27 December 2011

Stuck on Setting

So I've written a pretty decent game about action heroes that's about halfway done when I wanted to put in a setting. I've got two ideas: one where the cold war basically decimated South American society and created an unstable breeding ground for terrorism and drug running, and one where the players are the special forces for the New World Order and assist in black ops against the kinds of people who resist the New World Order, in kind of a shadowy spy vs spy sort of way.

But see, the problem is that my game is explicitly designed for one-shot adventures, and I'm finding that the more time I spend creating an interesting and detailed setting, the more it feels like the game should be more episodic and long-term. The more the setting is treated like a character in its own right, the more you'll naturally want to see players interact with it and make things happen, which means that the players are going to be involved in a long-term game where they make the world a different place.

So I'm stuck between basically creating a game with no setting and creating a setting with a game that doesn't support it, and either way I feel like I'm about going crazy.

25 December 2011

Ham Fisted: A Game of Action Heroes

I wrote a quick game after I wrote about that "Spades as Conflict Resolution" thing, and it's almost done. I'm just trying to figure out what in the holy hell I'm missing, which is frustrating, because it's got a bit about Task Resolution, a bit about weapons and items in general, and then some stuff about being injured. Then I have a section about the little wrinkles players can use to their advantage (since they are action heroes, for crying out loud), and then stuff about how to make their characters.

It's all of four pages, and is currently the shortest RPG I've written yet, but I think that's probably ok. I like short systems better than long ones, and if you presented the real basics of D&D you end up with all of four pages too (as the Microlite games show), so maybe I'm spot-on.

I'll snag a couple of public domain shots to spice up the game, pop out a PDF, and then make it happen up in here. Hoping to get some good feedback on the 1KM1KT free rpgs site, they seem like good people with a smallish community, which is pretty much what I'm looking for.

Happy Holidays

Happy Holidays, everybody. 

Although I'm not exactly a christian, neither is Christmas anymore, so it's all good. I like presents, trees, mistletoes, fat jolly men in absurd suits, the whole nine yards. 

Hope you're having as good a holiday as I am!

20 December 2011

Bound to Happen: I Got A Virus

And it happened, ironically, years after I stopped using peer-to-peer services and had almost stopped using torrents entirely.

Luckily, I know my way around a boot disc and I'd had my hard-to-find-again files already backed up on my external, so little of value was lost. I think all I lost were some Pathfinder PDFs, but I don't know why I had them in the first place.

So, that's that. If you own a computer, you owe it yourself to either get a Live CD of something easy like Ubuntu, or a boot recovery disk so that if you ever get a virus, you can save your files and reinstall your OS instead. Not that you should always reinstall your OS when you get a virus, but I digress.

18 December 2011


My girlfriend is back down from Great Lakes for the holidays, and that means I finally get to watch the prequel series Gods of the Arena.

Clearly, I am a happy clam.

If you've never watched Spartacus, it's basically a sword-and-sandal soap opera. Quintus Batiatus and his wife Lucretia are two plotting owners of a ludus, basically a training ground for gladiators. You watch as they maneuver and plot their way around society while the gladiators deal with the consequences of a life without choice and doing what must be done. They know their place in the world is not high, and their rivalries and brotherhoods is interesting to watch.

Oh, and there's a lot of gore and/or sex, often in the same scene. The world of Spartacus is a dirty, grimy world. You won't find bronzed gods of gladiators here, with squeaky clean love lifes and noble aspirations. They're forever talking about their own penises, or of women and wine, or of killing. Their ludus is often covered in dust and filth, the city is crumbling and shitty. Look at that picture below- the people there are dirty, the arena is cracked and makeshift. You can believe in the world of Spartacus. Exquisite care has been taken to make sure that this world of ancient Rome looks like ancient Rome would, in a world without spray cleaners and germ theory.

Honestly, I don't care if it's not high literature, or destined to be a classic, or what. It's just plain good. The plots are thick, the dialogue is quick and snappy while still being in what is recognizeably a foreign dialect, and the action is presented in such a way that while you know it's not real, you can't help but squint every time somebody gets decapitated or beaten up somehow.

It's fantastic, and I love it.

11 December 2011

Spades as Conflict Resolution

Something I've been thinking about just now, like a bolt of insanity and inspiration. What about SPADES as a conflict resolution thing?

See, it'd work like this: You're walking about, when suddenly! GUNFIGHT! You and your opponent (probably the GM) deal out a quick hand of standard playing cards. Say, five of them. You both pick out a card, slide it onto the table, and WHAM. Flip 'em. High card wins.

You've got a couple of cards, permanent style that you hold in your hands. Think of 'em like your luck. You get them for doing cool stuff, or acting in character, or for saying something really badass that everybody around you likes. You keep them separate from all your other cards, because they're kind of important. You can use them whenever you want, and even switch out one of the cards you've already played with one of your Luck Cards, because that's kind of what luck is for. If you play out too high of a card, you can swap it out for one of your lower ones, and if you play too low of a card, you can swap it out for a lower one.

What's on your character sheet? I'm thinking about making this game a game about high-stakes modern-day action- picture Die Hard and stuff, where the heroes have plenty of luck until the going gets rough and shit starts getting real, real nasty. So your character sheet's got your character's goal, two of his vices, and three things he's really good at. Maybe some posessions, but since you're playing like an action movie thing, that'll probably boil down to a very few things you've got on your back. At the very most, I could see having a backpack or some sort of duffelbag, but the point of the game isn't the items or whatever, it's the fact that we're playing ACTION MOVIE: THE GAME.

This was a snippet of thought I kept track of about a week ago. I wrote about half of a mini-roleplaying game based on it, so I figured I'd let this caged beast go.

Gelston, city of Wanderers

There is a city that stands in the shadow of mountains, made of tents and broken down wagons. It was once no more than a temporary stopping place for a band of vagabonds, but one day they stopped. Nobody really knows why. Some say it was the wealth of the travelling merchants that compelled them to settle down and make a living. Some say it was the fact that the leader of the travellers grew great with child and, when she gave birth, was too sick to move. She lingered for years, and when she finally died, her people lost the will to wander and settled forevermore. Some even say it was the result of a curse a wizard put on the whole group, punishment for theft and mockery.

Whatever the reason, Gelston remains a ramshackle city built by a people with nearly no knowledge of building. Houses are little more than long-standing tents, large wagons with their wheels removed, or earthen mounds. Low, crooked fences mark the delineation between neighbors, and fires burn randomly. There is but one temple- a broken, dead tree, blasted by lightning, surrounded by a circle of low, round greystone. The villagefolk call Heledis' Grove, after one of the goddesses of their nearly-forgotten homeland. Though they are not a religious people, they have been known to pray for her mercy and make offerings in her honor.

10 December 2011

Masks of Death

I've liked the idea of masked assassins for a long time. So long, in fact, that I almost put them into a campaign setting I was working on (Me'dia), even though they didn't really fit in the highly-elemental world they were being designed for. See, these guys were a religious order of assassins who would always kill their targets while wearing a white mask over their face. Why? So that their victims can't see them, and hopefully won't be able to recognize them, and possibly haunt them. It also means that, if they should meet in the afterlife, they won't recognize their murderer. I thought it was a fun idea.

Firstly, it means that hauntings are a thing that happens. If these guys are afraid of being haunted, does that mean that the spirit of somebody that the PCs kill could possibly come back and make their lives miserable? What exactly does a ghost do when it's haunting people? Can it harm the person it's haunting, or does it just make noise and act creepy?

Secondly, it means that there's a little bit of cat-and-mousery going on. Since the assassins' habits are known, it means that anybody who sees somebody they don't know wearing a white mask is highly suspect, and they're going to run, so the assassins aren't going to wear their masks until they have to (leaving aside the fact that it's vision-obscuring and probably uncomfortable). But if they wait too long, they might have to pass up an opportunity to strike in favor of wearing their mask, or worse, run the risk of having the perfect time arrive and not be wearing their mask!

They were given a pass for Me'dia, but in Rodiel, the IRC campaign I'm working on, I think they'll fit beautifully. Why the change?

