Saturday, 18 July 2020

Better Dinosaurs 3

A long overdue follow-up post to my first two efforts to make dinosaurs better. It's only been like two years, cut me some slack

Ettercaps, but they're dinosaur ettercaps now!

One of my players found a baby one of these- very adorbs! The cutest little pocket flamethrower <3

Large beast,unaligned
Armor Class 12
Hit Points 19 (3d10+ 3)
Speed 30 ft., climb 30 ft. ft.
STR 15 (+2) DEX 12 (+1) CON 13 (+1) INT 2 (-4) WIS 10 (0) CHA 5 (-3)
Proficiency Bonus+2
Senses darkvision 30 ft., passive Perception 10
Challenge 1/4(50 XP)

Fire Spittle. The Salasaur sprays a sticky substance that ignites on contact with air or flesh. Each creature in a 15-foot cone must make a Dexterity saving throw. A creature takes 12 (3d6) fire damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one. A creature that fails this saving throw is caught on fire, and takes 3 (1d6) points of damage on each of it's turns until the flames are extinguished.

The fire also ignites any flammable objects in the area that aren’t being worn or carried.

Bite. Melee Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 6 (1d8 + 2) piercing damage and 3 (1d6) fire damage. The target must also make a Strength saving throw or be grappled. A creature that starts it's turn grappled by the 

Grey Render

Such a dinosaur!

Found some perfectly serviceable 5e stats, so that part is done.

What ecological/encounter role do they play on the island?

Huge beast, unaligned
Armor Class 13 (mage armour)
Hit Points 59 (7d12+ 14)
Speed 40 ft. ft.
STR 21 (+5) DEX 8 (-1) CON 15 (+2) INT 2 (-4) WIS 12 (+1) CHA 6 (-2)
Proficiency Bonus+2
Sensespassive Perception 11
Challenge2(450 XP)

Charge. If the rhinoceros moves at least 20 feet straight toward a target and then hits it with a gore attack on the same turn, the target takes an extra 9 (2d8) bludgeoning damage. If the target is a creature, it must succeed on a DC 15 Strength saving throw or be knocked prone.

Magic Resistance. Thanks to it's horn, the thaumoceros has advantage on saving throws against magic.

Magic Horn. The thamoceros's gore and toss attacks count as magic for the purpose of overcoming damage resistance. 

Toss: Melee Weapon Attack: +8 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 18 (3d8 + 5) bludgeoning damage. The target must also make a Strength save or be tossed 2d5x5 feet in a random direction, taking 6 (2d6) extra damage upon landing.

Huge monstrosity, unaligned
Armor Class 17 (Natural Armor)
Hit Points 195 (17d12+85)
Speed 40 ft., burrow 20 ft, climb 30 fit.
STR 24 (+7)  DEX 13 (+1)  CON 21 (+5)  INT 4 (-3)  WIS 10 (+0)  CHA 5 (-3)
Damage Immunities Acid, Poison
Senses Darkvision 60 Ft., Tremorsense 60 Ft., passive Perception 10
Challenge 11 (7,200 XP)

Long Legs. The gnarax's long legs give disadvantage on melee attacks against it, unless those attacks are made with a polearm, or by a Large or larger creature. Creatures can attempt to climb on to the gnarax's back to negate this effect, with a DC 17 Acrobatics check to move around and make attacks on their turn, and a DC 17 Athletics check every round on the gnarax's turn as the creature tries to shake them off.

Multiattack: The gnarax makes four claw attacks.

Bite: Melee Weapon Attack: +11 to hit, reach 10 ft., one target. Hit: 40 (6d10 + 7) piercing damage.. If the target is a creature, it is Grappled (escape DC 17). Until this grapple ends, the target is Restrained, and the gnarax can't bite another target.

Claws. Melee Weapon Attack: +11 to hit, reach 20 ft, one target. Hit: 18 (2d10+7) bludgeoning damage

Swallow: The gnarax makes one bite Attack against a Medium or smaller creature it is Grappling. If the Attack hits, that creature takes the bite's damage and is swallowed, and the grapple ends. While swallowed, the creature is Blinded and Restrained, it has total cover against attacks and other effects outside the gnarax , and it takes 21 (6d6) acid damage at the start of each of the gnarax turns.
If the gnarax takes 30 damage or more on a single turn from a creature inside it, the gnarax must succeed on a DC 15 Constitution saving throw at the end of that turn or regurgitate all swallowed creatures, which fall prone in a space within 10 feet of the gnarax . If the gnarax dies, a swallowed creature is no longer Restrained by it and can escape from the corpse using 15 feet of Movement, exiting prone.

