Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Further Underdark Musings - Running a Company Style D&D Campaign

We are alone, a host of nations, but a few dozen men.  It is strange who has come to the fore, men and women that I would not have expected much of when I was a proud bravo of the House of Glass, 3rd in the hierarchy of the divided city.  Foreigners, barbarians, sorcerers, and even non-human fey from the high places.  Our leader is the Lady of Thorns, who claims she was once a younger sword wife of the high king of the Crags, a rude tribe of dirt clad Westerners that not even the most audacious of traders of the House of Glass would bother to sell trinkets to.  The Lady is fierce in battle, and in the first days was a pillar of steel to rally around so she rules.  Beside myself her principle supporters, the hard men who bully or cajole to spread the Lady’s decrees, are equally polygot and strange.  Nine of the Red Thirty, a warrior eunuch of the alabaster tomb, Madigan, once a gang boss of the Grey City and High Place of Light, a death haunted fey sword leaper.  Besides these captains there are others useful in battle or without. Tender the Green Skull, a necromancer nobleman scoured of magic by the adepts and maimed by the inquisitors, but still capable of mouthing a cantrip, the feared but humble Chaplain, Brother Thom of the Distant Light, Gom a Southern blacksmith, and Lazar, a skilled hunter from some nameless fen village. The rest are dispirited and broken men – soldiers, rebels, savages and criminals - men who were tough enough in the camps, and thought themselves above the gullible Paladins of the Light.  Before the vast, cruel shade here, below a mile of black stone, they are as children, begging for guidance, and I pity them, good and bad, for they have only us.

- Inscription on stone plinth at the bottom of White Coulair, believed carved by prisoners
Landsknechte - because this system might work for playing them to.
In the past I have discussed running a “Company Game”, with the Black Company from the books of Glenn Cook as a model. The idea here is to reienforce the idea of party over character, and do so in a way that epands party to include far more than simply a group of 4-10 adventurous wanderers. The players in my (yet unnamed) Underdark game would be members of a forced community of prisoners, volunteers and literal losers in the war against ‘good’, tossed together to struggle as a community or die as individuals going mad in the dark. The dark brings insanity and death, and without light and companionship humans trapped in the Underdark lack the psychological tools to survive for more then a few week, even if they have the luck to find a grove of edible mushroom trees,/a pool of cave fish and remain unnoticed by the numerous hungry predators.

I want the Underdark game to be a meat grinder, with frequent deaths for characters (no death saves I think – just death at zero HP, or worse a really mean mutilation causing table so that you have maimed citizens as a penalty), but I don’t want it to be a complete “killer GM” fiasco. A common complaint in old school games is the arbitrary and everyday nature of character death. Both to remove the sting of easy mortality and to better create an atmosphere of keeping a tribe or community alive in harsh conditions, party generation and characters would be a more collective affair, with different PCs going on different adventures. The pool of Underdark citizens (an characters) would be randomly generated, with basic stats and a both a ‘nickname’ and ‘personality trait’ granting modifications to their statline. Based on Player choice around ten of the 30-50 citizens would get levels and group titles as follows.

A) Leader (1)
– begins at Level 2 – Best combined CHR and STR of citizens, leader is Fighter. If the leader dies a new leader will be promoted from the officers or specialists (If they have a CHR + Lvl of 16 or greater). If leader is killed, maimed or seriously injured there may be defections, rioting and collapse. There will most certainly be mourning and a general confusion. All production or resources will stop and any security resource must save or be lost due to desertion, mutiny or civil commotion. While Leader is in town all training is doubled.

B) Officers (1 per 10 citizens Max 2 per 100 citizens) – begin at Level 1 must be Fighters, Thieves* or Clerics*, picked by players. When Officers are slain new promotions may be made from the rank of specialists. Officers have a great advantage adventuring as each can take as a henchman a single trooper who will receive ½ a share of XP without depleting the XP gained by the party. In town officers may be assigned to resources and will protect and improve the value of that resource as follows. A resource with an officer watching over it will gain a +1 to any save. Furthermore Fighters Improve a security assets by 1 point plus 1/3 the fighter’s level. Clerics improve magical assets by 1 + 1/3 their level and Thieves improve industrial assets by 1 + 1/3 their level. Thus a sixth level fighter assigned to a squad of soldiers will make cause that squad to be treated as if it was 4 security resources instead of 1, and if defeated in battle or suffering from lack of support the squad would gain a +1 to its save vs. disbanding.

*Clerics and Thief Officers must have CHR above 13.

C) Specialists (1 per 10 citizens ) – begin as level 1, can be any class, picked by players. New specialists can be promoted when there are vacancies. Specialists may provide training to troopers/citizens in whatever their specialty is if not adventuring. A non-fighter specialist can train 1 trooper/citizen per specialist level for 100 XP (doubled if Leader is in base town/camp/base) per session. Fighters can train X2 troopers per fighter level for 100 XP each session. Additionally specialists can choose to go into non-adventuring careers at any time. Once they have become blacksmiths, quartermasters, surgeons or similar occupations they gain XP as noncombatants and go up in levels (based on a specialist XP progression) as if training each session. When assigned to a resource it will gain 1 + 1/2 specialist level to any save for exhaustion. Additionally For each two noncombatant levels, resources they are assigned to are more productive – producing an extra resource point. Thus a 2nd level Blacksmith/1st level fighter can no longer gain fighter levels, and requires 6000 XP to level up to 3rd level blacksmith. The blacksmith blacksmith’s smithy can produce two points of industry while only using 1 point of necessities and saves at +2 to depletion.

D) Citizens/Troopers – begin as 0-level, but can advance through adventuring or training. Become first level (and may be promoted to specialist status if there are spaces in town) after gaining 500 XP. Citizens are presumed to work at existing resources and generally protect the town when not adventuring.

1 comment:

  1. I've been re-reading The Black Company series for the first time since my first read through a few years ago. It's so wonderfully weird! Now that I'm re-reading it I'm finding all sorts of ways to apply that setting to gaming, it's cool to see that you are too. I was thinking about magical illusions the other day and how they are used so well by Goblin and One Eye but gamers seem to feel them under powered. Lo and Behold, a few days later I found the Basic Illusionist at http://secretsoftheshadowend.blogspot.com/ and now these great notes on running a company style party.