Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Rambling Thoughts on Lancer


So for about half of 2021, I ran a Lancer campaign. Lancer is a game about giant fighting robots, set in a future that, while not perfect, is characterized mainly by the idea that humanity, after nearly destroying itself multiple times through greed and hate, may be finally creating a society that is actually good, learning from the lessons of the past and vowing not to repeat them. A bit like the original vision of Star Trek's Federation. Setting-wise my own campaign deviated from standard Lancer canon on account of being set on an artificial world-construct from my own sunset-realms that had interdimensionally jumped into the lancerverse because reasons, but the interaction between my own accursed world and the larger setting still demonstrated the tone of the base setting I think. All in all the tone of the game is a welcome change from the usually crappy space-futures other sci-if games offer, so it's no surprise that I see some intersection between the osr-dream type communities and Lancer.

Mechanically, its very much a 'crunchy tactical combat' game, a departure from OSR, closer to perhaps 4e D&D where diegetic reasoning and flavor takes an explicit backseat to the mechanical and mathematical interactions. While there are resolution mechanics for on-foot adventures, they are highly abstract and storygame-styled, and sessions that do not have a 3-8 hour robot punching section are more freeform RP than, say, a PbtA style thing. That said, I think the simple downtime actions in lancer are really good- I like having between-session downtime for the players to relax and roleplay in low-stakes situations, and having what are basically carousing tables for preparing for the next mission is great.

Lancer wouldn't be nearly as playable without the player-facing content being free, and there existing a character-tracking tool called COMP/CON. Being able to track characters on automated character sheets online streamlines the learning process for players for a game with a lot of moving parts, and makes it easy to tinker with character builds on your own time.

If you don't care too much about the system nitty-gritty, feel free to jump straight to Closing Thoughts.

I don't think I could have run/played this game online without comp/con being offered as a free service. Also check out Retrograde Minis, another great service with pixel art for lancer PC and NPC mechs

Character Building
I sometimes complain that 3.5 and pathfinder, character creation has less to do about character, and more to do with building a mathematically optimal battle robot. Ironically, the game where you literally ARE building a mathematical combat robot doesn't annoy me nearly as much.
In some part, I think there is an advantage in Lancer's disconnect between your character, and their combat. If you are a Half-Wagon Half-Dulcimer Hexsinger Bladelock or whatever in pathfinder, the profane blasts and whirlwind cleaves and +4 strength and whatever are all locked into your character sheet as an integral part of them. In Lancer though, you will go through many mecha frames. You will change out their loadouts, retrain your personal tactics and change your strategies. In D&D terms, it would be like being able to pick your class and so on again every time you levelled up. Your ability to do violence in various flavors is just tools you pick up and discard, and your pilot's identity is more separate from their frame's identity, which is further exemplified by how the pilot has a name, a Callsign used on the battlefield, and a name for their mechs.

That's very high-concept explanation for why I don't dislike the entirely combat-based character creation of Lancer but spurn D&D when it does the same thing. But onto more nitty gritty details that are basically just me complaining about the half-campaign I was a player in, and the full campaign I gm'ed for.

All in all, character creation and tinkering and evolving your build over time is great fun in lancer. You don't build the character at level 20 and grind your way there, you have to build for where you are right now, adapting to what the GM's style is, what your fellow PCs are doing, what you find you enjoy, etc etc. One player I had started as a hacker and then ended up as a giant fist punchy robot instead. Another player liked variety and basically had a new build every mission- and unlike D&D they didn't have to change characters to get the variety they craved, they just needed a new robot. Though I may come off as quite picky as I work through the text, Lancer is a top-tier game for players who enjoy detailed charop. (On the negative note with regards to Looking For Group dynamics, this leads to a similar problem as later editions of D&D, where everyone wants to play their super cool character, but no one wants to be the one behind the screen enabling everyone else's character.)

My problem with the stats in lancer is that, compared to the easily swappable gear and talents, the stats of the mech (tanky, dodgy, hacker, and (roughly) action economy) feel a lot more baked in, with fewer ways to get around not having them, and wildly different levels of efficiency. It takes 1/3rd of your career as a lancer to maximise your agility, but within any given enemies toolkit it probably has at least two ways to make your EV (AC equivalent) basically irrelevant. If you don't put points into hacking you will soon find that hacking, even as a side-strategy, becomes futile except against the explicitly easy to hack enemies compared to your naturally improving gun accuracy, which requires no stat investment. Hull has such an insanely dramatic effect on survivability that the first ~2 pointss should honestly be mandatory and built-in-. In D&D terms, playing without Hull investiture it feels akin to playing with 3 constitution, not simply the lack of a con bonus.

Similar to feats,  these are a bit of a mixed bag. There are talents that enable you to do new things, and there are talents that allow you to do things better, with +1d6 to hit. While all-in-all I'd say these are much better than 3.5 style feats, I feel like some of them feel like obligatory filler. The "shotgun" feats just make you more accurate, then finally do something new by letting you shoot enemies who enter your threat zone immediately, instead of being a more 'attack of opportunity' style deal. I really like that last one, but the weapon-based accuracy feels a bit like a 'feat tax' that is pervasive throughout the design, and one that is easier to lean into than any attempt to focus on the talents that change how you play, rather than how powerful your play is.

Core Bonuses- Even moreso than talents, these rare and valuable character upgrades have a lot of interesting options... and a lot of 'do thing +1d6 better' and those mathematical bonuses are really, really hard to say no to for the sake of flavor, because Lancer is a pretty spicy tactical game and without some degree of optimization your 'flavor' may well be 'I'm the guy who dies a lot.' These effects also are tied to licenses (See below) which has a tendency to encourage picking either the powerful 'Generic' bonuses because you don't qualify for the one you actually want, or picking one of the clearly optimal specific core bonuses from a certain set, and then not being able to choose a more flavorful second one from that same set without feeling like you are intentionally making a decision to lose more.

License Levels-  The real appeal of the system, each LL is associated with a different robot frame, along with associated guns and systems. Each one is, to use an OSR analogy, like templates 1-3 of a glog class. You unlock these slowly and mix and match what you unlock, rather than using it all at once, and since you can swap them out this allows for versatility in character building, variety in how you mix and match, and a very digestible flow of information for new players. The best part is, I think, how most of this is a side-grade, or something not directly comparable to the default equipment list every character has access to from LL0. It is not only possible to stick to the 'starting' mech and associated systems, but it is low-key a pretty powerful and versatile choice to do so, the other mechs being for more specialized roles like slow shield tank or whatever.

While some of my earlier complaints may sound like I have a terminal case of 'not being able to pick everything I want,' the restriction works quite well for license levels, as it prevents analysis paralysis, but still provides progression goals without being a straitjacket as 'classes' sometimes are.

Lancer uses a fairly familiar kind of game action economy. You get a basic 'free' move, then two more moves, or a single 'big' move. You can 'overcharge' to take another move, at the cost of increasing heat and maybe eventually exploding or becoming vulnerable. Actions available in combat are quite good and valuable in many ways, though at later levels, the 'attack' option gets better and better by virtue of the scaling math on both sides of the equation making other options less appealing. But that is a minor complaint- you can shove mechs around, you can self destruct, you can hide in smoke, you can assist your allies, it's pretty great from a tactical combat sense.

Damage and the problem of the destroyed mech
Taking serious damage in lancer causes you to temporarily lose access to systems and weapons until repaired (or, sometimes to shrug the hit off, and sometimes to eat shit and die instantly/lose turns/both). If you are taken out completely, the cost of becoming operational again is prohibitive in the extreme. Basically, every time a players mech was destroyed, they had to choose between negotiating for a mech in better shape somehow (normally the party only 'Full Repairs' every 2-4 mission, but there's a GM-fiat heavy but canon way to appeal for superior healing) or trying to play another mission 1-2 hits away from death (in practice, this would usually mean you get to play 1-2 turns, then sit out for the next 3 hours of combat. Suffice it to say, GM lenience with getting new mechs was required for the sake of letting people actually play the game, which meant the threat of having ones mech destroyed could feel a bit of an empty threat.)

Now personally, I really like the idea of limping along with a heavily damaged mech and trying to make do with what remains... but due to the occasional swinginess of 'instant dead' or 'lol I'm fine' that middleground of desperation did not exist as much, especially due to the way losing weapons and systems works. Namely, when the player must mark something as destroyed, they get to choose what is lost... so what happens is typically that players will never lose their best gear, their gear supported by talents. They'll lose random smoke grenades, their backup missiles, but their tactics do not significantly change, they do not have to adapt, because they will almost certainly still have their main tactics undamaged until they are blown to pieces.

Players will also sometimes accumulate a great many horrible statuses like being pinned to the ground, slowed in goo, on fire, jammed and blinded, etc etc. These statuses accomplish to some degree the 'adapt your tactics' I wanted to see and I will praise, with the caveat that, especially in the later levels, the idea of 'dead is the best status effect' seemed to be the most accessible tactic for both players and NPCs.

Lancer is not OSR- player death is rare. This allows for a healthy level of daredevil behavior, with the 'mech blows up from overheating' a good disincentive to push too hard, as that's one of the ways a player actually can die (the other, being shot at while outside their mech, an event that typically never happens due to honorable reasons, and is further reduced in likelihood by 0 pilot HP only meaning death 1-in-6 time.)

Furthermore, death is not really penalized- there are suggested options for playing a flash clone of the old character to carry on with the same ol skills and tactics, +clone angst, but an entirely new character does not start at LL0 again. The idea is that, for the tactical combat part of the game to continue next time, the narrative should move forward with that in mind. Similarly, if the players lose a sitrep against space pirates or whatever, they should probably just have a narrative time of jailbreaking, then getting in stolen pirate mechs of suspiciously convenient design and kicking ass. It's not a game about being kicked while you're down, basically.

This is interesting because while it's different from OSR games with level loss for raises and the like, I think it goes to show how very storygame-type thinking can serve the purpose of enabling something entirely different- in this case, the tactical wargame element. Anyway, this section became a bit of a tangent but I think it goes to show that you can think in genre and what's good for the game without actually running a storygame when it comes to adjudicating serious complications.

Lancer uses sitreps, where you have to escort targets, defend zone, and otherwise not just engage in grueling deathmatches. These sitreps really make things that aren't raw damage output shine, and while some of their rules feel very janky, the general concept is very good for spicing up combat in any system I think. A context for the violence, a stage upon which it plays out, a time limit applied quite arbitrarily to create tension and stakes and cut down on 'superior forces wipe out smaller forces.' While OSR games tend to already be good at this, ones that are doing combat heavy dungeon crawls could benefit from Lancer's practice of assigning arbitrary metagame restrictions like 'defend this area for 6 turns against a horde of enemies, any enemy inside this area means you are overrrun and captured.' I myself am reminded of a 'Dance Pentagon' I made up for a courtly ball in an osr game, in which there were very arbitrary rules for who could dance with whom, what the consequences of dancing were (HP damage from exhausting dances with mean nobles, recovered at the drinks bar, as an example.)

The Enemies
At last, the GM side of character building. Enemies in Lancer have very specific roles and are designed to work with each other in mixed groups, much like (I assume) 4e(Maybe 5e?) monsters were.

