Tuesday, April 6, 2010, 9:13 PM
(This has been cross posted from my RPG blog that focuses on world building, The 25 Mile Hex.)
This first in a series of posts describing a simple system of building out the background of a somewhat realistic or at least internally consistent DIY campaign world. It uses the 1/5/25 hex-based mapping system. If you aren't familiar with the ins-and-outs of hexed based mapping, this is a great place to start: The Welsh Piper: My the Hex Be With You.
Today's post concerns mapping and determining the maximum population levels of large hex-based map areas inhabited by cultures with a High Middle Ages style technology and culture. This is good for European-like human or even halfling lands but is not really suitable for barbarian cultures, elves, and more magical based societies.
This system makes two important major assumptions:
- The primary means of agricultural production is the manor house which entails open field farming with two crop rotation and communal serf labor.
- The rural to urban population ratio is 2:1. Every two farmers can feed one urban dweller.
This post focuses at the foundation levels of land use at the 1 mile hex and the 5 mile hex scale.
Each manor has a population of 100 able bodied adults and occupies one 1 mile hex. In each of the hexes surrounding it, there is a zone of exclusion in which no other settlement may occupy. Two manor's zones may overlap however. This zone represents the area in which shepherds graze animals, game is hunted and firewood is collected. All of the inhabitants are considered apart of the rural population regardless of occupation or station. Most of the population are serfs with limited personal freedoms. Each manor consists of a manor house, a small hamlet, a church, a few craft workshops such as a small smithy and a perhaps mill. It farms approximately 500 acres of land and may have a small scale mining operation on the side as well. This sort of settlement has been well described in Dungeon and Dragon terms in The Village of Hommlet.
Villages are the smallest self-sufficient settlements and contain the hexes' urban population. It occupies one 1 mile hex and in each of the hexes surrounding it, there is a exclusive zone of exclusion which can not be shared with any other settlement. The total population of the village is 350 able bodied adults. 100 of these villagers are engaged in the same sort of rural activities as manor populations and the other 250 villages are the hexes' urban dwellers. They urban population is engaged mostly in trade and manufacture. All of the village population are considered freemen.
Here is an example of a 5 mile hex with the maximum self-contained population level of 750 able-bodied adults living in 4 manors and and one village:
Here is an example of a 5 mile hex supporting a maximum population level of 1050. 700 able-bodied adults live in this hex in 7 manors and they are able to support 350 urban dwellers in a town or city in a nearby hex:
Each town or city occupies at least one 1 mile hex and has a zone of exclusion extending for two hexes around it that can not be shared with any external settlement. Small suburban settlements may be located within the zone of exclusion but their population must included in the total population of the main town or city. Thus, towns and cities occupy one 5 mile hex in total.
In any settlement larger than a village, the entire population is considered urban and totally reliant on imported food from the country side. Dungeons and Dragons defines towns as having populations of 1000 people or more so the smallest town would require a minimum of 21 manor houses to support its citizens. If those manors were packed together at maximum density they would require three 5 mile hexes of plains.
The next post will look at population on the 25 mile hex scale and at Birthright style provinces. Also, terrain will be consider in determining the maximum amount of arable land.
Sunday, March 21, 2010, 5:19 PM
As a fan of Taleworld's equestrian centric PC game, Mount and Blade, I was a bit disappointed at the lack of offerings in the mount department of the Monster Manual. The "Charger" mount power fails to capture the inherent advantages of swinging a weapon from even a slowly moving horse and there was nothing to show for mobility powers in the two entries either. Plus, given great gulf in price between a riding horse and a warhorse, there is no cost effective way to equip hirelings other than as horse mobile but foot fighting dragoons or full-on knights. Who would spend over 700 gp for a horse archer?
So, here are stats for the three most common Middle Ages warhorses. One for budgets, one for speed and agility and one for sheer battlefield power.
The Rouncey is a general purpose warhorse for those on a budget, typically used by retainers, men-at-arms and squires. It's light, quick and well suited to being used as a riding or pack horse. It's price should be in the 200 gp to 300 gp range.
