Monday, December 15, 2014

I just ran Into the Odd and it was Fun

I just ran my first session of Chris McDowall's Into the Odd. Know what was cool? Everything. More specifically? A party managed to crawl 21 rooms worth of dungeon in under 3 hours. Now that's efficient.

dat cover tho

Okay let's talk about it.

First of all I like the system. The machine ticks well. There aren't a whole lot of parts but the parts that are there carry a lot of weight. There were a few moments where we were like, "wait, how does that work again?" But the answers were always to be found in Into the Odd's 25-or-so pages of rules, usually somewhere you'd expect them to be, under a heading that made sense.

On with the session report.

One thing I wanted to do here was test out Chris's assertion that Into the Odd was a game you could just grab off the shelf and play, like any other tabletop game. I tried to play in that spirit. So I grabbed an adventure off his blog (this one, to be precise). I'd read it once before and not very attentively, but liked the creepy atmosphere and the encounter table. That was literally all the prep I'd done.

One thing that's really important to note here is the effectiveness and importance of the way Chris presents his adventures. If you plan to run this system, have a look at the link I posted, or read over the introductory module included with the free quickstart rules here. The room descriptions are pretty minimal and uncluttered. You can see a list of the most important features of a given room at a glance. This works and means you don't have to spend five minutes hemming and hawing your way through a room description with every new room, trying to distinguish what you should show from what you shouldn't. This isn't just good, efficient design - it's essential to the ethos of running with minimal prep. It means that the party can enter a room you've never read before, and you can go, "oh, there's, uh, a staircase in here, the one by which you came down, two iron trunks on the floor, a chandelier hanging from the ceiling, and a painting of soldiers hung on the south wall." If someone asks what's in the trunks, you go to the heading that says "iron trunks" and tell the player what's inside.

All that to say that I was far from well-prepared but it worked.

Character creation was fast. Like, really fast. Faster than any game I've played before. We started the session five minutes ahead of schedule and everyone already had characters. One guy had rolled an Arcanum in his starting equipment but didn't know what it was. I told him there was a list of d20 Arcana he could roll on, so he did, and he got a Bone Magnet. That was literally the extent of the time we spent fiddling over chargen. That's a tiny fraction of the time it takes to set up a game of Settlers of Catan. Even if you take the time to read a like 4-page module you'll still be ready to play in half a Catan board.

Chargen also produces fun characters. Gloomtrain's Mat Diaz rolled crap stats - his highest was a 9, and I guess his HP wasn't very high, because he started play with a Heat Ray and a whole bunch of weapons. The guys with better stats get less cool stuff. Character creation balances itself out and just about every character it produces is in some way interesting. This was awesome.

In the spirit of spontaneous play I also skipped any kind of introduction. I got straight to the dungeon. "You're outside a rusty trap door, it's creepy and no one knows what's in there. What do you do?" No lore dumping, minimal character introductions (just their names and equipment), let's go, let's play. Of course you can play D&D this way too. If anything Into the Odd's minimalism sheds light, and actually somewhat refines, the no-nonsense-let's-get-to-the-dungeon playstyle that OD&D was made for.

As for a play by play of the session, frankly, I find these boring to read and boring to write, so I'll stick to what was interesting.

The party managed to fight half of the dungeon's random encounter table in the second room. Many of the monsters on this particular were spooky and atmospheric, rather than outright dangerous. There was one monster which is generally nigh-impossible to kill, unless someone happens to have brought a Heat Ray (it's immune to damage caused by non-living material. I imagine heat isn't a material for these purposes). I think the dungeon is supposed to be a terror crawl where you're regularly fleeing from this bastard but, impressively enough, they managed to kill it. (It managed to knock two of them out first. It was quite tense.)

Here's one interesting rule we didn't quite use right, but damn is it cool. While fighting the nigh-invincible monster, Brian asked if he could "turn the heat ray all the way up." I figured, sure, why not, and told him he could Enhance the attack, but he'd have to succeed on a STR save to avoid being knocked back by the force and taking d6 damage. Just after he managed to kill it someone, I think it was Mat, dug up a thing in the rules that said that you can use an Arcanum in a slightly altered way by making a WIL save.

First of all, cool, there's a rule for bending your magic effects and it's goddamn simple.

Second, cool, it's intuitive enough that I nearly guessed it right.

The Heat Ray turned out to be the big hero of the day actually. Not only did it single-handedly take out the Big Bad, but Mat also realized he could use it to melt the locks off doors. I couldn't think of any reason to it shouldn't work and allowed them to eschew the usual roll to see if something bad notices you while you're picking the lock. Which was interesting, because there were a whole lot of locked doors.

So yeah, Arcana are cool. The asshole DM in me that wants to make everything difficult cringed a little watching them blow through every locked door, but it seemed to be fairest way to run the game. Also, Brian found a ring that lets you see in the dark but deals WIL damage when exposed to light. I remember Chris wrote a post suggesting that all D&D spells be unlimited-use, but dangerous to cast (eg. Sleep affects everyone within a certain radius, meaning the wizard either needs to risk running into a group of monsters alone or put their friends to sleep too. Nice.) That ethos evident in the ring and I would like to have found a way to apply it to the Heat Ray.

Anyway, because virtually all of the dungeon's combat encounters were on the wandering monsters table, and because most of them were unique, there was virtually no fighting after the second room. I felt a bit weird about this because I had to keep up the illusion that the players were in danger to keep the dungeon interesting, but they weren't, really. There was nothing left that could surprise them. Fortunately the dungeon itself was creepy and fucked up enough that they kept their guards up throughout. I'd like to put it out there that this particular module is peppered with a bunch of cool plot hooks. I could imagine turning the questions it raises into a brief campaign.

In closing:

The game stood up to the test of off-the-shelf play very well. I can imagine a group of brand new roleplayers grokking it within, what, 20 minutes. It doesn't ask for the nearly the same amount of buy-in as most systems in being used today, including any edition of D&D.  You don't have to choose equipment. You don't even have to choose a class. More importantly you don't need to worry about character personality or backstory, which can be daunting to new players, and which tends work itself out in play as the need arises anyway. Four dice rolls, pick a name, and you're ready to go. The modules are well-presented, fun, and easy to run,

Things I'd like to see from Into the Odd:
- I'd like to run it with a group of people who have never played an RPG before. I can really see it going over well. It's also fairly easy to hack into whatever setting/aesthetic you prefer, and I could imagine it working really really well with kids. Its simplicity is a treasure.
- I'd be willing to pay for a big book of short modules - dungeons, hexcrawls, what have you - all no more than 6 pages long and written in Chris's format. I could imagine a dearth of ready-to-run materials impeding the possibility of playing off the shelf.
- I'd also pay for a book of Arcana. Although I'd be happiest of all if the book in that last bullet point also happened to have a chapters that's just like, d100 more Arcana at every tier. Tall order I know. But I'd be like a kid in a candy store.

So, what are you waiting for? Go get the damn book. Or if you can't afford it, get the Chris-approved free version, save your quarters, and then buy the damn book because it's like 15 dollars and this game deserves at least that. Did I mention all the rules you need to play fit on one page? Goddamn. And start writing those dungeons and Arcana and stuff so I can steal your ideas. I'll write some too, promise. Then we can all have a big fat folder full of stuff to run whenver someone's like, "hey, let's play that weird dungeon game."

P.S. Having some more thoughts I wanted to put out there.

The Death & Dying rules are clever. Basically unless the thing you're fighting is particularly nasty, being taken out in combat means you're unconscious and will die if no one helps you within an hour. The only reason for your party to let you die is because they're also out of commission. Once the danger has passed you can spend a few minutes resting up and get all your HP back. This means a character is unlikely to be taken out of the game unless they all do. So there's little chance of having to roll up a new dude mid-game. Nice.

P.P.S. ONE LAST THING SORRY. Noah Stevens is running Into the Odd games on G+. If you want to try this system, it looks like he's your man. I can't play because I'm in the wrong timezone, but I will be playing with him in a few weeks as part of his new podcast project. So you can look forward to that.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

One Thousand Players (Also Joesky Tax)

This post is, by nature, not gamable. It's pure thoughtsturbation. But I'm having fun so sue me.

