Monday, September 27, 2010

Morrowind Monsters: The Kwama

I'm beginning a series of monster conversions from The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind – one of my all-time favourite CRPGs – to Labyrinth Lord. One of the game's strengths is it's strange selection of creatures, so I think they're well worth spreading around. I've taken some liberties: the stats are converted by "feel" and gameplay experience instead of a strict formula, and I've added some things that weren't in the game to flesh them out.

Images are from the Unofficial Elder Scrolls Pages.


Kwama are a species that make colonies in cave networks. They hatch from eggs laid by their queen. These eggs are found in clutches throughout the colony, and are edible and nutritious to humanoids, with a very strong flavour and odd texture. Some subspecies of the kwama (foragers and warriors) are hostile and aggressive to any beings not of their colony, but a peculiar trait is that they identify this purely by scent. Humanoids who spend about a week in an outer part of the colony (near to the non-hostile kwama) take on the scent, and then the whole colony treats them as one of their own kind, allowing them to move around the colony safely.

There are very different subspecies of kwama:

Scribs are small (up to two feet long) hard-shelled kwama larva, often found scuttling around within the colony or nearby on the surface. They are not hostile unless provoked.
No. Enc: 1d3 (1d10)
Alignment: Neutral
Movement: 90' (30')
Armour Class: 5
Hit Dice: ½ (1d4 HP)
Attacks: 1 (bite)
Damage: 1d2 + paralysis
Save: F1
Morale: 6
Hoard Class: None
XP: 6
Special: Scribs have a poison bite that causes paralysis for 1d3 rounds unless a saving throw is made to resist. Only the first successful bite in any combat has poison.

Kwama Forager
These wormlike foragers hunt for the colony. They prefer small prey but are unintelligent enough to attack humanoids despite being much smaller (similar size to scribs).
No. Enc: 1d3 (1d8)
Alignment: Neutral
Movement: 120' (40')
Armour Class: 7
Hit Dice: 1
Attacks: 1 (pouncing bite)
Damage: 1d4
Save: F1
Morale: 10
Hoard Class: None
XP: 10

Kwama Worker
Workers are passive four-legged drones that toil away within the colony (they are rarely seen outside). They are not aggressive, but can be dangerous if provoked.
No. Enc: 1d2 (1d10)
Alignment: Neutral
Movement: 90' (30')
Armour Class: 6
Hit Dice: 2
Attacks: 1 (bite)
Damage: 1d6
Save: F2
Morale: 10
Hoard Class: None
XP: 20

Kwama Warrior
Looking much like upright workers, these are never found outside the colony, and attack fearlessly as soon as they detect a foreign being. Their sole role is defence of the colony and the queen.
No. Enc: 0 (1d6)
Alignment: Neutral
Movement: 120' (40')
Armour Class: 4
Hit Dice: 3
Attacks: 3 (bite, claw, claw)
Damage: 1d8, 1d6, 1d6
Save: F3
Morale: 12
Hoard Class: None
XP: 65
Special: Kwama warriors have a magical power to generate an electrical strike. This has 30' range and does 3d6 damage (save for half) to a single target. It is usable once per turn.

Kwama Queen
The largest of kwama, the queen has a large egg sac at the rear. Kwama queens are strong, but cannot move so they are dependent on the warriors for their protection.
No. Enc: 0 (1)
Alignment: Neutral
Movement: None
Armour Class: 4
Hit Dice: 6
Attacks: 1 (bite)
Damage: 4d6
Save: F6
Morale: 12
Hoard Class: XII
XP: Nil (the queen's immobility usually makes her no challenge, but if this isn't the case, her XP value is 320).

Special Notes: In Morrowind, the locals operate “egg mines”, in which workers lurk in the fringes of the colony to take their scent, then help the kwama out so that the queen's egg production increases. These eggs become a local staple, and some can be exported.
In other campaign settings, an enterprising person might have worked out how to “egg mine” a kwama colony, and the eggs could become a highly prized rare delicacy in the nearest big city. An adventure could be based on finding (or hiding) the secret of the eggs' origin. For a short adventure, perhaps a clever fugitive is hiding in a kwama lair, and adventurers who want to claim the price on his head have to also deal with the kwama who think he is one of the colony and fight in his defence.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Sorry Gary...

