Monday, December 19, 2011

stay in school kids!

"Dear Secret Santicore...

List (at least five) of drugs (magical or not) of dnd-esque fantasy city (more Vornheim less historically accurate for actual medieval Europe).

Thanks!"



This request caught me off guard for a few minutes - I've seen or heard of violence, religion, politics, slavery, race relations, torture, bestiality, human sacrifice, genocide, misogyny, class struggle and (thanks to Carcosa and its attendant clusterfuck, which I won't get into today) pedophilia dealt with in roleplaying games. But drugs? Not in my experience. It took me a while to formulate an approach, but finally I decided to deal with all the reasons that humans take drugs in our world, the veracity of which we either can't prove or have disproved: religious ritual, long-lasting health and youth, good looks, a big penis, etc. A fantasy game in which not only magic but Gods have objective reality is perfect for all these.

NOTE: most of these don't get a save because they're self-administered - the character is literally "drinking the kool-aid". Exceptions are discussed individually. Numbers, where necessary, are given for LL and Pathfinder.

- 'OID -

(This one's inspired by "krokodil", which I hear is all the rage in Russia these days)

cost: 1d10 copper per use
duration: half an hour of twitchy insectoid aggression

Made from the vital organs and fluids of various sentient creatures, 'Oid gradually transforms you into another humanoid creature. It's easy to manufacture by any alchemist who knows the recipe. The range of ingredients is quite versatile, and lower-quality product can be made by substituting human organs or slightly less than fresh ingredients. For every week of recreational use (at least one dosage per day), roll a transformation:

Body Part Table (1d8)

1 - face
2 - eyes
3 - skin
4 - arms
5 - legs
6 - torso
7 - tail (if applicable, otherwise torso)
8 - genitalia

What kind of creature does the user start changing into? Roll on your region's random encounter table, or a random page of the monstrous manual - read down the entries until you find one for a humanoid (or not, depending on your game's level of cruelty and weirdness).

This can lead to slums full of sub-human Broken One-looking addicts, a mishmash of orc arms, merfolk gills, elf legs, gnoll heads, etc - or more pitiful and terrifying freaks (ochre jelly "legs", owlbear face, shark flippers for arms). The effects are not reversible except with polymorph or equivalent magic - this is the creature's new and permanent body.

- DOMINATOR -

cost: 2d20 copper per use
duration: 1 hour of testosterone rage and hormonal lust

"Buncha slack-jawed faggots around here! This stuff'll make you a goddamn sexual ty-rannosaurus! Just like me."
-Jessie Ventura, Predator

This vile-tasting magical brew grants a man extreme potency for an hour - during this time nothing short of extreme HP loss or poisoning will hamper his bedroom performance, regardless of advanced age or other factors. It also increases his aggression and sexual desire, and he'll do his level best to nail anyone suitable, regardless of the consequences later (the high priestess of the local temple, the princess you rescued, etc).

The side effects of Dominator last for 24 hours after use, leaving the member so swollen and sensitive that wearing armour or tight clothing around the groin is extremely painful, causing -4 on initiative and attack rolls, and any skill checks that include an armor check penalty.

- WATER OF COMMUNION -

"What are you, an idiot? God was fucking with you!"
-Bill Hicks

cost: 2 silver per use
duration: four to eight hours of mumblings about "spaces... that are... not spaces"

Many drug users are convinced that, while high, they experience the divine; this substance leaves little room for doubt. The beings contacted are not always friendly or helpful. I probably don't have to say it, but this is a great way to usher in an alignment change, start on the path to infernal wizardry, or convert to a new (much scarier) religion.

I use simplified rules for Contact Other Plane. The user is limited to ONE question. Some users might not know they even get a question (first timers, chumps, recreational users, etc). If this is the case, the answer should pertain to something the user has considered recently. It could be "How do we pass that trap on level 4?" as easily as "what's for dinner?".

Whenever someone uses the Water, roll on both tables:

ANSWER: Roll 1d6
1 - Entity contacted knows the answer and replies truthfully, but in images and metaphors.
2 - Knows the answer and lies.
3+ - Doesn't know the answer, may make something up or just not respond.

INSANITY: Roll 1d6
1-2 - No adverse effects.
3-5 - Insanity for 1d6 weeks, as in Contact Other Plane.
6 - Possession! Save vs. spells (or Will DC 20+) or in thrall of otherworldly entities. Remove Curse or more powerful spell to cure, if your friends find out before it's too late...

