Friday, June 29, 2012

Black City Game 3

Mustafa of Arabia, a scimitar wielding desert warrior
Uther of Alfheim, an elf
Shamus  Bloodstar, a Gaelic wizard
Mulnar, a Northman cleric
Falki, a Northman specialist

Arthur the Fair
Bjorn Fjordrunner
Visin the Frey Cleric

"Let's hope the wizard is clearly interested in this alien skull", was a common sentiment with the party, as they stood in line outside the wizard's tower.

"Wizard's tower, wtf?  I thought this campaign is on some frozen island in the arctic circle?", you may ask.  Well, yes it is, but apparently that hasn't stopped an enterprising magician from far Arabia from building a tower in sheltered valley not far from Trade Town.  He pays good silver for alien relics, they say.  The popular rumor is that he's carried back and forth on the winds by his enslaved djinns.

So we resumed play with the party stamping their feet in the cold air, waiting on line outside the wizard's tower.  They suffered the boasting of Brand the Red, another petitioner at the wizard's place, whose group 'The Wolf Cloaks' had recovered a golden disc from the ruins, a flat circle covered in weird dots.  "This is writing," he said, "And this is what the wizard pays for.  He's going to laugh at your stupid box."  If there was some sand nearby, Brand would have tried to kick it in their faces.

The inside of the tower was oppressively hot to the Northmen.  Only a single person was allowed at a time to negotiate with Milkyaton, the servant of the wizard that appraised items salvaged from the city.  Shamus accompanied the strange looking foreigner, wearing the traditional head wrap kufiyya and agal of the desert people, and they went deep into the tower to sit on low cushions and speak.  The metal box was carried by a pair of blocky wooden automatons that looked like dwarves with turbans.

In the end, Shamus left the strange tower, with its exotic smells, coffee drinks, and onion-shaped turret on top, with a mere 150sp, but with the knowledge that the wizard would pay well for alien writing (which, to the modern reader, I've been describing a bit like Braille).  Now they had a better idea on their scavenging in the city.

Before the next jaunt back to the city, they were at the Njord Hall looking for help, and met a new potential PC, the Northman, Falki  (we were down some players, so one of the dads brought his kiddo along).  They learned that Galm, the mercenary from last week (who had that thing fly into his head), was out there recruiting his own group, with bold talk of finding the passages into the deeper depths.  They wanted to stay far away from Galm after what they had seen.

Back in the dungeons, they went to see if the bandits from the Angry Yrsa were still camped out in one of the rooms.  Different week, different players.  One Sleep spell later, and the Angry Yrsa was down 7 crew members and the group was counting silver and stacking equipment to take back to town.  "They attacked us first", said Shamus.  "That's my story and I'm sticking to it."  The murder hobo tradition is alive and well.

The Well of Woe area is well-trodden, and there were runic markings in chalk on some of the entranceways and hatches giving some indication of the room beyond… the room with the laser turret was marked as "danger", another room might have been filled with undead with the word "gjenganger", and so on.  (They ended up defeating the laser with mirrors and looting that room, picking over the decapitated corpses of some less savvy explorers).

There was a large hostelry set up in one of the chambers, a small barracks where a man named Agnarson and his crew offered to provide safe quarters and food in return for coin.  "It beats having to pay the toll every day to re-enter the Well of Woe", said Agnarson.  "We charge quite a bit less than the toll and you don't have to leave the dungeon at all."

One of the final moments was when they were backtracking to search some areas they moved through quickly, when a large number of rats, giant rats, came skittering out of the dark.  The rats ended up mobbing Twig-belly, one of the retainers, who went down to the ground screaming while giant rats clung to his torso and bit him in the face.

"Yeah, he's pretty much dead already, let's just throw oil on the whole mess and call it a night".  I'm sure the other retainers will feel that was a good choice, too.

Game three ended with the group hauling all their looted gear back up the Well of Woe and back to camp, meeting the trader to see what was salvageable for coin.  We're using a silver standard, so 300sp is a fine "night at the office" for level 1 adventurers.

Nogal used to post an intermittent blog over at Chronicles of Nogal, but the kid's computer died a few months ago and I haven't had the chance to get a new motherboard.  He said this is what he'd be putting in his character's diary about game night (if this proves interesting, maybe I'll end the DM's game reports with Mustafa's war diaries).

Mustafa's war diary - Day 3
I got chain mail today.  From a dead guy.  Woohoo.  Another henchman bit the dust today, torn apart by giant rats.  Then we put a bunch of oil on him and the rats and we burnt them.  I wouldn't want to be him.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Harrow Home's Dark Pit

Here and there, I'm jotting notes for the future setting of Harrow Home Manor.  It's significantly different than the Black City and is a good outlet for the supernatural and Gothic horror themes that don't quite belong on Thule.  You may recall, it’s a crumbling manse on the Yorkshire moors, a 16th century ruin on a site whose history stretches far into the past.  Factions of malign sorcerers compete in the darkness to control access to the secrets deep below the ruins.

In the deepest extent beneath Harrow Home is a miasmic hole known as "the pit".  The pit is the ultimate prize that drives the competing sorcerers of Harrow Home.  Access to the pit… and the strange thing it contains.

The object in the pit was brought to the moors in a time before history; there are drawings in those deeps from an early people that depict the thing in the pit when it was small, when it could still be carried, along with drawings of extinct animals such as the giant tusked mammoths.  There are renderings of the thing made at other times; a mural from the Roman occupation of the site, an ink drawing on vellum made by a Christian monk that's been stored in the wizard's library.  One cannot escape the conclusion that the thing in the pit is growing, and continues to grow, towards some unfathomable birth.  Now it fills the whole space and stands taller than a man.

Written accounts describe it as a black cyst, a scabrous oval whose crack-riddled surface secretes a repellent liquid discharge, or spews strange gases and ruinous spores.  These unhealthy discharges form an object of study by Harrow Home's arcane practitioners, both living and dead - they strive to create spells to coax this issue forth with greater frequency and receive the dark gifts it bestows.

The meaning behind the thing in the pit alters through the lens of the observer.  To the medieval monks, it was the Adversary itself, the morningstar expelled from the heavens and cast to earth, and they called it The Prisoner.  The Romans considered it a Celtic monster, the Celts thought it the eye of Balor, and earlier peoples worshipped it as a sleeping god.

