Thursday, December 29, 2011

10 ways Carcosa will improve my game

So, apparently posts about Carcosa garner lots of attention, whether truly merited by their content or not. Here's a list of ways that I'll be cherry-picking from Carcosa to enrich my own campaign that I hope has more merit for attention than my last Carcosa post.

1. Psionics: Carcosa has a psionics system that could easily fit on one sheet of a legal pad. I'm going to give it a shot; I've never even seen psionics used in any game I've played in, so this will be a new experience. It should be interesting.

2. Mindflayers: Now that I have a psionics system that is easy and fun to work with, I can introduce mindflayers into my game setting. Anyone have suggestions of reading material I should use for inspiration (that is easily accessible)? The only thing I really have is a Type III (not III.V) Monster Manual. Any help on this would be appreciated.

3. A good foundation for a Barbarian class that is built around immunity to mechanics taking over your character instead of being built around mechanics taking over your character. I'll post a Barbarian class here when I figure the rest of the class out.

4. Really nasty NPCs: I've decided that Carcosan sorcerers in my setting will also be Magic Users. Why are they summoning nasty Old Ones? I've decided that, along with the standard reasons sorcerers summon Old Ones, many sorcerers are trying to destroy dragons, which are inspired by Pellatarum.

5. Endless motive for kidnapping: Strip the colors (or replace them with more standard D&D races), rape and details from the rituals in Carcosa and you have generic PG-13 rituals with a certain number of a certain kind of victims that can be transplanted into any setting. Have a strange number of members of one particular demographic recently disappeared? Before long, my players may immediately go into "sorcerer hunting mode" when they hear that.

6. Ray Guns: Carcosa has a great advanced technological weapons generator that is intended for Space Alien weaponry, but it works just as well for generating lost weapons from before the fall of ancient advanced civilization. D&D is, after all, post-apocalyptic.

7. Nasty Cthuloid entities: Pretty self-explanitory. I should point out that there's a very good set of 13 charts for generating more if ever I "use up" the ones that are included.

8. Making alignment mean something: When Cthuloid entities, Mindflayers (made possible by Carcosa), Shrooms and Dragons (those last two not from Carcosa at all), etc. exercise such control over the setting, Law and Chaos become not just ways of interpreting meaning, but two very different ways for humans and demi-humans to attempt to gain and keep independence. That means that alignment will, for the first time in my game, have concrete courses of action tied to them. (Yes, I realize that what I've described isn't the Carcosan alignment system, where Chaos means allegiance to the Old Ones; the Law-Chaos alignment spectrum I've described comes from thinking about the implications of cherry-picking elements of Carcosa and adding them to my game.)

9. The five lotuses: Each one, in powdered form, has drastic and dangerous effects on those who consume them. One creates non-undead zombies, so that's pretty cool.

10: Three new colors with which to freak my players out: I realize that Geoffrey didn't invent these, but how much on this list did he really invent? The great thing about Carcosa isn't so much that Geoffrey created a setting out of whole cloth but that he synthesized lots of ideas from Appendix N and other traditional D&D sources and then distilled them into fun, easy-to-adjudicate systems and a setting with its own very flavorful atmosphere.

Disclaimer: This is a quasi-review, so, consistent with my policy, I'll point out here that Geoffrey commented on my last post about Carcosa. I haven't had any contact with him other than that.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Gone 'til Thursday

I'll be off the grid until Thursday. I was almost done with a post about Carcosa (since the last one was probably more of a success than it really had a right to be, seeing as how it was pretty light on content), but I guess it will have to wait until then. It isn't exactly a review, but is a list of 10 ways Carcosa will improve my game. Cruel as it is to tease my audience so, you'll have to wait until later this week to read it.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Tuesday Trap #10

With the end of my semester and some free time on my hands for the next few weeks, I'm re-innaugurating my Tuesday Trap series. I don't know how long I'll be able to keep it up, but every post I do get out is a fun post for me to work on and hopefully you'll find it helpful in some way as well.

19: Restraints/Hazards
9: Triggered by Tripwire or Triggerwire
17: Slope/Slide

Description: In the middle of a long, very dusty hallway lies a skeleton, face-down; it's bones are picked clean and its only accessories are a rusting, dented helmet and a long, silver-plated dagger, bent and stuck in its ribs. The dagger looks like it could be dislodged from the ribs with perhaps a few minutes of effort and seems easy to repair; in reality, it will take at least a turn of hard effort to get it loose (PC should roll under both Dex and Str at end of turn to be successful - note that trap will have gone off long before the turn is up unless special action is taken by PCs). Attached to the sternum is a thin, very taught triggerwire that goes into the floor; if the skeleton's ribcage is dealt with in any way that disturbs it, the triggerwire will be pulled and the trap will activate.

When activated, most of the hallway – so long that no character could escape by standard means – will tilt, as it pivots on the mechanism below the floor where the skeleton rests. The side of the hallway that slopes down is weighted very heavily, so all but the most resourceful and heroic attempts to counter-weight it on the other side will be in vain. The hallway will slope from between 45 degrees to 60 degrees, at your option. The half of the hallway that ascends merely goes into a recess in the ceiling while the half that descends leads to a lower level.

Referees may decide whether the sloping hallway has been crafted smoothly or roughly. If the hallway is rough, each character will encounter 3d4 outcroppings from the ceiling, walls and floor of the chute on their way down. All characters may attempt to grab handholds or try to avoid them in a rough hallway; roll under Dex to avoid them and roll under Dex or use climbing skills to grab them. If characters fail to either grab or avoid handholds, they hit the handhold and it does 1d4 damage to the character. Only characters skilled in climbing (thieves or high skills in whatever system you use) may attempt to keep from sliding down a smooth sloping hallway. Characters who slide without breaking their fall, either by climbing at least a portion of the way or by hitting handholds, take as many d4s of damage as would usually be appropriate to take d6s of damage for falling the hallway's length. If characters grab onto the skeleton when they begin to slide, it falls apart in their hands.

At the referee's option, there may be a sub-level of some sort that may be reached by climbing to the top of the ascending side of the hallway. It should probably be a relatively safe spot, and possibly a treasure trove. It's up to the ref to decide whether there is more than one way in and out of this sub-level, though, or if anyone in the sub-level when the trap is reset is stuck…

Detection/Disarming: The seams of the sloping hallway have been carefully obscured; the end of the sloping section may be at the doors at the end of the hallway so that no obvious seam exists. Dwarves may notice that the stonework is somehow different if your system calls for that, even if the walls, ceiling and floor are of the same design, but that should not automatically translate into realizing that there is a trap. The walls, ceiling and floor of the hallway can be of any design because they are facades that conceal the humongous hollow rectangular prism that makes up the outside of the sloped hallway.

Careful examination of the skeleton's ribcage will reveal the triggerwire tied around the sternum; it can be cut easily, but whatever character attempts this must roll under their Dex to avoid activating the trap.

One clue the party should find strange is that the passage is extremely dusty; in order to keep the trap from being constantly triggered by vermin, this hallway barred to them in some way; this keeps scavenger monsters from ever cleaning this hallway.

The party may obtain access to the inner workings of the trap in a different part of the dungeon, where destroying this trap will be simple.

Designer: This trap functions as a one-way door to a lower level, employed by someone living in the dungeon who lives on the far end of the hallway on the first level and wishes to be generally left alone; the likeliest candidates for such an individual are Magic-Users. The trap will be well-maintained. It is reset with power from a waterwheel, most likely located in some underground river, and the reset is triggered by a simple pull of a lever in some location easily accessible to whomever maintains the trap. Whenever the trap is triggered a small signal, such as something similar to a mailbox flag, is also triggered in a place convenient for whomever maintains the trap.

Monday, December 19, 2011

20 Questions, Part 7: Strong Magic

The fourth question on Jeff's list is "Who is the mightiest wizard in the land?" The actual personality of the mightiest wizard is a matter for you to decide for your own setting (and keep in mind that an ambitious player of a Magic User will probably have the title of "mightiest wizard in the land" in his sights, so keep both the current title-holder's attitude about that and how your PC Magic User can achieve the title in mind), but there remains the question of what makes this wizard the mightiest in the land. Here are some ways that a wizard can be the most powerful wizard in your campaign.

Answer 1: This wizard is just the highest-level wizard around. She had the most raw talent and the best work ethic and is also pretty old; she'll be legendary not only for her power but also for the adventures she's been on and the feats and services for kingdoms she's accomplished. In a lot of ways, she'll be like Yoda. (To replace her, you'll need lots of hard work over lots of time.

Answer 2: This wizard possesses spells that no other wizard has, or at least more spells than any other wizard. This can be because your setting has different spells available to different wizards, based on who they apprentice with or where they study, or it can be because this wizard has researched and invented a bunch of new spells. (To replace this wizard, find a way, fair or not, to obtain or copy his spell book, or to amass even more spells than he has.

