Wednesday, February 5, 2014

RL #15: Out of (and into) the Dark

Last session left the characters in a particularly bad spot. We resumed with the orc gazing down at them from the top of the ten-foot pit where they were trapped; after growling a few undecipherable orders to the surrounding kobolds, the orc left and I put the players on the clock, with one minute of real time equalling one minute of game time.

They tried a few things initially (searching the walls, attempting to scare the kobolds away with a torch, attaching a grappling hook to the underside of the raft), but didn't seem to yield any real benefit. Finally, seventeen minutes in (three minutes before the orc would return with allies to turn the pit into a cook-fire, though the players didn't know this), Alaric donned Lady Silva's black mask.

Black tendrils of smoke clasped the mask to his visage, and Alaric took the form of a hulking orc chieftain bearing a giant hatchet. Succeeding a few key ability checks, he climbed the already-secured rope and swung to the nearest ledge, pushing the raft aside just enough to fit through. Where prior to the change, the kobolds prodded at the PCs aggressively from above with their javelins, from orc-Alaric the creatures backed away, slowly and warily.

Nora was hoisted up next, and as Leilana followed her out, a half-dozen orcs came running for the corridor. Alaric slung Nora over his shoulder and burst through a line of kobolds, racing for the upriver raft while accepting hits from flying javelins. Once aboard, Alaric cut the tether and he and Leilana paddled with all speed.

The orcs reached the bank and leveled crossbows, but with the party outside the range of their infravision, the bolts sailed wide - and with the last remaining raft still covering the pit-trap, the enemies had no easy means to follow. The companions crossed the river, took to the tunnels, and fled from the well, all alive.

Back in Morninging, Alaric sought healing for Nora, and as she was revived, Leilana organized a team of villagers to collapse and seal the well. In the following days, the trio recovered from their wounds and readied a team of hunters and men-at-arms to scour the forest for additional threats.

DM's Commentary

This was a short session; we didn't have a ton of time, and while I didn't know at the beginning how things would play out, I figured that one way or another, resolution would be quick. Things ended as well as the players could possibly have hoped, and I'm not really sure if the party had another out after the mask (of note, Alaric required a save vs. spell to remove it from his face, though he made the roll easily). Alaric's Strength checks in the pit were key - while failure to climb out quickly wouldn't have caused damage, it would have cost valuable time. When finally the PCs escaped, Alaric was left with one hit point from the javelins (the players saw my actual damage rolls).

Morningsong, while thankful that the well is sealed, is more concerned than ever that orcs and kobolds are lurking barely a mile from the village, albeit underground. To those villagers that survived the battle twenty-five years prior, the fear of imminent danger is all too familiar.


Not a ton of XP to award, but the party's foray in the catacombs wasn't entirely unfruitful:

  • 12 kobolds slain - 90 XP
  • Sealing the well - 500 XP

That's 197 points each (216 for Nora). I think the award for sealing the well is justified; the party could easily have left it intact for further exploration and plundering, but by sealing it off they ensure that no monsters can use it to invade the village, even after the characters leave. XP totals are updated on the right.

All in all, I'm surprised everyone made it out. Had Alaric gone down, Nora would likely have been lost as well. The party had a brief window for escape before the orcs returned, and to their credit they made the most of it.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Adventurers in Society

Not that I want players thinking too much about new characters yet, but this section of the 2e DMG gives good insight on how the classes work in a typical medieval(ish) society. I've always liked reading stuff like this so just wanted to post it.


Fighters are by far the most common character types in normal campaigns. They must meet the least stringent class requirements and are drawn from the biggest pool of talent--soldiers of innumerable armies, mercenary companies, militias, palace guards, temple hosts, and sheriff's men. In these and other forces, the potential fighter learns his trade. He is taught how to handle weapons and care for them. He picks up some basic tactics and earns acceptance as a fighting man.

From these ranks some go on to become 1st-level fighters. Such men are often given rank in recognition of their talents. Thus, a 1st-level fighter may become a corporal or a sergeant. As the ranks become greater and more influential, the tendency is to award these to higher level fighters. However, this trend is not absolute and often breaks down at the highest levels. The captain of the company may be a 12th-level fighter, but he would still take orders from a 0-level prince!

Level is no guarantee of rank, nor is rank fixed to level. Some people don't want responsibility and all that comes with it. They would rather let other people tell them what to do. Such characters may become accomplished fighters but never advance beyond the rank of common soldier. Political maneuvering and favoritism can raise even the lowest level character to the highest positions of authority.

