Monday, December 7, 2015

Into the Vaults: How one lair added AWESOME into a campaign

I was a player, not a Judge, when the first Dungeons & Dragons Book of Lairs was published [REF3: The Book of Lairs (1986)], but one lair from that book plus my player character mixed together to dramatically impact the future of our campaign.  It seemed like such a simple thing …

We were on the road between adventures, when we learned of troubles caused by a newly arrived creature of considerable ability.  Certainly, the creature seemed very sure of its invincibility, as it was trivial to track its depredations back to its lair.  The encounter was one of those that seemed on the edge of a Total Party Kill, but we were victorious over … one ogre mage.

What followed was entirely my fault.  My character was the de facto leader of the party, and I should mention that we used my character’s Gray Elf lifespan as something of an excuse for the occasional meta-knowledge of monsters the character might have.  My character said “The horn of this magical creature must surely have some value for future magical items.  I will remove it while you gather the remaining treasure.”  And we left.

We were successful in our next endeavor, and we returned to the City State of the Invincible Overlord for some well-deserved drunkenness and debauchery.  It was during that revelry that a passing bar maid first blasted our party with a cone of cold.  That hurt!

My character and I forgot that ogre magi regenerate.  Except for any parts that are removed.  Oops.  My Judge decided that the ogre mage had become a laughing stock among his kind for losing his horn, and he would pursue my character until one of us was dead.

So, my character had the horn bejeweled with precious metals and gems, to be the finest drinking horn any adventurer might hope for.  We would both prove hard to kill.

The campaign would continue to be marked by that ogre mage popping up at the most inconvenient times.  My character, being effectively hunted, took on a shadow persona and established a network of safehouses, always travelling, never truly at home.  Really, this suited him, as he was not a nice guy.  But that’s another story, of how one little artifact can turn a campaign ...

Of course, I am writing this now in anticipation of Autarch’s latest product, Lairs & Encounters, being crowdfunded now.  If one lair with one monster can bring about the fun I remember above, what will 135 plus lairs do?  I’m looking forward to finding out!

Monday, October 19, 2015

Launching the fledgling Mage

When Judging a prospective Mage (or similar arcane) player character, I first discuss what sort of Mage the player has in mind. This informs my selection of the first spell in the Mage’s starting spell repertoire:

“A 1st level arcane spellcaster starts the game with a base of one 1st level spell in his repertoire. The Judge should select an appropriate spell for the arcane spellcaster to begin with.” (ACKS p. 67)

To the extent possible, I hope to avoid cookie-cutter Mages, and a Mage’s first spell selection can kick this off by choosing a spell best fitting the Mage. I choose the spell from those available in ACKS core, the Player’s Companion or even a unique spell I construct as needed. Any remaining spells are determined randomly among the ACKS core spells only. In my games, there is an implied spell rarity, wherein core spells are common (among spellcasters), Player’s Companion spells are uncommon and other spells are rare or unique.

The Mage’s starting spell repertoire complete, I next ensure the player is aware of ACKS spell signatures:

“While spells have general effects that are common to all who cast them, the specific sensory effects associated with the spell will vary from caster to caster. This specific sensory effect is known as the spell signature. A spellcaster should write a short description of the signature for each spell he can cast.” (ACKS p. 69)

Spell signatures are an important aspect to customizing a Mage. Finally, I will advise the player on Proficiency selections which may be appropriate for the Mage. Proficiencies are the capstone to customizing an ACKS Mage.

As the Mage advances, magical scrolls, a magical wand and/or a magical staff are items the Mage will hope to acquire. When a beginning player does not realize this, the Judge should direct the player to the related rules. When a Mage is not fortunate enough to acquire these items through adventure, the Mage can turn to crafting the items. Again, the Judge should direct the player to the related rules as needed.

A Mage with Alchemy selected three times can craft potions as an Alchemist as early as level 1. As an example, a Witch can brew potions at level 3, but is delayed in scribing scrolls until level 7. I mention these to demonstrate that the crafting level limits could be tweaked by the Judge: "Every campaign is a law unto itself." Note that the ACKS Magic Research throw table supports throws for levels 0 through 14. I would not change these values, directly. I might consider campaign-specific and situational modifiers.

