Friday, December 4, 2015

REVIEW: They're Here Already II, by Judas Babbage

Bone pioneer and lysergic athlete Judas Babbage was fired from Adder Entertainment with extreme prejudice and served 2 years for the assaults which followed. He entered the pen with a half dozen adventures complete and ready to publish, including the inciting incendiary book behind his termination, Go Fuck A Baby. Failed by the mental health industry Babbage felt he had no one to turn to when his medication not only stopped being effective but completely turned on him. Before his death in the early 90s he expressed a lot of regret over how things went down, and specifically for GFAB.

"What I set out to do was make a game no one else would do. I didn't believe [in] such a thing as things you shouldn't do, creatively. I guess I still don't. So when everyone kept insisting what I was doing was terrible, my response was fuck you, get more babies...

"Someone calls themselves an artist, you call yourself an art lover, you don't want them to give you what you ask for. You want something only you can do...I think I was the only one who would do that one, but looking back I think anybody could do it. It's pretty tacky. I mean I don't know that I shouldn't have done it but I wish I hadn't...I was a hurting young man trying to find someone to listen to me, only I just incensed people. I didn't interest them."
- A Tunnel Special (1995)

Babbage's wife Copernica published several of the titles Judas had completed in order to defray legal expenses and help support herself. GFAB was never published but cam-paks such as Hey Iron Devil and Killing Age Heroes did see the light of day, fully compatible with Æ's contemporary releases. They were not allowed to promote themselves as such but they did still contain some signature language and reference to other Æ titles. All credits apart from Judas and Copernica's names were stripped and this led to a continuing controversy over the provenance of certain artworks. These problems, very real and very shady, should not detract from the fact that Judas Babbage was our dirty grampa and we are all his deformed children. Judas Babbage was the Batman that games needed.

When Æ reconvened in 1999 people were ready to feel good about giving strangers money to play games again. In the spirit of that enthusiasm Babbage was posthumously welcomed back into the fold. Before she died in 2000, Copernica signed a deal granting Babbage's finest work, They're Here Already, to be republished and re-edited for the initial wave of NovÆ reprints. They're Here Already II is an improvement where changes are made but the original material is largely, and shockingly, untouched.

Near the city of Knife Hole there is a great pit, around which there are seven churches. The pit is a Throat straight to hell, a dungeon massive in description if not in size. If there's one complaint which rules all others and in the darkness binds them it's that Babbage's kamikaze antipsychotics were on a bleeding roll and you get descriptions all over the place here. Thoughts completely abandoned and picked up in another room. Inconsistencies like what color the blood is. For the most part this is an issue for the person shepherding the game with those playing likely not to even see much in the way of nits and tears, but that itself begs the question of the necessity for such elaborate assessments. Babbage was never one to trust an artist, it seems, and reading They're Here Already II I can believe that. Box text is often at best a barnacle but Babbage seemed to think that 10,000 words was worth a picture. If there's a strange bit of praise to offer here, however, it's that this is one of the few adventure modules which would work better as an audiobook.

Each of the churches has been given a prophecy, one which will be fulfilled in 7 days. Thwarting any of these requires delving down the Throat. Seven champions are selected, and one or all of the party will represent these champions. You've all got two things you have to do in order to stop your prophecy but those things will be at fixed points in your descent so you can't control how fast you do them. You can't stay in the Throat safely so you keep having to go up and down and back to town.

Problem: every night one of the prophecies comes true. The town you return to is much changed from the one you left, usually, and represents its own dangers. It's entirely possible, after a couple of days of play, to get trapped in town dealing with its complications and never make it down the Throat at all.

The complications themselves usually involve the transposition of an asset, resource, or ally with some kind of non-union EC Comics equivalent, and by the end of the week not only has the town become a Tim Burton wet dream but the throat inverts, becoming a moving column of hell scorching its way across the world.

The actual meat of the cam-pak though is the time you spend in the Throat. The Throat-Threats within are all suitably deadly and the best way to survive anything you meet is running, as they seem to all have been designed after crocs and hippos: deadly, shockingly fast in the short term, but slow lethargic to the point of stillness in the long run. Of particular pleasure was the Answermander, a monster which screams advice on defeating the dangers as it chases you, but will absolutely slice you to ribbons if it catches you. Nothing really hurts it apart from a secret he only reveals when he kills someone. I used to use @nswerm@nder as my handle in the old IRC #AE room on the goatz network. This concludes the sad little peek into my life.

The chief innovation here is the Rules Table. The demonians of the Throat love rules, and love to talk. Any rule stated by a denizen becomes fundamental physical and magical law while in the Throat, but these rules are assigned randomly whenever a demonian interaction occurs. It makes one confident that no two people who played They're Here Already II have ever played nearly the same game, something always said about only the best games.

The revisions are largely on the lines of a proper table of contents and index, proper art credits, some new art, and some thorough proofreading. One large change, however, is that the connecting thread one followed from the bottom of the Throat to the Babbage release Siege of Blood Ants has been removed. In its place is a circle of counter-churches, one each devoted to the prophecies the churches above are trying to prevent. They do not have their own champions, but players can choose to switch their letter over to these new counter-churches. It's an improvement which Æ credits still to Judas and Copernica Babbage, but which has been surreptitiously confirmed to be the work of Killer Ivanova.

While much of Babbage's other catalog saw print in the Sibbilants anthology a few items will likely never be reprinted due to art right disputes the Babbages laid the ground work for. Go Fuck A Baby remains unpublished, of course, but several small companies have made reference to its infamous title, such as the Cyclopean Romanse novel Go Hug a Babylon (insufferably) and the controversial Cobra Party Free RPG Day release G-Fabulous! (interminable for different, 'hilarious' reasons)

Perhaps the best legacy Babbage could have is a gamer support group for people suffering from mental illness, They're Here Already, dedicated to speaking out about mental illness among gamers to destigmatize it and remind people they aren't alone. This organization drew fire from their choice of name but there is no such thing as a perfect ally. No unblemished legacy. And as forefather and object study Babbage means more to our little community than his game books ever did, really.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Where Do You Roam: The Long Road to Paladins


HD: 2d8 at 1st level, 1d8 levels 2-9
Attacks: Cleric
Advances: Cleric
Requirements: Wisdom 15+
  • Paladins may use any weapon but they are +1 to hit with one-handed swords.
  • Paladins may use any armor and shields. They gain +1 to Saves when using a shield.
  • Paladins gain bonus HP equal to their armor improvement, not including shields; e.g. leather armor grants 2HP.
  • Paladins may know 2 Languages.
  • Paladins have the ability to Judge Others. They may do this by spending some of their hit points, reducing their Max HP for the day. In a given round a Paladin can
    • spend points to give an ally an equivalent bonus to a Save or skill check.
    • spend points to heal an ally within 30' an equivalent amount of HP.
    • spend points to penalize an enemy's Save.
    • spend points to improve damage against an enemy on a successful hit.
    • Your HP maximum always resets after a night of restful meditation on your values, even when your HP does not fully replenish. A Paladin who has aided an ally's Save during the opponent's turn cannot Damn Others in the same round of initiative, and a whole bunch of other common sense stuff: 1 use of these abilities, whatever it may be used on, per round.
  • Paladins have a pool of Providence equal to 1+Charisma bonus. They may spend these points in order to
    • make an additional attack this round.
    • automatically save against a non-Spells effect.
    • heal themselves 1d8.
    • cast detect evil/good, detect magic, protection from evil/good, or any sensible 1st level "detect this or that" type spell. Identify or Locate Object could also work at the DM's discretion.
    • Only one of these abilities may be used in a given round, but they can be used in a same round where they Judge. All Providence refreshes to maximum after 1 night of restful meditation on your principles. You also gain 1 Providence anytime you use Judge Others to save an enemy or punish a treacherous ally.
  • At 9th level Paladins become sacred. One of their weapons gains the power to cast light at will. Their armor or shield gains the power to spare the Paladin from partial damage on a Save. The may communicate with their steed as if it understood Common. One ally may be designated as sacred as well, and when fighting alongside the Paladin this ally is +1 to hit/damage/saves. If any of these are lost or slain the Paladin may replace them by spending all their Providence for a given day.
  • Paladins may advance to level 16.

((This is where this article originally began. I wanted it to be easier to find the Paladin build I settled on near the end. I guess this turns this article into even more of a class design DVD extra))

Paladins are at once incredibly specific and yet people can't quite agree what they are. I've been playing one recently for the first time so I've been thinking about them.

Mechanically the point of reference seems to be pure Lancelot/Joan of Arc territory. Clerics are very magic, mostly healy, and a little bonky. Paladins then are Crusaders and Templars: a little healy, kind of magic, mostly fighty stabby. It reflects an evolving approach to the infantry coming out of the hobby's wargame roots. You don't really need different classes to represent Lancelot and Robin Hood and Goemon and Conan and Lash LaRue really because those guys are all Fighters, at least in terms of ground forces, artillery, support. Their weapons are all instruments of war and they have powerful kung fu and so are the bread and butter of your forces en masse. The Roman Legions. The Mongol Horde.

If however you are putting together not a table full of fireball cannons and medic tents but like 3-6 guys to go exploring and beat up tigers then your attitudes might shift. You can run the game fine with just the Fighter, sure, but the needs of playing out a story as Few in a world where literally everything wants to kill you are different than the needs of Many where your opponents have to play by the same rules you do. The surest method of survival is not sending a bunch of guys at the problem and anyway you don't HAVE a bunch of guys. Instead the surest survival is avoiding the thing Fighters are best at mosssst of the time and relying on cleverness to avoid certain doom. You've got a key ring. Magic-Users unlock opportunities normally unavailable to you because of magic. Thieves unlock opportunities for reconnaissance, improved ambushes, and literally unlock things, granting you ingress to most places. Clerics unlock a level of relative safety netting with protection from some of the game's trickiest low level enemies and powerful healing at higher levels. Fighters unlock chest cavities. Everyone keeps their role from the battleground but it's not a simultaneous maneuvering formation any more: everyone takes turns, and is useful in turn.