I've only just discovered from reading a post by Frank Mentzer on the Dragonsfoot forums that I've been pronouncing Gary Gygax's name wrong all these years. I've always pronouned it like GUY-JACKS. Turns out it's actually GUY-GACKS (both G's are hard like in "Granite"). While I'm pleased to know at last, I'll now have to try to retrain myself to say it differently after a quarter of a century's habit of saying it wrongly.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Downtime in High-Level Classic D&D

One of the things I really like about Classic D&D – especially the Frank Mentzter BECMI/RC version – is the treatment of the post-Name Level game. That is, how the emphasis changes, and the way that's encouraged by the game mechanics. This is most evident in the character options available in "downtime" between traditional adventures.

At Name Level, Magic-Users get to conduct magical research. This is a much bigger deal than it might at first appear. One reason for this is the content of the research: M-Us can craft magical items. Crafting magical items is a very powerful tool, as most veterans of 3.x D&D are well aware – if only because the ability to easily make scrolls of uncommonly used spells and wands of commonly used spells makes the M-Us spells-per-day limitation much less limiting. What's significant about crafting magic items in Basic is that, unlike in 3.x, there is no prerequisite in feats (or anything else) to craft, nor is there any experience point cost; just money and time (and M-Us of this level are bound to have a good amount of money). On the other hand, there is no exhaustive shopping-list of items and costs, which puts things more in the DM's hands to decide what can be made, what can't be made, and what requires a quest for an exotic component, which helps keep it all under control. Unlike AD&D, however, the tone isn't all about discouraging crafting magical items in favour of gaining magical items solely as loot. So the magical research rules in Basic are powerful, but still give DMs the last word in what's possible.

Other classes have options too. The Expert Set allows PCs to build strongholds, claim lands and raise private armies, but the Companion Set opens things up much wider by adding dominions and their management. This is a sophisticated minigame that can play out like an empire-building computer or board game, but it feeds into the core D&D adventuring game too. In a beautifully simple extension of the XP-for-gold reward system for adventuring, dominion income is also worth experience.

Fighters are the quintessential land-owning high-level characters. They gain automatic followers if they build a keep, plus are likely to be offered land in a feudal arrangement. Should they choose this option, the additional XP that they gain from this between adventures contributes to their level gain, which goes a long way to topping up their THAC0 and impressive higher-level saving throws to keep them strong and viable when the Magic-Users are coming into their own. In fact, the usefulness of domain management to the Fighter is such that in a way, the special abilities of the well known wandering-Fighter options of BECMI (Paladin, Knight, or Avenger) are compensation for giving that up.

Clerics are more of a middle ground. They probably get financial aid from their religious hierarchy in building a stronghold and free followers as well, so they are also well suited to the domain-management minigame. On the other hand, they can take advantage from magical research (although not to the same degree as Magic-Users), so they don't get a subclass option comparable to the landless Fighters.* It makes for an interesting choice – be landless and spend downtime making items to get more "juice" during adventures (especially for healing), or run a dominion for the XP to go faster through the upper levels and get to the Righteous Firepower high-level Cleric spells.

Thieves are a bit of an odd one out (as they often tend to be in BECMI). They build hideouts instead of strongholds and get apprentice Thieves instead of soldiers, with a place in the Thieves Guild hierarchy. Actually running organised crime is left to the DM, which feels weak compared to the level of detail given to dominion management. Wandering Thieves get a tantalising hook in the form of a chance of a treasure map or similar per game week, but nothing more systematic. Crime really doesn't pay in BECMI, which is unfortunate for the Thieves. Should the DM flesh things out for the guild thieves, though, there's lots of potential for gangster goings-on with lashings of experience points for ill-gotten gold.

Even Magic-Users can build strongholds (a tower in their case), but it's a more casual affair; they get a few apprentices, but don't really run dominions. One fun quirk is that they can build open dungeons beneath their tower, which draw monsters to lair there. By and large, though, M-Us have more important things to do than manage people.

Demihumans have special rules for strongholds, which – like the racial classes themselves – helps to emphasise that they're not just like humans. For instance, elves build strongholds that blend into the forest, and gain the friendship and aid of the woodland animals. They don't get any special subclasses for forfeiting a stronghold, which makes sense considering they're at or near their level cap anyway.

These options help to change the texture of the game beyond Name Level, and in a gradually increasing way. At higher and higher levels, magical researchers get more and more resources for ever greater projects, while the dominion rulers' territories grow to grander scales with even greater experience rewards. So – while it's never actually forced – incentives are there to spend increasing amounts of in-character time doing non-adventuring things. This gives higher-level gaming a very different style to lower-level gaming (not just more of the same with bigger numbers), and also emphasises the unique style of each of the character classes.

