Friday, June 14, 2013

The Best Card In My Newly Crafted Loot Deck

So after I wrote about my decision to do this a while back but procrastinated on it because Hard Rock Hotel playing cards are too awesome to waste capriciously, and also my hours picked up and I got busy.

I thought to put it together in anticipation of picking my 2-months-off B/X game back up (and in anticipation of this separate wild west B/X game I have coming up)I'd finally put it together, using a half-remembered idea that +Zak Smith posted like three years ago for further ideas. Actually looking that article up I was way off but still I think I made something that works okay.

2/$1 playing cards from the Dollar Tree next to the shop and a Sharpie from the case and now I've got a Loot Deck.

Top of the card is, again, potions, because my party really likes potions. This one duplicates the effect of a found-only spell that...well, does what you'd imagine.

The left side is for quick generating scrolls. There's not a Scroll of Summon Tarrasque in Basic or Expert...there's not a Tarrasque in Basic or Expert, for that matter. But given recent findings I couldn't very well not have one of these, right?

The side opposite the potion generator is non-weapon magic items. That Wand of 10 Wishes fuses to your arm, replacing your hand like PMS Aquaman's hook. Wishing for your hand back with one of the wand's wishes makes the wand explode.

The side opposite the scrolls is magic weapons and armor. This is one of my favorites and works like this.

I also tried to arrange groups of items by suit. I fucked up a couple of times because I got distracted with the dog trying to merge her toy duck with my stack of cards but I corrected it on later cards so everything's in proportion, and the specific effects or intent is usually obvious.

Clubs are Cleric scrolls (though they top out at max 4 spells because that's when I run out of room) and standard basic +1 +2 +3 magical weapons and armor and shields and crap.

The scrolls, magic items, and magic weapons listed on all Spades are cursed or negative or detrimental in some way. One of the cursed scrolls is a Bosch-like illustration and looking at it traps you in it if you fail your save. Another is a sword that smells like boiled ass and attracts monsters, impossible to hide for backstab unless your target has no olfactory.

The Hearts and Diamonds are MU/Elf scrolls and magic weapons and armor. I thought about typing weapons by suit or value but I was doing this during downtime at work and could not be buggered.

Face Cards have items that are sentient, and intelligent items on Aces are always malevolent.

(In a pinch I can bump up a treasure roll by also using this to replace coinage rolls. Clubs are Coppers, Spades are Silvers, Hearts are Gold (like with hookers), and diamonds are Electrum (because that's left).  The value on the card is the number in thousands of coin or the number of coins, depending on whether I'm using the individual table or hoard table. If that's ever crazy ridiculous given the context I can just cut it in half. Face cards are worth 1k Platinum.)

Using this deck means using median scores for a hoard and a simplified individual treasure setup, but does what I want it to because it strips up to 20 rolls for treasure to 1 roll, a "is there magic shit" roll. If there's magic shit I deal out a number of cards equal to number of items, pick some random stuff out of my hand (or if my players want more random results I can subcontract rolling some d4 to them) and boom: done. We're moving on to more adventure, enjoy your magic crap.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

We Have A Tarrasque

He looks like this.
Tarasque means French monster who can only properly be described in part, like the blind men and the elephant, according to other creatures and things that an aspect reminds the observer of.

Tarrasque means D&D monster who exists to be a big bucket filled with HD and multiple attacks and ridiculous AC and also you have to redraw your maps now because it destroyed all the cities. It literally feeds on destruction, death, and misery.

Tarrasque means all of that in 4e but in addition he can never truly die, he just keeps coming back after he has healed up, the looming constant threat of natural disaster as real as plague or earthquake that everybody fears will one day happen but which no amount of effort will prevent. Like Yellowstone, actually. Not an omnipresent terror, but, in a land of a tarrasque of this manner, a constant anxiety.

Alien yet familiar creature + dumptrucks of castle-destroying hit points + oh god damn it there he is again I knew it = Arcis Enumre has a Tarrasque and it's Anguirus. Knowing that also means the Tarrasque is fast, can move bipedal at a slower rate, can make himself temporarily impervious to even magical weapons, and can appear anywhere without warning.