- SOULSIGHT -

"Your denial is beneath you, and thanks to the use of hallucinogenic drugs, I see through you."
-Bill Hicks

cost: 1d6 silver per use
duration: 30 minutes. Side effects 1d6 hours of sweaty, tight-jawed fear

For thirty minutes, users can see into the astral plane with the help of this drug. Any non-spellcaster or normal will be stunned at the visions, and can only sit and stare incoherently. When this effect wears off, the side effects are even scarier. The user believes that they can see other beings' alignments, as the Know Alignment spell. What actually happens is they see everyone's alignment as the opposite of what it really is, on at least one axis. This causes intense paranoia as every shopkeeper, peasant and passerby is likely chaotic, maybe evil and out to get them.

When the drug wears off, the user might intellectually know that the side effects cause paranoia and fear, but their assessments of their neighbours' character will only disappear over long periods of time, and are reinforced with subsequent uses of the drug.

- THE ORIGINAL WILD GARLIC MEMORY -

cost: 5 gold per use
duration: 1d6 hours of green kaleidoscope hallucinations and tree-huggerism

Distilled by the Academy of Fruit from various rare herbs that grow only in their valley of endless summertime, this clear, foul-smelling tincture grants its user visions of ancient times, when only plants covered the world and animals hadn't yet crawled out of the sea. This grants the user a limited form of Speak With Plants. The user cannot speak with perfect fluency, and only basic ideas or questions can be communicated - like traveling to another country and skimming the phrasebook on the plane. Also, users have trouble interacting with other animals for this time, reducing fluency in their own languages to the same level.

- ERASURE -

cost: 1d6x10 gold per use
duration: 1d6 days of zombie servitude
save: poison (or Fortitude DC 20). PCs can make a new save each day if you're feeling generous. Hirelings, peasants and other 0-level redshirt types should only get one, or none.

This is a concoction made from grave dirt, the blood of a human sacrifice, herbs harvested from a crossroads at midnight and other such ingredients. Used by malicious priests and overlords to keep their servants docile and working beyond the limits of human endurance, and to create ready helpers for the blasphemous activities they indulge in.

Makes the user into a mindless automaton, easily dictated to by the first person met after dosing. He follows orders in any language he knows, to the best of his ability. He continues his tasks until they are completed, not stopping to eat or rest until collapsing. If ordered to do something obviously suicidal, another saving throw is possible. It's clear to any observer that an Erasure user is under some sort of control - the slackened face and awkward jerking movements will betray this immediately.

Creatures fighting under the influence of Erasure are less coordinated, but they don't feel pain and will fight on without fear regardless of bodily damage.

Labyrinth Lord:
2 extra HD
+2 to damage rolls, -2 to attack rolls
Morale 12

Pathfinder:
+4 STR & CON
-4 DEX
does not become disabled below 0 HP, but still stuffers bleeding damage every round until death at negative CON

When the effects wear off, the user will have vague and confused memories of what happened - perhaps writing off the experience as a bad dream or a night of heavy drinking. Long-term consumption of Erasure has powerful side effects however. For every subsequent time the drug is taken, the saving throw incurs a -1 penalty (I would bump this to -2 in Pathfinder). When this would make it impossible to successfully save, the subject's personality has been so degraded that it's basically gone - leaving him a hopeless thrall of whoever administered the powder.

- KEY 17 -

cost: 1d6+6x10 gold per use
duration: 1d4 hours
save: poison (or Fortitude DC 25)

This one is originally from my favorite comic book. Also called "the word-drug", this magical poison (which some believe is an invasion of the material plane by an outsider composed of pure language) causes those who take it to see, instead of words, the objects they describe. For example: An interrogator injects his prisoner with Key 17 and then shows him a sign which reads "your loved ones, held hostage," informing him they'll be killed if he doesn't cooperate.

The possibilites are endless, but it could quite easily swing your game into hallucinogenic visionquests or terrible powergaming, so use it wisely.

Brought to you by headhunter.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Looking ahead?

Well, well, well. Here we are, another month later with no posts! I admit that I often get into a cycle like this, installing 5 new computer games or maybe playing Ogre Battle for the 3rd try without getting anything else done. Recently, one of my roommates bought Skyrim and I play that a little, or mostly watch him play it. It's one of the few games I can think of that are just as much fun to watch as they are to play. So much so, that if I watch much more of it I don't think there will be much for my own character to do! Maybe I'm getting old, but once I've spectated on a quest, I don't feel like getting into it with my own character. It's fun, but I think I preferred Daggerfall.

I notice over at Dreams In The Lich House that Beedo has posted up a look at his blog's first year, and the status of the goals he set himself at the beginning. This could be a good idea, and I'm sure I could work up some modest aspirations for "Terrible Sorcery: year one."

What's going to come up in the near future though? Well, I can promise three things. Some updates to my home game, as a new player begins to tug things in a different direction; some musings I have about classic movies and D&D; and my contribution to the xmas-y goodness of Secret Santicore!

this post brought to you by the black light district.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

hunt the pixel

I read about this thing.

