Monday, April 29, 2013

Monster (Book) Monday - AC9 The Creature Catalog

If you're reading my blog, the chances are that you love monsters. Chances are that you have a favorite book full of monsters, but that doesn't mean you stop looking. No monster book can ever match the sheer majesty and strange perfection of the Fiend Folio, but that shouldn't stop folks from trying. And so, I introduce Monster (Book) Monday, which should be self-explanatory. So, what's first on the "is it anywhere near as good as the Fiend Folio" block? How about 1986's AC9 The Creature Catalog.

Details

There's always been this shocking disparity in the way that monster books were produced from the Dungeon & Dragons franchise under TSR. AD&D had three monster books in print by 1983; one was okay (the Monster Manual), one was pretty good (the MM2) and one was the best fictive bestiary with game stats ever published (duh). The rest of the D&D hobby had to wait until 1986 to get its first (and only under TSR as far as I can tell) monster book, which was mostly a collection of monsters that had previously appeared in D&D modules from as far back as the BX era (although, to be fair several were written for the Holmes Blue Book D&D but didn't see print until BX). Although this was a BECMI-era release, the Creature Catalog has an older-school feel, not at all like the AD&D products that shoved a new setting down our throats every five minutes. 

The skinny is: she comes in at 96 pages holding a ton of monsters (somewhere above 280 of them), many of which are reprints from modules and other disparate sources, but around 80 of which are brand new to the volume. As of this writing, it has not yet been released on DnDClassics.com, but you can still find it on eBay for around $20 or so. It was produced by the TSR UK team, so it has the same funky vibe and awesome aesthetic as the UK-series of modules for AD&D. 

Aesthetics

I just mentioned that the TSR UK team were the folks who put this one together and this book definitely shows off that team's particularly brand of high-quality, quirky illustration backing up a solid design aesthetic. Monster types are divvied up into different categories: Animal (Mundane, Extinct and Giant), Conjurations (Magical and Other Planar), Humanoids (Tribal and Solitary), Lowlife (Plants, Bugs, Worms and Goos), Monsters (and Other Fantastical Creatures) and Undead (Mindless and Malignant). Each category gets its own section in the book, which are separated from one another with full-page "chapter frontispiece" style illustrations that try (and succeed, in my mind) to get across the idea of what each category includes. The chapter on Lowlife, for example, starts with an illustration of a bunch of toothed worms and bugs with an ooze dripping down from the ceiling while shadows on the back wall suggest that adventurers lurk nearby. Similarly, the Undead chapter begins with an illustration of undead in a graveyard; some are spectral haunts of an obviously insubstantial nature, while others are fleshly beasts clamoring from their graves. All in all, evocative stuff that tells you what to expect. The monster illustrations themselves are mostly good, but some end up being a little stilted or odd (the infamously phallic picture of the Masher, for example) and some few end up being pretty bad (the Tabi is freaking retarded-looking), but on the whole most are good and some are great. 

As far as the actual monsters go, there is no unifying aesthetic to them, like in most monster books of the time, which I feel is not really a short coming, because it's not entirely true. For the most part, the vast bulk of these monsters come from prior TSR D&D modules (the Archer Bush is from B3 while the Kara-Kara come from X8, for example) and so there's a little bit of "lost and disparate tribes" aspect to them. If they weren't together here, they couldn't really be together anywhere, as if their status as orphans is the only thing holding them together. TSR UK wisely organized them into categories, I feel, to minimize this potentially jarring effect. 

Foliosity

Or rather, "how close to the Fiend Folio is it?" Here's the thing, when this book was released, a lot of dumbasses had a lot of dumbass things to say about the Fiend Folio. It was stupid. It was pointless. The monsters were, at best, one-trick ponies that would show up in your dungeon exactly once before they stopped being interesting. So the fuck what? That's what makes the Fiend Folio awesome in my mind. The fact that I have all of these terribly flavorful one-trick ponies and so damn many of them that I'd never have to display the same one twice in order to put on a good show is, to me, a virtue, not a failing!

Oddly enough, at the time of its release, the Creature Catalog had to "overcome" the reputation of the Fiend Folio, since both were products of TSR UK. At the time, it was heralded as the "usable" monster book from that studio which, to my mind is hardly the high praise it seems to have been. That having been said, the Creature Catalog borrows from its older brother's sense of strangeness and wtf?-ness on more than one occasion, if only because of the previously-discussed nature of the orphan-ness of the monsters therein. Much like how the Creature Catalog is an assemblage of monsters from disparate modules, the Fiend Folio is an assemblage of monsters from different authors, different eras and different issues of White Dwarf (in which all of the FF's non-Gygaxian monsters appeared). So, there's that.

There some primely Folioic monsters in the Creature Catalog, though, and it's worth combing through to find them among the blander, more generic and undoubtedly "more usable" monsters. 

What I'm Stealing

So, what will Adam be stealing from the Creature Catalog? Honestly, probably a decent amount. There's a lot of "fill in the gaps in your creature repertoire" monsters here, even if most of them don't really jive with my idea of "monster." From the Animals chapter, there are some useful and evocative creatures, including an excellently-illustrated Giant Elk and the crazy smart idea of the Giant Owl (why the hell aren't Giant Owls in all of my hexcrawls already? Perhaps in the service of an Owl Sorcerer? Yep, they're in there now) and the Giant Poisonous Frog (Giant frog? Sure. Poisonous frog? Yeah, we can take it. Giant poisonous frog? Woah, slow down...). The Conjurations chapter gives us the Fundamental, some new Golems, the Guardian Warrior & Horse, some new Living Statues, the Soul Eater and some worse ideas. Humanoids doesn't fare nearly as well as Conjurations, with the Crone of Chaos, Garl, Oard and Pachydermion being the only really interesting additions. Other stuff in there might be useful to stock a section of a hexcrawl, but not really great dungeon or adventure-fodder (the Oard strikes me as particularly dungeon-worthy). Oops, I just realized that I forgot both the Snapper and the Tortle; who can resist turtle men? The Lowlife chapter, however, really shines and is full of amazing dungeon- & wilderness-worthy monsters like the Archer Bush (!!!), Amber Lotus Flower and the Giant Amoeba all on the first page! Giant Jellyfish, Killer Trees, Red Worms, Giant Serpentweed, Sirenflowers, Slimeworms, Strangleweed and the Vampire Rose (also !!!) all grace this chapter. The Brain Collector, Decapus, Fungoid, Geonid, Leveler, Nagpa, Piranha Bird, Roper (the creepiest sexual predator in the dungeon) and White Fang all call the Monsters chapter home. The Undead chapter, while short, is all good and everything in there I can see being in a dungeon I'd write. So, I feel like I'd steal quite a bit from this one.

Final Word

I really dig the Creature Catalog, and it seems to me very much to be the younger brother to the Fiend Folio, but the younger brother who tries to learn from his brothers mistakes and learns the wrong lesson. Yes, to an 80's gamer, there were probably more useful monsters in the CC than there are in the entirety of the FF, but there's not nearly the flavor there. Yes, there is flavor, but it almost always comes from the original authors of the preexisting monsters (like the Decapus, Archer Bush and Vampire Rose, all from B3) and the very original presentation of the book. So, yes, I'd take a closer look at AC 9 - The Creature Catalog if it's been awhile since you have, there's plenty of stuff in there worth mining for. 

Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Inevitable "Talking About Kickstarter" Post

So, I don't talk much about Kickstarter here, or any other thing that seems to only be productive to talk about in a "let's get our hopes up" kind of atmosphere. I'm tend toward the skeptical and downright pessimistic, so I don't buy in to as many Kickstarters as some of my geek friends do, but when I do, it's because I believe that the product actually will get made and not just that its something that I want to get made. We gamers are excellent at wishing and hoping for products to exist and perhaps even better at coming up with products that, we feel, should exist (and you know you, at one point or another, have said "You know, game company X should make...") and so we need to be extra careful when buying in to Kickstarters because we're not actually buying in to anything, we're investing in something. Just like ordinary investors, we gamers can get blinded to the feasibility of a project on Kickstarter by the shiny awesome product that the project creators are promising. We need to be thinking not just about what we want to see produced, but we also need to think of backing the project as exactly what it is: an investment. Think like an investor. Know who you're dealing with. Minimize your risk. Manage your expectations. Make well-thought-out decisions. We gamers are used to more or less instant gratification (yes, even the grognards, no matter how many "uphill in the snow both ways" stories they tell you) so taking the long view with regards to Kickstarter can be tough, but damn is it rewarding.
I got in on the Kickstarter trend fairly late in the game. Apparently, this is a good thing. Many folks have been burned (or perceive themselves to have been burned) by failed or delayed Kickstarters, but that's how things work on Kickstarter. There were a few Kickstarters that I missed out on or didn't think were worth the investment or I couldn't afford at the time and now regret. I wish I'd scraped together the spare cash for Reaper's BONES KS or Frog God's recent S&W Complete. I'm still glad I didn't kick Numenara (sorry, Monte, I don't need your game, that's how I'm already playing). And yes, I am kicking myself for not kicking Spears of Dawn.  All in all, though, I've kicked what I wanted and what I have, as an investor, felt confident in.

