Sunday, October 26, 2014

Kellerlabyrinth Keyed (basically)

Decided to partially stock my Kellerlabyrinth segment. "Partially" because this is one of those partly-ruined/partly-still-in-use dungeons where it makes sense to try and get across a largely abandoned feeling.

First, some history to give this stuff some context. According to the adventure background in Better Than Any Man, it takes place in October 1631. Wurzburg falls to the Swedish on October 15.

Before the war started, Oppenheim was under the jurisdiction of the (protestant) Count Palatine. The Spanish Hapsburgs (in an alliance with the Austrian Hapsburgs a.k.a. the Holy Roman Empire) took the city in 1620. The (protestant) Swedish army took Oppenheim on November 7 on its way from Wurzburg to Mainz; 23 days after the Bishop of Wurzburg surrendered.

While the Spanish had control of the city, they were using it to store weapons and ammo, and for access to an important bridge, which in turn gave them access to the entire Palatinate. In the image below, the six-pointed star shape next to the river is the wall surrounding Oppenheim. Those blocky shapes to the left of it are probably Swedish mixed unit formations of musketeers and pikeman (the taller, lighter blocks are pikes being held at shoulder arms). Don't ask me where the bridge is; it might be too small to see in the distance if it's right by the city but I really couldn't say for sure.
Artist: Matthaus the Elder Marien
So, to summarize from the DM's point of view: the campaign begins with BTAM at the beginning of October 1631. Wurzburg falls on October 15. The trip to Oppenheim* takes between a day and a half and a week, depending on how much crap the PCs are lugging around and whether or not they've managed to steal some horses. Assuming they arrive by November 7, the (catholic) Spanish are in control of the city until then. Some of the occupiers will be preparing to offer token resistance, while others will be taking their troops and heading north to Mainz, where the real siege is gonna go down.

After November 7, the (protestant) Swedes are in charge. The changes that matter to PCs will mostly be cosmetic (government officials have Swedish or German names instead of Spanish ones), but protestant civilians will be likely to start treating them like heroes if they helped liberate the city in a significant way.

*Yeah okay this part is totally railroading the game if you aren't prepared to improvise a little, so here's the obvious disclaimer: The PCs are of course free to keep fucking around near Wurzburg and Karlstadt or go wander around Germany or whatever, but tell the players that there's cool stuff under Oppenheim and maybe they won't be lame about it. If they do get distracted or something, there's nothing wrong with taking elements of this and putting them elsewhere; I'm assuming you've done this before if you are going to try and run this adventure location, so you probably know what to do.

I haven't assigned these encounters to any particular spot on the map so just number the rooms however you want. Assume that any humans without hit dice or levels listed are untrained peasants.

1) Munitions Storage
Door: Medium quality lock on a wrought iron gate. 2 3HD Spanish Soldiers are posted outside, wearing morions and breastplates, armed with pikes and flintlock pistols.
Contents: Full of weapons. If you want pistols, muskets, pikes, swords, shot, or gunpowder, this is the place to get it. I'm not worried about how much stuff there is to take away because I generally keep track of time and encumbrance; even if they make multiple trips, the PCs won't run out of stuff to cart off before the next guard shift shows up. Let's say there's enough in here to arm one unit (regiment I think? I'm not up to speed on 17th century military jargon) each of musketmen, pikemen, and cavalry.

2) The Meeting Place
Door: Medium quality lock. If there is a meeting underway,
Occupants: If there's no meeting happening, there's no one here. Assuming the meeting is in progress, there are 6 Mysterious Figures in the room, wearing identical hooded cloaks that hide all identifying features. They know the Swedes are on their way, and have developed a plan to blow up several Hapsburg weapon caches, but lack the skills to pull it off. One or two are wealthy merchants that can afford to pay the PCs pretty well. If the PCs don't accept this mission, the resistance finds someone else, so the Swedish attack is still successful. If the PCs kill the resistance members, there's no good reason there wouldn't be more spies the PCs don't know about.