* Neutral Clerics can become Druids, but I think that the trade-off of armour versus the extra spell list is an evenly matched one, so it doesn't belong to the same category as the Fighter options.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Navigating the Labyrinth

So far, we're two adventures into the Labyrinth Lord campaign. The first was Goodman Games' Dungeon Crawl Classics #0: Legends Are Made, Not Born, and the second was The Fountain of Health from Dungeon issue #39. Running an old-school D&D game has been different in a few ways from the games I'm used to.

Simplicity: I mentioned in a previous post that I really appreciate the simplicity of LL. The easy prep for me is more than just a matter of investing less of my time; every time I ran a d20 game the drudge work involved was demoralising. That meant that I'd put off the prep work to the last minute, and it would be rushed and unfinished, which didn't work as well and put me in a negative mood for the game. I actually abandoned the last two d20 campaigns I ran (Lone Wolf and Monte Cook's World of Darkness) because they were actually souring me on GMing. LL has been really liberating.

The simplicity in character options is something I had reservations about, because the group is used to games where you get to "build" your character with certain strengths. I think some of the group still aren't sold on LL's build-free way of handling characters (where one Fighter is much like another game-mechanically), but they seem to be giving it a fair shot. Hopefully the old-school ethos that characters are defined by what they do in the game and not by their powers will catch on as the campaign develops.

THAC0 & AC: Some of the group are still tripping over the THAC0 and to-hit rolls with lower-is-better AC. I even got a little confused once or twice myself. We're getting used to it again though, which isn't surprising considering the group's collective long experience with AD&D 2e.

The controversial THAC0 Defence house rule has mostly worked fine, but there was one weird moment in the first adventure where a PC fought an enemy one-on-one, which worked out as the player rolling the same d20 himself back and forward. Maybe THAC0 Defence needs a duelling exception to stop that happening, where single combat reverts to the standard system where the DM rolls attacks.

Lethality: We had one PC death in the first adventure. The second adventure was going well up till the very end, when a single bad decision got half the party killed. Not an ideal ending, but I think the group would have to admit that it was player error, and there didn't seem to be any bad feelings over it. I think the fact that it wasn't just a single PC loss this time made it seem less personal.

An unexpected benefit of the lethality comes from the fact that the players have been taking hirelings along with them to improve their odds. Having NPCs travelling with the group has opened up a little more roleplay. I think it's also helped the players feel less discouraged about the low power levels of their characters (compared to later editions), when they can see that the NPC adventurers don't do any better.

Sandboxing: I'm introducing sandboxing in small steps, because the group (me included) is used to linear sequences of adventures. So the first adventure was a straightforward "this is your mission, go and do it" thing to ease into the new game. After that, I gave the group several different adventure hooks to choose from. That drew comments about the videogamey feel, and the players approached it exactly like in a Bioware RPG; they also had a brief bit of analysis paralysis from those choices, but that didn't last long. When the PCs get more capable (round about when they graduate from the "Basic" into the "Expert" level range) I'll try opening things up further. When they start to outgrow the small town they're based in, I'll sound them out for where they want to go next, and build from there.

Experience for gold: I was surprised at how fiddly this turned out in actual play. I'm used to giving out mission-based XP, which is a simple case of picking a number to award, but gold-plus-monster XP needs a fair bit of calculation, at a point in the session where I'm usually finished GMing. The other thing that caught me off guard about it was that it makes the amount of treasure in the adventure very important for the experience award as well. In particular, the first adventure I ran was very cash-poor (which I hadn't thought to consider in advance) so I ended up multiplying the XP ad hoc, and even then it wasn't a whole lot when split between the PCs and the hirelings.

Description Over Dice: One of the biggest changes in this campaign is having the players' interaction with their environment be mostly based on the exact descriptions of their actions, instead of having skills like Perception or Search. This bit of the game style is still a work in progress for all of us to adjust to. I still instinctively feel like calling for dice rolls when it's not necessary, and I need to prompt the players occasionally to be specific about their actions. It's only to be expected that this will take time, considering how long we've been playing regular-style games but we've only had two adventures with LL.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Weapon Forms

Fun fact: I made more posts in August than I did in the whole of 2009. Now that I'm actually running Labyrinth Lord, I seem to have more to post about than when it was all theoretical. I'm going to try to keep the momentum going and post weekly (or better) on average.

Anyway, this time I'm going to be lazy and repost a house-rule system I wrote and posted to the LL forums last year. The idea behind them is similar in concept to the lightsaber forms from Star Wars lore, but the execution is very different from the d20 Star Wars games. I've left it open whether to these should be high-level only abilities (to give fighters in particular something to look forward to past name level), or potentially available at low levels with special training (so that characters can gain unique signature styles early on).

