Friday, January 30, 2015

Long Ride to a Short Death, an adventure for Neo School Hack

Now that I've done some design work for Neo School Hack, I thought it only proper that I do a beginner adventure (sorry, no boxed set).

The adventure begins with our heroes relaxing together at a small riverside trading post.  They arrived here yesterday to await the post coach which will take them to the market town of ut-Frienne inland north of here.  The region between the river and the town is deserty wilderness and travel with other people by coach is much safer and faster than going it alone on foot.  A major combined festival and market day is starting at ut-Frienne tomorrow and the party member plan to attend.  It's a great place to have fun, buy items outside of the usual, meet interesting people, join in religious parades, and make lucrative arrangements.  [The players can decide whether they all came here together or arrived from separate places and got acquainted while waiting here.  They also can decide on what their individual reasons are for traveling to ut-Frienne.]



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While they relax on the veranda overlooking the river a river barge arrives, apparently one of the regular packet boats which travel up and down making deliveries and carrying passengers.  A few scruffy sailors are on deck and the old man who runs the trading post, Postmaster Battu, sends his young son Yanny down to help with the ropes.  However, one of the sailors leaps onto the small dock and holds a knife to Yanny's throat.  More pirates swarm up from the hold where they were hiding.  The leader of the river pirates, for that is what they really are, demands that the postmaster bring out his strongbox or the boy dies.  The fat old postmaster begs the heroes to rescue the young fellow.

River Pirates
Captain Sa-granet: AC 10, HP 3, 2d10 attack/sword, dagger, small shield, leather armor; treasure: 2d10 gp
Pirates (minions, two for each party member): AC 8, HP 1, 1d10 attack/sword, dagger, small shield; treasure: 3d6 gp

The post coach arrives from ut-Frienne just before noon.  Tierre the driver and Marchamp the guard, outlanders both, bring in a large wooden box with packages and scrolls mailed from the market town.  Two remarkably similar merchants in purple turbans alight and get their luggage and baskets of something from the back of the coach. [The two merchants, Ju-thoth and Chu-thoth, are wizards as well as merchants.  If the party asks, they have a spare scroll with the spell Darkvision which they will sell for 300 gp.]  The driver and guard each grab a quick mug of ale and it's back on the coach to return towards ut-Frienne; the players must pay 1 gp for the two-day ride.  [If asked, the two (human) coachmen are quite ready to regale the party with tales of the dangers ahead, most of which are greatly exaggerated but none totally fictitious.]

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The countryside is desert, but varying from sandy flats, to dunes, to scrub land, to cactus forest.  About two hours after leaving the post a band of masked marauders on camels gallops out of a cactus grove and heads for the coach, clearly intent on robbery or worse.

Camel Marauders
Chieftain: AC 12, HP 5, 2d10 attack/sword and 2 javelins; mail shirt and small shield; treasure: 6d6 gp
Marauders (two, plus one per party member): AC 12, HP 2, 2d10 attack/sword and 2 javelins; mail shirt and small shield; treasure: 3d6 gp

[The marauders ride up alongside the coach and throw all their javelins at the coachmen and passengers.  If no one is killed or badly wounded by the time they are out of javelins they break off the attack and retreat back into the cactus grove--they enjoy a good fight, but not if it's a fair one.  The marauders have a camp of tents deep in the grove.  Along with ordinary camping supplies they have a chest with 150 gp in coins, a bit of amber with an irridescent green beetle in it (120 gp), and a Heal potion (heals 1 HP).]

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Late in the afternoon, some hours after the contretemps with the marauders, a short but intense thundershower sweeps through the area.  As it passes they spot their destination for the first evening of the trip: an old abandoned caravanserai.  However there is a flock of huge vile vultures swarming around several carcasses near the gate-less entrance.  The vultures are hungry and flocks of the vile variety are extremely aggressive towards interlopers.

Vile Vultures
(one per party member) 1 HP, AC 10, 2d10 attack/beak; treasure: none

The "meals" which the vultures were swarming are the body of a male civilized humanoid, probably half-elf, and his pack mule (Shairat Ulumu and Stinky).  The body has a shortbow, a quiver with arrows, an elven shortsword, 32 sp and 4 cp on it, an old glazed tile with an ochre-on-white design of a stylized demon face, and a map.  The mule has sacks and pouches with two dozen hardtack biscuits, three full water skins, a small tent, lantern, two blankets, 50 feet of rope, an old sledge hammer, a frying pan, and a map.  [Hand players the no-labels dungeon map.  Pro tip: use of a real dead mule as a fun prop for this encounter is not advised.]  Despite the rain shower it is easy to see tracks indicating that the dead guy came from the northwest, where there is a mile of open scrub land leading to a large cactus forest.



