Friday, October 16, 2020

Action Rolls

 It's well known in the OSR that skills are dangerous in that they tend to cause power creep and a drop in player agency. There's a slippery slope from thieves to spot-check rolls and many people choose not to have thieves in their games for this reason at all.

Thieves are one of my favorite character types, so I can't just let them go. Instead, I choose to change how I handle player actions.

Instead of having skill rolls or ability checks you have action rolls. The base level of action rolls is 1-in-6. If the player wants to do a thing and we're not really sure let's throw for 1-in-6, which is roughly 15%.

If we think there's a good chance then 2-in-6, if it's 50/50 we'll do 3-in-6. Above that I don't see much of a point in rolling. If the players have done enough work of convincing me they have a 4- or 5-in-6 chance of succeeding I'll generally just give it to them, unless they seem like they really wanna throw some dice about it. Sometimes in these cases it's better to just have the affected party roll a save to see if they avoid negative effects.

Sometimes bonuses are given for action rolls. Elves have a naturaly 3-in-6 (or +2 bonus) to searching for secret doors. Maybe if you can convince me your background helps you at an action roll we'll add a a bonus and raise it to 2- or 3-in-6.

Unlike skills players don't generally get better at their action rolls. Any bonuses are determined by character type and they're mostly set in stone. Maybe this changes, if the Fighter is taken in and trained in woodland survival by the League of Rangers or whatever, but this isn't common and is more of a treasure (character sheet adjustment) than a skill path.

These work pretty well, too, in place of ability checks. Add your ability modifier. Instead of a 1-in-6 your +2 Wisdom lets you roll for 3-in-6. Good odds! 

Though often I tend to lean towards the Apocalypse World thing w/ 2d6+mod because it gives you a nice curve and a gradient of possibilities, instead of a binary success/fail. Maybe you succeed your dive off the balcony, but you miss the rope and end up dangling from a chandelier.

Anyway, I don't like to rely on too many different kinds of rolls because I want my players to get a feel for what kind of odds their actions have. If they're fairly confident they can guess what I'll ask them to roll they get a better feel for being 'in' the world.

Plus, the less mechanisms I have to explain the better!

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Differentiate races

This is a game about the end of the fourth age. Humanity is in it's twilight. Demi-humans represent the split species of hyper-specialized humans. This is after the end of the age of space travel.

The game is about humans. Placing limits disincentivizes demihuman PCs and forces them into a support, foil, or side-kick role of human characters. We can learn more about the human condition by having a few inhuman characters but not too many that they lose their otherness.

 You need to meet the attribute requirements to quality to be a demihuman. This is also their prime requisite. Each race also has a number of special abilities.

Demi-humans max out at level 6. If they meet Prime Requisite limit is boosted to 8.

Halfling - Cha 9

Class as Fighters. Saves start at 4th level.

A secluded race of cheerful pigmies who make their homes in sunny valleys. Halflings abhor violence and discomfort. Most other races view them kindly and enjoy their songs and earnest disposition.

Luck: call for re-roll on any dice roll once per game. (Zoldag casts Fireball, the spell fizzes causing only 9 damage. Mikeal the Hobbit uses his Luck ability to let Zoldag re-roll for damage. 6d6 = 28 damage!)

Blending in: halflings gain +3 on action rolls to hide in woodland settings, and +2 to hide indoors. 

Archer: halflings gain +1 to-hit bonus on missile attacks.

Tiny: halflings gain +2 AC vs Giant-size or greater opponents.

Dwarf - Con 9

Class as Fighters. Saves start at 4th level.

Dwarves are rugged, dire people who carve their hidden lairs into the stoney cliffs of the silver desert. Tribal merchants, hunters, and animal handlets par excellence, dwarvish caravans are a common sight.

Tireless: dwarves can go a week without food or water before taking strain damage.

Animal friend: dwarves gain a +3 action bonus when wrangling, taming, calming, or riding animals.

Giant killer: due to cultural rituals involving purple worms, dwarves gain +2 AC vs Giant-size or greater opponents.

Stone tongue: once per day dwarves may converse with nearby stones and soil for 10 minutes.

Elf - Wis 9

Class as Fighter/Magic-Users, combining best attributes & total XP values of each.

Elves are strange off-world beings descended from space faring folk, often known as witch-men. They tend to be more technologically inclined than others. Their cities are cloaked deep within swamps and forests.

Keen eyes: can project their consciousness in any direction up to one mile, can hear as well as see. Lasts 1 minute.