Answer 3: This wizard knows a powerful, non-standard type of magic that gives him access to a privileged spell list. In the Delos setting, Dragons have their own type of Dragon Magic with their own powerful spells. Dragons are loathe to teach them to non-Dragons and will do so only for the very best of reasons; some spells they will completely refuse to teach to non-Dragons. Somehow, through extraordinary service or guile, this wizard has obtained at least some Dragon spells and learned to cast Dragon magic; or perhaps this wizard is a Dragon! Another way to do this is to make other arcane classes, like illusionists or Arduin's Runeweavers, into prestige classes that this mightiest of wizards has taken, making their spell-lists available to him. (To replace this wizard, learn the secrets to this non-standard magic, either through apprenticeship, replicating this wizard's adventures or trickery.

Answer 4: This wizard knows many rituals that few wizards have even heard of and even fewer are willing to practice. The quickest way to do this is to let Magic Users perform Carcosa rituals on top of regular spells. (This kind of wizard won't be disposed to sharing or teaching, so stealing the spell book or killing the wizard are probably your best bets for replacing this wizard.

Answer 5: This wizard specializes in a weird sub-section of magic that is very powerful and esoteric. A good example would be the many prismatic walls in Arduin that take a long time to learn, take a good amount of time to erect and are very hard to dispel. (To replace this wizard, study under him, or go get your own weird sub-section of magic to specialize in; stealing his book will probably not result in much, as it won't make sense at all to a standard wizard.

Obviously, all of these can be combined with each other to make the "mightiest wizard in all the land" even more powerful.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Puppet-Master Machination Tables [Complete]

Somehow just buying the Carcosa PDF got me ready and rearing to play D&D again. I've been on a gaming hiatus for almost as long as my blog has been only half-active.

Weirdly, while thinking about my players killing sorcerers with wild abandon and no moral compunctions, my thoughts turned back to dragons, specifically the puppet-master dragons from Lurking Rhythmically I mentioned the last time I posted. I really liked the idea, but I didn't really see a good way to run them without plotting things out in advance… until I came up with this table. I realized after scrawling most of it down on scratch paper that the tables don't have to just be for puppet-master dragons; any puppet-masters you want in your campaign will work. I do really like the idea of them being dragons, however.

I should also note that this table isn't purporting to be part of Pellatarrum, Erin's setting in which the dragons she describes exist. The table is meant to be helpful in running puppet-masters of any race in any setting, but I use "dragons" because her dragons are what inspired these tables, "dragons" is easier to type and nicer to look at than "puppet-masters" and also because I plan on my puppet-masters being dragons.

First off, whenever the party kills something with 4HD (or whatever you think is appropriate), the party has a 10%, cumulative, chance to be noticed by a dragon. If noticed, the party has a 25% chance to be noticed by 1d4 more dragons as well. Note that the party continues to have a chance to be noticed by new dragons even after having been noticed in the past. Quit rolling for a chance to be noticed whenever all the dragons you feel like including in your setting have noticed the party.

Roll on the following chart whenever a new dragon notices the party. Note that the dragon directs all actions but is never, ever directly involved, and usually has 3d4 intermediaries between itself and whoever the party actually encounters.

Notice Table [d20]
1-4: Ignored… for now. Add 20% to the party's chance to be noticed.
5-7: The dragon attempts to get rid of the party by sending them someplace more dangerous than they should be able to handle. 25% chance that this is disguised as patronage and 1d4 cursed items (that manifest, at your discretion, when it will likely result in the party being killed instead of at first opportunity- these are really bad cursed items) are gifted to the party.
8-10: The dragon attempts to get rid of the party and give its minions practice at killing things by sending its minions to kill the party. Minions are the party's average level in HD, +/-3, with half/double the party's number per +/-, respectively. (Roll 1d6; 1=-3 average level and 8 times the party's number, 2=-2 & 4 times the party's number, 3=-1 & double the party's number, 4=+1 and half the party's number, 5=+2 and a quarter the party's number, 6=+3 and an eighth the party's number)
11-14: The party is employed on a short-term (not meant to be a suicide) mission while the dragon decides what to do with them. Add 20% to the party's chance to be noticed in the future.
15-18: The party is co-opted into the dragon's network through patronage by one of the dragon's minions, who becomes a source of gifts, missions and security through the minion's political and social connections and power. Roll on the co-option tables.
19-20: The party is co-opted into the dragon's schemes by framing some of the dragons enemies as having it out for or actually attacking the party. There is a 25% chance that, once the party is good and mad at the dragon's enemies, the party will be co-opted through patronage as well (see previous entry).

Co-option Strategy Table [d4]
1-3: The whole party is patronized
4: Roll for one party member, who is the one that is patronized. The whole party gets to go on missions, but the one party member selected gets all the gifts; occasionally the rest of the party gets gifts as rewards "for aiding" the patronized party member.

Co-option Goal Table [d12]
1-6: As long-term assets
7-10: As short-term, expendable assets (sent on missions that aren't quite suicidal and only given minor or expendable magic items as gifts)
11: As a way to make the party vulnerable and trusting so it is easier to get rid of them
12: As a way to make other minions jealous

Co-opting Minion Table [20]
1-2: Cleric
3-6: Magic-User
7-8: Fighter
9-11: Thief
12-14: Non-classed Noble or other powerful figure
15-18: Leader in dragon-aligned guild
19-20: Member of dragon-serving secret society

If the party refuses one of these attempts, roll again on the table and follow what it indicates. If the same result comes up, this represents a different minion assigned to try the same tactic. When co-opting, minions get 1+1d4 chances to successfully co-opt the party before re-rolling on the table.

If kobolds (or whatever creatures/minions you decide are somehow special to your puppet-master) are killed, the chance to be noticed is 100% and the only options are getting rid of by sending on a suicide mission (75% chance) and getting rid of by sending minions to kill (25% chance).

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Some Not-Terribly-Controversial Thoughts on Carcosa

So, I've had about 24 hours to peruse Carcosa amidst writing essays for finals and thinking up puppet-master tables. Here's some thoughts:

There's an encounter with barbarians in the module at the end of the book, which isn't terribly significant in the grand scheme of Carcosa, but here's two things I gleaned from it: the first is a concise way to get a feel for Carcosa. 30 purple barbarians riding bright red allosaurs and led by a red man wielding a pulse rifle, out hunting for those that worship or in any way interact with the Old Ones. If you need a one-sentence image to communicate Carcosa that doesn't dwell on the sex, torture and human sacrifice, that'll do it. I'll leave whether you want to do that up to you; since I'll never run Carcosa as-is, but will be cherry-picking from it, I don't see that I'll ever really need to give someone a mental image of Carcosa, but there it is. I suppose if you wanted to strip the vile aspects of Carcosan sorcery and then run Carcosa as-is, that would work.

The other thing I noticed is the mechanical descriptions of the barbarians: they have an attack bonus of a Fighter two levels higher than they are and they never have to check morale. A criticism I think is valid is that Barbarian classes usually involve mechanics like raging/berserking that take control of barbarian characters out of their players' hands. The mechanics in Carcosa got me thinking about taking the opposite tack: how about when every other character needs to make a save or have mechanics take over control of the character Barbarians don't need to worry? The obvious situation would be save vs. fear situations and when some big bad causes awe in its enemies that make them roll all their dice with negative modifiers. It's probably pushing it a bit far to make a Barbarian immune to things like Charm or Sleep, though.

One thing I don't get: Carcosan sorcery is really horrible, but what do the sorcerers do with the Old Ones once they've conjured and subjugated them to their will? I mean, what are the Old Ones good for? I suppose a sorcerer could turn them on a settlement, or maybe an alien base, to destroy it, and sorcerers can get information from them, but nothing in Carcosa that I've read so far indicates that the Old Ones know anything in particular besides details of sorcerous rituals. I suppose that a referee can have them know anything that a sorcerer would be interested in knowing, and sorcerers can find lots of uses for Old Ones if the ref/player wants them to (the "why have us do any more of our imagining for you?" argument); it's just that I'm having trouble believing that sorcerers would mess with the Old Ones without very compelling reasons to, seeing as how they're so dangerous and all, and how kidnapping, raping, torturing and killing other people's kids tends to lead to them wanting to hang your "carcass from a tree," to quote the desires of the barbarians mentioned above. Maybe I haven't read enough Lovecraft (though I haven't ever heard of any Lovecraft stories that involve subjugating Old Ones to a character's will- if you know of one, please let me know), but I can't think of many compelling reasons to do that in Carcosa, at least not off the top of my head; warfare is about the only thing that comes to mind, but Carcosan sorcerers are adventurers, not ranking members of villages, so that isn't totally satisfying. Ah, well, if the PCs stop and kill a sorcerer before he can complete his ritual or be interrogated, he almost doesn't even need a reason, now does he?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Finals Week Thoughts

Just got back from my first final; here's a few thoughts to bide you over until I can get a substantial post in:

I think a neglected facet of the Old School/New School difference is the degree to which character creation and mechanical development is a part of the game in the New School approach to things. In this style of play, actual roleplaying is, to some degree, just testing out and proving the way a character has been created. When you look at it this way, it starts to make sense why homebrewing and, especially, on-the-fly adjudication are anathema to this kind of player. If, to at least one degree or another, a significant part of the game is preparing a character mechanically for what the character will encounter then not knowing how different encounters and situations will be adjudicated must be immensely frustrating. That makes a lot of sense, I think.

