Monday, December 28, 2009

Available Classes Update Number Three

Since the previous "comprehensive" available class update, I have (of course) added a couple more PC class options into my Lands of Ara campaign.  So it seems appropriate to offer yet another "comprehensive" update, which officially supersedes any previous information given on available PC classes in the Lands of Ara.  The extant classes in my Lands of Ara campaign, listed by race, are:

Fighter, Cleric, Magic-User: as per Labyrinth Lord.

Noffellian Sword-Cleric: a special type of undead-fighting Noffellian cleric described here.

Fire Elementalist, Earth Elementalist, Wind Elementalist, Water Elementalist, Cold Elementalist: five cleric sub-classes, all to be described in forthcoming posts.

Druid: as per AD&D Player’s Handbook.  The druid is a rare PC type in Ara, since Arandish Druids are nature-lovers and tend to live reclusively in the wilds, eschewing civilization and human company.

Thief: As previously specified, I am officially switching from the Grognardia version of the thief to the Beyond the Black Gate version.  This thief class is used for both human thieves and rodian rogues (see below).

Barbarian: Barbarians are a permitted class, though are extremely rare in Ara except as Mizarians. Mizarian barbarian characters in the Lands of Ara follow the Ode To Black Dougal Barbarian guidelines, and don't forget that all Mizarian characters are "Klingons on horseback" who get a +1 bonus to any rolls having to do with riding or handling horses.

Ranger: The Arandish Ranger comes in two variants, both found in Brave Halfling’s Delving Deeper: Ranger.  (1) the Giant-fighter type (With Damage Bonus), presumed to be a northerner or from the eastern mountains, and (2) the Scout type (With Additional Skills) from anywhere in Ara but especially prevalent in the wilderness areas of Achelon and the Western Lands, and around the Great Western Swamp.  

I may in future use the Grognardia version of the ranger for Telengardian Roughriders and/or Achelonian monster-hunters, if I develop those types as PC classes.

See also this previous post on rodians and their classes for details on rodian racial abilities and class prerequisites.
Duellist: A rodian fighter type described here.

Rogue: The rodian rogue (really just a thief) uses the Beyond the Black Gate Thief guidelines. 

Illusionist: As per the AD&D Player's Handbook.

Invoker: [new class!] A rodian magic-user type who levels and obtains spells as a Labyrinth Lord elf:

Rodian Invoker
Requirements:  INT 14, DEX 9 (all rodians)
Prime requisite:  INT
Hit Dice:  1d4
Maximum level:  10 
Note:  The Rodian Invoker levels and obtains spells as a Labyrinth Lord Elf, but with Magic-user weapon and armor restrictions.

Dwarf (as per Labyrinth Lord)

James Maliszewski’s use of Goblins as PCs has inspired me to allow goblins as PCs in Ara.  But not just anywhere; probably only in the northeastern mountains, in campaigns centering on (or at least originating in) Telengard or possibly Delzar.  Of course, if Goblins exist as PCs in Ara at all, then a few certainly dwell in the Free City of Kaladar and at least one must be a member of Hokka’s crew.

Arandish NPC classes players cannot play
Enchanter, Summoner, Necromancer, Shadrachai, Elf, Assassin.

What AD&D classes does this list exclude?
NO Paladin, Bard, Monk, or Halfling – these do not exist in Ara .

NO Elf  nor Assassin -- though elves exist as an NPC race in the Lands of Ara, and assassins exist as NPCs as well.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Free City of Kaladar

A great center of trade and commerce even before it became an independent free city, Kaladar is known throughout Ara as the place where practically anything can be bought, traded, hired, sold, or stolen.

Kaladar began its existence as an Achelonian Fort called Hragdor, and remained an Achelonian city ruled by the Achelonian Queen until Old Calendar year 3020, eighteen years into the Old War between the Achelonian and Telengardian arcanists.  In 3020, under the leadership of a powerful summoner named Kaladar, Fort Hragdor declared itself a Free City and elected its first Lord Mayor, Farstan the Deadly.  Queen Lossar of Achelon sent a token force to Kaladar to regain control, but the city defenses were impenetrable; Kaladar remained free and declared itself neutral in the Achelon-Telengard War.  At that time it was renamed The Free City of Kaladar and began flying the Kaladarian green dragon flag, in honor of its namesake's well-known tendency to summon that creature in battle. Despite this victory, the Achelonian monarchy did not acknowledge Kaladar’s sovereignty for many more decades.

During the Old War, Fort Hragdor was the site of many bloody magical and non-magical battles; while mostly held by Achelonian forces, Telengardian armies did breach the walls on numerous occasions and even successfully besieged the city for a full two years in 3012-13.  More recently, as a Free City, Kaladar has seen its share of conflict and attempts at capture / siege.  The most notable of these instances, besides the "three week siege" of  New Calendar year 60, was the successful (if temporary) occupation of Kaladar by Achelonian forces under Queen Lossar V starting in New Calendar year 889.  As previously mentioned, the Crimson Blade Balak, Life-Stealer, played a key role in the restoration of Kaladar as a Free City after the Achelonian Occupation of 889-95, becoming the possession of the Achelonian Queen as a condition of the treaty that ended that occupation.

Every accepted form of human magic has at least a small guild within the walls of the Free City of Kaladar.  The Kaladarian magic-user’s Guild, located in the southwestern Dragon's Claw District, is the largest in Ara.  Many practitioners of alternative and even forbidden forms of magic are rumored to dwell and operate within the Free City walls also.

Kaladar has a large and well-trained Royal Guard, probably second only to the Noffellian High Guard in terms of its overall efficacy and reputation for law enforcement excellence.  The Kaladarian Royal Guard's training and reputation, combined with the city's location on an island between two wide, rapid-flowing rivers, makes Kaladar all but impenetrable and unassailable (not that many throughout Kaladar's stormy history haven't tried). There is a governing merchant prince called the Lord Mayor who presides over the affairs of the city and who commands his own elite regiment of the Royal Guard.

