Wednesday, April 9, 2014

I've Got Your Sword-Wielding Wizards Right Here!

Idea for a magic system:

  1. Enough non-magic-using classes that you think the campaign will be interesting. How many counts as interesting obviously depends on you and your players.
  2. A spell list.

Only non-magic-using classes are available. When stocking treasure, increase the chances of magic scrolls being found by at least 2, maybe more, depending on just how much magic you want the PCs to have access to.

When characters find magic scrolls, they can choose to read them. If they read them, the magic spells leap from the scrolls into their heads (erasing the scroll). They now know the spell and can cast it, as with standard Vancian magic. Casting a spell memorized in this way erases the spell from memory, as with standard Vancian magic. There is a 1/6 chance that such spell scrolls are labeled so that characters can determine what the spell is before reading and memorizing the scroll. 

The number of spells that can be held in memory at one time is limited by class level. The simplest way to do this is to have the number of spells memorized be equal to or less than the class level.

Whenever the character levels up while having one or more spells memorized there is a chance (a Wisdom check, or # of currently memorized spells/20, say) that one of the memorized spells (select randomly) will "stick" and the character will be able to cast the spell indefinitely. The simplest way is to allow each "permanently memorized" spell to be cast once a day.

Ways to make this more complicated:
  • Labeled scrolls may be mis-labeled
  • Stipulate that spells of spell level higher than class level may not be memorized
  • Stipulate that total spell LEVELS memorized must be equal to or less than class level
  • Bolt on some sort of damage or sanity mechanic, or some other consequence, if memorizing more spells or spell levels than is allowed is attempted; if spell levels rather than spells are being counted, this means that memorizing an unknown spell is always a risk
  • Alternately, stipulate that the only way to read a spell (and figure out what it is) without memorizing it is to read it while already having memorized the maximum number of spells currently allowed to be memorized
  • Introduce costs to casting a spell, such as hit points or attribute points, which replenish at some rate
  • Stipulate that how often a permanently acquired spell can be used depends on class level and spell level ratio. For example:
    • A spell that is 4 or more spell levels below the character's class level is an at-will spell
    • A spell that is 2 or 3 spell levels below the character's class level can be cast 3 times a day
    • A spell that is within 1 spell level of the character's class level can be cast once a day
    • A spell that is 2 or 3 spell levels above the character's class level can be cast 3 times a week
    • A spell that is 4 or more spell levels above the character's class level can be cast once a week
  • If using a system like this to determine how often a permanent spell can be cast, choose between having the frequency with which a particular acquired spell can be cast either always stay the same as it was when first acquired or increase as the character levels up
  • Bring in a second spell list. The first list is for the spells that can be found. The second list is rolled on to determine permanently acquired spells. Arcane spells could be found, but Divine spells acquired, both Arcane and Divine spells could be found, but psionic powers are acquired, etc.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Blessed Helmet of Flummoxification

The Blessed Helmet of Flummoxification appears to be a standard, well-made riveted helmet. When found, it is immaculately clean and usually finds its way onto a pedestal that will mysteriously be lit as from above. The Helmet smells faintly of garlic and onions.

The Helmet radiates magic so strongly that any caster with Detect Magic even prepared will sense magic radiating from it, and those who cast Detect Magic on it will sense what is most likely the strongest emanation of magic they have ever sensed…

Part of the magic, however, is that no amount of trying will reveal what the Helmet does! The Helmet may be put on and taken off with ease - the only obvious sign that this is not technically a cursed item.