In other news, I stumbled across this series (and parts 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 & 8) on dragons a week or two ago and have been forgetting to link to it. I've seen a lot of complaining (probably justified) about dragons being too wimpy and this interpretation of dragons as mastermind puppet-masters with non-human psychology is a great way to make dragons a real challenge again. The only downside is that the chances of a party getting to fight a dragon are pretty slim, but then that just makes victory all that more sweet, right?

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Guilds, Class Warfare and Alien Settings

Some quick thoughts as a follow-up to my recent post on guilds:

– I've been thinking more about the difference between hirelings and henchmen. Hirelings, despite the fact that they have been presented as having guilds, are not compatible with guilds because they only represent Labor, not Capital. Hirelings are wage-slaves, dependent upon a wage and usually unskilled, with no prospects for advancement.

– This leads to class warfare in well-run games. Things like Telecanter's Five Fingers and Joesky's unhappy hirelings table. This can be fun, especially when the dice tell you to have a hireling stab a PC or push them into lava, but players often have just as much a sense of humor about this sort of thing as employers do about their employees striking. Depending on what kind of game you want to run, you may want to offer another, less anachronistic and troublesome option, or you may want to totally replace hirelings with henchmen, especially when it comes to institutions. (That is, having a henchman could be a "thing" that people recognize, that allows legal inheritance, lets the henchman speak for the PC, etc., while hirelings could still happen, but would just be hired in an ad hoc way and wouldn't be anything special.)

– Dovetailing with this line of thinking, I assume that most readers are interested in ways to make their game settings seem "different" to their players. Things that make players feel like they are in a different world add to immersion and the escape that is a part of roleplaying. Guilds are something that is very foreign to most people raised in the West, so instituting some guilds that the PCs encounter would be very easy ways to communicate "this isn't the 21st century dressed up like a ren fair."

– A guild that would have a lot of contact with PCs would be a guild for adventurers. The guild would be a supplier of henchmen, who would basically be apprentices, but would have regulations against using hirelings, among other things. The guild would both jar the players from their assumptions and provide the benefits and restrictions that are what guilds are about. Adventurers guilds can be customized according to alignment, whether they are optional, whether the guild will be OK with adventurers opting out and whether the guild is particularly active in hatching and executing schemes or if it just takes care of the basics and doesn't involve itself in the plot.

– I should write up an adventurer's guild.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Twenty Questions, Part 6: Legendary Lost Treasure

Question #19 on Jeff's list is "Any legendary lost treasure I could be looking for?" This is largely a setting-specific question; each campaign can develop its own artefacts that come from the history of the setting. Let's deal more with the types of "legendary lost treasure" that could be lying around. Also, think about fragmenting some of your treasure, leaving pieces of one treasure in all sorts of different locations; only when all the pieces are brought together does the treasure work. This is, of course, a classic trope for high-fantasy, save-the-world type MacGuffins, but why not make that the case for your plot-neutral artefact too? Scattering an artefact in multiple pieces makes characters (and therefore players) have to work that much harder and have that many more adventures whether assembling the artefact saves the world or just lets the character fly or breath fire or swim in magma or whatever. It's the journey, not the destination, so why not make the journey three or four times as long?

Answer 1: MacGuffins. These types of treasure are basically flavored "plot coupons." They don't do anything for the PCs, but if the PCs can get their hands on the treasure, or get the treasure to some place, or do something with or to the treasure (possibly with a deadline), the events of the game will change in some way. Some Dark Lord will be destroyed, some guy will win the crown, something will be saved, something will be destroyed, etc.

Answer 2: Mechanically helpful artefacts. If this is "legendary lost treasure," make sure this is good if it's only going to give mechanical advantages. So far as the genre goes, swords seem to be the common item that falls into this and the next category, and even some in the first answer; that's probably because swords hold a special place in our romantic thinking because only nobles and the very rich had swords back in the day. Swords used to be so expensive that barely anyone owned one, so of course great legendary items were swords.

Answer 3: Roleplaying enhancing artefacts. These grant advantages to the wielder in ways better described with words than with plusses and minuses. Think Telecanter.

Answer 4: Riches. Maybe legendary treasure isn't an item in itself, but a hoard of ancient gold bullion or coin buried away someplace, or maybe just artefacts that are worth a lot of dough on either the general market or to a particular person. Either way, the main point of this treasure is increasing the amount of gold the PCs need to have taxed out of them.

Answer 5: Something relevant and helpful to a class other than a fighter. In a game set in Vance's Dying Earth, for example, the ancient pioneering magician Phandaal's lost spellbook would be a great legendary treasure (and, in fact, a lesser spell book and magic were the basis of a quest in one of Vance's stories). Just don't hand something like that to low-level characters; make their players work for it, seeing as it's the comprehensive collection of every single spell known by humans in the setting.

Answer 6: A surprise! The PCs think that the treasure is one of the types of treasure I've already listed, but in fact it's something else of similar magnitude. Usually this will be something bad, like unleashing an army of zombies/robots/recently-de-petrified-terrasques or a MacGuffin for the PC's enemies, or just a really bad cursed item, but it could also be something good, like, now what remains of the ancient robot army is under the PCs' command, or just a really good magic weapon they weren't expecting, or some-such like that.

Is there anything else that you can think of that legendary lost treasure can affect the PCs?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Why I don't use Clerics

For some reason I've been thinking more about Clerics lately, and why I don't use them. I thought I'd jot down my reasons. Feel free to comment.

Miracles and Levels: Probably my biggest beef with Clerics is that their God/gods will help them, but only so much. I don't see why, if it's the deity's power and not the Cleric's, the power should get stronger and more effective as the Cleric levels up, unless we've got a really fickle deity here. It seems like a deity would say "hey, there's this guy that's much more dedicated to me than the average person down there, and I usually help him out when he asks, so why not grant whatever it is that he's asking me, seeing as how it totally aligns with what I'm about?" If spells and turning undead are really just the power of the deity, why does this change as the character changes?

I realize that a lot of this thinking comes from my Christian background. While a lot of miracles in the Bible are the inspirations for D&D miracles, in the Bible miracles don't tend to get more amazing as the person they are associated with gets more experienced. Instead, miracles tend to meet the needs of the moment, demonstrate the unquestionable power and reality of God and also tend to be unique, as opposed to the reproducible formulae of D&D magic. Even in, say, Greek polytheism, though, miracles are questions of the god taking on the problem and aren't based on how "good" at something (or however we want to analogize levels to Greek myth) the character the miracle is done for is.

I also realize that there are mechanical reasons why this is the way D&D Clerics work. It just doesn't make sense to me so far as setting goes. Vancian magic and spell levels that go up as you level up just don't seem to fit the idea of a Cleric nearly so well as they fit the idea of Magic Users, in my opinion. Also, for mechanical reasons, having the Cleric able to get whatever miracle is asked for is out. For non-railroady reasons, making up my own miracles and making them happen whenever I see fit is also probably not a good idea, though it might be a possibility if it was done really well.

Undead: I don't use undead in my campaign, largely because it seems to me to make the divine in the setting inept. That is, why would a deity that doesn't want undead to exist need a mortal and a little piece of metal or wood to be present in order to keep something dead? I suppose that the undead might make sense if the setting's cosmology is strictly dualistic, with Good and Evil equally powerful, and I suppose the argument might be able to be made that much of D&D, especially AD&D and later, actually does have that dualistic cosmology, but I've no particular interest in running a game like that. Most people throughout history haven't held to a cosmology of Good vs. Evil, and especially not to an even match-up of Good vs. Evil, instead holding to the concrete personhood of whoever they worship and in that deity's dominion over however much of the world they believe their deity controlled. Good vs. Evil as THE story of the universe is a pretty rare way to look at the world, and one I'm not interested in, both because I don't believe in it and because I've seen some of the evil (yes, I do believe in good and evil, just not that they are THE lens to see the world through) that can occur when people do see the world that way and I don't want to encourage it.

Healing: This is really more of a mechanical disagreement than a question of me "getting" the Cleric. I don't like healing being the exclusive domain of any one class, mostly because I don't want either that class to be seen as a "healbot," nor do I want players to feel that one of them needs to be that particular class so that healing can occur. That's why I've let classes like Barbarians and Rangers in the past and Scoundrels in my current game be able to heal. It's also why I use the rule that minor healing can occur for every character immediately after a combat is over, by way of first aid. This doesn't exactly make the Cleric worthless, as Clerics could be just another class that has healing abilities, but it also makes them less special.

So, in conclusion, if I have a problem with divine magic being tiered with levels, the existence, as well as the turning, of undead, and have given healing to other classes as well, the Cleric ends up looking like a really pious Fighter who doesn't fight as well as the Fighter, so it doesn't make a lot of sense to include them in my games. I know this is a very minority opinion, though, and I am truly interested in comments from people who do like and use clerics.

Sunday, November 27, 2011


A while ago, Sully brought up the idea of using guilds in RPGs, and way back in January, Telecanter also did some thinking on guilds (the comments are especially worth reading for ideas). Including guilds in most FRPG settings is a good idea, as guilds were very common in the pre-Capitalist Europe that serves as the basis for most fantasy roleplaying. The problem is that guilds have mostly faded away in the last two or three hundred years of Capitalism, so most people aren't really sure how they work. As Sully says in his post, it's not unusual for the only guild players ever come in contact with to be the Thieves Guild, which has roots in Lankhmar, rather than medieval London or Paris.

