LWC – Morale Checks

November 28, 2015

Pathfinder0_1000The Long Winter Campaign will not use the encounter building rules.  Thus, it is entirely possible that a party could find itself in over their heads, with few options for escape or evasion.  In general, I’m fine with the players killing themselves off through overconfidence or incaution.  However, I still think there needs to be a bit of a safety valve, of sorts, and I believe a simple morale system will fit the bill.  Indeed, in old school D&D the morale rules, while an artifact of the wargaming roots of the hobby, more-or-less filled the same role.

To be clear, morale checks apply only to NPCs.  Player characters never have to make a morale check (fear-based saves, such as caused by dragons, are a completely different thing), though any NPC retainers or hirelings the PCs bring along might, at the GM’s discretion, have to make a morale check.  So, for the most part, these rules apply to monsters.

Check morale for groups of monsters.  If you have a group of orcs and a group of goblins fighting together, you might treat them as two separate groups.  Solitary “apex” monsters, such as dragons, should check for morale individually.

Good times to check for morale are:

  • When monsters take their first casualty (or first hit, in the case of solitary monsters), particularly if the PC party hasn’t taken any casualties/hits yet
  • When the monsters’ numbers are reduced to 50% or less (or a solitary monster is reduced to 50% hit points), and the PCs outnumber them, or obviously outclasses them
  • When the monsters’ leader is killed, incapacitated or otherwise “defeated”

To make a morale check, use the creature’s Will save.  For groups of monsters with a clear leader, use the leader’s Will save.  The first time a morale check is made, the DC is 10.  If a second morale check is called for, the DC increases to 15.  If the monsters pass two morale checks in the same combat, no additional morale checks will be required during that combat.  Modifiers for bravery/vs. fear apply to the morale checks.  The GM may apply other modifiers deemed appropriate to the circumstances.

Mindless creatures, and fanatics, never make morale checks; they’re always willing to fight to the death.

Creatures that fail a morale check will attempt to flee by the most expeditious route possible.  If escape is impossible, intelligent monsters will attempt to surrender.  If their surrender is declined, they will fight to the death.

I’m inclined to not award experience points for monsters that flee or surrender due to a failed morale check.

Fallout 4 – Building a post-nuclear society

November 16, 2015


I’d intended to write up something about Fallout 4 a few days ago, but what free time I’ve had in the past week or so has been spent playing, well, Fallout 4.  In many respects Fallout 4 is similar to Fallout 3, and Fallout New Vegas: blasted wasteland, murderous mutants and raiders, cool weapons, scavenging, power armor, companions, etc.  But I’m not here to write about the usual Fallout features, which you can read about anywhere.   I want to tell you about the newest and, to me, most interesting feature: settlements.

F3 and NV gave you houses, which you could customize and use as a base and storage facility.  F4, on the other hand, lets you rebuild civilization by establishing settlements…over 30 of them, spread throughout the Commonwealth wasteland.  When many A-rated games offer at most a dozen hours of gameplay, Fallout 4’s settlement feature alone gives you potentially hundreds of hours of gameplay (let alone the main storyline, numerous side quests and random wasteland exploration).


The building blocks of civilization.

Within your settlements you can do almost anything: establish defenses, grow crops, construct infrastructure and power grids, and build unique buildings using modular blocks (like the picture above).   Your settlements require resources to grow, mainly wood and steel, but also things like cement, copper, cloth, circuitry, fiber optics, oil, gears, springs, screws and much, much more.  You can acquire these resources by scrapping salvage within the borders of your settlement, or by scavenging them from the wasteland and transferring them into your settlement’s workshop inventory (which automatically converts them to the necessary resources as needed).  Finally, there’s a use for all that random junk you find in the wasteland.

settlement 1

Someone’s custom home.

Settlements won’t amount to much without settlers.  You can build radio transmitters to attract new settlers, who’ll need food and water, a bed to sleep in and protection from raiders.  If you provide for them adequately, their happiness will increase (as will their productivity).  If you fail, their happiness can decrease and you might loose control of the settlement.  Fortunately it’s pretty easy to see what’s bothering your settlers and remedy the situation.  And then you can put your settlers to work.  At first they’ll be growing crops and standing guard against raiders, but eventually you can put them to work in shops (to make caps for you), scavenging, and to maintain the vital supply lines between your growing network of settlements.  You can also tell them to move to other settlements, distributing your population as needed.