It got me thinking about last month, when my brother Tim came to visit for a week and we rolled him up a cleric for my Pathfinder game at home. Within the first few minutes of his introduction, I saw that his methods of play were drastically different from my regular group. He drilled me for background information on the setting, and I had some prepared but I really had to be quick on my feet to build up the details of the Empire the PCs all lived in. Before his character even had equipment!

Now Tim and I grew up together, obviously, and had the same formative experiences in the hobby. What I didn't realize is how much difference it makes. While the 'hunt-the-pixel' gameplay of the old Sierra adventure games has been mentioned (and sure, that aspect wasn't very good), I think those very same games trained my brother and I to play D&D the way we do.

A few examples:

-my regular players (there are three), upon arrival in the tiny frontier town where my game is based, did not bother with anything except the blacksmith and the inn. With equipment on and rooms paid for, they headed out into the wilds. Following an old treasure map, they fought a few randoms, went past a waterfall and finally reached the ruined fort (the evening's dungeon).

-Tim scoured the town for clues: he entered the barracks for an interview with the guard-captain (finding the town notice board in the process); went inside the church to see the town's records and pump the clergy for info; wandered around outside town speaking with every peasant and farmer he could find; and finally checked into the tavern for the night. He woke up the next day, did it all again, and THEN headed into the wilderness. While traveling through the forest, he peered (no one else bothered) into the waterfall, tried to climb behind it, took his armour off and swam down into the pool at the bottom! I never said anything about the waterfall, it's just there! It's there because there is a river and a cliff and waterfalls are what happens when you combine them.

But this is what Tim and I learned from those Sierra adventure games: look everywhere, try everything, talk with everyone, take anything not nailed down. That's how you gather information and how you solve puzzles, and I think D&D is the same. Didn't stick your hand into the dirty water at the bottom of the old fountain? Well you missed a few coins, and maybe some other cool thing. Even when I had to ask my dad for help in those games (I was pretty young at the time), the solutions made sense when they were shown to me. You need salt water? Well, Valanice starts crying every time she looks at that memento of her lost daughter Rosetta... get it?

Yes, sometimes this devolves into hunt-the-pixel bullshit, which everyone hates. But it doesn't have to. If you do your homework and the DM (or game designer) is playing fair, you'll have at least an idea of how to tackle any given puzzle, because you're learning about the game world and its logic all the time. And that key you picked up 3 adventures back? Well, it just might unlock that big adamantine vault...

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Edition Strugges and more backstory

Well, now that I have a big cup of coffee in me it's time for another blog post. Read the first half of this here.

After I moved out west at 22, my old gaming group had a Pathfinder game going over MSN messenger for a few months. I found myself poring over the SRD, comparing each feat in minute detail. My fighter was only 1st level and I had 3 different feat 'builds' written up all the way to sixth. After a while, I started to get really wound up analyzing the differences between each feat. I just wanted to play the game and instead I was spending all my downtime giving myself anxiety, rearranging my feat progression. It was lame, unfun, and just distracted from the real questions. Things like "how the fuck will we survive this ratman-infested dungeon? What's the deal with those ancient markings?" etc.

My main gripe with 3.x is a problem which reaches its apex in Pathfinder: holy shit you have to make a lot of decisions during character creation. I found digging out my mechanics textbooks and explaining the workings of a differential easier than running my roommates through chargen in 2 hours. And they're playing rogues and rangers! Thank fuck no one wanted to play a Sorceror, god forbid an Oracle or Witch. Handing my players the feat list, I could see their faces slacken, daunted.

Gaining levels in Pathfinder is anticlimactic next to the decision-making and notation you do at first level. Racial abilities, feats, skill points, beginning class abilities - a huge range of choices. Yet your character's areas of expertise are now set: they'll be basically the same at 20th level. You'll still be a half-elf sorceror with the aberrant bloodline, just with a few extra abilities and more damage dice to throw. After spending so much time creating a PC, how can you help but feel that he's special? Feel that he's entitled to live?

When I first got into reading various OSR blogs, the term 'Retro-Clone' jumped out at me. I already love classic videogaming ('90s PC games and the SNES), so why not retro pen-and-paper games? Once I absorbed the core ideas it made perfect sense. I would much rather generate simple characters in 10 minutes and spend the rest of the night dungeoncrawling. If the characters manage to grow in the telling, we can give them special abilities later. Right now I just want to see what's behind the next door.

I'm too young to have played OD&D, 1st edition or B/X. I'm not interested in "nostalgia" or returning to my own roots - 2nd edition was all over the damn place. But damn do I hate 'splatbooks', sourcebooks, and mostly anything that doesn't say "core rules" on it. What I am interested in is playing a rules-light, fast-paced, easy to teach and learn version of the fantasy roleplaying game I know and love, which allows me to generate my own content easily. I'm interested in exercising my imagination. If I wanted someone else's imagination, I'd read a story or play a videogame.