3) Jaspar's Treasure Cache
Door: Heavy oak door, high quality lock, poison needle trap triggered by attempting to pick the lock. Attempting to force the door has a 1/4 chance of causing the tunnel to collapse (in addition to the usual wandering monster check). There are two keys to this door; one belongs to an officer named Jaspar Hardtman and the other belongs to his manservant, Symon Dreyer.
Contents: 6 chests containing 230 gp, 1250 sp, and assorted gems and jewelry worth 150 sp.

4) Cursed Statue
Door: Heavy oak door, high quality lock, poison needle trap triggered by attempting to pick the lock. Attempting to force the door has a 1/4 chance of causing the tunnel to collapse (in addition to the usual wandering monster check). The key belongs to someone but I'm not saying who.
Contents: A fine layer of dust over everything, an old desk with a leather-bound journal describing a merchant's expeditions to the Indian Subcontinent and a map showing the location of Petra (stumbled upon while fleeing Bedouin raiders on a return trip), a painted ebony statue of Kali the Destroyer that comes to life and fucks you right the fuck up if you enter without using the key. Not bothering with stats here; let's just say I don't expect the party to live if they try to fight. If they do beat it, the statue crumbles; the resulting pile of debris takes up 10 inventory slots and is worth around 80 sp.

5) Kruper's Hideout
Occupants: Velten Kruper, a level 4 mage, armed with a flail. Erbrechen (translation: the act of vomiting), Kruper's disgusting little homunculus familiar, unarmed but his bite causes (on a failed save) uncontrollable nausea that lasts 1d4 rounds AND it does 1 point of temporary CON damage that heals when the victim eats a meal and rests. Kruper is either asleep or tinkering with his equipment or spellbook, which contains 4 level one spells and 3 level two spells, in addition to one custom spell:
Crawling Eye (Level 1): At the end of the incantation, the caster pops out one of his or her eyeballs, along with several inches of optic nerve, and tosses it to the ground. The optic nerve splits into three legs and becomes mobile. The eye is controlled (and transmits information) through direct psychic contact, which doesn't distract the magic user from whatever else he's trying to do (although anything involving depth perception should be rolled at a disadvantage). The eye can move as quickly as an unencumbered human, is extremely sneaky and hard to hit due to its size, and has one hit point. If your eye is destroyed, you don't get it back (One-Eyed Velten has a nice ring to it now that I think about it). If you lose both eyes you basically have to invent and translate your spellbook into braille if you want to ever use it again.

Contents: Bed, foot locker with a change of clothes and some rations, table & chair, alchemy equipment, box of candles, silver candelabra worth 50 sp, leather purse containing 80 sp.

6) Refugee Camp
Occupants: 1d6+4 Peasants, 1d4 of whom are children. The refugees are shaken down for what little they can scrape together on a weekly basis by Bardthold's gang.
Contents: Straw mats, sacks containing basic goods, a couple farming implements that could be used as weapons in a pinch, torches in holders.

7) Bardthold's Hideout
Occupants: Barthold Vischer, level 5 fighter with a scarred left cheek, wields a 10' long hooked chain that can be used to attack, trip, disarm, or grapple, ring mail armor, iron key, wineskin. 2 2HD Bodyguards, leather armor, pike, 1d30 sp each, no morale failure. 3d6 1HD Thugs, club or dagger, 1d12 cp each.
Contents: two dozen straw mats and blankets, locked chest containing 3500 cp, 350 sp, and a silver locket with a broken chain, containing the portrait of a young officer, worth 20 sp to a merchant or 300 sp to his mistress, torches in holders.

8) Guarded Cache
Occupants: 1 2HD Veteran and  2 1HD Guards, leather armor, shortswords, shields, writ of employment, 1d12 sp each. 2 2HD Wardogs.
Contents: Three straw mats, two iron-bound chests with very high quality locks. One is trapped with a glass vial of poison gas that expands to fill the room, and the other contains 650 sp and 320 gp.

9) Rat's Nest
Occupants: 1d4+2 1HD Giant Rats, Rat Swarm.
Contents: rat feces, broken and rotted crates full of spoiled goods, a weird orange mold that the rats have been eating.