Night begins to fall and the coachmen bring the coach into the courtyard of the caravanserai.  The walls of the old place delineate a square about 100 feet on a side, lined on the north and south sides with the remains of several roofless buildings.  Although abandoned long ago [when the well ran dry] it still makes for a useful overnight stopping place.  The coachmen cut fronds of deaththorn from nearby and arrange them in a barricade at the gate.

In the night a gaunte creeps up outside the gate, attracted by the smell of tasty horses.  It sniffs around the site of the dead guy and mule then sits motionless and observes for a while.  If only one person is awake in the camp it will attempt to sneak in, subdue them (reduce to 0 HP), then carry them off to eat later.  It has no interest in battle and will flee if confronted by two or more opponents (unless one or both is very badly injured).

Gaunte
AC 14, HP 6, two 2d10 attacks/claws; treasure: may be skinned for a lovely pelt worth 100gp
Shadowblend (constant): the rich black velvety fur of the gaunte allows it to blend into darkness almost anywhere in uncanny fashion, allowing it to reroll any failed rolls against anyone trying to spot it in the dark.
- The gaunte is a solitary nocturnal creature.  Its appearance is rather like a tall (8 foot) humanoid black panther, with long arms and deep yellow eyes.  Gauntes are almost as intelligent as people, making them exceptionally cunning predators.

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[If the party decides to follow the tracks to explore the dungeon on the map (which they should if they want to have any fun at all) the coachmen explain that they have to stay on schedule, but they will be back in four days.  Their route takes one more day to ut-Frienne, two days to go out and back to yt-Marbala, then one day returning from ut-Frienne en route to the trading post.]

The dead guy's trail leads northwest across the mile of scrubland to a cactus forest.  However, once in the forest the trail grows faint and peters out in a clearing.  There appear to be three possible traces continuing on from the clearing: one going northwest (with the craggy top of large jebel visible a couple miles beyond), one to the north, and one southwest (with the flat top of large jebel visible a couple miles beyond).

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Northwest trail: two miles of cactus forest and come to deep, narrow cleft in jebel which leads about 100 yards in to a small cave screened by dry brush.  A mother giant scarab is sleeping in the cave with her newly hatched swarm of hungry scarablings.

Giant Scarab
AC-14, 4 HP, two 2d10 attacks/claws; treasure: none

Scarab Beetle Swarm
AC-8, 4 HP, 3d10 attack,biting swarm
- Swarm/constant: it takes a lot of work to kill off a swarm of small critters; -2 to hit with non-magical ranged and melee weapons.

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South west trail: three miles of cactus forest, ambush by guardian cactus sprites (small humanoid intelligent cactus people) on the way, then up a winding path to a Painted Stones Shrine atop the jebel to an elemental dust devil.

Cactus Sprites
AC 10, HP 2, 2d10 attack/spears; treasure: necklace of shiny rocks (1d10 gp)
Ouch, Spikey (constant): cactus sprites are covered in inch-long cactus spines which cause 1 wound to anyone grappling with them.
- there will be one sprite per player character

Elemental Dust Devil
AC-12, HP 8; treasure: 2 matching yellow gems (5d10 gp)
Gravel Storm/constant: the dust devil is a constantly whirling cloud of dust and gravel; anything in a 10 foot radius must make a Daring save or take a wound and be blinded for one round.
Rock Toss/focus: the devil forms a heavy rock and tosses it up to 50 feet; does 2 wounds

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North trail: one mile of cactus, then a very ancient tomb with the stone door recently smashed open by an old sledgehammer (by the dead guy); see the Forgotten Tomb below.

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The Forgotten Tomb of Ra-Nefesh IV

[Doors: all the doors in the tomb are large, heavy, and made of bronze with a fairly clever lock.  Each door is AC 14 with 3 HP, but light weapons and pokey/stabbing or slicing weapons cannot do significant damage.]

Portico: Two life-sized stone statues of lions on platforms flank an open doorway on a now roofless portico.  A pair of stone doors lie in ruins, smashed open quite recently.

