Monthly Archives: December 2014

Heart of the Castle

The cold night air parted with a snarl, dragging cold claws across the face of the rider.  He grimaced and squinted harder against the freezing rush of wind, ducking his head so the brim of his hat would deflect the worst of it.  Soon the gatehouse would come into view and he would be safe from the cold of night, and what lay behind.  Remembering what lay behind him chilled him more than the wind, and he urged his horse on, seeking desperately the safety and solace of the gate.

A howl lifted above the woods behind him and drifted downwards to his ear.  Then another rose, and another, until the whole night was a chorus of lupine calls.  The rider pushed on, fast as his horse could safely go over the frost-rimed path, shining faintly in the light of the full moon.  Though stung with cold and misted with tears, he kept a sharp eye for holes or stones that would end his horse, his journey, himself.  Around a bend in the forest path he turned and glanced up, hoping again that he would spy his goal at last.  There!  Atop the hill it was, stony and implacable, but from the tiny windows and above the walls could be seen the warm glow of the Yule fire.

He broke from the treeline and allowed his horse to slow just a hair as they climbed the hill.  He reached inside his cloak and drew out the medallion he had been given, so long ago, and waved it above his head as he rode for the gate leading into the castle.  One of the tiny windows went dark for a moment as a body crossed in front of it, and hope grew in the rider’s chest.  Soon, soon he would be safe and warm, and at last, welcomed.

The rider pulled up his horse outside the gate, peering at the backlit head that showed in the opening.  He could see no expression on the face, but heard only the voice of its owner. “Name and purpose, traveler,” it grunted.

“I am Edmunt of Warsheim, seeking shelter from the cold and the night. I have ridden from Standton and bring grave news of the doings there.”

“What’s this you’ve got in your hand, eh?”

Edmunt held it forth for the guard to see.  “It is the sign of my lord that those loyal to him may grant me hospitality upon my quest.  Please, sir, let me in that I may rest and sup and bring the news to the master of this castle.”  As the medallion caught the light the eyes of the guard widened and he quickly shut the peep hole.  Soon the sound of timbers shifting could be heard and the huge door swung slowly outward.  Edmunt trotted his horse into the opening and slowly rode down the dimly lit tunnel that ran under the keep.  At the far end he dismounted, handed the reigns to the boy standing there and turned toward the stairs leading to the great hall after a quick, sweeping glance around the courtyard.

There, the bonfire in the yard jumped and crackled, throwing yellow light on the stables to the left and on the kitchen tower to the right.  Above it all, on the curtain wall that surrounded the courtyard the guards posted on watch paced back and forth, eyes to the encroaching dark, still vigilant even on such a cold night, though with steaming mugs that belied their partiality to the merriment that happened inside their protection.  On the ground near the fire there were gathered the men and women who tended the animals and the stores, though on duty they warmed themselves by the flames and their own steaming mugs, filled from a pot near the fire.

All this Edmunt took in as he swept over the cold cobbles towards the grand staircase to his right.  It ascended to the large door of the castle, set into the space where the kitchen tower joined the keep.  The broad stair narrowed as it rose, until it was merely wide enough for two men to stand abreast in front of the solid oaken door.  This he pulled open and entered the guardroom between the kitchens and the hall, while the guards rose to their feet at the sight of the stranger.  Then their eyes fell upon the medallion he bore, and fell back once again, staring after him as he pushed open the door into the great hall.

Music and laughter tumbled out of the door as it opened, and the light from the fire in the center of the hall framed him briefly in the doorway as he made his way through.  He strode forward purposefully, straight to the head table at the far end of the hall.  He glared through servants carrying jugs and pitchers, through the aisle formed by the tables running the length of the hall.  The musicians played still over the revel and feasting, though the laughter and chatter that had filled the vaulted hall dwindled as he marched on, as though his cloak and medal had upon them a silencing enchantment the trailed in his wake.

The Baron Dunstan himself stood as his sudden guest made his way to the head table, and all those who were seated at his side did likewise, and then those at the trestle tables down the hall followed their lord’s example.  He spoke, and with his voice the music finally died while the hall was filled with his booming greeting. “By the blood of the saints and Christ himself, what news, Warsheim?  I did not expect to see you here for a month yet!”

“My news is for your ears alone, Dunstan, and I must be heard quickly.”  At this the Baron glowered, but waved his hand at the assembly.