This is a fine approach but it more or less gets fucked up immediately with demihuman classes who are all sort of a Fighter Plus. They require some not-difficult-to-get stat values or have truncated advancement paths but since the point of the game in the minds of the designers at this time was low-level play I don't consider level caps a core diminishing function. Then apparently you have elves switching between fighter and magic-user every game in OD&D, multiclassing shows up really quick so everybody gets to play with everything, we get the race/class split you you can have hammer-wielding wizards with berserker helmets...So many elves. So many.

The epidemic spread. You had Thieves but you also had Thief Acrobats and Assassins and Bards. You had Magic-Users but this quickly starts getting sorted into Necromancers, Illusionists, and over time into Sorcerers and Shugenja and such. Fighters are now sharing space with Rangers, Barbarians, and Monks, and Ninja. Clerics finally get Druid split off into something of a default assumption and uh Paladins show up....and for the most part the Cleric gets crowded out the least, mostly owing to the fact that they instead got weighted down with 1000 different god options and the special crap that comes with them. We're not even getting into all the splits that come in the 2e-Onward era here. And once people decided to start moving their ability scores around in any old order or outright ignore ability score requirements for these Plus Classes? Oof.

So we start to get this concept somewhat belatedly of hardcore niche protection, which usually means all of these variant classes are Better at things the four core classes already did, but the core four can do More things. But that meant these other classes needed a few more things tacked onto them after a while, and in one way or another this has been the true balancing act the developers have been involved with ever since, but I honestly wonder if we didn't miss a big cull along the way.

If you've got the Four Core you don't need all the endless variants, strictly speaking. But if you're going to throw them all over the place and getting increasingly specific you don't really need the large umbrella of the Four Core any more. A world where any cleric you can imagine is also another class' main concept, too, is down to a choice between Extra Bullshit Mechanics, a choice between numbers first and "I want to play" second, and I don't cotton to that philosophy.

This is the DNA of a lot of classes and this is the DNA of the Paladin. So what does the Paladin do?

Again we get a rolling snowball. Like many classes different interpretations over the years and multiple settings have left us with a lot of options that, depending on what/when you play, people consider core to the class. The VDND Ranger is currently straining from this, being pulled in a dozen different directions as people exasperatedly take to the space where the WOTC forums used to be to cry "Why can't these idiots simply give us a dual-wielding magic-using thief-skilled Tarzan-capable dungeon-adept damage-volcano range-combat-expert with a floating archenemy who precludes precise navigation or tracking or rationing and comes with a powerful best friend tiger that we actually want to play, HOW HARD IS THAT?" The Paladins get off comparatively easily in terms of EX-BS-MECH but the question of what makes a Paladin is where the division comes in.

Paladins should be above all champions for their god.
Paladins should be above all champions for good.
Paladins should be above all champions for the law.
Paladins should be above all champions for honor.
Paladins should be above all champions for a code of conduct.
Paladins should be above all champions for their liege.
Paladins should be above all champions for their kingdom.
Paladins should be above all champions for their kind and kin.
Paladins should be above all champions for justice.

That's a lot of things wrapped up in the core idea of the Paladin. Then we get branches from the Paladin as well, antipaladins, cavaliers, with their own baggage like horse owning and improved smiting. The kind of thinking where one posits first "If only there was an evil version of a paladin" and later "If only there was a good version of an antipaladin" explains a lot of headaches in the hobby over the years - at both a fan and developer level - and also explains Pathfinder entirely.

So what are Paladins? Well, they're a bunch of awesome guys who may or may not have hung out with Charlemagne who got a bunch of historical fan fiction written about them where they were great fighters who loved Jesus. That's it. If you're a paladin it means you're The Best, like the Justice League, but we can't make a class out of the Justice League.

.....Fuck it, Paladins are the Justice League. I always wince a little when someone puts an Adventurer's Guild in a setting because from a story perspective it's like someone in Cimmeria opening a Conan Guild. The fact that we're out here busting our asses to save the world is supposed to be kind of a big deal, and the stakes are lowered knowing that not only will someone definitely come along behind us to fix things should we fail but we are also almost certainly not the right people for the job, as we're likely never the highest level characters around. Double wince for someone making an Adventurer class or a Legendary Hero or a Chosen One. But damn it that's what Paladins are (if we decide that they're the ones doing the choosing). They existed in the public mind to go on rad adventures. Like the Justice League, collectively and individually. So we'll lean into that a little with our bottom floor design concept: Paladins should be above all champions.

So: we're going to have us a Paladin-Down, producing a few alternate versions. Then we'll try to synthesize a perfect Paladin from these. First up is an approach that for reference's sake we'll call the Paladin Defenders.

HD: d8
Save: Cleric
Attack: Fighter
Advance: Cleric
Requirements: 10+ in all ability scores, or 18 in Strength, Intelligence, or Charisma.
  • Paladins may use all weapons.
  • Paladins may use armor and shields.
  • Paladins may speak two Languages.
  • Paladins add their Hit Die to Saves against effects of the undead.
  • Paladins may intentionally fail a Save to allow an ally to automatically Save.
  • Paladins receive a bonus to hit equal to the number of allies attacked since the Paladin last struck.
  • Paladins receive a bonus to AC equal to the number of allies damaged since the Paladin was last injured.
  • Paladins receive an additional Hit Point each level.
  • At 1st level, Paladins may have up to 4 designated allies for the purpose of their Paladin abilities.
  • At 4th level Paladins may have up to 6 allies.
  • At 5th level Paladins become adept at punishing those who abuse her trust.  Against designated allies who betray her, the Paladin always does double damage.
  • At 8th level Paladins may have up to 8 allies.
  • At 9th level Paladins form an Order, attracting up to 9 levels worth of Paladins (so 3 3rd level Paladins, for example), none above level 8. These dedicate themselves to the Paladin's code above all others. The Paladin's allies may not adhere to the rules of this order but if they do they are considered to have a +4 reaction adjustment in civilized places, a boon the Paladin herself enjoys. Additionally, Paladins become ruthless in dealing with oath breakers. Against members of the Paladin's order who break their oaths, any strike by the Paladin is considered fatal.
  • At 12th level Paladins may have up to 8 allies.
  • At 13th level Paladins gain the spell abilities of a 7th level Cleric.
  • At 16th level Paladins may have up to 12 allies.
  • Paladins may advance to level 16.
Obvious pros here: You've got a good skeleton for a Fighter-Plus type Paladin who mostly gets that way by taking the things Paladins are known for in their capacity as Cleric Plus but we've removed a lot of the other magical access that lets them creep onto the Cleric's territory. We put back in requirements for ability scores because hey remember all these variant classes started out as something close to the first prestige classes, you really had a one in a thousand shot of making a good Paladin roll. We keep him from being too powerful by putting the engine for these abilities almost entirely on the Paladin's allies. Paladins are literally defined by their allies, as in that's where we get the word is a bunch of warrior holy bros. So this makes sense. We don't load the Paladin down with late level features apart from these, either, meaning that a solitary Paladin or an antisocial Paladin or a Paladin with only a couple guys with him that day are really just Fighters with a few more HP and good saves against mummies and shit. They fight better in a small army, which also makes sense for a Paladin. Finally, near the end of their leveling cycle, they have proven themselves in the eyes of their god and the fact that they are even alive is a kind of minor miracle, so we'll throw in a reduced spellcasting. I mean this is like...a Mandy Morbid level legendary warrior at this point so yeah, go be magic.

Obvious cons here: Pages, lantern bearers, porters, and other dungeon hirelings the Paladin may designate as allies are usually short-lived, so the Paladin's bonuses are usually going to top out at 3-5 for most tables, no matter how high level she gets. This approach also involves a lot of tracking for the player of extra crap. While this version makes a good companion and partner it does mean their role is basically Supporting Offense. That's fine since this was already their role but since we push back spell access until late levels it means they're a less versatile Supporting Offense than a Cleric would be, and no healing to speak of. When they're on they're on and when they're not they're just a Fighter. The ability requirements may also be too low.

Next, for reference's sake, we'll tackle a setup we'll call um Paladin Paragon.

HD: d10
Saves: Cleric
Attacks: Cleric
Advances: Cleric
Requirements: Strength 13, Wisdom 13, Charisma 13.
  • Paladins may use all weapons.
  • Paladins may use all shields and armor.
  • Paladins may speak two Languages.
  • Paladins who do not attack in a given round may heal an ally 1 HP. A Paladin may not heal herself.
  • At 2nd level a Paladin may Turn Undead as a Cleric of half level, rounded down.
  • At 4th level a Paladin may cast Light a number of times per day equal to her level.
  • At 8th level a Paladin's weapons and armor are always to be considered magical and silvered, though no numerical bonus is conferred by this.
  • At 9th level a Paladin may be understood as if speaking all languages, and may establish that an item sacred to their faith is but three days' ride away. The DM should do their best to honor that request.
  • At 16th level a Paladin gains the ability to cast Quest, Resurrection, and Wish once each. These are three miracles, and once they have all been performed the Paladin is assumed into the heaven of heroes, bodily, their final miracle.
  • Paladins may advance to level 16.
Pros here: We've got a hardier Paladin with the increased HP. We've changed the requirements so it's ok to have a couple of bad rolls. We've made them a powerful low level support and the ability to keep her allies on their feet without cramping a Cleric's style. They're more consistently magic while only sacrificing a small tohit advantage. High level abilities mostly make it so that the more mundane challenges of dungeon crawling are things the Paladin may dispense with.

