Monday, December 21, 2015

To make an encounter table you must first create a world

Fortunately, part of the world was given to me, thanks to the Forlorn North Gazetteer in Frozen in Time. It is a land of semi-nomadic hunter-gatherers, yetis, white-ape science villains, and Hyperborean ruins of ancient, advanced technology.

To the North is the Rime King and his Palace of Jewels. Between the Forlorn North and him, a glacier of frost wights, bore bugs, sabre-toothed ice bears. Not many non-combat encounters. Lots of harsh conditions.

To the West is a frozen ocean. PCs could boat through it in the summer, or sled on it in the winter, as long as they expect the ice to melt and plan accordingly.

Eastwards, tundra and taiga give way to volcanoes. Pterodactyls loft through the skies, and Hyperborean ruins still dot the lands. In an ancient castle, the Perilous League houses a local planetary chapter. Elementals of fire and earth rage against one another. Probably some Meks or Castle-bred or Aetherians seek to ally themselves with one set of elementals or another, possibly to have some kind of proxy war.

To the South, I see the Sanctum Sanctorum's Last Castle supplement for DCC coming in handy. Meks and Aristocrats and Freemen, fighting it out. Also, possibly, Aetherians as presented in Crawling Under a Broken Moon, number 5.

Even Further North/South/East/West: I'll probably start making stuff from Mutant Crawl Classics. Hopefully I have it by the time the PCs go that far.

To create an Encounter Table, you also need Regional Assholes

I'm taking this out of An Echo, Resounding, because I steal all my ideas from Kevin Crawford. Basically, if you want to unleash the PCs in a sandbox, you want it to already have some regional assholes - people or things that are making life worse for everyone, people who the PCs might hear about, but they sure as hell feel the impact of the douchers being around. You don't want them to reach level 5 and suddenly hear about some warlord with an army - it's going to feel like the warlord teleported in, which, if true, that's fine. But otherwise it's going to be obvious you're gating your world to the PCs level.

From Frozen in Time, I have some regional assholes and some others I'm making up.

Mutant Frost Giant, 'Mammoth Master.' He's big, he's a frost giant, he has +21 to hit and will fucking eat you. He's trapping mammoths so the tribes are getting hungry; he wants to rule the region and is extorting people by messing with the food supply. Also he wants the nomads to fight among themselves so the meanest, fightiest rise to the top and work for him. He has an enslaved cyclops ghost-binder, hill giant lieutenants, nomadic tribal quislings who figure they'll rule some hill as proxies. And a fort/dungeon/mammoth pen. He's the biggest bad. PCs are going to start knowing their people need food badly. (Taken from FiT.)

Odobenmen Enslaver, Technology Quester. Someone or some thing is enslaving odobenmen, the walrus-men of the Forlorn North, and forcing them to search ancient hyperborean ruins for... something. Lots of families and walrus-kids are hostages. Odobenmen are traditionally not friendly with the human and demihuman tribes, but PCs should find both enslaved, mind-controlled Odobenmen and fleeing, harried refugees begging for help. (Taken from FiT.)

Krib Mountain Cultists. Something slumbers in the Krib Mountains, and the Krib Mountain Cultists are trying to wake it. They raid tribesfolk for sacrifices and slaves, often disguised as traveling merchants. They have Hollow Ones in their ranks. Whatever they seek to awaken will wreck havoc on the Forlorn North. (Sleeping Elder God implied heavily in FiT.)

Then you need some people who are less powerful, but still people or things those in the region would hear about.

Broken Tooth, Warlord. A failed noble exiled from the Last Castle, Broken Tooth is amassing warriors to take the fight to the South. He's not above conscripting and press-ganging, though he'll probably present a good face to the PCs. At first. He has airs of being above everyone, somewhat belied by shattered front teeth. People learn quickly not to discuss this feature.

Man-thinking smilodons. The peoples of the North are used to the saber-toothed cats - fearsome predators, but they tend to hunt alone, and take those who wander alone. They rarely approach groups of humans but for the direst circumstances. Something has changed. Gossip portrays of packs of smilodons, speaking to one another in sibilant, coarse language. Your people say that the Warfire tribe was decimated by such, with few survivors fleeing into the night. On the wind, the refugees could hear the mocking laughter of smilodons. 

Temple of Asara, Goddess of Peace. The pilgrims and crusaders of Asara have come to the Forlorn North to battle the adherents of Crom, which is a lot of the tribesfolk. Asara desires not the peace of families or friends, but the peace of nothingness, and no one to regard it. Humans are a plague against this, and the Forlorn North has many who strive against such, who have eaked out life for generations without the tender ministrations of Asara. Her crusaders carry steel maces, often dipped in pitch, and light them on fire as they quietly rush spear-wielding warriors. The roughshod wooden temple is a fortress, attempting to stop a major merchant route from bringing goods to the Northfolk.

Earth Elemental Recruiters. They have shattered an Eastward forest on their way to the Krib Mountains, and will probably crush more underfoot, seeking allies to arouse in their wars to the East. Few in number, but quite disruptive to hunters and gatherers. 

Mek FOB. From the South, the once-enslaved bug-men of the Castled Nobles have marched on the North. For now they content themselves to invade ancestral structures and Hyperborean ruins. They have taken over a traditional meeting place of Northfolk, Moothill, where tribes (and goblins and ogres) could come together in peace and trade words. The Meks drove out the Windwarders and their guests, and seem to be disassembling parts of the ancient tower.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Solo DCC Funnel for Fun and Practice

I wanted to run a funnel in some spare time, for practice. I really like using a solo engine to learn about a given system, and to suss out anything I'd want to change about a module in advance. Running a solo game gives me a better feel for the ergonomics of a module. It's not everyone's cup o' tea, but I enjoy it. There are some modifications to the rules, described below.

I snagged Kevin Crawford's wonderful Stellar Heroes. You can also use the more fantasy-oriented Black Streams: Solo Heroes. I use his model for damage, and fray dice. Each PC gets a 1d4 Fray die, and can use it the way a wizard in Solo Heroes would - so they can use it on any enemy, regardless of HD, as long as they could plausibly make an attack against said enemy. Once the PCs level up, they'll get whichever fray dice make sense for their class - for DCC, this is described best in Black Streams. Wizards get the 1d4, warriors get 1d8, everyone else gets 1d6. Elves pick between 1d4 and 1d6.

Level-0 scrubs are not experts in their fields, but I figure I'd give each one an auto-success per game on one non-combat check. I didn't use Defy Death at all, as it doesn't seem appropriate for a level 0 funnel. Really, DCC is supposed to be a bit more lethal, so I imagine I'm not going to be using it at all. I'm also not adhering as strongly to the idea that there can be only one PC - DCC really suggests at low levels that you have more than one character, and I want that kind of atmosphere.

For module running, I use the Scarlet Heroes General Oracle (a 'yes/yes, but/no, but/ no' machine) to see what the 'player' does. This way my knowledge of the module doesn't mean the PCs always do the Most Optimal Thing. Here's a free alternative oracle if you're curious. Really stupid things may be more or less likely, but I tend to go with Unknown for most of these questions, which gives 50/50 odds.

For the solo player in a funnel, you start with 4 level 0 PCs, randomly created. I gave them all 4 + Endurance modifier hit points; after first level, they'll roll to see how much they get as per normal.

With this, I managed to clear through most of Frozen in Time, with half . Two PCs died climbing the glacier, hilariously. I forgot about the noncombat auto-succeed, first time around, then the last person to climb fell and no one climbed down to check the body. No one wanted to risk the rope climb again. Of the surviving 2, one dropped to 0 HP fighting Robby the Robot, but recovered thanks to his decent luck score. My oracular rolling indicated the place blew up before my PCs could explore 5-1 or 5-2, which probably would've claimed one of the PCs, at the very least.

I did decide to throw in some extra swag - Zepes' shimmering bathrobe basically counts as leather armor, the plant pot in the hallway outside is room has a spare palm-key and copper nuggets in the bottom. I'd imagine his kitchen-area has a bit of preserved, emergency food, which the PCs will eagerly take back to their village. Zepes' right hand was clutched around a tiny crystal which, when held, plays La Vie En Rose. The PCs had to frantically leave things behind to climb out of the glacial base before it exploded, which is what I want to deliver when I run this for other folks.

What's next is filling in some adventures, running this module for some other folks, and probably using Scarlet Heroes to generate some dungeons and wilderness adventures. Definitely will adapt this adventure about cave people exploring a crashed star, meeting a telepathic future-human. Also working out random encounters for the Forlorn North for the hexcrawling.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

How I've Run White Star

Having run it solo and for a one-shot, this is what I've done when running White Star.

