Thursday, January 30, 2014

What IS The Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad Zine, Anyway?

I just can't get tired of looking at this thing...

On G+ earlier today, +Darren Buettner asked:
I'm a little bit confused, what will be content of the magazine? Is it a complete campaign setting? Is it all DCC RPG I presume? A dessert topping?
To which my erstwhile collaborator and compatriot, the esteemed Dr. +Edgar Johnson replied: 
The content will include a bit of the campaign setting used in the Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad campaign. We use the setting mainly for DCC, bu t+Adam Muszkiewicz has run other rulesets. 
Part of what I like about it is that Adam has provided setting background for Ur-Hadad, but also demonstrates how ambiguity about particulars of any setting can be a GM's best friend. 
The centerpiece is a zero-level funnel, DCC style, which uses a "roll all the dice" city crawl/sandbox generator (including all the Zocchi dice, d3 through d30). The theme is similar to the 1970s film Warriors.  Players must send their zero-level urchins, orphans, and so forth across enemy territory to get back to their own neighborhood. The content of the tables is very much influenced by the campaign setting, but could work well for other campaigns. 
There's a lot of art by +Wayne Snyder in there, and he also has included a one-page dungeon, hand-drawn and lettered.
Those are the main parts.
Which is a damn fine explanation and nothing I can't completely agree with. Here's the blurb that'll be up RPGNow/DriveThruRPG and other places, Mr. Buettner:

Out of the howling wilderness,Amidst sunken cities, And long-buried secrets,Man has forged a sword and cast off his chains.
Swords and Sorcery and Metal Gods.Danger, treasure, blood and glory, all mixed up in a blenderAnd served up in Golden Ur-Hadad, First City of Ore. 
Enter, if you dare, the bitchin' muralOn the side of your cousin's Ford custom van.Enter the world of the Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad-- Edgar Johnson 
In many ways, the authors of this zine believe the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG to be the most Metal of the Old School-style RPGs on the market today. No other RPG consistently provides for us the same feeling of adventuring the through the worlds depicted on classic heavy metal album covers the way that DCC does. We love that feeling, that experience of wild abandon and reckless action drenched in blood and thunder, and we work hard to cultivate it in our games. Along the way, we made up some stuff to help us evoke that certain Metal feeling and this zine is our chance to share all of that with you. 

In this issue of the Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad you will find:

  • 20 pages of Metal-drenched DCC mayhem
  • Some background info on the Metal Gods and Ur-Hadad
  • The paradoxical problem of Assassins in Ur-Hadad
  • The staggeringly-amazing Street Kids of Ur-Hadad urban funnel adventure tool kit! Remember the Warriors? Edgar Johnson gives you all the tools you need to make your own urchin-grinding funnel adventure version of it.
  • A ton of art by the excellent Mr. Wayne Snyder, as well as a short, "one page dungeon"-style insert by him, ready to slipped into your next DCC session.

Other Details

A bunch of folks have been asking questions like "where can I buy this?" "how can I get a print copy?" and even "why won't you take my money now?" First, the pdf will be available through most of the usual sources. Your RPGNow, DriveThruRPG, all that. I'm also signing up for a shop at, so that will be an option as well. If you're hungering for the print product, you'll be able to buy it right here at Dispatches from Kickassistan before it will be available anywhere else! With your purchase of a print product, you'll also get the pdf for free. 

As I've mentioned before, half of the proceeds from the sale of the pdf will go to support StandUp For Kids, a non-profit, non-partisan organization that works to fight teenage homelessness. Since we want people to be able to donate as much as they like, the pdfs (at least through the OneBookShelf options) will be Pay-What-You-Want. Further, when you buy a physical copy, you'll be able to tack on some extra as a donation. Our goal here is to allow people to support a worthy charity and get something in return, but not force anyone's hand on the matter and let you give what you want to. 

Right now, I'm in the "waiting for Joe Goodman to approve what we've done" holding pattern. As soon as it's live, folks, you'll have your chance. 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad Zine Issue #1 Cover Revealed!

Howdy folks, I just thought I'd scoop myself and show off the cover of the first issue of the Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad zine!

Check that awesome +Wayne Snyder cover out! Wayne's art is fantastic and this thing is practically oozing with it. He even threw in a quick "one page dungeon" style micro-dungeon.

This thing was written by +Edgar Johnson and myself. I wrote mostly some general World of Ore and Ur-Hadad stuff, while Edgar provides us with the extremely excellent "Streetkids of Ur-Hadad" funnel adventure kit. Not an adventure in and of itself, but a tool kit so Judges can quickly create their own unique Ur-Hadad citycrawl adventure.

As it stands, I have the zine off in the hands of Wayne & Edgar for review purposes. I'm hoping that if something's horribly wrong, they'll catch it before I send it off to Joe Goodman for the official final review. She comes in at 20 interior pages long (24 including cover) and will be available as soon as we're approved both in print and in pdf.

The print version will be $3.50, but the pdf will be pay-what-you-want with 50% of the proceeds going to StandUp For Kids, a nonprofit, non-partisan organization devoted to fighting teenage homelessness. For us, the Metal Gods zine is a labor of love, and we're more interested in that love helping someone else out than making us any money.

Stay tuned for the next step on the road.

[Edit] UPDATE: She's finished folks, and off to Joe Goodman for approval. Barring any errors in judgment on my part (or that of my erstwhile collaborators), we should be in bidness.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Catching Up With The Iron Coast

So, I'm really supposed to be on vacation right now. The gorgeous wife and I left for our ski weekend(ish) only to have our van breakdown barely halfway there. So, until about an hour ago when we finally got home, we were stranded in Saginaw, MI, which sort of nowhere, but everyone we encountered was really nice and understanding. So, instead of being drunk and playing Scribblish, Settlers of Catan & Cards Against Humanity right now, I'm on my couch with my wife watching last week's Parks & Rec with a bottle of whiskey, a bowl of popcorn and a remarkably friendly cat who missed us terribly last night. And so, as Parks & Rec ends and the season finale of Dracula sets in, let's make use of our time together and catch up with the Iron Coast.

It's been awhile since I've talked about the Iron Coast. Sure, there have been tangentially related to the Iron Coast, in particular my write up for the "posskum" (giant opossums ridden by the vermen of the Iron Coast) and recent Henchmen Week posts, but there hasn't been a good, solid update on what Team Viking Jesus has been up to for quite a long time. Since September, really. Right when the guys had finished off their excursion into the Lichway.

The Long Road To Sakriskyn

As Team Viking Jesus geared up for its next adventure, the party thief, Oosh, announced that he would be taking his leave of the party for some time to establish an "orphanage." And yes, he would, of course, be installing a vault with a safe if any of the other PCs would like to deposit some of their filthy lucre with him while they go off gallivanting across the Iron Coast. In the real world, Oosh's player, +Paul Linkowski was going on maternity leave from gaming as fhe prepared to be a dad for the something-th time over. Congrats, Paul!

The party went through the inbetween adventure checklist, buying stupid things that they'd had on their wishlists, filling up ye olde wyzarde bonge with unknowne substances, hiring some new henchmen and all other sorts of general carousery and debauch. After the party weighed its options and rumors that it had collected over the course of the previous adventure (and carousing), the party decided to head off across country to the nearby barony of Sakriskyn where the beleaguered Baron of Sakriskyn (but he's of an Iskurlandik persuasion, so he calls himself a "Thane") was said to be having trouble with the local vermen population. Setting off across the countryside, I found myself DMing a group on its first hexcrawl.