Dove-tail this with my own real-life interest in a third-way economic system called Distributism which advocates a return to a guild system. I mention this not to turn this blog into a political soapbox, but to explain how I came upon this article. The article is worth a read, but I'll break down the main characteristics of guilds according to the article here so those who don't want to won't have to:
  • The goal of the guild is to maintain the livelihood of its members, so that guild members who work hard will be guaranteed to be able to make a living at their trade. 
  • Guilds receive charters from the State that gives them the legal authority to regulate their trade.
  • Anyone can join a guild, but they have to go through a process before they become members of the guild. This keeps the ranks of the guild from swelling to the point where there is too much supply.
  • No one who isn't a member of a guild may legally practice the guild's trade.
  • Rules are put in place that keep competition from driving hard-working guild members out of business. In practice, this means that certain forms of competition are not allowed. (Like doctors not being allowed to advertise, from the example in the article.)
  • Rules are also put in place to maintain the quality of the trade. From reading books on the Middle Ages when I was in middle school, I remember that wine guilds would ban watering down wine, for example.
The best example from Western Capitalist society today probably is the practice of medicine, with the various boards that certify doctors standing in the place of guilds, but basically filling the same function. I'll assume that if you want more information on non-gaming guilds, though, that you'll read the article, so I'll stop explaining here.

So how do we apply this to gaming? The obvious answer seems to be that guilds prevent PCs from running roughshod over other characters. That'll mean that, at least in a relatively settled or civilized area, like a city or town, characters don't get to just set up shop and run a business while they rest for a week between dungeon expeditions. Instead, if they want to engage in a trade, they'll have to join a guild and go through the apprenticeship process. The article I've cited says that guild membership has to be free to anyone who can pass muster, but if you want to make your setting more frustrating and corrupt your PCs may have to have connections or buy their way into an apprenticeship. I don't particularly like this, since it makes guilds frustrating to players, and I like guilds, but it's a possibility and so I mention it.

Another possibility is to have guilds employ the adventurers. Maybe they need the PCs to investigate a member who is suspected of breaking some guild rules. Maybe someone is practicing their trade outside of the guild but hasn't been shut down by the authorities yet and the guild wants the PCs to find out why. Maybe the guild is required by it's charter to do its own enforcement, so the PCs are hired to enforce compliance with guild rules. Maybe the guild has heard about some opportunity for trade or some location of raw materials for its trade and wants the PCs to investigate for them. Having guilds as patrons in this way, I think, adds flavor and makes guilds an integral part of the setting in the players' minds.

Another possibility is having the PCs be part of an adventurers' guild. Telecanter has already kind of started this with his Five Fingers, where hirelings have rules that protect themselves from wanton PCs, but also have to hold up their end of the five protections as well. This isn't exactly a guild, though, since there's a kind of management/labor split in the relationship, but it's close. If hirelings were apprentice adventurers and the PCs and their hirelings were part of the same guild, then we'd have a true guild situation. Another possibility is that each class gets its own guild, much like my Order of the Green Hand.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Potion Components

While I acquired a PDF of Judges Guild's Ready Ref Sheets from RPGNow a while back, I recently realized that dead-tree versions are for sale, in great condition, for three bucks, over here, so I bought two.

One of the entries I'm on the fence about using is the Wizard' Guide, which goes into how much it costs to make magic weapons, armor, wands, rings and potions from which it gives an algorithm to calculate how much an item can be bought for (100 gold x MU level x weeks it takes to make, all on top of the manufacturing costs). It does make potions more expensive than most other systems I've seen (a Vorpal Blade, in this system, costs 100 gold x MU level x 124 weeks + 36200 gold!), but still adds a "magic can be bought" flavor I'm interested in keeping out of my game as much as possible.

One thing it does have, though, that I find immensely inspiring and is the first thing from the Ready Ref Sheets that I incorporated into my game, is that the potions have a single major component that must be obtained along with the regular costs of potion distillation. This creates a great reason why apprentice magic users are out adventuring at low levels: their master wants to create such-and-such a potion and believes that the major component of that potion is available in whatever wilderness or dungeon the apprentice magic user has been sent. (In my game, magic users who are not involved in a guild or magic academy are apprentices to a higher level magic user until they reach fifth level.)

So, here's the list of potions and their major components. If you want to know how long it takes to distill a potion and how much it costs, seriously, go buy yourself a copy of the Ready Ref Sheets. It's well worth the $3 + shipping.

Potion: Component
Growth: Giant Centipede
Diminuation: Snake Eggs
Giant Strength: Hair of Giant Type
Invisibility: Phase Spider's Eye
Gaseous Form: Vampire Dust
Polymorph: Doppleganger Teeth
Speed: Roc Egg
Levitation: Stirge Proboscis
Flying: Pixie Dust
ESP: Owl Bear Feathers
Delusion: Wart Hog Snout
Healing: Aztheleas Plant
Longevity: Mastodon Tusk
Extra Healing: Unicorn Horn
Oil of Slipperiness: Giant Eel
Clairvoyance: Wolverines (plural?!)
Animal Control: Giant Skunk
Undead Control: Mummy Dust
Plant Control: Green Slime (!)
Human Control: Dryad Hair
Giant Control: Hair of Giant Type
Dragon Control: Horn of Dragon Type
Invulnerability: Giant Slug
Fire Resistance: Hell Hound Teeth
Treasure Finding: Beholder Eye
Heroism: (Blank, but I'm assuming it's Hydra Teeth like the next entry)
Super-Heroism: Hydra Teeth
Oil of Etherealness: Sea Monster Oil (apparently it doesn't matter what kind of Sea Monster?)
Water Breathing: Crocodile
Poison Antidote: Same as Poison (yep, the poisons all have components too- go buy this, seriously!)
Dust of Sneezing: Pepper Plant
Dust of Appearance: Displacer Beast Tentacles
Dust of Paralyzation: Purple Lotus
Dust of Sneezing and Choking: 2 Yellow Lotus (in light of the "2" specified here, it looks like it really is plural wolverines that are required for a potion of Clairvoyance)
Dust of Disappearance: Shredded Elven Cloak (!)
Philtre of Healing: Lammasu Feathers
Tanglefoot Nuts: Tanglefoot Plants (does anyone know what these are?)
Web Nuts: Giant Spider (are "nuts" just small items that you can throw down and they'll explode, releasing whatever their flavor is- tanglefoot goop or webs or something?)
Holy Water (apparently a potion that requires a week of distillation by a Magic User, unless one interprets this to be a "potion of Holy Water," in which case I have no idea what it's supposed to do better than Holy Water…): Patriarch Blessing (this makes Holy Water even more difficult to make than in Raggi's LotFP:WFRP!)
Salve of Healing: Rust Monster Claw (!)
Powder of Unconsciousness: Yellow Lotus
Dust of Death: Black Lotus

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Arduin Magic Domains

Typing up the Arduin Special Ability Charts and tweaking them for my own campaign (converting skills to my own skill system, replacing undead with fungus and so forth), I realized that the Magic User chart has a system of magic schools or categories, like many people have house-ruled and like D&D 3.x made a part of the magic system under the moniker "domains." Here it is. I may do something with this someday, but not now.

Fire and Light
Animation and Disanimation
Time and Gate
Sleep and Charm
Cold and Poison
Fear and Confusion
Teleport, Phase and Dimension Door

Is this a reasonable division of schools or domains of magic? Are there any spells you can think of that don't fit into one of these categories?

Thursday, November 3, 2011


So, I guess I'm back. Things are still kind of crazy, and my series are still on hold, but I think I can probably handle semi-regular posting. Today, along with seeing that Brendan at Untimately has done a very cool bit of OSR blogosphere archeology, linking to Sham's "D&D Cover to Cover" series, I saw that Noisms had a list of "Things Role Playing Bloggers Tend Not To Write About." I don't have a lot to say on any of the topics right now, but I figured I'd address them all with a few thoughts. Maybe they'll spark some conversation around the OSR, or maybe they'll percolate in my head for a while and I'll come up with a more substantial treatment of a few of them at a later date. Here goes:

