Saturday, May 4, 2013

Campaign Setting: The Village of Hovick

I've been fleshing out some of the world for my current DCC RPG campaign using the methods outlined here. This has been happening concurrent with our weekly play sessions, and since the PC's would be heading back to civilization after the first adventure wrapped up, I had been wanting to get a handle on Hovick, the PCs' "village of origin." I had some notes about the heroes' welcome they would receive upon their return, and the family and friends with whom they will be reunited, but I really wanted a clear idea of the village itself. I enjoy winging things, but I am also a stickler for immersion and verisimilitude, and I didn't want Hovick to feel like a generic D&D village (not that there's anything wrong with that).

I'm a cartoonist and illustrator by profession, but I hadn't drawn a map of a pseudo-medieval village since my days in high school, so I was a little rusty. But after thinking about it a lot and sketching a little, the old instincts came back. I realize now, in retrospect, that big two things affected my imagining of Hovick: the settlement maps from the Hârn rpg, over which I pored endlessly back in my high school days; and a class on city development that I took during my junior year at art school. Hârnmaster, as the rpg system was called, was nearly unprecedented at the time in its detail and realism, and the maps, such as this one, reflected those qualities. The class on city development was great because it gave me a basic understanding of how human settlements were founded, and how specifics like geography and access to resources influenced their development over time.

From the regional-level worldbuilding I had done, I knew that Hovick was a fishing village on the eastern shore of Blacksalt Lake, that it was near Wildthorn Wood (where my group's first adventure, Harley Stroh's Halls of the Minotaur, was set), and that it was roughly 60 miles from the provincial seat of Assalom's Rest, to the east.

Starting with this basic info, my next step was to use Chaotic Shiny's city generator to create some flavor hooks. By "hooks" in this case, I mean generator output that strikes me as interesting or applicable for one reason or another. When using generators like this, I keep the subject ("a fishing village") in mind while glancing through the results, writing down anything that my brain catches on — anything that I respond to at an intuitive level — and discarding the rest. In this case, I've since misplaced my original notes, but one thing I remember from the output was the line "Buildings: resemble insects."

How can the buildings of a pseudo-medieval human village resemble insects? I don't know why I latched onto that one, but I did, and the first thing I thought of was that the huts of the fisherfolk could be clustered along the shore of the lake like grubs or larvae. Modest, rounded daub-and-wattle huts. Not very insect-like in the end, but a nice visual that helped me start to see the village.

Next, I thought a little bit about why the village exists. It's a fishing village, so fishing is the primary form of industry. Is it just subsistence fishing, or do Hovick's fisherfolk play some part in the larger economy? I feel like it would be good to have some connection to Assalom's Rest for story purposes, so let's have a trade relationship between Hovick and The Rest (as I now decide the locals call it). But Assalom's Rest is a port town, in all likelihood with its own fishing industry, so why would they want more fish? I decide that it's not the fish per se, but the particular flavor of the salt in Blacksalt lake that sets the fish of Hovick apart. In fact, at some point an enterprising trader from The Rest came to Hovick and established a facility for salting and smoking fish to sell at market; and, more lucratively, to process and package "blacksalt" itself as a luxury spice.

So that's the anchor: Hovick started as a subsistence fishing village, but now it exports smoked fish and blacksalt, via a weekly trade mission to the Market Quarter in Assalom's Rest. You can smell the smoked fish from within a mile of the place. And this sensory detail calls back another line from the city generator's output: "Famous for: an abundance of cats." Indeed. Another great setting detail to give the village some character.

So with a pretty basic idea, it's time to start sketching. Unless a more important geographic feature is demanding attention, I almost always start with the bodies of water, so the shoreline goes in first. Next, I think about fresh water sources. The lake is salt water, so there has to be a different source of fresh water, or no settlement would exist here. Looking at my regional map, I see there are no major rivers in the vicinity, so the water source is going to be smaller, let's say a big stream coming out of the Thornwood to the southeast. That gets sketched in next.

