Thursday, April 26, 2012

Into the Vaults: SPI's Swords & Sorcery

The Adventurer Conqueror King system is for me the first fantasy role-playing game to answer the question “Why wouldn’t I just use the game I began using in 1978?”  At the same time, the Adventurer Conqueror King system is closer to the game I began with than more recent editions of the game, giving me a good reason to re-visit some of the gaming artifacts of my youth.  In my Into the Vaults series of posts, I share my thoughts on these artifacts.

I began playing (Advanced) Dungeons & Dragons in 1978.  A friend of a friend, a little older than us, had a boxed set that I never saw and was our Dungeon Master.  One of my friends had the relatively new AD&D Monster Manual.  Another friend had the newer still AD&D Player’s Handbook.  As the new addition to the group, I would acquire the AD&D Dungeon Master’s Guide as soon as it was available in my local hobby shop.  I will be forever thankful for my grandmother for many reasons, perhaps least of which that she agreed to buy me a book that looked like a “crazy book” to her, with its devilish giant (an Efreet, of course) and scantily clad woman on the cover.  When I wanted to borrow the Player’s Handbook or Monster Manual, I loaned out my Dungeon Master’s Guide to my friends, and vice versa.

There were no adventures or campaign worlds available for purchase that we were aware of.  Only many years later would I read of using Avalon Hill’s Outdoor Survival game board as a campaign world.  Our Dungeon Master used the SPI Swords & Sorcery game map as our campaign world.  The game Swords & Sorcery has a mixed reputation due to the puns and lack of seriousness with which the game approaches fantasy.  In spite of that, the game itself is pretty interesting and the world it portrays even more so.  We were probably too young to catch a lot of the humor, and what we did catch, we more or less ignored.  We used the Swords & Sorcery map as a “hexcrawl” setting.  In particular, hunting dragons in the dragon tunnels in the mountain ranges of the map was a lucrative, if dangerous, pursuit.  Many a randomly generated dragon met its end at our hands, and many a randomly generated dragon hoard filled our coffers.

Some years later, I took my copy of the Swords & Sorcery map and physically cut and paste terrain features from other map sheets to “advance the time line” of the campaign world.  Later (What was I thinking!), I managed to acquire another copy of the game so that I would have the original map.  I’m thinking both of these maps would be a great blast from the past to use for an Adventurer Conqueror King system game.  I’ll keep you posted.

Proficiencies 101: Customization

This post is the third in a series of posts that will take a closer look at proficiencies in the Adventurer Conqueror King system main rulebook.

Players can customize their characters through their choice of proficiencies.  This is demonstrated well by the Adventurer Conqueror King system’s concept of templates.  The Adventurer Conqueror King system main rulebook includes a pre-generated template for each class, with proficiencies, equipment and spells ready for play.  Additionally, the Adventurer Conqueror King system Player’s Companion includes eight templates for each class.  For example, a Fighter can be a Corsair, Lancer, Mercenary or Thug, while a Mage can be a Court Magist, Hedge Wizard, Magical Scholar or Soothsayer.  Just browsing through the proficiency, equipment and spell selections of these templates can spark ideas for players and Judges alike.  Interestingly, the Player’s Companion suggests determining character templates randomly, in lieu of the roll to determine a character’s starting gold.  As a side benefit, Judges can similarly randomly generate class-specific NPCs as needed.  Although this series of posts is focused on proficiencies in the Adventurer Conqueror King system main rulebook, I felt anything I might do to demonstrate character customization through proficiency selection would duplicate the work already done in the Player’s Companion.

Judges can customize their games using proficiencies.  Of course, there are many possibilities, and one Judge might choose a different approach with different games, be they one-off games, a brief, change-of-pace campaign, or a long-running campaign.  One possibility I am not considering is increasing the rate at which classes gain proficiencies.  There are a wealth of other options available that I want to explore first, without the challenges inherent in potentially adding power to the classes.