Bridges and Ferries
The northern river encircling half of Kaladar is called the King's Ford River, named for an Old War-era Telengardian king, Arkon III, who crossed it in a failed yet extremely valiant attempt to take the city by force.  The southern fork of this river, as it sweeps around the south side of the island upon which Kaladar sits, is called the South Fork River.

There are four heavily guarded gates into the Free City, which sit roughly at (and are named for) the cardinal compass points: East Gate, West Gate, North Gate, and South Gate.  All four gates include drawbridges across the wide rivers to the mainland.  The Endyn Trade Route enters and exits the Free City of Kaladar via the West and East Gates.  The North Gate is the least-used of all the entrances to the city, and is mainly frequented by Kaladarian Royal Guard units as they head in and out on patrols.

A ferry crosses the southern South Fork River.  For a few spring months each year, the South Fork rises and floods Kaladar's south gate and bridge, so this ferry -- which costs 1gp per passenger per one-way crossing -- becomes the only means in and out of the south side of Kaladar.

It is rumored that one can access the lower, underground sewer levels of Kaladar from either the north or south rivers, but the Royal Guard is certainly aware of all such entrances and keeps them consistently patrolled.

Notable Districts
The most opulent dwellings, inns and businesses in Kaladar are located in the center of the city at the top of Lookout Hill.  This centrally located and extremely affluent Lookout Hill district is home to most of the local nobles and officials, including the Lord Mayor's manor and the single most famous (and expensive) inn in the Free City of Kaladar, The Hotel Kaladarian -- see below. 

There is also a rich (if eccentric) neighborhood, the Dragonwing District, along Kaladar's northwest wall.  This is a district largely inhabited by retired Achelonian nobles and affluent wizards of various kinds.

Kaladar's poor mostly live on the south and southeast sides of the city; the south gate and ferry are thought to be particularly useful for bandits and black marketeers, and there is rumored to be an assassin's guild secretly located somewhere in the Free City's southeastern Green Dragon district.

As one might expect, within the walls of the Free City there are at least sixteen different pubs and eating establishments with the words "Green Dragon" in their names, but the most famous one is in the Lord Mayor's District in east-central Kaladar, and is called simply The Green Dragon.  There are also three separate Kaladarian streets with this name, a fact which can create big hassles for non-natives and first-time visitors. 

The North Wall District, in the northeastern quadrant of the Free City, is best-known for the presence of the Arandish Warriors' Guild, and for housing the largest (if not most elite) garrison of the Kaladarian Royal Guard.  Given that this sector of the Free City is overrun by fighting men and mercenaries, it should not be surprising that The Greedy Lion, a famous merc bar in the North Wall District, is rumored to be a place to pick up dangerous and not-quite-legal mercenary and courier work.   

The Hotel Kaladarian
The most famous and expensive inn in the Free City is The Hotel Kaladarian, centrally located atop Lookout Hill in the affluent Lookout Hill district.  The Hotel Kaladarian is built upon the ruins of the Queen of Achelon's former palace, having been constructed there shortly after the signing of the Free Kaladarian Decree of New Calendar year 60. 
Scott Peoples, who created this famous Hotel, centered an entire campaign around it.  The adventure party was hired by the kitchen staff of the Hotel Kaladarian to hunt down and bring back rare monster species for preparation by the Hotel Kaladarian's renowned chef, Escoffier.  Escoffier plans his exotic and highly expensive dishes months in advance, gives a list of needed "monster" ingredients to his chief aide, and that aide (whose name I forget) seeks out adventurers to hunt down the needed creatures.  This is all kept very discreet and quiet, and pays very well.  The party I played with first sought out a sea serpent for one of Escoffier's preparations (the same quest upon which we first met Captain Hokka) and were later set after a wide array of rare and dangerous creatures. 

Sawith, Scribe of Kaladar
Sawith [SAW-with] is the wisest "popular" sage in the entire Lands of Ara; like Captain Hokka of Noffel, Sawith's name is known to almost everyone throughout the Lands.  There may be a few more knowledgable sages in Ara, at least in certain specific subject areas, but Sawith is by far the most popular and well-informed generalist sage.  Sawith inhabits a famous tower and library complex at the foot of Lookout Hill in the Free City of Kaladar.  Those seeking his wisdom must come to him in person, and must be prepared to pay a high price for his services. 

Sawith was originally created by Scott Peoples, and in Scott's Arandish campaigns, Sawith charged 100gp per real-time minute for his services: that is, our party paid 100gp, then had one real-world minute in which to ask Sawith as many questions as could be reasonably asked in that time.  In my own deployment of Sawith the Scribe, I am more inclined to charge by the question, and to adjust the rate based upon the difficulty in obtaining an answer, the obscurity of the subject, and/or the sensitivity / dangerousness of the knowledge sought.  I retain Scott's minimum 100gp buy-in rate -- that's just to get a personal audience with Sawith! -- plus the additional weekly fees given below (much more expensive than the typical "Sage" rates given in Labyrinth Lord):

To obtain an audience with Sawith the Scribe: 100gp
Easy questions: 800gp per week
Moderately difficult questions: 1,000gp per week
Difficult / politically sensitive questions: 1,200gp per week
Seeking incredibly obscure / powerful / forbidden knowledge: 2,000+ per week

I would generally rate Sawith's accuracy as being quite high, especially in the easy and moderate categories (85-90% accurate). In the difficult category, Sawith's accuracy may drop to more like 60-70%, but this is still better than most other sages, whom I would estimate as being only (at best) 50-70% accurate in any but their own extremely specialized area(s) of knowledge.  It is in fact Sawith's atypical "specialization" as an information generalist -- and his accuracy therein -- that has made him so popular throughout Ara.