Shersher (animated stone lions)
AC 14, HP 3, two 2d10 attacks/claws; treasure: none
- Shersher are magical statues place to protect places; the two here will activate only if someone tries to leave with the royal signet amulet from the Royal Crypt of Ra-Nefesh IV .

Antechamber: This room is dominated by a large statue (10' tall)  of Ra-Nefesh IV.  The faded wall frescoes show Ra-Nefesh IV living in power and luxury as a lord over servants, soldiers, slaves, and captives.

West Hall: this wide, dusty hallway has frescoes on both walls, showing a funeral procession of mourners, headed away from the antechamber.  There are a few scattered human bones on the floor.  [Trap: a floor tile halfway down the corridor has a lever under it which triggers dart tubes in the ceiling when stepped on.  An Awareness check can spot the trap.  If triggered, all creatures in a 10' x 10' area must make a Daring save to avoid being hit (for 1 wound).]

East Hall: this wide, dusty hallway has frescoes on both walls, showing a soldiers marching in formation, headed away from the antechamber.  There are a few scattered human bones on the floor.  [Trap: a 20' section of the floor halfway down the corridor has poison dust instead of normal dust, which is stirred up as creatures walk over it.  An Awareness check can spot the trap.  If triggered, everyone in the section must make a Brawn save or take one wound that round and another the next round.]

West Ossuary: this large hall has a high arched ceiling and six stone pillars, flooded to a depth of 3 feet, probably by seeping groundwater.  The walls have multiple rows of large slots with bones piled in them.  There are also bones on the floor to a depth of 2~3 feet.  These are probably the bones of the mourners at Ra-Nefesh IV's funeral who were depicted in the frescoes in the hallway.  The water and piled bones restrict movement to half normal walking pace.  [Two rounds after a living humanoid enters the room, skeletons will arise from the bone piles and attack. Initially two will arise for every living creature in the room, plus one more each round that they remain in the room.  The skeletons will not leave the room and collapse back into bones once an hour has passed with no living creatures in the room.]

Skeleton Mourners (minion)
- Creepy Undead/encounter: On first meeting, Commitment check or freeze for a turn
AC 10, HP 1, 1d10 attack/clawed bony fingers; treasure: small gold trinket (1d6 gp)

East Ossuary: this large hall has a high arched ceiling and six stone pillars.  The walls have multiple rows of large slots with bones piled in them.  There are also bones on the floor to a depth of 2~3 feet.  Scattered in amongst the bones are helmets, spears, and shields.  These are probably the bones of the soldiers at Ra-Nefesh IV's funeral who were depicted in the frescoes in the hallway.  [Two rounds after a living humanoid enters the room, skeletons will arise from the bone piles and attack. Initially two will arise for every living creature in the room, plus one more each round that they remain in the room.  The skeletons will not leave the room and collapse back into bones once an hour has passed with no living creatures in the room.]

Skeleton Soldiers
- Creepy Undead/encounter: On first meeting, Commitment check or freeze for a turn
AC 10, HP 1, 2d10 attack/spear, shield; treasure: small gold helmet badge (1d8 gp)

Hall of Noble Pillars: This room is a massive ceremonial funeral hall.  At the south end is a large (20') richly painted and gilded statue of royal pharaoh Ra-Nefesh IV.   It faces down between two rows of thick pillars carved to look like noble lords and ladies, males on the east and females on the west.  [Trap: nobles were strictly segregated by gender at court functions.  If a male humanoid enters the west half of the hall or a female one the east half of the hall then they must pass a Commitment save or be teleported back to the Portico.  Also, four mummified priests wander here still fulfilling their sacred oath to protect the tomb from defilers and the unrighteous.  They will attack anyone carrying a gold trinket or badge from either ossuary and anyone not of LN alignment.  There are 50% more priests than party members.]

Mummified Priests

AC 12, HP 3, 2d10 attack/mace; treasure: a polished silver skullcap (100 gp) and matching bracelets (25 gp each)
- Creepy Undead/encounter: On first meeting, Commitment check or freeze for a turn
- Bonecurse (focus, encounter): casts a curse on one victim (30' range); if victim does not pass a Commitment save their bones warp for one day (24 hours), causing a -2 to all rolls for physical activity during that period.

Tranquil Grotto: This round, domed room has a deep pool of beautifully clear water in the center.  Lovely frescoes on the ceiling depicting the smiling goddess Hathor surrounded by rosy clouds.  [Trick: a drink of water from the sacred pool bestows +1 Commitment; a person may receive this benefit only once per day.]

