Jan 21, 2015

Necrocarcerus Update Preview

I'm still finishing the Necrocarcerus House Rules Document v. 1.2. It's substantially done, except for one section on Morale, a rewrite of the Nepenthe section, some additional entries on the gear table, and some additional talents.

Rather than leave everyone waiting, I thought I would release a pdf version of the current document - call it Necrocarcerus v. 1.19 with the holes there. A lot of the changes between 1.1 and 1.2 are the result of playtesting versions 1.0 and 1.1, filling in gaps, rewording unclear parts, or just plain changing things that weren't working as intended.

Version 1.1 is 749KB as a pdf, with about 28 pages of content. It's also no longer under the OGL, which I only did with 1.1 to cover myself legally. As it currently stands, everything in Necrocarcerus that is my own work is free for you to use as you please, so long as you don't assign some weird copyright license restriction thing to it yourself. This means basically the entire document except for a handful of names of things (books, classes, gods, worlds). I don't really care if you attribute it to me or whatever (though it would stoke my ego).

The changes are too long to list here. I'll point to a few of the ones I consider more important that derived from playtesting though, if only to explain the logic of them.

Stat bonuses don't add to skill checks anymore. This was to encourage situational bonus grubbing (aka engaging with the world) over whichever character had the highest stat making the roll.

Removed the Listening skill and added my perception system instead, which was based on a suggestion by Chris H after a few sessions where we were trying to figure out how to handle these situations.

Chase rules and some rules for grappling. The latter two come from a situation in which the PCs grappled with a wood elemental (unsuccessfully) and then got chased around by some paladins from one of the living worlds. The chase rules that ended up in the Necrocarcerus document are more concise than the original blog post, and have one major change: Rolling a "7" now allows melee, while merely matching dice means only missile exchanges.

Rules for summoning and binding creatures, since one of the characters is a weirdomancer who can summon elementals and elementines regularly, and does. This has had the effect of trivialising a few fights. I realised I had missed a section in the Swords and Wizardry Complete rulebook where it mentions such creatures are unwilling servants that require constant attention, and wanted to figure out a way to represent that mechanically. I didn't want to gank summoning, but I did want to put a few clear constraints on treating elementals as essentially 8/12/16HD NPCs who are friendly, intelligent, and superpowered who show up to help the party.

Added the Focus and Animal Handling skills. I figured I needed something to govern caring for, healing, etc. animals as horselikes and other beasts became more prominent in the game. The Focus skill is a revival of a long-held interest of mine, a variation on the idea of "Fatigue Saves". Want to do something boring and tedious but that will succeed given a long enough period of unrelenting exertion? That's the focus skill.

There's also a ton of tiny typo fixes, which I'm still working through (I caught a few just after uploading 1.19). I also ended up rearranging the order of sections so they make a little more logical sense (I hope).

I'm tremendously interested in feedback, comments, and criticism of the document, so feel free to chime in with your impressions of it.

Jan 19, 2015

Read Magic: Non-Spell Methods

I propose that Read Magic ought not to be a spell, but a skill that spellcasters have. Read Magic is almost always a sub-optimal choice to memorise, especially if casters can't cast scrolls with spells of higher level than they can memorise. At best, you are trading out one spell for another (on a scroll). There are some downtime uses for it, and some extremely uncommon edge cases where it might be handy, but it is almost always going to be the worst choice of all the spells a caster can memorise.

The main hindrance on Read Magic being memorised is the overall scarcity of spell slots. So by removing it from costing a spell slot (by turning it into a skill), we remove the main factor discouraging its use.

Here are several proposals for using Read Magic as various kinds of skills, depending on your preference.

Spellcasters have an equivalent chance to read magic as a Thief of equivalent level does to Hear Noise. (e.g. starting at 3-in-6 and increasing in Swords & Wizardry Complete)

Roll 5+ on your Decipher skill to read magical texts.

"Magical Writing" is a language. PCs who take it as a starting language may decipher spellbooks, scrolls, etc. using their % Chance to Learn New Spell. Arcane, Divine, Druidic, etc. may be separate languages as you please.

I use a combination of the last two proposals.. The first one requires the least work on the part of referees, and will probably be amenable to people who are using systems without skills and who are looking for a simple solution with a minimum of die rolling.

In Necrocarcerus, you may learn the "Magic" language, which allows you to read spellbooks, scrolls, and other magic writing of any origin without a roll. If one doesn't speak or read a language, one can use the Decipher roll. In practice, PC wizards tend to pick up the "Magic" language, while non-wizards characters will usually have to make a Decipher roll. PC languages are set by intelligence, so wizards tend to know the greatest number of languages, while skills are broadly equivalent across classes. This means that having a wizard in the party allows one to easily interpret magical writing, while without one (a rare occurrence in Necrocarcerus but admittedly possible), one is left relying on chance. I like the feeling of this.

