Seclusium Construction Worksheets

Delightfully Vancian

[UPDATE 1/6/21: I no longer support spending money on products that benefit Zak S, or giving him positive attention and connection. The short version is that I find credible claims that he has engaged in unacceptable behavior and not made up for it. For more detail, see here for the core of the accusations. To get Zak's side of things, he maintains this separate blog from his main one to post updates on the legal status of these complaints. 
Please consider these claims and make your own decision on their validity, and the implications thereof, before either supporting or shunning Zak.]

So, first off, "The Seclusium of Orphone of the Three Visions", if you're not aware, is a new adventure/supplement/thing by D. Vincent Baker for use with Lamentations of the Flame Princess and other old school D&D and D&D-like games.  It is a step-by-step guide to creating a funky wizard's tower in the tradition of Jack Vance, especially the Dying Earth and Lyonnesse.  It does a wonderful job of evoking that source material and is chock full of imaginative stuff.

The process is a good spur to the imagination, but Zak Smith mentioned in his review, and I agreed, that a good worksheet would help organize the process and make it more usable.  It turned out that more like 4+ worksheets were needed, but here they are: 

Let me know if you find them useful and any suggestions for improvements, as these are a pretty rough.

Planet of the Lost

So, this is just a quick post on the alternate game we've now played for our last two sessions: Planet of the Lost.  The basic idea is that our characters were all on a flight from Nairobi to London and it crashed under mysterious circumstances in the desert.  We all figured we were in the Sahara at first, but it's quickly becoming clear that something much weirder is going on.

Apparently the whole crash survivors thing has been done before, I hear

Rules-wise, we're starting out with the Generic Fuzion rules (influenced by their interpretation in Bubblegum Crisis, since that's the version the GM and a few of us are most familiar with from a long-running high school campaign).  The GM (Caleb's player in the Fellhold campaign) intends to house rule it as we go, very possibly converting to the highly modified descendant his brother (Bryni's player) is developing.

Take out the Hot Chick Robo Suit Heroes, and it's a pretty cool cyberpunk setting

Playing in a Fuzion game has been quite a big departure after months of refereeing original-ish D&D.  Point buy for stats and skills.  Picking "complications" to characterize my guy and to get more points.  Modern day real world assumptions. Good, but different.  I had to have some random injected into my creation process, so I ran through the BGC lifepath system and its ancestor, the Cyberpunk 2020 lifepath system.  BGC tended towards being more "coherent", but Cyberpunk 2020 produced more gameable hooks to feed the GM (I ended up picking my favorite parts from both and applying them to the character concept that started forming in my head).

Adjusting to a different play style is also taking some doing.  Our GM flat out told us that our first big fight against a giant lion and her giant cubs (so, normal lion sized) was being softballed for us, the PCs, but not for the faceless random passenger NPCs.  A fair amount of narrative exposition given as "in play" but with a pre-determined outcome.  That's okay, because our GM told us he was doing that to set the stage, but it'd be on us after that.  He's also done a good job of creating adversity and reacting to the cues/hooks we've given him.  I flat out told him that I picked my complications to give him ways to screw with me.

During that fight, though, following through on "this is what my guy would do" led to me being kind of boring and sucky.  He's basically selfish except for being insanely protective of his younger brother (also on the flight and also a survivor, of course).  He got wounded in the crash, so when crazy giant lions showed up, I grabbed my brother and ran him into the intact part of the fuselage and hid.  Then the other characters and some NPCs killed the lions.  I probably should have done more to be awesome, but I guess I've gotten used to the PC-Referee dynamic where it's the ref's job to throw out dangers and challenges and obstacles and it's the PC's job to circumvent them as efficiently and safely as possible.  I need to put my drama beret back on and more go for adding trouble in play (not just in character creation).

At any rate, it's fun so far, and it's fun being on the "other side of the table" as it were. I probably won't recap as in-depth since it's not a record of "my" game, but I'll definitely post anything interesting about it.

"Every Version of D&D" will continue when I finish reading through the OD&D supplements (on "Eldritch Wizardry" now, with "Deities, Demi-Gods, & Heroes" to follow, but I've gotten distracted by new releases and rewriting the Fellhold Rules).

Maximum Lifepath
"Rules" for this week are pretty light:

When playing in a Fuzion/Interlock game, get your hands on as many lifepath systems for character generation as you can.  Follow the procedure exactly for each one.  Then sit down, look at every version and combine them into the character that is most interesting to you.  Especially look for where you got different answers for the same topic or year and try to make every answer line up with the same event.  Bonus points if you can make everything in every path work together.