Typically, parties make an initial appointment with Sawith -- for which they may have to wait many days if he is busy -- and then Sawith takes a few weeks or months to gather research, construct a precis, and meet with the party once again.  Sawith will usually give a cost estimate and charge his estimated fee for the job up-front; sometimes, if the question ends up being more difficult to answer than initially predicted, he asks for additional funds before delivering the precis.  Sawith has a staff of clerks, journeyman sages, and junior researchers, but to this day he still conducts all meetings with in-person clients himself, once an official appointment is made through his scheduling staff.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

My Email Invite to New Players

A few days ago, I sent my first introductory email message to a group of eight potential players for the Arandish Labyrinth Lord Campaign 2010!  A few of these folks are veteran gamers, or people who have played RPGs in the distant past and are interested in playing again.  But I do have at least two invitees who have never played an RPG before, so I sent an email with a fair amount of explanatory language that helped reassure folks that rules-memorization and a hefty time commitment would NOT be required.  Here is the text of the email:

Hi select friends and colleagues—

I email to officially invite you to participate in a thrilling tabletop (pencil and paper) role-playing game (RPG) experience starting this coming January 2010! I will be staging an original, ongoing adventure campaign using the LABYRINTH LORD rules set, which I will briefly explain before moving into the particulars about times, dates, etc.

Without boring you with lots of background about the RPG’ing hobby, suffice to say that there is an “old-school revolution” taking place within it right now, and I am part of this renaissance. Those of us who favor the old-school approach to RPG’ing prefer the way the relatively simple role-playing games of the 1970’s and 1980’s – such as the first two published editions of DUNGEONS & DRAGONS – functioned and played, and as a result we have no truck with the newer, rules-heavy systems that have been published since the 1990s. Many of us particularly have it out for the latest (Fourth) edition of D&D, which in many ways has been designed to cater to the “World of Warcraft” and online gaming crowd: its combat rules in particular simulate the WOW online gaming experience.

Thus, many of us who prefer our RPG-ing to feel more like it did in the 1980s have turned to various “retro-clone” systems, newly published games that intentionally emulate earlier (and long out-of-print) editions of D&D. At the recommendation of my good friend Carl Nash, I have chosen LABYRINTH LORD by Goblinoid Games as the particular old-school rules emulator we will use for our upcoming game campaign.

Note: For those who know or care about gaming history, LABYRINTH LORD specifically emulates the D&D Basic and Expert Rules sets (B/X) written by Moldvay & Cook and published in 1981 – see the full TSR D&D product chronology at this link:

In LABYRINTH LORD, there are very few rules governing what happens in play, except for certain basic dungeoneering actions (such as finding secret doors, detecting traps, etc.), combat (fighting monsters), and magic use (casting spells). Almost everything else that happens in the game is invented by the players and referee and adjudicated by the referee and the roll of the dice. For example, if your character wants to sneak up on a guard and knock him out cold with a wine bottle, there are no concrete rules nor character skills for that – the referee (me) will simply assign a probability for success based upon how you as a player describe your actions to me, then have you roll a die to determine the success (or failure) of your proposed action. Rules adjudications are made on the fly by the referee and dice rolling, which means all that you players have to do is be inventive! Any action you can dream up for your character to perform can be attempted, and there is no need to consult long lists of rules or skills because THEY DO NOT EXIST.

In fact, you do not need to know the LABYRINTH LORD rules at all in order to be a player in this game; knowing the rules is actually my job as the referee. As a player you can simply show up, allow me to assist you in the (VERY SIMPLE) task of generating a character, and then START PLAYING literally ten or fifteen minutes later. There are about six die rolls and three other decisions to make in order to generate a character, AND THAT’S IT. There is NO DISADVANTAGE in this game to NOT knowing the rules, because the rules actually cover very little of what can happen / actually does happen in game play. It is much more about role-playing and imagination than rules familiarity.

So in concrete terms, here is what I propose: that our gaming group meet once per week, on a weeknight, for approximately four hours per session. I was thinking Monday nights from 7-11pm. Players are free to jump in or out of the campaign as you please; if you cannot make (or do not wish to attend) a given session during a given week, no big deal – I am highly adept at slipping characters in and out of adventures. We should have enough players -- I am inviting nine of you in all, knowing that some of you will be sporadic participants or may say “no” outright – to maintain fairly consistent attendance within my ideal group size parameters: 3-7 players in addition to myself.

No RSVP is necessary unless (A) you know right now that you absolutely do NOT wish to participate in the game at all, or (B) you want to play but know that Monday evenings will absolutely not work for you next term. But if the scheme I have proposed more or less works for you, and if you think there is even a remote chance that you will drop in for a session and try this out, then no response to this email is needed. I will get back in touch with all of you in early January to set the exact date for the first session. (Note: you gung-ho types are welcome to start devising, rolling, and creating characters. But I will include a brief [20-minute] character creation period into the beginning of our first session in January as well.)

I concluded the email by providing links to the downloadable Labyrinth Lord core rules pdf as well as my own blog.

I think the tone of my email worked because one of my good friends and academic colleagues who has never RPG'd before told me last night that she is IN!  This is a major triumph because she is one of those folks who really gets into the spirit of whatever game she plays -- I have introduced her to Games Workshop's TALISMAN board game before -- and uses her acting skills (she is a former theater actor) to her advantage.  Just the kind of player I like, and my senses tell me she will get a really big kick out of playing Labyrinth Lord -- I know I am thrilled to have her onboard.

At this point, then, I have five confirmed players: the role-playing newbie I just mentioned, two friends who do not roleplay currently but have in the distant past, plus two folks from Carl's Mutant Future group -- Carl himself plus one other.

My biggest problem now (and what a sweet problem to have!) is limiting how many players I end up with in this thing.  For while I admire Mutant Lord Carl's ability to referee really large (10+) groups of players, I am not so sure about my own abilities / proclivities in that area.  I am actually envisioning the ideal party size for this campaign as being anywhere between 3 and 8 players -- for my own sanity I do not really want to hit double-digits.  But this means being a wee bit selective about who I ask to play, since so far even some of my "long shots" have been saying yes!  There is one other player in the Mutant Future group who leaps out as a particularly good player and who I have been wanting to ask, but I do not yet have email contact info for him and I have felt leery about verbally asking him to play in front of the whole MF group.  It may be that my strategy will continue to entail NOT plugging the LL campaign amongst the Mutant Future-ites generally, but simply letting interested parties know that if some of my other players flake out / drop out of the campaign down the line, I would certainly ask them in as replacement players.  This is tough because I hate to exclude anybody, especially given the MF group members' proven enthusiasm and creativity, but I think that's the safest route for now given that I really don't wish to exceed eight players.  Am I being too greedy?

