Sunday, December 30, 2012

Some Quick Definitions

+Edgar Johnson posted yesterday about his ideas for a mini-game to approximate PC upkeep and whether they accomplish their goals in their down time or succumb to their temptations. Like a lot of stuff either of us write, Edgar and I are tossing ideas back and forth on this issue and working to develop a more complete system that will be as much fun as we can make it. Edgar's post was a completely inspiring one and has me crazy excited to see where this goes. Before I can toss too many ideas out there, though, here are some basic definitions that I'm going to be using for my take on the system.

  • Simple Dice Chain: This dice chain includes the following dice types, from smallest to largest: d2 => d3 => d4 => d6 => d8 => d10 => d12 => d20; it reflects the polyhedral dice most commonly used in RPGs.
  • Extended Dice Chain: This dice chain includes more dice, including the "funky" dice. This dice chain includes the following dice types, from smallest to largest: d2 => d3 => d4 => d5 => d6 => d7 => d8 => d10 => d12 => d14 => d16 => d20 => d24 => d30; this is the dice chain used by the majority of DCC systems.
  • Upkeep Turn: This is an abstract unit of time that occurs between adventures. It may be as little as a week or as much as a month; after one month of between adventure "down time," a subsequent Upkeep Turn is entered. 
  • Interests: An Interest is an area of activity that can serve as either a Goal or a Temptation. Typical Interests include Food, Drink, Lore and Influence.
  • Goals: Goals are Interests that PCs actively pursue, pouring resources into positive results related to these Interests.
  • Temptations: In many ways the opposite of Goals, Temptations are Interests that may be said to pursue PCs. In short, Temptations are Interests that tempt the PCs into spending resources on pursuing them rather than a PC's Goals, often to a negative result.
These definitions exist merely to clear up a few concepts in Edgar's original post and so I can talk about some very specific things in precise ways. More is coming soon on this system, so watch out!

Gambling In Kickassistan: Death's Will

So good ol' +Edgar Johnson and I are tossing around some ideas about carousing-type rules for DCC and the Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad campaign and he made a specific request of me:

Hey, Adam, invent a game of chance native to Ur-Hadad, and a mechanic for resolving it, preferably opposed rolls.

Sure thing, man. Here goes. And Edgar, I'm taking you quite literally here.

Death's Will

Death's Will is a dice game for two players, most often played for low stakes in Mustertown taverns like the Soiled Dove and by bored soldiers in Ur-Hadad's Spearmarket (and all too often by on duty guardsmen). To play Death's Will, the gamblers need a bowl and three dice (the type of dice used are determined by the stakes of the game, see below). Mankind learned Death's Will at the feet of his Elder Race masters over a millennium ago continues to play it to this day, a fact that is as much a testament to the game's simplicity as it is Man's enduring greed. Many players believe that the name "Death's Will" comes from the fact that the Elder Races played the game in the specially-prepared brain pans of human skulls, the previous owners of which had been slain in sacrifice to some forgotten deity of chance; the true initiate of the game's deeper mysteries eventually learns that the game instead derives itself from a belief that the dice reveal the will of the Chaos Lord Slalocteclotl, Keeper of Vaults and Jailer of the Damned, who jealously guards the wealth of the dead. In great Ur-Hadad, a secret shrine to Slalocteclotl serves the wealthiest degenerate masters of the game as both the temple of the obscure Chaos Lord and the highest-stakes gambling hall in the world.

Death's Will is played in turns, starting with the "challenging" player, who is usually the player who does not own the dice or the bowl (the owner of the accouterments is the "house"); the challenger pays the ante (which varies, see below) and then rolls the three dice into the bowl. The players note whether the challenger has scored or not (or experienced another special roll; see "Scoring," below) and then play passes to the house, who then antes and rolls. If players fail to roll a score on their turns, they may continue to alternate turns until each has a score; if one player fails to get a score, he can continue to ante and reroll, even if the other player already has a score. When both players have a score, the hand is over and the player with the higher score is declared the winner and takes the pot of coins paid as ante.

Scoring

A roll scores when two of the dice show the same value; the value of the third die is the score. Thus, if a player rolls "2," "2" and "3," his score is "3." Rolling triples is a special score, as described below.

Special Scores


  • Plague - A plague is rolled if a player rolls a "1" on each of his dice. Rolling a plague means an automatic loss by the player rolling it. Play immediately stops when a plague is rolled, whether both players have scores or not. 
  • Favor - A favor is rolled if a player rolls the same digit on all of three of his dice (except for the digit "1," which is a plague). Rolling a favor means an automatic win by the player rolling it. Play immediately stops when a favor is rolled, whether both players have scores or not. (Rolling a favor before an opponent has anted gains a player nothing but his own ante back.)
  • Woe - A woe is rolled if a player rolls "1," "2" and "3" on his three dice. Rolling a woe means an automatic loss by the player rolling it and also forces him to ante twice more after rolling. Play immediately stops when a woe is rolled, whether both players have scores or not.
  • Weal - A weal is rolled if a player rolls the three highest consecutive values on his three dice; for example, "4," "5" and "6" if six-sided dice are being rolled or "2," "3" and "4" if four-sided dice are being rolled (the type of dice is decided based on the stakes of the game, see "Stakes" below). Rolling a weal means an automatic win by the player rolling it and forces the opposing player to ante twice after the roll. Play immediately stops when a weal is rolled, whether both players have scores or not. 
  • Piss - A piss is rolled when at least one of any player's dice falls out of the bowl when being rolled. Rolling a piss results in no score and play continues normally. The other player is encouraged to mock the pisser. 

Stakes 

The stakes of the game determine both the denomination of the ante and the dice used to play the game. Before play begins, players must decide on the stakes of the game.
  • Low Stakes - Also called "penny ante" stakes, the ante for a low stakes game is a single copper piece. The dice used in low stakes Death's Will are four-sided (d4s). 
  • Average Stakes - Also called "bit" stakes, the ante for an average stakes game is a single silver piece. The dice used in average stakes Death's Will are six-sided (d6s).
  • High Stakes - Also called "crown" stakes, the ante for a high stakes game is a single gold piece (!!!). The dice used in high stakes Death's Will are twelve-sided (d12s).
During any ante, a player may call for a raise, increasing the ante by any number of coins of the sort determined by the stakes. Usually, a raise will be called for at the beginning of a hand to make the game more interesting. 

Example 1

Crag Beerbeard is sitting down to a modest seventh tankard of ale when he discovers that Old Soily has a Death's Will game running in one corner of the Soiled Dove. The surly dwarf decides that beer number eight is his lucky one and goes all in on an average stakes game with Soily. Crag antes up the silver piece necessary to buy in to an average stakes game and then rolls his three dice, which come up "1," "2" and "5," leaving Crag with no score. 

Crag's First Roll: No Score


Next, it's Soily's turn; he antes his silver and rolls his dice. Soily fares a little better than Crag, rolling "2," "3" and "3." The two "3s" indicate that Soily has scored and the third die is read for that score. Soily has obviously scored a "2."

Soily's First Roll: Score of 2

Crag antes up for another roll, confident that he can beat Soily's 2. He drops his silver piece and rolls his three dice, resulting in "3," "3" and "4" and a score of "4." Crag wins and takes his silver.

Crag's Second Roll: Score of 4

Example 2

After many more hours and beers, Crag decides that its time to revisit the gambling table, but his lighter purse is making him less daring than before, so he opts in for a low stakes game. Crag plops down his penny ante and rolls his 3d4, but one of the dice slips out of the bowl. Crag rolled a piss on his first shot!

Crag's First Roll: It's a Piss!
Soily antes up (pot now 2cp) and rolls, getting a "1," a "2" and a "4" for no score.

Soily's First Roll: No score
Crag antes again (3cp pot) and rolls a "1," a "1" and a "2" for a score of 2.

Crag's Second Roll: Score of 2
Soily antes up (4cp pot now) and rolls "2," "3" and "4," a weal! Soily wins, takes the pot and Crag has to pay him 2 more cp (twice the ante). Crag, taught a bitter lesson, goes back to a game he can never lose: drinking!

Soily's Second Roll: A Weal!