I really like Chris Hogan's Thiefless DnD - possibly because bringing in new players was fun with Blades in the Dark. Everyone likes being a thief, it gives them a clear set of goals in a sandboxy game, especially one without some Evil Empire to fight.  Stealing shit is also how Conan got started, sneaking into places, all hiding how swole he was until they needed a Plan B. So, everyone is a damn thief. White Star comes with no default thief class, and one can easily be ported, it'll just be better at the thief skills and gain, say, an extra skill point per level.

Having played (and loved) Stars Without Number, a OSR-influenced scifi game with a well-done skill system, it was interesting to come to one with zero skill system built in. Some of the classes just ought to rock at certain tasks (Robots can hack, Pilots can pilot), but sometimes the Mercenary needs to rewire a door or the Alien Mystic needs to use ship scanners. There are plenty of ways to build in skills, but I preferred how Dave Arneson apparently handled skill checks. Have the PCs roll 1-5 d6 and compare it to their relevant stat, plus half their level, _if_ their experience ought to help them. This way the stats don't have to get upgraded every time the PC levels up, but you also get to say that the characters get better at certain things thanks to their experience.

So that is every non-combat check covered, as far as I'm concerned. Either the PC can Just Do Stuff, or its looking for hidden doors or hiding in shadows, or it's something related to Int or Dex or whatever stat. Obviously it's OSR stuff, so if the player is banging every floor tile with a 3.048 meter carbon-fiber stick, they'll find the pressure sensitive traps or illusionary floors without any roll. But I like having some arbitrate system when things aren't that clear.

Speaking of Kevin Crawford's stuff, in addition to using some sector generating rules and some faction stuff from Stars Without Number, I've been using the add-on rules for Stellar Heroes to make one PC games work. It was for a one-shot, and allowed the PC to get through that entire built-in scenario without too much difficulty. The rules may be a bit on the cinematic action-hero side of things, but I can attest that it's easy for the PC to take on too much very quickly. Death can still come swiftly - as it should in these games, especially at low level.

(At the same time, one character in a Fighter-type class, with decent gear and tactics, can take out small squads of opponents. I'd imagine that becoming a plot point - surely military leaders would notice super soldiers in their backyards. It might be a little too on the nose, but I imagine it could lead to some interesting sessions. Militaries might want to hire the PC, or vivisect her to find what makes her simply better than anyone else. It's like Emily Blunt's character from Edge of Tomorrow.)

When running solo, I used Scarlet Heroes, and had fun with the dungeon and urban adventures it can generate. It's not for everyone, but it's a great way to learn a system or experiment with adding on random blogpost stuff, without having to corral players into a game that may or may not suck.

I also ran some Stars Without Number games solo, using Scarlet Heroes, but it's not a system that requires any customization. It's very good as well, I just wish it had a built-in 'Jedi Knight' class like White Star. There's also something awesome about creating your own brew of the White Box game.

It's not something people are clamoring for, but I am going to work out a way to play Dungeon Crawl Classics' funnel adventure solo. That system is too awesome, and it's been sitting on my shelf too long. I'll run through Frozen in Time and see how it goes, so I can see how that scenario can play out for actual, live humans this coming Thursday.

Monday, August 31, 2015

EVIL GANG OF ELEVEN: Blades in the Dark Actual Play 8/29/2015

I believe +Andrew Shields mentioned players feeling fatigued by rules changes in his last AP; I know my wife protested new skills and rules when I converted everyone to the Gencon rules, and I get it, not everyone nerds out about rules. (But whyyyyy not.)

I think my solution is just to constantly pull new people into RPGs, so last Saturday I ran the starting scenario for two friends, after a nice steak and potatoes dinner.

The Crew

  • Etheline 'True Blue' Booker, a former lightening-oil merchant turned Leech.
  • Carlos 'The Cutter' Penalton, an underworld killer grown into a proper Hound.
Etheline had lovers as her vice. Her parents had died young, and her best friend Jul (a blood dealer) had gotten her into this way of living; lovers made her feel less alone, for a while. Carlos was into weird things, all he'd tell was that 'it involves shellfish.' His father thieved around the docks of Duskwall, always into small-time shit that would never let him stop working. Carlos, naturally, aimed higher. He trusted Etheline as much as he had to, which drew semi-joking protest from Etheline's player, as these players are engaged in real life.

Their crew, the Evil Gang of Eleven, was known for being strange. Strangely honest, as it turned out. The players put lots of dots in different skills - they rarely had more than one dot in anything, but their resistances were quite good, especially in Prowess.

They started out talking to Baz, or being threatened by him. The Evil Gang, not quite living up to their name, just wanted to be left alone, to stay out of the gang war. Baz made it increasingly clear this would not be allowed, staring into his whiskey snifter and flatly delivering promises of retribution if they stayed in the district.

So, they had their first flashback, with True Blue making a portable, crossbow-type device that would track Baz within the room, fire remotely, and kill him. The wireless ran off little shards of the same ghost embedded in the devices. The crew had a workshop and fine gear in their lair, so, why the hell not. It's not my job to keep Baz alive, and she took 2 stress to roll, hit the roll with a 6, so, the device was in the room. They kindly let Baz know, and that they were leaving. 

"It'll be interesting to hear your plans to get out of my headquarters alive." Baz droned. They Wrecked the door to his office to trap him in, and I started a hidden 5-clock for 'Baz Escapes' - I told them I was creating the clock, I just didn't tell them the size. Didn't want them to know when he'd escape. I wanted to see if they'd mis-time this remote murdering device. 

The Wrecking wasn't without consequence, which was noise and attracting attention.

"So who in the Lampblacks is your best friend, who are you closest to?" I asked.

That turned out to be a fellow named Steve, who came down the corridor asking about the noise. Etheline tried to Consort/Sway him (same skill rating in both), telling Steve exactly what happened and that they meant no hard feelings (remote kill-device aside), they just wanted to leave. Strangely honest. They weren't picking sides, they were leaving. She flubbed the roll, and Steve began to think they'd killed Baz, which Carlos didn't try to contradict. Steve fled, firing a gun in the floor to attract his fellows.

A 4-segment clock started up, 'Lampblacks arrive in force,' and the two debated whether to just kill Baz. They decided to do so - I should note, they were aware of some Red Sashes job around this, but hadn't taken that, truly wanting to stay neutral. They just figured with Baz dead, the Lampblacks would be thrown into disarray, and wouldn't come after them. So, they triggered the device, Baz died, and they resolved to rob his office, like proper scoundrels. 

I asked about where they were, and Carlos' player filled me in: on the 3rd floor of a building, with a nearby fire escape leading down to street level. First floor was a bar, second, a gambling den, and the third was garrisons and Lampblack offices. Shite oil lamps everywhere, befouling the air, because Lampblacks. Baz' office window was a short climb from the fire escape, and True Blue made it over safely thanks to climbing gear, though she took longer than she wanted. By now the Lampblacks were 1 tick from arriving in force. 

True Blue passed Carlos the Cutter several bottles of grain alcohol 'whiskey,' which were turned to molotovs. She went to work on a safe in the office, failing to get it open. The Lampblacks' thugs arrived, Steve at the front, and Carlos lobbed fire at them and shot into them. The Lampblacks fired back, but the Hound's resistance roll was high and he dodged cleanly into cover. A devil's bargain meant the fire would spread.

Etheline cracked the safe, finding 4 coin in jewels and a ledger written in some cipher. Smoke from the fire crept in and threatened to wound her, but her Leech's Fortitude soaked that damage. Carlos shot down the remaining Lampblack squad, though he could hear more tramping up through the smoke. The two booked it, Prowling past the sentries checking fire escapes and other routes out of the building. 

So, for downtime, Carlos overindulged his vice, leading to an extra entanglement roll. Etheline repaired her armor (Fortitude) and began a long-term clock to unlock the ledger cipher. I put it at a 4-clock, and she began to tinker together something to programatically crack this (and only this) cipher. Sadly, not a Turing Machine. Carlos worked to reduce heat on the crew - I forgot to ask how, sadly.

The entanglements rolled were interesting: one only applied to crews with a gang, so they dodged a bullet, but the other was that a rival gang which had reason had come to cause problems, and the crew could pay them off or deal with it. They resolved to deal, so the next session will start with more antagonistic Lampblacks, probably remembering how the Evil Gang of Eleven killed off Steve.


  • Steve is dead
  • Baz is dead
  • Lampblacks start a 4-clock, 'Recover from Baz' assassination'
  • Some small faction of the Lampblacks is already going after the crew

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Blades in the Dark Actual Play: The Perpetrators Episode 1&2

So I ran a game for people away from the internet, and things went well. The group formed up as The Perpetrators, a savvy crew with a dockside lair and a gang of rooks. 

