Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Narnia is the most D&D setting out there

About half the Monster Manual, I reckon ...

In my last post, I suggested that CS Lewis's The Silver Chair is virtually a one-book Appendix N. I've been thinking a bit more about Narnia: specifically, just how like a D&D setting it is.

I should say that I've never been much of a Narnia enthusiast. I'd already read (or had read to me) The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by the time I came to Lewis. So, although I was the "right age" for The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, it seemed a little thin by comparison. Shortly afterwards, I discovered Alan Garner's The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and The Moon of Gomrath, and Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising and the rest of that sequence. Those books made Narnia seem even less satisfactory - a hodgepodge of elements plucked from all sorts of sources, rather than the deeper, more coherent and more resonant mythologies of Tolkien, Garner and Cooper.

But a hodgepodge of elements plucked from all sorts of sources is exactly what D&D is. And the coherence of the other settings makes them more aesthetically satisfying, but far less rich for gaming. If you play Merp, you're going to meet a lot of orcs and the occasional troll. Compare and contrast the White Witch's followers in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe:

A great crowd of people were standing all round the Stone Table and though the moon was shining many of them carried torches which burned with evil-looking red flames and black smoke. But such people! Ogres with monstrous teeth, and wolves, and bull-headed men; spirits of evil trees and poisonous plants; and other creatures whom I won't describe because if I did the grownups would probably not let you read this book - Cruels and Hags and Incubuses, Wraiths, Horrors, Efreets, Sprites, Orknies, Wooses, and Ettins. In fact here were all those who were on the Witch's side and whom the Wolf had summoned at her command. And right in the middle, standing by the Table, was the Witch herself.
Tom Fitzgerald of the marvellous (but sadly inactive) Middenmurk blog says this was the "most exciting passage of prose" for him when he was eight. I felt much the same about it - and was gratified when, after years of wondering, I realised that the Orknies must be the orcneas of Beowulf and the Wooses woses. Their accompaniment by the more familiar Ettins (eotenas in Beowulf) makes this clear.

But think of that passage in RPG terms. The White Witch appears to have at least seven or eight types of humanoid in her retinue, along with other nasty entities. Meanwhile, the forces of good include centaurs, fauns, satyrs, dryads, naiads, talking animals, unicorns and at least one giant. That's a fair old chunk of the Monster Manual.

Narnia matches D&D's assumed setting in various other ways too. Its courtly knights and castles, with their strong Arthurian whiff, sit side by side with creatures and gods out of Classical myth. There are fairy-tale creatures too, and select visitors from the Germanic tradition. 

In Prince Caspian, we get the outline of a passable "dungeon" complex:

A little further on, in a dry, rocky ravine they reached the cave of five Black Dwarfs. They looked suspiciously at Caspian, but in the end the eldest of them said, "If he is against Miraz, we'll have him for King." And the next oldest said, "Shall we go further up for you, up to the crags? There's an Ogre or two and a Hag that we could introduce you to, up there." 
It's a description that has me itching for graph paper. The cave of the Black Dwarfs comes after a visit to the Seven Brothers of the Shuddering Wood, who are Red Dwarfs (nicer than the black-bearded sort, apparently). So in RPG terms, rather than a descent into successive levels populated by increasingly formidable adversaries, we have an ascent into territory inhabited by successively more malevolent creatures: benign Red Dwarfs, then ambivalent Black Dwarfs, then Ogres, then Hags.

This would be an interesting way to structure a 'megadungeon': ravines rather than corridors, and caves rather than rooms. Because the passes and ravines between the crags are open to the sky, wandering monsters could include flying beasts as well as emerging cave-dwellers. Doubtless, the worst nasties would live on or in the peaks. 

And then, in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, we get a marvellous 'island crawl'. This takes in an encounter with slave traders, a dragon's cave complete with hoard (and, eventually, a dragon), an uninhabited island, one with a dangerous magic pool, one populated by bizarre invisible creatures, one shrouded in darkness and one with enchanted inhabitants. There's an encounter with mer-people too. Turning the book into a mini-campaign would be very easy - so long as you could find players who hadn't read it. And you could probably raise a meta-gaming smile among players who had read it, if you disguised it sufficiently well at first. The slavers might be hobgoblins and the dragon a manticore, perhaps.

The other books - The Magician's Nephew (which has inspired noisms to create his There is Therefore a Strange Land setting), The Horse and His Boy and The Last Battle - all have their moments. But for all of the reasons I listed yesterday, The Silver Chair is the best of the lot. 

