Friday, November 8, 2019

Travel and hex-crawling, part three - path-crawl and point-crawl

Read part one here:
https://daimon-games.blogspot.com/2019/10/travel-and-hex-crawling-part-one.html

Read part two here:
https://daimon-games.blogspot.com/2019/10/travel-and-hex-crawling-part-two.html


We start again with Signs in the Wilderness, with a single post that should have been, in retrospective, the first of all this series about hex crawling and wilderness. It presents a very simple framework to compare dungeon crawling and wilderness adventures; if you can run a dungeon, you can run a wilderness adventure.
Note that it's called wilderness adventure rather than hex crawling, and for a reason. This post seems to present a simpler, easier structure than a completely free hex-crawl. But I believe it's a good starting point for exploring the wilderness around your cities and dungeons with your players, if you don't feel like you can run a complete hex crawl campaign.

Wilderness dungeons
by Signs in the Wilderness
Dungeon crawls don't have to be underground: zoom out a bit and the wilderness itself makes for great old-school crawl adventures. [...] 
Dungeons usually work like this:
1. Go into a twisty network of rooms and passages, all alike.
2. Avoid/solve traps and other obstacles to movement.
3. Fight monsters.
4. Get loot.

It's a simple structure [...]  But the simple format offers several clear types of fun:
1. Mapping and exploring an unknown place.
2. Thinking of clever ways to solve an obstacle.
3. Struggling against a killable adversary when death is on the line.
4. Being rewarded for your efforts.

Dungeon crawls also constrain the adventure, providing both structure and challenge:
- The network of rooms and passages limits the paths you can take.
- A traditional dungeon crawler provides a gradient of difficulty, with the easier monsters at the start and the scariest ones at the end.
- Being underground in a dangerous makes limited resources a challenge of its own.

Wilderness
A good wilderness looks a lot like a good dungeon, but not at the ten-foot scale.  You have to zoom out a bit, both in time and space.
Recapping from earlier, a good dungeon crawl provides constraints:
- limited paths
- gradient of difficulty
- limited resources

The last of these is easy: traveling through the wilderness uses up limited resources, whether it's rations you're eating or bandages you're using up.

A gradient of difficulty appears in the wilderness not because of the wilderness itself, but because of civilization.  Wandering in the woods near the big city you won't find any wolves, not because the wilderness couldn't support them, but because the city just won't allow it. [...]  So the most dangerous beasts tend to survive only out in the distance [...]

Close up, the forest doesn't seem to have limited paths. [...] But zoom out and the forest starts to have structure.  To the north there's a deep river canyon.  To the south there's a ridge and a bluff.  When you consider a mile at a time, there are only a few ways to travel that make any sense.
These criteria do seem to single out certain kinds of wilderness.  Mountains, swamps, and rivers make for good constraints on your movement.  Open plains tend more toward extended chase scenes than dungeon-style adventures.
[...]
Let's see how we could find these in the wilderness:
1. Mapping and exploring?  Plenty of that in an unknown wilderness.  Toss the party a few rumors and the journal from a previous expedition and watch the exploration begin.
2. Obstacles are everywhere: rushing rivers, leech-filled swamps, avalanches, pit traps, high cliffs, etc.  Each one presents a particular danger and can be solved/traversed/avoided in various ways.
3. Plenty of killable adversaries in the wilderness.  Just about anything that can live in a dungeon can live outdoors as well.  In fact, setting your dungeon crawl in the wilderness avoids many of the problematic questions.  We know what the goblins are eating in the woods – just look at the animal bones.
4. Understandable enemies make for understandable rewards.  If the ogres live here, they might ambush caravans there, so it makes sense for them to have loads of silk that they intend to trade with the giants.
[...]


Now, if traveling freely in the wilderness is one of the major difficulties for this sort of hex-crawl adventures, consider the approach below by Daniel.
It's a great system, in my opinion, to handle a campaign which combines traditional adventures and travel... Run the adventure in a single location, handle the local movements with simple rules, then move to the next step of your journey or your (h)exploration...
And use the approach below: instead of a full hex-crawl, use "pathcrawls".

A pathcrawl is basically a simplified version of a map: only the obvious or usable paths are presented, and they limit the players' choices (as we've seen in the previous post).
They should make the navigation on the map easier also for the players, and they make more sense than just wandering around through hexes without a purpose.
A pathcrawl seems to be the best way to handle a journey with a desidered destination (instead of a hex-crawl).

Hexcrawls Are Canceled
by Daniel
Describing a dungeoncrawl is easy [...] Describing a hexcrawl or pointcrawl, I would venture to say for just about everyone, requires more effort. I’ve been trying to learn more topological terminology, to take walks, and to read fictional descriptions of landscapes [...]
An unoriginal thought occurred to me: treat the wilderness like a dungeon.

Rooms
The rooms are your hexes or points/nodes. There’s stuff in them, or not. [...]
See the Features heading below for more info. [...]

Exits
[...] For hexcrawls, the problem is, what does going from one hex to another of identical terrain look like? How are the PCs navigating it? The hex may provide no description or landmarks. [...] 
If you look at actual wilderness, your options are pretty constrained. It’s either featureless, in which case you just keep going on ahead or else veer left or right, or there are desire paths, valleys, streams, ravines, ridges, roads, mountains, landmarks, and so forth. [...]
Henceforth, you will convert all hexcrawls to pathcrawls. [...]

How to Convert Hexmap into Pathmap
Take your standard hexmap. It’s great. The units of distance are overlaid. But it’s merely the base.
Now trace over it two kinds of objects:
- Paths
- Landmarks

The easiest paths you may already have on there: mountain ranges, rivers, roads. But you should add others as well, contextual to terrain type.
Then landmarks. These don’t have to be keyed [...] It has to be something you can see from pretty much anywhere in the hex. [...]
These are the options you present to the players; these are the “doors.” Do we follow this valley, head toward that obelisk, or go “through the walls,” in the true trackless waste, and risk getting lost? [...]

Features
Landmarks are obvious, like the things that can be seen immediately upon entering a dungeon room.
Other features are either:
- encountered naturally along a path
- On a random table of pathless encounters, for when they go off path
- Or on the map explicitly, such that the party would have to veer off path in a particular direction to happen upon it by chance
[...]
https://detectmagic.wordpress.com/2019/05/22/hexcrawls-are-canceled/


Quite close to the example of a path-crawl, is the point-crawl.
The concept is simple: populate the map only with the interesting locations and connect them via safe, obvious routes, and with some alternative paths (sometimes more risky, sometimes slower, sometimes hidden).
The routes are not all the same length and type, but basically they will take the party from point A either to B, C, or D for example, but not "anywhere". To go from one point to a distant one, the party may need to choose if to pass from this other point or that other point, depending on the route they choose.
For example, you may place a city at the center, connect it with 3 paths to 3 different locations around it (i.e. a village, a lake, a crossroad). Those other locations will be connected to other locations in a similar manner (i.e. the village to the woods and to another part of the lake; the lake will have a path to cross it, a path to a little island in the middle; the crossroad will have multiple paths leading to other places as well, and so on).
The players will reasonably move on one of those paths. If to reach the next city they need to take the road that goes through the aforementioned crossroad, they will go from point-city to point-crossroad to point-other-city.
In other words, this is an extension of the concept of path-crawl.

Hexcrawls vs Pointcrawls
by Chris Kutalik
[...] In a hexcrawl, the party is presented with a 360-degree, six-direction choice most every time it exits a hex. Terrain will often foster soft positive and negative natural choices [...] The problem from a design perspective with that approach is this the “paradox of choice”, that lovely study that showed that an over-abundance of variables, tends to surprisingly reduce meaningful choice by causing option paralysis 
[...]
A pointcrawl on the otherhand is all about the deliberate path choice of say a dungeon. You place a node much like a room with its doors and corridors leading out.
The drawbacks are much like that of dungeon design again. Make the decision choices too limited, too linear and/or too chokepointed and you end up straight-jacketing the players and making for a dull-ass map to explore.
[...]
I use a hex map when I want a campaign phase that...
1. mapping each hex on a blank map is a reward in itself.
2. clearing wilderness and creating your own hold is the goal.
3. is quick and dirty.