A Slurry of Good Things About Lancer Enemies
Enemies did things that required answers. Some enemies were almost always hidden and invisible. Some enemies walled off areas. Some enemies shelled the players from afar, punishing bunching up.
Enemies were annoying and dangerous, making targeting priority an interesting question. I think Lancer finally opened my eyes to the value of having 'mixed' monster encounters being far more engaging than simply multiple monsters of the same type, which current D&D encounter tables currently do not really encourage. Enemies also did flat damage instead of rolling (mostly) which I think is good for tactical games, but probably bad for OSR, where the swingy jankiness of combat is part of what makes it thrilling. Mostly "Hard" instead of "Soft" enemies, based on what the Into the Odd author wrote on the subject (ie, don't softball monster moves into having activation chances, saves against, only ending someone after 3 failed saves, hiding damage behind saves, etc etc). Having templates to apply to enemies like Veteran, Pirate, etc could be a good way to change monsters from all manner of games, though the work required to make these templates and the design behind them should not be understated (My favorite template, Spacer, has more to do with movement options than making something tougher or fire-themed, so similar OSR templates would need consideration on many levels to avoid being bloat).

The Bad, Slightly More Organized
As a general rule, I think enemies have too high a heatcap- I could probably count on one hand the number of enemies that overheated over the course of like 50 action-packed sessions. Hackers seemed to give up on hacking about halfway through both campaigns I was in.

Similarly, HP feels too high- it feels as if, in design, some players optimized damage output, so NPC HP was tweaked to match those players. But that leaves players who did not optimize for damage with very limited options for helping- trying to shoot down an enemy with 1 Armor and 18HP is not at all unusual, but it is extremely nonviable to try to do this with a 1d6 weapon and a 6 round time limit when you are outnumbered 2-to-1 (or more) by such enemies.
They were also, for the most part, far too accurate. They have built in ways to get accuracy via Lock ons and Ramming Prones, and reducing enemy accuracy significantly would encourage those actions more seriously. In the current paradigm, I took those actions mainly to make things easier on the players- NPCs who single-mindedly use their second action to Invade is generally agreed to be such an optimal action that the lancer community encourages GMs not to do this.

Rules Clarity And Density
It is VERY crunchy and not for players who do not enjoy lengthy tactical combat and charop.The rules, while mostly solid, are subject to a great deal of differing interpretation based on sentence structure and RAW vs RAI, and common sense rulings are not the intended style of rulings. This is because combat mechanics are non-diegetic, subject to reskinning for flavor, and intended to bring about mathematical outcomes. "Immobilized" does not mean what you might think it means based on the word, it is more akin to 'Unable to choose to voluntarily engage movement systems.' The difference between 'An Attack' and 'An Attack Roll' was a particular quibble that plagues me still after like 60 sessions, as there IS a difference, but it is often unclear which is meant. My interpretation of the meltdown rules is that most NPCs do indeed melt down if overheated following the usual rules, but the majority of the Lancer Community believes that they instead simply take double damage, being curiously immune to meltdown unlike their stronger variants. In an OSR game, ruling however you please will rarely cause issue, but in a game like this, ruling one way or another could completely alter a player's build, so there is rather more at stake, making rules discussion considerably more exhausting even when all parties involved are acting in good faith, and making the game more likely to burnout GMs.

Closing Thoughts

Despite my majority negative expression above, I really enjoyed Lancer as a big robot slugathon game as a change of pace from diplomatic OSR games. Of course, the narrative and character motivations and actions navigating the scene I created led to a bunch of intrigue anyway. It helped that I had great players (even if I had to separate them into two groups for the sake of social dynamics and time constraints) but I think Lancer as a system encourages good games to come about, rather than being an obstacle to that.

I don't know if I'll run Lancer again. While I had some houserules the first time, they were bubbly little houserules for fun. If I ran it again, I think there'd be seriously warped houserules like condensing talent trees into a single talent, damage to systems/weapons hitting random targets, 'direct hits' causing special damage like perma-immobilize or jammed cockpits instead of Destruction, changing to-hit into deterministic, no-roll events based on accuracy and difficulty, slamming NPCs with almost universal -6HP, -2Heat Cap, -1 Accuracy, and generally just making the thing an abomination that players with their precious characters built for regular Lancer have no place in. On top of that, I'd have to decide if I had the energy to prep that many maps and encounters again.

Of course, I'd PLAY lancer again with my own precious character builds. It's one of those games for making the players have a good time, after all.

On a less rules oriented note...

the little doll is called Kind-As-Night
The first-arc villain, fighting a futile war against the KRX, No Sirrah. The dictator clone of notable Lancer setting space fascist Harrison. The government he led was taken over by a PC, Sir Richard Keynes, in a coup and repurposed to properly prioritize saving lives over making glorious war martyr propaganda. The main lesson learned from him is that spelling an established villains name backwards is a 10/10 stupid gm trick

The Sunset Realms IN SPAAAAAAACE
Converting my fantasy realm to correspond to a Lancer Future was ridiculous. But, it was fun, mumbling about 'well, maybe it's magic, maybe it's just DNA recognition giving you access to command terraforming nanites.' Themes of the game were deception, (the main antagonists, the KRX, not being aliens but biomechs made by a human cult of Lumar trying to isolate or destroy the world to contain a memetic entity, as well as the good guys of Union trying to keep things Not Meant To Be Known under wraps), and probably the power of friendship, exemplified both in the party splitting, then learning to work together again, as well as recruiting cyberdogs, off-planet hackers, local factions, and even allying with the 'enemy' faction against the murderous AI/God that had orchestrated the event. It also definitely had that classic superhero 'with great power comes great responsibility' going on too, with the players having to decide not just if they can do something, but if they should. Finally, maybe a theme of 'everyone has their own story' might play out based on the different factions and rival mech teams the party faced, which ranged from simple misunderstanding, to alternate narratives, to meta shenanigans about arguing over who the actual protagonists of the campaign were.

The party split early on into those folks who were 100% on board with the 'careful investigation and handling of an event to avoid potential misunderstandings with a new culture' and those who were like "YOU DON'T TELL ME WHAT TO DO SPACE GOVMT" and ended up unleashing some ancient evils in an attempt to discover the truth. In the end, they both had the interests of saving people at heart, so this wasn't a pvp scenario, just a 'having two playergroups to account for different preferred playstyles and campaign expectations.' Also, us not dropping dead after an 8 person, 12 hour combat sessions was a perk.

This splitting of groups was, I think, a lesson I didn't realize I should've learned. While future splits would be better done with more thought given to scheduling, or some kind of 'pick your own team' player focused thing, even if I CAN run games for 9 players in simpler systems (like my current Esoteric Enterprises game), running 1 campaign with 2 groups isn't as brain-bending as I had feared, and allows for more character-focused moments with smaller groups (as well as allowing hirelings- there's not much call for Jobbo the Torchbearer in a party of 9, after all).

Another thing the players reacted well to was recurring villains who were reactive to the players. First-time opposition usually wouldn't play as well against the players, but if they got away they'd adapt and improve and the second encounter would be even more memorable. There were several minor recurring villains who were just nameless enemies who came back as Veterans, several recurring conflicts with teams who were intended to showcase the ideology of the faction they represented and fall along with their faction, a true 'rival adventuring team' that was basically weird parallels of the party to serve as a dark mirror, and finally, a Dragon (not a literal dragon, though there was one of them too) in the form of the High Anathemant, a mad cultist of the lancer entity RA(who would not condone this guy at all) who was tricked into serving Lumar. Like my favored use of actual Dragons in fantasy games, the High Anathemant showed up early where he was very overpowered and left an impression and gave the party someone to strive against for vengeance (they scattered him across space and time via portal, and defeated Lumar shapeshifted into his mech for some mechanical closure to see if they could've defeated him in regular combat too once they were properly prepared. The answer was very yes, but now thanks to the portal shenanigans I may have to battle Ultra-Mecha-Lolth in combination AD&D/Lancer in another campaign. But I'm getting off topic- suffice it to say the FLAILSNAIL protocols on my server have gotten out of hand)

 Memetic Infection rate of Kind-As-Night estimated 33% from this transmission method. Compliance noted in 3 new player hosts.

 I hesitate to call this a lesson learned, more like a lesson well executed, since past campaigns I've run on the advice of Champions rulebooks were what really told me the value of recurring villains, and I've used them before. Basically, there are several lines to avoid crossing when it comes to recurring villains- they can't recur too often, since they'll become stale and it is frustrating to the players to capture someone and then have the capturing not 'stick.' Players may wish to just murder the bastards if the annoyance grows too high, which either is at odds with campaign tones for heroic campaigns, or a simple end to the 'recurrent' part of the villain.

Very tl;dr, but this campaign retrospective wasn't going to fit into the usual OSR posts, so, yeah.

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Leech, Leopard, Leprechaun, Leucrotta

 AD&D Giant Leech
Sneaky creatures that suck blood with an anaesthetic bite, with only  1% chance of detection until the afflicted is reduced to half HP, slowly sucking blood at the rate of 1HP per HD of the leech (HD ranging from 1-4). They are very slow, so if they fail to attach via initial attack they are unlikely to pose much threat.They can be killed with salt, and attack people camping near leech infested waters at night. Unlike real life leeches, they also spread disease.

I like the idea of warding off leeches with a circle of salt while camping at night in wet areas, or carrying bags to kill the big 4HD varieties, adding procedures to check each other for leeches, etc etc. Similar to green slime adding a 'check the ceiling' for adventuring procedure, I think leeches are a similarly excellent complication to sodden areas.

AD&D Leopard
The endless slight variation in the claw/claw/bite routine, # appearing, and HD of the big cats, each with their own entry, continues to confound me. Various other highly similar creatures got lumped together in a single statblock (Horses, beetles, etc) so I don't know why the big cats didn't get the same treatment.

AD&D Leprechaun
These creatures are fragile fey that will attempt to steal valuables 75% of the time, with a 75% success rate, then flee, with a 25% chance to drop the item if closely pursued. With treasure type F, they are likely to have decent treasure themeselves, so if the players can get around an advanced movespeed, invisibility, non-living objects polymorphed into other inamiate objects, illusions, and ventriloquism (as well as an immunity to being surprised due to good hearing and 80% magic resistance), perhaps by the noted 'fondness for wine,' stealing a leprechaun's pot of gold, so to speak, could be a much safer endeavor than dragon-hunting, but a similarly lucrative one.

While rather more derived with twee Irish tourist trappings (and possibly nasty 19th century stereotypes) than any solid mythological source material, they are a pretty good challenge I think, requiring creative problem solving to both learn the location of the treasure and avoid being tricked by the monster. Better yet, they are often active antagonists who will steal something from those they encounter  with no reason beyond that of mischief, which makes the question of 'is it ethical to rob leprechauns of their treasure' likely to be a clear cut case of retrieving stolen goods from a supernatural trickster spirit, rather than extortion and robbery of an innocent person, and can jumpstart the players into action.

AD&D Leucrotta
While supposedly so ugly that other creatures cannot bear the sight of it, I always thought the art and description didn't really live up to this. A stag body, a lion tail, and a badger head? Just another furry animal, really. Later editions tried to uglify them up by making them more monstrous

It can imitate the voice of people, to lure them into bite range, but I don't think this adds up. It lives in 'deserted and desolate places' and runs almost as fast as a horse, and has a 3d6 bite attack, so it is perfectly capable of running down humans who don't have a speedy horse and devouring them without the need for subterfuge. It also gets 2 1d6 kick attacks when it flees, perfect for 'hit and run' rather than ambushing. So why the need for a lure?