Monday, 26 March 2018

More kobolds and The Silver Chair

I got a few more kobolds done last night. Along with the old Citadel one, there are two varieties of Reaper Bones here. The newest ones have sharper, more rat-like faces. The older ones (e.g. top right) have heavier muzzles. I also have some Citadel AD&D ones to add, and some made by Ral Partha. The latter don't have muzzles, but have monkeyish faces. I quite like the mix of different types; they remind me of Pauline Baynes' Earthmen from The Silver Chair - for me, the best of the Narnia books and certainly the one with the most D&Dish material.

Lewis's description of the Earthmen would do perfectly for any number of heterogenous D&D humanoids:

"All carried three-pronged spears in their hands, and all were dreadfully pale, and all stood as still as statues. Apart from that, they were very different; some had tails and others not, some wore great beards and others had very round, smooth faces, big as pumpkins. There were long, pointed noses, and long, soft noses like small trunks, and great blobby noses. Several had single horns in the middle of their foreheads. But in one respect they were all alike: every face in the whole hundred was as sad as a face could be."

So what does The Silver Chair have that the other Narnia books don't? Lots!

  • A parliament of owls
  • Wilderness adventure
  • Marsh-wiggles
  • The Ettinsmoors
  • Giants playing cock-shies
  • A black knight (silent and enchanted)
  • A green witch (lovely and deceitful)
  • The City Ruinous
  • A castle of anthropophagous giants
  • A cookbook with entries for MAN and MARSH-WIGGLE
  • The Warden of the Marches of Underland
  • Earthmen
  • "Many sink down, and few return to the sunlit lands." (with variations)
  • A cavern of sleeping beasts
  • Old Father Time, a sleeping giant
  • A subterranean sea
  • A subterranean city
  • A subterranean castle
  • The eponymous vile engine of sorcery
  • A mind-control spell
  • A witch changing into a serpent
  • Reports of "witty and eloquent" salamanders
  • Some truly tremendous names: Rillian, Glimfeather, Puddleglum, Harfang, Mullugutherum and Bism
  • A minimum of Aslan
I can think of few books that have so much material screaming to be plundered for D&D.

Thursday, 22 March 2018

Janitors of the Underworld

Following on from the last post, here are the first couple of kobold miniatures for the megadungeon. I have many more underway.

We mend the machines of the earth: kobolds and Goblin Market

I've always had mixed feelings about D&D kobolds. I like them fine in Chaimail and OD&D, where they're just lesser goblins (whatever goblins are in those games). But the scaly-dog version seemed oddly specific to me, and the lizard version even worse.

I'm still not keen on the diminutive lizardmen. I do like the idea that an infestation of dragon-like creatures suggests a draconic presence or stirring nearby. Surely, though, a more draconic name is warranted for such things: dragonlings, dragon-efts or even dragonewts.

But I'm warming to the dog-men. In part, it's because I've got a reasonable number of kobold miniatures, most of which have never been used. And in part, it's because there's no reason why a goblin (which is what a kobold literally is) shouldn't be a scaly little dog-man.

After all, until George MacDonald created his race of goblins (which Tolkien adopted almost wholesale for his orcs), the goblins of folkore and literature didn't have any specific characteristics at all, except possibly smallish stature and a certain grotesqueness.

Consider Christina Rosetti's goblins from Goblin Market:

Curious Laura chose to linger
Wondering at each merchant man.
One had a cat’s face,
One whisk’d a tail,
One tramp’d at a rat’s pace,
One crawl’d like a snail,
One like a wombat prowl’d obtuse and furry,
One like a ratel tumbled hurry skurry.


The whisk-tail’d merchant bade her taste
In tones as smooth as honey,
The cat-faced purr’d,
The rat-faced spoke a word
Of welcome, and the snail-paced even was heard;
One parrot-voiced and jolly
Cried “Pretty Goblin” still for “Pretty Polly;”—
One whistled like a bird.

The goblin-men of Rosetti's poem are, as far as we can tell, little animal people. That's certainly how they've been depicted by illustrators, from Dante Gabriel Rosetti (Christina's brother, below) to Arthur Rackham (above). And audiences were clearly happy to accept them as such.

So, there's nothing inauthentic about a goblin (or the synonymous kobold) being a little animal-man. It's certainly a more authentic look than being bright green. And the D&D kobold's fetching horns remind us that goblins can also be little devils.