Also knowing that, it lives on an island with about 30 creatures way more deadly than himself. Every few years, one of them will leave this island, and when they do the rest will follow. This is partly because the animals will starve to death without wreaking some occasional havoc but their home is also really far from civilization and being that huge makes you kind of lazy too. It's also a salmon-like journey to spawn, but since each creature is the last of its kind this simply makes them pissed.

I have a scroll of Summon Tarrasque in my game as well. Casting from that scroll not only summons Another Tarrasque, but the tarrasque will immediately leave to come find it and murder-mate with it, setting off the monster domino effect. Summoning a Tarrasque is a perversion of nature, a blasphemy, a crime against the world, and so the spikes on a summoned Tarrasque are the horns of unicorns. Each round a unicorn can burst from the flesh of a tarrasque, which scars over, and will chase you. The tarrasque can spawn up to 666 unicorns because why not. Summoned tarrasques are male.

When you're killed by the summoned tarrasque or its unicorns, you go before the Ur-Gods of the world, Thunder Queen, Spirit King, and Great God Good Weed, and are judged and sentenced by this Tribunal Ultimus.

I Use Alignment By Ignoring Alignment

A pretty butterfly. Hurm.
Roleplaying is sitting down at a table and acting out your guy. You want to give them a personality besides your own, even if it's just an outlandish version of your own that has indulgences you'd never think of indulging in, or ambitions that polite society would frown upon. You want to keep them mostly consistent. Sometimes you want to play a situation as smart but, alas, "my guy wouldn't do that." For some people this is the single most important crux in gaming and all of those people are super boring about it and often the first to explain how no really alignment is essential to the game.

Roleplaying your alignment is sitting down and acting out your guy, and, by the way, your guy acts like this. If this decision is important enough to control how you play this character forever then this major philosophical crossroads would be where these games spend the bulk of their character generation time. It's a second set of Who You Are and What You Do. It's not useless information but it does lead to things like the cliché of the paladin and the thief falling out with one another.

Now your classic AD&D-and-onward alignment schema, the 9-panel-grid, complicates things by throwing in things further when some of the alignments are separated by thin conceptual membranes, using arbitrary assignments of Good and Evil, and leaves absolutely no room for moral relativism. It's a coloring book situation, and you'd better not go outside the lines, and by the way if you're True Neutral you should really use green for that.

If anything undercuts any usefulness of alignment it's the internet. Do an image search for alignment charts and you'll discover that Orcus, demon prince of the undead, bat-warthog-man-god who drinks soup made of hair and blood on a throne made out of baby skulls, is JUST AS EVIL as Microsoft Internet Explorer, which did totally bork your computer that one time. When you apply a gradient to morality but don't allow for any middle ground, or worse rigidly categorize a midground making it therefore not a gray area, you end up with these kinds of situations, and seeing how people feel about these alignment descriptions in graphic form kind of takes a bit of menace out of the idea of evil. And when evil isn't even scary or particularly effective (did you know Always Sunny In Philadelphia is worse than actual demons who shit in virgins?) the question of good versus evil becomes more of a question of who cares.

I ignore the shit out of that, but I use alignment all the time. In three ways.

The first and most pervasive is reputation. This is the nine-panel grid above but doesn't implicitly or explicitly restrict player behavior, or even player behavior when people are watching. Your reputation is just how people expect you to behave. Even a saint might find it convenient to be thought a devil, just as a wolf wears sheep's clothes. If you act differently than people expect, their impression of you changes. This is how it works in all fiction. This is how it works in real life. Accepting payment from the government for a job well done should not bork your slightly-too-close-anyway-now-you-mention relationship with your deity, but people will absolutely start to get the word that you're not exactly living a spartan lifestyle if you keep it up.

