Thursday, 10 October 2019

Alcalligraphy

selected excerpts from a students' field guide by High Birdmistress Gwim of the Qin Citadel Rookery

On Nibs

As Yatun writes: "the Nib is, among the Master's accoutrements, uniquely both superfluous and focal [...] it is nothing by itself, yet becomes at the moment of ritual the locus of the Master's soul, the divine Universe, and the Energies of the World."

Being a beginning alcalligrapher, it is easy to become overwhelmed by the many and varied options extolled by your peers and forebears. Your teacher, if you are lucky enough to have one outside of this book, will likely express a preference to which they may well entreat you to adhere; I attempt to offer such guidance, though I focus here chiefly on listing below the common options, that you might make your own decision.

On Shape

Nibs come in two major varieties, being pointed or broad. A broad nib is often looked down on as offering less flexibility of expression in exchange for an easier wield, but can in fact achieve a similar range of artistry with a practised hand, though the methods are different to those commonly taught, owing more to geometry (cf. Agost's treatise on planar angles).

The pointed nib is the common choice, but requires a delicate hand that its most vocal proponents often lack. It is the quieter and subtler of the two shapes, less mechanical and thereby lending itself to the traditional forms and holds most frequently taught but so rarely mastered.

There is also a recently fashionable blunted or "stub" nib, which lies somewhere between the two. I recommend this for beginners only, as I doubt its effectiveness in the higher forms.

On Material

While the make of a nib is, in the cosmic sense, largely inconsequential, a soft yet firm metal allows energy to flow freely and provides enough flexibility to recreate the forms freely without sacrificing precision. The metals most commonly used in nibs are as follows.

[On Copper] Often considered base due to their cheapness and lesser durability, copper nibs are by no means of inherently inferior quality. I would recommend them especially to new alcalligraphers, as they can be replaced easily if damaged during recitals. I have seen them used effectively at even the highest forms, and a copper nib kept well will last much longer than their reputation suggests. Bronze is also an excellent alternative for a more experienced Master, with very similar resonances.

[On Steel] The most common, still in use as the Royal standard issue due to its excellent strength and resistance. The added hardness of steel does require delicacy when handled, especially if using a pointed nib, but for the basic forms there are few better options. The metal's resonance with the Winter house also affords it unique strengths in some less common forms, though a beginner used to the resonance of warmer metals may find the adjustment difficult.

[On Gold] A hugely popular choice among those who can afford it, gold benefits not only from its excellent softness but also its durability and strong Summer resonance. However, those who utilise it as a mere status symbol are frequently kept in check by the metal's unwieldy level of softness; a truly light and delicate touch is needed to handle a gold nib, making the learning curve steeper than with other metals. In the hands of a true Master, however, there is little more effective at the higher forms.

There are other options in material, such as the practice of tipping the nib with platinum or even silver. These should be avoided until the practitioner is familiar enough with the basics to take on the additional complications in resonance added by mixing metals..

On Feathers

It is a well-used metaphor, and trite, but as beginnners it serves us well: if the Universe is whence we draw the water and the flame, and the Master is the vessel, then the feather used is akin to tea leaves. One can expect to make "tea" - that is, "magick" - with anything, though the taste and effects will vary with type, quality, and the skill with which the ritual is performed.

Given the spectra of birds available to us here in the great citadel, the feather used in learning the forms is largely the choice of the teacher. Unlearned practitioners use the tail or wing feathers of common pigeons, or perhaps still worse magpies, to achieve the base forms and distasteful bastard magicks.

As a Royal student you will likely begin with raven or crow, a purer class of bird and the Royal standard for even trained guards. The powerful Winter alignment of the birds themselves is inherent within their feathers (though take heed that this correlation is not uniform across all species, as commonly illustrated through the case of the male peafowl - cf. Merittom's Bestiaries), and is ideal for practising the forms required for the citadel exams, and serves as a functional starting point on the lifelong journey towards Mastery.

Beyond these, a Master's selection is their own. For those with a tutor, a practice feather will likely be gifted - though do not expect the same type as the teacher's, which has likely taken them many years of progression and ritual to gain competence in. You will likely have cause to practice with many types before settling on a preference - while the old adage that "every feather is a spell" is far from academically correct, there are forms limited to certain classes or even species of bird.

