Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Return of Arduin???!!??!?!

I want to thank James Mishler for first mentioning this on Google+ or I may have never seen it. Emperor's Choice, who I must admit I had never heard from until today, is doing a retro-clone or re-creation of Arduin.

The first "Arduin Grimoires" were kind of a weird mix of an original fantasy game and a supplement to D&D. The creator of the material, David Hargrave, had a lot of creativity and personality. He was an early advocate for "hacking" other systems, and took the attitude that in some ways the game belonged to everyone. Consider this excerpt from The Arduin Grimoire #1:

 "About three years ago fantasy role playing games began to become extremely popular among gamers of all types. At first it was something new and wonderful, and ideas and information flowed freely among the players.

About a year or so ago things began to change: the joyous game was becoming big business. And those non-amateur game designers took on all of the trappings of things that have profit as their main motivational force: greed, secretiveness, hunger to "control the market" and all of that other garbage.

Amateurs who tried to publish their ideas were being told to cease publication if their ideas even remotely resembled any those big business types had published. Yet those same people ripped the amateurs' ideas off quite freely, and with dismaying frequency.

This supplement is offered in the hopes that it will infuse new life into the amateur side of fantasy role playing garnes, and stimulate the free idea exchanges so sorely needed to keep this type of gaming alive and viable. This supplement does not seek to replace or denigrate any other fantasy role playing supplement or game, either professional or amateur. It could have been three times the size you see before you, but personal problems, finances ,and lack of time required otherwise."

If their goals weren't so diametrically opposed to each other, he and Gygax could have almost been friends, what with the slightly paranoid and arrogant tones.

So how is the material? Its hit or miss, but when it hits, its great. Lots of off the wall classes, such as "Technos", rationally-minded scientist types who despise magic and can build robots. The early stuff had a charm that I don't think was ever fully recaptured with later iterations and releases. His piece de resistance, in my opinion, is The Howling Tower, a massive, gonzo funhouse dungeon featuring rooms made of jagged glass, mechanical tigers, and the dreaded, feared Skorpoon.

Anyway, Arduin certainly deserves a second look, and I am hopeful that this new project will focus on the earliest Arduin materials. It will be interesting to see what happens!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

A Megadungeon? For 4e? (Part 2!)

Wow, time flies. Hard to believe it has been over a year since I did this original post on megadungeons in 4e. Now that my zine 4e Forever has come out with the first level of a megadungeon "serial" adventure, I feel like I learned more about using these behemoth settings with the 4e game, so I thought I would post a part 2.

I noted how 4e combat speed can effect the pace of a megadungeon. You cannot populate every room with a 4e set-piece encounter and ever expect to finish such a thing, let alone enjoy it. But here is the dirty little secret: 4e's skill system works GREAT for exploration. Sure, you sometimes have that annoying player that rolls perception every 5 seconds, or the guy that detects magic on everything including a dead squirrel (adventure idea?), but overall its pretty no-frills and gets out of the way of the actual game. Exploration is one of the great joys of dungeons in general, and megadungeons in particular. A megadungeon gradually reveals itself. Each room is a thread of the tapestry. The story is in the exploration, how different areas of the place relate to each other, and the relationship of the creatures inhabiting the place. Even something completely "funhouse" like Tegel Manor has a sort of hidden rationale that only becomes apparent when you can finally step back from it and look at it all at once. Kind of like those 3D posters where you blur your eyes?

I am convinced that pacing is the key of running a 4e megadungeon. If you check out the first level of the pyramid in "Tales of the Lost City" from my zine, you will notice that out of 49 rooms, there are only 9 or so encounters, some of which might not even happen. I am not saying there is some pat and easy formula, but you want your design to really lean towards exploration. Having run I6 Ravenloft for 4e, Tegel Manor, and playtesting "Lost City", I really feel comfortable in saying that.

