Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Grit & Treasure (Blood & Vigor?)

German warbird, or ...
Work proceeds on Grit & Vigor. The last couple weeks have been spent gathering vehicle data, turning it into something useful, and brainstorming the rules for dogfights, car chases and inventions.

On the vehicle front, I now have data for about 1,400 tanks, cars and airplanes, and believe I have found a way to turn the raw data into game data. Just for fun, I thought I might throw out some comparisons between military vehicles from the olden days and Blood & Treasure monsters. Obviously, I need to look at some heavyweights.


The Neothelid - 25 HD wrapped up in acid-dripping, tentacled horror. Imagine it going toe-to-toe with a Russian T-18 tank. The tank is easier to hit, but can absorb some damage and deal it pretty well.

T-18: Huge Construct (Tank), HD 25 (88 hp), AC 19 (DR 6), SPD 10 mph (140), ATK 1 tank gun (8d8) and light machine gun (1d8), MVR +0, CP 2/0, WT 13,000 lb.

... fantasy robot - who would win in a fight?
The Balor Demon - 20 HD of demonic fury, roughly equivalent to a Curtiss P-40 Warhawk. The Warhawk can deal more damage with its six heavy machine guns, but the Balor isn't affected by such mundane weaponry. Better load that Warhawk up with magic bullets.

Curtiss P-40 Warhawk: Huge Construct (Fighter), HD 20 (70 hp), AC 16, SPD 360 mph (5280), ATK 6 heavy machine guns (2d6) and bombs (1000 lb), MVR +2, CP 1/0, CEILING 29,000 ft., WT 8,400 lb.

The Iron Golem - 18 HD of heavy metal death, the equal of Messerschmitt Bf.109 - though let's be honest, one good strafe or bomb drop, and the iron golem's iron hide and its vaunted magic immunity is going to go up in smoke.

Messerschmitt Bf.109: Large-X Construct (Fighter), HD 18 (63 hp), AC 16, SPD 398 mph (5830), ATK 2 heavy machine guns (2d6) and 1 medium machine gun (1d8) and bombs (550 lb), MVR +3, CP 1/0, CEILING 39,000 ft., WT 6,940 lb.

A few notes on the vehicles:

Size is based on weight (and how interesting would that be to do with all the monsters?). I used the full d20 scale (I only used Small to Huge in B&T), and added half-steps in. Size determines Hit Dice.

CP refers to crew and passengers. The crew is going to be making the attacks for the vehicle, so it's their attack bonus that counts when firing their weapons.

The weapons here are generic, and the final stats will include their ROF and range. ROF works into the gun rules, with each addition round you fire at a target either increasing your chance to hit by +1, or contributing to an additional 1d6 damage at a rate of 5 rounds to 1d6 damage - player's choice and they can mix and match (e.g. an extra 20 rounds of ammo can translate into a +20 bonus to hit, or +4d6 damage or something in between, like +10 to hit and +2d6 damage). The bombs I still haven't decided on, but probably going to be treated as something like a fireball spell - damage dice and radius based on the poundage, with people and items passing saving throws to halve the damage. The game is really designed more for man vs. man, rather than man vs. B-17 Flying Fortress.

Speed is the vehicles top speed, in miles per hour and, in parentheses, feet per round. For car chases, I'm working out a system that uses top speed as a determinant for the difficulty of stunts, to make it easy for referees and players to create stats for vehicles without having to know much about them other than their weight, their style and their top speed.

Armor Class is based on the material of the vehicle's skin, as well as its thickness. Size plays a part as well. Damage reduction (DR) is based on the thickness of the armor, since I needed a way to screen the tanks from weapons that, by right, shouldn't be able to penetrate their armor.

MVR is maneuverability, which is based on the vehicle's type and its power to weight ratio.

