Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Meanwhile, back at the ruined keep

We had the whole gang together for this one and it was another good session. Since the party had been split due to scheduling issues in the last two games I was at a loss initially at how I was going to get everyone's favorite halfling (Anistania) out of Milham and into the basement of the ruined keep deep in the forest without breaking all the laws of time and space. The simple answer is I didn't and we all agreed that Thedric had left a trail of marks on the rocks and trees which enabled her to get caught up with them just in time. I think it's for the best really and certainly in the spirit of the game BECAUSE IT IS SUPPOSED TO BE FUN.

Anyway it was fun. Right off the bat they realized that they might be biting off more than they could chew if they simply charged up the stairs into the ruined tower. They were certainty happy to see Ann the rogue and they immediately sent her into grave danger sneaking up the stairs to see what was up there. She saw this was the courtyard area at night and there were some hobgoblin guards standing about and another gang of hobs betting on a hob with a knife vs. wild boar fight.  Henril (a fighter) was all for rushing the hobgoblins but the others were a tad concerned, especially Ann who had fresh memories of her last brush with two to one odds.  After some discussions it was decided that Colin and Ann would scatter the steel shot from their slings on a couple key stairs and they would cause a disturbance and then wait at the bottom.  It was the old battle of Thermopylae ploy.  While a discussion broke out over who would go up and cause the disturbance, Henril decided to run up the stairs and toss a hobgoblin head out into the courtyard.  Things got quiet and then hobgoblins began rushing down the stairs - where many fell on the steel shot and/or were kneecapped by Colin and Henril at the bottom of the stairs.  There were three waves of hobgoblins as first the nearby guards, then the gamblers, and finally the remaining guards came running down the stairs.  By the end all the steel shot was scattered and the guards were climbing over the bodies of their comrades.  By the time things quieted down the gang had managed to kill 15 hobgoblins and although they were pretty beat up, Henril and Colin ran up the stairs to finish off any remaining foes.  Suddenly they were gripped by an unreasoning terror.  Colin managed to shrug it off but Henril started running for his life back down the stairs and down into the passages below the tower.  The party broke and ran - following Henril down into the caves.

I'd demolish some of these hobs about now...
That fear spell probably saved them since by they time they caught up with Henril he had almost ran back to the room with the rusted portcullis and the pool of leaches.  They took stock and realized that they were very badly worn and needed rest so they rested for 4 hours and gained back 1/4 hp.  Henril was the one who now needed to be convinced to return as he didn't feel they would fare well against 'the wizard in his lair'.  It turns out that there were only a handful of hobgoblins left in the keep, including a hobgoblin shaman.  The party returned to the courtyard and once again fell victim to fear.  Thedric and Henril managed to shake it off and began to fight the guards on the stairs up to the keep wall when the shaman cast a darkness spell and they were fighting blind.  I realized I didn't have rules for blind fighting so I set a -6 modifier and they whacked away at each other - Henril breaking his weapon with a critical fumble.  The rest of the party, Ann, Tom and Colin came to their senses and returned to the courtyard.  They decided to come up the stairs on the other side of the courtyard and burst in the door where the shaman was.  Colin continued his charge - smashing the shaman into little bits.  The darkness winked out and Henril and Thedric dispatched the guards.

And there was much rejoicing.  They searched the tower and found lots of loot - table wear, linens, food and weapons - much of it obviously bandit plunder from around the Milham area.  The keep appeared to have been in the process of the latest in the line of many renovations by the wizard Criel when it was captured by hobgoblins.  There was evidence of a fight and many of the rooms had been destroyed and sacked. They found the mage's secret study and a couple of scrolls and some funky candles.  They ate the wild boar and dined on the finest tidbits in the pile and rested for the whole day.  The next day, worried that more hobgoblin raiding parties would be returning, they hitched up the six horses and three wagons in the courtyard, and loaded up as much of the loot as they could carry.  By their calculations they were just south of the town of Foxhollow and so they followed a rough wagon trail north (the other lead off to the south east).  They had a run in with some big spiders and another woodcutter (who Henril scared off with the worst ever attempt to act as an inconspicuous traveller and not a bandit).  They finally made it to Foxhollow and found an inn for the night.

