Friday, 14 December 2018

"It Came from the Blogosphere!" #1

(I'm still on holiday, I promise!)

I'm reading RPG blogs, as always. There's always good stuff on the blogs.

cowboy bebop at his computer
I think that, what with G+ going under, it's worthwhile sharing things I'm enjoying around like this, so I'm considering continuing to do so next year in monthly-or-thereabouts installments.

To that end...

Artpunk RPG juggernaut Patrick Stuart has his already-well-beyond-funded Kickstarter for Silent Titans running right now. Back it.

Meanwhile over on his blog, my heart has been captured by an adventure he's been writing in pieces this year called The Stolen Skin of Sun. It's a mystery of fairytale manners with Rossetti nods throughout, and I've been longing to run it since I first set eyes on it. Part one is here, it's tagged so you can peruse the rest and devour the whole thing like I did.

Everyone's raving about Mothership, and rightly so. I found Zedeck Siew's review/read-through particularly good, informative and as knowledgeable and insightful as one can expect the man to be. So check that out here. (Look at those layouts! Dang.)

Dan D continues his prolific output with some adaptations of SCP creatures, those weird short sci-fi creepypasta things, into monsters or items for Emmy Allen's Esoteric Enterprises. Something in there for everyone, whether you're doing fantasy or modern weirdness. The Interdimensional Vending Machine is so very much my thing that I feel, as the kids say, attacked.

Speaking of OSR luminary Emmy Allen (she's basically a figurehead for all this in my mind, at this point, her shit is Top Tier), her new game project is a pseudoscience secret-agent OSR thing with a whole system based on your heart rate and I love it. Check out the player-facing information here and tell me you don't want to play right now. This is the Hot New Game for me, 100%, I'll be following it all with eager anticipation.

I was unaware of this blog before now, but gosh darn if I don't love me some food. Here's Dunkey Halton's Brigade de Cuisine, like a mountain-sized food court directed by Miyazaki or Watanabe or both somehow. The chef in me appreciates the restaranteur detail and the whole thing has a very effective sense of atmosphere, plus my favourite kind of adventuring - exploring nice, weird places and interacting with nice, weird people. There's a link in there to a food generator too for some D&D menu items.

Ben Milton and Brendan S's OSR survey got a pretty decent level of response, and Brendan continues to analyse the findings in a hugely professional manner on his blog. Useful insights, suspicions confirmed, all that.

*

That's that then. I'll be back after the season's festivities with... geez, a whole bunch of stuff(?!?!).

Here's to next year.

Monday, 10 December 2018

Adventure Collection 2018

The first year of this blog is coming to a close. Here's every adventure I wrote and put up here for free during 2018.


A Road On a Hill; A Forest in a Valley

Link.

Something may go amiss in a sacred forest as the players pass by.

Style: A side quest. Exploration and investigation.
How To Use It: Make the road one the players go back and forth on a lot, let them see things changing. The actual inciting incident is up to you. They'll probe further if they want to.

The Wyrmling Hive

Link.

Dragons are bees, gold is pollen. Kobolds stole the town's treasure to feed their queen.

Style: Dungeon, investigation.
How To Use It: Makes for a good one shot. Map the caves on hex paper if you're desperate for maps. (Btw this is still the most popular post of all time on this blog? People like the bees.)


Hell On the Moon

Link to Part One.
Link to Part Two.


A fly-thru diner sits on a lonely moon; nearby, a crashed spaceship is infested with bugs, aliens, untended house plants and a bunch of very odd demons.

Style: Dungeon delving for treasure and exploration, overwhelming odds.
How To Use It: Serves as a great bridge into space fantasy. Best over multiple sessions, making several trips into the dungeon. Play up the NPCs: especially Gramps, Nadia and the archdemons, but also the visitors and astral anomalies.

The Postbox in the Woods

Link.

Monkeys, forest spirits and wooden priests watch a folk hero while he sleeps, tired of magnanimity.

Style: Maze-ish dungeon, focus on non-violence.
How to Use It: Works as a one-shot or the start of a campaign. Encourage creative thinking - don't send 'em in guns blazing. The crossword thing means the prep is done for you.

d6 by 6d6

Link.

A coastal region. Colonial rule with murmurings of criminal insurgency. Wave giants, pterodactyls, salt skaters, lion people, antlion people, pirates, the boogeyman, ancient ruins, a massive staircase, the fabled Crab King, ghosts, goats and two types of mermaid.

Style: Hexmap. Bare bones.
How to Use It: I ran it as-is, Graverobbers works well but it can go high fantasy too. There's sea, mountains, grassland and multiple desert types so most dungeons you might want to add will fit.

The Mysterious Village of the Fishfolk

Link.

A secluded town of mutants hide their shame.

Style: Investigation and interaction.
How to Use It: Written for Journeylands but would fit anywhere weird enough. Not much to it - the town is a secret to uncover, with the reward for uncovering it being knowledge and fictional positioning, so it only really works in the context of a larger world.

The Kingpin's Getaway

Link.

The ruined jungle hideout of a drug lord. Snot sloths, skeleton staff and a race for glory.

Style: Short dungeon crawl.
How to Use It: Rewrite the ending if you're not using Journeylands, the rest is pretty self-explanatory.

Dead Gods Make Little Deserts

Link.

A god crashed into the ground. Now his guts are a desert, home to a city of fabric and nomadic earwig riders. Find his head, mine his brains and plant his teeth to grow magic castles.

Style: Small area, exploration.
How to Use It: Pop it on a map somewhere. Another weird place for your players to go and check out if they're interested.

The Witch's List

Link.

A cosy autumnal village misses their witch. Do her chores while she's away.

Style: Small-scale exploration and problem solving.
How to Use It: One shot, or a good low-stakes quest. Good if you want to reward players who think creatively and like investigating.

*

Here's to next year x

Saturday, 8 December 2018

Marrying Off Your Player Characters for Fun and Profit

Marriage doesn't really come up in "standard" D&D, outside of occasional, memorable stories of old games in which characters developed and naturally grew closer over time. Or maybe when you think of the kind of D&D game that might involve a wedding, you think of the visual-novel-esque, tiefling-heavy 5e games that people play on Twitch, and all the fanart that comes with them.

