Tonights Game – Online

Unfortunately, the laryngitis still hasn’t cleared up all the way – and I’d rather not share it with anyone else. Ergo, tonight’s game will have to held via Skype, where I can supplement talking with typing and there’s no way of passing on this malady. On the other hand, at least everyone else can talk all they please.

Hopefully the illness will have cleared up by friday night’s game, but that’s normally online anyway – so it will be running as usual either way.

The Children’s Crusade – Part IV

Circe Offering the Cup to Odysseus. Oldham Art...

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There’s a certain difference about many of the opponents you use when you run a game with young noble protagonists.

Quite a lot of their opponents won’t want them dead.

  • The manipulative and treacherous Uncle (of any one of them) wants to capture them and corrupt them to his side, not kill them.
  • The bandits want to hold them for ransom, not throw away a fortune and bring a massive hunt down on their heads by killing a bunch of noble kids.
  • The rebels want to persuade them of the rightness of their cause, and hopefully – even if they fail now – score a clean win when the kids come into power and can institute reforms.
  • The enemy state wants to use them as bargaining chips, and possibly score a propaganda coup if they can persuade them that they have a valid point.
  • Their opponents in the tournament are, of course, fighting to subdue with blunted weapons.
  • The rival kids just want to show them up, and perhaps inflict a few bloody noses.
  • The guards want to keep them from sneaking in and out, or into areas where they’re not supposed to be – but they generally don’t want them worse than concussed.
  • The dark cult wants to recruit them – and, if that fails, to save them for later sacrifices
  • The secretive mind-benders want them under control, and sent back the heart of the realm as their agents and spies.
  • The wealthy, but low-social-class merchant may want to blackmail one of them into a marriage to one of his social-climbing offspring.
  • The blackmailers want profitable information – whether that means getting something on the kids for direct profit or something on someone else for later use.
  • The dark wizard wants to force them to retrieve a banned tome from the castle library, since they can easily walk the corridors where he may not.

Now the kids can’t always count on that sort of thing applying; there might be an assassin, or idiot, or someone who wants to avenge some old slight on the child of an enemy they can’t reach otherwise, or something along those lines – but it all comes down to the fact that many of the kids adventures will be playing on more social turf; they can lose fairly often without dying.

That’s a very big change in the dynamic of the game – and if you want to spend much time in the lower levels where the game isn’t too grossly complicated, a very welcome one. If Gohen the Super-Ape Barbarian, and Davros the Sorcerous Slayer, and Badly-Named Optimized Character of your choice are slicing their way into the heart of The Demon Empire Of General Evilness (TM), and they lose more than once or twice in their entire little war, they’re probably doomed.  The players will act as if any contest is to the death, simply because most of them really are. Defeat – and often even retreat – will never be considered, since, if your enemies can drive you off, they’ll shortly be in pursuit with reinforcements. Even taking a little time out can become a synonym for “make a new character” – and so there’s a focus on combat power and character optimization.

Whereas if the Kids trace the bandits back to the Dread Masters of the Mind, and lose, they’re likely to get mind-controlled and sent back on a mission against the realm – and if they blow that, or even if they succeed, they’re likely to be captured, freed of control, and get another chance at things. Their defeat may be really embarrassing, and may throw doubt on their fitness to inherit – but you can recover from embarrassment a lot more easily than you can from being dead.

In a “youthful nobles” game the players might even be willing to surrender at times without throwing dice across the room and groaning about the other characters being useless and all that “railroading”. Sure, that volley of arrows might get nowhere – but now it’s not a question of “fight now and maybe die versus certain death later”. It’s “fight now and maybe die versus almost certain severe embarrassment – or perhaps escape if we’re very lucky”.

Admittedly, not all players act like that, but you’ve probably met a few who do. Wouldn’t it be a pleasant change for them to have a reason to give in gracefully rather than assuming that defeat equates to death?

And here we have our sixth sample young noble character:

Nikolai Verburger

The Verberger family has long been noted for it’s elven ties, and many of its members show at least slight evidence of elven blood – slightly fey features, aging extraordinarily well, or having a knack for the wilds and for natural magic. Young Nikolai already shows some of those features – and an affinity for archery magic.

