Friday, September 29, 2006

Tools and Resources

Here is a list of the books, tools and resources actually used during and between sessions of this Ptolus campaign. It does not cover all the resources available to us but those used to design and run the game. This list will be updated as the game evolves.

Ptolus miniatures (Paizo Publishing)
D&D Miniatures (Wizards of the Coast)
Warlord and Dark Heaven Miniatures (Reaper Miniatures)
Confrontation and Rag'narok Miniatures (Rackham)

e-Adventure Tiles and Ptolus Adventure Tiles (Skeleton Key Games)
Various Dwarven Forge sets
(Dwarven Forge)
Tact-Tiles (BC Products)
Flip-Mat (Steel Sqwire)
3D Map Folio (Wizards of the Coast)
Cadwallon Gaming Tiles (Rackham)
Dungeon Tiles (Wizards of the Coast)

Gaming Aids
Area of Effects Templates (Steel Sqwire)
Combat Pad (Open Mind Games)
D&D 3.5 Dungeon Master's Screen (Paizo Publishing)
Game Mastery Item Packs (Paizo Publishing)
Ptolus Deluxe Vinyl City Map (48"x70") (Fiery Dragon Productions)
Ptolus Sketchbooks vol. 1-4 (The Forge Studios)
Ptolus Map Packs (Skeleton Key Games)

Gaming Books
Ptolus: Monte Cook's City by the Spire (Malhavoc Press)
A Player's Guide to Ptolus (Malhavoc Press)
The Night of Dissolution (Malhavoc Press)
The Complete Book of Eldritch Might (Malhavoc Press)
The Book of Hallowed Might, vol 1. and 2. (Malhavoc Press)
The Book of Roguish Luck (Malhavoc Press)
Beyond Countless Doorways (Malhavoc Press)
Monte Cook's Arcana Evolved (Malhavoc Press)
Monte Cook Presents: Iron Heroes (Malhavoc Press)
Beyond the Veil (Atlas Games)
D&D Player's Handbook (Wizards of the Coast)
D&D Dungeon Master's Guide (Wizards of the Coast)
D&D Monster Manual (Wizards of the Coast)
D&D Player's Handbook 2 (Wizards of the Coast)
Complete Adventurer (Wizards of the Coast)
Complete Arcane (Wizards of the Coast)
Complete Divine (Wizards of the Coast)
Complete Warrior
(Wizards of the Coast)
Complete Mage (Wizards of the Coast)
Spell Compendium (Wizards of the Coast)
Unearthed Arcana (Wizards of the Coast)
Tome of Battle: The Book of Nine Swords (Wizards of the Coast)
Magic Item Compendium (Wizards of the Coast)
Dragon Compendium (Paizo Publishing)
Tome of Horrors (Necromancer Games)
Rappan Athuk Reloaded (Necromancer Games)
Gary Gygax's Necropolis (Necromancer Games)

Miscellaneous Inpirations
Baldur's Gate II, Shadows of Amn (video game, Bioware Corp)

Thursday, September 28, 2006


This Ptolus campaign uses a few houserules I will explain here. Some are merely details, others are rather important modifications of the uses of the core Dungeons & Dragons rules.

The core ruleset used for this campaign is contained within the D&D Player's Handbook (PHB), Dungeon Master's Guide (DMG) and Monster Manual (MM), Edition 3.5, published by Wizards of the Coast. Additional d20/OGC rules are also used. A list of all the resources used in the game will be soon posted as well.

Main houserules:
  • (1) The Armor Class (AC) is not a fixed value of 10 + armor/shield modifiers + Dex modifier + misc. modifiers. Instead, the base AC and Touch AC are rolled using d20 + armor/shield modifiers + Dex modifier + misc. modifiers. Only the Flat-footed AC remains unrolled. To touch a target, an opponent's attack roll must be equal or above the defender's AC roll. The only exception is when the opponent's die result indicates a possible critical hit, in which case a confirmation roll is call for. If the critical hit is confirmed, it deals normal damage, not multiplied.
  • (2) Maneuvers similar in nature to Stunts and Challenges of Iron Heroes are adjudicated on the spot by the DM. A player describes an action, the DM applies the relevant penalties and benefits or rolls to the action described.
  • (3) There are no favored classes or XP penalties based on classes selected for a particular character.
  • (4) All characters get one extra feat at first level.
  • (5) Initiative is determined by rolling 1d10+modifiers instead of the standard 1d20+modifiers.
  • (6) The Monk's unarmed damage chart is modified. It is 1d6 at level 1, then becomes 1d8 at level 2, 1d10 at level 5, 2d6 at level 8, 2d8 at level 11, 2d10 at level 14, 3d8 at level 17, 4d8 at level 20 (modified by the character size appropriately, as indicated in the PHB).
  • (7) Characters get the maximum result on their hit die at level 1, 3 and each third level thereafter.
Rolling AC as per Houserule (1) basically makes combat more dynamic, particularly when results are translated and described by DM and players. On a balance level, random elements of the game generally empower the player (as opposed to flat numbers which play in favor of the obstacles encountered). When using this houserule, one should consider the potential fumbles and critical results of die rolls on an AC check.

