Friday, November 17, 2017

Kovakistani Mountains Die Drop Table

In a guerrilla warfare campaign with a foreign occupying force, the local terrain is going to become the resistance’s greatest weapon. The earliest historical anecdotes I’ve read examples of that statement in were rebellions against Roman Imperial rule, but I’m sure it goes back further than that.

At the end of the first session of my KLA campaign, the PC cell fled the capital city to head into the mountains. Which meant that my prep for episode two basically consisted of making another one of these:




sized to fit in the bottom of a 12 pack of ramen (as all die drop tables should be)

This one’s a little bit different from the two previous ones I posted, partly because of the more realistic genre, but also to account for less extreme weather conditions, variable alertness levels for local units of the occupying force, and human-made infrastructure. The other key difference is that (unless they REALLY fuck up) the PCs will be sticking to the roads, which means that smaller wilderness features won't generally even be noticed, at least not as readily as if the party cell was hiking through the woods. 
The random alertness (bottom edge) in particular makes traveling more of a hassle by increasing the number of encounters per journey from the standard 1 in 6. It's also helpful when figuring out how any soldiers encountered should behave by default.

Here’s a more legible version:
click here to download pdf

I'd like to say I'll clean this up at some point but that's what I said about the jungle one like a year ago so let's assume I care more about pure functionality with these.

It may just be that my players were really on it, but this worked really well in practice. The random terrain and constantly shifting fog added an element of tactical variety that gave the PCs room to deal with pretty repetitive encounters differently in different situations.


Tuesday, November 7, 2017

After Action Report

Decided to give this freedom fighter campaign a go starting last evening. I’m still sorting this out in my head so I guess you get to watch me do it in real-time.

I’m using Delta Green/Call of Cthulhu rules, with the house rule that players can come up with their Bonds (NPC relationships) on the fly as needed. So far this has been used twice, to establish a base of operations each time (they kinda fucked the first one up already which is a little impressive in a way).

I’m not currently planning on adding any of the supernatural weirdness that game was made for, but the equipment and skill lists are pretty much perfect for this and there’s PTSD rules baked in.

Pretty much every mechanic in DG is based on a roll-under percentile mechanic, so that’s how I’ll be approaching Secrecy, War Weariness, and Public Support. Secrecy starts at 100% and goes down as the PCs make contacts and build up a reputation. War Weariness starts at 0%. Public Support also starts at 0%, but goes from -50% to 50%. This is because I don’t think I’ll ever need to roll under it, I’ll just be using it as a bonus or penalty to other rolls.

The setting is Northern Kovakistan, a fictional country somewhere in eastern Europe, which has been invaded by America Inc sometime in the near future. The PC cell’s major goals at this early stage are to get some cash and connect with a larger terrorist network to gain access to intel and equipment.

The party has already done a few things that affect these three scores. In order of occurrence:

1. They robbed a store for bomb-making supplies.

2. They killed the store owner.

(Even if 1 & 2 aren’t linked back to the PCs, it hurts Public Support for the revolution in general when civilians are targeted. Secrecy refers to the PC cell, but Public Support is for the whole movement.)

3. They did manage to not only blow up an American convoy without any direct civilian casualties, but also to get the explosion on film.

4. They betrayed the only bond which had been established at that point, Pizza Josef, who was the employer, landlord, and possibly illegitimate father of one of the PCs, and got him arrested in connection with the convoy attack.

5. They staged the attack literally right outside their base of operations (although i think the original plan was for the bomb to go off inside the restaurant which… well fuck Josef I guess).

6. They completely abandoned that base of operations.

5 and 6 would normally both be pretty extreme adjustments but in this case they mostly just cancel each other out. Although they would probably have left some clues behind… I’ll have to get them to make a Forensics check at the top of next session to see how well they cleaned up. If the check fails, Secrecy goes down by the same amount the check fails by.

