Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Dwimmermount Goblins

INTRODUCTION
James Maliszewski, the creator of Dwimmermount, felt that halfllings were too closely tied with Professor Tolkien’s Middle-Earth to really fit with the pulp-inspired adventure he was creating. Rather than merely eliminate halflings, however, James replaced them with a playable goblin race.

Unfortunately, goblins didn’t make the final cut in the published Dwimmermount megadungeon. According to the authors, they were counting on the fan community to fill the void with their own take on goblins. In that spirit, I present this class, compatible with the ACKS version of Dwimmermount and inspired by the original goblin description as it appeared on Grognardia.

Scroll to the very bottom if you'd like to download the PDF version.
For an insight into my design, check out this thread.

GOBLINS
The goblins insist, with scowling stubbornness, that theirs is the only intelligent race native to the world. All the other sentient races are either visitors from some other plane, artificial constructs raised from beasts or inert materials, or magical copies of the goblins themselves. In other words, interlopers, inferiors, and poor imitations. Of course, the average goblin isn’t foolish enough to say this directly to anyone’s face. They know enough to appear submissive when their skin is on the line, although their racial arrogance can’t help but leak out from time to time. This passive-aggressive, curt deference gives most goblins a grating personality.

Goblins have no nation of their own. They live among those they consider their inferiors, usually in small “goblin-towns” within larger human settlements. Goblins pride themselves on remaining as self-sufficient as possible, growing their own food on weedy little farms and making extra coin doing odd jobs. Most humans don’t entirely trust goblins, but they’re sometimes willing to hire them as cheap labor. Goblins are naturally stealthy, skilled with tools and machines, and rather unscrupulous, making them ideal for tasks others would find unsavory.

The average goblin is small, ranging in height from 3 to 3 ½ feet, with long, slender limbs and dexterous fingers. Their skin is colored orange, red, or yellow, and their red eyes shine in the dark. Goblins favor dark clothing with sharp, angular lines, and often accent their outfits with pointed hats or tailed hoods. A goblin’s ears, which tend to be long and prodigious, represent age and wisdom in their culture, and they rarely cover them.

Goblins don’t usually follow any organized religion, or revere any specific gods, but they do maintain a strong respect for the supernatural. Most goblins believe that all living things have an eternal spirit that is reincarnated into a new body after death. This animism is an informal faith that comes with many taboos and superstitions, though the specific details vary from region to region.

Being ultimately self-interested and somewhat disorganized creatures, goblins tend toward Neutral or Chaos alignments. Neutral is certainly the norm in the goblin-towns, where it is in the race’s best interest to at least tolerate the strictures of Law. In the wilds, however, and in the caverns and dungeons deep beneath the earth, there dwell innumerable goblins who have embraced Chaos. These chthonic goblins are different than their surface kin, having adapted completely to the lightless environment of the underworld. They spend their short, miserable lives stealing, murdering, and generally spreading destruction wherever they go. Naturally, this does little to help the reputation of the surface goblins.



GOBLIN BLUECAP
Prime Requisite: STR and DEX
Requirements: DEX 9
Hit Dice: 1d6
Maximum Level: 8

Goblin bluecaps take their name from their headgear; dark blue hoods and hats akin to those worn by goblin-kind’s murderous cousins, the redcaps. Bluecaps are jacks-of-all-trades, who put their natural talents to work as part-time thieves and tomb-raiders. The bluecaps’ willingness to do just about any job, provided the gold is right and the risk is low, makes them ideal hirelings for those with morally ambiguous goals.

Novice bluecaps, called boggle-men, can be found most anywhere there is a sizable goblin population, usually lounging about the seedier parts of town. As he gains experience, a bluecap can afford to be more selective in the jobs he takes and prospective employers must seek him out specifically. The most skilled bluecaps, the meisters, generally work with a core group of like-minded ne’er-do-wells, forming strong bonds over the course of many adventures. Provided, of course, the bluecap doesn’t betray his friends as soon as a better deal comes along.

Bluecaps benefit from the goblin race’s natural talent with mechanical devices. They can open locks and remove traps as a thief of the same level, although they do not possess the thief’s special ability to find traps.


Goblin bluecaps learn to fight as a means of survival. At first level, bluecaps hit an unarmored foe (AC 0) with an attack throw of 10+. They advance in attack throws and saving throws as fighters, by two points every three levels of experience, and may perform one cleave attack per level. They increase their base damage roll from successful missile and melee attacks by +1 at 1st level and by an additional +1 at 3rd and 6th level.

Goblin bluecaps are adept at using their small size to their advantage in combat. They receive a +2 bonus to armor class against creatures larger than man-sized. However, bluecap goblins cannot use human-sized two-handed weapons (including longbows and pole arms) and must always use two hands when wielding weapons designed for one or two-handed use (i.e. swords, staffs, battle axes). As long as their weapons are the proper size, goblins may use any fighting style (two weapons, weapon and shield, or two-handed). Goblin bluecaps dislike restrictive armor, as it limits their stealth and mobility, and cannot wear armor heavier than leather, though they can use shields.

