Wednesday 20 June 2012

Random Village Generator

[I will get onto druids tomorrow, but I'm prepping a new Yoon-Suin campaign starting this Saturday and I wanted to get this down.]

Whenever the players first enter a 'settled' or 'mostly settled' hex, d3 villages should be randomly generated and placed in that hex, assuming a hex size of 6 miles. [It is likely there would be more villages than this in 'real life', but d3 is fine for game purposes.] Then, determine village characteristics as follows:


1 - Tiny (3d20 inhabitants)
2-4 - Small (1d100+20 inhabitants)
5-10 - Average (1d100+50 inhabitants)
11-12 - Large (1d100+100 inhabitants)

There will be number of inhabitants/6 houses, number of inhabitants/50 shrines, and 1 hall per village (rounding up all fractions).


1 - Centralized: houses grouped together around the hall, with rice paddies encircling.
2-4 - Scattered: houses spread evenly, separated by rice paddies, with a hall somewhere in the middle.
6 - Dispersed: the village represents a spread-out and sparse series of tiny hamlets and individual farmsteads, only loosely united, with a hall located apparently at random.


Each village has a headman, a priest for each shrine, and a number of NPCs from the following list (1 for tiny, d2 for small, d3 for average, d4 for large):

1. A mad hermit
2. A hedge witch (25% chance of being a level 1 magic-user, otherwise a charlatan)
3. A healer (25% chance of being a level 1 cleric, otherwise a charlatan)
4. An expert guide who knows about all of the contents of the hex
5. A locally reknowned beauty
6. A retired hero
7. An exiled criminal living as an anonymous farmer
8. An expert baker
9. An old man revered for his extraordinary wisdom
10. A locally reknowned hunter
11. A great story teller
12. A great flute player
13. A great singer
14. A visiting sage, studying the local night sky
15. A visiting sage, studying the local wildlife
16. A visiting sage, studying the local dialect
17. A fortune teller
18. A man who has been panning for gold in the local stream for years
19. An escaped slave
20. An escaped eunuch


1. Poor - the village has barely enough to scrape by
2-5. Average - the village produces enough of a surplus to trade with the nearest or most accessible town
6. Rich - the village has a special resource; roll d6:
  1. Nearby forest is rich in furs
  2. Nearby river is rich in fish
  3. Tiny amounts of gold are sometimes found in the river
  4. A small amount of opium is grown in a hidden field somewhere
  5. The soil is very rich, so the villagers can afford to sell a percentage of their children into servitude at the nearest town
  6. The villagers have organized a toll on the nearest road or river

Each village has 1 special quality from the following list:

1. A secret stash of savings is hidden under the village hall, worth d300sp.
2. The villagers are very hospitable, but kill, rob and eat visitors who stay the night.
3. The villagers shelter a group of bandits.
4. The villagers worship a giant crayfish who lives in a nearby lake.
5. The villagers breed giant velvet worms to help them hunt.
6. The villagers are very hospitable, but abduct visitors who stay the night and sell them into slavery.
7. The villagers speak an unusual dialect that is impossible for outsiders to understand.
8. The village has a fighting pit, and the locals will challenge visitors to wrestle their champion.
9. The villagers eat disgusting moths that they consider a delicacy.
10. The villagers are plagued by a group of bandits who live nearby.
11. The villagers are plagued by poisonous scorpions which inhabit the rice fields, rendering them unusable.
12. The villagers have a pet giant frog who has a 10% change of becoming aggressive if outsiders enter the village.
13. The villagers eat a type of mushroom that is mildly poisonous; they build up an immunity from an early age but outsiders will be violently ill and incapacitated for 3 days if they eat the fungus.
14. There are weirdly colourful snails everywhere, because of some characteristic of the local climate.
15. There are weirdly colourful beetles everywhere, because of some characteristic of the local climate.
16. The villagers are unusually short and stocky; it is rumoured that their ancestors were dwarfs who bred with humans, though everybody knows this is impossible.
17. The villagers worship a mantis god who demands animal sacrifices from visitors.
18. The villagers have the skeleton of a yak folk on display in the hall.
19. The villagers know where there is a mi-go lair in the mountains.
20. Almost all the menfolk were conscripted to go to war two years ago by the local oligarch, and none returned.
21. The villagers have a spell book a wandering wizard once 'left behind'.
22. The villagers are cannibals who eat the dead.
23. The villagers have a blood feud with the next village.
24. The villagers have a blood feud with a group of yak herders in the nearest 'hilly' hex.
25. The village is divided in two between two large families and their allies, who are hostile towards each other.
26. The village is frequented by gamblers seeking to avoid taxation in the nearby towns.
27. The villagers harvest a special kind of moss which has health benefits.
28. The village has a hot spring.
29. There is an ancient monument in the village.
30. There is a group of ancient statues in the village that it is rumoured are golems which will one day come to life.