So, this game is actually based on an old Asian game called Chinchirorin in Japan that I was introduced to by the Suikoden series of video games. I've changed it a bit here (obviously) to accommodate dice chain logic and the idea that increased risk means increased reward. I don't think that Edgar intended for me to actually create an in-world game, but here you have it. I'm already thinking about how to handle a more in-depth gambling game that would be approximated by DCC game mechanics for a higher-stakes game where fortunes would be won and lost over hours at the table. So yeah, that's coming. Eventually. Hopefully this will tide you over. 

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Saving Old Modules From Themselves

If you've been following this blog for awhile, you're aware of the Keep on Kickassistan project I've been slowly working on for my Game of Taps DCC crew. The Game of Taps is the DCC campaign I run every other Monday night at the Taproom in downtown Ypsilanti, Michigan and the Keep on Kickassistan is the conversion of module B2: Keep on the Borderlands that I started running when we had some noteworthy absences from our gaming table. The Keep on Kickassistan has taken over our gaming group, primarily since it really supports the episodic "let's clear out this part of the dungeon then go back and spend our golds" mentality that playing every other week in a bar engenders.

Working on the Keep on Kickassistan has taught me a few fairly important lessons that I take with me every time I look at an old module with an eye toward how I'd run it. I spend a lot of time reading through old school modules, partially because they're the blueprint that we were given back in the day as to how to put an adventure together and partially because they give the reader a strong insight into the history of our hobby.  If you look at the difference between the maps for B1 and B2, it's a stark, night and day difference showing how much evolution the hobby experienced in just a year (1978 for B1 and 1979/80 for B2).

Right now, I'm reading through B5: Horror on the Hill, mostly because I recall +James Maliszewski writing about it back in November and then +James Raggi saying that he felt it was more deadly than his own modules (!!!), and am discovering that a lot of the problems that I have with prefab modules are infesting this module just like others. I was thinking about running this module at some point in the future as a FLAILSNAILS thing, so I've been looking at how to save this module from what I see as the pitfalls of blandness (by my sensibilities and aesthetics) and the tools that I'm using to save it are the same ones that I've been using for the Keep on Kickassistan.

Here's what I see as the pitfalls of what I can only call "genre D&D" (the point at which D&D stops being a game that emulates a genre and starts being a genre in and of itself).


  1. Not Another Orc Syndrome: Genre D&D is plagued by 10 x 10 room after 10 x 10 room filled with goblins, kobolds, orcs and a host of other generic enemies that once, back in the day, felt new and exciting. Today, the genre of D&D has forced so many of these goblin rooms on us that I can't see a single one of them being interesting or worth running on their own. Ever wonder why 4e is so focused on the "setpiece encounter?" I'd say it stems from the Not Another Orc Syndrome and wanting to make goblin rooms actually enjoyable. 
  2. 2KCP: That's my hip and happening way of writing "2000 copper pieces;" like it? The 2KCP issue has become a huge one lately, primarily due to the efforts of +Erik Tenkar & +Joe D illustrating how ridiculous and non-versimilitudinous it is that a room of giant rats might be guarding exactly two thousand copper pieces. Completely round denominations like 2KCP never made any sense to me and always seemed to be lazy bookkeeping on the part of adventure designers. How exactly am I supposed to believe that my cleric just found exactly 2000 cp in a rats' nest?
  3. Two Great Tastes That Taste Terrible Together: So, this problem is a little more abstract and might not make sense with me just talking about it. I think this is more of a phenomenological problem that you have to experience to understand. That having been said, the Two Great Tastes problem is where broadly clashing genre elements are placed side by side in a horrific juxtaposition that defies logic and often serves to cartoonify and parody more serious genre elements. Two Great Tastes becomes a problem when clashing elements are used in a serious game or without regard to aesthetic as they often are in genre D&D. For an example of the Two Great Tastes problem, look at Holloway's illustration of the witches from Horror on the Hill (page 8): these are not the twisted and warped swamp hags that I'd expect from a grim tale of swords & sorcery (with a legacy of deadliness that makes James Raggi consider it more deadly than even his own Death Frost Doom), but rather friendly and not-at-all-sinister grandmas built on the Aunt Bea model. One of these things is not like the others, one of these things just doesn't belong. Except in Wampus Country. 
  4. +1 Longsword, +2 Plate Mail: I'm not the kind of DM who enjoys handing out magic items willy-nilly. When I hand out a magic item, two things are certain: the player earned that magic item and the item is unique. If it's a weapon, it probably has a name and likely some sort of personality. If it's armor, it likely has a legacy and was made for someone important (though probably long-dead), although you can't rule out names and personalities. Other items are case-by-case things so that everything feels unique and special. There are no magic item factories churning out shields +1 or wizard academies that sell off the by-product swords +1 from their Enchanting 101 classes. Stuff like that just bores me to tears (however much some players might like it) and always has. Finding a dagger +1 in some ancient and dusty hallway or in the hoard of some carrion beast or another just feels uninteresting to me and, I feel, sells the players and your joint story short when it comes to meaningful additions to your game. 
I'm sure there are other problems that old modules have, and that there are many people who don't consider the problems that I identify here as actually being problems. I mean hey, some people actually enjoy drinking Budweiser (or rather, I assume they do), but not me. For my tastes, sensibilities and aesthetics -- as well as the expectations of my players -- these four areas need to be altered in order to "save" genre D&D modules from their genre identity and make them enjoyable again and the beer needs to be something far more tastier than Budweiser. As I start getting ready to strip down Horror on the Hill into something usable -- and continue to do the same with Keep on the Borderlands -- I'll try to let you know how I'm dealing with the specific challenges that these problems introduce into my game.


DCC Donnerstag: War Dogs for Everyone

As I mentioned in this post, the Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad group picked up some war dogs last time they were in Mustertown. At the time, I didn't think much about stats for these dogs beyond just giving them some hit dice and an armor class. I had the guys roll on Zak's awesome chart of doggy craziness to see what breeds of dogs they had available to them and from there I made some minor modifications to the super basic stats I had come up with and now, I give you the toolkit I used to figure out just what war dogs can do.

War Dog

Init +0; Atk +0 bite melee (1d4 damage); AC 11; HD 1d8; MV 40'; Act 1d20; Fort +1, Ref +0, Will +1; AL L.

On this basic dog chasis, the Judge can build all sorts of unique dog breeds by just rolling on Zak's chart and making some slight alterations to the template. For example, +Edgar Johnson really liked the sound of the War Pug he rolled up (and now calls "Steve" for some reason), so I needed some logical boosts and nerfs to stats to reflect just what a War Pug should be capable of. Being smaller and more nimble than most other war dogs, ol' Steve got +1 to AC (12) and Reflex (+1 now), but took a two die-chain penalty to HD (now 1d6 instead of 1d8). Finally, I changed the Action dice to be 1d20 or 2d14; thus, the war pug could choose to make one much more accurate attack or two wild & crazy attacks. Guess which of those two Edgar picks every time? Here's the finalized version of the war pug

Steve the War Pug

Init +1; Atk +0 bite melee (1d4); AC 12; HD 1d6; MV 40'; Act 1d20 or 2d14; Fort +1, Ref +1, Will +1; AL L.

By the same token, Mr. +Wayne Snyder picked up a North Wessex (might have to work on that name) Egg-Sucking Hound. Besides being terribly proficient at sucking eggs, the North Wessex is able to detect lycanthropes somehow, granting the dog a Special Property: Detects lycanthropes (perfect accuracy). No other bonuses or anything, just the ability to always know if there's lycanthropes around.

The same sorts of logic can be applied to every result on Zak's table. Many results beef up the damage (to, say 1d6) or AC (to 15 or so), but some are more nebulous (like the war pug) and need interpretation. The Judge might rule that the "utterly unremarkable" result means that the dog is just as-written. He might, however, rule that the dog is so utterly remarkable that people might have a hard time remembering it and might ascribe any number of doglike traits to it that it may or may not possess; it's just this dog, you know?
A funny-looking dog might require a low-DC Will save or spend 1d3 rounds laughing uncontrollably at the sight. Stuff like that. If there's a result for it on Zak's chart and the player decides to actually buy the funny-looking dog, why not give it an effect?

