24 August 2016

Violence 2: The Hungry

I want to talk more about creatures. 

I like to organize my creatures in a sort of nested category of beings. Each category says something about what these creatures are trying to do, and how they like to do it.

Since the game is still essentially a response to Dungeons and Dragons, monsters are very antagonistic. Since I haven't developed much of the social side of things, monsters tend to be a little bloodthirsty. I plan on having that change when I've got a little bit more done with social interaction.

Regardless, monsters come in one of several categories. At the moment, I've got:

The Hungry: Monsters that exist merely to feed.
The Inscrutable: Mysterious monsters that have sort of oblique aims.
The Guardian: Leave alive, or stay and die to their hands.
The Brutal: Classic expansionist races that seek to exterminate rivals.

These encompass your classic monster types, with a little room for different "flavors" of being. I prefer my trolls hungry and my dragons greedy, so that's how I've written them.

Speaking of Trolls, here's how I've got them written up right now:

Trolls just want to eat. If there's something else to eat, they'll stop and do that, using their Troll Jaw to attack until they're sated, then leaving. Trolls do not speak.
Level: 4
100M, 100B, 40S, 70R
Troll Claw- melee, +4SB, 20M damage, bleed 3.
Troll Jaw- melee, +2SB, 40M damage, 20B damage.
Trolls gain five times the healing from Regeneration, and gain Regeneration 1 every time they take damage.
Trolls apply fire damage directly to Bone and Resolve. Trolls have a Stomach. A Stomach can hold 120 Meat and 60 Bone. Every time a Troll deals damage with its natural attacks, it gains that many points in its Stomach. Every time a Troll recovers health from its Regeneration, it loses that many points from its Stomach. When a Troll's Stomach is full, it has -2d SB and +2d Protection. A troll can empty a full Stomach if it dedicates a full turn to doing so.
So trolls are dangerous opponents, but they just want to eat. Every time they attack, they're shoving the shredded meat and organs into their gullets. When their stomachs are full, they're slow but even harder to kill. A troll with a full stomach that thinks it can still win might expel its stomach and continue fighting. It has to stand around to do so, though, so it will probably retreat somewhere safe, and then get itself back into fighting shape. A fight with a Troll thus has a certain sort of cadence to it, and it might not bother to return to a battle after its stomach is full. A starving troll is desperate and dangerous.

Here's another sort of Hungry monster that's even more dangerous: The Hag.

Hags want to eat you, but they're not stupid. They will use their shapeshifting powers to get your guard down, and then kill you when you're not looking. They are always ravenously hungry, and thus impatient.
Level: 6
100M, 50B, 70S, 100R
Evil Eye- ranged, +7SB, 15S damage
Sharp Claws- melee, +5SB, 20S damage, bleed 3. 
Hags pretend to be friendly and, using their high spirit, often convince passers-by to let their guard down. Common attempts include wounded traveler, convenient resting spot, traveling salesperson, or brigand slaver. A Hag that has a single target on its own will drop its disguise and use Evil Eye until the target submits to the will of the Hag, which usually means being eaten one way or the other. Hags speak whatever language is most common in the area, but typically know an additional language or two. 

I haven't decided how a Hag's shapeshifting works, but the idea is that it pretends to be a normal friendly sentient being (of whatever stripe makes sense to your campaign) until it can drain your Spirit. Without Spirit, a being can't fight. The Hag would much rather have an opponent stand there and die than resist. This also means that it's formidable as a leader, since it can use its Evil Eye from across a battlefield if it wants to, and with its high Strike Bonus it means that its opponents will be trying to hide from the Hag whenever possible.

You can see, if you've read the other post, how monsters interact with one another. Two Hags work in tandem to wear down their enemies, for example, or a Hag and a Troll might get along as long as the Troll is hungry. Orc Braves would love to work alongside a Troll (whose heavy damage and durability allows the Orcs to use their bows from relative safety).