Jan 13, 2015

A Proposal for Routs

I've yet to find a system in D&D for running away from fights that I really like. Here are paraphrases of the major options found in old school D&D:

1) Compare speeds of the slowest character fleeing with those of the fastest character pursuing. If the fleeing characters are faster, they get away. If they are slower, they must drop treasure, rations, or equipment to slow the pursuers down.

2) Roll some dice (a d20, 2d6, whatever) for each side and add the speed of the slowest party member in each case. If the fleeing characters roll higher, they get away. Otherwise, the monsters can attack them.

3) Each character rolls some dice when they run, which variably extends their movement. If the fleeing characters can stay ahead of their opponents for some set period of time, they escape. Otherwise, the pursuers catch them and they must begin fleeing all over anew.

There are some alternates of each of these which vary the details slightly, but the basics are still one of: Straight comparison, variable movement & roll high.There are elements of each of these systems that I like, but I generally find that their feel in practice is the wrong mix of agency, chaos and time for what I want in a system governing routs.

I propose a system governing routs should have minimal decision making in it, and lots of chance, that it should take more than a single roll or decision to determine whether the PCs get away, and that it should have an indeterminate end point. Ideally, it should also be quick to resolve any given roll, with serious but not necessarily decisive consequences for for failure (the monsters should not automatically kill the PCs if they fail to successfully flee).

With this in mind, I propose the following system for routs. It relies on the Necrocarcerus system of encumbrance (which uses four categories: Unencumbered, lightly encumbered, heavily encumbered, and overloaded).

1) A chase roll starts as a roll of 2d6. Each side in a chase will make a chase roll each round.

2) Pursuers and fugitives may split up from other pursuers and fugitives, respectively. This allows them to make separate chase rolls.

3) Compare the die values of each chase roll with the others. If they match, then those characters or groups have come in contact long enough to conduct a single round of melee combat. If there are multiple available groups to attack, the pursuers may choose which they attack (all groups with matching values are considered to be present though). At the start of the next round, both sides make chase rolls again.

e.g. The pursuers roll a 1 and a 5, and the fugitives roll a 2 and a 5, the pursuers may attack the fugitives that round. If one set of fugitives had rolled 2 and 5, and another set had rolled 3 and 4, only the first group could be attacked. If the first set of fugitives had rolled 2 and 5, and the second had rolled 5 and 6, the pursuers could choose either or both to attack (provided they had sufficient attacks to distribute).

4) If the pursuers roll a "7", then they catch sight of the fugitives long enough to make ranged attacks (if they have them). If the fugitives roll a "7" then they have ducked out of sight long enough to hide (either making a Stealth check or Hide in Shadows check) and the pursuers must spot them using their passive perception in order to continue chasing them.

5) Each category of encumbrance above Unencumbered adds an extra d6 to a fugitive's chase roll. Characters may drop gear to lighten their encumbrance load.

6) Groups leave the chase when one side or the other's chase roll comes up with all the die values the same. i.e. Doubles if they are rolling 2d6, triples if they are rolling 3d6, etc. Fugitives successfully escape, while pursuers have cornered their victims and ordinary combat resumes without the possibility of escape. Ties go to the fugitives. If there are multiple groups of fugitives, each group must successfully escape on its own. A single pursuer chase roll can only corner one group.

7) Chases also end when the pursuers decide to break off the chase, or when all the fugitives are hidden.

Jan 11, 2015

A Final Few Touches

Version 1.2 of the Necrocarcerus House Rules Document is nearly complete. I reduced the average font size to 11, but it's still bigger than 1.1, and is currently sitting at 27 pages. Before I issue it, I'm hoping to get some inspiration for the few outstanding sections I need to complete:

1) Chasing & fleeing rules
2) Summoning creatures
3) A redo of the nepenthe section
4) A light rewrite of the initiative & combat round order chart

Changes are going to be pretty extensive, I've been playtesting stuff with the Necrocarcerus group, rewriting sections that seem to cause confusion, adding material, and coming up with stuff to fill gaps in Swords & Wizardry.

Additional material includes:

Grappling rules
Perception rules
Movement rules
More gear (duct tape, film for cameras!)
More talents
Additional rules on money, including loans and credit
+ the above mentioned sections still undergoing development

There's also a ton of errata and little tweaks. Some long-term projects that won't be included in 1.2, but that I am slowly working towards include a rewrite of the cleric class along the lines of talysman's Clerics Without Spells idea; fatigue saves for every class in the game; incorporating research rules for talents, proficiencies and skills akin to the Crimson Pandect's spell research rules; a graft system whereby you can hack apart your body and sew on augmented bits; and eventually incorporating all the various procedures I use during the game as in full instead of links to blog posts.