Adventure Tools file: Warhorse, Rouncey
The Courser is swift and strong warhorse prized for it's agility and is used by knights and men-at-arms. It's price should be between 500 gp and 600 gp.
Adventure Tools file: Warhorse, Courser
The Destrier is the heavy barding clad beast knights favored for head long charges into the enemy and jousts. It's strength and mass carried the day. Large, rare and expensive, these were the mounts of lords and kings. Prices should begin at 900 gp and peak at 1000 gp.
Adventure Tools file: Warhorse, Destrier
Thursday, March 18, 2010, 2:52 AM
Here are four vampire kin I've stated out from the world of Andrzej Sapkowski's Witcher series. In Sapkowski's books, vampires are a broad race of monsters with many sub-types ranging from unintelligent bestial horrors like the fleder to the more typical stereotype of fangs in a cape.
The Felder and it's larger cousin the Garkain are both powerfully built bat like humanoids. While they have leathery wing membranes between their fore and hind limbs, they are not suited to flight, only gliding. To ambush their prey, their climb to the ceilings of tall caves or crypts and drop down from above. Upon landing, they daze their foes with high pitched sonic screams, and rush in to drain their blood. What these vampires lack in intelligence, they make up for in sheer brutality. The Felder looks much like a demonic horned man-bat while the large Garkain's features are even more grotesque, giving even seasoned adventures pause.
Adventure Tools file: Felder
Adventure Tools file: Garkain
The Alp is a strange mixture of beauty and horror. At first glance, one might mistake an Alp for a shapely woman but closer inspection reveals it's skin mottled with the colors of decay and it's oddly jointed elbows with which it can cling to ceilings while facing downward in search of prey. They move nearly soundlessly and seldom have been known to speak. But when they sing, the beauty of their voices entrance their victims into a deep reverie in which the listener is oblivious to the danger of their situation.
Adventure Tools file: Alp
Bruxa are often mistaken for beautiful fey maidens, but beneath their glamours, their bodies rot arrested in a state of undeath. Their are eerily silent, scarcely touching the ground over which they move and never vocalizing accept in extreme anger. They communicate telepathically but may avoid doing so to conceal their true nature. Their telepathic song is even more irresistible than that of the Alp and the full fury more their voice even more terrible. They can turn into a large bat of supernatural toughness when attacked by melee combatants making them hard to corner.
Adventure Tools file: Bruxa
Monday, February 22, 2010, 9:46 PM
In his blog post TROUBLES & TERRAIN , The_Jester brings up the importance of terrain in 4e and the added difficulty it can cause players without any added reward. He suggests that if the terrain makes the players chances of winning that much harder that it should be reflected in the Encounter Level and thus the experience reward. I agree with him but I also think DM's could benefit from thinking about role the terrain is to play in the encounter with as much forethought as creature selection. Is it Hindering, Neutral or Helpful?
In cases where terrain increases the actual difficultly of the encounter, it's almost always a result of terrain being used against the players and the monsters or NPCs having some sort of mechanic of circumventing penalties or maximizing bonuses. Too often, in my opinion, do DMs use terrain in this manner almost exclusively. The terrain often manifests as a global environmental effect such as the classic/cliche "icy floor." (A perfect example of which appears in the videos of the Robot Chicken writers playing D&D on the main WotC D&D site.) These rooms tend to slow down play for everyone while particularly punishing mobility based characters over ranged attack characters who might not be effected much at all. Rather than make the encounter more interesting, they increase player frustration. If a player rolled up a mobility based striker then that's probably what they hoped to play. Once they start spending move actions to get back on their feet every other round, they are bound to feel a bit cheated. For any character class, making a successful roll just to remain standing and use your regular at-will power isn't that heroic when you have to do it every round.
