Sunday, September 25, 2016

Gold Box D&D - Any advice for making a party to go from Pool of Radiance to Pools of Darkness?

So I've been thinking about getting back into the Gold Box D&D games lately, specifically the Pool of Radiance/Curse of the Azure Bonds/Secret of the Silver Blades/Pools of Darkness series. I've played Pool of Radiance quite a bit, but I haven't beaten it yet. I'd like to take the same party of six characters through all four games, without replacing any along the way. Anyone have any experience with these games? If any readers want to share some advice on how to avoid screwing up this idea from the beginning, I'd really appreciate it.

Here's what I'm considering so far:
  1. Dwarf Fighter/Thief multi-classed character (True Neutral?)
  2. Human Fighter. After reaching Level 8 or 9, dual-classed to Cleric. (Lawful Good? Chaotic Good? Chaotic Neutral?)
  3. Human Cleric (or maybe Fighter). After reaching level cap in Pool of Radiance, dual-classed to Paladin in Curse of the Azure Bonds. Lawful Good.
  4. Human Cleric. After reaching Level 9, dual-classed to Magic-User. (Lawful Good? Chaotic Good?)
  5. Human Magic-User. After reaching Level 9, dual-classed to Ranger in Curse of the Azure Bonds. (Chaotic Good?)
  6. Human Magic-User. Not dual-classed. (Chaotic Good?)
So by Pools of Darkness, I'd have a Dwarf Fighter/Thief, a Human Paladin (part Cleric or Fighter), a Human Ranger (part Magic-User), a Human Cleric (part Fighter), a Human Magic-User (part Cleric), and another Human Magic-User.

If it helps, the Gold Box games use AD&D 1E rules, more or less.

By the way, I'm probably just going to avoid Hillsfar altogether.

EDIT: Here's something I wrote over on Google+:
"Unfortunately, there were a few self-restrictions I did want to abide by if possible (and if it's not TOO foolish to do so), which I forgot to mention in my blog post because I had a brain fart. I was hoping to have one person in the group be a race other than human, although I don't really need more than that. I also wanted all of the classes (the six in these games, that is) represented in the party in one way or another, and I was hoping that no two characters would be EXACTLY the same, class-wise, although it's fine if they're close. Other than that, I think I'd be up for about anything, but those are arguably already some major restrictions on my choices. I'm fine with giving the characters all 18s in their abilities, at least, since from what I hear about the hardest fights in the later games it's either that or reload a lot. :P"

 EDIT #2: After some helpful feedback from ckdecember gaming on Google+, I've decided that it might be a good idea to wait until Level 16 or 17 before switching my dual-classed characters to their second classes.

EDIT #3: Here's what I think I've settled on:
  1. NG Dwarf Fighter/Thief (multi-class) - Selena
  2. CG Human Fighter 13 ---> Magic-User - Flame Princess
  3. NG Human Fighter 13 ---> Ranger - Rhona
  4. LG Human Cleric 17 --->Paladin - Alice
  5. CG Human Magic-User 18 ---> Cleric - Kendra
  6. CG Human Magic-User (not dual-class) - Melissa (I'd name her Étaín, but I doubt you can do fancy accent marks in the game)
Now the remaining question is this: Gameplay-wise, how much does gender matter? I know it affected things in AD&D 1E somehow, but I don't know if it really matters.

Ideas for Starting a Campaign (D&D or LotFP)

Generally, my goal is to publish at least 11 blog posts a month. This is the second month in a row I haven't reached that goal, so starting in October I'm going to try and return Dragons Gonna Drag to its regularly scheduled programming. In the meantime, I should probably write at least one more post for September, so here's something I've been thinking about lately.

You know that old trope in which the party members all meet up in a tavern or an inn at the beginning of the campaign and conveniently join forces, often for very little reason other than getting on with the adventure? I'm not exactly going to bemoan the idea here; it's a cliche because it generally works, and it has arguably become a genre convention by now. However, it sure is nice when things are kicked off in a slightly less predictable way, especially when the players can start out either right in the thick of the action or in the process of making a major, meaningful decision.