To this end, I tracked down a copy of Labyrinth Lord a few weeks ago at my FLGS, and have been itching to play it with my Friday group. We're currently playing Warhammer Fantasy (read about it), but I'm prepping for the day the GM calls in sick and I can hit them with LL...

Monday, October 3, 2011

(spoilers) free adventure review: Challenge of the Frog Idol

As per this post:

CHALLENGE OF THE FROG IDOL
Written for Labyrinth Lord
For characters of Level 3-6
by Dyson Logos
Get it here.

CotFI is a site-based wilderness adventure with a sort of dark 'lost empire' feel, set in the Black Mire and the nearby city of Coruvon. The PCs travel around the swamp looking for the missing treasures of the Frog God, a stone statue which speaks but retains little of its former power. In exchange, it'll give them a magic item which will help them enter the dwarven fortress of Kuln, now taken over by giants. Overall, it's the kind of thing people have seen before: a swamp adventure with lizardmen, troglodytes, giant carp, etc. and some twists and turns.

I don't know if it could be called a "true hexcrawl", but the Black Mire is big enough for the PCs to explore, get lost, travel for days, run out of food, get distracted by side areas and get worn down by random encounters. The treasures can be gathered in any order and a few of the encounters allow for varied strategies, although many are straight up slugfests.

Several locations on the map (including the ruined fortress of Kuln) are left up to the GM's imagination, so you can use this adventure as a jumping-off point for adventures in your own dungeon or more exploration into the Black Mire.

I would absolutely run this module myself. It would probably take my group 6+ sessions to get through it but they are notorious newbies and more seasoned players could doubtless do it in less time. My favorite bits: an island made out of zombies which floats around the swamp, and monstrous tentacles reaching out from under the wooden causeways to drag PCs into the water.

And just sayin', but you should probably play this song at some point in the adventure.

What sorcery is this?

Why the name?

Well, that's an easy one. It's from a classic PC strategy game called Myth: The Fallen Lords, released by Bungie in 1997. I highly recommend this game to anyone who hasn't played it. There is no resources-gathering or base construction like the other RTS games of the day. Your troops at the beginning of the mission are all you have to work with, so you'd better make each one count. And it's tough. The soundtrack is classic, worth listening to by itself, and the whole aesthetic of the game is a big inspiration: hordes of undead marching across blasted wastelands led by their immortal overlords in the twilight of Man.

In the opening monologue, the narrator sets the scene:

"In a time long past, the armies of the dark came again into the lands of men. Their leaders were known as the Fallen Lords, and their terrible sorcery was without equal in the West."

That's pretty much all you need to know.

I live in Western Canada these days. It's catchy. It's kind of funny. And while there are other Canadian guys doing the gaming blog thing (and doing it very well), I don't know of any other ones in this province.

I remember buying an old copy of Dragon magazine that had 2nd edition statistics for several of the monsters from Myth. Some of them *really* didn't need it and were just basic fantasy fare (Trow are just any large D&D humanoid, Thrall and Myrmidons are types of zombie, Shades are more or less Liches).

EDIT: Ghôls kind of make me think. They are hunched, carrion eating, ape-dog-man sort of things and this just reminded me of H.P. Lovecraft's The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath: "...for his vanished friend Richard Pickman had once introduced him to a ghoul, and he knew well their canine faces and slumping forms and unmentionable idiosyncrasies." Perhaps that's what inspired these creatures in Myth.

Two Myth creatures were unique enough to deserve their own stats, and since I can't find that copy of Dragon anymore I must do it myself. I'll stat these up for Pathfinder (somewhat abbreviated) and Labyrinth Lord, just for the hell of it.


BARRIER WIGHT
(Pathfinder) CR 1/2, XP 200

NE Medium undead

Init +0; Senses Darkvision 60ft; Perception +0

AC 10, touch 10, flat-footed 10
HP 6 (1d8)
Undead Traits
DR 5/slashing or piercing

Speed 15 ft.
Attacks: explosion (Fort save DC 18)

Str 10, Dex 10, Con -, Int -, Wis 10, Cha 10
Base Atk +0; CMB +0; CMD 10


"Urghhh... zzz... blooog.... BOOM!"
(Labyrinth Lord)

No. Enc: 1
Alignment: Chaotic
Movement: 60' (20')

Armor Class: 8
Hit Dice: 1
Attacks: 1
Damage: 1d8 + paralyzation

Save: F1
Morale: 12
Hoard Class: None
XP: 16



These undead look like drowned corpses, bloated and fish-pale. They shamble along dressed in rags. When they are destroyed, Barrier Wights explode in a cloud of poisonous pus, dealing 1d8 damage to all creatures in a 15' radius and paralyzing for 2d4 rounds (save to negate). If they get close to a living creature, they will burst themselves with their sharp fingernails instead of attacking. Sometimes they hide in rivers or under bridges, waiting to ambush passersby. Necromancers often use them for shock troops, to soften up large groups of enemies before the main attack.