Cons here: Maybe too magic? That 1HP/round means that as long as you have them around any healing potions or magic are basically around to keep the party healotron alive. They lost a little attack accuracy and never gained anything martial back in return. They get very few high level abilities and those are all limited. That ability score spread might be pretty rare, and while I like you-play-what-you-roll in theory in my experience it's easier to just say what classes there are and have new players (I mean brand new players) just pick something.

We're identifying a problem here. The default assumptions of a D&D Paladin imply basically sword Clerics. That's easy, charge an extra 10% to level up for Clerics, boom. There's your Paladin. Right back to the you-only-need-the-Four-Core approach there. But that brings us back to our starting point for design: Paladins should be above all champions. There's nothing especially championy about the sword cleric and we needn't concern ourselves with the poles of previous D&D Paladins nor their default assumptions. Champions go on quests, right? So let's try building a Paladin Questing taking a few things I learned the hard way into account and trying to make the antipaladin less stupid in the account.

HD: d8
Saves: Fighter
Attacks: Fighter
Advances: Fighter
Requirements: Paladins must make a Vow. Their Vow must include
  1. something they would never hurt (innocents, followers of Moon Slave, women), 
  2. something they must always do to help others (say funeral rites, donate 100g or more if they have at least that much, give a day of their time in labor for those too infirm to work)
  3. something they will deny themselves (money, sex, alcohol, meat)
  4. an enemy they will always fight (usually demons, or like a snake cult)
  5. a goal they seek so grand it would change the world, toward which they must always strive (ending hunger, slaying Tiamat, finding the Holy Grail)
A Paladin who breaks or forsakes any part of their Vow loses all their special abilities until they Atone, acting as if under the auspices of a Quest spell. A Paladin who breaks or forsakes all aspects of their Vow in a single session becomes an Antipaladin. The particulars of a Vow are determined by the DM.
  • Paladins may use any weapon they find or are rewarded with in the course of their Missions.
  • Paladins may use any armor or shield they find or are rewarded with in the course of their Missions.
  • Paladins may speak 2 Languages.
  • Paladins may take on a number of Missions equal to their level plus their Wisdom bonus. Missions must be finite and goal-oriented and they must help a person or group in their cause. Deliver an item through  dangerous territory, defeat a fearsome troll, rescue a lost child, that sort of thing. Saving lives. Avoiding disaster. It should be obvious what is and is not a Mission but if not the DM will let you know when an opportunity arises to take on a Mission.
  • At 1st level Paladins have 2+Charisma Bonus Glory. They gain 1 Glory each time they level.
  • At the completion of a Mission a Paladin experiences a Moment of Glory. This allows them to invest the power of providence in themselves and their tools, and acts as an extra reward for living a life within the strictures of their vows. This means the Paladin spends 1 Glory to receive a permanent boon. Boons marked with * are unalterable expenditures of Glory, and you may not trade these points back to qualify for an Epic Boon. Any spells chosen for any boon must only be spells capable of being cast in reverse, though the Paladin may never cast reversed spells.
    • +1 to hit/damage
    • +1 attack each round (may only be chosen once)
    • +1 HD of HP
    • +1 to all saves
    • +1 to critical range
    • A level of Thief skills
    • A level of Cleric spellcasting
    • The ability to Turn Undead
    • A single Magic-User spell of your choice which you may cast 1/day
    • Investment of an object of your possession (including weapons and armor) with 1 Cleric spell (of either 1st level or any higher level you are able to cast) and a number of charges for that spell equal to your Constitution score.*
    • Completely recharge an item above which is out of charges, or completely recharge a typical magic item.
    • Investment of an object with another permanent magical effect as determined by the DM. *
    • d6 unarmed damage.
    • Immunity to poison.
    • Immunity to disease.
    • The ability to summon weapons and armor (including boon weapons and armor but not normal magic items) to you and dismiss them with a word.*
    • A beneficial mutation from some table.
  •  At 9th level a Paladin may sacrifice all previous eligible boons to recover an amount of Glory. This Glory may be spent or saved, banked toward Epic Boons.
    • For 3 Glory they increase their damage multiplier on a critical hit.
    • For 5 Glory their unarmored AC improves by 6 points and their armored AC improves by 3.
    • For 10 Glory they may deliver a massive Smite a number of times a day equal to their Strength bonus. Smites do the Paladin's current Hit Points in damage.
    • For 15 Glory they gain the Spell Slots of a Magic-User of their current level. These slots do not increase as the Paladin levels and they may only be filled with Cleric spells.
    • For 18 Glory they may assume any form the describe, with all the natural abilities of that form. This change is permanent, and the Paladin ceases to age.
  • Paladins may advance to 16th level.
  • Paladins who become Antipaladins retain the spells and spell-like abilities they have gained through boons but always casts and prepares those spells REVERSED.
Pros: This makes Paladins incredibly goal oriented without making them inflexible for conventional D&D play. It rewards them directly for their choices by allowing them to make more choices. It therefore lets them be as fighty and healy and magic and role-playish as they wanna be. It develops them over time uniquely but along a common theme. Also I've been watching a lot of Steven Universe lately and this feels like that kind of Paladin which I think works with all our parameters, conceptually. Also, the antipaladin thing.

Cons: Holy shit is this complicated. Very story gamey. Involves or demands a lot of working with the DM or outright DM control in order to work.  Basically just a trumped up version of the Rey Paladin I'm already playing. Goddamn now I owe Pathfinder a fucking apology.

So what are our priorities now?

Paladins should be above all else champions. A god doesn't make a Paladin, Clerics have gods. A code doesn't make a Paladin, Thieves have codes. Law and order don't make a Paladin, because if the law is just and the world is in order then everyone's fine and there's no need for Paladins and if it's not then it's not worth Paladinning for, not as a holy blessed hero.

Paladins need to be more than just sword clerics.
Paladins need to be more than just heal fighters.
Paladins need versatility.
Paladins need simplicity.
Paladins should at leeeeast be a little recognizable in terms of some D&D expectations I guess.
They should be magic but not oh shit we broke something magic.


HD: 2d8 at 1st level, 1d8 levels 2-9
Attacks: Cleric
Advances: Cleric
Requirements: Wisdom 15+
  • Paladins may use any weapon but they are +1 to hit with one-handed swords.
  • Paladins may use any armor and shields. They gain +1 to Saves when using a shield.
  • Paladins gain bonus HP equal to their armor improvement, not including shields; e.g. leather armor grants 2HP.
  • Paladins may know 2 Languages.
  • Paladins have the ability to Judge Others. They may do this by spending some of their hit points, reducing their Max HP for the day. In a given round a Paladin can
    • spend points to give an ally an equivalent bonus to a Save or skill check.
    • spend points to heal an ally within 30' an equivalent amount of HP.
    • spend points to penalize an enemy's Save.
    • spend points to improve damage against an enemy on a successful hit.
    • Your HP maximum always resets after a night of restful meditation on your values, even when your HP does not fully replenish. A Paladin who has aided an ally's Save during the opponent's turn cannot Damn Others in the same round of initiative, and a whole bunch of other common sense stuff: 1 use of these abilities, whatever it may be used on, per round.
  • Paladins have a pool of Providence equal to 1+Charisma bonus. They may spend these points in order to
    • make an additional attack this round.
    • automatically save against a non-Spells effect.
    • heal themselves 1d8.
    • cast detect evil/good, detect magic, protection from evil/good, or any sensible 1st level "detect this or that" type spell. Identify or Locate Object could also work at the DM's discretion.
    • Only one of these abilities may be used in a given round, but they can be used in a same round where they Judge. All Providence refreshes to maximum after 1 night of restful meditation on your principles. You also gain 1 Providence anytime you use Judge Others to save an enemy or punish a treacherous ally.
  • At 9th level Paladins become sacred. One of their weapons gains the power to cast light at will. Their armor or shield gains the power to spare the Paladin from partial damage on a Save. The may communicate with their steed as if it understood Common. One ally may be designated as sacred as well, and when fighting alongside the Paladin this ally is +1 to hit/damage/saves. If any of these are lost or slain the Paladin may replace them by spending all their Providence for a given day.
  • Paladins may advance to level 16.
I think we got it. I gave them a couple of ways to benefit THEMSELVES by Looking Like A Paladin which is an often overlooked facet of class design. The ability score requirement is high enough without being almost impossible, and while I don't put a Constitution or Charisma requirement in place the class still definitively depends on good scores in those areas. They still work best in a group but their role is an ebb and flow so they can dominate neither Fighter or Cleric capacities, especially with the reduced attack/save strength at level 1. We don't have to worry about adding features late in levels because getting late in levels is the point of these features. Their Name Level feature emphasizes their role in a group again while making them seem extra awesome and holy terror.  Judging is an ability that take the place of a whole range of ability tracking, all for just tracking changes to a number whose changes you're already tracking. It also introduces More Cussin' into the class, another oft overlooked facet of game design. Finally whatever benefits they might incur from other under-represented class features we instead put under the umbrella of Providence.

The best thing about this is that it should be easy to learn at a glance. How many Judge Others points do I have at first level? Your HP, one of the first concepts you learned. Providence caps out at 4 for old school D&D and counting to 4 is literally one of the first concepts a human learns. OK you're done. You've mastered playing a Paladin. All you're doing now is "damaging"  your HP, and subtracting 1 from Providence.

