Saturday, March 13, 2010

The New Old Campaign Design - Part 10 - Technology

Setting some baselines for the campaign:


Among humans leather armor is the most common, chainmail is typically found among elite guards, and plate is reserved for leaders, knights and powerful adventuring fighters. For human crafters making leather armor is Easy (Common), chain is Average (Uncommon), and plate is Difficult (Rare).

Among dwarves chainmail is casual daily wear while plate is formal wear for more dressy occasions. Leather is considered practically naked, and is not considered suitable for fighting in at all. Adult dwarves own at least one suit of chainmail (they may have made it themselves as their graduation project from Dwarf School), most own 2 or 3, and all warriors own a suit of plate as well. Leather is considered underwear and is acquired and discarded as necessary.For Dwarf crafters making chain is Easy (Common), plate is Average (Uncommon), and leather is not a challenge in any way.

Among elves leather is normal daily wear, often dyed and tooled with intricate designs. Chainmail is fighting armor that is only donned when battle is expected. Plate is unheard of among the elves and being considered "dwarf armor" will not be worn by any self-respecting elf. Thus Elf-sized suits of plate are extremely rare, though they could adjust a human sized suit fairly quickly if they had too. Most view enchanted chain as being just as good as plate anyway, and that is what powerful elves prefer. For Elven crafters leather is Easy (Common) and chain is Average (Uncommon) and if they tried to make a suit of plate it would be Very Difficult (Very Rare)

Halflings generally wear leather, and then only when they have to. A halfling in chain is usually a rush job before a major battle and is uncomfortable at best. Halflings in plate have been theorized but never actually found in the wild.


Dwarves favor axes and hammers for melee fighting, throwing axes for short-range missiles, and crossbows for longer ranged fire. Dwarves will use swords, especially magical ones, but in general they prefer these other weapons. They do not use bows as a rule, seeing the crossbow as an improved bow - so why use the unimproved version? Plus, although most would never admit it, elves status as masters of the bow puts the dwarves off from bows anyway. It is widely believed that dwarves invented the crossbow so they see it as "their" weapon.

Elves favor swords and daggers for melee and bows for all ranged combat. When it comes to swords, elves prefer the longsword and elven blades tend to be lighter and thinner, sometimes single-edged. Short swords are not favored, nor are thick heavy broadswords. Some elven warriors specialize in the two-handed sword but this is not common - it is sen as a somewhat specialized school of fighting and is usually only taught by individual masters of the style. IIn contrast, two-weapon fighting is fairly widespread, with longsword and dagger being the most common combination. Every adult male elf owns at least one sword and one bow. Bows are often made from exotic woods or other natural materials and are often intricately decorated over years with scenes from the holders life. Most battles involving elves will begin with massed archery, and even in skirmishes elves prefer to shoot first and keep shooting until the enemy charges them.

Human weapon use tends to be clustered based on the preferences of the group's leader. The Watch in one town may be armed with spears while in another they bear battle axes. The most common weapon among humans is probably the spear, with swords being the next most common. Daggers are the universal back-up weapon of humanity. Maces are the typical weapon of the clergy. Leaders and civilized types favor the sword, while more barbaric types tend towards the axe. Some prefer bows, some crossbows, while the poor make do with slings. Polearms sprang from the widespread human use of the spear and attempts to make the spear better. They are typically a human weapon, though some dwarves have adopted versions of them as well. Polearms are typically found in the older, richer, more civilized human communities.

Hlaflings tend to prefer shortswords and daggers for melee and shortbows for ranged combat, although thrown items have a place as well. They do not typically use crossbows or polearms.

General Use Items

Lighting in most human places is done by candle, torch or by large hearth fire. Oil lamps have been around for years but rely on a supply of oil to burn in them. If such a supply is available then many homes and temples will use these instead of torches. Seaside communities are where these are most common. magical light sources are typically found only in temples or wizard dwellings.

Elves typically do not use oil lamps but they do use magical lighting in many places - since there are so many magic users among them, it is much easier to do than it would be for other races.

Dwarves prefer fire as a light source and will use lamps the same as humans. They can use magical lighting but nowhere near as much as elves.

Machinery or clockwork is not commonly available except as part of large mining operations, typically handled by dwarven crafters, where it is large, heavy, and typically muscle or water powered. A few mad geniuses may have crafted a music box or a magical nightingale somewhere over the years but these would be considered a magical thing, not a mundane creation, by most common folk.

