Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Dwarves! 5E: Session Summary - Jailbreak Episode 1

This was a big session, so I split it into 2 parts:

The jailbreak is a classic trope, and it’s usually a fun one.  Putting the players in a situation where they are at a disadvantage, and have to juggle stealth, timing and speed in an environment specifically designed to hinder them.

So when we left off last time, the party was in the custody of the Splinterbeard clan, acting (allegedly) on behalf of King Ironhammer, and were being transported to the king’s private dungeon.
The party decided that it was too risky to make a move while being transported, so they hung tight while during the trip.  They were marched underground, first along the major tunnel between High Grass and Goldenhills Hall, but then turning south under the mountains on the southern edge of Goldenhills territory.  Luckily, Korrum’s background is as an Underdark Guide, so he was able to get a good idea of where they are.

The trip ended at an unremarkable section of corridor.  The escort moved a concealed panel of stone aside, revealing a narrow stairwell.  The guards hustled the party through a small complex of rooms, clearly barracks of some sort, then into a room with a heavy stone slab, raised by a heavy winch and pulley.  Under the slab was another narrow stairway, leading further down.

The lower level proved to be a series of circular rooms, joined by narrow corridors.  The guards
escorted them to one of the circular rooms with a 5’ hole in the floor.  They lower a rope ladder and down the party goes, into the dark. The dark proves to be a dirt-floored cell – beehive-shaped and about 20 feet deep, with the access hole at the very top.

But these are CHARACTERS, so they don’t sit there very long.  Well, for a while.  Couple of hours or so.  Just to let things quiet down.  Then Wanderer, who has managed to keep a dagger, some thieves tools AND his magical chain (change self and sleight of hand are wonderful), is on the case.  A very brief session of lockpicking results in everyone out of their shackles.  From there, it’s a matter of getting up to the top of the hole.

They decide on a Hilbo-assisted jump-launch – which goes somewhat awry.  Wanderer’s luck and dexterity keep him from crunching on the stone ceiling, and he manages to catch the lip of the hole.  He rolls out, and quickly discovers that there are several guards close by, and manages to get out of line of sight before he is spotted.

Using one of the magical powers of his enchanted chain, Wandered slips into the Fey and slides around the guards into another corridor.  He finds more locked doors and sees an odd-looking metal wall at the far end of one corridor.  Deciding that continued exploration is risky, he goes full Changeling.

Shifting himself to look like one of the guards that brought them down to the dungeon, he turns right around and walks into guard chamber.  Slickly convincing the guards that he’s been sent down to get a rope ladder, he strolls into the guardroom, gets a rope ladder and goes back over to the hole where the rest of the party are trapped.  Critical success on Deception rolls are handy.

However, the hole is still in direct sight of one guard, who is himself in direct sight of two other guards, so Wanderer has more thinking to do….  Illusions are your friend here.  Wanderer steps out of sight, creating an illusion of “himself” falling over into the pit.  Inspired.  A guard comes to help, and gets kicked into the pit.  Wanderer (still looking like a guard himself) motions the third guard over, and Slie (from in the pit) starts shouting “I’m OK, but I need help getting out” and doing a damn fine job of sounding like the first guard.

The third guard turns his back on Wanderer and takes a dagger in the throat for being dumb, and shortly thereafter (aided by a Silence spell from Korrum and a nasty shot with a hand crossbow by Wanderer) there are 4 dead guards and no alarm raised.

So now the party really gets into it.  They liberate their gear, find a number of imprisoned servants who inform them that the King is maybe insane, and has imprisoned them for “trying to poison me,”  “plotting to murder me,” and “stealing the thoughts from my brain”.  They also release an elven Expeditionary from Leagrove, who has been missing for 6 months and a dwarf, Dorren Eigar, apparently a cousin of their friend Khidre.  Wanderer notices that Dorren’s “street clothes”, which they found in a chest near their own equipment, conceals considerable hardware in the form of hidden daggers, garrotes and poisoned darts.

Next up: Guards!  Guards!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

So You Want to Build a World?

When I started putting together my campaign world, I looked around for things to make my life easier, and I found some:

donjon fantasy world generator

This is the one I use.

Click to embiggen.

Welsh Piper's Hex-based campaign design

I used them with Hexographer to make this kind of stuff:

You can embiggen this too!

And I drilled down to get this:

Bigger!  Click on it.

Still, I've always wanted to SEE the world.  Now I can with Map to Globe.

Just click on the Map File link in the top right, browse to the file you got from the donjon creator and PROFIT.  Actually, no profit, just free tools to get you an awesome rotatable, zoomable version of your very own fantasy world.  Like THIS ONE HERE.

I fucking love computers.  Huge thanks to everyone at donjon, Inkwell ideas, Map to Globe and to Welsh Piper!  DM Out.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

My (Abbreviated) Appendix N

My buddy +Torben Schau identified 10 books that influenced him, and asked me to list 10 books that influenced me.

This was hard, because I have, by my estimation, read at least 4000 books in my life (based on 3 books/week since I was 8 years old, rounded down to account for re-reads). I did finally come up with a group of 10 books that I found very influential. I listed them in no particular order, because really, it's hard to categorize "influential."

1. Deadhouse Gates – Steven Erikson.

 This book remains my single favorite fantasy novel. And I've always loved fantasy, so basically this is my favorite book of the 4000 or so I've read. For me it is the perfect blend of worldbuilding detail, adventure, war, tragedy and heroism. If I ever, as a writer or DM, come up with characters as great as the ones introduced in this book, I will be happy forever. For Malazan fans, this is where we first meet (and sometimes, say goodbye to): Icarium, Mappo Runt, Coltaine, Bult, Duiker, Lostara Yil, FUCKING KHARSA ORLONG, Leoman of the Flails, S'ormo Enath, Stormy, Gesler, Heboric Light Touch and Baudin Younger. I did that list from memory. Man, what a great book.

2. The Lord of the Rings – J RR Tolkien

Stuff like The Hobbit and the Gammage Cup introduced me to fantasy, but Tolkien's masterpiece really nailed down my love for the genre. The part where Aragorn tells the hobbits that Weathertop used to be known as Amon Sul, and that that Elendil watched from the Tower for the arrival of Gil-galad before the Last Alliance set out to wage war against Sauron gives me the chills every time I read it.  The FIRST time I read it I was about 10 or so, and all I could think was "WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE AND HOW DO I LEARN MORE ABOUT THAT?"  Tolkien, as much as any writer, influenced my deep love for history, and my affection for those striving against vast odds.

