Return of the Vivimancer!



Exciting news! Twisted bio-research is back in fashion!

Yesterday's announcement from James Raggi (Lamentations of the Flame Princess):

LotFP has come to an agreement with Gavin Norman  (The Complete Vivimancer, Dolmenwood) to write a new supplement! 
The working title is "A Treatise on Biological and Chemical Manipulation For The Purpose of The Creation and Alteration of Living Creatures, Including Game Mechanics, For Lamentations of the Flame Princess and other Traditional Tabletop Role-Playing Games by Gavin Norman, Master of Science" 
It will be a brand new rules subsystem for OSR games, inspired by the likes of Frankenstein, Herbert West: Reanimator, The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde, The Invisible Man, The Island of Doctor Moreau, X: The Man with the X-ray Eyes, The Fly, Honey I Shrunk the Kids, Jurassic Park, Weird Science, The Nutty Professor, Flubber, etc. 
Release date: Wheneverthehell. As usual.

Work on the rules is already under way.

Dolmenwood Campaign Book


Since my last post, nearly two months ago, on the subject of the Dolmenwood hardcover books, I've been reconsidering my approach. My original plan was to finish and publish the book of monsters first. My new plan is to first publish a "campaign book" -- that is, a book for referees that describes the setting and lays out the contents of every single hex on the map.

Advantages of finishing the campaign book first:

  • I think it's more fundamental to the setting than the book of monsters. The campaign book is what allows people to seriously run Dolmenwood games. The book of monsters does not have that same impact.
  • It should be significantly cheaper to produce. To publish the book of monsters to the quality I desire will be an expensive undertaking -- full colour illustrations of 100+ monsters do not come cheap! The campaign book, on the other hand, will not be so illustration heavy (or at least will not require a certain minimum number of pieces), hence a more sensible choice for the first hardcover.
Here's a very rough table of contents, showing my ideas, at this stage, as to what the book will contain:

  • Introduction
  • Dolmenwood
    • Themes
    • People
      • Mortal races
      • Fairy races
  • History
  • Culture
    • Religion
    • The river trade
    • Merchants
    • Languages
    • etc...
  • Referee's Gazetteer
    • The High Wold
    • Castle Brackenwold
    • Lake Longmere
    • The ley lines and nodals
    • The Witching Ring and the Summerstones
    • The Valley of Wise Beasts
    • etc...
  • Factions
    • Drune
    • Witches
    • Atanuwe, King of the Wood
    • The Church
      • Saints
    • The Duchy of Brackenwold
      • Knights
    • Goatlords of the High Wold
    • Fairy Lords and Ladies
      • The Cold Prince
  • Other Powers
    • Big Chook / Gheillough
    • Ygraine
  • Faction relationship chart
  • Campaigns
    • Hex crawl sandbox
    • The return of the Cold Prince
    • War!
  • Hex Descriptions


Now, I can't claim that this is "coming soon", by any means. It'll take a lot of writing to finish it off (especially the hex descriptions), and I have other projects ahead of this in the pipeline. My hope is to get it finished in 2018, though.

B/X Essentials: Cleric and Magic-User Spells -- Layout Preview

I've got about half of the illustrations in for Cleric and Magic-User Spells now, so the planned February publication date is looking good.

I realised that I've not shared any previews of the book yet, so this post remedies that situation!

Here's an example spread (including an illustration of the spell disintegrate, by +Thomas Novosel).


A few points of note:

  • The bolded saving throws really call out which spells (and under which circumstances) allow a save.
  • The text of most spells (excluding those whose descriptions are really short) is broken down into bullet points, for quick parsing.
  • Reversed spells are called out under their own sub-heading.
  • Differences in the range / duration of reversed spells are noted up front.
  • The traditional but somewhat vague "Range: 0" has been replaced by more helpful descriptions.

What Do PCs Want?


I've recently been putting a bit of high-level thought into the Dolmenwood setting, asking myself whether there are any important things that are, thus far, entirely missing from the setting or from the campaign map. Writing up hex descriptions for Wormskin is very much a "zoomed in" task, where one's thought is on a small local region and a cluster of interesting landmarks within it. Working in that way, it's easy to lose track of the larger picture, so I wanted to zoom out and look at things more broadly.