The benefits of the Helmet last only until the Helmet is removed. They are:
  • ONCE per owner, the Helmet will restore all hit points and health, healing all injuries, neutralizing all poison, removing all curses, restoring all drained levels and experience, etc. This will ONLY occur when death is otherwise inevitable (most commonly when hit points drop to whatever it takes to die in your system of choice).
  • The Helmet improves the wearer's AC by 1 more than a normal helmet.
  • The wearer of the Helmet adds +1 to attack and damage rolls.
  • Whenever the wearer of the Helmet would normally be surprised, the wearer instead surprises the enemy. If the enemy would normally have a bonus to attack or damage, or some other ability, during a surprise round, such as a backstabbing ability, the wearer of the Helmet gets that bonus or ability for the surprise round.
  • While the Helmet is worn, none of the costs of the Helmet adversely affect the wearer's ability to conduct combat. Any actual benefits to combat from the costs are adjudicated by the Referee, as are in-combat disadvantages if not wearing the Helmet.
Whenever the Blessed Helmet of Flummoxification is put on, a random effect upon the wearer takes place. Roll on the following table to determine the random effect:
  1. Nose grows into an elephantine trunk
  2. Earlobes droop to the knees
  3. Eyebrows sprout half-sized peacock plumes
  4. Mouth replaced by hawk's beak
  5. Ears grow into pachyderm flaps
  6. Beard grows or falls off, depending on previous beardedness
  7. Grows long, gerbil-like tail
  8. Face turns various shades of red, blue, green and yellow, which migrate slowly across the face in patches
  9. Nose increases 3 times in size and is covered in scales
  10. Canine teeth grow into saber-tooth fangs
  11. Canine teeth grow into large tusks
  12. Mouth grows into a duck's beak
  13. Ears turn into a bloodhound's flaps
  14. Mouth and nose turn into a mastiff's mouth and nose
  15. Eyes grow out on stalks, like a slug or snail's
  16. A small octopus tentacle sprouts from each cheek and temple (4 total)
  17. Fairy-like antennae sprout from forehead
  18. Eyes bulge out into fly-like compound eyes
  19. Daisies burst forth from the elbows and knees
  20. Each finger is replaced by a finger-length, fully prehensile tentacle
The mechanical and/or role-playing penalties (or benefits) of these effects are left to the referee to adjudicate as the referee sees fit.

The costs of the Helmet last NOT until the Helmet is removed, but until the wearer loses consciousness. This means two things:
  • If the wearer manages to sleep with the Helmet on through the night, the wearer may wear the Helmet the next day with all the benefits and none of the costs. An unsecured Helmet has an 80% chance to fall off during sleep. Measures taken to secure the Helmet to the wearer's head during sleep are adjudicated on an individual basis by the Referee using common sense.
  • If the wearer dons the Helmet, takes it off and then puts it on again during a single period of consciousness, the wearer now experiences TWO random effects. Taking it off and putting it on again once more results in THREE random effects simultaneously affecting our unwise hero.
There are rumors of a Cursed Helmet of Flummoxification, completely identical to the Blessed Helmet except that it has no benefits and cannot be removed once put on, per normal cursed item rules.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

30 Day Challenge: How I Got Started in RPGs

So this is apparently a thing. Let's see about breathing some life into this blog, shall we?

I first heard about RPGs in the mid 90's in an infamous Adventures in Odyssey episode that dealt very badly with them. Adventures in Odyssey is usually, I think, a very good kids radio show, so it doubly disappoints me how badly they handled RPGs. Fortunately, I had absolutely no idea what they were talking about.

I was introduced to RPGs, D&D 3.5 specifically, in college. One of my floor-mates was running a game and my roommate joined in. I think I heard my DM talking about people criticizing RPGs as evil and so my guard went up and I didn't join in; I didn't have enough information to know what I thought and didn't have the time to quickly research and figure stuff out for myself.

I eventually did do enough research to figure out what a farce B.A.D. is; I seem to remember an article by Michael Stackpole helping out a lot with that, and I joined one game, but decided I was too busy right then to game regularly. I did enjoy myself. I played a Dwarf.

The next semester, I think, another friend invited me to play as he ran the 3.5 introductory set and I played the pre-generated Dwarven Cleric. I remember things getting tense with my roommate as I hadn't figured out gaming etiquette and had my character pick a fight with his character.

My friend went on to begin a full-on 3.5 campaign in which two of his sisters, my roommate and myself played. I played a Marshwiggle (from Narnia) Cleric that I'm pretty sure was severely underpowered; my roommate and I homebrewed the Marshwiggle race and neither of us really knew what we were doing. 3.5 is complex, but we can already see the beginnings of my inveterate homebrewing.

At some point I began poking around online during this campaign and stumbled upon the OSR blogosphere. The rest, as they say, is history.

Monday, August 26, 2013

"Realistic" Female Armor

So, whenever the RPG blogosphere gets back around to debating what kind of armor women should wear in illustrations, this should probably be thrown into the mix.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Top Ten Troll Questions

Last week I started running my game again. That was cool.

I also have been doing a lot of rules-brewing/synthesis and world-building. I've almost finished mixing ACKS Elf classes with the Theorems & Thaumaturgy Fey Elf idea and my own contributions.

So let's see if I can get back in the swing of things at all. For today, Random Wizard has posted ten questions that I'm going to answer about my game.

(1). Race (Elf, Dwarf, Halfling) as a class? Yes or no?

