Sunday, September 29, 2019

Actual Play Report - Fallen Empire Session III

Saturday September 27, we had our third installment of the Fallen Empire campaign based in the City of Port. And thanks to random tables, we were able to generate a whole fun night of adventure.

I had prepared to go back into the castle, Castle Triskelion. But I did know that soon (2-3 sessions) it would be Summer and new events would be happening in the city.

So for my own benefit, I rolled up what kinds of things would be happening in the summer so I could put some clues or foreshadowing in. I got:

  • large war (reasons TBD)
  • shortage (food or water)

Then we  all made random die rolls and we generated a rumor - that the Rugg family keeps a monster in the basement and is feeding people to it.

I decided that since one of the players owns a pub that's their base of operations, ale, wine and spirits were in good supply, but the BEER had stopped flowing!


The players immediately realized that the beer shortage was a cool mystery and possibly an opportunity for windfall profits.

So they went the the biggest brewery in the city and heard that the reason beer has dried up is that their main source of malted barley had stopped. That source is the fields about a day and a half out of town.

The dwarves rode out and found that there was an enemy army out there hanging out and burning the fields. about 500 peasants were displaced and about 100 were dead or dying.

One of the dwarves is friends with the head of the Merchants' Guild. He secured space for the refugees in the old disused custom houses.

The Wizard and her man went to the university to tell them about the army, but the head was somewhat unconcerned, saying that someone else would handle it- but if not they would.

The other dwarf went to the head of the Dockworkers and found that he knew what was going on and was going to send his men in exchange for money. 

Both dwarves were asked by their guild heads to become captains in the new army.

Finally the unguilded mercenary man spent a few days hunting down a merchant ship, some maritime weaponry, and some marines.  They took the ship and went to two towns down the bay and up a river and came back with 10,000 GP of beer which they then sold for 20,000 GP. 


They also met some Mermen and became real estate brokers on the way.

All in all a very Chris Tamm adventure and one that went better than I could imagine. All from scratch and a couple of random rolls. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

How Common Are Clerics?

How common are clerics?

In AD&D and going forward the official literature seems to indicate that people are busting out with miracles left and right. Every village has a cure light wounds guy. Every city has a raise dead guy. And so forth.

The simulationist in me balks at this. The gamist balks too.

If you have a guy running around healing broken legs and so forth (or even curing diseases) then that’s going to change the demographics of a town. It also means that being irreligious or unobservant is kind of out. I mean, miracles left and right, right?

Same with clean water and safe food and a diminished fear of dark and frightful places fraught with disease and the restless dead. In other words, things are way less scary than maybe they should be. More folks would be adventurous and fewer would need to become adventurers. The world would be tame, which doesn’t fit with d&d at all.

Worldbuilding-wise it means that the assumptions of danger and fear of the unknown are diminished. It means fear of harm and death are diminished for the characters in their world.

And at the table, the same reduction in fear of harm means that the risk - that which creates meaningful drama - is also lessened. Less drama = less fun.

Therefore I have decided to make spell-using clerics rare and restrict them further than that, but also give common folks some pseudo-cleric power. Like so:

Not every religious figure can perform miracles (cast spells.) Just a very few special men and women can do it - people like Moses and Jesus and some of the prophets. In fact if you look at the early cleric spell list you will see an abundance of spells simulate miracles performed in the Bible. In fact clerics who can perform miracles might be outcasts, hermits, or otherwise viewed with suspicion. People may offer to pay them to teach the secrets of their tricks.

FURTHERMORE, and this is important, these clerics can’t just bust off miracles whenever they want to. On adventures they can. In dramatic situations they can. But they can’t just heal your broken leg in town or force you to tell the truth when haggling over the price of donuts. Miracles only happen when you really need them.

But on the upside, clerics of all kinds have a chance to diagnose monsters from their studies, knowing something useful about a strange beast on 3-6 on d6. Turning is also linear rather than with a 2d6 triangle-shaped probability distribution so it’s more likely they can turn higher-level bad guys.

