Monday 24 September 2012

Superstitions of the Residents of Old Town Sandomierz

The Old Town is a remnant from the middle-ages in the heart of the small but modern city of Sandomierz.  The residents have a number of practices and superstitions unique to the area, which appear to date back, in some form or other, to the earliest settlement of the city.  These practices, which generally revolve around the basements of their residences, are generally not well-known among the general populace, who reside in the newer neighborhoods of town.  That said, the superstitions do occasionally come to light, for instance when a city project to renovate the lower-levels of one of the local churches was nixed due to "strong opposition by local residents".


The most unusual practice is perhaps the burial traditions in the Old Town.  Each home in the area has a small stone vault built in the basement.  When a family member passes-on, their body is interned in the vault for a period until the body decomposes, and only the bones are left.  The bones are then relocated to one of the city's local cemeteries.

Recently, a Doctor, having recently moved to the city and heard about the tradition, noted that the interment period was too short for such complete decomposition to take-effect.  Rumors began to fly and the locals lengthened the interment period surreptitiously.  The public quickly lost interest in the scandal.


Residents of the Old Town of Sandmierz do not allow renovation of the town's basement level.  In the case where new residents moved in and wanted to renovate, these plans were not approved by the city-planning board due to the strong objections by their neighbors.

One local historian speculates that this is due to the basement-level being afforded a semi-reverential status due to it's use in the burial process.  But wilder explanations are whispered by the more imaginative.

Night Time

Residents of the Old Town will only enter their basements during the day-time.  Even then, they do not dally there.

All Hallows' Eve

Residents of the Old Town have an interesting variation of the All-Hallows' Eve tradition.  The afternoon before, they slaughter an sheep, chicken, or other small animal and leave it in their basements as an "offering to the spirits".  In the morning they bring up the left-over bones and show them to their children, telling them that the spirits have been appeased.


Adventurers entering Sandomierz may hear a number of rumors, but they will really have to investigate a lot to find out these traditions in all their details.  Some initial rumors they may hear from non-residents include:
  • The municipality is located in the Old Town, but all those people live in other neighborhoods.  In the Old Town it's all old timers. 
  • The people in the Old Town are an old, superstitious bunch.  They are not friendly to strangers.
  • Old Town residents are so un-friendly, if you want to see the inside of their houses, you'll have to break-in through their basement windows!
  • A friend of mine once made the mistake of going to the Old Town on All Hallows' Eve in search of treats.  Finding the streets empty, he peeked into a basement window.  He won't tell what he saw, but he refuses to set foot in the Old Town anymore.
  • The lost treasure of the Polish kings is buried in the labyrinths under the Old Town.  The locals are a stingy bunch and they don't allow any excavations in the area.
  • The captain of a small boat once found a small cave by the riverside.  He and his three crew-members entered and found a labyrinth of tunnels running under the Old Town.  He came out alone, a broken man, and disappeared soon after.
  • Don't walk alone in the Old Town at night.  People have been known to disappear there from time-to-time, without a trace. 
  • Some strange men had been seen hanging around the Old Town, asking to inspect residents' basements for rats.  After several rejections they haven't been seen since.

Sunday 23 September 2012

Ad-Hoc Dungeon Generator

So I've been working on an Ad-Hoc Dungeon Generator that can be used to create a dungeon room-by-room and corridor-by-corridor during play.  The dungeon in question is under a particularly old part of a relatively modern city and comprises the basement-level of the city and various caves and catacombs beneath.

Generator Table

Whenever the party investigates a room/corridor, the DM rolls 5d10 corresponding to the first 5 columns.  The 6th column is for if the party searches for secret doors.  The 7th column is a sub-table of an entry in the 5th column.  Also I reference a few other tables not included here.

StructureSizeStyleAdditional Exits(Room)ContentsWhen searching, is there a secret exit to be found?Something Significant
1-5 Room1-2 Small1 Natural1-4 0 exits1-2 Furniture10% yes1-2 Standard Denizens(See Sub-Table)
6-10 Passage3-4 Medium2 Man-Made5-8 1-4 exits3 Trash
3 Strange Denizens(See Sub-Table)

5 Large3-10 Same as Last9 1d10 exits4 Natural Formations
4-5 Trap(See Sub-Table)

6-10 Same as Last of same type(Room/Passage)
10 2d10 exits5-6 Mysterious signs of denizens
6 Magic(See Sub-Table)

7 Goodies(See Sub-Table)
7-8 Benign Location(See Sub-Table)

8-9 Something Significant(See Column 7)
9-10 More than one Something Significant(See Sub-Table)

10 More than one Contents



Here's a sample map I generated, one room at a time, to try-out the generator.


Room 1: The party begins in a dark, musty basement, where they fail to find anything unusual.

