Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Preparing The Underhive...

So - I'm planning on playing a friendly game of Necromunda this weekend. I'm currently in the process of creating some terrain, or at least prepping it for quick-building once I get to my location.

I have a lot of sketches done for large-ish structures, to act as the main terrain pieces, and I plan on making some simple barricades/shipping containers to help supplement it. To prevent the "shooty" gangs from holding too much power (my opponent is thinking of taking Van Saar), I'm trying to make a balance between cluttered, LoS-blocking pieces for the ground level, and exposed "sniper perches" and other high-level areas for those who can claim them first.

I'm also going to make up a few Objective markers, using scrap, sprue and bitz - either placed on a miniature bases or done on similar-sized cardboard.

As I am skint, and this is a friendly one-off, we're not sinking too much money into it. Hell, we're not sinking any money into it - our scenery will be cardboard and household items, and our miniatures will be plastic Army Men. It will be great.

I'll provide some photos (and maybe a battle report) over the weekend.

Random Table: You Find Some... Meat

Yes, I'm in a weird Random Table mood.

Many humanoid creatures are known for not being too choosy what they eat. They can survive on the barest of rations, heartily supplemented by scraps of meat they find or take from kills and dry in their lairs.

Should your players locate such a lair, and such a food supply, roll on the table!

1. Dog/Wolf - stringy, tough, tasteless
2. Horse - succulent, tough, smells good
3. Rat - not as bad as you'd think, brownish, chewy
4. Small Bird (pigeon, chicken) - white meat, gamey
5. Large Bird (ostrich, roc) - strong taste, white meat, soft
6. Snake - white, fishy, 25% chance of being poisonous
7. Boar - strong-smelling, tasty, sweet, dark red meat
8. Cow - you know beef!
9. Rabbit - gamey, tough, tasty
10. Monstrous Humanoid - tough, smells terrible, full of protein
11. Human/Demi-Human - roll on table below
12. Magical Creature - varies, roll on table below

Sub-Table: Human/Demi-Human Meat
1. Human - tastes just like pork
2. Elf - light, almost white meat, delicious
3. Dwarf - tough, dark, chewy, tastes faintly of alcohol
4. Gnome - tough, salty, gives off a mild magical aura
5. Halfling - light, tender, soft
6. Half-Orc - tough, tastes weird, full of protein

Sub-Table: Magical Creature
These meats have not only been dried, but preserved with various magical reagents to keep some of the animal's natural magical properties. If you roll these while stocking a dungeon, try having some of the smarter monsters eat these before battle.
1. Salamander - slimy, chewy, grants Fire Resistance 5 for 30 minutes
2. Displacer Beast - tasteless, stringy, grants +2 dodge bonus to AC for 30 minutes
3. Blink Dog - stringy, tangy, grants Dimension Door 3 times within 30 minutes
4. Darkmantle - rank, slimy, overpowering, grants +3 bonus to Hide and Move Silently for 30 minutes
5. Phase Spider - white, gritty, grants See Ethereal for 30 minutes
6. Remorhaz - gritty, always warm, slimy, grants Burning Hands 3 times within 30 minutes
7. Frost Wurm - crunchy, always freezing cold, grants Cone of Cold 3 times within 30 minutes
8. Gorgon - very tough, crunchy, grants a +3 bonus to Fortitude saves/Save vs. Paralysis for 30 minutes
9. Lesser Demon/Tiefling - grants a +1 profane bonus to-hit for 30 minutes
10. Lesser Celestial/Aasimar - grants a +3 bonus to all saving throws for 30 minutes
11. Chaos Beast - grants 1 random mutation (make yourself a table, or borrow one from somewhere)
12. Doppelganger - grants Alter Self 3 times within 30 minutes

Remember - many of these creatures are sentient, and knowingly devouring their flesh is considered an Evil act.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Random Table: Weird Spell Components

Say you have an eeeevil Wizard as your next bad guy. You want to make him pretty powerful, so you give him a few weird and wonderful spells from a few weird and wonderful splatbooks. But, your players want to take the or their own, and they've bypassed the magic puzzle-lock to get to his spellbook, disarmed the traps that surround it, and dispelled the Explosive Runes on every page.

They want magical power like the Big Guys? Then they need to make a little sacrifice... literally. This table also makes a great resource for those raiding the potion cabinets of a variety of evil necromancers, mad scientists, etc.

