LIGHT AND ALTERNATIVES TO DARKVISION: Revisiting An Old Topic

Darkvison Ruins The Fun Again

In my Where Hell Comes To Prey Nightwick campaign (latest on that campaign here), I have recently changed the way I track light from using an overloaded encounter die to using a "light dice pool" mechanic from DURF by Emiel Boven which represents the total light the party has among torches and lanterns. Every round this pool is rolled along with the encounter die and lose any die with a "1". Lose all of your light die and you have an encounter regardless of the encounter die-- now in the dark!

Now, combat in the dark in Nightwick Abbey would be a terrible proposition. But I started to wonder if I should ratchet up the tension of a depleting light pool further by requiring everyone to roll on an Escape The Dungeon table instead of combat (if you are unfamiliar here is an example).

This would ratchet the tension up and simplify the whole procedure to a "1" or "0" state: if you have light, keep exploring; if you don't have light, you run for your life. This sounded exciting! And certainly, keeps in the horror vein of Nightwick Abbey. And make the light spell and its cousins far more useful. 

But then my thoughts came to a skidding halt: what about dwarves and changelings with darkvision? Ugh. I expressed this lament in a Discord and Josh of Rise Up Comus suggested the dark vision should be taken out back and shot. I had to agree with another "ugh". 

The biggest problem for me with darkvision in old-school games is that for anything you do with light and sight in a dungeon a DM almost has to create two states for the party: one for the humans who can't see and then for the 2-3 demi-humans who can. But often both are present at the same table so you are giving "hidden" information in the open. Nothing is interesting here and a lot of DMing brain power goes toward maintaining these states.

Now, while complaining about darkvision is no doubt one of the 5 most common perennial discussions in the old-school scene, this one spurred a good discussion out and two tools useful for my game: 

  • darkvision as magic item
  • alternatives for darkvision that could be applied to different

Darkvision As A Magic Item

Azure Lotus Drops allow a character to have 6 exploration turns of darkvision with an additional 1d6 turns rolled in secret by the DM on the last turn. If use more than once a day, make a Save vs Spells or become blind for 6 exploration turns plus 1d6 additional turns.
  • They are commonly used by thieves so possession is suspect
  • Manufacture requires rare arcane components; the most widely known is azure lotus necter

Alternative Special Senses to Darkvision

Here is what I mean by "alternatives to darkvision". Its not necessarily a different type of sight, but instead different senses that could be used that are useful but not as "complete" as sight.
Last Note

So, I don't know if I'll end up enforcing the Escape the Dungeon roll, I'll have to see what my players think of that. Maybe if a few combats don't go well in the dark this is a good alternative and maybe I'll see how they feel about the light situation.

WHERE HELL COMES TO PREY: Running Nightwick Abbey 03

 


I have just completed DMing my 10th session of Nightwick Abbey, an OSE megadungeon authored by Miranda Elkins and illustrated by Chris Huth. These posts will be a continuing effort to document this campaign I dubbed Where Hell Comes To Prey. If these horrid halls of Nightwick Abbey call to you, then please join Miranda Elkins' Patreon!

WHERE HELL COMES TO PREY

Our Sunday Congregation:
Miriam Cleric 2
Froggie Frogling 1
Shiva Rogue 1
Grog Fighter 1
Hirelings: Hyme (barber)

Session 10 APRIL 28 Highlights: 

A DUEL!: The cleric Miriam was challenged by a fellow seminary student who believed he was wronged in the past. Miriam chose Grog as his second who then proceeded to kill the challenger in one blow.

HARTS WITH HEARTS: Down in the dungeon, a trio of deermen offered, for inexplicable reasons, a bowl of still-beating hearts and encouraged the PCs to eat them like apples. Scattered hearts and scattered deer heads resulted.

A TERRIBLE END IN EITHER DIRECTION: The probing of a dead body causes the irruption of gas which seems to paralyze Grog. As Miriam watches over the fallen fighter, Shiva and Froggie travel south until they stumble into a dining hall. They quickly leave as an impossibly large bulk squeezes itself into the hall. The party travels north and stumbles upon a room whose floor is covered in paper. Froggie leaps in to grab a few pages and also earns wounds as if some terrible invisible claws ranked his leg. 

