Friday, January 17, 2014

Hill Cantons Bestiary: the Polevik

No. Enc.: 1d8
Alignment: Lawful (Evil)
Movement: 120’ (60’)
Armor Class: 3
Hit Dice: 2
Attacks: 2 Sickles or Special (see Below)
Damage: 1d6, 1d6
Save: E2
Morale: 8
XP: 50

In the corelands of Zem the grain field is simply and drearily a place of endless toil, in the borderlands it can also be a place of terror for the unwary. Old Pahr peasants whisper tales of millenia ago when a mysterious devil called The Man introduced the Poleviki, dread spirits of the field, into the world as a gift to the lords of the land.

A Polevik, when not invisible (an effect it can cast on itself twice a day, but always dissipates for a turn after noon), appears on first glance to be a benevolent dwarf-like spirit, pale-skinned and hairy with wheat-stalk hair and beard. But behind the large-mouthed grin and mixed blue and green eyes is pure malice.

Crouching patiently and malevolently behind the sun-dappled rows a Polevik will sit for years until that one fell moment when an exhausted field hand or drunk villager lays their head down for a stolen nap. Often only a bloodied work blouse remains behind as a sober reminder of vigilance. Once a decade or so during high summer, when the field-demons fidget with boredom, they will also lead a stray individual into the fields to their doom.

Beyond the short sharp shock of their sickles, Poleviki are also known to attack by a disease-ridden touch (hit at AC9). Without a successful save vs magic those such touched will be afflicted with a virulent and dangerous yeast infection that will spread without treatment over the whole body before killing in 2-7 weeks.

Some savants maintain that a Polevik can be appeased by tossing a sack containing a rooster, a jug of white gravy, a frog and a pork chop into a hole in the field, but old wise women discount such newfangled theories of science.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Holmes Homecoming

Saturday was so amazingly nice that I had to gut check my Slavic patrimony (nope, optimists are still those who think things can't get worse). It was a brilliant, mellow wintry sunny morning, my week of solid sleep deprivation had been whipped and best of all thanks to Mack of Super Galactic Dreadnought infamy I had a chance after 33 years to play Holmes Basic again.

I have not done nostalgia well in the last two years.

Way back in the hoary, time-misted year of 2008, when giants walked the earth and playing old school D&D was still a bit of an insurgency (or reaction)--you know when things were cool and you weren't there--I will freely admit to the sweet, sharp pain of nostalgia being a major draw back to reentering the hobby.

Six years later, though still playing more or less the same system, the campaign has grown out way more complicated than that simple back-to-basics pull. And I have seemed to break--with relish even--just about every rule I set out in the beginning not to do (have I told you about my 60-plus page Hill Cantons setting book recently?).

But sentimentality has a way of sneaking up on you. Over the holiday break I had a chance to make up to my mom's aging ranch-style house outside Fort Worth. To my more than I care to admit excitement she had a single box of my old roleplaying collection that she salvaged from the clutter demons of the garage. And in that box, coverless and heavily marked with urgent penciled in notes, was the Holmes rulebook that started all this at the ass end of 1979.

Long wind up here, Mack running his game (apparently his first DM role since the 1980s which you would never guess by the smoothness of the session) hit exactly at the right time. It was refreshingly..umm...“basic”.

It was the old 3d6 in a row. I promptly, and not-so imaginatively picked the same race and mandated class I always did back then, and never have since, an elf fighter/magic user. Even named him the same as my perennial character back then, Evaro IV. (Evaro I and II died quick unmemorable deaths in the Caves of Chaos, Evaro III graduated to AD&D and had a long, full life on the Wild Coast).

It was also all about the dungeon, a “wizard did it” affair and nameless “town.” For four hours the six of us fought, bullshited, retreated, skulked, and explored a surprisingly-large number of rooms (I guess I have become too used to the slower pace of online games). There were skeletons with mysterious keys on tethers, a witch-polymorphed “frog”, a gnome-whipped gnoll, a terrifying harpy and innumerable fights and near-calls.

It felt like coming “home”--and it was hella fun.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Pointcrawling Ruins, Stocking Structures

Onwards and upwards to part two of my series on Ruinscrawling. Stocking a ruined city with it's rather large and diverse range of habitations is another of the bigger hurdles to running such a beast. If you are like me you are pretty deliberate in planning the big ticket adventure sites (the abandoned palace, great temple and the like) and the barebones city planning elements (residential areas are here, ceremonial there) but tend to get stuck sometime in the brainstorming of each specific sub-zone.

Here are two random charts to help you unstick your brain in that process. Remember that the Non-Stupid Rule is in effect, ignore any results that contradict your image of who the builders of the site where or what you are going for as a challenge.

(A large round of special thanks to all the crowdsourcers on Google Plus for the decidedly weird second chart, see here for the individual descriptions in their more verbose, wonderful state.)

