19 December 2009

Borrowing from the retro clones 3: Swords & Wizardry

Mythmere Games' Swords & Wizardry (Free PDF download and modestly priced hardcopy versions. Link: http://www.swordsandwizardry.com/) is an OGL clone of the original D&D game, and while slightly different in rules mechanics than BECMI, it's close enough to be immediately useful. While, in my not-so-expert opinion, S&W collects, organizes and clarifies the rules for an OD&D style game, the core rules refrain from adding anything revolutionary or new. I think this is intentional, as the game also boasts a large community of fans online that produce a ton of supplementary material that does innovate.

Still, there's one section in the core rules that I feel makes a very important statement about DM design and strict adherance to some esoteric idea about rules canon:

Creating monsters
Monsters are not player characters, and their abilities are not at all determined by the rules for player characters — not even the stats for races that can have player
characters, such as Dwarves. The Referee decides a monster’s abilities, and he doesn’t have to follow any rules about this! Feel free to add wings, breath weapons,
extra hit dice, wounded versions, or whatever suits your adventure and your campaign. Toggle and tweak, imagine and invent! The rules aren’t responsible for the quality of the swords and sorcery in your game, you are! So don’t try to create monsters according to any sort of power formula. Create monsters based on how they feel and how they play at the gaming table. Create challenges for the players, not headaches for yourself. Your job is to imagine and create, not to slave at rulebooks finding out what you’re “allowed” to do.

While author Matthew Finch is, obviously, talking specifically about custom monster design, I think this reasoning can apply to any DM design task; magic items, spells, etc.

As the highlighted part of the citation reminds us, you are the game master, and once your campaign gets going, noone knows it better than you and your players, not even the most skilled of game designers. Feel free to tweak, ignore or add things to the rules wherever it suits your game.

S&W is a quality clone game, very nicely organized and presented, and it and its supplemental material are definitely worth checking out for inclusion in any old school game.

16 December 2009

Borrowing from the retro clones 2: Iron Sword

Iron Sword is another retro clone game from WeaselFierce's website (Free PDF download. Link: http://weaselfierce.webs.com/roleplaying.htm). Though similar in some ways to Caverns & Cavaliers, which we discussed last time, IS adds its own new twists and ideas, the most noteworthy of which is the lack of spellcasting classes! This is intended to recreate a sort of viking/visigoth type setting, where heroes are measured in their deeds, not necessarily their motivations.

Author Ivan Sorenson describes many different options that serve to promote social interaction and roleplaying instead of just combat, and a couple of these are what I've chosen to showcase for adaptation into BECMI. Consider these optional rules applicable to all PCs.

My Home is My Castle
A PCs home, be it a palatial estate or a humble room at a roadside inn, or even a secluded glade in a forest, represents more than just his base of operations during the campaign. Family, friends and the comforts of hearth and home are all to be found here, and this comfort and security manifests in a couple minor game mechanics ways:

1. All PCs heal an extra 1 HP of damage per night spent resting in their home, in addition to any normal healing rate.
2. The PC receives a +1 bonus to all saving throws made within his home.
3. The PC receives a -1 bonus to his Armor Class while in his home.

Blade Brother (or Sword Sister, for the female PCs)
PCs who fight together quickly learn each other's tactics, strengths and weaknesses, sometimes creating an almost supernatural bond that aids both of them in combat.
Any two PCs, regardless of class (the DM may require them to be of the same alignment, I do) may choose to become Blade Brothers. After this declaration, one game session must pass before any benefit is earned, as they study each other's combat techniques. Upon the next game session, both PCs receive the following benefits:

1.The partner who goes second in combat in each round receives a +1 bonus to hit if the first partner's attack was successful. No penalty is invoked if the first PCs attack misses, however.
2. At any time during a combat, one partner may supernaturally "loan" HP to his partner, though this is a full round action for both PCs. To transfer the HP, the partners must grasp hands and vigorously proclaim their battle cry, at this time, the PC giving the XP suffers 1d4 HP dmg, which is added to the recipient PC's current total, not to exceed his maximum HP.
3. If one of the partners is slain in combat, his partner suffers a -2 penalty to hit and damage for the rest of that session of play (or 1d3 days, if time is passing quickly that session) to reflect the supernatural loss and remorse. Avenging one's partner's death by defeating his killer in solo combat removes this penalty immediately.