I can offer little advice in this matter, other than to remember one's resonances - it is not too great a measure to take into account one's birth chart! - and to not waste time on delusions of grandeur. Many a would-be Master has failed to realise their true potential after frittering away decades on failed quests for the tail feathers of the Phoenix or the Crowning Bird. Better to learn through ritual, practice, and performance, than high-minded ideals.

Monday, 30 September 2019

1d6 Strange Arrows

Magic arrows are an easy way to give fighter-type characters cool abilities that resemble spells and vary their "utility" options. Here are 1d6 one-use ideas:

1. The intricate stone head of this arrow is fluted and curved, with small holes throughout. When fired it makes a continuous noise upon impact until it is removed. Loud enough to be heard for some distance, and to deafen anyone too close.
2. An arrow made of wood and bone. Being struck by it causes its target to follow a one-word command from the archer to the best of their ability. This magic does not compel living things. 
3. A purplish metal arrow that seems unnaturally strong for its frailty. The target of this arrow feels no pain, instead receiving a message from the archer's mind - words, images, and thoughts conveyed in a flash.
4. Tipped with obsidian, the shaft of this arrow grows into a copy of the arm that fired it once it hits its target. The arm mimics the archer's own in its movements, and disappears if it is injured.
5. A slight, slender golden arrow. Refuses to hit or damage any living thing, but will always strike true if aimed at anything else the archer can see. 
6. This arrow's stone head is bulbous and heavy, yet it flies well. Upon firing, the archer sees through the arrowhead's carved eyes instead of their own, until the arrow is broken or retrieved. 

Wednesday, 11 September 2019

It Came From The Blogosphere! In 4D!

Every once in a when-I-feel-like-it, I gather up the posts and related RPG ephemera I've been enjoying lately, a fresh punnet of gaming berries for you to pick through like a hungry songthrush, snuck into the grocer's stores whole her back is turned.

Buckle up jabronis, we've a bumper crop this time around!

welcome to internet
First off - the Ennies are tabletop RPGs' (second) biggest award show, and some good games got accolades this year, including Mothership winning gold for Best Game! Of course the real awards season highlight was the Rammies... Check out Ramanan Sivaranjan's personal picks here to see who deserves your pocket money.

High Priestess of the OSR Emmy Allen has a system for creating magic items which, with its focus on seasons, feels very much like something I'd have written and thusly should fit snugly into your game if you use things from this blog like the weather generator or my Witch's List adventure. She's also posted about her brilliantly conceived cult-ridden town generator, as well as a very cogent argument for the use of "diegesis" and its related film theory terms as useful categories when discussing mechanics in RPGs. Read that right here if you want some good theory.

Artpunk maven Patrick Stuart asks whether gnomes can be interesting, and then deftly weaves folklore, game lore and his own inimitable ideas together to prove that... Yes. Yes, they can. I love gnomes now.

Dan occasionally blesses us Throne of Salt readers with a splurge off odds and ends, unfinished ideas and stray concepts that are a ripe boneyard for any graverobbing GMs in need of inspiration for their next Frankenstinian creation. This is post no. 4 in his notebook series, and there are some true gems in there.

Where would we be without Goblin Punch? Nowhere fun, that's for sure. Here's some theory on "dynamism" in games, a truly terrific location for adventures with a Damn Good Gimmick in the Lost City of Nibulum, and an encounter roll system so good I want to base a whole game around it. Oh, and here's a class called the Baboonist.

Speaking of cool classes, here's Ben "Questing Beast" Milton with the Skeleton King for his upcoming Maze Knights game.

Skerples has gifted us with 1d50 missions for medieval mercenaries, including some of the best quest hooks I've ever read.

I've not come across this blog before but these consumable magic items from Pathika certainly won me over - as did the Dungeon Meshi image used in the post.

Chris McDowall has some good things to say about the importance of information and how to use it when running RPGs. I really like "impact" over "consequences" as a descriptor for what player actions cause within the game world.

Prepare for your eyes to turn into covetous anime sparkles - here's a preview of something the BREAK!! team is working on that looks straight up gorgeous. Check it out!