A Judge could choose not to use proficiencies.  This might be most appropriate for a quick game or a campaign that wants to stay as close as possible to the experience of the original B/X rules.  When a Judge chooses to use proficiencies, the classes in play may affect how the Judge wants to implement proficiencies.  For example, suppose a Judge has decided to limit classes to the Fighter, Mage and Thief.  This would greatly restrict the proficiencies in play as well.  The Judge might choose to mitigate this by allowing a character to select class proficiencies from both the character’s class list and one other class list.  Perhaps Fighters and Mages could select proficiencies from the Cleric list, Fighters and Thieves could select proficiencies from the Explorer list, and Mages and Thieves could select proficiencies from the Bard list.  Although some choices wouldn’t make sense, this would add more variability to the three classes in play.

Campaign-specific proficiencies are an obvious customization that a Judge might consider.  However, there is a challenge to campaign-specific proficiencies in the form of the existing general and class proficiency lists.  If the prospective campaign-specific proficiency seems like something all classes (and indeed 0th level folk) would have access to, making the new proficiency a general proficiency is a quick solution.  Similarly, a Judge might customize his game by adding or subtracting existing proficiencies from the general list.  For example, perhaps the Judge has decided that wrestling is common among the cultures of his world, seen frequently at children’s playgrounds and village fairs, with accomplished wrestlers held in high esteem.  Therefore, the Judge adds Combat Trickery(wrestle) to the general list.  Or, a Judge might add or subtract existing proficiencies from the general list for specific races or cultures only.  For example, Combat Trickery(wrestle) might be considered a general proficiency for humans only or Nordic humans only.

But what about the class proficiency lists?  As discussed earlier in this series, the class proficiency lists are an important aspect of the class design.  Therefore, I am hesitant to add to or subtract from the class proficiency lists willy-nilly.  There are several possible solutions, which a Judge might use individually or together.  First, “exchanges”.  Using this approach, the number of proficiencies on the class lists must not change.  Any campaign-specific proficiency added to a class proficiency list must have a corresponding proficiency removed from that list.  This approach is most appropriate when either the changes are known to be few, or the Judge is interested in “hand-crafting” the classes for a hopefully long-running campaign.  A downside to this approach is that it can be maintenance intensive if the campaign includes a lot of custom proficiencies and/or classes over time, as each new possibility might trigger a number of changes.  Exchanges could be done in conjunction with modifications to the general list.  For example, if Running is considered a general proficiency for humans and elves, that potentially opens a “slot” for a campaign-specific proficiency for the Fighter, Thief, Assassin, Bard, Bladedancer, Explorer, Nightblade and/or Spellsword.  A second approach is “simile”.  Using this approach, each new campaign-specific proficiency is considered “like” an existing proficiency on the class proficiency lists.  Any class with access to the existing proficiency gains access to the new proficiency.  This approach is quick and somewhat “future-proof” if new classes are added to the campaign later.  However, some curious outcomes could result.  A third approach is proficiency “packages”.  Using this approach, a block of proficiency slots, say four, is added to all class proficiency lists.  The Judge then creates pre-selected packages of campaign-specific or existing proficiencies that represent backgrounds, organizations, styles or themes in the Judge’s campaign.  A character could choose not to select a package at the start of a campaign or even never, if the general and class proficiency lists include the proficiencies the character intends to learn.  A Judge can customize this approach as desired, perhaps dedicating one or two slots to campaign backgrounds, two or three slots to campaign themes, or even one or more slots as the campaign unfolds and opportunities or secrets become available to characters.

This concludes this week’s post in my Proficiencies series.  I plan to post in this series every two weeks until it finishes.  Next up, I return to my analysis of proficiencies.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Kindred Witch Tradition

The following is a new Tradition for the Player's Companion Witch class.

The kindred, or "family" as they call themselves, claim to be the origin of all traditions of witchcraft.  Sages interested in such things debate this, but the origin of the kindred and their traditions are lost in the mists of time.  The kindred have no homeland and seem to have never had a homeland.  They are well-known wanderers, almost universally mistrusted as outsiders wherever they go.  Although few kindred actually become witches, a group or community of kindred will likely be led by, or at least counseled by, a kindred witch.  Other kindred witches live in self-imposed isolation.  When superstitious villagers whisper of an ancient crone in an equally ancient forest, they likely whisper of a kindred.