While sages doubt the goblins’ claims that they have been around longer than anyone else, the race does have a very long and detailed oral history. Older goblins are very fond of bombarding their juniors with all manner of lessons, which are often just biased versions of historical events told from a goblin perspective. Most of these dubious teachings do contain a kernel of useful information, and all goblin bluecaps receive the equivalent of a free Loremastery proficiency.

Goblins are crafty when it comes to certain kinds of manual labor. They gain a +1 bonus to proficiency throws related to any trade they’ve learned through the craft proficiency, though they still must take the proficiency as normal. Goblins are natural linguists, picking up the dialects of other creatures with surprising ease. In addition to Goblin, a bluecap begins the game knowing Common, plus two languages of the player’s choice. These languages are in addition to any bonus languages granted by a high intelligence score.

Goblin bluecaps are difficult to spot, disappearing into the woods and underbrush with a proficiency throw of 3+ on 1d20. In dungeons, if a goblin bluecap is motionless and quiet in cover, he can escape detection with a proficiency throw of 14+ on 1d20.

Despite their outward subordination, most goblins are fiercely proud and prone to unwarranted arrogance. This surly demeanor gives them a -2 penalty to the reactions, loyalty, and morale of humans, demi-humans, and even other goblins. Finally, goblins have infravision with a range of 60 feet.

When a goblin bluecap reaches 6th level (bugaboo), he gains the ability to pick pockets as a 1st level thief. At 8th level (meister bluecap) they can read languages (including ciphers, treasure maps, and dead languages, but not magical writings) with a proficiency throw of 5+.

Goblin Bluecap Proficiency List: Acrobatics, Alertness, Ambushing, Bribery, Cat Burglary, Caving, Climbing, Combat Reflexes, Combat Trickery (Disarm, Incapacitate), Contortionism, Craft, Disguise, Eavesdropping, Fighting Style (missile weapon, single weapon, two weapons, weapon and shield), Gambling, Lockpicking, Mapping, Mimicry, Precise Shooting, Skirmishing, Skulking, Swashbuckling, Trap Finding, Weapon Finesse, Weapon Focus.


GOBLIN CUSTOM CLASSES
The following rules apply to all custom goblin classes.

REQUIREMENTS
All goblin classes require a minimum Dexterity 9 or better.

CLASS CATEGORY VALUES
Fighting: Goblins are too small to use certain weapons. See small size below.
Divine: Goblins may never allocate build points to the Divine category.

GOBLIN VALUE (XP Cost 175)
Goblins are a race without a country, eking out a living in lands ruled by other races or trying to survive in the unforgiving realms below the earth’s surface. They have lived as long as they have by clinging fiercely to the goblin versions of pride and self-reliance. As a result, any custom goblin class must invest maximum points in the base class categories as well as 4 points in race. This means that goblins never reach 9th level or above and can never build a stronghold. The experience cost of this investment, however, is relatively low. All goblins receive the following custom powers:

Small Size: Goblins receive a +2 AC against any opponent larger than human-sized. They cannot use human-sized two-handed weapons (including longbows and pole arms) and must always use two hands when wielding weapons designed for one or two-handed use (i.e. swords, staffs, battle axes).

Infravision: Goblins have infravision to a range of 60 feet.

Crafty: Goblins are naturally skilled craftsmen and gain a +1 bonus to proficiency throws related to any trade they’ve learned through the craft proficiency, though they still must take the proficiency as normal.

Natural Linguists: Skilled linguists, goblins have no trouble speaking the difficult goblin tongue, and automatically receive it as a bonus language as well as Common. They may select any two languages as bonus languages in addition to the languages granted by a high intelligence.

Surly Demeanor: The character suffers a -2 penalty to the reactions, loyalty, and morale of all other creatures, including other goblins.

BUILDING THE BLUECAP
The goblin bluecap was built as Hit Dice 1, Fighting 2, Thievery 1, and Goblin 4. There were two trade-offs (reducing armor selection twice to gain loremastery and difficult to spot). There was one custom power trade-off (1 initial thief skill for 1 skill at 4th level and 1 at 8th level.

VARIANT: SUBTERRANEAN GOBLINS
If the GM wishes to create a class reflecting the chthonic goblins who live in the underworld, he should add the following racial abilities. These abilities do not change the experience requirements of a standard goblin (4).

Infravision: Subterranean goblins have infravision out to 90 feet, rather than the 60 feet of surface goblins.

Sunlight Sensitivity: Subterranean goblins suffer a -1 penalty to all attack rolls in full sunlight.

GOBLIN HIRELINGS
Goblin loyalty is dubious at best, but they work more cheaply than other races and won’t balk at illegal or distasteful jobs. In any city with a significant goblin population, approximately 10% of the available hirelings will be goblins. Goblin henchmen work for 80% of the monthly wages listed on the Henchman Monthly Fee chart. Any time the dice indicate that there are no henchmen of a particular level available, the judge may allow players to spend an additional 2d6gp (1d6gp in a class IV or smaller market) to immediately roll again on the Hiring Availability by Market Class table, checking specifically for goblin hirelings. Remember that goblins suffer a -2 penalty to reactions, loyalty, and morale (including reactions to hiring offers).

