Thursday, December 25, 2014

Nothing Says Christmas like Rules for Malaria

If you use nothing but the information and tables in any of the core D&D rulebooks, I’m pretty sure the only thing that really differentiates jungle regions from other types of terrain is the wandering encounter tables. There might be something about how long it takes to travel through the area, or how easy it is to get lost there like in Barbarian Prince/Road of Kings, but that doesn't seem like enough. It seems to me that the jungle itself should be just as much of a challenge as the stuff you encounter there, or you’re missing an opportunity.

You could (and probably should) treat the jungle as a dungeon in and of itself. I probably wouldn’t go so far as stocking a complete subhex breakdown, but creating a point crawl for each hex (not as detailed as that one though) really isn’t that bad as far as prep goes. 
A tile from an old board game called magic realm.
Old-school versions of the DM Guide always made it a point to tell DMs what ratio of rooms with monsters to rooms with treasure (for example) they should be going for. This table is the same thing as that, but for nodes instead of rooms:

1 Nothing Unusual
2 Encounter
3 Encounter & Treasure
4 Terrain Feature 
5 Terrain Feature & Encounter
6 Terrain Feature, Encounter & Treasure

I tried to keep most of the following rules and information as general-purpose as possible, which is my excuse for not including encounter tables in this post. That said, I’m writing this so I can use it in the Yucatan Peninsula, and a few details are going to be specific to that region. You can always change them if you want.

This table lists a few of the major terrain features that your players could come across. There should be fairly obvious ways to interact with all of them.

Quicksand - Starting at the beginning of the party's marching order, everyone saves until someone fails and falls waist deep into the pit. Every 10 second round, that person sinks another 1d10 inches (shit I may have to put a blank spot for height on my character sheet). People wearing heavy armor sink 2d10 inches per round. Pulling the character out with rope requires a strength check, more than one person pulling grants advantage on the check.
2 Banana Grove - If you can climb a tree, you can get as much food as you can carry. It goes bad in 1d8 days. 1/6 chance of an anaconda lying in wait. Otherwise, there are 3d12 howler monkeys hanging out that will probably attract attention.
3 Running Water - Secretly check for piranhas (1/6) and also roll 1d4 on this table.
  1 Stream - Only a couple feet deep and 1d10+20’ wide. 
  2 River - 1d10+10’ deep, 1d20+30’ wide, swimming check or end up downstream.
  3 Rapids - Large (and slippery) rocks sticking out of the water all the way across, skill checks/saving throws to cross without falling in and ending up downstream (no swim check).
  4 Waterfall - Same as Rapids, plus Cliff.
4 Blasted Clearing - No trees here, just blackened stumps, but that means the undergrowth is getting crazy amounts of sunlight. Any attempts to find useful (or dangerous) herbs in this area get advantage.
5 Cliff - If this node has more than one approach, decide whether someone traveling from each direction would be at the top or bottom of the cliff and mark it on the map. Any combatants at the top of the cliff would have an obvious tactical advantage. Moving up or down the cliff requires a successful climb check.
6 Cave - Oh come on. If you can’t think of something fun to do with a cave then you need to let someone else DM.
7 Ancient Trees - A thousand years old and a hundred feet tall and a dozen feet in diameter. Climbing these trees requires specialized equipment and takes time, but allows you to see major features four hexes away. Wildlife encounters are common at the top.
8 Ridgeline - Can see major features two hexes away from the highest point.
9 Ravine - Double random encounter chance in this area, probably an ambush.
10 Cenote - Deep and wide natural limestone pits with freshwater pools at the bottom. There’s a 1/3 chance that a village has formed around the cenote.
View from inside Ik Kil, a cenote near Chichen Itza
11 Recent Battleground - Broken and rusted weapons and armor half-buried in the bloodstained mud. At least two separate mass graves, the occupants of which may or may not A) be buried with valuable trinkets and B) be undead.
12 Overgrown Ruins - Site of an ancient city. Roll 1d4, 1d3 times, to see what’s left of it (and accessible). Only one palace should be here but there could be multiple temples and tombs.
  1 Palace
  2-3 Temple
  4 Tomb 

Roll on the appropriate weather table for the season at the start of each day. Rainfall typically occurs in the late afternoon and lasts 1d12*30 minutes. The only two seasons are wet and dry.

Temperature is in the 70s - 80s (fahrenheit) range year round, with a crazy amount of humidity during the wet season.

1 Dry Today - +1 chance of random encounters for 24 hours starting at dusk.
2 Light Misty Refreshing Rain - Heal 1d4 hit points during rainfall, even if traveling. This type of rainfall doesn’t heal you during combat, but will afterwards if the rain doesn’t stop first.
3 Big Ol’ Fat Rain - Non-natives suffer a -15’ movement penalty during rainfall and a -5’ penalty for the next 24 hours.
4 Torrential Downpour - Non-natives suffer a -30’ penalty and a -10’ penalty for the next 24 hours. Natives treat this like non-natives treat Big Ol’ Fat Rain.
5 Lightning Storm - 1d12 chance that the storm is focused on your current hex, in which case trees near the party keep getting struck by lightning and exploding, sending grenade-like shrapnel off in every direction. Save or take 1d6 damage. This happens right next to you every 1d10 minutes until you get out of the hex.
6 Hurricane - Torrential Downpour for 24 hours before the hurricane, which lasts 1d4+2 hours with a 1d6*10 minute period of complete calm in the middle, and again for 24 hours after the hurricane.
During the main storm, anyone without shelter must make two saves every hour; one reflex save to avoid flying debris, and a fortitude save against exposure to the elements. Failing either save means that a character is incapacitated, and will suffer 1d4-2 (minimum 1) points of damage for the remainder of the storm (including the Torrential Downpour) unless rescued (which might be even worse, depending on who finds you).
Even if you do find shelter, it should take damage during the storm, though you’d get a chance to make some quick repairs during the calm. I’m comfortable waiting until it comes up in play to figure out exactly how that works.