So, as written, Hungry creatures are great wilderness encounters, since they're dangerous on their own sake. They don't really need a reason to be somewhere- they're obviously looking for food. They are likely to ambush a party during travel or resting periods, making them even more dangerous. In a GM's toolbox, they represent a hidden danger and a very direct threat. Hungry creatures make for exciting moments where the players have to survive the onslaught.

Guardians, on the other hand, will rarely surprise players. They're the next topic I'd like to discuss.

20 August 2016

OGRE DUST: Violence

I've got a calender over my computer desk, and every day, I mark it off with a slash. It's never a set time, it's always when I think about it. Since I like being on my computer when I'm home, it's usually about an hour into my free time that I mark it off.

I haven't marked off a single day in two weeks. That's how it's been around here.


Anyways, I wrote a sort of skirmish minigame that functions as the core of a bigger roleplaying system I'm working out in my very limited free time. (1)

It's pretty simple. Each player has a single character they've made beforehand. Player and GM roles are basically standard D&D stuff. Your characters have four attributes- Meat, Bone, Spirit, and Resolve. Meat plays the role of hit points- you lose them in fairly standard D&D ways, and gain them back after a night's rest. Bone points are long-term health- you only take bone damage when you're out of meat points (usually) and they recover at a rate of one/week. When you're out of Meat points you're on your last legs, and when you're out of Bone points, you're dead.

Spirit and Resolve function similarly, except they're for mental health. You lose Spirit by taking physical damage, plus by some special spirit-only attacks. Fear is modeled with Spirit, and so is exhaustion. When you're out of Spirit, you can start to lose Resolve. When you're out of Resolve, you can die very easily. You can skirt along on low (or negative) Resolve for as long as you want, but you're very vulnerable.

22 May 2016

Shadow of the Demon Lord: The Flagellant Penitent

I know this isn't the right one but listen, I like this demon lord
I'm currently gathering players for Shadow of the Demon Lord. If there's any chance you haven't heard of it, it's what you'd get if you took 20+ years of D&D experience, a heavy Warhammer Fantasy influence, and then made a game out of it. If I sound impressed, that's because I am. Only time will tell, but reading it makes me wonder how somebody got inside of my skull and wrote down exactly what I wanted.

Anyways, the best way to learn a system is to generate a character and then look at how you're supposed to build adventures, so here we go.

Creating a Character

Choosing a Race

Since I'm a boring kind of person, I'm going to pick Human. There are pretty good race options, and each is distinct. Humans, as usual, are sort of generic. At level 4 get either a spell or the ability to be lucky once in a while. Changelings are vulnerable to iron, can see in the dark and can steal identities. At level 4 they can steal identities and freak people out in combat.Clockwork are golems, sort of, and occasionally break and turn back into objects (so they need somebody to hang around and restart them periodically). Dwarves are short, can see in the dark, hate a certain type of creature, and are resistant to poison. Goblins are folklore forest fairies and are super sneaky and vulnerable to iron. Orcs are a tough, recently emancipated slave race.

Everybody knows Humans are the best, so I write down my stats. I don't know what I want my human attribute bonus to be, so I save it for later.

Random Tables

I roll a couple times on the handful of tables (each race has one) and determine that my human once foiled a plot to kill someone important or brought a killer to justice. I don't know what to do with that yet so I keep rolling:

My human puts the interests of himself and his friends above all else. A typical roll gets a typical human result. He belongs to the Cult of the New God, whatever that is. I don't know if this is a powered by the apocalypse style prompt (where I fill in a new cult and add details later as they come up) or if this is part of the built-in setting. Either way, tells me little.

The human is a young adult, 18-35. Ok, fine. He's also a bit overweight, which is kind of interesting, I guess. He's also perfectly average in appearance, which is fine.