This past week, two Kickstarters sent me stuff that I've been chomping at the bit for and that's where this post started. This week, LotFP released the pdf of Lamentations of the Gingerbread Princess and Frog God released the Swords & Wizardry version of Razor Coast (insert obligatory statement ragging on Pathfinder here; I just don't have the time and energy for it, just the vitriol) and this post was originally going to be just about those two products. Or, rather, I was going to write one post about what I thought about Razor Coast so far and then another one about LotGP and its associated goofiness and how much I enjoyed it (but I don't do reviews, so I didn't know where to start). Mashing up those two different posts got me here. So, what have I been kicking? Let's take a look.

Well, I cut my Kickstarter teeth with Razor Coast. For Swords & Wizardry, obviously. I know it seemed too rich for a lot of folks' blood, but I didn't think it was too bad if it does everything that it claims to do. And yes, it claimed to do a lot. Yes, I goddamn love pirates. Who doesn't? And yes, there have been a bajillion different pirate rpgs out there, some of which may even be slightly compatible with the games I run these days (quite frankly, I really dug the setting of Skulls & Crossbones, Green Ronin's 3.5e pirate game from the mid '00s, but thought it got more than a little fiddly in an uncomfortably 1e way), but I was hoping for something simpler but well-thought-out. And we got it in Razor Coast. I didn't doubt that a Frog God game would fund or that it would deliver; when have the Frog Gods failed us? Yes, the price tag was high, and thus the apparent risk relatively large, but the reputation of FGG was enough for me to put that kind of cash on the line. And what do I have to show for it today? A very high-quality product that's incredibly well done product that goes so far as to demonstrate to the reader how the S&W version is different from the PF version not only in substance but also in philosophy! This one was a good buy and yes, I'll use it at my gaming table (modified or not... who knows?). Yes, I will be waiting until June or so to get my print copies of the RC Core book and Freebooter's Guide, but there's no way I'd have time to use them until then, either.

My second Kickstarter was one that I was a little shakier on, so I managed my risk better than with Razor Coast: Legendary Realms Terrain -- Themed Dungeon Rooms! Now, I'm not a Dwarven Forge sort of guy, mostly because I'm not independently wealthy. LRT produces high-quality, DF-style terrain pieces for a very reasonable price, especially for the Kickstarter: just $50 for a room worth of terrain pieces. That's pretty good. Initially, I bid at the $35 "Ultimate Accessory Pack" level because I figured that yes, I would gladly pay $35 for the terrain pieces (doors, crates, chests, coin piles and skull piles) being offered. I had hoped to up my pledge to the $150 level to get three rooms' worth of terrain parts, but that wasn't in the finances at the time and so I had to content myself with the initial kick. Here's the thing: this KS shocked me by shipping crazy early (way before I expected it and only shortly after the KS ended) and I got a lot more for my money than I had anticipated. Well done, Legendary Realms, well done. (I should really take pictures of these things and show them off to you guys. I haven't had a chance to use them on my gaming table yet, but I'm really excited for my players to actually have a door to reference when they check it for traps.) This was, again, a very solid Kickstarter to back. 

And then there's FATE Core. You couldn't go anywhere on G+ this last holiday season without seeing something for the FATE Core KS. Honestly, before their KS, I didn't know shit about their system. The KS was the first exposure I had to it and the primary license for it is for a property that I can't stand (perhaps "fucking hate" is an appropriate term; I am, of course, talking about Jim Butcher's -- could there ever be a more appropriately-named mangler of recycled genre trash? -- Dresden Files, the worst genre rehash since Dragonlance), but I bought in at a low level just to get the playtest pdf. If I didn't like it, I could cancel the bid and no harm would have been done. I loved what I saw, though, so I not only kept my pledge, I increased it. Quite frankly, my decision to buy in to this KS was based he son the facts that (a) I liked the system and wanted to see it published, (b) so did a lot of other people and the system was well into stretch goals by the time I kicked it (which was still early in the KS campaign) and (c) the game was already goddamn written! There was no risk here! The work was already done! The KS was just to pay for art assets and physical production! Add to this mix the extensive list of stretch goals and bonus content that got added to just about everyone's pledge (even if just in pdf) and you've got years of gaming and years of new content showing up in my email box periodically even if only half of that stuff ever gets published! Win-win? Yes, I'd say so. Further, Fred Hicks has done a great job of communicating with his backers and I can, with confidence, say that I have a good idea of the state of FATE on a weekly basis thanks to his excellent communication priority. 

And now it's time for a risk that not nearly as many people backed as FATE, but a risk that I felt was worth taking because of the people behind the product. Last year, I started reading all this great stuff not only about the new Marvel Heroic RPG, but also about the cool stuff you could do with the system. Over on Critical Hits.com, the Chatty DM started talking about a fantasy hack of the system, and that got me interested enough in the system that I took a look and liked what I saw. So, when Margaret Weiss Productions started their campaign for their Cortex Plus Hacker's Guide (with the Chatty DM as one of its writers), I jumped on board. I was taking a big risk. The risk was not "will this product get made," but rather "will this product be what I want it to be?" You see, I didn't want it to just be a series of guides to tell me how to, say, take the Cortex Plus Action system of Leverage and turn it into something else (because I'm not interested in Leverage) or the Cortex Plus Drama system of Smallville and turn that into something else (because I'm really not interested in Smallville). Instead, I wanted it to present a coherent rule system within the Hacker's Guide itself, something that was not a stated goal of the project but rather that was a stretch goal. Here, my gamble was not merely that this KS will get produced, but rather that it would hit certain stretch goals along the way. Well, it did, I won, and now my copy of the Hacker's Guide will have rules for both Cortex Plus Action and Plus Drama (the pre-markup versions of these rules are available to backers now, so there's no worry about them not being included in the final product). Yes, MWP is not renewing their Marvel Universe license, but to me, that's no loss as I wasn't likely to use their MHRPG anyway (the shitty character creation rules really make the system unusable as is; I like Green Ronin's M&M better for supers anyway -- and they have the DC license), especially since the announcement that MWP is getting the Firefly license. EMPHATIC MESSAGE TO CAM BANKS: MAKE SURE YOU INCLUDE CHARACTER CREATION (not generation) RULES IN THE FIREFLY RPG. PLAYERS REQUIRE THEM IN ALL RPGS, EVEN IF YOU FALSELY BELIEVE WE WILL HAVE A DESIRE TO PLAY PREGENERATED OR EXISTING CHARACTERS WITHIN A LICENSED UNIVERSE. WE WANT TO MAKE OUR OWN STUFF. THAT IS WHY THE HACKER'S GUIDE FUNDED. LEARN FROM YOUR MARVEL HEROIC MISTAKES! So yes, this project was more of a gamble than the others because I wasn't sure, going into the KS campaign, that what I was kicking was what I wanted it to be. Thanks to stretch goals (and enough other people like me kicking this particularly campaign), my gamble paid off. 

I'm sure that I've talked about my love for Mr. Raggi's Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy products before. I know I have. These products don't get any play in my main swords & sorcery games due to genre considerations (although The God That Crawls might get a reskin at some point), but I love reading these products and would love to use them in a "genre D&D" game set in the early Enlightenment era, probably using BLUEHOLME rules due to the implied setting therein. Babbling aside, I was really geeked to join LotFP's 2013 Free RPG Day Adventure KS campaign. This particular KS I didn't see as much of a risk, more of a potentially much delayed gratification. Honestly, I completely expect every shred of the promised product to be produced, but I didn't expect it to be ready for quite some time (another month or so at the earliest); I was completely surprised to discover a download link for the first of the several new products offered as pledge rewards in my email this past week. Well done, LotFP. Also, LotFP has been very forthcoming about the status of the project, much like Fred Hicks with FATE. So, here, I'm just planning on patience and getting pleasantly surprised that the LotFP crew is further along that I thought they'd be at this point. 

So, what am I backing now? I've just got two projects on my horizon, so we'll see how they go. First, I'm kicking the Domains At War rules expansion for Adventurer Conqueror King by Autarch. I've come to love ACKS and really want to see the game do well. I've always wanted to play the domain game part of a D&D campaign and to this day never have, but I really enjoy the system ACKS has for it. The concept of a  wargame integrated into the domain management system puts the special tingles down in my geeky parts. The only thing I have to say about this particular KS is that Autarch cannot make the hardcover option for this project available soon enough. I friggin' hate paperbacks.