If DMs layout terrain to the players disadvantage, I would recommend that they still include normal terrain and let the players make the choice of whether they will be funneled surefooted into a well guarded choke point or make a dangerous dash across the lava pits to flank the enemy. Make willingly subjecting one's character to terrain penalties a daring yet calculated risk. Or at least something that that can be slogged through once and then overcome. Terrain that causes damage which can be avoided on a successful skill roll might grant XP per square successfully crossed, encouraging feats of daring-do. Give the players a sense the terrain can be "beaten" and not just waited out until the end of the encounter like it's a flu.
Not all encounters need be ambushes at the location of the NPC's choosing. Hasty meeting engagements may have both spots of Helpful terrain and Hindering terrain more or less equally exploitable by both sides. Slavish desire to balance the battlefield isn't necessary, just place terrain in a sensible manner without thinking about the tactical implications. Once the terrain is position, imagine how the battle would play out differently if players and NPC's started on opposite side. If the neither position has a significantly greater likelihood of TPK, you've probably done alright. For outdoor encounters, you might decide the starting map edge for each side with a random roll. Standard experience rewards are the order of the day here.
Sometimes it's fun to sit behind the castle walls and let the other guy worry about how he's going to get to you. One of my favorite encounters as a player was defending a fortified farmstead from a goblin horde in the D&D module Night's Dark Terror. You should throw these sort of encounters the players way every so often to keep their moral up. It doesn't have to be a complete calk-walk but even so, an occasional turkey shoot is good for the soul and lets the players run their heroes as the success prone demigods they imagine them to be.
However! If the player are to be rewarded for starting at the bottom of the hill, they shouldn't expect a full share of the XPs for starting at the top. Consider reducing the XP reward by an EL or two as appropriate.
"Not tho' the soldier knew, someone had blunder'd… Charging an army, while all the world wonder'd."
Adjusting player XP rewards based on terrain is fair practice when the DM is picking the place but what about the times the players decide when and where to fight? Should players who foolishly insist on reckless and ill-prepared frontal assaults on disadvantaged ground when other options are available to them still receive a XP reward bonus? Is it punishing good behavior to reduce the XP reward when players use creativity and sound tactics to trap their enemies at the bottom of a dead-end box canyon? I can see both sides of the argument whether to adjust the XP or not. I am leaning slightly toward the thinking that adjustment is still appropriate; the players should be rewarded for surviving the experience, no matter what choices lead to the encounter. Dead characters are punishment enough. A closer reading of the rules on XP rewards is in order here. I'm nearly on the fence on this one and could be persuaded to another position.
So, tell me DMs, what are YOUR thoughts?
Thursday, February 18, 2010, 5:56 PM
Designing a dungeon level can sometimes be a daunting task when starting at a blank piece of graph paper and facing the looming deadline of game night. Few of us are architects and designing sensible floor plans can be a challenge. Randomly generated maps often have an layout illogic that strains credibility even in a world of dragons and warlocks. Even once the dungeon is drawn up, stocking it with encounters still remains and there is the problem of back-designing the encounters to fit the map rather than serve the story or mood.
There is a method I sometimes use that I based on reading the design notes of the old 1e AD&D module "Slave Pits of the Undercity". (I think it was that one.) It was designed as a tournament module and they used a rough template for constructing them. Despite it's age, it's well suited to 4e.
Rather than starting with a map and filling in the encounters later, the idea is to make list of all the possible encounters in a dungeon, and decide the minimum amount of encounters necessary to reach the final encounter. Pick a simple theme for the encounters and pick some creatures from the Monster Manuals. For example, let’s pick a avian theme and populate a mountain top dungeon stocked with kenku, harpies, some griffon and human cultists who worship a giant iridescent pink egg nestled up at the mountain’s peak. Follow the advice in the Encounter Mix section on page 104 of the DMG. Throw in a few extra encounters for good measure; the players may not find all the encounters on your map. Once I have my list, I'll sketch out a rough flow chart of encounter "nodes" and draw lines between the nodes that connect. I'll make three or four possible paths connecting the nodes which may or may not share some of the same encounters. This forms the rough basis for my map.