Here's a quest hook for you though, no matter what kind of game you run: an NPC proposes to one of your player characters.

...who, me?
A marriage proposal is pretty much the ideal D&D encounter - it forces player characters to interact and engage with the world, it's immediately understandable and the stakes are clear, and all outcomes are player-driven, with basically any choice they might make opening up new complications and situations.

There are several ways to go about this, I've gone over some below. In all cases, make sure the person proposing is an interesting character with ties to your world - this raises the stakes no matter the outcome. Use your favourite NPC.

"The Gritty": Marriage is a patriarchal institution by which men can trade in their daughters for gold, land and oxen.

Adventurers, assuming they survive at least a session, have more gold and treasure than they know what to do with. As your PCs gain in wealth, they will garner interest as potential suitors. What enterprising fellow wouldn't want to marry his family into that? And if they die on their next excursion, his daughter will be a wealthy widow.

Of course, if the player doesn't die immediately after the reception (or during, go full Game of Thrones), they'll have gained access and influence in one of your world's factions, however minor, with ties to NPCs and some small slice of your world.

Or, with marriage as more of a commodity, maybe treat it as a prize, the "treasure" at the end of a quest: with the dragon slain, the barbarian king acknowledges your strength, and gives you his heart and the service of he and his warband - as is tradition.

Do bear in mind, those of you who love your "gritty, realistic" worlds, that there are a lot of popular myths about medieval marriage. F'rinstance, women marrying young was not a thing in medieval Europe outside of royalty - who, let's face it, were just generally pretty messed up anyway.

(A wife was for housework and childbearing, and she couldn't do either effectively - especially not the latter, which risked the life of both mother and child - until she was at least twenty-one or so. So things were still shitty for women, just not quite child bride levels of shitty.)

I think I actually watched this movie
"The Romantic": Marriage is a public declaration of love.

Check your players' CHA scores. Chances are they are, by and large, more attractive than the average person. OK, CHA doesn't mean hotness, but they're certainly more interesting than most. Why wouldn't someone equally interesting, or perhaps even more so, be intrigued? The court wizard, perhaps, or a faerie prince.

Make the proposal come from someone powerful so that both rejection and acceptance will carry with them a cost and a benefit - the gaining of both new influence and allies but also responsibilities, or keeping one's freedom at the cost of incurring wrath. Rejecting a demon queen is campaign-changing stuff; nobody will remember the time your fighter turned down a starry-eyed milkmaid.

(Unless, of course, a djinn or demon hears the milkmaid's lonely sobs, and offers comfort, or even revenge... Kind of a dick GM move imo but sure, fuck their shit up.)

"The Politician": Marriage is a means of social positioning.

This is for those Masked Ball kinds of games. Maybe someone has something your player wants, and they'll happily give it up in exchange for their hand. Maybe your PCs already have some influence, or gain some through questing, and that makes them desirable.

You'll need a succinct but tangled web of NPC motivations, and players willing to investigate and learn. Whose family wants what, and who in that family wants something different? Brush up on your Shakespeare, and mire the whole thing in ulterior motives.

"A Rose by Any Other Name": Not marriage at all, but the same idea.

Of course, nobody necessarily needs to propose, it's just a clear, immediate and dramatic version of the real plot hook at work here - an NPC puts themselves on the line and offers to start a relationship with a PC.

Take that however you choose. A flirtation leading to a possible one night stand, even a business proposition - anything that will make the player's situation more complicated than it was before, no matter how they react.

Thursday, 6 December 2018

The True Elemental Planes

Mike Schley's map of the Elemental Planes for 5th Edition. Very pretty - ALL LIES
There has been much chatter and debate on the nature of the planes of existence over the centuries. Now that we can send helldozers and golden barges across the cosmos, and the brave and/or foolhardy souls who pilot them can, on occasion, safely return, we know the TRUTH.

The (Prime) Material Plane

A convergence of all four elements, with People as the ultimate expression of their confluence. Not a place of harmony, but one of such perpetual roiling imbalance as to create a perfect storm. The spearhead of reality, its potential draws the attention of the gods and its life is the purest expression of such that we can conceive (Editor's Note: grossly short-sighted but ok, sure).

Planets suspended in phlogiston, orbiting stars that extend for light-millenia in all directions. A Universe.

(not mentioned here are other dimensions, such as the plane of Faerie and several of the Hells - these exist on something of a metaphysical Z-axis, while we concern ourselves here chiefly with the X and Y of it all)
The Elemental "Planes"

Fire, air, earth, water. Not planes at all, but concepts - pure expressions of the four base realities that form the Material.

These are, contrary to the old wisdom, not Places one can Go. They are mathematical and alchemical constants, a sphere of pure existence that binds our universe.

The "Elemental" Planes

If the Material is where all four elements collide, then these are the other places within the Inner Planes in which they make contact. Pairs of concepts butting up against one another to form realities. They are remarkably similar to the Material, even if they lack all the base components.

Within each there exist areas where matter, time and space flow in such a manner to make them habitable to life as we understand it, almost like the planets of the Material realm. When we discuss the Planes, we speak of these areas specifically.

The Plane of Ash (Fire & Air)

A place of wild passion, the heat and smoke making the air unbreathable. Perhaps the least habitable of the planes - although helldozers, by complete happenstance, are ideal for traversing it.

Colour Palette: Pitch black, hellish red, vibrant orange, smoky grey.
The Wildlife: Sky-things, like fish and dragonflies. Beautiful and in a constant dance.
The Locals: Ethereal wisp-people of wild, joyful energy. Try to resist their calls to come outside.
Why Are There No Maps: Pure whim and passion without the stabilising natures of water and earth make for a directionless mess. There is no up or down here, only a whirling storm.
What Might Bring You Here: It's been suggested as less gruesome route for hellholes. Some wizards are showing up to places covered in ash rather than blood now - very hip.