  • Book Binding: I read somewhere about how great spiral-bound binding would work for RPG books, and I agree. I don't know how many times I've not been able to just lay a book down when running a game and not have to worry about keeping my place with a bookmark, or even just the book closing on me. If the pages are reinforced with plastic along the spine, that would also make this one of the most durable ways to bind a book.
  • Voices: I'm generally weak on the sensate aspects of running a game, but I do try. Kobolds have my attempt at "chirpy" voices. I think I'm slowly getting better at this, but I have a ways to go.
  • Breaks: When you're running a Skype game, like I do, there's not a lot you can do when your players want to take a break (read, you can't throw your d30 at them through the screen). They're usually pretty good about this, but we game over dinnertime, so there's usually a few short ad hoc breaks a session. We try to keep this to a minimum.
  • Description: Again, I'm pretty weak in this area, though I am putting effort into getting better. My stocking of my megadungeon with dungeon dressing is the latest step I've taken to get better at this, but my descriptions, I'd say, only rarely hit what you could really call "evocative."
  • Anti-social/Evil PC behavior: I ban evil PCs in my game, and my players generally aren't interested in playing horrible people either, so I generally let my players have free reign when they think their characters would do something they don't necessarily condone. It hasn't been much of a problem so far. FrDave's recent post on how horror is most horrific when you realize that you're the monster has actually got me thinking about ways to give my players opportunities to do things they'll later regret.
  • PC-on-PC violence: I've never had any in games I've run, besides one instance of attempted grappling (I don't remember specifics, but one character tried to grab another character who was jumping overhead, and missed quite badly). There's a general assumption that I'm not going to stop it if it happens, however. My very second roleplaying experience involved me being on the losing side of a PC-vs-PC fight where I'd struck the first blow. I didn't end up dying, but got pretty close, so I got what I deserved.
  • One of the ways I think RPGs are a positive good, rather than just a really fun hobby, is that it involves people sitting in a circle (usually) and telling a story; I see it as a way to get back in touch with oral tradition, a way to fight back against TV and video games, have real interaction and have shared stories again. Because of this, I tend to describe RPGs as a shared story, where the players control the protagonists and the referee controls the setting. If people don't "get it" after just a bit of explanation, I usually tell them that it's hard to explain but it's pretty easy to "get" if you play or see it played, and encourage them to join in a game.
  • My first experience with alcohol at the table was at a SoCal Minicon, when Brunomac of Temple of Demogorgon brought some of the fruit of his other hobby to the evening game he ran for us. I didn't really notice it having any affect on the game compared to the others I'd played in that day that hadn't had alcohol. More recently, one of my players has been drinking Mikes Hard Lemonade, which also hasn't seemed to affect anything that I've noticed. No one's getting drunk, or even tipsy, so, if anything, it's probably just helping him relax and hopefully take risks and be more creative, which is great when you're playing RPGs and aren't driving afterwards.
  • Absent PCs: Right now, when a player is absent, so is their PC. My campaign is North March-y enough that it can handle that. I've considered using Zak's table of things that happened to your PC while you were gone. Taking PCs along with the rest of the party and killing them, or letting other PCs take advantage of them, are right out.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Toys for Tots

So, ChicagoWiz's gaming blog is finally closing down. For those who are newer to the OSR blogosphere, ChicagoWiz was much more active in the past – I'd rank him among the "elders" of the OSR like Maliszewski and Rients – but, for various reasons, he's been much quieter of late. I'd like to write a long post about how much ChicagoWiz influenced my gaming and helped introduce me to the OSR, but when I suggested doing that on his blog he said that he'd be more comfortable if this was kept low key, and I'm going to honor that request.

One thing that he is OK with me doing, though, is talking about his Toys for Tots drive. Basically, the deal is that we donate money through PayPal, he goes out and buys toys for kids who might not get presents for Christmas otherwise, rides in a motorcycle parade where every motorcyclist brings toys to donate, and then gives the toys to Toys for Tots. His explanation for this year is here, his longer explanation from last year is here, the parade he'll ride in is here, the official "About Us" of Toys for Tots is here, and here's his post with pictures and a receipt from last year to prove that this is all legit.

If you've been influenced by ChicagoWiz's blogging, please donate as a "thank you" to him for what he's done for the OSR. If you're new enough on the scene not to be familiar with ChicagoWiz, go check out his blog; except for a few "best of" posts, they won't be up for long, so be sure you do so soon. Then, once you have an appreciation for what he's contributed, and how you've probably gotten some ideas or resources, please donate to his Toys for Tots drive. Please also post about ChicagoWiz's toy drive on your own blog or any other way you maintain a presence in the OSR blogosphere. Let's give ChicagoWiz the send-off he deserves with more toys than he can carry!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Back on Hiatus

Missing the Tuesday Trap for the second week in a row, with only a post I'd been saving for a while in between, tells me that I'm realistically too busy to keep this blog up right now. I'm not going anywhere; I'm just taking a break. When things calm down, I'll be back. Keep up the good work, everybody; I'll still be reading, and possibly commenting from time to time.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Fr Dave's Magic Missile

FrDave had this very fun interpretation of Magic Missile a while back. Here's a formal write-up of it that spells out what he interpreted, with some tweaking of my own.

Magic Missile
Level 1 Spell
Duration: Until Fired
Range: 15 meter increments as a ranged weapon

The caster creates a magical missile that conforms to the player's design, as well as a quiver to hold up to 20 of these missiles. When the caster fires a missile, whatever means to fire the missile is needed magically appears, disappearing when no longer needed. The missile is +1 to hit and does 1d6+1 damage.  The caster may fire as many missiles per round as the caster's level divided by three, rounded up (level 1-3: one missile/round, level 4-6: two missiles/round, level 7-9, three missiles/round, etc.) and may have as many quivers as the caster's level divided by three, rounded up (as many quivers as the number of missiles  a caster can fire in a combat round.)

In my game, ranged weapons all have a rate of fire between one and three times per round. An interesting observation is that this spell allows magic-users of 10th level and higher to fire their missiles at a rate higher than any mundane archer or other practitioner of ranged fighting.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

No Tuesday Trap Today

Sorry about that, but things have been busy. I hope to get one up before the week's out.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Sometimes Things Go Badly…

So, when you run a typical open-ended, sandbox, Old School game, you leave things up to chance and make sure that there's a real possibility of failure. The idea is that if failure isn't a possibility then success isn't real.

Sometimes it works out really well.

Other times, though, necessarily, it doesn't. Like tonight.

I think it really started during a character generation towards the beginning of the session. I've been having my players roll on Arduin's special ability charts, which are tables of 100 quirky adjustments to characters, one table for each general type of class. (Arduin, unlike my campaign, has a LOT of classes.) Anyway, this player rolled a result that gave his character +3 to saves against magic spells, but -4 to Charisma because the character is now arrogant.

And then this character (Shevasta) fires into melee a few times. And actually does more damage to the other PCs than the monsters do, critical hitting one character (Tamaren) and cutting open his throat with a crossbow bolt. Despite Shevasta and Tormick's best efforts, they were unable to save Tamaren, who died.

I attribute this to a few things. One is that I messed up the order of combat towards the beginning of the session, so that may have confused things some. Another is that this player hasn't been able to make it to our virtual table in probably more than a month, so, though he's been able to run and play in 3.5 games, he's probably out of practice so far as Old School games go. He was definitely kicking himself over what he made his character do. So far as the player goes, he's really sorry he did what he did.

His character, though- Shevasta- isn't. Remember that she'd been given extreme arrogance by the chart? Well, her player had her do some soul searching, hoping that reflecting on her reckless behavior and the death of a party member that she caused would temper her arrogance. Taking a cue from Pendragon, I ruled that if he rolled at or under her Wisdom score, then she could have 1 point of Charisma back, reflecting a change in her character.

Even this roll was failed, much to Shevasta's player's dismay. Shevasta's player did have her forfeit her share of the loot for the night, though.

I'm blessed to have mature players who are good friends with each other. We knew each other for a few years before we ever started gaming together. While Tormick (who also was a victim of Shevasta throwing a dagger into combat) is on the verge of killing Shevasta if she does anything reckless again, my players are still on good terms with each other. Tonight was an example of when a player honestly plays a character's personality rather than what he wants to do. I think that's actually a key to determining the acceptability of the excuse "that's what my character would do": if the player isn't happy with the character's actions, it's definitely legitimate roleplaying, rather than just trying to cause trouble. None of them were exactly thrilled with the results tonight, though.

Tonight, in many ways (except for getting a few dozen silver pieces) was the kind of failure that is possible in open-ended Old School games– the cost of this kind of giddy, spectacular success. That's OK, though, since failure is the risk we all knowingly took when we went into this session. Tonight's session will sweeten my players' later successes just that much more.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Foray into Dungeon Building, Part 10

On Tuesday I made this:

And today I made this:

These are Level 1, Area 5 and Level 1, Area 7 of my megadungeon.

These are the areas of my megadungeon my players are likely to explore tomorrow. I've begun stocking them, but there are quite a few rolls on tables left before they're totally ready. Fortunately, rolling on tables is almost all that's left.

The one other thing is my first placed encounter. These are the second important part of stocking a megadungeon, the first being randomly generated and placed encounters. I want this area of the first level to be inhabited by the Coeurl.

The first thing I'm going to do is have the Coeurl be an item on the wandering monster list for this area. If I roll a 1 on the chart, instead of using a Random Esoteric Creature, I'll use the Coeurl. Per Paladin's suggestion, the Coeurl won't attack, instead covering himself in darkness and telling the PCs about a monster that owes him somewhere a few levels down. What kind of monster? I'm not sure yet. I'll have to add figuring that out to the list of things I have to do between posting this and the game tomorrow.

Then I have to place the Coeurl's lair. I think I'll place him in room 6 of Area 7. He strikes me as the kind of character that would want multiple escape routes if attacked. That also means that the Coeurl's lair cuts off access to the right side of this area. I don't know what all of the implications of that will be, but it should be interesting.

