TRAINING TO GAIN LEVELSAs a variant rule, you can require characters to spend downtime training or studying before they gain the benefits of a new level. If you choose this option, once a character has earned enough experience points to attain a new level, he or she must train for a number of days before gaining any class features associated with the new level.The training time required depends on the level to be gained, as shown on the Training to Gain Levels table. The training cost is for the total training time. – DMG PG 131
This will likely be a boring post.
Random Encounters, Wandering Monster Tables, and Unplanned Events are just a few names for a chance interaction within a Tabletop game. I’m mainly sticking to the idea of combat encounters in this post, and using that to frame how I’ll be using random encounters in The Lost Marches.
So what am I talking about? Think back to the 80’s/early 90’s video games DragonWarrior or Final Fantasy games? As you wandered around the world, there was a chance that you’d trip across a bad guy. The more dangerous the area, the more likely you trip across a bad guy (and the more powerful that bad guy is). If you understand that, you understand Random Encounters enough to follow along here.
The second concept is also fairly simple. Every time there may be a Random Encounter I roll 2d6 and add up the total. If the total is 11 or more, there’s a Random Encounter. Normally there is only a 8.34% chance of an encounter. It’s that simple!
Now, The Lost Marches are composed of a number of different areas that I (as the DM) have decided are more or less dangerous. I’ll call out a couple of pretty direct examples that are unlikely to be spoilers for my players.
- First Valley (24H, -1, Settled) – Out of any areas of The Lost Marches, The First Valley has been settled for the longest time. It’s fairly secure and quite removed from raiders.
- The Barrows (8H, +2, Barrows) – The Barrows are an unsettled area, composed of ancient burial mounds. Undead are known to frequent this area.
- Gnollwode (4H, +4, Forest) – The name should give it away. It’s a forest inhabited by Gnolls.
The names and descriptions likely make sense to you, but the part within the parenthesis, may not be as intuitive. I’ll break this down for you now.
- The first number is the number (24) of hours (H) that must pass before the DM performs a check for a Random Encounter.
- The second number is a modifier to the check. A negative number suggests that this area is safer than normal. A positive number increases the likeliness of an encounter and indicates that an area is more dangerous.
- The third part, a descriptor, tells you what table the check should be on. In this case, we’d be checking on the “Settled” table.
Putting this into action with the examples:
- The Party spends two days within the First Valley, Every 24 hours I need to check to see if there is an encounter. As the First Valley is fairly safe, I subtract 1 from the roll/check. That means I roll 2d6-1. This makes it very unlikely that the PCs will be attacked in The First Valley. Actually, there’s only a 2.78% chance that they are attacked within 24 hours.
- The Barrows are far more dangerous, and the Party bravely decides to explore them for two days. We need to perform a check within The Barrows every 8 hours, and over the course of two days, that works out to 6 checks. In addition to this, The Barrows require us to add 2 to the dice roll, making it 2d6+2. The odds of rolling an 11 or higher is now: 27.78 percent, and must be checked 6 times! Good luck!
- And finally, the Gnollwode is pretty deadly. Two days in the Gnollwode will result in 12 checks (one every 4 hours). Each one is 2d6+4, for a 58.34% chance of an encounter every 4 hours. That’s twice per long rest!
Wondering where I’m getting these percentages from? http://anydice.com/
To Be Added to The Lost Marches Primer….
The Lost Marches lie on the bleeding edge of the wilderness. The countless Guilds, Noble Families, Merchant Alliances, and intrigues of the Civilized Lands have not yet fully spread to the Barony Limen. Those that have can be broken down into Orders and Factions.
What has made its way there, are the various Orders that guide young Campaigners. These Orders take a multitude of forms, and all have their roots in the Civilized Lands, but each seeks to train and recognize its members.
As a Campaigner advances in skill, the Orders recognize this with certain titles and training. While titles hold less value in The Lost Marches, they are still respected and all would be advised to heed the word of a Radiant Servant of Pelor, least they need his healing might later.
Numbers in parenthesis indicate a level or level range.
