Monday, March 31, 2014

Lessons from video games: side quests

So I've been playing Dark Souls II and it's gotten me thinking about the things that video games do really well. Two things I particularly like, and that the Souls games do extremely well, are crafting mechanics and teaching about the game through play. I will post about those in the near future, and maybe another new class. Right now though, I want to talk about side quests.

Now admittedly, side quests - especially fetch quests - can be really boring. See, for example, most of the Legend of Zelda side quests in recent years. But if done well, they can give a glimpse of the larger world. In Dark Souls I, there was that stuff with the golden crystal golem and her dad. Without going into too much detail, that side quest offers a sense of the reality of these characters. It doesn't feel like they exist for your benefit (like characters in video games so often do), but you get a glimpse at what the lives of people are like in a world of insane undead. Side quests provide take people or things that are sort of unexplained in the game, and provide explanations through interacting with optional game elements. They also can provide a sense of how individuals interact with one another and the world around them, and can drive conflict.

Side quests are also fun because they can drive play. I don't play the Elder Scrolls games, but my understanding is that a large part of the appeal is the ability to advance through a series of related side quests to become the head of a thieves' guild or church or whatever. This provides a degree of purpose in a sandbox setting, which allows players to measure progress and prevents stagnation of interest.

So. Side quests work particularly well in video games, because there is also the main quest that drives play. I don't think side quests would work so well in a sandbox or hexcrawl style tabletop game. Often as not there is no "main quest" for there to be side quests of, so side quests would be more just like a GM giving a "dungeon of the week" mission.

But for megadungeons, I think they work really well. Because megadungeons are both expansive and condensed, it is possible to travel between two extremely different locales (the elemental floor and the technology floor!) much quicker than it is possible to do this with hexing. Also, the players are less likely to have a specific notion in mind of where they're going. I mean, yeah, "down." But it's easier to know you're heading to the eastern city than it is to know you're heading toward the stairs that are probably around here, somewhere. This type of setting means you can have lots of side quests that don't look similar at all, all within a condensed area. You can have completely optional sidequests to find the mushrooms in area X, kill the beast in area Y, rescue the hostages from faction Z, and these can all be within reach immediately, in completely different regions, without feeling shoehorned. And with the notable exception of +Numenhalla, I can't name off the top of my head any dungeons that really use or encourage side quests.

So, yeah. People should use side quests more. If I am totally wrong or if you have a good example of dungeons with side quests, let me know.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Party Reputation

So I haven't been able to post or think about D&D much in the past 7-10 days, thanks to an ethics exam I had to take yesterday. To celebrate, here's a post about character ethics and reputation.


Being a murder hobo, looting graves, causing property damage; these are fun things to do. But robbing the grave of a national hero or burning the house of a harmless old lady should not be without consequences. Consequences create a sense of a real, reactive world, and negative reputations are particularly great for generating plot points. The trick is to make a system that is reactive to player actions, but is unpredictable enough to be not gameable. It should also be something where improving reputation becomes harder as your reputation gets better, so that players don't become famous heroes or get on the national Most Wanted list before they hit level 3. So, here's a reputation mechanic that keeps that in mind. With thanks to +Courtney Campbell and the bond system in his On the NPC book, which this is partially based on. It's a good book both for the rules it introduces, and for helping to think about player-NPC interactions generally.

A reputation for bad grammar.
A party's reputation should be by faction. This can be factions in a dungeon, or villages, or races, or whole nations. Reputation by default starts at a 7, with plus or minus up to 2 for circumstantial factors. If you're playing a LOTR game and your party is all elves, your reputation with the dwarves is probably a 5. Unless there's a total party wipe, reputation should be by party, not by individual character.

Any time you complete an adventure (not single session) that impacts on a faction in some way, consider whether the impact was positive or negative, and roll 2d6. If the impact was positive, your reputation improves by 1 if you roll higher than your current reputation. If negative, your reputation decreases by 1 if you roll lower than your current reputation. Snake eyes and boxcars always result in a -1 or +1 reputation shift, respectively. This means it's possible to get a +/- 2 modifier on a single roll, or even have your reputation improve or be harmed by doing a bad/good act (hey, sometimes people misunderstand). Obviously you can add situational modifiers (or just change reputation) if the players' conduct was particularly impactful. Murdering Lolth will make drow hate you, period.

Reputation effects are as follows:

2: The military/town guard knows your face. Any combat-capable faction members will attempt to kill or capture the party on sight, and others will  Merchants will refuse to sell anything to you.

3: Outright hostility. 100% penalty to purchase/sale prices, lose any charisma bonus to reaction rolls, any witnessed (or suspected) illegal activity by the players will lead to attempts to arrest or detain the party. Faction hirelings will refuse to work for you.

4: 50% penalty to purchase/sale prices, -3 to reaction rolls, -3 to morale for faction hirelings. Faction members are more likely to lie to the party about information being sought. 

5: 15% penalty to purchase/sale prices, -1 to reaction rolls, -1 to morale for faction hirelings

6: 5% penalty to purchase/sale prices, -1 to reaction rolls 

7: No effects

8: 5% bonus to purchase/sale prices

9: 10% bonus to purchase/sale prices, +1 to reaction rolls, +1 to morale for faction hirelings.