The Alexandrian is legendary among RPG blogs, and I'm sure you don't need me to get you to give it a read - even so, let me implore you to check out this hugely well-informed post on why system... Matters?

And here's Bryce Lynch with a metric fuckton of adventure writing advice tucked into a box the size of a small blog post.

And if all this RPG advice is a bit much, Daniel Sell has words of wisdom for dealing with writing advice as you make your own RPG things.

For those of us who brave the stormy seas of Twitter to discuss RPGs (hit me up! @CustardFaceKid), it's easy to be overwhelmed or sucked into some really toxic discussions. Sean McCoy has made a thoroughly good-hearted and helpful guide to getting better at using Twitter to talk positively about the things we love.


Now then...

Let's get historical, shall we?

Starting a couple of whole-ass centuries ago! Here's Joseph Manola talking about how Walter Scott was a big nerd who basically could've invented D&D if he wasn't so busy writing poems. Seriously. Give it a read. And while you're over at Against the Wicked City, have a gander at these (actual genuine!) urban superstitions from the 1800s, free to repurpose into terrifying realities for your game.

And now to the history of our hobby itself. As a hot-headed Gen Z grognard barely emerged from my chrysalis, I'm always fascinated to learn more and hear new perspectives on the history of tabletop RPGs. For instance...

Could it be said that the British old school is a different enough strand from the American to warrant its own OSR? Here's the Uncaring Cosmos making a case for just that.

Cecilia D'Anastasio has written a stunning report on a legend most old hats probably know like scripture, and the question behind who really "invented" D&D and the modern role-playing industry... Dive into Blackmoor, and the first ever game of what would be Dungeons and Dragons.

And finally, a glimpse into a brief, shining moment in recent history, and a highlight of play-by-post gaming, as Japan worked wonders with the concept of postcard RPGs. I'm so enamoured with this whole thing that I might have to find some way to do it myself...

In any case, that's all for now! Happy reading, and remember - there's always good stuff on the blogs.

(Got a favourite post from this edition of ICFTB!? Leave a comment on that person's post, letting them know how much you liked it!)

Saturday, 31 August 2019

The Fields of Calliope

In th' fields of Calliope
Life's but a dream
There are a great many

Sights to be Seen!

O! th' fields of Calliope
Fiddle-di-dee!
Just make sure you're back home
In time for your tea!



Here's some extra bits you can use with my demiplane setting Calliope, or just put in your game however.

Landmarks
1: Farm
2: Farmhouse
3: Tree
4: Hill
5: Water
6: Oddity

Farm
1:
A scarecrow asks you to carry him to see his love, who is in another field. The farmer will berate you for taking the scarecrow, if he spots you.
2: Full of cows. They can predict the weather.
3: A tall crop of wheat, infested with light-fingered imps. Somewhere deep within, a rabbit is having a tea party - his tea cures madness.
4: An orchard of hat-bearing trees. One could start a new fashion by crossbreeding a top with a bowler. The farmer laments - she only wished to grow apples.
5: Towering piles of large brass needles, bundled together like hay. A scarecrow in the next field sold a piece of her straw to the porcelain witch who lives there, and wants it back.
6: As the old song goes: This scarecrow is laden with magpies and ravens/ they don't find him scary at all. Perhaps you could teach him new tricks, or find him some more frightening attire?

Farmhouse
1: The farmer is impressed by adventurers, and wants to marry off her three sons. They are pretty useless, but she is a weather-witch who dotes on any new family.
2: A dozen pigs have broken into the farmer's house while he is away, and made a mess of the place with their revelry. If you help them clean up and replace a broken gravy boat before dinnertime tomorrow, they will give you a gold coin which always lands on its edge.
3: A witch lives here, but doesn't seem to be home...
4: Little mice work the mill and kitchen, baking fresh bread. They want to start delivering to the castle town, but need a non-mouse liaison to set up a route via which they can carry their bread undisturbed and leave it on the baker's table each morning.
5: A sunflower has sprung up through the floorboards and burst out of the roof! By day he is too busy soaking up the sun to hear reason - uproot him carefully by night and find a better spot to plant him so that the farmer can have their home back.
6: This farmer despairs, as his turnips uproot themselves and escape every night. Find a reliable way to keep them contained, and he'll teach you how to sing a campfire into life.