“Play on, feast on, I shall soon return!”  Then he turned and stalked toward the door behind him, beckoning Edmunt on.  They passed through a smaller hall, no less wide but half the length, and with a tiled floor and panelled walls.  There was a small fire on the hearth in this room, though with no one in attendance then it was quite a lot colder than the main hall.  “What is it then, Edmunt?” the baron asked, his voice full of worry. “Are we discovered?”

“I’m not sure what the Duke knows, though he certainly has suspicions.  I was with Gravyuri negotiating supplies for the spring.  We had almost come to an accord with Braxton, but on the last day, yesterday…”  Edmunt trailed off.  Breathing deeply, he sat heavily in the window bay built into the wall, fixing a dully fearful expression on the Baron.  “Yesterday I was awoken by my squire at three bells past midnight.  The town was burning and both Gravyuri and Braxton were dead.  They had been hurled from the battlements into the court of the manor, bodies rent and half-eaten.  Terrible howls and roars filled the air.  Some beast had been sent into that town to kill all of us, I only escaped because I was awake to defend myself long enough to flee.  It was huge, gray and black, with evil eyes.  It walked on two legs, though it had the head of an enormous wolf and claws like a bear’s.  Alvred wounded it enough to allow my escape, though he gave his life to ensure I would make it here to warn you.  I believe they have lost me for the moment, but I do not know how long the trail will be left cold.”

“Well, they are certain to follow you, however fast you rode.  Wolves sniff and bears wait, but the Duke is certainly behind these fell doings.  Damn the king leaving him unchecked!  We’ll have to move quickly if his villainy is to be stopped.  I’ll send word to the others at first light.  We will have him by the throat by the end of three weeks, though we will sure pay dearly for it moving against him now.  Though these beasts of his leave us no…” The baron trailed off as a keening wail erupted from the far side of the hall, pouring through the windows overlooking the courtyard.  It started quietly, but quickly grew in pitch and volume until the very stones of the floor began to tremble from the torrent of sound.  Then, as it reached a crescendo the warm light from the bonfire was obliterated by a piercing blue ray that swallowed up the natural lights in the hall.  The baron Dunstan stumbled over to the window to see what it was, then cried out and fell onto the tiles below the window, weeping.  Edmunt knew what it was.  The duke had found them out, had found them all out, and had sent his mages to wipe them off the table like spilled wine.  Glass shattered behind him, and before he could turn he was crushed to the floor beneath a reeking, steaming mass of bone and sinew and claws and fur.  He heard one final howl before the blood pounding behind his ears stopped flowing and the blue magelight from the courtyard faded into black.

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The Function of a Library

So this is another thing inspired by the Tao of D&D, and I’m putting my take here so I can use it when I reboot Tuesdays come January.  Now, Alexis has a great and extensive system of sage tables that his books play into (he uses a heavily modified pre-edition version of D&D, but you should know that by now, having read him at my insistence last week).  Given that I run a 3.5 ish game with skills, I want to preserve an idea I gleaned from him that will apply to my game.

So here’s the idea: there are 4 different classes of books, Common, Uncommon, Rare, and Esoteric (different from the Tao’s labels, but I wanted to get away from Arcane meaning Magic).  A collection of books personally owned by and accessible to a character (or perhaps with access to a library for a fee, or through organizational benefit) will increase knowledge checks if there is sufficient time to search through them (one hour per point of bonus).

4 Common books will confer a +1 bonus to knowledge checks in that field.

2 Uncommon books will grant a +1 bonus.

1 Rare book will grant a +1 bonus.

1 Esoteric book will grant a +2 bonus.

Naturally, this will be of benefit to the use of the skill to actually gain knowledge about a particular subject, and then only in a general way (such as researching that monster you fought yesterday), and not in a spur-of-the-moment “do-I-recognize-this-monster-and-what-do-I-know-about-it-quick-before-it-crushes-me-to-death” kind of way.  If you do research a monster that you encountered yesterday (presuming you survived being crushed), the books would only be able to add their modifier to the check you made yesterday while rolling out from underneath the beast (for clarity, the DC to recognize (know species and type) a monster is 15+it’s Hit Dice, and for every 5 you beat that DC you get a useful piece of information).  Thus, if you rolled a 21 Knowledge Religion check to identify the Wight (undead) in the field, you’d get it’s name and type.  (the DC being 19).  If you then went home and looked through your 2 Uncommon books and your Esoteric book on undead (for 4 hours), you would find out about their Energy Drain ability, explaining why the fighter has been feeling down since that fight (and allowing you to track down a Restoration spell before the negative levels become permanent).