Tuesday 19 June 2012

What Winston Churchill would have said to Gary Gygax

Battles are won by slaughter and manoeuvre. The greater the general, the more he contributes in manoeuvre, the less he demands in slaughter.

This is a famous Winston Churchill quote, which I think can be profitably applied to D&D, further to the whole combat as sport versus combat as war thing; with just a few changes in terminology, we get the maxim:

D&D is won by slaughter and manoeuvre. The greater the player, the more he contributes in manoeuvre, the less he demands in slaughter.

A good maxim to live by. Good play is about cunning and careful manipulation of resources (be they mundane or magical), and the environment, to achieve maximum success with the minimum amount of death. Avoiding combat where possible, and, when necessary, using resources and the environment to bring maximum force to bear where the enemy is weak. Using the dungeon and wilderness to your advantage, in getting the maximum amount of gold and experience you can. Carefully marshalling equipment, using it when it is needed, improvising where necessary, making good logistical choices.

It is also about bringing snacks and, preferably, beer.

Monday 18 June 2012


The Druid has always been a problematic D&D or AD&D character class, for me. I never understood the point of drawing a distinction between a druid and a cleric; like the barbarian, which is surely just a fighter who happens to be from a certain cultural background, the druid must surely only be a cleric who happens to worship nature, or a nature god, of some kind. The division between the two classes is entirely arbitrary and artificial, and also rather blandly Eurocentric (Christian versus pagan).

The D&D druid also flies in the face of almost everything I know about real druids (which admittedly isn't very much and is mainly gleaned from Julius Caesar's writings). These weren't hippy-dippy nature lovers, by most accounts: they were astronomers and diviners, who also acted as judges in Celtic society and had a penchant for burning people alive in giant wicker structures, a la Edward Woodward. 

That said, the druid is also probably my absolute favourite 2nd edition AD&D class, and the one I played the most during my formative years. I put this down to two factors:

1) Shapechanging.
2) You get to call yourself a "heirophant".

Over the next few days I'm going to put up my 'take' on the druid as a character class for LOTFP, focusing on these two factors: shapechanging and heirophancy. Watch this space.

Sunday 10 June 2012

The Weird World of Free Role-Playing Games

Jhkim's list of free RPGs is, I think, the biggest and most comprehensive of its kind (not that I've spent a great deal of time looking for others). It makes for interesting, strange reading - you get a sense, scrolling through it, of just how odd a hobby this is. I mean, just go and look at the list. Look at it. Is your mind boggling? It should be. There are over 500 games on that list.

In some sense I feel obscurely proud of all that creativity (glory by association) but in others I find it faintly depressing. Who, for instance, has ever played ARPLE (the "All-purpose Role Playing Logistics Engine")? Bestial Acts? (It's based on the dramatic theories of Berthold Brecht!) What about Fantasized Adventures, set in the world of Ba'kara? It has 6 arch-duchies.

I'm not poking fun, I hasten to add. Producing a free RPG is more than I've ever done. But don't you get a kind of empty feeling looking at the list and thinking of all the hopes and dreams that those designers might have had? Even though I'd suggest the vast majority of those games (the ones which aren't retroclones, previews of "real" RPGs, or the odd success story like Barbarians of Lemuria) have never been played once by anybody other than the designer and his friends

Thursday 7 June 2012

Rules and Rulings

All this talk about rules versus rulings and Mother-May-I? and what have you reminds me of the legal realists, particularly Jerome Frank.