10: 15% bonus to purchase/sale prices, +2 to reaction rolls, +2 to morale for faction hirelings. Members of faction happy to offer faction-specific training (farming skills in a farming community, h2h combat skills from monks) at heavily discounted rates. Faction members are likely to view the party as part of the faction, and share appropriate information as such.

11: 25% bonus to purchase/sale prices, +3 to reaction rolls, +3 to morale for faction hirelings. Faction militia/guards are likely to turn a blind eye or give a slap on the wrist for low-impact wrongdoing, at least once or twice.

12: 50% bonus to purchase/sale prices, +3 to reaction rolls, +3 to morale for faction hirelings. Party may request a single audience/favor from the faction leader. Town square named in party's honor.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Chases

Picking up from the last post. Chases are something that happen semi-frequently in my game, probably once every couple sessions, and have in the past been resolved with competing die rolls. So is a chase more like combat, or saving throws? Well if you’re running down an empty hall or through a flat field, it’s probably more like a saving throw. Either you outrun someone, or you don’t, and this is can largely be modeled by character stats. But what about in a crowded market, or a battlefield, or a mansion house filled with furniture? It seems there's some play in the joints here that would allow for the creation of an interesting mechanic.

So what would we want from a chase mechanic? Clear consequences, clear rules, and opportunities for player choice with clear consequences. Also, a chase mechanic should be fast paced and simple, like a chase, and resolution should be quick; not saving throw quick necessarily, but it certainly shouldn't take as long as the average combat.

With that in mind, here’s an untested chase mechanic. I will modify rules based on results of playtesting. Or just leave this as is because who has time to go back to pre-written things, anyways?





This assumes that a standard, unencumbered human moves 120' per round or turn or whatever. It should be easily transferrable to whatever system you use. Results on the table were written to be generally applicable to most settings, so use common sense.

Participants in a chase get a die based on their movement speed, as follows:

greater than 180’ movement speed = d20
180’ movement speed = d12
150’ movement speed = d10
120’ movement speed = d8
90’ movement speed = d6
60’ movement speed = d4
less than 60' movement speed = d3

When a chase occurs, the participants roll their respective die. If someone has a head start, they should add 1 to their result for every 10’. Each round, the distance between the chaser and the chased is modified by the difference between die results x 10'. If the chased gets a number of feet ahead equal to or greater than the difference in move speed (minimum of 30’), she escapes. If the chaser catches up, obviously he catches the chased. If neither of those occurs, roll another round.

In addition, the GM should roll a d6 to see if there's a complication. In an empty or mostly empty area, there's a 1/6 chance of a complication. In a moderately crowded area, 1-3/6. In a densely crowded area, 1-5/6. Roll d10 on the table below for the complication.


  1. The chased stumbles over something, and must make a dex check or fall to the ground. She must spend the next round getting up, unable to move forward. 
  2. The chaser stumbles over a loose stone. and must make a dex check or fall to the ground. He must spend the next round getting up, unable to move forward. 
  3. There's a cart, or an altar! The chased can either run around it, or take -2 to her movement result this round to knock it over, spilling its contents behind her. This will force the chaser to make a dex check or stumble over it, causing a -6 to his next movement result. 
  4. A group of people or creatures is passing through the area, slowing everyone down. The chased get a -2 to their movement results this round. Chasers get a -2 to their movement results next round. 
  5. There's a lip to that that roof/ledge, and you're pretty sure you can use it to climb up. If you do this, take a -1 to movement this round. Redetermine likelihood of complications for the roof/ledge level. 
  6. Grab that rope! The chased can grab a rope and swing back, changing the direction of her run (including reversing). The chaser must make a wisdom check (at a +1 bonus for each 10 feet behind the chased he was) or run right past the chased before turning around, doubling the distance between the two. 
  7. Low hanging fruit. There's fruit in a stand, or a pile of rocks. The chaser can take a -1 to movement this round to grab something and make a ranged attack (at -4) to throw it at the chased's legs. If hit, the chased must make a dex check. Success indicates a -1 to movement next round. Failure indicates -4 to movement next round. 
  8. A dark, precarious side passage. The chased can run into the side passage and either hide or keep running. Chaser must make an int check. Failure indicates they guess wrong between running and searching, allowing the chased to escape. Success means they guess correctly, catching the chased. 
  9. People show up. Intelligent authority figures if in a city, intelligent residents of a dungeon if they exist, something like that. 50% chance they do nothing, 25% chance they try to stop the chased, 25% chase they try to stop the chaser. 
  10. Quick, find a crowd and get lost in it! You've run to a crowded part of town, a camp in the dungeon, a particularly overgrown portion of the forest. The chance of a complication for future rounds increases by 2/6. If the area is already densely crowded, then the chased individual escapes into a giant crowd, tangled web of vines, whatever. The chaser must make a wisdom check (at -1 for each 10' behind the chased) or else the chased escapes.

Hasty thoughts on mechanical difference

A thought occurred to me that D&D could be understood as a series of interlocking mini-games arranged horizontally and/or vertically relative to one another, and that these mini-games could be broken up into four general categories based on two binaries: possessing explicit predefined rules of play or not, and possessing explicit predefined victory conditions or not. The more I thought about this second part, though, the more incoherent it became.

