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.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Wizards & Wingnuts (play report 1)

Somebody translated/adapted my rules for Tales of Mordhearse into French. Like a RaLaLy long time ago and I'm just now showing creds because I am a forgetful jerk. elf games.

This is a write up of my last  few games, more to jog my own memory that for anyone else. If you like long-winded play reports read onnnnnn....

 Started up a new campaign on Tuesdays with two players from my last campaign (my girlfriend 'Monday' and my sister 'Anne'), both are very familiar with my games, and two new people (girlfriend's teenage brother 'Jordan' and buddy from work's husband 'Charlie').

Charlie has played only 5e and left his last game because A. they were dicks and 2. only wanted to play super-power shoot-em-up style dungeons. He was stoked when I told him Level 1 characters in my games usually die in one hit.

Jordan has played a few solo one-shots with me. Dyson's Goblin Gully and a bit of Tomb of the Serpent King. If you only have an hour to teach someone how to play Get Killed games go with Goblin Gully.

On the first game they all met up at a bar to RP being new-hire sellswords at a goldrush town yaddayadda. They got drunk, scoped the sick statue of Tyr riding a wolf in the chapel, goofed around, then witnessed a dude come back alone from the dungeon carrying a magic sceptre. Adventurers surged out of the bars and crowded around the guy cos almost everybody that's gone down the local dungeon has died. Town guards hauled him off to the Lady in Charge. PCs nearly get into a fight with town guard trying to get more info about the guy.

Jordan: I tell him "oh yeah? What's he gonna do?"
Monday: Dude.
Anne: Don't!
Me: He steps to your face and brandishes his mace. His plate armor glistens. "Get out of here. Now"
Monday: This guy is gonna kill you.
Me: She's right. You're gonna fucking die if you fight this guy.
Jordan: I say "C'mon man, do it. Hit me"
Charlie: I grab him by the arm and drag him away.
Monday: I grab his legs.

Then they decided to leave down and go to the dungeon. It's Caverns of Thracia. They find mutilated corpses hanging from trees by ropes made from vines on the way there. They don't take this as an omen.

 They split up to investigate the ruins and get ambushed by Tribals. Tribals use every tactical advantage against the PCs and get them totally cornered. PCs manage to survive long enough to kill one of the Tribals, who then fail their Morale check and run away. Players admit they thought they were fucked and descend.

None of the PCs matter because they all got killed by the ambush in Room 20. Jordan lights a flask of oil and Charlie gives a brimstone sermon on top of a pile of skulls while everybody get cut to ribbons.
All except Anne's character who sprints out of the flames and makes it to the surface.

Session ends with everyone laughing and rolling up new character for next time. Phew.

Next game I decide to restart the game world and change the tone. I didn't like the cartoonish adventure-time style world I had built the first time around, and wanted something darker and more based in reality. This time I give them the low-down: The town is an outpost on the edge of a jungle, the Caverns are there, you're hired by an ex-adventurer to map it and bring back treasures. GO!

The dungeon is a half-day away. The PCs leave late and end up camping out. They choose a watch order. I roll checks every two hours at night. They get 2, 1, 1, 4 so we end up roll-playing a ton of encounters, including city guards and friendly gnolls. The last one is with some bandits who pretend to be adventurers wanting to take the PCs to a 'secret entrance', which is total bullshit but the PCs buy it.

The secret entrance is an ambush. Jordan, once again, steps up to the bandits, who have the team completely surrounded.

Jordan: I get in his face 'C'mon dude!'
Anne: Don't!
Monday: You're gonna get us killed.
Me: The archers point their bows at you.
Jordan: I grab him by the throat.
Charlie: I lean in to the nearest bandit and say "I don't know this guy. Can I just give you my money and leave?"

 A melee ensues. Jordan dies. Charlie dumps all his stuff out on the ground, buying Anne and Monday time to run away. The survivors slink back to town defeated. Session ends.

Jordan: Man, we still haven't seen a single piece of treasure!
Me: You have to survive long enough to find it! What part of 'you have 4 HP' do you not understand? Don't pick fights you don't need to!

To add insult to injury I'm charging the PCs 5 silver per night at the inn and each game happens a week apart, so 35 silver per session. Monday decides to have her character stay at the homeless camp.

Monday asks if she can port in her character from our last campaign which used Knave, since they did lots of trans-dimensional travel it's theoretically possible her character would end up in this world. Seeing that the players obviously need some kind of boost I allow it.