The Perpetrators: Savvy rogues with a boathouse/docks and a gang of rooks. Naturally, everyone steals.
  • Polonia Templeton, 'Tick Tock.' Cutter. Bat Charity Obsessed. Ghost fighter.
  • Veleris Dunvil. Whisper, best friends with a possessing ghost. Storm-caller.
  • Thorn. Hound. Name only shared with best friend, not the crew. Killer and tinkerer.
  • Rowan 'Echo' Booker, Lurk and observer. Fan of scouting, skulking.
  • Ashlynn Hellyers, Slide. Ambiguous gender, ambiguous in general. 

Session 1

The group met Baszo Baz, our ambassador to the world of Blades in the Dark, decided not to kill him, thanks largely to Hellyers, who picked Baz as a best friend. 

They lied their way into a Red Sashes building, a run-down mansion filled with faux noble partiers and duelists. The crew presented themselves as a lightening-oil delivery, sowed chaos and confusion till the place was being evacuated, killed a few guards, blew up a few mechanical spiderlings running on splinters of old souls. They planted a witchy, ominous totem, fulfilling Baz' request, and we called it before getting to downtime, as it was late. 

The Slide's face would stick out in the minds of the guards, but otherwise there weren't a great many consequences, other than picking one side in a gang war. 

The Great Migration

Some folks moved away but continue to play, remotely. I took everyone's starter character sheets, thankfully emailed to me, and converted them to the Gencon rules. I am personally a big fan of the shorter skill list, and the one coming out soon, seen here, are even more fucking awesome. The whole 'fancy training is a playbook thing, rather than a seldom-used skill' change is sweet. Stitch and Invoke have gone that way - you can see it in the Whisper playbook with the Occultist special move. 

Session 2

I started out explaining a little bit about downtime activities and entanglement. Since it had been a while, and some folks had lost their stressed and used character sheets, I was fine with hand-waving damage and stress, focusing more on the long-term projects and other downtime choices. No one had particular ideas for projects or the like, so I'll probably put my mind to it before the next session, just to offer some suggestions. 

I rolled for entanglements, and found out that another, more powerful crew had asked the Perpetrators for a favor - to spy on the Lampblacks. So the Crows had gotten something over the PCs. We started again with the crew meeting with Baz, getting paid from their last job and getting wind of new possibilities. Baz wanted a noble kidnapped - one Melinda Holcombe, who never stayed in one place. She was driven about in double-decker carriages all day and night, changing carriages rather than stopping, dining and meeting other eccentric nobles on her collection of conveyances, dubbed the Moveable Feast.

The players seemed to think this mad noblewoman would be tough, and chose instead Sean Nitter's excellent Gaddoc Station score

As an aside, I have to work on asking tight, specific questions. Often I ask really opened-ended details ('who has been here before, what was it like'). Some people like this, some people get flustered and have nothing. But Gaddoc (and what Dungeon World and others actually suggests, what I need to work on) forced me to ask specific questions.  

So the patron is obvious. The crew learns / the players decide the score is lucrative, dangerous, and illegal. We talk about drugs, but decide they're not quite dangerous enough, and go with a kind of weapon-like thing. A portal to the Void, we decide, a convenient place to throw bodies or undesirables, as long as nothing comes out. Baz getting this will (somehow) further a revolutionary's plans, so there's a consequences to tie in later on.

The station is quarantined by bluecoats. Echo scopes it out and finds a handy way in, for those willing to climb and roof-hop. Her nemesis, a bluecoat, get suspicious seeing her in the crowd near the station. Ashlynn, kitted up as a bluecoat, discovers the station has a crowd of 15-20 hollows and a train full of terrified civilians in it. Veleris tries to scout one of his ghostly friends into the place, but receives only visions of passengers using the water closet - what one must endure, working with unclassy ghosts. Tick Tock procures a stolen, hot lightening-hook. Thorn forgoes preparatory acts as the Bluecoats are beginning to suspect the crew is up to something.

The PCs sneak and climb into the place, all weighed down by climbing gear to avoid mishaps as they enter the large, enclosed rail station and find themselves on the roof of the train. As they attempt to lockpick and disarm the rooftop hatch, Echo is poisoned (a 4-clock countdown) and a rival gang begins to enter, covering the Perpetrators with weapons but holding fire, momentarily.

In a more empty train car, the PCs plan their next step, an 8-clock ticks as the hollows try to break in, and Nail Comber approaches the PCs. He assumes they're with the Red Sashes and there to rescue him and take the Void portal. Veleris can feel the weight of emptiness, the crushing horror of it, and his Wizard Eyes leak horrible visions into Ashlynn's mind. Despite this, the Slide masterfully convinces Comber to turn over the portal and wait for them in the train's engine compartment. The he/she can no longer perceive Hollows, as she/he sees only souls and spirits clearly.

Veleris concentrates and sends a decoy of the Void portal off with Nails, and the Hollows are distracted, confused. The PCs flee into a Duskwall subway tunnel (that's right! subways!) and the Other Gang pursue. A series of traps and ambushes later, the other gang is vanquished, and the Perpetrators are soon sitting before Baz again. 

I ask about the entanglement, and the Slide's player suggests they double-cross the Crows, letting Baz in on it. Baz rewards them richly, chortling about how soon the Red Sashes and the Crows will bow before him, all thanks to the crew! And the crew, somewhat uncomfortable, nods along. For now. 

Future Consequences

  1. Revolutionaries and Baz connected somehow, as revolutionaries benefited from this job succeeding.
  2. The whisper sent off a possessing ghost 'friend' to attack the gang. So whispers can do this. One from the Other Gang attempted this against Veleris as well, to no particular effect.
  3. Nail Comber - dead, alive? 
  4. Baz has a damn Void Portal. The Red Sashes will be getting desperate.
  5. The crew double-crosses the Crows. 
  6. The Red Sashes still know Ashlynn's face.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Antigencon Blades in the Dark Actual Play

So I was joined by Slade and Jeroen for my Antigencon game at 2pm, we played 'til about 5:45, so, a good long session for me. From +Andrew Shields pre-gen characters, Slade played Lullaby, a Hound. Jeroen reprised his role as The Doctor, whom he played as in one of Andrew's earlier games. I believe they both played in that game, so the system introduction was already handled by the players or Andrew, or both. Jeroen had a copy of the rules up and assisted me when my knowledge of BitD was unclear, which was awesome. Slade used Google Draw to sketch out the countdown clocks, which was also super helpful.

My prep consisted of imagining the Lampblacks' HQ, the Red Sashes HQ, and writing down a few clocks for the Lampblacks, two of which I actually used. I wrote out a few potential jobs from Bazso Baz, none of which I used, and read through the jobs list in the rules quickstart, also unused.

We created their crew, named at the end of the session. The Purple Skulls had a gang of Shadow-Adepts, thanks to a crew playbook special ability, and a vault in their hidden lair.

Baz began the session by offering them work, in his office. Or, were the rogues there to kill him, working for the Red Sashes? They were! We flashed back to why they were in Bazso's office. Lullaby had taken up a sniper position near where Baz and his entourage were traveling; Doc was set up with an outdoor clinic nearby, working on some screaming patient. (To the character's credit, the Doctor does have one dot in Stitch.) Their Adept gang chanted and summoned something horrible, which chased the gang off, hungrily following for help/food, thanks to a devil's bargain. Lullaby shot Baz, intending to wound but doing significant damage, filling half of a 'Baz Dies' 6-clock. The Doctor quickly offered to stitch the wounded Baz up, I believe agreeing to a bargain that an underling would be suspicious. Doc succeeded with consequences and Baz was comatose when the two were summoned to help him again - too much poison delivered by the Doctor, on the sly. They didn't want to kill Baz yet, as they were hired to get intel from him first.

Baz was one clock tick from death, and got another 4-segment clock, "Baz Talks." But first, security. Lullaby brought 3 items, looking like quite a civilian, but her partner hauled in 5 items, triggering Lampblack security searching him. To be fair, I warned them. Sway helped get them through, but a Southern-accented guard, Aldo, followed the rogues. Doc gave Baz antivenom, which removed a clock tick from "Baz Dies," and used some horrible electrifying device to awaken Baz. Lullaby lured Aldo in and slit his throat, but not before the guard tried to wing her and scream out (though Lullaby's Prowess allowed her to resist all this).

Baz talked, spilling details of a safe in the warehouse HQ, designed in broad strokes by my players. Then he accidentally triggered a security device. One bargain meant that Baz would remember Doc vividly, which Jeroen happily accepted before slitting Bazso's throat. The two abseiled down the side of the warehouse as guards ran to the office. Jeroen flashed back to the Doc getting a device from the Adept gang, a spirit anchor with bound spirit(s) and a clockwork breaking mechanism. When broken, spirits escaped. In retrospect I should've charged him a stress or two (he even asked! my mistake), but this expanded a "Patrols Searching" clock from 4 to 6 segments.

The climb was seen by a few Bluecoats, raising the rogues' heat.

