Posts Tagged With: Pendragon

About those Points of Darkness

So, three years ago I wrote about Points of Light and Points of Darkness as campaign styles. In running Lost Mine of Phandelver I’ve realized just how present I find the issue in the Starter Set as written (and, by assumption, within the 5E Forgotten Realms setting).

Many people have made the observation of how LMoP is set up like a Western – frontier mining town, bullying bandits, lost treasure mines, hostile natives, people to rescue from said hostile natives, etc. But there are problems in translating a “wild west” setting to both a somewhat generic fantasy Europe as well as the Forgotten Realms.

For one, just as simple size comparison, think about “Ye Merry Old England” and the time and trouble it took to travel around, as well as the concept of distance in that setting. Now understand that England is about the size of Illinois. On a standard hexmap sheet with each hex set at 30 miles (ala the old Greyhawk scale), it covers less than a quarter of a page.

The issues of scale between Europe and the societies that developed there and America simply cannot be understated. To this day I have had friends come visit from Europe who simply don’t get the sheer size and scope of the United States/North America until they get here. They fly into NYC and then talk about catching a train out to Chicago while they are in the States to have dinner (like you reasonably could, and do, in Great Britain)  and having to explain to them that that would be like taking the train to Berlin for dinner (from London). That the driving distance from New York to Chicago is roughly the longest distance between two points in the whole of the United Kingdom…

But I digress.

In LMOP I am supposed to believe that Thundertree is a day’s journey from Neverwinter (vying with Waterdeep for the status of the “New York” of the Forgotten Realms), maybe two if we want to be a stickler on terrain difficulty, and is still in the shape that it is. Similarly, that Phandalin, clearly three days from Neverwinter but is a hardscabble frontier town, and that this wonderful Forge of Spells was utterly and completely lost after the goblins trashed the countryside.

This makes no sense.

Just to support the population of Neverwinter (be it 20,000 or 5,000 inhabitants) the whole area would have to be cultivated – certainly based on the setting map provided. It’s the only non-forested areas around. A decent rule of thumb for modern agriculture in the United States is to assume 1 acre of land can feed one person for a year. There are 640 acres per square mile, so figure… lets say 8 square miles if it’s 5000 people in Neverwinter or 32 square miles of solid crops if it is 20,000 inhabitants.

Except of course that this doesn’t cover the food needed for all the people growing the food itself (same, 1 acre per person), nor does it cover space needed for grazing livestock (a very complicated question but, again, modern systems could safely call it 4 acres per cow, or 6ish sheep), nor does it cover the amount of land needed for proper crop rotation (either double it or increase it by a third), or…

About now is where I plug Pendragon for having the absolutely best domain level game out there in my opinion. Detailed where it is fun, abstracted where you need it to be. In that system (which is essentially supported in spirit if not the exact numbers by all my other research on this over the years) every town (or city) will have three, yes three, people living in small villages and hamlets around it for every one person living in that town (and manor). It’s also worth noting that a “small town” is between 120-360 people in size. A large town taps out at 1440 people, after which you are talking about small cities (which are no larger than 2400 people at most) and in a days travel you’d probably pass through a handful of these towns, plus their associated villages – and all of the knights and men-at-arms protecting them!

For another take on this, with equally as “that’s not what the Forgotten Realms looks like” numbers there is Medieval Demographics Made Easy by S. John Ross as well (and free!). In either case, there are still large amounts of “wasted space” simply because, well, that is what population density looked like.

The problem with making this a “Points of Light” setting is that the “wasted land” is “wasted” for a reason – it simply won’t support more people (that means goblins too!). Yes, it dangerous because of wolves and bears (and some level of fantasy analogues), even the odd bandit gang (or humanoid band) – but it’s mostly dangerous because of the lack of food, medical care if injured, and foul weather. Not to mention the risk of simply getting lost -it’s not romantic, or particularly heroic, but it has a fair sight  more verisimilitude.

I am kind of lost in my rant. I guess that I’m saying that if you want “Points of Light” then you really have to question your base assumptions on how urban populations are supported. Similarly, the “Sea of Darkness” isn’t there because of hordes of monsters it’s because it pretty much won’t support a population. Alternately, if it can for some reason support all those monsters, then civilization needs to be capable of protecting itself (certainly not the case in Phandalin).

Oh well, it’s late and I should get to bed.



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Economics, Equipment, and Availability

I’ll be posting some rules for weapons and armor made from a selection of metals, most (but not all) of them also considered “enchanted” when and if such a thing would matter. The list includes not just a description of effects, but also refers to my “availability codes” for equipment.

Years ago now I took a page from the Pendragon RPG which has separate equipment lists for “Standard” areas and another for  “Great Cities” (essentially London and Camelot), essentially forcing the characters to certain areas if and when they wanted certain items because that is the only place they were available. I experimented with a variety of systems over the years, but when I really sat down and hammered out an economy I drew deeply from the Pendragon well, along with looking at systems such as Harn for other inspiration.