The Forgotten Realms wiki mentions various tactics used by them, some of which were 'neat' but didn't address my basic concern that the statblock suggest a hit-and-run pursuit predator, while the described tactics and mimicry suggest a trap or ambush predator. From all this, I think the best way to 'solve' the problem is to put them not in desolate wastelands, but near humans, lairing in ruins (which may have mechanical traps to lure humans into), along roads (luring humans off the path to devour so as to leave less trace of the struggle) perhaps by rivers (where disarming and dismounting is likely), and certainly near hunting grounds (where their footprints, indistinguishable from that of stags, will draw hunters to them).  Additional explanation for their behavior could be that they do not have particularly good senses- no keen sight to spy prey across open plains, no strong nose to follow trails, and hearing good enough to imitate speech but not good enough to hear prey attempting to be stealthy. As such, it becomes important to lure humans near, ideally dismounting from any horses, and lead them into areas where there are no easy escape routes or places to hide.

Sunset Realm Leeches
Giant leeches come about when a leech sucks the blood of a giant, naturally enough, growing larger and more of a threat. As becoming larger is common worldwide, so too are the threats of giant leeches in wet places.

Frog-witches of the Bog of the Canal know that leeches are good for drawing out magic through the blood. A leech that feeds on someone with a potion effect will gain it for themselves, and various disease spirits and poisons can be drawn out of the body via the application of leeches to key points as a healing method. While some find it disgusting, potions-leeches, to be consumed later, are a form of alchemical reclamation and recycling far more available in the bog than fancy glass alembics and such.

In Vint-Savoth, leeches are used to draw out corruption of the blood from the Blood Moon by the Sanguinaries of the Sanguine Church. Such corrupt leeches are disposed of, but those that survive may grow into horrible sewer beasts that squirm through the blood-gutters, consuming the fetid flow of disposed blood that trickles down to them. While such monsters may help control the population of blood-corrupted rats, they are ranked highly for disposal, as new strains of the Moon Scourge may develop rapidly in their churning, blood-filled guts due to their indiscriminate feeding.

Sunset Realm Leopard/Jaguar
Jaguars/Leopards are the big cats of Yuba, thought to be the reincarnated souls of Yubans of questionably morality who ALSO didn't really like dogs, and so returned as cats instead. It is said that the spots are sins that prevent the soul from moving on, and upon death the soul splits, the spots left by past misdeeds falling off, and the clean parts reforming into the original soul, now free of wickedness and able to join a peaceful afterlife and leave the world behind. As for the spots, they combine into stripes and slither around, seeking to attach themselves to wicked cats that are becoming tigers. Unlike the prides of lions or the solitary tigers, the spotted big cats work in pairs, pairs being assigned such that their spot/unspotted skin ratio comes out to 50-50 when accounting for both of them.

Sunset realm cat taxonomy is rather different than real life, caring only whether they be striped, spotted, or solidly colored.

Sunset Realm Leprechaun
While touched on somewhat here, this variant of Fairy, an artificial spell-construct is not only in charge of fake gold. Some leprechauns, serving long-vanished alf-creators who tasked them with collecting taxes and managing treasure vaults, still function, attempting to retrieve treasure from humans dwelling in lands that, long ago, were part of the elvish empire. While largely harmless alone, they will invariably be working with other fairies or shadow-goblins to aid in guarding and enriching the stale hoards of their masters. Since said masters, having been locked up in the Iron Moon or vanished into the dreams of ice or trees, will not be coming back, the risk of serious retributive action from the fey is low and raiding leprechaun treasure ranges from 'archaeological expedition' to 'yearly sport' depending on location and relation.

Sunset Realm Leucrotta
I think the same can be accomplished by any animal that learns Commonid and chooses to be villainous, so I will instead utilize ventriloquist goats that lure people to cliff edges ("Is anyone there? Help me up! I can't hold on much longer!") and butt them off when they go to investigate the cliff edge.

I don't know about your players, but mine are likely to think weird human noises in suspicious places are a trap. If they see a beastie like this though they'd probably walk right up to give it pets and snacks.

Friday, November 12, 2021

Lamia, Lammasu, Lamprey, Larva

 AD&D Lamia
Lamia are bulky, leonine, centauroid creatures with 9HD and armor as plate, who drain 1 point of wisdom permanently on hit, and have a handful of spells- charm person, mirror image, suggestion, and illusion. Characters drained to 3 or less wisdom do as the lamia says, but as no mention of lamia keeping such simps around is made, it seems like they only become food rather than slaves. It is also unclear if the wisdom drain works on everything, or just on prey species.

While it has the usual idea of 'if you are alone and fail a save you die,' it has potential to use the environment against players via its high movement speed, illusion to cover hazards, so a sort of determined 'hit and run' monster causing permanent character damage could make for a good mix of infuriating and terrifying. Still, I think it would think it would have more potential to be an interesting encounter with bewitched people and monsters assisting it.

AD&D Lammasu
Another force of good derived from assyrian myth and clumsily jammed into D&D cosmology. Statwise, it's the usual uninspired mash the forces of good have- 8th level cleric casting, it's a flying lion, invisibility, dimension door, aura of protection from evil, better healing, 1/10 chance to be able to speak a Holy Word, some magic resist. A likely strategy for them to employ would be hit and run in surprise invisibility attacks, then flying or teleporting away to heal each others wounds efficiently before returning. Add in some debilitating effects like Hold Person or reversed spells and I think they'd be quite effective at whittling down the forces of evil, and despite my dislike of the lack of original flavor, it could actually be quite an interesting tactical problem to deal with a pack of these creatures, and they'd make excellent support for other beings as well.

One thing I dislike about this entry is that their common spell-list is not provided as it is in, say, 3.5, making them a bit annoying to use on the spot, as one must whip up a 8th level clerics spell list. One also wonders at the disparity between Good and Evil in which infernal Evils can only be hit by magical weapons, but many Good celestial beings can be brought low by an ambush of bandits with slings and a surprise round.

AD&D Lamprey
Self explanatory really- simply more giant than real world counterparts, they suck blood. I enjoy their method of attack differs from the norm- they first attach for a small amount of damage, then drain a fixed rate of HP each round thereafter- 2 for the 1+2 HD variants, and 10 for the 5 HD massive variants. That makes it so the players can prioritize removing attached lampreys and defend each other, and provides a simple, obvious threat and counterplay.

AD&D Larva
While mechanically they are nothing more than demonically themed 1HD cannon-fodder, the lore of these creatures is pretty good. 'The most selfishly Evil' souls becoming human-faced worms, which are then turned to Quasits or Imps, or used as a form of barter by liches and night hags is quite flavorful.

Sunset Realm Lamia
Yg, mother of serpents, offers wisdom and snakeliness to those who sacrifice their legs to her and become a serpent. Lamia are the first stage of Serious Devotion to Yg, humans whose legs have been replaced by the tail of a snake, or the offspring thereof. The next stage of serpentine enlightenment is the Naga, a snake with a human head, after which there's nothing left but to become a full snake, though the combination of grueling divine trials of worthiness and the appeal of having thumbs means that most Yg-cults plateau at the Lamia stage. Medusa are a different set of requirements entirely, though there is theoretically nothing stopping a nagadusa or a snakedusa from being a thing. It could be the honor of being a repository of forbidden knowledge also contains secrets that mean medusa do not strive to become more snakelike, or more complete snakes are spared the burden of this knowledge.

In any case, rather than mysterious monsters like medusa, Lamia are a fairly common kind of person to be found at the intersection of Yg serpent cults and human society. Though they do tend towards occult wisdom and bookishness on account of the pact with their god, the immense strength of a snake tail that big makes them rather good wrestlers and swimmers as well. Subsequent generations will tend towards the human part becoming snakier as well- scales, fangs, venom, forked tongues, slit eyes, cobra hoods instead of hair, eggs instead of live birth, etc etc, as Yg slowly warms up to them and blessings accumulate over generations.

being lignified by the Lumarian curse "Snakes to Sticks" results in a non-zero amount of lamia trapped in awkward locales with the upper torso of a human and the lower half of a large vaguely serpentine log. Such are the perils in being involved in a divine war of knowledge (Yg) vs secrecy (Lumar)

Sunset Realm Lammasu
Nah, though 'winged beast with a human face' is a fairly common motif among divine servitors.

Source unknown

Sunset Realm Lamprey
Though no fault of the fish, lamprey are most known not for their own form, but for the Oartia bloodline of vampires. Originally a kind of curse derived from lamprey souls used in mad experiments beneath the sea in the laboratories of the Ningen, the giant Ningen lamprey-vampires spread it to humans somehow or another. Such vampires are smooth, flexible, amphibious, and faceless, typically concealing their terrifying toothy maw beneath masks, long hair, or giant hats. Like most animal-type vampires (as opposed to undead ones) the Oartia bloodline is found most frequently in Vint-Savoth, as the accumulation of accursed moon-blood through hemophagy grants monstrous powers. While the Oartia may have originally been merely afflicted humans who could have lived on donated blood, the creeping corruption accumulated through years of bloodsucking has surely switched their categorization to that of monsters, driven from the cities but still ruling in secluded coastal or swamp castles, their curse spreading to other animals as well in cases of long-turn habitation.

Sunset Realm Larva
Rather too specific to D&D cosmology

Monday, October 25, 2021

Jackals, Jackalweres, Jaguars, Ki-Rin, Kobold

 AD&D Jackal
Included because of the Bag of Tricks, these are essentially just lesser wild dogs.

AD&D Jackalwere
An odd inclusion, I assume these are similar to wolfweres, ie, a wolf that can assume human form. With low numbers appearing, a sleep gaze that only works on the unsuspecting (not once combat has started, specfically mentioned) and a vulnerability to iron weapons as well as magic, they cannot engage in incautious melee as lycanthropes might, as while steel is preferred over iron, the odds of being incidentally bludgeoned by some pig-iron craftsmanship would be much more likely than humans trying to use silver lying around. Being mistaken for a werewolf would be of great help to a Jackalwere, so they would probably try to spread false rumors so that they could both face harmless silver, and loot it afterwards.

Still, against anything but the most novice of adventuring parties, they are likely to triumph only by stealth and subterfuge. In my opinion, this makes them a sort of questionable encounter for engaging gameplay, as 'being murdered one by one in your sleep' is both a terrible way to TPK the party, and the most likely outcome of being bamboozled successfully by a jackwere or group thereof.

AD&D Jaguar
While the differences between big cats may be of interest IRL, in D&D they are essentially just smaller lions/tigers, a south-american styled palette swap, so there's not much to say.

AD&D Ki-Rin
Similar to the Coautl, this chinese-inspired entity is given a great grab-bag of magic-user spells, psionic abilities, none of which are specified or detailed in the entry here, making it largely useless for the purpose of 'opening the monster manual to run a monster without needing further prep.' Apart from a nod to having 'double strength' for anything sky-involved, the creature has little to no identity of its own, so it comes off as a rather shallow entity, a flying quadruped wizard thingy that might show up to fight the forces of Evil.