3. Voltaire’s Bastards – John Ralston Saul

One of the non-fiction books on the list.  I read Voltaire's Bastards when I was living in Australia, and it blew me away.  His deconstruction of how a series of logical "rational" decisions can lead to terrible consequences has stuck with me my entire life.  I still try to work backwards from the desired outcome when making decisions, so this book definitely had an abiding impact.

4. The Watchmen – Allan Moore

A comic.  Possibly THE comic.  This book made me realize you could get as much, or more, out of a comic/graphic novel as you could out of a traditional novel.  Ozymandias is very much Voltaire's Bastard, so I'm not surprised those two works come very close together.  Plus, it's the most brilliant deconstruction of the Superhero you're ever going to read.  All comics look different after you read The Watchmen, and if that isn't influential, I don't know what is.

5. The Book of Three – Lloyd Alexander

This book would be classified as Young Adult now, and I know I read it when I was around 8 or 9.  It was scary, mythic, tragic and ultimately triumphant, and ignited my love for Celtic/Welsh mythology.  The Huntsmen and Arawn have both featured in my RPG campaigns, and the tone and themes of The Book of Three have been influential in my gaming since forever.

6. The Judging Eye – R Scott Bakker

If Tolkien ignited my love for fantasy, R Scott Bakker and Steven Erikson brought it to a full burn.  I really liked the Prince of Nothing, but the Judging Eye absolutely blew me away.  The Second Apocalypse series is a modern re-imagining of Lord of the Rings, and read comparatively, it's quite a ride.  To me, Lord of the Rings is 3rd edition D&D, and The Judging Eye is DCC run by Rob Zombie.  Amazing, amazing book.

7. The Illiad – Homer

I have a degree in Greek and Roman Studies, and the Illiad is a huge part of why.  My dad had a copy of the Richard Latimore translation, and I read it in high school.  The clashing of the armor and the roaring of the armies as they smash together has stuck with me 'lo these many years, and I still love the doomed hero (and no, I don't mean Achilles, he's an asshole).

8. Snow Crash - Neal Stephenson

The only science fiction book on the list.  Glossolalia, a main character NAMED Hiro Protagonist, swordfighting, computers, virtual reality, an Eskimo badguy with knives made of glass and a personal nuke?  Stephenson taught me that a story can have all kinds of weird shit in it, but if it's awesome, none of that matters.  And Snow Crash is awesome.  It set my baseline for sci fi and futuristic novels.

9. The Deluxe Transitive Vampire – Karen Gordon

The other non fiction book.  It's about grammar.  And it's funny and clever and excellent.  What more needs to be said?

10. Aztec – Gary Jennings

Aztec is a Gary Jennings book.  So.  If you know Gary Jennings, that says quite a bit.  It's got sex, violence, more sex, extremely graphic violence, oh, and really well researched history.  I generally feel that you learn history better from high-quality historical fiction than any history textbook, and Aztec is pretty much WHY I feel that way.  Also, it has quite a bit of sex.  Books can have sex, in fact, I would argue that they mostly should.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Worldbuilding: The Dwarven Military

When you think of dwarven warriors, the axe and the crossbow are the weapons that come to mind.
Dwarven Axe by Faradon, from Deviantart
They are the iconic weapons of the dwarves, but surely, a dwarven army cannot function with such a limited range of weaponry? Dwarves, as evidenced by the vast sweep of their history, have been successful enough in war to defend their holds and halls from many enemies, so how does the dwarven military engine really work? Well, I can’t tell you how it works in YOUR world, but I’ll tell you how it works in mine.

Based on their culture and physical bodies, dwarves have several inherent advantages, which they work to enhance, and drawbacks, which they work to minimize.

In terms of advantages, dwarves are very strong and durable, build tough fortifications, and have very good equipment and the industry and resources to manufacture a lot of it.

Their disadvantages are that they are not very numerous, move relatively slowly, and are not particularly sneaky. Also, they tend to inhabit marginal lands (mountains and hills) that are not suitable for heavy agriculture.

So, then, how do the iconic axe and crossbow fit into this picture? The axe can be a devastating weapon. It has concentrated cutting power and weight, it is relatively cheap to produce compared to a sword, and it’s effective against both armored and unarmored opponents. The drawbacks of the axe are that it is heavy and relatively slow to strike with - a perfect weapon for a heavily-armored, strong and tireless dwarf.
by heidifury from deviantart
The crossbow can also be a devastating weapon. It is powerful, relatively accurate and easy to use (compared to bows). But it is also difficult and time-consuming to manufacture, requiring specialized industry. Again, a perfect weapons for dwarves – their strength makes it easier for them to reload, it’s very effective from behind fortifications, it can be used by relatively untrained militias (helpful for bolstering numbers) and the dwarves have the industry and technology to build and maintain them.

But that can’t be all… Militaries have to be able to fight in a variety of situations, to have flexibility essentially. Axes and crossbows are effective, but aren’t flexible enough on their own, so what do the dwarves do?

The Standing Army. Most dwarf kingdoms of any size maintain a standing army. In a world with dragons, giants and orc hordes, that’s just common sense. For the dwarves in my world, there are usually 3 branches of a dwarf army, the Regulars, the Scouts and the Artillery.


Regular units are organized into “Guards” or “Watches”, with between 150 and 500 members, mixing male and female dwarves about 70/30. Most dwarf regulars are professional, full-time soldiers, equipped with high-quality half-plate or banded-style armor. A standard Guard will have a mix of roles, not unlike a pre-Marian roman legion. Front-liners carry axes, short swords (sometimes built into forearm gauntlets) and pick-backed hammers, and have round or rectangular shields. Imagine a line of 4’ high roman legionnaires with beards, and you have a pretty good picture of a dwarf front rank.

Flankers carry crossbows, and often work in teams, with a shooter, a loader and a shield-bearer (who can function as a front-liner).

Back-rankers carry polearms – glaives, halberds, Lucerne hammers, poleaxes. Often these weapons will have back hooks and spiked heads. Their job is to chew up the taller foes over the heads of the front-rankers. Back-rankers also often carry twist-bows (dwarf hand-crossbows). These are metal tubes with a powerful spring that are re-cocked by twisting the lower half of the tube and dropping a metal dart into the top. They are fired by pressing a firing stud forward.

