Thursday, December 28, 2017

Gold for Experience in 5th Edition D&D

Classic David Trampier from the 1e
The Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition Dungeon Master's Guide is a odd book, much like the 1st Edition AD&D guide it is a scattered confluence of ideas, suggestions and game-able content.  Unlike some past guides it seems more interested in offering play options and setting variety to Game Masters, rather then creating the one true setting and manner of playing D&D. 

This is perhaps the strongest aspect of the 5th edition brand - that makes motions in the direction of creativity and setting variation which some earlier editions refused to.  Perhaps starting in the late 80's - early 90's as TSR released setting after setting, the idea embraced in the earliest editions of the game that each table of players and Dungeon Master should create their own world (I'd argue collaboratively), was abandoned and D&D products seemed to push an orthodoxy with settings defined and each setting deadened by reams of officious petty rules and mechanics. For example, the Spelljammer boxed set (a 1989 setting about fantasy space and space faring on magical sailing ships) spends little time offering up the sorts of strange and fantastical setting ideas it's core conceit promises, glossing over some great ideas in favor of complex rules about orbits and star types that seem more appropriate to a hard sci-fi game like Universe or Traveller.  5th Edition doesn't make this mistake, or at least it hasn't yet, and while I may critique its efforts at producing adventures for their devotion to the terminally bland Forgotten Realms setting and heroic fantasy, the Dungeon Masters Guide at least suggests Dungeon Masters design settings that vary greatly and offers some rules to aid in creating settings in 'mythic fantasy' (classical antiquity/mythology), 'epic fantasy' (even more high powered and magically focused),  'wuxia', 'dark fantasy' (Ravenloft effectively), 'mystery', 'intrigue' and 'swords and sorcery'.  Sometimes rules are even offered up by the Dungeon Master's Guide to suggest how to better run these different sorts of campaigns.

The last category of 5e settings, "swords and sorcery", is largely a description of how earlier editions of D&D played (or perhaps were intended to play) - at least in my experience.  Informed by the novels of Vance and other 30's - 60's pulp writers, this fantasy is a bit grim, and darkly humorous with heroes that are only slightly more impressive then normal men (or less in the case of Cudgel the Clever), who largely seek their own advancement and survive mostly by luck and their wits.  The world is dangerous and uncaring, and if these sorts of wandering heroes become involved in an epic quest it is only by their own decision, a curse or accident.

The Little Brown Books or "White Box" are the first edition of Dungeons & Dragons - presenting a simple and somewhat muddled set of rules that almost compels a 'swords and sorcery' style setting and game (at least as the 5th edition Dungeon Master's Guide defines swords and sorcery) because the combat mechanics are high lethality, power levels flat and the exploration rules encourage caution and the accumulation of treasure rather then seeking combat.

Monday, December 4, 2017

SCENES FROM A SHIPWRECK - HMS Apollyon - Painted Ship on a Painted Sea - Adversary Design

One of the three main potential adversaries/NPCs within the Duke Brimstone Yacht Club area is Murial Coranado a 'Revenant of Debauchery'  who is not especially hostile, but capable of life draining attacks and immune to non-magical weapons.  If treated with respect and caution she is likely to be a curiosity and if plied with liquor may even become something of an ally and source of information about the ship, its history and the region.

I'm not a fan of 'Boss' monsters, and try to design my regions more so they present a puzzle, mystery and story rather then a series of challenges leading to a climactic fight.  The other two potential adversaries (as opposed to simple monsters or random encounters like the Limpet Bears in the last post) are the angry spirit of a petty bureaucrat and a near unstoppable (but very stupid) giant sea slug.  The Bureaucrat will grow increasingly angry if his domain is disturbed, while the slug will hunt the party pushing them deeper into the hull.  All three are designed to present a variety of potential encounters and uses to the players, not only combat - though other then using the slug to dispose of other enemies, it's not really up for conversation.

AREA 16 - Main Bar (Illuminated) [Monster/Treasure] Light streams into this long room from observation windows of thick glass, blindingly to anyone emerging from the darker recesses of the hull.  ‘L’ shaped the longer arm an ornately decorated Bar (Area A16b) and the shorter a Lounge (Area A16a) filled with lushly stuffed leather furniture.

AREA 16a - Club Lounge - (illuminated) [Monster] Chairs and couches upholstered in cracked leather, weathered by the sun, are array around several tables of polished black wood.  Glassware and empty bottles are scattered about, but are especially thickly stacked on a table by the windows overlooking the Pool (Area A2), where a withered corpse [sidebar] in the tattered remains of an evening gown still leans in one of the chairs.
  • chairs and couches - Examination of the chairs will reveal that they appear to be made from a variety of shades of human skin, seemingly confirmed by the presence of a face here and there on the upholstery.
  • Withered corpse - (Murial Coranado, Revenant of Debauchery) [See Sidebar] HD 4 (HP 16), AC 13*, ATK** +5x2 (Claw/Claw)***, INT 0, MV sluggish (3)
    *Immune to normal weapons/explosions, damaged by fire, magic, silver, hexed and blessed weapons.
    ** Murial’s bony talons drain life from the victim on each strike, Save v. Paralysis or lose one level of experience/HD.  Reduction to -1 LVL or 0HD causes instant death without Save.
    *** As a Revenant of Debauchery Murial Coranado exudes reeking alcoholic fumes that will cause any creature in melee combat with her and capable of intoxication to become uselessly, reelingly drunk.  Each round close to Murial combatants must Save vs. Paralysis to act at all.