Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Yet Another Set of Musket Rules

I've seen some interesting and inspiring frontier fantasy or pirate fantasy posts here and there on the internet lately, and it got me thinking about a frontier fantasy setting I created years ago for Hero System.  Of course, these types of fantasy often allow for gunpowder weapons, and I've seen several takes on muskets and cannons in gaming, but there are some things you can do with old-fashioned muzzleloading arms that you can't do with more modern ones, and games often overlook these options.  Here, I've converted my Hero rules over for use in Dungeon Crawl Classics or the D&D Rules Cyclopedia edition.  RC players will have to either use funky DCC dice for some damage rolls here, or use a workaround with the standard polyhedral dice; I can provide help with that if anyone needs it.

Matchlock Musket 75 Matchlock Pistol 35
Wheellock Musket 100 Wheellock Pistol 50
Matchlock Fowling Piece 80 Wheellock Fowling Piece 110
Rifled Musket (wheellock) 200 Grenado Gun (matchlock) 150
Bullets (12) 3 Powder, 1 pound horn 15
Bullet Mold 9 Lead for 12 bullets 2
Grenado 20 Match/foot 3
Swivel Gun/Murtherer 300

 Any pistol, musket, rifle, or fowling piece may be made in a double barrelled version for an additional 75% of cost.  Additional barrels add another 75% of cost each. Any musket may be made in a volleygun version for an additional 50% cost. A single-barreled fowling piece may be made with a flared bell muzzle for an additional 10% cost.

Rabinet 750 Ammo 1
Falconet 1500 Ammo 3
Minion (Grasshopper Gun) 3000 Ammo 15
Quartocannon 7000 Ammo 35
Demicannon 12000 Ammo 90
Cannon 25000 Ammo 150
Basilisk 50000 Ammo 250
Mortar 3000 Ammo 50
Pedrero 10000 Ammo 225
Heavy Mortar 20000 Ammo 325
Serpentine Powder, 5lb keg 35 Corned Powder, 5lb keg 75
Serpentine Powder, 10lb keg 60 Corned Powder, 10lb keg 140
Serpentine Powder, 20lb keg 110 Corned Powder, 20lb keg 250

Any artillery piece can be built as an organ gun for an additional 50% cost and 50% weight per barrel. Artillery pieces of Quartocannon size or larger can be built as a carronade for no additional cost or weight. All ammunition costs the same, whether it's a ball, grapeshot, bar shot, chain shot, or expanding shot.


DMG Range
Pistol 1d6 25'/50'/100'
Musket* 1d8 50'/100'/200'
Rifled Musket* 1d10 75'/150'/300'
Fowling Piece* 2d5# 30'/70'/150'
Grenado 1d6+ within 10' 10'/20'/30'
Grenado Gun* as grenado 30'/70'/150'
Swivel Gun/Murtherer+ 1d12 75'/150'/300'

Rabinet+ 1d14 100'/200'/400'
Falconet+ 1d16 110'/225'/450'
Minion (Grasshopper Gun)+ 1d20 125'/250'/500'
Quartocannon+ 1d24 135'/275'/550'
Demicannon+ 1d30 150'/300'/600'
Cannon+ 1d30+6 160'/325'/650'
Basilisk+ 1d30+12 175'/350'/700'
Mortar+ 1d12^ within 15' (150')/300'/600'
Pedrero+ 1d20^ within 20' (160')/325'/650'
Heavy Mortar+ 2d14^ within 25' (175')/350'/700'
Serpentine Powder, 5lb keg 1d10 --
Serpentine Powder, 10lb keg 1d14 --
Serpentine Powder, 20lb keg 1d20 --
Corned Powder, 5lb keg 1d14 --
Corned Powder, 10lb keg 1d20 --
Corned Powder, 20lb keg 1d30 --

* Two handed weapon (d16 initiative in DCC; lose initiative unless opponent is using a two handed weapon in RC)
# Close range damage: 2d5; medium range damage: higher of 2d5; long range damage: lower of 2d5
+ Mounted weapon (lose initiative unless fighting against mounted weapons or siege weapons)
^ Save for half damage (Reflex save vs attack roll for DCC; Dragon breath for RC)

New Rules:
Firing at ships – Artillery firing at ships do 1/5 normal damage, applied against the ship's hull points (see D&D Expert set or Rules Compendium).

Firearms vs. Armor – Firearms are very effective against normal armor, generally punching right through.  Disregard the value of any worn armor when determining Armor Class of the target.  Magic armor still adds in its magic bonus, characters still get Dexterity bonuses, and small targets still get their bonuses for size (pixies, stirges, etc) when being fired on by a regular ball-firing weapon.  Creatures with natural armor still get their normal AC; you won't take down a dragon just because you brought a pistol.

Fowling Pieces – Made for hunting ducks, quail, and other fowl, a fowling piece fires a handful of small shot rather than a large ball.  These shot are relatively ineffective at penetrating armor (normal AC for worn armor), but are very good at hitting small, agile targets.  The target of an attacker with a fowling piece gets no Dexterity or size bonuses when fired on by a fowling piece.

Reloading – Small arms (up to the size of the swivel gun) generally take 4 rounds to reload, firing on the 5th round.  During this time, the loading character can't move and does not get their Dexterity bonus.  Rifles take an extra round to load, due to the tight tolerance between the bullet and the barrel.

