Monday, 30 April 2012

Interpreting Hit Points

Since finally picking up a physical copy of Swords & Wizardry and determining to read it cover to cover, I have been experiencing several "aha!" moments, otherwise known as, "Man, I'm stupid" moments. Maybe some of the things I've been realizing are obvious to others, but just in case they aren't, I'm going to post my discoveries/musings anyway.

I was reading through the monster list and came to Giant (or Sea) Crocodile. Here's the description: "The smallest of giant crocodiles are about 20ft long (normal
crocodiles can grow to be as long as 15ft)." I thought to myself, "Well, how do you know how big a giant crocodile should be, then?" "Why, it depends on how many hit points it has, of course." Thanks, brain. Sometimes you're not so bad.

A giant crocodile has 6HD. That means it can have a minimum of 8 hp and a maximum of 48 hp. That's a big range. If an 8 hp giant crocodile were swimming beside a 48 hp crocodile, it occurs to me that there should be a difference in their appearance and size. Perhaps the lesser one is even wounded, or weak from hunger. How many times have you said, "Okay, there are five goblins in front of you. Roll initiative," then just played out the combat as "the fighter slays one goblin, the magic-user blows apart another, the thief attacks a goblin but misses," treating the goblins all as identical, faceless numbers? Wouldn't it be more interesting to describe their appearance and status based on their max hp?

This would add a little more book keeping during play, but the payoff might be worth it. 

This method would depend on how you run things though. How do you handle HD: do you roll HD once for a group of monsters, or separately for each individual monster?  

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Sources of Treasure

Why are dungeons filled with treasure? Aside from enticing brave (or foolish) adventurers to come visit them and serving as an important game-play element in our hobby, treasure can and should, in my opinion, be more.

In my dungeons, treasure is rarely just sitting in the corner of a room. I tend to avoid using treasure chests at all. I just don't think most monsters would be keeping treasure around like their finest set of china, waiting for important visitors to show it off to. Most of the treasure I dole out is found more naturally - on the bodies of fallen explorers.

Unless you are designing a tomb or crypt in which the occupant's wealth was buried with them, the majority of a dungeon's treasure would not be secreted away in sarcophagi and medieval bank vaults. Monsters kill people - that's what they do. Then they either take their treasure (if intelligent or greedy), or leave it where it is. Few monsters have the tendencies or intelligence to hoard treasure. It is more likely that some adventurer made his way into the place in search of rumored treasure and was killed by the local monsters. That adventurer's belongings become the treasure for the dungeon. 

In general, I include one or two main treasure hoards as set pieces and themes for my dungeon, and as a hook for the players. Otherwise, the rest of the treasure is found on skeletons and corpses in the form of old armour, jewelry, coins - and maybe even magic items the unlucky adventurer might have been carrying when he died.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Collaborative Worldbuilding: Tol, Part I

So I stumbled upon this game called Dawn of Worlds by a group of people under the name Legends. Essentially, the game is a collaborative world building exercise where you and your friends sit down around a table with a big piece of paper and create an entire world complete with geography, races and histories. As the rules manual states, there are several advantages to this approach to world building. (Let me just say that I intend to use Dawn of Worlds to create the setting for my next Swords & Wizardry campaign.)

First, the DM isn't given the daunting task of creating the entire world all by his lonesome. Yes, creating a world is fun, we like to spend hours on it, but for some it can be a little tedious and time consuming. I am a DM who really enjoys this part of the hobby, but I have to admit that I do lose steam with these worldbuilding projects after a while. Having a bunch of other people to cheer you on you makes it a little easier.

Second, more minds are better than one. As I've seen so far, everybody will come up with different ideas that either mesh or clash with each other. Either result is fine and leads to good worldbuilding. The world becomes much more dynamic with the input of multiple creative individuals.

Thirdly - though this has pros and cons, depending on your play style - every player involved will know the world. I really like this. You won't have to waste a lot of wind explaining to your players how the kingdom came to be and the giants destroyed the dragon prince, blah blah blah. It makes the setting familiar to the players, and even endearing since they played a part in its creation. There are plans for a round-robin style of DMing, since everyone will know the world. To me, this is even superior to using a familiar and well-loved published setting - creative types love their brainchildren. 

In the creation of this world, the first thing I did was take two 14x17 pieces of paper and stick them together. I then drew an outline (which turned out pretty cool) of a continent. I won't get into the rules of the game here - you can check them out in the link above. Basically, everyone proposed a name for the world, we voted on it, and the world of Tol (pronounced "toll") was born. We went around the table, taking turns filling in mountains, forests, lakes and rivers. To be honest, the map was a little big. We have played two sessions now and still have along way to go. You can use a smaller landmass depending on how big and how detailed you want your world to be, and how much time you want to spend on it.

The game is split up into three "Ages": the First Age (geography), the Second Age (races), and the Third Age (conflict). We are currently early in the Second Age and have about 6 players. Turns take a fair amount of time with this many people, but there are more ideas as well.

I'll be posting a bit about the history and nature of the world as it develops. For now, here is a picture of the map as it stands in the Second Age. Sorry for the quality - it was too big to scan.

I recommend trying Dawn of Worlds for your next campaign. Your group might just come up with a beloved setting that you'll use for years together.