I use a pointcrawl when I want...
1. choice in travel and exploration to feel more deliberate and meaningful.
2. to highlight the major and minor sites in a wilderness as the major goals of exploration.
3. well-thought-out, dense small sub-regions.


An example of a point-crawl, by Marquis.

Making a Point-Crawl & Changing Names
by Marquis
[...] I've decided it would best be played as a pointcrawl, meaning: dungeons connected by flux space where cool things happen.
In order to jack up the Fantasy a bit, I've decided to do some renaming of things. Some of these are based off of previous ideas, while others are corruptions of actual names, nicknames, or alternative names found across history.
[...]
- Every location should be utterly unique in terms of threats, treasure, lore, aesthetic, and implicit narrative.
- Every location should have no more than 3 ways of exiting it [...]
- Every location should either have a bossfight or climactic point [...]
- Some locations should require other locations to visit [...]
- There needs to be a central hub area the players can go too [...]
- Travel between points should be a mixture of abstract and concrete. Flux Space will make these areas unique. Travel between hubs should cost something somehow as well.
[...]
Pointcrawls are pretty demanding to design, I think. Hexes can be simple and treated as dungeon rooms on a wilderness map, while a full pointcrawl has very stylized, thematic, concentrated dungeons as its points. That being said, I think starting theme first will help us here.
[...]
https://hmmmarquis.blogspot.com/2019/06/commandment-making-point-crawl-changing.html


Design notes (from part one):
- There is no unique, single way to run an hex-crawl in the wilderness; find your own way and please let others run it in their own, unique way
- One way to prepare an hex-crawl, is to prepare in advance
- If you prepare in advance, ask your players where they will go in the next session(s), and prepare the hexes, the encounters, even the weather, in advance
- The same procedures that you use to generate content in advance, can be followed (with a bit of patience) on the fly, at the table
- Two important topics on how to define an hex are its terrain type and its weather (although sometimes weather can be seen as an "encounter" rather than a static feature)
- Also note that generating terrain types randomly requires some effort to enforce a decent consistency across hexes (also, weather and terrain type are somehow linked)
- More importantly, an hex could (should?) contain an encounter; you may want to divide them into major encounters (something very meaningful or related to major NPCs, major story-lines in your campaign) and minor encounters (less meaningful, not just fillers but simply all that stuff that makes the campaing world "real")
- Additional rules for a wilderness hex-crawl should contain the travel speed (i.e. one or two hexes per day; modified positively by mounts, roads, pushing ahead harder than usual, modified negatively by harsh conditions, encumberment, or hunting/foraging, or exploring to find notable or interesting locations)
- In fact, to be complete, an hex-crawl system should include rules for eating up resources (first of all food and water, but also ropes, even boots and other clothing, etc.) and for collecting new ones (foraging, but also bartering with local tribes or finding civilized markets), plus rules for specific locations (and how to find them), or other random/minor locations (random dungeons? specific adventures? treasures? monsters?)

Design notes (from part two):
- In addition, consider also to add rules for getting lost (perhaps again depending on various conditions, such as having a local guide, a map, traveling in the night or harsh conditions)
- If you want to go even further on the exploration side, consider also injuries, sickness, exhaustion, perhaps morale, and you should definitely enforce strict encumberment rules to avoid having the party carrying too much
- Remember rules for YOUR setting: often something very specific is more useful than something very generic. If you use gun-powder, consider the chance of it getting wet. If you use magical herbs, consider rules for finding them, but also how fast they get spoiled, etc. Anything that reinforces the sense of your setting, is good
- If the hex-crawling campaign is focused also on exploration or if you want to reinforce the sense of being in the wilderness, add rules for scouting and exploring (finding locations, perhaps drawing maps, etc.) and rules for tracking (and avoid being followed), for using traps and setting up an ambush, and similar
- Also, making camp requires probably some guidelines and/or rules: finding a good spot or setting up a solid camp should improve recovery, or having no camp at all could make the party incur in additional penalties. Rules for making camp become more important the longer you expect the party to be out in the wilderness
- Weather presents hard choices: push forward or seek shelter?
- Mention the weather every day, even when it's harmless
- Don't change the weather just to mess with the party
- Show what bad weather can do to someone else first
- Give signs, narrative clues, of upcoming dangers; do not give rules to players (or not just rules). Don't say "the bridge has a 50% chance of breaking" but give warnings about the noise it makes while it bends under their weight; show signs of monsters, of diseases, of other dangers
- Terrain can be a difficulty, a danger in itself (it's not just descriptive, and not just definying speed and encounters, but can force a party to change path, to trace back, to face dangers, injuries, the chance of getting lost, of loosing mounts, and so on
- You can probably divide your rules into two subsets: one (perhaps using an Hazard System overloaded encounter die) covers the "external factors" (terrain and weather, encounters, monsters and NPCs, traces and omens, using up resources, fatigue, discoveries, etc.), while the other subset should cover the characters' actions (not what they face, but what they proactively do with their time, such as travel, track, navigate, explore, forage or hunt, etc.)
- There is a slight overlap between the two subsets of rules (i.e. you may discover a location with a roll of the Hazard Die, by chance, or actively seek for it with a Scouting/Exploring action). You may decide to remove those overlaps, or leave them there because they have different rules/different chances

Design notes (expanded):
- There are similarities between dungeon crawls and wilderness adventures
- Basically, you could summarize a simple dungeon as a map (with limited paths), a series of obstacles (locks, traps, pits, etc.), encounters (creatures, monsters, NPCs), and treasures (rewards). With a little bit of work, you can use the same principles for a wilderness adventure
- Maybe it would be an adventure and not exactly a free hex-crawl, but you can achive a dungeon-like structure, as follows: the wilderness provides limited paths and some of the obstacles, while the other encounters are monsters and creatures... and nature provides also the majority of the loot
- Nature, wilderness itself provides "limited" paths simply with its features (cliffs, rivers, thick woods may be impossible to cross or simply so hard that adventurers would naturally follow a few, favorable pre-defined paths, tracks, roads... not following them should be the exception, like digging your way into the walls of a dungeon instead of following a corridor)
- Nature itself provides also part of the obstacles (be it the danger of rivers, of insects, diseases, hunger, exaustion, etc.), while the rest will be creatures and monsters
- Monsters get stronger and/or weirder the further away you get from civilization (like going deeper in a multi-level dungeon) and rewards should also be weirder and more precious (not perhaps in terms of loot itself... but in terms of rarity of what the adventurers can find, and therefore of higher value once back to civilization)
- To simplify an hex-crawl, you could convert it to a pathcrawl
- In a pathcrawl, a hex is like a room, and there should be a limited number of paths to go "out" of that hex... these paths should also continue across multiple hexes, as long as nothing interrupts the journey (i.e. many hexes with a road are like a corridor... you don't need to waste time on each hex, but you can travel until the end of the road)
- A pathcrawl seems perfect to handle journeys with a specific destination, so you can focus on "getting there" and a few encounters/decisions along the way, but not have to crawl through each hex
- A pathcrawl is also easier for the players to navigate, and brings them to the interesting locations, instead of "wasting" time in many identical hexes
- Along the same lines as a path-crawl, is the point-crawl. The first focused on routes, the second focused on locations, but the difference is mostly in the name. The concept is the same: design nodes/locations (same as dungeon rooms) and design paths/connections (same as dungeon corridors)
- The key is to have the correct balance between random encounters, encounters while traveling, enough events in the various nodes, a sense of distance and travel (and freedom which will not translate into decision paralysis)

Friday, October 25, 2019

Travel and hex-crawling, part two

Read part one here:
https://daimon-games.blogspot.com/2019/10/travel-and-hex-crawling-part-one.html