Not a perfect system, I know, but I think it will work well enough for game purposes. My focus is on three systems - aerial combat (aircraft vs. aircraft), car chases and a nod towards aircraft attacking land vehicles. G&V isn't designed as a wargame, but the combat rules should be able to handle something as basic as two tanks plugging away at one another.

Oh, and just for fun ...

Burrough's Barsoom Scout Flyer: Large Construct (Fighter), HD 11 (39 hp), AC 20, SPD 300 mph (1460), ATK none, MVR +3, CP 5/0, CEILING 11,000 ft., WT 1,500 lb.

Nemo's Nautilus: Colossal x5 Construct (Submarine), HD 250 (875 hp), AC 22, SPD 40 mph (580), ATK 1 ram, MVR -1, CP ???, DEPTH 52,000 ft., WT 1,500 tons

Well's Martian Tripod: Huge-X Construct (Tank), HD 31 (109 hp), AC 22, SPD 10 mph (140), ATK 1 heat ray (10d6 fire) and black smoke projector (as cloudkill?), MVR +1, CP 1/0, WT 20,000 lb.

Martian Tripod vs. Balor - now that's a fight I would pay to see!

Friday, October 3, 2014

What's It Worth?

I'll give you 10 gp, and not a copper more
Despite the wondrous quality of my RPG writing, it hasn't made me a million dollars yet (just shy by about a million), so I have to have a real job. In my case, I research the commercial real estate market in Las Vegas, and write reports every quarter about how the market is doing. In the process, I often get asked questions about how much something is worth, or hear people complaining that a building sold for less than it was worth. I respond by explaining that nothing is worth more than what somebody else is willing to pay for it at any given moment. That got me thinking about a different way to value treasure.

Currently, when I'm writing a hex crawl, I'll include treasure hordes with notations like "large ruby worth 5,000 gp". What if, instead, I merely wrote "large ruby" and let the value be determined by the customer?

The basic idea: Come up with a matrix. The columns represent different classes of customers, the rows different categories of treasure. The data would be a random amount of money that the customer would be willing to pay for the treasure. The GM would roll this to determine the starting bid, and then roll a second dice to determine how high the customer will go. Adventurer and customer (GM) could then work out a final price for the item by haggling.

Classes of Customer

Peasants: These are your average working stiffs - laborers in towns and cities, people who carry things and serve others. They didn't make much money in the real world - some would figure it at the equivalent of 1 or 2 copper pieces a day - but in the fantasy world, the standard is 1 silver piece per day. Either way, they have expenses, so they can't afford to spend much on luxuries like treasure. There is a 90% chance they'll offer goods and/or services instead of coins.

Artisans & Traders: These skilled laborers make a bit more, maybe five times as much as the peasants. This gives them a bit more money for luxuries. Still, if adventurers are going to these guys to sell their treasure, they're probably a bit hard up. There is a 75% chance they'll offer goods and/or services instead of coins.

Merchants: The merchants have plenty of money, though their assets probably aren't liquid (meaning they have lots of stuff - goods, wagons, camels, ships - but not lots of money). Still, they aren't hurting, and they can drop a few coins on the good things in life. There is a 50% chance they'll offer goods and/or services instead of coins.

Merchant Princes: These are the big-time merchants, the fellows with royal and noble connections that allow them to own fleets and caravans and manors, etc. They're going to be a bit more liquid than the common merchants. There is a 35% chance they'll offer goods and/or services instead of coins.

Aristocracy: The lower end of the titled fellows - the knights and baronets and such. Like the merchants, their wealth is mostly tied up in things - land, animals, armor, weapons - so they're like uber-barterers. They have a few coins stashed away, but they're probably more apt to trade things like armor, horses or favors. There is a 65% chance they'll offer goods and/or services instead of coins.

Nobility: The nobility includes barons, counts, and the like. Lots of land, but, as with the merchant princes, more liquid than the aristocracy. There is a 25% chance they'll offer goods and/or services instead of coins.

Lesser Royalty: A step up from the nobility - the dukes and bishops. There is a 20% chance they'll offer goods and/or services instead of coins.

