Sunday, May 26, 2019

Life and Death in a Mode of Play (Quick Fighter Showerthoughts)

The thing is that if you look at D&D as a game that's about fighting then I don't particularly agree with you but it makes sense a bit why you have a dim view of the standard fighter and cleric. One comes without any obvious extras and the other just slows your party's overall gradual ablation from all the fights you get into. You don't get to do anything COOL. I don't agree with this perspective but I understand it.

If you strip away a lot of the things a cleric grants you - plentiful healing, extra lives, cures for curses and poisons and diseases - you can leave the fighter mostly intact. With their extra armor class, extra hit points, and quickly improving saving throws they sort of become something new: the old cleric.

They're not blowing up skeletons and purifying your tacos or anything but they have become that line of surest defense. Their abilities now take on the importance not just of helping them to survive but helping EVERYONE to survive. See without the net of magical healing (which it really fundamentally changes things to remove entirely so let's just say plentiful or default expectation of ready magical healing) then a fight becomes not something to endure and then patch up afterward. It becomes a real question of survival, promoting avoidance and escape where possible.

People who play games rooted in older styles know this. Elemental edition fighters and clerics are fairly close in a lot of game metrics, including defense and damage output, they just trade some personal survivability for a limited supply of help-others-survive. I'm accustomed to rolling randomly for my spells so a cleric whose big contribution is blinding the troll so we can leg it instead of healing us up from troll damage is par for the course, really. Absent a true cleric role or removing them from the game entirely the sole weight of survivability lies with the fighter and to a lesser extent the race-as-class elf.

First thing most people would replace either class with is a Paladin, which is just a fighter or cleric that has more of the other's bits in. Says it all, just about.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Jeff's Questions for Old Shadow

  1. What is the deal with my cleric's religion? You probably practice one of the five major real-world religions, but you could also be in a small mystery cult devoted to one of the pantheons of antiquity or in the service of some alien power.
  2. Where can we go to buy standard equipment? In America? Sears. A good general store or department store can set you up for most gear. Weapons are more difficult to acquire, usually from specialty stores, and most D&D style arms must be purchased from auction or antique shops. Bulletproof vests are more difficult to come by, and medallions of protection require special contacts. Walking around with obvious weapons on your person is begging for police intervention which, even if they're not affiliated with the Enemy, puts you in for a bad scene.
  3. Where can we go to get platemail custom fitted for this monster I just befriended? Monsters who aren't shaped like us and don't possess the capability of shaping themselves like us are too shocking and dangerous to walk around with. They'll be destroyed, or else spirited away by some government agency or cult or council of secrets.
  4. Who is the mightiest wizard in the land? There's a person named Triangle most believe to be a woman. Her agents and avatars have no power or insight of their own; they draw from her, and many go so unwillingly, unknowingly. They make themselves known through her sign.
  5. Who is the greatest warrior in the land? There's a person named the Shepherd who some believe is a MI6 agent, some believe is a mysterious kung fu wizard from mainland China, and some believe to be a Jewish gangster. Or a ghost, or all of the above. Enemy to all organized crime he is known by his calling card, a Passover mark in blood.
  6. Who is the richest person in the land? Some oil sheikh in the Middle East, I should imagine. There may be wealthier kings under the moonlight.
  7. Where can we go to get some magical healing? Any adventurer worth their salt has some familiarity with ancient sutras to make the body repair itself, found in obtuse manuals. A church or place of safe worship and meditation can bolster these powers. Some people do specialize in the touch of vitality, and any community where magic and malevolence are known has one such person in their rolodex. They keep office hours, except for friends and emergencies.
  8. Where can we go to get cures for the following conditions: poison, disease, curse, level drain, lycanthropy, polymorph, alignment change, death, undeath? You can file a motion against the body responsible for these afflictions and they'll often be cleared up in time. There are always mystic underworlders, however, willing to do black market blessings.
  9. Is there a magic guild my MU belongs to or that I can join in order to get more spells? If you're capable of doing anything more impressive than coin tricks then another Magic-User will find you: looking for other MUs is the main thing that they do.
  10. Where can I find an alchemist, sage or other expert NPC? Try your local college, university, or local library.
  11. Where can I hire mercenaries? Any decent bar, dock, or rubbish-shadowed alley.
  12. Is there any place on the map where swords are illegal, magic is outlawed or any other notable hassles from Johnny Law? Again walking around with a sword or walking around with a shotgun will get you locked up. Walking around blasting people with magic will bring down heat from cops, mystics, demons, you name it, so keep that shit under wraps.
  13. Which way to the nearest tavern? Most practitioners keep a well stocked bar at home and at least one flask in their coat or purse. Finding social functions to drink at is never tricky. Bars may or may not be abundant but are at best indifferent to you, never welcoming.
  14. What monsters are terrorizing the countryside sufficiently that if I kill them I will become famous? There is an incursion from Hell that many believe is a sign that Lucifer walks on Earth. Their influence is rarely direct, often unnoticed, but ever present: things like that existing in the world allows other things to exist, too.
  15. Are there any wars brewing I could go fight? You may have just come back from Nam. There's always some conflict in the world but it's going to be a second before the next big clusterfuck.
  16. How about gladiatorial arenas complete with hard-won glory and fabulous cash prizes? Sports those are called sports.
  17. Are there any secret societies with sinister agendas I could join and/or fight? The ancient mythical races, particularly the moonlight councils of the faeries, hold contempt for mortal life and all magical kind who partake in the modern world. Many societies believe the apocalypse is coming soon, and a few are determined to ensure it.
  18. What is there to eat around here? A steak and scotch is the preferred repast.
  19. Any legendary lost treasures I could be looking for? The answer to this is basically anything from an Indiana Jones movie.
  20. Where is the nearest dragon or other monster with Type H treasure? They say at least one dragon still lives, though where is unknown. If you want to find giant monsters, though, go out to the open ocean at night.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Request Line: Doomseer