Into the second floor a spirit bomb went, into the first floor went our rogues, searching for the Lampblacks' vault. Finding it quickly, the rogues took all they could carry without making prowls/battles desperate (so, 6 items worth each). Since that's technically heavy, perhaps I should've capped it at 5, but at least I didn't give them portable holes. The two Finessed their way out in a manner reminiscent of the old Slip skill, just before the "Patrols Searching" clock could fill up.

They had killed Baz, stolen documents and coin from his vault. The Red Sashes paid 6 coin and lavished praise. The rogues had to pay off Bluecoats coming to make an arrest for their high-profile murder, and an Inspector casefile was opened on the Purple Skulls.

Lullaby, a great aider of the Doctor, had taken 7 stress, and overindulged her vice, drinking. She spoke of her work, drunk and heavily armed, and was asked to never return by terrified civilians. She began gathering information about good sniper spots for their next job, finding places to make carefully controlled shots. The Doctor asked his drug dealer friend Bril to reduce heat by selling drugs to Lampblacks, and deciphered some Lampblack documents, finding a vulnerable business to take over: receiving illicit relics from Deathlands Scavengers employed by the Lampblacks. The two began receiving and decoding wireless transmissions from the scavengers.

The two intercepted a supply run from the Lampblacks to the scavengers, a car full of supplies. Their Adepts put in physical labor, digging a ditch to stop the car, but digging it such that the car didn't see anything until it was too late. Daphne and Vey got out, rifle and spirit goggles at the ready, respectively. The Doctor stood to get their attention, disguised as a madman whisper surviving alone. This let Lullaby get a controlled shot off on Daphne, who died, but not before shooting the Doctor (devil's bargain). Doc staggered through this, resisting it down to a graze, and Sway'd Vey into running off, but not before Daphne possessed him, riding in his flesh back to Duskwall.

There was time for one downtime move, as the scavs returned to Duskwall. The Doctors reduced stress, letting Daphne send a message to some old friends, and Lullaby and her killer bud Oman slew Bluecoats to reduce the crew's heat.

Supply lines cut, the scavengers returned to Duskwall, meeting the rogues, as the Purple Skulls directed them to the meetup via wireless. Pool, head of the scavs, was skeptical, till Sway and Lullaby shooting a spun coin from the air convinced him to work for the two. They had stolen the original documents on Pool and his mates, used by the Lampblacks to blackmail them, and now the blackmailer had simply changed. Thanks to a bargain, Pool would always try to worm out of this crap arrangement - he wasn't in love with working the Deathlands, having lost an eye and most of a hand to them.

Lampblacks burst in, a 6-clock worth - actually, thanks to a flashback, Lullaby found out in advance and signaled Doc to wrap up. Everyone left, though the Doctor kited the Lampblacks into a fight, them all referring to their sketch of his face, dictated by Bazso's shade. Lullaby shot two of the four gangers, the rest fleeing. One of Daphne's old lovers almost found the Doctor, but the Doc tamped down on her before she could yell through his mouth.

We wrapped up with a long-term clock for the Doctor, 'Get rid of Daphne' with 3 segments left unfilled. Lullaby acquired some poor quality ammunition, likely good for fireworks next to her electroplasms-laced ammunition. Her friend, Oman, was arrested for questioning, but the crew bribed him to freedom.

Hanging Threads:
Inspector's files
Lampblack lieutenant who knew these two were suspect
Bazso's ghost remembers the Doctor quite well - used, but will come up again
Daphne haunting the Doctor
Daphne's love looking for her ghost
Lullaby finding a new purveyor of vice
Lullaby's friend Oman was picked up by bluecoats, they probably took some nice kit
Deathlands scavs now work for the crew

Overall, it was fantastic.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

No Skill For Art

I think it was the prolific, consistently awesome +Andrew Shields who called for an art skill in Blades in the Dark, something to represent a scoundrel creating any work of art, just as handle allows one to drive any vehicle. (Andrew if I'm wrong on this, sorry to single you out.) For once I have to disagree.

(Edit: Ha I was totally wrong about this. Andrew linked to his post, which is basically the same thing I'm blathering on about here. I am somewhat embarrassed to misrepresent him, but, at least I can call myself out here.)

If you listen to the Jank Cast's Apocalypse World campaign, Black Diamond, there's a neat part where one of the characters, Frost, a Skinner, wants to play a song on his fiddle. Perhaps this requires context. There's this angry, murderous mob, snarling at someone the characters want alive. Some PCs are gearing up for a fight, some are gearing up for the fight's fallout. Frost's player leaps out of silence and declares he is playing a tune on his fiddle, about how wonderful and murderous the black diamondoids are. How brave, how martial, how they all need to go have a good shag.

The MC basically tells Frost's player, 'OK, if you're playing a song that's good, that can just happen. Are you trying to do something with this song? Sway the crowd or something?' And thereby we get to the meat of what is going on. Apocalypse World is not Basses and Banjos; if a character wants to say his gunlugger can play guitar, we can all just nod our heads and say 'alright.' But if the character is trying to seduce people or drum up a mob or psychically invade people's minds whilst singing a tune, there's rules and moves for that.

I think Blades in the Dark can handle things in a similar way. Fundamentally, the game is about rogues on jobs, or rogues dealing with the results and side effects of their work. It also already models downtime activity, where the PCs investigate things or work on long-term projects. I'd say we can dice up art along these lines. If the PCs are using their art to sway people, and their art can be wheeled out or sung to those people, the player gets to roll Sway. If they're trying to convince an art critic that their art is Real Art and not Dross Shite, ask the player what they think they ought to roll. It'll vary - I could see Cipher working (the art references other art in subtle, knowing ways), Deceive (obviously), Command (the force of personality burning through the art terrifies the critic), Sway, Invoke (the art twists with the dripping influence of the Void). Deceive is good if the player doesn't believe his character's art is authentic (or the art isn't concerned with such), sway works if the art legitimately climbs on the pedestal of Actual Art.

For downtime, a long-term clock to 'make art' could get filled in a number of ways, and one result of a 4-5 rolled could be to force the player from one skillset to another, one approach to another. The clock isn't always necessarily filled in the same way. Your Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner can't just be done from your character's ability to sail (Handle) - maybe you need to Invoke something, maybe you need to go down the bad side of town and indulge in some Mayhem.

For long-term work, it's very important for the GM and the player to know and agree to what it means when the clock is full. A successful showing or book deal, recognition or acclaim, a legitimate front for the players to hide behind. You can make art for art's sake, of course, but that's going to make the clock rather anticlimactic.

Art may also be an acceptable Vice, if the player if fine with using it to clear stress and not really getting much out of it, other than overindulgence, trouble, and occasionally useful rumors. For many real-life artists I imagine art was a mix of all these things - useful to the artist and using the artist by turns.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Vices of Duskwall

I've dropped my 5e campaign and have only played in one game in the last month or so. A game of Blades in the Dark, an upcoming John Harper game I kickstarted. It was lots of fun.

In the game your scoundrel takes Stress for avoiding the consequences of bad rolls or bad decisions, or for helping fellow rogues get things done. You recover between jobs by indulging in a vice. There's stuff you'd expect - drinking, doing drugs, hiring escorts. And then there's the stuff you have to think about a bit more.

Things Collected
  1. Leviathan hunter harpoon heads, pitted with rust or gore.
  2. Pre-imperial coinage stamped with unknown monarchs.
  3. Recordings of Leviathan song. Can cause nosebleeds, hallucinations.
  4. Out-of-print penny dreadfuls.
  5. Heliotypes of captured human souls.
  6. Repurposed dockworks sculptures, artist(s) unknown. They seem poised on the verge of movement.
  7. Sketches by the prolific natural philosopher, Hellas Dvorkin. Her renderings from the polar south are filled with blotted out, surely-fictional Others.
  8. Pre-cataclysmic books on astronomy, star maps. From what people can see, the stars are all wrong. Conversely, stars have been seen in the inky black ocean from time to time.
  9. Recordings of Ada Llewellyn, opera singer
  10. Glassed sand rocks from spirit wells. They glow softly.

Weird Shit You Get Into
  1. Seances over a cauldron of boiling leviathan blood
  2. Temporary flash photographic hollowing - empty heliotype film canister allows the soul to return after a quarter hour. Mostly.
  3. Blindfolded alterboy/altergirl work at the Church of the Ecstasy of the Flesh; the job requires an unbeliever
  4. Flatlining and recovering via black lotus powder, cut with Forgotten Gods only know
  5. Alchemical test subject for a beautician's salon
  6. Deathlands gecko training - they're hunters' companions. Love leviathan music.
  7. Smuggling ghosts out of the city.
  8. Smuggling ghosts into the city.
  9. Talking to a well's trapped demon in an abandoned part of town.
  10. Making artisan bathtub gin cut with electroplasm.

