Sunday, September 29, 2013

Stupid Dice Tricks: An Ad Hoc Game System

Normally, Stupid Dice Tricks are for Friday, but this past Friday I got more than a little busy and couldn't finish up this post. Here it (finally) is: part one of a narrative effort to design a game system around a particular set of really cool dice I bought at GenCon. 

Today's Stupid Dice Tricks exists less so that I can teach you a new stupid dice trick or to get something down in writing that I've been kicking around for awhile so that the rest of the blogosphere can read about it. Instead, today's Stupid Dice Tricks is about building a game system around some dice that I happen to have lying around that I think are awfully neat. With these dice, we're going to build a game system (or perhaps reinvent the wheel if it looks just like some other game that already exists). Here they are:


As you may be aware, these are Q Workshop's very cool d6-style dice made for FFG's Arkham Horror tabletop game. Before we get into doing anything with them, let me first talk about why I think these dice are cool. Yes, Q Workshop dice can be a little expensive (at $10 for this pack of 5, they were $2 each), but they are damn sexy, aren't they? They're a standard, larger-sized d6 in a simple bone or ivory color that contrasts well with the black ink, making them very easy to read. The numbering is all in a very cool Art Deco-style font that is large and easy-to-read for numbers "1" through "4," with some cool decorative fiddly bits all around the sides. Facets "5" and "6," however, aren't as clear to read with the numbers being significantly smaller, but there is a prominent Elder Sign on each of those faces that looks really cool. It's that Elder Sign that's going to drive the design choices we're going to make with our imaginary future game that we should have at the end of this post. 

At this point, I'd like to say that I have never played Arkham Horror and am not familiar with the rules. If you're a fan of AH, please don't think I'm a terrible person. I've always wanted to give it a shot, it's just never worked out for me. However, I do have dice designed for that game (because they're snazzy) and I assume that the game's design also informs the design of the dice (which may be false), so I further assume that there's a nice in-game reason to have the Elder Sign on the "5" and "6," but I'm not going to worry about things I don't know for sure any more than I have to. Right. Done with that. Moving on.

So, let's assume that our new game system - because that's what we're doing, making a new game system based on these awesome dice - counts as a success any roll of "5" or "6." That way, it's easy to read and count successes. Every Elder Sign you see is a success. The math isn't as easy, but it's not ridicu-hard. The number of dice assigned to resolution rolls will, however, have a strong amount of influence on the chances of success. 

In my second aside of the evening, I'd like to point out that I can't quite figure out how to finagle AnyDice.com to help me graph this stuff out yet. I'd like to be able to show success distributions and all that fun stuff, and I'd really like its help with determining how likely different numbers of successes are with different amounts of dice, but I'm afraid that I'm just going to have to spreadsheet all that stuff. Sorry folks, I just don't get some of the AnyDice.com programming jive. 

So, for this system, let's assume two things: (a) that rolls of "5" or "6" count as successes and that (b) you get to roll a number of d6's (a dice pool) depending on how good you are at a thing; the better you are, the more dice. Let's also put a hard cap on the number of dice you can roll at 5 because (a) that's how many Arkham Horror dice I have and (b) the probability of not rolling a "5" or "6" with 5 dice is pretty darn small and I can't imagine really needing to make that chance even smaller. If we're counting successes and multiple successes are possible, then the system we end up with should reflect that. I'm not too keen on multiple successes being required to accomplish a task, but rather to describe how the success occurs.

Using the basic assumptions we've made thus far we can predict that:

  • Rolling 1 die, you have a 33.33% chance of rolling 1 success (66.67% chance of failure).
  • Rolling 2 dice, you have a 55.55% chance of rolling at least 1 success (44.45% chance of failure) and an 11.11% chance of rolling two successes.
  • Rolling 3 dice, you have a 70.37% chance of rolling at least 1 success (29.63% chance of failure), a 40.47% chance of rolling 2 successes and a 3.7% chance of rolling 3.
  • Rolling 4 dice, you have an 80.24% chance of rolling at least 1 success (19.76% chance of failure), a 72.84% chance of rolling 2 successes (at least), 35.8% chance of rolling 3 successes and a 1.23% chance of rolling 3. 
  • Rolling 5 dice, you have an 86.63% chance of rolling at least 1 success (13.17% chance of failure), but somehow my math broke down at 2 successes (I can't come up with a reasonable answer, so we'll have to, for the time being, assume it's better than the 72.84% for rolling 4 dice), 76.13% chance of rolling 3 successes, 34.15% chance of rolling 4 successes and a very slight 0.41% chance of rolling 5 successes.
Well, that's the probabilistic basis for a game system. Next time, we'll look at how to use this framework to create a gameable system. 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Top Five RPGs for Beginners - Building A Better List

Earlier today, someone over on G+ linked an article from Across the Board Games (a blog I've never heard of) which lists a "Top Five Role Playing Games For Beginners." Before I say anything about the quality (or lack thereof) in the article, I should first say that (a) I should anticipate that I wouldn't necessarily agree with the picks of a blog with which I'm not familiar and (b) I have a lot of experience (both positive and negative) with introducing rpgs to beginners and have some very strong opinions on the matter. I don't feel the need to rehash the list that you can read for yourself, nor to denigrate their choices since that seems like a waste of my time. I'm sure that the list I'd write of "Top 5 RPGs for Beginners" would look a lot like the list written by most of the folks who swing by to read Dispatches, so what I'm less concerned with is "which games" and more concerned with "why those games?"

Simple Math 

Not this
It can be tricky for veteran gamers to remember every single "+1" or situational bonus, so how can we expect new players to do it? Also, no matter how much we teachers of rpgs like to think we're remarkably thorough in our education of newbies, we need to accept that there's something we're going to forget to teach. Simpler math means there's less to remember and less to teach. A game like Swords & Wizardry Whitebox is great in this regard, where bonuses are few and limited in scope. Ability Scores in Whitebox provide at best a "+1" bonus if extraordinary (15 or better) or at worst a "-1" penalty if inferior (6 or worse), which means there's a lot less influence from Ability Scores on the game's math, and "situational modifiers" are few and far between, which means less for the new gamer or the teacher to remember.

