Thursday, July 19, 2018

Nick Whelan Wrote A Book Called Faux-Pas

Buy Faux-Pas Here.
I have to remind myself of this fact. Quick aside, please reacquaint yourself with my disclaimer to the right before reading forward.

If you took all those not-quite-adventure scenarios I've posted here (which I will not link directly right now) and boiled them down to their essence, along with a half dozen things in progress in my folder, or even Better Than Any Man or In the Woods or Deep Carbon Observatory (three books I'm on record as being a big fan of) into their purest essence you would end up with

A human society small in the face of the larger world and longer time
Confronted with moral dilemmas and tough choices
While endangered by forces much bigger than their borders
Often additionally facing some other supernatural ticking clock that may or may not be immediately evident
For reasons that have fuck all to do with anything the people have actually done, often without malice.

The apocalypse is incidental.
Anybody with any power does not consider you whatsoever.
Your fellow men usually don't either.
You hope the Player Characters MIGHT care enough to go kick the ass of something bigger than all of you.
It might not matter.
Many of the things name-checked above are, if not truly system neutral, system flexible. However I would say that all run pretty definitively in any iteration on an Indifference Engine. If we call this a genre in our little neck of the woods then we have a new cupbearer in the pantheon.

Faux-Pas by Nick LS Whelan and the rest of Team Hocus - a coterie of familiar faces and names associated with producing solid work - has a weird cover. The art throughout the book makes interesting use of collage to great and inspiring effect but I don't want to end this write-up on a down note so let me get this out now. Putting one of the most iconic images from the last two decades of horror movies just right iiiiin there threw me, I gotta say, as sure as if the ghost kid from the Ring had been in the background. It's not enough to put me off of Anxy's work here - or elsewhere - that would be quite a task. It's not enough to put me off the book, or else you wouldn't be hearing from me right now. Bryan Singer has expressed regret before in his one big pop culture reference in the Usual Suspects, to the Incredible Hulk TV show. Funny that THAT'S what he seems to regret most about that film.....It did take hermetically sealed world and uncork it for a moment to let the outside world in, and it was jarring. Unintentional pun but I stand by it. This isn't a Family Guy moment but probably my biggest reservation about this little book.

Which should be an indication.

This is so in my wheelhouse that I doubt Nick Whelan's existence. This is clearly some form of tulpa who produces exactly what I always wanted: the kind of thing I'd write, but that I didn't write and so is a complete surprise to me. I would use this to kick off a campaign. I could see this very efficiently ending a campaign. I would use this in a hex crawl or I would use this as a complication for something a player wants to accomplish. In a goat, with a boat. This is why I love location based ventures and the proverbial dungeon so much, you can pop 'em in anywhere. A super-villain campaign or an intended plot arc has to be set out in a specific paradigm. Something like this? I can keep it in the car or on my phone, run it in a Del Taco with minimum prep. The enemies and NPCs are human except where they're not. The environs are familiar until they aren't. There is a shape and a guiding principle to the threat but a ton of flexibility.

You can make this weirder in the margins. You can make this bigger with minimal effort. But this is a beautifully popped kernel drizzled in glow-stick butter. The faith in Opeth is my favorite kind, familiarly alien and most importantly distant. The only effective authority in Opeth is moral but THAT is crumbling, faltering, poisoned from within. And from my very first D&D session I ever ran to my favorite One Page Dungeons to my favorite HPL story it's got my favorite go-to axle to spin a plot on. Seriously I spent a lot of work on a screenplay that I wish read as promising as this.

This world is inhabited, and by more than it appears. Allusion is made to a selection process to which we're not privy, political structures we only glimpse fearsome shadow of, threats we can barely conceive which are only obliquely referenced. Apart from their scale, the most important thing about these. Glimpses like these are important to leave as Tygers ot Dragyns in the blank space of your map so that they can be filled in or ignored as needed. This isn't a game about a not-god or an inquisition, it merely touches those like the points of a pentacle. That's LIFE. People do things in this book not because they are PC schemes or because they are under specific direction or programming. If anything this book is about the scrambling of the human signal. Instead people behave in this book as humans would, weak and desperate humans. They may even know their efforts will be in vain. The musical sting they used in the trailer for the original Wicker Man? There's about a dozen moments in these 30 pages that evoke that sound, that weight, that moment when the long Tetris brick slots into place.