The long life of dwarves also means that they train in a variety of different weapons and techniques. Against mobile or mounted opponents, Regular units will trade out their heavy infantry weapons for more crossbows and pikes, essentially converting into pike phalanx.

For underground operations, Regulars will switch out the round shields for more mobile bucklers, and equip more shortswords, daggers, picks and short assegai-style stabbing spears. They will also use a LOT more twist-bows.


Regulars are great in a stand-up fight, or in a dug-in position, but for other activities, the scouts come
in handy. Dwarf scouts are light troops who wear chainmail or reinforced leather armor, and carry heavy arbalests and hand weapons. Scouts are responsible for, well, scouting, but also long-range patrols, caravan guarding, underdark exploration and just about anything else that isn’t covered by the regulars. Their arbalests make them effective snipers, and scout units often work with regulars in large battles by holding rough terrain or shooting for enemy officers.

Scouts operate in smaller groups of 10-25, and are experienced at working independently for long periods of time.


Dwarves love mechanisms, and nothing says “mechanism” like a piece of artillery. My world doesn’t have gunpowder, so no Warhammer action, but dwarves still make some of the best artillery in the world. Any dwarf fortification is going to be well-stocked with artillery. Emplaced trebuchet and ballistae are common, and dwarves have the alchemical knowledge and technical skill to make flammable ammunition.

In the field, dwarves use highly-mobile field pieces, often made of lightweight steel frames. Onager and ballista-style field pieces are both used. Since dwarven armies are relatively slow, they use these pieces to support their troops and to punish more mobile enemies that might try to skirmish with them.

Artillery units in the field usually work with teams of a dozen or so, and often have flanker-style support units of 25 or so to protect them from mounted or flying foes.


Since there are relatively few dwarves compared to more prolific races, most dwarf holds maintain a tradition of extensive militia training. Again, the long life-span of dwarves means that these militia are usually much more competent and efficient than their shorter-lived counterparts, and the effectiveness of dwarf industry also means they are better equipped.

Dwarf militia units can ultimately call up to 75% of the population of a given hall, assuming it is for a limited time (like a siege or single battle). These units include both male and female dwarves. Dwarf militia wear chain armor and have round shields, hand weapons (axes, hammers and short swords) and most of them carry a crossbow, making them effective as both melee and missile troops. Some militia carry spears, and they are capable of basic military formation movement, unlike many other militia units.

Fortifications and Sieges

Dwarves are classic “turtlers” – they build extensive fortifications, defend tenaciously and rarely strike offensively, preferring to take and hold ground. They are masters of siegecraft, undermining walls, emplacing artillery and building extensive trenches, walls and traps. Read up on the Battle of Alesia if you want some examples of how dwarf armies might work in a siege.

Dwarf crossbows, artillery and stonework make assaulting dwarf fortifications a dicey proposition. Their skill in the underground environment also makes long sieges impractical, as they can bring in supplies via underground routes. Enemies like orcs often resort to irregular warfare – constant raiding of farms, trade and mines is more effective than standup warfare against the dwarves.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

5e Dwarves: Talking 'bout mechanics

The session summary reports provide me with reference material as I move the campaign forward, and put the events of the game in narrative form, but they don't really give me the chance to talk about the session from a mechanical or DM perspective.  I personally find this kind of information really interesting to read about, but it makes for a really long post if I include it in the main summary.

This session was a chance to try out Lair Powers.  I set up several of them for the Purple Worm - an effect that knocked everyone prone if they failed Dex checks, a rocks falling from the ceiling damage effect, a caustic slime burning anyone attacking the worms effect and a swarm of tiny wormlings swarming everyone effect.  I didn't want these effect to be overwhelmingly powerful, but on reflection, I could have probably bumped them up a bit.

There aren't stats for a Purple Worm in the materials available yet, so I grabbed some different powers from existing creatures, and tried to make a CR 8 monster.  The party is level 6, but there are 5 of them, so I thought this would be a good challenge. 

Lesser Purple Worm
Gargantuan Monstrosity , unaligned 
Armor Class 11
Hit Points 135 (10d20+30) 
Speed 30 ft., burrow 40 ft. 
STR 20 (+5) DEX -3 CON +3 INT -2 WIS +3 CHA -4
Senses Tremorsense 60 ft., passive Perception 13
Challenge 8 (4000 XP) 

Amphibious. A lesser purple worm can breathe air and water. 


Multiattack: The Lesser purple worm can make one bite and one sting attack per turn

Bite. Melee Weapon Attack: +8 to hit, reach 10 ft., one target. Hit: 18 (2d10 + 8) piercing damage plus 5 (1d10) poison damage, and the target is grappled (escape DC 13). Until this grapple ends, the target is restrained, and the worm can’t bite another target. 

Sting. Melee Weapon Attack: +8 to hit, reach 10 ft., one creature. Hit: 7 (1d10 + 2) piercing damage, and the target must make a DC 15 Constitution saving throw, taking 22 (4d10) poison damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one.

Swallow. As a bonus action, the worm can make one bite attack against a Medium or smaller target it is grappling. If the attack hits, the target is swallowed, and the grapple ends. The swallowed target is blinded and restrained, it has total cover against attacks and other effects outside the toad, and it takes 15 (3d10) acid damage at the start of each of the worm’s turns. If the worm dies, a swallowed creature is no longer restrained by it and can escape from the corpse using 5 feet of movement, exiting prone.

On reflection, Str and Con should have been higher, and damage probably should have been higher across the board.  I was also thinking about adding an automatic "Overrun" attack for anyone close to the worm.

For the wormlings, I just used the Giant Toad stats.

Couple of notes from the combat:

The Eldrich Blast knockback is pretty powerful, although houseruled that it doesn't effect the Mama worm on the fly.  Sure, nothing in the description says that there are size restrictions on the knockback - but as I said in the session "That's why I'm the DM."

I ruled that the rogue couldn't sneak-attack the Purple Worm, since the worm has tremorsense and knows exactly where everyone is at all times.  Once Hilbo engaged it in melee, I allowed a sneak attack, but I'll have to review exactly how that works.

