Cities of the Underworld - Mining for Inspiration

In a previous post I talked a bit about finding inspiration for game ideas from non-gaming sources. Some of these sources tend to be a bit more obvious than others, but you know you are on to something when one of these sources actually grabs your imagination and begins shaking it up, and it dares you to use it as the seed for your next game. One such source is a TV series on the History Channel called Cities of the Underworld (from here on CotU).

Anyone who has seen this show knows what I am talking about. Hell, the name of the show screams, “dungeon crawl!” Even the episode list in itself acts as a source of inspiration. “City of Caves”, “Catacombs of Death”, “Prophecies From Below” and “Tunnels of Hell” are some of the best examples. Just the act of typing these names has given me an idea for my upcoming game this Sunday… :-)

Sadly, I have not seen every episode, mainly because I do not pay for cable or satellite TV. Not to worry though, Hulu has come to the rescue, and I have found many of the episodes on YouTube as well. The episodes I have seen have been most educational for world building. Want to bring a real-world sensibility to the next dungeon you design? Have an ancient city in your campaign and need ideas to help flesh out its history, flavor and identity? Look no further, because CotU has plenty of source material to offer.

What I find fascinating is to see firsthand what ancient engineering feats and technology were available throughout history, and to actually see much of it in working order today is amazing. I never seem to stop being astounded by what the ancients were capable of.

One of my favorite Dungeons & Dragons modules is The Lost City (B4), and it is not hard for me to draw a correlation between it and CotU. I wholeheartedly recommend the show to anyone who has not seen it. Maybe it will help inspire you to build that mega-dungeon you have been dreaming about all these years.


[Sword & Sanity Dissected] Combat Styles

No matter what sword & sorcery story you happen to read it quickly becomes apparent that the heroes are exceptional combatants. Expanding upon the Castles & Crusades ruleset, here is a selection of Combat Styles that will help simulate this in your game.

In a previous article I covered the use of Secondary Proficiencies. Combat Styles are really an extension of those rules, and ultimately work the same. In place of Secondary Proficiency slots a character can use those slots to buy into a Combat Style. The trade off is 1:1, so one Secondary Proficiency slot will buy one slot in a specific Combat Style.

The game mechanics discussed can be used for any edition of Dungeons & Dragons, but are specifically written for Castles & Crusades. As with most game materials I will present, this article is considered Open Game License (OGL).

Combat Styles

Remember, each slot in a Combat Style will cost one Secondary Proficiency slot, unless there is an asterisk next to the name and then the cost is doubled. Each additional slot is equal to the initial cost. Also, Fighter is the only class that can train in more than one Combat Style.

Breaker – this style specializes in the use of a two-handed gripping technique to gain additional control and power. The name refers to the ability of a combatant using this style to break through an opponent's defences using shear force.

Class Restrictions: Barbarian, Fighter, Knight, Ranger & Paladin
  • The combatant’s weapon must accommodate the use of two hands.
  • Gain an additional +2 damage bonus for each slot acquired.
  • Gain +1 to initiative rolls due to the extra control and speed the combatant has when wielding a weapon with two hands (raise +1 initiative with every two additional slots spent).
  • A combatant using this style of combat is harder to disarm, and as such two successful disarming attacks must be made. If only one disarm is successful then the defender suffers a -4 on their initiative roll the following round.
  • Weapon Specialization rules still apply to Fighters.
Shieldsman – this style allows the combatant to capitalize on the use of shields in combat. As a result better defensive tactics are gained, as well as the ability to turn the shield into an effective weapon.

Class Restrictions: Barbarian, Fighter, Knight, Ranger & Paladin
  • Additional +1 with shield (defense and attack bonus) for each slot spent.
  • Fighters may choose shield for their Weapon Specialization, with the +1 bonus extending to AC as well as Attack and Damage for each level of Specialization.
  • Shield Bash is a combat maneuver a Shieldsman is able to perform. An attack with a weapon is sacrificed to bash with the shield. Damage is as follows: Buckler = 1d3 / Small Shield = 1d4 / Medium Shield = 1d6 / Large Shield = 1d8. A Pavis Shield is too large to bash with. Strength bonuses apply. The shield’s AC bonus is maintained during a Shield Bash.
  • Shield Rush is another combat maneuver that allows the Shieldsman to slam full speed ahead into another combatant. The Shieldsman must rush 10’ to achieve this maneuver. Damage is as a Shield Bash, but the victim must also make a Dexterity check or be knocked down. Combat and situational modifiers apply.
Swashbuckler * – this style trains the combatant to wield two light weapons at the same time. The use of lighter armor allows for greater mobility, allowing the combatant to use tumbling and acrobatics in combat.

Class Restrictions: Assassin, Bard, Fighter, Ranger & Rogue
  • For this style to be effective the combatant is restricted to leather armor or lighter.
  • Weapon weight is restricted to 4 lbs or lighter.
  • To gain the full benefits of this style the combatant must be wielding two weapons.
  • If the combatant is already Ambidextrous (see Skills) then the penalty to wield two weapons simultaneously drops from -1 / -4 (originally -3 / -6, with +2 bonus for Ambidexterity) to -0 / -0.
  • The combatant gains an additional attack / round
  • Choose a +2 bonus to hit or a +2 bonus to AC for each additional slot trained beyond the first.
  • Rogues can buy into Swashbuckler at half price. All other classes must pay full price.
  • Normal dual-wielding rules apply.
Weapon Master * – this combat style allows the combatant to focus their training on one particular weapon for additional precision and control.

Class Restrictions: Barbarian, Fighter, Knight, Monk, Ranger & Paladin
  • The student must choose 1 weapon to focus their training on.
  • +1 to hit bonus / +1 damage bonus for each slot.
  • Fighters can buy slots in Weapon Master at half price. All other classes must pay full price.
  • Weapon Specialization rules still apply and they stack with this fighting school.