PDF Version is right here.

Making a Goblin Class for Dwimmermount

The short version: Even though a goblin NPC played a role in the original Dwimmermount campaign, the published version of Dwimmermount doesn’t contain rules for goblin PCs, so I wrote some and put them here

WHY GOBLINS?
The original Dwimmermount campaign included a goblin hireling named Brakk, who died when a bucket of acid fell on his head. James envisioned goblins as a replacement for halflings, which didn’t fit his vision of the pulp-fantasy inspired setting he was creating for his megadungeon. These goblins were less the twisted monsters of the Lord of the Rings movies and more the puckish fairy-folk of pre-Tolkien fantasy novels.

I always really like the idea of altering D&D in subtle ways to make it better fit your vision of a campaign. Especially with original D&D and its imitators, the rules are just light enough to allow you to fill in details, taking the game in different directions while not deviating from the spirit of the rules. Outlawing halflings just because you don’t like them is bad DM mojo in my book. Taking them out and then replacing them with another flavor of a similar archetype, however, is good stuff.

So, when I finally got my hands on the Adventurer, Conqueror, King System version of Dwimmermount, one of the first things I did was run a text search for goblin. When I didn’t find any rules, I hit up the ACKS message boards to find out why. As I suspected, someone had beaten me to the question. Where were the goblin PCs?

The answer was that Dwimmermount was already a really big book to put together and not everything that James mentioned or used could make the final cut. Autarch was confident, however, that the fans would come up with some cool homebrewed goblin classes. As I was digging around their message boards to find a couple that I could steal, it dawned on me that no one had yet made the class. Yup, the fan we were waiting on, in this case, turned out to be me. If I wanted a goblin class, I’d have to come up with one.

DESIGN GOALS
I didn’t make this class out of whole cloth. It wasn’t born out of an idea I had at all. Rather, it’s more like an homage to something someone else made. James M. already created a perfectly serviceable Labyrinth Lord version of the goblin that could definitely work in ACKS without too much effort.

I saw an opportunity to create something specifically tailored to the ACKS rules. The Player’s Companion contains rules for designer your own classes that mirror those found in the main book. I’ve always wanted to tinker around with those rules anyway and here was a great excuse to do so.

The first thing I did was distill game-stats out of James’ original description. The final list looked a little like this:

Goblin Generic Game Stats:
1. They are Fighter / Thieves
2. They have 90’ Infravision / -1 “to hit” in sunlight (subterranean goblin) OR 60’ Infravision / no “to hit penalty” (surface goblins)
3. Larger creatures suffer a -2 penalty to hit them
4. +1 bonus to Dexterity for initiative purpose

Next, I made a list of goblin traits that I think are either expressed or implied in James’ original.

Goblin Non-Game Stats:
1. Goblins live alongside and within human settlements. They have no lands of their own.

However…

2. Goblins are really damned arrogant about it.
3. There are still evil (read Chaos) goblins wandering around the mythic underworld (read dungeons)
4. If you need more abilities or ideas, turn to folklore ideas before you turn to D&D tropes.

Since goblins don’t have their own lands, it doesn’t make sense for them to enter the ACKS endgame the same way that other races do. To this end, I took inspiration from this thread and used creases’ idea of forcing all goblin builds to put four full points in the Race category, while keeping the actual cost of investing those points low

These goblins can fight, although their limited armor and lower hit points keeps them from outshining fighters. I also wanted them to be able to perform some thief abilities, but a lot of thief abilities coupled with infravision seemed like it might make the class too useful at stealth. Thus, I narrowed the list down quite a bit, gave them a racial stealth ability (making them better than thieves at first but eventually worse), and delayed pick pockets and read languages. The end result, hopefully, is a nice hybrid of fighter and thief that won’t outshine either, while retaining enough flavor to stand on its own.

Here are a few notes on the rest of their abilities:

Remove Traps: Note that they cannot necessarily find the traps. At least, they don’t have any better chance than just a standard PC using the Adventuring proficiency.

Hard to Spot: Deliberately added to make them better than thieves at early levels and worse as the XP divide grew.

Small Size: This was the hardest ability to assess as far as cost for the custom class rules found in the Player’s Companion. The bonus is pretty big (+2) but it doesn’t come up all the time (how often are you fighting things ogre-sized and up? Fairly frequently, but not all the time.) In the end, I decided it was worth 1.5 abilities and called it good.

Crafty: Shoemaker elves come to mind. I really like the idea that goblins are good at making things, but are too chaotic to really apply themselves.

Natural Linguists: According to the Dwimmermount book, the goblin language is very difficult to learn, but even the dumbest goblin picks it up with ease. This is just a natural extension of that idea. Goblins get less bonus languages than other demi-humans, but they can pick them.

Surly Attitude: This is based on the inhuman trait from the Player’s Companion, only goblins get no corresponding bonus to offset it. It was pretty clear in James’ original writeup that goblins are kind of insufferable jerks, at least when they know it won’t get them in too much trouble.

Loremaster: I just thought this was a cool addition to the race. After all, goblins have been around as a people longer than anyone else, so it stands to reason that they might know a few things from time to time. Also, Dwimmermount does not allow bard PCs by default, so this is a niche that wasn’t already being filled.

