Monday, February 25, 2019

The Hârnic Sandbox: Another Twenty Questions

These questions, proposed by Brendan S. back in 2012, followed Jeff Rients' twenty questions for explicating a campaign setting. Brendan's focus more on rules clarifications. The answers here pertain to the sandbox campaign that's just begun on Roll20. Learn more here.

  1. Ability scores generation method?  Roll 3d6 in order for Str, Int, Wis, Dex, Con, and Cha; after selecting a class some scores may be lowered to raise a prime requisite. Conditions apply: read the fine print for your class. There is also a hopeless character clause.
  2. How are death and dying handled?  When your character's hit points fall to zero, they are incapacitated, unconscious, and life is slipping away. (I'm using "they" as a gender neutral singular pronoun.) When it's their turn to act in the subsequent round, make a saving throw against Death Ray. (Any damage taken in the meantime is applied as a penalty to the roll, which in some cases may make success impossible.) On a successful save, the character remains as is;  on a failed save, the character dies. If the PC is still alive, they can make another saving throw against Death Ray on each subsequent round, but at a cumulative penalty of -1. As long as the PC has not failed a saving throw, allies may apply first aid or magical healing to bring the PC's hit point above 0, at which point they are no longer dying. The take-away here is, if your allies are close and provide help, you have a fair chance of surviving.
  3. What about raising the dead?  A 7th-level cleric can help you out, but it'll cost you — and not just gold! Apply at any major temple in a large settlement. Note that for philosophical reasons, the Sindarin (elfs) aren't big on recalling their fallen comrades from the beyond. There are, of course, exceptions.
  4. How are replacement PCs handled?  Your replacement PC will be integrated as soon as they are created — literally the next round, if you're that fast. I recommend Ram's random Basic D&D character generator as the perfect cure for that inopportune mid-session fatality. Alternatively, if you have been grooming a retainer, they can immediately become your new PC.
  5. Initiative: individual, group, or something else? Group, except in special situations.
  6. Are there critical hits and fumbles? How do they work?  When you roll a natural 20 to-hit, your attack is successful (assuming the target can be damaged with the weapons you wield) and inflicts maximum damage. On a natural 1 to-hit, you miss your target and have a -2 penalty to all actions and attacks until the end of the next round while you recover from the fumble.
  7. Do I get any benefits for wearing a helmet?   Helms shall be sundered: lose your helm to avoid taking damage from an opponent's physical attack. You can decide after damage is rolled. You are stunned for 1d4 rounds. Shields also work this way, but without the stunning. Magical helms and shields that are sundered/splintered are irreparable. I know, it sucks, but it probably saved your life! Obviously this won't work against a pixie's dagger, a bee's sting, or a snake bite: it has to be an attack that could conceivably splinter a shield. Only metal helms qualify.
  8. Can I hurt my friends if I fire into melee or do something similarly silly?  It depends.  If you’re fighting a Great Wyrm or a Cloud Giant, it should be no problem.  If all your allies are paired off against similarly sized humanoid opponents, the actual target of your shot will be determined randomly.
  9. Will we need to run from some encounters, or will we be able to kill everything?  You will sometimes need to run, which means you will want to be as unencumbered as is reasonably possible. Plate mail armour is great on the battlefield but may be a liability in the dungeon — just sayin'!
  10. Level-draining monsters: yes or no?  Yes, but you don't actually lose experience points.  Attacks by certain monsters may cause the character to gain one or more negative levels. If the subject has at least as many negative levels as Hit Dice, he or she dies. Each negative level gives a creature the following penalties: -1 penalty on attack rolls, saving throws, ability checks; loss of 4 hit points; and -1 to effective level (for determining the power, duration, and other details of spells or special abilities). In addition, a spellcaster loses one spell, which is always the highest one they have prepared. Negative levels can be removed through rest and recuperation over a long period or through the intervention of a high-level cleric.
  11. Are there going to be cases where a failed save results in PC death?  Unless you're already at 0 hit points, it will be fairly rare to save or die — always assuming one doesn't do anything absurd (deliberately drinking poison, for example).
  12. How strictly are encumbrance & resources tracked?  We use the "encumbrance by armour type" system. 
  13. What’s required when my PC gains a level? Training? Do I get new spells automatically? Can it happen in the middle of an adventure, or do I have to wait for down time?  You'll need to get out of danger (or the dungeon, or whatever) and into some kind of safe haven, consult a trainer, and spend one game week mastering your new skills. Clerics and elves acquire new spells according to the normal rules (see p. X11), whereas magic-users only acquire new spells by finding them or researching them.
  14. What do I get experience for?  Treasure recovered and spent, defeating foes, exploring/discovering strange lands and secrets, achieving personal goals, carousing. Also: writing session reports or otherwise representing the experience in art, song, dance, etc.
  15. How are traps located? Description, dice rolling, or some combination?  A combination; much depends on the circumstances. In dungeon settings, I'll assume you are always on the lookout for traps.
  16. Are retainers encouraged and how does morale work?  (A) Not discouraged but not required and (b) more or less by the book. Retainers are useful to guard your stuff and your person.  If you want to pass as gentlefolk, you will certainly need at least one such servitor.  Their morale will depend in part on your PC’s Charisma score.  Be discerning in your treatment of retainers for your enemies will almost certainly attempt to bribe or subvert them.
  17. How do I identify magic items?  You may be able to pay someone typically, a sage or some other specialist —  to do it for you.  Alternatively, you can experiment cautiously with the item.
  18. Can I buy magic items? Oh, come on: how about just potions?  There are no magical emporia (Wands ‘R Us?) or anything like that, but you may come across rare individuals who can sell you such items, or provide them in return for a valuable service.
  19. Can I create magic items? When and how?  At name level, clerics, elves, and magic-users can attempt to produce magic items. Unless someone is paying you, you will need a stronghold, followers, and considerable wealth to undertake the process. Success is never guaranteed. 
  20. What about splitting the party?  Sure, if you think it’s a good idea ... but see the answer to question 2 above.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Session 67 (6 February 2019)