10) Locked Storeroom
Door: Average quality lock, reinforced with wrought iron bands. The key belongs either to Olga Bruns in room 15, or to one of the surface innkeepers.
Contents: 6 kegs of beer, 3 casks of wine, crates full of pickled vegetables and salted meats wrapped in wax paper.

11) Forgotten Storeroom
Door: Old, faded wood, high quality lock, rusted and brittle hinges.
Contents: Thick layer of dust over everything. A bunch of old, broken junk, and a child-sized skeleton locked in a cage in the corner. The skull has a third eye socket in the middle of its forehead.

12) Shrine to The Four Holy Marshals
Contents: Wooden altar, wooden statues of four saints (one against each wall), with the name of the subject conveniently carved into each base. All five objects have been down here in the damp air for around a hundred years and are partially covered in grey moss (useful for healing potions).

13) Plague Quarantine
Occupants: 1d4+7 plague victims. Sister Anneke Everding is tending them, which she sees as a holy sacrifice as she is sure to become infected soon.

14) Opium Den
Occupants: Zheng Wulian, the face of the operation, level 3 rogue, extremely gifted with languages, armed with two flintlock pistols and a sword, wearing a large emerald ring4 3HD Guards, barechested and scarred veterans that came here from China with Zheng, each armed with two maces and a dagger. 1d8 Semi-Conscious Peasants. 1/4 chance of a Usual Suspect.**
Contents: A dozen cheap, straw-stuffed mattresses, 4 long-stemmed ivory pipes carved like oriental dragons, a locked wooden chest containing 2000 cp and 500 sp, a large brass urn containing let's say a pound of opium, 4 large brass lamps in the arabic style.

15) Drinking Hall
Occupants: Olga Bruns, runs the place. 1d8 Peasants1d2+1 1HD Thugs1d4-1 Usual Suspects.**
Contents: Puddle of vomit, tables, benches, tin mugs, 4 large kegs of beer and 2 large casks of wine in an alcove, iron chandelier, box of candles, chest containing 450 cp and 80 sp.

Okay so the map I drew has about twice as many rooms as I've detailed here. You can stock the rest with the following table, using the details in similar rooms that I've already described as a guide:
1) Refugee Camp
2) Waste Room (full of filth and garbage, will eventually be sealed off)
3) Locked Storeroom
4) Munitions Storage
5) Looted Storeroom
6) Looted Storeroom
7) Forgotten Storeroom
8) Forgotten Storeroom

Random Encounters
1) Rat Swarm, 1/4 chance that they are plague carriers.
2) A Black Cat, that is almost certainly a transformed witch, crosses your path.
3) 1d6+1 Wild Dogs, if there are three or less present then they have rabies.
4) 1d4+2 1HP Giant Centipedes, about a foot long, paralytic bite.
5) 1d6+2 Thugs, clubs and knives, 1d12 cp each.
6) Velten Kruper's Crawling Eye.
7) A Usual Suspect.**
8) Plague Victim, has gone mad and escaped the quarantine.
9) Ghost of St. Quirin
10) Ghost of St. Hubert
11) Ghost of St. Cornelius
12) Ghost of St. Antony
All four of the ghosts have the power to bless or curse PCs (maybe I'll do the specific effects in a later post but this is already way longer than I thought it would be). They are all-knowing within the confines of the Kellerlabyrinth, and decide what to do with you based on your actions on what they see as their turf.