 No, but I do love the ACKS idea of demi-humans having their own classes. So we use that.

(2). Do demi-humans have souls?

Elves are Fey, so they probably don't have souls. Dwarves are mortal, so they probably do. I keep everything pretty ambiguous and not spelled out; there are even some sects that don't believe Men have souls.

(3). Ascending or descending armor class?

Ascending. My players threatened to revolt when I mentioned considering switching to descending, and it just works well for us so I've worried about messing with other rules areas.

(4). Demi-human level limits?

Probably, maybe? We haven't hit any yet, so it's kind of up in the air.

(5). Should thief be a class?

I actually really like my Scoundrel class. And what this guy said.

(6). Do characters get non-weapon skills?

I have this great d12 skill system that both my players and I really like… that never gets used in play. I've been strongly considering switching to ACKS proficiencies, or scrapping them altogether.

(7). Are magic-users more powerful than fighters (and, if yes, what level do they take the lead)?

At some point, probably, since we're playing S&W. My players haven't gotten there yet.

(8). Do you use alignment languages?


(9). XP for gold, or XP for objectives (thieves disarming traps, etc...)?

XP for playing, which I'm strongly considering ending, save for my fear of player revolt, and XP for gold spent.

(10). Which is the best edition; ODD, Holmes, Moldvay, Mentzer, Rules Cyclopedia, 1E ADD, 2E ADD, 3E DD, 4E DD, Next ?

Probably ODD, just for its incompleteness. Home-brewing is a big thing for me, and it's an attitude that it took me a while to acquire; being forced to make decisions helped a lot with that.

Bonus Question: Unified XP level tables or individual XP level tables for each class?

With my latest round of rules revisions, we're moving from unified XP tables to ACKS individual XP level tables for each class.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Purposes for Paladins and Militant Orders

As I continue in my sporadic attempts at world-building, I've recently turned my attention back to Clerics and Paladins, as well as to one aspect of their inspiration: medieval European religious orders.

Now, I realize that, especially when it comes to Clerics, Hammer Horror films, especially those that depict Dr. Abraham Van Helsing (usually played by Peter Cushing) as a vampire hunter, usually opposed by Christopher Lee's Dracula (I actually chipped away at the list of classic influences on D&D I, as a "grognardling," haven't experienced by watching the original Horror of Dracula yesterday) are a major, if not the primary influence, and I don't think that they are without value even in a setting where Clerics and Paladins are members of religious orders instead of professors independently seeking out and destroying the undead. For example, Van Helsing's personal mission sounds an awful lot like, "seeking out and destruction of evil heretics [substitute "vampires" here] and their lands and also of those who rebel against the faith of the holy church." The wording comes from the mission of the Militia of the Faith of Jesus Christ, formed mainly to combat Cathars in southern France. Van Helsing even goes so far as to call vampirism a "cult" in Horror of Dracula.

Van Helsing, though, is obviously not the only inspiration for D&D's Clerics, as Clerics in D&D are not (at least not universally and primarily) professors, but are clergy in some religion. I've read multiple places that Odo of Bayeux (shown wielding a mace in the Bayeux Tapestry) and Bishop Turpin, a Paladin companion of Roland, are also inspirations for Clerics.

It makes sense, then, to look at actual religious orders to get inspiration for beefing up the background, organizational, world-building side of Clerics and Paladins, especially since the trend it my world-building currently concentrates on tying PCs to the setting through various class-based organizations. In practice, this has meant a lot of looking through Wikipedia, trying to figure out the difference between Clerics Regular and Canons Regular and trying to figure out what kinds of orders might produce adventurers in a fantasy setting. I don't really have enough to show anything of value for Clerics yet, but I chose to look concentrate on military orders (seeing as there are fewer of them than non-military Catholic orders) and have a few things that might be profitable for gaming even in this early stage of my research.

