[GenCon] Free Tyr + Secret Letters

At GenCon, I was inspired to put together two handouts. (Apparently, deadlines work for me!)

For Dark Sun / D&D: Free Tyr, and adventure framework for playing a “real time” campaign as things in Tyr get interesting. Lots of random tables and plot hooks for improvisational play.

For Dance and the Dawn: Secret Letters, a set of expansion rules for the basic game.

I have more to say about the “Free Tyr” game once I’ve got time to write about it.

ETA: I have an updated version of “Free Tyr”, include a timeline-tracking sheet as originally intended.

D&D 4E Hack: Gridless Combat and Movement Advantage

The goal is to allow more gridless play (either excluding or in addition to grid-based combats). This could allow different styles of play (like the gridless combat I experienced in my AD&D days), while still keeping position-based powers somewhat relevant.

What play looks like: you verbally trade descriptions and take actions. The DM adjucates the exact positioning of people in combat, but generally goes with what the players propose. When players slightly stretch their movement and position, the DM keeps track of this “Movement Advantage” and later compensates the opponents accordingly. This keeps explicit negotiation of “who can go where” to a minimum.

(This does place some more work on the DM to adjucate on the fly, and requires more trust between the DM and players to simply roll with the adjucations rather than negotiating them during the action. IME, most groups can handle something this just fine.)

(1) The DM should have a handle on the space of the encounter, either by sketching a rough map or keeping it in your head. (If you prefer, feel free to convert all mention of squares to increments of 5 feet.)

(2) When range is in question – for movement actions, forced movement or ranged attacks – the player should describe what the movement/range and what they’re to accomplish. The DM can clarify/block the action if it’s unfeasible, but should generally accept the player’s suggestion.

If the movement is acceptable but *might* require another square or two of movement, the DM should give himself a point of Movement Advantage in his notes. The DM doesn’t need to announce this, but instead should keep the action moving.

If a power or condition is part of a movement/range, the player should mention this. (If a power is used for positioning, the DM should tend towards accepting the player’s suggestion.)

(3) When the DM is controlling creatures, the DM can spend points of Movement Advantage to stretch movement and range by another square or two when the exact range is questionable. The DM should aim to spend these soon after they’re created (so that the number of Movement Advantage points generally stays around zero), and try to spend around the player who created the Advantage.

When in doubt: let the dramatically obvious and reasonable thing for the fight happen, and let the players (and monsters) see their intent happen. Movement sets up the use of the power and attacks that you want to see.

Bonus option: If Movement Advantage is piling up, the DM could spend this in new ways: 3 points for shifting an extra square, or 5 points for taking an extra move action. (Of course, such spending isn’t exactly balanced, but it can keep things moving and open up new possibilites.)

Copious examples follow! Dialogue in quotes, with thought bubbles in curly parens.

(a) The standard move: “I move in from the doorway to engage the assassin, pinning him against the bar, and then punch him in the face.”

DM: (The bar is about 30 or 40 feet across?) “What’s your speed again? 6? Ok.” (Yeah, that sounds fine.)

or, DM: (The bar is definitely more like 7 squares away. I’ll accept it and take a Movement Advantage for later.)

(b) The shift: “I shift away from the barbarian, towards the door, use my second wind and draw my weapon.”

DM: (There’s no one on that side of the bar near him; sounds fine.)

(c) A justified maneuver: “I use my Monk Power to shift two and get out of range from the two bodyguards.”

DM: (It seemed like the two body guards were close and even with a shift she’d be near one; but two shifts might do it, and it is a power. I’ll go with it.)

(d) A sketchy shift: “I shift away from the Barbarian and next the Rogue so that I can attack him.”

DM: (That doesn’t seem right; there’s a good twenty feet or so between the two, and a shift wouldn’t cut it.) “If you shift, you’re not quite far enough to reach the rogue. He’s more like 20 feet away. Do you want to simply move rather than shift?”

or, DM: (Does it take 1 or 2 squares to reach the rogue? I think it’s somehwere in the middle, so I’ll take a Movement Advantage for later.)

(e) A cautious move: “I move around to the other side of the two foes so that I can flank the bad guy. I walk around them so I don’t provoke an attack. My speed is 6.”

DM: (Getting there is just 5 squares, except the direct route would provoke an attack; going around them would be 6 or 7 squares. I’ll go with it and take a Movement Advantage for later.)

(f) An awesome push: “I use Awesome Shove to push the boss 1 back into the cauldron, causing whatever fire damage that causes.”

DM: (Okay, that’s awesome, but it’s more like 3 squares. I’ll go with it and take a Movement Advantage point.)

or, DM: “You can push him back but the cauldron is too far away, so he remains unscathed.”

(g) A ranged attack: “I peek through the window and shoot an arrow at the guard accross the street. The range is 10.”

DM: (It’s more like 60 feet accross the street. I’ll allow it and take a Movement Advantage.)

(h) Spending your Movement Advantage:

DM: (Their cleric is in the back, just beyond the Wyrmpriest’s range 10 attack. But I’ll spend two points of Advantage here and make it happen.) “Stinging Blindess strikes the cleric! That teaches you to hide from me!”

Dungeon Jam B1: The Secret Academy

Continuing the dungeon jam, but taking I’m forking off to the side a bit. Consider this an alternate path; I’ll explain rules consequences at the end. (John: feel free to continue this thread or not.)

The First Campaign into the Svartelheim was only a partial success. Key routes to the underground were mapped, but ultimately treachery within the Campaign, combined with the unanticipated encroachment of the Goblins, led to a defeat. Those first few heroes now low entombed below.

