Showing posts with label Mystara. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mystara. Show all posts

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Tabletop Thursday: Teenage Mutant Ninja Tortles

With the pending release of a new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, I thought I’d visit the frenetic foursome’s nearest parallel in old school D&D and present a Teenage Mutant Ninja Tortle class for Moldvay/Cook and BECMI D&D.

Role-playing games have a long history of anthropomorphic character options. I’m not sure what the first humanoid animal player character option was, but I’m going to venture a guess that it was the Ducks who have featured in Runequest since the first edition in 1978. Tunnels & Trolls (1975) and Monsters! Monsters! (1976) come close, as both provide options for “monster” characters, but none of the options included are as explicitly anthropomorphic animals as Runequest’s Ducks.

According to Chaosium President Rick Mients (2020), Ducks have been a part of Runequest since the initial playtests and served as a proxy for Hobbits. Though Ducks are described in the 1st Edition of Runequest (see above from page 78), Mients believes that the earliest drawing of the Duck species was the cover illustration of Wyrm’s Footnotes #8 (1980) by Jennell Jaquays. She certainly played a part in popularizing the species as she also co-wrote and illustrated the Runequest adventure The Legendary Duck Tower for Judge’s Guild. The adventure was a play on her popular D&D Adventure The Dark Tower, which was recently reincarnated in a Deluxe Edition Kickstarter by Goodman Games.

Legendary Duck Tower and Other Tales | RPG Item | RPGGeek

It didn’t take too long for D&D to get in on the anthropomorphic animal bandwagon, you have the Aranea by X1, the Lupin in X2, and possibly some earlier than that. Tortle non-player characters were added to the mix in 1987 in Dungeon Magazine issues #6 and #7 in the two part adventure “Tortles of the Purple Sage.” Tortles inspired by our favorite chelonian champions were introduced in Dragon Magazine #179 as “Tortle Mystics.” The BECMI D&D mystic class was analogous to the AD&D and and D&D 3.0 and later Monk class, so it didn’t take a person with deep lore of comics and rpgs to know who was being referred to in the article.

While mechanical options for some anthropomorphic PCs were added by the mid-to-late 1980s to both the AD&D lines (the Hengeyokai) and D&D (Pooka) product lines, there were no rules for Tortle player characters. In the 1990s, TSR published rules for playing Lupin and Rakasta as BECMI characters in Dragon Magazine #181, but those rules violated the “ancestry as class” rules norm of Moldvay/Cook and BECMI and it wasn’t until the Rage of the Rakasta module that a Basic D&D specific class for the Rakasta. Sadly, that class was limited to the first 5 levels of play, but the class can be easily expanded to full BECMI by any DM (something I’ll likely do for my next post).

With the publication of the AD&D 2nd edition Red Steel boxed set, players of D&D finally had official rules for Tortle PC characters. Those rules are fun, and for a great setting, but are not for the era and style of game play I’m hoping to present here. I want to give players of BECMI and B/X games the opportunity to play everyone’s favoring pizza purloining chelonian champions. I’ll probably include other Tortle options later, but for now I think I’ll just focus on adapting the Tortles from Dragon #179.

The first step in adapting the Tortle into a full B/X class is to examine the benefits of the ancestry and to plot them out in a way similar to how the Lupins and Rakasta were presented on page 48 of Dragon Magazine # 181. The benefits of the ancestry will be drawn from The article provided the specific benefits of the ancestries and then the experience point penalty for playing as that ancestry.

Let’s take a look at the description from module X9 The Savage Coast to see if that will help us get a start.

Not really. The only benefit we are seeing here is that they can hold their breath for 10 turns and have a base AC of 3 (likely due to their armored shell since this is the equivalent of plate mail). We have no information on stat bonuses or significant special abilities. We want the characters to feel special, so let’s dig a little further and check out AC9 the Creature Catalog on page 47.

We get a little more information here as it includes information that Tortles are slightly below average Intelligence, that they don’t wear clothes or armor, and that they can withdraw into their shells for protection. How much protection? Who knows. It also looks like the average adult Tortle has 4HD and saves like a fighter. This suggests that the most common Tortles people will encounter are warrior Tortles and that these tend to be fairly experienced. Typical of early D&D products, we find that you can make armor from “fresh tortle-egg shells.”