I ended up dropping a little from James’ writeup and adding my own, of course, but the end result is close to its inspiration. I also added a few rules to make it a bit easier (and cheaper) to hire goblins, since the original Dwimmermount goblin was an NPC hireling.

NAMING THE CLASS
The final challenge was naming the goblin class. Following the precedent in the main rulebook, I couldn’t just call them goblins. I had to do what the authors did with the dwarven craftpriest and elven spellsword and come up with a unique name for the class.

My original idea was to call the class a goblin sneak. Level titles would have been things like agent, specialist, and expert. I had a little epiphany, however, while searching for more obscure types of goblins from folklore. Apparently, there is a type of goblin in English folklore called a bluecap. Now, we’re all familiar with the murderous fey called redcaps, but I had never heard of a bluecap. What if, I reasoned, the bluecaps were the surface goblin answer to the redcaps? Rather than muderers, these goblins would be professional thieves, and their distinctive hats would tip off those looking to hire them.

So inspired, I set off looking for level titles. A surprising number of modern words for goblins and goblin-like creatures have all evolved from the same root words. This results in a lot of similar-sounded words for mischievous fairies. Surprisingly, with only a little modification, I was able to generate an entire list that all begin with the letter B.

Please check out my take on the Dwimmermount goblin, the goblin bluecap. Next time you’re looking to hire a locksmith with loose morals to sneak you into the local dungeon, you could save a little gold and hire a boggel-man. Just a suggestion. 

The finished class is here.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Wednesday Dwimmermount: Session 2


(An ongoing series in which I chronicle the adventures of my two oldest sons, ages 14 and 11, as they explore the Dwimmermount megadungeon.)


Before We Begin
This one's a little late. I'm not as prolific as some other bloggers, I know, but writing must be practiced to become a habit. Session 3 will probably appear in a couple of days, as we played that one last week. Also, I've had a few requests for my GM sheets. I'm not sure that it's in any kind of usable state at this point, but I do plan to eventually share it.
For this session, I had hoped to spend a little more time in prep than I was able to. I’m not complaining here, but I do want to give you an idea of how much I’m putting into Dwimmermount and how much the product itself is helping me run things. To this end, let me say that the Dungeon Tracker has been a tremendous aid. This was one of the Kickstarter Add-on products. While I didn’t opt for a printed Dungeon Tracker, I do own it in PDF. It contains maps of the dungeon with the room names, monsters, and traps written directly on the maps. There is also space for party marching order, notes, a turn tracker, and other useful bits. So far, I’ve not gotten much out of the extra stuff, but the dungeon map is my go-to tool for running each session. It’s just nice to be able to tell, at a single glance, that there are 7 orcs in room 3, or that room 5 is the Mask Gallery. Even with all that, I feel like I’m not using the tracker to its fullest. Dwimmermount changes from session to session (as we’ll see below), and I feel like the tracker could help me on that front, but I’m not 100% certain how to best use it to that end.

According to the book, the GM should utilize the dungeon restocking that originally appeared on Sham’s Grog and Blog (http://shamsgrog.blogspot.com/) to determine if Dwimmermount changes between their visits. The rules instructed me to roll only for the rooms the PCs revisit, but since they barely scratched the surface of level 1, I decided that it would be easier to simply roll for the rooms they explored last time and make notes. A few quick rolls showed that most of the rooms should remain empty, one of them should contain an unguarded treasure, and one (previously empty) room should now have monsters present. I decided that the orcs encountered last time had spread out in the last week and now occupied the entrance room. The orcs had also hidden a minor treasure, a bag of gold, under a pile of rubble in a previously explored chamber.

I really like the dungeon restocking system. It helps make Dwimmermount a living, changing place without requiring too much work from the GM. I’m going to have to start tracking these changes, though, or I won’t be able to keep on top of it all. Ideally, that’s where the Dungeon Tracker would help, but it doesn’t really seem set up for that. Maybe I could write the changes on the map itself? I’m not sure if I care for that option. We’ll see what I can work out during actual play.

New Character
As you might recall, my youngest son’s character, Killan Goodpipe, died after inhaling a face-full of poisonous gas in the Mask Gallery. This time, he’s running a fighter, hoping that a character with a better AC and more HP will last longer. The ACKS Player’s Companion has a bunch of Templates, which are premade collections of proficiencies and equipment that represent common archetypes for each class. My son chose the “Legionary” template. After a quick discussion, we decided that his new character, Markus Petillius Nepos, retired as a Decanus in the Imperial Legion. He’d come to Muntburg, hoping to turn his small severance into a larger fortune by working as a mercenary adventurer.
Markus overheard Zazik at the Caravan Merchants’ Shop (#7 on the Muntburg map), attempting to sell some of the treasures he’d found in Dwimmermount. Markus volunteered to lend his spear and shield to Zazik’s future explorations in exchange for an even share of treasure (and he made him promise to buy him a horse, for some reason) and the two quickly struck a deal. Here’s the quick write-up for the new character:

Markus Petillius Nepos
While the nations of the world have fallen far from the greatness of the Thulian Empire, tradition still lives on in the city-state of Tier, and nowhere is it stronger than the Tieren legion. From their rank structure, to their ceremonies and battle tactics, the legion are the successors of the armies who once defeated the Red Elves of Areon.
You served in the Legion for nearly ten years, beginning when you were a boy of only 16. You rose to the rank of Decanus and commanded a squad of 10 men. Alas, you served during a long period of peace and longed to put your training to use against a real enemy. You resigned your position, collecting enough back pay to cover the price of passage east. You did mercenary work here and there, following rumor from town to town, until you at last arrived at the fortified town of Muntburg, in the shadow of the ancient stronghold known as Dwimmermount.