For something more dangerous to those looking for a swifter path to power, perhaps the rules-as-written level limits are in fact traditional limits arising in a campaign world over time. In this case, magic research can be attempted below the recommended levels, but failure could be spectacular! The Judge might use or adapt the Player’s Companion Magical Experimentation mishap tables to this purpose. Researching spells, scribing magical scrolls, or brewing potions prior to the recommended level might risk a Minor Mishap. Crafting magic items prior to the recommended level might risk a Major Mishap. Learning and casting ritual arcane spells, crafting magical constructs, creating magical cross-breeds, or creating necromantic creatures prior to the recommended level might risk a Catastrophic Mishap. (In such a campaign world, adventurers of all levels might be hired to stop an individual engaged in such dangerous research.)

Although certainly not necessary, a Judge running a campaign in a nudge higher magic world might consider my campaign rules for ACKS Level 0 Spells and/or Differentiating Mages. I have found Level 0 Spells to be a flavorful, not unbalancing addition (when appropriate to the campaign tone.) Although I have not experienced issues with Differentiating Mages, it may be many years before I personally can experience each option from levels 1 to 14 with a variety of players. Any feedback is welcome.

Friday, September 25, 2015

% In Lair: None

I don’t know if ACKS invented dynamic lairs (a raison d'etre for the otherwise ancient % In Lair), but ACKS is the first game in which I actually used % In Lair.  I love dynamic lairs!  In one of my earliest ACKS games, I created a “dynamic dungeon” consisting of a series of prepared encounters in a sprawling cavern complex.  It worked fantastically well.

For some time now, I’ve wanted a list of all Autarch-published ACKS monsters.  Compiling that list, I noticed a lot of monsters with “% In Lair: None” (see below).  “Nooooooooooo!” I thought.  I want “lairs” for all my monsters.

Many if not most of the % In Lair values are likely legacy values.  Although I can see the logic of some monsters not “lair-ing”, I don’t agree with all of the list below.  (Yellow Mold never appears in its lair, only as a wandering monster.  Wait, what?)  It may be the creative Judge in me, but I want prepared encounters with every monster that are more than “a monster appears.”

Therefore, I am now running “% In Lair: None” as “% In Lair: 5%.”  The number of monsters in the prepared encounter will be the same as for a wandering monster encounter.  At least to start with – more monsters may make sense for some monsters, perhaps even being the reason for the prepared encounter, e.g. a spot favorable for finding the monster’s food, bringing more than usual.

Monsters with “% In Lair: None” often have “Treasure Type: None.”  However, not all.  Most of those that do have treasure have “Incidental” treasure types (C, I, M, or P), often said to be found in their bellies.  I think similar incidental treasure may be appropriate for any monster capable of swallowing (or killing in place) a human, such as a Tyrannosaurus Rex or Yellow Mold.  Also, Treasure Type Q seems as appropriate for a Djinn or Efreet as a Frost or Fire Salamander.

Core rulebook monsters with "% In Lair: None"

Black Pudding
Boar, ordinary
Boar, giant
Crocodile, ordinary
Crocodile, large
Crocodile, giant
Elemental, air
Elemental, earth
Elemental, fire
Elemental, water
Elephant  Treasure Type: Special
Fish, giant, catfish
Fish, giant, piranha
Fish, giant, rockfish
Fish, giant, sturgeon  Treasure Type: I
Gelatinous cube  Treasure Type: C
Golem, amber
Golem, bone
Golem, bronze
Golem, wood
Gray ooze
Green slime
Herd animal
Horse, light
Horse, medium
Horse, heavy
Invisible stalker
Leech, giant
Mastodon  Treasure Type: Special
Men, merchant  Treasure Type: J (per 10 wagons)
Ochre jelly
Octopus, giant
Pterodactyl, pterodactyl
Pterodactyl, pteranodon
Purple worm  Treasure Type: P x2
Rhinoceros, ordinary
Rhinoceros, woolly
Rot grub
Sea serpent  Treasure Type: M, I
Shark, bull
Shark, mako
Shark, great white
Snake, spitting cobra
Snake, pit viper
Snake, sea snake
Snake, giant python
Snake, giant rattler
Squid, giant
Statue, animated, crystal
Statue, animated, stone
Statue, animated, iron
Toad, giant  Treasure Type: C
Tyrannosaurus Rex
Whale, killer  Treasure Type: M
Whale, narwhal  Treasure Type: Special
Whale, sperm  Treasure Type: P
Yellow Mold