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Monthly Archives: January 2013

Guest Post – Hexual Intercourse: Art of the Hex-Crawl

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A trusty mount – the hexcrawler’s best friend. Also, a delicious morsel for those 1d4 griffins following you!

A little while ago I sounded the horn for submissions, and they have started rolling in! Not every guest article will fit the usual MO for “Save Vs Weekend” but they’ll all be valuable for you to apply to your games in some direct way.

Our first post comes from a player and sometime DM from my own core group of gamers – guys I have been playing with since high school. He recently ran a short-term “hexcrawl” style game, and wanted to share some of the nuts and bolts of that style of play (A type of game I’m rather enamored of and intrigued by. It has a very “sandbox” world style. Your own little Skyrim at the table!). It was part of a phase we went through in which we tried going “back to basics” and exploring some tenets of the retro-cloned old-school…with mixed results.

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So, this is my summary for my hexcrawl game. I’m sharing the format with TheYoungKing despite the fact that he played in the game, so he’ll have to feign ignorance if we start it back up again. [He’ll also take the luxury of inserting the occasional comment in these brackets.] The Hexcrawl was a common game type in the 80s; they fell out of fashion but they’re system agnostic, and a blast to run if you’re used to completely plot driven games. In essence, the GM has a map, and you wander around on it. The best example I can think to explain it is Baldur’s Gate. You wander from area to area; there’s an overall theme (in Baldur’s Gate, it’s the Iron Shortage), but the vast majority of your encounters are random, or mini-quests. Here’s the basic outline of how I set up my game.

  • I started with a concept; in this case, the players were explorers. Really any type of plot could be factored in, the hexcrawl is much more of a setting than it is anything else.
  • I then built a large map in a program called “Hexographer“, from Inkwell Ideas. Each hex is (naturally) 6 sided, with a terrain type; i.e. mountains, plains, ocean, etc.
  • Using general principles of geography (i.e. which side of mountains have vegetation, rivers run downhill, etc.), I filled out my map with a few continents.
  • Now that I had continents with forests, rivers, and hills, I placed towns appropriately (i.e. near coasts, intersections of major rivers, etc), then supporting villages for those towns (i.e. within a day or two of travel to their “parent” town).
  • Now that I had my towns and villages mapped out, I drew borders of countries, based on obvious geographic limitations (i.e., most borders were either on major rivers or mountain ranges).
  • So now I’ve got a continent, with countries, and cities. You’ll notice I haven’t named anything yet; this is important.
  • In my opinion, the #1 time-waster in world-building is spending time creating content that your players will never see. To that end; I spent 20 minutes brainstorming country names, and placed those randomly. I then zoomed in on 1 particular village in 1 particular country, and named it. This was the seed of my first adventure. I then started mapping (i.e., adding content) for the hexes around that village (i.e. the village was raided by orcs, so traveling in nearby hexes has a risk of… running into orcs!)
  • I went to the next closest village. I named it, gave it a few inns, a blacksmith, and a temple. I named the temple and blacksmith, gave a general overview of their services. The inns I populated with rumors. Some of the rumors were false, some were tied to monsters in locations (i.e., there’s a basilisk southwest of here!), some were tied to dungeons (The abandoned barrows are haunted!).
  • I then populated the appropriate hex with the basilisk encounter; then wrote a short (5 room) dungeon for the “Dungeon” rumor. From there, I started going to other (i.e. potential choices of my players) villages, and filling them out similarly. At the same time, I started filling out the other hexes in their anticipated route of travel. Were there any monsters they may encounter?
  • So, at this point, I’ve got something like 100 hexes mapped with content. Probably 5-10 are villages or towns (towns are basically the same as villages, except they have a few more inns, and maybe a marketplace). I’ve also go 5-10 full on “dungeons”, where I wrote room descriptions, gave them a theme, populated them with monsters, and treasure. Another 5-10 of the hexes are the “encounters” I described, which effectively are just 1 room dungeons, i.e. a location and a challenge.
  • So that means of my 100 hexes, 70 or so are just random monsters the player could run into. Since I am mapping these iteratively, I’m able to make it so that the monsters are in similar areas, i.e. if you go to any of the hexes north east of a particular village, there’s a chance you’ll run into some goblins in the area. I don’t really have “random encounter charts”, thus far I’ve only tied 1 type of monster to each hex (just to save myself the work). Odds are, the players either run into that monster or they don’t. The players didn’t complain, because they’d travel enough that they may run into 4-5 different types of monsters in the general area.[The players DID complain when those monsters were manticores…but enough of my sulking…]
  • Next steps are to continue filling out towns and villages, which then feed me having to create content based on the rumors I come up with, which leads to more encounters and dungeons.
  • To keep track of all of this, each hex has a numeric code, i.e. 71.22. I then have an excel [Or numbers, or GoogleDrive, pick your poison], which I tie to that particular hex information. Hexographer’s Pro version allows you to write notes directly on hexes, so for non-dungeon tiles, I just use that. For my dungeons, I just use excel (GoogleDrive née GoogleDocs would also work).
  • I would not have been able to run this game without Hexographer, or the great guide available on the Alexandrian blog.