What if any NPC, or vaguely personifiable non-player element, in an RPG, could be represented by a player?

Like, you press a button on your phone and a dude scurries in ready to play the role you need filled.

So the PCs are slogging through the mud fields outside Mudville. They're looking for information about the evil wizard Katazang. They see a mud farmer, farming mud. They approach him. You push your button. A random guy runs into the room. You hand him a piece of paper. It says your name is Dirtsly. You are a mud farmer. Most of your livestock is dead because harvests have been bad the last few years. You spend most of your time dreaming of making love to a princess you saw a semi-incompetent etching of that one time you got to look at a book. How you feel about adventurers and just about anything else is your call.

You tell him, "four of heavily armed adventurers come up to you. What do you guys look like?"

WIZARD: "Well, we're mostly caked in mud."
THIEF: "I'm hiding in the mud. Do I have to roll?"
DM: "No, you don't. Okay, you only see three adventurers."
MUD FARMER: "I'm pretty good with mud."
YOU: "Okay, fair. Thief, roll Hide in Shadows."
THIEF: "I make it."
DM: "Three adventurers."
FIGHTER: "I have three swords and I'm holding two of them. I have huge battlescars everywhere. My sword occasionally screams profanity. It's gnarly and reddish brown."
WIZARD: "I'm missing both my eyes but one of them is on a necklace I'm wearing. There are four ioun stones circling my head. Parts of my robes are missing and sometimes you can see my dong."
CLERIC: "I'm holding a holy symbol of the Sky Lord. My armour is dented."
MUD FARMER: "What are you doing hanging out with these guys? The Sky Lord is supposed to be righteous and orderly and they seem terrible."
CLERIC: "Frankly I'm not sure. I think I'm having a crisis of faith."

The fighter starts talking in that fucking tone of voice he uses when he's getting bored and wants to keep the game moving.

FIGHTER: "Er, hail mud farmer! We are adventurers seeking to purge this land of the foul influence of the wizard Katazang! Do you know of his whereabouts?"
DM: [Hands him a paper saying northish, you're not really sure. He's not nearly as troublesome as these recent crop failures.]
MUD FARMER: "You schmucks! Jerks like you once stayed at my farm! Fucking adventurers! They drank the place dry, and when I woke up they were gone, my nephew was unconscious and bleeding everywhere, and two of my chickens were gone!"
FIGHTER: "That wasn't us."
WIZARD: "Could have been us. Don't pretend that doesn't sound like something we've done."
FIGHTER: "We've never done it here, though."
THIEF: "I'm still hiding in the mud, right?"
MUD FARMER: "Get a job!"

Not sure why I'm dragging out this example besides that I'm having fun. Point being instead of making a reaction roll you bring in another player, tell them their motivation, and let them figure out the rest.

Does this work well in actual play? No, it's pretty much impossible.

I'm gonna keep going anyway,

So say the fighter later fails his save vs. disease. Instead of figuring out what fucking interval to ask for saving throws to determine how the disease progresses, you bring in someone to roleplay the disease. You give them a goddamn stat sheet and tell them they wind if they kill the fighter. The fighter's trying to attack a three-headed ogre, the disease rolls to give him a coughing fit at the worst possible time. You could also personify like a wizard's spells to determine what happens when he misfires. Like, "you are an ethereal being of Pure Sleep who was pulled out of his native plane to be trapped for the past four hours in a Wizard's brain. He just messed up the words to release you in a controlled fashion and now you have about ten seconds in the Material Plane in which to do what you want before you zap back to your place of origin. What do you do?"

Or. The old cleric dies but that player is one of those players and rolls up a new cleric. This one worships Great Grandmother Winter. So you bring in someone to play Great Grandmother Winter, and you tell her what level of existence she operates at and what kind of cosmic struggle she's embroiled in this millenium and ask her how she's dealing with it. And then you interrupt her answer mid-sentence to tell her some asshole she's barely heard of (he's 1st level. There are so many of those...) is praying at the top of his lungs at her.

NEW CLERIC: "Oh Great Grandmother Winter, Eternal Queen of the Wailing Winds, Mistress of the-"
GREAT GRANDMOTHER WINTER: "Can you make it quick? Cthulhu's in the middle of pulling some shit."
NEW CLERIC: "Can you heal the thief?"
GREAT GRANDMOTHER WINTER: "Heal the thief? What is he stealing Loki's amulet of universal mischief?"
NEW CLERIC: "No, we pissed off the town guards when he hit them because the Fighter doesn't want to pay his tab at the inn and so he tried to sleep with the innkeeper's wife and she called the guards."
GREAT GRANDMOTHER WINTER: "Are you fucking kidding? I send an ice storm after him."
DM: "For how long?"


(General idea and spirit of the thing inspired by / shamelessly lifted from Zak.)

Roll 1d10. Then die drop on a blank sheet of paper from the table below, cumulatively. Each result corresponds to an entry on the Rooms table.
  1. 1d4
  2. 1d6
  3. 1d8
  4. 1d10
  5. 1d12
  6. 1d20
  7. +1d20
  8. +1d20
  9. +1d20
  10. +1d20
POPULATION = 4d10 x number of dice rolled

Figure out the connections and hallways for yourself, I ain't yo mama. Alternatively, just use like donjon and key the rooms according to the table below.

  1. Filthy quarters
  2. Guard post
  3. Filth pool
  4. Animal harem (full of hybrids) (NOTE: In my game, goblins can interbreed with virtually anything in the animal kingdom. Also compatibly-sized insects, not sure what kingdom those are in. Also, some fungus. In your game this can also be a normal harem, a night club, a dining hall, or a ball pit, depending on your sensibilities.)
  5. Treasure room
  6. Pit trap
  7. Shrine (generate a god - roll on these tables or just click here)
  8. Larder (lots of actual lard)
  9. Secret passage (30% chance it's trapped)
  10. Dungeon (slaves/prisoners)
  11. Kitchen (it's gnarly, these idiots have no clue how to cook)
  12. Big guardian (huge animal or ogre)
  13. Fungus farm (25% chance it's out of control)
  14. Lavish leader's quarters
  15. Maze (20% chance there's 1d4 goblins lost in here.)
  16. Murder-holes
  17. Palisades
  18. Vermin room (keeping an environment full of disease is actually a fairly effective goblin defense tactic)
  19. Crazy tactical gadgets (see subtable)
  20. Goblin magic room (see subtable)
(In addition, each lair will contain a central chamber or trench)

Crazy tactical gadgets (d10)
  1. Harpoons
  2. Grappling Harpoons
  3. Machine guns
  4. Bombs (of the suicide variety)
  5. Goblin cannon
  6. Rocket packs (2-in-6 chance of exploding)
  7. Spike balls (like hamster balls but with spikes, manned by 1d6 goblins)
  8. Huge drill
  9. Spring-shoes (these are extremely dangerous for absolutely everyone involved)
  10. Tank (no gunpowder. it's all goblin-powered)
Goblin Magic (d4)
  1. Crazy animate food
  2. An actual wizard (gets 1d4 made-up magic effects, each usable once per day)
  3. Terrible summoning chamber (40% chance the goblins are in the middle of summoning something right now. 75% chance it goes horribly wrong even without player intervention.)
  4. Hell-gate (opened by accident, room carefully sealed up, full of demons)
Piratey Lair Theme (This is just to tell one goblin tribe apart from the next.)
  1. They all dress like pirates
  2. Clowns
  3. Wizards (none of them are actually wizards, they make fun of them constantly)
  4. Wear metal scraps
  5. Wear giant mushroom caps
  6. Wear ghost costumes (think it makes them invisible)

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Rejiggered City Questions, with added focus

I was looking over my City Questions after I made yesterday's post and looking at ways to give the City Questions a little more oomph. I like their openness to interpretation but I myself stalled on a few while running them. When you're already trying to handle a hundred questions from your players and trying to discretely cobble together an encounter while not breaking the flow of play, reading something like "what kind of influence do celebrities have?" can be kind of jarring and you're like "I don't know, I guess there's, uhhhh, an actor, and- sorry? Is your Blink Dog still calm? It's been about an hour so you'll probably have to drug it again to keep it docile. What was I just thinking about?"