Note to readers: This is a session re-cap of an ongoing D&D 5th edition campaign set in a loosely adapted version of N. Robin Crossby's Hârn. A journal of sessions 1 through 54, beginning in February 2015, can be found here.

In-world dates: 9–10 Ilvin 720 TR [second week of winter]
Daylight hours: 9
Moon: waxing crescent (full moon on 15 Ilvin)

Ulassa awakened.
You teleport to Elshavel and spend a pleasant afternoon in that wondrous realm of the Sindarin. Cade consults with the gardner Yar, who has been having some difficulty cultivating the vegetation you brought from the Underdark. The tree he has awakened adopts the name Ulassa and the pronouns "they/them." Gil'Doren explores his new home — the house bequeathed to him by his former mentor in wizardry— and stumbles across a cache containing some interesting items, including a Ring of Resistance, a Tome of Valour, and various financial records relating to his mentor's house and her arcane consulting business. Juan also "explores" other rooms in Gil'Doren's pad and discovers some erotically tinged drawings which pique his interest. He then, with Dracul, ventures forth to party with the elfs. Gil'Doren, meanwhile, meets with one of Queen Aranath's advisors and expands upon the party's request for aid.

On the morrow, the party meets with Queen Aranath. She delivers unto you four Sun Blades (two swords, a dagger, and a spear), heirlooms of the clans of Elshavel, to aid you in your confrontation with Malevix. In addition, each member of the party receives cloaks and boots made by the Sindarin. Eight potions of Water Breathing are also provided should you seek to contact the storm giants.

King Miginath
You Wind Walk to the northeast, covering the leagues to Kaldor with great speed. By mid-afternoon you approach the north gate of the walled town of Tashal (pop. 11,400), the second-largest city on Hârn and the royal seat of the kingdom. The guards and townsfolk alike are astonished by the arrival of such a motley company — claiming to bear a message for the king, no less! There is a short delay as messengers run back and forth (and while Gil'Doren and Cade entertain the gathering crowd with magical displays). But as you obviously bear the favour of the Elf Queen, you are soon admitted to the royal castle for an interview with the elderly King Miginath. As you are ushered into his court, you note the tensions between various factions angling to seize the throne once this childless monarch dies.