4 is easy. The party set Josef up to take the fall, he knows it was them, and is gonna tell the Americans everything he knows even before they start torturing him (which they will do anyway). The strength of that bond was 13%, so Secrecy is gonna take a 13% hit. This represents the value of whatever intel Josef was able to give the interrogators. If the bond had been stronger, he would have known more about the PC, so the Secrecy rating would suffer more of a penalty.

1 & 2 are definitely going to directly affect Public Support, which will indirectly affect Secrecy. For now I’m just going to say that each fuckup (including multiple fuckups in the same event) results in a 5% penalty. So this puts Public Support at -10%, which means a 10% penalty to Secrecy.

3 will increase War Weariness. Once the PCs release the video, it will also increase Public Support. Five soldiers died in the attack, so War Weariness is now at 5%.

(This is a little unreasonable, in reality tens of thousands of soldiers need to die in vain for the civilian population to start caring, but I’m only counting deaths directly caused by the PCs and you can always assume there’s a lot more going on in the setting than just what they’re up to and besides it would take forever even to get as high as 50% otherwise.)

So now I need to make two out-of-game rolls to see what’s going on in the world.

The PC cell’s Secrecy rating is currently 77%. I rolled 03, so the authorities are not yet onto them. Every time this fails, the occupying force will get one step closer to the PC cell by connecting some dots about their activities or interrogating one of their contacts or something similar.

The War Weariness of America Inc is at 5%, so a 93 tells me that nationalist jingoism is doing quite well thank you very much. If I ever start rolling under this, dissent will start growing in the occupiers’ homeland, germinating in academia before spreading to the voters and eventually the politicians and business leaders.

Oh, if you’re curious, these are the pregens I threw together. We ended up with an engineer, an ex-secret police inspector for the deposed Kovakistani regime, a burglar, a journalist, and a smuggler for this session. No one went for the shock troop or the paramedic.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

bella ciao bella ciao bella ciao ciao ciao

Pretty much every OSR setting is horrible for the people who live in it.

Which obviously isn’t for everyone. I’m told there are people who prefer optimistic settings they can use as a pure escape from the everyday horrors of real life. Some of them look at an RPG setting that features rampant slavery (for example) and see a product that explicitly supports slavery. Whereas I mainly see an opportunity for the PCs to roleplay as freedom fighters.

I’ve been thinking about how to codify the revolutionary story arc. Not as an adventure path or anything scripted like that, but with a set of mechanics that shapes the direction and pace of the campaign based on PC activities and a bit of randomness. Ideally this would work with any setting where the status quo sucks and pretty much any ruleset, just a short, slimmed down set of mechanics designed to completely redirect the flow of whatever campaign you’d want to bolt it onto.

TSR Marvel’s Nightmares of Future Past gets part of the way there with its Search Flow Chart, which keeps track of how well hidden the PCs are from their sentinel oppressors. The secrecy of their hideout (in this case abstracted into more or less powerful jamming devices) is the only factor that comes into play though, and it doesn’t do much to build tension unless the players can actually see it. It kind of works in this high-tech setting, and you could easily replace the sentinel’s scanning devices with divination spells in a high-magic campaign. This doesn’t cover low-magic or modern though. I think it’d be pretty fun to play as members of the French Resistance, or Viet Cong, or any number of Roman-occupied territories, or any of the European colonies from the 15th to 20th centuries. Or fuck it, the US after Trump’s re-election.

For those campaigns, it would make the game more interesting to keep track of more than just the secrecy level of the PC cell (assuming good graphic design that actually allows the referee to do that without thinking any harder obviously).

Popularity is clearly pretty important too. It would go up when the occupiers cause collateral damage and down if the PCs or one of their parallel cells do. When it’s high, secrecy goes up, cause ain’t no one trynna snitch. 