Whatever else happens, I guess this email makes the whole thing REAL.  No backing out now!  Lands of Ara, here we come in 2010!

Arandish Magic Artifacts and the Crimson Blades

As I touched upon in a previous post, I like my campaign's magic items to have specific histories and to be somewhat unique.  I do not want a ton of +1 through +3 weapons in every PC's hand; I want to see a very few high-powered, unique, artifact-type weapons, maybe an occasional +2 sword bought at great expense from a Kaladarian merchant, and everybody else makes do with mundane iron weapons or new steel weapons when/if they can afford them.  In short, magic items are fairly rare and very expensive in Ara.  Dwarven steel weapons and armor are preferred and more widely available.

Don't get me wrong; in Ara there are indeed enchanters and wizards out there creating all kinds of bizarre and unique magical weapons, artifacts, and oddities.  But PCs don't get their hands on them all that often, and when they do, I prefer them to find unusual or unique magic items, or else fairly low-powered ones, rather than lots of randomly rolled magic weapons.  I am quite careful about how, when, and especially how often I place magic items amongst treasure hordes.

The Legend and Whereabouts of the
Crimson Blades of Ara
The Crimson Blades are the most famous magic artifact weapons in the Lands of Ara.  As was related in this post, in old Calendar year 2288, the creator-sorceress Awra sailed from Noffel on the vessel Tarandis and ended up shipwrecked (in 2289) on the island of Suhl.  Most of the Noffellian human sailors on that voyage were transmogrified by Awra into what we now call rodians (or sometimes Suhlians).  However, a few Noffellian warriors, led by a man named Rogath, resisted being transformed and, after making landfall on Suhl, demanded to leave the island in an attempt to return to the Arandish mainland.  As these Noffellians set sail in two ship's boats from the Tarandis, Awra reportedly proclaimed:

"Go forth now, thou thirteen unbelievers, to meet your destiny!  I now lay an enchantment upon these boats that they may see you swiftly whither thou will.  And I lay upon you a curse of forgetfulness, so that should you reach the mainland, not one among you will remember this place or this voyage.  But your blades will bear the mark of these events forever."

The journal of the sea captain who commanded the Tarandis reports that dark thunderheads swept the sky surrounding the rocky shoreline from which Awra pronounced this curse, and as the thirteen Noffellians began to row out to sea, each of their thirteen swords glowed a dull, deep shade of crimson. 

Ever since, these legendary thirteen Crimson Blades have been the most sought-after magic artifacts throughout the Lands of Ara.  Only three have ever been found, and in the present day, the whereabouts of only two Crimson Blades are known.

The first Crimson Blade ever found, Gathar, resides in the the vaults of the King of Noffel in the Royal Palace at Highgate.  This beloved Crimson Blade, once wielded by the legendary Noffellian Sword-Cleric Silverblade, is brought forth and shown to the Noffellian public by the king himself during the most important Noffellian state functions, such as a new king's coronation or a formal declaration of war.  Silverblade (called Silverblade the Stout-Hearted by most Noffellians) successfully recovered Gathar during his family sword quest at the age of 18 in New (or Arlonian) calendar year 682.  True to Noffellian custom surrounding sword quests, Silverblade never revealed exactly where or how he found the sword which would come to be known as The Gleaming Sword of Noffel.  But upon his death in 719, Gathar passed into the hands of the Noffellian monarchy, where it has remained in safe-keeping ever since. 

The second known Crimson Blade is Balak, the Life-Stealer, kept by Lar, the Duke of Anorak, in his keep in the northern reaches of the Western Lands.  Balak is (rightfully) dreaded by most Arandish humans and demi-humans due to its reputation as a chaotic evil blade.  Since its discovery in Arlonian year 776, it is known to have driven three of its wielders insane, and most suspect it did the same to its original owner.  This blade played a key role in the restoration of Kaladar as a Free City after the Achelonian Occupation of 889-95, and became the possession of the Achelonian Queen as a condition of the treaty that ended that occupation.  Lar keeps the blade sealed underground in a magically guarded vault at the behest of the current Queen of Achelon, with whom he is close.  Lar and his minions and troops will fight to the death to keep the blade locked away, and will be assisted by Achelonian troops from Tradefair within four days of any serious attempt to take Balak.  So far, since Lar took possession of the accursed weapon in Arlonian year 1269, no one has even attempted to liberate the chaotic blade from his keeping.

The third Crimson Blade ever recovered was Hallas, the Dancing Blade, found (and subsequently wielded) by Silverblade's great-great-nephew, Grimmtouth the Gallant, in Arlonian year 802.  Hallas was lost at the time of Grimmtouth's disappearance (and presumed death) in the Gray Mountains in 813.

In general, it is not precisely known whether the Crimson Blades are blessed, cursed, whether they prefer Noffellian wielders, nor what their specific powers might be.  They are only known to be greatly powerful, and sought after by all.  Thousands of legends and rumors exist about the thirteen Crimson Blades -- they are viewed with reverence and fear throughout Ara, especially by Noffellians.  As in most things, Sawith, the Chief Scribe of Kaladar, is in possession of the most complete archive of Crimson Blades-related historical materials, but there are also many other reputable Crimson Blades lore-masters, including Lar, Duke of Anorak, Herbald, Duke of Orr (Western Lands), and a notable Delzarian folklorist named Zalbheeth.

