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Why You Don’t Want to Play in My Dungeons & Dragons Game

5 May

Why You Don’t Want to Play in My Dungeons & Dragons Game

I was talking with a player in my game yesterday about getting together again after a hiatus, since school will be over for me in two days (YAY!)


Here is how the conversation went:

Jeff: We should get a session going in a week or two, since I am done with school soon. You guys were on the sea voyage home… I guess I could say you were blown off course to the South polar regions. I hope you guys like scraping lichen off of rocks with your teeth. Roll a twenty-sided die to see if you break your teeth on the rocks.

Steve: I know you, you will say I broke them no matter what I roll. But I have a “Stone Teeth” spell, so I’ll use that.

Jeff: Yeah, but you didn’t say what kind of stone, so roll to see which type of stone your teeth become. I hope you get Granite!

Steve: Oh darn! I got Sandstone!

Jeff: I can see it now, your Ranger is breaking his teeth on rocks trying to be all Ranger-like in the Antarctic and the Barbarian will be eyeing the NPC Rogue saying: “He looks tasty. I know he eats well!”  Hmm, I wonder if the Rogue has “Lichen Scraping” as a survival skill.

At least it won’t be like some other game systems, where you just sit around the whole time battling a single Skeleton.

Steve: Yeah, we will just be figuring my teeth out the whole session!


Tasty Lichen

Just in case I am mean enough to send those guys off to the bottom of the world, I did some quick research on lichen, some of which ARE edible:

          “Of all the plants, lichens are best adapted to survive in the harsh polar climate. Some lichens have even been found only about 400 km from the South Pole. Lichens have proliferated in Antarctica mainly because there is little competition from mosses or flowering plants and because of their high tolerance of drought and cold.    

          On icy rock, lichens have the same strategy as plants have developed in the sand of the Sahara: they form an “oasis”. Like in the desert they miss water. They have only a chance to survive, if they settle in an area with a convenient, damp microclimate. Since what stops lichens to spread over the whole of Antarctica is not so much the big cold as the lack of water. For this reason they don’t settle in a place with the most sunshine, but in recesses and cracks between rocks. They like scanty soils, created by weathered rocks. They often quicken this process with secretion of acid.

   Snowflakes are captured in the cracked rock and melt on the dark lichens, so they can absorb the vital liquid.”

mmm… I am thinking of a Lichen Soup recipe as I read this. Unless the players have their characters trap penguin or they do some fishing, it seems it may be a long Winter ahead for them until the birds come to breed along the shores of the South polar region in the Spring!

I am such a mean Dungeon Master.

-Jeff
“Retro”

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Debtors Prison

19 Apr

The Debtors Prison

Every large Medieval & Renaissance city had one of these.
(I’ve created a map of one for you to use in your games below using the Random Dungeon Generator by drow http://donjon.bin.sh/  … it took some tweaking to get one that seemed to work, but that tool is great for on-the-fly needs)

Debtors Prisons were used to incarcerate those that owed and could not pay taxes or fines to the local authorities, gambling debts and other financial obligations that they were unable to make good on.

Throughout history, jails were mostly dark, overcrowded and filthy. All types of prisoners were often times herded together with no separation of men and women, the young and the old, the convicted and those awaiting sentence; the sane and the insane.

During Europe’s Middle Ages, debtors, both men and women, were locked up together in a single large cell until their families paid their debt. Debt prisoners often died of disease contracted from other debt prisoners. Conditions included starvation and abuse from other prisoners. If the father of a family was imprisoned for debt, the family business often suffered while the mother and children fell into poverty. Unable to pay the debt, the father often remained in debtors’ prison for many years. Some debt prisoners were released to become serfs or indentured servants until they paid off their debt in labor.

