Categories
Actual Play

Castle Xyntillan – Session #29 – Into the Maze of the Occult

The Company:

  • Hendrik (MU5)
  • Jürg (F5)
  • Bern, Beath & Sarah (heavy foot)
  • Leon & Julian (porters)
  • Jan (T2 retainer)

Loot:

  • Four canopic jars
  • A bag of gemstones
  • An emerald-studded ring

Casualties:

  • Jan, burnt to a crisp by Hendrik’s fireball
  • Beath & Sarah, dropped from large heights by vindictive harpies

Report:

In the lead-up to the next expedition, a man named Jan approaches the company. He claims to know the location of a remarkable magic item known as “the ring of spirits”. He says it is hidden in a laboratory on the upper floor of a part of the castle called The Maze of The Occult. He wants to join the company to go and find it, in exchange for a mere half share of any mundane treasure they find along the way.

Hendrik, for some time suspecting his wife Ronja of harboring ill intents, shadows her while invisible. He follows her to The Tap where he sees her have dealings with this Jan character, as well as other unsavory types.

The company agree to take Jan up on his offer, secretly plotting to make short work of him before he can do any harm. On the way to the castle, Hendrik fiendishly extracts directions to the lab and the ring from the none-too-bright Jan. At night, while camping in the woods, Jürg and Hendrik sneak up on the hapless brigand. Jürg lifts up his mace to cave in Jan’s head, but he wakes just in time to dodge out of the way and run for the brushes. Not missing a beat, Hendrik casts a fireball at the receding figure’s general direction and burns the brushes to a crisp along with Jan in it. Job done.

***

When they arrive at the castle Jürg first climbs down into the dried up moat near the gatehouse in search of the magic sword once left there by the late Buerghedorn, known as The Blade of Rel. With some help from Hendrik he manages to locate it and when he wields it he is able to resist its attempt at domination. Jürg being thoroughly chaotic like the blade itself, he suffers no further harm. He also has an inkling that, beyond being magical and mildly intelligent, the blade also has some other powers yet to be revealed.

They enter through the rose garden, and make their way to the stairs leading up from the storerooms area. Along the way they take a quick detour to the previously visited fountain to fill a skin with water from it.

Before heading up they can’t resist inspecting the room right next to it, which remains unexplored. It turns out to be a storage room holding the man-sized lacquered statue of a dancing girl with six arms, each holding an actual dagger. Behind a curtain they also find a closet holding a sarcophagus and four canonic jars. They take the jars, leave the rest undisturbed, and head up the stairs.

They emerge into a spacious hallway, red carpet on the floor, family portraits on the walls, and an eery female signing filling the air. Large double doors immediately catch their eye. Inspecting it, it is evidently magically locked. Glowing letters across its surface read: “Here be the laboratory of Aristide Malévol the Patrician. If you know this name, you know you have no place here; if you know it not, let this warning suffice.” Stymied, the company turns another way.

The next room reveals a room filled with awful wax figures in the image of obviously dead people. A crate of candles piques their interest and they decide to take it.

The next room holds shelves with glass bottles. Broken glass crunches underfoot. An invisible entity occasionally picks up a bottle and tosses it at a dummy in one corner. When Jürg enters the spirit takes aim at him. Not easily impressed, the company make short work of the thing with a combination of magical weapons and spells. Searching the room, the discover several bottles with high-proof alcohol. Noticing a hole in the dummy, Jürg reaches inside, cuts his fingers on a bunch of razors, and extracts a pouch of gemstones.

Heading further east, they next enter a hallway. To the south they see an ominous door with skulls and mechanical bits and an inscription that reads “THE MASTERPIECE OF DEATH”. They decide not to mess with it.

Continuing east, they bump into a dapper gentleman dressed in a nightgown who introduces himself as Vincent Godefroy-Malévol. He inquires after their purposes in the castle, they exchange some pleasantries, after which Vincent continues on his way.

They open the next door, and see a massive gallery, walls covered in torn canvases, several large nests of rags on the floor, broken windows, and the sound of flapping and eery signing coming from just outside. Having some inkling of what they might be dealing with, the company carefully head back out. They take the box of candles, and plug their ears with wax. They then set the door ever so slightly ajar, and wait…

Yikes… (Gustave Doré)

Not much later, six women with wings for arms and claws for legs flap in through the broken windows and settle in their nests. Harpies! Jürg unboxes his toy soldiers. Hendrik turns himself invisible and sneaks inside. He then throws a fireball, hitting but not killing three. The rest of the fighting force runs inside to protect their prized mobile artillery high-level magic-user. The harpies try their mesmerizing singing, but the wax makes the company impervious to the monsters’ charms. So then the harpies fly at them, and Jürg, the toy soldiers and heavy foot rush forward to engage them in melee. The toy soldiers can’t quite reach the things without standing on each others’ shoulders. At first they appear equally matched. Several harpies are cut down. But then, Beath and Sarah are both grabbed by a harpy and lifted up to great heights before being dropped back down again, instantly killing them. The fight continues, more harpies are slain, but the last remaining one manages to reach Hendrik and tries the same trick. Hendrik is unable to avoid being lifted up, the harpy flies through the broken skylight into the morning air, and lets go. Hendrik plummets to his demise from sixty feet, but somehow, miraculously, survives. The harpy, disgusted, leaves.

They toss the nests and find a torn of arm and hand in an iron gauntlet. Removing the gauntlet, they recover a ring set with an emerald. Frustrated and relieved at once, the company make their way out of the castle, and back to Tours-en-Savoy.

Referee Commentary:

A fun session as usual. Two players only, but each running a fifth level PC as well as a bunch of retainers, so still well-matched with the castle’s many dangers. The whole Jan episode was a fun bit that emerged from an ongoing storyline we mainly handle during downtime related to a wife Hendrik once picked up while carousing (thank you Mr. Rients).