1-16 Dry Today
17 Light Misty Refreshing Rain
18 Big Ol’ Fat Rain
19 Torrential Downpour
20 Lightning Storm

-Natives get to ignore this whole section.
-You need to drink twice as much water as usual. Three times as much during the wet season.
-Roll a navigation check to make it from one node to the next. If you fail, you find yourself walking in circles and basically spend another turn in your current node. (This is straight out of Barbarian Prince).
-Even if you don't get lost, it takes twice as long as usual to travel.
-Every day, each character has a 1% chance to have to roll a successful saving throw or come down with malaria.

-Symptoms appear for 1d4+2 hours at a time every 24 hours, and basically make you bed-ridden, shitting and vomiting out everything in your system.
-You can’t survive a malaria flare-up without either A) some sort of medical attention or B) very very careful preparation (shitload of water, safe space, a few buckets, etc. Think about the detox prep scene in Trainspotting).

-Save every day, or your condition worsens, now affecting you 24/7. If you fail your daily save while your symptoms are already active all day every day, your condition doesn’t immediately worsen further, but if you fail three days in a row in that condition, you fucking die and need to roll up a new character.
-If you make your daily save three times in a row, you beat the infection. All symptoms disappear and you are now immune to malaria, for the duration of the campaign at least. Thank fuck.
-A cure disease spell would work but wouldn't give you a future immunity.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Carcosa: Psychic Cyborg Sorcerer (of Slaughter)

I owe back taxes to Joesky so here is a Carcosa for you.

This adventure is intended for levels one through ten or something like that. There are monsters here that would pummel most level seven parties. That said, I’m pretty sure it’s possible for level one characters to kill everything in this hex if they really apply themselves.

There are two deserts on the map in the Carcosa book. Pick a hex in one of them, and put this stuff there. If you have the book, you know that each hex has two briefly described features. It shouldn’t be too hard to add them in to make this mess even weirder.

Roll random encounter checks (1/6 chance) every 90 minutes in this hex. Descriptions, stats, and reaction tables for the monsters are at the end of this post.
1 2d4 blue people riding mutant protoceratopses (shield lizards)
2 3d6 green people hunting with long spears
3 mutant apex dinosaur (great tooth)
4 psychic cyborg sorcerer of slaughter
5 3d12 wild shield lizards
6 2d4+2 mutant tetrapterix (cliff birds)
7 spawn of shub-niggurath
8 acid bug

This hex is riddled with the maze-like sandstone cliffs of a technicolor desert. Small clumps of spiny bushes appear every so often, but most have been stripped clean by shield lizards. Every 12 hours, there is a 1/8 chance of a sandstorm picking up that is fierce enough to force the PCs to find shelter or take 1 die of damage per 10-minute round. These storms last 1d8+2 rounds. In addition, PCs must consume double the normal amount of water and food rations due to the harsh climate.

The connections on this node map take three hours to travel on foot (so two encounter checks). Instead of forcing players to map out and navigate some contrived and irritating maze, make them roll an intelligence check to not get lost whenever they try to move from one node to another, unless they’re following a guide. If they fail, they find themselves traveling in circles, traveling for 1d12 10-minute rounds and finding themselves back where they started.

Using a highly detailed map grants advantage to navigation checks. Nothing is stopping the PCs from saying “we take the time to carefully map the canyons as we explore” so that retracing their steps is easier.

I would start the PCs off here, where they are railroaded forced to seek shelter from a fierce sandstorm in a deep cave with a tight entrance, too small for any of the local dinosaurs to have gotten into. There is, however, a man-sized acid-spitting centipede living in here, which gets a surprise round unless someone passes an awareness check. The centipede’s acid glands can be harvested to fill 2 standard oil-or-potion sized glass jars.

In the corner of the cave, they find a human looking figure half buried in the sand. If they approach it for a closer look, they see that it’s a long-dead space alien. All that’s left of it is a skeleton and gauntlet (treat as small shield) that has a screen and a switch on the left forearm. If the switch is pressed, the screen activates, pointing the way to the alien’s nearby ship. If anyone can actually read the space aliens’ language, they know exactly what this is. Otherwise they just know it’s a topographical map of the area, centered on their current location, with a blinking beacon to the northwest. The sandstorm dies down after 1d6+2 10-minute turns.

The spaceship is located in the middle of a fairly large crater (which is old enough to have some sparse vegetation), and appears to have been badly damaged and partially repaired. The cargo bay door is open. All the interior doors are closed but can be opened with a successful strength check, with advantage if using something like a crowbar. This makes a lot of noise, which will alert the psychic cyborg sorcerer to the PCs’ presence if it’s currently in the ship (a 2/3 chance).