POST-MORTEM

At session 10, how do I still feel about Nightwick? Love it! A player asked me if I still enjoy DMing it after playing in ~90+ sessions as a PC- (again) love it. It is fun to be on the other side of the screen and to be the master of the maligned forces.

Here is what I think I am doing right:

"100 Minutes of Megadungeon Madness": When I started this series, I discussed how I was going to attempt a 120-minute setup by starting 10 minutes after the hour, run 50 minutes, break 10 minutes, and run a final 50 minutes. Around sessions 7 and 8, I started doubting about this format. I wondered if I was cramming a megadungeon into too short of a time period mainly because the players were not covering much distance in the dungeon. If they had an encounter at the beginning of the session, it was possible to have a chunk of time gone. I mulled over if I needed to change combat or allow all weapons to do average damage or if I should shortcut (undercut) some part of the BX D&D system. 

But in the end, after playing 90+ sessions of Nightwick, I know the BX chassis and the dungeon crawling aspect works. There is no need to change that, but I did wonder if I could change some other aspects of how I run the game. Plus the players were having fun.

Pre-gen PCs/Hirelings: Gotta keep doing this. When I have new players join, rolling up characters takes the most time, especially since there are some delightfully unique takes on the character classes in Nightwick. Plus, pre-gen PCs help players that die due to vampire bats or blood puddings get back into the game quickly.

Treasure Maps: These maps are actually a staple of classic play. As evidenced by the presence of treasure maps in OD&D and under Scrolls in BX D&D (B46). These maps will help enhance exploration but will come at (1) a resource cost and/or (2) require some deciphering either because they will have incomplete information or perhaps some riddles.

Light Variation: Recently, I started to use the light rule found in DURF. In short, basically, the PC roller a pool of light dice, "1"s are removed, and if all dice are removed then an encounter happens in the dark. I like it. It actually touched off a meaningful discussion about light. If the pool is equal to or larger than the number of party members, they win initiative ties in the dungeon.

Here is what I think I can improve on:

Use The 5 Senses: I really need to bring more of these into play in Nightwick. Just to add a little bit more to the world that I'm painting. And often in horror, you know something is wrong before you see "it". Like realizing the yellow rush matts on the floor are woven out of human hair or that the sound of water trickling is accompanied by the smell of blood.

Combat Variety and Objectives: I have written two particularly good posts on how to vary bands of enemies and also on objectives in combat. I need to be better about implementing them in the Abbey. In terms of bands of enemies, variety not only keeps it interesting for me the DM, but also provides a tactical opportunity for the PCs as well. I kinda think back to Darkest Dungeon- it would be fun to have something that vomits on players. Variety can also act as a way to further describe the Abbey instead of skeletons with swords, cultists with...swords, or beastmen with...swor...axes! For instance, deermen could be something like:

  • (1-2 hp) Range x Special Deerman Caller Its piercing shrieks disorient enemies; the initiative die is a d4   
  • (3-5 hp) Range x Dmg Deerman Hunter Uses a bow
  • (6-7 hp) Melee x Dmg Deerman Stalker  Uses a battleaxe
  • (8 hp) Melee x Special Crown-o-Horn Charges into battle with head heavy with a tangle of antlers & tusks    

While the Abbey is murderous, in my mind it's also interested in capture, corruption, and contamination. All these things might require a target to be alive. I'd like to force myself to slow down and give each group of enemies an objective. And actually, since starting this post, I've actually run Session 11 of Nightwick and it worked great- I had horrible rat things go after the nearest NPC and a group of Devilmen demanded the cleric hand over their holy symbol to leave the Abbey. Interesting the cleric wouldn't do that, so the devilmen ended up slaying one NPC and breaking several bones of a PC-- then they handed over the holy symbol.

"Quests": While megadungeons are eternal, my time and my player's time is not so I'd like to avoid the campaign just having to stop dead in its tracks like a tv show that gets canceled mid-season. 