And while it's not included in the block above, I would personally allow a rule at my table where taking/completing Missions as outlined in the Paladin Champion gave you an extra ability you can use with Providence.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015


There's a picture you've seen. You look at it and it's a duck. Wait, no, you look again and it's a rabbit. Here's another picture. It's an old lady. It's a young lady. These pictures are both.

From a distance it looks like an enormous fox. From a distance it looks like an enormous crow. Close up it is obviously neither. It is a thing trying to be a couple things. Its skin is fluid and ink. When it moves it sort of...shapes itself in that direction. Stretching and blurring. It draws itself up like a man in a great cloak with the head of two beasts  and walks overgrown trails. It is lightning quick and ascends like a black raindrop. He alights on a thin branch too frail to support a normal bird. He flies faster than an arrow, and sometimes vanishes altogether. He always comes back.

He is guilesome and condescending but he is aggressively sociable. He hunts companionship and feeds quite literally on confusion.

An extradimensional entity from the extradimensional playbook, "the foxcrow" is a classic manipulator. Honey-voiced and always waiting to pop up when the players seem like they're getting a handle on something, or at their most exasperated. In game terms he does NOT have powerful AC and he begins play with only 1HD worth of HP, minimum 4. He can teleport once per day and can, at will, alter self, charm person, fly 120', and cast phantasmal force. He can also cause any person around him to appear to be the foxcrow. However, every time his deception causes pain - every time someone takes illusory damage from phantasmal force or every time someone under his influence hurts themselves or another creature, he gains 4HP/1HD of hit points. He has one final ability, a floating 2nd level spell slot, which he may fill with any spell levels 1-2.

So long as a creature is aware of his existence, he can exist. Unless he is killed with a manmade (read: handmade) weapon he will always return to life within 1 hour. So long as a creature is aware he can come back, he can ALWAYS come back.

The fact that this guy didn't kill my players (YET) shows the value of a few well-placed bad rolls on my part and a ton of caution and nervousness on their part. That's partly engendered in presentation. You make it clear early that this is a threat, this is beyond you, this knows more than you, this is faster than you, and older, and everyone around considers him dangerous, and it doesn't play by the rules of a conventional monster.

That takes a few plates spinning to accomplish but it broods both a dread and a hate for the villain that a high AC, pile of HP, or beaucoup high level spells don't do on their own. It gives his demise a sense of accomplishment, the kind where my players are pretty sure he was the cause of all the problems on this godforsaken island, rather than A problem, and a symptom of a wider problem.

Low level magic, ambush tactics, and being a dick can be effective at higher levels, but when your party is only barely level 3 then we're a few initiative rolls away from a couple players going down and somebody dying for real. Keep your balors and stuff your Orcus, I can get by just fine with foxcrow.

Friday, November 20, 2015

VDND God Sorcerers

Stuff of the Gods

At 1st level, you physically transform your aspect into a splinter of the god you were, for we were all gods, for all of space was carved from the bodies of the gods. Apologies to turtleneck but we are made of GODSTUFF. In this aspect, you resemble yourself, glowing with power, but you resemble something far beyond yourself. You gain the ability to cast mage armor at will, without components. This celestial accoutrement crackles with energy and life. For the duration of mage armor, you gain the sacred flame cantrip and have Disadvantage for Stealth checks.

Wisdom of the Spheres

At 1st level, you understand the secret orders of the universe, intrinsically, a race memory burned into carbon by starforge. You gain training in Religion and Perception.

Might of the Stars

At level 6 your limbs remember their old strength. Whenever you roll a natural 20 you gain 1 Sorcery Point.

Shape of the Champion

At level 14 you are becoming an unstoppable force of nature. You can leap 30' horizontal and 20' vertical from a standing start, adding half that distance from a running start. You gain a swim and climb speed of 30'. Additionally, you have Advantage on all Constitution saving throws against magical effects.

Lord of the Cosmos

At level 18 you are god taking new flesh from the old, through the shape of man meat. Whenever you roll a natural 1 you gain 1 Sorcery Point. You gain an additional Metamagic option: You may spend 1 Spell Point to sustain a spell to its maximum Duration without having to maintain Concentration.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Toxic Blood for VDND Sorcerers

Toxic Saturation

Beginning at 1st level, you have resistance to poison damage and advantage on saves against poison.

Blow Chunks

Also at 1st level, you learn the poison spray cantrip. You can cast this without components by vomiting this vile sludge.

A Way of Something Like Life

At level 6 you are immune to the Poisoned condition. Additionally, you have advantage on saves against necrotic damage.

Death in the Blood

At level 14, whenever you take damage, you may bleed buckets as a reaction. Each creature within 5' of you must make a Constitution saving throw or suffer the Poisoned condition. Additionally, you have resistance against necrotic damage.

Walking Wasteland

At level 18 you may spend 6 Sorcery Points to compel a Constitution saving throw from any target you touch: at a failure, the target is Poisoned and drops to 0 HP.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Variant Magic User Armor

1) The Sketch! Variant. So there's this comic book sized RPG called Sketch! that's very West End Ghostbusters but the idea is you draw your character and everybody votes on how tough, fast, magic, whatever they look. Average those votes out, that's your value. So here you either draw your wizard or bring a photo and all the other players vote on how many points of armor they're wearing. The DM does not vote but instead has final veto on whether or not your picture looks like a wizard or not. Now, as long as you stick to that mode of dress, which is required and sacred and all that jazz for REASONS, you can cast spells and you have that AC. But if your outfit ever gets taken or fucked up then you can't cast spells.

2) The Barter Variant. Basically you pick whatever armor you want to be proficient with at 1st level. For editions which focus more on category types than specific armors, pick the highest protection of armor you want to be proficient with. You still cannot use shields. Okay. Note how many points of protection that armor grants. Every odd level, beginning at level 1, you sacrifice one of the spells you would learn at that level and one of the slots you would use to cast it. So no first tier spell at level 1, no second tier spell at level 3, so on. You basically get access to every spell tier later, always know one spell less than you would normally, and always have one less slot to cast spells of that level. This continues for a number of odd levels equal to the armor bonus you chose. So you could choose leather armor and hamper yourself only at levels 1 and 3, for 2 points of armor proficiency, or you could get greedy and go for full plate and basically be a weaker elf who levels slightly faster. Your call.

3) The Losing Throw Variant. You weaken your own magic in armor in a specific way where you basically become susceptible to other magic. All saves against magical effects, items, and spells suffer a penalty equal to your armor's bonus.

4) The Little John Variant. Magic Users can wield staffs. You may reduce your maximum damage output for your staff by 2 points to improve your AC by 1 point. You must be wielding the staff in both hands for this to work, so you still do not benefit from this AC bonus in a round where you cast a spell, unless you use the staff to cast this spell.

5) The Enthusiast Variant. For every magic item you possess, including your spellbook and things like ammunition and potions, you have 1 pt AC bonus.

6) The Obsessive Variant. You may not own any object worth 1g or more (or 1s if you're on that standard) unless it is magic, but you can use anything that is magic. This means you cannot own a dagger or a staff or some rope but you can own magic rope, a magic staff, a magic longbow, or magic shield, and you can use those and benefit from all their glory.

7) The Bonus Spell Variant. All Magic Users may consider themselves to have both mage armor and shield as prepared spells. Casting them at higher spell levels grants an additional point of protection for each spell level.

8) The Opposite Armor Variant. Magic Users can wear any armor but cannot use magic in it, except for one spell: dispel armor, which only works on armor you've slept in. Once you are out of armor or it has been dispelled you may cast spells like normal.

9) The Fearsome Intellect Variant. Choose either Intelligence or Charisma, apply that ability score bonus to the MU's AC, ignore normal benefits of that bonus in other areas.

10) The Magic Car Variant. You are a vessel for spirits from the beyond. Choose how many spirits from the beyond you grant purchase in your soul. Your AC improves by that amount. These spirits manifest as spells that cast themselves when you cast a spell. You do not get to choose what these Spirit Spells are and the DM may swap out Spirit Spells when you become capable of casting a new tier of spells (however only a tier 2 spell or higher triggers the casting of a tier 2 Spirit Spell). You cannot control these spells to cast them on your own, they are not in your spellbook and you can't memorize them. You cannot control when the Spirit Spells are cast. Any time your MU casts a spell, the DM can pop off one of their own, targeting anyone and anything to any end the DM chooses, including targeting the MU. Common Spirit Spells are dispel magic (countering the MU's casting) and the LOTFP Summon spell.

Friday, November 13, 2015


They appear as the rotted dead, because they will be dead for way longer than they've ever been alive. They are weak, and do not have the power to act, to kill, to think, really, though they have learned much they don't even realize through passive observation. They are batteries for potential, and show their death in life because of how likely their extended decay is. They will slowly follow and watch but otherwise do not act unless acted upon.

Do not kill the zombies, because you take their existence from one of potential to actual. You break the freshness seal and all that potential comes pouring out.

They are easy enough to kill, and passive, but once their death is certain they spring to 'life.' Their appearance is of a hale member of their breed, dressed for survival and battle. The easy part was killing them. Now you have to fight them, or, rather, you have to fight any them they could have been before they were killed.

You have to survive everything they MIGHT have done to avoid their death.

However many rounds it takes to kill them or whatever the level of the being who killed them (whichever is higher), they leach this to retain a toehold in the world for that number of Rounds. Their abilities are mirrored in your abilities. If you stab them they emerge mighty warriors. If you cast a spell on them or Turned them and so blew up their potential shambling eternity they emerge mighty spellcasters. If you backstabbed them then each new assault of theirs is more surprising than the last. Etc.

