Monday, October 24, 2011

Life in Midlands, Part 2: Winter

Fog Month(28 days, 4 weeks, Similar to November, Full Moon on the 7th)
In cold years the first snows will start during this month. The colors of fall turn into the bleak grayness of winter. At this point most farmers are busy tending to their livestock, fattening them up in preparation for next month's slaughter.
  Ankhegs and Wyverns wrap up breeding season, while creatures that do hibernate begin to do so(Ankhegs, Many giant animals of the reptilian and amphibian variety). Goblinoids are finished raiding by the 7th, as the remaining tribe members focus on filling winter stores. Ogre, Troll, Lizard man, Minotaur, and most giant raids that were common during the warmer months begin to taper off as these races begin to gather in their winter grounds.

Holy Month(28 days, 4 weeks, Similar to December, Full moon on the 7th)
  By this point, livestock begins having some trouble finding enough food, so those involved with them slaughter many during this period. The colder temperatures. Salt is a very expensive commodity at this time of year as pickling and salting becomes a major industry in agrarian communities(which is basically everyone in the midlands). For the religious, this is also a time to leave offerings for the the Divinates(the Imperial religions' gods)
  Since prey is becoming scarce, Goblinoids may raid, but like the Ogres and Trolls, they too become less active during this time. What little the tribes do often involves expanding the lairs, and do not bother to send scouts outside the lair(many prefer to seal the entrances to prevent others from entering during this time).
   There are of course, a few races that become more aggressive during this time of the year. Wolf attacks tend to become more common during this time(the wolves are usually after the remaining livestock which they see as easier prey). Gnolls also become more active. Without the smaller goblinoids to raid, and with the larger races being a bit sluggish, the Gnolls' natural aggression and hunger forces them to clash with human settlements they'd normally ignore due to strong defenses.

God Festival(7 days, 1 week, Solstice/Yule/New Years/Candlemas/Einherjer, Full Moon on the 7th)
   For those who are a part of the Imperial church, this is seen as the most important festival week. It's a time to say farewell to those who died over the course of the preceding year. Candles are lit in the homes of everyone who has lost friends or family, and a small cup of alcohol is left on each mantle for each of the departed. Church services are held each day until the last, and on the day of the 7th, there's a huge party to say farewell to previous year and welcome in the new.

Ice Month(28 days, 4 weeks, Similar to January, Full Moon on the 28th)
   This is the time of year when tools and rope are made and repaired for the coming year. It's generally too cold to do much out of doors, and most people prefer not to leave their hearths. Gnolls are still a problem, as are some of the less prepared goblinoid tribes.In addition to those humanoids, settlements that were unable to stockpile enough food may turn to raiding other settlements to supplement their stores. One is generally advised not to be a traveler during this month.
   This is the month when winter is in its full power, and during the coldest winters monsters native to colder climes become an issue(Frost Giant raiders, young White Dragons, winter wolves, etc) as they sometimes stray south from the Northlands, or come down from their hidden fortresses on the highest peaks.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

In defense of character backgrounds

   A lot of bloggers have been talking trash about character backgrounds and deriding them lately. While I do agree that they are not 100% needed, they are an incredibly helpful tool for the DM of a sandbox game.
   Now, when I'm talking about backgrounds, I'm not talking about the rocks your character has tripped over as a small child, I'm talking about his relationships; his still living family, friends, mentors, and rivals from the days before when he went out to go adventuring.
  Think about all the times your players didn't all make it to the game some nights. You could of course just gloss over and pretend the player doesn't exist for the duration of the session, no harm done, or you could mention that a messenger arrived letting the character know something had happened to a family member, and he's needed at home. If your group is on a different plane from home, or too far for the character to travel reasonably within a single session, then possibly a friend or rival made it to where the players were staying and the PC decided that instead of going out adventuring.
   Background usefulness doesn't end there. A low level party looking for a henchman instead of a hireling suddenly has an entire roster of people to pick as Henchmen.Those players with living relatives and friends also have a place where they may be able to hide out(even if they have to endure listening to embarrassing stories of their childhood) to recuperate. It's a great place to store wealth in settings that don't have banks, and a useful tool for the DM to provide plot hooks that don't involve a bleedin' inn!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Life in Midlands, Part 1: Autumn