So, anyway, I figured it might be helpful to focus the questions a little more and give specific examples of things to address when answering them. That way when I roll a 19, I'm like "Oh, describe a famous person. A cultural figure, how about. Oh, well there's the comedian Edna Greubel, she does street shows that are starting to draw large crowds. But they're quite subversive, really derisive of some of the major families. There she is now, in clown makeup doing an impression of Lady Von Hook. The people are eating it up, she's putting on an old lady voice and miming using a greatsword as a cane. Using her middle finger to mimic the Lady's eye patch. There are thuggish guards in Von Hook livery looking on, they don't look pleased." See, I just came up with that now, in like 10 seconds, from looking at the new entry. That worked much better.

Anyway without further ado, here's the new thing:

When you answer a city question, show or tell about an entry from the list below (roll 1d20 or choose).

1. The variety of races, demographics, social classes, professions, etc. that exist here - how do they coexist?

2. The daily lives of this place's inhabitants - political and economic conditions, activities, social dynamics

3. Local culture, such as food, entertainment, social codes and taboos, superstition

4. The layout of the city - architecture, topology, zoning, public spaces, green spaces, institutional spaces, etc.

5. The local government - institutions, families, armed forces

6. The day-to-day presence of the law and law-enforcement

7. The city's quirks and unique characteristics

8. The place of magic and magicians in public life, business, institutions, government, etc.

9. The presence and character of local crime - its organizations, perpetrators, modes of operation

10. The city's strange and special goods, merchandise, crafts

11. Tensions social, political, economic, etc. that threaten the city from within

12. The place of physical violence, or lack thereof, in daily life

13. Threats to the city from without - wars, trade, the weather, nature, starvation, etc.

14. The city's secrets - places, societies, cults, etc.

15. The structure of power, official and/or otherwise - how power is established, maintained, enforced, subverted

16. Religious authority - clergy, processions, rituals, holidays, sacred spaces, competing cults

17. The local religions - beliefs, codes, practices, personal worship, cults popular, secret and/or new

18. Local history - historic buildings, famous events, local legends

19. Celebrities, local and distant - warriors, rulers, figures political, religious, intellectual, cultural, etc.

20. Popular culture - who and what is fashionable, trends, styles, books, plays

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

An all-purpose city encounter method

First of all, this whole thing is pretty much a slight variation on this.

I'm running a city and my first thought was to adapt Vornheim's encounter table to the setting and go from there.

The thing is I don't always know what to do with the Vornheim encounters. I'm not going to call it a flaw so much as a certain capacity I lack to resolve the specificity of those situations with the bigger picture of my game. When I try to run those encounters it tends to feel like a non-sequitur. Too many of those in a session and my player's eyes begin to glaze over as I urgently try to make this thing I just rolled on a d100 seem interesting to them, rather than a weird intervention in whatever it was they were already trying to do.

So instead, I came up with this:

Whenever the PCs are travelling from one neighbourhood, or at whatever interval seems appropriate, roll 1d6:
1-2. Answer a city question
3. Dangle a hook
4. Pull a string
5. Interruption
6. Draw attention to a PC.

Answer a City Question
This usually just means describing the scenery as the PCs pass through. You can make it interesting but it doesn't always have to be. This can also be a short (like, 3 sentence) lore dump. It's meant to make the city feel more alive.

Roll 1d20 and describe a situation that addresses the question.

1. What kind of people live here?

2. Under what conditions do they live?

3. What is the local food like?

4. What is the city's topology like?

5. What kind of government is in place?

6. What role does the law/state play in daily life?

7. What is bizarre or unique about this city?

8. What roll does magic play here?

9. How does crime figure into daily life?

10. What strange goods can you purchase here?

11. What kind of tensions are in play?

12. Is violence common?

13. What threats does the city face from without?

14. What lies just beneath the surface?

15. Who really has power?

16. What role does religion play here?

17. What is the local religion like?

18. What is this place's history?

19. What kind of influence do celebrities have?

20. Who or what is popular, famous, or fashionable?

You can prepare answers to these but the idea is you don't have to. If you're stuck on a question, make a note of it and roll again. Make sure to come up with an answer by the beginning of the next session.

In a city with a variety of different neighbourhoods, this also tells the players more about this particular area.

Dangle a Hook
Try to have a short list of 3 or 4 adventure hooks on hand. A hook is evidence pointing to a source of adventure, treasure, XP, etc. The ones I have ready are a magical circus coming into town, an elvish dandy who's seducing people and robbing them in front of their faces, but has enchanted his identity so as to be unrememberable; a duelist with a magical sword seeking challengers; and a rad circus/light show coming into town soon.

Hooks should be prepared enough that your players can start pursuing them instantly if they're interested enough, but distant enough that they don't have to. In other words, they don't feel forced to bite.

In game terms, a hook is often presented as overheard gossip or an event witnessed from afar.

Pull a String
Strings are situations in which PCs get involved but don't necessarily see through all the way. They tend to just happen as a consequence of the way players act. For example, last session my players lost control of their Blink Dog and it killed a member of some new cult. Any situation where you think, "there could be more to this," creates a string. Also, a hook that players show an interest in, pursue, or investigate partially, might become a string.

When you pull a string, you remind the players, directly or otherwise, that the string is still in play. So in the cult's case it could just be murmurs that they're growing in number, a run-in with angry cultists who witnessed the attack, or full-scale retribution from the cult. Generally, it's a good idea to let things escalate gradually. When in doubt, I make a reaction roll for the interested parties and/or the Universe.

Alright, this is a non-sequitur. Here's where I'd probably roll on Vornheim's encounter table, or on one of my own making. It presents a situation that usually demands some kind of intervention from the PCs, but that they probably weren't expecting and that isn't necessarily related to other things going on. This might generate new strings.

Draw Attention to a PC
This presents a situation that addresses a PC in particular. You can choose one at random, but my approach would be to turn to either a) a newer player of b) on that hasn't spoken much this session.

The idea is to present some kind of situation that will bring one character in particular to the fore. If there appears to be some kind of tension between a few PCs, this could also serve as an opportunity to exploit that tension by bringing in something relevant to both of them.

If you can't think of anything to do with this, roll a d10 on the Character Questions table below. If the result doesn't give you anything to work with, ask it to the player directly. If you've asked it before, put a new spin on it or ask for more detail. Present a situation that makes the given answer relevant.


1. What is your family like?

2. What are your friends like?

3. What was your greatest achievement?

4. What do you believe in?

5. To what do you aspire?

6. What are your flaws?

7. What are your virtues?

8. Who are your enemies?

9. What was your home town/neighbourhood like?

10. What has been your greatest failure?

The outcome might be as mundane as the player describing an old friend, and you tell them that, despite not having seen them in years, that person is right there across the street. If the character is a recovering alcoholic, there's a bar doing an all-day happy hour promo and glasses clinking loudly. That can be enough.

Monday, November 3, 2014

A Tinkered, All-Purpose Reaction Roll

Hello. It's been a while.

So I'm reading Unframed: The Art of Improvisation for Game Masters, since I've just started up an improv-heavy campaign. In the first chapter Robin D. Laws presents a method for resolving dialogue based on a character's intentions.

I've also had a tendency to appreciate reaction rolls but struggle with the "neutral" 6-8 range. Plugging Laws's approach into a reaction table makes for something immediately more gameable. I made some tweaks and here's what I've got.

(Before going on, I need to give credit to Courtney Campbell for On the Non-Player Character, which is also a big influence here.)

The hell do these moose-guys want?

The Reaction Roll
Roll    NPCs want...
2         Conflict (Armed or otherwise)
3-5      To establish their superiority (manoeuvre to their advantage, intimidate the party, etc.) 
6-8      To advance their interests
9-11    To cooperate to mutual benefit (this might be a temporary alliance, a ceasefire, etc.) 
12       To help (this could also mean surrender)

For unintelligent creatures, results above 8 should probably tend towards a deescalation of violence rather than cooperation.

All of the results above can be interpreted in relation to a character's interests - especially 6-8, where these are the determining factor in their behaviour. Every NPC and/or monster can be given a short list (say, 1-3) "interests" to pursue. (This is obviously inspired by Dungeon World's instincts.)