The armory contains six grenades (3 dice of damage) and four high powered laser rifles (2 dice of damage), as well as ten napalm canisters for the cyborg’s flamethrower arm and sixteen power cells for the rifles. The rifles need to be loaded with a power cell to function, and each cell has 50 charges.

In the robotics lab, the PCs find a whole mess of mad scientist style notes, from which they can learn that: 

1) The psychic cyborg sorcerer found a damaged robot in the crashed ship, which he repaired and into which he transplanted his brain. He’s been using the torch and advanced strength of his new body to repair the ship.
2) He knows the conjuration ritual for the Violet Mist, but won’t perform it until he learns the ritual to bind the creature.
3) That binding ritual is inscribed on a tablet that is probably in a serpent-man temple a week’s march away. 
4) That temple is currently inhabited by cannibal bone men that exact tribute (as in people to eat) from all the nearby human groups through force of arms.
5) All of the structural repairs to the ship are complete, at this point it’s just the engine left, which should take about four weeks to fix. The notes are complete enough that only an intelligence check with advantage would be necessary if the PCs wanted to finish fixing it.
6) The sorcerer has a serious grudge against any leader of men you as the DM want, either an original one or any of the ones described in the hex crawl, and would not hesitate to wipe out that man’s entire settlement for the sake of vengeance.

A settlement of 200 green people live in another cave in the cliffs, hiding from the local predators and hunting the smaller dinosaurs. They usually arm themselves with long stone-tipped spears, slings, and stone axes, but their leader and his two lieutenants have acquired red laser pistols (1 die of damage, d100 charges). They aren’t actively at war with the nomadic blues that have set up camp nearby, but they live in a state of mutual distrust. Every week there is a 1/6 chance of the greens performing an elaborate ritual (not the powerful kind that sorcerers perform, more like church) in which they sacrifice a group of 1d12+6 captives to the spawn in the oasis.

There is a completely dark chamber at the back of the caves, the walls of which are covered in cave paintings. The paintings’ subjects include the alien shipwreck as an event, the local dinosaurs interacting with the greens, the spawn of shub-niggurath rising from its lake to accept a blue man sacrifice from green worshippers, and battles between the greens and peoples of various other colors.

Another chamber in the cave system contains dozens of crude candles and well-polished fertility figures carved from precious stone, with a large mat of leaves and feathers covering most of the floor.

The nomadic blue people are a bit more advanced than the nearby greens. They’ve learned to tame the shield lizards and use them as mounts and beasts of burden. Their hunters and war parties are usually armed with short bows and iron axes, wearing leather armor and shields made from deceased shield lizards. Their tents are similarly made from shield-lizard hide and bones. The leader of the blue nomads is armed with a sonic bazooka (3 dice + save or unconscious for 10-30 minutes, 25 charges).

This group of blue men likes to collect hollow objects of all shapes and sizes, and use them as percussive instruments in elaborate drum-circle dance rituals.

Unless something unexpected and probably terrible happens, this small tribe of about 60 will stay in the area for 1d6+3 weeks. Every week, there is a 1/6 chance of all-out war breaking out between the nomadic blues and the cave-dwelling greens.

The connection marked ‘narrow path’ protects them from the nearby apex dinosaur, which would have to squeeze through, making it vulnerable to attack.

Roll a d6 to determine the color of lotus using the description in Carcosa as a table. There are 2d6 harvestable doses of that here. That’s all. Move along. Well I guess you could be a dick and put a radioactive mutant snake or something in the bush, hiding. Actually yeah do that.
HD: 1/2 AC: as unarmored
Attack: bite (1 die of damage + poison (save to resist) + radiation sickness (save to resist))
Move: 20’

There is a large bone pile in the corner of the cave. If the PCs search it, they find a magic chain whip forged by serpentmen among some human bones. It has a ten foot reach and gives its wielder a +6 bonus to any attacks that attempt to disarm or otherwise disable their target rather than cause HP damage. It would have been useful when the serpentmen were capturing humans alive for sacrifice.

Halfway up the cliff (about 40’ above the ground), there is a very large outcropping covered by clumps of thick, dead bushes and brambles. There are 2d12 cliff birds up here at any given time, as well as 3d4 eggs the size of pineapples.

The amphibious spawn of shub-niggurath lives in a large cave hidden near the bottom of this quarter-mile wide and half-mile deep freshwater oasis. Anytime you or anything else approaches the waters’ edge, there’s a 1/12 chance that the spawn will attack.

Acid Bug - A centipede the size of an adult human, and it spits acid. Sickly white coloring.
HD: 2  |  AC: as chain
Attacks: acid spit (2 dice of damage)
Reactions: ambush (2-12)

Cliff Bird - A brightly feathered tetrapterix-like creature the size of a large dog. They like to climb the cliffs and attack silently from above. Passing an awareness check means you see their shadow and there’s no surprise round.
HD: 1  |  AC: as unarmored 
Attacks: 2 claws (1 die) + beak (1 die)
Move: 40’ land, 250’ air
Reactions: ambush (2-6), stalk and wait for opportunity (7-10), intimidated (11-12)

Great Tooth - Like an allosaurus with a tail like an ankylosaurus and flashy neck frills like the dinosaur that ate Newman in Jurassic Park. About the size of a bus. Always hungry. The PCs can hear it coming from a quarter mile away, but it can also smell them at that distance. It only sees light and movement.
HD: 12  |  AC: as leather
Attacks: charge (8 dice) or gore (2 dice) + bite (2 dice) + tail (1 die)
Move: 80’
Reactions: try to eat you (2-11), brief confusion before trying to eat you(12)