Each ingredient here gives some sample spell-types it will be useful in. Capitals denote specific spells, domains or spell schools.

Where a specific class or race is mentioned, the higher the HD, the more powerful the effect.

1. The blood of an innocent, sentient creature, bathed in the light of the moon (lycanthropy, Divination, sympathetic magic)
2. The heart of a freshly-fallen Paladin (courage, strength, corruption)
3. The eyes of a Wizard who specialises in Divination, torn out while they were in a Seer's trance (True Seeing, Divination, sight, Metamagic)
4. The tongue of a Bard, preserved in oil from a poisonous plant (lies, deception, poison, Glibness)
5. The severed member of an Incubus (or similar 'male' sexual demon), preserved in Abyssal fluids (Evil, seduction, Charm, corruption)
6. Dwarf blood, permeated with the wyrd energies of the Underdark (transformation, strength, Earth, Evil)
7. Scales taken from a Metallic Dragon (Scalykind, appropriate elements, courage)
8. The bones of a true King (Charm, royalty, binding)
9. Hair (at least 5 foot in length), taken from a corpse (Necromancy, beauty, Death)
10. The powdered spikes of a Spinagon, bathed in the energies of Limbo (pain, damage, Evil, transformation)
11. The pickled tentacles of some Far Realm beast (insanity, Chaos, planar magics)
12. Water exposed to the Negative Energy Plane for a year and a day (water, Evil, chaos, Time)

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Another Technical Delay...

This time, self-imposed - I have updated the old Notebook O' Doom to Linux.

I now have it up and operational, which will mean that regular posting should be resumed shortly.

What I've got in the pipeline:

  • A few mini-dungeon maps I've been doodling
  • A short adventure for Microlite20, which I've ran with a couple of groups
  • Some more Microlite20 House Rules and Advances
  • A few reviews
  • Possibly the start of a series of adventures for the Kobold Ascension Fight campaign (system still undecided)
  • Some more MiniSix40k stuff
  • The Warrior's Guide To Being a Fighter
And many, many more!

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Microlite20: Hireling Advancement

Well, PCs get to advance as they face challenges and defeat their enemies - what about Hirelings?

Mircolite20's advancement system relies on the average level of your group - but Hirelings can make you somewhat more effective than would be expected. Torchbearers and Sages might not really assisst too much, but having a cadre of ten Men-at-Arms could really throw those numbers out.

If the players are using loads of Hencemen, consider not levelling any of them up - they're working as a large group of "mooks", and probably won't be learning anything they don't already know. But, if they only hire 1 Man-at-Arms, and he survives to the point that the players level up, consider adding a level of Fighter to the stat-block provided. If that seems a little too generous, maybe add +1 to-hit and +1 to one skill. Similarly, for other Hirelings, make them just a little bit better at what they do - a +1 here or there can show some advancement, while not allowing them to overshadow the players. As Sages don't come along with the party, I wouldn't go about leveling them up - unless the players bring them tomes of arcane lore, or something similar. Then, sure, give them a little +1 or +2, maybe even just to specific areas of research, to let the players feel a little bit more of a part of the setting as well as the game. Then, you open up more adventures, to find more books, and before you know it, the PCs are choosing to go raiding the lair of an Elder Dragon, just so their friendly local Sage can get himself a +1 t his Knowledge (Basket Weaving) skill... the game writes itself!

Or, you could take it as a "story-based" thing - say the PCs have three henchmen - a young torchbearer, a scribe, and a warrior. Which one do they seem to like the best?

Maybe the scribe takes maps, and has little other interaction with the group, and the warrior is pretty much a nameless meatshield for the party - they're not going to get a level-up. But maybe the young torchbearer saved the Fighter's life, and he wants to take him on as a squire. That warrants a level of Fighter, in my book, especially if the players are already a few levels above 1st. It helps that character to be more effective, and also allows the players to keep around a favoured NPC.

Just do what seems cool and appropriate to the character and the story, and you should be fine!

Chaos of The Warp Podcast

As you know, I like to support my friends and fellow Scotsmen. I find that friendship and helping each other out is the basis of forming a strong gaming community - and also gives me the chance to get a free promotion.

