freebies. Rookie mistake.

But, I was not done. I came up with another plan. I waited for the shift change. Bam, four more. I rule. I nearly got one of everything except the miniature and dice. Got another tile set for Rob. I also bought a handful of other supplements they had for sale. It was nice to see a change on my gaming bookshelf. It had remained unchanged for years. With the influx of new items it got me excited about gaming again. I was impressed with the quality of every item.

Next Saturday Free RPG Day returns. It looks like there are 12 participants. I was interested to see what Flying Buffalo was going to put out, but instead they pulled out. Most look to be quick start adventures. The forerunners of favorites look to be the Troll Lord and Pazio offering.

This simple little thing, this Free RPG Day, is really what sparked me into buying new gaming items, exploring different systems and hell I even gave 4th edition D&D a go. I've been pumping a lot of money into the gaming community since then. I hope everyone out there has a participating store nearby to take advantage of the offerings. Support your gaming store. Let them know that 45 copies of Stephen King's The Stand on the shelves is fine, but to make a little room for few RPG adventures.

And before I sign off this blog I want to give my thanks to Books Galore in Erie, PA for participating in Free RPG Day. I'll see you next Saturday. I'll be the guy with the fake mustache, the dark sunglasses, the wife and two fake kids.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Day Jobs for Player Characters

You've heard the old adage 'Don't quit your day job'. I'm here to talk about those PCs who don't have the skill set to take down Roberto the Ogre Magi or the latest necromancer to raise a rotting abomination. To earn money they slosh beer into tankards, pound steel into a breastplate or scribe an esoteric tome into another language. These guys and gals are the blue collar branch of the adventuring class.

Day jobs can serve to be a launching place for several great adventures. These adventures do not have to be in dungeons or castles or swamps or some dark god's temple on a mountain top. Nope, everything can be served up in between the walls of the business. This is definitely a different sort of campaign, but done correctly can become a favorite. It helps to have a skillful GM. I am spoiled to have Rob and Dwayne as mine. And you need the players willing to play a non-hero character.

With the adventures being based in a business setting most the adventure is going to be within the community. The different types of conflicts that occur can vary from a rival shop, an unhappy customer, lack of supplies, or personal problems. I'll give a few examples from past campaigns where I have been the working class adventurer.

Devon, he was a blacksmith. He had skill using a war hammer, but I can't remember one fight with him. Most of his days were spent toiling over an anvil improving his skill. His one big adventure was going into enemy territory. I was hired to discover the enemy's secret weapon. The enemy had developed a rudimentary form of gunpowder. I learned the formula for the gunpowder, but the real asset was how to develop cannons. They had some knowledge, but it was my character who figured out how to make it work. My character returned with not only the knowledge of the gunpowder, but a weapon of great destruction. During my time spying, not once did I get into a fight. My character became a master within the guild and Rob and I decided his storyline had ended. Now for a guy who hardly lifted his war hammer he changed the face of the campaign.

There was my acolyte priest, Allen Hess. He was a meek little man whose skill set was more to the literary. He took care of a handful of children at an orphanage. He had basic knowledge of how to use a staff, but just enough to hurt himself. A vampire had been sneaking through the trapdoor in the roof and sucking the blood from the children. I, and a group of other very low ability characters, took on the vampire. There were no holy swords or magic spells whizzing through the air. Nope. When the vampire dropped through the door my character threw a pot of scolding water at the vampire and the others threw a blanket over him soaked with holy water. In this case Allen found his adventure protecting the children. He did not need to leave his home.

The finally example I'll give is one of twin brothers. I played one who had a job in a tavern he liked while Dwayne played my trouble making brother. My brother was always trying to get me involved into his schemes and most of the time I didn't get involved because I didn't want to lose my job. It was the only source of income the family had. Then my brother got an offer from a baron to return a family heirloom. He wanted him to steal it back from the Thieves Guild. He knew I wouldn't go for it so he pretended to be one day and got me fired then managed to blame it on one of the guild members. I was distraught he told me how we could make money and get back at the thieving bastards. So my Chuck Bronson gene kicked in and I found a low level footpad, beat him up so he would tell me who was next in command. I did this with such brutality that it shocked my brother. I was furious I had been fired. In the end the Thieves Guild returned the heirloom to the baron plus a good amount of gold so when we reported into him he would kill us, which he did. All this was done in a city. We never left the confines of the walls.

