Under the Hill

so tired…

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Witches and Warlocks in my campaign

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I love the simplicity of the Labyrinth Lord rules, and by extension those of the D&D rulesets they are based on. So it might be kind of a bad habit that I already have all those nice ideas how to improve on it without the campaign having even started yet. During the last few days I was thinking about the basics of that campaign. I want my players to come up with some stuff in play, so I really want to keep it at some very basic level. One thing I wanted to have though is a society/group of witches and warlocks.
So I was about halfway through thinking about that society when I noticed that I was starting to think of them as a distinct class. Something not quite magic-user and not quite cleric. Which is, I guess, one of the first ideas anybody ever comes up with when creating new characters. And for some reason none of the classes people came up with the last thirty years actually stuck. Even though people for sure tried. The Witch was even the main example given in the 3rd Edition Dungeon Masters Guide on how to create a new class.  A rather playable witch, for sure, but did anybody ever, well, use that class? Or even think about it after reading through the guide for the first, or second, or even 20th time?
That got me thinking: what exactly is it that makes a witch and warlock something completely different than the magic-user? Not that much actually. For some reason the character we most often come up with when thinking about the magic-user seems to be the Gandalf archetype. Some old mage with a hat and a staff.(And yes, I know that Gandalf basically didn’t really do that much magic, he still is the archetype though!)

Even the rulebooks seem to go for that most of the time. If it’s not Gandalf it’s either the enchantress (think Circe), the young and dynamic mage (think Dr. Strange), or even the fat and clumsy Discworld mage (Pratchett might be a parodist, but the archetypes he uses ring tabsolutely true).
On the other hand we  should really be thinking of the classes in the game as something more basic I guess. A wizard is a magic-user. But so is a summoner, an enchanter, a necromancer. And a witch.
These specialists were of course detailed in later editions, all of them specialists with maybe a limited set of spells, but more power in what they were good in. That’s one way to do it I guess. But I’m not sure that I really want to give up the catch-all magic-user for that.
On the other hand, what is it exactly that I want from such a class? I mostly would like to give it a certain flavor with some of it’s spells. I would like to make my campaign’s witches and warlocks something sinister and occult and downright scary, so I would give them a combination of mostly necromancy and nature spells. Both areas actually kind of fit together if one thinks about it. Death always is part of nature.

And I would like them to be able to curse somebody.
That is atually an idea which I, again, kind if gleamed from DSA: “cursing in hot blood”. Now I don’t know exactly how that was solved in the earlier editions of good old DSA, I really was only using the very most basic starter rules of 1st and 3rd edition, and then later the arcane complete ruleset that was 4th edition.

The basic idea is that if a witch is enraged enough (her blood is boiling so to speak) she can, with less effort than usual, put a curse on somebody. Think about this: a witch gets driven out of a village by the local populace, she is furios as hell and curses the town. So all the crops around her start to wither and die. Or the local watersource gets spoiled.
That basically is the idea I had, and I guess it’s actually pretty easy to do if one takes into account that old rule about clerics: They can drop a spell they prayed for and replace it with a healing spell if they need it. Now let’s see…

Cursing in hot blood: If enraged enough by something/someone the magic-user can drop any spell he learned for the day and replace it with one from the list of curses. The curse must be of the same or lower level.

A special list of curses would have to be written for that sort of thing. A list of spells to use  in case of cursing.

It might be a bit overpowered though.

Actually no, it for sure would be overpowered. Especially in mid-level range the ability to just drop and replace spells might be a complete gamebreaker.
So how to concile this one special ability with the magic-user without totally debasing it from the coherent class system?
The solution I came up with so far would be even more in tone with the class: a corruption table. One does not wield wild magic like that without the magic doing something to one’s self. Maybe some madness?  Maybe some physical corruption?

I’m not really happy with it so far. I don’t really want to drag out the Mutant Future mutation table. That would be overdoing it a bit. But I would like my witches to have that ability to curse someone.

Written by G. Neuner

2. March 2010 at 4:39 pm

Under Oak Hill – New Creatures

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These monsters were used (without stats) in Under Oak Hill. The One-Page-Dungeon-Contest rules demand the submitted dungeon is not to have any stats, but I was (obviously) using monsters which did not appear in the Labyrinth Lord book (or any other book I know of).

