1. A horde of spiders emerge from crevices in the ground, they seem to be making their way westward.
2. A small grey and angry rain cloud comes up from the south and rains heavily atop the party, continuing thus for the rest of the day.
3. A small grove of yew trees is seen to be full of hanged men, women and children. One man is in the process of hanging himself.
4. An unfriendly group of charcoal burners curse the PCs and spit upon the ground. For 1d3 days thereafter the party is followed by mocking jackdaws.
5. A human heart is found at the base of a tree. Affixed to the tree with a dagger is a parchment bearing these words “Unto such ends do traitors go”.
6. A donkey with a naked man tied facing backwards atop it gallops across the path. The man is laughing hysterically.
7. All the birds fall dead from the sky.
8. The constellations of the night sky seem to do battle for three nights running.
9. A great fish is found dying in a field far from any watercourse.
10. A mob of young men dressed as fishwives, with faces painted black and sprigs of nettle in their bonnets run by whooping and squealing, following a terrified cow upon which the word “Mirth” is daubed in drying blood.
11. A smoky darkness ascends from the ground and the sound of laughter and drums comes with it.
12. A dule tree stands at a crossroad; a gibbet-cage hangs from it, within which a starving man with his eyes torn out sings an old ballad about a lusty nun.
13. A pair of horses trots along drawing a blazing wagon.
14. A council of thirty burghers are seen meeting at a moot hill; they are discussing whether a gaggle of geese that were seen to go widdershins round a thorn tree are responsible for the ill-luck that has beset their village.
15. A scrawny old woman is gathering herbs with a sickle of bronze, murmuring a song in some queer tongue. She runs into the forest when she sees the party.
16. A Halfling wench is tied to a stake in the middle of a large clearing with a pile of faggots at her feet, she is cursing and swearing at the top of her voice, no one else is to be seen.
17. An ancient oak tree bursts into flames and appears to writhe in pain as it burns. A pair of storks alight nearby to watch it burn.
18. A distraught young woman stumbles along the path with a babe-in-arms. The newborn has a birthmark on her face. An angry mob follows.
19. The rhythmic sound of whipping precedes a procession of flagellants with rapturous expressions turned skyward. They demand recruits.
20. A broadsword-shaped star is seen in the sky for eight nights running. Panic ensues.
21. Ten grim monks are in the process of martyring a saint by sawing off the top of his head. The “saint” resists all attempts at rescue.
22. The countryside is desolate, half-eaten livestock are seen in trees, farmhouses burned, people thrown into wells and streams befouled.
23. A group of rough-looking bog-trotters are preparing to set their dogs onto an elf-boy, who is grinning idiotically. They ask the PCs if they want to join the betting on which dog rips the mooncalf’s throat out.
24. An elf-woman dressed in parti-coloured motley lies asleep in a muddy ditch.
25. A host of starving children singing an ancient hymn pass by on their way to a mythical holy city in the uttermost south. The stripling girl who leads them is blind.
Sunday, May 2, 2010
If there is one part of the D&D ruleset I vastly underutilised back in the day it was the retainer/hireling/henchman rules. Using the retainers rules as written in BECMI or LL there is no reason why any dungeoneer would not hire as many retainers as they could to provide more firepower or cannon fodder. For some reason my friends and I always assumed this would be too complicated but, really, it is no more complicated and requires no more bookkeeping than all the monsters we rolled up and slaughtered time after time.
I think that retainers offer a number of opportunities to increase the grittiness of the Dung-Age milieux. Their lowliness appeals to me. I have little interest in having retainers that are the equal of the PCs in power so I’ve gone with the assumption that retainers are zero-level grunts whose survival is even more tenuous than that of the PCs. The death of retainers hammers home the Crapsack World atmosphere as well as heightening the chaos and tension of play. Additionally, reatainers are ready-made PCs-in-waiting. When one of the PCs dies a retainer can be automatically promoted to whatever class is appropriate to become one of the protagonists.