Bonus Spells: 2nd – Floating Disc, Message, 3rd – Whispering Wind, 5th – Dimension Door

1st level:  Kindred believe the gift of witchcraft is in the blood, passed from generation to generation.  A kindred witch gains the Kindred Bloodline proficiency (see below).

3rd level:  Whether kindred are the origin of all traditions of witchcraft or not, there is no denying that their tradition is varied.  The character may select any one proficiency from the Witch Proficiency List.

5th level:  As a kindred learns to wield the magic in her blood, she becomes aware of the magic all around her.  A kindred witch gains the Sensing Power proficiency.

7th level:  The kindred's knowledge of spells both ancient and forbidden is legendary.  With your Judge's approval, select two divine spells to add to your class spell list.  Your Judge may allow you to select arcane spells to add to your class spell list as divine spells of 1 or 2 levels higher.  Additionally, the divine rituals Seven-League Stride and Mass Seven-League Stride (see below) do not count against the total number of ritual spells of each spell level that a kindred witch of 11th level or higher may know.  A kindred witch must still learn and cast these ritual spells as with any other divine ritual.

New Proficiency

Kindred Bloodline: The character has the blood of the kindred in her ancestry.  The kindred are cursed with a long natural life.  They may live as long as elves, but suffer the full effects of aging (see the Kindred Aging table below; elf and human are shown for comparison).  Kindred also share an elf’s immunity to paralysis.  Because of their curse, history and others’ ignorant superstitions, the kindred are widely mistrusted.  The character suffers a -1 penalty to the reactions, loyalty, and morale of humans and demi-humans.  The character gets a +1 bonus to the reactions, loyalty, and morale of kindred.

Kindred Aging

Race     Youth Adult  Aged  Old   Ancient
Elf      15–50 51–200 -     -     -
Human    13–17 18–35  36–55 56–75 76–95
Kindred  13-17 18-45  46-75 76-95 96-200

New Ritual Spells

Seven-League Stride
Divine Ritual 6
Range: touch
Duration: see below

This ritual enables a willing creature touched to travel rapidly to a designated location.  The creature touched may carry up to its full encumbrance load while travelling via this ritual.  From the perspective of the creature touched, it will arrive almost instantly at the designated location, vaguely perceiving its surroundings during the journey.  However, the base actual time passed in hours will be the distance in miles to the designated location divided by 21, i.e. the creature touched travels as a rate of 21 miles per hour (unaffected by any intervening terrain).  For example, if the designated location is 1,680 miles away, the creature touched may arrive 3 days and 8 hours after being touched.  The creature touched must make a proficiency throw to avoid getting lost (which is affected normally by the terrain at the designated location).  If this throw is not successful, each point the throw is missed by increases the actual time passed by 10%.  Continuing the example above, the creature touched is travelling to an ancient ziggurat in a jungle, has no modifiers on throws to avoid getting lost (e.g. from class abilities or proficiencies), and rolls a 1.  The journey now takes 6 days and 16 hours.

Mass Seven-League Stride
Divine Ritual 7
Range: touch
Duration: see below

As Seven-League Stride, except that the ritual affects up to one touched creature per two caster levels, or one touched vehicle of up to the Judge's discretion in size, and all of its contents.  Larger vehicles require more expensive and/or rarer special components.  The caster must designate a guide among the creatures affected to make the proficiency throw to avoid getting lost.  All creatures affected must be willing, or they will be left behind.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Always two, there are.

An emphasis and strength of the Adventurer Conqueror King system is the “end game” – higher level game play typically marked by the establishment of a “stronghold.”  Interestingly, the Adventurer Conqueror King system provides a number of different approaches to building a stronghold, varying by class.  Also, the custom classes construction system in the Player’s Companion implies a hierarchy among the human strongholds, basically Fortified Church > Castle > Sanctum and Dungeon > Hideout.  (The dwarven, elven and gnomish strongholds may be between a Castle and a Sanctum.)

