Sunday, April 28, 2013

Household Fairies

Seed-brownies toil in the garden.
The Wampus Country is home to innumerable fairies, many of which are so small or minor as to avoid general notice; not every fey creature can command the respect of a rapacious devil-fairy.  However, each of them has their role to play in the byzantine ecology of the frontier, and savvy travelers are well-advised to be aware of the circumstances of their appearance, and means to appease them.  Fairies tend to fill roles which are associated with human foibles, obsessions, and concerns - today we take a look at fairies of food, and of cleanliness, both of which might be considered 'household fairies'.


Many frontiersmen know of the gastrognomes who live in the forests, but these fairies cannot be considered household fairies.  A proper household fairy's ecology and life-cycle is intertwined with human habitation; the common brownie is a good example.

Another often-observed type are the feast-heralds, friendly atomies which feed on the human feelings of joy and anticipation; it is no wonder that they make their appearance (and feed) immediately prior to dinnertime, or especially before a large family feast.  Many holiday suppers have been presaged by the appearance of tiny fairies dancing on a table, or charging across a kitchen floor, absorbing some of the ambient anticipatory energy.  Feast-heralds may be related to certain types of least sugar-plum fairies, who are also known to feed on the anticipation and hopes of children.

However, the fairy world does enjoy its dichotomies, so there are also lesser fairies who thrive on ruining meals, and the enjoyment thereof.  Some seem to be much like the malevolent redcaps, while others are pixie-like, but these "spoiler-fairies" universally enjoy the ability to sour milk, rot food, turn bread to mold, and make water unpotable, either by touch or simply by looking at it.  Various charms and wards are employed to avoid these creatures, with dubious efficacy.  Spoiling-fairies should not be confused with any of the several lesser spirits who actually steal human food; spoilers leave the food where humans can find it, so that they might feed on the disappointment, anger, and alarm at the time of discovery.

Straddling the categories of 'food fairy' and 'healing-spirit' are the pixies who combat overindulgence, attempting to aid humanity in an ongoing secret war against the Lords of Vice.  A tiny fairy may appear to a human whose belly is full (and sour) after a night of gluttony, and attempt to teach a lesson about self-control.  Interestingly, these fairies seem to feed not on the lesson learned, but on the human swearing "never again" - generating an ecological feedback loop wherein the pixie wants the human to accept its assistance, but not actually learn the lesson.


The human obsession with cleanliness is a reflection of Law - after all, "dirt" is merely matter which is arbitrarily considered to be "out of place" - and people spend a good deal of time ensuring that their habitats are comfortable and clean.  Many household fairies have adapted to this peculiarity by assisting in the cleanliness crusade, and these fairies are often welcome in the home.  Often working in groups, these pixies aid in cleaning, straightening, and the like - sometimes while the humans are absent.  Fairies of cleanliness need not appear as little people, and sometimes take animal form, or stranger shapes.  Specialization is the key to survival for these creatures, and a caste system has followed suit; fey spirits which scrub kitchens do not often deign to associate with those brownies who muck outhouses.  For a cleaning-fairy to have plenty of food, they need plenty of work, and thus must find a new area to clean, whether it's in the home, livestock, carriages, weaponry, or a particular part of the body.

Wizards who study such things have posited that many of these cleaning-fairies pay homage to a powerful seelie lord with demigod-level power.  A rumor circulating around River-Town suggests that this fairy lord has, on occasion, empowered a mortal champion of the Wampus Country to be his knight, riding forth across the land in pursuit of cleanliness.

A feast-herald fairy which has adapted to feed on the joy of household pets.
Spoiling-fairy, the bane of any kitchen.

Some sanctimonious pixies lecture humans on the evils of overindulgence.
Any household would be glad to host hard-working cleaning-pixies.
This cleaning-fairy has adopted animal and mechanical characteristics to aid in its survival in a very foul environment.

Another cleaning-pixie who looks after carriages; possible connection to the Lost Gods of the Sixty-Sixth Path.

A paladin of cleanliness.
Cleaning-fairies work in concert, using pack tactics and close coordination to attack dirt and grime.

Legends of a powerful cleaning-fairy ruler continue.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Scions of the Craft

A furtive student of the Most Ancient Art.