  1. Orphans! Miserable, destitute orphans straight from Dickens.
  2. Family: stolid, staid, uncomfortable with your work.
  3. Old leviathan-hunter's crewmates. Too many are too crazed to work.
  4. Stray animals: dogs, cats, rats.
  5. Goat herder clan meandering around town.
  6. Common-sense-lacking, tongue-wagging, illegal unionist.
  7. Impoverished, discredited inspector. You probably helped ruin her career.
  8. Archaeological museum. Fraught from without and within.
  9. Thespians whose plays go to far in mocking the Emperor.
  10. All your bastard children. And their children.

Affiliation - removed, but it'll live on here
  1. A cult! An illegal gathering for worshiping horrible cthonic powers who wait.
  2. Ghost traffickers. Bringing ghosts out of the city so they can be 'free.' Or bringing them in because you're a terrible person.
  3. Illicit plant growers. Farmers are strictly rationed by the nobility and typically provide food for the nobles. Illegal farming requires enough lightening oil and space to be considered a misapplication of imperial resources.
  4. Spelunking society of treasure-seekers. Possibly affiliated with an archaeological museum that's limping along.
  5. Leviathan hunter's halfway house, home to a rotating cast of the mad.
  6. Hounds Auxiliary. Kind of a Coast Guard Reserve of Hounds, who, of course, scour the deathlands for spirit wells, ancient usable technology, and other threats to the Empire.
  7. Coarse lowly criminals, cursing and bullshitting into their cups.
  8. Unionist pamphleteers and poster-runners.
  9. Newspaper of some repute. The character is technically a stringer and is expected to turn in copy once every few weeks.
  10. Society of shite actors and amateur writers, carrying out stories with ritualistic combat at pre-determined points to randomly determine story flow.

Drugs - as it turns out, deserving of more thought than I initially reckoned.
  1. Sanitized leviathan blood.
  2. Unsanitized of the above.
  3. Freebased electroplasm - 'wrestling ghosts.'
  4. Black. Lotus. Powder.
  5. Laudanum.
  6. Fermented sea 'water,' which is jet black and not quite at the consistency of water.
  7. Amphetamine dust.
  8. Hashish blocks and laudanum dabbed grapes.
  9. Smilers. Alchemical lumps of clay-like mash designed to induce happiness, originally because the Sun is fucking gone.
  10. Psilocybin tea. Crumpets.

Monday, May 25, 2015

I am obsessed with Blanchehammer

Blanchehammer. Mr. Shea wrote it. You should read it.

I don't know why I am so thoroughly obsessed with it. It isn't entirely intuitive how things would work. If the players do all the rolling, for instance, and I have some rulings from Pearce about how to attack, I don't know how they roll to defend. Attacking isn't just 'here is the attack roll' - attacking someone defending herself requires, for success, an 11 or 12 rolled on a d12. If you're proficient in attacking with your weapon, you add your proficiency bonus to what you roll, so non-fighters are winning that one on a 10, 11, or 12 at first level.

Actually, fighters (and protagonists) would reduce the difficulty by one die size first, so they're rolling a d10 and succeeding on a raw roll of 9, or 10 at first level; 8-10 if proficient in their weapon, if we define proficiency narrowly. If someone is proficient in 'attacking,' sure, 8-10 with whatever is at hand.

Attacks, Hitting to Wound, Hitting to Kill Speedily

Rulings drill down from there in interesting ways. So wounding someone with a sword is simple - roll a d4, succeed on a 3 or 4, or a 2 through 4 if proficient. Fighters would reduce the die size and basically get that for free. Killing a wounded person is likewise simple. Killing someone with a single blow is only a little tricky - so roll a d8. Fighters, assassins not in a stand-up fight, roll a d6, add proficiency. (Ha, re-reading the proficiency bit at the end of Blanchehammer makes me think it is applied much more narrowly than this.)

So it seems like no one would ever 'just' attack, right? The attack roll is a d10 for fighters, single-blow kills are a d6. Unless the 'one die, one roll per turn rule' makes such necessary - the fighter is trying to kill two people in one turn, so by interpretation 1, she could roll a d6 and a d8 to do so.

I'd probably want it such that wounded people can still fight back - it's easy to wound someone, it's trickier to kill them outright, and defense from a wounded attacker is probably a die step easier. But 'attacking is a base d12, killing someone outright is a d8' doesn't make sense to me, unless either the killing outright at d8 assumes a defenseless person, or we're talking about attacking something that can't be killed in one sword swing or so. Bears, manticores, et cetera.

How to think someone else's idea to death. Also, defense

I dunno, at this point I'm probably overthinking it. Pearce seems to have wanted to show that some things are significantly harder than others, and didn't expect some idiot otaku to take things into the Math Lands. Which will be a new Blanchehammer class at the bottom of the post.

So an untrained attacker can land an attack about 16% of the time, a 11-12 on a d12. So defending yourself works rather well - people should be able to do it rather handily. Perhaps it's simple (d4) or average (d6) - though this means adventurers will land attacks 16% of the time, if not combat-focused, and get injured something like half the time, with a d4, or 2/3 of the time, with a d6. I'd probably go with a d6, just so fighters still have a chance of getting injured in a round of fighting.

Let the DM Roll

How do things change if the DM rolls attack rolls? I'm going to use the 'simple to wound, tricky to kill outright' and just ignore generic attack rolls because why would you do that. If I roll to wound as a fighter, I auto-hit, if we reduce d4 to 'success.' My opponent, a fellow fighter, wounds me. I can automatically finish my opponent off (because I won initiative), but I am still wounded. Any fighter-equivalent or assassin or protagonist can finish me off quickly, easily, automatically. I could mayhap win initiative and go for broke, go for a quick one-hit kill, but if I lose initiative I am dead.

This sounds like a grim system built for players controlling more than one character, or having a posse, or both.

Having played systems where the DM doesn't roll, and systems where the DM rolls, I like the latter better. The former tends towards two simultaneous systems, one set of rules for what the players do, and anther for how the DM's world works. If you give a player an NPC to play for a bit, the NPCs stats are written in a completely foreign language, at least from when I've played Numenera. An NPC doesn't roll to get things done and could only auto-succeed or fail in that system, with ties determined randomly. I'd rather have NPCs that can be elevated to PC status without an act of translation, personally. I also think this dual track creates PCs that are more complicated than NPCs, which I don't love.

I like PCs that aren't terribly special. Other than their amoral penchant for clever ways of dumping on their enemies.

On the other hand, if a PC wants to run away from someone else, who rolls what? There is no DEX in Blanchehammer. This is just a matter of on-the-spot rulings based on what the players have been led to expect, which may be the whole point of Blanchehammer. I'd probably let the PCs roll and see what happens, and not worry about rolling for the NPCs here. NPCs flee, I'd probably let the PCs roll to pursue. There are some neat ways of resolving chases that are more complex, but this game can probably roll with a simpler setup.

Idiot Otaku of the Math Lands

A Blanchehammer class:

Idiot Otaku of the Math Lands have an easier time boring people into semi-magical slumber or confusing people with half-sensible verbal logic flowcharts, and escaping from them thereby (and by running). So producing a semi-magical slumber is only tricky for them, as is their fast-talk confusion logorrhea.

Idiot Otaku comb the deserts known as the Math Lands for bunkers of illicit, collector-quality hats of the 2nd Imperium of Man. These hats are, of course, outlawed by the Emperor, but the idiot otaku are adept at avoiding capture. They are not adept at desert survival. Their posse consists of pupils, as per the sage, or stoned chaos monks who are armored if showing off their abs, and adept at nonlethal combat maneuvers and finding devices that play Death Metal. 

Monday, May 18, 2015

3 Snake Leaves

I've been reading through Into the Odd lately, and also found an awesome webcomic via a fellow player in John Bell's awesome Necrocarcerus campaign. That webcomic's titular conceit is destined to be an Into the Odd Arcana.

3 Snake Leaves

If all three leaves are present and pressed over the eyes and mouth of a recently dead, largely intact corpse, the person will be flush with life and vigor. So much so, that they make choices they come to regret. At the Referee's discretion, players should roll a WIL SAVE or misbehave as befits their ebullient nature.

I would probably only let the 3 Snake Leaves work once on a PC, and after it does it's work, it's obvious the person isn't quite the same as everyone else. They're too flushed with blood and life.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Independently-Minded Skeleton Tactics

From several editions of DnD, it appears skeletons are typically written as dopes who clackingly follow orders at best, or, at worst, repeat the actions they carried out in life.

Unless their job in life was operating a Rube Goldberg machine of violence, pulling levers to expel burning oils and shoot out pincer claws, this is Not Good Enough. Not by half.