Powder usage – Most small arms get 12 charges from a pound of powder. Swivel guns get 10 charges from a pound. Grenado guns fire a grenado with ¼ pound of powder.  Multiple barrel weapons must use a charge and a ball or shot for each barrel. All small arms use corned powder.

Cannons and mortars can use either serpentine powder or corned powder. If using the less powerful serpentine powder, a rabinet gets 3 charges per pound of powder, a falconet gets 1 charge per pound, a minion uses 6 pounds per charge, a quartocannon uses 12 pounds per charge, a demicannon 32 pounds, a cannon 50 pounds, and a basilisk 90 pounds. A mortar uses 8 pounds, a pedrero 40 pounds, and a heavy mortar 75 pounds. Corned powder is twice as powerful, so a rabinet gets 6 charges per
pound, a falconet 2 charges per pound, a minion uses 3 pounds per charge, a quartocannon 6 pounds, etc.

Match burn rates – Quickmatch comes in several varieties, with burn rates ranging from 10-100 feet per second. Slow match burns at 1 foot per hour. Characters may specify which type they want when they buy it. Match found while adventuring will need to be tested in order to determine how fast it burns, in most cases. Using match without testing it can be embarrassing or even very dangerous.

Flared Bells – A fowling piece may be built with a flared bell muzzle. This reduces reload time by one round. Only a single barreled fowling piece may be made with a flared bell.

Volley Guns – A volley gun is a multi-barreled smoothbore musket with one lock. Firing the weapon fires all the barrels at the same time, each barrel getting a separate attack roll. Due to the added recoil, the attack rolls of a volley gun are decreased by 1 for a two barreled version, by 2 for a 3-4 barreled version, and by 3 for a 5-8 barreled version (the maximum size).

Variant ammunition – Black powder weapons can be loaded in many different ways: with shot, with ball, with stones, with shot and ball, with two balls, or with a double charge of gunpowder. Cannons have even more options available. The weapons table shows the ballistic characteristics of the most common type of ammunition for the weapon type, assuming that fowling pieces are loaded with shot, that mortars are loaded with shells, and that all other weapons are loaded with a single ball. Variants follow:

Double shot: Loading two of the standard type of ammunition is called "double shotting".  Double shotting a weapon takes extra time (lose a die step to initiative for DCC, -1 initiative penalty for RC)  and confers two attack rolls for one attack action. Both attacks must be made against the same target or against two adjacent targets.  If the attacker rolls a 1 on the attack roll, the powder charge was not powerful enough to move the extra ammunition from the barrel, and it will take at least several minutes, if not hours, to clear the weapon.

Double charge: Loading an extra ration of gunpowder into the weapon is called "double charging". Double charging takes no extra time, and gives the weapon an additional +1 to hit, additional range (+5' to close range, +25' to medium, +50' to long), and +1d4 damage. If the attacker rolls a 1 on the attack roll, the powder charge blows the weapon apart, causing the same damage to the attacker as would have been inflicted had the weapon hit. If a weapon is double shotted and double charged, then this failure result takes precedence.

Loading shot into a ball-firing weapon: This can be done with all small arms, and artillery pieces up to minion in size.  Loading shot into a ball-firing weapon reduces range to 30'/70'/150' regardless of what it is when firing ball ammunition. Armor now gets full value vs this attack, but Dexterity and size are ignored.  Damage works as with the fowling piece (2 dice at close range, higher of 2 dice at medium, lower of 2 dice at long) and is as follows:
ball damage shot damage
1d6 2d3
1d8 2d4
1d10 2d5
1d12 2d6
1d14 2d7
1d16 2d8
1d20 2d10

Loading a ball into a fowling piece: Loading a ball into a fowling piece gives it a damage of 1d8.  Worn armor is no longer considered in Armor Class, but Dexterity and size now are.

Loading stones, nails, glass, or other junk: Loading stones or junk into a firearm (whether a ball-firing weapon or a fowling piece) is similar to loading it with shot.  Since stones and steel junk are not as heavy as lead, when rolling damage, 3 dice are rolled and the highest die is discarded, with the other 2 dice being read as for shot.

Mixing shot and ball: When mixing shot and ball in any firearm, the attacker gets two attack rolls per action. If only one attack hits, it is assumed to be the shot, and damage is inflicted as normal for shot fired from that type of weapon. If both attacks hit, the ball also hits, doing damage as normal for ball ammunition fired from that type of weapon. The weapon is considered to be double-shotted for misfire purposes.

Bar shot, chain shot, and expanding shot: These are all different types of shot for naval artillery. They are only made for Quartocannons and larger, and cost the same as a regular ball. These types of shot are are designed to cut sails and rigging.  Damage for shots fired against the rigging is tracked separately for purposes of reducing movement, but this damage can not sink the ship.  These kinds of shot do full regular damage to personnel and 1/10 damage to the ship's regular hull points.

Grapeshot: Grapeshot is a case of large balls (each equivalent to a minion ball) fired from a Quartocannon or larger, essentially turning it into a large blunderbuss. Grapeshot covers a cone shaped area reaching out to the gun's close range, with a base of 1/2 the close range distance.  Anything within this cone suffers the gun's normal damage (save for half damage: Reflex save vs attack roll for DCC, save vs Dragon Breath for RC).  Grapeshot does 1/2 damage against structures and 1/10 against the hull points of a ship, and as such, is usually used against personnel. A canister of grapeshot costs the same as a ball for the same weapon.

