Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Where The Hell Have You Been, Flake? table + Midkemia Cities Review

By far the most interesting rules in Runequest's classic Midkemia: Cities supplement are in the "Character catch-up" section. These rules tell PCs who have missed a session or two what they've been doing during that time. Since they are unique and interesting and address a problem that comes up in my campaign all the time, I hereby shall hack them down to useful size (they are originally written as a whole "mini-game"--they are re-envisioned here according to the efficiency-und-utility-uber-alles Vornheim ethic):

Where The Hell Have You Been, Flake?

Roll d100 or d100 per session missed or d100 per in-game week or month missed, depending on what's appropriate for your campaign. When the table calls for a "random NPC" or "random aristocrat" you can use any random NPC table you like, I personally will be using the ones in Vornheim... (Contents of this table adapted, quoted and largely bit from the work of Stephen Abrams and Jon Everson with a little bit added and a lot speedified by me. If they or any relevant copyright holders have a problem with that I'll take it down.)

1-7 You are offered a dangerous mission. Offered= number just rolled x200 gp for it. Now choose whether to decline or accept the mission. If you decline, that's it. If you accept, there is a 35% chance of death. Roll. If you survived, you also gain 100 x D20 experience points.

8-12 You've been sick. Spend 20 minus your constitution score x 100 on keeping yourself supplied and in comfort. If that's more than you've got or you're a cheapskate subtract d4 from all physical stats for today.

Results 13-23 in bold indicate you offended someone, roll d6 to see who: 1- Random aristocrat 2-3 random NPC commoner, 4-rumormonger who damages your local rep (-2 to local charisma rolls), 5-someone who cursed you (roll a random curse), 6-an entertainer who satirizes you (-2 to local charisma rolls)
13-Bumped into them on the street
15-Imagined slight
16-protocol error, bad manners, or lack of respect
17-interfered w/ plans
18-NPC jealous of PC's success
19-NPC doesn't like how PC looks
20-NPC was just in a bad mood
21-religious argument
22-NPC jealous of PC's spouse, family, lover , etc.
23-NPC misunderstands PC

24-29 Accused of crime, charisma roll to escape conviction. If convicted, pay d8x100 gold to get out. If you don't have it or are a cheapskate you are a fugitive from justice starting now.

30 You have been doing research. Make an intelligence roll. If successful, you may ask the DM one question about any current mystery in the campaign and s/he must give you at least a clue, if not the answer.

31-35 Thieves. Lose d% of your cash.

36-38 A friend of yours (a random common NPC) offended someone. Roll d6 and consult the red text above to see who. If you don't help your friend, there is an 85% chance to offend him, If you do help him, the offended party is now offended by you as well.

39 A friend of yours (a random aristocrat) offended someone. Roll d6 and consult the red text above to see who. If you don't help your friend, there is an 85% chance to offend him, If you do help him, the offended party is now offended by you as well.

40 A family member of yours offended someone. Roll d6 and consult the red text above to see who. If you don't help this family member, there is an 85% chance to offend him/her, If you do help the offended party is now offended by you as well.

41-48 You made a new friend. Roll a random common NPC contact.

49-50 Long lost family member shows up. Friendly. Roll a random occupation for him/her.

51 You made a new friend. Roll a random aristocrat contact.

52 Offer of marriage from (Roll random NPC) of lower social status. Wedding, should you choose to accept it, is in d4 days. If you accept, roll d100: less than 15 means a family member killed you in your sleep, more than 75 means you receive that number x20 in dowry/gifts.

53 Offer of marriage from (Roll random NPC) of same status. Wedding, should you choose to accept it, is in d4-1 weeks. If you accept, roll d100: less than 15 means a family member killed you in your sleep, more than 50 indicates you receive that number x100 in dowry/gifts.

54 Offer of marriage from (Roll random NPC) of higher status. Wedding, should you choose to accept it, is in 2d10 weeks. If you accept, you have offended two random aristocrats and receive d100 x 300 gp in dowry/gifts.

55-57 Dude, someone just gave you d20x100 gp.

