Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Boys (and girl) Are Back In Town

In summary, the actions and events which unfolded over the next two days are as follows. (Note: I am using the Greyhawk calendar to track the passage of time)

Moonday, 17 Harvester
The party sat around a table in the Bone House and the spoils of their first adventure were divvied up. Thowin had converted the extra swords for coin and everyone came away pleased. A toast was made to the fallen Reldari and even to poor Loro the dwarf.

Art by freemachine
 After a few pints, Nux the torchbearer decided to take his few coins and leave the party (failed morale check). Seeing Reldari, his employer, cut down by the orks was enough to discourage the young lad from further dungeon delving…. at least for now. He wished the party well and was last seen heading towards the Bazaar, presumably to spend the few gold coins he came away with.

(Q: Does the party attempt to hire another cleric to replace Reldari? (Very likely - 06, exceptional yes. I rule this as an auto find - new search cost required!)

With the death of Reldari and the departure of Nux, Imorfin and Thowin Four Fingers decided to try and hire a new cleric and a new torchbearer. Balork contemplated paying a visit to the Mages Guild to investigate the possibility of researching new spells, while Fretta huddled under her robes in the tavern common room.

Imorfin and Thowin hadn't even finished discussing how to go about recruiting a new cleric, when they were approached by a young man who introduced himself as Durik, faithful retainer of the goddess, Laex. He couldn't help but overhear the party's need for a new cleric and he was more than interested in the job.

Exiled from his homeland in the north, Durik had come south in an effort to battle evil and help spread the word of the goddess of wind and storm. A facial tic was his only distinguishing characteristic and after a short talk, Thowin and Imorfin accepted him into the party.

Godsday, 18 Harvester

Art by William Bowen
Balork visited the Mage's Guild, marveling at the size of the halls. But the young mage was not granted access to the libraries. Instead he was made aware of the fee of 200 gold coins for membership to the Guild. In fact, it was a requirement that all Mages in Enharza join the Guild and he was given two weeks to return with the fee. He vowed to return.

Thowin Four Fingers recruited Boarface, the aptly named torchbearer, to replace Nux.

No new leads were discovered, so the party decided to return to Stonehell the following day. Fretta thwarted an urchin's attempt to pick her pocket as she sat in the tavern. She gave the youth a good smack before he scrambled out of the tavern. Bursus laughed while Durik shook his head, thinking that perhaps the kid was hungry.

Everyone turned in early with a full day's march to Stonehell ahead of them in the morning.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

What do the characters do back in town?

When the party is back in town, I will be more player than DM. I will try and play the characters as if they were my own (which I guess they kinda are), and select the most appropriate course of action based on their class, personality trait, etc. And of course I will also consider the carousing and gambling house rules for the unpredictability factor.

Artist unknown
I have created random encounter tables for each city district which will hopefully prove fruitful in generating additional adventure/story paths which the party (or part of it) could pursue. I don't want Enharza to be a 'safe base' for the party. I want it to be a place of adventure and danger just like the Southern Isles outside the city walls. The tavern is really the only safe haven. Well, mostly…

The party will be in town normally for d3 days unless there are extenuating circumstances (longer time needed to heal, not enough coin to stay, city-based adventure thread, etc). In general I will select an action from the below table per character or choose a couple as options and ascribe percent likelihood.

1 - Rest, recover, relax (i.e. stay in the tavern)  
2 - Carouse 
3 - Gamble
4 - Research/Study/Train
5 - Shop
6 - Explore town / visit city district or specific establishment
7 - Follow a previous lead
8 - Try and discover new leads (use  subtable)
9 - Attempt to recruit hirelings (use  subtable)

Rest, recover, relax
For those staying in, there is still a 25% chance per day for a tavern encounter (70% occurring at night). 

Carousing and Gambling
Use home brewed tables - an option for the characters to gain some XP and coin. Of course, failing a save might be problematic…

Another option for the characters to earn some XP. Mages can try and learn new spells from the Guild. The numerous temples and shrines offer clerics plenty of opportunities for furthering the aims of their order.