A giant spider might have: Protect its nest, trap prey, survive
Or a thief: Go unseen, steal valuables, survive
An orc: Eat ravenously, enslave the meek, fight to the death
A mercenary: Follow orders, gain riches, survive
A guard: Keep out interlopers, increase in rank, survive
A wolf: Hunt prey, follow the pack, survive
(Obviously "survive" comes up a lot.)

Apply a disposition modifier to reaction rolls based on an NPC's interests, where interests favouring cooperation grant a +1, and interests favouring conflict give a -1.

So if a party wanders into a thief's darkened stomping ground, the thief is going unseen, in a position to steal, and not in immediate danger. Therefore they have a disposition of -3.

If, however, the party catches the thief off guard and their treasure is well secured, the situation is stacked against the thief and their disposition is +3.

Some creatures that tend towards violence or cooperation may have a stacking natural modifier to disposition. An orc, for example, might have a disposition modifier of -2, making cooperation virtually impossible. Even if it's well-fed, and facing might enemies (+2), it still wants to fight to death and is naturally violent (-3), bringing its total to -1.

This can double as a loyalty/morale check
Rather than checking morale, you can keep nudging these modifiers and reroll reaction. In addition to the usual reasons to check morale, you might call for a reaction roll whenever the state of an NPC's interest has obviously changed. So if a thief has been attacking from the darkness until the players get a Light spell going, the thief can no longer go unseen and makes a reaction roll. You might end up with the surprising result that they offer to give directions at that point in order to get away safely.

Hirelings can make these checks too. Assume that "follow orders" or "get paid" are usually among their interests, but so too is "survive." When a situation presents a threat to their survival, you make one of these rolls to determine just how helpful they're willing to be. A hireling's loyalty can be represented by their natural disposition modifier.

The difference between a reaction roll and a loyalty or morale check is that the latter have binary "fight/flight" outcomes where as the latter allows for more nuance and dynamism without too much ambiguity.

Finally, it doesn't ask for much extra prep, beyond writing down a list of three things a particular NPC or monsters wants, one of which is usually "survival" anyway.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Campfire World

It looks like I'll be going canoe camping in a couple weeks. My roommate and I talked about gaming on the trip. It looks like I'm an insomniac now, so...


A super-minimal World of Dungeons hack I wrote in like 2 hours.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Average Monster Stats in the 5e Starter Set

So I collected info from the 5e starter set's Bestiary to work out the average stats of a monster of a given CR. This should be helpful for creating monsters for a 5e game, or else to help convert monsters from other systems. I think you'll find that conversion is more a question of recreation and has more to do with concept than transferring crunch.

This might be a little spoilery as it lists all the creatures in the 5e starter set. It's also fucking gibberish to someone without a solid grasp of the rules.

Values in italics are estimated for lack of data.

Base Combat Values

To-hit modifiers were not included because there's not a whole lot of variation. They range from +2 to +7 and average around +4. Goblins get a +4 to hit, Orcs get a +5, Ogres get a +6. So that tells you something.

CR 1/8 (Cultist, Stirge, Twig Blight)
HP 5, HD 1.5, dmg 4
CR 1/4 (Goblin, Skeleton, Wolf, Zombie)
HP 10, HD 2, dmg 5
CR 1/2 (Hobgoblin, Orc, Bandit)
HP 15, HD 2, dmg 7, 
CR 1 (Bugbear,  Evil Mage, Ghoul, Giant Spider, NPC Warrior)
HP 25, HD 5, dmg 8
CR 2 (Grick, 4th-level Wizard, Nothic, Ochre Jelly, Ogre)
HP 35, HD 6, dmg 10 – sometimes 2 attacks
CR 3 (Doppelganger, Wraith, Owlbear, Spectator)
HP 50, HD 7, dmg 15 – sometimes 2 attacks
CR 4 (Flameskull)
HP 70, dmg 17
CR 5
HP 85, dmg 19
CR 6
HP 100, dmg 21
CR 7
HP 120, dmg 23
CR 8 (Young Green Dragon)
HP 135, HD 20, dmg 26

Damage calculation for multiple attacks: Creatures with multiple attacks are assumed to do average damage for their first attack, and half average damage for subsequent attacks. (This is to factor in the possibility of hitting with one attack but not the other.)

Hit Die Type by Size
Hit die type appears, without exception, to be tied to size. This is even the case with classed NPCs: NPC mages use d8s, as do fighters. As far as I can tell, large monsters will sometimes have fewer HD to keep their HP appropriate to CR. This doesn't appear to the be the case for smaller creatures, however.

HD and size correspond as follows:

Tiny: d4
Small: d6
Medium: d8
Large: d10
Huge: d12?

Also note that HP values varied rather widely as of CR 2 or so. This is accounted for somewhat by the fact that creatures factor their Con modifier into every hit die - so a 7 HD monster with a Con score of 16 has an extra 21 hp on a 7 HD creature with Con 10.

Miscellaneous Crunch

Proficiency Bonus: Monsters have proficiency bonus factored into their math. However, it scales with Challenge Rating rather than HD - at least as far as I can tell. Every creature in the starter set bestiary has a +2 (even monsters with 6 or 7 HD, well into +3 territory for a PC) -- except for the Young Green Dragon, which has a +3, and is also the only creature with a CR greater than 4. An 8 HD PC has a +3 proficiency bonus, so proficiency-by-CR seems like the best bet.

Saves: Many creatures do not apply proficiency to any of their saves. Classed NPCs (NPC Fighter and 4th-level Wizard) have saves according to their class, and the Young Green Dragon has hella saves, but otherwise that's pretty much it. (The zombie has proficiency to Wisdom saves for reason??)

Skills: Many monsters don't have skills. When they do, it's usually pretty integral to their concept: Goblins and spiders have Stealth; Wolves has Stealth and Perception; some more majicky intelligent creatures have Arcana.

Some creatures even have double their proficiency bonus on certains kills as per a rogue's Expertise feature. The goblin, for example, has a +6 to stealth, despite having a +2 Dex modifier and a +2 proficiency bonus - so it would appear it gets double proficiency on those rolls.

Nonproficiency on Secondary Attacks: The ghoul applies its proficiency bonus with its claws but not its bite, which would suggest that it is not considered to be proficient with bite attacks. So that's a thing. As far as I can tell the ghoul is the only monster where this is the case.

Ability Scores: Ranged pretty widely according to monster concept. They rarely went higher than 16 (although the Owlbear does have 20 Strength, and the Young Green Dragon's lowest ability score is 12, its highest is 19). I tried to calculate average ability score modifier per CR but the numbers came up nonsense. These seem more an art than a science.

So here's how I would make a monster for 5e

  1. Come up with a monster.
  2. Determine CR. It seems to me like a CR 1 monster poses a serious but survivable challenge for a group of 3-5 well-prepared PCs of level 1. Someone who's played more can probably tell you more about this. This will give you the creature's proficiency bonus, where CR = effective PC level.
  3. Assign Ability Scores. Whatever feels right, keeping in mind that 10 average and 20 represents the absolute peak of human capacity.
  4. Determine size. This will determine the monster's HD type.
  5. Determine number of HD. This should usually be the average for a creature of this CR. Large creatures might have fewer to keep HP reasonable, and creatures with extraordinary powers might also have fewer. If it's supposed to be like a tank, give it a couple extra.
  6. Give it attacks and powers. For attacks I'd use average damage per CR as a guideline. Use ability scores and proficiency bonus to calculate to-hit bonus.
  7. Assign skills and saves. This is really according to concept. If a skill seems really important, give it expertise.
  8. Ok done.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Some creatures you might run into in the Bubble Palace

If you're in my group, stop reading. Don't go past the jump and look at the pictures. You'll see them in due time. You know who you are.

Are they gone?

Okay, hit the jump.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Two and a Half More House Rules

Following up on this...

A warrior-type can scream a battle-cry once per combat to get a +1 on an attack roll. The player must literally scream. If screaming is not appropriate right now, you may quietly make a hell of a show of how berserk your PC is going instead.

Rogue-types may pantomime the skill they are attempting and then strike a flashy pose for a +1 on a skill roll. This may be done once per skill per session.

Pictured: 6th-level thief????


This one won't work in my current campaign. Some day though.

