Browsing articles in "Merakai"

Boar Bounty: A Labyrinth Lord Adventure set in Korton Forest

Sep 25, 2011
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Get Ready

A drift of hogs has taken over the forest and have begun to forage into nearby fields. The mayor of Korton has issued a bounty of 1sp per head with a bonus silver for boars.

Get Set

Korton is set in the the forest of the same name. Korton Forest is a small woodland of mixed conifer and deciduous trees. The town of Korton is set in a clearing near the edge of the forest. The town economy is intertwined with the health of the forest including wood cutting, nut harvesting and gathering of woodland edibles. Many of the resulting goods are sent to the capital city as trade materials.

The original infestation of boars were normal hogs escaped from farms in the region. They began to breed and spread throughout the forest. The boars caused little damage and were considered something of a boon by the huntsmen of the forest as an additional game animal.

Gradually, the population began to swell beyond what hunting could control The larger population attracted giant boars from the far reaches of the forest. The larger beasts easily dominated the smaller rivals and began to interbreed with the normal boars. The more aggressive cousins caused more destruction and also caused a population spike due to rampant breeding.

A pair of Demon Boars eventually heard of the infestation and has moved into the forest. They rarely appear in human form. Instead, they use the large population as camouflage to stay hidden. The two are responsible for the majority of deaths in the forest and prey upon the hunters seeking the bounty on the other boars.


The boars are not a cohesive group. They are spread among the forest in smaller bunches and occasionally encountered separately. A normal encounter will be several normal boars with 75% chance of giant boars being part of the group. Only two demon boars currently reside in the forest near Korton.

Before beginning the play, the GM should roughly estimate the overall population in the forest and the breakdown between the normal and giant boars. The game play should be split into a number of encounters with varying numbers along with a series of clues leading to the demon boars. Once half of the overall population has been killed, the infestation will be under control by the bounty payments.

The GM may also want to adjust HD for the normal and giant boars downward to include a diversity of hog ages. Piglets are common and can make the encounters more exciting while dramatically reducing risk to the party.

The overall hunt should be a series of individual encounters. Each should have a few details to add suspense to the otherwise dull task of hunting down pigs. The following are a few suggestions. Use a few or invent your own.

Farmers Field: Just on the outskirts of town a group of hogs is destroying a field and garden. The farmer has rushed to town to seek help. The hogs arrive near dusk or dawn and set about rooting out all the edible plants in the field. [3 piglets, 2 normal boars, 1 giant boar]

Dead Orc: A small number of hogs is feasting on the carcass of a dead orc. One hog lies dead nearby impaled by a crude spear. [2 normal boars, 1 giant]

Footprint of a Fatman: A huntsman has been killed and the corpse is little more than scattered bones. Based on the hoofmarks around the corpse, a large number of beasts were involved or came to feed. Amid the hoof prints are massive bare footprints of a human in the nearby mud. A skilled tracker may note the prints end in close proximity to unusually large hoof prints. The party can track down several beasts in the area as smaller encounters.

Injured Woodcutter: A lone woodcutter has survived a deadly assault. He managed to escape the battle and crawl up a tree. He’ll aid the party in finding the original location of the attack along with telling the tale of two massive hogs killing and feasting upon his fallen comrades.

Dazed and Confused: A pair of humans have setup camp in a small clearing. Both are well equipped but were obviously in battle. The male has a bandage on his leg and head. The female’s left arm is in a sling. The humans are seeking to escape the woods. They will share the story of 7 hogs led by two massive hogs surprising them on a narrow path in the woods. After killing several of the smaller beasts, neither of them can recall the remainder of the battle. Both were charmed by the Demon Boars. Luckily another group of hunters distracted the Demon Boars who chose to retreat rather than fighting a pitched battle. Unfortunately, the second group did not find the humans.

Each encounter should be memorable. Liberally drop clues pointing toward the presence of the menace of the Demon Boars.

Notable NPCs

Boar (d6) [AL N, MV 150’ (50’), AC 7, HD 3, #AT 1 (tusk), DM 2d4, THAC0: 17, SV F2, ML 9, XP 50, LL 66, HC None] HP: 17, 12, 17, 10, 12, 11.

Boar, Giant (d3) [AL N, MV 120’ (40’), AC 6, HD 5, #AT 1 (tusk), DM 3d4, THAC0: 15, SV F5, ML 9, XP 200, LL 66, HC None] HP: 19, 27, 26.

Demon Boar (2) [AL C, MV 120’ (40’) Boar 180’ (60’), AC 3 (9), HD 9, #AT 1 (gore or weapon), DM 2d6/weapon, THAC0: 12, SV F9, ML 10, XP 3,800, LL 69, HC XX] HP: 38, 56.