Skeletons need to be smart, dammit, and they need tactics! They, of all the undead, are vulnerable and have relatively low hitpoints, especially compared to the other low-level undead, zombies.

Why Are The Skeletons Smart Though?

  1. Wizard with strange politics created them in order to free them; awaits emergence of higher order through giving skeletons more intellect and reasoning capacity.
  2. Dully glowing gems chained to their vertebrae grant them decent cognition.
  3. Undead brains, burnt and charred to the inside of their skulls in hideous diagrams, afford them a hive consciousness. In groups of 3 or more, the skeletons are quite smart. 'Groups' can be separated by a few hundred feet and retain awareness via one another's senses. This also makes them harder to surprise.
  4. Teeth and jaws stained black by a vicious, viscous liquid which allows undead more self-awareness, with occasional bouts of crippling paranoia. The stains become a warning.
  5. Partial revenanting gone wrong, giving the skeletons eyes in bleeding sockets, boiled (yet largely functional) brains, scraps of flesh on their bones still. Claw-like hands work as weapons.
  6. Devouring the brains - or in their case, mastication alone - has made the skeletons more intelligent. They communicate in morse code by clacking jaws or phalanges against femurs.

Skeleton Small Unit Tactics

Skeletons like to have zombies around as meat shields. They'll chain zombies up and stagger them in rows before them, hiding behind them. This counts as decent cover in whatever way you estimate it, though attacks that miss have at least some chance of hitting a zombie instead. The skeletons fire short bows from behind this mobile cover. The zombies are chained to them with shackles or ropes which allow the skeletons to let one or more zombie loose; they'll do so if their opponents seem to be concentrating fire on them, rather than on the zeds. 

Skeletons will deglove zombies in (frequently successful) attempts to harvest a new skeleton warrior. Degloved tissue will be fashioned into crude armor - likely not improving AC so much as granting the skeleton more hit points, or ameliorating some of their vulnerability to blunt weapons.

Some skeletons' bones aren't connected by anything other than magic or electromagnets. This requires some setup, but in an area with an ancient, whistling pneumatic tube system, skeletons will 'mail' themselves about via tube, arriving in a jumble and self-assembling in 1d4 rounds. In other situations a skeleton will dive behind cover as a loose jumble, providing a small AC bonus. If the bones can land on something soft, falling from a long distance only inflicts half damage.

Skeletons will, of course, throw Greek Fire or ball bearings or caltrops at opponents who are fleshy. Caltrops have no effect on skeletons, other than making their kicks do slightly more damage, should the caltrops get stuck in their metatarsals. These can also aid climbing, which skeletons are adept at (I'd let them succeed on that in a 3+ on a d6 roll). Their toes and fingers are quite suited to teasing out tiny holds during an ascent. 

Skeleton Mass Unit Tactics

Former tinkerers or engineers or sappers probably exist among a large skeleton force. They will make a big show of attacking, leading with zombies and seeking to avoid prolonged engagements, while sappers mine and undermine fortress walls, or while engineers construct trebuchet out of wood and spare zombies. 

They don't get hungry, they don't sleep, they can see you in the dark, they have trebuchet. You better hope in a prolonged siege that their sentience somehow causes some intellectual schism.

Thursday, April 16, 2015


If you don't have the occasional Drill City grinding through your setting and disrupting your precious shit then get one set up and rolling through.

ALSO, if you run around in my campaign, GO AWAY. I'm probably going to throw in things I don't want y'all to have.

So, a Drill City is tunneling out of the Plane of Towers and towards Necrocarcerus. Clearly you need the PCs to fight some Morlocks.

What Morlocks Are Not

This is clearly surface-dweller propaganda. Morlocks are not stupid or primitive. They have a fucking drill city! It's a city! With a DRILL ON IT! And it's coming for you! Your city walls will not stop something that can grind through the Underworld and the Underdark. They're not going to get to a stone block wall and turn around in shame. They are going to come in and rule you and destroy your civilization and enslave you and eat you. Because you are Eloi: you are soft, you are weak. The Morlocks hate you more than they hate each other. Barely.

Morlock Hate Priests

They love to use Command on surface dwellers. They love to make you kneel in their presence. They worship machines of their manufacture, but most of all, they worship Hate. They brew up healing potions of cloned Eloi blood that can heal 2d4 + 4 hit points, but only if you make a Constitution check to keep it down. Otherwise you get half of the effects and are filled with rage.

They are the peak of the Morlock caste system. They have a direct line with the Big Rage Upstairs and are listening for orders to return to the awful surface. They are also, in many cases, complete buffoons, eager to order their peons to glory, or at least horrible death. They are crafty in all the ways of staying alive and putting other Morlocks in danger. An expedition of Morlocks on the surface will be lead by a Hate Priest who lost some political infight, and was forced to leave the protective shell of the Drill City.

Morlocks in Battle

All Morlocks can tap into the Minute of Hate. They become resistant, in 5E terms, to piercing, blunt, and slashing damage, taking half of whatever people roll. They can keep this unnatural resilience up for a minute, then have to take an hour's rest to regain their smoldering disgust for existence. 

Despite this, their fighters are not eager to wade into melee - like the Hate Priests, they'd rather someone else take that roll, preferring instead to fire bows or pistols from cover. But they are adept at using cutlasses and pikes in close quarters. 

Priests, Guards, and Crew

The Morlocks who are not trained as fighters or reared as acolytes become crew. And the crew is ground down over time, like the Urth beyond the city. Their quarters are stacks of tiny berths, like a Japanese coffin motel built for Iron Maiden groupies. Bedding is quite basic, and communal baths are one of the only comfortable places in the Drill City for these lower-class folk. Regardless, they largely do their duty, focusing their red-eyed gaze on the Eloi. Largely.

Drill City Thieves Guild

A Drill City contains miles of iron hallway and pipe. Inevitably Morlock engineering creates, as that angry discipline always must, strange crevices, strange pockets of unused space, off the beaten path. Some Morlocks are drawn to these places, shirking the rigorous requirements of the upper caste. They might still work, but they're goldbricking when they're not actively stealing food or components for their own purposes, building up a tiny fiefdom between the steam-reclamation manifold and the primary waste filter. They'd love nothing more than to take over, eat the priests, and then probably recapitulate the same shit system all over again. But they typically stay themselves from committing outright rebellion, if it seems the priests will put more Eloi flesh on the table.

Morlock Cuisine in the Underworld

They have frozen in blocks, Eloi, or pieces of such. They take little pieces and clone them in vats, growing turgid lumps of flesh. Thawed surface-dwellers can become henchpeople or backup party members, as long as they can carve revenge into their captors and cooks. 

Morlock Stats

You've probably run DnD or similar games for longer than me; you can probably come up with better stats than I can. The Hate Priests are actual Clerics, or at least, cast Cleric spells. The thieves are thieves and will shank you. The fighters throw bottles of oil and snipe at you from behind turned-over workbenches, while their 'leader' Hate Priest sings a disturbing hymn.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

On Wanting Everything and Abandoning Established Settings

I have run away from an established setting. I have done so because I find reading lots of pages of text about an imaginary setting to be somewhat dull, at times. As Zak S hath wrote: if you write RPGs for a living, the work you put into a novel-like world description is just never going to be your most amazing work. Your most amazing work is wedged somewhere in systems of classes and rulings and tables, in character options and maybe in vignettes of people and places and things. But a fully detailed setting isn't a vignette. It's more of a textbook.

A fully established setting becomes something of a weight. Players expect to see it. They know a bit of what to expect - and I don't mean to get into some missive about the horrors of metagaming, because I'm not terribly worried about it. But unless you're explicit that you're diverging from canon, players may interpret differences as a mistake on your part.

This talk of fully-detailed settings reminds me of Basic Red's Let's Talk About Moon Slave, which in addition to establishing a kick-ass deity, talks about how RPG writers get deities wrong. Rather than a vignette, you get a list of things the God holds in his or her bailiwick. Or you get novelized fictional treatments that become textbooks for the DM to memorize.

I can't hold too much in my head. It doesn't help that every time you damn people in the RPG blogosphere write something down, I feel like I have to use it. I'm already running 5E players through the Plane of Towers. Then I thought, what's tower-shaped that I read about recently? Oh, I know: a Morlock Drill City!! So now the PCs are in a drill city's theater, getting made up and stuck in black theatrical unitards, about to contest both Morlock and the zombies and skeletons that have infested the city. According to a crazed, evil, yet affable (thusly) morlock wizardling, the Plane of Towers is a place in Hell, which of course lies underneath the world. The Morlocks just got a bit side-tracked on their journey to the surface when they accidentally took on a small horde of the undead.

And since the players are in a form of hell or purgatory - the Plane of Towers isn't that bad, after all - maybe they'll drill 'out' / through a portal / into Necrocarcerus. Ultimately I want to ask for some of their input about what they want from an overworld setting, but I like a) lots of people are 'undead' and b) the setting has a freakin time-limit on it.