*nudge nudge*

Chaos of The Warp is a general wargaming podcast, with an obvious focus on Warhammer 40k. Reviews, upcoming events in Scotland, rumours, and GW announcements all fall under their radar. It helps that one of my close friends and DMs, Brian of Lead Legion, is a contributor.

Check them out!

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Happy Ava Lovelace Day!

Today is Ava Lovelace Day, which celebrates the achievements of women in scientific and technological fields.

To celebrate, I'm going to write about one of my favourites: Hedy Lamarr.

One of the most beautiful Hollywood actresses of her generation, Lamarr shot to fame with some pretty risque roles (including being one of the first women to portray the female orgasm in a "serious" Hollywood movie), and one of the few famous stars to do full-frontal nudity (something normally reserved for "stag" movies). She was a symbol of proud womanhood for all of the film industry, a powerful, sensual woman who wasn't afraid of the socially conservative attitudes of her time.

She also invented Wi-Fi.

Yep, you read that right - she created spread-spectrum technology, which would allow data to be transmitted via waves through the air instead of on wires. Bear in mind, at this point, people still used vacuum tubes; this technology was so advanced, it would be 1962 before people could start to produce it in any serious and reliable way. To cut down on interference that might cause issues with the transmission, she also came up with the idea "frequency hopping" - presumably casually, over lunch and a cigarette. Her and George Antheil (who helped her figure out a way to implement this frequency hop) laid the foundation for all the wireless networking we have today (including mobile phones!), despite being an early softcore-starlet and a famous musical composer respectively.

Bra-fucking-vo, my dear.

Good News - The Return of Dyson Logos!

Yep, Dyson's back with another geomorph, and apparently 60 more waiting to be scanned and uploaded!

The only problem is, the poor guy doesn't have any internet...

I'm looking forward to seeing the rest of these - Veratheth's Retreat looks pretty swish, so swish in fact I'm currently planning on running a little Risus Dungeon Crawl with it soon...

He's also inspired me to try my hand at some mapping - watch this space!

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Microlite20: Hirelings: Dogs In The Dungeon

Another old-school element that has been lost to the wayside - the use of trained animals in dungeon crawling. I mean, sure, the Druid has their Animal Companion, and the Ranger can no doubt train up a few animals in his spare time, but back in the day, animals were prized as extra luggage handlers (and loot-carriers), and as valuable parts of tactical combat - as well as being capable of a few other tricks.

These animals follow the same rules for my previous Hireling stat-blocks. Here, cost reflects the purchasing of an animal already trained for a life of dungeoneering. They normally consume either half-rations (for smaller breeds), a full count of rations, or twice that for larger or unusual breeds.

Mundane Breeds

These animals are clever, but not intelligent - if needed, consider them to have a MIND score of 2. They can be trained to perform specific actions using a series of MIND+Survival rolls, over as long as the GM sees fit, with bonuses (and a shorter timespan) for clever techniques.

Small But Vicious Dog
The Small But Vicious Dog has been a staple of fantasy gaming since WFRP. Now you too can own a psychotic pet who might be more capable in a fight than you are!
STR -2 DEX +1
Skills - Survival +2, Subterfuge +1
Bite +1 - 1d3-1
HP - 3   AC - 14
Special - the SBVD is particularly effective against Small opponents - it can latch onto them (+2 to-hit) and begin tearing at them, causing 1d3 damage every round it remains attached (STR+Phys vs the attack roll to break free).
Cost - 2gp
Breeds - Dungeon Terrier, Halfling Harrier, Goblin Shaker, Kurathi Rustler

Hunting Dog
These animals are of a variety of breeds, but they have one thing in common - an exceptional sense of smell. They are bred to hunt smaller animals, and to find those who wish to escape - city guards the land over use these dogs when searching for escaped convicts.
Skills - Survival +5, Subterfuge +2
Bite +1 - 1d4
HP - 5 AC - 10
Special - while they are great at tracking just about anything, some are bred and specially trained to locate certain types of creatures (like Orcs) or specific plants (like truffles or medicinal herbs). These Hunting Dogs get an extra +2 bonus to any rolls to locate the target of their training.
Cost - 5gp
Breeds - Setter, Bloodhound, Tracker, Watchman's Friend