In the end, the monks might not have been so wrong to imagine it fell to earth from beyond the world; the thing generates a terrible gravity as if it seeks to return to Hell itself and the lower dungeons are continually sinking.  If the records are to be believed, the old fane at the bottom of the pit was once on the surface of the moors, and the distance to the surface becomes greater as the centuries march on.  Thus, there are successive layers of history in the dungeon, and descending into the depths is tantamount to traveling backwards through time.

The first of many forays into the background of Harrow Home Manor, getting some early thoughts out on the blog while these ideas swirl around my head.  Most things too supernatural or Gothic quickly get jotted into the notebook for eventual inclusion into Harrow Home.  The cyst in the pit would make an awesome drawing - I'm imagining something like a steaming, cancerous version of Mothra's egg, with an obeisant sorcerer nearby.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Project Updates - the Black City and Harrow Home

The scope for the current version of the Black City is taking shape. Right now it sits as a long series of text files in a directory, along with a mix of map graphics and hand-drawn maps in a plain folder; I pasted about 2/3rds of the text files into a word document a few weeks ago when we started running it at the table, and it was around 100 pages.  I was estimating this first installment to come in around 160 pages; now that I'm abandoning many of the random tables for actual pre-generated content, who knows what that will do to the size (and everything will change when it gets laid out).  Some serious editing should shrink it all down.

The scope is turning out to be fairly expansive - it includes the islands of the Thule archipelago as a hex crawl; 320 detailed hexes for the ruined surface of the city; 15 or so detailed surface areas within the ruins (many of them are multi-level mini dungeons, such as large towers that still stand); the first 2 dungeon levels beneath the city, the Transit Tunnels and Warrens of Decay; Trade Town, a small but detailed home base; tons of NPC's and opposing explorers; an alien bestiary and guide to artifacts in the city.  The dungeons tend to be small and modular; for example, the sprawling subway tunnels of level 1 lead to 6 mini-dungeons (20 rooms or so each) and a handful of junctions and smaller room complexes, making level 1 around 150 rooms, but geographically dispersed.  My notes cover another 5 dungeon levels below 2 (levels 3-8) but I'll save those for a second installment if I ever get this first one out the door.

Play testing is invaluable!  I have a bunch of trips coming up in July, but I really want to get more groups involved.  I may run a neighborhood kids game on Thule to get more of it opened up, and may even join the G+ hangout crowd later in July (assuming I can swing another gaming night while maintaining the whole work-family-writing balance thing).  I'm trying to put  a late event on the schedule for Gencon, to allow a group of strangers into one of the remote sections of the first level.  I'll drop a note here when it's confirmed in case any readers want to get in.  I just remembered though, that I posted it for running Lamentations - wasn't there some bad blood between Gencon and LOTFP?  Let's see if it gets kicked out by the machinery.

Meanwhile - expect to start  seeing posts on Harrow Home Manor trickling out.  I've discovered a thing about my creative cycle; I like to get those inspirational posts out early, lots of blah blah blah, and then let the ideas percolate and marinate for a while.  It's important to write things down and keep a good notebook, and look at old ideas with a fresh set of eyes later.  Inspirational posts for the Black City have been floating around the blog for well over a year before it kicked into high gear a few months ago.  I'm going to start Harrow Home Manor simmering in a similar way, with the expectation that it will be properly seasoned and ready for cooking sometime early next year.  And now all this talk of flavoring food is making me a bit hungry.  I had just gotten back from a hike with the kids when I started writing this one  - I needed to get some lunch!  See you later.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Black City Retainers

No plan survives contact with the enemy... or in this case, no campaign survives contact with the players, at least in its initial form.  I've been busy revising a lot of my campaign tools this week to increase utility for the table top; all those random tables of which I was so proud are getting turned into spreadsheets to generate content in advance for faster use at the table.

I've converted the ship generator, name generator, hex content stocker, and just put together a simple spreadsheet for rolling up NPC retainers.  Here's a snapshot or so of 20 retainers appropriate for a Viking themed game.

On the island of Thule, retainers become available a number of ways.  Some men hire onto larger ships as rowers, sailing to Thule to contract out as mercenaries.  Sometimes there is a falling out with one's own crew.  And lastly, they're survivors of a failed party seeking to catch on with a new group.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Randomly Generated Viking Ships

Big thanks to those insightful comments from yesterday - it really helped cement my decision to pregenerate more content, both for my tabletop game and for the future manuscript.  I like the idea of publishing the source tables in an appendix with some algorithms so a home DM can make their own content, too.

I put the excel programming in place and generated a few hundred sample ships yesterday - below is a table excerpt on how they look.  For me personally, this gives me plenty of bones to improvise the rest; keep in mind that somewhere I have a chart with ship demographics - what's the level of a knarr captain versus a longship captain, what's the crew breakdown of level 0 guys, that kind of stuff (it might be out here, too, I'll look for the link).  I also made a few hundred extra Viking names and personalities in case other names are needed.  Next up - a "meat shields" type generator for Black City retainers, and then I'm going to program the hex content generators.

Click to Embiggen

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Random Content and Speed During Play

One of the interesting things I'm learning during these early Black City sessions is the gap between good content generation tools and good content.  A simple example - the group runs into some bandits, what's the name of the bandit leader?  Which ship are they from?

It's Agnar.  "Agnar Thorvaldson, or Agnar of Bergen?  Oh, you meant Agnar the Sallow; good.  Just glad it's not Agnar son of Skjolf.  Old Skjolf already hates us."

The point being, there's a lot of ways to generate a good Viking name on the fly, I've built myself tables upon tables of tools to generate names, places, ship names, personalities, all these super flavorful things with the Viking details.  (Some of them appeared in previous blog posts, like here: Viking names.  There's a section on random tables on the Black City page).

Detail is important for this type of campaign, the setting demands lots and lots of easily referenced details.  When the party gets into a scrum with Agnar Thorvaldson's bandits, it's important to know they have kin on the Angry Yrsa, one of the ships on the island.  The party probably just made a handful of enemies in the other crew; this is the kind of stuff that's going to drive conflict in the campaign.  "You run into another set of Viking bandits"  is lazy and boring; "You run into another group from the Angry Yrsa" adds immediate excitement; the DM knows they'll take a penalty to the reaction roll because a party member killed Agnar the Sallow in a duel and the crew is spoiling for some payback.

Which brings me back to the original thought here - table top speed.  I'm finding more and more that tools are great, but generating content before we sit down and play is even better.  Having some huge lists of pre-generated names, ships, and so forth is proving to be best of all.  Dice rolling the stuff got to be a drag, so now I'm programming it all into excel to generate premade lists (I'm really too lazy to reinstall mssql and do it all through an rdbms right now).