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Random Encounters: Osquip

Jun 6, 2011


Infestations of giant rats are a common encounter for low level adventurers. Rats thrive any place food is available including alleys, sewers. dungeons and crypts. Rats are vile but the larger, more aggressive cousin, the osquip are ferocious.

Osquips are multi-legged rodents. Most osquips have six legs although rare specimens have been seen with eight and ten legs. The teeth and head of the osquip are oversized enabling them to dig burrows faster than their rat cousins. Osquips possess hairless hides ranging from light yellow to a yellowish brown. The hides are supple when tanned and provide excellent water resistance.

Generally, osquips are encountered in subterranean settings but will establish burrows anywhere adequate prey is available. The creatures are carnivores and active only in darkness. Osquips are very territorial. Any creature entering the territory will be attacked by the rodents. Emerging from well concealed tunnels, osquip will surprise 50% of the time. The creatures are unafraid of fire but loathe deep water. If forced to swim, half will drown and the other half will be reduced to very slow paddling (1″).

An Encounter


A large, bramble covered hummock sits along the eastern edge of the road. Obvious game trails wind around the mound toward the bank of the nearby river. Fresh earth is scattered across the northern face of the slope and a three foot entrance to a burrow is roughly hidden by the shrubs and long grass.

The osquip have taken over the burrow of a giant weasel along a river bank. Situated along a game trail, the creatures have thrived off easy prey of wildlife and occasional small parties of travellers A smaller, rear tunnel leads under the roadway into the brush roughly 150 away. Due to the bountiful prey, the osquip have not expanded the tunnel system significantly. The tunnels are roughly 3 foot in diameter. Demi-humans can enter and move reasonably well. Human sized creatures will be cramped and hard pressed to attack or defend.

If any party member discovers and moves within 10′ of the main entrance, the osquips will begin an attack. Due to the limited number of exits from the burrow and the small entrance, only a single osquip will engage initially. The first attacker will try to force the intruder back from the entrance allowing the remaining pack members to swarm out.


Number Appearing: 2-24
Armor Class: 7
Hit Dice: 3+1
THAC0: 16
# Attacks: 1
Damage: 2-12
Size: 2′, at shoulder
XP Value: 120
Treasure Type: D (in lair)

Stats are based on the AD&D 2nd Edition Monstrous Manual. Tweak and tun as you see fit.

Last Thoughts

I enjoy putting oddball creatures in feasible, albeit unlikely locations. This osquip encounter is an eccentric variant of a subterranean monster set in a wilderness location. Why are they in the wilderness? Maybe the few members are from a nearby cavern taking advantage of the natural resources. More simply, they may well be predators utilizing abundant natural resources.

Encounter Space: Jackalwere

May 26, 2011
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Jackalwere’s are an excellent choice as an encounter for a lower level party. The creature occurs in low (1-4) numbers but has powerful special abilities. The creatures can shape shift at will into three different forms: a jackal, a human or as a half-human/half jackal. They also possess a sleep gaze and can only be hit my magical or iron* weapons.

Unlike lyncanthropes, the jackalwere doesn’t transmit a disease. They are very intelligent and will use the sleep gaze if possible on unsuspecting victims. Their hatred for humanoids should be tempered by intelligent tactics. Given a choice, the jackalwere will only attack if they believe they can prevail. If possible, they will utilize the sleep gaze to incapacitate prey rather than engaging in outright combat. The jackalwere is a master of deceit and will only reveal itself if forced.

Last Encounter

Initially, I was going to use Jackalweres as a encounter on a roadway. Instead, the party chose to stay in town and undertake a mission from the local thieves guild. The ‘weres were stalking unsuspecting merchants after closing. They would approach the residence of the shopkeeper acting as if they needed items urgently. If the unsuspecting merchant fell to the sleep gaze, they would drag the disabled merchant back into the residence and slaughter/feast upon the corpse.

The party was already alerted to the deaths early and staked out the area where the killings had taken place. The jackalweres were in human form but were not aware of the party staking out the street. After targeting a merchant, the party engaged forcing the jackalweres into a fight.

Tweaks to Better the Encounter

I was flying by the seat of my pants so I didn’t play it as well as I could have. I ignored the intelligence and morale of the monsters once the combat was in full swing. The jackalweres should have likely tried to flee and fight another day once they were significantly injured. One did escape but would not have chosen to re-engage a party member later unless it was at an advantage.

