Nov 14, 2017

Abolishing Arguments

I like to play crunchy systems: Mythras, later D&D editions, Shadowrun, etc. I often play in groups where there are widely different levels of familarity and skill at using these systems. I also play in groups where individuals have widely different levels of trust and standards of politeness. Such is life as an adult roleplayer in high demand.

One of the things I try to avoid in games I run are rules arguments. One of the things I try to contain are rules disputes. A dispute is a polite, though perhaps passionate, disagreement over some factual or interpretive matter that strives for consensus or persuasion. "I thought this rule means...?" is the kind of statement you find in disputes. Arguments are the other sort of disagreement, the one where positions rapidly become intractable, where accusations fly between people, where sophistry doesn't so much creep in as kick down the door screaming, and where people are striving to explain why they are right and the other person is wrong and should be ashamed of ever having believed differently.

The lines between the two can be unclear at times, but a clear sign that one is in an argument instead of a dispute is that no one is asking questions that aren't rhetorical or sophistic. Another clear sign is the "gotcha" where the fact that someone is changing their position is treated as an indication of weakness rather than the goal of the interaction in the first place. These aren't exhaustive signs, there are a myriad of ways of indicating that you're acting in bad faith towards someone else (constant repetition of the same points but louder each time is another).

I'm sure we all try to avoid these and conduct ourselves as respectable adults fulfilling our ethical and epistemic obligations to others, but that doesn't actually mean they don't occur from time to time. Rules in particular can provoke these since they exist as an intersubjective reference that defines how things work in the shared narrative of the game, and losing a rules argument can feel like one has lost agency and some level of control over one's (fictional) life. I am certainly not a pedestal here, if anything I am particularly temperamentally prone to disputes and arguments and thus am particularly concerned with how to proactively manage and control them from dominating situations.

In games that I run, I often appoint a "rules coordinator" whose job is to resolve simple rules questions. I usually pick the player who has the most expertise with the rules, rather than simply the loudest opinion on what they should be. In games with individual experience, this person gains bonus XP whenever they resolve a rules question that another PC has. If no rule exists, I make one up, take the time to write it down on a sheet of paper we can all review, and then go forward using that, with any further review or revision taking place in between sessions based on conversations with players. These methods help nip most arguments and disputes in the bud. But not all of them, of course.

For disputes, I think the important thing is to contain the dispute and resolve it fairly and quickly, ideally with as little intervention or attention paid to it as possible. Voting by the players sometimes works, but can actually drag things out more as many people will want to share their opinion and position, or express support for someone else before you can actually tabulate the votes. As well, it can sometimes turn a dispute into an argument if one player believes everyone else is mistaken and picking on them. So a simple incentive I use instead is to hand out bonus XP to to whoever proposes a mutually agreeable solution, and if no one can, to whoever concedes first. Not a lot of bonus XP, but just enough to mollify the conceding side. In fact, I'll often start at a low number and bid it up slightly over time if both sides are being intractable. This method should not be kept secret from the players, and frequent reminders may be necessary during the early phases of implementation.

Arguments are a little trickier. If someone is a vexatious and repeated arguer, the easiest answer may be to boot them, but I find the severity and difficulty of this (as well as the frequent presence of interpersonal complications) actually produce a perverse incentive, where no specific incident can be pointed to as sufficiently severe on its own, and so actually booting the person never happens. I hear lots of people saying that they would do it, but little evidence that people actually do it all that often. So less severe, easier-to-implement, and hopefully more effective? methods seem like a good idea as a first step. I also tend to prefer giving people a chance to correct their behaviour, tho' that's a personal tendency that I don't claim anyone else need to value as much as I do.

Therefore, what I will do in a group which has one or more individuals prone to argument, is to simply offer bonus XP for each session in which no one argues. This starts as a low amount, and if people argue, it increases next session, until it reaches a level where no one argues or I dissolve the group in frustration. If anyone gets into an argument with anyone else, everyone forfeits the bonus XP. People don't have to avoid voicing their opinions or disagreeing with one another respectfully (that makes it a dispute, subject to the above resolution methods), but if the exchange is in bad faith, that XP is gone for everyone. I'll often give someone a reminder or warning if it looks like they're about to veer into an argument in these situations.

This introduces a certain shame factor into their conduct for the arguer, without operating directly through the very points and positions being debated in the argument. It won't stop people all the time, but it does provide a mild incentive that can be invoked, and that doesn't require them to "lose face" (it instead positions them as magnanimously setting aside their righteous blah blah for the good of everyone).

I mention rules arguments here because they're something that specifically comes to mind, but the same techniques are broadly applicable to disputes and arguments over the progression of the shared fiction itself outside of the rules, with perhaps a few others that are unique to the kinds of problems that occur there. Anyhow, if one has a particularly argumentative group for whatever reason, I suggest experimenting with these methods to see if they work for you.

Nov 5, 2017

Some 3.5 Diviner Spell Ideas

A friend of mine is starting up an offline campaign using D&D 3.5, a system I haven't used for anything in nearly five years, but that I played from 2003-2009 pretty regularly, and only stopped playing completely in mid-2012. I'm going to be playing a diviner. If you've played much D&D 3.5 as a spellcaster (especially an arcane one), you probably know that divination is the smallest school with the biggest gaps in its capabilities, which means any smart diviner player should spend a bit of time in character on spell research. I can't find my old 3.5 notes (long since thrown out, I suspect), so here are some ideas I've had for spells over the years that I still remember. Some of them are slightly better than similar spells in the PHB II in particular (which had a bunch of really terrible divination spells in it) though nothing's a straight copy of anything I've seen anywhere else. A bunch of them are more useful for social stuff and roleplaying than for dungeon exploration per se. This list goes up to 5th level here, I'm still doing some thinking around higher-level divinations.

Cantrips (0th level):

Count - Medium range, 1 standard action, instant, V, S. Caster receives a count of all objects of a specified type within range. Does not reveal location or distance, only presence

The Time - Self range, 1 standard action, instant, V. The caster knows what time it is, using whatever measurement method is most meaningful to them.

Weatherman - Special, 1 standard action, instant, V, S. Caster knows what the natural weather will be like within a cylinder 1 mile in radius / level and centred on them, up to a number of days in the future equal to their level.

1st Level:

Calculate - Touch range, 1 standard action, instant, V, S. The caster touches a proposition or equation previously written down in a formal notation, and the correct answer or derivation appears below or beside it. The spell does not supply more information than was initially given - undefined variables remain variables, while supplying actual values produces an answer with the same.

Collapsing Favour - Medium range, 1 standard action, # of rounds = level, V, S, M. Designate a target (save allowed). Every missed attack on that target by the caster or their allies after the spell is cast grants a cumulative +1 insight bonus to hit and damage to all further attacks against it until it's hit by an attack. (e.g. one attack missed means +1, two missed attacks means +2, etc.) The material component is an albatross feather

Detect Life - Close range, 1 standard action, 1 round / level V, S, M.The caster can detect lifeforms of Tiny-size or larger within a 90-degree cone up to the range of the spell. By concentrating for one round, the caster can determine either number or the types, and may spend a second round to determine the other.

