Author Archives: donjondo

Who lives in a castle like this? (OD&D)

I was reading OSR Grimoire’s recent illuminating post, Cook/Marsh Expert: The Adventure, when I was reminded that there was a post about castles in OD&D languishing in my drafts folder. So without further ado . . .

In order to keep my brain ticking over, I thought I’d have a go at automating the castle occupant generation rules found in the original version of Dungeons & Dragons (OD&D). I’ve been finding it relatively easy to get the type of results that I’m after using Hex Describe, so I used it again for this project.

Castles are a bit of a big deal in OD&D and rightly so. They dominate the surrounding lands for 20 miles (4 hexs) in all directions and levy taxes on the villages within their barony. Adventuring parties that pass nearby will be intercepted by representatives of the castle in the following situations:

  • Travelling in same hex as castle: 3 in 6 chance
  • Travelling 1 hex away: 2 in 6 chance
  • Travelling 2 hexs away: 1 in 6 chance

If so, they could be challenged, taxed or even magically compelled to complete a quest or die! If the party tries to avoid the interception, they may be pursued (if hostile: 3 in 6 chance; if neutral: 1 in 6). It’s likely that adventuring parties will eventually feel the influence of castle occupants in one way or another. The owners fall in to six categories and they can be quite interesting characters. Here’s an example of each:

  1. This castle belongs to a Lord (level 9) guarded by 3 Giants. There are also 107 men aiding the castle’s defence. Half of these are light foot armed with crossbows, the rest are heavy foot. Also in residence: Magic-user (level 6). They seem neutral.
  2. This castle is the base of a Wizard (level 11) guarded by 4 Basilisks. There are also 95 men aiding the castle’s defence. At least half of these are light foot armed with crossbows, the others are heavy foot. Also in residence: Apprentice (level 7). They are hostile.
  3. The castle is owned by an Evil High Priest (level 8) guarded by 13 White Apes. They have an army of 102 men. At least half of these are light foot armed with crossbows, the rest are heavy foot. They are chaotic.
  4. This castle is inhabited by a Patriarch (level 8) guarded by 4 Superheroes (level 8). 111 men are under their control. Half of these are light foot armed with crossbows, the rest are heavy foot. Also in residence: 1 Assistant (level 4). They are lawful.
  5. The castle is home to a Necromancer (level 10) guarded by a Gargoyle. Defending the castle are 122 men. Half of these are light foot armed with crossbows, the others are heavy foot. The occupants seem hostile.
  6. The castle is occupied by a Superhero (level 8) guarded by a Hero (level 4) mounted on a Roc. Their forces include 108 men. Half of these are light foot armed with crossbows, the rest are heavy foot. The occupants seem hostile.

NB For those of you who might not be familiar with some of OD&D’s nomenclature, Patriarchs are level 8 Clerics, and the following are levels of Fighting-Men: Hero (4), Swashbuckler (5), Myrmidon (6), Champion (7), Superhero (8), Lord (9).

I hope you’d agree that such owners would have quite a bearing on the surrounding lands and therefore on any characters that journeyed within their realms.

It’s interesting to note that the castle occupancy rules in D&D B/X Expert Rules are a pale imitation of those in OD&D and only make a passing reference to the flavour that the earlier ruleset effused.

Note that the men listed [a patrol of 12 at most] are only part of the castle owner’s forces. The rest of the force should include men and might even include special creatures such as trolls, or combinations such as superheroes mounted on griffons.

D&D B/X Expert Rules (X59)

Believe it or not, the Rules Cyclopedia is actually slightly blander in this regard.

Note that the men listed [once more a patrol of 12 at most] are only part of the castle owner’s forces and are simply the unit sent out after annoying travelers; the rest of the castle’s forces should include other men and might even include special monsters.

D&D Rules Cyclopedia (p95)

However to its credit, the Rules Cyclopedia does at least feature demihumans as possible castle owners on the Castle Encounter table (p98). But it’s still found incredibly wanting on the topic of castle occupants.

In conclusion, I would recommend reading OD&D, even if you don’t intend to play it. You might be surprised what you find!

I would be remiss for not mentioning Wayne Rossi’s excellent The Original D&D Setting for drawing my attention towards OD&D‘s implicit procedural setting. Go read that too!

