Sunday, January 28, 2018

Are You Bad Enough to Join the Thieves' Guild?

Thieves guilds are a trope that has been beaten to death and beyond but between reading all the kooky schemes of The Arabian Nights and revisiting the sinister Thieves' House of Fritz Lieber's Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser series, a love for the idea has been rekindled in my withered breast.

There are two tests to join the Thieves' guild- the written/oral exam and the practical. If you fail them both, you get murdered to keep their secrets and to keep useless chaff out of their ranks. If you fail one you can join as an apprentice. Pass both and you can actually hop right in as a freepick.

The written/oral exam is very advanced and has fiendish questions like
  1. Of what use is a tortoise during home robberies (affixing candles to the shell and sending it to scout dark places and provide hands-free light)
  2. Explain the various advantages and disadvantages of coin clipping, sweating, shaving, punching, and plugging 
  3. How many copper and silver pieces are required for the change-raising scam?
Assuming you're a thief, you have a level+INT modifier in 10 chance of passing. If you are not a thief, it's out of 20. Note it is a foolish MMORPGism to believe that only thieves can join the thieves guild. Wizards are great at stealing stuff, especially in ways no one expects. Fighters are great at mugging people- subtlety is only a requirement if the guards can actually stop you. Clerics are naturally perfectly suited for con jobs and swindling people out of their money, assuming they aren't too pious.

In any case, the written test is mostly designed to overawe people with the stupendous knowledge of tricks the guild has acquired over the ages of its operation. The practical test is a much more straightforward test, and is in fact an actual crime. The hapless would-be-thief is tasked to steal a purse of a 'disguised agent' or retrieve a valuable item from a 'Guild Simulation Training Center' or whatever. If they pull it off, the thieves guild takes the entirety of the score and congratulates the initiate on passing the test. If they don't, the guild probably leaves them to the tender mercies of the town guard. Either way, the initiate has now officially done a crime, and so is doubly reliant on the guild for a safehouse and protection.

Apprentices get room and board and give all their take to their freepick master that assigned/asked to be in charge of them. They will have ample time to practice picking locks, tying knots, climbing ropes, appraising items, sweeping floors, and other valuable tasks. Once they complete their apprentice training, the total cost of these services is revealed, and they realize they're 20,000 coins in debt and all they have to show for it is a socially unacceptable degree in creative literature thieving. And so they labor to pay off their 'guild dues,' finally earning money for themselves as a freepick. And they hope to pay off this debt faster by getting lots of apprentices and taking all of the money the apprentices steal. And so the circle of life continues, with the master(s) of the guild doing relatively little thieving and mostly just rolling in the fat stacks of cash brought in by their underlings.

So have some random charts.
Guild Names
1-Department of Acquisitions
2-I'm sorry that was the only idea I had

Guild Hideout
1- A secretish cave outside of civilization. Convenient for highway robberies of merchants as they leave or enter the city.
2-A guildhouse like a squat shadow of the local lord's fort. Or maybe just the local lord's fort.
3-A decentralized series of caches and hideouts. Freepicks and their apprentices rarely meet in person
4-Local inn. Isn't really a 'front' it's just that the thieves basically live there for convenience.
5-The walls of the city are hollow, and though they are patrolled by guards, the thieves still slip thru
6-Tent and wagon city of hobos and ne'erdowells. Basically a bandit camp that oozes through city districts and wilderness alike.

Guild Specialty
  1. Trained animals. Monkeys that pick locks! Birds that pinch jewelry! Tortoises that aren't trained but they don't need to be to be candleholders!
  2. Cute Girls- The bane of male tourists, who are easily led into scams such as this
  3. Charm Scam- The guild employed an alleged wizard to throw around alleged curses, and now aggressively pushes 'protective charms' that do nothing but inform said wizard not to curse you
  4. Counterfeiting- The guild makes fake coins, fake art, fake documents, fake everything. Caveat emptor, and know that all mines and treasure maps are indubitably salted.
  5. Jailbreakers- The right bribes and tricks can get people in and out of jail very fast with a  compromised judicial system. The thieves ARE the law!
  6. Spy Network- In addition to trading in secrets and blackmail and badger games, they have the information to seize upon any opportunity for profit they hear of before the players have a fair chance to give it a go unopposed.

 Anyway, I think thieves guilds are viewed as boring and cliche because the baseline thief is too often treated as a cliche, a lithe rogue in dark leathers and light weaponry utilizing skills found in the thief tables and nothing else. If you expand that mental image to an entire group of people, naturally it's not gonna be particularly compelling. But if you take 'Thief' to simply mean 'a person willing to do morally bankrupt things to obtain cash' well, you got the whole world of options And this applies to 'thief' class characters as well, not just DM pet projects! My approach was to look up con jobs on wikipedia and I barely even scratched the surface of inspiration there. I didn't even touch magic nonsense that they could get up to. Imagine thieves who con the restless spirits of the dead into thinking the living have stolen their gravegoods, and that the ghosts should steal it back. And then the thieves steal the stolen goods from the dead, rinse and repeat. I should have written this entire post on those guys. Dang.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Thoughts on Monsterhearts

So one of my players wanted me to run a 1-shot of monsterhearts, so we rustled up a good old player I knew liked monsterhearts, the obligatory no-show, and a late-arriving mystery guest to solidify the roster to three players.

Monsterhearts is a game about teen sex drama horror. Like Buffy but with more gratuitous gore and sex. Or maybe less. Depends on what season we're talking about.

Anya didn't deserve this
Best girl btw
The Unseen- Invisible. Gains powers from blackmail and spying on people. Ignored in favor of her older hotter overall er-er sister.
The Beast- Turns into a savage manslaying animal when turned on. Repression central. Possibly learned of her curse when she killed her boyfriend last year, but admits nothing.
The Queen(male)- Top dog of a biker gang supernaturally linked with group dynamic enhancing powers and druidry powers.Just wants a hot date.
The Creep- Lone survivor of disaster that killed 4 students, among them the Quarterback. Took death hard.
Unseen's Big Sis-Top cheerleader, good grades, popular, all in superior specimen.
The Gang- Queen's gang members, the sycophant occult expert, the cool gearhead girl, and the violent thug.