Well, Me'dia, like I may have mentioned, was a highly elemental world. Everybody was blatantly made of elements, everybody knew about the elemental planes that leaked to the mid-world, wizards and clerics alike had mostly elemental and anti-elemental worlds, and the Masked Assassins never really fit in. They kind of have a theme, but the problem is their religion. In a Forgotten Realms-esque world where the gods have been seen stomping around and clerics really do have powers that wizards can't access, disbelief is just ridiculous. Similarly, with the way that elementalism and the inherent symbolism that Me'dia had pervading every aspect of the world, an order of temple assassins who don't believe in the Elemental Gods was sort of jarring. It'd have given them an aspect that I really wasn't interested in pursuing.

So the Masked Assassins will probably be given a cooler name, and then stuck somewhere into Rodiel. If you're playing in the game, look out for them- they may not be everywhere, but they might be exactly where you'd wish they weren't.

Microlite74 via IRC- LOOKING FOR MORE

Hey everybody.

I'm looking for more people to play Microlite74 over IRC with me and some others. I've already got a couple of people, but, as they say, the more, the merrier. I'm looking to have enough people to have two smaller-sized groups moving simultaneously through the campaign world- wait, what's that? Sounds like the West Marches campaign?

Goodness, you're perecptive.

YES, I'm trying to run something along those lines, and yes, it's gonna be nutso insano. It's set in the boomtown of Rodiel, a wild-west town on the edge of an old, fallen empire. It's set directly after the dust clears from a massive war. Even though one side lost, the winning side (your side) hasn't managed to do anything about it yet. Both sides took massive losses, and both sides are unable to do much of anything about this massive expanse of open land between them. So your side, the winning side, has started sending settlers, colonists, and explorers out to check out this new-to-you land.

If you're thinking "I bet there are some sweet ruins to plunder," you're in-character already. Yes, there are dozens of broken-down castles, and yes, there are abandoned wizards' towers, ancient and forgotten glens of mystical might, dukes' treasuries, dusty and hidden dwarf lord tombs, and more. There are ogres invading hamlets, trolls wandering around and causing problems, gold rushes towards half-depleted mines, and more.

In short, it's the perfect time to be an adventurer. All we need now is you.

So leave a comment, shoot an email, let me know what times you're available, and we'll see if we can't have some sort of Obsidan Portal-esque thing set up and ready to roll quick.

Some quick player information:

We're planning on using the Microlite74 rules, because I like them, they're free, and they're system-agnostic and easy to expand.

We're planning on playing through IRC, because it has an integrated dice roller and I always thought it'd be cool. It's on #Rodiel, on sorcery.net. If you let me know when you're available, we can try and meet up. Bring some friends with you, the more the merrier! Since I'm looking for this to be largely player-scheduled, really, any time you want to game we can go. Let me know if you're interested!

06 December 2011

Magic in Skeleton Puncher

I've been over magic before, and there's no real reason for me to reiterate what I've already gone over. So let me get a little more specific on how magic is going to work in Skeleton Puncher, for all zero people who've cared. If you're new here, hi, I use this blog as a personal journal so that I don't waste massive amounts of paper. Now that we've got that out of the way, here goes nothing.

Magic in Skeleton Puncher is going to be a little more down-to-earth. See, it's moved a fair bit away from the initially zany sort of deal, where you're all basically comic-book versions of regular heroes smashing some dudes in the face because, as I found out when I was writing it, I don't really play my games like that. It's not the kind of games I'm used to running, so the writing felt forced and the rules, overly lenient here and overly restrictive there. It didn't have a theme, for lack of a better word. It didn't have a purpose. It didn't do anything that I wanted it to do. It was a problem, and part of it was the magic.

See, I run a pretty low-magic, high-realism kind of setting. I'm very much into Gygaxian naturalism, which means that there isn't just a dragon, there's a reason for it. Which means, as a corollary, that when there's magic, there should be a reason. It should be tied directly into the campaign world, and that not just the PCs should be using it. We've all seen the massive, convoluted threads that happen when somebody sets down to try and "break" a campaign setting in 3e and 3.5e. All that means is that the setting isn't supported by the magic in any way, shape, or form, or the setting would already reflect that. When you have a 5th level wizard who can change the world in ways that don't even make sense, you have a real problem.

So I'm doing my best to prevent that up front. I'm setting it up so that, if you've ever played Vampire:The Masquerade/Requiem, it'll be somewhat familiar. You'll have separate ratings in each type of magic, such as telepathy or summoning, and each one has a little list of things you can do with it, and how hard it'll be. And that's pretty much it. You can have Clairvoyance I and Curses II, and that's pretty much the extent of your magical ability.

In other words, you can mostly do things that real-life witches and sorcerers thought they could do, with a little bit of the stereotypical flashy fantasy magic thrown in there for good measure so that your average "lolfireball" type guy has something to play around with, and then you're done. But get this- flashy battle magic is in the distinct minority. With eight or so different magical talents you can have, maybe one of them is something you'd use while the brawny swordsmen are doing their thing. The rest is the sort of thing that'd make your everyday life better- a guy with Clairvoyance can scout out the terrain ahead of you, the guy with Precognition is just handy in general, a summoning guy has a lot of utility (and even a little bit of battle stuff), and each magical talent has something that you can do in battle, no matter how difficult. Like the Clairvoyance guy, maybe he can close that person's third eye and now they're a little worse at things that have to do with seeing. He's missing more in combat, and, perhaps more importantly, he's not as effective of a guard. You can sneak right past him, because he's finding himself with a headache right behind his eyeballs instead of being attentive and alert. The guy with weather control, sure he can summon lightning bolts, but more important is the fact that he can turn a clear night into a cloudy one, or make a little rain to cover your tracks. He may not be useful in a dungeon, but he sure is handy when you're travelling around isn't he?

The other big thing is that, since it's a point-buy system where you can choose what talents you have, you're not going to have sorcerers who are master magicians and then totally non-magical guys. There's a system in place so that you can have your war wizards, or your thief who was born with a touch of magic in his veins, or a barbarian shaman who's a masterful warrior while also communing with the spirits of his homeland. It's class-based with flexibility, if you will.

This is the sort of magic I want in my game, and it's the sort of magic I'm going to put in. It's not the sort that means that wizards rule the world, and it doesn't mean that at higher levels, magicians are able to do anything they want while the rest of the party watches. It's magic that does its own thing, makes life a little easier, and you want with you, when you can get it.

Hopefully, it turns out well.

EDIT: I've boiled it down to seven, but I feel like I'm missing something important.
  1. Battle Magic: Stereotypical fireballs and lightning bolts
  2. Clairvoyance: Remote seeing and hearing
  3. Curses: Evil eyes, effigies, etc. (This one is the hardest for me to design for, by far.)
  4. Illusions: Manipulation of senses
  5. Shapeshifting: Quintessential magic
  6. Spiritualism: Conduct with spirits (also spirits of the dead, depending)
  7. Telepathy: Reading minds
As you can see, there's a lot that screams "magic" without a lot that says "stereotypical fantasy magic." I don't mean for that to sound demeaning, as the reason it's a stereotype is that it's a lot of fun. But still. I want to go a slightly different way.

In addition, I'm thinking about adding a "Sorcery" talent, that basically controls magic and metamagic, so that you could do things like detect ley lines and identify magic and all the other basic stuff that feels wizardly. I might tie that in to just having a magical talent, like "if you have at least one magical talent, you can sense ley lines and determine if magic has recently been cast in an area," and so on. It really depends, I suppose.

05 December 2011

Fantasy Warriors (Wargame)

Has anybody played this? I found the PDF rules online, and it looks to be fairly decent. My girlfriend will be coming down in a week or so (she's about half a country away), and I think it might be fun to play a little game with her.

She's a lot of fun to play with- she's extremely competitive and hates to lose, so I'm always sure to get a great game out of her. She does suffer a bit from being impulsive and angry when she starts losing, whereas yours truly is more of a patient mastermind type- I'll lose one unit here to put you in a bad position, so I can flank you here and smash this into this...