One way of looking at this, I thought, would be to come up with a list of "things that adventurers want to do in a campaign world", and make sure all (or most) of those things can be found on the Dolmenwood map. To that end, I made a post on google+ to brainstorm the list. There was a great response and (as I'd suspected) a lot of ideas that I hadn't thought of myself.

In this post, I compile the results, divided into categories. The lists can be used by anyone setting up or developing a campaign world, as a means of making sure a set of common bases is covered. Of course, not all of these things will exist in every campaign setting. For example, in Dolmenwood, I don't envisage there being any easily available means of resurrection available to PCs.

Also, I'm sure the lists are not complete and could be extended in many different directions. Hopefully he most common things are covered, though.

Enjoy!

Hired Help and Hench-Beasts
People and animals for hire / purchase.
  • Hirelings.
  • Torch-bearers / porters.
  • Mercenaries.
  • Sailors.
  • Dogs (war / guard / hunting / etc).
  • Mounts.
  • Guides.
  • Other specialists (assassins, spies, blacksmiths, alchemists, etc).
  • Engineers and building crew.
Places
Where one can do specific activities for fun or profit.
  • Gambling dens.
  • Bars / pubs.
  • Exclusive clubs.
  • Ball rooms.
  • Bath houses.
  • Brothels.
  • Guilds / orders / colleges / secret societies to join.
Items
Things for sale. (Standard equipment and arms are assumed and thus not mentioned in the list.)
  • Herbs (wolfsbane, garlic).
  • Potions.
  • Items that grant bonuses against special attacks (poison, disease, paralysis, energy drain, etc).
  • Alchemical / lab equipment for magic item creation.
  • Spell components (if used).
  • Enchanted armour or weapons.
  • Fancy clothing.
  • Gems / jewllery.
  • Customised clothes (sigils, insignias, etc).
  • Weapons and armour sized for small characters.
  • Weapons and armour of exceptional make (that grant bonuses).
  • Customised weapons and armour (engraved, insignias, etc).
  • Land for sale.
  • Booze / pipeweed / drugs.
  • Unusual equipment (telescopic poles, repeating crossbows, caltrops, etc).
  • Alchemical items (smoke bombs, acid, etc).
  • Poisons.

Knowledge
Information that is beyond the skills of player characters to easily achieve themselves. Often provided by sages, libraries, magic-users, witches, oracles, etc.

  • Teachers / trainers.
  • Patrons / quest givers.
  • New spells to learn.
  • Magic item identification.
  • Deciphering unknown languages.
  • Maps.
  • Knowledge about history.
  • Lore about specific people, places, items, beasts, etc.
  • How to overcome unusual effects.
  • Plant / fungus / monster identification.
  • Rumours.
  • True names.

Services
Things that adventurers commonly want someone else to do for them.

  • Get a curse removed.
  • Get wounds healed.
  • Specialised healing (diseases, blindness, etc).
  • Resurrection.
  • Auguries and divination.
  • Get armour / weapons / other gear repaired.
  • Sell valuable items at a good price.
  • Sell highly unusual items.
  • Sell magic items.
  • Sell questionable loot without any questions asked.
  • Safely store money / treasure.
  • Money changing.
  • Get tattoos.
  • Teleportation.
  • Magical warding of a building / location.
  • Raise attributes / recover lost attribute points.
Thanks to everyone who helped out with the brainstorming!

B/X Essentials: Cleric and Magic-User Spells -- Foreword

Illustration by Luka Rejec

As part of the final stages of preparing the next book in the B/X Essentials line, I just finished writing the foreword. I always enjoy this part of the process; it's a sign that the writing of a book is really finished, and is a nice chance to include some notes on my intentions and experiences developing it.

Here's what I've written about Cleric and Magic-User Spells:

Foreword

This book is, primarily, an aid for players of the standard spell-casting classes: clerics, elves, and magic-users (as presented in B/X Essentials: Classes and Equipment). The descriptions of the spells available to these classes are undoubtedly the most common thing players of magic-using characters find themselves referring to during play. This book—consisting solely of spell descriptions, separated from the clutter of other rules—is thus an eminently useful gaming aid.