Gunpowder is not available or sought after. Some alchemists know about it but the practical uses are not recognized. It is possible the New Gods do not wish it to be created and suppress it when it is.

Ships are typically wooden sailing or oared vessels, from small rowboats to galleys to large cog/caravel type sailing ships. Sailing has been around for centuries and skill levels are high but sailing is very dangerous due to weather, limited navigational tools, and the absolutely staggering number and variety of creatures in the waters that will attack ships and swimmers. It is widely viewed as a dangerous activity and those who make their living on the sea are viewed as both heroes and lunatics.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

How I track RPG sessions

I thought some people might wonder how another DM actually manages combat & campaign info - it's not something that comes up a whole lot so I thought I would share.

(I promise this has something to do with Savage Worlds too)

I keep a campaign notebook, one of those smaller 4X6 or larger spiral notebooks. For each session I write down the date, the campaign session number, who showed up, and where the game starts (a room in a dungeon or a building in a city or "on the road to Greyhawk". If I'm tracking time closely then I also note the game-time date as well (I do this in all of my D&D games but I am not doing this for NE - it's not really necessary and it's not really something comic books keep track of either.)

As the session proceeds I write down notes on what the party does, NPC's met, major financial transactions, church donations, etc. This helps greatly in fleshing out locations like the local town or city as when I jot down that they talked to the innkeeper at the Rusty Falchion I can also jot down his name (even if he didn't have one before) and a short description (Nervous, balding). Next time they return, the same guy is probably going to be there. Also, if Steve's Paladin commissions a magic sword from the local sword smith and I say it's going to take him 30 days to craft it, then I know where and when that process started. Most sessions don't even fill up a whole page with these kinds of things, maybe half a page at most.

I also keep my combat notes on the same page which can cause it to spill over into an extra page. If they get into a fight with 12 orcs, my notes look something like this:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 AC6 HP 5

Those "l"'s at the top are where I track rounds (tally marks). Each beastie gets its own column to track hit points, and the armor class and hit points for the group are noted off to the side along with any other major features, like "DR10 vs. fire". As PC's attack, I usually start with #1 and work to the left, counting the "ones at the front" as the leftmost numbers, moving right as we get to the guys at the back. I jot down status effects on each column like S for stunned or H3 for held on round 3. I also note down high and low points like "Barbarian crits for 30 on orc chieftain, slaying him in 1 hit" or "Wizard held on rnd 1, did nothing the entire fight".

In previous editions I wrote initiative down as well in a column then crossed it out and wrote the new order down each round. For 3rd edition I keep an index card for each PC and just write down their initiative for each encounter (crossing out the last one) and put them in order. I keep a few in a different color handy for the opposition and do the same thing. It's simple, it works, and it's cheap. I picked up one of those combat tracker magnetic boards from Paizo a few years back because I loved the idea but in practice I like my index cards better. For running older editions I might give it another try, but it has mostly gathered dust.

So why do all of this jotting stuff down and marking up paper? For one, it greatly aids in tracking player attendance, the passage of time in the game, NPC's, locations and travel times, and all of those little things that make a campaign feel coherent. Not everyone needs this but it helps me stay organized. Also, it gives me a log of the game I can look back at when prepping the next session, plus one I can look back on months later when the party travels back through the region. Additionally, if you are going to put session summaries up on the internet, you really need some notes like this, so why not make them part of the routine?

I started tracking combat this way back when I occasionally ran 1st edition AD&D and it has worked for every edition of the game for me. I didn't start doing the whole campaign notebook thing as a routine until 3rd edition but I have used it for every 3rd edition game and every non-D&D campaign too. It's now a standard thing for me and one of my rituals when starting a new campaign is to go pick up a new notebook.

Savage Worlds: I am using the same approach for my Necessary Evil campaign but I have already noticed some differences. The biggest one is that there are no hit points in Savage Worlds so my "combat tracks" are non-existent. We track status by placing poker chips under the mini for each opponent though since most of them are not wild cards one wound drops them - the only status that must regularly tracked is "Shaken" and we mark it with a white chip. So I have no real combat records which is not a huge thing but it is odd as the combat tracks often take up a great deal of space. This leaves my session logs looking a little sparse, but I do like the speed and simplicity of the system.

Also, specific to the NE campaign, most of the NPC's are already statted and described so Idon;t have "innkeeper" NPC's to describe at this point. These are supervillains, so they aren't looting bodies or purchasing spell components. It's another change that I am OK with, it's just a noticeably different feel.