Greater Royalty: Kings, queens, princes and princesses, and archbishops as well. There is a 12% chance they'll offer goods and/or services instead of coins.

Imperials: Not Chryslers, but actual imperials - emperors, empresses, kings-of-kings, popes, etc. There is a 6% chance they'll offer goods and/or services instead of coins.

Categories of Treasure
These are the same categories you will find in Blood & Treasure, and adapting them to your favorite game shouldn't be too taxing on the grey matter.

Fancy Stones - agates, hematite - the stuff you find in shopping malls and tourist traps

Gems - better than stones, not as good as jewels

Jewels - rubies, emeralds, sapphires, diamonds

Common Arts & Trade Goods - armor, weapons, things made out of non-precious metals, common animal skins, rugs, many tapestries, common sorts of books. Assume the price is per ounce where applicable.

Fine Arts & Exotic Goods - lacquered wood, rare spices, items made from precious metals, bejeweled items, the skins of exotic animals, rare books, especially fine paintings and tapestries. Assume the price is per ounce where applicable.

Minor Magic Items - potions, scrolls, magical oddities

Major Magic Items - that stuff you really want to put on your character's equipment list

The Table

The table above is a simple matrix. Find the category of treasure and the category of customer, and you get their opening bid. Roll a d6 to find out how high they'll actually go:

1-3: No more than 25% higher, and they might have some conditions
4-5: No more than 50% higher
6: No more than 100% higher

Also, remember that there is a percentage chance that the customer offers to pay with goods and/or services rather than actual money. The value of services rendered is up to you, but most games give some sort of guidance. Favors are tricky - they may not be honored at a later date - but they could come in handy.

Obviously, some interpretation is involved here for the GM in terms of treasure category and customer category, and feel free to apply other factors. In a country where gold or silver is common, objects made from gold and silver might be considered common arts rather than fine arts. Likewise, spices, furs and pelts might be common one place and exotic in another.

The impetus for this table was a painting I posted a few weeks ago when I asked the question "Are Treasure Hordes Too Small?". The idea here is that you can now provide a fairly large horde without having to predetermine what everything is worth. This system also gives adventurers a reason to make contact with nobles and such, which in turn can lead to further adventures.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Grit & Vigor Update

G&V had been languishing. I was finishing the Monster Tome, of course, so I was busy, but the game just wasn't gelling for me. And then POW - a kiss on the forehead by a muse who either looked like a Gibson Girl or Teddy Roosevelt (hopefully not both), and instead of finishing work on the latest issue of NOD, I've been messing with G&V night and day. For those who might be interested, a few thoughts ...

#1 - I'm focusing the main rules on the period from 1850 to 1959 - a century of manly exploits. The "adventures" section, as well as covering different genres of play (espionage, sieges, exploration, scientifiction) and sub-rules useful for those kinds of adventures, also covers each decade between 1850 and 1960, with major event (wars, assassination, inventions, discoveries) and literature and film from those years, and with stats for important firearms, vehicles and other goodies from that year as well. I'm going to include - though I haven't yet - a brief description of popular settings for manly adventures - Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Paris, London, the Amazon, the Congo, the American Southwest, the Yukon, etc.

#2 - The character stuff is pretty well finished. I played around with using backgrounds as a stand-in for races, but then decided against it. Why? When I tried to imagine different famous characters or actual people using those backgrounds, I found them too restrictive. In their place, people now roll up a background randomly, initially focusing on making their character a School Boy, a Boy of the Streets, a Working Boy or a Cadet. The tables you roll on, though, can send you in different directions - the Boy of the Street, for example, might be taken in by a rich old woman and sent to school. This makes a character's background a bit more interesting and varied.