While I normally am contemptuous of later edition adaptations that only focus on monsters insofar as how they may apply tactical maths at the player party, in this case the treatment of Ki-Rin is much improved. Their benevolent protection is described as affecting 3 miles (or a hex lol) around their lairs with various effects such as the purification of water, winds saving good creatures from falls and preventing evil creatures flying, which makes for an interesting sounding region, and their role in the cosmology becomes more distinct.

AD&D Kobolds
Like many other 'evil' demihumans, Kobolds have been redeemed and popularized as a player race in many games, and have leaned more reptilian/draconic in the USA, while the word came to mean a sort of dog-person over in the Japanese RPG scene. Mythologically speaking, Kobolds have much in common with the gnomes, sprites, brownies, and pixies that D&D set them in opposition to, so I find the more friendly depiction of them as rogues and tricksters one that is more in line of the spirit of things, even if the form has been warped.

Modern reclamation aside, Kobolds are essentially just the feeblest form of vaguely goblinoid creature, having 1d4 HP and not even having significant 'leader' types. They lay eggs, occasionally train boars or weasels, 'hate most other life and delight in killing and torture' and are especially hateful towards the 'brownies pixies sprites and gnomes' which seems to cement them as the villains of the 'fey folk' of the sylvan wood.

They commonly wield clubs, axes and javelins, with short swords and spears being, I assume, the 'superior weapons' used by their leader types and guards. Since it's mentioned that their shields are made of wood or wicker, I assume some of their AC comes from that and perhaps dexterity and/or leather armor. Unlike goblins, they are not good miners (ironic, given that mythological kobolds had a strong association with mines) and all in all they seem less well-equipped than their other demihuman counterparts. With that in mind, 'Tucker's Kobolds' were a significant departure from the standard issue kobold found in the AD&D DMG, though that's not to say I disapprove, not at all. It seems even back in the 80's people were not content to leave Kobolds as merely 'lesser goblins.'

Sunset Realm Jackals
Despite his focus on dogs, he is called the Jackal God of Yuba, not the Dog God. This curious incongruity of the god is suspected by some to mean the Jackal God is some manner of ascended Jackal that forsook its own kind in favor of the company of humans and dogs, though if true, this event is so ancient that it does not even have religious tales of its occurrence.

Jackals are treated as dogs in Yuban religion, forbidding mistreatment of them but allowing reprimands if they act wickedly, but they remain undomesticated. Yet, their wildness is not the same as the moonlit chaos of the Wolf, but simply a dry and dusty indifference. Some sects of the religion say the distance between human and jackal is to be taken as a lesson- if humans were meant to know about jackals, the Jackal God would tell us, but he does not, therefore there are secrets of the kingdom of beasts that are not meant to be known.

Sunset Realm Jackalwere
Though any poor beast could become a whateverwere, the curse of being tainted with humanity does not make for a specific species, but an individual accursed monster, and such creatures are usually more of a blight on their host animal populations than on humans, just as werewolves are a menace to humans moreso than to wolves.

Sunset Realm Ki-Rin

This post took forever solely because I couldn't come up with a kobold image til now

Sunset Realm Kobold
In the ancient days of the wars between the Serpent Empire and the Reptile Kingdoms, through strange reptile sorcery, an unfertilized egg could be hatched into a small homunculus servant- a Kobold. Appearing similar to the lizard that donated blood to the ritual, these mini-mes were used as assistants and sometimes infiltrators. However, after the Reptile Kingdoms fell, their secrets were scavenged by the rest of the world. Elves would alter the ritual to create goblins from animal-shadows, and Dragons would use the ritual to create servile cults to attend to their needs.

Like goblins though, kobolds could ascend from 'conjured servitor' to 'independent life form,' and that is precisely what they did over the years. Those who were descended from abandoned reptile king servitors would often forget their origins across thousands of years, and believe themselves to be the same people who built the ruins around them (albeit somehow shrunken). Those who were descended from dragons who were slain or otherwise left their servitors behind often believed themselves to be the descendants of that dragon, and often sought to transcend their small forms either by biomancy or pyromancy.

These isolated cults of bygone lizards aside, the most common kobolds are the source of the word, from Cobalt or Blue. These are the kobolds of the Dragon-Empire of Bai-Szue, a tremendous and ancient blue dragon of the Fault, and interbreeding with remnant goblins, lizardfolk, and other Fault residents have given rise to a population of kobolds of varying levels of roundness of feature, coloration, cold or warm-bloodedness, vivi or oviparity and other assorted additional or missing features from the 'baseline model.' Due to the highly variable background, there are kobolds who are destitute thieves and kobolds who are exalted bureaucrats alike, and they make up at least a third of the population of this realm in all social strata, even the very top, which is of course reserved for the bloodline of Bai-Szue.

Second in size (both numbers and stature) are the red kobolds of Mantlehearth, a volcanic isle near Oroboro long ruled by the red Dragon Anyash Surtor, who left half dragon everythings behind, and the dragon blood, when mixed with the little people of the isle, resulted in a significant kobold populace. Efforts to ascend to full dragonhood by medical science or theurgic pyromantic investigations into the Undersun are both common.

Third are the green kobolds, also of the Fault, descended from the extensive green dragon family of the northwest. These kobolds are recent, and thus, are conjured goblinoid-type shadow-entities, who, not being truly alive, can be destroyed without incident on the Fault (where otherwise nothing properly dies, thanks to the efforts of Townlocke, Prophet of M'shesh the Mother of Undeath). These entities are merely manifestations of the will of green dragon sorcerors sending forth small minions to plunder the ancient dwarf-cities... but history shows this is unlikely to remain the extent of their existence for long, especially with the blue kobolds as a nearby model.

Fourthly are the Black Kobolds, derived from not the Reptile Kings or the Serpent Empire, but from the Froglords of Zaba, or more precisely, the acidic black dragons born of the Froglord wartime experiments, who in turn crafted Kobolds as servants after the dragons declared themselves the masters after the froglords were defeated. These are the source of the aforementioned 'ruin dweller' type kobolds, who, though an ancient people of the Wurderlands in their own right, are overly obsessed with the works of the bygone Froglords, in ironic contrast to the modern bipedal frogfolk who have forsaken both human and frog heritage in favor of simply living as best suits them.

White kobolds, like white dragons, are likely some manner of Winter Moon corruption of extant creatures rather than their own thing, or simply albinos. If any exist, the Auroral Reaches or the Moonlands would be likely locales.

Monday, September 27, 2021

Scavenging NPC Mechs in Lancer

So I finished my Lancer campaign, the Onus of Lore, and figured I should make some of the notes available to others, namely a solution I often used when players mechs blew up and they needed to Power at a Cost for a new one. Lancer is a fun system for crunchy tactical combat, but I need a break after all the rules discussion and will be returning to simpler systems for the next campaign.

I like the idea of bolting alternate weapons and systems from downed enemies onto your own mech in Lancer when a proper rebuild of your own mech is unavailable, as well as the idea of hijacking enemy mecha mid-combat or just repairing a broken one. Over the course of my lancer campaign it didn't happen often, but it made for a good Power at a Cost option and gave pilots something to strive for if their mech died early but they didn't want to die trying to Jockey.

The basic rule for hijacking is that, while Jockeying, if you'd remove the last Structure or Stress from a mech you can instead breach the cockpit and kill/force to surrender/throw out onto the ground/forcibly Eject the pilot and get in yourself, though you don't have any actions until next turn. Driving an NPC mech in the moment is handled by just using the NPC stats and rules, then it is rebuilt with player-side equivalent rules if the mech is kept for the next scene. Alternately, if the hijacking takes place early in a mission it could be worthwhile converting the mech on the spot. In any case, players still only get 1 turn per round, even if they hijacked an Elite or Ultra. You may also hijack downed enemy mechs mid battle, in which case you have to make a risky and perhaps difficult skill check to deal with the pilot and boot up the mech as a combination Mount/Skill Check action.

To allow a player whose mech was destroyed to continue on missions, they may repair a broken mecha into the appropriate operational chassis with all the appropriate things from the NPC installed (limited to SP and weapon mounts), or run it as a player-controlled NPC, depending. Grunt chassis are sually downed due to pilot incompetence and can be repaired successfully (though if the gm rules they're physically crap too nevermind) and the fine-tuned power of an Elite or Ultra is lost upon repair and an unfamiliar pilot. Repaired NPC mechs do not have Core Battery systems available for use, as they were presumably damaged or expended in the fight., but are otherwise in decent condition apart from any destroyed weapons and systems, and probably not having any repairs remaining. Having them have limited stress and structure is usually too much a Cost to be worth it for a Power at a Cost repair- the downside is their setup probably doesn't match the players skillset exactly.

The impaired/slowed penalty for using off-license equipment should also be waived, as that's another cost too hefty for any player to have fun with I think, but could be added in if a game is trying to be very punishing about having ones mech destroyed.

Formatting is
Original Weapon or System/Reskin Name (if applicable)-Player System Used-License

Some systems are better suited to be simulated with Talents (or are too unique) rather than Systems and so have no equivalent, and some are replaced by systems that fit a similar function rather than being an accurate representation of the NPC system.

Chassis- NELSON
Any- Flicker Field Generator
Any- GMS Flight System
Missile Launcher, Bombing Bay, Missile Swarm- Unexploded Ordnance-Missile Racks OR Hex Charges- GMS
Chaff Launchers-Pattern A Smoke Charges-GMS
Flight System-Strap-On Jet Engine- Rapid Response Jump Jets OR Type III Flight System if Chassis repair.- GMS

Chassis- SALADIN
Light Laser Rifle- Sol-Pattern Laser Rifle- Sherman 1
Defense Net- Enclave Pattern Support Shield- Saladin 1
Ring of Fire- Swarm Body - Balor 2
Adaptive Shielding- Aegis shield Generator- Drake 2
Guardian- Argonaut Shield-Drake 1
HA Blackwall System- Stasis Barrier- Napoleon 2
Hardlight Cover System- Hardlight Defense System- Saladin 2

Heated Blade- Variable Sword- Mourning Cloak 3
Devil's Cough Shotgun- Bolt Thrower- Raleigh 2
Kai Bioplating/Leap- Rapid Response Jump Jets GMS
Cloud Projector- Flash Charges OR Smoke Charges- Metalmark 1 OR GMS
Explosive Knives- Shock Knife modified with Shock Wreathe- Metalmark 3
Sap- Smite- Manticore II

Chassis- PEGASUS
Heavy Assault Rifle -Assault Rifle- GMS. Tier II and III assaults may have the Heavy Machine Gun.
Combat Knife= Tactical Knife. Tier II and III may yield the Tactical Melee or Heavy Tactical Melee. GMS
Underslung Grenade Launcher- Missile Racks. GMS. Tier II and II may yield the RPG.
Micromissile Barrage- Thermal Lance
High Impact Rounds- Cyclone Pulse Rifle- GMS.
Auto-Targeting- Kinetic Compensator- Death's Head 3

ARCHER- Not the same without Heavy Gunner. Just prepare skirmishes and pretend....
Chassis- TORTUGA, Core Battery Available
Light Machine Gun- Assault Rifle/Assault Cannon/Heavy Machine Gun-GMS or Drake 1