I know the dungeons have been interesting so far, but I'm hoping the group explores the ruined surface when they need a change of pace so I can see how the hex content creation plays.  There's a finite number of hexes and I'm wondering if I should just number and auto-populate the hexes - it would play faster, but is less inspirational.

In a published version of the city, I'd probably include lists of premade content so a DM could sit down and play it 'right out of the box' with a list of premade ships, Viking groups, and so on - but include the raw tables in an appendix for additional creation and inspiration.  What do you guys think?

And the question for fellow game masters - there's excitement generating content on the fly and forcing yourself to improvise, versus having it laid out in advance and not having to pause for a dice rolling sequence.  Where's your sweet spot?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Black City Session 2: Head Games

Cast of Characters
Mustafa of Arabia, a scimitar wielding desert warrior
Uther of Alfheim, an elf
Shamus, a Gaelic wizard
Agnar Beigarth, a Northman fighter
Irina Edvards, a fighter

Arthur the Fair (specialist), Bjorn Fjordrunner (fighter), Brick Bunnycracker (halfling)
New:  Visin of Frey, a cleric; Galm - a mercenary; Twig-belly - a mercenary

Time for the group's second foray into the ruins of the Black City.  It was a Sunday night, so we didn't have the full crew.  Plus, the retainer Ulf Skullcrusher failed a loyalty check back at camp, and decided to try his luck with another group.  They headed to Trade Town to try and hire some more retainers.

Trade Town is organized as a series of four long halls in a square, surrounded by a low berm of rock and dirt, forming a central yard.  Two of the halls are reserved for the jarl that built the fort, Bergfinn, and his soldiers, while the other two are used as a trade hall and drinking hall.  The group spent some time at the Njord Hall buying drinks and picking up the gossip.

A bit later, they stumbled out of the Njord Hall with a pair of newly hired, rugged looking mercenaries, Galm and Twig-belly; a fresh-faced priest of Frey, excited to be invited on a foray into the ruins; and a rumor that if you follow some of the tunnels under the city, you'll run into a section of cloudy mist in the tunnels, and that some deranged killers were living in the mist.

Out at the Well of Woe, the guards of the steaming hole confirmed the rumor about the mists.  "Yeah, that's true; a tough group recently tried to pass through the mists, and said they were beaten back by axe wielding mad-men.  It's only a few weeks into the season, but there are probably at least 6 crews down in the tunnels already, and it's not unheard of for a group to turn to banditry if they're not finding stuff.  Keep your eyes open, and watch your backs."

After descent, the group returned to the room with the stone table and conducted another search, tapping the walls carefully, with guards clearly posted.  The bodies of the dead vikings were gone.  Shamus found a small sliding wall panel that he slid open with a dagger, revealing a half foot long quartz crystal wedged between two sockets; the center of the crystal was blackened and smoky.  They pried the crystal out as loot, while the players wondered if it was a fuse.

Down one of the halls they passed a slightly open hatch with a flickering light; from behind the hatch came "We know you're out there, what do you want?" in Norse.  After some 'pleasantries', they learned the guys in the room came over on the knarr, Angry Yrsa, and were planning to attack another group that limped back to a camp from the big tunnel carrying loot, but nursing injuries.  "How about we team up to take those guys out and split whatever loot they found?"  In the room, the two groups gauged the other by lantern light - the party was bringing eleven, the bandits had six members in rough leathers with spears and clubs.

This threw a real monkey wrench at the players - would they play the game as amoral murder hobos, teaming up with bandits to bash in the skulls of fellow explorers, or would they focus on exploration?  There are no strong bonds between crews from distant places.  We're not using alignment as a moral straightjacket, so everyone is basically neutral unless they use magic.  It was a pretty interesting (and lively) discussion, but in the end, they voted 3-2 not to team up with the bandits and attack the other guys - for now, at least, they're focusing on exploration.  "What are you, a bunch of milk-drinking children?", grumbled Thorbrandson, the bandit leader.  "This is easy silver, and you'd rather go face death and monsters?  Go on, get out of here you cowards".  Shamus really wanted to Sleep them after that.

Not far from there, they passed the camp of the injured veterans.  "Keep walking past this hatch, if you know what's good for you", came a hostile threat from beyond the cracked door.  When the group warned the voice about the bandits not far from there, they got small thanks and a tip:  "Be careful when you enter the mists.  We ran into a group of mad-men up there, who attacked with axes from out of the mist.  They have the 'dungeon madness', and can't be treated with".  But the veterans never opened the hatch.

The last interesting thing was after exploring a few rooms and halls, they came to a dead end where a large metal box sat near the wall.  It had a lid, and close inspection saw a bit of waxy seal holding the lid down.  The metal on the box appeared to be lead, which would be worth something back at camp, but the players weren't keen on breaking the seal.  "Hey Galm, this is our most likely source of treasure on this delve, how do you feel about popping the lid open with your knife?"

After flipping open the lid, Galm screamed and fell back, clutching his face.  Twig-belly gasped in horror, "Did you see that?  WTF!" Meanwhile, Galm twitched and whimpered on the ground, his head flopping back and forth.

"It was like a giant bug, it flew right out of the chest and hit Galm in the face, only it flew right *into* his face and then disappeared.  This is totally messed up."  Meanwhile, everyone now saw the thing left in the box - an alien looking skull, large almond-shaped eye sockets, small malign teeth, and a large hole in the middle of the forehead.

Galm sat up and seemed to be feeling better.  "Blacked out there for a minute, but I'm feeling better now.  Feeling better than I've been in a long time", he drawled, and flashed a wicked smirk.  (It's probably nothing).

Time was late, so a couple of guys lugged the heavy box with the skull and they made their way out.  "I don't think we're going to invite Galm along next time" seemed to be the popular opinion.  They ended the night making idle conjecture whether an alien bug would be bursting out of Galm's head at some point, or whether the hole represented 'trepanning' and they should look for a drill back at camp and put a hole in Galm's head.  I was amazed that it was one of the 11 year olds that brought up trepanning and started expounding about its use to relieve cranial swelling and migraines in prior times.  We have some home schooled kids in the neighborhood, and you never know what oddball things they’ve picked up in their readings or watching history shows - that was pretty cool.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Return to Barsoom

Ock, Ohem, Oktei, Wies, Barsoom... the mystic phrase that returned John Carter to Mars.