My basic policy as a DM is that if a rules questions comes up, I make a fast ruling that keeps things going forward.  If somebody knows the rule, I listen, decide if it makes sense, then make the call.  At the end of the session, if anybody has an issue with the ruling, we discuss, check the book, and decide on how to run it going forward.

In the case of the sneak attack and knockback calls, nobody seemed too bothered by them, so we didn't re-address.

Now comes the BIG THING.  Hilbo used his magical item, his action surge and the -5 attack/+10 damage ability.  That gave him 4 attacks at +5 to hit (+5 from str, +3 from proficiency bonus, +2 from his magical maul, -5 for power shot), each doing 2d6 +17 damage (+5 from str, +2 from maul, +10 from power shot).  He hit 3 times in the first round.  When the worm attacked, he used a Riposte and hit, then he got 2 attacks the next round, hitting with both.  He did 124 points of damage total.  Whoof.  So if somebody bitches about fighters being underpowered, cordially invite them to shut the fuck up.

Of course, the worm is a classic brute - low AC, high hp, and this is an attack pattern basically designed to work against it, but still - very effective strategy.

The rest of the wormlings weren't much trouble - Hunger of Hadar and the difficult terrain formed by the dead Mommy worm made them come in stages, and the Eldrich bolt knockback pushed them back into the Hunger area.

The worm only got 2 lair effects off, the knockdown and the caustic slime attack, and the one attack it got off that hit didn't do too much damage, as dwarves have resistance to poison damage and advantage on poison saves.

All in all, the combat ran smoothly and quickly.  The Roll20 app is much improved in terms of speed of use, and the Initiative tool is handy for keeping track of init.  Each character got 1050 xp, which brings Korrum and Hilbo near level 7.

The rest of the session was pure role-play, which was great.  I ruled that Wanderer, who has minor illusion magic and sleigh of hand proficiency, was able to keep his thieves tools and a dagger on him, as they weren't stripped to the skin, and Sinder can summon his sword at-will.  So we'll see how they do with a classic prison escape scenario next session.

5E Dwarves Session: Worm Juice and Treachery

When we left off last week, the party was just about to enter what they suspected was the lair of a purple worm. Likely one of the two that escaped during the Siege of Greatview Hall.

Upon entering the cavern, they noticed several slightly steaming pools of water, and a strong, caustic stench. The area proved to be a raised section of the cavern, with cliffs on two sides and a steep slope dropping toward the center of the cavern. In the cavern area below, they saw a thick stream of greenish slime running into a crack in the wall.

Slie immediately identified the smell and slime as likely indicators of a purple worm nesting ground. The worm (each worm is hermaphroditic) lays eggs in a pile of loose rubble, then wraps itself around the pile, secreting greenish slime that keeps the eggs moist and helps them mature. When the eggs hatch, the wormlings need to be submerged in water until they are about as long as a human, emerging only to feed.

Advancing cautiously, Wanderer approached the huge pile of loose rock in the lower area of the cavern, unaware that the worm could feel his every footstep through the stone…

Mama worm was not impressed by the interlopers, and surged off her egg pile to crush the intruders. The larger wormlings also lunged from the pools, closing in to devour the delicious meaty tidbits.

The titanic convulsions of the approaching mother worm threw Sinder and Slie off their feet, but the other party members managed to keep their balance. Slie began throwing bolts of arcane energy at a nearby wormling, knocking to backward and allowing him to get back to his feet. Sinder and Korrum closed on another wormling, and Wanderer, after firing a single arrow, seemed to tune out for the rest of the battle (as Kasper had to leave for work).

Hilbo believes that a good offence is the best defense, so he rushed the worm-mother. Triggering his magical belt of Bull’s Power (temporary 20 Str for 1 round), he hammered at the worm with his maul, sacrificing accuracy for power and using his energy recklessly (action surge). Three of his blows struck the worm with tremendous force, and the power of his magical maul, Earthshatter, enhanced the blows.

Despite the horrific damage the hammer caused, the worm snapped at Hilbo, but he stepped aside and riposted with the weapon, smashing the worm’s jaw. It’s stinger lashed down, stabbing into Hilbo’s leg, but his dwarvish resistance to poison kept the worm’s venom from having much effect.

A gout of caustic icor also poured from the massive wound, covering Hilbo with acidic ooze that burned his skin and hair. Undaunted, he continued his attack, pulverizing the worms innards. Two more titanic blows crushed the last life from the enormous creature.

After that, it was a simple matter of destroying the remaining wormlings (Hunger of Hadar helped

quite at bit), crushing the eggs with a shattering blow from the magical maul, and cutting out the worm’s gullet, which contained 900 gp worth of polished gemstones. They also found a dwarven round-shield, shining undamaged despite being submerged in the slime of the worm lair.

Having ensured the safety of the mines, the party returned to Greatview Hall, rested, provisioned, and headed back to Goldenhills Hall by way of Gnollshead.

All was in order as they passed through Gnollshead, with trade increasing, settlers building houses, and fishing and prospecting starting around the fort. A 1-day hike across the Twisted Pass brought them to High Grass, the main ranching settlement of Goldenhills Hall.

There, the party was told by the gate-guards that a messenger from the king awaited them in the main barracks, and that he would send a runner ahead to let the messenger know that they had arrived. The party headed to the fort, and upon entering the barracks yard, were confronted by a double-rank of cocked crossbows pointed at their faces.

A smirking dwarf with a braided red beard, clearly the commander, told the party to drop their
weapons and surrender immediately, on the order of King Ironhammer. Reluctant to face off with 25 dwarven warriors, the party laid down their weapons and surrendered. The smug commander ordered them stripped of weapons and armor and chained, informing them that they were “guilty of treason against the King”. He also asked about the location of Hakoah Ironbeard, and seemed quite angry that the “Oathbreaker” was not with the rest of the party.

That night the party was kept under guard in the barracks storage rooms in High Grass, then marched to the underground Greatway . The commander of their escort proved to be Baron Algron Splinterbeard, a member of the clan supposedly betrayed by Hakoah’s Ironbeard clan.

Slie’s pet “kitty” is able to move around completely unseen, and can listen to and relate conversations back to Slie. “Kitty” was able to discover that the Splinterbeard Clan are working for the King, that the King has decided to strike back against the “traitors and scum” in the kingdom that oppose him, specifically the Eigar clan and the Redhammer clan, as well as Paths Command, many officers in the Goldenhills Guard, and some of the lesser clans. Capturing the PC’s is apparently the first step in this campaign.