Chassis- BLACK WITCH (Size 2)
Mobile Printer-Pattern A Deployable Cover-GMS. Alternately, the Total Strength Suite I from Zheng I
Bulwark Mods-Bulwark Mods- Nelson 1
Graviton Lance/Hunger-Pursuit Limpets- Whitewash Sealant Spray- Lancaster 2
Tier II-III Lances may yield Magnetic Cannon (Black Witch) Gravity Gun (Saladin) or Slag Cannon (Kobold 2)
Titan-Snare-Drone- Webjaw Snare- Vlad 1
Tear Down- Viral Logic Suite (Banish)- Minotaur 1
Seismic Repulsor- Repulsor Field- Iskander 2

Chassis- DRAKE
Rotary Grenade Launcher- Missile Racks, RPG at Tier II and III. GMS.
Heavy Assault Shield- Power Knuckles, Nelson 3.
Friendly Interdiction- Argonaut Shield- Drake 1
Fearless Defender- Mimic Mesh- Gorgon 1
Near-Threat Denial System- Monitor Module Gorgon 2
Pause Engine- Stasis Generator- Napoleon 1

Chassis- VLAD
Chain Axe- Chain Axe- Blackbeard 1
Avalanche Charge/Juggernaut/Harpoon Cannon- Reinforced Cabling- Blackbeard 3
Nail Gun- Impaler Nail Gun- Vlad 2
Aggression- SEKHMET class NHP- Blackbeard 3
Superhot/Retribution: Lightning Generator OR Explosive vents- Manticore 3 or Genghis 1
Stampede Defense- Flicker Field OR Hyperdense Armor- Dusk Wing 2/Tortuga 3

Bombard Cannon- Howitzer- GMS
High-Impact Shells- Siege Cannon- Barbarossa 3
Siege Armor- Hyperdense Armor- Tortuga 3
Flare Drone- Lotus Projector- Swallowtail 1
Repeater Cannon- Concussion Missiles- Drake 2

Chassis- EVEREST
Dual Shotguns- Deck-Sweeper Auto-Shotgun or Shotgun- Tortuga 1 OR GMS
Thermal Charge=BB Breach Charge or Havok Charge- Raleigh 1 or Genghis 2
Breach/Superior Ram- Siege Ram- Tortuga 1
Flechette Shot- Catalyst Pistol- Manticore 1
Follower Count- Reinforced Cabling
Break Armor- Chain Axe, Blackbeard I

Impale- Synthetic Muscle Netting- Blackbeard 2
Electrified Lasso, Impale- Reinforced Cabling, Blackbeard 3
Lance Shot- Hor_0S system upgrade 1
Capacitator Discharge- Manticore Chassis
Electrified Bola- Flak Launcher- Barbarossa

Demolition Hammer- Catalytic Hammer- Tortuga 2
Concussion Missiles-Concussion Missiles- Drake 2
Seismic Destroyer- EMP Pulse- Manticore 3
Sap- Smite- Manticore 2

Chassis HYDRA
Deploy Turret- Turret Drones and/or Ghast Nexus- GMS and/or Hydra 2.
Flak Cannon- Burst Launcher- Dusk Wing 2
Mobile Turrets- Puppetmaster- Hydra 1
Arsenal- Ghoul Nexus- Hydra 1
Any- Assassin Drone- Hydra 3
Any- Sentinel Drone- Gorgon 1

Any-Hyper Dense Armor- Tortuga 3
Drum Shotgun- GMS Shotgun
Crush Targeting- Neurospike- Dusk Wing 3
Power Knuckle- Power Knuckles- Nelson 3
Watchful Guardian- Argonaut Shield- Drake 1

Chassis BALOR
Hunter-Killer Nexus- Swarm/Hive Nanites- Balor 3
Drone Barrage/Driving Swarm- Ferrous Lash- Black Witch 1
Razor Swarms- Hive Drone- Balor 1
Electro-Nanite Cloud- Swarm Body- Balor 2

Chassis- DUSK WING
Any- EVA Module
Stinger Pistol- Burst Launcher- Dusk Wing 2
Impale Systems- Eject Power Cores, Goblin 1
Umbral Interdiction- Stasis Bolt- Napoleon 1
Supersonic- Ramjets- Nelson 3
Lock/Hold Javelins-Charged Stake- Vlad 3
Hex Missiles- Excommunicate- Minotaur 2

Warp Sensors/Illusory Subroutines- Neurospike:Mirage- Dusk Wing I
Dataveil- Active Camo- Metalmark 3
Glitch Scanners/Blip- Metafold Carver-Minotaur 2
Metafold Shove- Beckoner- Manticore 1
Manifest False Idols-HorOS Sys Upgrade II- Goblin 2
Multiplicity- Swallowtail Core Battery

OPERATOR- Typically these explode and are not valid for salvage but u never know
Any- External Batteries- Tokugawa 2
Any- Singularity Motivator- Mourning Cloak 2
Raptor Plasma Rifle- Shatterhead Colony Missiles- Saladin 1
Fade Generator- Active Camo- Metalmark 3
Fortress- Black ICE module- Black Witch 3
Nova Missiles- Missile Racks w/ Nanocomp Mods- GMS/Balor 3
Telefrag- EMP Pulse- Manticore 3

Any- Cable Winch System
Abjure- Neurospike- Dusk Wing 1
Dispersal Shield/Greater Investiture- Enclave Pattern Support Shield
Fortress- Black ICE Module- Black Witch 3
Sanctuary- Ideal Image- Goblin 2
Fractal Assault-//SCORPION V70.1-Gorgon 2

Chassis- GENGHIS
Flamethrower-Krakatoa Thermobaric Flamethrower-Genghis 1
Explosive Vent-Explosive vents- Genghis 1
Firebreak Shield-Oasis Wall- Dusk Wing 3
Siege Armor- Hyperdense Armor- Tortuga 3
Napalm Bomb- Havok Charges- Genghis 2
Explosive Jet- Jump Jets+AGNI NHP- GMS/Genghis 3

Chassis- MONARCH
Any- Siege Stabilizers (Barbarossa 1)
Missile Pods- Sharanga Missiles- Monarch 1
Javelin Rockets- Javelin Rockets- Monarch 1
Atlas/Hound/Hades Missile- Pinaka Missiles- Monarch 3
Volley- Core Battery Active

Monowire Sword-Variable Sword- Mourning Cloak 3
Rebound- Noah-class NHP- Saladin 3
Charged Slash- Bristlecrown Flechette Launchers- Blackbeard 2
Chaff Launchers- Flicker Field Generator- Dusk Wing 2
Instinct.exe- Scylla-class NHP-Gorgon 3
Echo Edge- The burn from Tokugawa traits
Extended Blade- Nanocarbon Sword- Blackbeard 2

Thermal Lance- Thermal Rifle- GMS
Focus Down- TOKUGAWA Chassis
Ablative Shielding- MANTICORE Chassis
Cooling Module- Autocooler- Genghis 2
Super Charged- Best thing I can imagine is Centimane and a Integrated Light Nexus
Emergency Vent- Agni class NHP, Genghis 3
Pulse Laser- Thermal Lance- GMS
Flash Lens- Stuncrown- Dusk Wing 3

Marker Rifle- Black Spot Kidd 1
Sight- Eye of Horus Pegasus 2
Rebound Scan- Athena-class NHP -Swallowtail 3
Cloaking Field- LB/OC Cloaking Field- Swallowtail 3
Dataveil/System Flayer- Neurospike- Dusk WIng 1
Orbital Strike - HEX charges - GMS

Chassis- TORTUGA
Grav Grenade Launcher- Gravity Gun -Iskander 3
Assorted Mine
Webjaw Snare- Vlad 1
Mesmer Charges-Minotaur 1
HEX charges- GMS
Grounding Charges- Iskander 1
“Roller” Directed Payload Charges- Barbarossa 1

Chassis- GORGON
Any- Vorpal Gun - Gorgon 3
Any- Monitor Module (Gorgon 2) or Scylla-Class NHP (Gorgon 3)
Combat Shotgun- Decksweeper autoshotgun, or regular GMS Shotgun- Tortuga 1/GMS
Retractable Sword- Tactical Melee Weapon- GMS
Rapid Response- Mimic Mesh- Gorgon 1
Impaler- Nailgun- Vlad 2
Wrath Lock- Hunter Lock- Pegasus 2

Chassis-DEATH'S HEAD (Core Active)
Anti-Material Rifle- Sniper Rifle-GMS
Any- High-Stress Mag Clamps Death's Head 1
Any- Roland Chamber Raleigh 3
Any- Core Siphon- Death's Head 2
Defensive Grapple- Reinforced Cabling- Blackbeard 3
Shroud Charge- Smoke Grenades-GMS
Deadmetal Rounds- Railgun- Death's Head 3

Any- Active Camo- Metalmark 3
Any- Fade Cloak- Mourning Cloak 3
Monowire Sword- Variable Sword- Mourning Cloak 3
Fortress- Black Ice Module- Black Witch 3
Step- Core Battery Active
Machine Pistols- GMS Pistols- GMS
Weakness Analyzer- Hunter Lock- Pegasus 2

Sealant Gun- Whitewash Sealant Spray-Lancaster 2
Restock Drone- Aceso Stabilizer- Lancaster 3
Remote Reboot- PEBCAC- Kidd
Latch Drone- Core Active
Empowered Cloud/Defensive Pulse- Redundant Systems Upgrade- Sherman 2
Remote Cloud- GMS Smoke Charges- GMS

Tear Down- Sear-Manticore 2
Blind- Neurospike- Dusk Wing 1
Predatory Logic- Law of Blades, Minotaur 3
Blur- Flicker Field- Dusk Wing 2
Chain- Celestial Shackles- Goblin 3
Petrify- Chassis MINOTAUR
Pain Transference- Eject Power Cores, Goblin 1

SQUAD- Salvageable for Pilot Weapons

MONSTROSITY- Most features are too biological for use, but others...
Claws- Heavy Tactical Melee, GMS
Corrosive Bite/Acid Spittle- Acid Sac- as HEX Charges, GMS
Spined- Throwing Spines- Tactical Knife, GMS
Tempered Hide- Argonaut Shield, Drake
Chameleon-Camo Hide-Retractable Profile/Swallowtail

There are assorted weapons and systems to be found in the 'templates' as well, though whether or not they should really be salvageable is debatable, as many simulate talents of the pilot. Some very obvious things like 'flight systems are flight systems' were left out.

Voice of Authority- Sisyphus Class NHP- Pegasus 3
Bolster Network- Black Ice Module- Black Witch 3
Press the Attack- Autopod, Goblin 1
Quick March- Puppet Systems, Goblin 1

Last Word- Reactive Weave- Metalmark 1
Scout Drone- Lotus Projector- Swallowtail 1
Favors Owed- Howitzer- GMS

Chassis Change- Blackbeard with Sekhmet Class NHP if possible
Chassis Change- Minotaur with Core Active
Chassis Change- Tokugawa

(Depending on if it has melee and cockpit ripping capabilities, coreworms/slaver signal, or is just a ranged attacker focusing on deadly and splinter rounds respectively)

Gravity Rifle- Mag Cannon- Black Witch 1
Concussion Gun/Thumper Grenades- Repulsor Field- Iskander 2
Sealant Trap- Webjaw Snare

Hover Propulsion- GMS Flight Systems, or Chassis Swap to Dusk Wing
Repulsion Field- Lightning Generator- Manticore 3
Siege Shield- Hyperdense Armor- Tortuga 3
Silver Shielding- Active Camo- Metalmark 3 or Chassis Swap to Metalmark, Core Active
Short Cycle Lance- Railgun- Death's Head 3
Volley Module- Asura-Class NHP- Sherman 3
Wolfhound Missile- Pinaka Missiles- Monarch 3
Devastator- Chassis Swap to Monarch
Fortress- Black Ice Module-Black Witch 3
Lead the Charge- Mimic Mesh- Gorgon 1
Limitless- Redundant System Upgrades- Sherman 2
Sight- Eye of Horus- Pegasus 2
Superior Targeting- Nanocomp Mod, Balor 2
Supreme Melee- Sekhmet-Class NHP Blackbeard 3
Unstoppable- Armor-Lock Plating- Nelson 2
Hellfire Projector- Krakatoa Thermobaric Flamethrower- Genghis 1

Acrobat- Ramjets- Nelson 3
Hacker- Sear, Manticore 2
NHP Co-Pilot- Comp/con Unit- GMS

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Mundane Security in a Magical Land

Something I experienced in D&D games where the players had access to spells of higher potency than the usual low level adventuring fare was that our understanding of defenses comes from a non-magical world, and as such, most locales are woefully underprepared for magical assault and infiltration.