Session Recap
The beginning of session 2 was very much like session 1. After selling a few small treasures, including the mithral cobra necklace Killian had been wearing (Zazik has no idea how significant this item is…so it’s probably going to come up again) and with fiscal help from Markus, Zazik was able to afford the 50 gp retainer that the NPC wizard Climent wanted last session. Next, the PCs went back to the Flask and Scroll Tavern to hire a few more henchmen. (Recall that Gahret, the big farmer who accompanied them last time, shattered his knee after nearly being eaten by a green slime, and was no longer interested in heading into dangerous locations for money.) 

A few gold pieces spread around led the PCs to another prospective hireling, a simple-minded merchant’s son named Andre, who seemed motivated by boredom more than anything else. They had to sweeten their original offer, but Andre eventually agreed to come along to Dwimmermount. This new hireling, along with Climent the Arcanist, the increasingly loyal Bael (still desperate to pay off his gambling debt), and the two PCs, made a party of 5.

(This first part of the session was kind of slower than I would have liked. Last time, I rolled up potential NPC hirelings in advance. I don’t always like the organization of ACKS or Dwimmermount. I can’t specifically say why, as things SEEM to be grouped in a logical fashion, but I often find myself flipping through the books longer than I’d like. Sometimes, I just don't grasp what ACKS is trying to tell me, particularly when it comes to the economics rules. It's probably me, I admit, and hopefully it will decrease as I get more familiar with the rules and adventure)

The party made their way back into familiar territory, climbing the massive staircase and passing the strange red doors leading into Dwimmermount. The first room was the chamber of statues, where nine marble statues, their heads cut off and replaced by that of an intense-looking bearded human, stood against the north and south walls. When they exited the dungeon last time, Zazik carefully placed one of the demonic masks (the one that got Killian killed) on the floor here as a kind of marker. He noticed right away that the mask was no longer in its original location, but had been knocked against the far wall. What he (and the others) failed to notice was that the number of statues had increased by three since their last visit. The extra “statues” now began to move, emerging into the shadowy torchlight with menace in their red, pig-like eyes.

“Orcs!” Zazik shouted, but the moment of surprise gave the chaotic humanoids time to surround the party. Markus was the first of the PCs to react. Putting his military training to work, the former legionary placed himself between the party and its enemies and threw his shield up defiantly. The orcs pressed, but they simply could not touch Markus (banded mail, a good Dex, plus weapon-and-shield fighting style gives him an AC of 8). As Markus skewered one of the orcs with his spear, even Zazik got into the melee, knocking the second orc senseless with his quarterstaff. The final orc decided that discretion was the order of the day and tried to retreat, but Markus killed the humanoid as it made for the door.

While the enemy was easily defeated, the PCs didn’t feel like pressing the fight against more orcs, so they decided to avoid the north door where they’d encountered the monsters before. Instead, they made their way back to the mask room. Here, Zazik spent a bit of time trying to determine if he could remove one of the remaining metal masks from the wall without triggering the gas trap that had killed the thief Killian. He eventually decided that it was too risky and the party headed north, seeking unexplored rooms. The next chamber they found looked as though it had once been heavily decorated with wall hangings of some sort (Zazik theorized trophies or plaques) but was now entirely bare of furnishings. 

A dead body was lying in the center of the floor, face down. Upon further examination, it appeared to be a slain dwarf. Curiously, although his mail armor and ax were intact, his body had turned entirely to stone. Zazik seemed to recall something about dwarves turning to stone when they die (he has the Loremaster proficiency), so the party made note of the dwarf’s location but otherwise left it alone. (Random note, upon my re-read of this section, I discovered that there were supposed to be two dead dwarves here. Not sure why I turned it into only one during play?)

Opening the next door revealed a large room filled with smashed furniture and a deep, oddly colored carpet. Most of the “carpet” turned out to be some kind of mold, which the PCs agreed was probably dangerous. After a short argument about what to do next, the party decided to backtrack and try a different route.

Just north of the empty trophy room, the hall went east before ending at a closed door. Beyond was a small chapel or shrine featuring six marble pillars and a stone altar. The group entered the room cautiously, intent on examining the altar, when they heard movement from all around them. Cut into each marble pillar was a man-sized alcove containing a metal sconce, and balanced on each sconce stood a skeleton that shone with a metallic, silver-black gleam in the torchlight. The party had only a moment to draw their weapons before the metal skeletons were upon them.

