Archive for February, 2012

20 Questions

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on February 25, 2012 by reignofjotuns

Twenty questions to sum up the Northern Shore rules

1) Ability scores generation method? I’d love to be an incredible stickler for 3d6 in order- but alas, the folly of youth- when it gets right down to it, I’m a big softy. Don’t count on it though- I’d rather soften the blow of a 3-6-5-4-8-13 by doing away with stat bonuses entirely than by letting you re-roll.

2) How are death and dying handled? Ha ha! Deadface McDeaderpants!

3) What about raising the dead? It is possible… …But the casting ritual is incredibly esoteric, not just something you get at a certain level. Esoteric rituals like that can be cast by anybody, regardless of level or even class… …if you can find anyone who’ll teach them to you.

There are a couple of Miracle Maxes around who might cast them for you… …if you can find one. It is possible to find them… …but the rituals require incredibly hard-to-get ingredients that can only be got by extensive questing.

However, you are adventurers… …more of whom are likely to be killed on the way. You get a free frogurt… …which also requires questing to retrieve.

You do get your choice of toppings… …but the toppings are on the other side of a magical river. Magical river doesn’t sound too hard to get past…

…except that the current is strong enough to turn your butt inside out, the water’s so acidic it’ll dissolve any boat you put in it, the only bridge is a trap, and the water’s brimming with electric eeeels! So, you can raise the dead, but you won’t get toppings on your frogurt.

4) How are replacement PCs handled? Back at town… “Oh look, it’s a new guy.” “Hey new guy!”

5) Initiative: individual, group, or something else? Roll d6 for each side, high roll goes first, each side goes in whatever order it wants. Re-roll every turn.

6) Are there critical hits and fumbles? How do they work? Roll a 1, automatic miss. Roll a 20, automatic hit. I won’t penalize you for the 1 unless you’re trying to do something ridiculous, like attack with flaming nunchucks, or jump kick on a log bridge.

7) Do I get any benefits for wearing a helmet? Usually the situation is that you get penalties for NOT wearing a helmet. Example: rocks fall, you save or fall unconscious.

8) Can I hurt my friends if I fire into melee or do something similarly silly? Firing into melee, not so much unless you’re in really cramped conditions. I assume that your character is competent enough for me to say, “hey, these conditions are really cramped”, and let you rethink your action before you point-blank headshot your cleric.

As for silly things, it depends how silly- If you try to get a minotaur to calm down by playing the flute (my sister actually did this, before my change to ‘tough-love’ DMing had really sunk in. Lucky she was first level), that will usually get YOU killed. Hum the ‘Mission: Impossible’ theme song while the rest of the party is trying to sneak, get everyone killed.

9) Will we need to run from some encounters, or will we be able to kill everything? Flee, weaklings! Flee, and know that you are mere mortals opposed to the Dungeon Master!

10) Level-draining monsters: yes or no? Yes. Fuck yes.

11) Are there going to be cases where a failed save results in PC death? I have something called the “Basilisks, Charm Person spells, Snakes, Spiders, Poisoned Weapons, Tainted Water, Smallpox, Death Rays, Dragon Breath, Gorgons, Catoblepas/Nekrozons, Traps, and Hypothermia Clause” (BCPSSSPWTWSDRDBGC/NTaHC), which basically says “Probably not. Let your guard down.”

12) How strictly are encumbrance & resources tracked? I’ll audit you once in a while. If your backpack doesn’t add up, I apply the appropriate penalty until the next audit, regardless of how much gear you drop before then.

13) What’s required when my PC gains a level? Training? Do I get new spells automatically? Can it happen in the middle of an adventure, or do I have to wait for down time? I give experience for treasure, mostly, which has to be retrieved to a relatively secure location before I add it to your total. Then you just level up, no fuss.

14) What do I get experience for? Treasure, spending said treasure. Don’t complain about not getting any from monsters- I don’t like the paperwork that brings.

15) How are traps located? Description, dice rolling, or some combination? Description.

16) Are retainers encouraged and how does morale work? I roll morale when the first PC dies, when the party is reduced to half of the size it had when it first set out, and whenever anything else incredibly terrifying happens. You can get retainers, and I think they’re awesome, but in all fairness- it will be hard to find someone willing to go into dungeons with you. The most likely source is making alliances with the rare ‘friendly’ ‘monsters’.

