Monday, 17 October 2011

One hundred posts and counting

I had a funny hiccup with Blogger today. I've just posted my hundredth post, but with a dodgy internet connection. When I click "Publish", the connection fails. I nearly lose my temper, thinking my work has been lost without being saved. Turns out that it did publish it, but under the date I started writing it (20th Sept) not today when I published it. Go figure. 
I am quite pleased that I've managed to stick with this blog. I haven't always felt like it, but I have had my fair share of attempting big projects and failing to see them through. This is definitely one of my better projects. 
So is it popular? Compared to the top notch OSR blogs out there (see my blog roll), no, this is one of the small fry. Average hits of about 10 per day. So far I've accumulated 3,300 hits in the blog's history since I started in February. Not exactly major league. 
So why do I consider it a success?
Because I am proud of my work, even if nobody else gives a crap. Kaelaross is a world that has been floating around my D&D notes in drips and drabs for about 10 years, primarily intended as a more coherent and original alternative to Mystara (whether it's actually better than Mystara is unlikely). This blog has helped me to clarify, rewrite and sometimes rethink a lot about a world that had potential. I have also added new material - about two thirds of the info in this blog was created for this blog, while the other third was created beforehand, mostly hand-written and hand-drawn, such as this map of Teiglin where it all started....

One of the things I realised after giving up on my previous blog was to put aside worries about what other people think of my blog or whether they notice it or not. I made the decision to make myself the primary audience - this blog is what I would like to see in Kaelaross, not what I think others want. 
But like a lot of creative folk, I enjoy sharing stuff with other gamers. It's a secondary consideration - an added bonus as it were. But it is why this is a blog and you guys are reading it, not simply document files and .JPGs on my hard drive. It actually also helps with the discipline of adding to it every two or three days. The idea that blog readers are interested is sometimes the extra motivation I need to sit and write something and put it out here on the blog, even if I'm not in the mood. 
So far it's working ok for me, and who knows, maybe I'll do another retrospective if I reach 200 posts....

Friday, 14 October 2011

Spells for the care and maintainance of Golems

These four spells are used by the mages of Maquosmouth to keep their golems and animated statues functioning despite ongoing conflict with creatures of chaos emerging from the Chaos Portal in the same city.

Mend Animated Statue
3rd level magic-user/elf spell
Range: Touch
Duration: Permanent
This spell repairs 1d6 damage per casting on an animated statue. The caster must be in contact with the animated statue, so it is usually cast outside combat. Animated statues, being constructs, do not benefit from clerical healing that would affect living creatures.

Animate Construct
4th level magic-user/elf spell
Range: Touch
Duration: Permanent
This spell is the animating spark that completes the process of creating golems, animated statues and other constructs. This spell does not create the creature's body out of thin air - the caster or craftsmen on his behalf, must have built the constructs body to a required standard, taking time and money (the exact details are left to the DM, but should be reasonably challenging for PCs).

Caster's level  Type
7th             Wax animated statue
8th             Crystal animated statue,
9th             Wood Golem, Terracotta Animated Statue
10th            Iron Animated Statue,
11th            Stone Animated Statue
13th            Bone Golem
15th            Amber Golem
20th            Bronze Golem
24th            Drolem

Once animated, the construct will follow its creators instructions, usually direct command, or via the Instruct Construct spell above.

Enhance Construct
4th level magic-user/elf spell
Range: 60'
Duration: 1 turn or 1 encounter
This spell gives a construct magical bonuses for its duration, giving it +2 to hit and +2 to damage with each hit. It also reduces all direct spell damage on the golem (such as from fireballs, walls of fire, magic missiles etc.) by 1 per dice of damage.

Instruct Construct
5th level magic-user/elf spell
Range: Touch
Duration: 1 day
This spell allows the caster to give a series of instructions, which may include direct commands, or exceptions or additions to those commands. There may be one instruction per level of the casting mage, and only one of these spells may affect a construct at any one time. A second casting with more instructions will "overwrite" the previous casting. A mage casting this spell needs to write down the instructions (if a player character is casting the spell, this list should be given to the DM). Such a list of instructions might be like
1) Every hour, walk around the stronghold perimeter.
2) Attack any non-humanoid non-animal non-construct creature you encounter.
3) Bring humanoid creatures to the caster of this spell.
4) If the humanoid creature will not go along peacefully, attack it until it complies or it is dead.
5) If an animal or construct attacks you, defend yourself, otherwise leave it alone.
A mage needs to assume the construct is not good at terms that require discretion or judgement such as "enemy", and do not recognise alignment, levels or hit dice. Constructs are capable of distinguishing between species, genders and races, but usually only recognise individuals if they are the constructs' creator or the caster of this spell. Constructs are not particularly clever, and will follow instructions as written with almost no discretion. The construct's creator can halt or override these instructions with his own direct commands. DMs are allowed to decide how a construct will interpret these instructions, and also if a single instruction is too long or complicated and should be split up into two smaller ones.