I got back from a camping trip with the kiddos and the John Carter movie was waiting at home… good old Netflix.  I enjoyed the film a lot - it's not a deep movie, but it is a rousing adventure tale, and it was delightful to see an influential early pulp story flickering on the screen.  As a gamer who invests a significant amount of time into imaginary worlds, I found the motif of Carter's return to Barsoom particularly compelling.

Consider:  when we first meet him in the story, Carter is a rootless Civil War veteran living with the ghosts of his family.  There's a sense of anger and desperation.  On Barsoom, however, Carter possesses super human strength and jumping ability; he wins the hand of a beautiful princess, unites a warring planet, and overthrows a tyrant.  He is the "Dotar Sojat" of the Tharsk people.  Is it any wonder he spends his fortune attempting to find another medallion to return to Barsoom, rather than live out the rest of his life on Earth?

That's the part that made for such a compelling metaphor for gaming.  The campaign represents your own Barsoom, where players can forge their own roles as champions of the oppressed, or tyrannical warlords, or daring treasure hunters.  The setting is an opportunity to forget about life in the cubicle, or office, or out on the job site, or whatever your 9 to 5 Monday through Friday gig requires.  You get to project your consciousness to Barsoom for a few hours every time the DM kicks off the next game and the dice start rolling.

The other thing I can appreciate is how influential John Carter of Mars has been on post-Barsoom writers.  The conceit of living an alternate life in a fantastic realms is echoed in stories like Cameron's Avatar film, or the Thomas Covenant fantasy novels, or the movie Total Recall; heck, the 1990 film Total Recall is practically an updated love letter to the earlier John Carter stories.  (I can't speak if that's true for the original Philip K Dick story).  I'm sure if I think on it further, I'll identify more stories that use the motif of a hero choosing a fantastic other-world over a mundane life on Earth.  Here's an interesting question for the literary folks in the readership:  how many stories predating Barsoom involve a main character discovering an amazing alternate world, losing it, and then spending their time attempting to return?  I'm assuming the element of losing and returning to Barsoom figured in the original ERB stories.

In the meantime, good gaming, and may all your campaigns be so vivid and exciting!

Now get back to work.  It's Monday.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Made of Gygaxium. Black City Report #1

We kicked off the Black City campaign last weekend, and I promised a game report.  The quote of the night was this one, from Shamus:

DM:  The hatch in front of you appears to be made out of an unknown metal.
Shamus:  From now on, I shall call this metal… Gygaxium.

I might just take that on as an aspiration goal - ensure the megadungeon always incorporates a lot of pure "gygaxium".  This other quote was a close second, one of our 10 year old players that groks the challenge of old school dungeon exploration:

Nogal:  Playing classic D&D is like auditioning.  Every time you survive, you make the cut for another week.
After Kolfina's throat was torn out by a hungry Gjenganer:  Kolfina didn't pass her audition.

Cast of Characters
Mylar of Arabia, a scimitar wielding desert warrior
Uther of Alfheim, an elf
Brutok the Strong, a dwarf
Shamus  Bloodstar, a Gaelic wizard
Mulnar, a Northman cleric
Kolfina Insvarti, a halfling
Agnar Beigarth, a Northman fighter

Ulf Skullcrusher (specialist), Arthur the Fair (specialist), Ayerick the Young (fighter), Bjorn Fjordrunner (fighter), Skoldig (specialist), Irina Edvards (fighter), Brick Bunnycracker (halfling)

Characters were rolled, one sentence backgrounds were tossed out, and the group chose to journey to Thule on Isgerd's Fury, the sample ship I included in the player's handout (see it here, Isgerd's Fury).  We upgraded Isgerd's Fury from a knarr (crew of 10-15) to a longship (crew of 30-40) because the party is so large.  This gives them a lot of low-level shipmates as potential retainers, as well as a few high level NPC's with overall responsibility for the ship and gear.  The party randomly determined a Viking homeland, which was established as Zealand - a large island off the coast of Jutland.

The Isgerd's Fury link above provides the description of arriving on Thule, getting oriented, and building the camp.  They took a few minutes to look at some pictures of Svalbard and Spitsbergen island, the real-world inspirations for Thule.  Then it was off to the Well of Woe, the most well known entrance to the dungeons.  The players have the option of striking out overland, exploring the upper ruins, excavating, any of those things, but the dungeon seemed like a good idea for a quick jaunt.

The hike to the city involves passing by the smoky outpost of Trade Town, then a few miles along the fjord until the city comes into view.  It's a sprawling basalt ruin that stretches a few miles along the inlet's coast.  The north half is obscured by mist and cloud, and a few extant structures and towers jut skyward from the mountains of rubble.  The trail descends down a hill until the party was walking among the towering piles of rubble, and then the group was at the plaza.

The Well of Woe is a 30' steaming hole in the center of a small plaza in the south of the city; nearby, a handful of soldiers maintain a guard picket in a small shelter.  There was a bit of chatter with the guards, who charge a toll in return for letting explorers use their ropes and ladders to descend down the well.

At the bottom of the 30' drop was a large chamber that formed the end-point of a rounded, 20' wide tunnel that appeared to stretch into the distance beneath the city - a dark highway beneath the rubble streets.  There were some side passages and a hatch in the chamber too.

Once the group was safely down, the soldiers quickly pulled up the rope ladders.  "Make some noise, bang on metal, or blow a whistle when you need to come back up.  And make sure you have a light - we won't drop a ladder if we can't see you!"

On the wall was a kind of schematic, looking a bit like this diagram here:

The group hypothesized it was some kind of tunnel map, but they can't be sure yet.

Faced with multiple passages and an oval hatch, they chose the hatch.  One of the strong guys pried it open with a crowbar; it slid into the wall on a track, revealing a set of stairs leading up to a small chamber with another passage leading out.

The only thing in the chamber was a small stone table with a recessed surface, like a game table or pool table.  They started searching (astutely leaving no one on guard duty) so of course they were surprised when a pair of Northmen stumbled up the stairs behind them.  Only I lied!  They weren't Northmen, they were hungry dead Northmen, each sporting mortal wounds that became hideously apparent when the monsters lurched into the light.

The halfling, Kolfina, was quickly killed as the monsters clawed and bit her, biting into her neck.  Put that in the history books - Kolfina the Halfling was the first player character death in the Black City.  The party rallied and hacked the dead men after a spate of horrible rolls kept the monsters in the fight longer than necessary.

Since we had combined character generation and pizza with the campaign kickoff, the night was getting late, so the group quickly found themselves back at the Well of Woe, whistling for the guards to drop a ladder.  "That was quick!" said the guards.