FYI Full Metal Plate Mail by Leonaru is a well-presented retroclone of OD&D. If you’re interested in retroclones of this era of D&D its definitely worth a look.

Portable Wargame: streamlining remote play

I’m a fan of Bob Cordery’s The Portable Wargame. It provides a way to play conclusive and dramatic battles without getting bogged down in byzantine rules. The game suits sparring tabletop generals and the solo hobbyist. However in my efforts to play it remotely (eg on VASSAL), there is one particular aspect that I’ve been mulling over.

When a unit is hit, the defending unit rolls to see whether they must either:

  • take the damage
  • choose between taking the damage or retreating

nb Higher quality troops are more likely to have the choice of holding or retreating.

I like this rule as it gives the non-active player an opportunity to make tactical decisions during the active player’s turn. However for games that are played remotely, this is a potential snagging point if the players are not present at the same time. In such asynchronous situations, the active player may have to wait on the non-active player communicating their wishes before the active player’s turn can be completed. This isn’t arduous but it does slow the flow of each turn that involves combat. Which in a wargame, can be numerous.

So here are some thoughts on possible guidelines (which could be adopted if both sides are in agreement) to help determine what a defending unit will do, when given a choice:

  • A defending unit will hold a strategic position if there’s a chance that reinforcements will arrive before all is lost.
  • A defending unit will retreat from a strategic position, if holding it would mean that the unit is lost.
  • If not in a strategic position, a defending unit will retreat towards a stronger position, or towards friendly lines (whichever is closer).
  • If there is any doubt as to which direction a retreating unit should move, it should be directly away from the attacking unit and not closer towards any other enemy unit.

You would of course have to agree before the battle, which locations were strategic positions. But hopefully this should be quite apparent whilst surveying the battlefield. Towns, bridges, hills, fieldworks and fortifications would be likely candidates. Woods overlooking open ground could be advantageous positions too depending on the map.

Hopefully these guidelines will be of use to anyone wanting to streamline their remote play, or indeed the solo gamer who sees merit in reducing the bias that they may have whilst playing “the enemy”.

Epées & Sorcellerie: Thieves and their correction

The Alea iactanda est blog has done a fantastic job of translating some of the new content from the 2nd edition of Epées & Sorcellerie from French into English. However I did notice a few inconsistencies in the text of the Thieves article (you can read it here) which led me to do a little digging. Part of the translation reads:

“In addition, when he is prowling about on his own, a Thief adds his attack bonus to the normal surprise chance (1-in-6). For example, a Level 4 Thief would have 2 chances out of 6 to surprise his opponents. Carrying a light source cancels this bonus.”

Attentive E&S players will no doubt recall that the surprise roll in the English 1st edition differs from the aforementioned one:

“If in doubt about the surprise, consider the probability of surprise in an unexpected meeting to be 2 chances in 6.”

So something’s amiss here. Not having the French 1st edition to hand, I consulted the relevant sections in the French 2nd edition:

“De plus, lorsqu’il rôde seul, un Voleur ajoute son bonus d’attaque à la chance normale de surprendre les monstres (1 sur 6). Par exemple, un Voleur de niveau 4 aurait 2 chances sur 6 de surprendre ses adversaires. Porter une source de lumière annule ce bonus.”

“En cas de doute sur la surprise, considérez que les probabilités d’être surpris lors d’une rencontre inattendue sont de 2 chances sur 6.”

One doesn’t need to be a cunning linguist to figure out that the inconsistency in the surprise roll is in the original French text. It is not through any fault of the translator.

But there is more dear reader!

The keen eyes amongst you will have noticed that the example given, is also flawed. A Thief doesn’t gain an Attack Bonus until level 5 according to the table in the French 2nd edition (see below).

Strictly speaking the conclusion of the example is correct – if the chance of surprise used is 2 in 6 as mentioned in the Surprise quote. A level 4 Thief has no Attack Bonus, so their chance of surprise is still 2 in 6. However the 1st sentence in the example says that the normal chance of surprise is 1 in 6, so this makes the whole example unhelpful.

So for this paragraph to be consistent with rest of the text it should really be:

“In addition, when he is prowling about on his own, a Thief adds his attack bonus to the normal chance to surprise monsters (2 in 6). For example, a Level 5 Thief would have 3 chances out of 6 to surprise his opponents. Carrying a light source cancels this bonus.”

