Friday, March 30, 2012

Historical Models for a T&T World

As a young gamer, which I no longer am, I was entranced by the extensive ironmongery list offered in 5th Edition Tunnels & Trolls, and I still find it entertaining. As I grew more aware of history and various cultures, I saw that the weapons list taken as a whole was an Anachronism Stew: a first or second century pilum and gladius might appear in the same adventure with a 16th century zwiehander; western european broadswords share the stage with subcontinental hardware like the madu, pata, katar and kukri. A berzerker warrior (11th century Northern European) might take time after slaughtering an orc (20th century high fantasy) to clean the gore off his grand shamsheer (18th century Persian) and slather on a new coat of curare (indigenous South America).

But I like all that stuff, so I'm inclined to make Ardis a world where that can happen.

Everything on the central part of the main continent south of the Teeth of the Gods is modeled on 16th-17th century Persia and India; it's the heart of civilization in Ardis and so all those wacky, curvy swords and knives tend to crop up in all the big cities.

Vladria gets its model from 15th and 16th century central and eastern Europe: Lots of the halberds and elaborate plate armor crop up there.

Ys, and the rest of the extreme northlands, are an unabashed melange of 8th to 13th century Scandinavia. I like having hairy berzerk northlanders, I read too much Fritz Leiber not to (hence my albeit unconscious robbing of The Trollstep Mountains; they're too good a name for the place to change it now.)

For the southwestern part of the main continent, Galiana, I'm thinking of drawing heavily on the 15th century Mediterranean: Italy, Spain, southern France: touchy swordsmen.

Traditionally "Roman" weapons like the gladius and pilum will be found either as ancient artifacts or in the hands of monstrous armies: goblins, orcs, and whatever else comes boiling up from underground.

Any thoughts? 

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Musing on Melee

To start, I'd like to draw your attention to The Push Of Pike:

Otherwise known as "Bad War." Two relatively evenly matched masses of footsoldiers armed with pikes or polearms, locked in combat until one side or the other is overwhelmed. As soon as I read about this, I instantly thought, "Wow. Tunnels and Trolls combat isn't so unrealistic after all, is it?"

I read further. The push of pike was a big problem on the battlefield, and armies of the day (fifteenth, sixteenth century; right about where my more "modern" peoples in Ardis are situated) were hard pressed to figure out how to undo stalemates like this. German mercenaries, the Landsknechts,  employed soldiers armed with two-handed swords to break into the entangled front lines, break the opposition's pikes, and cut down the front line of pikemen (who were ill able to defend themselves against anything in closer quarters.) Spanish armies became well known for employing a combined formation of pike, sword and arquebus to break up opposing pike or halbard-squares.

This is all very easily translated into T&T combat. Suppose we have two bands of warriors, each armed with pikes and comparable armor: their fight can be handled with straight melee, and it's liable to be a long one if they're evenly matched. Even if one band is twice the size of the other, if geographical or dungeon features limit the number that can reach the front of the fight, numerical advantages are neutralized: what we have here is a Push of Pike.

Supposing, then that either or both side has warriors armed with closer-reach weapons - say, a broadsword or a two-hander, or a dwarf with an axe. If those warriors can get inside the effective range of the enemy pikes, they should be able to deliver any hits they can. A suitable save on dexterity should do the trick! If BOTH sides have this idea, depending on the breadth of the line of battle, either both swordsmen should be wreaking havoc on their target pikemen, or they could form a little sub-melee underneath the pikes. As a matter of fact, a pikeman faced with an onrushing warrior with a short sword might be afforded the option of dropping his pike and drawing his own blade to defend himself: perhaps another save on dexterity to pull it off. And not just swords: Look up at the engraving, in the foreground: a fellow's got his poleaxe gripped up high, in order to engage a foe at closer quarters.

As I think of it, the option of trying to get inside an opponent's guard should be available where practicable: A hobbit with a dagger against a giant? Certainly.  A man with a short sword facing another with a greatsword? Probably - but a more challenging maneuver, calling for a higher save. Doing this with closely matched weapons - say, rapier versus rapier - would be much riskier. Your warriors are barely holding on in a melee with a passle of orcs - can the fairy zip around back and hamstring one of them with her little hatpin sword? Why not?

