Monday, July 13, 2015

Monster Monday: The Excruciator

"...And what are gods, anyway? What I may call a 'god,' you may deride as daemon, a disembodied anima, a demiurge, a genius loci or one of a thousand deprecating sobriquets that the 'learned' use to stratify that which they do not understand, to give names to things they will never comprehend, without thought to what it is those things call themselves. Me? I know not what a god is... yet. I hope soon to have first-hand knowledge." 
- Pater S * S, High Blasphemarch of the Anti-Cathedral of Apostates and Heretics, on the matter of his presumed-impending godhead
Many are the contradictions possessed by men and women of faith, and the priests of Gorus Na'al are no strangers to the contradictions that their faith foists upon them. The god of blood, pain, brutality and torment feasts on the carnal misery of mortals in whatever ill-used corners of the world he might find them, the priests of pain know, and often claim that all blood that falls upon the ground marks his territory, yet they are also aware that Na'al, bloody Na'al, is one of the cthonic powers, imprisoned millennia ago beneath the face of Ore, shackled in bonds of True Iron and buried alive in vast stone oubliettes. Thus it is there, in the underworld caverns and mythic catacombs that honeycomb the Iron Planet, that the truest temples to the Perfect and Blessed Lotus of Agony, the Taloned Prince of Ecstatic Exsanguination, the Pure and Incorruptible Essence of Bodily Ruin, have been erected. 

Thus, the priests of Gorus Na'al who take up the closest physical proximity to their deity are naturally fathoms away from where the greatest practices of his art -- and the opportunity to practice this art -- may be found, and thus the psychic energies that are released upon battlefields, in torture chambers, around ritual fires often go uncollected by Na'alites. Rather than allow the soul-stuff of sheer torment dissipate unused -- or worse, be collected by those of a non-Na'alite faith -- the deep priests of Heaven's Gleeful Butcher, under guidance of their divine patron, have constructed a series of devices to go forth unto the world of Ore to collect the plaintive psychic wails of the wounded, the dying, the flayed, the tortured. Storing these energies in milky-white pearls of purest agony, Na'al's otherworldly machines flit about the world, hungrily collecting torment for their master.

As cycles like this go, it was not long before "collecting the world's torment" became "creating fresh torments," and thus was the golem-like creation known as the Excruciator first devised. A techno-priest of the Holy Howl of Heaven's Nerves Splayed Wide built this perfect automaton an age ago, and ever since the sinister synagogues have treated the construction of such monstrosities as the highest of sanguinary sacraments. A self-motive automatic torture chamber, Na'alite Excruciators clatter through both the World Below and the World Above on six metal legs not unlike those of crabs. Two crane-like mandibles ending in serrated-bladed grapplers claw, catch and hoist what victims survive the lacerations into an aperture that resembles nothing else so much as a fanged maw; beyond that aperture lie three discrete skeins of machinery and implements that constrict, constrain and slowly, agonizingly torture up to three mortal beings to death. The throes of these tortures and deaths are collected in the "Heaven's Pearl" that hovers inside a compartment atop the elephant-sized constructs body, ready to be plucked by a priest of Na'al -- or any adventurer lucky enough to survive the Excruciator's ministrations. 

ACKS Stats

% In Lair: 5%
Dungeon Enc: 1d2 / 1d6
Wilderness Enc: 1 / 1d3
Alignment: Neutral 
Movement: 180'
Armor Class: 6 [16]
Hit Die: 6+1
Attacks: 2 grapplers
Damage: 1d12 +  Grapple (see below)
Save: F7
Morale: +4
Treasure: J
XP: 980

DCC Stats

Init +2; Atk +7 melee grappler (1d12 plus grapple, see below); AC 16; HD 6d10+6; MV 90'; Act 2d20; SP Construct traits, Grapple (see below), Torture skeins (see below); SV Fort Immune, Ref +2, Will +6; AL N.

Grapple - After successfully striking a victim with its grapplers, any creature that survives the attack will be grappled by the Excruciator. If the victim is still grappled at the beginning of the Excruciator's next turn, the Excruciator will place it within the construct's torture skeins (see below).   