Firstborn: elves gain +2 action bonus when searching for hidden things and when attempting to comprehend ancient technology.

Monday, October 12, 2020

State of the World

 It's been hard to get a game going reliably lately. I refuse to play games over voice chat. That defeats the whole purpose of having a game; to make bonds between people in my life. I don't consider the internet 'my life,' in fact I do close to zero percent of my social interaction online.

In the meat zone needs of the family tend to take precedence over gaming. I find it interesting that the OSR is mostly childless 20 somethings or pushing the 60s without much between. Seems all the childed folks tend to take multi-year breaks or disappear after a short burst of activity. I wonder what drives these folks. I know what drives me: the need for a creative outlet. 

My original intent was to marry my family life with my need for artistic creation while simultaneously creating a fun thing to do as a group.

It staggers around the sidelines and slowly survives. I've got a new baby in the works. That typically kills "outside activities"; d&d has become my poker night. A disruputable activity to my wife, but a needed outlet and opportunity for socialization

Yes, even a total morlock like me needs friends. 

Friday, October 9, 2020

Psychedelic Fantasties #1: Beneath the Ruins Play Report

 I ran Beneath the Ruins for my players and here's how it went.

We have a little hex-crawl sandbox going. I needed some science-fantasy dungeon for the ruins they were going to explore--reports of mutants raiding caravans. Needed something good. After stagnating on my own dungeon for two weeks I just bought this off DriveThru for $1.77, which is about as much as I feel I can spend on a dungeon without feeling buyer's remorse if it sucks.

I needed a main entrance with mutants and a secret entrance the players could find by investigating. This dungeon has neither. Instead it's an entrance to a 'mythical underworld' type mega-dungeon complete with stygian boatman demanding single GPs in payment.

What it does have, though, is science-fantasy stuff, laser guns, mystery cults, and mutants, which is what I wanted.

At the start of session 2 players knew there was a secret entrance, but they hadn't found it yet. On the way back to the ruins they met a bunch of goblins holding a meeting in an abandoned building and after some tense negotiations discovered the goblins had a plan to raid the ruins themselves. Decided on the plan that the goblins would lead a frontal assault as a distraction, allowing the party to sneak in and try to nab some of that sweet-sweet high tech loot everybody wants (in this world magical items are technology of a past high culture a la Mutant Future). That's the set-up.

 Now, the secret entrance led to the underground lake with the boatman. If the players had gone in the main entrance I would've contrived a staircase down into the Luminite's base.

Players were pretty sketched out by the boatman and considered going back. But eventually let him take them across.

They get into party formation and start exploring. They get to the rubble trap room and at first just the thief is going to check it out (yesss) but last minute the whole party decides to pile in (fuuuucck). They set off the trap and half the team is killed even though I telegraphed it with loose rubble and timbers holding up a wall, and they had seen a cave-in earlier in the dungeon.

Note here that the module describes the trap as 'camouflaged'. This isn't the last time I had to refuse to take the module's advice.

They dig their 10' pole out of the rubble and decide to make judicious use of it from here. They manage to find the secret door and go down the stairs and we have fun roleplaying medieval fantasy characters figuring out sci-fi doors with hand scanners. They fumble around for a while and open a door on Luminites lifting weights, then they run awaaaay. Luminites think that's suspicious as hell and give chase. Players surrender and beg for their lives, Luminites give em a bomb and tell em to blow up the mutants to prove they're really just there for mutant treasure and not, in fact, with the goblins that attacked them on the surface.

Players get lost in the spooky area with the slithering devil after coming thiissss close to incurring its wrath which would've ended in a TPK because the thing is described as super fast and super evil. They find the spooky door bulging with evil energies, argue about using the bomb on it, and turn back missing out on the only area of the dungeon that has any treasure worth getting killed over. Headed north into the caverns they spend a fat portion of the game going from room to room, lost in caverns, with nothing to interact with. Random encounter happens with a slow moving enemy, they run away. Investigate a bit more, another surprise enemy, they run away. Oh look this room makes loud noise better leave. Oh look this room has yellow grass that doesn't like light better swim in a hole then leave.

 The players are having fun through all this because they don't know any better. They just dumb players. It's me who is trying to figure out what I can do to make any of this interesting and cohesive for myself. The module is constantly getting in the way of this. I could've done more if the rooms were keyed less because I'm an imaginative human. There is seriously not much to work with here. The enemies are either 3' worms or 3' crickets or friendly. Friendly people like to have conversations and conversations are only interesting if one side can help the other, but what can a 3' carnivorous cricket do? The crickets are described as 'monstrosities' and murderous, but also they won't attack right away? and can understand language? Why is everything friendly? Why are there no treasures?