This can work in settings that are generally low magic, where hostile wizards and monsters are freak accidents akin to a natural disaster. But in the highly fantastical worlds most games take place in, one has to wonder why the world is not ruled by sorcerers by now, and then further ask why countermeasures against said sorcerers have not been developed.

The answer D&D mostly came to seems to have been a 'magical arms race.' There are scrying spells, so there are anti-scrying spells. Personally I do not much care for this- it smacks of childhood playground roleplay where one insouciant youth declares they have a force field, another declares they have a force field breaker, the first responds they have a force field breaker proof force field, and so on until the recess bell sounds. Looking at the statblocks of high level characters, it also leads to a sort of tiresome 'checklist' of necessary defenses against increasingly esoteric means of attack- anyone who's anyone has to have freedom of movement and contingency spells and a ring of spell turning and I'm not here for it.
But what of the common humanoid, who does not have access to so much as a 1st level Magic-User, who nonetheless wishes to defend themselves against vicious wizards? These are the concerns and defenses and protocols that should be as commonsense as locks and walls in a world with magic, though not all locations would have the funding for all of these countermeasures.


In general- casting spells is VERY illegal outside of trusted individuals performing societally-approved functions.
Are you casting Cure Light Wounds on the wounded mayor, or Charm Person? Comprehend Languages to understand the foreign king, or Fireball to assassinate him? Throwing rocks, knives, ale goblets, and so on to disrupt anyone mumbling gibberish to disrupt potential curses would save many a village from wicked sorcerers, wall guards are probably allowed to shoot first and ask questions later if they see some gesticulating occultist, and anyone attempting to cast a spell unprompted in the presence of someone with enough authority to have bodyguards should expect to be clubbed and tackled, bound and gagged at best, and shot dead by arrows, javelins, shuriken, etc at worst.

Sanctioned wizardry would come from court-sorcerers who must go through a lengthy training and background-check process, battlemages who are part of an established military, and magically-engaged tradesfolk whose services are well known and have established trust, like appraisers, translators, educators at a wizard college, alchemists, etc etc. In few circumstances would foreigners, strangers, or vagabond adventurers be allowed to cast magic willy nilly. Wishing to practice sorcery would likely require applying for a permit of sorts, and any actual spellcasting would be overseen by two squads of burly fellows with instructions to bash the wizards brains out if anything untoward occurs- one squad being immediately present, the other waiting some distance away. There would likely be an alarm system for 'magic threat' in the form of drums, horns or bells, with codes to provide basic information throughout a fortress quickly, allowing word of shapeshifters, mind influencers, fliers, invisible foes, etc to be warned against.

This immediately makes it clear why wizards may wish to build their towers and dungeons far from society- it is the only way they can practice their craft in peace. Of course, going 'rogue' makes one an appealing target to other 'rogue' wizards, so defenses against spells are necessary be they a dungeon or a lord's castle.

Charm Person
Perhaps the most problematic spell for security, the simplest solution is probably to have all employees act in groups of two or more, without exception.Very high security positions would also likely quarantine any new hires for at least a month to allow any arcane influence to wear off. There would also be established protocols to enact if you believed someone was under bewitchment, the rigor and effectiveness varying greatly by circumstance. 'Charm checks' would likely be de-escalatory and delaying in nature rather than going straight to tackling and binding people acting suspicious- an invitation to sit down and talk and explain what they're doing, possibly calling in more people to judge, all the while searching for lurking sorcerers.

Guard dogs may also serve as security against this specific spell to some degree, both for places and peoples, and other types of guardian beasts provide even better insurance, though at some point the logistics of exotic and monstrous guardians may outweigh the benefits.

In terms of information security, this spell is a disaster, but it could be mitigated somewhat by keeping much information on a 'need to know' basis, and instilling values of secrecy where you do not tell details of an operation to anyone- not friends, not family, certainly not minions.

Depending on where the spell's description is from, "Protection From Evil" may prevent or suppress charm effects. If so, any churches should be able to schedule 'charm checks' within a 24 hour period. Though this is part of the 'magical arms race' I mentioned, such check-ups should be common in populated areas with organized religion as any cleric could pull it off.

While groups of 2+ work well against Charm Person, to have good odds of at least one individual not falling asleep, the group must be of 4+ size, and to prevent those who resist from being taken out by opposing forces before they can wake their fellows, sizes of 12+ are likely required, which quickly requires unmanageable masses of personnel. The best solution is likely to have small squads of guards on mobile patrols and frequent check-ins rather than long, static positions. That way, if one person evades sleep, they can sound an alarm horn and expect hasty reinforcements, and if a small group of 2-3 is taken out, their absence will quickly be noticed. Passwords would help prevent the issue of Slept targets having their gear stripped and used as a disguise, though none of these are sleep-specific countermeasures so much as general security against guards being taken out.

But that's for a fortress with funding and troops- is there no way for, say, a small shop owner to prevent being robbed by a sleep-casting thief? One method to counter sleep would be an unpopular one- clothing or armor could be crafted such that, upon slumping or otherwise falling prone, a nail would stab the so afflicted, waking them. This method would be used only by those with serious personal investment or professionalism rather than the average hired guard, as those unwilling to risk accidental wounding would likely modify the clothing to reposition the digging nails, but circumstance where attack by enemy wizards could be expected (in a war zone, for instance) this sort of gear might be worn in appropriate circumstances of sentry duty (nail-suits being unsuited for actual fighting).

Magic Missile
Though not all too different from a crossbow in many circumstances, this spell would be of considerable concern for assassinating troop commanders and other VIPS through normal methods of defense like armor, horseback, heavy cover, etc. While it has a magical countermeasure in Shield, the mundane countermeasure would be decoys, bodyguards who are also body doubles, equipped in similar gear. Ornate masks and full helms that declare ones identity would be popular for this reason, and if lined with lead, this works well against ESP as well.

Though the short duration of these spells makes them not too concerning save for, perhaps, causing a focus on training to fight and operate blind from mage-hunters and elite forces, the Continual Light would change campaign settings considerably. Temples would likely be illuminated by continual light, as would the homes of kings and the like, and perhaps even the streets of cities or popular roads. Continual Light lanterns(or glowing swords) would almost certainly exist in abundance, as someone knowing the spell has little reason not to create at least one daily. Rather than a defensive concern, this is an infiltration concern, as there may be no way to approach a locale under cover of night or shadow if there are arbitrary amounts of 'Continual lights' keeping the grounds forever well-lit.

Infosec's worst nightmare, this spell actually has a mundane countermeasure in that a 'thin sheet of lead' will block it (and other scrying spells). As such, any structure with secrets should have lead embedded in thinner walls, and individuals such as guards, clerks, and so on who may have handy information should be clad in lead-mesh cowls/hats or lead-lined helmets. If operating costs are an issue, simply keeping things secret from ones own organization lowers the chance that an ESP-caster will gain access to someone with sensitive information. All manner of espionage tradecraft from real life will also be useful here- dead drops, coded messages, false information, agent handling, etc etc. Some of my players came up with the idea of using ignorant messengers to relay information they did not know of to break up ESP security and play double agent during a civil war.

One might be tempted to remove ESP from a game due to its ability to flatline an investigation, but having it available does allow one to sidestep boundary-transgressing torture/interrogation scenes that commonly may occur in groups. Also, it may keep nobles and other authority figures from becoming corrupt, or, in the event of corruption, they may disallow evidence obtained in that way from counting as proof, so the effects on a game are far from society-shattering, even if players may lean on it as a handy crutch.

A fairly comprehensive spell of opening, it has one notable weakness in that it will not open portculli. As such, having small but heavy interior portculli suddenly is not merely bizarre dungeon whimsy, but a legitimate defense against certain spells... though a rather expensive one, and one that can be foiled by Charming the portcullis operators. I wonder if dungeon portculli were introduced after knock as a knock-proof obstacle...
The existence of Knock also may explain secret passages somewhat- while a secret door may spring wide from a knock, an open passage behind a piano or whatever remains concealed. 

Spider Climb/Levitate/Flight
While largely not too different from the fear of climbers, this allows for access to basically any window, so height and difficulty of scaling a climb alone cannot be considered proper deterrents. Windows should be either arrowslits, or of metal bars to disallow entry or exit without relying on locks, on account of knock. Curtains or wooden shutters can block line of sight as well. Caltrop-like spikes, grease, or other hazards could line certain areas as well to discourage landing and setting forth a rope line to bring others up, and blind spots with regards to the sky and rooftops should be avoided. If nothing else, 'sky watchers' with bells to alert a stronghold of aerial infiltration should be employed in positions that more standard guards might find tiresome- a 'crow's nest' could be cheaply constructed, or belltowers, watchtowers, etc could serve this purpose.

A common concern is also the issue of locating invisible fliers, but apart from perhaps lighting fires and firing at disturbances in smoke, or perhaps keen-eared and nosed hounds put on sky watcher duty, I think it easier to prevent these fliers access rather than hope to deny them all nearby airspace, and hope they do not have bombing capabilities of breaching a location.

Locate Object
As mentioned in ESP, interior walls where secrets are to be kept should be lead-lined, and the same applies to keeping objects of value safe in lead-lined chests and coffers. Coffins may be commonly lead-lined as well.

Closed doors, doors that have bells to ring when opened, and guards trained to look for footprints, throw dirt or liquids, swing spears or ropes in wide arcs, and the ever-useful keen-eared and nosed guard dog will do much to limit the use of Invisibility. However, it becomes complicated when combined with other spells, especially those which allow the spellcaster to avoid contact with the ground like Spider Climb, Levitate, Flight, Silence etc. This allows casters to get close and perhaps get a spell off without interference. Exploiting the wizards self-preservation instincts with the threat of being caught in anti-aerial crossfire is hopefully deterrent force enough if the presence of sky-watching archers is obvious.

Clairaudience/Clairvoyance/Wizard Eye
A difficult spell to counter, as lead sheets do not block it, the best mundane methods I can think of would be to conduct sensitive meetings in secret code or obscure language, as well as to keep records written in ciphers, and of course, to change and update these codes and languages with enough frequency so that if the code is broken, the vulnerability will be temporary. Changing meeting locations would also help dodge such scrying attempts.

