Saturday, March 28, 2015

Lost World Mammals

These things all live on an island where the ecosystem is dominated by dinosaurs, so none of them really get as big as, say, an elephant. Even the communal species appear in relatively small numbers, let's say 2d4, maybe 3d6 for burrowers.

d4: size
1 tiny
2 small
3 medium
4 large

d8: body type and behavior
1 rodent - solo burrowing omnivore
2 feline - solo carnivore
3 ursine (bears duh) - solo carnivore
4 lagomorph (like rabbits) - communal burrowing omnivore
5 canine - communal carnivore
6 primate - communal omnivore
7 ungulate (hoofed quadrupeds) - communal herbivore
8 chiropteran (bats) - communal omnivore

d10: covering (colors usually blend with habitat)
1 spots
2 quills
3 solid color
4 stripes
5 armadillo-like shell
6 pangolin-like scales
7 brightly colored for mating, roll again with 1d6
8 largely hairless
9 marsupial and roll again with 1d8 (yeah I know but it fits best here)
10 duck-like bill and roll again with 1d8

d12: special features
1 echolocation
2 1d4 horns or antlers
3 prehensile tail
4 prehensile snout
5 aquatic or semi-aquatic
6 absurdly long neck (headbutt attack)
7 plague carrier
8 long tusks
9 stone bite, breath, or gaze
10 sonic blast
11 shocking touch
12 speech & intelligence

I'm a little bummed out that I couldn't get the flying squirrel membrane in there but you could totally roll up a caveman by accident (3-6-8-12) so I'm calling it even.

Like the dinosaur tables I posted, if you wanted to rule out weird magic powers (for some strange reason), you could just use a d8 instead of the d12.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Random Mutant Dinosaurs

Ashley: "These tables are stupid. You can roll on them and get a colossal flying reptile with tail spikes and a neck shield."
Me: "These tables are awesome. You can roll on them and get a colossal flying reptile with tail spikes and a neck shield."

Roll 1d4, 1d6, 1d8, 1d10, and 1d12 all at once. Or, if you already know you need (for example) a huge bipedal ambush predator, just roll the d10 and d12.

Rolling the d10 and d12 multiple times is likely to produce absurd results that may or may not be just what you want.

1 quadruped
2 flying reptile
3 biped
4 aquatic

1 tiny
2 small
3 medium
4 large
5 huge
6 colossal

1 pack hunter
2 ambush predator
3 solo hunter
4 territorial herbivore
5 curious herbivore
6 herd herbivore
7 curious scavenger
8 skittish omnivore

1 neck shield
2 back shell
3 bright feathers
4 spiked joints
5 back fin
6 spine plates
7 bony skull ornament
8 neck frill
9 spine spikes
10 covered in bristles

1 1d3 horns
2 tail club
3 tail spikes
4 long neck & tail
5 sharp beak
6 tusks*
7 razor claws*
8 disease carrier
9 acid spit
10 radioactive breath
11 froglike tongue
12 speech & intelligence

*All dinosaurs have bite and claw attacks. These ones just do a shitload of damage in comparison.

If you only roll the d12 one time, there's a 1/3 chance of getting an extremely not realistic result that changes up the encounter. That feels about right to me. If you want to cut that stuff out completely for some reason, just use another d8 instead of a d12.

Now have a drink and make up a kickass sword & sorcery style name for your dinosaur species, like "dragonhawk" or "great tooth" or even "death lizard." Repeat the process a few times, maybe fudge a roll here and there, and a whole ecosystem starts to emerge.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Mesoamerican Bestiary Part Two

Part one way back here.

Okay so there’s a type of contemporary folk monster in Latin America collectively called the duende, sort of a gremlin or goblin equivalent.* Depending on who you ask, this creature may or may not be the same thing as an Alux (plural: aluxob), which is a Nahuatl word for something really close to the same gremlin archetype.

The thing is that duende legends originated in Spain and Portugal before the conquistadors brought them over to the new world. So there’s a couple possible implications. The traditional (read: eurocentric and insulting) way of seeing it is to assume that the Maya and Aztecs adopted the belief from the Spanish, and applied their own Nahual language to it. The other is to assume that the Alux legends existed before the Spanish arrived, that the only reason we don’t have explicit records of that particular belief is that the priests and conquistadors burnt all but three of the many codices they found, and that the creatures are just similar enough in temperament for their names to be used interchangeably in a modern context. If this is the case, the Aluxob were a sort of mischievous nature spirit or elemental.

Another folktale I’ve tied into that of the duende is that of La Lorona, or the Weeping Woman. The legend goes that she drowned her children for the love of a man, who then rejected her. Crushed, she committed suicide. When she reached the gates of the afterlife, she was asked where her children were, and turned away until she could find them. Now, she is cursed to walk between this life and the next as an undead spirit, sometimes compared to a banshee, hunting and stealing the children of others in a futile attempt to replace her own.