If I sounded like I was picking on the art in here let me disabuse you of that notion: what's here is very effective, especially the grace note insets, but the full-page collages are just arresting. Nobody that I'm aware of is doing anything like it in self publishing, which means it's the best thing to do. This release coincides with a new edition of Over The Edge that I don't quite understand but just so you know, Atlas, this is what the art in OTE should have been last time. Think about it for this current release. Also these are good maps. I am...not great at appreciating cartography but I am growing increasingly fond of clean space in a game text and effective mapping. I'm not good at it, and I appreciate most things I am not good at.

I'm not good at talking about something without having to insert myself into the subject to steal some life force for my own atrophied importance but I stress again - I am so glad of this book because I'm bothered I didn't do any of these ideas first, think of them at all!.... One of my definitions of a great work, not a good or useful work which are superior to 'greatness' (and this is also good and useful), but a GREAT work inspires you to work. Immediately. I'm mostly annoyed at this book right now because instead of running off and working on something RIGHT NOW I had to spend that time instead telling you how much I enjoyed it.

This isn't going to cost you much more than the latest Deadpool and it's something you're going to be happier with in a month's time.

I make the things I make because I can't help it. To have something that scratches that itch without me having to tire myself out is a huge fucking balm.

Faux-Pas from Hocus Team is $4USD and you can buy it here.

Monday, July 16, 2018

The Grinning Grimoire 1: Heat Lizard

This spell targets a single reptile. Reptiles with 3HD or more get a save, and those with 5HD or more get a bonus to this save equal to their number of HD. You must touch the creature with a smooth, round rock in your hand.

This animal begins to slowly heat up over the next four turns. After 1 turn the creature is invigorated and doubles its movement and rate of attack. After 2 turns the reptile is hot enough to cause cloth, brush, straw, or dry wood to burn and spread; heartier material or greener woods will smoke a lot. After 3 turns the creature sheds bright light for 100' and is hot enough to melt steel, allowing it an effective +1 AC against metal weapons and +3 to hit against opponents in metal will also boil any water near to the creature. Finally, after 4 turns, the creature explodes, sending molten chunks in a 300' radius - those not in cover need to save vs Breath/Burst or take 2d10 fire damage.

No aspect of this spell confers control or communication with the lizard. Casting this spell on a fire breathing dragon slowly heals them to their maximum HP and allows them to use their breath weapon at will for the duration of the spell's effect.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Warduke Class

HD, Saves, Attacks, Advance, Requisites as a Cleric.

You are -2 to saves against Wands/Devices, or against spells contained in an item or triggered by a trap.

You always detect as Chaotic.

You have a set of armor (or shield, if you like) and a weapon chosen from the standard list. These are always considered magic items for you while you possess them. They only work for you, and you can never use other magic items, including potions and scrolls.

You may have as many Enemies as you have HD and when one Enemy is dispatched you may choose another. Enemies are not creature types but specific individuals. Enemy spells not designed to deplete Hit Points always automatically succeed on you. However, you always automatically do critical hit damage on an Enemy.

Whenever you slay an Enemy or have defeated them to the DM's satisfaction your weapon or armor gains an investure of power, keepsake of your victory. You may have a number of powers equal to your magic item bonus for your weapon and armor, but your DM determines both the effect and which item it must be infused into. You always have the choice of keeping your existing powers instead of taking the DM's new offer. You can use your powers a number of times per day equal to your level.

You cannot be surprised by your Enemies directly, and you can never surprise your Enemies. Your Enemy's minions can still surprise you, and you can still surprise/force a Morale check among your Enemy's minions.

When you are reduced to 0HP or less you may instead roll one or more of your Bonus HD. You gain that many HP from 0 and are back in the saddle. You can't use these to heal in any other manner but any spell effects that depend on your number of HD do take these into account.

At level 9 you may swear yourself to the service of a lord, kingdom, goddess, or demon. You never get to build your own domain but you get the full run of this one, with authority second only to your liege.

You can raise an army of followers at any time; in fact, you only gain XP from treasure spent on building and maintaining your army.