Psychic Cyborg Sorcerer of Slaughter - A ten-foot tall humanoid robot with a thick glass dome at the top of its head, protecting a sorcerer’s undead brain. One of the robots’ arms ends in a human-like hand and the other is mounted with a flamethrower, which also has a setting that converts its napalm fuel into a gas suitable for welding. It’s been using this to repair the dead alien’s spaceship.
HD: 14  |  AC: as full plate
Attacks: incinerate (4 dice) or punch (2 dice)
Move: 30’
Psionics: as 9th level psionic (pgs 18-21)
Reactions: exterminate (2-7), try to recruit you (8-11), lets you go free (12)

Shield Lizard - Like a protoceratops the size of a car, with spikes all around the edge of its face shield and a sharp beak.
HD: 6  |  AC: as leather w/tower shield
Attacks:bite (1 die), charge (4 dice), or trample (6 dice).
Reactions (wild): charge (2-7), ignores you (8-10), curious but tentative (11-12)

Spawn of Shub-Niggurath - About the size of a tenement building, this spawn has a body type basically like that of a fur-covered caterpillar, with four giant bat-like wings that beat with the speed of a hummingbird while it’s flying, two compound eyes, a simple insectoid mouth from which it spits webbing, and a long, whiplike tail.
HD: 10  |  AC: as unarmored
Attacks: tail whip (4 dice) + spit (no damage, target is stuck (save to avoid), strength check or fire (which also burns you) to escape)
Move: 25’ flying, 10’ land, 80’ underwater

Reactions: try to eat you (2-7), not hungry, but webs you out of spite (8-10), ignores you (11-12)

Sunday, December 21, 2014

R.I.P. Bad Ray

Bad Ray (Layth) is dead. A mage who thought he was a ninja has met his untimely end been stabbed through the fucking brain by his dear friend Kevin Bacon (Kelly).

Grant wanted to DM a couple days ago, which was cool because A)I never get to play and B)he was running my weird patched-together ruleset and I was curious how it would turn out. I explained the game in as few words as possible to Keiran (Grant’s boss, who was cool enough to let us play in his store) while Grant mapped out a cave complex. “Everyone around knows the legend of this pirate lord that died with his treasure at the bottom of a cave system somewhere in the area. There’s also something in the legend about zombies or vampires or something. You guys met some old drunk at the bar the other night with a map showing the cave’s location.” Fuck it, let’s do this.

I've never seen a more trustworthy face.
Nikolai Stroganoff the bow-toting mage (me) accompanied Bad Ray and John Doe (Keiran) into the cave, where we almost immediately stumbled upon a time worn and dust covered message engraved in the rock wall. It was a riddle, something along the lines of “I’m round but not always around, sometimes light and sometimes dark…” and then something else but it was obviously the moon at that point. Saying this out loud opened a secret room with loot, armor, and a nifty anti-magic shield. The next passage we took was a gradually narrowing incline spiralling downward.

Grant: “Okay, at this point you guys are pretty much crawling…”
Me: “Fuck that, we’re turning around.”
Layth: “What? No, we gotta keep going.”
Me: “Well we can find another way, I’m not crawling down there.”
Keiran: “Oh you don’t wanna crawl around? Ha! Weren’t you in the army?”
Me: “Yeah, I was. That’s how I know not to go in there. Have fun, guys.”

They triggered a pressure plate that released four spiders the size of cats from a hydraulic cage,* which added to my smugness from the moon riddle treasure. Hubris will probably be Nikolai’s downfall in the end. Bad Ray was prepared, though, with a glue spell that made the critters helpless while he shis kabobed them with his signature katana. Nothing else was down there, but Bad Ray made the most of it, filling an empty jar with venom glands.

The next large cave chamber we explored had a stream running through it, at the bottom of a steep and magically slippery incline, which we fell down, dropping our weapons. Then we almost drowned in the stream, which let out into a huge cave with an underground lake, beach, jungle, and even something that looked very much like the sun. John Doe and Bad Ray pulled Nikolai’s unconscious body onto the beach. J.D. opted to rest on the beach with Nikolai while Bad Ray wandered into the jungle, where he stumbled into a clearing with a deer.

Not one to be discouraged by the fact that he’d gone hunting without any weapons, Bad Ray quickly made a molotov cocktail and threw it at the deer, which disintegrated into glowing pixie dust or something as the jar passed through it. Ray caught a glimpse of some sort of bipedal lizard monster hiding in the bushes. Realizing that he was basically defenseless, our intrepid adventurer cast a fear spell at the thing and it ran away in terror. Reality kind of flickered when the creature panicked, in a way that confirmed our suspicions that everything in this cavern was an illusion. Bad Ray made it back to the beach without any further distractions.

At this point Ashley picked me up so we could go eat. We started the game back up an hour later without Keiran, when Grant, Kelly and Layth came over. There are some D&D groups that would be bothered by that sort of incoherence but they don’t seem to have any problem with nonsensical combat mechanics so I feel like we’re basically even.