Let's just do these guys up like giant otters, but give 'em a grab attack, cuz if these guys chomp you they're not letting go.

medium monstrosity, unaligned
Armor Class 13 (Natural Armor)
Hit Points 9 (2d8)
Speed 40 ft., swim 40 ft.
STR 12 (+1)  DEX 14 (+2)  CON 11 (+0)  INT 5 (-3)  WIS 12 (+1)  CHA 12 (+1)
Senses Passive Perception 11 (16 for hearing or smell)
Challenge 1/4 (50 XP)

  • Keen Hearing and Smell. The otter-flea has advantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks that rely on hearing or smell.
  • Pack Tactics. The otter-flea has advantage on an attack roll against a creature if at least one of the otter-flea's allies is within 5 ft. of the creature and the ally isn't incapacitated.

    Standing Leap. The otter-fleas's long jump is up to 20 feet and its high jump is up to 10 feet, with or without a running start.
  • Bite. Melee Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: (2d4 + 2) piercing damage. If the target is a creature, it is Grappled (escape DC 11) if it is a Medium or smaller creature. Until the grapple ends, the otter-flea can't bite another target.

This is great, I would use stats similar to a giant rhino, but add a wicked tail attack. And some extra AC, of course. Also this one is already named! I guess it was in that one video game? I never played it

huge monstrosity, unaligned
Armor Class 16 (Natural Armor)
Hit Points 95 (10d12+30)
Speed 50 ft
STR 22 (+6)  DEX 9 (-1)  CON 11 (+0)  INT 3 (-4)  WIS 11 (+1)  CHA 8 (-1)
Senses Passive Perception 11 
Challenge 5 (1,800 XP)

Charge. If the rhinoceros moves at least 20 ft. straight toward a target and then hits it with a gore attack on the same turn, the target takes an extra 12 (3d8) bludgeoning damage. If the target is a creature, it must succeed on a DC 16 Strength saving throw or be knocked prone.

Multiattack: The 0cryctomus makes two attacks: one ram attack and one attack with its tail. It can't make both attacks against the same target.

Ram. Melee Weapon Attack: +9 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 19 (3d8 + 6) slashing damage.

Tail. Melee Weapon Attack: +10 to hit, reach 10 ft., one target. Hit: 16 (3d6 + 6) bludgeoning damage.

THESE guys

These next few would just have stats as dire wolves or guard drakes. Nothing much needs tweaking.

Make sure this guy gets a good pounce attack for sure

Maybe a giant boar with a bite attack

Basically just a giant lizard with better armor, but this guy also has some lore from Dark Sun. Probably the most vanilla of those weird monster-dinosaurs they have over there, but I like the crawly illustration. Maybe next post (in another year or two) I'll tackle dark sun monsters specifically.

I just want to give them chin scritches

Do these guys need their own statblocks? Maybe...

Thursday, 16 July 2020

Rules of Magic

Magic is mysterious and otherworldly, but there are some guidelines that make it easier for characters to interact with that mystery in an interesting way. Whether examining a magical trap, to understanding how the BBEG gets their superpowers, consistent, permanent magical effects require some level of explanation, both so the rogue can sabotage it, and the wizard can dream of stealing it’s power.

Magic requires Energy.

Whether a permanently invisible bridge (a la Indiana Jones), or a wall of fire blocking off a hallway, magic comes from somewhere (even if the origin is completely opaque to the average layperson.) 

Leylines. Geological force flows through rocks and trees like a vast web, forming nexus nodes where major leylines meet. These nodes are often the locations of ancient druidic stones, temples, and the Church has built it’s own temples over many of these same sites. Leylines provide stable, predictable power, and so are very useful for magical architecture and traps. Temporarily blocking the flow of magic from a leyline is possible, but permanently rerouting major lines typically requires massive engineering projects to move mountains of earth around (these projects are more feasible in wide, flat regions, and are one of the major purposes of pyramids and similar projects.) Harnessing a leyline is typically very slow, but is a commons source of magic for Rituals.

Rivers. Very similar to a major leyline. The power of rivers may ebb and flow with the seasons, and can be blocked or lessened by projects such as bridges or dams. Rivers attract attendant spirits and are essentially minor gods unto themselves, so building a simple bridge involves bargaining or chaining the resident spirit. Rivers have fewer nexus points, whereas geological lines form a kind of net, but they may form nodes at sites such as waterfalls where they interact with the geological lines. Rivers and streams have a kind of world-walking magic inherent to them- Estuaries and the mouths of rivers are often the sites of ethereal portals, which souls use when entering the underworld, and crossing three streams can land you in the land of the Fey. In a way, each land bounded by a river is partially it’s own plane, with it’s own slightly different set of natural laws. This is also why vampires have trouble crossing running water, since they are creatures out of sync with reality.