-Let's start simple. Does combat have an explicit, predefined victory condition?
-Yes, of course. Kill the other guy.
-But what if I'm content with just escaping alive, or want to incapacitate but not kill the other guy?
-Okay, fine, so the victory condition is escape, or kill, or incapacitate, or convince you're friendly or worthy, or some related condition, or possibly several of the above, depending on the situation.
-But if it's so variable, is it really predefined?
-I suppose we could define victory as not dying.
-But that hardly sounds like victory. And not dying but being kidnapped would likely be seen as a bad result.

And so on. So I scrapped that theory. Another reason for scrapping it was the difficulty in explaining why different mini-games end up in different categories, even if we assume we can successfully categorize. This came up when I looked at combat and saving throws. I had these both categorized as "clear victory conditions, explicit rules of play." Let's compare the two.

*Combat takes a non-trivial period of time, and has elements of player skill.*A saving throw requires a trivial period of time, and has no elements of player skill.

These two both have clear rules, both have a clear victory condition (even if it's not predefined by the mechanics). Why this difference? Combat is capable of mapping in interesting ways, with an endless array of choices that can influence outcome. Who do you target first, which spells do you use, which weapons do you use? Saving throws don't map so well. Succumbing to poison or not, dodging the blast or not, resisting magic or not: these ultimately are discrete binaries. There is less capacity for building on them in interesting ways. Even if you come up with clever strategies ("I didn't jump away randomly, I jumped behind the statue so it would protect me from the blast"), you will need either an endless number of tailored rules to make each of these situations interesting, or you will need a single unifying mechanic that allows you to resolve any one of these situations. And that mechanic is a saving throw.

So what's the point of this? Well, it helps me frame my thoughts about mechanics when adjudicating situations at the table where the rules aren't clear. Is the situation more like combat, where an elaborate (though not necessarily as elaborate; combat is regularly life-or-death where other situations might not be) mechanic with elements of player choice is appropriate? Or is it more like saving throws, where the excitement is in crossing your fingers and rolling some dice?

Next post, I will try to apply this to a chase mechanic.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Thoughts on d100 classes, and a Performer class

So Zak Smith's d100 class system is really, really good. I've personally played as or GMed for an Alice, Barbarian, Thief, Wizard, Ranger, and Paladin, and had a great time with all of them. One of the things that I like about it is how well it conveys setting and tone. A generic OSR M-U or fighter doesn't do this, which is a good thing. Part of the beauty of the OSR classes is how simple they are, such that a magic user can be whatever kind of magic user you want, and a fighter can be a hired hand, a noble warrior, a soldier, or anything in between. But, if you do have a specific idea of what a class looks like in mind, especially if it is inspired by certain source material(s), I think the d100 system is great for a number of related reasons:
  • It allows for character abilities that would be difficult to place in a game as part of a standardized level progression chart. Results 72, 79, 87, and 100 on the Wizard table are some of the many good examples of this. How on earth could you put "there's a magic item that is largely of your design within 4 sessions of adventure" on a standardized progression chart? What level would that be appropriate for? If characters could pick that result (or 77-78, the "don't die" result, from the Paladin table), why wouldn't they pick it all the time? Randomization grants these types of abilities in the fairest possible way.
  • Though a d100 class will likely be thematically more developed than the standard classes, actual character progression is highly random. This means that: (1) they are harder to predictably power game; (2) given two characters of the same class, you are are likely to see development in significantly different directions while still having both characters be recognizable not just as a general class (like fighter), but as a specific archetype (like barbarian, ranger, or paladin); and (3) there's less concern about balance, both in designing and playing these classes. 
  • It creates results that are usable in interesting ways, encouraging creativity and problem solving. Normal fighter progression is a straight line from "hit hard" to "hit really hard." The 84-86 result on the d100 Fighter chart, though, gives the fighter an extra round to prepare for the fight, which can be used in any number of ways. I think maybe the best example of this, however, is 97 for thieves. This result is kind of metagame-y without being obnoxious (looking at you, every viable 3.x combat feat ever); makes players think about the scope of the game as a whole, and the world they occupy; gives players an ability that is very useful to the whole party, but that is also a problem to solve ("Do we want to have a black market dealer in the Elven Fortress, or a seller of secrets from the City of Depraved Wizards?"); expands the game's world without introducing story gaming elements that may or may not be appropriate for your table; creates fodder for plot hooks. In short, this ability is fucking fantastic for the players and the GM.
  • It allows for abilities directly inspired by source material without running into problems with balancing character progression (see above). Take for example the riddle scene from The Hobbit. Pretty awesome, right? But my players don't want to go around riddling, they want to get adventure. And if I force the players to play a riddle game, they'll probably get bored pretty fast. But if I add an ability that says "once per session you can gamble an item for something of equal value with an NPC on a riddle (must be sensible and fair; use your common sense). You ask a riddle, and the GM has 1 (or 2, or 5, or whatever) minutes to come up with the answer. if the NPC answers it correctly, she gets your item. If not, you get the NPC's item." This is probably not the greatest example of an ability, but you get the idea.
Now obviously it's possible to implement those kinds of benefits in any kind of game or character advancement system, but the d100 system seems to work particularly well. If you haven't tried using one of those classes, I recommend it. And if you ever are designing a class for use at your table, consider whether a d100 class might not be the best way to do it. Speaking of which...