In this new post, we start by looking at an article by Signs in the Wilderness. It's a list of elements to consider in a list of rules for hex-crawling and traveling in the wilderness. The previous analysis of hex-crawling articles already mentioned some of these topics:
- travel distance/speed, and various mounts/vehicles
- chances of getting lost
- rules/chances for injuries, sickness, exhaustion, perhaps morale (and modifiers)
- rules for food and water, and foraging
- terrain type and weather
- encumberment
- dealing with generic dangers and with setting-specific dangers
- scouting, exploring, tracking (and avoid being followed), using traps
- making camp, recovering from various conditions

Wilderness rules, a wishlist
by Signs in the Wilderness
I'm looking for a good set of wilderness travel rules.  The setting of Signs in the Wilderness is a wide, poorly-explored country, where settlements are rare and scattered.  Travel itself is the framework for adventure. [...]
So what would a perfect set of wilderness travel rules look like?  They would:
1. cover the most typical situations for this genre of adventure,
2. yet be flexible or general enough to apply to unexpected situations as needed,
3. and not take too much time, brainpower, or paper.
[...]
There's a long list of situations that I'd love to see covered. [...] But if I could have it my way, the rules would be great for:

Travel itself
Start with a day's travel: 
- How far do you get?
- Do you get lost?
[...]
For each of those, a few conditions should matter:
- How are you traveling (on foot, by canoe, etc.)?
- What kind of terrain are you traveling through?
[...]
Dealing with obstacles
I'd like rules for obstacles to be general purpose
- losing your gear and having to search downstream
- being swept away yourself to be buffeted against rocks
[...]
Doing things along the way:
- foraging for food/water
- noticing things along the way: animal activity, smoke from distant campfires 
- tracking, following a trail of footprints and other signs
[...]
Making camp
- rest, recovering health/morale, based on how good the camp conditions are
- who/what notices your encampment, based on how well concealed it is, fire, noise, etc.
[...]


From the same author, Signs in the Wilderness - who has many useful posts about wilderness - here we have an article about the weather. Read the complete article at the link: all its suggestions are useful and some are original enough to give inspiration also to expect GMs.

It helped me to expand the list of useful tips about weather:
- Weather presents hard choices: push forward or seek shelter?
- Mention the weather every day, even when it's harmless
- Don't change the weather just to mess with the party
- Show what bad weather can do to someone else first

The last tip is especially useful: first of all it helps you to communicate to the players what they might expect in similar weather conditions, and does not require them to be experts of wilderness travel in real life, to face it in your game. Mention conditions or dangers covered by your rules, so that they'll know what to expect.
Also, even if they do not encouter the same weather conditions again, it will be another point reinforcing the sense of wilderness dangers.

Weather for wilderness travelers
by Signs in the Wilderness
Weather makes for hard choices.  Do we push onwards into the icy rain, or do we spend the night in this barn?  Do we risk driving the livestock in the blazing heat, or do we stay here and fight the sharp-tooth raiders?
Because it's so ordinary, and because it's often not dangerous at all, it's easy to overlook.  (I know I've run games where weather never really mattered.)  But if used well, weather can make for a very interesting challenge.
A few tips:
- Mention the weather every day.
- Don't change the weather just to mess with the party.
- Show what bad weather can do to someone else first.

Cold
The obvious danger is cold itself: frostbite and hypothermia do plenty of damage, but a well-equipped adventuring party surely remembered to bring warm clothing.
Hiking in the cold, you'll find your body requires more food than you expected, just to keep itself warm.
[...]
Snow
Beyond the dangers of cold, snow presents its own challenges.  If it's sunny while there's snow on the ground, the dazzling white can burn your eyes, resulting in snow blindness.
Snow makes footprints easy to see, but if it's still snowing, those footprints will be covered up quickly
[...]
Rain
The wetter it is, the more likely everyone is to get drenched, along with all their inventory.  Wet gunpowder is no good to anyone.  Waterproof containers exist for a reason.
To get a good night's sleep, you'll need to dry off.  Shelter from the rain, some warmth, and a change of clothes 
[...]
Fog
Thick fog is ominous for a reason: you can't see what's out there and you can't hear as well, sounds being deadened by the fog.
[...]
Heat
Heatstroke is a common killer.  Your body can only get so hot before it shuts down, and physical exertion pushes you towards that limit.  You'll need to drink plenty of water in the heat
[...]


Another link which expands from the basic "Show what bad weather can do to someone else first", is next (of course, same author).
I like very much the idea of giving clear warnings not in terms of rules (this bridge has a X % chance of collapsing, you have Y % chance of getting sick, Z % chance of encountering a certain monster...) but in terms of events, signs, narrative clues (the bridge bends with a horrible sound, you meet someone who's sick or dying with a certain disease, you notice the bones of a big farm animal recently devoured by the monster).


The danger of this place
by Signs in the Wilderness
[...] As a GM, I like each location to have a single listed danger.  There can be other dangers, like the regiment patrolling around or the spined coyotes the party just woke up, but I like to have one danger that's about the area itself, the danger of that place. [...]
Dangers like these are also helpful to give the players a sense of the world.  The mine where explosive dust is a problem feels very different from the mine where all the timbers are about to collapse.  The players get to learn about a problem that they can interact with, something that reacts to their actions and can be overcome by their ingenuity. 
[...]
Each danger has some kind of clue, a sign of its presence.  I don't like springing dangers on the party without any warning at all. [...]
Dangers could also happen in several steps.  The old bridge across the chasm won't give way all at once (assuming no one does anything stupid). [...]
What about places that don't seem to have an inherent danger?  [...] if you'd like to have a certain place in the game, yet there's no immediate danger, try one of two options:
- Show evidence of a danger that already happened.
- Show signs of a danger that's yet to come.
[...]

https://signsinthewilderness.blogspot.com/2018/09/the-danger-of-this-place.html


Let's stick with the same author, and this time face different terrain types, to see what can limit a party's speed or force them to change path, trace back or face different types of danger.
In fact, in hex-crawls the different terrains usually are presented as "descriptive" (the GM describes mountains, or trees, or rivers, etc.) and perhaps affect the travel speed, but not much more. Perhaps they define the type of the encounter...
But terrain can be a difficulty, a danger in itself.



If you're traveling through wilderness the terrain itself can be the biggest obstacle.
Cracking open my old Dungeon Master's Guide, it suggests a human can travel around 24 miles a day over easy terrain, or as little as 3 miles a day over the most difficult terrain.
So what makes terrain truly difficult?  Good places to travel are level, clear, and have a trail to follow, so let's take all that away.
Grass
[...] Tallgrass of the prairies easily grows 7 feet tall (2 m) which is high enough to leave you basically blind as you're traveling through it.
Pampas grass is notorious for its razor-sharp blades that can cut up anyone wading through it.
[...]
Jungle
Thick woods can be more than just trees, and dense undergrowth hides more than just the path.  When you can't see where you're putting your feet, fallen logs and uneven ground might result in a broken leg.
[...]
Wetlands
Mud and mire can stretch for miles in the right conditions, making passage nearly impossible.  From a distance, marshes and bogs might just look like another type of grassland, but they can have mud deep enough to sink in and disappear without a trace.
[...]
Streams
Moving water is its own kind of problem.  Coming across a stream in the wilderness, far from any trail, you'll have to search for a good crossing point. [...]
Crossing has a few dangers of its own: losing your footing, getting your powder wet, getting swept downstream, not to mention bitey things in the water.
[...]
Rocks
Sharp, jagged, or loose rocks can be terrible to walk across. [...] 
As bad as rocky terrain is for your feet, it can be even worse for most livestock. 
[...]

Up and down

The steeper the ground gets, the more arduous of a journey it'll be (even if there's a trail).
Cliffs and escarpments can stretch hundreds of miles across the landscape, leaving no way around.

Canyons and gorges pose a similar problem, though usually with a rushing watercourse at the bottom.
[...]


The next article, by Michael Bacon, provides a simple procedure for wilderness travel. It assumes you already have a map but weather will be determined (randomly?) by the GM.

The article presents a "Wilderness Encounter Die", which includes results such as omens (traces of what might come up), nothing/safety (or local events), complete safety, encounters.