They only have access to the spells or combat bonuses you would at your level, but here's the sad trombone: they are all inevitable. No roll to-hit. No save. Your save and AC against all the creature's future attacks is the creature's saves and AC when you attacked it. Because you have rendered their death inevitable, you have locked in a track of possible, and until they use it all up anything POSSIBLE for them WILL happen. They can still run out of spells or arrows and shit but otherwise they are a story already written by you.

When they run out of Actuality to sustain them and drive their vengeance, they slump as dead, or disintegrate, or look like a healthy alive person you just killed somehow basically.

This can be a shitty gotcha trap but it is a fair shitty gotcha trap. While you may not recognize the nature of this threat before engaging, should you survive your encounter you will ALWAYS know these creatures on sight, which lets you avoid them or, oh goody, weaponize them. You can also try to just lead them into open pits but 50/50 they appear behind you and push you in, too.

Whence they came some say A Wizard Did. It's possible this is a kind of spell effect you can learn, a curse you can put on your enemies in order to turn them into Suicide Successes for your cause, or just to guard your cool walking house when you're not home. Maybe this is just a thing that happens in the universe, in which case nobody knows where new abominations (all seeming dead and rotted immediately, about 30% becoming adults on the death precipice immediately) even come from.

...unless death lets them fuck.

Friday, November 6, 2015

The Left

She gets up in the morning and bakes a small loaf of bread. She boils some spiced wine. She takes her breakfast, still in the chilling damping fog, to the top of the crest. As the sunrise burns away the mist she sees an empty bay, every morning. Each time she tells herself it's better than seeing the wreck of his vessel, his body shattered on the rocks, but it's only a hollower hope now. She will wait, because he said he'd come, but their horse was stolen that horrible night the men came, and she runs low of stores, and she does not know what to do.

On the path there are footsteps.

The jails are not a place full of wracking moans and clacking chains, not if you do it right. They are a place of silence, broken only by muffled scraping, soft weeping, and death rattles. He was put here to be forgotten. They all were. Now each day is spent in a torpor, waiting for his lifeline. In a crowded and silent jail it's simpler to shove a small bit of food, barely enough to survive on, under each door. Safer, too, not to mention actually cheaper. He was put here for greed, and now he'd give everything to have anything. What crime did the others commit? How many sins forgotten and forgiven with time? On this day, there was no breakfast, no morsel meal. He would cry out if he could, but the iron saw to that. He is abandoned in the night to a final sentence.

All through the hallways, stretching down and down, there are footsteps.

Long ago Our Jeffrey and Our Susan moved away. They sent letters, of course, once a year, and five years ago Our Jeffrey came to visit for a few months. She was old, and she was tired, but it helped knowing that the children were getting along, perhaps with children of their own? The letters never fact, it had been so long since she had seen a letter. Or the post. Or a traveler. Surely there was not some sickness in the world, and this remote place alone untouched? Surely there was no wreck on the road, or raid of brigands in the towns, or a childbirth gone wrong? It had been so long since My Ronald passed, how many years again, and the children were all she had. Surely she still had them?

At the front door there are footsteps.

A little boy cries. He is new. His father is gone away. No grandmother or midwife attended his birth. His mother is...gone, away. He will not be old.

By the foot of the bed there are footsteps.

He said he would destroy me if I ever left him and I didn't believe. I didn't. Fool. Idiot. I didn't know. Tell me you know me. We were children together. We swam naked at the dam. I watched your uncle die under the wheels of the grain cart. Tell me you know me. You wed my brother. And you, you there, you blessed my house once. That no evil thing should befall us. Was that a lie? Or is his power greater than your god's? I didn't know, how could I? Please, I'm no madwoman. I'm not a stranger. I was born here. Please, minister. Please, reverend. Please, father. I am yours. I'm real. Please know me! At least hear me...

Behind her there are footsteps, and a hand on her shoulder.

The entire town was caught up like a thief in the night. Only he remained. He did not believe. He was a drunk and a wicked fornicator. He screamed and wept and bashed his head on the cobbles and begged to be taken to Reward. The town was emptied, and he was alone in the world.

And in the morning the city was filled and its streets fair thrummed with the sound of footsteps footsteps footsteps

In all the places of the world there are those who are forgotten, about whom none live to even recall, so forgotten that their forgetting has been forgotten. They are remote, or they are marginalized and disenfranchised into invisibility, or they are the victims of some cruel and dark curse. They are left, and would be swallowed up by existence so completely that it's like they never were.

They are not, in fact, alone. The alone stand together, find one another, shoulder one another through the forgetting. They are everywhere you're not, unheard, unknown, unseen, often quite literally. They are so so many. How many people have you forgotten? How many races of beings are forgotten to history? What atrocities went unnoticed? They all come together, the survivors of forever, and they are a one and mighty people. And they come for their own, whether they want the company or not. The Left endure and swell forever, and....

out of curiosity

how many of you are alone right now?

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Kick The Map's Ass

Ok so +Scrap Princess just put up some ways to make Navigation more interesting here and I don't think I can do better than her by a damn sight but I went off and looked at pictures of flesh eating bacteria after that and let Navigation percolate in my brain and now I've got this idea....

To reduce play to yet another false dichotomy I hate hate hate, the people who often tell me they hate D&D hate it because it's a game about combat and killing and when I say no it's really a resource management survival game they say no I hate those too. Usually in other games that rebrand the abstractions common to D&D or have them rotate on an axis of stronger player agency (here to read looser resource management) they like these elements fine; to them D&D has just come to mean fighting and losing when they instead like winning at, say, social interaction, farming, or believing in dragon Jesus.

This is often down to bad experiences, I think? Because the most successful D&D campaigns I've been in, the most satisfying nights, are the ones where we've one the day not because of how many HP I have or how much damage I do or how many spells I can cast of what level and how much extra special bullshit I can do per turn and whether I was able to choose the size of my hit dice or modify my racial traits or oh shit get me a cup of salt water let me check my d8 blah blah blah. It was always the nights where we succeeded or failed and sometimes lived or died based on how smart I am. No, that's the wrong word because I'm a big dummy dumb. How fast I think, then. How quickly I can react. To an extent the force of my personality. People talk about D&D like you need the kind of system mastery that is being Batman when in reality any old schmuck can play D&D as long as they're willing to fuck up, adjust on the fly, persevere, and try to make the proceedings more fun for themselves and others at every opportunity. You need to Spider-Man this game.

All of this is to say that there's not a gradient with overland travel, you can either be granular or you can waive it off. If you do nitty gritty then players are at the mercy of a lot of d6 rolls, usually ones the DM is making. When that's not the case and someone has a Navigation skill or Nature or has a map (but can they READ the map? If tying a knot is a proficiency then map use is a proficiency, something everyone can do but something some can do better than others. Don't think so? Set someone down to untie a not who doesn't know how it was tied, and give someone who's lost a map and tell them to figure out where they are, not always but OFTEN this will prove a frustrating exercise for all) then it's either going to be a moot roll just to make sure you don't botch or there will be some magic or local bullshit that makes the roll useless anyway. Or else it'll come back to being the same as waiving it off.

So back to the top, there are a lot of people who see D&D as a game about killing but I see D&D as a game of exploration and discovery and, yes, survival, sometimes in the Martian/Cast Away sense and sometimes in the survival horror sense. Or both at once which....I'm kind of sleepy right now, so, The Edge? The Grey. That kind of thing.

What if I could satisfy the killmaster players who just want to fight something anything GOD while trying to provide a more active opportunity for engaging the explorer-survivor players beyond beating a DC or me rolling a 2?

I want to try something: the journey as stat block.

HD is d12. They have a number of HD+1 equal to the number of days you would have to travel by horse to get there. AC keys off off terrain features (base is open grassland, forested is leather, extreme climate is chain, plate is hilly/rocky terrain, and shield bonuses take everything to the next level, forest to jungle, rocky hill to mountain, so on). How populated and civilized the region is affects the penalty to Morale saves, on a 1-3 pt. scale.

So for every day of overland travel you have to make two "attacks" against the trip's AC. You can designate a navigator to make one, every time, and then the other players take turns. The navigator can use whatever they have, tracking abilities in their class, Nature or Survival skills, preternatural racial bonuses, whatever, and make their roll with that. They do their Hit Die in "damage" to the trip's HP. Otherwise, the other party rolling has a choice to make. They can make their roll and add either their Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma bonus to the roll, and nothing else, BUT a successful roll by the second only does ability score modifier damage, and using an ability for the roll makes it ineligible. E.g. you can make a Charisma roll to beat the defense of the trip, keeping up morale, but your damage can then only be your int bonus or wis bonus.

Every time the navigator misses, the trip heals 1d12, and can improve its HPish value over its starting value. Every time either the navigator or her second misses, you instead roll on this table:
  1. Lost
  2. Lost
  3. Lost
  4. Lost
  5. Lost
  6. Lost
  7. Lost plus Storm
  8. Lost plus Encounter
  9. Lost plus Ambush (Encounter with Surprise)
  10. Lost plus Hazard
  11. Encounter
  12. Encounter
  13. Encounter
  14. Ambush
  15. Ambush
  16. Ambush
  17. Storm
  18. Encounter plus Storm
  19. Hazard
  20. Hazard plus Storm
If you get Lost then whatever number you rolled to get that result is added to the trip's HP, and you have to make a Rations check. You also have to make another attackish roll.

If you hit a Storm, you are -2 to your next roll against the trip's AC, as well as any Rations checks you make next round.

If you have an Encounter this could go good or bad for you like Encounters normally do. Maybe it's a peddler. Maybe it's a dracula.

If you have an Ambush this is definitely a dangerous encounter and they have surprise on you. Morale save for retainers.