Characters To Grow Into

Many games require the player to have a concept of what his character is going to be like or what they'd like their character to be able to do before getting started on creating a character. In my brain hole, this is putting the cart before the horse. Without knowing how to play the game, how can a player have any concept of how they'd like to play it? For this reason, I would not recommend games like FATE Core to new players, despite the game's focus on simplicity and learning curve since they rely heavily on the concept of the character as a character. Instead, I'd advocate the creation of a character as sort of "game piece"
 through which the player interacts with the game world and which allows the character-as-character to emerge from play. I think DCC's 0-level funnel system is a great example of this, since it lets the new player try out up to four characters (have "four game pieces") and has few consequences if one or more them are killed off ("removed from play"), allowing the player to experiment with many different aspects of the game (possibly even including death!) all at the same time.

Gaming Lingua Franca

There are certain terms and concepts that we gamers carry from one game to another. Class. Race. Level. Strength. Charisma. You don't have to be playing D&D or a retroclone to be dealing with these terms, either. But what the terms mean stay roughly consistent from game to game, making translation from one system to another fairly simple. Runequest, for example, uses most of the same Ability Scores as D&D (with the same distribution range and with some few additions to the roster), and the fictional concept of race shows up in RQ as well even if class is absent. This is one area where DCC is a mixed bag. Sure, we have race, class (and race-as-class), armor class, saving throws and other common concepts, but Mr. Goodman renames most of the Ability Scores, which can be confusing if folks aren't careful about keeping their nomenclature consistent. This is another place where I think that S&W shines, since it easily touches on all the "greatest hits" of gaming concepts, as do most retroclones.

Rules Don't Get In The Way Of Fun

Mortal trickery knows no rules
There's a popular current theory in games that "games are about what they have rules for." Thus, D&D-based games are "about" fighting because that's what they have rules for. World of Darkness games are "about" talking because that's what they have rules for. RuneQuest is "about" dancing because that's what it has rules for. No really, it does. I think you can see where I'm going with this: it's bullshit. Sure, other people have expressed that thought before me and at great length, and so I won't rehash the argument here. Instead, let me merely say that the game is about whatever the people who are playing it decide it's about. The rules should facilitate the game that the gaming group wants to play without getting in the way of them. Now, for many groups into sophisticated story telling in their games, this may include rules for social systems, but for new players who have yet to make the transition into viewing their characters as characters and not as game pieces, such rules could very easily get in the way for new players and serve to stifle the creative spark in the nascent player. I've never seen anything shut down creative game behavior as much as a "No, you failed your skill roll so you can't do that." Instead of arbitrary skill checks for games with new players, consider systems where rolling for success or failure is for the stuff that requires less imagination ("I hit the goblin with my halberd" requires a lot less imagination than an impromptu impassioned speech to the townsfolk) and leave the success or failure of the creative stuff to the collective imaginations of the gaming group. In this case, the game isn't about what it has rules for, but about what the group's gaming behavior reinforces. Swords & Wizardry, DCC, Labyrinth Lord, B/X, OD&D and all the rest of the early D&D/retroclone community fill this criterion exceptionally well.


Friday, September 20, 2013

DCC Donnerstag: Advanced Studies in Spellburn

Spellburn is one of those rules that, when first read, can lead to a lot of confusion. Hell, the Metal Gods crew had been using it wrong up until +Wayne Snyder & I went to GenCon, but more on that later. Folks who play wizards (and elves, but who's counting them, amirite?) love Spellburn, while folks who don't often see it as an imbalancing feature of the classes that use it. I believe that Joe Goodman was deliberately vague when writing the rules for Spellburn so that each Judge had room to interpret how Spellburn would best fit the campaign, but that can lead to some misconceptions about the mechanic, some of which can be game-breaking. Here are my thoughts on how to best implement Spellburn into your campaign.

Spellburn First, Luck After

Time for some serious Spellburn
Your caster decides to use Spellburn before any dice are rolled to determine the success or failure of casting a particular spell. Luck may be burned afterwards, but Spellburn may not performed at that time. This allows the caster's player the opportunity to come up with a cool description of what the Spellburn is (or just roll on the d24 table) and why it affects that particular Ability Score, just like the warrior and dwarf players get to narrate Mighty Deeds of Arms. Back end Spellburn, when allowed, feels more forced and does not allow for the same opportunity; that's the job of Luck, something anyone can do and no one needs to narrate. Frontloading Spellburn like this ensures that the Spellburn is well-thought-out and planned at least as well as Deeds and leaves some room for Luck to fill in the gap on the backend, which is precisely what it is designed to do.

The Limits of Spellburn

Somewhere in the rules, there is a suggestion to place a hard cap of 10 on any Spellburn. I endorse this cap, not because I believe in limiting a player's ability to do cool things with his wizard, but because I believe that every point of Spellburn needs to count for something. Burning 10 points means an automatic success in most cases and usually a fairly spectacular one. That's pretty bad ass. That also needs to be saved for a special occasion rather than "I Spellburn 20 points on my Magic Missile at the first sign of kobolds then take a nap for a month while everyone else completes the adventure." That sort of thinking leads to the 15-minute dungeon day which is a snoozefest for everyone involved. Limiting Spellburn to 10 per burn usually means that the caster will have some Ability Score points in "reserve" that can be burned at a later time, and he continues to be useful to the group. Win-win. Go home, Mr. Powergamer, I think there's a Pathfinder game waiting for you.

Spellburned... To Death!

Some Judges like to put a floor on how far down you can burn an Ability Score. For example, some Judges don't think you should be able to burn down past 3 since that is the minimum for a character (since you can't roll less than 3 on 3d6). Given the title of this sub-heading, I'm sure you've figured out by now that I simply don't agree. I believe that, should a player truly want to drain away that last little bit of life from his wizard in order to save his companions, defeat the villain or send the charnel god back to the netherworld where he belongs, I say let him. Yes, the minimum for a character to be functional is 3 in any Ability. Less than 3 Strength and we know he's uber-weak and might need someone's help carrying his own weight. Less than 3 Agility and he's staggering around clumsily like a drunk. Less than 3 Stamina and he's having a hard time staying conscious. I may, if I'm feeling particularly generous, allow self-sacrifices like this be the one time I allow the "kick over the body rule" to be in effect, but corruption would definitely be rolled for if the cause of near death was magic overload.

Spellburn Damage And Healing

Ability Score damage such as Spellburn heals at a rate of 1 point per day; this we know. It is suggested in the DCC rule book that  his damage not be allowed to be healed by clerics like other Ability damage. Stick to that. What isn't mentioned is how clerics heal Ability damage. For Spellburn to be meaningful, it cannot be simply healed away by the clerical Lay On Hands power. Just don't do it.