The concept of "Wilderness Encounter Die" is a hack of the Encounter Die, evolved in the Hazard System - see also this post of mine presenting a collection of useful links: Encounters: overload your encounter dice

The concept is simple: most of the wilderness dangers, encounters, issues and features, might be included in a single roll, if you have a map already at hand. In fact, if your terrain is known, a single Hazard Die roll could include results such as:
- Weather (improving, getting worse, becoming terrible all of a sudden)
- Terrain issues (slow terrain, harsh terrain, dangerous terrain, a natural barrier which can or cannot be crossed)
- Omen/traces which preceed an encounter
- Encounter (NPC or natural creature or monster)
- Using up resources (not just limited to food and water, but also fuel, equipment, morale, etc.)
- Dangers and incidents: injuries, sickness, exhaustion...
- Exploration events: getting lost, finding locations, finding a viewpoint or a landmark...

Besides what happens around the party (determined by the "Wilderness Encounter Die" however you may want to configure it), remember that players have their own agency. In your rules, make sure to have a list of meaningful actions (see the suggestions below) with the proper rules. These actions perhaps can be done while traveling, or instead of traveling, or with some speed reduction.
Actions will probably have a major focus on what is important for your campaign.

Wilderness/Overland Procedures
[...] Wilderness turns are used when traveling over a distance.
1. The party decides where to travel.
2. The Referee determines weather.
3. The referee determines whether the party becomes lost.
4. The referee rolls the Wilderness Encounter Die.
5. The Referee describes terrain and locations as players move through, allowing players to react and describing the results. If an encounter with a possibly hostile creature or person occurs, follow the encounter procedure
[...]
Wilderness Encounter Die
The following tables show typical results on 1D6. You may wish to use different probabilities for specific locations. [...]
1. Omen 
2. Nothing (or progression of local events, if relevant.)
3-5. Nothing 
6. Encounter*
[...]
Omens
Each encounter has an Omen. Someone in the party sees a mark (like a footprint or a clump of hair), discovers a scent, or hears a sound originating with the relevant creature. If the party decides to investigate, they might find the creature's lair or they might find the creature out and about.
[...]
Wilderness Actions
- Explore
Forage for Food / Forage for Herbs / Hunt
Rest
Scout / Track
Travel / Navigation
[...]


Design notes (from part one):
- There is no unique, single way to run an hex-crawl in the wilderness; find your own way and please let others run it in their own, unique way
- One way to prepare an hex-crawl, is to prepare in advance
- If you prepare in advance, ask your players where they will go in the next session(s), and prepare the hexes, the encounters, even the weather, in advance
- The same procedures that you use to generate content in advance, can be followed (with a bit of patience) on the fly, at the table
- Two important topics on how to define an hex are its terrain type and its weather (although sometimes weather can be seen as an "encounter" rather than a static feature)
- Also note that generating terrain types randomly requires some effort to enforce a decent consistency across hexes (also, weather and terrain type are somehow linked)
- More importantly, an hex could (should?) contain an encounter; you may want to divide them into major encounters (something very meaningful or related to major NPCs, major story-lines in your campaign) and minor encounters (less meaningful, not just fillers but simply all that stuff that makes the campaing world "real")
- Additional rules for a wilderness hex-crawl should contain the travel speed (i.e. one or two hexes per day; modified positively by mounts, roads, pushing ahead harder than usual, modified negatively by harsh conditions, encumberment, or hunting/foraging, or exploring to find notable or interesting locations)
- In fact, to be complete, an hex-crawl system should include rules for eating up resources (first of all food and water, but also ropes, even boots and other clothing, etc.) and for collecting new ones (foraging, but also bartering with local tribes or finding civilized markets), plus rules for specific locations (and how to find them), or other random/minor locations (random dungeons? specific adventures? treasures? monsters?)

Design notes (expanded):
- In addition, consider also to add rules for getting lost (perhaps again depending on various conditions, such as having a local guide, a map, traveling in the night or harsh conditions)
- If you want to go even further on the exploration side, consider also injuries, sickness, exhaustion, perhaps morale, and you should definitely enforce strict encumberment rules to avoid having the party carrying too much
- Remember rules for YOUR setting: often something very specific is more useful than something very generic. If you use gun-powder, consider the chance of it getting wet. If you use magical herbs, consider rules for finding them, but also how fast they get spoiled, etc. Anything that reinforces the sense of your setting, is good
- If the hex-crawling campaign is focused also on exploration or if you want to reinforce the sense of being in the wilderness, add rules for scouting and exploring (finding locations, perhaps drawing maps, etc.) and rules for tracking (and avoid being followed), for using traps and setting up an ambush, and similar
- Also, making camp requires probably some guidelines and/or rules: finding a good spot or setting up a solid camp should improve recovery, or having no camp at all could make the party incur in additional penalties. Rules for making camp become more important the longer you expect the party to be out in the wilderness
- Weather presents hard choices: push forward or seek shelter?
- Mention the weather every day, even when it's harmless
- Don't change the weather just to mess with the party
- Show what bad weather can do to someone else first
- Give signs, narrative clues, of upcoming dangers; do not give rules to players (or not just rules). Don't say "the bridge has a 50% chance of breaking" but give warnings about the noise it makes while it bends under their weight; show signs of monsters, of diseases, of other dangers
- Terrain can be a difficulty, a danger in itself (it's not just descriptive, and not just definying speed and encounters, but can force a party to change path, to trace back, to face dangers, injuries, the chance of getting lost, of loosing mounts, and so on
- You can probably divide your rules into two subsets: one (perhaps using an Hazard System overloaded encounter die) covers the "external factors" (terrain and weather, encounters, monsters and NPCs, traces and omens, using up resources, fatigue, discoveries, etc.), while the other subset should cover the characters' actions (not what they face, but what they proactively do with their time, such as travel, track, navigate, explore, forage or hunt, etc.)
- There is a slight overlap between the two subsets of rules (i.e. you may discover a location with a roll of the Hazard Die, by chance, or actively seek for it with a Scouting/Exploring action). You may decide to remove those overlaps, or leave them there because they have different rules/different chances

Friday, October 11, 2019

Travel and hex-crawling, part one

I've mentioned wilderness already, in The forest: trees, plants, herbs and more.
But when we talk about wilderness in OSR, we talk about hex crawling.
There is so much about hex-crawling, so many materials, different approaches, a lot of reasonable advice and many complaints, that it became a scary subject, for me - one that already could be scary enough if you compare a regional map with a dungeon map.
I'll try to present some of what I collected so far... but please remember that this is a collection of links and not an attempt to define a single, unique way to "do it right".


The first link is by Michael S. and it already acknoledges that this can be a difficult subject. It's approach, though, seems effective enough.
Try to prepare a lot of hexes and encountes, following your favourite/chosen procedure(s), in advance. Prepare the major and minor encounters, the day and night encounters, and plan ahead according to the players' plans.
The key, here: ask your players where they will go in the next session(s), so that you can prepare your materials. It's simple and smart.

HOW I DO WILDERNESS ENCOUNTERS
It's a popular question I see asked a lot on the forums and reddit - "How do you do wilderness travel/encounters?" "How do you do hex crawls?"
It's understandable, with a wide open outdoors map looking a lot more overwhelming to prepare for, compared to a dungeon map.
[...]
Part 1 - putting down a key. I use Welsh Piper's general approach of that each hex can have a "major" encounter/landmark and several "minor" encounters/landmarks.
[...]
Part 2 - pre-game prep. Part of the contract I have with my tabletop players is that I need to know a week in advance of their general plans for the game. That allows me to do some in-depth prep
[...] So once I know their general mission, I look at the map and their expected route. I start with "day 1" of their travel for that game. For my map, the heroes have different travel rates if they're mounted, on foot, on a road or in country.
[...] I repeat this for the entire trip. So now I have a list of what they will hit/not hit on their journey. And I know how many hexes they run through, and I'll figure out how long this all takes.
[...] Now I have a "script" of sorts of what the players will run into and when that will happen.
[...] I plan out for the entire trip or mission that they've laid out. It might take them a few sessions to do this, but it's easier for me to do it as much as once.
[...]
Part 3 - at the table.  OK, so we're playing the game.
[...]
And that's really about it.
[...]
They do have to track resources, of course and I'll remind them of that when they hit points where they stop.
[...]
Questions that I anticipate
What if the players change their mission or go off the script? What if they get lost?
Well, they understand that if they change the plan, I may need to "take a break" in order to figure out what happens [...]
What if they're truly "crawling" around a wilderness to explore?
Then I do the same exact thing, but on a hex by hex, day by day basis. It does slow things down a bit more, because I'm repeating this for each day [...]
What about weather?
Ah, I didn't want to muddy the waters with weather, but yes, weather can be an encounter. I use weather charts that lay out each day's weather 
[...]