- Aspirant (1-2)
- Druid (3-8)
- Archdruid (9+)
- Hierophant (Wisest of the Druids)
Brotherhood of Warriors
Fighters and Rangers
- Novice (1-2)
- Sergeant (3-4)
- Captain (5-6)
- Marshall (7-8)
- Warlord (9+)
- Grand Marshall (Determined in Trial by Combat)
College of the Open Hand
Monks of the Way of the Open Hand
- Initiate (1-2)
- Brother/Sister (3-4)
- Disciple (5-6)
- Enlightened (7-8)
- Master (9+)
- Grand Master (Determined in a Contest of Wills)
The Academy of High Magic
Wizards of all three Orders
- Apprentice (1-2)
- Wizard (3-4)
- Spellweaver (5-6)
- Archwizard (7-8)
- Magelord (9+)
- Magus (Most senior Wizard of the Order)
Church of Pelor
All Clerics and Paladins of Pelor
- Order of the Radiant Sun – Paladins of Pelor
- Squire (1-2)
- Sir (3-4)
- Commander (5-6)
- Holy Knight (7-8)
- Knight Commander (9+)
- Grand Knight of the Sun (Determined in a Trial by Combat)
- The Grand Temple of Pelor – Clerical Worshipers of Pelor
- Acolyte (1-2)
- Priest of Pelor (3-4)
- Adept of the Light (5-6)
- Radiant Servant (7-8)
- High Priest of Pelor (9+)
- Patriarch of Light (Most senior servant of Pelor)
While a Campaigner is accepted by an Order for who they are, Factions are groups that work toward specific purposes. They are composed of members of nearly any of the Orders, and work toward goals of their own choosing.
The Shield of the Realm
The Shield is a solid traditionalist group. They wish to bring the First Valley, Second Valley, and Limen under the Fedual oversight of the Kingdom of Insulia. All expansion is done in the effort to gain political power and advantage for the Nobility of Insulia.
Symbol: A cloak clasp in the shape of the Royal Arms of Insulia. The clasp will cast Gentle Repose upon the body of the owner if they die.
Advantages: In exchange for your dedication, The Shield protects their own. If your body is returned to The Shield’s headquarters in Limen, they will raise you from the dead.
Disadvantages: You must tithe 20% of all new wealth to the Crown of Insulia.
The League of Cartographers
Dungeoneers, Tomb Raiders, Relic thieves, and Mystics make up The League. Set upon plundering The Lost Marches for the riches of the Great Compact, The League will frequently aid one another.
Symbol: A pin in the shape of a Feather/Quill worn on the lapel or chest. This pin is well known, merchants will charge you 10% less for all of your purchases and pay you 10% more for goods they buy from you.
Advantages: You have the option to purchase items that were nearly unknown (or frowned upon) in The Civilized Lands. You may purchase Potions of Healing, Greater Healing, and Poisons at the League’s Hall.
Disadvantages: Each lunar cycle, you spend at least one-day copying notes and/or carrying messages/packages for The League.
Yeoman to the Baroness
Yeoman serve Baroness Limen, the founder of Limen and the woman accredited with taming The First Valley. Yeoman act as a force of Order and Law in the name of the Baroness.
Symbol: A heavy silver chair worn about the neck. This chain grants you advantage on Charisma saves and checks within Limen or the First Valley.
Advantages: As a Yeoman, you answer only to the Baroness and her Constable. While in Limen, you are provided with accommodation befitting your rank in the Castle at no cost. Further, you will be granted land and assistance should you wish to settle/fortify The Lost Marches.
Disadvantages: You are in Fedual service to the Baroness, and as your Liege, she may call upon you at any time for any service.
I suspect that I will circle back to this post sometime in the future, as I have more information I wish to say than what I will tonight.
As I flesh out parts of The Lost Marches, I am drawing upon prior editions of D&D, Pathfinder and a few other RPGs. This has meant that I’ve been looking up ‘Titles by Level’ for a few classes, hireling pay rates, and information on demographic breakdowns. Here’s a first draft breakdown of the ‘Capitol’ of The Lost Marches.