Red-hot shot: Many coastal fortresses have furnaces for heating balls to a glowing red heat. These red-hot shot can set a ship aflame if they lodge in the hull, with a 1 in 10 chance per round for d10 minutes (d10x6 rounds). Dousing the shot with water prevents the shot from starting a fire as long as it is actively doused; each round of dousing also reduces the time it could start a fire (reduce the d10 minutes rolled earlier by 1 minute per round that the shot is doused). Ships set afire will take one point of hull damage per turn for the first two turns, then damage doubles each turn afterwards.  A ten crew member fire fighting detail can reduce this damage by 1d6 points per turn; if this is more than the damage that would have been inflicted, the fire is out.

Crew-served weapons – Most artillery is crewed by more than one man. The crew sizes listed are the minimum effective crew sizes. Military units will tend to have larger crews; the extra men tend horses while the weapon is in action. Naval gun crews will adhere more strongly to the minimum effective crew size. Artillery which is crewed by fewer than the minimum effective crew will have their reload time increased as listed.

Artillery Normal Crew Normal Reload Crew -1 Crew -2 Crew -3 Crew -4 Crew -5
Rabinet 2 5 rounds 10 rounds -- -- -- --
Falconet 2 10 rounds (1 minute) 2 minutes -- -- -- --
Minion (Grasshopper Gun) 2 3 minutes 4 minutes -- -- -- --
Quartocannon 3 5 minutes 10 minutes 15 minutes -- -- --
Demicannon 3 6 minutes 12 minutes 18 minutes -- -- --
Cannon 4 8 minutes 12 minutes 18 minutes 24 minutes -- --
Basilisk 6 10 minutes (1 turn) 15 minutes 20 minutes 25 minutes 30 minutes 35 minutes
Mortar 3 2 minutes 3 minutes 4 minutes -- -- --
Pedrero 4 4 minutes 6 minutes 8 minutes 12 minutes -- --
Heavy Mortar 6 6 minutes 12 minutes 18 minutes 25 minutes 30 minutes 35 minutes

Organ Guns – Any cannon-type gun can be built as an organ gun -- a gun with multiple barrels. This gives the weapon a number of attacks equal to the number of barrels used. Each barrel must be reloaded separately, at full standard reload rate each. An organ gun does not have to fire all of its barrels at once.

Carronades – Artillery pieces of quartocannon size and larger can be constructed as a carronade, if desired. A carronade has a shorter, heavier barrel, giving it reduced range as compared to a long gun, but it can hold a heavier charge. A typical carronade charge is 50% heavier than a powder charge for a comparably sized long gun. This carronade charge can be doubled, following all normal rules for double-charging. A carronade has a range equal to the next lower size of artillery, damage equal to the next larger size (a basilisk sized carronade does 1d30+18 damage), and costs the same as a comparable long gun.

Use of firearms vs non-firearm wielding opponents – Using firearms against opponents without them has some important effects on morale. Minor NPCs facing opponents armed with firearms must make a morale check each time they are fired on if their side does not have firearms as well, surrendering or retreating as best fits the situation.  PCs and major NPCs aren't subject to this, but at the DM's option must succeed at a saving throw (DCC: Will save vs opponent's attack roll; RC: Save vs Death) in order to make any aggressive action (moving toward the enemy and/or attacking)

Naval Gunfire – Because of the action of the ocean's waves in rocking the ship, gunners on a ship suffer an additional penalty to attack rolls equal to (the wind's Beaufort number minus 4) x2. For example, in a gentle breeze (Beaufort number 3) the penalty would be (3-4 = -1 which is less than 0) no penalty at all, but in a strong gale (Beaufort number 9) the penalty would be (9-4 = 5 x 2 =10) -10 to all attacks.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Robert Manning Deep Under Taboo Island

In a memorable scene from the classic adventure The Isle of Dread, the party is wading through a flooded underground temple when they open a door into a dry area and are swept away as the water drains down into the cavern below.  At least, that's how the circumstances are set up; I suppose some parties get lucky or have made better plans based on paranoia, divination, or secretly reading the adventure beforehand.

It occurred to me a while back that Robert Manning's equation could be used to figure out the flow rate of water moving in a man-made channel (like a dungeon corridor) and I thought it might be fun to compare my cursory knowledge of fluid mechanics with the wild guesses of David Cook and Tom Moldvay.

So here's the map:

We have 101.5 10' squares filled five feet deep with water (most of area 2 is deeper than that, but only the top five feet is able to drain off; also the half square comes from the stairs leading up and over the dry section of corridor into area 4).  Once the door in the north wall of room 7 is opened 50,750 cubic feet of water starts draining down the stairs into the cavern below.  The adventure estimates that the water will flow for two minutes, or 12 ten-second rounds.  Let's see what Manning has to say.

Manning's equation requires us to know the cross sectional area of the "river", which in this case will be the width and depth of the water flowing through the doorway.  It also requires the slope of channel the water flows down, and the "Manning's n" value representing the friction the channel exerts on the flowing water.

My previous spreadsheets used a triangular cross-section to represent the shape of a natural stream, with shallow water by the banks and a deeper channel further out.  Because this is a man-made corridor, with floors and walls squared off, the numbers are going to come out a little differently, and a lot easier.  The cross-section of the stream will be the width of the doorway multiplied by the depth of the water, while the wetted perimeter will be the width of the doorway added to twice the depth of the water (see diagram).  No Pythagorean theorem here!

