Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Oracle Rolls a Funny Shaped Die and Tells You…

Image courtesy of the Met
I keep seeing these ancient d20s popping up on my social media feeds. The one pictured here was found in Egypt, carved during the Ptolemaic period, after the country had been conquered by Alexander the Fucking Insane. Hence the use of Greek letters (which were also used as numbers). The Romans produced similar dice, also using Greek letters. I’m guessing an icosahedron with enough room on one side to legibly carve XVIII would have been pretty big and heavy.

Gamers around the world have been having fun trying to imagine what sort of games the ancients were playing with these dice, but what if they weren’t used for games at all? Playing cards started out as divination tools, why not dice? I’ve never really been satisfied with how prophecies work in D&D, which is why I’ve never used them, so let’s see if I can do better.

If you type “greek alphabet oracle” into google, you’ll find a bunch of tables sort of similar to the one below, along with some possible ways in which the table could have been used (shaking a bowl of 24 stones until one flies out was apparently common). Obviously I’m going to want to use dice, but unfortunately, there are 24 letters in the Greek alphabet, not just 20.

Good thing I’ve got that d24 that came in a set with my d30.

1 - Alpha | Successfully: You will be successful in your endeavors
Effect: The PC may, at any time but only once, declare a short-term goal to be the endeavor described by the oracle. Any actions taken by that PC to work towards that goal get a +15% (3 in 20 or about 1 in 6) bonus to succeed.
2 - Beta | You will get assistance, but you must complete the task
Effect: The PC may, at any time but only once, declare a short-term goal to be the task described by the oracle. That PC’s mirror image will appear. It isn’t under the control of the PC in the way that a summoned creature would generally be, but its sole motivation is to bring the task to completion, allowing the double to return to the other side of the mirror. The double will not allow the PC to indulge in any distractions whatsoever until then, even going so far as attacking if the PC tries to rest or return to town.
3 - Gamma | You will have a fruitful harvest from your labors
Effect: Okay this one’s super easy. The value of the next significant treasure the PC finds is multiplied by 1d6+2.
4 - Delta | You must use finesse more than strength
Effect: The PC loses 6 points of STR and gains 6 points of DEX (or agility or whatever). This can be reversed by a remove curse spell, assuming the PC even wants to.
5 - Epsilon | You desire to see a successful union
Effect: This PC will gain enough XP to advance a 5th level PC if they can find some NPC willing to marry them, and any time they can either adopt a willing child or make their own. It is assumed that they will all be taken hostage at some point.
6 - Zeta | You must escape the storm before it worsens
Effect: A large group of experienced marauders will come to sack the town in 1d12 hours. 
7 - Heta | The sun, which watches everything, watches you.
Effect: Exposure to direct sunlight will heal 1 HP every ten second round. If the PC ever goes back on their word, fails to fulfill an oath, or tells an outright lie, this regeneration effect ceases, and the PC is stricken blind. If the PC manages to somehow fulfill the oath after this occurs, the regeneration effect is reestablished and the PC regains the ability to see.
8 - Theta | You are guided by The Gods in your path.
Effect: The PC can call upon whatever forces lie beyond and ask them where a specific person, place, or thing can be found. The first time in a day this is attempted, they/she/he/it are guaranteed to answer. Each successive time this ability is used in a day, the chance of these powers ignoring the call increases by 1/6.
9 - Iota | You need to work harder to succeed
Effect: From now on, the PC must gain 150% the normal amount of XP in order to level up. Whoops.
10 - Kappa | To fight the waves is difficult; you must endure hardship to proceed.
Effect: DM, you can stop making random encounter checks. There is one every time you would normally check.
11 - Lambda | You will receive a blessing in disguise.
Effect: The DM must find an appropriate way for the PC to be stricken blind before the end of the current game session. At the end of the NEXT session, announce that the PC has mastered echolocation. Torches is for suckers, yo.
12 - Mu | It is necessary to labor, but the change will be admirable.
Effect: From now on, the PC must gather double the normal amount of XP to level up, and also picks one of their six core attribute scores to add one point to each level.
13 - Nu | A gift will answer your question.
Effect: The DM must introduce a new NPC, a stranger to the PCs, that must give them them a note, map, or other clue before the end of this session, that can lead them to a sizable hoard later(with complications, of course).
14 - Xi | You will not profit from something without potential.
Effect: The PC may no longer gain XP or levels in their current class, and must immediately switch to a different class, gaining the powers of a lvl 1 whatever-it-is the next time they get enough XP to level up. All abilities of the current class are retained.
15 - Omicron | You must reap what you sow
Effect: Someone you have killed is now a vengeful undead abomination.
16 - Pi | Completing many contests, you will seize the prize.
Effect: A team gladiatorial tournament will be held to choose a traitorous officer corps’ replacements. If there’s a TPK, the players can use the tournament as a convenient way to work in new characters.
17 - Rho | You must learn when to go and when to stay
Effect: From now on, anytime the PC takes no action during combat, then attempts to flee during the next round, the attempt will automatically succeed.
18 - Sigma | You must wait or stand your ground - be patient
Effect: If the PC takes no action this combat round, all attacks against them are made at disadvantage.
19 - Tau | You will separate from friends or enemies
Effect: Shit, time to split the party.
20 - Upsilon | The affair holds a noble undertaking
Effect: The next random encounter will be with a noble or royal, who is isolated, wounded, desperate, vulnerable.
21 - Phi | The gods (or universe or whatever) will not help you until you help yourself.
Effect: Starting the next time the PC levels up, they may automatically succeed at one action or attack of their choice per level. This power cannot be used to perform anything that would be physically impossible, i.e. it has be something that the player would normally be allowed to roll to perform, and the uses of this ability do not “roll over” into the next level.
22 - Chi | You must seize a golden opportunity
Effect: The PC will meet an NPC (with a lot of cash and a series of favors that need doing) in a chance encounter.
23 - Psi | You are given a fair judgement
Effect: Everyone that the PC wrongs in some way will always be able to find them, and there will always be at least one surviving (possibly by hiding from the PC) witness.
24 - Omega | You will have an unfortunate harvest