After seeking some advice from other DMs and consulting the blogs, the best solution is just to declare a set period of play. Since my players so far have really dug the little "quests" that organically pop-up, I decided to make some more. 

Nightwick Abbey has a lot of blank space where elements are present but not completely defined. This provides an excellent opportunity for the DM to carve some personalization out of the module. A case in point is the tome the players "decapitated" from its lectern, then spent the next few sessions trying to find a body to reattach it to by the request of Halfdan the Necromancer. Players loved it! And now it earns them rumors.

Again since starting this post, during Session 11, I had a shadowy group approach the group to recover several more pages from a particularly violent area of the Abbey for a reward 100sp per person if at least 3 pages were recovered. A great opportunity for role-play, negotiation, and the PC to get a sense that they could have a first crack at understanding the knowledge.

In all, the players are still really engaged and are enthusiastically plunging head-first into each delve, so that is the best feedback a DM can have!

I CAST FIST!: Brawl Arcane 28 A Perfect Intro To Kit Bashing And Skull Smashing


From the Gardens of Hecate


DIY28

"Inquisition 28" is a term for a family DIY-games in the wargaming scene and akin to "Moldvey Basic" in the dungeons with dragons scene. 

The Inq28 space, to me, is characterized by (1) a pamphlet 'zine of simple skirmish rules outlining battles between small groups (~4+ figures) with Warhammer-like stats and (2) a huge emphasis on kitbashing (i.e. frankensteining your existing miniatures into something that is your own). 

A fantastic example is the blog Gardens of HecateEven Chris McDowd got into the act with his DOOMED.  If you want an amazing magazine then look no further than 28 in particular I'd recommend this issue. One of the most delightful efforts in this scene is Turnip 28 (although its a little larger army size than I like). And this spirit doesn't have to be physical, Maleghast is initially oriented as a digital experience but lacks no less the punch of other games.

While poking around, I came upon Brawl Arcane 28 --a small skirmish game that pits one (1) wizard and their three (3) minions against a similar force. Each wizard band is individualized by generic but highly flexible templates that outline a wizard and minion's stats, abilities, and spells. I might have been drawn to Brawl Arcane 28 because I am a huge fan of Wiz-War.

FIGHT ON!

BA28 certainly carries the spirit of DIY28 I could easily just use the wraith figure below as my wizard and the three skeletons as the minions and combine them with the template "Necromancer". Easy, cheap, and low-effort. You could easily use dice or even chess pieces (bishop + 3 pawns). Or if you have an online app like Owlbear Rodeo, you could easily mark out a grid and use the included generic tokens.

You've seen these guys before maybe

And I just happened to have a random "cannibal" miniature and three dire rat minis so that makes a pretty good "Flesh Transmuter" band-- Necromancer vs. Cannibal is certainly a matchup with flavor!

Unpainted & maybe I should kitbash the rats
to have grub-heads (below)



WHY I LIKE BRAWL ARCANE 28 AMONG SOME FANTASTIC CONTENDERS

Its simple. You start with a wizard ("you") and each turn you roll 1d6 on a common pool of action- 2 of which are "Summon Minon" and 1 is essentially "Faction Spell". So, you slowly build up your band throughout the game (occasionally losing minions) and don't have to memorize a lot of moving parts all at once. Therefore it is also very easy to teach.

Its flexible. While a lot of the other systems have a very strong and delightful world, Brawl Arcane is pretty generic and could be adapted to anything. Several of the provided warbands are as adaptable as the word "wizard" itself. Wanna go post-apocalyptic? Easy enough to do with "Astral Warlock", "Blood Mage", or "Flesh Transmuter" bands. Want to use a Hieronymus Bosch painting to theme your warbands? Sure! Brawl Arcane can adapt to that. And again, its not that other systems couldn't- I just think its easier with a system not tied strongly to other IP. Plus units being more simple- you could most likely eyeball some homebrew powers.

Its focus on kit-bashing. Its a goal of mine to improve my painting capabilities so I'm gonna (hopefully) have a lot of miniatures sitting around- painted. Mini painting obviously blends well with D&D another focus of mine so there is synergy there. So Brawl seems to be more a system designed to show off your creative models and battlefields than a hardcore game itself. And that is exactly where I want it. Focus on my mini- not learning deeply another game. It matches the feel of the OSR and gets me excited creatively in a way that other games don't. 