These large animals are bred for battle - they are a mix of wild wolves and large tamed dogs. This lends them a temper to be feared, and a ferocity that strikes fear into even the hardest of men.
STR +1 DEX +1
Skills - Survival +1, Physical +3
Bite +3 - 1d4+2
HP - 6   AC - 12
Special - the Wolfhound can Trip opponents (-2 to hit), and once down, can pin them down (STR+Phys vs STR+Phys each round) and attack their vitals, causing 1d4+2 damage every round they are attached.
Cost - 10gp
Breeds - Varag, Krynnish Warhound, Snarling Marshdog

Mountain Dog
Sometimes referred to as "Bearhounds", these huge dogs were originally bred as guardians for mountain temples. Now, they are mainly used for their prowess as watchdogs, and their skill in battle.
STR +2 DEX -1
Skills - Survival +3, Physical +3
Bite +3 - 1d6+3
HP - 10   AC - 12
Special - the Mountain Dog is adept as sensing trouble, and can hear opponents from 100ft away (adjust as conditions change). It will inform its master through a low growl when it senses trouble.
Cost - 20gp
Breeds - Chi-Tzu, Chow Chow, Guardian, Cata

Exotic Breeds

These animals might have strange parentage, unusual abilities, or might just be outright supernatural. Expect to pay top dollar for these pets, but they can more than make that money back.

The Goblinhound is a strange creature - many theorise they are dogs which have been bred with Worgs (or perhaps Barghest), creating a lithe, cruel-looking creature with a startling intelligence, and an insatiable hunger for the flesh on intelligent creatures.
STR +1 DEX +1 MIND +1
Skills - Survival +2, Subterfuge +3, Physical +1
Bite +2 - 1d6+1, Claw +2 - 1d4+2
HP - 20   AC - 16
Special - the Goblinhound can understand spoken language, though it cannot communicate or read. These animals do not need as much training as others (though they will not tolerate abuse) and can carry out incredibly complex orders - they are almost as intelligent as most people. Additionally, for every 2HD of flesh the Goblinhound consumes, it gains a +1 bonus to its STR and DEX scores (to a max of +3) for 1 hour/2HD eaten.
(For the purposes of the Goblinhound's Special Ability, regular rats and small birds count as 1/4HD, and larger animals like chickens 1/2HD. The GM is the arbirtrator of what HD value non-statted animals have.)
Cost - 100gp on the open market, 50gp straight from a Goblin breeder.

Possibly the result of some weird cross of dragon and dog, these animals are great companions for dungeon adventurers. They have markedly scaly skin, and sleek, almost feline features, as well as a few features from their ancestor (spiked plates for Red, large, curved horns for Black, etc). Some are seen in the employ of Kobolds and Dragons, as watchdogs and guardians.
STR +2 MIND +1
Skills - Survival +3, Subterfuge +2, Physical +2
Bite +3 - 1d6+2 Claw +2 - 1d4+2
HP - 20   AC - 16
Special - Drakes are bred to show traits from certain breeds of dragon, and all have a breath weapon (+3, 1d8) which they can use a number of times a day equal to their STR bonus. The damage caused by this matches the breed of dragon they most resemble (so, Fire for Red/Gold, Acid for Black, etc.) They can also cause Fear (as the spell) with their bark 3/day.
Cost - 200gp on the open market, or possibly worth a favour for a Dragon. Kobolds see these animals as sacred, and will not sell them.

Monday, 8 October 2012

These Look Awesome! Otherworld Miniatures Dungeon Adventurers on IndieGoGo

Wow. Just... Wow.

These look amazing!

"Since 2006, Otherworld Miniatures has been producing 28mm fantasy miniatures for gamers, painters and collectors, inspired by the iconic imagery of the early roleplaying games. So far, we have just made the monsters, and with a range of nearly 400 creatures in our catalogue, we think that the time has come to introduce some player character models.
We could grow the range slowly, making a couple of figures a month for a few years, but we’d really like to be able to release a substantial range into the marketplace from the start. Unfortunately, the costs of such a project are significant, so we’re asking for your help. With the aid of our backers, we plan to release this range, initially with a boxed set of 12 Human adventurers, quickly followed by sets of demi-humans, female adventurers and hirelings and henchmen, over the course of the next few months. The range of boxed sets will be complemented by individual blister-packs featuring variant models with different armour, weapon and equipment options.
The figures will be sculpted by a variety of talented sculptors, including Kevin Adams and Patrick Keith, with others joining the project later. The miniatures will depict archetypal fantasy adventurers, human and demi-human, male and female, wearing practical clothing and armour and carrying realistic weapons and equipment. They will be posed for exploration, not combat. And these characters won’t be muscle-bound superheroes waving Vorpal Swords in the air - they’ll be grim-faced dungeoneers, a little bit down on their luck, and ready for action on your table-top!"