Debtor’s prison was like banking overdraw fees: you don’t have any money left so we will charge you for it. Debtor’s prisons were a money-making machine. In my game, I charge each prisoner a copper piece prepay just for the privilege of staying at the prison. This includes one meal of gruel. Anything other than that also costs money, including blankets, better food, stay of execution, etc. As long as someone pays for the prisoners monthly expenses, they will be given the possibility to have these “luxuries.” These costs are added to the original debt and any other fines the magistrate has imposed.

While in debtors prison, those that are able to can do certain tasks or even be “rented” to local nobility for a time, in order to work off their debts. The guards and the warden always take a cut of everything, so the cost of going to prison usually ends up double the original judgment against the prisoner. If a prisoner cannot pay their fees, they will end up executed or will meet an “accident” at the hands of another prisoner – which helps pay off that prisoner’s own debts!

Entire families would often live there with their imprisoned head-of-the-household. The prisoners had to pay for everything: food and lodging, to get out of shackles, etc. If you were lucky enough to be given living quarters with window-access to the street you could beg money from passers-by. Some prisons even had a grille built in to a wall so it was easier for prisoners to beg. Many prisons had an exercise yard called the racquet ground, so prisoners and their families could get some fresh air.
Here is the layout of a debtors prison:

click for larger image

1- Wardens Area

The Warden works and relaxes in this area, when he is not harassing prisoners. The room has a desk and chair for the Warden and a bench for those that are brought before him.

Several arcane torture devices are also in this area. Whether they are for show or are actually used is up to the GM.

2- Ruffians’ Cell

The worst of the worst prisoners are placed here and those who are on Death Row or awaiting prosecution for capital crimes. 6d6 prisoners will be housed here at any time.

If you end up here, things are not looking so good for you!

3 – The Exercise Yard

This area is open to the sky, but is a sunken courtyard (20 feet below ground with 20 foot walls above ground level.

Here prisoners, except those in the Ruffians’ Cell, can walk and get fresh air. Exercise time lasts about 20 minutes, unless it is a special occasion. Inmates are always supervised by 1d6 guards while in the exercise yard.

4- Processing Room

Here all new prisoners are documented and any possessions that are not allowed are taken for “safekeeping”. Those lucky enough to be released are debriefed here… usually with a stern warning to keep their mouths shut and to never come back.

Guards use this as a commons area when they are just coming or going off duty and also as a place where chain gangs, etc await transportation in and out of the prison.

5 – Work Room

Those prisoners housed in the Main Cell that are not given duties outside of the prison during the day are allowed to earn their keep here. Crafts to be sold and a variety of simple household items are made in this area. Prisoners can work 8 hours a day to earn their wage.

The wages earned here are usually barely above the daily costs of staying in the prison. Working here will probably not get one out of debtors prison, but will maintain the cost of daily living expenses the authorities charge.

6 – Main Cell

In this area, 6d6 debtors and other petty criminals will be housed. This is not an area for the most violent, but sometimes unpleasant events do occur.

The chance of getting a disease while housed in either the Main Cell or the Roughian’s Cell is 2% per day. Both cells are filthy and stink. The cell is dark and dank.

The only air and light in these cells comes from several small windows  covered by iron grating. The ceiling is 20 feet high. Candles are a highly prized object among the prisoners.

7 – Guard Station

This is the hub of the actual incarceration area. 2d6 guards are here at any time, with others coming and going from time to time. The guards tend to keep to themselves, unless performing their functions of exercise, feeding and work periods. Prisoners who bribe or are otherwise on good terms with the guards get preferred treatment. Those that aren’t on the preferential treatment list often wish they were.

8 – Kitchen & Storage Area

All of the work and kitchen supplies, etc and everything needed to run the prison are housed here. A cook hired to make the daily meal for the prisoners (and a separate one for guards and special treatment prisoners) works here.

“The Stairs”

At the end of the long tunnel is a stairwell going down… to what is the object of rumors among the prisoners. Even the guards do not know. Only the Warden has been seen going down them and what lies below the prison he is not telling.