I personally suspect that each of the thirteen Crimson Blades have taken on something of the personalities of their original owners, all of whom had been through plague and near-death at sea, not to mention witnessing a mass transmogrification, before fleeing Suhl in fear for their lives and disappearing from history.  The thirteen Crimson Blades are all sapient (see LL p. 121) and have a wide range -- from purely good to mixed-up insane to disturbingly fucked-up -- personalities.  None of the original owners -- their bodies nor conclusive proof of their deaths -- has ever been found.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Mizar - Barbarians of Southern Ara

When Crimson Blades of Ara was first created and Dave Miller and I sketched out the first Arandish map circa 1989, the region south of Delzar and the Free City of Kaladar was left blank except for the words "Barbarian Nomads."  A bit later, we dubbed the region Mizar [MY-zar] and decreed that it was a vast plain shared by, well, barbarian nomads and deadly hordes of trolls to the south.  It was not until 1994 or '95 that Scott Peoples really brought Mizar and its people to life, first by playing our first-ever Mizarian [my-ZAR-ee-yun] player character, Raptor, then by integrating a few of the Mizarian clans and some Mizar-Delzar border skirmishes into one of his own CBoA campaigns.  Scott described the Mizarians as "Klingons on horseback," and indeed, their warlike nature and deep sense of honor has remained their hallmark ever since Scott's interpretation took hold.

In a previous post I stated that "Mizarian characters are almost always fighters, and are always proficient horsemen."  I would now like to refine the first part of that statement by saying that the vast majority of Mizarians are either fighters (20%), rangers (30%), or barbarians (50%).  For the latter I use the Ode to Black Dougal Barbarian class, which is now an available PC class in the Lands of Ara!  As for Mizarians being proficient horsemen, that is indeed true: all Mizarians (regardless of class) receive a +1 bonus to any rolls having to do with riding or handling horses.

The Mizarians have few to no bona fide wizards, though every tribe has one or more shamans or clerics loyal to Threk, Warrior God of the Plains.  While each Mizarian tribe has its own gods and heroes, all Mizarians revere Threk above all other deities, though some Mizarians who venture north into other Lands of Ara learn to respect (and sometimes even worship) Frey, the Noffellian War-God, who shares many superficial characteristics with Threk.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Arandish Campaign House Rules

As the start date for my Arandish campaign – January 2010 – draws near, it is time for me to publicize my campaign house rules.  As with so many other things, this list should be considered provisional, as I am sure things will change a bit once game play actually gets underway.  But these are my planned Arandish Campaign House Rules for now:

Generating Attributes
Attribute scores are generated by rolling 4d6 and discarding the lowest die roll. The player then orders them any way s/he chooses. 

The following list of the six available Arandish alignments is originally borrowed from here, and is also posted here.  (Please also note this succinct breakdown of the meaning of alignment terminology and a follow-up post for first-edition gamers by James Raggi.) 

Chaotic: Inimical to civilization and possibly reality itself – the alignment of demons, Faerie, and the insane.

Neutral: Apathetic and/or unconcerned with the battle between cosmic forces.

Neutral (Balance): The philosophical stance that a balance between Chaos and Law is necessary for the well-being of the cosmos.

Lawful (Good): The philosophical stance that civilization exists to foster the common good.

Lawful: The philosophical stance that civilization, regardless of how it is organized, is preferable to other alternatives.

Lawful (Evil): The philosophical stance that civilization exists to allow the strong to lord it over the weak.

The "Five Things the Character Knows" Rule
Horked from Ken Harrison at the Rusty Battle Axe, this great rule (or some modification thereof) will likely be deployed during character generation / our first session.

Critical Hits and Fumbles
Any time a player rolls a natural ‘20’ on a to hit roll, it is a critical hit. Damage is doubled.
Likewise, if a player rolls a natural ‘1’ on a to hit roll, it is considered a critical failure or fumble. Typically, this means the combatant hurts himself, drops his weapon, breaks his weapon, or just plain falls down – GM discretion.

The optional encumbrance system in the Labyrinth Lord rulebook (p. 44) will be ignored; if how much a character is carrying becomes an issue, it will be dealt with intuitively.

Except in special circumstances, NO individual initiative is rolled (see LL p. 52), just initiative for each group, rolled on 1d20 (not 1d6) once per combat encounter, NOT once per round as per LL p. 50 – that is too much die rolling for me!

Item Saving Throws
YES, see LL p. 55.

Ability Checks
YES, see LL p. 55.

I prefer high-powered monsters with little fear, so I am leery of morale checks for any but the weakest or most disorganized Arandish monsters.  But since so many old-school RPGers I respect seem to favor morale checks in D&D combat, I may use this rule some in the early phases of my campaign to see how it goes (see LL p. 56). 

Multiple Chances to Detect Secret Doors
As James Raggi IV has recently written:

Apparently the Moldvay Basic and Labyrinth Lord state that a character gets only one try to find a secret door, and if that fails, pffft, tough shit! I have never played like that, and as I said was never aware that such a rule existed.

Doublechecking yesterday morning to make sure I haven't been playing wrong for a quarter of a century, I did confirm that OD&D, Holmes Basic, Mentzer Basic, AD&D, OSRIC, and Swords & Wizardry do not have this "one try only" language in the rules for secret doors.

I'm truly flabbergasted that a game that so features exploration as a primary activity would have such a limitation. To me, secret doors are time sinks, and if a party wants to take the time to make an extra check (or five) at the cost of a turn each, running down their light sources and risking wandering monsters, that's great!

I agree with Mr. Raggi and hereby waive the "one try only" rule as printed in LL.

Shields Shall Be Splintered! 
This brilliant set of concepts originates with Trollsmyth, but I like this nice encapsulation by David at The RPG Corner, from whom I horked many of the best of my own house rules.  Here's the rule:

Shields provide the usual +1 bonus to AC. However, they may also be used to "soak" damage from a single attack, thereby reducing damage to zero. Soaking damage destroys the shield.

Shields may also be used against any attack that allows a save for half damage, such as a fireball or dragon's breath. In that case, the shield is destroyed, as above, and the save is considered automatically successful, thereby guaranteeing half damage.

For magical shields, each +1 enchantment bonus gives a 10% chance of surviving a damage soak.

The D30 Rule
Once per session each player may opt to roll the referee’s d30 in lieu of whatever die or dice the situation normally calls for. The choice to roll the d30 must be made before any actual rolling has occurred. The d30 cannot be rolled for generating character statistics or hit points.

Experience Points
Experience points are earned by defeating monsters and completing objectives, but NOT for finding treasure.  See this insightful post about awarding experience points, which explains what I mean by "objectives" and seconds my motion not to award xp for treasure.  The post's writer, Ripper X, outlines more detailed xp distribution categories than I will use -- for example, I do NOT give out xp based on "Class Actions" -- but I like his overall approach to the concept of xp distribution a great deal.