My group likes to name their adventuring party, and it didn't take long for a new name to emerge.  Vikings are the pirates of the dark ages, the island's modern day name is Spitsbergen, next thing you know, they're calling themselves The Spitsberg Pirates.  What’s the equivalent of "ahoy" or "shiver me timbers" in old Norse?  Maybe "dead men tell no tales" would be more appropriate.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A Challenge For 5E

There was lots of recent chatter on the old school blogs about 'dissociated mechanics' and how this doomed 4E.  The hanging question, is WOTC still doing the same thing in 5E?

I have a different requirement for 5E:  I want a set of rules that support simulation of whatever fantasy world I'm building for my campaign.

I know the word "simulation" is loaded; I don't want a game that simulates real world physics.  But I want the rules that define the game elements to follow some internal consistency, and apply equally to players and non-player characters and the world at large.  I want a rules set that is coherent for simulating an interesting D&D world for placing adventures.

4E is littered with examples where the rules of the game lead to a game setting that has zero internal consistency or logic.  Monsters have ridiculous armor classes that make them impossible for the ordinary inhabitants of the game world to damage them.  Other monsters have 1 hit point each (as minions) and die when someone gives them a good push.

Just look at the subjective logic of treating dragons as "solo monsters" in some instances, or "elites" based on the combat role the DM wants them to possess, in the next.   The monster has no objective reality in the setting; its role and mechanical footprint is completely subjective, and based only on how it's defined in relationship to the chosen ones, the player characters.  I wouldn't be surprised if there were eventually dragon "minions", too.

I was stubborn with that game system - we gave it a long leash, trying multiple campaigns and getting deep into the 'paragon tier', against my better judgment.  I drank multiple cups of the kool aid.  I won't be nearly so gullible with 5E.

So this is my personal criteria for a successful 5E.  The rules and mechanical bits need to present a world with internal consistency regardless of the presence of player characters.  The mechanical styling of a 4E game world only made sense when viewed from the perspective of providing a perfectly balanced challenge for a set of player characters of superheroic stature with manifest destinies.  It was basically West World, Future World, and any one of those Yul Brenner theme parks (Medieval World, Roman World).  It drove me nuts.

I haven't looked that closely at 5E yet to know if it passes the test.  We probably haven't seen enough regarding the roles of monsters and NPCs in the setting.  I've heard the buzzword "bounded accuracy", which seems to mean The Mearls has abandoned scaling armor class and gone back to the older approach, where armor classes exist in a consistent range across the game setting.  That's really a great first step.  But I've also heard that level 1 characters have super high hit point totals and wield the crazy at-will powers.  (Like, dude, where's my first level?).  If NPC opponents have the same ridiculous hit points and the laser-beam clerics and the zap zap zap wizardy powers, then perhaps the system will have some internal logic.  It might be a good system for gonzo high magic fantasy where all the clerics walk around shooting lasers out of their holy symbols and all the wizards shoot ice rays out of their fingers, and that's just how the world works.

I don't see that happening; I have to think the final version of 5E will keep the players as the super heroic chosen ones of destiny, with over-the-top abilities no one else in the game world seems to possess.  This will probably mean I'll skip 5E entirely.  I can live with some dissociated mechanics.  I won't buy into another incoherent WOTC game that panders to power gamers.  I truly hope to be proven wrong!

Monday, June 11, 2012

House Rules for the Black City Campaign

The Black City marks our return to using the LOTFP rules for the table top game, and the first time breaking out the grindhouse edition with its adjusted XP totals and spell lists.  New campaign, new rules set = chance to re-evaluate our common house rules.

Bind Wounds
Immediately after a combat, characters can perform first aid activities to recover 0-3 hit points (d4-1).

Rationale:  hit points are vague and represent multiple factors - injuries, morale, fatigue.  Giving characters the chance to swig some liquid courage, bandage injuries, catch their breath, etc, lets low level parties stay in the dungeon longer and frees up the cleric from always carrying Cure Light Wounds, especially in LOTFP where Turn Undead takes up a spell slot.  Bind wounds does tend to act a bit like a 'healing surge'.  If a 25% chance of failure is too low, it'd be easy to adjust this rule to 0-2 hit points (d4-2).

New Armor - Ring Mail
Ring mail, AC 15, cost 50sp, encumbers like chain mail.

In a dark ages campaign with little or no access to plate armor, I wanted more variety than just leather and chain, so I slotted ring mail in there as an intermediate (this category would also cover studded leather or scale mail as an alternative).

The Skald - New Specialist Skills
New skills:  ­ Performance (1 in 6), ­ Lore (1 in 6)

If the bard is able to perform for an audience for at least a half hour, he can add his performance skill as a charisma modifier to any reaction or morale roll for the audience members, as long as the roll isn't made more than a day after the performance.

Whenever the bard encounters an item with legendary significance, this skill may be used to try and identify the item and recall a piece of lore or history about it that would exist in song or poem.

These two skills for specialists allow someone to tweak their specialist to cover the role of Skald, the Norse equivalent of the Celtic bard.  Since many of the opponents in the upper ruins of the city are fellow Vikings, the extra reaction roll adjustment from performances would be valuable, along with the boon to retainer morale.  And I've always liked legend and lore as an alternative to the magic user spell Identify for magic items.

Two-Weapon Fighting
A fighting style with an off-hand weapon provides a +1 AC bonus versus one melee opponent only.

This rule is one I'm still considering; in the game, one of the players asked what benefit could they get from dual-wielding.  LOTFP doesn't have an explicit two-weapon fighting rule, which is odd because you figure the fencing styles of Early Modern involved the off-hand quite a bit - dagger or gauche, for instance.

I'm thinking the off-hand weapon provides a +1 to AC like a shield, but only against a single opponent in melee; the shield is still better when fighting multiple opponents, and an off-hand weapon provides no bonus against missile fire. In LOTFP, the shield provides a +2 AC vs missile.  So there's no reason why someone should take two-weapon fighting over a shield, unless it's for encumbrance purposes.  But if style and theme are important, there's at least a small benefit to being a dual-wielder.  You do not get multiple attacks.

Strength Bonus and Damage
The strength damage applies to both to-hit rolls and damage.

Yes - default LOTFP removes the strength bonus for damage and applies it on the to-hit roll only.  You'd think I had peed in the player's drinks when I announced that one.  "Who is this Raggi guy, he needs a smack in the back of the head", grumbled one of the guys.  How many folks out there like a rule where strength doesn't improve weapon damage dealt?  Check out the new poll on the right.