"What news from our friends the Sindarin of Evael?" is the question you must answer.

Image credits:
Ulassa: Drawing by Unona on Flickr
King Miginath: Renaissance celebrity photoshopping contest at, now DesignCrowd.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

The Hârnic Sandbox: A Fortnightly Online Game

Illustration from a Speculum Virginum ("Mirror of Virgins"), c. 1200.
Source: Bibliotheca Augustana via Wikipedia Commons

What: A sandbox-style D&D game set in a loose adaptation of N. Robin Crossby's Hârn, a fantastical analog of medieval Britain. The system is Basic/Expert D&D (Moldvay/Cook & Marsh). It's FLAILSNAILS-friendly! Ideal for PCs of levels 1–4 in old-school systems.
When: Wednesday 13 February and every second week thereafter, 7–9 pm PST
Where: Roll20
Who: All are welcome — no experience necessary.
Why: ...
How to get started: Roll up a new B/X character (or use the random character generator below to get one in milliseconds) and sign up on Roll20 at the link above. (FLAILSNAILers: just bring a PC you'd like to play, bearing in mind the "handicap" table for high-level characters in low-level games. You may, or may not, also want to take into account the extent to which your PC might stand out or blend in while adventuring among the humans, dwarfs, and elfs of Hârn.)

B/X Essentials, a rationalized compilation of B/X rules by Gavin Norman (including free text-only versions)
Labyrinth Lord, a B/X retroclone by Daniel Proctor (free no-art version)
Campaign-specific guide to character creation (includes information on deities and languages unique to the setting)
Basic D&D random character generator by Ramanan Sivaranjan
The FLAILSNAILS conventions at Jeff's Gameblog
Hârn map and primer from Columbia Games (free)
Principia Apocrypha, a primer for "old-school" gaming (also free)