It was also cool to see players circle back and revisit some previously explored sections and things, like with the blade, and the fountain. I finally have a player running a fighter with an intelligent sword in my game! So exciting.

The harpies were excellent as well. I couldn’t believe my luck when the players matter of factly stated that they were going to jump in and fight them. My simple grapple rules served me well again. With flyers it’s a lot of fun to bypass AC and do massive damage by means of falling (c.f. the fight with the pigeons from hell). I did forget about the charm on touch power they also had. In hindsight it would have been awesome to have the final harpy charm Hendrik and turn his powers against his compatriots. But the likelihood of that succeeding are very slim given the high base save and bonuses a MU has in Hackbut.

Categories
Actual Play

Castle Xyntillan – Session #28 – Aborted Boat Ride to the Shores of Death

The Company:

  • Hendrik (MU5)
  • Fernando (F5)
  • Niemir (F2)
  • Sarah & Beath (heavy footwomen)
  • Leon (porter)

Loot: None.

Casualties: None.

Report:

In the week leading up to the next expedition, Hendrik’s wife Ronja is seen in The Tap, speaking to shady characters. In addition, Amaranth has a dream in which she crosses the lake tower’s bridge and enters a great hall. Here, crusader knights are discussing their search for the Grayl of Good and Bad Destiny. The conference is presided over by Médard Malévol the Mighty.

The company rehires the same women-at-arms and porter from last time. They don’t do much of anything else while in town, and as usual make the two-day trek to Castle Xyntillan. When they arrive at they first decide to go around the perimeter and plant more of those jumping beans, because the one they planted earlier has grown to massive proportions, and has cracked open the castle wall.

After planting the beans they go into the castle through the grand entrance and head down into the wine cellar. From there, they go up north through the root cellar all the way up to the grotto with the lake shore and the bell on a pole with the sign saying “three coins for passage”.

They ring the bell. Soon enough, a skiff, with a boatsman emerges from the fog, and they patiently wait for it to arrive. When it does, the boatsman reaches out with a skeletal hand and demands three coins for each passenger headed “to the shores of death”. After a brief debate they pay him, and go into the boat (their retainers do require a bit of convincing).

The boatsman turns this skiff around and starts beaming back into the fog. As they get further away from the shore, they feel the life gradually drain from their bodies. The light in the grotto slowly dims as well. They start to get a little worried and the boatsman appears very pleased about bringing such a large number of souls to the shores of death. They realize that there might not be a return from where they are headed.

Underground lakes are kind of scary (Ernst von Hesse-Wartegg)

Fernando panicks and tries to body-check the boatsman and push him into the lake. He fails and the boatsman makes to grab his scythe. Niemir comes to Fernando’s aid and together they manage to tip the reaper into the lake. Meanwhile, Hendrik was preparing to fire off some magic missiles, but when he sees the boatsman disappear into the drink he changes his mind and cast shield on himself instead.

The boatsman isn’t defeated yet, however. He starts to climb back into the boat. Fernando has grabbed the beam and is turning the boat around. Niemir, meanwhile, raises his zweihander and chops at the reaper. He fails to prevent the thing from climbing back into the skiff. At this point Hendrik fires off his magic missiles and harms but doesn’t kill the creature.

Fernando drops the beam and takes his halberd to swipe at the reaper’s legs. He succeeds at knocking the reaper over and pushies him back into the lake, hurting it in the process, bone chips flying everywhere. A second volley of magic missile finishes the reaper off. Hendrik says “keep the change”.

It is quiet again in the lake grotto. They have this skiff and are of course very relieved to have defeated death, once again, because they did encounter several reapers before during a previous expedition in the library.

They decide to make use of the boat to explore the cave further. They continue to head west and after some time they pass through a narrow passage into a larger grotto. Here there is steam coming from the west, and they decided to hug the side of the cave and head south. Soon enough, they arrive at a shore littered with debris. They drag the boat ashore and spot an entrance to a worked stone hallway. They enter it, ignore a fork south, and go up some stairs heading west. They come across a door in the south wall, check it, and discover a somewhat puzzling small 10 by 10 room. So they continue on and after some time they arrive at a spiral staircase leading up, as well as a hallway heading north.

They decide to go up the stairway and emerge into an area of the castle which they recognize from from previous expeditions. They head down a hallway to the east and note a bricked-up doorway. The next door leads to an extremely tidy room with two more doors decorated with an infernal mural and the text “the doors of good and bad fortune”. As they explore the room reality suddenly lurches sideways and they are up to their knees in fungus and filth. A nauseating smell permeates the room. Quickly and carefully they head back out.

They backtrack, take a door to the south, and inspect a room from which they hear soft humming emerge. It turns out to be full of clean white linen hanging from lines. A strikingly hairy woman of large proportions and with intense eyes asks them what their business is. They head back out again.

Having had their fill of the castle, they exit through the rose garden and gatehouse and make their way back safely to Tours-en-Savoy.

Referee Commentary:

No loot, no casualties, and a shorter session than usual, but still a lot of fun was had. The encounter with the reaper was very cinematic. I adore my players for going “fuck it” and simply ringing that bell. I was a bit worried when they got into the boat that I hadn’t been clear enough about what they were getting themselves into. But as I built up the tension through description the realization sank in and we had a neat fight on the boat.

In general, in these kinds of situations, that’s a good strategy to follow: stretch things out. Use kind of a “three strikes” approach before dropping the hammer.

The rest of the session was simple exploration. I did not roll a single encounter when I think I did perform nearly a dozen checks. Regardless, it was cool for them to discover an entirely different route, and pass through a completely new section of the castle. Even after all these sessions the module has plenty of surprises and novelty left in store.

I wonder if they will choose to explore this part of the castle further, or if they will go for something else entirely. We will see.

Categories
Actual Play

Castle Xyntillan – Session #27 – Baker Woman Banging Heads

After a five-month hiatus, we have returned to Castle Xyntillan for a third and likely final season, which will run until we break for the Christmas holiday.