Effect: Basically the opposite of #3. The value of the next significant treasure the PC finds is divided by 1d6+2.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Dirty Fighting (simplified combat maneuvers)

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything about my house rules, and I’ve had the chance to run a few sessions since then. I had to adjust the math regarding non-combat skills, so I'm going to update the character sheet and ref screen sometime this weekend (which, as you know if you’ve been following along, is all you really need to play). I also changed the ref screen’s monster panel to reflect my Brinewald: 1631 adventure.

I think that means I accidentally made a 5-page quickstart package. Well, minus the pregens anyway….

Anyway, an issue I didn’t quite expect came up during a solo game. Which is awesome, because learning is the best. The issue had to do with what 3.x called “combat maneuvers” and my house game calls “dirty fighting,” which is probably the most important house rule I use. This has been my most direct way of making fighters fun to play, and of making the combats themselves less abstracted and more interesting than “okay now it’s my turn to roll… shit, missed, your turn.” Basically, fighters of any level get 5e style advantage to any attack they make that changes the nature of a fight instead of doing HP damage: disarms, judo throws, grappling, anything else the PC can think of that would shift the odds in their favor.

So the issue was this: Ashley was playing as a solo fighter/thief type to help me playtest Brinewald. She ended up going after the bandit cave, which ended up with a one on one fight vs the bandit leader. According to my dirty fighting plan, this should have been awesome, but Ashley never chose to do anything but basic attack rolls. When I asked her why later, she told me that she would have been all about throwing this dude to the ground, but that a quirk of the mechanics would make this a pointless tactic.

As she saw it, the situation would be: BL attacks Ashley, rolls damage, Ashley throws BL, then it’s his turn and he stands right back up and attacks. Even if he doesn’t stand up until the next turn, that would only mean that he and she both lost a turn, rendering the dirty fighting technique completely useless. If this had been a group game, she would have gone for it, since it would have given all of her allies an advantage to their attacks, before their enemy could stand back up.