Art by Rhys Griffiths
Enharza offers everything under the sun for the right price. Merchants and charlatans have semipermanent stalls in the Bazaar District where strange goods and unique trinkets can be found. But watch out for pickpockets!

Explore town / visit city district or specific establishment
As mentioned each district has its own encounter tables; many are benign, just offering color. There is a 33% chance for encounter per city quarter visited.

Follow a previous lead
Once the game gets going and different story threads/adventure leads are created, the characters will undoubtedly have a few things to choose from here.

Try and discover new leads
Base chance of success is 25% per day; increases by 25% per day up to max 75%; cost is d12gp per day in drinks, food, and general schmoozing. If successful, roll on d00 table below:

1-30: Regarding known adventure locale (determine randomly)
31-60: Regarding unknown adventure locale (create one!)
61-80: Make a connection (see subtable)
81-00: Potential patron looking to hire party (create a lead using TOAD)

Connections subtable
1 - Random Meatshield who wants to join up
2 - Roll the Dice NPC,  down on his luck and will join for 1/4 share
3 - Local Merchant - all gear 20% off
4 - Make a connection in the Thieves Guild - gambling whenever you like (plus the odd job…)
5 - Roll the DiceTavern patron (new drinking buddy)
6 - Other...

What else could happen in the city? Ideas for more subtables?

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Enharza, a wretched hive of scum and villainy

Only four hours ago you disembarked from the Wind's Embrace, the old sailing ship which brought you from the Imperium to the city of Enharza on the southern tip of Varisha. The journey was long and the weather not always favorable, but  you arrived safely, which was the only goal. The waters around Varisha and the Southern Isles are home to many dangers, and safe travel is not to be taken for granted.

The misty fog that often plagues the waters of the Southern Isles was thin, and the captain of the Embrace had no difficulties with navigation. Most of the passengers on  the ship kept to themselves during the voyage, but the four of you began talking soon after leaving the port of Seaward on the island of Yendo and decided for safety's sake to partner up in your fortune-seeking. 

Art by Sam Michlap
You stood together against the rail of the ship as she pulled into the harbor of Enharza, admiring the walled city with its densely packed buildings and numerous tall, narrow towers. Enharza held the promise of opportunity. 

As soon as you disembarked your senses were assaulted by strange smells and loud voices, shouting in new languages. Exotically dressed men and women filled the narrow streets, many trying to hawk some trinket or oddity. Offers of unidentified meat on sticks were easily refused and finally you managed to get directions to Tavern Alley, where you hoped to find a place to spend your first night in Enharza.

Here at the edge of the civilized lands, it was clear that one must be on his toes; this is no place for the weak or incautious. Enharza is a wretched hive of scum and villainy. 

But Enharza is also a city of opportunity. Ships arrive every few days from near and far filled with brave (and foolhardy) souls looking to earn their fortune exploring the ancient ruins and forgotten lands of the dangerous Southern Isles. Gold can also be won by becoming the latest hero in the Arena or by doing other, less savory jobs. Some come to Enharza on the run and others just look for a new start. Enharza accepts all, but quickly separates the strong from the weak.

Artist unknown
Archon Fezaar rules the city, but you have heard rumors that in reality there is a constant struggle for power between the Thieves Guild and its numerous splinter factions on the one side and Fezaar and his Black Guard on the other. The Mages Guild keeps things in check while Enharza's many cults, churches and religious sects struggle for power and influence. 

Almost every inhabitant of Enharza has heard that the city was built upon the ruins of a much older place - indeed, evidence of the Old City is everywhere. And rumors of its hidden treasures persist, even now. The histories recount that the Old City was buried by cataclysmic ashes long before the Imperium reached its tendrils down to the Southern Isles once again.

You have arrived in Enharza, but what fate awaits you here?

