Enter Sandman performed by Metallica (Official Music Video)Sleep is overpowered but you knew that already…
On Friday the 16th of April in the two thousand one and score years from the delivery of the Virgin, Doctor Arnauld, Sir George, Brother Alec, Aladdin the varlet, and Robert bowman met their doom in the bowels of the War-Pig Fane.
After much butchering of War-Hogs, the wayward band of anti-heroes discovered the sacrifice room in the bowels of the underground temple. It was a large room, larger than their candlelight cantrips could fully illuminate. But the shapes of the elite War-Pigs and their “high priest” were unmistakeable as was the demon idol, and the young woman about to be sacrificed. The knowledgeable doctor summoned the Sandman who put the closest elite enemies under his spell. Those pOrcs who were out of range charged while two of their number were quickly dispatched to Hell by the varlet and bowman. The priest, irritated that his ceremony was disrupted, also summoned the Sandman who ensorcerelled all of the would-be heroes. The surviving Pig-Men serjeaunts gutted the sleeping adventurers, one and all.
Debrief & Commentary
As all of you grognards and old-schoolers know all too well, the sleep spell is brutally overpowered for a 1st level spell. 4–16 hit dice worth of creatures in a 30' diametre sphere are automatically put to sleep with no saving throw. Prior to this climatic battle, I asked my son if he wanted to change the spell and give it a saving throw and he said no. Afterwards, I asked if he still wanted to keep the spell as is and he said yes. He preferred to roll up new characters and start a new campaign rather than nerf the spell.
To paraphrase John Mellenkamp, “now he’s Old School, just like me.”
The New Campaign
My son had a rogue-assassin recuperating back in the village and wanted to continue playing him and he also wished to use the same rogue-scout, and sorcerer as before because they had good stats. I agreed provided he change their names and put them in Constantinople, the largest metropolis in the known world. The DM PC became Rodrigo the Rake.
I should note that the party TPK and subsequent new campaign gives me the opportunity to switch from traditional D&D rules to my forthcoming Sword & Sorcery rules. In brief:
Simple and intuitive player-facing rules so that the PC Character Record can fit on a notecard. GM-facing rules are as detailed as necessary to facillitate game flow rather than looking up rules.
PC classes are warrior, skirmisher, sorcerer, and rogue. Within each class are a number of archetypes. Players pick one archetype for their class. Warrior archetypes are Knight (Heavy Cavalryman), Brigand (Heavy footman), and Marine (Heavy footman). Skirmisher archetypes are Ranger (Commando, Guerilla, or Sauvage), Bravo (Swashbuckler), Pirate, and Berserker. Sorcerer archetypes are Natural Philospher (Scholar), Monk (Cloistered), and Cunning Man (Wise Woman or Hedge Wizard). Rogue archetype are Assassin and Scout.
Each archetype has an assumed set of skills. Knights are master of horses, Rangers are masters of the wild, Natural Philosophers are masters of the occult, and Assassins are masters of stealth. Whenver a PC attempts to do something appropriate to their archetype I either hand-wave it or have them make a 3rd edition style Difficulty Check based on the appropriate ability score + level + 3. Actual DCs are 5 (75% chance of success), 10 (50/50), 15 (25% success) or 20 (5% chance). Players must beat the DC, not meet it. I do not have the players track their skills on their notecard because all I need to know is their archetype, level, and relevant ability score. I can calculate the rest in my head.
As for combat, each class has a Base Combat Bonus (BCB) which is added to their attack rolls, defence rolls, and initiative rolls. Warriors and Skirmishers have a BCB = 3 + level. Rogues have half of that and Sorcerers have one-quarter of the Warrior BCB. When PCs attack monsters, they have to roll better than the monster’s defence. When monsters attack PCs, the GM does not roll. Instead, the players roll their defence and as long as it meets or exceeds the monsters’s attack, the PC is not hit. Armour provides damage reduction (soak) instead of improving defence. Shields improve defence. Note that attacks must overcome defences while defences can simply match the attack.
When a creature runs out of hit points, damage is tracked as negative hit points. Negative hit points act as a modifier to Con, Dex, and Str. Death occurs when Con, Dex, or Str equals 0. Warriors and Skirmishers have a d12, Rogues a d6, and Sorcerers a d3 for hit points.
Poison is still the odd duck here. Given that hit points are spent to reduce mortal wounds to flesh wounds, glancing blows, & bruises, when does a poisonous bite take effect? It seems to me that the bite of a snake would only occur when a character has no more hit points left. As long as they have hit points, they are avoiding the bite or at worst getting scratched but not bitten. Even a critical hit with double or more damage, is just an abstraction of avoiding a death-stroke. From a literary perspective, several times has Conan felt the burning drip of venom without getting bitten. Perhaps a character who still has hit points automatically makes their poison saving throw. And of course, the bite has to overcome the damage reduction of armour. Further playtesting will sort this out.
The Morgath Idol Job
The new party is hired by one of the sons of a local duke (a contact of Rodrigo) to acquire a jade and ruby idol of Morgath that was supposed to go to the duke but was aquired by the local temple of Morgath. Morgath, being a rather generic demonic deity of some kind. The party “cases the joint” and notice that there is chimney in the temple ceiling to allow the smoke from the sacrifical brazier to escape. After supper, they shop at the Night Market to buy silk rope, a grappling hook, a wooden board, and chickens. After midnight, they arrive at the temple courtyard, distract the guard dog with a couple of chickens and climb over the wall. The assassin lassos the grappling hook to the roof, and the party climbs up. At one point they had to release the rest of the chickens to continue to distract the guard dog. Once on top, they place the board on top of the chimney, sit on the board and wait for the smoke to drive the priests out into the courtyard.
I saw no need to make any climbing checks to get over the wall or up the rope because they were distracting the dog with chickens, which by the way was hillarious. We both laughed at my description of the dog chasing the chickens. So while by the rules, I should have had the PCs make the checks, it did not serve the emerging story at all.
While the priests are coughing in the courtyard, the assassin climbs down from the roof, goes through the backdoor and arrives at a four-way intersection. He takes the left fork which leads to a number or clerical cells. He goes back to the intersection and rakes the right fork which leads to the kitchen and storerooms. He goes back to the intersection and follows the corridor to a locked door. It is a simple lock so I do not bother with an open lock check, he is a professional assassin after all. As expected, the door leads into the main temple hall. The assassin locks the door behind him. The room appears to be empty so he grabs the idol. It is much heavier than it looks and he senses that he is not alone. The assassin heads for the nearest wall in an attempt to climb it. Suddenly he feels a sharp pain in his neck and wheels around to come face–to–face with a giant spider dripping with venom! The spider had rolled a 4 on a d6 for damage, but the assassin’s light armour absorbed 3 points. Since the bite did at least 1 point of damage, I had the PC make a saving throw versus poison which he did. Based on what I reasoned above, he should have automatically made his saving throw. At any rate, being justifiably frightened of a spider whose shoulder stands at his eye level, the assassin tumbles out of the way quickly. He detaches a torch from his thigh and ignites it in the sacrificial flame. Naturally, the spider is wary of the torch but does not flee. The assassin sprints for the front door only to find that it has a heavy wooden bar across it.
What should Merciful the Assassin do? Should he try to hack at the wooden bar with his shortsword? Pick the lock of the backdoor one-handed? Yell at his friends on the roof to lower the rope? Attack the spider? Or something else?
Be sure to tune-in next time — same Bat-time, same Bat-channel!