The Party Sheet

Two weeks ago, I read Arnold K’s blog post about party sheets and have been enamored with the idea ever since. I made a party sheet for my players to use in our next session shown in PDF format below:

Party Sheet

This a sheet for the players to share at the table to keep track of important information that should be accessible to all of them.

I put all of the character names at the top because it’s easy to forget other character’s names and easy to slip into the habit of calling each other by player names even when you don’t mean to.

Ship – Since this game is set in the Pirate Isles, the players will almost always have a ship of some kind. Letting them keep track of the ship’s vital statistics gives me fewer things to do and will make them feel more in control of their ship.

Hirelings – As with ship statistics, I think it’s helpful to be transparent about hireling statistics and let the players keep track of hireling health and equipment. I may consider adding a morale system in the future.

Shared Inventory – How often do you give your players potions, scrolls, and magical trinkets only to never see them again? This should help players keep track of useful things that aren’t tied to a specific character and otherwise would have gone unused.

Places Been – This is a section to help stir the group’s memories of past sessions and to make it easier to recall places they may want to revisit.

Graveyard – This is inspired by the tally that qpop keeps on his blog of our Lamentations of the Flame Princess game – a record of dead PCs. Ours is empty right now because my players have been remarkably careful and smart. And this is also an embedded reminder for them to continue playing careful and smart!

Blessings – This is my favorite idea stolen from Arnold K’s post – a divine reward to the party for certain deeds done that anyone in the party can use as an action. In my party’s example, they spent a lot of effort for no monetary reward freeing the spirits of a crew of sailors who had become ghosts. For this, I am giving them a blessing from One-Eyed Pete, the pirate god, which will let them spend an action to add the benefits of a healing potion to an alcoholic drink twice per day. This essentially gives them a shared pool of divine spellcasting that anyone in the party can draw from. I found this idea just in time to help out the party for the next session where our Priest player will not be present, and the same idea could be used to play a campaign without one person in a dedicated healer role.

Curses – The opposite of blessings! In this case, the party has not gained any supernatural curses, but it’s important to remember that a powerful pirate captain and her agents are actively looking to kill them.

It’s quite likely that you’re better at formatting documents than I am, but if you want to use the party sheet template I made, I’m including a blank one as a PDF and in Open Document text format below. Enjoy!

Party Sheet Template – PDF

Party Sheet Template – Open Document text format (like a free Microsoft Word, I dunno)

Random Low Value Useful Loot Table

Recently I started a brand new Demon Lord campaign using Tales of the Pirate Isles. The first adventure in that book is a level-0 adventure where the characters are shipwrecked with no equipment on what appears to be a deserted island. One of the ways characters can find gear is by spending an hour searching through wreckage from the ship. The text of the adventure suggests rolling a d6, with the result of a 1 finding no loot, a 2 finding 1 ss worth of loot, a 3 finding 2 ss worth of loot, and so on.

It would have been easy enough to assign treasure found on the fly, but since the characters were starting with nothing I didn’t want to influence them by deciding what gear I thought they might want, and instead wanted a random chart to roll on for when they found gear. For some reason I thought it would take me 10 minutes to write a random table with d20 entries for each of the d6-1 results, but instead it took me a couple of hours. Hopefully the time I spent is useful to someone else out there.

I admit not everything on the chart corresponds to the proper coin value. Also my players rolled some hard leather armor that no one had high enough strength to wear.  Fun!

I broke the table into five separate entries below so it would fit nicely on the WordPress blog, but if you want my original Open Office spreadsheet copy you can download it here: Random low value loot

 