Mend Golem
5th level magic-user/elf spell
Range: Touch
Duration: Permanent
This spell repairs  2d6 damage on a golem per casting, magically mending any damage. The caster must be in contact with the golem. Golems are not living creatures, and so neither heal naturally nor gain from clerical healing spells.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

The Walrus Channel

The Walrus Channel is the main body of water that sits in the middle of the Walrus Freehold. It is dangerous, but at the same time it is the lifeline by which the civilized folks can trade with and travel to the rest of Toutus.

The Walrus Channel has many natural hazards, including pack ice that moves back and forth with the seasons, sometimes trapping and crushing ships that don't move away fast enough, icebergs that can wreck ships with ease, freezing fog that hides other dangers and sudden storms that can rise up in a matter of half an hour or less. In a bad season, as many as a third of ships that travel these treacherous waters can fall foul of these dangers. 

On the pack ice that extends into the Walrus Channel every winter, there are various dangerous denizens including giant polar bears, arctic hydras (as other hydras, but amphibious and immune to cold attacks) and white dragons. Frost Giants are rare on the pack ice, because not many of them know how to swim.

The famous great walruses are found on the shores and icepack north of Walrus City. They provide meat, leather and most importantly very valuable ivory.

In the sea there are slow but vicious arctic sharks (treat as mako sharks but half speed), as well as narwhals, killer whales and various minor marine life.
Just to the south of the Walrus Channel there are several settlements of merfolk, and patrols can sometimes be seen observing the ships going in and out of Trislem harbour. They have little contact with humans but some merchants speculate they could provide valuable goods such as the very rare golden pearls, if properly persuaded. 

There are a number of piratical raiders who will attack both shore settlements and any ships they catch at sea.

The Ice Reavers - Human barbarians, like vikings, equipped with chain mail, round shields and battleaxes. Some of these have connections to fences who know the Red Hand. They are based in tribal villages in the north of Cortacus Island, west of Najask and Fjordport.

The Drowners of Sorrow - Undead pirates who are more interested in inflicting misery on the living than gathering treasure. Survivors who have evaded or outrun the Drowners of Sorrow have made out at least four different ship names - the Frostfire, the Icy Banshee, the Curse of the Kraken and the Bonehulk.

The Aggrakkatt Clan - Gnoll & hobgoblin pirates who use captured human ships. Although they will initially use human slaves to work the oars and rigging, they will also treat the humans as fresh meat when they get hungry, so the human slaves will be depleted the more the voyage carries on.

Wilderness Encounter Table in the Walrus Channel

Roll 1d12+1d8
2 White Dragon, Large
3 Pirates - Drowners of Sorrow
4 White Dragon, Small
5 Pirates - Ice Reavers
6 Pirates - Aggrakkatt Clan
7 Giant Walrus
8 Pack Ice
9  NPC merchant
10 Narwhal
11  Fog Bank
12  NPC Fishermen
13 Arctic Shark
14 Storm
15 Iceberg
16 Giant Seagull
17 Wereshark
18 Arctic Hydra
19 Severe Storm/Tempest
20 Sea Serpent

Monday, 10 October 2011

Adventure Seeds in the Godsblood Straits

The Cocky Cavalier and the Mad Wizard
A cavalry officer, Colonel Garrald, wants to retake Maquosmouth with a company of elite horsemen. His confidence is based on the claims of Zumthar the Erudite, a mage who reckons he can close the Chaos Portal. The PCs are invited along for the ride by a friend who is accompanying the mage and colonel.
The cavalry company fight their way into the northern half of Maquosmouth towards the Chaos Portal. Unfortunately, if they make it that far, they find the mage is low level (6th level) and is quite delusional, believing he has mystic powers that simply don't exist. The Chaos Portal cannot be closed.
Colonel Garrald is over-confident, and not tactically astute - his ideas of command involve shouting louder than everyone else, and the order is nearly always "Charge!" regardless of enemy numbers or terrain.
It becomes apparent that the best hope for the human invaders is to get over the river onto the south bank and link up with the mages who control the golems and living statues. Of course, the mages will be distinctly unimpressed, and negotiations may be needed to get the help the cavalry needs.