Chamber of the Ancestors: this rectangular room is entirely lined with slabs of blue-and-white marble, giving the impression that it is floating amongst the clouds.  Halfway down the room a statue stands in an alcove on either side.  The statues are of fierce armored sebeki (crocodile people) warriors with spears and shields.  The rest of the room is blocked off by a hanging tapestry showing condemned souls burning in lakes of hell fire.  [Trap: the tapestry is a warning to those who would continue on and desecrate the final resting place of Ra-Nefesh IV.  The statues will blast anyone getting between them with magical frost (Commitment save or take 1 wound from each statue).  The magicked marble statues are AC 16 with 3 HP.  Their magic cold attack can be neutralized by casting any fire-based spell on them or casting any water-based spell on them in reverse.  The tapestry is also deadly: anyone touching it (even if wearing gloves, etc.) must make a Brawn save or be paralyzed for one week by the poison dust on it.]

Royal Crypt of Ra-Nefesh IV: This room contains a large stone sarcophagus of dark gray granite containing the mummy of the pharaoh.  The walls and ceilings are completely covered in frescoes of the finest quality showing the pharaoh enjoying the afterlife in grand style.  In each corner is a tall bronze urn.  If anyone disturbs the sarcophagus or the urns the mummy of the pharaoh will push off the massive stone lid and attack any living creatures.  He will pursue throughout the tomb, but not leave it.

Royal Pharaoh Ra-Nefesh IV
AC 12, HP 10, 2d10 attacks/heavy mace (2 wounds); treasure: magic +1 heavy mace, 4 bronze urns with 250gp each, royal signet amulet (gold and carnelian, 500gp), 1d6 ancient historical scrolls (50gp each)
- Creepy Undead/encounter: On first meeting, Commitment check or freeze for a turn
- Mummy's Curse/encounter: all opponents nearby must make Commitment save or -2 to all rolls until the mummy is destroyed
- Touch of Death/constant: the mummy may attack with an open hand (in addition to a normal attack with mace); if successful, victim must pass a Commitment save or the mummy drains 2 HP from the victim and adds them to its own HP
- Bonecurse/focus, encounter: casts a curse on one victim (30' range); if victim does not pass a Commitment save their bones warp for one day (24 hours), causing a -2 to all rolls for physical activity during that period.





Saturday, January 24, 2015

Review: Fate Accelerated Edition

Okay, so I'm usually drawn to rules heavy rules-complete games like Pathfinder or D&D 3.5.  And as a player I prefer lots of stuff on my character sheet to work with.  But as a GM I tend to run things in a more rule-light fashion, even with crunchy rule sets.  And so I'm always forcing myself to check out rules-light games because they're more the Real Me.  The game Atomic Robo recently caught my eye, which led me to check out the underlying rules, the Fate system, and so last night I bought the "extra light" version of Fate, Fate Accelerated Edition (in pdf form).

Fate Accelerated Edition is only 50 pages, including covers, index, character sheet, and quick-reference sheets.  You can read the whole thing very quickly.  It can serve as a quick intro to the Fate system in general (my purpose for buying it) or a stand-alone set of nice simple rules.

My first read-through, admittedly late at night on a Friday when I was falling asleep, left me very confused about Aspects and a bit worried about the blank slate approach to character creation.  This morning, after a good night's sleep, healthy fruit-and-veggie breakfast shake, and not-healthy-at-all energy drink, it all became much clearer, although I'm still a bit worried about the whole blank slate thing.

To create your character you come up with an overall High Concept, like Orphaned Farmboy from Desert Planet with Unusually High Midichlorian Count.  Then pair it with Trouble, which is something which will recur to your disadvantage, like More-Man-Than-Machine Guy with Exceptionally High Midichlorian Count Insists on Being My Dad.  Then you add three to five Aspects which are more specific, like Born to Pilot a Landspeeder.  All those are created completely "blank slate" out of your noggin, which is super if you're into that and good at it but will present a struggle for people who are not.

Next is the crunchiest bit and that is allocating bonuses to six Approaches: Careful, Clever, Flashy, Forceful, Quick, and Sneaky.  You get a fixed set of bonuses to allocate to these, ranging from +3 to +0, in order to give actual mechanical bonuses to your character's personal style of doing things.

Finally we're back into fuzzy, blank slate territory with creating Stunts.  These are a bit like feats or class attributes in Pathfinder in that they give a mechanical +2 bonus but only for more specific situations.  You can start with up to three with no penalty.  Here, at least, there is a good "mad-libs" style template where you fill in the blanks to create the stunts.  The examples here are very useful.