He's got a bright future as a fruit salesman
Wayne at the marvellous Semper Initiativus Unum blog has posted lots of interesting thoughts about the role kobolds can play in a dungeon. I plan to steal most of those for the megadungeon I'm devising at the moment.

In a campaign I ran last year, kobolds - in this case, pallid, stunted, glowing-eyed little men - turned up now and then to warn players of dangers ahead and fill in holes left by purple worms. They spoke only broken Common, though, so the PCs weren't originally sure whether they were being helped or threatened.

In the next one, I plan on having kobolds whose catchphrase will be "We mend the machines of the earth". I see them as being principally like those goblins in Labyrinth that seem to be doing behind-the-scenes stuff: re-aligning corridors, resetting traps and molesting (large, orange) wandering monsters. And, with Goblin Market in mind, I'll have no problem with these kobolds being the old-school D&D sort - muzzles, tails, horns and all.

Friday, 16 March 2018

A Fallen Warrior

The corpses of several manlike creatures with bestial heads scattered around half of this large chamber. Carrion creatures have stripped their bones of flesh; their ribcages and skulls are pierced with grey-quilled arrows. Whoever shot them did not linger to retrieve the shafts.

At the other end of the chamber lies a fallen warrior, a sheathed sword clutched to his chest. Unlike the dead monsters, his flesh is untouched by carrion-eaters, though he has clearly been dead for some time. His jerkin is rent at the breast where he received his death-wound. The sword is a plain-looking longsword in a scabbard of soft, pale leather. It moans softly when its hilt is gripped. It is, of course, the Drinker.

The fallen warrior is Mondragans, and he was killed by the Drinker after his companions slew their monstrous assailants before the drawn sword could taste their blood. Once sated, the sword crept back into its scabbard.

Mondragans' friends have taken any coins that he carried, but they dared not touch the Drinker (which has kept away the carrion-eaters too). Round his neck, however, is a silver amulet bearing the inscription Aralith. This is the name of Mondragans' sweetheart. Returning the amulet to Aralith will earn the PCs her gratitude; she is well connected and well known in the nearest city, so can easily be found by asking around.

And another snouted miscreant ...

This one might need a bit more highlighting and neatening up.

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Some more henchthings of evil

Annihilation and the Alzabo

I enjoyed the film version of Annihilation (now on Netflix). I thought Jeff Vandermeer's Southern Reach trilogy excellent, and Alex Garland's film is sufficiently different to its source to entertain readers of the books rather than simply have them nod along.

Anyone who's played or read Lamentations of the Flame Princess will enjoy the film's creatures. And anyone who's read Gene Wolfe's The Sword of the Lictor will detect at least a nod to the Alzabo - or possibly to D&D's leucrotta, or the cocrotta/leucrocotta of the bestiaries, which inspired both.

The film has plenty more to offer RPG enthusiasts - not least an indication of how a wilderness campaign could be organised around "nodes" (haunted glades, abandoned villages, ruined towers) in a hex map.

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

The Drinker

Just how common are magic items? It's always a big question. I used to deplore their abundance in games: I wanted a magic sword to be the object of a quest - nay, of an entire campaign - or even just a legend, not something that a wandering adventurer might have swinging by his side.

Increasingly, though, I've begun to think that magic items should be more common than magicians - for the simple fact that magicians (along with dwarves and elves and other supernatural creatures) make them - and probably make several over the course of a career. But rather than providing unqualified benefits, magic items should be - at the very least - double-edged. Here's one that is - quite literally.

The Drinker
This is a plain-looking longsword with a grip and scabbard bound in a peculiar soft leather (human skin, in fact). When drawn, the blade reveals "veins" of blue and red in the metal. In combat, it does 1d20 damage (1d20 + 1 if wielded in two hands). When it draws blood, the veins on the blade writhe and pulse, and the sword appears to suck noisily at the wound.

Once drawn, the Drinker cannot be sheathed until it causes a wound. It poses no threat to its owner when combat is underway, even if that combat breaks into successive skirmishes. Basically, if the wielder can still see living enemies that he can hope to attack, he's safe. But when there are no more foes to fight and the sword has not caused a wound since being drawn, it will twist in its wielder's hand to deliver 1d20 in damage 

Any attempt to avoid this by throwing the sword away or otherwise discarding it will prove futile; the Drinker will slake its thirst before it will allow itself to be abandoned. The wielder can, of course, avoid this by turning on a friend, though friends are likely to prove scarce if this becomes common practice. 