After long use and many vanquished foes, Danika the Paladin, one of the characters at my table, has died. RIP. I was asked to write a new class, which is based loosely on vaudeville performers and classic swashbucklers. Idea inspiration also came a bit from a post I read somewhere about treating the illusionist class not as a M-U specializing in illusions, but as a thief variant with minor magical abilities. I seem to have lost that post, so if you know which one I'm talking about let me know so I can give due credit! Anyways, here's my take on a vaudeville/rogue/swashbuckler/ne'er-do-well d100 class.

The Performer

The Performer gains hit points and levels as per a specialist/thief, and begins with level 1 thief saves. The class begins being skilled* at dex-based athletics, sleight of hand, and stealth. These abilities can't be used if wearing armor heavier than leather. Every level, including 1, roll twice on the following table and gain the written ability.

*I use Skills: The Middle Road as a skill system. Whatever your skill system is, it should be fairly easy to divide a skill up into four general tiers: untrained, skilled, expert, and master. Use whatever works for you.

Like this, but with more knives
1-20: Improve saves by 1.
21-35: Jack of All Trades. You may take any one untrained skill to the skilled level. If all skills are at the skilled level, then take a skill from the skilled level to the expert level. If all skills are at the expert level, ignore this result.
36-37: Spend enough time running from police, and eventually you figure out how they get so good at hitting your friends. +1 to hit.
38: Hanging out with the fighter has paid off. +1 to damage with light weapons.
39-40: Sometimes magic tricks aren't just tricks. Pick a spell from the following list. You can now cast this spell once per day. Rerolling this result lets you pick another spell, or cast a spell you already picked one additional time per day.
1. Change Self
2. Enlarge
3. Faerie Fire
4. Feather Fall
5. Invisibility
6. Light/Darkness
7. Magic Mouth
8. Mirror Image
9. Phantom Sounds
10. Ventriloquism
41-42: "I use one of those in my act. It's not really magic, it's a simple mechani- oh, it is magic." Any time you encounter a magic item, you can make a roll under int check to identify its use. Reroll this result and you get a +1 bonus to your int check, then +2, etc.
43: +1 to dexterity, up to max. Additional rolls go into charisma, then intelligence.
44-45: “Did she just pull a rabbit from that guy's hat?” Once per day, you can instantly move any rabbit-sized or smaller object on your person to any spot within 30 feet without anyone noticing. Reroll this result and you can do this twice a day, then three times, etc.
46-47: Those knives seem to be everywhere at once! +1 bonus to AC when wielding light weapons.
48-49: Expert juggler. You can wield three light weapons. Make three attack rolls at a -2 penalty and take the best roll. Reroll this result and the penalty becomes -1. Reroll this a third time and there is no penalty. Ignore subsequent rerolls.
50-51: “So you see, officer…” once per day, you can tell an at least semi-plausible lie to any humanoid or demi-human, or a group thereof. All who hear the lie must save or believe you entirely. Hostile creatures or others inclined to disbelieve you receive a +4 bonus to their saves. Reroll this result and saves to disbelieve are at -1, then -2, etc.
52-53: "I have one of those in my bag." Forgot to pack a rope? Not to worry. Once per day, you can pull any single mundane item from your bag of tricks. It must be able to fit, so no you can’t have a 50’ ladder in your backpack. Reroll this result and you can do this an additional time per day.
54-55: “Oh, this? It's just an old ruby-colored, ruby-shaped stone I found.” Once per day, you can disguise any carried item as a mundane object within 50% of the size of the first object. This will fool the five senses of anyone who doesn't have at least one full turn to study the object. Magic items will still detect as magic. Reroll this result, and you can suppress a magic aura (M-Us must make a save if attempting to detect magic, or the item will detect as mundane). Reroll a third time, and you can suppress a magic aura perfectly. Ignore subsequent results.
56: A quick jaunt through the shadow plane. Once per day, you can teleport from an area of shadow to any other shadow within 30' as a move action. Reroll this result and you can do this twice a day, then three times, etc.
57-58: "Did I say traveling performer? I meant religious missionary." Once per day, you may force any single NPC to reroll a reaction roll. Reroll this result, and you can do this twice a day, then three times, etc.
59-60: “Uh... let's try that trick one more time.” Once a week, you can reroll any one roll you make. You must take the second result. Reroll this result, and you can do this twice a week, then three times, etc.
61-62: Cartwheels are the best way to avoid fireballs. If you succeed by 4 or more (or get a natural 20) on a save against AOE effects where success would normally cause half damage, you instead take no damage. Reroll this result, and any successful save causes no damage. Reroll a third time, and a failed save causes half damage. Ignore subsequent rerolls.
63-64: Cartwheels are also the best way to avoid being stabbed. Instead of attacking in combat, you can assume a defensive posture, granting +4 to AC. Each additional reroll increases the AC bonus by 2.
65-66: Misdirection is the key to a good performer’s act. Once per day for up to one hour, you can make yourself perfectly silent, and invisible as per the M-U spell Invisibility. During this time you also leave no tracks, even in mud or snow. This is not the result of magic, and so you will not be revealed by a detect invisibility or detect magic spell. You are merely supernaturally talented at drawing the eye away from relevant clues. Reroll this result, and the invisibility is now as the spell Improved Invisibility. Ignore subsequent rerolls.
67: Gymnast. You move gracefully and lithely. You can move through difficult or occupied terrain without penalty. If your game uses attacks of opportunity, opponents make them at a -4 penalty. If your game doesn’t use attacks of opportunity, then you (and only you) get to make them anyways. Every time this result is rerolled, opponents’ Attack of Opportunity penalty increases by 2/you make attacks of opportunity at a cumulative +2 bonus.
68: Acrobat. You can climb at a normal moving speed, and make attacks while climbing without penalty. Every time this result is rerolled, you make climb checks at a cumulative +1/+5%.
69-70: Knife-thrower. You may make ranged attacks with thrown weapons into melee without penalty. Every time you reroll this result and you may add +1 to hit or damage with thrown weapons.