The Company:

  • Hendrik (MU5)
  • Fernando (F4)
  • Leon (porter)
  • Sarah & Beath (heavy footwomen)

Loot: Silverware (1750 GP) and 75 uncut gems (100 GP each).

Casualties: None.

Report:

We resume the action five in-game months after the last expedition. It is Monday, March 4, 1527. A new adventuring season has begun!

The company sell off some precious loot to fatten their coffers and make up for the lack of income over the past several months. The upkeep, particularly of their high-level magic-user, is nothing to sneeze at. Now that the weather is easing up, they hire a couple of likely women-at-arms named Sarah and Beath, as well as their trusty old porter Leon, and head back to the castle in search of more treasure.

***

Upon arrival they notice the dancing beanstalk they planted near the grand entrance has grown to enormous proportions. It reaches all the way up to the first floor, and its continuous bouncing back and forth has torn a crack in the castle wall large enough for a person to squeeze through. The company make use of the opportunity, seeing as how to affords them with a shortcut to the part of the castle they intend to explore further.

The crack opens onto the cleric’s room, which they plundered in a previous expedition. From here they move into the chapel, and on to a hallway leading west. The sound of drunken singing grows louder as they progress. They check the first door they find to the south, which opens on an empty room. The next door heads north and opens on a spiral staircase, and a door east. They head up the stairs and find themselves in the library, which they had also explored previously. Rather than continuing on, they head back down, and take the door east.

They find themselves in a hallway with two doors heading east again. Opening the southern most one, they see a bakery. They enter, and make to inspect the furnace, when the ghost of a bakerswoman appears, wielding a rolling pin. She is very upset at their presence, and immediately attacks. Fernando is hit and instantly knocked out. The rest run back into the hallway. Hendrik commands Sarah and Beath to go back in to rescue Fernando. They do, and the ghost meanwhile makes to attack the magic-user. He runs after the women-at-arms and takes refuge behind their swords and shields. Beath is also hit and knocked out, but Hendrik manages to eliminate the ghost with a volley of magic missile.

Like this, but dead. And angry. (Jean-François Millet)

They revive Fernando and Beath with a couple of healing potions, and proceed to search the bakery. When Fernando cautiously opens the oven door with his halberd the thing flings open, coughs out a bunch of charred human bones and bricks, and angrily snaps at the polearm. The rest of the room turns out to be empty.

They try a door leading north, which opens onto a kitchen where five ghouls dressed as cooks are carving up a human corpse with huge knives. They gingerly close the door again and manage to remain unseen. Hendrik casts invisibility on himself, slowly opens the door again, and using the element of surprise flings a fireball at the monsters. Three perish, and the remaining two run off before the company can get to them.

They search the kitchen but find nothing except a pot containing the most disgusting stew ever. Hendrik opens the door to a walk-in cupboard and is nearly decapitated by a guillotine trap. Inside they find a lot of spoiled supplies, but also a handsome amount of silverware, which they take with them.

They continue on to the next door north, which opens on a room decorated with simple tapestries with floral motifs. The room is otherwise empty, but they do find that the flagstones in one corner have been disturbed. The women-at-arms are commanded to remove the floor, which they do, uncovering churned-up earth. Somewhat concerned, they poke the soil with their weapons, hitting on wood not far down. Sarah and Beath scrape away the earth with their bare hands, revealing a casket (of course).

They decide they do not want to take the risk of opening it in here, but would rather do so outside in the sunlight. However, carrying a full casket would slow them down significantly. So, Hendrik casts haste, they pick up the casket, and make for the exit.

When they enter the kitchen, Rodento passes them by but to their relief ignores them. (They have encountered the man-sized rat dressed as a musketeer twice already.)

They speed the rest of the way out of the castle by way of the grand entrance with no trouble at all. Outside, some ways from the exit, they set the casket down on the ground and push off the lid. The bloated corpse of a woman sits up, clutching her purse in clawed hands. She tries to bite them, but they make short of her and chop her up into little pieces. The purse contains a small fortune in uncut gems. And with that, they had back to town.

Referee Commentary:

Ah Xyntillan, how delightful it is to be back exploring your shrouded hallways. We were all a little rusty after not having played a classic D&D dungeon crawl for quite some time. For example, I forgot about surprise checks at the top of encounters. But we were soon back in the rhythm of things, and despite several combat encounters, the game kept moving at a fair clip. We only covered a few rooms, but each had quite a bit going on in it, so that’s not too surprising.

The new combat sequence we’re using, which I detailed in the recent posts on our playthrough of The Coming of Sorg, continues to serve us well. As a result, the likelihood of being interrupted as a spellcaster has gone up, and so Hendrik’s player was extra keen on hiring some mercenaries to function as meatshields. Regardless, a high-level magic-user continues to be a thing to behold. Quite a bit of clever use of utility spells in this game as well. Invisibility, haste — really nice.

One trap that I fell back in to though was not communicating the presence of threats clearly enough upfront, leading to two moments that were borderline gotchas: The sudden appearance of the ghost of the bakerwoman, and the guillotine trap in the kitchen cupboard. When in doubt, I should err on the side of being super-obvious. It’s always more interesting when players dig their own hole.

Anyway, again, it’s great to be back running Castle Xyntillan and I look forward to seeing what future sessions will bring.

Categories
Actual Play

The Coming of Sorg – Classic D&D One-Shot – Part 2 of 2

After a break over August, our group is resuming the weekly remote D&D game. Attendance may be lower than over the past year and a half, because in our part of the world society is gradually reopening. For some of us at least, this means a return to something resembling a normal social life. As a result there are more diversions on Friday evenings besides logging on to Zoom and throwing some dice.

Anyway, for our first post-summer game I had nothing prepared and it just so happened we had the exact same group as during the last session, when we ended our play-through of The Coming of Sorg on a cliffhanger. As a result we decided to pick up where we left off. Good thing I had blogged notes, and also took photos of the battle map.

