Dungeon Crawler

Friday, April 14, 2006

Playing the game

Gameplay is conducted in two distinct phases, called 'On The Job' and 'Downtime'. These two phases are repeated until the players become bored with the game, move to different towns or die.

While On The Job, the players' characters will explore the dungeon, trying to stay alive, kill the nasties, find and avoid traps, gather treasure and make maps. When they decide and leave the dungeon, their performance will be evaluated by a Guild official, and they will receive a monetary bonus and a reputation in the Guild, which is represented in the game by Recognition Points.

During Downtime the players decide what their characters do when not exploring dungeons. Basically, a character like any person needs to eat, clothe and needs shelter from cold and a place to sleep. The player may decide to spend some money on equipment or extra training, but they will also try to keep their characters from going mad. Squalid living conditions may consider to that, as well as insufficient sleep or lack of entertainment. Push your character too close to the edge, and they will have trouble concentrating on their next assignment, go On The Job tired, absent-minded, and generally in bad shape, physically and psychically. This could have disastrous consequences, but players may be tempted to cut back on sleep to increase training time or to save up some money by having their characters live in a crammed little place with roaches and lice - especially that their income is not likely to be very high at first, and they will probably have to apply for credit in a dwarven bank, high interest as it may be.

During Downtime the players will also use their Recognition Points to obtain some extra benefits from their work. Maybe they want to haggle for a raise, get a company living quarters or have better equipment rented to them for their next mission. They may also use their points to get an extra job with the Guild, like training new recruits. If they gather enough recognition, later on in the game they might even be admitted as full Guild members.

If the characters become wounded On The Job, this is also the time to reconvalesce and pay a doctor's or healer's fees.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Of elves and dwarves

Unsurprisingly, dwarves and elves hold even more contempt for each other than the general human culture has for either of them. Dwarves are brought up in a society, which commands respect for property and laws. It values hard work above all and treats the fruits of others' labor as sacrosanct. Even dwarven outcasts are not free from their upbringing and generally are supportive of these values, though they may slightly disagree with their kin on the strict adherence to the demands of social conduct (meaning these outcast dwarves can often be seen engaging in excessive drinking, utterance of profanities and other kinds of behavior unacceptable to the mainstream dwarven society).

Elves on the other hand are carefree spirits, who feel that they are entitled to roam where they will and take what they need. They have no patience or passion for hard and repetitive labor that is required to farm land, raise livestock, practice crafts or pursue scholarly vocations. Instead they prefer to resort to magic, sell the trinkets that they make, and often also to theft, which they do necessarily see as wrong.

Although by far not all representatives of the respective races fit these stereotypes, this is how they are perceived and how they perceive each other. An elf may not steal anything in his life and instead lead the traditional lifestyle of his ancestors, roving the forests, hunting and communing with nature, or even try to blend in with the human society and earn a respectable living as a craftsman or a hired magic-user (or an Associate of the Archaeologists' Guild for that matter), but dwarves will usually automatically suspect them of being a lazy pest who does not want to break a sweat doing useful work, preferring instead to steal or con people out of their money.

Elves for their part perceive dwarves as not only greedy, but also control freaks, who would love to regulate every aspect of life with a million laws and rules and force everybody to work all day in a treadmill of one sort or another.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Player Race: Dwarf

Dwarves claim to be the oldest of all intelligent races. Since times immemorial they have dwelt in the mountain ranges beyond the North Sea. The oldest dwarf sagas speak of how the various clans were united under one crown and formed the kingdom of Kargarad.

For a long time their numbers remained small and their contact with the other races limited, save for the barbaric Northmen, until a few hundred years ago Kargarad established trade relations with the more southerly human kingdoms.

The dwarves of Kargarad quickly realized they could get all the food, fabrics and other good they ever needed in exchange for just a little of their precious handiwork and the gems they gathered mining for ore.

The dwarven culture has a very strict work ethic, thanks to which rather than fall into decadence and surround themselves with opulence they could certainly afford, dwarves were hard at work to further multiply their wealth in the world of humans. They used their money to buy trading outposts and transportation in the human kingdoms and finally established a chain of banking institutions there.

It is a popular opinion among Pavonians, that dwarves are greedy bloodsuckers, and that their prowess with investing capital will lead to the enslavement of humans to do the bidding of their dwarven masters, who will use their leverage of owning everything, just like they conquered the jarls of the Northmen.