Build shops in your settlements to generate income.

Supply lines between settlements are worthy of a post all their own.  They allow you to share construction resources between connected settlements.  They also share excess food and water, enabling a synergism that allows the settlement system to really shine: specialization.  Instead of every settlement having to grow its own food and produce its own water (a logistics nightmare), using supply lines you can have specialized farms, water purification centers, scavenging centers, trade centers, logistical hubs, and even firebases (yes, you can eventually get artillery for your settlements).  Conceivably you could even have specialized “breeder” settlements, optimized for attracting new settlers, then relocate them to where their labor is needed most.


Artillery goes BOOM!

On the downside, while the controls for building settlements can be a bit kludgy, the controls for managing your settlers is nearly anachronistic.   There is no central interface for managing settlers, so you have to track down each settler individually (they wander around, and some of the settlements are HUGE), give them a command and then run back across the settlement to tell them what you want them to interface with.  You can construct a bell to summon everyone in a settlement to one spot, but it can still be a hassle to figure out which settler is doing which job.  And re-routing your supply lines is a near Sisyphean task.  To cancel a supply line, you have to talk to the actual settler doing the supply run…and yes, they actually travel across the wasteland between settlements, in real time (well, real game time).  This usually entails waiting for them to show up at a settlement, which can take quite awhile.  This is perhaps “realistic,” in a sense, but it would have been nice to have a tool to centralize the management of workers and supply lines.  I imagine such features will be amongst the early mods to be released by the community.

Fallout also does a very poor job of explaining the settlement system to new players.  To be fair, much of the system is intuitive, and there is a help feature which adequately covers the basics, but you’ll still spend a lot of time and resources experimenting with different features (either that, or spend a lot of time researching what you need on the internet).  However, some players may feel this is a feature, rather than a flaw.

Finally, while supply lines share resources between all your connected settlements, there is no global resource tracker for all your settlements (at least, none that I’ve found so far).  So it’s not easy to see your total food and water production vis-à-vis your total population.  For me, this is a minor annoyance, and I’m sure the modding community will come to the rescue in due course.

So, if you’re a fan of Fallout and Civilization, Fallout 4 should be right up your alley.  Honestly, I cannot imagine playing Fallout without settlements now.  In terms of value, if you enjoy everything Fallout 4 has to offer, you should reap scores, if not hundreds, of hours of play time from this game.  Just be warned that settlement management can easily suck you in.


Edit:  So, the last couple of days I’ve noticed some glitches with settlement management.  When I’m at a settlement and check it’s status via the workbench interface, everything is fine.  Plenty of food, water and beds…everyone’s happy.

However, when I go do some missions or exploring, when I use the PipBoy to check on my settlements, it doesn’t always register all of the settlement’s resources.  Sometimes food is lacking, or it says there aren’t enough beds, and happiness declines significantly.

So I quick travel to the settlement to see what the heck is going on, and everything is just the way I left it before, except for the settlement’s happiness level (which is usually about 5 points lower).  I can’t pin the problem down, and it’s becoming very aggravating.

Edit:  Okay, a little research shows a lot of people are getting this bug.  The consensus is that it’s one of two things bugging the settlement:  1) powered TV’s, or 2) fast-traveling from within the build limits of a settlement.  My two most bugged settlements have powered TVs in them, so I will try deleting them and seeing what happens.  Besides, watching too much TV is bad for your eyes. :)

PFBB Bestiary – Giants!

October 31, 2015


Here’s another Pathfinder Beginner Box monster conversion for you on this all hallows eve…giants!

Actually, I wanted to do vampires for Halloween, but they just have too much going on to fit in the standard Beginner Box monster format (that, and vampires may be just a little too deadly for BB characters to handle).  So, you got giants instead. :)

I took some liberty with their Rock Catching ability, but I couldn’t really see it coming in to play very often, so I don’t think it’ll matter much.  Have fun smashing puny humans!