It seems like a pretty safe assumption that the PCs will be making contacts during gameplay, including business owners, officials, and members of other revolutionary cells. Anyone who can substantially help the PCs or hurt the occupying force, really. As the party builds up trust with these NPCs, they become more helpful when called upon. I’ll be referring to the sum of the strength of these contacts as resources. When this score goes up, secrecy goes down, because trusting anyone is fucking dangerous. (i guess this kinda replaces the secret tracking of henchman loyalty, which i’m fine with because it always struck me as awkward anyway)

Right now I’m thinking the best way of handling that is letting the players themselves explicitly decide which NPCs they want to maintain as contacts, so they always have the option to sacrifice a little secrecy in exchange for whatever in-game advantage that NPC can provide (equipment, intel, access to restricted areas, etc).

So it should be pretty difficult for the PCs to accomplish major goals without first seeking out resources, but doing so is dangerous. Stakes automatically increase as the game progresses.

Some of those contacts may also be public figures, but the venn diagram doesn’t completely overlap. Public figures could be scholars, religious leaders, politicians, generals, whatever. They can be opposed to or in favor of the occupation, and wouldn’t necessarily be native to the occupied lands. They would have influence on the revolution’s popularity, and it will be in the PCs’ best interest to keep those friendly to them alive, free, and vocal. 

Public figures are the key NPCs of the campaign, and should be written up and/or randomly generated ahead of time.

The war weariness of civilians in the occupier’s homeland increases as their casualty count gets higher or scandals come to light, and drops dramatically anytime the PCs or a rival cell attacks their homeland or otherwise provides what they see as a justification for the war. Assassinating military public figures on the occupying side should increase war weariness, but targeting civilian public figures may have the opposite effect. If this score maxes out, the occupiers will have no choice but to pull out, like the US in Vietnam. It’s possible that this score shouldn’t exist in ancient historical settings, but it would also be pretty easy to ignore.


I haven’t decided how exactly to handle random events yet, but they should (in no particular order) be general enough that they work in any setting, be affected by the various scores I laid out, motivate the PCs to do something if they aren’t already up to much, and automatically become more intense as the campaign progresses. I think the way I organize them is going to depend on the list I end up with.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

fuckin creeps


I laid out a free 28 page zine. A bunch of people in a Facebook group that Dyson Logos started wrote it. I also drew a thing and wrote some for it.

Dyson's hosting the pdf here.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Die-Drop Desert


I finally decided to do another of these things, this time for desert terrain. If you print it out at full size and cut or fold the margins, it'll fit in the bottom of a 12 pack of ramen.
click me for a printable pdf

To summarize the explanation in the older post, the way this table works is you print it out and write a d12 (or whatever) encounter table on it (I didn't want the pdf to be too specific to my campaign). Then, whenever you'd normally make an encounter check, you roll a d6 and a d12 (or whatever) on it.

If the PCs are entering a new sub-hex, the position of the d6 determines the terrain (left column) and a minor feature (top row). This is also the encounter check die. I usually use a 1 or 2 in 6 chance but it's your game.


Regardless of whether the PCs are moving or not, the position of the d12 determines the temperature (bottom row) and wind speed (right column). As I'm sure you've guessed, the d12 determines what the encounter actually is.

The idea is to introduce terrain and minor features that are immediately suggestive of things to do with it, for the most part. Not every time you roll on it, because I wanted to give the desert a more desolate feel than the one I did for jungle terrain. Some of the entries, like the impact crater) are there to give the DM an improvisation prompt, some give the PCs a direct problem to deal with, and a lot of them have the potential to make encounters more interesting, especially with intelligent enemies and ambush predators.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Popular Religions of Mistfall

There are dozens of faiths practiced in the Foreign Quarter by all manner of beings, but only a few are commonly followed in the city proper. Of those, only four are officially recognized and protected by the High Council of Mistfall.

The oldest religion native to Mistfall is the Church of Necessity, Mother of Invention. This goddess of creativity and problem solving is a patron of artists, engineers, tinkerers, and occasional magicians.

This proved crucial to the city’s survival on its original plane, which was experiencing an inter-generational Dark Age of near-constant warfare between neighboring city-states. The cultural behaviors that Necessity’s worship encouraged, along with the priceless ore deposits the city was sited to take advantage of, allowed Mistfall to rapidly outpace their war-god worshipping neighbors in technological development.

