... now with 35% more arrogance!

Friday, March 27, 2015

Uncertain Undead

On G+, I posted some work-in-progress icons for both a revision of Our Infernal Neighbors and the upcoming Ranks of the Undead. What you see here is the icon for the mummy chapter, a good segue into what I'm doing with the project.

See, when I got to the mummy chapter, I realized I'd put in more detail, compared to the other chapters. When I did the zombie-vampire and skeleton-lich tracks, I took the existing OD&D monsters as data points and filled in the "missing levels". I added a few interpretive twists, but not much. But when I did the mummy track, there was only one OD&D monster to work with, so I went to the movies instead. I made Kharis my low-level datapoint and Imhotep my high-level datapoint. That added a lot more backstory, a lot more flavor... but it makes the other undead tracks seem kind of unoriginal by comparison.

I need to insert more flavor. For the rotting undead, I made a passing reference to a bargain with "darkness" as their method of survival. I need to emphasize that more. I already mentioned plans to randomize the method of slaying a vampire permanently, and just finished writing that table. Lots of entries based on different vampire legends from different regions. The implication of the random method of permanent death is that it comes from the vampire's bargain with darkness. I'm also adding a Bargain with Darkness table for the lower pre-vampire levels. The undead gets a special power in exchange for a price, which at the moment are additional vulnerabilities similar to the vulnerability to garlic and mirrors. So, an Unhallowed might get the power to change into a rat, but can be turned by a ring of salt, exactly as a vampire is driven away by a cross. I even added "Counting Obsession" to the Price Paid table; scattering poppy seeds on the ground forces the undead with a counting obsession to gather and count them all, instead of attacking or chasing the victim, but it otherwise works using the Turn Undead roll.

For skeletal undead, I'd made a few references to their obsession with magical research, which seemed natural as something a proto-lich would do. I need to emphasize that more, possibly with a random table or two. My rewritten lich doesn't have the periapt of other versions, but I'm thinking of making that into an optional random feature (get one extra power through an arcane gem or amulet, but destroying it removes that power and possibly affects the skeletal undead itself.) I'm also toying with the idea of a random magical obsession table.

I haven't quite decided what to do to improve the spectral undead. One idea may have to do with random vengeances. Or I might find inspiration in interpreting them as an analog to another class. In a sense, vampires are the undead equivalent to fighters, and liches are magic-users. I rewrote mummies to be a little like clerics. So spectres and ghosts would be thieves, specializing in sneaking and surprise attacks. I'll have to think about that some  more.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Problem With Paladins

... Is that many players don't want to play paladins. They just want the powers.

This is the conclusion I've come  to after reading many, many discussions about paladins. Whether you think of paladins as the flower of knighthood, as I do, or the servant and epitome of some god on earth, as many modern fantasy games do, the point of the paladin class is not the powers. It's the the paladin's code, the restrictions on behavior. I've written before about what I think the paladin's code should be, so I won't go into that. The point I'm focusing on here is that there has to be a code, and it really shouldn't be one the player creates. If you want to make up your own code, pick a class like Fighter that has no code and add your own code. If you want powers that come from some god, pick a spell caster class and say your powers come from some god, although even there, there should be some expectation of being judged by your god.

And you shall be judged. None of this "I'll do whatever I want, then retcon my actions as being in line with my code." That's bullshit. If you want to do something like that, play another class and say, "I have a code," but don't say what it is. Make it up as you go along. The point of a class that has strict behavior standards is to challenge yourself to see if you can meet those standards. And the point of taking a moral code is to have your moral code challenged. Saying "I want to be a paladin" is you challenging the GM to test your morality. You're saying "this is what I want my personal story to be about.

And don't get me started about the "Lawful Good, not Lawful Stupid" argument. Critics who bring up the Lawful Stupid charge always provide examples where what's expedient is in direct conflict with most strict moral codes. What's expedient is often not what's good, maybe not even what's Lawful. Again, there are already classes to play if you want to base all your decisions on expediency. Choosing the paladin means choosing to not always do what's in your personal self-interest. You have to choose, sometimes, and know that if you do what is expedient instead of what is right, you may lose your righteous powers,. If you don't want the GM to ever, ever take away or reduce your powers, then the paladin is not for you. Move along.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Upkeep vs. Taxes

There's a forum discussion o  support and upkeep costs (1% of experience) and what it covers: Housing? Food? Equipment maintenance? Taxes? A mix of two or more? Everyone has a different approach. I think I want it to be part taxes, part housing, household supplies, and household servants. But I've come up with some rules for the latter.

The size of your household, in rooms, equals half your level, round down, max four rooms. At first level, you are sharing a room with someone in a boarding house or inn. You get one good meal a day included, and a storage chest with key. Higher levels mean a private room or small house, stocked with food,

You have one and a half household servants per room, round down. These are housekeepers, maids,  and other lowly types. At 1st level (zero servants,) you don't have personal servants, but the head of the household has servants who clean your room, change bedding, and the like,

At higher levels, these costs include restocking supplies for the household, like wood for the fire, candles for lighting, a well-stocked larder, and so on. It doesn't include anything to take on an expedition. You can raid your household fo save a few bucks, but then there should be loyalty checks to see if the house staff reacts badly to you taking all the food and expecting them to make do with scraps, or taking all the candles and leaving them in the dark.