The Quick Summary

The Queen hits on Unseen's sister in class, catches sass from lil sis. Catches lil sis undressing (there's nothing to see on account of invisible) and gets a panty thrown on his head. The Beast sees Queen grappling with the air wearing panties, cries scandal, Queen's biker gang lackeys run interference by crying 'Beast is a slut, remember the hallway incident.' Bad blood all around. Which is good.

Beast confronted during lunch by Queen and Gang, demanding Beast retract her 'Queen is Panty Thief' comments. They get what they want, sorta, but Unseen lashes out at Queen and drops him out of a chair for damage. More bad blood! Creepy survivor of dead quarterback approaches Beast and asks if she doesn't wish Quarterback was still around, reluctant agreement is said outloud and creep vanishes.

Afterschool- Queen takes Big Sis to the place Prom will be held tomorrow, breaking into the building. Big Sis is using Queen as surrogate for her lost Quarterback BF, and they fuck in a isolated room. Big Sis is now part of the Queen's gang, cuz that's how Queen do. Unbeknownst to either of them, the Unseen snuck along on the back of a gang members' motorcycle and is watching the whole sorry affair unseen, collecting blackmail material. Unbeknowst to any of them, The Beast rolled poorly with an introspective 'how can I solve the Queen and his gang calling me a slut' problem and ended up with 'Turn into a wolf and KILL THEM' as the answer, becoming her Darkest Self. So mid coitus, The Beast bursts through the window and starts mauling people, mainly Queen but Big Sis gets bit too. Queen realizes The Unseen is there, and unsuccessfully tries to use the invisible girl as a meatshield. They all barely escape The Beast with their lives. The Queen and, once again, tagalong Unseen visit hospital(for rabies shots), their ritual circle(an unknown party has defaced it, Big Sis insists they try magic anyway as a condition for her continued affection), then the graveyard (Using said defaced ritual circle failed to ID The Beast as the true culprit and the grave of The Quarterback was found dug up).

Meanwhile, The Beast has gone off and killed a minor NPC old boyfriend, the unfortunately nicknamed 'Herp' due to herpes rumors. She recovers from being an unsightly beast and walks home clad in Herps old clothes. The Creep meets her, congratulates her on a job well done, and gives her a bike to get home with, then vanishes into the woods. Yeah, he's probably behind at least some of this.

The next day- The Queen, battered and bruised, tries to confront The Unseen with his idea that she's a witch that sicc'd The Beast on Big Sis and him. He is eventually proven wrong, but Unseen has a whole helluva lotta Strings on him and ends up biting part of his nose off and blackmailing his entire gang into cowed submission, as well as telling them she had nothing to do with it. The Unseen revels in her newfound power over the delinquent gang and is unimpressed by the Queen's attempt to seduce his way out his blackmailed state.

Finally, Prom Night. The Queen sulks in a corner and has Big Sis tend his wounds. The Unseen shows up as an invisible naked voyeur once more. The Beast shows up in a nice blue dress to complement the 'Under The Sea' theme of prom.

Then Creep, possessed by the resurrected soul of Quarterback and blessed with ectoplasmic gains, shows up. Queen is through with this shit and bails, Unseen hits the fire alarm to drive everyone else out from the presumed impending scene of carnage, and The Beast semi-transforms, at least mentally, and can't help but harm her sort-of returned boyfriend. The Beast isn't thinking rationally, Quarterback possessed-Creep isn't thinking rationally, and the Unseen gets a bowl of punch thrown over her for trying to get some explanation for this shit, and pesters The Beast with deductive (or possibly inductive) reasonings for what the hell is going on that are spot on, but useless in the face of the reunited lovers.

In the end, The Beast controls herself enough to resist showing her emotions via violence and truly becoming THE BEAST, though she still claws some holes in the Creep-Quarterback while they slow dance under the sprinklers and cheesy music. The Quarterback's ghost dissipates and she prevents the now clawed Creep from bleeding out as the authorities arrive.

Not too shabby a story for a hastily thrown together one-shot. I had kinda hoped at least one player (the Queen was pretty unpopular and lived only by the mercy of The Beast in the maiming scene and the nose-biting Unseen confrontation scene) and I was sure the Creeperback channeler dude would end up either killed by a vengeful Queen or a bloodcrazed Beast but alas, the players eked out a happyish ending out of the whole sorry affair.
the highlights make it an OC work of art, totally
Sue me if you want, Monsterhearts designer, but this is great advice for fueling improv sessions and informing emergent gameplay

I believe this is a 'powered by the apocalypse' style game. Anyway I ran it after reading the rules one and a half times and it was easy. The players do all the rolling, and bad things happens on failed rolls. This is great because failure advances the action, and players are encouraged to do things because they don't have to wait around for excessive GM feedback. Not that I mind going over every inch of a stone chest looking for traps, but sometimes abstraction is good.  There's also a lot of 'pick one or two of X effects' based on rolls so rolling is more than a binary pass fail. The players continue to be engaged with a roll by picking different outcomes to tailor the mode of success, so rolls have weight- they're not something you need to spam 50 of against a tribe of kobolds.

What I really liked was making failures be more than 'nothing happens.' Heck, they aren't even necessarily 'you didn't do thing you wanted to do.' Its just enables the GM to do something called a 'Hard Move' which is pretty much your standard array of making life hard for the players by foreshadowing conflict, starting conflict, escalating conflict, etc.

Anyway, Monsterhearts was a fun romp, but since it's a game with sexual content, you better establish boundaries early on to make sure everyone's on the same page.
People who signed up for this...
...don't want none o' this.
Anyway, I prepped for this session by reading the rules, watching these two videos
and came up with a 'guy with survivors guilt uses the energy of monster murder to catapult his friend's soul back from the netherworld so dead friend can get the prom night he never had' and then just went off of player input and mechanical suggestions from the dice. You can run dungeons like that too!
Light touch, no heavy handed plot! Let the dice decide and let players run things! Slap a random character creator and perhaps increase lethality a touch, and the spirit of OSR could be channelled through Monsterhearts!