The Party:

  • Hetz Zuril, level 3 thief, carrying a potion of animal mastery, and a ring of regeneration
  • Baiar, level 3 fighter, wearing a girdle of giant’s might
  • Cobrynth, level 3 cleric, carrying a staff of mastery and a ring of telekinesis
  • Ralik & Tovak, heavy foot soldiers
  • Trisdik & Mazian, handgunners

Play Report:

We resumed at the moment when the party had penetrated the high temple had engaged in combat Vnaud the high priest, his acolytes, and the rhino-sized demon maggot known as Sorg. Long story short, Baiar the fighter and his two heavy footmen and two handgunners make short work of most of the acolytes. The thief Hetz Zuril takes out the high priest with a well-aimed crossbow bolt from a concealed position. Meanwhile Cobrynth the cleric uses his staff of mastery to compel a pair of acolytes to throw themselves at Sorg. The acolytes screamed in pain at the bile that spurted from Sorg’s wounds, and melted their daggers. The players concluded simply stabbing away at Sorg would not be the solution. The unfortunate dominated acolytes were then used as human shields against Sorg’s bile spit attack. Baiar closes the distance and aided by his girdle of giant’s might tips the demon from the altar it was draped over, and proceeds to bash it with the altar itself! Cobrynth, having run out of acolytes to control, uses his ring of telekinesis to levitate a piece of crumbled column from outside into the temple to plug up Sorg’s disgusting bile-spitting orifice. Sorg ultimately succumbs under the extreme violence inflicted on it but the party, but not before exploding in a mess of bile that destroys much of the arms and armor of the men standing close to it. At the end of it all, two men-at-arms have perished, and the remaining two have had their fill and ask to be let go, which Baiar graciously does.

Afterwards, the party heads outside and inspects the pool adjacent to the high temple. There they find the rapidly decaying corpse of an enormous fish-like demon. (It has perished with the departure of Sorg.) They then continue to what Cobrynth, who is a cleric of Deel, knows to be a brewery. Here they are surprised by a group of cultists led by a man named Len, who wears an eye-catching medallion.

An uneasy conversation develops. The party asks the cultists why they are holed up in the brewery. They say they are hiding from the emanations produced by the demon in the high temple, whom they believe is not the real Sorg but an imposter. The party say they have destroyed Sorg, which the cultists don’t believe. The party are confused as well, and try to confirm if the cultists are on the side of Sorg, or not. The cultists readily agree they are still fully on board with the idea of summoning the real Sorg. This, paired with the prospect of treasure in the form of the necklace worn by Len, is enough for Hetz to take a surprise shot at the leader. Len is severely wounded but not killed, and immediately disappears between the barrels. The acolytes attack but are made short work of by Baiar and his henchmen. Len retaliates by knocking out Cobrynth with a sneak attack of his own. Baiar digs through the barrels with his giant strength, locates Len, and unceremoniously ends his life.

They pocket the necklace. Cobrynth is revived with the help of Hetz’s ring of regeneration. And here we decide to end the adventure, for real this time. During the customary debrief, I explain what was in the other buildings. We talk a little bit about the different ways they could have approached the adventure.

Referee Commentary:

Some reflections on what happened during the session, in no particular order:

  • A high-level thief as adversary can be quite deadly, if ran correctly. I managed to resist the urge to have Len simply charge the player characters and instead had him hide so he could take pot shots at them. Made for an interesting dynamic.
  • The conversation with Len was the first time I tried to apply my “new” doctrine for running social encounters. After an initial exchange in-character, I ask the players what they hope to get out of the conversation, and I make sure they are clear on what the NPCs’ goals are. We then try to somehow resolve the scene swiftly, either by rolling some dice (typically a reaction roll from my end) and/or simply roleplaying a little more. This made the whole thing drag on much less than it usually did.
  • My players have developed a strong treasure-seeking reflex from many sessions in Castle Xyntillan under a xp-for-gold regime. This on-page adventure is very thin on treasure as written. Running it as a one-shot with pregens this is no big deal. But as part of a proper campaign it would definitely need some work.
  • I again ran combat in my “new” approach. At the top of each round I declare what monsters will be doing, then players declare what they are intending to do, we roll for initiative, and then we resolve each side’s actions in the order of movement, missile, magic, and melee. This makes for a smoother back and forth. Some players expressed that they like the extra gambling element that comes with having to declare before initiative is rolled. I should say though that I do allow players to adjust their course of action if events during the round have radically changed the situation. Within reason, of course. I am also not super strict with the order of actions, but I do think I will change them to the following: missile, movement, melee, and magic. This is roughly in order of how fast each action can occur.
  • This new approach to combat also opens the door to the possibility of interrupting a spell-caster, although I need to think some more about what it would take exactly. Being engaged in melee? Or also being shot at? Only if you take damage? Something to think about.
  • We also had an interesting situation with a character disengaging from melee. I rule that you use up half your movement if you want to get away safely, but then I had an acolyte catch up and get a bonus for attacking from behind. This maybe also happened because we use circular tokens on a battle mat and those don’t have a facing. Obviously, when you safely disengage from melee you should keep facing your opponent and so they might be able to catch up with you but they would not able to stab you in the back.
  • The dominated acolytes being used to block off Sorg’s bile spit attack was an interesting case to adjudicate. I decided they would simply block off one attack and then perish. But looking back I could have also treated them as cover, say for a -4 to-hit. And if the attack failed by that margin rule that the dominated acolyte was hit in stead.
  • Similarly, I had to think on my feet about how much damage a demon larva would take if it was bashed with an altar by a character wearing a girdle of giant’s might. I think I was really generous and went with three or possibly four dice of damage. But I could have also stuck with the general rule that a character using this magic item simply does double the normal damage. We were using the item descriptions from Delving Deeper in this game. Afterwards I cross-compared with Swords & Wizardry and Old School Essentials and it’s kind of interesting to see how they differ.
  • Come to think of it, Sorg should have probably only been harmed by non-mundane weapons. Oh well.