Harvest Month(28 days, 4 weeks, similar to August, Full Moon is on the 14th)
   Harvest Month is when troops return to their homes from summer campaigns to shore up defenses before the goblinoid raids make camping too dangerous. The peasant classes are now in full swing, finishing the last of the hay harvest and starting in on the harvesting of other major crops.
   Goblinoid tribes start fighting, often against other tribes or traditional enemies(Goblins vs. Orcs, Kobolds become even more belligerent against gnomes, etc) but they will not turn down easy targets of other races.
    Their raids tend to be much more reckless(+3 bonus to the morale of Orcs, Goblins, Kobolds, Hobgoblins, and Bugbears during this time), but instead of killing, they will take captives, even those of races they normally don't spare. Those captured will be tortured until the new moon just prior to the Harvest festival. The favored captives of the goblinoids are children.

Autumn Month(28 days, 4 weeks, similar to September, Full Moon is on the 14th)
  Autumn Month is when most humans(even a few nobles and most soldiers) are involved with storing and counting the harvest. Those not involved with that are making war against the humanoids to defend their settlements.
  The goblinoids have massively stepped up their raids, raiding literally anyone(+6 bonus to morale). The victims are tortured until the New Moon(the 28th) when they are all slain in a mass sacrifice dedicated to their racial gods as well as to Stalker(the goblinoid bogeyman/grim reaper). The goblinoids take the heads of these sacrifices, cover them in pitch, present them in varying manners outside their settlements(hang them from trees, impale them on spikes, leave them in piles, etc), and set them ablaze each night in an attempt to keep stalker away.
Harvest Festival(7 days, 1 week, Halloween/Oktoberfest/Thanksgiving)
  Those of strong faith in the Imperial religion spend most of the festival in prayer. For others, this is a festival of plenty, to celebrate the finish of the majority of the harvest.
  A tradition that started a few centuries ago, initially among settlers from the north(it's said there's a religious significance to the practice) has spread among the various settlements, regardless of origin. Children carve hideous faces into squashes, gourds, and pumpkins. Each night, these jack-o'-lanterns are placed around the homes and on the walls of the settlements, with candles inside them. The more jack-o'-lanterns a settlement has, the fewer goblinoid attacks the settlements seem to suffer during the nights of the festival. Many children also use this time to perform pranks(and blame them on goblins) while the adults tell scary stories of goblins, witches, and the undead.

Wine Month(28 days, 4 weeks, similar to October, Full Moon on the 7th)
   The various human settlements are involved with finishing the late plowing, and finishing the storing of the harvest. In areas with vineyards and orchards, this is when orchard crops are finished being gathered and beverages requiring year long fermentation or aging are bottled.
  Goblinoid raids continue throughout this time, as they seek more heads to burn each night. By this point the number of heads so greatly outnumbers the number of jack-o'-lanterns a community can make, that tactic no longer works for the humans, and is thus abandoned in favor of massive defenses.
   As if the goblins aren't bad enough, the people of Midlands have two more problem to deal with; the start of Wyvern breeding season. Unlike the younger wyverns that plague them during the spring, the Wyvern issue in the late fall and early winter is that fully grown male wyverns are on the move, leaving normal territories to seek mates.
   The other problem is Ankhegs. Like the Wyverns, this is their breeding season. It's also when they're seeking to eat enough food before the first winter snows. Males tend to be less aggressive until the end of breeding season(if they're unsuccessful in finding a mate), while females tend to be extremely aggressive, not only to fatten themselves up, but to create a pile of carrion for their young to feed upon over the winter.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Religion in D&D

