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?"

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Paint the Town Red! A Fantasy Tripper's Guide to Carousing

Who doesn't like a good drunken bacchanal?  Carousing is an intrinsic element of the sword & sorcery genre, and no mishap can befall our favourite Cimmerian that can't be put right with a flagon of wine and a winsome wench.  TFT even has a Carousing talent, so let's tap that keg and get the party started!

The most obvious benefit of the Carousing talent is a +1 bonus to reaction rolls in taverns.  This can be used for everything from securing companionship for the night, to talking your way out of a bar fight.  It could also be used as a +1 bonus to IQ on contested rolls when gambling, or as a +1 bonus to DX to cheat at gambling (slipping an ace out of your sleeve or surreptitiously producing your 'lucky' dice).  It could even provide a +1 bonus to initiative in bar fights that you were unable or uninterested in talking your way out of.  Carousing can also play a role in how characters gain at least some of their experience points.

There are many different ways of awarding experience points to characters in role playing games.  Awards are often made for killing monsters, or for completing quests, or, as in old school D&D, for acquiring treasure. How we choose to award experience dictates what the game, or your campaign, is all about, and it guides the behaviour and actions of the players.  If the bulk of the experience is awarded for the successful completion of quests, then players are going to be very mission-oriented.  If experience is largely awarded for killing monsters, then the players will sweep through dungeons like angels of death, exterminating everything in their path in the service of character advancement.

TFT's role playing rules, In the Labyrinth, present a rough guideline for awarding experience that is purposely vague to allow GMs to tailor experience awards to suit their own campaigns.  In general, the bulk of the experience comes as a group award at the end of each play session, while individuals can earn small bonus awards for skillful or amusing play.

Personally, I'm not fond of ad hoc experience awards, as it may put too much pressure on players to stand out.  Players contribute to the game in different ways, and while it's easy to single out dominant players or ones who are especially clever and funny, the contributions of quieter, introverted players may go unnoticed.  Sure, GMs can use ad hoc experience awards to reward the less obvious contributions of quiet players, but that puts the onus on the game master to be constantly looking for opportunities to make experience awards, and some game masters might be okay with that, but I feel I have enough on my plate just running the adventure.  I'm also not entirely fond of arbitrary group awards.  There's certainly nothing wrong with this method, but I prefer having a yardstick to measure the group's success each session rather than just spit-balling a group award, and for that I like to use treasure.

By linking experience to treasure I'm letting the players know how they should be tackling the adventures.  As anyone who has played it can attest, combat in TFT is deadly - more so than in most rpgs - and by awarding XP for treasure you let the players know that the only really important thing is coming home with the swag, no matter how they obtained it.  So they're free to explore alternative avenues of wealth acquisition that doesn't necessarily force them through the gauntlet of combat.  If they can use cunning or stealth to obtain a treasure horde, that's just as good as fighting their way through - better, actually, since they're more likely to make it out alive.  It also influences the types of characters that players make.  In my campaign you're going to see a lot of self-interested characters cut from the same mold as Conan, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, Han Solo, or Snake Plissken, and far fewer inspired by the likes of Sir Lancelot or Prince Valiant.  Sure, characters in my games will still end up saving the world, but more due to circumstance than design, and because it's where they keep all their stuff.

Of course one problem common to all fantasy rpgs is how to keep characters motivated once they have accumulated more treasure than they can ever possibly spend.  There's only so much stuff you can buy, and a lot of campaigns end up foundering when characters are swimming in money and magic items.  The challenge is to keep them hungry, and I do this by awarding XP not for treasure found, but for treasure squandered.  You ever notice that no matter how big a score pulled in by pulp sword & sorcery heroes of fiction, they're always flat-broke at the beginning of the next story?  The reason they're always broke is that they blow their score on women, booze, and gambling.

The idea of exchanging treasure for XP by carousing came from a post Jeff Rients wrote over on Jeff's Gameblog back in 2008.  It's a brilliant notion, and it inspired me to create my own carousing table, which I've been using in my home-brewed system ever since, and now I'm adapting it to TFT.

Carousing Tables
Characters may carouse at the end of each session that ends in a town or city where they can squander large sums of money and stir up trouble.  Carousing characters choose how much money they wish to spend, subject to the upper limit of their locale.  Gain 5 experience points for every $100 spent on revelry, and roll on the results table corresponding to the amount spent.  A character may spend any amount of silver they wish up to the maximum amount for size of the town or city they are in; after all, there’s only so much trouble you can get into in a small town with only one tavern, whereas a city-state offers far greater opportunities for debauchery.