Hexcrawl Classic

I'm not terribly experienced with hexcrawling. Travel had always been the sort of thing that got handwaved back in the day, or very simplified down to some random encounter checks, so I've not had much experience running a hexcrawl or playing in one. All of my modern understanding on how to hexcrawl comes from recent readings in OSR theory and wisdom. Given the scale in ACKS (6 mile ordinary scale hexes, 24 mile macro hexes and then scaling up from there), they actually didn't have far to crawl to get to Sakriskyn. Since most of the terrain was hilly and +Matt Woodard's cleric of Viking Jesus, Artur, brought along a cart and team of horses, travel really slowed to a, well, crawl. In order to help the players feel like they were actually accomplishing something and not just rushing from hex A ("roll to not get lost, roll for encounters") to hex B ("same thing, okay done, you're there"), I zoomed in on the hex scale to 1 mile per hex.

The scale change was pretty convenient for me because I bought this great double-sided hex paper from Black Blade Publishing at GenCon this year (at the Pacesetter/OSR booth, in case you were wondering). So, this remarkably convenient hexpaper has larger hexes divided into smaller hexes on each side (you know, like hex paper does); on one side, there are four small hexes per larger hex and on the other its six small hexes per each larger. Since the scales I'm concerned with most of the time are 6-mile hexes and 24-mile hexes, it makes an awful lot of sense to use the 4 small hex per 1 larger side for the 6/24-mile side, allowing me to use the 6 small hex per 1 larger side for something different. Scaling things downward logically, each of the smaller hexes here are 1 mile while the larger ones become 6 mile. I feel like that was a very complicated explanation. Here's the deal: one side, the small hexes are 6 miles each, other side it's 1 mile hexes.

With the players moving around one mile hexes, the passage of time actually becomes pretty easy to sort out. They're moving slowly due to Artur's cart, and different types of hexes (plain, hills, swamp, etc.) all get travelled through at different rates. Also, if there's a road present (here's a hint: there probably isn't), that'll speed things up, too. The math here has been simple and the effects are enjoyable, particularly since the players are really scouring these hexes for details. It has always felt to me that movement on a 6-mile scale would make it really easy to miss details; on a 1-mile scale, as long as the PCs aren't asleep at the wheel, they should be able to find most details. It's been pretty damn cool so far.

A Note For The Observant

If you're an old school BX sort of gamer, you might have noticed that the name of the barony to which the PCs were headed is called "Sakriskyn" is awfully similar to "Sukiskyn" in B10: Night's Dark Terror. Yup. That's the module the players are enjoying right now. With some details mangled (here, Sakriskyn is a barony instead of the homestead that Sukiskyn is, there are vermen not goblins and so on) in favor of the Iron Coast campaign, most of the same stuff is here. There were still three tribes of humanoids attacking Sakriskyn when the players showed up (oh, and I ditched the whole thing with the horses, that wouldn't have held my players' interest), but tribes of vermen (you know, the ones that got mentioned in the rumor that sent the players off on this tangent in the first place). Also, after the players helped the Thane's forces repel the vermen, they set off across the countryside in the cause of vengeance (officially requested and sanctioned vengeance on behalf of the Thane) rather than just looking for some stupid horses.

The players have been collecting some pieces of the overall puzzle, and also some pieces of different puzzles that seem to have ended up in this box. What's been fun is that they've been trying to put them all together in one cohesive whole. For the sake of the story and the fact that several of the Iron Coast players actually take the time to read the blog here, so I can't quite go into too many details. At this point, the adventurers are criss-crossing the barony, trying to find survivors of the verman attacks or, even better, to find the verman warrens themselves. Up until last session, they had found very little, but then, in a verman warren, they found a map that shows an ominous tower in the nearby mountains (that separate the Orphan Baronies from the Orroztalani nation) with the symbol of a black ring that they've learned has some connection with the whomever worked the vermen up into attacking Sakriskyn in the first place.

In about a week, we'll see what the players do with the knowledge they've accumulated so far.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Catching Up With Quasquetherion

It's been awhile since there have been any updates here on the state of affairs in my Quasquetherion game, and that's the sort of interruption in service that just won't stand here in Kickassistan but is totally to be expected with holidays and other winter time nonsense. And so, what's been happening in the Quasquetherion campaign? Let's hit the highlights.

The Session With the Black Metal Doppelgangers

The gaming group has lost one of its players (maybe, I can't really tell, but this kid hasn't been there four times, so I'm counting that as an "I quit"), so, instead of letting the campaign grind to a halt, we picked up two more. These guys -- who are a lot of fun -- have experience playing modern rpgs (the only rpgs I could see on their shelves, though, were 4e and 13th Age), but none with the old school. Perfect... They rolled up a thief and a magic user, roles already filled in the group, and joined the group on its foray to retrace its steps to where they found all of the neat magical pools (they refer to it as the "toe juice room" due to the party's original thief's experiment with the healing potion pool, her toe and something we all referred to as a "toegasm"). After some strange experiences with the feral halflings dressed in fancy costume-party-style costumes and a near brush with the grimace-inspiring ratlings (not to be confused with vermen... these are the rat-halfling hybrids that +Ben Djarum added to his excellent wandering monster charts) who ran off into the darkness, the party found itself at the "toe juice room." The party explored a little further, but it was in the pool room (again) that they faced off against evil Black Metal doppelgangers of themselves (even the new guys!). In the process of this fight, the new thief (temporarily blinded for some reason I can't remember) accidentally triggered the re-emergence of the Green Slime beast from several sessions previous and our intrepid fighter, Thendrex (played by +Shane Jones) put a very long-running joke to rest.

The joke that he killed (literally) involved the incorrect name that the whole party had been using to refer to Shane's PC, Thendrex. When Shane rolled up his character's possessions, he rolled just a shield on the armor chart, meaning that he had no armor, just the shield. Shane took this in the Appendix N direction by interpreting it as meaning that Thendrex was walking around in a loincloth and fuzzy boots. Somehow that loincloth ended up becoming a thong in our minds and eventually, the character named "Thendrex" became "Thong-gar." Whenever we wanted to get a rise out of Shane, we'd just call his character "Thong-gar," and that's all it would take. "It's not Thong-gar! It's Thendrex! Thendrex! See? It says it right there on the character sheet! Thendrex! Why is that so hard?" A good laugh was had by all. Except for Shane.

And so, when the party's Black Metal doppelgangers showed up (again, inspired by +Ben Djarum's badass wandering monster table), their fighter leader was naturally named Thong-gar. We ended up toying with most of the BMDgs' names, and so there was an Iceland (doppelganger to Zealand, the party's legless nature mage) and ... some other jokes I can't come up with. At first, the party tried to get the BMDgs to help them fight the Green Slime! monster, but they weren't very compelling, so Thong-gar and company focused on killing them some PCs, but were only partially successful. In the end, the BMDgs all went down (just barely), the Green Slime! monster went down, as did the party's new thief (as played by new guy Tim), whose name I can't remember. Shane's Thendrex managed to vindicate himself and kill off the bad joke that had haunted him his whole career. Well done, Thendrex! It had gotten late, however, and the players decided that they were going to try to survive the night in the dungeon despite their previous attempt (which resulted in Thendrex's prior temporary blindness and Brooke's thief's current limp). The party locked themselves in and hunkered down while Tim rolled up a new character. 