Room 2: In the second basement they investigate they discover two secret doors in the walls.

Room 3: One leads to a clearly man-made corridor, containing poisonous fungus and completely blocked by an abnormally large rat's nest at the end.

Room 4: The other leads to a small secret, hexagonal room with a stone pedestal in the middle of the floor.  Five man-man passages, large enough for a man to crawl through, extend from the 5 sides(including the passage you entered through.  Peering inside, the two in front of you extend a long way, while the right-most extends only 20ft or so.  The left-most seems to enter another room.  Absolute silence reigns.

Room 5: The party opts to go one-by-one into the room to the left.  It turns out to be diamond shaped, about 40ft by 30ft, clearly man-made.  The walls are covered with strange patterns of pink and green lichen.  Two narrow, but heavy-wooden doors appear in the opposite walls.  The wood appears quite old and brittle.

Room 6: The party listens at the right-most door of Room 5.  It is jammed so they break it down and find a small man-made room with no exits.  A small raised section of stone floor is in the opposite corner.  They search, find nothing, and listen at the other door, breaking it down two when opening it.

Room 7: Nearly identical to Room 5, this room has Yellow fungus all over the walls.  On the back wall, over the dais is a Roman mosaic depicting a rich man's possessions.  Most prominent is a depiction of a large wooden chest.  The mosaic looks like it has been relocated here in contemporary times.

The latch of the chest is a button that can be pressed to open this part of the wall.  It is trapped with a poisoned needle, such that if a player pushes it with their finger, they will be poisoned.  Inside the compartment is gold coinage, apparently from the middle ages.

Room 8: The party returns to room 4 and goes down the long left corridor.  The corridor ends in steps, descending into a stone amphitheater.  The amphitheater has 3 levels and a total of 20 exits!  You can make out strange animal footprints on the bottom.  Claw marks are clearly visible, but they seem too large for any urban animals.

Room 9: The party tries the first exit on their left on the top level.  It leads to a long natural corridor with a side passage.  There are little niches along the side, that may or may not be natural.

Room 10: The small side passage ends, covered from the outside with piles of wood.  The party pushes them over, revealing a basement.

Room 11: The passage splits into 3.  There is a body here: perhaps a few years dead.  He wears a chainmail shirt under a modern coat, now shredded.  Underneath the body is a silver-plated German P38 pistol with the image of a hand with a 7-pointed star inside, imprinted on both sides.  It is loaded with silver bullets.

Room 12: The party tries one of the branches, revealing a secret passage to a small, very cluttered basement.  Suddenly, the door above opens carefully and two Russian soldiers enter quietly, holding lanterns and rifles, stopping in surprise at the top of the steps when they see the party.


The generation is pretty fast, but I think I need a player who will map and take notes, to make it practical.  Otherwise it may be too much work for the DM during the session.

Anyway, I'm pretty happy with the balance.  I'd like more clues, traps, and strange things than actual denizens.  There are denizens, but they are few and furtive and the party will really have to explore before they meet them.  Overall, I'd like to give an atmosphere of mystery and fear: What is this labyrinth under the city?  Who or what has been here and what were they doing?  Why is the local citizenry afraid to explore their basements too much?

Friday 21 September 2012

Blueprint for a Pirate Sandbox

Initial Problems

Having just read Robert Louis Stephenson's Treasure Island for the first time, I was wondering why you don't see more Pirate-themed pen&pencil RPGs.  I think there are a number of reasons:
  • Scale- managing a ship with a full crew is a bit larger-scale than your typical RPG is comfortable with
  • Naval Battle Rules- need custom rules for naval battles- both from a distance and for boarding your opponents' ship
  • DnD firearms- the most popular RPG system doesn't really have satisfying firearms rules
Here are some ideas for how to alleviate the problem:
  • Have a model/drawing of the ship and it's crew ready for combat
  • Have a simple list of stats for each ship
  • Limit the technology level: small ships are easier to manage
  • Come up with simple rules for naval combat.  Something along the lines of Evil Stevie's Pirate Game which tracks rigging damage, hull damage, and crew member survival.  I'm not sure if I'd keep the rules for wind direction, etc.  Maybe that could be abstracted as "Captain skill+Ship Maneuverability+ Ship Size" i.e. what chance you have of getting off a shot on a given round while avoiding your opponents' shots.
  • Adopt personal combat rules from a firearm-friendly system like CP2020 or WFRP

Starting Scenario

I don't think I would like to start the players as low-ranking crew-members on a pirate ship since they are then not the ones making the decisions.  Instead I prefer something along the lines of:
  • The pirate captain has just died and one of you has been elected the new captain
  • You are on a military ship and have just mutinied.  The remaining crew have decided to go pirate
  • You are vagabond seamen who saw the opportunity to steal your own ship and you have done so.  Now you are on the run from the law


 Starting Characters

Players must agree who will be the officers, mainly Captain and First Mate.  Each of these has skills associated with them like leadership, pilot ship, navigation and players can choose other relevant skills like: gunnery, carpentry, melee combat.