17) How do I identify magic items? Consult a sage, oracle, demon, etc. A good weaponsmith will have a few tests that can reveal the general quality of a weapon. ‘Detect Magic’ will reveal whether rings, wands, rods, staves, necklaces, and the like are magical, but it won’t reveal what they do. Most magic weapons and armor won’t even be revealed by ‘Detect Magic’, simply being

A~ extremely well made (+1 – +3),

B~ made out of some unusual material like demon’s blood, dragon scales, or tungsten carbide (+2 – +4), or

C~in some other way unique, such as having been cooled in the blood of priests/murderers/children, or ‘an old-sword of giants, with edge impenetrable’ (+2 – +5). Some of them get their powers from simple spellwork, but really, how lame would that be?

18) Can I buy magic items? Oh, come on: how about just potions? You can trade them, buy them off of giants or demons, or make your own. Sorry, even potions.

19) Can I create magic items? When and how? You want to make magic weapons? Oh, you’re a feisty one aren’t you? A real awesome force in the campaign? First you’ll need to learn how. This is the hard bit- weaponsmiths guard their secrets jealously, and you’d be lucky to forge a +1 sword even if you were trained by the greatest. Besides, if you want a great sword, you’ll need a better material than mere steel. And who’s going to teach you how to work with obsidian, diamonds, or demon’s blood? No one you can look up in the phone book. It will take a lot of work, but you can learn the skill necessary. You can just come up with the concept and get somebody else to make it, but you’ll still need at least basic weaponsmithing skill, and knowledge of theory.

Now, come up with a concept. This bit is simpler. Maybe you study ancient tomes and examine ancient weapons- in other words, the boring way. Maybe you find a master in the art beat his secrets out of him (it would be a lot nicer to pay him, you thug!)- in other words, the cheaty way. Maybe you spend a lot of time thinking about swords, doing katas with regular swords, and then smoking/snorting exotic substances (flowers, lycanthrope pelt, weeds) while meditating on the subject- in other words, the unreliable way.

Maybe the idea just falls into your lap- you break your sword on a rock, suddenly the rock gets struck by lightning, splits, and gems fall out, and you think, “I’ll just make a new sword out of these”- in other words, the lazy way. It would probably be best to combine the methods. Remember not to waste too much on-screen time on it, and remember that I won’t make ideas fall into your lap if it doesn’t look like you’re trying.

Wands, staves, rings, rods, scrolls, potions, and miscellaneous items? Boring. Just make those pretty much according to standard rules, but if you want to go the effort you can probably invent some kind of ‘anything goes’ thing.

20) What about splitting the party? Sure. I can handle it. And in a play-by-post? Anyone can handle it.

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Synonyms For Necromancer

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on February 24, 2012 by reignofjotuns

Generally, if you’re talking about one with power over the undead, you say ‘necromancer’. But, of course, the word is relatively unrelated in etymology; it means something along the lines of ‘dead body diviner’, which I would say sounds like an extremely evocative name for a spirit called up by ‘speak with dead’. If I’m going to use it for that, however, I need an alternate name for sorcerers specialising in reanimation; here are a few that I would rather use.

Aculeiform Thanatopsist. Aculeiform, meaning ‘thorn-like’, and thanatopsis, meaning ‘view of death’. Linguists correct me if I am wrong, but one who thinks about death frequently could then be called a ‘thanatopsist’. This would mean ‘a thorn-like person who thinks about death’, or ‘one who looks on death like a thorn’. Thanatologist might be a safer bet, but I prefer the relative obsucrity of ‘opsis’ to the relatively commonplace ‘ology’. Alternately, sagittiform (like an arrow) would work.

Abraidener, from the Middle English verb ‘abraiden’ (alternately, abreiden and therefore abreidener), meaning to start up, rouse, reproach, or move. Abraiden comes from the even elder ‘abregdan’, meaning to ‘pull out, wrench out, draw, unsheathe, lift up, start up’, usually used in relation to a sword, or possibly a conflict. This has the advantage of being obsolete English, and so sounding familiar, as well as having a relatively simple meaning.

Bantling-daw, meaning ‘bastard child crow’. This one works well as a term for the common man to use, derogatorily, being made of common English words recently fallen out of use.