Now the whole time this was happening, Thedric was acting very strange.  He had started to let his beard grow out and he was suspicious of everyone and constantly muttering about 'interlopers'.  He also would not remove the strange helmet and when it was removed by force, he stared having convulsions.  By the time they arrived at Foxhollow he was in a bad way.  There was some debate over the best way to deal with this, ranging from finding a poor peasant and paying them to put on the helm, to having the village Clerics attempt to find a cure.  In the end goodness won out over evilness (mostly) and Tom, who was from Foxhollow, went to see his brother Tim* who just happened to be a cleric and who was active in the local church.  Tim managed to arrange a discounted rate for Thedric to get his helmet removed (more on this another time) and although the price was dear, the head cleric managed to remove the spirit from the helmet and remove it safely.  Therdic awoke - with no memory of the events since he had put on the helmet.  Then it was all experience points and laughter with half the group leveling up to 3 and the others much of the way there as well.  Tom decided to take his share of the treasure and retire for a while, allowing his brother Tim to seek his fortune with his associates - much to the consternation of the head cleric of Foxhollow.

I'm finding I'm pretty happy with the way I'm doing experience (10*HD type * HD value so a hobgoblin shaman that is 3 d6 would be worth 60*3 or 180) and the advancement pace seems to be pretty good.  Being only up to level 3, and with no really weird monsters having been defeated it's still hard to tell however.

The one page dungeon I used for the bottom of the keep/tower was Under Oak Hill by G. Neuner.  It was a perfect fit, especially since I didn't have anything prepared for this 'lets go find the wizard tower' adventure hook.  The random encounters I rolled up (hobgoblins and bears) worked perfectly with the module and I really liked the theme of an old old tower that had been rebuild by various factions in the last thousand years, finally being renovated by a wizard and then taken over by hobgoblin bandits.  I whipped up a top floor for it with a couple additional rooms for second session, but the OPD saved my bacon.

*Having three fighters and no other magic support aside from the Enchanter had been weighing on the group and they had previously expressed a desire to swap out some of the characters to re-balance things.  I had no problem with this and was as delighted to find out that Tom had a brother as everyone else.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The side trip

Ya it's been slow on here but it's summer and I was on vacation and stuff.  Anyway.  Last session we had a couple folks not playing and really with two players out for the night I didn't want to just continue the adventure without them.  I decided however, that instead of playing a board game or something, maybe I could just run a different set of characters in the same sandbox.  This was great, I advise doing this when you can.  Since one of the characters (the rogue) was still in town in Milham (having been away the previous session), I got the other two players roll up a couple new first level characters.  It doesn't take much to get players to roll up new characters, and in Beacon it only takes like 5-10 minutes to do it.  So we had a new party of three; a very strong and very stupid fighter (MIND 4!), a fledgling mage, and the halfling rogue (the one who had been rescued from goblins) all equipped up and resolving to head south into the hills to look for more of that sweet dwarven treasure.

Well the south gate was closed.  In fact the town was crawling with soldiers from Red Towers and they were not letting people travel south because they were fighting sorties against goblins!  Fortunately the fighter was a local and he knew a fellow who had a basement with a passage through the city walls.  So later that evening our heroes found themselves following a old fishing trail along the river after greasing a palm.  They subsequently snuck* their way southwards down the road.  They traveled south for a day avoiding the soldier patrols and were attacked by large spiders in the forest when they made their camp. The fighter was bitten, lost some STR and had to make a couple poison saves before the venom burned out of his system. Eventually they made it to the hills.  Towards the end of the second day they noticed a plume of dust on the horizon and so climbed a small rise to see in the distance a group of soldiers on horseback riding down a goblin raiding party.  The running fight approached towards their location, passing below them along the road, and they hunkered down to avoid detection.  That's when they noticed one goblin running off away from the pack and unseen by the soldiers. They decided this was their chance and quickly sneaked** off to follow him.

there's a cave under that tree!
I must say I really liked the characters; the eager for a scrap rogue, the dopey fighter and the fresh faced mage writing down all his adventures in his travel journal.  It's a shame what happened to them really - but I suppose I'm getting ahead of myself here.