Limen, Small Walled Town
Size: The town of Limen covers an area of approximately 17 acres, with a total population of 1060 people. The population is almost entirely human (96%), with much smaller numbers of halflings (2%), elves (1%) and other races (1%).
Wealth: The town’s gold piece limit is 800 gp. Anything, whether it be mundane or magical, having a price under that limit is most likely available for purchase. The total amount of available coinage, or the total value of any given item of equipment for sale at any given time, is 42,400 gp.
Demographics: 86% Commoners/Peasants, 4% Warriors, 3% Experts (Skilled Trades), 7% Other
Power: Conventional (LG), Baroness Limen
Clergy: Church of Pelor (LG), Radiant Servant Bartlett
Druidic Circle: None, Missing
Academy of High Magic: School of Aequus (NG), Magus Novo
Monastic School: School of Two Mountains (N), Adept Jaffrey
Using 5E D&D, I ran a face to face “Old-School Dungeoncrawl” for a small group of players yesterday.
- Three Players pre-created two characters each with me online before gameday. Should one Character die, the party would retrieve the replacement character.
- The Players did not know if they’d be playing level 6, 7 or 8 so we had versions of each character per level.
- The Players did not know what the adventure/dungeon would be until gameday.
- They were not denied any reasonable equipment or spells, but the players started with only what they (bothered to) marked on their character sheets.
- They were warned that Character death was quite likely.
- Overall, I would say that the day was a success and I’ll do it again.
- The players made it through 2/3 of the adventure without a PC death!
- Two of the PCs had never played this kind of Dungeon fully before so there were some shocks:
- The inability to suddenly declare “I brought X piece of equipment…” when they hadn’t written it on their sheet.
- Traps that could not be solved by just rolling a skill check.
- Riddles (which they solved VERY quickly!)
- Needing to understand how their spells worked (instead of just hitting a button on Roll20).
Tacked up on a post, outside of the town of Limen, is a sign.
The Hinterlands outside of Limen are only roughly mapped.
The Social Contract
& Character Death
Why this subject?
This post has been coming for some time, as it has come up in conversation more times than any other RPG subject over the past year. This post has become one of my longer ones, at +2100 words.
My impetus for finally getting around to it today, was an acquaintance’s Facebook thread about a game that I am not involved in. In short though, that game is coming to an end after more than 5 years of game time, and the final session has a high chance of character death (the DM warned the players about this, prior to the last session). This has caused a metric shite ton of conversation on their Facebook thread, most of it, thought provoking.
I’ll begin by reminding everyone that the name of the URL for this website is “World of Darkness”, and that I use the byline of “Chronicles By Night – Darker Role Playing Games”. If that doesn’t convey a certain sinister feeling, I’ll spell it out. As a Storyteller/Game Master/Dungeon Master I am interested in games with a mature or dark theme. This is not the place for warm and soothing stories that are within everyone’s taste and comfort zones.
Without attempting to be inflammatory, if you would like to recreate an episode of your typical Saturday morning cartoon, where the good guys always come out on top because the bad guys fought among themselves, and then we do it all again next week, this is not the right place for you. That isn’t the kind of game that I run. I strive for a higher sense of realism, even if it is through darkened lenses. More often than not, my “Villains” are prepared to do some pretty horrific things to achieve their ends. Frankly, the milder ones couldn’t make it into a movie script unless it was at least R rated.
Least I seem to be a nut who likes sadistic torture scenes, and who’s just out there to offend people or who is shaking his fist against current social trends of political correctness, you’ll have to take my assurance that I’m actually far from it. I am empathetic to people who have emotions/feelings/issues that are ‘triggered’ by certain language. I have friends who are still closeted gay, for fear of rejection by family, and I have friends who have been sexually assaulted and who react to certain scenes in movies or games.