Hopefully, I might be starting another campaign soon in addition to my regular one, so I figure it shouldn't hurt to list some ideas for the campaign's beginning in case my potential players want to give me some feedback about what interests them, or in case anyone else might either find some inspiration or share some of their own. Now, by no means do I want to claim that these are original ideas I came up with by myself; many of the things I'm going to list are also pretty common suggestions. Much of this will probably count as "preaching to the choir" for any readers who were playing RPGs before I was born or when I was in diapers. Still, I think these suggestions are less common, and in my opinion more interesting, than the meeting-in-a-tavern trope. If anyone wants to tell me about a time when one of these ideas was used in a campaign, for good or ill, I'd love to hear it.

Starting off with one specific adventure, after which point the players can choose where to go and what to do:

  • The game begins with the party all locked up in the same dungeon or prison, and the first adventure is their escape attempt. (I apologize that I do not remember exactly where I read this, but I've seen it suggested more than once that a good way to start a Lamentations of the Flame Princess campaign would be to have the party wake up in the cannibals' lair in Better Than Any Man - possibly with their shackles accidentally loosened and their starting equipment bundled in a nearby room.)
  • Some variations on the above: The party consists of people who have been press ganged to work on the same ship, conscripted to fight in the same military unit, abducted by the same god/witch/fairy/UFO, unwittingly teleported to the same alien planet, or kidnapped to serve as The Most Dangerous Game for the same group of bloodthirsty nobles.
  • The PCs have all been mutually and mysteriously gifted a mansion or similar piece of property through the will of an eccentric, wealthy individual of some notoriety. Some or all of the PCs might not have even met this benefactor. The party is free to claim the property and use it as they see fit, on the condition that they can make it habitable. Naturally, the place is haunted, cursed, infested with monsters, or otherwise operating as a dungeon-style adventure location, of course.
  • The party is a group of pilgrims/travelers who happen to meet on the road en route to the same location, shortly before they run into trouble together on the way there. A Stranger Storm, the sample adventure from the free Referee Book from LotFP, works well with this approach, as does the adventure Tales of the Scarecrow. This was also basically how the game of LotFP I played at Gen Con 2016 started. You could pull a bit of a switcheroo with this idea - the players think they're headed for one adventure (and maybe they are, if they survive the surprise), but they get a different one instead or beforehand.
  • The party does meet in a tavern, but not by chance. They were all asked to meet there by someone who wants to hire them for a heist or some other mission. Think Mr. Johnson from Shadowrun. For added fun, consider making the meeting itself a trap.
  • The party members are residents of the same town or region who become mutually trapped in the area or otherwise endangered due to a disaster or attack, and the most sensible way for them to survive and escape would be for them to work together. Over at Anxiety Wizard, the Deep Carbon Observatory campaign currently in progress seems to use this approach, at least with some of the PCs. I think it would also be a fun way to start No Salvation for Witches.
Starting off in a "sandbox" right away, presenting the party with a choice of adventures in the very first session:
  • The PCs are all members of a Hunting/Safari/Mons Club, and they have found or been presented with several leads as to the locations of various magical creatures/monsters to track down. I think this could work well with Isle of the Unknown.