It should also be noted that this water isn't being replenished from groundwater or rains far upstream.  As it flows out, the level of the water will drop, which will affect the flow rate as both the cross-section of the stream and the wetted perimeter drop.

The hallway that the water will drain down has about 40 horizontal feet worth of stairs.  We'll assume that this temple/cavern complex was built according to standard US building codes, and the stairways are made up of 7 inch risers and 11 inch treads, for a slope of .6363 (repeating).  For what it's worth, that puts level 3 about 25 feet below level 2.

Normally, in a dungeon passage carved from stone, I would assume the flow channel is pretty smooth, and choose a low value for Manning's n, but the description specifically mentions all the dangerous debris hidden in the water for characters to stumble and hurt themselves on if they're not careful, so I'm going to go with 0.035 here.

I'm going to assume that the door here is eight feet tall by three feet wide.  That's pretty big for a regular interior door in a home, but houses don't typically have 10' wide and tall passages either. 

And with that, we can start looking at the flow rate through the doorway.  Punching it all into the spreadsheet gives us a flow of 37 feet per minute, or about 6 feet per 10 second round.


That's not fast at all.  What went wrong here?

I'm going to guess that this slow rate comes from the fact that the formula is supposed to be for a steady flow, whereas this is water suddenly released.  That slope we got above is pretty steep for a natural stream, and 6' per round is pretty fast compared to some of the flow speeds we've looked at earlier, but consider this: at the instant the door is opened, the water in the doorway extends ZERO feet past the doorway and 5' high, giving it infinite slope.

Well, infinite slope doesn't help out a whole lot either.  There's no way to input infinity into the spreadsheet without getting a Division by Zero error, and even if you could, you'd just get infinite flow, which is as absurd as the leisurely 6' per round flow.  Just pulling a number out of the air, let's go with slope equal to the depth of the water, or 5 in this case.  That's a pretty significant jump from .64 without getting too crazy.

So with a slope of 5, we end up with a flow rate of 105' per minute, or 17.5' per round.  That's plenty to sweep the character opening the door into the portcullis beyond with a fair amount of force. Maybe not 1d4 damage worth of force, although getting knocked down by suddenly gushing water combined with the debris strewn down the passage might account for that.

At the end of the first round, then, the flooded area has drained off (3' x 5' x 17.5 =) 262.5 cubic feet of water.  That's pretty negligible compared to what's there, so it's going to flow like that for several rounds.  To drain off a single foot of water would take over 10,000 cubic feet of water, so we don't have to recalculate the water depth just yet; five feet is still close enough.

The water in that corridor is going to slow down somewhat.  The corridor is wider, so a lot of that energy is going sideways.  If the water has shot out 17.5' and settled into the 10' wide corridor, the total amount of water that has drained in the first round will average about 1.5' deep past the door.  Round 2 begins in this situation.

In round 2, punching in the numbers in the spreadsheet (assuming a slope equal to the water depth since there's no previous sustained flow) gives a velocity of 57' per minute, or about 9.5' per round.  That starts the flow down the stairs, but let's keep it simple and not take that into account just now.  The front edge of the water flow is at 27' past the door.

Looking at the door, now we have some previous flow, but not sustained flow; there's still more water pouring out the door than there is on the other side.  The flow will slow down, but still not be as slow as a regular stream.  We've been taking the depth of the water as the slope for water flowing into a dry area, so let's take the difference in water depth for this situation.  Five feet inside the door vs 1.5' outside the door gives a slope of 3.5, which then gives a velocity of 87.6' per minute, or 14.5' per round.  In this round, 217.5 cubic feet of water drain from the flooded area, for a total drainage of 480 cubic feet. At this point the water past the door averages 1.8' in depth.  Let's call that 2'.

Round 3 begins now.  Running down the stairs, we have the stairs themselves sloping downward at .6363, and 2' deep water flowing into it, giving a total slope of 2.64 and a flow rate of 105.2' per minute or about 17.5' per round.  The front edge of the flow is 44.5' past the door, off the level 2 map and spilling down into level 3.

Coming through the door, we have a new slope of 3, giving a velocity of 81' per minute, or 13.5' per round.  202.5 cubic feet of water drain this round, totaling 682.5 cubic feet in all.  Thanks to the water picking up speed down the stairs, the average depth drops to 1.5'. 

Ok, round 4.  Running down the stairs, the slope is now 2.14 (1.5' deep plus .64 stair slope).  The velocity is 68.5' per minute, or 11.4 (let's call it 11.5) feet per round.  The front edge is 56' past the door, almost to the bottom of the stairs.

Flowing through the door, with a slope of 3.5, the water is moving at 87.6' per minute (14.5' per round).  217.5 cubic feet of water drain out, for a total drainage so far of 900 cubic feet.  The average depth down the corridor is still about 1.5'.

For round 5, all the inputs remain the same.  The front edge runs out to 67.5' past the door, and starts spreading out into the cave.  At this point, I'm going to assume that the flow is established down the stairs.  The depth of the water doesn't add to the slope anymore, given that there's water all the way down now.  The water will continue to spill into "dry" areas on level 3 until it goes over the edge into the mud pits, but I won't bother tracking it per se.

Water comes through the door at a rate of 217.5 cubic feet once again, increasing total drainage to 1117.5.  The average depth down the corridor is still about 1.5'.