Since fighters tend to rise above the level of the common soldier, few armies are composed of high- or even low-level fighters. While there is little difference in ability between the typical foot soldier and a 1st-level fighter, it is just not possible to find an army of 20,000 4th-level fighters. It's rare enough to find 1,000 or so 2nd-level fighters in a single unit. Such units are elite, superbly trained and outfitted, and are normally held in reserve for special tasks. They may be the shock troops of an assault, a special bodyguard, or the reserve of an army held back for pursuit.

Adventurer fighters (whether player characters or NPCs) are those who have struck out on their own. Not every man is content to take orders or give orders, and fame seldom comes to the common foot soldier. Some men are willing to try to rise through the ranks, but it is by no means an easy or speedy process. There aren't many openings, nor is it a path where skill at arms guarantees success.

Given all this, it's not surprising that most fighters opt for the more direct method of adventuring. In the course of adventuring, though, many fighters find themselves becoming leaders and commanders, assembling men around them as they carve their own place in the world.


Paladins are rare, in part because of the statistics of dice rolling and in part because paladinhood is an exacting road for characters to follow. It is easy to err and fall from the special state of grace required. Not every character is up to these demands, but those few that are can be truly special. You will not find units with thousands, hundreds, or even tens of paladins. At best, they form small groups (such as the Twelve Peers of Charlemagne or some of the Knights of the Round Table).

Often, because of the sterling example they set, paladins lead others in battle. But, at the same time, they tend to be ill-suited to the task of ruling, which too often requires compromise of one's principles. It is common to find the paladin working in association with the clergy of his religion, but lone paladins, carrying their faith into the wilderness, also appear in the tales of bards.


Rangers tend to be loners, uncomfortable in the company of "civilized" men. They are also uncommon, again due to the demanding ability requirements of the class. These two factors make armies or companies of rangers most unlikely, only marginally less common than hordes of paladins.

Although loners, they do not mind the company of other rangers, those who understand the ways of the wilderness and the need for space. Small groups of rangers will sometimes join an army as its scouts, especially if the need is pressing. They will occasionally be found in forest villages or near untracked wildernesses. Here, guides, scouts, woodsmen, trappers, pioneers, and stalkers form the pool from which the ranger ranks are filled. Few can be found in civilized lands--rangers in cities are truly oddities.


Wizards are the most iconoclastic and self-important of all the character classes, for they are unique among all character classes. The peasant can pick up a sword and fight; a pious man can hope to serve his faith; a local wag can spin a good tale; and an unprincipled cad can rob the local merchants. But no one other than a wizard can cast magical spells. The need for highly specialized training truly sets them apart, and they know it.

When mages gather, they tend to form societies or associations, organizations for men who speak of things not understood by the common folk (much like scientists today). But wizards are too fractious and independent a lot to organize themselves into proper unions--they can barely manage to form moderately organized guilds.

Generally, their groups exist for such high-minded reasons as to "facilitate the exchange of knowledge" or "advance the state of the science of magic." Some prepare texts or papers to share with fellow mages, detailing their latest experiments and discoveries or outlining some new theory. They enjoy the recognition of their peers as much as anyone.

To outsiders, wizards seem aloof and daunting. Like craftsmen, they are most comfortable in the company of their fellows, speaking a language they all understand. The untrained, even apprentices, are intruders upon this fellowship and are apt to receive an icy and rude reception.

Wizards are an eccentric, even perverse, lot. They're likely to be found just about anywhere. Nonetheless, they have an affinity for civilization, ranging from small villages to vast cities. Only a few mages actually care to adventure since it is an extremely dangerous undertaking to which they are ill-trained and ill-suited. The vast majority spend their time experimenting in seclusion or working in the service of others, preferably well paid.

Many mages, especially those of lesser ability, turn their art to practical ends--almost every village has a fellow who can whip up a few useful spells to help with the lambing or simplify the construction of a house. In larger cities, these mages become more specialized, such that one might lend his talents to construction, another to the finding of lost things, and a third to aiding the local jewelers in their craft.

Nearly all major families, merchant princes, and nobles have a mage or two in their employ. A few attempt (generally without success) to have these wizards mass-produce magical items. The problem is that wizards are as difficult to manage as rangers or paladins. They do not care for others bossing them around or encroaching upon their perceived privileges and rights, especially since they have the magical resources to make their displeasure known. Also, they are usually kept busy finding ways to strike at their employer's rivals (or thwarting such attempts against their own lord). Foolish is the king who does not have a personal wizard, and lamentable is the ruler who trusts the wrong mage.