Doom Slayer class. Rip and Tear the forces of hell
So am I right that this is just the space marine from Doom? Because that's what Google thinks. That's just a Fighter or maybe a Paladin with a different equipment list though, I think. It's hard to extrapolate when we get less about this cat than we got about Master Chief. How about

So an early Dying Earth story concerns this woman created in a pod by a science wizard but he makes her wrong. She thinks beautiful and good things are vile and monstrous and responds to everything with hate and violence. Her perceptions aren't inverted, it's more like the scale just shifted drastically: the truly abominable still registers as horrible, but in fact seems EXTRA horrible. By the end of her initial story she has come to understand that the world is not as she experiences it, what she has believed from birth is a lie, and she sets herself a path to strive for goodness and beauty and hope in a world where she experiences none of these. She just has to follow an inner compass that knows these things exists but there's no North, no needle, so she has to spin wildly and try to rely on trial and error and degree of revulsion and...

actually she shows up again immediately and gets fixed. By a guy who turns pretty and then they love each other. My. How interesting, Jack. Good write job.

How about this:

You can choose to level as a dwarf instead of a fighter. If you do, then you're in hell. Everywhere you look, everyone you see, carries the taint of the infernal wrack. The DM has to describe anything you ask them to in diabolical terms. This puts you on high alert: you are only surprised on a 1/6, and never surprised by demons or devils. Moreover, a true devil/demon can never hide itself from you, because they stand out as truly grotesque things. Illusions, charms, invisibility, polymorph, whatever would hide a hellish influence from another person falls away for you. These creatures shine out like a beacon. And when you see them, they KNOW you see them, magically, and make a Morale check.

It's a pretty simple mod that can add a lot of flavor and be played a few different ways, while giving you some mechanical advantages that will mostly play off later in the game when your crew goes a-horror-hunting.

The Value Of A Player Is Not Their Character: Duh

There's a line I see when people talk about Apocalypse World derived games. I think it's probably printed in some of the rule books. And I know I know before you even respond how late I am to the post on this but it's only now really sticking in my craw. "The DM [never the DM but they mean the DM] is a fan of your characters."

I just

I am a Homer Simpson aged man as evidenced by the fact that I grew up in a period where referencing the Simpsons at all as anything but a cautionary tale was acceptable. I've endured a lot. I've had blessings. I've worked with great people. But do you know when the last time I got around a physical table to play a physical game for more than a single session was? All this to say I am out of touch.

But if I'm able to sit down and start up a game with someone there's a few possibilities:

1) We are all strangers because this is a convention or a library meetup or something. Maybe a craigslist thing and we're all blowing each other after this, I don't know.
2) We are all acquaintances, or at least most people are, because this game is organized through some kind of organized play structure at like a store. The table is probably open, or it's cast from friends and friends of friends. Most online games end up in this category.
3) We are friends and this is something we're doing because we like doing this AND we like each other so it all works out.

"The DM is a fan of your characters." Why? This is session one, maybe session zero. Your characters have not done anything. Why am I a fan of these characters? I'm a fan of Doctor Doom. I can tell you lots about Doctor Doom. Cool things, funny things, ice cold things, metal things, the occasional sweet thing, ludicrously maudlin things. People been doing cool things with Doctor Doom for almost 60 years, I've got no end of things to be interested in. Things that make them distinct and unique. But Sarah and Heather both wanted to be Barbarians in this Dungeon World campaign so their ability scores and starting traits are all more or less identical and they have one of four names. I am a fan of these characters?