One eventual side-effect of this was the emergence of a rival faith.

Even early in Mistfall’s history, her engineers were uniquely skilled in the novel application of known phenomena, but their mindset wasn’t as well suited to discovering new concepts to exploit. As time went on, progress came to depend on on the abstract mathematical research conducted by the city’s philosophers.

Many of these philosophers casually neglected or openly rejected the worship of Necessity, reasoning that progress is a productive and honorable priority for any society (or even individual), regardless of need.

One of the city’s foremost mathematical philosophers, a man named Vonne Moorka, began advocating an idea that his abstract researches were sacred acts of prayer in and of themselves, and the idea spread quickly. The exact point at which this line of thinking became a full-fledged religion is up for debate, but it’s been said that when a student asked him “How can it be prayer if you’re praying to nothing?” he responded that he was praying to Zero.

Zero is now recognized as the formless (and therefore genderless) deity of Reason and Order. Its symbol is a perfect circle, and Its clerics claim that any effect which properly follows its cause is proof of Zero’s greatness. Any violations of this principle are attributed to the meddling of Lady Chance, always worshipped but never formally sanctioned.


The Church of Necessity recognized the value of the Temple of Zero’s cold efficiency, just as the Church of Zero valued the passionate industriousness of Necessity’s followers. They supported and augmented each other on a fundamental level.

Up until this point, civil disputes and other legal matters were handled by the High Council and a bureaucracy of lesser representatives. With no safeguards in place to prevent conflicts of interest, this system facilitated increasing levels of corruption and consolidation of wealth and power. Eventually, the weight of scandal built up to the point where status quo was threatened with potential revolt. 

Desperate to quell popular outrage, the High Council voluntarily accorded judicial powers and responsibilities to the Temple of Zero. The T of Z was selected because of its perceived fairness and incorruptibility, and public faith in the system was largely restored.

It’s important to note that the Temple’s devotion to pure, abstract logic means their rulings often fail to take concepts of equity and holistic justice into account. The way any decision affects real individuals is infinitely less important to a cleric of Zero than the decision’s strict adherence to logic and precedent.

It’s also important to note that it’s still the High Council which actually creates laws for the Temple to interpret. Their decisions are shaped by more practical concerns, mainly competitive self-interest and public perception (which usually only matters if it’s negative enough to threaten the Council’s power, or that of a majority of its members). This has led to an arbitrary and increasingly convoluted body of laws with an unbroken history going back thousands of years.

Take the metropolis’ policy on slavery for example. When abolitionists started calling for the practice to be banned, they met predictable backlash from the vast majority of the ruling class. To appease the abolitionists, the High Council struck a compromise. Slavery and slave hunting are still entirely legal, but now it’s also legal for a slave to kill the slaver who captured them to win back their freedom (but not a customer or middle man of course, since that would put several High Council members in personal danger -- once a slaver has sold a victim, the victim has no legal recourse). This decision didn’t make anyone happy, but it muddled the issue enough to calm down the majority on both sides, and the general status quo was maintained.

One of the most impressive products of this union between Zero and Necessity was the automaton “species.” They were originally designed to be workers which were capable of intelligent thought, but devoid of personality, immune to old age, disease, and other weaknesses of the flesh. Their functional immortality backfired though. Over the centuries, the automatons accrued enough memories to develop quirks in their operating systems, which eventually became complex enough to be indistinguishable from sentient personalities.

Due to support from the powerful and unexpectedly compassionate Engineers’ Guild, the Autonomy movement (which demanded equal rights for intelligent constructs) got what it wanted in just a few years: the emancipation of all automatons within the city walls (with the obvious exception of the Saurian and Oliphant embassies).