For lay people, if they are Lawful and attend church, they can hold undead, demons and devils at bay with a holy symbol as a cleric of half their level. They can’t turn or destroy these entities but can hold them away indefinitely.

That’s how I do it. PC clerics are still powerful; churches function mostly as they do in real life; and commoners have a fighting chance against monsters as they come up.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Knock Out Rules in D&D

Knock out rules in D&D have always been stinky and I don't really know how to fix that. At my table, if a person takes any hit point damage from nonlethal sources and then goes to 0 or less, he's actually knocked out instead of made to be dead. But that's really not a great solution for when someone "gets the drop on ya" or whatever and just konks you on the head. 

Not that it comes up a lot but I'd hate for some of my players to not try it because the rules are written in a stinky way.

SO here is one solution I saw on MeWe but I can't remember to whom I should attribute it. 

The Saps and Blackjacks Rule

On a surprise attack or a backstab attempt from behind with a sap or blackjack or improvised blunt weapon (referee's discretion), the target takes 1d6 nonlethal HP and throws a Save versus Paralyzation. If the target fails the save, he is knocked out for 1d6 Turns (10-60 minutes.)

Having significantly nonhuman physiology (like no head or no bones), being 6 HD or greater, or wearing a helmet will negate the necessity for this save.

1. Who wrote this rule? I honestly can't remember.

2. What do you think about it?

Friday, September 13, 2019

Learning D&D

What’s the best way to learn D&D?

In my opinion there are three stages of learning so there are three answers.

The first stage - just playing - is so elementary than nearly everyone comes equipped with the knowledge to do it. You consider the situation and your character and then you say what your character will do. Someone else handles the rules.

The second stage - learning the rules - probably happens better at the table too. You figure out what dice to roll and why. But some people learn better from the book. And of course you can learn from people and from the book.

Lately (um, the last 20 years) though there’s a third way that’s invaluable and that’s to learn from lots and lots of other players online. I had always preferred to play in the OSR way even when I was trying to lay that play style over 3.X and 4E. Thankfully I found Dragonsfoot and realized not only was I not alone but it was OK to play old editions as well. Thank goodness!

The third stage - deep system learning I think I will call it - requires more than what’s in the books. While stage two is akin to memorizing algorithms to solve problems, stage three is like devising proofs and building new algorithms. One thing to do is to pull a system apart and make up your own neoclone or fantasy heartbreaker. When I did this, it seemed like everyone was redoing the Thief class as a warm up to making a whole new version of d&d but the Thief thing has fallen in popularity. But there will be some system or subsystem which gets your juices flowing to reverse engineer the whole thing and rebuild it in your own image.

I’m less sure about the steps to becoming a deep player or deep referee but in my mind’s eye the process must be similar, although more qualitative than quantitative. Some aspect of the actual play piques your interest enough to explore it, you learn all you can about it by deconstructing it, and then rebuild your own understanding of how it works for you and the several players.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Politics in Port, Part I

The several stakeholders were in the Alebreaker that late morning trying to remember exactly what they'd seen inside the castle the day before. Hangovers didn't help of course, but having a gnome and dwarf who held their liquor well sure did. They took turns with their daggers carving out the map of the place in the huge wooden table there as best they could remember it.

The tabletop was so large that the tree it came from must have been older than the elfs. Older than the druids even. The table was older certainly than the pub, for there was no door grand enough to get the thing in and out. Alebreaker was clearly built 'round the table rather than the table being built for the Alebreaker and its dregs.

Just then, in come Ned Chunk and his brother. Both are mud workers of some very low intelligence. Somehow they track mud everywhere and leave muddy hand prints despite being quite a ways in space and time from their jobs in the mud works. Like the mud just grows from them. Like maggots from meat. Ned and his brother Fat Stanley are themselves unremarkable aside from the stench and natural wretchedness. Somehow though, rumors and news follow them around. 