When it has caused a wound, the Drinker becomes docile and is easily sheathed. If it is not drawn during a fight, however, it will sigh and groan in its scabbard - sufficiently loudly to attract nearby creatures. The Drinker thirsts only for the blood of the living and cannot be assuaged with even the most freshly slain corpses.

Monday, 5 March 2018

No class!

When I was a kid, character classes irked me. I got into RPGs through Runequest, which entertained no such notions. From the outside, D&D character classes looked absurd.

For one thing, they didn't reflect fantasy literature at all well. Wizards can't use swords? What about Gandalf? Sorcerers can't wear armour? What about Elric? Or Jagreen Lern?  Dwarves can't use magic? Well, what about just about every dwarf in just about all of Norse and Germanic folklore and myth? Clerics can't used edged weapons? All of them? Of umpteen different religions?And hang on - they can't use arrows, because those are piercing weapons, but they can use warhammers? How does that make any sense?

Puncture wound incoming!

It doesn't, of course. And the proliferation of character classes in AD&D - rangers and druids and assassins and what-have-you - seemed to acknowledge this. But it also made the problem worse - creating lots of sharp edges where there should be blurry lines.

One of the many admirable things about Christian Mehrstram's Whitehack is that it pares this proliferation right back to three classes: the strong, the deft and the wise. Moreover, the definitions are so elastic that you can have a wise warrior or a deft wizard (the "miracles" of the former might be masterstrokes of strategy, while the stealth and guile of the latter could be explained by magic). There are some "legacy" aspects that I'm less keen on: the deft and the wise suffer penalties when using two-handed weapons and armour, for example.

But why not strip it right back and make the game entirely classless? As I gear up to run a megadungeon campaign (once the Six Nations is out of the way!), I'm tempted to abandon character classes altogether. Instead, I plan on giving each character a couple of initial traits from the menus available to the three Whitehack classes. So, a character might take a spell and a sneak attack. Or an "attuned weapon" and the pushback melee ability. Given the miracle-by-negotiation spell system, that allows limitless options already.

An option might be to allow a character three traits if two are equipment-based. So, you might have your ring of invisibility (which drains one hit point per round while worn), your father's magic sword (+1 to AV) and a two-dice-and-take-the-best advantage when climbing. But if you lose the sword or the ring (or are low on hit points), all you've got is your nimbleness.

Saturday, 3 March 2018

Shields again

This post follows on from this one, in which I loosely marshalled some thoughts on tweaks to the d20 combat system (using Whitehack).

My proposal for shield was this: a character equipped with a shield can attempt to block an attack with an opposed d20 roll. If the character with the shield rolls higher than the attacker but equal or lower to his own attack value (AV), then the attack is blocked. Draws are resolved in favour of the attacker; critical attacks allow the attacker to choose whether to do a normal critical or break the defender's shield.

Of course, shields come in various sizes. Bucklers have considerable advantages, because they're so small. You could take one down the pub (in the 21st century or in a pseudo-medieval fantasy world) without causing alarm. And you could certainly climb and crawl with one. So, let's give bucklers a -2 AV penalty when parrying. That makes them pretty handy for an unarmoured or highly skilled fighter, and well worth having. The shield of a kobold or small goblin could be used as a buckler by a human-sized PC, but would work as a full-sized shield for its original owner (who has less body mass to cover with it).

Conventional round or "heater" shields use unmodified AV. But these will impose penalties on difficult climbs or similar manoeuvres (typically -1).

Large shields - like a Norman kite or a Roman scutum - give a +1 AV bonus when used to block. But these are even more cumbersome (-2 for most manoeuvres requiring agility, and more at the GM's discretion). And they may have to be discarded in certain circumstances (narrow tunnels, for example).

Huge shields - pavises, perhaps, or tower shields, or the shields of ogres - give a +2 AV bonus but rule out climbing or jumping across chasms.

Friday, 2 March 2018

Great Scaly Orcs!

As a fairly small child (eight or nine), I used to love the ads in back issues of White Dwarf. They featured miniatures by manufactures of which I knew nothing: Rieder Design, Denizen and the Tin Soldier. The ranges were illustrated with blurry monochrome photographs or line drawings. Over the years, I'd occasionally encounter or acquire some of them second-hand, but most remained a mystery. The Great Scaley [sic] Orcs by Essex Miniatures were particularly intriguing; I recall a grinning beast seated on a boar, and perhaps an appearance in Joe Dever and Gary Chalk's Tabletop Heroes column.