In round 6, since the flow is now established, the slope down the corridor is just .64.  The flow rate is now 37.4' per minute, or about 6' per round.  (6 x 10 x 1.5 =) 90 cubic feet of water flow out of the corridor into the cave.  217.5 cubic feet of water pour out through the door, making the total drainage from the flooded area 1335 cubic feet.  Water isn't flowing out as fast as it was, so the depth of water in the corridor is increasing (but still rounds to about 1.5 for now).  One minute has passed.

Round 7 is going to look a lot like round 6.  Flow rates are unchanged.  Total drainage is now 1552.5, and water depth in the corridor is now 2'.

With the water beginning to back up in the corridor, round 8 sees a little bit of tweaking.  Flow rate in the corridor is now 43.1' per minute (7.2' per round), with 144 cubic feet flowing into the cave.  The rising water in the corridor slows the flow through the doorway to 81' per minute (13.5' per round).  Total drainage is 1755.  Depth in the corridor remains at 2'.

At this point, the water levels reach a pattern of slow but steady decline, with the water running down the stairs remaining at just under half the depth of the flooded area of the dungeon and water velocity dropping proportionately.  It takes just over 10 minutes for the water level of the flooded area to drop below four feet, and nearly a half hour before it drops below three feet.  By the end of an hour, the flooded area is down below two feet, and after a total of two hours of draining, it's down below a foot, with the water running down the stairs just a few inches in depth and the velocity of the water only about 1/4 what it was during the first rush as the door was opened.

I'm not going to run the numbers past this, because while it's somewhat interesting as rapid changes occur, it's very tedious once everything slows down and the numbers quit changing as fast.  I tried changing scales, and when I went from round by round to minute by minute it worked out okay, but trying to scale up to 10 minute blocks makes things go all weird.  Somehow the water (according to the numbers) starts running in spurts, with the depth in the stairway going from almost nothing to deeper than the flooded area.  Well, after two hours, even the shortest halfling is in no danger of being swept away, and it's safe to say that some noticeable water flow will continue for a day or two afterward, probably long after the PCs have finished looting and left the place forevermore.

For what it's worth, I'm adding a page to this river spreadsheet to work out flow rates in square-bottomed corridors, in case anyone ever needs to flood a party of PCs out of a dungeon.

Here's the link:

Monday, September 3, 2018

A Useful Cipher

Years ago, when I was still in the Army and working at NSA, I came across an article with obvious use in game (at least if you're the type of DM who likes to make maps with cryptic notations or other similar props).  Luckily, it was not only unclassified, but also available on their external website. 

I don't know what made me think of it today, but here it is.  Enjoy.


Friday, August 31, 2018

Life Expectancy in Pre-Industrial Times

Again and again, we see advice on making our game worlds come alive by focusing on interesting and believable NPCs.  The players connect with the world through their interactions, connections, affections, rivalries, and enmities.  Today I'm suggesting that another thing that makes the world come alive is when those NPCs drop dead.

If the characters have a home base, but spend a long period of time away from it sailing to dinosaur infested islands and such, the time spent can be emphasized by having NPCs grow older, children get married, babies grow into children and young adults, and especially passing away.  Does the fact that Sister Alice could have used her magic to save little Temma when she got the grippe last winter affect future adventure plans?  How about that goblin raid in the fall that killed Bobert and Cally...Mighty Kemro's presence would have helped a lot.

Even if the players aren't too far away, a sudden death can change the world in drastic ways.  When Good King Ranald passes suddenly and his throne goes to the ne'er-do-well Prince Hingle, it's going to affect the day-to-day business in the kingdom, especially those PCs involved in politics in some fashion. Even losing their regular quest-giver should affect the characters, at least somewhat.

And while a DM might use a death to advance some pre-scripted story, randomly generated deaths can also give ideas for how the world develops, and like other random story elements can provide interesting twists to the one guy who knows nearly everything happening in the world already.

So, how to go about doing this in the game?  Since most fantasy games are set in a pre-industrial world, it makes sense to look at pre-industrial real-world demographics.  Of course, a fantasy setting can have magic that improves life expectancies in myriad ways, but while magic often affects important characters, it doesn't seem to affect the world very much as a whole in most cases.  And even in a fantasy setting, a fast-moving plague can spread faster than clerics of high enough level can cure it.

Here's a life table, breaking the population of Imperial Rome down into age groups and showing the annual chance of death for an individual in that group.  The percentage of the population at each age is also pretty useful for world-building purposes.


Life Expectancy
Percent of Population
in Age Group
Rough Chance
of Being Dead
by the End
of the Year
1 in 1000
> 99%

This should be an annual "world upkeep" task, done at about the same time and in the same way as major events (Rules Compendium or AD&D Oriental Adventures, for example) are done.  Check each major NPC to see if they die in the upcoming game year, and then use a d12 and d30 (or other suitable random method, depending on the calendar) to pick the month and day that the death occurs.

Also keep in mind the many ways people died back in the day.  There was a lot of disease and warfare, but there were also a lot of accidents.  People got kicked by horses and mules, without strict building codes buildings would collapse, fire-fighting infrastructure was generally inadequate compared to the risk of wooden buildings and thatched roofs going up in flames, and even small wounds could get infected and threaten one's life.

