Thursday, June 27, 2013

Spell I Wish I Could Cast in Real Life: Create Coffee

This week's Spell I Wish I Could Cast in Real Life is:
  Create Coffee
 Level-2                              Range- 5'
 Casting Time-1s                Components- V, S, M
 Area of Effect- see below  Duration-I hate Instant coffee

 When cast this spell fills the nearest crockery jug with up to 6 cups of piping hot coffee. If mugs are available and within range up to 6 will be filled with individual servings of coffee. No no existing containers are within range the spell will create up to six small, white cups of some flimsy material, each with a half serving of coffee. These cups are useless for anything but holding coffee created by this spell and crumble into white powder within minutes of the coffee being drunk or poured out.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Magic Missile Mechanic and Spellcasting

  I love the spell Magic Missile for a lot of reasons – it is simple, it is elegant, it is subtly not just 'magic as technology' (because it can't hit things, only 'creatures', a rather Platonic difference), and it is absurdly under-respected past 3rd level or so. Another thing I love about the spell is the way it increases in power, to wit (and I paraphrase); 'the caster gets one missile at first level and another missile at each additional 2 levels; each missile does 1d4+1 damage'. I love the 'you get more damage every odd level' conceit because it seems so non-intuitive and keeps the spell balanced. I called it the Magic Missile Mechanic and used it for a handful of custom spells over the years, particularly for the Magic Missile variants used by one of my own characters.
  But then I realized that it wasn't just eccentric, it was potentially profound; I realized this when I thought,  
  “What if every damaging spell used the Magic Missile Mechanic?” 
   My first self-objection, 'what is the justification?', led to me concluding 'it is when a magic-user gains access to a new level of spell.' Wow! OK, that makes a lot of sense; when a spell caster gains access to a new level of spells all the spells he knows become more powerful/effective. 
   To try to keep things clear in this post I am going to use 'level' to refer to class level and spell level and 'rank' to mean 'the maximum possible spell level a particular magic-user can cast' so, for example, a 5th level magic-user would be 3rd rank because he can cast 3rd level spells. Got it? Good! 
  So let's tweak Magic Missile just a little bit so that it says this, 
   'the caster gets one missile per rank; each missile does 1d4+1 damage'. 
   OK, that is still largely the same; a 1st level mage gets 1, a 5th level mage gets 3, but an 11th level mage only gets 5 – the 6th only comes at 12th level, when they get access to 6th level spells. This is a very small difference that I think most people can live with. 
   Now, let's look at Fireball; we change it so that instead of saying, 
   'Fireball does 1d6 damage per level of the caster', 
   so that it instead says, 
   'Fireball does 2d6 damage per rank of the caster', 
   and suddenly a 5th level mage casts a 6 HD Fireball – after all, he's 3rd rank! 
  If we use this mechanic it means that for a lower level magic-user his damage leads (i.e., a 7th level mage casts an 8 HD Fireball, but still only does 8 HD at 8th level) while for higher level mages the damage trails (a 12th level magic-user does a 12 HD Lightning Bolt, but so does a 13th level mage). This is a minor advantage to low level spell casters and a minor disadvantage to higher level spell casters, a combination that I feel means 'still balanced'. 
   You can expand this to all sorts of spells – the degree of change with Enlarge, the weight capacity of Telekinesis, the size of Wall spells. Apply it to range and duration and you have made a very minor tweak to virtually every spell, adding a nice little bit of flavor to the game without really changing much of anything in the rules! 
   Although.... 
   It also has a few interesting implications, doesn't it? It sounds like damage spells (and maybe a few others, too) 'max out' at the 9th rank, meaning you get no more than 9 individual missiles with Magic Missile while Fireballs and Lightning Bolts never do more than 18 HD unless something odd is going on. [Suddenly Death Knights are even scarier!]. And what about that magic-user henchman with a 9 Intelligence? He maxes out at 4th level spells – does that limit him to 4th rank forever? Does that mean a magic-user with a maximum spell level of 5th (i.e., maximum of 5th rank) can never do more than 10 HD of Lightning Bolt, even if he makes it to 16th level? 
  Put this into a campaign and a few things happen. First and foremost, high stats become just as important to a mage as to a warrior. A fighter with a 12 Strength is fine, but the advantages of a 17 Strength are obvious. With the Magic Missile Mechanic in place suddenly the difference between a mage with a 12 Intelligence and another with a 17 is just as clear. While I have never bought into the 'linear warriors, quadratic wizards' belief in OD&D. AD&D, etc., if you struggle with this in your campaign the Magic Missile Mechanic can tamp it down a fair bit by limiting the power of the majority of your mages. 
   It will also impact magic items in your campaign – 12 HD Wands are suddenly an even Bigger Deal than before! You can add a class of magic items that add to the effective rank of the caster; some for just range, others for duration, a few for everything, etc. In the end you can really add a distinctiveness to your game without really changing much at all!
  What do you think?

Magic Item of the Week: The Portable Cottage

  As I have admitted before, I love non-combat magic items. I also love 'variant' items where you take a classic item and change it a bit to make it fit your campaign better.
  This is a magic items I came up with after reading the Secure Shelter spell many years ago; it is a variant of the Instant Fortress, of course.
  Magic Item - the Portable Cottage: Unactivated, this item appears to be a wooden cube 1" on a side with the rune for 'house' on one face. When placed on the ground and the command word uttered it transforms into a well-made cottage. The Cottage is 20' by 15' on the interior with a large door in the middle of one long wall and a smaller door at the edge of one of the short walls. The interior ceilings are 8' high. The walls and floor are of dressed planks. There is a fireplace and hearth opposite the main door. The long walls each have 2 windows with heavy shutters and the short walls each have one similar window.
  The Cottage is furnished with 2 bunk beds and a larger bed, a table and 6 chairs, a padded chair, a footstool, a large chest, and a side table. There is also a large bin for firewood and a water barrel. The bin can hold 1 days worth of wood for the fire and the barrel up to 50 gallons of water. When activated the large chest contains clean linens for the beds - anything else placed in the chest will be dumped on the ground when the Cottage is deactivated. Likewise, water may be stored in the barrel and wood in the bin - anything else is dumped on the ground when the Cottage resumes its cube shape.
  Any living creature inside the Cottage when it is returned to its cube form must save vs. Wands - if the save fails they are stunned for 1d4+1 rounds and take 2d4 damage; if successful they are stunned for one round and take 1d4 point of damage.
  If attacked treat the cottage as being identical to a large round tower for its resistance to spells or siege engines. If damaged the Cottage recovers one structural point per month is remains in cube form.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Detailed Charts to Generate Followers - a Far Realms sneak peak

This is a sneak peak at Appendix II - Followers from my upcoming book Far Realms. This section has detailed charts for generating followers for virtually every class!

