Monday, February 29, 2016

Dungeons & Dinosaurs

The multiverse contains infinite realities and grows with every decision or random occurrence. Most of those realities include some version of the star Sol, but relatively few of those realities still include some version of the planet Earth. This planet has been destroyed in millions of ways over the millennia, and its continued existence grows more unlikely by the day.

Some of these apocalypses have been the result of an external cataclysm. The astral body that collided with earth in its early history, forming the moon, could have been more massive, or approached at a slightly different angle, which means that in many timelines, it was, and the Earth was demolished long before it would have become suitable for life as we know it.

Many, many of these Earths were destroyed in the crossfire of wars fought among their own inhabitants. In some of the universes where restraint proved too difficult when it came to nuclear warfare, even those weapons failed to satisfy the wrath of the warlords and generals and presidents and kings. The survivors were forced underground but the war would continue. Sometimes the core of the planet would become part of the battlefield, compromising the Earth’s structure. A few realities produced particularly enterprising and ingenious madmen that managed to trigger a supernova event, destroying their entire solar system.

Even on the Earths that physically survived, mass extinction events were fairly common on most. Each of these massive die-offs cleared the way for another form of life to have its shot. The only hope of any particular genetic strain of surviving one of these events was in producing a species intelligent enough to see the event coming and prevent or escape it (bear in mind that most technologically or magically advanced civilization that the Earths produce also bring about their own extinction, so even if evolution somehow gets that far it’s still a crapshoot).

In some of those realities, the great oxygenation event (when early plants poisoned the world with oxygen, and the rest of life had to adapt to the abundance of this new toxin) happened a few hundred million years earlier, giving cambrian life a longer period in which to develop. The cambrian intelligences that ruled some of those worlds were the first to escape to other Earths, where they lie dormant beneath the oceans, while their cultists on land prepare for their awakening.

On one branch of the world tree (which is a much more apt metaphor for the multiverse than the ancients are likely to have realized), the great permian extinction occurred a hundred million years before it did in ours, greatly extending the length of the mesozoic period, giving the dinosaurs plenty of time to produce a species capable of language and tool use. Great saurian empires rose and fell much as our own have (that is to say, through a tragic history of violence, treachery and greed). Meanwhile, the academically inclined continued to work towards understanding the world around them and adapting it to their own needs.

When the saurian astrologers of those worlds recognized impending doom in giant asteroid form, they severed their homeland from their own timeline, expelling the land from its original place in the multiverse. This is how Exodus, the Prodigal Continent, came to be.

This continent, about the size of Australia, would jump to a wildly different shade of reality every year or so, and continues to do so sixty five and a half million years later. It’s been known by many names on uncountable worlds, including Atlantis. Due to the fractal nature of the multiverse, it’s essentially certain that more than one version of Exodus exists, but if more than one has ever appeared in the same world at the same time, the history of their interaction was lost long ago.

Nations and philosophies have risen and fallen on the continent over the course of countless generations. Few saurian philosophers today even remember the traditional world tree model and those who do reject it, perceiving themselves as the one true people, denizens of the one true continent in a constantly shifting universe. 

One of the few constants throughout the multiverse is that any civilization which stops thinking of outsiders as real people no longer sees abuse and exploitation of those outsiders as morally wrong. This universal truth, coupled with what the saurians perceived as an outside world that was almost constantly rewriting itself from scratch, has largely shaped the behavior of this species. Generally speaking, any time the saurians themselves aren’t too busy with some internal crisis, they appear in a new world and make contact with the most intelligent ephemerals they can find (as they refer to any species not from their continent), take advantage of them and enslaving as many as possible to support their own extravagant lifestyle. 

Bringing up the propagation of these slave races on Exodus and using that as a philosophical counterargument is a good way to be labeled a heretic. 

Many of these species revolted and were wiped out, but a few managed to escape, organize, and claim territory. The saurians, who once ruled the entire continent, retreated and unified in the highlands. The lowland regions are littered with the crumbling ruins of their towns and fortresses, and the highlands are home to a federation of saurian city states, having adopted savage humans as their current slave race of choice.

Having been exposed to wildly varying conditions throughout the vast majority of their history, the saurians have become one of the most versatile races in the multiverse. Their adventuring class, the rokai, are responsible for defending what’s left of saurian territory, exploring the various outside worlds looking for opportunities, and maintaining order within the federation’s borders. Rokai are expected to acquaint themselves with the arts of the magician and the swordsman alike, as well as the more practical skills of the scout or thief.

In terms of game mechanics, a level 1 rokai starts with a combination of abilities normally associated with a thief, fighter, or magic user, without excelling in any of those areas. From then on, every time the rokai increases in level, they must decide which of those three classes to advance in.

These stats are for LotFP because that’s more or less what I’m running at the moment, and because I couldn’t give a fuck less about niche protection if I tried. Making it work for another game might require shifting some numbers or adding some abilities depending on the ruleset, but the basic framework is:

XP Progression: as fighter
HP: 1d4 + constitution bonus at first level, as chosen class each time the rokai levels up.
Start with 2 skill points, gain 2 more when leveling up as a specialist.
Start knowing read magic and two random (or one chosen) 1st level spells. Begin with the spell progression of a 1st level magic user and increase when leveling up as a magic user.
Start with an attack bonus of +1 and add one when leveling up as a fighter. Can use all the same combat options as a fighter.
Saving throws: All five saving throws start at 16 until the rokai reaches level 2, then the saves vs paralysis and poison decrease by one when leveling up as a fighter, and saves vs spell and device do the same when leveling up as a magic user. When advancing as a specialist, saves vs poison and device decrease by 1, and the save against breath weapons decreases by 2.