Torture Skeins - While a creature is within an Excruciator's torture skeins, it is incapacitated in pain (cannot act other than to scream in bloody agony) and takes 1d3 points of damage to its highest Ability score of the following each round: Strength, Constitution/Stamina and Dexterity/Agility. Should any of these ability scores be tied for highest, the damage is done to both (or all three) scores as the Excruciator has discovered a serendipitous (from its point of view) confluence of torments that it will record and revel in during future torture sessions. 

It's up to the Ref/Judge/DM to sort out what sort of mystical effect the "Heaven's Pearl" inside the Excruciator may have. 

Friday, July 10, 2015

Dynamic Hexcrawl: The First Seven Hexes

Alright, it's time to get down to business and talk about how we're actually going to go about this whole dynamic hexcrawl shebang. I'll start off by saying that I've been putting this off because I hate telling people "this is how to do it;" in this case, I'm dodging that bullet and psyching myself up by telling myself that I'm not telling you how to do it, but telling you how I do it. Different things. The first is authoritative and wisdom coming down from on high, which almost always pisses me off. The second is more "this is what works for me, it might work for you." The distinction is really just academic and makes sense only insofar as you think about shit the way I do, which is sort of the point of all this in the first place, so good. Let's move on.

Another thing that I need to touch on before we get going is one of the underlying precepts of the dynamic hexcrawl process: it is a fucking process. It has some steps, a bit of "do this before you do that," but the whole thing is designed not to give you an end result, but to be a set of processes that work with you and your game (remembering that the game is only what happens at the table, no matter what anyone else tells you) to end up with better game-time and less (and more focused) prep-time. Like any process, the parts of this process should be examined as they are being enacted and tailored to suit your particular needs as a DM and the needs of your group. Always remember, though, that the point is learning to do more with less and learning to scrape by with as little as you can prepped beforehand.

The First Seven Hexes

The Thunderlands, hex 0317
We're going to start at the 24-mile hex scale initially, and that's what we're going to plan for. That's the scale that we're dealing in for this first part. Why seven hexes? Because it's one 24-mile hex in any direction from the central hex, one cluster of hexes around one central hex. That central hex is where everything starts, where your campaign will kick off. By now, you've been working on the aesthetic for your campaign, so you have an idea of what that starter hex is going to feel like, right? Great. Keep it at the forefront of your brain-space as we move forward, especially as we start to look at the hexes that will surround it and how the campaign's aesthetic will answer the question of "what's each hex like?"

Starting with your central hex, you want to think about two things that are in each hex that are worth talking about. Your starting hex probably has a town (or a city, if that's your thing) and a dungeon so that you can get to adventure quicker. This is basic Basic logic, well, basic Basic/Expert logic: start the game with a nearby dungeon option so that we can get into the dungeon mix as early as we can because somehow journeying into the mythic underworld that is your dungeon (with the appropriate apologies to Philotomy) -- at least in the upper levels -- will be less dangerous than journeying cross country (unless, of course, this doesn't mesh with your aesthetic).

Like I started off the last paragraph, you want to have two things worth knowing about each hex that surrounds the origin hex. These don't have to be earth-shattering, epic things or even Geoffrey McKinney-grade things. It can be simple. One of the things can be the terrain type (unless it's similar to other terrain types in the area), one can be a rumor, or a legend, or a monster lair or any one of a number of nearly endless possibilities. Here are some ideas:

  • A non-analogous terrain type. Borderlands, such as the one your adventures will probably take place in, often exist at the interstices between different types of terrain and there's no reason that that terrain can't begin in close proximity to the origin hex.
  • A water source. A lake or a river or a sea. Rivers are almost a given, however, and you should probably focus on a larger body of water. Of course, it could be a fucking huge river, something like the Mississippi or the Rhine or Volga. 
  • A monster lair. This is going to be an obvious monster lair, the kind that mothers tell their children about to make them eat all their vegetables and behave. Probably a named monster. "THE chimera" or "THE manticore" or something more imaginative (please let it be something more imaginative!). 
  • A larger city or a smaller town. This exists in opposition to the settlement in the origin hex, so it should be differential from it. A big city is the place to go to sell loot, research lore (or magic), indulge exotic vices, and in need of adventurers to fuel its myriad plots. A small town is a place threatened by external forces and in need of adventurers to help secure its existence. Having both a larger city and a smaller town can create a lack of mobility ("why would we need to go anywhere else but these 7 hexes?") that can cut down on the adventuring fun of having a dynamic hexcrawl anyway. 
  • A natural wonder. This doesn't have to be "seven wonders of the world"-scale or even something of the stunning grandeur of Mt. Blanc or the Grand Canyon or the Great Barrier Reef, but it can be a distinct cool terrain feature that serves as a landmark. 
  • A legend. Maybe ghostly hosts are said to haunt the old battleground at the old crossing. Maybe that mountain is the place where the first sorcerers learned to wrench magic from the stars and rival the gods themselves. Maybe that island awaits the return of the World's True Emperor to reclaim his throne there, on that vaguely chair-shaped rock that was once his throne in an age long past. Stuff like that. Have fun.
  • Something everyone is afraid of. People don't even have to talk about the thing that they're afraid of, or maybe they only do in hushed whispers, but everyone knows it's there. 
  • Something everyone covets. The standard fantasy trope here is "ye olde dwarven mine," but it could be anything. How many real-world wars have been fought over land? You get the idea.
  • Something weird. This shouldn't be "ZOMGONZO!"... ever. Stuff can be -- and needs to be -- weird without being stupid or cutesy or campy or (as it's so often misused) "random." Something fantastic, bizarre, perhaps supernatural (that's the "weird" in Weird Tales, peeps) that fits with your aesthetic and perhaps contrasts elements of it. Stupid or cutesy or campy can fit, however, if that's an extension of your aesthetic, just... be careful, man... 
  • Something of religious significance. To someone, somewhere. Probably to locals, but who knows? Maybe there's a religion on the other side of the globe that sends pilgrims here because it's where their founder first plucked a particular sort of flower that the religion holds as sacred. Remember that religions don't have to be all big and smashy and if they weren't part of daily life for folks, they'd probably never get off the ground. 
  • Make up a bunch more stuff as makes sense for your aesthetic. If it makes sense to have a bunch of castles and knightly orders (if that's your kind of thing), go ahead and do it. Of course, you could be more creative than that, which is what I recommend. 
There are so many other things you could fit into your first seven hexes that there's no way I'll be able to think of them all now. That's a good thing. My goal here isn't to give you a check list, but to inspire you to figure out your own stuff, which I think is kind of presumptuous and arrogant of me to assume that this post was. Even if you didn't find a concrete idea here, then, let me hope that you found that my list of suggestions failed to include something that you think is important and let your irritation with me serve as inspiration. I'll accept that. That's good enough for me. 

You also will probably want to draw these seven hexes on your map. I will probably have more to say about that very soon. 

Thursday, July 9, 2015

DCC Donnerstag: Refining Armor-Less AC

Last week, I posted about Armor-Less AC in DCC and it generated a good bit of feedback. Here are some more thoughts I had about the structure for this optional rule system.

Perfect for the Thunderlands

+Wayne Snyder has this great idea for a World of Ore sub-setting that he calls the Thunderlands. It's kind of a classic Barsoom meets Pellucidar at the North Pole of Ore as depicted in the pages of Heavy Metal. Yeah, that cool. Sweaty humans running around in their loin cloths swinging sharpened chunks of metal at serpent men, mammoths, dinosaurs and exceptionally naughty elves. This idea keeps sounding better all the time. Pretty much everything that's awesome, all in one place. Also great for: Hyborian Age, CAS-style Hyperborea or Zothique, swashbuckling adventure and more or less all of the good things that I want to do in adventures.

Changing Names

Let's just call our "roll this number or more and you hit me" number our "Defense score" to simplify things. Reflex save adds to Defense score. Things that used to add to "armor class" now add to "damage reduction." Just to keep shit straight.