 And the yeast-grass place where the mutants grow their food. The designer offers for you to use sanity checks when the players see it. Why? undulating smelly yellow grass isn't that weird. It's not even the weirdest thing in the dungeon.

I've seen other reviewers praise this module for its clean design and usability at the table. I disagree. I read the thing twice and went through with a highlighter and took notes for three days before the game and none of that really helped me. I ran the thing mostly from memory because I kept flipping pages trying to figure out what the enemies did, where there were sights and smells to be had, if there was something interesting buried under the lines of text and harmless encounters, and if one room had some connection to another. I was grasping at straws and could've done more stuff if I had thrown the module away and just made up everything.

There is a ton of rooms dedicated to the factions, which are the center of this module. The Luminites have the largest holding and are almost guaranteed to be the first ones the players run into. There's no clear reason in the module as to why these groups hate each other, as they're both described as being friendly and welcoming to outsiders. I decided that their mutual-hatred was over ideological differences, the Luminites are miniature Elon Musks that worship Science! and the mutants are superstitious. 

That's fine, factions are fun, but there's not much dungeon in between the factions. Most of the wandering monster encounters take place in zones controlled by factions, which doesn't make sense, even if it's a 'mythical underworld'. 

Another portion of the dungeon is super dangerous and has spooky ghosts and no random encounters. This is where the bulk of the treasure is but the dangers were too much for my players and they noped out of here.

In the end they were captured by the mutants and were being taken to their lair when they arrived at the sinkhole which is described as being easy to climb for the mutants but a death trap for the players. Now we're at an impasse. The mutants want to take the players to see the Shaman, who the players are charged with blowing up, but if I make the players climb down this hole they'll probably slip and die. The players start taking off their platemail and to my surprise the one carrying the bomb (a gift for your shaman!) pulls the pin and kicks it into the pit "Oh no! Oops! Dang! I'm sorry about that!"

The mutants are confused. I'm confused. Even the players are themselves confused. I have the mutants decide these idiots aren't worth their time and tell them to leave or else. The players flee from the caverns, getting lost and chased by crickets on the way, and eventually back to the Luminites.

The Luminites give them a laser pistol and the players decide they've had enough of this place. They leave.

On the way out they're attacked by wandering face huggers and we have the only fun combat of the game that ends with the players running away and waiting for the face huggers to leave. I reason that since the face huggers are ambush predators (like most the enemies here) they don't bother chasing enemies once they're gone.

To delineate, my problems with this module are thus:

  • Factions don't make sense, don't have interesting motives.
  • Enemies are boring and don't have interesting moves. 
  • Rooms try to be weird but mostly end up being boring.
  • No breadcrumb treasures to encourage exploration.
  • No fun things to experiment with or utilize
  • No fun scenery to roll, throw, tip over, set on fire, or jump off of.
  • Too many choke points with nothing going on. "Okay guys, left or right? Uhh"
  • Text dense, needs some judicious usage of bold italics line spaces, text boxes, and bullet points. Any kind of formatting.

Things the module did right:

  • Trying to do something different
  • Loops?
  • Being excited about itself.
  • Not wasting too much of my time with backstory.

You can't just not bother to have cohesion, ignore verisimilitude, and call it 'mythical underworld'. Especially if you make a dungeon that is ostensibly about faction play and area control. The Luminites worship technology and collect it, but where are they getting the technology from? The module doesn't say. The Luminites are described as 'not believing the world outside exists', so where the fuck does the technology come from? This isn't an interesting question that's answered in play, it's a roadblock to coming up with a reason for the Luminites to exist at all. You could just take them out and replace their entire area with random monster encounters and pit traps and probably have a great time.

Final comment: Aside from all this bitching, my players did in fact have a good time. They were mostly unaware of my struggles as a DM. I have an inkling that a more experienced DM could probably have pulled something more cohesive out of this.

Monday, September 21, 2020

Urban Sprawl of the Magnificent Patriarch

This is Casale Monferrato, a walled city of the seventeenth century. On the left is a citadel, shaped like a lotus flower. Each of the small blocky squiggles inside the wall is a city block. Great example of a 'fantasy city'. You could just print this out and run it as-is if you need a City-State of the Invincible Overlord. 

Here's another view. Same city, same century, different angle. Doesn't it seem like there could be band of armed mutants with drays pulled by brontosaurs just beyonde that vista?