The intrepid adventurers followed the goblin away from the road and into some brush along a the top of a steep ridge and finally to an old gnarled tree. When they checked the tree out they found a small cave opening and carved stairs leading down into the darkness.  Being brave and adventurous,they fired up some torches and down they went.  The stairs were old and went down quite a way before opening out into a stone hall with big pillars and a floor covered with years of accumulated rubbish.  There were goblins who had heard them coming and who were hiding behind the pillars.  The goblins let fly a hail of bolts from their crossbows and the party moved to attack.  They did pretty good combat wise.  Whenever the fighter landed a blow he would demolish a goblin, he was very strong and using a large two handed hammer (essentially a maul).  While he was bashing goblin heads and the mage was firing off magic missiles, the rogue took advantage of the darkness to creep up behind and back-stab another goblin, and soon the fight was over.  They searched the refuse and found nothing of value.  They determined that this was an old dwarven hall, now with one wall all bricked up with a rather large crude carving on it. The carving had a large hole where the mouth should have been which seemed to have some natural light coming through it.  They crawled through the hole and saw that this was the other half of the great hall and that along one wall it had a large archway open to the sky.  Looking out the archway they saw that it looked out on a deep crevasse in the hillside and across it on the other side was another archway and what looked like the remains of a rope bridge, still swinging.  They had rope and so they managed to hook the rope bridge, pull it across and fasten it back up, but as they crossed they were met by another hail of crossbow bolts and again they charged into battle quickly defeating the 4 goblins on the other side.  In this other hall, they noticed a hole in the roof and carved stairs going downwards.  The rogue decided to climb up the hole but goblin above began hurling sticks and logs from their fire down the hole.  Giving up on that approach, they decided to go down the stairs and at the bottom they surprised another handful of goblins.  They dived in and killed two, however the fighter and then the mage both were taken down by a few lucky short sword attacks.

Now the problem with a party of three is that if one is incapacitated you loose a big chunk of your potency,  with two down... well it was looking very grim there for a very conflicted rogue.  "Save yourself!" yelled her companions as they were overwhelmed.  And so she did - fleeing back up the stairs and across the bridge, cutting it down behind her.  She ran all the way back to the road and for half the night before running into one of the Baron's patrols.  They escorted her back to Milham and so we ended the evening.

I think that it was quite fun, and having another parallel story going in 'the sandbox' really seemed to flesh it out more and make it seem more alive.  I know that the gang up in the forest will be interested to learn about this goblin infested ruin and certainly the rogue has a great story to tell them and perhaps some motivation to return there.  I might have to do some slight of hand to bring them back together, which is one of the problems with having an adventure end out in the field (I have to try to prevent this in future), but I think I can figure out something   In my opinion, it was one of the more fun sessions and with the small party - the level of excitement was pretty high even though no treasure was found and there were relatively few encounters.  Also I enjoyed the roleplaying and the characters never seemed like substitutes -  they had personalities and it was terrible when they were taken down by the goblins.  Poor dumb bastards, they just weren't careful enough.  How fantastic!

* apparently sneaked is the proper past form of sneak and snuck is a johnny-come-lately and not recognized in many spell checkers -  but really, sneaked sounds stupid.
** see.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Tweaking the Divine...spells

I'm still on a spell kick and I have an idea to address a couple things three things I've wanted to do for a while.  The first thing came up in game as a discussion on potions of healing and cure light wounds - it seemed a bit cheap force a roll for a Cure Light Wounds potion - I mean you spend over 100gp for one of these it had better do more than heal 1 point of damage on a crappy roll.  The same applies to the spell  - you spend 3 hp to cast a Cure Light Wounds spell and then roll and heal up 1 point - that blows.

Secondly I have been wondering if it is appropriate in a spell point system to have the full list of Cure Light Wounds, Cure Moderate Wounds, Cure Quite Small But Serious Wounds, Cure Silent But Deadly Wounds...  Really, if you need to cure some wounds cast Cure Light Wounds a couple times - it's not like you have to have them prepared.  Also, I know there are probably folks who will crunch some numbers and figure out which cure spells give you the best ratio per cost and everyone will stop using the others and they will be wasted space in the rule-book.