Some say that this legend is based on a Nahual woman named Malinal and known to the Spanish as La Maliche, who served Cortez as a translator and advisor during his conquest of Mexico. The most important factor that made this conquest possible (among many, including gunpowder and rudimentary chemical warfare), was a divide & conquer strategy that pitted multiple native factions against each other to multiply Cortez’s invasion force. Sort of like smart PCs in a super-traditional D&D campaign.

This means that Malinal (La Lorona) would have played an invaluable role in the deaths of her people and culture (her children). In fact, the Aztecs referred to her and Cortez by the compound title of Malintzin, since he spoke through her. She’s also thought to have been Cortez’s lover, having borne him a child, before he rejected her in favor of a Spanish noblewoman. Now here’s the part where I tie in the duende: Malinal hunts Europeans (especially the Spanish) and transforms them into duende that follow her unconditionally (the children La Lorona kidnaps for her own).


La Lorona
She appears as a beautiful native woman dressed completely in white, always crying loudly when encountered. Those not of native descent who hear her wailing must save or are irresistibly compelled to follow her to her Shadow Kingdom (something like Faerie but with skulls and rivers of blood all over the place), where they are transformed into her children, the duende, over the course of a day.
HP:22 | CB:+10 | DM:2 attacks for d12 | AC:0 | MV:20’ | MO:12 | ethereal

(These stat lines are for my house rules, which is homebrewed to the point of being a different game. If you want to use this monster with old-school D&D rules, then use the CB as the monster’s hit dice, and AC here is on an ascending scale from 0 (no armor) to 7 (plate armor with helm) and doesn’t include any sort of dodge bonus. DM = damage, MV = movement, MO = morale, and all of those can pretty much stay where they are. Or just use the stats for a banshee and goblins.)

These creatures are about as tall as a human child, with somewhat adult proportions. The major exceptions are overly large & pointed ears, and long, crooked noses. They are thieving bastards that must eat humans to survive, preferably children. 
HP:2 | CB:1 | DM:d6 | AC:0 or 2 (leather) | MV:30’ | MO:5 | stealth

The aluxob are only a couple of feet tall, and wear traditional Mayan dress. They come into being when native farmers build a house for one, known as a kahtal alux, which looks a lot like a miniature step pyramid that comes up to about shoulder height. For seven years, the alux watches over the farm and guarantees a good harvest. At the end of this period, the farmer must seal off the kahtal alux, or it goes feral.
It builds its own kahtal alux at the entrance of a cenote or wet cave and begins playing potentially deadly tricks on humans. They have the abilities to become invisible at will, and to spread disease by touch. Use whatever disease rules you prefer; personally I like the disease rules in LotFP. Incubation period one day, interval of four hours, infection time two days total, save or -1d4 constitution at each interval. Let’s say the main symptom is projectile rainbow vomit.
Aside from a generally mischievous sense of humor, their primary motivation is a kinship with and desire to protect nature.
HP:2 | CB:1 | DM:d6 | AC:0 | MV:30’ | MO:7 | invisibility, disease

Some natives are unknowingly cursed from birth to become tlahuelpocmimi (for real I don’t understand Nahuatl pluralization rules at all you guys) around the time they reach puberty (like X-Men!). These creatures have the ability to separate their bodies at the waist, storing their legs in a safe place, and transforming their upper bodies into faintly glowing vultures. They also must drink the blood of at least one human per month to survive, and prefer to prey on children.
In order to enter a potential victim’s house, the tlahuelpuchi must first fly over it in a cross pattern, north to south and east to west.
If one of these living vampires is ever found out, the monster must be killed on the spot. However, if a family member of the tlahuelpuchi causes its death, the curse is passed onto that relative, so families of the tlahuelpuchi hardly ever alert their neighbors to its presence. These parasites also have an ancient bargain with shamans for their protection, but what the shamans get out of the deal is unknown.
HP:8 | CB:6 | DM:d8 | AC:1 | MV:50’ | MO:5

There are two cadejos, one black as coal and one white as chalk. Both have the appearance of wolves about the size of horses, with horns and hooves like a goat, and brightly glowing, red eyes. They only appear between the hours of midnight and one in the morning, and are primarily concerned with protecting drunks, adventurers, and other degenerates. The black one protects men, while the white cadejo protects women. Sometimes this means they end up fighting each other, which is obvious when you think about it for like two seconds.
HP:15 | CB:6 | DM:d8 horns, d8 bite, or d12 trample | AC:3 | MV:60’ | MO:11

*Not a D&D or Tolkein style goblin, a spoken word folktale style goblin. Which is basically what most of us probably think of as a gremlin. I am being redundant.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Divine Intervention Pt. 2

Yesterday, I started to put together a scheme for codifying divine intervention in your campaign, trying to aim for a system that would make it impossible to keep the entire pantheon happy at once. I got as far as figuring out how to decide which gods care about which narrow set of behaviors, and put the rest off. Next step is figuring out A)how to keep track of the deities’ opinions and B)what sorts of blessings or curses they would use.