"Fighters attract followers when they are 9th level or above and have established a stronghold. Followers require no pay other than room and board. A fighter has three types of followers, Troops, Leaders, and Civilians....


Civilians: These are the additional men and women who accompany the character, even in the field. If the player did not add their character's reaction bonus to the Leaders roll it may be added here, instead.
% roll Workers Hirelings Special
01 to 50 1d20+9 Laborers 1 Blacksmith n/a

(will include bearers, teamsters,


etc. as well as simple laborers)

51 to 75 2d20+10 Laborers (as above) Blacksmith Scribe or Steward (50/50)


Armorer
86 to 90 2d20+10 Laborers (as above) Blacksmith Engineer


Armorer (50/50 for Sapper or Artillerist)


Weaponsmith
91 to 100 2d20+10 Laborers (as above) Blacksmith (2) Engineer (as above for odds)


Armorer Healer


Weaponsmith
101 to 115 2d20+10 Laborers (as above) Blacksmith (3) Religious Brother (2nd level)


Armorer Hedge Wizard (3rd level) (50%


Weaponsmith chance)
116 and above 2d20+12 Laborers (as above) Blacksmith (3) Religious Brothers (1 x 3rd,


Armorer (2) 2x 1st level)


Weaponsmith(2) Hedge Wizard (3rd level)
  note: If you are not using the NPC classes from Far Realms replace Religious Brothers with Clerics (of one level lower, minimum of 1st) and Hedge Wizards with Magic-users (of one level lower)."

 

Magic Item of the Week: The Blessed Ring

Magic Item- The Blessed Ring: Crafted from silver and usually set with a religious medal. When worn by a Cleric of Good alignment it allows its wearer to cast Cure Light Wounds once a day at their level of spell casting. Further, it grants a level-based bonus to any healing or curing spells cast by its wearer that restores hit points. This bonus is +1 at 1st level and increases by +1 for each additional 2 levels (i.e., +2 at 3rd level, +7 at 14th level). At DM's discretion a Blessed Ring may grant its healing bonus to Religious Brothers, Paladins, Rangers, or other Good-aligned classes capable of casting Clerical spells.

  Blessed Rings are obviously useful and a direct example of my fondness for items that grow with characters.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Dungeon Master's Log - Long Term Planning and Making Players Paranoid

  Here's the thing - I like DMing. A lot. Underneath all the theory, work, etc. I just love working with friends and family to build stories.
  But since, in my mind, RPGs are a form of interactive storytelling part of my job is build a plot. This means I think about RPGs like they were television series - episodic storytelling.
  Now, TV shows with no continuity or overarching mythos can be great (Twilight Zone) and a series with a very limited mythos can also be very, very good (Mission: Impossible) but I want to build something where we have monster-of-the-week episods and long-term plots, too.  How do you do this without railroading your players? Let me use some real-world examples from the campaign I am busy discussing, the Blackstone Campaign.
  1) Let players do some of the work for you: During player creation S. rolled up a 2e Spells & Magic Fire Elementalist. He sat down with me and explained that he wanted his character to be an amnesiac. In a few minutes we worked out that he had been found washed up on a beach, lashed to a bit of ship decking, with no memory 1 year before the game started. I knew this had to be something saved for years of real time, so I looked at the other elements, below.
  2) Have plans for long-term magic items. As I mention in this post, I like to mix in items that can grow with the characters. Try to plan for at least one of these for half the party before the first session.
  3) Have a relic or artifact lurking about. Think of a relic or artifact that makes sense for your world (even if you must make it) and integrate it. Into the history, politics, etc. And keep that in your mind for long-term planning.
  4) Have a few Big Bads for the characters to face 'someday'. Players like challenges and goals, so give them both in one package - a big villain. Having more than one around keeps the players from feeling railroaded and lets you adjust to the changes they will male.
  5) Have NPCs be more than Sir Dwight of Plothook Hall. If all your NPCs are doing is delivering hints, plot hooks, and exposition please reconsider. NPCs should interact with players for reasons unrelated to the story but closely related to the NPC and their relationship with the character(s). Did the party rescue the son of the Dowager Duchess? Maybe they should get a cake on Midwinter Eve. After all, in real life people send gifts, right? Consider having a colorful character the players interact with who never advances the plot, gives a hint, etc. Why?
  Because it adds depth and realism. Plus, some of the 'non-plot' NPCs might be critical later. Do it right and, just as in real life, you ignore people at your peril.
  Now, how do you combine these things?
  Here is an example;

  As mentioned above one of the player wanted his character to start with amnesia. Fine, great idea. He picks a name for himself and begins adventuring as a fire elementalist. One the third adventure his character (still first level) discovers a Ring of Fire Resistance in the loot from a band of pirates. He likes it because it is related to his specialty and it is lovely, having a bloodstone in an elaborate setting. At the same time, the slightly dotty old lady who sells vegetables from a booth near the party's townhouse in the capitol talks to them whenever they pass.
  Fast forward 1 year in the real world (3 in the campaign) and the now-5th level elementalist is buying a citron from the old lady when she clutches his hand and utters a prophecy about his ring and how it must bathe in the blood of dead fire. She lets go and continues on as if nothing had happened.
  Nine months of game time later (6 months real time) the party visits the Empire of the Undying Witch-King to look for an obscure tome in a library. Every now and then someone is obviously startled when they see the elementalist, but they all hurry away. Except for one, who asks why he hasn't bothered to disguise himself, even wearing his family's ring openly. The Witch-King's assassins almost kill him, but the party is just able to slip away. Intrigued but forced to flee across the oceans, they continue.
  After another year real time the 10th level fire elementalist kills a Salamander in solo combat then watches as the deal elemental creature spills its blood into a pool. Inspired, he quickly plunges his ring into the ichor, awakening a Ring of Fire Elemental Command. Another 3 months real time later they finally, after a great deal of time and money on research and spies, learn something else. The Ring was the family ring of a clan of Fire Elementalists from the Empire, a family believed wiped out after they rebelled against the Witch-King. The only survivor of the Witch-King's purge was the youngest son, but he was killed when pirates attacked the merchant ship he was fleeing in off the coast. The pirates looted the ship and then scuttled it in the deep ocean. Those pirates were then killed just over a year later by - the party.