Point Type and Structures
Roll d100
01-20 Rubble Field (Type 1)
21-30 Freestanding Walls, No Structure (Type 2)
31-32 Abandoned Garden/Field/Orchard/Quarry (Type 1-3)
33 Neglected Canal/Lake/Pool/Fountain (Type 1-3)
34-37 City Walls/Fortification/Towers/Barracks (Type 2-5)
38-45 Lower Class Residential, Low Density (Type 2-3)
46-50 Lower Class Tenement (Type 2-4)
51-54 Middle Class Residential, Low Density (Type 2-4)
55-58 Middle Class Tenement/Rowhouse (Type 2-4)
59-60 Upper Class Residential (Type 2-5)
61-63 Small Market/Market Square/Bazaar (Type 2-4)
64-67 Artisan Workshops/Manufactory/Foundry (Type 2-4)
68-70 Warehouse/Granary/Silo (Type 2-4)
71-72 Plaza/Agora/Forum/Square (Type 2-4)
73-74 Gaol/Prison (Type 2-5)
75-80 Small Temple/Shrine/Fane/Sick House (Type 2-4)
81-83 Large Temple/Cathedral (Type 2-5)
84-85 Courts/Custom House/Public Official/Library (Type 2-5)
86 Palace
87-95 Mixed Usage (Roll Twice)
96-00 Unusual (see chart below)

Ruins originate in Advanced Builder Civilization +5
Ruins originate in High Weirdness +10

Unusual Structures
Roll d10, All Type 3-5
01-02 Necropolis
03-04 Cemetery
05-06 Crematorium
07-08 Death House
09-10 Ossuary
11-12 Aqueduct
12-13 Qanat 
14-15 Bath Houses
16-17 Gladiatorial Arena
18-19 Observatory
20-21 Scriptorium
22-23 Oracular Well/Cave/Grove
24-25 Triumphant Arch/Monument/Tower
26-27 Temple Brothel
28-29 Pagoda, Giant
30-31 Boulevard of Monumental Statutes
32-33 Semaphore/Signaling Tower
34-35 Giant Ceremonial Bell/Gong
36-37 Hermae Row
38-39 Lingam and Yoni 
40-41 Oubliette, Penal
42-43 Oubliette, Meditatory
44-45 Yakhchal 
46-47 Vomitorium, Misinterpreted 
52-53 Mud Baths
54-55 Tar Pits
56-57 Strangling Bog
58-59 Circumcisorium
60-61 Giant Statue Head
62-63 Ozymandius Feet
64-65 Megalith
66-67 Ball Court (50% Sacrificial)
68-69 Cenote (50% Sacrificial)
70-71 Orgone Accumulatorium
72-73 Floating Object, Random
74-75 Conical Ziggurat
76-77 Featureless Cube
78-79 Iron Pillar, Unrusting
80-81 Ceremonial Spawning Pool
82-83 Doorless Sealed Shrine
84-85 Lair, Sacred Beast/Guardian/Local Demigod
86-87 Confusatorium (?)
88-89 Condominiums, wretched servitor beast
90-91 Olympic-style village, defunded
92-93 Headquarters, League of Demigods
94-95 Golden Stupa
96-97 Crystalline Dome
98 Corral, Massive Monster
99 Punishment Tube
00 Mollusk Garden

Somewhat Mundane Civilization -10

Friday, January 3, 2014

Pointcrawling Ruins Revisited

With the Nefarious Nine poised right on the edge of exploring for the first time the big kahuna adventure site of the Feral Shore, the city ruins of the Rusevin, my head is back in the game around how to actually run such a beast.

Longtime readers will remember my attempts to untwist my head around all the cognitive leaps one has to take to do this effectively. The awkward scale problem—city ruins teeter between the micro-exploration of the dungeon and the macro-scale of wilderness crawls—was a major impediment and naturally my mind when back to the pointcrawling model that has been a longstanding theme here.

Taking off from my last installment on that subject (with a bit of restatement to remind both myself and readers where this was going) here is the first part of the system I will be using. A sanitized (and modified just enough to screw with expectations) system for randomly stocking structures, encounters, thematic elements, and other elements will be thrown out in a second part of this series (and maybe a third if it goes overly long).

Point Scale and Types
Each Point Size represents an area of the ruins roughly 100 yards by 100 yard squares. It is the top-level representation of space in the ruins.

Each point, in theory, corresponds to a nestled maps of standard four square/inch graph paper with 10-foot to a square. In reality many Type 1-3 points will lack them altogether or have geomorph stand-ins unless there is a significant adventure site in the point. Some special sites with a high adventure site density will have two nestled maps.

Types of Ruins Points (Color-Coded):
Type 1 (Red). Completely ruined or razed area, walls and other structures indistinguishable and now just rubble.

Type 2 (Orange). Completely ruined areas. Surface areas nearly identical to Type 1 above (with occasional free-standing walls), but underground areas (cellars, dungeons and the like) may still be intact if rubble is cleared away.