One advantage of creating an encounter list like this first is that it gives you a better grasp of the how much experience and other rewards the party will earn, both minimum and maximum. If you have a goal of advancing the party to a certain level by the end of the adventure, it quickly becomes obvious if you need to add or buff up an encounter or two.
A sample list might look like this:
A: Warmup encounter with kenku, Level n-2
B: Ambush with kenku, Level n+1
C: Patrol of kenku, Level n-1
D: Trap/Hazard - Rockfall, Level n-1
E: Puzzle - Skill Challenge, Level n
F: NPC encounter - prisioners - Skill Challenge, Level n
G: Elite brute - Cave Bear - Level +2
H: Unguarded but hidden treasure, Level n
I: Main lair of Kenku, Level +1
J: Griffon pens and cultists, Level n
K: Trap/Hazard - difficult climb up to mountain peak, Level n
L: Final encounter - Boss fight - cultists and harpies, Level +2
And the flow chart might look like this:
If I'm in a subterranean architecture sort of mood, I'll plot out the everything in detail on a piece of graph paper. On the much more common lazy days, I'll just make a map of the encounter areas and just jot down notes on the connecting spaces between the encounters like "Approximately 20 minutes of wandering through abandoned spiderweb filled passages and side rooms full of dank smells." or "Maze of twisty little passages, all alike." Anything to jog your memory. The important part here is to imagine a vivid internal vision of the dungeon that you are able to communicate to your players in lieu of an actual map. As the DM, you are the players eyes, ears and interface to your shared world. Be descriptive! But if players really insist on seeing a map, just make it up on the spot. If they want to roll active perception checks or dally about let them and then move things along. It's usually not too important. Focus on mood and not mechanics between encounters. No adventure takes place in these liminal spaces; save the dice and mapping for what comes next.
The players may not hit every encounter on the map so you'll probably do more work than necessary in this approach. If you want to "cheat", plot out only the the encounters you want to use and maybe one backup encounter and secretly railroad the players from encounter A to B to C. For example, no matter which door the players take after finishing encounter A have it lead to B. If the players really want to go back and check out the other door from A you have your backup ready but you can also prevent this with one-way limited travel between encounter nodes via cave-ins, collapsing bridges, teleportation portals and the like.
If you have Adventure Tools, print up all the monster types you need for your encounters. Use Dungeon Tiles for the encounter maps or find some encounter maps online and print them up. Arm yourself with your master map/flowchart and sally forth!
Wednesday, February 17, 2010, 6:46 PM
There seems to be a lot of fuss being raised about 4th edition verses previous editions which I'm surprised to see it's still on going on strong despite 4th edition being out for, what, a year now? I remember the transition from 1st to 2nd edition being mostly viewed as positive but that could have been because the complains didn't have the same sort of forum as available today; the web still hadn't been invented yet. I think that 4th edition is mostly a positive thing but I do have many criticisms of it as well. Rather than just throwing those out there, I thought it might be interesting to look at the history of edition changes and comparing what was lost or gained with each and get a feel for contexts that has shaped the rules. I've been playing the game long enough to have experienced most of these first hand and I have a sound insight into the history of the game before my time to make this worthwhile. This is a pretty big topic and I won't go into great depth, just a few general observations. (Actually, it looks like I may split this into a few posts; it's getting a bit long.)
