Aug 15, 2017

Teamwork Rules for Mythras

I had always thought that the rules I'm about to outline were actually part of the core rules for Mythras, but it turns out that they weren't and I'd only imagined that they were (or else Loz and I couldn't find them when we glanced through the rules). I used these rules at Lozcon this weekend (Lawrence Whitaker's weekend roleplaying convention held annually at his home) and they were a hit. In hindsight, they're a simpler version of the teamwork rules I came up with for Openquest.

Whenever characters want to assist one another (i.e. they are all searching a room together; or two smiths working on the same project), they designate a lead. The lead is usually the group member with the highest skill. The lead is the character who will make the roll. The lead may have up to three assistants. Each assistant must have a score of at least 25% in the relevant skill. Each assistant reduces the difficulty grade of the roll by one. If the lead fails or fumbles, both the lead and the assistants suffer the consequences of failing.

This tends to simplify perception and sneaking rolls tremendously.

Jul 30, 2017

Simplifying Religion in Mythras

Religious organisations in Mythras theoretically have up to five levels of membership: lay member, initiate, acolyte, priest, and high priest. Three of these are spell-casting categories as well: initiate, acolyte, and priest. All theism spells are categorised as one of these three levels, and the level categorisation is based on the spell, not on the religion. The different levels of membership control the size of your "devotion pool" which is the number of magic points out of your total pool of magic points that you can devote to casting theistic miracles, which each miracle taking up 1 MP from the devotional pool (e.g. an initiate with 12 POW can devote three magic points to their devotional pool, allowing them to cast three miracles).

This adds an extra layer of complexity when you're designing religions, as you have to keep track of the level of the spell when you're putting together their spell lists, otherwise you run the risk of accidentally creating a religion in which initiates or priests or whoever don't gain access to new spells with their initiations. Considering the limited suggested number of available miracles per cult (up to 1d6+3 total per cult in a high magic campaign), this becomes especially difficult.

Having created my fair share of cults and played a fair deal of Runequest 6, I'd make the following observations:

1) Most of the published campaign worlds don't actually follow the listed guidelines. Mythic Britain uses a totally different system for Christianity that offers 4 miracles per interceding saint you invoke (with some overlap between saints), and has ten or twelve saints in the corebook. The Taskan Empire and Shores of Korantia have different cults offer between 3 and 19 miracles each, depending on the power and prominence of the cult. Classic Fantasy uses some other system entirely that involves three ranks of spells and limits the number you have access to by INT and your level. Monster Island is the one rulebook-following exception, which grants three initiate spells, two acolyte spells, and one priest spell per cult. Some of the top-tier miracles priests get access to are a bit shit tho' (one is "Rain of Fish").

2) Some progression or development is necessary to keep PCs committed to cults. If they can just dip in casually, become an initiate, and learn every possible spell (or at least all the good ones) right off the bat, they're not incentivised to engage further with the cult. Keeping the really good stuff for higher levels of initiation gives PCs something to work toward, so any proposed simplification or solution needs to keep at least two levels of access to spells, and possibly more.

3) I used to think it was feasible to run games where any individual PC might belong to many cults, but after playing RQ6 for a while, I think because of the slow acquisition of new skills and the way devotion pools work, most PCs are going to belong to 1-2 theist cults maximum (and probably one of those will be as just a lay member). That's assuming you even open up the possibility of characters becoming priests if they don't start with access to theist magic (this is something the rules-as-written discourage, but that, once again, is widely ignored in practice). So, if we assume that most PCs are going to belong to 1-2 cults, and probably only one as more than a lay member, a certain amount of depth should be available so they can feel like they're progressing through it.

To simplify the process of creating a religion, my proposal is fairly simple, and really represents a rationalisation of what I see people doing online when they homebrew cults. That is simply to calculate the level of membership required to gain access to a spell on the basis of each religion, rather than the spell. So initiates of one solar religion, acolytes of another, and priests of a third each gain access to say, Sunspear at different levels of membership. This allows greater customisation of each religion, and I'm surprised it's not the default.

Jul 25, 2017

Mythras Without Tears

Creating characters in Mythras is reasonably complicated, especially since one must go through three separate steps to spend skill points, each of which has different restrictions. I won't be using the rules below rules for character generation for the pre-generated characters I'm putting together for the scenario I'll be running at LozCon, but I may use them for Runequest / Mythras character generation in the next campaign I run.