Monday, March 16, 2015

New Campaign: 5E and all the OSR things that inspire me

If you're a player in my game, just.. be an adult! If you read this stuff you're going to have some metagame knowledge.

We begin in the The Plane of Towers. There are other humans and demihumans there; feel free to roll for what kind of murderhobo you find if the NPC has been stuck in the Plane for a long time.

PCs can find ways to escape and get to Vornheim or Ur Hadad, or Stalag, a Deep Gnome city's peak beneath the Universities of the Cthonic Codex. All of which I imagine existing in the same world.

Things that I want to inspire this campaign:

Dreams in the Lich House's Taenarum

DitLH's Black City project as well

So from these two, whatever city the PCs arrive in, they'll find or hear of some megadungeon just outside the city. If they want, they can travel there easily enough. Elsewise they can pointcrawl the city. Backswords and Bucklers may give me some ideas for city roguishness.

In terms of gonzo: Kalak-Nur is pretty inspiring to me.

I think Dreams in the Lich House really inspired me to play this using 5e Dungeons and Dragons. I think there will be a few minor modifications to test out in the Plane of Towers (characters run or have access to a small pool of characters, weapons and armor degrade) Definitely want XP to come from more than just combat, as well, to incentivize the players to hand me conflict kind of in the vein of this post, though that probably works just as well with combat-only DnD. I dunno, perhaps for now I won't mess with the XP system. Other than awarding XP for things like 'Achieving Important Goals' and 'Outwitting Enemies Such That Fights Aren't Needed.'

I recall someone running Vornheim and the players remembered Sharn, from the Eberron setting in DnD, but they couldn't actually recall that the city's name was Sharn; they were calling the city of Sharn 'the Eberron setting.' I can't recall if this was good or bad. On the one hand, Sharn is kind of the megacity of Eberron, so I can see people remembering the setting as this unique city. On the other hand, it'd be nice if people remember the difference between The City and The Setting, especially if they leave the city.

I want to make sure that each city has its own personality, on top of whoever the PCs are talking to / destroying. Vornheim is Cold. It was extruded slowly from the frozen Urth, and it will linger for a long time. It was made by ancient Men in ways we cannot easily replicate, but can repair. Ur Hadad is Mad. It is jovial as a rictus grin, its hallways and passages carved well before mankind, for reasons we cannot know. It is populated by jovial killers and stifled bureaucrats who think laws are the best way to play practical jokes.

Stalag would be my own making and has the most development to do. The deep gnomes are a contemplative, practical lot. They negotiate with everyone and act as middlemen. It is slow there, plodding, and quietly besieged. Drow and duergar maneuver around it, wanting it for themselves. There are lots of illusions, lots of the environment trying to twist around on the PCs, which would be damn hard to model. Definitely going to give the PCs some indications that 'this will lead you out of here this way' and let them decide how to leave.

Tangentally, Things missing from the Plane of Towers

Ant Tower as given to me by this lovely post on Giant Ants.

Crystal Tower filled with crystal golems (using the Animated Armor from the 5e monster manual). A level 4 magus who created them. His murderhobo captives who are turned into living-heads-in-jars which are in turn used to power the golems. Inside each one you can see the face of someone. They seem to be screaming.

Needless to say, the PCs could soon have a murderhobo goon squad to go upstairs and wreck that wizard. Then, the problem is, the PCs have a murderhobo goon squad...

A besieged tower. This would probably let me use some of the mass combat rules from Red and Pleasant Land. I have to poke in there and see how those jive with 5e, and how to make horses/mounts super important for traversing a battle. I believe Zack already had that in there.

Regardless, inside there are nobles who have never left their tower and who typically dine on blood and peasants. Outside are a bunch of rabid humans who are there to knock over the tower. Many of them are foaming at the mouth and all are crazy evil.

What is it like after we die

Tom Waits had some good ones.
  1. Like a skinned hand bleeding
  2. Like a back door squeaking
  3. Like a big dog breeding
  4. Like more cold coffee
  5. Like a new brain learning

Far Less Lyrical:

How NPC reacts to being dead
  1. Thinks he died doing something heroic and worthwhile. Enemies are beneath him - he won, after all.
  2. Remembers everything.
  3. Remembers nothing. Every 30 seconds or so, new introductions.
  4. Has achieved Nirvana. Questions about pragmatic issues get nebulous cosmic answers, questions about nebulous cosmic issues get pragmatic answers.
  5. Can't hear you very well over the sounds of a huge party / orgy kind of thing. Gives lots of unsolicited romantic advice.
  6. Can't stop screaming. Can speak at length of how torture works when one cannot die of shock.
  7. Keeps thinking of his/her parents, wondering when they'll show up. Has a message for them.
  8. Sitting at the right hand of God the Father, Our Dark Lord.
  9. Watching you, waiting for you to join him/her.
  10. You look like an angel to them.
  11. There's a lot of interference over the short-wave. The NPC is about to lead a counterassault against a heavily fortified nest of devils. Getting mortared as we speak. Advice on tactics would be greatly appreciated.
  12. The NPC is now mining in the Knowledge Mines alongside angels and devils. There are a number of esoteric topics the NPC has since become an expert in; uses metaphors from his prior work to explain them. Law and Chaos can be explained with sheepherding metaphors. Don't worry if this doesn't make sense. The PCs are probably not experts in either topic.
  13. There is a cup of coffee before the NPC, on a table in a field. Clouds roil across the sky. Shapes form in the clouds.
  14. The NPC has a tower on the Plane of Towers. Some of the local imps worship the NPC as a godling. The NPC has gotten used to this treatment.
  15. Relives last few moments forever. PCs can break this loop with a tricky persuasion roll / proper roll-playing.
  16. NPC is distilling soul-stuff in a brewery for the Gods. Doesn't have a lot of time for chit-chat or will be fired.
  17. The NPC was already re-born into another mortal body. Doesn't recall past life, is extremely weirded out by your 'telepathy'. New mortal body: 1) humanoid baby of some specie 2) goat 3) golem 4) already-adult goblin 5) eagle 6) snail
  18. Busy catching up on reading. Will talk if the PCs can hit a Lore roll (or equivalent) to discourse on the Symbolism of the Moon Slave in relation to the 18 Days War.
  19. Doing the same stuff, now just in Dis. Once an NPC, always an NPC.
  20. In an awesome bar, drinking and bullshitting.
  21. You can clearly hear some kind of play in the background. The NPC whispers and the play bits you overhear seem more relevant answers to your question that what the NPC says.
  22. Compelled to return as a lantern in an Iron Empire outpost. Will give answers if the PC will get geased to come out and smash the lantern. Which is, of course, Damaging Imperial Property and Rather Illegal.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Buying a House

Buying a house is a pain in the ass. And in games!

Things You Find in Your New House

  1. Ochre Jelly (Labyrinth Lord). A set of stone jars in the pantry were left behind. Open one up and the jelly coagulates out of them all, giving it a bonus to surprise.
  2. Yellow Mold in the crawlspace. Every day after moving in there's a cumulative 5% chance it eats through the floorboards.
  3. An old painting in the attic. It is the last image of Kendrul the Wise, deposed and exiled cousin of the current King. It is worth 3000 silver to a collector; it is also highly illegal. Treason is punishable by death or a life's service in the Penal Brigade.
  4. Vampire in the crawlspace. She is not hostile and does not seek to use the PCs as food. She will not pay rent, but otherwise seeks to simply turn into a mist, wander the streets at night in search of poetry and entertainment. She will become hostile if kicked out. Otherwise vampire hunters will track her to your home in 2d6 weeks.
  5. Deed to a modest holding in the Wild Lands, overrun by dinosaurs and feral halflings.
  6. Congress of cats held in your home's courtyard fortnightly. The cats bring dead animals and a few silver worth of trinkets, in a rare sign of feline thankfulness. Gods-bothering witch hunters will assume you are heretics and witches in 3d6 days; they're why the last tenants moved.
  7. 1000 silver hidden in a wall. I assume a PC was absently tapping for secret doors one night, when she couldn't sleep. In 2d4 weeks Archinal Zarunda, famous mercenary and possessor of a Steel Fist, will arrive to reclaim what he hid in the home. The previous owners agreed to keep this safe for him. Apparently.
  8. PCs cannot take a long rest after moving in due to a whispering voice that cackles to itself. It is coming from a wall. Inside, a skull clatters and jabbers to itself, recalling delving into the Underdark by way of the city sewage system. But it was beset by an enormous sword-wielding worm. Or wyrm? It can give directions if it is in hand, though it won't answer questions - it cannot hear. Sneaking with this out will be quite difficult, and wandering monster rolls should be more frequent. PCs can gag it but it'll spend the first turn ungagged complaining. 
  9. Door in basement leads to subbasement, subbasement leads to the Underdark. PCs find themselves in a gnomish village besieged by duergar. 
  10. Closet you just noticed contains a mechanical steam-or-magic-powered spider. The deed mentioned this closet contained 'lawn art by Dwun Dorn,' an inventor from the arid South. The machine won't do anything, but is both worth money and probably fixable, in Dorn's hands.