Edit:  I just realized that I forgot to add the giant’s long reach abilities.  DOH!  I’ve attached a corrected version.  Sorry about that.

LWC – What’s in a Karg?

October 19, 2015

The Long Winter Campaign will feature a number of small, stone fortifications, represented by castles on the Outdoor Survival map.  These fortifications are commonly called kargs, taken from the dwarven word for stone fortifications, usually built in mountainous regions.  In the post-Cataclysmic world, karg specifically refers to a pre-Cataclysmic stone fortification, which is probably at least partially in ruin, but still livable.

The Outdoor Survival Map; the castle icons represent kargs

The Outdoor Survival Map; most of the castle icons represent kargs

The Spells of Ending damaged nearly every fortification and city in the region.  Yet, despite their dilapidated state, kargs still present the strongest possible defense.  Not even the dwarves posses the engineering skills to build such formidable structures in the post-Cataclysmic age.  So, most damaged kargs are still in use, their breaches repaired as best as possible with wooden palisades and ramparts piled from ancient rubble.

A crazy old wizard probably lives in this tower-karg.

A mad wizard’s tower-karg.

Kargs are typically small-ish forts, built at strategic points, and capable of supporting a few dozen soldiers at most.  During the Old Empire, kargs served as fortified watchtowers and outposts, protecting this border province from barbarian incursions and goblinoid raids.  In the Cataclysmic age, a karg represents an extremely powerful fortification, usually home to a lord, or the headquarters for some powerful faction (such as the Paladins, Rangers or Druids).  Some of the more remote kargs have fallen into the hands of the monstrous races, the powerbase for an ambitious orc warlord or a goblin pretender king.

This karg is on the larger side.

This karg is larger than most.

They typically have small ‘dungeons’ for the keeping of prisoners and storing of provisions.  In many cases, these dungeons have been expanded to store additional supplies for the long winters.  A handful of the old Imperial kargs were built on the ruins of even older fortifications, and the process of expanding their dungeons to accommodate more supplies exposed long-sealed depths.  Some lords may permit adventurers to more fully explore these deeper dungeons…in exchange for a share of any treasures recovered, of course.

This karg needs a little work.

And this karg needs a little work.

Finally, it should be noted that new stone kargs cannot be built.  No one, not even the dwarves, retains the knowledge to build such solid structures ( wooden palisade forts, on the other hand, can be easily built).  So, if you want a nice, stone fort, you need to go out and find one, and then you’ll probably have to take it from its current tenants.  This provides an opportunity for the players to get into the kingdom building game, if they so choose.  All those pre-positioned stone forts make nice targets for would-be warlords.

LWC – House Rules

October 1, 2015

When I started thinking about running a campaign using the PFBB, I came up with a grocery list of things about Pathfinder I didn’t like and wanted to change, including porting over a number of concepts from 5th Edition (such as Advantage/Disadvantage).  But as the list grew, I realized that I’d basically be rewriting the game, which completely undermines the idea of running a PFBB campaign “out of the box.”  A massive rewrite of the rules would also effectively be a bait-n-switch on the players, who’re expecting a Pathfinder-based game, and would eliminate the utility of 3rd-party resources, such as Hero Lab.

Instead, I decided to keep everything on the player’s side of the screen by-the-book, with only a couple of minor changes.  One of these changes is implementing an inventory slot system for encumbrance (as PFBB has no rules for such), and another is eliminating critical hit confirmation rolls (to help speed up the game a bit, and make combat more lethal – I want this to be a dangerous world, after all).

On my side of the screen, however, I plan to change a quite a bit.  These changes should be largely transparent to the players, and include things such as altering some of the monsters a bit, adding the missing iconic monsters (gnolls, bugbears, trolls, etc.), and substitute certain magic items (some of the PFBB magic items are just lame – Ring of Swimming, lookin’ at you).

To later to talk...maybe they should run

Too late to talk…maybe they should run?