But of course there’s always the possibility that the standard surprise roll should indeed be 1-in-6. But upon referencing OD&D (Book III p9), I’d say that my proposal is probably correct.

“If the possibility for surprise exists roll a six-sided die for each party concerned. A roll of 1 or 2 indicates the party is surprised.”

I rest my case, M’lud.

Epées & Sorcellerie: procedural character generation

It’s nice to have an open gaming table and welcome wandering greenhorns to the RPG hobby whenever possible. But I think it’s better to have a stack of pre-generated characters for a newcomer to choose from, than hold up the session while they roll up a character from scratch.

NB They can of course roll up their own character between sessions should they want to play again.

Anyhoo, with that in mind, I’ve been experimenting with procedural character generation for Epées & Sorcellerie of late. I’d seen folks use spreadsheets to automatically create randomly generated bits & bobs for RPGs, so thought I’d give making instant pre-gens a whirl.

Not being a spreadsheet wizard, it’s taken me a while to figure out how on earth to do it. I’ll spare you the technobabble for now – I’ll go in it in a future post. I really just wanted to share one of the first outputs. Poor Edward . . . he really is a hopeless character.

NameEdward
Race*Orc
Age**27
AlignmentChaos
ClassWarrior
Level1
HP3
Cultural Origin***Civilised
Languages / SkillsCommon
Read / WriteNo

* I prefer a humanocentric game but for the purposes of science I’ve included all types
** A houserule: 17 + level + 2d6
*** from E&S2 (English translation here)

So far so good. What could possibly go wrong?

ABILITY2d6 RollModifier
Strength4-1
Intelligence70
Wisdom80
Dexterity3-2
Constitution2-2
Charisma5-1
  • Shield (AC +1)
  • Flail
  • Javelin

He’s a brute in melee combat with his 4 Strength giving him -1 to hit *ahem*. Thankfully his Warrior’s Attack Bonus (+1) cancels this out. Phew!

As Edward has no armour, his base Armour Class is equal to his Dexterity. Unfortunately for Edward that’s 3 . . . so once you add in his shield, opponents only need to roll above a 4 on 2d6 to hit him. Oh dear. Though melee combat in E&S is based on opposed rolls – it’s only the highest roller that hits their opponent. So I guess Edward isn’t exactly nimble and if you can get past his average offences then he leaves himself open to a battering.

At least he can try and keep opponents at bay with his ranged javelin attack. Oh . . . That -2 Dexterity modifier isn’t going to do him any favours is it?

The nail in the coffin is his -2 Constitution modifier hampering every HD he acquires upon levelling. It helps hammer it home that he’s more than qualified to be cannon fodder.

I think he’s probably more of a danger to himself than anyone else. I can just picture him flailing himself in the face. Truly a force of chaos. And given that he’s 27 years old yet still level 1, I think it’s safe to say that he’s probably reached his peak. It could be that due to his size or savvy, he’s never mastered the art of defence, so he’s prone to getting duffed up which is reflected in his poor Constitution. As a result, he’s always the last to be chosen to ‘play for the local team’ and hasn’t gained any real experience. Or learned anything from those experiences that he has had.

I’ve grown rather attached to Edward you know. He’s too good to waste as a PC. I think he’s going in the NPC pile.

ps I realise Edward is a daft name, especially for an Orc. I just bunged a load of names in the generator to give it something to work with. For pre-gens I’d be tempted to leave the name blank so the new player can make it their own with minimal effort. But I’ll probably retool the generator as a hireling creator at some point, so it’s nice to have the function there.

Centaurs

Centaurs are pretty wild.

On the subject of centaurs, the original edition of Dungeons & Dragons says “Centaurs will be found in hidden glens. It is there that both their females and young are and where their treasure is hidden.”

OD&D also states “At worst these creatures are semi-intelligent“. B/X is pretty much in agreement and says they are “somewhat intelligent“. In both cases they seem closer to animal than man.

I realise that in a FRPG not everything has to follow the rules of nature or indeed make sense. But personally I just can’t get my head round the fact that they might reproduce, or indeed how. I’m more likely to have them be magical or divine creatures. Created as arboreal protectors by the Lord of the Forest or possibly chaotic liminal beings formed at the meeting of our world and the mystical.