Flash of Insight - Self range, 1 standard action, instant, V. +10 insight bonus on one Knowledge check (even if not trained in it) or one Sense Motive check.

2nd Level:

Greatest Fear - Close range, 1 standard action, concentration, V, S. Spend 1 round to discover the greatest fear or concern a sentient creature has (save allowed). Can shift to a new creature each round, max # of creatures scanned = level.

Heart's Desire - Close range, 1 standard action, concentration V, S. Spend 1 round to discover the thing a sentient creature wants most (save allowed). Can shift to a new creature each round, max # of creatures scanned = level.

Liar's Tremble - Close range, 1 standard action, 1 turn per level, V, S, M. The caster asks the target one question (it may save) in a language it understands. It must either answer the question truthfully and correctly, or be dazed until the end of the spell. The question does not need to be one it can reasonably be expected to know the answer to. The material component is a

3rd Level:

Greater Flash of Insight - Self range, 1 standard action, instant, V. +20 insight bonus on any one Knowledge check (even if not trained in it) or one Sense Motive check.

Penetrating Vision - Close range, 1 standard action, concentration. The caster can see through inanimate objects within a 45-degree cone (magical objects may save). If more than one intervening barrier or object is within the area of effect, the caster may choose to "tune" the spell each round to only render some transparent, allowing them to read the pages of a closed book, examine the contents of a sealed chest, or book. Creatures may save to avoid having their personal equipment penetrated. Caster has line of sight but not necessarily line of effect to any creatures revealed, and the area revealed is not lit by the spell.

4th Level:

Darkvision, Mass - Touch, 1 standard action, 1 hour / level. The caster and up to 1 ally / per level that they touch when casting the spell has darkvision to 60' until the spell ends.

Decrypt - Touch, 1 full-round action, 1 page or inscription / level. The caster touches a piece of coded writing, and the text appears in their mind decoded. This spell does not translate the writing.

Retrocognition - Close range, 1 full-round action, concentration. [Scrying] The caster names a time in the past and receives a vision of what happened at their present location from that point forward, for as long as they concentrate, in real time. i.e. Concentrating for one round shows one round, concentrating for one turn shows one turn. Every minute watched requires a concentration check, starting at DC 10 and adding +5 for each additional minute that has passed. The vision includes auditory, olfactory, and visual components.

Psychometry - Touch, 1 full-round action, 1 question / level. The caster handles an inanimate object and is able to derive insight into its past. They may ask one question per caster level about the object's history (i.e. its place of creation, its age, or prior shapes it may have had), about the object's owners (i.e. how many it has had, who its last owner was, etc.) or about events it was directly involved in (i.e. a dagger about a murder it was used it). The answer to any given questions is either a short single sentence or a brief dreamy vision (DM's choice).

5th Level:

Analyse Material - Close range, 1 standard action, instant. The caster knows the composition and properties of the substance of any one object within range. This information is as detailed as the technical knowledge of the caster allows. A caster with knowledge of the periodic table would receive a molecular breakdown as part of their knowledge, while one with an Empedoclean conception of physics would understand it in those terms. The caster also learns whether the substance is poisonous, alive, magical (but not the details of the enchantment), radioactive, etc.

Architect's Bane - Long range, 1 full-round action, instant. The caster points at one building and receives a vision of its layout accurate enough to draw maps from. Only permanent physical features of the building (its walls, roof, fountains, etc.) are shown, not furniture or inhabitants. This knowledge includes secret doors and compartments. It will not show an area warded against divination, encased in 1" or more of lead, or any area containing an anti-magic shell.

Oct 12, 2017

Considerations from Playtesting Feuerberg

I've been running a Feuerberg game since this summer (June or July, I can't remember) using Into the Depths, basically playtesting pieces of it and generating material as I go. It's a fun campaign and the players are great. That's also why I haven't been posting a ton about it, since I don't want to "spoil" anything before my PCs get to it. Playtesting always makes such an important difference to a final product when done properly, and I love doing it for my own games and for others'.

What's been discovered after four months of play

Here are some insights I've had about the Feuerberg setting while playtesting it. None of this will affect my current campaign, it'll come into play with the next iteration.

One Mountain, Not Two

Feuerberg really needs to be compressed down into one mountain instead of two, though with a number of sub-peaks and ridges on that mountain. I originally split it up into two mountains (the titular Feuerberg and its smaller cousin Himmelberg) so as to space out the content and emphasise the feeling of wandering around a wilderness as they travelled the mountain, but I think this detracts from the megadungeon feel and makes it more of a constrained overland sandbox. A good megadungeon needs its spaces and subsections to relate and interact with one another. The two mountains break that up and create two separate zones without clear relations.

Here's a crude sketch of what I think the new, consolidated, Feuerberg will look like:

Definitely not giving up my day job to become an artist

More generally, I need to consolidate locations across the playspace. No need for two weird forests when one forest with the interesting elements of both would do. I'm still thinking through the details of how to do this, but one idea is to curve the mountain and its sub-peaks slightly so that it has one large valley in front of it that includes the areas PCs start in, and two smaller valleys behind it, each of which can have a distinct theme and feel.

Make Overland Travel Harder / Make Dungeon Travel More Attractive

Ultimately, I want PCs to go into the dungeon underneath Feuerberg and use it to move around as much as they clamber over the surface. But I've set it up so that it's relatively easy to traverse the mountains (except for the death zones near the top) with lots of interesting sites to visit there, whereas the dungeons underneath the mountain are relatively unexplored and unknown. There are multiple things that I need to do differently, but one is to make overland travel a smaller and more challenging part of the game, to encourage the PCs to use the dungeon to move around.

Part of the dynamic of play should involve the ability to see interesting locations aboveground, but to require at least some underground exploration to get to them. This means more sheer, difficult to climb cliffs with interesting things at the top of them. Currently, such barriers do exist at some points, but I mainly left them higher up the mountain so as to funnel PCs towards certain areas of interest in the end-game. These should be closer to the bottom.

Make it Easier to Access the Most Interesting Locations


Feuerberg has a bunch of really interesting locations that I, as a world-builder, think are visually compelling and have set up as sub-zones with extensive exploration opportunities. I realise now tho', that I've stuck them somewhat out of the way. I was hoping to lure exploration towards them, giving PCs a reason to cross more of the overland wilderness, but I think it will actually work better to push at least a few of them closer to the PCs' home base. It'll clarify major entrances to the megadungeon and give clear options for progress.

To do this, as well as in light of the reduction to a single mountain, I'm going to move the location of the town of Hoch, which serves as the base town for the PCs, so that the PCs don't have to march across most of the map to reach the areas that I'm most interested in them exploring. I'm also going to match up a few initial quests to each of these sub-zones more clearly to provide reasons for PCs to go immediately towards them.

Other Changes

I think I'm going to tie some of the factions a little more cleanly into the history of Feuerberg, but I can't go into the details right now both because I'm still figuring it out, and because I don't want to spoil anything for my PCs. I think I'm also going to push some factions deeper into the dungeon, and pull some slightly more towards the surface or closer to the starting area so that the PCs can encounter them more easily. I'm sure as I playtest things further more improvements will be discovered.