A chunk of an exploded Barrier Wight retains potency for a few hours, and if handled carefully can be thrown to paralyze a target on a successful hit, just as if the wight had exploded.

FETCH
(Pathfinder) CR 3, XP 800

NE Medium outsider
Init +1; Darkvision 60ft; Perception +5

AC 17, touch 11, flat-footed 16 (+1 Dex, +4 natural, +2 armor)
HP 38 (5d8+15)
Fort +3, Ref +2, Will +5
Immune - Electricity, Poison
Resist - Fire 5, Cold 5, Acid 5

Speed 30 ft.
Melee: 2 claws +2 (1d6+2)
Special Attacks: lightning bolt (5d6, Reflex DC 16 for half)

Str 14, Dex 13, Con 17, Int 12, Wis 10, Cha 14
Base Atk +5; CMB +7; CMD 18


"Hiss... where's my mirror?"
(Labyrinth Lord)

No. Enc: 1
Alignment: Chaotic
Movement: 120' (40')

Armor Class: 5
Hit Dice: 5
Attacks: 2 or 1 (2 claws, lightning)
Damage: 1d6/1d6/5d6

Save: F5
Morale: 12
Hoard Class: VII
XP: 350



Cruel horned creatures who wear coats of skin made from their victims. They seem almost human from a distance; when viewed at close range, their hateful expressions and gnarled skin coats can be seen clearly. By then it's too late. They project bolts of lightning 3' wide from their hands up to a range of 50', doing 5d6 damage to anyone in the path. In close combat they fight with their sharpened fingers, but prefer to avoid this as they are vain and lazy. They are summoned from another world through certain dark rites, but woe to the warlord or sorceror that doesn't keep them supplied with fresh victims and entertainments.



From this I've learned a few things. It's way easier to write up monsters in LL. This will get its own post shortly. It's hard to balance things out between systems, and in the end you really can't. The stats don't come across directly. But that's OK, these monsters will work fine for me in either system.

This post brought to you by: you guessed it. Turn it up.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

on and off the wagon

Today's been pretty busy, and now that I have a new dungeon filled with vegetable mold-men to torture the PCs with (I hope they don't get too cocky at 2nd level), it's time for a relaxing blog post about some of my own experiences with the roleplaying hobby.

I was first introduced to D&D by a kid on the bus to school. I can't even remember his name now. This was the beginning of 4th grade, which I think is when I started going to a different school, so I would have been just short of 10 years old. All this guy had was one six-sider and the most tenuous grasp on the rules; no books or anything. I recall being captured by gnolls and failing my d6 roll to escape - game over.

For some reason, I found this experience compelling enough to repeat. When my family moved to the next town, I found quite a few friends that knew about D&D. I got the Forgotten Realms boxed set for christmas, and for the next 7 years or so, all we did was play AD&D 2nd edition. Sure, we had a few rounds of Magic: The Gathering and Warhammer 40,000, but AD&D was the only roleplaying game on the map. It was all we had and we fucking loved it. I met some of my best friends in our middle-school lunchtime AD&D group.

Later on in high school I branched out. I started buying weird-ass old games at the used bookstore: Paranoia, a few Palladium books and some other things I don't recall, although I could never get anyone to play them with me. I got a copy of Champions from my aunt (and fuck did I ever love it). Somebody brought some White Wolf games to our lunch-hour group, and they blew our minds at the time.

Vampire and Werewolf I could take or leave, and Wraith I never bothered to play, but both Changeling and Mage had a feel that was unmatched in my experience. They were a total package, with production values a lot higher than I was used to. The artwork, the (at the time) out-there systems, the sidebars packed with obscure bits of flavor text, leaving you with more questions than answers (it's difficult to maintain this feel in actual play with real people, which is why our high school White Wolf games were totally gonzo). Through all this, we still played 2nd ed AD&D.

When 3rd edition came out, I thought just like my friends: bullshit. Those corporate weasels would never take any more of my hard-earned allowance! Until one day when I actually opened up the books and found a lot to like. Regularized XP tables, the new skill system (no more weapon proficiencies), and a more streamlined approach to rolling (no more bend bars/lift gates) all appealed to me. The clutter had been swept away; it was a new format, the art was different, there were new mechanics but it was still D&D.