Or maybe I'm conflating 'enjoyable game sessions' with 'the spirit of OSR' and I should give up on relating the two. Whatever. Monsterhearts is fun with the right group, inspiration comes from many sources, and I wanted to share my experience, and if nothing else maybe you'll get some fresh tunes on your youtube recommended playlist.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

How Many Hexes Should My Hexcrawl Have?

This is a common question I see asked by gamers across the web, so I thought I'd share some rambling thoughts on the size of my BFRPG game, Sarkomand's Fault. It lasted about 80 sessions, and the highest level anyone ever achieved was 7, with most characters boasting 2 or 3 deaths (as each player had multiple characters, total death count per player was higher). We never quite reached 'domain level' play but one player ended up building a temple and claiming some land and another built a pirate outpost on an island, and it was a design goal of mine that they shouldn't feel like they have to level grind to interact with content. But I digress.
Initially I thought I'd use this beast as my map. This is because initially I hadn't run a hex-crawl before and had no idea how players would approach travel. I too read advice on the web for 'how many hexes should I have' and sanely downgraded the size to this, with points of interest generally being between 2 days to 2 weeks away from each other.
And we actually played for a while on this map. Now, I had the classic west marches rule going on where every session end meant a return to the home town, and every day+night of travel had 6 1/6 chances of a random encounter. This meant that inexperienced players couldn't get ANYWHERE without getting their ass kicked and going home. Early on, it was easier to just head into the Megadungeon below town, and day-long trips to nearby places of interest (usually the lumber camp which generally had some monster problem to solve) or following the coast south looking for things. There were about 7 minidungeons within a day or two of town, and by the end of the campaign, 5 had been found. One thing I wish I had done in retrospect was seed the map with a boatload of treasure maps.

Also, when faced with such a savage and dangerous wilderness, players tend to stick with known options. Castle Gondalo in the Norther Wastes became a popular destination, such that I eventually sickened of the long, perilous journey through the undead-infested desert and had an airship offer passage there and back. But even with the rideable floating jellyfish steeds purchased from the Gondalons, I had a strong suspicion that the players still had too much empty space to deal with. At this rate, I couldn't imagine the players ever getting to the beast-taming barbarians of the northeast deserts or the snakepeople of the far west or the fomorian giants of the unnaturally frozen southeast and I realized in trying to separate content between 'early' and 'lategame' content, I was wasting my time on making cool stuff that no one had a realistic chance of seeing because it was 'gated' behind potentially months of dangerous travel. So overall, I think you should start small, and you should put your prep where players can reach it, and definitely do not build content 'for when they're level 13' or 'for when they walk 200 miles due west.' Put Dark Castle Dumandred three days away and fill it with vampires and let the players go wild at level 1 if they want.
Ultimately I condensed the map to this, and honestly I could have shrunk it to 1/4th the size and I don't think it would have felt crowded. Empty hexes were deleted, consolidated into the same space, flooded by seas and lakes, and generally tossed into the bin. I didn't want the players to find everything because for sandbox exploration to be meaningful there must be the opportunity to NOT find things, but I think even now, it was a little oversized and definitely too empty. There were 1400 hexes, roughly, and about 80 had pre-planned(but not entirely finished or even begun) stuff in them. With that distribution of content, it was almost more of a pointcrawl than a hexcrawl. Travel as adventure gets old when travel is a required adventure between EVERY adventure.
The round black blotch happened post game after retrieving the Orb of Omnipotence and was the ascended player's way of showing how their land and faithful were hidden and protected.
 The vast majority of hexes had nothing cool in them, which left me room to suddenly plop things down, like the castle-engulfing Gelatinous Dome, or a random comment from a player turning an empty patch of coast into the Face Rocks/Benthic Chimerae Research Station, or them saying 'we track the axebeak(aka Chopcock) riding goblins back to their camp!' and then the camp being noted down after said tracking. But the thing is, a 6 mile hex is HUGE and can absolutely support multiple features, so even with the concept of 'leave empty space' I still had WAAAY too much empty space. 6 mile hexes really shouldn't be described as 'yah, nah, nuthin to see here'. They have room for hidden dungeons, villages, landmarks, lakes, all manner of things.

Now, you definitely don't need even close to that many hexes, and if you're just starting out you can get away with like, 4 starting locations and just build the world as the players branch out. The players probably found less than 1/4 of the keyed locations (but quite a few unkeyed impromptu locations were created) because often, a single location turned out to be good for more than one adventure. The common factor between these popular locations was almost invariably treasure, by the way. Treasure is the lowest common denominator of motivation, especially when treasure=XP, so if you're ever wondering how you can possibly convince the players that they want to go into a hideous deathtrap, just stuff it full of loot and they'll convince themselves. Ancient evil awakening, captured damsels, forget that. They'll brave ifrits with phenomenal cosmic power, minotaurs with ray guns, the T-1000, and 100 miles of ghoul-hyena infested desert just to obtain some unstable reactor cells so they can use their once per day spell of Heat Metal to blow up said reactor cells along with 80% of the party and an Ancient Black Dragon on the other side of the map just for one shot at that sweet, sweet type H treasure.

Anyway. Sarkomand's Fault was about the size of Florida, and most of it was never seen over the course of ~70 sessions and 8 months. The first big push to really travel came from a random dragon encounter in session 8, in which 10 level 1 and 2(maybe we had a 3) characters and hirelings just BARELY managed to slay a dragon, with about 50% losses(I think I changed my death and dismemberment tables to be harsher after that fight, or at least it sowed the seed for such changes), and the month it took to travel there and back again to the dragon's hoard was the first time the players really went away from civilization a single direction for more than a week. My players explored around the starting town for quite some time, then when they discovered castle Gondalo they used that as a forward base for explorations in that direction, and finally, when the high level priestess founded a religious village on the far side of the map near snakepeople villages, that became a common launching point for the furthest exploratory travels. If not for these forward bases the players found or established, I think what would have happened is that the players would have explored the coastlines north and south, perhaps even getting a boat and launching expeditions from that.

So how many hexes should you have? If you have lots of villages for the players to rest in and set out from, they will have a lot more mobility, and so you will need more initial prep. If you have a very hostile wilderness, you will have scads of time to prepare new locations as the players laboriously hack their way through the wilds. But either way, they can only do one thing at a time, so 5-20 starting keyed hexes is probably plenty, and if you make 1 new location between every game you'll probably far outrun what the players have time to ever explore. 'Empty' hexes between locations can quickly inflate your numbers and can be important if you're trying to convey a sense of 'this is unknown territory and you are far from home.' but I think they should not be the norm.