The other KS I'm currently kicking is Arcana Rising from Bedroom Wall Press. To be completely fair, this is one of the projects that I'm going to chalk up to "complete and total risk." First, I'm only vaguely interested in the project. Second, the art assets demonstrated so far are pretty cruddy. Finally, my only solid point of interest here is that I loved Hulks & Horrors and am hoping that this project is on par with the quality and imagination shown there. So, yeah, total risk. But I understand that. I own that risk. That's what I'm investing. Plus, I'm only risking $20, which is a single minimum bet at the casino during peak hours, so whatever. I can afford to lose it if the project stinks or fails. If it's good, though, Hulks & Horrors good, I'll feel like I made out like a bandit. 

What about you? Do you have a philosophy regarding Kickstarter projects? What are you backing and why? Is there anything you've backed that you've regretted? Anything you've backed that you've been, like me  and Legendary Realms or LotFP, really encouraged and made happy by? I'd love to hear about your experiences (actual experiences, not "I don't KS, never have, never will" because, seriously, that adds nothing to the conversation). 

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Death In Ur-Hadad, Part 2a

So, it turns out that when I wrote yesterday's Death in Ur-Hadad post, I forgot to add a random table, so here it is. 

What's the Jallurite's Death Weight like? Roll d11: (1 - 2) - A clay spindle-like cylinder set with semi-precious stones, bound to the Jallurite's body by a leather thong. 20 bits value. (3 - 4) - A flat chunk of a bronze engraved with the Jallurite's last wishes, featuring two large holes through it to bind it to the faithful's clothing. 40 bits value. (5 - 6) - An armor plate worn to protect a shoulder, this Death Weight features an ornate bronze plate laminated onto an iron shell that has corroded over the years and is completely unusable. 75 bits. (7 - 8) - A shield with ornate silver appointments fit onto a long-rotted wooden facade, backed with a beaten-silver lining that lists the disbursement of the faithful's earthly wealth. 150 bits. (9 - 10) - An impractically large plate of tarnished silver, finely etched with ornate script and set with at least one gemstone of some quality. 300 bits. (11) - It is unlikely that the Jallurite who possessed this Death Weight ever plied the sea lanes or had to carry it into battle. A large, gaudy plate set with gems and gilding of all sorts, this Death Weight encases the deceased's wrists like shackles. Things Get Better: The Death Weight is worth 1d4 x 25% more than normal. Nice find! Things Get Worse: The Death Weight is haunted! The spirit of the original possessor of the Death Weight (along with any crew his Death Weight may have purchased on the Empyrean Sea) swears vengeance against the defilers of its funerary treasures!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Death In Ur-Hadad, Part 2

See? I told you I'd get to it! It's time to revisit the biggest of topics as we talk about death in the First City for this semi-A to Z RPG post. 

No great field of graves receives the dead of Ur-Hadad. No vast necropolis of mausoleums accepts as tenants the cast-off corpses of the First City. Whatever catacombs line the walls of her sewers and deeper passages beneath the streets bear no form of organization and no semblance of any logic known to modern Man. In his short millennium of dominion over Ur-Hadad, Man has developed strong traditions for disposing of his fallen fellows and many more myths about exactly where the soul goes once the body fails.

Burial At Sea

The land approach to Ur-Hadad is treacherous and, frankly, messy. Miles of marshland give way to miles of swamp, all teeming with deadly animal and humanoid (and monstrous) life. The secret to Ur-Hadad's existence has always been the sea trade, and its placement along nearly every trade route known throughout the great seas of the world ensures that every sort of commodity known throughout the world may be found here. With trade and seafaring being so essential to the economic success of Ur-Hadad, it is little wonder that the god Jallur, Treasurer of Heaven and Admiral of the Empyrean Seas, finds many worshipers in the First City. Before being incorporated into the common pantheon of modern men, Jallur found his origin in the Lagesh city of Erepur-Golam, where he (in this incarnation, actually a she) was the feminine personification of the bounty of the sea while Dagon (who men now consider to be either one of the Old Ones or a Demon Lord) was the masculine personification of its wrath. Lageshi merchants would half-jokingly offer that their (considerably vast) success at plying the sea lanes was due to Jallur's favor and after several decades of jealous dockside traders later, Jallur's worship quickly spread as merchants attempted to emulate the success of the Lageshi. With a small metaphysical sex-change, Jallur found himself one of the most popular deities in the First City.

SammyWolfe @ DeviantART
Focused as he is upon seafaring and trade, Jallur encourages his followers to dispose of the dead in an economical and simple fashion. As such, the practicality of the burial at sea, long essential to sailors across the globe, has impressed Jallurites as the quintessentially Jalluritic method of burial. While in other faiths, burial at sea is largely seen as an ad hoc solution to a pressing problem that often stretches the definition of a "proper burial," in the Jallurite faith, it is considered right, proper and the most sanctified way to pass into the Empyrean Seas to wrest an eternal reward from them.

Being ever-practical in their faith and observances, each Jallurite keeps as one of his prime treasures a decorate writing, rarely smaller than a coin and often large enough to act as a serving plate, that serves a three-fold purpose. First, it acts as a record of the faithful's last will and testament, etched into the very metal (or, in some cases, stone) of the writing. Second, during the burial at sea, the object functions as a weight to help drag the body down to the deeps, a duty from which they earn the title "Death Weight." Finally, since they are often ornate and crafted both from and with valuable materials, they are meant to be spent in the afterlife acquiring a ship and crew with which to sail the Empyrean Seas, or perhaps to buy a place on an auspicious one. Rarely is a Death Weight heavy enough to actually drag the faithful's body below the waves, but each crewman on a Jallurite vessel is expected to provide the captain and first mate (each) with a rubbing made from his Death Weight (normally, this is done as part of signing on to any crew's roster and charter) so that they may enact its content while the weight joins its owner at the bottom of the sea. Jallurites are expected to carry their Death Weight into battle in case they die and fall overboard, a fact which often precludes the weights from getting too impractical or encumbering; however, to prevent theft, they are often objects worn in plain view and rarely secreted in places that their bearer can lose track of. The loss of a Death Weight is not considered particularly unlucky, but few Jallurites can rest easily until a new weight replaces a lost or stolen one.

When the worship of Jallur spread to mainland Ur-Hadad, the practice of burial at sea and the Death Weight spread there as well, often with far less practical implementation than ship-board. The merchant Ahaz Bulgallygurhal, for example, has invested a sizable portion of his fortune in a golden Death Weight so large, it is rumored, that the thirty slaves that it takes to bear it from his home on the Boulevard of Boundless Pleasures to the edge of the harbor will likely be crushed beneath its immense weight and momentum and follow it, along with their master, to his watery grave. While the seagoing Jallurite's Death Weight is a practical thing, in Hadadi culture, as is so often the case, the Death Weight has become a status symbol that borders on the obscene. Often, the instructions of the disbursal of the deceased's wealth will include last requests, the more ostentatious the Death Weight, the more ostentatious the requests. Bulgallygurhal's Death Weight is said to contain the exact recipe for every dish to be served at his memorial dinner, a precise seating chart for the event (which is revised monthly), the full text of the quasi-Jallurite death ceremony, tailored to his particular tastes, along with an exhortation of what to do with one's self meant to be presented to everyone who had ever wronged the merchant (who are all, of course, named, with the list updated when the seating chart is, for obvious reasons). A large industry has cropped up that specializes in fulfilling these last requests, but rarely are these businesses run by devout Jallurites, who often see "pop Jallurism" as an affront to the deity, but rather by the priests-accountants of the Lord of Black Skies, a deity who, it is believed, sees Jallur less a rival for the devotion of Man, and more of a sponsor.

In the end, the practice of burial at sea, particularly with the ostentatious and gaudy Death Weights preferred by the Hadadi, should by now have filled up the entirety of the harbor at Ur-Hadad were it not for the fact that the Death Weights are, in fact, quite valuable. It could not have been long after the land-borne adoption of the Death Weight practice that some enterprising young individual noticed that, although the soul of the departed must go to the Empyrean Seas to seek an eternal fortune, the Death Weight seems to stay behind, doing no one any apparent good. Thus, a vast army of submarine grave robbers infests the moonlit harbors and shores of the First City every night, using air bladders fashioned from animal (or otherwise) stomachs for prolonged dives. Watchmen, clad in bronze plates and caps easy to doff should the need arise, pole gondolas with long spears on the lookout not only for the usual smugglers and miscreants that harbors, wharves and docks attract, but also for these thieves, whom the watchmen call "vulture mollusks" (since they "feed" at the bottom of the sea from the bodies of the dead).

For Jallur's part, he declines to comment on Hadadi practice. Rather, the Prophet of Profit, Engobaz the Ever-Voracious, has proclaimed that the will of the Treasurer of Heaven and Admiral of the Empyrean Seas is that "he who shall cast himself into my domain and with him bring word of the earthly accounting of his deeds and wealths, let him take an equal measure of what wealth he brings to my domain in eternal fortune for his immortal reward, for he is mine and what is his is mine, for that which passes into my domain shall be mine until the end of days." The end of days, it seems, does not apply in the case of vulture mollusks.