The first thing I did was do research living expenses and wages across a number of eras, and eventually decided to peg the daily wage of a standard mercenary (aka “an adventurer”) at 1 Silver per day, the cost of a standard (long)sword at 30 Silver (a full month’s wages), a Laborer’s wage a 2 Copper per day, a bottle of table wine at 5 Copper, and a days worth of Bread at 1 Copper (a day’s worth of Dried Meat is also a Copper, Dried Vegetables is 1 Bronze). All other prices were essentially figured out using pegging things to these prices either using real world analogies, or simply eyeballing it, keeping in mind the difference between ancient and modern economies.

Using this system, a laborer can eke out a very poor existence assuming that they keep working and are supplied someplace to sleep by their employer – if not then space in a field or a stable is usually 1 Copper, the Common Room of an Inn or Tavern is 2 Copper a night, and a Private Room is 5 Copper ( a Private Suite is 1 Silver, sans any other amenities). Interestingly it took very little work to adapt the 5E “Living Expenses” to this system.

Given the “Wild West Mining Town” trope that Lost Mine of Phandelver has been running with, I decided that it is also working under semi-typical inflated prices. In this case merely doubling prices, with some slightly tweaked availability of mining related  equipment from the normal “Town” gear.

In any case, a large part of what I wanted was to have a relatively exhaustive list of equipment, but also make it clear that some things were rarer than others. As a result, on my equipment list (and associated documents) items are noted as being available in Villages (generally less than a hundred people), Towns (anywhere from couple of hundred people to upwards of 1500 people, usually 600-800 inhabitants), Cities (smaller cities ranging from 1500 to 2500 people, larger cities from 2500 to 5000 inhabitants), Great Cities (10,000 or more inhabitants), or as Exotic. You can always find things from a smaller population available in a larger population center, but the reverse is not true (and such items are invariably inflated in price considerably when they can be found).

Exotic items are exactly that, treasures from the Shadowlands or Faerie, especially hard to craft items, especially rare herbs or spices, etc. These are technically available anywhere that you can find a seller – but that is much more likely in a City or Great City.

It sounds like this was a great deal of work to set up, and in some ways it was, but is was also just the sort of world-building detail-work that I enjoy researching and chewing on. It also starts to build up a certain Gygaxian Naturalism into the campaign world.



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Banking and Taxes

How to handle money and banking recently came up in my game, quite the coincidence that I just came across a thread on the topic over at Yog-Sothoth and that lead this this great link.

What caused the last gaming session to blow up was the unexpected appearance of the taxman – who not only was ready to assess taxes on money, was going to collect the “tax” (more like a one-time license fee) for magic items. The whole situation freaked the heck out of people and I really handled the surprise badly – with certainly the critique that it shouldn’t have been as much of a surprise at all (true enough).

It’s had me re-reading the section in the DMG (page 90) on taxes and taxation, and reviewing how games like Pendragon handle taxes, etc. which in turn has me re-evaluating or re-thinking how I’ve handled stuff in the “reboot” of my AD&D campaign. Now it’s not much of an issue since the players have been playing around out in the boondocks for the most part. So things like tariffs, dues, duties, and tolls haven’t really played much of a part.

And one of the complaints of players is when things are needlessly confusing, or there isn’t any consistant application of principles.

So, need to get more consistant and I screwed myself by glossing over stuff at the beginning.

Hah! Kind of like DMing again for the first time!


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Geasa and Dust Bunnies

Here’s another Intersession, the one for Smjor the Barbarian. Yeah, I know, the Barbarian class from Unearthed Arcana that everyone hates. I have a bit of strange relationship with the Barbarian, complicated interestingly by the fact that I do not, as a general rule, care how powerful a character is. So my issues aren’t exactly with how powerful they are, but with how unplayable they are. So understanding that I have tweaked the class around pretty severely, drawn a bit from the Oriental Adventures version of the class (which is better balanced in general) one of things that I have added is that barbarians all have geasa – and gain one with each level of advancement.

As SS (Smjor’s player) likes to put it, “Barbarians, the only class that can do less with each level they go up!”

But, Barbarians basically have to find a decent level shaman or druid (or oracle I suppose) in order to get themselves their geis, and Smjor also has this mysterious bunny that climbed into his pack and seems to bring him good luck that he’s not sure what to do with or about – normally he’d eat it, but he’s superstitious enough to recognize that bunnies don’t just crawl into people’s packs….


Caedmon is a druid, and while he showed up to give a blessing to the rangers (and check out the “hot half-elf ranger/druidess” before they went out for their induction into their lodge he’s perfectly happy to provide you with a geis. He’s actually a bit surprised to find a Northman around here, but he’s perfectly happy to pull out the sticks and a bull’s skin to see what is up for you. After some fiddling around he comes up with “Never enter a cairn in the Heartlands on Imbolc.” So, no grave-robbing for the holidays!

On a short note, I use the geis tables from the Pagan Shore Ireland supplement for Pendragon – only slightly adapted becauise I’m running a game in Ireland.