This sounds like a George Carlin rant, "Fuck you I'm not getting on the plane I'm getting IN the plane!" Another old man moment and old man reference. I get the intent here. At least I think I do. Because some other language seems to suggest that I want your characters to succeed and that's not entirely the case either. I want them to do interesting things that reveal things about their characters and/or advance the plot through their failures AND successes. That's the definition of a RPG narrative, that's close to the definition of a narrative.

Is it just making "The DM Is Not Your Enemy" an official rule? Because anybody who requires that rule not to be an asshole is the exact kind of asshole who won't stop being an asshole just because a book told him to. We're all friends here, under a loose enough definition...bosom chums, comrades in affection, perhaps only curiosity seekers united in experimentation. If I'm running a game I'm just happy everyone showed up, and I'm sure not playing with people I don't like for very long. The DM is a fan of you. I want you to be bold.

If your bad experiences have been baked in to the point where your default assumption of a player-DM relationship is an antagonistic one then that's tragic but positioning yourself in this way begs the question of the alternative, assumes a world of play where game breaking players and dictator DMs are constantly at war. This game won't be like that, we're working together. Of course we are. It's a game. Of course we are. We're people united in purpose of amusement and likely bound by shared trials and triumphs, we're all trying to have a good time and if we've been at this for more than an hour we're trying to make sure everyone else has a good time, too.

I hope to become a fan of your characters. Pippin the sorcerer who dared and so became all bears. Doctor Sun the Pootie Tang Wong Fei Hung. Dave, obviously. And obviously that goes both ways, I want to fall in love with my DM's NPCs and actually care when they thrive or die. But a DM telling me someone is interesting or a PC matters to me is not enough to make it SO. Neither should it be with your PCs: again, it goes both ways.

It's fine as a saying, "The DM is a fan of your characters," but what's it saying? That I'm invested in your survival? Not necessarily. That I'm invested in the group having fun regardless of my initial agenda? A given, surely, and if not a given it's harder to instill: you might as well just replace it with "Be a good DM." And what does that even mean?

To me, a good DM/Player relationship should be competitive but not adversarial. The goal is not to one up or top or defeat the other side of the screen. It's to SURPRISE the other side of the screen. Ideally this would not be through hacky rocks fall mimic health potion cursed sword of seppuku bullshit but there's ways to put even that in and still spare the rod. Surprising your players can mean just paying attention, noticing the things they say and value about their character's performance and aims and rewarding those values, even if it just means instituting a new NPC who shares them. Sometimes it's an ambush, sure, but sometimes it's an unrequited romance, and sometimes it's an unrequited romance that causes more problems than an ambush. You want to start a session with them asking "What do I see?" but end it with everyone saying "I didn't even THINK about that!"

Last time I ran anything a player drove a pterodactyl by choking it with its own baby, both of whom survived. Neither of us thought any of that was on the table when we sat down to play. NOW I'm a fan of that character.

I just think that as a safety net or warranty it won't actually stand up to the conditions that would require such a principle. And the rest of us already know better than to get ourselves into that position. If your DM doesn't then it's time you all had a little chat.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Hope Rules

I have been known to fuck with Honor and take different stabs at Sanity and I have messed around with Luck and more modern dillies like Advantage/Inspiration. I think I can make all that one thing, maybe touching on combat morale, that fits with my whole darkness-only vibe I love to revel in...

Do I also dare to move away from Hit Points as kung fu and Hit Points as vitality and just....use HP as an abbrev for something else?

Level 1 characters begin with 10 Hope.
  • For every negative modifier your ability scores granted you, gain 1 Hope. 
  • If you're a cleric, druid, paladin, one of those types you gain 1 Hope. 
  • If your starting gold roll results in less than 60 gold gain 1 Hope. 
  • If you begin with 1HP gain 1 Hope. 
  • Finally, all humans of other classes and all Hobbits gain 1 Hope. 
Since I don't split race and class that means your max starting Hope is 19 I think?

Your Hit Die is now your Hope Die. Each session you roll your total HD . If the total is higher than your current Hope (HP) you may choose that as your new HP value. After a certain point you stop gaining HD and just get bonus 1-3 pts a level, like Hit Points used to work. We can justify Constitution bonuses modifying this roll because if you're hale and fit you're probably more generally optimistic about your chances in life versus an elderly or feeble person.

Lose 1 Hope when you...
  1. Face the undead or demons
  2. Take psychic or necrotic damage
  3. Suffer a Fear/Terror/Horror effect
  4. Witness the death of a named character with which you are allied
  5. Are betrayed
  6. Cannot see in utter darkness
  7. Go a day without rest, or without food or water 
  8. Get real drunk
  9. Lose face or breach etiquette
  10. Get your heart broken
  11. Catch a disease
  12. Suffer an Injury or Scar

Gain 1 Hope when you...
  1. Witness any Player rolling a natural 20
  2. Fell any enemy when outnumbered
  3. Keep your promise, though it costs you dearly
  4. Free a prisoner or slave
  5. Forage enough supplies to feed your company
  6. Have a night of safe, healthy romantic or sexual activity
  7. Heal another through any means
  8. Engage in rousing song or tale-telling

When it's uncertain whether or not you would lose or gain Hope you can roll 1d20. If the roll goes over your current HP you may gain 1 HP if the situation warrants. If it goes under, you may lose HP. The more you have, the more you have to lose, more to fear.