Anyway, I acquired a few of them on eBay a year or more ago and painted a couple up:

I'd planned to use them for an idiosyncratic Hordes of the Things army; the eBay batch gave me enough for six element or so, and Essex still makes the range. But tonight I realised that these utterly old-school beasties are dungeon monsters to their core. So I based them up individually.

They're very far from the best miniatures Essex made. The stuff done by Bob Olley is tremendous - notably the other orcish range, Cursaa's Orcs. These I have based for HotT, which I don't regret: they're curious and very large models, about the size of Citadel's old ogres, of which I have plenty. So they're better confined to the wargames table, rather than competing with the ogres in a rather specialised ecological slot. On top of that, the Cursaa's range fit nicely onto narrow bases for "blades" elements, which provides a counterpoint to the endless "warband" elements I have based up for HotT. They look like slow-moving heavies, as per the blades profile, so that works just fine.

But back to the scaly orcs! I don't know whether I'll use these lumpen beauties as gnolls or bugbears or something else entirely (I won't call them either of those, in any case). But with their air of Doctor Who villainy and the distinct possibility that their corpses will prove to be made of papier-mâché,  I think they'll make terrific villains in the old-school megadungeon I'm developing.

The Rituals of Infinity

Rituals are great for RPGs. Why? Because they can go on an awfully long time. Hours. Days. Weeks, even. And that neatly avoids the problem (if it is a problem) of the quantum ogre.

Think about Conan, Valeria and Subotai sneaking into the Temple of Set. Or Indiana Jones' accidental infiltration of the Thugee cult in The Temple of Doom. Both the snake-orgy and the Kali-fest were going to go on for quite some time - meaning that they'd be underway whenever the heroes got there.

I recently ran a Dungeon World game in which an undead necromancer was in the process of animating the remains of some long-buried behemoth - the buried skeleton of which formed the "dungeon". The beast was its own tomb, with the necromancer using a shaft of moonlight shining into the vast skull to complete the reanimation.

This kind of set-up is perfect for a dungeon-bash. There's urgency: the ritual must be stopped! The captives earmarked for sacrifice must be rescued! But there's also a lack of urgency: the PCs can take their time getting there, because - hey - the high priest's here all night.

You can throw in as much distant chanting as you like. Or some special effects: in our recent game, the whole "dungeon" lurched every so often, as the long-dead landwhale stirred.

The scrum problem: more thoughts on RPG combat and some Whitehack hacks!

Stuck in the middle with ... yeugh!
A problem with D&D combat is that it's like a rugby scrum. Once you've engaged, you're stuck there until it ends. In rugby, that's when the ball emerges; in RPGs, it's when one combatant loses all their hit points. And that can be dull - a simple trading of d20 and damage rolls until one side wins out. It can also take much longer than the few seconds a scrum takes - even allowing for resets!

Other games do things differently, of course. Runequest's combat feels fast and realistic, but a consequence of speed is that the PC is highly likely to end up dead or maimed. As I've discussed before, that's great for a game in which combat is a last-resort, high-stakes affair - the climax of a session rather than part of its punctuation. But it's not so good for a dungeon crawl.

Tales of Blades and Heroes, the underrated RPG version of the classic skirmish wargame Song of Blades and Heroes, has a great risk/reward element. As in the skirmish game, players choose to attempt between one and three actions; two or more failures have unpleasant consequences - but two or more successes can be combined into more powerful attacks. And because the game has a "downed" or disadvantaged status for combatants, the balance of power can change quite quickly. It doesn't have hit points, though, so unlucky PCs can be killed quite quickly - they have a fate point or some such, if memory serves.

And Dungeon World really frees things through the Powered by the Apocalypse system, wherein descriptions trigger "moves". A combat description ("I slash at the orc's throat with my knife") might be the "hack & slash" combat move, but another ("I dive through the ogre's legs to get behind him") might be "defy danger". What's so great about this system is that it encourages the players to think creatively and doesn't limit them to combat mode - even when their characters are hard pressed by foes.

So there's a strong argument for greater choice in combat situations. But how to do this in D&D-style games without clogging the basic d20 system with  complexity?