Speak with Animals
A rare but easily overlooked vulnerability could be the guard dogs, farm animals, and local wildlife around a location. The best defense is probably treating those animals very well, but this may not always be possible- for example, spikes on roofs and windowsills would upset birds, but may help keep away fouler fliers. Removing animals entirely may be possible depending on location, though this will in turn likely upset wild animals at being denied an environment and make them more likely to help intruders who encounter them nearby.

Fireball/Lightning Bolt/Arson
Soggy mats of vegetable matter or hides are sometimes draped over wooden walls to prevent arson via flaming arrows and the like, but this is not always feasible. Pots/Sacks/Buckets of sand and earth could be kept around to help extinguish fires before they get out of hand (and can help find Invisible targets in a pinch). Of course, the main defense is not using wood as a structural material, relying on stone instead, though this is a much higher cost of construction.

While less structurally menacing than Fireball, Lightning Bolt can smash through weak walls and devastate hallway defenses. Tricking a wizard into shooting a stone wall through a well-placed tapestry might kill them with a reflected bolt, but shortening lines of fire will also reduce the efficiency of ranged weapons. Having twisting corridors may be beneficial if guards are primarily melee combatants, though this defensive measure makes infiltration easier without clear lines of sight.

Protection from Normal Missiles-
Missile weapons are one of the best ways to interrupt wizard nonsense, so this spell is very relevant for siege-wizards. At close distances it could be foiled by molotovs, as it is the ensuing pool of flame that causes damage, not the thrown flask of oil or alcohol, but at longer distances, without magic, only siege weapons can pierce this defense. Providing such engines with anti-personnel shot like baskets of spiked balls may allow for more accurate blasting of wizards, though this is more of a measure to add to pre-existing siege engines, not a reason to buy them as a specific counter.

This spell may not work against specific projectiles depending on GM interpretation-odd ranged attacks like nets or bolas, boomerangs or blowpipes, or perhaps firearms, or attacks made such that gravity propels them like dropped rocks, may be able to bypass it.

Water Breathing
Castles with streams, local wells, etc etc should have grates that allow water through, but little else, and moats or other watery barriers should not be written off as inaccessible means of approach. Honestly, this is less for the concern of water-logged wizard infiltrators and more for various amphibious horrors.

Speak With Dead/Animate Dead-
These two spells turn the dead into potential liabilities, and as such, crypts to inter those knowledgeable about secrets should be a must-have over common graveyards. They must be securely guarded, perhaps by portcullis, certainly by lead-lined coffin, and perhaps by keeping those coffins held shut by nails, welding, etc. Corpses could also be staked down, mouths filled with lead, and other means of preventing speech or reanimation.

As troubling as a perfect disguise might be, introducing code phrases would help shut this down, as well as help confirm anyone turned into a newt is who they say they are. The usual protocol of everyone always has someone with them would help reduce the chances of a single polymorph being sufficient Keeping cats and chickens about to menace any rat/insect-polymorphs for infiltration could help, though that then requires the cats and chickens to be marked somehow to prove they are local and not infiltrators themselves.

Dimension Door/Teleportation-
Though blindly teleporting in is too risky for most wizards, with some scrying or prior infiltration, they might be willing to try it. Having 'decoy' rooms (and ideally body doubles acting as decoy people to add a sense of liveliness to those locations) and guards ready for exotic modes of infiltration is the best mundane countermeasure I could think of.

On a side note, the safest method for an AD&D teleport pad would be a platform suspended about 30' above a pool of water, so 'low' mishaps teleport the person into water or free-falling into it, rather than into the earth.

Though rather specific, ventilation shafts both for lighter-than air and heavier-than air gases could be placed in key locations. to help disperse such gases rather than let them collect within the halls. This does well to prevent problems with smoke as well, which is a mundane enough concern to merit inclusion anyway.

Walls that are a prime target for being passwalled, Dig'd, or sundered by various magics may do well to in fact be TWO walls, with a hollow space between them, ideally with a moat or spiked pit. While expensive and pointless against scaling or flying, on exterior walls this is a fairly effective countermeasure for subterranean complexes.

Illusions (Thanks to DymeNovelti of the discord for this update)
For the most part, illusions function as a distraction to humans rather than a unique problem like Knock, and have a lot of variance of being 'hologram' or 'delusion' based on GM handling. I think for the most part, illusions would be handled much like any other distraction- trigger happy sling stones, investigating only in groups of 2+, and not clumping everyone up to investigate and sticking to chain of command, but still challenging illusory kings for passcodes, etc etc. I think generally speaking 'high alert' caused by illusory fires or dragons would still be met with 'standard' responses of locking down portculli, keeping people in their assigned squads and battle stations, and the like.

Dogs would be handy against certain illusions that lack full-sensory output (such as Phantasmal Force) and could be relied on against certain illusory tricks, and can sniff out illusionists regardless of what the illusion is, so whenever there's trickery afoot, there's sure to be a dog-team deployed to look for a mage sooner or later.

I hope to use this map as a training grounds in one-shots to refine these ideas, and would welcome feedback for general countermeasures and specific ones so that future locations may have tighter security. Ways to reduce the number of staff, portculli, and general cost of operations would be useful too so as to scale things down to smaller operations. This isn't quite a full module, so certain NPCs and logistics may need to be improvised, but the goal is not to be a place impervious to guile or force- just one that will not roll over and die to wizardly action.

1- Assassination/Abduction- Take out the master of the castle
2- Rescue- Recover a prisoner or corpse.
3- Information- Learn of secret plans from encoded correspondance or a meeting with a visiting noble
4- Sabotage- disable defenses, allowing incoming army to take it over with ease
5- Compromise-Get an imposter, charmed, bribed, blackmailed, etc agent on the inside of the keep and a way to leak info
6- Theft- Steal an item of note, a confiscated artifact or legendary grave good.

Castle Gant Gard
A border castle of the north end of Queen's Coast, this place must be vigilant against infiltration by agents of King's Point, and frequently holds sensitive information, VIPs, and meetings of the lords of the warfront.

The "Forester Mounds" refer to semi-permanent dwellings of civilians who have served as archers and have taken this position out of patriotism, and often a lack of other good living opportunities. While the lack of prestige might breed resentment in 'real' guards, foresters are strictly separate from castle affairs and so are in little position to affect anything if compromised. They are not allowed within the castle,  except in event of a siege, and are expected to keep their distance from castle staff. They are barred from bearing arms within sight of castle-dwellers, and failing to do so may bring great suspicion or even arrows down upon them. This is to prevent assassins from replacing foresters. They are allowed to hunt men and beasts that come within 3 miles of the castle who are not on the Gant Road, shooting first and questioning later, leaving captured or dead foes at the castle gate for review by the castle. They are expected to keep at least one dog to help sniff for sneaking or invisible agents, and as they are responsible for feeding themselves, they are frequent fishermen, so as to keep an eye on the river/canal. The foresters are expected to meet daily with each other so imposters or missing peoples may not go unnoticed for long, and report inconsistencies at the castle gate, speaking through the portcullis, but have no strict organization, being a very passive and nebulous first line of defense.

Most rooms have a large pot full of dirt to help extinguish fires, or throw to help reveal invisible infiltrators. Overzealous dirt-throwing is kept in check by the requirement that whoever threw dirt sweeps it up and returns it to the pot.

There are no windows or chimneys large enough to allow human passage, but any external room does have some to allow for ventilation and light.

Roofs of towers and the keep are steep and lines with caltrop-like spikes around the edges, making climbing or landing precarious and risky.

Passwords are required to have a house guard allow wallguards access to the keep, as it is strictly off-limits otherwise. Said passwords change every week, and are not known to the wall guards or other  staff, only by the garrison commander and the house guards of the keep.

The grounds and halls are kept well-lit by candle-lanterns, and are somewhat crowded, making it difficult to be alone and not within sight or earshot of someone else. Privacy is very low, and it is protocol to take at least one extra person with you at all times. Typically, ones chosen partner is also a good friend, and training exercises encourage partnering up to foster these duos.

Alarms go from whistles, which are for internal communication between foresters, wallguards, or house guards. To Horns, which are for communication with everyone on active duty and have codes for things like fire, invisible, fliers, climbers, shapeshifters, etc etc that squad commanders at least must have memorized. Finally, there are the Bells of the keep, which are used to rouse not just those on duty, but everyone, and have similar warning codes to horns but indicate a problem that even the serving staff and lord must be made aware of immediately. Bell alarms wake sleepers, and may wake those magically Slept as well, depending on GM ruling.

Any guard higher ranking than the rank and file will have a lead lined helmet and a horn.
Guard equipment includes a lantern and oil to light arrows with, a sling to hurl rocks if ammo is to be conserved, a bow or crossbow, and spears and shortswords. They are typically armored with chain mail, or unarmored if they are on arrow-slit firing/watching duty.

House guards (the guards of the Keep) wear Nail-Suits that deal 1d4 damage to them if they become prone (such as by being Slept) and count as leather armor. They also wear lead-lined helmets, have password knowledge, generally do not carry ranged weapons, and are high-morale elites unfazed by blindfighting, grappling, or other unusual circumstances, chosen for loyalty. Any bribe they are offered will be matched by the lord of the castle.

Keep servants are usually not true civilians, but experienced military camp followers who were recommended to the position after proving themselves to a knight or other high-ranking member of the keep occupants. All recruitment requires a quarantine period and background check that takes close to a month to ensure they are not compromised nor an imposter.

The master of the castle, when in public, wears a lead-lined mask and helm, as do their two bodyguards/body doubles. They are with the master at all times, and may even pose as the master to attempt to draw out schemes. There are two more, to take care of alternating day/night shifts, and they add to confusion by using the masters quarters as their own, doing paperwork, resting in the royal bed, and so on just as the master might, to bamboozle scriers and spiers.

The castle moat (a canal dug to divert the river it is near) is not that deep, and is surrounded by damp wooden spikes bound together, cheval de friese. This is largely an anti-siege measure, but for infiltrators, anything attempting to reach the castle wall will be delayed and likely noisy thanks to splashing, and zealous and bored wall-guards alike will fire bolts at basically any noted disturbance. At night they use fire-arrows to help illuminate the surroundings, animals being good sport or food. If a dog has an official collar, it may avoid being fired on, but animals(and their trainers) that run loose are not viewed with goodwill here.

The Drawbridge
is controlled from the gatehouse, which also has a portcullis. Though the drawbridge is usually down, the portcullis is usually closed.

The Walls have overhanging machicolations to make climbing more difficult and are 2 stories tall, and are patrolled by 2-man teams of crossbowmen (or slingers in rain) who travel from tower to tower until their shift is over and they return to tower-duty. Their main task is to blow an alarm whistle if they spot a threat or anything anomalous to bring the larger squads inside the guard towers to attention. Whistles between the guards are common and do not cause larger alarm or reprimand for overuse save for in the most gratuitous instances.

The Watchtowers, A-F, 3 stories tall are primarily for sieges, allowing for crossfire upon enemy troops and are manned with swiveling ballista with a variety of shot, both anti-infantry, anti-air (chains or multiple smaller bolts in a bundle), and dirt-loaded sacks that are used for practice shots and for catching invisible foes in clouds of dust. They have small squads of men on each floor, including squad leaders- the top floor being the ballista crew and external lookouts, equipped with horns to blow alarms for various situations to bring the castle to alert status and alert other guard towers. The second floor, on the level of the walltops, has guards who watch the walltop patrols and the castle interior grounds, peering through door slots and arrow slits with crossbows at the ready in case of internal problems. Finally the ground floor has the keymaster for each tower, and resting guards who are only semi-on duty, armed with melee weapons and only called upon to respond to active threats.