If you encounter a Hazard then this is like a trap situation in a dungeon just a natural feature, mudslide or wildfire or loose rocks or tearing thorns, whatever. Do whatever you do to avoid traps here. Morale save for retainers.

If you are traveling between civilized places, or are within 5 days ride of a civilized place, you are assumed to have rations. If a Rations check is forced, make a simple roll of 10+ with a penalty for every day of travel. ALL of you. Everyone who fails is out of food, but as long as one person still has Rations then you all have Rations. If you meet a peddler you can rekit up for around 25g, and if someone in the party goes Foraging then they can "heal" you some Rations for every successful check to forage, but every foraging check success or failure heals the trip 5 HP.


If my players are in the wilderness and they need to find their way they are near a major town or are going somewhere specific, usually a dungeon, monster, or other major town. Because of this and the big money dump GP/XP hauls confer, they rarely need to worry that much about how much food they're carrying, because they're practically coming straight from the grocery.

Additionally, if you have a big crazy hex map, and your party is wandering a well mapped territory, and especially if you link your Players a big map and say "here's where you are and where you're going," then to some extent your wilderness is a much more known quantity. You may find them crossing multiple types of terrain, or they may pass lots of little villages to hide in and resupply, in which case this won't be that useful to you.

Finally, your party may not be in any damn hurry and may not be going anywhere particular other than "You said there were trees so those trees MUST be where we're supposed to go, so I vote trees." In this case finishing the trip is kind of a nonsense concept and so is getting lost. Track rations closely and accurately and see where they're going with this.

It MIGHT work, then, for isolated travel situations, like ground travel rules for my birds, or in a place like Doublecrossroads where any shithole town is almost a week's ride off and it's mostly unpopulated ever changing wilderness and trackless desert in between.

Work in progress.

Friday, October 30, 2015

VDND Bone Man

Ability Score Bonuses: Strength +1, Intelligence +1
Size: M
Speed: 30'
Languages: Common, 2 of your choice.
Living: If you remain silent, observers must pass a Perception check equal to your Charisma Score+Constitution Bonus to distinguish you from an undead. Turn Undead has no effect on you.
Skeleton: You are trained in Intimidate. If attempting to blend in with other skeletons, consider yourself trained in Performance.
Clacking: Your Passive Perception for seeing things is -4. Your Passive Perception for hearing things is +4. In a round where you spend a bonus action chattering your teeth to echolocate, you negate both of these modifiers.
Incense: You have proficiency with Herbalism Kits and may treat as a Healer's Kit.
Blood of Carcosa: You have been trained from birth in the blooded rituals of Carcosa. At the following character levels, you may cast each of these spells once per day, as rituals. You must finish a long rest to use these rituals again, unless you have Spellcasting as a class feature or the Ritual Caster feat.
Level 1 - unseen servant
Level 3- augury
Level 5- feign death*

All Bone Men are either Warriors or Maguses.

Warrior: You have proficiency with the Greatsword. Additionally, you may use a Greatsword coated in blood as an Arcane Focus.

Magus: You learn the cantrip chill touch, with no components but at a range of Touch. Additionally, you also learn the following rituals at later character levels:
Level 7- divination
Level 9- contact other plane
Level 11- forbiddance

* casting feign death on a target gives them the appearance of Bone Men.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Wraiths and the Monster Makers

Ghosts are basically one of the best things ever. Sex, ghosts, love, dinosaurs, remembering the name of someone or something you've been trying to remember for like weeks even if you've forgotten you're trying to remember it, bringing joy into the world, watching elements which exist only to destroy joy fade from the world. Ghosts are arguably better than sex, actually, because ghosts are more fun by yourself. Actually they're way more fun when you're alone, because oh shit you never are.

BUT ghosts are not monsters. That goes for spectres, spirits, haunts, apparitions, and all the other Synonym Monster Gary and Dave and the Hair Bear Bunch threw into adventures and expansions over the years, leading to that one thing oh so worse than pointless monster bloat, pointless ghost bloat, the new album from Kraftwerk. I don't mind poltergeists since I think of those as more a nature spirit/demonic presence, and you can give me all the different iterations of undead all day long. Sure. Give me every culture's bump in the night. But ghosts are above all that, frequently also partially interposed with all that.

Wraiths, though.

Wraiths are a very specific thing. D&D wraiths at least are drawn (like many D&D monsters) from one, very, specific, source, but not so specific that it's not also the reason we have Orcs. They also represent an important presence in the world if only by implication.

When a powerful cleric uses his divine protection to cheat the very god he serves and extend his life past the point of death, that makes a Mummy. When a Magic-User does the same, that makes a Lich. When your soul returns to your body, or uses a nearby body, and animates it with your faculties and memories to seek fulfill some task, usually the seeking of vengeance, that's a revenant. When the mind persists in a body without the soul and the flesh whithers, that's a wight. When a soul is so corrupted that it warps the mind and destroys the body, it makes a vampire. When a soul bound for the spiritual plane is so distraught that it returns to physical form through the magical plane just to be able to voice its sorrow, that's a banshee. Down and down the turtles go.

Like all Gygaxian Synonymism every user has to find their own breaking point. I'm pretty on record about ghosts already but ghouls, to use another example, I prefer to either be something any normal, living creature can devolve into through practice of feeding or magical affliction, or else just make them a separate class of creature altogether. Similarly no one should ever fight a naked Wendigo, you should always be fighting someone with a Wendigo inside of him, and it should be treated almost like a werewolf curse except you incur it by knowing of the curse or by committing cannibalism in an area consecrated against the Wendigo.


Wraiths are mortal (not Elf) souls sustained beyond death by someone else's magic. That's not my definition, that's basically Tolkein's definition, and it jives fine with the description in BX. Someone casts a spell and binds you here to their service, or you have some magic item ooky ook whose hold must be broken to dispel this menace, etc. The soul always resists, which makes it go all Taken on people, which means that even if those held in sway aren't corrupted or evil already then the difference on the ground is negligible to your Thief level 4.

A wraith's closest ancestor, then, is a skeleton, and here I get to both quote myself and expand on an arm of my unified field theory of monsters, so enjoy my enormous balls.

From my dog book:

They are driven not by any intelligence but, like all animate skeletons, by a will. They run without their legs properly working, hunt without sight or smell, and crush flesh and bone between yellowed teeth without the aid of powerful neck muscles. They are an extension of their creator's guile given absence-of-flesh and set to work like a hateful machine.

And they are hateful, for they are infused with an inkling of their former sentience, just enough to feel a constant low-level fear that things are not as they should be. They hunt their peace forever. They rot until they're dust. Then they coat the floors in mild terror and malevolence.

I've talked before about how a lot of different kinds of monster are basically the same monster for me. Well another part of that is the idea that a ton of monsters in the manual are spells. I don't mean A Wizard Did It in the traditional owlbear sense, where somebody wound that particular watch and it has been ticking away every since. I mean it in the sense that if you encounter these things it is because one specific person very much intended that you do so, or that someone do so. These spells may have been cast out of sheer paranoia or you may be ultimately caught in a crossfire, enduring a spell effect cast two hundred years ago to deal with an enemy from one hundred years ago.

I prefer my zombies to be voodoo zombies, generally. That's a spell effect. But even I have room in my heart for a high level caster raising a whole cemetery to aid them, where we're talking spell effect, and it's mostly because of how much cooler SKELETON armies are, and how, on a long enough timeline, both Bela Lugosi zombies and George Romero zombies will end up as Harryhausen skeletons.

Somebody set the machine a-workin'. They gave it more fuel than it would ever need, enough fuel to drive the machine far past the point that all its components busted and rusted away.  It will run basically forever and, without even the capacity to EXPERIENCE horror, will radiate a sense of doom at the particle level. You will breathe in their doom.

Skeletons do that but everyone has a skeleton so they're familiar enough to inspire mortal fear but not dread, for these purposes the distinction being anticipation vs helpless anticipation. They also, as mentioned above, break. Wraiths don't have anything to break. They kept going as one by one their breakables fell off. Because of that there's an inescapability. Flying and passing through walls and shit only helps this, although I don't actually think wraiths should fly. But see skeletons make more dead guys but not more animate skeletons (except in my games, where skeletons killing you basically punches your skeleton out of your body and then it wanders away to join the skeleton kingdom). Wraiths do.

Wraiths are a spell effect that wraiths learn by becoming wraiths. I'm in an endless unliving hell? Oh I get it, huh I'm super pissed off and this looks like fun. Wraiths beget wraiths, like stabbing Frodo with a morghul blade woulda, and they do it because why waste the magic to bind an army of spirits when you can bind ONE spirit and then let HIM give up his Sundays building your army? Now you can evil golf, work smarter not harder.

That's the best thing about turning monsters into spell effects. You're not just dealing with that creature's kinetic energy but also its potential. With some monsters their threat looms until they show up and then they must only be endured. Wraiths give you both. Everything people like about undead urgh brains zombies is better with wraiths. All spell monsters are improved that way. Shadows, cast it on an object, it attaches to the first person who uses the object, animates their shadow to kill them, then that shadow infects another shadow, it just keeps going. Doppelganger, cast it on a person, they turn into a perfect copy of a person you intend, and are consumed by a bottomless drive to find and kill that person and assume their life, after which they may themselves cast doppelganger as much as they please.