  This little story obviously isn't over yet, but you get the idea. This one plot line (and it is just one!) has been played out over 3 years real time and has only really been a direct part of play 4 times - yet it has a huge impact on how the character is played, perceived, and the arc of the party. Now, do this for every character and one or two for the party as a whole.... Suddenly no adventure is a one-off, no detail to be ignored, the players are interested in it all. And the great thing for the DM is, he only really needs to drop in an element for someone every few games or so!
  Long term planning like this actually saves you time and effort.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Items that Grow with your Characters

  Years ago I was struggling with a dilemma - when players start out they have no magic items. Them through adventuring, they find weak magic items but keep 'trading up' as they advance in level. Not a big deal, really, but I had two problems - would you really just sell/cast aside the sword you did so many heroic deeds with because the new one is shinier and where did all those magic items come from?
  Then, while I was considering this, I re-read the entry on Rings of Elemental Command.
  That was it - items that grow with your characters.
  Keep in mind , this was more than 20 years before Weapons of Legacy was printed and 30 years before I read that book!
  Anyway, I came up with two major ideas that have crept into and out of my campaigns over the decades since.
  First, some magic items are magic because of what they are and how they've been used rather than from being enchanted by a mage or cleric.
  Example: At 2nd level Lyon the Paladin finds a well-made sword forged of an alloy of meteoric iron and mithril. Although not enchanted, it is +1 to hit and damage because of its excellent quality. At 3rd level Lyon is part of the defense of a remote border fortress when waves of Orcs attack. When catapults finally punch through the outer curtain wall Lyon stands in the breach, alone, holding it against the Orcs until archers can drive them back. After the battle he kneels and praises God. Now his sword is still +1 to hit and damage, but it is a magical bonus. Further, if Lyon is fighting alone against multiple foes he gains a +1 to A.C.
  At 5th level Lyon is part of an expedition against a demonic chapel. During the fighting an evil cleric uses a magic item to summon a horror from the Abyss. Undaunted, Lyon fights bravely against the fiend. Although badly wounded, he still prevails. Bathed in the ichor of this magical creature the sword is now +2.
  Over the years Lyon engages in a duel with an anti-paladin, overthrows a tyrant dominating a small Halfling nation, and slays a kraken after being dragged beneath the waves. At 14th level his sword is now a +4 Defender and almost as much a companion as a weapon. Now, much older and wiser, he once again faces a terrible foes from the Abyss. Chanting a litany Lyon closes with the fiend and does battle. After a long struggle Lyon severs the fiend's whip hand and then shatters the demon's sword, finally impaling the demon through the heart. The demon topples forward, snapping Lyon's sword in two under it great bulk.
  Lyon, knowing it is but a tool, struggle to push the sadness from his heart - the sword has been with him for so long! As he struggles with the warring emotions a winged figure appears. In a few moments it is holding Lyon's sword, as whole as ever, in its hands before returning it to the erstwhile paladin. Trembling, Lyon grasps the +5 Holy Sword of Demon Slaying and thanks God for his mercy.

  This sort of arc can take all sorts of directions - a thief's gloves slowly become Gauntlets of Dexterity; a cleric's mace becomes, eventually, a Mace of Disruption. Just beware of two things - don't go too fast and don't use it as an excuse to railroad players! How I try (and sometimes fail) to use it is as an encouragement to heroic action - when the players know that dramatic actions can have a direct effect they are encouraged to make the broad gesture, to take the great risk.

  Second, some magic items need to be activated in stages, over time. This was the first idea I had, from the Rings of Elemental Command. I though that, rather than have one event trigger all the powers each power needed a different event. This can be very simple, such as needing to discover different command words. It can also be complicated, such as, oh, this
  Example: When 1st level Korbok the Mage finds a wand with a scrap of paper that has the word 'emburn' on it. An Identify spell indicates that it is a Wand of Burning Hands with 98 charges and, well, maybe more; the results were a little murky.
  At 4th level Korbok is going through the library of an evil sorcerer that his party had defeated when in a book of arcane lore he finds a reference to 'emburn' and 'fulmose'. With a bit of (very careful) experimentation Korbok learns that the Wand will also cast a Wall of Fire with the second command word at the cost of two charges.
  At this point Korbok suspects that there is even more to the wand so he travels to the City of One Thousand Islands to visit the various libraries and search out sages. After a few weeks (and a few pounds of gold coins) he knows that there is another power in the wand and a way that might unlock it. He returns to his villa and goes through a process almost identical to researching a third level spell. After the proper expenditure of time and money Korbok succeeds in his roll but instead of learning a new spell he unlocks the wand's third power - the ability cast a Fireball at the cost of a charge.

  Now, I certainly don't do this is every magic item in the campaign. Far from it. But I do make it common enough that the players look at every single magic item with interest and (my main goal) a sense of wonder. Since I use a lot of unique or non-standard magic items it returns that sense of potential I think magic items should have. Is that just a +1 dagger or a Dagger of Orc Slaying that needs to be unlocked? Is this a Robe of Armor, A.C. 4 or a Robe of the Archmage?
  It also allows me to introduce fewer magic items into the campaign without the players feeling under-rewarded for their efforts.
  Last, and certainly far from least, these simple mechanics are a toolbox of plot hooks, quest openers, and ways of separating players from treasure!
  Is anyone else trying anything similar?

Spell I IWish I Could Cast in Real Life - the Obvious Edition part I

Detect Lie
Of course

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Talking About my next Book - Far Realms

  Far Realms should be wrapped up this week (should be, should be, should be) with editing and formatting done in another week. While it is officially an OSRIC supplement, it is (naturally!) all about being useful with any retroclone or 1e/2e. It is all drawn from the house rules I developed for my Seaward Campaign which I have been running for 34 years.
  Here is a brief summary of many of the contents:

  -Alternate weapon specialization rules
  -Alternate rules for attacks versus scum
  -Alternate rules for demi-human clerics
  -Modifiers for thieving abilities in armor
  -The Danger Sense ability for certain classes
  -Alternate rules for existing races
  -Four new player character classes
  -Alternate rules for initiative
  -Disease and Parasite rules
  -Costs of maintenance and upkeep
  -Three new NPC-only classes
  -Two new hirelings, the Healer and the Merchant
  -Rules for cantrips and orisons
  -12+ new spells
  -Detailed charts to generate followers for characters who establish strongholds

I am including artwork from local young artists (none older than 15!) to encourage young talent - the artists will all receive a portion of the payments made.
  Since this is a direct outgrowth of my years of gaming, it has been a ton of fun writing it.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Names, True Names, and Magic in my campaigns