Beneath the Temple of Khazep
It is suggested by a sage in Ironmarket that the PCs should investigate the Fortress of Khazep where the Talloak Forest meets the sea. It is known that before the Summoning, great and powerful magic weapons, staffs and spellbooks were created and stored there. The Temple-Fortress fell by treachery within, as Chaos Cultists had infiltrated the temple. There is now an uneasy truce between the three main chaos cults - Pelepton, Slargor and Storshin. Although most cultists are human, each cult has its own monstrous contingent. It is only once the PCs get there that they realise the magic items they seek are not on the surface, but down in the deep, extensive catacombs that are filled with lethal traps and restless undead.
Normally the clerics of Khazep are uncaring and stand-offish, but if the PCs make a serious effort to clear out some of the Temple, the clerics of Khazep would be willing to make the journey and camp nearby, to provide healing and restorative spells as needed.

A Coup in Ironmarket
A chaotic mage is making a bid to take over Ironmarket. He is using summoned elementals to attack and hopefully kill the members of the town council apart from the Colonel of the Town Watch, whose family he has kidnapped. He has also bribed at least one captain of the town watch. He hopes that by controlling the city watch he will have some sort of legitimacy as the new ruler. Of course, he has his own band of hired thugs in addition. Some of these will be apparent from the start, acting as the mage's bodyguards but others will remain in disguise until they can cause maximum surprise and trouble.

Friday, 7 October 2011

The Forts and Villages around Ironmarket

Soon after the Summoning that destroyed the Duchy of Urdus and created Chaos Portals in the three main cities of Aerisport, Maquosmouth and Urdus, the human survivors, regrouped in Ironmarket, realised they needed defences against chaotic aggression. The four forts were all named after lawful deities, despite the misgivings of people who blamed the gods for the destruction caused in the Summoning.

Rhondus Fort (population 550) overlooks the River Rancor. There are no bridges, but there are boats that can travel across or along the river. The fort not only has a chapel of Rhondus, but also a chapel of Khazep, staffed by exiled clerics who have fled the fallen Temple of Khazep, which fell to chaotic forces during the summoning.

Adonor Fort (population 790) is the regional headquarters of the Knights of
Shining Blades. As well as about 200 troops loyal to Ironmarket and 250 civilians, there are also 340 knights and men-at-arms of the Shining Blades.

Threlma Fort (population 980) has a substantial village attached to it, outside the fort walls. There is a garrison of 300 soldiers and officers, and the other 630 are civilians, either serving the fort or farming (particularly sheep and pigs).

Sturnornel Fort (population 500) deals with raiders from both Maquosmouth and the Howling Forest. It sometimes functions as a base from which adventurers will venture into the Howling Forest, and many woodcutters and timber merchants will stop off here.

Mesabridge (population 420) is of great importance as it is a safe crossing point over the River Rancor. The village is entirely on the southern bank as the north bank is indefensible against raiders from the Talloak Forest. There is no actual bridge, but there are a number of ferrymen who can take people across for a small fee.

Parrion (population 560) is an important farming village that provides a lot of the food for the surrounding area. About a third (380) are halflings living alongside humans.

Charsis (ruined) is strategically unimportant, but symbolic in that military commanders have described Charsis as the first step to retaking Aerisport.

Accerian (population 330) has a bridge over the River Maquos, and is used as a starting point for expeditions downriver into Maquosmouth. Although prone to flooding after rains swell the Maquos, Accerian is in a very fertile patch, and produces plenty of wheat and vegetables, as well as dairy cattle which are used to make strong orange cheese that is popular through the area, especially with dwarves.

Ferrian (population 700) is a weird village that a lot of normal folk are wary of. The fact that many lycanthropes have been encountered in the Howling Forest and that some folk in Ferrian look sort of wild has led to speculation about werecreatures walking the streets of Ferrian in human form.

Whiskerface (population 1100) is a halfling town that is on the edge of the Confederacy of the Ten Peaks. It does not consider itself part of the predominantly human settlements to the west of the Confederacy but keeps friendly relations with both the dwarves and the humans.