Rolling for Professions

Since I'm a human I either get one more profession or can speak one more language. I'm going with professions, because that sounds useful. So I get three! Professions can grant you a boon (xd6, keep the highest, cancel banes) or they can grant you an automatic success, depending on the situation. It's pretty flexible, and I like seeing these sorts of systems in game.

My human spent time in a Religious profession- a flagellant! So he's got a masochistic streak, as well as something to feel sorry about. Next, he was a miner? And then a historian? That's a pretty long life for a young man, but rearranging it, I can think of a couple ways to spin this.

Path one is very grim- He grew up in a hard, sparse town as a miner. One day he uncovered something in the deep dark earth that ought not have been released. Through his actions, he managed to save the life of the unearthed evil- and being a common miner, it's not like he has the means to stop it. Ashamed and afraid, he gave up his earthly life to try and find solace in religion. He punished himself for years. His back is still crossed with self-inflicted whip scars and in difficult moments he still craves punishment. But eventually being around a center of mystery and lore (the cult's temple) got to him, and he realized he had a fairly sharp memory for events long passed. He was illiterate, true, but soon found himself spending hours talking to the literate temple chroniclers in between his long punishment sessions.

Path two goes in reverse- as a chronicler in the cult, he had various sacred duties including the recording of important dates and calculating the appropriate times for memorial celebrations. He spent his childhood as an apprentice, learning how to make parchments, appropriate uses of ink, and the like. Unfortunately for his life, living in a destitute and mostly irrelevant backwater means raids. He was captured before he could master letters and forced into slavery. Life as an enslaved miner isn't so bad- you have to do a lot of work, but the night hours are filled with pleasure of a certain sort. And if you're smart, you can help start a riot that turns into an uprising. With freedom back in his bones he heads to the only home he's ever known- the temple. Unfortunately, as it turns out, his father was a known diabolist unknown to his son, and his teachings were tainted with demonic corruption. He ratted his own father out in fear for his eternal soul, and his father (a murderer who readily confessed to his crimes under the irons) was executed. At the temple, he was taught the purifying rituals of fire and lash, designed to focus his mind and stave back the temptation. It worked, after a fashion- he still slipped up, but his enthusiasm and emphasis on decorum served him well. When (IMPORTANT EVENT) tore him away from the temple, his presence was almost a relief, and his former compatriots ensured his departure's permance by a token collection and some spare equipment they had lying around.

Not bad, right?

I rolled "Getting By," so I get to choose between a dagger, a staff, or a sling with 20 stones. A staff seems appropriate for a pilgrim / wanderer who's not super militant. The staff has finesse, so I can use my Agility instead of my Strength, but my Strength is 11 (I used that +1 attribute on it) so I don't really care about that.

That's it for the level zero version of my character. According to the rules, you have to survive an adventure to get your first level, which is kind of cool. I like 0th level adventures in general, especially given that my stats are all average and despite my background very strongly pointing me towards picking up a level of Priest, I could still easily go Warrior and not violate my character's core concept, such as it is on this early state.

Now, I've got a couple of ways to play solo, including the Mythic GM emulator and the solo game play Oracle in Scarlet Heroes (which both seem kind of similar to me, not that there's anything wrong with that), but I think I'll save that for another day. This is enough work already, and it gives me a couple of footholds with which to start working on some background information that I want to include.

If you've ever played with me, you know that I don't like to plan a whole lot of specific detail up front- I prefer to generate broad brushstroke settings where various organizations and actors are in dynamic tension, each wanting something they can't have but being within one lucky stroke of gaining it. This lets the players burst onto the scene, disrupt the status quo, and then watch the domino effect carry the game away with it. I tell you what, if you prime it just right, the game literally unfolds in front of you and it's an absolute blast to GM.


21 May 2016

Wew Buddy

It has been a minute, hasn't it?

A little more than half a year, anyways, right?

The thing about trying to run games is that people will inevitably disappear, move out of town, gradually fade away, or otherwise help dissolve a group that used to show up on time and eager as heck. It's just one of those things! I'm only a little mad at it.