#3 - I struggled with classes - too many, too few, etc. At one point, I devised a method where levels were earned with experience, and with each level, adventurers could choose a new feat. These feats were classified as scholarly, martial, underhanded and rugged, and a character's class, at a given level, was based on in which category the majority of that character's feats were classed. So, if most of your feats are martial, you're a fighting man. You roll hit points with a d10, and you attack as a fighting man of that level, etc. If two levels later, most of your feats are underhanded, you're now a rogue, etc. This ultimately didn't work for me, though I might include it as an option. Instead, there are four major classes, and then sub-classes characters can qualify for if their ability scores are high enough. The classes are going to be kept fairly simple (maybe one or two special abilities), as they are done in Bloody Basic.

#4 - I've written some simple rules for guns, car chases and dogfights that I think will work, and otherwise am using the Blood & Treasure engine for task resolution and combat, with a couple added bits and pieces.

#5 - I'm about half-finished with the "monster" section, which mostly focuses on animals and human beings, but includes some more fantastic or science-fiction fare as well. Since the game is compatible with Blood & Treasure, you can introduce anything from one into the other. About the only thing I'm changing is to measure distance in Grit & Vigor with yards rather than feet - it helps with the longer ranges and faster speeds of things like cars and guns.

There's still plenty of work to do, and this weekend I really need to focus on finishing up some blog posts and getting some more work done on NOD 26, and I need to finish up Blood Basic - Contemporary Edition. But give me a month or two, and I think G&V will be ready for a playtest on Google+. If you'd like to be involved in this playtest, leave a comment here or find me on Google+. The intro adventure will either be "Taft Must Die!" or "Against the Thugee". Hopefully, it will be on sale in 2015. When it is, I plan on using the G&V engine to finish up 1800 American Empires, Apocalypse 1900, and revisions of Space Princess and Mystery Men! (yeah, I know). I'd also like to revise Pars Fortuna using the Blood & Treasure engine and with much more art.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

David Lewis Johnson Provides a Whizbang Good Time

If I review it, I like it.

This is a review of Grandpappy Cromdar's Whizbang Zoo, by David Lewis Johnson, and yeah, I like it.

This is an old-fashioned beer & pretzels dungeon plus a menagerie of awesome monsters, all lovingly illustrated by DLJ himself - he did some kick-ass work for my Monster Tome recently, and the stuff here is even better. If you love weird monsters, and the idea of inflicting terror and pain on your player's characters with them, you have to love this dungeon.The kjellmena and muggerbeak are particular favorites of mine, and the retch fly should join the ranks of low-level monsters everyone sneaks into their dungeon.

The map is fun and interesting, and I found it easy to read. The dungeon rooms contain all sorts of interesting things, and in fact should be very useful to GM's who like to take random bits of dungeon paraphernalia and use them as further adventure hooks.

Grandpappy definitely does not keep a run-of-the-mill dungeon. It's inspired lunacy, and perfect for players who like a bit of the tongue-in-cheek element in their game, while still dealing with a solid dungeon crawl.

Do yourself a favor and give it a try.

CLICK HERE TO VISIT Grandpappy Cromdar's Whizbang Zoo at

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Mercy Me, The Fantasy Ecology

Image found HERE
When scientists cracked the DNA code, and started re-mapping the Tree of Life, they found some pretty interesting things – animals one would not think were related, it turned out, actually were. It's amazing the way different animal families manage to fill ecological niches. Heck, just looking at a Chihuahua and Great Dane will tell you that life is pretty mutable.

This led me to thinking about how one could create weird, fantasy ecologies. Imagine categorizing animals into broad ecological niches – large predators, small predators, small scavengers, large grazers, for example – and then randomly picking from the various families of the animal kingdom to fill those niches. The next step would be hardest, of course – imagining how the selected animal family might fit into that niche. Of course, if you draw a feline for the large predator category, you can just stick in a tiger. But what about a large equine predator? What might that look like?

