The Hexcrawling Game: Part 3 – House Rules

Part 1Part 2

Here, finally, is my first attempt at house rules for hexcrawling. Most of it, any way. A separate post on hazardous terrain will follow. There will also be playtesting reports, once they have seen actual use at the table. As you can see, I had to screw up the value of roads in order to make the movement point system work. But, I think that is a reasonable price to pay. We’ll see how it works out in practice.

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The Hexcrawling Game: Part 2 – Intentions

OK, I lied. No actual house rules yet. What I want to do instead is lay out what I am trying to accomplish with this exercise. What do I want to have at the end of it?

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The Hexcrawling Game: Part 1- Rules as Written

The adventures I ran most in my youth were hexcrawls; specifically, Isle of Dread (X1) and the Volturnus series (SF0-3) for Star Frontiers. Looking back, after reading a lot of good articles on hexcrawling in the last couple of years, I didn’t run them well. I want to do much better when the Crusader Kingdoms campaign (which seems less aptly named all the time) moves into it’s wilderness exploration phase. So, I have been doing a lot of reading, and even ran Mutiny On The Eleanor Moraes (SFKH2) as a one-off to practice. Based on this, I have decided I want to house-rule the ACKS wilderness adventuring rules a little bit. Most importantly, I want to move to a movement points model as similar as I can get to the one from Avalon Hill’s Outdoor Survival game, as described in this Damn You Gygax! article at Delta’s D&D Hotspot. However, not wanting to screw up the delicate balance of ACKSonomics, I don’t want to change the actual distances moved per unit of game time.

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Undead Horrors of the Crusader Kingdoms

It seems like every D&D blog eventually has a post on the author’s opinion on energy drain/level drain. Since the last session featured a variety of undead creatures, I might as well tackle the subject now.

I don’t mind energy drain, but having the majority of undead creatures have energy drain as their shtick is boring. Wights? 3HD + energy drain. Wraiths? 4HD + energy drain. Spectres? 6HD + energy drain. Vampires? You get the idea.

Now, undead are by far my favorite monsters, and I simply cannot abide them being boring. So, I limit energy drain to vampires only. I also make vampires have to suck your blood to energy drain you. Because that’s what vampires do – suck blood. Vampires that magically drain your life essence, such as those found in D&D and Skyrim? They might as well sparkle.

With energy drain mostly off the table, I put some effort into making each of the common types of undead have their own personality. I also made some new ones and dusted off some less common ones from older editions. The results are below, in Bridge to Cynidicea’s trademark brain-scrambling-wall-of-text format.

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Unique Weapons and Armor of the Crusader Kingdoms

As requested, below the fold are brief descriptions of the unique weapons and armor from the previous post. Note that they are just rough notes intended to be expanded when the item actually shows up in the campaign.

*Spoiler Alert* If any of my players are reading this, you will only be spoiling the surprise if you read on.

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I Hate Swords +1

As the title states, I hate the phrases “sword +1”, “shield +2”, “plate armor +2”, etc. They pull me right out of the fiction. You shouldn’t give anything in your game world a name that doesn’t make sense for the characters to say. So, I stole an idea from George R. R. Martin, and made magic swords in the Crusader Kingdoms into swords made with special metals that can only be worked with magic. I also like the idea of a split between common and unique magic items, as implied by the ACKS Magical Engineering proficiency.

So, I created my own tables for magic swords, armor, and miscellaneous weapons. Here are the results. Note that several of the unique swords are stolen from Simon at The Sky Full of Dust.

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The Atlantean Shadow

Atlantean Shadow

Prime Requisite: DEX and INT
Requirements: INT 9, WIS 9, CHA 9
Hit Dice: 1d4
Maximum Level: 10

Atlantean shadows are the heirs of the traditions of the mysterious orders of spies and assassins that once served the Atlantean Emperors. They use illusions and other magic to elegantly and reliably accomplish the tricks that mundane thieves attempt with crude muscle and gadgets.

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Crusader Kingdoms House Rules

The following are the house rules in place for this campaign:

Hit Points:

All PCs, NPCs, and monsters get average hit points per Hit Die (1d4=2.5, 1d6=3.5, 1d8=4.5). Note that 0.5hp is more than 0hp, and you get the “at 0hp” bonus on the Mortal Wounds table if you are at -0.5 hp.

All characters that have the Adventuring proficiency get maximum hit points for the Hit Die they receive at 1st level (1d4=4, 1d6=6, 1d8=8). Note that 0th level is not 1st level.

Encumbrance: Add your STR bonus to your 40′, 30′, & 20′ encumbrance limits.

Missile Attacks: Your DEX modifier applies to damage rolls with missile and thrown weapons (no, not holy water, naptha, or similar “weapons”).

Critical Hits: If your attack throw is a natural 20, it is automatically a hit. If it would have been a hit even without the “natural 20’s always hit” rule, then it is a critical hit that inflicts maximum damage. Only the weapon’s (or spell’s, if the spell requires an attack throw) normal damage die is maximized, not damage dice from backstabs, the ambush or weapon focus proficiencies, magic items, etc.

Sizing-up Opponents: Any character with the Adventuring proficiency can guesstimate how tough any creature or person he encounters is, and we model this by telling the player its HD or level.

Poison: Standard “save or die” poison, such as poisoned potions or the bite or sting of a venomous monster, function as follows: If you fail your CON save, you are incapacitated (unable to communicate or take any actions) for 1d6 turns, after which you die. Poisoned weapons, poisoned needles hidden in locks, and similar mechanical devices do not deliver a sufficient dose to be reliably fatal like that, and have lesser effects as described in the poison section of the ACKS rulebook (pg 249).