The important thing here is that, because I plan on starting to run a game soon, I might have something to write about here.

I also might start writing video game opinions here because hey, it's my blog and I can write what I like. I've been playing a bit of Stellaris, back into my old guilty pleasures with Heroes of the Storm, and been spending quite a lot of time working on my journeyman electrician's license.

Anyways, this is short but I plan on getting back into the swing of things. Somehow I find that I have more to write about when I'm in the process of running a game ;)

10 October 2015

Hireling Generator

Since I had so much fun with my magic item generator, I decided to do a Hireling Generator next. It's a little more robust than the magic item generator, mostly because it's easier to think of things about human beings than it is to think of magical effects and stuff.

Here's a sample of some results:

A short female thief from the mountain town stands before you, with a poor quality shovel and an unremarkable suit of cloth armor. The hireling is focused and has enormous eyes.
A average-sized female ranger from the pleasant plateau stands before you, with an unremarkable pitchfork and a sack of vegetables. The hireling is unfocused and has a habit of chewing their fingernails.
A broad-shouldered androgynous townsperson from the sunny mountains stands before you, with a brand new spear and a dark tabard. The hireling is unfocused and has a thick foreign accent.

The basic idea is, as most generators, that you'll tweak what you get a little to make it fit into your game. As always, let me know what you think and if you use it for anything!

08 October 2015

Magic Item Generator

I made a magic item generator this morning.

Here's a sample of its output:

This is an average cleaver, decorated with a triangular horse. It turns towards goblins. It detects lies.
This is a small axe, decorated with a gaudy human face. It is made entirely of earth. It will never dull.
This is an average shield, decorated with a gleaming wings. It vibrates subtly. It glows when the command word is spoken.

There are a couple of categories that are just the tiniest bit bare, so I'll be coming back to this and adding more as it occurs to me. But it's fully usable now as it is, so click on it a few times, offer me some feedback, and enjoy!

21 September 2015

Magic Words

Here's something I like a lot. 

If you don't want to click the link, here's the gist:

Spell lists suck. You know what doesn't suck? Magic words. If you look through the spell list and take the words, you can recombine them into new spells and have a lot of fun doing it.

That's it. Go read the blog post.

Alright, you done there? Check this out, too, if you liked it.

As I've written before, I'm working on my own heartbreaker, which is really just a set of house rules that I like and have used, plus a couple of things that I want to try out. And minus all that dumb shit that shouldn't have been in there in the first place. [1]

One of the things that I wanted to deal with was magic. Writing a list of spells sucks, and playing a wizard who summons his arcane might from what amounts to a really boring shopping list also sucks. What super sucks is that you have in front of you all of the spells in the game [2] and so magic battles come down to figuring out what the other wizard shopped for and hoping that your selections were more appropriate to the situation.

At first, I was going to write up a spell system where you took a handful of fairly vague spells and then rolled dice and built it on the spot. If you've got Weather and you rolled 3d6 for a result of 15, now you can look at your list of spell effects and... let's see, change the weather to stormy for 1d6 turns!

Pretty good way to avoid having to write a list while still keeping magic a little unpredictable. You just describe the effects you can get and how high you need to roll for it, you keep wizards from all doing the same thing, and you never know what the other wizard's going to get up to even if you know that he likes blasting things.

But I like this better.

So you're a first level wizard. You have X magic points available per day for your spellcasting. [3] You also have a couple of words, rolled randomly from a list. Write down what they mean, and tell the GM what you want them to do (more or less).

Spells have levels, determined by the amount of MP you spend to cast them. A first level spell costs 1 point, a 2nd level spell costs 3 points, a 3rd level spell costs 7, a 4th level spell costs 18, and so forth.

The level you cast the spell at determines what it does. There's a smallish chart- a spell that takes an attack roll does 1d6 damage to a single target per level. If it doesn't take an attack roll, then it does 1d4 damage. If it's an area attack, then divide up the damage. [4] Everything else is between you, the GM, and your collective senses of wonder and creativity.