Most settlements grow up right on the fresh water source that they depend upon, so working with that idea I choose an area on the stream but close to the shore, where the fishing needs to happen. Draw in where the grub-like fishing huts will be arrayed, at a point where the shore comes in a little, and then rough in where the town center will be, closer to the fresh water. Then I draw a road from the town center off the map to the northeast, toward the biggest regional settlement, Assalom's Rest, and dub this thoroughfare Asslaom's Road; then a secondary road to the fishing center ("Fisher Beach"), and from the fishing center to Assalom's Road. Those would be the main routes, the ones most heavily traveled: provincial capitol to village center, village center to industrial center, industrial center to provincial capitol. Other roads will build off of that main triangle.

Is Hovick fortified? My mental image is of a pretty small place, and there are no military threats in the area, but I remember that in the introduction to the first adventure, I told the players that the minotaur had smashed in the village gates. So I guess it is fortified. We'll say against potential monster attacks, since Hovick lies on the outer edge of Bramic civilization. Everybody loves a palisade. Sketch that in. It's too big, tries to encompass too much. A palisade that big is beyond the means of a small village to maintain. So I scale it back, leave some stuff outside the walls. Put a gate where the main road comes in, obviously, but that means adjusting my underlying road triangle so the road from Fisher Beach passes through the gate instead of going straight to the village center; but that's great, that's the kind of shift that starts to make a place feel organic. Another gate leading to the saltery and smokehouse, which have been left outside the walls. And a third gate to the south, to allow more direct access for woodsmen and trappers heading into Wildthorn Wood. What happens to people who live outside the walls if there's an attack? They run inside. Make sure there are direct paths to the gates from any populated area.

Because a couple of the PCs started the game with holy symbols and some degree of religious belief, I had already come up with Arimar, God of Peace and Truth, and had decided that he was the primary deity of Hovick. A temple is obviously a big focus, so I put it right at the head of the main road, where it ends in the market square. Arimar's symbol is an oak leaf, so I guess his adherents like oak trees. Let's put a nice semicircle of oaks around the back of the church. Hovick is too small to support any other temples of size, but I place a shrine to Assalom (God of Travel, Trade, and Good Fortune) at the main gate, and decide that all Bramic cities have shrines to Assalom at their most well-traveled gates. The only other deity actively represented in Hovick is Jeneva, Goddess of Strife, Sorrow, and the Sea, but she is worshiped in private by the fisherfolk.

I also put the town hall on the market square, and some other buildings I'll sort out later. In fact, I pepper the streets with buildings of varying shapes and sizes, planning to assign some of them functions later on.

When horses are a the main form of transport after foot travel, there need to be sufficient facilities for the horses, and they need to be conveniently located for people coming and going. So I put an ostler right inside the main gate (now called Assalom's Gate, in a stunningly creative move) and another one outside, on Assalom's Road. Boarding horses there will obviously be a little cheaper, since it's not protected by the palisade.

At some point I decide that a mill was built on the stream, and the building of the mill led to upper and lower millponds, so I add those in. The lower pond is where the villagers do their laundry (on flat stone slabs brought in for that prupose), and the upper pond is tapped for the main well, located in the adjoining square.

By now I have a refined sketch of the village and immediate surroundings:

At this point I switch over to my notes and start to write down some stuff about the village's history, riffing on ideas that have bubbled up over the course of sketching the map. After I do that for a while, and I feel like tackling the map again, I scan it it into Adobe Illustrator and start to play around with drawing stuff. I own Campaign Cartographer 3, but the learning curve is too steep for me, and I have gotten too frustrated too many times to want to try to use these days, when my time is at a premium. I'm somewhat familiar with Illustrator, though (mostly by using it professionally, and in the creation of a pulp adventure board game), and although I'd never used it to do much drawing, I wanted to see if it would work.