So, uh, in conclusion, have 100 hexes exactly. Yup.

Thoughts on Nechronica

More than 3 people have been viewing my blog lately so it's time to scare them all off with some thoughts on Nechronica, which I finally played a 1-shot of with some strangers on the internet recently.

Nechronica is a Post-Post-Apocalyptic Japanese RPG about being teenage mutant ninja-

 -lesbian cyborg zombie girls-
But seriously don't google this game if you ain't ok with a LOT of anime gore and body horror
-who are forced into horrible traumatizing no-happy-ending situations until everyone is an emotional and physical wreck. And it is usually meant to be condensed into intense one-shots so there's no brakes on the misery train.

Imagine you spent the whole session being helped by a lonely little NPC girl and then their killswitch got flipped and you had to fight to the death with their evil AI controlled body while their head cried and apologized because she knew this would happen because the player characters have been caught in this cycle of being assembled by the AI, pitted against their friend-turned-bossfight, defeated, then broken down and mindwiped and reconstructed again and again for the last 20 years but she just really wanted to be your friend. That's your session 1. That is how Nechronica do.
The fatalism and masochism embraced by the system definitely has some parallels in OSR style play.  You get to have power fantasies and do cool things, but you also must be able to laugh and carry on when Bill the Fighter falls into a bottomless pit trap and dies while carrying all the loot. Where Nechronica differs most prominently from typical fantasy games is how it aims to evoke emotions of despair, sadness, anxiety, but also determination, loyalty, bittersweet melancholy and hope if you're lucky. The core of this game is the explicit emotional vulnerability of the characters, and that's weird to people used to the feedback loop of adventure into treasure into power into greater adventure. Most gamers are comfortable with the latter, but those truly interested in the former are a niche audience. (By which I really mean it's 2DEEP for all you UNCOUTH PHILISTINES, so get off my lawnblog)

Anyway, that's just the fluffy introduction. What I'm really here to wax windbag about is how the combat system is fantastic and I totally should have stolen bits of it for the Nightmare Glog

So you have Parts, like Chainsaw Arm or whatever, and you have Action Points. Doing a Move decreases your Action Points by an amount, and once you are at 0 Action Points or less, that's it for you until it goes into the next round. You just slide your appropriate token down that track there and don't go again until everyone higher on the action track does something. It's a great way to track initiative that is both dynamic and gameable, and lets you really differentiate between 'big slow thing' like casting spells or a giant's club and 'small quick thing' like a dagger slash or palming the cursed idol or whatever, by assigning different AP scores to different actions. Normally I find initiative a real pain in the ass to track, especially with online text games where call and response rolling for initiative can add like, a minute to each round of combat, so I generally don't use it, but something like this wouldn't be bad at all. It would be easy to port over to other systems and could potentially keep players engaged more as they see their action count coming up, checking when the next enemy action will be, perhaps changing their tactics to save enough AP to fling a dagger at that enemy wizard if he starts casting, that kinda thing.

Also, combat takes place in a very tactical, but abstract theatre-of-the-mind style battle map. The players chose whether their character initially deploys in Eden, Elysium, or Limbo, and you can pretty much describe these locations as 'Back of the marching order, in the middle, front line' in terms of what sort of character goes where. Hades is 'enemy territory' and Tartarus is deep behind enemy lines, and are essentially the enemy equivalent of their Elysium and Eden. These scale based on the battlefield- the fight I did was a single hallway, Eden being 'our' end and Tartarus being 'the far end' which eventually became a flaming ruin but I digress. It could have just have easily been like, Eden was a skyscraper the players occupy, Limbo the street below, and Tartarus the sniper-occupied skyscraper across the street. Movement and range become intuitive and easy but not totally mushy and handwaved, and it doesn't require tracking dozens of 5 foot squares and just how many feet can Bill sprint in 6 seconds and what's the facing of every goblin on the map! The fear of being separated, surrounded, etc was tangible despite the map being abstract and the difficulty of pushing through enemy-occupied territory was conveyed via the 3AP cost of movement rather than a bunch of conditional 'attacks of opportunity' and restrictions on when you can move and attack and such. It also makes escape interesting- You escape through Tartarus, so choosing to escape gives the enemy some opportunities to attack you and having someone to 'hold the line' while the others traverse the battlefield and-

------------------------------rambling increases dramatically below this line----------------------------

Actually in the course of writing that sentence I changed my mind. For your meatgrinder OSR D&Dish campaigns escape should be easy, because while a Nechronica character can have nearly every part of her body except the head (and maybe even that) exploded by a RPG(Rocket Propelled Grenade rather than Role Playing Game, for once) and be fine so long as she can scavenge replacement parts, D&D characters aren't nigh-immortal cyberzombies and need to be able to easily choose to run away to fight another day, lest they succumb to the weary mindtrap of believing they must fight everything because they will be 'punished' for running away. So let Bill the Fighter escape easily (most) of the time!

Speaking of punishment, in Nechronica, you have no HP, just parts that can be broken by damage. If you're familiar with the popular OSR concept of getting maimed upon taking damage past 0HP, it's like every attack does that. This makes taking damage interesting, as it necessitates changing tactics- if your Chainsaw Arm is broken, maybe you need to run away so you can use your Flamethrower from a safe distance- but what if your legs are broken? I'm always a little disappointed when, in a desperate battle, D&D characters pretty much do the same thing throughout, because hey, it's their best option. And you don't wanna take away their best option if the only difference between their best attack and their backup dagger is an extra 15% chance of 'nothing happens.'

Moral of the story is to let the players roll unusual ideas not with penalties, and perhaps even with bonuses, and to make unusual ideas as effective or moreso than depleting HP, because that advances combat, it advances conflict, it keeps thing rolling, it encourages acting as though the environment is present and not a 2d backdrop to two HP blobs slapping each other for HP points. To call back to The Nightmares Underneath, one thing I liked is how if you didn't roll quite well enough to disarm someone or push them into lava or whatever, they at least take a regular HP depleting hit representing how you NEARLY got em and have kept up the pressure of conflict rather than just wasted a turn for daring to step out of the accepted 'roll to attack' mode. I think.