Once again, Markus proved difficult to hit. He fought three of the skeletons himself, trying to keep them from reaching his companions, while Bael eagerly leaped forward to guard the legionary’s flank. Zazik and Climent, not keen to engage the monsters in melee, pulled back from the fight while Andre guarded their retreat. Markus fought well, but his spear did not seem to do much damage to the monsters’ steely bones, and soon he was overwhelmed by the creatures (it was several rounds of him hitting for half damage and the skeletons missing, until one of them nailed him and took him down to 1 hit point). Bael, despite his bravery, fell to the ground as a metal skeleton dug its claws into his shoulder. Zazik called for retreat and soon he, Climent, Andre, and Markus were back out in the hallway, the door shut behind them. Poor Bael was left, presumably dead, in the skeletons’ lair.

Of the four remaining adventurers, only Zazik was unhurt, and he insisted that the party head back to Muntburg and regroup. (Markus was down to 1 hit point, Climent had 2, and Andre was at, I believe, 3 hp at this point). The group made it all the way to the statue room before Markus’ arguments changed their mind. (Side note- I was giving my son a bit of a hard time here. I try to be an impartial referee, but it’s different when your only two players are a 14-year-old and his 11-year-old brother. The younger one tends to do what the older says, even if he clearly doesn’t want to. In support of Markus’ player, I decided to speak up. Zazik is lawful and hadn’t yet used his spell for the day. I told him that his character felt kind of cowardly and that his conscience was nagging him about leaving Bael for dead. The kids can do as they want, of course, but I feel justified in nudging them every now and then. I did not, however, expect what happened next.)

“Fine,” Zazik said, turning to Markus. “If we go back, we’ll likely die. Since you don’t want to leave Bael, here’s the new plan. We march back to the skeleton room and form a square. I’ll hit one of the monsters with magic missile and then we fight to the death, either ours or theirs. Are you with me?”

Markus said that he was.

The party waited as long as they dared, hoping that the skeletons would return to their niches inside the pillars. When they opened the door, they found that their hopes had borne out. The skeletons were nowhere to be seen and Bael’s body was still lying on the dungeon floor. On Zazik’s word, the characters rushed back into the center of the room and prepared to fight the skeletons. Within seconds, the creatures were back on them, fighting with unholy fury. Zazik cast his magic missile to little effect (2 damage), while Markus again tried to interpose himself between the enemy and his companions. Andre the torch bearer, despite his lack of training, seemed to be doing a pretty effective job at smashing and denting the metal skeletons with his club. Thinking quickly, Zazik ordered the hireling to toss his weapon to the legionary. As Andre turned, a skeleton’s claw found his throat and dropped him to the ground. 

Markus finally managed to kill one of the skeletons he was battling and, making a fighting withdrawal from the other, snatched the club from the ground near Andre’s fallen body.

Markus leaped back at his enemy, forcing it backward with his shield while peppering its head with his club. The new weapon proved effective and the metal skeleton crumbled to his feet in a clinking pile of bones. Letting his momentum carry him, Markus shifted his weight and attacked another skeleton, shattering its ribcage and causing it to fall, lurching to the ground (cleave!). Only one skeleton remained now. The legionary turned to face it, but the creature was too quick. It maneuvered past his shield and halfway behind him, lashing out suddenly with its claws. Markus tried to dodge the blow, but took the hit solidly in his ribs, the metal claws piercing through his banded plate armor and drawing blood (remember, he only had 1 hp this whole fight). Overcome with shock, Markus fell haphazardly, unconscious and bleeding.

All that remained of the party were the two wizards. The lone skeleton bore down on them menacingly. Zazik was the first to attack, trying to stay out of the skeleton’s reach while he thrust with his staff like a spear. The skeleton easily dodged the wizard’s attack, but its own counter swipe missed widely. Climent moved in from the skeleton’s flank, but his dagger clanged off the monster’s shoulder ineffectively when he tried to stab it. Desperate, Zazik attacked again, and this time luck was with the wizard. He dealt the skeleton a solid blow to the back of the neck. The stout quarterstaff smashed several of the monster’s exposed bones, causing its head to roll almost completely off its shoulders. The skeleton tried to turn and attack again, but whatever force powered its unnatural life was quickly waning. It took two more shuddering steps and then fell dead.

With their enemies defeated, the two remaining heroes turned to the bodies of their fallen companions. All three were still alive, including the hireling Bael, who was critically wounded but still clinging to life. (A very lucky roll on the Mortal Wounds chart kept Bael alive. His luck continued when I rolled for morale and came up with a 12. He’s now even more devoted to the party than ever. Everyone was very worse for wear, however, and would require weeks of rest to recover from their injuries. If you’re curious about the permanent wounds, Bael suffered a wound to his lower back that will prevent him from making a forced march and Andre suffered only superficial scarring. Markus, on the other hand, took damage to his lungs when part of his armor caved in and broke several ribs. His CON went from 15 to 10, he cannot force march, and he must rest an extra turn every 6 while adventuring.)