The Plane of Ice (Air & Water)

A vast cold sea, almost entirely frozen. Nearly unerringly calm, its nights and days are each ages long.

Colour Palette: Blank white, cloud grey, pale blue.
The Wildlife: Transparent fish, blubbery mammals. A few slow leviathans, some city-like in scope.
The Locals: Of the blubbery, mammalian variety. Diminutive, stoic but welcoming and wistful, changing with their world while holding true to their values of community and peace. They have an almost spiritual bent, despite the lack of gods tending to their realm.
Why Are There No Maps: Floes drift, icebergs crash and change. What was considered a continent sunders overnight with a cracking sound that shakes the sky and leaves a new crevasse.
What Might Bring You Here: The Great Hunt for a legendary and gigantic beast by day, or supposed visions of cosmological truth in the lights that pass over the night sky.

The Plane of Ooze (Water & Earth)

A wet marsh of life-stuff. Organs and membranes and plant matter without drive or purpose, stagnant and resolved to do little but grow slowly and die.

Colour Palette: Jungle green, bile yellow, mud brown, gore red.
The Wildlife: Resembling that of the Material realm, but in fits and starts. Like errors of creation, stupid and pointless. So many plants, bugs, things like bacteria.
The Locals: Varied tribes of meat-plant-folk, each adapted by the cosmic joke equivalent of evolutionary luck to be driven to one thing: eat, kill, fuck, build, destroy, etc. The most agreeable are the placid majority who simply exist to exist.
Why Are There No Maps: Too complex. One would need to produce anatomical diagrams-within-diagrams in place of maps or charts on a 1:1 scale to be comprehensive enough to prove useful.
What Might Bring You Here: If a particular part of a plant or animal is needed for some reason, chances are the equivalent has been spawned by sheer randomness within this primordial soup. The locals understand living matter at its basest level and can guide you.

The Plane of Magma (Earth & Fire)

Rock and molten rock. Terrible, unbearable heat. Spires, cliffs, valleys, the only light from below.

Colour Palette: Soot black and stone brown, sun yellow and shining blood red.
The Wildlife: Of stone. Biology like engines or clockwork. Violent, hardy, quick: pick two.
The Locals: It would be a mistake to call them golems, for they are self-driven. Large, loud, passionate but unchanging. Tribal tradition, feats of bravery and strength are honoured.
Why Are There No Maps: That's just not how things are done. The only thing you need consult for direction is your own heart and the will of the elders, brother!
What Might Bring You Here: These are staunch and fierce allies to have, if allies you can make of them. Plus, enormous crystals like nowhere else are buried deep in the rare colder caves, a source of energy as yet unharnessed.

The Plane of Steam (Fire & Water)

Humid. The air endlessly thick with vapour to the point of opacity in places. Dim orange light from a hypothetical sun-like source. Evaporating pools and geysers.

Colour Palette: Coral and dull orange, mist grey, stagnant green-blue, more mist grey.
The Wildlife: Salamanders. Olms, wetfish with vestigial limbs. Macaques and balloon-beasts. Lichens and algae.
The Locals: Attractive, with an affinity for gadgets and tools - technology here is made of stone and crystal and light, rubbery worksuits made of lichen fibres. Wanderlust is common, and all are nomads or explorers.
Why Are There No Maps: They're working on it! Load a geode disc into a projector and take a look at what this explorer's got so far - a half-done map drawn in light, beamed onto the vapour in the air.
What Might Bring You Here: These are an adventuring sort - planestrotters would be in good company. Join them on an excursion, and who knows what loot may be found?

The Plane of Lightning (Earth & Air)

Like an asteroid belt in a storm cloud. Always in flux. These elements cannot find balance - welcome to the crossfire.

Colour Palette: Storm black, lightning white.
The Wildlife: Small and wary, or hardy beasts of burden. Not much of a food chain.
The Locals: Deeply mysterious. They ride the storm.
Why Are There No Maps: Yeah, good luck with that.
What Might Bring You Here: There is a strange beauty to the ensuing battle. The locals have much to teach, if you have the time and skill to learn, and the wit and luck to survive.

The Outer Planes

Beyond the inner, the Elements do not govern existence. Here dwell unknowable things: aberrations, old ones, gods.

All existence is bound in the Astral Sea, but this far out that is all that remains. This is not something a mortal mind can fully grasp. It is the stuff we dream in, the plane of the soul. A phlogiston of the ethereal, a crossing-place, a dark matter. Some call it the fifth element, quintessence, and claim it to be the birthplace of magic itself.

Better to focus on that which we can reach, for now.

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

To Hurtle Through Hell

News item #1: A big ol' post just went up on the Patreon about what this blog is going to be up to next year. If you're not part of the Graverobber's Guild yet, sign up for just $1 USD a month!

News item #2: Ben "Questing Beast" Milton and Brendan "Necropraxis" S have written up a survey about what the OSR means to people and what they want out of it, if you have any opinions on this please fill out the survey here!

To business, then...

"Hell" is an old-fashioned term we got from cults and clerics, these days used as a general name for any plane or dimension that is either inhospitable or actively opposed to life as we know it.

There is one particular hell, a constant hungry battleground of writhing demonic flesh, which sits in a particular cosmic alignment with the prime material plane. Thanks to this proximity, it turns out that travelling via this hell results in journeys being shortened to the point of near-instantaneous travel.

Once can, with enough momentum, pop into hell and spring back out again at almost any location on Earth in a matter of seconds - assuming the detour can be survived.

your shortcut
Hellholes
The portals for performing this maneuver require a specific spell. They must be conjured immediately, sustained for exactly as long as they are being used and no longer, and be opened in quick succession - point of entry then point of exit.

The travel between the portals is messy, to say the least. If the traveler is not quick, they will be eaten or impaled or absorbed or flagellated or diced or sliced or gods knows what. Even if they are quick, something else's gore will likely get mixed up in the proceedings. Wizards still show up to parties drenched in demon blood.

sorry I'm late, lads, traffic's a nightmare
Spell: Hellhole. Creates a series of sphincter-like portals that form a detour through a hell dimension, then hurtles the caster through them at great speed.