Now how awesome does that sound? I'm really looking forward to the Female Adventurers - the female Dwarf Fighter should be pretty sweet!

Those are the only greens available at the moment, but looking at how closely they hew to the concept art:
I'd say we're in for a treat.

TSR 2019 - The Dungeoneer's Survival Guide: A Review

While searching for some good OSR references, specifically for writing a dungeon, I stumbled across TSR2019 - Dungeoneers Survival Guide. This book is a veritable treasure trove (no pun intended) of info for writing a dungeon, or indeed any type of game with a focus on being underground.

The first couple of chapters talk about the book, including introductions by the two main writers - who show a lot of enthusiasm for the project. Not just the "Hey, isn't this a great idea?" kind of self-aggrandising enthusiasm, but a love of what they're writing and a clear joy at getting to write it. It's something that's not seen to often in big-company games now, which is a real shame.

The next chapter is pretty awesome - "Overview of the Underdark". Here, you'll find a brief (yet surprisingly full) description of the processes that occur underground, and the various ways these form into dungeon features, and ways to use them. Form the simple stalagmites and stalactites, through underground lakes and lava pockets, deadly gas build-up, and cave-ins, these descriptions paint a vivid picture of the dangers one might face from the environment alone, never mind monsters! A lot of these features will be going into the next dungeon I write...

Next is a couple of chapters dedicated to new rules covering the ins and outs of dungeoneering, from movement rates for various conditions, fighting in enclosed spaces, using ropes as levers and walkways, and a whole host of Non-Weapon Proficiencies to round things out. These are great, ranging from hunting and creating weapons, to things like Fungus Identification and Blind-Fighting. To me, these add an extra layer of specialisation for characters who intend to spend most of their time underground - sure, not too useful in a city-based campaign, say, but if you're about to head through a full-campaign megadungeon, these little tricks could save your life.

(Interesting Trivia Time: Did you know that non-weapon proficiencies were only introduced to the game by Oriental Adventures? I didn't.)

The new rules also help to add a little layer of vermilisitude to quite a few common dungeon-crawl activities - so much so, I'm already thinking of ways to implement some of them in other games (like Microlite20). They do suffer the usual AD&D problem of varying from elegantly simple to byzantine (sometimes, within the same ruling!), but they make for a pretty thorough groundwork to make your own rules from, or to act as examples and guidelines rather than proper rules. It also has a lot of information about non-Thieves performing actions normally covered by Thief Skills, and info on how to adjust those skills up or down depending on the circumstances. Again, very in-depth, with enough info to allow you to make an educated guess whenever you may need to. A personal favourite of mine are new rules for Hirelings and "cabin fever" - while one might expect PCs to be fine with spending months underground, crawling through ancient catacombs and deadly traps with the only emergence to go and spend their hard-earned cash, the average Henchman just wants to go home. The rules cover everything from them becoming suicidal/homicidal, to charming them into staying, to how much extra cash you might need to convince them!

The equipment section is where this book really stands out. It has everything you could think of taking into a dungeon with you, and quite a few more that I wouldn't have expected (who expects to need a fold-away canoe in a given adventure?!). Each piece of equipment adds some extra rulings, or adds to existing ones in interesting ways. While these are mainly useful to dungeon crawlers, most of the equipment could easily find another use to clever PCs (especially Thieves, as a lot of the stuff here covers stealth, mobility, and bypassing problematic obstacles).

The section covering monsters is interesting - it's got some information about the various humanoid races that live under the earth, from the classic Drow, to the little-used Duegar and Derro, the aquatic Kuo-Toa, and the abominable Illithids and Aboleths. Each of these only gets a bout half a page, but they make a great overview of the objectives of each of these races, and a great resource for new GMs.

Finally, the book contains a whole setting, a nice mapped-out chunk of the Underdark for the taking.