**Usual Suspects 
1) Hernando Perez, inquisitor, level 3 fighter, suspects everyone including PCs of witchcraft, will pay handsomely for magic users or information leading to their capture, armed with a flintlock pistol, a rapier, and a stiletto.
2) Sly Ludolf, hustler, level 4 rogue,  prefers three card monte so get practicing, DM. Or if you are an irretrievable klutz, he uses loaded dice (before the game, pick a couple and melt them VERY slightly in your oven with the number you want most often facing up). A leather purse contains 2d30 cp. Carries a rusted shortsword.
3) Hermann Clump, ratcatcher, talks to them, is friends with them, is defensive of them, can summon a swarm of them to protect him in combat, eats them (they don't mind because they have tiny easily manipulated rat brains). Keeps a couple rats hidden in his clothing when in public areas. They tend to run around in there, which is inconvenient, because Hermann is a bit ticklish. Armed with a big-ass meat cleaver that counts as a battle axe. Treasure: cheese, moldy cheese that makes you either hallucinate or completely understand the universe (it's impossible to tell which for sure).
4) Ilsabei Muller, super protective mother, never seen without her 8 year old son, Erich. The second time you meet this pair, Erich's eyes have grown noticeably darker, and his voice and mannerisms have changed in an ominous sort of way. Ilsabei hasn't noticed, and even if you point it out to her, she's likely to chalk it up to puberty. If you point out that Erich is probably a bit young for that, she'll claim this is due to his "exceptional qualities." There will be no reasoning. They're both unarmed but who the hell knows what Erich's capable of.
5) Maren Domeier, musician, carries a mandolin, only plays her own songs. These are somewhat nonsensical ditties about life in the tunnels, which occasionally yield useful information to any careful listeners in the audience.
6) Masked Woman, no one else seems to be taking any notice of her, but she's staring at you and she hasn't blinked once. Her sword and cloak look just as expensive as her ceramic mask, which is shaped like a stylized owl.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Dungeon map: Kellerlabyrinth

The Kellerlabyrinth is a maze of tunnels under the streets of Oppenheim, Germany. They were constructed according to need (as opposed to following some overall architectural scheme) over the course of at least six hundred years. I first read about it in this blog post.

I was working on a 30 Years War sandbox around that time, which made me even more excited than I should have been about Better Than Any Man when it came out a couple months later. The story's main town of Karlstadt is fictional, but another location on the map isn't: Wurzburg, which, by LotFP rules, is only a three days' walk (unencumbered) from Oppenheim. So this would actually make a pretty good follow up if any of my players ever manage to live through BTAM (seriously none of them even know about the Insect Cult).

This map doesn't even come close to depicting the entire tunnel system, which apparently could have more than 600 rooms in it. Most haven't been discovered yet because tunnels have collapsed or been intentionally blocked off, so you can think of this as one of the undiscovered sections. Some areas go five or six levels deep, but I think this is just enough visual complexity to not be overwhelming.

The side bar on the right is just general guidelines to use when stocking it, but I ran out of space. There also would have been plenty of grafitti (most people were at least literate enough to sign their own names by this point), and probably drinking halls like this modern one set up:
How many historical attractions have bars built right in? (okay probably a lot actually but shut up)
I wouldn't be at all surprised to find a few fingers of the worm hiding in the bottom level. The worm could even be intentionally fueling the madness of the 30 Years War, the witch hunts, or even the whole worldwide General Crisis (a.k.a. the reason LotFP is set in the seventeenth century by default).

Friday, October 17, 2014

Mommy Where do Ghouls Come From?

I've been re-reading some childhood favorites lately and found this:

"His sight came back but now he was held by clammy hands and when he saw his captors he shuddered. Shadowy creatures of Limbo held him— ghouls summoned by sorcery. Their dead faces smiled but their dead eyes remained dead. Elric felt the heat and the strength leaving his body and it was almost as if the ghouls sucked it from him. He could almost feel his vitality traveling from his own body to theirs."  Michael Moorcock, The Vanishing Tower (Elric part IV)

And then on the next page, this:

"Elric was gasping as the last of the heat fled his bones. He now could not stand, but hung in the arms of the dead creatures. Theleb K'aarna must have planned this for weeks, for it took many spells and pacts with the guardians of Limbo to bring such ghouls to Earth."

So the major ability of the ghoul comes from Moorcock, but the ecology of the ghoul originates elsewhere. Ghouls are all over the place in D&D, and are presented as (more or less) naturally occurring undead savages rather than summoned servants of powerful wizards.

According to the various editions' monster manuals, humans can become ghouls either by practicing cannibalism in life or by being killed by a ghoul. The second part is easy enough to source; Night of the Living Dead came out a few years before OD&D, and the word zombie doesn't appear anywhere in that film. Instead, Romero's monsters were originally referred to as ghouls. Gygarneson took what was useful (disease spread by bite) and discarded everything else (slow moving, mindless things ideal for target practice).