Instantaneously appear at another general location on the material plane (must be on said plane to start with). You arrive covered in demonic gore, 1 in 6 chance there's a useful organ or piece of bone/horn stuck to you. Save vs spells or die on the way.


the point of exit
This rudimentary use of the hell dimension for travel was solely the purview of daredevil warlocks, until the development of the helldozer.

Helldozers
By the same logic of design that powers astral ships or golden barges, but to those as a sawn-off shotgun is to a sniper rifle. A helldozer is a transport craft which insulates its driver, passengers and cargo from the demonic onslaught as it plows onward towards its destination, throwing itself through an alchemically generated hellhole, propelled by a controlled cosmic explosion.

A dwarvish construction built on human recklessness, it is bulky, graceless and painfully slow when not blasting through dimensions, but as reliable as it needs to be. A helldozer that has its tusk-like prow stained deeply with ichor is a worthy one - a clean prow means the craft is untested. Of course, either way it's a risk - but sometimes you just need to get where you're going.
you laugh but this is actually fairly close. I'm sure there's a Games Workshop model that'd work
Helldozer: Roll 1d20 to hurtle through hell as with the effect of Hellhole but without the save: stranded in hell on a 1. Roll with advantage but no modifiers if you have a skilled pilot.

Price of a very nice warship, encumbrance of ~10 adventurers. Moves at half movement speed on land, any terrain. Anything on the helldozer's exterior when travelling through hell is lost unless the pilot rolls at least one 19+ (and wants to not lose the thing in question).

Extras: Bits o' Demon

Among the gore, guts and shredded miscellania your wizard or helldozer is coated in upon exiting the hellhole (1d20):

1: Small intestine, as rope
2: Meat chunk, as ration
3: Tooth, as dagger
4: Schpleenus, as flask of oil
5: Gigagizzard, as vial of poison
6: Suspicious meat chunk, as ration, save vs indigestion
7: Eyeball, a functioning replacement
8: Cursed eyeball, a functioning replacement with darkvision, save vs possession
9: Horn, as shortsword
10: Skin flap, +1 AC cloak, rotting smell
11: Grognad, ages you 1d20 years if ingested
12: Hairy scale, grow lustrous and enviable purple hair (d4: head/face/body/all) if ingested
13: Mumgristle, silent while chewing it: no voice, no clanking armour, nothin' (max 1 hour)
14: Pongle-giblets, you conduct lightning harmlessly while wearing them as a necklace (humans are put off by the smell, felines find it endearing)
15: Pupuukus, a blob of goo enough to coat one person, slimes or oozes think they are also slime and leave them be (wash off within a day or permanently gain slime-like qualities)
16: Slipworm, an extremely docile parasite - too big for your gut but for 1HP of your energy per day you can wear it as clothing, AC as plate with a fashionably meaty appearance
17: Vantoplaque, gunky paste that hardens and adheres over skin, make armour with it (as chain, cracks irreparably if critically hit)
18: Negablubber, completely inflammable, coat something up to people-size in it to make it utterly impervious to heat for 1 hour
19: Gongulary gland, huff the gas contained within to see invisible things (permanent, one use, the whites of your eyes go purple)
20: Phallus, as greatsword

Tuesday, 27 November 2018

A Review of Black Pudding: Heavy Helping Vol I

The first four issues of J V West's OSR zine, Black Pudding, are collected in the Heavy Helping - classes, adventures, monsters and all kinds of other content for dungeon-crawling fantasy games. The result is a thoroughly enjoyable resource compendium and reference book, set apart by its playful art, engaging style and consistent sense of fun.

The world of Black Pudding is one of classic sword and sorcery gaming, caricatured to almost parody levels. Barbarians are everywhere, all of them muscle-bound and/or voluptuous. Monsters are strange and otherworldly, with too many eyes and unpronounceable names full of Zs and Xs.

If this sounds like too much cliche for you, fear not. Black Pudding makes it work.

The book is split into several sections, so I'll do the same with my review, giving my thoughts on each in turn - but as we go I'll also be using each section to talk about the book as a whole.

Sheets

We begin with a collection of OSR character sheets, some for Labyrinth Lord that would work in pretty much any B/X-esque ruleset, and a few smaller ones for DCC characters.

Like almost all the art in this book, these are are hand-drawn black-and-white cartoons drawn by the author. The sheets manage to present unique and creative designs - one has you taking notes on an idol based on the cover of the AD&D player's handbook - but they still fulfill their practical purpose.

Classes

These for me are a highlight of the book. I could roll a d20 to select one of them - there's a table for doing just that later on - and I'd be excited no matter the result.

The tone for this section, and indeed the rest of the book, is set with the first entry. The Barbaribunny is an anthropomorphic rabbit with all the battle instincts and bloodlust of Conan himself. We also get a giant mole, a luchador and a goth wizard.

There are some slightly less left-field options, such as the Shield Maiden, but each one has an attention to detail that make them concise, flavourful, and intriguing. And not only are they all illustrated, but on many pages the text itself is also hand-written, giving a wonderful DIY feel and, here's that word again, sense of fun.

Now might be a good time to bring up the bawdy sexuality that runs through this book. It's only a subtle theme, never overt or even close to pornographic - I wouldn't bring it up at all if it weren't an anomaly among most generic RPG content, which is either blandly chaste or hypersexualised edgelord nonsense.

If the many cartoonish illustrations of busty amazon warriors didn't clue you in, the text itself will - this book fucks. The Chainmail Chick, for instance, gets an AC bonus when wearing that infamous fantasy trope, the chainmail bikini, and has various class abilities dedicated to using her wiles and beating up enemies who lech over her. See also: the Witch's magic just flat out works better when she's naked.

These things are obviously a matter of personal preference, but I'm thoroughly impressed with how sexuality is handled in this book. There's a healthy mix of pantomime innuendo and straight-up sex appeal, but none of it ever feels exploitative or unjustified. It's all deliberately over the top and in good taste, like a dungeon-crawling burlesque show.

Items

A few pages of magic swords and spell books with their own short lists of brand-new thematic spells.