Faranil (ruined) is potentially very important, if it can be secured. It is currently overrun by ogres, trolls and minotaurs from the Chaos Portal in Aerisport, but if liberated, it would allow river traffic from the Confederacy of the Ten Peaks through Mesabridge, past Rhondus Fort and out into the open sea towards Teiglin, the Walrus Freehold and other areas.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

The City of Trislem

Trislem is the largest, most populous settlement in the Walrus Freehold, where it sits on the eastern shore, to the south of most other towns and cities, on the mouth of the Salmoning River.

Trislem (population 11,200) is a rougher place than Walrus City, but also more cosmopolitan. It is closer to the rest of Toutus and the harbour is less likely to be frozen up, so it gets more passing visitors, not all of whom are polite and good-intentioned. Trislem was attacked several times in the wars between the empires, and there are several quarters in the northern half that are a mixture of abandoned dwellings and new buildings being put up. There are many thieves, beggars and refugees in Trislem, especially around the ruined areas. Although the dock areas in many cities are often the roughest and most dangerous, the docks of Trislem are slightly less dangerous than the abandoned quarters, on the basis that the merchants and craftsmen need to keep the dock areas working and safe to visit both for imports and exports. Nonetheless, some of the sailors who disembark are pirates in all but name, keeping their violent and greedy natures in check as long as the city watch are around.
The southern half is much neater, with stone and slate buildings rather than the timber, thatch and mud-brick of the northern half. Many of the middle-class of the city live in the southern half, and the Citadel with its wooden barracks in the outer court sits overlooking both the sea and the estuary. The Citadel currently holds 430 soldiers and officers, but is undermanned - there should be a full compliment of 720.
The two halves of the city are connected by the Grand Bridge, which carries all sorts of traffic over the Salmoning River. It is a bascule bridge with two halves that can be raised by counterweights to allow tall-mast boats along the river.
The city is ruled by a council with leaders from important aspects of city life, including Commander of the Guard, City Treasurer, Provisioner of Food, City Architect, Harbourmaster, Guildmaster’s Representative and Chief Judge. The city nearly turned into a plutarchy like Walrus City when a cabal of powerful merchants tried to take over the council, but they were brutally put down, with several being executed and others exiled. Since then the ruling council has been wary of any merchant who seems to acquire too much wealth or influence. Some merchants are still angry about this episode.
Nonetheless, Trislem is important for river traffic passing on up towards Challex, Stalim and Hurin Castle, so merchants and the city council still have to deal with each other.
There are no buildings outside the walls - after both the Wars Between the Empires and a number of raids by humanoids and human barbarians, the city leaders don't want to give any aggressors building materials for siege equipment such as rams or ladders or even cover for enemy infantry to get close to the walls. There are some small bands of orc and goblin bandits in the area, so those who camp outside stand a real risk of being attacked.

Monday, 3 October 2011

New Spells for Lawful Clerics

Detect Chaos
Duration: 1 turn
Range: 120'
This spell functions in a way similar to Detect Evil, except that the cleric senses creatures with Chaotic alignments, whether they are doing chaotic actions or thinking chaotic thoughts or not. Note that any creature aware that it may be the target of this spell is allowed a save vs spells - success means the cleric does not get any answer.
Any magic item that is specifically chaotic such as Chaos Portals or weapons dedicated to chaotic deities will also give off an aura of Chaos. Only the casting cleric directly detects the chaotic aura - it is not obvious to bystanders.

Level: 3
Duration: Permanent
Range: touch
This spell allows healing - at a price. The spell effectively transfers hit points from one person to another. The cleric cannot be the recipient though he may be the donor. The cleric can transfer up to 3hp per level, either from himself or from another donor (whom he is touching) through himself to the recipient. The donor may recover the lost hit points normally (resting, magical healing etc). The recipient is healed by the in-flowing hit points, but cannot exceed his maximum hp.

Cure Insanity
Level: 4
Range: Touch
This spell cures a range of mental afflictions, but not magical enchantments or charms. If a spell or magical effect talks about causing insanity or madness, this spell can counteract or cure it, though the more powerful the insanity, the longer the convalescence (time needed to rest before the character is fully functional again). Cure Insanity is effective against the insanity of a badly-cast Contact Outer Plane (convalescence 1 day), and also removes Feeblemind spells (convalescence 1 day) and the indigo effect of a Prismatic Sphere (convalescence 1d6+1 days) and Symbol of Insanity (convalescence 2d6+2 days). As an interesting side-effect, this spell allows anyone under the influence of a helm of alignment reversal to save vs spells and remove the helmet if successful.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

The Principle of Simple Core, Many Options.