Instead of selecting a culture, career, and spending bonus points, you select seven standard skills, seven professional skills and up to two combat styles (not counting Unarmed). You must spend at least five skill points improving each of the fourteen to sixteen skills, and may spend up to 45 points improving them. This produces characters who are almost identical to regular Mythras characters but without all the substeps. Theoretically, characters could end up knowing two kinds of advanced magic (sorcery and theism, say, or even just two schools of sorcery), which I'm personally fine with. If you're not, simply impose a limit on how many kinds of magic a single person may know.

The restrictions of the substeps theoretically force you to spend points to ensure your character has a basic competency at things their culture values, but in practice, I don't think dumping five skill points into standard skills you've already got a basic ranking in accomplishes that. What it does do is force you waste about 20% or so of the points you got from your cultural background on skills you don't want more than a basic ranking in anyhow. At least by choosing the standard skills, you'll be able to make sure they're all ones that match your character concept.

Personally, I think I'd all up to +50 to be added, to encourage a slightly higher degree of specialisation, but keep the overall size of the pool (350 points) identical.

Some people no doubt find the culture and career process helpful for shaping their character concepts, and I recommend people who do so use the method in the rules as written, but I often find them at least as much a hindrance to realising a character concept as a help personally.

Jul 24, 2017

Language and Lore Skills House Rules for Mythras

I've played a lot of  Mythras and Runequest 6 over the years (and Mongoose Runequest 2 and Legend - it's all the same game under different labels, and I've been playing it off and on since 2010). In the current version of the rules, it's difficult for characters to either have a lot of lore skills or to know a lot of languages. It's even more difficult to play a character who both knows a lot of languages and has a lot of scholarly knowledge because of the way character creation works, where you end up having limited slots for professional skills.

As someone who likes to play scholars in settings with lots of languages, I wanted to make this a bit less demanding on the fairly limited pool of skill points starting characters have. So I use the following rules for each skill:

There's no longer separate Lore:Whatever or Language: Whatever skills, except for Native Tongue. Instead, there's just Lore, Native Tongue, and Language. Lore and Language are both professional skills, and swap in during character creation whenever the originals do. Characters pick a number of specialties equal to 1/20th of their skill rating in the relevant skill (round down). For Lore these are areas of study and knowledge, for Language they're languages you know (other than your native language, where in Mythras you receive an automatic 40% bonus to make its role as a skill-capping skill that sets a limit for other skills easier to bear). For the purposes of skill rolls and caps, you use the single rating of the skill whenever you're dealing with an area of specialty.

e.g You have a Lore of 60% so you choose three areas of specialty. For your badass Kadiz gnostic, these are Dreams, Geomancy and Spirits. Whenever you need to make a Lore role involving those subjects, or use your Lore skill as an augment, you base it off the 60%.

This means starting characters will typically have 0 to 3 specialties in each skill, depending on their level of specialisation. A character made using the stock rules could have a similar range, but would have to spend three times the skill points to get this level, and would probably have to choose either language or lore skills instead of being able to do both. The net effect of this will be to make multicultural parties easier, and to allow characters to be knowledgeable without sacrificing all of their skills points to be so.

On a related note, Mythras and Runequest 6 don't actually explain what to do when someone attempts to test a professional skill they lack (if it does do so, it's not mentioned in the index under the entry for "Professional Skills", and it's not in either the skills chapter or the character creation section. The training rules imply you can't test without having opened access the skill, since it costs 3 experience rolls to "get a basic grounding" which I interpret as being able to get access at the level of the sum of the two relevant stats (i.e. it costs 3 experience rolls to develop Literacy at Int x 2 if you don't start with it as a skill).

With that in mind, I tend to favour not allowing rolls relevant to professional skills a character lacks. Even if one did allow them at severe penalties (i.e. one adapted the rules in the Combat section for using weapons outside those allowed by the Combat Styles you're trained in so as to apply to other skills), since you're only using a low base to begin with, you're almost never going to succeed.

On a second related note, I've debated making a similar change as I did for Language and Lore for combat styles, but I think this is a more radical change and needs to be tested and played around with before I implement it, since access to combat styles is much more strictly controlled than access to lore and language skills (starting characters still typically start with 1-3 combat styles, as this system would also be likely to produce).

I'm going to be running the Dawnlands at LozCon this summer (April 12-April 14, 2017) and these will be the rules I'm using for it. I just generated eight pregen characters in a row for a one-shot scenario I'll be running, one that involves a multicultural party, so I think it'll be a good test.