What does "Hold Magic" do, exactly? Is it a counterspell (as Lum suggested), or is it a method for delaying magic (as in, a delayed fireball, perhaps). Does it let you capture a spell and use it later? Does it have a mnemonic-type "memorize more spells" effect (as in, holding the magic in your mind)? I dunno, man. You tell me. Go ahead and write up some spells and let's think it over.

The best thing, though, is that finding spells isn't about finding pre-made spells somewhere. Now you're looking for the Words of Magic, scouring seemingly boring tomes to find a veiled reference to a magic word, and hidden formulae- a ha, there it is! "Teleport!" Now what do I do with it...

And then at a certain level spellcasters should be able to chain more words together, right? Only now they cost double, or whatever, because "Teleport Unseen Fire" is a pretty cool spell and so is "Prismatic Steel Servant," and, again, I have no idea what those do because I haven't written it down.

Oh, also: Wizards need to write down their words into spellbooks. "Word" is a bit of a misnomer because wizards are actually writing down syllables in the language of creation which, as it turns out, is nearly incomprehensible to the human mind and only years of study, great note-taking skills and some fairly decent shorthand allows magic users to utilize. Capturing spellbooks gives you a chance to learn their spells and maybe even their words but it's not guaranteed and it's going to take you a while!

So that's what I'm working on including. Lemme know what you think.

[1] Man, people who don't have the same opinions as me are dumb! Right?

[2] Unless you invent your own spells, but that requires writing them up and then giving them to the players, who can still choose not to take them because they'd rather prepare the already overly efficient Sleep, Magic Missile, and Fireball. Your options thus are: A spell that's too efficient (and will get picked first now), a spell that's too narrow (that somebody might prepare once in a blue moon), or a spell that's really weird that somebody might pick because it's fun.

[3] I was going to do spell slots but as I was brainstorming with a friend, he was like "why not just use MP?" Here's the original idea: You have a handful of spell slots per day. They have levels- a 5th level wizard might have four 1st level spell slots and 2 second level spell slots. When you cast a spell, expend a slot. A spell counts as the level of the slot it's cast from- a fireball might do 1d6 damage per spell level, and magic missile creates 1d4 unerring force blasts per 2 levels. Or whatever. Magic points makes the math a little easier and lets you shoot lots of little spells during the day, if that's what you want, so it's a plus. And it's not that much harder to track, really.

[4] I know that this makes fireball a little weaker but honestly 5d6 damage (or whatever) is a lot and having a sort of choice between "do I plug this dude over here" or "do I blast minions" is kind of a neat choice.

18 September 2015

"The Story"

You know what bugs me?

When people look at "the story" as being some sort of separate entity from whatever it is that you're doing during the game. The story happens at the table- if it's the players getting slaughtered, or them discussing whether or not to travel down another level or stay where they are and explore more, that's the story.

I write this in response to a post on r/rpg where a player writes, essentially "when play slows down and your players are hesitating, do you narrate ahead so that the story moves on?"

Why would you do this? There's nothing wrong with hesitation. There's nothing wrong with "slow play." And most importantly, obviously, "The story is what happens at the table."

I'll detail these one after the other, for clarity's sake, and for anybody that's managed to stumble here wondering what I'm talking about.

First, there's nothing wrong with hesitation. If your players are hesitating, it means they're not sure. It means they're looking for more information, or trying to build a consensus, or simply weighing their risks. There's no need to rush them! Let them stew a little, and you can even add thumbscrews if you want- adding more pressure is a lot of fun, and one of the most basic ways to wring drama out of any situation.