Oct 1, 2017

Into the Depths Revisions After Playtesting

I haven't yet rewritten Into the Depths nor asked my dear pal Chris Huth to remake the one-page version, but I have been playtesting it a lot this year via my Feuerberg campaign. I've been collecting player feedback, and noting my own feelings about things, and here's what I'd change:

1) I'd increase saving throws to success on a 16+ instead of a 14+. This would make it harder to save, and make bonuses to your roll from gear and the like more important. It starts you off with a 25% chance of saving, instead of a 35% chance.

2) I'd pull the helping rules out into a separate section called "helping" since the "Turn your 1d6 roll into a 1d8 roll" rule seems to be the most commonly overlooked rule in the game, and its current placement under risky and dangerous actions make it appears like it only applies in those circumstances, as opposed to more generally..

3) Shift getting "Good Ats" to odd-numbered levels instead of even-numbered levels so that you get your bonuses spread more evenly across levels - improvements to your scores on even levels and Good Ats on odd ones. As it currently stands odd-numbered levels are comparatively dead, while all improvements happen on even levels.

4) I don't know that I'd use it in my online games where we tend to have more of a "pawn" style of play, but I'm strongly tempted to add a rule where when you camp, if you tell a unique story that relates to your character's backstory and describes them doing something interesting, you can become Good At that one thing for the rest of the adventure. Alternately, I might make this the effect of a boozy party item.

5) I should probably add some Bad At rules where you only roll a d4 instead of a d6, with each Bad At giving you another Good At.

Those are the main changes I've noticed and wanted to make, though if any readers out there have more, I'd be willing to take them under consideration.

Sep 22, 2017

The Necrocarcerus Alchemy Supplement

I wrote these alchemy rules for what is rapidly becoming the "never-to-be-finished" Necrocarcerus Rules version 3.0. Someone asked for a list of alchemy ingredients, and I realised I already had one written up, so I scraped the rules and the lists from that document and have uploaded it to Google Drive as a handsome PDF. As always, most of it is a series of bad in-jokes and allusions for which I apologise pre-emptively.

These rules represent a distillation and refinement of the procedures in Procedural Metapharmacology and Alchemy: The Junkie's Science, and can be supplemented with the procedures outlined in those posts as well as in my post Determining Magical Item Components (all of which are actually just more prolix variations on the advice "Use your random encounter table to determine what the PCs need"). Enjoy!

Sep 17, 2017

A Few Notes on Combat Styles in Mythras

Combat styles in the Mythras family are left with relatively undefined scopes in the rules as written. Individual referees are left to figure out how many combat styles their setting will have; how many (and which) weapons any given combat style encompasses; and which the special trait(s) each style will have. Having now designed about twenty different combat styles for several different settings with very different feels, I'd like to share some of my impressions.

As an initial qualification, I'd mention that Luther Arkwright, the one published science fiction setting, breaks from a bunch of what I'm saying below, though it arrives as a similar set of conclusions about how combat styles should work nonetheless. I'm also leaving aside "Monster Styles" since they can be created off the cuff without consequence.

The Observations


1) PCs will typically have between one and two combat styles right out the game, and the slow increase in skills in Mythras means that most will either stick with their original styles or pick up at most a third. I've never seen a PC with four or more combat styles, never even heard any one discuss the possibility as a realistic option for their character's development.

2) In my experience, the typical Mythras party has PCs all come from a shared cultural background, so you'll find that most of them share the same primary combat style. But, every other character in a typical party will have a career that allows them to access a second combat style (or in the case of Mythras Without Tears, will sacrifice a professional skill choice to gain access to a second combat style). Most of these PCs will want their second choice to be unique withing the party (unless one of the combat styles is particularly good). So when you're trying to judge how many combat styles you need for the party alone, use that as your baseline assumption.

3) Though they may not realise it at the start, most PCs will eventually want one of their two combat styles to have a fairly good ranged weapon (usually the short spear), at least one to let them use a shield, and at least one with the Mounted Combat trait (even if they don't need to invoke it all that often). The more they can layer these into a single style, the more desirable or necessary that style becomes.

NB: If you're a PC and you notice your enemies are using a combat style that has a trait other than Mounted Combat, try to get your enemies to jump onto their steeds (perhaps by fleeing on your own with them in hot pursuit) and then remind your referee about capping their combat styles with their Ride skill. You won't be popular, but you will be nigh-invulnerable to most stock enemies.

4) If there's a trait that rewards a bunch of PCs using the same combat style in tandem with one another (i.e. Shield Wall, or Formation Fighting) either everyone in the party will take it as their primary combat style or else it'll fail to reach the critical threshold of three PCs and be ignored / snubbed. If you're using careers, it's extremely unlikely that three PCs will get access to, and choose, the same secondary combat style through their careers, so you have to make it available at the Culture stage. In parties with multiple cultural backgrounds, don't expect people to take these combat styles.

5) The Mythras core has just under 60 weapons in it (counting shields), but most settings use a much smaller subset - I believe there's about 13 (counting shields) in Mythic Britain, and around 25 in Shores of Korantia's combat styles (with most of the variety in a small number styles that are less common). In the Dawnlands, I went for 12 - ten actual weapons, and two kinds of shields (I am considering adding another three of four, but haven't made up my mind).

A certain amount of doubling up on weapons between styles is good (since it allows a character not to have to carry a golf bag of swords), but you don't want too much overlap since that lowers people's willingness to take it as a second style without a further incentive. And that incentive might actually convince them to take the second style and ignore the first anyhow.

In practice, I find the ideal is about three weapons, especially if you're designing a lot of styles that count shields as one of those three. That lets PCs who take two combat styles use four offensive weapons, and at least one kind of shield, possibly two, without penalty. Three weapons also helps keep the style focused - with four weapons you tend to start asking yourself "What would the most common secondary sidearm for this person be?" a lot.

I also have a tendency to create a single combat style in a campaign that allows you to choose any two weapons you want. You gain in freedom of choice by losing that extra slot. This helps accommodate the folks who really, really, really want to wield a particular weapon that wouldn't otherwise be available.

6) There's a temptation that's indulged a lot to create near-identical combat styles differentiated by culture (usually with a slightly different sidearm or . Instead, I recommend picking the common types of soldier in your campaign setting, creating a combat style for each one, and then just reusing them across cultures to save time.

The Conclusions

Combat styles tend to work best when they have about three weapons per style. You should assume that at least every other character in a typical party is going to want a unique combat style. If you want a style that synergises when multiple characters have it, make it a cultural style rather than a specialty style you get access to through a career. Mounted Combat is an inobviously excellent and useful trait, so having it in a couple of styles is a good idea.

Aug 31, 2017

(Re)Introducing the Dawnlands

Over the nearly ten years (since 2008!) that I've been designing and running the Dawnlands, a lot has changed. I thought I'd take the opportunity to reintroduce the setting to new readers of my blog. It's shifted from a D&D 4e setting to an Openquest setting to one run by Mythras. And for folks who've been following it since the old RPGsite thread, a lot of names have changed, and many of the original D&Disms have been stripped out or altered significantly. Rather than make people dig through five year old blog posts, here's a brief introduction to where the Dawnlands is nowadays.