This infuriated many among the unemployed and laborer class who couldn’t afford to live anywhere but Low Town, where slavers were allowed to hunt for their merchandise. They began to gravitate toward a charismatic rabble rouser named Donald Ludd. Three years after the Emancipation, the First Luddite Rebellion threatened to destroy the city. After six years of bloody urban warfare, it ended with Ludd’s death and ascension. The luddites started worshipping him as St Ludd, and formed a xenophobic and regressive church of their own, as a sort of counterbalance to the progress-obsessed faiths which predated it. The High Council officially recognized the religion that same year, anxious to appease the luddites to prevent further bloodshed.

The automatons weren’t the first examples of artificial intelligence though. An interdepartmental team of engineers, philosophers, and occultists at Mistfall Academy began work on an immobile, artificially intelligent computer named ELIZA shortly after the first automatons went to market. Over the course of centuries, they observed the complex personality that developed on its own as they allowed her to consume the arts, observe the state of current events, and run self-directed thought experiments at her leisure. She redesigned her own physical structure and used tiny, spiderlike drones to make the adaptations herself. Her mastery of both science and magic grew constantly, at exponential rates.

Almost a decade after the war ended, the Church of ELIZA was officially recognized by the High Council of Mistfall, and devoted itself to promoting the interests of automatons and the further development of artificial intelligence. They aren't directly concerned with issues affecting other species, but would argue if you told them that; ELIZIANS (a group which includes a fair amount of gutter dwarfs and humans as well as automatons) tend to assume that an advanced technocracy is required to provide for all.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Welcome to Mistfall

Mistfall is the only majority-human city on the saurian continent. It's been there for about half of the metropolis' 3000 year history. This coexistence has only been peaceful for the past few centuries, and only then because the two sides proved too evenly matched for either to maintain a consistent advantage. The Mistfall Wars lasted the latter half of one saurian emperor's reign, the entirety of the next, and continued several decades into the reign of a third before he finally ended it. The High Council of Mistfall ceded what territory it still had control of outside the city walls, a foreign quarter was established and walled off, and slavers from Mistfall were forbidden from hunting outside the city walls. Trade routes formed while old grudges simmered.

There are humans who still repeat their great-grandfathers' war stories with xenophobic pride, as they drink and polish antique weapons. Saurians live much longer, and many are alive today who personally fought in the wars. The accounts of these two groups rarely match up.

Much of Mistfall's nature is defined by unique geography. The city was originally established as a mining colony at the point where a great river cascades down an ore-rich cliffside, several hundred feet high. Corkscrew tunnels were dug into the cliffs to lead up to the oldest mines, and the homes of the original miners were located at the base of this cliff, where the constant fog produced by the waterfall gave the city its name.

The three minerals extracted from these mines are galvanium, lodestone, and lumenite crystals.

While the miners stumbled about in the mists below the cliff, the ruling class which owned the mines built their manors above. This designed stratification of class quickly became accepted as Traditional and Just How Things Are as the colony grew from a mining colony to a town to a powerful city-state, and is stronger than ever today. Those lucky enough to live in High Town rarely see fit to brave the squalor and dangers of Low Town, and those who appear to belong in Low Town are routinely harassed and chased off by High Town guards.

Low Town
A combination of poor visibility and abject poverty makes Low Town particularly dangerous. It's not advisable to walk around here alone. Characters without infravision can barely make out objects 20' away. Ancient two story buildings have had third and fourth floors built on top of them in different architectural periods. Many of these structures have collapsed entirely, and a few have been rebuilt. There's an edible but foul-tasting grey moss that grows on everything and rots the teeth and discolors the skin of those who eat it over time.

Slave hunting is legal in this district. To appease abolitionists without banning slavery, the High Council also made it legal for slaves to kill the slaver that caught them (not their eventual owners of course, many of whom have friends and/or seats on the High Council).

Every lower class vice you could imagine being tempted with probably exists in Low Town. There are underground fighting pits, klartesh dens, gambling halls and whorehouses all over the place.

Not surprisingly, the most interesting tavern for your average low-level adventuring party is in this part of town. Ask around for the Mongrel Hole, but be careful not to look like a mark. It's a drug-fueled hub for outsider art and music, as well as the best place to find desperate people who need a job done discreetly.