No wait, I think the moral was that I really liked action points as initiative and move differentiation. And also I liked the rules for supporting allies, hindering enemies, and creating critical hits and misses rather than insisting only 'natural' rolls count as such encouraged a lot more teamwork and camaraderie, which was nice and that could be a lesson to help encourage more cooperation in D20 systems. One thing I have noticed is that mechanically, D&Dish characters do not have a lot of mechanical encouragement to say 'my action will be aiding the action of my buddy' or stuff like 'lets go back to back!' or 'Stick next to me, I'll protect you' but seem to follow an approach where each character is mechanically an island, beset by foes but having precious little to encourage the players to rely on each other beyond 'focus our independent actions to eliminate opposition more efficiently.' Buff spells and healing are what immediately come to mind, and those that do come to mind seem to be more of a 'okay you got your heal/Bull's Might, now leave me alone so we may all resume doing our solitary island actions in this sea of monsters and trap doors and so on.'

Maybe D&D 4e had some good ideas on knitting the party together mechanically? Maybe I'm just spouting complete nonsense because it's 4AM again. But mechanics influence tone. But I've never even seen a 4e rulebook, so where exactly do I even hope to take this line of thought?

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Nightmare Extinct Civilization Dragons

Easy enough to say 'oh yes the dragynne is a symbol of the tyrant king taken to an extreme' but no, I'm going whole hog

Dragons, True dragons, spawn from failed civilizations. All the might and power and the rage and cruelty of a thousand thousand mortal souls condensed into a single nightmarish manifestation of their collective failure. Just like how individual mortals can have their psyche stripped and repurposed into nightmares, just on a bigger scale.

Dragons are a match for an army because once upon a time they WERE an army. Scales like bronze are common for older dragons, for bronze was common for older armies... and so, older dragons turn green with verdigris. More recent dragons may be red due to them being of rusted iron, and the freshest dragons are of steel or black cast iron. Very old dragons may be yellow, white, or brown, decrepit and cracked bone scales that menaced the ancient tribes of man, and have hoards of flint and fur and pretty stones.There are also grey dragons of the stone age, with scales like granite and teeth of flint.

Not to be confused with Drakes and Wyrms and Wyverns and the other sorts of biological dragons that lurk about. Those things are offshoots of primordial chaos serpents and while they rank very high on the bad news list, they can be defeated by 1d6 knights, damsels, and troubadours.

Dragons exist not in reality, but in the deepest layers of Nightmare because they are the dashed hopes of an entire people, long gone. They had their chance to menace the waking world back when they were living civilizations, and now they writhe and gnaw in nightmares dark and forgotten, unable to put their immense strength to the cruel uses they yet dream of.

The civilization that spawned them was some form of despotism with a single ruler, it has but one head. If it was ruled by multiple people, it has multiple heads.

How the civilization fell is related to how to kill the dragon.
1- Assassination- Has a single weak point, like a missing scale or vulnerability to exact poison
2-Coup- Blow must be dealt to each head or limb simultaneously, by weapons of the age
3-Hereditary Incompetence- The dragon's offspring, or weapons made from them, are required
4-Revolt- The only thing capable of harming the dragon is itself and parts of itself.
5-Invasion- You can just stab it with whatever, but they are hard to kill.
6-Disaster- Dragon vulnerable to plague, lava, drowning, starvation, etc

AC is equal to the best armor of the civilization that spawned them, +3, and HD is about 10, +/- 1d4, with a set amount of HP per die.
3-spawned by small nomadic tribes that never really got around to the agricultural revolution
4- spawned by city states
6- spawned by Kingdoms
8- spawned by Empires/Colonial states

Moves-Dragons get 1 random move per turn per foe they are faced with, acting after each opponent, BUT each move is telegraphed and mentioned before the player takes their turn. They were once armies and castles, and the more foes they face, the easier it is to remember this.
Example Tells
1-Claw- 'The Dragon draws back a claw, one slitted eye following the movement of (target)
2-Jaw- 'The head coils its neck like a serpent, eyes fixed on (target).'
3-Breath-'It inhales, the sound of wind, and its nostrils flare and glow as it sizes up (targets)'
4-Wings- 'Wings unfurl with the sound of flapping sails and the dragon begins to ascend'
5-Gaze/Command- 'The huge eyes gleam, and reflect (target) for a moment'
6- Other- Other

1-Claw of Conquest- Just as the civilization took what they wanted by force, those struck by a dragons claw lose something valuable from their inventory, as it is broken. And take damage, for what is more valuable than life?  d6 damage

2-Jaws of Defeat- Fangs like spears/swords/common weapon of the civilization's army. Should deal damage directly to meat points/cause maiming/Force a save or be swallowed. 2d6

3-Breath of Razing- The flames billowing from a dragon are the flames of every enemy structure put to the torch. Damage= Half Current Dragon HP, save to avoid. If it has to target someone in melee it can only toast one of them, but it can do strafing runs and great gouts of flame to 1d3 people in the same general area. It can only Breathe once per round.

4-Wings of Sails and Hooves- The more horses and ships a civilization had, the faster the dragon flies, and the taller the towers, the higher it flies. It flies to a different position, such as atop a tower or to that pesky wizard cowering in back. If you wanna use the Abstract Dragon Positioning, it moves everyone 1 space relative to itself unless they save, and moves one specific unlucky target wherever it pleases, or 1 space if they save

5-Subjugating Gaze- Meeting the eyes of the dragon mean you have to save or obey its next command. Don't worry too much about avoiding this, it can also shout commands for the same effect.