Tree
1:
This tree's branches are laden with ripe crab-apples. Three friends argue beneath the boughs - a cat who wants to make jelly with them, a dog who wants to eat them whole, and a donkey who will offer his labour to anyone who can make his friends stop fighting.
2: In a nest at the top of this tree sits a taunting magpie. She is an able thief, but will only steal something if the payment for her services is an even more valuable treasure.
3: By night, the branches grows delicious white apples that shine like the moon. By day, the apples disappear.
4: The Come-Around Tree. Sticks taken from it will, given half chance, fly back and reattach themselves to its branches. Children play at snapping off twigs, wrestling them to the ground and then letting them go - the more adventurous ones try to ride whole branches as if thy were a witch's broom.
5: This tree is lost, and wants to go back to his spot in the forest. Moving a whole oak may prove difficult.
6: Home to squirrels who desperately want to see a play. They can offer nuts aplenty in exchange for tickets and an escort, along with their fiercest warrior as an ally.

Hill
1:
A standing stone atop this hill is a meeting-place for young children who play an elaborate game. They have found a magical sword, but will not give it up lightly.
2: A young couple sits on a blanket, picknicking. Nearby are some bumblebees, plotting to steal their jam. Pick a side - the couple will offer a slice of pork pie with healing properties in exchange for dismissing the bees, while the bees are good to have on your side in a heist.
3: At the weathered peak of this hill is a gravestone, haunted by the melancholy spirit of the man buried there. He cannot pass on until he remembers the smell of a freshly baked blackberry pie.
4: Large woodlice roll down the slope for fun, but would like an easier way to get back up again once they reach the bottom. Solve their problem and they'll gladly join you on your next quest.
5: This hill is in fact a giant, recently woken, who wants to roll over and go back to sleep. The trouble is he had been sleeping for so long that fairies have made homes in the mushrooms that had grown from his belly button. Find them a new home, so that he doesn't crush them. The fairies like any house that is far prettier than its surroundings.
6: Atop this hill is an anchor and chain, mooring a little flying boat hidden by cloud. The captain wants to stock up on cheese before his next flight, and will pay in stories of an imminent visitor From Foreign Lands.

Water
1:
A nymph in a pool wants to wed the most eligible member of your party. They would live out the rest of their life beneath the surface, but their child would inherit their wealth and possessions, as well as some of the nymph's power, and be free to roam.
2: A bridge, guarded by a dimwitted troll. Some goats want to cross over, but risk being eaten - they offer their strongest son as a mount should you help them.
3: By the shore of a lake sits a painter with an easel and brush. They will offer their walking footstool in exchange for paints - anything that leaves a stain is good enough, in three different colours please.
4: A puddle has formed in a large footprint. A frog wants to live there, but her wife is worried that whatever giant made it may stomp this way again. If she could only meet a person or creature that big, she might be calmed to know that not all giants are horrible and settle into this new home. As a reward, the frogs offer the secret of a kiss that, with true love, turns royalty into one of their kin and back again.
5: There is a little house that only exists in the reflection of this pond. By aligning one's own reflection just right and miming a knock on the door (or through some similar scheme), one can call the occupant to the door, who will appreciate the visit and teach a spell that tricks mirrors into ignoring you.
6: Frog-men race lilypads down this creek. A fine oar or sail is of great use to them, or even yet a wild duck, captured and tied down. They can tame any waterfowl into obeying a single, one-word command from its owner.

Oddity
1:
A really big egg.
2: A great fish, fallen from the sky. Take them to the highest point you can and they can catch a breeze back home - they'll pay in a shower of sparkling scales.
3: It is this young ostrich's dream to be trained as a knightly mount within the castle town, but he's far too cowardly. If you can help him overcome his fear, you'll have a friend for life within the castle guard.
4: A mole has sprung up to complain about the noise above - there isn't enough of it! Make some music or find a band to play for him, with at least three musicians to ensure a sufficient volume, and he'll let you use his tunnel into the castle town.
5: A little dragon who delights in causing mischief by turning things it touches invisible. Keep it contained so it can't do any more harm! Once it matures a little it'll see the error of its ways, given the proper guidance.
6: Some squirrels have constructed a man-sized mechanical effigy of the late prince. They plan to con the king out of all his acorns - oh, and money. The old coot is just barmy enough to fall for their ruse, but despite their confidence anyone else will see at a glance that this is not a man at all, but several squirrels operating a series of pulleys. The only solution is to get the squirrels, with their contraption, to the king, alone...