However, since there is no rule for how to heal Ability damage (that I can find) with Lay On Hands, but one is implied by the very section of the rules that says it shouldn't apply to Spellburn damage, allow me to suggest one: In order for a cleric to heal ability damage, he must first Spellburn one point of the Ability Score that he intends on healing. Each die of healing granted restores one point of Ability Score damage. Bam. I know, clerics don't get Spellburn in the RAW, but hey, we can give them this one, right? Right? That brings me to my next point.

Spellburn For Clerics

Why the hell not? Realistically, the only reason that I can come up with is that they never lose their power to Lay On Hands, unlike the wizard who can lose access to his spells. However, I'd say a Judge is entirely within his right to allow clerics to Spellburn if the expressed sacrifice is important enough to move the patron deity in question to providing additional support. By, again, frontloading Spellburn, the cleric is making a choice to sacrifice some of his own capability to make his shit kick ass. Since clerics are often at least moderately good fighters, this Spellburn does mean a meaningful loss of capability (perhaps even more so than for a wizard, who rarely fights in melee at all). This is a call that every Judge should make for himself, and one that I say "yes" to, provided the player gives me reason to believe in his character's sacrifice.

Advanced Spellburn Theory

Many OSR DMs cry foul over the magic system in DCC. The fact that wizards can keep casting until they fail. The ability to regain lost spells through Spellburn. The ability to turn failure into success through Spellburn (well, not exactly, more like, "make success more likely"). The non-Vancian nature of manner of a slotless magic system. The power quotient of the DCC magic system may seem overwhelming at first, especially when compared against the power curves of other OSR-style games, but DCC ain't them. In DCC, the power bar is set a bit higher, characters are expected to be able to get more done in a day and since resources like spells are limited by randomness, they are also influenced by choice, like the choice to burn Luck after a failed dice roll or to Spellburn to gain a bonus beforehand. The ability to Spellburn is the brake that wizards apply to themselves, a trade off that enables both the craziness inherent in the DCC system and the player agency that OSR-style games thrive on.


Thursday, September 12, 2013

DCC Donnerstag: Feel The Burn! Firebombs in DCC Games

Flaming oil, whether it's Greek Fire, military oil or good ol' fashioned lantern oil, will eventually turn up in every old school style game. That's a fact. In the Metal Gods campaign, +Bear Wojtek even calls them Molotovs because, let's face it, that's how they get used. The rules for flaming oil in DCC are suitably old school and feel very much like the way flaming oil rules would work in something like, say, 1e or BX or Holmes. Here's a peak:

Catching fire: A character who catches fire suffers 1d6 damage per round. He can put out the fire by spending an entire round doing “stop, drop, and roll,” which grants him an opportunity to make a DC 10 Reflex  save  to  put  out  the fire. Certain spells and monster attacks may produce hotter or more dangerous flames that cause more damage or are more difficult to put out.

So, that's it. Nothing about grenades, nothing about flaming oil, just about catching in fire. We've had to fill it in with suitably old school rules up until now. Hmm. That needs a-fixing. 

How To Throw A Firebomb

The attack roll made with a firebomb (which is what we'll be calling them for lack of a better term that is all-encompassing) is a standard attack roll using the Action Die of the character making the attack (usually a d20), modified as usual for that character (Deed Die, attack bonuses, etc.) making a missile weapon attack (modified by Agility). To land the attack, the thrower must score a 12 or better on the attack roll, remembering that he is attacking an area, not any creatures in it. If for whatever reason, the thrower cannot see the area being attacked, he takes a -2 penalty to his roll. If the roll is under the AC 12, the firebomb misses by 2-1/2 feet for every point under 12 (thus, missing by 4 means that the throw is 10 feet off) in a random direction determined by a d8 roll (the old scatter die). If the firebomb hits an obstruction such as a wall during its scatter, it has a 50% chance of detonating on the obstruction, otherwise, it scatters off the obstruction until it reaches its full scatter distance. 

Each firebomb weapon has a default splash radius of 5' (if it's bigger, its description should tell you), so every creature within 5' of the final landing point of the must make a Reflex save (DC is equal to the attack roll made for the firebomb) or take damage. The victim of a firebomb attack who fails this save continues to take damage every round until either the oil burns out or he spends a round to make a DC 10 Reflex save to "stop, drop and roll" to put the flames out (after which he is prone). Each type of firebomb has a base die of damage that it does on the first round and subsequent rounds reduce the damage done by one step along the dice chain. For example, normal lantern oil does 1d6 points of damage on the first round but 1d5 points of damage on the second, 1d4 on the third and so on down to 1 point of damage on the fifth, after which it burns out. 

Firebomb Stats

Here are some of the firebomb-type weapons commonly used in Ur-Hadad. 
  • Standard Lantern Oil - 5' Splash, d4 damage
  • Simple Firebomb (light & throw) - 5' Splash, d6 damage
  • Military Oil (impact detonation) - 5 ' Splash, d8 damage
  • Holocaust Bomb (impact detonation) - 10' Splash, d6 damage