In the mean time, if anyone has any good chasing or fleeing rules, let me know.

Jan 10, 2015

Perception Rules for Necrocarcerus

Here are a set of perception rules built from a suggestion by Chris H earlier today after a Necrocarcerus session that I'm planning to put some variation of into Necrocarcerus 1.2. Perception mechanics are a good example of the kind of mechanics that should be built from the basic paradigm of a group check and then adapted to situations where individuals use them. For this reason, perception should not be a skill, but rather something made easier or harder by the number of participants.


Perception mechanics cover only situations in which PCs do not specifically describe how they are investigating an object or area.

Characters who are actively hiding may be spotted by exceeding the results of their Stealth check. Objects like hidden doors have static concealment scores.

Passive Perception Scores

Passive perception is used when characters are not actively searching. The passive perception score of a group of characters is equal to the number of them who are not distracted and are able to perceive their environment (i.e. they have adequate light).

Active Perception Checks

A group of characters makes a single active perception check whenever they search an object or area. Checks may also be used for tracking enemies.

Active perception checks involve rolling a single d6 and adding the number of characters in the group who are not distracted and able to perceive their environment to the result of the roll.

Additional Material From Elsewhere in the Necrocarcerus Document:

Only areas that are adequately lit may be actively searched. If PCs have a light source in a dark area, they may only search the area or object the light source illuminates until it is moved, using an action.

Hirelings do not normally add to perception scores or checks, though named NPC allies accompanying the party do.

As Yet Undecided:

What "Hide in Shadows" does? Three options suggest themselves, varying in power:

1) On a successful Hide in Shadows check, the character counts as having rolled the maximum possible Stealth check (based on their skill, using Skills: the Middle Road). This still incentivises them to better their Stealth check, though they would rarely roll it.

2) A successful Hide in Shadows check allows a reroll of the hiding character's Stealth check, keeping the higher result of the two.

2) On a successful Hide in Shadows check, searchers use only their passive perception for the purposes of detecting the character.

I'm open to suggestions about which to adopt.

Dec 15, 2014

Old Files Now on Google Drive

The Tellian Sector, complete with map, planetary profiles, and a listing of active espionage organisations in the Tellian system itself.

Backgrounds for Moragne, my Runequest 6 / Legend / Mongoose Runequest 2 setting loosely modeled after Angevin England. Suitable for any JAFE (Just Another Fantasy Europe) setting.

My overland travel reference sheet for the Moragne campaign.

The primer for my Moragne campaign.

My potion tables for use with my alchemy rules. These are built off of procedural metapharmacology.

Iron Heartbreakers v. 1.52, my Microlite20 swords and sorcery game inspired by Iron Heroes. It's ideal if you want low or no-magic PCs.

The Necrocarcerus v. 1.1 rules document as well as a map of Necrocarcerus showing rail connections. Also, a copy of the wandering monster table for SAFE AREA DUVANOVIC, a mini-campaign setting within Necrocarcerus that I'm writing.

Dec 14, 2014

Reviews: Relics of the Lost / Engines of Babylon

I'll admit I can't figure out the numbering system for Stars Without Number supplements. Polychrome is W1, Relics of the Lost is W2, Engines of Babylon is W3, but Darkness Visible, Suns of Gold, Skyward Steel, and Dead Names are all unnumbered, as are the Mandate Archives. I've already reviewed the Mandate Archives, Darkness Visible and Polychrome, and I'll be writing reviews of Skyward Steel, Suns of Gold, and Dead Names shortly.

Relics of the Lost and Engines of Babylon are sort of a natural pairing beyond their numbering because they are both gear books for Stars Without Number. Relics of the Lost is focused on pretech (SWN's equivalent of magical items), while the core of Enginess of Babylon is the vehicle and slowboat rules, though both books have thematically overlapping sections. For the record, I think they should have been merged into a single large gear book similar to MongTraveller's Central Supply Catalogue because of the extensive thematic overlap, but I'm not too chuffed about it.

Relics of the Lost is a 32 page book with sections on weapons and armour; medical devices (mainly stims, the healing potion-equivalent in SWN); pretech consumer goods (miscellaneous magical items); robots; maltech, and some random loot generation tables to insert them into adventures. A few of the tables in it look like they were recycled, adapted or updated from The Dust, one of the Mandate Archive supplements that had the original pretech generation rules in it. Some of the information around maltech is adapted from Darkness Visible. I think the reuse of the Dust tables is fine, but the treatment of maltech is somewhat weak in Relics compared to Darkness Visible, and the treatment in Relics' maltech section veers away from the concreteness of the rest of the book's material. The maltech isn't intended for PC use, but it might be nice to provide a set of sample procedures for ghoul immortality, or a list of time-bomb devices / situations for NPC villains to have as goals.