As Nikolai and Bad Ray finished resting, Molly (Ashley) and Kevin Bacon came running out of the woodline, with four jaguars hot on their tail. We beat them, but used like four of our spells to do it, so we elected to rest again to increase our chances of survival. Of course, this led to us being attacked by yet another group of jaguars, and this time we started combat with hardly any spells left. At this point the odds were that there wouldn’t be another random encounter, so we risked resting again, this time uneventfully.

This is when I guess Grant got tired of us just hanging out there doing nothing, and decided that whatever was behind all this should take action. We all had to save against fear or run away from the water in terror, into the jungle. Bad Ray made his save, but he was the only one. He glued Molly’s and Kevin Bacon’s feet to the spot, and tripped Nikolai up with his grappling hook & rope. Grant then informed us that the fear effect was likely to last longer than the glue spell, so Ray tried to tie up Kevin and Molly with what was left of the rope. That’s when Kelly decided that Kevin Bacon had fucking had it and killed off the party’s first ever level 3 character.** I seem to remember her rolling a critical hit.

"Don't Fuck With Kevin Bacon"
The best part about being one of two mages in a party is inheriting the other one’s spellbook when he dies (I’ll probably give Layth’s new character the magic cloak I found on B.R.’s corpse because I’m such a nice guy, though). There’s a couple spells in there that Nikolai can’t even cast yet, but if I can get him back to town, he’s already got enough loot to level up, and I’m pretty sure everyone else does too. Now I just need to get him & his pals out of this cave system alive, preferably in one piece.

So it looks like there’s some mind-control aliens or something hiding out down here and spreading rumors about pirate ghosts Scooby-Doo style, unless the pirates are still alive and acting as cultists or co-conspirators. Or maybe it’s something else entirely. The anti-magic shield should come in handy, unless Grant decides that psionics and magic are two distinctly separate things.

*That’s a pretty technologically advanced trap for what’s supposed to be a dead pirate’s final resting place. I wonder who or what put it there.

**I have zero problems with high mortality rates in my games. Most of my house rules are pretty player friendly, but the game world is not. Your character is not a beautiful snowflake and is not destined for glory, at least not without struggling to barely scrape by as a murderhobo first. If you make it to third level, you’re beating the odds. That’s why it’s crucial for me that character creation take a drunk person no more than fifteen minutes.

Also my players die a lot because we get pretty wasted sometimes and they make silly decisions. Which might be my favorite part of the game.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Holy Texts or Amputating My Game at the Cleric

My house game doesn’t have clerics. This is what I use instead.

The Madrid Codex, one of the only three Mayan texts that haven't been incinerated by white guys.
All characters can choose to become part of a religion at any point when it makes sense in the game, including during character creation (only if the players ask; their faith is vague by default). Mages who convert can then opt to trade in the spell book that every mage starts with for a holy text. This text can be a book, scroll, codex, tattoos all over the mage’s skin, a small abstract sculpture, whatever. It contains select spells all the way up to the maximum spell level of whatever game you’re playing, which should be chosen based on how well they conform to the philosophy of that religion.

A copy of the Torah that survived the Kristallnacht Pogrom in Leipzig, Germany.
The word "holy" is actually a little misleading. There's no distinction between divine magic and arcane magic in my game, so these are basically really powerful (but at the same time, limiting) spellbooks.

I use the spells from 52 Pages, which has a pretty flexible system for creating religions with customized cleric spell lists: the spells are divided into schools, and a cleric (or prophet, as that game calls them) of a new religion works with the dm to pick two or three schools of magic that make sense for that religion. You’re also supposed to come up with a guiding motto like “protect the weak” or “get out with the loot” which I don’t like or use, but the spell list part is simple and works perfectly for my purposes.
Catholic crusaders might have access to restoration and abjuration. Druids get restoration and nature.
So you get that holy text, which comes fully stocked with all the spells that priests of your religion are permitted to use. The text is enchanted to somehow “know” if you stray from the faith by casting a blasphemous non-kosher spell. If you do that, the words of the text will forevermore appear scrambled and illegible to you. Obviously, you can go back to using a spell book and being a regular old mage if this happens. The book also appears to scramble itself for those who haven’t gone through whatever initiation ritual is appropriate for priests of your chosen faith.

A religious text should probably also have some sort of loosely historical parables in it, which should probably provide some useful information. That sort of takes care of itself in my house game. Mages already get advantage to knowledge/lore checks, so maybe I could just say that the bonus is because they’re constantly collecting little scraps of lore and jotting down notes and ideas, and the stories in your holy text would function the same way.

It doesn't look like it has enough pages for 500 years but I'm guessing it's bigger on the inside.

I also don’t use paladins, but I do allow fighter-mage type characters. If you tell me you want to play as a paladin, I’ll tell you to make a “spellsword” (cause that’s what it’s called in my player handout) with a holy text instead of a spell book. Maybe you can go on a quest to find the divine blade of the demonslayer or something if you’re just in it for the smite evil ability.

Now that I think about it, I like using special items to create the equivalents of a lot of the fancier classes (by which I mean anything other than fighter/thief/mage). An axe of berserking basically makes you a barbarian, while a cloak of stealth and a magic bow turns a fighter or thief into a ranger, for all intents and purposes. If I’m drunk and unusually pliable I may give your thief an opportunity to find a magic keytar of illusions or something. I would also be cool with letting a character go train somewhere to get certain abilities. If you can’t create the character you want to play during character generation, start having your character ask around in-game.