Once per session, a character can try to do something totally impossible. They can work a wonder.

A fighter can jump 30 feet in the air and slice of all of a hydra's head. A wizard causes a foe to explode with a glance. A cleric commands the clouds to part and the great face of their god looms above, throwing down thunderbolts. A thief runs down a hallway, setting off and dodging every trap with her eyes closed. Something ridiculous and spectacular and kind of anime.

I don't think this image works that well unless you've seen the episode but oh well.
Roll under level.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014


Putting my horrible monstrosity of a Frankenheartbreaker here if anyone's interested.

Remind me to draw some cartoon adventurers arguing over who has to go in first.

Base system is Beyond the Wall with the following (numerous) tweaks.

No Fortune Points. I've removed these because I hate metagame currencies.

Ability Scores 3d6 in order, swap two if you want. If the sum of your modifiers is less than 0, you may roll again.

HD & Damage. PC HP has been dialed down a little. Damage is according to weapon type and class.

Weapon types are:
Light - Things like daggers - one handed and concealable.
One-handed - Fairly self-evident
Two-handed - Again, pretty clear. Certain one-handed weapons can be wielded two-handed for extra damage.

CLASS     HD    LIGHT      1-HANDED     2-HANDED
Warrior     d8        d6                 d8                    d10
Rogue       d6        d4                 d6                    d8
Mage        d4        d4                 d4                    d6

HP caps off at level 10 and then increases by by 1 per level, or 2 if you're a warrior.

Skills & Non-Combat Tasks
To do a thing, roll a d12+ability mod vs target number. Target numbers are 7 (challenging) 9 (hard) 11 (very hard) 13 (expert).

Skills are nebulous and silly. If you have a skill that obviously applies to a non-combat, non-magic, non-save roll, add half your level rounding up. After level 10 your skill bonus increases slower. It increases to +6 at level 13, +7 at level 16, and +8 at level 20. You may take a skill twice to double your bonus, but it can never exceed +10. Every character begins play with two skills.

If you're wearing armour and it seems like it would get in the way, or are encumbered, roll at Disadvantage a la 5e.

Saving Throws Unified save lifted directly from Swords & Wizardry. Characters apply relevant ability modifiers to saves.

Magic Untouched from Beyond the Wall.

Inventory & Encumbrance Thanks, Arnold

Starting equipment is massively handwaved. DM chooses a bunch of shit that makes sense for you to have, you are argue about it for a while, and then you choose 3 more mundane things you have on you. Also, 10 gp.

What Happens When You Hit 0 HP? Thanks again, Arnold.

Basically also stolen in part from Arnold but I can't find the link.

Enemies have static initiative equal to 10+HD. Might get curved down ad-hoc for enemies with more than, say, 5 HD.

PCs roll 1d20 + Dex modifier. They get a bonus based on level: Rogues add their level, Warriors add half their level, and Mages add nothing. Initiative is rolled at the beginning of every round.

PCs act in groups, depending on who goes before the monsters and who goes after. So if players A, B, and C win initiative and players D and E lose, players A, B, and C, can act in whatever order they want, then the monsters, then D and E.


Rogues as BtW but since they no longer have fortune points they instead pick two skills as their "specialty skills." These skills count as having been taken twice (thanks for the idea, 5e).

Mages and Warriors essentially untouched.

Bards because I like them are mages but restricted to spells and such that are tricky. You can opt out of rituals to get a d6 hit die and an extra skill.

Elves can't have a Fortune Point penalty so they only have one skill instead.

Clerics because I like them too HD and damage as Rogue. Initiative as a Warrior. May cast spells in armour. Get spells and rituals, but no cantrips. Start with 3 spells instead of 2. Spells limited to those that make sense for deity.

Dwarves and Halflings idk I'll figure these out when someone wants to play one.

Custom classes, races, whatever Most of the time you can easily choose some configuration of class and skill selection and draw some stupid critter and your character is that.

If you want something more complicated ask and we'll work something out.

Dramatis Personae

Characters currently active in my Rappan Athuk campaign:

Curtis "The Cleaver", Trucker; Fighter

Marmaduke, Accordion Bard

Taro Bun, Elf.
Their player didn't need no stinkin' inclusivity clause to know she could pick her character's pronoun.

Handsome, Cleric.
Worships Niceness, who lives in the Field, and looks like a giant smiling Man-Baby.

Cher, Cat Witch, and her Homunculus

Don't even fucking ask.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

A House Rule

A magic-user gets a +1 to all rolls associated with the resolution of a spell, provided the player introduces the spell with a short, improvised, rhyming incantation.

The rhyme need not be especially clever. However, the spell backfires horribly if the player reuses a rhyme, or rhymes a word with itself.

At the DM's discretion, the bonus may be increased to +2 if the rhyme leaves the whole table cackling.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Where I'm at

I've been gone for a month.

That's because I've been in Italy and it's keeping me pretty busy.

I'll be traveling for another month. I'm sticking around Italy for another week, then Iceland, then France.

Then I'll be back.

That is all.

See you in a month!

P.S. Italy is pretty D&D

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Reflections on an Evil Sorcerer

So I'm thinking about the campaign I've been talking about lately, which I think I'll be calling Isabelle of the Black Hills.

So Isabelle's looking for the asshole sorcerer who capture her parents' souls. She's slowly making moves towards the steading of some sorcerer who may or may not be her man.

At the beginning of her last game, I asked her what Mortimer looks like. This is because I was debating giving her a chance to face him that very same session.

Now I'm trying to decide whether the guy on this island isn't someone else entirely.

In response to my first post about this campaign, Nate Lumpkin of the oh-so excellent Swamp of Monsters compared Isabelle to a character out of a Studio Ghibli movie or an Ursula Le Guin story. I haven't read Le Guin, but if the comparison is apt, and judging from the tone of Beyond the Wall and Other Stories, I really should.

Actually, holy shit, maybe I should adapt Isabelle to Beyond the Wall. How did I miss this before? That game is perfect for this.

Anyway, Ghibli. I'm definitely feeling that in the way the kid's playing so far. Her character is frail and avoids combat. She's determined and resourceful. Ok, so maybe she poisoned a pool. I can't make everything honobono or it's less special. Those guys were assholes anyway. But there's something great in the way she's been exploring her friendship with Uzen. There's something rare and special about that. And there's the same kind of beauty, the menace of long and dangerous journey, but also this precious glimmer of hope.

There's a certain type of character in Miyazaki films that I adore. They're antagonists - sometimes they're straight up bad guys - but they get these wonderful moments where you totally get them. They're assholes, but they're human assholes.

The best example I can come up with is Lady Eboshi. Forget Ashitaka; San's boring; Lady Eboshi is without question my favourite character in Princess Mononoke. Yeah, she's tearing the forest apart. Yeah, she's killing nature gods. She's also got a population of hundreds of alienated women, lepers, and incompetent men, all of whom have their own lives and virtues, and all of whom depend on her. She owns that burden and carries it masterfully. She's also a complete and total badass.

There are others, too. In my mind, Spirited Away's Zeniba or No-Face fills this roll. In Ponyo it's Ponyo's father. In Howl's, it's the Witch of the Wastes. They're doing bad things, but they have reasons for doing it, which to them are very important and not necessarily malevolent in nature.

Back to the mystery Sorcerer. He can be an Eboshi.

Uhhhhg she's the best how can I begin to even
Like, rather than just being that jerk Mortimer and blowing some shit up and flying away or whatever Mortimer's favourite escape tactic is, he can be some grumpy old man who's been causing some serious changes around here. He's unbalancing the island, he's calling shots in Gem and leading Olmen into a dangerous and destructive campaign. And Isabelle's getting caught up in all that. But when she meets him, he doesn't have to pull out the blasting spells.

He could invite her to tea.

Maybe he'll put her friends in cages to keep the ambiguity up, he might even use magic to force her into the chair, but he'll sit with her and talk to her and counsel her on her quest. Maybe he'll even teach her a spell or two. And then he'll send her on her way, because he's not her man and none of this has anything to do with her.

Maybe he'll be a woman. He could be Zeniba. I did say, "...or Sorceress."

Every time. This scene makes me cry every. Single. Time.