One of the important reasons I have left D&D3.5 and gone back to Classic D&D (and thence onto Labyrinth Lord) is simplicity versus complexity. I don't need too much realism - just enough for the rules to carry the story-telling, not so much that the rules dominate the game more than the banter back and forth between the players and DM.
Hit points versus hit locations? Hit points are easier to keep track of and can be universally applied to any NPC or monster.
Single table for saving throws or different saves for each situation? I actually liked the D&D3.0 innovation of having Fortitude/Willpower/Reflexes saving throws - it gave a good idea of how the PC was trying to avoid a terrible fate, and I could see how it can be applied in situations not covered in the Classic D&D saving throw table. However, they then made it a whole lot more complicated by making the DM calculate the DC of each save (especially by enemy spellcasters) rather than just looking it up on a table.

Skills outside combat - Again I kind of liked the initial approach of D&D3.0 with its range of possible skills. But then it had to bring more maths into it than a busy DM already juggling NPC actions, map locations and metaplot requirements wants to deal with. Also the idea of skill points not exactly equalling skill ranks and then trying to budget skill points was all a bit of a hassle, especially for NPCs. Perhaps I should be taking a step back towards NWP, where you either got it or you ain't got it? Interestingly Labyrinth Lord does not address this area of gameplay, but the Rules Cyclopedia has a section on "General Skills" which I ought to look at again.

Monsters and encounters - creating new monsters seemed to involve calculating skill ranks, stats (including charisma!) and feats in scale with the monster's HD as if it were a PC with so many levels. This drained my will to create new cool monsters for 3.0. And then constructing encounters was another headache, with Encounter Levels being a mixture of exponential calculations and fudging - no wonder many DMs decided to keep it simple and just use single monsters with the right Challenge Rating. Calculating XP for these encounters, particularly with a party of mixed levels was also a real problem. It's interesting that D&D 4E seems to have tried to remedy this, with relatively simple stat blocks and fixed XP rewards that are added together - I welcome this idea, even though it's not enough to tempt me to play D&D4E.

Timekeeping in combat and actions. Dear me, don't get me started on the difference between Free actions, Immediate Actions and Swift Actions. If you do something in combat, it takes a round. End of.

If you think I am disparaging the whole of D&D3.0, it is not my intention to do so. One of the things it did was with the SRD (system rules document), laying down what the core rules were - what everyone could expect from a 3.0 game. Everything else was optional. I suppose this had been implicit rather than explicit in previous editions - there had been the 1E and 2E PHB and DMG, and either Monster Manual or Monstrous Compendium (that folder with the hole-punched sheets? It seemed like a nice idea until you tried transporting it around between sessions) that could be considered the core rules. Other stuff, whether published as splat books, campaign setting books, magazine articles or on the internet, the DM and players could decide what to use and what to leave, but with the PHB and DMG, the players kind of knew what the heart of the game would be about. As the DM has the final say, even the core rules are optional in a way, if the DM wants to modify the system. But the core rules still provide a starting point of what it is the DM wants to change. 

Additional stuff beyond the core rules has usually been part of RPGs, especially D&D where the company (whether TSR or WotC) has the money to produce extra products and the fan-base to sell enough of them to make it worthwhile. From Greyhawk: Supplement I to the latest 4E or Pathfinder fan-produced web material, I have always liked the idea of new stuff, even if it doesn't always work out as well as I hope.

Although I could go on about how options can get out of control and overwhelm the game (particularly with players going over the top with character optimization with dubious, untested source material), this is not my point. If they are options, it is up to the gaming group to decide what they will use and what will not be used, though I admit it is tempting to try to use too much.
With this blog, I have set out what core rules I use as my starting point. Everything beyond that is optional, whether it be new or variant rules on alignment, new character classes, new monsters, new magic items or new spells. I believe this is an indicator of a good rules system - a simple core, but it allows lots of options to be added on as the DM and players see fit.

Part of me is actually reluctant to produce a whole lot of new spells, monsters and magic items on this blog. I feel that there are more than enough out there and that DMs and players are quite capable of finding and using them (and perhaps converting them from one edition to another). There were something like 1200 wizard spells in 2E if you go through the supplements and sourcebooks, and as for monsters - 2100 in 2E, and over 3000 in 3.0 if you also include D20/OGL products. Any of these can be used in other editions (such as Classic D&D/LL) with a bit of conversion. However, I reckon I can produce that sort of material when it suits the campaign setting of Kaelaross, rather than simply for its own sake.