The Imp has meanwhile been presented marginally different in the Advanced Edition Characters book for Labyrinth Lord. Not too surprising, they, as I, just converted from the SRD… So here they are, not really the most brilliant of new monsters, but keeping with the atmosphere I desired. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by G. Neuner

26. February 2010 at 12:03 pm

Posted in Games, Roleplaying

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The Art of Dungeoncraft

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I should be doing something entirely else really. Actually I should be finishing the last few things for my MA. But what do I do? Writing an One Page Dungeon.
For the uninitiated: dungeons are the natural habitat of player characters and monsters. For some reason the best and easiest setting to set roleplaying games in was and is an underground lair or something like that. Room after room of monsters, treasures, and traps. Yay! Adventure! Moria for all!
For some reason RPGs never really managed to get away from those. And in many cases they never really tried. (there is a reason the most famous RPG is called Dungeons&Dragons…)
Retroclones, as mentioned before, try to emulate a lot of those old times, and dungeons are a big part of that.
So it comes as kind of a surprise that they, with that, actually are embracing a special sort dungeons, treating dungeons as a sort of art form: dungeons limited to one page only, with map and everything.¹

How much story and adventure can one relate on only one page?

A lot.
Building a dungeon becomes minimalistic art: short sentences, only the most needed of comments, and the dungeon’s map as part of this storytelling. Is it a 70s style TSR-blue dungeon? Is it handdrawn? What’s on the map, what isn’t? And so these dungeons can range from bad to good, and sometimes they move into sheer excellency (look at this guys OPDs for example!).
So why the sudden interest in this kind of dungeon? The One Page Dungeon Contest 2010 has it’s submission date this weekend, and I want to take part. I would have liked to playtest the dungeon before handing it in, but well, that will have to wait until next week or so.


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Written by G. Neuner

25. February 2010 at 6:07 am

Serial Numbers Filed Off

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Labyrinth Lord is original Dungeons and Dragons with serial numbers filed off. It seems that Wizards of the Coast, by open sourcing their game mechanics in the early 2000s, also opened them up to be retrocloned to older rulesets that were not part of the original deal. And so LL has nearly everything a group needs to play as if it was 1977. The word is “retrogaming“, and it has been rather popular lately, mostly carried by guys who have been D&D/RPG players in the first years of the hobby. And there is more to that little part of the hobby than only Labyrinth Lord with it’s evocation of 1970s/80s fanzine quality. Sword&Wizardry tries to evoke the aura of even earlier sets of D&D, OSRIC tries to be AD&D 1st ed., Mutant Future tries to be Gamma World.

Now, I’m obviously not part of that age group that seems to be so fascinated by those old-school games. Not as much as those people in their 40s and 50s are who played D&D back when it was fresh and new. I’m not even close to that. My first experience with roleplaying games came in the mid-90s with Germany’s very own “Das Schwarze Auge” (The Dark Eye), although I can relate to them desiring simpler and faster rules than what is current now. The new version of D&D (4th edition) appears to me a as a bloated, overdone try to rip off World of Warcraft. Even the 3rd edition, which I used for a long time and had lots of fun with, always appeared to me as overly complicated. Maybe the reason for that was that the first time I played DSA back then I was using the Beginner¹ rules, which were the rules of it’s 1st edition: fast, easy, and a lot of fun. They had their very own problems. but I never lost the feeling that roleplaying games should be played like that: fast and loose, story over rules, a quick decision in favor of hour long battles.

On the other hand there is a certain dogmatism in the retrogaming community: as much fun as playing the old games just like they were played 30 years back might be, many of those adherents to the old school also want something else: reliving the old days. And so they try to simulate the old times as closely as possible.

Why am I putting that much thought into this? Because I plan to use LL for some games, that’s why. it turns out that there are a few people  interested in playing pen&paper roleplaying games. I haven’t really played for years now, but let’s see if I still got it…


¹ and lo! there actually is a retroclone of those rules as well, in English even…

Written by G. Neuner

24. February 2010 at 6:17 pm