As you can see in the article, if the players go off-track, you can take your time to generate new content while at the table. Relax, nobody expects you to come up with something original, special, perfect, for every hex on a moment's notice.
Just follow your procedure(s) and do, on the fly, what you would to as game-prep in advance.


In his post, Michael S links to Welsh Piper's blog. There are a couple of posts related to hex crawling, and this first outlines a procedure on how to assign a terrain type to each hex.
The instructions are a little confusing at first, but reading the examples clarifies stuff. I would definitely prefer to prepare the map in advance, though, and not on the fly. So this sounds good for generating a random map, but only if you prepare in advance.

Hex-based Campaign Design (Part 1)
by Erin D. Smale
In my quest for rapid campaign development, I came across an elegant idea called Six sided gaming: Hex magic on Greywulf’s Microlite d20 site. [...]
Defining the campaign by its adventures—instead of the other way round—is a great time-saver and perfect for the busy GM. With Greywulf’s kind permission, I’ve expanded the concept into a slightly different approach.
[...]
The Hex Map
The underlying goal of Hex-based Campaign Design is to create a playable setting with as little effort as possible, so I recommend starting with a small map. 
[...]
Choose Climate
The first task is to determine climate. This affects the precise terrain you place in the next step.
[...]
Assign Hex Terrain
Terrain placement does not rely on a random function, since it’s too easy to end up with unrealistic results (e.g., swamps next to deserts or mountains next to plains). Besides, who wants to roll dice for each hex anyway? Instead, I assign a primary terrain type to each atlas hex, then fill in the remaining sub-hexes with related terrain types. This lets you place terrain sensibly, but with the benefit of some speed.
[...]
Scaling Up
The atlas hex on your map is 25 miles wide, which matches the hex scale on the Atlas template. When mapping on the atlas level, populate each hex with the primary terrain of each atlas hex on your sub-hex map.
[...]
https://www.welshpiper.com/hex-based-campaign-design-part-1/


In the second post of this series, Erin D. Smale goes into the main interactive feature of an hex: the (possible) encounter(s). The article is worth reading because it contains a list of very nice examples of potential encounters to place in an hex.

Hex-based Campaign Design (Part 2)
by Erin D. Smale
[...] Encounters
For our purposes, an encounter is any feature that has the potential to challenge the PCs or serve as the basis for adventure. There are two types of encounters:
- Major – large or multi-layered encounters, often the focus of the region; for the PCs, interactions with these require careful thought and planning
- Minor – small or fairly straight-forward encounters; these represent diversionary challenges for the PCs or opportunities to detail the campaign for the GM
[...]
Major Encounters
When a major encounter is indicated, roll 1d6 to determine its identity. Place the encounter in any whole sub-hex within the atlas hex and note the hex number to record its location. Recall that there is never more than one major encounter in a single atlas hex.

1. Settlement – a town or city that supports a significant population

2. Fortress – a large, fortified holding owned by a noble or self-styled lord, always with an armed garrison and (usually) a small population of civilians
[...]
Minor Encounters
Roll 1d20 on the following list for each minor encounter indicated. Distribute minor encounters throughout the hex as you see fit. As with major encounters, note the hex number of each to record its location.

1. Settlement – a village or hamlet with a small to moderate population

2. Fort – a small fortified holding owned by a noble, military leader, fighting order, or adventurer
3. Ruin – the remains of a single structure whose original purpose was (d6: 1-2 tomb, 3 holding, 4-5 other structure, 6 dwelling; 60% chance it’s a shipwreck if located in a water hex)
4. Monster – the lair of a common or uncommon creature
[...]
https://www.welshpiper.com/hex-based-campaign-design-part-2/


The next post contains a long list of travel rules for a campaign by Meandering Banter.
It's a very interesting post because it's quite long, but contains a lot (everything?) you need to run an interesting hex-crawl. It covers terrains, weather and encounters - as the previous links - but introduces also concepts like travel speed, foraging, scouting and exploring, and so on.

North-West Marches - Travel Rules
by Meandering Banter
Hex generation
For each newly viewed hex, roll on the following table twice and combine the results. If you roll doubles then the location is a much larger Zone:
1. Plains (no zone)
2. Dry (Desert)
3. Forest (Jungle)
[...] Zones are an unspecified size, but usually span four or more hexes.
[...]
Travel
Parties can travel two hexes per day (once in the morning, once in the afternoon), modified by the options below. Some options also change the results of the Exploration table (all caps)
Forage starts at Wisdom-4 each morning.
If you didn't roll it yesterday, or it feels right, roll once on Weather (see below). [...]
Options:
+1 if you Rush, -4 Forage, changing 6. FEATURE into 6. HAZARD (if this is a new hex) or RESOURCE DRAIN (if this is a familiar hex) and losing Surprise [...]
Modifiers (max of +1 per hex, additional bonus removes exploration die):
+1 if everyone is mounted [...]
[...]
Foraging:
Each traveller rolls at the end of the day. If you roll under, then you found one ration while travelling. If everyone fails, you are out of water for the next day. No food within X hexes of town (X = 0, increases with development), no water in deserts. If you roll under half, find an extra 1d4 rations. If you roll a crit, find an extra 4 rations, or a Strange Herb (link to be added).
[...]
Exploration
Every time you enter a hex, roll 1d6:
1. ENCOUNTER
2. TRACES

3. WEATHER
4. RESOURCE DRAIN
5. HAZARD
6. FEATURE
[...]


Design notes:
- There is no unique, single way to run an hex-crawl in the wilderness; find your own way and please let others run it in their own, unique way
- One way to prepare an hex-crawl, is to prepare in advance
- If you prepare in advance, ask your players where they will go in the next session(s), and prepare the hexes, the encounters, even the weather, in advance
- The same procedures that you use to generate content in advance, can be followed (with a bit of patience) on the fly, at the table
- Two important topics on how to define an hex are its terrain type and its weather (although sometimes weather can be seen as an "encounter" rather than a static feature)
- Also note that generating terrain types randomly requires some effort to enforce a decent consistency across hexes (also, weather and terrain type are somehow linked)
- More importantly, an hex could (should?) contain an encounter; you may want to divide them into major encounters (something very meaningful or related to major NPCs, major story-lines in your campaign) and minor encounters (less meaningful, not just fillers but simply all that stuff that makes the campaing world "real")
- Additional rules for a wilderness hex-crawl should contain the travel speed (i.e. one or two hexes per day; modified positively by mounts, roads, pushing ahead harder than usual, modified negatively by harsh conditions, encumberment, or hunting/foraging, or exploring to find notable or interesting locations)
- In fact, to be complete, an hex-crawl system should include rules for eating up resources and for collecting new ones, plus rules for specific locations (and how to find them), or other random/minor locations (random dungeons? specific adventures? treasures? monsters?)

Friday, September 27, 2019

The forest: trees, plants, herbs and more

As a dungeon, the wilderness is a potential source of great adventures and resources
Dressing up the wilderness is sometimes tough, but we're lucky enough that the OSR blogs provide plenty of random generators and materials.


I like this first link very much. It contains a couple of nice tables ("Application/Delivery" and "Form/Part of Plant") which can serve as a useful reference even if you don't want to roll.
Also, the big d100 table contains a lot possible names, possible locations/hits about the presence of the plant (where to find it) and its effects.
The only drawback, with so many random options, is that you must keep a record of each combination, as they come into play, so that you will have some consistency when these plants will come up again.
Also, note the suggestion at the beginning of the article: maybe use herbs and natural healing as the only source of healing for a low-fantasy campaign.