From a gaming perspective it feels good too. It teaches the kid she can't trust me to lead her in the right direction - that the most obvious path leads to danger, violence, and disappointment. The kindly old Sorceress (okay, yeah, it's a woman now. Decided.) is a consolation prize but she won't always be there either. The kid has to ask questions and look carefully with her own eyes to find Mortimer. She has to get there herself.

God, I love this game.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Playing D&D with a 12 year-old: Part 2

So I'm babysitting again. The kid's in bed and we just wrapped up a 2-hour D&D session. A report is in order.

This is the folder she made for her character sheet and handouts. The best.

So, last session Isabelle the Sorceress of the Black Hills got caught sneaking around in the caves of some barracuda-men when they apprehended her familiar pixie, Tito.

This session began with a parlay. She told the leader of the barracuda-men that she had been sent under duress by the Kenku to distract them while they hatched some sinister further south along the island. She was banking on them hating the kenku as much as the kenku hated them - and she was right. The leader screams out "KEENKUUUUUUU!" and quickly assembles a party to apprehend them. BUT, he also ties up Isabelle and leaves her behind under watch by two guards. Tito remains caught up in a net.

Isabelle tries to get her captors to sample the fluid in the vial she's carrying (a deadly poison, meant to sabotage their sacred pool). They think about it, but hesitate (she couldn't come up with a good enough bluff). So they hold on to the vial. Then she threatens them with dark magic, but these aren't so easily impressed and ask for a display of her power. All she has left is her magic shield. They sample it by punching her in the stomach, and she fails her con roll and doubles over. (I forgot to give her a substantial bonus for this roll due to the shield. My bad. Oh well.) So she waits for a while, and then starts telling kenku jokes. This gets them. She gets them riled up on kenku-hate, and proposes they go out and prank some stinkin' crow-mask-wearers. They're like YEAAAHHHHHH and bring her along, though her arms are still bound.

Along the way they ask her what kind of prank they're going to pull. She says she's not sure. Barracuda-men aren't very intelligent, and can't think of anything either. So they stop to think about it for a minute. They sit down on a rock near the edge of a cliff (they've been following the shoreline south) to work out a game plan.

While the barracuda-folk argue, Isabelle hears a rustling in the nearby brush. Looking over, she sees a single kenku peering out at her. He's a younger fellow, looks to be adolescent, with long, lanky limbs. (This encounter was planned. I'll discuss it later.)

This was fun. The kid at this point turns sideways and shows me how she signs for him to come over.

He points out the two guards, and draws a finger across his throat.

She nods vigorously.

At this point, the guards as Isabelle what she's doing. She says she's doing a funny dance for Tito, or he might get agitated and break out into fairy-hives. They want nothing to do with that noise and carry on their conversation.

She looks back. The kenku is forming letters with his hands.

D - I - S - T - R - A - C - T

(We were still doing this all in pantomime, by the way.)

Isabelle turns to her captors and starts cracking kenku jokes again. They're eating it up, and laughing riotously until one of their throats gets sliced open. Before the other can react, he's pushed off the cliff into the water. (He can swim, but he's less likely to be able to climb 50 feet back up.) The kenku cuts Isabelle's bonds and introduces himself as Uzen. 

Uzen says he's been separated from a landing party that stopped for supplies and got lost. This happens a lot to kenku, he explains, owing to an ancient curse on their tribe. Isabelle asks him to come along and help him poison the barracuda-men's pool. He hates those guys and is super into this plan.

The kid asks, "can I get the poison back?"



"Roll this die."


"On a 4-6, the guy who fell in the water had it."




2. Celebration. She grabs the vial and makes tracks back to the barracuda cave.

They sneak in and poison the pool. Then they get out of there. The kid feels a little bad. They get out and Uzen starts hooing and bragging and celebrating. She tells him to shut it before I roll wandering monsters. 

Then Isabelle notices the kenku ships are gone. She asks Uzen where they are.

"Oh, they left. I think the plan was to ditch you here. Anyway, they're probably lost by now. Who knows when they'll be back."

Together they head towards a town on the south side of the island, coming across some stray brown robes and a narrowly avoiding a run-in with the returning barracuda-men.

They arrive at the gates of a town called Olmen. Isabelle suspects these people might not like the oh-so-sketchy kenku and tells Uzen to wear the robes over his head as a disguise. He looks like this.

The perfect disguise.

So of course the town guard are like "that is most clearly a kenku why are you travelling with this sketchball." They demand a steep entry fee. Having no coin to spare, the party gets in on a promise to serve the Warlord of the town in exchange for a night's rest in the stables.

The next morning, the oddball group is brought before the Warlord. Isabelle introduces herself, and tells him of her quest to save her parents' souls from the sorcerer Mortimer. The Warlord remarks that a mysterious sorcerer has taken up with Ulmen's ancestral enemies, the people of Gem. Perhaps it is Mortimer. Drawing the girl's attention to a map of the island, he shows how it is bisected by a great canyon. The fertile and fielded eastern half is ruled by Olmen; the hilly and mineral-rich west, by Gem. The only bridge between the two sides is heavily guarded by troops from both towns. Gem has been bullying Olmen lately, refusing to pay for grain and pumping up the price of weapons. Yet their guard on the bridge has also been relaxed of late. The Warlord hopes to tip the scales by seizing a Gemish fort just beyond the bridge. This would secure the bridge and increase his prestige, and also allow him to charge heavier fees for hunting rights in the east. He wants Isabelle and her ragtag friends to fight for him, and offers them food, drink, and access to the (rather modestly stocked) armoury.

Isabelle accepts, although she has her doubts as to whether this shady spellcaster is the one she's looking for. 

We're running out of time, so she RPs a friendly meal with Uzen, and takes some time to get to know him better. Among her interests are getting him to take off that mask, but it quickly becomes apparent that any discussion regarding the mask is taboo.

The evening ends with the kid chatting my ear off with her plans about how she's going to take over this fortress with a minimum of violence while I try to get her to go get her PJs on and go to sleep.


Playing with this kid is really fascinating. It presents a lot of unique challenges and interesting surprises.

First, there's the matter of Uzen, who I sort of railroaded in.* Actually, let's talk about railroading in general. I've done a lot of things in this game that feel uncomfortably close to railroading - so far it's been like, "ok, you want this. That brings you here, where you run into these guys, who take you here, and ask you to do X, so you do, and then you meet a guy and go to this place, where another dude tells you that you should do Y. Do you do Y? Cool." So, I don't know, is that what a railroad is? Some people will probably say yes. Other people will probably say no, or insult me and tell me to get off the internet, or talk about something else entirely. So I don't know.

Point being I decided before this session that the first time I would roll a random encounter outside the barracuda caves, it would be Uzen. He didn't have to join Isabelle, but I wanted to give her the option. My reasoning for this was actually to prevent railroading and leave more room for decision-making and emergent situations. It works like this:

In an RPG, your ability to exercise agency is proportional to the amount of fictional power you have. Eg. a bound and imprisoned character has very few possible courses of action available to them, unless they have a way of breaking out of their bounds. This principle became especially pronounced when Isabelle was literally bound and imprisoned, and doing her any favours felt like fudging, which I abhor. Her getting out means nothing if she didn't orchestrate her escape.

(Like, the pranking ploy felt weak but she rolled well. I don't think I should have let her roll. Oopsie.)

Uzen was intended as a way of giving her access to more moving parts. He didn't have to help her out. He wouldn't have if she hadn't asked him, he would have quietly shuffled back into the woods. He was a quantum ogre, but hopefully he'll have been the only one.

Another thought I'm having is that D&D is actually designed for an incremental increase in agency. A first-level character has few ways to alter the world around them: A fighter can't kill many dudes; a thief can't pick many locks; a wizard can't blow many things up. You can't take over the town because most of the guards are loyal to the current leader and can kill you in an instant. Not so much when the party's level 5. As characters gain levels they also become more capable of asserting their agency. At lower levels you often have to stay on the rails because they're the safest way through the world.

So yeah, Uzen's an extension of these ideas. Tito too - he can cast charm person once a day. But I figured it wouldn't hurt to give her a little more firepower.