Weapon Form Specialisations

Note that elements of these forms are in common use by all competent weapon-users; these game mechanical effects represent specialisation in a form, and active use of this. Regardless of having one or more specialisations, a character may always choose to fight unspecialised. In fact, this is the default assumption unless the player agrees with the GM that he uses a form as a matter of course.

Characters may switch between any known form specialisations during combat, but only at the beginning of his turn (not between multiple attacks in the same round). Unless stated otherwise, all forms are usable only with melee weapons.

Headsman Form
Description: This form relies on the user forcing his opponent off balance for a moment to take the opportunity to draw his weapon arm(s) all the way back to wind up for a heavy, powerful attack. This is an aggressive form, very dangerous to use.
Favoured By: Executioners, assassins, berserkers.
Benefit: If the attack hits, damage is doubled (roll damage once and multiply by 2).
Drawback:If the target of the attack is not killed (i.e. survives the damage or the attack misses), he gets an immediate free counterattack. If the attacker has multiple attacks in a single round, a counterattack, if applicable, applies to each one at a time.

Waterdhavian Classical Form
Description: This is an elegant, balanced form, developed for duelling, teaching its wielders to anticipate their opponents' attacks.
Favoured By: Knights, nobles, duellists.
Benefit: The attacker may give up his attack (if he has multiple attacks, he may give up one or more) to parry an enemy attack later in the round, i.e. any time before his next turn. He must declare the intent to parry before the attack against him is rolled (he cannot wait to see which attacks would miss anyway). Success is determined by the attacker and defender both rolling attacks; if the parrying character “hits” a lower AC, he parries the attack harmlessly. Even if the parry fails, the attacker must still hit the defender's AC to successfully hit.
Drawback: The only drawback is that the form requires forfeiture of attacks for a limited advantage.

Windmill Form
Description: This form makes use of rapid attacks, often alternating high and low thrusts or left and right slashes, the attacker sometimes spinning round to attack from another angle. This often enables the attacker to overpower the target's defences, but only the most skilled can execute this successfully.
Favoured By: Avengers, expert swordsmen, elves.
Benefit: The attacker makes twice as many attacks.
Drawback: The attacker must compare each attack roll he makes to his base THAC0 (the number needed to hit AC 0, not counting any bonuses for this purpose, per the table in LL p.60 – a player with this form should keep this number ready and up-to-date). If he rolls less than this, his opponent breaks the sequence of his attack combination or he goes off-balance, and he loses all subsequent attacks this round. It is still possible for this low attack roll to hit, if hit hits the AC anyway.

Siege Form
Description: This form focuses on solid stances and the use of upper-body movement, in order to apply as much force as possible to weapon strikes. It looks simple but can be deceptively skillful, though its fixed nature limits mobility.
Favoured By: Soldiers, dwarves, orc warlords.
Benefit: The attacker can re-roll any damage roll coming up minimum (i.e. a natural 1 in most cases). If it re-rolls as minimum again, re-roll again (repeat as necessary to get a non-minimum result).
Drawback: The user may not move in the same round as making an attack.

Physician Form
Description: This form is based on taking opportunities to use a knowledge of anatomy to hit an enemy to hurt them most.
Favoured By: Clerics, necromancers, dirty tricksters.
Benefit: On an attack roll of natural 20, the enemy must make a saving throw versus Poison/Death or be stunned. If the attacker isn't using a blunt weapon, the target gets a +4 to the saving throw; if the target isn't humanoid, he gains a +4 bonus (cumulative with the other +4 if applicable). Undead, golems, and similar enemies are immune. If the target is stunned, he loses his actions for the next round; he isn't unconscious or helpless, however.
Drawback: The natural 20 roll isn't a critical hit, and so doesn't automatically do maximum damage.

Skirmish Form
Description: Many warriors prefer to hit-and-run rather than stand and trade blows; they may be lightly armoured, outnumbered, or simply favour mobility. Those who specialise in this form can become fearsome in battle, controlling the battlefield and denying safety to their enemies.
Favoured By: Halflings, werewolves, outlaws.
Benefit: The attacker may make his normal encounter movement in a round and attack with either a melee or missile weapon, then make a second encounter move immediately after his attack (normally encounter movement is allowed only once in a round in addition to an attack, LL p.52-53).
Drawback: Attacking on the run is very difficult. When attacking, the user of this form must roll two dice for the attack roll, and take whichever is lower.