Playing With Fire

What's that you say? You rolled a "1" on your attack roll and fumbled yet the fumble table doesn't make much sense for firebomb-type weapons? Well, son, here you go: a fumble table specifically for firebombs. 
  • 0 or Less: The bomb went up in your hand when you tried to throw it, but thankfully you took no damage. All of the hair burned off your knuckles, but other than than, you're unscathed. 
  • 1: Same as "0 or Less," but you also managed to burn off your eyebrows. Man, do you look goofy.
  • 2: As you started your throw, you overextended yourself and tripped. DC 10 Ref save to stay on your feet and not drop the firebomb.
  • 3: Your pitch wind up pulled a muscle in your shoulder. Your next attack roll is made at -2.
  • 4: That bomb just won't ignite. Maybe the wick is damp or maybe it's shell was made too thick, but that particular bomb just is not going to erupt. 
  • 5: You lose your balance just as you're about to release the firebomb. You catch it, preventing it from blowing up in your face, but fall prone in the process. 
  • 6: A small amount of the accelerant leaks out as you throw the bomb. You take 1 point of Personality damage as it singes off most (if not all of) your hair. 
  • 7: A small amount of the accelerant leaks onto your hands as you throw the bomb. You take 2 points of Agility damage (DC 10 Reflex save for 1 point of Agility damage). 
  • 8: Your remarkably bad throw lands just in front of you, but thankfully the firebomb flares up and burns itself out quickly. Take 1d3 points of damage and make a DC 10 Reflex save to avoid catching on fire. 
  • 9: You grabbed the wrong thing, which is why your throw is specularly ineffective. You threw one of your other possessions, determined at random. It might be another weapon, it might be your gold pouch. 
  • 10: You stumble and leave yourself wide open to attack. The next enemy that attacks you receives a +2 bonus on its attack roll. 
  • 11: Really bad muscle cramp coming off of that one. -4 penalty to your next attack roll. 
  • 12: The firebomb erupts in your hand, but does d-2 (lower the die type two steps) damage. If you make a Reflex save DC 12, the bomb burns itself up in this explosion and does no further damage, otherwise it burns as normal. 
  • 13: You accidentally throw the firebomb at a random ally within range. Treat the Reflex DC to avoid as a 13, but otherwise this functions as a standard firebomb attack. 
  • 14: The firebomb erupts in your hand, but does d-1 (lower the die type one step) damage.  If you make a Reflex save DC 14, the bomb burns itself up in this explosion and does no further damage, otherwise it burns as normal. 
  • 15: The firebomb erupts in your hand, dealing normal damage. The bomb will continue to burn as per normal. 
  • 16+: The firebomb erupts in your hand, doing d+1 damage (raise the die type one step). The force of the explosion knocks you down, knocking the wind out of you and preventing you from acting until you can make a DC 16 Fortitude save to recover. This fire burns as normal, doing diminishing damage per round. 

Narrative Combat Option: Splash Dice

So, maybe you don't use a grid for combat. I don't use one all the time, so I can't expect that you do either. Most of the time, my sessions are fairly free-form, mapless doodads where we basically just "Theater of the Mind" our way through every fight. These rules as presented above don't exactly account for that, so here's a way to work it so that they do. Since, without a grid, you might not know how many targets could be affected by the firebomb, roll 1 damage die for every 5' of splash radius for the firebomb; this number is the number of potential targets. Thus, for Military Oil (5' Splash, d8 damage), you'd roll 1d8 to determine the number of targets while, for Holocaust Bombs (10' Splash, d6 damage), you'd roll 2d6. If the attack misses, apply the amount by which the attack missed to the splash die as a penalty to see if any creatures may be targeted (thus if you rolled a 10 on the attack roll, you'd subtract 2 from the splash dice). Creatures in melee with intended targets of the firebomb (such as adventurers friendly to the thrower) are equally valid targets for the splash dice. 

Monday, September 9, 2013

Monster (Book) Monday: All The Worlds' Monsters, Vol. I

Way back in the way back of my early days of gaming, I got my grubby mitts on a few game books in a less-than-above-the-boards manner. See, a friend's dad's friend found out that that friend of mine had started playing D&D (well, actually AD&D 2e) and give the kid a bunch of books. In that lot was a green covered B3, some novels written by a dude with the improbable name of Gary Gygax (some of the Gord the Rogue books... which are goddamn awful), the greatest monster book ever written (the Fiend Folio) and two odd softcover books of monsters published by a company called "the Chaosium," each titled "All The Worlds' Monsters," volumes 1 and 2. That friend promptly gave all that stuff to me and when the father's friend finally asked the friend about that stuff, he said he gave it away (just like the father's friend had in the first place) and that didn't seem like a satisfactory answer, and I think there was some trouble or another that I don't quite remember. The facts of the matter are that (a) I never got in trouble for taking possession of these books, (b) I still have them all (somewhere), and (c) I'm pretty sure it was all a side bar to a drug deal anyway, so none of it fucking matters to anyone but me. Because I have these books and they're damn awesome.

History

Folks who've spent some time talking to me about RPGs (and probably folks who poke around the old blog here) probably have picked up that I'm something of an RPG history buff. I am, and it drives my wife crazy. She hates hearing about all the different versions of different rules and different editions and the differential history of how one game stopped being itself and started being something new. To me, that shit is fascinating. To her, she wishes I'd just shut up so we could get back to some DCC where she could just roll some dice, kill some monsters and die before the corruption steals her soul. But you, dear citizen of Kickassistan, I know you're different, you're like me, you love pouring over the minutiae of gaming history. Or, at least, I'll presume you are and you do, because that's what I want to talk about right now. This is my jam, man!

Actually not my copy
Picking up All The Worlds' Monsters v1 (hereafter ATWM1) as an adult, and after having learned what I've learned about the history of RPGs, I've come to realize that it's a seminal work in many ways. First, insofar as I can tell, it's the first goddamn monster book for D&D ever. The first book entirely devoted to nothing but monsters, predating the Monster Manual. Second, it was written by such early D&D luminaries as Steve Perrin (of RuneQuest fame), Dave Hargrave (the Arduin guy) and Paul Jacquays (of the Dungeoneer & Judges Guild). According to the forward (written by Perrin), ATWM1 was to originally include lots of monsters that had already been published elsewhere, but sheer page count meant that the number needed to be pared back and those beasts being republished saved for volume 2. Third, and perhaps most interestingly, the monsters were written up in a way compatible with the so-called Perrin Conventions, a set of home brew rules from the pen of Steve Perrin designed to de-mystify and reorganize the combat sequence into a logical flow. It was from here that we get the notion of Dexterity being a measure for Initiative, as Dr. Holmes later codifies in his edition of Basic. To me, the fact that the very first monster book was published in a format inconsistent with the LBBs+3 of OD&D is fascinating and it demonstrates how firmly the urge to houserule and modify the D&D game has been from moment one.

I'm unsure of what the fallout of the ATWM series was. Published by the Chaosium, I wonder if these volumes were the beginning of the rocky competition between the Chaosium and TSR that would lead to things like the removal of the Melnibonean and Cthulhu mythoi from Deities & Demigods. I can imagine that, as TSR became more of a for-profit business (the oft-lamented "T$R") and less of a cabal of game-loving hobbyists, TSR might have tried to make it very difficult for the Chaosium to publish more D&D material (you know, with threats of lawsuits and the like); at the same time, Chaosium might have just stopped supporting D&D in favor of its own RuneQuest. Since the Acaeum doesn't cover Chaosium products (despite the very early and, as far as I can tell, historic implications of ATWM) and I'm a very lazy historian, I may never know. Maybe it's in Playing At The World and maybe I'll get around to reading that book some day.

Bored yet? Let's talk jive turkey.

