Wednesday, August 31, 2011

What Would Cugel Do? Why worry about the cost of Continual Light?

"What would Cugel do?" is the one of the better questions to ask if you're wondering what your players will do on any given session. If you haven't read Jack Vance's Dying Earth, then go do so because it's better than anything you'll read on the internet today. This blog will still be here, unless I sign up with google+ or something.

So, imagine if Cugel the irredeemable rogue was somehow able to cast the 2nd or 3rd level spell, Continual Light. In Dying Earth, no doubt he'd still find a way to hang himself. Conversely, "what would happen to Cugel" is not a bad question to ask if you're the DM facing some Cugel-minded players (the best kind.)

As I understand the standard old school frame that I use in the games I run, the player characters are a sieve through which gold flows. The PCs risk life, limb and soul for wealth and power only to lose it trying to gain more or via training, carousing, and a insatiable need to upgrade or replace equipment. If those money sinks fail, entice them into titles or land - any thing to keep them hungry. Why else would they risk life, limb, and soul in a maze of dark corridors, all alike? Why indeed go into the Grinding Gear? (After three expeditions, my players decided their characters would seek other dark corridors, which they are free to do.)

Given those assumptions, as soon as the cleric has that continual light spell, he'll be asking if he can go into the street lighting business. And he has. But Yggsburgh isn't the City of Lights.

I do indeed wonder what happened in Geneva when the original gamers (OG!) got their mitts on the Continual Light spell. Why wasn't Greyhawk turned into the City of Lights? Did Gary or Dave just stare them down and say "this is Dungeons and Dragons, not Papers and Paychecks"?

But honestly, a crazy scheme to sell troll bar-b-que or some other boondoggle is still a fun way to spend an evening. Crazy schemes and the resulting trials and tribulations are fine fodder to talk about while rolling strange polyhedrals and eating munchies. So I don't want to restrict player freedom. Telling them "this is Dungeons and Dragons, not Papers and Paychecks" is frankly a mood kill. Shutting down the crazy scheme making part of a players brain restricts the game into yet another trip into (monotone voice) "a maze of dark corridors, all alike." Roll d20, how much treasure do I get?

But low level permanent magic is an "easy button" to wealth and evades the resource management that is also a key part of the old school game. A Continual Light is after all a permanent magical item. It is odd to compare the ease of creating Continual Light with the difficulty of creating other magical items.

So, here are some suggested values for permanent spells that we have come across in our Yggsburgh/Zagyg campaign. Prices are suggested for C&C and for 1E.

Spell Old School Costs Material Components
Continual Light 150 gp Expertly Cut Tiger Eye
(from Unearthed Arcana, not fully permanent)
50 gp Stitched miniature suit of leather armor with silver thread
Invisible Mail
(from 2nd Edition, not fully permanent)
150 gp Miniature suit of platemail, silver embossed

1st Edition AD&D and Castles and Crusades have nearly identical price lists, varying only on high end items. Prices were chosen in comparison to mundane items that the magical ones replace. A player could still put lamp oil sellers out of business but the time frame would be past Cugel's attention span. A Continual Light source (mounted on a necklace) is now something valuable whether the players find it or make it.

T/L, D/R: Assign material costs for all permanent spells or your players will go into business instead of into dungeons but your game will be butthurt when you tell them flatly, "no." Price them as you would a permanent magical item, which is what they are. Oh, and read the Dying Earth.
PS - Thanks to ckutalik for catching CudgelCugel.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Faction Connections in a Megadungeon

Yes, I do indeed have a blog and have content to post! I spend more time running games and playing them than I do blogging and commenting, though I have wasted time on that recently. To make amends, I offer something constructive to the blogosphere: a blatant rip of Zak's NPC connection diagram from his excellent Vornheim the Complete City Kit.

It's a common trope that the population of megadungeons are divided into factions involved in a byzantine web of interconnected rivalries and alliances. This is necessary since otherwise the megadungeon inhabitants would react to the external threat of the PCs with united force, and there would be no rational for open by-ways allowing freedom of movement necessary for player choice. The PCs explore the megadungeon and are primed to take advantage of the splits to divide and conquer. Giving these relations substance allows for roleplaying and negotiation as a player choice.

The tribes in Caverns of Thracia, the factions within the Temple of Elemental Evil and even the disparate humanoid lairs of the Caves of Chaos in the Keep of the Borderlands have factional relations that PCs would do well to use. Here is a tool to assist you in brainstorming connections between factions in your megadungeon.

click to download pdf
Click to download pdf

There are a few references to other megadungeon tropes. There are 'specials' like the "Talking Face" of Greyhawk Castle lore or the magic pools from In Search of the Unknown. There are pathways in the megadungeon that may provide access to many levels or otherwise hidden sublevels. Factions and beasties commonly enslave or eat one another in your typical "evul" dungeon. The dark gods, demons or creatures of chaos that may be worshipped in the depths below have their holy relics and sources of power that some may covet. No reference here is made to the "crazy wizard" or other reason that your megadungone exists (if it needs one).