The second is the B/X alignment system, which only has 3 alignments. Really, it only has two alignments, Law and Chaos. If you want society to keep going because society makes things you like such as warm beds and sewers and some of that stuff is worth the occasional tax or church service, that's Law. If you want to supplant the law, but to supplant it with your own law, because you think you'd be a more just ruler, that's law. If you want to get up, go to work, go to bed, that's law. If you want to be properly paid for clearing out those chaotic fucking caves like you promised, or want to study hard to become a good magician, or assent to giving up pork for Lent, that's Law. Most motivations we have are Law, even some of the selfish ones. Chaos is specifically being Anti-Law. You want to strike down the gods, because who are these gods anyway? You want to rape the horses because they're there. You want to sack the kingdom because you want to get drunk. You sell your soul to be a good magician, and you want to be a good magician because you want the awesome things you get with that. Law is about You And Your World, Chaos is about You. Neutral means you fuck off from polite society and find your own way but you're not a huge fucking dick about it and don't burn down any forests just because you can, or because you're ordered to. Self-Sacrifice, Self-Reliance, and Self-Interest, if you like. The players don't pick this. To a large extent, I pick this. If we're running a game about conquering the known kingdoms and leaving a razed land in our wake, or if we're about people who find themselves united in the dark on an endless dungeon crawl, those are specific games. Most of the time, however, the PCs have a somewhat vested interested in the world's infrastructure if only so their money can be spent, so they default to Law.

The third is specific to Arcis Enumre and it's physical vibration. The world is made up of spiritual matter, physical matter, and magical matter. These are three great sheets in the obsidian chunk of the world. Everything has a composition such as this to one extent or another, including people. Remember, I'm not talking about different dimensions. Rather, someone aligned with the magical plane exists in the same world as someone aligned with the physical plane, but they experience the world fantastically differently. This is where things like protection spells make a lot of sense to me. This is where things like alignment languages, and switching alignment languages one a dime if you switch alignments, or hell switching alignments as a gameplay decision rather than a natural progression of a story, all make sense to me. It's all about harmonic vibration. Elves have no connection to the spiritual world whatsoever, and so don't dream, don't have souls, and are supremely aligned with the magical world. Clerics and Magic Users are aligned with sympathetic vibrations from spiritual and arcane planes, and most average everyday villagers are by default associated largely with the physical spectrum.

This makes us have another 9-panel-grid, of course: lawful spiritual, lawful physical, lawful magical, etc. It's descriptive, though, not prescriptive, and defines context for your adventure and bodily aspects of your character rather than How To Play Your Guy.

I'm not saying it's way better but between this and Reputation, I like it a lot better. Especially since its chief virtue is that the only person at the table who has to actually give a shit about alignment is ME, the DM, and even then only just a little.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

It Can Be Scary Your First Time...

This site's namesake, sort of
Twice tonight I got asked what a good intro-to-rpgs game would be, first from the perspective of a guy (who has GMd a 40K RPG I played in for a few weeks) who is looking to get his new girlfriend into gaming, and then from a guy who wants to start up a home game (because now he has a home!) but has never run anything before.

Now the first game I ever ran was this-
I ordered that when I worked in my first comic shop, wayyy before I actually got into this hobby, and it's a very simple, fun game that works. Game prep is just cutting things out of magazines or, now, doing a Google Image search and putting little numbers to what you find. Character generation is doodling the Iron Maiden dude and giving him T-Rex for hands. It's light, quick, easy, the values are very balanced and democratic, and there are a few cute conceits as well. It's not crazy deep but not all games need to be super deep. I love the shit out of Og and that's as shallow as you can get.

However, we didn't have that, and while I'd just seen a copy for dirt cheap on eBay the night before, I didn't want them to have to track anything down.

So I went with Risus...

...because it's free, the rules are straightforward and short (with more complicated options and a dirt simple method of prepping and complicating your game...dice are assigned to qualities so you can literally build enemies as the PCs fight them, assigning dice to their qualities as they come up until you're out of dice), can be played with any setting (including established ones like Buffy or World of Warcraft), and it plays fast and creative.

I also recommended the Basic rules listed above, available on dndclassics.com, but also mentioned that if he didn't want to spend the five bucks....

LL is free, pretty much the same thing (put your stones down, grognards), and both represent lean games still replete with options. The best thing about these games as a first time player or first time GM is that whatever is happening you have like....5 things to keep track of: when you're gonna die, how fast you're killing the monster, how tough you are, when you go, and your character's name. If you're 4/7 of the classes in B/X, that's kind of all you ever need to know, with the situational stuff like halfling stealth and thief rolls coming up AS THEY COME UP.