Level One Player Summary: Nikolai Verburger

  • Str 14, Int 12, Dex 16 (18), Wis 12, Con 14, and Cha 10
  • Longsword: +10, 1d8+3, Crit 19-20/x2
  • Longbow: +10, 1d8+3, Crit 20/x3, 100′ range increment.
  • Hit Points 12, Armor Class 19 (+4 Armor, +4 Dex, +1 Martial Art), Initiative +4, Move 30′.
  • Saves: Fortitude +4, Reflex +4, and Will +2.
  • Skills: Climb +2, Knowledge/Nature +5, Elven Warblade Martial Art (Dex) +8, Heal +3, Move Silently +8, Ride +6, Spot +5, and Survival +5.
    • Elven Warblade is a longsword-based martial art that provides +2 to Attacks and +1 to AC when using a Longsword or – thanks to his Weapon Kata – a longbow.
  • Magical Abilities: May enchant an arrow he fires to:
    • 4x/Day: Cause the creature hit to go blind or become deaf.
    • 4x/Day: Cause 2d6 fire damage along the arrows path and to the creature hit.
    • 4x/Day: Slow the creature hit for 2d4 rounds.
    • 4x/Day: Engulf whatever it hits in darkness.

Full Build:

  • Basic Attributes: Str 14, Int 12, Dex 16 (18), Wis 12, Con 14, and Cha 10
  • Personal Disadvantage: Unarmored. Armor disrupts the magical energies that Nikolai taps, and shuts down most of his special abilities.
  • Warcraft (BAB): +1 (6 CP)
  • Cultural Weapon Focus/ +1 BAB with Elven Cultural Weapons (Longsword, Rapier, Longbow, Composite Longbow, and Short Bow) (+1 BAB, Corrupted/Elven Cultural Weapons only, 4 CP).
  • Proficient with All Simple and Martial Weapons (9 CP).
  • Level One Hit Die: d10 (6 CP). That gives him 12 HP.
  • Save Bonuses: +1 Will, +2 Fortitude (9 CP).
  • Adept: Halves the cost of buying four skills; In his case Knowledge/Nature, a Martial Art, Move Silently, and Survival (6 CP).
  • Skill Points: 2 (Purchased, 2 CP) + 4 (Int Mod x 4) + 12 (Enhanced Human Bonus) = 18
  • Innate Enchantment, Corrupted/the user cannot wear armor (4 CP, for an effective value of up to 5000 GP). His innate enchantments include Mage Armor (1400), Aura of Favor (+1luck bonus to attacks and damage, 1400), and Dex +2 (1400).
  • Immunity to XP cost for Innate Enchantments (Uncommon, Minor, Trivial, only covers L0 and L1 effects, 2 CP).
  • Finesse, May use (Dex Mod) instead of (Str Mod) when making attacking rolls with melee weapons, Specialized and Corrupted/only with Longswords (2 CP).
    • Longsword: (+2 BAB +1 Masterwork +4 Dex +2 Martial Art +1 Luck), 1d8 +(1 Luck +2 Str)
    • Longbow: (+2 BAB +1 Masterwork +4 Dex +2 Martial Art +1 Luck), 1d8 +(1 Luck +2 Str)
  • Focused Imbuement/His arrows function as “Spell Carrying Arrows” (a variant on the Spell Storing ability); when such an arrow is drawn, the user may opt to imbue it with any spell he or she has available of up to level three as a free action. The spell will be released upon whatever the arrow hits. Special-purpose spells may produce magical effects along the path of such an arrow as well. Specialized and Corrupted/the effective total bonus is fixed at +1 (converted to Spell Carrying) and does not improve with level, the carrying function only works for inherent spells, and only one such arrow may be fired per round. (4 CP).
  • 4x level two Inherent Spells  with +2 Bonus Uses (total of four uses per day each), Specialized/spells can only be used with a spell carrying arrows (18 CP).
    • Blindness/Deafness: Renders target blind or deaf. Save DC 14.
    • Cometary Arrow: A specialty effect for use with Spell Carrying Arrows, it causes the arrow to radiate flame, causing 2d6 flame damage in a 5′ line and similar damage to whoever it hits. A reflex save negates damage for victims along the line, but the creature struck is not so lucky.
    • Darkness: Surrounds a target with darkness, inflicting a 20% miss chance, for 10 minutes/level.
    • Slow: Single-target version that lasts for 2d4 rounds, save DC 14.

Nikolai, of course, is heading down the comic-book trick-arrow-archer path – but there’s really nothing at all wrong with that.

The Children’s Crusade – Part III

Detail from photographic portrait of Charles D...

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If you’ve got a party of kids – whether or not they’re being played by real-life kids – it’s time to consider how that complicates the game.

First up, is something that gets left out of a lot of games; Family is very important to kids.

That’s not something you normally deal with much in a role-playing game. There may be a few non-player characters who are important to the group as a whole, or are unusually memorable – but no one spends much time on an NPC who are only important to one or two of the players, since that’s time at the table (a very limited resource!) being spent on things that most of the players are not involved in.

That’s worse than splitting the party; at least when you split the party the rest of the players are looking forward to their turn; if you’ve playing out someone’s conversation with a family member, it’s almost certain that you’re playing out downtime – which means that the players who aren’t all that interested in establishing a “family” are just gritting their teeth while waiting for the actual game to start again.

