Sunday, March 31, 2019

Inspiration: Castle

Mad March Map the 14th - Castle

The ruins of Quent Keep reside among the slowly encroaching forest. Abandoned a generation gone by its human inhabitants, they had cleared the forest attempting to expand their influence into the sylvan lands.  But the greenlands had their own methods for resisting this insolent incursion. It was a siege, but one not of armies. Weeds grew riotously in the kitchen gardens, lightning struck the walls with regularity, the well went dry, and domesticated animals fled or became unproductive.  There is no more need for such fortifications now the caretakers reached an agreement with the fey, retreating back to their own territory and allowing the wilds to regain the area...

The only occupants now are elven children with their centuries-old eyes, who play among the towers and scramble the ivy-covered walls...

Friday, March 29, 2019

Inspiration: "Ruins"

I'll put up a few random free-write entries for various "Mad March Maps" - themed creations.  Perhaps a bit of game fodder - nothing really statted up - just some description/setting/environment...

First up, the March 4th entry for Mad March Maps - "Ruins"   

The Berthou family homesteaded next to the old temple, building their corral against the structure's stout walls.  They would not think of defiling the interior space, but the cleared land of the abandoned place was too much a temptation for a freedman trying to get his start.

All was well until the screams started.

Of course, the cow ran off.  The ox didn't but he is half-deaf anyhow.

Now the Berthous are in desperate straits. Any pitiful seed money they had is gone, and the crops have not yet grown. The screams come and go from the temple. They swear that they did not disturb any artifacts of the place, nor did they turn up a grave in their building and tilling...

Would someone brave and perhaps even pious seek the cause of the screams?

The interior of the temple is razed from some past raid, its interior walls burned and collapsed. Light streams through multiple holes in the roof. Nothing stirs here but a nest of roof spiders in the rafters, preying on pigeons...

Then the ghost swoops in - screaming and raging.  It does not attack - and a perceptive character will note that it is ignoring the explorers, and appears to be casting about aimlessly, ghostly hands pulling at incorporeal hair.

For buried in the floor of the southwest 'room' is an urn of ashes, those of the departed bishop who now haunts this place. A bit of disturbed soil may hint at this item. Anyone who finds and exposes the urn will suddenly be engulfed by the ghost, much to their horror.

After the initial shock, the ghost will be seen to calm itself and a faint voice will introduce itself as Padre Domerigo. He is grateful for the recovery of his urn, and asks to be returned to his birthplace some weeks' journey away. Even in his form, the characters will find the ghost an agreeable, even jovial, travelling companion, knowledgeable of the local area.

Although there is always the risk of a negative reaction from those sensitive to the incorporeal.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Mini-Review: The Little Ice Age

I've often groused about how history seems to be taught so poorly - at least my exposure to it in middle and high school. I didn't have a well-taught history class until college - where I was actually taught by a history prof (Hist 103: "Nomads of Inner Asia") - rather than a coach who needed class assignments.

I learned history on family vacations - where we stopped at every historical marker and plenty of museums, other travel opportunities, and picking and choosing books that piqued my interest at a given time... The single biggest flaw/challenge with teaching history is putting it in context - the 'why' of history, i suppose.  I'ts easier to place context when you are standing on the roadside, reading a historical marker overlooking a valley tracked by immigrant trails of the US Western Expansion, or perhaps trying to understand the setting of a semi-historical movie, or attempting to better understand the relationships between cultures and religions that extend into modern times....

Enough bitching...

Onto context - here we are gaming on our typically faux-medieval milleu.  Not having been in an ongoing campaign - how much does weather and climate really enter into most games?  There are certainly plenty of tables for randomizing weather, but how often do DM's crack them, and the associated benefits and challenges of travel and adventure during different seasons?

Enter The Little Ice Age: How Climate Made History 1300-1850 purchased used at the local Goodwill for the princely sum of $2.99. 