For now, I'm assuming half your upkeep costs is household, half is taxes. You can cut your costs in half and only pay your taxes, if you want to camp in the woods and scrounge for food, You can pay lower household costs based on a lower class level, which will get you a reaction penalty from some people (not living up to your status.) You can pay living expenses and try to skip the taxes, which runs the risk of legal trouble: 5+ on 1d6 (check weekly) means you escape the tax collector. Paying taxes at a lower level gives a +1 on the escape roll per two levels: if you are 6th level and pay taxes as if you were 4th level, for example, you get a +2 on the roll, which gives you a 2 in 6 chance of escaping the tax collector. (Yes, this means that a Lord who hasn't built a stronghold yet and pays taxes as if he were only 8th level gets away scot free, while a 2nd level fighter who pays half his taxes has a 4 in 6 chance of getting caught. The rich are lucky jerks like that.)

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Uncertain Monsters

Still working on the Ranks of the Undead. One of the things that slowed me down on Our Infernal Neighbors and now on this one is I wind up adding more material than planned. For example, I'm not just adding undead varieties in between the existing undead in the LBBs, I'm actually writing altered versions of all the undead. Not part of the original plan, but it meshes better with the new concept (undead that grow and change, which can be used for PC undead.)

Also, it lets me include some tweaks. For example, a vampire's aversion to garlic or mirrors is handled as Turn Undead, treating non-clerics as a cleric of half their level. But so is the rule about thresholds: a living being commands a vampire not to enter, and that is treated as Turn Undead. So is running water: vampires can cross it normally, but if a living being is on the other side of a stream, they can command a vampire not to cross the boundary.

But one of the more controversial things I'm doing is making vampire destruction methods open to experimentation. Here is what I wrote today:

"Vampire killers should check with a sage for the exact procedure [for killing a vampire permanently], or try what they think will work (staking and beheading, binding with thorns, drenching in holy water, burning to ashes.) Treat as another Command Undead attempt; if the command fails, the vampire rises again, and that procedure will never work on any vampire."

I suppose I should note that once vampire hunters stumble on the correct procedure, it will work without a Command Undead test on future vampires, but I think the intention is clear: not all the details for vampires are fixed, but may be decided during play. Not only may vampires in your world be completely different from those in mine, they may wind up completely different from what you were expecting. You may have players try several times to kill a vampire before stumbling on some really weird procedure, like shaving its head before beheading it and bathing the head in honey.

Or maybe not that weird. I may have to write a Random Sage Advice on Killing Vampires table.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Multiplying NPCs

A lot of advice for running sandbox campaigns talk about creating lots of material beforehand, for example lists of NPCs for players to interact with. This is a rather heavy workload, of course, so one of the other options is to use a random table. But there's very little advice for making such tables, and the example tables seem to mostly be just list of NPCs, sometimes a hundred different NPCs in a d100 table. Even that's not going to last forever, and you'll be back where you started: needing to make a table.

The opposite random tactic is to have tables of traits, skills, beliefs, and so on, to roll up each NPC. This can get bogged down, so it might be wiser to use a shortcut: create a small list of NPCs, say six, twelve, or twenty, and create the rest by multiplying those starter NPCs.  What I mean by that is mixing parts of two NPCs to make a third.

Let's illustrate this with just six NPCs and just the standard ability scores to start. You roll up six seed characters, exactly as if you were creating an adventure party:

1. Str 16 Int 13 Wis 16 Dex 6 Con 12 Cha 15
2. Str 11 Int 7 Wis 4 Dex 18 Con 17 Cha 15
3. Str 14 Int 4 Wis 13 Dex 12 Con 13 Cha 13
4. Str 11 Int 14 Wis 11 Dex 7 Con 9 Cha 5
5. Str 9 Int 7 Wis 3 Dex 9 Con 6 Cha 9
6. Str 3 Int 9 Wis 5 Dex 8 Con 7 Cha 6

You get a list of names, lots of names, maybe first and last name pairs. Write them on a sheet in rows and columns, for example three columns and 20 to 30 rows. You're going to use this as a drop dice table to roll random names.

Drop 2d6 on the table. Take the first name from wherever the lowest d6 lands, the second name from where the other die lands.If they tie, read from left to right on odd results, right to left on even.

For the second part of making the character, read the d6 results from left to right, looking up each result on the table of ability scores. The first d6 is the first three ability scores from your seed characters, the second d6 is the second three scores. That's 36 possible characters.

It can get more complicated. Label the first four seed characters Fighter, Magic-User, Cleric, Thief, the last two as Merchant and Laborer. Roll a d6 for the class of common characters, a d4 when recruiting henchmen.

