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Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Alex Reviews an Indie Game: Naut

Naut is an adorable-looking, pay-what-you-want road trip simulator by LucieVitagé, Tom Victor, and Titouan Millet, of the Klondike Collective. One or two players control little astronauts as they drive (or scurry) across Mars, discovering new sites, spooky houses, and what's over the next hill.

At its best, Naut looks like this.
Anyone who knows me will immediately recognize how much the concept of a game like this tugs at my heartstrings. Co-op involves the delightful possibility of one player hopping in the passenger seat as the other drives; or else they might find a second car and race across the martian landscape, or even split up and explore at their leisure. All this conveyed with pretty, pastel-coloured graphics and some slick modelling. Some may call it boring, but I call it sweet, exploratory, and meditative.

At least in theory. Naut was put together for a 24-hour game jam, and it feels like the team could have spent a little more time finessing the controls. The camera is sluggish, walking more so; running is, for lack of a better term, janky as hell; the driving could be alright if the game didn't have little obstacles popping up at random intervals and distances, sending your car careening off course and often winding up upside down. This last issue was particularly frustrating, as I found myself getting out of the car to flip it every thirty seconds or so, when I would rather have been enjoying the ride. At a certain point I found myself driving upside-down to my next destination (which works, somehow, albeit slowly) because I was tired of righting it. A designer mentions keeping in the bugs because they're funny, but for me the frustration far outweighed the comedy. This is especially a shame because on the few occasions I managed to get in a couple minutes without a collision, I actually rather enjoyed myself.
Mostly, though, it looks like this.
What perplexes me most is that the random obstacles were added at all. Perhaps it was to add a dimension of challenge to getting from one point to another, but a) a six-inch car-flipping cactus that pops up a foot from your fender isn't a challenge so much as an assault, and b) it sort of seems off concept when the required reaction time shifts the game from "road trip" to "martian car slalom." I'm not convinced the game really needed to be challenging. The reason I'm writing this review at all is to raise the question of why commit to such a design decision, when the game may have been perfectly playable without it.
What happened immediately after I hit "Flip the car"
In brief: An appealing concept with pretty graphics marred by irritating implementation. It's hard to blame the devs when they were working under such tight time constraints, but I hope this review can at least serve to remind people that less can be more, and that a high level of difficulty (or the appearance thereof) is not always necessary for an enjoyable game. Give me Knytt with a car; Give me Shadow of the Colossus but like just the horse.

Anyway, the game, as I mentioned, is free, and if you have a little fun with it you might even leave the devs a tip. You can get it here.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Immortal Athkan, take 2

I've already written about Immortal Athkan here. But for a quick refresher: Ancient warrior turned god, giant gold-covered skeleton sleeping deep inside a massive tomb. This here is my attempt to make that a self-contained class that works better with how I've been running my games these days.

I bring you...


This is the only permitted representation of Immortal Athkan. All others are sacrilege.

Prime Requisite Charisma
HD d6
Saves As Cleric
Attacks as Cleric
Weapons and Armour Athkanites may way wear Light or Medium armour, shields, and swords. Any other weapon is considered profane to Immortal Athkan, and any character wielding such a weapon should be treated as if they were not carrying a Holy Symbol (see below). Ranged weapons are the tools of cowards, sneaks, and foot-soldiers, and have no place in the hands of an Athkanite.
Special Conditions An Athkanite must carry a Holy Symbol to Immortal Athkan – a skull encrusted in gold – at all times, or lose the use of all special abilities granted by this class until such a time as they retrieve the Symbol or acquire a new one.
The use of poisons is a coward’s gambit, and any Athkanite doing so is immediately excommunicated.


Level 1: Detect Lies – When someone is speaking to you, you may press your gold-encrusted skull against your ears. It will whisper to you whether the person speaking is a liar. The DM rolls a Wisdom Save (or whatever save you'd use against illusions) for you in secret. If you pass, the DM will tell you whether the target is a liar. If you fail, you are certain they are.

Level 1: Warrior’s Blessing – During combat, you may raise your holy symbol to bless the faithful to Athkan. Any ally who glorifies the name of Athkan (as a free action) during that round gains +1 to Attack Rolls and AC for a number of rounds equal to your level. Clerics of other faiths fall from grace if they accept this blessing. Once used, this feature may not be used again until you spend 1 hour giving funeral rites to a fallen soldier, dethroned a false king, or bathed your holy symbol in blood from liar’s severed head (takes 1 Turn. The liar must have died from decapitation).