In the Metal Gods campaign, all war dogs cost 25 sp; in the Game of Taps, it would be 25 gp.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

A Very Kickass Christmas (The Dispatches From Kickassistan Christmas Special)

I considered adding a section to the end of all my posts this last week where I include some Christmas-themed something or other. Usually music. I decided that it'd be much easier for folks who don't particularly care to expose themselves to too much Christmassy stuff if I just crammed it all into one blog post, and thus A Very Kickass Christmas, The Dispatches From Kickassistan Christmas Special, was born!

Our first musical guests hail from a magical place and time, a mystical decade known as "the Seventies." Put your hands together for Slade, singing their 1973 classic, "Merry Xmas Everybody."

Our next guests are quite possibly my favorite band ever. and not in that hackneyed sense of the superlative. They're here to perform their fantastic Christmas ditty, "364 Days," a song about how great the rest of Santa Claus's year probably isn't. If you don't know much about the Murder City Devils, it's high time you learn.


And now to switch gears completely. Do you know how hard it is to find good Hannukah songs? Well, the closest I'm daring to come without bathing in sheer cheese is this number by Mr. Dan Kahn. Here's some footage of Mr. Kahn & the Painted Bird playing "Beyze Vintyn" (Evil Winter) in France a few years back. Dan Kahn was pretty big in the Indie Folkie scene in Michigan a while back, then he moved to Berlin and became an evangelist of klezmer.

And now for some guys who figure into rather more sessions of the Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad than I'd ever have imagined.

Celebrity guests? You want celebrity guests? Here we go!


Oh, and a commercial break.


And more celebrities! For those who aren't aware, David Bowie is the secretly-reptilian overlord of the Stardust nebula and the democratically-elected ubermage of the third and fourth quandrants of All Time. Plus, he's apparently a singer or something. Bing Crosby gave up his position of Grand High Crypt Lord of the Impossible Black Sands of Khalabash to enlist in the US Army and fight the Nazis in World War II. He also saved a hotel with Danny Kaye in White Christmas by performing a show that the two wrote on the battlefields of that war, right before Mechahitler summoned Cthulhu. Crosby then had to punch out both Cthulhu and Mechahitler before he could settle in to smoke a congratulatory pipe upon completing the play. It's really odd that these guys didn't meet before this instance, particularly since David Bowie, the last time I checked, exists at all points in time all at once.


Who the hell remembers Twisted Sister? Sure guys, you can be on this Christmas special, too.


Oh shit, who let Lemmy in? OBJECTION: QUESTION BASED UPON FALSE ASSUMPTION. One does not "let" Lemmy do anything. Lemmy lets you not die for trying to stop him from doing anything... if you're lucky.

Let's bring it down just a notch or two and visit another one of the mad archmages of rock who keep the universe operating in order. Freddie Mercury was raised among men, but if the beings of the remote future century from which he hails could be called men, then it is only loosely. Supermen, perhaps, or, as Bowie sagely predicted, the homo superior. Released long after Queen recorded The Album With The Greatest A Side Of Any Record Possible, this is, if nothing else, both a Queen song and a Christmas one.


For our penultimate guests, we summon Rob Halford, Slash, Leland Sklar, Steve Lukather, Marc Bonilla and Jason Bonham and command them to rock! Dance, monkeys, dance!


Ladies and gentlemen, I'd like to thank you for joining us for Kickassistan's first trip through the decades to build the most kickass Christmas we can. Our final piece of musical celebration of the season requires a little bit of necromancy, but I doubt any of you would turn up your nose at a little raising the dead (or ... raising hell?) would you? If so, I'm sure there's a perfectly tame RPG blog somewhere that you're reading rather than anything that I write. Enough of this frontin', yo, I give you motherfuckin' Christmas!



Saturday, December 22, 2012

Seasons Greetings From Ur-Hadad


Thanks to +Wayne Snyder for this freaking awesome (and completely unsolicited) reminder that the Purple Meat is the gift that keeps on giving. May you and yours enjoy a little horror out of time and space during this time of year when it means so much.

This does remind me, though, that I should probably talk about the strange yuletide habits of the Kickassistani natives. Tomorrow, my friends, tomorrow.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Whose Beer? Whose Pretzels?

Lately, folks have been updating their GM Merit Badges, which made me think that it was about time for me to put together the merit badges that most accurately represent who I am, DM-wise. I was going through the list and mentally checking off each appropriate badge when I came to the last one: Beer & Pretzels. Given that my home DCC game is actually played in a bar, I expected that I'd want to add this badge to my repertoire, but then I started to think that, for other folks, that moniker might not be accurate. Are my games fun? Well, I'd hope so. Folks seem to be having fun. Are my games social? Oh god yes. So I seem to be satisfying Stuart's first two qualifications, but there's something else that seems to be implied by Beer & Pretzels that I'm not quite sure I fulfill: the lightheartedness. 

It seems like there's a lightheartedness incumbent in games that call themselves Beer & Pretzels that precludes several of the other GM Merit Badges I'd award myself (and, I'd say, rightfully award myself). My games feature regular PC death (I do play DCC, after all), the players should know how to run, players definitely benefit from the use of tactics, I often use shared GMing (ahem, +Edgar Johnson , cough, cough) and my games can run a little disturbing. From a certain point of view, all of these things prevent my games from ever being Beer & Pretzels games. 

The thing is, the disturbing/gonzo/horror content of a lot of my games *IS* the beer. The player death/public rolling/tactical content *IS* the pretzels. 

From a certain point of view.

In short, I wanted to call my games Beer & Pretzels because we have a blast every week. The weird shit alongside the tactical character death and doom mixes with the right players and the right aesthetic and ends up producing a crazy perfect storm of superfun. To me, that's what Beer &  Pretzels means, but apparently not for everyone else. My beer is the fun, my pretzels are game. 

Why I Both Like and Dislike XP for Treasure. Also, Kielbasa.

This is not a topic going around the blogosphere or G+ right now, so I assume that most folks have already spent a lot of time talking about this and have come to some form of consensus or it has somehow been successfully ignored by bloggers. No, I don't think the latter option is very likely, either. I know that I've gotten a few people's opinions on the matter, and have spent a lot of time thinking about mine. Or rather, I think about the issue as tangential to other issues, particularly when considering one system's merits versus another's (as in, why not Swords & Wizardry rather than DCC?).

When I was growing up in the hobby, I think we missed the "you get xp for treasure you find" memo. My introduction to gaming came with the '83 Mentzer red box (bought at a garage sale, but somehow miraculously still containing all the dice and *gasp* the crayon), and though "xp for gp" was in there, I think we didn't notice it, particularly because we didn't really understand what xp were yet. And then we (somehow) moved into Palladium Fantasy and 2e at the same time, which we sort of looked at as the same game, but I think we read the xp rules from Palladium Fantasy and not 2e (Palladium Fantasy very much makes a point of not granting xp for killing monsters or gaining treasure, but if you weren't supposed to earn xp for killing things, why did everything in D&D have an xp value?). Wow, I never thought about how strange this mash up was ... Well our 2e/Palladium strangeness didn't bother tracking xp because we had managed to get ourselves sufficiently confused on the issue, so the DM (me) would just decide that people had gained levels because ... we were in fifth or sixth grade at the time and didn't know any better. (Yes, I know that there are plenty of gaming groups out there who are perfectly happy with "levels by DM fiat;" I am not one of those gamers.) Long story short, I completely missed that I should have been earning and awaring xp for treasure and that, by the time I became that "xp for gp" was a thing, I thought it was a feature of games I'd left behind (like BECMI). 

One of the reasons that I dig the "xp for gp" concept is that I've rarely gotten to take advantage of it, Beyond that, it does seem to fit certain types of campaigns exceptionally well, particularly the murderhobo sort of campaign. When the players play glorified tomb raiders, it makes a lot of sense to reward them for accomplishing their chief goal: the acquisition of filthy lucre. Here we have reinforcement of greed and that's perfectly fine, following that particular campaign model. Further, campaigns with the "xp for gp" rule seem to have the possibility of ever-escalating gp awards being necessary to satisfy the players' lust for xp, but that doesn't seem like a real criticism to me (you just have to make sure that the dragon guarding all that treasure is big and bad enough and the problem is solved; if the players earn the treasure by defeating the dragon/demon/monster, no problem, if not, they're dead and it's time to reroll). Systems with "xp for gp" build that logic straight into their xp per level tables, making it a presumption of the balancing one class against any other. Thus, fighters need more gold to level than clerics or thieves, whereas magic users need more than even fighters. This all has an internal consistency that I really dig, however...