This character is Garnet the Pirate (Level 2). She picks Thief for her class, since its the closest thing to her character vision. Garnet is kitted out with an emerald snake skin cloak, a smear of Skeleton Jelly on her tunic protecting her heart, a Scroll of Minor Transformation and potions of Treasure Sight and Ghost Clone (converted spells), a single drop of poison to kill 50 men, and a quad-barreled wheellock pistol.

The mythical Last Campaign took place in and around the Tombs of the Serpent King. Monday is pretty attached to this guy and really doesn't wanna let her die.

At this point I can't tell if my players are idiots or I'm doing something wrong, so I take to the OSR Discord to ask for advice. They say losing characters every single game is abnormal. I get the suggestion to send the PCs with an "Obby the Rat" type character who knows the tricks of trade, grease, caltrops, 10 foot pole, the works. Give the PCs an idea of what a successful adventurer looks like.

So I do exactly that. Next game the team meets up with Monday at the bum camp and "Obi the Rat" appears, a tiny fox-faced human accoutered with vials of acid, sais, grappling hooks, and pouches all over. PCs immediately take to calling him "Obi the Rat Kenobi". He's got a job he needs extra muscle for: Some goblins ambushed adventurers returning to town with a cartful of treasure, slaughtered them, and took their swag back to their nest. Let's go smack up goblins and get treasure! The PCs jump at the chance for actual treasure although they aren't sure if they can't trust Obi after the bandit thing. I make a mental note to roleplay my liars more blatantly.

Pulling double-duty as a pseudo-PC I quickly realize my players problem: they don't plan ahead. We hash out a plan to assault the cave. Obi's initial plan was a terrible one--start a fire and snipe all the goblins that run out--the players veto it because they don't know how many goblins are in there. They elect to peek inside and find themselves on a ledge (near the entrance of one of my favorite Dyson maps). Down in the den the goblins are distracted being goblins (but wearing kingly jinglies like mink hats and bejeweled finery).

They sneak past into the first hallway just inside and find a wardrobe tipped on its side against the wall and a mat of rotting furs carpeting the floor. Obi stops and wonders aloud if this is a trap. Charlie's Kraig the Elf Mage makes a Search (2) and discovers a 10 foot pit trap with spikes and a decayed goblin corpse hiding under the mangy carpet. This takes 10 minutes so I also make an Encounter check (2-spoor): They hear some goblins coming down the hallway ahead of them, bickering over who's hat is bigger.

Thinking quickly Kraig and Jordan's JoeyJoe the Dwarf Thief climb inside the wardrobe, Rowan isn't here because Anne couldn't make it. Monday doesn't like the look of Garnet's Merge With Shadows roll, so she climbs under the furs and hangs from the ledge of the pit. I have Obi Merge With Shadows.

The goblins both stop, one on each side of the pit, to investigate because they notice the trap's been messed with. Jordan rolls out and shoves his goblin into the pit, Obi knifes his in the back. Garnet lets herself drop down to harvest the bits of finery off the goobs. I roll a Surprise check for the goblins in the den behind them to see if they notice the noise (they fail).

The team moves forward to scope out the next room. This area is far enough away from the entrance that it's too dark to see (AKA I suddenly remember I need to account for lighting). JoeyJoe and Kraig who have Darkvision narrate what they see to the humans.

Inside is an oxcart of treasure and a pompous goblin king on a pile of skulls wearing a turban the size of his whole body being fanned with palm fronds, in addition to two goblin guards and some various servant running about. Garnet has experience with goblins before (the booger goblins from TotSK) and tells the team of the time she was goblin king. Sez goblins are stupid and easy to trick. JoeyJoe decides he wants to cover himself with a cloak and march out pretending to be a goblin from another tribe bringing offerings to the goblin king. This is supposed to distract the goblin king long enough for the rest of the party to loot shit from the ox cart.

Obi points out that he has a Scroll of Web to use in case things go badly.

The goblin king doesn't buy the ol' blanket-over-the-head-pretending-to-be-a-goblin trick at all and has his guards grab the intruder. A test of wits and wills happens between the goblin king and the captured JoeyJoe in which the goblin king decides JoeyJoe must prove his loyalty by drinking from a cauldron of goblin transformation. JoeyJoe hesistates. Garnet, thinking quickly, uses her scroll of Minor Transformation to turn herself into a huge goblin pope replete with huge hat and crosier.

In due time a melee breaks out and Obi uses his scroll of Web, which turns out to be a scroll of incinerate-everything-in-the-fucking-room.