Details

Vance Dragons from White Dwarf #6
You can occasionally find ATWM1 on the eBay and Amazon (there are actually 4 copies of it up on Amazon as I type this), you can get a clean, OCR'd, nice-looking pdf from RPGnow. That's the copy that I'll be referring to for this near-review. All The Worlds' Monsters comes in at a slight 112 softcover perfect bound pages, but is packed with 265 monsters, all of them from DMs of the early game and many of them statted up versions of stuff from classic swords & sorcery novels like the Vance Dragons (which were also featured about the same time in a White Dwarf article). Each monster's author is credited early in the nascent statblock, and if it's based on a beast from fiction, the original author is cited in the flavor text at the end, which is really cool and serves not merely as a "this is what folks playing D&D in the 70's were reading" sort of Appendix N, but also as an early gold standard for transparency and giving credit where it's due in an RPG product, something that the RPG industry tends to have a hard time with (from my perspective). One neat feature of the text is that it's printed in landscape, which is surprisingly cool for a book being used at the gaming table (landscape printed books take up less depth on the gaming table, leaving more space for maps and minis and other cool stuff like that).

Aesthetics

Exhibit 1: Awesome type
Exhibit 2: Amazing line art
Exhibit 3: FUCKING AIR SQUID!
There is something that strikes me as remarkably charming at the "typed on a 70's word processor" text of this book. "Labor of love," yes, entirely. Also, so much of the art, like the seminal Air Squid on page 1, is that simple sort of b&w line art that made the LBBs visually appealing in a simple but striking style that stays with us today as being iconic of the early days of gaming. Yes, the illustrations are sparse, which was par for the course back in editor Perrin's day, but the fact that they were produced by amateurs shouldn't be held against it, but rather as a mark in the "in favor of" column for sheer enthusiasm alone. Plus, goddamn air squd. Look at that thing. It's a thing of beauty. My wife is now seriously contemplating an air squid tattoo.

As far as design aesthetics go, though, this thing is kind of hit or miss. Some of the stats reflect poorly-considered power creep or were designed to act as foils for the overpowered victims of the Monty Haul-style gaming that seemed to be very widespread even back then. So, you'll end up with stuff that have far too many hit points, an impossibly low AC or some other combination of monster stats that make them less of a monster and more of a GOTCHA! My guess is that the groups that these monsters were designed for are the same groups who used Deities & Demigods as a monster book.

There are some design choices that I really enjoy, however. The first is a creative re-interpretation of the concept of Alignment perpetrated by folks like Dave Hargrave who decided that "Hungry" was a perfectly suitable Alignment. While I may not agree, I really dig the idea of providing extra brief descriptors to help guide a monster's behavior. Furthermore, the classification of monsters by type here is remarkably insightful not because it contains a preponderance of well-organized and finely-delineated monster categories, but because the ones that are given are particularly useful and you can easily see, for example, what the dungeon purpose behind Clean-Up Crew is. I do wish they'd classified the "gotcha" monsters as being one type, but them's the breaks.

Foliosity

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Air Squid! But seriously, ATWM1 might not be a perfectly Folioic text, but it very much comes from the same tradition of "shit some dudes made up back in the 70s to make their D&D games more interesting back before anyone was telling anyone else how to make their game awesome" that drove White Dwarf's early days and the Fiend Factory column. ATWM1, though, is a little more on the gonzo side if you can believe that. I mean, Dave Hargrave, right? The core of Foliosity as I see it is a hyper-specific application of a monster to a particular environment or role, like the sussurus in the Lichway, that leaps off the page. What surprised me the most about ATWM1 is that while there are plenty of Folioic monsters in ATWM1, most of them seem to come from the source literature adaptations, which, when you think about it, makes an awful lot of sense out of my concept of Foliosity. In short, ATWM1 is less Folioic than I'd like it to be, but it provides an essential link in the chain that can help us figure out where the hell Foliosity came from in the first place.

What I'm Stealing

Little of this, little of that. Actually, I'd love to run a "kitchen sink OD&D" hexcrawl game including everything and anything from Arduin, the ATWM series and really anything else that the players wanted thrown in. It just sounds like a fun idea. All of the monsters would need to be ATWM fiends (nope, I'd even avoid LBB monsters) of course. Then again a DCC sandbox that ends up equally weird might be even more fun, so maybe that with ATWM monsters. Maybe treasures via Empire of the Petal Throne. I figure that would smush it up enough to turn crazy into crazy awesome.

Final Word

Even when I was a kid of fourteen, I had an idea of how cool the gems I had appropriated were. I remember looking through ATWM1 & 2 for monsters I could add to my Dark Sun campaign and finding a surprising amount of useful material. Today, the campaigns are different, but I have the exact reaction. Every time I open one of the ATWM volumes, I'm shocked by how useful each volume is, despite my predilection to hyper-specificity (or perhaps because of it). I see a monster like the behinder and just think it belongs. The gatherer above makes perfect sense to me. The fear stalker, a giant humanoid reptile with a plurality of eyes is smarter than men, so of course they are its favorite food. Why the fuck not?

In short ATWM1 is a collection of gonzo weirdness built only the way the oldest of schools could do it, back before Uncle Gary showed the world how it was "supposed" to be done and DMs stopped doing all the imagining for themselves. It's a product of the raw force of creativity that is the fertile mind of the DM right when those forces were being tapped for the first time. The ultimate hipster monster book, it was a monster book back before monster books were cool.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Stupid Dice Tricks: Quick Thoughts On Stat Ranges

It's been a long time since I've had any new Stupid Dice Tricks, mostly because I haven't needed to invent any new uses for my dice, that whole necessity being the mother of invention thing. Well, lately, I've had a couple of problems that I've wanted an on-the-fly mechanism to handle and so I've gone back to the ol' Stupid Dice Tricks well to make it happen.  First, a quick and dirty way to crank out NPC stats on demand for my ACKS Iron Coast game where I already know what the rough stats will be. Second, we have the issue of the relatively boring static DCs in DCC and how to make them a little more interesting.Effectively, both of these problems amount to "nailing down precise numbers on top of vague ideas," something that Stupid Dice Tricks perform exceptionally well at.