In the Temple of Elemental Evil (perhaps not a megadungeon, but a damn big one), there are a lot of good lessons regarding how different factions might work together or against one another. On the first dungeon level, you have a large group of gnolls. All of the gnolls rooms are connected, and if you encounter one group, odds are that the others will be alerted in kind of a domino effect, until all have joined the fight. 4e is GREAT at handling these kind of gradually-building encounters. 4e PCs have a lot of resources, and if you introduce creatures from nearby areas gradually during an encounter, you can really give it a "real" feel, as well as challenge your players. In "Lost City", a lot of the rooms of the pyramid are locked; the broken and open doors are towards the entrances of the pyramid, so rooms there are the most heavily populated. This is deliberate design; different creatures can hear a commotion if it happens.

I am reminded today on Gygax's birthday of what I consider the greatest set-piece encounter in the history of D&D: entering (or attempting to enter) The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun. Gygax gives detailed instructions for adding reinforcements to the initial group of monsters encountered. They cover 25 ROUNDS and must include at least 100 creatures. The feel of a constantly growing combat encounter can give even jaded players a rush of adrenaline. If you are considering a 4e megadungeon, consider laying out some of the encounters in such as a way that they can 'blend'. I hesitate saying this adds 'realism', as realism isn't the point of a fantasy megadungeons; it does add a kind of logic to it though, a natural feel if you will, and the great thing about that is that it fits the 4e system like a glove.

By primarily emphasizing exploration, and by carefully considering encounter placement, you can create 4e megadungeons that work to the game system's strengths.

Friday, July 26, 2013

In Search of Strongholds, Part 5: Hirelings, Soldiers, and Wages

I know it has been forever since I posted anything in this series, and I apologize. I was compelled to finish the first issue of my zine 4e Forever, and it of course took waaaaay longer than I would have guessed. That said, a day has not really gone by that I haven't thought about stronghold rules. You can check out the earlier installments at these links: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

I had contemplated doing an entirely new list of mundane gear in order to fit the new "economy" I am working with. I say new economy, but what it really amounts to is throwing 4e's "expected wealth per level" in the trashcan. I added random treasure tables, with lair treasures being the mother lode, the source of fabulous wealth. As I researched different prices of mundane gear over multiple editions, I started to realize that every edition is pretty much in line with the prices. There is a little variance, but overall they are pretty close. The biggest difference is with things like armor; old editions priced plate armor out of reach of low level PCs as a balancing factor, whereas with 4e, characters can afford plate at level 1, but they cannot all benefit from it. I was going to have to use the 4e prices for weapons and armor anyway, so the fact that the rest of the prices were in the same ballpark meant that I really didn't need to make new gear lists after all. It would have been a lot of work for nothing.

All of that aside, I still needed to nail down wage rates for hirelings. You cannot run a stronghold without them. You need staff to maintain the property, not to mention to support and supervise your armed forces. Your soldiers, of course, are also hirelings in and of themselves. If you have not already, you can read the current hireling rules in 4e Forever #1 in the Grimoire. I provided the basic "formula" for hireling wages: 2gp x hireling level = their daily wage. That said, to go any further we must talk a little bit about how hirelings and levels are defined.

First of all, none of the numbers you are going to see represent real history or medieval demographics. I try to maintain an internal logic and consistency, but I am not a scholar and do not purport to be. I do not personally care if stuff in my fantasy game matches up exactly with real life. I am trying to use simple formulas and concepts (such as "hireling level") to make rules that are easy to use. So, every number or gp total you see may not feel "realistic" to you. If that is a crucial factor, these may not be the stronghold rules you are looking for.

Second, hirelings and soldiers need to be differentiated. Soldier wages (but not their leadership's) are much lower than typical hirelings. This is for several reasons. The main ones are that their supplies, armor, weapons, food, and lodging are all provided to them. There are also many of them, so in the same way that buying in bulk might save you or me some money at a grocery store, the costs for your soldiers are also lowered as the costs are spread amongst many. There are also many "one-time" costs; you don't need to repeatedly buy a barracks, for example. Low-level "grunt" soldiers may also be less skilled, illiterate, be former criminals and/or mercenaries, or any other balancing factor that you need to justify it.

Wages per day are provided below, with wages per month extrapolated from them. You might have a campaign world that does not use months, or has a weird calendar, or what have you. I am assuming 30-day months with 12-month years. You can use the daily wage to set your own wages or use an optional rule that smooths everything over, albeit at the risk of losing a bit of "realism": most hirelings require a "monthly" wage for any services that take two "weeks" or more. So if you are hiring someone for 15 days or 30 days, it is the same wage. If you have 40 day months, you could still use the "monthly" pay rate. This will allow most DMs to use the same prices/rules even if their calendars are different.