Or make a list of twenty random characters/ Label the first four Fighter, the next three Thief, the next two M-U, the tenth as a Cleric, and the rest as a mix of laborers and merchants. Or mix up the proportions to fit your preferred distribution. On your drop dice sheet of names, add one word traits to some or all of the names: Cruel, Gullible, Stubborn, whatever you wish. Roll 3d20 and interpret in order as first name, last name, trait (by position) and class, first three abilities, last three abilities (by value.) That's 2,000 mechanically distinct characters, with 8,100 possible names and a mix of personality traits.

Create a different list of names for each culture. If the proportions of classes change from region to region, you can change the seed character table, too. Endless character combos for your world.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Hoarded God

East of Port Scar there is a heretic temple called the House of Authority. The bearded brotherhood of the House do not worship Urizen, Ahania, or even the rebel gods Urthona or Red Orc, but some unknown deity they refer to as The Hoarded God. The brethren are known for making enigmatic statements about The Hoarded God, such as "I keep my god in the bottom of my chest" and "I keep my god behind me." When asked what this means, the brethren only smile and say no more.

The inquisition of Urizen in Port Scar has made much noise about doing "something" about the cult of the Hoarded God, but so far the Council of the Scarred has held firm to their principle of "Open hostility closes markets." A decade ago, the Fist of the Faith formed a lynch mob to march on the House of Authority with the intent of dragging the brethren from their temple and setting them to the Yoke of Urizen, but returned empty handed and subdued, saying only "the House wasn't there." Since the temple was plainly visible the next day, no one is sure what happened. But those who joined the mob never brought up the subject again.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Things to Come: Undead and Godlings

Working on the next PDF (Ranks of the Undead, unless I come up with a better name.) And thinking  ahead to the one after that, which will possibly be about godlings and wishes. I posted a bit about how I interpret wishes and some alternative ideas about the way they work, and about how the wish-granting creatures like djinn, efreet, and others can be grouped together as what I first called "magic giants", but later referred to as godlings. In my way of thinking, djinn and efreet are not elementals, but beings with power over air and fire, respectively. They are naturally astral beings, somewhat like some of the infernals or the Fae, but living in remote areas instead of inside the earth. Other such beings I plan on describing are jotuns, volcano gods, sea gods, river gods, storm gods, sylvan gods, and titans. I will also recap some of the cosmology from Our Infernal Neighbors, but with more detail on the astral state, because it's crucial to the way godlings grant some wishes, especially the most powerful ones. There will be more details on conceptual travel, for example, and probably an entire chapter on how permanent astral illusions work.

Meanwhile, as I edit material for Ranks of the Undead, I'm testing out an alternative format for the monster stat lines. I was satisfied with the information supplied and how condensed it all was, but the appearance left a little to be desired. I'd like to eventually just write my monsters in CSV format and have a script that wraps the proper formatting around them, while simultaneously compiling them to a stat reference appendix. We'll see about that.

Friday, March 13, 2015

The Simplest Initiative: Mostly None

I'm thinking of going back to using different damage rolls for different weapons.

Shocking, I know. I've been a strong supporter of 1d6 damage for every weapon because of its simplicity. But there's not just damage to consider. There's also initiative.

I scoff at most initiative systems. Honestly, why roll? Just give one side a free attack if they surprise the other, then do all the attacks at once, unless one attacker is Hasted or Slowed. If one person kills another, or attacks a spell caster, shortest weapon or lowest spell level goes first, so the victim's attack or spell may be interrupted. Only check this when it matters. (I tried always checking weapon length as my initiative system, but as simple as it was, even it had problems at the table. I sometimes forgot to ask. Fortunately, I gave the players the priority in those cases, anyways.)

But even this could be simplified. Use one of the really simple weapon damage systems: d4 for daggers, d6 for most one-hand weapons, d8 for broadswords, 2d6 for two-handers. Use the damage rolled as the effective speed. A 1-point damage roll goes first, a 12-point damage roll goes last. If checking for interrupted actions, all you need is the dice results on the table right now, or the spell level of any spell cast.

You never, ever have to keep track of initiative that way. It's very temptiing.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Our Infernal Neighbors

Some time ago, I did some posts about eliminating all the planes and just assuming that there were two fantastic physical states, ethereal and astral, and every otherworldly location was really a physical location, possibly inside a mountain or up in the clouds, populated by ethereal or astral beings who build things out of ethereal or astral matter. And then I rewrote demons, devils and other infernal creatures to simplify them, trim powers, and fit them into this "zero plane" cosmology and a single axis Law/Chaos alignment scheme.

Since I've gotten a few calls for a reprint of this material, it was one of my goals for the free PDF series. And now, it's done: Our Infernal Neighbors: Simple, Alternate Otherworldly Creatures for a Cosmos without Planes. It seemed to take forever, because I did a lot of rewriting and added some material on the Fae as another full infernal variety. And then the formatting and layout took way longer than I'd planned, but I think I'm getting closer to a final look.

I'm  hoping there are few if any typos. I'm pretty sure I caught the spelling errors and grammatical mistakes early on, but I started getting tired near the end.