“Kitty” also overhears that the party is being taken to the kings private dungeon, somewhere in the caverns below Goldenhills Hall itself. Korrum is able to cast a Sending spell to their friend Khidre Eigar, the heir of the powerful Eigar clan, telling him of their capture. Khidre responds that he is also in hiding from the king’s forces, and will contact the powerful Redhammer clan to see if he can arrange help.

So as we left off, the party were stripped of their gear, manacled hand and feet, chained together, and closely guarded and being marched off to the private dungeon of a king who increasingly seems to be either completely irrational or utterly mad. Good times!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

5e Dwarves Session Summary: September First

After taking the summer off, the old Playtest Group reconvened to kick the Dwarves! campaign off in full 5E style.  There have been a number of character changes, of course, but they have managed to maintain a dwarf-majority party.  However... one of the member of the party is now an elf...  An elf spellcaster, to boot!  Horrors.  How will the intrepid dwarves deal with this arcane point-ear in their midst?

Pretty well, as it turns out.  Of course, +Torben Schau, who plays the point-ear, couldn't make the session, but other events make me optimistic that he will eventually be accepted by the xenophobic, er, intrepid
Hilbo says "Hi"

The current adventurers are:

Hilbo Huggins, the dwarf soldier Battlemaster, played by +J Malfair

Korrum Kargonil, the dwarf guide turned Cleric of Moradin Foehammer (Martial aspect of Moradin), played by +Greg Pierce

Wanderer, ostensibly a dwarf Arcane Trickster (secretly a changeling) played by G+'s very own +Kasper Blomdell.

Slieyronourmous Troves, a dwarf (well, duergar, really) wizard (well, warlock, really), played by +Perry Jones

Sinder, an elf guild merchant Arcane Knight, played by the aforementioned +Torben Schau.

We did quite a bit of stuff via email before the first session started, so when we did get going, the immediate problems were well-established:  lack of food, a damaged hold and freed slaves from hostile races.

The slaves were the first issue addressed.  Specifically, the hobgoblins, orcs and goblins.  Knowing that
hobgoblins are almost pathological about honoring bargains, Hilbo negotiated a mercenary contract with Fear, the leader of the group.  They agreed to work for the party patrolling near Gnollshead Hall in exchanged for regular gold, any loot they take, and the rights to camp in the old fort that the cult of Doresain abandoned.  The hobgoblins will also be paid a bounty for gnoll tails (lots of gnolls in those hills) and are allowed to trade for supplies at Gnollshead Hall.

Next, the duergar.  These slaves were in a near-catatonic state due, it was revealed, to the worms that were eating their brains.  Apparently duergar all have brain-worms that they take drugs to prevent from lobotomizing them.  Slie was able to give them a concoction that killed the brain-worms, but they didn't come all the way back from that, and now the dwarves have them doing simple labor - probably for the rest of their lives.  But it beats the alternative.

Then, the drow.  The two slaves, Verraki and Verrakath, were discovered to be members of House Inncon'eal, a minor, male-run house which provides mercenaries and guards for more powerful houses.  They agreed to bring a message to the head of their house in exchange for freedom, which the dwarves granted.  Surprising leniency for the party, which bodes well for Sinder!

On to the food and repairs.  Despite the dwindling food supplies, the dwarves got right to work, cause, hey, dwarves!  Wanderer and Korrum took a bag of money north to Gnollshead Hall to purchase supplies, and Hilbo, Slie and Sinder stayed behind to supervise rebuilding.

Wanderer and Korrum had a small run-in with Ogres, but were able to secure a good-sized herd of Ahten cattle, getting them back to Greatview before starvation really began to bite.  Fortunately, the fortifications, forges and fungus farms were all repaired as well.  The only wrinkle as found during the clean-up of the upper mines.

A 10-foot wide hole, coated with purplish slime.  Looks like one of the duergar Purple Worms is still hanging around the area.  Following the worm tunnel deeper into the mountain, the party comes upon a large cavern filled with pools of greenish, steaming water and a strong caustic stench...

Friday, August 22, 2014

ACKs Domain Stats: Gnollshead Hall

Back when the party was about level 4, they were instrumental in defeating an evil cult worshiping Doresain, the White Hand, King of Ghouls.  The cult was based in an old fort, and were using Ghuls, Wendigo, Perytons and gnolls to raid and enslave the local Ahten nomads.

The party attacked their fortress, cleaned out the upper levels, then retreated, called in military help from
from www.elfwood.com by Jay Javier
Goldenhills Hall, then defeated the gnolls and cultist-raised zombies in a battle, luring them into an ambush with the aid of Ahten allies.

The Ahten, for their part, were happy to accept aid from the Dwarves, and allowed the party to claim a chunk of land along the river, the site of an old gnoll camp.  Using their dwarf warriors as labor, they constructed a fortified trading post in a motte & bailey style.  Since that time, dwarf traders and settlers have moved into the area around the new fort, and the Ahten trade there regularly, eager to exchange their furs and meat for dwarven tools, metal goods and weapons.

Gnollshead Hall is currently a borderlands domain attached to the dwarven Kingdom of Goldenhills Hall.  Since the characters who established it are not high enough level to have a domain, it is being administered by a castellan appointed by Duke Arkask Redhammer.  When (if) one of the original party members (currently Hilbo Huggin - Fighter 6 and Korrum Kargonath - Cleric 6 remain), they will be able to take Gnollshead Hall over as their domain.  Otherwise, it will eventually be gifted to a dwarf noble.

Gnollshead Hall
The Ahten allowed the dwarves to claim 1 6-mile hex (32 square miles).  Any further land expansion will have to be negotiated with them, as it lies in a valley traditionally claimed by the Crow Clan of the Ahten.  The Crow are semi-nomadic, and allied to the dwarves, though.

There are 110 families (550 dwarves) living in the domain.

Current morale is +1.

Gnollshead Hall is a Class VI market.

It is in a borderlands area, and the revenue is 6 gp/family. The river valley where the fort is built flood occasionally, and has very fertile soil.  It is good growing land for crops and grazing for animals, which are highly sought-after by Goldenhills Hall.  There is also some gold panning in the river, and salmon runs in the fall.

