Saturday, June 30, 2012

Blame the Elves.

(D&D thoughts about this Charlie Stross article I just read. You should go read it when you have time and your thinking cap/bottle of brain-helper. You probably don't need so much of those for this post, though.)

Three questions (ok 5 or 6), two notes:
1. Does the need for dungeons & treasure necessitate settings with a "mythology of a distant golden age in the past" a la pre-18th C Enlightenment? Is it 'cause D&D settings are mostly emulating pre-18th C times? What if there wasn't an ancient civilization with their buried shit everywhere?

2. Are PCs "actually discovering how the [campaign's] universe works, and improving [their] lives" as functionally post-Enlightenment agents in a pre-enlightenment campaign world? 
Do the answers to those questions trend differently in old school D&D play vs new school?
This question may be wanky overacademic bullshit, I haven't decided.

3. Do we blame the Elves? In a lot of settings (based on a lot of mythology) they have an old, decayed kingdom that humans/etc built on top of. Dwarves may be implicit here too. Also, for some of you G+ perverts*, aliens and reptile men. 

The above questions are related to concepts in paragraph 1. They have probably already been asked. Feel free to school me.

Note 1: This sentence from paragraph 5 states this idea the most clearly that I've read: "What we call "hard SF" today mostly isn't hard, and isn't SF: it's fantasy with nanotech replicators instead of pixie dust and spaceships instead of dragons."
(one reason why they have such a big audience crossover?)

Note 2: A big reason (for me) that Zak S**'s drawings and such are awesome are that a lot of them give me the "Sense of Wonder" or "eyeball kick" as mentioned in paragraph 8ish.

*I love perverts.

**for some reason I called him Zak S, which is how I see him mentioned on other gaming blogs.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Fire Lizards of Kalak-Nur (new race for old school clones)

NOTE: version 2 coming soon...
I read Ian Johnson's entertaining post Ruined By Wizards Dying Planet Death World and wanted in on the fun. I rolled up 11 creatures.

To break up the tedious stuff: I rolled a 1d6 and looked at the Contents table here. If I rolled a 6 then I rolled 1d4 on the Contents table here. Then I counted up the listings in the appropriate section and generated a random number. If the section broke down into subcharts, I'd roll on each and work my way down until I had a specific critter. Wikipedia is really full of Contents Tables that could generate random stuff for your campaign!
Anyway, now I embark on a series of posts about the hypothetical campaign world with the following as the primary intelligent races: Giant Otter, Giant Beetle, Kobold, Fire Lizard, Harpy, Frost Giant, Sirenflower, Crone of Chaos, Marilith, Red Dragon, Treant. Humans may exist as naked, dumb savages, but I didn't roll them, so they won't be intelligent! Not all of what I rolled are practical for PC races, but I got some inspiration for the Fire Lizard. What do y'all think?

Young Fire Lizards are 8-10 ft long with grey, red, brown, or black patterns. After the change (see below), they are about 30 ft long and darker. Fire Lizards have roughly human intelligence until they are (40+3d10) years of age. At that time, they become ravenously hungry, eating 1.5 times their body mass daily, growing three times their size in a year, and laying 1d4 eggs. The trauma of this transformation and the chemical changes involved leave them with little more than animal intelligence, highly territorial and violent in the extreme. 
Which is to say, young Fire Lizards are bored as hell. The elders can barely communicate and all the books and art objects get burned whenever one of them goes through the 'change'. The other creatures of Kalak-Nur's vast central caverns and tunnels are not much better, being either pompous, greedy, savage, or otherwise unable or unwilling to intellectually engage. Making ash paintings on cave walls with your breath gets old.
When the easy life they have in their familial pits of lava and stone become too much to bear, some young Fire Lizards head out for adventure. They begin with little knowledge of life beyond Kalak-Nur's central volcanic mountains and tunnels, and are just as likely to emerge in the verdant, rainy, and highly settled east as the dusty, more sparsely populated deserts to the west. Other intelligent races are used to this and welcome the labor companionship, but grow wary the older the Lizard gets. Fire Lizards among society will pay other creatures to read to them or construct book harnesses to hold tomes in front of their faces.
Knowing their eventual fate as huge, savage monsters tends to lead Fire Lizard adventurers to either a grim, fatalistic determination, or a dry, savagely dark wit. Gallows humor is frequent. Some say knowing that their intelligence will some day flee them gives their intellectual relationships a poignancy and bittersweet fervor. Most are intensely loyal to the companions they meet, although some prefer to trivialize intelligence by tricking other races into trouble and strife. Still others revel in physical mastery, creating fleeting surface kingdoms of fear and pain.
When they feel the change coming on, most make a trek back to their fiery ancestral tunnels beneath Kalak-Nur's central mountains. Those of a crueler bent head to heavily populated surface areas, taking their chances for a greater guarantee of edible fodder.