Level 2: Whispers of Battle – By spending 1 hour meditating and performing a rite to Athkan in a place where a great battle has occurred, you will hear the echoes of the dead, and learn of violence that happened there.

Level 3: Immortal Athkan’s Liturgies – A number of times per day equal to your level, you may cast one of the following spells:

  • Animate Dead (affects a number of corpses equal to your level, for a number of hours equal to your level, always produces skeletons)
  • Cure Moderate Wounds (may only be cast one someone who has received a Warrior’s Blessing from you since the last sunrise)
  • Enlarge Person (lasts a number of Turns equal to your level. Can also be used on skeletons.)
  • Mending (only works on weapons and armour or gear damaged in battle)
  • Remove Poison
  • Speak With Dead

Level 4: Immortal Athkan’s Favour – Whenever you would regain the use of your Warrior’s Blessing, you may also regain the use of a spell under Immortal Athkan’s Liturgies.

Level 5: Immortal Athkan’s Faithful – When a soldier dies in battle while receiving the benefit of your Warrior’s Blessing, their skeleton bursts from their body and joins you in combat. The skeleton remains animated for a number of Turns equal to your level.

Level 5: Supplication - In a time of need, you may prostrate yourself before your Holy Symbol and beg for the aid of Immortal Athkan. Immortal Athkan will send what help He can (generally in the form of skeletons, giants, or giant skeletons - but can also perform miracles like reviving the dead and removing curses, although anyone so blessed will receive His mark). He will never help a liar, a false king, or a coward, and asking Him to do so will have you punished. Unless the supplication is impossible or offensive to Immortal Athkan, it will be fulfilled. Once a supplication has been made, no more will be fulfilled until you prove your devotion by slaying a false king.

Level 9 [if DM uses domain rules]: Establish Stronghold – If you have funds, you may rally an army of Immortal Athkan’s faithful to build a religious stronghold / fortified cathedral in His honour. A massive, empty throne adorns its center, and the soldiers who helped build the structure are faithful to you.

Level 9: Athkan’s Revelation – All kings are false who are not Immortal Athkan.

Level 13: The Lord’s Awakening – Perform a mass sacrifice of 100 liars to awaken the sleeping bones of Immortal Athkan.


Decapitations - a party travelling with an Athkanite spends a lot of time trying to decapitate liars. To pull off a decapitation in combat, the attacker must be using a slashing weapon. and declare before rolling that they are swinging for the neck. An attack that reduces the target to 0 HP and beats its AC by a margin of 4 or more (or a margin of 2 if using a two-handed weapon) successfully cuts of the head. Otherwise, the target is simply killed and its head may not be used in Athkanite rites.

False Kings - A false king is any sovereign (male or female, despite the terminology) who: Came to power through usurping or false succession (an inheritor of either is also false), rules with cowardice, lies to their subjects, or infringes on the legitimate sovereignty of other kings.

Before receiving Athkan's Revelation (Athkanites below level 9 do not know it's coming), it is important to establish the falsehood of a king before punishing them. Until such time they will not be false in the eyes of Immortal Athkan.

Liars - Anyone who lies in the presence of your Holy Symbol.

False Kings & Liars - These terms have little to do with objectivity and much more to do with your own knowledge. The exception being a failed Saving Throw to Detect Lies, in which case the DM may decide whether the subject is actually a liar or not.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Passive-Aggressive Wizard Generator, or, d12 Alternatives to Geas

The Wizard wants you to do something! How's he gonna make you do it?