  This is a rather touchy subject for me, and is what long ago inspired a "no real world religions" rule at my games. The reasoning is that most of the people I game with come from a wide variety of religions and beliefs, and some of these individuals take a dim view to having their gods or religions butchered in some game.
   In addition to that, I have some players who will not, under any circumstances regard certain religions positively(xtianity tends to have a pretty piss poor reputation, and tbh, that rep has been earned) and refuse to play in a game where such faiths are regarded as positive.
   What I have found that seems to be "ok" with most players is weak caricatures or facsimiles. If you make enough changes(#s of deities, names, overall belief system) you can keep political structures and 'rules' intact.
    In my current campaign, the Western Imperial church a weird amalgam of the Medieval Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches(as best as I, a modern heathen, can understand them) with multiple divinities. This seems to fit the standard cleric class just fine(and has the added benefit of not ticking anyone off). I'm not allowing the Cleric class to work with any of the other human faiths.
   Thankfully, 2nd edition has a plethora of options for building priests of other faiths. The PHB, the DMG, and the Complete Priest Handbook are all useful tools for this type of class construction. In addition, there are a ton of different priestly classes already present in the 2e library(Crusaders, Monks, many different types of Shamen, Druids, Specialty Priests, Rune Priests, and others).

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Halloween Game

Just a heads up to my readers. I plan on running a game on Halloween night. It'll be the Tomb of Horrors using the 2nd Edition AD&D rules. I'll be handing a stack of pregens to each player, and we'll play from 10 pm(Eastern US time) until people either decide to quit, or the Tomb is finally defeated(as long as I have at least the 3 players wishing to continue, the game will do so). If you have an interest in playing, please contact me at putting [Halloween Game] in the subject line.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Random Encounter Tables

I was asked recently about the random encounter tables I use. For wilderness encounters, I usually use "Miscellaneous Mishaps: The Great outdoors" from Dragon 259 and "Miscellaneous Mishaps: Roads & Rivers" from Dragon 275 both by Dawn Ibach. Both require the use of Monster tables however, and mine can be found here or in the downloads section. I did use some of the basic charts from the B/X RC, but the actual tables themselves are variants of the kind suggested in the DMG.  Currently, as my campaign is in a temperate zone without cities, deserts, or oceans, I haven't bothered creating any tables for those regions. If someone is looking for a more complete version, let me know in the comments and I'll see what I can do about posting them.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

I suck & Mass combat systems.

  Saturday night's game did not go as well as I had hoped, and I'm the only one to blame. For some reason the descriptive part of my brain just wasn't firing on all cylinders and it showed. The Death toll climbed thanks to particularly nasty random encounters(a group of four 1st level characters vs. a blind Bulette, and another encounter vs. a couple of Lizardmen).
  I know part of the issue was me not being decisive. Two people dropped out of the game due to RL issues, and another two showed up late and not bothering to tell me about until last minute. I was down 4 players out of 7 and for the first hour of the game I couldn't decide whether or not to call the game off for lack of players(heck, even they didn't know what they really wanted to do), but I really didn't feel like penalizing the people who did show up for the actions of those who didn't.
  That being said, what's done is done, and all I can do is suck it up and do everything in my power to do better at the next game in 2 weeks. 
  Thanks to the party's actions(pissing off the most powerful tribe of goblins in the local campaign area, as well as a decent sized kobold tribe, and possibly allying with a moderately influential bandit/mercenary band), I've been looking much more closely at which Mass Combat System I want to use.
  Though there are a fair number of stellar games out there, I'm going to use a modified War Machine from the Rules Cyclopedia. This is for 2 reasons, the first being that my move is going to keep me apart from the vast majority of my D&D books for a few months(and my bagspace for the plane is limited), and because I like the abstract nature of the system in general.
   For those not familiar with War Machine, you can learn more about it here. There are a few changes I want to make to the system to fit better with my interpretation of 2e, and I'll try to post them later.