Oil: For clarity, oil (common) will be referred to as “lamp oil” and oil (military) will be referred to as “naptha”.

Saving Throws: We are using the following ability-score-based saving throws. Your ability modifier for that ability score applies to each save, and you gain a +1 bonus to save against effects generated by magical wands, staffs, or rods.

CON save resists poison, disease, necromantic effects, instant death effects, and anything else that targets your health directly (this throw’s value is as per the ACKS Poison & Death save for the class).
STR save resists wrestling, webs, nets, and anything that attempts to physically bind, restrain, or otherwise, immobilize you, and which is not something that would be resisted by a CON save (as ACKS Petrification & Paralysis save).
DEX save resists area effect attacks and similar hazards that you can dodge out of the way of, but which don’t have to make attack throws to hit you and which aren’t effects that would otherwise be resisted with a CON or STR save (as ACKS Blast & Breath save).
WIS saves resist mind-affecting effects, transformations such as polymorph and petrification effects, and any other magical effect that isn’t covered by one of the other saves (as ACKS Spells save).

Hold Person: When a spellcaster gains Hold Person or a similar spell, he must declare whether it is a physical effect (STR save) or mental effect (WIS save). Once chosen, this cannot be changed except by re-learning the spell.

Languages: Your character speaks the common language of his continent, a number of additional languages equal to his INT bonus. Unless his class grants arcane or divine spells, or he has Arcane Dabbling or a similar proficiency that indicates familiarity with magic, then the character must learn all human languages before he can start learning other mortal languages, and must learn all mortal languages before he can start learning the languages of the spirits.

Human Languages:

Valgen: The common language in Valgenheim.
Tescorian: The common language in Tescoria.
Atlantean: The common language in ancient times. It is still used by scholars, clergy, and Atlanteans.

Other Mortal Languages:

Draconic: The language of dragons.
Giantish: The language of giants.

Spirit Languages: Note that it is unknown what language the Celestial spirits speak, since everyone who hears them speak hears them speaking his own native language.

Sidhelin: The language of the seelie faeries of Valgenheim.
Goblysh: The language of the unseelie faeries of Valgenheim.
Infernal: The language of Chthonic spirits.
Janni: The language of the genies of Tescoria.

Dialects: Isolated populations, such as tribes of beastmen living in the wilderness, often speak strange dialects of one of the root languages listed above. When you first encounter an unusual dialect of a language you know, roll d6 and add your INT modifier. On a result of 5+ you can understand and communicate with speakers of that dialect. Otherwise, you cannot. However, after each week spent among those who speak the dialect, you may roll d6 plus your INT modifier again. You gain a +1 bonus to this check if you someone else who can understand both your dialect and the foreign dialect teaching you. If the result is 5+, you have learned to understand and communicate with speakers of that dialect.

Helmets: Helmets are opt-in rather than opt-out. Adjusted armor costs and AC below:

Leather Armor: 10gp, AC 1
Ring Mail or Scale Armor: 20gp, AC 2
Chain Mail: 30gp, AC 3
Banded Plate or Lamellar Armor: 40gp, AC 4
Plate Armor: 50gp, AC 5
Shield: 10gp, +1 AC
Light Helmet: 10gp, +1 AC
Heavy Helmet: 30gp, +1 AC, +2 on d20 roll on Mortal Wounds table, -1 surprise, -4 hear noise

The Atlantean Stormtrooper

One of the characters who took part in yesterday’s session is an Atlantean stormtrooper, a demi-human custom class built using the rules for Zaharans. Atlanteans in my campaign are described as follows:

In every city along the Atlantean Sea, you will find a neighborhood populated by the dour, yellow-skinned descendants of the rulers of lost Atlantis. These modern Atlanteans live among humans, but separately, in urban enclaves they call holds. Here, they attempt to preserve their unique culture. While technically human, the arcane experiments of their ancestors twisted the Atlantean bloodline, making them almost magical creatures, but warping their appearance in the process. Yellow skin, black hair, and red or purple eyes mark them as something alien.

Due to pacts forged by the long-dead sorcerer-kings of Atlantis, modern Atlanteans are still attended by Chthonic spirits – demonic familiars bound to instruct them in the ways of magic. This dark inheritance has given them a sinister reputation among their human neighbors, despite that fact that Atlanteans tend to be exceptionally Lawful creatures. Atlanteans are far more invested in preserving civilization than most, the temptations constantly whispered to them by their familiars notwithstanding. Atlanteans have found themselves their human neighbors’ scapegoats in the past, but pogroms are much less effective when the leaders of the affected population are all sorcerers.

Atlanteans do not sow. As even the stupidest of them is as intelligent as the average human, they gravitate towards work that rewards an exceptional mind. In Tescoria, the Atlanteans have mostly managed to retain their ancestral holdings in the colonies of the centuries-defunct Atlantean Empire, forming the bulk of the nobility of the ancient city-states of the Unholy Lands. In Valgenheim, they tend to make their living as merchants, physicians, alchemists, engineers, lawyers, or members of other professions. One place you do not find them is among the clergy.

Atlanteans take pride in maintaining a culture separate from the humans around them. They still use ancient Imperial Atlantean names rather than names similar to those used by the humans they live among. Atlantean holds are more like one another than they are like the cities around them.

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