Each character gets three Fate points, which refresh at the start of each session of play.  However, you can trade those refresh slots in for more Stunts.  For instance, you could have four Stunts (three free, plus one paid for with a Fate point refresh slot) and only two refresh slots.

Also, all characters get three Stress boxes, which are your "hit points" but in a much more general sense.  These can be physical, mental, social, emotional, spiritual, or whatever.  When you're in a contest where you could accrue stress, the amount by which the "attacker's" roll exceeds yours is how many stress points you take.  But there is the option of taking some level of Consequence instead of a stress point.  These last for a varying period and apply some negative condition, like "Splitting Headache" or "Bawling My Eyes Out" or "Spurting Stump", which you make up on the spot according to the circumstances.

Now for actual play.  Each turn/round you have four basic action types to choose from:
create an advantage, overcome something, attack, or defend.  In each case you pick the appropriate Approach, roll your set of four special Fate dice (d6s, each marked +, +, <blank>, <blank>, -, -) to generate outcomes from +4 to -4, add the Approach bonus, and add a Stunt bonus if one applies.  If the outcome isn't high enough you can spend a Fate point for +2, or to invoke an Aspect.  There may be consequences, especially if you invoke an Aspect.

And that's basically it.  I think it's a great little set of rules--and did I mention the pdf is Pay What You Want?  Overall I'd greatly recommend it, with the caveat that if you or your players are not very good at making stuff up out of thin air it might not be for you.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

How about some Order of the Stick style character portraits for Roll20?

Okay, so my buddy Bill is setting us up for doing a Pathfinder game using the Roll20 program.  Now I'm pretty excited because I've always been interested in trying an online game with sort of technology.  Those of us who will be playing are putting our characters together and we're most of the way there.  But last Monday as our semi-regularly scheduled Castles & Crusades game was breaking up, Bill casually suggested that I might do some character portraits in the style of the Order of the Stick web comic.

Challenge accepted!  The primary limitation was a maximum size of 64 by 64 pixels, so I opted to do facial portraits rather than overhead or full-body images.  I figured anything less than a face would be impossible to recognize at that size. So here are the first five portraits so far, displayed a bit larger for ease of viewing.

Elf Paladin (also a prince)











Elf Bard (also a princess)











Halfling Rogue (not a princess)










 
Human Adventurer (psst, he's really a fighter)












Half-Orc Druid (and ladies, he's available)





Wednesday, January 14, 2015

StarCraft School Hack: a StarCraft hack of Old School Hack

Right, so probably my favorite computer game of all times was the old StarCraft and the Brood War expansion from Blizzard Entertainment.  Thus it seemed only right, since I'm currently on an Old School Hack hack rampage, to do up the basic units from StarCraft in OSH form.  I'm figuring for a game the players decide on one of the three factions and play one of the "classes" for that faction.

A word on speeds and ranges.  Rather than get bogged in exact speeds and distances, I created simple relative categories.  Speed categories are slow, medium, or fast.  Range categories are melee, short, medium, long, and very long.  Also, a special thanks to the StarCraft wiki for making all the info for this posting way easier to make than digging it all out on my own.

Terran

Marine "Gimme somethin' to shoot!"
HP: 5
AC-12
Speed: medium
C-14 rifle: 2 x 2d10 ranged attacks, 1 wound, long range
  • U-238 Rounds/constant: increase range to very long
  • Ah! That's the stuff!/encounter: inject a stimpack and lose one HP but get one additional attack per round for 3 rounds
  • Ground Armor/constant: add 1 to armor class (maybe taken up to 3 times)
  • Ground Weapons/constant: add 1 to attack rolls (may be taken up to 3 times)

Firebat "Wanna turn up the heat?"
HP: 5
AC-13
Speed: slow
Perdition flamethrower: 1 x 2d10 ranged attack, 3 wounds, short range
  • Ah! That's the stuff!/encounter: inject a stimpack and lose one HP but get one additional attack per round for 3 rounds
  • Ground Armor/constant: add 1 to armor class (maybe taken up to 3 times)
  • Ground Weapons/constant: add 1 to attack rolls (may be taken up to 3 times)

