Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Kobolds in OSRIC: A PC Race

So, I'd like OSRIC to be one of my choices for the Kobold Ascension Campaign, but that requires a Kobold Player Race. I know there was a fully OSRIC-compatible version published in Dragon (the article "Hey, Wanna Be a Kobold?", issue 141), but I kinda wanted a few different things from it.


Generally considered a pest, Kobolds can be found in most environments in Delraith, normally in service to powerful Dragons and occasionally in service to others with large amounts of power. Kobolds reach maturity after only 5 years, and most die at about 20. In optimal conditions, some may live to 50 - but, in the harsh realities of the burrow, a member of such advanced age would be next to worthless. Due to being the "pests" of many lands, few die of naural causes. 

Due to their speedy maturity, and their natural connection to dragons, Kobolds find it very easy to learn magic - in just a few short years, they can accomplish what it might take other races decades to even figure out. Known as they are for their craftsmanship, Kobold specialise in one thing - traps, to make their warrens a little bit safer from intruders (like Gnomes, or Dwarves looking for new places to mine).

Summary of Kobold Racial Traits
-1 Strength, +1 Intelligence - cunning little buggers though they are, they suffer from being a lot smaller than most, and as such a touch weaker.

Kobolds can Find Traps as a Thief of two levels less than their Character level (so, a third-level Kobold may Find Traps as a first-level Thief).

Languages: Low Draconic (aka Kobold), Draconic, Common, Gnomish, Dwarven, Orcish. A kobold may learn a maximum of two extra languages, regardless of Intelligence.

Multi-class Restrictions: The most restrictive weapons and armour requirements apply to Kobold characters.

Permitted Class Options: Assassin, Cleric, Fighter, Illusionist, Magic-User, Thief, Fighter/Thief, Illusionist/Thief, Fighter/Magic-User

Light Sensitivity: Kobolds are a mostly subterranean race, and suffer a -1 penalty when fighting in direct sunlight (or the effects of a daylight spell).
Infravision: 60ft

Movement Rate: 90ft

Starting Age:
Cleric: 10+1d8
Fighter: 5+1d8
Magic-User: 7+1d8
Thief: 5+1d4

Racial Limitations:
Minimum/Maximum ability scores (after adjustment for race); if the ability scores rolled do not fall within these limits, then the race of Kobold is not a valid choice for the character:
• Strength 3/17
• Dexterity 6/18

• Constitution 3/18
• Intelligence 8/19

• Wisdom 3/17
• Charisma 3/18

Level Limitations:
• Assassin 15

• Cleric 5
• Druid N/A
• Fighter 5 (Str 17), 4 (Str 16 and below)
• Illusionist 9 (One of Dex or Int 18+ and the other 17+), 8 (Dex and Int 17), 7 (Dex or Int under 17)

• Magic User 10 (Int 18+), 9 (Int 17), 8 (Int 16 and below)
• Paladin N/A
• Ranger N/A
• Thief Unlimited

The Ashen Guild: Rival Adventuring Party

One thing I like to throw to players in sandboxy-type games is the possiblity that they are not, in fact, the only group of racially-diverse adventurers out for coin, fame and power. In a setting like Planescape, especially - bashers come from all over the Multiverse, looking for a way to make a quick jink. Or maybe you're a party of monsters (see Kobold Ascension Fight), and the DM wants to show you what it's like from the other side.

And sometimes it's fun to run a "gold rush" style adventure - say, an ancient wizard of a very Lawful persuasion has just passed on, and left his will out to the public, with the location of his tower, filled with many magical artifacts - first to find them, bring them back to the legal offices of the Guvnors, and fill in a specific set of forms, can have them. So now the PCs not only have to deal with getting to the tower, but also the machinations of the other groups interested in the items. Some will travel alone, others will group up for better chances of success - just like the PCs did.