A PC may only be bonded to one other PC at a time in this fashion, though he may choose another PC with whom to bond if his partner dies or retires, or the bond is dissolved. A retired partner inflicts no penalty on the remaining PC, although a bond with a new partner may not be forged for 1d4 weeks of game time, and the 1 session bonding period must then be repeated for the new partners. A bond that is dissolved mutually by the two PCs invokes the same penalties as the death of a partner, in #3 above, on both partners, but without the vengeance loophole.

I've renamed and heavily modified these abilities, but that's the whole idea, right? Take what you like from the clone games and twist it to enhance your game, no matter what D&D edition or clone version you play. Be sure and download a copy of Iron Sword and see what grabs your attention.

Borrowing from the retro clones 1: Caverns & Cavaliers

While I've unfortunately gained a reputation in some circles as being "anti-retroclone", I fully support the efforts of those who are producing OGL based games that expand and support BECMI and other out of print editions of D&D. I'm not a fan of those who (in my pig-headed opinion, I fully admit) try and replace OOP D&D. Anyway...

In the spirit of supporting the retroclone publishers, and adding cool ideas to BECMI, I've decided to examine each of the games in turn, and grab at least one idea to tweak for use in a BECMI game. I'll also, of course, provide links to the download page and/or storefront site where you can acquire the game in question, if my teaser piques your interest.

First up is Caverns & Cavaliers, by WeaselFierce (Free PDF Download, Link:http://weaselfierce.webs.com/roleplaying.htm). WF introduces an interesting idea called Traits, whereby every few levels, a player can choose from a list of bonus abilities to add on top of the normal class abilities. In C&C, this serves somewhat of a custom class builder option, since the base classes are a bit more barebones than in BECMI, but the abilities are fun and minor enough to use without ruining game balance.

I suggest allowing the player to choose one Trait every 5 levels, including level 1 (so, levels 1,5,10,15,20,25,20,35) from the following list. The DM may add or remove abilities from the list as he sees fit for his campaign.

Weapon Expertise+1 to hit with a specific type of weapon (may be taken multiple times, either stacking the bonus for one weapon, or choosing a new weapon
LinguistCharacter gains the ability to speak and read one additional language (may be taken multiple times)
Defensive Reflexes-1 bonus to Armor Class (may be taken multiple times)
Toughness+3 to total hit points (may be taken multiple times)
Fast HealerCharacter heals an additional point of damage per full nights rest (may be taken multiple times)
Lightning Reflexes+1 Bonus to initiative (may be taken multiple times)
Alertness-1 bonus to personal surprise checks (may be taken multiple times)
Brute+1 damage to melee attacks (may be taken multiple times)
Devout Hunter+1 to all Turn Undead checks (may be taken multiple times)
Eagle Eye+1 bonus to find secret doors checks
Lucky Locksmith+5% to find and remove traps checks (may be taken multiple times)

Caverns & Cavaliers offers a bunch of other interesting ideas, such as custom class templates and advanced classes for experienced characters, it's definitely worth downloading and taking a look.

18 October 2009

Three horrors of the jungle (new monsters)

These three new monsters from the Jungle are presented in D&D Rules Cyclopedia format.

Kananicte (Sleep Flower)
Small Lowlife (Uncommon)
Armor Class: 9
Hit Dice: 1/2 (1d4 hp)
Move: 0
Attacks: 1
Damage: Special
No Appearing: 1d6
Save As: Normal Man
Morale: -NA-
Treasure Type: Nil
Intelligence: 0
Alignment: Nuetral
XP Value: 8

Kananicte are small, brightly colored flowers with thick stems and delicate leaves, found clumped together around the base of larger plants or trees in wet, muddy terrain. The flowers hide extensive root systems that are extremely sensitive to vibration, allowing the plant to sense the approach of any creature of halfling size or larger within 10 feet of the flower.

When any creature does approach within 10 feet, the flowers release a 20 foot radius cloud of pollen spores which on the first round of contact carry only a delicate aroma and peaceful sensation. Any creature who remains in the cloud (which will disperse after 1d12 rounds, or can be dispersed by use of the Create Air spell or similar magic) after the first round must make a saving throw vs poison or fall asleep (treat as if affected by the Sleep spell, though this effect is a poison and non-magical) for 1d4 hours.