Sometimes it's good to get away from the high adventure aspects of gaming and get dirty with an everyday person. It's good to get the perspective of people your adventurers pass everyday without a thought. It was a lot of fun developing that side of things. Doing this makes a GM flesh out his world in more depth. One last example for this was when I ran a campaign where all the players were city guards and they had to deal with the rowdy adventurers in the taverns. They got a taste of their own medicine. Try it sometime if you haven't already. You might find running a potion shop is just as fun as breaking down the door of dark god's temple on the mountain top.

Saturday, June 6, 2009


A GM's favorite horde. I'm not sure how they got top billing over goblins, gnolls, bugbears or hobgoblins, but they are a popular enemy in home brewed campaigns, and are a pillar in many monster manuals. We can thank J.R.R. Tolkien for our current vision of the orc. The original 1974 White Box set also included orcs. And I can't count the number of supplements created that have orcs as the focal point. There is orc roleplaying community. And check this out, even the Organic Reactions Catalysis Society is riding on the coattails of these pigged faced villains. The one thing that never made sense to me was why Orcus was not the God of the Orcs. Come on, his name matches. No slight to Gruumsh intended.

Without further ado here is my version of orcs. The abbreviated version.

Orcs are not mindless warmongers. They are a more primitive and barbaric race than humans, but share the human need to develop communities and expand their territory. It is not uncommon to find orc farming villages, but it is difficult for them to build a community the size of a city without fragmenting into factions. But when a powerful leader rises, towns and cities can be built quicker than another race is able. When united, orcs are able to perform awesome acts that make the other races nervous. An example of this is the Fortress of Tribald Pass, a structure so massive and well built the dwarves and humans decided it would take less time and lives to tunnel through a mountain.

Orc males are the leaders of the society. The strongest or the cleverest becomes chief and makes the decisions for the tribe. Councils don't occur in orc society. It makes no sense to them. One strong voice to lead is all that is needed. The more powerful the male the more females he may claim. And as tribes have their chiefs, all orc homes have a maven. She is usually the eldest of the group and in the home not to reproduced, but selected to keep all the other females on tasks and to know their place. A maven can wield substantial power and influence if coupled with the orc chieftain. The eldest of the mavens are feared by the males because of their knowledge of plants and ways to curse. If the male is being unkind or cruel to a maven he may find his food poisoned or she may slit his throat as he sleeps.

The children live in the home their mother is currently in, but the maven has the final say. If the maven dislikes the child she will send the child to a place within the village for unwanted children. Males are taught to fight and hunt as soon as they can walk. Favored females are trained to become mavens and taught the secrets of their power, while the rest are treated liked slaves.

Orcs have some semblance of a legal system. Rarely will two orcs go the chief to settle disputes because in most cases the chief will proclaim both are wrong and take whatever they were arguing about. Orcs will tell the chief they wish to have a trial by combat called "Urm-Bladu". There is place in every village that is considered sacred to the orcs. Orc skulls are hung on poles, resting in niches or piled in an area where the Urm-Bladu is performed. Two combatants will fight to settle the disputes. Death occurs regularly, but is not required to win. When the contest is over there is no more said about the dispute, it has been settled.

Orcs practice ancestor worship. The bodies of the dead are burned so they cannot be consumed by a lesser beast. The heads are cut off and boiled. The broth is drunk by the tribe. The chief drinks first and then the next most powerful male in the tribe and so on. A ceremony performed to absorb the knowledge and strength. When a female orc dies the females follow the same ritual. The cleaned skulls are placed in a sacred area known as the "Terntra-Bladu". They have no religious special days or festivals.

Orcs are trained for both single and mass combat. They do not fear death as other races do, but fear how they will die. To die of old-age is an embarrassment. To die of disease is shameful. To die by a lesser beast is disgraceful. Orc tradition has the army's first wave into battle be that of the old and sickly so they may be honored to be the first to die. To die in combat is the highest honor any orc can achieve. The old and sickly orcs will throw themselves upon the spears and shields of their enemies to provide a tactical advantage for the younger and strong warriors of their tribe.

Orcs are diverse in their ground combat tactics. They prefer crossbows over bows and hacking weapons over piercing. It is rare for an orc army to have a cavalry unit, but some orcs have trained beasts to be steeds. Orcs will use any armor or shield. Their armies are not uniform. They use mismatched armor and makeshift weapons. A good chief knows how to take advantage of this diversity.

Orcs and Other Races
While there is no doubt that orcs are still the bad guys and often hated and attacked on sight, it is not unheard of for an orc village and a human village to co-exist. The humans will have to display some sort of power and show no fear in the face of the orc warriors to be respected. Once this is accomplished an orc chief will meet a human 'chief' on equal ground.