Type 3 (Yellow). Mostly ruined area. Some may walls exist and structures may be distinct but nearly always lack roofs and upper stories. Underground areas may be existent.

Type 4 (Green). Semi-ruined area. A number of structures are relatively intact with roofs and walls (though there may be holes in both). The relatively intact structures will be interspersed with rubble or partially ruined buildings. Underground areas are often existent.

Type 5 (Blue) Barely ruined area. Most structures in the area are intact with minor neglect. Will often be inhabited with recent repairs done by sentient locals.

With an unblocked line of sight, characters can make out significant details up to 3 point locations and general details (what type of ruin it is, large structures, large-scale movement) up to 10 points away before being obscured.

Clear unruined points and Type 1-2 ruins do not obstruct line of sight. Type 3-5 obstruct it and the line of sight will stop at that square. Large or high structures may block line of sight, but will themselves be readily seen (naturally) at the GM's discretion.

Climbing a roof or other elevated spot will add a point of visibility for each 10 foot floor equivalent climbed.

Example: Gurgi, Master of Tables, is in a Type 1 rubble field point. He can see through two points of the surrounding Type 1 squares (200 yards in each direction) but his line of sight after that is blocked by a ring of Type 4 buildings. The hirsute hireling climbs a ruined 30-foot bulbed tower and from that high point can see past the ring into two-points (or a further 200 yards) of Type 4 and 5 buildings in all directions. 

Movement is assumed to be “exploration speed” (cautious movement watching for critters and structure details with mapping). Normal movement should be at twice speed and running like hell at triple. Wandering monster checks will be at “dungeon” levels (once per turn) in dangerous areas of the ruins and once per three turns in “safer” areas (partially inhabited by non-hostiles or mostly empty Type 1-2).

Dotted Line. Movement is relatively free and often over a field of rubble. One turn to traverse connection.

Single Line. Small streets that may have an occasional obstruction. One turn to traverse.

Double Line. Open avenues, boulevards or obstruction-free roads. Half turn to traverse.

Broken Line. Movement is difficult, perhaps only through thickly-rubbled and ruined roads. Two turns to traverse.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

A Fresh Year Ludic and Strong Arises

I was halfway through the obligatory 2013 in review post when I realized that those kinds of posts bore to me to tears.

Suffice it to say that 2013 was the Year of Retrenchment here in the Hill Cantons in which posting slacked off to relatively low standards and focus turned away from the broad based explorations of hobby history and theory back more to being a clearinghouse for all the various half-baked campaigns, mini-campaigns and other assorted vehicles for things I am actually playing.

Where is the blog headed in the Year of the Horse?

Who the hell knows, though I suspect it will see something like a balance between the old focus/posting schedule and the new/old one with perhaps a revival of the interview series, content posts (ruinscrawling and homebrewed Traveller ships and equipment have been burning up the draft box), vicious satire and my general self-indulgence.

And now the news...
Today this most blessed of days, all of Solarity hoists the white gravy urn in celebration of Our Most Puissant Sun Lord's annual chariot circuit around the World Turtle. Bedecked in his deo-fox robes of state the Overking solemnly removed the blackened-wood idol of Year 42113 from its garnet-encrusted pedestal in the Great Dome, ritually chuckled and blinded it with a red-hot poker while intoning the Invocation of Schadenfreude.

As the new idol of 42114 is installed, that great, if weathered grand dame of Zem, Kezmarok, begins a fresh, joyful new round of political violence and strife. The low-intensity civil war in the Eternally Besieged City has seen a shift in favor of the Autarch camp with followers of the Decade King being driven out of Lower Kezmarok altogether. Though deprived of access to the docks—and thus contact with the outside world—the Decade King seems to be preparing his next big move. Reports from the Wall say that all of the Great Captains of the bonded companies manning that vital edifice have been invited to a not-so discreet dinner at the palace of the not-so-much figurehead.

Meanwhile on the Feral Shore, a shockingly languid period of rest and peace has come to an end, the Nefarious Nine have refocused attentions on their expeditions upriver into the Weird coming dreadfully close to the old peaktopcity ruins of the Rusevin. Despite the turmoil gripping the land of its patron, the colony seems to have taken on new life with new foolishly-optimistic peasants moving out of the cramped swamp fort of King's Ten into the hill-villages of the Domovoy (total population now there up to around 160 humans and 520 of the furry house-spirits).

And the Cycle of the Eternal Scumbag may turn anew on the Feral Shore, reports say that its not just the exploitable and mundane immigrating to that Weird-begotten land, but that callow, young adventurers of a “lower level” of acumen and personal development are packing their backpacks and ten-foot poles for the colony.

Further south concerns over his mounting war debts have moved the Despot of Maarb to sell off a portion of his much-beloved flotilla of bizarre naval vessels. One particular favorite, a golden barge that is said to contain a bewildering array of Eldish devices, has been reportedly sold to Ul-Nahimirrha, a high satrap (and rumored necromancer) in the Scarlet Sultanate.