It took me years to actually play it.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

let his blood flow, let our crops grow, it's time to meet the king

Ok guys, here's my third shot at some Forge stuff. This time it's place names - some of them end up doing nothing for me and I had to hit the generator for a while before I found some I liked. I only have three, but these ones are really cool and I'll be throwing them in my home game. No numbers, just flavor!



ACADEMY OF FRUIT - It is said that high in the mountains, where no caravan might pass and only the strongest or most reckless travelers venture, there is a lush valley. Filled with all manner of growing things, it would provide food for a kingdom if only it could be reached. Why is it there? And who guards it?

The Academy of Fruit is a bizarre monastery set up in bygone days. Insects and hummingbirds fly year-round in this valley of perpetual summer. The monks spend their time tending to their orchards and gardens, growing all manner of sweet things. They press grapes into wine and berries into jelly. In the evening, these monks have tastings - whose apples are the juiciest? Whose wine the most fragrant? And so they pass their days in contemplation of the earth's bounty, free from the sorrows of the world below. They're not interested in enlightenment or any of that stuff - and they certainly frown on any raggedy-ass adventurers stumbling into their monastery to bring trouble.



COIN PORTAL - Old men in the tavern speak of a doorway deep in the dungeon, made of a rare metal more precious than gold. Anyone who dismantled it and carried the pieces to the surface would be filthy rich...

It's a doorway made out of big-ass platinum coins (electrum, mithril, whatever you use make it tempting) which leads into an important room. The coins can be easily taken, but there are only 100 of them. Every time the PCs pull some coins out, roll a d%. See where this is going? Number of coins missing is the % chance the doorway will collapse. Saving throws to dodge as with a similar trap, but roll to see which side of the door each PC ends up on. You can scale this as you like depending on how much wealth you like to give out (200 coins, and each 2 coins are 1% to fall, or 50 coins and each one is 2%, etc).



ZIGGURAT OF SILENCE - Deep in the Drownings, on the bank of a muddy brown lake lies an ancient stone city. Built by the great architects of old, its inscrutable writings and fantastic carved artworks give no clues as to the nature of those ancient beings. The city is built around a stone step-pyramid with 137 stairs, each one almost the height of a man. Upon this pyramid is a powerful enchantment, which encloses it in a field of complete silence.

This has led to some strange cultural developments for the humanoids of the swamp (anything you like - mine are Lizardmen) who currently occupy the ancient city. Their simple folk religion has been changed by the unspeakable carvings inside the Ziggurat. Over the years, many powerful witch-doctors, shamans and sorcerors were born, and learned from the Ziggurat the secrets of Silence. ALL their spells are cast with no verbal components, and they have a form of sign language which they use to signal each other in combat. If you cross them, expect lethally silent ambushes at every turn while you're in the swamps. On the other hand, they can speak and the PCs might get along well if they brought some nice gifts or trade items.

Friday, September 23, 2011

What do you mean I'm playing a Coachman?

My friday group (the on & off guys with the changing lineup and the "Gamer ADD") started a game of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying a few weeks ago. This edition is made by Fantasy Flight Games, and it comes in a gigantic boxed set. Everything's beautifully illustrated and in Fantasy Flight style there are tons of punch-out tokens, cards, chits, and sheets to play with.

This is the primary appeal of the game: there's a doodad for everything. You have action cards, which include the most basic moves ("melee attack", "ranged attack", "block", "dodge") and all kinds of advanced attacks and feats; talent cards which provide various bonuses; small green and red tokens which describe your character's combat stance; wound cards, which you accumulate as your character takes damage (each card is literally 1 HP of damage); character portraits which you stand up in a clear plastic base, to use instead of miniatures; and the dice.

Oh, the dice are awesome. There are three basic colours of attack dice to use depending on your combat stance, two colours of skill dice, and two types of challenge dice. The entire attack and damage roll is made in one throw and can often use almost every kind of die at once. It's a lot of fun to pick through them and lay down a bigass 10-die attack roll.

The only thing that I found weird was the character generation. I show up and I have to pick a card out of this stack of 30, and I draw... a coachman?

Me: "What the Fuck! I wanted to play a witch hunter and wear one of those cool hats. What is this shit?"

GM: "Well, this is your career before you became an adventurer."

Me: "Oh... Well okay I guess. Can I change class later to be a witch hunter?"

GM: "Maybe. For now, you drive the town shit wagon. Your life sucks."

Me: "Fuck!"

It worked out in the end, though. I saw the other PCs wandering into town and immediately told my manure-cart boss to take this job and shove it. Thirty minutes later I was creaming goblins and it didn't really matter that I used to be the lowliest, most broke-ass dwarf on the planet.

Some other mechanics influence play in different ways. We have a 'party card', which gives our whole adventuring group "The Brash Young Lads" some special abilities. There is a track on this card from 0-8 called the 'Party Tension Meter', and whenever the PCs have disagreements the tension meter increases. Once it gets high enough, the whole party starts to take penalties.