I think I prefer the proportions of the first pictures, where the citadel is imagined to be nearly equal in size to the city itself. Gives rise to views of an impossibly pompous overlord, clad in glit, his yellow marble citadel swooping a half-mile above, purple and maroon pennants whipping in the cool breeze from over the river.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

The sickening putrification of live birth (play report 2 & citycrawl rules)

Great Demon Eyes & Flight of the Glistening Wyvern
On our next game Charlie couldn't make it, so I had Jordan and Anne roll up throwaway characters to explore a dungeon randomly generated by Wizardawn (the same deadly dungeons generated for the Fellowship of the Bling games)

Anne & Jordan find themselves in the blistering northern wastes, in a small cleft between two high ridges. There's a watering hole in the middle and the stone walls narrow to a point of suspiciously flat rock. The pair search the rock and find a removable brick, inside which is a switch that opens the entrance.

Beyond is thick with cobwebs. Walls are dark green stone carved in shapes of demons. East is big demon door. West door is smashed into cobweb filled hallway. They lit up torches and as they entered a curving formless shape shot out from the shadows of the western hallway and chased Anne, who ran back to the safety of the light. The formless thing hated light, avoided it, and squeezed itself under the demon door.  Cautiously they go west down the hallway.

In the hallway they listen and hear nothing, then proceed further into an immense hall with stone columns shaped like coiling cobras. They eek further into the hall, watching their steps and pass another pair of columns. As they pass between them a lumbering glutton covered in long hair dragging a stone club lopes from the shadows and demands treasure for passage. Jordan refuses, so the lumbering glutton picks him up by his ankles and starts shaking him.

Anne sneaks behind the creature whilst he's distracted and shoots him with her bow. A critical hit, the arrows pierces the back of the creatures skull, killing it. The huge body topples over and Jordan barely rolls out of the way. Inspecting the corpse they discover the wound in its brain is beginning to heal. Jordan hacks the glutton's head off.

They head further eat and pass over a fallen column. Beyond is the lumbering glutton's nest, full of trash, with a blackened firepit and pieces of human bodies. They spend time searching the remains and find a handful of copper groats.

At the end of the hall they find a massive stone door barred by a dolomite slab. They aren't strong enough to lift the slab so they spend 30 minutes hacking through the chalky stone with their weapons, slightly damaging Jordan's longsword.

The din brings on an attack from 5 starving wolves. The pair manage to shove the door open wide enough to slip through. Three wolves get through also before they get the door closed behind them. The wolves leap to attack and the pair enter battle.

A wolf leaps and tears out Jordan's throat. At this point we remember I had them roll 4 characters for the adventure, so I let Jordan enter his second character right in the middle of the fight. The two continue fighting, wounding two wolves. The wolves teeth bounces off the restless duo's leather armor. Then Anne takes out a flask of oil and sets the wolves on fire. They fail their morale check and run off into the darkness.

The two inspect the room, finding a jammed wooden door to the north. They leave the door and head south through an open doorway. Their torches burn out so they light new ones.

In the southern room they see a pair of glowing eyes high on the eastern wall. Jordan moves in to the middle of the room and is instantly vaporized by lasers from the eyes. Jordan takes over Anne's secondary character.

Down to their last characters they are more cautious. They edge around the room and find the eyes are really rubies set into a 12 foot tall brass statue of a demon, surrounded by glowing runes on the floor. The runes create an invisible barrier around the statue. They edge around the barrier, staying close to the statue, and find a switch on the other side that deactivates the barrier.

Jordan climbs on the statue and pops outs the gems, as big as fists. As he does a horned serpentine head slithers out from a collapsed hole in the ceiling, curved teeth dripping with venom.

The pair take off running to the north, the creature flies out of the hole, held aloft by two huge batwings, a pair of eagle-like talons hang below it, it's tail a ball of dripping spikes. The creature is swift but clumsy, the pair are able to make it to the stone door and force it open.

They slip through and begin running across the hall. The flying devil smashes down the stone door and soars into the air, smashing into a column and crashing to the ground in a pile of snapping teeth and rubble.

Anne and Jordan are able to make it back to the entrance and escape.

I let them transfer the rubies and groats to their main characters, retiring the surviving throwaways, netting them 619 XP total.

They spend the rest of the game back in Darkstone. They talk to Lady Elizabeth, the lead ex-adventurer, and she puts them into contact with a real estate agent named Toadly, a diminutive man (a mere 24 inches tall) with a pencil thin mustache, greasy blond hair parted down the middle, and dapper frilly clothing, riding in a one-man chariot pulled by an elven eunuch.