  • The party members are all refugees fleeing persecution, and there are several places to which they could try and escape. Think Sirenswail (which makes good use of this premise as a lead-in to a specific adventure location), but with several possible adventure locations depending on the escape route chosen by the party.
  • The party consists of a team of officially-endorsed (but still wet behind the ears) witch hunters, bounty hunters, crusaders, etc., and due to either some unique circumstances or some weirdly unfettered institutional policies, the PCs start off with their choice of assignment. They must pick which menace to hunt down or which group to prosecute/persecute (possibly like a reverse of the suggestion above - the PCs are the ones hunting the refugees). If the DM wanted to start off with a specific adventure instead of a choice of several ones, the party could simply have to earn the right to choose their assignments after the first one.
  • Much like in the "gifted a mansion" example above, the PCs all inherit joint custody of a collection of books, maps, and various documents. This collection gives plot hooks for all kinds of different quests: You want to go treasure hunting? This journal says that unfathomable wealth is buried in the lost tomb over here, and unimaginable riches are probably still on board that ship that suck under suspicious circumstances over there. You want arcane knowledge and magical powers? This diary details the methods by which you could summon the Ripened God deep in the Thrice Forbidden Grove and try to ask for some favors, but first you'll need some rare ingredients for the ritual, which can be found here and here, if you believe the rumors. You want to curry favor with the authorities? These letters over here contain tantalizing clues to the unsolved occult murders Duke de la Poer and his family. I'm personally thinking of something along the lines of Clarke's "Memoirs to Prove the Existence of the Devil" from The Great God Pan by Arthur Machen, or Miskatonic University's good ol' Lovecraftian giftschrank, but the collection of documents certainly doesn't have to be horror-themed. It could consist of the research notes of a scholar who secretly discovered the Hollow World, or the treasure maps of a retired pirate captain showing where he buried all his booty, or the library of famous sage and wanna-be alchemist Poindexter von Magicpants.
  • You could try the open-ended hexcrawl version of the aforementioned "unwittingly teleported to the same alien planet" idea. The PCs all get plopped down against their will in the middle of the same place on the hexmap, and what happens to them next depends entirely on what direction they decide to go, how thoroughly they want to explore, which dungeons or other plot hooks they wish to stop and investigate, and what gets rolled on the random encounter table.
Really, this post is an attempt to answer two different questions for the players. First, why is my character going on this adventure instead of doing something else? The two answers I find most likely to satisfy the player are "For profit," and "For survival." Second, why is my character pursuing this adventure as a part of a team with these other characters who are probably strangers? The most reasonable answer in many cases will probably be "For better chances of success." If your players want to come up with other motivations, like "Because it's the right thing to do," or "For revenge," that seems perfectly fine by me - I'm not here to inflict the RPG equivalent of kink shaming on anybody - but that probably shouldn't be expected or required of your players just so that they have some kind of reason or excuse to get involved. Likewise, I think it's fine and dandy if players want to come up with a little bit of mutual backstory explaining why the party is together, but I don't want that to be a prerequisite for play. You don't always need a huge amount of backstory or prep for a campaign to start off strong.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Customizing Carcosa's Classes