Okay – one note for what follows … it ain’t science. It’s an affront to science. The idea here is to stimulate one’s imagination and come up with a twisted ecology that will entertain and delight the people who play in your games. The below tables are designed to start with something you know, and then turn it into something you don’t. Insectivores will become herbivores and herbivores will become carnivores, etc. Have fun, use your imagination and if you have a few bucks in your pocket, commission and artist to bring your creation to life.

First, determine the sizes of the animals in you fantastic ecology. This is dependent on the availability of food in the environment, which itself is usually dependent on the availability of water. For marine environments, it should probably be based on the availability of sunlight (SUNNY-MEDIUM-DARK).

Tiny creatures will rarely serve as anything but a prop when running an adventure; unless they swarm or are poisonous they won’t threaten adventurers, and grand hunts are not organized to kill them. Hence, don’t worry about creating too many.

For each animal size, determine its general strategy for feeding itself by rolling 1d6 on the following table.

Carnivores eat meat, and will usually hunt for it or scavenge the kills of smaller creatures

Omnivores eat meat and plants, and might pose a danger to adventurers

Herbivores eat plants, and are usually only dangerous in large, stampeding herds; they do, on the other hand, serve as prey for adventurers

This will give you a variety of interesting animals that might be encountered (randomly, of course) in a region by adventurers. The point here is not to build an actual viable ecosystem, but rather to build a dangerous backdrop for exploration and adventure. Naturally, you’ll want to fill out a random encounter table with more fantastic monsters as well.

To determine what fills the niche, roll on the tables below. These tables are designed to produce something weird, so keep that in mind.


01-02. Aardvarks
03-04. Anapsida – turtles
05-06. Ants
07-08. Anura – frogs and toads
09-10. Apoidea – bees and wasps
11-12. Arachnids – spiders and scorpions
13-14. Bats
15-17. Birds – I could be more specific, but I like the possibilities of throwing them all into one category
18-20. Bovines – including cattle, goats, sheep, musk oxen and antelopes
21-22. Caelifera – grasshoppers, locusts, crickets and katydids
23-24. Camels – including llamas
25-27. Canines – wolves, dogs and foxes
28-29. Caudata – salamanders and newts
30-31. Coleoptera – beetles and weevils
32-33. Crocodilians – crocodiles and alligators
34-35. Dinosaurs – you should have no problem fitting them into any ecological niche
36-37. Diptera – flies, mosquitoes, gnats, and midges
38-39. Equines – including horses, asses, and zebras
40-42. Felines –cats, including the related sabre-toothed paleofelines
43-44. Hippopotamuses
45-46. Hyenas
47-48. Insectivores – including moles, shrews, hedgehogs, and moonrats
49-50. Lepidoptera – butterflies and moths
51-53. Lizards
54-55. Mantises
56-57. Marsupials – kangaroos, wombats, opossums
58-59. Mongooses and linsangs
60. Monsters – mythological beasts
61-62. Mustelids – weasels, badgers, otters, wolverines and the related skunks
63-64. Odonata – dragonflies and damselflies (dragons and damsels – funny)
65-66. Pangolins
67-68. Pecora – deer, giraffes, okapis, pronghorns
69-70. Pilosa – including sloths, extinct ground sloths and anteaters
71-72. Pinnipeds – seals and walruses
73-74. Primates – including lemurs, monkeys, apes and humans
75-76. Proboscids – elephants, mammoths and mastodons
77-78. Raccoons
79-80. Rhinoceroses
81-83. Rodents – rats, squirrels, guinea pigs, hamsters, porcupines and capybara!
84. Snails
85-86. Snakes
87-88. Swine – including peccaries
89-90. Synapsida – mammal-like reptiles from the primordial world
91-92. Tachyglossids – including echidnas and platypuses
93-94. Tapirs
95-96. Ursines – bears, including the extinct bear-dogs
97-98. Viverrids – civets
99-100. Worms


1-2. Cephalods – including octopuses, squids and cuttlefish
3-4. Cetaceans
5-6. Crustaceans – lobsters and crabs
7-8. Dinosaurs
9-10. Eels
11-12. Jellyfish
13-14. Lampreys
15-16. Manatees and sea cows
17-18. Monsters – fantastic creatures
19-20. Osteichthys – bony fish – i.e. fish with bone skeletons rather than cartilage
21-22. Placodermi – armored fish
23-24. Sharks and rays – including ghostsharks
25-26. Shrimp
27-28. Turtles
29-30. Roll on land table and adapt to marine environment

To help you along, you can consult the following table listing existing animals in each niche, modeling your make-believe animal on the survival techniques of a real animal.