The pair ride alongside Toadly as he shows them various dilapidated manses in sundry disgusting and leper-infested neighborhoods. Eventually the pair settle for the one with the most rooms, in an up-and-coming block facing the putrid river. Toadly is willing to drop the price from 1800 to 1100 if they do a job for him.

Toadly's rival Meglordenstein has been giving him trouble long enough! The tiny real estate agent wants them to break into Meglordenstein's house, smash up some stuff, steal some stuff, raise some mischief, make him realize that he's got enemies and that he should watch himself....but without leaving evidence that Toadly was behind it.

They wend the session with Anne declaring she wants to spend 100 groats filing the paperwork to get the floorplan from the assessor's office. Jordan does a number of jobs with Lady Elizabeth to increase his standing and make a few extra groats.

The Miracle of Birth & Bob Humungous Rips a Guy's Hand Off

Bob -- Level 1 Dwarf Thief (Jordan)
Rowan -- Level 1 Elf Thief (Anne) Elvish mutation: Apish hands for feet
Kraig -- Level 1 Elf Magic-User (Charlie) Elvish mutation: Bony head crest

This game Charlie is able to join us, so the pair fill him in on what's what. Anne passes her Wis check so I give her an accurately (but messy) map of the Meglordenstein's house. Then she spends an extra 100 groats to roll two checks and ask two questions, which I answer with one word ("How many traps are there?" "3", "how many guards does he have?" "1"....They take this as a sign that Meglordenstein is an idiot for only having one guard)

Jordan rolls and finds that he did 6 jobs for Elizabeth over the last week, so I have him roll a save for each stat. He fails half of them, so I award Bob 75 groats and a -2 penalty to Wis for the session.

Before we get into the swing of things it's time for the party to give birth!

They head back down to the muckmen's lands to get what advice they can. The king of the muckmen (whom they aided by assassinating his political rival) is flippant, insulting, and unhelpful. They manage to squeeze a bit of information from him. Namely that muckmen like to attack and eat each other's babies and that muckmen are terrible parents. The king renounces any support for the rearing of the hybrid muckmen/elves and muckmen/dwarf about to be born.

The party goes into labor for 13 hours as the babies tear their way out of their backs. Rowan & Kraig succeed their Con saves, but Bob fails, rupturing his penis (taking -1 Con for the session). The king's apothecaries then use their advanced remedies to heal the party in short time.

They are now the proud parents of 2 foot tall disgusting flat-faced stumbling mutants. Rowan carries her in her backpack. Bob puts his on his shoulder and gives it a knife. Kraig ignores his for the rest of the session.

Before they leave Kraig asks the muckman king to teach him more spells. The king laughs and hands him a giant bloodsucking leech. Kraig hands the leech to his baby.

After much deliberating and discussing the floor plan the party still can't come up with a plan, except to somehow find their way to the Study (which they don't realize is on the third floor) so I urge them on to at least check out the house.

It's been snowing heavily the past two days, so there's over 6 inches of snow on everything. Shovelmen have been working round the clock to clear the main streets, but everything else is packed. Nobody is out and about. At this lattitude there's only 5 hours of sunlight during Winter, so they use this to their advantage.

Nobody sees them on their way there. They find the manse: surrounded by sculpted hedges and iron sconces. They push open the front gate then decide it's better to look for a back entrance.

They slink through the shadows to the back of the house and find a small service door. Bob hoists himself up and peeks through a small window finding a kitchen. They decide not to go in there. Rowan climbs to the second floor and peeks in the window, finding a flicker of candlelight shining between two plush curtains. She climbs onto the nearby roof and drops a rope down for Bob and Kraig to climb up.

There's a central tower on the roof here, topped by a stone cupola or watchtower. Bob climbs up, Rowan follows him, Kraig tries but falls 10 feet taking d6 damage and rolling on the death & dismemberment table. He falls onto his face, crushing his nose, bruising his eye, and knocking out several teeth. This has the miraculous result of increasing his Charisma from 5 to 9.

 Bob finds a trap door in the cupola with a handle shaped like a silver hand. He listens at the trap door and hears a man cough, as well as the rustle of paper. He tries to open it but the handle springs to life and grabs his arm. Thinking quickly he snatches the potion of giant size from his pack and chugs it, growing 12 feet tall, bones cracking and clothing/equipment tearing free from his body until he becomes large enough to fill the cupola with his girth. Rowan barely squeezes in and climbs onto his shoulder.