These are fairly mechanically focused, with +1s or Nat 20s or 1-in-6 chances of this, that and the other. I personally prefer a more "fluff"-based (and therefore system-neutral) approach with magic items and spells, but these are solid options and will definitely make your players feel powerful.

The Glittering Tome of the Silver Sage is a nice idea, with spells based on various aspects of silver: reflection, killing lycanthropes, even a "silver tongue". I'm just not sure that, for example, the silver tongue spell needs to interact with any mechanics - it changes the caster's CHA to 19 and causes a save v Spell, minus the caster's CHA mod. The first sentence, which says that "the caster's words sound true even if they are false", is enough for an OSR spell.

This is perhaps my only pressing criticism of Black Pudding's content. It's a book of hacks, of mechanics and statblocks, and it manages to make them engaging almost effortlessly, but with its resolutely old-school stylings none of the fiction is anything we haven't seen before.

Thankfully though, I don't think Black Pudding needs to be groundbreaking at all - because it does what it wants, and it does it well.

Monsters

The Black Bestiary is full of wacky creatures, very much in the vein of classic monster manuals. The Binoculon and Orgthool fit right in with the old-school feel of beholders and otyughs, perfect for dungeon crawlers who think they've seen everything.

If those kinds of monsters are your bag, this book is worth the price on its beasties alone - there is an embarrassment of riches here. Oh, and this entire section is hand-drawn and hand-written. It's delightful.

My personal favourite critter is probably the Angel Mama, a fiend from goblin folklore who turns slain gobs into shadow-men and commands them as a little army of attendants. I can't wait to spring her on a batch of players who thought they'd seen the last of those pesky goblins.

Who am I kidding, I'll end up using most of these. There will certainly be a Yomgarf in my next adventure.

Meatshields

Or "hirelings", if you want to be fancy.

Not only do they come with a mercifully concise statblock and inventory, all the info you'd need to run them, but each has their own pay rate, and a different likelihood on whether or not that pay can be haggled down. 

There are... over 50? of these guys, and each gets their own illustration (plenty of curves on display, of course, plus a few bulging loincloths). The personalities come across in the cartoons, but also in the single-sentence quips of backstory and a fun little feature that lists each hireling's turn-ons and turn-offs. These manage to be both cute little asides and practical information for the GM who wants to play them.

It's the only hireling resource I've ever read that's made me want to use them, and the only one I think I'm likely to ever need.

Adventures

Not enough content for you yet? Black Pudding doesn't skimp on the adventures. There are 7 fully illustrated and mapped adventure sites - a few dungeon crawls, a couple less traditional locales and a mile-wide hex.

Each seem easy enough to read and run, with information clearly presented around the map like a keyed diagram. It's very One Page Adventure Contest, and indeed most of these are a single page, though there's enough content packed into them that you could easily get a whole session from each. Great for one-shots.

As of writing this, I've run the first one-page dungeon, the Buried Temple of K'Lixtra, and it's been well received. This is a deadly module in an unapologetically old-school style, but it isn't trying to be anything else, and it works well.

I don't think any of these adventures are particularly groundbreaking in design, but I don't really care. They're well written and I'll be glad to have them on hand to throw at my players the next time a good old dungeon is needed.

House Rules

As it sounds, a compendium of house rules for OSR systems. Individually they represent hacks and add-ons for your system of choice, but the section is so exhaustive that you can, as I have, use this as a rulebook and run a game from it wholesale.

The content here is dense, but clearly displayed and simple as pie to use. Character creation as written is a ton of fun, with optional tables to flesh out a character in minutes with a background, appearance and other gameable minutiae.

Also included are takes on the OSR classic classes, from Fighter, Thief and Wizard to Clerics, Elves, Dwarves and Halflings, each one managing to feel fun and engaging despite the fact that you've probably seen most of this a hundred times before.

Whether or not you like this section will depend on whether or not you like your house rules as they are, but there's just so much here that there's no way you won't be able to find something you'll want to use.

tl;dr

This book is at once a collection of various disparate but intriguing homebrew elements, and a self-contained OSR starter set all on its own. The Heavy Helping is just that, jam-packed with content that's both unapologetically classic and utterly charming in tone.

The book reminds me a bit of bands like funk duo Chromeo - bear with me here. Those guys aren't trying to be groundbreaking, they're 70s through and through, almost to the level of parody; light-hearted, affectionate riffs on the classics. They know what they want to be, and that's old school, but presented with so much of their own style and swagger that they earn their place among fresher, more contemporary sounds.

What I'm saying is: you owe it to yourself to get your hands all sticky with Black Pudding.

Tuesday, 20 November 2018

Weapon Levelling for OSR Games

For every 1000 XP earned, or gold spent (and therefore xp gained) at the magic blacksmith's, a character earns 1 Weapon Point (WP).

WP may be saved and spent on the following upgrades, listed by cost, whenever the character is not in a dungeon.


X WP - Change damage die to the next highest die type only by spending X WP where X=dX of the old die type (eg: 4 WP to upgrade d4 to d6).
1 WP - Weapon can transform at wielder's will, see transformations below.
1 WP - Weapon deals +1 damage to an enemy type (beast, material, etc), this upgrade can be bought again but doubles in WP cost for each additional purchase.
1 WP - Weapon acts as a compass needle after 10 min ritual, points towards the nearest thing 1: lost, 2: deliberately hidden, 3: valuable eg treasure, 4: extraplanar in origin.
1 WP - Weapon is silvered, can affect spirits/lycanthropes/astral entities.
1 WP - Weapon becomes intelligent, can communicate with wielder telepathically at any range on the same plane, see personalities below.
1 WP - Weapon casts light, can be turned on/off or made dim/blinding at the wielder's whim.
1 WP - Wielder can choose one person or creature at a time, that target refuses to believe despite any evidence that the weapon exists.
1 WP - Weapon lives within the wielder's hand, can be summoned at will or put back inside whenever it is within the wielder's grasp.
2 WP - A command word causes the weapon to be immovably fixed in space (speak again to switch this off).
2 WP - A command word causes the weapon to teleport to the wielder's grasp, no matter its current location.
2 WP - Weapon is blessed, +2 to hit and damage against anything blasphemous to the deity.
2 WP - Fighter-type only: Weapon grants +1 AC
2 WP - Thief-type only: Weapon can shrink down and become a magically enhanced lockpick.
2 WP - Wizard-type only: Weapon contains a random spell.
3 WP - +1 to hit and damage, upgrade stacks up to +3 total if bought again.