Wednesday, 28 August 2019

a "REACH" fangame - brainstorm

I did something like this once before.

Basically, if an artist I like posts something cool, and I think it would work great as a premise for a game, and I'm inspired enough that my game design notions turn into game design notes, I do a "fanart" game. I can't draw, so this is my way of engaging with that inspiration and creating something.

This time, my thoughts are still v fresh, so you're getting my raw notes/brainstorming. I wondered whether this would be worth a post - last time I posted a finished game, and even when I designed a game from scratch on this blog I'd already done the brainstorming work and got basically right into mechanics.

But i think demystifying the process is good! A while ago I watched Adam Koebel livestream himself designing an RPG from scratch and it was heartening to see that a Professional Game Designer's first draft was a word document of random notes, same as mine. Now that I'm kind of a Professional Game Designer myself, maybe someone will find these notes useful too.

by Jack McGee

This time round, my inspiration is this badass concept by Jack McGee (@Drooling_Demon on Twitter). Eldritch horrors from a dimension beyond our own latch onto hosts who use them for cool fights, summoning parts of their Behemoth through surfaces like walls and floors. The different body parts and abilities each Behemoth has influences their partner's fighting style, and the partner also gains some aspect of the Behemoth's power permanently.

I suggested a name for the thing on twitter: REACH

Yes, it's very cool and very anime. You should check out Jack's webcomic Star Impact too, it's awesome.

My initial idea for a tabletop RPG wasn't one I could make work. Reliance on 3D space isn't something tabletop games do especially well, at least not to the relatively granular degree I think this concept necessitates, and certainly not through theatre of the mind which is the realm of spatial abstraction I generally prefer designing in. Video games do "space" really well, but I, uh, can't do computer.

The tabletop idea that stuck with me though, was a card game.

look how cool!
you should for sure check out more of their stuff on Twitter
TCGs are prohibitively expensive, so it'd be a self-contained thing. 1v1 competitive play, with each player using a character card and a corresponding Behemoth deck.

The character card remains out at all times. I'm taking a lot of inspiration from Yu-Gi-Oh (which btw is very D&D and has great monsters for your games). I feel like the battle shonen vibe is appropriate here. The character cards face off, with a certain amount of HP, and attacks or abilities they can use on each player's turn. First player to defeat their opponent wins.

Meanwhile, each player is drawing cards from their deck to summon Behemoth cards and play them in (5? 3?) spaces in front of their character. These spaces are that abstraction of physical space we were after - there would be just enough that the board feels a little cramped.

Might do it like Yu-Gi-Oh, where you can't directly attack the opponent (in this case their character) without clearing the field of obstacles or using an ability to do "piercing" damage.

These cards represent aspects of their Behemoth (Eye of Beholder, Left Arm of Seraph, etc.) and have effects - bonus to attack; this card attacks on its own; disable enemy effects; get more cards... Other things that augment their character's specific abilities. There are decades of TCG mechanics to draw on here. Behemoth cards would all have their own HP, and can be targeted for attacks and destroyed.

Then, another mechanic taken from Yu-Gi-Oh, but also used in things like Pokemon. You can play weaker Behemoth cards straight from your hand, then remove them from play to swap in a stronger card from your deck (or a sub-deck, to prevent dead draws). Two Eyes of Beholder are worth a Beholder's Maw, or three for a Beholder's Many Eyes. Bigger cards with better effects.

Or: Can you open up more spaces? And maybe better cards take up more spaces? That's a better literal reflection of the premise, but I'm not sure it's a better game mechanic.

Here is cool-ass fanart of an original Behemoth by Dragon Princess Green on Twitter.
Anyways.

I'd keep things slow, with relatively small numbers. A strategic, thinky game, working on getting your own engine up and running while making sacrifices and setting traps for your opponent as they try to clear vital parts of your game plan off the board.