The idea of transformation into a ghoul probably comes from Lovecraft. He never explicitly stated that cannibal humans become ghouls, but he never explicitly stated much, preferring to sort of vaguely indicate impressions and let the reader fill in the gaps. A few of his stories that involve ghouls leave an impression that humans can become ghouls through some abhorrent behavior or other, and it wouldn't have been much of a stretch for Arnegax to decide on cannibalism, since that was the abhorrent behavior that Lovecraft's ghouls engaged in after the transformation.

And that is where D&D ghouls come from.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Overland Map 1

More playing around in Procreate. Just a small, generic barony/duchy/whatever. I'm pretty sure the icons are obvious, except possibly the village represented by little boxes surrounding the keep. The mine cart was less vague before I zoomed back out but I still think it reads.

I'm already juggling a couple campaign settings, so I doubt I'll do much with this anytime soon. If you find a use for it (or anything else I put up here really), let me know. No labels because 1) you can use it for whatever this way and 2) naming things is more boring than drawing them.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014


There's an app called Procreate that basically turns an iPad into a sketchbook. I can only assume they wanted free advertising from twelve year old boys. I haven't gotten much practice with the program yet but if there's one thing I can draw it's a weird looking phallus.

Keeping it Real

Most people reading this probably understand that hit points are meant to represent some abstract combination of physical health, stamina, resolve, and some other vague factors. I’ve even seen them referred to as “don’t-get-hit points,” implying that only the killing blow is an actual solid hit. I get that, but I don’t like it.

Hit points and damage are inextricably linked, and the abstractness of HP implies that the damage needs to be equally abstract to make any sense. It’s ludicrous to imagine a human warrior being impaled by multiple spearmen and fighting on, so those spearmen must not actually be stabbing the warrior when they keep rolling 6s for damage. That's why the don't-get-hit justification was needed in the first place.

Just one arrow and Conan is hurt. You are not tougher than Conan. Art by John Buscema

It makes sense in theory, but the way it plays out at my table, it’s pretty clear that damage specifically represents physical injuries. (“Shit, I rolled a 2. I just barely nicked him.”) Therefore, at my game table, hit points don’t actually represent anything other than physical endurance. How much pain can you take before you die or pass out? That’s what hit points are. Which means two things: hit points are way too high and always have been*, and I need something else to represent everything about them that isn’t physical endurance (the don’t-get-hit part of hit points).

One of the few ideas that’s remained consistent across every edition of D&D is the notion that armor keeps you from getting hit, but that doesn’t model reality particularly well either. What armor actually does is keep those hits from doing as much damage as they usually would.

Here, take a look at what bayonet training in the army looks like:

There's more to it than just the pugil sticks but this is the part that's relevant here.

In game terms, those guys are wearing padded armor. +1 AC. Maybe +2 depending on how you handle helmets. Does it look like the padding is making it easier to avoid attacks?

The idea that AC keeps your character from getting hit implies a couple things. One is that all armor, when struck, absorbs all force perfectly and completely. No armor made by human hands does that, but if you accept it anyway, the next logical conclusion is that a better AC just means that more of the body is covered. Which makes sense for the difference between a breastplate and full plate armor but that’s the exception.

So, to avoid having to say things like “The spear tip bounces harmlessly off your leather jacket,” AC means damage reduction at my table. Plate mail doesn’t keep you from getting hit with a hammer but it’s not gonna hurt as much.

Now that I’ve addressed what doesn’t keep you from getting hit, I can talk about what does. It’s exactly the same thing as what helps you hit your own target: training and experience.** Which, in D&D, mean class and level. There’s a number for this that’s been called attack bonus or base attack bonus depending on which edition you’re looking at. For me it’s just combat bonus.

Example: Grok the fighter is attacking Alita the thief. Based on class and level, Grok’s combat bonus is +4. He rolls a d20 and gets 13, 17 total. Alita doesn’t roll anything, just adds her combat bonus of +2 to 10, ahead of time, calling it her defense bonus. So Grok’s 17 beats Alita’s 12 and he rolls 1d8 damage, getting a 4. Alita is wearing padded armor (AC +1), so she takes 3 damage.