71-72: The sneaky get sneakier. Improve your stealth skill to expert level. If rolled again, or if stealth is already at expert level, improve stealth to a master level. If rolled again, treat as 73-74 or 75-76. If all three skills are at master level, treat this at 21-35.
73-74: “So I started doing dragon yoga.” Improve your athletics skill to expert level. If rolled again, or if athletics is already at expert level, improve to master level. If rolled again, treat as 71-72 or 75-76. If all three skills are at master level, treat this as 21-35.
75-76: “The five finger discount just got better.” Improve your sleight of hand skill to expert level.  If rolled again, or if sleight of hand is already at expert level, improve to master level. If rolled again, treat as 71-72 or 73-74. If all three skills are at master level, treat this as 21-35.
77-78: Your foot is in the way! During combat, you can make a roll under dex check to trip an otherwise-occupied human-sized or smaller enemy. This ability only works once per fight, unless an enemy for some reason would not be aware of the tripping, or is mindless. Reroll this result and the trip deals d4 damage, then d6, then d8, then d10...
79: I performed for the Duke once. A nobleperson of some prestige in a city of your choice owes you a favor. You may call on this favor once, and the nobleperson will perform it to the best of his/her ability. Reroll this result, and you can call on another favor.
80: “Don't worry, I know a guy.” You gain a number of underworld contacts equal to your level, with a new one each time you level up. These can be in any city or cluster of cities you want. They each have one specific use: black market, information gathering, reliable thugs, etc. You can save a contact and use it later (e.g. you know you're heading to a new city soon, so you save one contact to make sure you have a black market connection to fence stolen goods). Reroll this result, and you gain an additional contact for every two levels. Reroll a third time, and you instead have two contacts per level. Ignore subsequent results.
81-82: A good offense is never being seen. Your sneak attack (or backstab, or whatever you want to call it) multiplier goes up by one, up to system max. Ignore this result once you reach system max.
83: Death-defying stunts? No sweat. If you spend a round preparing, you may avoid death or an equally miserable fate once. This only works for you; your allies are out of luck. Every time this result is rerolled, you may do this one additional time.
84-85: Forgery can get you far in life. Once per day, you can imitate the handwriting of anyone whose handwriting you are familiar with. This will fool anyone who does not have special reason to examine the writing closely or suspect forgery. Anyone who suspects must make a successful intelligence check (modified by familiarity with the handwriting) or still be fooled.
86-87: "Pay attention to me, I'm performing!" As a combat action, you may perform in order to draw enemies' attention towards you. Any opponents who see/hear your performance must save vs. paralysis or focus all their attention on killing you.
88-89: "I think I performed here once." Any time you encounter a culture or region for the first time, make a roll under int check. If successful, you are familiar with the region and its customs.
90-91: Dodge. If you are attacked in a round that you spent doing nothing but dodging and the opponent misses, they miss horribly. They lose a number of attacks from their next combat round up to your level. This only works once per combat unless the target is mindless. Reroll this result and you can use this twice per combat, then three times, etc.
92: You were told of this place, and the treasures it holds. The Mirror of Balt the Magnificent, the Dagger of Eyes, Merick's Bag of Tricks? It's there. 4 sessions of adventure away or less. If the party fails to obtain it, roll a separate result on this table. If the item is subsequently obtained, the separately rolled result is lost.
93: "It’s just like the gypsy woman said." One time, when things look dire, you have 30 seconds to explain a semi-plausible contingency you had prepared for just this situation. Then, make a  roll under int check. If successful, the contingency was prepared. The ability is not lost until a check is successful. Reroll this result again and you can have a second contingency.
94: "I do that trick in my act." Once per day, you can guarantee the success of a dexterity-based athletics check (no arm wrestling or hauling massive amounts of weight). This must be something that is humanly possible, at least by D&D standards. Reroll this result and you can use this twice a day, then three times, etc.
95: "What a nice youn- where's my wallet?" Once per day, if you get close to an unsuspecting person for a non-trivial period of time, you can guarantee the success of a pickpocket check. If the target suspects you, you instead receive a 20% (or 1/6) bonus to your pickpocket check. Rerolling this result means you can use it twice a day, then three times, etc.
96: “Can I have a volunteer from the audience?” You are particularly charming when asking for favors. Once per day you can charm a neutral or friendlier NPC with HD equal to ½ your level (rounded up) or fewer. This effect is not magical, and grants no save. The charmed NPC will respond favorably to any requests that don’t go against its nature. The effect will wear off 1d6 turns after the NPC leaves your presence, or if it is asked to do something against its nature. If rerolled, the HD limit of the target increases by one. This ability will never work on a creature with more HD than you have levels.
97: One of the nice things about working in music halls is you run into all kinds of people. You've learned how to interact with the social elite. +1/+5% to reaction or CHR checks with nobility, aristocracy, etc. Reroll this result and the bonus becomes +2, then +3, etc.
98: One of the bad things about working in music halls is you are constantly poor. You've learned how to interact with bums, thieves, and other social mistfits. +1/+5% to reaction or CHR checks with the lower classes.
99: Actors are sexy. +1/+5% bonus to reaction rolls with anyone inclined to be attracted to someone of your species/gender combo. Every time you reroll this, the bonus increases by 1, but you start suffering a cumulative -1/-5% penalty to reaction rolls with potential sexual competitors.
100: Your assistant seems to know exactly what your trick needs to get that extra oomph, and your rabbit always pops out of the hat at just the right time. You gain an exceptionally - though not supernaturally - intelligent, and perfectly loyal, animal companion or hireling of 2HD. If this result is rerolled and your hireling/companion is still alive, they gain one HD. Otherwise, gain a new hireling/companion.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Why the Dead Walk