Experience Bonuses from Ability Scores
I horked this great idea from John Laviolette at Nine and Thirty Kingdoms:

Any time a player solves a problem using methods that clearly rely on one of the six abilities, that player gets an experience bonus equal to ten times the character's ability score. Talk your way past a guard, get a 10xCha bonus. Bust down a door, get a 10xStr bonus. Pick the lock instead, get a 10xDex bonus. If the GM decides that's too high, don't multiply by 10. It's simple, provides rewards for non-combat actions, distinguishes characters, and encourages role-playing. 

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Minoch - Uncanny Energy and Snowbound Mountain Peaks

Minoch [MY-nock] is a relatively small mountainous region widely believed to have been haunted by strange energies and ghostly spirits long before the first Arandish human settlers (the Minars of ancient Noffel) came here in the decades following Old Calendar year 171.  These weird energies are thought to influence Minochian natives to this day, making them seem distant and strange to many other Arandish people, though this may also have to do with the geography and climate of the region: Minoch's mountains are high, steep, and riddled with rock troll warrens, and the weather, particularly at higher elevations, is harshly cold.  Minoch is known for its long, cruel winters, as well as its rock trolls and dire wolves.

It is fairly certain that by Old Calendar year 360, the early Minochians -- immigrants from ancient Noffel --  had made contact with the Mizarian horse raising tribes to the east and south.  Limited trade between these peoples may even have taken place in the years following initial contact.

In Old Calendar year 392, the people of southeastern Minoch were devastated by a series of large-scale assaults by southern hill trolls.  The surviving Minochians were driven into the high mountains, and what little contact existed between these people and their ancestral brethren to the west in Blint and Noffel was severed.

By Old Calendar year 431, bronze was being smelted in Minoch, and bronze weapons are forged to repel invading hill and rock trolls.  Further, bronze implements of all kinds are traded to the Mizarians for grain, wool, and horses.  The introduction of bronze tools and weapons to the Mizarians will allow the horse tribes to drive back the trollish hordes and become the new masters of the southern plains.

The "uncanny" properties of the Minochian region are almost certainly connected in some way with the Great Minochian Catastrophe of 787, in which most of the original settlers of this region suddenly and inexplicably disappeared.  What few records survived the destruction of the original Minochian people do not make clear what exactly occurred.  Some force caused the demise of this ancient civilization and scattered the survivors.

Minoch has since been resettled by humans from all over Ara, most prevalently from mountainous regions like northern Noffel and Telengard, and nearby Mizar.  Thus present-day Minochians most often have mixed Mizarian and either Noffellian or Telengardian ancestry.

Minochian Geography
On the map excerpt above, cropped out of the older large Lands of Ara map (Map #1, downloadable here), the first Minochian town encountered as one ventures south on the trade route from Kaladar is Farn Junction.  Farn Junction (a medium-sized town, straight above the "o" in "Minoch") is the central trading point for Minochian imports and exports -- most notably, dwarven-crafted iron implements are brought here from the northeast for enchantment by the Enchanters' Guild nestled in the high mountains of Minoch.

That other Minochian town to the southeast of Farn Junction (to the right of the "h" in "Minoch") is Fortinbras, smaller than Farn Junction but fairly well-traveled nonetheless since it is the the gateway to all the smaller villages that lie above the Minochian snowline to the west. Fenris Pass (unmarked on the map) is only a few days' march west (and straight uphill) from Fortinbras, and those snowbound villages (like Crystal Lake and Snowdrift, unmarked on the map) lie in the snowy mountain reaches beyond.

The Enchanters' Guild
The sole Enchanters' Guild in the Lands of Ara is located on a remote mountainside in central Minoch.  The Enchanters put their Guildhall and workshops there in part because (as they claim) the weird energy of the Minochian Mountains aids them in their arcane work.  Minoch is also a somewhat convenient location between the dwarven iron-smiths of the eastern mountains and the markets and shipping ports of Kaladar, Blint, and Noffel.  The Enchanters' Guildhall and workshops do wholesale business only -- PCs wanting to purchase or custom-order magical items must deal with retail vendors in Kaladar and other large Arandish cities and towns.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Magic Items and Dwarven Steel

I am no great fan of having tons of magic items in my campaigns.  No, I prefer a sparse distribution of magic items that favors either extremely low-level stuff -- rods of continual light, potions of cure light wounds, the occasional ring of invisibility, a sprinkling of +1 weapons and armor -- and/or full-blown artifacts with unique histories and tons of powerful NPCs of all stripes seeking to take possession, usually violently.  Dave Miller, my co-creator on Crimson Blades of Ara, must have felt similarly, and together we devised an alternative to having abundant magical weapons drifting around in the Lands of Ara: the superiority of dwarven steel.  That is, we posited that dwarven miners and smiths in the principal dwarven city of Gannar in northeastern Ara discovered the secret of making steel sometime prior to the end of the Old War, and wisely kept the knowledge of steelcraft to themselves.  After the Old War ended and the dwarves declared independence from Telengardian human rule, they began forging -- and already had the market cornered on -- what quickly became the most valued non-precious metal in Ara.  I suppose with our "dwarven steel" scheme we were really just riffing on Tolkien's mithril to some extent, but hell, who doesn't steal from Tolkien at some point or another in this hobby?

Anyway, what follows are some notes on the availability of "standard" magic items in Ara, followed by a description of Arandish dwarven steel and its properties. 

Magic Items and the Arandish Enchanters' Guild
Enchantment, the endowment of scrolls, weapons, armor, wands, rings, amulets, etc. with magical powers or properties, is an arcane magical art practiced by Arandish humans -- but by NPCs only.  The sole Enchanter’s Guildhall in Ara is nestled in the mountains of central Minoch, and from this facility and the nearby Minochian trading town of Farn Junction, the Enchanters Guild does business with nobles from the various kingdoms of Ara, as well as magic item vendors in the Free City of Kaladar and elsewhere.  Note that all magic weapons and armor in Ara are presumed to be forged of iron, since dwarven steel cannot be enchanted (see below). 