Orcs are found in every circle of society. Some orcs have joined temples and become priests. Others have become popular in the entertainment venue, and master craftsmen. However, elves and dwarves will not allow an orc to establish a presence amongst them. But elves and dwarves will parlay with an orc chief who has shown respect and had proven to reasonable. In one case, it was the orcs who saved a dwarven stronghold from an angry red dragon. An alliance was formed and continues to this day.

So there's a glimpse at the orcs in my world. Game On!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Not So Random Encounters (Flow Charts)

Generally, when I GM a session I like to use a flow chart of events that will occur no matter what the players' actions are. Now they could affect the events before they happen, but it is unlikely, but if they do they are easy to alter. I think this style is suited more to the sandbox philosophy, but it could be incorporated into other game styles as well.

Simple version of a flow chart would be:
- The King declares that all mercenaries are banned from the city. No explanation why, but it becomes a popular topic in the taverns. So the players will hear about it a lot.
- There are rumors that the reason the king has banned all mercenaries was one of the Duke's was captures by a company of mercenaries.
- The players see all the guard patrols are double the number.
- A man runs frantically through the street with a book clutched in his arms. No one seems to be chasing him, but he looks terrified. (The man is the bookkeeper of the mercenary guild and has taken the member rooster out of the guild to hide it. The king wants it to make sure every mercenary is out.)
- At nightfall a large group of troops ride through the streets and out the main gate.

Now the players can be involved as they want or avoid the entire situation, but it will affect them. Adventurers might be declared mercenaries and be kick from the town. Either way this kind of background action gives a world depth and color. Even though it's important to make adventures oriented around players, the world needs to have a life of its own to make it memorable.

I use flow charts to do this to enhance my world events and to possibly get players interested in adventures or not. I always leave it up to them which path they choose. But there are times when events happen that can't be ignored. And if you play these background events enough they will appreciate the time when they become the focal point of the event.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Random Encounters (and Hobbit Pie)

We've all seen tables like this.
1 - 1d6 orcs
2 - 1d6 goblins
3 - 1d6 orcs with chief
4 - 1d6 goblins with chief
5 - 1d4 sleestacks
6 - a flying purple people eater

How many times did you have to hit the snooze button? This kind of random encounter table sucks rocks among other inedible substances. So let's imagine a dungeon. Let's call it the Fire Breathing Orcs and Hobbit Pie Dungeon. Good title eh? I thought so. Premise of the dungeon is you have orcs raiding hobbit land to gather them up because they are the most important ingredient in the most popular pie in orc land. So let's base some of the encounters on what the heck is going on in the adventure.

1 - The first entry into our random encounters table could be an escaped hobbit, beaten and battered and he tells the players exactly why the hobbits are being captured. Not for slaves, but for pie. "They're eating Hobbits! Hobbits!" end of Heston imitation. And scene.

2 - The second entry would be a group of orcs that are hunting for the rascally hobbit, see above. They are grumpy because no hobbit, no pie. They are preoccupied with following furry footed prints. Players can avoid them and get bonuses or engage them in a historic battle I am sure. Once engaged in combat, one of the orcs, make him the fast one, runs into orc land and tells everyone the players are coming.

3 - The players encounter a line of orc soldiers and a cart full of shackled hobbits among them. The orcs are led by a big orc that is wearing a big scary helmet to make him look scary. This encounter can turn future events in the adventure because adventures should always be fluid. Players are a weird bunch and want to do what they want to do. But enough about the players. The players can try to save this bunch of hobbits and eliminate a group of orcs, but run the risk as above, alerting the other orcs and making it more difficult to save the other pie filling.

4 - The players run into another hobbit. He doesn't look so bad. If the players confront him he will say his brother was captured and he sneaking around to see if he can save him. He promises to show the precious players where he found the orcs. Well this is the little bastard who has been setting up his other hobbit people. He's in it for the dough and as long as he supplies the filling he won't become the filling. Anyways, if he can lead the players to a place where there are lots of orcs he'll scream like the little punk he is.

5 - The party encounters a small group of orcs finishing off their share of a hobbit pie. They are resting against a few burn stumps commenting on which bits are the tastiest. They are completely relaxed and are not prepared for combat at all.

6 - The adventuring party encounters an ogre. This ogre is headed into orc land because the hobbit pie smells good and he wants it. The players can attack the ogre probably alerting the orcs or they can follow the ogre's march into camp to make a mess. To demonstrate this, the GM could have the ogre encounter entry 2 looking for the hobbit and have the ogre bash the stinky meat into the ground.

So here ends this little tale. Make your random encounters as interesting as any room or entry you place in your adventure. They should never be an afterthought they should be motivators, clues, surprises and fun as hell.