Welcome Back to the Labyrinth

"We have been away far too long, my friends," Ashoka declared, his face lit by the eldritch green glow of his staff. "But we have finally returned to the labyrinth whence our adventures first began."

"Just imagine the treasures that lie within," said Yun Tai, flexing his mighty muscles. "Wealth enough to live in luxury the rest of our days."

"And arcane artifacts of great power," added Ashoka his words dripping with avarice. "All ours for the taking!"

"Umm...guys?" Nysa interrupted. "Do you hear something dripping?"

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Cowboys and Gunslingers

I just found out, and wanted to pass on to anyone interested, that Reaper now has an old west miniatures game, Cowboys and Gunslingers, which uses the miniatures from their Chronoscope line.

Sherm Whitlock, Cowboy
Painted by Martin Jones
The game uses their Warlord fantasy rules, and Reaper has published a Cowboys and Gunslingers rule supplement with data cards, which can be downloaded free from the link above.  This is particularly cool because I imagine that this means you could mix genres and have some Sixguns & Sorcery battles because, really, who hasn't always wanted to gun down orcs with a six-shooter?

I've been meaning to give Warlord a try because I'm becoming increasingly put-off by Games Workshop and I really like Reaper's Warlord miniatures line.  Now that they seem to be producing more games using the same rule system, I've got even more incentive to try it out.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Session 12: In Service to the Sun God

Having put the tawdry unpleasantness of last session's blood-thirsty murders behind them, the warriors, Ebin and Balinor, joined by Xuphor the sorcerer returned to the necropolis to further their exploration of the catacombs that lie beneath.

Bands of mutant mongrel-men have been more active of late, prowling the corridors and shortly after entering the dungeon the party turned a corner and found a large band of them lurking at a four-way intersection just ahead.  Each group was surprised to see the other, but after the surprise passed they set upon one another with violence.  The feral-mongrel men were beset by a frenzied rage and fought to the last man.

Xuphor cast a will'o'wisp spell and sent his glowing orbs down each corridor to illuminate them, and hopefully draw the attention of any hostile creatures, but the corridors seemed deserted in every direction.  Just south of this intersection the party entered a large chamber full of burial niches, one of which contained a jade idol of Orcus.  East of the intersection, the corridor ended abruptly.  Xuphor was certain that this signified the presence of a secret door and as he stepped closer to search, a trap door opened beneath his feet and he tumbled to a pit below.  His fall was broken by the decaying remains of another adventurer who had apparently also been searching for a secret door and after looting some supplies from the dead man's backpack, Ebin and Balinor lowered a rope into the pit and pulled Xuphor out.

Exploring north of the intersection, the party discovered two alcoves containing stone statues of of Orcus, and Namtur, the demon lord of hatred.  The corridor ended with a quartet of crypts, one of which contained two runic tablets.  Xuphor read both tablets and was favoured with the blessing of He-Ka, the Atlantean god of mysteries and the great beyond, bestowing a +1 bonus to all attack rolls and saving throws for the remainder of the session.  The second tablet permanently enhanced his Constitution score by +1.  Luck was indeed with him.

Having fully explored that branch of the dungeon, the party moved further south to explore another branch.  They traversed a long hallway flanked by six crypts, ending in a door at the far south end.  The first crypt they opened contained four apparently fresh naked corpses, and a stone tablet in the far corner.  Xuphor went for the tablet, while Balinor prodded at the corpses with his ten-foot pole.  Ebin and the hirelings remained outside to watch the corridor.  The corpses were, in fact, ghouls who had been laying in ambush, and they now leapt up and attacked Balinor and Xuphor, who was in the corner and cut off from the entrance.  While Balinor laid into the ghouls with his sword, Xuphor cast light of Aten, in hopes that the the undead would flee before the radiant luminescence of the sun god.  Unfortunately all four ghouls passed their morale checks, leaving Xuphor out of spells with only his staff to fend off the ghouls.  He succeeded in keeping one ghoul at bay while Balinor slew the three others, and Ebin entered the crypt and killed the one menacing Xuphor.  Xuphor read the runic tablet, which he was disappointed to find inscribed with Suleiman's sovereign of purity, a spell that he already knew.

The next crypt contained a dead adventurer laying face-down in pool of congealed blood.  Balinor flipped the corpse over with his ten-foot pole, spilling entrails on the floor.  The dead man had a pair of ornate gauntlets, which Ebin immediately claimed and donned then began to test to see if he had become any stronger.  He hadn't.