Briefly, the book outlines and discusses the period of climatic variation/instability between the earlier Medieval Warm Period and the beginning of the Industrial Age. A number of factors lead to generally colder and wetter conditions in the Atlantic Ocean and Europe, with associated stress on culture and populations (there is limited information from other portions of the world, so the book focuses on Europe) . 

Different regions and leaderships took differing strategies (if at all) in the face of the unknown -

The English and Dutch became more flexible and innovative in their land use and food production, while the French maintained more traditional feudal-era practices and management. This led to certain resiliency on the formers' part (although not completely effective) and contributed to increased famine and the eventual French Revolution for the latter. 

The economically and nutritionally important cod fisheries of the North Sea collapsed due to decreasing sea temperatures and pack ice - the fishermen followed the cod east, into more distant and dangerous fisheries (there is somewhat credible evidence that Breton and Irish fishermen fished cod off the North American coasts in the 1400's and were perfectly aware of a continent there, but like any good fishermen, were bane to give up the location of a good fishing hole....)

Glaciers advanced from the Alps, blocking passes and destroying or putting towns at risk.

Landholders experimented with new crop rotation and breed adaptation. New crops were adopted, including the potato from the New World.  Followed by the risks of monocropping in the case of Ireland...

Of course, during this time, Europe also began its surge of exploration and colonization, the Renaissance and Enlightenment took place, and Continent-wide political upheavals and wars mapped out modern political boundaries. So there's that....  Instability can breed innovation and action...

Gaming content and context:
As discussed above, the weather and longer term climate is a local/regional stress-driver.  Do the characters experience restricted travel and movement, or effects on their health?
Can a bad winter (or series of bad seasons) spur an invasion or conquest for resources - land, food, etc. Or perhaps take advantage of a weakened populace and military? 
Are the characters moving among other displaced populations,  and becoming caught up in political instability or intrigue?
What about prices and availability of food, other consumables, and equipment.  Does a small, impoverished are even want a few extra mouths wandering through, or are they firmly asked to keep moving? 

Just some thoughts...  You'll come up with more creative and appropriate elements to your world than I can.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

The Plague Doctor Class for Old-School RPG Shenanigans

Time for another goofy character class, because I've been reading history, and why not?

The Plague Doctor!

Plague doctors 'treated' victims of the bubonic plague in medieval Europe. Well, treat may be a strong word - more like attempt ineffective cures, and mostly keep an accurate account of the dying.... They were hired by the cities and municipal authorities, and were charged to treat everyone, regardless of their station in life.

But there's that whole mask thing... The raven-like close-fitter mask with aromatic herbs filling the "beak." Believed to protect the wearer from bad humours, and airborne "miasma," the iconic mask did little more than subdue the smell of disease and death, and give its wearer their intimidating appearance.  Exposed to disease, famine, and other maladies, plague doctors succumbed to the disease at similar rates as their "patients."

So why would you want to play one of these medical quacks? Maybe you need to shill some snake oil, move with impunity through quarantines, or even effect a real cure now and then.  Whatever the case, strap on that mask, don your coat and hat, and go cure some plague!


And, because I've been playing The Black Hack with Matt Jackson and few other miscreants - have a custom class for that grotty system (review upcoming!).

Now part of the Whack Hack collection of PC classes!
And here, have some Mono, Inc. to get you in the mood for rocking your bad Plague Doc self.

Edit: Per a couple of comments, this class could be folded into a low fantasy or 'no cleric' environment.  Using the OSR variant, perhaps lend them the healing kit from the BH version.  Or even play up the charlatan aspect, and let the player choose one thief skill. Have fun!

Edit 2: Black Hack version re-uploaded with latest version, consistent with thumbnail image.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Gothridge Manor's Macceum Sewer re-filled!

March, it's zine-tastic!

Just received Tim Short's most recent mini adventure, "Macceum Sewer," in pdf and dead tree versions. Tim, in his version, specifically laid out an area with no real history or objectives, created from a number of random table resources Tim had at hand.  The adventure is populated with a fine selection of sewer denizens, and what treasure or items that may be found in the halls and rooms acts more as seeds for further adventures than goals within themselves...  All and all a good little side-trek.