Maybe its the focusing on self-expression. Turning something you craft into something you play. Into something you share.








WHAT'S IN A NAME? That Which We Call A D&D By Any Other Name Would Delve Just As Deep


The OSW: Old-School Wizardry

Like the rest of the greater D&D collective, I too have been reading, and then watching, the very good Delicious in Dungeon. And like many, I too, was struck at just how faithful it is to "old-school" dungeon-delving D&D. Dumb-struck when I learned the creator, Ryoko Kui, had no prior exposure to D&D, much less some old-school version like Moldvey BX.

It was actually hard for me to believe given how faithful the trappings (and traps) of Delicious in Dungeon are to AD&D in particular. Miranda of inplacesdeep suggested to me that the videogame Wizardry (1981), whose popularity outlasted Japan's introduction to Dungeons & Dragons*, could be one of the inspiration sources.

So I recently went looking for a Wizardry game manual PDF to see what commonality there was given that I have never played the game. Here is the link to the 1990 NES release of Wizardry: Proving Ground of the Mad Overlord. If I am correct after my 30 min of internet surfing, Wizardry was first released in Japan on the FM-7, PC-88, and PC-98 in 1985.

And wow... there is almost no substantive differences with AD&D. In fact, most differences I see had to have been made so that TSR wouldn't sue Sir-tech Software the publisher. So if you've not really mapped this particular rabbit hole with your 10-foot pole, here are some screen captures from the 1990 NES manual:

Character's Race: Those heathen humans... someone needs to bring them the word of CANT!

Six Abilities: Strength, I.Q., Piety, Vitality, Agility, Luck (which is not different from the word charisma because charisma origins meaning "gift from the gods")

Classes: Of particular note is that Lord, Samurai, Wizard, and Ninja require particularly good stats in multiple abilities similar the paladin, bard, monk, and ranger of AD&D.


Goal: Explore a vast labyrinth that you the player need to be mapping with help from a 0-19 x 0-19 grid system. What does this maze look like?

Magic: I won't take you through every single aspect, I do think you get the point and the links will take you directly to the PDF if you'd like to read the details. But the magic does offer another striking similarity.


In D&D terms you are starting with Magic Missle, Shield, Sleep, and a more novel "Locate" spell which is in a similar spirit, but more practical given the audience might need to check their mapping work.

Delicious in Dungeon Is Increasing Mega-Dungeon Appetites And Taste For Old-School D&D

Maybe that subtitle is a bit...more than I can chew (!), but I don't think its too far off the mark. I do love dungeons as both an excellent place to begin learning D&D and as a campaign environment for sustained play. Especially in our more busy, entertainment-competitive lives. Dungeons are imaginative spaces that both young and old can relate to and understand. And I am glad to see other media pick them up as environmental space to tell a compelling story. 

I think far too long the idea of dungeon crawling was just a boring, pedantic shuffle through grey corridors waiting for an ignoble death. Certainly, the past ~10+ years of the old-school scene as provided many counter-examples to that viewpoint**, but now Delicious provides a solid cross-generational reference to orient too. 

Delicious in Dungeon's first levels

EDIT: Here is the way better-illustrated game guide to Wizardry



* The most popular pen-and-paper RPG in Japan is Call of Cthulhu

** Some unfortunate reinforcement as well

THE KNIGHTS OF THE (OD&D) TABLE: Application to Arthurian Myth

The Death of Arthur


I was recently reading Peter Ackroyd’s Sir Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur (written 1470) and was struck how its collective tales when taken together matched OD&D’s wilderness setup when it comes to castles, NPC rulers therein, and jousting. Also, it helped provide a rationale in my head as to why the cavalier is a subclass in AD&D given so much of early D&D is oriented in dungeoneering- why bring a horse? The Arthurian tales seem more likely an inspiration for this section of OD&D than many of the books in the Appendix N such as Three Hearts, Three Lions which feature a knight, but still are more a LoTR-style adventuring party.