Obviously, a book has to be focused on a particular subject to be of any use, and it also can’t be invented fiction.  How fictitious certain legends are in your world, is, of course, up to you, but most of them don’t focus on anything other than the events at hand so as to be useless for scholarship excepting studying theoretical bibliomancy.  Further, four copies of one book don’t offer any more of a bonus than a single copy of that book.  That should be obvious, but sometimes the obvious is ignored until it is unavoidable.

Now, a person may be inclined to memorize a set of books and therefore have them accessible at any time without the need to spend time consulting them.  This is not a bad plan.  However, the purpose of writing things down is twofold: 1) to communicate information over long distances and time periods; and 2) to record information to make remembering it unnecessary, thus freeing space in the brain for more advanced thought once basic concepts are grasped and assimilated.  So, here’s the process as I imagine it:

1) A character may only memorize books in a number of “subjects” (Knowledge skills) equal to his/her Intelligence bonus.

2) A memorized book only provides half of the normal bonus.  Thus, 8 common books would be required to be memorized to provide a +1 bonus.  This is to account for both the limitation of book-knowledge in reference to broad application in the field, and the workings of a natural brain retaining specific bits of information and discarding others.  Books, simply, never forget.

3) For each +1 bonus acquired it requires 3 months of study of the materials in question, of at least 30 hours a week.

4) Multiple subjects may be studied at one time, but for each subject beyond the first, a weekly wisdom check must be made.  A failure indicates that no progress is made during that week on either subject.

5) The memorized bonus will decrease by 1 point with each level gained.  This accounts for the character’s experience superseding the book-learning, with actual experience being more valuable in the long run than Ivory Tower study.

And I think that’s about it.  Studying seems like it would be more valuable at the lower levels, and less so at higher levels, though consulting a large library may still be worth it.

One last thought that occurs to me:  What about characters writing their own books?  I think that the maximum bonus to be provided (to others, mind) would be the character’s level divided by four.  Thus a character would have to be 8th level to write a book worthy of the Esoteric label.  Getting this book published and distributed though?  I’ve no idea how to make that reasonable. Suggestions anyone?

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Combat Stress

So this came about from reading through the back catalog of Alexis Smolensk’s Tao of D&D. (that’s where I’ve been since before the last post, and I’m still not through it all)  The guy is dedicated, experienced, and does not suffer fools.  Go read everything he’s written, buy his books, improve your game.  Seriously, don’t waste your time anywhere else, the Tao is the grand-master of DMs.

Anyhow, in one of his posts (entitled Medicine, from 2013) he mentioned that trauma rarely leaves a lasting mark on PCs, where any real person attacked out of the darkness would carry that terror, that trauma with them for a long while.  Presented below is my attempt to codify that trauma and apply it to characters in a meaningful way, based largely upon current research about PTSD but modified a bit to flow into a usable system for gaming.

Traumatic Stress:  After any critical hit, wounding strike, injury that takes the character into negative hit points, or witnessing a comrade die in combat, a wisdom check (rolling at or under the character’s Wisdom score on a d20) is made.  Since those who are battle-hardened are less likely to be affected by sights or experiences of the brutality that occurs in combat through long exposure to such, modify the d20 roll downward per the character’s Base Attack Bonus.  If the check fails, the character gains 1d4 Trauma Points.  These are then applied by rolling on the Stress table (below).  Each Stress symptom can have up to 4 points, and the more points a symptom has, the more severe the effects (described below).

Re-Experiencing Avoidance and Numbing Anxiety and Emotional Arousal
1 Upsetting Memories 6 Avoidance 11 Insomnia
2 Flashbacks 7 Memory Loss 12 Anger
3 Nightmares 8 Disinterest 13 Distraction
4 Emotional Distress at reminders 9 Detachment 14 Hypervigilance
5 Physical Reaction to reminders 10 Limited Future 15 Startling

These points will “heal” one every 5-(Wis modifier) weeks if another successful Wisdom check is made (this time unmodified by BAB).  A character receiving counseling (at least 4 hours a week) would be treated as having a Wisdom score of two higher for the purpose of this check, and the interval between checks would be decreased accordingly as well, if the counseling was continuous during that time.  However, this benefit does not apply if additional trauma points are gained in the interval.