In the game Powder (the roguelike I’m swiping this whole concept from), the gods are constantly watching you and keeping a running tally of just how strongly they like or despise you, which normalizes over time if you do nothing. If you do enough good or bad shit (by that god’s standards) in a row, there is a blessing or curse. This is only okay if the referee is a computer.

Instead, the ref should just add divine interventions from each deity to their random encounter tables. When one comes up, the ref looks at each behavior that the deity cares about, and thinks about the party’s most recent actions only. The gods are fickle bastards and a track record counts for nothing.

So you could spend your whole life defending nature, but the gods of the forest will still smite the fuck out of you if the last thing you did before the intervention was start a forest fire. I’m finding myself to be strangely satisfied with that result. Moving on to B.

The boons and banes offered by Powder’s gods are also better suited to a CRPG than to tabletop play, but some of them are worth adapting. They include blessing and cursing items, for example, but that’s usually just a matter of adding a plus or minus one onto the end of it, which is obviously not a whole lot of fun.

Each god in that game has its own set of interventions, more or less tailored to its general concept, which is a good idea. So let’s take a look at the four that I rolled up (okay so I fudged like two die rolls sue me) yesterday.

  1. Rewards those who carry out justice. Which, to the deities, is killing bad guys. Judge Dredd.
  2. I was thinking St. Hubert before, but I’m looking at it again and seeing the lamest hippy there ever was. I dunno, Bob Ross?
  3. Imagine Swamp Thing, but as the driving force behind the Environmental Liberation Front.
  4. I’m gonna go with an ascended version of Queen Tiye to represent diplomacy, wealth and civilization.

Let’s just give them one blessing and curse each for now, and make them a little more interesting than the ones in Powder. I need to try and remember to make sure the blessings make PCs better at doing the sort of thing that deity likes, and the curses similarly get in the way of the sort of thing that deity hates. The effects of all these interventions persist until you get the same deity again and its opinion of you has reversed, so it’s impossible to have both the curse and the blessing from a single deity active at the same time.

Oh wait, actually— maybe if you roll a divine intervention from a deity that likes you, and you already have a curse active from a different deity, the one that likes you removes that curse instead? And there’s obviously no magic other than divine intervention that’s strong enough to get rid of a divine curse. OBVIOUSLY.

(Honestly I don't know about that last part. There could be situations where the PC feels ripped off and would have been perfectly happy to keep the curse and the blessing at the same time thank you very much, and that's not what I want. Whatever, that's what rule zero is for.)

Judge Dredd curse: Any evil you allow to go unpunished will befall you. This means that if you don’t follow up on a lead to hunt down some murderous highwaymen, you’ll end up their next target.
Judge Dredd blessing: You can smell lies on the breath of liars. You have to lean in really close and sniff the air they just lied with in a super creepy way that fucks up any further social interactions you have with that character. Except if you’re trying to make them think you’re dangerously insane, I suppose.

Bob Ross curse: Bad trips, all the time. Save to avoid nightmare hallucinations and projectile vomiting every time you’re in a stressful situation (such as combat). You often envision yourself being torn apart by madly gleeful animated trees.
Bob Ross blessing: You gain an uncanny knack for stumbling across naturally occurring narcotics. Once per day in a wilderness or underground area, you can stop to search for psychoactive plants or fungi, which always succeeds. Any hallucinations brought on by drugs found this way will contain some useful information, though the info is sometimes vague and open to interpretation. These drugs only maintain their potency for one day.

Swamp Thing curse: You become a powerful conduit for new plant life, which it turns out is incredibly annoying. Sure, walking around having flowers bloom wherever you tread looks good to the ladies at first, but if you stand in one spot to talk to them, they’ll be way too busy fighting off assassin vines to give a shit how many ogres you slew one handed just the other day. If you stay the night in town, the building you’re in will suffer massive structural damage and you probably won’t be allowed back.
Swamp Thing blessing: Lycanthropy (yeah I know but I’m not literally talking about Swamp Thing, I’m inventing a new divine being off the top of my head). Unlike most werewolves, you can transform at will, during which period you have to make periodic willpower checks to maintain control of your own actions. The light of the full moon causes you to transform involuntarily. If you spawn new werewolves, they have no control over the condition whatsoever, as usual. I guess that must be where regular werewolves come from.