All of this gives you that broader context of "Someone specific in the world is trying to kill someone else specific," someone who may or may not have anything to do with you. It tracks these creatures not as naturalistic facts of life in a magical world but as dedicated boobytraps. RPGs are the one place where rocks fall everyone dies can be not just a good ending but the best ending because, usually, rocks fall everyone dies was set up INTENTIONALLY by someone in the crypt or dungeon, or it's a direct consequence of your choices and actions in electing to explore the dwarf tunnels. A bunch of skeletons is cool, if anybody ever says otherwise I fucking hate them, why did someone say that, who said it, I will punch disease in their organs, but someone's skeleton army is always going to be cooler. It gives you about four other directions to go for more story than the bunch of skeletons smoking in the parking lot does.

This is why ghosts are still not monsters but wraiths are. Because wraiths aren't just the ghosts of somebody, they're somebody's ghosts, closer to a bound demon than Uninvited. Wraiths don't give any fuck about invitations.

Imagine a world then where a powerful necromancer blanketed the world with his wraiths. He would be subtle, mostly, but with great tectonic cataclysms of them, sending them there to waste enemies and melt people and every act grew his power. He would never let you see them, these wraiths, unless it was known you might not be believed, or might not believe yourself. He could sway whole nations like that without the wraiths ever striking. He could help cultivate his legend and command the respect of millions, billions even over the centuries. He could create a whole second world, a life after life, all under his sway, all in homage to himself, and he could even make people believe THIS IS ALL A GOOD THING. If there were such a thing as ghosts, sure, but there weren't ghosts, if every one was a wraith. He'd be above even the mightiest kings and his influence would spread further and run deeper, subtler, stronger throughout the millennium, why he'd be worshiped as a...

Brach's Baffling Box

Short article. I've used this item twice and it did the best thing an item can do: not make the players afraid of it, but making them hate chests, magic items, traps, and the phrase "Everybody save vs. Spells." When the box is open, everyone in the room/line of sight, even if they're not looking into the box, has to save. If they fail their save roll 1d6 on the first table and they have the first delusion. They get another save next round and if they fail that one they get a SECOND delusion from the second table. If they fail another save they get another d6 result from the last table. They get one final attempt to save against these effects, and if they fail that the effects stick around until a Remove Curse.

You Believe You Are....

1.Orcus or someone Diet Orcus
2. A duck
3. A boat
4. Opposite gender
5. 7 years old
6. The floor

You feel overwhelmingly...

1. Terrified
2. Amorous
3. Compulsive Liar
4. Starving
5. Berserker
6. Universally helpful

Your whole body is also...

1. On fire
3. Blind/Deaf
4. Magic
5. Covered in bees
6. Petrified

You can put other shit in there, which may or may not also be cursed, but if I run it again all I'm going to put in there is basically the owner's manual, because the desire to see players' inevitable drive to weaponize everything turn against them big time with repeated failed attempts to use this on their enemies. Especially because some of the bigger crazier monsters could be more dangerous this way.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Headless Plague

From artist Grivetart on deviantArt
There is a creature more populous than any other in the world. It has achieved a state of perfect commensalism with nearly every evolved vertebrate organism. You can think of it like a virus or you can think of it like a fungus but it's neither of these. Think instead of Jello cocktail, nerve endings suspended in a thick ooze. It's inside you, it's inside me, and it is the horror of all cultures. The source of many manias concerning the drives of self (and all Drives are of self ultimately) is not of yourself, yet, like a parasite within an shell within a tortoise within a shell, very much is OF yourself.

It is contagious. You'll never know when you catch it or pass it on. Most people get it as babies. Grown ups put it inside of them. For those few who have been spared, these children become rabid plague dogs.

It's always whispering to you, in its way. Wrapping itself around useful neurons and hijacking them. The only way it can feel happy is to tactilely feel your happiness, the only way it achieves its ambitions is vicariously through yours. Your body notices these urges and strives to feed them. It's the only food the creature ever gets.

All great women and men have them, of course, and these are the invisible kings and queens within the innards that run the planet. These are the Icarus symbionts, the most likely to succeed in spite of whether their meaty clothes live or die. Thank gods for custom, eh? But most are not lucky. Drowning is a terrifying and silent feeling, separated from everything you need, mostly oxygen, but wholly aware, without leverage or purchase, able to watch and study yourself in dying. Suffocation is conversely fast and loud pressure, strength being forced from you as your breath is trapped, trying so hard to get new air in that it wants to blow your lungs out in the other direction. These creatures experience both, in the dark, wearing chains of bone and hoods of dead flesh.

All our deaths are inevitable. All their deaths are inevitably helpless horror.

Every so often one of their kind claws its way out through sheer will, and they become the monsters of the woods, the stories around the fire. They thrive and survive in war, or near great construction, or the scenes of unmitigated disaster. They stalk from the place of no survivors. They slither from slaughterhouses and slink into sewers.

These creatures have no community or king, nor tongue of their own. They have knowledge of the languages their host spoke, if any, but they cannot speak them. They haven't the faculty. To touch them is to know them, to hear them, but there is no mistaking them. They know one another on sight, or a thing such as sight, and every other creature knows them, too, even if they have no knowledge of their kind. They are an unmistakable thing.

Almost all of them are mad from decades of frustration. Almost all of them are giddy, euphoric with a freedom they have never enjoyed before in life. Any you meet will be determined, machines of focus, with goals set and wearing their very oldest clothes. They have the power their hosts had in life, because they have their host in death. They have wormed their way into every corner and ligament and artery, for they have had much time in which to do so.

They are not altogether unstoppable. Bone breaks, even when carefully maintained by a conscientious gardener. But there is not a limit set on how far these creatures can go, how long they can sway the world, if they be free to do so. If they can be said to have any restriction it is that of all aerobic life, the need for AIR, a resource they are provided for most of their life span, a resource they will die without, a resource whose harvest they have forgotten at a cellular level, save for using the unique architecture of their home.

So, all this being true, some thrive more than others.

They do not have a name. They do not call one another and they can never tell a name to you. Besides, though they exist in all cultures, though they are found from sea to sky, they've really only ever been called one thing.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

I Am So God Damn Mad About Pearce Shea's In The Woods Right Now

I want to get some things out of the way up front.
  1. I forgot about +Pearce Shea.
  2. I hate his game.
  3. In the Woods is not even the kind of adventure I like to run.
  4. If he wants another proofreader to take a pass before he releases another version of this down the line, I'm available.
Even if all of that sounds good to you, I don't think you should buy it.


So there's this phenomena common in the DIY scene that I want to talk about. Common to me at least, I certainly experience it a lot, and it's similar to a problem I had at the comic shop. See I handled every customer's pulls every week and I saw thousands of customers a week, including hundreds of regulars and hundreds of subscribers. Now to make a name up, I knew Dick Longhard's subscription inside and out. I knew when he added series, dropped series, noted when he just wanted one of something, kept him in mind for certain variant covers. I also knew Dick Longhard personally. We had extensive conversations every week and sometimes talked for hours. We liked a lot of the same books and I convinced him to try a few titles with fresh eyes and a new perspective. It didn't take but it led him to something he did enjoy, usually.

What I often did not know is that these two people were the same person.

It happens. I see a lot of people and I'm a busy guy. And, yeah, it's shitty, but I care a lot more about who you are RIGHT NOW in front of me and whether you're interesting, fun, surprising, engaging to talk to than I do who you are, where you're from, or anything at all about your life. Some of that is just guy-ness but even if you tell me your name I'll probably forget it until I've had a couple of interesting conversations with you.

Which is all to say that I know +Pearce Shea from G+ conversations and being one of the stewards of Santicore, praise be his horrible name. He is always watching. Nice guy, smart guy, against all better judgment seems to like me okay which always helps. Like I said, I'm a shitty guy. So when he released In the Woods and I tagged his post to remember to check it out when I got home, he reached out and comped me a copy. It was super sweet and I appreciate it a lot, being broke as a joke right now.

So since I cross my T's and I knew I'd read his stuff before somewhere, I looked him up, and oh goddamn it he's that guy.

Of course I'd read games with others. A lot. Because it's good and I read good things. The only reason I didn't have it on my sidebar is because I kept forgetting the name of the site, too, because I'm a fucking mess. I can't often use his writing for my at times purposefully narrow purposes but his work has a focus mine could sorely use a lot of times. We'll come back to that point.

Basically, I liked Pearce Shea in three different directions before I read this book, but forgot him twice. Hence I feel a public apology is in order.

So given.


One of the most rewardingly frustrating things in our community is when I read something that does a thing I'm doing better than I was gonna do it. It's often not close, just enough for association - to make someone go "Oh like in Fire on the Velvet Horizon" - that I revisit what I've done and readjust until it's a whole different thing and I'm satisfied with it. That's the key to me, not to see a good thing and go "I can do that better" but to see yourself on someone else's path and go "I can do ME better." This is a personal issue affecting The Work and doesn't exactly bear on In the Woods, though, because, after all, In the Woods is the kind of thing I'd love to see and do more of. Again, we'll circle back to that.

So it was upon reacquainting myself with Monsterparts (that problem of mine with names again, I kept thinking this was that Apocalypse World game) that I cursed to myself and immediately made a note to make major amendments to 2 projects, one of which I'd already given up for drunk work and the other of which was a big sprawling DUNGEON MIX post I'd been percolating. This experience is thrilling in a way and came back to bite me.

Billed originally as "attribute-less D&D" on his site, Monsterparts is a game where all the PCs take on the roles of The Kid Who Saw And Was Not Believed. You are not here to save the day. The world does not revolve around your actions. The day cannot be saved. The world is a goner. This isn't expressed through typical King In Yellow language or symbolism but rather the Lynch/Burton view of suburban sprawl as funeral mask, scab on the wound, or, in terms the games protagonists might grok, through Goosebumps sandboxing. You can cheat death and survive the horrors around you....for a time. No one believes you, and even the memory of what you saw, what you heard, weighs on you. Knowledge kills, and you can convince people to help you but you won't be doing them a favor.