Undead need a reason. Otherwise, they would just be dead. In classic ghost stories, this is something that was left undone, something that couldn’t be accomplished in life or a need for revenge. For zombies, it's a gluttonous desire to consume. In D&D, it’s… desire to kill the PCs, I guess? Undead play a large role in my home campaign (thanks in large part to Death Frost Doom), and they are fun villains. What GM doesn’t like throwing level drain, paralysis, sleep-immune hordes at her players? But the undead mostly end up just being “the bad guys.” So with the hopes of spicing up my own game a bit, here are some variations on undead, focusing mostly on their reason to be.




Reasons She's Undead, Instead of Regular Dead

  1. She was a scrawny wizard-in-training growing up at Conan Elementary School. All the taunting for being puny wizard surrounded by big strong warrior man made her literally die of shame. Now she’s a needy ghost who just wants a hug, but, being a ghost and all…
    1. Or, now she’s a hostile, rude skeleton wizard who hates all warriors and whose absurd bravado covers up real self-esteem issues caused by the bullying.
  2. Like the zombies from Night of the Living Dead, she’s a metaphor for capitalism. Only it’s not really subtle because she actually just really wants treasure. Willing to spare everyone (except maybe that tasty-looking hireling) if they’ll give her their treasure.
  3. Her spirit was too lazy or scared to make the trip to the plane where dead souls go. Now it’s been so long that she’s forgotten how. So she sits around elaborating on her Rube Goldberg dungeon, killing adventurers. When you’ve got eternity, you need to do something to stay entertained. And the dead adventurers who stick around usually make good company.
  4. “I’m still alive, actually. What’s that? Am I sure? Yes. Of course. …Why? Is there something on my face?”
  5. She was resurrected to serve as a guard, or part of some immortal necromantic army. This is a boring result and probably a boring unlife for her. So she’d probably be happy to see her magical bondage end.
  6. She belongs to a cyclical species. Any time someone from the village aboveground dies and is buried, her corpse rises 3 days later to join the undead cult below ground. Anytime a rude adventurer kills one of the zombies below, a human woman above becomes pregnant. Not surprisingly, there are some weird age disparities in this area.
  7. She was a chef of great unparalleled skill and ego, and claimed to be able to make even dragon meat taste good. Cullos, God of the Culinary Arts, cursed her for her hubris. Now she can’t rest until she actually manages to prepare a meal using dragon meat that tastes good. Killing the dragon is the easy part.
    1. Or she was part of an adventurous eater’s club with tastes too out there for society to handle, so they hid in this underground dungeon, eating strange foods that mutated their flesh and preserved life beyond death.
  8. Like Countess Elizabeth Bathory, she bathed in the blood of virgins as part of a dark ritual to preserve her youth. Also like Bathory, it didn’t quite work as she had hoped. Now hideously deformed and rotten from centuries of life, she requires ever-more blood for her bath to prevent further deterioration of her body.
  9. She was cursed to die in childbirth. Learning of this while pregnant, she had the baby killed to preserve her own life, and forsook all thoughts of motherhood. Now she is old enough to desire death, but it will not come until she nurses child.
  10. She is infected with a hyper-intelligent fungus that feeds on rot. Now her deteriorating body sustains the parasitic intruder that sustains her in a gross symbiotic mockery of life.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

A Witch class for LotFP

One of my players chugged a reincarnation potion shortly before dying, and got the "pick your new class" result. He said witch, so I decided to write a witch class. It's dumb and mostly pretty derivative. A lot of ideas and spells were either heavily inspired by or directly lifted from Zak S, Courtney C, LotFP obviously, this awesome list of spells by Adam T, uh... some of the familiars came from middenmurk I'm pretty sure. Credit where credit is due, in a general sense.