But yeah. I thought maybe this would be a little better than Warhammer, since I really don't want to buy any of the new books, or have to buy $100 worth of minis and a $30 book to be able to play a force that's anywhere near the rules Games Workshop presents. I want to use what I have, and what I have are little squads of Dwarfs, Lizardmen, Ogres, Goblins, Orcs, and Humans. I want to be able to use them all together, decide why they're working together, and then call it a day as we crack some heads. If Fantasy Warriors can bring me this, I'm a happy clam.

The link to the free PDF of the rules follows: http://www.mirliton.it/fantasy-warriors-rules.php

30 November 2011

Old Testament Gaming

This would have been completely accurate if it was something old school instead of Pathfinder, where you're almost as coddled and babied as in 4e. "Remember to get your equal CR encounters for the day!"

No, fuck that.

How about there's a dungeon that you have to go through, because you're dirt broke and if you don't scratch up some money you're going to starve to death on the streets while arisocrats trample your corpse with their carriage. How about if you don't get the gold the minotaur's guarding, than hangover you got from blowing last week's dungeon haul on booze and women is going to be the least of your problems, because you borrowed money from the wrong guys and they're going to come kill you if you don't pay up. Did I mention that the minotaur will kill you in three hits? Because it will.

Your players have feasted on Pathfinder's generous optimization options and roll-to-win skills and feats. And they have grown fat. It's all loaves and fishes.

Not in here. This book is floods. And plagues. And motherfucking pillars of salt.

29 November 2011

Complete and Utterly Accurate Roleplaying Games Chart

Was browsing /tg/, one of the few acceptable boards of 4chan (c'mon, you know what that is), when I saw this image.

I had to save it.

Nurah, Guard Captain of Ipit-Apora

I left the aristocracy and power centers out of my short description of Ipit-Apora out for a reason. It's a pretty good one, if you ask me: I'm not done with it. Seriously! I haven't the foggiest who rules over it.

But I've got a pretty good idea who a fairly important person in the city is. Nurah here is the captain of the guards of Ipit-Apora, and she's pretty unusual. She's quite a popular figure in the city's politics, to the point where some people are clamoring for her to use the city guard to overthrow the Council, who the populace claims are corrupt and turn a blind eye to the city's problems. They look at Nurah's stands against smugglers, thieves' dens, and the other scum of society, and look at the Council's dithering, weak talk of "appropriate force", and wonder.

Nurah, for her own part, steadfastly ignores both her supporters and her political opponents, choosing instead to do her job the best way she sees fit. But when the Council realizes that the city guard is loyal to her person instead of her position and that they cannot control the defenders of their own city, what will they do?

Rank: 4

Weaponmaster IV (Parrying)
Iron Will III (Stubborn)
Endurance II (Fitness Regimen)
Swift I (Fleet-Footed)

Weapon: Scimitar
Armor: Light

Health: 5
Wounds: 10

Skeleton Punching Ipit-Apora

Ipit-Apora is a city-state set in the sandy wastes of an enormous desert. It is a port city, and a fairly major trade hub of the world. All foreigners are welcome to the bustling city as long as they don't cause any trouble and their coin is good.

Ipit-Aporans tend to be defined along loose socio-economic lines, with the richest having the most privileges and freedoms, and the poorest having very little room to move, often sleeping dozens to a cheap flophouse on the outskirts of town. The local food tastes run towards well-cooked meat simmered in vegetable oils, often giant lizard, snake, and bird, often served with a vegetable paste on flat bread. The drinks are usually a cooling, crisp wine made from a small prune-like fruit and a burning spiced liquor called kellim.

It is a fairly secular- the population worships the local gods Purifying Fire and the Breath of Life, as well as the Three Gods of Death. Ipit-Aporan temples are loud affairs, clamoring for worshipers off the streets to come and view the holy miracles of the churches, often incorporating street oratory. Newcomers may think that they are ministering to the street, but the real attraction is inside. Each temple has a relic of some sort that the faithful come to say prayers over, and to be blessed. This can range from the Coal-Heart of Great Blazing Uzzum, to perhaps the dagger that slew Garshaps the Unholy. Exiting is subject to a small fee, ostensibly a "donation", though priests are quick to follow, harangue, and occasionally threaten with divine doom non-paying worshipers, so most carry small coinage to give the priests.

On a more exciting note, the desert surrounding Ipit-Apora has a higher than natural rate of horrible monsters. The reasons for this are debated amongst the local scholars, but the fact remains that the City Guard tend to be very grizzled, very quick. The Guard are respected and highly competent, professional, and proud. They typically ride enormous, four-legged lizards that can skim across the surface of the sands and require little to no water.

Player characters from Ipit-Apora are:
  • Haughty and a bit arrogant. The greatness of their city reflects the greatness of the people within.
  • Religiously tolerant. Though they worship their gods (which naturally, are the best and strongest gods), they understand that others may not share in their worship.
  • Lovers of haggling. Barter is an essential component of Ipit-Aporan trade. This may lead them to come off as a bit cheap, or argumentative.
  • Quick to anger, quick to forget. Ipit-Aporans' anger is like a flash-fire; hot and over fast.
  • Very formal to strangers. Polite forms of address are more common than informal ones, and an Ipit-Aporan may scoff at the "uncouth" attitudes of others.

27 November 2011

Lamp Golems

Just saw a really cool idea. For some reason, the idea of interesting golems is floating around the netosphere, and it's not bad. Really, there's no reason for all golems to be giant clay bodyguards. If you can animate a being to follow your basic directions and also make it out of pretty much anything, why would you just make one whose entire job is to beat people up? How often does your average wizard spend fending off intruders, anyways?

See: These Lamp Golems. They'd follow you around, or stand where you directed them to, bringing your light with you so you'd have both hands free to carry whatever you're carrying. You could read a book while walking and still have light to read by.

I'm thinking of a Brazier Golem, or a Cauldron Golem, something that you could direct to walk over to you so you could dump in your ingredients and then direct it back over the fire, so you wouldn't have to get all sweaty standing over a fire, and you wouldn't have to worry about it tipping over or anything. It'd have four or six legs, arranged around it circularly, looking a bit like a xorn except made of cauldron instead of elemental.

You could have a little winged Helper Golem, to sort and organize your inventory and make things happen. You could be like "Helper Golem, pour the essence of nightshade into the phial of brimstone, close the stopper, and shake until it turns red. Then hand it to me." And then you're brewing your own things, having him make your red solution you need to mix. Handy little guys, really, a wizard's best friend. You can get them to organize your library and bring you books, or clean up the place.

You could also have a pretty useful Pedestal Golem, although I'm not sure how often you really need to have your Pedestal move around with you. Usually it's not too much work to just stand in one place while you've got your book with you. You could just hold it with one hand.

If you want to go all Sorcerer's Apprentice, you could have little Broom Golems, although I imagine it'd be easier just to enchant a broom for a little while and have it go to town. Then again, making a golem out of bits you already have lying around could be pretty useful. There's no real rules reason why it has to be made out of clay or meat or iron or whatever other than that's what the myths are made out of. Still, Houseworking Golems would give you the benefits of having a couple of servants without having to worry about them getting paid, eating, or leaving your service because you make them work fifteen hours without a break. Uppity servants, so hard to find good help these days.

Probably the coolest kind of golem would be a Riding Golem- basically an armored mecha type thing your wizard could ride around inside/on top of. It might be a little too "non-standard fantasy" to have your average wizard being carried around by a Gundam made of rocks, even if they don't have the lasers or energy swords or whatever. Your mileage may vary, but there's no way it's not acceptable to have a golem carry your wizard around, especially since it's not fighting while it's carrying you around unless you manage to jury-rig some sort of workaround. Which, again, some people might not appreciate.

Little Bottle Golems could be nice, especially if you have some sort of potion/mixture that can be applied to the ground, or if you give them a little valve to shoot out of their head. You could essentially make either little bomb-ombs or acid-spraying squirt bottles. They wouldn't be too terribly dangerous if your enemies knew what was going on, but their first instinct when they see little walking bottle isn't going to be "SHIT KILL IT", it'll probably be a very bizarre confusion. Until the first one explodes in a shower of fire or acid. OH SHIT SON.