Followers of the old ways - those who entwine their beliefs and goals with the ancient magics which surge and roil beneath the surface of the Wampus Country - have many names for their worldview and skills.  Some call it the Most Ancient Art; outsiders and wizards may deride it as a warped kind of Shamanism or Druidism; but most often, practitioners know their ways as "the Craft".  The secrets of this movement involve binding oneself to forgotten and dead deities, some of which no longer have names or faces; the initiate consumes the remains of a dead god, preserved in powdered form, and is thus changed.  Rainbow wizards know the powers of this art to lie somewhere between the vermilion and saffron portions of the infinite spectrum of magic.  Constant manipulation of this form of power stains the skin of the Crafter - first the fingers, from which most spells emanate, then the hair, and eventually the entire skin, which presents itself with an unnatural titian glow.

Masters of the Craft resemble striga, or land-witches, in that their magical powers are broad and are noted for shapeshifting and control of the elements; but whereas the striga are inexorably tied to the physical land, and the cycles of life, death, and the seasons, the Crafters are instead linked to magically-preserved dead gods, divorcing themselves completely from normal magical cycles.  Manifestations of the Craft better resemble clerical magics than arcane ones, but in truth these eldritch emanations probably predate both modern styles of magic.  Although children of the Craft occasionally gather in covens or cults, they typically are found as singles.

As the Crafter grows in power, he or she learns not only to fling preternatural spells and tame tempests, but also to rearrange their mass and take on mock animal form.  Unlike workers of proper nature magic, a student of the Craft does not attune himself with animal spirits in order to change shape; instead they merely move bits of their flesh and bone around at will, to attain a hideous bestial form. Repeated use of this ability will eventually turn the Crafter into a shambling, boneless imitation of its original form, with flesh "as velvet".  Dr. Runcible has suggested that, in time, a master of the Craft may devolve into something resembling an ochre jelly, and that there are connections between this chaotic magic and the city of Djelu.

Let there be no doubt that there is something inexorably wrong about the Craft, despite how tempting it might seem; it is a manifestation of Chaos which pretends to be order. Its very nature is contradiction: while associated with the north, its origins lie elsewhere; while it seems natural, it is unnatural.


The Lord of Wyrmcastle -- This insidious schemer, trained as a wizard, came to the Craft late in life.  Commanding a small army from his fortress northeast of Frogport, he had nearly achieved his apotheosis as a master shapeshifter when he was killed by local hero Sir Vallasen.  The Lord's castle is being rebuilt, but the tunnels and sepulchre beneath may yet hide Craft-related secrets; it is at this time not known whether his soldiers, who did not wear the traditional blue livery of a cultist, were also initiates of the Craft, as they were slaughtered to a man by Vallasen's band.

Cackling-Bull -- A monstrous minotaur, exiled by his highland clan, who turned to the Craft for power in aid of his revenge.  He wears gaudy jewelry, dyes his skin with the blood of his enemies, and works as a sell-sword on the extremes of the northern frontier.  By some reports, he singlehandedly destroyed a barbarian freehold, then laughed nonstop for hours as he burned the scores of corpses - thus earning his name.

Czestur -- A sinister rogue who has no qualms about subtle murder or open slaughter, as suits his needs, and has on several occasions recruited bands of brigands to serve as his 'muscle'.  Czestur is quick to warn new recruits that life in the Craft cult is fraught with difficulty and dangerous, but in truth, he revels in the challenge of being an outsider and a wanted man.  After exploration of the ancient feline monument of the plains, Czestur has himself adopted a rather feline form, although whether this is a side-effect of ancient magic or an affectation of his shapeshifting is unknown.  When in public, the fiend wears a set of magical spectacles which dispel fear and protect him from being mentally dominated; Czestur is known to carry a compliment of triangular, golden shuriken as a favored weapon.

The King-Beast -- One can only speculate how a large snollygoster could become familiar with the workings of the Craft, and gain sentience - or whether those events even occurred in that order.  Yet the fact remains that there have been multiple sightings of this creature, known as the King-Beast, and all observations confirm that he is in the late stages of transformation into a scion of the Craft, as his lumpen, waxy skin so ably demonstrates.  The King-Beast, in addition to his already-intimidating size and snollygoster qualities, is said to possess the ability to conjure forth a massive torrent of molten chaos-stuff which pours forth and destroys everything in its path.

The King-Beast, towering over the battlefield, signals its approval of the coming massacre.

