Wednesday 15 December 2010

Castles & Crusades - Conan Style!

I was asked recently, would it be possible to run a Conan (as in set in Hyboria) style game using the Castles & Crusades rules, rather than the "mish mash" that Mongoose produced.

Although I actually quite like the 2nd Edition of the Conan rules from Mongoose, I really cannot see why not.

The BIGGEST obstacle is the lack of any Healing Magics available to a party, thus rendering all Characters really vulnerable to an untimely end.

In the Conan RPG, they circumvent this with Fate points - but in the SEIGE system I would probably use a "Luck" Attribute in stead, and give it the same 3-18 range (and option to make Primary or not, after all some people are luckier than others) as other C&C Attributes.

Races are another point of contention, as the 3.5 based rules give racial bonuses in the +2/-2 range - whereas in C&C all bonuses are in the +1/-1 range. Its easy enough to correct, dropping +2/-2 to +1/-1 and (should the occur) reducing +1/-1 racial adjustments to zero's across the board. Don't forget there are NO Demi-Humans really running around in the Conan Universe, those "sub-humans" that do exist (like the Black Giants of the Western Seas from Savage Sword of Conan #22) are not really suitable for use as Player Characters.

Classes are (kinda) the easiest to accomodate, so here are some "rough" thoughts.

Quite simply use the C&C Barbarian Class, nice and easy - no changes or messing about needed.

Borderers & Nomads
The quite happily come under the heading of Rangers, they are similar (but not the same) in many respects, I would "tweak" the Ranger class on a character by character basis if variations are required.

Nobles & Knights
I would recommend using the Noble Class from the C&C Freeport Companion. Knights (in the Core Conan Rulebook) come under the heading of "Noble" but luckily in C&C there is a seperate Knight Character Class.

Once again the C&C Freeport Companion has a fantastic Pirate Class, alternatively there are a couple of variant Pirate Classes to be found if you trawl the C&C forums.

There are no Scholar classes for C&C, I shall be attempting a conversion of the Scholar to C&C at some point.

Soldiers & Sell-Swords
Are Fighters, again you can "tweak" the Fighter class on a case by case basis if you want.

The Temptress
I shall be also doing a conversion of the Temptress class at some point, taking inspiration from the old White Dwarf Magazine "Houri" class as well.

Take the C&C Rogue class, rename it "Thief" and you're done!

As I have pointed out, Hit Points and Healing could potentially be a problem. In addition to having either Fate Points or a Luck Stat, there are a couple of other things you can do to make things easier.

First Level Hit Point "Kicker".

At First Level, give your PC's Starting Hit Points equal to -

A Dice Roll (or Maximum) + Con Bonus + Constitution Score. It might seem a lot, but there is a rationale to it.

The People of Hyboria are a tough bunch, much tougher than the average FRP "Joe" - plus it increases their "durability" in an environment with limited Healing.

Better Healing Skills.

Rather than 1D3 Hit Points regained during the use of a characters Healing Skill, give them a Higher Dice Roll - or (which I prefer personally) give them 1D3+ the number the task was beaten by.

E.G. If the difficulty was 17 (the number of Hit Points lost in this case) and the character performing the healing rolled a 12 (after modifiers) the person receiving the aid would be healed 1D3+5 Hit Points of Damage. HOWEVER it would take 2 minutes of "tending" per Hit Point healed, and the injured character would then need to rest for a number of minutes equal to the number of Hit Points healed multiplied by 5 (so 6 points of damage healed would require 30 minutes of rest), if the healed character becomes active during that time, he would only receive half the number of Hit Points restored.

Next - The Scholar

Sunday 12 December 2010

Villains, Demons, & Devils

I've been party to a lot of discussion on Villains for our games of late, whether it be AD&D/D&D ( or my my own case Castles & Crusades) - and their prospective power levels and types.

See, I'm in the camp where sometimes Villains (and even some encounters) should be insurmountable - that the Characters should have the common sense to "run away to fight another day" whereas some DM's believe that ALL encounters should be defeatable (is that even a word LoL) including Major Villains.

But, in my opinion at least - that's not very realistic, now is it.

There are plenty of heroic tales where the main protagonist(s) flee or have to return to complete a quest/defeat some evil (the Hobbits in the Lord of the Rings don't confront the Ring Wraiths for example, not until the have Aragorn with them - and the company flees into mines of Moria to escape the watcher in the water ) - if not at the very least the Hero in question prepares himself in some way to vanquish the evil (as in the legend of the Lambton Worm).

