Monday, March 5, 2012

No. Appearing 30-500

I originally intended to name this blog 'No. Appearing: 30-500.'

The piratical theme was determined by a recently discovered N.C. Wyeth painting I used for the banner and the handle I adopted a few years back for my Obsidian Portal account, Black Vulmea, after the Robert E. Howard buccaneer. I wanted the blog name to have an old school vibe, so I flipped to the entry for Men in the 1e AD&D Monster Manual, to read what it said about Buccaneers.

And there was No. Appearing: 30-500.

I was honestly never a huge fan of any edition of D&D - I played it mostly because that was the game that most people played. That said, I enjoyed the process of making dungeons for the players and their characters to explore, which explains why I refereed far more than I played, and by all accounts I did at least an okay job of it.

My approach to creating a dungeon was heavily influenced by a couple of sources. First was the Temple of the Frog contained in the second OD&D supplement, Blackmoor. From the Temple of the Frog I gleaned the idea of the dungeon with a raison d'être, an active place with a purpose and functionality in the game-world beyond rooms with orcs and pies waiting for adventurers to arrive.

Second was Dave Trampier's "Wormy" cartoon, which inspired me to populate my dungeons with different monsters working together.

Third was the adventure The Lost Abbey of Calthonwey, which featured conflicting factions of monks and clerics locked in a timeless struggle with one another, as well as intra-factional power struggles, all of which clever adventurers could exploit.

The number appearing stat in the MM similarly inspired me in this vein. Number appearing "indicates a good average spread. This number is furnished as a guideline only, and it should be altered to suit the circumstances particular to any adventure as the need arises. It is not generally recommended for use in establishing the population of dungeon levels." Except that last part is exactly what I did: if I decided that a dungeon had goblins in it, then there might be forty to four hundred of the little buggers down there, with leaders and sub-chiefs and, if it was their lair, a chief and his bodyguards. What I didn't do was cram them all in one room, which seems to be the source of the admonition in the MM.

Within those goblins there would be factions. For every forty goblins there is a leader and four assistants - basically a platoon of goblins - and of course none of them liked each other, or trusted one another, so they were constantly trying to get the other guy's goblins to do the fighting while collecting more of the loot for themselves. One of the leaders might take to feeding his rivals' goblins to dire bear in a cavern near where his troops were positioned, while another might lure his rivals to a pit with ghouls in the bottom. And of course these platoon leaders were pawns in the bitter rivalry between the sub-chief and the chief of the tribe.

Number appearing suggests a living world to me.

This digression from discussing cape-and-sword roleplaying was inspired by Zak Smith's advice column the other day, which included the suggestion, "Life's too short for No. Appearing."

Now I'm willing to bet that Zak doesn't really care about number appearing except as it pertains to those who forget that it's "furnished as a guideline only, and it should be altered to suit the circumstances particular to any adventure as the need arises." Constraining yourself because 'the book sez so' is to miss part of what makes roleplaying games so insanely great.

So take your inspiration wherever you find it, but never fear altering it to suit.

And watch out for five hundred buccaneers on the horizon.

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