Aside from its usefulness to players of the standard spell-casting classes, the descriptions of standard spells are essential for the referee. Many monsters are able to cast cleric or magic-user spells, and numerous magic items replicate or reproduce the effects of these spells.

In writing this book, I have continued to place heavy focus on the usability of the text during play. To this end, in contrast to the usual “block of text” style of spell presentation, I have broken down each spell’s description into logical chunks:

  • Different rules aspects of a spell are broken out into bullet points for quick reference.
  • If a spell has multiple possible uses, these are broken out and numbered. (For example, the humble light spell has three separate usages: conjuring light, blinding a creature, and dispelling darkness.)

Thus, the presentation of spells in this book is somewhat different (and I hope easier to reference!) than what you will find in the original Basic/Expert books or indeed in other gaming books. In addition to this approach to organising spell descriptions, I made the following usability enhancements:

  • All uses of spells that allow a saving throw are highlighted with bold text.
  • Spell ranges of 0 or 0’ (which are applied somewhat inconsistently in the Basic/Expert rules) are replaced with a clear verbal description. (e.g. “Range: The caster”, instead of “Range: 0”.)
  • Likewise, spells with touch range have the additional clarification that a spell caster may cast them upon him- or herself.
  • I have added a description for the mythical detect invisible spell, famously missing from the Basic rules (an error that was, curiously, not corrected in the Expert rules!).

It is important to note, however, that I have not attempted to clarify all ambiguities in the spell descriptions. The relatively minimal descriptions of the Basic/Expert spells sometimes lead to areas of uncertainty, where the effects or limitations of a spell are not thoroughly specified. This is regarded as a charming feature of the rule set and an encouragement for the referee to make a ruling as to how such spells work in his or her campaign. I have been careful to not resolve such uncertainties, except in rare cases where an actual contradiction was present.

One prominent area of unclarity is worth discussing specifically: a number of spells have effects that depend on the caster maintaining concentration. No strict definition of the requirements for concentrating are given in the Basic/Expert rules, thus some degree of referee interpretation is required. One spell­—conjure elemental—mentions that the caster may not engage in combat or cast other spells while concentrating. The referee may wish to apply these stipulations to other spells that require concentration.

Once more, it is my hope that this book will play some small part in the furtherance of this timeless and beloved game and prove useful as a reference for those already familiar with its charms.

Gavin Norman, Winter 2017, Berlin.

Dolmenwood / B/X: Hunter Class


Contemplating character classes in Dolmenwood, I've been going back and forth on whether to introduce any sub-classes. On the one hand, I love the simplicity of the core B/X classes and their flexibility in representing a broad range of archetypes. On the other hand, there are certainly some Dolmenwood-specific archetypes that would be nice to call out explicitly. The most obvious examples are: witches, knights, friars, and some kind of woodsman or hunter.

I've considered the possibility of making "prestige classes" (to use the modern terminology) for some of these character types. A knight, for example, could work nicely that way: a fighter, at some point in his or her career, swears an oath of fealty and gains some different class abilities / restrictions as a result.

Other archetypes seem to really just work better as proper classes, though.

Here's one that manifested today. (Thanks to Jeff Sparks for his blog post that inspired some of my initial thoughts on this character class.)

Hunter
Ability Scores: Minimum CON 9, minimum WIS 9
Prime Requisite: DEX
Hit Dice: 1d6
Maximum Level: 14
Allowed Armour: Leather, shields
Allowed Weapons: Any
Languages: Alignment language, Woldish

Hunters are humans who are at home in the wilds of the forest, being experts at stealth, tracking, and combat.

Class Abilities
Animal companions: Once per level (including at 1st level, before the character reaches 2nd level), a hunter may attempt to forge a connection with an animal. The hunter must approach the animal in a peaceful manner, and the referee must make a reaction roll (with a +1 bonus and any normal modifiers from the character’s CHA). If the result is 8 or greater, the animal becomes the hunter’s companion. Animal companions understand basic commands from the hunter (even if their species would not normally do so) and will fight to defend the hunter, never checking morale. Both wild and domestic animals may be approached in this way, but the creature may not have greater Hit Dice than the hunter. Animal companions are counted as retainers, thus the hunter’s CHA score limits how many the character may have.