The entire complex is surrounded by a 20 foot wall of stone or timber (as the  GM chooses).
While there might be worse places to end up, the debtors prison is still potentially deadly.

NOTE:
Anyone trying to tunnel should have a Random Encounter chance (1 on a d6, roll another d6 for the encounter):
1 Giant Rat
2  (1d3) Undead Skeletons – these were previous prisoners
3  2d6 copper coins
4  Carrion Crawler
5  Giant Ant
6  Jackpot! Secret tunnel out of prison!

-Jeff
“Retro”

Take a look at this fairly recent decision to not allow D&D in a prison:
No D&D for US prison inmate serving life

Kobolds in Germanic Folklore

13 Apr

Kobolds in Germanic Folklore

A Kobold in German folklore is a mischievous household spirit (geist) who usually helps with chores and gives other valuable services but who often hides household and farm tools or kicks over stooping persons.

Images of Kobolds were sometimes placed in gardens to attract them to come and work for a household. It was sometimes said that if you gave Kobolds human clothing for their labor, it made them think that they were now human, therefore too good to be a house “slave”. Perhaps this is why Kobolds originally appeared w/o clothing in the Monster Manual, etc.

The Wiki says of them:

The kobold (or kobolt) is a sprite stemming from Germanic mythology and surviving into modern times in German folklore. Although usually invisible, a kobold can materialise in the form of an animal, fire, a human being, and a mundane object. The most common depictions of kobolds show them as humanlike figures the size of small children. Kobolds who live in human homes wear the clothing of peasants; those who live in mines are hunched and ugly; and kobolds who live on ships smoke pipes and wear sailor clothing.


THE KOBOLDS [a]
(from the Sacred Texts website)

Von Kobolt sang die Amme mir
Von Kobolt sing’ ich winder.
VON HALEM.

Of Kobold sang my nurse to me;
Of Kobold I too sing.

THE Kobold is exactly the same being as the Danish Nis, and Scottish Brownie, and English Hobgoblin. [b] He performs the very same services for the family to whom he attaches himself.

When the Kobold is about coming into any place, he first makes trial of the disposition of the family in this way. He brings chips and saw-dust into the house, and throws dirt into the milk vessels. If the master of the house takes care that the chips are not scattered about, and that the dirt is left in the vessels, and the milk drunk out of them, the Kobold comes and stays in the house as long as there is one of the family alive.

The change of servants does not affect the Kobold, who still remains. The maid who is going away must recommend her successor to take care of him, and treat him well. If she does not so, things go ill with her till she is also obliged to leave the place.

The history of the celebrated Hinzelmann (http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/celt/tfm/tfm087.htm) will give most full and satisfactory information respecting the nature and properties of Kobolds; for such he was, though he used constantly to deny it. His history was written at considerable length by a pious minister, named Feldmann. MM. Grimm gives us the following abridgement of it. [c]


[a] This word is usually derived from the Greek κόβαλος, a knave, which is found in Aristophanes. According to Grimm (p. 468) the German Kobold is not mentioned by any writer anterior to the thirteenth century; we find the French Gobelin in the eleventh; see France.

[b] In Hanover the Will-o’the-wisp is called the Tückebold, s. e. Tücke-Kobold, and is, as his name denotes, a malicious being. Voss. Lyr. Ged., ii. p. 315.

[c] Deutsche Sagen, i. p. 103. Feldmann’s work is a l2mo vol. of 379 pages.

http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/celt/tfm/tfm086.htm


Some Gamemasters prefer a more accurate mythological take on the varieties of fey creatures in their campaigns, but there is nothing wrong with choosing the typical Monster Manual-style Kobold, either. It is a matter of preference. Personally, I think both varieties are great fun in any campaign, but I pick between the two kinds based on the type of campaign I am running at the time.

Kobold from "The Little White Feather", a fairy tale

Appendix J of the Dungeon Masters Guide

12 Apr

Appendix J


The Advanced D&D Dungeon Masters Guide contains a most unusual and either useless or extremely useful Appendix J: Herbs, Spices and Medicinal Vegetables.