The Reduction Cap

Armor isn't helping these guys
Apparently there are DCC Judges out there whose players have somehow gotten their hands on suits of full plate. How they earned the 1,200 gp to afford those suits, I don't know. Seems pretty suspect to me. Or if those adventurers managed to find the suits in dungeons... I mean... seriously? This is DCC, people, not The Original Fantasy RPG (tm), so while my gut tells me you've made your own fucking bed, it's time to sleep in it, I do think that there is some point to be made in favor of capping the contribution that armor can make toward damage reduction.

I propose a cap on damage reduction from armor of 4. Halve any bonus in excess of this and add it to the saving throw of the Judge's choice for that specific suit of armor only. So, this particular suit of plate mail might be +2 Reflex save, while that suit might be +1 Will/+1 Fortitude. Not sure if you can round up. Maybe this helps.

Firearms

One of the neat things about these rules is that they make sense out of firearms. "Yes, I can now hit a dude in plate mail with my arquebus!" which only makes sense, since it was the arquebus and its descendants that made plate mail pointless in the first place. So, here goes: firearms ignore an amount of damage reduction equal to half their maximum damage. Figure the rest out yourself.

Laser guns may ignore damage like this, or they may not. Death rays are in the same boat. Plasma cannons. Blasters. Pulse pistols. Whatever you've got. Maybe there are traits on advanced suits of armor that allow the damage reduction to apply to this advanced kind of stuff, but I'm not designing those rules right now. Maybe next time.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

DCC Donnerstag: Armor-Less AC For DCC

Be kind to me, this system is completely untested, but related to some ideas I'm kicking around for upcoming Metal Gods material. You may have noticed by now that I use the ol' blog here as a sort of testing ground or lab for ideas before I turn it into something I ask people to pay money for. Well, peeps, this is one of those ideas.

Armor-Less AC For DCC

No armor? No problem!
This concept is one of those ideas that pops up from time to time and often people dress it up with words like "verisimilitude" and get all "well actually" when they start talking about it. Screw that. I'm proposing these rules because I like Conan stories, Kothar stories, Lone Wolf & Cub and all that stuff where the protagonist is a badass with a sword and doesn't get all weighed down with armor (that shit will slow you down, son!) and still kills tons of other guys and only gets a couple of scratches.

Here's the proposal: do not add an armor's AC bonus to any character's armor class. INSTEAD, add their Reflex Save bonus. SUBTRACT the armor's AC bonus from all damage done to the wearer.

Simple, right?

It must mean that I've got to complicate it somehow. Here goes.

Mighty Deeds of Arms

Instead of adding his Deed Die to his attack and damage for a given round, a warrior may add it to his AC. This always succeeds (does not need to score a "3" or higher die result).

Luck

Any character may burn Luck to increase his AC for an entire combat round (ie, against all incoming attacks). Thieves may add their Luck Die in a similar manner, and halflings get 2 points of AC per Luck burned in this fashion, and may burn Luck to improve the AC of their compatriots.

Fatigue

(This rule doesn't require "Armor-Less AC" to use, but I came up with it while I was working on this system, so it makes sense to include here.) Every so often, the Judge may call for a Fatigue Check. All characters must roll the Fumble Die appropriate for their type of armor and roll less than or equal to their Strength scores or become Fatigued. Carrying lots of stuff (above a normal amount for your Strength) will increase the Fumble Die one step on the chain. Fatigued characters suffer a -d1 penalty (lower all die by one type on the chain) on all dice rolls until they have rested.

Critical Hits

Critical hits bypass armor entirely, both for the initial damage done and any additional damage rolled on the appropriate Critical Hit table. This means that successful Backstab attempts by thieves are never mitigated by armor.

Shields

Shields add +1 to Reflex save bonus (and thus to Armor-Less AC), but do not prevent damage. Larger shields may add more to this bonus.

Defensive Fighting

If you choose to take no action on your turn, but instead opt to act entirely defensively, you may add +2 to your Reflex save until the next round.

[Optional] Stamina As Armor

If the group opts to use this optional rule, a character may use either his Stamina modifier or AC modifier from armor as his damage reduction, whichever is better. Negative Stamina modifiers do not add to damage done. [This optional sub-rule would probably make funnels a bit more survivable, so use carefully!]