Fellhold Session 36 Recap

Last night we wrapped up “Season 1” of Fellhold.  Not Season 1 in some pre-planned plot arc sense, heavens no! Rather, starting next week we’re switching to the new game I mentioned last time, and it just so happened that a lot of shit hit the fan this session and we ended at a good cliffhanger. Serendipitous!

So, shit and fan hitting: we returned to Gurgu smashing pillars in his summoning area, most of the party hiding, and Bryni leading Bjergmund and a few priests and initiates down to see the “miracle” of Gurgu summoned, with the hopes of gently guiding them to the worship of Volsungr or some other proper god (but they figured Volsungr would be the best fit).  Varian tried to reestablish control by going back into line of sight, but Gurgu just kept smashing.
Unbeknownst to the players, Gurgu had always had a chance of going mad per round, but it hadn’t come up during the big fight with the trollkin and their beasts.  Unfortunately, it did come up while they were playing around with Gurgu to see that they could control him and coming up with their plan.  It was an insanely lucky coincidence that he went mad a) while they were having him smash stuff anyway, and b) right at the end of the last session.
So, Bjergmund and his priests see a rampaging Gurgu, and they rush into the main summoning area, beseeching him to spare them his wrath, professing their faith, and otherwise being model worshippers. Gurgu returned the favor by flinging chunks of the smashed pillars at them, crushing to death 4 initiates (teenagers, basically) and two of the priests.  Bjergmund was reduced to one hit point by sheer luck, and I decided he’d been pinned under rocks and his leg was broken.  There was a lot of dramatic “Gurgu nooooooo! Why have you forsaken meeeeeee ::squelch::” going on.

The party shared a “Well, that went well” moment and then took a minute to figure out a plan of action.  Yllgrad charged the maddened lava being to distract it while Earn and Varian rushed to help Bjergmund and Bryni and his followers let fly with bows.  There was some speculation that the exposed gem might be a Zelda-like weak point, but the party unanimously agreed that there was no point to all this nonsense if they destroyed the Heart of the Mountain.  
Yllgrad’s attack was ineffective, but Gurgu’s return blows were terrifically powerful.  His dwarvish protection against giant sized enemies likely saved his life, halving the damage taken.  Bryni and crew’s ranged attacks were mostly ineffective, except that his ranger follower scored a hit for a measly two damage. Fortunately, Earn and Varian managed to push the pillar fragments off of Bjergmund and get him to his feet.
llgrad figured he had done his part and proceeded to flee, straight up the path around the central shaft of the mountain.  Bjergmund directed Varian and Earn to help him in the other direction, and towards stairs up.  Gurgu turned and hurled more rocks in the direction of Bryni’s group and struck Dag for a tremendous amount of damage, but fortunately he’s as tough as Yllgrad and survived.  Bryni and his men decided to follow Yllgrad up and out of the mountain, while Gurgu pursued Varian, Earn and Bjergmund, trying to smash his way through archways and doors too small.  They slowed him down enough that everyone made it out of the temple safely, where they conferred.
Outside of the temple, they tried to sell a cockamamie story to Bjergmund that a “dark wizard” had summoned Gurgu for his own ends, and Gurgu had destroyed him in his wrath, but Bjergmund refused to believe that one of the unfaithful could summon Gurgu, and said that Gurgu must have manifested on his own to punish the sacrilege in his temple.  The group broke down and told him that they had summoned him, that anybody could, and that Gurgu wasn’t a god, just an elemental, that the library told them.  Again, Bjergmund refused to believe them and angrily headed for town.
In the town square, Bjergmund tried to stir up the people to ignore these foreign unbelievers and to come with him back to the temple to show their faith and beseech Gurgu to show mercy.  Bryni argued that such foolishness would just get everyone killed.  He brought up the fact that they had already risked their lives to save the village, and that they’d do it again.  In the end, his skills at inspiration and negotiation won out over Bjergmund’s position, and about 2/3 of the village agreed to evacuate to boats, under the direction of Oluf, the innkeeper.  
I don't think Bjergmund is quite this ugly