And that’s about it. This one-page adventure was an interesting experience to run. I think to make it really rewarding under a classic D&D framework, it needs more work from the referee, particularly on the front of treasure. I felt a bit dissatisfied when we finished, because after defeating Sorg there isn’t much else to do. In hind sight I should have just ended the game when the demon was slain, and narrated what happened during the mopping-up afterwards. But I did not have the presence of mind to do so. Better luck next time.

Categories
Rules

Hackbut – Encumbrance

Time for another Hackbut rules post. This one is about encumbrance and inventory management.

I considered sticking with the traditional way of tracking encumbrance, but none of the systems in the original editions felt right to me. They were either too abstracted, or too unwieldy. Of course, in contemporary old school D&D circles, slot-based encumbrance tracking has become a house rule many people adopt. We were familiar with this approach from playing The Black Hack, and liked it, so I decided to adopt it for Hackbut as well.

My goal with this particular iteration of slot-based encumbrance was to have a set of rules that would be easy to remember and adjudicate, something that would make inventory management meaningful and enjoyable, but also, to have something that would be compatible with the traditional movement rates, and weight allowances that go along with that.

Let’s get to the rules. Here’s a bullet-wise rundown. I’m sure a lot of this will be familiar to those versed in contemporary old school D&D gaming.

  • A character’s carrying capacity is a number of slots equal to 10 plus their STR mod
  • Most things take up one item slot
  • For on-the-fly adjudication purposes, slots are roughly equal to 1/3 stone, 5 lb, or 2 kg
  • When you exceed your capacity — and once again at every multiple of it — your movement rate drops by 3″, and physical rolls incur a cumulative -1 penalty
  • The first three slots are so-called quick-draw slots, readying an item from any other slots takes a round
  • Small items stack to a slot — most notably, 100 coins take up one slot
  • Items marked in the equipment lists as “oversized” take up two slots
  • Armor takes up a number of slots equal to its AC “bonus” (e.g. light armor, AC 7, takes up two slots)
  • We ignore clothing, worn items, and very small single objects for encumbrance purposes

And that’s it, basically. I will close with some further notes on my thought process here.

  1. I did not use the raw STR score because that’s too swingy. In general in Hackbut I use the ability score bonuses rather than the raw scores to ensure abilities don’t matter too much.
  2. I went with a simple progression between the MV tiers. In particular, the break point for MV 6″ is some times at 1.5 or 1.33 times the base capacity. I dialed in the slots and weights to a slot so that I could simply have breakpoints at each multiple of the base capacity. Again, easy to remember.
  3. The weight a slot is roughly equivalent to I dialed in by analyzing the classic editions, some of the main retroclones, but also OED and Knave.
  4. I played around with the number of coins to a slot to get a sensible single coin weight. I landed on 0.05 lb (0.02 kg). By comparison, Delta’s coins are 0.01 lb, and Knave’s are 0.05 lb.
  5. I believe I mentioned this in my series of posts on the equipment lists, but I determined slots for each item mainly by translating from the weights listed in Delving Deeper, and plugging holes where needed using Labyrinth Lord and Basic Fantasy’s Equipment Emporium (PDF).
  6. Finally, keen-eyed readers may be wondering about the slots for armor. I admit this is a deviation from the classic editions. If I were to follow the weights listed, armor would have to take up roughly twice the slots I am currently using. But that is hard to remember, and also possibly too punitive under a system where a lot more stuff adds to your encumbrance than was the case in the original game. So I have made peace with the fact that my armor slots are on the lenient side.

Besides those already mentioned, I would also point to Necropraxis (a, b), Delta (a, b), and Coins & Scrolls as three other sources of inspiration.

And that’s it for encumbrance. Next time I will likely discuss how I handle retainers.

Categories
Rules

Hackbut – Equipment – Weapons & Armor

Continuing the discussion of Hackbut’s equipment list, after adventuring gear I now turn to melee weapons, missile weapons, and armor.

This, along with the missile weapons, are a part of the game I agonized over way too much. In particular, I fiddled with their damage and properties until each each was distinct from all the others.

The items on the list are basically a merging of the OD&D and B/X weapons lists. I wanted something that would be broadly compatible with the original editions. So I stuck to the original prices or took averages where editions diverged.

I also did not want to offer situational bonuses for specific weapons against particular types or armor, like for example OED does. I think that is adding a level of complexity that does not fit the simple and fast-playing game we want to be playing.

Melee weapons

Melee weapons
Melee weapons
  • I rationalized the damage as follow: 1d4 for small weapons; 1d6 as a baseline; 1d8 for two-handed weapons with reach or versatile weapons wielded in two hands; 1d10 for two-handed weapons with no reach. (I took some inspiration from Skerples for this.)
  • If it wasn’t obvious, “reach” means a weapon can be used to fight from the second rank. “Versatile” means the weapons can be wielded in one or two hands. “Oversized” means the weapon takes up two slots.
  • Pikes, lances, pole-arms and halberds are a bit of a mess in the original editions. I decided to make pikes and lances functionally the same weapon, with certain benefits gained when fighting from horseback. Halberds I used to model large axes that do not quite have reach. Pole-arms I used for the plethora of slashing/stabbing/hooking implements that do have reach.
  • The keen-eyed observer will see that spears are incredibly useful, as they should be. Note, however, that the 1d8 damage die is only rolled when using the weapon with two hands without reach.
  • The flail is the two-handed variant that might have actually seen some use in the late medieval and early modern eras. I designed it to basically be the cleric’s alternative for the fighter’s zweihander.
Two-handed flails (Paul Hector Mair)

Missile weapons

Missile weapons
Ammunition
  • The bows are balanced against each other by trading rate of fire for damage. (My rules don’t have multiple shots for regular bows like some of the classic games do. My combat round lasts 10 seconds. I follow Delta’s reasoning for this.)
  • The eponymous arquebus is the only deviation from “official” classic D&D weapons. I added it to the list because I wanted to add some early modern flavor to my game and guns are a big part of the battlefield in that era. However, I again went for simplicity, so it is basically a souped-up heavy crossbow that has an even worse rate of fire, and a heavier ammo kit. My main reference for this was the firearms appendix of Lamentations of the Flame Princess.
  • Those “Ud” notes are usage dice (taken from The Black Hack) which are rolled after each combat. In my game, no-one enjoys counting individual missiles, except when they are remarkable in some way (magic arrows, silver arrows, etc.)
  • Edit (August 15, 2021): I should add missile weapons all have the same range. All missile attacks are at -1 for every 10 feet beyond the first 30 feet. Thrown weapons can’t go beyond 60 feet. (This, like so much else, was taken from Delta.)