If you've got any awesome ideas for golems, please, do not hesitate to let me know.

Magic Subsystem: Elemental Chakras

Part of the thing I'm trying to do with Skeleton Puncher is keep the traditional fantasy theme going strong, while streamlining and simplifying a lot of the mechanical side of things. A lot of the complexity that's come out of these systems is due to trying to "keep the same system but add more stuff" that gets us bloated rules messes like 3e and 4e, instead of actually serving some sort of purpose to the system.

This is relevant, because one of the messiest systems in any game is the magic. It's important to keep it a little complex, to allow for cool emergent gameplay and solutions you didn't think of, as well as to keep the feeling of magic being a little overwhelming for your characters. If there's this many moving parts and it's just a game to you, it feels a little more dangerous and mysterious than just using "Magic Points" to cast "Fire Blast 1".

So anyways, I was thinking about using a magic system for Skeleton Puncher where you bind the four classical elements to your chakras. For the uninitiated, I plan on using a very basic form of my understanding of the chakra theories, where there are 7 chakras, that open in order from lowest to highest, and each one has a different location on the body (that I'm going to more or less ignore, except for vague location types), and a different potency. That is, you have to open them in order, so opening your top-most chakra (the "crown chakra") is the epitome of a very enlightened person.

And this is what I want. As a spellcaster, you open your chakras as you advance in Rank. This gives you a small benefit related to the nature of the chakra (such as wizard's eye upon opening your 6th, or "brow" chakra, typically symbolising the third eye), as well as allows you another place to "bind" your elements.

Each bound element lets you access the next "tier" of the elemental magic you can access, and also allows you to mix and match elements, sort of. For example, if you have two fire and one air chakra, you can cast 2nd tier fire spells and 1st tier air spells, as well as maybe some sort of fire+air spell (although I'm not sure what that'd even be, I'd have to think about it more).

Really, I'm just throwing ideas out there. I don't think I'll go with this one.

26 November 2011

Skeleton Punching Bards

Today, we're going to talk about the role of bards in Skeleton Puncher, mostly because one of my friends rather enjoys "songing" at people, and it's kind of an interesting role. Wandering minstrels, singers, and street performers are a pretty dynamic and cool part of any setting, because they really did exist and they were kind of weird guys. They were like homeless rock stars, until they got to be part of a king's court. Then they lived a life of luxurious, dandified foppery.

Bards are one of the better character concepts because it's not innately tied to combat or conflict. Bards exist to play music, to be vaguely vagabond-y, and to beg for money. That's it. Having a bard around with you is probably a massive hindrance in a fight since he's more concerned with his mandolin's safety than fighting, and because they're generally the kind of hedonists that consider armed conflict brutish and bad for one's health. If they do carry a weapon, it's likely to be some sort of dagger or other light poking thing, because they're not generally good with weapons.

This is only really a problem in games where combat is a major part, if not the actual focus, of the game. Since they're not naturally combative, they often have to have some sort of minor magical powers, or maybe a basic proficiency with weapons, and that doesn't really fit with the bardic image. After all, the definition of a bard is a performer, often wandering. If they're good with swords, they can do that on their own time. Magic? Not an inherent part of the class any more than it would be for a soldier, or a thief. It has no real business being part of the bard's class.

So what do bards do, then? Well, bards are fantastically good with people, generally speaking. Being able to work a crowd means that bards quickly must learn what makes people work, what people like, and the prevailing trends. They have a lot of friends and enemies. It also means that they're generally in touch with the current gossip, and might be one of the first people in the party to know what's going on and why.

Bards also generally have a bit of a connection with the underworld, if they're so inclined. Spending a lot of time on the streets, performing and wandering and getting into trouble means that they see a good number of thieves, pickpockets, beggars, the homeless, and other street folks around. Since they see these people regularly, they're often on friendly terms with each other. After all, they're practically co-workers.

Let me give an example of a bardic character I've had rolling around in my head, then I'm done here. I'll give him in Skeleton Puncher styled stats, because that's part of the reason I'm writing this at all. (Not that there are tiny dragony kobolds in Skeleton Puncher, but that's totally irrelevant.)

Kobold Bard

Minstrel III (Dragon-song), Swift I (Runs on all Fours), Endurance II (Scaled Skin) , Tenacious I (Annoyingly Persistent), Sorcery I (Kobold Cantrips)

Weapon: Hunting Bow
Armor: None

Health: 6
Wounds: 6

Tch'kliss is a locally-renowned bard, despite living in a human town. Kobolds cannot speak human tongues and most humans cannot speak kobold tongues- but the people of Grave Hill have long since been on friendly terms with the little dragon-men.

He is a sprightly, cheerful little chap who has mastered the art of pose and gesture when telling stories to those who cannot speak his language, or entertaining with a sort of mewling harmonic growl. His specialty, however, is in his Dragon Song. Sounding a bit like Mongolian throat-singing mixed with a dragon's roar, Tch'kliss is one of the very few masters of the art although you wouldn't know it by talking to him. He's very down-to-earth, and mostly enjoys his singing for the sake of singing.

25 November 2011

Skeleton Punching Orcs

Orcish rangers, keeping lookout over a contested pass.

One of the things I'm trying to do in Skeleton Puncher is create an interesting setting for people who want to game "The Wright Way", the way that Greyhawk and D&D combined together seamlessly and let you game the Gygaxian way (or the way Blackmoor and Arnesonian D&D mesh) One of the biggest differences between the way I game and standard Gygaxio-Tolkien way is that very few things are "Evil" with a capital E in my world. Where Gygax and Tolkien saw no problems having beings dedicated to destroying pretty much everything and being happy with scorching the earth and living in the ashes, I'm not for that. Where others see the classic "good versus evil" arc, I see a story of propaganda told from one side. Much like how the Japanese were vilified during World War Two by the US, both sides had their own things going on. Both sides feared the other. And both sides had an interesting story to tell.

The first people that came to mind when I started writing this were orcs.

I've had a soft spot in my heart for orcs ever since my first experience with the Rankin-Bass Hobbit cartoon when I was a wee little sprat. My dad has had a passion for the Lord of the Rings books, and so watch them we did. It was great. Watching those bass-singing, giant-mouthed orcs and goblins ride wolves and capture the dwarves was fantastic, and it's always stuck with me how interesting that orc king was. He recognized the foul, orc-slaying swords that Thorin & Co. were carrying, and that's how the seed stuck for all this time. To Dwarves, they were heroic blades forged for their destiny, but to the goblins? Terrible, hateful blades created to slay their brothers and put their way of life to the sword.

I've always had a thing for underdogs.

But I digress. When I'm a DM, I always have my Orc-styled humanoids a little more mellow and easy to get along with than standard bloodthirsty, cannon-fodder pig faced orcs. They're not stupid, they're not murderous, and they're not innately hostile. They're simply a different race with a different culture. Where it gets difficult is defining exactly how different they are from humans, and that's where you get a little fantasy anthropology going.

24 November 2011

Punching Index Cards

Vertical index cards, my white whale
I'm the kind of guy who, when he wants to get down to some really good thinkin', has to pull out a pen and paper instead of typing it on a computer. I've lost track of the number of half-filled notebooks that've been blackened by the ravages of my chewed up ball-point pens. And I've lost track of the number of times I've picked up some ancient notebook, only to be appaled by the horrible, juvenile, blatantly unoriginal scribbles I've found within for projects abandoned years ago. You just can't keep writing in a notebook that's that embarassing. You just can't.

So I find myself doodling on index cards, instead. They're just about the right size to get some really good ideas down, you can re-order them however you want, and (maybe most importantly) you can toss them out without having to rip pages out of anything. Index cards are the best.