And if an NPC's number comes up on the dice, but a PC (or even another NPC) with sufficient magic is able to come to their aid, maybe they don't HAVE to die just yet, and resurrection is always a possibility anyway.  But nobody lives forever, even in a fantasy world.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

The Mushroom Tower (Part 3) Attack on the Celestial Sword

So the PCs are ready to ride a fire arrow to the Celestial Sword. Or maybe they've been tricked or otherwise coerced -- Varrtir is playing for high stakes here and doesn't pull any punches. If you're feeling generous, you can equip the party with some Barrier Peaks style equipment. Otherwise just give them some spacesuits and some appropriate space rations, and don't forget to describe them in Anglish.

The trip to the comet doesn't have a whole lot of player interaction. You can describe it in general terms -- high-G liftoff, weightlessness, the gold-colored core of the Celestial Sword looming ever closer, and the crashing impact penetrating into the comet's interior. PCs can now leave the capsule and enter the comet itself.

The outside of the comet is covered in a yellowish dust, blown out into a tail by the "sun-wind."  Inside, where the party now finds itself, the structure consists of a red-gray material that has characteristics of both rock and flesh.  Gravity is relative to the surface, ie if you try to climb the wall, you will succeed because that wall will become the floor from your perspective. Simply walking up the wall will work as will walking across the ceiling, although none of this is immediately obvious.

Tunnels and rooms within the comet grow open or closed in an organic, peristaltic manner as needed by the hive that lives there, although from a human perspective it might as well be random. This usually takes some time to accomplish; the last few rooms and hallways explored will generally remain for several turns, but if characters backtrack very far, they may see a room pinching shut or a new one slowly yawning open. Otherwise, use your favorite random dungeon generator to determine layout.

The interior is structured in several layers, each of which can consist of several "dungeon levels."  The surface layer is where the party will begin, where their rocket has pierced the exterior.  The surface layer consists mostly of greenhouse rooms with skylights and strange plant like things.  These greenhouses are used to produce oxygen, food, and fuel.  Small ventilation tunnels run into and out of the greenhouses, lined with cilia which keep the air moving.  Rooms situated just under/inside the greenhouses are storage rooms where bladder caste sky-fiends (see below) wait for the technician caste to lead them to the greenhouses to water plants, collect food, or process plant waste into fuel.  Other rooms on the surface include landing pod bays; the landing pods are kept unfueled until needed.  Bladders wait in fuel bays nearby.

The interior layer consists of hive-like barracks rooms where the technicians and soldiers rest, as well as hatcheries and nurseries where eggs and young are cared for until they are large enough to assume the duties of their caste.  Some barracks in the lowest levels of the interior have cryogenic stasis pods for keeping enough technicians alive through the long, cold period of the comet's orbit so that they can get the colony moving again once the comet begins to warm.

The deepest layer is the core.  Here can be found the nuclear reactor that keeps the stasis pods running and the core areas warm enough to survive during the long winter, the queen's nest, the royal nursery (where eggs and young destined to replace the current queen are nurtured), and various stores of food and water for keeping the queen and a small retinue alive through the cold years.

The obvious hazards here are the sky fiends themselves.  They look something like a cross between a flea and a hermit crab, generally ranging from the size of a dog to that of a horse.  There are four main castes: bladders, technicians, soldiers, and the queen.

The bladders are the smallest and least intelligent caste, and totally harmless.  They can be easily herded around, and will stop and wait where they are left unless another creature starts herding them elsewhere.  They can absorb water, liquid food, or fuel and store it in their abdomens, swelling like a tick until they reach their capacity of 10 gallons.  Killing a swollen bladder will cause its contents to spill all over the surrounding area; a technician can cause it to release its contents without killing it.

DCC stats: Init +0; Atk 0 (0); AC 10; HD 1d4; MV 30'; Act 1d20; SV Fort +0, Ref +0, Will +0; AL N

RC stats: AC 9; HD 1/2; MV 30'; #AT 0; D 0; Save NM; ML 7; AL N

Technicians are man-sized creatures.  In some ways they are quite intelligent, but in other ways seem almost mindless.  In those things they are good at (herding bladders, repairing structural damage to the comet or the landing pods, tending to the greenhouses, nurturing eggs or young) they act skillfully and decisively to overcome obstacles.  In other tasks (communicating with other species, combat, disposing of non-biodegradable debris like metal weapons or armor), they kind of panic, sometimes hesitantly beginning a task, then pausing, then beginning again, and at other times ignoring the situation in favor of a task they are familiar with.  A technician will prefer to leave a combat situation in order to summon soldiers, but if cornered will defend itself (albeit in a relatively ineffective panic).

DCC stats: Init +0; Atk +0 punch/slap (1d3); AC 12; HD 1d8; MV 30'; Act 1d20; SV Fort +1, Ref +1, Will +0; AL N

RC stats: AC 7; HD 1; MV 30'; #AT 1; D 1-3; Save F1; ML 7; AL N

A technician

Soldiers are the real danger to adventurers.  Ranging from pony-sized up to the size of a large warhorse, where technicians have manipulative "arms" soldiers have sharp, stabbing limbs that deploy with blinding speed.  They are not subtle fighters, rushing into melee as quickly as possible, although they will use cover and concealment to approach if they are taking casualties in the charge.

DCC stats: Init +2; Atk 2 stabs (1d8); AC 16; HD 2d8; MV 40'; Act 2d20; SV Fort +1, Ref +2, Will +0; AL N

RC stats: AC 3; HD 2; MV 40'; #AT 2; D 1-8; Save F2; ML 10; AL N

The queen of the colony is humongous, with a main body of about horse-size, but an abdomen devoted to egg-laying which is the size of a barn.  She isn't particularly intelligent or physically capable; in a fight, she relies on her soldiers to defend her.  If the queen is killed, technicians will immediately begin nurturing one of the royal young into a new queen, taking 1d4 weeks to complete the task.