Here, have a Russ Nicholson Rhinoman
because....
Russ Nicholson Rhinoman.
It's either that or no pics.
Get over it. 
But first, an aside. Remember when you first read through the 1e books and saw some of the strange dice expressions (pre-dX notation) in there that listed merely the value ranges and not how to generate them? Some were pretty straightforward and could only represent one sort of dice roll (such as "1-6" for d6 or "3-8" for d6+2), but some could be interpreted a few different ways. "3-12," for example, could be 3d4 or d10+2, with the difference between the results being the shape of the probability curve (d10+2 would give a flat curve since every number between 3 and 12 are equally likely, whereas 3d4 would follow normal rules for central tendency and have a bell-like curve). In my book, bell curved results are great for determining values within a wide range so that, most likely the results will be between certain values in the range, but they stand a chance of being outside that range fairly easily. On the other hand, if you know what sort of result you're looking for, say a value that implies a positive Ability Score modifier, then what you're less interested in is the wider range and more interested in the magnitude of the modifier. And here's where we dip into the issue with generating Ability Scores for my Iron Coast ACKS game.

Expected Ability Score Ranges for OSR-Style Games

So, in ACKS, I've had it pop up a few times where a player wanted to know what someone's particular stats were but, since they hadn't been important before, I didn't know them. Often, I've been using ye olde "3d6 straight" for all these stats, particularly for things like henchmen or NPCs, but there comes a time when "3d6 straight" misses the fact that 5 Wisdom you rolled doesn't quite match up with the village cleric; we know he's probably a little wiser than average. And so, when I want an NPC to particular strengths and weaknesses, here's my go to rule for the exact numbers.

Weak Stat: d6+2 (3-8; Ability Score mod -3 to -1)
Average Stat: d4+8 (9-12; no Ability Score mod)
Strong Stat: d6+12 (13-18; Ability Score mod +1 to +3)

This isn't the sort of thing that I use to generate a planned set of stats for my NPCs, but rather to fill in specific stats that I feel are supposed to be higher than average, lower than average or just plain average. When +Scott Cambers asks me what his henchmen Ranulf's Strength score is, this is how I'll generate it (Average) and his Wisdom (Weak), but not the rest of his stats, since I don't know anything about them already. Before we gave him any stats, Ranulf was just a random result from Meatshields that told us a little bit about who he was and these values just give me a little better ability than "3d6 straight" to make his stats reflect how I interpret the Meatshield.

Random DCs In DCC

My last experiment in skill checks for DCC didn't pan out very well, mostly because no one else could follow what was going on. I felt like I was trying to cram a system down everyone's throats and it didn't feel terribly useful. So, I'm scrapping that one. Live and learn, I guess. Furthermore, at GenCon, I saw +Jobe Bittman & +Doug Kovacs running DCC using the actual Difficulty Classes mentioned in the DCC rulebook. Holy crap. I didn't think anyone actually did that. As a refresher, here are the basic DCs in DCC:

  • DC 5 - Child's play
  • DC 10 - "A man's deed"
  • DC 15 - Feats of derring-do
  • DC 20 - Heroic deeds
As it stands, these are pretty solid, descriptive benchmarks. You could also think of them as "hard to fail," "50/50 ish for an average guy," "unlikely without skill" and "pretty damn unlikely without a bunch of luck and ability." Or whatever you want to call them. When you look at published DCC adventures, though, you see a lot of deviation from these normative Difficulty Classes and lots of things coming in at, say DC 8 or 12 or what have you. Given the appropriate descriptor above, we can give ranges to these numbers and then figure out dice expressions that fit them, treating each benchmark DC as the median for their particular distribution. Here we go:
  • Child's play - (Median 5), 3-7, 1d5+2
  • "A man's deed" - (Median 10), 8-12, 1d5+7
  • Feats of derring-do - (Median 15), 13-17, 1d5+12
  • Heroic deeds - (Median 20), 18-20, 1d3+17
A few notes: I get to use my funky dice! This value distribution really worked out well for the funky dice, so more d5s and d3s can get rolled at my table. Second, note that the Heroic deeds category tops out at 20. I'm never going to make something in DCC require a player to roll something higher than a 20 (except maybe on a to-hit roll, but AC is a different beast than a DC) because, in my book, a 20 always spells out success. 

DCC Donnerstag: The Madness Bellows

The following magical item was originally inspired by +JD Clement and the folks who play in his Saturday night Swords & Wizardry game as well as my old fashioned upbringing as a Polish-American. For some reason, folks don't seem to like accordion music these days... 

"Why, I heard a Madness Bellows once, on the occasion of 74th Emperor of Ozgul's 74th birthday, and it was enchanting. I believe that that was precisely the problem, though, as the resulting mania drove the Emperor to murder and then consume all the heirs likely to become the 75th Emperor of Ozgul in front of all his guests who might have been appalled had they not been engaged in sating their own deplorable, cannibalistic urges. Me? Oh no, by that time, I was far too intoxicated for murder. I just sat back and watched the show." - Master Guang-Yuan Jo

In a world where the Metal Gods hold real and lasting sway, it should come as little surprise to the outside observer that musical instruments of all shapes and sizes are commonly imbued with special significance, mysterious magics and even cosmic powers. Many a long quest have been launched by great musicians in search of one of the fabled Seventeen Lutes of Ottia of Thrax or the legendary brass double-pipes of Nacoll the Fiend, but only the rarest, most insane of bards ever dare to try to locate a set of Madness Bellows.

Semien Orwolicz was a master bard in his own right when he turned away from conventional music and began to seek out what he (and prior mathematician-philosophers) called the "music of the spheres," the sounds that the universe made in the gulf of space between planets and even, he hoped, between the moments of time itself. Semien's research and theories created many new instruments, most of which were largely useless and impractical, but the final breakthrough which rended his psyche and drove him mad also created his final instrumental invention, the Madness Bellows.

The Madness Bellows affixes a series of reeds - not unlike those common in woodwind instruments - to either end of a bellows-like device, so that, when reeds are triggered and the bellows is pumped, sound is generated. Most Madness Bellows feature reeds that play individual notes (for usually around 2 or 3 octaves) in the right hand and ones that play bass chords in the left (between 12 and 120 buttons for the left hand, varying from instrument to instrument). The sound produced, using both bass chords and higher-register melodic notes, is unlike the sound produced by other instruments and, instead, produces a rich, broad sound pallette similar to that of a small chamber orchestra or sophisticated organ.