All wealth exists to make challenges easier for players in one way or another. In city environments, you can often throw money at problems. In dungeons, magic arms and armor make fighting easier. In my DCC games, you can buy more level 0s whenever you're in town. Xp, as an award, also makes things easier, so awarding "xp for gp" seems like double-dipping into the award sauce, especially since many games (including DCC) award xp based on the difficulty level of challenges overcome, meaning that easier encounters (made easier by the award of treasure) earn less xp, but if "xp for gp" is in effect, then making an encounter less difficult by "throwing treasure at the problem" doesn't actually curb the xp award (so long as there's some treasure included in the encounter). In other words, if there's a treasure to be had, throwing money at the problem of overcoming the dragon/demon/monster/old god guarding it doesn't end up reducing the amount of xp awarded for the encounter. I find something fundamentally disturbing in this logic.

All in all, I'd say that deciding to use "xp for gp" works if and when the campaign model calls for it. In my DCC game, where each treasure is special and every magic item has a name, treasure is a motivating factor, but the name of the game is facing off against mad challenges from the depths of imagination, so awarding treasure for anything that doesn't contribute to this campaign focus seems to miss the point. Similarly, in, say John's Swords & Wizardry game that I play in on Saturdays on G+, treasure is largely the point of adventuring, so awarding xp for any treasure found (actually, John awards it for treasure spent, but you get the picture) just makes sense. Right. So, "xp for gp?" It all depends.

In real world news, my wife and I should be earning xp for treasure during the adventure we're heading on tomorrow. Tomorrow, we launch head first into that nightmare territory called Toledo on a journey to a little-known and out-of-the-way little place called Stanley's Market, home of the best damn kielbasa I've ever tasted. Hamtramck has nothing on Stan's. Kielbasa I ate in Poland has nothing on Stan's. Every Christmas season (and normally at least one other time each year), my wife and I make the pilgrimage to Stan's and bring back way too much of the stuff. This year, the kielbasa will be our contribution to the wife's family's Christmas party, possibly along with some pierogi or golabki, though I think we're going to experiment in making some ogorkowa (dill pickle soup) to bring, too. I know that the testimonial of some dude online you've never met isn't quite as much of an endorsement as it could be, but if you ever find yourself in Toledo, stop in at Stan's and do yourself a favor. Were a player to offer me Stan's kielbasa, that's one treasure I'd never hesitate to award xp for. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Who Started the Fight at the Soiled Dove?

As I've discussed before, Kickassistan includes Purple Socerer's Mustertown (as presented in Perils of the Sunken City) nestled right up against the First City, Ur-Hadad, built in the shadow of that great city. Similarly, I've borrowed the Soiled Dove tavern from those Sorcerer guys as well. This is not a friendly local tavern, but rather a seedy, dangerous place filled with the sort of scum that frequent villages like Mustertown. On any given night, there's a 75% chance (1-3 on a d4) of a fight breaking out, which happens 1d16 hours after noon.This might mean that the players just missed the fight, or that the fight has yet to break out; regardless, the most important question that should be on your mind is "who started the fight in the Soiled Dove?"

1d12 Roll | Result
1 - Halfling Rudeboys - Suspenders holding up their highwater trousers, these halflings walked in the front door looking for trouble. Most are missing teeth and sport offensive tattoos, but absolutely all of them have shaved heads and (improbably) wear new, shiny black boots. 1d4+2 of these ruffians darken the Dove's doorstep and blacken a few eyes.
2 - Restless Rutabaga Farmers - The 'Baga Blight has claimed nearly all of this year's rutabaga crop, leaving most of the Dominion of Man's rutabaga farmers unemployed and without prospects. A smattering of forlorn farmers have gathered at the Dove to drink away the very last of the money, hoping that some stranger might come along to take pity on them and whisk them away to a life of adventuring. Before that could happen, someone brought up pitchfork control policy. 1d6+1 of these guys immediately came to fisticuffs.
3 - Stinky Pete On the Loose Again - Stinky Pete, Wollis Carter's prize pig, got loose again and ran immediately for the Soiled Dove. Ol' Pete has developed a taste for ale and launched himself on top of one of the long tables in the Dove, shoving his snout into a tankard and squealing with delight. The resulting chase smashed clay tankards, earthenware plates and long tables as Wollis Carter tried to catch Stinky Pete and no fewer than three drinkers tried to kill him. As drinks were spilled and food was ruined, the comedy quickly turned to tragedy as the fists started to fly.
4 - Old Soily Himself - The proprietor of the Soiled Dove, a loud-mouthed and surly (but usually well-meaning) lout who goes by the name of Old Soily, started this particular row. It seems that Old Soily thinks that Urgan Fetht has been spending too much time with Mrs. Soily. Fetht, the town ratcatcher, recently cleared out an infestation in the Soily family home (the one in the tavern is still going strong, don't worry) and that pie Mrs. Soily baked for Fetht just reeks of iniquity. As a result, Soily broke a bottle of rotgut over the ratcatcher's noggin the moment he stepped foot in the Dove.
5 - An Itinerant Priest of Law - Recently evicted from his prior home on the Avenue of One Thousand Gods, Brother Murghest seeks to atone for his own crimes against the god Uhrlgrei, patron of steeped beverages. As penance for the crime of drinking his tea spiked with rice whiskey, Brother Murghest showed up at the Soiled Dove, preaching about the evils of drink. This proselytizing did not go over well, nor did the fallen priest's cajoling for the patrons to "entrust your sinful beverages to my care, that they may be disposed of as written in the holy scripture!" In the end, the priest escaped with a split lip and a bottle of cheap plum wine.
6 - Those Damn Mercenaries - The mercenary company known as the Brotherhood of Boastworthy Victories (the "Boasters") attempts to make up for what it lacks in prestige by ridiculous self-aggrandizement. Despite having been formed more than six years ago, the Boasters still have no presence in Ur-Hadad's Spearmarket or even within the First City at all; their only clients are those desperate enough to hang the color in Mustertown. Orvus Boll, the town scrivener, called out a band of 1d4+2 Boasters trying to pass off a bald faced lie as the gods' honest truth and paid for it with a broken jaw.
7 - Those Damn Adventurers - A fresh batch of croc scat, just back from an adventure in the Sunken City, got blind stinking drunk off the proceeds from their Gray Prize and, in the whirlwind blur of their inebriation, someone got stabbed. Does it really matter how it happened? Or who it happened to? Apparently, yes, yes it does. 2d3 adventurers found this out the hard way.
8 - Those Damn Barbarians - Cultural exchange is one thing, but these barbarians insisted on "sharing" all of the words to their favorite Skallite drinking songs with the entire tavern, enforcing participation where there was little will to sing along. 1d3+2 barbarians from Skall taught the weak swampfolk of Mustertown to fear Brom, He Who Sleeps Beneath Mountains, in the ensuing brawl.
9 - The Metal Priest - A Chaotic priest of the Metal Gods paid the Soiled Dove a visit on a pilgrimage. If only that pilgrimage hadn't been "go to the nearest tavern and smash it." As it stands, he brought a few of his more presentable beast men and waited for the third round of liquor before pinning the serving wench's hand to the table with a sacrificial knife; that's three rounds that Old Soily is never going to get paid for. The priest and his 1d4 beast men companions sing the praises of Obhal, Zyosbou and Lemm the Killmaster as they stab and hack their way through the patronage of the Dove.
10 - The Band Rebels - The band was supposed to just be normal, happy minstrels performing normal, happy drinking songs and encouraging normal, happy drinking behavior, but then Old Soily screwed them on their contract and threatened them with report to the guard captain for breach of it if they complained. Fed up, the songs' lyrics started to get sarcastic, then satirical and finally downright lambasting; that's when Old Soily starting hurling threats and the five minstrels started hurling plates.
11 - The Waitress Did It - Sick of the appalling quality of the pick up lines found in the Dove, ranging from insultingly horrible to even worse, Arda the waitress finally decked Barsam Kulg with a full tankard of goat piss (or ale, it can be hard to tell the difference at the Dove). When Barsam's brother Malsam objected, his face bore the brunt of Arda's backhand. Soo, Kulgs were raising to their feet en masse, but since the Kulg family has never been too popular around these parts, the rest of the patrons joined in on Arda's side.
12 - No One Knows - Near as we can figure, punches just started flying. No one recalls anyone saying anything about anyone else's spouse or mother, just the moment when punches started flying. If any sort of psychometric or time-bending magic is used to scry upon the root cause of the melee, it turns out that one of the flies circling Gern Bensback, the town gongfarmer who drinks alone as far from the kitchen as possible thanks to popular consensus, annoyed the noses of a group of walrus-herders who, attempting to shoo the offending pest away, ended up swatting each other rather than the fly, and the one who got knocked out of his chair lost a prized walrus tusk that pierced a local farmer's thigh and, well, that's the moment where all hell broke loose.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Kickass Rides: Long-Necked Savannah Runner