Upsetting Memories – Upsetting memories are unwelcome replays of traumatic events that intrude on normal thought, but do not unduly interfere with normal action.  Physical work may be slowed somewhat, but speech becomes stilted, and the sufferer is unable to hold a meaningful conversation for some 5 – 20 minutes while the memories are intruding and being pushed away.  Affects the sufferer according to the following schedule.  Roll a d6 each day, an event occurs that day if the roll is lower or equal to the number of trauma points accumulated in this stress symptom: (sorry about the table being less than Table-ey, WordPress doesn’t handle tab stops very well)

Trauma Points Roll
1 1 in 6
2 2 in 6
3 3 in 6
4 4 in 6

Flashbacks – flashbacks are vivid rememberings of traumatic events that seem real and cohesive to the sufferer. When suffering a flashback, no communication or meaningful action is possible. The victim is wholly under the impression that they are once again experiencing the traumatic event. The sufferer will cry out, thrash, or become still and unresponsive for the duration of the flashback. These episodes can last from 1 to 10 minutes, on the same chance as Upsetting Memories, based on the number of trauma points in this category.

Nightmares – nightmares are terrifying dreams of traumatic events, either of the event itself or of a similar, imagined event.  Those suffering from nightmares will become restless during sleep, possibly cry out, strike at the air, or other physical responses.  After a nightmare, the sufferer will awake in terror and remain awake for 10 to 60 minutes.  Nightmares may occur at the frequency given on the table above.

Emotional Distress at Reminders of Trauma – After suffering a reminder of a traumatic event (be it flashback, nightmare, intrusive memories, or external reminders), the victim will endure emotional distress because of these reminders.  This may manifest as a refusal to participate in normal interactions, weeping, isolation, manic hysteria, or angry outbursts.  The severity and duration of these episodes is dependent on the number of trauma points assigned to this category.  After suffering Upsetting Memories, Flashbacks, or Nightmares, the sufferer must make a Wisdom check at -2, -4, -6 or -8 (for 1, 2, 3, or 4 points in this category).  The duration of the abnormal emotional response is 5-10, 10-15, 15-20, or 20-30 minutes depending on the points in this category.

Physical Reaction to Reminders of Trauma – After suffering a reminder of a traumatic event (be it flashback, nightmare, intrusive memories, or external reminders), the victim will endure physical effects relating to the trauma experienced.  This may manifest as nausea/vomiting, severe pain in an old wound, headache/migrane, or racing heart/labored breathing.  The severity and duration of these episodes is dependent on the number of trauma points assigned to this category.  After suffering Upsetting Memories, Flashbacks, or Nightmares, the sufferer must make a Wisdom check at -2, -4, -6 or -8 (for 1, 2, 3, or 4 points in this category).  The duration of the abnormal emotional response is 5-10, 10-15, 15-20, or 20-30 minutes depending on the points in this category.

Avoidance and Numbing

Avoidance – Sufferers will subconsciously avoid those things which share a resemblance to the events or characters of a traumatic event.  These may include locations reminiscent of the location where the trauma occurred, persons resembling the assailant, the weapons or implements used during the trauma, or more esoteric things such as thoughts that occurred prior to the trauma, or decisions that lead to the trauma occurring.  The degree to which these things are avoided is dependent on the number of trauma points in this category.  For example: if Adventurer A was attacked in a dungeon hallway by an orc wielding a pickaxe and suffered a critical hit from said orc, Adventurer A might avoid any of the specific characteristics of that event.  If he had 1 point in Avoidance, he may unconsciously avoid dark, underground passages that are carved from living stone.  If he had 2 points, he may avoid dark hallways of any kind.  3 points, any hallways or dark spaces.  4 points, any underground structure at all, or any hallway.  A wisdom check may be made (at a -2, -4, -6, or -8) to overcome this avoidance and enter/interact with the avoided stimulus.

Memory Loss – A common coping mechanism of sentient creatures is to forget important aspects of a traumatic situation.  Depending on the points in this category, the amount forgotten may be a few seconds to the entire day.  This is not normally problematic, but may become an issue if the specific stimulus that triggers other responses cannot be determined because of the loss of memory of the traumatic event.