At our game table, a result of '1' on the d20 of an AC roll triggers a possible critical hit from the attacking opponent. He rolls for confirmation, provided his attack roll is still above the total result of the AC roll.

A '20' on the d20 of an AC roll just blocks the attack, even if it is a critical hit (no confirmation roll).

Confirmation rolls in case of a possible critical hit use the fixed value of the opponent's AC, i.e. flat-footed AC, as the target DC to confirm said critical hit.

Last updated on Monday, April 18, 2007.

Campaign Aims: Living, Breathing Characters

Usually, when I start a role-playing campaign and I am its game master (or Dungeon Master/DM, in D&D's jargon), I have some specific ideas on the types of moods, ambiance and themes I want to explore, just as if me and my friends were starting to write a novel together.

I've been doing this for a long while, but for this Ptolus campaign, I have decided to discard that kind of background design to rather concentrate on the actual game and the tastes of its players.

The reason I am avoiding any underlaying "theme" for this campaign is to avoid the trappings of a novelist's approach to role-playing games. I don't want to "tell a story" or "build a story" with this game. I want us to actually "live" the events of the game. To achieve this, I want to increase to the maximum my reactivity to the players' actions. If I was having any previous idea of what the campaign ought to be, or what type of "story" it would have to tell, I sure would be at odds with the actions of the players' characters at some point, since the players do not know what I may have prepared for the game in advance.

This doesn't mean I won't prepare for the game, won't have any idea of where the events of the game may lead its main characters, but I won't try to enforce a precise succession of events on the players. Instead, I intend to react to whatever they think characters do next. This will make the game's believability increase tenfold, I think.

If there is any goal I have before starting this campaign, it is to have a great time playing D&D, and have me and the players of the game enjoy Ptolus to the fullest extent we can manage.

What I have prepared is the base situation in which the players' characters (or PCs for short) would start the game, with the various motivations of specific NPCs involved with this base situation and events that occured in Ptolus prior to this situation. I also obviously thought of some possible, likely developments based on the players' tastes and inclinations, but that doesn't mean anything would "have to occur" the way I'd want it to.

Some the best RPG sessions I ever played were using Vampire The Masquerade and my home made "Paris by Night" setting. Often, we would just meet on week-ends to play the game and we would just start to role-play events occuring in the game without me having anything prepared. We were just knowing where we would have left the game and were going on with the natural consequences of the previous session's events. It went on like this for quite a while, years actually, and after some time this felt like the place was truly breathing and living without us thinking twice about this or that action's "impact" on an overall theoretical "storyline" we would have had in mind. There was no such storyline. No "impact" beyond the events as they occured "live" in the game.

That's what I intend to do with Ptolus.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Why such a love for Ptolus?

Before getting into any specifics of the Ptolus campaign we are presently starting me and my friends of Bella Bella, British Columbia, I have to explain a few things about my own relationship with the City by the Spires.

To understand what Ptolus is, you can visit its official website. Let's just say that Ptolus: Monte Cook's City by the Spire is one of the best developed gaming product ever designed. It's a book of nearly 700 pages describing a fantasy city which embraces the style and feel of Dungeons & Dragons.

What does that means? It means this is a city where magic can be found at every corner, where the most unusual people, like minotaurs and lizardmen, dwarves and elves, walk the streets, where the adventure can be found above and below the city level.

But beyond the sheer greatness of the Ptolus book and its amazing production, it is a campaign which was run by Monte Cook, designer emeritus of D&D's Dungeon Master's Guide, since before the Third Edition of the game was born. To make a long story short, Praemal, the world at large, and Ptolus, its adventuring focus point, evolved through the playtests of D&D's Third Edition, and later grew up with it.

For me, running Ptolus, it's like playing with a bit of gaming history, using the works of a good friend of mine, and using the most incredible role-playing city book available at this point. Running Ptolus is nothing short of a privilege and a real treat for my imagination.

When I look at the contents, Ptolus for me has it all: conspirations, exotism, dungeons, dragons, the whole package, really. It's sort of a challenge too, when I see the amazing possibilities the setting provides. At nearly each page I turn, I find new ideas I could use to run a campaign or write a story.

I just referred to Monte Cook as a friend, and he is. I have been involved with other friends on Monte's forums one can reach through his website. This community of gamers is one of the most amazing I have had the chance to meet. This too is important regarding the Ptolus campaign we are about to play, since the community is a constant source of inspiration, excitement and advice regarding this game.

Running Ptolus in this context becomes even more of a privilege, since I am running a special campaign and have the chance to share my enthusiasms with like-minded people who share the same tastes and influences as I do. Together, we have been excited about Ptolus for years, reading Monte and his friends talking about what fun they had using this setting, and when the actual book was announced more than a year before it became available, the amount of raving anticipation had reached a breaking point. We all wanted to run Ptolus, we all were ready for it.

This explains this very opinionated, very hyped post I am writing here. If you ever get the chance to get Ptolus: Monte Cook's City by the Spire, by all means buy it, read it, and enjoy every minute of your ride. You won't be the same gamer afterwards.