Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Advice to Players Part II

Beneath my feet, then, the earth must be tunnelled enormously, and these tunnellings were the habitat of the new race.

– H. G. Wells, The Time Machine
Dungeons & Ruins

The most common adventure locations in Dungeon Crawl Classics are in dungeons and ruins, including the ruins of cities, towns, castles, temples, etc.  The term “dungeon” in this context, means any location, primarily underground, that limits movement and visibility.  These regions often contain the lairs of monsters as well as long-forgotten treasures waiting to be uncovered by the clever and bold.

Dungeons are popular because, by restricting options, they are easier for the Judge to build than other locations, and because they present clearer decision points to players (for much the same reason).

Dungeons can be roughly divided between limited boundary dungeons and mega-dungeons

Limited boundary dungeons are generally small, of finite area – places characters enter with very specific goals, or places that can be completely investigated over one or more game sessions.  Often, characters enter limited boundary dungeons to accomplish some specific goals.  Branches from those goals exist to tempt and trap characters, to waste time, and otherwise distract them from their major goal.

Mega-dungeons, sometimes also called campaign dungeons, are larger – they may be effectively infinite due to ongoing additions over the course of a campaign.  The point of a mega-dungeon is not simply to accomplish some specific goal (although specific goals certainly are the focus of given game sessions and adventures).  A campaign dungeon exists to be explored over the course of a campaign.  Dipping into a mega-dungeon repeatedly, with a wide variety of goals, is characteristic of a campaign with such a feature.
A limited boundary dungeon is most often densely populated (in terms of traps, creatures, and/or treasure), but mega-dungeons are often created using a mixture of large swathes of unpopulated areas mixes with small pockets of heavy population. 

In this way, mega-dungeons are similar to a wilderness region.  Groups of inhabited chamber, caves, etc., are analogues to limited boundary dungeons within the overarching whole.

Slowly he groped his way along, feeling with his hands upon the tunnel's walls, and cautiously with his feet ahead of him upon the floor before he could take a single forward step.

– Edgar Rice Burroughs, Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar

The importance of a trustworthy light source while traversing underground regions cannot be overstated.  In the wilderness, one can often see at least a little by light of stars and moon.  In the town, one can hire linkboys to carry torches even on the darkest night. 

But in the deep places underground, barring some source of phosphorescence, natural or unnatural, creatures without infravision or light are utterly blind.

"There must be a secret door behind those hangings, though I can not find it – "

– Robert E. Howard, The Gods of Bal-Sagot
Secret Doors & Hidden Passages

Secret and concealed doors, as well as the hidden passages and areas they mask, have been a staple of adventure and fantasy fiction for over a century.  A secret door is one which is devised to look like part of a wall, a bookshelf, etc., whereas a concealed door is a normal door that is hidden by some means (such as behind a tapestry, or plastered over).

Simply finding a secret door does not guarantee an ability to open it.  There is generally some opening mechanism that must be discovered separately.  Taking a specific action that causes the door to open always works, and usually requires no roll.  Thus, if turning a wall sconce opens a secret door, and a player has her character do so, then the door opens.

As Hooker handled the ingots he felt a little prick on the ball of his thumb. He looked at his hand and saw a slender thorn, perhaps two inches in length.

– H. G. Wells, The Treasure in the Forest
Traps & Hazards

Covered pits (with or without spikes), poisoned needles, wire snares, sliding chutes that deposit characters in a new level, teleporters, and spells that set to go off with a particular trigger occurs are all examples of traps.  Traps are intentionally set by intelligent creatures, or set by creatures using instinct. 

Weakened floors that collapse under too much weight, rock slides, avalanches, undertows, and poisonous plants are examples of hazards.  Hazards occur naturally, due to rot, erosion, and similar forces.

Wilderness Adventures

Adventures in the wilderness usually consist of two types – travel and exploration.  Travel adventures consist of going from Point A to Point B, and the encounters that take place while doing so.  Exploration adventures, sometimes called hex-crawling (due to the tendency to map wilderness areas on hexagonal graph paper) consist of going wherever mood or the lay of the land takes you.

If they are only for short distances, travel adventures may not require special preparations.  However, longer travel adventures, as well as exploration adventures, may require extensive provisions, requiring a baggage train, animal handlers, and possibly local guides.  If the characters suspect large numbers of bandits or humanoids, or if they are concerned with staying fresh themselves, they might need mercenary soldiers and guards.  At the very least, guards can be posted as a night watch to allow the PCs to get a good night’s sleep.