For one thing, the purposes of military orders varied widely, and most seem to have more than one purpose:
  1. Providing care in a hospital (which might specialize in a certain awful disease, like leprosy) and protecting the hospital with force
  2. Protecting pilgrims to certain lands or certain holy sites
  3. Reclaiming lost territory from infidels
  4. Ransoming captives (this seems to have meant soliciting from donors)
  5. Ensuring the proper burial of fallen Crusaders
  6. Defending frontier areas from infidels
  7. Inquisition and invading areas where heretics ruled
  8. Keeping the peace in a certain area
  9. Improving ties between the Church and the nobility and rulers of an area
  10. Defending the rights and freedoms of the Church
And there's a handy little d10 chart. Roll 1d4 times to determine the purposes of an order you're creating for your setting.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Fey Alignment

One more way I'm trying to make Fey Elves alien is by having the Fey, including any Elven characters, use a different alignment system. This alignment system straddles the line between D&D and AD&D conceptions of alignment: I imagine both Seelie and Unseelie courts, for example, though I haven't figured out how to flesh that out yet, besides members of different alignments generally avoiding or being somewhat antagonistic towards each other; on the other hand, these alignments definitely serve as AD&D-style roleplaying aids. What do you think?

Elves, and indeed all Fey, are not aligned along the Law-Chaos axis. They have little to do with metaphysical concepts of Order or the progress of Man’s civilization and they, being inherently of Nature, cannot engage in unnatural Necromancy or Summoning. Indeed, the Elves continue to hold the entire Fey outlook and are aligned along the Seelie-Unseelie and Trooping-Solitary axes.

Seelie Fey, including Elves, are lighthearted, fickle pranksters and change their attitudes towards other characters easily, neither holding grudges nor gratitude for long. They are generally friendly when first meeting someone and as prone to performing acts of service for no reason as to pranks and practical jokes. The Unseelie Fey, again including Elves, are generally aloof if not unfriendly to new acquaintances or strangers and not prone to spontaneous pranks or services. They hold both grudges and gratitude for a long time, if not forever.

Whether Seelie or Unseelie, Elves, as Fey, should always be roleplayed with no appreciation for Man’s ideas of proportion, whether dealing with pranks, random kindnesses, thanks or revenge. Both beneficial and malicious actions should be more than a Man would find appropriate or worth the trouble.

All Elves that join mortal parties are Solitary. Elves that travel in all-Fey parties or who settle down in forests where they establish a Fastness are Trooping. Solitary Elves must leave their parties and wonder alone for a month in order to level up. Trooping Elves must not leave their troop for any reason and most interaction with mortals must be corporate instead of individually building relationships with mortals.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Roleplaying Fey Elves

I really like the Fey Elf in the excellent Theorems and Thaumaturgy, and wanted to give players of Fey Elves a way to play them that makes them even more alien and folklore-ish. Here's some of my crack at that:

As Mankind settles the wilderness and becomes more numerous, it is becoming harder and harder for the Immortal Fey. Mankind destroys their meeting-places and homes, fences and plows the meadows and clears the forests; Man can even kill the Fey with iron and steel weapons. It is slowly becoming clear to the Fey that they will have to adapt in order to survive.

Elves are one way in which some Fey are experimenting with adapting; the Fey have always been able to shape and change their own natures and Elves are Fey who have changed their natures to resemble those of mortal Men. Much that is typical of the Fey is lost in this transformation – perfect memories of the millenia past become faint and the ephemeral form is traded for solid flesh and a connection to the material world – yet much is retained. Elves are immune to mind-affecting spells such as Sleep and Charm as well as magical paralyzation and remain familiar enough with Faerie to identify Faerie objects such as portals or writing.
Elves have trouble grasping mortal conventions and different Elves have more or less trouble with different concepts that Men and Dwarves take for granted. Roll 1d4+1 times to determine mortal concepts an Elf is unable to grasp.

  1. Distinguishing between actions under self-control as opposed to those not under control (eg. charmed or coerced)
  2. Any belief or concern with what happens after death (including nothing)
  3. The idea of children, parents, caring for children and legal minority
  4. Differentiation between genders or sexes
  5. The mortal understanding of magic as special, not-normal or not-natural
  6. Daily routines such as sleeping, waking, eating based on time of day
  7. The existence of status and rank among mortals (does recognize Fey courts and hierarchy
  8. Religion
  9. Property
  10. Incongruence between thought, speech and actions
Each time an Elf levels up, roll 3d6. If the roll meets or is below the Elf's level + any Wisdom modifier then the Elf has mastered one of the conventions the Elf previously could not grasp (player's choice or randomly select).