(Again, interesting fact time - this book is the first official use of the phrase "Underdark" in D&D literature. Neat! Next, to the Shadowdark!)

The maps are fabulously detailed, but still leave a lot of areas relatively free to interpretation. Some of the set-ups (like the massive "drain", controlled by Kuo-Toa who can change the flow of water into the lower levels) are fantastic, and even without set encounters, can provide a wealth of cool things to do in the setting.

The maps are done in a strong, isometric style - it take some getting used to, but the effect is great for conveying a truly multilevel area, rather than a "staircase down to the next level" type deal. They can, however, be a little bit cluttered, and the isometric view doesn't help any there.

As a final point, I should note the artwork - it's fantastic. Yes, it's all black-and-white, and not of the finest Photoshopped-half-to-death-with-titties-and-lens-flare-everywhere quality that modern D&D artwork is - but it's some of the most inspiring artwork I've seen in a long time. It really captures some of the feel of the classic dungeon crawl, even the faintly ridiculous Valkyrie-esque helmets the women wear (and, for a game frequently lamented as sexist, there's a lot of women here, being active, contributing to the group dynamic in each photo - not too bad!), the classic Fighter with the handlebar moustache and an outfit straight out of Golden Axe (see above illustration). The artwork presents a less-heroic feeling, that death and disaster could be right around the corner, but perversely, that the rewards could be so much greater... it really tickles a desire to write up a mega-dungeon, run it in OSRIC, and let my players taste some old-school beatdown - none of this "storygame" bullshit...
All in all, a very strong book, even to modern eyes. There are one or two little niggles with the rules, however... but I'm still planning to use it when I finally get around to writing that mega-dungeon...

Microlite20: Bard Specialist Advances

Keeping a roll on... here's The Houri, the first Bard Specialist Advance, inspired by a post my good friend Dangerous Brian made, updating the class from an old White Dwarf issue for OSRIC.

The Houri is an entertainer, first and foremost, and a concubine second. She uses her charm and natural grace to enthrall any onlookers, and finds that many are taken by her looks as well. Many have been trained by high-society madames, moulded into the very image of what the rich and powerful want to see in a woman.

Note that, in this case, men can qualify for the Houri Advance - simply change its name to "Courtesan", or something suitably exotic.

Bard Specialist Advance
Enchantress - you gain a +2 bonus to your Communication skill when used for seduction.
Presence - you gain Charm Person as a spell-like ability, cast as a Signatue Spell.
Flexible - you gain a +2 bonus to any Skill check which requires flexibilty (say, dancing, escaping bonds, or particularly exotic bedroom moves).
Exotic - you gain +1 to-hit and damage with whips, chains, daggers (stilletos and the like), and bows.
High Class - you gain a +2 to any rolls involving nobility (whether charming them, or remembering facts about specific Royal lines and history, etc).

Sunday, 7 October 2012

The Lowlife's Guide To Being A Thief

 "There's only two types of thief, boy - the good ones, and the dead ones."
-Ari Blackhand, Head of the Valerian's Reach Thieves Guild

After the success of The Gentleman's Guide To Being A Bard, I thought I'd try my hand at another little "D&D general" guide, this time focusing on one of my personal favourite Classes - The Thief/Rogue/Expert/Whatever.

Thievery has been around since the first man who looked to his brother, and thought "His rock looks better than mine!" - most agree it's the second oldest profession (and, indeed, members of the oldest profession frequently use such methods as well!). The Thief fills a certain societal niche - lower than the common man, for cutpurses and muggers, but somewhat more upwardly-mobile than the beggars that fill their streets.

There are a dozen archetypes of the Thief - the black-clad assassin, the dashing rogue, even the jack-of-all-trades Bard started out life as a Thief sub-class. But the main points are being light of feet and fingers, stealthy, and quick-thinking.

1. Know Your Role
You're not tough enough to be a front-line fighter, even though you might be good with a sword - your role in combat is to assist - set up flanking manuvers (for your tasty Sneak Attack bonus), pelting foes with ranged weapons, and acting as a "backup" when the Fighter goes down. As a player, you should be maximising the amount of times you can use your Sneak Attack - so, set up ambushes, adjust the lighting, set or re-set traps, get yourself and others into flanking positions, and generally think like a sneaky bastard.