The "madness" part of the Madness Bellows comes in subtly at first. There is a degree of cognitive dissonance that the human mind experiences when a single instrument is capable of making a richness of tone normally reserved for two, three or even more musicians. The ability to play both the root chords of a musical composition as well as the melodic line out of the same instrument forces the minds of some observers to spend too much mental effort reconciling the two halves of the same whole, and thus they remain safe from the instrument's more insidious effects. For truly, when operated by a master, the Madness Bellows opens the minds of its spectators to precisely what Semien had hoped and causes them, through music, to witness the enormity of the void of space and time... and what lives there.

To use a Madness Bellows, the would-be musician makes a Personality check versus a DC 10 (remember that, without experience, such a check should be made with a d10 rather than a d20 until a degree of proficiency in the instrument has been reached). Any failing check results in an annoying cacophony that instantly makes the musician the target of ire of any who can hear him (often leading to intra-party arguments and making the musician the target of enemies). A success, however, means that all who can hear the music must make a Will save (DC equal to the Personality check result). Creatures with less than 6 Intelligence who fail their Will save are stunned by the music, unable to sort out how its able to make so many different sounds at the same time (similar to paralysis). Creatures with an Intelligence of 6 or more (but not yet cosmic-level intelligences), however, experience a direct connection with the insignificance of mortal life when compared to the impossible hugeness of infinity, catching the merest glimpses of the true nature of time and space and perhaps even of its master, the dread Outer God, Azathoth, before going at least temporarily mad. The effects of both the catatonia and the temporary madness last for 1d4!+Per turns (that's 1d4 exploding plus Personality, if you were wondering).

Fumbles on each of these rolls are exceptionally bad things. Should the user roll a "1" on his skill check, he suffers the same fate as a failed Will save against his appropriate Intelligence. Rolling a "1" on the Will save, should the character's Int be less than 6 means permanent catatonia (which may be healed through typical means such as Remove curse); otherwise the madness experienced is not temporary, but permanent.

If the user of the Madness Bellows is a wizard or elf bonded to a patron that prizes insanity or to Azathoth himself, me may add his caster level to his performance check (making the roll d20+Per+CL vs DC 10).

What Sort of Crazy?

Roll d11: (1 - 2) - Megalomania. The victim will tolerate no challenge to his authority, responding with abject tyranny to the slightest provocation. (3 - 4) - Paranoia. The victim sees threats and slights where none exist and is positive that someone or everyone is plotting against him. He will overreact violently when confronted with anything that confirms this view. (5 - 6) - An unhealthy obsession/compulsion. Whatever shape it takes, this mania drives the victim to either harm those around him or himself in search of some perfect ideal that he is unlikely to ever attain. (7 - 8) - A phobia to something nearby. Something in the vicinity strikes fear deep into the victim's heart, causing him to flee or to attack anything that prevents him from doing so. (9 - 10) - The victim experiences sudden and disorienting amnesia that may induce him to see any attempts to help him as attempts to exploit his newfound vulnerability. Oddly enough, once the amnesiac recovers from this bout of amnesia, he only has a 50/50 chance of remembering what happened during the episode. (11) - Homicidal mania. The victim immediately assaults his former allies in the most brutal way possible. Things Get Better: The madness is really just a realignment of the character's true inner being and, as such, represents a convergence of his temporal self with the ideal pattern of his eternal soul. +1 Luck and now you've got a strange quirk to roleplay. Things Get Worse: The madness lingers, creeping through the victim's mind even after the temporary mania fades. In 2d7 turns, the character will have a complete relapse as Azathoth beckons to him yet again.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Month In Gaming: August

This post is going to be very short because, frankly, I didn't do much gaming in August. The Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad were on something close to a hiatus (but did some stuff, I'll talk about that in a minute) and due to scheduling issues, my "A Night In Ur-Hadad" (formerly "FLAILSNAILS of Ur-Hadad") campaign has been hovering so close to its first major climax that I can taste it. Oh yeah, and this thing called GenCon happened last month. You might have heard about it.

My First Gaming Cross-Over Event

I'm sure that DMs have been talking about this, planning events like this and even putting them into action for ages, but in July & August, I held my first rpg cross over events. Stuff that had happened in the A Night In Ur-Hadad campaign bled over into the Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad campaign and players in the latter had to deal with stuff that happened in the former.

Here's how it went down: the ANUH (A Night In Ur-Hadad) party had been working to thwart the efforts of the Bloody Successors, a terrorist organization whose goal is the eradication of the Grand Vizier's regency of the First City and the return of the line of Paschas to rule of the city. Along the way, the Bloody Successors had assassinated the Grand Vizier's brother during an opera performance (while the party mistakenly killed several actors in an attempt to stop the murder) and hatched a plot to execute several nobles in a spectacular fashion during the Grand Circus chariot race in the Lucrewarren. The ANUH players (largely) stopped the Grand Circus murders (I think one or two nobles managed to die), killing off the fiendish murderer known only as the Shoveler, but it was far too late for Ur-Hadad; the Bloody Successor's attack on the Grand Circus was only a ruse to cover up their coup attempt on the city itself. By the time the assembled spectators knew what was going on, they'd been shut off from the city proper, unable to rise to her aid. Through trickery (which is how they do everything), the ANUH players sneaked into the city and struck at some of the Successors' troops before finding a way to get into the island prison in Ur-Hadad's harbor which the Bloody Successors (and their allied noble houses) were using as a base of operations. That party now stands poised to (potentially) strike a killing blow against the terrorist plot, while a Siccalian flotilla awaits the Successors' signal to begin the final invasion of Ur-Hadad.

Meanwhile, the Divine Order of the Purple Tentacle, as the players of the Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad campaign like to refer to their characters as, had been setting themselves up a base of operations in a previously abandoned building in a poorly-reputed neighborhood in Ur-Hadad and dealing with some of the local color. While dealing with a particular mystery, they visited their ally, the spider sorcerer Amor Ba'Gish who, after the consult, suggested that everyone retire to the Lucrewarren for an afternoon's entertainment at the Grand Circus. Once the Purple Tentacle boys had placed their bets, the tragedy on the track struck and everyone managed to lose a lot of money. It was a dispirited Divine Order who discovered the Lotus Gate closed to them and who, now panicked, turned to Amor Ba'Gish for help getting back into the city. After teleporting back to the Divine Order's new chapterhouse (which required a stopover at the Gate Invisible, the first time such a trip was made in the history of Ur-Hadadly campaigns), the Divine Order was left to figure out how best to help defend their neighborhood (and thus their chapterhouse and stuff) from the Successors and their allies, and so a night of protecting different gates from (first) a detachment of Bloody Successors troops backed by two gigantic mountain apes and a tentacled horror that the Order dubbed the "Scroterror" (don't ask), to finally have +Wayne Snyder's thief Denny secure the next district over single-handedly by assassinating the Successor necromancer there assembling an undead host to assault their 'hood.

