Monday, June 23, 2008

The House Rules Cyclopedia (Part One)

This will be the first of my (weekly? Bi-weekly?) installments regarding the wonderful Rules Cyclopedia. Some entries will focus on House Rules, and others will revolve around some of the RC hacks I’ve used in the past.

Not including the Appendices and Contents/Credits sections, the Rules Cyclopedia contains around 263 pages. But, instead of wading through in order, I’m going to be using this Handy Custom Random Number Generator to generate a page number between 5 and 267. This will let me tackle the contents of the book rather haphazardly, and I embraced randomness long ago. Besides, I’m firmly convinced that a potential Hack or House Rule lurks on virtually every page of this book.

First result: Page 98. (Any readers should feel free to follow along at home)

Here, tucked away in Chapter 7: Encounters and Evasion we have a rather remarkable table (Subtable: 11. City Encounters). By combining the roll of a d8 with a d20, any of 160 people and professions are at your disposal to give that “Human” result from the previous tables a little more punch. Or one could use it to add a little more spice to the randomly encountered city denizen.

However, I have a feeling that this table is eminently more hack-able.

I'll be using this nifty online dice tool to help me take this table through the paces, and Yafnag is great for the occasional random name.

Subtable: 11. City Encounters (Page 98) Hacks:

Random Character Backstory:
These days, characters are rarely born in a vacuum, and some players just love fleshing out their character’s history and backstory for you. But this table can be used to give others a springboard, and the results can provide some excellent adventure seeds as well.

So, father was a Gambler (4.4) and your brother is a respectable Wheelwright (8.17). If father’s still alive, maybe he owes money to a (7.17) Tavernkeeper. Maybe your sister ran off with a (4.12) Guardsman. Childhood sweetheart: son of a (4.11) Graveyard Keeper. Best Friend: (7.5) Indentured Servant.

Even More Backstory?
What did your character do before becoming an adventurer?

Maybe you aspired to be a (8.10) Vigilante.
Who committed the crime? (4.5) A Gemcutter. Against who? (3.10) A Druid Adventurer.

Continuing the theme of living, breathing characters, I’ve always been tempted to use this table to help tie players to a particular place by letting them begin the game with a few “friends.” Sometimes a character’s contacts can also be brimming with interesting story, hooks, and/or seeds.

I smell a House Rule:

Characters start the game with d4+Charaisma Bonus Contacts. Either randomly roll (my personal favorite) or choose some “contacts” from Subtable: 11. City Encounters. These “contacts” are people that your character knows and who are automatically considered “friendly” for the purposes of NPC Reactions. Remember that Armorsmith in the sample adventure from the Mentzer Basic Player’s Handbook who let your character trade his chain for plate? These NPCs are people have known your character long enough to do you the odd favor or two, and likewise if they needed help from you, you’d be hard pressed to refuse.

Artan the Fighter has 3 Contacts:
(1.16) Bazaar Merchant
(4.1) Freighter
(2.12) Carter
Need to stowaway somewhere? Looking for rare goods? Need help smuggling something through the city? There you go. Randomness sometimes produces results that go together like peas in a pod. This is one of those examples. Looks like Artan might have been a Caravan Guard or a Marine/Sailor at some point.

General Skills
Do you use General Skills? Need something for those pesky Profession (choose type) and Craft (choose type) skills?

How about Craft (4.8 – Glassblower) or Profession (8.20 – Woodcutter)? This table can really help characters fill in some blanks.

Retainers, Hirelings, Henchmen
Who doesn’t like Retainers (or Hirelings, or Henchmen)? Chapter 12: Strongholds and Dominions specifically refers to this table on page 138 in regards to retainers. The RC seems to have phased out the use of the term Hirelings (although the Retainers section does state that the two are interchangeable).

Hirelings weren’t always necessarily mercenaries for hire, why the extra sword-arm and treasure-porter you managed to hire might actually be a former (4.10) Government Official. Better yet, what if she still is?

I’ve even used Subtable: 11 City Encounters in the past as a springboard for urban adventure.

First I use the table to make a few NPCs
(8.14) Winemaker
(5.1) Jailor
(6.11) Politician
(1.8) Astrologer

Then I embrace randomness, and try to string them together:
A superstitious Politician needs the adventurers help to get information from a local Winemaker about an alcoholic Jailor that he suspects of being susceptible to bribes. Along the way, the PCs will need to solicit the help of a greedy Astrologer.

Heck. Even a dungeon hook one-liner can work sometimes:
Go to the dungeon and rescue a prominent (5.14) Madame from the clutches of the goblins that waylaid her carriage as she was traveling between cities.

Urban Design/World Building
So you’ve mapped out that city/village/hamlet but what are all those buildings? How does this town relate to others economically?

Well, the small rectangular building belongs to a (8.4) Town Hall Employee, who also works as the town’s (7.14) Weaver. Another quick roll and (7.1 – School Teacher) tells us that that the building by the river is a School, while (4.19 - Hunter) can be interpreted to tell us that this town’s chief export might just be furs and skins. The (6.19) Taxidermist will tell you that most of the town’s imports consist of (3.4 – Diary Worker) dairy goods from another nearby village.

When coupled with a little bit of creativity, this table is positively brimming with ideas and has many more uses than just your standard “Encounter Table.”

Have you ever found a use for it in another interesting way?
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