Across Kickassistan, different peoples have been finding new and strange ways to get from one side of the world to the other for far longer than Man has bothered to record history. Bizarre chariots pulled by weird and dangerous beasts, craft wrought by artifice alone and monstrous brutes bred for generations to serve the lofty as mounts have all taken their turns as the preferred modes of conveyance. Not every riding beast or vehicle is worth discussing, but there are many more that are worth the conversation. 

The Long-Necked Savannah Runner

On the arid scrub-plains of Entoago, tribes of wild elves preserve the sanctity of a mysterious site known as the Ancestor Grounds, scaring off any raiders who dare stray too close to the holy site. Explorers and marauders alike tremble with fear when recounting the tale of the appearance of the wild elves on the horizon, a series of silent silhouettes that wait and watch, descending in mad abandon upon any who ignore their warning and press on. These elves, known in the wilds of Entaogo from the days before the fall of the Elder Races, are rumored to pursue interlopers for days, weeks even, and will drive their prey into the sea with dogged tenacity that comes from executing their holy duies. 

The boyar of Khazhazhum listened while his torturers wrung every possible detail of the failed expedition to the Ancestor Grounds from the lips of his explorers, and popular account says that he laughed as each man's last breath choked in his throat, but the truth is that the boyar listened impassively, bored with each version of the same tale. It was not until Sorjei Khalalud, the expedition's teamster general, gave his telling of the retreat to the ships moored in Borgorod Bay that the boyar began to show interest, for Sorjei was the first to inform the boyar and his torturers of the beasts he called "long-necked savannah runners," huge spotted beasts, long of leg and neck, that the wild elves rode astride the scrub-plain as men ride horses. As a reward for entertaining tale, the boyar commanded Khalalud to lead a foray back to Entoago, this time to capture a runner for his personal menagerie; his bones may today be found in a shallow grave along the River Mtene.
Khalalud's journal survived him, though, as did the savannah runner that he managed to capture, although the beast went mad at sea and had to be killed for the sake of the crew. The boyar had the crew massacred for their treason and ensured a worse fate for their captain, but the skeleton of the runner he had animated by the Necromancer of Unguol for his Nightmare Menagerie, where it resides to this day, an heirloom prized by the boyar's line, now three generations after his death. 

Khalalud's journal has this to say about the long-necked runner:

"We had heard the tales of the Utuweb people along the River Mtene and knew to fear the approach of the wild elves, though we had hoped we should never see them. It was after the fifth day across that vast desert of brush and sickly-thin trees that the savages made their presence known, first as little more than a line of figures  back lit by the setting sun. Once they appeared, we dared not rest nor make camp, afraid that they might come upon us at night and murder us in our sleep. And so, we ventured to the north, where we thought the foothills of Osphegor might conceal us from their scouts. 

"Instead, we found that, at our every step, the wild elves came closer, steadily, stalking us. A day of forced march found us still miles from Osphegor, and it was at high sun of that day that we heard the trumpeting sound of some horn blown by an elf to the southwest. It was, in short order, followed by another horn-call from the middle of the elven line and then a third from the northernmost of their ranks. That was when the silhouettes on the horizon grew taller, as if giant serpents were rising up into the sky, hungry for whatever ripe meat hangs high in the path of the sun. 

"Suddenly, amid a second round of call and response from the alien clarions, the line of the wild elves descended upon us, and it became clear within moments that the snake-beasts were in fact mounts of some sort, some sort of demon-cattle with serpents or tentacles in place of necks and legs so long that the gait they pounded out upon the earth bore them faster than any horse, even though the cadence was even and deliberate. As the beasts and riders neared us, I could see that their bodies bore spots not unlike those of certain predatory cats found on the savannah; a wilder imagination than mine might have supposed that these huge beasts were the bastard offspring of leopard and camels, the former for their coloration and the later for the vague similarity to their faces. 

"The wild elves rode astride these beasts in a standing position, in some form of saddle that consisted of no seat, but rather a sling yoked over the creature's fore-haunches, a net-like stirrup to both the left and the right of the beast's impossibly long neck. The riders held long spears in one hand like light lances and the leather reins -- decorated with bones as often man-like as not -- in the other. Never did the hindquarters of any of the savannah runners ever bear weight; their sloping shape and sly gallop gave the notion that such parts were insufficient for the purpose of carrying anything of consequence. The beasts themselves did not attack at all, except to trample any fallen before them, but at least once I saw a long black tongue snake out from a long snout to remove something from its face. Tiny horns adorn the beasts' skulls, but never have I seen them used as weapons.

"The wild elf riders would descend upon us in waves, not unlike literal ones upon a shore, each wave stealing away the lives of good men as it ebbed. Though we braced for each attack, the morale of the men was broken upon the first and we immediately made for the sea, for the safety of our boats at Borgorod, for the sweet succor of mother Khazhazhum across the ocean and a world away. Only after three quarters of our men lie dead, skewered on elven spears, did we break the beachhead and find safety at last, three days after the first appearance of these monsters that some would have me call civilized. Even now, as the boyar forces my hand to prepare an expedition back across the ocean, years later, I still tremble to think of the sight of the savannah runners and their ruthless masters. I can only hope that the gods grant me a quick death on the scrub-plain rather than in the boyar's torture chamber should I fail."

Long-Necked Savannah Runner
Init +1; Atk +4 trample melee (2d6 damage, Reflex save for half); AC 14; HD 4d8; MV 120' (yes, this is a crazy amount, these guys are fast); Act 1d20; Fort +4, Ref +2, Will +0; AL N.

Yep. Wild elves ride giraffes. I go to zoos a lot and have always thought that giraffes kind of look like a sort of elven super-deer. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

FLAILSNAILS S&S2e

No long-winded introductions this time. Here's the idea: FLAILSNAILS Starships & Spacemen 2e. I'm not talking about creating a new S&S character and taking that around to different S&S games, I'm talking about  people bringing their normal FS characters into an S&S game. These characters will need to be converted to S&S (and therefore will have some minor changes to them and the way they work) and there will be some central conceits that the players will have to buy in to, but nothing too extreme or crazy. 

Conceits

Your FS character did not suddenly find himself on a starship in the role of an officer. Even though you're bringing your character from a fantasy setting suddenly into a sci fi one, as long as that character is in S&S, it's as if he or she has always been in Spacefleet, in this universe and will always be (from the in-game perspective). You could, on a personal level, write this off in an "it was all a dream" capacity, but there's no compulsion to do so or extra hoops to jump through (Article 8 of the FLAILSNAILS conventions). Although you'd have all of the levels and experience earned through normal FS games, we'll just be writing previous adventures off or, even better, slanting them to reflect the "new continuity" (ie, your FS druid, now a medical science officer, remembers his time in the Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth as being on an away mission). These "changes" do not affect the character in any permanent way; they're merely a way to maintain a sense of consistency in what could be an incredibly strange environment.