To fill out the crew, add a minimal number of NPC crew-members that are also divided among the players.



The setting should be fairly unruly, like among colonies of a far-spread empire.  The players have a map of a major port or two they are familiar with, but most of the map is uncharted, providing lots of opportunity for exploration.

Random Tables

Of course, for a sandbox we would need random tables galore. Particularly:
  • Random ship(s) & crew(merchants, military, pirate?)
  • Random uncharted island(inhabitants?)
  • Random adventure hooks(treasure map, gold shipment, Governor or other official to be kidnapped/ransomed...)

Sunday 9 September 2012

DMing for Kids

So a while back I decided to try out something new.  My 4-year-old was bored and not in the mood for a book, so I pulled out a d6 and said "Let's try a new game!  What animal do you want to be?"  The simple RPG that evolved is now known as "Doggie Game".  So far I've run short, independent sessions for her solo, with her 6-year-old cousin, and with a couple visiting gamer friends.

My first observation is how quickly kids pick-up on the concept.  It took my daughter a few minutes to "get" the game.  Her six-year-old cousin picked it up immediately.  I guess kids are used to playing make-believe so it's not something so hard to learn.

Anyway, here are the current rules to for Doggy Game, a game that any kid with basic speech and numbers skills can play.  The game has already evolved and I assume will continue to, but I wanted to get this down in writing in it's most basic form:

Doggie Game

Character Creation

1. What's your doggie's name?

2. Are you a big doggie or a small doggie?
Big Doggie's are good at biting(+1)
Small Doggie's are good at avoiding bites/hits(-1)
3. Pick one other thing your doggie is good at?(+1)

Action Resolution

For actions that require a test to determine success, the player should roll 1d6.

Standard action requires 4 or higher to succeed
Easy action requires 3 or higher
Hard action requires 5 or higher

Getting Bit/Hit

First time--character is injured.

Second time--character is dead.

And that's really more or less it.  I try to keep it open ended so that the kids/players drive the action.  If they get stuck I give them a few options, or a motivation(you're hungry, you're cold, etc.)

Sunday 2 September 2012

DnD Next Playtest 2

Well, my friend was kind enough to run the latest DnD Next playtest for us.  Here are my thoughts:

Open to Feedback

I'll start with something positive.  In the last playtest review I mentioned the PC hitpoint inflation.  This has apparently been fixed, so I guess someone at WotC is listening.  This gives me some hope for the rest of the problems with 5e.

Character Creation

The previous playtest came with pre-generated characters, while this playtest actually gave us the rules for creating low-level characters.  I brought a friend whose only exposure to DnD was from computer games and set-about creating a Warlock for him and a Rogue for myself(class randomly determined).

I already mentioned after the last playtest that the character sheets looked overly-complex due to the many facets(Race/Class/Background/Specialty).  Add to this the fact that the Warlock has two types of magic(Invocations, Rituals) and that one of them is divided into different classes(Lesser Invocation and Minor Invocation) and it took us an hour to get our first two characters created.  I expect that with practice, I could get the character creation time down to 15-20 minutes.  I like my character creation as short as possible and for Medieval fantasy that means under 5 minutes, so this leaves a lot to be desired in my mind.

Of course, I'm doubtful that WotC will change this.  They need to make money and one of the ways they like to do this by selling subscriptions to Character Creation software.  So I don't anticipate them giving up that revenue stream.  On the other hand, I don't intend to DM any game that requires an online subscription to play.


So to preface, each character faced(Race/Class/Background/Specialty) comes with it's own skills/abilities.  Now you might think(as I did) that this is like a general skill system(as in CP2020), where it's enough to write the names of the skills/abilities on your character sheet.  You would be wrong(as I was).  These aren't general, associative, real-world abilities with a unified mechanic, as in CP2020.  Rather these are specific, dissociative abilities, each with it's own mechanic, so you need to look-up the ability description pretty-much each time you use it.  And some of these get wordy, so again, another reason why you would have to use a character generator program, so that you don't have to copy each ability down word-for-word each time.


Oh and one note on the adventure provided with the playtest: total railroad.  It's divided into chapters, each with a predetermined conclusion.  And the players can choose what order they do them, but they are in order of ascending difficulty, so the order is more or less predetermined.  Anyway, bad adventure design doesn't concern me so much since you can take or leave bad adventures.


Anyway, to summarize
  • HP Inflation fixed
  • Character Creation overly-complex
  • Still way-better than 4e
  • Still not my choice DnD to run