In practise, this leads to a lot of fun, and sometimes tense situations. The only non-dwarf in the party is a high elf, played to the hilt as a money-grubbing, weaselly prick by one of our more committed roleplayers. He'll take any excuse to pocket a few extra silver or screw the rest of the part out of their share. This attitude has nearly cost him his life on several occasions, and since the party is now three dwarves to his one elf, he'd best come correct in future.

Because of the tension meter, we're almost encouraged to fight amongst ourselves and the GM is okay with it - it's part of the game! Warhammer tends to do this to our group; our Dark Heresy game was much the same. I've found that in both fantasy and 40k, almost everyone is a butt-ugly asshole (except the Sisters of Battle).

In conclusion: the dice alone make this game fun for me, but the action cards and countless thingamabobs may put people off. I know it's a very 'nu skool' way to play. I've heard comparisons to 4th Edition D&D, but I wouldn't really know about that.

This post brought to you by IRS years REM.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

3 to get ready, now go kids go!

Here's my second shot at some great Forge names. I think the Spell Forge is easily the best; the names immediately get me thinking about awesome, mind-bending magic effects. I would happily play a Magic User with only one spell per day if I could say things like: "Stand back fools, and feel the power of SNOD'S CRIMSON JUDGEMENT!" After that, even meteor swarm doesn't sound that scary.

Again, numbers kept to a minimum for portability. Today's post brought to you by KMFDM when they were awesome.


SNOD'S CRIMSON JUDGEMENT

Area of Effect: 2 creatures within 20' of each other
Save: fortitude or vs. spell for 1/2 effect if unwilling

Equalizes current Hit Points between two targets. Find the difference between the two creatures' current HP totals, and each creature gains or loses HP equal to half this number. An unwilling creature can save for half effect. Hit points gained in excess of a creature's maximum are wasted.

For example: Dave the fighter is in melee combat with an ogre. They are targeted with Snod's Crimson Judgement. Dave has 2 hit points left and the ogre has 22; the difference is 20 HP. Dave is healed for 10 HP, and the Ogre succeeds on his saving throw - he only loses 5 hit points instead of 10.


PATHIS' BITING WALL

Area of Effect: Wall 20' high, 5' thick and up to 10' long per level.
Duration: 1 minute per caster level

Creates a wall made of icky gray flesh covered in large, bitey mouths. Anyone who gets close or attempts to climb it will get chewed on. 1d4 mouths can attack a character near (or on) the wall per round, each doing 1d6 damage. Climbing the wall is hard (DC 25), and penalties are incurred for being bitten during the climb (-2 on your next climb check for every mouth that bit you that round).


DEMONIC POOL

Area of Effect: 30' diameter circle
Save: reflex or breath weapon to avoid
Duration: 1 round per caster level

This opens up an extradimensional pit in the floor, 20' deep. It's crammed full of demons, just piled up on top of each other. Have fun wading through that. Demon type can be rolled randomly or chosen from your favorite list, but they should be lowly grunts. At the end of the spell's duration any unfortunates stuck in the pit, and 1d6 demons, are ejected and the pit disappears. The leftover demons will stay around until destroyed; they fight anyone they like and this spell provides no control over them.


OSTENTIA'S FREEDOM SWORD

Duration: 1 round per 2 caster levels
Save: magic items only; see description

A translucent, glowing longsword of force appears in the caster's hand. It can cut through most non-living matter with ease (1 foot of wood, 6" of stone, 1" of nonmagical iron or steel); magic items struck by the Freedom Sword are entitled to a saving throw to avoid being destroyed.

Attacks with the Freedom Sword are made like a normal longsword but with no penalty for non-proficiency. Constructs, undead, and other non-living monsters take 1d6 damage per 2 caster levels from the Freedom Sword (maximum 8d6 at 16th level). Although it passes harmlessly through living creatures, it can do serious damage to their armor and equipment.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

My first crack at The Forge

The Forge comes up with some nutty stuff, but some of the names have that ring to them - you know they'll be awesome and memorable. Here's my first crack at it. Numbers have been left out so everything's compatible with your favorite system.

FORGE MONSTERS


TAKER CAT - Obviously, this is a cat that takes your shit. It doesn't sneak up in the middle of the night, though. You find it in the dungeon, scared and alone, about to be eaten by hobgoblins. Your girlfriend's PC picks it up and puts it in her backpack so just its cute widdle head sticks out. THEN, when you're all asleep, it takes the most valuable magic item it can carry, and its observations about the party, and scampers down 2 levels of the dungeon to the arch-wizard who runs the place. It is, of course, his familiar.