The most obvious way is just to encourage players to attempt whatever they want. Most good GMs do this anyway. But it's a good idea to remind players at the start of a session that chandeliers are there to be swung on, chairs to be flung in enemies' ways and embers to be kicked in their faces. Mechanically, a sound rule of thumb is that any "stat-check" option (a DEX check to kick embers in faces, for example) doesn't do actual damage to foes, but inconveniences them or buys the PCs time. And the negative consequences for failure are some minor disadvantage - a missed attack opportunity, an negative (worst of 2d20) roll or a positive (best of 2d20) for the enemies.

Also, tactical retreats should be eminently possible. I'd allow a player to back away from a fight at half-move without any risk - and certainly no free hacks. Attacks would be forfeited, but defence would be unaffected - so, with the shield/parry tweak I'm going to propose below, a character could defend himself perfectly well against a pursuing attacker (who would suffer no penalties from following up). In the "scrum" combat of the recent Whitehack games I've run, players haven't retreated enough. They should be able to draw off attackers (perhaps so a colleague can achieve something in the meantime) and retreat to positions of strength (doorways, most obviously).

Then there are shields. As I argued in my earlier post, shields should matter a lot. They should be truly valuable in combat - much more so than a +1 increment to armour class - but they should be heavy, bulky and something that dungeoneers often have to discard in favour of treasure or escape.

My solution? Adding an opposed roll to d20 combat. I've no idea whether other iterations of D&D already do this, but for Whitehack, here's how I see it. In Whitehack's wonderfully streamlined d20 system, an attacker succeeds by rolling equal to or under his attack value (AV) and over his opponent's armour class (AC). Rolling the AV itself is a critical. In my games, henceforth, a defender with a shield matches the attacker's roll with one of his own. He's aiming to roll higher than the attacker's roll but lower than his own AV (broadened to be 'defence value' too).

So, if Vareesh the Red (AV 14) swings a sword at Tarya Twicefallen (AV 12, AC 3, shield), he needs to roll between 14 and 4 to succeed. But Tarya can block his blow with her shield if she rolls higher than his roll and lower than or equal to her own AV of 12. If Vareesh rolls 7, Tarya turns the blow with a roll of 8 to 12.

In the case of critical hits, the attacking player can choose to either disregard the shield roll (even if it exceeds the attacker's AV ) or break the shield. So, let's say Tarya ripostes after blocking Vareesh's blow. She rolls a 12 - a critical. She decides to do double damage (as with a regular critical) to Vareesh, but she could have opted to break his shield-straps instead.

A shield block can be used only against a single attack in a given turn. But let's expand the system too, to allow characters to fight defensively: forfeiting their attack for a weapon-based parry. This can't be used against the same attacker as a shield, but it could be used against a second attacker (or a second attack from the same attacker). And of course, it can be used by a character without a shield, to allow them to try to hold off an assailant until a friend can help. The same principles apply - including the choice on a critical of double damage or a broken weapon.

At the same time, we should abandon Whitehack's d6-based damage for all weapons and allowed two-handed weapons such as poleaxes and greatswords to do d12 damage (there might be nuances within that - perhaps a greatsword might do d12 + 1, while a poleaxe might reduce AC by 1, for example).

This, I think, gives the players significantly more choice - both within the combat round and without. Wield a two-handed weapon and gain greater damage capacity at the expense of a shield. Fight defensively, or retreat to a place of greater safety, but lose out on the potential to cut your enemy down there and then. These choices involve significant risk/reward tradeoffs - and that's just as it should be.

Shield and plate
Note that shields are of huge value in combat under this system. If you have AC 0, of course you're going to want a shield when a fight breaks out. Unless, that is, you're bedecked in plate armour (for which I'd propose a much higher AC than Whitehack does - perhaps as high as 10 for Wars of the Roses-style plate). In that case, you probably won't bother and will prefer the destructive power of the poleaxe - just as real 15th-century men-at-arms did.

But because shields are heavy, can get in the way and can break (particularly if a GM chooses to cleave one on a critical for narrative purposes), they involve tradeoffs of their own. Carry a shield, but be prepared to have to abandon it because of its bulk in certain circumstances. Grab a shield from a fallen foe - but risk being mistaken for them by a rival faction. Recall the words of Samwise Gamgee in Cirith Ungol:

'The Morgul-stuff, Gorbag's gear, was a better fit and better made', said Sam; 'but it wouldn't do, I guess, to go carrying his tokens into Mordor, not after this business here.'

Thursday, 1 March 2018