Support Tim's Patreon if you want to find some cool hand-drawn mini-adventures and eccentric NPCs in your mailbox...

So yeah, random.  While I rarely go for the full-random mode, I've often used the random dungeon room stocking table out of B/X (original below) to at least get a first-cut at what's each room's theme before I start writing.

I'll shift things around and fudge as needed if I feel a space really needs a monster or something interesting to move whatever theme or narrative I might be scratching together.

And, any individual map of space can have multiple interpretations, so, sorry, Tim, I stole your map.

I took the sewer theme and intended to fill it with some typical inhabitants, albeit some not on Tim's adventure.  Were-rats, it is.  My random rolling put monsters in only two rooms, and only one with treasure (actually, the only treasure in the whole place). And really, were-rats?  Gotta do better than that. So they serve something a bit more nasty. And there's a bit of a complication with serving this particular big-bad, but our rats have found a way around it. And I trickled a bit more treasure in, because we have to keep those mooks interested...

So have a look, this is also my first attempt at a zine format - so comments are welcome.

Mmm, sewer.

Friday, March 1, 2019

30-minute dungeon

Happy Friday, all. 

A brief posting inspired by the Bogeyman's Cave - creating a dungeon of approximately 10 features in a 30-minute time limit.  Elements were to include:

A Hook
General Background
3 Combat Encounters
3 "Empty" Rooms
2 Traps
1 Weird Thing To Experiment With
Some Treasure
A Magic Item

So here we go - a list of areas/features created in 30 minutes, scrawled in a notebook, followed by a very rough line-and-arrow conceptual map of the listed spaces and critter locations:

Hook/background: A temple and tome is rumored to contain a piece of a star.  Worshipers used to attend to it, but the place has an accursed aura since a necromancer was interred there.  Guardians magical and undead occupy the space.

Pool (NPC) – Is occupied by a bored nereid (save vs charm, etc. or be stuck telling her stories until you starve).  She may be cajoled and bribed to provide what info she knows about the tomb.  Her knowledge is limited, other than that a magic trap guards the temple, and that the wight has hidden himself.  With a high reaction roll/success, she will provide a water-smoothed stone from the pond, assuring that it will protect the party.

Trap 1 – A pair of columns flank the entrance.  Crossing between them will break a magic ‘beam’ causing them to crash together (2d8 damage).  Unless one is carrying the nereid’s pretty rock.

Trap 2- Spikey pit trap protects the false tomb

Combat 1 – Caryatid columns (2) guard the temple space

Combat 2 – Behind a secret door is a chamber of the true tomb: Undead guardians commanded by the big-bad protect the true tomb (6 skeletal champions or equivalent (2HD, disadvantage on turning)

Combat 3 – 5HD Wight ex-necromancer lurks in his tomb.

Weird – A levitating, spinning stone occupies the center of the temple space.  The stone can not be disturbed or interfered with.  A dispel magic or equivalent will remove its levitation.  The stone is a meteor (50lbs), and of value to those who craft meteoric iron.

Empty 1 – An entry foyer past the columns is capped by a transparent dome, bathing the area in fabulous, golden light, even at night.

Empty 2 – A vault of grave goods – long since despoiled and raided.

Empty 3 – A false tomb, meant to lure and distract those from the real tomb.  “treasure” consists of empty chests and cheaply gilded items.

Magic Item - The wight wields a scepter (as +1 mace).  The scepter may be used to command undead once per day, and contains 1d3 necromancer spells (3d4 total charges).  Each spell cast from the scepter requires a save vs spells or lose one point of CHA from the “stench of death”

On the body of the Wight: 18 pp, 700 gp black pearl, other grave goods 1000gp, gems worth 7,9,30,70,90 gp
Deceased adventurer (caryatid columns) – 105 gp, gems worth 12, 12, 60, 140 gp, scroll of Summon Monster I, Explosive runes