Carcosa, as presented in the Lamentations of the Flame Princess release of the campaign setting by Geoffrey McKinney, is a pretty over-the-top place. Here are some over-the-top tweaks to the two main character classes in the setting, which I am considering for use in a future campaign.

Fighter:
  • Basic Fighter Stuff - The Fighter's Base Attack Bonus increases as in LotFP. The Fighter can also Press, Fight Defensively, and Parry like in LotFP.
  • Skills - The Fighter gains skill points like a Specialist in LotFP, and can spend them on any skill except Sneak Attack or Luck (see below).
  • Sneak Attack - The Fighter starts with 2 ranks in Sneak Attack. The skill increases to 3 ranks at Level 4, 4 ranks at Level 7, 5 ranks at Level 10, and 6 ranks at Level 13.
  • Great Cleave (or "Unstoppable," from Warriors of the Red Planet p. 8) - When the Fighter kills an enemy with a melee attack, the Fighter can make an additional attack against another enemy within melee range.
  • "Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?" - Once per day, if the Fighter takes no action for at least three full, consecutive rounds of combat other than getting pumped up about killing an enemy, then the next attack the Fighter makes (in that same combat encounter) will do the maximum amount of damage (based on the Fighter's weapon), stun the target for 1d4-1 rounds, and give anyone who targets that same enemy (in that same combat encounter) a +1 bonus to hit. This ability cannot be used in the same attack as a Sneak Attack.
  • Fuck Psychics - The Fighter can no longer start play with psionic powers, no matter how high the Fighter's ability scores are.
Sorcerer:
  • Basic Sorcerer Stuff - The Sorcerer is the only class that can perform rituals, as per Carcosa. In addition to the effects listed in Carcosa, the completion of rituals (or the subsequent bargaining with summoned entities) may sometimes lead to additional powers or rewards, at the DM's discretion.
  • "I Will Destroy You With My Mind!" - The Sorcerer automatically starts play with psionic powers, and all 8 powers are available to the Sorcerer every day (rather than 1d4 random powers).
  • Luck - The Sorcerer starts with 2 ranks in Luck (see LotFP Playtest Document 0.1). The skill increases to 3 ranks at Level 4, 4 ranks at Level 7, 5 ranks at Level 10, and 6 ranks at Level 13.
  • Identify - Once per day, the Sorcerer can magically/psionically investigate the function of a magical, high-tech, or otherwise unusual item in a manner similar to the spell Identify in LotFP. This process costs 100 gp in materials and takes 1 full day to complete.
  • Recharge (based on the ability from Warriors of the Red Planet p. 14) - Once per day, the Sorcerer can attempt to magically/psionically recharge one special item that carries limited charges (such as a ray gun). Doing so costs 1d10x100 gp in materials. The Sorcerer must roll a d6: on a roll of 6, no charges are restored and the Sorcerer must make a Saving Throw vs. Magic or else be subjected to 1 year of Unnatural Aging (see Carcosa p. 14) and waste 1d4 additional charges of the item. Otherwise, a number of charges are restored to the item as follows: 1 charge at Level 1, d4 charges at Level 4, d6 charges at Level 7, d8 charges at Level 10, and d10 charges at Level 13 and above.
  • "I Won't Lift A Finger!" - The Sorcerer starts with a Base Attack Bonus of 1, and this bonus does not increase upon gaining a level, as per most classes in LotFP. Likewise, the Sorcerer cannot Press or Fight Defensively, and can only Parry like a Magic-User/Cleric/Specialist in LotFP.
Both Classes:
  • Hit Dice are d8, as per the Fighter in LotFP.
  • Experience Points needed per Level are based on the Sorcerer.
  • Intelligence, Wisdom, Charisma, and Saving Throws use the rules from the LotFP Playtest Document 0.1. Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution still use the rules from LotFP Rules & Magic.
Possible Changes:
  • Give "Basic Fighter Stuff" to both classes and remove either "Identify" or "Recharge" from the Sorcerer to put the classes slightly more in line with Carcosa as written.
  • Replace "Identify" with "Magic Sense" from Warriors of the Red Planet p. 105.
  • Change how Unnatural Aging works for the Sorcerer, since Carcosa doesn't get too specific about it, if I remember correctly. Maybe replace it altogether with some other penalty.
  • Change the name of the Luck skill.
  • Add some new skills and remove some Old Ones. Ha.
  • Give different stats/abilities to the different technicolor peoples of Carcosa.

List of LotFP Classes from Official and Semi-Official Sources (Print and PDF Only)

There are a ton of awesome custom-made classes on various blogs and other websites for Lamentations of the Flame Princess and other OSR games, but I found myself wondering how many different classes have actually appeared in official LotFP releases, and how many have likewise appeared in "third-party" print or PDF publications that are considered to be intentionally compatible with or based on LotFP.

So, I decided to make a list of classes from such publications. This is mostly just meant to be a quick reference for anyone curious as to what's out there so far. If I missed anything, please let me know!

Also, I may do a round-up of links to interesting online character classes at some point.

UPDATED ON FEB. 21, 2017 TO ADD APPENDIX 3.