  Back in 1979 I had a problem. As a new DM I was desperate to have a gritty, realistic campaign full of sturm und drang (yeah, I was one of those DMs) with Big Ideas and lots of Drama. But, well, everyone in my party was only 12, like me, so the characters had names like BadAxe and Joey Longhair. This didn't fit my Ideas About the Campaign! Why weren't they using the 9 page glossary of common names and name elements, by race? Huh?!
  I like to think my first real insight about being a good DM happened while I was wrestling with this problem. If the players were unwilling to change something like that and it wasn't, oh, unbalancing the campaign, why not change the campaign so that it fit, anyway?
 That is why my campaigns have the concept of True Names. Certain creatures (mainly Humans, demi-humans, humanoids, etc.) are born and first named that is their true name. A spell caster that knows the true name of a target and uses that name in spell casting has a greater power to affect the target. For this reason, most people have what is called a 'Day Name' or 'Friend Name'. Some societies take the idea so far as to have a true name, usually known only to the person and their parents, a 'house name' which is used only be their immediate family, and a Day Name used by everyone else. It is also fairly common for someone to change their Day Name at key moments in their life, such as leaving home, becoming a master at a craft, etc.
  This explains why one wizard may be named Altrazar and the one next to him is Firewalker - Altrazar is probably the Day Name his mother gave him while Firewalker is one taken when he left his apprenticeship. The great thing is, they both make sense in universe.
  What effect does knowing someone's true name have? Well, I have a small section on this in my OSR supplement Mage Guild, that has a handful of ideas, but here is one suggestion: if you know the true name of your target they make all saves vs. your spells at -4 and any magic resistance is cut in half. Mage Guild also has the 8th level spell Naming which allows high level magic-users to really ruin your day if they know your true name!
  If you use a mechanic like this then I suggest that you also make finding a true name tough - asking a Charmed target their true name gives them an immediate save at +4; if using ESP the target gets a saving throw to keep their own true name unavailable to the caster; etc. Learning the true name of a Big Bad can be a major quest worthy of a long series of adventures.
  On a side naote, years later when Glen Cook's novel The White Rose came out my old friend Eric called me up,
  "That is so cool! We did the same thing in your campaign in '83!"
  That was a good phone call.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Dungeon Master's Log - Blackstone Campaign Background, Part II - The Secret Villain

 NOTE: PLAYERS IN MY CAMPAIGN SHOULD NOT READ THIS ENTRY

 Now that I have a reason for Humans to have unlimited advancement as magic-users, etc.it is time to flesh out the world. I outline three great Human Empires (all named afterward); the Jade Empire, the Ruby Empire, and the Emerald Empire.
  The Jade Empire stretches from the war that freed Humans from slavery to the Elves through the discovery of iron by the Dwarves and on until its collapse from decadence. During its glory the Jade Empire settles the Northern and Eastern continents, finding that the Elves had beat them to each and that each had local populaces of Dwarves and Gnomes. The collapse of the Jade Empire resulted in the colonies on the Eastern continent being the only truly intact ones left.
  After an interregnum the the Ruby Empire arose on the Eastern continent. Again, the empire rose, had a period of glory, then declined and collapsed. After its fall and a Dark Age the Emerald Empire arose on the Northern continent. It followed the same pattern or growth, glory, decline, collapse, dark age.
  The campaign is set in the Human Kingdom of Blackstone, a city that survived the fall of the Emerald Empire and hope to form the core of the next Human Empire. The Jade Empire is so long ago that it is shockingly obscure to most scholars and effectively unknown to even player characters who don't have plenty of skill in Ancient History. The Ruby Empire fills roughly the same place as Ancient Greece in the West and the Emerald Empire is, roughly, Classical Rome.
  Here's the twist - the cycle of rise, glory, decline, and fall isn't the natural cycle of history, it is the fault of one person, the secret Big Bad of the campaign.
  At the height of the Jade Empire there arose a cult of Necromancers, clerics and magic-users, who worshiped the Ghoul God. They were suppressed by the Emperor but remained as a secret society. Over generations this society infiltrated the noble classes amassing great influence. At one point their leader, tA'Velistram High Priestess of the Charnel Lord, attempted to overthrow the great-grandson of the Emperor who had suppressed the cult. This coup failed resulting in the death of most of her fellow priests.
  Because of her own noble rank A'Velistram could not be executed and because of he rpower she could not be imprisoned conventionally. In the end she was taken to a remote, hidden tomb and sealed within by 6 Great Seal spells and left to die. He devotion to the Ghoul God and her own fury led her to, instead, become the first Lich.
  Over time the other wards on her tomb faltered and her hidden followers (unaffected by the Great Seals) could visit with her. This time she worked even more deeply in the shadows, rebuilding her cult and re-infiltrating the halls of power. Slowly corrupting the very fabric of society she also subtly encouraged greater mastery of magic until, hundreds of years later, she selected a promising but corrupted young man whom she trained as a necromancer with knowledge gained directly from the One Who Neither Lives Nor Dies. Eventually he came and used his arcane might to shatter one of the Great Seals and was rewarded with Lichdom. The Jade Empire, however, was already in the throes of collapse from the foulness injected by the Cult. Also, A'Velistram fears the rise of mages powerful enough to repair or even replace any of the Great Seals, so she encourages the decline. Lastly, her Master enjoys the devastation this brings.
  A'Velistram bided her time and continued to watch and influence the outside world through her agents. She repeated her success with the Ruby Empire, being lucky enough to have two of the Great Seals broken before the collapse of that empire. The Emerald Empire resulted in another broken seal, leaving only two....

  This plot point lets me dodge a lot of bullets - secretly. Why was the great Golden Age that produced Staves of the Magi and such never repeated? Someone is stopping it. Why is there such a cyclical pattern of rise and fall of empires? Someone is causing it. Why does the Ghoul God cult keep returning? Its leader can't die. Why don't the Dwarven or Elven races have empires akin to the Human ones? They can't make arch-mages so they are prevented from competing with Humans. Why is the history of the Jade Empire so obscure? So that no one can learn about her existence and how to stop her.
  It also means that, if I am careful, the Big Reveal of the real Big Bad of the campaign will be an honest shock to the players.

Magic Item of the Week - the Firelance

  The item is from a a class of items in my campaigns, all suggested by Lew Pulsipher's (rather infamous) Batons of Fireballs. They are magic items that are really darn handy... for low-level characters or the henchmen of no longer low-level characters. These are combat-oriented magic items that are limited enough to not be unbalancing in the hands of your 3rd level magic-user (unlike, oh, a Wand of Conjuration with 77 charges). Here is my own favorite as an example:
 Magic Item: Firelance- Originally made by the Flamelords of the Western Realms, firelances were originally used by their elite household guards. The secret of their manufacture is now more widespread. A firelance is carved from a single piece of wood slightly over 4 feet long. The tip (which is usually capped in bronze) is about one inch in diameter and the butt (likewise usually capped) is about three inches in diameter. There is a slight flare just above where it is held, similar to that in a jousting lance (giving it its name); below the flaring is a level identical to the trigger of a crossbow. To use the firelance the butt is place against the shoulder and the user aims, much like a heavy crossbow, and squeezes the lever - this causes a jet of flame to burst from the tip of the lance, travelling in a straight line at tremendous speed.
  In game terms, a firelance is a variant of a wand; it fires a bolt of fire that does 2-12 points of damage (3-18 vs. cold-using or -dwelling creatures). It has double the range of a heavy crossbow (do use to hit adjustments for these ranges). Armor does not affect A.C. for purposes of to hit rolls but magic and Dexterity do (example: a paladin in +2 plate mail with a 16 Dex would be considered A.C. 6; +2 for Dex, +2 for the magical bonus on the armor). A firelance may be used by any class and does not require a proficiency for use. Each fire bolt uses one charge and a firelance can hold up to 20 charges. A firelance may only be fired once per turn. The secret of recharging firelances was lost with the fall of the Flamelords centuries ago.
  There are a few variants of the firelance. The most common is the need to know the unique command word to fire a particular firelance. Many are also found with a spear point added just below the tip, allowing the firelance to double as a short spear (1d6 damage, -1 to hit because of the position of the spear point, requires proficiency in the spear). In a pinch a firelance can be used as a club, but each successful strike requires the 'lance to save vs. normal blow.