While Climent watched over the wounded, Zazik decided to search the altar, hoping there might be healing there. He found no treasure, but scratch marks on the floor caught his attention. He pulled against the altar, discovering a hidden pivot point, and the altar swung out to reveal a secret chamber. Within, Zazik found three bags of treasure that someone had stashed there. He sifted through it, finding silver, gold, jewels, and a small brooch in the shape of a scarab beetle. As Zazik held the brooch in his hand and examined it further, the scarab sprang to life and ran up his arm. Before the beetle could do him harm, however, Zazik was able to snatch it and toss it at the wall. It clattered to the floor and scurried off into the shadows. (The death scarab does not appear in the ACKS rules, but I found it in Labyrinth Lord. The rules imply that a character who handles the item dies within a round, so I decided to grant the wizard a save against death. He rolled an 18 and made his save. He then tried to toss the beetle at the wall but rolled a 1, so it survived…)

Treasure in hand, the party limped back to Muntburg to rest and recuperate for their next expedition.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Wednesday Dwimmermount: A Few Thoughts on Running the Game (Session 1)


A long time ago, I began to cobble together some GM aids that put all of the pertinent rules of ACKS into a 7 or so page document. Don’t get me wrong, ACKS uses OD&D as its base and is hardly a complicated game. The crunchy bits it introduces to that rules set are all things that I enjoy, such as clear mechanics for hiring henchmen and mercenaries. However, the book’s organization is a wee bit scattered, and I found myself flipping around more than I would have liked. Some of that will go away with experience, of course, but I’m now very motivated to finish said GM aid.

As a further thought on organization, Dwimmermount has a few warts. Some of the important general information is set aside in its own chapter (doors, wandering monsters, etc.), which is very good for finding what you need during GM prep, but not so good when you’re trying to find something in the heat of the moment. For example, Zazik’s coughing fit was supposed to call for an encounter throw each round that it lasted to see if it attracted a wandering monster. This occurs on page 119, and I was able easily find the wandering monster chart at the beginning of the chapter describing the current level (a very logical place). I It took me a bit of searching, however, to find the chance that an actual random encounter occurs (6+ on a d6, way back on page 87). To be fair, that probability never changes (unless otherwise noted in the adventure) and is pretty clearly delineated in the Overview chapter, but it did slow me down during gameplay. I think it would be simple to just put something like (1d6, 6+) at the top of every wanderin monsters chart. It wouldn’t take up too much space and it would save a knuckle-headed DM like myself a bit of time.

Those are minor complaints, of course. Lots of things about the organization of Dwimmermount are very good. The authors clearly put a lot of thought into making the book useable to a GM right there at the table, with sidebars about James’ original campaign, page references for new monsters, info about factions in the dungeon, and other good bits. Once I get more familiar with the dungeon, I’ll be able to prep more effectively and then lean on the tools that are there to make things smoother during actual play.

On Grognardia, James mentioned that he was really thrilled that the party was mapping their way. I tried to encourage this myself, but as I’m playing with a teenager and a pre-teen, mapping slowed things down quite a bit. I’d like to find another solution, but I’m not 100% sure how to proceed. I don’t just want to eliminate the map-making, as I think that the process is a pretty important part of the old-school gaming experience, but I don’t want it to create boredom at the table, either. Perhaps things will just get better with practice? I noticed a lot of pictures from James’ original campaign using dungeon tiles, but I’m in no position to drop a bunch of money on dwarven forge.

This week, I’m going to work on creating my play aids, to include the above-mentioned GM documents, plus some NPC tracking sheets so I can pre-generate a few more local hirelings. This campaign, with only two regular players, is obviously going to need plenty of NPC support.

Wednesday Dwimmermount: Session 1



It all began in a tavern, because I love that cliché, I really do.

To be more specific, it all began in the “Flask and Scroll Tavern” inside the walled city of Muntburg. One Zazik [not his real name, but mages who study at the Tower of the Silver Pentacle always take on properly acroamatic names upon graduation] was discussing a business proposition with a slightly-built thief named Killian Goodpipe [who insisted that everyone call him “the cave snake” for reasons known only to himself]. Besides the two PCs, the bar was populated with a small crowd of late-afternoon drinkers; farmers, lumberjacks, and other lower-class types.

A roll of the dice also indicated the presence of a named NPC, an arcanist named Climent, who was sipping wine and eavesdropping on aforementioned PCs. [The boys decided that their characters knew each other from past business dealings. Killian was in the business of acquiring illicit relics, and Zazik is the type of guy who thinks history is far more important that gold]. As they were speaking fairly loudly in character to one another, I decided that Climent wouldn’t have any trouble discerning that they were planning a trip to Dwimmermount. At the first lull in their conversation, he made his way to their table and introduced himself.

“I beg your pardon, my friends, but I couldn’t help but hear you talk of Dwimmermount. That strange place has been a very common topic of conversation of late. If the rumors are true, what once was locked and sealed has now been opened. Just last week, a group of heroes calling themselves Typhon’s Fists made their way through Dwimmermount’s front doors. They returned richer, but fewer in number for their efforts.”

Climent offered his services to the party, as they were obviously planning their own trip to the mountain fortress. They could not afford the 50gp retainer that he insisted he receive up front, however, so they had to decline his offer. Climent seemed amiable to working with the pair in the future and told them to look for him at the Green Dragon Inn.