Being empathetic and (I like to think) not a complete idiot, I also realize that the games that I run, and that enjoy running are not for everyone, and even moreso are not to the tastes of all of my gaming friends. I get that. I understand why. I don’t hold that against them. I hope that they don’t hold it against me. Our tastes are different. I like my bad guys to be REALLY evil.
So, with that preamble complete, let’s talk about the Social Contract of RPGs a little.
The Social Contract
Frankly, I dislike the term Social Contract because of its current usage, but the theory been around for three hundred years, so of course it has some baggage. It also best explains the tacit agreement that is arrived between players and a Games Master. I think that it is best if I discuss it, before I discuss Character Death.
Within my games, I try to make the social contract clear near the start. These are the unwritten, but socially accepted rules that we typically agree to when we play. In essence, they are accepted or there is no game.
- I’m running a game using a specific rules set.
- I’d like players to be a part of that game.
- The players expect me, to put a certain level of effort into running the game and telling a story.
- This includes explaining the theme or tone of the game to the players.
- The players also expect me to be a reliable resource for most of the rules.
- The players expect me to be fair and uniform with each of them.
- The needs of the group will likely come before that of any one member.
- I expect the players to show up on time at the appointed meeting spot.
- I expect the players to try to be prepared.
- This likely means trying to learn to rules.
- Knowing what abilities/powers/spells their Characters have.
- Having your dice, character sheets, pencils, etc on-hand.
I’ve sometimes expanded this by saying some of the following in game descriptions:
- After # of sessions of missing a game without notice, I’m removing your character from play.
- Nothing drastic will happen to your character if you miss a session.
- Some variation of, you will (or will not) gain XP when you miss a session.
- There is always a chance that your character dies.
Within reason, I try not to change the tone or theme of the story greatly once we begin, as the players signed up for a certain theme. It’s not fair to completely switch it out on them, without consulting them.
Likewise, when I change the rules during an ongoing game, I tend to do so because we were misusing the rules as written or after reaching a consensus from the players.
I’d point any of my readers to my Curse of Strahd game as an example of where I’ve tried to outline the social contract ahead of time via my game ‘blurb’ found here: https://worldofdarkness.ca/?p=920
Going over it now, as I write the article, I can see that I touch on most of points that I have mentioned above, but not all of them.
It is worth noting, this is likely to be the more controversial portion of this post.
First, I would remind everyone of my earlier statement of the types of games that I like, and that I run. Unless I frame a game as being distinctly otherwise, anythign I run is dark, it’s gritty, and it often touches on scenes that leave no shadow of doubt that the “Villain” needs to be put down for good. After all, few would disagree that witches that bake children into Pies/Cakes need to put punished.
The stakes are high for these Villains. They will not get a second chance at any evil plans if they fail now, and they know it! At no point do I hide that.
Since the Villain knows the stakes are high, he will fight or work with a ferocity that shows their level of determination. That is one part of what makes some of my games more ‘real’ or ‘intense’. The Villain will typically not stand there and Monologue out their diabolical plan while the Player Characters are captured like in a scene out of James Bond. They will attempt to kill or subvert the Players once they become some measure of a threat.
The level of effort that they put into this is somewhat proportional to the level of threat of the Player Characters. Newly embraced Vampires are unlikely to attract the full wrath of a 500 year old Vampire elder. The elder will just send a minion over to ‘show his displeasure by killing some of the players servants’, acting out a double duty of testing the power of the minion at the same time.
Likewise, the evil Prince who taxes the people to the brink of starvation doesn’t send 1000 Knights after the band of level 4 Player Characters who steal his taxes. He charges his local Sheriff to deal with it, and in turn the Sheriff sends some Men-At-Arms to initially stop the PCs. When the PCs hand the Men-At-Arms their asses, usually by killing them, the Sheriff –MUST- respond with greater force. Otherwise he shows his weakness to the local people, and his Prince! When the PC’s beat the Sheriff, likely by killing him, the evil Prince –MUST- get involved more directly. This could result in the PC’s deposing the evil Prince, or the Prince hiring the best Assassins that money can buy to kill the PCs. [By the way, that’s basically one version of the story of Robin Hood.]