Armor

Armor
  • Armor really is incredibly straightforward. The only deviation from the classic rulesets is the pricing, for which I followed Delta’s intervention to make chain and plate more expensive.

***

I’m sure there are more teeny tiny details that might catch your eye or you might think are odd. Suffice to say that I don’t think I left any aspect of each single item unconsidered.

Edit (August 15, 2021): To help my players get up and running quickly I created this guide to equipping your character. Somewhat inspired by Talysman (a, b) and The Alexandrian.)

That’s all for melee weapons, missile weapons and armor. The next post about Hackbut will most likely be about every OSR blogger’s favorite topic: encumbrance.

Categories
Actual Play

The Coming of Sorg – Classic D&D One-Shot – Part 1 of 2

We finished our first season of Mothership with Gradient Descent (it’s been a lot of fun). Our co-GM felt like a break and we had one more session on the calendar before hitting pause for the month of August. So I decided to run a one-shot using D&D (in the form of my homebrew ruleset Hackbut). Looking around for something simple to use, I ended up picking a one-page adventure site from Trilemma Adventures Compendium Volume I. The original PDF of The Coming of Sorg has been in my to-play folder for quite a while. It also comes recommended by Skerples. So I generated some 3rd level characters, slapped some stats on the module’s monsters, and we had a fun couple of hours seeing if our heroes could set things straight. Read on for a play report, and I will close with some commentary at the end.

The Party:

  • Hetz Zuril, level 3 thief, carrying a potion of animal mastery, and a ring of regeneration
  • Baiar, level 3 fighter, wearing a girdle of giant’s might
  • Cobrynth, level 3 cleric, carrying a staff of mastery and a ring of telekinesis
  • Ralik & Tovak, heavy foot soldiers
  • Trisdik & Mazian, handgunners

Report:

They approach the compound from the south. The wall has largely collapsed. Buildings are ruined. Mud is everywhere as well as the occasional decomposing body part.

They make their way to the dais, which used to function as the compound entrance. It is remarkably clean, except for a few scorch marks. Rusted chains lie at the foot its steps. Pillars on each side are engraved, noting anyone who passes through is blessed by Deel.

They carefully head around the east perimeter. They inspect a cave entrance at the other end of a pond. They dare not enter. Heading back into the compound they next check another cave entrance into which flows a small stream. They can see faint lights glimmer in the darkness. Cobrynth uses telekinesis to lob a length of wood into the stream. It disappears into the darkness. Nothing happens.

Hetz clambers up the sheer rock face without much trouble. Here he sees broken and defaced statues at each end of stairs leading up, hewn into the side of the hill. The steps are besmirched by evil scrawlings. Not a soul is in sight.

The thief drops down a rope for the rest to follow, but they opt to take the stairs in stead. About half way up the cleric and retainers are overcome by the curse resting on the steps. The retainers begin to scarf down all their rations and drink. Cobrynth flings flask after flask of holy water in every direction. Acting quickly, Hetz uses his giant strength to herd them all back down the stairs.

As they regain their composure, suddenly a loud bang and a bright flash of eldritch light emit from the high temple followed by an awful scream. Shortly after Hetz sees a massive jelly roll down the temple stairs. For a moment, it appears the thing is heading straight towards him, but it continues down the next stairs towards the party below.

Confronted with the monstrosity heading their way, Cobrynth raises his staff of mastery in an attempt to control it but fails. Hetz flings a flaming oil flask from above but misses. Baiar, aided by his girdle of giant’s might, tosses an enormous boulder at the thing but somehow also misses. The handgunners fire their arquebuses and one manages to hit. The ball simply ricochets off of the jelly. Meanwhile the jelly is frantically trying to grab someone with a pseudopod but fails. Cobrynth uses his ring of telekinesis to scoop up a couple of liters of water and douses the jelly with it, but it appears to have no effect either. Baiar and his heavy footmen move in to melee with the thing. Their weapons instantly dissolve.

At this point, the party decides to make a run for it. Thankfully, the creature is awfully slow. They make for the dais and reach it well before the creature closes the distance. It stops at the edge of the stairs leading up to it, apparently not willing or able to go any further. Cobrynth levitates a boulder within Baiar’s reach, and he tosses and hits the jelly. This projectile bounces off the thing without harming it either. Just when the party begins to despair about their chances of defeating the jelly, it begins to crawl off in search of easier pray.

Meanwhile, Hetz has silently snuck up to the high temple, two prepared flaming oil flasks in hand. He sticks is head into the doorway and sees an awful spectacle. The interior has been thoroughly trashed. A large group of cultists is fearfully chanting. They are lead by a thoroughly degenerate priest, and are stood around an enormous demonic maggot dribbling bile from a puckered maw. The thief does not hesitate for a moment and lobs his two missiles straight into the mob. They both hit an acolyte straight in the back of the head. The men crumple to the ground screaming, engulfed in flames. Pandemonium breaks out. Hetz disappears into the shadows.