Basics: Cover all the usual "roles" within the party, maybe miss one or two out - after all, while everyone would like to have a Fighter/Mage/Thief/Cleric combo, it doesn't always go that way. It might be a team of Orc Hunters (Fighter/Fighter/Barbarian/Ranger), a cabal of mages (Wizard/Sorcerer/Necromancer/Cleric of the God of Magic), even a Thieves Guild expedition (Rogue/Bard/Illusionist/Expert/Fighter), or any other combo of classes. While it often makes sense, try and avoid the "evil counterpart" trap, of having similar classes to your PCs - everyone will just "pair off", and you'll end up with the mage more concerned about bringing the opposing mage down, not on helping everyone else with their fights. It's also pretty cliche - why would every adventuring party mirror your own team? Make them somewhat different - a coherent theme helps. So "Adventurers in search of Knowledge", "Powerful Wizard and Hirelings", or "Drow Kill-and-Retrieve Team" all add some plot to the group (and make for some funky Party-based Cliches for Risus combats).

Races are harder to pin down - your band of hunters from an Orcish tribe might be all Orcs, or maybe Orcs and Half-Orcs, with Goblins/Hobgoblins in supporting roles, and Ogres/Bugbears in a Heavy Beatstick role. Your Thieves could be Halflings, Humans, Half-elves, Half-Orcs, even something like a Kobold traps specialist or a Dwarven locksmith! It all depends on the racial diversity of your setting - playing old-school games, where ther assumption is that non-humans are rare and mysterious, you'd maybe have one at most in the usual group. In a setting like Planescape, that number grows dramatically - you might even have no human members, depending on the backstory of your group.

So, without further ado - The Ashen Guild, an antagonist adventuring party aimed for use in Planescape.

Desh Stis Irren Khamal, Dust Genasi Fighter/Expert
 Seeker of Knowledge - Dust Genasi are fascinated with history, and Desh is no different. She set up the group hoping to find any old books, journals, or even interesting ruins to settle down in and study for a few years. Collected the group together, and is the one in charge of payment, supplies etc. but leaves the nitty-gritty of "leading" up to Seryn.

Seryn Verris, Human Bard
De-facto "group leader" - veteran explorer of ruins and collector of artifacts. Is well-known amongst the populace of Sigil, and somewhat renowned for her less-than-ethical methods and choice of allies. Something of an "adventure archaeologist", Seryn is as handy with a shovel as a sword, and as delicate with a dagger as she is with a brush.

Garrius Destras, Bariaur Barbarian
The Muscle - Garrius is out for coin and renown - nothing more. He's currently under the employ of Seryn, as a personal bodyguard, but serves the group as a whole (and has formed a fair friendship with Desh - his quiet, thoughtful moments help to keep Garrius in check, and in turn, Garrius' boisterous nature has helped Desh come out of his shell, somewhat).

Rikka Thornfoot, Kobold Rogue
The Sneak - Rikka is the group's traps and thieving specialist. His small stature and natural dexterity allow him to be much more successful than most in these endeavours. However, his natural disposition towards Lawful Evil makes him somewhat easier to corrupt than the rest - a carefully chosen word in his ear can lead him to lead the party astray, and possibly to help you out - for the right price, and contract, of course.

Sark Bloodhand, Hobgoblin Hexblade
The All-Rounder - Sark is something more than your standard Hobgoblin merc - he joined with the group after being excommunicated from his tribe for "reasons unknown". He is currently attempting to atone for his previous actions by scouring the planes for Gasi Deathshead's final resting place - a Hobgoblin Chieftan who, according to ancient legend, took his tribe into the Planes and attempted to lead a war on other planes, so they could be conquered for the Hobgoblin Empire. This was centuries ago, and no-one's heard back from Gasi - so where did he manage to get to? The conundrum, when presented to Desh, was enough for her to hire Sark on the spot, and his prowess in both martial and esoteric fields ensured he earned his wage.