Herb & Plant Generator
by ktrey
Here’s another bit of Google+ Content that I threw together a while back and forgot to share here. It's a Herb & Plant Generator that I whipped up based on some scattered notes and previous practices. I'm sure that Rolemaster 2nd Edition's juicy “list of Herbs, Breads, and Poisons” provided some inspiration here. I seem to recall it had some stern admonishments against having only magical sources of healing in your campaign, and since I acquired Character Law years before coming across Spell Law, for the longest time Herbs and Natural Healing were the only systems I had.

[...]
https://blog.d4caltrops.com/2018/11/more-migration-herb-plant-generator.html


From the same author, here is another random generator, this time only with names and trees.

See The Forest For The Trees
by ktrey
Here's another handy-dandy table for adding some more botanical flavor to your fantasy wildernesses.
[...]
https://blog.d4caltrops.com/2019/04/see-forest-for-trees.html


The next link shows different approach, and while I don't want to sound too critic, I think this might go a bit too far with details, at the expense of usability. The thing is, this page with many herbs is the material of a large campaign, and while I am sure it serves the GM well, it is hard to use for others (unless someone is willy to put in several hours of study).
Some issues that I see with this sort of long, detailed lists:
- It is difficult to find something right away (what herb will someone give you to cure you?)
- It takes time to write it (if you want to make your own), it is very hard to customize (with so many entries, it's hard to understand if changing something has an unwelcome effect on something else), it is very long to study and almost impossible to reference on the fly unless you're already familiar with it

On the other hand, if you simply open it up, read a description or two, and manage to pick up something for your own campaign, and use it as it is or with a little change or two, it might serve as a valid source.

Beasts and Herbs
by Dragonsmarch
Descriptions of trees, plants, herbs and mushrooms are given wonderful attention in modern computer RPGs.  This same amount of detail and immersion can be lacking in descriptions written for table top games.  I was inspired by video games like Skyrim and Witcher 3 to create my own plant and flora descriptions for the Dragonsmarch.
I try to incorporate these plants, trees and animal descriptions into the wilderness notecards I create for each type of terrain.  Not in every case but at least in half of the cards I include a description of a useful plant or some interesting group of trees whose bark or wood or sap has some special value or application in potion making, herb lore or adventuring in general.
[...]
Abbot's Thistle
A broad bushy thistle which grows in hills and grasslands.  The edges of the leaves of this plant are tinged a brilliant crimson.  Abbot's thistle is valuable in potions which lessen the potency of natural toxins and poisons.  While this plant grows wild it can be difficult to find as it is a favorite food for a number of grazing animals in the region.
Value: 1 Gathering = 2 Plants = 1 electrum piece
[...]
Apple Leaf
Apple Leaf is a form of tobacco widely grown throughout the lands North of the Sea of Harlots.  It is relatively inexpensive.  50 units is usually packed into a cask and sold at a value of 25 gold pieces or about 5 silver pieces a unit.  A unit is sufficient to pack the pipe of a human one time or the pipe of a small folk or dwarf twice.  Apple Leaf has a pleasant apple aroma but does not hang as well as the more expensive forms of pipe weed for smoke ring competitions.
1 Gathering = 5 Units = 2 Gold and 5 Silver
[...]
Butcher's Grass
Butcher's Grass grows in broad sharp stalks often as tall as a man's hip.  The edges of these sturdy blades of grass are a light green but the center of the grass stalk in a deep red growing more black in the center.  Butcher's Grass grows native in the far East, in places like The Necrogarchy of Leng or the Ancient Kingdom of Petrurias.  It is believed that seeds of this grass were carried in the rotted armor and rotten clothing of the undead army driven into the Kingdom of Daria by the Necromasters during the Nightshade War.  Today Butcher's Grass can be found in scattered patches wherever the ground is soft and damp and where shade is abundant.  Butcher's Grass does not grow in dry or sunny locations well.  
Butcher's Grass is tough and resists cold and even the heat created by a natural fire.  Harvested with a scythe it can have the sharp edges trimmed away and be woven into sturdy baskets or twisted to create fibers for making rope.  
Butcher's Grass has a reputation for growing where a considerable amount of blood has been shed, usually through some violent deed.  It is believed to commonly grow around gallows or in patches where battles have been fought.
Herb Lore - When boiled Butcher's Grass releases an agent which can add to the potency of salves and potions which heal wounds.  Herbal wound salves and potions generally add 1 or 2 points to the rate of natural healing over the course of a full days rest with limited or no physical activity.
Value: 1 Gathering = 3 to 5 plants = 3 silver pieces.
[...]
https://sites.google.com/view/dragonsmarch/monsters/beasts-and-herbs

Note that each of the over 70 plants mentioned in the Dragonsmarch campaign site, can be combined with another. The author provides a table with all interactions, and with effects such as:
- NA
- Curative
- Sublimate
- Fulminate
- Reagent
- Additive

I guess NA is a valid result (you can't mix everything) and the others follow a regular pattern. This means that while a long time was spent writing up descriptions, the effects and combinations are somehow random (they might not make sense).
Still, I like the idea of combining more herbs for an effect, instead of having a single plant or herb have a specific effect.
The idea of combining elements is what makes alchemy and brewing potions different than simply finding a healing plant which alone functions as an magical healing potion.


This is another example of how multiple plants and herbs combine their effects together.
This blog post is a little more precise in terms of rules and describes clearly how to find and gather herbs (called reagents if they have magical powers), presents a table with the difficulty of finding such reagents (a target number for a d6 roll), and describes how to combine them to have a specific spell.

Reagents in Wilderland
by Josh
[...] This post is concerned with enchantments. That is, the type of spells one might work if one is a magical professional, i.e., a wizard. These are intentional workings of magic, separate from the natural magic a supernatural creature may intuitively possess or ritual expressions of magical craft.  
It does not seem that Gandalf casts his spells one after the other. There seems some limiting factor as to when he unleashes his potency. Vancian spell casting (for all its charms) seems inappropriate for the Wilderlands setting. Therefore, what is the limiting factor? 
[...]
Therefore, we limit enchantment to the tools that the wizard has at his disposal. It's the old D&D inventory management sub-system: a pack can only haul so much, and wizards have additional inventory management concerns. 
[...]
The magic of the Wilderland is hidden in its wild spaces. Wizards collect the strange, the uncanny, the weird, and the unpleasant to weave enchantments.
Reagents are items that, at their basic level, have small magic. When combined together, however, their alchemical potential become unlocked. 
The known reagents are nine herbs, and are:
1- Mucgwyrt; a root that grows in marshes and is good in beer
2- Attorlade; a tall grass that grows in cultivated lands
3- Stune; is an bitter herb that grows in soggy turf
[...]
Finding Reagents
Searching for reagents is a hex action. It takes about as much time and effort as hunting or camping. A gather components hex action allows a number of rolls equal to the wizard's Intelligence modifier, with a minimum of one.  A relevant skill such as Herbalism yields an additional +2 rolls. 
A reagent takes up one slot in a pack. 
[...]
Weaving Enchantments
A wizard can weave an enchantment if they have two reagents to mix together. 
A combination of two reagents creates the components for a single spell. This component must be held in the hand when cast. Weaving an enchantment takes one exploration turn and combines the two reagents into a component, which takes up one pack slot. Weaving multiple enchantments in this way may be done as part of a camping hex action. 
[...]

In a similar way, I built a little sub-system for alchemy, combining parts of dead monsters, which you can find in the Black Dogs 'zine - issue number 8.
https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/269308/Black-Dogs-zine--issue-8
It's not the same as this sort of tables, but still requires two elements, taken from different monsters; one element has a power and another has an activation method, and you must combine an "activator" with a "powerful" element to release its effect.



In case you don't have yet enough plants, these are enother couple of links...
The first can be used as a reference of peculiar plants.