The name of the game is inventory management and survival. Its old school D&D roots may show through in play at times more strongly than its Goonies roots.

All of this is shit I want more of, but it's specifically the Endurance rules (and especially those governing the taxing presence of monsters) that had be enviously hurrying to strike through my hard efforts.  My favorite rule in the game is how simply acknowledging the bad things in your life brings the darkness. It's such a kid logic kind of thing, such a part of that post-traumatic coping, the idea that to even express how you're hurting is to make it real, like the Event. I've seen grown ups struggle with this, a lot, sometimes from shit they experienced as kids, sure in the knowledge that this rule were true.

Related is the book's admonishment that authority figures and adults will only believe you at the worst possible time. The rules then go on to explain how to convince someone of something, but I would (and did) add a wandering monster roll triggered by attempting to convince a grown up of the world around you. It seemed super genre appropriate. "Stop it, kid, there is no such thing as bigfoot." "RAAAAHRRR argh gagble!"

There is a countdown in play, a timetable that probably works a lot more smoothly in person. I ran this online, with my camera focused on the Oblivion Clock, which was super creepy and effective when I finally addressed it NOT by describing it but by using it. That's not how it will work at a table but is, itself, a gag I really should have thought of before now, so damn you for that, too.


"Kids in the creepy woods" is one of my favorite anythings and the result of being not just a monster kid but also a ghost kid (and dinosaur kid who taught 6th grade sometimes but that's another tale). I mean I grew up a kid in the creepy woods and manifest has seen fit to put me back smack in the middle of some creepy woods with howly swaying pines on the night I ran In the Woods. This is tailor made for me in concept, but it practice this is a more unusual animal.

In the Woods is also the first time the Monsterparts rules are being released commercially to my knowledge so it kind of ends up working like a Free RPG Day adventure demo, spending a little time saying "Here is the implied setting of the larger world of this game, here is how you play this game, but AT THE SAME TIME here's the setting and background for this adventure and here's the rules information specific to this booklet." Reading through the whole thing is required to get it, I think, but once YOU the guy running the game has it then it's easy enough to explain. I talked players through character creation in G+ and while it took longer than it would have if we had pass-around handouts it still only took about 30 minutes for me to finish setup. (It would have taken longer if I hadn't done some of my bits earlier. Given the online issue I would say resist the spirit of the rules here and do more prep than you're specifically told to, fill out your whole roster, and just replace entries with ones the players make as needed.)

In saying that it feels at times like a Free RPG Day adventure that comes off as a slight, uh, slight. Certainly some people eying this book are doing so with the aim of playing around with a new ruleset, and they might come away miffed because in terms of the game IN GENERAL there's not a lot to tooth on here and very little in the way of tools to run a more general Monsterparts campaign. The tools are mostly focused on creating strange experiences in itself, which means you have to work specifically to adventure content.

I am bad at this because I hate it. With a lot of adventure books I feel like I am surplus to requirement if I run it straight. They lack the invention, surprise, fucked up sex shit and cannibals that fuel the enjoyment I find in running games. I literally cannot resist making changes and personal touches, to the point where (as alluded above) I made up more rules, ignored the advice about crocodile names, and invented another monster. It's a part of me, and therefore when a game actually comes with room to maneuver in its adventure modules it raises my eyebrow.

In the Woods has this room and doesn't has this room which leaves me pretty damn flummoxed. I'd compare it to Better Than Any Man except it lacks some of the open ended anything can happen nature of Better Than Any Man. It shares its sandboxy structure and its no-matter-what-you're-probably-fucked context but otherwise they're fairly dissimilar. I mean if nothing else BTAM is something you can use to begin or continue any campaign while In the Woods is packaged as a complete experience itself. Sure you could tack on a campaign to the end of this but if the same spooky kids keep thwarting the darkness time and time again then the world revolves around them, they are special, and that seems to run counter to the feel of In the Woods.

In the Woods is like....bonsai sandbox, which led me through a unique experience of not Mastering this adventure so much as curating it. So many people writing about story games are very concerned about controlling what the player CAN do or what the GM CAN do to the point where, terrified of anything but ultimate Goat Simulator freedom, they end up sounding a little tyrannical about what you can't or shouldn't do. Instead I found a lot of profit in making my job about gently reminding people they're kids, repeating creepy descriptions, avoiding too much genre awareness, and otherwise constantly reinforcing the CONTEXT and TONE. That doesn't mean that we weren't silly sometimes, kids are silly sometimes, eldritch horror sometimes looks like Zoidberg, but the hex grid is already set up to drive home the notion that this is a situation which must be escaped, not overcome, and my job is to pull a Tom Noonan and work the slide projector shouting "DO YOU SEE?!"

I had a lot of fun with the specificity of that experience. I wasn't their enemy or their friend like a bad GM and I wasn't an interface for the world and a cast of thousands like a good GM. Instead my hands were as tied as if I were a player character by my choice to run this adventure, and I only really played one character, who was The Situation At Hand.

That is praise if it doesn't sound like it. It's not something I'd do every week but I really appreciate when this hobby shows its war game and board game DNA and In the Woods feels a lot like one of the better "bottle experience" board games.

Digression: Cabin in the Woods is great and all and Betrayal at House on the Hill is basically that in board game form. I think throwing everything in a soup tureen and going "haha GENRE, am I right?" can be done well, sure, but I don't think it's much fun to play out in a RPG because you're really playing the game of Spot The Reference. I don't even like that in Feng Shui but if I may say so I've usually avoided that with my games. Say what you will about Friday the 13th but it didn't hinge on your breadth of experience. It was devoted, overly devoted, to delivering its singular experience. I may not like it more than a lot of more modern horror movies, who want to have their cynic and platonic at the same time, but I respect it more.


I can't say whether I did a good job proofreading for Santicore because nobody has called out something I've missed to me yet. But I am rated highly in performance testing and, format issues aside (there are a few clarity issues caused by formatting but none so serious and never so frequent that I think they're worth addressing), there are a few places here and there where it looks like your word processor decided you meant something else. I imagine you've heard about these by now but, if not, I can take a pass at it. It'd be my pleasure.

I've also done up some fan art of a kind for you, visual aids from when I ran this. Use them however you want.

Don't Buy In The Woods....

The basic gist is that you're kids lost in the woods at night and there's horrible monsters. It's a kid's idea of spooky woods and a night that is oppressive and alive. Some notes, then: I don't think they're too spoilery but I'll white them out anyway.
  • I made the badger very pregnant because I'm gross.
  • Lizard Yolanda sounds like an Elvis Costello song.
  • New wave 80s horrorsynth worked well to get me in the very specific mood, and +Dunkey Halton regretted that I shared this with him.
  • I think more that all game theory can ultimately come down to a divide between the kinds of games where players go "There's a reward, let's go after it" and the games where they go "There's a reward, FUCK that, go go go" and never speak of the reward again.
  • Since the party was small and camp was so near the path the players opted to try to Nope down the mountain with little thought toward rescuing their friends. While I know a lot of groups would take a different tack on this, the lure of the nearby trail and therefore steps to be retraced to/in relative safety (one might assume) is one I can see being hard to overcome.
  • I think this is a six hour game, basically.
  • While not exactly breaking kayfabe I let the players know, when asking about reasonable expectations, that a logical supposition would be (and this is why I brought this up earlier) Friday the 13th NES game rules. You know there are specific places where you'll get killed for sure, versus the trails where you could still be killed at any time but it's more spread out and less certain doom, but in the broader context you are definitely fucked either way.
  • The players come from a summer camp associated with their school. That means a mix of ages but there aren't camp counselors, only grown up teachers. Next time I run this I'm going to impose a 30-and-under rule on myself, replace the teachers with shitty college kids, and make the park rangers some in over their head grad students finishing arboreal studies masters.
  • Hunger is basically the best.
  • Getting back to the board game comparison, the grid mapping rules are justly advised as the first rules you should master, as it basically helps tip over dominoes for you.
  • Tim is the worst.
Now Over the Edge was a similar kind of bonsai sandbox and it advised players strongly not to read the whole book if they ever planned on playing the game. The game was built around a specific lore with specific SHOCKING REVEALS!!!

And I know a lot of people ignored that and read the whole thing anyway because some of y'all's contrary fucks, and also some people just read entire game system core books for fun or to pull ideas from.

If either of those describe you, do not buy In the Woods.

At least for yourself.


If you want an idea of what you're getting or you want to pick Pearce's brain for ideas, read these old Monsterparts rules.

If after reading the above you want to RUN In the Woods for your group, buy In the Woods.

If after reading the above you want to PLAY In the Woods, buy this book for someone and ask them to run it for you.

But don't buy In the Woods just to have another PDF. I mean one of your friends MAY end up running it for you down the line, and you'd be doing yourself a big favor right now. Support +Pearce Shea by throwing a buck or two his way, sure, he deserves it, but you know damn well that the PDF sitting in your documents folder will get too tempting eventually and you'll break down and read the whole thing and then be afraid to play the game EXACTLY as much as you WANT to play the game. This is apparently already a spreading phenomenon.

But if you are buying In the Woods buy it here and buy it now, because it's deeply discounted until November only.


I don't finish running a lot of my adventures or dungeons. Schedules are hard to pin down and by the time I have the time to set up another game I've become enamored with some OTHER idea and want to run that instead. It's a sickness, and it leaves a trail of broken toys going back about oh shit have I been playing these games for like six years?! When did that happen....

In any event, I'm finishing In the Woods. And then maybe I'll run it again, if I don't take that time to write my own Monsterparts adventure first.