Meanwhile the remainder of the party make their way up the rope left by Hetz, and carefully but decisively head up towards the high temple. When they reach the temple gate they see three cultists emerge from the doorway up ahead clearly looking for something or someone. Baiar and his men run up to engage them in melee. Cobrynth uses his staff of mastery once more and manages to gain control over two of the three men. They fling up their arms in obeisance. The third is stabbed in the back by Hetz who suddenly emerges from the shadows, and finished off by a mighty punch from Baiar.

Pressing their advantage, they send the two remaining cultists back into the high temple. Cobrynth has them tell the high priest that they succeeded in finding and killing the culprit. Satisfied, the leader turns his back to them to resume the chanting in service of the maggot that he refers to as “Sorg”. Right away, Cobrynth has the cultists stab their leader in the back. Again, pandemonium. The traitors are jumped by acolytes. The high priest, who has survived, begins to prepare a spell. The demon maggot stirs and aims his puckered, bile-dribbling mouth at the source of the disturbance.

Our heroes respond with no hesitation. Hetz emerges from the shadows to backstab the high priest. Baiar and his men run into the temple to lay in to the mob. The cleric follows a few steps behind, undoubtedly preparing some powerful miracle.

And we fade to black.

Referee Commentary:

It had been a while since I took place behind the proverbial referee screen and I must say I missed it. Playing is fun, but there’s nothing like the amount of thinking on your feet you need to do as a referee. This being a one-shot, with a very loosely described module, I found myself playing it loose myself as well. I tried to say yes more often, and in particularly in combat try to stay close to the flow of the emerging narrative and avoid getting too bogged down in details.

With regards to combat, I tried a different approach from the one we had been using in our Castle Xyntillan campaign (inspired by OED). We still used side initiative, rolled each round. But in stead of going around the table and resolving player actions one by one right away, I in stead first declared what the monsters would be doing, then had the players tell me what their intent was, and then roll initiative. After that, I would resolve actions for each side roughly in order of: movement, missiles, magic, and melee. (This is inspired by Robert Fisher, and Daniel Bishop.) On paper this should be slower than the OED approach. But in practice it’s about on par, and somehow makes combat feel a bit more dynamic, which I like.

We weren’t using Roll20 for this, obviously. And although the module map is gorgeous, I did not want to share it with players because I felt like the amount of detail would bog things down. So I set up a second web cam, pointed it at a dry erase mat and logged into Zoom twice. This is a trick I’ve seen some people use on YouTube and it actually works quite well. I know you can share a second camera from the same Zoom session, but I dislike the way it then makes videos of everyone else very small. I want to be able to see my friends when we play, after all.

The pregens I created were all level 3 characters. My method is somewhat influenced by OED. I did three for each of the four classes in Hackbut. Rolled 3d6 down the line for attributes, except for the prime requisite, which got 2d6+6. HP was rolled randomly (1s and 2s were re-rolled). Alignment was assigned randomly using 1d6: chaotic on a 1, lawful on a 6, and neutral for the remainder (clerics are all lawful). Names I also randomly assigned from a list created with the excellent Fantasy Generator. I let players pick whatever equipment from the standard lists they felt they need, as well as retainers to round out the party to a maximum of seven total. I did, however, determine magic items randomly using the method Delta sets out in OED, with a few minor tweaks so that it also works for clerics (he runs a game without). I used the Delving Deeper treasure tables for this. Just the act of assigning some items to each of these otherwise pretty faceless characters makes for some interesting choices for players to make. It works really well and I recommend others try it.

Creating statistics for the monsters and NPCs was next to no work at all. Seeing as how I use HD as a proxy for both attack bonuses and saves in Hackbut, all I really need to do is assign HD, AC, and attack damage. I used d6 hit dice this time around, and I must say I really like it because I can easily roll hit points on the fly that way, and combats go faster. I mostly used the Delving Deeper and OED monster listings as a frame of reference.

On paper, the module is all about faction play. Players being players, of course, they bypassed all the encounters tucked away in the lower-level compound structures, and went more or less straight for the high temple. Despite this, the thing is nice and atmospheric and at the pace we play I think we could maybe even get two 2-3 hour sessions out of it. But in this case we were going to stick to a one-shot, so when we were rolling into the big confrontation and we were hitting our customary end time, I felt it was fitting to end on a cliffhanger.

Update (September 14, 2021): We ended up properly finishing this adventure after all. Read on for part 2.

Categories
Rules

Hackbut – Equipment – Adventuring Gear

Let us continue the discussion of the equipment list in Hackbut. Last time around I provided an overview, this time I will cover adventuring gear. Below is the table once more.

Adventuring gear
Adventuring gear

I started with the White Box: Fantastic Medieval Adventure Game (WBFMAG) list. I really only removed or combined a few items. My goal was to have a list that wasn’t too long but would still contain most of the things commonly required for a dungeon delving expedition. The item descriptions I for the most part lifted from Old School Essentials, but I did make a few rules changes here and there.

  • I removed the wine bottle, scroll case, helmet, and tent. I list only one type of holy symbol, and only one type of rope (hemp).
  • I translated the capacity of the containers to match my 2 kg (5 lb) inventory slots, and tweaked each container’s canonical capacity somewhat.
  • I rejiggered a few prices. The price of garlic is dropped back down to the 5 gp it also is in OD&D. The class-specific tools I all set to 25 gp (so the spell book price is dropped down from 100 gp). This only seems fair.
  • I also rebalanced the numbers on those items that come in bundles. I primarily used the weights from Delving Deeper, and rounded the amounts that go into one slot to multiples of 5 (spikes, stakes, torches, rations).