Carnedaedalus, an artificer of flesh.

Desacralist, from desacralise, meaning ‘to divest of sacred qualities or religious significance’. This could therefore mean either one who desecrates, or a pragmatist who cares little for religious tradition.

Flamen Carnis, meaning ‘priest of flesh’.

Fossarian, usually meaning one of two things: 1) a minor 4th century clergyman employed as a gravedigger, or 2) one of a 15th century sect which rejected the sacraments and instead celebrated their own peculiar rites in ditches and caves. Rich history, already has varied meaning, comes from the same root as ‘fossil’ and ‘fossor’-

Frithwreck, from ‘frith’, an Old English word meaning peace, sanctuary, preservation, etc.

Inquinator Mors, as far as I know, is Latin for ‘one who corrupts or pollutes death or the dead’. This one is probably one of my most etymologically pure, but it doesn’t really roll off the tongue. Oh well.

Lethologist, one who studies oblivion or forgetfulness.

Necrodaedalus, one who crafts or crafts with corpses.

Necrogyve, ‘one who binds or shackles the dead’.

Ossedaedalus, a crafter of bones.

Northern Shore House Rules

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on February 21, 2012 by reignofjotuns

Stats

Roll 3d6, in order, to generate scores.

The scores are not changed- instead, characters add the portions of their other scores which are above 9. Fighters use WIS 3-for-1, INT 2-for-1. Clerics use INT 2-for-1, STR 3-for-1. Magic-users use WIS 2-for-1. So, for example, a Fighter with STR 14, WIS 10, INT 15. His strength is 14, which would normally mean +5% experience, but he has an INT of 15. 15 means 6 points over 9. He uses INT on a 2-for-1 basis, so he treats his strength score as 3 points higher for experience purposes, giving him +10% instead. His scores are completely unchanged, as is his combat ability. he simply treats part of his INT as extra STR.

Prime requisite for fighters = STR + (WIS – 9) / 3 + (INT – 9) / 2. Read through that again and make sure you’ve got it.

Starting Gold

3d6 x 5, rather than x 10.

Classes

No weapon restrictions.

Backstabbing is usable by any character, rather than being exclusive to the thief class.

No class-based restrictions on hirelings.

Fighters do not have special options like paladin and avenger when they get to 9th level

Clerics do not have the option of becoming druids at 9th level. Instead, they choose at first level which spell list to cast from. Casting druid spells does not necessarily come with roleplaying restrictions.

Mystics not allowed.

Thieves are used as a base for any specially skilled adventurer. A player might substitute ‘tracking’ for ‘climb walls’ and ‘hunting’ for ‘open locks’ to play a ranger, for example. They may wear any armor, and have d6 hit dice.

Equipment

all weapons deal 1d6. Two-handed weapons deal 1d8. In certain situations, a weapon may deal double damage, such as a long weapon set against a charging beast, a long weapon used from horseback, or any weapon when catching an enemy unawares (backstabbing).

Experience

1 xp per gold piece won. 1 xp per gold piece spent on frivolous items.

Magic

Spell research typically requires no expenditure of gold pieces, just the necessary components.

‘anything goes’ magic is reachable, and usable by anybody, not just spellcasters. It is hard to get, though.

Other

Weapon Mastery not used.

General Skills not used.

Monsters

Reading through the monsters section will punish you. Revenant undead (vampire, draug, druj, wight, ghoul…) are all statted uniquely. Trolls do not necessarily regenerate, and if so, their weakness is not necessarily fire. Dragons are unique, not just cookie-cutter fire-breathing lizards. Words like ‘Hobgoblin’ do not refer to specific species, but are general terms.

The Northern Shore

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on February 21, 2012 by reignofjotuns

I’ve decided to start DMing a ConstantCon game. I’ll be running it play-by-post on Google+, so I can prepare for it faster than it can be explored. I can test out certain ideas for the Beetledome, and hopefully start writing it faster once I’ve got the taste of DMing in my mouth again. Here’s the flavor portion:

The northernmost peninsula of the land, heavily forested, filled with marsh and bitter winters- a land of giants and wild beasts- unconquered, until the rise of the great nation of Thephysus.