The team skedaddles out the door and is met in the hall by the goblins from the den area. They shudder in fear at the sight of the goblin pope giving the team a moment to form battle ranks. They launch missiles on the approaching goblins, dropping several, then clash into melee, where they cut a swath with a bunch of lucky rolls.

The team gets out safe and sells their junk, bumping them 1/3rd the way to level 2. Obi takes his cut and vanishes. They make note to return and finish clearing out the goblin nest later.

So the Team (now) is:
(Anne) Rowan the Elf Thief -- Level 1
(Monday) Garnet the Human Thief -- Level 2
(Jordan) JoeyJoe the Dwarf Thief -- Level 1
(Charlie) Kraig the Elf Mage -- Level 1

Monday, August 26, 2019

Tales of Mordhearse on Itch.io

I wrote up a fancy 2 page pdf for the Tales of Mordhearse hyperlite ruleset, slightly altered, and containing an example dungeon. It's hosted on itch.io. The game owes its chassis to Into the Odd and Zelda & is intended to get people playing with little to no experience. All the gaping holes are on purpose--you're supposed to make up the stuff that fills in the blanks.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Shields & combat hack rules

If you let your shield get sundered you get hurled 10 feet and land on your ass, dazed. It doesn't just fall to matchsticks harmlessly at your feet while you reach for another one. Also in my games stopping combat to dig around in your backpack leaves you open to free attacks from everybody within reach, and they get a +2 bonus.
Here's some fun combat houserules for you straight from my hacked OD&D campaign:
  • Make unarmored AC 8, so plate+shield is AC15. That'll speed up combat.
  • Make all 1-3s different degrees of utter failure and 18-20 degrees of critical success. Very high/low rolls should dramatically affect combat. No whiffs--every combat turn there's some kind of fictional repositioning.
  • You can't move & reload a crossbow at the same time, also you lose a turn.
  • Getting flanked means -2 AC, and maybe higher damage.
  • Use d6 for single-handed weapons, d8 for 2-h. All HD are d6.
  • Fighters can chain extra attacks when they land a killing blow. At 4th level fighters can make 2 attacks. At 8th level they can fight two enemies simultaneously (they can't be flanked)
  • Flavor your weapons by changing what they do on good hits: Maces shatter armor, crush bone, inflict mangling trauma. Axes can grapple shields and easily sever limbs. Daggers are quick, can be thrown if they're in hand as a free action,and slice arteries. Swords parry and flash quickly and often get extra attacks. Polearms are long, get first strike, and can be swung in a wide arc to hit multiple dudes but leave you wide open.
  • Close ranged attacks get a +2 bonus instead of long-distance ranged getting a penalty.
  • Double damage for crits and sneak attacks. (Alternative; crits are dCarcosa). Chaining crits or especially risky successes add extra dice.
  • All dice explode. All of them.
  • Getting exactly 0 HP means you survive but get some kind of horrific trauma.
  • Characters with 13+ Dex can dual wield; roll with advantage on attacks or make two attacks at -2.
  • Anybody can attempt to cast a spell from a scroll but they have a high risk of botching it which means you get to roll on your most fiendish magical mishap tables.
  • If you have never, try using miniatures. It's fun.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

High Adjudication: Checks Without Difficulty Class

Difficulty class is known to skyrocket once you start trying to classify everything with a set number. As the players get better it becomes necessary to raise the bar to keep them struggling.

Adjudications and rulings not rules means DMs should be comfortable coming up with odds for success on the spot without relying on a set rule.

Personally I don't like having any real rules beyond the very basics, the stuff the players need to know to function, like how classes, advancement, battle, and spells work. This gives me lots of room to try new techniques.

An alternative for stat checks I haven't seen is this: roll a d20, add the stat mod. Loosely adjudicate based on the number rolled.

1 is critical failures. Not only did you fuck up but something really bad happens.

These drop off in severity up to 9. Lead from the fiction and push back either hard or soft, but there's a new barrier.

Natural 10 is the cut off. Below this you failed or things swing against you. At 10 their ability mod might put things one way or another a bit, but it's mostly a stalemate. Either you made little progress or theres some kind of unforseen consequence, a barrier, a cost, something is lost on the way to success. A soft negative move might happen here, the player makes the jump to the ledge, almost slips and falls, and part of the ledge crumbles away making further leaps across more difficult.

12+ is about where success happens. Things are going good, you've managed to do the thing. Usually here I'll give The World a soft neutral move, usually just for flavor or to ramp up tension, but nothing bad happens. You're safe.