This type of game can be a lot of work. You can and will create content that your players will never see; the advantage of a plot driven game is that all your great encounters are on the rails, so the players face them no matter what [It’s also not impossible to hold onto some of those good ones and slot them in later. It violates the ethos of the sandbox world a bit – but anything in the name of fun is the right choice]. That said, it can even more rewarding when a trap you set 5 weeks ago comes into play; I’ll give an example.

My players were following up on a rumor that if they caught a fairy to the west of the town they were visiting, it would be forced to grant them one wish. The players outfitted themselves with nets [Do you know how much a cold-iron net costs?! A lot!], jars, and other “fairy-catching” equipment. However, they did not know they were pursuing a *false* rumor; the area to the west was actually lousy with bandits, who had started the rumor in the first place.

It was a while ago that I ran this game, and looking back there are several things I would have changed that would have added more flavor to the game.

First and foremost, I would have come up with some overarching plot. Baldur’s Gate without the iron shortage is rudderless; it also would have allowed me to plan a bit better which direction the players would have headed; instead of having to map in a circle outward, I would have had a better chance of mapping a “path” of hexes the players were likely to go through.

Second, I would have been much more mysterious about what was out there. In my rumors, I named specific monsters the players were likely to encounter; instead, I wish I had said there was a “dark force” or “an unknown evil”, describing what it had done. Keeping the mystery of the unknown is a key portion of any exploration based game.

Finally, I wish I had had more time between sessions. As a result of trying to keep a fairly rapid pace, the quality of my encounters suffered. I am not a great encounter planner, so I am afraid several of my dungeons were rather mundane as a result of having to plan several of them at once in a few weeks time. Getting something right rather than finished I think would have added an extra layer to my campaign. [This is where resources like the One Page Dungeon contest or…ahem…Save Vs Weekend come into play – they can be used to fill in coherent “random” dungeons or encounters to populate a larger world.]

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I’m of the opinion that 4th ed D&D is a perfectly feasible platform to run a hexcrawl. True, the resource management of 4th ed centering around encounters doesn’t particularly favor a model in which most conflicts occur only once a day, and night’s to rest in between run-ins are frequent. But that requires some slight modification tot he encounter format:

One method is to make travel encounters exclusively of the ‘Hard” and “Very Hard” variety. That way the players are almost always expending their dailies and relying on potions and other consumable resources, giving random encounters a significant impact, event hough the players will likely rest for 8 hours right after.

Another, (and perhaps the more favorable) implementation, is to always make overland travel a simple skill challenge: perhaps calling for rolls with every hex traveled. The particulars are up to the DM and various published adventures might have some insight, but generally calling for Endurance checks for each day travelled, and consuming healing surges when those checks fail (and allowing a small number of healing surges to be replenished while traveling overland) could easily create a resource tension in travel without requiring much tweaking of the original game. It stands to reason that resting on the hard ground in a chilly tent after 7 hours of forced march and resting in a soft, warm inn bed after strolling around town or slowly creeping through a dungeon would provide different levels of physical replenishment.

TL:DR – The hexcrawl…try it!

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Posted by on January 30, 2013 in Guest Post, Playtested

 

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A Quick Thought on Dwarves

It should be canon across all settings that the language of Dwarves (Dwarven or Dwarfish, your pick) features seven different words for “drunk” – all with varying degrees of descriptive granularity.

 
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Posted by on January 27, 2013 in Announcements

 

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D&D Next (5th Edition) Playtest – December

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This playtest session found us running “The Astral Conqueror of Sargodell Deeps” which you can find on the “Full Adventures” page

So I recently had the opportunity to delve into the newest edition of the playtest with (mostly) the same group of players that I had last time I did some serious testing. Again, I wrote up a short, one-off adventure in advance and ran them through It (By now, advancing their modified characters up to Level 3). Here are a few impressions that I had by the end of the night.