We’ll set that bit of dehumanizing information aside and we are still left with a little less information than I’d like, so it’s time to look at Red Steel which presents Tortles as a playable ancestry.

This time we are given a little more information. I think enough to begin building a full Teenage Mutant Ninja Tortle class. Remember that in B/X and BECMI most classes don’t add or subract from core attributes like STR and DEX, instead they have a range. My sense from reading these is that we’ll require a minimum CON and WIS to receive XP bonuses and that those will be the Prime Requisites for a normal Tortle (to come in the next newsletter). Our Teenage Mutant Ninja Tortle class will have DEX and CON minimums and have those as the Prime Requisites. Additionally, we’ll give a +4 bonus to AC and give good saves to account for the ability to pull into the shell at will, but we won’t give hiding in the shell as an ability because we want this to be an active class and not one where players are encouraged to withdraw. You can keep that if you want.

This brings us to the second step, which is to take those benefits and recommendations and transform them using the Rakasta class from Rage of the Rakasta as a guideline. The Rakasta advance in combat ability like a fighter, have fighter hit points, and have the Magic User Saving Throw Array with faster improvement. Having done that, I’ve incorporated the bonuses above into a transformed version of the Mystic class from the BECMI Rules Cyclopedia and I give to you…the Teenage Mutant Ninja Tortle!

What do you think? Let me know in the comments. Maybe I’ll update it and make more edits for a final version. I will certainly be presenting the frenetic four and an adventure featuring them in the not too distant future.

Every appearance of the Tortle Ancestry.

Classic D&D (B/X and BECMI)

X9 - The Savage Coast (1985)
AC9 Creature Catalog (1986)
DMR2 Creature Catalog (1993)
Tortles of the Purple Sage Part 1 Dungeon Magazine #6
Tortles of the Purple Sage Part 2 Dungeon Magazine #7
Voyage of the Princess Ark Dragon Magazine #179

For AD&D 2nd Edition

Mystara Monstrous Compendium Appendix
Red Steel Boxed Set
Red Steel : Savage Baronies Boxed Set
Savage Coast Monstrous Compendium PDF
Savage Coast: Adventures on the Savage Coast
Tortles of Mystara: Dragon Magazine (Never published article by Bruce Heard)

For D&D 3rd Edition

Red Steel, Dragon #315

For D&D 5th Edition

Volo’s Guide to Monsters (2016)
Tortle Package (2017)
Descent into Avernus (2019)
Explorer’s Guide to Wildemont (2020)
Monsters of the Multiverse (2022)

Third Party Publications

“A Traveller’s Guide to Tortle’s Tears” in Threshold Magazine #28

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Firearms in D&D Mystara: Tinker, Tailor, Dwarf, and Spy's Darokinian Musketeers

As I posted last week, my current D&D campaign "Tinker, Tailor, Dwarf, and Spy" takes place in the "Known World" setting that was originally published in the Cook Expert Set of Dungeons & Dragons. The players are currently adventuring in northern Karameikos, but I have plans to have the players wander into Darokin and Glantri. For those who aren't familiar with the Known World, it is a hodge-podge setting that includes an anachronistic combination of cultures ranging from the Roman Empire to Renaissance tech societies. Karameikos, where the players' characters are based, is a high-medieval culture and thus is an ideal starting society for the "default fantasy" campaign.

As I mentioned above, even though the characters are based out of a default fantasy kingdom, they will be wandering into Darokin and Glantri which are countries inspired by renaissance level cultures. Darokin is based on renaissance Florence and Genoa with a strict plutocratic government. Glantri is based on renaissance Glantri with the country being a "mageocracy" rather than plutocracy. Because the players will likely be traveling into these two nations, I had to ask myself whether or not I wanted to include firearms in my D&D campaign. After some back and forth, I decided that I would indeed be introducing characters who use Muskets, Pistols, and Arquebuses, but limiting them to Darokinian society.