Within another crypt, the party found a cowering Mongrel-man, sickly and lame, cast out by his tribe and forced to fend for himself.  Xuphor offered the mutant some food, which the twisted creature snatched and gobbled up hungrily.  The mutant agreed to accompany the party in exchange for more food.

The other crypts were empty and so the party proceeded to the end of the hallway and opened the door into a huge octagonal room with a large obelisk in the center.  Eight skeletons milled about the room searching through urns at the direction of a black-robed, skull-masked necromancer.  The two mercenary crossbowmen fired, killing the necromancer before he had a chance to act, and the skeletons were quickly dispatched by Balinor and Ebin.

Out of spells and low on hit points, the party decided to call it a night and return to Catapesh to spend some of their hard-won loot drinking and wenching.  As they made their way north up the long corridor, however, they encountered another party of six adventurers coming south.  Without even pausing to parley, Ebin hurled a throwing axe at one, killing him, and so the fight was on.  The rival party was killed to the last man and looted, though they had little gold on them.  Once they got to the dungeon entrance, they parted ways with the Mongrel-man, who refused to leave the dark recesses of the dungeon.

Back in Catapesh, Xuphor discovered that the looted gauntlets were enchanted, and so Ebin took them to the temple of Thoth in hopes that they could be identified by the scholarly monks.  They identified the markings of Aten, and recognized the gauntlets as a relic of the templars of Aten and that the gauntlet's enchantments would likely only work for a holy warrior sworn in service to the sun god.  Ebin suddenly found religion and visited the temple of Aten to swear his vows and become a templar of the order.  One must suspect that the sudden religious zeal of one of the bloodiest cut-throats since Astagar the Thrice-damned owes more to his devotion to a shiny new magic item than to the sun god, but it is said that the radiance of Aten can illuminate even the darkest soul so perhaps Ebin will leave aside his murderous ways, hold true to his vows, and adopt the code of honour and virtue that exemplifies a templar.  It could happen...

No sooner had Ebin donned his new white surcoat than he was arrested by the city guard for dueling.  His trial went well, however, and the magistrate ruled that the other party was at fault, and Ebin was awarded 500 gp in compensation.

Xuphor spent his down time engaged in arcane research and made a pact with the minor demon, Gzozzer.

Meanwhile, after a long bout of bacchanalian debauchery, Balinor awoke with an aching head to find the naked widow of Jerhyn Dragomere, the guard captain that Ebin had so recently murdered, lying next to him. Any hope of discretely extracting himself flew out the window when Balinor's paramour, Lena, entered the room and found the two of them in bed together.  Balinor's hang-over was not improved by the shrill insults nor the stoneware that Lena hurled at Zsofia Dragomere and himself, nor the fact that an awkward and embarrassing encounter was now public knowledge throughout the entire inn.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Hit Points Revisited

Over the last couple of years, I've been tinkering with the Swords & Wizardry rules to create a system for running Sword & Sorcery campaigns. While, of course, D&D was heavily influenced by the Sword & Sorcery genre, it is a mish-mash that has borrowed from a wide variety of literary sources. Accordingly, D&D is kind of its own thing; a fantasy style bordering on a sub-genre that has, itself, influenced the fantasy genre. But what I'm interested in is pulp sword & sorcery and I wanted to re-imagine D&D not just as a game partially influenced by that genre, but as an actual sword & sorcery game.

 I realize that there are dedicated sword & sorcery roleplaying games, but none of them scratch my itch in quite the right way. What I really wanted was to adapt old-school D&D to sword & sorcery to create the game that I've always wanted to play. It has been a relatively easy process, because D&D was heavily influenced by sword & sorcery from its inception. Also, Swords & Wizardry is an excellent system for tinkering with; its bare-bones minimalism makes it very easy to add to. Over the last couple of years of tinkering and campaigning, my house-ruled S&W game has 'speciated' into its own game, which I have named Jeweled Thrones and Sandaled Feet, and over the next few posts I want to share some of the changes that I've adopted for my City States of Lemuria campaign.

 One of my design goals has been to develop rules that are not only true to the sword & sorcery genre, but also to the philosophical intent of D&D. One of the first rules changes I made was to the rules for hit points and healing, which I originally discussed a couple of years ago.  I've long thought that wounds and fatigue needed to be separated and, while I was on the right track with that first post, it was still a bit cumbersome.  I've been playing with the current hit point and healing system for about a year now, and I've got it just where I want it now: it embraces Gary's concept of hit points as part of an abstract combat system that represents skill and endurance, and it emulates the sword & sorcery just the way I want it.