Had she decided to use a DF technique, I would have made sure that it made a legit difference in the fight (even in the solo game) with an on-the-spot ruling, but I guess that wasn’t obvious at the time. So the point of this post is to codify the mechanical effects of a few dirty fighting techniques in my game, which no one reading this is likely to be playing. Hooray!

Throw/Trip: I’ll start with this, mostly because all my players know at least a little bit of judo, which creates an expectation that I make it effective and realistic. Probably the easiest thing to do would be to simply declare that anyone who’s just been thrown also loses their next turn.

That’s sort of accurate, too, but not quite. You’d have to get pretty lucky to pull off an effective weapon attack while prone, but it’s easy to take down a standing opponent from the ground, as long as you can figure out how knees work.

This guy's a big dork but he's doing it right. See also Lesnar vs Mir (UFC 81) a.k.a the funniest fight I've ever watched. Except maybe for Quan Mi Bit from St Louis vs anyone....

So maybe prone characters still have options, but they’re limited. Mostly these will be common-sense judgement calls I make at the table, since there’s no way I’ll think of everything the players might, but some general guidelines would be helpful:

  • Crawl at 1/4 normal speed or stand up. Either of these provokes a free melee attack from anyone in range.
  • No attacks with melee weapons.
  • Unarmed attacks (almost certainly kicks rather than punches, knees, or elbows) are okay, but they give the target a free attack. See Disarm, below.
  • Missile attacks are fine. I’m pretty sure you could even use a bow if you were on your back instead of your belly, but I could be wrong on that one.
  • While we’re at it, +1 defense bonus vs. missile weapons.
  • -1 defense penalty vs. melee weapons.
  • Some dirty fighting techniques can still be attempted with no penalty. Not disarms though, they usually involve footwork.

Also if you throw a person next to a volcano or something, you get to decide where they land (within say 10’, let’s not get crazy here).

I’m never going to remember all those, but I’m pretty sure they’ll seem just as obvious to me when they come up in-game as they do now. I really should figure out how to get all of this onto my DM screen, though. I’ll probably make a third panel for it, if I can figure out what else to even put on there.

Disarm: Oddly enough, this is actually kind of tricky. In standard D&D the advantage would be obvious, since damage is determined mostly by choice of weapon, and unless you’re playing as a kung-fu monk (even then in some circumstances), fighting unarmed is a terrible idea. I use class-based damage, going with the idea that someone with combat training/experience is more dangerous with a pencil than an untrained person is with a sledgehammer. The trained warrior looks at a person and sees a collection of vital areas, any one of which could be used to take an opponent out of the fight. The nerd with the hammer is just swinging more or less blindly at a human-shaped silhouette.

This also means that fighting unarmed isn’t too different, mechanically speaking, than fighting with a weapon. You can kill a man by punching him in the throat just as surely as by stabbing him there. So how do I maintain this realism without making weapons and disarm attempts useless? By thinking about reach. When fighting unarmed against an armed opponent, not being injured becomes a much larger priority than causing injury, and their striking range is wider than yours. Unless you happen to knock out your target in a single strike (which is never a guarantee, I don’t care who you are), you’re opening yourself up to get stabbed. Unless of course you disarm your attacker first.

So mechanically speaking, unarmed attacks do just as much damage as attacks with weapons, but they also give your target a free attack (only if they're armed though).

Your opponent also gets a free attack if your weapon is on the ground and you try to retrieve it. If you're hit, you're prevented from picking up your weapon this round.

Example: Your thief is fighting a duel with Sir Asshole, who wins initiative and successfully disarms you on his first turn of combat. Now it’s your turn, and you have a couple of options. You could use your turn to scramble for your weapon, but you won’t get a chance to attack during this round, and there's a chance of failing to retrieve it. Alternatively, you could roll with it and try an unarmed attack. You hit, but you only roll a 2 for damage, and Sir Asshole gets to attack you back during your turn, hitting you for 3 damage, then gets to attack again on his own turn, possibly doing even more damage, before you get to attack again. Essentially, he gets two attacks to your one every round, until you get your weapon back.