This blog post is less concerned about the origin of these rules in OD&D and whether they can be used to help a DM create a campaign that gives the same feel. Now, yes, perhaps Mythic Bastionland or Pendragon would be systems better designed to support this particular genre. But if you just want to attach this component to an existing campaign or maybe just pull off 3-5 sessions, why invest time, energy, and money into a completely new system? Heck, even if you wanted to start a fresh new campaign, why switch to a new system when your table’s familiarity with D&D could help? On a more contemporary note, If you’ve gotten the Dolmenwood pdfs, like I did, then you know the knight class and house outlines provide a ready-made setting outside of Mythic Bastionland or Pendragon. 


Let’s look at a very good tool already provided by OD&D- the stronghold rules.


Here are what I think are a few interesting points in this block of text that will serve our purpose:

  • The ponds on the Outdoor Survival Game map are now castles 
  • Those castle encounters will be 50% hostile or 50% “neutral” which means PCs will have to explain themselves a lot. So courtesy is front and center in our campaign in keeping with the Arthurian tales.
  • Castle owners who are fighting men will demand a jousting match which is in line with the Arthurian stories about gaining renown through the testing of arms. Magic users, including, clerics might send PC on quests via geas spells. Certainly in line with the machinations of Merlin and Morgaine.
  • It is also noted that Patriarch’s are always lawful while Evil High Priest are always chaotic.
  • And while not prolific, intermixed among human opposition, is a fair bit of superhuman/supernatural occurrences. Again Morgaine and Merlin are natural examples of wizards/necromancers. The Lady of the Lake (and her predecessors) I would consider patriarchs. 
  • While evil priests are never directly referenced, there are one or two stories involving some knights that seem to rise from the dead or other unearthly enchantments. In fact Lancelot du Lake and Galahad have a whole “side quest” involving their adventure to far off lands but “because these stories do not involve their quest for the Grail, they are not recorded in the old books.”
  • And as the inhabitants of the castles? Well, 3d10 x10 inhabitants will man the walls split between ranged units and heavy foot. And a mix of magical creatures which while not a central component of Arthurian myths they are there in the periphery. The Questing Beast is a well known example, but also Galahad’s sword, hilt, and scabbard are made of various parts of fantastical snakes, fish, and wyrms.

The Structure of the Stories


Generally, the setup is 1 or 2 named knights questions across a densely castled countryside and/or cutting through a mysterious forest in search of renown or to right a wrong or by request or for revenge. Knights are often waylaid by battles, other knights, magic, duplicity, and, occasionally, God. Eventually each knight to able to over come those obstacles through feats of arms and maintaining a strong adherence to Christian virtues and chivalric code. Mostly. Because while these stories are rather “simple”, the characters often display more complexity than pop cultural interpretations of them would let on.


Here Is How I Would Run Dungeons & (Pen)Dragons


A Campaign for 1 or 2 Players and a DM: I always think its interesting that a lot of these stories actually involve 1 or 2 of Aurther’s knights and 2-5 other characters a long the way. So let’s go with that format which helps explain the setup.


Knighted PCs: The knights in the Arthurian story are already individuals of some note, so I think a good way to kick-off the campaign would be to start them at third level. Yes, heresy by “ye olde scool” standards, but we are leaning a little more into genre “setup”. This would place PC right below “hero” level (Level 4) and so makes sense that not matter what is going on, the PCs are at least questing for renown.


And as we have established we are using only 1 or 2 players so this will help a little bit with survivability. If back-up characters are needed, perhaps the DM can roll up a “round table” of alternatives.


By OD&D standards this would also allow PC to have a multi-attack ability against normal man-types which again is a common occurrence than the main characters of Arthurian myths can take on multiple normal knights/horsemen/footmen.