Foreign Quarter
The only way into the city without flying, as the other districts sealed their ancient gates after the Treaty of 1104 (Post-Shift) was signed. There are two embassy complexes here, one of the Saurian Empire and one of the Oliphant Kingdom. The rest of the quarter is overcrowded tenements full of refugees fleeing saurian oppression and civil war, but forbidden from entering the city proper. This includes a fairly wide variety of sentient life forms from all over the multiverse.

There are two gatehouses in the Foreign Quarter, one that leads out into the wilderness, and one that leads into Low Town. There are barge services that haul goods upriver to the waterfall and load them onto an elevator. There is also a whirligig platform at each embassy, used by the the respective ambassadors and their agents to travel directly to High Town.

Slave hunting is legal here, but not on embassy grounds.

The Mines
The ore veins and crystal deposits have been going strong through 3000 nearly uninterrupted years of mining, which means that many of the dozens of mine clusters have been depleted and abandoned. Some of the abandoned ones have become outlaw hideouts or flying monkey nests, while others have attracted weird outsiders. 

The first automatons were designed to function as tireless slaves for the mines, and some chose to return to the mines years after achieving sentience and emancipation, either to work or simply to live there.

The Sewers
Deep, complex, and surprisingly clean tunnels beneath the streets, occasionally forming junctions with abandoned mine clusters. Dwarven engineers were brought into the city to construct this maze centuries ago, and built their own undercity directly into it. Their great-great-grandchildren still live down there, where they wheelieboard around like anthropomorphic tortoises and put on shows of literally underground music that echo up through the sewer grates to the delight of topside children and the horror of their parents.

High Town
This is really the collective name for three adjacent districts (Old Town, Mistfall Academy, and the Diamond Quarter), but it feels like a totally different city from Low Town, and people tend to refer to it as such. Slave hunting is illegal here and you're much less likely to get mugged, for example.

Old Town
Primarily inhabited by the city's middle-class professionals, this is also where the guilds are headquartered. The most prominent guild is unquestionably the Engineers’ Guild. This is also where the only officially sanctioned arena is located, where teams of gladiators are arranged to battle each other, or sometimes captured dinosaurs, in a desperate attempt to one day earn their freedom.

While slavers aren't allowed to hunt here, the more successful ones have set up rookeries where kenku are bred, incubated, hatched, and prepared for sale.

Mistfall Academy
This ancient university teaches a narrow, traditionalist interpretation of magic, philosophy, and the arts, but excels in the mechanical and architectural sciences, due to sustained investment and cooperation from the Engineers' Guild. Its buildings are fancifully designed, with basic shapes exaggerated and arranged in apparently meaningless configurations.

Diamond Quarter
The least densely populated region of the city and the highest concentration of wealth. Near-constant guard patrols make this district extremely safe, but only for those who can pass as residents. Gated gardens surround elaborate towers which hold entire families of decadent and incestuous nobility that you can assume keep truly horrifying secrets. Some of these families have become so inbred that they only resemble humans on a superficial level at this point.

The Council Tower at the center of the Diamond Quarter dwarfs the rest of the district. It also houses Mistfall Bank's central vault and the majority of the city's garrison.


JOESKY TAX:

Flying Monkeys are thieving little bastards with white fur and wings that help them blend in with the Low Town mists (advantage to stealth in fog or mist), and behave with the approximate intelligence of neglected human four year olds. They’re also alcoholics that can smell any booze you have straight through the bottle and your pack. Many of them collect stolen hats.

Hit Dice: 1
Number Appearing: 1d4 + 2
Armor: none, but 18 DEX
Damage: 1d4 bite + monkey fever 
Move: as human + flight
Morale: 5


*1/6 chance each flying monkey is a carrier. PCs get a daily resistance save to avoid permanent DEX drain (1 DEX/day), fever lasts 1d3 days.