 (Stolen from this guy's awesome DeviantArt. If you are that guy and you want me to take this down, just let me know.)

Requirements:    STR 9, CON 9
Prime Requisite: STR
HD:                    1D8 
Max Level:         9 + 1d4 (determined at creation)
AC:                     9 or 11, improves by 1/2 level (IE at level 4, AC is 7 or 13)
SAVE:                as Fighter

Being giant lizards, they have no articulated digits and must support themselves on at least three limbs at all times. If on less than 3 legs, the Fire Lizard must make a DEX and STR check per round to remain upright.
A Fire Lizard PC cannot pick anything up except in its toothy, smoky maw. They cannot use weapons, and can only use armor specifically made for them. They are restricted to magical bracelets, rings, and crowns, which can be secured on their horny protrusions.
Fire Lizard PCs may carry 1 humanoid on their back for every point of STR over 10 for 1 hour. (IE STR 15 can carry 1 person for 5 hours or 5 people for 1 hour.)
A Fire Lizard PC's attacks progress as indicated:
Level - Attack
1 - Claw 1d6, Bite 1d4, one attack per round but reroll misses once; second hit must use different attack
3 - reroll 2 misses per round; can breathe smoke that obscures vision in a 10' radius 1/hr instead of an attack; all creatures -2 to hit and hiding/sneaking is doubled in radius; maintaining uses attack for the round
5 - gains a second attack per round if DEX over 11; can breathe fire for 2d4 damage every three rounds
7 - smoke radius is 20', fire damage is 2d6; gains a second attack per round if did not at lvl 5
9 - fire damage is 2d8

Fire Lizards must sleep for 8 hours or suffer -2 to all rolls the following day. Fire Attacks are almost useless against them: At levels 1-5, they receive a bonus to saves vs fire at double their level; after level 5 they are immune to nonmagical fire attacks, and suffer half damage from magical fire attacks if they fail their save (no damage if save).
"We are the best of friends!" "Get the fuck off my back, cow." (from here. If you are the artist and want me to remove this, just let me know.)

Friday, June 22, 2012

Just do the thing!

I must start by saying that I am as guilty as anyone. Pretty damn new to the OSR scene, I have wanted a thing and tried to "crowd-source" it from the collected knowledge on G+ or the OSR blog community. I think this is valid when it's, "What supplement had x in it" where you're pretty sure x existed. Less useful when it's "I need x for this dungeon and I think everyone should write it!" or "That sounds like x you should stat it!" I've said those things. I should have just written the things instead of asking for them.

Jeff RientsZak Smith, JOESKY, the Dungeon Dozen guy, and [your favorite blogger if not one of them]* are who they are because they are clever, yes, and they are uniquely themselves, yes, but I'd say mostly it's because they get an idea and then write the damn thing out. We don't all have Rients' amazing collection of Dragon Magazine, sure, but who needs it? At one point, the cool thing in Dragon Magazine was an idea in someone's head. Jeff's amazing things are ideas in his head. You have ideas in your head. Write them out.

There are problem with this, yes. For most of us, I'd say its a scarcity of time and focus. Some of the great OSR bloggers have the time and focus to come up with cool shit because they have a lifestyle that gives them more time to think about gaming. My problem is often patience - I want to get my cool idea in front of you now, not in two weeks when I've edited it and straightened the fiddly bits (or made them weirder.) It is in all our interests, however, for me to be patient enough to edit the things but still damn post them, and for all of us to take the cool gaming idea and actually write it out and put it in the world. Don't wait for someone else to make it. If it takes you two months but you get the thing done, hooray!