UNCOMMON VEGETATION OF GULT
by hyophexia
USEFUL VEGETATION
Lenticulating oats: A cereal grain inedible by humans, the seeds of which are translucent. When the seeds are dehusked and rolled or cut, the flakes refract recondite portions of the superspectrum, allowing e.g. some invisible things to be seen through them. You have to figure out how you're going to effectively look through a pile of transparent oatmeal.

Rusk: A low, sparse bush that grows relatively high on some mountainsides. Its buds, when harvested and ground, can be mixed with an equal measure of sand and left covered overnight; in the morning the mixture will have congealed into a solid piece of dark glass. The glass is difficult to see through, like overly-dark sunglasses, but allow the wearer to see through one meter of solid stone. The glass is coveted for use as lenses in stoneshades.
[...]
WEAPONIZED VEGETATION
Algamb: A dangerous, fast-growing algae; quickly spreads through any fresh water into which it's introduced like Ice-9 and converts it into saltwater, then dies. Effective siege weapon, difficult to find as it so quickly destroys the fresh water it needs to survive.

Drytouch: A small tuber, the inside of which is intensely hydrophobic. Ground and turned into a paste, this can be used to coat equipment with a waterproof layer. If eaten, death is nearly assured.
[...]
RARE VEGETATION
Hapax: There is only one hapax, period. No one knows where it is or what it looks like. Touching it lets you make something unique; i.e. there used to be many of something and now there's only one.
[...]
https://hyophexia.com/blog/2018/5/4/uncommon-vegetation-of-gult


The last link is about Dolmenwood - a beautiful OSR setting covered by several issues of the Wormskin 'zine by Necrotic Gnome. See more about Dolmenwood here:
http://necrotic-gnome-productions.blogspot.com/2018/05/about-dolmenwood-campaign-book.html
In this article, Brian presents many trees for the different areas of Dolmenwood (easy to adapt to your own campaign) with some descriptions and lore.
Note that the article contains also a little sub-system on asking information about these plants (i.e. from Friars, from Hunters, from Woodcutters, etc.) and which sort of false information you might get.

Dolmenwood: Notable Trees of the Dolmenwood & Their Uses
by Brian Richmond
[...]
When attempting to examine or search for one of these sublime trees, consult the following information for sake of guidance:
Friars: 4-in-6 chance of valid information (location, type of tree, strange effects).
Hunters: 2-in-6 chance of valid information (4-in-6 chance for location of "the weird tree")
Drune: 1-in-6 chance of valid information (they wish you harm, but if you are friend to them, 5-in-6 chance of valid information.)
Woodcutters: 3-in-6 chance of valid information, 5-in-6 chance for location (Backenwold, High Wold, Hag's Addle).
Generic NPC from Region, 1-in-6 chance to know location, always wrong information [see below]
[...]
Notable Trees of the Brackenwold
 1. Brackenpine 
Appearance: Pine with curled frond-like needles. Sweaty bark.
Lore: Notable for its needles which bend and curl like the fronds of a young fern. The wood of such pines carry far more moisture than they need to, and pulping said tree can produce a powerful earthy-tasting syrup which is used in many hermetic remedies; particularly for toothaches. 

 2. Sweet Monkswood  
Appearance: Oak with wide boughs, lacking leaves at the top. Smells sweetly.
Lore: A malady which effects young oak trees around their fortieth year, causing all leaves above a certain height to fall off and never grow back which in turn creates a strange tonsured look to the tree. Tea brewed from these "bald" twigs are sweet like candies and worth a fare amount on the spice market.
[...]
Notable Trees of the High Wold
 1. Subtle Birch Hornwood 
Appearance: Birch whose branches sprawl out like antlers. Pungent spice smell to the bark.
Lore: A specific form of birch tree, mutated by the longstanding and capricious presence of goatmen. Branches grow gnarled and smooth rather than straight like a traditional birch. When peeled, the bark can make a soothing tea and the wood cannot be stained, remaining white as snow.
[...]
Notable Trees of the Tithelands
 1. Goman's Spine
Appearance: Off-grey Ash which grows with spiky nub-like branches towards its base. Smells of cowardice.
Lore: These ash trees grow in the gaps between burial mounds or on the scrubland of ancient battlefields where the Goman invaders were beaten back by the men of Tolmenwode and Goatmen natives. Tapping a foot before the top of the trunk will allow a syrup of glooming green to flow, which if applied to weapons can rip at the spectres of spectral undead as though they were physical. Armor or weapons made of this tree are said to always break upon striking at a True Emeraude warrior.
[...]


What sort of wrong information was given? [d6]
 1. You were told to consume the wrong part of the tree, which in turn will cause rashes, hallucinations, and general sickness what with you having consumed a hearty amount of wood.
 2. You were given directions to the wrong tree, and thus you've harvested components from a completely normal version of the sublime off-shoot. You have nothing of additional worth and consuming it will grant no great effect.
 3. You have been informed that the tree and its components are horrifically poisonous unless you perform a ritual of salting wherein you beseech the Faerie Princes to let you consume the item in question properly. 
[...]
http://www.goatmansgoblet.com/2019/03/dolmenwood-notable-trees-of-dolmenwood.html


Design notes:
- Wilderness is a potential source of great adventures and resources
- Use random generators and lists, to spice up wilderness descriptions and resources
- Use random tables also as a reference to design something original (uses, descriptions, locations, effects and so on)
- In a low-fantasy setting, consider using herbs and plants as the only source of healing, for example
- If you use random generators, remember to keep track of your results; have the same results to come up again in the future for consistency
- Very long and detailed lists with be unnecessary and even conterproductive (it takes a lot of time to write them, they are hard for others to study, for you to remember, and to customize, plus they are also difficult to reference on the fly)
- A good idea with herbs and plants might be to combine two (or more) of them together to obtain a certain effect (instead of having a single plant to have an effect like if it was a magical potion)
- When gathering information about plants and herbs, you also might be given false information, or you might have to do experiements to discover the effects of a single herb or of a combination

Friday, September 13, 2019

Languages in OSR games

Languages are something I've rarely seen used in OSR games, either ran by me or others... More often than not, these rules were ignored. Either because the game was played with humans only and then game location was not too relevant (and so the common tongue) - or more often, because it was more interesting to allow comunication than block it because of the languages.
I believe this is not typical - probably some of you or many of you actually use the rules for languages, and consider them an integral part of the game... but this was not my experience.


When I've read LotFP the first time, I immediately noticed how the game changed the approach to languages.

Most Characters are assumed to begin play being fully fluent in their native tongue, and are literate as well if they have an Intelligence of 7 or greater. Elves and Dwarfs will know the local human tongue in addition to the tongue of their particular clan (Halflings use the local human language).
When a character comes into contact with another language, his chances of knowing the language is 1 in 6, with the character’s Intelligence modifier applying. If a character has a Languages skill at a greater level than 1 in 6, use that as the base chance instead.

What is quite elegant here, is that you need to make no list in advance. No need for the GM to make a list of languages, no choices to make at character creation.
You know I am a big fan of such flexible and fast approaches, and this is good enough for me. It is not perfect, of course: sometimes it may block an interesting conversation just because no character succeeds in the roll, and still leaves room for frustration for players... How many times did you improve Languages on your character sheet, as a player, giving it skill points or whatever your system used, only to have the campaign and the GM never make this relevent in play?
Still, I feel this is better than the standard lists used in most OSR games.


If instead you want to add more details to language rules, here are some suggestions.
The first is by Rocinante, and presents different levels in languages: it makes sense, if you want to simulate something more realistic.
Indeed knowing a language for basic comunication is one thing, while being fluent or able to read ancient, academic or highly specialist texts are definitely more challenging.
I personally don't like too much the idea to add this level of complexity, but I see how it could be useful if it made most characters able to speak many languages at the basic level (thus reducing or eliminating language barriers). But while I see the potential benefits of this, I still do not like too much having to track different levels for each language - and I guess it would create a discrepancy with other skills in the game... If we introduce 3 levels for languages, why not have for example: Novice/Skilled/Expert for all other skills?