After a little experimenting, I had he water and roads drawn in, and had created a tree "brush" that I could use to start laying in the forested areas.

Some more experimenting with the pencil tool, and outlines and fill, and I had a pretty good system down. Here's what the final product looks like:

I am continually finding things that need fixing (for instance, the residents of Fisher Beach probably need a more accessible source of fresh water), but overall I'm happy with the current state of things. The PCs have a clearly defined home base, at least until they pull up stakes and move on from their humble origins, and I now have a firm grasp on why the place exists, who lives there, and the basic socio-economic situation.

If you're curious about any of the details, you can read the Google doc I've created to develop Hovick in detail. It's still very much a work in progress, but feel free to use the village in your own game, if you're so inclined.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Halls of the Minotaur - Session 3, Part 5

In which the funnel comes to a close.

Gareth looks to the rest of the group for confirmation, then takes a step and kicks the double doors open. Sure, he's a little guy, but I allow him the dramatic entrance instead of asking for a STR check.

They peer into a hazy, nearly octagonal room, the ground floor of the last of the citadel's towers. In the center is a blazing firepit, full of debris and shards of timber, black smoke billowing up into the rafters. Something moves on the far side of the pit — something big. The ground shakes as a huge hoof stamps the flagstones. Out of the haze it comes from the far side of the room, 10 feet tall and full of fury, shaking its massive horns side to side, wielding an iron greatsword with one hand. A badly damaged scale hauberk hangs off of its muscle-bond torso, and Gareth can make out the broken end of a blade imbedded in the creature's chest. Its body below that point is covered in thick, dried blood.

The bull-man reaches into the fire with its free hand and pulls out a flaming timber, then opens its mouth and lets out a mighty bellow that sends a shudder through the party.

Illustration by Doug Kovacs.

Initiative is rolled: Esma, Minotaur, Oswald, Perry, Gareth, Thelma, Finmunni, Daisy, Sigbert, Durwin, Wilfred.

Esma, in the front rank, charges boldly into the room to within 10' of the creature, spins Pierce's fishing net over her head, and tosses it. The minotaur has AC 16 and she rolls a 17, landing the net across its head and horns, obscuring its vision. Entangled!

Enraged, the creature takes a step toward Esma and swings its greatsword at her head. The greatsword is +6 to hit, does 2D6+4 damage, and Esma's AC is 10. But the minotaur rolls 1D16 instead of 1D20, because it's entangled. I roll the minotaur's attack in full view of the players: a 1.

I know the DCC RPG rules say that enemies don't have to play by the same rules as the PCs, but at my table if the dice can screw over the players, they should have the potential to screw over their enemies as well. Plus, I love unexpected turns of events. So yes, the minotaur fumbles.

Even though the scale mail it's wearing is damaged, I rule that it still restricts movement, so it has to roll 1D12 (for moderate armor) on the fumble table. I roll a 7: "You drop your weapon. You must retrieve it or draw a new one on your next action."

Esma ducks under the heavy iron blade and it clangs mightily into the stone wall behind her, with such force that it is jarred out of the bull-man's hand. It bounces back onto the floor and slides to the far side of the fire pit. A whoop goes up. He's entangled and he just lost his weapon!

Perry runs in, around the firepit to the creature's rear flank, takes a stab with his spear, and misses. Oswald, Thelma, and Gareth rush into the fray, weapons swinging, but between the haze and the minotaur's tough hide, all three miss. Finmunni finally scores the first hit for the team, cracking the creature in the knee with her hammer for 5 hp (1D4+1), eliciting another enraged roar. Durwen follows up with another miss. It's such a mob in there now that there's no room for the other four PCs to get close.

Top of the order, Esma takes two flasks of acid (obtained earlier in this adventure from the wizard's lab) off her belt and throws them both at the same time. I use the two-weapon fighting rules to figure that out: her AGI is 12, so her main hand attack will be at -1D, and her off hand attack will be at -2D. She rolls a D16 and a D14 against AC 16 — no surprise, the flasks bounce off the minotaur and smash onto the stone floor, adding sulfuric fumes to the mix. Hopefully, Esma has just learned something useful about two-weapon attacks.

