Friday, April 15, 2011

Fight On #1 Cover to Cover - Part 7

The Ruined Monastery
by James Maliszewski

The Ruined Monastery is a five-page adventure for 1st level characters. It details the first level of the underground chambers beneath the abandoned monastery of St. Gaxyg the Gray. There is a back story given, but who really cares? Any GM worth their salt can invent their own back story, and anyway all you need to know is there is an unexplored place with monsters and treasure. There is a good paragraph that explains who the baddie is, what he is doing there and what he hopes to accomplish. That being said, I used the back story verbatim for my group of beginning players, as an example of how they can find places where they can adventure.

The next two sections are two of my favorite things: rumors and wandering monsters. James provides a rumors table to give to players. I like to use rumor tables to give barkeeps and other random acquaintances something to spill to players who like to work at information gathering. Here is one sample rumor from the table: The ghosts of the murdered monks haunt the ruins of the monastery (False). That should get the players in the right frame of paranoia mind. And who knows, maybe the GM will decide to make it true?

I also like wandering monster tables - they add dynamism to a locale. Whenever a designer neglects to include one, I always create my own. This wandering monster table is excellent - besides what you might expect, it also includes a new monster and a static monster (green slime). I had never before thought of using a static monster as a random encounter - consider it yoinked.

The map is a hand-drawn pencil and paper map, taking up two-thirds of a page, that has been scanned in. However, it does not look amateurish. The markings and numbers are all very clear and readable. It reminds me of the maps I used to make (and still do, come to think of it). The map flow is designed so that your choices matter; there are many side branches you can choose to take or not, but also a few circular routes so that players can try flanking maneuvers and alternate routes to many destinations.

The physical layout features 14 numbered locations, 6 of which have monsters and 2 more have traps. There are 7 locations where treasure may be found. Using Labyrinth Lord as a base, the entire dungeon contains approximately 463 xp in monsters, 250 xp in treasure, and four magic items. James also provides an option for the GM to create a second level if desired, with hints as to how to stock/create it. There are two new monsters, and one new magic item, and they are terrific. Both monsters are different enough to be memorable, but not so bizarre as to cause suspension of belief. My players will never forget being chased by death maggots.

I think James does an excellent job of showing the old-school module design memes. These include: circular routes allowing customized exploration (no railroads), no MacGuffin, wandering monsters, much of the treasure being other than coins - some of it unrecognizable as treasure to the casual player, traps for the unwary, the old Gygax trick of including one piece of treasure that the players will never find unless they are obsessive-compulsive super-paranoid completists, a nice alignment-based special, new monsters, and chances for players to kill themselves.

I ran this module for four 2nd-level characters using Swords & Wizardy White Box. They had four men-at-arms accompanying them. Three of the players were kids who had never gamed before, the fourth was their dad, a veteran of RPG's. This place chewed them up, and only the judicious use of a Charm Person spell and liberal does of flame and oil avoided several TPK's. They all enjoyed it, and I would definitely run this module in any new campaign.

The bottom line? This is a perfect representation of old school, a triumph of concision, with a lot of atmospheric detail. It is also a lot of fun, to boot.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Fight On #1 Cover to Cover - Part 6

Magic Items Sidebar
by Kesher and Calithena

The next article in the magazine is a pair of magic items, set in a text box to finish off the final page of the Flexible Sorcery article. I like this idea, as it avoids having to start a new article halfway down the page - I like it when new articles start at the top of their own page.

The first magic item is The Ring of Twelve. This ring is adorned with moonstones that can be used to create a clone of the wearer. The clone will perform a task for the wearer to the best of their ability, but the kicker is what happens after. There is a random reaction table to determine how the clone reacts to his original, which can range from murderous hate to devoted admiration. This is a great magic item, as its power is scalable; it can be given to a first level character or a tenth level character. In addition, it has possible drawbacks so that the player can decide how to manage his own risk. The referee will have to be up to the task of refereeing a  bunch of clones, but there should be no end of plot points created. This is an item that may show up in one of my campaigns.

The second item is The Idol of Irizandhe. This small jade sculpture is an insidious item that will slowly cast a curse on its owner, although a lucky person may be able to sell it for a sizable sum of gold before succumbing to its curse. You'll have to buy the magazine to find out its powers (I won't spill the beans here), but this is again an excellent item that will find its way into my campaigns. I like cursed items that don't automatically zap you, but give you fair warning.

These two items belong to the philosophy of making magic item unique, instead of just the ubiquitous +1 sword or wand of fireballs. In my experience, most players love unique items, and it is only the sheer number of arduous tasks that get heaped on the GM that lead to him handing out the mundane variety instead of dreaming up new, creative, distinctive items. So here you have two of them that have been imagined for you - good stuff!

Friday, April 01, 2011

Fight On #1 Cover to Cover - Part 5

Flexible Sorcery
variants by Jeff Rients, with Jason Cone and Calithena
This article describes three ways that the de facto Vancian magic system with rigid spell lists and memorization could be extended or enhanced. The suggestions are labeled Spontaneous Magic, Counterspelling, and Magical Duels. The three are not mutually exclusive - any campaign could use none, some or all the ideas.

The first idea is Spontaneous Magic. There is nothing gamebreaking here, just a small addition that can help with the flavor of a campaign, and give the creative yet another tool in their arsenal of tricks.

The idea is that a mage who can make major magic (spells) should also be able to perform some minor magic, like cantrips. Thus, a mage who has memorized Sleep could make people yawn, a mage who has memorized Fireball could light a torch. However, if the mage had cast Sleep, he would lose his yawn-inducing ability until he had re-memorized it.

My first reaction was "this is neat". But I don't think I would use it in my campaign, as it puts too much of a burden on the DM. It gives a whole new class of rulings that the DM must make, and then needs to keep track of so he can be consistent. I might try it if my players insisted on it, but would put the onus of bookkeeping on them.

The second idea is Counterspelling. This is definitely a fantasy trope - the enemy wizard starts casting his spell, and the party's wizard desperately tries to stop it. It has also been missing in most D&D-based games.

The basic mechanic is for a mage to announce he is counterspelling, and then roll 7+ on 2d6 to stop the spell. There are assorted adjustments to account for mage levels, spell levels, and sacrificed power. It then gives rules for how often NPC's and monsters will choose to counterspell.

The idea looks interesting, and I might try it in my campaign, but I would have to adjust the parameters during play-testing. It looks too easy for the counterspeller. I would think it would shift the mage class from being primarily offensive, to primarily defensive against powerful monsters or NPC's. Since your Fireball spell will be burned by the counterspeller, you are unlikely to use it - instead you will just stay in reserve waiting to dispell the opponent's spell.

The third variant proposed is the Magical Duel. Again, that is another staple of fantasy fiction missing from the rules. Who doesn't like a good wizard duel?

The mood is set by an amusing illustration showing various cartoony outcomes of a duel. It could have been omitted with no loss of impact, but it is not useless either.

The basic idea of a wizard duel is that it must be mutually consensual. The duellists then each roll 2d6, apply appropriate modifiers, and the difference between the two rolls is looked up on a chart that gets severely worse as the gap in the two dice rolls widen. Here are two examples of results, one mild, one less so:

- Smoke pours out of loser's ears. Loser takes one point of damge
- Loser catches fire, taking d4 damage each round for d4 rounds

I would allow this in my campaign - it can't be forced on an unwilling player, it gives them another tool, and also more rope to hang themselves.

All told, this was a good article, with interesting idead