The elder dwarves, along with some surviving heroes, are now mentoring the youngest dwarves who must now be the front line in retaking the Svartelheim. They are not as hardened to battle, but they are passionate. In secret, by night, they train in the warrior arts until they are ready to enter the vast Underground. Meanwhile, distant cousins, foreign dwarves, and even foolhardy non-dwarven adventurers arrive and seek the mentors at the Secret Academy.

Slowly, most students will fall to the horrors of the Underground, but some survive to become yet more wise and more skilled. And so it is known that the Svartelheim will be reclaimed. It may take a hundred years, it may well take a thousand, but – inch by inch – the great city will be liberated and brought back to life.

So, this is suggesting a game that starts at – initially – more low-power. It would be more suited for running with an old-school retro D&D ruleset, perhaps like “Castles & Crusades” or “Labyrinth Lord”.

Dungeon Jam 8: The Dread Anvils of Moradin

Dungeon Jam continues.

Many adventurers will take the direct route through the barrows to the Royal Temple of Moradin, or at least close to it as they can manage. Or they may be forced to detour from that main path, but at many points throughout the Svartálfaheim, they will find temples to Moradin, long abandoned (and some would say forsaken). At any of these temples, they may not find true sanctuary but they will often find four sturdy walls with which to fortify their party. (Some young dwarves may refuse to say in these temples, as they blame the silent crafter god for the fall of the city.)

Take note of the craftsmanship in these temples: sometimes, encoded within, are secret instructions of where one must travel to find other temples, weaving a network of sanctuaries throughout the fallen city.

Sanctuary, in such a hostile environment, is a key element of survival, for there are many threats below that will strategically leave you no ground to fall back to.

Dungeon Jam 6: The Skymind Redeemers

Dungeon Jam continues.

There are those who believe the Skymind had the best interest of Svartálfar at heart; there are those that the atrocities of the fallen city may yet have prevent a further, unknowable cataclysm from taking place. Such heretics are the Skymind Redeemers.

Known only to themselves, they are a secret order among the surviving dwarves, and it is said that one of the original survivors is its spiritual leader. They share the same ultimate goal as the other heros – reconquering their lost city and liberating their brothers – but they also seek to uncover proof that there was some method behind the Skymind’s madness. They do not shun the ways of the Skymind, but instead hope to reform it, and train themselves as well in the ways of starlight (even if they are not warlocks themseles).

They also may benefit from congress and discussion with sympathetic ghosts trapped within the Svartálfaheim, but this raises a question: why? Are these innocent dwarven souls, caught in the crossfire and left in this purgatory awaiting redemption? Or are these merely tendrils of the corruption of the Grandchilde of Vecna?

Indeed, are these reedemers all simply marching to the forbidden beat of Vecna? There are those who think so, and there are those Redeemers who have met a lonely death in the caves for their heretical beliefs. All the more reason that those few, lonely redeemers will risk their lives to find proof of the Skymind’s wisdom – if any can be found.

Dungeon Jam 4: Into the Forgotten Subaqueducts

Dungeon Jam continues.

One of the great achievements of the Svartálfaheim engineers was to build a network of subterranean aquifers and aqueducts to send freshwater through the many levels and clusters within the great city. Enough water to survive on, to tend crops, to provide a home for the tigerfish and wildmako and sentapods and lighteels. Of course, the water stills flows, but access is impossible. It is unknown how much of the old infrastructure is in place.

The difficulty of entering through the Barrows are known, and so some of the wiser dwarves may suggest the old waterways as a means of access. Architectural records are seemingly lost, however. Could there be some scholar with access to a map of the fallen waterways? Or is there some other way to divine a path?

If the champions can find an access to the waterways, they may find easier access to the lower levels but they will find no rest from danger. The terrain will be cold, wet and dark: a poor environment for open battle. The waterways will have collapsed some regions, flooded others, and may otherwise leave a fast-flowing river that the heros will ahve to navigate. The wildmako and sentapods were never friendly, and it is whispered that worse things have risen alongside them.

The Svartálfar: and the Elven Watchtowers

JWalt has invited me to a dungeon jam. Indeed!

The Svartálfaheim was breached by corruption within and evil from beyond; the great city began to die, and the Wise Princess Chiria knew of this immediately. She felt it in her blood, and soon afterwards her scouts confirmed what she knew already. Crows circled the craggy land above the fallen city, glades of trees around them began to sicken and die, plumes of dark smoke creeped up from the dirt like an evening mist. She left immediately with her honor guard to visit the survivors.

Upon arrival, she asked the oldest: Who was responsible for this?

The dwarves were proud, even in mourning. They thanked her, but she could not possibly understand.

She shook her head. You do not understand! You are now bekte, the bloodline of a condemned people. It is vital I know who is responsible for this. Please.

But they were silent, and she was left no choice. She raised her sword and declared: I shall be your sovereign. I am now bekte, along with you, and I take responsibility for this grievous crime. This I swear with my life.

Many young dwarves lifted their blades against her, but she regretfully cut them down with a sword made of silver. To make amends, the Wise Princess directed the survivors to build the Watchtowers, which would stand among the Dwarven settlements, beacons of the Elven nation amongst a fallen people.

So it was that Elven adventurers have lived among the dwarves, overseeing the activities of the old families, and removing those who would lead the bekte wayward again. None doubt the adventurers’ loyalty; though it is also said that some seek only to enrich themselves from dwarven knowledge and art, and others seek life among the dwarves as a refuge from the Elven ways, and still others seek out allies for some nefarious purpose. May the Wise Princess preserve us from their aims.