DCC stats: Init +0; Atk 1 punch/slap (1d4); AC 12; HD 7d8; MV 10'; Act 1d20; SV Fort +4, Ref +3, Will +2; AL N

RC stats: AC 7; HD 7; MV 10'; #AT 1; D 1-4; Save F7; ML 9; AL N

The sky fiends are not the only hazards found on the Celestial Sword.  Varrtir has been launching other adventuring parties up there to try to end this conflict, and they are not all doing very well.  The alien environment and constant fighting have taken their toll, and many have gone around the bend.  Some will wildly attack anything they see, others might seem normal but go berserk in combat attacking friend and foe alike.  Still others might just seem friendly until they are able to steal from the PC party (with or without slaying them first), due to the last major hazard:

Malnutrition.  The sky fiends as well as the food they subsist on taste horrible, but can be choked down by hungry earthlings.  Even so, there is something missing from the alien biological cycle, and humans and demi-humans will slowly waste away from the deficiency. It will take several days of subsisting on food scavenged from the comet before symptoms arise.  Humans can live for about three weeks with no food, so this malnutrition should take at least twice that to kill someone, although die roll penalties after a week or so aren't out of line.  Particularly morbid DMs may have some of the earthlings (PC or NPC) realize that cannibalism would provide the complete nutrition that the comet's ecosystem cannot.

In order to complete the mission here, the characters must do enough damage to the sky fiends' ability to wage war that they can't invade the planet and swarm the Mushroom Tower from the ground.  Random bands of adventurers could force their way into the Tower, so a good-sized horde of soldier castes could do it much more easily.  A partial victory here will prevent the invasion from occurring on this orbit, kicking the can down the road for another 500 years.  A complete victory will deal a final blow to the colony.

I'll leave details of just how much destruction constitutes a victory to the individual DM; here are some ideas to riff off of.

   Killing sky fiends: obviously killing off the aliens themselves will do the job, but since they have the numbers for an invasion force, it's not likely the PCs will have the ability to finish them off in this way.

   Destroying eggs: a lot easier than killing adults, but the queen is able to lay so many eggs, it won't matter much. Soldiers will still be able to land on Earth to attack the Tower.  The best the characters can hope for here is a partial victory, with the colony using the next 500 years to rebuild their numbers to try again.

   Destroying fuel: landing pods turn into suicide pods when they don't have fuel for landing.  As a bonus, leading fuel-laden bladders around to different areas within the Celestial Sword allows you to kill two birds with one stone: burn the fuel and some other infrastructure at the same time.  Simply destroying the fuel supply is only a partial victory.

   Destroying food: whether destroying the greenhouses where the food supply grows or destroying the bladders storing the liquid food for later, reducing the food supply will affect the ability of the colony to survive the cold portion of their cometary orbit.  If every bit of food is destroyed, the survivors will have to resort to cannibalism to make it through the winter, and it may be 1000 years before they pose a real invasion threat again; this is still just a partial victory.

   Destroying water: killing all the water bladders will pose an annoying problem, and may be the fastest way to kill large numbers of sky fiends, but the colony has ways to recycle water used for farming or excreted as waste already, so it will eventually be recovered and stored in newly hatched bladders.  Permanently destroying it (using Disintegration or other magic, or just loading bladders into landing pods and shooting them off into the void) will result in the death of the hive.

   Queen: killing the queen certainly puts a damper on the sky fiends' ability to replace casualties.  By itself, however, it is only a partial victory.  Another queen can be nurtured from an existing egg or larva (whether this is due to some type of royal jelly or radiations from the core of the comet is left to the individual DM).  Destroying the queen and the eggs is a better victory, although it doesn't necessarily prevent a suicidal vengeance invasion by the survivors.  It will limit the damage of such an invasion though.

   Landing pods: shooting the landing pods off into space effectively prevents the invasion this time around, making it a partial victory.  These pods can be replaced by the time the comet orbits around the sun again.  Also, unless the players retain one for their own use, they will have a hard time getting home.

   Core heater: destroying the core heater will ensure the death of the colony.  The cryogenic stasis pods are not automatic, so there must be attendants active outside the pods to awaken those in stasis.  Without the core heater, the queen and her attendants will all freeze during the cold part of the orbit.  If the core heater is destroyed early enough in the adventure, the sky fiends will attempt to send landing pods out with technicians, eggs, and enough bladders to get new nests started.  This would normally be a suicide mission, but with nothing left to lose, it's worth trying.  If the players have already destroyed the landers, technicians, eggs, or bladders, this whole plan falls apart, earning the party a full victory.

Once the party has dealt a fatal blow to the hive, inflicted all the damage they think they can do and still make it back home, or simply get beaten so badly they have to retreat or die, it's time to consider how to get them back to the campaign world (or move them on to another alien planet if that's how you roll).  From the time the Celestial Sword is first sighted in the sky to the time it is no longer feasible to get back should be a total of about 18 months, so it is possible to fit in a long journey to the Mushroom Tower and a lengthy guerrilla war on the Sword itself.

Some possible means to return to the home planet include repairing the rocket the party came in on (or one that brought an NPC party), hijacking a sky fiend landing pod, or calling for help from the Mushroom Tower.  Failing all of these, the party can attempt to use cryosleep pods to wait out the long winter, returning in 500 years to a radically altered campaign world.