If it's brilliant, congrats! You actually took an hour here and there to give us all a cool thing.
If it's flawed, but you made it the best you can and have edited it at least once, congrats! We [you are included in that 'we'] giant game nerds now have a thing to poke at until it works for our unique games, or ideas to talk about. This will lead some to think more about how the stuff works, or how it doesn't matter if it works because players actually enjoy the tension of running from the methane-breathing skull-faced poodle-manticore before the methane fills up the dungeon and takes away the breathable oxygen. Tick tock.

Awhile back, Dave Arneson's papers went up for auction, and it seemed like everywhere I turned, people were wetting themselves. I just kept thinking, why do we care? I mean, I know why the inimitable James Maliszewski cares, he is a valuable historian of the game, but why do most of us care? There may be great ideas in there from the game's formative years, but...rather than read Arneson's 30 year old castoff ideas, wouldn't you rather read 30 peoples' best idea from now?**
Maybe I'm a crazy and disrespectful. Maybe I'm a long-winded blowhard.

*James Maliszewski could have easily been in this list for me, but most of his actual game content stuff is understandably in products one pays for, and I'm mostly making a point about people posting free stuff in blogs/on G+. His blog is great, but he doesn't post tables, dungeons, or new classes that I recall. ("What I stole from the golbin-demon's ass, a d6 chart" or "New LL Class: Posteriomancer" are not things that would be on his blog in my experience.) Nor should he, if what he's doing works for him.

**I definitely think those papers should be publicly available both physically and in PDF and maintained by some open institution.

JOESKY TAX: I am too in the middle of other things to write the Posteriomancer or Methane-breathing Skull-faced Poodle-Manticore, but:

1. 1d20 Gold, covered with poo. Ew. Roll CON to keep from vomiting.
2. An elf finger with a magic ring that gives you absolute knowledge of the next magical item you touch, then the ring turns into a  normal worm.
3. A worm that eats magic. Left alone with any magic item or spell area, it will eat 1 level of spells per day. It will not eat in front of you. It will starve to death if not fed magic or eaten to live in intestines in 1d3 days. It can live in intestines indefinitely, but removing it kills a living creature.
4. A tiny spellbook. The highest and lowest level spells have been digested, but there is a middle-level spell you can learn. Roll CON to keep from vomiting, though.
5. A Goblin-beetle. Makes clacking noises when demons or goblins are within 100 feet. Will fly at their faces and try to go down their mouths/noses.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Halls of Wrath

I can't find the original post on G+, but due to the vile influence of Monster Johnson, I volunteered for homework from professor of the gothic Jack Shear. I randomly selected level 5 of Dante's Hell, put it through the radiation field that is my imagination, and this came out after MUCH editing.

Collectively known as the "Halls of Wrath," there has been much speculation as to the original purpose of these rooms. Some say they were created by a twisted Wizard-king as a forgotten city's justice system. Others say this is a prison where criminals were sent to eternally torment each other.
These rooms are harrowing, but must be crossed to enter a sunken city full of treasures (or whatever else your PCs are on a mission for).

1. The Marble Room

 Except marble and full of statues and the water is rushing through really fast and there's less light!

A stone and marble chamber with little natural light. There is a 5-foot lip at the entrance, and the rest of the chamber's expanse is filled with rushing water. In the water are statues of warriors and monsters locked in battle. A canoe is tied up near the entrance. 
A) It is very difficult to steer the canoe through the statues without crashing into one of them. The GM should enforce this with skill or attribute checks and percentage rolls. Or it takes 20 rounds, with the d20 chance a statue is hit increasing by 1 every 2 rounds (1 in rounds 1 and 2, 6 in rounds 11 and 12); the PCs can hurry, but increase the chance by 2 for every round they skip. On a 20, the canoe capsizes, increasing for every round the PCs hurry (hurry 1 round and it capsizes on 19 or 20). Of course, the PCs may not have reason to avoid the statues until they've hit 1 or 2...
B) If one of the statues is touched, it animates and the room fills with eerie light and the sounds of pitched battle - roars, moans, metal, swords clanking, etc. The Animate Statue appears as a foe the person disturbing it has previously killed. The Statue Foe demands a justification for it's killing. If it is not satisfied, it attacks. A PC has time for maybe four sentences before the Statue attacks. The Statue Foe will try to knock the PCs into other Statues, animating them, but cannot animate them itself directly.
C) Under the water are The Sullen, angry intelligent undead that grasp any being in the water and attempt to drown them. Creatures drowned by The Sullen become Sullen themselves. Animate Statues are immune.