The biggest change, however, will be in encounter building.  I plan to simply toss PFBB’s encounter building rules in favor of the old school approach of GM discretion and random generation.  This is not a perfectly symmetrical world where the challenges rise incrementally with the PC’s experience.  It’s a wide open sandbox, and it is entirely possible (indeed, probable…even desirable) that the party will run into something they can’t handle, and then they’ll have to either talk their way out, or run for it.  I’m angling for a style of play that challenges the players, and not just their character sheets.

The other significant change, mentioned in earlier posts, is making most magic items unique in the world.  Which is why I’ll be substituting certain items.  A unique Ring of Climbing (+5 to climbing checks) seems underwhelming to me.  You probably wouldn’t risk your neck for something so lame.  But replace that with a unique Ring of Invisibility and now you’re talking.  The ‘One Ring’ indeed!

LWC – Dwarves of the Grimhau

September 26, 2015

Even before the Long Winters, dwarves were never populous in this remote border province of the Old Empire, numbering thousands at the most.  And their numbers dwindle still, picked off by bitter cold, hungry humanoids and long simmering blood feuds.  They now account 500, or less.

Most dwarves are concentrated at the Grimhau, more commonly referred to as the Grimstand by humans.  During Imperial times, Grimhau was an insignificant outpost along the mountainous High Road (between the paladin’s Citadel and the Lost Keep on the far northern stretch of the High Road), home to about 500 dwarves (and a few others).  Today the Grimhau’s inhabitants number 300 dwarves, plus another 50 or so others.


Dwarves patrolling the High Road.

Grimhau is a subterranean settlement, specializing in mining and metalworking.  Given this, while the rest of the Riverlands hunkers down during winter, the dwarves are able to work all year long, stockpiling resources and goods for trade when the thaw comes.  In fact, Grimhau is the primary source of tools, weapons and armor for the region, and boasts the highest concentration of master weaponsmiths of any settlement.

The dwarven settlement is also home to the Collegium Lacunae,  a college of wizards dedicated to safeguarding and restoring lost knowledge, especially magical knowledge.  In particular, they seek any information regarding the Cataclysm and the Spells of Ending, in the hopes they might someday counteract the Long Winters.  However, they are a good market for any kind of book or scroll, arcane or not.

Culturally, the dwarves of the Long Winter Campaign are based along Norse/Viking lines, rather than the Scottish vogue for dwarves that’s been popular since WoW came out.  The Grimstand has also taught them to prepare for dark times.  For example, the Grimhau now stocks enough provisions and supplies to last three winters, and it’s said they’ve stockpiled such an arsenal to outfit a thousand soldiers (though, interestingly enough, the arms and armor are designed for human proportions, not dwarven).  So, dwarves are sort of the ultimate Viking doomsday preppers. :)

Battle of the Grimstand

The Grimstand gets its name from the now legendary battle fought there in the early days of the first Long Winter, when ice and snow reigned nearly two years.  Normally querulous, the various tribes of humanoids and giantkin inhabiting the mountainous highlands put aside their differences, banding together in a massive horde.  Driven by desperation, with the certain knowledge they would soon die by starvation and exposure, they threw themselves upon the Grimgates, intent on taking the Grimhau’s shelter for themselves (sustained in winter, no doubt, by the flesh of the former inhabitants).

An artist's interpretation of the Grimstand (art by slaine69.deviantart.com)

An artist’s stylistic interpretation of the Grimstand, probably not particularly accurate. (art by slaine69.deviantart.com)

For weeks, wave after wave of the great horde assaulted the Grimhau’s narrow entrance.  And for weeks the defenders repulsed the horde’s increasingly mantic assaults.  The dead piled high, buried only in snow.  At the last measure of desperation, the horde-lings threw even their youngest into battle.  And then they were spent.  The horde had perished by the thousands; the defenders themselves were reduced to less than a hundred.

Those few creatures that remained scurried off to find whatever winter-shelter they could.  During brief respites in the weather, they’d venture out to pilfer a frozen meal from the battlefield.    When that first thaw came, more than a year later, it was said that the fields of the Grimhaus had already been picked so neatly clean that there were hardly any bodies left to burn.