Level 1: +1 Weapon and Armor
Level 2: 1 Bonus HD
Level 3: +2 Armor
Level 4: +2 Weapon
Level 5: 2 Bonus HD
Level 6: +3 Armor
Level 7: +3 Weapon
Level 8: 3 Bonus HD
Level 9: +4 Armor
Level 10: +4 Weapon
Level 11: 4 Bonus HD
Level 12: +5 Armor
Level 13: +5 Weapon
Level 14: 5 Bonus HD
Level 15: +6 Armor
Level 16: +6 Weapon

Monday, April 16, 2018

FREE PDF + A Way To Pay For A Free PDF

First, I have caved and added a PayPal donations button to the right. They may not be the best service for this but it's a service I already have so that simplifies things. Whatever you ever donate to me through this button I do unwholesomely swear: it will only ever be used for game-stuff ventures, such as funding some projects I am working on and helping me to afford game books for review. I think I want to do more of those and this is the only way it will ever happen. As for other projects this might fund...a lot of you know about one, Kiel and Scrap at least know about another, bigger one.

Second, possibly unrelated, I've put together a new house-rules document for what I am still calling 666th Edition for lack of a better name. I thought this name was taken but apparently not, someone let me know if I'm wrong and I'll just change it to Fart Patrol or something classy instead. Instead of putting it out as a blog page as I've done in the past this one is a 6-page PDF, laid out to maximum scrunchyness in order to fit a lot of usable information in the smallest space. This isn't a whole rpg, this is just basically a version of Dragonly Donions that is pretty unforgiving with a few newish abstracted systems. You've seen some of this material before but now it's all in one place. If anything in there looks useful please consider shooting me a dollar at the link to the right. If I do get enough by the end of April so that I can ensure my internet isn't in danger of being cut off in May just because I picked up a $10 PDF online.....then I'll probably double this document in size, fix any proofreading issues, and add a cover and some pictures so it is easier (and sexier) to print out for the table or hand out to your players or friends.

Once again, click the Wetland Hag to donate or click on Moon Slave for the PDF...and maybe come back and donate if you feel so moved.

Wetland Hag


Tuesday, January 30, 2018


I have a card in my wallet. It's a blank playing card. I have taken up both sides game information. The information in question is four character sheets for four systems for four characters who are one character. So now if someone is ready to play VDND or LotFP or Feng Shui 2 or even Fate Accelerated Edition I am prepared to roll. It's actually come in handy a couple times since I made it last year.

The gag is a simple one and derives from some common conventions: a young prince and warrior of the realm might be eligible for governance when his lordly father passes away but his aunt the duchess or his uncle the vizier or whatever frames him for poisoning his father and banishes him, along with any soldiers/guards/servants/retainers loyal to him. This ends up being a far larger number than the Bad Guy expects so they are forever fearful that this aggrieved retinue will one day return, even while under threat of death, perhaps after raising a larger/stronger army. To secure their power base the BG sends out mercenaries and assassins and brainwashed warriors and unwitting NPC adventuring parties all out after the prince and his followers.

This necessitates a peculiar survival strategy.

The prince and all his assembled loyalists split up into groups of four, each of them identically outfitted and groomed, each of them identically armed, and spread out through the land. Even if you find one of these cells, you will have no idea which one is the real prince and which ones are the loyal imposters. That's assuming the real prince ever even is in the group that you find! These days he calls himself Oom and, therefore, so do the servants following him. Occasionally an enemy is successful in striking down the man purporting to be Oom, prompting another retainer to step forward and declare they were the real Oom all the time, taking up his place.

Next time they're in town this trio will be seen drinking in a few bars and the next morning they will be four again. A life of adventure or simply a life outside of village drudgery that comes with the added security of three men pledged to watch your back and the promise of favors should the kingdom of Oom ever be rightly restored? A tempting offer for many a townie, and indeed many a veteran and guardsman. There are warriors everywhere if you know where to look and when there aren't where do warriors come from in the first place except for where Circumstances meet Will?