While they couldn’t afford Climent, the PCs knew that they needed a larger party if they were going to explore Dwimmermount [with a bit of prodding from me, of course, impartial referee that I am]. Killian jumped up on a stool and addressed the entire bar, offering the promise of gold and fame in exchange for a few days of work. Zazik, meanwhile, did his best to qualify some of the thief's bolder promises, downplaying the danger to their prospective hirelings. Three of the patrons showed some interest and, after some haggling [and Hireling Reaction Rolls], the PCs managed to secure the services of two of them. Thus, the party was joined by Bael, a gambler who desperately needed gold to pay off a mounting debt, and Garhet, a farmer looking to feed his family after two seasons of failed crops. Not exactly the trained warriors they were hoping for, but these two 0-level humans had more HP then either PC. Bael was particularly eager to join the group, especially when Zazik offered extra gold up front. [I rolled a 12 on the hiring reaction chart, giving Bael a +1 morale. The guy really needs to pay off those gambling debts, it seems.]

By the time they equipped their two new henchmen with a set of hide armor [the only set available in the Class V Market of Muntburg at the time], a couple of clubs, and a dagger, Zazik’s purse was feeling pretty empty. He squeezed out a couple more coins for a private room at the Green Dragon Inn and prepared for a journey to Dwimmermount in the morning.

* * *

The old trade route that led to Dwimmermount seemed like the perfect place for bandits or other, more dangerous things to prowl, but the party made it to the foot of the mountain without incident. They debated whether or not they should search for the back entrance that Killian’s former mentor had talked about, but ultimately decided that hiking around the perimeter of a mountain would be too much trouble without knowing specifically what they were searching for. Instead, they began the climb up the long stairway that led to what Climent the Arcanist had called “the Red Doors.” Here and there, the group paused to search some of the crumbling fortifications that guarded the various switchbacks along their ascent, but found nothing more interesting than a few curious runes. Zazik took note of a few specific runes, discovered on an archway carved into the mountain’s face, which he recognized as the symbols of the planets Kythirea, Aereon, and Ioun.

The strange, red metal doors at the top of the stairs opened easily enough. The rumors, it seemed, were true; Dwimmermount was no longer barred. Torches in hand, the party descended into the ancient fortress for the first time. In the beginning, they poked around in mostly empty rooms, progressing slowly as Killian carefully mapped their surroundings. They found a room of statues whose heads had been replaced by new heads and spent some time there rotating the marble heads in hopes of discovering a secret door [but found nothing of note].

Next, they wandered into a room where a group of 7, pig-faced humanoids [orcs, they presumed] were making camp. When the humanoids rose in menacing fashion, Zazik attempted to parley with them. Luckily for the heroes, the biggest of the creatures seemed to speak Common [I gave it a 2-in-6 chance] and was willing to accept some of the cured meats he was carrying as a bribe [Zazik had insisted on buying the highest quality iron rations he could find]. The monsters, now assured that the party feared them, waved their axes in great, menacing gestures as the party made their escape.

After avoiding a potentially deadly fight, the party was eager to find some treasure. They discovered a room filled with old crates of food and other perishables that had long since turned to dust. Poking through the old crates and barrels stirred up a big cloud of dust that sent Zazik into a furious coughing fit. All the noise apparently attracted a creature, a green slime [wandering monster roll], that dropped from the ceiling right onto Gahret’s head as the party exited the storeroom. Thinking quickly, Zazik grabbed Bael’s torch and attempted to burn the slime away before it could eat the henchmen [and the hide armor that he had paid for]. The tactic worked, but poor Gahret was burned in the process and passed out from the pain [he was dropped to exactly 0 hit points]. Although Gahret recovered, he had fallen hard onto the stone floor and smashed his knee [a roll on the Mortal Wounds chart in ACKS]. The henchmen decided then and there that he was done with dungeon exploring [hireling moral roll, failed], but he was in no shape to make the journey home alone, so he reluctantly committed to staying with the party until they left Dwimmermount, limping along using Killian’s 10-foot-pole as an improvised walking stick.

Finally, the PCs discovered a room that seemed to hold some kind of potential treasure. There were a number of metal masks, shaped like fearsome demon-faces, mounted on the wall of a large chamber. One of the masks was lying on the floor next to the skeletal remains of a long-dead explorer. For good measure, Zazik smashed the skeleton’s skull with his quarterstaff while Kilian examined the mask next to the remains. Deciding that the items were harmless, Killian volunteered to take one of the additional masks off the wall. [Zazik’s player, to his credit, almost spotted the trap here. He asked a few questions about the condition of the remains, trying to determine how the man had died. Just as Killian was pulling a mask off a wall, I could see the wheels turning as he put two and two together, but he was too slow to act]. Killian pulled the mask from the wall and was blasted full in the face by a cloud of green gas. Gasping, Killian grabbed at his throat and fell to the ground, dead [he received a Saving Throw, but rolled a 2].

With the death of the thief, the party decided that it was time to retreat. They gathered up Killian’s body and headed back to town, hoping to rebuild their number and return to Dwimmermount as soon as possible.

Next: Thoughts on Running the Game