The minotaur, a mountain of fury now staggering from the blow to its kneecap, puts its head down and tries to gore Finmunni. It's still at -1D for having the fishing net around his head, and Finmunni's AC is 16 (10 + 2 for AGI + 3 for hide armor +1 for thornling buckler), but it does get a +8 to hit with its horns, so it has about a 50% of scoring a hit for 2D4+4 points of damage.

I roll a 5. The minotaur snorts in outrage. I'm pretty sure it's directed at me.

Wilfred strides into the fray with his greatsword and slashes the minotaur across the torso for 8 hp, ripping through its ragged scale mail. The beast is completely surrounded by six other PCs, but they all miss their attack rolls.

Esma spends her action readying her spear, and the minotaur spends its action ripping the fishing net angrily from its head.

In a whirl of glancing blows, smoke, acid fumes, and confusion, no one manages to land a solid hit except Sigbert, who swings the thornling witch doctor's morning star and rolls a 20, then 1D4 for a 4 on the crit table, to smash the same knee already bloodied by Finmunni, for 1D6+1D4+1 for STR = 9 hp of damage. The minotaur only has 6 hp left, out of a total of 28! And the crit result indicates that it will suffer -2 to its next attack roll, plus -10' to its movement rate.

But those things won't even come into play, because at the top of the next round, Esma raises her spear with both hands and plunges the tip deep into the monster's lower back, piercing through into its vitals, for 7 points of damage.

The bull lord lets out a last, disbelieving GRARRGHL before toppling over into the firepit in a burst of embers that sends sparks flying and the PCs stepping back to a safe distance.

Esma says, "Ha!"

Everyone looks around at each other, and Oswald says, "Hey, isn't this what we came here to do? Did we do it? We did it! Yeah!"

They defeated the module's final enemy without taking a single point of damage.


I actually don't have any problem the way it went in the end. It makes sense that the flipside of the funnel is that, if the players can manage to bring 10 PCs to the final battle, they stand a good chance of overwhelming a single foe by sheer numbers. It helped that, in entering the dungeon via the underground stream, steering clear of the thornling warrens, and avoiding any areas that looked too dangerous, the PCs actually only explored about 40% of the total module. As a result they missed a heck of lot of loot, but they also faced far fewer threats than they would have faced if they had taken a more direct approach.

At the end of the session last week, we left things with the minotaur dead and his quarters ransacked (for a whopping 311sp, 25gp, and 6 bloodstones @ 30gp), but the PCs are still at the top of the spire. This week I may just skip over the descent and let them get back to Hovick, so they can experience the thrill of reaching level 1, or we may play out their descent back through the spire.

But in any case, I did read the great closing paragraphs that Harley wrote for the module aloud to my players (edited slightly to suit them):

The citadel stands in silence, the corpse of the Bull Lord is at your feet. You and your companions began this adventure as frightened commoners: swineherds, woodsmen, and fisherfolk. How long ago and far away your old lives seem. Now your weapons are bloodied, your eyes have stared into the heart of evil, and your scarred bodies bear testament to the ordeals you have overcome.

Now you stand as champions.

Looking down from atop the high citadel, the land stretches out before you, wild and mysterious. Dark valleys, rolling dales, and high mountains: a world of adventure. A raw fire burns in your belly, a hunger for danger, triumph and rewards, hard won. Grinning, you shoulder your sacks of treasure, tighten your grip on your weapons, and step into a new life.

Isn't that awesome? What a great way to kick off an adventuring career. I wonder who's going to die next.

I will continue to post about the careers of he Heroes of Hovick and the gradually-developing land of Bramica, but be warned that I may not be able to maintain the level of detail I put into the session reports of this first adventure.

Thanks for reading!