Ok, so we talked before a little bit about how hireling levels work. They are based on the rarity of their skills as well as whether they are in a supervisory role. Thus, an Alchemist is of higher level than a Fletcher, and a Sergeant would make less than his Captain. The levels may feel arbitrary in and of themselves; they only have meaning when they are compared against each other.

So here is a breakdown of hireling wages. These do not apply to your standard soldiers (i.e. artillery, cavalry, etc) but they do apply to military leaders. As noted in the Grimoire, hirelings have a level cap of 10. They do not typically accompany PCs on adventures; that is the purview of henchmen. Soldiers do engage in mass combat, and they will be integrated into the Scalemail mass combat system for 4e Forever (see issue #1) eventually. A sage's wages should be set based on how rare their purview of knowledge is within the setting. For example, in Serd (see 4e Forever issue #1), any sage with information about the location of ancient ruins would be very well paid (Level 10).  Typical hireling occupations are listed; if you utilize a hireling with an occupation or skill that is not listed, use whatever level makes the most sense to you based on the wages of those that are. Also remember that common laborers are not hirelings, and they are not paid according to these tables.

Hireling Wage in GP by Day/Month
Level 1-2/60
Level 2-4/120
Level 3-6/180
Level 4-8/240
Level 5-10/300
Level 6-12/360
Level 7-14/420
Level 8-16/480
Level 9-18/540
Level 10-20/600

Hirelings by Level
Level 1-Scribe, Pack Handler, Chef/Baker, Minstrel
Level 2-Blacksmith, Tailor/Weaver, Tanner, Potter, Furrier, Vintner
Level 3-Armorer, Fletcher/Bowyer, Weaponer, Sergeant
Level 4-Gemcutter, Lieutenant, Animal Trainer
Level 5-Captain
Level 6-Engineer (Architect), Barrister
Level 7-Spy/Assassin (hired by the month only)
Level 8-Sage (varies)
Level 9-Sage (varies), Astrologer
Level 10-Sage (varies), Alchemist, Apothecary

Soldiers are all paid 5gp each per game month, or 60gp per year. Soldiers are never hired by the day. For simplicity's sake, I do not differentiate between different types of soldier in order to determine their wage.

In the next installment of this series, I will lay out the costs of constructing a stronghold and the minimum staff needed to maintain it. This will include the military leadership needed to supervise varying totals of soldiers, and notes on building your own army within the Scalemail system.

***I am still looking for submissions for 4e Forever #2!!! If you want to contribute artwork, cartography, or an article, PLEASE feel free to contact me at

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Googling for Floorplans

Hey. I bought this old book about world architecture for inspiration. It has all of these awesome floor plans of actual temples and pyramids and stuff, and is really killer. I also have a lot of travel guides; this morning my daughter had pulled some out and I looked in one of them and was reminded that they usually have a lot of floor plans in them as well.

Anyway, it got me thinking about just searching online for floor plans. Its amazing the kind of stuff you can find. I searched "travel guide floor plans Venice" and found this completely random gem; if you are running Call of Cthulhu this would do nicely as a visual aid of a hotel.

Searching for "old cathedral floor plans" likewise yielded awesome results.

Searching for "Egyptian temple floor plans" yielded too many awesome results to post.

The thing that I really like about this (besides how easy it is) is that I find I get inspired quite easily just by looking at different floor plans. I already feel the inkling of an idea forming for a Cthulhu adventure using that hotel...something really, really 70s. The Egyptian granary above would make a killer jail for D&D. The image could be a player handout, a blueprint; maybe the PCs have to spring a falsely-imprisoned dignitary out of one of the central cells in order to stop an assassination. 

Try it! It is almost like a Rorschach test or something; your mind will make a story out of the floor plan.

***I am still looking for submissions for 4e Forever #2!!! If you want to contribute artwork, cartography, or an article, PLEASE feel free to contact me at

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Wednesday Grab-Bag: A New Setting from Birthright's Rich Baker, New OSR Zines, and More!