The remaining 1/3, however, including their seven children, began to follow Bjergmund up the mountain to placate Gurgu.  After some feeble attempts to sway them further, they called in Ash to cast sleep on the group, and it was very effective in downing most of the adults, including Bjergmund.  Bryni instructed Oluf to get them to safety while they came up with a plan for dealing with Gurgu. Right about then, a glowing, giant, angry form was seen leaving the temple entrance up on the mountain, and the island shook as smoke began to come from the top of the mountain and the usually sedate flow of lava out a tube in the side began to spurt and rush.
The group sent Ash, as the quickest and least encumbered (and being out of spells) to try to taunt Gurgu into following him as the group made their way up to the secondary entrance shown some of them after their initiation into the faith.  The plan was to lure Gurgu into the main pump room or the storage pool for the hot baths, and to hope that dousing him in enough water would cause him to be extinguished.  And so, with Gurgu chasing Ash up the mountain towards the shrine entrance, the rest of the party hoofing it for the secondary entrance, and the mountain shaking and spewing smoke, we called it an evening and will resolve their plan when we return to the Fellhold campaign.
As a quick refereeing note, it’s amazing how much easier it is to run things when one problem leads to another and everything is just falling apart.  I think it also helped that a lot of the prep I had done had had time to get engrained, so I knew how to react to the players without much deliberation.  After the game, though, I had a fairly long talk with Bryni’s player about the rules revisions I’m planning while Fellhold is on sabbatical, and we also talked about running games more generally.  I was interested to hear him say that in the very short (one session) game of Apocalypse World I ran for him and Caleb’s player in person, the NPCs had been way more interesting than any of them in this months long campaign.  I was struck, because at least at first, I tried to keep a lot of AW’s good NPC advice in mind as I ran, but the only thing I can figure is that in AW, especially in the first session, the NPCs are the main “moving part” the GM has to worry about.  In the Fellhold game, though, there are a lot of “moving parts” – treasure exchange rates, restocking the dungeon, coming up with adventure locations for the map, creating the city around the players, monster stats, running fights, et cetera, et cetera. Or maybe it’s just that running a much bigger group, and online at that, takes a lot more effort that saps my ability to make interesting NPCs. I’ll think on it some more.
Experimental Ranged Weapon Ammunition Rule

I haven’t had a chance to try this out yet, and for all I know someone else has already invented it, but here’s a compromise between tracking every single arrow/bolt/bullet and just handwaving an infinite supply of ammo:
Characters with ranged weapons must buy ammunition “units” in order to operate their ranged weapon.  This might be a magazine, a clutch of arrows, or whatever.  The exact size isn’t important, but you can figure that out if you want.
Any time a character uses their ranged weapon, they roll an ammo saving throw.  Roll 1d20, add the number of ammo units purchased, and if the score is greater than or equal to 20, then they are fine.  If it is lower, they lose one unit of ammo.  When a character reaches zero ammo units, they are out of ammo and can no longer operate their ranged weapon.
You could have the saving throw be per round or after a complete combat, or only when you make a fumble or critical hit, or whenever seems like an appropriate frequency.  This is at least somewhat inspired by ammo checks in Necromunda, and it might be similar to how Dungeon World resolves things, but I can’t remember.

Every Version of D&D Part IV: The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures

So, as I come to the last of the original Little Brown Books, I have to give a bit of background.   When I was getting into D&D as an impatient and overconfident adolescent, I initially gave the DMG something of a pass.  It was actually the last of the core rulebooks I bought, and if I remember correctly, I ran my first campaign for quite a while without it.  I basically figured I knew what was up, and the Player’s Handbook had “the real rules” (a.k.a. character creation and combat).  By the time I did get around to reading the AD&D 2E DMG, while I found it awesome and inspiring, I viewed it very much as broad guidelines and figured I could safely ignore any specifics on how to go about things.  But that’s getting ahead of myself and this series by a huge number of posts.
My basic point is that I have held the misguided belief that DMGs are glorified advice handbooks for a very long time, and only in re-approaching D&D with a conscious attitude of using all the rules as presented until play makes changes necessary have I come to realize the full extent of my error.  And the first book to disabuse me of that notion was this little guy, “The Underworld and Wilderness Adventures”.
This book is jam-packed with useful stuff.  It even seems to reverse my younger misapprehension: Men & Magic and Monsters & Treasure are mere reference works, whereas the game is held in this book.  Here is where Gygax and Arneson were able to tell their wargaming audience “okay, we know this all sounded pretty much like the same stuff only with fantasy guys, but this right here is why this game is good and different.” This book is the nucleus around which all future D&D accreted and grew, despite the rules and description carry-over from the prior two.
It begins with the eminently practical advice on how to construct a dungeon. This game is “Dungeons and Dragons” after all.  What I really appreciate is the specificity and the granularity.  With later editions, there seems to be a growing sense of “you will use a module” or else “you know how to make a dungeon”.  As someone with the chutzpah to want almost entirely self-created dungeon content but without the years of experience in creating it, this is refreshingly welcome.  Tons of great blog posts have covered the finer points of dungeon creation, but definite rules on room placement and stocking, advice on how to draw those rooms and connect them up and so forth are all quite welcome.
I won’t dwell on some of the peculiarities better highlighted in Philotomy’s Musings, but doors that must be forced open and close automatically, changing monsters and passages when characters return, and infravision only working for monsters that live there all point to the dungeon as a tool for playing a fun game rather than a meticulously realized fictional world.  Given all of the later “Gygaxian Naturalism”, I have to wonder how much of this came from Gygax and how much from Arneson.  I’m sure more informed people than me will know.
Getting into the rules on monsters, I actually really like the wandering monster table as presented here.  I’d have to sit down and work out the probabilities, but I imagine later systems with normally distributed results could give a similar breakdown of monster level by level underground, but I feel like the breakout tables given here could very easily be tweaked by dungeon/megadungeon level/area to give a different feel for what high or low level monsters you encounter in any given area.  I also like that specific rules are given for avoiding and running away from monsters.
Get it?