From my own experience running games; defeating a Villain who fights or acts in this fashion is nearly always more rewarding than beating a Saturday Morning Cartoon Villain (that you need to beat again next week). The stakes are elevated. The PCs face death if they fail, just like the Villain.
Stepping back, the concept of what ‘death’ actually means in a tabletop game is somewhat genre/rules specific. Some deaths are more permanent than others, and often that is determined by the mechanics of the system.
Powerful Death Mechanics
- Character Death in a Vampire the Masquerade game is referred to as FINAL DEATH for a reason. There are no healing magic’s that can bring a Vampire ‘back to life’, they are a corpse or a pile of ash once they lose that final level of health.
- Basic 1970’s Dungeons and Dragons was also pretty final, and pretty common at the low levels. Certain traps or effects just killed your character outright, without any dice rolls. It was accepted as part of the game.
- Call of Cthulhu takes character death seriously, but is unabashedly outright in stating that PC death is fairly common. Even when your character doesn’t die, facing the nameless horrors of the unknown, they will likely go mad from the encounter.
Medium Death Mechanics
- AD&D 2nd Edition made it notably more difficult to kill a non-spellcasting player character. But the system retained saving throws that could lead to a death if one die roll was failed. None the less, magic’s existed that could bring your character back from the dead if they were rich enough.
- I’m going to throw Champions 4th Edition into the medium slot for death mechanics, as you could build a very ‘breakable’ character. Healing powers did exist, even though they were proportionally more expensive than attack powers.
Weak Death Mechanics
- FFG Star Wars, is a space Opera and therefore your character is more likely to lose a limb or gain a cool scar than die due to major wounds. Also a character can be brought back from death in a bacta tank of healing fluid if it’s done quickly enough. Sometimes though, that’s not an option due to local equipment.
- 5th Edition D&D has taken most of the ‘sting’ out of death in my mind. After the first five levels, it’s very hard for a player character to reach the point where they are needing to make death saving throws. Let alone where the PCs need the services of a Cleric to cast Raise Dead or Resurrection on them/their companions. Even when that is the case, those spells are out there and they are economical options to even gold strapped players. This is to an extent that if the Players can find/know a 13th level Cleric, and have 1000G and even a scrap of a dead companion’s body, they can resurrect them with a whole body.
If you wish to avoid player character death, you should avoid certain systems where the mechanics highly favor it. Likewise, even if you were not explicitly told that it was possible, ask the GM if character death is a possibility. If you don’t ask, presume it is. Frankly it’s built into every RPG system that I know of.
Also, I would suggest that your Character take the same precautions that a self-aware, character would.
- In D&D5E, have a patron deity, and don’t wait until you casually meet one. Go out there and make friends with a powerful Cleric of a good aligned god.
- In Vampire, hire minions to do the fighting for you. Stay out of combat.
- In Star Wars, always be within evacuation range of a bacta tank and on a ship with multiple main characters.
- In Champions, travel with a Medic, or wear some kind of armor.
- In Cthulhu… okay if you don’t like the threat of character death, don’t play it.
As final words of advice, we’re talking about a Game. A game that you can become heavily invested in, but it is a game none the less. If you play long enough Character deaths WILL happen.
The loss of a character can and likely will be a traumatic or moving experience. I’ve been there as a player, and I’ve willingly walked my character into a certain death situation because “That is what he would do.”
While the loss stung, and it brought tears to my eyes, I’ve found great joy in other characters since then.
If you find yourself in situation where the idea of losing your character seems unbearable to you, do yourself, your GM and the rest of your gaming group an immense service. Go and talk to your GM in private well in advance of your next session.
“Safely” retire the character, and let them become a part of the story’s background. This is a far happier alternative to the sleepless nights and vicious words that can occur with an unexpected character death when you are deeply attached. This way, the character can “live on” and you can begin a new chapter in your gaming journey.
As an aside: If I had a dollar for every time I’m warned players that Combat in World of Darkness games was a terrible idea, I’d be typing this on a 30” 4K monitor!