2 (approximately 1 ss)
1 Block and tackle
2 Net
3 Good bottle of wine
4 Garrote
5 Lockpicks
6 Flask of oil
7 Sling
8 Cloak
9 Manacles
10 1/2 size Soft Leather Armor
11 Pipe, and pipe tobacco
12 Scroll – Beast Within (Primal)
13 Scroll – Project Voice (Song)
14 Scroll – Shock (Storm)
15 Scroll – Flame Missile (Fire)
16 Scroll – Wall of Darkness (Shadow)
17 Scroll – Arcane Armor (Arcana)
18 Rope, 20 yards
19 Map of the Region
20 Adventurer’s Pack
3 (approximately 2 ss)
1 Trousers, fine
2 Opium (4 doses)
3 Bottle of liquor
4 Knuckledusters
5 Pack of 10 Darts
6 Torturer’s Tools
7 Axe
8 Blowgun and 5 needles
9 Sickle
10 Tent, 2-person
11 Small shield
12 Soft Leather armor
13 Soft Leather armor
14 Soft Leather armor
15 Lantern w/ a flask of oil
16 Shoes, fine
17 Rope w/ grapnel
18 Tinderbox
19 Navigator’s Instruments
20 Potion of Healing
4 (approximately 3 ss)
1 Barrel of Beer
2 Jewelry
3 1/2 size Hard Leather armor
4 1/2 size Brigandine armor
5 3 Throwing Knives
6 3 Spears
7 3 Hatches
8 3 Javelins
9 Flute
10 Cheese wheel
11 Large shield
12 Bag of caltrops
13 A dead halfling
14 Crutches
15 3 Scrolls – Magic Dart (Arcana)
16 3 Scrolls – Minor Healing (Life)
17 A parrot
18 A crystal ball
19 Magnifying glass
20 Holy Water
5 (approximately 4 ss)
1 Barrel of Ale
2 Clothing, courtier’s
3 Hard Leather armor
4 Brigandine armor
5 Mirror, small silver
6 Short sword
7 Mace
8 Flail
9 Morning star
10 Dress, fancy
11 Small shield + Large shield
12 Watertight box of rations
13 A dead human
14 Bag of mail
15 Spotlight lantern w/ oil
16 Climbing gear
17 Kettledrum
18 Antivenom
19 A dog
20 Two Potions of Healing
6 (approximately 5 ss)
1 Wine, fine
2 Whip
3 Hard Leather armor + small shield
4 Brigandine armor + small shield
5 Pike
6 Sword
7 Battleaxe
8 Bow and 3 arrows
9 Bohemian ear spoon (as pike)
10 Trident
11 Cutlass
12 Scroll – Obedience (Forbidden)
13 Scroll – Thimblerig (Illusion)
14 Scroll – Dissolve (Destruction)
15 Scroll – Unerring Darts (Arcana)
16 Scroll – Healing Berries (Nature)
17 Scroll – Stone Armor (Earth)
18 Poison
19 Healer’s Kit
20 Potion of Growth

Twenty Terrible Secrets

Some secrets are better left unknown. The following is a list of twenty terrible, dangerous secrets. When the keepers of these secrets learn that you know them, they will do anything in their power to snuff their secrets out with you.
You can use the list like a d20 table, or just pick a secret you like.

1. Healing potions are an ancient creation of the fallen Dark God of Injury. Every potion drank removes an injury by transferring it to the Dark God, and little by little, returning Her power such that She may one day return. The Potionmasters’ Guild knows this and they’re not keen on the bad press for their best selling product.

2. A hidden community of clockworks at the bottom of the ocean is assembling a great weapon in secret with the hope of one day claiming the ocean as their own.

3. Flies are always watching, always listening. They eavesdrop on conversations and record the memories in their maggots’ DNA. Collecting information has been their great purpose throughout history. Like maggots feed on flesh, adult flies feed on information. But the flies are driven to be unknown observers. If people knew flies were listening in on them, it would change the content of their conversations making the information impure. The flies cannot allow this. The flies will not allow this.

4. A plague devastates a prince’s people. By the magic of an ancient ritual, the plague will end when the prince chooses to be faithful to his wife. The plague continues.

5. The dwarfs have spent centuries digging fault lines under every major surface city which they will soon be capable of opening to massive destructive effect.

6. A monarch is a changeling who stole the identity of the proper monarch. The nobility know this and allow it because the changeling is far more likeable than the real monarch. But the monarch’s power is based on bloodline, and if the people knew, they would revolt.

7. An oligarch in possesses a wand that, once per month, can turn an intelligent soul into gold. He uses it every chance he can get.

8. A Cardinal of the Cult of the New God is a cambion whose soul is bound for Hell no matter what he does. He is a true believer and generally a good man but will do anything to prevent this secret from coming out.

9. Several villages were recently razed, apparently by wild beastmen. In truth, it was a sect within the military who worship the God of Slaughter.

10. A large fishing company has doubled its profits by catching and selling a hard-to-catch species of delicious shark – after discovering the sharks are easily attracted to children thrown in the water.