In preparation for this move, I purchased the Tal'Dorei Campaign Setting by Green Ronin in the hopes that it included the rules for the Gunslinger archetype for the Fighter Class. It turns out that it wasn't necessary to purchase the full campaign guide, as Matthew Mercer has been kind enough to provide the Gunslinger rules as a Pay What You Want file. After reading the archetype, I found that it didn't fit exactly what I wanted to have in my games. The Tal'Dorei Gunslinger is closely based on the Pathfinder Gunslinger character class from the Pathfinder Ultimate Combat Guide and as cool as that class it, it comes with all of the "fiddliness" of the Pathfinder system. Matthew Mercer's Gunslinger kept that fiddliness and I wanted a class that fit with the simplicity of 5th edition.

In the end, I read through the existing archetypes and feats in 5th edition and realized that I didn't need to come up with an entirely new archetype or create new feats. All I needed to do was reskin some existing rules to fit the theme.

The first reskin I will be using in my game is the creation of a Blackpowder Marksman feat. The feat will be identical to the Crossbow Expert feat on page 165 of the 5th Edition Player's Handbook. That feat is pretty powerful and makes crossbow using Fighters extremely powerful options in 5e. A key element is the first benefit which lets those who possess the feat to "ignore the loading quality of crossbows with which you are proficient." In other words, it allows crossbow using Fighters to attack more than once when using an Attack action. I thought that it was fair to have a feat that applies all of these benefits to a person who uses black powder weapons.

While I don't want to spend any real time getting into the weeds of the Arquebus > Crossbow > Longbow > Shortbow argument, I will share the reasons for why I am happy with this quick fix. First, as argued effectively by Richard Berg in his wargame Arquebus, while the longbow's effectiveness had been reduced by the innovation of plate armor, "crossbows took more time to wind and fire than an arquebus, which had similar penetrative abilities but a far lower rate of fire." Looking at the stats for the crossbow and comparing them to the longbow, we see that these attributes are taken into account in 5e.  The heavy crossbow does 1d10 damage and requires reloading while the longbow does 1d8 and doesn't. The Crossbow Expert feat allows a Fighter to use a crossbow with the same rate of fire as a longbow, something ahistorical but perfect for fantasy. In D&D a combat round is only 6 seconds long and a high level Fighter can shoot his longbow 8 times in a combat round (and thus a crossbow 8 times). That's not at all realistic, but it allows the damage curve to keep up with mages and hand to hand combatants. This is high fantasy after all and limiting arquebus/musket use to 4 shots per minute might be accurate, but it wouldn't be fun. So long as you keep the damage for the black powder weapons within reason (which the DMG does), game balance is retained.

Once I made this slight concession to fun over fact, I began looking to the character class archetypes to see how they fit the model of Musketeer. What I found was that two of the archetypes in the Player's Handbook reskinned nicely to be gun toting characters. I was especially impressed with how the Battle Master archetype fit for Musketeers. Since only a few of the maneuvers for the Battle Master specified "melee weapon," it meant that these abilities could be used with missile weapons with only minimum change. I quickly wrote up a page using The Homebrewery that included the Musketeer archetype based on the Battle Master. I haven't stated up the Eldritch Knight version, but if one limits the spell list properly it's easy to see spell as "magic ammunition."

Lastly, I created a background that would allow even non-Fighters to be proficient in "simple" black powder weapons and classified the arquebus as a simple weapon with the pistol and musket counting as martial weapons in Darokinian Society.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

D&D Adventures in Karameikos: Tinkers, Tailor, Dwarf, and Spy

A campaign beginning.

Just ran the second session of a new 5th Edition D&D campaign. The campaign takes place in the Grand Duchy of Karameikos where the player characters are members of a secret police force that investigates threats against Duke Stefan Karameikos. The secret police force is called The Tinkers and they answer to a secretive mastermind named The Weaver. This combination of factors led the players to name the campaign "Tinkers, Tailor, Dwarf, and Spy."

The Grand Duchy is one of the main "starting" kingdoms of the Mystara game setting. I've long been a fan of the Mystara Setting for Dungeons & Dragons. One big reason for this is that it was the setting used in the Moldvay/Cook Basic/Expert and BECMI editions of D&D. The biggest reason though, is that I love the bizarre anachronistic mashup of cultures in the game. You have a culture based on the Roman Empire that is doing trade with a culture based on renaissance Venice. It's got a touch of everything.