Again, those games are free. I stress this because if it weren't for getting into this hobby when I did, in an information age where free games and free versions of games can be found with one Google search, I might not be playing right now myself. Obviously as a store we want to make money but I'm making game money from these two guys already. I did suggest they throw something in the way of tip jar money at Goblinoid and the Risus people, though.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Veteran Edges- Fighter Leveling Options

Level 9 Fighter
Not all Fighters get to name level and beyond by sole virtue of being the biggest, baddest mofo with the widest neck and the notch-iest sword. Most all good fighters survive to late in their career they way most soldiers have through history: discipline and fitness and combat acumen, of course, but also canniness, awareness, fortune, and strategy. Having a bunch of hirelings to determine, yup, that IS a medusa in that cave, doesn't hurt either.

So: Fighters who receive no Constitution bonus (using the B/X bonus charts) to their HD roll at a given level still get a benefit as long as they have INT 13 or above. Alternatively, a Fighter may always simply forgo his Constitution bonus HP in order to qualify for one of these Veteran Edges.

These aren't quite balanced and each Edge can be taken only once unless specified otherwise. These Edges automatically improve 5 levels after you get them.

Leader of Men- Improve your retainer morale by 1. THEN: Improve your maximum retainers by 1. You can take this Edge twice.

Steel-Eyed- You can determine the place of origin of any forged weapon or armor. THEN: You can determine who made any forged weapon or armor.

Did Hawkeye Steal That Jeep?- In any non-hostile settlement, you can find a horse to buy for cheap. THEN: Any horse you hop on in the heat of combat pursuit is not only combat trained, but is also Just Yours Now, the way wild west heroes' horses are always right there when they need them.

Never Let Your Guard Down- You sleep with your eyes open, and are not helpless while you sleep. NEXT: You sleep with your boots and armor on, still getting a full night's rest in half the time.

Snake Handler- +1 to saves vs. Poison, stacks with other save bonuses. NEXT: Grant others a +1 to saves vs. Poison by sucking the poison from the wound.

Outdoorsman- Your movement is never hindered due to environmental conditions. NEXT: If properly camouflaged, you can surprise an enemy on a roll of 1-3.

Pull- Your shots with a longbow or shortbow ignore long-range penalties. NEXT: Your shots with longbow or shortbow increase short range to-hit bonus by +1. (For XXR firearms translate this into +1 to hit, and then an additional +1 five levels later.)

My Elf's A Little Rusty- You recognize a language the rest of the party has not heard before, though you cannot speak more than three words of it. NEXT: You gain a floating language; the next time the party encounters a language nobody has heard before, you can declare that, actually, YOUR character can speak that language like a native. You can take this Edge three times.

Beware My Blade- Your weapon has a name, and people who know it are suitably impressed when you tell them that, yes, this is Bloodblack. NEXT: Your weapon has a second name, as in Bloodblack the Thane-Hewer, and everyone in the nearby lands knows it and is suitably cowed when you start screaming about your awesome sword. You can take this Edge once for each weapon you own.

You Wanna Know How I Got These Scars?- You can elect to take a permanent, visible, identifying scar from a fight in order to recover a full 1d6 from bed rest. NEXT: On your next successful carousing roll, you can perpetrate one self-serving rumor about how you REALLY got that scar.

Field Triage- You may administer first aid mid-combat. On your place in initiative the target of your good graces must make a saving throw (Paralysis in five-save, Tricky/Medium save for XXR). On a successful save they gain 1HP, on a failed save they lose 1HP. NEXT: The save gets easier (death save/Easy save).

Is It A Man Or Demon?- A named foe you have faced and survived before will always believe you have some preternatural edge - a magic spell, a talking sword, something. NEXT: Said foe must Save vs Spells (Hard save for XXR) when next meeting you or suffer the effects of a Fear spell.

I Know A Guy- Once per session in any settlement or city you know of a person (only by reputation) who can provide a piece of knowledge. NEXT: You have a personal acquaintanceship with someone who can provide a tangible benefit (gear, shelter, supplies, enchantment, etc).

Catlike Bastard- You can see in dim light as normal light for your Constitution x3'. NEXT: Improve to Constitution x6' and you can differentiate details like color and texture.

This Was Before The War- What's the pool up to? I was a teacher. A pastime of peacetime serves you well, and you know 1 fun fact or trade secret that can help you out in a dungeon, like maybe you know about types of spiders or how to properly butcher a stag. NEXT: You know a number of these secrets equal to your Intellect bonus, minimum 2. (In XXR terms this translates to a 1pt improvement to your career skill, then an additional 1pt improvement five levels later.)