It was pay day and they come to the Alebreaker Arms Pub and Inn to have a couple of pints and make the immediate vicinity unpleasant with their unusually-offensive voluptuary. But also, Ned tracks in a handbill which had gotten stuck to his galoshes, which then subsequently he leaves behind when departing- for he had no knowledge of it in the first place. Anyway they didn't read and any news inside would probably be lost to them.

Sidru, the utterly mercenary fighting-man and his old mate Angel, the cleric to Stella Solim, pick up the handbill and read together from the part that wasn’t smudged over. After well regarding the contents extant, Sidru called the other stakeholders over and Angel read aloud:

Prime Minister's given another lousye speech and many of the Delegates t' th'Livery are grumblin' f'r a new election or least-ways some re-alignment to oust t'oaf from 'is perch. Business won't be moving throu not less the Prince calls up a new election.

Ghostfire inspiration struck had Sidru, who decided then and there that he was going to install a man in Livery to have a say in City politics. 

“Say, wouldn’t that link boy, Little Liam, make a fine delegate? He’s chipper but at the same time as thick as wheel of cheese," said Sidru, rubbing his hands together like over  a fire.

“Quite so,” replied Angel.

“We shall make it so. We shall ply wee Liam’s strings, our Linkboy in the Livery, and by his lantern we shall see our fortunes fair and brightening!”

“Did you...” started Angel, “did you just make up that couplet?”


“Never mind.”

“We shall have to get him into a guild," schemed Sidru. "Somewhere midgish where the journeymen and masters haven’t time nor coin to make attend to Livery.”

“I know of such a guild: the tallow chandlers.”

“Aye. Liam would fit in with them, that ghastly sodding.”

The city has one supreme ruler: the Prince. But it also has a structure of government that is intentionally Byzantine. It was designed to keep any one group from amassing enough power to challenge the Prince, while giving everyone buy-in so that nobody important feels disenfranchised. And for  the last 200 years, this has worked. 

There are two houses of council to the Prince in Port. One is the Worshipful Assembly of Livery (Called Livery) and the other is the Peerage.  Today we will talk about the Livery.

The Livery: The Livery is comprised of two delegates from each of the 99 chartered guilds in the city and two Company delegates, each from one non-voting Company. The total number is 200, with three not voting, for a total of 197 voters.

The Livery are listed in the Order of Precedence, which is the order in which the delegates are recognized to speak. The first four guilds rotate precedence based on the size of their delegation coalition.

At the start of each Livery on St. Johnsfeast and into the next week or so, the four top guilds scurry about currying favor with the other guilds. The one to gain the largest coalition on 1 October will be the majority and set the legislative priority and calendar for that season. The other three main guilds will also gobble up what support hey can get in order to vote and speak in blocs.

Usually lesser guilds will not have speakers unless it is of particular importance to that guild, but will rather defer to the leader of the guild with which they have coalesced.

All legislative business originates in the Livery and then goes to the Peerage for Advise & Consent.

The last day of the season is Twelfth Night, which is 6 January, so there are approximately 10 weeks to do the Prince’s business.

Furthermore, one of the delegates will forego his vote and act as the Speaker, who keeps the legislative calendar moving by calling on speakers, limiting debate time and calling for votes.