Unfortunately, the modern "trend" is balance over story telling - something I've never found particularly palatable when running (or even playing in) games.

A common thread in my own Games are the "Three Tiers of Villainy" as I like to call them, the different sorts of encounter a Party of Player Characters might encounter.

The Three Tiers of Villainy

Tier One - The most basic villain types, Minions, Monsters, and Morons. Those Low-Level (total number of levels/hit dice generally within two levels of the total Part Level) encounters that form the meat and potatoes of any game. These can be represented by a "spread" - as in 1 monster/minion/npc per party level, or as a "combined" encounter - eg 5 1st level PCs could encounter a 5 hit dice monster.

At the end of the day, even when designed to be a challenge to your players, they should be well-within your party's capability to deal with them.

Tier Two - The Bosses. This is the most challenging "encounter" a DM can put it, tough enough to (at least in theory) perform a total Party Wipe Out (if they are stupid enough to take such an encounter on) when initially encountered, but not unbeatable IN THE LONG RUN. These are the Baddies the PCs return to kill/exact revenge upon. The Long Term Villains that can make a campaign truly memorable. Of course, such "Bosses" CAN be taken on, and on rare occasions the PCs will get lucky (or the NPC unlucky with his saves etc) and defeat such a Tier Two Villain early on, if that's the case - let them gloat etc. Just have him (or her) replaced, and make sure the new Villain has an entourage with them this time!

To sum up, Tier Two Villains should be ALMOST unbeatable - but at the end of the Day they are there to entertain your Players, so don't be surprised when they do (eventually) get killed!

Tier Three - The Gods, Demon Princes, & Arch-Devils. Though such encounters will have attributes/statistics - they aren't in place for the PCs to fight. They are there rather for flavour, and to scare the "bejesus" out of your Players.

Evil Deities turning up to gloat (and tell the Party their plans of course), Demon Princes there to "slap them around" a bit, before you let them "find" a powerful magic item or two. Or an Arch-Devil, there to tempt them into "making a deal" (if you get me) - Tier Three encounters are there for one reason, and one reason only - the scare the crap out of your players.

DO NOT put such Villains/Monsters in as an standard encounter, at least some of your Players characters WILL die - and that's a fact.

So, even though I am not a fan of "balance" in the rule set (I find it a little too constraining myself) - I do believe in balance when it comes to telling a tale.

And telling a good story is what its all about for me as a DM.

Monday 6 December 2010

D&D, Lies, and Dungeon Mastery

In Dungeon Magazine 183, there was an article about being a DM "Save My Game"
- which basically went on about (the authors) three tennants for running a successful D&D Game.

The overall topics were "Lie, Cheat, and Steal" - something I vehementy disagree with to be frank

As a relatively successful DM of many MANY years, here are my thoughts on what was written.

LIE, LIE, LIE - "so-called truths of the world are fluid" - Sorry, BOLLOCKS. The Minute your players find out you are lying to them, you lose their trust, you minute you lose their trust, thats when campaigns start to go down hill (and rapidly).

I have a reputation for running difficult, but fair games - I never lie to my players (thats not to say my NPC's don't, but thats for another time) about anything in my worlds or games. HOWEVER I also don't tell them everything about a game mileu, thats for the Characters to find out.

The world should be consisten, and never change - unless politically or because something has happened because of a scenario.

CHEATING - CHEATING, FFS - NEVER DO THAT! How can you be the "master of the game" if you cheat. You are taking away the very soul of sportsmanship and story telling.

A lot of DM's (like the late great Don Turnbull of TSR UK) liked rolling dice behind their screens, if the rolls weren't what they wanted as a DM - they "fudged" around them. Something I simply don't subscribe too personally, I roll ALL my "Public" (Combat/Initiative/Monster Saves) Dice Rolls in front of my Players. I am firm with them too, if a Dice Roll isn't witnessed by myself or the rest of the group - it never happened.

My games have deaths from time to time, but my Players know they aren't deliberate - and in the same way, they know all their rewards and achievements were earned!

STEALING - Now I don't call it stealing, its more a case of borrowing ideas IMHO. Whether its an entire scenario, converted over to your system of choice - or borrowing plot threads from a TV show or Movie - doing such things is more about homage than it is stealing.