Bob tosses his shredded clothes and equipment down Kraig. Kraig is out of commission and begins to crawl his way gingerly off the roof.

With a jerk Bob rips the trapdoor from its hinge and smashes his way into the floor below.

By this time Kraig has made it to the ground. The chefs from the kitchen run out to see what all the commotion is. Kraig acts confused along with them.

Humongous Bob, broken penis swinging freely, drops down into the second floor, where he is temporarily blinded by the darkened room, and a man wielding a sword springs to the attack! The man's strikes are quick as lightning but fail to scratch Bob's girth! Bob attempts to grab the man who deftly ducks out of the way. Rowan jumps from Bob's shoulders, attempting to Merge With Shadows, but fails, instead rolling into cover by a small statue.

The man attacks again, his glowing sword glittering and clanging against Bob's supernaturally tough skin. Bob grabs the man and picks him up, rips the sword from his hand (taking the hand with it) and hurls him against the wall. The man takes 3d6 damage, fails his Save VS Paralysis, and collapses to the floor unconscious.

Rowan finds demonic looking book on a pedestal and uses her cloak to pick it up without touching it. Bob opens a nearby door and enters, finding a strange helmet hanging from the ceiling on thick wires. Tiny curtains with pull cord line the walls. He opens one and finds a large scorpion. He begins to feel is body throb and knows that his potion's effects will wear off soon so he rips the helmet from the ceiling by the cables and the pair exit through the roof. Before they leave he stops to bellow "THIS ONE'S FROM TOADLY!!!!"

Bob lands on the ground with a thud, digging into the soft dirt half a foot. Then he turns on the stunned chefs and flicks one across the lawn with his finger, before suddenly shrinking down to normal size.

The three exit the property and run smack into a number of guards coming to investigate the disturbances. They detain the two suspicious elves and naked dwarf. Kraig casts sleep and knocks everybody out, then slaps his comrades awake. They run for it. Since Kraig isn't carrying his baby I declare that he loses it, and if the get back to safety he can roll to see if it miraculously reappears.

Smack into more guards. They run down a side street. Rowan tries to find a flask of oil in her pack but trips. They outrun some guards.

At this point I start using the Citycrawl rules from Last Gasp. I use a grid and sheets of paper to simulate the streets/alleyways, using red dice for their characters and white dice for the guards.

Each round I use the same order:
0. A player does a roll-under Dex check & pursuing guards to theirs. The winner has the highest number without going over their Dex. Players rotate clockwise starting from the one with the lowest Dex
1a. Roll for Streets/Alleys and complications and place sheets representing buildings on grid
1b. If players win they gain one "step" on the guards. If the guards win they reduce the players "step" by 1 and appear on the board (I throw white dice representing the guards randomly onto the grid)
2. Players declare their actions
3. If there are any guards, those guards make their actions.

If players make it to the edge of the board we continue with the next section.

The players were either trying to make it back to the Ravenloft Inn (They knew it was South-east, and they knew they'd recognize the area when they got close, but they didn't know exactly how to get back) OR they had to gain 3 "steps". If they were brought to -1 "steps" they'd get forced into a combat with the guards.

I made a map of where the inn was in relation to the players by writing the word RED with all the letters connected to sort of look like streets, then I threw a couple dice on there. The south-east one was the inn, the northern one the players. Each new map they entered was an intersection, with main streets decided by the map and alleyways decided by throwing a d4.

It was a blast and I highly recommend giving this a go sometime. It made the city itself a dungeon, with obstacles and choices. Players had to guess their way back in the direction of the inn, cleverly avoid guards by dipping down alleyways, and use their surroundings (including the Z axis!) to their advantage.

Eventually they found a manhole cover and climbed down in to the sewer to wait out the chase. They sat down there for an hour and I threw two encounter checks, both were clean. They were safe.

Toadly was excited to hear all about it. Jordan shushed everyone and played it off like a regular ol' prank instead of a near disaster, and they sealed the deal on the house, and kept all the treasures.

 Safetly back at the Ravenloft in Kraig decided to read the book. Doing so caused his flesh to mutate and become rubbery and indigestible, making him immune to acid damage. They could've sold it for 100 groats but decided to keep it.

They lay their heads to sleep. Then Kraig rolls a Wis check to see if his baby survives and crits. His mutant baby shows back up at their second floor window carrying 19 groats in a sack and a leech full of blood.

I award Kraig 19 XP

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Insane cultural taboos - township morale

There's something I like about the simplicity of groups in Carcosa; 182 Skittles men X alignment led by Level Y fighter. Figure out what it means. You can insert anything, make anything out of it. That gets hard to do for an entire hexmap of generic faceless dudes.

