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
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.

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

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?

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.


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

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.

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 ✌️