I don't know if Jim has come out and defended the removal of the strength bonus; from the DM's perspective, the world is usually full of monsters that are stronger than people, and they don't frequently get a strength bonus added when they're using weapons.  You can avoid the 'how strong is the monster' debate by having all weapons deal base damage.

I find it nigh impossible to run any rules set straight up without wanting to make a small tweak here or there to better fit my vision for a home game.  This is the smallest package of house rules I've used so far.  Common ones I'm keeping out for now include a fighter cleave rule, a critical hit house rule, clerical 'convert any spell to cure light wounds', and damage by character class.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Entering the Land of the Midnight Sun

The day that seemed like it would never come has arrived.  The Black City is alive.  Alive!  Some of you have been reading random ideas and concepts for this campaign for well over a year, since I started musing about it early last year.  Friday night, dice were rolled, blood was spilled, and the campaign was launched.

We had our full crew present, which meant 7 players (five adults and two kids).  The guys went 3d6 in order and rolled 5 sets of attributes.  They chose the best set for their character, the second best for their retainer, and the remaining 3 would be additional retainers and henchman that could be hired back in camp.

I really liked Chris K's random LOTFP equipment generator (you can find it on the Hill Cantons blog), so I created an altered version for use during character generation in the Black City, Ye Olde Faste Pack - for Vikings.

When all was said and done we ended up with the following characters:

  • Mylar of Arabia, a scimitar wielding desert warrior
  • Uther of Alfheim, an elf
  • Brutok the Strong, a dwarf
  • Shamus  Bloodstar, a Gaelic wizard
  • Mulnar, a Northman cleric
  • Kolfina Insvarti, a halfling
  • Agnar Beigarth, a Northman fighter

Henchman included Ulf Skullcrusher (specialist), Arthur the Fair (specialist), Ayerick the Young (fighter), Bjorn Fjordrunner (fighter), Skoldig (specialist), Irina Edvards (fighter), Brick Bunnycracker (halfling).  The group was a mix of Northmen, ex-thralls, and foreigners that have joined a Northmen adventuring party in return for crewing a ship.

We had enough time at the back end of the session to introduce the characters to Thule and let them make a first, tentative foray into the city, descending into the Well of Woe to begin exploring the under-city.

Their noise and light attracted the shambling corpses of some dead explorers, and they were taken by surprise while everyone was searching a chamber not far from the entrance way.  The city claimed its first player character.  I'll get a regular game report up later in the week.

The other thing I did in advance was to take all my manuscript notes and dump them into a word doc (so I could put in a hyperlinked table of contents for quicker access at the table).  Holy crap, the first installment of the campaign setting is already weighing in at like 45,000 words, 90+ pages.  What a load of bloated hot air.   Oh well, now the real work starts.  It's good to finally put theory into practice and start seeing what works and what's unusable at the table.  Wish me luck, and I'll endeavor to regale you all with captivating tales of Vikings and mayhem as we embark on this exciting new setting.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Liao Now Brown Cow

The exciting conclusion of our last Trail of Cthulhu game.  By way of recap, the basic situation was this:  ritual murders were happening around New York City, and the thread that tied them together was that both victims possessed a book called The Invisible Path; in fact, they were obsessed with it.  It seemed the killer was destroying or stealing the victim's copies.

A visit to the university revealed The Invisible Path was the last book of poetry self-published by a horrid 19th century poet, Martin Bellgrave, shortly before he died.  It featured otherworldly images of the primordial earth.  But copies are hard to find!  An eccentric Providence industrialist, Lewis Holland, had been buying all available copies for the last 20 years.  The characters found themselves on a train to Providence, both to visit the millionaire Holland, and to ask questions at a rare book dealer in Providence, Gollam & Sons.

When we left off, the group was getting ready for dinner at Lewis Holland's sprawling mansion.  A burglar had broken in some weeks ago, and Mr Holland's hired gumshoe would be joining everyone for dinner.  Meanwhile, the party's criminal, O'Grady, had secretly filched a copy of The Invisible Path from Holland's secret library, and took some time before dinner to quickly read the notorious volume of poetry.

O'Grady's world changed.  By the time he turned the last page, he was seeing the red primordial sky out the window and hearing the slurping sound of blasphemous slimes slithering across a humid plain.  O'Grady stumbled downstairs for dinner, pale and shaken, as if he had seen a ghost.

Over dinner, conversation turned towards the efforts of Francis Moon, the private detective hired by Lewis Holland.  "I've been unable to recover any of your books, Mister Holland.  Nor have I been able to find any more copies of The Invisible Path.  Some kook out there is knocking off owners and stealing it from libraries."

Holland started ranting about how important it was to make sure no on else read that horrid book.  "I knew Martin Bellgrave when I was a youth in the 1870's, and he's the greatest embodiment of evil I've ever met in my life.  It's a small thing, for a wealthy man like me, but I've made it my crusade to eradicate the memory of Martin Bellgrave and destroy every copy of his book ever published".

O'Grady had been experiencing strange, distracting thoughts… like there was another personality in his mind.  "I've been dreaming of red skies above a torrid primordial jungle".  Holland went bizonkers, since he knew O'Grady had read the book by some of the phrases he was dropping.  "How is this possible that people are still finding and reading copies of The Invisible Path, when it's my life's work to eradicate this book?"

Meanwhile, one of our absent players was back, taking on the role of Meg Meadows, a forensic scientist that works with the SCD.  Meg was on the train to Providence and arrived the next morning.  Meg had news from the city; there was another ritual murder the previous day, and it was someone that had taken The Invisible Path out of the library recently.  She was able to get the copy from NY public library and had read the book on the way to Providence.  She too was experiencing slight hallucinations, had found thoughts of unknown origin streaming across her consciousness, and dreamed of a red sky.

The next day, Francis Moon was off to Arkham at Lewis Holland's behest, to see if he could make an offer for the university's copy of The Invisible Path.  The party suspected Moon; the detective was a bit creepy and his stories placed him in the same vicinity of each crime.  O'Grady decided to go with Moon on the train to Arkham to keep tabs on the detective.

Everyone else decided to go to the ruined house of Martin Bellgrave.  Bellgrave died in a house fire in the 1870's, and the property had lain fallow for many years.  Holland now owned it, and let it continue to crumble into overgrown vegetation.  As they walked the grounds, Meg had a bizarre experience, like a time-slip.  She found herself in the mansion as it was 60+ years ago, Victorian d├ęcor and Oriental carpets in a shadowy study, where Martin Bellgrave sat in a high backed chair and spoke with her.