Delvers should always try ways to break through the push of pike - especially when they're on the losing end of it!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Ideas for Proper Dungeons

The individual hoard, even one guarded by a draugr, dragon, leprechaun or other such, is but a small adventure, or even just a lucky find in between adventures. Your adventurer happens across it, defeats the guardian, maybe falls afoul of the curse set on the loot, but then that's that. Maybe an evening's entertainment! But we do love more involved adventures, be they ever so chestnut-ty. Only just let them have a rationale.

What was the purpose of the dungeon? Is that purpose still fulfilled by the place?
Did the denizens of the dungeon build it themselves, or did they find it and fill it?
Are the denizens of the dungeon organized? How? Why?
Are the denizens the proprietors of the dungeon or are they in some manner employed by another?

A common trope following Tolkien's Moria is that of the abandoned Dwarvish mine:
The dungeon is a complex of tunnels and shafts dug under a mountain, deliberately, in order to mine ores, gems, truesilver, whatever. At some point the dwarves are set upon and driven out, either by dragons or by orcs or by elder creatures awakened by the deep delvers. Since the dwarves were eaten or driven off, the complex is now the dwelling of a broad array of nasties filling its mazy ways.

A temple complex is a classic sword and sorcery trope. Ardis is chock full of temples, because it's chock full of gods. Quite often there's a good deal of gold, silver and gems involved in the altars, ceremonial gear, offerings, and other accoutrements. Less popular gods are typically less powerful, but their temples tend to be poor. The richly-appointed temples tend to belong to more powerful gods, who can be counted on to have: A) fanatic followers and priests defending the temple B) enchanted or demonic guardians defending the temple C) elaborate traps defending the most sacred treasures D) tombs, either of key priests, prophets or the god itself and E) fabulous wealth for anyone wishing to dare the above along with F) the lasting disfavor of the god itself.

This stuff can be strung out over campaigns beautifully: the party either is tasked or undertakes on its own nickel to rob the precious jewelled idol of Nisshur-Telpec from its temple complex; the job goes down easily but as they travel to deliver or fence the idol they find themselves continually harried by the black-robed, fanatic followers of Nisshur-Telpec, who seem to unerringly find them wherever they go - even after disposing of the idol in whatever way they do. (Perhaps if the party researched and found that Nisshur-Telpec was a god of eternal vendetta, they would have picked another target...)  

A dedicated tomb complex (closely related to the temple, possibly one and the same) works too: especially if the goal was to bury the deceased (or is it!) particularly deep. I have in mind Ardis' ancient history of wizard-wars: think of one of the great god-wizards, defeated and imprisoned in a deathlike state far below a mountain. The tomb becomes the heart of a vast underground - were the tunnels the work of the god-wizards who won? Or were they dug by the minions and descendents of minions to worship and perhaps one day free their master?

More to come as it occurs to me.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Why Is There Treasure? Notes on loot and where it comes from.

Note: I've been re-reading a load of Fritz Leiber, and since this posting have been reading Stardock - wherein our heroes dare a fearsome mountain climb in the hopes of winning fantastic gemstones at the top. Prior to the climb, they dig a cairn, and bury their heavy gear there for safekeeping: swords, helmets, armor, and supplies for the hoped-for return trip. In short, a traveler's horde. 

Why should there be treasure hoards just waiting to be ransacked, guarded or not? History helps with this, actually: there's plenty of reasons for treasure to be gathered together. I assume a few things first: banking in Ardis is primitive, where it exists at all. It's mainly confined to the great coastal cities south of the Teeth of the Gods. In Vladria, there's banks in Valdosk on the shore of the Black Sea but for the rest of that vasty place there is no banking as we'd recognize it. So those who have money have to keep it safe themselves. For the Volods, this is an easy matter: they have a keep, and soldiers to guard it. Such merchants as there are have their wealth in their wares, and have strong rooms in their shops to keep their valuables safe. Peasants don't have much wealth, but what little they have must be hidden: their shacks are easy to break into and plunder.