Many character types could make use of the plants listed in it. “Woodsy Types” such as Druids, Rangers and Forresters could find these plants in the course of their normal duties. Such plants could be sold to merchants & Herbalists of the local populace, where they might enter the hands of other PC types, such as the alchemists of the Hermetic Order of Wizardry, Healer Types, and Rogues. Courtesans would desire many herbs as aphrodisiacs. The potential uses in a campaign are limited only to the interest and imagination of the DM and the players.

Some of the plants have multiple uses. Some will be reputed, but non-effective folk medicine placebos. The Uses And/Or Powers listed are for healing, but in larger doses some could be poisonous, therefore useful to Assassins and the like. As mentioned before, alchemists and Magic Users might use them in potions or rituals, etc.

I noticed that of the ones listed in Appendix J that a few had a question mark to denote unknown uses. I decided to take a peek at what the Wiki had to say about the uses of 3 of them that had a “?”.


Bay leaf (plural bay leaves) refers to the aromatic leaf of the bay laurel (Laurus nobilis, Lauraceae). Fresh or dried bay leaves are used in cooking for their distinctive flavor and fragrance. The leaves are often used to flavor soups, stews, braises and pâtés in Mediterranean cuisine. The fresh leaves are very mild and do not develop their full flavor until several weeks after picking and drying.

In the Elizabethan era, some people believed that pinning bay leaves to one’s pillow on the eve of Saint Valentines day would permit one to see one’s future spouse in a dream.

Bay leaf has been used as an herbal remedy for headaches. It contains compounds… which have proven useful in the treatment of migraines. Bay leaf has also been shown to help the body process insulin more efficiently, which leads to lower blood sugar levels. It has also been used to reduce the effects of stomach ulcers. Bay Leaf has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Bay leaf is also an antifungal and antibacterial and has also been used to treat rheumatism, amenorrhea, and colic.

Some members of the laurel family, as well as the unrelated, but visually similar mountain laurel and cherry laurel, have leaves that are poisonous to humans and livestock. While these plants are not sold anywhere for culinary use, their visual similarity to bay leaves has led to the oft-repeated belief bay leaves should be removed from food after cooking because they are poisonous. This is not true – bay leaves may be eaten without toxic effect.

So, we see that the lowly Bay leaf has many potential gastronomic, healing and (if an improper variety that could be quietly slipped in instead of the regular variety) a poison. Perhaps powdered bay leaf could be used to keep Shriekers from alerting wandering monsters to the presence of PC in a fungal forest in the Underdark.


Lotus


The lotus tree (Greek: λωτός, lōtós) is a plant that occurs in two stories from Greek mythology:

In Homer’s Odyssey, the lotus (tree) bore a fruit that caused a pleasant drowsiness and was the only food of an island people called the Lotophagi or Lotus-eaters. When they ate of the lotus tree they would forget their friends and homes and would lose their desire to return to their native land in favor of living in idleness.

In Greek Mythology, the lotus-eaters… were a race of people from an island… dominated by lotus plants. The lotus fruits and flowers were the primary food of the island and were narcotic causing the people to sleep in peaceful apathy.

In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the nymph Lotis was the beautiful daughter of Neptune, the god of water and the sea. In order to flee the attention of the violent deity Priapus, she invoked the assistance of the gods, who answered her prayers by turning her into a lotus tree.

Botanical candidates for the lotus (tree) include Diospyros Lotus, which is a sub-evergreen tree native to Africa that grows to about 25 feet and has uninteresting yellowish green flowers. Other Lotus plants are discussed in the Lotus-eaters article.


The lotus tree is also mentioned in the Book of Job 40:21-22, verses which refer to a large hippopatamus-like creature referred to as “behemoth“. The passage states: “He lies under the lotus trees, In a covert of reeds and marsh. The lotus trees cover him with their shade; The willows by the brook surround him.”