Stronghold: Gnollshead Hall

Wooden drawbridge: 250 gp
400' wooden palisade: 500 gp
400' dry moat: 1600 gp
100' earth rampart 2500 gp
40' stone tower 22500 gp
2 stone buildings (one is buried in the berm) 6000 gp
2 wooden buildings 3000 gp

Stronghold Value: 36,350 gp

Garrison. The garrison is composed of Goldenhills Hall regular troops.  There are also 2 heavy ballistae mounted on the tower.
25 dwarven heavy infantry (battleaxe, shield, chainmail): 450 gp
25 dwarven crossbowmen (arbalest, dagger, chainmail): 525 gp

Settlement Revenue: 
Land: 6 gp/family. 660 gp/month
Services: 4 gp/family.  440 gp/month
Taxes: 2 gp/family.  220 gp/month
Total revenue:  1320 gp/month.

Settlement Expenses:
Garrison: Minimum 330 gp/month.  Current garrison value 975 gp (the difference paid by Goldenhills Hall)
Stronghold Upkeep: 182 gp/month
Taxes: 264 gp/month
Tithe: 132 gp/month
Festivals (110*5*4/12): 183 gp/month
Total expenses: 1091 gp/month.

Income:  229 gp/month.

Growth:  Base growth 15%
Rolled growth 3d10 (morale)
Rolled reduction 2d10.

Right now the party is negotiating to hire a number of hobgoblin mercenaries (with orc auxiliaries) to patrol the area north of Gnollshead Hall. They won't technically be part of the garrison, as the party are paying them separately.  We'll see how that turns out.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

ACKs Domain Stats: Greatview Hall

Originally from a picture called City of Galastan.
Greatview Hall is an independent domain. It was once the center of a much more prosperous domain, but
has suffered greatly from several lost wars.

It currently takes up 1 6-mile hex (32 square miles) in claimed territory, but realistically claims very little land other than the Hall itself and the adjacent mines and farm caves.

Unlike many domains, Greatview Hall is currently only an urban settlement, which incorporates the stronghold (the Citadel) and all the population.

There are 180 families (approx 900 dwarves) living there.

Current morale is +2.

Normally, a town this size would have a Class VI market, but since the hall is very self-sufficient, and dwarves are very crafty, it has a Class V market.

It is in a wilderness area, and the revenue is 7 gp/family.  They mine gold, silver, iron, coal and gemstones in Mt. Yronfang, and farm cavern fungus in the caves below.  There is very little opportunity for outside trade at this point.

Greatview Hall was once part of a much more powerful domain, the Old Kingdom, and as result, it was heavily developed - more so than it's current population would expect.

Barbican (38,000)
200' 30' high stone walls (15,000)
200' battlement (1,000)
Square Keep (75,000)
40' high tower (30,000)

Total value: 159,000 gp

There has also been 100,000 gp in urban investment done.  Originally it was higher, but the city has sustained considerable damage from the recent battles, and deterioration from lack of upkeep.

Settlement Revenue: 7 gp/family, or 1260 gp/month

Settlement Expenses:
Garrison: 360 gp/month minimum (covered by followers)
Stronghold Upkeep: 795 gp/month
Urban Upkeep: 180 gp/month
Tithe: 126 gp/month
Festivals (180*5*4/12) 300 gp/month
Total expenses: 1401 gp/month.

Garrison. The garrison is composed of the followers of the old leader.  They have families and kin in the hall, so they remain.  If they required pay, they would have a garrison value of 1975 gp.
75 dwarven heavy infantry (battleaxe, shield, chainmail): 1350 gp
25 dwarven crossbowmen (arbalest, dagger, chainmail): 525 gp
10 dwarven scouts (arbalest, handaxe, studded leather): 100 gp

Currently, Greatview Hall is in a tough position.  The cost of upkeep for the Citadel, which was built for a much larger population, is making it hard to cover all the costs.   Cancelling festivals or not paying the tithe to support the Temple might be options, but it will have a negative effect on morale pretty quickly.

Moreover, since Greatview Hall does not currently have an agricultural area supporting it, food is a real problem.  If they can get the mushroom farms, market gardens and terraced farms around the hold up and running again, they can be self-sufficient, but that will take months of work - and the current supply of food is limited.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Further Thoughts on the 5E Economy

Should I just call it 5Economy?

In any event, after being called out on my math, I settled down to think about the world-building ramifications of the crafting rules a bit more.

The basic math leads me to some conclusions which - fortunately I think - replicate (in a rule-of-thumb, simplified for gaming way) the sort of conditions you'd expect in a faux-medieval economy.

1) Limited Supply

This is the really big takeaway.  If, as a craftsman, you have to pay 50% of the cost of an item upfront in materials (or even 25%, really) the item represents a loss to you personally until it sells.  The bigger the ticket item, the more you'd have to plowed into it.  A suit of plate mail represents 2 YEARS of living expenses for a tradesperson in materials...

Plate mail is a bad example here, because it is, by it's nature, a very limited-demand item, but even something like a longsword (15 gp) represents a lost week's wages (at 1 gp/day) until it sells.  So only a well-established blacksmith can keep much inventory - it costs too much.

It also means that local blacksmiths, who presumably make their money just "practicing the craft" and maintaining a modest income, don't get many opportunities to sell big-ticket items like this, so they are unlikely to have much stock.  Sure, they'll make it - but only if somebody wants it.

The upshot here is that it doesn't make much sense to be able to get expensive equipment in small towns or villages unless there is some other reason for it to be available.  Sure, you can get it made, but there won't be much/any lying around.

2) Pay up front and expect to wait.

If it costs a smith 50% of the finished good (or even 25%) to make something, they are gonna want a deposit.  Probably for the entire materials cost.  Unless you're a local and he knows where you live and whatnot.  Transient murderhobos get no credit.

If the smith is solo, divide the cost by 10 to figure out how many days it will take.  If he is part of a team, multiply the team by 10, then divide by that.  Minimum 1 day.

Example:  Longsword - 15 gp.  Cost you 7 gp up front (15/10) - wait a day and a half.

3-man team for Plate Mail - 1500 gp - cost you 750 gp up front (1500/30) - wait about 2 months (50 days)

This math would break down differently if things are less than a gold piece, I think.  But unless the total cost of all the items exceeds 10 gp - the answer is "one day".

3) Some parts need houseruling/handwaving.