[Edit: I realized after this was posted -- many hours after it was posted -- that I should point out that the Black Metal Doppelgangers weren't doppelgangers in the sense of the actual monster called the doppelganger, but were, rather, doppelgangers of the original party in the strict, true and original sense of the word. They were actually a party of NPCs that happened to be sort of a like the Mirror Mirror-verse version of the PC party, if the Mirror Mirror-verse was filled with Black Metalheads in full corpse paint all the time. I feel like knowing this important piece of information might enrich your understanding of the rich tapestry of gaming that is Quasquetherion and why that rich tapestry closely resembles an acid trip. - Adam]

The Session Where I Killed The Fighter

As the party took a break in the dungeon to catch some well-deserved z's, they were happened upon by a crusading cleric of a mysterious divinity we're currently calling "Dungeon Jesus." This is Tim's new PC, the strange crusader known as Acolyte Haraldrus. Later on, we would go on to highlight one of the key differences between old school and new school games when Haraldrus tried to cast a cure spell only to discover that clerics don't get spells at level one in Delving Deeper. "But I get Turn Undead? Huh. That's why you described the cleric as a monster hunter, I got it." Haraldrus, it seems, had been tracking the Black Metal Doppelgangers from the previous session and was waiting to... ambush them? Pick them off one at a time? In retrospect, we hadn't really sorted this out beyond "bring them to justice." We'll see how it goes.

The party, fed up with retracing their own steps over and over, decided this session to start exploring new ground. Should they explore the corridors closer to the front of dungeon? Nah, we can hit them on the way back. Let's investigate the halls as far as possible from any sort of escape from this hell hole. So, that's what they did. In the process, though, they found an odd training room that they (correctly) surmised had belonged to Harrowvar the Ironic and the fancy-pants library that (again they correctly surmised) had belonged to Zonn the Mindbreaker. Only one of those two rooms had an opportunity for treasure, and it wasn't the gym. 

The party also finally got to experience the "black dwarves" of Quasquetherion, which they'd heard a few rumors about, mostly that they were weird and mute. This session, they got to discover just how weird and mute as the things did some sort of strange dance and looked like they were talking in a burble-y, mumble-y language but yet weren't making any sounds. When I described their movements, I wanted to evoke the Man From Another Place in the Red Room from Twin Peaks, but I've been on this kick of trying to explain stuff in a way that appeals to the PCs' knowledge, not the players', so I couldn't talk about the guy moving in reverse, as if video were being rewound. Instead, I talked about how each movement the things make seems to precede the one that it follows. Sort of the same thing, but it took some semantic gymnastics to pull off in a sentence. 

The "black dwarves" are, of course, Miri Nigri from the Cthulhu Mythos for those in the know. I obviously play them a little stranger than they're written, but that's to be expected in my particular idiom.

"I'll be your new fighter!"
Anyway, the party had two encounters with the black dwarves. In the first, they made their reaction rolls really well and didn't quite befriend a pair of the strange creatures, but they definitely weren't attacked. The party asked the dwarves some questions and didn't get the sort of answers they could understand but, at some point, they coaxed the dwarves into drawing on the walls, which they did with aplomb, jointly drawing a huge and very realistic-looking picture of a vast, shaggy, frog-like man-thing with long ears. When asked what the thing was, the dwarves pointed downward, which filled the party with a certain degree of dread. This thing was down there somewhere in the mountain and man was it weird. 

The second encounter with the black dwarves didn't go quite so well. Instead of making friends, they made enemies very swiftly and faced off against three of these things. Now, here's the point where the divide between old school gamers and new school ones makes itself apparent. These kids, my New-To-Old-School crew, do not have a solid book of old school tactics to refer to, and so, they flubbed this one. They had bought all sorts of useful stuff in town (flasks of oil, people!) and even had some furniture with which to shape the battlefield to give themselves an advantage but resorted to "I charge in and stab stuff!" logic. Yep, even the magic users (to be fair, Zealand the Legless did cast Protection from evil on herself before she waded in). In the end, it was inevitable that someone die. What none of us foresaw was that it was +Shane Jones's recently-vindicated Thendrex and his war dog (named "Doge" which, apparently, is not a reference to Venice) both died horrible, messy deaths. New guy Tyrus almost lost his magic user, the shitting-you-not-this-kid-didn't-get-how-this-was-a-Star-Wars-reference-despite-having-named-the-character-himself mage Tarkin, so the party has gathered up everything of value that it has found thus far (not much) and is heading back to civilization to rest, recuperate, research and possibly find itself a new fighter. 

Shane, meanwhile, has rolled himself up a new character and, after the predictable bout of "lost my awesome character" blues, has gotten excited about it. The players are beginning to make plans for what they'll do back in town (a visit with the very excellent Shimot bar Ulgobaz is in order), but I'll be off in the wilds of Michigan skiing this weekend, so their further adventures will have to wait. Quasquetherion has claimed her first victims, so any lingering doubts I had about going too easy on these kids have been quelled. Despite the deaths -- or perhaps because of them -- every single player has expressed their excitement over their next shot at the depths of Quasquetherion. Fight on!

Minis Monday: I Made A Something New

Folks who've been paying attention to the blog over the past few months have probably noticed by now that I've been more interested in minis and wargames in the last six months or so than in the previous year. My steady decline back into being a minis guy started with my rekindled interest in HeroQuest about a year ago, but has really been fueled by my recent discovery of the Oldhammer scene. I'm currently working up my Oldhammer Norse army (it's turning out well, thanks for asking), but I'm still getting my painting chops back, so I'm trying to practice as much as I can. A little bit ago, I put together a pretty solid beastman unit, but I know my skills need some work, and this fantastic Michigan winter should mean an ideal opportunity to get some work done, but, once I'd built all my minis that I could, and I painted everything I had primed (which, at the time, was just a unit of dark elf corsairs that didn't turn out the way I'd hoped), it was a bit too cold outside to do a ton of priming the old fashioned way (open air, cardboard box), so I started thinking about how I could make the job easier in general, not just for Michigan winter. And so, I came up with a device my wife is calling the "Optimus Primer" to help me prime things quickly, easily and without my fingers getting super mucked up with paint. Here's what I did:

First, I started with a 1x4x60 board that I had cut down to 24". I measured off a total of 23 points on the board, 12 at two inch intervals, about 7/8" in center from one side and then another row of 11 (again, 2" apart) staggered from the first 12, about one in inward of the first set. Then I drilled 1/4" holes at those points and it ended up like this:

These 1/4" holes were drilled for the machine bolts that you see in the first picture. I bought a bunch of 3" long, 1/4" diameter machine bolts. Oh look, I drilled holes the exact same size as the bolts that I had bought. How about that? Coincidence? Or perhaps I meant to do something like this?

Yep, that's what I meant to do. After tightening some bolts down, this thing was in ship shape. Next, I took ten wine corks that my wife and I had "lying around" and bored a hole in each. Guess how wide?

Did you guess quarter inch? Good. These guys go on top of the bolts so that minis have something to sit on while they're getting primed that I can rotate. Here's what that looks like:

It took me a little bit to get some of these guys on there straight but hey, I don't have a drill press. Nor do I have a place to put one. So, now that we see what I built, let's see it in use. I start by putting a big chunk of that poster putty stuff on the bottom of the mini so it will stick to the cork like so:

And then onto the cork ye olde Space Marine goes.