Not all wizards spend their time in the service of others. Some seek naught but knowledge. These scholar-mages tend to be viewed much like great university professors today--noble and distant, pursuing truth for its own sake. While not directly in the service of others, they can sometimes be commissioned to perform some duty or answer some question.

The wealthy often provide endowments for such men, not to buy their services (which aren't for sale) but to curry their favor in hopes that they will provide honor, glory, and just perhaps something useful. This situation is not unlike that of the great artists of the Renaissance who were supported by princes hoping to impress and outdo their rivals.

There are wizards who spend all their time shut away from humanity in dark, forbidding towers or gloomy, bat-infested caves. Here they may live in rooms where opulent splendor mingles with damp foulness. Perhaps the strains and demands of their art have driven them mad. Perhaps they live as they do because they see and know more than other men. Who knows? They are, after all, eccentric in the extreme.


Priest characters are not required to take up arms and set out on adventures to smite evil. No, their hierarchies require administrators, clerks, and devout workers of all types. Thus, although there may be many clergymen and women at a temple or monastery, only a few will have a character class and levels.

Not all monks at a monastery are 1st-level (or higher) clerics. Most are monks or nuns, devout men and women working to serve their faith. Non-adventuring clergy are no less devout than their adventuring brethren, nor do they receive any less respect. Thus, it is possible to have leaders within a religious hierarchy who show no signs of special clerical ability, only proper faith and piety.

Even more so than with military men, though, level is not a determiner of rank. Wisdom and its use, not the application of firepower or the number of foemen smitten, are the true pearls of the clergy. Indeed the goal of some beliefs is to demonstrate the greatest wisdom by divesting oneself of all earthly bonds--power, wealth, pride, and even level abilities--in an attempt to attain perfect harmony with everything.

In the end, adventuring priests tend to form a small nucleus of crusaders for the faith. They are the ones who demonstrate their faith by braving the dangers that threaten their beliefs, the ones who set examples through trials and hardships. From these, others may spiritually profit.


Thieves are often people who don't fit in elsewhere. Unlike other classes, nearly all thieves are adventurers, often by necessity. True, many settle permanently in a single area and live off the local population, but when your life tends to be in defiance of the local law, you have to be ready to leave at a moment's notice! Each job is an adventure involving great risks (including, possibly, death), and there are precious few opportunities to relax and let your guard down.

Thieves occasionally form guilds, especially in major cities and places with a strong sense of law and order. In many cases, they are forced to cooperate merely to survive. Influential thieves see guilds as a way to increase their own profits and grant them the image of respectability. They become dons and crimelords, directing operations without ever having to dirty their hands.

At the same time, the membership of a thieves' guild is by definition composed of liars, cheats, swindlers, and dangerously violent people. Thus, such guilds are hotbeds of deceit, treachery, and back-stabbing (literally). Only the most cunning and powerful rise to the top. Sometimes this rise is associated with level ability, but more often it is a measure of the don's judge of character and political adeptness.

Curiously, thieves who are masters of their craft tend not to advance too high in the organization. Their talents in the field are too valuable to lose, and their effort is expended on their art, not on maneuvering and toadying. There is, in fact, no rule that says the leader of the thieves' guild has to be a thief. The leader's job involves charisma, character appraisals, and politicking--the powerful crimelord could turn out to be a crafty merchant, a well-educated nobleman, or even an insidious mind flayer.


Bards are rare and, like thieves, tend to be adventurers, but for somewhat different reasons. They do occasionally violate the law and find it necessary to move on to the next town--and the next adventure--but more often they are driven by curiosity and wanderlust. Although some bards settle down in a town or city, most travel from place to place. Even "tamed" bards (as the settled ones are sometimes called) feel the urge to go out and explore, gather a few more tales, and come home with a new set of songs. After all, the entertainment business demands variety.

There are generally no bard guilds or schools, no colleges, societies, or clubs. Instead, bards sometimes band in secret societies, loose affiliations that allow them to improve their art while maintaining an aura of mystery.

Most frequently, however, bards rely on the informal hospitality of their kind. Should one bard arrive in the town of another, he can reasonably expect to stay with his fellow for a little while, provided he shares some of his lore and doesn't cut into his host's business. After a time, during which both bards learn a few of the other's tales and songs, the visitor is expected to move on. Even among bards it is possible to overstay one's welcome.

Of course, there are times when a bard decides not to leave but to set up shop and stay. If the population is big enough to support both bards, they may get along. If it isn't, there will almost certainly be bad blood between the two. Fortunately, though, one or the other can usually be counted on to get wanderlust and set out on some great, new adventure. Bards do tend to be incurable romantics, after all.