Monsters – Wonky?: I walked away from the last iteration thinking that monsters needed a little tweaking. This time through, however, I was happy to find them working effectively. Even lower level monsters, with scant Hit Points, were occasionally able to survive a blow from higher level PCs (Meaning that they weren’t all “minions” across the board). This was nice because it kept the gameplay fast without making creatures too easy to take down. I had ended up using a Hill Giant as the model for the final encounter and he ended up going down quite easily, so creatures that are intended to taking longer to bring down may yet require some tweaking.

Martial Dice and Maneuvers: These continue to shine. The new maneuvers added are easy to use, logically intuitive, and tactically valuable. I think this aspect of the game is very strong and I’m excited to see where it goes from here (especially in context to the Ranger and Paladin)

Skill Dice: This was one of the bigger changes in this iteration of the rules. I came at it with a bit of skepticism (silly, considering my love of the now defunct Alternity, and the fact that game thrived on a similar mechanic – But that was also an entirely different system, and the modifier dice were part of it’s charm.)

It seemed that having more dice to roll would slow things down (even if it added to the tension and made things more fun for those who love rolling dice). I’d like to try this out from the other side of the table before really coming down on how I feel about it, but my players (all newer to the game) were none too fond. It made skill checks more complicated, and added a level of confusion where there was normally just a static bonus to consider.

For my money, I lament the loss of the players choice to invest a greater bonus into a particular skill. I feel the previous iteration was going int he right direction on this (allowing a player to increase his character’s static bonus to a skill, but topping out relatively quickly to prevent skill creep). I’m still open minded to the skill dice, but will explain it very carefully in the future, and if it goes away, I can’t say that I’ll be terribly heartbroken.

Hard to think in terms of “Attributes First”: This may be my gamer conditioning infecting my players, but I found we consulted our skills very often when considering what to do. This isn’t bad at all – a core function of classes in D&D is to give each player a role to fill – a time to shine – something that they need to step forward and try. But I worry that I was undermining some of the open creativity that was encouraged in emphasizing the attributes. It’s a useful thing to keep in mind, and interesting that my DM conditioning may have accounted for this reliance on the skill list. Old habits die hard.

I didn’t get too much in direct feedback from the players since we had to pack it in quickly and head home, lest we all be caught in a tiny blizzard – but I’ll put out some feelers to them and see what further insights they have, updating this post appropriately.

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Laying out the dungeon in advance

 
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Posted by on January 24, 2013 in Announcements

 

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Grave of the Black Jarl

This encounter is intended for five Player Characters of 6th level

     It’s been a while since I’ve visited my favorite opponents – the undead. And on top of that I wanted to give my (Ahem!) Dwarven Forge set pieces a go at representing the map. Thus we have the following small section of a dungeon (or even a self-contained, “random encounter” style locale) occupied by the unquiet spirit of a cruel northern lord and his nefarious henchmen – faithful unto death. Also I just REALLY love using the viking version of a title; a fact I was reminded of thanks to a revisit to Skyrim and a run at a Dungeon Crawl Classics adventure.

Setup
Though his true name is lost to history, “The Black Jarl” earned his title through betrayal, aggression, cruelty, and the macabre scarring left on his body after a conflict with a wizard. Raids and dirty deals made him an affluent man who jealously guarded his treasures, and many of these items were to be buried with him, along with his bastard son (A promising warrior who succumbed to a plague at age 16), several of his closest Thanes, and an ornate statue built in an idealized likeness of the Jarl himself. Before his death the Jarl swore that he would crawl out of his tomb and strike down any who dared to abscond with his possessions. In this, the Jarl was not false.

The halls of his tomb are walked by the restless spirit of his bastard son, and guarded by the animated corpses of his men. Even the Jarl himself does not rest easy, waiting with sword clutched in hand, eager to strike down and consume the life force of the first intruder foolish enough to enter his resting place.

Map
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Features of the Area
Light: The statue chamber is in dim light due tot he glowing gems placed in the eyes of the Jarl’s statue. Otherwise, the tomb is utterly dark

     Hidden Niches: These small chambers beyond the wall are where some of the Jarl’s Thanes were buried. Their flesh rotted away, yet their arrogance, cruelty,and the Jarl’s will kept their spirits tied to their skeletons. The wall here is purposefully weak and thin – though this is not apparent at first glance. A skeleton can use a Standard Action to destroy a 1 square section of the wall. Spotting the weakness in the walls is a Moderate Perception (Be aware that a PC’s Passive Perception score may beat the DC) or Easy Dungeoneering check (The PC must specifically be looking at the walls).