Making Languages Make Sense
[...] Basic: You can discuss the weather and order a drink or ask for directions in this language. Anything else is beyond you, and Charisma checks are made with disadvantage if using this language. (1 point)
Fluent: You can make alliances, chat someone up and get by in almost all day-to-day situations. (2 points)
Scholarly: You can read ancient, academic or highly specialist texts in this language and understand them. Think reading Foucault in the original French. Only ‘scholarly’ classes (Wizard, Cleric, Warlock, Bard) or those with a relevant background (Scholar, Sage etc) may choose this option. (3 points)
[...]

I guess there might be a way to use this concept, somehow keeping the game still simple, if it would be paired with something easier like the default LotFP Languages skill.
An idea could be to allow characters to comunicate with other humans and humanoids in most cases (thus leaving room for role playing and negotiations and interactions...) and test the LotFP Languages skill for reading/writing/other advanced uses of languages.


The next link is instead an analysis of alignment languages - although the post starts with a few considerations about languages for the various game's species (elves, dwarves, etc...) and the "common" tongue which may be used to avoid language barriers.
The alignment language is another interesting topic because it could be used to make possible to sustain many more interactions than the regular language list would... but on the other hand, if used between NPCs and/or monsters, would make it possible for characters to guess someone's alignment very quickly.
The article suggests several alternatives, which are a mix of alignment and other languages - and they have a certain flavor to them, but again I fell like they push too far in terms of world-building and GM-prep and details for the players to remember... especially if they are presented before the start of a campaign, rather than as details that come up later on in play, little by little.

[...] B13 has a list of languages that is not specially interesting - you've got languages for elves, dwarves, lizard men, etc. It makes sense that every creature would have their own language [...]
This is not particularly useful when running a game. so we get a "common" language that 20% of people speak, thus avoiding to deal with language barriers all the time (still too often, probably) [...]
Modern D&D does something like that, while reducing the number of languages and alphabets to more manageable levels - maybe goblins, hobgoblins and bugbears all speak the same language, for example. Again, works well, but feels a bit artificial and it's not something I feel particularly interested in.
[...]
Now, alignment language. It certainly has its fans, but it has plenty of haters and has been mostly abandoned in modern D&D, as it makes little sense unless you see alignment as factions. The main inspiration for the concept is probably Black Speech.
Another problem with alignment languages is that, in theory, it could be used to identify anyone's alignment in seconds, making some interesting interactions impossible.
[...]
Darkspeak: the spoken/written language of demons and the mightiest inhabitants of the Abyss. Only chaotic characters can learn it without a significant risk of going mad, and even them will avoid using it unless they are also demons.
Bastard tongue: the gutural, often unpleasant spoken language of goblins, orcs, minor demons and beings that associate with chaos.
Devani: the spoken/written language of Elysium. Learning this language for any character that isn't lawful is like looking directly into the sun, and many will not survive the experience. Every mortal uses this language with reverence and awe and avoid speaking it out loud - even if they can understand it when it comes form the mouth of an angel.
Prisca: the spoken/written language of the fallen Empire, specially common in religious (lawful) texts and legal documents.
Fae: the spoken (sung) language of fairies and the spirits of the wild. Anyone can learn it, but characters that are not Neutral are suffer greater risk of being charmed by sylvan spirits if they understand their words.
[...]


Another interesting take on alignment languages is to consider them specific dead languages in the campaign world. This means that they can be learned and therefore someone's alignment is not necessarily indicated by the alignment language that they speak, and that having a mix of alignments in the party is useful if you need to be able to read or write or speak a specific dead language.
This feels again like an additional layer of complication, to me, but it's interesting (and probably more reasonable than the secret code languages as the original alignment languages were).

Alignment languages?  Yeah.  Let's talk about them. [...]
Alignment languages will be specific dead languages in the campaign world.  They're not secret.  They're not exclusive.  They're not even really designed to be used as a secret code language or shibboleth.  But whatever alignment you choose determines which of the three (luckily for me, I run Classic D&D with Law-Neutrality-Chaos only) your PC knows, in addition to Common and any demi-human languages. 
[...]
This means you can't necessarily trust someone just because they happen to speak Ancient Gardelish and so do you (not that you should implicitly trust someone of your own alignment anyway, even if you're both Lawful).  It also gives a reason why adventuring parties might actually WANT a range of alignments in the party. [...]

If this sounds interesting to you, you may read more in the second part of the blog post.

[...] Anyway, my point tonight is to restate my idea in simpler terms.
"Alignment languages" in my game will CEASE to be alignment languages as commonly understood.  They will be dead languages within the campaign world: the cultures that spawned the languages have disappeared, and the successor cultures may speak a language based on them, but they are still different languages.  People use them for various purposes (religious, mercantile, academic, etc.).  Most educated people (and all adventurers) know one or more of them, but rarely use them in everyday life. 
[...]
For example, let's say I've set up Latin as the language Lawfuls start with, Ancient Greek as the language Neutrals start with, and Ancient Egyptian as the language Chaotics start with.  Bob rolls up Gargamel, a Neutral Magic-User with a 17 Int, entitling him to two bonus languages.  He gets French (Common, everyone has it) and Ancient Greek (for being Neutral).  He wants to speak to dragons, so he takes Dragon as a bonus.  He then decides that communicating with any humanoids he charms would be useful, so he decides that for his second bonus language he will learn Ancient Egyptian. [...]


After reading all these, I am inclined to keep the simple approach of Lamentations of the Flame Princess.
If you want your players to avoid wasting points on the Language skill if you don't really know if it will ever come into play, you could simply grant all classes (not just the Specialist) some sort of automatic progression (i.e. a point in this Language skill every 3 levels or something).

Thinking about it...
I guess Languages are not something that the characters will necessarily get better at, with adventuring - or instead, if you want to look at it from a different point of view, all characters, regardless of their class, will improve with Languages with travel, adventuring, contact with other populations and perhaps with contact with monsters and creatures (if they speak at all).

So my proposal would be to use the LotFP rule and to set the Language skill to 1, but at character creation also add to it the INT or CHA modifier (whichever is higher, and only if positive). Then do not change it anymore (smarter characters or those more inclined to social contact, will have better language skills).

As an alternative, use the LotFP rule and set the Language skill to 1, then every time a character gains a level, roll a d6. If they roll higher than their Language skill, add 1 point to it. As they get better, it becomes less likely that they will add another dot.
There you go; all classes get their fair chance of improving with languages and players do not need to waste points in this skill that maybe you as the GM will never bring into play...
You know what it looks like to me? Saving Throws: Save vs. Dragon Breath increases also if you don't have dragons in your campaign. And if you decide one day to bring one into the game, your characters have a score to save against it.


Design notes:
- Languages are for me a sore topic: they require attention at character creation, and they usually present a difficult choice for players, because selecting languages is often a blind bet
- To help players to make this decision in an informed manner, the GM should prepare in advance a list of available languages and somehow explain to the players which could be more relevant
- Also, selecting languages when afterwards the GM (or the style of the adventures/campaign) does not bring them into play becomes a waste of time at char-gen or even worse, a waste of skill points
- LotFP has a single skill which is tested once for every new language, eliminating the initial choice (but still the skill requires players to invest points in it, so it is still potentially a waste if languages then do not come up)
- If you want to keep it simple, just make this Language skill to progress automatically for example every 3 levels, for all classes (not just Specialists)
- Languages, in real life, have "levels": you can be able to sustain basic conversations or complex ones, you may or not have an accent, be able or not to read and write; this level of complexity seems like an overkill unless languages play a really important role in your campaign
- An idea could be to use a skill like in LotFP but only for advanced uses: i.e. when reading/writing or sustaining a complex conversation
- If you use alignment languages, be careful because it makes it possible for the characters to determine someone's alignment very quickly
- Languages, and also alignment languages (or alternatives to them) help to generate a credible, detailed setting for your campaign, but they might become an additional burden for the players if they are presented just as an info-dump at the start of the game
- If you use alignment languages, you could consider them to be specific dead languages in the campaign world
- My personal preference is to use the LotFP simple approach, but with some sort of automatic progression (i.e. every X levels, or with a d6 chance to improve the skill at level-up)