That said, sometimes your players are going to waffle, whether it's because they're new and unsure, or if they have been burnt before by going in without a solid plan. Like any game, players will learn how to best get what they want out of it. If there are lots of traps, then they're going to look for traps a lot. If there are a lot of ambushes, they'll extinguish their lanterns and send their scout around to flank. Players will learn how you like to run games and adapt their responses to that, and you should learn how your players enjoy their time. Ideally, you should be alternately challenging and surprising each other in equal measure, and then when you've hit that solid medium, you should both be happy with the way things are. [1]

And I'm not saying that you, as the GM, should ignore what you enjoy either. Your enjoyment is just as important as any other player's, and you have a right to be bored with what they're doing. But you're not in an equal relationship, here. [2] And part of being the GM means that you don't overstep your authority in a way that the players don't enjoy. This partition is different for every player and thus, for every group. You need to find the middle here.

Alright, now lastly: "The story is what happens at the table." There's this weird notion among people who came to tabletop gaming from video gaming that story is separate from medium. I'm here to tell you: that's wrong, and if you think that way, you need to stop it. There is no story that the players are not a part of. Full stop.

Let me explain.

If you write a Tolkien-esque backdrop for your story, full of ancient evils and long-dead heroes and legendary swords, none of it matters one bit until your players interact with it. Just like how the history of the American Revolution doesn't matter to me except when I'm wondering why we speak English or why our government has three parts, the thousand-year reign of the Archlich Xaxxax'x literally couldn't matter less until it impacts your players in some fashion. Say, by reanimating its corpse, or stumbling upon its tomb.The orc king's mighty armies don't matter until they attack the town that the players were going to travel to, causing the guards to bar the town gates and refuse entry to those without cause. Now it matters. [3]

Makes sense, right?

Viewing the story as something other than what happens during play is just plain silly and needs to stop. You're (probably) playing a game where a handful of players are playing individuals that run around creating or solving problems. Everything in the game is about what they do, where they are, and what happens around them. Every mechanic is dedicated to what they can or cannot do, or else who they are. Your game is about the exploits of these characters. Why oh why would anybody think that's not 100% what the story is about?

Nobody watches the Lord of the Rings and says it's a story about Sauron. It's not- it's about Sam and Frodo, Gimli, Legolas, and Aragorn, and a little bit about Gandalf and Eowin and Galadriel. Nobody reads Fahrenheit 451 and says the book is about society. [4] It just doesn't follow.

The story is what you spend most of your time talking about. That's it.

[1] This is a basic facet of human interaction, but somehow people forget that the GM-player relationship is literally just a set of interpersonal relationships, the same as having a friend or romantic interest. When both sides are contributing to create a positive whole, the relationship is healthy. When one side is not getting what it wants, abusing its power to trample over the other side is not fucking healthy. I really can't stress that enough. If your response to "I am bored with this" is to say "OK it's done now and we're on to what I want to do" then you're abusing your players' trust. I am willing to argue this point. 

[2] In a traditional GM / player split, the GM has more authority over pretty much everything, and wisely using this power is what separates a GM whose players are having fun and a GM whose players are just sort of enduring play. I've written about this before (somewhere) but the GM / player relationship has a lot in common with a D/s relationship, in that one side is intentionally ceding power and formally recognizing the other as being "in charge" for purposes that suit both of them.

[3] If you're still not sure, try it out in a game. Write down "the orc king's armies are massing" on your notes. Hint to it, if you want, when the players are in an inn, or have a herald shouting the news on a street corner. Alright, so the players have been exposed to it. Now cross it off. Didn't happen, orcs got defeated, whatever. Hey look, nothing changed for your players- unless they ask about it or pursue it.

[4] In a sense, it is about those things, but, again, it's about the background to the characters as it affects them. We don't learn about the benefits of the society Guy Montag lives in as it is constructed, or about the conditions of factory workers, or the economic superstructure of such a world. All we know is how Guy is shaped by the conditions he finds himself in- the same thing we find in your standard D&D game. The story is about how a group of characters reacts to the situation they find themselves in, and that's it.