Jerome Frank, writing in the 1930s and 1940s, was of the opinion that legal rules are essentially fictional. He was not a postmodernist; his scepticism came from a solid grounding in reality and was based on the premise that no court ever makes a decision based on the "real" facts - the decision often happens months or years after the event, it often relies on suspect eyewitness testimony, and judges and juries are fallible and biased.

Rather than being based on a clear understanding of the facts, then, court decisions are instead merely a manifestation of what individual judges consider to be just and proper in that particular instance, taking into account the impact on society, with the judge paying lip service to the rules after the event. The decision-making process, in fact, is the reverse of what a textbook will tell you, according to Frank. That is, in almost all cases, the judge first makes a decision based on his own idea of what he thinks would be just, and then he searches for a rule to fit it to afterwards.

This was not a problem for Frank, and indeed it was something he thought a mature legal system should embrace. He said:

We want judges who, thus viewing and employing all rules as fictions, will appreciate that, as rules are fictions 'intended for the sake of justice', it is not to be endured that they shall work injustice in any particular case...

In other words, Frank was of the belief that in a mature legal system, the fictional veneer of predictability and robustness that rules provide is valuable, but actually all that really matters is that judges make the just decision in any given case. Applying a rule "correctly" ought never to result in an injustice. Judges, basically, ought to be free to make any decision they deem proper, unconstrained by the need for "legal clarity" or undue respect for rules and principles that have no real basis in reality.

Something similar can be said, in my view, about the role of the GM in a traditional game. I'll use Monte Cook's example as my own:

Say you've got a special weapon (magic or tech, doesn't matter) that makes foes all itchy so they are distracted. In a tightly written ruleset, the designer defines not only the effect, but what (if anything) can counter the effect. Maybe it would state that if the victim suffers a -3 penalty on all actions for the next ten turns unless he spends two consecutive turns and makes a new successful resistance roll, in which case the effect ends. In a GM-logic ruleset, you would write it entirely differently. You would explain what's going on in the situation, and let the GM handle the rest. So it would say that the victim is covered in an itchy and irritating powder and suffers a -3 penalty for the next ten turns while the powder was on his flesh and clothes. Then it would be up to the player to say, "I want to clean the itching powder off." And the GM says, "okay, if you take two turns, and make a new resistance roll, you can get it off." The advantage in the latter case is, the player could also say, "I'm going to jump in this nearby pool of water," and the GM is free to say, "Okay, that washes it off immediately." Or the player might say, "I use the water in my canteen to wash it off," and the GM might say, "Okay, that still takes two turns, but the roll is automatic now." Or the victim's mage friend might conjure a wind to blow the powder off. Or whatever.

The "tightly written ruleset" is the kind of approach that Jerome Frank argued was meaningless and self-defeating: maybe in a very limited set of circumstances it is possible to create rules which will always apply in the same way in all situations, but those rules are rare and in the majority of cases the rule will not be directly relatable to the "facts", which do not really exist in any event. It is better to recognise that, generally speaking, in most situations, the GM will make a decision based on what he or she thinks is best or most appropriate, and may then retro-fit a rule to that decision afterwards. The process for making the itching-powder decision would go:

GM thinks about what would happen if the player tried what he was trying -> GM makes a ruling -> a fictional rule is stated. (Fictional in the sense that no rule is really "real".)

The next time itching powder is used, the same process is followed. It may be that the GM makes the same ruling as before, but he shouldn't feel bound to, because the circumstances may be a little different (this time, it's raining, so the powder can be cleaned of automatically in just one turn of action, or something). He should just decide based on what he thinks is appropriate.

Frank would say we should embrace this if we want to have a mature approach to role playing. Unfortunately, not everybody does.