Anyway… Centaurs. How do you do yours?

Caves of Qud – a noob’s guide

Caves of Qud is a science fantasy RPG and roguelike epic steeped in retrofuturism, deep simulation, and swathes of sentient plants. Come inhabit an exotic world and chisel through a layer cake of thousand-year-old civilizations. Play the role of a mutant from the salt-spangled jungles of Qud, or play as a true-kin descendant from one of the few remaining eco-domes: the toxic arboreta of Ekuemekiyye, the ice-sheathed arcology of Ibul, or the crustal mortars of Yawningmoon. Decide: is it a dying earth, or is it on the verge of rebirth?

I’m ashamed to say that although I’ve had Caves of Qud for quite a while, I’ve only recently started getting somewhere with it. I expect that like most folks who’ve tried it, I got killed pretty quickly, and left it for a rainy day when I’d have the time to get to grips with its wacky ways.

The thing is, it’s not actually hard to survive your first forays in Qud if you act like your life depends on it. Don’t expect to button-mash your way to victory when a troop of baboons takes a dislike to you. You best run!

To Freehold Games credit they’ve made Qud a lot more welcoming to newcomers than when I first started. There are now several pregenerated character types to help you get going.

Anyway here is my Noob’s Guide to Caves of Qud based on the things that I’ve picked up along the way. Who better to advise a noob than a noob mk II?

Let’s get going!

MOVEMENT (number pad)

Using the number pad on your keyboard (and not the cursor keys) is really useful for moving and interacting in the cardinal AND intercardinal directions (that is NE, SE, SW, NW). The thing is, your number pad may not seem to work. If you have a problem moving using the number pad, then give it your NUM LOCK a toggle and try again.

MORE MOVEMENT

There are a few other controls which make movement easier, once you get used to them.

  • Walk (W)
  • Move to Edge (SHIFT+ENTER)
  • Move somewhere (CTRL+ENTER)
  • Stairs up/down (-/+ on number pad)

AUTO-EXPLORING (0 on number pad)

This function is a godsend. Not only will it save your fingers from doing the donkey-work of exploring every nook and cranny, but you can discover lore that’s engraved on everyday objects.

I would recommend trying not to provoke common Neutral lifeforms. If their faction becomes hostile to you, then you’ll not be able to auto-explore whilst they are in view.

HIGHLIGHT (ALT)

Useful to show the positions of lifeforms in view, and the location of objects that you’ve discovered whilst auto-exploring. You can easily miss cave entrances in the wilds unless you use this feature.

Speaking of which, caves aren’t added to your Journal or World Map automatically. So if you find a cave, you can add them manually by opening your Journal (J) and Add (+ on number pad) an entry. This allows you to fast travel to it – handy, huh? You might as well give it a memorable name while you’re at it.

WORLD MAP (zoom out/zoom in -/+ on number pad)

As long as you aren’t lost on the surface, you can view and travel using the World Map. One square on the World Map is referred to as a parasang. Each parasang is equal to 9 game screens – there is one screen for each compass direction and one in the centre. Both the surface and sub-surface game screens are identical in size, so it’s possible to figure out where you are when you’re underground if you’ve been paying attention.

LOOKING (L)

If you want a closer look at anything, then try LOOKING at it. It’s worthwhile looking at items in your inventory if you want an idea of how they might benefit you.

INTERACTING (SPACE or CTRL+SPACE)

You can press SPACE to interact with things nearby. But if there’s more than one thing in a location, then it’s best to use CTRL+SPACE which is more thorough. NB You can interact with things in your location by choosing 5 (on number pad) as the direction.

Get (G), Open (O) and Chat (C) are useful interaction shortcuts.

ATTACK (Ranged: F then F. Melee: direction)

You can carry both ranged and melee weapons. So do so. But remember it will take a turn to Reload (R) your ranged weapon when your ammo is depleted. You can sometimes buy yourself some time by moving away as enemies won’t always follow your every move.

If you’re determined to fight things, and it’s daylight, then you may as well equip a 2nd weapon rather than carrying a torch. You won’t always hit with it, but it may help. Using a buckler shield on your arm, isn’t going to hurt either.