Saurians also have the following natural abilities:
Bite attack, 1d4 damage.
Dinosaur affinity (similar to the affinity humans have for dogs and horses).
Scent up to 1/4 mile.
Scales provide natural protection as leather armor.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Quick DMG to the 30 Years War

The 30 Years War was a big complicated mess, in a way that makes it uniquely gameable. It was part of what historians refer to as Europe’s General Crisis, a century-long period of violent political and religious upheaval combined with famine and plague.

It is in no way necessary for a DM to understand all the details of the 17th century political landscape in central Europe in order to run a good game in that setting (although if you happen to enjoy studying history, it certainly wouldn’t hurt), but there are a few major points that could potentially be useful to know when you're coming up with encounters, or when your players start doing things you don't expect.

So here's a quick list of simplified gameables for DMs who haven't got the time or inclination to look into the history themselves. Anyone else probably knows all this. If anyone else is you, feel free to add good stuff I left out in the comments.
  • “Germany” did not yet exist as a coherent nation, and wouldn’t for a couple more centuries. Instead, the region was dominated by what was known as the Holy Roman Empire, a loosely-stitched together group of states each ruled by semi-autonomous electoral princes. By the time of the 30 Years War, many of these princes were Protestants, while the imperial dynasty was fiercely Catholic. The war was initially fought between an alliance of rebel princes and those loyal to the empire and if that doesn't sound familiar why are you even reading this?
  • The violence of the General Crisis was, if not caused by, then at least enabled and encouraged by the intra-religious conflict that began a century earlier with the Protestant Reformation. The most basic way of viewing these wars, including the 30 Years War, was as a conflict between Catholics and Protestants (mainly Lutherans but Calvinism was starting to catch on too). This is the underlying conflict that a lot of that time & place’s jingoistic propaganda exploited.
  • Religious oppression largely took the form of witch trials and inquisitions. Accused heretics were being executed at a faster rate than any other time in European history. So in a game with magic users, they generally would not have been trying to advertise. Bizarre wizard's towers could still exist, obviously. The setting just gives you a good opportunity to use weird magic to hide them really absurdly well.
  • What began as a civil war was kept going by opportunistic and expansionist foreign nations getting involved. In 1631, when Better Than Any Man is set, King Gustavus Adolphus’ Swedish troops were sweeping through Germany. Their standard tactics were more appropriate to the technology of the time than the tactics of their rivals were, and they earned a reputation as an unstoppable horde. Each victory added territory to his relatively tiny empire.
  • Aside from the continent-wide religious conflict of the day, the largest rivalry in Europe at the time was between two of its richest, most powerful families: the Bourbons in France and the Hapsburgs in both Spain and the Holy Roman Empire. Both the Hapsburgs and the Bourbons were Catholic, but the kingdom of France was squeezed between the Spanish and the Germans. This led to the Bourbons aligning themselves with the mostly-Protestant enemies of the Hapsburgs, further complicating any answer to the question “just what were these whackos fighting over, anyway?” This gives a DM multiple factions and somewhat tenuous alliances to play with.
  • Soldiers were not well paid (or fed) in this time & place. It was common practice for rulers to blow their savings raising armies from a combination of foreign mercenaries and their own peasantry, then leave them to provide for themselves by “living off the land” (raping-pillaging-killing their way across the countryside). This led to a serious enmity between peasants and soldiers, regardless of sides or religious preference. There was always a wide "foraging" area around the actual armies, creating twin crises of famine and internally displaced refugees. Which made conditions ideal for the spread of the bubonic plague.
  • The belief that these were the End Times was not at all unusual. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (War, Famine, Pestilence, and Death) were considered by many to be the most powerful forces in Europe. This was sometimes metaphorical but often meant in a quite literal sense, especially among the uneducated peasantry, who really couldn’t be expected to grasp the bigger picture of what was happening to them. My point here is that no urban encounter table in this setting would really be complete without at least one or two doomsayers. A secondary point is that things like the physical incarnations of the Horsemen are always fun to stat up.
  • This is one of those wars where the safest place to be, by far, was in the army. At least that way you had a weapon, maybe even some light armor if you’d plundered enough to afford some, and a group of other armed men that (barring extraordinary circumstances or personal grudges) had your back. The second safest place to be was in the cities and larger towns, because the worst of the pillaging happened in out of the way farms and villages. Which meant that many towns near passing armies were overrun with refugees, while others would have turned them away for fear of the plague.
  • The fact that being in the army was somewhat safer than any alternative didn’t stop countless soldiers from deserting and becoming outlaws or switching sides. The punishment for desertion was hanging, but only if your own side managed to catch you, and they were usually too busy to try hunting you down. On top of that, mercenary units were often officially disbanded, penniless, armed and thousands of miles from home, putting them in basically the same position as the deserters. The major takeaway for a DM here is there were small groups of outlaws all over the damn place.
  • If you don't know anything about the period at all, firearms existed but were just being introduced. They took forever to reload and malfunctions could be disastrous and they really weren't all that much more useful than swords at that point.