Official Sources:

Lamentations of the Flame Princess Rules & Magic
  • Cleric
  • Fighter
  • Magic-User
  • Specialist
  • Dwarf
  • Elf
  • Halfling
A Red & Pleasant Land
  • Alice (or Alistair or Fool)
Carcosa
  • Sorcerer
Green Devil Face #4
  • Knight of Science
Third-Party Sources (in Print or PDF):

The Chaos Gods Come to Meatlandia
  • Raconteur (Bard)
  • Chaos DJ (Bard)
  • Nexus Bard
  • Kaldane
  • Carnomancer (or Meat Mage)
Pusher Gnomes (Pay What You Want add-on for The Chaos Gods Come to Meatlandia)
  • Pusher Gnome
Saltmouth Issue Zero (playtest document for The Driftwood Verses)
  • Blattarian
  • Vassal
  • Navigator
Saltmouth Issue Negative One (playtest document for The Driftwood Verses)
  • Blattarian (updated from Issue Zero)
  • Navigator (updated from Issue Zero)
  • Vassal (updated from Issue Zero)
  • Whaler
The Undercroft #9
  • Skinned Moon Daughter
  • Doctor
  • Detached*
  • Partners in Crime*
  • Fallen*
  • Pariah*
*These classes are from an article called "Dead Inside," and are intended to completely replace the character classes from the Rules & Magic book, rather than simply supplementing the list.

Vacant Ritual Assembly #4
  • Barbarian
Vacant Ritual Assembly #5
  • Ritualist
Wolf-packs and Winter Snow (Technically a separate game, but partially based on LotFP and compatible with it)
  • Expert
  • Hunter
  • Magician
  • Neanderthal
  • Aberrant**
  • Morlock**
  • Mystic**
  • Orphan**
  • Wendigo**
**These "Alternate Classes" are not intended to be available to players without the explicit permission of the GM.

Appendix 1: Classless Systems and Alternate Character Advancement Systems
  • "New Character Creation and Advancement Techniques" from Green Devil Face #5.
  • "Classless Lamentations of the Flame Princess" from The Undercroft #4.
  • "Everyone is an Adventurer" from The Undercroft #9.
Appendix 2: Honorable Mentions
  • The Lotus Monk from Qelong is intended to be a template of abilities for specific NPCs, but if you want to stick it to the man you can probably turn it into a character class pretty easily.
  • There are some special rules for religion that can be used with many classes, but especially Clerics, in England Upturn'd.
  • If you wanted to make a Psionic class, the psionic rules in Carcosa might not be a bad place to start.
  • The Meat Men from The Chaos Gods Come to Meatlandia constitute more of a suite of abilities/mutations for PCs to acquire than a separate class per se, but the text does briefly touch on the possibility of using the Meat Man as a class.
  • The Thundercloud Druid from Vacant Ritual Assembly #3 is not a separate class, but rather a background that can be chosen along with a class. Rules-wise, a Thundercloud Druid essentially gets a specific package of starting equipment instead of randomly-rolled starting money. This issue of Vacant Ritual Assembly also introduces two new skills: Falconry and Play Wind. Conceivably, a separate Thundercloud Druid class could be created if one so desired.
  • An article in Vacant Ritual Assembly #4 called "The Oolai Cloth-Skins and Dragon Blackhide Bastards" presents a system of magic item creation/character enhancement (depending on how you look at it) which could perhaps be used as the basis for some kind of Magical Weaver class.
  • A new skill that is exclusive to Magic-Users, Pipe Arts, is presented in Vacant Ritual Assembly #5. In the same issue, Lycanthropy Rules are introduced, which could possibly be used to make a Werewolf class.
Appendix 3: Some Classes That Technically Count Because They're in PDFs, but Which Are Not "Published" in the Sense of Either Being in Print, Being on a Storefront Like DriveThruRPG, or Being Released as a Playtest Document for a Future Publication
(This is definitely an incomplete list, and this stuff should really go in a separate post about free online character classes, but because I didn't define what I meant by "published" well enough until now, I guess these technically belong in this post somewhere. Besides, they're cool.)
Heliothra: A LotFP Class for G+ (Available here)
  • Heliothra
Lycan's Bane: A LotFP Class for G+ (Available here)
  • Lycan's Bane

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Any Suggestions for Reskinning Adventures?