I remember finally taking index cards from the preparation phase to making them a part of one of the two only 4e games I've actually run, when I would write quests on them, or give important items out as an index card. The response was phenomenal. It wasn't a line in some backpack somewhere, it was an index card that had to be taken care of, managed, and looked at. You got to be a little posessive. When you had a +2 fire staff, you're not letting the guy next to you take it, you're letting him look at it, and that's how the players acted. If you let him look at the card, you're letting him take your item- and they can see it just fine without touching it, thank you very much. The quests cards were about as useful. They saw the quest to discover the origin of the weird sacrificial dagger they'd found, right next to the "exterminate goblins" quest and the "help the caravan get out of here" quests. It was a sweet feedback loop, too. The players would be interested in something in passing, and then suddenly, I'm flipping them a quest card across the table. Now, they're getting experience for being interested in things, they're being rewarded for engaging with the game world, and they've got a very convenient reminder in case they get bored or overwhelmed.

I don't think it's much of an exaggeration to say that index cards have improved my game since the first time I tried them.

It should come as no surprise, then, that I plan on having index cards feature prominently in Skeleton Puncher. My motto is "If I can't fit it on an index card, it's getting thrown out." Character sheets can fit comfortably on an index card. Backpacks can hold ten regular-sized items- or the number of lines on an index card that's been cut in half. The game's resolution system? Again, could be written on an index card.

I've heard it said that there could (and possibly should) be hundreds of small retroclone games, each one an ideal as expressed by a DM. I hope the rest of the world thinks the same way, because if Skeleton Puncher keeps going on like it has, it's going to be so idiosyncratic that you and I will practically be best friends if you read the book.

22 November 2011

Pathfinder MMO?

According to EnWorld, Paizo's entered into an agreement with Goblinworks to create and produce an MMO, ostensibly based on their flagship product, the Pathfinder roleplaying game. You know what that is, I'm not going to explain it.

Now, look. I've read the official announcement, and I'm very good at translating hype and excited designer-speak into English, and these guys apparently have been either living under a rock or they're seriously overestimating both the MMO market and their own abilities.

Designing an MMO is difficult work. It's one of the most complex types of games you could possibly design, because you've got to have so many people on at once, and you've got to have things for them to do. And you've got to have things for people to do on their own when they can't find anybody to do things with them.

I'm not going to say they can't do it, because Dungeons and Dragons Online exists, and it's doing fairly well. But it's run by a company that's been doing MMOs, and it would have failed had it not essentially reinvented the free-to-play market. If Paizo wants their money back, they either need to make a spectacular pay-to-play game that people will leave World of Warcraft for (not likely) or they need to make a free to play game with a cash shop. Not even the Dungeons and Dragons name brand saved it from that fate, and I don't think that Pathfinder will fare any better.

That said, I'm at least interested to see where they go. I have a very vested interest in them not disappointing me- I'll have a new game to play!

19 November 2011

Skeleton Puncher Cover-In-Progress

I didn't feel like doing anything productive, so I screwed around in Inkscape a little.

I ended up with this bit that I'm going to use for cover art until I can either steal a picture of a skeleton doing something, or until I can con somebody into doodling up a better cover for me.

Or, until I decide just to take some public-domain art and deface it with my name or something. It's happened before.

Look how simple that is.

Now I just need something to put in the corner so that it doesn't look so empty. Maybe I'll stick it up in the other corner, and have the Skeleton Puncher logo be more rounded, like it's following the spiral, and then in the corner it's actually at, I'll be like "PLAY A GAME OF PUNCHING AND VIOLENCE" and then it'll be done.

I was actually thinking about changing the name to Dragon Puncher, because there are good pictures of dragons. Most of the pictures of skeletons are shitty, because they're crappy enemies and nobody cares about them. It's always either zombies or like, skeleton wizards or something.


As much as I know that this is basic artistic shorthand, what with orange and blue being common complementary colors (having a girlfriend who dabbles heavily in art is a fantastic thing), it still works.

I'm on the lookout for interesting characters with good backstories to transmute into SKELETON PUNCHER characters. I'm thinking about making a Reddit post or something to try and cull some good responses.

See, cause the way I see it, a system doesn't have to be able to accept just any character, and it might even be stronger if it doesn't. When 4e was coming out, one of its supporters said that you can make nearly any character you could make in 3e with it. One jackwagon responded by, basically, putting the class features in prose form, and then challenged the guy to show him how to do it.

No, 4e probably can't make a divine spellcaster who worships nature and can also have an animal companion and eventually learn to shapeshift into animal, giant animal, and elemental forms while both healing and assisting his allies because what the hell? That's not a character, that's a set of abilities. That's not what he's saying, and you're twisting meanings by implying he is.

What he's saying is that you can make any type of character. And that's what SKELETON PUNCHER has to do. When you mix and match the right abilities, you have to be able to get an acceptable version of Conan. Or Aragorn. Or Gandalf. Or Elric. Or the other Elric, if you want. Or Drizzt, maybe, kind of. The point is, people should be able to turn an idea (I want to play a gladiator type guy, who was enslaved and forced into the pits and he's really tough and strong but kind of twitchy, I guess) into a character with enough stats to make sense.

SKELETON PUNCHER is like, 75% of the way there. I just need some more examples of awesome characters that people want to make, and then I can add a little more crunch, write up a DM's Guide thing, and then call it a day. Wham, bam, boom, lookie here, then it's time to test.

17 November 2011

I'm a Monk/Rogue

I Am A: Lawful Neutral Human Monk/Rogue (2nd/2nd Level)

Ability Scores:

Lawful Neutral A lawful neutral character acts as law, tradition, or a personal code directs him. Order and organization are paramount to him. He may believe in personal order and live by a code or standard, or he may believe in order for all and favor a strong, organized government. Lawful neutral is the best alignment you can be because it means you are reliable and honorable without being a zealot. However, lawful neutral can be a dangerous alignment when it seeks to eliminate all freedom, choice, and diversity in society.

Humans are the most adaptable of the common races. Short generations and a penchant for migration and conquest have made them physically diverse as well. Humans are often unorthodox in their dress, sporting unusual hairstyles, fanciful clothes, tattoos, and the like.

Primary Class:
Monks are versatile warriors skilled at fighting without weapons or armor. Good-aligned monks serve as protectors of the people, while evil monks make ideal spies and assassins. Though they don't cast spells, monks channel a subtle energy, called ki. This energy allows them to perform amazing feats, such as healing themselves, catching arrows in flight, and dodging blows with lightning speed. Their mundane and ki-based abilities grow with experience, granting them more power over themselves and their environment. Monks suffer unique penalties to their abilities if they wear armor, as doing so violates their rigid oath. A monk wearing armor loses their Wisdom and level based armor class bonuses, their movement speed, and their additional unarmed attacks per round.

Secondary Class:
Rogues have little in common with each other. While some - maybe even the majority - are stealthy thieves, many serve as scouts, spies, investigators, diplomats, and simple thugs. Rogues are versatile, adaptable, and skilled at getting what others don't want them to get. While not equal to a fighter in combat, a rogue knows how to hit where it hurts, and a sneak attack can dish out a lot of damage. Rogues also seem to have a sixth sense when it comes to avoiding danger. Experienced rogues develop nearly magical powers and skills as they master the arts of stealth, evasion, and sneak attacks. In addition, while not capable of casting spells on their own, a rogue can sometimes 'fake it' well enough to cast spells from scrolls, activate wands, and use just about any other magic item.

Find out What Kind of Dungeons and Dragons Character Would You Be?, courtesy of Easydamus (e-mail)

According to the test, I'm a ninja. Sweet.

Also, why does it bother describing humans? I know what humans are. Everybody reading this is innately familiar with humans. 

Thank God for Conspiracy Theories

My brother, who's interested in conspiracy theories in a purely intellectual way, showed me this site. I read a couple articles (about such fascinating things as contrails secretly being chemical baths to kill us all, or the fact that dowsing apparently works and isn't at all wishful thinking or fraud) and was hit by a stunning realization.

These things would be excellent in a game of Mage: The Ascension. It would be pretty sweet in any other game about conspiracies, or paranoia, or even just in a modern-day setting, but M:tA is the one game I have like that, so it's going to fit.

I can just imagine: Young apprentice Mages go out on their first blow against dose gat-damn Technocrats, only to find that they're not only monitoring people, but spraying mind-controlling drugs out of planes! They have to be stopped! But the conspiracy goes a little deeper than they'd thought...