And here's what everyone looks like on their respective corks.

The astute out there will notice a few things here: (a) I just talked about Oldhammer and here I am painting Space Marines. Sue me. These guys are easy to paint and a great way to practice. (b) I base before I paint, so I can do it all at once. (c) Yes, these are Dark Angels from the Dark Vengeance box. They will not be when I finish them. No, I haven't bought Dark Vengeance, but I just might to have the minis. I'm planning on fucking around with a Space Marine army, but I'm not the kind of guy who can just paint his shit up to look like some crap that someone else came up with, so I'll be doing my own paint scheme, my own chapter, stuff like that. And yes, I already know what that will be and you'll get to know more about that at some point in the future. But forget all that crap, let's see how this thing works.

I took the "Optimus Primer" outside and used some painter's tape to fasten it to our balcony/back porch thing. You'll notice the cars one storey down in the following pics. Only some are ours. 

Here are the marines (and painter's tape) backlit and little more than silhouettes. Let's throw down some paint!

One coat of paint down and rotated 90 degrees. If you make the mistake of making this pic larger, you'll notice that the paint went on horribly gritty. Yes, folks, I made the mistake of using Armory White Primer. Ugh. It turns out that when it says "shake for 1 minute" it actually means "shake for one whole fucking minute" and then spray the shit enough that it's spraying clean. Yeah, I should have done that, especially since I knew that there's a thing about Armory Primer. 

So, rotate the guys another 90 degrees and another quick coat. The primer went on well after the messy grit on their fronts and the "coat, rotate, coat, rotate" system worked crazy well, especially since the the bottom of each cork was clean of spray. I should have thought to use a wind break, though, because it got a little gusty yesterday, so I had to wait for the wind to die down before putting coats on. 

Mission accomplished, though, and the "Optimus Primer" works damn well. The only problem was with the primer, not with the stand holding the minis. The ability to rotate them improved my game on the "priming efficiency" scale and it gave me something really neat to do with my Sunday afternoon. It seems like sometimes even I forget that I can be a pretty handy person; the tradition of building things to make jobs easier is a long one in my family and this was a neat opportunity for me to actually build a thing. I plan on making a few changes to old Optimus, but that's a topic for another time. As for the marines themselves, I think I actually will try to paint them, despite the Armory grit, just in case they're not so terrible. I don't plan on spending a lot of time blogging about minis and wargames and such, but I thought I'd share some of the junk I've been working on. 

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Henchmen Week, Day Might-As-Well-Be Seven: Promoting the Henchman

This is the last one, the last post of Henchmen "Week," and I'm quite proud of having made it this far. The next time I do something like this (which I really should, it was fun!), I'm going to leave the word "week" out of it. No one has really complained about my misuse of the word "week," but I've also not gone around asking folks about it. Then again, when you say "week," you are implying at least seven posts on a topic, which seems to be a pretty solid number. We'll see.

Today, though, it's time to look at one last topic in henchmanry: what happens when your henchman stops being a henchman?

Promotion to PC

He used to be your henchman, now he's your PC. Deal. 
One of the reasons that some players keep henchmen around is to have a backup PC on site should things go terribly awry for the main PC. In this case, the player is likely to invest quite a bit of time and money into the henchman, so often you'll be talking about a henchman with a class other than fighter (rare!) and maybe even one who was a "stabled PC." One of the first things that the newly-promoted PC-nee-henchman is going to want to do is rifle through his old boss's crap to take the gear that he can use. At this point you and your gaming group have to decide whether this makes sense to you and your PCs. In my Iron Coast game, for example, a promoted henchman gets one pick of the prior PC's treasure before anyone can lay claim to anything else, and then the stuff that's up for grabs tends to just be the sort of stuff that the new PC can't use. In any case, there's no hoarding everything to sell it off the next time the party ends up at Av Arat.

One of the most jarring changes in promoting a henchman to a full-blooded PC is that of the other PC's attitudes toward a guy who, moments ago, used to take orders from one of their compatriots, but now is a full member of the adventuring company (with voting rights and all!). You've got two options here: one, you can hand-wave the whole thing, say "this is the guy I'm playing now, so give that character the respect you'd have given my old one," which is fine but a little "safe word-y" (if you're not familiar with the recent dust up over the suggestion that safe words be used in tabletop gaming, I recommend you look into it, it's hilarious). The second option is to roleplay that transition and work to develop bonds between your new PC and the PCs to whom your character's prior connection was "dude who works with my boss." Seriously, this stuff is worth thinking through. It can really add some depth to your game.

Promotion to NPC

Case in point: Remember, Zed was a
henchman once, too. 
Going the totally opposite direction, sometimes a player will stop paying a henchman (thus releasing him from service) or that henchman will desert, heading off to find his own way in the world. What better opportunity can you as a DM have to take a situation the players have given you and turn it into a gameable moment? For example, one of the Iron Coast's PCs, +Andy Block's very cool elven courtier Lippu, had a henchman who entered into his service through a very solid application of Charm person. Lippu kept paying the guy, named Venneman, throughout that adventure and kept the very useful henchman around but, in between adventures, Andy decided that it was time for Lippu to let Venneman go. At first, this was "Yeah, I'll just leave Venneman back at Port Scourge." But then, when I asked if he was continuing to pay Venneman's monthly wage, he said something to the effect of: "For sitting on his ass and not doing anything? I'm not the unemployment office!" Right, so, Venneman was no longer in Lippu's service, creating a great opportunity for me. Vennemen, you see, is a 2nd-level thief who right now is in Port Scourge, the Iron Coast's pirate fortress city and home to not only the adventuring party, but also to Captain Es-Ahal Marashin, the Dagganite pirate captain who wants Lippu's head after a grave insult. Vennemen, no longer under the effect of Lippu's Charm person, is probably none too happy about the fact that (a) he lost a lucrative source of income after having risked his life on Lippu's behalf and (b) his loyalty had been compelled through magical means anyway. So, dear citizens of Kickassistan, I think you understand that if I didn't put two and two together and end up with a knife in Lippu's back, I wouldn't be doing my job. Moral of the story: once the players lose interest in a henchman, do something cool with him.

Promotion to Retainer

There's a point where your apprentice stops
being your apprentice and starts being a mage
in her own right. That point is level six.
In an early post this "week," I made a comment that henchmen will only hench up to 5th level (or at least I think I did). Beyond that point, they've become powerful characters in their own right, well on their way to becoming important folks at "name level," gaining their own special doodads and fortresses and serfs and such. Thus, at sixth level, it's time to start treating them as something bigger and more important than a mere henchman: they've graduated to retainer. These are the guys your higher-level PC will rely on for advice, will invite over with their fancy spouses for feast-type dinners, will send as ambassadors to foreign nations to convince the king to give up his daughter's hand in marriage, crap like that. These guys, at sixth level, become your second-string PCs even more than they were at first level. At this point, you're less playing with a "main" and a henchman, and more playing with two PCs, which leaves you with a choice: play both (and take the xp and gp hit that that brings with it) or "stable" one while the other goes off adventuring. A third option exists, and that is to, in effect, split the party, whereby you send one group of PCs & henchmen off on one adventure while a second, similar group goes and does another thing. For example, your main PC could be leading an army to crush his foes while your PC's retainer is accomplishing a spy mission of vital importance to the war effort. Stuff like that. Whatever you decide, at sixth level, your previous henchmen are not so hench-y anymore.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Henchmen Week, Day Six: DMing Henchmen

Henchmen aren't quite NPCs in the traditional sense, and they're not quite PCs either. They occupy a strange middle ground between "tool of player agency" and "weapon of DM fiat." As such, it's important to draw a few distinctions between them, ordinary NPCs and your PCs.