Hmmm, moving into “The Wilderness” section, there’s a passage that catches my attention that I haven’t noticed before:
“Off-hand adventures in the wilderness are made on the OUTDOOR SURVIVAL playing board (explained below).  Exploratory journies[sic], such as expeditions to find land suitable for a castle or in search of some legendary treasure are handled in an entirely different manner.”
So, rather than “Outdoor Survival” being the ‘default’ immediate surroundings, does this imply that you should use that on the fly, but if you have time and effort you should come up with your own map and fit them together? That’s kind of cool.  I’ve gotta admit, the outdoor survival map just doesn’t hold the same appeal to me as it does for a lot of folks, though I can freely admit its usefulness, it looks a bit awkwardly artificial to my senses. Heresy, I’m sure, but there it is.
I initially found the rules about castles and their residents to be bizarrely specific and meddlesome, but re-reading, I notice that they’re set up to spur on adventure. Either you fight the residents of the castle (or run away) or they send you on a quest somewhere, or you have a sweet tournament and get a temporary base of operations.  In particular, I admire the ring of influence (encounter on 1-3 in hex, encounter on 1-2 1 hex away, encounter on a 1 2 hexes away) and I’ve seen a similar approach taken to monsters/adventure sites over on Rolls, Rules, and Roles here.  Because sandbox exploration is already so freeform and open, I really find mechanized processes especially helpful there.
The wilderness monster charts are enjoyably wacky.  I especially like that Burroughs’ Mars gets a shoutout as default terrain type.  And some great Old School advice:
“Animals will generally be of the giant variety, although the referee might prefer to have small spiders, for example, which attack the party when they are asleep.”
The evasion and wilderness encounter rules provide a nice cost to large parties for which I can definitely see the wisdom.  My group has a ridiculously huge entourage, and considering my setting is meant to be pretty sparsely inhabited, this means that they usually scare off any run of the mill wandering monsters and make chop suey out of most keyed encounters. Time to throw in some immune to normal weapons, level-draining undead, probably.  Or I could just follow rules like those given here so that there are real tactical and strategic choices to be made about rolling deep or rolling quiet.
I really like all of the stronghold and hireling/retainer rules.  When I first read about hirelings in 2E, the concept seemed kind of dumb, what with my being accustomed to the “heroic fantasy” flavor of D&D.  Now that I’m older and possibly wiser, the idea that the way your character becomes powerful on a different scale is to build a small empire is way more appealing to me than that your character gains demi-god-like or god-like powers and starts cruising the planes beating up cosmic forces or whatever.  I think I’ve said it before, but what I like best about this approach is that it inherently creates connection with the world.  If you want to build a stronghold, you have to find out about the area.  If you want allies and enemies, you have to know who is powerful.  If you want armies, you have to keep your peasants happy, which means you have to pay attention what’s going on in your domain, et cetera.  Adventurer, Conqueror, King System (ACKS) does a really super job of detailing all of this stuff in a workable system, but there’s plenty to work with right here in good ole “The Underworld and Wilderness Adventures”.
Don't worry, I've got your back

Aerial combat is fairly detailed, but I’ve honestly never run an aerial fight in any version of D&D.  Probably my loss.  I also haven’t ever used boats for more than getting from place to place, and I should probably fix that as well.  In general, as I mentioned above, I am pleasantly surprised by how much content is squeezed into such small space.  LotFP or ACKS or the like may have more clearly stated and easier referenced rules for running this sort of thing, but it’s all here in basic form for those willing to interpolate as necessary, and that’d pretty great.
The afterward is justly appreciated and well known in Old School circles, and I take its DIY ethos to heart.  I’d say it was no boast that all of the essentials are here in an ample framework, given everything that came after and was built on this sparse but sturdy frame.  