The Winds of Magic.
More akin to magical radiation blown on the wind, than the power of the wind itself. Although fickle, these powers are easily accessible, and as such are the starting point for many wizard’s spells. Plenty of spell preparation involves consulting almanacs, considering moon phases and weather forecasts, in order to tune spells to the appropriate conditions of the Winds. The winds come in many ‘colours,’ visible only to the magically attuned. Most common are the seven winds that correspond to the seven levels of the soul, but there are other shades as well. The Octarine wind of dawn is one of the most potent, and it is this wind that recharges many artifacts, which otherwise might be too portable to be tapped in to a reliable power source.

Elemental Planes. Another source of magical energy involves essentially poking a hole in reality to access another dimension, and then sculpting and harnessing the forces that poor out. The issue is, these rifts are not stable on their own (and if they are, they can cause all kinds of problems), and require an investment of magic to create. Often the magic required to hold open a portal is as much or greater than the power that can be harvested from the portal, and as such spells that utilize this technique tend to be quick taps into high-energy dimensions, such as the Plane of Fire. Naturally occurring or otherwise permanent portals exist as well, especially at the nodes of leylines which can help keep them stable, but even a ‘permanent’ portal can be a fickle source of power, only functioning and specific times of day or under specific conditions- which can be in fact useful if a wizard wants to use a portal for transport, and would prefer the gateway be somewhat secure against the uninitiated.

The Gods. Faith is a source of great power, and the gods can maintain a miracle essentially infinitely should they choose- but the gods can be fickle. Clerics do not necessarily require a leyline for a permanent magical effect, but they may need to set up elaborate ritual elements, altars, holy symbols, to maintain the miracle. There exist temples where the priests sit in constant prayer, intent on maintaining some obscure magical effect. Priests of the wind god often set up flags or prayer wheels, and driven by the wind they manufacture constant stores of faith. Other beings of lesser power may fulfill a similar function, albeit on a smaller scale, such as through the gifts given to warlocks and cultists.

Sorcerers. Those with innate magic may tap into any of the above, but the core of their magic is their own. It burns within them, providing the seed for all their spells- even in a world otherwise dead to magic, the weakest sorcerer might be able to muster the power to lift a pebble or light a candle.

The Mystery. No one is quite sure where bards get their power, including bards themselves. At lower levels, they might not even realize they are casting spells. They may tap into and dabble with leylines, faith, or any of the other means listed above, they may even have a sorcerous spark within them (and many do)- but the core of their ability is unknown. The magic does not seem to always originate from them, sometimes, rather, it happens to be there at the right time, and they happen to stumble upon it. A feather fall spell may manifest as a conveniently placed haycart, magical defenses can appear as amazing coincidences of luck, and even flashier magics disguise themselves as unlikely confluences of events. Above all the power of their music or even just their simple suggestions to influence minds and change the course of events cannot be easily explained

It’s a Trick!
As the aforementioned ‘invisible’ bridge, sometimes the easiest and most mana-effecient solution is not to use ‘true’ magic at all. Many studies of the arcane include learning particular combinations of smoke and mirrors, whereby a practitioner’s apparent power may be magnified. 


Harnessing & Storage

Gemstones. Some of the most flexible and potent vessels for magic, gems come in all shapes, sizes and uses. Small or poor-quality stones may ‘burn out’ after a few uses, but with the correct precautions a more powerful gem may become a ‘rechargeable battery,’ gaining it’s power from the Winds of Magic, leylines, or the magic of the wielder.

Token objects. Certain objects may accrue specific magical energies around themselves, such as a much-loved child’s toy, a veteran’s blade, or a lucky coin. These magics can be tricky to harness however, as the magic may be specifically attuned (a lucky coin that is good for luck magic but little else), and they may recharge slowly or not at all. Nevertheless they can be useful, and they are the origin of many ‘naturally occurring’ magic items, some of which have considerable, if unsophisticated, levels of potency.

Runes. Situated somewhere between a leyline, a token object, and an element of language, lies the rune. Thousands upon thousands of runes occur in nature, in the random jumble of sticks and stones, in the swirl of leaves and the lines laid by frost and carved by water. Many of these are simple, nearly powerless, like the background static noise of the universe. Others are unparalleled instruments of fate, the runes at the heart of creation, that repeat again and again and resonate in the hearts of all mortals. Fashioned into the surface of an object, they inscribe it’s magic with form and intent. They themselves can provide their own power, but this is often finicky, and often better paired with gems or ritual elements to ease the process.

Pearls of power. Naturally occurring rifts of magic, pinprick-sized, wink in and out of existence every second. Sometimes when they appear within a sensitive organic form, such as a giant clam or a sorcerer’s brain, they stick and the organism begins to secrete a protective coat around it, like a pearl. Those occurring in humans can be less pleasant than the mollusk variety, appearing as a tumor, a bezoar, a carbuncle, and so on- although pearl-like opaline structures have been known to occur.