And so, though we don't yet know the final fate of the Bloody Successor revolution in Ur-Hadad, my first ever experiment with a multi-campaign cross-over event was a huge success. This was so much fun that I can easily see myself doing it again, whenever campaign events warrant. I grew up on the "summer crossover" business model from Marvel (starting with the Inferno event in ... was that '88? 89?) and loved it, and I hope my players will enjoy it here, too. Thanks to +Gabriel Perez Gallardi for the fantastic idea.

GenCon

Didn't I write about this already? Yeah, so GenCon happened in August and it was amazing. I played in at least one DCC session every day, most days running one and playing in another. Things I learned about DCC gaming while at GenCon:

  • Everyone uses the rules differently. +Jobe Bittman, for example, does some different stuff with Disapproval than the RAW, which makes it swingier and, usually, more brutal. 
  • Con gaming seems to be the perfect amount of "gaming commitment" for my wife. She gets a character, keeps it alive as long as she stays interested, then dies about the time her attention span starts to wane. Every character that she played over the weekend died, usually in triumphant and gory ways.
  • Fuck up wizards as much as you can during a Con game. If a wizard (or elf, for that matter) survives your session without dying, suffering corruption or some sort of horrific misfire, you need to try harder. 
  • For that matter, fuck up every PC you can. I instituted a policy for my off-the-grid games that you could bring any character you'd played that weekend that had survived (yes, relying on good faith here), but then proceeded to give them mutations, conjoined twins and psychic powers. And then they ate the space bat. Or found a laser pistol. Even if those PCs survived the session, they became fundamentally different than they were going in to it, which makes that shit much more fun.
So, yeah, we're hitting GenCon again next year, and I may even run a thing or two "on the grid," but that's not the gaming I'm looking forward to the most; that's going to be reserved for the impromptu, off-the-cuff shit that the DCC community folks end up running in the off hours. Next year, I'm sure that it will only get bigger and wilder, and there will always be room for more. 

The Iron Coast

The Iron Coast team met all of twice this past month due to RL commitments and GenCon, but some important things happened. The very first characters to level up in the campaign had that chance this month with +Matt Woodard's viking cleric, Artur, hitting 2nd and +Paul Linkowski's Siccalian artist-thief, Oosh, hitting 2nd (and then 3rd through carousing, which right now gives him the highest hp total in the group, which is a complete reversal from his prior total). The party defeated the chaotic sorceress who had taken up residence in the Lichway with her charmed henchmen and then retired to Port Scourge to mount one last expedition to find the tomb's as-yet-unclaimed treasures. The fight with the sorceress was fast and brutal, and it strikes me that this is precisely how combat works in ACKS and, indeed, OSR-style game in general; damage, at least at low levels, is dealt in relatively large chunks, making combat very swingy. When combat is over swiftly, that "used to DM 4e" part of my brain will kick in and think "this should have been harder," but when half the party's henchmen are dead and the PCs are teetering on death's door, how much harder could it have been? And so, the party meets with success, though much of it is hard-won. At least one other person has levelled since then, and I think several others are getting close but that's what you get for playing a fucking elf, +Mark Donkers

I got to test my new carousing rules, and they were a resounding success. Now, +Mark Donkers's elf spellsword has received a vision of the nearest weak point between the world of Ore and the Dreaming Dimension, +Scott Cambers's mage learned of a far-off place of great power and +Andy Block's elven courtier made an enemy. Absolutely all of those will be coming into play as the party transitions out of "let's investigate this dungeon" mode and into "let's explore the world!" mode. I think this is the first time I've ever played (much less run) a game that actually follows the traditional BX/BECMI mold of "dungeon fist, wilderness later," and frankly it's a very fun way to game. Get the feet wet first, then jump in the rest of the way to swim. Since the characters are starting to rack up goals that they'll need to act upon (and enemies that they'll need to defeat or run from), it really feels like doing it "by the book" (if we were gaming out of the BX books) is doing it right. Here's to all the awesome yet to come. 

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Iron Coast: Henchmen in Port Scourge, Divine Edition

Hey folks, this post is my answer to +Paul Linkowski's need in my Iron Coast ACKS game for a cleric-type henchperson. This information originally appeared in a post on G+, but I liked it so much, I'm bloggifying it. 

Shikoba Crowbrother

(Level 1 Shaman)
One of the native Kaasataha people of the interior of the Iron Coast, Shikoba has taken up residence at Port Scourge after receiving a vision from his totem animal, the crow. A holy man among his people, he takes every opportunity to learn about the world around him (which right now means learning an awful lot about how awful mankind can be in Port Scourge). If hired, Shikoba leaves a portion of his treasure in sacrifice in any crows nests he comes across. 


Jaruush, the mad hermit 

(Level 1 Cleric)
A middle-aged Siccalian mariner who has retired from life at sea after a mind-altering experience, Jaruush now worships "he who waits beneath the waves," though "worships" could also mean "placates," "abates" and "fears." Though much of his mind has been ruined (the dented bronze Siccalian helmet he still wears bears testament to some form of head injury), that Jaruush has been endowed with some otherworldly power is undoubtable. If a player character hires Jaruush, his incessant nocturnal babblings at first seem irritating to the party, but after a few moments become soothing and after a few nights in Jaruush's company, the party will wonder how they ever could have slept without it.

Caixalla, the oracle of sin 

(Level 1 Witch)
Touched by dark and unnamable cthonic powers, Caixalla's favor and favors are courted by the richest and most powerful of the pirate captains of Port Scourge. As much a prophet as a purveyor of fleshly delights, Caixalla ran afoul of Captain Essahn bar Elwall, captain of the dreaded Fang of Pluur, and now is "exceptionally motivated" to leave Port Scourge on an expedition, any expedition that might keep her out of harm's (and bar Elwall's) way. If Caixalla finds herself among the adventuring party, she insists that her employment includes the duty to tell a different story every night as well as to record the story of the party's exploits; these she recites as poetry, although occasionally her gift of prophecy leaks into her epics and interjections of prognostications of the future will find themselves wedged between lines of action and dialog ("little did they know that..." etc.).

Any of these fine folks can be yours for the low, low cost of 30 gp per month and a 15% share of your cut of the treasure.