During the upgrade process, a weapon may randomly gain a quirk (1 in 6 chance or similar):
1: Intelligent, see personalities below
2: Holder gains a different appearance while wielding the weapon
3: Secretes goo
4: Invisible
5: Too self-aware, save vs number of monsters killed each day or the weapon gives up violence
6: Is now a dog (loyal, roll your attacks and deal damage as with the normal weapon)

Transformations:
1: Tool (eg spade, hammer, quill)
2: Clothing (eg hat, cloak, garter)
3: Animal, intelligent (eg rat, toad, porcupine)
4: Other weapon type

Personalities:
1: Curmudgeonly
2: Excitable
3: Daydreamer
4: Lascivious
5: Cowardly
6: Violent
7: Curious
8: Obliging
Variant: Blood Alchemy

It is the war god's magic that turns a weapon into a Weapon, a true instrument of battle.

Each of the above upgrades corresponds to an item, a magical attachment which confers the upgrade's ability to a weapon instantly once affixed. One such attachment may be affixed to a weapon at one time: some rune, charm or totem, perhaps.

Once the weapon has dealt total damage equal to X times 100, times the WP cost of the upgrade, where X is the dX of the weapon's damage die, in righteous combat*, an alchemical ritual seals the power of the attached item into the weapon's form permanently, and a new item may be attached.

(*the scriptures differ on what counts as righteous combat, some priests even believe assassination counts, but something like finding a farm and stabbing some pigs definitely doesn't)

The player tracks total damage; if they forget, they forget. New items can be found through questing, or given as rewards.

Saturday, 17 November 2018

Running NPCs in TRPGs like JRPGs? OMG!

Oh dear, is this a GM advice article?

Sort of. I've seen a good few "how to run NPCs well" advice posts and columns, and as I'm sure you can imagine the advice, when it's good, boils down to obvious things like "improv, be a good actor, give them personality quirks".

I think there might be some value in looking at the question from a more design-based viewpoint, rather than giving acting advice. Acting certainly adds something to a game, but you're a GM, not an actor - maybe you can act, maybe you can't. One thing you are for certain, though, is a game designer.

So, if you'll indulge me, let's look at running NPCs through the lens of game design by looking at a genre that has always done them well - the Japanese video game RPG. Specifically, let's look at NPCs for what they are in game design terms, at least in those kinds of games - background and setting elements that serve as delivery systems for information.

I love me some JRPG goodness. I've made no attempt at hiding this. But while mechanically dense combat, two-dimensional NPCs and pre-structured plots might be all well and good for your Pokemons and your Final Fantasies, they're not the things I come to tabletop RPGs for - if anything, those are all things to be actively avoided in pen and paper games.

When RPGs were transformed from pen and paper to 1s and 0s, they had to sacrifice certain aspects of what made them work in the first place - namely, the human element - and learn to provide enjoyable play experiences on their own terms.

Since those early days of Zork, video game RPGs have evolved into their own beast, and the Japanese industry in particular has been churning out hallmark examples of what computer chips can do with the genre like nobody's business.

But is there anything they can teach us about how to play their tabletop forefathers - especially in the OSR/DIY scene, which leans into that human element of play more than most other genres?

Let's humour me and say yes.

"NPC Dialogue"


In your standard JRPG, you can walk up to any NPC, press "A" or your console's equivalent, and be rewarded with one or two lines of dialogue in a little text box. You might see a name pop up for the character, or a little portrait, but probably not. In a constantly evolving medium, JRPGs have stuck with this same method since the first Dragon Quest. Press "A", read, done.

By the way, I won't be talking about big, important NPCs here, who normally have much more to say through cutscenes and the like - I'm talking about when you first arrive in The Next Town and there are a bunch of folks with only a few sprites or character models between them, standing aimlessly around, waiting for you to poke them (or whatever the "A" button does; the player character rarely or never speaks for themselves in these games, so how they get these strangers to spontaneously start spouting conversation is one of the genre's many handwaved mysteries).

These supporting characters don't have much to work with, but the best games in the genre can use those few scant lines of text to great effect.

Let's look at some of the things game developers do to make these otherwise unimportant NPC extras a worthwhile part of the game, and try to apply those same principles to running generic NPCs as a GM.

Concise And Useful/Interesting/Charming


The reason, I think, the player in a JRPG wants to talk to all these random idiots who only say two short lines of text over and over, is because each one of those short lines reveals something new about the game. I'm curious to see what the game has for me. And the more I find that text to be gameable info, noteworthy advice or just generally charming banter, the more likely I am to try again with the next character.

It can be crucial quest info, sure, but even generic chat can give new insight into your setting. How does this person feel about the king? Are they excited about an upcoming festival?

You don't know who your players will want to talk to, of course. Have a list of useful or interesting information a random commoner might say, and put it in the mouths of whatever NPC your characters gravitate to.

Seeking Out Conversation



You have to go up to the character and hit the talk button if you want to hear what they have to say, so it's completely possible to play the whole game without ever talking to one of these NPCs. Don't let that happen at your table!

As a GM, your players can't see the world unless you describe it - so make sure you make it clear that there are all these people around, just waiting to be talked to. Make them intriguing, even if they're just another villager. And when the players bite, have something interesting ready to say, as per the last point: that's their reward for using their talking skills, just like loot is their reward for using their dungeoneering skills.

Make your players aware of and interested in potential conversations, and reward them for engaging in dialogue.

... And The Reverse



Don't just count on your players to seek out dialogue, though. Dialogue should be all around them anyway, at least wherever there are people.