Thirdly I was thinking that clerics should have some spells to deal with 'spirits'.  I don't know why this is the case, maybe I have something from The Exorcist stuck in my subconsciousness  but I think that it just feels right to have some freaky ass ghost crap going down sometimes instead of having players just chopping up bed sheets.  However in order to do that kind of thing you need to give them tools to deal with it.  The cleric seems a natural fit for this.

Fourthly I have been looking at all the bipolar spells in the rulebook rethinking the idea that good clerics should cast the 'good' version of a spell and bad clerics cast the 'bad' version of it.  I mean really?  Wouldn't a bad cleric want to heal or buff his minions sometimes? It's not like bad creatures use negative hit points or anything.  I know a good cleric wouldn't want to use a Cause Serious Wounds spell on an enemy - but maybe a weak willed or misguided one would do it.  And really what's the difference between that and smashing in their head with your mace?

So I believe I'm going to do the following to deal with these things:

  1. Change the wording in the note about reversing spells to make it more clear that this is a setting/character thing and not a 'rule' thing.
  2. The Level 1 Cure/Cause Light Wounds will now do 4+1d4 hp damage.
  3. The Level 2 Cure/Cause Moderate Wounds is gone to be replaced with Detect Spirits.
  4. The Level 3 Cure/Cause Serious Wounds will now do 8+2d8 hp damage.
  5. The Level 4 Cure/Cause Critical Wounds is gone to be replaced with Manifest
Detect Spirits (level 2 Divine spell)
Range: 25 ft. + 5 ft. /2 levels.
Duration: Concentration.
Description:  Reveals to the caster the presence of unseen spirits or ghosts and an impression of their nature/intent.  Can be used to determine if a creature or object is possessed.  Cannot be used to detect the presence of normal creatures that are hidden or invisible.
Manifest (level 4 Divine spell)
Range: 25 ft. + 5 ft. /2 levels.
Duration: Concentration + 1 round.
Description:  Causes spirits, or other incorporeal beings of HD lower than the casters level to be made corporeal. Entities possessing objects or creatures will be forced out of them and stunned for 1 round.
At the rate I'm going It will probably be like 900 years before this gets play tested properly but what the hell I think might be cool.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Lesser Seeming

Some Enchanter spells are kind of weak or missing some punch and so I'm going to swap out a couple in order to provide a better experience.  Since there is already Mirror Image at level 1 and Blur at level 2 I really don't think they need another defensive misdirection spell at level 3.  However I really think they need a good spell for disguising things since Disguise Self is pretty limited and Seeming is a level 5 spell.
Range:  Touch.
Duration: 1 turn /level.
Description:  Attacks against the subject miss 50% of the time.
for this:
Lesser Seeming:
Range:  Touch.
Duration: 1 hour.
Description: Visual and audible illusion changes appearance of 1 creature to another creature of at least 50% similar size and shape.  Does not provide any tactile, mobile or ability effects to recipient.
So it provides one hour of video and audio but you can't breath water if you are posing as a mermaid or reach high things if you are seeming to be a giant.  I'm also bumping up Seeming to include the audible components of Lesser Seeming - it is a level 5 spell for goodness sake.

The party continues pt.4

Thedric described  it to them something like this...
So the last session finished off with the gang back in town and blowing through some of their hard earned lootz.  After the party, they got down to replacing some of the items they lost with the cart and looking into things like spell transcription and healing potions and the amount of silver in their pockets looked decidedly smaller than it had before.  Thedric decided to advocate that they should journey into the forest to the east and search for  rumored mage's tower and the speculative lootz therein.  Naturally this decision was based on a chance comment out of the blue and not on any of the numerous maps or rumors I had planted already, and so wasn't one of the adventure hooks that I had followup material for. Fortunately I had downloaded some material I could make suitable for this as well as a copy of my area map on my iPad.  We also had a new character join the group, Calvin the fighter*.  So after a bit more shopping and paying a town wine crier** to spread notice that Henril was looking for a wife, off they went in search of adventure.