The blackguard Czestur has been known to ally himself with all manner of dark and sinister forces.

Hearing the lowing chuckles of the minotaur Cackling-Bull can mean only one thing: your doom.

Editor's note:  "Mascot Mondays" will no longer be marked as such in the title, and may actually appear on Sundays.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Images of the Dead

based on ideas from Mrs. Wampus

It doesn’t take a necromancer to understand that images of the dead hold within them a strange power - the memories of lost loved ones well up when we spy even a face which slightly resembles them.  Memories are potent in the magical realm, and so too sympathetic links.  The wizards of the Wampus Country know well that sympathetic energies reside within images of the dead, and have explored their exploitation for centuries.


Golden death-mask found in a subterranean ruin south of River-Town.  The mask is quite magical, granting clairvoyant abilities, but it also comes with a terrible curse.
Archaeological digs [1] have unearthed a number of death masks from the so-called ‘Peacock Period’ of our history, a time of warring sorcerous kingdoms.  The faces of monarchs and wizards alike were preserved with death masks composed of layers of gold flake, painstakingly painted and glued together in hundreds of layers.  The construction of a death mask was considered a devotional task, performed tirelessly over days.  These masks are true representations of the faces beneath, and bear strong magical correspondence.  Although not all death masks manifest sorcerous power, many do - and these abilities and curses are typically a reflection of the person whose image they bear.  

Experimental death-mask crafted by a modern wizard.
The death mask tradition has largely been eclipsed by current culture, but it has its descendants, in two very different places.  First, some secret societies - primarily those catering to necromancy-focused wizardly types - are reviving the masks, both in precious metals like silver and gold, and in more mundane materials such as plaster [2]  Who knows what nefarious research is being conducted at this very minute by scarlet-robed thaumaturges?  Masks also play an important role in the culture of several savage tribes in Wampus Country, primarily for ritual purposes.  Although the shamans of the Black Eagles and Cloud Rabbits both wear monstrous masks during certain dances and holidays, it is the shaman caste of the Red Sky People, known as Watchers, who have perfected the art of the death mask, perhaps inheriting it wholesale from the Peacock Period.  Watchers know the secret means of making death masks of colorful leather which preserve the honor and courage of a fallen warrior; this mask is then passed to the eldest son.  Many Red Sky braves charge into battle wearing their grandfather’s face, preserved in calfskin dyed in bright colors [3].


Death photo taken by a less-than-scrupulous wizard.  He claims his photographs prevent the dead from rising, which of course they can; but he can also use the tintype to query the spirit of the deceased regarding hidden monies and blackmail-worthy family secrets.
In recent years a few wizards have experimented in translating the death mask tradition to modern technology, by means of the art of “tintype necromancy”.  At base, this practice involves the same sorts of incantations and preparations employed in making a classic ensorcelled death mask; however, instead of creating a sympathetic link to the deceased via the painstaking creation of a physical mask, these modern wizards employ photography to snap a photo of the corpse (often posed in as lifelike a fashion as possible, to enhance the link).  Later magical processing of the tintype increases the sympathy and the magical potential of the item.

Memento Mori (wizard 2)
This ritual initiates the process of creating either a death mask or a tintype which is infused with sympathetic magic - a still-living link to the deceased.  Either actual physical contact with the deceased’s face, or an image as true as a photograph, is required; a painting or sculpture will not suffice to enact the magic.  The entire ritual takes 8+1d4 hours to perform - either making and enchanting the mask, or properly awakening the potential in the tintype.  The resulting object is the memento mori, which may be used as a sympathetic object or trigger for many other magical effects (including divination, or control of the undead).   One cannot make a memento mori of a creature which is already undead, or is ill-preserved.  Possessing an appropriate memento mori may increase the efficacy or range of a number of spells, at the DM’s discretion, such as protection from evil (if the evil force is the ghost or undead remnant of the person in the photo), dispel magic (when attempting to dampen said undead creature), remove curse, animate dead, contact other plane (when used to speak to spirits of the dead, if the DM allows it), reincarnate, and any number of other variant necromantic spells, where appropriate. The memento mori may also stand in as an appropriately-themed component when crafting a magical mask.


[1]  The fact that several of these archaeological expeditions involved stabbing subterranean creatures to death makes them no less scholarly a pursuit.