I've always found the rate of natural healing in D&D to be at odds with the concept that a player character's hit points are more a measure of fighting skill, endurance, and luck than capacity to withstand physical damage.  And sometimes it is necessary to know just how much damage a character can sustain, when skill and fitness do not avail you, like when an assassin has a dagger pressed to your throat.  So, I've separated skill and endurance from physical damage.  Hit points are, as always, generated by the hit dice for your class, and increasing hit point totals reflect the character's growing fighting skill and canniness.  As hit points are lost in combat, the character is not being wounded, just worn down.  As his hit point total approaches zero, he is becoming more and more fatigued and less able to parry and dodge incoming attacks.

Once the character's hit point total has reached zero, any further damage now represents physical injury and is subtracted from his wound point total.  A character's wound points are equal to one-half his Constitution score, rounded up and, unlike hit points, a character's wound point total usually never increases beyond this amount (though, obviously, magical increases to Constitution would also increase wound points).

Because wound points represent physical damage, each time a character loses wound points in combat, he might be injured.  Roll 1d8 on the chart below to determine the injury, and the character makes a saving throw.  If the saving throw fails, the resulting injury is sustained in addition to wound point loss.

Injury (d8)
Critical Effect
1. Head
2. Right Eye
-2 to hit
Lost eye
3. Left Eye
-2 to hit
Lost eye
4. Torso
Internal bleeding
Double damage
5. Right Arm
6. Left Arm
7. Right Leg
8. Left Leg

I normally don't use critical hits in my game, except on the injury table.  If the wounding hit was a natural '20' the Critical Effect column is consulted, instead, which results in a permanent injury rather than a temporary one and can result in characters with eye patches, peg legs, and hooks.  Arrr!

Furthermore, helmets bestow a +2 bonus to save against hits to the head and eyes, which gives one a strong incentive to protect his noggin.  Common sense is needed when using the chart; not all damage will result in an injury.  Being bitten by vermin, like rats or snakes, is unlikely to sever a limb and, likewise, being exsanguinated by a stirge or giant tick might kill you but you won't sustain any injuries.

Once a character's wound point total reaches zero there is only one thing to do: go through his pockets and look for loose change.

Hit points and wound points heal at different rates.  Because hit points are merely a measure of fatigue, they can be quickly recovered.  A character will normally recover one hit point per hour of rest, but if the character is recovering in an inn with a soft bed and plenty of cold ale and warm wenches, he recovers four hit points per hour.  So a good night of drinking and wenching will usually put a tired adventurer back to rights.  Wound points, on the other hand, take much longer to heal, and recover at a rate of 1 point per two days of rest and any temporary injuries that have been sustained persist until the character's wound point total has healed up to full.

Magical healing is rare in my campaign.  I've done away with the cleric class and while sorcerers do have limited healing spells, they come at a cost.  The first level sorcerer spell Renewal of Vigour invigorates the recipient, healing 1d6 +1/level hit points, but this healing is only temporary and lasts but one turn per level of the caster, after which time the character crashes, losing double the healed hit points.  If this loss takes him below zero hit points he loses consciousness for one hour per point below zero.  It's sort of like magical Red Bull.

Wound points can be restored by sorcerer who casts the second level spell, Sympathetic Healing of the Martyr, which will heal 1d6 wound points, but the caster suffers a like amount of wound points as he transfers the damage to himself.

Restoration draughts can also be purchased for 50 gp each.  These are alchemical infusions made using the root of the Iracunda plant, which grows in the Kurgan Highlands and is chewed by kurgani tribesmen to induce states of berserk rage.  The restoration draught rejuvenates the drinker, restoring 1d6 hit points.

Healing potions are magical concoctions that cost 100 gp each and heal 1d6 wound points.

This damage and healing system has worked really well for me, and as far as I'm concerned there is no going back.  It offers a great deal of flexibility for dealing with different types of attacks.  In almost all cases, hit points must be reduced to zero before wound points are lost.  Even sneak attacks or other such threats that catch a character unawares reduce hit points first, because in most such cases I rule that 'sixth sense' warns the character in time to twist away enough to avoid a fatal blow.  But some special attacks, like an assassin's death strike, could be resolved by applying the weapon damage directly to wound points, bypassing the hit points entirely.  So, an assassin could potentially kill any character with a single hit, depending on the character's Constitution score and the amount of damage rolled.