Or they go to what they think is a safe nexus-place, where they can rest and recuperate, only to find it the gathering-house of some new-age nuts who think that prayer groups and talking about their "psychic powers" is the way to stop the government from destroying the world.

Or they're travelling through and meet a man who's been in between the fight between the Mages and Technocrats before, tin foil hat and all. He's so happy to see them, he recognized them immediately, and would they mind helping him with his enormous quartz crystal he's been "programming" to defuse the microwave tracking the government put on him, and what should he do about the reptilians tracking him through the 4th dimension?

Good stuff, good stuff.

16 November 2011

What is the Rogue for, anyways?

Cast Knock just ONE MORE TIME

Here's a little something that I thought was interesting.

In the EnWorld.org thread entitled "I know the spell to solve the problem!" there's a rather telling post about the strength and, well, utility of the utility magic presented to classes. And I quote:

It starts with paladin's detecting evil, ruining careful disguises, to much stronger divination magics. Clerics asking the dead body who get the name of the murderer.
"Knock" spells that open any door faster than the thief can draw his lockpicks.
Charms that makes lies and bluff unnecessary (both as skill and roleplay). Creation spells that ruin any commerce system.

And then asks, essentially, what do you think? Is it a feature or a bug? Can you use it to enhance your game, or does it ruin the game?

 If you ask me, this is really two questions in disguise. The original poster is asking "Is it ok for characters to have useful non-combat magic?", and also "Is role protection valuable?" But even that's not what he's really asking. The problem is that magic can be (and often is) a substitute for 3e and 4e's skill system, such that magical characters are able to bypass the skill system by casting a spell or two.

One of the most-cited examples in the thread is that a wizard, at very low levels, gains access to the spell Knock, allowing him to "take away" one of the Rogue's oh-so-valuable niches. This niche happens to be represented by a single die roll that the Rogue's player makes. This apparently totally de-values the Rogue class, which has been spending its skill ranks level after level to have a chance of doing what a wizard can do with a nod of his head and a shake of his staff. Apparently, it's ok for the Rogue to have the ability to make die rolls endlessly to unlock things, but it's not ok for the Wizard to spend one of his extremely valuable spell slots to do the same thing.

The reason? Apparently, this steals the Rogue's time to shine. This is what kills me. If there are honestly groups out there who gather in a big circle and get all excited when the guy who chose to play the Rogue gets to unlock a door, then I apologize, but what the fuck are you all so excited about? You roll a d20. Once. Maybe twice, if the GM lets you roll until you succeed, and then you're just waiting for the right number to come up. You might as well hand-wave it and say "Rogues can open all locked doors, eventually." Honestly, if I was the Rogue, I wouldn't give two shits who unlocks the door, as long as there's treasure or a dragon or something on the other side. It doesn't matter who opens it. The roll is not the interesting part of the game, and acting like it is sounds extremely derogatory. Oh, wow, Rogue, you rolled such a good number! Now step aside and let the big boys fight the orcs, hmm?

This reminds me: The 3e Rogue is damn useless. No, please don't argue. It's a class that specializes in gaining skill ranks in a system where skill ranks are grossly undervalued, while simultaneously getting the ability to backstab things really, really hard. Outside of combat, the Rogue gets to do things nobody else does (which results in the rest of the party sitting around), in exchange for having one actual action that he gets to undertake in combat. He gets to poke people's spines or do nearly no damage. How exciting!

It's past time to unlink the backstabbing and the sneaking from the guy who does the lockpicking and trap disabling gruntwork. More than that, it's time to either make lockpicking and trap disabling an actual activity, or it's time to quit pretending that having a lot of skills is somehow a class feature. It needs to stop. Skill ranks aren't a real class fature. If you gave the 3e Fighter 10 class skills, he'd still be an awful class. It doesn't help anything to pretend that the Rogue is somehow a vital part of the party when you have to explicitly design parts of adventures with locked doors and traps just so the poor sap who picked the only class (other than a wizard, apparently) can deal with it.

This has been one of the things I've been trying to do in my own games. There needs to be a total de-linkage of in-combat roles and out-of-combat roles, such that you can have a wizard with mechanical knowledge, or a charismatic warrior, or an assassin with a knowledge of medieval history. This is how people in real life work.Why shouldn't it be the same with characters in a game?

All us assassins pretty much like the same things: stabby knives, long cloaks, puppies...

I think it's about time that the Rogue got an actual out-of-combat niche, something that isn't comprised of die rolls for things that don't add drama or interest to the game. After all, his predecessor (the Thief of oD&D through 2nd edition) had a pretty good niche. Anybody could scale walls, but he could scale sheer ones. Anybody could see a trap, but he had a psuedo-supernatural 6th sense about danger. All this in a game with 6 classes instead of 60, and maybe one unique mechanic per class. There were a tiny handful of differences between classes besides the hit dice and combat advancement, and still each class does something interesting.

As to role protection, well, I've talked about that to death already, but if you're new here, let me put it this way: Role protection has no place outside of combat. In combat, each player should have something interesting to do, an enemy that is easier for them to fight than other classes, and a weakness that other party members must fill. They should also have something interesting or useful to do when they cannot attack directly. This is because when the group is fighting, everybody's fighting. Everybody's focused on the same thing.

Outside of combat, there's no reason that the guy playing the warrior should be bored, and one class should be doing everything. There's no excuse for it. Every player should be able to contribute (somewhat) equally inside and outside of combat, and it's not for some sort of "game balance" thing. It's so people aren't sitting with their thumbs up their butts, waiting for somebody to make six d20 rolls so that they can get to something that isn't boring. It's not about character balance. It's about Player Balance. Having entire segments of the game where a player's character has nothing to do is Bad Game Design. There's no two ways about it.

15 November 2011

The Steam Lands

A dusty, arid place, this is the capital city of the Steam Lands. It echoes with a tomb-like silence. Though it is aligned with both water and air, it is always dry. The only liquid to be found are pools of colorless acid, or from the greedy, dark clouds that always hover overhead, obscuring what weak sunlight the world uses to mark the day.

The peak is the home of the king of the demons, a grim husk whose only thoughts are towards domination and suffering. Power is the ability to make those below you miserable, and the Steam King is powerful indeed. Those who serve him constantly vie and writhe, backstabbing one another, but it never seems to disturb their king. Their petty squabbles are, and always will be, beneath his notice.

This was another one of the places in my Median campaign that never actually ran. Although this picture is new, the idea is not. As I've mentioned in the Horror of the Deeps post, water is evil and fire, good. Similarly, Earth is law and Air is chaos, so the home of the chaotic evil is a place of water and air- of acid and steam. In this place, water is not smothering or mysterious, but unattainable, and the air is thin of oxygen. The demons themselves ration their water, slaying each other to possess what little water their foes have within them. It is a place of cannibalism, privation, and pain.

It is a very dangerous hell.

14 November 2011

Why The Occupy Wall Street Kids are Better Than Spartans

This is a link post, but to a very good article that does three things extremely well.

One, it has a lot of good historical information about why the Spartans, far from being the shining crusaders of 300 were kind of giant douchebags, and the role of the rest of the Greek states in the battle of Thermopylae. Also a lot of good stuff about Greek culture in general which, even though my Menos project is on the backburner, is a pretty interesting read on its own.

Two, it talks about how Frank Miller is, apparently, a raging douchebag of his own who thinks that people who are dissatisfied with the economic imbalances in society are whiny kids, rapists, and thieves with no real grudge and that apparently they should be concerned with some shadowy "enemy" that hasn't made a move against us since, well, 9-11. Although I'm not sure that "Islamicism" is behind the attacks as much as some fairly vindictive terriorist groups are.

Three, he mentions that maybe the OWS guys should "join the military." This is near and dear to my heart for obvious reasons, not the least of which is the fact that this illustrator makes somewhere in the realm of "fucking way more" than even an officer, who themselves make two to three times as much as the enlisted guys that are actually doing the hard work. I'm pretty sure most of the people in the military (myself included) have a soft spot for the OWS guys, since we're the kind of guys who look at the military's core values (brotherhood, fairness, personal responsibility) and wonder why the rest of the world doesn't seem to get it.