11. The Dentistry Guild has discovered a painless technique for dentistry magic, but they suppress it because pain-free treatment is NOT what any of them got into dentistry for.

12. The Spell to End the World is six words long. A cabal of undead sorcerers is dedicated to erasing any vestige of this spell permanently. You accidentally learned one of the words.

13. An athlete who has inspired a generation and spawned a little industry of sportswear gets his strength by eating souls.

14. There is a portal to another world that is far nicer than yours, inhabited by a society much more advanced than yours. They hate the people of your world and don’t want their existence known to your people.

15. The Witch-King who ruled the fallen kingdom Gog was recently reborn as a young halfling girl who retains all of the Witch-King’s memories including ancient magics. She is plotting in secret to regain her kingdom.

16. You learned the identity of an accomplished assassin of the Black Hand. Anonymity is the key to her career, and she knows that you know.

17. There is a song with a catchy tune that has spread in popularity over the past couple of years. It is frequently requested from bards, and stays in the listeners’ heads for weeks. The melody sweetens the listeners’ souls,  making them tastier for demons in the afterlife. Demons wish to keep this knowledge a secret to keep the sweetened souls flowing.

18. There is a horrific, narcissistic dragon who lives in the Shield Mountains of the Northern Reach. Among its many tics and obsessions, it despises and is embarrassed by its birth name, all record of which has almost been scrubbed from the Urth. By accident, you have learned its embarrassing true name.

19. Just as gods are empowered by their followers’ belief and worship, old gods  can fade away when they are forgotten. After centuries of obscurity, the Lucky Lady of Autumn, represented as a fiddling cricket for reasons long since forgotten, wants nothing more than to die. Much to her displeasure, you learned of her existence, prolonging it.

20. The Matriarch of the Cult of the New God had a vision that those who upheld the virtues of the Four Truths of the Cult were blessed in the afterlife by having their souls annihilated rather than returning to the Underworld. Per the vision, this is a blessing as the horrors coming for Urth are so awful that it is better to not exist than to be born into them. The leadership of the Cult is unsure if this is a true vision, but they absolutely will not allow this story to be known by the general populace.

Let the Dice Decide Who Your Parents Are

Think back to your last D&D campaign. If you’re like me and my friends, your party probably was made up of a Drow dark elf, a sentient robot, a fallen angel, a forest pixie, and a talking plant. And you started your campaign at a tavern in an all human village. Half of these races were probably chosen to get a stat boost on the character’s primary class attribute. And most of these races probably didn’t come up much in roleplay except when the party visited Drowtown.

Fantasy races are such a long-running trope in our gaming history that it’s easy to forget what’s special or interesting about them. The race choice can easily become not much more than a funny hat and a set of math points for an otherwise essentially human character.

This intelligent psychic rock-man is just another guy on the street in your typical D&D game.

Let’s see if we can use game mechanics and thoughtful roleplay to accentuate the specialness of inhuman races.

Shadow of the Demon Lord already comes with fantastic rules for random character creation, with fun tables for interesting character traits and backgrounds. I wanted to come up with a table for randomly rolling your character’s race that models the scarcity of the more unusual races. Randomly picking a race instead of choosing one may seem foreign to you modern gamers, but I bet you Gygaxian grognards will see the fun in it. What I really want is for landing the unusual races to feel like a special event instead of run-of-the-mill.

2d6 Result Ancestry Odds
2 Faun 2.7%
3 Changeling 5.5%
4 Orc 8.3%
5 Goblin 11.1%
6 Human 13.9%
7 Halfling 16.6%
8 Human 13.9%
9 Clockwork 11.1%
10 Dwarf 8.3%
11 Ferren 5.5%
12 Cambion 2.7%

Above is a chart I made for SotDL’s starter city of Crossings, from the campaign book Tales of the Demon Lord. I used 2d6 to give a bell curve distribution of odds of getting the different races, leaving some nice low probability oddballs at the tails. The chart isn’t intended to be an accurate census of Crossings, but it’s a gameification of the idea.

Humans are most common because humans. Halflings are the second most common race in Crossings. Goblins are pretty commonly found cleaning the sewers and hopping around the slums. Orcs are present, but I imagine them as more common in the south of Rûl. I imagine a lot of dwarfs, driven from their traditional underground mines, find a place to labor alongside clockworks in the industrial zone. Changelings are a base race in the SotDL core book, but I see them as an especially rare find (more on them in an upcoming post). The ferren (shapechangers who turn into cats!) secretly live as humans in Crossings, as do an occasional faun and devil-born cambion.