1.       Worshipful Company of Mercers (Merchants’ Guild)
2.  Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths (Weights and Measures)
3.     Honoured Company of Fishmongers (Dockworkers’ Guild)
4.      Worshipful Company of Librarians (The University)
5.  Worshipful Company of Faculty (magicians and magicians’ apprentices)
6.      Worshipful Company of Grocers (spice merchants)
7.   Worshipful Company of Drapers (wool and cloth merchants)
8.      Worshipful Company of Skinners* (fur traders)
9.       Worshipful Company of Merchant Taylors* (tailors)
10.   Worshipful Company of Haberdashers (clothiers in sewn and fine materials, eg. silk & velvet)
11.   Worshipful Company of Salters (traders of magic item components)
12.    Worshipful Company of Ironmongers
13.    Worshipful Company of Vintners (wine merchants)
14.    Worshipful Company of Clothworkers
15.    Worshipful Company of Dyers
16.    Worshipful Company of Brewers
17.    Worshipful Company of Leathersellers
18.  Worshipful Company of Pewterers (pewter and metal manufacturers)
19. Worshipful Company of Barbers (incl. surgeons and dentists)
20.   Worshipful Company of Cutlers (knife, sword and utensil makers)
21.    Worshipful Company of Bakers
22. Worshipful Company of Wax Chandlers (wax candle makers)
23.   Worshipful Company of Tallow Chandlers (tallow candle makers)
24.   Worshipful Company of Armourers and Brasiers (armour makers and brass workers)
25.   Worshipful Company of Girdlers (belt and girdle makers)
26.   Worshipful Company of Butchers
27.   Worshipful Company of Saddlers
28.   Worshipful Company of Carpenters
29.   Worshipful Company of Cordwainers (fine leather workers and shoemakers)
30.   Worshipful Company of Painter-Stainers
31.  Worshipful Company of Curriers (leather dressers and tanners)
32.   Worshipful Company of Masons (stonemasons)
33.   Worshipful Company of Plumbers
34.   Worshipful Company of Innholders (tavern keepers)
35. Worshipful Company of Founders (metal casters and melters)
36.   Worshipful Company of Poulters (poulterers)
37.   Worshipful Company of Cooks
38.   Worshipful Company of Coopers (barrel and cask makers)
39.   Worshipful Company of Tylers and Bricklayers (builders)
40.   Worshipful Company of Bowyers (long-bow makers)
41.    Worshipful Company of Fletchers (arrow makers)
42.   Worshipful Company of Blacksmiths
43. Worshipful Company of Joiners and Ceilers (wood craftsmen)
44.   Worshipful Company of Weavers
45.   Worshipful Company of Woolmen
46. Worshipful Company of Scriveners (scrollmakers and notaries public)
47.   Worshipful Company of Fruiterers
48.   Worshipful Company of Plaisterers (plasterers)
49. Worshipful Company of Stationers and Newspaper Makers (broadsheeters, dirt merchants and publishers)
50.   Worshipful Company of Broderers (embroiderers)
51.    Worshipful Company of Upholders (upholsterers)
52.   Worshipful Company of Musicians
53.   Worshipful Company of Turners (lathe operators)
54.   Worshipful Company of Basketmakers
55.   Worshipful Company of Glaziers and Painters of Glass
56. Worshipful Company of Horners (horn workers, some magic items)
57.   Worshipful Company of Farriers (horseshoe makers and horse veterinarians)
58.   Worshipful Company of Paviors (road and highway pavers)
59.  Worshipful Company of Loriners (equestrian bit, bridle and spur suppliers)
60. Worshipful Society of Apothecaries (physicians and pharmacists, some potions)
61.  Worshipful Company of Shipwrights (shipbuilders and maritime professionals)
62.   Worshipful Company of Spectacle Makers
63.   Worshipful Company of Clockmakers
64.   Worshipful Company of Glovers
65.   Worshipful Company of Feltmakers (hat makers)
66.   Worshipful Company of Framework Knitters
67.   Worshipful Company of Needlemakers
68.   Worshipful Company of Gardeners
69.   Worshipful Company of Tin Plate Workers
70.   Worshipful Company of Wheelwrights
71.    Worshipful Company of Distillers
72. Worshipful Company of Patternmakers (wooden-shoe makers)
73.   Worshipful Company of Glass Sellers
74.   Worshipful Company of Coachmakers and Coach Harness Makers
75. Worshipful Company of Gold and Silver Wyre Drawers (threadmakers for military and society clothing)
76.   Worshipful Company of Makers of Playing Cards
77.   Worshipful Company of Fanmakers
78.   Worshipful Company of Carmen (vehicle drivers)
79.   Honourable Company of Master Mariners
80.  City Barrister's Company (lawyers)
81.   Worshipful Company of Farmers
82.  Honourable Company of Rare Bestiers (Flying mounts, magical beasts)
83.   Worshipful Company of Tobacco Pipe Makers and Tobacco Blenders
84.   Worshipful Company of Furniture Makers
85. Worshipful Company of Chirugeoners (Medical and alchemical tool makers)
86.   Worshipful Company of Chartered Surveyors
87.   Worshipful Company of Chequermen Infang and Outfang (Accountants)
88.  Worshipful Company of Builders Merchants
89.   Worshipful Company of Launderers
90. Worshipful Company of Propositioners (Insurance salesmen)
91.    Worshipful Company of Arbitrators
92.   Worshipful Company of Mechanicals (dirt and mud workers)
93.   Worshipful Company of Fuellers
94.   Worshipful Company of Interrers (cemetaries and crypts)
95.   Worshipful Company of Constructors (wondrous items)
96.   Worshipful Company of Scrollers (scroll scribes)
97.   Worshipful Company of Pilot-Boatmen (ferry pilots)
98. Worshipful Company of Sergeants (Private security providers)
99.   Worshipful Company of Scholars (Sages)
Other companies:
100.  Company of Parish Clerks
101.   Company of Watermen and Lightmen