Long Winter Campaign – Paladins, Rangers & Druids

September 23, 2015

The Pathfinder Beginner Box includes only the four iconic classes of D&D: cleric, fighter, rogue and wizard.  To keep the game ‘in the box,’ so to speak, I’ll only use these four iconic classes, and if someone wants to try a more exotic class, I’ll recommend they multi-class appropriately and roleplay the difference.

However, I still have a use for paladins, rangers and druids…as independent organizations operating within and along the borders of civilization.

The Paladins

A company of Paladins on patrol.

A company of Paladins on patrol.

An independent paramilitary organization dedicated to defending civilization from bandits and the ravaging hordes of Chaos alike.  The Order of Knights Paladin, Most Illustrious, is comprised of 50-60 fighters and clerics of Lawful alignment who have sworn an oath to serve the Lord Paladin, and the Imperial Prefect (more on him in a later post).

They maintain a heavily defended karg (Dwarven for a stone fortification, typically located in a mountainous region), which they call the Citadel, though others commonly refer to it as the War Karg (or the Krieg Karg).  About half the paladins defend this karg, except in times of dire crisis.  The rest of the paladins typically patrol the Riverlands in groups of 5 to 10, deterring monstrous raids and discouraging banditry.

In times of crisis, the Order will gather as may paladins as possible and march under the banner of the Prefect, leaving behind a skeleton force to defend the Citadel.  Paladins typically don’t get along well with Rangers, viewing the latter as mavericks and loose canons, but the two orders can work together to combat a greater threat.

The Rangers

Rangers are a disparate lot.

Rangers are a disparate lot.

A loosely organized law-enforcement and reconnaissance organization (think Texas Rangers with bows), comprised of approximately 80-90 clerics, fighters, rogues and wizards of Chaotic alignment (commonly Chaotic Good, some Chaotic Neutral and a handful of Chaotic Evil).  Though nominally under the command of the Captain, rangers tend to value their independence.

The Rangers maintain a wooden palisade fort in a wooded region along the old Imperial Road, garrisoned with about 40 rangers under normal conditions.  The remaining rangers patrol wilderness areas along the borders of civilization, either singly or in small groups, on the lookout for war bands, raiding parties and bandit gangs.

In times of crisis, rangers will gather as many as they can to form effective scouting parties, skirmishers or even guerrilla bands operating behind an enemy’s axis of advance.  On rare occasions, groups of rangers may come together to undertake a dangerous long-range mission (usually called ‘treks’), disappearing into the wilderness for a year or two at a time (obviously finding somewhere to winter in the process).

Rangers tend to view paladins as pompous and stubborn, sticklers for rules and regulations where unorthodox approaches may work better.

The Druids

Druids: enigmatic and untrustworthy.

Druids: enigmatic and untrustworthy.

A cabal of true Neutral clerics and wizards, numbering but a score, dedicated to maintaining a harmonious balance between civilization and barbarism, Law and Chaos.  Given the grim circumstances of the Long Winters, the Druids currently assist the forces of civilization.  However, should the tables turn, the Druids would abandon the civilized folk in an instant, and possibly start assisting Chaos, if they felt it necessary to maintain a balance.  All the rulers and leaders of the Riverlands are quite aware of this, and thus the Druids are never completely trusted by anyone.

The Druids maintain an ancient karg hidden deep inside the forests on the periphery of the Riverlands.  Only but a few actual druids garrison the fort, though they are heavily reinforced by a bevy of exotic guardians (such as elementals, for example).  Druids are typically aloof and arrogant, which bolsters no one’s trust of them.

PFBB Campaign Idea – The Long Winter

September 21, 2015

About a year ago I posted some ideas on a Pathfinder Beginner Box campaign (which you can read here, if you’re interested), which threw out some ideas for house rules and the like.  This post builds on those ideas, fleshing out a campaign setting in greater detail.


The Long Winter campaign is a fantasy post-apocalyptic setting using the Outdoor Survival map (once used as the wilderness map for early OD&D campaigns).  This is a depleted world, in a diminished age, with interesting implications for the structuring of society, military activity, economics and trade and, ultimately, adventuring.