My weird savannah is dominated by tall, broad herbivores descended from crocodiles. They have short snouts and thick tongues that pull in grasses. Mostly slow and ponderous, they retain their crocodilian patience and ability to generate a short burst of speed. The grazing tortoises are about the size of water buffalo, with shells that are spiked, providing a means of defense. The savannah is also grazed on by wombat-like creatures that resemble long-legged, antelopes. The swiftest herbivores on the savannah are medium-sized descendants of rhinos; they look like springboks with rough, rhino-like skin and small horns on their foreheads. Seeds on the savannah are collected by sparrow-sized dragonflies and a rodent that resembles a cane rat.

The only true carnivore on the savannah is a burrowing, carnivorous hedgehog that preys on the rodents and dragonflies. Packs of these creatures prey on such creatures as the long-fingered and ring-tailed raccoons that live in colonies in large trees and the small anteaters that scurry among the tall grasses. The savannah also has a wolf-sized feline that feeds on smaller animals and the long, purple fruit that grows on the savannah trees, and a panther-sized arachnid that hunts at night in small prides.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Monster Tome and Maps

It took a little longer than I wanted due to a need to alter the cover when I got my first preview copy, but the Blood & Treasure Monster Tome hard cover is now available for sale at

What do you get for $21.99?


Who doesn't need a few more monsters to menace their players? This tome includes 258 monsters, all statted up and ready to go. Most of the monsters also include a sample encounter to help you work them into your games. Although written for the Blood & Treasure system, the monsters are compatible with most old school fantasy games. 172 pages.
PLUS - If you buy the hard cover and email me with a copy of the receipt, you get a free PDF! To paraphrase Eddie Murphy - What a bargain for you!

IN ADDITION - I did a little redesign work on the NOD page on the blog, with (I think) better links to better copies of the hex crawl maps. Check it out if you've a mind to.

COMING UP - A different way to value treasure, Trojan campaigns (the city, not the ... you know) and whatever else my fevered little mind can dream up. NOD 24 is in the works as well!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Navigating a Fantasy World with Google

I was looking at some paintings this morning by British artists working during the Victorian period. The painting below was painted by Richard Parkes Bonington in 1826. It depicts the Rialto in Venice.

From this great blog

Since the Rialto is a landmark, I decided to have a look on GoogleEarth ...

Not the same angle, of course, but close enough. This got me wondering how useful it would be to use GoogleEarth's street view for fantasy gaming. I've used it in the past for a Mystery Men! game, mostly to stage a chase and fight in Chicago IL. That was set in the 1960's, so not so far in the past that the modern cityscape wasn't close enough to use "as-is".

This section of Venice has some nice alleyways that appear to be "walkable" in GoogleEarth, and the buildings don't seem terribly different from 1826, when the above painting was painted. It makes me think that by picking an old city, and jumping into the old part of that city - the part that's been kept "oldey-timey" for the tourists - you might be able to turn it into a fantasy city and navigate players through using random encounters and random building tables, and a few set pieces, to facilitate play and give them a better reference point when fights break out or cut purses nab their gold and a chase ensues.

Some other cityscapes that might prove useful ...

Carcasonne, France - be sure to have your adventurers stay at the Best Western Hotel le Donjon.

Edinburgh, Scotland

Ghent, Belgium

Prague, Czech Republic

Siena, Italy

Unfortunately, many cities outside of Europe don't have street views available, such as Algiers' famous Casbah. You can at least use the street maps, though, and supplement it with old paintings.