Another cool thing about the kid is she's not so into violence. A lot of my players seem to love it when I get into really gnarly descriptions of how they eviscerate their foes when they hit 0 HP. It's trying to come up with a hundred grisly deaths and feels pointless. The kid winced at the description of cutting the barracuda's throat. It wasn't a victory to her, but a necessary evil.

Which brings me to my biggest concern with this game: Death.

In a solo game, dying means game over. Your character is done, roll a new one. This strikes me as a huge shame is this style of play offers a rare opportunity to really explore a character's goals and motivations. Isabelle is all about saving her parents. I don't need to tempt her with riches or power, she handed me the very point of this campaign. The campaign is Isabelle.

So if Isabelle dies, the campaign dies.

I don't want to shortchange her. I don't want to balance every encounter, and I don't want to fudge dice when she makes bad decisions. If Isabelle saves her parents, it'll be because she earned it.

The kid knows 0 hp = death. She avoids combat like the plague. Even with Uzen she'd rather hide than fight. I love that.

But D&D can be cruel. Surprise attack and missed traps happen and bad decisions do get made. These things can off even the most prepared character mercilessly quickly. And the kid's still learning the ropes. So forgive me if I want to soften the blow a little. Here's my thinking:

I have a rule in my DCC game: hitting 0 HP means the enemy gets to do whatever they want to you. Disarm you, knock you out, capture you, sacrifice you to their dark god, turn you into a newt, etc. Or kill you, if that's what they want. 0 HP doesn't necessarily mean death - but it does mean total loss of agency, at least for a while.

I'll be adopting that rule in this game, with the following addition:

3 strikes and you're out.

What this means is the first two time you hit 0 HP, you will not die. You'll be abducted, or frozen for 1000 years (with all the terrible changes that entails), or transported halfway across the world. There will be major fictional setbacks, but the campaign will not end.

After that, anything goes. 0 HP means the enemy gets what they want. If that's your death, then that's what happens.

The kid will be aware of this. We'll tally strikes on her character sheets. And if she hits two, she'll know the next time means business.

I'm out of steam. That's me for the night. Thanks for reading.

*It has come to my attention that there's a controversy going on in RPG world as to what a sandbox is and what a plot is and what a railroad is. Kindly leave me the fuck out of that.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

I just ran one of the best D&D sessions of my life and the only player was 12 years old

I wanted to accompany this post with some thoughts about how running this short session (it only lasted an hour) really got me thinking in new ways about DMing. But the report is long enough as-is and I'm getting sleepy, so that will come tomorrow.

She also asked me for rules to run games. I sent her S&W Core but it's virtually nothing like what we actually played, so there might be a kid-friendly D&D hack forthcoming.

Sometimes I babysit a 12 year-old who lives nearby. She's an extremely creative person with an artist for a mother and a neurosurgeon for a father. She regularly shows me the comics and drawings she's working on, the 50 pages of Harry Potter / Twilight concept mashup fiction she's typed up in the past week (this is not an exaggeration she seriously did that), or tells me her latest idea for a surprisingly gritty manga. So naturally I've been trying to pique her curiosity about RPGs. Today I succeeded.

So after I casually mentioned D&D for the umpteenth time she asked me how it works. I tell her that you've got a person who provides a situation and invents the world the action takes place in, you've got players who describe how they're going to navigate that situation, and you've got dice you roll to decide what happens if it's not immediately obvious.

HER: So, the Dungeon Master says something like, "you're in a room and the walls start to slide together and crush you?"
ME: That's right. And you say something like, "I try to push them apart with my arms." And you roll some dice and compare them to your Strength to see if it works.
HER: Or if the character's not very strong you could jam something hard in between?

She was grokking it before I could even finish explaining it. We had to walk her dog, so we took it by my place so I could run in and grab my dice and a copy of the Dungeon Dozen. On the way there, she tried her hand at DMing diceless. I woke up on a deserted island, stole a hot-air balloon, killed a wyvern with nothing but rope while the balloon crashed, escaped a river full of piranhas, and knocked out a tiger before nailing myself in the head with my own rock and blacking out.

Back at her house we set to chargen. I asked her what kind of character she wanted to play. She said, "a vampire! No, a werewolf!" I quietly searched my mind for an easy way to houserule those, but ended up not having to: "No! A sorceress!" She said. We rolled ability scores down the line and I told her she could switch two if she liked. She ended up switching her 16 Wisdom (which I called Awareness to keep things uncomplicated) and her 10 Intelligence. I decided to give her a base HP value of 6+Con, which ended up being 6.

HER: What happens if I run out of HP? Do I faint? [She's a big Pokemon fan.]
ME: You die.
HER: Oh! [she thinks for a moment.] Is 6 HP a lot?
ME: It's decent. You'll still be pretty fragile.
HER: I'll have to be really careful.

I told her to name her character. She told me her name was Isabelle and while I was flipping through the Dungeon Dozen for the table of Magic-User backgrounds she told me she was orphaned when an enemy Sorcerer slew her parents and stole their souls, and that she had vowed an oath to rescue their souls from him. The Sorcerer's name is Mortimer.

Like, Jesus, I didn't even have to ask.

So I showed her this map I doodled on the Metro this morning and told her she lives on this island.

She told me that she lives in the Black Hills because they sound cool, but that Mortimer lives on another island. So much for that then.

We rolled for her spells. She got Light and Magic Shield. I decided she could cast each of them once a day, since she was playing solo and I didn't feel like explaining spell slots quite yet.

I figured it was about time to get started but was worried her wizard was too squishy. I told her she could have a pet. It turned out to be a pixie named Tito. Why not. And so we started.

Several days out to sea Isabelle and Tito were running out of water on their little dingy and had a while to go before reaching the island where Mortimer was living. Before long she began to see the bows of ships through the waves. The flags and design indicated a number of ships from a variety of countries. Bringing the boat up alongside, she saw that the ships were manned by strange folk wearing bird masks (Patrick Stuart's Kenku). Reaction roll 6. They called over and asked where she was going. She said she sought a Sorcerer, but lied about whom as she suspected these may be loyal to him.

They offered to provide her with food, drink, and safe passage to a nearby island where a Sorcerer dwells, in exchange for a small service. They cast down a rope ladder. Before climbing up, she warned them that she was a powerful magician and would curse them with dark magic if they tried to harm her or her companion. Her oration was delightfully Vancian. I had her roll d20 + Charisma (the whole score) over 21. (This is equivalent to rolling under Charisma, but I prefer high rolls = better results.) She succeeded and the masked men were duly impressed. Loading her up with food and water, they told her a foul tribe of barracuda men live on the same island as the sorcerer. Their terms were that she sneak into the barracuda men's lair and poison their sacred well. She agreed, the terms were set, and the expedition set off.

A couple days later they arrived at the cave where the barracuda men dwelt. I flipped through my notebook and found a half-finished dungeon called "ghoul hole." Easy reskin, why not.

This is where she really shined. Entering the dungeon, she found herself in dark, winding tunnel. She picked up a rock and tossed it about 20 feet in, listening carefully and readying herself for an attack. (She would continue to do this every 20 feet or so, and I would continue rolling 4s and 5s on every damn wandering monster roll.)

HER: While I walk, I check the floor, walls, and ceiling for traps.

This without my ever even mentioning traps. A natural!

She comes to a room with a straw floor with two chests on the far end. She says she jumps in, just past where the straw meets the floor. I draw a diagram of the room and ask her to indicate where she lands. Right on a pit trap hidden beneath the straw. (I think she suspected there was a trip wire?) The floor gives way. I tell her to make a saving throw 1d20 + Dex mod. She just scrapes by with a 15.

She sends Tito to check out what's below. He identifies the location of two more pit traps, a pile of animal pelts, and a corridor going who knows where.

She had Tito pile up the pelts and climbed into the lower room. Exploring further, she found herself at the bottom of a ditch. She sent Tito up to scout, and he spotted a barracuda man on guard. Unfortunately it spotted him too and sprinted over to the edge of the pit. Reaction 6. It starts asking questions.

Isabelle says she came to worn them that evil Kenku were heading upriver to with vile plans for the barracuda men. She claimed to have barely escaped their clutches, and knew nothing more of their devices. Another excellent Charisma roll. The guard went to fetch his superior. She sent Tito to spy.