Having a bit of everything does take away from the verisimilitude, but when you add the reasons for the Hollow World setting inside the world the setting actually makes sense. The world of Mystara is hollow because the god Ka the Preserver, the first dinosaur to attain sentience and eventually immortality, sought to create a refuge for the societies that collapsed on the surface of the world. One could induct from this that Ka's sponsor builds the surface world from the collapsed cultures of other worlds.

At least that's how it works in my mind-canon, not that it will affect the campaign that all of the kingdoms are actually rescued cultures from other worlds. Though that will allow me to bring in some of the material from Freeport more fluidly.

The campaign begins with The Weaver sending the characters to the town of Stallanford to investigate whether the annual King's Festival is being used as recruiting grounds for the Cult of Halav. After the PCs have been given time to do initial investigations and get a night's rest, Orcs attack the town and kidnap the town's cleric who is also the man the PCs are supposed to spy upon.

I'm using the King's Festival module as the launching point for the campaign, with the following open threads added.

1) Depending on what happens, the surviving Orcs may seek to have the PCs put to trial for murder/wrongful death.
2) Is the cleric a part of the Cult of Halav? Is that cult a threat to Duke Stefan?
3) Is the big bad a part of the Iron Circle? Are visitors to the Orc Caves also members of the Iron Circle?
4) Who is the Weaver?
5) Who is Bargle the Infamous?

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Guest Post: Wesley Chu (THE LIVES OF TAO) on Playing Games with Kids

[Editor's Note] A couple of months ago, Shawna and I discussed Wesley Chu's new book THE LIVES OF TAO on our Geekerati Podcast. In addition to asking Wesley to join us on the podcast, I asked him if he would be willing to write a guest post for my Advanced Dungeons and Parenting blog and he agreed. Below is the article he wrote for the site. Before you read, I'd like to point out that reading his ADP guest article gave me a great deal of pleasure. It isn't often that I meet a fellow Mystara fan. So read on and enjoy.[End Editor's Note]

In honor of Advanced Dungeons & Parenting, I wanted to get on my soapbox and tell parents to force their kids to learn to become responsible adults by leveling characters in Dungeons and Dragons and/or Pathfinder.

My main poison from grades one through eight was Dungeons and Dragons, the non-advanced version. This is back in the eighties and nineties back to those old school TSR days when we had those red, blue, teal, and finally gold manuals. Back then, rules weren’t nearly as complicated and there weren’t a bazillion books to have to buy.

I have fond memories of the land of Mystara. My old stomping grounds were the Grand Duchy of Karameikos, the mage kingdom of Glantri, and the merchants Republic of Darokin. Sometimes, we’d venture as far out as the Ethengar Khanate. Now, Mystara, or The Known World, at the time was a fantastic sandbox. I had leveled my mage Kraven (before I knew what that name meant) up to the point he became a baron in Karameikos. What does this have anything to do with being a responsible adult? Well, I decided to build my first keep. Now, my memory of all this is a little fuzzy, but I distinctly remember thinking to my fourth grade self that “damn, I need a big frigging castle with a moat! And a huge stable! And a very high tower!”

I didn’t take into consideration for materials, defenses, garrison size…etc. I just wanted a big castle. I remember begging my parents for grid paper so I could map the entire thing out. I believe I had a dozen blue prints before I settled on a design. And boy, was it a beautiful, poorly conceived, audacious castle. Note to self: not becoming an architect was a good thing. In my defense, I had enough gold to build the damn thing. Sure I basically had to hire myself out as a high level mercenary and do some rather unpleasant things (that’s what happens when you have a mean older brother DM) and basically taxed my poor peasants to near death. But at the end of the day, the castle was built with all its needless additional towers and silly additions only a kid with too many legos could imagine.

However, I was so poor and in so much debt that I couldn’t maintain my garrison and ended up losing the castle to a marauding Dwarven army. Actually, it wasn’t even very marauding, just like 50 dwarves who snuck in from a really ill-conceived part of my defenses. I had hardly garrison and it seems my amateur architectural planning had more than a few fatal flaws. In the end, poor Kraven was left broke and destitute, and had to spend the rest of his days guarding caravans in Darokin. But, like those wise lessons learned by watching Monty Python:

"That [castle] burned down, fell over, then sank into the swamp. But the fourth one stayed up. And that's what you're going to get, Lad, the strongest castle in all of England.” 