Disinterest – The sufferer may become disinterested in things he/she once enjoyed, such as food, dancing, card playing, or any or all other activities, depending on the severity of the affliction.  At 1 point, the sufferer may be less enthusiastic about a favorite activity. At 2 points generally ambivalent to several favorite pursuits.  At 3 points, disinterested in all but a few activities. At 4 points, extremely uninterested in any activity at all.

Detachment – Trauma will cause the sufferer to withdraw from relationships and social activities and become numbed to emotions.  At one point the sufferer will be less fervent in keeping promises and fulfilling obligations; at two points feeling will be dulled, so happy or sad events will seem less significant than to others; at three points other people will not seem to matter much, and promises will be forgotten due to disinterest; and at four points only extremely affecting events will be reacted to with any emotion at all, and then only minor changes in emotional response will occur.

Limited Future – Positive outcomes in the future will seem extremely unlikely.  This will result in a lack of meaningful planning, ambition, and enthusiasm for life.  1 point signifies a lack of belief in overall, long-term success of major projects.  2 points indicates significant life events will be believed to become impossible (getting married, having children).  3 points indicate a lack of belief in career success, leading to poor or absent risk management planning.  4 points indicates a belief that any plan undertaken is doomed to failure, so nothing is worth trying.

Anxiety and Emotional Arousal

Insomnia – Sufferers will not be able to sleep for long stretches of time, or will have fitful, unrestful sleep.  1 point will result in only 6-7 hours of sleep on a 1 in 6 chance per night.  2 points will result in a max of 5-6 hours on a 2 in six chance per night.  3 points means 4-5 hours max at a 3 in 6 chance per night. 4 points means a max of 3-4 hours of sleep at a 4 in 6 chance per night, not counting time spent awake due to Nightmares.

Anger  – Perhaps the most visible symptom of traumatic stress, one or more points in Anger will make it more likely that the sufferer will have random outbursts of irrational anger, sometimes at reminders of traumatic events, sometimes in stressful situations that are completely unrelated.  1 point indicates that some reminder of the trauma will result in a burst of irrational anger on a chance of 1 in 10.  2 points will result in anger in any stressful situation on a chance of 2 in 10, or 3 in 10 where a specific reminder of the trauma is involved.  3 points will mean a chance of irrational anger for no reason 1 in 10 days, overreaction to stress at 4 in 10, or with reminder at 5 in 10.  4 points indicates bursts of irrational anger  may occur on a 1 in 6 chance every hour, stress reactions at 5 in 10, and with a reminder of 7 in 10.  Intoxication would increase chances in every case by 2.

Distraction – Trauma preoccupation will result in a character being easily distracted or forgetful and make it harder to complete or perform tasks that require time and attention to complete.  1 point will increase the time to complete such tasks by 25%, (thus and 8 hour task would take 10 hours).  2 points by 50%; 3 points by 75% and 4 points by 100%.

Hypervigilance  – In hypervigilance, there is a perpetual scanning of the environment to search for sights, sounds, people, behaviors, smells, or anything else that is reminiscent of threat or trauma. The individual is placed on high alert in order to be certain danger is not near. Hypervigilance can lead to a variety of obsessive behavior patterns, as well as producing difficulties with social interaction and relationships. Below is the table describing the chance of violent overreaction to which stimuli per point of trauma.

1 1 in 10 persons approaching quickly, brandishing small objects
2 3 in 10 swift changes in position of persons being interacted with, loud noises nearby
3 5 in 10 strangers appearing suddenly, loud noises far away, rushing crowds
4 7 in 10 any sudden movement, loud noise, or unpleasant demeanor

Startling – similar to Hypervigilance, but with a fear reaction instead of aggressive reaction. Duration of incomprehensibility and to what stimuli (see Hypervigilance table for stimuli) increase with points. 1 point indicates 1d4 minutes of reaction to very specific stimuli, generally relating to the original trauma. 2 points indicate 2d4 minutes to more general stimuli, which may or may not relate to the original trauma. 3 points indicate 2d6 minutes reaction to fairly common stimuli. 4 points indicate 3d6 minutes reaction to broad stimuli.

So, there it is.  It may not be as clear as I think it is, so if you have any questions, feel free to ask and I will clarify as necessary.

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