Wilderness adventures often uncover new opportunities.  If you learn of a cave system, an old ruin, etc., be sure to make note of it.  Even if your characters are not equipped to explore it when it is first discovered, you can always go back at a later date, when time isn’t pressing and the necessary gear is available.

When travelling in the wilderness, the possibility of getting lost, encountering inclement weather, and natural hazards (forest fires, avalanches, etc.) can be as dangerous as any creature that your character might meet. Of course, when travelling, a group moves at the speed of its slowest member.  Encounters and hazards can slow these rates down.  Favourable winds and/or currents can speed up water travel.

You can get no provisions on the road, and must carry with you all that you require for these 12 days.

–Marco Polo, The Travels of Marco Polo, Vol. 1

Characters, their followers, and their animals, all require a measure of food and water on a daily basis.  A human requires half a gallon of water and one pound of food each day.  Other creatures require more or less food and water as is proportional to their sizes.

Starvation House Rules

A creature that fails to consume enough food can last for a number of days equal to its Stamina bonus (if any) plus its Level or Hit Dice before negative effects set in.  Thereafter, it must make a Fort save each day (DC 10) or take 1 point of Stamina damage.  Moreover, each day the character must roll the Fort save, he or she suffers a cumulative –2 penalty to all checks, saves, and attack rolls.  Worse, the negative effects continue until the character eats at least one pound of food.  Penalties and lost Stamina are restored thereafter at the same rate as they were initially accrued, until the character is back to normal.  Ability damage cannot be healed until the character has had a chance to eat.

Failure to consume enough water (or similar liquid) causes double these consequences – a cumulative –4 penalty to all checks, saves, and attack rolls, as well as a loss of 2 Stamina points per daily Fort save failed.  As with food, these consequences are restored at the same rate they are initially accrued once a daily allotment of water is consumed.

Penalties for lack of water begin immediately on the day after failure to consume enough water.
Penalties for lack of food and lack of water stack.  If the Judge so desires, bonuses can be given to Fortitude saves due to lack of provisions if some portion of food and/or water is available.  Likewise, penalties for excessive activity can be assigned.

Normal Men and Starvation

The average normal man has a 10 Constitution, has 1 Hit Die, and has 3 hp.  Starvation therefore begins at 1 day without food, and the average normal man can last an average of 9 more days before succumbing to starvation, depending upon making saves.  A normal man therefore starves to death in 1d6+7 days as a generous average.

Likewise, without water, a normal man dies in 1d3+2 days.

Without either food or water, a normal man dies within 1d3+1 days.

But I was by this time so weary that I could have slept twelve hours at a stretch; I had the taste of sleep in my throat; my joints slept even when my mind was waking; the hot smell of the heather, and the drone of the wild bees, were like possets to me; and every now and again I would give a jump and find I had been dozing.

–Robert Louis Stevenson, Kidnapped
Sleep & Lack Thereof

Generally, a character must have 8 hours of rest (including 6 hours of sleep) each day to be in top form.  If a character fails to get enough sleep, the Judge may assign penalties to his or her actions.

After 24 hours awake, a character must roll a Will or Fort save (DC 10) whenever conditions conducive to sleep present themselves (including while keeping watch). Failure means that the character falls asleep for 1d6 hours (or until awakened).

After 48 hours awake, the save DC is increased to 20, and the period of sleep is 2d6 hours.  After 72 hours awake, the save DC is increased to 30, and the period of sleep is 4d6 hours.  Every additional 24 hours increases the DC by +10, and increases the period of sleep by +1 hour.

Town Adventures

Town adventures are considerably different from dungeon or wilderness adventures, if only because – within the confines of a city – there is a rule of law.  In even the most unruly of villages, there is some authority that acts to limit (or oppose) the PCs’ actions.  In addition to the legitimate government, most towns of any size contain crime bosses, gangs, petty nobles, and other forms of “governing bodies” legitimate, illegitimate, or both.

Town adventures often contain heavy elements of intrigue.  Problems exist that must be solved with a glib tongue and a ready wit...force of arms is not always the best (or even a possible) solution.  It is incumbent on players to determine who their characters can trust, what hidden motives exist, and whether or not things are really as they seem.

Town adventures can include flashing blades from time to time, however, and the sewers may well teem with creatures as horrible and aberrant as those in the darkest dungeons.  Second story jobs await thieves, audiences listen in rapt attention to bards, and every street corner is a potential pulpit for a proselytizing cleric.

The dangers in town are different than those in a dungeon – social, legal, and economic – but the prizes can be just as rich for enterprising PCs!