Other- The dragon should have a special move related to its lost civilization, and this should be exploited to make the lair. Some random examples
1-The civilization's bureaucracy means can write, and those reading what it writes must Save vs Subjugating Gaze. It has scraped written traps that gotta be obeyed to the letter if read.
2-The civilization's spy network means it can read minds, learning secrets, plans, and so on, and acting accordingly.
3-The civilization's wizards means the dragon can cast spells.
4-The civilization's extensive fortifications means the dragon's tail is huge, totally impenetrable and can be coiled around like a wall to defend itself, separate players, and so on

You can go from ring to ring with a full round of movement, or go from flanking to frontal or vice versa (probably vice versa) with the same. The 'Wings' move is to represent dragons turning, flying to flank people and line up killer breath shots, buffeting them about with windstorms from wings and tailslaps, that sort of thing. I like this abstract battlefield cuz it shows how everything revolves around the dragon. It IS the dramatic landscape (though there's no reason not to have cover from dragon breath to hide behind and cliffsides and what have you as well).

Dead of The Skull Moon

So in The Nightmares Underneath (and my freakish GLOG-hack thereof) fighters deal damage even on misses. This isn't an ability that should be tossed around willy-nilly- fighters end fights, usually in their favor, and if every town guardsman and hairy monster got it, that doesn't seem right at all.And when the players DO meet a human with this ability, it should be obvious that this bandit leader is a Fighter with a capital F because if they walk up to fight some lame bandit and get auto-hit for d8 HP with no warning, that's not very fair.

There is ONE enemy type that I think should get it though- the Undead! Undead are icky and letting them crawl all over you because you have plate and 18 dex and want to loot the ragged trousers of every walking corpse you see doesn't seem right to me. Plus undead are a preview of the inevitability of death, and guaranteed damage conveys a sense of inevitable mortality. I hope.

Also, it always seemed to me that undead should have amazing to-hit chances because they don't give any thought to their own survival on account of already being dead, plus they don't recoil from getting stabbed. You either take pieces off them or bodily shove them away or they just stay on you, gnawing at your brains.

Skull above, low and leering, at final rest the skull is sneering, the writhing dead is what you're hearing, only sunlight ends what we're fearing -Children's Rhyme

d3 damage, +d3 automatic damage even on miss.
HP- 0

But how can zombies have 0 HP??? Well obviously they're already dead, and adopting the 'you gotta hack them to pieces to stop them' approach leads to either HP bloat, a bunch of resistances that are rarely used by intelligent players anyway, or an inexplicable sort of feebleness where their stats don't realistically (or rather, let's say 'convincingly') differentiate them from any other 2HD humanoid that made all its morale checks and has decided to whack away in melee. So I'll just introduce my own dumb gimmick, for I wish to strongly differentiate between the undead of D&D and the undead of the Wolf Moons.

So zombies instead take damage like this
1- No effect. The dead shamble ever closer!
2-3-Stunned 1 round.
4-5-Loses limb. Limb remains animated and evil, but will be of limited effectiveness.
6+ Keels over 'dead'

'dead' zombies have a 50% chance to rise again to menace the living, or if they've been shredded, menace the living with a crawling hand or slithering guts or something. Check this once when someone draws near and once when they are left alone and out of sight.
Also while Skull shines in the sky things undead can't be re-killed, they just become increasingly horrible and mangled and undead. There is no easy cure for the living dead, so it is prevention that is of utmost import (see below for that)
Trying to kill zombies becomes a tremendous waste of time and pain in the ass AND a non-negligible amount of HP loss, so sneaking past, imprisoning, etc, becomes the favored mode of dealing with soulless hordes. Also, the strong focus on being able to hit them hard means that, if you're not a fighter, you have really bad odds of killing them without sucking a great deal of automatic damage. Chop off a few parts, hold them off for a while, sure, even the feeble wizard can manage that, but unless you have mighty strength or d8+ attacks, you won't be taking them down like Bruce Campbell.

You really, really don't want them to mob squishy people, and letting them mob the hardboiled fighter isn't much better. Zombie hordes in general are hideously durable and that's why they are feared by the living, rather than scoffed at as slow 2HD punching bags as by all rights the typical D&D zombie should be.

The Skull Moon can make undead far, far more horrible than simple zombies, so unburied corpses are viewed in a similar way to radioactive waste.

Burial- It's very simple- underground, the light of the Skull Moon can't reach the corpse, and the worms of the earth will slowly decompose the threat. Coffins(or giant pots in Saresare) are good for transport, as they also block the light, if properly made. The deeper the grave, the better- shallow graves can be unearthed by scavenging jackals. However, even  deep graves can be unearthed by the earth-plowing giant chain trailing behind the Iron Moon, so occasionally entire graveyards get unearthed. As such this setting has a very good excuse for having subterranean complexes full of ancient corpses dug into cave complexes and hard stone, despite the immense effort this takes- it prevents mass undead uprisings from Iron/Skull moon tagteams. Near the ocean, dropping corpses off the edge with rocks tied to their feet is a good bet, but not dropping them deep enough or poorly tied ropes means the oceans have a fair few wandering dead in their depths. Swamps can work well for this too, but rivers and lakes are often insufficiently deep to block the light of the Skull Moon.

Dismemberment- Not pretty, but it's fast, and crawling hands and rolling heads are usually much less dangerous than alternatives. It also helps scavengers eat the corpses quicker. At a certain level of corpse-shredding, it's easier to just bury the dead, but in cold climates where the ground is rock hard from near perpetual winter, some cultures sever every joint, cut every tendon, and so on until all that's left is paste and kibble for the hounds and hogs. Some towns that are already haunted by atrocious monsters may feed their dead to the monsters, taking care of both corpse disposal and monster appeasement.

Cremation- Burning a dead body takes a lot of heat and firewood, so it varies widely by the accessibility to those things. Many blacksmiths offer cremation services, and some even claim that the weapons forged in the charred bones of the dead have special properties. Also, anyone living near an active volcano has a very obvious disposal method available.

Some Wurderlanders like binding corpses to poles, stringing bells on them, and using the resulting undead as a tireless sentry. Smaller variants like animated hands or heads are quieter, but portable.
See every horror movie ever where a monster is locked up and used for the 'benefit' of society to see how this inevitably turns out.

Poorly educated children and bereaved madmen sometimes get it into their heads that Skull can bring back granny/brother/mom/friend. While there are many rumors of twisted resurrection rituals involving moonlight and/or nightmares, raw moonlight exposure is absolutely not going to create anything but undead monsters and tragedy.