Conversion

Your FLAILSNAILS character's stats will remain more or less the same with one major alteration: Wisdom becomes Psionic Potential. 

Humans obviously stay humans (but you could be something different if you wanted), but elves can become either Taurans or Andromedans. Dwarves and halflings can either choose to be humans in S&S or pick one of the other races. Half-orcs are tailor-made to become Rigels. Got something else that another FS DM let you play? Talk to me, man, we can work something out. Gnomes should just shoot themselves. 

Fighter, ranger and paladin-types usually end up becoming Military officers, and can choose a subclass that they qualify for. Of course, you could go into a different branch of service if you want. If you decide that your 3rd level dwarven fighter needs to be a Gorran Communications officer, no sweat. Sounds great. Let's do that.

Cleric, druid, magic-user, illusionist and similar spellcaster-types usually end up becoming Science officers, but could just as easily become Technical officers. If your character is Tauran or Andromedan, you get psychic powers. If you're human, check with the DM. My hard and fast rule for this would be that if you are converting a spellcaster to S&S and have a Psi Potential (PSI) score of 13 or more, you get to be psychic. That's cool with me, man.

Thief-types usually make great Techinical officers, but could go Science or Military branches without too much brain-stretchery. 

Race-as-class and multiclass characters have some decisions to make. Since there's no real multiclassing in S&S, pick a branch that most completely reflects what your character should be doing. Realistically, most folks in this boat, could pick between any of the different service branches (ie, a B/X elf is equal parts spellcaster and fighter with some thiefiness thrown in, so you could go Military, Science or Technical very easily).

All equipment is off the table. You do not get to bring your magic runesword into space with you. The society of the future is a decidedly non-materialistic one, so you pick equipment normally for your mission. 

Your character does not need to have a subclass. 

Any other conversion issues get decided by the DM, but I think I've covered everything.

Crew

If it weren't for consonance, I'd have called this segment "forming the party" or something like that. Anyway, here are some thoughts about how to put together a good crew for your spaceship.

The highest ranking Military Command officer is the commanding officer of the crew. If there's no Command sub-class present, then the highest ranking Military officer is the CO. I don't normally like to put one player in charge," but the game and genre do make distinctions of this sort fairly important. The CO may choose his First Mate, XO or "Number One;" choice of nomenclature is completely up to the group. 

A good mix of classes is, as usual a good idea. The players may want to work together as a team to decide what they're bringing to the table to make sure that the away team complements each other well. Same thing with gear; it's a wise idea to work out beforehand who'll be bringing what down to the planet's surface.

You do not need one of each type of subclass. That would be out of control. 

There's absolutely nothing wrong with using Trek characters as models. I'd expect captains to ... pause dramatically or get indignant at the manipulation of cosmic imps, Science officers to be hyper-logical or overly-empathic, and Techs to ... be blind or have Scottish accents? Sure why not. Whatever works for you and helps you invoke the pseudo Trek vibe of S&S. 

So, that's how I'd do it. It'd be purposefully episodic to account for the variances in crew and such, which would make the game feel a lot like the first season of TOS and exactly what I would want. Like so many of the project ideas I get excited about, this one would have to wait awhile and get put on the back burner for the time being. But, here it is. Maybe it'll happen some day.

Thanks to Zak Smith & Erik Jensen for the inspiration for this idea. 

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Last Night in Kickassistan, I Dreamed of Muppets

Last night was the weekly Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad game on Google+ hangouts via Roll20, and it was the strangest yet. If you read my "What Happens When I Eat the Space Tentacle?" post last week, you know about where these guys started the night. After suffering heavy losses at the hands of the ape men in the forgotten temple deep within the jungle, the adventurers took refuge in the jungle, hiding from the ape men and licking their wounds. Several of their comrades had died on the initial foray, and so the adventurers were a little disheartened. It was about this time that Denny Smed, one of the group's two thieves, suggested that they eat the tentacle. "Give me a week, guys," I said. "I want to do this right."

So, when we finally got rolling last night, the first thing off the bat was "how much tentacle are you guys going to actually eat?" Edgar Johnson's cleric of the Metal Gods, Kormaki Lemmisson, was experiencing a fairly high degree of disfavor and it was decided that he could wipe away all of that by eating four doses of the Purple Meat (as we're calling it, in homage to Uncle Bill). Not to be outdone, Bear Phillipe's armorer-turned-tank warrior, Vane, stepped up and decided he was going to take five doses. And that's when things started to get out of hand. Only one character took a single dose, everyone else took multiples. My original rules called for no additional rolls on the "permanent effects tables," but these guys apparently wanted weird and I resolved to give it to them.

We did everything procedurally, with each player stating how many "doses" of the Purple Meat they were going to ingest and then rolled 1d3 for each dose to determine how long they were going to be out of their damn skulls. We treated it sort of like initiative, where the person with the lowest number of hours for their trip went first, then the next lowest and so on. They would roll their permanent effect first (but not necessarily know what it is), then make a Will save (vs. "bad trip"), then roll their hallucination, then get to find out what their permanent effect was. If they took multiple doses, I let them roll multiple effects.

I am not going to tell you every result of every die roll. Here's the cliff notes version.

Almost every goddamn one of them hallucinated that they had turned into muppets, that all of the their allies had turned into muppets and that the whole lot of them we gallivanting about the jungle in crazy antics and musical numbers. The aftore-mentioned Kormaki Lemmisson, despite being a cleric of the Metal Gods, saw R'Lyeh and Cthulhu in his drug-addled state and woke suddenly from his reverie as he felt the God Who Sleeps' icy tentacle wrap around his leg and pull; he awoke with that leg 3 inches longer than the other. Someone else (I can't remember who) hallucinated cosmic visions of his own significance and caught the merest glimpse of the beings that might actually cosmically significant. Many people were worse for the wear, but some folks ended up being invigorated by the experience, growing in Personality and connection to the universal will of ultimate truth (or, they gained some Luck; however you want to see it). During the process of all these hallucinations running their respective courses, something went horribly dark and people started taking Luck damage, attracting psychic parasites and having terrible, terrible trips; I can only imagine how all the muppet-hallucinations suddenly went south. I picture a sort of Lord of the Flies montage ending the muppet trip, where each PC-muppet turns on the others, some sort of muppet goat gets sacrificed and all muppet hell breaks loose. No one's quite the same after that.

Having been psychically and physically devastated, the adventurers decided that they were done with the jungle for the time being and hiked the two days back to civilization. Once there, it was time to hire some replacement cannon fodder (they ended up with a gambler and four -- FOUR! -- rutabaga farmers) and some dogs for support. "Did you say dogs, Adam?" Actually, it was Edgar's idea, but yes, yes, I did. We dug up Zak's rules for dogs and thus discovered that the local dog merchant had on hand a halfling riding dog, a North Wessex egg-sucking hound and a war pug. Edgar bought the war pug and Wayne bought the egg-sucker. The war pug needed to be awesome because, well... war pug. So, war pugs have +1 AC (from being little buggers) and can choose to make 2 attacks on their turn, but do so with 1d14 action dice (their action dice entry should read "1d20 or 2d14"). Bear bought a bunch of crap for his team of miscreants and then it was time to head back to the ruins.

There's something about this team of misfit adventurers that have been assembled for this game: they seem to like to take a straightforward combat encounter and make it as crazy as they can. Maybe I put the rooms full of ape men too close together. Maybe the idea of calling in reinforcements into a dungeon isn't as well-used these days as in days previous. Maybe they're just nuts and think that unless they're fighting ape men by the dozens (dozens plural), then they're not playing the game correctly, that odds that aren't stacked _completely_ against them aren't odds worth taking. Whatever the case, these guys shoot first and decide who they're shooting later. It's really kind of awesome. Regardless of the root cause, it's like they insist on attacking everyone but that one ape man headed to the gong to announce the presence of meddling adventurers, whatever it takes to bring in more ape men. They're not the fight => stop => loot => sneak => fight => repeat sort of adventurers; they're fight => fight => fight until there's nothing left to kill anymore => run out of time in the session but remember to loot at the very last second sort of adventurers. And it's a fucking blast.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

DCC Donnerstag: The Almanac of Improbable Outcomes

It's been awhile since I've written a DCC Donnerstag article, so I figured it was about time. The only problem was what to write about? Well over at the Iron Tavern, Jeffrey Tadlock just wrote an article about grimoires in DCC (by grimoires here, he specifically means unique spellbooks with a sense of history and theme about them) that inspired me a bit. Then there was the discussion just a moment ago on the DCC G+ community about this article by Erik Tenkar and how to "DCC it up." Mash that discussion up with the idea already circulating around in my head and you have this, the Almanac of Improbable Outcomes.