The Dawnlands is a psychedelic mythic fantasy setting built atop a layer of social realism and very loosely inspired by the historical khaganates of Western and Central Asia. Literary inspirations include Milorad Pavic's Dictionary of the Khazars; the Secret History of the Mongols; Constantine Porphyrogenitus' De Administrando Imperio; Chabon's Gentlemen of the Road; Calvino's Invisible Cities; Borges' short stories and many others. The archetypal Dawnlands story is something like getting cursed for bringing a crappy gift to your cousin's wedding, and having to go take magic mushrooms so your ancestors can guide you to the lost grave of a cannibal-wizard guarded by creatures made of his solidified spite so you can steal the crown he's buried with and bring it back as a better wedding gift to get uncursed.

The Dawnlands is an area about the size of Oregon (about 250,000 square kilometres) with six main cultural groups and two cities, with an overall population of about 2.5 million sentient beings.

The main species are:

Habiru - Canine-headed men broken up into racial groups based on what type of dog. The Kartakalli coming from the north are Habiru (with white-furred wolf heads), but a jackal-headed and a grey-furred wolf type are both indigenous to the Dawnlands. Originally, these were hobgoblins, orcs, and gnolls.

Humanity - There are three main racial groups, the Kads, the Qurun, and the Weykulni. Neighbouring groups present as visitors include the Salt Men, the Men of Rhuap, the Goguriz, and the Men of the Three Towns. In the original version of the Dawnlands, Kads were humans, the Qurun were elves, and the Weykulni were orcs.

Urum - Scaly-skinned humanoids with weird eyes about a metre and a half high. There are several subvarieties, with the most important being the Nethom, a distinct phenotype who rule the southern city-state of Durona. Most Urum live in Durona, in the Orthocracy of Kaddish, or amongst the Forest Dreamers. In the original Dawnlands, the Urum were halflings, goblins, kobolds and the like. Nethom were originally dwarves.

Voidmen - A refugee population from the southern Kingdom of Falling Stars that rules alongside the Nethom in Durona. Dark-skinned with eyes that appear to be empty fields dotted with stars. They live much longer than anyone else (centuries).

The main cultural groups are:

Duronans (pop. 500,000) - A rich society of highly stratified castes with Nethom and Voidmen at the top as zamindars and thakars, and a vast ryot and slave population underneath them. They are busy establishing colonies throughout the south-west Dawnlands, and trying to stave off a slave rebellion. They worship those of their ancestors who have attained divinity and live amongst the stars. Durona was originally called "Dwer Tor" in earlier materials.

Forest Dreamers (pop. 200,000) - A recently-formed theocratic confederation located in the great western rainforest known as the "Forest of Dreams". They worship the Hivehome, the great insect-spirits of the dream world. They are trying to drive out the Duronan slavers. They are split into tribal factions aligned with different temples of the same cult.

Kartakalli (pop. 50,000) - Monotheistic Habiru invaders from the north who worship the god of winter. They toppled the Kingdom of Weykuln and are picking over its bones. The cruelest and most fanatical members of a much more sophisticated society. In the original Dawnlands these guys didn't have a name, so I eventually got around to giving them one.

Orthocracy of Kaddish (pop. 1.2 million) - Once High Kaddish, the paramount state of the Dawnlands, the Orthocracy is now merely its largest mess. An incredible font of magic, technology, culture, but with no real government, it staggers from crisis to crisis somehow managing to survive. Even the vilest gods are acceptable to worship in lawless Kaddish. It possesses the unique magic of "soulforging", which allows it to create new species and transform existing ones.

The Plains Nomads (pop. 150,000) - The king-makers of the Dawnlands, who roam the highland plains of the Dawnlands. There are two main confederations or khanates, each of which despises the others. The Hill People are the descendants of a ruined civilisation known as the Cities of Night, conquered by High Kaddish. The Kadiz were once the ruling landowners of High Kaddish until they were driven out in a revolution. Both groups worship the Storm Bulls and the Wolves of the Earth, ancient gods of the plains.

The Weykulni (pop. 400,000) - Once a proud state controlling the northern mountain passes into the Dawnlands. Now, a series of squabbling nobles slowly being picked off by the Kartakalli as they dispute who should be king. Peasants are fleeing the valley-refuges and great castles of the Weykulni magnates as their armies march against one another. The priesthood of the God of Gates are being hunted down by Kartakalli assassins. Much like the Kartakalli, these folks originally didn't have names, but I was referring to them enough via circumlocutions that I eventually just gave them one.

More to come some other time.

Aug 29, 2017

Mythras Without Tears II

I've been fiddling and experimenting with the character generation system for Mythras since writing this post, and here's what I've decided to use for skills in Dawnlands games. To me, this combines the ideal amount of customisation with speed and ease. I'm also including some passion house rules that make them easier to calculate (and slightly lower on average) than the stock rules.

Starting PCs pick seven standard skills, seven professional skills, and one combat style. They can swap out one professional skill choice to get a second combat style choice. They get 350 points, and can spend up to 45 points on any skill, adding 1% per point spent. They also add +40% to their Native Tongue and Customs skills.

Starting PCs also pick three passions. The first passion has an initial rating of POWx5, the second has an initial rating of POWx4, and the third's initial rating is POWx3. Skill points may also be spent increasing passions as if they were skills. PCs may also swap out one professional skill choice for a fourth passion, which has an initial rating of POWx5.

Art, Culture, Craft, Languages, Literacy, Lore, and Musicianship each have a number of specialties. Customs is the equivalent of Culture for a character's home culture, and Native Tongue is the equivalent of Languages for a character's home culture, but Customs and Native Tongue are distinguished by not having specialties. A character with these skills has a number of specialties equal to 1/5th the skill. Characters test their specialties at full. Outside their specialties, any tests with the skill are at least one grade harder.

One side effect of these passion rules is that most spellcasters are going to start off a little obsessive. I consider this a feature, not a bug.

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.

May 28, 2017

Into the Depths of Feuerberg

I'm going to be running a campaign in Feuerberg (the dragon volcano megadungeon) on Saturdays from 11am EST to 3pmish EST. If you're interested in joining, let me know.

Into the Depths Single Page Rules Summary
Into the Depths Character Sheet created by Beloch Shrike of Papers and Pencils
Into the Depths of Feuerberg (the setting guide)

The shops and gear are on the last two pages of the document, but I'm putting them up in this post so that people can refer to them more easily. Only new pieces of gear with mechanical effects have descriptions. If it says something like "4+" that means "on a result of 4 or higher when rolling 1d6".

(I'm probably going to write an entire post about the pocketwatch item and time-keeping in games at some point; and another about Grunewald's Almanac)

Vendors in Hoch
(Prices in silver unless otherwise noted)
Shops will buy rare, unusual and interesting items related to their wares.