What Moved Into Your House After You Didn't Go Back for the Entire Campaign
  1. 3d4 anarchist squatters. They have converted most of the living spaces to pamphlet manufacturing. They're largely friendly (though the PC tendency to amass silver will be a turn off) but can become antagonists if asked to leave. Otherwise, royalists are going to be outside spoiling for fights a lot more often, and the PCs chances of treason-trials rise.
  2. More adventurers.
  3. 3d4 Royalists. They're looking for filthy anarchists and other people skirting the law. Your house seemed like it was for sale. Maybe. Just as the King rightly seized the Vale of Sun, so too have they seized your house.
  4. The bank has changed your locks and posted signs about vacant property being repurposed in the name of commercial development.
  5. A noble, trying to consolidate power against the King while laying low.
  6. Someone had broken in through the back and died in your kitchen. She clutches a small wooden box. It contains an Ioun Stone which seems to be biased in how it hovers; it always points to the northeast.
  7. Prison escapee. He was put in for selling Black Lotus and just wants to get the hell out of the city.
  8. Archinal Zarunda has turned your home into a flophouse / bar / permanent hungover semi-party. Sleep is impossible and officials will come by to try to enforce noise ordinances. However, if carousing can give XP, PCs who carouse should get some bonus to XP gained. Roll for carousing deeds and mishaps!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Knowing Rules, Character Sheets, and Information Overload

This post at Follow Me And Die reminded me of the first time I ran Dungeon World. I made a few copies of the basic rules and character sheets from what the designers/writers of that game put out, from over here (pdf warning).

Now I should say, the group was kind of large - 5 people, none of whom had played any tabletop game, ever. But all of these folks - literally all of them - have PhDs. How hard could it be to teach them the ropes?

The problem with those character sheets is that they contain not only all the starting moves of each class, but every possible pick-one-of-these-neato-option level-up feats. Half of the players thought they got to pick from the advanced moves list, because, hey, I handed each of them a giant sheet of paper about it. And I think everyone started trying to read and comprehend every part of their character sheet. On top of the 'basic moves' handout, a few of those were floating around. Most people recovered from this enough to play and have fun, though periodically someone would tune out for a bit, and come back to ask if they had access to any of the advanced moves. My wife, sadly, never recovered from the information overload. She came away from the game thinking that tabletop RPGs are a form of directed play. You know, when a 3-year-old asks you to play astronauts or princesses, and then you're supposed to know precisely how they want you to do everything in this role. That is probably one of my greatest failures as a person who runs these games.

And it really is my failure. I'm sure some internet dickwads would be happy to tell me it's her fault or the like, but they can go to hell and play tabletop there. I threw too much paper at people, and all that paper was covered in rules. There are two pages of general moves and two pages of rules particular to your character, one of which should largely be ignored. I tried to point out to people that they should just try to do whatever they wanted to try to do, and I'd tell them when this required dice rolling, but between my words and all the papers, it wasn't always easy.

(Though I should say in general, people seemed to have fun, and folks want to play again, so it's not like I ran them through abject confusion and misery.)

I kinda want to run them through a different system next time, given my recent predilection for all things OSR. The LotFP Character Sheet is certainly less replete with paragraphs to read and comprehend. But I'm tempted to make things even simpler; run it with the WWCD? rule of Everyone is an Adventurer, though I'd give people taking the Learning / Specialist route 3-4 skill points, especially in the start of the game. That might be OP, but who cares, the wizardlings will get spells from potentially anywhere in the spell list (though if they have 6 hp and a level 7 spell, they can only cast it once). Anyone taking the fighter route can use combat maneuvers as a fighter.

So far so good... But to make something really simple for new folk, I want to use something like this awesome character sheet. Choices are baked in, but simple enough that people won't spend 30 minutes glaring at their sheets. Rules are not presented in paragraph form for new folks.

(Edit: Hopefully this doesn't come across as 'blaming Dungeon World.' It's not DW's fault. I just think handing out lots of prose to people, and telling them not to read it, that's going to lead to failure.)

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Videos of Ye Olde Guns

Gear and Methods of the Matchlock Rifleman. Not as dry as my title, this video has a fellow going over the process of loading and firing a matchlock rifle. Also displays period garb, armor, equipment. Folk were apparently taught to load without putting the rifle on the ground, so they could load on the move, which seems totally bananas to me. Also, putting a lit match near the black powder that touches off your rifle presents some obvious safety concerns. It's easy to see why a flintlock or wheel lock was considered a step up in technology - the wheel lock being the step that overcomplicated things too much, but got away from 'lit match juggle reload,' the flintlock as the step which resolved the mechanical complexity.

It's neat to see in the above example, the re-enactor is wearing a plate male cuirass. Probably wouldn't help much against bullets, but who knows. The capandball YouTube channel has a video about shooting lamellar armor with these kinds of guns.

Match lock rifles firing line - it would suck to juggle gunpowder and a lit piece of string like that. Gunpowder out in the air won't explode like TNT or C4 or the like - it burns and burns really fast. But still, you could spill and get a nasty powder burn or the like. You can see the fellow at the end with his Apostles, seemingly running through faster thanks to them.

Wheel Lock Carbine - loading, firing. Really cool mechanism. Especially the way the flint is basically lowered into the front of this trough filled with black powder, and the spring-wound wheel spins around, rubbing itself against the flint, flinging sparks into the powder pan.

Wheel Lock Rifle - short, slow motion.

Flintlock rifle loading and firing - looks like this one has a rifled barrel, too. Probably too advanced for OSR games, but it's not like I've ever seen rules for rifled barrels. Practically, those make shots more accurate, especially over distance.

There are actually a lot of flintlock videos on youtube; if you want more, find some!

The paid version of Lamentations of the Flame Princess (the rulebook) contains an appendix section on firearms that largely goes over these points. It's nice to have some video references, especially on how the wheel lock works. It also specifically mentions the kind of armor you see in that first video.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Rules Hacks I Have Loved

Kind of a saving for later post...

Necropraxis' House Rules are short and sweet. PDF link.

What Would Conan Do?

I like the idea of everyone starting as the same class a lot - I feel like it'd be easier for pick-up games with people who haven't played before. In-game decisions leading to you getting bonus abilities is also an awesome feature of the 'God Botherer' link. 

Ten Foot Polemic Unified House Rules and Related Thoughts - very big set of things. I definitely like the first few pages; think I start to shy away in the Necromancer / Barbarian class page. Love the Goblin. Honestly demihumans are a bit played out, from my perspective, but I'd love to see a Fighter MU Specialist Goblin set. I also really like Not Getting Hit Points and general thoughts on Death and Dying. 

Games With Others' Extensive List - I especially like the Dark Souls stuff, memory as a disease kind of explains a character having the player's metagame knowledge. The HP setup is also interesting, as are the rules for benching PCs and having backup PCs. 

Metal Vs Skin's Rules on classes, race, multiclassing, and goblinoid collective action - I really love the Kalak-Nur setting, and, surprise, I like this post on the classes of Kalak-Nur. This is another LotFP set of hacks. I like how it lets us leave race-as-class alone or let players have their race-class and... adopted? class, via the magic of multiclassing.

Actually, all of Metal Vs Skin's House Rules are pretty great, particularly the HP as countdown clocks. That seems like a particularly hardcore DnD modification.

Lost Pages' B/X Hack: MAGEBLADE. I might throw in the LotFP Specialist and the 'all of you can do this, the specialist can get better' rules, but this is also good as is, and the 5MORE system is easy to comprehend.

Paper and Pencils Lamentations of the Flame Princess House rules. Part 1. Part 2.

The mass combat and horse-riding rules in A Red and Pleasant Land are lots of fun. 

Amazingly detailed rules hack just for climbing.

PDF of Telecanter's Receding Rules' House Rules - combat maneuvers are especially well done. I love combat maneuvers like that - like the Mighty Deeds from DCC, simplified, as they can encourage creativity. Having a list of feats is not as much fun, and having no combat maneuvers is even less fun. Zak S put out the monster's guide to combat maneuvers.

If you had already decided on an OSR retroclone of choice, and didn't have enough choice paralysis... Rules hacks! Forever! I'd probably just wind up using Telecanter's or Ten Foot Polemics. I'd like to playtest MvsS's hp countdown, if I ever (ever) have free time again. I want to take some people who want to play an in-person game and run with the What Would Conan Do? ruleset above, set in Vornheim or the like.