Repairing a rocket from the Tower will not be easy, given the unfamiliarity the typical sword-and-sorcery character has with space age technology.  However, given time and enough wrecked rockets to pick over, as well as a generous DM, an intelligent character may be able to cobble together a working vehicle.  They will definitely need to steal some fuel from the sky fiends; hope they didn't kill all the fuel bladders already.

Stealing a landing pod is a little quicker and easier, but humans or demi-humans have no hope of controlling it without help. Besides fueling it, they will also need to snatch up a technician and get its knowledge somehow. A charmed or otherwise mind-controlled technician will cooperate, and an ESP spell can allow a wizard to glean the necessary information to control the machine without the technician's cooperation.

Calling for help won't be easy.  Most magic spells don't carry to interplanetary distances. Perhaps a character can figure out how to repair and use the communications gear from a rocket wreck. If a character messed around with a psychic radio in the Mushroom Tower, maybe there is a lingering connection that allows them to contact Varrtir.  He won't send a rescue team just to evacuate a party that's in over its head, though.  If they haven't ended the threat of the sky fiends once and for all, they'd better get cracking.

At any rate, comms will help with any extraction technique the party chooses to pursue. They can get a walkthrough repairing a rocket, Varrtir can send a rescue rocket to pull them out (this one won't have to crash into the comet if the sky fiends aren't manning defenses), or at the very least Varrtir won't use point defense weaponry against a landing pod if he knows it's not an invader.

I suppose many parties won't be satisfied with saving the world.  For those mercenary sorts, they can earn some material gain by bringing back pieces of sky fiends and/or samples of their plants from the greenhouses.  Earthly wizards and alchemists would be interested in buying these for research.  The connection with the sky in general and a comet in particular may make them useful for flight, weather, or divination related spells or magic items.  If that's not quite good enough, the DM can sprinkle some gems around the comet, possibly embedded in the walls or used as part of the technology in the landing pods, greenhouses, or core heater.

Campaign Continuity Bonus:  If the sky fiends were able to launch landing pods with either soldiers or the basis of new nests, the sky fiends may return in some capacity in later adventures.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Review: Fate's Fell Hand

For the last several years, Daniel Bishop, aka Ravencrowking, has offered a mathom on his birthday (sort of a reverse birthday present, in the tradition of Tolkien's hobbits) for anyone who would write a review of a Dungeon Crawl Classics product and publish it on a blog or message board. I've been aware of this for at least a couple of years, but didn't participate for reasons which can probably be best summed up as "I'm not worthy."

However, overall participation has been down enough to make him question whether it's worth his time, as few people seemed interested. Well now, I'm always interested in good game material, and rather than being misconstrued as apathetic I am reviewing one of my favorite DCC adventures in honor of Ravencrowking's birthday. Happy birthday, Mr Bishop.

I'll try not to drop any major spoilers, but there may be a few of them ahead. Be forewarned.

Fate's Fell Hand is an adventure for 4-8 2nd level characters (there are options to adjust the difficulty for characters of levels 1-4), and tells the story of a three-way war between rival wizards in the Valley of the Magi, a pocket dimension. Three adventure hooks are given, geared toward different classes, and representing the efforts of the wizards to break the stalemate by bringing in allies.

The magical forces involved in reaching out to the PCs and bringing them into the pocket dimension destabilizes it, so now, not only does the party need to decide who (if anyone) to support, they need to resolve the situation before the whole place is dissolved into primal chaos.

Each day, the three wizards are assigned minions, whose free will is largely overridden by the commands of the wizards. Any minions who die are raised again the next day, often just to die once more. Player characters who aren't careful can be drawn fully into the conflict as minions, although they can twist the intents of their temporary masters to their own ends; daily resurrection also applies to PCs who become full minions.

The adventure details a major house in the center of the pocket dimension where most of the interaction with NPCs takes place (including some pretty unsavory nocturnal entertainments) as well as the lairs of the three wizards. These areas are generally pretty small. The main focus of the adventure is character interaction and figuring out how to escape the pocket dimension rather than kicking down doors and looting rooms (although there will probably be some of that too).

There are several ways to win the scenario, and all are challenging enough that the players can feel a sense of accomplishment at getting out of the Valley of the Magi, but not so difficult that a TPK is likely. There is a lot of gaming potential packed into this short book (20 pages plus maps, props, and handouts), and this adventure could easily span several game sessions, with the imminent collapse of the demi-plane building tension as you go. I highly recommend this adventure.

Bonus observations:
  1) The DCC rules describe devils and demons as creatures of Chaos, implying an alignment system similar to that in Poul Anderson's Three Hearts and Three Lions, with Law being very much the good guys and Chaos being the baddies. Fate's Fell Hand, however, has two Lawful devils (well, a devil and a devil-kin), implying a more Moorcock-esque alignment system, where Law and Chaos contain both good and evil, and good and evil are beside the point when it comes to cosmic conflict.

  2) A major feature of this scenario is a partial Deck of Fates, a tarot-like magical artifact used to assign and control the minions of the warring wizards. The adventure has several pages of cards that can be copied for use as props, and there are also professionally printed cards available (in Spanish) for this purpose. But these are only partial decks; how badass would it be to have a full deck of DCC tarot cards (and some adventure generation procedures) like the tarokka deck published for use with Ravenloft?