Ok, now we have a mythical type of lotus tree as well as the various varieties of real world water flowers we can inject into the game.
A quest for the fruit or flowers of the elusive “Lotus Tree” complete with a Behemoth guardian may be necessary for the PCs to successfully undertake. In the Arduin Multiverse, the infamous “Black Lotus” was extremely lethal and used as a poison (and perhaps a dangerous hallucinogen). Some lotus types might be needed to open the user to the Dream Lands in a campaign that has Cthulhian aspects to it. White lotus has been used as incense and other types as food.


Peppermint has a long tradition of medicinal use, with archaeological evidence placing its use at least as far back as ten thousand years ago.

Peppermint has a high menthol content, and is often used as tea and for flavouring …It is the oldest and most popular flavour of mint-flavoured confectionery. Peppermint can also be found in some shampoos and soaps, which give the hair a minty scent and produce a cooling sensation on the skin. Used in this way, it has been known to help with insomnia.

Peppermint has promising radioprotective effects for cancer patients undergoing cancer treatment.

Peppermint flowers are large nectar producers and honey bees as well as other nectar harvesting organisms forage them heavily. A mild, pleasant varietal honey can be produced if there is a sufficient area of plants.

Peppermint oil has a high concentration of natural pesticides…

I could see some weird Gamma World use for Peppermint, due to possibly having radioprotective properties. Giant Insects might be battled with the oils of the peppermint plant. It is certainly a pleasant flavor that would be valued in many foodstuffs, etc.


It really doesn’t take much to find a use for Appendix J in a campaign – just a little imagination and maybe some research into the plant’s possible alternative medicinal, magical and alchemical usages. It may be perhaps the least gleaned appendix of the Dungeon Masters Guide, but it can become more than fluff in the hands of a good DM.

-Jeff
“Retro”

Forest of Kynmerley

7 Apr

Forest of Kynmerley

click for larger image

[update: I tweaked the map some more after pondering it… added in a river and repositioned the keep, making the old location an Inn. Also added in the town of Luindel near the Lord’s keep.]

I generated the basic map using Wildgen at The Isomage’s House ( http://axiscity.hexamon.net/users/isomage/wildgen/ ).

Next, I used a graphics program to add a few simple places of interest, the two place names and the compass. Lastly I placed an island on the lake. This was fun for me, as I have not made any maps of any sort for adventuring in some time. Thank goodness for the OSR for kicking me in the butt to make these first steps back into it!

Kynmerley is Old English and just means “Royal Forest.”
Lac des Bois is the French name of The Lake of the Woods.

For my purposes, this is a temperate zone forest with a mix of coniferous and deciduous trees, with ponds, lakes and wetlands.

I envisioned this map as having several possible uses. This is a small wilderness setting based around a wayside inn, town, keep or castle. It can be easily placed in any campaign or used to create a stand alone adventure. The map can be expanded on the borders to create a wilderness area of large or small size. This is one of the reasons I chose this iteration of the maps I generated.

I am going to use this map to help me build the ground up part of my campaign. I am fairly good at Meta World-building, but I need to stop that for now and start with something small somewhere!

While the Gamemaster can re-key this map anyway they wish, I have decide to go with this:

1 – Wayfarer Inn on the Whispering River
2 – Forrester’s Boat House & Stable
3 – Hut of the Swamp Witch
4 – Grove of the Sleeping Druid
5 – Wyvern’s Cave
6 – Green Isle
7 – Town of Luindel
8 –
Falconcrest atop Mount Aeroth
(Keep of Lord Erreth, master of Kynmerley and surrounding environs)

Based on the map and the names, there are a lot of options:

What forces of good and evil lurk unseen by most in Kynmerley?

What truth is there to the “Swamp Witch”, a “Sleeping Druid” or a Wyvern in a cave? Are these folk tales about places that spook the local populace or are these things real?