Tuesday 5 June 2012


Beneath a glacier in the high peaks of Upper Drongukk there once lived a spider goddess called Zard-kuh. According to legend, Zard-kuh became envious of a beautiful princess of Silaish Vo, who all of the princes of the Mountains of the Moon desired to marry. Zard-kuh knew that her arachnid form could never compete with the slender femininity of the princess, so she used her venom to paralyse those men who she could; she would then spirit them away to her mountain home and force them to mate with her before she ate them.

The children of Zard-kuh and these unfortunate men of ages past are called the Pajikot, and they are found throughout the northernmost places of Yoon-Suin. Typically, they appear as a giant spider with a legspan of 6'. On the tips of their legs are human hands, and their heads are those of men, with 8 eyes clustered in their foreheads. They are wretched things that cannot speak but can communicate a kind of mute desperation even as they devour all that they come across.


Armour Class: 6
Hit Dice: 1+1*
Move: 150'(50')
Attacks: 1 bite
Damage: 1d4
No. Appearing: 2d4
Save As: F1
Morale: 7
Treasure: Nil
Intelligence: 6
Alignment: Chaotic
XP Value: 19

Pajikot can launch silk from their abdomens to bind opponents. Instead of making its bite attack, the Pajikot spreads silk over a target to bind it, successfully hitting on a roll against AC9. The target must make a STR check to break the strands, or else be paralysed.

Saturday 2 June 2012

On Gaming with Teenagers and Ageing

The weekly game of LotFP I'm involved in (as a player) has been an interesting experience, as the players are divided between old fogeys and yoof in roughly equal measures. The DM, Patrick, is I think 29 (though he'll correct me on that). Then there's me, 30, and a 31 year-old. On the other side of the adult/child divide are David and Adam, affectionally referred to as the "gruesome twosome", who are 16 or 17-ish; Adam is a nephew of one of the other players, and David is his strange friend. This is a new thing for me, as for my entire gaming life, such as it is, I've gamed with people who are broadly my age or older.

On Wednesday the gruesome twosome brought along two more friends. I viewed this with a little trepidation; I don't get along with anybody below the age of about 25, unless they have breasts and nice dimples, so I wasn't expecting it to be a great deal of fun. This is compounded by the fact that the "gruesome twosome" have a tendency towards the...chaotic. And in real life, not in alignment terms.

Yet, surprisingly, it went very well. One thing I noticed is that the youngsters were actually quite keen to be deferential to us seniors, looking to us for their lead on a number of occasions. But I also noticed that age-old truism in action: the older you get, the more conservative you become. The younger players at the table's approach to the game can be best described as devil-may-care. There's a corridor? Let's charge down it. There's a room full of bats ahead? Let's kill them. There's a load of old crates in the room? Let's search them. On a number of occasions this resulted in extremely awkward and dangerous results, and yet the natural exuberance of youth meant they never really learned their lesson.

By contrast, the oldsters were caution personified. We spent the initial, lengthy encounter essentially hiding in long grass while the others did everything. In the dungeon, I was trying to parlay with the creatures we met, and frightening off bats by yelling and making noise; anything to avoid a fight. Every corridor we came down had pebbles thrown down it to make sure there wasn't a trap. We made clever use of spells to avoid direct confrontation.

Patrick is a much cuddlier DM than I am, and he was also going easy on the newbies a bit, which I think was fair enough and probably the correct way to play it. But I think, in a more rules-as-written version of the game, it wouldn't have been long before the PCs of the youngsters were all dead.

It made me realise something that we all know already: D&D was originally a game for adults. Gary Gygax was 35 or 36 when it was first released. Dave Arneson was a spring chicken at 26ish. These weren't nerdish teenage boys, young, dumb and full of cum. They were nerdish men. The game rewards the kind of caution and conservatism that adults will bring to the table.

This means that in its purest form the game is best enjoyed by grown-ups. And yet it has, throughout most of the past 30 years, been a preserve of adolescents. I believe this may be one of, if not the, major explanation for the gradual kid-gloving of the game over the preceding decades - adolescents, particularly adolescent boys, are idiots. You can't leave them in charge of a game like OD&D without them abusing and misunderstanding it horribly, which in turn leads them to think it is broken and unfair. And thus: 4e.