With regards to the notes in the table, here are a few clarifying remarks:

  • “Non-encumbering” means what you think it does. These items are so light that they only start counting towards encumbrance when you carry ridiculous amounts of them, so for all intens and purposes they do not take up slots.
  • I don’t allow oil to burn of its own accord, so it requires a wick, or some flammable material (possibly a creature) needs to be doused and set fire to.
  • The “splash” weapon property rules text boils down to: Attack against unarmored AC. On a hit, listed damage is inflicted for Ud4 rounds. Target can use an action to try and prevent further damage for an additional roll of the Ud. Fumble: attacker has doused themselves. Crit: max damage on first round only.
  • As mentioned in previous posts “Uds” are usage dice — you roll the listed die size and if it comes up 1-2 you drop down to the next smallest size. I mainly use this for light sources. They are rolled each exploration turn (i.e. 10 in-game minutes).
  • “Oversized” means the items takes up two slots. Rope is heavy. Poles are long.
  • The rules for the special herbs and spices (belladonna, garlic, wolfsbane) I adapted from OED.

That’s about it! Next time I will cover melee weapons and maybe also missile weapons and armor.

Categories
Rules

Hackbut – Equipment – Overview

The next section to discuss in this series on my homebrew D&D rules is equipment. A big part of classic D&D play is about using tools to solve problems. From this perspective, picking equipment from the list is already playing the game. Not surprisingly, this section is probably also the one I obsessed over the most. In particular, I agonized over the specifics of the weapons list, what exactly to include as adventuring gear, and probably most of all, how exactly to dial in the encumbrance rules. I will probably devote a post to each of those topics. This post however serves as an overview of the section as a whole.

But before I continue, why don’t I just show the lists as they are in the current draft of Hackbut:

Adventuring gear
Melee weapons
Missile weapons
Ammunition
Armour

My starting point for the lists was (as always) those provided in White Box: Fantastic Medieval Adventure Game (WBFMAG). I also relied heavily on Old School Essentials, in particular for the adventuring gear descriptions, and the weapon qualities. I did do a lot of editing and tweaking. For example, I revised the weapon damage, and massaged the qualities as well.

Seeing as how my game is set in a pseudo-historical late medieval to early renaissance period, I had to have a firearm on the list. This is also where the name Hackbut comes from, it’s an early form of arquebus. I borrowed some description and detail from Lamentations of the Flame Princess for this one, but vastly simplified the rules.

Speaking of missile weapons, some will have noticed a “Ud” listed for the ammo — this is the usage die from The Black Hack. It is also used for some consumable items, although not as many as in The Black Hack itself. I feel like it only adds something when counting individual items is too much of a chore, and adding some unpredictability makes for a more exciting game. The main thing here would be light sources.

The prices listed are in gold pieces, and in many cases are a straight copy from the source material. The coinage in the game is also entirely standard, following the description in WBFMAG. I considered switching to a silver standard for more verisimilitude, such as how Delta suggests doing it, but I opted to not go down that route because it would mean constant conversion of treasure and prices in the modules I am running.

The one major thing changed in terms of pricing which some of you may have noticed are those of armor. Here I did follow the change suggested by Delta, and made plate armor in particular significantly more expensive. This adds a degree of verisimilitude and also makes it so that fighter players have something to strive for in the early stages of the game.

I’ll close by just briefly noting that my encumbrance rules take a slot-based approach. It is heavily inspired by Skerples’ GLOG hack, The Black Hack, Knave, and Brendan’s OD&D house rules, but also Delta’s stone-based approach. The whole thing is also fully aligned with the classic D&D movement rates. This took a ridiculous amount of time to get right, and I am still not 100% satisfied, but it has withstood over 25 sessions of play and hits a sweet spot between ease of use and meaningful choice. I will certainly dig into it more in a future post.

That’s it for the overview of equipment in Hackbut. Next time I will dig into adventuring gear.

Categories
Rules

Hackbut – Classes – Thief

What it’s all about (David A. Trampier)

So after last post’s discussion of the magic-user we’ve come to the final entry in this series on the character classes in Hackbut: the thief.

Out of the four, I’ve probably tinkered with this class the most. As is often pointed out, the skills-based nature of the thief is at least a little at odds with the spirit of early D&D. On the other hand, the sneaky dungeon-delving specialist does add a nice bit of sword & sorcery genre flavor. There was no way I wasn’t going to include them in my game.

As always, I’ll just note that all of Hackbut’s classes are based on Hungarian retroclone Kamazaták és Kompániák. And again I’ll point out that the saves are replaced with the unified save in WB:FMAG. Below are the further changes I made to this class specifically.

  • Only simple and light weapons are allowed (hand axe, club, dagger, spear, staff, short sword, short bow, light crossbow and sling). This is mainly to protect the fighter’s niche and reinforce the fact that the thief is not a front-line fighter. It was inspired by Brendan’s OD&D “rogue” class.
  • I use the term “sneak attack” (rather than, say “backstab”) and some language from OD&D (“silent attacks from behind”). This to allow for some looseness in the interpretation of what counts as such an attack.
  • The OD&D percentile-based thief skills are collected under a single “thievery” ability and operate on a d20. This was inspired by Homebrew Homunculus’s deep dive into thief skills. For disarming traps I borrow some additional language from OED (three tries allowed, traps are only triggered on a fumble). I also make explicit that this skill is only applicable to small devices (aka “treasure traps”).
  • The hear noise skill is covered by a bonus to “perception checks” (+1 every four levels). Perception checks are handled by rolling 1d6, adding your WIS mod, with success on a 5+.
  • Climbing is similarly treated as a bonus. As well as allow for attempts at climbing unequipped that would be impossible for others. (This is based off of how Delta handles it in OED.)
  • Finally I allow thieves of any level to try and use magic-user scrolls, provided they succeed at a save vs. magic. If they fail, the spell backfires in some amusing and possibly deadly fashion. This is once again taken by a blog post by Brendan on the LBB thief.

So yeah, as you can tell, this is a mix-and-match of elements from various interpretations of the thief in the glorious OSR blogosphere. I should probably add that I would have not been able to assemble this version if (a) people had not taken the trouble to blog their OD&D house rules, and (b) those blogs were not made easily searchable through the OSR search engine created by Brendan (of Necropraxis).

And with that, we’ve come to the end of this series of class write-ups for Hackbut. I hope they will be of use to fellow homebrew enthusiasts out there.