But enough of my babbling, here's the link. Go read it, it's fantastic.

Magic and You: Campaign Settings

I talk about magic way too much, and it remains a thorn in my side. In large part, it's because I can't just "let it go" and wave away all the complications that magic brings- I'm really too much of a Gygaxian naturalist to let something as potentially interesting as the actual effects that magic would have on a society to do what 3e (and probably other editions) did when they had a world full of magic users, and yet there are still castles and catapults and other things that would be rendered obsolete by even a single 5th level wizard.

Let me explain.

There are a couple of "axes" you can measure this sort of thing on. It's a lot like alignment. There are settings where magic is common, and settings where magic is rare. There are settings where magic is powerful, and settings where magic is kind of weak. There are also settings where magic is reliable versus unreliable, but I've chosen to roll that into the powerful vs weak axis, because honestly, I'm not at all interested in trying to mentally map out a chart in three dimensions.

In games where magic is Common, everybody knows about magic. Society tends to move along a relatively sophisticated axis, and many things are dealt with exclusively by magic. The effect it has on society generally depends on the size of the difference between powerful and weak magic users, and the strength of magic itself. In settings where there is a great size difference, you may have a merit-based oligarchy, where the strongest magicians "naturally" rule the less magically talented, or you may have a rigid caste-based system revolving around how much magic a certain individual has, with magical aptitude flowing through families- a a sort of "Divine Right" magically realized. In settings with a smaller difference, society generally continues apace although, again, it depends on how strong the magic is.

In games where magic is Rare, many people might not even believe in magic, since they're unlikely to see it. Wizards and witches are either objects of fear and veneration (if magic is Strong), or folklore heroes like any other (if magic is Weak). Magic users are generally avoided due to superstitions or fear of their (likely greatly exaggerated) powers. In settings where magic is rare, wizards are unlikely to be seen in society in any great capacity, generally choosing to remain in seclusion. The scholar archetype is seen here in abundance, and player characters are unlikely to be able to select a magic using profession as their own. In settings where they can, the player is then able to wield a great amount of power, generally speaking.

Including the power to enforce the Necromancer's Dress Code

In games where magic is both Common and Strong, look to Eberron as an example of a fantastically realized setting. Magical power is the currency of the world, and wizards have generally invented a higher standard of living than is found in most other societies. Warfare is extremely modern in settings where wizards have access to artillery-style settings. Massed formations are useless where a single fireball or lightning bolt will kill dozens. Conflict tends to take the form of espionage, sudden shifts in alliances, and backstabbing. For another great example, check out the 3rd edition DMGs. For all their inconsistent tone, they very often have surprising insights on what society looks like when there's a wizard around every corner... except when they pretend that it's medieval fantasy again.

In games where magic is Common and Weak, consider reading the Diskworld novels. There, magic is generally regarded lightly by the populace, if at all. More than likely, there are still powerful wizards and weak ones, but the difference is a linear one, instead of an exponential one- that is, a powerful wizard might be twice as mighty as an apprentice, but hardly ten times as powerful, or one hundred times so. It might be even more powerful, such as in the Xanth novels, where every single person has a minor magical power they can use for entertainment or for completing chores. Or every townsperson could know a handful of charms for cleaning, or keeping away sprites and goblins, or for keeping a fire lit. In this case, look up our own Real World! Whether it's people praying for minor miracles, or folk rituals, people in real life have traditionally tried to change the world with magic, with generally very minor results.

Where magic is Rare and Strong, you have a cold war situation. Wizards are easily the strongest humans around (if not some of the strongest beings), and they are easily capable of either forging their own kingdom or usurping one that exists. When magic users are frequently walking missile silos, or can raise armies of the dead to fight for them, or summon giants, they make the rules. They decide what goes on. If it doesn't happen in the game fiction, the game's default setting is deeply flawed. This sort of world is reflected in the Amber Diceless Roleplaying, or so I've heard, and it's also somewhat in effect in Ars Magica. There, wizards rule the world in name or in fact. In this sort of world, players are almost required to be wizards, as the world is subsequently divided into the haves (magical folks) and the have-nots (nonmagical folks.) Alternately, magic could be so rare that perhaps one man in a million will possess its secrets, meaning that the rare wizard that does manage to crop up is a major world-shaking event suitable only for non-player characters or perhaps a party that doesn't mind essentially being spectators to one man's rise to power.

Where magic is Rare and Weak, you have settings like that of Conan's Hyboria. Subtle wizards use their craft more than their magic, using misdirection and fear to enhance their powers. They are feared due to the legends they helped craft about their prowess. In such a world, players are not likely to be wizards any more than they are likely to be bakers- it isn't a particularly rewarding path until its pinnacle, and there, again, most of the wizard's power comes from subterfuge instead of magical might. It's got a very pulp-fantasy feel, where a group might team up to stop a particularly vicious wizard from recovering an mighty artifact. This is also the way magic in Warhammer Fantasy works, sort of- magic in Warhammer isn't weak, it's merely unreliable and unhelpful in most situations. A Warhammer wizard is a deadly force in a fight, when he has to be, but otherwise is generally unhelpful. You'll notice Warhammer also evokes a particularly pulpy feel, where the heroes are often anti-heroes and life is dirty and rough.

...this post was supposed to be a warmup, but it kind of took on a life of its own.

09 November 2011

Reinventing the Dragon

Dragons are an interesting, iconic monster that's remained popular outside of our favorite hobby. There's just something about dragons that makes people want to get tattoos of them on their bodies, or wear weird silky shirts with a repeating dragon motif, or put oddly-shaped purplish dragons on their cars. Dragons are "cool."

Normally this is where I'd put something that reeks vaguely of counter-culturalism, but whoa. Dragons really are cool. At least, the well-drawn ones are. There's something about a swift-winged engine of destruction that stirs the imagination, and you just can't help it. You can't help but like dragons.

And since I had fun re-imagining the "Tarrasque" the other day, I'm going to have a bit of fun reinventing the classic, iconic D&D Dragon. And it needs it.

I'll admit, I don't have the original D&D rules for Dragons, but I do have the Swords and Wizardry rules pdf here in front of me, and it does do something pretty cool- it makes dragons' health and attack rolls almost the same across age categories. The only things that change are the physical size, the health, and the damage of their breath weapons, which is pretty cool. Unfortunately for my tastes, it still has color-coded dragons while still making the colors of dragons very similar. It doesn't conflate type with personality, though, which is awesome. I never quite understood why every red dragon should be fiendishly intelligent and also act exactly the same as every other red dragon, for example.

Dragons in the Rules Cyclopedia, however (that is to say, basic D&D), are split into three age categories (small, large, and huge), and divided by color. As far I can tell, the dragons are all pretty much the same except for their alignments and exactly what they spit, but I'll be damned if I'm going to do anything more than skim over the unwieldy, three-page-long rules for Dragons. It also goes into rules for Crystal Dragons, which apparently are so named for their ability to breathe total nonsense at people in addition to breathing regular dragony things like fire or lightning bolts or whatever.

In 3rd edition, of course, everything goes crazy and each individual type of dragon has separate stat blocks detailing its every statistic for each of 12 sizes and if I'm not going to read the Rules Cyclopedia, I'm sure as shit not reading any of those monstrosities.

For my approach, I'm not going to do any of that. I couldn't care less about color-coded dragons. To me, a Dragon is an enormous lizard of any color (but usually reddish) that breathes fire. They might be intelligent, and they might not. Some Dragons are burninating assholes, and some are wise demigods. The difference is in their personalities, because Dragons are intelligent and know that they can get away with terrorizing you and your livestock because they're much bigger and more powerful and as long as they're careful you'll never find them outside of their almost inaccessible lair- or that because they're bigger and more powerful, you really should accept them as a demigod, bring them offerings of food and maybe some gold, and then go away before he torches your head.

To this end, I'm thinking of maybe three types of Dragons.

07 November 2011

Masterwork Weapons

I've been playing around with an idea in my head- what if, instead of having a "plus" level and (maybe) a unique power to magical items, what if you did away with the plus altogether?