Having even just one thing to go on can help relieve the pressure. One symbol, one norm, one part of who these people are, what they care about, what gets them going, and you can spin out a whole set of cultural expectations from that.

If you're into anthropology you can hack together customs, history, or folktales from cultures of our world into tables. Bits and pieces from Mongolia, Ukraine, China. I'm working on making a book of these for ease of use. I hate prepping stuff ahead of time and prefer to do most of my heavy lifting at the table.

Don't bother adding cultural nuances unless there's a possibility for the PCs gaining an edge for manipulating the populace, or escaping their wrath. There's no point in having interesting cultural markers if they aren't manipulable in some way.

Large towns like the adventurer's hovel Darkstone and the grand city of the Byzantium are relatively immune to destabilization due to diverse ecosystem of ideas which intersect in such places. Though these larger congregations may have a main cultural identity they are generally more tolerant of alternative points of view due to the necessities of more complex relationships. Small out of the way burghs and hamlet are more susceptible to the corrupting power of fresh ideas, because the backwards and inbred mentality of small minds, ignorance, and echo chambers, or traditional ways of life requiring certain mindset to keep viability of the group intact.

Start with the dominant cultural feature of the location. This can be a custom or ritual (such as men wearing large frilly hats, ritual bodypainting, or washing your hands before opening doors), a religious practices (such as a certain moon being the time or virgin sacrifices, or fasts and meditations enjoined upon the end of the month), etc....clothes, food, architecture, dialects, castes, superstitions, omens, weather, plants, anything can have crazy taboos attached........If you know one thing about this culture you can explode it's importance to be archetypal of the culture as a whole.

They worship red dragons. Everything is red dragons. Their leader is the great dragon. Their houses are painted red. The color blue is evil to them. Every full moon the whole town gets together in a wild party where they burn the richest members of their society in a giant wicker dragon and redistribute their wealth.

They fear minotaurs. The town is built on top of a buried labyrinth. Circles are evil to them. Their houses are open air lofts. At night the leaders of the village dress in bull masks and terrorize the town.

They worship a particular crag of rock. It's shaped like an old woman, the founder of the town. When the villagers commit a wrongdoing they have to go admit it to the rock. The old woman comes to them in their sleep and gives them visions. The visions are considered true and they will go to great lengths to make sure those visions are carried out.

Find a table. Roll on the table. The village worships that thing. Steal a dungeon from somewhere, fill it with references to that thing, make it a taboo place nearby.

Here's a great Abulafia generator for bozo customs. Its pretty much the only thing you'll need until I finish my book on procedural cultural generation. Each town roll a number for the populace, their wealth, their profession, their technological level, what they have for sale, a few rumors they know, and their custom. Done. Maybe the whole thing can be done off a single dice throw if you're crazy.

Every culture has a morale score for how fragile their society is. Generally the more central to their existence the custom, the more taboo. If you don't know you can throw 2d6 or d10 (depending on how swingy you like things) then throw against it on a 2d6 everytime the PCs do something offensive, just like a morale check. If the citizens go over that means they go fucking berzerk and try to run the PCs out of town, burn them at the stake, eat their hearts, bury them alive, throw them in the serpent pit, feed their minds to the god in the spaceship, whatever it is they do to heretics. This gives the party the opportunity to run away cackling like Cugel or butcher the whole town like Conan.

Probably within a town there will be progressives or wingnuts who hate the old order and want to see it upended. Conversely, there may be extremists who consider their fellow townspeople to be lackadaisically backsliding into corruption of the old ways, thus risking angering the gods. These buffoons are a wonderful resource for smart players to exploit and should be played up at all costs. 

I'm gonna do the three main points thing:

  • Exaggerate cultural qualities to the extreme
  • Make consequences for breaking the rules but make them impossible for murderhobos to observe forever
  • No matter how small the group, add factions of dissenters and make their presence obvious, worth tension bubbling just under the surface.

Hey that felt pretty good.