Statues...just waiting there for you in the water...

ANIMATE STATUE - as dead foe it has become, or: AC 6 or 14, HD 4 to 6, MV 9, Attacks Sword 1d6, Confusion in a 5' Radius 2/day - PC reaction on 1d6: 1-2 stand still, 3-4 attack nearest statue, 5-6 attack nearest friend; save ends

THE SULLEN - AC 2 or 18, HD 2, MV 6 (crawling), Attacks Grapple (as STR 15+1d4), Hold Underwater (+2 to checks once opponent is grappled), Claw/bite 1d4

2. The Red Room

An ornately decorated, dimly lit chamber with a few hanging torches. The carpet and wall hangings are red velvet with glittering, embroidered snakes. Perceptive PCs will notice scaly writhing and hissing sounds. Three heavily veiled women sit, knitting. Under the veils they are 2 Medusas and 1 Spiral Demon. They are cursed to stay here forever. They would like to eat the statues in the Marble Room.
Instead of fighting, the three are more amused by being taught new games, bribed with works of fine art, and being told riddles and gossip. They will attack if provoked or attacked. They know the ritual to summon the door to the next room, which also appears when the gem is removed from the head cavity of the Spiral Demon. The Spiral Demon's head can be used to make a Portable Hole by a Wizard Alchemist of appropriate level.

SPIRAL DEMON - AC 6 or 14, HD 6, MV 9, ATTACKS: Disturbing Appearance - sanity/wis check or stare dumbfounded for a round; Claw 1d6 +1; Grapple as STR 18; HEAD VOID - creatures grappled for more than one round are held automatically (but can break free with STR-2 check) and shoved into the void of her spiral head-cavity, where they are slowly consumed and later shit out as Spiral Zombies

MEDUSA stats in 1e ADnD MM but poison Paralyzes instead of kills

3. Demons! Room

There is a huge fire and fucking Demons torturing dudes in big weird machines! The Demons will rush the PCs. If the PCs let the door of this room close while some of the party was still outside, those members of the party appear tied up in the Demons' torture machines and have to break free and fight their way unarmed to their stuff in a pile by the fire. The way out is through the big fireplace, which the Demons will defend.

The Demons enjoy arguing. There will be a Demon for everyone the PCs have killed in the past month or 1d4+2 per level of the highest level PC. If the entire party gets paralyzed, the Demons put their gear/weapons in a pile by the fire and strap them into torture machines. Tortured PCs lose 1HP/rd but get +1 to saves vs Paralysis.

SHOUTING TORTURE DEVIL - AC 6 or 14, HD 5, MV 9, ATTACKS torture tools 1d6+2, 25% chance of bleeding for 2 HP the next round; Paralyzing Shout 1/day: every creature that can hear save vs paralysis at a 3 penalty or be paralyzed; new save every round and penalty decreases by 1/rd*

*Special SENSES WILL BE SPLINTERED rule: a PC failing their save can choose to be blinded instead of Paralyzed, but only once/day.

Sooooooo...I hope this is fun and useful to other DMs in whole or part. I may do an "Ecology of the Spiral Demon" entry soon. 
I bet Dante is rolling in his grave...FOR INITIATIVE!

(crap, I just realized the art credits are saved elsewhere - I'll add them tonight)

Monday, June 18, 2012

Cursed Broom Closet

I wrote the following room for a dungeon I'm working on, but it doesn't fit, so I'm copying it here for the use of all. I like the possibilities, but I'm afraid it may be a better literary idea than a game idea*. Then again, it could be useful for party bonding, horrifying/hilarious antics, and a pause to cleanse the palate when a new mood is called for. What are your thoughts?