Always regain 1d6 Hope from a night of safe rest, up to what you started the session at. Everything's better in the light of day. Well... SOME things. Some things can't be seen in the light of day, so that always helps at least.

You can spend Hope on...
  • Inspiration (lose 1HP, target gains 1HP)
  • Determination (lose 1HP to add +1 to a saving throw or skill roll you've already rolled)
  • Meditation (spend 1d4HP to gain 1d6HP; yes, this can break bad for you, just means your chi is all fucked up)
  • Provocation (challenging another by a code of conduct, or courtly intrigues, or invoking single combat; spend 1d4 Hope to add that number to a target's d20 roll, if they roll over their own HP then you have compelled them to act within the bounds you've set)
  • Intimidation (Spend 2 HP to impose a HP roll-under from your enemy, with success meaning they value their life more than victory and fuck off. Enemy must have less HP than you do.)
  • Direction (When we begin to despair there is often a sign... Sacrifice 2HP for some hint or clue about a course of action)
  • Connection (Spend 1-3 Hope [DM's Discretion] to establish knowledge of an existing person or resource in your nearby [day's ride] vicinity, or to make an established contact more favorably disposed toward you)
  • Retribution (Spend any amount of Hope to gain that value as a bonus to attack and damage against a specific enemy who has attacked you or an ally)

Damage and healing are not directly related to HP. It's not strictly vitality. The assumption is that you always get hurt, you always suffer, but you are able to overcome your wounds and impairments so long as you have Hope. Only then might your lacerations and broken bones catch up with you, the way your body starts noticing its pain and damage once adrenaline wears off. Like adrenaline, Hope is a drug.

Whenever you succeed in an attack you may or may not cause your target harm but you definitely winnow their resolve. In the same way your confidence and focus may be rattled and shattered by an opponent's force of arms or superior numbers.

Any time you would lose HP from weapon/trap/etc you may, once per session, roll your Hope Die +Con bonus. If this value is greater than the HP loss you would suffer, you can instead take an Injury and just lose 1HP as outlined above. Injuries impede your other in game abilities. The big flaw in this system is that I don't have a list ready to paste here but I'll put up a separate post when I do, then copy the text into here. Scars occur whenever you are hit by a natural 20, whenever you critically fail a saving throw, or whenever you heal from an Injury; they are largely cosmetic but you do lose 1HP for each. Magical healing actually makes way more sense than ever if you're restoring someone's faith Hope, and remember whenever you heal another character through any means your own PC gains 1HP.

A creature without Hope is the toy of fate, and what happens to them at 0HP is at the DM's Discretion.
  • Maybe their psyche is shattered, their spirit broken, and they are helpless before any injury or danger. In this case a "free interrupt" can be narrated describing their dispatch.
  • Perhaps the DM decides it's appropriate for them to take an Injury and bolster their Hope through their brush with death, granting them 1d6 HP and an Injury effect. This is an act of mercy that is not expended often, so go less boldly next time.
  • If it's not a situation like a fall or a trap or a combat that leaves them open for mortal harm, the DM may simply decide this person's influence or safety are utterly compromised. They may be arrested or they may run into hiding but whatever power they represented is considered broken. The party responsible, whether it's the DM or the Players, determines what that means. The individual in question, if they still live, can always return again when their Hope has been rekindled by a new cause or ally. Or power.
  • The Hopeless are the most prone to creeping madness, and anyone reaching 0HP may be permitted to operate like normal, only according to specific insanity conditions imposed by the DM. Think of this as how an undead husk is animated by an outside will. Each Insanity has a weight of 1d20, and the person in question will not get "better" until their Hope exceeds this weight.
Tables of Injuries and Madnesses are a dime a dozen in RPGland so shouldn't be too hard to source but I'll put one back in here later anyway. In summary, White Fang is a gripping tale of perseverance and survival, a love letter to wilderness and natural splendor, and a signed confession of man's savagery. You can find out more at your local library. Thank you, won't we?


EDIT: It has been pointed out to me that someone could read this as somewhat desperate or cry-for-helpy given my last post. I appreciate the concern if that's the case. You don't have to do anything for me. Sharing this article wherever you like and maybe kicking a buck into my donation button wouldn't hurt though, we do have some ironic medical bills right now.