This is in fact a popular enough strategy that other bands wholly unconnected from the original loyalists have adopted it, traveling the countryside as Ooms. That's not to say that all Oom bands are identical - some may be dressed for Sherwood Forest, others dressed for Kyoto - but while height and weight and countenance may change they are within the band. Even bands of orcish Ooms or Oom women are not generally remarked upon because this story has been kept so deliberately vague, the details so changed from band to band, that who's to say what the real original story was? Maybe there never was an Oom.

Of course there was, and they're still out there doing their thing, but the Duchess Or Whatever never needed to worry: they hated that kingdom and are glad of the back of it, having a blast playing a cup and ball game with the entire world, and never had any intentions of going back.

Oom bands will sometimes run into one another, mix, and separate, to keep things fresh. Other times one band may send for help or counsel from one or more other quartets. These are kept rare when not in outright crisis: staying apart is a key piece of the scheme, after all.

In 5e you can do this really easily with only class and background features, never mind feats to round things out. When it comes to LotFP you just kind of buy them along with your gear. For both of these in the interest of fairness I think you have to pay for every piece of equipment and food for all four in your band and keep that up as you progress, which gets easier. And you may have to go a while with an incomplete group. I'd also say in the interest of fairness only one person in a group should be actively fighting and doing PC shit, though the rest can help like watch for people following your carts or help break camp or climb over a wall.

In Feng Shui (2) I just used the Ex-Special Forces type and just changed the skills and weapons to make them more period appropriate. In FAE I just make these whole core concepts into Aspects and take the "You didn't get the original Multi-Man!" shit and turn them into Stunts 1/session. I have never ever had a human say "Let's play Fate" in person (not "have you tried FATE" but "FATE seems like fun let's play it") but enough of my friends purportedly appreciate the idea of playing it that I have it on hand.

Keep in mind that losing an Oom and having the 'real' Oom step forward means starting from scratch with XP and advancement and shit, they just retain knowledge of what has gone on so far. So it's the same character but it isn't, and they likely have different ability scores and shit where the DM feels that's fair. Honestly the version in my wallet has good-but-not-great scores so I think he's fine.

This is just a reskin really of the old gag where your dwarf Gunnar dies so you cross out his name at the top and a dwarf named Sigmar with the same starting gear walks in from the next room and now he's in the party and he picks up all of Gunnar's stuff, but it's got just enough to it to turn it into a weird setting detail, encounter table entry, quest hook, or tavern rumor. It's also a reliable way to pick up backup for a big fight or a dangerous delve.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Coins of Corrine

There is a game that war men play.

A sigil beats a scar, a scar beats a staff, a staff beats a steed, a steed beats a sheaf, a sheaf beats a sigil.

Each coin has a value: sheaf is 5, steed 6, staff 7, scar 8, sigil 9.

Each coin can smile or shun, depending which side faces up. Smiles count as two of their kind, shuns instead knock out the lowest value coin from an opponent. Usually only one coin smiles or shuns per hand, but some gamblers insist playing with one of each. Playing where every coin can shun or smile is playing in the manner of gnolls, for whom the true test of skill in this game is being able to track the math, rather than how often you win.

A full purse is eight coins, a hand is five coins, a play is four coins. When you pull your coins you can pay a token of one of your highest value coins in order to take a look at your hand. Otherwise you must bet blind but you get to drop the lowest coin in your hand from play. After bets you reveal your hand and go to town.

Shuns take effect first. Coins triumph over each other as listed above. Once everyone's finished with their triumphs if there are still people in play (sometimes there aren't) then it goes to high coin, and then remaining multiples of high coin in order to determine the victorious Sceptre. Once that has been determined their opponent has one last chance for a Steal play, where they can try to make a pauper play (3 coins) from their fallen coins whose total is greater than the Sceptre's hand (or, in casual play, their highest remaining coin); the catch is that this play must contain one coin that the Sceptre's highest coin normally triumphs, e.g. You can only defeat a sigil if your play contains at least one scar and either staffs or steeds.

There are two other unofficial rules to mind.

One is the Stranger, a coin that nobody else at the table has, usually some foreign currency. If your hand has a stranger in it when you look at your hand then you do not have to discard your highest coin, you can instead drop the stranger. If you bet blind a stranger has no value but cannot be triumphed and can be used to break ties.