Standard Tactics

The Ashen Guild tend to use many standard adventurer techniques - from a marching order (Sark in the front, Rikka close behind, Desh and Seryn in the middle, and Garrius bringing up the rear), to a party mapper (Desh - her fascination with history makes her pour over older maps, where available, and her own personal maps make great before-and-after shots of the ravages of time), to recruiting Hirelings (standard mercs, maybe a few of unusual races - mainly Extras/Mooks, not much personality).

Rikka is known to reset disabled traps, and, if time permits, might even set up a few of his own - those with skills in trapmaking might even spot his handiwork (think "That's a three-part open ball hinge! Only Kobolds use those..."). He will also improve and alter existing traps (so, while every other trap contains Bloodvine poison, several have Death's Touch paralysing poison on - and expect him to use thestolen Bloodvine needles when you fight him later!). He's also particularly cruel - try and help the PCs get a sense of his dark and twisted sense of humour when they find his traps!

While they don't have a standard Magic-User in the group, Seryn has Bardic Spellcasting - and she'll mostly be packing utility spells (and , in 3.5, both her and Rikka should have pretty decent Use Magic Device ranks), and will use her mining pick in combat instead of magic. Sark is the "blaster" - blending blade and spell, he prepares the proper hurty-spells, frequently augmented by Seryn's spells (so, she can maybe give him something to hurt Incorporeal enemies, or a quick boost of Flight when he needs it).

If the players have any particularly clever plans/techniques, steal and adapt them for the group - they are adventurers, after all, and are just as good as you are!

Cliches for Risus

History-Obsessed Dust Genasi (4)
Master of Many Fields (3)
Student of Several Fighting Styles (Mostly in Theory) (2)
Dark and Brooding Loner (1)

Full-Time Adventurer Archaeologist (4)
Knows Quite a Few Handy Magics (3)
Singer of Songs To Soothe The Soul (2)
Not The Best Choice in Team-mates (1)

Raging Bariaur Death-Merchant (4)
Armour is For Women! (3)
Hard-Drinking Planar Mercenary (2)
Brash and Obnoxious (1)

Life-long Traps Specialist (4)
Sneaky Bastard Kobold (3)
(Easily Bought) Mercenary at Heart (2)
Cruel and Unusual Little Fucker (1)

Sword- and Spell-Slinging Hobgoblin Hexblade (4)
Desperately Searching For A Way Home (3)
Smarter Than He Looks (But Not By Much) (2)
Secretly The Tribe's Chef (1)

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

OSRIC and The Expiditionary Campaign - Fuck. Yes.

So, I had my first (of hopefully many) sessions in Dangerous Brian's Isle of the Earthshaker Campaign last night - and by Pysos' flaming balls, it was great.

In part, it was due to Brian's quality GMing - every detail added new layers of intrigue, extra elements to explore, and created a feeling of exploration and danger. I can really learn a lot from this guy.

Of special note was the ruined temple we visited (and later fortified) - the description was magnificent, giving a real sense of grandeur to the place, which in turn made the defaced statuary, destroyed furniture and... soiled walls all the more effective. I'm very sorely tempted to nick this place as a dungeon for my next campaign...

I'd seen him in action in a previous campaign, but in a setting he has built himself, over years of accumulation, he's a master of his craft. I can't praise him enough.

Second, was the system. I wasn't too sure of OSRIC at first, I will admit (there's a bit of me that likes 3.5's fiddlyness - a sad, ashamed part, to tell the truth), but seeing it in play, it's pretty wondrous. For a start, it held together with 10 players (one of whom joined us by Skype) - and I've seen games with 4 players take over an hour to settle a combat (4e, I'm looking at you!). But combat was done quickly without feeling rushed, and the simple system really offered player ingenuity a chance to shine - like having players distract giant rats with thrown fish, impaling a half-crazed demon-thing hiding in a chimney with a cooking spit, or my character narrowly avoiding losing an eye to a well-placed meathook:

Me: "The rat is attached to my face!"
Other PC: *evil grin* "I'll just be careful not to roll a 1..."