Predetermined or Emergent Personalities

Not this guy, please!
Sometimes, you'll have a clear idea of what a henchman's personality is like when you start rolling him up. That's cool, that's all good. But really, you're not likely to have one for every henchman or even a clear idea of who each henchman is beyond a few chunks of stats or an occasional quirk or strange detail here or there. This stuff may suggest a personality to you, but it doesn't always. If you can't come up with a distinct personality for every henchman, don't fall into the trap of overcompensating (be careful with accents, particularly British Isles ones; I've never met an American who can do a solid-enough Scots accent, and none of them should ever try) by making up an outlandish (and thus unbelievable or unintelligible) or, worse, plagiarizing a personality from a book you read, movie you saw, whatever. Just relax. If the henchman isn't a living, breathing character at the outset, usually a small amount of play (and dice rolls, particularly loyalty checks) are enough to establish some concrete facts that you can riff off of.

Advanced Topics In Henchman Experience

"Yeah, I'm your henchman. Now
give me my share of the XP."
So, we all know that henchmen earn experience, and that they earn one-half of a PC's share of experience. That doesn't mean just figure out what each player's share is, halve that and pull some extra xp out of your ass. Rather, that means accounting for the henchmen's shares out of the initial award. Thus, if there are five players and two henchmen, you account for six shares: five whole shares and two half ones. But a mathematical goofiness comes along when you have an odd number of henchmen. Let's say it was five PCs but only one henchman. Suddenly, you're dividing by 5 1/2. Yup, I can do that with a calculator, but then I have to divide the result in half again to determine the henchman's share. Mathematical goofiness that adds a bunch of unnecessary (and somewhat confusing) math to the whole shebang.

Here's how I do it: instead of considering each henchman as 1/2 share, I consider each one to get a full share and each PC to instead get two shares. Bam. Really easy math that I can usually do without a calculator. Let's take that same group of 5 PCs and one henchman. Now, I'm figuring out 11 shares, with each PC getting a double share while the hench just gets the single. Less math, no dividing by something that includes a fraction, and players get to hear "your PC gets a double share of XP." Win, win, win. Once I started doing this, my experience calculations have really sped up and involve far less head scratching.

Zero To Hero

Ur-Hadad is a great place to train your
henchman in just about anything
While we're on the topic of experience, let's talk about the process of a zero-level henchman becoming a first level one. To get to level one, that zero-level schmuck needs to collect 100 xp. Not a lot, but still a significant amount, particularly at low party levels. The thing is, jumping from a zero-level torchbearer to a first-level ass kicker can't happen over night and requires some practice and training. ACKS recommends that zero-level characters only be allowed to become fighters at first level; this, I feel, makes sense for men-at-arms, but the torchbearer or porter, I feel, might be just as likely to become a thief or get religion and become a cleric or one of the more esoteric classes (like barbarian or ranger/explorer or venturer or what-the-hell-ever). Ye olde DCC encourages zeroes of all stripes to become whatever they want.

After accumulating 100 xp, a zero-level henchman does not accumulate any further xp. Until he has the opportunity to practice, downtime in which to develop as a character, he stays a zero. The employing PC may arrange for special training so the henchman can become a thief, take a cleric's vows or whatever, whatever the DM allows, but that will take time. If the employer wants the henchman to level up overnight (well, maybe not overnight, but after some time to practice), then fighter it is (although in some circumstances, barbarian might make just as much sense). After the period of training and downtime (at least a week, but possibly months depending on class), the henchman may acquire experience points again without trouble. If the party continues to adventure after a henchman reaches 100 xp, continue to subtract a share of xp for henchman, but he gains none of the benefit from them. What's neat, here, from a DM's perspective, is that, since experience is usually given at the end of sessions, players often have the opportunity (if not drive) to head back to town to sell off treasures found and capitalize on the gains they've made during the session. Even if you don't use training times for leveling up PCs, it's a good idea to insert some necessary training here, making the players have to invest a little more care in the upkeep of their PCs.

Consequences of Leveling Up Henchmen

One last topic and then I swear I'm done for the day. Man, I write some long posts, don't I? Anyway, when a henchman levels up, his pay grade gets bumped. That is to say, his base monthly wage (remember that chart that I forgot to include a few days back then remembered the next day? That wage.) goes up for the next month when he gains a level. This could result in either (a) fewer months having already been paid for or (b) the PC owing the henchman money. In either case, consider the current month paid for and reevaluate how much the PC would need to pay to bring the rest of the henchman's wages in line.

Any time after a henchman gains a level and between adventures, the PC may attempt to renegotiate the employment contract. Just go straight to setting up an offer and then on to negotiation. Re-roll loyalty, but here, positive amounts cancel each other out; thus, if your henchman had a 1 loyalty and the re-roll ends up with a 2, it becomes 2. If it was -1, however, and you roll a 2, it now becomes 1.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Henchmen Week, Day Why-Not-Five: Loyalty, Not Just For Dogs Anymore

Alright folks, we're getting to the end of Henchmen "Week" here in Kickassistan and we've got one last hurdle to get over before you can take your shiny new henchman into the dungeon: we've got to talk about his Loyalty.

System Doesn't Matter

This is system, not giving one fuck
whether you think it matters or not. 
Okay, system does matter. Here's the thing, though: when I talk about Loyalty as a statistic, I'm referring to it as a bonus of some sort to something appropriate for the system in question. Maybe you're playing 1e and your morale system is based off of 3d6. That's fine. Maybe it's BX or BECMI and you're rolling 2d6 for the same thing. That's great, too. Oh, but let's say you're playing ACKS and you're still rolling 2d6 but you want to get over 7 rather than under a morale score, adding a morale modifier. Still good. In DCC, you're rolling a Will save. Yep, we're kosher. Whenever I talk about a Loyalty bonus, it will usually apply to morale or whatever mechanic replaces morale in whatever system it is that you're playing. Sometimes, the bonuses are applied positively (adding a "plus one" or "plus whatever") and sometimes, a bonus is applied negatively (like a shield in descending AC systems; this is how BX and BECMI do it). Whatever it is, remember that a bonus is in favor of the player characters in this regard and a penalty is applied to his disfavor, whatever that might be.

Determine Loyalty

Roll 2d6, add some stuff. Like Charisma modifier.

  • 2 or less: Intensely disloyal. Will desert or betray when given the opportunity. -10 
  • 3-6: Disloyal. -2
  • 7-9: Grudging loyalty. No bonus.
  • 10-13: Loyal. +1
  • Natural 12 or 14+: Fanatical loyalty. +5
If the system provides a loyalty modifier for any reason, add that to the final loyalty score after the loyalty score has been rolled on this chart. 