Of course, a third option would be to disarm Sir Asshole and level the playing field.

Grapple: The only times this has been used so far in my game were attempts to tie up NPCs for torture enhanced interrogation techniques. My players are terrible people, which is probably why we get along so well.

If you successfully initiate a grapple on your turn, your opponent can’t do anything but try to escape or reverse positions on their turn, for which they need to make their own grapple check. If you’re still in the controlling position when your next turn starts, then you’ve got a few options, and all of them require another grapple check.

  • Tie up or put manacles on your opponent.
  • Cause 1d12 damage to your opponent by performing a joint-lock or chokehold. You decide whether the enemy is killed, choked unconscious, or has a limb broken.
  • Take something from them; backpack, something they’re holding, jewelry, etc.

Okay that’s all for now go read my older stuff.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Brinewald 1631

Hey Jens I ripped you off again. I made a mini-sandbox, probably good for about 3-4 sessions, in the pocket-mod format (follow the link if you can't figure out how to fold it). The layout's a little cramped but there's a lot there and I'm done fucking with it (for now at least).
Click to biggerize or download the pdf here
I wrote this to use as a sort of prologue for Better Than Any Man, but I think it could easily kick off pretty much any campaign. Just change the last rumor and get rid of the journal and you're good to go.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

More Yoon-Suin

EDIT: Okay so there were some problems with the cover of the print edition but the pdf is on sale now for £6.00 (which google assures me is $9.25).

I have it on reasonably good authority that Yoon-Suin should be released on Monday if nothing stupid happens. It's an OSR style setting with a vague and gloriously misappropriated Tibetan flair. As long as you don't go into it expecting any more historical or cultural accuracy than Forgotten Realms would give you, you're good. It's going to consist (last I heard anyway) of a very evocative Marco Polo stand-in's journal, and all the system-neutral random tables you could possibly need to run a campaign in the setting. Like hundreds of them. Enough that I'm pretty sure any GM who was looking could find something they'd want to use in their own game and setting.

In my last post, I told you that I did the map for it, but didn't mention that it went through a few versions on the way to what you saw in the trailer.

I also never mentioned that I hadn't really done this kind of map before, at least not in public. The image above is from my first stab at it. I kind of liked the weird, abstract mountains (where the yak people live), but it lost all the detail and ended up way too dark when I shrunk it down to the size I needed.

Tea? Semen? Who even knows these days.
I ended up not using these landmark icons because there wouldn't have been
anything to match them visually in the top third of the map.Which kinda sucks
cause I like them but oh well whatcha gonna do.

As you can see, that one was basically just me fucking around with different sorts of mountains. Compare those to the one I eventually ended up going with (sans labels):

The text David gave me to work from went into some detail about what adventurers could expect to find in the northern valleys, so I made a serious effort to emphasize the valleys and ridgelines in that one.

This map of the Yellow City didn't make it into the book, but I think it's pretty cool. The fancier buildings are where the upper crust lives (slug people because fuck you why doesn't your campaign have politically powerful slug people), as you might imagine, and the text really describes a shitload of potential adventures to be had in the ruined areas as well as the dozens of tiny islands to the south (where the crab people live). Oh hey it looks like I scanned that one when it was an early pencil sketch too. Look how big those islands almost were:

Okay that's all I got right now bye.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

I Made A Map

This Yoon-Suin thing is gonna be pretty damn cool. Those jealousy-inducing illustrations are by Matthew Adams and the map (plus another one that APPARENTLY wasn't cool enough to showcase here) is by me. I also chose the headline font the video keeps focusing on. I'm a good font chooser.
If Chris Onstad ever starts updating Achewood again I'll throw a party.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Go Big or Get Bent

I decided to redesign my map of the Kellerlabyrinth. The actual thing goes five levels deep in places, but the first time I drew out the dungeon, I left it at three levels because that was already looking pretty complicated.

It took me a couple tries to simplify the deeper version to the point where it’s legible as a one page dungeon, but I think I did alright with it in the end.