Several of the Thephysian nobles, driven by rumors of wealth unimaginable, wonders unseen, and even a way to heaven at the northernmost tip, gathered their men and their money, sold their castles, and departed for the untamed land. Many of them survived, had castles built, carved roads through the wilderness, and wealth was indeed found- but in the end, the landscape was as untameable as the trolls it birthed, and the trolls’ presence as constant as the forests. A mere ten years after the settling began, castle Porphos was sacked- no word was ever heard from the more distant nobles. Four years afterward, the empire collapsed. Some said their expeditions northward had angered god- others said financial ruin.

A century later, the land is known as Bonemark, a fitting name- but again, men attempt to settle it. A small town, built around a logging camp, has been founded just inside the Bonemark- and yet more brave fools come to try to find wealth, glory, and the northern coast…

…So, West Marches, but north, and play-by-post.

This campaign heavily draws upon folklore- the vampires obsessively count grains of salt, and torment their victims by lurking on their roofs and throwing rocks; The trolls get smaller and covered in moss and lichens as they age, until they die and become gnarled old trees; The goblins hide in corners and chitter madly at you. The Magic-User and Cleric classes represent those with inborn talent, but the most powerful magic is usable by anybody with the stomach for it (Carcosa-style magic, but more focused on raising blizzards, obscuring trails, and other witchy activities than conjuring and binding demons).

Characters will start at level 1, or level 1/4 of highest level party member’s. I’m going to start play on the 1st of March.

It’s Time To Talk About What I Learned Yesterday

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on February 19, 2012 by reignofjotuns

Last night, I played in somebody else’s game for pretty much the first time. I found it through ConstantCon half a week ago, about when I found out what ConstantCon was. The game was a FLAILSNAILS OD&D sandbox, and I think I learned a lot about all those things.

  • I learned what FLAILSNAILS is, hadn’t known that;
  • I learned that OD&D doesn’t have rules for everything, and you can’t reach demigodlike levels of power, but that can definitely be a good thing. Throughout the session, we never saw a monster that didn’t have stats cobbled together out of arbitrary numbers, more or less on the spot.
  • I learned that ridiculously overpowered monsters can be fun, provided that there is an escape route.
  • I learned just how incredibly bloodthirsty and duplicitous players can be- hiring viking mercenaries to assassinate a local lord, and then thwarting said vikings for kudos. Nobody said much about the three nuns included in the collateral damage.
  • I learned that clerics are no exception to this- one of the most memorable lines of the session was this, more or less: “As a man of the church, it is my duty to help people to meet Jesus. And I understand that you, sir, have someone that you’d like to meet Jesus as soon as possible?”

 

  • I learned that in OD&D, stats are as far from everything as you can get. The cleric I quoted there? Wisdom score of 3. I think he roleplayed according to that.
  • I learned that I have absolutely no idea what “nothing to win, everything to lose” means when I’m playing a first-level character. An enormous thing is coming out of the sand behind the party. The DM says “does anybody want to look back?”, and I say “I look back and flip the thing off”. “Roll a saving throw”. From this,
  • I learned that the best deaths are uncertain. I failed my saving throw horribly, but didn’t die on the spot. I theorized that it might just cause fear, which would have no noticable effect on someone already running away- but the DM was silent. That night, whilst my halfling was asleep, the men on watch noticed numerous fibrous growths sprouting on him.
  • Then I learned that no-one will have any qualms about killing you in your sleep if it looks like you can conceivably pose a threat. The cleric specifically said that he was hitting my corpse with his morningstar long after it turned to ground beef.
  • I learned that if you give your players a good number of choices as to what to do first, they will spend nearly half an hour bickering over what to do.

 

  • I learned that if the players see a group of people, one of whom is not carrying anything, they will automatically assume that he is a magic-user or a cleric. He never got any spells off, though, so I still don’t know whether he was a sage or a clown.
  • I learned that being the only demihuman in a party of humans singles you out more thoroughly than being an anthropophage.
  • I learned the word anthropophage, when my halfling had no money for food and wanted to eat part of an enemy corpse. As I reasoned, I don’t want him to starve, the guy was evil, and he’s not even the same species- so it doesn’t count as cannibalism.
  • And most importantly, I learned that the mantra of “when in doubt, roll a d6” works about as well as any resolution mechanic I’ve ever seen.