Usually in tirades like this, disdain is mixes with envy, for the dwarves are all perceived to be rich. Indeed, it is a strictly followed standard of the dwarven society, that one should not allow one's kinsman to live in poverty, and thus there is no poverty in dwarven communities.

However dwarves also have little patience for youthful rebellion, and failure to comply and embrace with zeal all the rigid social standards, down to observing the minutiae of tradition and religion, will lead to social ostracism and eventually to exile of particularly hardened individuals.

Ant it is these outcasts, bereft of their society's and their powerful nation's protection, that most often take the brunt of society's prejudice and anger at the dwarves.

Player Race: Elf

The home of the elves is a faraway land on the other side of the globe, reachable by land by traveling far to the east of Pavonia, or by sailing west on the great ocean. The elves had already built a great civilization when humans were still a bunch of primitive hunter-gatherers. The first human visitors to the elf homeland were astonished by the gigantic and beautiful palaces, statues and temples, already thousands of years old.

Sadly, the great elf civilization is no longer. Already weak and degenerate, the elven empires' downfall was only hastened by the arrival of human colonists and the aggressive policies of the Western powers. Today all that is left of them is a collection of failed states steeped in anarchy, mercilessly exploited colonies of Western powers, impoverished tyrannies ruled by powerful despotic sorcerer-kings and troublesome pirate nations.

To escape this sorry state of affairs many elves have chosen to migrate. Some took the land route, leading a nomadic lifestyle, hunting, living off the land and seeking shelter in the woods. Expanding ever westward, several groups of these so-called wood elves made it to Pavonia. Pavonian kings at first granted these newcomers some privileges to settle the dangerous forests, but as time went by and more of these elves arrived, the privileges were gradually revoked and Pavonia became deforested for timber and farmland.

The wood elves had a hard time integrating with human society, not only because of the racial prejudice, but also because of some severe differences between the traditional elven culture and that of humans.

For example elves were never farmers, having gone straight from the hunting and gathering phase to magical food production by means of nature controlling magics. Because of that elves were never able to settle down and farm land, instead traveling alone or in groups from town to town. There they used some of their magics to entertain people or to tell their fortunes, but they also gained a notoriety for theft, owing to a radically different approach of the elven culture toward the matters of property.

Some elves consorted with the criminal element and in the underworld elves soon gained a reputation as excellent burglars, bodyguards and assassins.

Player Race: Human

Humans are the native peoples of Pavonia and the West. There have also been settlements of humans known as the Northmen since ancient times on the islands in the North Sea and the lands neighboring the dwarven kingdom of Kargarad, now conquered by it.

Despite being at home in Pavonia, many of the humans who live there are actually without a home and means to live, desperately clinging to any jobs, legal or otherwise, which would keep them fed and alive through the harsh Pavonian winters.

The economic hardships combined with the influx of Western culture have considerably loosened the traditional family and community structures among humans, and young people nowadays more than ever find themselves on their own, forced to earn their living without support of their parents or extended families.

The other races however have retained for the most part strong family and community ties, as helping each other allows them to survive as minorities. This practice of self-help often attracts the ire of native humans, who feel these minorities are unwanted guests in their land and that they make their good fortunes off the poverty of their human hosts.

Whatever the case, it is the humans that make the vast majority of Pavonia's population, and the humans' perceptions are what determines the culture and popular opinion in Pavonia.

The Player Characters

Among all these economic problems, there is one particular branch of business that's thriving in Pavonia. That business is archaeology.

It was a custom among the Pavonian nobles of old, to build vast underground complexes. At first they were used mostly as tombs or prisons, but these powerful sorcerers soon discovered that a trap-ridden maze going several levels down was the best way to keep them safe from their adversaries, and also to keep the results of their experiments in magic out of the sight of the simple folk and the clergy, who had already begun calling these abominations an affront to the gods.

Now these mausoleums and dungeons lie mostly deserted, sometimes located in the estates of noble families, whose members would not dare venture down themselves, but who would often gladly see their antecedents' graves robbed for them of any valuables by somebody else. Other times these dungeons lie forgotten, marked often only by a place's ill reputation among the local peasants.