Enharza was the main city in my last PbP game, and I wrote the above description as part of the initial post. Enharza was created by Santiago Luis Oría and published in Fight On! No. 6.   When I first came across the city map and the wonderfully evocative descriptions and tables I had no doubt that Enharza should be the centerpiece of my Sandbox. Although my Enharza is different from the original, I hope to be true to the flavor and vibe of the original.

I'll post in more detail soon about the various city sections and the source for random encounter generation that I am putting together.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

PLAY REPORT - Conclusion of first Stonehell delve

Thowin Four Fingers, a fighter
Imorfin the elf
Reldari the cleric, and his torchbearer, Nux
Fretta the Dark, a thief
Balork the Medium, a magic-user and Bursus, his man-at-arms

We rejoin the party on the first level of Stonehell, in the midst of a fight to the death with a party of orks. Loro the dwarf, short time mercenary, has been cut down.  Thowin and Imorfin, the party's leaders are asleep, having been caught in the area of effect of Balork's spell. Reldari and Bursus face off against the much larger ork captain….

Nux, the young torchbearer shook in fear as he stood next to Balork. His eyes focused on the lifeless dwarf, Loro. The magic-user pulled out his dagger and hoped that Reldari and Bursus could deal with the ork, but he considered his escape route just in case. Fretta the Dark, the albino thief,  drew an arrow and let loose. She dismissed the danger of hitting one of her comrades, trusting in her aim. But the shaft flew wide and she watched again in frustration as the arrow slammed harmlessly into the far wall.

The ork captain growled and swung his battle-axe, barely missing a ducking Bursus. The man-at-arms regained his footing in the muck and countered with his scimitar, but the blow was deflected. While Bursus occupied the ork, Reldari the cleric used the moment of distraction to land a solid blow. The ork grunted but recovered immediately. The huge battle-axe gleamed in the torchlight before it sunk into Reldari's gut with a sickening sound. Blood splattered and the cleric fell.

Fretta cursed again and released another arrow, this time on target. The ork captain snapped off the end of the shaft protruding from his thigh and swung at a ducking Bursus. The man-at-arms, perhaps driven by fear as he stood toe-to-toe with the huge ork, leapt forth and struck down his foe with a quick slash of his blade (Natural 20!). The fight was over, but Loro and Reldari were dead.

After the battle the sleeping Imorfin and Thowin Four Fingers were awakened. After a brief discussion the sleeping orks are tied up and then awakened with hard slaps.

Q: Does the party interrogate the orks? Very likely,  Mythic: Yes
Q: Does the party ask about treasure? Very likely, Mythic: Exceptional Yes and doubles so a random event occurs. Another PC Negative event - Lie Fears; I interpret this as the orks trying to scare the party off from taking the loot.

The orks reveal the camp location just in the nearby chamber, but warn that their shaman has placed a curse on anyone who would steal from the orcs. If stolen, only ill will come of it. The loot consists of 150 gold, 75 silver, 5 flasks of Dwarven brandy (expensive stuff!), numerous swords and short bows as well as the ork captain's battle-axe - maybe magical they way it bit into poor Reldari?

Q: Does the party believe there is a curse on the treasure? 50-50, Mythic: Yes - a dilemma now. Will they actually leave it behind?
Q: Do they leave the loot? 75% chance of a yes, Mythic: No! Damn the torpedoes - I like it!

There is some further interrogation and the party learns of the Open Sore ork tribe and their location a bit further to the south. This camp was apparently a forward base as the orks are attempting to expand their territory.

After a short discussion, the party agreed it was time to return to the surface and to Enharza. Mythic revealed that the party opted against killing the captives but did leave them bound and gagged.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Random Adventure Design

Stonehell is currently the centerpiece adventure site in the Ever Expanding Sandbox, or at least the only site 'known' to the party. As I have posted before, I think its non-linear nature fits perfectly with the solo play concept, providing many different adventure paths depending on the whim of the dice. I have also identified a few smaller '1-page' dungeons that I have on standby as drop-ins should they be needed as a result from a random table. They don't necessarily have the size of Stonehell, but they are all non-linear with no set 'story', which I think is the more important characteristic. But one of the main goals of the EES, was to create adventures randomly or organically.