Darts.  They cost 5 cp, or 1/20th of a gp.  If you can make 5 gp worth of materials/day, then you can make 100 darts a day.  Again, if you are paying 50% of the cost as materials, maybe you are just gluing the fins on and screwing on the pointy bit?  Still seems fast.

There is some weirdness in the sense that a gold dart would presumably take much longer to make than a normal one, that sort of thing can mostly be handwaved (or not really worried about)

4) Any smith can forge anything.

There is only one "smith tools" set/skill, so technically speaking any smith can forge any item.  The materials cost is clearly a limitation, but presumably not if you are putting down a deposit.  Realistically (or as much realism as possible in elfgames) you might want to require larger cities for smiths with the skills to make highly specialized/expensive items, like spyglasses or plate armor. Even swords (heck, especially swords) had very specialized skills associated with making them.

5) Scale up for Art Objects.

Time/cost is determined by end value. If you want to make a really beautiful, valuable item, just pick how much you want it to be worth (or ask the DM), pay the materials cost (meteoric steel is pricey) and get to forging.

Hopefully the DMG will have some magic-item creation rules, but until then, requiring that you start with a very valuable item is pretty common.

Obviously, PC's won't be looking at using crafting to make money, but a PC (or ex-PC) with some capital, contacts in the sword-swinging community and knowledge of blacksmithing has a pretty good retirement plan available.

So the house rules I'm going to start with on crafting are "Pay anywhere from 10% to 50% for materials" and "You can make an item a work of art by paying more in materials/crafting time".

That's all for smithing, although it looks like performance might need a look, too.

Friday, August 15, 2014

5E Dwarves "Downtime" Summary

Our 5E Dwarves campaign is set to restart shortly. When we left off, the party had reached the dwarven city of Greatview Hall, returned the undead dwarves of the High Guard to the Temple of Moradin Dawnbringer, and met with the Elder Council.

(I set up and played out a wargame scenario for the Siege of Greatview Hall with my friend Craig - he beat me like a rug, so that's the result we'll use. Craig is a wargame designer. Lucky, lucky you.)

Colored for wargame use.
Based on those results, here is what happened during the downtime:

Upon the return of the High Guard to the Temple of Moradin Dawnbringer, the undead warriors are returned to life by the blessing of Moradin, but cannot leave the temple grounds.

Following the warning from Stalagtite, you scramble into action. After a quick discussion, it is determined that fortifying the Temple of Moradin is the best course of action, as the High Guard can assist with the defense, and it is near the center of the city - making it convenient for getting all the civilians and troops together.

Moving as quickly as you can, you gather the civilians and militia troops in the upper city, leaving a small group of militia and the elders in the upper citadel (mostly on their insistence). Sending messengers to the army commanders, you also start moving the various dwarven units towards the Temple.

By acting quickly and decisively, you manage to gather most of the civilians, militia and military units in the Temple of Moradin and fortify the temple grounds with barricades and rubble walls, just as the Duergar assault troops begin smashing their way up from below.

Massive purple worms mounted by twisted, robes duergar sorcerers lead the assault, followed by squads of armored minotaur and troops of duergar warriors. The first group arrives in the lower city, trapping some of the dwarven militia, along with a number of workers from the Forge Quarter. The militia manage to throw off the first assault, and Hilbo, Hakoah and Wanderer lead a relief force, catching the duergar in a vice and smashing the troop.

A second and third assault group appear in the lower city, but on opposite sides of the Temple of Moradin. Both attach the fortifications, but are thrown back, one group is savaged so badly that the survivors flee back down the holes, and the second is crushed by a counter-attack.

The fourth and final assault group breaks into the upper citadel, slaughtering the defenders and elders. They also destroy a section of the upper city, but retreat back into the tunnels when they realize the other attach groups are defeated.

The final cost of the attack is 75 dead dwarves and much of the lower city and upper city seriously damaged. Over 300 duergar bodies, 50 mintotaur and 2 purple worms are dead in the field, one wounded worm escaped into the tunnels after it's handler was killed, and about 100 duergar in the last assault group escaped.

Wanderer's scouting into the tunnels reveals that in the lower halls the duergar army is preparing to retreat, It seems that about 1000 duergar remain, along with many minotaurs and a menagerie of frightful beasts. They also have many captives, including several hundred dwarves.

Hoping to free the slaves, you launch a raid on the slave camp, freeing most of the slaves and fending off the duergar forces that pursue you.

It is now 2 days after the assault. The rubble of the battle is still smoking, and supplies are low.

One of them had an iron collar on.
You have:

100 dwarven soldiers (The Cliffwatch Guard and the Dawnbreak Guard)
Led by Commander Gorin "Short-Fist" Rungnisson
50 Resurrected High Guard

High Priest Faragrim Silver-vein.

225 civilians - mostly elderly, children and the infirm.

350 militia - pretty much all the men and women who can swing an axe or sword.

200 freed slaves - 150 dwarves and 50 assorted races, including orcs, goblins, hobgoblins, a couple of drow, some duergar and an elf. The slaves are in pretty rough shape.

There are about 10 days worth of supplies (enough to feed 900 people) left in the city granaries and storehouses, you are out of medicines, although there are several priests with healing spells still alive.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The 5e Economy

In older versions of D&D, the economics were weird and often nonsensical.  Especially considering that PC’s do not inhabit the “normal” economic system.  They operate more like gold rush prospectors than shopkeepers.  High risk, occasional massive payout and long stretches of downtime.

And where do magic items (sale and purchase) fall into the economy?  3e just normalized it – you could buy/sell magic items, and were expected to.  4e ignored it, mostly.  You sell magic items for half their worth, buy them for full cost and just shut up and kill stuff.

And then there is crafting.  Where does it fall into the economy – it has to be less profitable to stay home and craft than to go on adventures – otherwise, who would go adventuring?

I think it should be useful/interesting to be able to do crafting.  Players like to have their characters build things, create things, to leave a mark on the world other than by killing.  Plus, as a DM, it’s nice to have an underlying economy that makes a bit of sense – that you can build off of in a consistent, interesting way.

I’m going to start digging into the 5e crafting economy, looking at its links to the larger economic structure implied by the lifestyle and hireling rules, and see if it all hangs together.

Hellz yah Ron Perlman
Case Study 1:  Blacksmithing.

Historically, Blacksmithing was a high-skill, high-prestige occupation.  Ideally, that will also be the case here.