So, a bit of background.  Centuries earlier an event known as the Cataclysm, the result of an apocalyptic war between the Old Empire and a distant rival kingdom, laid waste to the land.  The Rain of Colorless Fire (yes, I’m totally stealing that from Greyhawk) and the Spells of Ending destroyed nearly every major city, killing countless people.  And those not killed by the invoked armageddon soon faced the onset of a precipitous winter (a sort of magical ‘nuclear winter,’ if you will).  This was the beginning of the calamitous Long Winters, whence countless others, caught unprepared, starved and froze.

The Outdoor Survival Map

The Outdoor Survival Map

This region is beset by long, dark winters followed by relatively short growing seasons.  It is during these all-too-short seasons that the remnants of civilization must prepare for the coming winter.  Food is scarce, goods are scarce, and labor is scarcest of all.  Settlements tend to be small (the largest city on the map has but a few thousand inhabitants).  These isolated settlements are surrounded by a howling wilderness dotted with the ruins and relics of the Old Empire, and home to starving monsters that must themselves prepare for the coming winter (usually at the expense of the civilized).

The PCs will have about 6 to 7 months of adventuring time, depending on how close they’re willing to cut things (being caught in the wilderness by an early winter could be lethal).  Winter is spent mostly indoors, or at least in established settlements, providing lots of down time to prepare for the next adventuring season.  Town adventuring is also a possibility during winter, though in all likelihood winter will probably be adjudicated in an hour or so of play time.  But during the adventuring season, adventurers will have to acquire enough resources to support themselves during winter.

This is also a materially poor region.  Most treasure will not come in the form of coins and gems, but rather in the form of luxury goods that people can use: salt, spices, wines, tobacco, ingots of workable metal, etc.  Values for goods will vary from settlement to settlement dependent upon their specialties.  For example, one city may be the best place to buy alchemical goods, another the best place to find masterwork weapons, and a third the best for acquiring mounts.

Population levels are fairly low.  The totality of humanity numbers approximately 10,000, spread throughout the region.  Dwarves and elves number in the hundreds each.  The PFBB doesn’t include halflings, but I may add them.  If I do, they’ll number no more than a few hundred.

Set against them are the starving hordes of chaos (in the OD&D sense of Law vs. Chaos): tribes of orcs, goblins and worse, along with a multitude of monsters, and exactly one black dragon hidden somewhere on the map.  Orcs and goblins generally aren’t the farming type, so they’ll spend the short warm season raiding settlements and taking captives/food stock (they don’t mind a bit of cannibalism, if that’s what it takes to get through a rough winter).

Large armies are unheard of.  If all the forces of civilization combined their might, they could field approximately 1,500 professional soldiers, and perhaps a militia levy of another 1,000 or so.  But fielding such a “vast” force has never happened, and never will, as concentrating these disparate “armies” would stretch the region’s logistical capability to the breaking point (to say nothing of leaving so many settlements exposed and unprotected).

Far more common are small warbands, numbering in the dozens or scores.  A large “battle” might feature a hundred people total, accounting both sides.  Humanoid races spend the entire warm season raiding, but the civilized races typically have but a short marching period between planting and harvest, a month or two at best.  Military campaigns, such as they are, must be concluded swiftly, as every free hand will be required for harvest and the coming winter’s preparation.  As such, punitive expeditions into the wilderness are all but impossible, leaving, perhaps, a niche for foolhardy adventurers to fill.

Over time I plan to fill in the details with more posts.  Maybe someday I’ll actually be able to run this campaign. :)  Cheers.

PFBB Bestiary – Kobolds

September 5, 2015

D1-Cover-Small-DnS-filter_400I’ve converted a couple of kobolds for the Pathfinder Beginner Box.  The kobold boss is based on the Kobold Rogue from an adventure (I found the stats on d20pfsrd.com).  Please let me know if you have any questions, or if you notice any errors.  Cheers.

Castle Greyhawk Webcomic

August 29, 2015

I recently discovered a webcomic based on Castle Greyhawk, featuring some of the iconic OD&D characters such as Tenser, Mordenkainen, Yrag and others.  If you’re a fan of old school D&D, you owe it to yourself to check it out.  Aside from being an interesting take on the “old days,” it’s given me plenty of ideas for my own games.


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