Implications of the Cleric Thing

Normally, clerics get their powers directly from their deities, which makes the idea of atheism a non-starter in the campaign world (Lamentations of the Flame Princess sort of addresses this by saying that divine magic comes from some vague notion of faith and that gods still don’t necessarily exist). By the book, it doesn’t really make sense for me to write an npc or for you to play a pc that sees all religions as collections of lies and hates them, or politically powerful clergy members that secretly lost their faith long ago. By eliminating clerics and using holy texts (which don't necessarily imply the existence of a god), I open up the possibility that all religions are, in fact, scams, and leave the nature of life and death just as vague as it is in real life.

Religion no longer implies alignment. I hate alignment so much, for so many reasons. It will probably be its own post at some point. LotFP takes this on too, by explicitly stating that law and chaos refer to cosmic forces and have nothing to do with politics or behavior, and that everyone is neutral except lawful clerics and chaotic mages. I still don’t like it because it doesn’t make sense for them to be on the same team, unless your players bother to come up with something, which my players wouldn’t do. Kind of (by which I mean exactly) like saying that a witch hunter and a witch are lifelong friends without bothering to explain how that happened.

I use D&D 3/D&D 3.5/Pathfinder (3.x)’s threefold saving throw system for skills as well as saves. Eliminating the cleric leaves only three main classes, meaning that Reflex Saves, Fortitude Saves & Will Saves translate to Thief Stuff, Fighter Stuff, and Mage Stuff. This isn’t all that different from a free game I ran for a while called Warrior, Rogue and Mage, and it struck me as a really elegant solution for something that can get pretty messy. WRM sort of failed for me by using those three scores to replace the six core ability scores, and keeping something pretty close to 3.x’s skills and feats, the parts of 3.x I hated most when I was running it. I like the idea better as a threefold skill system.

Monotheistic religions which believe that "there is no god but god" don’t make sense in the setting implied by the cleric rules. Neither do ancestor worship, nature worship, or anything approaching an abstract pursuit of nirvana sans mythology.* Belief and ritual are incredibly diverse throughout the world. To limit the way it works to an odd mix of ancient polytheistic belief and medieval monotheistic practice is to waste a pretty huge opportunity.

One of the most iconic d&d scenarios is the one in which some powerful creature has set itself up as the deity of some cult. I like the idea of the beholdragon or whatever being able to build a cult of empowered priests by creating holy (unholy? whatever, not for me to judge) texts for their followers, which aren’t immediately useful to the party. Or kidnapping the pope and forcing him to do it since he obviously knows how.

I didn't feel like drawing a beholdragon so here's one by one "SPipes" on devart.

*Yeah yeah, I know d&d monks are basically buddhist martial artists or at least a collection of modern movie tropes about them BUT I don’t think any d&d edition’s manual treats it as a religion in and of itself. By my house rules, a fighter or fighter-mage with no armor or weapons already functions basically the same way as a d&d monk as far as combat bonuses go. If you got your fighter-mage a holy text with the right spells you’d end up with all the wuxia magic you would need.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Wandering around and partying in Mistfall

What is it about a city that truly defines it? It's not the landmarks or the shops or history of the town. It isn't court intrigue or some epic quest. It's what happens when you walk around aimlessly and get shitfaced with complete strangers.

I usually roll on this table a few times in a game day whenever the PCs are just sort of wandering around. If they're actually trying to stay focused and get something done, I treat it like a wandering monster check (1/6 chance of an encounter).

1 A pair of angry guards with tiny penises harassing some foreigner.
2 A group of five rats, each carrying a different item of jewelry, runs into the sewer.
Pregnant cultist fleeing priests of the Eternal Child asks you to help her hide.
A drunken veteran wants to tell you a story. It has a 50% chance of being true.
5 Simeon the singer. Wants someone to write epic songs about, will leave if he gets bored.
6 The raven familiar of Zographa, the lady of Sunrise Tower, has taken an interest in you.
A bald, bespectacled, dwarf arguing with his young human friend who thinks these pills he's been taking are making him smarter. They want you to settle their argument for some reason.
8 A masked woman, wearing a flowing grey cloak, running across the rooftops.
9 Oh shit there’s a dragon! Why isn’t it attacking? Look, it’s landing in Central Square. Someone should probably go see what it wants.
10 A mime that refuses to leave you alone. More mimes start following you every few turns. They're starting to compete for attention.
11 Street hustler selling tobacco without a license. A couple of guards appear to be taking an interest.
12 A knight in red armor casually kills a peasant for making a rude gesture. No one blinks.
13 Random PC’s hat is stolen by a flying monkey. Save with disadvantage to avoid.
14 Save or get your coin purse stolen by a 1.street urchin 2.handsome/beautiful redhead and accomplice 3.sextagenarian 4.dandy. 
15 You notice a fat man with a mustache and an apron beating a dog with a stick in a side alley.
16 You notice a fat man with a mustache and an apron beating a woman with a stick in the street.
17 A well-dressed man hands you a fancy invitation, winks, and disappears down a side street.
18 A flying monkey goes for one of your equipped weapons. Save or watch it fly away.
19 A wide trail of fresh blood leads into a nearby alley.
20 A group of six well-armed guards mistakes one of you for a wanted murderer.
21 Man gives you a blood-stained coded message addressed to Lady Annecke Bartolomeus and says “please” as he dies.
22 Prostitutes; gain 3xp for every 1sp spent, but save or catch a fucked up disease.
23 A flying monkey steals a passing lady's powdered wig, and she starts swearing creatively at it.
24 Freak storm out of nowhere. Lightning keeps striking the statues in Ambassador’s Square.
25 Man getting away from pursuing guards runs right past you, 45% chance he’s innocent.
26 Children with slingshots are trying and failing to get their ball back from a flying monkey.
27 Young man tries to feel out your politics, gives you a pamphlet if you’re on his side. 
28 Town crier yelling about something the PCs did recently (if at all applicable).
29 Lost child needs to find his way to one of the inns but doesn’t know the name of the place.
30 Street hustler selling potions from a many pocketed cloak.