The Almanac of Improbable Outcomes

One knows that one is gazing upon the Almanac of Improbable Outcomes not because of any text upon its metal and leather cover, but because the brass-ringed eye on its front stares back. And blinks. The ancient pages hold verse after verse of unusual prognostications and bizarre predictions that seem too strange or specific to come true. Some examples might include:

"Aunt Gwarldine game over for tea and discussed the price of Volczik wheat. She doesn't know it yet, but her son Larmis is already stockpiling balgis root for if the shortage ever comes." 

or

"Out, out from deepest sky above / shall dwindle and flollop toward earth / greatest and least of Wednesdays / that final-most of bolts shall tingle in the furthest digits / and the wandering wookolars shall come to roost."

Though often thought by scholars too specific or nonsensical to be of any practical value, sages who spend any length of time reading the Almanac begin to notice two curious facts: first, that many of the passages seem to have some relevance to their own lives (maybe he has an Aunt Gwarldine and cousin Larmis; perhaps the nonsense words were the only ones he could use describe the terrible storm last Wednesday when he could feel the lightning's electricity in his fingertips) but leave further mysteries unsolved (what are balgis root and wookolars, anyway?); second, it can be impossible to find the same passage more than once.

History

While no one scholar can say too terribly much for sure about the Almanac of Improbable Outcomes, there are a few facts that are not in dispute. First, the tome itself seems terribly old\, but it doesn't seem quite ancient enough to have predated the Dominion of Man. Despite its apparent age, the book must be older than Man's freedom, since records of the fallen elven and serpent man empires found in Ur-Hadad both make reference to the text, using the same name known to Man (though this title appears nowhere on the book). These references mention the book having been written in the respective languages of those races, even though modern scholars say that the book is clearly written in Common, a fact independently verified by those dwarven and elven scholars of the modern age who have viewed it. The records of the elves and serpent men similarly state that accounts even more ancient than their own existed that dated the Almanac even earlier than their own era, and that it then seemed written in whatever ineffable language those races from primordial ages had devised.

There are three persistent rumors about the origin of the Almanac of Improbable Outcomes. The first claims that the Almanac was devised by some godlike wizard from the dawn ages when magic flowed like water from a fountain and that he or she imbued it with the secrets of the universe but, since no mortal mind can understand the infinite or the truths of creation, he concealed it behind nonsense and code. Another rumor states that the Almanac is merely mildly psychic and records the thoughts of those whom the eye on its cover has viewed. The nonsense passages are thereby often interpreted as dreams. Yet another rumor claims that the Almanac actually comes from the future and was sent back in time to a point where the first event that it had recorded would be needed. This interpretation considers the Almanac a sort of history text, just often of inconsequential or pointless events, many of which have yet to occur.

Using The Almanac

Merely setting eyes on the Almanac can be an unsettling experience; as soon as anyone gets within fifteen feet of the book, the eye on the cover opens and darts around until it lights upon the approacher. This eye is cold and unfeeling, like the eye of some sea creature or inscrutable animal. Other than being unnerving, this viewing seems to have no lasting effect or consequence, but it has been enough for more than one scholar to be dissuaded from looking further into the text and has caused more than a few nobles to order the text's destruction (which never seems to work).

Upon an initial perusal of the text, many readers will be convinced of its irrelevance or, rather, its relevance as being preeminent in the field of nonsense books with living eyes on the cover. An observant reader may notice (on a Luck check) that the bookmark -- a fine leather thong ending in a circular metal frame containing a thin glass lens -- seems to indicate a particular passage. The content of the passage is up to the Judge, but it directly mentions events that are either about to happen or just happened to or around the reader. A reader should be allowed no more than three such Luck checks; failing all three means that the reader is simply oblivious to the supernatural effects of the tome and will simply continue the myth of the Almanac's irrelevance.

It will soon become apparent to any reader who passes the Luck check that the Almanac has some oracular ability and that it attempts to provide guidance to those who look for it within its pages. Should a reader spend special attention to decoding the mysteries of the text, rather than simply perusing the verses, he may unlock knowledge hidden deep within a pattern of coincidences hidden within another pattern of coincidence hidden within still another series of minor correlations between different verses in the text. All in all, there are three different stages of revelation that the Almanac may impart.

Stage One: Awareness of Coincidences
The reader becomes more and more accutely aware of how events in his life indirectly correlate to passages he has read in the book. He may make an Intelligence or Luck check to uncover some significant knowledge relevant to this type of awareness of coincidences. Should he thereby unlock these mysteries, he finds the formulae for the Wizard spell Detect magic hidden among the verses of the Almanac and may attempt to learn this spell the next time he may learn a Wizard spell, and the check to do so is made with a +2 bonus.

Step Two: Phenomenological Interpretation
At some point, the reader becomes aware that many of the nonsense predictions are not predictions of exact things that will come to pass as written, but often are descriptions of what it feels like when those things come to pass. The tricky part comes in deciphering whether this knowledge is the phenomenology of an observer of the events or a participant in them. Again, and with all levels of understanding that come through perusal of the Almanac, a further Intelligence or Luck check is necessary. After reaching this stage of understanding, the reader may learn the Wizard spell ESP the next time he is eligible to learn a 2nd level Wizard spell and do so at a +2 bonus.

Step Three: Predictive Research
Now that the reader has a base knowledge of how to interpret the verses within the Almanac, and a fuller understanding of the nature of the experiences around him, he may begin to search through the book to find passages that predict events he may be interested in. It is possible, for example, if looking for information on an upcoming disaster, to find the nonsensified experience of an observer of that cataclysm, even if that observer was a nearby cactus, thus allowing one to accurately predict where and when it would strike. The accuracy and detail of such information, however, is limited by the scope of the reader's investigation, however. By the same token, once making his comprehension check for this stage of knowledge, the reader may learn the Wizard spell Consult spirit (treat the book as the spirit in this case) the next time he is eligible to learn a 3rd level Wizard spell (again, at a +2 bonus to do so).

The influence of the Almanac does not end there. Should the Almanac be consulted or used as a focus when a Wizard or Elf is casting any of the spells granted by it, the spellchecks to cast these spells are made with one higher die on the dice chain (d24, usually). However, the caster soon becomes reliant on the Almanac to cast such spells; every time he casts any of these spells using the Almanac, he must make a Will save (DC 16). After three such failed saves, he uses one die smaller on the dice chain whenever he casts the spells without the Almanac. At the Judge's discretion, this penalty may continue to accrue with subsequent uses of the Almanac as a focus, reducing the die type further and further every third failed save.

The Truth

After a fashion, all three rumors surrounding the origin and nature of the Almanac of Improbable Outcomes are true. It was fashioned by a primordial, vastly powerful sorcerer who traveled to the extreme reaches of time and space for the typical wizardly reasons and who bound a mildly psychic portion of his psyche into the book by donating to it one of his hideous eyes and the skin that forms the leather of the cover. He may or may not have tanned this skin using a portion of his vast brain that he hadn't been using for anything else. Exactly who or what this spellcaster from the dawn age was is largely irrelevant; with the powers at his disposal, concepts like body, mind, biology, physics and other constraints of the mortal no longer applied to him, making other concepts like self and species not even academic, but mere nitpicking.

Today, this mildly psychic remnant of a supreme arcanist exists as a sort of key left behind by that being as it fled our meager plane of existence to experience even higher mysteries than those that led it to create the Almanac. The passages in the Alamanc exist to assist those of wizardly bent in unlocking mysteries of the cosmos, in learning to make reality irrelevant and in the practice of defying the existential constraints of life. Thus, in addition to the effects mentioned above, the Almanac may act as a sort of guide to those who learn to listen to it, and may even help push the aspiring cosmic sorcerer along the path toward greater and greater arcane glories, often by suggesting courses of action or quests through mysteries revealed through contemplation upon it. The Judge is encouraged to offer the aspirant some momentary boon should he choose to undertake such a quest and to avoid any sort of geas-like effect.