  As you can see, the Firelance meets my objectives - limited in ability enough that you can give it to a 2nd level party, useful enough that a 12th level party still wants one or two around.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Dungeon Master's Log - Blackstone Campaign background Part I

  NOTE: MY PLAYERS SHOULD NOT READ THIS ENTRY

  My 2e campaign world is relatively new, only 4 years old. I use the Skills and Powers, Combat & Tactics, and the Spells & Magic rules in this campaign.  In this post I am going to review the steps I went through to provide in-universe reasons for certain racial traits.
  I began with a world map created with AutoRealm. I created a world with 2x the diameter of Earth because I wanted to introduce certain ideas into the campaign about elemental forces. Plus, big maps!
  There are three major continents - one in 'the North', one in 'the South', one the crosses the equator. The north pole is covered with a massive plateau of 6,000 square miles and the south pole is a flat plain.
  Then I went into a history that stretched from before the use of metal tools until the year before play started. Key historical events are;
 -in the the late Paleolithic all the demi-human races were concentrated in the tropical southern continent. Humanity was enslaved by Elves. The long-lived elves and their natural magic allowed them to dominate the other races. Dwarves hid in the mountains, working on weapons, Gnomes hid in the forests, Halflings skulked about, and Humans were slave labor. Humanoids lived on the northern and eastern continents.
  -a human, furious about the inability of Humans to use magic, had a breakthrough and began to understand preparing spells. He and his descendants developed the magic-user abilities over three generations eventually culminating in the magic-user class.
  -Humanity began developing magic-users in secret until they staged a mass uprising. This began generations of warfare between Humans and Elves and a civil war between the Elves. The pro-Human branch of Elves lost the civil war were driven underground by the winning Elf factions.
  -Surface Elves gained a limited ability to use prepared magic at the expense of much of their innate magical ability.
 -The subterranean Elves used magic to darken their skin to aid in underground stealth.

Note: This is used to explain in-universe a few points:
  1) Humans have unlimited potential as magic-users because they invented the use of prepared spells.
  2) The limit on maximum level as magic-user for Elves and Half-elves is because the use of prepared magic is alien to them - it is literally against their nature.
  3) Gnomes are good at Illusion because they had to hide from Elven slavers
  4) Dwarves are resistant to magic because of their long war against the naturally-magical Elves.
  5) A real reason why Drow are black-skinned as an underground race and their hatred of other elves.
  6) The plot twist that the Grey Elves are the ancient villains of the Elven civil war that drove the Drow underground.

  Next will be how I built a histroy

Friday, June 7, 2013

Roleplaying Tips: Roleplaying Wisdom

  Intelligence seems like an easy stat to understand. We all know people of average or below average intelligence and we all like to think we know how to play a high Intelligence.
  Don't we?
  But Wisdom - in my experience that is just a bit tougher. Now, we can talk all day about what Wisdom is in real life (I prefer Aristotle's view in the Nicomachean Ethics as expanded upon by St. Thomas Aquinas in the Summa Theologica, but that is a different discussion) but let's focus on what it means as a game mechanic. Some people seem to think it is willpower, others insight or intuition, and, well, it seems to confuse plenty of people.
  I am going to throw my own hat into the ring and say that, in terms of game mechanics, Wisdom represents the ability of a character to both remain true to their own ethics, morals, and goals and to discern the motives of others.
  'But Rick,' I hear you ask, 'Why do you think that and what does it mean?'.
  Well, first of all it echoes a lot of the concepts of Wisdom I mentioned above (although of course, to Aristotle and Aquinas an evil man is inherently unwise). It also explains both the 'bonus to saves vs. charm, etc.' and the 'more spells for clerics with a high Wisdom' things. The resistance is largely a good sense of self and the ability to discern the real motives of the charmer - 'Wait, I don't want to leave the room! And why is this 'friend' of mine so smug?'. The bonus spells are from both more focused prayers and a reward for devotion.
  So a low Wisdom character will be easily distracted, have poor impulse control, and dither. A high Wisdom character will be focused, have good impulse control, and be decisive.
  But what does this look like during play? Well, it can be little things; when the character enters a shop to buy a week of iron rations they come out with 2 weeks of iron rations, flask of brandy, a bottle of wine, and a new hat. Why? The brandy can be used for medicinal reasons, the wine is a good year, it rained down his neck on the last trip, and the shop keeper gave him a great bulk deal for buying 2 weeks instead of one - he really saved money!
  It can also manifest as, bluntly, social awkwardness. A low Wisdom character can't 'read' others very well. They drone on with stories that are (too everyone else) obviously boring; the speak too loudly for the circumstances; they think the best of bad people and believe slander about good people.
  Lastly, it can be shown as inattention, impatience, and as being easily distracted. They stop listening to instructions before the end; they daydream instead of focusing on the task at hand; they interrupt a lich's soliloquy because they are bored.
  This could be moved around, too. A skilled thief with a low Wisdom might be good at reading other's motives and be patient in his job but have no impulse control. A magic-user with a low Wisdom might just be very socially awkward. The variations can be a lot of fun.
  Here is an example from the Real World to give you ideas.
  In one of the largest robberies in American history a team of professional criminals succeeded in stealing untraceable cash and jewelry worth more than $20 million in current value. None of the few victims saw a face and they seemed to get away free and clear. One of the gang members had two jobs - drive the getaway vehicle and then dispose of the getaway vehicle. He did the first part very well, but the second part? Instead, he decided to visit his girlfriend. He went to her apartment, celebrated too hard and fell asleep - after parking the van in a no parking zone. The vehicle (covered in his fingerprints - he had taken off his gloves since he was going to destroy the vehicle)  was easily identified both by description and the empty bags from the scene of the robbery still in the back.
  The driver had the courage to help stage the heist but showed a rather low Wisdom score in being easily distracted!
 How can you reflect this as a GM? Sit down with the player of a low Wisdom (below a score of 8) character and work out with them how it will manifest itself. Then if you feel the player is not reflecting the low Wisdom in play you could do some of the following:
  - An easily-distracted character is on guard duty - they have to roll equal to or below their Wisdom score on d20 or be more easily surprised.
  - A socially-awkward character could have a -2 (or more!) on their  reaction rolls with an important NPC.
  - A character with poor impulse control might have to roll equal to or under their Wisdom score on a d20 to avoid buying more gear/armor/etc. than they need.
  - A dithering character might have to make a Wisdom check, as above, in order to make a decision in a high-stress situation; if they fail they keep dithering until they make the roll ( a new roll every segment) or a member of the party with a positive reaction adjustment from Charisma gives them an order.
  - If you are using the Maintenance & Upkeep rules from my supplement Far Realms a low Wisdom character might spend 10% more each month to reflect poor impulse control and falling prey to the occasional con man in the streets.
  This can also add to your NPCs, too. An evil magic-user might have a 17 Intelligence but his 7 Wisdom could be his downfall!
  As for high Wisdom scores (above 14), just remind the player that her character isn't rash, indecisive, etc. Perhaps in an extreme case, such as a cleric with an 18 Wisdom, the GM might occasionally (no more than once per overall arc) slip the player a note being explicit about an NPCs motivations. An NPC with a high Wisdom will be focused and dedicated, good at reading people, and almost impossible to con. This should be even scarier than a brilliant foe!
  Have fun at the table!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Dungeon Master's Log - 1e campaign, part 3