Medic "Where does it hurt?"
HP: 5
AC-12 (AC-10 and +2 shield)
Speed: medium
Cadeuceus Wand: you have a nanite healing instrument which works great, but not as reliably as people would like; roll 1d10, on 3-10 you heal an injured person of 1 wound, on 1-2 nothing happens
  • Cadeuceus Reactor/constant: upgrade to Cadeuceus Wand making it reliable, no roll necessary on use.
  • Restoration/constant: upgrade to Cadeuceus Wand so you can heal more status effects such as neutralizing poison, and curing blindness.
  • Optic Nerve/encounter: you acquire an A-13 grenade launcher with flash grenades; all creatures near the grenade must make a Commitment save or be blinded for one hour
  • Ground Armor/constant: add 1 to armor class (maybe taken up to 3 times)

Protoss

Zealot "Honor guide me!"
HP: 8
AC-12
Shield HP: 5
Speed: medium
Psi-blades: 2 x 2d10 melee attacks, 3 wounds
  • Ground Armor/constant: add 1 to armor class (maybe taken up to 3 times)
  • Plasma Shields/encounter: add 1 to HP (maybe taken up to 3 times)
  • Ground Weapons/constant: add 1 to attack rolls (may be taken up to 3 times)
  • Leg Enhancements/constant: increases speed to fast

Dragoon "Make use of me!"
HP: 8
AC-12
Shield HP: 6
Speed: medium
Phase Disrupter: 1 x 2d10 ranged attack, 4 wounds, long range
  • Ground Armor/constant: add 1 to armor class (maybe taken up to 3 times)
  • Plasma Shields/encounter: add 1 HP (maybe taken up to 3 times)
  • Ground Weapons/constant: add 1 to attack rolls (may be taken up to 3 times)
  • Singularity Charge/constant: increase range to very long

Zerg

Zergling
HP: 3
AC-10
Speed: slow
Claws: 1 x 2d10 melee attack, 1 wound
Burrow/encounter: burrow quickly into the ground to hide; cannot be attacked while underground but is still aware of the presense of ground units nearby
  • Carapace/constant: add 1 to armor class (maybe taken up to 3 times)
  • Melee Attacks/constant: add 1 to attack rolls (may be taken up to 3 times)
  • Metabolic Boost/constant: increases speed to fast
  • Adrenal Glands/encounter: two extra melee attacks per round

Hydralisk
HP: 7
AC-10
Speed: slow
Needle spines: 1 x 2d10 ranged attack, 2 wounds, long range
Burrow/encounter: burrow quickly into the ground to hide; cannot be attacked while underground but is still aware of the presense of ground units nearby
  • Carapace/constant: add 1 to armor class (maybe taken up to 3 times)
  • Missile Attacks/constant: add 1 to attack rolls (may be taken up to 3 times)
  • Muscular Augments/constant: increases speed to medium
  • Grooved Spines/constant: increase range to very long

Saturday, January 10, 2015

How Torathiel-yng-Ulathual-min-Calaisse IV decided to become a paladin

 Here's the short background story for the elf paladin character Torathiel-yng-Ulathual-min-Calaisse IV I'm putting together for our Roll20 game starting next month.

The crystal goblet shattered on the exquisite Torathian marble floor of the formal breakfast chamber.  There was a sharp intake of breath.  "Yes, it's true", I said.  "I plan to take up the Shield of Light and follow in the footsteps of uncle Balanath."  There was another tinkling of glass as my step-father's monocle joined the remains of the goblet.  For the first time in his life the old boy was actually speechless.

It had all started the day before yesterday.  A messenger from the Academy finally arrived with the reply from the regents on my application.  I didn't really need to open it.  House Torathiel-yng-Ulathual was generally regarded as Third Rank, due mostly to that tawdry affair of my great-aunt Torathiel-yng-Ulathual-min-Alariel who went out to slay a dragon but ended up marrying him instead.  We are officially not on speaking terms with that branch of the family but reputations simply don't recover from something like that.

So there it sat, on the antique engraved silver tray which my uncle found in a vampire's castle on one of his crusades against evil, resting atop the side table in the East Foyer.  Above it hung the portrait of my uncle in full paladinite regalia, with armor shining and sword flashing.  I was always fascinated by it but my step-father thought it tacky and inappropriate for a family like ours.  I had his shield up in my room.  After mother passed away my step-father had the servants hide it in the deepest recesses of the attic.  But I bribed one of the house-halflings to retrieve it.


