Monday, June 13, 2011

Pax Silentiaque

Last week, I had the opportunity to run Engines & Empires for my younger brother and some of his college buddies. I whipped up a five-floor mega-dungeon will all kinds of weird wizardry and the usual magical tricks and traps. That's the best sort of mega-dungeon, of course: the kind where in any given room, the laws of physics might be temporarily suspended in comical and disturbing ways. I cribbed liberally from Castle Amber and White Plume Mountain for some of the more bizarre tricks, but plenty of the deviousness was my own and original.

I'm really just writing this post to catalog the set of house rules I used for this game. I wanted to make things light and quick, so I eased up on some of the rules complexity in a few places. I also wanted the players to jump right in with some well-defined characters, hence the addition of a few more spots on the character sheet:

- All of the characters had to list a Profession, a Personality, a Virtue, and a Vice. What did you do before becoming an adventurer? What's one thing about your personality that other characters might not readily notice? What are one good thing and one bad thing that other characters will notice and are likely to mention if asked to describe you?

- Alignment. I often wrestle with what exactly to call it, since "Law" and "Chaos" always seem to have so much baggage. This time, I went with something particularly descriptive and direct: Heroic, Roguish, and Villainous.

- Weapon damage. I'm not normally fond of a house rule where all weapons deal the same damage--I like a game where swords are better than daggers--but I decided to give it a shot this time. So I ruled that most one-handed weapons dealt 1d8 damage, while most two-handed weapons (or pairs of weapons) hit (once) for 1d10 damage. And, as a matter of fact, it actually works out pretty well. The players do indeed wind up choosing how they fight more for flavor than any other reason. That's a good thing, even if it sacrifices some realism.

- In a related vein, I doubled up on the E&E boxer's unarmed damage (since the above house rule effectively strips away off-hand attacks) but halved the progression: 1d8 at levels 1 to 4; 1d10 at levels 5 to 8; 1d12 from levels 9 to 14, not that this campaign can possibly get that high.

- Most interestingly of all, I went with a very truncated table for ability scores, like so:
1 to 2 ... -2 penalty
3 to 6 ... -1 penalty
7 to 14 ... no modifier
15 to 18 ... +1 bonus
19 to 20 ... +2 bonus
....with ability raises coming at every third level above the first (4th, 7th, 10th, 13th), and ability checks rolled on 1d6 (pass if 3 + modifier). It's a good thing, too, that I implemented this "ability scores aren't that important" table. Because my brother rolled a Dex 3 and (like a trooper, and a true old-schooler) kept the character and played it straight. I'm so proud!

- Last but not least, character advancement. In the E&E rulebook, you might recall, humans level up at every 8 achievement points and non-humans at every 10. This time, to keep things on a more even keel, I've changed it so that everybody levels up against the 10-point scale (humans get a few extra tricks to make up for it: +1 bonus skill point, +1 to any ability score, and one "mulligan" on any saving throw or attack roll per game session). As to how I'm tracking APs, this campaign, though, it's unique. You see, when running a mega-dungeon, what I really want to incentivize is exploration. "Rooms explored and secrets discovered" is the basic unit of gameplay for which the PCs earn a reward. Thus, instead of merely dolling out two or three APs at the end of every session, I'm awarding tenths of APs. Characters earn 0.3 AP for every dungeon room explored and secret door found (effectively, each place in the dungeon they explore is worth 3% of a level up). This holds for as long as the PCs remain on a dungeon floor equal to the party level: they'll get more points for going deeper and fewer if they stay near the surface. Should they decide to adventure in the wilderness, that kind of exploration would probably be worth 0.1 AP per hexagon traversed.

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