The world exists and goes on without the players, and so conversations should just naturally occur around them. Have them overhear snippets as they pass, and let them either jump in to the conversation or listen a while. Reward note-taking.

And, foist conversations on them! NPCs can come up to your PCs and engage them: try to sell to them, hit on them, go on a racist tirade about half-orcs. It doesn't even have to be gameable - just a random NPC asking a player's character for the time can be enough to draw a player in.

Players shouldn't have to actively chase conversation with NPCs; it should occur around them, come and find them.

Idle Banter


There's enough life and death in the game already. Not every conversation has to have a dramatic impact on your setting's future or the player characters' destinies. Let your players put their feet in their mouths without it having nation-wide consequences.

People talk about dumb, normal stuff all the time. It's most of talking. Having low-stakes conversations will make players more relaxed about talking to NPCs in future, as well.

A good way to do this is through a child NPC. They might want to know a PC's favourite colour, or ask them if they want this rock they just found.

Yes/No



Getting the players to respond when an NPC talks to them is another matter entirely, especially getting them to respond in character, if that's what you're aiming for.

In JRPGs, you normally just listen to a given NPC rather than engage in actual back-and-forth dialogue, but a genre staple is to allow the player conversational input via one avenue only: the YES/NO box.

These are often false choices, or just lead to one of two text options, the other of which can be read by talking to the same character again. But at least the player did something, and saw the situation progress because of their actions! That's the whole game in a nutshell.

In your tabletop game, a simple yes or no question is a great way to get a player to engage. Don't raise the stakes too high - this isn't an interrogation, remember, just idle small talk. Have they been here before? Did they see the play last night? Then, leave it there.

Precise Game Info


One thing I admire about the JRPG genre is how unabashed they are that they're games. While a western RPG will try to hide gameable information in natural-sounding dialogue, Japanese games just blurt out the useful info at you through a chatty NPC.

They'll even do this on a meta-level too; every Pokemon game has a person standing around the first or second town who reminds you to "save your game". You wouldn't catch Peasant #3 in The Witcher talking about save files or reminding you how to access the audio options.

I digress. The point is, it's fine to just rub the actual, gameable information you're trying to get across in your players faces. You don't need to wait until what feels like a natural moment to bring it up, and you don't need to obscure it by trying to make it sound more in character.

If you think the players need to know something, have an NPC just straight up tell them.

Hints and Rumours


The other way, of course, to impart information through NPCs. Characters not knowing the whole story or partaking in gossip can add to verisimilitude and let the players figure things out themselves from context clues, which is always nice.

Don't try to give out critical information this way, but anything else is fair game. Rumours are a great way to add intrigue to adventures - are the ghost stories just stories, or should the party stock up on holy water before they delve into the woods?

Rumours and tales differing between each place or person is also a great idea. Or not necessarily differing, but focusing on or adding new parts to the same story. Which leads me to...

Storytelling


A word with baggage in some RPG circles, but I'm talking about actual characters in the game telling stories.

Video games people use the term "environmental" storytelling for stuff like when you find "RUN" written on the wall in a zombie game. The place itself telling you about what kind of a place it is, and imparting relevant, gameable information to the player.

This kind of storytelling isn't exactly environmental, but it does use an important part of your game's background; those NPCs.

To give an example from Dragon Quest 11, which I've been playing recently and which inspired this whole post: An NPC in one town mentions a relative who moved away. When you eventually reach another part of the world, an NPC will mention moving away from their family. It's a small moment that you'll miss unless you talk to those two specific people, and it doesn't add anything to the overarching story, but it's there to find.

You might think that this makes the world seem smaller, but in fact it can give your setting new size and depth. Little touches and connections that show you've considered and thought about these random commoners (even if you haven't really!) bring your players into the fiction.

Another great example from DQXI: a city was recently destroyed by monsters. It's the talk of the town, the last major world-scale event, and NPCs frequently bring it up. Then, suddenly, a few hours into the game, one NPC will casually add some information to the story you hadn't heard before, information about the involvement of a certain person... Is it true? Because if so, this changes things... Or is it just a case of the story being warped in its retelling?

Sometimes, the reward for your players engaging in the fiction doesn't have to be directly gameable information - it can just be more story. And all fiction is gameable in one way or another, since this is a game of fiction!

When players show an interest in an NPC's life, that's a story. And stories can be told and retold in new ways - that's worldbuilding.


Screenshots from: Dark Cloud, Pokemon (R/B, G/S/C, FR/LG, R/S/E), Persona 5, Monster Hunter World, Dragon Quest XI, Kid Icarus: Uprising

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Magicienne (OSR Class)

So-called stage magic is harmless light entertainment, with all the spectacle of a real illusionist but none of the creeping dread that one of these spells may misfire and summon a demon.

Court jesters, then, are rarely true wizards. On the contrary! The fun of the show comes from the acceptance that what one is seeing can’t be, and yet is, happening; magic, however eldritch, is very much real, and therefore not particularly awe-inspiring. Anyone knows a wizard can breathe flame – but how did that dancer manage it?!


Recently, performances have evolved from simple imitations of mages and turned misdirection and distraction into their own art form, playing as part of vaudeville and burlesque shows or in gambling halls and circus tents, entertaining the paying public rather than nobles at court. The modern practice is inseparable from casino culture, with many performers incorporating tests of chance and skill to wring money from any punters trying their luck. 

Traditional wizards scoff at these mundanities with all the self-important superiority of an elf discussing human wine. But newer, younger mages, unbound by the self-imposed shackles of academia and seeking new frontiers to breach, have found something of value in the philosophy and artistry of the harlequin’s patter and performance. 

A new movement in wizardry has begun in earnest, bringing with it a fresh attitude and all-important sense of style. Among the youth, performance “magic” has begun influencing the real thing.
Magicienne 

aka Prestidigitator, Casino Witch, Lady (or Gentleman etc) of Luck 

Level/HD/To Hit/Save/Spell List, etc, as a Wizard 

You gain the following upon taking this class: special Garbskills of Distraction, either a Familiar or some good Luck, a Trick, and an Extended 1st Level Spell List. 