You know what a carousing table is right? The fastest way to level up is to find a shitload of cash and then blow it all partying. You get 2xp for every silver piece you spend frivolously, but you also need to save vs. becoming blackout drunk. If you fail the save, you have to roll on the carousing table.

1 You wake up in bed with someone of a gender you don’t usually have any interest in. +500xp.
2 Save or vomit with volume and force once every hour today. There’s blood in it.
3 You wake up naked on the roof of the stables. Your friends might remember the stranger you were chatting up, hopefully you can find them before you’re arrested.
4 You wake up in the richly furnished room of a noble, who is snoring loudly beside you.
5 Save or suffer from PTSD hallucinations once every hour today.
6 You lost a finger. Permanent -1 penalty to tinkering checks.
7 You find a contract, which you have signed in blood, with a being who’s signature is an unintelligible glyph. You now have an at-will touch ability that heals you while draining your opponent’s HP. In exchange, you agreed to complete an unspecified task at a later date.
8 People you don’t recognize keep yelling “Hey! Pigfucker!” and cheering when they see you.
9 You befriend a well-informed local, who can usually be found at the Mended Lantern.
10 You wake up in an alley surrounded by the mangled corpses of flying monkeys. +10xp.
11 You’ve gambled away all your cash. 1xp for each 5sp lost (instead of the usual 2xp to 1sp ratio for partying).
12 You went along with some cultist’s ritual thinking it was a weird sex thing. Now there’s some fucked up egg sack in your stomach. Save once per day; after four failures, they hatch into 3d4 cannibal brain stems, bursting out of your stomach and doing 1d12 damage each.
13 You wake up with a hook in place of your hand and 1d20x100gp more than you had. 
14 You wake up in jail. Bail is set at 1d20x10sp.
15 You wake handcuffed to a fat sweaty man in what appears to be an abandoned warehouse.
16 Someone was offended by a joke you made and smashed a bottle over your head, knocking you out. You begin the day with only 75% of your normal max hp.
17 One of your magic items is missing. It was probably that local you thought you were making friends with last night. You may not have his real name, but he has a distinctive neck tattoo.
18 Gambling binge actually went well. Regain all the money you just spent and gain 50xp.
19 The last thing you remember was everyone buying you shots after you saved a little boy from choking. It seems half the neighborhood was related to him.
20 You wake up with a demon tattoo on your back. It whispers things to you in your sleep.
21 You have been sold as cattle to a coven of vampires.
22 There’s a parrot in the room. It keeps saying things like “hide the loot” and “dead man’s hill”.
23 You wake up in the middle of being buried alive.
24 You have been challenged to and accepted a duel with an arrogant nobleman (who is also an experienced fighter), set to go down at noon in Founder’s Square.
25 There’s a dead hooker in your bed. She was definitely alive when you passed out.
26 Guess what? You’re a werewolf now. No, you can’t control it. The moon will be full for the next two nights (unless the dm already keeps track of that).
27 You pass out smoking a pipe and wake up with the room on fire.
28 You tried to start a brawl but kept swinging and missing. No one else got involved but you caused a lot of property damage on your own. You owe 1d12x20sp.
29 Congratulations, you are now married. To a donkey.
30 You wake up in a trash heap. It was warm and cozy but the smell will not come off. Disadvantage to pretty much any interactions all day and check for wandering monsters twice as often.

If you don't have a d30 there's plenty of javascript dice rollers and free phone apps that do. You probably know that though, right?

Sunday, November 30, 2014

One Page Player's Handbook

Like a lot of referees who've played around with multiple editions, I use so many house rules that it's almost a different game (mechanically speaking at least). I designed a player reference that fits everything my new players need to get started on the back of the character sheet I give them. Download here.

character sheet front
Well, almost everything. I didn't address the way magic works. I've been using the spells from The 52 Pages RPG, including the higher level spells in this post. I don't make mage characters pick their spells ahead of time, but they can only cast each spell once per day. There also are no clerics; mages have access to the 52 Pages prophet spells. I've been using the equipment tables from Lamentations of the Flame Princess. If some random internet person wanted to use my system, I guess that person could just go with whatever spells and equipment they felt like.

character sheet back
This is meant to be all you would need to jump into your first game as quickly as possible, but doesn't include things like level progression. Those are all scribbled on random pieces of paper on and around my desk at the moment. Eventually I'm going to pull together some sort of reference for things that won't come up for most players until a couple sessions in. Probably.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Aztec Death Whistle

Skeleton found with death whistle at Tlatelolco, part of the Aztec Triple Alliance.
These things are amazing. I want one. I want everyone I know to have one. Watch the video and use it to scare your family at dinner today. The screaming starts 50 seconds in.