Jul 15, 2017

Feuerberg: Base, Face, and Summit

The majority of the Feuerberg campaign takes place on, in and between, two mountains which are approximately the height of Mount Everest in our world. Altitude is therefore a recurrent concern. I want some simple rules to cover dealing with it that won't turn into a lot of minutiae.

The key information to know for these rules is that the campaign area is split into three altitude regions: the base of the two mountains, their faces, and their summits. And one can be either unacclimatised or acclimatised to each region.

The Base

The base is anything below about 4km in vertical height from sea level. That's the town of Hoch, the valley between the mountains, and about the first 2km onto either mountain (you start about 2km up already). All PCs begin acclimatised to this height, and do not lose their acclimatisation to it.

The Faces of the Mountains

The faces are the portions of either mountain between 4km and 8km vertical height from sea level. This is a true montane environment, and the altitude at which people begin to run the risk of fatal complications. All PCs begin unacclimatised to it.

While they are unacclimatised, they must make a saving throw at the end of each day that they have engaged in strenuous activity. Failure means they lose 1d4 HP and cannot regain hit points, as hypoxia and altitude sickness rip up their metabolism. Days spent resting do not require one to make a saving throw.

Characters who have acclimatised to the face stay acclimatised so long as they don't descend below the face. There are no negative consequences once one has acclimatised.

The Summits of the Mountains

The summit is anything above 8km in vertical height from sea level. Feuerberg gets close to 9km high, even with the top of it shorn away, and its summit area is about 3km in diameter. Himmelberg is about 8.5km high, with a much smaller summit of only 1km diameter. In real life, we call these places "death zones", and they lack enough oxygen to sustain human life for more than a few hours.

Regardless of how acclimatised or unacclimatised one is, one cannot digest food, can't sleep, and must make a saving throw every hour or lose 1d4 HP while in the death zone.

Unacclimatised characters on the summit must also make a separate saving throw every hour or begin dying when they're in the summit. It takes 1d6 turns to die, through a combination of hypoxia, cerebral edema, pulmonary edema, and cold.

Acclimatised characters don't have to make the saving throw to avoid dying. Character stay acclimatised to the summit only so long as they don't descend from the summit.

Acclimatising

So being unacclimatised is pretty bad. You probably want your PC to acclimatise to the altitude they're going to. Here are some methods for doing so.

1) Magic

Any spell that provides you with breathable air of some sort (e.g. a spell for travelling underwater or the void) will provide you with suitable air to count as acclimatised for as long as it lasts. Magic items that provide similar capabilities will also work, as do weird mutations and magical powers you get from mystery cults. If the magic lapses or the item ceases function, you count as unacclimatised and start suffering the consequences within 1 turn.

2) Camping and waiting

The most accessible method. You camp in a hex adjacent to the region you want to become acclimatised (i.e. on a base hex adjacent to the face to become acclimatised for the face, on a face hex adjacent to the summit for the summit, etc.). For the face, you camp for two weeks, for the summit, a month. At the end of that time, you roll a saving throw and if you succeed, you are now acclimatised until you next descend the mountain. You can repeat the period of waiting and camping as many times as one wants, in case not everyone passes the first time, but once acclimatised, you don't need to roll a saving throw again. You get random encounters while you camp, so you're going to either want a fortified camp or to find ways around having to do this.

3) Eating weird stuff

At the start of the Feuerberg campaign, you can't buy anything that will let you acclimatise more easily or rapidly. But, there are several options that you can go hunt down on the mountain itself to make acclimatisation either easier or faster. These are the ones that are openly known, though few have ever seen or used them.

Fresh Yeti Spleen - A yeti's spleen can be split between 1d4 people. It grants acclimatisation to the altitudes of the faces for 1d4 days for each person who eats it. The yeti strenuously object to this practice (-4 to positive reaction rolls), can smell spleen-eaters from far away, and do their best to make life difficult.

Blue Coca - A blue-green plant that grows wild in montane climates, where its fragrance is precious to minor air elementals, who drape themselves in smells the way mortals do clothes. A small amount is cultivated as a recreational drug by the Xarxeans, though they don't make it available to humans. Chewing quids regularly (for at least a week straight, 8 hours a day) before an expedition means it will only take a day to become acclimatised to the face, and three days for the summit. You can't heal naturally (only from medical care) while chewing blue coca.