[2] One such group is the Simian Brotherhood, who are obsessed with unlocking ancient secrets of magic, in pursuit of power.  No group has delved deeper into the City of Mazes than they.

[3] Warriors of the Red Sky People may be treated as berserkers in all respects.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Man Who Killed Ghosts

Before his untimely suicide, Darbury Heatherington led an expedition deep into the wilderness and returned to share the wonders he had seen in his memoir.  Below is an excerpt.

A few days later, we had the good fortune to meet Mr. Paku, who was striding confidently across the plain, northbound in his own travels.  This gentleman was quite an odd duck, but the men took an immediate shine to him.  Paku hailed from some tiny village on the outskirts of Khelibesh, and claimed to have trained since his boyhood in an inaccessible monastery, making him some sort of monk.  He definitely looked the part of the ascetic, with his yellow robes and wild, uncombed hair; and he rapidly demonstrated his physical mastery by such feats as driving a cactus-spine through his cheek and placing a heated blade against his skin without being burnt.  Of course we invited him to dine with us that evening, but he took no repast from our stores, demurring politely, as he claimed he had eaten "several cherries" the previous day.  The monks of his school, Paku continued, were accustomed to eating very little, as they had been trained to draw all the life-nourishment from fresh fruits and nuts.

As our own path was driven northward in hopes of finding a way to circumvent the aforementioned ragged canyon, Mr. Paku traveled with us the next day.  He eschewed a mount and walked barefoot, which likely did not bother him one whit, as both the soles of his feet and the knuckles of his fingers were covered in the sorts of callouses one presumes a monk gains from spending decades punching trees and the like.  When we paused for luncheon, Paku regaled the roustabouts with a tale - likely exaggerated - of his exploits.  The strange monk told us how, through secret arts taught only by his monastic tradition, he had the ability to not only see ghosts, but to touch them, and engage them in fisticuffs.  Such was his purpose!  Apparently beneath one of the ancient capitals of Khelibesh there lies a cavernous labyrinth which is simply infested with evil spirits and howling ghosts; and, to hear Paku tell it, monks of his order are trained to descend into this maze and kill the ghosts, sending them screaming back to the netherworld, with the help of their special training and "certain herbal concoctions".  By this point I was quite certain our guest indeed had familiarity with herbal concoctions, if you take my meaning.

We parted ways the next morning, and Mr. Paku continued in a vaguely northern direction, noting that he hoped one day soon to find some students of his own, that he might pass the monastic tradition on to them.  The mountainside ashram of his youth, Paku said, would soon be moribund - allusions were made to certain political upheavals in Khelibesh - and it was important that the ghost-fighting knowledge continue.  I wished Paku luck, shook his gnarled hand, and watched him disappear over the horizon, chomping on an apple.

Young Ghost-Eater monks train at an ashram in Khelibesh.

The Ghost-Eater is a variant of the Monk which appears in the Labyrinth Lord Advanced Edition Companion, and is like that class in all respects save those noted below.  Ghost-Eaters count as Monks when that sort of thing matters.  Assume everything is the same as in the Monk entry (requirements, xp chart, attacks, saves) save the special abilities listed below.

Ghost-Eaters have the following additional special abilities:

They advance as thieves of an equal level in the following abilities, sometimes with bonuses as indicated: pick locks (+5%), find and remove traps (+10%), move silently (+10%), climb walls, hide in shadows (+10%), and hear noise.

Ghost-Eaters are surprised only with 1 in 6 on a d6.

Ghost-Eaters can survive on minimal sustenance, eating only fresh fruit.  They tend to wear yellow, occasionally using a yellow circle with a 'slice' missing as a symbol of their order.  Long-haired Ghost-Eaters often tie their hair back with a rose-colored ribbon, as is traditional.

Reaching 4th level:  Ghost-Eaters do not gain the Monk ability to speak with plants.  Instead, they gain the Ectoplasmic Fugue ability.  By consuming a specially-prepared cake or pellet (usually composed of grave-earth, powdered bone, and particular herbs), the Ghost-Eater enters an altered state for ten rounds.  During this state, the Ghost-Eater can see and touch insubstantial undead (and other spirit-kind, if the GM allows).  Further, any attack by the Ghost-Eater, whether with fists or a weapon, is considered of sufficient make to damage the insubstantial undead (whether the required material is silver, salt, +1 magical, whatever - the Ghost-Eater counts as the bare minimum).  This ability applies to thrown weapons, but not bows or firearms.  The Ghost-Eater's cakes can be easily made over the course of a day or so, given proper supplies, but no more than four can be carried at a time.