Anyway It's All In The Reflexes- You never have to roll to catch anything thrown to you or falling toward you, so long as it is not part of an attack. NEXT: You can even make a saving throw (death/Easy) to catch projectiles you are attacked with.


N-N-N-N-Nineteen- You never suffer from discrimination or judgment based on your age...your skills speak for themselves. NEXT: You never suffer from mechanical disadvantages of aging.

My Father's Watch- You possess a keepsake that can never be taken from you except by supranatural means. NEXT: Even if taken by magic or bullshit you can always find it and reclaim it again.

Steady Nerves- You can roll twice for any check related to alcohol, including carousing rolls. NEXT: You suffer no mechanical penalties for combat or morale due to alcohol.

It's Up To You- When you die you can appoint someone to take over for you, either filling your duties or avenging you. This person is considered to have Charisma 18 when it comes to carrying on your legacy. NEXT: They also gain a permanent +1 to saves to avoid dying the same way you died.

It's A Small Town, You Wouldn't Know It- Whenever you describe where you're from roll 1d20. On a 20 the person you're talking to has for whatever reason a favorable opinion of that place and will behave Non-Hostile toward you. This cannot be used in combat. NEXT: Yes it can be used in combat, and when used outside of combat in a major city roll 1d10 instead.

Good Boy- Instead of training a dog with a number of commands equal to 3+ your Intellect bonus (which is what I often do) you can train them with a number of commands equal to your Intellect. NEXT: You can train them with commands equal to your level if that's higher than your Intellect, and if you have been missing for three days your dog will try to look for you.

The Greatest and Deadest of Goblins

Not this one.

This is the second most memorable goblin death I've experienced. The first...

Never mind why they were laying siege to the goblin castle in order to abduct its princess. The assault was going swimmingly. Nobody was even level 8 yet but they had already tamed a trio of black dragons. Most of the goblins fled in fear before they even got to the castle. Those who remained made a morale roll before attacking the intruders.

Few made it, but they charged. The elf let loose with a spell and the dragon with its acidic breath. Many goblins melted. Morale check.

Only one surged on, his pupils dilated with fear, knowing he charged to his certain death yet he DARE NOT STOP...

Whole mythologies develop for this lone goblin between rolls. He has a horrible goblin wife at home who beats him, apparently. One player suggests he's behind on his mortgage. Another suggests a gambling debt, and all the horrible things his king will do to him if he retreats. Every gag tops the next...and I commit to memory, because now this is work I don't have to do.

He gets initiative. Spends his turn charging but not reaching the group. He's crying now, but not blinking, eyes wide open as tears stream behind him like a Czech rhythmic gymnast. It's the players' initiative and the crocman, laden with weapons natural, man-made, and magical, throws a mundane dagger at the goblin. Crit, double damage. He's still alive.

The goblin's face is peeled off as the knife boomerangs around his skull and buries itself in the sand behind him. Face flapping behind him like a bad toupee, unblinking in horror and pain, still he comes!....

One of my Pacifist fighters takes the Goblin's charge. Opts to subdue rather than kill. The goblin lies bleeding and unconscious with one hit point and the party moves on. The night is filled with explosion, PC death, PC death retcon, and the complete destruction of the goblin city. They lose all their dragons and most of their magical shit. Of they few things they can take with them while fleeing, they choose the goblin. They stitch his face back on upside down.

The party decide they're going to make him a pet, but also a safety net. A Charmed goblin princess bids him drink a randomly rolled potion because the group doesn't know what it does and it could be bad. Still with 1 hit point, the goblin is fed the potion. His eyes fly open, bright yellow and reptillian, and he speaks in a loud low growl. His vengeance...it's coming! He gets up to flee the room and embrace his victory...only to be lifted off the ground by a Crit crossbow bolt, stuck into the wall of the party's hideout, and left dangling there, the arrow perfectly threading his ears like Steve Martin.

The party spends the rest of the night dealing with the two irate gold dragons the potion of Summon Dragon brought down on them.

The party called the goblin Lucky.

By the way, THAT is player agency.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Demihuman Race-Class in B/X

Toucha toucha toucha touch me...
Real grabber of a title, innit?