RUN AWAY & HIDE

There are lots of things that want to kill you. If in doubt, SPRINT. Also remember to use cover to your advantage. You can sometimes throw enemies of the scent if they lose sight of you. But if you’re planning an ambush from behind cover, then you’ll need to Wait (5 on numberpad) until the time is right.

And don’t fight Baboons, Irritable Tortoises or Turrets. They are a nightmare in early game. Snapjaws aren’t too bad as long as you don’t let them swarm you. Crocs are your best bet for easy pickings.

FORCE ATTACK (CTRL+direction)

By default you can’t attack non-hostile lifeforms – if you try, you just swop places with them. However you can Force Attack non-hostiles and inanimate objects. This can be used to destroy cobwebs and even break down walls.

HEALING

Time is a great healer. If you’re in a bit of a bad way, you could either Wait a turn at a time (5 on number pad) or Wait til Healed (‘).

MAKE FRIENDS AND INFLUENCE PEOPLE

It doesn’t hurt to have backup. Depending on your character type you may be able to Beguile or Proteslyze lifeforms to fight on your behalf. But if not, you can always try to persuade them to be your companion through if your reputation with their faction is high enough.

If you do gain a follower, then it can be useful to give them a name (Interact with them to get the option). It helps you identify them when they’re amongst a group of their own kind. They’ll also appear friendly if you Highlight (ALT) your surroundings.

THIRST / HUNGER

You will get thirsty so always carry some fresh water. If you’re running low, it’s not too hard to get hold of some by selling some of your bits and bob (see TRADE below). All the villages that I’ve been to seem to have a local dish which you can snaffle a sample of from their communal kiln. If it gives you any desirable special effects (see STATUS SCREENS below). then it’s worth buying the recipe from the villagefolk.

As far as Cooking and Gathering skills go, I think Butchery is more useful than Harvestry. Vinewafers are cheap and plentiful and not really that appetizing on their own. All the good recipes that I’ve discovered so far include some kind of jerky. So you might as well stock up as soon as you can. For maximum efficiency, you can even toggle your Butchery skill, so that you automatically do the business when you find a corpse. Mmm mmm!

STATUS SCREENS

There’s so much more to the game than first meets the eye. I’d recommend getting familiar with the following status screens. It could be a matter of life or death!

You can either use the appropriate shortcut key or press TAB to open your Inventory and then 7 or 9 (on number pad) to tab through the various screens.

  • Character sheet (X)
  • Equipment (E)
  • Inventory (I)
  • Skills / Powers (P)

If you think that something’s up with your character, then try looking at Active Effects, which is a sub-page of your Character Sheet.

There are other status screens which are useful, eg Journal (J) and Quests (Q), but I think they’re not so important very early on when you’re mainly concerned with trying not to die.

TRADE

I found trading one of the most confusing aspects of the game at first. The unit of currency seemed to be the Dram, which is water, but items also had a value in $. Trading is done via bartering – which is fair enough – but having two currencies to factor in to the equation was mind-melting to my tiny peabrain. The thing is, the answer is really simple. There is only one. Drams are $. DOH!

When trading, the difference between what you’re buying or selling is rounded to the nearest Dram, but not in your favour. So when you’re selling more than you’re buying, you may as well offer slightly more than a whole Dram, and when buying more than you’re selling, slightly less than a whole Dram to get the best deals.

WEIGHTS & MEASURES

Drams of water may be the unit of currency but water is heavy. And not that valuable. 4 Drams of water weighs 1#. I’m not sure what the unit is called but that’s the symbol for it – knowing Qud it’s probably something like Dongras. So if you find that you’re getting weighed down, then try buying items that are worth more but weigh less than water and pay for it with Drams rather than bartering. But don’t spend it all. You’re gonna need some fresh water to drink remember! Oh and if you find you’re packing too much meat to carry . . . it’s worth noting that raw giblets weigh more than preserved meat. So make some jerky at your camp fire!

MY KEYS

I made a PDF of the keys that I used to get me going. You can download it here.

For more info about Caves of Qud

Portable prezzies

Since I’ve been such a good boy this year, Santa delivered some prezzies a little early. What a good sport!