Reaching 5th level:  At 5th level, a Ghost-Eater gains the ability to fall 20ft and suffer no damage, so long as he is no further than 1ft from a wall to help break the fall.  Ghost-Eaters do not gain the Monk ability to feign death.

Reaching 6th level:  At 6th level, the Ghost-Eater gains increased resistance to the special attacks of the undead, to wit:
* immunity to the paralyzing touch of a ghoul, the stench of a ghast, and to mummy rot
* the Ghost-Eater may roll two saves against any other undead-based effect which requires a save, and take the better of the two rolls (resisting vampiric charm, a ghost's magic jar ability, any undead-based fear effect)
* the Ghost-Eater is still subject to the curse of vampirism and to lycanthropy.

 Like other monks, at 6th level a Ghost-Eater gains the ability to fall 30ft and suffer no damage, so long as he is no further than 4ft from a wall to help break the fall.

Reaching 7th level:  Monks may meditate for 1 turn, healing 1d6+1 hp of damage once per day. An additional point is added for each level above 7th.  At this level the Ectoplasmic Fugue also applies to lycanthropes.

Reaching 8th level: A Ghost-Eater does not gain the ability to speak with animals, but does become completely immune to hypnotizing effects and suggestion. They are 50% immune to charm related effects.

A Ghost-Eater may attract 1d2+1 1st level monk/ghost-eater followers, and one or two additional followers per level of experience beyond 8th.

Reaching 10th level: At 10th level, Ghost-Eaters do not gain the monk's immunity to geas/quest and poison.  Instead, they gain the ability to dimension door (self only) twice per day.

Reaching 13th level: At 13th level, in lieu of the vanilla monk's quivering palm, the Ghost-Eater expands his Ectoplasmic Fugue ability such that it applies against:
* non-undead ethereal creatures  (phase spiders and the like)
* devils
* demons
Which is to say that the Ghost-Eater may strike these creatures as though the target were substantial and as though the Ghost-Eater were wielding a weapon of sufficient magical potence to "hit" the monster.  The GM may require a whole separate pellet recipe for each type of creature, however.

Artist's rendition of the spirit-haunted labyrinth beneath an ancient city.

Swords and Wizardry of Wampus Country

Seeing that it's Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day, let's talk about swords.  And wizardry.  Rather than spend a bunch of time going over what I like about S&W (short version: it's free and everybody puts out stuff for it which I can use in my LL game), today's post is going to be a big ol' mess of stuff along those two themes.  Swords!  Wizardry!  I promise not to keep you long, as I know you have over a hundred other blogs to check out today.


As it's been a while since I posted a multi-column d100 wondertable, here's one about swords.  You know, magic swords of the sword & sorcery variety.  This table doesn't cover the 'plus' of a sword or anything like that - it generates other details, like so:

The BLADE column gives a description of what the blade is made of, or something unusual about the blade itself.
The DECORATION column contains a seed-of-inspiration to assist in describing the sword's decoration on-the-fly.  Some entries are specific about pommel, quillions, etc - others are just a decorative theme, like an animal.
The FEATURE column contains either a minor curse, minor power, or other side-effect of the magic blade.
The two KENNING columns can aid in generating a legendary name for the blade; I suggest either AB ("Kin-Slayer") or B of A ("Butcher of Traitors").

As with any Wampus Country multicolumn goodness, the entries are meant to spark inspiration or push you in new and unexpected directions.   Secret hint: most of the stuff in that table would work for magic weapons other than swords.


If you're new to Wampus Country (and that's what Appreciation Days and blog carnivals are for, right?), there are a couple of wizardly things at hand in which you might be interested.  Playing a wizard?  Running a game containing one or more wizards?  Wampus has you covered.

The Wampus Country Arcane Abecediary contains 78 wizard spells suitable for use with pretty much any of the old-school cousins; the spells in the document, much like everything on this blog, lean toward the whimsical.

d100 Magic-Users is a multicolumn table which generates wizard nicknames, quirky goals and hobbies, appearances, and familiars.  Perfect for fleshing out an NPC (or a PC, if you're bold).

d100 Arcane Books will give you a title and non-spell contents for a tome which might interest a wizard.