Monday, January 8, 2018


 you know when a post title is allcaps it is because I grabbed some random idea and ran with it late night
say no more

 If you're a player in my Wolf Moons & Kingdoms of Day Game, reading this post might spoil you, but it probably won't spoil the actual fun of playing through it and you might never go here so whatever.
even if you do go here you might just turn around and leave because I mean really

1-Nodule Forest- Mirror-polished bubbles of plant material switch the places of you and your reflection, leaving you trapped within and your reflection walking free. You must mimic your reflection while it is in view, but if separated your actions need not mimic it. Your reflection has no back and will hide this, walking in the rear or keeping its back to walls. Some bubbles have remnant treasures from trapped and slain adventurers within. Your reflection will try to lead other party members back into the nodule forest so they can all be replaced. If the entire party is replaced, you may as well keep playing as the reflections, who are the loyal servants of the Nightmare King.

2-Path to the Castle- falling off the right side of this bridge drops you into the ocean, the left side drops you onto the elephant hide of 6. The perpendicular support beams drove through the lower levels are a little too far to jump between with 100% reliability, but the creatures on the path might be avoided this way. Path to the right leads to 9

3- Stilthenge- a grappling line or a swim through the ocean or a truly prodigous leap is required to reach the 'legs' of this structure.
Twelve standing stones and a 13th grave set aside, and two 3-stone archways are the scenery here and contain notes on nightmarish rituals, but the guardian won't let you examine them and indeed doesn't want anyone bothering him. He has a whistle that summons that giant-ass monster below 3 to claw and paw at people who can't get to cover of the stones fast enough. He was a servant of the crumbling prisoner and wants vengeance upon the current king, and to become king himself.
The crumbling prisoner (11) can be seen here

The Guardian- Fighter equal to highest level character in party. Has a whistle that only monsters can hear. The monster lurking below finds the noise of the whistle annoying and slaps at the whistles last heard location, so the Guardian tries to whistle and lure other people to stand where once he was standing, and use it as cover. I imagine he runs around the outer perimeter constantly in an attempt to string players out.

The Guardian's Monster- Basically just a huge monkey, a giant with speedy climbing. It needs 1 limb to hold on to the underside of 3, and can attack with 2 others blindly or expose its head and attack with 1 and sight. It must save or fall into the ocean whenever a limb (treat limbs as 4hd monsters ac leather, doing 2d6) is destroyed. Its main HP pool cannot be attacked unless it exposes its head or someone gets under 3 with it, which it will only do if there are no whistle noises to slap at.

4- Birthing Arch- From the vagina of the stone colossus, monsters come to stalk the bridge. The monsters fight each other for dominance so there should only ever be one monster on the bridge at a time, or two dueling monsters. Entering the vagina will mutate things into monsters. Players get to save to keep their sanity, otherwise they become bridge guardians. Past this, one can enter into 12, or the daring could climb up it to 13 or 15 and the suicidal could climb all the way to 16 or 17.
Manticores are a good choice but really, anything works for bridge monsters. Bridge monsters will fight the whistle-monster of 3 if its lured to the bridge or they're lured to 3.

5-The Great Maw- easily reached from the elephant's skin 6, or reached via somehow crossing the hundred-foot gap from the Path to the Castle. It gnashes people for 2d20 damage if it doesn't like how they smell, and the giant sniffing nose makes this pretty clear, but through it leads directly into the castle hall (12). The Nightmare King sometimes stands here and looks out upon his domain, and could shout at players on the path to the castle. Water flows from the maw and it will likely be mistaken as saliva, but it is in fact the King's Tears

6-The elephant hide- a great and stony tarp of taut, thick skin. Dying and dead monsters lie here, losers of bridge battles, and there are many giant monster skeletons as well.

7-Gate of the Goat- Walking atop it takes one to the Face Monoliths (8) and continuing the climb leads to 13. Entering it goes through a hollow tunnel-bridge of horns into the castle hall

8- Face Monoliths- Depicts past and current kings of the castle, and how how prior ones were slain by their replacement.Clues as to the current king's control of water and prehensile beard and mustache. Eyes of the monolith are gems matching the giant eyeballs irises.

9- The Entombed Oracle and the Gazer Rocks- Accessible from either long climbs along the outside of the castle, or the path from 2. The former brings you to the oracles face, the latter leads you through the gazer rocks.
The gazer rocks scrub away reality of those they gaze at, obliterating skills, stats, equipment, memory, etc, and eventually the entire existence of the object of their attention. They cannot gaze up towards the oracle or his pillar.
Anyone hung from the noose will have their memories added to the Oracles'.

The Oracle is just a face and internal organs, giblets being visible through the lattice pillar he is entombed in. He speaks grand and ominous prophecies, naturally, and can be killed by removing the log 'spikes' that keep his guts from falling down the hollow pillar, which breaks the power of his prophecies but also curses the killers.
He can also give an in-depth but less pretentiously portentous account of the next 1d20 actions of a player- they roll 1d20d20's and use the results, in order, for their next d20 rolls. Allow them to be as metagamey as possible with this nonsense because that's the whole point.
10-secret room
11-Crumbling Prisoner- He is disintegrating into nothing and wishes for a rematch with the current king and to regain his former glory. He has deduced the weakness of the current king(the hair! The eyes!) and curses himself for not seeing it sooner, when he isn't watching his hands crumble into nothing and babbling in madness. He dimly recognizes the guardian of 3.

12- An interior area. High balconies opposite the giant eyeballs lead to 13, 14, 15, 16, and 17, and a seabreeze comes in through the gaping mouth of 5. The floor is sloped towards 5 gently, and that's where the tears flow.

The two gigantic eyeballs swivel to watch those inside, and the Nightmare King sees what they see.

The nightmare king himself has no eyes, just sockets. Tears flow from them unceasingly and wet his beard and mustache, and his control over water allows him to then use them to strangle up to 3 people at once. The king is huge and his throne room has streams of his tears running to 5, the better to strike down his foes with ankle-tugging currents and drowning bubbles.
I coulda wrote that there white text here, dang

Like 12 hit dice, armor as plate
The King cannot be flanked so long as the giant eyeballs watch the throne room and everything in it. He is very fast, probably like a horse. His morale is great, but he might flee into the sea for a vicious underwater phase 2 of the bossfight that I'm not going to get into.
The kings facial hair has 21HP and armor as leather, and he loses 1/2 his mustache or his beard every 7 damage dealt to it.