House rules: I use the Skills: The Middle Road system, and the death and dismemberment rules hosted on Courtney's site. I also use Courtney's spellcasting bell curve for M-U and cleric, but not witch. These things are not necessary.

My goal was to make a class that was thematically consistent and had interesting utility. I was too lazy to check for bad spelling or good formatting or overwrought melodramatic writing, so...

The Witch


Orson Welles did this.




LEVEL
EXP
HP
Paralyze
Poison
Breath
Device
Magic
1
0
1d6
12
13
17
13
15
2
2,500
+1d6
12
13
17
13
15
3
5,000
+1d6
12
13
17
13
15
4
10,000
+1d6
12
13
17
13
15
5
20,000
+1d6
10
11
15
11
13
6
40,000
+1d6
10
11
15
11
13
7
80,000
+1d6
10
11
15
11
13
8
160,000
+1d6
10
11
15
11
13
9
320,000
+1d6
8
8
13
9
10
10
480,000
+2*
8
8
13
9
10
11
640,000
+2*
8
8
13
9
10
12
800,000
+2*
8
8
13
9
10
13
960,000
+2*
4
6
9
6
7
14
1,120,000
+2*
4
6
9
6
7
15
1,280,000
+2*
4
6
9
6
7
16
1,440,000
+2*
4
6
9
6
7
17
1,600,000
+2*
3
4
7
5
6
18
1,760,000
+2*
3
4
7
5
6
19
1,920,000
+2*
3
4
7
5
6
20
2,080,000
+2*
3
4
7
5
6
*Constitution mod no longer applies





SPELLS PER LEVEL:


Caster Level
Level 1*
Level 2
Level 3
Level 4
Level 5
Level 6
Level 7
Level 8
Level 9
1
1
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
2
2
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
3
2
1
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
4
2
2
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
5
2
2
1
-
-
-
-
-
-
6
2
2
2
-
-
-
-
-
-
7
3
2
2
1
-
-
-
-
-
8
3
3
2
2
-
-
-
-
-
9
3
3
3
2
1
-
-
-
-
10
3
3
3
2
2
-
-
-
-
11
4
3
3
3
2
-
-
-
-
12
4
4
3
3
2
1
-
-
-
13
4
4
4
3
3
2
-
-
-
14
4
4
4
4
3
2
1
-
-
15
5
4
4
4
3
2
2
-
-
16
5
5
4
4
4
3
2
1
-
17
5
5
5
5
4
3
2
2
-
18
5
5
5
5
4
3
3
2
1
19
6
5
5
5
5
4
3
2
2
20
6
6
5
5
5
4
3
3
2
*I like to grant one additional level 1 spell slot if the caster's prime req score is 13+. Also the "spells per level" values are kind of somewhere in between the LotFP and B/X values.



The witch class casts spells by expending spirit energy. Spells are not lost upon casting. Instead, whenever a witch casts a spell, she rolls a number of d6 spirit dice equal to the spell level, and suffers that much damage (e.g. a witch casting geas would take 6d6 damage). A witch may choose to roll additional dice when casting a spell. For each additional die rolled in this way, the target's save is reduced by 1. This can be used in conjunction with other casters' spells as a full round's action.* A witch cannot cast spells when wearing armor heavier than leather.

*This whole spellcasting system is designed with the hope that it is not outclassed by the bell curve system, but also plays in a different manner. If my game used straight Vancian magic, I would definitely consider using that system instead of this spirit damage thing.

Witches begin at level 1 knowing Summon Familiar and three randomly determined level 1 spells. Each time a witch gains a level, she learns one random spell for each new spell slot she gains. If a witch wishes to learn a new spell, she must spend one week per spell level consuming a hallucinogenic tea. This tea costs 250sp* per week of use, and can be made with common (but expensive) ingredients found in any city.
*Assuming you use a silver standard, of course.

If she desires, a witch may choose to roll any number of d6 quickening dice when casting a spell. On a result of 9+, the spell will go off instantly at the beginning of the round. Otherwise, the spell goes off at the witch's initiative order. If a witch uses quickening dice, she takes damage equal to ½ the result of the quickening roll, regardless of its success or failure. If two or more dice come up as 1, there is a spell fumble. If two or more dice come up as 6, there is a spell surge. If two or more dice come up as the same number from 2 through 5, there is a wild surge.*
*This rule also assumes that you are using Courtney's bell curve system. If you are, you might consider limiting the number of quickening dice available. Probably use the same rules as M-U an cleric use to determine how many dice are available.

Witches begin at level 1 being skilled in alchemy. Witches automatically know the recipe to create any potion that mimics a witch spell effect, and receive a +1 bonus on alchemy checks to create such potions. A witch requires a cauldron to engage in alchemy.

A note to myself: fitting all the level-appropriate spells into a rollable quantity of spells is tough, but a witch should probably have Speak with Animals available. Maybe make it available as a separate ability 3 times a day as a roll-under-CHR check? Or remove a spell? Fog has I think a nice imagery for a witch, but perhaps Wall of Fog doesn't communicate this as well.


SPIRIT DAMAGE DEATH AND DISMEMBERMENT RESULTS

If you use Courtney's thing...