=>From Smjor’s Player

1) Since I’m not up there, it was hard to find a time to sneak this info in, so I’ll just let you know a) in case it matters, b) just for color text. As I said in my letter to the group, Smjor is really considering that animal to be a gift from the gods – after all, rabbits just do NOT curl up in backpacks randomly. The better combat skills could just be psychological, the prescient nature of its paranoia could just be, well, being a rabbit. (and yes, I think Sjmor may have thought of these things)… but just the fact that it showed up how it did is evidence enough for the big guy.

2) Smjor will thus treat this rabbit accordingly. He needs to find a way to carry that little guy around with him that minimizes risk of injury, but also maximizes its comfort. Yes, this may be expensive. And yes, He’s willing to ask ppl about it (engineers/mages/etc at the keep). Smjor will NOT let those not-in-the-group know of the circumstances, He’ll just tell them that he want to keep the rabbit safe… He’ll let them think it’s some bizarre northman superstition if he needs to.

3) But what this really leads to is Caedmon. Smjor will show the druid the rabbit in a way that (hopefully) shows respect for both the man and the beast. Animal kinship is certainly a thing of “the Old Gods” – but not so much a thing of Smjor’s people (or, certainly, his father and family).


Now, when it comes to Caedmon and the bunny…

“Hmmmm…” Caedmon eyes the bunny, the Bunny eyes Caedmon.

It wriggles it’s nose.

“That’s quite a rare beastie you have there. You say it just crawled into your pack?”

*Yes, yes it did.*

“Well isn’t that interesting.” Druid and Bunny eye each other some more, Caedmon leans in quite close to look at it. The Bunny sits there and then sneezes, Caedmon jerks back. “You are quite the lucky fellow aren’t you.”

*I- Err, Yes, I …am?*

“You have a Dust Bunny. Quite a rare-” He eyes you “-and magical beast. And it appears to have chosen you.”

*Err… Ulp.* (Barbarians don’t really like magic you know)

“That is, quite frankly, a sign of excellent luck and the favor of the Old Powers. The Dust Bunny is quite devoted to its companion, never leaving their side, bringing them luck in all things. There is no way of knowing, but some of them can be quite vicious when defending a fallen companion, so be aware of that. See those great gnashy teeth there?” Caedmon points out the large incisors of the Dust Bunny.


“They’ll bloody well rip your throat out if they get the chance. Dust Bunnies can also be quite dangerous if attacked or provoked, so warn your companions not to tease it.” Caedmon eyes you ominously, “Dust Bunnies do not tolerate teasing.”

Yes, Caedmon has a cousin named Tim – he’s a mage…

This all came about because SS (and about half the gaming group) all play Godville a “Zero-Player Game, and his Hero had just lost their “pet” a “Dust Bunny” – and I thought it was funny to have a rabbit crawl into his character pack in my game to replace the lost pet in the other game. Now, as I played with it I actually liked it as a “magic item” for a character class that doesn’t normally like magic – the Dust Bunny acts like a Luckstone as long as it is within some reasonable range of Smjor (rather like a familiar).

Anyways, tomorrow I’ll post the Intersession for the Rogues.



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RPGs and TT Gaming

That’s “Role-Playing Game” and “Table Top” in case you were wondering…

I’ve been a big gamer for years, 32 or so actually, and I’ve started this blog to talk about that – but it is a bit in media res so just read along and you’ll figure things out as I do…

The Victoriana game is still going strong; everybody is enjoying themselves and I’ve kind of worked out the bugs I see in the conceptual world that the canon setting posits. So, instead of dwarves and not-elves and whatnot constantly coexisting with humanity, I’ve changed the history to say that post 30-Years War, Faerie started to colonize the largely depopulated Europe and that the supernatural races have always existed in and around the corners of the world. Makes for a slightly different feel of the game – plus I’ve restored certain events in history (such as the US Civil War) and come up with explanations for why the Crimean War still seems to be ongoing.

The really big news in RPG-land here at the homestead is that I’ve started exploring 1E again – 1st Edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons.  I stopped playing (either as DM or player) AD&D some time before my son (who is now a teenager) was born.  I think I basically stopped DMing it around the time of my first marriage and stopped playing at some point in the following 3-4 years.

The thought experiment at the moment is to see how I can frame my campaign world in 1E terms without resorting to the Frankenstein’s monster of official rules and house rules my campaign had become by time I stopped playing AD&D.

There are certainly a handful of house rules to be used, and that was the beauty of 1E – the system was loose enough to allow that and Dragon magazine certainly had a plenty of extra options to allow it.

But instead of adding in extra spell-casting rules from a half-a-dozen extra systems (to my recollection, I was using Rolesmaster, CoC, Runequest, and PRPG in addition to the basic system of AD&D rulebooks), I’m looking at doing things simply with extra character classes from that era of Dragon and White Dwarf (and elsewhere, if deemed valuable). I’m rejecting the abomination that was 2E (I hate “kits”), let alone the significant change that was 3E or 3.5E.

So, there’s a chance that I’ll be using the space here to talk about some of this process as I try to piece together what worked from 15+ years ago and rebuild a new OD&D campaign still set in my long-running campaign setting. At this point, we just passed the 32-year mark for me playing RPGs, so that puts my fantasy setting at 25+ years, with several multi-year sandbox campaigns set within it.

Take care!


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