Grey Mantaka - A psychedelic drug of unknown origin, though rumours claim a particular monolith high on Himmelberg oozes the stuff on nights of the new moon. Grey Mantaka acclimatises you to both the face and summit immediately upon taking it, for 1d6 days each. You must also make a saving throw or hallucinate wildly. This means you fail all saving throws to disbelieve illusions, suffer a -2 on attack rolls, and concentrating on anything for more than a minute or so requires a roll of 5+.

Other drugs and concoctions are rumoured to exist, but knowledge of their existence must be sought out in play.

Jul 12, 2017

Radiant Quests and Restocking

Another method of restocking dungeons is to use an idea from video games: radiant quests. I'm normally leery about the idea that one can simply port an idea over without much adaptation from one medium to another, but I think this is one of the rare exceptions. Once again, the idea is that restocking should be simpler than stocking a dungeon in the first place.

A radiant quest is one where there is a basic template for a task ("Go assassinate..." or "Go retrieve..."), and the game uses some mechanism to assign the object of that quest and the location it takes place randomly. In video games, radiant quests tend to be used to push the players to new areas (giving them a reward for exploring), but I think they work equally well for restocking areas of the dungeon they've already explored and cleared.

What you need is a bunch of generic tasks, a list of enemy forces and objects, a list of NPCs, a list of locations, and a list of rewards. I recommend starting with small lists for each one (d4 or d6 options) and expanding as new NPCs and new areas come up.

A sample generic task might run:

1) Retrieve something
2) Assassinate someone
3) Bring something/someone
4) Clear out somewhere

You pick one, or roll a d4 to determine what the basic structure is. Then you roll for the object or NPC from your lists of such to determine who they're supposed to rescue or assassinate or steal or set in place, etc. The list of enemy forces tells you what's guarding them. And finally, you roll from your list of sub-sections of the dungeon that the PCs have explored to determine where they're going to have to get to. Then roll to find out what their reward is.

This is all fairly simple. You can grab lists of enemy forces and treasure hoards from Red Tide, since this tends to be the most complicated part, or you can just come up with your own. You can even abstract this process if you have a bunch of mini-modules, and just randomly roll to determine where each module intrudes into the dungeon (perhaps with an earthquake or interdimensional portal opening to provide the explanation for the change).

The main things to vary are the task, the object of the task, and the location. Cycling through and recycling these in their various combinations can provide a fairly large amount of gameplay without much work (you can reuse forces and objects, and depending on how you handle it, this could either be lightly comic or build to a larger plot, as say, a particular magical artifact keeps on being stolen and returned to the dungeon in random locations, leading to the question of why it's so valuable and important).

May 31, 2017

Feuerberg: Traveling the Mountain

The surface of Feuerberg is irregular, mostly sloped, but occasionally breaking into great cliffs and chasms that rise and plunge dramatically. While much of the base is able to be walked or scrambled up, albeit slowly, the top halves of Feuerberg and Himmelberg are open almost exclusively to those who can drag themselves up steep cliff-faces.

Climbing the world's largest mountains happens at the scale of overland travel. Rather than focusing on every ledge and chimney, travel is abstracted across a hex grid where the hexes have a diameter of 1km, and it takes approximately 1 hour to traverse a hex (mostly due to changes in vertical height and stopping to rest so the party isn't too exhausted to fight). Because of the reduced scale, instead of the full overland travel procedure, a cut-down version is used.

For each hex on the mountainside, the caller must make three choices.

1) Are they looking for paths, or are they pressing overland?

By spending an hour and rolling 6+ on 1d6 the party finds a path, which is generated in an ordinary way. PCs can follow the path, which requires them to follow it as it meanders, or they can depart from it and lose its benefits to travel in another direction.

2) Stealthy or. Straightforward

Traversing a hex stealthily increases the chance of getting lost. While traversing the hex, the caller rolls 1d6. On a result of 3-, the party is lost and they fail to exit the hex. While travelling a path, the party is lost only on a result of 1.

Traversing it in a straightforward way increases the chance of random encounters. While traversing the hex, the guard rolls for a random encounter. On a path, the party can reroll one of the d6s.

3) Safety or Speed

Traversing a hex safely increases the time it takes. It takes 1d6+1 hours to traverse a hex safely. On a path, it takes 1d4 hours.

Traversing a hex speedily increases the risk of an accident. Everyone makes a saving throw. On a failure, they either destroy one item in their possession or they take 3d6 points of damage (PC's choice). On a path, they get +4 to their saves.

Weather and specific terrain types can alter this further, making certain days and places particularly good for stealth, etc.