These two companies have one delegate each but do not vote. They are controlled directly by the Prince and are responsible for stenography and the Prince’s house maintenance.

As the Livery sends delegates who serve for one term, it is important to gain favor within your guild if you wish to be considered for service. Most guilds are very small, some even just a few people, and the service is considered a chore. But for ambitious Men, becoming a fixture in the Livery brings wealth, prestige, and a chance to help one’s friends and harm one’s enemies.

Then on they went to the dungeon, within which they lost two: the barbarian retainer Lionel and the aforementioned Little Liam Linkboy. Both hilariously killed by animated topiary. Lionel squeezes out some last words as he died in his boss’ arms: his dying wish was to have the company inform his wife of his passing. Rest In Peace, little Liam. Rest In Peace, Lionel the Barbarian. Your NPC note cards will forever reside in the Dead Character graveyard.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Simultaneous Combat Resolution

Thinking out loud.

Rather than take initiative down each Round, what if we were to imagine that each side moved, shot and swung at the same time?

In wargames, it is a fairly common practice for each side to write orders, submit them, and then make simultaneous action. Each action is completed. Even if a figure is killed, it still gets to make its attack against the other side. At the end of the Round when otherwise checking morale we will also check for death.

The tricky thing is for the referee, running the several monsters, to stay honest. Perhaps it makes more sense for him to adjudicate monster actions first? I don’t know.

So rather than taking down initiative round by round, the process would be:
Each side marks down the general action each figure will attempt (melee, missile, spell, full move, misc.) and then everyone reveals their card simultaneously.

That’s a lot of cards. It may get really clunky at the table. But it seems like a fascinating way to go.

Then each action is executed sequentially in real time but considered simultaneous in the characters’ realm.

Finally we will check for status effects such as morale, death, ensorcelment, poison, etc.

Too fiddly? Has anyone done it this way?

Monday, September 9, 2019

Fair Poisons

What is a “fair” poison?

Even in OSR games where death is close at hand, it’s a real jerk move for a referee to put “Bang! You’re dead!” style threats in the game. At least as far as traps and dangers go, there ought to be some warning or clues beforehand that you’re dealing with bad mojo.

Sometimes the clue is the dungeon level or in the case of players who have played with you before, the type of wilderland hex they’re in (e.g. traveling in the swamp in OD&D is just bad news.)

Sometimes it can be explicit, like when the referee says, “Ohhh... are you sure you want to pick up that chalice? You can feel dread emanating from the purple stone altar.”

Sometimes the ref can give clues based on body language of NPCs. “Your goblin looks at the ceiling, slides to the side of the passage, and slowly edges forward against the wall.”

But many times the prepared players will have a good chance to pick up and avoid dangers simply by following stands procedures: a sneaky forward scout, ten-foot pole, examining doors for traps, using lockpicks, whatever you think is appropriate to be sufficiently prepared.