You can also use real world landscapes from GoogleEarth for wilderness exploration to provide something more visually stimulating than a simple hex containing a landscape symbol. The NOD hexcrawls use 6-mile hexes. Below, a roughly 7-mile wide chunk of the Himalayas.

Much better than a hex with a triangle in it, don't you think?

You can zoom in as you play and, depending on the resolution of an area, have a better understanding of the path that has to be taken, and maybe find a convenient spot for a dwarf village or red dragon lair. The pictures can give the players a better understanding of what they're going through.

You're walking up a narrow defile. The ground is covered with gravel and boulders, and the slopes tower above you on either side. Strange noises echo down the defile ...

And what about random weather? Well, why not just use today's forecast? How is this bit of the Himalayas doing today? Rainy, fairly warm (well, when this post was written, anyways).

Just a few ideas for leveraging modern technology for better tabletop gaming. If you have any tips and tricks, please wax poetic in the comments, or toss in a link to a blog article you wrote.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Crunching the Literary Numbers

I just recently found out about Google's Ngram Viewer. This neat little gadget allows you to search within the books on Google Books, from 1820 to 2000, for words or phrases. It then graphs the percentage of books from these different years where the word or phrase shows up.

Let's see what we can find.

Warriors hit their heyday in 1851, but have been making a comeback since about 1978. Hmmm - what else happened around 1978. Wizards were never as popular as warriors, but they started an upswing in 1991, pre-Harry Potter even!

Speaking of the grand old game ...

Well, perhaps 1975. Makes me wonder about the miniscule references to the phrase "Dungeons & Dragons" in the 1940's and 1960's. A few of the mentions appear in the following tomes:

Boy's Life, 1980 - an advertisement

Freshman Register - Mark Lloyd Coleman represents!

InfoWorld, 1979 - Chamelion releases a solo dungeon adventure!

How about monsters?

The traditional dragon remains more popular than the vampire, but the vamps are gaining ground.

And those damn zombies ...

 ... relentless, as always.

 As for my own baby ...

... things are looking up!

Have fun, kids!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Thirty Years Campaign

Taking of Breisach by Jusepe Leonardo | via Wikipedia

As the land of the Brothers Grimm, Germany seems an obvious inspiration for a fantasy campaign. Castles, tiny kingdoms (or marks, or duchies, or palatinates, etc.), dark woods, tall mountains, Germanic mythology … it all works.

Dungeons & Dragons (or whatever version you prefer), though, has at its heart the idea of the fantasy apocalypse. Adventurers combing through the ruins of ancient civilizations for wealth and fighting the monsters that now control these ruins and wastelands to make the world safe for civilization. Medieval Germany might not be the best place to set a fantasy apocalypse … but how about Germany during the Thirty Years War?

Round about 1618, Catholicism and Protestantism decided to have it out, and Germany was unfortunate enough to be located between the largely Protestant north and the largely Catholic south. As the war dragged on, religion became less of a factor, and the struggle between the Hapsburgs and Bourbons took center stage. Whatever the opposing sides, the German states took the brunt of it. Thousands died from war, famine and disease. Death, war, famine and disease – sounds like the apocalypse to me. Towards the end of the war, witch hunting came into vogue.

A landscape with travellers ambushed outside a small town by Sebastian Vrancx | via Wikipedia

So what do we have? A once prosperous country ravaged by war, disease and famine. Lots of ruins, foreboding landscapes, etc. With all that disease and death, the undead are a natural. Undead that spawn by killing make a great stand-in for plagues. You’re in Germany, so all sorts of fey and dragons make sense. As human civilization retreats, the monsters begin expanding their ranges. You have two formerly Lawful Good religions that have probably become Lawful Neutral (at best) clashing over matters of liturgy and ritual, and opening the doors to Chaos. The goblins have retaken the woodlands! Hobgoblin mercenaries are plundering the countryside! Ruins! Treasure! D&D!