The next time we look at Death In Ur-Hadad, we'll learn a bit about exactly what folks in the First City is awaiting them after death. Well, at least some of them. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Elves of Ur-Hadad, Part 1

I started the A-to-Z RPG project knowing full well that I'd never get from A to Z in a single month and I'm still very cool with that. Last week was given over to me thinking about Swords & Wizardry (and even laying down a little more work on the Whitebox hack I discussed on SWAp Day; a full-blown hack may actually be in the works, folks) and ACKS (not just +Jason Hobbs & +Brian Takle's Wednesday night game, either; I'm thinking about switching my Sunday night group to ACKS). This week, I'm getting back into the swing of Ur-Hadad-related stuff. If you were expecting another installment of "Death In Ur-Hadad," please be aware that more info is on its way, but for now, I'd like to talk about elves in the First City.

Upon visiting Ur-Hadad for the first time, many non-natives of the city are struck by its immense diversity, not merely of aesthetics and architecture, of cultures and cuisines, of languages and legends, of this that and the other, but also of species. Every civilized race (and more than a few uncivilized ones) boasts at least a small enclave in the First City, even those races driven out of Ur-Hadad by mankind when the Elder Races fell and the Dominion of Man began. Though it smacks of poor taste, even the elves, who once held Man in slavery as one of those Elder Races, are present at the fringes of Hadadi society in most castes. Often, these elves are members of that race to whom the world was lost millennia ago, who only recently were able to cross over from the strange, faerie-like dimension known to humans as "Elfland;" sometimes, though, they only pretend to be Elflandish elves but are, in reality, members of that sub-species who once ruled an empire from their seat of power in Ur-Hadad but today lurk on the fringes of civilization, known to mankind only as Dark Elves.

Vassals of the Elf King

In ages past, the strange realm of unbridled magic and unfettered growth that men know as Elfland adjoined the world of men and traffic from this remote dimension to the world was a comparatively simple matter. Elven scientists and explorers visited the world, captivated by it and eager to learn its secrets. After centuries of exploration (perhaps; the exact time frame of these events is unknown to Man), thousands of elves had colonized the world, even going to far as co-locate their shining city of Alvlantesk (from which modern Man gets his word "Elfland" and the name "elf") in both their home dimension and the world. When the bonds between the world and their home dimension grew thin, Alvlantesk and bulk of the elves retreated from the world and returned home, cut off from the world for millennia.

Around the time that Man began his rebellion against the Elder Races, the elves of Elfland managed to bring their dimension into convergence with the world once more. Human sages and scholars would later learn that the elves had devoted much of their study and magics of the intervening ages toward this end, but when the elves first rejoined the world, horrified at the corruption of their left-behind cousins, they took up arms against the Dark Elves (but not the lizard men or serpentmen) and appeared, for all intents and purposes, as saviors to the young human species. Even more surprising than the appearance of these savior elves, they asked for no spoils of war or part in the rulership of the empire that men inherited; they merely asked to be allowed to travel Man's lands, to live among his people and to study, to forever study, the world in its natural and magical wonder. Thus have men and elves coexisted for the past millennium, men running the world and elves learning about it.

Today, few remnants of the Elder Elves, the Dark Elves, exist to remind Man of his suffering at elvish hands and, perhaps because of this willful destruction of a painful history, Man abides elves to live even in Ur-Hadad, once the seat of elven power. The elves abroad in the world are no longer solely warriors or scientists and now elves from all walks of life call the world -- and Ur-Hadad -- home, so an elf met there is as likely to be a forester or mere chandler as he is to be a barrister or aethermancer. One thing is certain about these modern elves: as their cousins the Elder (or Dark) Elves were vulnerable to the corruption of body and soul through the temptation of magic, so too are they, and the King of Elves does not gladly suffer vassals who become warped by it; as quick as He was to order the deaths of the Elder Elves, so too will he hold prejudice against any of his kin who turn from him in supplication to other, stranger supernatural patrons.

What's That Elf Doing Here?

What's he up to, anyway? Roll d11. (1 - 2) - Science! He's performing some sort of experiment the point and purpose of which may not be readily apparent. (3 - 4) - Science! He's conducting some form of scientific survey or observation and is either insistent upon your involvement (if you don't want to be involved) or his solitude (if you insist on involving yourself). (5 - 6) - Art! For art's sake, the elf in engaged in an artistic study of something in the vicinity. (7 - 8) - Art! At the behest of a patron, he's trying desperately to  gain artistic inspiration from something nearby. Equal chances that the player characters become that something or disrupt his fleeting inspiration (earning his ire!). (9 - 10) - Sorcery! Seeking answers to the universe's persistent metaphysical queries, the elf is enacting some sorcerous ritual to break through the limitations of physical space, warp time to his will, project his consciousness beyond the frail moral coil or some other big and impressive-sounding magical endeavor. (11) - Dark sorcery! In supplication to some fiendish supernatural patron or another, the elf is actively seeking to accomplish some baleful and malefic act of Chaos sorcery. Things Get Better: The PCs can aid the elf or benefit from his endeavors in some way. Things Get Worse: The PCs become the target of the elf's attention in a negative (perhaps just annoying) way.

Next time I talk about elves (I'm not going to suggest that it'll be soon), I'll look closer at the remnants of the Elder Elves and what's left of their empire within the walls of the First City.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Swords And Colonialism: A Colonial Horror Hack for SnW

I'm pretty impressed with how the OSR blogosphere as been blowing up with Swords & Wizardry-related posts for this, the first ever Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day. Reading everyone's posts has inspired me to add more to the discussion. At first, I thought that I'd add some monsters or something small like that, but then Reverend Dak's post about Firearms mixed inside my brain with my thoughts about the S&W White Box, my own d11 system and all of my crazy ruminations on the hexcrawl to create Swords & Colonialism, a story-based simple RPG based loosely on American colonial history.

Swords & Colonialism: Basics

  • This is a White Box hack. The White Box is used to keep stat inflation and influence of ability scores down to a minimum. Further, due to the d11 system being in use for non-combat task resolution, classes like the thief are relatively pointless since pretty much anyone can do thief-like stuff. Using White Box rules actually beefs up those who would otherwise be thieves in other rules sets by giving them either extra combat ability (if they're really a Fighter) or some other schtick (if they're really a Cleric or Magic User). 
  • This game uses the d11 system and, as such, all non-combat tasks are resolved through it. This rule set implies that the game narrative will be influenced by some random advantages and disadvantages as Things Get Better or Things Get Worse, as decided by the players and DM. 
  • While it's designed to be a sort of hexcrawl, it will fit well in settlement-based and site-based adventures as well. Site-based adventures (read: dungeons) don't tend to fit into the genre of Colonial Gothic-type stories, but can be worked with a little bit of flair. Lost Spanish missions, secret caverns of pre-Columbian horror (replete with local Indian legends) and the haunted mines of doomed prospectors would be par for the course. 
  • Experience points would come from the usual sources, but also from exploration, particularly for discovering strange things and valuable resources. Particularly valuable finds might net the PCs awards over time as those resources are exploited. 

Swords & Colonialism: Classes

  • Fighting Man: As per normal, but adds one point of damage to every die of damage for every four levels of experience. The Combat Machine class feature, when used with firearms, may only be used with firearms that hold multiple rounds (usually multiple-barreled weapons). 
    • Examples: John Smith, George Washington
  • Man of Faith: The Man of Faith is an evangelist and missionary who seeks to tame the wilds beyond civilization and drive back the forces of Chaos that seeks to erode the dominion of men from within. Despite their zealotry, Men of Faith often find allies outside of both their own religion and civilization, acting as often on behalf of natives of the wilds as they do on behalf of "civilized" men. If anything, Men of Faith maintain the poorest opinion of civilized men, whom they often see as vacillating  weak and open to corruption. The Turn Undead class feature is replaced with Repel Blasphemy, which functions similarly to Turn Undead, but also effects monsters such as demons (Chaotic Men of Faith may Repel different Blasphemies). 
    • Examples: Cotton Mather (sort of), Brigham Young
  • Man of Letters: The Man of Letters is one of the leading intellectuals of colonial society. He adventures beyond the bounds of civilization for knowledge's sake and count naturalists, artists, poets, chemists, spiritualists, transcendentalists and speculative theologists among their number. Functionally, they are identical to Magic-Users, flavoring their spells as reflections of their particular intellectual idiom (thus, a poet may manifest Sleep as a terribly long and boring poem whereas a chemist might release sleep-inducing gas). 
    • Examples: Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson

Swords & Colonialism: Firearms

  • The firearms in use will be at absolute best flintlocks. Wheellocks and doglocks still exist, but aren't widely available; matchlocks may even still be found on occasion, but rarely for sale as anything but an oddity. Most of that won't matter, but there it is. What with this being White Box, all damage done is d6. 
  • The three major types of firearms available are pistols, muskets and rifles. 
    • Pistols are up to 16" long and usually only have one shot unless they have multiple barrels. Multiple barrels can make accurate aiming difficult, and such weapons take an additional -1 penalty at medium range and -2 at long range. For this reason (and the fact that multi-barrel pistols are often very expensive), most serious shootists prefer a brace of several pistols (and sometimes henchmen to reload them). The range increment for a pistol is 30 feet. 
    • Muskets are smooth-bored long weapons and thus quick to reload. They may be loaded with a single slug (if firing a single slug, the damage is at +1) or buckshot (which hits all targets in a specified cone unless a saving throw is made). The range increment for a musket is 50 feet. 
    • Rifles are so-named because of the fact that their barrels are rifled, a process which etches  spiraling grooves on the inside of the barrel which makes the slug spin (and thus become more accurate at longer ranges) and muzzle-loading take longer than usual. The range increment for a rifle is 200 feet. 
  • All sorts of modifications and customizations can be done to firearms, but this is neither the time nor place for that. 
  • It takes an attack action to load a pistol or a musket. Rifles require two rounds' worth of attack actions to reload, a task perhaps best left to henchmen. 