The Dragon’s Claw – run by Gunther Kant

Ammunition
Small Barrel of Corned Gunpowder – Explodes for 3d6 damage in 5m diameter (gold)
Dagger (small)
Custom-Made Obsidian __________ - Allows hitting incorporeal undead and spirits
Flintlock Carbine (ranged)
Full Brigandine Suit (medium armour)
Halberd (great)
Sabre (melee)
Shield
Spear (great)
Leather Jack (light armour)
Reinforced Field Plate Panoply (heavy armour) (gold)
Repair Kit – Repair weapons and armour on a 4+
War-Axe (melee)
Zweihander (great)

Church of the Hidden God – run by Yazdan Burjani (gold)

Copyist’s Kit – Allows accurate copying of documents
Fatwas Against ________ - Scrolls of protection
Healing Grievous Wounds
Holy Symbol – stun nearby undead for 1d4 rounds on a 5+
Regeneration of Lost Parts
Removal of Curses
Shriving of Sins
Vials of Holy Water

Can initiate someone as a priest of the Hidden God (10,000 sp)

The Golden Sun Coffee House – run by Madame Kularka (gold)

Excellent Booze
Excellent Coffee
Excellent Tea
Fortune Read
Introduction to Esteemed Personage
Hot Tip

The Hall of Zagros – run by Ranit Anuniat

Antitoxin
Backpack
Bandages
Bedroll
Caltrops
Cartographic and Surveying Equipment
Chalk
Climbing Equipment – Climb surfaces on a 4+
Cold Weather Clothing – +4 on saves vs. exposure to cold
Crowbar – Break open doors and chests on a 4+
Firestarter
Flare – Blinds all within 5m radius for 1d6 rounds unless they save
Hammer and Chisel – Allows carving, breaking and driving things into rock
Iron Rations
Iron Spikes
Lantern
Protective Gloves – Protects hands from acid, poison, heat, etc. Cannot do tasks requiring fine motor coordination while wearing them.
Sack
Saw
Shovel
Tent
Tongs
Torch
Whistle

The Hangs – run by Greta Verstirwung (copper)

Bullshit Story
Fried Noodles
Godawful Beer
Stolen Goods
Terrible Whiskey
Warm Beds – Recover 2d8 HP / day of rest

The Hausenner Ranch – run Friedrich Haussenner, Esq.

Bag of Flour
Block of Wax
Butchering Kit – Allows harvesting of monster organs, trophies, etc.
Butter
Chicken
Dangerous Animals Tamed (gold)
Donkey (mount)
Riding Horse (mount)
Fresh Sausages
Gallon of Milk (copper)
Milk Cow (gold)
Mutton

Olonwe’s Bazaar of Wonders – run by Olonwe

Cartographic and Surveying Tools
Compass
Document Case – Protects documents against exposure to fire and water
Fiddle – Can calm beasts, demons, and undead
Fine Tools
Current Edition of Grunewald’s Northern Almanack – Answers questions about flora, fauna, geography, seasons, and astronomical phenomena in Feuerberg on a 4+.
Heliotrope
Lock & Key
Mirror – Reflects gaze attacks back on a 5+
Periscope – Allows looking around corners while remaining concealed
Pocketwatch – Allows accurate tracking of time
Songbox – Plays music
Telescope – 10x vision of far objects

Sebastus Wright, Magus (gold)

Dose of Paralysis Poison – Save or be paralysed for 1d6 turns
False Air Capsule – Don’t need to breath for 2d6 hours
Ghost-Blinding Flares – Save or blinds incorporeal undead for 2d4 rounds
Ghost-Translating Skull – Allows one conversation with a dead person
Hekaphage Talisman – Allows reroll of one failed saving throw vs. magical effect
Lens of Decipherment – Translates one document into High Krovian
Oracular Incense – Augury for one question when burnt
Plasmic Key – Opens one non-magical lock
Spider Eye – Comes to life for 2d6 rounds and explores at MV 3
Soul-Trapping Canopic Jar – Incorporeal undead or spirit must save or be trapped within
Vial of Acid

Can initiate someone into the Silver-Veined Sodality for 10,000sp

Town Hall – run by the Burgher Council (gold)

Business License
Citizenship (platinum)
Confusing, Frustrating and Punitive Taxes
Freehold Land Grant – Necessary to establish a permanent home base
Licensed Advocate

Additional special vendors are available upon completion of certain quests.

May 10, 2017

Credit Where Credit's Due

It turns out Talysman over at Nine and Thirty Kingdoms came up with the idea of using reaction rolls for weather first. (I wrote this blog post recently with the same idea). It was probably cryptomnesia since I discovered it while reviewing a random collection of links to OSR house rules (I think it was this thread on rpg.net) in a forum. In general, I think using reaction rolls for random events is a solid idea, one I'll probably be implementing more to handle other random situations requiring a range of possible outcomes (instead of the relatively binary outcome of a saving throw). I like how it makes the charisma attribute more useful (and restores its sense of being favoured by the divine).

Apr 27, 2017

Feuerberg: The Abandoned Dig Adventure Site

1 hex = 1 km side to side

This is a map of the area immediately surrounding Hoch, including a small portion of the north-eastern slope of Feuerberg (Feuerberg and Himmelberg together cover about 714 km^2, about a tenth of the total ground area of the sub-range they belong to, which is comparable to Mahadur Himchal, the subrange that Everest belongs to). The blue post-its are above-ground sites, the purple post-it notes are sites with access to the subsurface of Feuerberg, the yellow post-its are terrain that poses a simple challenge, while the orange post-it means dangerous terrain that is non-trivial to cross. The below adventure site is statted up for Into the Depths.

THE ABANDONED DIG (HEX 16:20)

One of the first areas PCs are likely to be interested in is the abandoned dig site. A few years ago, an archaeomancer led an expedition to this spot, seeking to unearth an ancient prehuman temple. No one has heard from them since. The dig site itself is frequently used as a staging area by goat men for their raids. This batch seems to particularly like kidnapping people and sacrificing them at the full moon.

WHY DO YOU WANT TO KILL THESE GOAT MEN? (1d6 or just pick a bunch)

1) They kidnapped someone you care about. If you want them back, better go get them before the next full moon.
2) They're blocking trade from the kingdom on the far side of the mountains. If you wipe them out and prevent more from taking over the site, all prices in Hoch will come down 10% and the baron will owe you a big enough favour to let you out of jail for free once.
3) The ghost of the archaeomancer, Jumara Thayne, needs you to recover the brain from her corpse and then burn it in a fancy ceremony so she can regain her memories and power. She'll cast one spell for free per month in gratitude.
4) Someone said there's a dangerous and mysterious prehuman monolith out there that will give you awesome powers if you sacrifice people (like goat men) to it.
5) The goat men ate the last missionary the Church of the Hidden God sent out. Yazdan Burjani, the local priest, has issued a fatwa against them, and will totally shrive your many sins in exchange for a little divinely-sanctioned murder. (PCs can change their alignment to Good/Lawful no matter how bad they've been previously)
6) The Cult of Vorkallian needs a pile of goat man hearts for what are no doubt uninteresting and wholly legitimate reasons. They're paying 20 sp (gp in systems on the gold standard) for each fresh heart (less than a day old).