Something I want to explore in the campaigns I Judge is the possibility of mobility between these strongholds and their end game possibilities (as long as the character has the gold …).  The rules in the Player’s Companion would establish a character’s highpoint in the hierarchy, but the character could choose to “downgrade” (and later upgrade) if that meets the character’s goals.  Using an example from the Player’s Companion, an Explorer like Robin Hood might begin with a Hideout and later move up to a Castle when he recaptures his ancestral home.  (The Hideout might be transferred to a henchman, or broken up and abandoned.)  A necromancer might permanently “hide in plain sight” with a Hideout in a city and a network of thieves to bring him fresh bodies.

In light of the above, I wanted a stronghold possibility with as small a footprint as possible, below a Hideout in the hierarchy.

Master and Apprentice

In lieu of another type of stronghold, a character may build a safehouse.  A safehouse is similar to a hideout, but even more secret.  Building a safehouse does not require first securing a domain (although it is likely wise for the character to secure sole ownership of the safehouse).  Similarly, in no way may a safehouse be used to hold a domain.  A safehouse does not attract any followers at any time.  However, the master of a safehouse may hire ruffians who may be deployed on hijinks.  A master with sufficient gold may build more than one safehouse if he so desires.  Note that a safehouse need not be an actual “house” or building.  A safehouse might be a river barge or a carnival wagon amongst a travelling carnival.  A higher level character’s safehouse might be a hut that walks on bird legs or a mysterious, vanishing tower.

Additionally, the master may select a single apprentice (irrespective of the number of safehouses constructed).  This apprentice will be a level 5 henchman who makes himself known to the master.  The apprentice does not count against the number of henchman the master may hire.  Also, the apprentice will begin with a +2 on all future morale rolls, as if the apprentice had gained two levels while in the master’s service.

The apprentice will be of the same class as the master, and neither the master nor the apprentice may have henchmen of that class.  The apprentice must be paid as any other henchmen.

Should the master upgrade any of his safehouses to another type of stronghold, the apprentice will leave unless the master can hire the apprentice as a normal henchman.  The former apprentice now counts against the number of henchman the master may hire.  Should the master not retain the apprentice under these circumstances, the Judge should roll on the Henchman Loyalty table with a -2 adjustment, to determine if the apprentice leaves with hostility.

Proficiencies 101 (continued)

This post is the second in a series of posts that will take a closer look at proficiencies in the Adventurer Conqueror King system main rulebook.

The Adventurer Conqueror King system further defines classes using proficiencies.  This is accomplished in two ways.  First, and most obvious, each class includes a proficiency list of the proficiencies that may be selected by a character using a class selection choice.  The number of proficiencies on each list is determined by a simple equation revealed by the custom classes construction system in the Player’s Companion, but the important point is that the number will be far below the total number of proficiencies in the system.  This necessarily focuses each class design to choose carefully what proficiencies will be available to characters of that class.  (Note that the examples that follow are limited to the Adventurer Conqueror King system main rulebook.)

Some proficiencies are broadly available to classes with a common feature, such as spellcasting: Battle Magic, Prestidigitation (all spellcasters, plus the Bard), Quiet Magic and Unflappable Casting.  Other proficiencies are available only to a specific group of classes, such as arcane classes: Black Lore of Zahar, Elementalism and Familiar.  Or divine classes: Contemplation, Divine Blessing, Divine Health, Laying On Hands and Prophecy.

Second, the totality of the class proficiency lists further defines class by the extent to which certain proficiencies are restricted to a class or group of classes.

Only the Thief, Assassin and Elven Nightblade have access to certain back alley proficiencies: Combat Trickery(incapacitate), Contortionism, Skulking and Sniping (includes an Explorer who selects Ambush).  Both similar and dissimilar classes may have access to proficiencies other classes do not have access to: Berserkergang (Fighter, Vaultguard), Climbing (Assassin, Explorer), Elven Bloodline (Mage, Bard), Soothsaying (Mage, Spellsword), Survival (Fighter, Explorer).  Rarely, a class uniquely has access to, or does not have access to, a proficiency: Ambushing (Explorer), Lockpicking (Thief), Transmogrification (Mage), Weapon Focus (all except Mage).