The EES is also known as "The Southern Isles". I'll talk more about it in a later post, but the original idea was to create a sandbox that had different 'themed' regions/areas to explore. But in addition to these distinct regions the map is dotted with many islands of different sizes (hence the name of the sandbox). The islands, along with the 'mainland' at the top of the map, provide the potential location for other adventure sites outside the 'themed' areas, e.g. desert, jungle, broken-land.

So back to the topic of the post, I wanted to develop a random adventure generation methodology which I could use to create dungeons/adventure sites that could be scattered across the various islands. But how to go about it?

I don't know exactly how much I have spent on OSR products in the 4-5 years since I first stumbled across the Grognardia blog, but I would say it is in the range of three grand. I really don't spend a lot of cash on anything else (other than bills, kids, wife's horses, etc), so my conscience is VERY clean when I plunk down some coin for a game-related product. And to be honest, I really like supporting the many creative folks out there in OSR land.

But of all the products which I have purchased, the Tome of Adventure Design (ToAD) is in my top three, if not my favorite purchase. I'm not going to review the product, but just let me say that if you don't already have it, get it!

In the very first pages of the ToAD you can find tables for generating titles for location-based adventures. This is only one of several different approaches for which tables are provided, but it's my favorite and certainly provides some colorful and evocative starting material. The titles use the "The blank blank of the blank blank" format.

So, what I do is to generate 4-5 titles using these d100 tables. An example below:

Roll 1: The Cursed Hut of the Rat Combiner 
Roll 2: The Triangular Outpost of the Dark Slitherer 
Roll 3: The Grey Coliseum of the Poisonous Witch 
Roll 4: The Deadly Cradle of the Elemental Demigod 

Not bad, I almost like 3 and 4 as is. Next I use the awesome Dungeon Words and Wilder Words tables to add further food for thought in coming up with the concept. So five rolls on each table give me the following to consider:

Pristine, Wizard, Settlement, Elemental, Hatch 
Hatch, Vats, Herbs, Sawdust, Guardian, Defiled 

Using these key words I play around with the titles until I get something that causes a spark…..

The Cursed Coliseum of the Combiner Witch 

I'm thinking of an island where an evil witch is doing vile things, a la Dr. Moreau. She creates abominations through black magic and has them fight in her 'coliseum'…. Using some of the key words above, maybe also the island has…

A wizard (outcast) who keeps herbs…good, a help to the party - maybe has a 'pristine' glade?
A settlement of barbarians who battle the witch's abominations….
A sawdust elemental guardian that roams the island - witch (wizard?) has lost control…
A defiled forest where all is corrupt
Hatches down to vats of vileness…

Just ideas, maybe things change as the idea gets fleshed out. To add further random, awesome goodness I think I'll pick 3-4 tables from the Dungeon Dozen which are appropriate to the concept and then roll for a few to stick in….

Some other working titles I have already created for the EES:

 The Ancient Hatchery of the Skeletal Princess (completed) 
The Deadly Crypt of the Sand Assassin (70% completed) 
The Obsidian Caverns of the Ice Ghouls (LOTS of ideas!)

For now I am using the above to create adventure locales/dungeons, fully fleshed out to be placed in the sandbox. But where I would ultimately like to get to is to use the ideas and concepts as generated with the above methodology to create tables for 'themed' random dungeon generation. I purchased Scweig's Themed Dungeon Generator and am playing around with this 'engine' for what I'd like to do. I really like the concept, but would like to flesh out with more tables, covering more details.

To be honest I have very little innate creativity. But let me tell you, I have no problem using, combining, borrowing, stealing, recycling, and reusing all the awesome things produced by the many creative geniuses out there in the OSR blogosphere!

Shoulders of giants and all that…