For more variance, and to bring in more of the concept of physical space, there could be a third, "neutral" deck representing the fields of battle. "Downtown City" cards, or "Ancient Labyrinth". The place our characters are fighting in. A roster would be drawn into the middle of the field, and players could take cards from it as opposed to their deck in order to change up their strategy based on the various benefits the terrain might offer them.

(Not sure about that bit. Seems like a lot of work. Would make battles more thematic and cool tho... Each game with a new combination of opponents and location would be like a new episode of an anime.)

... Anyway, those are my thoughts so far!

This would require a lot of balancing and work, so if I do any more with it it'll just be now and then in my spare time.

In any case it feels good to just do a full-on rambling, idea-splurge post again.

Monday, 26 August 2019

Ice and Steam (a 5e Encounter)

Haven't shared much of my current 5e campaign's content, mainly because my notes consist of random scribblings and d6 tables written on the way to each session. That's about as much as I prep these days.

Last session though, I had occasion to design an Actual Tactical Combat Encounter. Grid map and everything! Again, just something I made up on the fly an hour before the game started, but I like it and I reckon there are bits here you lovely folk might be able to steal.

References to my campaign's setting are for my own amusement, you may obviously adapt them to your liking


Ice and Steam - a 5e Encounter for characters of roughly Level 3

The players can enter the cave from the south on their way through the Ice Path. It would provide a good shelter from bandits or a sudden blizzard, and if they are searching for something on this route then they will likely want to check it anyway.

Heck, they're D&D players. It's a cave. They'll want to go in.

forgive the scribbles, and the photography. i am a Writer
The snowdrift comes into the cave entrance a few feet, then stops. The inside is still bitter cold (creatures not used to cold or dressed appropriately* must save vs exhaustion every hour in this weather). A rocky outcropping part-blocks the path before the cavern opens up.

The ceiling is about 10ft up and covered in icicles. The floor is frosty, except for under the red pipe that emerges from the cave wall, about 3ft off the ground, and continues to the far end, disappearing once more into the rock.

There are patches of ice (difficult terrain) on the floor (that's what those shaded bits are supposed to be).

The pipe is red not through paint or the type of metal, but the superheated steam within. (Travellers from Arcadia Pits will know this, having seen the pipe's origin in the second reservoir.) Contact with the pipe causes 2d4 fire damage per round. It's high enough off the ground that a gnome could walk under, but anyone taller would have to roll acrobatics to duck or roll as they move. There's also enough space above the pipe to move freely over it.

The two northern tunnels lead to eisengor nests. The left one has a further hole at the back that leads up and out of the cave.

The big tunnel opening to the left is an ice slide almost 100ft long that descends into a lower cavern Here is the frozen body of the man the party was tasked with finding, Nabokov.


Eisengor

Inside the main cave are 1d4 eisengor. The rest are nesting in the top-left or top-right caverns, and will come if another eisengor flees to fetch them. (Total no. of monsters is whatever you deem appropriate to the number of party members - I went with 4 apiece which was challenging but very doable.)

Picture the monsters from Attack the Block, but reverse the colours (white fur, black teeth), and scale them up by like 3 times. Big ol' yeti-gorilla boys. Their arms are longer and more muscular than their short legs, and their hands are huge, padded and clawed, with opposable thumbs. They know the pipe is hot and are smart enough to avoid it.

Medium creature
Alignment: is an artefact of a single D&D campaign and has no inherent bearing on the modern game
AC 14, HP 32, Movement 50ft
High Str, decent Wis - use Lion stats from the PHB if you need them for saves etc
CR: is nonsense
XP: not today, Satan

Attacks
Claw: +5 to hit,  melee, 1d6+3 damage
Bite: +5 to hit, melee, 1d8+3 damage
Icicle Throw: +3 to hit, 15ft range, 1d10 damage, DC 13 dex save vs being knocked prone.

Abilities
Multiattack: 2 attacks on its turn
Charge: If an eisengor uses at least 20ft of movement and then attacks, the target makes a DC 13 Strength save on a hit. If they fail they are knocked prone.
Savage: may use a free action to make a Bite attack against a prone enemy once per turn
Grasping Claws: If an eisengor makes two claw attacks against the same target in a turn and they both hit, the target must make a DC 13 Strength save or become restrained. While an eisengor has a target restrained it cannot use its claw attacks, but all Bite attacks are instant criticals and deal d10 damage
Ice Climber: An eisengor can use icicles or other cave features to hang and swing, monkey-like. They ignore terrain and obstacles below them while swinging. (As long as they are about 10ft up or less they're still in melee range because they're so big, but the space right under them is considered usable by other creatures if it's empty.)