The Original Twenty Questions

as proposed by Jeff Rients
  1. What is the deal with my cleric's religion?  There are ten major deities and hundreds of minor ones. The former run the typical thematic range from truth and virtue to chaos and death. Pick one!
  2. Where can we go to buy standard equipment?  Any of Hârn's cities or towns will have most standard items; remote rural villages will only have a limited range of goods.
  3. Where can we go to get platemail custom fitted for this monster I just befriended?  You could try any one of the eight walled towns but your best bet would be the Khuzdul (Dwarfish) capital, Azadmere. The Khuzdul know something about smithing.
  4. Who is the mightiest wizard in the land?  Check with the Shek-Pvar, or Guild of Arcane Lore; their chantries are scattered throughout the land, mostly in the towns. Whoever they are, there's a decent chance they're from the kingdom of Melderyn in the southeast — its nickname is the "Wizards' Isle."
  5. Who is the greatest warrior in the land?  It's always changing, of course, as the pool of candidates is constantly renewed due to frequent injuries and deaths. There are any number of famous knights gadding about, but there are also an unknown number of barbarian heroes that aren't really known outside their tribe. The Orbaalese petty kingdoms in the north produce a regular stream of Beowulf types.
  6. Who is the richest person in the land?  Difficult to say. The Thardic Republic in the west is a plutocracy that efficiently channels wealth to its ruling families; a lot of its senators are pretty loaded. On the other hand, some of the leading merchants from the kingdom of Melderyn do pretty well for themselves with trade to the nearby continent. And the city of Tashal in Kaldor is the hub of trade for the entire island.
  7. Where can we go to get some magical healing?  Ordinary folk rely on the Guild of Apothecaries and/or the Society of Physicians for help with ailments; special folks like yourselves may be able to get divine healing from a powerful cleric, assuming you are in good standing with one of the local churches. Maybe in return for a favour ...
  8. Where can we go to get cures for the following conditions: poison, disease, curse, level drain, lycanthropy, polymorph, alignment change, death, undeath?  Apothecaries and physicians might be able to help with poisoning and some kinds of diseases. For supernatural problems, the Guild of Arcane Lore is your best recourse. Death is not necessarily final, but the powerful magics required to reverse this state are not easy to access. You will have to pay dearly — and with more than mere gold.
  9. Is there a magic guild my MU belongs to or that I can join in order to get more spells?  Yeah, the Shek-Pvar or Guild of Arcane Lore. Wizards keep their secrets close, however; usually you need to find someone you trust to trade spells with. 
  10. Where can I find an alchemist, sage or other expert NPC?  Look in one of the eight walled towns. Across the water to the east, the continent of Lythia has many marvellous cities teeming with all manner of talented professionals. Hârn is actually kind of backward compared to many of the Lythian civilizations.
  11. Where can I hire mercenaries?  Sell-swords abound, mostly in the eight walled towns. You can find Viking types up north in Orbaal. Rare and exotic mercenaries from Lythia can also be found here and there, especially in Melderyn.
  12. Is there any place on the map where swords are illegal, magic is outlawed or any other notable hassles from Johnny Law?  In principle, wizards everywhere are regulated by the Guild of Arcane Lore, but in practice this mostly applies in the towns; in the countryside, hedge wizards/witches/shamans operate largely without oversight (but are at the mercy of the communities they serve). Universally, the use of magic to cause harm is a crime. Infractions are investigated by the guild but punishable by systems of royal justice, which typically deal harshly with the criminal use of magic. Everyone has heard of at least one tongueless or fingerless ex-wizard/cleric who will cast no more after a run-in with the law.
  13. Which way to the nearest tavern?  It's pseudo-medieval fantasyland Britain: taverns are everywhere, even if it's just a peasant hutch serving days-old ale.
  14. What monsters are terrorizing the countryside sufficiently that if I kill them I will become famous?  Have you heard about the Ivashu? They're monstrosities created by the god Ilvir that pop up unpredictably. Some are captured for use in gladiatorial arenas in Rethem and Tharda, but others rampage across the countryside and wreak considerable damage. (Many, however, are simply harmless unless provoked.)
  15. Are there any wars brewing I could go fight?  The kingdom of Rethem is famous for its bloody political intrigues and its king is itching for a war of conquest with his neighbour, Kanday. News from Melderyn is that giants and gargûn (orcs) have sacked several towns.
  16. How about gladiatorial arenas complete with hard-won glory and fabulous cash prizes?  The games are called the Pamesani and they're held twice each month in the western cities of Golotha, Coranan, and Shiran. They're organized by the clerics of Agrik, the fiery god of cruelty and destruction. (In decent places like Melderyn and Kaldor, the worship of Agrik is outlawed.)
  17. Are there any secret societies with sinister agendas I could join and/or fight?  Yeah there are, mostly relating to cults of various kinds. There's also the Lia-Kavair, or Thieves' Guild, but they're not really that sinister: they're mostly into limited wealth redistribution — at least, that's how it appears to most people.
  18. What is there to eat around here?  Everything you could eat in medieval Britain, plus the potato.
  19. Any legendary lost treasures I could be looking for?  The forgotten secrets of the Earthmasters, an ancient civilization whose wondrous ruins dot the land, are totally what you're looking for.
  20. Where is the nearest dragon or other monster with Type H treasure?  Head out from any town and, after a few days riding away from civilization, ask the local peasants what's eating them — figuratively and literally. Go from there.  

Disclaimers and disclosures

The setting is not canon Hârn, nor is the game intended to be especially Hârnesque in the sense of striving for medieval realism. This Hârn merely provides a fund of geographical and sociopolitical details that serve as the backdrop for good old D&D shenanigans. I roll on lots of tables, only some of which have anything to do with Hârn.

Finally: this game is all about player agency. Be whomever you want, do whatever you want. But it's also about a safe space for the exercise of your imagination. If it were a movie, I'd suggest a PG-13 rating in the MPAA classification — that is to say, in the Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom ballpark. In our exchanges, I look forward to exemplary civility and respectfulness as you and your comrades plot how best to slay monsters and take their stuff. Or save the world. Or achieve spiritual enlightenment. Whatever turns your crank!