Finally making some progress

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on February 10, 2012 by reignofjotuns

I’ve finally, after two weeks (total, not consecutive) of not doing anything on it, I’ve finished the first level of my dungeon. I’ve changed my plans a lot in the process- this is a lot of work, especially since, though I’m trying to make every encounter potentially deadly- I don’t want them to be utterly hopeless. I also don’t like most of the low-level monsters. They are mostly animals, or mooky humanoids. I can dig the benefits of potential allies in the dungeon, but I also don’t want to use any goblins except “The spooky magic kind with shrill voices that scare birds and eat babies and make terrible things happen to you if you tell lies or touch their weird magic tree”.

So I’ve resized the first level to one sheet of graph paper (with a second page for details), and tried to scale up the treasure a bit. I’ve also made most of the encounters deliberately wierd, puzzly, friendly, etc. And in doing so, I think that I’ve split open my psyche and lightly sprinkled the page with it. I’ll give some samples, to try to give an idea of the general character of the dungeon, but first, a note on humanoids:

As far as one-hit-diers go, I’ve stuck with kobolds and Phuka. I read a Grognardia post on the drow a while back, wherein Maliszewski points out that you scare your players more when you use things that scare you. After a bit of thinking, I came up with goats. I hate goats. I spent a month staying at the house of a friend whose family keeps goats, which served to reaffirm my fear of goats even more. They have wierd, sideways eyes. They smell like death. They excrete much more than seems necessary (I had to take a couple wheelbarrows full down the hill during my stay). And let us not forget Orcus.

Then I read this: http://flamingtales.blogspot.com/2010/05/phooka.html and it worked for me. Especially the Alan Lee illustration. I’m using these guys as a replacement for drow, gremlins, and orcs. I stat them as orcs, change the number appearing to match hobgoblins (they still keep the orc version of leader stats), and give their children stats as gremlins. I’m having them mostly use stone knives. When I was writing my dungeon, I saw that I had writ ‘Phuka’ instead of ‘Phooka’, and I’ve decided to just leave it like that.

The lair of Phuka on the first level is made up of three adjacent rooms, with one visible entrance and two secret. The lair is decorated by a human face, eyes, and tongue nailed to the wall.

My kobolds are at least partially based on the pikeys from Snatch. I’m calling them that, too. I like the word. They look like Hobbits/Daikini/Dwarfs in boots, with facial hair like Scottish Terriers. Their clan lives in a large, roughly carved room occupying 6 squares by 6 on the map. They live by petty theft on the surface or in the lower levels, selling equipment (stolen, looted from corpses, or bought) to anyone who’ll buy at substantially hiked prices, and occasionally eating the mushrooms growing in what I call ‘the waste room’.

The waste room is partially inspired by an episode of Planet Earth on caves- in one cave, the entire ecosystem relies on bats. The bats go out at night, eat and return. They poop in the cave. Massive swarms of cockroaches eat the poop, and are themselves eaten by other animals, including the bats. The waste room works much the same way, but add to the cockroaches ‘1d2 carrion crawlers and 3d6 telepathic fire beetles’. Also, the bats are huge and there are enormous mushrooms. The fire beetles, through telepathy, have formed a simple hive mind. They’re largely content to just burrow in the filth, though, so this won’t have much effect unless someone tries ‘charm person’ on a random beetle.

Speaking of random vermin- A small, out-of-the-way room containing 1d100 snails with silver shells. Yes, I stole this from Zak S. I did add that the snails are special, in that they eat precious metal and then excrete it with, if they choose, artistic precision. If the snails are in any way harmed, and any of them survive, and the PCs sleep in the dungeon, one of the PCs may wake up to find them trying to encase his face in several of his coins- or simply suffocate without waking up. I’m thinking 4 in 6 chance of waking up in time.

Speaking of things I stole from Zak, I also stole the ‘immortal piglet’. I also decided that the piglet is highly intelligent and unscrupulous (inspired by one of the comments on that post).

A bit of random wierdness inspired me to add a room containing a small creature with a lute, singing the Grateful Dead song ‘Dire Wolf’.