  1. (no entry)
  2. Your spirit brushes up to an otherworldly presence. It marks you. Scar in a place of the player’s choosing.
  3. Drawing so much from the spirits causes you to lose focus on the material world. Drop anything held.
  4. A sharpness is felt as something tugs at your spirit. Pain 1.
  5. A glimpse of a spirit’s true face leaves you dazed for 1 round.
  6. Energy crackles from the nearby plants and animals, striking you. Make dex check to remain standing. Bleed 1.
  7. The drain on your spirit ages you prematurely. Age 2d4 years.
  8. You breathe in deep, accidentally inhaling some of the volatile ambient magic. You are stunned for 1 round.
  9. Wild energies cause spontaneous and unexpected polymorphing. Though you end up in your own body, the experience is painful and disorienting. You are dazed for 1d4 rounds. Pain 2.
  10. Your body cannot hold all the excess energy, and it breaks free, crackling and burning along your skin. You have first-degree burns. Roll 1d6. 1: left arm. 2: right arm. 3: left leg. 4: right leg. 5: chest and torso. 6: head. 1d4 pain.
  11. With no spirit energy left, you draw from your own life force to complete the spell. -2 Strength. Pain 2.
  12. The pain of drawing on such deep reservoirs of spirit is overwhelming. First Aid: act as if under the effects of a confusion spell. 1d4 pain.
  13. A bolt of spirit energy rises from the ground. You throw up your hands to block it instinctively. Drop anything held. First aid: arm is useless. Pain 3.
  14. One of the spirits called upon thinks you look like a good vessel, forcing a mental struggle in order to retain control of yourself, leaving you physically helpless and wracked with violent convulsions. Stunned for 1d4 rounds. Bleed 1. Pain 1.
  15. Your ears are ringing with the whispers of spirits as they claw at your psyche. First Aid: deaf. Pain 2.
  16. Your eyes roll up in the back of your head uncontrollably, and your mouth begins to foam. First Aid: blind. Pain 3.
  17. Your body is weakened and twisted as you draw from what little energy you have remaining. -1d3 constitution. Pain 1d4.
  18. Your arm withers to nothing, a tribute for the spirits you call. Roll 1d6. 1-3 you lose your hand. 4-5 you lose our arm from the elbow down. 6 your entire arm is lost. -1d4 dexterity. Pain 1d4.
  19. Your leg goes limp, then searing agony as all life leaves it forever. Movement speed halved. Dexterity is halved. Pain 3.
  20. Near death experience, as your spirit is dragged briefly from your body. First Aid: you are stunned. Save vs. death or fall dead. Pain 1d4.
  21. Your body bursts into flame, inflicting horrible wounds. Third degree burns. First aid: sickened. Save vs. death or die from shock. Pain 1d4.
  22. Your spirit is almost completely drained from the magic. Max HP drops by 2d6. Age 25 years. Dazed for 1d4 rounds.
  23. Your spirit is pulled into the aether. Your body is left hollow and functionless as your spirit tries to find its way back. You are comatose for 1 week. -1d4 intelligence, -1d4 wisdom.
  24. Your spirit is drained completely of power, leaving you with nothing left to live. Although your body still functions, your soul is lost forever.
  25. The spirits of nature, invisible to the untrained eye, are drawn to the sudden surge of power surrounding you as hyenas to a corpse. As they devour your spirit, you release a blood-curdling scream. Your allies look on in horror as you writhe from nothing, then collapse dead. All allies in area must save vs. paralysis or be dazed for 1 round.
  26. Your flesh slowly disappears into bits of light as the energy consumes your flesh, killing you in 1d4 rounds.
  27. Unnatural weather patterns coalesce around the energy. You are struck directly by lightning, killing you instantly. Anyone adjacent to you takes 2d10 lightning damage and is stunned (save to avoid).
  28. Your body bursts into flame as the energy consumes you. Even if the material flames are put out, the fire consuming your spirit burns much hotter. Your last thought before death is relief that the pain will soon be over.
  29. Your body explodes in a mist of energy, leaving scattered remains in a 20’ radius.
  30. Greedy spirits compete for dominion over your soul. Your face develops a slack, confused expression shortly before you collapse dead.
  31. Your flesh and muscle are consumed as the energy washes over you, leaving nothing but a skeleton sterilized by the heat. Incidentally, the bones of a witch killed in this way are highly sought after for rare alchemical experiments. All mundane equipment is lost. Magical items have a 30% chance of being lost.
  32. Your body contorts from the influx of energy, twisting in impossible ways as it gradually turns itself inside out. Mundane worn equipment is lost. Worn magical items have a 33% chance of being lost.
  33. The energy you consume is controlled, after a fashion. A smile crosses your lips as the spirit departs for the realm of the fey, no longer concerned with problems of flesh.
  34. A twitch of the eye is the only warning before your body melts into an unrecognizable goop. Gear may be destroyed by this as well. 80% chance for mundane gear, 40% chance for magic items.
  35. One of the spirits seeking your soul has proven more resilient than the rest. Though your body lives on, the spirit that occupies it can no longer be said to be your own. Your own consciousness watches as a prisoner, seeing through eyes and feeling with a body that you no longer control.
  36. Total conversion as your body and everything you are holding becomes pure energy. The entity once called you ceases to be.
  37. 36+ as 36.