     Sarcophagus: This heavy stone casket features a stylized bas relief cover depicting the young man laid to rest inside. Of the body; only a brittle and immobile skeleton remains. However a healthy treasure parcel has been placed within the sarcophagus – including a handsome scramasax (+1 Short-sword) that would easily sell for twice its normal value: due to the masterful craftsmanship, gilding, enameling, and other decorative elements.

     False Secret Door: This wall appears odd (Perception DC 8) at first glance. Most PCs will assume it is a hidden door, and attempt to jar it open – eager for the treasure inside. It is in fact, a trap. Heavy stones were very loosely lined up against bare dirt, and if jostled, they will cascade down, burying anyone in front of them. NOTE: Only the squares indicated in red on the map are targeted.

Trap – False Secret Door
Immediate Reaction
Trigger: The wall is jostled or pushed against with a little force
Target: 2×2 squares in front of the wall
Attack: +10 vs. REF DMG: 1d8+6 and the target is knocked prone and restrained until they succeed at a Hard Athletics or Acrobatics check (Move Action)
Countermeasures: A PC using a reach weapon or long pole can spring the trap with a Hard Thievery check.

     Statue: Towering above the PCs is this 25 foot tall stone edifice fashioned in the image of the Black Jarl himself. It’s purpose was likely to serve as both tomb marker, ward against nefarious spirits, and a demonstration of the Jarl’s wealth and pride.

Though made mostly of a well worked, dark stone, there are strategically placed gems embedded into the statue. Most notably the eyes, which are large, glowing, red gems. These treasures have a minor magic to them, as they were formed in the Elemental Chaos before finding their way in to the hands of a craftsman. Each is worth 1,200 GP, making this a significant treasure parcel if the PCs can pry the gems free. Additional baubles of hematite and jade can be chipped out, adding another 400 GP to the total.

Climbing the statue is an inconsistent endeavor – some sections afford natural handholds, or else decay has made the surface easier to grasp. Yet in some places the stone is still smooth and permits no good surface to grip. A Moderate Athletics roll is required to scale the structure.

PCs keeping a close eye out might find a secret compartment built in to the back of the statue. This niche contains an additional treasure parcel – a last-ditch hiding place for some of the paranoid Jarl’s prized possessions.

Monsters
x6 Skeletons (Monster Manual pg. 234) [T]
x1 Wraith/Bastard Son’s Spirit (Monster Vault pg. 284) [S]
x1 Battle Wight/The Black Jarl (Monster Manual pg. 262) [J]

Tactics
The first thing the PCs will see are two skeletons at the end of a long hallway. These two await their approach, and might move forward a few squares if attacked from range. The remaining skeletons will wait until the PCs pass by or stop nearby to ambush them. They can hear what is going on outside the walls perfectly, and though they do not share senses, the Jarl can subtlety control them from within his tomb, allowing you to time their entry to greatest dramatic effect.

This shadowy creature appears in the image of the Black Jarl’s bastard son, right down to the spectral scramasax that he swings as though it were a real weapon, instead of an extension of his dark essence. The Wraith moves through the walls of the complex, attack when convenient and ducking back into the nearest surface. His intention is to sew chaos, and he will likely attack the weakest target, any bloodied target, or even a different target each time. If a PC strikes the Black Jarl, that PC will then become the next target for the Wraith’s abuse.

The Black Jarl will make his Soul Reaping attack as soon as a PC is in range, but will then retreat tot h recesses of his tomb. He is not fleeing – but daring the PCs to enter his realm and face him in straightforward combat. If he is hit with a ranged attack he hisses that the PC is a coward, “unfit to walk in these halls of honor.” If the PCs start gaining the advantage over the skeletons, the Jarl changes tactics, rushing out and joining the fray while he still has allies to support him.

Treasure
Consider giving 2-3 treasure parcels for this chamber. It’s best used to help the party “catch up” on loot they might have missed out on because of encounters with creatures that typically would not have treasure on them, or to make up Skill Challenges that didn’t yield monetary rewards. You should at least account for 1,600 GP to account for the various gems that are embedded into the Jarl’s massive burial/warding statue.

Consider arming the Jarl with a worthy magic item that he has access to when fighting the PCs (this will in turn become their property if they can defeat the corrupted lord.)

 
 

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The reason why I prefer “Generic” settings to established campaign settings is that is permits the players to have more impact upon (and thus care more about) the world. I’ve always tried to incorporate as much Player character background as I can into a game’s story to keep both players and their avatars invested. But this system is the end result in that kind of collaborative attitude. Well organized, engaging, and brilliant. Can’t wait to give this a go!