The Adventurer Conqueror King system defines race and class simultaneously via class.  Therefore, the same means of further defining class may also be used to further define race.  For example, unlike classes might have some similar proficiency choices because they are the same race, or some proficiency choices may even be limited to only characters of a specific race.

Both the Elven Spellsword and the Elven Nightblade have access to: Beast Friendship, Mystic Aura, Passing Without Trace, Precise Shooting and Sensing Power, and uniquely have access to Wakefulness.  Both the Dwarven Vaultguard and the Dwarven Craftpriest have access to: Caving, Craft, Endurance, Engineering, Illusion Resistance and Mapping, and uniquely have access to: Dwarven Brewing and Goblin-Slaying, and do NOT have access to Running, Skirmishing, Swashbuckling and Weapon Finesse.  [Why do I feel compelled to add a Running, Skirmishing, Swashbuckling, Weapon Finessing dwarf to my game?]  Of course, there are a lot of proficiencies the Vaultguard and Craftpriest do not have, but in comparing like classes, these four stood out to me as absent and likely purposefully so as a race defining feature.

Dwarven Brewing may be my favorite Adventurer Conqueror King system proficiency.  Mechanically, Dwarven Brewing answers the question, in a world were dwarves are completely non-arcane, what kind of dwarf could identify a potion with a sip?  A dwarf who enjoys his beer and ale, of course!  However, Dwarven Brewing is all about adding flavor to a character.  As a Judge, I love that.  An adventure involving a secret brewing recipe immediately springs to mind.  And, coincidentally, I played in a campaign that began with the apparent assassination by poison of a church official, and eventually led to a local brewery.  I would have loved to have had Dwarven Brewing in that campaign.

This concludes this week’s post in my Proficiencies series.  I plan to post in this series every two weeks until it finishes.  Next up, I take a break from analysis of the system and discuss players customizing their characters and Judges further customizing their games using proficiencies.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Razor Hag Witch Tradition

The following is a new Tradition for the Player's Companion Witch class.

The Razor Hags were born out of hatred.  Long ago, an angelic young girl dreamed of growing up to become a bladedancer.  When she came of age, she journeyed far to a temple of the bladedancers to become an initiate.  However, the sisters superior looked into the future and saw the terrible pain the young girl would inflict.  They refused to train her.  This set the young girl on a path of vengeance that would lead to her becoming the first Razor Hag.  In time, she would collect a debt in blood from countless bladedancers.  A Razor Hag is no match for a bladedancer in open, fair combat.  But a Razor Hag is not easily drawn into the open, and she never fights fair.

Bonus Spells: 2nd – Sharpness, 3rd – Rain of Darts, Striking, 5th – Poison Darts

1st level:  The first lesson of a Razor Hag is survival.  A Razor Hag's frenetic fighting style provides a +1 bonus to armor class at 1st level, and an additional +1 at 7th and 13th level, as long as she can move freely.
3rd level:  The second lesson of a Razor Hag is tenacity.  A Razor Hag's fanatic focus provides a +1 bonus to attack throws, proficiency throws, saving throws, and initiative rolls for 1 turn (10 minutes), once per day per level of experience.  The Razor Hag may enter into a fanatic focus without expending an action.
5th level:  The third lesson of a Razor Hag is pain.  A Razor Hag learns to wield short swords, swords and two-handed swords, sharpened to a razor's edge.
7th level:  The final lesson of a Razor Hag is blood.  A Razor Hag's blood debt provides a +2 on attack throws against humans, elves, dwarves, halflings, gnomes, and nephilim. At level  13, this bonus increases to +3.

New Spells

Rain of Darts
Divine 3 (Razor Hag Witch)
Range:  0'
Duration:  instantaneous
This spell produces a torrent of darts in a cone 15’ long and 10’ wide stretching from the caster’s hands.  Any creatures within the cone will suffer 1d4 points of damage per level of the caster.  A successful saving throw versus Blast reduces damage to half.

Poison Darts
Divine 5 (Razor Hag Witch)
Range:  0'
Duration:  instantaneous
As rain of darts, but the darts deliver a magical poison.  Any creatures suffering damage from the darts must make a successful saving throw versus Poison or die.