*appropriate dress varies... the ogres up-mountain seem to be content with scraps of fur, while if a human came here without a dose of sun oil they'd freeze in an instant. The wrestler Icarus Armageddon, known to his friends as Odeir, doesn't seem to feel the cold either...

Friday, 2 August 2019

Bell Peppers and Beef

I like how money works in RPGs - as in, it just kinda does. You start poor and then do missions and get a bit richer - now you can buy better gear to do more missions! You get to see those numbers go up, and with them your characters' social standing and potential to get cool stuff.

It's like real life capitalism, except you don't have to worry about millions of people and the planet they live on being systemically crushed by the relentless pursuit of a few chosen individuals' personal gain! Huzzah! Money is one of those things, like conversation, that you don't really need to abstract through mechanics in a tabletop game because you can just play out the real thing at the table, or else handwave it as needed.

But for the new 5e game I'm starting with some friends, tallying gold and copper just didn't seem ideal. It wouldn't fit the tone, for a few fairly arbitrary reasons, the biggest one being that this campaign takes inspiration from Cowboy Bebop. 

(I almost launched into a Cowboy Bebop treatise here, so this little aside is me barely managing to stop myself from ranting about one of the greatest TV series - not just in sci fi or animation, but of any medium or genre - of all time. If you've never watched Bebop... Watch Bebop. Just... Just watch it.)


I figured our heroes in this setting weren't the classic B/X gold-for-XP murder hobos, as much as I love that conceit. Nor were they 5e's archetypical fantasy rag-tag do-gooders who maybe buy a boat. These are people under constant systemic and societal pressure, worn down by a world that works against them at every turn, struggling to survive through loopholes and dirty tricks - drifters in a cosmic race that threatens to overturn their unstable lives of they ever, for even a second, stop running. They won't ever get rich, and if they do they'll die trying.

Also I thought it would be cool to have scenes of them sipping coffee in a hazy neon jazz club or eating ramen from a street stall between jobs, and I didn't want to undercut that with "ok, everyone cross off 2 copper". Money is a background feature in this world, a system first and a tangible gameable thing a distant second.

But at the same time, this isn't a storygame, and spending power means something to the way players approach challenges. I want to give them the satisfaction of earning something from a job (on top of the best thing to earn from adventures which is fictional positioning, and the second best which is levels and items and stuff), even if it's quickly ripped away again. Money and how it relates to the characters' place in this world is interesting and gameable, and I want it to have weight. I also wanna reinforce the "just one more job" cycle of play that RPGs excel at anyway.

So, I cooked up a little something with what I had and ran it by my players. They agreed it was a good idea - a session in and it's working nicely so far.


Here's my Bell Peppers and Beef (and hold the beef) Financial Abstraction Mechanic. Or as I half-jokingly call it, the Poverty Roll. Kind of a variant on "usage die" mechanics.

The crew has a shared Money stat of 1-20, most likely starting at a 0 or 1 given the implied flavour. Gritter games can use a lower top end to the scale; 1-10, or 8 even.

Each completed mission earns the players 1, 2, or occasionally even 3 points depending on the fiction.

Every time the players:
- spend a day shopping or the night at an inn. Y'know, an in-game day where they make general, normal purchases
- make a significant purchase (relatively speaking, I'm thinking like a magic sword or a big bribe) or otherwise spend more than usual for the day
- take a long rest (1 week in this setting as per the 5e DMG's variant rule)
- other relevant expenditure as decided by the GM

They roll a die, dX, where X is the highest integer that is lower than their current Money stat and is also a die type available at the table - or a d4 if the stat is 1-3. (d2 also possible I guess.)

On a 1, they lose 1 from their Money stat.

At 0 Money, they have no purchasing power and must take a job before they can buy anything.

Try it out! Try not to think too hard about how it mirrors real life financial struggle and the world is a cyberpunk hellscape ✌️