Other Stuff

  • To make the game slightly more narrativist tack, non-combat task resolution will be handled with the d11 system, with modifiers based on relevant ability scores (never more than +1 nor less than -1 per White Box rules). This makes skill adjudication a straight up and down, success or failure result, but with the added narrative flavor of the Things Get Better and Things Get Worse results. Please note that Things Getting Better or Worse based on the initial, unmodified result of a d11 die roll; modifiers are added after it is determined whether Things Get Better or Worse. 
  •  A careful line should be drawn between being historically accurate and playing heroic characters. When in doubt, or when a course of action strays too close to "historically accurate racism," err on the side of fun. Things like slavery and the treatment of American Indians by colonist are best left off-camera or the sorts of icky aspects of civilization that the characters explore the wilds to avoid. 
  • A non-armor AC-improvement mechanism may need to be considered, but I'd leave it out initially. Instead, I'd focus on the importance of entering cover. Like Dak suggests, entering cover should be a move action. 
So, there you have it. My totally crappy White Box hack designed for adventuring in the wilds of colonial America. Thanks to +Dak Ultimak for the firearms rules. Well done, sir. Another huge thanks goes out to +Erik Tenkar & +Christopher Helton for putting the S&W Appreciation Day together and to +Matt Finch for making Swords & Wizardry a thing in the first place. The sheer ton of blog posts (most far more interesting than my own) that went out today were impressive and made my day. Thanks guys!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Swords And Wizardry Is The Rosetta Stone of the OSR

Folks, it's Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day, as I'm sure you're aware. All across the blogosphere, folks are taking the day to talk about Swords & Wizardry, write new material for it, and generally show the love for a really well-built system that stands astride some middle ground between retroclone and OSR-style reimagining of an early edition.

In this, S&W is not alone. Retroclones are everywhere these days (you know the list, I shouldn't have to tell you), altered semi-retroclones that cleave close to original rules but change some things substantially (LotFP's Weird Fantasy or ACKS, for example), OSR-style games (like Blood & Treasure, DCC or Red Box Hack or, hell, even Dungeon World) and reissues of the original games (whether in print or pdf) are all readily available and widely played within the OSR community today. So, other than being a retro-game (I wouldn't call it a retroclone) of OD&D+ (by which I mean OD&D plus the original supplements), what makes Swords & Wizardry different? Simple: its accessible mechanics and traditional game elements reflect both where D&D-based games have been and where they've gone. Past and present, all in one, without any messy pretension that can accompany such games and with all of the mystery, horror and adventure that the name Dungeons & Dragons implies. It's because of these accessible mechanics (no crazy sub-systems here!) and traditional (read: shared by many if not most OSR games) game elements that S&W has a unique location within the OSR; it is a crossroads of sorts, where elements from every edition (more or less) can be found cross-pollinating and where these elements can be understood in terms of each other. Where games that use AAC can hob-knob with DAC games and Fot-Ref-Will saves can exist next to hydra-style saving throw categories.* Swords & Wizardry is, quite simply, the Rosetta Stone of the OSR.

Let's take a closer look at an issue or two to see exactly what I mean.

Monsters! Who doesn't love monsters, right? Every DM everywhere uses monsters of one sort or another to reasonably shorten the life spans of his players' characters. That's what they're there for. Every edition, though, uses a different layout for monsters, different stat blocks, even different rules governing them. Basic Fantasy, for instance, uses AAC (ascending Armor Class) while Labyrinth Lord uses DAC (descending Armor Class) and ACKS uses an AAC system that's completely different. The good news is that S&W uses both AAC and DAC that satisfies both the LL player and the BF player and requires only minimal math from the ACKS player (take the AAC and subtract 10; what's left will be an ACKS-appropriate AC). Saving throws can be a little sticky, too. Dungeon Crawl Classics uses the 3.xe-style Fort-Ref-Will stuff but BLUEHOLME uses (what I call) hydra-style saves*. S&W ignores the whole thing by giving characters and creatures a single saving throw target number that is then modified in specific circumstances (clerics get +2 vs. poison and paralysis, for example); while you don't need to port this system over to your game whole cloth, it does present a simple, on-the-fly way to run saving throws that fits many retro-games. What's that you say? You need an ascending save bonus for your DCC game so that you can roll against the spell DC of that Ekim's mystical mask your elf just cast? Well then, subtract the saving throw target number from 18 and add in any relevant bonuses. Done. There you go.

While we're on the topic of monsters, this is another area where Swords & Wizardry shines. The Core and Complete book have very comprehensive listings of monsters of the sort that most adventures should encounter. But wait, there's more. Tome of  Complete is absolutely huge and contains every monster from the original series of Tomes. Here's the kicker, though: to make up for lost space, since the original 3.xe/Pathfinder version of these monsters had ricu-long stat blocks, Frog God added extra flavor text to each monster entry detailing a lair or unusual encounter for the monsters included. Effectively, this is like a butcher telling you "Hey, I cut all of the fat off that meat since it wasn't going to be useful to you anyway and to make up for the weight, I gave you more meat." More useful stuff to stand in for the useless stuff? Thank you very much. As if that wasn't enough, Frog God also recently released Monstrosities for S&W which, while it might retread some of the same territory (I don't have the book yet, but I've read that a few monsters from the ToHC are duplicated here, but not enough to make people upset), follows the same "here's extra info that's far more useful than extended 3.xe/PF stats" logic of ToHC. Given the Rosetta Stone-nature of S&W, these colossal monster books can effectively be used for any edition/game! Let that sink in for a minute.

Nearly every OSR-style product line supports itself through adventures, modules, scenarios or whatever you want to call them (ACKS doesn't do this, but just about everyone else does) and it often seems like the more detail goes into these adventures (especially system-specific detail), the less useful they can be. Think about B1: In Search of the Unknown for a moment. So few game mechanics are included that this adventure can be equally well-used for Holmes, Moldvay B/X and even Mentzer BECMI (hell, I used it for AD&D 2e back in the day). By a similar token, S&W adventures are being written with as few mechanical details as possible. While I'm the sort of gamer who appreciates systems with skills or feats or proficiencies (I love the proficiency system in ACKS so much!), I feel it does detract from the usefulness of any product when specific uses of these skills get directly called out. I know I'm preaching to the choir here, but one of the best parts of, say, MCMLXXV to me was how absolutely nothing in it screamed "OMG THIS IS S&W-SPECIFIC STUFF THAT YOU CAN ONLY USE WITH S&W!" That's refreshing. I can use it for S&W, or for LL or for ACKS or DCC or BF or LotFPWF or whatever the hell I feel like!

Here's the trick with S&W, though: things work both ways. Not only can I take S&W monsters and modules (how the hell is there not a retroclone yet called Monsters & Modules? Or is there and I just don't know about it yet?) and use them in, say Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperboria, but I could also easily take a LL or BF or B-series or even DCC adventure and use it in S&W! Yeah, I might need to change a thing or two here or there, but for the most part, I can pick up and run any of these adventures with S&W with a moment's notice. Granted, this is easier with OSR-style games than, say, taking a 1e module and running it in 4e (which is practically impossible without tons of prep work), but S&W makes the process so much easier.

So, as the blog posts roll in across the interwebs for Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day, remember that S&W isn't just another retroclone or retro-game, it's the Rosetta Stone of the OSR, a sort of common language that we in the OSR community can use to trade ideas back and forth regardless of what "game language" we speak at our home tables.

*Hydra-style saves: This is my tongue-in-cheek name for saving throws where the categories describe specific effects that are being saved against. Things like Death, Poison or Paralysis. Maybe Spells or, my favorite, Rod/Staff/Wand (could we come up with a more phallic-sounding save category?). It seems like every edition/game renames each head of the saving throw hydra, focusing on the things that become important in that edition of the game. 

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Death In Ur-Hadad, Part 1

For the "D" post, I decided to pull out the big guns. It's time to talk about death. 