Inspired partly by the Black Sabbath song ‘The Wizard’ and partly by the cartoon ‘Regular Show’, In one part of the level there is a pepper plant, growing in a flowerpot full of what appears to be red wax. In another part of the level is the 5th level wizard Wisto Drazner, (appearance inspired by the cover of the Electric Wizard album ‘dopethrone’) who uses these peppers to prepare a vision-inducing drink he calls the ‘Louisiana Moonsperm’. anyone drinking it must save vs. spells, or their character will be unable to act for as long as it takes ‘What is and what should never be’ to play out-of-game.

At one point, there is a room containing three people dressed as a minstrel, a monk, and a knight in full armor. There are two passages besides the one you entered through, one of which leads to certain death. Only the mistrel and the monk know which is which, but one of them always lies- while the other always tells the truth. The knight stabs people who ask tricksy questions.

Learning Traveller

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on February 7, 2012 by reignofjotuns

I recently managed to get ahold of PDFs of the Classic Traveller core books and supplements. After having heard so much about them around the internet, I was extremely excited when I first looked at them. I should point out that I am not what I would call a Sci-fi geek (not that I don’t want to be, I just haven’t gotten around to it). My experience with Sci-fi can be summed up quite briefly:

Firefly (all episodes at least twice- we had a borrowed DVD collection for a relatively long while), Serenity, Star Wars (my dad used to show us the original trilogy a lot), Tron, The Last Starfighter (my great-uncle rented it from Blockbuster- else I never would have thought to watch it), Poul Anderson’s Hoka stories, The Hitchhiker’s Guide series, two of the short stories from I, Robot, ‘I, Robot’ (the Will Smith flick), MiB 1 and 2, some of the Vorkosigan saga, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, The Rolling Stones, Podkayne of Mars, Star Beast, Glory Road, and Red Planet, Heavy Metal, Llana of Gathol and John Carter of Mars, Schlock Mercernary, Dresden Codak, Batman Beyond, Dexter’s Lab, Samurai Jack, Thundercats (the original). Does Gremlins count? What about The Matrix?

I’m not sure how that list measures up to the Sum Total Of All Science Fiction, but as far as I’m concerned, I am much more involved in fantasy. I don’t actively seek out Sci-fi. But Traveller, I think, might help with that a bit.

At first, I read diligently, but ultimately just skimmed. Rules are boring, and they’re much harder to read when you all you have is a .PDF rather than an easy-on-the-eyes hardcopy. I am now actually taking the time to test out the character creation rules, and it comes to life for me. Originally, I had planned to fill every line of a page with character- as I  write this, I have decided, this task finished, that I should add a second column. Character creation is actually that fun. Every time I roll up stats (UPP) I mentally evaluate which service this character would be best for as the stats come up. I’ve even started to convert the numbers rolled to hexadecimal like it ain’t no thing, and come up with a mnemonic for UPP order (Some Dumb Everyman In Exotic Space). Character creation is that fun.

I’m sure this system would work great for a Firefly-inspired campaign, and I’m seeing lots of stuff around the web to support that, but my personal evaluation is “Bujold Novel RPG”. Case in point: 4 in 6 characters are in the military, swords and polearms are still in frequent use, and Social Standing as a stat. Make of that what you will.

Comparing this system to Firefly works, I guess- the ideal firearm for many of my characters is the shotgun. Also, cloth armor- which according to the wiki is inappropriate for formal occasions unless specifically tailored, but not culturally odd to wear publicly. I’m picturing Malcolm Reynold’s coat. But the ships in Traveller RAW work differently, and if I wanted to play a campaign based on Firefly, it would be the episode with the fancy dress party and the sword duel.

It’s neat that the game works entirely using d6- I usually have 5-7 of those in my pocket at any time. I do like rolling all the wierd dice, though- I’m sure I can find some way to work them in.

Creating the characters, I was so astounded at the amounts of money they were getting as ‘Mustering Out’ benefits relative to the cost of equipment that I stopped listing equipment that wasn’t gotten free as another benefit after the first character. Now I’m looking at the Starships rules and I’m astounded that anybody manages to get the ship equivalent of a beat-up Toyota without becoming a wanted man in the process. I can see this game is well able to keep people on their toes.

I hope that I can resist at least until the Beetledome is complete.

In other news- I have only five experience points to go before reaching level 15. That’s just 370 until level 16!