Thursday, May 27, 2010

Monsters in Midgaurd

A couple of days ago, Blue Maru asked whether there would be monsters and magic in my viking campaign

Yes, there will be both magic and monsters the viking age, but neither will be as prevalent as in a normal D&D campaign. One of the reason I chose to work with Chainmail as the bases for my combat system is to de-D&Dize the mechanics and, hopefully, some of the underlying assumptions of the game. But Anyway, Blue Maru, you asked about monsters and maqgic. Well, I'll cover monsters today and magic in a day or two.

I have plans for a number of monsters appearing in the campaign. The most prominent of those are elves, dwarves, giants, ghosts, faeries, and, of course, dragons. Note that I have added my own additions and subtraction to these creatures, and these representations are not mythologically accurate accounts of Norse mythology.

Elves: The spirits men who have made exceptionally great or terrible achievements in life may rematerialize as elves after their death and endowed magical powers, which they use both for the benefit and the injury of men. There are two types of elves, light elves, who where heroes of men and live in Álfheim, and dark elves, who were the bane of men and reside in the cavernous realm of Svartalfheim, deep under the earth--fearful of the sun's rays. Elves retain their past personalities and skills as they pass

Dwarves: Dwarves are skilled craftsmen, and most of their magic involves labour, craftsmanship, and metallurgy. In their underground mountain hall, Nidavellir, dwarves make the treasures of the gods (such as Thor's hammer) and hold a repository of secret wisdom. They live under the earth, away from light, because sunlight causes them to turn to stone. As a people, dwarves are stubborn and easily offended.

Giants: Giants are characterized by their hideous size, superhuman strength, and are often act in opposition to the gods. Although most gaints appear as oversized men, some giants sport claws, fangs, and deformed features, such as having two heads. Unlike the average D&D giant, some are extremely wise and knowledgeable; others are dumber than rocks.

Ghosts: Ghosts of dead people. Some dead people, not content to lie in their grave mounds, live on after death. Usually, these are people who committed an evil deed during their life. The ghosts return to harass the living, causing illness, insanity, and death. The only way to force a ghost to move on to the afterlife, is to fulfill the dreams and desires that they had in life or to strike them with a magical sword.

Faeries: Spirits of nature, faeries reside outside the realm of good and evil; they are tricksters of the purist sort, playing games with mortals that pass into their dominion. Faeries are sometimes attached to particular families or natural landmarks and will use their menacing games to harass the families enemies or intruders of the land.

Dragons: These great, winged lizards make their homes in cavernous lairs where they amass knowledge and treasure stolen from men, elves, dwarves, and giants. It is said that the dragon's fiery breath can slay the mightiest of giants and melt the strongest metals.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Armor of the Viking World

There were three main types, pieces rather, of armor during the viking age: the shield, the helm, and mail (chainmail). Of those three pieces, only shields were cheep enough to be of any widespread use. Helms and mail where extremely expensive and offered little protection compared to shields. If you could afford a helm or shirt of mail, you would have one, but only chieftains and war leaders were likely to such funds.

Shields: Shields where circular and nearly a meter in diameter. They were made of wooden boards and had a central hole for an iron hand-grip, which was riveted to the back of the boards. The fronts of shields where reinforced with leather and pained with family and village crests. In addition, to their defensive uses, shields could be employed aggressively to knock an opponent or his weapon off balance, making to easier to strike a telling blow. Axe blows had devastating effects on shields.

Mail: Mail was a protective iron fabric made up of thousands of interlocking iron rings. During the Viking age, mail usually was worn in the form of a mail shirt that went down, past the elbows and hung past the thigh. Padded garments, such as many layers of thin linen or randier hide, where always worn underneath a mail shirt to absorb the shock of a blow, since the mail itself only really prevented against slashing. Once again, I'd like to repeat that mail was exceptionally and limitingly expensive. Anyone who could have afforded one would certainly have wanted one, but probably few people could afford one.

Helms: Helms where expensive to buy, difficult to craft, and provided protection only to the head. For that reason, helms where even more rare than shields or mail. However, very few broken or damaged helms have ever been discovered, meaning that the helmets worn during the viking age did a great job protecting the bearer's head.