Of course, the Almanac might have an even more sinister goal, but that would be entirely up to the Judge. It might be simply using the reader to craft him into a vessel worthy of carrying the soul of its creator when he returns to this reality, but don't take my word for it.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Quick Updates & Sneaky Previews

Here's a little bit about the progress I'm making on some of the billion irons I have in the fire.

  • Roll20 HeroQuest (R20HQ): Since the Game of Taps players cancelled on me last night and I couldn't find a game on Google+ so, instead, I worked on the "graphic assets" for my HQ game. As of now, I have all of the tiles, the board and all tokens ready for play. I found really good scans of the board and tiles, so I just had to chop them up and convert them to an image format so they'd be nice, discrete little units. The hero and monster tokens, though, I had to create from scratch. It's terribly hard to find pictures of fimir, you know? Somehow, much easier to find pictures of orcs, goblins and mummies (/sarcasm). From here on in, all I need to work on is presenting the rules (last night I re-wrote the "What You Can Do On Your Turn" part of the rulebook to accurately reflect the necessary dice rolls) and figuring out how to handle the different cards. Right now, the Spell Cards and the Treasure Cards are the big deal. I initially thought about using Roll20's native "build a card deck" feature, but that doesn't seem like it has all of the functionality I'd like or need it to. Once I have the treasure cards & spell cards locked down, it's on to building some maps and then it's playtest time.
  • Unnamed Dreamtime Hexcawl for DCC: I want to do this right, so I'm taking it slow. Slow as in, right now, I'm coming up with one or two major concepts per week. Last week, I rattled off the "What's My Crime?" table and this week, you'll get the "What Happened At Sea?" table. Further, today (below), you'll get a glimpse of what will become one of the hexcrawl part of the game's central features: the Nightmare Die. Other than those, there are a lot of ideas kicking around, but most things are half-formed at this point. I'm really excited to see where this goes. One of the other big ideas that I'm toying with is on-the-fly hex generation (as befits the dream nature of the game) and element generators based on on-hand sources (such that, you go to your shelf and grab a book, turn to page whatever, stuff like that) as an option. A lot of the writing done so far has been either my lovely wife or I coming up with a detail or rule idea, getting really excited about it and then seeing how it survives contact with the other. My wife's approach seems to be more "kitchen sink" and mine seems to be more "vision-focused." At this point, I feel like my laser beams are a little more useful to cut the broad swathes of "this is what the idea is" into being and then later, her magician's hat o' tricks will be the rule as we start to add details and elements. 
  • DCC Modules: Right now, I'm still writing Slaves of the Silicon God, even as the Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad campaign's players are slowly dismantling the temple grounds. There's still a lot of work to be done here and the end result will be determined by just how long I want this thing to go on for. I know the place is getting at least one more level before I'm done with it. Furthermore, I had this awesome idea for a Christmas-themed DCC adventure, but I'm not sure I'll be getting to that this holiday season, unfortunately. Of course, I could just write it and sit on it until next year. It toyed with the concept of the Yulefather, Kickassistan's version of Santa Claus, and the creepy twists that such a character would have to have in a place like Kickassistan. The Yulefather might make an appearance this year, thanks to Erik Tenkar's "Santa Claws as a DCC Patron" competition over on Tenkar's Tavern. So, look for that. 
  • The Home Game: I don't talk about my real home game here on the blog much because it's a 4e game and I figure that most of my readers aren't interested in reading about it. I work on it a lot, however, and am reaching the end of everything I have written right now as my players close in on 5th level. Further, we might be looking at some player changes as some people bow out and we start to need people to replace them. I ran a 4e game for nearly 2 years prior to this one (not immediately prior, but a few years prior) and am starting to get some "edition fatigue" with the way 4e was initially presented (The PHB series, the DMG series, et al) and am thinking more and more positive things about the Essentials products, to the point where I think it might be fun starting over using just those products. Starting over, however, I know is a trap and it will not be done. Perhaps newer players will be encouraged to use Essentials characters (but not required). I'm also sick of how magic items work in 4e. They're too prevalent and too powerful. I'm thinking about making most of them go away (maybe let each player keep 2 or so) and going to the inherent bonus system presented in the DMG2. So, lots of thought-work going on for that campaign (holy shit, right now, I am running or involved in the running of three different campaigns). 
And so, without further ado, your sneaky preview:

The Nightmare Die

In the as-yet-unnamed, Dreamtime-themed hexcrawl that I'm planning, nightmares are incredibly important. Personally, so many of my dreams end up being nightmares -- every dream I have has at least some sort of nightmare content -- that I couldn't not include nightmares as a major component of the setting. Further, since nightmares seem to strike at random, I wanted there to be some sort of roll that helped provide a mechanism to give us that random result. Finally, since the intensity of nightmares varies, I knew that there'd have to be a severity indicator which again would be unpredictable rather than deterministic. Thus, the Nightmare Die was born. 

The Nightmare Die starts out as a d4 and moves up or down the dice chain as the rolls and circumstances dictate. When moving from one hex to another, the Judge rolls the Nightmare Die and consults the chart below. The Nightmare Die is persistent throughout a single journey in the Dreamtime; thus, even resting does not "reset" the Nightmare Die; if you had a 1d6 as your Nightmare Die, it stays a 1d6 until you leave the Dreamtime. The Judge may call for additional Nightmare Checks as the campaign or rules warrant. 

Roll | Effect
1 -3: No effect. Nightmare Die size stays the same.
4: Nightmare element. Nightmare Die size increases by one.
5: Impending nightmare. Roll the Nightmare Die to determine severity and 1d24 to determine how many hours away the nightmare is. The nightmare will strike even if the characters have changed hexes since rolling this result. Roll no further Nightmare Dice until this nightmare is resolved. 
6+: Nightmare! Roll the Nightmare Die for severity. 

Nightmare Element: Choose or determine an element of the hex or present within the hex that evokes nightmare-type imagery and minor fear effects. This element heralds the surmounting nightmare around the adventurers and they may have to resolve the minor fear effect before moving on.

Impending Nightmare: Ever know that you're going to have a nightmare but not necessarily when? The impending nightmare is a lot like that. Except that the Judge knows when, even if the players do not.

Nightmare!: The area is immediately beset by a nightmare (if the adventurers were already there) or there's a nightmare already in progress (if the adventurers just entered the area). Roll for severity. 

At this point in time, I don't have rules in mind for the severity of nightmares. There will be a pretty large chunk of work devoted to actually determining what's in the nightmare and what the severity means. As of this moment, I'm of the opinion that in order for there to be a nightmare, there also has to be a dreamer (though this may change; the wife and I are pondering the exact nature of dreams as regards this setting) and so as I'm interpreting things, the dreamer will be central to the conflict of the nightmare, but this may be one of the things that severity effects. 

Along with the Nightmare Die (I'm thinking of abbreviating it as dN; too modern-gamer-y?), I'm working on similar mechanics for something I'm tentatively calling the Weird Die. The Nightmare Die's effects are pretty obvious and intelligible, but I think the Weird Die's will be much less so and therefore require much more work. 

You may have noticed here that I discuss (particularly in the Nightmare Element entry above) "fear effects" and "minor fear effects" without talking about what those are. Quite frankly, I don't know what those are. They could be as simple as a Will save (like Morale) or more complicated. I am just not sure what shape this stuff is going to take and could use some suggestions from my educated and amazing readers. How should fear be handled in a setting that routinely deals with nightmares? Part of me wants to do a CoC-style "fear and insanity' mechanic, but the rest of me wants to avoid too much fiddlyiness since I'm already adding unique mechanics like the Nightmare Die and the Weird Die. 

So, folks, there you have it. A break down of what I'm doing and what I'm working on, along with a small glimpse of stuff that I can actually share. Let me know if you have any insights into any of this that could help, please!