I've also got some news to report on the "big ideas" front of the megadungeon. I woke up from a nap this last week with "the Mews of Methas" going through my head. I think my subconscious was probably trying to say "maws," but I looked up "mews" and found out that it means either a stables or a place where bats roost. Combining these two ideas, I figure one of the purposes of the dungeon (if not the original purpose) was to house the warbeasts of Methas, whoever that was. Three-headed, four-winged, genetically altered mammalian monsters sound pretty cool. I think I'll have them turned to stone. If the PCs can figure out how to un-stone and tame one, they could have a pretty sweet mount. I'm not sure if I want to have just one or a few left behind after the Mews was cleared out, or if I want it to be fully stocked. This will be quite deep, though, so I have a while to figure out the specifics. It's a good idea to start dropping hints as to the history of the Mews right now, though.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Tuesday Trap #9

Well, that was almost not Tuesday, wasn't it? (For some of you it will be Wednesday, but it's still Tuesday in California, so I'm good.) School's… making me really happy to have RPGs as a diversion right now. Anyway, per Simon Forster's request last week, today we have a trap in goblin territory, though any small humanoids will do the trick as well.

19: Restraints/Hazards
4: Latch/Switch Trigger
10: Ball Bearings

Description: In a room that is deep enough inside the goblin area of a dungeon for the party to believe it could be where they store their treasure there is a lever. The lever may have been built by the goblins or be a repurposed lever originally built by virtually any race. The lever is probably inscribed or labeled in Goblin by the goblins with something like "Don't Touch!" or "Ask Chief before getting some treasure!" or "Stay Out!"- anything to make the party suspect that the goblins access their treasure by using the lever. The lever has been rigged by the goblins to do two things when it is pulled: close all the doors to the room (which all open inward) and open a trapdoor in the ceiling. If any of the doors are blocked or unable to close, the lever cannot be pulled; if it is forced, the handle will break.

In the room that the trap door leads to is a large chamber filled with ball bearings that the goblins acquired from a source of your choosing; if your setting has steam-punk or Victorian leanings, they may have been stolen from an extant civilization, but otherwise the goblins likely found them or traded for them deeper down in the dungeon, as they are the remains of a lost and very advanced civilization, or else something magical. These ball bearings burst into the room, causing 2d6 damage to anyone standing underneath the trap door. (If you use minis and a mat, this is pretty straightforward; otherwise, give any character not pulling the lever a 1-in-8 chance to be standing under the trapdoor.)

The ball bearings fill the room to approximately armpit level on a human; the effect is such that small creatures can freely run about on top of the ball bearings, especially if they have large or webbed feet, while larger creatures sink and have a lot of trouble moving. Humans and elves have their movement rate slowed to as if they were as heavily encumbered as possible and are -4 on all their rolls. Due to the elevation difference and the lack of mobility, they are also -4 to their AC (if any players complain about this affecting elves, tell them this isn't snow in the wilderness, it's steel balls in the underworld, so if they want any magical exceptions because they're elves they can have 1d6 damage a round for exposure to ferrous metal). Dwarves are covered up entirely, but can still move around as if heavily encumbered, but must save against whatever you think is appropriate to keep from inhaling a ball bearing. Hobbits, halflings, goblins, kobolds and other small creatures that are in the room when the trap is triggered manage to get to the top of the ball bearings if they roll at or under their Dexterity score. They can move about as normal, but must continue to move in order not to sink into the bearings. If any of these small creatures don't manage to make it to the top of the bearings, they begin to be slowly crushed, taking 1d4 damage a turn.

The room that the ball bearings fall from is also connected to the other goblin dwellings by tunnels (that are set at 45 degree angles along the vertical axis to prevent the bearings from escaping down the tunnels). When they hear the trap triggered (and, really, half of a megadungeon would hear this trap triggered), they rush through these tunnels and down into the room with the party floundering in the bearings. What they do from there is up to the ref, but it will probably involve extortion or killing.

Detection/Disarming: Observant PCs will notice both the chains, cables or gears attached to the doors (to make sure they close when the lever is pulled) and the trap door in the ceiling. Since the trap door opens downward, it would make sense that it is triggered by the lever. Something that wants to close all doors and release a trap door in the ceiling is probably a trap. Goblins clearly labeling a lever as a way to get treasure may or may not be a clear sign that it is a trap, depending on how you run goblins in your game.

The chains or cables or gears that secure the doors may be destroyed, rendering the ball bearings much less dangerous if a door is kept open and the ball bearings roll out into the rest of the dungeon (all characters should roll at or under their Dexterity at -2 when walking among ball bearings or fall, though). Other than that, the party's best course of action is probably to avoid the trap altogether.

Designer: This trap is the result of goblin ingenuity, whether as a community (if you run savvy, clever goblins) or an exceptional goblin leader (if you generally run dumb goblins). They take great pleasure in the way this trap gives them an advantage over larger creatures in melee combat. When they are done with whatever triggered the trap, they will bag all of the bearings, take the bags up into the tunnels that lead to the room above, re-set the lever and trap door and pour the bearings into the room to prepare for next time.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

"Can't" vs. "Typically Won't": A Minor Semantic Quibble

One of the criticisms of Old School D&D, and all class-based RPGs, really, centers around how well class restrictions make sense. Why can't a thief carry a two-handed weapon, or a magic user use a short-sword or an axe? Will one of those characters really sit there and use nothing but their fists if they find themselves in a room with an orc, a restricted weapon and nothing else?

Another point that dovetails with this is how often monsters can use certain attacks; the classic example is dragons, which can only use their breath weapon every few rounds. That really clashes with my intuitive vision of dragons as not only capable of breathing limitless spouts of fire but as unpredictable in battle, at least from their enemies' points of view.  The last thing I want to be worrying about when running a battle with a dragon is having the dragon use it's breath weapon and a player exclaim, "OK, move in; he's got four rounds before he can breath fire again!"

I think both of these objections can be dealt with by characterizing the character or monster in terms of "typically won't" instead of "can't." Sure, just about anyone, including a pasty, thin, physically inept weakling, can use an axe in combat without even basic training, and it really isn't a stretch to think that someone who's trained to use a longsword will be able to use a two-handed sword effectively. An out-of-shape magic user who's spent his whole life indoors studying, though, won't know the finer points of using a bearded axe to get past an enemy's shield, and also won't usually want to lug a weapon that weighs a few pounds around on long trips underground or across the wilderness. A thief, by the same token, will want to carry smaller weapons, as much of her job will involve being agile and not having long lengths of steel poking this way and that as she scrambles up a wall or squeezes through a window. She'll naturally prefer shorter weapons to longer ones. Both classes can use restricted weapons (though, and this is an important point, I don't let classes using restricted weapons do any more damage with them than their class weapons do, nor do I let them pack them with the intention to using them at the outset of an expedition), but choose not to unless there is an emergency. Not being able to have your magic user include a battle axe in his pack isn't so much a matter of physical impossibility, but a matter of what your magic user wants; he doesn't want to carry the axe, even if you want him to.

In much the same way, I imagine dragons (and other monsters with restrictions on how often they can use overwhelming weapons) as able to use their breath weapons as often as they want, but choosing not to. Why? Maybe they want to take stock of the battle and can't keep an eye on all those PCs and henchmen scurrying about when flame is bursting forth from their mouths. Maybe they're terribly arrogant about these things. Maybe there's some factor that makes them not want to use their breath weapon; maybe it's painful, or each use takes a day off their lives or something. The point is that what I'm willing to play as what a dragon will (at least usually) do in combats that I run should be what dragons choose to do, not what they are only able to do. It strips dragons of their magic and terror, in my opinion.

And if I ever catch wind that a player thinks that dragons only breath fire every few rounds, you can bet that the first dragon the party meets will breath fire for the first three or four straight combat rounds.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Light thoughts on Tonight's Game

Ran a game tonight. Just two players, but I'm hoping for two more next week. We'll see what happens.

An idea that I got during the game from the chatter of my players: a pool that can imbue mundane items with magic. Like, say, you dip your crowbar in the pool and now it's a Crowbar of Returning. You can throw it in combat and it'll come back to you. (Also, roll under your Dex or it'll hit you in the face.) Or choose some other magic effect, make sure it isn't too useful, or that it can have drawbacks so the PCs won't dip absolutely everything in it, and put it in a lower level of your dungeon: instant fun thing for your players to mess with.

One of my player's magic-user elf character died tonight in a fight with giant centipedes. They only had 1-2 hit points and had poison that (if a save at +4 was failed) crippled for 1d4 rounds, but there were eight centipedes to two PCs. A fighter, with the ability to make another attack whenever an enemy with less than a full hit die is killed, would have been really helpful for them to have. Using flaming oil earlier would have helped too. The nice thing is that she's still interested in using a magic user, something that is new to my players, who haven't been interested in them until very lately. Magic users are probably my favorite class to play, so it's nice to see them played by my players, especially since it means that I get to see some of the thought I've put into magic users actually used in my games.

So far that means that I gave my player her choice of having her magic user be a member of the Order of the Green Hand, have gone to a magic academy or be apprenticed to a higher-level magic user. She chose to have her PC apprenticed, so I'm going to have to roll up a master for her her character. Cool.

I'm going to have to do some more mapping this next week, as my players have almost reached the end of my mapped territory. Having dungeon dressing, the results of just a few random rolls per room, really, really slows them down. Perhaps wandering monsters will teach them to speed up, but none of my rolls this session brought any wandering monsters there way. Oh well, there's always next time. If they'd gone any faster, they would have hit the end of what I've got mapped, so it all worked out for the best.