Plagiarizing or Paying Tribute to a great idea isn't stealing - thats why its got specific terminology to describe what it is (seriously Dude, learn the English Language) - whilst plagiarism can be considered theft under certain circumstances, when writing a scenario or creating a new non-player character for a game I personally don't think its the case.

"There are no new stories. It all depends on how you handle them" - Jude Deveraux.

Its borrowing, or taking inspiration - not stealing.

To sum up, Honesty is the best policy - in everything - and its especially important to a Dungeon Master who wants to be DM'ing for a long time.

I kinda resent this idea, (well, the whole article to be frank) the writer had a VERY jaded view of being a good Dungeon Master - Gary and Dave will be spinning in their graves over this!

Friday 3 December 2010

Dramatic Structure in Your Dungeon Crawls

There were some interesting thoughts this month over at D&D Insider, a Dungeon Editorial (from Dungeon # 185) about "Dramatic Structure".

Now I've never really thought about this personally, I just sort of "do it" without any bells and whistles or fuss.

You know, theres a beginning, a middle, and an end to every adventure - but it was REALLY interesting seeing it laid out and discussed like that.

Of course an RPG is different to other Mediums, but a lot of elements are the same - Protagonists (PC's & NPC's), Antagonists (NPC's & Monsters), the Setup (Act 1 if it were a Play - in RPG terms the PC's meet an NPC in a Tavern who "hires" or "Quests" them with a task), a steady build of conflic/tension through Confrontation & Encounters (Act 2), and sorts it all out for Better (Comedy/Resolution - funny moments in a game are very important, as is your Players achieving their goals, should they repeatedly fail - you WILL lose some or possibly all, of your group) or Worse (Tragedy/Resolution/Failiure - SOMETIMES your PC's HAVE to fail, for the sake of the plot - so you HAVE a "place" for them to go in your Game World) in the Final Part of a Scenario or Story (Act 3).

I've ALWAYS found Players enjoy "Dungeon Crawls" more than any other type of Scenario, now thats not to say that I DON'T run "non" Dungeon games - I do, its just that when I hear my Players chatting/reminiscing about games - the Dungeon "elements" always seem to stick in their minds. So I like to stick to whats fun, for both my players and myself.

One of the "pitfalls" DM's find when running extensive or repeated Dungeon based Scenarios is blandness, things always seem "the same" with no real variation in plot. Now THATS where following the rules of dramatic structure REALLY come in handy.

ALWAYS (and I mean always too LoL) follow the Dramatic Structure and you really cannot go wrong, by having a fairly "rigid" structure - you actually "free" your imagination up - giving you the ability to insert more "flavour" into your Dungeon based Scenarios.

ACT I - The Setup

Whether you actually run the Setup as part of the Scenario, or its just there as "fluff" for the players so they know why their characters are intering the Dungeon - it should be rich and fully realized. Don't skimp of detail, don't skimp on information. There SHOULDN'T be a Villain in every game, but by the same token don't have endless streams of "lost artifacts" for the PC's to retrieve.

Other options could be - rescue a Kidnap Victim, a Lost Child, Deliver a Message, Bury an NPC's Remains, or even (as I did in one scenario) rescue a lost Cat.

ACT II - The "Meat" of the Story

Keep things fresh, don't be afraid to "roll" with the punches your players throw at you. I remember one game I ran, the Party were storming through my carefully planned Dungeon - Kicking in EVERY wooden door. It was boring for me, so when they moved onto Level II - SUDDENLY all the Doors were stone, and very heavy (there was one moment in a Pit room with a sliding stone door, the Players spent nearly an HOUR trying to get out of that room. Searching for Secret Panels, JUMPING up and down to activate pressure plates etc - it didn't occur to them to check if it slid LoL).

ACT III - The Resolution

Again, keep things fresh and exciting - Don't "force" the ending. If someone Dies (a PC or beloved NPC) roll with it, play up the Pathos - ONLY ON VERY RARE OCCASIONS should you Plan to kill even an NPC. It just pisses of your Players when you do. By the same token, if your "Main Villain" (if you have one) fails to die, or manages to Escape - go with that too, then you have a Plot for later on (Revenge or Track him Down) - and never EVER get pissed off when your Players kill off a Carefully Crafted Major Villain or Monster! Thats what they are there for!!!

So, there you go - just some thoughts that I find useful and might help.