Just as annoyingly, playing families means that the game master has to come up with a dozen or so NPC’s per character – and, if the character changes, all of that becomes a waste of time.

Fortunately, real history gives us an answer there – the same premise that this article series started with:

Fostering.

A bunch of unrelated kids get shipped off to be raised together in an important household – thus acquiring social skills, a chance to build connections, access to the best tutors, and a chance at favor. Sure, it might get them killed – but historically a lot of kids died young; it was a fact of life.

That means that the entire party is going to be, and to be sharing, a family. “Mother” may be the elderly cook who always gave the kids snacks when they were hungry. “Father” may be the armsmaster who makes sure they know how to defend themselves and deal with injuries. Other figures – the blacksmith, the stablemaster, and so on – may take the role of aunts and uncles. All the kids being fostered play the role of siblings – and a fostered child’s actual family may be little more than a distant memory, source of occasional presents, and source of rivals.

Now that gives us a much more reasonable number of NPC’s to handle – and makes sure that most of them will be useful throughout the entire campaign.

It also means that a lot of classical plotlines become practical.

  • If an usurper seizes control of the realm, that’s a personal, family matter.
  • Are the youngsters too idealistic? Some cynical relative may try to arrange to be rid of them.
  • Is someone setting up an arraigned marriage for a PC? That’s EVERYONE’s business.
  • The characters existence may be very inconvenient indeed for brothers and sisters whom they’ve never met but who don’t wish to share their inheritance. In fact, it’s entirely possible for their true siblings to be being raised in enemy courts. That can make for fun visits.
  • They have respected elders and a liege lord. The kids may be asked to investigate, or deal with, threats to the realm – or be placed in charge of troops or minor expeditions. It’s best that they learn to manage such things before they have to do so without advice.
  • If the group rescues oppressed or endangered peasants, they have a place to take them – and anyone who takes offence has a target.
  • They may be sent out to enforce law and order – perhaps even to bring some unruly party of commoner-adventurers to heel.
  • They’re representatives of the realm; they may have to handle diplomacy, treacherous members of the court, intrigues and plots, or uncover dopplegangers.
  • They might inherit – or be entrusted with the recovery of – some ruined stronghold or section of wilderness.
  • Plus, of course, all the typical “quest”, “attack on the realm”, “explore the dungeon”, and “fight the monster” scenarios work perfectly well – whether as independent adventures, or as requests.

And the wonderful thing is, they’ll all automatically be involved as a group. You won’t need to dangle hooks that interest one or two characters, and then have to herd cats to get the entire group headed in one direction.

Need further inspiration? “Youngsters exploring an unfamiliar world and encountering it’s terrors and wonders” is a pretty fundamental theme. I’d suggest Robert Louis Stevenson, Rudyard Kipling, L. Frank Baum, Charles Dickens, C. S. Lewis, H. Rider Haggard, Lewis Carroll, Joseph Conrad – and, for modern familiarity – J. K. Rowling.

And for our next sample character we have.

Roland Huntley

Roland always liked to know things – preferably, before anyone else did, and witnessed with his own eyes rather than second-hand. Unfortunately, he lacks any real talent for the greater magics, and thus the easy road of divination was closed to him – or would, at least, have taken far too long to suit his tastes. He’s learned to make mundane skills, and the trivial tricks of lesser magic that were open to anyone, serve his purposes instead.

Level One Player Summary: Roland Huntley

  • Str 10, Int 14, Dex 16, Wis 14, Con 12, and Cha 12
  • Personal Disadvantage: Compulsively Inquisitive. Roland has been impulsively sticking his nose into things pretty much since he was born and just doesn’t know when to leave well enough alone.
  • Rapier: +5, 1d6+1, Crit 18-20/x2, 5′ Reach, up to four Attacks of Opportunity, +1d8 Sneak Attack.
  • Hit Points 9, Armor Class 19 (+2 Armor, +3 Dex, +2 Martial Art +2 Shield), Initiative +3, Move 30′.
  • Saves: Fortitude +2, Reflex +4, and Will +4.

Skills:

  • (2 SP Each, 4 SP after Adept): Bluff +13, Disable Device +14, Hide +14, Knowledge/Local +11, Move Silently +14, Search +11, Sleight of Hand +14, and Tumble +14.
  • (4 SP): Rapier Martial Art (Dex Based): +14 (11*). Techniques Known: Attack +2, Defenses +2, +5′ Reach, and Combat Reflexes.
  • (1 SP Each): Appraise +8, Climb +6, Decipher Script +8, Diplomacy +10, Escape Artist +11, Gather Information +10, Listen +8, Open Lock +11, Sense Motive +8, Speak Language +8 (5*), and Spot +8.
  • (Other Checks): Get a +2 Luck, +1 Morale, and +2 Competence bonus. All Dex-based skills get an extra +2 and all charisma-based skills get an extra +3.