The Big Elixir Table is, sadly, not a d100, it's just a d20 - but it does have ten columns which, combined, can generate a cool-sounding recipe (components and method of mixture) for a potion or panacea.  Follow that up with d100 Potions, which is exactly what it sounds like.

And, since I'm apparently spamming every tangentially-related table, check out d100 demonichaos to help with generating chaotic names, and d100 Fairyland Weirdness should you require...well, fairyland weirdness.  Further, if you're the sort of wizard who likes to breed bizarre hybrid monsters (or a DM who's interested in reskinning monsters), I contributed a short table-filled article on just that topic to the Game Master Annual.

Hey!  You there, complaining about these tables not being in pdf!  You can save them off as pdfs from the google-doc.  You can also make a copy and customize the table yourself so it better fits your campaign that way.

In case you haven't seen it fifty times already, here's the coupon!
Or go to the d20pfsrd shop and use the code SWAD252013 for digital product.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Faking a Hexcrawl, Part Two: Completely Cheating

Leave aside any thought of "the glorious purity of the old-school hexcrawl" if you intend to read further, because tonight's post is, as per the title, all about faking a hexcrawl.  If you have three different versions of the Wilderlands on your shelf, this right here is your trigger warning.

In a previous post I talked about a play-by-post experiment which involved an overland expedition, Oregon Trail style, and how it was ostensibly meant to be a hexcrawl.

It totally wasn't a hexcrawl.

Oh, sure, there was a map, and it had hexes.  The characters traveled across it, exploring.  But the focus of the game, despite being on exploration, was not on exploring hexes.  In the PbP format one thing I definitely didn't want was an entire campaign turn of "meh, you pretty much find grass and buffalo and stuff".  That's the kind of thing you'll get with a pure hexcrawl if you refuse to time-jump and hand-wave.

The first thing I did was exert control - over the initial direction of the expedition, over the time-jumps between campaign turns, and even over the expedition's priorities (via NPC).  Would I have done this in a face-to-face game?  Probably not.  But given the PbP nature of the whole thing, it was necessary - a play-by-post needs a strong and regular framework, or else it falls apart easily.  PbPs like to fall apart, it's their nature.  I wanted to fight that with a straitjacket from the beginning.

I ginned up a small hexmap in Hexographer, and didn't even bother filling every hex with a terrain type.  All I cared about were a) fixed points (like the starting hex, and a nonhuman settlement with a location I desired), and b) stuff visible from outside the current hex (in this case, a mountain peak that PCs should've been able to see from one or more hexes distant).  That was it.  The rest of the hexes were blank, because I was going to procedurally generate them as we went.

Each campaign turn, the Coalpepper expedition moved in a vaguely easterly direction, and I duly generated terrain to stay one hex ahead of them.  And what was in those hexes?  I didn't know that, either.  The usual procedure is to have a hexmap all populated, and then let the players run rampant over it; that was not my plan.

Before the PbP began I jotted down a whole mess of ideas for encounters, things to explore, weird flora and fauna.  Anything that felt right for the intended tone of the game; things like RUINED CITY or SAVAGES ATTACK or STRANGE MUSHROOMS.   There were entries for WILDERNESS ENCOUNTER as well, which would trigger a roll on the appropriate terrain-specific wandering monster table (this is how we ended up with a freaking roc in the game, by the way).   Given the Oregon Trail inspiration, there was also a DYSENTERY result, but it never came up.

When posting the start of a campaign turn, I rolled several times (usually three) on that table, and then interpreted those results as the two or three "exploration options" offered to the PCs.  Some of them were dangerous and exciting; others, more mundane.  None of them were "nothing happens this turn".

Further, I wanted to make sure that I wasn't bound by my own rules and could make decisions on the fly that made sense to me within the nature of the setting and the flow of the PbP.  For example, one turn the first thing I rolled was SAVAGES ATTACK.  I paused for a moment, and considered the trope.  Why not do the classic circle-the-wagons bit?  That sounded pretty satisfying, and could be a big setpiece thing involving all the PCs at once.  So that's what we did, although I did end up breaking it into three 'parts' by asking the PCs to assign themselves to defend different portions of the caravan - I wasn't looking forward to running a combat with 25 PCs and 40+ NPCs, so breaking it into chunks made sense at the time.