[Check the archive and labels for previous entries]
  Four of my sons returned to In Search of the Unknown. When last we left our heroes they were camped in the door maze. After sleep, re-memorizing spells and a light meal (what with a fear of rations running low) they set out and soon learned that the trail of nails they had left behind was gone. Why? they don't know.
  This time they took a different corridor and encountered the library. After spending some time trying to figure out how the fire beetles got fed and then trying to get to the fire beetles, the left since none of the books were valuable.
  They hit a random encounter (3 orcs) and made short work of them. The monk was particularly effective, although they all did well.  Then - they hot the trick room. I am not going to spell out the full details since the little imps read this blog, but they are now certain they need a dwarf in all 1e parties for the chance to detect shifting rooms and walls.  After another random encounter they ended up - back in the maze of corridors, but they did take a different route, finding the gymnasium and the hobgoblins inside. After a short, but tough, fight they prevailed. The cleric healed as best he could and they continued. After a trip down the zig-zag hallway they went to the three large guest rooms north to south fighting and killing a giant spider, 2 kobolds, and some skeletons respectively. Then the hit the false stairs (which they quickly figured out, to their credit). Starting to get a little sense of direction in the absence of a map they were soon camped in the hidden supply room, resting and healing.

  I am very pleased with how they are working as a party. They have always had sound tactics, but as they flesh out the characters the party is shaping up very well. One insight from post-play review was from the oldest, J., and the second-oldest, A., that they thought parties where all the players weren't brothers might have more trouble working together.
 That is certainly true.

Spell I Wish I Could Cast in Real Life

From my son, J.
Dispel Bureaucracy

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Disease, Fear, and Player Motivation, plus a Sneak Peek at Far Realms

  I was a soldier for 8 years and spent most of my time out of Ft. Bragg hanging out with guys who have absolutely nothing left to prove.
[Sidenote: there are an amazing number of RPG geeks in Special Forces].
  One of the toughest, most unflappable men I knew was a senior sergeant I'll call Robert. Now, Rob bench pressed small cars, could run 2 miles in less than 9 minutes, was one of the most experienced jumpmasters on Ft. Bragg, and knew enough martial arts to be asked to be in a Van Damme movie. He was the Real Deal.
  In Desert Shield/Storm I finally saw fear in his eyes, though. Real fear. What was the phrase that scared one of the toughest men in the Army?
  "The local that's been delivering food might have typhus"
  Disease has killed more soldiers than bullets ever will. Parasites are close behind. Indeed, some anthropologists believe that malaria has killed more people than any other single cause ever. That is a pretty big deal. Disease is part of warfare, too, with diseased animals being used as part of sieges for millennia.
  What does this have to do with gaming? Well, to me, tons.
  That is because disease and parasites can be used like any other threat to drive the plot and give the players a challenge to overcome. Also, they offer a unique opportunity to threaten players regardless of level! A 17th level Cleric with malaria is in about as much trouble as a peasant with the same. Oh, sure, spells can cure it but is the cleric in any condition to cast it on himself when in the throes of a flare up? The characters might not fear a group of Kobolds in their lair, but the sight of roaches scuttling among the piles of garbage and waste scattered throughout could give them pause; after all, the bloody flux doesn't care about your armor class.
  No, I don't think you should reduce your players to germ-phobic paranoiacs  nor must you plunge your campaign into a grim nightmare of plague pyres and chants of 'bring out your dead'. But just like food and water, concerns about disease shouldn't be absent from your campaign, either. Plus, disease can be a plot point.

  Brother Dorn walked slowly down the lane toward the Jonmy home, hoping that the youngest child hadn't taken a turn for the worst. He was too tired to walk any faster, having just come from the Ulrin family home and his attempts to comfort Alsee after the death of her husband. 
  It was so very odd! Sure, Winter was the time of cold and sniffles, but a plague like this? It was worse than his own youth when the Yellow Death had come. He'd asked the Bishop for aid, but the note back said that every village in the diocese had the Winter Plague and that the senior clerics and even the paladin Sir Eirik were going village to village in an attempt to stop the illness. And that was odd, too, a sickness in every village, even the ones away from the King's road.
  Speaking of odd, who was at the well? Even with the plague the women filled their casks during the day, not in the bitter cold of a mid-Winter night. As Dorn came came to the edge of the village square he realized the figure in the middle of it was too tall to be any of the village women. And dressed in a hooded robe?
  Then Dorn's sleep-deprived brain realized something that made him even colder than the chill east wind - the figure was pouring something into the well. And the hooded robe might be the dirty yellow worn only by the priests of the Rotted One. But the Plague Priests had been wiped out generations ago! 
  As he stood there, stunned, the figure at the well, perhaps sensing Dorn's gaze, shot a look in the direction of the religious brother. The two of them spent a moment staring into each other's eyes across the dozen yards separating them, the Brother's face pale in exhaustion and shock, the figure's face covered in a stained linen mask. The moment was broken as the Plague Priest turned to run and Dorn opened his mouth to shout an alarm.