Fanatic? Perhaps. Awesome? Totally.
Disloyal henchmen do as little as possible to draw their wage, exposing themselves to danger as infrequently as possible. They'd rather be left at base camp, skimming extra rations from the party's stores or trying to figure out how much treasure the party won't miss. A grudgingly loyal henchman does largely what he's being asked, but any actions that might be deemed dangerous could require a loyalty check (see below); he's getting paid to hench and he'll do his job, but he's no fanatic and isn't interested in dying for a lost cause. A loyal henchman, on the other hand, will do most things that they're asked, but still there are circumstances that will test even loyal henchmen's resolve. The fanatic, however, drank the Kool-Aid and will do pretty much whatever the PC asks him to. Here, with the fanatic, even the most extreme cases of personal endangerment are met with stoicism if not zeal and even enthusiasm. Yep, it can get creepy. 

Can Your Ass Cash That Loyalty Check?

Guess what? You're going to roll 2d6 again! Roll 2d6+Loyalty.
  • 2 or less: Treason! Betrayal! Running away in fear! Any of those, or just plain refusal (with the appropriate one of those three at the earliest opportunity).
  • 3-6: Nope. No way. Not going to happen. Your henchman just won't do that, whatever it was. 
  • 7-9: Yeah, he'll do that, but it's gonna cost you. Pick something that your henchman wants in return for doing whatever it is before your DM makes up something terrible. 
  • 10+: Yes, sir, right away, sir!
Loyalty checks aren't so much for every single thing that you might order your henchmen to do, but rather for those moments when you as the DM really aren't sure whether a particular henchman would do a thing or not. Did the PC just make a dangerous request? Check for loyalty. Go out on the ice to see if it's strong enough to support the party? Check for loyalty. Stay in camp and make dinner for when everyone gets back? No, probably not (unless the PCs have a bunch of treasure lying around camp).  

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Henchman Week, Day Let's-Pretend-It's-Four: The Fifth Stage is Acceptance

So, the next time I decide to do a week of posts about a particular topic, I need one of you dutiful readers out there to go ahead and remind that I should write out all of my posts ahead of time so that things like weekend games and having some drinks after those weekend games and then being slightly hung over the day after those weekend games don't get in the way of my poorly-planned week of posts. Thanks. I appreciate it. Glad we're functioning as a team here. 

At this point in the henchman-attracting process, you've found your potential henchmen, figured out which one(s) you'd like to hire and even shown them your plumage made an offer for employment. In my last post, I talked about assembling your offer and the hiring modifier that gives you. Keep all that stuff handy, because you're about to use it, because we need to find out whether or not your "potentchman" accepts your offer.

The Acceptance Check

The simple mechanic to check whether a potential henchman will accept an offer or not, the "acceptance check," is a 2d6 roll, adding the appropriate offer modifiers and the employer's applicable Charisma modifier (if any and if appropriate to the game system). Compare the result to the following chart:

  • 2: Outright refuse and slander
  • 3-4: Outright refuse
  • 5-6: Politely refuse
  • 7-9: Unsure
  • 10+: Accept terms
  • Natural 12 or 15+: Accept with enthusiasm
If the hiree outright refuses, no attempts to sweeten the deal will allow a reroll. You just don't get to hire that guy. Ever. If he also slanders you, you take a -2 penalty to subsequent attempts to hire in the same settlement.

If the hiree politely refuses, you may attempt to hire them again, but you will be at a -2 penalty to all further acceptance checks with the hiree, even if you improve the offer. This penalty is cumulative.

If the hiree is unsure, you may take a moment to bring something new to the table. The "something new" may be a revision to the terms of the offer or it may be a new argument as to why the hiree should work for you. Either way, your next acceptance check is without penalty from this result.

"Accept terms" means precisely what it says: the hiree enters into the employ of the PC under the terms offered. On a "natural 12" (or a modified roll of 15 or better), the hiree accepts with enthusiasm, gaining +1 loyalty (see the Loyalty Check).

Back To The Drawing Board

If your potential henchman doesn't accept your offer, you may revisit the terms of the offer that you made him. Any changes here may result in a recalculation of the offer bonus made to the acceptance check and should be counted when the next acceptance check is made. The only limit to the number of acceptance checks that can be attempted is the DM's patience (and rolling "2" on the acceptance check). 

The Missing Wage Chart

In my last post, I talked about the monthly wages for henchmen by level, but I forgot to give you a chart for it. Here's the missing chart:
  • 0-Level Noncombatant (torchbearer, etc) - 6gp/month
  • 0-Level Man-at-arms - 12gp/month
  • 1st-level - 25gp/month
  • 2nd-level - 50gp/month
  • 3rd-level - 100gp/month
  • 4th-level - 200gp/month
  • 5th-level - 400gp/month
Okay there we go. Now we know whether your "potentchman" will accept your generous offer of employ or not. "Tomorrow" (whenever that is), we'll talk about your new henchman's degree of Loyalty with a capital "L." 

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Henchman Week, Day 3 1/3: Make Them An Offer They Can't Refuse

Welcome back to Henchmen Week! The only week that starts on Tuesday and goes until the rations run out! In our series so far, we've talked about how the DM can go about generating some interesting potential henchmen and then how the PCs can find those henchmen, so now it's time to talk about how to go about recruiting those henchmen to get them to work for the players. But first, some ground rules.

Ground Rules

  • Henchmen work for the guy who pays them, not some other party member. Just like most of us have a boss, and that boss is the guy who signs the pay checks, so do henchmen. So no, you cannot recruit henchmen on behalf of another player and no, your loyalty modifier does not apply to his henchmen. 
  • Henchmen don't carry their money on them, unlike players. Once you've paid a henchman, he either spends that money or squirrels it away somewhere you can't get at it. No paying henchmen a bunch of money as a signing bonus to improve their loyalty then killing them off and taking the money back. 
    • In the Iron Coast campaign, this one should be called "Drako's Law" or something like that. Not because +Scott Cambers's mage Drako follows the rule, but rather because he needs a constant reminder of it!
  • When you stop paying a henchman, he stops being your henchmen. There is no such thing as "stabling" a henchman unless you continue to pay for his services. Thus, he may enter into service with another adventuring group. He's not cheating on you because you already broke up with him. 
There, now that we've got those out of the way, let's move on, shall we? 

The Standard Offer

The standard offer is a basic compensation package that is the baseline for all offers made to hire henchmen. 
  • Agreement to pay a monthly wage commensurate with level. 
  • An upfront payment equal to the greater of 100gp or 1 month's wage. This is considered wages paid, so a PC hiring a level 1 henchman (25 gp per month) would pay for the first 4 months of service up front. 
  • A share of any treasure won while he is assisting the employer. Think of this as hazard pay. If the henchman exposes himself to danger (such as setting foot in a dungeon), he earns a share of the spoils. This share is usually 15% of his employer's share. 
This basic compensation package nets the player no modifiers to the recruitment roll (see tomorrow's post), but it may be modified to suit the PC's needs or to make it more appealing to the henchman. The employer can sweeten the deal to make it harder for the potential henchman to say no, or he can offer more austere terms if the player is confident enough in his PC's negotiation skill (and Charisma score). 
  • Higher wage: +1 for every additional multiple of monthly wage (+1 for 2 times wage, +2 for 3 times, etc.)
  • Lower wage: -2 for every halving of monthly wage (-2 for 1/2 times wage, -4 for 1/4 times, etc.)
  • Higher share of spoils: +1 per additional 5% of employer's share of spoils
  • Smaller share of spoils: -2 per 5% less of employer's share of spoils
  • Higher signing bonus: +1 per additional month of wage added to signing benefit
  • Lower signing bones: -2 per monthly wage signing bonus is lowered by
Yes, these modifiers are skewed to punish stingy PCs. That's how I roll. 