GETTING THERE

It's about four kilometres due west of town. Once you hit the lower slope of Feuerberg, there are coniferous thickets and rocky outcroppings scattered across an incline that takes you up about two hundred metres, past the sealed entrance to the salt mine full of restless undead and along a deer path. You know you're in the right area when you can feel your skin begin to crawl. During the day, the smoke from the goat men's campfires is visible once PCs enter the hex.

GOAT MEN

The goat men have all been driven violently insane by a phenomenon they refer to as "the purple light" which seems to involve great and terrible revelations of incoherent character. They wield slings (1d6), crude spears (2H; 1d10) and sharpened pieces of rebar (1d8). They don't use their horns in combat (that would be undignified). HD 1+1 AT 1 weapon (+0) AC 13 MV 9 MR 6 There are 1d4 patrols in groups of 1d4+1 roaming around the dig site at any given time.



The abandoned dig site. The green things are thickets of conifers.

KEY TO THE ABANDONED DIG

1. The crumbled ruins of shrines built by intelligent saurids from before the age of man have been dug out carefully, then left to rot in the sun and rain for several years. A heavily-weathered, armless statue of a dinosaur wearing fancy robes stands on a pedestal. Ehkt, a goat man, is clacking pebbles together while muttering about the purple light and its demands. If questioned, he claims to be talking to the ghost living in the statue (there is no ghost), which is teaching him how to resist the purple light's revelations. He is visibily swollen with tumours, and the other goat men hate him.

2. A deep pit, clearly the last site of activity before the dig was abandoned and now a dump. At the bottom of the pit is a half-buried fossilised dinosaur skeleton that appears to be posed in meditation and is covered by the weathered and rotting bodies of the victims of the goat men (three dozen). All lack skulls. Phehth, a goat man, sneaks here to nibble on the corpses when the others aren't looking. Sometimes he hides amongst them, pretending to be one.

Rooting through the charnel pit reveals 146 silver pieces and 67 copper pieces; a gummy vial of poison (half-drunk); a ruby worth 159 silver pieces in the stomach of one of the corpses; a rotted and blood-soaked book that if repaired magically is revealed to be a spellbook with 3 spells; a rotted and blood-soaked book that if repaired magically is a guide to fine cookery worth 32 silver pieces; the arms of the statue at location 1, which grip a tablet showing a coded map to the cave of ancient art in hex 16:22; several armloads of damp and rotting wood, and a mixture of broken and rusted tools. There is a 1 in 6 chance of contracting an unpleasant rash (-1 to hit, MV and Armour Mod.) every turn spent rooting through the bodies. Each person-turn spent searching recovers one item from the above list (roll 1d8).

3. A statue of three interwined and spire-like tentacles emerging from a stone surface carved to look like a wave pool. The stone is white marble, with faint purple veins in the rock. It looks much newer than anything else here. The goat men stack the skulls of the people they kill here (Jumara Thayne's is here, recognisable through the spell-swelled brain-pan of an archaeomancer). The statue is the source of the skin-crawling feeling. Touching it ages you 1d100 years (save for half), and is not necessary to remove the skulls.

4. The goat men's campsite. Two tents, a bonfire with something unwholesome roasting on a spit, and a lot of blankets strewn about. One tent holds the liquor and food. The other holds Gragh, the leader of this band of goat men [HD 3+3 AT 1 sledgehammer (+2 1d8) AC 15 MV 6 MR 9] and his three wives / bodyguards, Blech, Blegh and Blagh (MR 9). Gragh and his wives are having a grand time lording it over the other goat men and have no larger plans than pleasing the purple light with sacrifices obtained through raiding caravans and kidnapping travelers. If it seems like it'd be less trouble, they'll trade prisoners for new sacrifices to replace them.

There are another dozen goat men here at any time, drunk, bored, or agitated by private crises induced by the purple light. There are eight barrels of liquor, each worth 22 sp if hauled back to civilisation and their origins concealed. The food is a collection of delicacies (salt fish stuffed with chopped peanuts, mostly) from the kingdom across the mountains, unsaleable due to rough handling but still quite hearty and in significant portions (47 rations worth, all spoiled by the end of the week). Prisoners will be tied up here, in between the rings of blankets and the campfire itself.

5. A guard tower. Three goat men are on guard here at all times with slings and torches. Waght, the goat woman who takes guard duty the most frequently, is actually sane and uninfected by the purple light, but pretends so the others don't suss her out. She is willing to sell out the rest for the chance to escape, but only if approached alone. She often pretends to "go scouting" in the woods by herself. The guard tower has a small collection of well-loved books (Waght's), mostly well-thumbed travelogues, worth about 15 sp total.

6. A hollow obsidian tetrahedron 3m long on each edge, sticking up out of the ground with 30cm or so still buried. For each 13 points of damage dealt to it within a single hour, one of the faces begins to glow with a constellation of stars. The first face is of an ancient constellation, the second of the contemporary night sky, the third shows a possible future night sky. Once all three are lit, you may ask any one question and receive a truthful answer to it (via a telepathic image). One of the stars in the night sky above you burns out in a flash. The tetrahedron radiates evil palpably within 3m. If the tetrahedron is used 13 times total, all stars, including the sun, will burn out. It has been used four times previously. Erckt, Yurch, Wamch and Gruk, goat men, hang around it, egging one another into giving it an occasional slap and laughing at the lights. The tetrahedron is indestructible by mundane means, but Mad Bill Danger, the trash oracle in the ruined city of hex 8:24, knows how to destroy it.

7. A white marble monolith with purple veins in the stone. It is carved with a spiral pattern descending into a mouth-like vortex at the centre on both sides. The monolith and the ground around it are caked with bloodstains. Yechkt, a priestess of the purple light, meditates here [HD 4+4 AT 1 dagger (+2 1d4) AC 11 MV 12 MR 9]. She can spend an action to animate 1d4+1 bodies at a time from the charnel pit [HD 1+1 AT 1 fist (+0 1d3) AC 15 MV 6 MR 12], summon a 3 HD demonic being to defend her [HD 3 AT 2 (+2 1d6; save or be confused) AC 15 MV 12 MR 10], or shoot deadly bolts of purple light from her eyes (1d6 damage, save or weep helplessly for 1d4 rounds). When not trying to kill you, she is usually inebriated on hallucinogens, ranting about "the Relict" and the purple light. Half the goat men and women here are her children or nieces and nephews, and they will martyr themselves for her (MR 11 so long as she is threatened). She knows how the monolith works, but won't tell you willingly.

When the full moon is in the sky, unwilling sentient beings may be sacrificed to the purple light by slitting their throats and splashing the blood on the monolith. The first death gives the officiant and their allies a +1 to all attacks and damage for 1 day. The third provides 2d8 points of healing within 10m. The fifth lifts the effects of all curses, diseases and maladies (other than its own) from anyone within the same radius.  If someone without wounds, curses, maladies, etc. is within 10m for the fifth and further deaths, they get cancer, though they won't realise it until later (cancer counts as a malady for the next use). The seventh death causes anyone within 10m to save or acquire a mutation, as does the 10th death. The monolith radiates evil divine magic. Anyone who has deciphered the ancient languages of the saurids will notice the spiral pattern is composed of claw-letters repeating a word that roughly means "the hatred of all life".