Stats for a regular cat, except for high intelligence and charisma (cuddlyness). If the PCs wise up to the trick, they can hold it hostage or perhaps just kill it at a critical time in the battle with the boss wizard... if they can look into those big, cute, cuddly eyes and still swing the sword, that is.


FLESH SERPENT - The hot dog of the undead, this "snake" is made from whatever floor-scrapings and castoffs are nearby. Perfect for an on-the-go necromancer! Gnome intestines? Orc tongues? A few mismatched eyeballs? Elf scrotums? Just throw them together, add some sharp teeth and drop it down the chute on top of those pesky adventurers.

Use the stats for your favorite snake, add the 'zombie template' and then make it slippery, foul-smelling, gooey and gross. Venomous bite is optional, but it should at least have some kind of parasite or disease from all that raw meat in there. Can also provide clues about the creator's (former) allies or favorite foods. Hurl!


NEEDLE APE - Hilarious! Some fucked-up wizard crossed an ape and a cactus in the worst way. An ape with cactus needles in its mouth instead of teeth. Can't eat solid food, and its spike-mouthed existence has made it really pissed off. It bites you and leaves a whole bunch of needles in the wound. Some needle-apes are rumored to have spikes over their whole body, and the bad attitudes of such creatures are the stuff of legend.

Stats for your favorite primate, but with a horrifying cactus bite attack. It can bite 3 times per day, then must wait 24 hours for the needles to grow back. After being bitten, the needles will stay in the wound and deliver a paralytic plant juice. Save vs. poison or lose 1d4 DEX per day until it's cured or you reach 0 and die. Greater Needle Apes are left up to your imagination (hint: they are huge prickly assholes).


CANDLE SALMON - These salmon look normal during the day, but at night they light up inside; imagine a fish that swallowed a few of your Christmas lights. Some nobles keep them in their garden ponds as living night-lights, but there are many other applications for a Candle Salmon. The oils inside their fishy bodies make them extremely flammable. Pull one of these out of the river and set it to the torch, it'll burn up in 2 rounds, leaving nothing but a grease spot. Used carefully, they make a half-decent substitute for flasks of oil. A few mishaps with these have given rise to the phrase "burning the Candle Salmon at both ends."

Stats are for a regular fish, except they can't possibly sneak up on you.

This post brought to you by early Frontline Assembly and Wellington beer.

Monday, September 19, 2011

I suddenly have a lot of free time.

I was in a band until about 2 weeks ago, when the bullshit finally became too much. After 2 1/2 years of tantrums, yelling, imperious commands, and generally being treated like someone's whipping boy and slave, it was time to go.

Similarly, my "job" has gradually reduced in hours/week until I can't survive on it anymore. So begins the hated resume-polishing, door-knocking and cold-calling.

I've been gaming with a few acquaintances on & off for the last year. Our sessions are infrequent, many players don't show up for a month or more, and we have a bad case of "gamer ADD" - before a given campaign gets off the ground, we've started playing something new.

I had been reading Ars Ludi and The Alexandrian for several years, but without a regular, serious gaming group, I could only take notes and dream of running a game again. In the spring, I stumbled across some of the OSR blogs and began reading voraciously. Suddenly, I remembered what my life was all about back home - gaming! I went out and bought the Pathfinder core rulebook, roped my roommates into rolling up characters, and just like that - I'm back!

GMing again feels like riding a bike after five years away: I'll never forget how to do it, but I'm a little unsteady. It's great fun sitting on my bedroom floor drawing maps on graph paper while listening to REM, just like I did when I was 14. After very little consideration, I decided to start up my own blog and see how it goes. I'll be posting up my ruminations as I develop my campaign world; new monsters, spells and magic items; session reports (maybe); house rules, and all kinds of other fun stuff.

That's more than enough preamble for now. Let's give the people something they can use:

OUBLIETTE, aka CAGE SKELETON

This is a monster that's geared towards scaring your players. It's a skeleton inside a man-shaped spiky metal cage, hanging from the ceiling by a chain. It looks like some unfortunate bastard stuck in there to rot by the local Duke or whoever, until it reaches through the bars to choke the shit out of passersby. Throw it in your next prison or torture chamber to surprise-attack the PCs!

Stats for these things are pretty simple.

Use regular Skeleton numbers, except their natural AC and hit points are higher, and give them some more Damage Reduction if you have that in your game. They have the 'Grab' and 'Constrict' abilities if you're playing Pathfinder.

We almost had a TPK when I put these up against my PCs, because I didn't read the grappling rules for Pathfinder very closely. I thought 'Grab' allowed an instant grapple when it only allows for a free grapple check. So every time they attacked, the PC was immobilized and started taking damage. It didn't take long to put a few guys below 0, but the ranger and cleric pulled a few clutch moves and saved the day, so it all worked out in the end.