Today's post was originally supposed to be much longer, but then real life stepped in and made me make a hard decision: post less today and more tomorrow or wait until tomorrow and post a whole lot? So, I made the obvious choice and decided to give you something to chew on until then. Tomorrow, I'll be talking about whether or not your offer is good enough and the negotiation minigame. 

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Henchman Week, Day 2-ish: Finding Henchmen & Greasing Wheels

Anywhere you go, finding henchmen is never as easy as finding mercenaries. In Ur-Hadad, for example, one can merely head to the Spearmarket to hire a good sword arm or a dozen, but finding someone you can really trust to have your adventurer's back is not so simple of a proposition. Even finding someone interested in risking his or her neck in some dank dungeon by holding a torch for you isn't very likely at the neighborhood watering hole isn't terribly likely, so how do you do it?

Greasing The Wheels

This type of response requires an investment
Before you can start finding applicants, you have to get the word out that you're actually looking for some quality back up, which of course begs the question of what sort of quality of back up you're looking for. Again, I'm going to draw a distinction between 0-level henchmen and 1st+ level henchmen, but either way, you'll need to grease the wheels to get the henchman train rolling. 

When looking for 0-level henchmen, the player character invests 5gp (or the equivalent, in case anyone out there is taking everything I say at face value) in a few carefully-applied rounds of drinks. If he wants better results, he can spend an additional 5gp on spreading the word around. So far, this is identical to the system used in Meatshields! because, simply put, it makes a lot of sense. By getting folks drunk enough, you can probably find a person or two willing to venture into the dungeon with you. Enough said. 

When looking for henchmen with class levels, however, things are a little different. Well, only slightly. Following the same sort of scheme, the player spends 10gp per level of henchman desired (remember that desired level can be no higher than one level lower than the PC's level) per each potential henchman he'd like to interview/examine for the job. For example, let's say a player is looking to hire a thief to work for his 3rd-level fighter; each thief he'd like to interview for the job will cost him 20gp to find if he plans on finding a 2nd-level thief, or 10gp each if he's looking for a 1st-level one. Usually, I'll prepare 3 different options for players, depending on what they're looking for, so if the player wants a full range of choices, he's going to have to invest three times; anything less and I'll roll for which potential henchmen (potenchmen?) come looking for a job. 

Something I Forgot

How I recruit all my henchmen
As I mentioned in my previous post, if a player plans on hiring a henchman with class levels, he has to first (a) be between adventures, (b) be in a settlement of significant size to support a henchman of the desired level (again, check out ACKS for level of NPCs in various sized towns) and (c) tells me the session before what sort of henchman he's looking for. A fighter? No problem. A rogue-y type guy? Sure thing. A healer? You bet, man, just give me a chance to draw up some options. 

While there is a chance that there would be an NPC of the appropriate level in a small, isolated community, that person (from my perspective) probably already has a job or position of responsibility within that community and isn't likely to be or want to become an adventurer. In larger towns and cities, however, it makes more sense to me. The requirement that the player be "between adventures" was put into place to reflect the amount of time that it would take to find someone (or someones) of the appropriate ability. You can scrape together a group of mercenaries or 0-level men-at-arms pretty swiftly, but real, seasoned adventurers take a bit longer. 

A Numbers Game

While potential henchmen with class levels are found on "pay per interview" basis, spending the small amount of up to 10gp for 0s doesn't tell you how many you would get. I treat an attempt to recruit henchmen in a small town or a village as the baseline for this numbers game and modify it from there. Use the points below to generate a number of potential henchmen.
  • Baseline: 1d6 0-level henchmen
  • Settlement is smaller than a village: -1
  • Settlement is a large town or city: +1
  • Settlement is a large city or metropolis: +2
  • Paid for advertising: +1
  • Employer has a good reputation: +1
  • Employer has a bad reputation: -1 to -3
A "good reputation" and "bad reputation" really mean the PC's reputation as an employer of henchmen. For example, in the Iron Coast campaign, +Scott Cambers's mage, Drako, has a terrible reputation for hiring henchmen since few of them ever make it back to civilization alive. These days, Drako's taken to having to employ his own stabled PCs as henchmen just to have something to do in combat other than die. 

A Shot At Greatness... Or Ignominy

Every henchman has a chance to have some serious skeletons in the closet. For each henchman interviewed or considered for employ, the recruiting player should roll a die. If that die comes up a "1," then there's something special about that henchman that should impact the story at some point. Maybe she's heir to a noble household, but is running away from her responsibilities, or maybe he's the last male descendant of a long line of demon-cursed bastards who will bring woe down upon his employer. It is important, however, that the employer not know what this thing is... at first. It will, of course, come up over the course of the campaign. 

I start my players rolling a d20 and then descending down the standard dice chain (a d12, then a d10, etc) down to a d4, where the die stays until a "1" is rolled, at which point it resets. It's important that I keep track of which die each player is using for his "something special" die. Henchman recruited from a PC stable never gain the benefit of such a roll. [Note: Up until now, I've been doing all this in secret. As I was writing this post, I realized that it made more sense for me to allow the players to roll the die, so they'll know that something is up with a particular henchman and to put the players more squarely in control of their own PCs' fates.]

Next time, we'll look at actually hiring your future henchman. 

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Henchmen Week, Day 1: Generating Henchmen

Who says I can't start my week on Tuesday? Other than a calendar, that is. I meant to get this ball rolling last night, but I ended up having a meeting for my second (semi-secret) job last night that stole all the time that I planned on using for this article. Plus, I live in Michigan and, apparently, right now (due to the coldpocalypse) that's all the excuse that I need to not do anything if my coworkers are to be any pont of reference. And so, Henchmen Week begins on a Tuesday!

Before I get started talking about how I generate henchmen for my games, I want to make it clear that I do distinguish between 0-level henchmen (henchmen who have no class levels) and henchmen with class levels. Further, I draw a distinction between henchmen (who are basically like secondary PCs for the players, but that receive a smaller share of the spoils than the primary PCs) and mercenaries (who do not receive a share of spoils or experience and are less like auxiliary PCs and more like NPCs that the players can give orders to). You want a henchman when you're looking for an assistant, back-up, a second set of eyes or a general dogsbody who will do the stuff that your main PC either can't or is afraid to do for himself. Yes, henchmen will take risks (even if they have to roll a morale or loyalty check). Mercenaries, on the other hand, are weapons in and of themselves; you aren't hiring mercenaries to think on their own or to take unreasonable risks, you're hiring them to do the one specific job they're being hired for and that's it. Thus, a torchbearer could be just a mercenary if all of his jobs relate to merely carrying torches and providing you light; the minute you ask him to do something outside of the torchbearing purview, he becomes a henchman.

Generating Henchmen With Class

I'm going to readily admit here and now that I have been very highly influenced by ACKS in my process for generating henchmen, in particular henchmen with class levels. While I'll talk about my exact rules for how I handle PCs finding their potential future henches in my next post, suffice it to say that I require a player to notify me a session in advance of what sort of henchman they're looking for if they want a henchman with class levels and what sort of henchman that might be (healer, warrior, wizard, etc.).