But, yeah, dungeon dressing is definitely a must for a megadungeon. It slows the party down and also gives them lots of things to use in the dungeon as tools. For example, the main entrance of the dungeon is guarded by a bunch of kobolds that charge a toll of any who enter and one PC tried to get on their good side by giving them some mice that he found in the dungeon. The PCs are also deathly afraid of a mirror I left out in the middle of one of the rooms. It's mundane and harmless, but they're so afraid of cursed items (after one character went for maybe a month with Buck's Hat of Misery on her head last year) that, though they added it to their inventory, both of them took pains not to look in the mirror. Lots of fun.

And that's what roleplaying's about: fun with friends.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Tuesday Trap #8

I realize this is early, but last time I scheduled a post with this new Blogger setup it didn't post on time, so I figure I'll give them another week to work the kinks out before giving it a try. This trap write-up is longer than I'd like for such a simple trap; I'm not sure whether that's just because I'm tired or not. Oh well.

6: Ranged Attack
16: Magical Proximity Trigger
18: Spear
12: THAC0 14 (+6 to hit)
5: 1d8 Damage

Description: Over the entrance to Kobold territory in a dungeon, there is set a small sapphire surrounded by 10 oval holes that are about 4 centimeters across at their narrowest. When any non-Kobold approaches within a meter or so of the entrance, a spear (+6 to hit, 1d8 dmg) shoots out of one of the ovals (which are really cylindrical shafts for the spears, but are tilted down to hit targets below them). Each of the 10 shafts contains a spear, so the trap will fire again and again as more non-kobolds come within range. Unless a victim moves quickly, more spears will fire. When Kobolds are within 20 meters (the room this trap is found in) the trap does not activate. Kobolds periodically check on the trap, resetting it by feeding spears back into the ovals and cranking the sapphire with a special tool to keep the energy level up.

Detection: Kobolds are an enthusiastic lot, so, out of excitement and a desire to be emphatic, rather than any real malice, they have filled this room with all sorts of warnings against going any further and trespassing into their territory; this includes banners, signs, graffiti, heads and bodies of previous trespassers impaled on spikes or hung from the ceiling, etc. The comparatively small and subtle trap, then, should not be automatically announced to players who do not state that they examine the exit of this room that leads to Kobold territory, as those who do not specifically examine this doorway will miss the sapphire and holes amid the gaudy, over-the-top, harmless dressing of the room. A merciful referee may allow a passive check or saving throw to notice the trap before it goes off. Spells such as Detect Magic will find this trap with no problem.

Disarming: Once detected, this trap may be smashed to pieces or Dispel Magic may be cast upon it. Magic holds the spears in place, so if the trap is in any way destroyed to the degree that the magic fails, the spears will slide out; they are no longer magically aimed and propelled, so they now attack at +0 and do only 1d4 damage. There are, however, 10 of them unless some have already been fired. Clogging the holes, capturing a kobold to be on hand and removing all the spears are other possible means to bypass or disarm the trap. Stolen spears will be replaced by the Kobolds the next time they check the trap. If removed, the sapphire is worth 300 gp.

Designer: This trap is both uncharacteristic of the enthusiastic nature of Kobolds and beyond this tribe's capabilities. A captured magic-user bought his freedom by creating this trap for his captors and teaching them how to maintain it.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Extant Religions in RPGs

A few days ago I posted about using made-up religions in RPGs, and I created a set of tables to generate these made-up religions. I mentioned in passing that using real religions was something I thought was cool, but didn't give it much more mention.

There were two reasons for that. The first is that I try (often unsuccessfully) to keep my blog posts unified and not excessively long. The other reason is that, while I know more than most people about a lot of religions, I don't know much at all about using real religions in RPGs. I've never done it and never seen it done.

I know that some other bloggers out there use real religions in their games. FrDave is the classic example. I was surprised and interested to see that one of the first characters Rob Conley ran the Wilderlands for was a Christian. Antion commented on my religion post that one of his clerics follows a real life religion. Of course, the inspiration for this series, Jeff Rients, is currently running a campaign with clerics who follow extant religions as well. There are probably more of you that are reading this that also run games with extant religions.

I'm wondering if you could talk about what that's like. Is that really different in any way from running games with made-up religions? Do you have a mix of real and made up religions in your game, or only extant ones? Do you make an effort to be at least basically accurate in your portrayal of these real religions?

Also, does anyone at your table follow any of the religions in your game? Does that complicate things? How do you deal with the differences between the actual religions and the way Clerics work in D&D? One of my biggest hesitations in using real religions is that I can't think of any extant religion that offers power, but only a certain level of power until you reach the next level the way D&D works… instead, most religions that offer supernatural power usually will teach that the power will meet the problem, not the person who is the channel of that power. I'm especially thinking of Christianity here, but it's true about every other religion that comes to mind. Anyway, do you, and how do you, deal with that?

You can answer in the comments if you want, but many answers will probably be too long for the comments. If you answer this with a blog post and let me know about it (or I see it on my own) I'll add a link to your post to this post. Thanks!

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Megadungeon is a Go!

So, my two most regular players lost their character sheets in the move to their new house and still haven't been able to find them. Last time we tried Risus out, but this time we rolled up some new characters for them.

Quite quickly, one of them started complaining about his attributes. I use 3d6 down the line. In the past, I've allowed re-rolls of attributes when the sum of the modifiers is less than 0. This time, though, I remembered this.

I had him make up his own attribute scores. Then his wife wanted to do that as well.

Here's the attribute scores he decided on: 18 13 13 9 3 4

And here's her's: 10 13 10 16 8 13

Wow, that didn't break the game, even when you let a player with very gamist tendencies do it!

The way he put it, "It's no fun to play a character that's good at everything."

No arguments here. Thank you, Jeff Rients.

We actually spent about three hours doing character generation, mostly because we took our time. I also had them roll on charts for their background from Monsterous Civilizations of Delos and the special abilities chart from Arduin. Those worked as well as I hoped they would and added some nice flavor. Once I've tweaked and worked and changed them to the point where I feel sharing them wouldn't be a copyright violation, I'll do so; in the meantime, both books are for sale…

Then, since we only had an hour left, I decided to run them through the start of my megadungeon. I only have 18 rooms done(or mostly done) right now, but I figured they wouldn't get too far. I was right; they only went into three rooms and only had one combat, with a Saucer Fungi. They interacted a lot with the dungeon dressing. If I had been using my wondering monster tables, they would have had quite a few rolls on those, but it was interesting to see them take every random piece of debris I had lying in a corner of a room (or the middle of the room) seriously.

This is also motivation for me to get cracking on expanding my megadungeon! There needs to be more ready for them by next week! So hopefully you'll see some more megadungeon posts around these parts soon.

Also, I have some kobolds that guard the main entrance to the dungeon and charge a toll. It was fun to see one player irked at having to hand over a silver to the kobolds. He expressed a desire to fight them, though he knew he was too weak and outnumbered right now. This should be interesting, as the kobolds are one of the most powerful factions in the megadungeon as I plan it, so getting on their bad side can make life very, very interesting.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

"But I don't Wanna Prepare Meteor Swarm!"

So, say you're running Grimpa the 20th level magic user. Grimpa's high up on the totem pole of the Order of the Green Hand, so it's her turn to help make a Wand of Magic Missile (we'll be using LotFP:WFRP rules for this exercise). The wand needs 99 charges; that means that Magic Missile needs to be cast into the wand 99 times, all at once. Grimpa, though, only has eight 1st level spell slots. We've got a problem. Either she's is going to need a whole lot of scrolls, which take a long, long time to make (and are expensive!), or she's going to need 12 other 20th level magic users to help her out.

Or does she? She's not going adventuring today. Her colleague Melmok, who has the unfortunate propensity to accidentally open gates to The Place Where Large Things That Kill You Live, is gone for the month. Her plans for the day include some pleasure reading, checking the library to see whether any lower level Guild members need any help and eating out with a couple friends. There's really not a need for any other spells. What about Grimpa's 37 other spell slots? Could she use those?

Which brings up a good question: can magic users fill spell slots with lower level spells?

I'm thinking of three pretty good answers for this.

1) No. That's not the way Vancian magic works. Everything has to fit exactly. You can't put a 9mm bullet in a .45 chamber and expect it to fire, can you? Don't complain, you get to break the laws of the universe every day while your buddy Thog over there only gets to bash skulls.

2) Sure, why not? Fill your spell slots with any spell that is of the appropriate level or lower. If you really want to cast Magic Missile a few more times instead of Web or Knock, what's that going to hurt? Now Grimpa only needs two colleagues to help her make the wand.

3) Yes. Also, you can cast more spells if they are lower level than your spell slots. You can fill a spell slot with 1.5 spells that are one level lower, 2 spells that are two levels lower, 2.5 spells that are three levels lower and so on. So Grimpa can cast three Magic Misiles with two 2nd level spell slots, two Magic Missiles with one 3rd level spell slot, five Magic Missiles with two 4th level spell slots and so forth. With this system, Grimna can cast her 99 Magic Missiles and doesn't need anyone's help in making her wand. She can even cast the Permanency spell that's also necessary for making the wand; all told, she could prepare 114 Magic Missiles if she wanted to.