According to the rules, it takes the average person 250 days to learn to use a Smith’s tools, and the cost is 1 gp per day to do so, assuming they can find a teacher.  The tools themselves cost 20 gp (I assume this is for a travelling blacksmith, rather than the cost of setting up a forge).

Based on the lifestyle expenses, this is a fairly expensive proposition – essentially it is the cost of a year of modest lifestyle, so a reasonably high barrier to entry, consistent with a high-skill occupation, and requiring an apprenticeship period.

Now, let’s assume that the blacksmith has the skills – the crafting rules state that they have to pay ½ the cost of the item in “raw materials”.  My initial thought is that this is too high a raw materials cost, but if we suppose it covers the overhead to set up and run the forge, or to use somebody else’s forge, it might be doable.

The example they use in the book is 3 people working on a suit of plate mail, so let’s look at the economics of that and see if crafting actually pays.

We’ll start with the numbers.  A suit of plate mail costs 1500 gp.  So it will cost 750 gp in raw materials.  Let’s assume that means all the leather, coal, metal, tools and facilities you need to build the suit of armor.  In practical terms, this means that only a well-established, experienced blacksmith could even attempt this – the materials cost is too high, unless you are being fronted by the client.  But let’s assume this is an experienced smith who has the resources to do this project.

The remaining 750 gp worth of labor needs to happen at 5 gp/day, or 150 days worth of labor.  Remember that the smith can maintain himself at Modest level (1gp/day) for that time period.  If he does it all himself and lives modestly, he makes 750 gp profit, plus the 150 gp in living expenses.

*Edit* I messed this up.  I assumed that the profit was all they got back - but it isn't - they recoup their initial investment as well.  So this part below is all wrong.

So here is a big problem – if he starts the same project over again, he’s back to 0 – making nothing but plate mail (or anything else, by extension) means he never makes profit.  He has to plow all his profits back into materials for the next set.  

Of course, he is paying for a modest living for himself, so that is something.
Now let’s assume he has 2 helpers.  The helpers also earn 1 gp/day while helping, and they cut the time down to 50 days of labor.  Great – 750 gp profit for 50 days of work, plus the "lifestyle income" of 150 gp.

If he has a family– let’s say 3 gp/day for a family of 4.  So it’s costing him 2 gp/day to work on this – if the kids are the helpers, then just the forge work pays for itself, and he's still making 750 gp in 50 days.  Which is pretty good.

So these rules work (sorta) for PC crafting, since I guess the raw materials (this is really just materials, not raw materials) cost assumes that the PC doesn't
want to do most of the work themselves, and has the scratch to pay for steel, chainmail, leather and soforth.

So blacksmithing – it’s a decent living, and it doesn't really seem to matter what you are building - the 5 gp/day structure ensures that you can make a pretty good living at it, assuming you start with the matching 5 gp for raw materials.

I would like to give it more flexibility though, so say that you can put in UP TO 50% in raw materials, with a 10% minimum.

Let's try that suit of plate again with these rules.

The blacksmith puts in 25% in raw materials cost - 375 gp.  He has to do 1125 gp worth of work, or 225 days of labor.  He has 2 helpers, who just get paid the 1 gp/day modest living salary.  That means 75 days of work for the three of them.  At the end of that time, they clear 1500 gp for the suit.  Takes longer, but the basic math is the same.

Of course, if I was being detailed, I'd modify the raw materials cost and final product cost based on material availability and technology levels in an area, but that's for another day.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

5E - Restarting the Campaign

Now that 5e has officially dropped, the Playtest group and I have decided to get back in the saddle.  The consensus was to restart the existing Dwarves campaign slightly after where we left off in the spring.

So players will be able to rebuild their characters with the current PHB rules or to make new characters that start at 6th level.  Most longer-term characters were 7th level (or about to hit 7th level).  One thing I noticed right away is that XP has changed a bit since the last playtest package - those characters that were level 7 are now level 6 again - albeit close to 6th.

I'll leave the comments open for the guys in the campaign to post on how they found the conversion process. What did you guys find?

Also, here are a couple of cool things we developed:

1) Courtesy of +Kasper Blomdell, the Changeling Race

Language: A Changeling speaks Common, and two additional languages of their choice. 
Ability Score Adjustment: +2 to Charisma and +1 to either Dexterity or Wisdom
Size: Medium
Speed: 30 feet

Darkvision: See in the dark within 60 feet, in black and white.

Slippery Minds: Changelings have advantage to saving throws against spells attempting to charm or put them to sleep.

Shapeshifting: A Changeling may take on the physical appearance of any small or medium sized humanoid, though this ability does not change their clothing or personal belongings. They may impersonate specific individuals, or adopts guises of their own creation. This ability may be used at will, and lasts as long as the Changeling desires or until they die. Using this ability takes an action.

Natural Deceivers: Changelings natural affinity for deceit grants them Advantage on all Deceptions rolls regarding disguise or impersonation.

2) Courtesy of me - stats for a Riding Ram

Mountain dwarves have long preferred the domesticated riding ram as a mount, both above and below the ground.  It's thick coat, agile hooves and tough nature make it a great fit for both the environment and the personality of the dwarves.

A Riding Ram is about 3 feet tall at the shoulder, with a thick, smelly, tangled coat and massive horns.  It's cloven hooves are capable of surprising agility.

Riding Ram
not sure of the artist.  Sorry.
Large beast, unaligned (chaos tendencies)
AC: 13 (Thick hair, dex +2)
HP: 21  (3d10+6)
Speed: 50 ft (short goat legs)
ST: +3  DX: +2  CN: +2 IN: -4  WS: -2  CH: -4
Senses - passive perception 8
Languages - Goat-y Love
Challenge 1/2 (100 xp)

Agile Hooves:  A riding ram can move over difficult terrain with no movement penalty.

Thick Coat:  A riding ram has advantage on all saves dealing with cold, and disadvantage on all saves dealing with heat. Shearing a riding ram is best left to professionals, but yields 5 gp worth of smelly wool.

Trampling Charge. If the ram moves at least 20 feet straight toward a creature and then hits it with a horns attack on the same turn, that target must succeed on a DC 14 Strength saving throw or be knocked prone. If the target is prone, the ram can make another attack with its horns against it as a bonus action.

Horns. Melee Weapon Attack: +3 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target.
Hit: 10 (2d6 + 3) bludgeoning damage.