My old pal Ian Taylor of the East Neuk Irregulars was a Spanish Civil War aficionado. As a result the SCW has been on my mind of late as a potential project. Thankfully Bob Cordery has recently re-released Arriba Espana which now includes rules for playing the SCW with his Portable Wargame system. I’m particularly taken by the huge range of warring factions in the SCW but I admit I’m a complete greenhorn when it comes to who is who. I’d seen Bob’s La Ultima Cruzada recommended as a top-notch SCW sourcebook, so thought it would be a timely addition to my reference library.

And why get two, when you can have four? I must admit Bob’s The Balkan League came at me from left field. But in it he presents rules for matrix games, which is an area I haven’t explored yet, so will be interesting to see what’s what where that’s concerned. And Portable Naps? Well, in for a penny, in for a pound!

I’ve certainly got plenty to tuck in to this Christmas. May Santa be equally as kind to you. All the very festive best!

TMWWBK: The Battle of Saragarhi

The latest edition of Wargames, Soldiers & Strategy features a scenario for The Men Who Would Be Kings on the North-West Frontier.

It is ‘The Battle of Saragarhi, 12 September 1897 – No fear of death’ by Eoghan Kelly.

https://www.karwansaraypublishers.com/wss-issue-117.html

Saragarhi is a famous last-stand of the Tirah campaign, when 21 Sikhs defended an isolated outpost against thousands of Afghan tribesmen.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Saragarhi

10 Chanbara NPCs

I’ve been toying with Hex Describe over the last few days. If you’re interested in creating randomly-generated content for RPGs it’s well worth a look. As a project I thought I’d try using it to create some NPC motivations for the Chanbara RPG – a really sweet game set in a fantastical Japan in the era of the samurai.

This list is completely randomly generated so it’s not perfect. But it’s a good demonstration of the utility of these kinds of tools for adventure creation. It’s seeded with content from the Chanbara rulebook (p41) with a few tweaks – namely the addition of place and NPC names, and including Associates as the NPC in question.

  1. In Zagyunu there is a daimyo called Iwasaki that wants the wealth of a group of smugglers. However Iwasaki also needs to escape the influence of a major sect. SECRET: Iwasaki is in league with the undead.
  2. In Ryashi there is a daimyo called Fujii that wants the love of a member of a regional ninja clan. However Fujii also needs funds to defeat yokai. SECRET: Fujii committed a crime against a militant monastery or convent.
  3. In Chobeja there is a minister called Ota that wants an item owned by a minister called Miyamoto. However Ota also needs to gain influence over a local shrine. SECRET: Ota has been cursed by tengu.
  4. In Kyasuka there is an abbot called Tanaka that wants to impress a childhood friend called Sakai. However Tanaka also needs to repay a debt to an immediate underling called Taniguchi. SECRET: Tanaka has a love-child with a member of a regional ninja clan.
  5. In Hearita there is a noble called Sugiyama that wants to serve a minor lord called Sakamoto. However Sugiyama also needs to find an ally against a dragon. SECRET: Sugiyama has been replaced by a great lord called Noguchi.
  6. In Tohe there is a clan leader called Fujimoto that wants to discredit a martial arts society. However Fujimoto also needs to fulfil a duty to the Shogun. SECRET: Fujimoto has influence over a provincial governor called Kobayashi.
  7. In Hyuho there is a minister called Hirano that wants to conquer kitsune. However Hirano also needs to find a clan leader called Suzuki that is missing. SECRET: Hirano has inside knowledge about a regional ninja clan.
  8. In Gujibyo there is a noble called Sano that wants to eliminate a regionally influential temple. However Sano also needs to secure a legacy for a lover called Kojima. SECRET: Sano is under the influence of a lesser daimyo called Nishimura.
  9. In Gyamu there is a minister called Hara that wants the respect of a militant monastery or convent. However Hara also needs to prove their honour to a regionally influential temple. SECRET: Hara is selling information to bakemono.
  10. In Generyaji there is a parent or sibling called Ogawa that wants to ally with a kirin. However Ogawa also needs the help of a major daimyo called Matsuo. SECRET: Ogawa failed to assassinate the Emperor.

NB I think I’ve managed to iron out the most egregious bugs. I know the place names aren’t the best, and I haven’t bothered with NPC forenames for now. Gotta leave something for a rainy day.