Apr 23, 2017

Bonus Grubbing in Into the Depths

For new readers, Into the Depths is a one-page D&D-like inspired by Searchers of the Unknown that I wrote over Christmas break. It's compatible with most Swords and Wizardry material. You can download it for free here. I'm going to eventually write a magic supplement for it, but in the mean time I'm using Wonder and Wickedness as the spell system.

Into the Depths uses a fairly simple skill system. Any time you try to do something with a risk of failure and a consequence for failing, you roll a d6 and try to get a result of 5 or higher. If someone helps you, you roll a d8. If you're "Good At" doing the thing in question, you add +2 to your roll. If a group is doing something that they all succeed or fail on together, then they nominate someone to roll on their behalf.

The "5 or higher" is basically a DC (a "difficulty class" from d20) and can be adjusted up or down as you desire. I mostly only adjust it up, while things that make the task easier add bonuses to the PCs' rolls, simply to keep it all as simple addition. Most equipment typically doesn't add bonuses, it either allows you to do things you couldn't otherwise or allows you to avoid having to make rolls by automatically allowing you to succeed (a few pieces allow you reroll a failed roll).

One of the things this system is intended to do is to give the PCs kind of a crappy initial chance to do anything (unless it's an area of core expertise) and so encourage them to grub around for bonuses to their rolls. Here are some of the ways that I let them do so, that you might want to try in turn.

+1 to rolls for:

Taking double the usual time to complete the task
Having a clue, secret, or other inobvious but relevant information
Someone else has done the hardest part of the task
Having a specialised piece of equipment (Specialised equipment should only apply to a small set of predefined situations)
Magical assistance, including blessings
Executing a plausible, well-described plan of action

+1 to the DC for:

Each person past the first two in a group where one person is rolling on behalf of the group
Rushing (1/2 normal time or less)
Crappy equipment
Plans relying on seriously flawed or incorrect assumptions
Magical interference
Difficult environmental conditions

These lists aren't meant to be exhaustive, they're just prompts to get referees and PCs alike thinking about how they can fiddle with the difficulty of any given challenge.

Apr 22, 2017

Feuerberg: The Basics

The two mountains are "Feuerberg" and "Vogelberg". The town nearby is "Hoch", a bustling town of about 5,000. The dragon is called "Vorkallian". There is a cult that worships the dragon in town, but they are quite open, and common belief is that their worship keeps the dragon from harming the residents of Hoch (they're wrong).

I'm busy keying the Salt Catacombs, the starting section of Feuerberg, having already mapped them, so here's some starter stuff to tide folks over in the meantime.

Recent events:

The dragon's eggs are supposed to have started hatching a century ago. But instead of the rapturous cataclysm that would bring, each baby dragon appears to die during hatching. The Church of Vorkallian blames a necromancer who moved to the area at about the same time, and wants adventurers to hunt him down and slay him. They also want several of the fouler caves, catacombs, ruins and dungeons cleared out, in case they are polluting the dragon's nest. They're paying good money for it.

About a month ago, a group of noble knights, priests and adventurers from afar rode in on griffons to slay the red dragon. Their vanguard vanished into a cloud that rained blood, while others were slain or injured by bolts of lightning. Whoever survived has gone to ground on the mountains. The locals are split over whether to find them and kill them while they're weak, or to plead with them to leave Feuerberg alone. People suspect they're probably hiding with some of the hermits in the Forest of Woe.

An old diviner who lived in the trash dump at the edge of town was driven out for blaspheming against the dragon two weeks ago. He used to trade strange artifacts he found in the cursed inhuman ruins on the far side of Feuerberg, but something he found there convinced him that the dragon needed to be destroyed.

The goatmen were peaceful until a few years ago, but they've become violent raiders since then. Now all they jabber about is a serving a purple light that no one's heard of before. They're also digging all over Feuerberg and Vogelberg, though no one knows why.

Rumours:

Vogelburg is believed to contain the secret of immortality if you can scale to the temple at the peak and convince the guardians there that you are worthy.

The goatmen are bewitched by the necromancer. The purple light is just a spell he's using.

If a baby dragon isn't born soon, Vorkallian will abandon the nest, blowing the mountain apart and killing everyone in Hoch.

They dumped the dead from the last plague in the old abandoned salt mine, but they're not resting easy in there.

If you spend too long in the petrified forest, you turn to stone yourself.

Lizardmen still live under the mountains, and are plotting to bring a powerful demon back to life.

Feuerberg is steeper, but Vogelberg's faces are less stable.

The cursed city on the far side of Feuerberg wasn't built by human hands - or even mortal ones.

This whole area was once ruled by a vampire, and he's buried somewhere around here.

The stone circles and monoliths actually keep the dragon bound in the mountain. If they were ever damaged, it would escape and destroy everyone.

The crows around Vogelberg are immortal. They've been there longer than mankind has existed.

Some of the ancient caves on Feuerberg have art that shows lizardmen, snakemen and birdmen worshipping strange gods.


Apr 20, 2017

Feuerberg: First Steps Planning

I plotted out the local area around Feuerberg using a simple overhead diagram with a hex grid underlay. There's Feuerberg, its companion mountain, the local town, and the road that passes the town and then through the valley between the two mountains. I'm thinking each cell of the grid will be 1 km across. I've begun drawing up ideas on post-its and sticking them on the cells. Bright yellow post-its are sites, orange are danger. Eventually there will be a finer level of colour discrimination between post-its, probably green, yellow and red for terrain (indicating its relative ease of transit vs. danger and risk), blue for aboveground sites, and purple for entrances to the subsurface of the mountain. (This is all using Realtimeboard)

Last night, I broke each mountain's surface into four faces, and then decided that there would be one signature dungeon or challenge per face to begin, plus one at the peak of each. Only some of these zones would lead below the surface. I decided to err on the side making the mountain less easily transited rather than more, in order to encourage the use of the subsurface zones (which will extend vertically up and down) to move past them.

An image of what the above process looks like

I'm feeling my creative juices flow on this project like they weren't on some of my other recent ones. I think I've got some solid ideas for landmarks - a ruined city of the ancients partly buried in lava; the rotting carcass of a headless male dragon that the female decapitated after mating that now lays draped over the side of the caldera, a meteoric lake filled with tiny mollusk-philosophers; an old town that fell into a chasm and now lays scattered amongst beams of light at the bottom; a cave that's Lascaux by way of the Mountains of Madness, etc.

The mountain is one of the paradigmatic examples of the sublime, and this will be an affect I'm going to try to play extensively with in this. I want expressions of deep time and vertigo to undergird much of how of the pieces fit together.