I had rewritten the random encounter tables out from 6 spots with blanks to a full 10 items*** so I was well prepared for the overland trek through the forest.  For a most of the day they didn't meet anything but in the evening they ran into a small band of hobgoblins which they dispatched.  A careful search of the hobgoblin trail showed that they were apparently tracking a wounded bear and so the party began following the trail.  They camped over night and in the morning they continued following the bear tracks across a river and up to a ridge where the wounded bear surprised them and attacked.  I think the bear did pretty well with a claw and a bite attack and she gave out some decent whacks being a d12 creature - had she been at full hp someone might have been taken down.  As it was they killed the bear but had to make camp early in the day to rest.  Towards evening while they were still resting up, another band of hobgoblins came across their camp and they fought another short battle, this time in the dark.
It actually wound up looking more like this.
The party was sure that these events all pointed to a hobgoblin encampment and so when they finally climbed a tree on a high ridge and sighted a partly rebuilt stone fortress they were sure they had found it.  These were all random encounters threaded into the narrative which just goes to show you how well that can work.  Not wanting to disappoint, I placed a number of hobgoblins by the gates and on the walls.  The group wisely decided to look for another way in.  Searching near a stream mouth they found a cave entrance and inside they came face to face with two juvenile bears.  A short nasty fight later and they were licking their many wounds and discussing the price of bearskins.  They searched the cave and found that it was an ancient dwarven forge, long since abandoned and now the lair of bears, however the cave continued and so too the adventurers.  Further in the caves, they fought a giant spider and Calvin got bit but made his save against the poison.  They came across a still pool and saw something shining in the water, Calvin went in for it and came back out covered in huge gross leeches that had to be burned off.  They recovered it and it was an old Dwarven helm with a big hole in the top and a skull still in it.  Thedric tossed the skull and put the helmet on anyway (these guys like their headgear, they wanted to make a hat out of a bear head too).

Beyond the pond they journeyed on and came across a strange room filled with fetishes and symbols painted on the cave walls all surrounding a large bone idol.  They filched the idol and moved along, noticing the floor slanting upwards and more and more bones lying around till they came across a  large natural cavern with a huge pile of bones and a very large skeleton sitting beside it.  It was obviously the remains of a lair and in the bone pile they found a variety of ancient bones from bear and other large game, as well as humanoids. Creeped out by the large skeleton, they decided to break it to pieces when they noticed that the the bone idol seemed to be heating up, that and the bone pile was stirring.  Colin and Henril managed to smash the skeleton's legs, but as they did, three large bear skeletons rose up from he bone pile.  The skeletons started moving towards the bone idol, the large skeleton with the smashed legs dragging itself along by it's arms.  A game of toss the idol ensued as the party tried to keep it away from the skeletons.  Noticing that the skeletons were growing skin and hair and that the idol was growing hotter and brighter they decided to smash it before more horrible events came to pass.  Once it was smashed the skeletons turned upon them and they made a fighting into a series of narrow caves to the north where they managed to dispatch the skeletons one by one.  They took rest in one such narrow cavern and found that they could hear voices, and so surmised that they were under the ruined tower.  After recovering somewhat, they began searching for hidden passages but found none.
They decided that they would try to do some excavation work on a collapsed tunnel at which point a small gang of hobgoblins arrived though their secret door to investigate the noise the party was making.  They dispatched two of the hobgoblins and Thedric rolled a critical on his charm spell so his new best friend showed them the secret door to the tower cellar.  Once in the cellar they dispatched the hobgoblins who were in there and the charmed hobgoblin happily showed them the secret stash of silver coins in the cistern well.  Then we had to call it for the evening.

It turned out to be a good session and the party had a welcome addition of force with Calvin as an additional fighter.  Lots of damage dealt and taken but no one was incapacitated this time.  We decided to use d6 for initiative each round of combat instead of having each player roll once per fight and I think it went faster and there was a little more back and forth so I think we'll keep doing that for a while.  There was a remark that the bear only did claw+bite instead of the more traditional claw/claw/bite but I had dropped the third attack because of the d12 hd/damage.  None of the bears were full hp, (one wounded and two young ones) and I found that with the d12 damage they did pretty well beating on the party even with only the two attacks.  A full strength bear would have probably made a good account of itself.