So here was an end to great hopes, and I was after all to leave the vault no richer than I had entered it.

– J. Meade Falkner, Moonfleet
When Things Go Wrong

There are games where the GM has specific guidelines about how much funds and equipment should be available to characters based on their level.  There are games where secret doors exist only to be found, or hidden treasure keeps moving until the PCs look in its most recent location.  There are games where PCs cannot die, unless they choose to make that possible, and games where the GM is intended to be a storyteller – where the PCs are all but guaranteed to get to the “final act”.

Dungeon Crawl Classics is not that kind of game, and sometimes things go wrong.

It is the philosophy of Dungeon Crawl Classics that adventuring is a high-risk occupation, where amazingly things happen, for good or ill.  Monsters do not care if you wish to live or die.  Treasures do not teleport themselves around until you find them.  In Dungeon Crawl Classics, a combination of good luck and intelligent play can make low-level characters rich and powerful – conversely, in some milieus (either through bad luck or because the milieu is devised that way), even high-level characters might have little in the way of money or gear.

Roll with it. 

The odds are that everything will even out in the end, and Dungeon Crawl Classics characters don’t need enough magic items to look like Christmas trees in order to be effective.  Remember that a good Judge wants you to succeed.  But a good Judge will also let you succeed or fail on your own merits, so that success is your accomplishment, rather than the accomplishment of the game rules being stacked to make failure all but impossible.

Rich and powerful treasures are likely to be there for the taking, if only you find them.  Of course, so are deadly traps and monsters.  Use your best judgement.  Sometimes, when things seem grimmest, you are closest to glory.  Other times, it just means you need to look somewhere else.

Don’t let a little bad luck get you down, or ruin your gaming.

Others went, and they too died, and the place was abandoned as accursed, and in time its very existence became forgotten; though some say that members of the tribe have always kept watch there, and that those who carelessly or curiously approached it have always met with their death in strange ways.

– G. A. Henty, The Treasure of the Incas
Character Death

Sometimes characters die. 

If a character’s body is not eaten, lost, or abandoned, there is a chance that the character can be brought back to life by powerful magic, although this is by no means certain. In fact, in Dungeon Crawl Classics, even an abandoned character might be somehow recovered, or the action might pick up with the dead character(s) trying to escape from Hell. 

You probably shouldn't throw your character's sheet away!

If you have a character stable, you can simply use another character.  Perhaps it is time that the dead character’s henchman becomes a primary character...at least until the PCs reach somewhere where another character can logically join the group.

You may have other levelled characters surviving from a 0-level funnel, or the Judge may allow you to bring in a new character of 1st or higher level.  In this case, be ready to use your knowledge of the milieu and Appendix N fiction to make the character fit in.  Don’t be surprised if the Judge insists on your having both allies and enemies – including some you might not choose!

"Time, dear friend, time brings round opportunity; opportunity is the martingale of man. The more we have ventured the more we gain, when we know how to wait."

Alexandre Dumas, The Three Musketeers
Finally, characters slain by un-dead creatures, who leave major business unsettled, or whose remains are improperly disposed of, may arise as un-dead creatures themselves.  In this case, the former PC becomes an NPC in control of the Judge.

Whenever a player uses multiple characters in a game session, the player should remember that each character is a separate being; they do not necessarily have the same personality or goals.  In some cases, players will have characters who are members of the same family and/or organization, but this isn’t necessary for a character stable.  Indeed, it is possible (and, in some campaigns, desirable) to have a character stable in which some characters have a relationship with others in the stable, but some are completely separate.

It was a long, difficult business, for the coins were of all countries and sizes – doubloons, and louis d'ors, and guineas, and pieces of eight, and I know not what besides, all shaken together at random.

– Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island

The goal of many adventures is to acquire treasure – sometimes a specific treasure known to be lost in the adventure site, and sometimes whatever general loot might be available for finding.

Treasure may be obvious, as it is when it comes in the form of precious stones, coins, and jewellery – or it may be less obvious, as when it comes in the form of trade goods, land claims, adventuring gear, and so on.

Treasure can be used by characters in several ways.  The most obvious way to use treasure is to spend it to improve equipment, hire mercenaries (or other hirelings), purchase and outfit a home base, etc.

Less obvious, but also worth considering, is giving treasure away as gifts.  This is discussed more fully in a previous post.