She hears a scuffle, and a priestly-looking fellow draped in barnacles, tattered robes and broken shells arrives with Tito trapped a net. "We caught your little spyyyy" he gurgles.

As if on cue, her dad gets home. To be continued.

Spoiler: She's hooked.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

dZocchi Weird Flora

'So I just submitted this madness to the Seventh Order of the Random Generator.

It uses all of the Zocchi dice to make a really weird plant for your game.

EDIT: I forgot that one of its alchemical properties begins with "if consumed whole and through the anus..." so I guess this is apparently NSFW. I made these tables a while ago.

Ok here are the tables it's based off of:

dEverything weird plants

d3 - Attitude
1.      Predatory
2.      Evasive
3.      Defensive
d4 – Growth
1.      Tall
2.      Expansive
3.      Deep
4.      Parasitic
d5 – Appearance
1.      Normal for its type
2.      Brightly coloured, psychedelic
3.      Colourless, appears dead
4.      Particularly lush, damp
5.      Bulbous, sickly
d6 – Mobility
1.      None whatsoever
2.      Creeps slowly, following the sun or moon
3.      Walks
4.      Prehensile leaves/branches
5.      Dances alluringly
6.      Can get up and fucking run
d7 – Senses
1.      Sensitive to light
2.      Sensitive to loud noises
3.      Reacts to being cut or plucked
4.      Enjoys being sung to
5.      Avoids humanoids
6.      Smells magic
7.      Changes its appearance indicating incoming weather patterns
d8 - Plant type
1.      Flower
2.      Tree – desiduous
3.      Tree – fruit-bearing
4.      Tree – evergreen
5.      Moss/lichen
6.      Shrub
7.      Vegetable
8.      Vine
d10 – Smell
1.      Sweet and sugary
2.      Salty and metallic
3.      Like a rotting corpse
4.      Fresh and minty
5.      Musty and wet
6.      Peppery
7.      Slightly sour
8.      Odourless
9.      Reeks of excrement
10.   Savoury, like freshly-cooked meat
d12 – Primary visual aspect (leaves, buds, petals, fruit) shape
1.      Bulbous, bell-shaped
2.      Spade-like
3.      Wet, droopy
4.      Thin, narrow, sharp
5.      Wide, bowl-like
6.      Semitransparent
7.      Round, flat
8.      Square
9.      Spherical
10.   Fan-shaped or conical
11.   Star-shaped with five points
12.   Long, curved
d14 – Texture
1.      Fuzzy
2.      Bumpy
3.      Soft
4.      Solid, brittle
5.      Very solid, hard to break
6.      Fibrous
7.      Rough, like sandpaper
8.      Smooth
9.      Spongy
10.   Covered in tiny, razor-sharp serrations
11.   Large, protruding spikes
12.   Furry and sticks like a burr
13.   Sticky
14.   Dry, bark-like
d16 – Colour/Pattern (Roll for primary colour, and then determine whether there is a pattern (50% chance). If there is, roll a d7 for the pattern and a second time for the secondary colour)
1.      Bright red/polka dots
2.      Dark Green/Stripes
3.      White/Speckles
4.      Silver/Uneven patches
5.      Orange/Cloudy
6.      Yellow/Bumps
7.      Deep red/spots
8.      Dull brown
9.      Lush green
10.   Purple
11.   Deep, rich blue
12.   Pure black, no pattern, do not roll for secondary colour
13.   Creamy golden white
14.   Light green
15.   Bright, neon pink
16.   Sickly greenish yellow
d20 – Locals use it …
1.      For consumption in ceremonial rites
2.      In potpouri
3.      To make tea
4.      to be gathered as part of a coming-of-age ritual
5.      As a staple food
6.      As a delicacy eaten in celebration of the chieftain’s birthday
7.      To fashion bowls and baskets
8.      To show off as a status symbol
9.      To throw at criminals during public humiliations
10.   As a ward against demons/evil spirits/witches
11.   As sacrifice to their god(s)
12.   As currency
13.   To make paints
14.   To decorate their homes
15.   To adorn important religious objects
16.   As a traditional offering of peace after a period of war
17.   To make paper
18.   For its alchemical application
19.   For medical purposes unrelated to its alchemical application; it probably doesn’t work
20.   To flavour their meals
d24 – Alchemical applications
1.      If smoked, it fortifies the spirit against fear and protects it from the touch of incorporeal foes
2.      If drunk in a warm tea, it separates mind from body and allows the user to visit another plane of existence
3.      If burned in incense, it intoxicates forest spirits and draws them near
4.      If mashed into an ointment, its odour drives away the undead
5.      If eaten whole, they who consumed it turns invisible for a time
6.      If flash-heated in water and salt, its otherwise harmless juices become a potent acid that burns through objects as green slime
7.      If strained and rubbed under the nose, the user may see augurs signaling things to come in the next year
8.      If juiced and boiled down, it produces a resin that can be used to stick any two objects together. They will be nearly impossible to separate once it dries
9.      If mixed with another weird plant and mashed into a chunky goop, eating it will cause fiery indigestion that purges the body of disease
10.   If carried as a good luck charm, it the carrier is impervious to illusions until the plant rots
11.   If burned slowly over the course of a few days, the ashes may be spread on one’s body to make oneself invisible to demons
12.   When chopped up it releases a mist, the inhalation of which causes gibbering madness and severe impairment of the motor functions
13.   If consumed whole and through the anus, it provides an exhilarating high that strengthens the muscles and increases stamina
14.   If used to plug one’s ears, mixed with a few sprigs of common grass, the user is immune to mind-control
15.   As long ones chews it, they are capable of speaking the language of snakes
16.   Bottled and buried for a month with a few flakes of gold, it produces a noxious gas the inhalation of which induces a terrible flu
17.   If stuffed into the mouth of a fresh corpse before burial, the body will rise as a zombie
18.   One may anoint oneself with its oils to pass through barriers
19.   If touched, it kills instantly
20.   If cooked into a soup with hot peppers, the eater will excrete pure gold
21.   Objects bathed in a mixture from the plant’s juices become stronger and more solid – it is dangerous for living beings to attempt this as their skeleton will fuse together
22.   If burned, the smoke will change colour when disturbed by the words of a liar
23.   The plant’s seeds may be placed within a small doll to give it life
24.   Its roots hold a record of the past – if these are eaten, one gains some of the plant’s memories
d30 – Special
1.      Its leaves are like swords and it can use them as such
2.      Grabbing and thrashing
3.      It creates seductive displays to attract and trap living pray
4.      It can shoot spines
5.      Its leaves/fruit/branches/chunks of itself can detach and attack you
6.      It is home to an army of killer bees
7.      It’s sentient
8.      It can shimmer hypnotically to hold you in place
9.      It hides underground and jumps up to surprise you
10.   Little humanoids grow from it
11.   It can hyperaccelerate its growth to entrap and overgrow enemies
12.   It fires out seeds – if these make their way into your mouth, they will plant in your brain and begin to grow
13.   It secretes a white, viscous fluid that hardens and sticks rapidly
14.   It secretes toxic gas
15.   It has no special power of its own, but is defended by an extraplanar entity that will manifest when danger is near
16.   It is made by a wizard; its pollen bestows a geas. The plant’s leaves/petals will turn to gold and fall off if the quest is completed
17.   Its bark/surface/patterning rearranges into various magical runes
18.   It releases a cloud of spores that cause living beings to become violent and attack one another
19.   It drops little explosives
20.   It secretes a highly flammable oil and can set off sparks; the plant itself is immune to fire
21.   Its roots dig down and hollow out underground chambers, which acts as pit traps
22.   Rather than releasing carbon at night, it collects it in sacs that grow along its surface. It can pop these when threatened
23.   Just your average, everyday carnivorous plant
24.   Herbivorous plant – its roots dig down and start eating other plants
25.   When the wind blows through its leaves, it sings a magical song
26.   It changes its appearance to predict the weather
27.   It messes with compasses and rearranges plants around it to get travelers lost, then continues to mislead to hide the fact that they are going around in circles
28.   It protects from harm any travelers who camp near it
29.   It lets out innocuous white noise, making it difficult to hear other creatures nearby

30.   The whole plant is actually the elaborate camouflage of some other creature