So I'm not married to a Tolkeinesque racial makeup for my fantasy. I built Arcis Enumre as I did because I wanted to do cool crap with the book as off-the-shelf. Make it my own but also instantly recognizable to anybody else who has read these rules, jah? And I've no specific mandate zat only ze core classes may be used!!! Hell, I've got about a dozen custom classes. Of those, I've got a bunch of straight class variants, a gnome I quite like, the idiotic robots from She-Ra, Mario bad guys, a Crocman...

Here's something I notice looking at a lot of the race-as-class options in FLAILSNAILS or custom races in Pathfinder or 4e or whatever: they lean a lot more in animalistic or elemental directions than they do the directions of your elfs, dwarfs, or halfings. That is, they're less exaggerated versions of humanity's strengths and weaknesses whose assigned attributes overlap with more than one normal, human class, and more like a horse with human thumbs, or a lizard with human thumbs, or a frog with human thumbs, or an always-on-fire-guy with human thumbs.

Why is that?

It's the company these races keep, in part, I think. Weird amalgamations of human and animal features make up most mythological horrors and therefore most of the monster sections in these books. Orcs are hoglike berserkers but distinct from wereboars and devil swine, and kobolds are doglike lizardmen but distinct from lizardmen and theoretical dogmen, who, one imagines, must be distinct from werewolves. Elemental forces, both unliving constructs and living hybrid weirdos, also put in a strong showing, and the rest are various fungi that nature says fuck you with or else they're dead things.

I mean obviously all of these creatures are inherently a bit silly, and a seventh kind of goblin is a bit silly, too. And they're not really more silly than a Shyguy, I'd contend. Biscuit eating masters of shoeless stealth who are extra lucky are not an inherently more serious concept than "guys in masks with spears," it's just a question of association.

And just as obviously we like to humanize and anthropomorphize everything around us, from streetlights to mirrors to rocks to cats to hurricanes. Eastern mythology plays a lot into my default image of fantasy and it's a series of stories filled with animalist figures. There's plenty of room for everyone, right?

Why then do I keep feeling like the other direction is the more profitable one?

It's this method of modeling a game like Savage Worlds encourages in its race building, modeling extremes of behavior and concocting a society around that standard. I like this approach a lot and it's where my mind goes with demihumans for the most part. Well, apart from that Crocman class, but there were other motivating factors there.

I've been thinking about this a lot because I just ripped up some Pathfinder notes for a game I was planning on running. I'm going to do it B/X now, allowing my Arcis Enumre creations and a couple others I'm going to churn out in the next couple of weeks. I'd really like to get a bit more creative racial options on the table but...what in hell do you do? Just play Mad Libs and make a ____-Man? Or does one exaggerate masculinity or femininity, or pick a theme of seven deadly sins, or virtues? Or could a single individual inform an entire demihuman race in the way that Bilbo (who defined Frodo and Sam and the others and therefore all hobbits who matter) defined the D&D halfling?

Could a race of Nixons be worth investigating?

One thing I do know is that I've got my imaginary little world here pretty well kitted out to the gills. I've got some odd options but mostly when I need a spot on the map for an enlightened philosopher kingdom I use...humans. When I need a backwards suspicious zealot kingdom I use humans, too. Humans are surprisingly versatile when it comes to making villains, as evidenced by all of history and most fiction. My players will fight dragons, balrogs, gods, kraken, and liches and so on. The one place they never ever want to venture again is Klort, kingdom of the shit-burning, skullfucking, baby-eating barbarian culture. They could give a fuck about orcs or gnolls because what's a gnoll going to do to you that skullfucking you and eating your baby won't also accomplish? A mechanical fear effect? Fuck that, I've got a real live fear effect at the table.

So any option has to fit at least one of these criteria...
  1. They must be unobtrusive enough that I can drop them into the world without redrawing the maps. They can populate communities in the fringe.
  2. They must give me a specific and alien option outside of what I've set up for my existing geopolitical makeup but which I can't as easily replicate by just making another human kingdom.
  3. They need enough unique positives and negatives that I can't just use human stats, or Crocman stats for that matter, and change a thing or two.

I've got an idea for something along these lines. We'll see how it shapes up.