The Boat House & Stable is a good place to have adventurers go from the Keep. The PC’s could be hired as Forresters to watch over the Royal Woods or could be caught poaching, themselves!

Perhaps the characters could be hired to deal with Goblins in the hills, Wolves, Outlaws making a base in the woods or to deal with the Wyvern itself, thereby gaining the favor of the noble. Is there a dungeon complex at the Cave of the Wyvern or is it merely an empty cave?

Does the “Witch” know anything about the Wyvern? Are they in league with each other? Is she evil or a benevolent Fey being, feared by an ignorant human population?

Who or what, if anything, lives on Green Isle? What legends are told about it?

This could be the training ground of Rangers or low-level druids, etc. So often in games, the characters are just speeded through wilderness areas like they contain nothing except random wandering monsters. This setting would be a great opportunity for “woodsy types” to learn about forest ecology and to have many adventures within the area of Kynmerley.

The possible tales and plot hooks just leap out endlessly!

——
I know the quality is not on par with many hand-drawn or professional maps out there, but in only an hour’s time of searching for a map generator, using a graphics program and writing free-style ideas as they came to me. Now I have something for quick use as an introductory adventure in my upcoming campaign… and I didn’t have to reinvent the wheel 🙂

-Jeff
“Retro”

Grove of the Sleeping Druid

Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set (Blue Box)

5 Apr

Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set (Blue Box)

My brother and I slaying the dragon 😉

 

This is what caused me to get into the hobby.
When it first came out I had no idea what a war game or RPG was, yet. Just like a random encounter or a wandering monster, I stumbled across this mesmerizing beauty   in the strangest place: the old Woolworth’s store that was in downtown St.Paul, MN.

The cover art by David Sutherland drew me in immediately! I quickly spent 2 months worth of my saved allowance get it, because I had to have this new thing!  (I was saddened by his death in 2005 and it was only then that I learned that he had been a Minneapolis native).

The entire experience of opening this box up and finding the treasures inside was an adventure in itself. I pored over the rules and finally shanghaied my little brother to play. He and I both enjoyed D&D and continued to game together in various home brew Holmes campaigns over the years.

I lost my original set in a move 😦
Thankfully, I was able to score a replacement set later, but by that time, AD&D was out and my group had already migrated to it.

As I stated in an earlier post, I found it funny that our earliest characters slew a Red Dragon (at 2nd level! lol) There has to be a dragon in the dungeon, because it’s Dungeons & Dragons, ya know? I probably didn’t know exactly what I was doing then, but Dungeons & Dragons and RPGs in general have been my lifelong hobby ever since those wonderful, whacky days 🙂

The Old School Renaissance has done much to bring back the experience of OD&D, Basic and AD&D to the table again. Whatever flavor you play, Old School or Modern, I wish you happy gaming.

Let the dice roll as they may, forever!

-Jeff
“Retro”

C is for Carrion Crawler

4 Apr

C is for Carrion Crawler

Carrion Crawlers are large (3′ to 4′ long) pale yellow and greenish creatures similar in appearance to a centipede. Crawlers possess eight long tentacles protruding from the sides of their heads, allowing them to stun prey. Carrion Crawlers scavenge the dead and occasionally prey on living creatures.

The OD&D Greyhawk supplement Carrion Crawler reminds me more of Sponge Bob than a threatening monster, but it got nastier in appearance as it got older.

Hi! 🙂

I kind of like the “cute” Carrion Crawler best. It seems more devious to me as a GM to have this happy looking guy munching on PCs rather than the predictably ravenous looking later versions.

This critter is one of the most infamous of D&D foes. A good dungeon adventure, old grave yard or other suitable place where they would live make great places to encounter Carrion Crawlers. Having hundreds of newly hatched ones swarm PCs (say, in a pit trap or hallway) is one way to keep this creature formidable, even to higher level characters.

-Jeff
“Retro”