What if the big draw was the fact that it was magical, instead?

I haven't playtested it, but I can't imagine that there'd be any real problems simply porting it into a game. You could shift the bonuses to attack and damage on to the fighters' base values (so that a fighter who's "supposed" to have a +1 sword and armor could have an innate bonus to attack, damage, and armor class instead), and then have the occasional monster reduce damage if it was struck by a non-magical weapon. Something like how (as I understand it) certain monsters in OD&D simply couldn't be hurt by anything but magical weapons.

So there'd be value in a "boring" magical sword, for example- it'd still have the properties of a "magical" item (being constantly razor-sharp, resistant to breakage, resistant to magical destruction)... but you could have a normal smith create it. Hello, masterwork weapons. Nice to see you again. Why don't you take a seat.

You'd have to modify store-bought adventures and settings a little, sure, but it wouldn't be hard. Just take the boring swords and axes that don't get any cool powers and make them masterwork weapons. Now they're well-forged weapons with a certain value, but it makes sense that there's stacks of them lying around instead of being kept in a box while the enemy warriors are running around with mundane weapons.

In this scheme, there would be two categories of magical weapons and armor: the "regular" masterwork type that's a cut above regular weapons without contributing to power creep, and then "unique" items that are sentient, or return when  thrown, or whatever it is they do. And here's the real benefit: The items are important for what they do, instead of what stats they boost.

It's something to think about, anyways.

06 November 2011

Horror of the Deeps

One of my favorite ideas that never quite went through was for a world I was designing with my brother via wiki. I don't think I ever settled on a name, but the basic idea was that alignments are tied to elements, and that the combination of alignments meant that people had a certain combination of elements. Humans, being basically neutral, had a healthy mix of each (unless they went through some extreme rituals), but extraplanar beasts had some serious differences.

In this scheme, I wanted to go with Fire for good, evoking the common images of cleanliness, purity, and warmth- I was heavily inspired by the Zoroastrian tradition (as explained by Wikipedia), wherein they would have simplistic rituals involving fire.

This leaves Evil with Water, naturally enough. What, life-giving water is given a bad rap? Yes, absolutely. And here's why.

With fire, you know what you're getting. It's clear-cut and simple. With water, its flat surface hides great depths, with foreign monsters in a bizarre world. It's dark down there, hostile to life itself. It's Lovecraftian, where the shores are mistrusted due to the fishmen coming up from the depths to hunt humans for food. Fishermen and sailors are the bravest folk of all.

In this scheme, the Elemental Plane of Water is a place of great evil, of treachery, and of demons. In this world, the Horror of the Deeps is a lord amongst demons, a king of the great fishy hordes.

05 November 2011

Redesigning the Tarrasque

I was in the process of writing about why I don't particularly like the way that large monsters are handled in stock-standard D&D when I realized that it had gone from a semi-sane discussion of how the current rules aren't all that into full-blown complaining asshole mode.

So I scrapped the whole thing and now I'm going to talk about how I'd go about redesigning the Tarrasque.

If you've ever played 3rd edition D&D, or have ever been on a forum where it's mentioned, somebody will always mention the Tarrasque. If you've never heard of it, it's basically a nigh-unkillable giant mook monster, with good defenses, excellent attacks, and an enormous pile of hit points. It's really not very interesting, sadly, and that's my main point about it- for being an enormous, indestructible fighting machine, it doesn't really do anything. Amping everything up to eleven does not, sadly, make for an interesting monster. We know that it's not killable with regular means- did you really have to make it have 48 hit dice? Did you have to include special rules for rays and magic missiles? Was it necessary to state that it's immune to fire and poison and disease and energy drain? Did you have to list each of the totally mundane and boring skills it has? The Tarrasque is the crowning achievement of the kitchen sink design that so many detested about 3e D&D.

So, let me try and make it a little better. Couple of things going into this: This is remaking the Tarrasque so it's an interesting encounter. It's for retroclones and older systems, but you could probably port it into whatever you want. That's kind of the point, right?

The first thing that stands out to me, going from the SRD link that I've got handy, is that its health is at an absurd level. 48 hit dice is hardly necessary- even a more modest 24 is still well out of reach of any but the most dedicated party. So that's the first thing to go.

Secondly, it has an absurd array of attacks. It's able to attack with each horn independantly, as well as both claws, and a bite. This is supposed to be taking place in a fairly short combat round. It's simply undignified to have this thing thrashing around with its claws and horns and mouth all apparently attacking different things. Let's simplify, using a little math. It's got 6 attacks, with an average die damage of 11 and an average bonus damage of 10.5 per attack. So let's simplify, and say that he gets one attack per round, rolling (4d6+11)x6. The multiplication is in there because otherwise, we'd be rolling  24d6+66, and I don't know about you, but I don't have that many dice and if I did, I wouldn't roll that every round. This attack can be anything- a bite, a stomp, a massive claw, a deadly charge, whatever.

Thirdly, its immunities. It's immune to practically everything, so let's just make it official. The Tarrasque is immune to magic. There, look, done. It's almost immune to magic as it is, and at least this way, it makes it interesting- finding a way to puncture the beasts' magic immunity is now a quest-worthy  goal, and makes beating it down with a lightning bolt or whatever much more interesting. This is a good place to mention its Armor Class- 30 is absurdly high. I don't care what the character optimization guys for 3e have to say- if you're going to make somethings' armor be so high that you can't hit it, just say that. Don't bother including stats for things you can't do. If you don't want the Tarrasque to be able to be killed by normal weapons, just say it. They have terminology for that- it's called damage resistance, and it's what we're going to use. Something this huge isn't hard to hit, it's hard to hurt. We'll give it damage resistance 20/magic weapons, so that either you're bringing magic weapons or you aren't hurting it, and lower its armor class to 20 (or 0, if you're using descending scale).

We'll keep its regeneration- 40 points now means something, since it doesn't have 800 hit points any more. 40 health out of 200 every round is seriously meaningful, and it puts it out of the reach of all but the most hard-hitting. It's still almost healing faster than you can hurt it. On a similar note, I'm dropping all the custom resistances and just giving it awesome saving throws. Now it can be poisoned... if it rolls higher than a 3. And then, what's it supposed to do, again?

I'm going to ignore the section on feats, because I don't remember what they mean but they're probably almost entirely irrelevant. I guarantee you they can be reworded as special abilities, were any of them to be interesting enough to warrant it.

And that's almost it. I'm just going to add a bit about how the Tarrasque's attacks all have the ability to either also knock you around, or stick you in his mouth and devour you instantly.

What you're left with is a creature like this:

The Tarrasque is a creature brought into existence to begin the end of the world. Where it treads, it brings earthquakes. Where it fights, the ground runs red with gore. Entire cities have fled to avoid being in its path. Nobody knows what intelligence, if any, guides it to the destruction it inevitably causes- it doesn't take kindly to questions.
Hit Dice: 24d10 (240 avg. health)
Initiative: +7
Speed: 120'
Armor Class: 0
Attacks: 1
Damage: (4d6+11)x6 or 24d6+66
Save: F19
Morale: 12
Hoard Class: N/A

An enormous, bloodthirsty beast nearly forty feet high and seventy five feet long. Its stocky body is covered with a thick, grey hide, and its back is armored by an impossibly tough, thick carapace. It arms reach almost to the ground, and end in four thick talons. Its head is dominated by a massive mouth, two forward-facing horns, and beady, red eyes. Its roar is loud enough to deafen those nearby, and its growls can be heard for miles.

The Terrasque is immune to magic, and regenerates 40 hit points every turn. It reduces any damage dealt to it by non-magic weapons by 20 points. Every time the Terrasque attacks or moves, those nearby must make a saving throw (you be the judge) or be knocked several feet away from the Terrasque.

Those slain by the Terrasque are immediately devoured, providing 20 additional points of regeneration that round.

And there, look. An enormous, difficult to kill monster that has the same flavor as the original Terrasque (impossible to kill with weapons, impossible to kill with magic, rampages around and wrecks stuff) without being absurdly powerful or unstoppable.

Looking Back

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