Elves have trouble fitting in to Men’s society and are attracted to adventurers who are themselves on the fringes of society. Adventuring parties who accept an Elf into their ranks will need to supervise the Elf during interactions with Mankind, as Elves are prone to faux pas ranging from the awkward to the capitally illegal. As Elves gain more experience, they will become more accustomed to Man’s ways and will require less guidance, eventually becoming able to function, more or less, on their own among mortals. Elves are often worth the inconvenience and worry to adventuring parties, offering familiarity with Faerie and a number of abilities beyond the ken of mortals along with the headaches of associating with them.
That said, players of Elves should not feel that they must play their characters as totally unable to interact with society. Elves are still Fey and the Fey are able to interact with Man in ways generally understandable by Men; that is, Men generally understand what the Fey are doing, whether they understand their motivation or not. Players of Elves should not feel constrained to make every visit to town end with the party narrowly escaping a lynch mob; neither should they play Elves as normal mortal Men.

For example, an Elf that does not understand the idea of property is just as likely to give away valuable “possessions” as to “steal;” an Elf might begin a relationship with a store-owner by giving a fortune in gold to him when the Elf sees other characters giving the store-owner gold to buy items, expecting nothing in return. During another visit, the Elf might take items the Elf needs without paying for them, but the shop-owner will likely not mind, or will at least not make a fuss, not wanting to anger a Fey creature over an irregular situation that is, after all, at least currently resulting in a net profit. When fellow party members are present to explain and smooth things over (or cover the costs of the Elf’s actions, temporarily or permanently), these kinds of irregular relationships are even more easily established.

Monday, June 24, 2013


Hit Dice: 1d4
Armor Class: 9[10]
Attacks: 2 Weapon (1d6)
Saving Throw: 18
Special: Immune to non-magical weapons, destroyed by light, low weight
Move: 24
Alignment: Chaos
Challenge Level/XP: B/10

Chaotic Sorcerers commonly use evil rituals to provide themselves with willing servants and foot soldiers. Most commonly, they employ their twisting magics to turn Humans into Orcs or Dwarves into Goblins, but occasionally, with the right knowledge, they will bend the Fey to their will.

Æglor are Seelie Fey who have been warped by dark magic into servants of Chaos. They unquestioningly obey their masters and, where once they took delight in song, dance, beauty and mischief, now delight only in battle, slaughter and destruction. In appearance they are very short humanoids clad in dark hooded robes that cover them completely. They almost always appear in mobs of 5d20 and are small enough that two of them are able to attack an opponent in a space where only one normal-sized attacker would fit. Æglor move and attack quickly, swarming and overwhelming their opponents.

Æglor are immune to non-magical weapons but their small size and weight means that when an Æglor is hit with a weapon in combat then the Æglor is thrown into the air 5d4 feet away from the character, taking no damage. Æglor are not immune to magic. The weakness of the Æglor is that they dissolve completely into the air when exposed to light. Their hooded robes magically cling to them and normally protect them from light but when an opponent makes a critical hit on an Æglor this signifies that the hood or some other part of the robe has been lifted back and the Æglor dissolves with robe and weapon. If called shot mechanics are used then called shots can be applied to targeting an Æglor's hood.

These guys popped into my head a week or so ago as a mental picture of manic bloodthirsty hybrids of Jawas and the little yellow minions from the Despicable Me movies. I've been messing around with Fey in my designing recently and these guys actually solved a few problems for me. For one, I long ago decided that most monstrous humanoids in my setting (the notable exception being Kobolds) are twisted humans and demi-humans, a la Tolkien, but, besides Orcs being twisted Humans, I hadn't ever nailed down a whole lot - I'm still not sure what bugbears and hob-goblins are. The Æglor helped me decide that Goblins are twisted Dwarves, since Elves are Fey in my setting. In addition, I've got a sorcerer luring Fey into a trap in my megadungeon for use in a Carcosa-style ritual but I hadn't figured out what that was going to be until I realized that the sorcerer could be tiring of his human assistants and planning on replacing them with Æglor, created from the Fey he has trapped in a dark ritual requiring the still-beating heart of the Faerie King. So, if the players don't figure this out and stop it in time whenever I actually start running games again, then there will be hordes of these little guys running around the dungeon giving them problems.

I really like the image of these guys mobbing a room and the fighters, with multiple attacks against opponents with less than 1 HD, desperately knocking these guys harmlessly across the room only to watch them rebound and join the mad rush against the party again, occasionally with one occasionally disappearing but all of the characters too busy fighting the others off to notice exactly what happened or how to replicate it without a Wisdom check (so, "the little robed guy you just hit disappears into the air; everyone make a Wisdom check"). Yes, this is designed to scare and confuse players.

Also, once they figure this out, it makes for a great opportunity for them to use Zack's called shot mechanic. Over and over again. Which means that there will be lots and lots of fumbles.