58 You are under surveillance by an assassin.
59 You are under surveillance by a spy of a foreign power.
60-61 You are surveillance by thieves casing your place to steal stuff.
62-65 You are under surveillance by the town watch
66 You aren't under surveillance but think you are.

67 You return to action with a mysterious glint in your eye. During this session (and this session only) you may totally pull some crazy, situation-specific bullshit out of your ass to save everyone in a desperate situation ("oh, I have an extra crossbow right here...") but only if you can entirely explain how you ended up with this item/ability/characteristic, etc. in 15 seconds realtime or less. And you can only use it once.

68-69 You got mugged (lose whatever you regularly carry) and tossed into debtor's prison by cops who assumed you were a beggar. Gain a criminal record and d12 x 10 lice.

70-72 You got mugged (lose whatever you regularly carry).

73 You witnessed a secret ceremony. DM figure this out or just roll one of the local religions and assume their pissed at the PC for the foreseeable.

74 You help out some fancy type. Receive a title (d4: 1-duke/duchess 2-Baron/baroness 3-Lord/Lady 4-Knight--Sir or Dame)

75 Your living quarters become infested with vermin.

76 A small bug befriends you. You choose what kind.

77 A small, useless, dumb furry animal (no stats) befriends you. Pick what kind.

78 Somebody gives you a horse. It had a badass name of your choice and maximum stats for a warhorse.

79-81 Recruiting push: You may join the military as an enlisted soldier.

82 You may join the military and get up to the rank of NCO before the next adventure starts

83 You may join the military and become a commisioned officer before the next adventure starts

84 Your place burned down. roll d100: under 50, you saved your stuff, 50-95 you saved a random half of it.

85 You learned to speak a new language (but not read it) pick!

86 You learned to read a new language (but not speak it) pick!

87 Someone asks to be your servant for 4 gp a week. They're pretty cool, it seems like.

88 You meet the person of your dreams. There is a 40% chance that he/she feels the same about you, and a 25% chance that he/she already is married.

89 You have a dream. Roll 1D8: on a result of 1, a deity tells you of a quest that you must undertake. There is a 40% chance that this dream comes from a god. If it does, and if you ignore it, there is a 60% chance that the displeased god kills you. On a 2, you see your own death, which so distracts you that for the next four weeks you treated any successful befriendings as offendings, instead. On a 3-5, you have a prophetic vision which so catches you up in worrying and telling people about it that there is a 20% chance you lose your job if you have one. On a 6, the dream was so involved that you slept the entire day, with a 30% chance you lost your job if you have one. (This one is awesome and verbatim from the book)

90 You are asked to write a book detailing your adventures for publication. A handsome advance is offered: d20x 100 gp.

91 You discover an amazing new recipe for mince pie.

92 You are complemented on your shoes. It goes to your head. -2 to charisma checks because you just keep talking about them but +2 to hit and +3 to damage against anyone who insults them.

93 The town watch or other police agency enters your living quarters. Roll 1D10: on a result of 1-3, they are looking for a fugitive; on 4-7, they are searching for contraband or stolen items; on 8, they are conducting a census; on 9-10, they are thieves casing your house

94 Your place is condemned. You have 2d6 days to find a new one. If, like so many adventurers, you lack a permanent residence, then you have accidentally dyed your hair a color to be decided by the player to your left and don't have time to dye it back.

95 You have a major argument with a spouse, lover, or random intimate you just met. Roll charisma. Failure indicates a woman scorned. Or a man. Or whatever.

96 Death in the family. Pick a family member to die. If they're an NPC already active in the game, the DM can choose to overrule you, and pick someone else.

97 As 96. Plus you are expected to be at the funeral.

98 You have been impressed into the military. You can join, become a fugitive, or buy them off for 1d6x100 gp.

99 Called into court as a witness, you have a 30% chance of being offered a bribe of 1D6 x50 gold pieces to speak in favor of a guilty defendant. Roll a random NPC,to learn who is on trial. If you testify against him/her, there is a 25% chance s/he is offended. If you help him, there is a 35% chance that you will befriend him. GAMEMASTER NOTE: if the player-character lies to free the defendant, there is a chance that others might take special interest in the player-character.