The initiative system is nice and simple - roll a d6, take your turn from 6-1 (in case of ties, highest Dexterity goes first), then any NPCs/monsters attack. Really simple, but still provided the right amount of granularity to prevent a free-for-all.

And third (and possibly, one of the most important factors in enjoying a game) was the rest of the players. Between trading deals gone horribly wrong, one PC realising another PC was the man who sold them into slavery, and Thanatos, aka Shadow Guy the Assassin who "guarded the stairs" while everyone else was being mauled to death by rats, we had some group going. A lot of fighters (4 out of 10 characters), a surprising number of Assassins for a well-off trade ship (2 and a dual-classed Assassin/Illusionist), and a Cleric, a Druid and a Wizard.

There are people who claim that inter-party conflict weakens the group, and makes the game no fun for anyone involved. These people are both wrong, and weak.

Our party, due in part to our wide and diverse backgrounds, had plenty of conflict - whether physical (like a duo having a problem of trading, leading to a fistfight, only stopped by another PC headbutting one of the offenders, and my character slapping manacles on the thief), emotional (the aforementioned headbutter, a giant of a man, realising the Wizard was his slaver), or conflicts of interest (aforementioned thief character is a haughty Elf, sees humanity as something less than himself, and is far more interested in his own survival than any of ours, and will not hesitate to tell us so) - and all of it was entertaining as Hell. We're pretty much desert island castaways - and the classic "Scorpions in a Box" plot is having characters in conflict forced to co-operate, and learning a thing or two about teamwork and humility along the way. Indeed, as soon as the chips were down, we pooled together quite spectacularly, forming a fearsome fighting force (witness the Giant Baboon charge us in a doorway, only to land on two spears, a trident, and the sharp end of a skillet. Brutal.), and were coming up with plans to help everyone survive the night. The conflict is still bubbling under the surface, but until we can ensure a safe place to sleep and a decent supply of food, it'll need to wait...

Friday, 5 August 2011

Kobold Acension Fight: Redux

So, expanding on the campaign mentioned here:

The land of Delraith is, for the most part, controlled by human and demi-human races. However, behind most great leaders is a "mystery benefactor" - dragons. Great, powerful beings, who use the local cities and ports as pawns in their games to collect more wealth.

As previously mentioned, Dragons are not a true race - they are the final stage of a Kobold's spiritual evolution. Those who take their time, learn the truth of their bloodline, and eventually ascend through meditation, prayer, and sacrifice tend to become Metallic Dragons. Those who cheat and bypass the process with magic and unspeakable rituals become Chromatics.

Each Dragon holds a few tribes of Kobolds in their sway - they naturally flock to the Dragons, subconsciously aware of their link. And really, it'd be a waste of good service... Chromatics keep them about as slaves, snacks, and expendable warriors. Metallics keep them around to keep them safe. Few Metallics will tell their charges the secret of their ascension, for fear that they might take the route of the Chromatic Dragons and cheat their way to the top - however, they will choose certain members of their tribes to study under them, and pass on their knowledge when they feel the student has proved themselves worthy of such knowledge.

There are a couple of major players on the continent, and more lesser dragons looking to get ahead.

Anathraxiis - a Young Black Dragon, she is an up and comer in the Game of Cities, but her ruthlessly analytical mind and tendancy towards subterfuge have helped her gain a real step-up. She is currently the most proactive of the dragons, sending out scouting parties and collecting as much information on the other dragons and the rituals used for ascension. Anathraxiis's Kobolds are a sneaky bunch, tending towards stealth and trickery to fufill their Mistress's desires.
Anathraxiis owns Valerian's Reach, a small port town on the South Coast. It's mainly known as one of the few places to receive traffic from the Southern Continents, and for its famously "relaxed " City Watch. From here, she organises small black-market trading operations, in poisons, illegal magics and unusual races seeking shelter and asylum.