The Code of Chivalry: I found the Dolmanwood Chivalric code a little too brief. So poking around on the internet to see if someone has previously enumerated the various rules of the Code I found one text looking at the code from the Song of Roland which is also a great list to help create conflict by simple having the antagonists do the opposite of:


  1. To fear God and maintain His Church 

  2. To serve the liege lord in valour and faith 

  3. To protect the weak and defenceless 

  4. To give succour to widows and orphans 

  5. To refrain from the wanton giving of offence 

  6. To live by honour and for glory 

  7. To despise pecuniary reward 

  8. To fight for the welfare of all 

  9. To obey those placed in authority 

  10. To guard the honour of fellow knights 

  11. To eschew unfairness, meanness and deceit 

  12. To keep faith 

  13. At all times to speak the truth 

  14. To persevere to the end in any enterprise begun 

  15. To respect the honour of women 

  16. Never to refuse a challenge from an equal 

  17. Never to turn the back upon a foe


Save vs Change: I might change the 5 saves to more the 7 deadly sins or remove “sloth” and “gluttony” as those don’t quite fit as much as the other sins.


The Relm:  Below I have a 6 x 6 hex map (with 6-miles hexes) made with the ever-useful HEX KIT and just dropped as many castles as I could with about 20 miles apart (which is the amount of land able to be held by these building one). Another interesting thing is that Arthur’s England is far from depopulated in contrast to the old-school mindset. Most of the stories involve knights running into many different castles and having some sorta of conflict occur there. Finally, I drop 2-3 other features on there for fun especially woodlands which were ever present in the tales and a hotbed of questing/adventuring. Start small and build out from there. Don’t try to do too much at the start. If you have Dolmenwood, just carve out a 6x6 chunk from there and add in the already present factions and standards.



Quest Goal: An object of importance like a grail, a philosopher’s stone, a sword, a book, or a famed necromancer’s hand & eye could be the ultimate goal, but again in several of the stories simple adventuring for renown was good enough. So let’s also create a table for the reason for a lowercase “q” quest:



Roll 1d20 to determine why you are questing:

  1. To avenge another fallen knight, 

  2. evict unlawful owners, 

  3. avenge a maiden, 

  4. avenge a king, 

  5. rescue a maiden, 

  6. rescue another knight, 

  7. appear as another knight/unknown knight to perform X

  8. participate in a tournament, 

  9. lay siege, 

  10. break a siege, 

  11. A case of mistaken identity, 

  12. To settle an argument, 

  13. Because you were kidnapped or beguiled to a quest

  14. joust over who’s maiden is hottest/virtuous

  15. To atone for a previously committed offense

  16. Prove you are the toughest

  17. Remove bandits at X

  18. To capture/hunt a famous beast

  19. Just to see what happens to you

  20. Because GOD said to (Roll 1d20 again)


A “quest” whose objective is defined above might be worth something like 1000 XP. Now it might be that more or less XP could be earned by depending on how close to the Chivalric code a PC remains in the completions of this quest. XP still could be awarded for the value of objects recovered/given too, but in response to the code money cannot be a focus.


No Gold: Yup. A key here would be that PC should turn down monetary rewards for gifts or other forms of aid. Perhaps if they need to buy something it has to be bartered, a favor extended, or maybe roll a d8 vs their current level- if at or below, then the NPC has heard of their great deads and aggress to help them.


Your Princess [Brother, Cousin, Sister, Aunt, Uncle, Niece, Nephew, or In-Law] is in Another Castle: I would also make sure that a few of the other castles contain relatives of the PCs. Even in Arthurian stories, blood relations were always causing trouble for our “heroes”. This is a very nice gameable element and one that also might put a damper on always reaching for the sword.


Conflict Resolution the Arthurian Way: And how is conflict mostly resolved? A test of arms! Yes, there is a lot of jousting (mainly with a spear interesting) and often if a knight was unhorsed it was time to draw swords. Often the knight could be wounded severely enough they have to be dragged to the nearest hermitage on a litter. Enter OD&D jousting rules. But really you could use the more well-known combat rules as well. I might throw in a little something like “if an attack roll beats the opponent’s AC by 5+, the opponent makes a save vs. Paralysis or is knocked down.”



God: The almighty above always knows what is in the heart of a knight. So if the PCs have been bad or broken chivalric code they are going to be in trouble when the powers above (or below) start calling.



Final Word (?): Send me your blog links!