There's support for hoards being left by merchants traveling in dangerous places. Villages would hide their valuables when threatened by attack by invading armies, or raiders. Historically, such hoards would be protected only by secrecy. In a world with magic, there might be charms hiding them more completely. A particularly valuable hoard might have some manner of trap to protect it as well.

And since we posit a world fairly thick with adventurers, we can assume that they themselves hide a fair amount of loot. Most are wanderers and have no homes to speak of: where do they keep all their gold when they go adventuring? Bors the Bold has some hundreds of silver and gold from his last venture: does he schlep it back underground with him the next time he goes delving? If he doesn't drink it, or spend it on weapons or women, he's going to have to hide it somewhere. And supposing he dies in his next adventure? There that gold will sit - until it is found.

Think of Beowulf's dragon: the singer tells us that the hoard was left by the last survivor of a defeated people, and that the dragon finds the hoard afterwards and settles there to guard it. Now, a dragon isn't going to show up for some merchant's buried strongbox, or an average delver's plundered coin. But other critters might! Leprechauns, for one; No less authority than W. B. Yeats ascribed their wealth to "treasure-crocks, buried of old in war-time" and found by the gold-loving small folk. Ghosts and other undead types might guard in death treasures buried by them in life.Certainly, many of the man-like monsters can be counted on to dig things like this up to add to their own treasure.(More on this, later.)

Then there's burial hoards. On one end of the scale are vast tombs of ancient kings, priests or wizards: these can be elaborate affairs, thick with traps, magics and votive treasures, and guardians both living and dead.Egyptian tombs make a fine example, but think also of viking ship burials, Tolkien's barrow-downs, and the like. Think too of the burial-places of travelers, or adventurers. Looting a buddy's corpse is not cool! One might expect to be burned, or buried, with one's possessions - especially if no known heir existed. Such a grave might well be haunted by the adventurers' ghost, or invaded by a ghouls, or dug up by beasts!

The undead guarding a funerary hoard, or even a traveler's hoard, are a natural development: the monster's motivation is tied to the death of the previous owner.

Many monsters guard treasure as part of their nature: dragons, for example, are notorious for jealously guarding treasure: they guard treasure until their greed is outmatched by their hunger, and when that is sated, they return to their hoard.

Many "mannish" monsters assemble hoards as well: Ogres are downright vulgar in their acquisition and display of wealth. Trolls and giants usually have something in the way of treasure, though it tends to be incidental to their hunting. Social monsters like goblins and orcs gather treasure and display it to show their power; within their tribes they take from each other: the stronger have more because they take it from the weaker; the weaker will give tribute to the strong for protection.

Beastly monsters - giant spiders and so forth - may have treasure, but only in the sense of "leftovers from victims." The same with demonic creatures: they have little use for gewgaws: if a demon has a treasure, it is probably something that the demon has been bound to protect: a powerful talisman or other such.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Musing on Setting

So, I've set up a general world map; I'm adding some detail here and there but I haven't been inclined to go into great depth yet. I don't want to lavish too much detail on any one area where it's unlikely that I'll ever have delvers! I'm running a game set in Vladria now, and I'll be adding some detail there in due course, but it's so far not really necessary: they've happened on an adventure traveling between volods, and the precise nature of the local color is not germaine to that adventure. I'll be needing it eventually, though.

What I'm more interested in thinking about now is feel. The last time I ran this game, I did so with a relatively high-fantasy theme: there was the seed of a fairly sweeping quest that never really got off the ground, there wrongs to right, and so on.

I want to keep things as episodic as possible this time around, and that doesn't lend itself to grand Tolkienite quests. It lends itself better to pulp, to low fantasy. Conan. Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. That sort of thing.
Now, low fantasy generally isn't exactly crawling with Elves and Dwarves and Hobbits and so forth: It's mostly about MEN, confronted with the uncanny. Well, T&T is chock full of Elves and Dwarves and Fairies and Leprechauns and Hobbits, and there's uncanny everywhere. So it's a bit of a challenge taking that stuff down a notch and putting things more in a framework conducive to pulpiness. Some of the players may be a little high-minded for that: we'll see. I'll add more here as I get time.