The other is the Slug, a token given out in lieu of normal pay, an IOU marker for soldiers. Slugs always count as two sheafs and cannot triumph or be triumphed.

If you're playing D&D 5e and you have proficiency with a gaming set that means you know how to play this game. Orcs bet brashly, halflings are little rules lawyers, dwarves try to yell everyone down and scare them off, tieflings are almost uniformly bad at this since if their genetic ancestors had much luck that didn't come from the devil then they wouldn't look like they do.

The entire story of how much action a soldier has seen, where, and under what circumstances can be told in a handful of coins. Any PC or NPC can get in at this if they have any pocket change. Like so many games that soldiers love in all realities the point of the game is not even to win but to eat up time and distract from looming concerns. Therefore circular rules arguments and bitching about obvious exploits are key parts of the process.

You will see soldiers wearing necklaces made with the coins they carry from fallen friends. They have a familiarity with currency that most treasurers would envy and can appraise and mentally convert most non-magical lucre easily enough. There are soldiers with leather wallets of strange coins they have found, like a binder of pokemon cards. Favored or lucky coins are left on the eyes of the lives they never wanted to take. You will see in the chapel a row of knights in solemn regalia and an elderly one-armed captain...he rises after the service and donates a small pouch, spilling an oft-mended pouch into the poor box. It is a small donation. It is an enormous gift.

This is a quick and dirty way of distinguishing your Fighters from each other and building in your backstory. The medic from Brescheau who only keeps sheaves and paints on the other suits. The Delt warrior prince who has had several platinum pieces smelted down and recast into a bespoke playing set. The young cadet whose purse is fat with his enlistment pay. The wounded pikeman lost in the Strangle who plays a game against a velvet voiced stranger in too-early forest twilight, a game where his opponent holds only a single smiling staff.

Again, many times you never make it past the triumph phase, players taking it in turn to risk their coins to knock others' coins out of contention. Again, the point is not to win. In that way it's like warfare. No, the point is to spend time with your friends and comrades before it's too late. Maybe get to know a new companion. Or perhaps have a conversation that only those thoroughly versed can comprehend, such as in enemy captivity. Pass a message by means of a distant traded copper.

Pickpockets know to steer clear of any person who jingles. That's not the sound of a dinner bell, but of a rattlesnake's warning of a weapon ready to cut its enemy down.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The Wizard

Magic is not real.

Not everyone knows that. Some insist they can cast spells and are actually quite convincing but anything they can do you can do.

HD/Saves/Attack/Advance as Thief/Specialist.

You are well read and well practiced in your many talents and that's it.

When you encounter a problem - a monster, a locked pyramid, a riddling illusion, a crystalline barrier, an uncooperative sheriff - you can roll 1d100. If your result is equal to or less than your Intelligence plus your level then this is something you know about or know how to do. Your Int+Lvl is called your Theory.

You can use this for languages but a positive result doesn't imply fluency, it just means you know how to convey the specific message you want to say or decode this specific cave pictogram.

At any point you may add any number of Experience Points you've earned to your Theory as a one-time bonus before rolling d100 to determine your success. You level up more slowly but learn quickly.

If you ever want to deduce how to duplicate the effects of a spell or seemingly supernatural effect you've witnessed then you must roll against your Theory but may not add any XP to boost your chances. You get 1 chance for each spell/effect until you get another chance to observe it.

If you want to actually put your knowledge to use you have to make another roll to see if you can actually walk the walk or if you're just full of book smarts, not ready for the real world. This is a d100 roll against #x2, where # is the relevant Ability Score. #x2 is called your Practice. You may not add XP or your level to Practice but you get a +1 bonus to Practice cumulative the longer you try to grasp this new technique.

Once per level you can take some trick that you've successfully Practiced and turn it into a Technique. Techniques are a flat d20 roll equal or under Intelligence.

You have to pay to learn how to do stuff, you have to work to actually get good at doing stuff, and after that it becomes routine and memory.

The big control on this is that pulling off a lot of Techniques requires a lot of preparation or a lot of materials. A good Wizard has a whole lot of junk and tools on them at all times in order to better improvise but sometimes actually trying their Practice roll or executing a Technique will be just impossible without a trip to the store or some rare resource being involved.