There are two things I’ve noticed about what this means in actual play. For one thing, armor isn’t as important as it used to be. It has an effect, but only if you get hit, which warriors are better at avoiding just because they’re warriors. My character sheets make encumbrance pretty easy to avoid in much the same way the LotFP sheets do, so I enforce it pretty strictly; this means that the pros and cons of wearing any armor at all are pretty situational and often end up being a wash. So Conan can run around in a loincloth and get along just fine. Which is awesome.

I might as well also mention that I nixed armor restrictions while I was at it, since armor doesn’t matter as much (especially since I use early firearm rules that ignore the armor entirely anyway). It hasn’t actually come up in play, possibly because mages and thieves with low strength are taking a bigger hit on encumbrance. I could see a mage using armor to become less a glass cannon and a little more of a tank, but that doesn’t feel like it breaks anything to me. Aesthetically speaking, I see magic users as less Gandalf and more Elric anyway.

So, to summarize the house rules I’ve discussed so far:
1. Class based damage, no weapon or armor restrictions.
2. AC = Damage Reduction.
3. Hitting and not getting hit are both based on Combat Bonus, which is based on class and level.

See? The rule changes aren’t complicated, just the reasoning. Bear in mind that I’m not arguing anywhere that these changes would improve your game, just that they do a better job of modeling reality. Many players and refs prefer to revel in the abstraction. My group has more fun with combat with the changes in place, measured by how into the narration we get and how much time we spend laughing maniacally.

*I re-wrote the class progressions, too; my version works as a single table that covers all the classes I use. I’ll type it up and post it at some point and you can see from that how I addressed absurdly high HP totals.

**There’s also a natural ability component, but my take on ability scores is probably a whole other post so let’s ignore them completely for now.

Monday, October 13, 2014

If Merlin Can Swing A Sword Why Can’t I

Weapon lists aren’t a bug, but class-based weapon restrictions sort of are, at least in my games. These restrictions get in the way of letting the players be awesome, which makes them a no-go. (Waitaminute, you’re telling me I have the power to command the underlying forces of the universe through sheer intellectual domination but I can’t figure out how an axe works? I’m gonna go play Stormbringer.) On the other hand, I like to have fairly clear divisions between what each character class is capable of, so I need another way to address that.

Weapon lists come from wargames, where they make sense completely. Your untrained peasants armed with farm tools are probably not going to do well against my untrained peasants with halberds and crossbows. When D&D came along, these lists made for a convenient way to differentiate classes in combat. Clerics are restricted from using sharp weapons in old editions, not because of some holy oath, but because no blunt weapons do as much damage as a two-handed sword.

In D&D, I like the ability to deal damage to be tied more closely to training and experience than to either choice of weapon or inborn advantage. It matches what I’ve learned in both the martial arts and the military a lot more closely that way; knowing where and how to strike an opponent is more important than brute strength or even what you're armed with. A lot of the people I play with have at least some martial arts experience too, so house-ruling the combat to work more realistically removes a layer of abstraction that doesn’t add anything to the game for any of us.

uhhh nipple...?

I can boil most of this reasoning down to two general statements:
1. There’s no good reason my wizard can’t use a sword to kill people.
2. There’s also no reason he could do more damage with it than your fighter can with a dagger, because your fighter should be better at finding, say, my spleen.

My answer is class based damage. Fighters do 1d8 damage regardless of what weapon they’re using, thieves do 1d6, mages do 1d4. This also applies to unarmed combat and improvised weapons, because it is both A) realistic and more importantly B) awesome if your first level fighter is able to throat punch a man to death or take him out with a ladder.

Jackie Chan would've been too obvious. Photo by Laura Johnson.

Sure, my games lose an element of tactical granularity that the weapon lists provided, but it’s like amputating an infected limb; you end up cutting away some of the healthy bit along with the part that’s oozing weird colored pus.

I started to look for an image for that but decided against it. You're welcome.

Yes I know that none of this addresses the point of the “weapon lists are a bug” rant in any way. That’s because role playing is an extremely subjective term and coming up with a universal definition seems not only really really difficult but also without much benefit.