Each flower can spray its pollen only once per hour, and since the plant is unintelligent, all flowers present will spray at once, invoking mulitple saving throws to reflect the higher concentration of spores in the air.

Some intelligent creatures, notably tribesmen and Lizardmen, will plant these flowers in or near patches of Kuumyak (see below), which will attack sleeping characters.

Adventure Ideas:
Some tribesmenn and Lizardmen believe the dreams one has while sleeping off the effects of Kananicte pollen are prophetic, and the shamans of these tribes jealously guard the plants. PCs who are found destroying the plants will be attacked with the intent to capture them, to be sacrificed later to appease any spirits who may have been offended by the acts. On the other hand, PCs who are discovered asleep from their encounter with the plants may be carried back to the village, to be questioned by the shamans as to the nature of their dreams, providing an opportunity for the DM to introduce new plot hooks or twists.

Kuumyak (Jungle Ooze)
Medium Lowlife (Uncommon)
Armor Class: 8
Hit Dice: 3
Move: 10 (1)
Attacks: 1
Damage: 1d8 + Special
No Appearing: 1
Save As: Fighter 2
Morale: 12
Treasure Type: Nil
Intelligence: 0
Alignment: Nuetral
XP Value: 60

Kuumyak is a disgusting ooze appearing to be made up of mud and rotting vegetation, making it extremely difficult to spot in the wet areas of the jungle. It will attack, by splashing itself up towards any living creature that passes within 3 feet of it. The corrosive nature of the ooze causes an immediate 1d8 points of damage, and in addition, the victim must make a saving throw vs. poison of suffer an additional 1d8 points of damage from the ooze's toxins.

Kuumyak is immune to all fire and heat damage, but suffers double damage from cold based attacks.

Any creature who is killed by a Kuumyak, and not burned (or revived somehow) will rise as a Khalmaak (see below) in 1d4 days.

Adventure Ideas:
Some reclusive folk, human or otherwise, of the jungle will often gather Kuumyak to place around their lairs as makeshift, but effective traps. As noted above, Kananicte flowers are sometimes placed nearby to incapacitate victims, allowing the Kuumyak ooze to easily kill them. This can be a nasty, unusual trap, but take care when placing the monsters, for they can have devastating results against PCs who don't roll well on their saving throws. To avoid a total party kill in such a situation, the DM may wish to invoke a scenario where NPCs find the unfortunate PCs and drag them to safety, but such a favor will almost always result in the party being asked or coerced into performing some deed of repayment, which is an excellent opportunity to introduce a new plothook or prod the players back along the path of the adventure if they have strayed.

Khalmaak (Ooze Man)
Medium Monster (Rare)
Armor Class: 6
Hit Dice: 10
Move: 60 (4)
Attacks: 2
Damage: 2d10
No Appearing: 1
Save As: Dwarf 8
Morale: 12
Treasure Type: Nil
Intelligence: 3
Alignment: Nuetral
XP Value: 2000

Khalmaaks are orc sized humanoid fungus creatures, appearing to have bloated, slimy green skin and hugely muscled bodies. It is well known by the folk of the jungle that creatures who die from wounds taken from, and are consumed by Kuumyak ooze will rise as Khalmaaks within a week's time.

Khalmaaks are, thankfully, fairly stupid creatures, wandering aimlessly through the jungle until they encounter living creatures upon which to feed. A Khalmaak will attack any creature or group of creatures without hesitation, fighting without morale checks until it is destroyed or attacked with cold magic (which causes an immediate morale check). The creature's attacks are slow and crude smashes with its thick, heavy arms, causing 2d10 per successful hit. That slowness, however, causes the Khalmaak to automatically lose initiative each round.

Due to their wet composition, Khalmaaks take only 1/2 damage from heat or fire attacks, but double damage from cold attacks. Although they posess a primitive intelligence, Khalmaaks are immune to Charm, ESP and similar mental magics.

Adventure Ideas:
The tribesmen of a village that has proven non-hostile to the party has been stricken of late with a relative scourge of Khalmaaks. Livestock and even the villagers themselves have been attacked in the jungle near the village, and despite near constant searching, the Kuumyak responsible for creating these beasts has not been found. After being enlisted to fight off a couple of the Khalmaaks, the villagers grow to respect and trust the party enough to share the secret of the origins of the vile creatures and seek the help of the PCs in finding and destroying the Kuumyak.