Combat: Hunters can use any type of weapon, but may only wear leather armour, due to their need for stealth. They may use shields.

Foraging and hunting: A hunter’s knowledge of animal behaviour and the wilds increases his or her chance of finding food. A party that includes a hunter has a 2-in-6 chance of success when foraging and a 5-in-6 chance of encountering prey when hunting.

Hiding: With sufficient cover in the wilderness, a hunter has a 5-in-6 chance of going unnoticed when hiding. The character may also attempt to move while remaining hidden, but this requires a DEX check.

Identify fungi: A hunter has a 1-in-6 chance of being able to identify fungi (see Wormskin issue one).

Missile attack bonus: Hunters’ keen coordination grants them +1 on any missile attacks. Successful missile attacks against surprised creatures also inflict +2 damage.

Surprise: When successfully hiding, a hunter’s chance of surprising other creatures is increased by 2-in-6. (This means that most creatures -- normally surprised on 2-in-6 -- are now surprised on 4-in-6.)

Tracking: Hunters know how to read the subtle signs left by a creature’s passage through the natural environment. Under favourable conditions, a hunter can find and follow tracks without fail. More difficult conditions (e.g. if the tracks are old, cover hard ground, or are actively being concealed) require an INT check.

Trophies: After hunting down (i.e. tracking, ambushing, or chasing) and slaying a creature, a hunter may take a trophy from it (e.g. a stag’s horns, the claw of a wyrm, etc). If the hunter either keeps the trophy on his or her person or mounts it in his or her home, it acts as a charm, granting the hunter a +1 bonus to all attack rolls against other creatures of the same type and a +1 bonus to saving throws against their special attacks.

Wayfinding: A party that includes a hunter has a reduced chance of getting lost in forests, mountains, or marshes. Instead of rolling a d6 to check whether the party gets lost each day, the referee should roll a d12. (The range of results on which the party gets lost remains the same, e.g. a 2-in-12 chance in forests.)

Reaching 9th Level
Upon reaching 9th level, a hunter may establish a lodge in the wilderness. 2d4 hunters of 1st level will find their way to the lodge to serve the character.

Level Progression Chart





Saving Throws
Level
XP
HD
AC0
Death
Wands
Paralysis
Breath
Spells
1
0
1d6
19
12
13
14
15
16
2
2,000
2d6
19
12
13
14
15
16
3
4,000
3d6
19
12
13
14
15
16
4
8,000
4d6
17
10
11
12
13
14
5
16,000
5d6
17
10
11
12
13
14
6
32,000
6d6
17
10
11
12
13
14
7
64,000
7d6
14
8
9
10
10
12
8
120,000
8d6
14
8
9
10
10
12
9
240,000
9d6
14
8
9
10
10
12
10
360,000
9d6+2
12
6
7
8
8
10
11
480,000
9d6+4
12
6
7
8
8
10
12
600,000
9d6+6
12
6
7
8
8
10
13
720,000
9d6+8
10
4
5
6
5
8
14
840,000
9d6+10
10
4
5
6
5
8
Work in Progress...
  • As with the Dolmenwood elf class that I posted recently, this class is (so far) entirely un-playtested.
  • All feedback is most welcome!

B/X Essentials: Classes and Equipment Print Editions



  • This second book lays out the standard classes of adventurer and the ways in which characters can spend their hard-earned treasure, including: arms, adventuring gear, mounts, sea vessels, mercenaries, specialists, and (eventually!) castles and strongholds.
  • Beautifully illustrated by seven high-level old-school artists. Precisely laid out for ease of reference, minimising page flipping.
  • Premium print edition: Staple bound, so it lays flat at the table. Produced with the premium printing process, for beautiful, crisp text and images.
  • Standard print edition: Perfect bound edition.
  • PDF: Fully linked table of contents, index of tables, and internal cross-references.