17-19 is where great successes start happening, things swing a bit in the player's favor. Not only do they manage to catch the rope as their companion falls, but a sudden burst of strength lets them start hauling them back up quickly.

20 is obviously a critical success. Free moves, bonus attacks, whatever.

The key here is to understand what the player is trying to do and tell them the consequences for failure. Rolling the dice means throwing stuff to chance, so there's no point in having a DC. Shits up in the air. You're literally "rolling the dice" and flying by the seat of your pants. In such a case the swinginess is a boon. Leaving things up to chance is not smart, it's stupid, but sometimes unavoidable. In a way it's a punishment for taking risks.

But big risks come with big rewards. Players are required to figure out what a reasonable risk is before they pull the levers, what they're willing to lose in the way to fame and glory.

The dice is a slot machine. Your PC's ability mods might help push things in your favor, but nothing is ever certain. Careful, clever play and engaging with the fiction is the best way to avoid rolling dice.

Edit: I was wrong when I said I haven't heard of anyone else doing this. This is basically the Dungeon World mechanic!

The difference here is that DW uses 2d6, so you're more likely to get middle results than a wide spread, and ability modifiers affect the roll more with 2d6. In my version the mods might just make the difference in edge cases, which is kind of how I like it.

It's easy to forget that when we're talking about PCs we're talking about capital-A Adventurers. These guys are just a cut above normal folks. They're veteran warriors, mages who can cast AN ACTUAL SPELL, members of a clergical crusading sect, and...well, thieves. They're competent at what they do or they wouldn't be first level.

Should a mage be able to bend iron bars? Should a fighter be able to decipher an ancient manuscript? Should a cleric be able to hide and sneak attack? It depends on the type of game you want to run.

With my system averagely abilitied dudes could do mostly the same things. With free adjudication you can make the dice roll anything that seems reasonable. Maybe a mage's success at bending the bars means he's able to wedge them just enough for him to squeeze through but not the bulky warrior. Maybe having a bonus in an ability means that your successes are that much more successful. Mods as multipliers?

A +3 means unless you roll a 1 the lowest score you can get is 5 (on a natural 2) which is only halfway between a total failure and squeaking by! It also means you hit the success threshold easier.

The thing I like about this is that it allows for partial results and building momentum rather than pass/fail.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Rough encumbrance, no math

Encumbrance is more about what you're carrying than how much. Sure, you could stuff a backpack with trinkets and junk and jaunt about with it, but our adventurers are also wearing armor, carrying weapons and torches, with bows and shields slung over them, with belts and bandoliers of scrolls and bottles and daggers. Also they're expected to be nimble and make successful saving throws, including swinging on ropes, climbing cliffs, and swimming. Rarely is pack weight taken into consideration, and when it is it's in the form of counting. Math isn't a fun game to play at the table.

Realistically a person can carry about 20% their body weight without becoming exhausted, this is about 25-30 pounds for most people. Remember that the heavier you are the more of your own body weight you're carrying around by default, so that counts for something too. A larger person isn't necessarily capable of carrying more than a small person over a span of time, even if they're capable of exerting more force in one go.

I appreciate the granularity of weight-based encumbrance, but it could use some simplification. If you don't think about stuff like this much it has a tendency to slip through the cracks. Having traveled for many years on foot I'm quite aware that carrying much of anything for extended periods of time is exhausting. If you aren't a hiker I ask that you try it for a weekend. You'll quickly realize something you've been missing from your games. I ask my players about their encumbrance every time they try to do anything that requires mobility, and any time they collect treasure. It's just innate in me because I know it matters.

You could probably hike around in a dungeon all day wearing plate mail if you carried nothing but your weapons, but at the end of the day you'd be desperate to get that stuff off. Traveling overland wearing plate mail is out of the question unless you're mounted, and even then you're going to be sweaty and achy. It takes a lifetime of conditioning to do the things knights could do in plate mail, and even they struggled.

There's this video of a guy training like Jean Le Maingre aka Boucicault, running around doing exercises to condition his body for wearing plate mail. Shit is 26kg or about 60#s. He seems to have pretty good mobility, the joints are all well articulated, but you can tell he's struggling. He has a hard time getting up on the wooden horse, and he runs at a slow trot.