The giant eyes can't be punctured by mere arrows- it takes a full on spear to pierce them, or maybe a manticore tail spike. Once pierced, they deflate into waterfalls of blood. The king is blind without them but can manipulate the blood as water.

The king does 2 of the following moves each round, in the following repeating pattern, the first action before the players go and the second one after the players go.
Furious Advance->To the Throne!
Water Control->Furious Advance
To the Throne!->Water Control

Furious Advance- King advances, giant spear leveled at ya and feet like a small stampede. He's trying to drive you into a stream of tears or to the gnashing maw of 5. You can let him push you there, backpedaling the whole way and avoid all damage, or make a dex roll to dive to one side and let him go past you, or stand your ground and face a fearsome attack for 3d8 damage.

To the Throne! The king vanishes and appears in his throne along with any grappled characters, assuming it seems equally or more advantageous than his current position.

Water Control- The king makes 3 attacks with his facial hair or a single Ankle Snag or Drowning Bubble against an enemy standing in or near a puddle/stream of his tears.

Facial Hair- Grapples 1d4 limbs and deals that much damage as well each turn one remains grappled
Ankle Snag- save or be tripped prone. Prone targets can't avoid the Furious Advance.
Drowning Bubble- Engulfed by water around the head! Easiest escape is to drink the stuff. Takes 1 round to drink,+1 per previous bubble drank cuz you're so full.

Throw Captive- If the king has a captive and returns to the throne, he will, as his next action, hurl captives at other players for 3d6 to both of 'em, or just 3d6 to the thrown captive if he misses. If he has captured everyone, he throws them into the Maw instead.

He has a crown that looks like a tumorous spiderweb and would be worth a lotta money. With the gems from the monolith, enough for everyone to level up in a GP-to-XP system.

13- Nipper maw- Anyone entering has it bite at them unless they can slip through speedily, stealthily, or maybe jam it open with something. Enters to balcony of 12.

14- Licker Maw- Licks a slimy obelisk constantly. Something must be done about the tongue if one is to go through and enter the balcony of 12. The obelisk it is licking has a legendary recipe for cooking several types of monster into the ultimate meat kabob and the stone is rather salty tasting itself.

15-Chubgrub maw- This maw doesn't want to open for anything, and is on a tube of mobile flesh the size of a hallway(because it IS a hallway) so fighting your way through will be a lot of work. Tickling, tempting with tasty foods, and other guileful tactics should work.

16- Crabclaw halls- the balcony leads to these identical, steep hallways of red carapace. There is a lever that can release the appropriate tightrope end of 18 right before the bifurcated vertical tubes that are the pincers. There are also levers that allow the crabclaws to move and perhaps do battle with any godzilla sized creatures menacing the castle, but it takes a lot of thinking to figure it out.

17- Spike Lump towers- the balconies lead here too. Some deformed beastmen operate pulsing sacs of matter, which are the trigger cells that will launch man-sized spikes like ballista bolts. These are for aerial defense of the castle, and the beasts here see what the eyes see. If the eyes are blinded, they too are blind. They will fire upon tightrope walkers and surrender to those wearing the crown and can be taken on as hirelings (pretty much goblins)

18- Brainstem Tightrope- those walking the tightrope can speak with the Brain Dreaming Of Monsters and crown the wearer of the Nightmare King's crown the new Nightmare King, and hopefully cast amnesia on anyone who read that awful sentence. Others may ask to be transformed into a new shape so long as it is not (conventionally) beautiful and could be said to be monstrous.

The brain relies on being huge and floating high in the air for protection, but as the brain of the castle, it can control the spike-lumps and crab claws if no one is at the 'controls' of those features to defend itself from dedicated attempts to destroy it. A hijacked spike-lump or crab-claw can definitely kill the brain.

19- The Monstrous Miasma- This pillar of nightmare can be ascended to realms high and howling and horrible, like an escalator of half-dreamt monsters and raw terror

20- The Nightmare Sea- waterspouts and a grumbling storm threaten to send most people to a watery death, but perhaps there's something out there. The King would be mighty indeed if he fights in his own element, and if his morale fails he'll leap out the Maw and do just that,

Friday, January 5, 2018

Pugilist Adaptation

A player wanted to play the Pugilist class from here

So I tweaked it a bit to fit my glog game
PUGILIST- Pugilists know only that wherever they go, they must punch

HD- d8
Pugilists can only Combo and get bonus AC when wearing 2 or fewer pieces of armor and no shield.
Pugilists get +1 to hit in melee per level they have
Pugilists also get +1 to hit with their fists!

Level 1 Pugilists deal d3 damage & get +1 bonus AC vs melee attacks. Pugilists dislike being shot at.
Level 2 Pugilists deal d4 damage and get +2 bonus AC vs melee attacks.
Level 4 Pugilists deal d6 damage and get +3 bonus AC vs melee attacks.
Level 6 Pugilists deal d8 damage and get +4 bonus AC vs melee attacks.
Level 8 Pugilists deal d10 damage and get +5 bonus AC vs melee attacks.
Level 10 Pugilists deal d12 damage and get +6 bonus AC vs melee attacks.
 This bonus AC is the 'fisticuffs' bonus

The Pugilist can attack with two unarmed attacks a round at no penalty. If they grow extra arms or something they can attack with those for extra attacks, no doubt.

Once per day per Trait the Pugilist can fire off a haymaker/power kick/etc.
The attack is made at a -2 penalty to hit. If successful roll an extra d of damage, or 2 extra d if a natural 20 is rolled.

Second Wind
If the Pugilist takes a full round to rest she can regain 1d4 hit points. She must do no other action in this round but rest. She cannot defend herself. Her AC is 10 + light armor modifier; she receives no Dex or Fisticuffs bonus.
This ability can be used up to 3 times per Trait held, to a max of 12. This resets after a long rest, but not after Lunch breaks or inspiring speeches.

Personal Style
Pugilist gain Notches for Unarmed Combat, and can pick what bonus they receive instead of rolling. Yes, a level 10 Pugilist with the 4th passive Notch deals d20 damage with each furious fist.