Gatehouse C has no ground floor or entry for security reasons.

Gatehouse E has a door leading to the wall that runs to the Keep, but the Keep-side door is a small portcullis operated from inside the keep and is rarely used due to the annoyance of requiring a password and cooperation of the internal house-guards.

E's ground door entry is near the kennels, not in the inner courtyard.

The Gatehouse- A special watchtower with an added murder-hole and portcullis operations, and no ground level (the ground level being the space between the portcullis and the standard large gates.) Portcullis lifting requires several people to operate, as the winch-wheel is quite hefty. The doors to the gatehouse, on the walltops, are kept locked and guards on wallpatrol knock and ask for a 'all is well' password when encountering it on their trip around the walls.

Like Gatehouse E, there is a wall that leads to a tower of the Keep that is locked by a portcullis and barely if ever actually used in day to day life due to the required security measures, being primarily a way for the gatehouse guards to fall back to the keep in the event of the outer wall being breached.

Entry Booth- Inside the walled entry courtyard, this building is only manned when the portcullis is up by guards looking for imposters, infiltrators, etc. They make a record of all who enter or leave the castle, demand weapons be turned over (to be returned later), note declared cargo, beasts of burden, etc etc. They will always have guard dogs.

Inner Courtyard
Two more portculli and walls prevent access to the rest of the grounds around the keep. These portculli are not open even when the outer door is, opening to allow access to the keep and grounds only once the Entry Booth guards declare visitors cleared for entry.

Kennels- Where the castle dogs are kept by the Master of Hounds. Castle dogs have spiked collars with identifying marks and most squads of guards will have a dog whose main purpose is to sense hidden foes, but is trained to sic people as well. Dogs are only fed at the kennels, to prevent them from being fed poisoned food or distracted while on-duty.

The blacksmithy for upkeep of arms and armors. Invariably busy. Well away from other wooden structures to avoid spreading fire, as are most structures. There are multiple smiths of varying quality ensuring the place is always active to keep up with demand.

Barracks A and B-  These 1-story wooden buildings are the quarters for the wallguards, who are the most numerous of troops for this place. The Garrison Commander has a special office in Barracks B where paperwork is handled. They are for the most part always semi-occupied by off-duty guards sleeping or relaxing, and there are usually guard dogs as well, either leashed to a post near the door or inside with their trainer.

Training Grounds
Where troops and knights drill riding, dog training, archery, and sparring, even at night, to keep eyes and boots always active around the keep.


The keep has its own portcullis that comes down in front of its standard double door entrance, as it is a secondary fallback zone for the troops if the outer wall falls. Though closed at night, it is usually open during the day to save time.

Waiting Room/Checkpoints
The entry hall, mostly a place for guards to operate the portcullis mechanism, looks left and right down halls that lead to guard-manned checkpoints. Unlike other internal keep guards, these guards are armed with crossbows so as to catch intruders in crossfire. Similarly to the external checkpoint booth, the guards here take note of all who enter or leave the keep, and there are even more internal portculli that bar entrance to deeper into the keep past these checkpoints. While one portculli, typically the left one may be left open to speed things along (like when servants are loading up supplies), it is protocol to never have both open at once, and they are opened not from the checkpoint side, but from the hallway beyond, so that in the event the internal guards are taken out the keep may be locked down from within, and crossbow bolts fired from down the hall at anyone or anything attempting to force its way through the second portcullis line of defense.

The northmost tower bottoms have stairs leading to the second level and little else.

House Kennel
There are dogs and cats kept inside the keep to hunt rats and other pests, and the kennels are located where they are to deter sneaky entrance through the left portcullis, sleep near their master's beds to raise the alarm if something untoward occurs, and so on. They are smaller animals than the large guard-dogs of the wallguard, though there are accommodations for larger beasts if required. House animals are closer to being pets and have collars and bells making their presence and identity easily known, and though these animals may go outside, outside animals are not allowed inside the keep.

Great Hall- a throne room/feasting hall/dance hall for general assembly of the house guard and guests, and where the castle master takes public audience. There are three thrones, occupied by the liege and their bodyguards/body doubles, and guards will typically be in attendance as well, standing to the sides of the room to keep an eye out for any would be sorcerers, assassins, etc.

The support wall behind the throne is actually two walls, with sand filling the gap between them, just as a possible preventative measure against a Passwall assassin.

Kitchen- Though the Great Hall also has a fireplace to roast things in, the kitchen is a crowded space full of servants, who frequently enter and exit. As an unspoken rule, it is expected that servers taste the food as they bring it out as a guard against poison, (and a chef who isn't tasting food constantly is a poor one) and failure to do so is seen not as a sign of potential poisoning typically, but of a possible imposter, to which a challenge of the weekly password may be posed as proof of identity.

A storeroom and cellar, frequently used as passage by servants. If the master of the castle is in his throne room, the door is usually guarded or locked, much to the dismay of the kitchen staff who must go the long way for ingredients so as to avoid bothering the master.

It also has the staircase to the lower levels.

Lounge/Stairs Up
A well-appointed and high-traffic room with stairs up to a landing, then to the second level.

Somewhat isolated from the hustle and bustle, this is a chapel to Our Lady of Gardens, though a somewhat dingy one with no external window, reliant on candlelight. It is a common place for people acting suspiciously to be brought, and while this place is meant to focus on mundane countermeasures, if there is clerical assistance to be had, it will be had here.

Low Status Guest Quarters
A communal sleeping space, the barracks for the wall guard if they must retreat to the keep during a siege gone wrong. Also serves for the retinue of visiting nobles. It will be guarded at night on both doors, with anyone wishing to leave escorted by additional guards called in from the nearby right checkpoint, to ensure guests may not wander freely. As usual, guards operate in pairs.

Tunnels let waste go into the moat, and are blocked by metal grates. Occasional blockages require the appointment of a very small person to wriggle through the tunnel to clear the blocked grate, and nothing larger than a cat should be able to enter or exit the castle this way. Often clogged in winter due to freezing, leading chamberpots clumsily thrown out the arrow-slits to be the preferred method of disposing of waste.

Guard Towers-
Guards keep an eye on the wallguards and grounds from here. The towers with portculli leading to the walls are kept closed to the outside unless a password is spoken (and of course, the speaker is identified as someone to let inside) and there is a secondary interior portculli that requires further cooperation of someone from within the keep (typically guards from the top-right tower) allowing entrance. There are far fewer interior guards on the keep towers than on the walls, and they are more concerned with security than serving as archery-turrets.

There are stairs leading to the roof here, but the trapdoors are locked, and barred from opening due to the placement of stones that prevent them from opening from outside. Daily "Roof Duty" is undertaken by four house guards who must call the password to be allowed entry, even if they have rung alarm bells that indicate their peril. This 'third level' is wall-less save for defensive ramparts but not roofless, and has a hanging alarm bell and vision to the other bell-towers, save diagonally, for the steepled roof blocks vision.

The top towers have at times been used for nesting birds or messenger bats, though this is a potential security issue.

Guard Barracks
Near the noble quarters for quick assistance if an alarm is sounded. Though they sleep in shifts, these barracks are guarded as well, by human and dog.

Servant Quarters-
Unguarded, but often active with servant swapping shifts, with the top left guard tower guards able to keep an eye on this hallway in case something untoward occurs. Thin walls and arrowslit windows allow one to hear shouting from the lower left guard station, an awkward and slow way for the wallguard to request access to the keep if that tower is unmanned.

Guard equipment and masses of arrows, used to supply the house guard and equip troops that fall back to the keep in time of peril. Typically locked, requiring a key from the keep commander, so that those without weapons cannot gain access (though the doors are between two guard towers and behind portculli so it is difficult even ignoring the lock.)

Domestic storage for servant winter clothing, bedding, candles, stepladders, buckets, mops, etc. Frequently accessed by servants and guards alike for odds and ends.

Noble Chambers
Grand bed, closet,etc etc. Everything a noble needs to be ostentatious.

Noble Chambers (decoy)
Identical to the Noble Chambers, occupied sometimes by the master of the castle and sometimes by bodydoubles.

Noble Chambers (alternate)
Not identical, but equally well-appointed, and has a door to the bath-house allowing for more privacy than tramping in a bathrobe through the halls to the other chambers does.
Also has a secret passage behind the curtains of the four poster bed that allows for swift exit that will hopefully be mistaken for exit into the bath-house.

Panic Room/Secret Study
A portcullis can be lowered with the pull of a lever, but is kept open unless someone is inside. The walls are lined with lead, foiling some forms of detection. Sensitive items and information are kept here, and it is sometimes used as a meeting room by people who already know of its existence (past masters of the castle, royal agents, or body doubles.) It contains rations and weapons in addition to any secret information.

Dungeon Entry Guard Station
Manned by guards who are on long shifts, but have frequent checkups from servants/other guards due to the convenient location of being between two storage rooms.Their main duty is to restrict access to prisoners and the crypts, typically opening only to identified people like the master of the castle, garrison commander, or other people of note. They are equipped with crossbows and burning oil to menace anything coming up the hallway through the portcullis. They tend to have an older guard dog.

Lower Storage Room
The lower-food storage where root vegetables, wine, cheeses, etc are kept. Dungeon guards tend to gain weight and nibble on foods here out of boredom, which is overlooked as long as consumption is not egregious- a reward of being posted to dungeon duty. Dungeon guards and kitchen staff tend to be on a first-name basis with each other.

Solitary Cells
For important and public prisoners, or just quarantine for people who are suspected to be compromised, plagued, etc. Locked iron doors with more privacy than an iron bar door.

Prison Cell-
Single large room behind locked iron bar doors for containment of masses of prisoners of war and the like.

Secret Meeting Room (Alternate)
A dingy dungeon meeting room where clandestine meetings spoken in alternate languages or code may be held so as not to give away the location of the panic room.

Has a secret door (a brick-lined iron door that opens when a torch sconce is pulled) behind which is a locked iron bar jail-cell style door behind which a lead-lined oubliette where secret prisoners may be held is hidden.

Secret Meeting Room (Decoy)
A very obviously fake wall slides open to this room filled with compelling but obsolete or useless junk- a desk with a map, pyrite and glass treasures, code scrolls no one uses anymore, etc etc. A pressure plate will close the wall behind anyone entering, and it does not open from the inside, trapping snoopers. Occasionally used as a meeting room to bait suspected agents and spies whose presence is suspected but not identified.

Old coffins line the walls, covering up older alcoves where the dead lie, with the central support pillar full of alcoves for corpses and their grave-goods. The hallway to the crypt is strewn with tripwires that ring small bells to alert the guards the dead walk if there are no prisoners to howl in terror at such an occurrence.

Behind one such coffin is an empty alcove that can be crawled through to reach the secret crypt.

Secret Crypt
The walls and the stone sarcophagi alike are lead-lined. Corpses of spymasters and others with sensitive information lay here and have their mouths bound shut with lead to prevent necromancers from forcing them to speak, and their stone coffins are nailed shut to further deny access to the dead and any sensitive grave goods they may be buried with.