No great field of graves receives the dead of Ur-Hadad. No vast necropolis of mausoleums accepts as tenants the cast-off corpses of the First City. Whatever catacombs line the walls of her sewers and deeper passages beneath the streets bear no form of organization and no semblance of any logic known to modern Man. In his short millennium of dominion over Ur-Hadad, Man has developed strong traditions for disposing of his fallen fellows and many more myths about exactly where the soul goes once the body fails.

Cremation

In the early years of the Dominion of Man, the priests of the death god known only as the Lord of Black Skies were an especially prominent sect not only in Ur-Hadad, but elsewhere throughout Man's realms. The recently-concluded war against the elf, serpent man and lizardman had left humankind freed from slavery but with many of his dead brothers to dispose of. The Lord of Black Skies taught that his priests should hoist the dead aloft, so that the carrion birds may find them and, devouring their flesh, fly the spirits of the departed back to the kingdom of the gods and Law. This practice worked exceptionally well at the end of the war, but within a few short years of Man's occupation of Ur-Hadad, the number of dead strewn about rooftops or on the spires of the Lord of Black Skies' new temple on the Avenue of One Thousand Gods reached such a proportion that every rainfall sluiced rot and putrescence (along with actual disease) into the waterways, causing even more loss of life. Further, the crows and vultures that the priests of the Black Skies held so sacred were messy neighbors, spreading their meals and waste throughout the First City (the sobriquet "Lord of Red & White Roofs" was sometimes used by the more irreverent among the populace).

And so it came to pass the Pascha Khal-Ulel the Second, early in his reign, outlawed the practice, punishable by death.

Faced with finding a new way to help the faithful reach their reward or risk trying to find that reward themselves without tried and tested methods. the priests of the Black Skies attacked the problem from a theological, historic and cultural standpoint. Ultimately, a young accountant with an eye towards efficiency suggested to the High Carrionite that perhaps flesh might bear souls aloft into the sky even if it were in the form of ash. When early experiments in cremation resulted in an overall decrease in the number of water-borne illnesses, roof cleaning expenditures and unprophesied hauntings, the High Carrionite immediately announced that the celestial condor had ordained the practice of cremation a right and honorable mode of disposal of the dead. Within a scant few years, cremation had become a sacrament.

Today, cremation is so ingrained in Hadadi culture that every spring, a festival called the Feast of Ash is celebrated. For a week, priest of the Black Skies distribute the collected ash from the previous year's cremations and scatter them -- mixed with dyes of different colors -- across the massed crowds waiting the blessing of their ancestors. Coated with ancestors' remains of rainbow hues, the hedonistic saturnalia that is the Feast of Ash is regarded as the spirits of the departed's last opportunity to enjoy the pleasures of the flesh and so all residents are encouraged to help the dead find fulfillment at the bottom of a bottle, in haunches of traditional walrus meat or between the thighs of a willing accomplice. It is said that the dead make their particular tastes known to the people their remains coat, and, if properly sated, will bless the "ridden" reveler and his household; should the spirits be displeased, however, the reveler suffers a minor curse.

I Know What You Did Last Feast of Ash

What vice did you indulge at the spirits' behest. Roll d11. (1 - 2) - Gluttony. You ate every walrus in sight. (3 - 4) - Lust. Yup. You went there. And there. And there. Oh, and there, too. (5 - 6) - Intemperance  You still don't remember where you parked your horse. (7 - 8) - Narcotics. The scent of Purple Lotus still clings to every article of clothing you wear. (9 - 10) - Athleticism. Maybe the ghosts who rode you were dancers in life, or gladiators, or something similar that made you want to dance and fight and run and jump and climb trees. You don't remember much of the festival, but your muscles ached for a week afterward. (11) - The Purple Meat. The ghosts that rode you knew more about the good stuff than you could ever have expected. Things Get Better: The ghosts of the recently dead that you sated bless you and your house (gain 1 point of Luck in DCC, 100 xp per level in most other systems). Things Get Worse: The ghosts are not appeased or amused by your Feast of Ash antics and have cursed you (burn 1 point of Luck in DCC or take a 5% penalty to xp for one year or until a Remove Curse spell is cast on you)!

So, normally an A to Z Challenge post wouldn't have multiple parts but I've got a lot of ideas on this topic and far, far too little time to push all those ideas out of my corrupt little noggin and onto the imaginary page. It might not be tomorrow, but the funerary rites of Jallur, the god of trade and the sea, as well as a glimpse at the afterlife in Ur-Hadad. 

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Currency In Ur-Hadad

Another day, another letter. Today, in looking at the letter "C," I'll be touching on a long-standing point of contention in the Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad campaign as well as what I see as a fairly solid answer to the 2KCP problem. 

Currency. Coin. Cash. 

Some say it makes the world go around. Others call it the lifesblood of human discourse. Master Guang-Yuan Jo swears that, for enough of it, he can impart the secrets of the universe, but only after he's had enough to drink (the only time the offer stands). 

Ur-Hadad has seen innumerable empires before the Rise of Man. Elves, lizardmen, serpent men and older, stranger empires have ruled the world from within her walls. As each empire rose and fell, each brought with them their own forms of currency, whether coins, rare shells, metal-laced scales or even paper money; many of these forms of currency still circulate in the streets and markets of Ur-Hadad, but most have been replaced by the common currency of the modern era. Modern era coinage is largely separated by those who primarily use it: high coinage is issued by and to the ruling class of nobles, while vulgar currency is issued by the municipal authorities to the middle and lower classes. In many ways, the coinage one uses in Ur-Hadad is a statement of social class.

Vulgar & High Currency

Vulgar currency, the currency of the streets and markets of Ur-Hadad, is largely uncontrolled. Minted through relatively lax processes, with remarkably simple markings, these coins make their way into the hands of most residents of the First City. The coins (and their value) of the vulgar currency are as follows:
  • Bits - Usually a silver coin, the bit is the standard unit of value in Ur-Hadad. Equal to a gold piece in most settings and rules, the bit effectively establishes a silver standard in Ur-Hadad, although some issuances of the bit have been gold or electrum, or even a gilt-edged silver. 
  • Chits - Normally a copper coin, 100 chits equal one bit, but it can be difficult for most residents of Ur-Hadad to count that high, making money changers even more important. Most daily commerce is done in bits and chits. One chit is equivalent to 1 copper piece in most other settings. 
  • Bobs - A bronze coin, the bob is a relatively uncommon median currency between the chit and the bit, worth 20 chits or one-fifth of a bit. While this coin has no direct analog in normal FRP currencies, it takes on the role of both the sp and the ep, being a half-measure between both (using traditional 1e values for the ep of 2 ep = 1 gp and not the higher DCC value); 2 sp = 1 bob while 1 bob = 2/5 of (a traditional 1e) ep.
  • Crowns - A golden coin, the name of the "crown" is actually ironic: it is called the "crown" because it is most often used by commoners to pay fines and fees (and bribes) to government officials who, even more ironically, believe that the name is given out of respect. The highest denomination of the vulgar currency issued in the First City, the crown is worth twenty bits and is only suitable for large transactions. For currency conversion purposes, count 2 pp as 1 crown. 
  • 1 crown = 20 bits = 100 bobs = 2000 chits*
  • 1 chit = 1/20 bob = 1/100 bit = 1/2000 crown
The high currency is very similar in denomination, but of a far higher caliber of craftsmanship. Each coin is embossed with the name of the noble house which issued it (there are currently five noble houses minting coins within the city proper), the year issued and often the likeness of a member of the family being honored with the issuance of that particular coin. Not all coins are minted every year by every family, and often families choose to mint new coins to celebrate events important to the nobles. The one exception to this rule is the high currency equivalent to the chit -- the son (or daughter, depending on who's on it) -- which by law must be issued every year. Since this is the lowest value coin in noble circulation, the son isn't always an honor and sometimes a low-quality likeness may be used as a form of mockery. 