I underplayed the menace of the jackalweres. The creatures are prone to feasting upon their prey. The horror could have been upped if the original deaths were reported as partially eaten corpses. Toss in full families rather than individual merchants and I may have gotten a more energetic response from my group. Still, it was a brutal encounter, which fit the setting requested.

Other Encounters

1 Jackalwere

Should you choose to be evil, have a single ‘were in human form, act injured on the roadside. If the party aids the injured, the ‘were will wait until night and attempt to disable those on watch and then slaughter the rest of the party in its sleep. The tactic is brutal but aligns with the mentality of the creature. If discovered, it will attempt to flee rather than fighting a pitched battled.

Pack of Jackals / Wilderness Encounter

The jackalweres will mix with a pack of normal jackals in jackal form Within the pack, they will engage the party briefly overnight to test the strength of the party. As the alpha members of the pack, the jackalwere’s will not sacrifice any member of the pack in combat. Its a feint. If the party appears weak enough to be killed, one jackalwere, bruised and bleeding, will approach the camp at dawn in attempt to use its sleep gaze. If ineffective, the jackalwere will later try to slink off. If successful, the rest of the pack will engage.

Final Thoughts

I don’t understand the magical and iron(*) only weapon restriction. Magical only? Sure. Iron? I’ve never distinguished materials for weapons in my game. I’d play it as +1 or better magical weapons and ignore the “iron” weapon option unless you classify metal types of weapons in your game. The iron weapon component must have a following since its survived several fantasy editions and been included in retro-clone games.

Jackalweres are tough creatures. The fantastic abilities of shape shifing and sleep gaze make for a far more interesting encounter than wandering band of humanoids. Played correctly, they could become an early nemesis of the party.

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Rust on the Sandbox

May 18, 2011
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Power running Grasslands at Convergence demonstrated how rusty I am at off-the-cuff game mastering. I did some preparation for the game but was planning on 4 players. Instead the player count was 2 at the start and 3 later in the day. Since the player count was low, I had the two original folks make two characters each. Grasslands is generally deadly so I figured at least half the characters would die over the course of the session. Instead, only one PC died: Yop* from the later arriving member. Many others came very close but managed to escape death.

In the past, I’ve used random monster tables frequently based on terrain type. I’d extend the terrain type for transition zones since the grasslands are a singular type. However, the hard bound Monstrous Compendium from 2nd Edition doesn’t contain random monster tables. So much for that. Flipping through the book is slow and tedious; not to mention boring for the players. So I’d scramble during breaks to ponder a few different creatures as I went along. The original monster supplements in the loose-leaf, 3 ring binder format had the tables. Randall asked if he should bring them. I said no need. Go figure.

After a few hours of struggling along, I finally got back into the groove. The pace picked up but was no where near my heydays in the role of chief chaos creator. Still, the majority of the party was having a good time in their chosen roles. I also wasn’t well prepared for in-town stuff. I hadn’t really given it much thought. Luckily, Randall did what he always does and started the ball rolling. Player driven stuff is easier to handle for me. I can generally determine rough slices of interest based upon the character actions. From there, I just drop in filler.

Overall, I spent over 12 hours in the DM seat. The rust wasn’t gone but at least it was flaking away by the end of the night. It was quite fun to bring back a setting from 20 years ago even if the start was slow. I was pleased and got compliments from a couple of players. If they had a good time and I had a good time, who can ask for more?

* Yep, its Yop. My bad.

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Merakai Revamped at Convergence

May 8, 2011
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Convergence is a gathering of geographically dispersed gaming friends for a long weekend of role playing The original idea was to hold an annual gathering but after the first one, it quickly became a semi-annual event. The weekend was also extended from 3 days to 4 to allow more gaming time.

Another Convergence is upon us. In four days, I’ll be rounding up people from the airport and headed into the Colorado Rockies for another weekend of role playing, old guy style. For the second time, we’ll have five people in attendance. For the first time, we’ll have a complete newcomer to our gaming circle. Hitting six attendees once again is just out of reach as one of the long time participants once again cannot make it.

Another first has occurred, a player stepped up and wants to play a specific game. Randall’s been to all but one Convergence and he wants to play some 2nd Edition AD&D. More specifically, he wants to play in my Grasslands of Merakai setting once again. He was one of the primary players during the years I ran the game. I’ve been tinkering with it for a few weeks so his request is easily accommodated. After a few emails, the game will not utilize old characters since no other player will have one. A new campaign will be born in an old setting with a new look.