Dwarven Steel
Dwarven steel is the strongest, most expensive non-precious metal there is on Ara. It is fairly hard to get, since dwarves alone know the secrets of its mining and manufacture, and steel items take much longer to forge than similar implements made of iron or bronze.  Steel is highly sought after by dwarves and non-dwarves everywhere.  It comes in two varieties:
    New Steel, which includes any steel implements made after the end of the Old War, is of slightly lesser cost and quality than older steel weapons and equipment. By and large, methods of craftsmanship have become more industrialized in recent years, and much of the fine art of steel craft has given way to larger-scale production techniques.  Items crafted from New steel (usually weapons, armor, or decorative items) cost at least forty times what iron implements cost (e.g., a New steel short sword costs, at a minimum, 280gp) and, as I mentioned above, are fairly rare and quite hard to get.  Performance is amazing: New steel weapons offer a +1 bonus to all attacks, they do one and a half times normal (iron) weapon damage, and New Steel armor is 1 AC lower than standard armor. 
    Old Steel implements are even rarer and more expensive than New Steel ones.  Old Steel is easily recognizable due to its brilliant bluish luster and its incredible effectiveness: Old Steel weapons attack at +2, do twice the damage of their iron counterparts, and Old Steel armor is 2 AC lower than standard armor!  The cost of an Old Steel weapon or implement is usually around two hundred times the cost of a comparable iron item, but would never be sold to a non-dwarf, and probably would never be sold, period.
    There are only a few practical places to obtain dwarven steel weapons and armor:
    (1) In the dwarven realm of Gannar, one could attempt to purchase or trade steel from the northern dwarves themselves.  Expect to pay the maximum price unless you are well known and liked by the dwarves, or are close friends with a particular dwarven steel-smith.  Steel bought from the dwarves in this way will always be New Steel. . . they consider what Old Steel artifacts they do have left to be sacred, and would never sell such things to an outsider.
    (2) In the Free City of Kaladar, there is bound to be someone who will have what you’re looking for, but the sources are often illegal and always astronomically priced.
    (3) There is some steel weaponry lost out in the wide world somewhere.  Dwarves have been crafting steel for nearly a millennium—there are bound to be stray items scattered about the wilderlands of Ara, ripe for plunder or purchase.

Note that dwarven steel cannot be enchanted nor endowed with magical properties by human enchanters or magicians of any kind.  It is rumored that certain dwarven steel-smiths have been able to imbue steel weapons and items with unique powers, but that notion is vehemently denied by the dwarves of Gannar and has never been otherwise substantiated.

UPDATE: See also this additional Dwarven Steel Update.

Forthcoming: unique Arandish magic artifacts including the Crimson Blades!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Megadungeon Possibilities In Ara

[PLAYER SPOILER ALERT: If you are a prospective player in my forthcoming 2010 Arandish Labyrinth Lord campaign, READ THIS POST AT YOUR OWN RISK.  It contains information that could ruin surprises I have in store for you.]

As James at Grognardia has written:

When I say "megadungeon," I'm talking about what Trent Foster calls a "campaign dungeon," which is to say, an adventuring site so large, open-ended, and dynamic that it becomes a campaign setting unto itself -- a kind of "dungeon wilderness," if that makes sense.  [. . .]  A megadungeon, by its very nature, [. . .] [is] "impressionistic" and relies heavily on ad hoc adjudication by the referee, as the players explore it.

In the most general sense I have always used this open-ended "megadungeon" concept for my campaign settings, though in my case I have tended to prefer wilderness areas to actual underground dungeons much of the time.  I suppose that in theory, the Lands of Ara is my megadungeon, embodying a kind of Wilderness-as-megadungeon concept applicable to the setting as a whole, or to certain regions like the Great Western Swamp, which could be seen as one huge, outdoor megadungeon. 

However, I believe "sandbox" is actually the more accurate term for the Lands of Ara.  For information about sandboxes and how to construct one, see this extremely helpful post on sandbox construction by Bat in the Attic. 

In terms of more traditional, underground types of megadungeons, I have recently come up with five ideas for megadungeon sites / concepts for the Lands of Ara.  I will now elucidate these in broad, "impressionistic" terms.

Novellan Mountains (Northern Telengard)
These high mountains teeming with bulettes and rock trolls are a possible location for the Vaults of the Hobgoblin King, a rumored underground complex of huge proportions presided over by a super-powerful (and possibly demonically assisted) hobgoblin king.  In addition to the hobgoblin king's Vaults, these mountains could serve as an excellent ongoing adventure location, due to the following dangerous attractions:
1.  Bulette country, including hunters who pursue bulettes.
2.  The nearby dreaded Ghardash Wilderness, filled with high-level monsters and strange, dark wizardry.
3.  Razgar the Red Dragon.
For more information see this post on Telengard and/or this one, a Novellan Mountains encounter table.

The Spire of Mornlyn (Southern Achelon)
The spire of Mornlyn in south Achelon is an obsidian spire about 300 feet high that sits over an underground chaos node -- a deep node of primordial chaos and evil energy.  There has always been much strife in the surrounding area -- for example, the Old War between Achelon and Telengard, plus the many battles over control of the city of Kaladar -- and many attribute this turmoil and violence to the influence of the spike.  The Mornlyn Spire is also where Arlon imprisoned the evil necromancers at the end of the Old War, and despite their escape, much of their dark energy is believed to linger in the locale.

I posit that the Mornlyn Spire is really a negative / evil / necromantic energy conductor, wicking such energy out of the once-sealed prison chambers at its base (and buried sub-levels below. . . ) and projecting that evilness out into Ara's stratosphere.  Of course, this negative energy discharge may be traveling out into space and attracting horrible extra-planetary attention to Ara. . . 

I have used Mornlyn as an adventure locale a few different times; in my own Arandish campaigns, it is the "most famous evil place" in the Lands of Ara.  (Crimson Blades of Ara's co-creator Dave Miller tended to favor the Ghardash Wilderness as Ara's most notorious locale -- see Novellan Mountains above.)  Yet no party has yet ventured below the first couple of levels, those housing the necromantic prison designed by Arlon. 