 (Cover of Aenarion audiobook by Gav Thorpe)
Uncle Balanath's Portrait

Yesterday I'd finally opened the letter in the Blue Jade Parlor where the family had gathered before dinner as usual.  The contents were as expected, couched in very civilized fashion and written in a refined calligraphic hand, but still utterly disappointing.  I couldn't bear to read it aloud so my cousin Suomralie did the deed for me.  The others made some polite comments to soften the blow but step-father turned quite red and shouted, actually shouted, at one of the house-halflings to serve dinner immediately.

The next morning I spent an hour or so out on the Autumn Lilac Terrace shooting illusionary targets with my longbow.  Old Tarky-Lark was particularly creative with his targets this time around, no doubt trying to get my mind off things.  The little gnome had been with the family for over a century now and looked just as wizened and wrinkled as the day he'd arrived.  Unfortunately his arcane stylings had quite the opposite effect to what he intended.  I was instead reminded of my trip two summers ago to visit the famous wizard Hinurial-yng-Toluala-min-Simnar VII.  One of my aunts got me an interview with him to become apprenticed so off I went.  He was quite haughty, but one expects that of a famous wizard.  Alas, after a few tests and trials he declared my level of aptitude to be "ineffable" and that was that.  When I got home mother had one of her episodes and spent the next week in bed.

So in the end there was little choice but to act upon my boyhood imaginings.  Thus it was that I presented myself to the family in the Lesser Drawing Room after dinner with uncle Balanath's shield and announced my intended path.

A Pathfinder Paladin for Our Next Campaign

Okay, so my group is getting ready to try doing a game using Roll20.  Over time our group has become more spread out geographically.  For our Monday night games we already have one player Skype in.  Naturally that brought up the idea of doing a totally virtual game.  My buddy Bill volunteered to run one with Roll20 and the rest of us are working up our characters.  This time I've decided to try a paladin.  In general I like the idea of the paladin.  But when I look at the actual structure of the class in D&D/Pathfinder my enthusiasm wanes.  However, I've never actually played one and so I thought I'd give it a try.

Here's the design for the character up through level 5.  In the old days I just picked a class and started playing.  But with all the feats and other options for a Pathfinder class, you really have to look ahead a few levels.  Note that this is not meant to be an "optimized build".  This is more about the flavor

Torathiel-yng-Ulathual-min-Calaisse IV (or "Cal")
Paladin (hospitaler archetype)
Male elf, Lawful Good <--Lawful Good elf? What's wrong with this picture? No wonder he left home.

STR 14 (+2)
DEX 16 (+3)
CON 10 (+0)
INT 14 (+2)
WIS 12 (+1)
CHA 16 (+3)
*Note: the GM had us start with an array of 16, 14, 14, 12, 12, 12 for the stats, placed as desired; at the first session we will get an extra 1d4 of points to play with.



FORT    2 + 0 = +2
REF    0 + 3 = +3
WIL    2 + 1 = +3

Elf Favored Class Bonus: Per level, add +1/2 hit point to the paladin's lay on hands ability (whether using it to heal or harm).

Elven Immunities: Elves are immune to magic sleep effects and gain a +2 racial saving throw bonus against enchantment spells and effects.

Keen Senses: Elves receive a +2 racial bonus on Perception checks.

Skills: (2 points/level)
Knowledge (nobility) (Int): 1 + 3 + 2 = 6
Ride (Dex): 1 + 3 + 3 = 7

1st Level
Aura of Good, Detect Evil, Smite Evil 1/Day
Feat: <see ideas below>

2nd Level
Divine Grace (add CHA bonus to all saving throws), and Lay on Hands (1/2 Paladin level + <CHA mod> times per day, heals 1d6 per 2 paladin levels)

3rd Level
Aura of Courage (immune to fear/+4 to ally saves), Divine Health (immune to diseases), Mercy
Feat: <see ideas below>

4th Level
Channel Positive Energy (3 + <CHA mod> times per day for 1d6)
Spells: one 1st level paladin spell
+1 to ability score

5th Level
Divine Bond (mount or weapon; maybe I can talk the GM into doing shield instead of weapon)
Feat: <see ideas below>

Feat Ideas
Pathfinder has probably way too many feats now.  Picking feats for your character is half the work of leveling up.  I went through the feats on the d20 Pathfinder SRD site