00 You have an accident. Roll 1D10: on a result of 1-2, you received bruises that will last 1D4 weeks; on 3-4, you were seriously burned and should treat the incident as an illness for 1D6 weeks (see 8-12 above) and you lose 10% of your charisma, appearance, physical beauty, etc.; on 5-6, you suffered a major cut or a lost a tooth, etc., reducing your charisma, appearance, physical beauty by 20%; on 7, you broke a bone requiring 1D6 weeks recovery; on 8-10, in addition to bruises and burns as above you must pay 1D20 x10 gold pieces for damages or be accused of a crime.

Short Review of Midkemia Cities From The Point of View of The Guy Who Wrote Vornheim and Thought Doing That Was A Good Idea:

There's a lot of interesting detail and some useful ideas, but the format of the tables assumes either:

-During prep you want to roll 6 times on tables with only 6 results to decide (say) what kind of inn you got rather than just deciding "this inn sucks and has bad food"--and do those 6 rolls for each inn individually until you've filled a map, or

-In mid session you are going to roll 6 times on 6 tables in the middle of a game right there in front of your players and god and everybody and this will be totally worth it because the PCs are not just going to go "Ok, so it has medium food, good beds, and 24 customers--most of whom are priests and townspeople? Let's try the next inn..."

Plus many of the tables are for such minor things (details of stables, f'rinstance) that there's no advantage to having them in "slow table" format. It's not like it's a suspense building exercise : "And...there are...roll roll, modifiers...3 employees!" The advantage (when there is one) is the tables are simulationally weighted to produce maybe realistic results but that is only noticeable if your players are visiting like 10 stables in short order and that implies you're rolling 4 times (plus modifiers) for each stable 10 times in the middle of playing a game and that's not exactly my idea of a good time.

In short: all this kind of stuff seems to have been stuff they didn't think about and so it unfortunately limits the usability of the tables in prep or in play.

That said, there's is much of interest here, especially if you're hacky. Like for instance the "Missions" tables: As written, you roll three times and end up with "Seduce..a thief".:which is a little bit of a drag because you are still left trying to figure out which thief and why--which would appear to be making you do almost as much work as if you had to think up a mission from scratch anyway without the table. However, if you take, say, the original "verb" results from this set of tables (which I now reprint here):

1 Free...
2 Capture...
3 Guard...
4 Assassinate...
5 Find...
6 Transport...
7 Lure...
8 Incriminate...
9 Seduce...
10 Terrorize...

And then, instead of rolling on the table they've got (16-"warrior" 17-"non-human" etc.) roll on a table full of detailed NPCs that fit your setting (like, say if you have Vornheim, then roll on the Random Aristocrat or Random NPC table) then you've got yourself a hook with enough meat that you can think something up quick: "Assassinate Yzonde DiArmond who despises the sun, is chief advisor to the regent, is nervous sweaty and sloppy and is married to Duke Ozgord of Hogg".

Uh why? Because she's too sloppy and has fucked up, or the client hiring you is a sun-worshipper... And by who? Ozgord, maybe. Or a rival for Ozgord's affections. Ok, done.

Also, the section of advice on building realistic populations and spreads of buildings for towns and cities is good if you're into that sort of thing, though know it is just guidelines rather than any kind of fast-gen rules.


  1. I used these tables in a game once and got a kick out of just how horribly dangerous they were. I think almost my entire group ended up broke and in prison after a couple of months of rolling.

  2. I hadn't heard of that supplement before now, but I like the idea of a mechanical solution to the "missed a few sessions" problem. In the past, I've come up with all sorts of solutions to this, and none of them really satisfactory to myself or my players. I'll definitely be swiping this table (maybe with a few modifications for setting) for the next time this issue rears its head, as it inevitably will.

  3. Dude, that's my favorite ancient supplement from the gamemasters who inspired Raymond Feist's "RiftWar" series of novels. I've used them a couple of times in large urban settings, and they are a great "exercise" for DMs who want to increase their spontaneity skills, so to speak.