It should also be noted that it is not always necessary to gather every last copper piece in order to succeed in Dungeon Crawl Classics.  If searching for treasure is making the game drag, it is probably time to take some other action. If players waste too much time, they may encounter wandering monsters, may lose opportunities, etc.  Provisions – food and water – can provide a sharp limit to how long characters can spend in pursuit of any stray coin.  In some cases, an adventure site may impose other time limits. 

Sometimes, picking up treasure is just a way to outstay your welcome.  Excessive greed can lead to a bitter end.

Bloody the blade:  he was blithe of his deed.
Then blazed forth light.

– Anonymous, Beowulf
Magic Items

The most valuable treasures are magical.  Magical treasures can include single-use items (such as potions and scrolls), charged items (such as wands, staves, and some rings), and permanent items (such as many swords, rings, suits of armour, and miscellaneous magical items). 

Some magic items are easily identified as such.  A sword, like the giant-forged sword in Beowulf, might blaze forth light when bloodied.  Armour might be remarkably light.  Few wands are created without magical powers (although a “wand” can be left unfinished, be used up, or could simply be a prop).  Other items might appear mundane, or even less than mundane.

Not everything is always as it seems.  Even once a magic item is known to be magical, it might have additional powers that remain hidden.  Some magic items are cursed, causing problems for characters instead of granting them benefits.  In fact, in Dungeon Crawl Classics, it is not uncommon for an item to include both benefits and banes to its wielder. Other items might offer more mundane benefits not particularly useful to adventurers (or at least, not obviously so), such as a stone that attracts butterflies to a garden. 

It is also important to remember that not everything which appears to be a magical item is one.  Vials may contain many things besides potions – ink, paint, green slime – and scroll cases might as easily contain documents or maps as well as magical scrolls.

As with every other aspect of the game, balancing caution with daring is the key to dealing with magical items.

Division of Treasure

There are many ways to divide treasure among characters.  The most common method is to grant each character an equal share of all monetary treasures.  Magic items, and items of undisclosed value, may require a bit more work.

It is recommended that magic items are either given to the PC most able to use them to the party’s benefit.  This might mean that one PC gains far more than another, and might be considered unfair by some players. 
In this case, the PC gaining an excessive amount of magic might be required to pay a monetary forfeit. 

Another method is to put all magic items into a large “pot”, and allow each PC to choose an item in turn, until all items are selected.  Dice can be used to determine who gets to select first, second, and so on, or this could be based on seniority with the adventuring party.

Remember, too, that only a fool cheats people upon whose goodwill her life will later depend.  Unless, of course, she is absolutely certain that she will not be caught!

It seems to me you have nothing that makes life worth living. You have neither wife, children, riches, cooks, retinue, dresses, nor anything else in proportion to your station.

– C. J. Cutcliffe Hyne, The Lost Continent
Character Growth & Aging

All too often, characters in role-playing games do nothing more than amass money, magic, and power.  If you want a well-rounded character, though, you will consider what else your character(s) might want.

Characters can (and quite possibly should) fall in love, marry, raise children, start businesses, and in all ways become involved in the campaign world.  The more a character is involved in the milieu, the more the player gets from the milieu in return.

I did not stop to weigh and consider.  In other words, I did not stop to think, which I believe must be the way of men who do things – in contradistinction to those who think much and do nothing.

– Edgar Rice Burroughs, Pellucidar

Final Words of Advice

Success in any role-playing game relies upon willingness to give as much to the game as you expect to get out of it.  Dungeon Crawl Classics is no different.  

While you should expect to be treated with respect at the gaming table, you should likewise treat others with the same respect.  Remember that the Judge is usually doing more work than you are, and – while the Judge is usually doing this because he enjoys it – doing that work is worthy of a little extra leeway.

This is not to say that you should play a game you do not enjoy, or with people that you don’t enjoy gaming with.  It is rather an admonishment to be a person others enjoy gaming with.  If you are not willing to make that effort, you shouldn’t be surprised when others are unwilling to make the effort to play with you.

Your Judge will do a lot of the work of keeping the game going.  Nonetheless, most of the things the Judge can do to make the game move are less pleasant to the PCs than the things you can do – if the game begins to drag, therefore, it is incumbent upon you to do something!  Simply sitting on your hands, waiting for the GM to entertain you, may well prove lethal to your character.  Even doing something wrong is more fun than doing nothing at all.

Finally, remember that Dungeon Crawl Classics is a game.  Having fun is more important than success, or even character survival.  After all, the story of how Vismire the Valiant almost survived the dragon Galmorgan is one that might get told more often, and with more enjoyment, than those of your many successes.

Have fun, and good gaming!

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