For characters, you can bring in dwarfs from the Alps and elves from the Black Forest, or you can just focus on humans. Germans sure (though German was still a nebulous term – think Saxons and Bavarians and such instead), but the war was also fought by Swedes (led by Adolphus Gustavus), Danes, Bohemians, the French, Lowlanders, Prussians, Transylvanians, the Spanish, the Italians, Scots, Croats, Czechs, Poles, Hungarians, Lithuanians, Austrians … plenty of variety for human characters.

Batalla de Rocroi (1643) por Augusto Ferrer-Dalmau | via Wikipedia

Fighters can be modeled on Halberdiers or Pikemen or, best of all, zweihander-armed landesknechts. Paladins would be great in a setting like this, and Rangers are perfect guides through the wilderness. Most of the armor we're used to would work fine in this setting. The Thirty Years War also has muskets, pistols and cannon. Oh – and Cyrano de Bergerac!

Clerics can be Catholic or Protestant (and may represent the good members left in those religions, on the hunt for relics to save or destroy) or they can be anti-clerics sewing discontent in the name of Chaos. Jewish clerics would make interesting characters, for sure. Druids could be complicated, and would probably be better modeled as wise women or cunning men from the countryside, or followers of primitive Christianity trying to get back to the basics of life. Cardinal Richelieu is a participant in the wars – wouldn’t he make an interesting patron for a French cleric?

Magic-users could be learned alchemists and pseudo-scientists, or they could be those witches the bishops were hunting down.

Thieves and assassins are naturals in a setting like this – the assassins working for the different political factions, the thieves just being normal folks who have lost everything and had to turn to robbery to support themselves.

So, how about a campaign set in the depths of a fantasy-style Thirty Years War? Bold adventurers delve into ruins in search of loot or holy relics (or both) and battle roving bands of brigands, mercenary companies and the monsters that are emerging from the edges of the empire. Sometimes the adventurers retreat into France or Italy or England to rest, buy supplies and hire retainers. As the campaign continues, they become powers in their own right, rubbing shoulders with kings and princes and generals, and eventually joining in the famous battles of the war – what a great excuse to drag out Chainmail and its fantasy supplement! Maybe the Erlking of the Alps is planning to join the war with his dwarves and elves and trolls and giants? The possibilities are many.

Soldiers plundering a farm during the thirty years' war by Sebastian Vrancx | via Wikipedia

Monday, August 18, 2014

Are Treasure Hordes Too Small?

I was looking through some Victorian paintings at the Victorian British Painting blog (not just a clever name), and came across this one by Benjamin Walter Spiers.

One heck of a horde, but fantasy gaming standards. No coins, of course, but in terms of other items ... well, here's my thumbnail inventory:

Books (130)
Bottles/decanters/jugs (33)
Paintings/pictures (21)
Bowls/dishes (18)
Blankets/rugs/tapestries (9)
Vases/urns (9)
Helms (3)
Mirrors (3)
Swords (3)
Boxes (2)
Censers (2)
Daggers (2)
Statues (2)
Violins (2)
Base (1)
Candlestick (1)
Clock (1)
Compass (1)
Globe (1)
Halberd (1)
Hourglass (1)
Inkpot (1)
Lute (1)
Map (1)
Musket (1)
Necklace (1)
Pan pipes (1)
Pipe (1)
Powder horn (1)
Stained glass (1)

255 items by my count, and that's just items visible to me. I'm sure I missed a few, and of course there would be items obscured from view.

I can well imagine a scene like this in a wizard's cramped study or in the castle of a lord, and certainly an ancient wyrm should have as many items collected. But how to do this in a game without it just being a huge headache? I admit that I don't know.

Still, it's a really wonderful painting.

And speaking of dragon hordes ...

 Always one of my favorites. By Denis Beauvais, of course.
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