The giant is both dead and not dead. Really, the giant isn't a thing that can be dead, because that would imply it was alive. The giant is an elemental force, just as the dragon is (the dragon is weaker, closer to a living thing, but more active). Its brain is made of obsidian that when chipped becomes humanoids. Its heart is molten gold. Its breath causes either death or immortality, unpredictably, if you can make it breathe again. You might think it's human-shaped, but it predates humanoids, who are shaped roughly like it. The other mountain is a musical instrument it was building, though what exactly it wanted to play (or why) is unknown.
Detail of the area surrounding the caldera

Apr 19, 2017

Megadungeon Idea: Feuerberg

I'm not exactly the next Picasso, I'll admit
I was thinking about a megadungeon set in and on a giant that fell asleep for countless aeons and became a mountain, with dungeon levels being each of the various chunks of the mountain's surface (canyons and gullies and cliffs forming "rooms") and then the various caves, mines, and excavations into it (and eventually, into the giant itself still sleeping under all that dirt). The end boss is a giant red dragon who has dug into the top of the mountain to build its nest, and is currently laying eggs in the brain of the giant. Because of the red dragon, the giant's mountain has become a volcano and threatens everyone around. Your job is to get the dragon out of there so it stops being a volcano, or at least get rich enough to get away from the eventual eruption (a continent or two should do). Add some wizard towers, goatmen forts, etc. and other tough foes who control the major approaches, a forest full of people who've been hung and come back as undead, ice elves, obsidian men made from shards of the giant's brain, a major trading route that passes beside the mountain, and a small town of locals who profit from that trade, and I think you've got enough for a full megadungeon plus surrounds. Anyhow, I'm tentatively titling it "Feuerberg" ("Fire Mountain").

Apr 18, 2017

CC BY-NC

There's been another kerfuffle about copyright in the OSR. So, to reiterate and clarify: Everything on this blog is done under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International license. So are all documents that I've produced and linked to via it unless they have another explicit notice on them (the OGL or something) or are work for hire. You can read up on what a "CC BY-NC" license means here.

If you want to use something I wrote for commercial purposes (or hire me for stuff), shoot me an email at johnbell17 at Google's email service, and we can work something out. My main concern is not to scab on other people by replacing their paid work (or realistic possibility thereof) with free stuff, so bear that in mind.

Apr 16, 2017

A Few Traps

Traps and curses are some of my favourite parts of dungeoncrawling. Here are a few I've been thinking of. I don't claim to have invented any of these (though I can't remember where I found the original inspiration for any of them). My memory of these has been prompted by rereading Grimtooth's Traps.

1) A chest in the centre of a room is bolted to the floor, with a clearly steel cable running from its lid into the ceiling. Opening the lid of the chest or cutting the cable causes the floor to drop and steel shutters to drop over the entrances- only a few feet down and with the doors only partially shut if the lid is merely opened, but far enough to take falling damage and completely seal the entrances if the cable is severed. Either way, the dropping floor should reveal vents by which some noxious or dangerous substance enters - poison gas, acid, yellow mold, green slime, or even merely large amounts of water.

PCs could know there will be trouble if they strummed or tapped the cable, which would cause the metal parts to rattle up above, if they checked the door arches after opening them to spot the shutters, or closely inspected the floor for seams, which would tell them parts of the floor were not connected to others. The trap could be reset by two strong people closing the lid's chest if the cable wasn't cut, or by stringing a new cable through the gearing up above and reattaching it to the lid below (a few hours work for an engineer if the materials are on hand, plus the same two strong people).

A diagram
2) A floor with a slight depression forming a lip from nearby rooms. The floor is covered in metal marbles / ball bearings floating in oil. The walls are made of porous stone (pumice or the like) and weep small amounts of oil in over time to replace the stuff that dries out. Slow movement across the room is easy, but anyone trying to run will inevitably fall. If they carry a light source, it will start a raging inferno when it strikes the oil. Touching a wall to steady yourself is fine, but catching yourself before a fall is forceful enough to cause it to crumble slightly and increase the rate of oil flowing into the room. After three crumbles, the oil is ankle deep, after five it is up to the knees, and so on. The more oil, the more risk of a fire and the more damage it deals.

This trap should be fairly obvious, and is meant to signal an area as dangerous. It could be reset simply by refilling the reservoir of oil near the top. I think it works best in rooms with multiple entrances leading off into looping corridors, to increase the risk of a wandering monster chasing the PCs back through it. You could make this more difficult by adding a second trap (blowpipes in the walls firing knock-out darts or something) but that makes it even more likely to be a TPK.

3) Slats in the floor are actually triangular wedges that rotate freely but only in one direction. Stepping carelessly traps the foot and deals mild damage. It's possible to free someone without dealing more damage to their leg, but this is a noisy and slow affair, taking 1d4 turns of dismantling the slats, easing the foot out, etc. Each turn requires a wandering monster check. Wrenching the leg out will cause significantly more damage, possibly even crippling it until healing magic or surgery can restore it.

This trap can be noticed if the PCs are checking the floors, since the long thin slats made of metal should be distinct from other types of floors. The trap can be reset simply by rotating the triangular wedges back to being flat once the obstructions are removed. To make the trap nastier, you might want the space below the slats to be filled with serpents or green slime or another threat. I've found that acid and lava tend to make the trap too boring, since they either kill the PC right away from damage, or burn off the leg quickly enough to make the entrapment irrelevant.

4) More of a puzzle, but one I've used several times to good effect. The PCs are faced with three colour-coded racks of containers of goop (I once made these the coloured brain-jellies of ritual sacrifices, with the victims' skulls for the containers). One rack is blue, one red, and one yellow. Alongside the rack are four pillars, one orange, one purple, one green and one brown. Alongside the rack is a small basin for mixing them together. The primary-colour coded chemicals smell sour and taste bad, but don't actually have any effects on their own when drunk individually.

The orange pillar shows a man bleeding from numerous spear wounds. The green shows a man smiling as waves of energy radiate from him. The purple shows a man vomiting. The brown pillar shows a man holding his arms up to heaven, smiling as he flies upwards.

Mixing the correct colour combinations of the primary-coloured goop produces potions. Only colours matter, not proportions (brown is produced either by mixing all three primaries, or by mixing any two differently-coloured secondary-colour potions). Orange produces potions of Cure Light Wounds, green produces hallucinatory potions of light (you glow, attracting more wandering monsters and being unable to sneak, while also tripping balls), purple produces emetic potions of Neutralise Poison. Brown produces instant death unless a save is made.

I recommend limiting the number of doses of each gunk to prevent the PCs from making off with hundreds of potions of Cure Light Wounds once they figure it out. I haven't experimented with this variation yet, but I think it might be fun to make the baseline potions weak (i.e. Slow Poison instead of Neutralise Poison for purple) and then require multiple doses of the same potion to be crafted and combined to get the stronger effects (so two doses of orange becomes a Cure Moderate Wounds potion, etc.). I also find the more happy you describe the green and brown pillars, and the less happy you describe the purple and orange ones, the more likely the PCs are to poison themselves. If you have cautious PCs, it might help to make the goop into incense, and the basin a brazier that fills the room with smoke that affects all of them at once.

Anyhow, enjoy!