  All this being said, there are three elements of my campaign I am including in Far Realms; the Religious Brother and the Healer. The first are custom rulles on diseases and parasites.
  The second is the Religious Bother (or Sister) is a non-adventuring (i.e., NPC-only) sub-class of the Cleric. Compared to Clerics, Religious Brothers have fewer hit points, fewer weapon proficiencies, lesser fighting skills, and fewer spells. However, they do serve an important role in the campaign. Where Clerics are meant to represent the Crusading Priest the Religious Brothers (and Sisters) are the village/parish priests, the ordained monks, the fully-vowed nuns, and the other non-combat clerical spell casters. The can be henchmen to player characters and can also be among the followers attracted by high-level Clerics when they build a stronghold.
  The third are healers. Healers are hirelings proficient in herbs, poultices, and tending the sick. They can reduce the likelihood of characters getting ill and speed recovery from disease and parasites. In extreme cases they can even reverse the effects of level drains!
  Together these three elements allow you both make disease and parasite a motivator, add depth to your campaign with NPCs, and make henchmen/hirelings an integral part of play.

Monday, June 3, 2013

The Weekly Useful Magic Item - plus: Encumbrance and Water!

  My first ever! Well, first ever on purpose; I put the Robe of Deeppockets up last week.
  I have always had a special fondness for magic items like Daern's Instant Fortress or the Bag og Holding; useful but not combat-oriented. So I will try to add a new useful item each week!

  Magic item; Everfull Flask.This is a small metal pint flask designed to be slipped into a pocket [i.e., a hip flask] with a cork and metal stopper attached to the bottle with a chain. It is typically found full of resh water. At any time the flask is not full and the stopper is in place after 5 minutes the flask will refill itself with fresh, clean water that is pleasantly cool. Without the stopper in place the flask will not refill itself.
  Other things may placed into the flask (oil, potions, etc.) but the flask will not refill itself until after the other liquid is removed. The flask makes all saving throws as hard metal.

  The Everfull Flask is meant to be a 'nice to have' magic item about utility rather than effect. It only produces a pint of water at a time, the gap between pints is at least 5 minutes, and it only refills with the cap on - you can't use it to put out large fires or flood a room. So why have one? Well, with one of these you never need worry about dying of thirst.
  Your players aren't worried about their characters running out of water? Maybe you should fix that.   See, water is heavy - 10 lbs. a gallon [OF COURSE I use Imperial measurements!]. And you need at least a gallon of water every day just for drinking - toss in cooking and hygiene and you need a total of 5 gallons a day. If your players are sending their characters into a dungeon they need at least 2 full wine skins each for 8 hours of walking and fighting [for historical reasons I set a wine skin's volume at a fifth of a gallon] through a dungeon. That's 4 lbs. of water. Oh, they get stuck or lost and are there overnight? Then they start taking penalties for thirst and dehydration.
  Or they can take the 'Flask!

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Fantasy Demographics, or: Why Elves and Orcs Fight Different Wars