Valkrith - an Old Red Dragon, Valkrith is a savage beast, mainly concerned with war and bloodshed. He only remains a major player due to his connections with several tribes of Orcs and other Humanoids living in the wildernesses between the other Cities, occasionally taking the form of a powerful member of their races, and procreating with the locals to produce Half-Dragon children to lead the tribes. Each tribe worships him as a living God, and his progeny as Saints of sorts, with a spark of their God's "divine favour". Despite his rage and bloodlust, his followers are a frighteningly coordinated military machine (due, in part, to a large tribe of Hobgoblins who intentionally sided with him, spread out amongst the other tribes to share their gifts in warfare). He can also call in some favours with Githyanki mercenaries, making him a near-planar threat.
Valkrith's kobolds are a vicious bunch, with many bearing a strong resemblance to their master - it is suspected that he also interbreeds with his subjects, and enforces a fierce inbreeding program. Many wear animal skins, and practice defiled blood-magic rituals before battles to strengthen themselves, and enter furious rages.
He doesn't own territories, so much as rules them through fear. Mostly wilderness areas, forests, and other out of the way places.

Liserr - a Mature Gold Dragon, Liserr is concerned with the accumulation of arcane knowledge. Her natural arcane abilities are helped along by a sorcerous disposition, and frequently plans battles to ensure she has just the right spell ready. She tends to help fledgling empires to grow, and ensures their good nature through a careful regiment of review and veto before finally granting part of her hoard to them.
Liserr's Kobolds tend towards Sorcery and magic in all its forms, with Sorcerers and Wizards being common, and even the most obscure of arcane traditions are represented within the tribes. They rely on their magics to replace their fighting ability, and can be lethal foes with enough prep time.
Liserr has shared her tribute to several small cities, but the biggest is Serlise, a mixed Elven/Human settlement near the Serlise Woods. Known for its magocracy, most of its exports are arcane in nature, as well as items of fine craftsmanship, and the arts.

That's just three to get you started - you can have as many or as few as you want. I'd tend towards fewer, to make it clear that Draconic Ascension is a long-winded and rare process. You might notice that there's no stats, etc. for each of these. The assumption of you being Kobolds mean you won't need them - you're not fighting these things, they're Gods. They make background elements themselves, providing adventures - encountering their servitors, raiding their hoards, and travelling through their territories. 

The game assume players are Kobolds under Anathraxiis' leadership - after all, they have the requisite sneaky attitude and pro-activeness that marks PCs out from the common man. It was also originally to be used as a more comedic setting, but when I started out writing these, I realised it could be used to run a wide variety of adventures - from the comedic Paranoia-style Kobolds, to the grand scheming and political intrigue of the Dragons themselves, to generic fantasy adventures inbetween.

It's pretty much become the comedic/dirty version of Council of Wyrms, and I love it so far.

Look out for a playtest, coming to you soon!

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Fleshing Out Races: Kenku

One thing I simultaneously love and hate about D&D, in all its forms, is the proliferation of races within a confined setting.

Each Monster Manual has dozens of sentient races, and back in the 3rd Edition days, most of these had opportunities to use as player characters. While I understand that these are for a more "toolbox" approach, settings like the Forgotten Realms tried to use everything - and what you were left with was three or four races that filled the exact same niche, whether it was story-based or ecologically - for every niche.

In terms of story, there are approximately a billion different first-level threats to choose from - but for most GMs, it comes down to Goblins, Kobolds, or some kind of low-level Undead.

I wanted something a bit different, so I decided to take a look at Kenku - bird-like humanoids, resembling crows/ravens with no wings and a human-like stance. Their culture is pretty weakly defined - they're born in nests, live near large cities, are sneaky and secretive, and make good Rogues/Assassins.

That's about it.

So, here's an attempt to flesh them out a little, and make them a good fit for a new setting.