High currency may be obtained at certain money changers in higher-class portions of the city at a considerable commission. Use of high currency in such quarters is considered standard, and paying with vulgar currency may impose a penalty of up to -2 to Personality or Charisma-based checks. By the same token, using high currency outside of the upper class areas of Ur-Hadad may impart up to a +2 bonus to similar checks, depending on circumstance (and whether the payee would be suitably impressed). High currency includes:
  • Son (or Daughter) - Equivalent to the chit, the son (or daughter) is the smallest unit of high currency issued and is roughly equal to one standard copper piece. Every noble house issuing coinage is mandated to issue sons every year; the Grand Vizier believes that this policy ensures a connection between the common classes and the nobility, but in effect merely allows the nobility one more venue for in-fighting and political back-biting. Due to the often mocking likenesses found on sons, Hadadi nobles often describe something beneath contempt as being "not worth a copper son."
  • Heir - A silver coin often bound in a gold rim, the heir is the equivalent of a bit and is the standard unit of currency among the upper class Hadadi. Having one's likeness placed upon an heir is always considered a great honor, particularly since the popular connotation is that the person depicted on an heir is in fact the heir to their family. Often, minting families are commissioned by other noble families to issue heirs when a new heir to the family's leadership is announced. Some nobles acquire as many heirs depicting their own likeness as possible, paying for things with these coins being akin to leaving a calling card. Equivalent of a gp in other settings. 
  • Eldest - A bronze coin of equivalent value to the bob, the eldest is equal to 20 sons and 1/5 of an heir. Issued to commemorate the accomplishments of family members, an eldest used to celebrate first-born or eldest children, but now any family member may be honored by the coin. Somewhere between a silver piece and a traditional electrum piece, the eldest is a median currency used primarily for smaller purchases.
  • Reign - The gold reign is the highest-value coin issued in Ur-Hadad, equivalent to 20 heirs. It may depict the head of a noble family (and is only issued upon the assumption of such a role) but just as often depicts a major event in the history of Ur-Hadad. For example, the Akkosti family matriarch, Ghul-Alol Akkosti, appears on one coin issued by her family, while another depicts the Volczik Rout, when Volczik cavalry broke the line of an assembly of elven and serpent man troops that held the First City under siege, leading to a massive rout. Reigns are issued entirely at the discretion of the issuing families, although noble houses and even the Grand Vizier may commission specific runs of coin.
  • 1 reign = 20 heirs = 100 eldest = 2000 sons* 

Other Currency

The merchants and money changers of Ur-Hadad deal with currencies from all over the world and are quick to recognize that every currency has value to someone, somewhere. Within the First City, however, it is uncommon for even the most widely-traveled adventurers to pay for room and board with rare cowry shells or new arms and armor with elven paper notes. Thus, the financial practice of money changing has become commonplace throughout the First City. Whenever adventurers find some lost treasure trove of coinage in a deep dungeon, the chances are that its value is a nice, round number. This value isn't because there are exactly that many coins in the jumble (say, 2,000 copper pieces), but rather because that's how much they're worth if brought back to Ur-Hadad and exchanged at a money changer for an equivalent currency (the value includes any surcharge for the exchange unless exchanging into high currency). You didn't actually find two-thousand copper pieces, but the coinage that you found is worth two-thousand copper pieces. 

Bam. 

2KCP problem solved.

Types of Currency

But what type of currency did you find in the dungeon?  Roll d11. (1-2) - Elven "paper" money. Not always paper, the original currency actually being tattooed skin flayed from slaves; using paper instead of tanned people skin was a natural outgrowth as inflation demanded more available currency. (3 - 4) - Lizardman shell-coins. These coins are fashioned out of shells that are polished to a high sheen with fine-grain sand. (5 - 6) - Serpent man metal-laced scales taken from their honored ancestors. The body of a powerful serpent man was considered a treasure in and of itself and so "coins" were often fashioned from its scales. (5 - 6) - Engraved claws and fangs. Often kept as currency by both beastmen and barbarians, the claws, fangs and sometimes even skulls of enemies and game can make great trophies and measures of value when properly adorned. (7 - 8) - Living, worm-like invertebrates of diverse size and color where the size and color note denomination. Used by many of the more otherworldly visitors to Ur-Hadad and its environs, these apparently immortal, crawling things don't need to eat or breathe, but do need a sturdy pouch to be kept in. (9 - 10) - Liquid soul-extract. Distilled from the hopes and dreams of living beings, this stuff may be used as currency or as material components for spells. (11) - Some other non-standard metal. Lead coins, iron coins, tungsten coins, whatever you've got. Things Get Better: The currency weighs far less than an equal-valued treasure of standard denomination (d8x10% less weight). Things Get Worse: The currency weighs far more than an equal-valued treasure of standard denomination (d8x10% more). 

*Or, 2KCP. 

Bounty Hunting in Ur-Hadad

More A to Z Blogging madness here. This time, we open up the sandbox a little with some quick and dirty ideas about letting the players decide who to go after and kill rather than just whoever's at the end of the dungeon. 
Be as cool as Christoph Waltz?
Well, you can try...

Bounty hunting just might be the second oldest profession. Everyone worth something to someone, so the bounty hunter's real art (other than capturing or killing his targets) is figuring who's worth what to whom. Throughout the First City, criers announce the most lucrative bounties (as much to notify the criminals how badly they're wanted as to let the average population know) and guard stations maintain up-to-date records of available bounties from both private parties and official channels.

Who Wants Whom And Why

Having a list of available bounties at the ready can help any Judge with the pesky problem of offering his players enough crazy-ass choices to keep those players busy give them the opportunity to make reasonably meaningful choices. To get started generating some bounties, pick a die expression for how many you think there should be. I like a fairly large amount of available bounties, so I'll go with 2d4 (median 5). I almost said 2d5 (median 6), but I realized I don't always have my funky dice handy when I'm prepping. Now that you know how many bounties there are, let's roll a bunch of d11s.

The Offense

What did the wanted person do to earn the bounty on his head? Roll d11. (1 - 2) - Violent crime. (3 - 4) - Property crime (theft, destruction of property, vandalism, etc.). (5 - 6) - A crime against honor (an insult, "compromising" a young lady's honor, or a young man's for that matter, etc.). (7 - 8) - Political "crime" (trumped up charges against a political opponent, etc.). (9 - 10) - "White collar" crime (embezzlement, fraud, stuff like that). (11) - Diabolism and the dark arts. Things Get Better: The quarry's crimes have alienated him from his criminal (or not-so-ciminal) pals. They won't be terribly loyal to him if they even help him at all. Things Get Worse: Not only does the quarry have the support of his outlaw allies, but those allies are of superior number, power or capability than they would otherwise be.

The Quarry

Who's got the bounty on his head, anyway? Roll d11. (1 - 2) - A fighter/warrior type. Better bring serious firepower. (3 - 4) - A cleric. Hope his god isn't as powerful as yours. (5 - 6) - A thief. Keep your eyes peeled and watch each other's backs. (7 - 8) - A demi-human. One of the normal types for your campaign or setting. (9 - 10) - A monstrous humanoid. Beastmen or trolls or something (yes, it can be an orc if you have orcs in your campaign.) (11) - A wizard. Just give up now. Things Get Better: He's not an actually very impressive specimen of his type; he's 1d3 levels lower than anticipated. Things Get Worse: The quarry is much more powerful than anticipated; add 1d3! levels.

Last Known Location

Where will the quarry be found? Roll d11. (1 - 4) - Up to one day's ride away. (5 - 8) - Up to two days' ride away. (9 - 10) - Up to three days' ride away. (11) - Somewhere in the city. Things Get Better: The quarry is known to be hiding out in a specific location that should be easy to find. Things Get Worse: The quarry's location is completely unknown.

The Bounty

How much is he worth anyway? Roll d11. (1 - 2) - 100 gp. (3 - 4) - 250 gp. (5 - 6) - 500 gp. (7 - 8) - 750 gp. (9 - 10) - 1,000 gp. (11) - 2,000 gp. Things Get Better: The quarry is worth twice the bounty... if you can bring him in alive. Things Get Worse: The quarry is only worth the full bounty if he is brought in alive; he's worth nothing to you dead.

Wow, I made it through this whole post with only one Boba Fett reference. Bonus points for me!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Assassins of Ur-Hadad

With so many people participating in the "A to Z Blogging Challenge" this year, I thought I should try my hand at it. If you're not familiar, you try to write a post for every letter of the alphabet within the month of April. Sure, it can be done. To keep me on track, I decided that I'd set a few ground rules for myself. #1 - Every post will be about Ur-Hadad. #2 - Every post will include something gamable. #3 - I'm not worrying so much about that whole "April deadline" thing. And so, here's the first installment of Ur-Hadad: A to Z. Plus, I'm getting a late start on the whole thing, so forget doing it all in one month. 


It would be entirely inaccurate to suggest that flocks of assassins haunt the streets of Ur-Hadad, that guilds of shadowy killers flit across moonlit terraces and down darkened alleys stalking their prey. The Grand Vizier himself has decreed that all such institutions of organized murder are illegal within the city's walls and, as such, they must not exist there. To suggest otherwise, to suggest that the Grand Vizier's word was any less than inerrant perfection, would be treason as well as a base and treacherous lie.

There are no assassins nor assassins' guilds in Ur-Hadad; it has been decreed and it must be so.

And yet, deaths still happens. Murder still occurs. People are still poisoned.

Surely, all these things are the acts of independent killers, unprofessional louts who murder out of passion or necessity, not out of devotion to the practice of the art of death nor out of direct financial motivation. Surely, those thousands of dead by mysterious or violent causes every year are not the act of assassins (for there may be no assassins in the First City), but the acts of random violence so common when so many thousands upon thousands of human beings gather in one place.

This is the myth we tell ourselves at night so we can sleep, unafraid of the knives and vipers lurking out of eye's wary reach.