In my current campaign, there are two adventures that the party is likely to want to tackle in the near future. I'm hoping that I can reskin some pre-written adventures to fit what I'm looking for. Basically, I want to save some time and effort in terms of cartography, monster stats, some unique magical effects, etc. while changing and adding a bunch of other stuff to match my particular campaign. Here's what I have in mind:

First, the party wants to use time-travel magic to alter a key event in history. Instead of literally going back in time, I figure the party could use a mystical artifact to travel to a surreal dungeon which serves as an abstract representation of time/history/fate/destiny. By interacting with various features of the metaphysical dungeon (like convincing the Moirai to cut or not cut certain threads, or hacking the Matrix, or whatever), the party could alter the past in precise, almost surgical ways...albeit limited ways, and probably at some hideous cost, of course.

Second, the party will probably want to enter the Sealed City of Duvan'Ku, deep in the Untamed Lands, and try to undo the evil curses placed on the world by that empire of cruelty. This may very well serve as the climax of the whole campaign, so I was thinking about making the city (or some structure within it) a megadungeon chalk full of the kind of hideous magic found in adventures like Death Frost Doom, Death Love Doom, and Fuck for Satan. If they can get to the heart of this labyrinth, the party may be able to find a way to stop a dreaming god from awakening and ending reality as they know it...again, at a hideous cost, because this is the cult of Duvan'Ku we're talking about here. Nothing is painless with them.

Here's a list of pre-written adventures/modules I've already used in the campaign in some capacity, to the extent that I consider them disqualified for use in this reskinning project.
  • A Stranger Storm (LotFP Referee Book)
  • Tales of the Scarecrow
  • Tower of the Stargazer
  • The Pale Lady
  • The Flayed King
  • Oil and Water
  • Fuck for Satan
  • No Salvation for Witches
  • The Tower (Green Devil Face)
  • The House of Snails (Green Devil Face)
  • Fantasy Fucking Vietnam (Green Devil Face)
  • The Monolith from Beyond Space and Time
  • A Single, Small Cut
  • Death Love Doom
  • The Stygian Garden of Abelia Prem
  • Lamentations of the Gingerbread Princess
  • Forgive Us
  • Hammers of the God
  • The Bloodsoaked Boudoir of Velkis the Vile
  • Thulian Echoes
  • The Idea from Space
  • Beyond Mere Lotophagi (Green Devil Face)
  • People of Pembrooktonshire
  • The Seclusium of Orphone of the Three Visions
  •  Death Frost Doom
  • Scenic Dunnsmouth
  • The Gem Prison of Zardax
  • Towers Two
There are some other books/products I've used which I don't consider disqualified, so they are not listed here.

So, any advice? If anyone has any ideas to share, I would greatly appreciate it.

UPDATE - OCTOBER 1, 2016

I received a lot of great suggestions, so thanks everybody! Here's what I've got so far.

Time Dungeon Ideas
  1. Hero Quests (from RuneQuest)
  2. Old Planescape adventures
  3. World of the Lost
Duvan'Ku Dungeon Ideas
  1. The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun
  2. I1 Dwellers of the Forbidden City
  3. Deep Temple (from Snake Pipe Hollow, RuneQuest)
  4. Maze of the Blue Medusa
Ideas for Either Dungeon
  1. Deep Carbon Observatory
  2. Monster Island (RuneQuest)
  3. Book of Quests (RuneQuest)
  4. Bad Myrmidon
  5. Vortex (Numenera)
  6. The Devil's Spine (Numenera)
  7. A Red & Pleasant Land
  8. Misty Isles of the Eld
UPDATE - DECEMBER 6, 2016
For the "Time Dungeon" adventure, I ended up using a combination of Deep Carbon Observatory, the underground "wilderness crawl" from Thulian Echoes, and the dungeon from World of the Lost. I think it worked out really well, so thank you again for the suggestions, folks. Now I just have to decide what to do about the "Duvan'Ku Dungeon."