Here's the thing about "pure hexcrawl".  It's structured to maximize player choice, and that's great.  But there are some formats in which it just plain doesn't work.  Yes, I got rid of the 'sandbox' and instead presented a 'theme park' for this whole thing.  Yet the players still had choices that mattered within that theme park.  That's as player-agency as I can get in a 25-person PbP without everything crumbling into chaos.  The choices the players make do have consequences, and the "choices" the dice make have consequences as well (rolling a roc for an encounter is scary and great...and then the PCs want to track it back to its lair, so you have to come up with a roc lair...).

The point is, from a "proper" perspective, the entire hexcrawl was faked, because it was improvised on-the-fly for the most part.  That's a no-no in Sandbox Church, but as I've said before, I am not an old-school DM.  I'll do whatever seems to work that will keep things fun, fast, and fair (the Three Fs).

Questions are more than welcome below in the comments if I'm skipping over something.

Did I mention we staged the big fight using my son's 54mm plastic cowboys?
It was a ton of fun.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Faking a Hexcrawl: Part One, The Coalpepper Expedition

Recently I ran a Wampus Country play-by-post over on G+, and it was quite an experience.  I'm going to use a couple blogposts to reflect on the whole shebang and see if I learned anything that can be passed on.

Rather than do a "delve" type scenario, I wanted to get back to one of the original concepts for the setting, which was the Oregon Trail.  Why not do a play-by-post that followed a wagon train, rather than a small party of adventurers?  The question to do it "right"?


I had previously run a small-party PbP that didn't quite work, for all the usual PbP reasons - inconsistent timing of posts (mine and theirs), players dropping/disappearing, etc.  So I set about formulating this "expedition PbP" to cope with, or even use, those usual troubles.

(the original PbP advert)

(the introductory matter)

Since we were talking about a big cross-country expedition, we could have a ton of players.  It made sense in-character, and if folks disappeared or couldn't participate at some points, it wouldn't be a big deal.  Those PCs would be back with the wagon train rather than out exploring for that period of time.  We ended up with twenty-five player characters involved in the PbP, most of whom posted every turn.

(crew manifest)

Which brings us to the turn sequence!  Rather than run most of the PbP as a constant flow of time (as you might with a dungeon-delve), I decided early on that we'd be better off with more of a wargaming campaign structure.  There would be "Expedition Turns" wherein I would do some description, and then PCs would give general reactions or peel off into groups to explore particular features or address problems.  Very rapidly it became habit to post an Expedition Turn with a few "things to address, or not" listed in them, and players would assign their PCs to one of those issues or missions.  Then another thread would be started for each mission.  Expedition Turns took place an arbitrary amount of time apart from one another - sometimes it would be several days later, sometimes the next day, whatever made sense to the narrative.

So here we see the main issue in comparing the Coalpepper Expedition to a "proper" hexcrawl: I drastically limited player choice throughout.  Players knew they could come up with stuff and set their own goals, but most didn't - they waited for some options, and then applied their creativity to dealing with those options (rather than coming up with new options most of the time).  Call it "impure" from a hexcrawl standpoint, but I think it was necessary to keep the PbP flowing - after all, we had 25 characters!

Yes, there were "railroad" aspects to the "wagon train", but I think it worked, and it wasn't exactly a bait-and-switch on the players - they understood the format of the PbP before signing up.  The up-side to the heavy filtering was that, for the most part, we didn't "waste" much time describing or playing out the less-exciting parts of a wagon-train across the vast plain.  Those bits could be narrated, hand-waved, alluded to, or whatever else seemed appropriate at the time.  We only played out the "interesting" bits.

As the game continued, we had a few players drop out - either they got too busy to check in regularly, or the format of the PbP just wasn't their bag - and it was no big deal, as we still had over twenty characters manning the expedition.  And while there were times when it seemed that certain PCs were becoming friends or allies, generally speaking everybody mixed it up.  Nobody was forming (ic/ooc) cliques and only playing with one group of people, and from my POV it looked like players were deliberately sending their characters on different missions in order to get play-time with as many other characters as possible; that was great to see.

Next time we'll talk about how I populated the hexes on-the-fly.  Sort of.  It does say "Faking a Hexcrawl", after all.