What do you think? Is there another good answer to this question? I personally like the third answer the best. I doubt this kind of thing would be used by PCs very often, but I'd be interested to see whether they would in fact use this at all. It feels like this would open the door up for more creative spell use, but is it too lenient?

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Twenty Questions, Part 5: Religion

Question 1 is "what's the deal with my cleric's religion?" There are a LOT of possibilities. Instead of going through them all, I created this set of tables to allow the quick creation of new religions for roleplaying games; it's not comprehensive, either in the possibilities for roleplaying or in covering all religions in real life. I should point out that using a real religion for your cleric is another possibility that is probably under-utilized and opens up all sorts of interesting possibilities we won't get into today.

A fun twist to put in your campaign setting would be having your players' clerics' religions be wrong about the the cosmology of the universe; if the clerics discover this, it could make for very, very interesting higher-level play as the clerics decide what to do with this information.

Who are the gods? Roll 1d8:
1: Atheist- there are no gods. There's still divine magic, but why is up to you.
2: Monotheist- there is one God, who usually created everything and runs the whole show.
3: Henotheist- there are many gods, but worshipers only worship one particular god; the default in vanilla D&D.
4: Polytheist- there are many gods and worshipers worship all or many of them. Clerics and priests would normally be dedicated to just one god, though that wouldn't stop them from worshiping other gods when expedient.
5: Ancestor Worship- the gods are dead ancestors and care about what goes on with their living families.
6: Animism- demi-gods or petty gods are everywhere. Every action and object has a demi-god that is in charge of it.
7: The Force- presumably self-explanatory. If your players aren't familiar with the Force, watch Star Wars instead of gaming for the next few sessions. Midichlorians optional.
8: Roll 1d4 times on this table and combine the results.

Who can join this religion? Roll 1d4:
1: Exclusive- this religion won't take converts; it's for the chosen few (race, class, being born into the religion, having a birthmark, etc.)
2: Esoteric- this religion will technically take converts, but they don't advertise and conversion requires a lot of work (and possibly gold). There may be secret knowledge learned only after levels are attained or at the feet of a guru.
3: Friendly- this religion doesn't place an emphasis on conversion, but converts are very welcome. Some individuals will proselytize with varying degrees of insistance.
4: Evangelistic- this religion actively seeks converts and all members are responsible to share their faith. Forced conversions may or may not be seen as legitimate.

How are the gods inclined? Roll 1d6:
1: Omnibenevolent- the god(s) of this religion are always loving and working for the good of their worshipers/the universe. Note that they may cause difficult circumstances "so they can grow."
2: Loving- the god(s) love their worshipers/the universe, but can be angered by betrayal, apostasy and evil, which they will punish.
3: Temperamental- the god(s) will generally be good to their worshipers as long as the worshipers fulfill every one of their obligations to the god(s); if they don't, bad things (spell denial, etc.) will happen.
4: Moody- even if worshipers do everything they are supposed to, the god(s) may not be in the mood to grant them favor today…
5: Apathetic- the god(s) don't really care what happens to mortals; the interest they take is strictly for entertainment. Note that they may meddle to make mortals' lives more entertaining.
6: Malevolent- the god(s) aren't very nice. Worship is generally to placate them and keep them from killing everybody. At its most extreme, we're talking Cthulhu and his ilk.

What is the moral code? Roll 1d6:
1: Amoral- this religion cares about transactional things like sacrifices and a good harvest, instead of any kind of moral code.
2: Laissez Faire- this religion teaches a moral code, but each person is only supposed to care about how well they as individuals follow the code.
3: Helpful- a moral code is seen as a helpful way to live the good life, so tenets of morality are regularly shared with those one cares about, but it's up to them to take the advice.
4: Societal- this religion cares about the health of society and teaches its moral code as a means of achieving or preserving a healthy society. Moral degeneration is seen as the precursor to the downfall of society.
5: Pushy- members of this religion try to force everyone, even non-believers, to adhere to their moral code because they fervently believe that that's the way it's supposed to be.
6: Roll again 1d4 times; there are different factions or streams of thought on morality in this religion.

How is worship done? Roll 1d6:
1: Sacrifice- the main act of worship is giving material possessions to the god(s), often by destroying them or donating them to a temple.
2: Service- the main act of worship is meeting the needs of either other worshipers or anyone in need; these can be physical, spiritual or both.
3: Praise- the main act of worship is corporate ceremonies where the qualities and/or actions of the god(s) are extolled.
4: Study- the main act of worship is to study the sacred texts and grow in understanding of the religion.
5: Mystic Communion- the main act of worship is individual communion with the god(s), usually while alone.
6: Ritual/Ceremony- the main act of worship is to perform defined tasks that please, placate, support or imitate the divine. (Thanks to Antion for contributing this.)
7: Public Devotion- the main act of worship is some public act; possibilities include telling a ruler off for abandoning the faith, acting out metaphors to get a point across to the apostate masses, self-flagellation or other public repentance activity, taking part in a regular parade for the divine (probably with some representation of the divine housed in a palanquin that they carry), etc. (Thanks to Antion for indirectly suggesting this.)
8: Roll again 1d4 times. This religion has more than one major act of worship.

What level of religious involvement is required of those who follow this religion? Roll 1d4:
1: Assent- this religion doesn't get involved in life much; members just kind of know there are gods that they occasionally worship.
2: Regular- worshipers regularly go to sacred places to perform worship, but other than that the religion doesn't affect their lives that much.
3: Worldview- the worshipers view of life is fundamentally shaped by their religion and it affects many of their choices, but they can easily be confused for someone who doesn't share their religion.
4: Lifestyle- this religion affects all areas of life and worshipers always wear articles of clothing or jewelry and perform rituals or prayers that make it obvious to all that they are members of this religion.

What spheres of influence does this god rule over? Roll 1d4:
1: All- this god reigns over all parts of the universe.
2: Many- this god is responsible for many aspects of life or areas of control.
3: One- this god has one sphere of influence.
4: None- this god has power, but isn't associated with any one part of life or realm in particular.

As an example, I just rolled up a religion that is monotheistic and has an apathetic god that doesn't exercise control over anything in particular, but whose worshipers are an exclusive group that pushes their morality on everyone, practices service to others as their primary mode of worship and wears religious clothing and perform rituals and prayers throughout each day. It sounds like one way that believers in Crom might react to his apathy: "if Crom won't help us, we'll help ourselves and each other." They probably got their stereotypical paladin attitude from the fact that others not buying into their religion and moral code could destroy an entire village in the unforgiving environment where this religion was founded. Their moral code probably revolves around helping others and keeping the impact of one's actions on others in mind when making decisions; their dress is probably mountain dress, even if they've migrated to another, more hospitable place (moving to an unfamiliar place filled with people you don't understand can be an impetus for intolerant, emotional and judgmental religious fervor). Their rituals might include asking everyone they meet if they need a place to stay for the night or if they need a meal or other need. You get the idea.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Tuesday Trap #7

We're going to try a little experiment today. I'm getting rid of the six short entries at the front of these trap stat blocks and adding a third longer entry at the end. Also, I'm going to try to take more liberties with adding to traps from here on out. "Inspiration, not dictation" is a great motto for these traps; otherwise you can just roll them up yourself. This trap is intended to be something that can be used in battle, both against or by the PCs, though the latter will be pretty risky.

15: Magical Devices
1: Latch/Switch Trigger
8: Curse

Description: On a wall is a lever in the "up" position. On the end of the handle of the lever is a symbol; it shows a flask being poured out inside a shield design. If the lever is pulled, randomly select a character in the room that is NOT touching the lever; that character is cursed and their prime attribute (or, at your option, a random attribute) is dropped to 3 until the curse is removed. The lever gains energy from the drained attribute and resets itself with that energy, moving bace to the "up" position. The area around the lever (~5 foot radius from lever) is bathed in a sickly blue, occasionally flickering, obviously unnatural light; the source of this light is a small panel in the ceiling. Taking inspiration from here, the blue light prevents any character with a Strength score over 9 to enter the area it bathes.

Detection/Disarming: The lever is easy to see, and a Detect Magic spell will clearly show that it is magical. The symbol on the lever is difficult to understand, but clever players may deduce that the lever is intended for defense (the shield) by draining or pouring out (the flask being poured out) something of the target (the ability score). Dispel Magic or physical violence are effective ways to destroy the trap, but give the PCs a 75% chance to knock the lever down, triggering the trap again, if they do not specifically state precautions the PCs take to avoid this; also, note that a PC that, say, clubs the lever down is vulnerable to the curse, since that PC is not touching the lever. The panel emitting the blue light is also powered by the drained ability scores. If the lever is destroyed, the panel will cease to emit light. If removed, the panel could fetch a good price from the right buyer.

Designer: This trap was placed by a magic-user of some sort who was afraid of being attacked. The idea was that, if he was attacked, he would flee to this room and pull the lever as much as he could, weakening his attackers, all while being protected from most fighters by the blue light. He'd then finish them off in more normal ways. This magic-user could still be around or he might be long gone. If he's gone, the trap may seem random and disjointed from the nearby occupants and rooms; newer residents may or may not be smart enough to use this trap in violent encounters with the PCs.