Town or Keep: $300 max       Small City: $600 max      Large City: $1,000 max

Revels (Up to $300)          Boisterous Carouse ($301 - $600)    Drink the City Dry ($601 - $1,000)

1. Accused of Cheating     2.     Brutal hangover                            3.  Blackout
2. My shirt too?                 3.     Accused of cheating                     4.  I was just looking for a good time
3. Cut your losses              4.     My shirt too?                                 5.  Apparently you had a VERY good time
4. Who are you?                5-6.  Tattoo                                             6.  Brutal hangover
5. Interesting rumour       7-8.  Cut your losses                             7.  Give mortal offense
6. Win an item                    9.     Who are you?                               8.  My shirt too?
                                              10.    Your new best friend                  9-10.  What fresh Hell is this?
                                              11.     Win an item                                 11-12. Drunken vow
                                              12.    Tyche's favour                              13. Cut your losses
                                                                                                               14.  Who are you?
                                                                                                               15.  Your new best friend
                                                                                                               16. Tattoo
                                                                                                               17.  Win an item
                                                                                                               18.  Tyche's favour

Accused of cheating. Rightly or wrongly, you have been accused of cheating at dice or cards.  You: 1-3) get into a brawl, trash the establishment, and get banned from the premises; 4) are beaten and robbed by your accuser and his/her friends; 5) make an enemy; 6) get arrested.

Apparently you had a VERY good time. You have been arrested and charged with: 1) vandalism; 2) public debauchery; 3) theft; 4) assault; 5) grave robbing; 6) murder.

Blackout. You have no recollection of your bacchanal, but you wake up missing: 1) d% of all your money; 2) your armour; 3) your main weapon; 4) a miscellaneous item or spell book;  5) your clothes; 6) several important teeth.  Gain no XP from your revelry.

Brutal hangover. You’re afraid you might die, and even more afraid you won’t.  Suffer a -2 penalty on all ability checks the next day.

Cut your losses. You've spent your limit, and it's time to quit while the quitting's good.

Give mortal offence. You have gravely offended: 1) an influential priest; 2) a powerful sorcerer; 3) a captain of the guard; 4) a scion of a noble house; 5) a wealthy merchant; 6) a bureaucrat of the court.

Drunken vow. You’ve made an oath before the gods and they intend to hold you to it.  You are now under a Geis.

I was just looking for a good time! You wake up naked in: 1) a public garden; 2) a temple; 3) jail; 4) a nobleman’s harem; 5) an opium den; 6) deep trouble, bound to a sacrificial altar.

Interesting rumour. You overhear some juicy and potentially lucrative gossip.

My shirt, too? You suffer a run of bad luck, lose double your money.  If you don't have enough money to cover your losses, you will need to make arrangements for payment or expect a visit from hired goons.

What fresh Hell is this?  You are awakened by 1) painful sores on your nether region (get thee to a physicker!); 2) your new spouse; 3) your bed mate's angry husband, who demands satisfaction in the arena; 4) a summons to Thorsz's court; 5) a prophetic dream of imminent peril; 6) the galley slave with whom you now share an oar.

Who are you?. You wake up the next morning with: 1) the goats in an animal pen, and a reputation that's difficult to dispel; 2) the innkeeper's son or daughter; 3) the spouse of a powerful noble; 4) a slave whom you now seem to own; 5) an impatient prostitute demanding payment; 6) Thorsz's favourite concubine.

Tattoo. You get inked.  Your tattoo is: 1-3) bad-ass (owning player chooses what and where); 4) Lame and embarrassing (player to your left chooses what and where); 5) The name of the person with whom you spent the night - a proclamation undying love; 6) a spell, ritual, or ancient prophecy in arcane script.

Tyche’s favour. Luck is your mistress.  You: 1-4) win your money back; 5) win your money back plus 1d6 x $10; 6) win back double your money and make a dangerous enemy.

Win an item. Due to your luck at the gaming table you have come into possession of 1) a weapon; 2) a valuable gem; 3) jewelry; 4) a scroll; 5) a treasure map; 6) a religious relic.

Your new best friend. During your night of drunken revelry, you swore undying friendship to one of the following, and have become entangled in their sordid affairs: 1) the scion of a noble house; 2) a revolutionary; 3) a guild thief; 4) a priest of a proscribed religion; 5) a barbarian vagabond; 6) a wanted felon.

Of course it goes without saying that no one should feel beholden to the randomly rolled result if it is deemed to be inappropriate to the circumstances or preferences of the group; feel free to use the results for inspiration or make up something else altogether.  These are meant to be fun and to serve as a springboard for character sub-plots or even the focus of the next session's adventure.  I found that the end-of-session carousing was often one of the most popular activities with my players, who always seemed to enjoy a little random mayhem and hilarity to wrap up the evening's play and serve as a lead-in to the next session.

I've set the experience award for carousing to be a substantial supplement to experience gained during the course of an adventure, but this can easily be decreased if you prefer carousing to give a small xp bonus, or increased to make it the main source of xp gained.