Contacts: Arisheim the Sage (a local scholar), Sandarian (an informer), and Velof (the realms spymaster – who sees a potential successor).

Lesser Path Magical Abilities: Each is usable once per encounter, is activated as a swift action, and requires a DC 15 skill check to activate.

  • Bluff – Lesser Hypnosis: As per Hypnotism, but can only affect a single target with up to 1d4 hit dice.
  • Disable Device – Momentary Jam. A device – even something as simple as a door – can be disabled at a range of up to 60′ for 1d4 rounds.
  • Hide – Moment of Invisibility: Lasts up to three rounds, but ends if you attack something.
  • Knowledge/Local – Diplomatic Guise: Creates an illusory change of clothing, which lasts for up to one hour.
  • Martial Art – Iron Skin: +2 Force Armor for thirty minutes (usually kept up all the time).
  • Move Silently – Tracelessness: Wipes away signs of minor activities (footprints, disturbed dust,  fingerprints, swinging curtains, lit candles, etc) within a forty-foot radius burst.
  • Search – Reveal Magic: Close range, any magic within a 5′ radius burst will briefly sparkle in a complex light display life fireworks. Spellcraft rolls may be made to try and tell what it is.
  • Sleight of Hand – Recall Knives: Puts up to (2 x Dex Mod) knives that you drew within the last three minutes back into your sheathes if they’re within a 30′ radius and not being held by someone else.
  • Tumble – Great Leap: Adds 20 feet to your movement this round.

*I usually rule that Luck and Morale bonuses help with any martial art or speak language checks – such as for breaking things, or making out a bad accent, but not with the actual number of martial art techniques or languages known. Competence bonuses, however, do help.

Full Build:

  • Str 10, Int 14, Dex 16 (18), Wis 14, Con 12, and Cha 12
  • Personal Disadvantage: Compulsively Inquisitive. Roland has been impulsively sticking his nose into things pretty much since he was born and just doesn’t know when to leave well enough alone.
  • Warcraft (BAB): +0 (0 CP)
  • Weapon Focus/Rapier: +1 (+1 BAB, Specialized and Corrupted/Rapier Only, 2 CP)
  • Proficient with All Simple Weapons and One Martial Weapon (Rapier) (6 CP).
  • Augment Attack/1d8 Sneak Attack (4 CP).
  • Level One Hit Die: d8 (4 CP). That gives him 9 HP.
  • Save Bonuses: +1 to Will (3 CP).
  • Skill Points: 7 (Purchased, 7 CP) + 8 (Int Mod x 4) + 16 (Fast Learner and enhanced Human Bonus, for +4/level) = 31
  • Racial Ability Upgrade (3 CP): A consequence of – and paid for by – his inquisitiveness, these points go to upgrading the human racial bonus of “Fast Learner/Specialized in Skills” from half cost to double effect – thus starting in infancy.
  • Adept x2: Purchases the Hide, Move Silently, Tumble, Bluff, Sleight of Hand, Disable Device, Search, and Knowledge/Local skills for half cost (12 CP).
  • Augmented Bonus/“Studied Excellence”: Adds (Int Mod) to dexterity-based skills (6 CP).
  • Augmented Bonus/”Expressive Gestures”: Adds (Dex Mod) to charisma-based skills (6 CP).
  • Innate Enchantment, Corrupted/the user cannot wear armor (4 CP, for an effective value of up to 5000 GP). His effects include General Skill Mastery (+2 competence bonus to all skills, 1400), Fortunes Favor (+2 luck bonus to all skills and checks, 1400), Inspiring Word (+1 morale bonus to attacks, checks, damage, and saves, 1400), and Force Shield (L0 version, +2 AC, protects against Magic Missiles, 700).
  • Immunity to XP cost for Innate Enchantments (Uncommon, Minor, Trivial, only covers L0 and L1 effects, 2 CP).
  • The Lesser Path:
  • Shaping, Pulse of the Dragon and Heart of the Dragon, Specialized and Corrupted/requires a DC 15 skill check to produce a level zero effect, each skill is associated with a specific effect, each effect can only be attempted once every five minutes, the user must have at least four skill points in a particular skill before it’s effect can be employed Such effects are considered swift actions (10 CP).
  • Contacts: Arisheim the Sage (a local scholar), Sandarian (an informer), and Velof (the realms spymaster – who sees a potential successor) (3 CP).

Roland here is moderately complex for a kid – although it can be cut down fairly readily; simply calculate out ALL the skills, rather than just the ones with points in them to start. Dump the bit about activation rolls – half of them cannot fail with his bonuses – and then the skill references in the tricks. That will simplify the sheet a lot.