Next up we’ll do a quick survey of the Supplements (I-iV), which will be new to me, other than familiarity with references to them.

Fellhold Session 35 Recap

Last night’s session was fairly short on game play, but what did happen seemed to go pretty well.  The reason gameplay was short was because we spent the first hour or so discussing what game to add to the rotation.  Fellhold will continue, but two weeks from today it will go on a hiatus while we play a new game for a while.  The thought is to keep anybody (myself included) from getting burned out or losing interest, and to enjoy other roleplaying games, cos why have just one?
But do I want to be Twin Peaks, Sting, or Floating Fat Guy?

The pitch we ended up settling on was from Caleb’s player, and the idea is that we are shipwrecked on a mysterious desert world.  He admitted to being largely inspired by what portion of Lost he has already seen (for our sake, I hope it’s only season one, maybe two), but it’s going to be sci-fi and with sand worms and the like.  The very close runner up was to return to a campaign from our youth (well, four of our youths, anyway) and play Bubblegum Crisis, with the same characters where relevant, but bringing in new blood.  Either would be a lot of fun, and we might come back to BGC later on, or lots of other options.  The other bonus to this set up is that everyone else can continue to game even when I’m not available, which will become especially relevant later this summer when I’ll be gone for two Mondays in a row.
With that settled, we got into Fellhold and picked up with more research, woo! This time their efforts were a little more focused, and they were able to determine the essentials of the elemental summoning circles throughout the temple.  They then examined the main summoning circle that brought forth Gurgu and determined that it was different from the others, but they couldn’t tell if it was different enough to summon a god.
Then they decided to try it out.  So they found their way into the treasure room of the temple, and besides the Heart of the Mountain, there was a whole lot of finery for the most holy of Gurgu ceremonies.  I described the clothes as basically “Volcano Pope”.  Their larcenous hearts were indeed fired by such rich goods (especially the Heart of the Mountain), but they decided these guys were super nice, and it would be pretty mean to rip them off, at least before finding out if their god was real.
Sort of like this, I guess?

So, they took the Heart of the Mountain, performed the ceremony, and managed to succeed in summoning Gurgu! At which point they realized something was off.  They discovered that Gurgu responded to commands and did nothing else.  After Yllgrad’s “successful” exorcism of demons of madness that weren’t there, they had begun to suspect that they weren't dealing with a genuine deity, but this confirmed in their minds that Gurgu is nothing more than a dumb elemental.  The group debated the merits of letting the villagers live in ignorance and bliss or trying to bring them on board with a real god, and if so, what level of deception to use.  The previous disaster of underestimating the faith of Odo the Sword Clan shaman was brought up, and it was decided that a certain degree of trickery was wise.
Having decided to dupe the good people of Bjergby out of worshipping what the party believes to be a false god, Varian kept control of Gurgu and started breaking things to provide hiding places while the others rushed up to the common areas of the priesthood to get everyone’s attention.  Caleb cast “cause light wounds” on himself and began “speaking in tongues” with the help of “Speak with Animals” to simulate extreme religious ecstasy.  Bryni called Bjergmund and the others to come see that there was a new prophet with a message direct from Gurgu.  Varian hid, so that he could play the puppeteer as Bryni, Caleb, and the others worked on convincing the priests that Gurgu was really an angel of Volsungr.  When they arrived at the lowest level, however, Varian commanded Gurgu to stop wrecking the place but he kept going breaking stuff. . .

Special Elemental Summoning Circle
With the proper research and in a location of sufficient elemental intensity (volcanoes, seabeds, constant winds, et cetera), a summoning circle can be inscribed that will allow even people without magical talent to summon elemental beings of the proper type for the location. The circles must be crafted in some permanent fashion (such as metal inlaid in the floor, intricate carvings, poured glass, that kind of thing) and must be of high value (say, 500 GP per HD of elemental capable of being summoned, maybe more). Though the circles can be used by non-magic users, they must be created by a magic user and count as a lengthy and involved magical research process, even if the technique is already known, as each location's unique energies must be taken into account and reflected in the design and empowering ritual.