OD&D, 1st Ed. AD&D and BECMI D&D
For anyone who's had a chance to flip through the original D&D (OD&D) small box booklets and suppliments or the J. Eric Holmes blue box compilation of them, it's readily apparent that the rules are a mess by today's standards. The now ubiquitous character ability scores are there but it's not quite obvious why, they have little to no effect on gameplay, at least as presented in the booklets. (I have been fortunate enough to have met Gary Gagax a few times at Gen Con and asked him about this. He said in his games, he would have characters occasionally make d20 checks against their abilities but it was his view that the abilities in OD&D should mostly be ignored unless extremely high or low and thus he did not make ability checks official.) Rules lawyers and other pedants, beware! OD&D is a pretty loose game in which players and DMs have to negotiate the terms of play as they go with little help from the outside world in terms of the "correct way" of doing things. Much of it seemed like after thoughts bolted on the Gagax's earlier Chainmail miniatures rules but the role playing aspects of the game were largely unexplored territory. You might not have even gotten a table at which to sit: A friend of mine once recalled participating in an OD&D tournament at an early Gen Con where the players sat in a line of chairs facing a DM installed behind a podium. The players were not permitted to address the DM directly, they had to deliver their characters' actions to a player designated as the "Caller" who would then relate the party's intentions to the DM. One player was the chosen as the "Mapper" and had to transcribe the DM's verbal description of the environment onto a piece of graph paper; any errors in plotting out the party's trek through the dungeon were not the DM's concern. And things like maintaining balance in proper party advancement and power level? All subject to intense debate. I remember a short time as a ten year old DM when my players abandoned me for a rival DM who convinced them I was a "Monty Haul" style DM. (For the record: Lies.) In general, nobody knew what they where doing but it was fun.
I started playing in 1982. At that time, TSR was in the works of providing more structure for players and D&D had bifurcated into two distinct games, 1st edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons and the D&D of the Moldvay set. (There were many reasons for this but I'm going to disregarding the copyright and royalty issues going on behind the scenes at TSR and just focus on the rule design considerations for now.) AD&D, in keeping with Gagax's rules heavy wargaming background, set out to clearly define the actions a character could undertake and indulge in what was clearly a love of charts. In short, something the rules lawyers could get behind. Moldvay's red box was a more direct continuation of the OD&D lineage.
Moldvay's rules were not just a clean up of OD&D, but new edition of lighter more unified rules that retained the spirit of OD&D in a more playable form. Moldvay's contribution was fairly short lived however as Frank Mentzer rewrote the basic box set rules in 1983. Mentzer would go on to finish what Moldvay started in what should be considered another edition of the D&D rules with his series of boxed sets. (Often referred to as BECMI D&D after the sets titles: Basic, Expert, Companion, Masters and Immortal.) As this system matured, it really began to reach the same depth of play that 1st edition AD&D had but in a more organized and accessible form. It lacked the choices AD&D offered in character creation but expanded options for character growth and development particularly for nonhuman characters and it handled its proto-prestige classes in a more streamlined matter than 1st edition AD&D's odd ball Bard. It had integrated mass warfare and domain and stronghold management rules compared to 1st Ed. AD&D's price lists for spearmen and 10' sections of stone wall. Gameplay was far more balanced across the system and levels of player advancement, something that AD&D lacked particularly after the introduction the Unearthed Arcana supplement with it's overly powerful new class choices and tacked on new rules like double weapon specialization. Neither did BECMI D&D bog down with rule that didn't really contribute much to the over all enjoyment of the game like dividing rounds into segements while worrying about spell casting times nor did it have the need to consult non-sensical charts for weapon attack modifiers against certain armor classes. (Not against armor type, but against the AC number, regardless of how the defender of obtained that number.)
The BECMI rules lived on in several reprints as the D&D Rules Cyclopedia in 1991, as the Classic Dungeons & Dragons Game in 1994 and ended in 1999 with the publication of the Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Game box set. Wizards of the Coasts acquisition of TSR finally put an end to that product line after years for playing second fiddle to TSR's flagship AD&D line. While it's often overlooked, the BECMI ruleset is much closer to OD&D in both rules and spirit than the current line which holds the Dungeons and Dragons title. When I read about the 1st Ed. AD&D diehards out there proclaiming the superiority of the edition it gives me a bit of a chuckle. I split my time somewhat evenly between the two concurrent systems and in hindsight I think it's not hard to argue that from a design standpoint BECMI D&D is a much more considered game. But in a way, it's perhaps the shortcomings of 1st Ed. AD&D that gives it a je ne sais quoi appeal as if the rules that aren't there capture the spirit of OD&D better than the rules that are.