I had learned some lessons that I carry with me to this day:  

1.       Don’t spend more gold than you got. 
2.       Hire a proper architect or someone who is an expert on what you need done. 
3.       Never be house poor. 
4.       Castles are expensive as hell to build, and even more expensive to maintain. 
5.       Wizards should just get a nice tower in downtown Glantri.

So parents, do your kids a favor. Play games with them, and sneak in those life lessons that will help them when they get older. After all, if you don’t, a bunch of rampaging dwarves might end up sacking their castle.

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Monday, January 31, 2011

The Eye of Traldar and House Rules

Some of my players and I played some of The Eye of Traldar this past weekend and it got me thinking.

The Eye of Traldar is one of the rarer modules for "Basic" Dungeons & Dragons. It was written as a part of their "Challenger" series of introductory modules that expanded the Troy Denning boxed set. The story behind the module is relatively straightforward. The Iron Ring, a nefarious band of slavers under the leadership of Baron Ludwig von Hendriks, has acquired a potent magic item called the Eye of Traldar and brought it into their stronghold of Fort Doom. The Baron and his chief magical advisor are currently patrolling the borders of the Barony and evaluating the military strengths of their neighbors. Should the Baron and his advisor return to the Fort and discover how to unleash the power of the Eye, the Baron will be able to increase his domain and subjugate entire populations to his will with the mind coercing powers of the Eye.

It is up to our stalwart band of adventurers to infiltrate Fort Doom, through its "underdungeons," and retrieve the Eye before that can happen. It sounds like exciting -- if standard -- stuff, and it is...after the first act full on narrative railroading has passed.

Carl Sargent has presented a perfectly entertaining scenario, but it suffers from two key flaws. The first flaw is in the presentation of the narrative. The second flaw is a common "flaw" in "Basic" Dungeons & Dragons itself, and is what gave rise to this post in the first place.

In an attempt to start the adventure in medias res, Sargent begins the module with the players encountering a man named Alexei who is fleeing the Iron Ring. Within seconds of Alexei's arrival in their camp, the Iron Ring arrives. The encounter clearly establishes who the good guys and the bad guys are, and quickly involves the PCs in the dangerous business of combat related "action" (more on this in flaw 2). After the encounter is complete though, the adventure provides no opportunity for the players to abandon the rest of the quest. They are forced from encounter to encounter, with no options to decline to aid Alexei. It is possible for a DM to "wing it" and have the necessary encounters happen as a result of them not helping Alexei, but even then the players will feel railroaded into a forced narrative. Essentially, the players must endure three ambuscades before they begin their quest proper -- whether they want to or not. Given the difficulty of the first encounter, I think many groups might decide that abandoning the life of adventure is the higher calling.

Which brings me to what I view is the adventure's second flaw -- and a flaw in "Basic" Dungeons & Dragons -- its shear lethality.

Let's take the first encounter as an example. The players meet a 2nd level Fighter named Alexei and must face his pursuers which include 3 1st Level Fighters, 2 1st Level Thieves, and a 1st Level Elf (a fighter/magic-user hybrid in "Basic").

Let's assume a typical party of a 1st Level Cleric, a 1st Level Magic User, a 1st Level Thief, and 2 1st Level Fighters -- this wasn't the make up of the group playing. My group had a Cleric, a Fighter, and a Magic User.

Let's also assume that the characters have 2 statistics valued at 14-15, which is actually pretty good in a roll 3d6 in order char gen system, associated with their class (I'll also show my player's actual characters) and average hit points rolled for their respective class. This will give us characters that look roughly like the following:

Average Party
Name Armor Class Hit Points THACO High Stats Weapon
Cleric 2 5 19 Wis/Con Warhammer 1d6
Magic User 9 4 19 Int/Con Dagger 1d4
Thief 6 4 19/18 Dex/Con Short Sword 1d6
Fighter 2 6 18 Str/Con Longsword 1d8+1
Fighter 2 6 18 Str/Con Longsword 1d8+1

Name Armor Class Hit Points THACO High Stats Weapon
Fighters 5 5 19 none Longsword 1d8
Elf 4 6 18 Str/Dex Longbow 1d6/Longsword 1d8
Thieves 6 4 19 none Short Sword 1d6

A quick look at these charts, as well as a basic understanding of D&D, reveals that the average "Opponent" Fighter has the following chances to hit the Average party.