* We've had a few folks drop out and a couple new folks join our game group this summer - I'm no longer the newb.
**"Attend Attend, Seven Stones Tavern has today a rare and excellent vintage highly suitable for all thirsts. Today only this fine spirit is offered for an astoundingly low sum of 3 pennies.  It is also of interest that the esteemed adventurer Henril of Butterbridge is holding auditions for a wife upon his return.  She must be sturdy and inexperienced."
*** Yes, I kept the woodcutter on the forest chart in #5 position.

Thursday, August 4, 2011


In the last game session Henril, the fighter was physically wounded.  He was at -5 STR specifically.  Now this didn't have an effect on his hit points once he had rested up, and since he was strong to begin with it didn't slow him down too much aside from his bonuses in combat.  I like the idea of hit points being fatigue and stat damage being actual physical damage, I think it's working out well.  However it was brought up that by automatically having damage move from HP to STR the system might be singling out Fighters and that even a pretty severe wound wouldn't really slow down some characters.
The suggestion was that Rogues or Hunters who were wounded wouldn't really be impacted since they don't rely on STR but can leverage DEX for their bonuses.  As for the other classes, well they aside from being closer to death, it really didn't impact them if they weren't doing melee anyway.  It was remarked (and not just by the player playing the fighter!) that maybe once you hit 0 hp the damage should translate to all the stats, a general -1 à la Savage Worlds, or maybe both the 'physical' stats DEX and STR should be impacted.  I can see the logic in this and really if you have a broken rib you might not be at your best at the annual goose juggling competition either.  I can see it impacting the other stats as well really - pain is distracting and it lowers your ability to be either pleasant or intimidating.  The only problem I see for this is that if you are tracking more than one stat this way which one is going to indicate when you snuff it.  If you have a 16 STR but a 7 DEX will you die at -7 or -16?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Powerful Spells

Delta, over on his blog is doing some research into spells and their evolution from the old Chainmail to their more current incarnations and this has me thinking that Beacon spells really do need some more tweaking.  I basically did a quick pass through the SRD and tried to standardize things based on one round casting times and adjust some of the more obvious point-slot based adjustments.  I was hoping things would just adjust to their natural levels, however after seeing how effective the Goodberry spell can be when cast multiple times and played smartly - I am now thinking that the magic using classes could have a few real power play tricks to pull out.

Take the two iconic spells Lighting Bolt and Fire Ball for example, both are already waaaay powerful for level 3, and in Beacon, with point based casting, they are even worse than they would be in a spell slot based casting system.  To cast a 3rd level spell you need to be level 5 and you have to spend 7hp, and you might fumble your casting (but not likely with a +5 in addition to your MIND bonus against a DC of 13).  Fireball does 1d6 per caster level so it starts at 5d6 damage for 7hp of fatigue - a very desirable ratio.  The average Mage at level 5 would have some 30hp (possibly 40) so they could lob 3-4 fireballs in a day and therefore do some 15-20 d6 (min 20 / median 70 / max 120) damage in a day (or in a single fight) for only 21-28 hp without much worry.  A 5th level fighter can probably do more over the course of a day, but not in a few rounds, and not without probably taking a pile more damage than that.  And I can see higher level mages would be tossing around gobs of fireball and lightning bolts. And it's not just those two spells - a lot of spells are built assuming that they will only be cast once or twice a day even by high level wizards.

Off the top of my head I think that I could deal with this three ways - I could either lower (half) the level adjustment for damage for these type of spells so they scale up slower, I could simply use fixed damage and assume they will be cast more (such as a 3d6 fireball and lightning bolt), or I could put daily casting limits on some or all spells.   As usual, there are drawbacks to each of these approaches. Daily casting limits is sucky because it's something more to track and it really defeats the point of using points in the first place.  Fixed damage is ok, I don't mind having the 5th level mage tossing a couple fireballs off at 5th level if they are doing 3 d6  each and can see higher level mages whipping fireballs around like gumdrops.  However I can see where limiting the alpha strike on some spells would be problematic (fighting a huge regenerating troll say) so in this case there is a good argument for scaling up the spell damage.  Changing the damage/level ratio is probably the best compromise.

I have a feeling that this issue covers a lot of spells - my hope is that the majority will have obvious levers to pull and that the synergistic surprises will be minimum.  Ack I suppose this means more scouring the documents and play testing required.