A quick post to point out some things you may have missed:

1. Rich Baker of Birthright fame has combined forces w some other industry vets to launch a Kickstarter for a new campaign setting, Primeval Thule. Check it out here. Cool thing about it is you can order it for 4e, 13th Age, or Pathfinder, so it should appeal to a lot of gamers.

2. I mentioned before that the legendary OSR zine "Footprints" has returned from a lengthy hiatus. Well, they seem to really be back on track, bc there is already another issue out! Check it out here

3. The unrivaled star of the show at Free RPG day was Lamentation of  the Flame Princesses' Better Than Any Man. I was happy to have backed the Kickstarter for it; it is a great accomplishment. It is now available for "pay what you want" at RPGNow. Check it out.

4. Speaking of great accomplishments, Richard J. LeBlanc, Jr.of New Big Dragon Games has launched an excellent OSR zine that is also priced at "pay what you want". More info can be found here.

Lots of great stuff going on!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

4e Forever Issue #1 Wrap-Up: Submissions, Q&A, and a THANK YOU!!!

Well, issue one of my fanzine 4e Forever has come and gone, and all I can say is that the response blew my expectations out of the water. This is obviously a niche product: a zine focused on a recently "cancelled" edition, and one that centers on high-level play, traditionally the least played "tier" of all editions. It also incorporates a lot of old-school elements, which, if you believe everything you read, is diametrically opposed to 4th edition. Well, the response proves that was a lot of bunk. I have had die-hard OSR guys congratulate me, and people that have only played 4e tell me I peaked their curiosity for classic editions. It seems a lot of the loud voices on the internet do not represent gamers as a whole.

I want to give a special thanks to those that shared this with others. Several people blogged about it, shared it on websites that I had never heard of, and some generous soul even took the time to index the issue on RPG Geek. Thank you. If anyone liked it or knows others that might, please continue to share it.

I thought I would give a short Q&A regarding some questions that arose from readers.

How often will 4e Forever be published?

There is no set schedule. A lot of it depends on real life and how many submissions I get (see below). It will be irregular, that's for sure.

Can classes other than Arcanists use spell research?

Yes. I left it as Arcane classes only in the mag for old-school flavor, but in retrospect, I should have clarified that.

You mentioned the rate of pay for hirelings based on level, but there was no list of hirelings.

A list of hirelings will appear with the stronghold rules, whenever I get them completed. In the meantime, a DM can just improvise based on common sense. For example, a blacksmith is a very common occupation, and even small villages like Hommlet will have one, so assign them a low level. In contrast, a sage that specializes in ancient astrology might be incredibly rare and command a higher wage. The less common the occupation, the higher the level. This also applies to supervisory roles, like in the mag example.

Does a Savage's extra attack on its initiative +10 work like some of the more recent 4e dragon designs? Do they get one action or a full set?

Yes, it is basically the same thing. How many actions is up to the DM. Note that a Savage is not required to use all of the features listed, but it will typically have many of them.

Who controls henchmen? Hirelings?

A DM should control hirelings, while the players control their henchmen.

What happens if the PCs level up and they are in an area with no henchmen to be attracted?

If the PCs are unable to be approached, then no henchmen are attracted, but if the PCs are in any location where populations of Humans or Demi-Humans are nearby, henchmen should find them.

I am THRILLED that I have already received a few submissions. I want to talk a little bit more about them. I am COMMITTED to making it smooth and easy as possible for you to submit material. Therefore, if you need help converting monsters to the new stat block, I will do it for you. I you have questions about the world or need guidance on any of the rules, I have an open line of communication. If you have "system neutral" material, such as random tables, by all means, send them in; not everything has to scream 4e. You might have something you submitted to Dragon or Dungeon that didn't get printed. Consider reflavoring it and sending it in! If you want to contribute to the zine, I promise I will do everything in my power to make it happen. So please, consider sending something in, or tell a friend that you think might be interested about it. Again, you can email submissions to .

Well, I just want to once again thank everyone for checking out the zine, even if it wasn't your thing. It is now my most popular blog post by a million miles. If anyone runs any of the adventures, let me know how it goes! I know that at 150+ pages, many of those who downloaded it may not have had a chance to finish reading it, so please keep sending me feedback. Thanks again!