Dragons in the Kitchen

Last week I talked about how I was doing some collaborative worldbuilding with my new group. I spoke about how involving your players in the worldbuilding process is a rich and rewarding experience and how I had come up with a method to do it that was working great. Well, here it is. I’m calling it the Dragon’s Kingdom. It’s based on the entanglements system for building a game. You need a poster map and a marker. It consists of 3 steps:

Step 1 – Dictates

For the first step your players (and you, if you choose) each write an overarching rule for your setting. They can be anything like ‘magic is dangerous and feared’, ‘dragons are extinct’ or ‘the spirits have abandoned the world, primal power does not exist’. The idea is to not make them to specific. Aim for between 8-12. Make sure your group knows these aren’t…

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Posted by on January 17, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

Your Mission – Submissions!

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While I am dedicated to this little neck of the blog woods, I’m also well aware of my schedule. This year has thrown a lot to do in my lap already, and that means (sadly) less and less time to plug away at the old blog here. Even when I’m posting content used in one of my games it requires a good bit of polish, and thus, more time.

So I decided to do what I always do when I need help and am not sure where to start: I ask the internet. Starting today I’m accepting (and in fact, beseeching you for!) submissions to “Save Vs Weekend.”

My goal is to share interesting (primarily) 4th Edition D&D encounters with the masses, using this blog as a platform; all the while giving credit where credit is due. Naturally I might run submissions through a bit of editing and quality control (fixing grammatical errors, or adding new and more bizarre ones!) but always authors will be credited, their specifications on presentation preserved as best as possible, and any pages or projects they are working on will be thoroughly linked to. This is an invitation to share work and inspire projects. In a perfect world I could pay upstart artists and designers so that they could spread their creative wings and get something in return.
Sadly, it is not a perfect world.

Submission Guidelines
For the sake of making editing easier, and to have a consistent feel for each post, I’m requesting that submissions stick as closely as possible to a particular format. I myself am not terribly consistent in formatting, a problem I seek to alleviate in this year’s post. If you are at a loss, take a look at some of my other posts and keep to a similar system of organization:

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List the number of players and the average PC level ideal for this adventure

Introduction [This section is optional]
In a paragraph or two, sum up your goals, challenges, or inspiration for this encounter.

Encounter Background [This section is optional]
Any relevant world information needed to make the scenario make sense. All fluff, no rules.

Setup
In this section, give all the relevant background and a brief synopsis of the encounter. When is a good time for the DM to use this encounter? How should it fit into a campaign? Who are the major players and what are their goals? What happens if the PCs succeed or fail? All these kinds of questions and their answers are game for this section.

Special Rules or Circumstances [This section is optional]
Does your encounter include some peculiar magical device? Damaged but functional siege weapons? A unique monster ability? A strange terrain feature? Any additional rules or stat information the DM needs should be divided into as many titled sections as needed here. The specifics of the special rules will dictate some formatting (for example, a list of results for a random table or a bulleted list of possible NPCs).

Optional Headings [This section is optional]
If your encounter requires a few special paragraphs to explain unusual circumstances, place them here under a unique, bolded heading.

Plot Text [This section is optional]
Write down any “boxed text” you deem necessary for introducing the encounter in-world to the players.

Map [Optional]
A copy of the map used for the encounter area. Skill Challenges or more open ended encounters may not require this.

Features of the Area [Necessary if there is a map, otherwise optional]
[Indent]Feature Name: Description and relevant rules
[Indent]Feature Name: Description and relevant rules
[Indent]Feature Name: Description and relevant rules

Monsters
x## Monster’s Name (Book Monster Appears in pg. ##)
x## Monster’s Name (Book Monster Appears in pg. ##)
x## Monster’s Name (Book Monster Appears in pg. ##)

Tactics

Describe the antagonist’s tactics and perhaps any relevant rules (or page references to uncommonly used rules link mounted or underwater combat) if applicable. Do the combatants act differently when bloodied? Will they surrender if hard pressed? Do they flee? Call for reinforcements? Wade into combat unthinkingly or slink around tactically? Work as a team or single out their foes? Describe their use of any unusual terrain features here as well.

Possible Rewards
Mark down any magic items, gold, art items, and bonus experience the players should or might acquire. I usually don’t list out the total experience value for all monsters (as that is easily accessible in their stat blocks) but doing so is very helpful.
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So have at! Hopefully you’ll be compelled to submit something and ideally I’ll get it posted within days of receiving it. If I have time, I might even be able to have Jenn whip up a corresponding illustration. “Best laid plans…” and all notwithstanding.

I can be reached by E-mail at: Ryanlucas45@gmail.com or leave a comment with your contact information and perhaps a brief summary of your encounter.

 
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Posted by on January 9, 2013 in Announcements

 

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