Preparation can happen prior to the delve too. For instance if the players are entering the Snake Pits of Set, they should know enough to pack antivenom and a Cure Disease scroll.

Poison is potentially different though. Someone might poison a PCs food. A needle trap or mantrap may be enhanced with poison. Air might be toxic or noxious. A potion may be poison rather than beneficial. These are real threats that are hard to detect.

I don’t know the answer. I do know that an unfair poison is one that kills instantly with little possibility of detection or handy cure. Even a poison which makes some permanent, negative change to a character can be fair if your players are willing to accept it. What do you think?


Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Cleaned Up the Sidebar

Murlynd's Spoon lost about 20 listings: I canned almost everything older than a year old and some other sites that are just advertising stuff. Also added two blogs that should have been there all along.

Greyhawk Grognard and Paul Gorman's Devilghost.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Port: University District

I've got two players (out of 5) who are members of the University. One is Simone's magic-user and the other one is Ethan's fighting-man, both level 3. Since there are two players I sent them off a copy of the map with the neighborhoods numbered. 

I wanted each of them to pick out one of them and tell us about it. As it turns out, Ethan did all the neighborhoods. I cleaned it up very minimally to keep it in line with the campaign world. 

I think a neighborhood can have up to 5,000 people in it, although many neighborhoods are completely devoid of residences. There are some neighborhoods that are not even controlled by people at all. Ethan did a good job of keeping this in mind in his write up.

The University District

26. Drenthe. The main grounds of the University are located here. This is where magic users of all levels come to train, study and practice the art of magic.  Furthermore, Special/unique magic items can be purchased here but they cost a lot of gold or trade. There are excellent libraries but their use is costly to keep commoners out. There are surely some relics stored here. Matron Bat-Sheva, the Headmistress, lives in a country cottage on the southern beach.

27. North Brabant.
28. Gelder.

Areas 27 and 28 are mostly dormitories for students and workers. A good bed can be had for a good price but a single dwelling is expensive. In area 27, known as North Brabant or NB, there is a famous tavern called The Sword of Stars where adventuring wizards and their retinue may be found. Additionally, ferries from Aldgate (32a) debark.

Area 28, Gelder, is where low level magic users live in a residential district with few services. A wildcatter Orcish ferryman named Cassius will take you between Gelder, Gillamore and Montenon (13) but only at night, and even to (Unnamed Neighborhood) (44) for a pretty penny.

29. Gillamore. Gillamore is where most forms of trade occur in the University. It is where ferries from Cobisou (9) and Bouzille (10) arrive. Here you can trade items for gold, buy and sell equipment, weapons, armor, etc. The main bank of the University is also located in Gillamore, where you can store treasure if you wish. Everything an adventurer needs can be found in the shops of Gillamore, but there are few magic items for sale here.  Additional adventurers and henchmen can also be found here. Some are desperate for work and any form of currency while others charge a premium for their services. 

30. Axminster. There are several barracks and housing units here, both attached to the University and independent. A large number of fighting-men and men-at-arms live here. There are guild halls and every alleyway has a pub. There is a large common area here where sheep and cattle graze while men practice and drill with individual weapons and formation fighting. Sometimes fighting-men and magic-user will drill together in wartime tactics.

31. Overjissel. Overjissel is known for its magical resources. There is a chance that if you have the money, you can find even advanced magic items such as staves and wondrous items. If you wish, magical items can also be sold here. It is a well-known neighborhood in the University and it is full of friendly folk, mostly lawful.

However, one of the shops is owned by a mid-level magic user who is currently out of favor with the leadership. He doesn't have anything of much interest in his shop, so it is not frequently visited. He can be hired for adventures and is desperate for money. His name is Renoldus (MU6), and his shop is called North Star. Another shop is Twin Sun Magic, where magical items of all sorts can be bought and sold. The shop is famous for high quality items and everyone in the University has been there at least once and knows the owner, Byrant Geradus (MU5 INT 18 CHA 15), who makes it a point to remember everyone who enters his shop.

A ferry runs to Corbisou (9).