This session featured heavy roleplaying, and writing about dialogue in a game report is yawnstipating.  I'll convey the facts as briefly as I can.  Meg learned that Bellgrave was literally a figment of her imagination, a piece of her brain that began to think like the author after reading his book of poetry.  Rereading the book and visiting the ruins strengthened the connection.  The shade of Bellgrave explained how he experimented with strange drugs from the Orient, like the mythical Liao Drug, which unfettered his consciousness from the modern age and allowed him to cast his vision back into prehistory.  He learned the primal tongue, a sorcerous language that allowed him to tap into the racial knowledge of humanity and implant thoughts and ideas directly into his readers.  He poured his mind and soul into his poetry.  This explained some of the gibberish littered throughout the book.

More importantly, he explained how there are things that live in the angles of time, lean and athirst, that can follow a dreaming consciousness back to the modern age and consume it. The man that sold him the Liao Drug warned of this hazard, but it was worth the price of immortality through art.  Meg and the other characters had noticed strange lights in the sky, like distant fireworks slowly getting closer, and Bellgrave confirmed he too had seen such things after his Liao-induced trips to the distant past.

The players eventually snapped Meg out of her apparent trance and learned about her intense inner vision with the ghost of Martin Bellgrave.  They completed their investigation of the ruins, concluding that the mansion was destroyed by other-worldly heat that fused rock into glass and left radioactive traces, even 60 years later.  The party did some other things during the day, errands and other investigation-related snooping, returning to Holland's mansion near dinner.  When Waltham the butler met them, he indicated that the master was in the study with Francis Moon.  The group was surprised to hear Moon was back from Arkham already - it was supposed to be an overnight trip.  Where was O'Grady?

Holland was dead in the study, his blood cooling on the floor, his gouged eyeballs propped on the desk.  Moon leveled his pistol at the group and asked them to come in, slowly.  "I'm going to have to kill Meg", he pointed out.  "I am the real Martin Bellgrave inside Moon, and when all the other figments have been destroyed, I can live fully again.  Everyone who has read the book must die."  O'Grady was dead already, dumped in a private train compartment on his way to Arkham.  (Never send someone off alone with the serial killer).  There were a few half hearted attempts to go for weapons, only to be shot by Moon as the thought crossed their mind;  there was a line of clues earlier in the adventure that Moon was somewhat lucky, psychic, and uncanny, and being possessed by the ghost of the dead sorcerer increased his prescience.

The ending was a bit deus ex… the Flames of Tindalos, the hungry things from beyond space and time, foreshadowed as those ever present fires in the sky, arrived in our time continuum and began consuming Francis Moon to destroy the consciousness of Bellgrave they were following.  The party watched as the flaming motes darted around his body, igniting his flesh while he writhed in torment.  At one point, Moon's personality resurfaced, "I'm not him, I'm not him…" but it was too late for Moon.

The flames retreated but were still in the night sky, seeking the final threads of Bellgrave's consciousness.  Meg realized that she still had a ghost of Bellgrave in her head, and it was inevitable that they would catch up with her soon.  Snyder handed her his pistol.  "Better to go out with a bullet, than writhing in pain like Moon".

At this point, the party came upon an awesome solution, and it was really my favorite part of the adventure. Both Trevor (the occult dilettante) and Father Vinny (the exorcist with a background in psychology) knew of a hypnotist in the city capable of suppressing memories.  The adventure ended with Meg building a brick-encased wall in her brain through hypnosis, Cask of Amontillado style, where she sealed in the screaming shade of Bellgrave and all that happened the past few days, one brick at a time. She awoke with no memories of the experience.  "Why do we have our suitcases and travel clothes?  Did we just get back from a trip?"

Meanwhile, the others wonder… will the mental prison keep Bellgrave suppressed?

They put all the confiscated copies of The Invisible Path into a vault.  They knew, if they ever needed to consult with a sorcerer from the 1870's, they could read the book.  Bellgrave knew a handful of useful Mythos spells and had a fair store of Mythos knowledge.  But the Flames of Tindalos would rejoin the hunt.

I really enjoyed this adventure, with its theme of viral knowledge transmitted through reading a book, and the idea that consuming art can change the thought patterns of the viewer.  Good stuff.

*Liao Now Brown Cow:  this was O'Grady's player, Adam, getting into the spirit of bad poetry when he learned his thought patterns were channeling the dead poet, and he started stringing bad rhymes together.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Nothing But 6's

OD&D isn't my platonic ideal for D&D; I started with the 1981 Red Box, and the Basic and Expert D&D books are still the first love.  But if there's one global rule I'd consider applying to BX or a retro clone, it'd be to get rid of variable hit dice and use nothing but 6 sided dice - the glorious d6.

I have bags and bags of d6's, tons of them from years playing Axis & Allies and similar games.  Consider the simplicity an all d6 game provides for encounters and combat.  10 orcs?  No problem, roll 10 D6's at the start of combat - there are your hit points.  The same 10 dice become your 10 HD monster - you track hit points by removing dice or adjust values as the creature takes damage.  Always rolling hit points at the table and tracking them right on the dice is immensely appealing; I'd never write down hit points again.

It seems easy enough to put some class variability into player HD using d6's; perhaps it's as easy as fighters get a +1, magic users get a -1.  The only thing holding me back for now is unwillingness to get rid of variable weapon damage.  The extreme example your hear about 'from the old days' is a group arming themselves with iron spikes and rocks (everything does a d6!) but there's also a concern with 2-handed weapons; I've seen house rules like exploding 6's for 2-handed weapons, or double dice for 2-handed weapons, or a simple +1 to damage for 2-handers.

I haven't talked to my players about this secret dream of an all d6 D&D game.   The allure of handfuls of square dice runs directly contra to the baroque mystique of using the funny sided polyhedrals.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Turning One's Thoughts to Westeros

The second season of HBO's Game of Thrones is in the books.  My wife has been pestering me to read the latest book, A Dance with Dragons, so I started it last week.  Apparently 'big things happen', and she's been biting her tongue not to drop spoilers, but is insistent on discussing it.  So now I'm reading it.  One of the regulars in the gaming group is getting caught up on the first season and just started reading the books as well.  It's natural to consider if you'd run a D&D game in a setting like Westeros.