Arcane Talent (Cast a 0-level spell 3 times per day as a spell-like ability: maybe detect magic, dancing lights, or light) this is just to add some elf/magical "flavor"
Disarm, Improved (+2 to disarm) this character will fight for good, but he's not a natural born killer so disarming fits
Dodge (+1 AC) elves are supposed to be quick and a bit of extra AC helps keep him alive in battle
Exotic Weapon Proficiency (bastard sword) I just like the idea of an extra huge sword, but maybe this is an expensive use of a feat
Extra Channel (+2/day) this is a hospitaler type paladin, so healing channels fits well here; channeling comes at level 4, so this would be good for the level 5 feat
Lightning Reflexes (+2 to REF) this one would be to represent elvish quickness, but he's pretty quick already in this area
Mobility (+4 dodge bonus to Armor Class against attacks of opportunity) this allows him to be mobile in battle, elf style, rather than standing in one place battling it out, but as the only fighter type so far he have to play that role
Persuasive (+2 bonus on Diplomacy and Intimidate checks) "Now see here old chap, you really must put your weapon down or I shall be forced to smite you..."
Point-Blank Shot (+1 hit and damage within 30') as an elf he'll likely be shooting a lot and this is the "must have" basic feat for archery
Scholar (Gain a bonus to two Knowledge skills) represents his well-educated family background
Sharp Senses (+4 racial bonus on Perception checks) more elf flavor, but maybe a waste of a feat on top of the existing racial bonus
Shield Focus (+1 to shield AC) part of the character background is the shield of his uncle who was a paladin
Toughness (+3 HP and +1 per level) just a generally good feat for keeping any character alive
Weapon Focus (+1 attack with a weapon) a good basic feat for fighty types, but longsword or long bow...hmm







Primary Equipment Ideas
Scale Mail/50gp
Shield, Heavy Wooden/7gp
Longsword/15gp [or Bastard Sword/35gp]
Dagger/2gp
Longbow/100gp
Arrows (20)/20gp









Review: Vornheim

So, I vacillated about buying Vornheim for quite a while.  I was put off by its association with Lamentations of the Flame Princess and left a bit confused by the descriptions of it in reviews I'd read.  It sounded intriguing but probably full of stuff that was weird-and-obnoxious rather than weird-and-very-cool.  But I finally decided to take the plunge (I bought the pdf version) and see what happened.  Happily it turned out to be the weird-and-very-cool variety.

The first thing you notice, right on the cover, is the artwork.  Zak has a style which is very modern and a refreshing change from the typical Hildebrant-based high fantasy or anime-inspired styles one comes to expect in an RPG book nowadays.  One of the first things I do with any gaming book is flip through and check out the art.  Except for the cover and the unusual city map it's all in black-and-white, which I'm fine with.  The city map in the book is also available as a separate downloadable pdf, which is great--I love when handouts, maps, charts, etc. are available like that.

The book is not your typical map with keyed locations, although there are a couple places done up as explorable locations.  I particularly liked the Library of Zorlac, with multiple weird librarians, snakes you can read like books (with a special device), secret doors with specified triggers, and other cool bits.

There is also a little bit of material on the world outside Vornheim which is optional--although they made me want to see Zak do some regional "Vornheim" kits.  I'd also like to know more about the twelve medusa sisters who are said to have saved the world. Zak has lots of stuff on his blog you can rummage through to add in here.

The rest of the book is mostly methods to roll up locations and NPCs quickly mid-play.  Now, I love the idea of a huge, super-detailed "mega-dungeon" style city module.  But I've found that that type of product to be impossible to memorize enough to run smoothly.  The DM spends huge amounts of time reading descriptions during play to keep up with where the players are right now.  This book, however, allows you to roll up only what you need right now and sort of build your version of Vornheim as you go along.  The DM just needs to keep some notes and the city creates itself for future use.

The book also has the Item Cost Shortcut method, which creates five classes of goods to buy named after the penny, nickel, dime, quarter, and dollar [I'd use penny, shilling, crown, pound, and guinea] is fun and perfect for when you don't have (or want) a DM's guide full of prices.  This method is applicable to any game as are most of the lists and rules in Vornheim.

One thing which only gets a little mention is deities and their temples.  When I design up a city for a fantasy RPG one of the first things which go down on the map are all the temples.  For a pre-modern society the temples are big part of the urban landscape.  In many cases the cities are literally built around them, such as in Mecca.  In line with this being a generic city kit, only two deities and their temples are presented.  Both are unique, which is fun, but each only gets a quick description.

Bottom Line: this is a pretty cool book.  If you're thinking about buying it, jump in and get a copy.