The exercise of futility: d101 taboos & cultural beliefs
1. Worship a magical item
2. Feed prisoners to a pit
3. Ritual combat each full moon
4. Vomit in presence of elders
5. Only consume certain foods at certain hours
5. Cannot eat in front of particular group
6. Scientific inquiry and total objectivity required for all actions
7. Must constantly narrate inner monologue
8. Lying punishable by disfigurement
9. Must chop off finger to enter town
10. Ritual cannibalism
11. Kill everyone over age of 25
12. Must speak through facial cloth
13. Lower classes completely ignored
14.  Fantasy racism towards bad haircuts
15. The music must continue lest the Thing awakens!
16. Never pass through a crossroads at night.
17. The squeals of a fox are foul magick
18. Never let the last full moon of the year fall on a new born baby
19. Certain colors or objects associated with death
20. Actions or words related to disease
21. Making eye contact = challenge
22. Giving gifts is offensive
23. Compatibility of astrological signs prime importance
24. Bodily function must be used when speaking the name of the dead
25. Morning prayers during rising of sun
26. certain garments or actions must be performed during intercourse
27. certain actions performed before eating
28. Those who die have their name abolished from the language, or changed to that of an animal
29. All <person type> must keep a shaved head
30. Apologies invalid without geas or bodily mutilation
31. Ill treatment of servents expected
32. Proscription against killing
33. Proscription against looking at ugly things
34. Proscruption against starting fires; only may take fire from ever-burning pyre held by vestal virgins
35. All warriors are eunichs; sex organs considered sinful. Removal is purifying.
36. Outsiders must be burned with brand to be purified
37. Those who approach from a certain direction are tainted
38. Cannot cross barrier of a certain color string
39. Human saliva considered poisonous
40. Laughter brings evil spirits
41. Innocence proven by game of William Tell
42. Ritual of initiation insanely deadly (wandering in desert, entering dungeon, crossing lava stream)
43. Sorcery of utmost evil. Have insane forms of detection
44. Certain animals/creatures, if killed, would haunt killer from spirit realm
45. Cannot cross bodies of water at certain times
46. Outsiders beatens on certain days
47. Guests must sleep in haunted cavern
48. Breath is considered sacred; must be collected
49. Those who accept gifts bonded into slavery
50. Boys sent away to become pirates on 13th birthday
51. All infants born without hair left to die in jungle
52. Proscription against cutting body hair/showing skin
53. Houses swept of disease/dust every day
54. Dead left to putrify where they died
55. Never throw out trash until new year
56. Certain day of year castes switch places
57. All references to time taboo
58. All snakes must be killed
59. Urine collected to be sprayed on crops
60. All disagreements result in ritual combat
61. Musical instruments aid in vocal communication
62. Unending torrents of insult; anger warrents death penalty
63. No bad feelings. Ever.
64. Incapable of lying or bending truth
65. Fancy hat = social status
66. Weapons indoors bring bad luck
67. Inability to cast magic taboo; complex system of tricks for artificial pestidigitation
68. Son kills his father after being married
69. May only walk on stones set for the path
70. Everybody shares everything; permission unnecessary
71. Trees cannot be cut down
72. Extreme carnifaction
73. Consumption of putrid flesh to abolish desire
74. Cats are evil
75. Everything decorated with complex evil eye pattern
76. Belief that life of cruelty leads to rebirth as minor demons which terrorize chilren
78. Overworked carpenter builds taller and taller scaffolds for the most valorous to hang themselves
79. Feet touching the ground damns the dead
80. Trying to out-do each other with tall shoes
81. Childbirth unclean; citizen reproduce by clones
82. Physical body unclean; citizens in process of uploading consciousness to supercomputer
83. Use drugs to stay constantly in torpor, dream world considered more real than this one
84. Farmers shunned/considered unclean for use of manure. Hermits become farmers and know lots of stuff but hate people.
85. Everything is an excuse for a party
86. Everything is an excuse to butcher an animal and examine their guts for prophecies
87. Consider the flight of birds to be a language, highest pursuit lies in recording knowledge therein
88. Local mountain shunned. Thunders loudly. Stinking wind blows from thus, putrifying crops.
89. Somebody has to be kept watching the enormous wall lest 'they' breach it
90. Life on this world is pointless because Martians are coming to take us away shortly
91. All of society bent on building tower to the moon
92. Totally shocked that the world outside their valley isn't just an illusion OR believe only in the present; evidence of things that happen prior to now are demons trying to trick us (ow my head)
93. Think themselves to be living on an elemental plane/astral world
94. Worship all things dead, like a cult of necromancy, but without the magic
95. Incapable of asking other to do anything
96. Incapable of asking questions OR making statements
97. Everything must be sung
98. Can't use hands for anything
100. City of orcs guarding chests of meaningless trinkets caught in perpetual stalemate and starving. PCs quickly realize it's not worth their time and leave
101. Pigmies make PCs their new king. They accidentally ate the last one.