There won't be any spoilers here, I'll just be discussing A Game of Thrones in general terms.  The stories have a number of engaging elements; they follow the rise to fame and infamy of the scions of various noble houses in the fictional land of Westeros during a civil war.  The king dies in the first book with a contested heir and the novels relate the chaos in the aftermath.  No one has any plot immunity.  Life in Westeros can be nasty, brutish and short, and main characters frequently get offed.  From that perspective, there is always anticipation of 'what will happen next' when reading GRR Martin.

Westeros itself is very familiar.  The map always seemed to me a fantastic version of England, stretched to the size of a continent.  Hadrian's Wall is replaced by the gigantic ice wall, separating the settled areas from the wild north.  Folks have commented that the war between the Starks and Lannisters is reminiscent of the war between the Yorks and Lancasters; the names share more than a similar phonetic cadence.

The fantastic elements in Westeros are subdued so as not to overwhelm the human element of the conflicts.  There are hints of The Others, ice-born undead beyond the great wall, and legends of a time of dragons, but most of the main characters are disinterested in magic or stories.  Certainly these fantastic elements have gotten more prevalent as the series has progressed.

How would Westeros work as a D&D setting?  The archetypical career of the D&D character, as an explorer and dungeon delver, doesn't seem to have a place in the literary version of the setting.  There are scant mentions of ruins, and there's certainly no freeman profession of "professional adventurer" the way we see it in more typical D&D worlds.  The literary version wouldn't seem to support wealth through salvage.  Mercenaries, yes, but not gold-claiming monster-slayers.  Characters in A Game of Thrones rise to power through politics and feats of arms.  Wifey was telling me - Oh c'mon, you could put old ruins beyond the Ice Wall, or beneath Harrenhall Castle, or on one of the many islands.

Why not just use a standard D&D setting and add a layer of politics and sheer bloody mindedness?  Chances are your D&D setting already has some rulers who were previously adventurers, and a D&D setting assumes it's common for self-made rulers to rise to prominence after starting their careers as dungeon-sacking adventurers.

However, I can think of some things to strip out of D&D to make it fit the theme.  I'd de-emphasize alignment.  The question of right and wrong is highly subjective in A Game of Thrones, and a sympathetic case can be made for each side.  The vast majority of monsters need to be removed as a force in the world.  It's fine if you have some isolated monsters in the ruins or on the frontier, but there are no apparent global monster threats that would trigger the human kingdoms to unite; there's nothing to distract the nobles from beating on each other.  Many D&D worlds follow the Tolkien model of the big bad evil guy, providing a rallying cry for all the 'free peoples' to band together for all mankind and sing the campfire songs.  Not in Westeros.

I'm ambivalent about the degree of magic.  Westeros is seemingly low magic; there are few flashy spells or planar entities or magic weapons getting swung around.  The gods seem distant and remote, but there is evidence of magic-working priests and priestesses.  There's even a fair amount of 'raise dead' that happens in the stories, although the results aren't necessarily comfortable or desirable… more like revenants.

I've been using a list of campaign criteria for a good D&D setting to help the analysis, here's how it shakes out vis a vis Westeros:

The List:
Adventures and Frontiers, Autonomy, Dungeons, XP for Gold, Treasure and Magic Items, Classes and Levels, NPC Classes and Levels, Alignment, High Magic, Humanoids and Monsters, The End Game, Demi-Humans, Clerical Magic, Vancian Magic

We've already said the setting would need to be altered by adding the ruins of prior civilizations to support an adventurer class, autonomous explorers, XP for gold, recovery of treasure and lost magic, and so on.  (Valyrian steel!).  Plenty of the rulers and main characters appear to be tough, high level characters, in game terms, so there's no problem there, and the standard D&D end-game of rising to power and claiming a domain works very well here.  Alignment needs to be removed or face an adjustment, and humanoids and monsters must be marginalized (same for demi-humans).  The political conflicts are human vs human, there's no joining hands with the friendly elves to fight Sauron or Iuz or Tzass Tamm.  I'm ambivalent about low versus high magic, but tend to think low magic would work better in terms of flavor, whereas high magic would require less tweaking of the game engine.

What do you think?  Have you tried playing a D&D game in Westeros, or borrowing ideas and themes from A Game of Thrones into your game?

Saturday, June 2, 2012

D&D Economics in the Early Modern

A recent theme here has been evaluating alternative historical settings for suitability in D&D campaigns - I was articulating criteria for a setting, and making some notes on adjustments for moving D&D to the early modern.  One thing I postulated was that it would be necessary to alter the D&D end-game, perhaps removing standard benefits like where a fighter gains martial followers or a cleric gains the ability to build a reduced price church and attract religious soldiers.  Many of the commentators pointed out historical examples of conquerors in the 17th century, and brought me around to the line of thinking that a 17th century fantasy game should be able to support self-made conquerors, too.

The economics of domain rulership go hand in hand with building armies and conquering territories.  The ACKS game (Adventurer Conqueror King) is my favorite development of economics and the D&D end-game, so I dropped a line over on the ACKS forum on how one would adjust the default economic assumptions of ACKS for use in the post-Renaissance years.  Here's what Alex, the lead designer, had to say about adapting ACKS to the later period:

In terms of trade/commerce, you don't need to change much. The mercantile system in ACKS is more akin to the Ancient Roman and/or Renaissance trade levels, anyway. Medieval trade was substantially less prevalent than ACKS would suggest.

In terms of land, you should increase the land value of peasants by 1-3gp per peasant to reflect improved agricultural techniques. That in turn will make your lords richer, which will allow for larger armies (30 Years War style), or more investment in cities, infrastructure, science, and so on. 

There may be some experts on the Early Modern period with more specific details. My sense is that as long as you stay before the Industrial Revolution you'll be fine.

It's a simple adjustment that will lead to building larger armies in a more populous time, so I thought folks in the wider audience would find that interesting too.  An open question involves adjusting the standard mass combat systems to account for muskets and cannons, but I'll worry about that when we get there.

Slow posting week here at the Lich House; I've been spending a lot of time making notes on Harrow Home Manor and getting the Black City ready for the next campaign, and that cuts into my blogging time.  (I wasn't kidding when I said Harrow Home Manor would be a long term thing).  It looks like my group won't finish the current Cthulhu adventure this weekend, but otherwise we'll be ready to kick off adventuring in the Black City immediately after.  The developed scope includes a sprawling island hex crawl, detailed exploration of the ruins, maps and keys for all of the extant surface structures, the first couple of dungeon levels, and an interesting trade town.  I'm sure there are things that look good on paper or seemed great when I thought them up, but are going to absolutely bomb on the table, and I'm sure there will be surprises too.  Man, I'm looking forward to posting some reports on that place!