Beyond the Grasslands, Wheels procured Munchkin Zombies at my request. Munchkin is a fast, fun game. Munchkin with zombies has to be a win win. I’m also going to try to find Zombie Dice if I can before Wednesday. Kevin from KORPG was willing to continue his zombie apocalypse game from last fall. Lastly, our newcomer, Garrett, has offered to run a Call of Cthulu style game. From my conversations with him, he’s blended in some World of Darkness. Sounds entertaining.

What is planned and what will get played always vary. Convergence is a dynamic environment. One where many planned games fall aside and others take over. Nothing wrong with that.


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Grasslands of Merakai – An unbalanced campaign

May 4, 2011
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Balance has been a hot topic in RPG design from the origins to the modern day. Its easy to find examples. Tweaking classes to make certain one is not more powerful than the next. Tweaking feats, skills, and other abilities to ascertain the sets available to each prototype character are matched. Everyone seems to want balance except when they don’t. Balance really isn’t all that necessary.

Around the time I launched the Grasslands of Merakai campaign, I was heavily interested in ecology, ecosystems and natural cycles. The research and knowledge had a significant impact on how I approached the campaign. Just as influential were the games I had been playing within. Either the GM was heavy handed in feeding the party only encounters they could overcome or he’d generate implausible situations with the caveat that no players would die.

Balance is nice on paper but its just not natural. Ecosystems generally trend toward equilibrium but rarely do they stay at the balance point for long. For example, take coyotes and rabbits. As the rabbit population increases, the coyote population will as well due to the available prey. When disease wipes out most of the rabbits, the coyotes starve and have fewer offspring. With fewer predators, the rabbit population begins to increase again. The cycle starts all over.

I’ve never been a fan of the rule where you should use monsters X, Y, and Z when the party level is generally A, B and C. I understand the benefit and I’ve made use of such balancing techniques quite often. If you succumb to the approach, the system has just rail roaded you into making choices from a limited pool. The majority of quality campaigns follow the balance is normal model. You need not follow the balanced approach. Is there some meta god rolling around scooting all the creatures not within a certain hit dice range away from the party?

The original version of the Grasslands of Merakai was a knee-jerk response to balance and other game master’s unwritten rules of no character death. By design, it was brutal, chaotic and very deadly. No creature was off the table. Creature hit dice were not a meaningful determinant for encounter feasibility.

The only rule I had was the party been given a chance to avoid dying. The window of chance was often very limited. Choose to run immediately, or be prepared to die or alternatively make the choice during an encounter to escape due to some distraction. Rarely were player characters not given a chance to escape. If they were surprised and had no obvious means of escape, I’d try to work a chance into the encounter. I was evil and didn’t make the choice readily apparent.

Characters had to make difficult choices. Adventuring is not for the meek. Personally, I don’t feel adventurers should plan on long lives. If anyone could do it, why would adventurers exist at all?

The body count was staggering. Players often were busy rolling up a new PC as the campaign was rolling along to the next element. Some players died more than once per session. Based on my recollection, not a single player escaped death over the course of the entire campaign. Not a single player ever refused to play in the campaign even after I’d killed them repeatedly. For some it was frustrating but they quickly learned how the campaign was designed.

Would I run such a campaign today? If I were in a similar situation to when it originally occurred, yes I would. Playing several times a week with a dedicated group of 5-6 players makes such experiments easier. Since I’m not, I probably wouldn’t. Most of the game masters I play under today are more realistic and allow the possibility for death. Occasionally, someone dies.

Deadly should be a tool at the game master’s disposal. If the players are overly confident and cocky, toss something completely unbalanced at them. Let the body count grow but give them an out. Everyone needs to be shocked back into the realization they are not the most powerful force alive on occasion. If death is onerous to the majority of the group, the approach will alienate the players.

Use at your own risk.

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Clowning around with Maps

Apr 24, 2011

Like many people, most of my map are hand sketched atop graph paper with a focus on functionality over form. Since the RPG Blog Carnival is focused on cartography, I decided to knock the digital dust bunnies off my copy of Campaign Cartographer. I pretty much suck at CC3 mapping. Although I did learn a bit more about layering and object manipulation. So I’ll call it a marginal success.

Every carnival needs a clown.

Rough Layout of Merakai

I also did a quick and dirty dungeon style map of a burrow. It doesn’t really fit with the original idea I had but its a map. I was intending to do a side view style map but cannot get the ground layer to appear even marginal. Marginal is successful for me. This one has text labels in CC3. They look fine right up until you export the map and crop it. I knew that. Rather, I remembered right after cropping the exported image. Maybe this time I’ll remember to not bother and just insert labels, when needed, with Gimp.

Burrow Map