If one wanted to avoid getting too bogged down with the mechanics, a set of tags related to each one that could be slotted into the SWN adventure-creation system would be ideal. "Roll on this table for your Allies, Enemies, Complications, Places and Things if you want to run an adventure where a ghoul immortality cult is the main villain" would be ideal, as well as being new material that wasn't in Darkness Visible. Dead Names and Engines of Babylon split the difference here (adventure material for weirdo transhumanists and concrete maltech devices, respectively), so it's unfortunate Relics doesn't. I think this might be an artifact of it originally being a stretch goal of the Stars Without Number Bundle of Holding.

Despite that complaint, the book is generally strong. Like all good gear books, it's mostly very concrete, with items statted up and variations noted. One particularly strong element of the descriptions is that they mostly list what the original use of the item was in the pretech era (the ancient galaxy-spanning technologically advanced era that precedes the default setting for SWN and justifies the existence of ruins and mysterious wonders). This helps the referee decide what kinds of gear from the book might be appropriate for different ruin locations.

 Of its sections, I liked the one on stims the most, since it took a boring but necessary component of the game (sci-fi healing potions) and provided a number of options for making them interesting. I think some of this material is recycled or adapted from Other Dust, but a lot of it is new and interesting. In particular, the stim manufacturer brands at the end of the section, complete with mechanical differentiation between them, is a nice touch.

The sections on robots and consumer items are also strong. There are eight kinds of robots listed that would be appropriate for pretech sites, and a couple are very cool and interesting, particularly the culler and the kami. The culler robots are basically murderbots that harvest your organs to make anagathic drugs, while the kami are nanite clouds that form drone to attack you.. Stats are given so that if you have an AI PC, you could have them use any of the robots as armatures. The consumer items section fills out the "miscellaneous magical items" list for SWN, and is mostly colourful, interesting and useful while being plausibly weird.

Engines of Babylon is a 41 page supplement dealing with gear. I like it a lot as a supplement, but I'm going to list one format complaint here. Both it and Dead Names have some new sans-serif font for their body text, instead of the typical font used by the rest of the line. It looks like Verdana or another screen-based font and makes them harder to read in print (at least for me). I don't know why the decision was made, but insofar as my vote counts for anything, I'd encourage the return to the old SWN body font (which looked like Aldus?). It's a minor complaint though.

The book is split into sections dealing with vehicles (including vehicle creation, vehicle operation rules, and sample vehicles; sublight or slowboat ships (including creation and operation rules); some more magical items (in general ones that are more powerful than in Relics of the Lost) and maltech devices. Despite thematic similarities in the last two sections with Relics of the Lost, the material is entirely new.

Vehicle and slowboat creation are basically variations of the starship creation and operation rules in the SWN corebook, though they have entirely new module options in both cases, including some cool pretech fittings for vehicles. The example vehicles and slowboats are pretty solid, and cover most of the common options you'd want. The slowboat section has two pages of material on using slowboats in games, including how combat between them differs combat involving spike drive-capable ships with "Quantum ECM" (SWN's handwavium for why intelligent drone-missiles don't dominate space combat, previously established in Skyward Steel and the corebook).

The section dealing with the pretech items differs a bit from Relics of the Lost in a few subtle ways. The items in Engines tend to be more powerful, but also more easily exhausted or expended than in Relics (where most items either work fine, or just need batteries). It reads like the items in Engines were designed to be either the goal or spark for an adventure, whereas most of the items in Relics feel more like "loot" you'd get during an adventure. There's also some nice work making a lot of the items here feel more like the extravagant decadences of long lost Mandate directors rather than another cool space TV.

The maltech section in Engines is nicely concrete and appropriately horrific. I particularly like the telekinetic mining equipment that floods prisoners with psychic energy at the cost of their lives and sanity while allowing an evil telekinetic to literally tear apart a world with their powers. I think it's got some interesting allegorical heft, as well as being a really interesting device to structure a set of adventures around - both while it's in the bad guy's hands as well as once it falls into the PCs. The rest of the devices are similarly interesting, including stuff to make people god-kings, destroy stars, and genetically tamper with enemies.

Broadly speaking, the difference I elaborated above between Relics and Engines is the key decision point if you're only planning to pick up one, or trying to decide which your game needs. Relics is at its core a "loot" book, with lots of stuff designed to be used by PCs without breaking the game or trivialising all their problems. Engines is (mostly) a set of game-changing items that you could build entire stories around, with a few modular add-ons to provide richness to specific activities.