Ancient Minochian Underworld (Minoch)
Minoch is small and entirely mountainous country.  It is tough to travel to, for its mountains are high and steep, and riddled with rock troll warrens.  Furthermore, the weather, particularly at higher elevations, is harsh.  Minoch is known for its long, cruel winters.

The Great Catastrophe of Minoch, in which most of the original settlers of this region disappeared, is thought to have happened in Old Calendar year 787.  What few Minochian records survived the destruction of the original Minochian people and their culture do not make clear what exactly occurred.  Suffice to say that some force caused the demise of this ancient civilization and scattered the survivors. The last king of the ancient Minochians was Orlannas III.

Minoch has since been resettled by humans from all over Ara, but most prevalently from mountainous regions like northern Noffel and Telengard, and nearby Mizar.  Present-day Minochians most often have mixed Mizarian and either Noffellian or Telengardian ancestry. 

While I have never taken a party to the buried ruins of ancient Minoch under-the-mountains, I know from a brief campaign there run by Scott Peoples that the Great Catastrophe was that ancient Minochian miners dug up some more ancient and/or alien and/or super-potent creature or power, a power / horde / being that consumed them, enslaving them to a bunch of demonic / undead / Shoggoth-type minions. Thus I would treat any venture to Ancient Minoch as a trip into a dark, horrific reality with bizarre aliens / horrors run rampant.  Maybe James Raggi's Death Frost Doom would plug in well here.

If I ran an ancient Minochian megadungeon I might also include some kind of mass hobgoblin and/or demon incursion(s) into the underground realm of ruined Ancient Minoch -- the hobgoblins have burrowed over (on orders from their own demon council) from the eastern Arandish mountains, beyond Mizar and Delzar.

Ancient Pre-Noffellian Ruins (Komar Peninsula)
The peninsula south of Noffel and the Great Western Swamp is an area ripe for wilderness adventures as well as exploration of a rumored huge, ancient megadungeon -- the last remnant of the lost civilization that predates the ancient Noffellians.  The southern two-thirds of the Komar Peninsula (below the swampy northern third) is a tropical rainforest with vast expanses of jungle and many huge mountains -- very difficult travel and probable high density of dangerous and unusual monsters.  Strangely, I have never used this region despite its exciting possibilities, although Scott Peoples once staged a campaign Endgame there with all the human armies of the Lands of Ara battling it out with a huge fleet of invading interstellar aliens!

If I were to use the Komar Peninsula -- called "Rakar's Peninsula" by the rodians, in reference to a much-dreaded race of scorpion-like humanoids called Rakars who dwell there -- as a megadungeon locale, I might use a Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan (Module C1) kind of vibe, starting it with a vast ruined temple and/or city complex, a place inhabited by gods and monsters heretofore unseen in the Lands of Ara. . .

The Troll-King's Castle (Wild Lands South of Mizar)
I have always felt that somewhere a good distance south of Mizar there must be a vast civilization of trollkind, presided over by a Great Troll whose powers rival a demigod's.  The existence of this Great Troll-King's Castle and its surrounding underground warrens and monster-infested cities would allow for a kind of Keep on the Borderlands setup, where Mizar is the relatively safe home base defended by humans and their allies (i.e., the "Keep"), and the Troll-King's Castle is the variously approachable and infinitely changeable "Caves of Chaos."

I have never actually taken a party south of Mizar before, but it is a vast plain largely unexplored by Arandish humans.  It seems likely to me that in addition to the Troll-King,  there is probably a barbarian-king as well, and maybe a bunch of cyclops and/or giants thrown in for good measure.  And of course a race of deadly Rakarian scorpion-men invading and attempting to colonize this region from Rakar's Peninsula (called the Komar Peninsula by Noffellians and the Northern Arandish) across the Bay of Noffel.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Need For Secrecy

Well, it's December 1st and that means that the start date for my Arandish Labyrinth Lord campaign is only a month to six weeks away.  I plan to have the campaign underway by mid-January 2010.  I think the group will meet on a weeknight, on a somewhat focused time schedule, maybe from 6:30 or 7:00pm until 11:00pm, latest.  This schedule will be to accommodate those of us (myself included) who have busy "real life" schedules and want maximum gaming fun in a tightly scheduled format.  We have a similar arrangement in Carl's Mutant Future campaign -- we typically play from 6:30pm until 10:30 or 11pm, 4- or 4.5-hour sessions pretty consistently.  While short by the standards of my youth (we preferred epic 9-10 hour sessions, even through the 1990s), these under-5-hour sessions actually work very well in a rules-light system -- a party can get a shitload done in a session of this length.

The approach of the campaign start date means that increasingly my work on the Lands of Ara must remain hidden and secret.  The past week or two I have begun crafting the first five or six levels of an Arandish megadungeon, and I want to get a level or two done on a second one in case the party goes that direction. 

I am also beginning to flesh out the finer details of a few introductory adventure ideas for the party.  I play "sandbox" style and do not know which rumors or adventure hooks they will choose to follow up on, so I want / need to have a few "first adventures" ready -- at least one play session's worth -- by the time we start in January.  All I know for sure at this point -- and all the players will likely know when they start -- is that I am starting the party out in Swampsedge.

What this increased activity in the "secret" category means is that my output to this blog is slowing down a little, or will be soon.  There is a lot of stuff I'm creating and working on now that I cannot share until after my players encounter it, and probably some other stuff I'll never reveal.  As far as the blog goes, I will continue to provide region profiles for the remaining Lands of Ara, and I also need to get cracking on those elementalists.  It is possible that I will not have the elementalist classes ready by the start of the campaign, for I have much structural groundwork yet to get in place before they will be ready for game play, but here's hoping.

Also, coming soon, some ruminations on possible Megadungeons of Ara -- a post I will likely urge my players NOT to read, but one that must be posted nevertheless, as it is the sort of thing I would most like to share with my fellow world-builders, megadungeon designers, and idea-providers / horkers in the blogosphere.  I want your feedback!