Character Type Attacked Percent Hit Avg Damage Avg Hits to Kill
Fighters 20% 5 2
Mages 55% 5 1
Clerics 20% 5 1
Thieves 40% 5 1

As you can see, the average "non-Fighter" 1st Level character dies the first time that they are hit and Fighters are killed on the second hit. This is modified by the percentage chance to be hit. If we look at it as a Damage Per Round Equation (DPR = %toHit*AvgDam), we can determine the average number of rounds of combat a particular character will survive at First Level.

Character Type Attacked Percent Hit Avg Damage DPR DPR/HP
Fighters 20% 5 1 6
Mages 55% 5 2.75 1+
Clerics 20% 5 1 5
Thieves 40% 5 2 2

This demonstrates a couple of things. While your average Fighter can only take 2 hits before being killed, he is still likely to last 6 rounds due to his low likelihood of being hit. Clerics are also have a fair chance of staying around for a while in a fight. Magic Users and Thieves, on the other hand, drop like flies.

Which brings my to my group on Saturday. It consisted of a Cleric, a Fighter, and a Magic User. The module specifically states that the Elf aims at any non-armored individuals with his Longbow. In this particular case, he had a 60% chance of hitting the Mage and his average damage was enough to kill the Mage outright -- and that's what happened.

For some, the fragility of low level characters isn't a problem. For them, the lethality of "Basic" D&D is one of its charms. I am not one of these people. I love the simplicity of the "Basic" system, but I also like to have my characters feel heroic. For me role playing games are about telling a story and having fun. Having your character killed in the first round of combat might be fun for some people, but it wasn't fun for my player. I had rolled the damage in "public view" and couldn't fudge the damage done, so this led me to institute one of my old house rules -- a house rule that I believe vital to "Basic."

DAMAGE HOUSE RULE #1 (0 HP Is Incapacitated Not Dead -- Unless a Coup de Grace is Delivered)

One of the things that led me to instituting this house rule was that some of the most "lethal" role playing games, Warhammer Fantasy and Dragon Warriors come quickly to mind, have systems that do not allow for low level characters to be "one hit killed." Instead they have "Fate Points" which can be spent to avoid death, or starting hit point totals that are greater than a single blow can deal in damage.

I don't mind players being incapacitated, so both of these are out. What I have ruled is that when I am running a "Basic" game, no character dies until the end of an encounter. If you are at zero or fewer hit points at the end of a combat, then you are dead. If you are healed before the last opponent is defeated/flees, then you can participate until you are incapacitated again. Given that the only way to heal a character in "Basic" is with magic items or spells, this isn't too "forgiving" of a rule, but it did allow our party to treat the mage's wound with a potion of healing and kept the player involved.

HOUSE RULE #2 (The 1st Rolled Hit that Does Damage Against PCs Doesn't Count Rule)

This isn't a rule that I used last night, but it is one that I am considering using. Given the fragility of "Basic" characters, it might be nice to give them a chance to automatically take zero damage from the first attack that hits them. Each player essentially has one "ablative" hit that cancels the first time they are struck in combat. This way players can feel heroic, after all they survived the first hit against them this combat, without being too powerful. This has the added effect of having diminishing value as the characters go higher in level. Higher level creatures tend to have more attacks and PCs have higher hit points so giving an additional hit doesn't alter the fear of death too much.

Since Fighters, Clerics, and similar Classes are so hard to hit in the first place, I might limit this to just Magic Users. It could be a class feature called "protective ward" or some such. Since Magic Users have such a low survivability rate at low levels, this seems a natural addition.

Mind you, if your group doesn't have a problem with one hit kills and finds that challenge rewarding than these rules aren't for you. I will be using them with my group though.