  1. Invites you over for tea and crumpets. They both taste a little yeasty. That's actually the eggs of long, horrible worms that will coil around your spleen and nibble at it until you complete the quest, at which point they will leave peacefully through a randomly-determined orifice.
  2. Knows the true name of a violent, terrible storm. Will instruct the storm to follow you around and ruin anything you try to do that isn't complete the quest. The storm hates the wizard and obeys him out of necessity, but can be coerced into joining forces to take revenge if you can learn its language.
  3. Has been spying on you. Polymorphs an NPC essential to a quest you were just about to complete, into a speechless newt. Then kidnaps them. Will return them upon successful completion of the quest.
  4. This is basically just a crueler geas. Magic Missiles shoot painfully out of your posterior, dealing 1 damage and striking a random target, whenever you stray from the quest.
  5. Steals your true name. You become a 0-level schmuck and your XP resets to 0. At 500 XP, you may take a level in any class available to a member of your race. Upon completing the quest, you may regain your original class and XP total or keep the new one. In case of the latter, you get a new true name.
  6. Transforms into a malignant tumour at the base of your neck. Insults you constantly, seizes control of your nervous system and has you smack yourself in the head whenever you stray from the quest. If they die, you die. If you die, the tumour pops off and transforms back into the wizard.
  7. He gives just a little too much exposition as to how he's going to destroy the world/ruin your day/whatever, then teleports away. The only way to stop him is to do the thing he described first. Except he was never going to do it.
  8. Invades your dreams one night and sneaks the quest in as a "prophetic vision." Dreams will get more and more dire if you don't comply.
  9. As geas, but a random possession of yours turns into a snake at every sunset until the quest is complete.
  10. Sends mooks to kill your loved ones, shifts the blame in such a way that you would complete the quest.
  11. Traps you and your friends in really awesome powerful enchanted armour that refuses to do anything not related to completing the quest. Including lying down, or opening up so you can eat. Also the suits of armour can fuse into a super-armour robot hero. He'll want the armour back when you're done.
  12. Polymorphs you all into animals, your animal forms will be instrumental in completing the quest. He'll offer to change you back when you're done but like hey this is kinda cool.

Thursday, January 7, 2016


(Thanks Jack Shear for getting me thinking in this direction.)

So my dungeons tend to be full of books. Books are worth Money but that's about it. Most books on a shelf need to be conveniently ruined or illegible or it's like why am I describing all these 2 sp paperbacks.

Pictured: Not exactly a 2 sp paperback

Here's why.

First, get a random book generator. Vornheim's is good, but if you don't have Vornheim, this one plus a d8 and a d6 will probably do in a pinch.

Decide how insightful or informative the book is on the following scale, or roll 3d6 as if rolling an ability score modifier.

-3. Polemical screed.
-2. Poorly articulated garbage.
-1. Undersubstantiated but has a couple decent thoughts
0. It's got some decent ideas.
1. Solid piece of writing
2. Exceptionally smart
3. Essential text on the subject

N.B. Even fiction can contain very useful information! You might have to be a bit more creative about it though.

Reading Books

Whenever PCs have a few hours to kill, they can study a book in their possession. Make an Int check.

You know how in Dungeon World you can "hold" questions and spend them to be like "oh I already know about this" and get information about a subject? This is like that.

If you succeed on the Int check, roll 1d6+the book's usefulness (if usefulness is greater than 0, don't bother rolling). If the result is a modified 1 or lower, the book has nothing left to teach you, and can no longer be used. Otherwise, subtract 1 from the book's usefulness and hold one question.(Not sure whether usefulness attrition should be per-character or across the board. I'm inclined to say per-character but your call.)

You can spend the question to remember you totally know something about the book's subject whenever you want and ask the DM a question about the book. The DM should base the accuracy and quality of the answer on the book's initial usefulness, though even a polemical screed should have a hint of truth, even if that's what it's railing against. You can hold a total number of questions (across all books) equal to 4 + your int Modifier. PCs who already have all their questions attributed may drop one upon earning a new one.

The DM should also adjust the quality of their answer based whether you can refer back to the book and how much time you have to do so. Raising a question in combat will get you a much shittier answer than raising a question in a safe place where you can pull the book out and refresh your memory. That said, you can never earn new questions if you're reading in a hurry.

Further thoughts

I like the idea of high-Int characters carrying books around, having an interest in books they find on adventures, and wanting to read them when they get the chance instead of rushing to find a collector so they can get the damn thing off their hands. Handling books this way might also lead to particularly useful books getting passed around the party. This little subsystem also plays nicely with my Camping Actions, and characters may even look forward to downtime as a chance to take another look at a book they have.

In Jack's post there's this cool thing where books all provide special bonuses, which is a fantastic thing to do for very rare or unique books, but this system lets your PCs grab a bunch of shit off a shelf and makes it usable with minimal work. You could have both systems in the same game.

Also kind of digging the idea that maybe instead of a question, a natural 6 on the 1d6 roll provides a special bonus, adventure hook, or maybe the beginnings of a spell formula for the DM to declare immediately.