There’s a problem though, and if you look at the map a certain way, it’s obvious. Check out this version with most of the outline layers turned off:

The levels are fucking tiny! I do not want tiny levels. My original map had about thirty rooms across three levels, and I only managed to get in about forty on the newer one. The actual Kellerlabyrinth has at least 500 rooms in it.

This problem is also an opportunity to address something else that’s been bothering me. Most of those 500 rooms haven’t been excavated yet. Cave-ins were common, and many rooms and tunnels were sealed off intentionally, but I haven’t accounted for that on the map, which feels like a wasted opportunity. First step is to add a bunch of dead ends caused by collapsing tunnels, but I also want to address what’s beyond them.

My solution is to abandon my initial goal of fitting it on a single page, and stretch it out over five pages, one per level. Like the one above, these still show the colors for the whole dungeon (probably faded way back though, now that I look at it again), but only the outline for one level each. These “highlighted” maps have plenty of extra space for adding rooms with a marker once they're discovered.

I’m thinking about how a procedural system for uncovering new areas and placing them on the map could work, but let’s save that for another post. Obviously, any rules that are intended to generate content on the spot need to extremely streamlined, and that’s gonna take me some time to get right.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Oppenheim Rumors

I felt like screwing around with the Kellerlabyrinth some more. These are some rumors you may hear in the city above it.

1 Not everyone is willing to put up with Catholic rule. There’s a group that meets deep in the kellerlabyrinth, each week, on the eve of the sabbath.
 There’s been an outbreak of the plague. We must seek out the witch and cut this evil off at its source, before she spreads it further!
3 You know, some of the older cellars don’t even belong to anyone anymore; just locked up loot, and no one’s got the key. 
4 Keep away from the Den of the Dragon, if you value your eternal souls! That wicked old easterner Zheng’s been leading our children into temptation too long.
5 My niece went down into the kellerlabyrinth, and never came out. Last week, someone said he saw a giant spider wearing her dress!
I met a man who fought the Swedes up north in Breitenfeld (September 1631). He said they will never be stopped.
7 The kellerlabyrinth is a hive of sin and heresy, crawling with witches and hideous abominations. Stay in the Lord’s sunlight, where the dangers are at least familiar. 
8 I hear the inquisitors are offering a reward of 30 pieces of silver for information leading to the capture of a practitioner of witchcraft.
9 I saw a rat the size of a pony down in the tunnels the other day! You won’t catch me down there again.
10 I hear that a group of women has dared to usurp control of a town near Wurzburg. It’s not right, I tell you. Someone needs to remind them of a woman’s place. (referring to Better Than Any Man, the most elaborate Free RPG Day release I’ve ever seen. Download the pdf version here.)
11 All the dog owners I know have had their hounds go missing in the past couple weeks.
12 The booze must be starting to get to me. I swear I saw an eyeball crawling around in here on little pink legs earlier. I’ll definitely quit drinking tomorrow. ::belch::
13 The Hapsburgs have commandeered at least a half dozen cellars to store their munitions. Good thing it’s too damp down there for a fire to start accidentally.
14 I was robbed on the road, my friend — by the devil himself, I tell you! He wore a green suit and a blood-red cloak.
15 My cousin said she saw a Roman officer in the tunnels. Apparently he made as if to remove his helmet with both hands, but the whole head came off with it. She swears it winked at her before fading away.
16 See that guy with a hook for a hand over there? He claims to have explored more of the kellerlabyrinth than anyone alive.
17 The old beggar, Whiskey Pyotr, swears up and down that he seen a wolf, big as a horse, running through the streets of Oppenheim. My pa says it was the whiskey what seen it. 
18 I have a friend who works for the Spanish, and he says that a prominent servant of the Hapsburgs is secretly working with protestant dissidents.
19 Eduardo Hapsburg has just arrived in town. Word is he’s looking for someone specific.
20 I saw two men in grey robes pay a couple of thugs, the identity of whom may or may not be known to me, for three tightly wrapped bundles. Why yes, I would say the bundles were about corpse sized. How much gold did you say you have on you?