As an aside I am going to be using a simplified version of the encumbrance rules wherein each character is able to carry up to their strength rating in items. Going over this means the character moves at half pace. Some items have a higher or lower rating (e.g. 100 coins = 1 item, a mail shirt = 3 items) but I will try to keep it abstract and simple. All retainers are assumed to have ability scores of 10 until such time as they become PCs so are able to carry 10 items. I will not include rations and clothes and suchlike stuff because I am not interested, I think I’ll use some other rule to determine when characters run out of stuff rather than make people keep track of how many rations each of their five retainers has.
I’m allowing most of the retainers to have some of the abilities of various classes as a means of augmenting the abilities of the PCs. If the party has no thief proper, an urchin, a poacher and a tinker will be able to perform many of the same tricks.
All retainers are going to be human. Demihumans are weird and exotic and I’d prefer to focus on the lowly, the grotty and the superstitious to maintain the atmosphere.
Morale is fun. People do run away from battle far more often than they fight to the death. Retainers allow this to occur without the players losing agency over their characters.
Retainer Characteristics (No mechanical effect, will just make the retainers annoying and/or memorable)
Types of retainer d100
Chirurgeons are field surgeons, barbers and leeches. They have the ability to treat wounds. If a chirurgeon attempts to treat a wounded character that character must succeed in a constitution check to receive 1 hit point’s worth of healing. Failure in the check means the character sustains one point of damage due to the brutal nature of the treatment.
Hit points: 1d4
Equipment: Field surgery kit (counts as 3 items), dagger
Urchins are beggars and cutpurses. Urchins are able to pick pockets (23%) and Hide in Shadows (13%) as a first level thief. They also receive a -2 penalty to morale.
Hit points: d4
Heathens are idolatrous savages from the outlands. Heathens gain a +1 to morale except when in the employ of a fanatic when they receive -1.
Hit Points: d6
Equipment: Spear, throwing axe, helmet, shield
Pilgrims are pious folk in search of redemption or enlightenment. Pilgrims in the service of a fanatic gain a morale bonus equivalent to the fanatic’s level.
Hit points: d6
Equipment: staff, holy texts.
Poachers are stealthy hunters and outdoorsmen. They can move silently as a 1st level thief (13%) and track enemies on a 1-2 on d6.
Hit Points: d6
Equipment: Shortbow, quiver of arrows, hunting knife
Hermits are solitary outcasts with fey wisdom. Hermits are capable of performing hedge magick like cunning men. They receive a -1 on morale due to their generally uncooperative nature.
Hit points: d4
Equipment: Staff, pouch of magical ingredients.
Cost 3 gp/day
Tinkers are wandering pedlars, hawkers and tinsmiths. They are capable of picking locks (17%) and finding and removing traps (23%) as a first level thief.
Hit points: d4
Equipment: Tinker’s tool-kit, dagger, cudgel
Scholars are learned individuals seeking knowledge. They are able to read and write three languages (usually the Low Speech, the Imperial Tongue and the Old Tongue).
Hit points: d4
Equipment: cut-and-thrust sword, books of arcane lore
Fools are itinerant street performers, jugglers, tricksters and acrobats. Fools are able to climb walls (87%) and pick pockets (23%) as a first-level thief.
Hit points: d4
Equipment: motley garb, 3 daggers
Apothecaries are pedlars of herbal potions, ointments and poultices. A herbalist is able to treat wounds, poisonings and illnesses through the application of their skills with herbs. The treated character must make a save vs. poison, success means the character regains one hit point, failure means the character loses one hit point.
Hit Points: d4
Equipment: Pouches of herbs, Book of Herbalism, Sickle
Peasants are the most common type of retainer and represent a variety of different professions; ploughmen, woodsmen, charcoal burners, rat-catchers, dung-collectors, fishwives and swineherds.
Hit points: d6
Equipment: roll d8