The Lies Behind The Truth

There may be no assassins guilds in Ur-Hadad, but there are plenty of organizations who will take a person's money in return for an expertly-slain corpse. Mute monks who brew poisons deep within claustrophobic temples on the Avenue of One Thousand Gods murder as freely as slum-bound cultists of forgotten forces of Chaos. Cash-strapped would-be revolutionaries might consider alternate sources of funding, while leagues of gentleman sportsmen might accept a nobleman's challenge and wager for a particularly difficult trophy. Secret societies lie to the world and to themselves daily about who they are and what they do.

Should your player characters face their would-be murderers among the streets and wharves of Ur-Hadad, you'll need to know what they're facing. Each chart below uses the d11 mechanic that I discussed last Friday.

Number

How many assassins? Roll d11. If Things Get Better, they're 1d3 levels lower than the PCs. If Things Get Worse, they're 1d3 levels higher.

Attire

How are they dressed? Roll d11. 1 - Animal-like regalia that mingles feather, fur and fabric with ornate masks. 2 - Ninja-style peejays. 3 - Bandages and rags like lepers. 4 - Cultist robes in a distinct color. 5 - Full but flexible-looking armor that covers the body completely. May or may not have a demon face-type mask. 6 - Wearing body suits made from the tanned hides of (1d5; 1) ghouls, (2) bears, (3) elephants, (4) beastmen or (5) people!. 7 - Loose, flexible clothing that allows for lots of free movement. Also, they have no sense of humor. 8 - Like respectable, normal members of society. If the city guard sees you fighting them, they're likely to side with the assassins. 9 - Like hunters in the woods despite the urban environment. 10 - Mostly if not entirely naked. Watch where you put your hands, buddy. Also, critical hit tables can be brutal. 11 - Everybody's dressed differently, but everyone is dressed like (1d5; 1) some minor god so incredibly obscure that you probably won't get the reference, (2) characters from a popular play or heroic story, (3) a monster from local mythology or fairy tales, (4) popular musicians and bards or (5) well-known works of art. Things Get Better: the assassins' costumes are bright and easy to spot; chasing them through the crowd would be easier than normal. Things Get Worse: the assassin's costumes are designed for stealth and make it easy for them to hide in shadows and hard to spot by the PCs.

But They're Really...

Who are the assassins, really? Roll d11. 1 - A cult devoted to the resurrection of a long-forgotten Chaos Lord. 2 - A secret society of revolutionaries devoted to the violent overthrow of the ruling classes. 3 - Bored nobles who have already hunted all of the prey they deem "worthy" and now have moved on to targeting more dangerous game. 4 - Beastmen who manage to survive and thrive in the First City by being the toughest and meanest things on (or under) the street. 5 - Monks so devoted to the cause of Order that they've all cut out their own tongues so they may not accidentally breach their vow of silence. 6 - Possessed by aliens from beyond that drink the fear of those about to die. 7 - Robots fulfilling some secret agenda related to their eventual overthrow of humanity's dominance over the world and the First City. 8 - The larval stages of extraplanar demons incubating inside of human hosts while they develop their capacity for cruelty and depravity. 9 - Secretly serpent men who have disguised themselves as humans to resume their rightful place as man's masters. 10 - Quasi-religious lotus-eaters, these madmen view murder as a sacrament and the consumption of narcotics a duty. Yeah, real stable guys. 11 - Psionic projections by dreaming cultists who believe that they are not culpable for the evil they do in their dreams, and so use their dream-selves to explore darker urges like murder. During they, they're really nice folks that are slowly being twisted to Chaos. Things Get Better: The assassins' particular schtick provides them with a weakness that the PCs can exploit. Things Get Worse: The assassins' have extraordinary powers related to their schtick that will make them even more challenging (perhaps summoning nightmare beasts for result 11, for instance).

Friday, April 5, 2013

Stupid Dice Tricks: It Goes To Eleven

A little while ago, my local gaming group (particularly +Rad DeLong & +phil muszkiewicz & I) were having a discussion about the ridiculous existence of Vampire: Undeath and the nature of gaming plagiarism. It was hilarious, mostly because of the joke rpg we conceptually created then (which I'll tell you more about later). One of the greatest things about the conversation was the invention of a new core mechanic which went something like this:

"So, if WoD uses d10s and we want to make ours better than their version of vampires, what dice do we use?"


"d11."

"Do they make d11s?"

"No, but... ours go to eleven..."

Thank you Spinal Tap.

W-What? D11s Don't Exist!

Dodge D-11: Exists!
No, but your d12 does. In order to generate results for the d11 system, you roll d12 and, if the result is 12, you reroll the die. Now, in most "use this die for that completely different range" where you're ignoring certain numerical results, the reroll-triggering results are simply not noted. Not here in the d11 system! D12s are awesome. My favorite die. To not use every facet on a d12 even if you only need 1-11 smacks of sacrilege. So, the "12" result, while triggering a reroll of the d12, also creates something called an Opportunity, but more on that later.

To quickly recap, in order to get a result between 1-11 (the d11 result), roll a d12 and use that result unless you roll a "12," in which case you note that you've rolled an Opportunity and reroll the die to determine the numerical result. Multiple rolls of "12" can result in multiple in Opportunities.

Difficulties And Tasks

The d11 system will assume that (a) the average modifier to any and all dice rolls is 0 (only exceptional people, one way or the other, have a bonus or penalty to dice rolls) and (b) dice are being rolled to determine success or failure only when success or failure are in question (actions where the success is never in doubt shouldn't be rolled for, just accepted as something that happened). As such, I'm going to go out on a limb here and talk about some rough difficulties for things.

Pilot rocket into space: Challenging task
Look good while doing it: Easy task

  • Easy tasks: 65% likely. Unskilled or unimpaired characters will succeed about two-thirds of the time. Roll 4+ on a d11.
  • Average tasks: 50% likely. Unskilled or unimpaired characters will succeed as often as fail. Roll 6+ on a d11.
  • Challenging tasks: 35% likely. Average characters are more likely to fail than succeed but still have a fair chance. Roll 8+ on a d11.
  • Tough tasks: 10% likely. Average characters are far more likely to fail than to succeed. Roll 10+ on a d11.

The percentage ranges don't quite match up with the probabilities of the dice results, but that's not the key here. The numerical result of the die roll is compared to the difficulty of the task and that's it; the system is designed to be simple and straightforward, providing a straightforward binary result (success/failure); game systems powered by the d11 system shouldn't be designed to rely on degrees of success, but should have room for narrative flexibility created by the existence of Opportunities.

The Land of Opportunity

When a result of "12" is rolled, the die is rerolled and an Opportunity is created. What shape the Opportunity will make Things Get Better or Things Get Worse, depending on what the result of the die roll was. If the result was an even number, Things Get Better; if the result was odd, Things Get Worse.* Here's some more about Things Getting Better and Worse.


Things Get Worse

A Things Get Worse result creates a complication for the character (or characters) that makes life more difficult. All sorts of narrative effects are possible; everything from running out of ammo in your gun to breaking your shield to the bridge giving way. If you succeeded at the roll, there was a complication to your success that didn't invalidate the success but created an Opportunity for Things to Get Worse. The flip side of the coin is that if your failure generates a Things Get Worse Opportunity, you're compounding bad on top of more bad. Here are some ways that Things can Get Worse:
  • Your next task is harder.
  • The next character to attack you has an advantage at it.
  • Your next ally to act has a harder time of it ("pass the disadvantage"). 
  • Create a narrative disadvantage (before your GM creates one for you!). 

Things Get Better

A Things Get Better Opportunity means exactly what it sounds like: somehow, whether you succeeded or failed at your task, your actions lead to Things Getting Better for you and/or your allies. Maybe you shot out the control panel on the door and now the stormtroopers can't get through and have to find another way around. Maybe you dove for cover as part of your awesome, flourishing sword attack and how the enemy archers will have a hard time hitting you. If you rolled a failure, an Opportunity for Things to Get Better can't make you succeed instead, but it can make conditions more favorable to a future success. Similarly, Things Getting Better can't amplify a success. Here are some ways that Things can Get Better:
  • Your next task is easier.
  • The next character to attack you has a disadvantage at it.
  • Your next ally to act has an easier time of it ("pass the advantage," a term coined by +Larry Moore)
  • Create a narrative advantage (don't let your GM steal your opportunity to narrate good things for you!). 
Well, there you have it. The basis for a very simple task resolution system inspired by Spinal Tap that allows some very simple player control over the narrative! Its not the sort of thing that no one said could never be done, but one of those things that wasn't ever likely to have been done if there hadn't been a completely ridiculous reason to have done it. If you ever make something with this system, let me know! I'd be more than excited to see what you built!

*While it may at first seem that the "Evens: Better, Odds: Worse" would create a larger amount of "worse" results than "better," results of 12 are even and, even though they are rerolled afterward, count as a "better" result as well as a new Opportunity. Thus, any multiple Opportunity roll will automatically include one Things Get Better result.