Above all things, Kenku hold secrets to be most important - after all, Knowledge is Power, and what holds more power than a well-kept secret? Most worship a minor God of Secrets and Lies - Crow/Raven (occasionally referred to as The Corvus, The Dark Bird, or The Great Bird, mainly by it's Clerics), a two-faced god, with Crow representing Secrecy, Knowledge and Magic, and Raven representing Darkness, Death and Stealth. There are many, many supposed creation myths attributed to the Kenku and Crow/Raven - whether they were brothers who simultaneously ascended to divinity, entagling their divine essence with one another, or The First Bird, which flew itself to Heaven and took a place protecting all its kindred. Some even claim that The Corvus was once the pet of a now dead God, who took his essence and took over His portfolio. Only one thing's certain - if it was a Kenku who told you the tale, chances are they are lying. The true secret of their origins (if indeed it can be said to exist) is "The Secret" for Kenku - the other tales are lies and misdirection, either to protect the true knowledge, or just as a practical joke on those who might ask.

Due to their desire for intrigue, many take up home in or around larger settlements of intelligent Humanoids, and attempt to work their way into the political scene - either directly (in more tolerant areas), through underground criminal rings, or through patsies and representatives. Due to the knowledge they hoard, many high-ranking Kenku have other humanoids over a barrel, with little choice but to be their stand-ins in the games of politics for fear of what secrets might be released. Many learn several languages, including "dead" ones, and their natural ability to mimic the voices of others feeds directly into that - no point in pretending to be a Gnoll when you don't speak either Gnoll or Abyssal, right?

Kenku live in family units (referred to as clutches), with several family units (normally extended families, those related by blood, etc.) forming a Murder. Most Murders are fairly close-knit, and form an extended family. When large numbers of Kenku are present, several Murders may come together to form a Flock, a loose association of families and aquaintences. Flocks can occasionally include non-Kenku families, mainly those who have a member who has done the Flock (or a particularly high-ranking Murder) some great kindness.
Kenku take several names and aliases, in part due to their obsession with secrets - their real names are often obscured amongst a web of nicknames, false identities and adopted titles. This makes them pretty hard to track, both via magic and through more mundane means. These names are taken from deeds (Slasher, Goblin-Killer), characteristics (Red-Eye, Strongarm) or even just cribbed wholesale from other races.

Kenku are most commonly seen associating with their own kind, but seem to have a special place within their society for Kobolds - possibly, the Kobold's natural talent for stealth and trickerey appeals to the Kenku, and their downtrodden underclass status makes them perfect spies. They also share a common desire for knowledge, specifically in the arcane for Kobolds - but to a Kenku, all knowledge is useful, and Kobolds seem pretty willing to share that knowledge with them. They have no real emnity with other races, but their secretive nature makes them far less likely to socialise outside their own kind than most races.

Kenku stand roughly 4'6"-5'6", with very few being taller (but a fair number being smaller). Being descended from birds, their bone structure is partly hollow - making them both lighter and somewhat less resiliant than other races.

Kenku mostly take up adventuring for the simple reason of finding lost tomes of information, old maps, journals - whatever bits of information they can scavenge. Some go to find the secrets of the universe - many following this path end up out on the Planes, and Sigil's got a healthy population of them (mostly in the Hive Ward, though a few have worked their families up to prime Lady's Ward homes). Some have a specific piece of information in mind, and some just wait and see what comes to them.

Many follow the path of the Thief and Sneak - Rogues, Assassins, and Bards are all very common amongst Kenku. Some follow the path of magic, with Wizards being most common (despite worshipping a God of Magic, Kenku are no more inclined to Sorcery than other races) - their lust for arcane power only tempered by their drive for secret rituals and knowledge. Fighters and plain warriors are uncommon - most who do become swordsmen are more likely to use their heads and think their way out of a fight than actually battle.

See - easy. You can keep the same stats and abilities for 3.5/4e, though I might recommend swapping one of their bonuses of an Int boost.