Queen Tiye curse: In combat, take 1d2 points of damage for every regular die of damage (whatever that is for your character) you cause an opponent. This includes damage caused by melee & missile attacks, magic, dropping a safe on the bastard's head, etc. If you score a critical hit, you take 1d8 points of damage instead of 1d2. Better work on those people skills cause you don't wanna get in many fights for a while.
Queen Tiye blessing: You get an advantage to social interactions and a 150% value bonus to any treasure found. Sometimes you spend all day banging your head against a wall and don't get much good out of it. Such is life.

You know all those myths and modern stories where humans undertake some arduous journey or complete some complicated ritual to ask a favor of the gods? This should give players some pretty good reasons to do that.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Divine Intervention Pt. 1

I probably won’t use this for my own game, at least not in the near future. I’ve written about my issues with gods and clerics before, and how I like to deal with them. This is another way of approaching that facet of the game. I’m hoping it makes some sort of sense by the time I’m done but no promises.

There’s a roguelike called Powder (free trial version at the itunes app store) that I’ve been playing for a while now. It has an interesting set of mechanics that I don’t think I’ve seen before, which dictate divine intervention. Class selection is also folded in to this system, which makes sense because there’s a god of fighters, a god (no, none of them are goddesses. I didn’t write the game, I just play it.) of thieves, etc. Each time you level up, you pick which god you want to worship until next time, and your character advances according to those choices.

Powder also keeps track of what the gods think of your behavior. Cast a lot of spells, and the god of magic will become your protector, but the god of barbarians will constantly try to smite you. The gods of healing and necromancy are similarly opposed.

This actually works pretty well for a solo RPG, and as long as you don’t use too many or too vague triggers for divine judgement, similar deities might work as well at the table as on a tablet. Powder’s pantheon falls apart if you introduce standard D&D parties into the game, where not many PCs are members of the same class. You’d have to keep track of each deity’s opinion of each member of the party, and it would discourage players from trying to do anything that doesn’t follow their class tropes.

I think the way to get something useful out of this is probably to write a pantheon in the opposite order to what I’m used to using. In the past, when I’ve felt the need to come up with a specific set of deities for a game, I would start by thinking about what powers I would want their priests to have, and base everything else on that. This time, I’m going to try starting off with what behaviors they like and dislike, which is normally the last thing I would think about, or even leave it up to whoever's playing a cleric.

So what sort of behaviors should these deities care about? The main concerns are that each behavior must be something the whole party could be judged for, and that it has to be impossible to keep all of them happy at once. Now, the laziest and most obvious way to achieve both of those goals is to use moral/cosmic/political/whatever alignments. I completely hate codified alignment though, for more reasons than are worth discussing right now.

So here’s an incomplete list, off the top of my head, of things that A) a party could do to piss off some deities while ingratiating themselves to others, and B) are not as vague and morally simplistic as alignment:
  • kill first talk later/avoid combat through diplomacy
  • throw extravagant parties/hoard wealth
  • acquire or use magical devices/destroy all traces of magic
  • enforce justice/offer mercy to sinners
  • protect mankind from nature/protect nature from mankind
  • carefully gather information before acting/immediately act on a whim

Oh hey look there’s six of them. I think I’ll stop there and grab 3d6. Let’s say 8-12 is neutral.

9 9 12 14 10 11
8 15 11 6 8 8
12 10 9 13 6 16
6 6 12 12 13 11

Okay so the first deity doesn’t really give a shit what you do as long as you spend time punishing bad people. An unforgiving deity of justice and the afterlife, whose symbol is an iron scale.
The second one wants to blow your wealth partying, be merciful to sinners, protect nature from mankind, and act on the slightest whim. Huh. St Hubert maybe?
The third deity wants you to enforce justice, protect nature from mankind, and carefully gather information before acting. A more old-school vengeful nature spirit.
The last deity wants you to avoid combat through diplomacy, hoard wealth, and protect mankind from nature. Obviously a deity of civilization and wealth.

This tells us that deity 3 has issues with 2, but neither one of them likes 4 much. 3 is the only one that deity 1 thinks is basically okay. If your PC is running around smiting the sinful like there’s no tomorrow, deities 1 and 3 will be down with you, but deity 2 will want to put a stop to this madness. Deity 3 will turn on you if you ever decide to champion civilization over the wilderness, but deity 4 will be out to get you as long as you’re acting like a nature hippy. It’s up to the referee to create situations that force you to make those decisions.

Okay, that part actually worked pretty well. Despite the fact that they're neutral about most things, there's some divine conflict implied with a pantheon of just four beings. Adding more would lead to yet more conflict, but might be more of a pain for the ref to keep track of. I’m gonna stop while I’m ahead for now. Tomorrow I’ll get into some abilities that divine beings could use to fuck with or help you.