In order to prevent unchecked theft of national heritage, the Archaeologists' Guild was formed by royal decree. The Guild now holds a virtual monopoly over all tomb and dungeon explorations. Of course Guild members, such as archaeologists, assayers, researchers of magic, other scholars and administrators are too valuable a members of society to actually delve into these dangerous places themselves. That's why the Guild has the Associate Programme.

Every day hundreds, if not thousands of young people without a future to look to, line up in front of the Archaelogists' Guild's hiring posts. Those who pass tests of physical prowess and mental endurance with best results become Associates of the Guild. In return for being paid a weekly allowance, they are obliged to be prepared and answer when the Guild calls on them. When that happens, they are transported over to an ominous-looking entrance in the ground and told to go in and risk life and limb to bring back as much as they can. They're usually quiet happy to oblige too, as the bonus based on the loot's worth is quite hefty compared to their meager allowance.

The player's characters are such a group of young people, who were fortunate enough to be accepted as Guild Associates and trained in the basics of combat and magic enough to have a chance to survive their first mission.

Dungeon Crawler

Dungeon Crawler is the working title for a fantasy pen&paper role-playing game, which is going to be published here as a series of articles. The name tells it all - Dngeon Crawler is a fast-paced light-hearted game of dungeon exploration and of trying to gain wealth and glory in a fantastic world of adventure and danger.

(Actually, I'm looking for a better name, all suggestions are welcome).

I'm going to focus on setting first, and then the rules. I'm generally an advocate of stating the things most important to the game and player characters first and with the most detail, and a description of a setting certainly seems superfluous in a dungeon hack game, but there are several reasons I decided to include it before anything else.

First, it is indeed important to the process of character creation, as it will put the race definitions in context. You will find that the player races are the standard bunch and they do not much deviate from the sword and sorcery D&D-esque norm, but there are a few twists here and there.
Second, I feel that a certain amount of role-playing greatly adds to the fun, even if to have the elf and the dwarf call each other names, the priest to scream religious bigotry when caving in skulls with his (or her) mace or to have the party come up with all those ridiculous 'oh exalted one's when speaking to higher beings like demigods or nobles. The setting description will give the players important cues on how to roleplay their characters, giving them an idea what they are and why they do what they do.

Also there's a certain theme to this game, one which sets it apart from D&D proper and all those other dungeon-crawling fantasy heartbreakers. This theme will be reinforced by the rules and premise also, but I feel the best way to set it from the start will be a short description in a few broad strokes of the place the characters live in.

The Kingdom of Pavonia

Pavonia is a piss-poor backwater country located on the northern edge of the continent. Hundreds of years ago, Pavonia was a great power, extending its control far into the eastern wildlands, but that glory is long a thing of the past, whittled away by the orkish invasions from the east, the corruption of royal power and the constant infighting of its magic-wielding nobility.

Today most of the powerful magics have been forgotten by the degenerate barons, who prefer to spend time on idle pleasures and social events, rather than lead a life of hard study, discipline and sacrifice.

While Pavonia dwindled and waned, its neighbors to the west grew in power and wealth, from trade and overseas colonies. Learning form Pavonia's mistakes, the states regulated the practice of magic and curbed the power of religious institutions. Merchants and craftsmen pressured lords and sovereigns into granting broad powers to the populace, transforming the feudal states into several parliamentary monarchies and merchant republics. The West, as they are collectively known in Pavonia, also sees a renaissance in arts, literature and crafts.

The pompous and bloated royal courts constantly reminds the population of the glorious past, as do the numerous monuments of heroes of old, edifying the dirty muddy market squares of Pavonian towns and the crumbling promenades of Pavonian cities. Most peasants and townfolk care little about these thing however, busy trying to make ends meet, or, if they're fortunate, to match the comfortable lifestyles of Pavonia's richer neighbors.

Most of what wealth Pavonia does have comes from agriculture. Most of the people are peasants working in the fields or raising livestock. Up till a few dozen years ago Pavonia was able to benefit handsomely sending ships with food to trade with the dwarven kingdom of Kargarad in the far north. However, since the dwarves of Kargarad defeated the northern pirate human nations, they were able to instill the subjugated once-fierce Northmen with the dwarven work ethic, these same humans proved to be excellent builders and crews of merchant ships. Because of that, not only were the Pavonians forced to greatly reduce their profit margins in selling grain and meat to Kargarad, but also the shipyards in the northern Pavonian cities are facing increasingly dire difficulties, and workers have already begun protesting and making radical political demands.