I assume that any fighter or cleric that wanted to survive to second level would perform training like this. This explains why magic-users can't just throw on plate mail and cast spells and get the same benefit as fighters--it's physically and mentally exhausting, requires peak physical ability, and such constant conditioning leaves little time for the immense study regimen required to cast even the most basic spells. Fighters are medieval knights, and magic-users are medieval monks. A monk would probably struggle just knowing how to don the harness, much less how to move efficiently in it. Saying a magic-user could wear armor might be equivalent to saying that anybody with two hands can drive a car, except it's a 60# car you wear on your body.

In the video he's shown climbing an artificial rock wall. This isn't analogous to climbing an actual rock wall, as the hand-holds are large and designed for climbing. I figure the rough uneven surface of a stone tower or cliffside would be a much different experience.

I would call plate mail heavily encumbering. If you're wearing it I'd probably cut the encumbrance weight in half, say 30#, because of how the harness conforms to your body. Nobody except Shiva has enough arms to carry all that shit around though. You either wear plate mail or leave it behind.

On the other hand, a chainmail hauberk is about 20# and they're relatively comfortable to wear. The weight it definitely noticeable but it balances well across your body well and you get pretty used to it just wearing it a lot. Unless you assume 'chainmail' means the full suit, not just the hauberk, in which case it would be as heavy and encumbering as plate mail. It's harder to explain why a magic-user can't wear chainmail and still cast spells, unless you believe that stuff about metal interfering with magical auras.

Or if you're down to say "this is a game, you guys play as 'archetypes', weapon and armor restrictions exist to help differentiate the classes, since you're supposed to work as a team."

The Rules
Okay so let's make something gameable out of all this. The following system works nicely as it fits with the Armor Class steps (10, 12, 14, 16) and movement rates (120, 90, 60, 30)

Encumbrance is about your load, how big a pack you're carrying, what you're weighted down with. Traveling on foot much of anything is encumbering, so we'll do this in batches.

Wearing nothing, you're totally unencumbered. You can do flips and jumps and polevault over pirahnas. You can remain unencumbered as long as you don't have a backpack. A grappling hook tied around you, manacles for a belt, a dagger in your shoe, some scrolls tucked into a secret pocket in your jerkin, a 6 foot staff in one hand, you're unencumbered. I'll even let you take a pouch belt or bandolier for holding little stuff like jewelry, specialists tools, a couple bombs, rations, or potions. This is where thieves and mages should be to get the most of their abilities.

If you're carrying a backpack of gear or treasure, leather armor, a couple of weapons or whatever, up to roughly 25# you're lightly encumbered. We might take your stuff into account a bit when it comes, particularly if you have to swim or climb or balance. Dropping your backpack is a free action but you lose initiative. This is where adventurer-types like bards, rogues, or spellswords should be, the guys that need a few extra things and look cool doing it. Also, it's where everybody should be if they're doing overland travel.

Alternatively you could outsource the carrying of stuff (in order of disposability) to slaves, donkeys, porters, lighterlads, or henchmen.

If you've got a bunch of gear, medium armor, and a large weapon you can't just tuck away, like a battle axe or a halberd or a shield, over 25# of stuff, you're encumbered. Subtract 1 from your dexterity bonus. Your maximum move speed is reduced one step (eg 120' to 90'). You can still do athletic things, but you're at a disadvantage.

If you've got over 50# of stuff, wearing plate mail, carrying a halberd, a shield, a sword, five daggers, and a bandolier of bombs, you're heavily encumbered. Subtract 2 from your dexterity bonus, your move speed is reduced two steps (120' to 60'). You can't cast spells, can't swim, you can't jump, you can barely climb, and you have to remove your armor (which takes like 20 minutes) to do any of that stuff and trail it behind you on a rope or small raft or donkey. Fighters and clerics do their best loaded out like this, but it shouldn't be their job to do delicate tasks or carry loot or gear.

Carrying more than this you're basically fucked & you can't run or fight at all, you're stuck at a 30' move speed, and you roll with disadvantage on everything. This includes carrying a wounded party member on your back, hobbling around with a serious illness or injury, or something equally taxing.

Bulky items are important to remember here. Brocade tapestries, bolts of moonwool, rare paintings, large weapons, fat sacks of gold are all bulky and hard to manage. Carrying two increases your Encumbrance rating.

Also, torches have a 1 in 6 chance of going out each turn when dropped, but lanterns only check once when they fall (but they shatter and catch on fire).