Garb 

Magiciennes dress as if for the stage, whether in actor’s finery or something more elaborate; the skin-tight suit of a tumbling harlequin perhaps, or a smart tux and tails, the slacks often swapped for fishnets (an element of the tease is hardly out of place). The aim of the game is distraction, darling. 

Masks are not uncommon, ditto capes. Full drag isn't unheard of either. Some punks have even taken the heretical step of swapping the classic pointed wizard’s travelling hat for a sleek black top. And don’t get me started on what kids think passes for a wand these days… 

Roll for a motif or emblem, if you feel you need one. 

1: Playing cards and their symbols (perhaps one in particular – draw a card). 
2: Gambling accoutrements: dice, roulette or the slots. 
3: A game such as chess or dominoes, or a particular piece.
4: A rabbit.
5: A rose.
6: A bird, likely a dove or magpie.


Distraction

(This is a mundane skill, not magical – you are persuasive, entertaining, alluring, or likely some combination of the above.) 

If your system uses Reaction rolls and/or Talents or Proficiencies:

You gain +1 to Reaction rolls against anyone who might find your magic, appearance or mere presence diverting. This doesn’t include other mages, who find you a bit much. 

You are Proficient with sleight of hand and performance.

Your familiar, if you have one, has these same skills. 

Otherwise: 

When meeting a person or intelligent creature who might find you or your craft diverting, you have a 1 in 6 chance to command their attention. Your familiar has this same ability. 

You can reroll this skill once on an audience if you cast a spell they have not seen before.

Familiars 

Those who keep the tradition of spirit-servantry put their own spin on it; the old-fashioned cats, rats and toads simply won’t do. 

1: Your hat is itself your familiar. A post-modern approach. 
2: Your reflection, though the scope of its ability to aid you is limited to the World on the Other Side of All Mirrors.
3: A white dove.
4: A white rabbit.
5: A white jackalope.6: The Glamorous Assistant. As a magical hireling, but is unskilled with all tasks other than helping you with spells and other wizardly pursuits (y’know, familiar stuff), or generally making you look good. 

Or… Luck 

Some of the new school eschew familiars altogether; instead the spirit they focusing on channelling is that mysterious and seductive force known as Luck. With faith and good favour, they are capable of turning their personal fortunes around. (Miscasting spells because the fates demand it? That’s for the birds.) 

Instead of a familiar: Once per day, roll d100 under your level to gain a Luck point. Spend this point to reroll any one die and keep the better result. You may have one Luck point at a time. 

Tricks

Little twists of cheap magic that absolutely do not follow classical spell procedure. In fact, they are closer in nature to the dirty, bastard magic of common thieves – the magic is all in a flourish of the hands and a flick of the wrist. 

Consume no mana or spell slots while casting thesejust do them whenever. 

1: You can create lights like tiny fireworks and hold them in your hand, snuffing and relighting them at will. You can also hold light from other sources, snatching it out of lamps and the like.
2: You can pass weapons through matter without causing any damage, if you wish. To switch between damage and no damage, the weapon must be completely removed and then re-inserted.
3: You can keep one small thing at a time in your hat, making it disappear from reality until you need it again. Living creatures other than your familiar do not survive this process.
4: Coins and similar small treasures you hold can be disappeared safely, up to an amount you could carry. To get them back, “find” them (behind an ear, in your mouth, from your cleavage, etc).
5: You can levitate yourself or someone nearby several feet off the ground, straight up and down only (once they’re up there you could always pull them around like a balloon or something).
6: You can instantly undo any non-magical ropes, handcuffs, or other restraints that bind you. 

All magiciennes can also use these flourishes of their hands for very light telekinesis: straightening their bow tie, brushing dust from their lapels, that kind of thing.


Extended 1st Level Spell List 

Magiciennes have access to these spells as well as the standard wizard spell list. The first time a character levels as a magicienne (including creating a character at level 1), all new spells must be taken from this list.

All Eyes On Me: Everyone nearby who is aware of your presence, or becomes aware of you during the duration of this spell, is unable to focus on anything else but you. Their opinion on you doesn’t necessarily change – an enraptured audience is still just as invested, an angry mob still just as bloodthirsty – but they fail to notice other details about their surroundings, including anyone else who might be nearby. This spell lasts a number of minutes equal to your level.

Check Your Pockets: A single small item currently in the possession of a nearby target – something they are holding, carrying or wearing – disappears and reappears on your person.

Eyes on the Prize: Any single small item which you possess or which you have concealed somewhere is now in any other location of your choosing. You may continue to move it around for 1 minute. 

Is This Your Card?: Target one nearby item and one nearby person – you learn the significance, if any, of each to the other (in broad strokes, nobody wants their life story). 

Now You Don’t: If you are unobserved, you may teleport to any nearby location in which you would also remain unobserved (this spell might fail because you were being observed but didn’t know it, in which case you magically discover who’s watching you).

Puff-Puff: Has an X-in-6 (X = your CHA modifier) chance of distracting an enemy to the point of total inaction until you leave their sight. On a failed roll, they are distracted by you for one round, but not to the extent that they can’t act. 

Quick-Change: Instantaneously create full outfits matching any you have seen for a number of people up to your levelThis spell is a conjuration, not an illusion – so any clothing you create actually exists for the spell’s duration. The spell ends in moonlight or by your will. You may conjure clothing directly onto the person of yourself or any willing targets, but any clothes they are already wearing are consumed by the spell. 

Sawing the Lady in Half: You split a target at the waist, their legs and abdomen now separate from the rest of them. They remain alive and healthy, and may still control both halves. They are restored if the halves touch. Unwilling targets must save vs spells.

Squib: Upon being slain in battle, you in fact only appear to die for a moment – regain 1 HP. It’s not a lasting illusion, just a moment of magical misdirection: from the start of your next round, anyone who cares to check can tell you’re still alive. 

Switcheroo: You and a willing person or creature on the same plane of existence swap locations.

Think of a Number: You command a target to think of something, anything – their true name, the password, the place they hid the body. Whatever it is, they think of the truth, and you read that single thought telepathically.