Outside of combat, you are the skills guy - you check for (and disarm, hopefully) traps, you pick locks, you charm your way past guards, and generally make yourself as useful as possible. Again, play to your strengths - know which skills you can use more reliably than others, and know which party members are better than you (and defer to them when needed). You're also the best Scout in most parties - your stealth and perceptive abilities are second to none, so make sure you go ahead of the group to get the lay of the land, and report back with a multitude of ways in which you can turn the fight in your favour.

For Old-School games, the Thief is also one of the few Classes that most demi-humans have unlimited advancement in (depending on the game) - while not useful for most games (which never reach past the 10th-level mark), anyone planning on playing a demi-human in a long-running campaign could do worse than to dual-class with the Thief. Those Thief Skills can be put to great effect by most Classes, and it's always good to have a back-up trapfinder! Plus, once you hit the level cap for your other class, you still have somewhere to put (half) your XP, instead of it going to waste.

2. Play To Your Strengths
Goddamn stupid sexy midget...
Your stats play a vital role in ensuring you are the best Thief you can be.

Whatever system you're using, Dexterity is key. For older systems, it affects your Thief skills percentages, making it a vital component of being a great Thief - but, random generation might screw you over. For the more modern ones, it can affect your key skills which revolve around mobility and balance - and trust me, you're going to need them! Dexterity can also affect your ability with ranged weapons - something we'll get on to later.

Intelligence isn't too big a deal in older systems - it can affect how many languages you can learn (and a good Thief should have ways to communicate privately!), and might be used when determining traps or lies (both pretty useful), but these can also be covered with good role-play and thinking like a Thief - trust no-one, everything's trapped, and remember, it's not paranoia if they are out to get you. In newer editions, it can affect how many extra skill points you get - though Rogues do get a huge amount, so it's not essential. Then again, more skills is never a bad thing, so a decent Int score is always a good investment.
Charisma can go either way - depending on whether you're a skulking ruffian, or a smooth-tongued trickster. If you plan on spending all your time hiding in the shadows, leaping out only to delicately plant a knife between someones shoulder blades, forget it. Otherwise, it lets you lie, bluff, cheat, and seduce your way past obstacles you couldn't hope to fight otherwise - and makes the Thief all the more pragmatic for it.

OSR gamer, remember - while you have stat minimums for Dexterity (and various others, for various products), low Dex isn't a total killer. With planning, proper equipment, and the support of your party (and a good line in GM bribery) you can be just as effective as any other Thief. OSR games expect a lot more creative thinking and less system mastery than modern games - so be careful, be paranoid, and you should be just fine.

3. Vital Skills
Again, this one comes down to what kind of Thief you plan to be. Make sure you try and spread a few points amongst all of your skills, even a few ranks here or there - the Skills you get are some of the most useful in the game.

Disable Device and Open Lock are the archetypal Rogue Skills - traps and locks are your forte.You want to make sure they're bought up ASAP - this is where your first skill points of each level should go. It's also a little bit harder

Hide, Move Silently and Sleight of Hand are almost as archetypal - though a bit easier to get through items and other means. Pop a few points into these, more if they fit your character concept (say, a stealthy assassin over an adventuring locksmith). Each of these will see some use, regardless of what type of Rogue you make.

Balance/Climb/Jump are good for the acrobatic cat-burglar type, but can be something of a trap choice - they hold limited utility, and can be easily increased with magic and items. Don't spend too much on these (unless you have skill points to spare, somehow).

Bluff and Diplomacy can be absolute game-changers, if you play your cards right. Even non-Charisma-based Rogues will find a use for these skills in everything but the most hack-and-slash game. Even then, Bluff can be used to Feint, to allow for more Sneak Attack goodness! And, with enough Diplomacy, you can turn enemies from hating you to being your best friend with a Standard Action - not too shabby!

Use Magic Device is a godsend in "Caster Edition" 3.5 - use your ill-gotten gains to pick up a few wands or scrolls to enhance your stealth and combat abilities (Cat's Grace, (Improved) Invisibility, True Strike for Sneak Attacks, the list goes on!) - you won't be as flexible as a full-caster, but you'll be amazed at what you can pull off with the right wands in your belt.