It would be pretty simple in game terms. Every non ally in the vicinity is under the effects of a fear spell (save or flee in terror). Most would have been made from fired clay, but they could conceivably be carved from obsidian or jade if you want to use them as treasure.  

Jose Luís Franco, a Mexican engineer, published the first academic drawings of the whistles in 1971, pictured above. The one on the right is shaped like an owl because it symbolized death and destruction to the Aztecs. Apparently they weren't an original invention of the Aztec culture, and were used by the Olmecs as far back as the 8th century BCE.

Both of those images came from this article which is pretty informative.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Philosopher's Castle

This post is mostly for Grant, Kelly, and Scott. Layth showed up last night and we soloed for a little while before Ashley got home and joined in. This is what happened.

So Bad Ray the katana wielding mage was wandering through a village on his way to Mistfall. He walks strait past the wailing woman in the town square and the creepy looking castle on the hill, but stops to help when he sees a little red headed kid being carried up the hill by a tentacle faced crocodile man. Ray climbed a tree and dive-bomb stabbed the thing in the head. Then he freed the kid and reverted to his initial strategy of ignoring the dungeon, continuing on his way to the big city.

Night was falling as he arrived in Mistfall, so Bad Ray naturally decided to wander around looking for a bank to rob. He glued (spell on page 8 of the 52 Pages RPG) the guard’s feet to the spot and murdered him from behind, but the victim was screaming for help as he died. People were coming, so Ray grabbed the dead man’s armor and ran to a tavern on the shady side of town, where he engaged in mutually consensual intercourse with an overweight young woman, whose name he forgot to ask. I guess that’s just what you do after you fail to rob a bank? After that he suddenly remembered the creepy castle and decided to go back.

That’s when Ashley got home so from here on in it makes a little more sense. Molly and Bad Ray found the secret back entrance and got in through the basement, where they found body parts everywhere in one room and a creature with one leg and four arms in the next, imprisoned in a giant glass ball with a magic circle around the base exactly like the Sandman.

Ray immediately befriended it, and it telepathically communicated to him and Molly that:
-it had followed a giant tentacled brain creature called a grell across the multiverse because it had taken its “other”
-that its other and therefore the grell were in this castle
-that the grell and its followers had known the friendly creature was on its way and tricked it
-that its supernaturally hard glass prison has a “molecular structure that should be vulnerable to the correct vibrational frequency” (whatever that means).

Molly tried to pick the lockpick her way into the treasury but that was a bust. They did, however, find a shrine to a tentacled brain creature (which matched the idol in the pocket of the thing Ray killed). Then they found the secret door that led to a pool of water with brain stems swimming around like sperm, and a re-statted mind flayer on a throne. After a short argument they killed the shit out of it, took its robe (which puts out all nearby light sources whenever its wearer sings the chorus to this) and staff, and headed upstairs. After a couple lobotomy-style-zombies almost killed Bad Ray, they headed back to town to stock up on healing potions and rest at the inn.

The next morning, they wake up to an armored man, accompanied by two robed figures like the thing Bad Ray ninja assassinated a few days ago, ringing the bell in the town square and demanding to know who had killed his father. Ray, being quite Bad, poked his head out the window and responded “I killed your daddy, beeyotch!” even though he legitimately hadn’t figured out who the guy’s dad was yet.

Molly dropped some burning oil onto one of the reptilian things as they approached the inn and sort of freestyle rappelled down to stab it in the neck when it stop-drop-rolled, while Ray set up a magic mouth + fear trap and hid in the closet (hurr hurr). The other monster failed its save and ran as the armored dude was climbing the steps, Molly close behind. Ray glued his feet to the spot and Molly tied him up from behind, then they tied him to a chair and tortured the hell out of him.

They learned that:
-the mind flayer was the dude’s dad…
-…who was in a transitional stage on his way to becoming a “higher power”
before they fucked up and told each other out loud that they weren’t gonna let him live anyway and he clammed up and got himself executed.

Then the a tavern worker, who (because I felt like it) was the mother of the little red headed kid Ray had heroically saved, came upstairs to assess the situation. From her, they learned that:
-the man they’d just tortured and killed was one Lord Highrock.
-everyone knows his father died years ago.
-she doesn’t know exactly how or when he died, and she doesn’t know anyone who was at the funeral.
-there aren’t as many people in Highrock Village as there used to be, but as far as the woman knows no one has died in years. She thinks they must have all moved or something.
-it sounds to her like those dead people Molly and Ray found were probably all from out of town, and therefore not her problem.
-no one goes up to the castle ever.
-she has no recollection of the bell ringing or the robed crocodilians. In fact, she doesn’t see the charred corpse of the one Molly killed even when she’s looking right at it.
-(I swear I rolled this one randomly on my rumors table) old man Highrock was once gifted a sword that, when struck against a hard surface, emits a single perfect and terrible note, unlike any sound heard in music or nature.

And that’s where we ended the session. They haven’t gone shopping for supplies yet, so think about what you want to stock up on if you’re showing up next time. It’s not a big town but there’s an apothecary that sells a few simple potions, ingredients, and alchemy equipment, a general store that sells basic equipment (we’ll say that includes matchlock muskets, powder and shot), and a few of the basic village services like a blacksmith and tanner.