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?