The OSR Thief has his skills all set out on a table - and get very little say in how they advance. But, pick your strongest skill, from racial and other modifiers, and try and use it as much as possible. Climb Walls is an invaluable skill in dungeons - while anyone can climb, you can tackle sheer surfaces that would make lesser men weep. Racial bonuses and Dexterity modifiers can only net you a few extra percent - your main concern should be gear to help you with whatever you may need to do.

Bad Guys Wear Black
 4. The Clothes Make The Man
One of the things which defines you more than any other character is your equipment. I mean, sure, the Fighter is all about his armour and his weapon, but your gear is far more variable.

First things first, an old chestnut - daggers are a trap. Yes, they're small, easily concealable, and can be thrown, but their damage is pitiful, and they're not as adaptable as a good short sword. Unless your campaign is set under martial law, most places will allow you to carry a sword on your hip, so there's less concern regarding hiding a weapon. Daggers do, however, make a decent emergency back-up, climbing tool, spare tent-peg, useful trap detector/trap setting tool, improvised lockpick/Slim Jim, shaving kit, and cutlery. Carry a few just in case, just don't rely on them.

Thieves should also have a good way with ranged weapons - that Dexterity score affects how well you can use them, and you might as well play to your strengths of stealth, scouting, and not being in the front lines. Crossbows are a classic old chestnut for a reason - they are easy to use, hide, and need less room to use than a bow. They also complete the classic "Thief" look well.

Second, armour. You need something that will not give you a penalty to your Dexterity (this includes Medium and Heavy Armour). Even with the appropriate Armour Training Feats, the penalties are still present - thus preventing you from fulfilling your role for the party. Now, if you're about to enter a full-scale battle, where your stealth and agility means next to nothing, then sure -strap on the heaviest armour you can wear and hope for the best. But until then, stay loose and flexible - it's better to never be hit than to be able to shrug off the blow. Light, leather armour (studded leather, preferably) is your best bet.

Third - if you plan on sneaking, go the whole hog. Blackened armour, weapon-black, padded shoes - anything to eak out an extra little bonus or two. You don't need to wear these all the time, but when you are planning to sneak, they can be a godsend!

Finally, the little extras. As I've said before, Complete Scoundrel for 3.5 has a great equipment section for Thieves - with everything from hollow weapon-pommels and wand bracers to shoe-knives and grappling arrows. A quick read through should get some ideas flowing...

For OSR gamers, The Complete Thief's Handbook is an awesome resource, covering equipment from climbing pinons to silenced armour and even more!

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Microlite20: Rogue Specialist Advances

So, inspired by a few requests, and digging through some old-school materials, I present The Pirate and the Thief-Acrobat!

Pirates are dashing scoundrels of the seas - always on the lookout for profit, adventure, and aiming to misbehave. They fit well into the Errol Flynn School of Pirating - swashbuckling charmers.

Rogue Specialist Advance

Swashbuckler - you gain a +2 bonus to your AC when fighting with a rapier (or short sword) in one hand, and a dagger (whether a main-gauche, parry dagger, or otherwise) in the other.
Dashing - you gain a +2 bonus to your Physical skill when performing dashing acts of derring-do (swinging from chandeliers, sliding down curtains using a dagger, etc.) The GM has the final say in whether an act counts.
Skilled Swordsman - you gain a +1 bonus to-hit and damage with rapiers, daggers, and cutlasses.
Sea Farer - you gain a +2 to any checks involved in sailing (or commanding) a boat.
Delicate Swordplay - you gain a +2 bonus to any attempts to disarm an opponent.

The Thief-Acrobat is a top-story man - cat burglars, wirewalkers, and assassins who strike when their target is asleep. They have trained themselves to maintain their balance at all costs, for a single foot out of place could spell an ignomious end on the cobblestones below.

Rogue Specialist Advance

Slow Fall - you only take half damage (rounded up) from falls of any height.
Acrobatic - you gain a +2 bonus to your Physical skill when performing acrobatic maneuvers.
Exotic Weapon Training - you gain a +1 bonus to-hit and damage with any 2 of whips, chains, shuriken, daggers, and the quarterstaff.
Finesse - you may apply your DEX bonus to attack rolls with any non-two-handed melee weapon (so, longswords, quarterstaff, etc.) The GM has the final say in what weapons can be used in this manner.
Killer Reflexes - you gain a +2 bonus to any Reflex save (normally, DEX+Phys).


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