A nondescript stone hallway with a wooden door at each end and one set in the side, halfway down. When the side door is opened, all present in the hallway must SAVE VS CHARM. Beyond the door is a tiny chamber with cleaning supplies; a broom, scrubbers, steel wool, various corrosive substances in jars, and an old wooden chair. 
-All passing their save become MUTE, but are otherwise unaffected. 
-All FAILING the save feel the irresistible urge to idly linger in the hallway, taking turns relaxing in the wooden chair and perhaps telling stories. All are allowed another SAVE when their next goal comes up in conversation, or when the pantomime of their mute companions is sufficient to remind them. Those failing all saves will eventually die, lingering in the hallway until they starve, cheerfully wishing well any companions who leave them behind.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

"In any picture of real excellence there must be a ghost"

"In any picture of real excellence there must be a ghost; and such a picture, having a will of its own, may refuse to be separated from the person who gave it life, or even from its rightful owner. There are many stories to prove that really great pictures have souls. It is well known that some sparrows, painted upon a sliding screen by Hogen Yenshin, once flew away, leaving blank the spaces which they had occupied upon the surface. Also it is well known that a horse, painted upon a certain kakemono, used to go out at night to eat grass."
-Lafcadio Hearn, A Japanese Miscellany

Monday, June 4, 2012

Alternate magic system for D&D/OSR Clones/Etc?

All the twists to magic in systems like DCCRPG, Lamentations of the Flame Princess, OSR blogs, and on G+ has got me thinking about designing an alternate system, using numbers from the book, that is both functional and easy to extrapolate from existing rules. If one of the reasons OSR folks enjoy older systems is that non-magic classes don't have defined 'moves', and thus players are encouraged to be creative in thinking of their own, why shouldn't there be a system that opens up this freedom for Magic-Users?
This is just going off the top of my head at the moment.
My thoughts currently look like some weird point buy system, where the points after level 1 are determined by the spells/level charts in class descriptions.
So 1 point per level, and 1 point per spell slot and level on the chart in the PHB. (So a 3rd level Mentzer Magic User would have 7 points: 1 for each level, 1 for each of his 2 first level spell slots, and 2 for his second level spell slot). A first level Magic-User would have 2 points (1 for his level, 1 for his First level spell slot).
No pre-written spells. Slots become points. What do you do with the points?
- Points put towards a spell can add either an effect, an area, or a target.

- Effects: effects cost 1 point per effect per target. Parts of the body count as 1 target each. Effects that cause damage cost 1 point per d4 per target. Effects that cause damage are visible and clearly caused by the caster unless 2 points per d4 of damage are spent to disguise it. Illusions are tricky; the original must be erased before a falsehood can be constructed - making something invisible is 1 pt, making something look like something it's not is 2 points (per target).

- Area: 1 point per 5 feet (or whatever your basic square/unit of area for spells is). Spells affecting targets the cast can see can ignore area in favor of specific targets.

-Targets: 1 point per target. Living things count as 1 target for general damage, and 2 for illusion effects (upper body, lower body). It takes 2 points total (1/effect, 1/target) to damage someone, 3 (1/effect, 2/target) to make them invisible, 4 (2/effect, 2/target) to disguise them. (Called shots can be helped along with point expenditure = spend 2 points to hit your called area on a 19 OR 20, instead of just 20).

Replicating the effects of Magic Missile takes 2 points - 1 target, 1d4 of damage. However, the player gets to describe it however they want without being influenced by the words "Magic Missile"

Replicating Sleep is more tricky - 1 target or 5" is 2 points, etc.

Point burn is possible - extra points can be bought with ill effects. For every point beyond what the Magic User actually has that his/her player wants to put towards a spell or effect, the more likely there is to be a fumble or random effect (or maybe just 1 random detrimental effect per extra point?)

I think it provides a reliable base of spells but the point burn adds a whole field of temptation akin to the corrupting effects of magic many of these OSR clones are trying to get at. A magic-user can be boring ol reliable and do a few things, or more powerful but with more risk.

I'll keep thinking about it, and would be delighted to hear input.

(edited to make illusion stuff clearer.)

Friday, June 1, 2012


What RPG books, modules, or blog entries have the best festival / party scenes, encounters, rules, tables, and/or charts? (best = "most entertaining" or "coolest ideas to steal")