A gold dinar weighed 4.25 grams. There's 453.5 grams in a pound. Thus 100 gold pieces is about a pound. I would call 'a fat sack of gold' somewhere between 10 and 15 pounds, something that's gonna get in your way and jangle around and throw you off balance. Thus ~1200 gold is encumbering. If a player asks me "I have 1120 gold, does that count as bulky?" my answer would be yes. If you're not sure, the answer is yes. Carrying around shit is exhausting. Small treasures can be valued in coin sizes. Whole 10s numbers are good, so 1, 10, 20, 50, 100, but who has time for that? If I look at your equipment list and my eyes glaze over you're encumbered.

Seriously. On my last hitchhiking adventure I carried, on my person, a guitar, a change of clothes, a gallon of water, a book, a ball of twine, a knife, 2 cans of sardines, 150' of paracord, a 10x12 tarp, a pair of vicegrips, a tiny cook stove & a canister of propane, a titanium spork, and a tiny aluminum pot. Shit was 25# not counting the guitar (my weapon and shield) and it was awful. I wanted to throw it all in the garbage and go naked. This was also my lightest pack.

Really this comes down to conversing with the players, which is really a lot of my DMing, and it works best if everybody is constantly aware of it. Time, movement speed, carry weight, and torches are those things you update each turn, or each new room. "What are you carrying? Where is your stuff at?" "You have armor & a shield, that's encumbered, you'll have a hard time doing that thing"..... OR "you've got a crazy strength bonus, I think you can manage carrying the thief and his gear, and your gear on your back and climbing up this rope while goblins shoot arrows at you.........IF YOU ROLL 2 IN 6"

Nobody likes counting stuff in the heat of the moment at the table, so it's best just to gauge it and say encumbered or not. Real life works more like this. When it doubt, you're encumbered.

This starts looking a lot like the Slot system in Knave, which I'm a fan of. Problem here is what consitutes a slot? Is a weird scroll we found a slot? Is this bronze necklace a slot?

One thing I like about it is that the best armor is like 4 slots, so nobody uses it. Everybody goes with the lightest stuff. This is good because it models reality. If you're an adventurer in a dangerous place you want to be light because running away is better than dying.

Movement speed
Since 10 minute exploration lengths assume everybody is sneaking around, testing the environment, taking breaks now and then, your encumbrance doesn't have much of an effect here. You can be all kitted out and still move at a slow pace. Once you have to hide or move quickly or climb a boulder or act at once, that's when the weight really becomes a burden. Burdened people also roll with disadvantage on initiative.

BONUS ROUND: Why does plate mail even exist?

Plate mail in the real world developed quickly in response to primitive firearms. Our world doesn't have firearms, because it has fireball throwing shadowmancers so who cares about boom-boom smoke powder, so why does it exist? The answer is monsters.

Shielding your whole body with metal plates is a great idea when ogres are trying to twist you in half and fiendish otherworldly wargs  slink in the shadows of any given forest. The armor in our world developed in order to protect warriors against such things.

 Because this is a fantastical world of magic we can assume our armor is of a different technological strain than the real world variety. The articulation is better, they can make it lighter, they can meld together materials that don't exist in our world. They can put spells on it that help resist certain types of damage.

 But that golden age when knights sallied forth to do battle with evil is long gone. The age of Law is over and the Age of Chaos encroaches on us from every direction. Technological advancement has ended and all those ancient ways are lost and mysterious. Humanity is dwindling and growing stupid and demons are becoming more common. Modern smiths can't make armor like them of yore, they can only imitate it, and rare expensive materials are hard to come by because no major trade routes exist.

Thus the plain old expensive plate you buy at Bigtown is just iron riveted together as best they can figure. It might even be heavier and worse than the stuff they made in the real world.

The REAL good stuff, the ancient magical protection, is a true treasure. If a king or vizcount owns a suit it will be their pride and joy, kept locked behind magewalls and wyrmfire. A pretty-looking imitation will be commissioned to be worn on parades. The only time they'll really bring it out is during war.

Wearing this stuff around will get you attention, both good and bad, unless you use illusions to hide its magnificence, and even then Truly Powerful armor demands to be seen and will resent being hidden.

If you wear recognizably magical or ancient armor knights and lords will give you difference, and bribers, swindlers, cutthroats, and renegade barons will demand your hide. Patrons will flock to you, archwizards will scry you, thieves guilds will drool, and assassin cult will conspire.

The same, though, is true for wielding magic weaponry or powerful spells. Carrying this shit around in public is equivalent to carrying around grenades and sniper rifles in our world. People are terrified, the panopticon will turn its eye towards you, and trouble woe and riches follow you everywhere.

Magical armor has a great chance of being lighter than the above stated encumbrances, but it comes with other costs.