As I mentioned before, I will be using a pseudo Chainmail based combat system for this campaign. All characters are assigned an attack class (unarmed, light, medium, or heavy) and an armor class (unarmed, light, medium, or heavy) based on what arms and armor the character uses. For each piece of defensive equipment (helm, mail, or shield) a character employs, increase the character's armor class by one step. Therefore, a character wearing a helm and using a shield would have medium armor.

The matrix below lists the number (rolled on a d6) necessary to hit an opponent with a certain armor class with a certain attack class. A character wielding an axe in two hands would need to roll a 4 or higher to hit an opponent wearing mail and using a shield.

Weaponry of the Viking World (Part 2)

In just about any edition of D&D, there is a plethora of weapons to choose from. In the viking age, not so much. In this campaign, I'm planning on their being five standard weapons: spears, axes, swords, saxes (singe edged daggers), and bows. With that few choices, there is the opportunity to make each weapon unique.

For this game I will be using a pseudo Chainmail based combat system. All characters are given attack class (unarmed, light, medium, or heavy) and a armor class (unarmed, light, medium, or heavy) based on what arms and armor the character uses. For each piece of defensive equipment (helm, mail, or shield) a character employs, increase the character's armor class by one step. Therefore, a character wearing a helm and using a shield would have medium armor.

All weapons deal 1d6 points of damage per hit. The attack class of a weapon, depends on its size, speed, and ability to penetrate armor.

Axe: Medium. +1 damage when wielded in two hands.

Bows: Light. 240ft range. May make one additional attack per round.

Sax: Light. Can be used even in extremely constricted location. Strikes last in the initial round of combat, but strikes first from then on.

Spear: Medium. Requires two hands. Strikes first in the initial round of combat, but strikes last from then on. 30ft range when thrown.

Sword: Heavy. Elegant and exceptionally expensive.

The matrix below lists the number (rolled on a d6) necessary to hit an opponent with a certain armor class with a certain attack class. A character wielding an axe in two hands would need to roll a 4 or higher to hit an opponent wearing mail and using a shield.

Weaponry of the Viking World (Part 1)

Laws of the late Viking period show that all free men were expected to own weapons, and magnates were expected to provide them for their men. The main offensive weapons were the spear, sword and battle-axe, although bows and arrows and other missiles were also used. Weapons were carried not just for battle, but also as symbols of their owners' status and wealth. They were therefore often finely decorated with inlays, twisted wire and other adornments in silver, copper and bronze.

Spears: The spear was most common weapon. Spears consisted of an iron blade on a wooden shaft, often of ash and 2 to 3m in length, used for both thrusting and throwing. The blades varied in shape from broad leaf shapes to long spikes. Skilled spearsmen are said to have been able to throw two spears at once using both hands, or even to catch a spear in flight and hurl it back with deadly effect. Compared to swords and axes, spears where most effective at piercing mail.

Axes: Scandinavian raiders did not wield gigantic, double-headed axes. No, viking axes were light, fast, and well balanced weapons with a cutting edge no larger than 6 inches (3-4 inches was most common). Depending on the length of the haft, axes where wielded either with a shield or with both hands, each style providing both offensive and defensive advantages. Compared to both swords and spears, axes were extremely effective at destroying enemy shields.

Swords: Swords were very costly to make, and a sign of high status. a typical sword was worth the price of 16 cows. The blades were usually double-edged and up to 90cm in length. They were worn in leather-bound wooden scabbards. Early blades were pattern-welded, a technique in which strips of wrought iron and mild steel were twisted and forged together, with the addition of a hardened edge. Thanks to their fully metal bodies, swords were stable, tough to damage, and easily reparable. It is for this fact that swords where often employed to cut through the hafts of spear and axes.

Most imformatino take directly from: BBC: Viking Weapons and Warfare

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Bloody Battles of Northern Barbarians Clashing Swords and Axes with Pious Mainlanders

Over the last six month, my thought of running a viking age campaign have been growing. Stuck in the back of my skull, festering and awaiting the day to be let out and fully realized. That day has not come, but hopefully it is on its way. With the summer coming and a couple members of our group flying off for the holiday, I have been becoming more and more hopeful that an opportunity will present itself. My imagination yearns for raging tempests, bloody battles of northern barbarians clashing swords and axes with pious mainlanders, smoke from feasts after the return of a successful raid.