I then do the ACKS PC-generation thing where I'll roll up 5 characters, but I do it a little differently. Rather than roll the ability scores in order, I'll roll five columns of six rows each, then allocate one ability score to each row, which leads to some interesting choices being made. Once each ability score/row is sorted out, I choose 3 of the potential henchmen to develop and then pick classes and such for them. In ACKS, this can be a sophisticated process ("Well, this guy is a traditional mage, but this other guy is clearly a warlock..."), but for most other games, it's not so tough ("magic user, magic user, magic user..."). At this point, I'll write up a brief bit about the potential henchmen to give the player something to choose between; it should be noted that I do not give the players the game stats for the different henchmen until after a decision has been made about which to hire.

Finally, after preparing a brief on each henchman, I flesh out the remaining stats. Henchmen must be no higher than one level below the hiring PC (and thus, a PC must be level 2 to hire a henchman with class levels, though some loopholes may apply). I also apply a maximum on the level of henchman that may be hired, coming in at level 5 (a post near the end of Henchman Week will talk about this transitional level and the change from Henchman to Retainer). I treat the PC's level minus one as the desired level of the henchman and roll 2d6 on the following chart:

  • 2-6: 2 levels lower than desired level
  • 7-9: 1 level lower than desired level
  • 10+: desired level.
Once I know the level, the rest is cake. Henchmen never start with magical arms or armor and tend to start with the same sort of gear that a first level adventurer starts with. More on this in a future post, as providing specific gear for a henchman may improve his loyalty. 

Henchplates In ACKS

When creating henchmen in ACKS, I keep the record keeping (and multitude of choices) down to a minimum by rolling or selecting templates from the tables in the Player's Guide. I find these templates more useful for henchmen than for players (at least my players) because they don't always reflect the "most optimal" choice of proficiency combinations. Yes, I do have some players who busy themselves by thinking about optimal proficiency choices, and that's the sort of thing I tend to think is useful only for player characters, not so much for henchmen. If a henchman gets additional proficiencies above and beyond those mentioned in his template (for high Intelligence or for levelling), I try to make sure that those proficiencies match the template as closely as possible (perhaps selecting a second instance of a previously-selected proficiency). All in all, templates are your friend for swiftly creating memorable, distinct henchmen. 

Generating 0-Level Henchmen

In some ways, generating 0-level henchmen is easier than 1st-level ones. Most of the time, when needed, I'll just visit Meatshields! and get a slew ready for whatever sort of settlement the PCs are in or that I expect them to be in. However, I don't always have Meatshields! ready to rock, and so I've cobbled together my own quick'n'dirty system for describing 0-level henchmen in game terms by answering the following questions:

How Many 0-Levels Are Available?

Roll 2d6 and subtract the settlement's Market Level, with a minimum of 1. Add 2 if during the summer or winter, subtract 2 during the spring and fall. If you're not sure what the Market Level of the settlement is, check in on ACKS. 

What Do They Do?

For each 0 available, roll d6: (1-3) Torchbearer or porter, (4-6) Man-at-arms. 

What Gear Do They Have?

Torchbearers & porters roll d6: (1-3) dagger and no armor, (4) club and no armor, (5) dagger and leather armor, (6) club and leather armor). Men-at-arms roll d6 for armor: (1) none, (2) shield, (3) leather, (4) leather and shield, (5) chain mail, (6) chain mail and shield. Men-at-arms also roll d6 for weapons: (1) club, (2) axe, (3) sword, (4) spear, (5) 2-hander [roll d4 on subtable: (1) polearm, (2) 2-h sword, (3) battleaxe, (4) maul], (6) ranged weapon [roll d4 on subtable: (1) sling, (2) crossbow, (3) short bow, (4) long bow; 2d20+4 ammo]. All men-at-arms always also have a dagger. 

Anything Else Special?

Roll 2d6 on the following chart 1d4 times per 0:
  • 2: Conspicuously bad at something (-2 modifier from one ability score), chosen randomly
  • 3: Bad at something (-1 modifier from one ability score), chosen randomly
  • 4-5: Personality or physical quirk
  • 6-8: Nothing special, move along. 
  • 9-10: Non-human, roll d4
    • 1: halfling
    • 2: dwarf
    • 3: elf
    • 4: beastman
  • 11: Pretty good at something (+1 modifier from one ability score), chosen randomly
  • 12: Really good at something (+2 modifier on one ability score), chosen randomly
For the "bad at something/good at something" results, roll 1d6 on the following chart to see which ability score is effected:
  1. Strength
  2. Intelligence
  3. Wisdom
  4. Dexterity
  5. Constitution
  6. Charisma
The ability score is set at a level appropriate to give the listed modifier in the given system. For example, in ACKS, if the result "really good at something" yields a modifier to Dexterity (+2), that 0's Dexterity score would be set at 16 (the score that gives a +2 modifier). If the same ability score is affected by multiple rolls, start with the highest die roll result and add one if positive ("really" or "pretty good") and subtract one if negative ("bad" or "conspicuously bad"). In game systems where there is no modifier greater than a +1 (Delving Deeper or S&W Whitebox), treat a +2 result as the same as a +1 result, but 1d4 points higher than the minimum score necessary for the +1 bonus. 

If the non-human result is rolled multiple times for the same character, either ignore multiples or figure out something extra weird to replace the options here. For personality quirks and physical oddments, I'm sure you, like I, have a ton of different tables to draw from in a multitude of different books. 

Easy Mode: Make The Players Do The Work

Before I close out this post, I'd like to point out one last method that I use for generating henchmen, particularly in ACKS: when the players are generating multiple PCs to choose one to play and several to "stable," I let the players hire any "stabled" PC as a henchman . This PC does not gain any of the normal benefits of stabling (ie, XP from gp spent by the main PC during carousing), but do gain gold and xp normally through adventuring following the henchmen rules laid out here shortly. These hench-PCs follow the normal (as-yet-to-be-laid-out) rules for terms and contracts, and are not exempt from normal rules for henchmen. They do, however, give the player an awful amount of choice in what sort of henchman he ends up with, and so I only make this option available to the players at certain key times (mostly only between adventures). The major down side of this schema is that once a player is completely out of stabled PCs (because they're all dead), he has to start over completely from scratch and build a new stable of level 1 PCs. There's got to be consequences somewhere, right?

Thursday, January 2, 2014

My DIY Delving Deeper Judge's Screen

For the past few months, as I've run the Quasquetherion Delving Deeper game, I've come to want a good old fashioned Judge's Screen. After a lot of searching online for one, I found nothing but a thread over on the official Delving Deeper forums suggesting a format and content. So, I made my own. Yep, I stayed up late Saturday night making one and laminating it (it was the maiden voyage of my recently-purchased laminator) and now, a few days later, it's time for me to share.

Please bear in mind that this screen is a first draft and imperfect. I already know how I want to change it around for my next draft of it (like formatting the pages in landscape so that the screen is lower but covers a wider area), and, as always, your ideas and feedback are welcome.

I'd also like to mention, for all those legal reason that one does such stuff, that the stuff here isn't my work, but the work of the awesome team behind Delving Deeper, including the artists. Additional art was taken from Weird Tales #1 and ... somewhere else on the internet (the picture on the front of the shield that wasn't from the cover of one of the DD ref books).

I had a surprising amount of fun making this thing and I'm going to have to do more stuff like this.