"Black Dougal gasps 'Poison!' and falls to the floor. He looks dead."

Sunday, October 31, 2010

B/X Monsters - Mummy

Happy Halloween!

B/X does not have a ghost monster entry so instead you get the mummy.

The mummy is another great sword & sorcery monster in B/X. Two things I really like about the B/X mummy is the sparseness of the description and the sword & sorcery-esque fear mechanic.

The description on page X36 is very short and really only covers some basic ecology and combat mechanics, leaving the imagery up to the DM's own expectations. This will, of course, mean that most mummies will be of the wrapped in bandages style. Mummies are described to lurk near deserted ruins and tombs (presumably their own). However, their is no mention of deserts or ancient egypt style pyramids or flavour. For the devious DM, this means that a mummy could look like a normal person maybe with the stench of disease and decay enveloping them.

On seeing a mummy, characters must make a save vs paralysis or be paralyzed with fear until the mummy attacks someone or goes out of sight. I like this as a large part of sword & sorcery literature is the instinctive fear of unnatural things— magic and creatures that defy explanation. Such things are unwholesome and evil; therefore, they should be feared.

A mummy causes a hideous rotting disease with a hit. This is nasty as there is no mention of a saving throw and if you are paralyzed by fear the hit is a near sure thing unless someone is able to intervene. The disease causes all healing to take 10 times longer than normal and prevents all magical healing. This really hinders the management of one of the main resources in the game - hit points. The only way to get rid of the disease is with a cure disease spell which is a 3rd level cleric spell which requires an Elder Cleric (6th level) to cast. In my settings, 6th level clerics are fairly rare which sets up all sorts of possible adventure hooks.

Have a safe and happy Halloween and watch out for mummies as you don't want to be paralyzed by fear (as a Normal Man you only have a 25% chance of making your saving throw) or catching a terrible rotting disease.

City of Thieves

As I try to get Red Box Calgary up and going, I have been thinking about a campaign setting that I would like to run. I had a couple of simple criteria that I wanted to make sure the setting allowed for. I wanted to focus mainly on dungeons and I wanted to allow for the quick return of characters to a central location to allow for the changing roster of players inherent to an open game.

After some reading and some plagiarism, this is what I have come up with and posted on the Red Box Calgary wiki:

Throughout the known world, no city is half so notorious. Blackened by fire, soiled by pestilence, and scarred by war, its sandy collection of spiderwebbed tenements and rat-ridden bazaars have birthed some of the worst rogues and villains to ever stalk the storied thrones of the north.

But Jekarra is also a city of chance and adventure, where fortunes are won in a night and lost before dawn. Where gems glint and flare in the lamplight, the might of magic knows no bounds, and a warrior's quick blade and shirt of mail are his best defense.

So loosen your sword, keep a hand on your coin pouch, and take these first steps into its shadowy, torch-lit streets. A black mist is rolling in off the salt marsh, and the ancient city beckons…

Welcome to Jekarra the Wicked, city of thieves, city of the long night, city of adventure. Rich, poor, religious, debased - all of these and more can be found here. It all depends on where you look.

The idea for Jekkara the Wicked came from Thieves World. For those who are unfamiliar with it, Thieves World was/is a setting developed by the author Robert Asprin for a series of fantasy anthologies. The idea was to create a common, consistent backdrop, then invite a wide variety of authors to write stories using that setting, but exploring their own characters and interests within it.

That is what I am trying to do with Jekkara. I want to develop a very high-level overview of a setting where various Red Box Calgary DM's can set their own adventures. An ancient, sprawling and decadent city with a maze of catacombs and vaults beneath it provides for numerous adventure opportunities.

The name "Jekkara" comes from my love of Leigh Brackett's stories.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Red Box Calgary

I have been ridiculously busy with work the last while, however, I have recently been in contact with K-Slacker from Tempora Mutantur and Paladin from A Paladin in Citadel about scheduling an old school game. K-Slacker suggested that each of us run a one-shot for fun and then we can decide where to go to from there.

We are using the forums over at Red Box Calgary to discuss and schedule something and also to hopefully get some more interest.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

B/X Combat - Fast, faster, fastest

One of the benefits (at least in my mind) of B/X combat is the speed at which it is resolved.

Recent editions have focused on taking long duration combats and giving the players enough "fiddly bits" to make the combats interesting. However, I prefer the fast, abstract combats of B/X. A few reasons why:

1. Initiative is rolled every round - I much prefer this to the cyclical initiative in the most recent editions. I like the uncertainty and I really like the fact that it eliminates the need for such things as Attacks of Opportunity. It is also instrumental in balancing spellcasters and fighters.

2. Declaration of actions prior to initiative - I find that this and the fact that initiative is rolled every round keeps players at the table and interested. it also speeds things up. It eliminates the "what am I going to do this round…" when it cycles to each players' turn.

3. You can really try anything - I know that free form actions in combat are not restricted in 3E or 4E but I find that feats and powers have the unintended consequence of focusing a players decisions to a relative narrow scope of actions. There are no such mechanical focuses in B/X.

3. Fast feedback - Tactics in B/X are very different than in the most recent editions. Proper tactics in B/X are really focused on the decisions made prior to combat - things such as marching order, choke points, resource management, etc. But there are still enough decision points after entering combat to give players some control over what happens after combat begins - such things as trying to trigger opponents morale checks, when to withdraw or retreat, etc. The speed with which B/X combat is resolved allows for quick feedback of these larger macro decisions. There may only be three of these large scope decisions to be made each combat but the speed of B/X combat allows for these decisions to be made in quick succession. The longer combats of recent editions instead focus on micro decisions such as 5-ft steps, avoiding attacks of opportunities, etc. I would rather have a 10 minute combat where there are three important decisions that impact the outcome of the combat and then move onto the next encounter instead of an hour long combat where there are thirty decisions each of which has a minor impact on the outcome of the combat.

4. Onto the next encounter - I much prefer a series of short interesting encounters than a long encounter with a series of variables. Maybe it is a lack of attention span.

However, recently I have been finding myself getting wrapped up in the narrative description of what is happening in a combat. I am beginning to think this is actually a "bad" thing. Why would describing the action be bad?

1. Slows things down - if one of the key benefits/strengths of B/X combat is speed, anything which detracts from this is harming the action.

2. I can't compare to players' imagination - How can the words I use compete with the image in each player's head? Any verbs or adjectives I use may be counter to how a player imagines the action. My descriptions cannot be as vivid nor as interesting as what a player can have in their mind's eye.

3. It takes focus off of the important decisions - who cares if the orc hit with an overhand chop or a sweep at the legs? it doesn't impact the decisions that the players can make to affect the combat.

4. It takes focus off the things which do create tension in B/X combat - Tension in a B/X combat is not created by intricate description of the action but instead by the attrition of the party's resources. Quick combat keeps the focus on how many hit points you have left, what spells you have remaining, how many retainers have fallen, etc. Me describing how a bunch of hobgoblins press the attack does not create tension as much as a player seeing their hit points dwindle under the on-slot of those hobgoblins.

What do you think? Do you prefer fast abstract combats with only a few significant decision points or long combats with a large number of intricate decisions? Do you use colourful descriptions in your combats or instead stick to the basic, "you are hit for 6 points of damage"?