Note: This post deals with Real World ideas, concepts, or choices that are very personal. It is not meant to offend but is just a discussion of how these factors impact fantasy role playing game campaigns. Thanks.
  Waaaaay back when, my Dad took me to see Soylent Green. Now, I was very young, but in my father's defense we both love science fiction movies, so we went anyway. This began my rather odd hobby of studying demographics (which led me to reject the threat of overpopulation by 5th grade, but that is another story). Thus there was something in both the Complete Book of Elves and the Complete Book of Dwarves which just intrigued me. In the complete CBoE they state that the average Elven female has 2 children. In the CBoD they state that the average Dwarf female has 3 kids, but 2/3 of all births are males.
  Why does this matter?
  Math.
  Not to get too wonky (although I can talk about demographics for literally hours. And I am not using 'literally' for emphasis, I mean it literally) (see what I did there?), but a key metric in demographics is Total Fertility Rate (TFR for short) which is, simply, 'how many children does each woman in a population have, on average?'. TFR means a lot - it allows you to calculate the growth or shrinkage of future generation, determine the demographic momentum of a society, all sorts of really... boring... to... anyone... else... stuff....
  Yeah.
  Anyway, when the books say 'the average Elf female has two kids' this means 'the TFR is 2'. This is important because in the Real World replacement TFR (the TFR where the population neither grows nor shrinks over generations) is between 2.1 and 2.4 - each woman has just over 2 kids each on average. Since a certain number of people never have kids for a variety of reasons, it must be above a flat 2.0. In a modern industrialized nation like, oh, France, 2.1 is equilibrium. In a modern nation with a higher rate of mortality for youth it is more like 2.4.
  Here's the point, though - in pre-modern societies replacement TFR was more like 3.5-4.5. Why? Poorer health care and a higher mortality rate. Remember, the reason the average lifespan before the mid-20th Century was 35-40 for most of the world was because so many children died - if you lived to be 14-16 you were almost certainly going to live to be 75-80! Well, barring other factors. Like war.
  Chronic war really increases the replacement TFR number, for obvious reasons. Plague can do the same.
  Well, the CBoE said 2, but maybe they reaslly meant, oh, 2.3. With magical healing, a natural resistance to disease, etc., this probably means that Elves have a stable population, barring war.
  Let's talk about Dwarves for a moment.
  In the Real World we assume a gender ratio of about 50/50, so the 66/34 male/female of the Dwarves is really important.This means if you start with 300 Dwarves you will only have 100 couples (it takes two to make little dwarves and, more importantly, TFR is tied to the number of females). If they have a TFR of 3 that means the next generation will be = 300 Dwarves. Also perfect equilibrium since that generation will also have 100 females
  "OK," I hear you say, "so the generations are stable, so what?"
  One, it means that if you accept these numbers Dwarves and Elves can't really expand - if there is already a city that houses 2,000 Dwarves why build a new one? After all, there is no population growth. Sending people off is a drain of the most important resource of a society - the people. There are probably a number of social pressures to avoid this.
  Two, it will have a huge impact on how Dwarves and especially Elves go to war. Here are some of my thoughts on this:
  While Dwarves have an 'excess' male population (the 33% of each generation that will have no wife) allowing them to go to war relatively easily, women and children are virtually irreplaceable. So while male Dwarves roaming the mountains prospecting and killing Orcs for fun might be common, they will almost certainly guard their women and children fiercely. This is a simple explanation for why you traditionally never see Dwarven women - they are quite directly the most precious thing in Dwarf society.
  For Elves it is even more extreme - any loss of life might not be replaced for two or more generations. That is pretty serious.
  This means the Elves must really strive to limit battle deaths and while Dwarves can sustain some heavy losses of life on the battlefield women are too precious to risk.
  Which leads me to a fantasy element - lifespan of non-humans.
  It takes a human about 16 years to be considered an adult and human generations are counted as about 25 years. If we follow the age guidelines in the DMG (and why wouldn't we?) it takes a Dwarf about 60 years to mature and an elf about 120. With a bit of extrapolation we can guess that a Dwarven generation is about, oh, 60 years and an Elven generation is about 250.
  Wow. That's big.
  Why? because it takes at least a generation to recover from a major loss of life. World War I caused the death of a huge number of young men. One of the reasons World War Ii was a generation later is, arguably, the hostiles needed to wait until the next generation finished growing up to continue the fighting. The Black Death caused so much loss of life that it really took five generations for Europe to recover.
  This means that it would take the Dwarves 75 years to recover from a war that killed their 'excess' males and about 30% of the rest of the males. This means an Elven society struck with something like the Black Death wouldn't recover for more than a millenium. That is high stakes stuff.
  Let's change tacks just a little bit and think about Orcs. We can extrapolate that they mature around 12 and that an Orcish generation is, oh, 20 years. We know they are 'fecund' because we are told they are. What does this mean in comparison with Elves? Well, in the Real World there are societies that reached TFRs of 9+ in the 20th Century, so 'fecund' could be quite a large number! But let's just assume that between disease, violence, and generally being Lawful Evil Orcish societies grow about 25% per generation.
  What does this mean? More directly, what does this mean for a campaign (since this is about a game, after all)?
  Here is a scenario;
  The Orcish tribes and the Elven kingdom have been on edge for a decade, but now war is really begun. The Elves are smarter, better trained, have better gear, and have more spell casters. The Orcs are more disciplined and there are many more combatants. When they begin the war there are 3,000 Elven soldiers (out of a kingdom of 20,000) and 7,500 Orcish warriors (out of 20,000 Orcs).
  After 5 years of brutal fighting the Elves prevail; they slaughter over 5,000 Orcs while losing only 1,000 Elves. The Elves return to their homes, triumphant, and the good feelings and other factors cause a spike in births, meaning the next generation of Elves will be about 10% larger.
  Humiliated, the Orcs retreat to their homes. There is no surge for them. At this point, the Year of the Great Battle the two sides are roughly as follows;
  Orcs: 3,500 surviving warriors. 7,500 potential warriors not yet mature from the 2nd generation. And 6,000 females with mates available to birth the 3rd generation.
  Elves: 2,000 surviving soldiers. 3,000 potential soldiers not yet mature from the second generation. And 9,000 females with mates to birth the 3rd generation.
 In Year after the Great Battle (YGB) 20 the second generation of Orcish warriors are mature and ready to fight - all 7,500 of them! They face off against - the first generation Elvish warriors again. After all, the young Elves still have over two centuries to mature! The Orcs are young and the cream of their army dies in the Great Battle. The Elves are battle-hardened and fierce, so this time the Elves kill another 4,000 Orcs but only lose 500 Elves. So in the second generation we have;
  Orcs: 3,500 surviving warriors. 7,500 potential warriors from the 3rd generation (25% growth, remember?). 6,000 females with mates to birth the 4th generation.
  Elves: 1,500 surviving soldiers. 3,000 potential soldiers from the 2nd generation. 9,000 females that will eventually birth 2,700 soldiers in the 3rd generation.
  Reeling from two defeats in two generations, the Orcs wait, biding their time and skirmishing with Humand and Dwarven forces in raids, raids which whittle down their comabt numbers but mean their warriors are experienced.. Finally in YGB 60 the 4th generation of Orc warriors, whittled down to 7,500 (remember that 25% growth?) but battle-hardened face off against - the 1,500 surviving 1st generation Elven warriors! As evenly matched individually as the first battle, but incredibly outnumbered, the Elves fight as defensively as possible. They barely manage to drive off the Orcs losing another 1,000 elves to 4,000 Orcs.
  Barely able to send 500 soldiers to the field, the Elves retreat into the mountains.
  As you can see, the humanoid races, with their higher fertility and shorter generations, have a massive advantage in warfare over multiple generations!
  In other words, if Elves and Dwarves do have such low fertility, they are going to be wiped out. As a matter of fact, as DM you need to explain why they haven't been wiped out already.
  Please allow me to digress from fantasy to reality for just a moment. I am going to assume that most readers of this blog like most roleplayers are from nations with low birthrates. This is, historically, an anomaly. While real world demographics do show periods of stability and periods of decline, these were caused by bad weather and plague - birthrates remained high relative to modern birthrates. While the majority of the current world is below replacement TFR this is very unusual.
  Back to FRPGs. As you can see from the example I give above, have only replacement TFR is a big problem because it means that societies can't replace major losses in anything approaching a reasonable amount of time! For this reason in my campaigns I tend to have birthrates higher. Add in the fact that FRPG worlds tend to be shockingly lethal, I tend to make them much higher than you see in the modern world, much more akin to Europe of the High Middle Ages. I essentially assume that per generation population growth for Humans is about 30%, for Halflings it is 25%, for Elves, Gnomes, and Dwarves it is 15% and for the major humanoid races it is 40%-60% (not counting war or disease for any of these). I also have the sex ratio be about 50/50 for everyone but Dwarves where it is 55/45 male/female.
  Even with more reasonable TFRs, though, the issue of the length of generations remains - Orcs can go through almost 4 generations before Dwarves get to 2. For Elves it is closer to 12 generations to 2. This will have a profound effect upon how the various races wage war.
  First, the various bonuses Dwarves and Elves have (bonuses vs. certain races or with certain weapons) make sense because of their longer lives. The same applies to the greater numbers of powerful individuals in their forces. In any given battle Dwarves or Elves will prevail over Orcs of the same number. It will be more lopsided in their favor against Goblins and much more even against Hobgoblins. But Dwarves and Elves must do their utmost to avoid a long-term war of attrition because they simply can't win such a war.
  Suddenly, there is a reason Dwarves built such strong mountain fortresses and Elves live in thick forests with many sylvan allies; these positions are defensive, giving them the advantage, and can give them better warning of potential attacks. Both races will be as selective as possible about engaging forces they cannot overwhelm and must limit their losses as best they can.
  In a similar vein, Gnomes and Halflings make a lot more 'sense', too. The Halflings have great stealth and skills with missile weapons because they rely upon avoidance and ambush. Gnomes, with their illusions, are natural commandos. Like Dwarves and Elves they have these skills because they need them to survive as a society.
  Humanoids, on the other hand, are much more like hammers than rapiers. Their goal in war is to close with and engage the enemy with as much force as possible. With their numbers than can afford to be profligate on the battlefield because they recover from the loss of soldiers faster than their foes. Wave attacks by Goblins to 'soften up' the front lines for the hammer blow of a Hobgoblin charge may seem like a terrific loss of life but every Dwarf they kill is one less Dwarf their grandchildren will have to fight!
  This can also explain why Humans so often seem dominant in FRPGs; with a birthrate and generation length much closer to the Humanoids they are both much more capable for fighting humanoids on their own terms and invaluable allies to the other demi-human races.
  Please think about it and I hope this can add to your campaigns.