If you’re playing in a different area or imagine a different distribution of races then change the chart up! If you don’t own Demon Lord’s Companion 2 (or hate cats) then remove the ferren. But I think the idea is clear – players are likely to play a human or something that belongs in the starting environment. And if they end up with a strange roll and generating a weirdo, hey, that’s a fun surprise!

If you’re playing a non-human character, or DMing a group with them, I encourage you to think about what makes that character different than a human, and how that effects the way they interact with the world and others. Do dwarfs take pleasure in labor that humans would find exhausting? Why is the clockwork spending time in the tavern when she can’t eat or drink? Are you considering how uncomfortable it is to live in the city for the iron-vulnerable fey races? Cambions are born with evil in their hearts and souls destined for Hell – how can the typically good-aligned adventurer cope?

How many interesting stories would we have lost if Spock acted just like a human with funny ears? Would Spock’s alien logic be a fascinating foil on a ship where everyone was a bizarre alien?

Note the absence of elves! A fantasy staple since Legolas, elves are magical, mysterious, and missing in my idea of Urth. (Schwalb omits them from the core rulebook, but includes them as a playable race in the Terrible Beauty add-on PDF.) Many of the magical artifacts and ruins in Rûl are elvish in origin. Keeping elves out of PC hands enhances that mystery. If the PCs do meet living elves I want their power level to exceed that of a playable race.

What do you think of making the inhuman races rarer and randomly rolling for race? Feel free to post in the comments!

Post-script: Throughout writing this entry I kept thinking about how lousy it is to use the word “race” is in the fantasy RPG setting, given that “race” has such a different definition in the real world and carries all of that baggage. It’s not something I think about often, but I bet “choose your race” can be a strange seeming thing to hear for new players. I was then delighted when I realized all of the Shadow of the Demon Lord materials use the word “ancestry” instead. Man, I love this game.

Why blog?

It is the end of 2017. Celebrity interview shows beam from space into joggers’ wireless earbuds. Flying drones bring packages from the sky to your doorstep. Nuclear war is threatened over Twitter. In the fast changing post-Internet world, blogging is almost archaic. Starting a new blog is not unlike signing up for a new MySpace account – techinically possible, but why would you spend your time that way?

Over the past year I’ve become obsessed with Shadow of the Demon Lord, a D&D-like tabletop RPG created by veteran game designer Robert Schwalb. During that same time frame I’ve also become obsessed with brilliant blogs like Goblin Punch, Hack & Slash, and Papers & Pencils which help fuel the “Old School Renaissance” of D&D retroclones. I took to Google hoping to find a similarly brilliant blog about my new love the Demon Lord.

I found no such blog. Surprisingly, the top two results were posts on my real-life meatspace friend James Introcaso’s ENnie Award winning D&D blog about the Demon Lord’s initiative system. I tweeted at James to tell him about his site’s excellent SEO and the coincidence and he responded that it would be awesome if someone did make a Demon Lord blog.

Twitter is a communication platform for rash Presidential decrees, bullying strangers, and occasionally brainstorming ideas with pals.

I used to tour nerd conventions with my comedian pal Noah Houlihan, founder of geek stand-up group +2 Comedy. One thing that’s stuck with me is at a Q&A panel after a show an audience member asked how +2 Comedy got started, and Noah replied, “I wanted to create something in the world that I wanted to exist, that I would be a fan of.”

Most things exist already. It was an unusual experience to Google something that I would be a fan of and to not find that thing. There’s definitely some great SotDL conversation going on in the 2,200 member Google+ community, but I wanted to find a blog I could pore over on the train like the other great sites in my favorites tab.

I’m not the savant-like creative content machine or wizened DM sage that some of the above referenced bloggers are. I also don’t expect to generate a profit or career as a niche dark fantasy RPG writer. But I do hope to share some thoughts about an awesome game that deserves more attention within our weird, glorious hobby. If this project ends up being just me rambling to myself I’d be happy with that, but if I can bring some joy and share some thoughts with some other horror-fantasy loving gamers at the same time, even better.