In my free moments over the last couple days, I've been researching choice bits of information regarding the viking age. Thus far, I've come across two key sources that are both expansive enough to provide enough data to base my endeavor on and are concise enough not to be overwhelming: BBC: The Ancient History of Vikings and Hurstwic, a loosely affiliated group based in New England with an interest in the societies and peoples who lived in Northern Europe during the Viking age.

This doesn't mean I'm going to try and make every detail historically accurate, just that I want to have some idea about what the 8th to 12th century Scandinavian world was like. This is a game not a History Channel special feature.

I've decided to start the campaign in a mid-size viking village ruled over by a young and fervorous king (I reserve the right to make up words on my own blog). The King is demanding taxes to fun a military campaign against the mainlanders with the intention to raid, conquer, and ultimately colonize. The village that the player character live in, however, does not have the funds to pay what the king demands. The village must figure out how to raise the demanded fund (raiding the mainland, making a deal with the dwarves to work their mines), face the wrath and might of the King (fortify the town and hope for the best), or make their way to the mainland and establish a village outside of the King's domain. The decision will ultimately be in the hands of the player characters with a few choice NPCs thrown in to play devil's advocate.

The situation above will only the beginning and will, hopefully, creating a starting point for exploration of a Midguardian sandbox adventure. What do you all think?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Setting Up a Weird Fantasy Campaign

It is with regret that I admit that it has been quite a while since my last post. Real life has caught up with my, like it often does. But summer is almost here and a break from classes will provide me with additional gaming and blogging time.

Now, this post is not about Jame Raggi IV's upcoming release, but more along the lines of how to effective establish a weird fantasy campaign so that the players sit a little uneasy on their seats.

Weird fantasy is not the same as "swords and sorcery" or "swords and planets." The term weird fantasy describes a certain feel and atmosphere that is created by contrasting elements of nature and medieval culture (the norms) with the weird, the unexpected, and the knowable. What is the weird, that is for the referee to figure out. There is no precise definition for what is weird, for all individuals will certainly have three own ideas about what makes them just so slightly uneasy. The weird should also be something that contrasts itself with the norms of the setting.

To separate the weird from the normal, the normal must first be established. The easiest way to do this is to create a very stereotypical medieval world with little to no magic within it. As the campaign progresses, the situations become more and more ordinary and pass into the realm of the weird.

If you look at Lovecraft's work, it is easy to see how he uses this method in his stories. He first establishes and believable world with believable physics, character, and plot. But as the story progresses, Lovecraft begins to foreshadow and make indirect illusions to the upcoming encounters with the unknowable. When the unknowable presents itself, it is truly knowable only because the baseline of a normal world was established.

This is all very abstract, I know, but I hope it made sense to a few of you.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Thoughts on Using Chainmail in OD&D

Lately, I've been think a lot about how best to use chainmail when running OD&D. I'm thinking that each character would be assigned a troop type (light, heavy, or armored), al la the chainmail mass combat system, depending on character's arms, armor, and the situation at hand.

For example, a character wielding a longsword might be considered a "light footman" when attacking an opponent in plate mail (who would considered an "armored footman"), but a character with a mace would be considered an "Armored Footman" when attacking the same opponent. Both characters were wielding a one handed weapons and, therefore, normally attack as "heavy footman." Longswords, being almost completely useless against plate mail, become "light" while a mace, very effective against plate mail, becomes heavy. However, when attacking a opponent is leather, on the other hand, a longsword would become "armored" and a mace would become "light."

Depending on the exact situation, even a dagger could become "armored" and a two-handed sword "light." What I like about this is that all weapons have their place to shine, and , depending on the situations, different weapons will be more effective than others. There are too many circumstances to make a table or anything, so everything will have to be done on the fly, but with only three categories of troops it shouldn't really be too difficult to do.

More powerful characters and monsters would then fight as a larger number of men and would have special abilities, spells, etc. A giant, for example, would light as ten men, but because of its size would likely fight and defend as "a light footman." And, since armor would not really protect a character against the blows of a giant, all character would defend as "light footman" as well. Characters armed with spears or other long, shafted weapon would fight as "heavy" while just about anyone else would fight as "light."

Keeping in mind that I haven't quite thought everything through, What do you guys think? Does this idea have potential?