Tuesday, 21 January 2020

Poison Is OP

Poisons are OP, aka 'Re-Fanging New-School Poison'

Designed to work with Ten Foot Polemic’s death and dying rules. Poison, however, is mentioned only briefly in those rules, and there is no generic poison ‘death and dying’ table to roll on… which sort of makes sense, given the specificity of most poison. I’ve tried to make each poison feel a little unique, while still keeping them simple to run.

As a place to start, I’ve adapted the classic D&D poisons as they appear in 5e. The damages are calculated for 5e-like games, with their inflated hit points, so you may need to adjust for more OSR-type games.

But 5e poisons, in a 5e context, aren't super dangerous. And worst of all, they don't feel poison-y. This should fix that, where even weak poison is a potential pain in the ass.

Notes on terminology: 
- The 'poisoned' condition is from 5e. It just means you have disadvantage on attack rolls and ability checks (this includes skill checks, initiative rolls- basically any d20 roll that isn't an attack roll or a saving throw)
- I refer to 'poison tokens' but Ten Foot Polemic uses the term 'death dice' 'bleed points' and so on interchangeably. They're all the same thing.
- Death Tables: Some poisons have specialized tables. Use these instead of the generic tables. At some point I plan to write a generic poison table, but for now I mostly just use the 'bleeding,' or 'necrotizing' if I'm feeling fancy.


Basic Poison
1d4 poison damage, plus DC 11 save or gain that many poisoned bleed tokens. When you have more than 4 poisoned bleed tokens, you are poisoned.
by Matthew Stewart

Assassin’s Blood
Ingested, no initial save, OR Injury, DC 10 Save
Gain 1d4 generic poison tokens. At the end of each of your turns, as long as you have any poison tokens, make a DC 10 save. Gain 1d4 poison bleed tokens on a failure, or remove one poison token on a success. As long as you have any of these poison tokens, you cannot benefit from magical healing.

Death Table
1-10, vomiting, ‘poisoned’ condition, 1 poisoned pain token
11-15, bleeding sores, coughing blood, 1d4 poisoned trauma dice
16-20, organ failure begins, bleeding from all orifices, incapacitated, all ability scored halved until recovery (min 1d6 days)
21+ organs shut down, death in 1d4 rounds

Burnt Uther Fumes
Inhaled, DC 13 Save
Take 2d6 damage, and also gain that many poisoned bleed tokens and one poisoned pain token.
At the start of that creature’s turn, they make another save, reducing those bleed tokens by 1d6 on a success or adding one pain token on a failure.

Crawler Mucus
Contact, DC 13 Save
1d10 poisoned pain tokens, or 1 token on a successful save. Targets may have a maximum of 10 of these tokens. The target is paralyzed if they fail their test against pain, which they must test for whether or not they ‘tempt fate.’ If they fail this test, they are paralyzed for as long as any poisoned pain tokens remain. At the end of each of their turns, they make another save, removing one token on a success.

Drow Poison
1d4 poison sleep tokens, the target is poisoned for as long as they have these tokens. At the end of each of their turns, roll all their sleep tokens- if the total exceeds their current hit points, they fall unconscious until they have no more poison sleep tokens, or are damaged or shook awake. Remove one sleep token every minute if there are more than 4, or one every 10 minutes if there are less than 4.
Note: this poison is specifically designed to work on elves, so it bypasses their normal sleep resistance. It's not actually true sleep at all, being a kind of psychic paralysis, locking the mind of the creature away in horrifying dreams. Creatures that are immune to sleep AND cannot dream may be immune to this poison.

Essence of Ether – works as written
By Konstantin Vavilov

Malice – works as written

Midnight Tears – works as written
Death Table
1-5, uncontrollable weeping, 1 pain token
10-15, 4 poisoned bleed tokens, permanent blindness unless cured by magic
16-20 unconscious, 1d4 trauma tokens
20+ Death

Oil of Taggit – works as written

Pale Tincture – works as written

Purple Worm Venom
Injury, DC 19
9d6 poison damage, and for each 6 rolled gain a poisoned bleed token, for each double rolled gain a poisoned pain token.
Death Table:
1-15, Gain 1 poisoned trauma token
16-20, Gain 1d4 poisoned trauma tokens
21+ Gain 2d4 poisoned trauma tokens

Serpent Venom
Injury, DC 11
2d6 poison damage. Gain that many poisoned bleed tokens on a failed save, or on a successful save gain one for any 6’s rolled for that poison damage.
Death Table:
1-15, Gain 1 poisoned trauma token
16-20 severe cardiac arrest, death in 1d4 rounds
20+ brain shuts down, death

by Carne Griffiths
Ingested, no initial save
Gain 2d4 poison tokens, and 1d4 poisoned pain tokens. As long as you have poison, make a DC 15 save every round, removing a token on a success and gaining a pain token on a failure. You must also make a pain test at the end of every round, becoming incapacitated on a failure.

Truth Serum
Ingested, no initial save
Gain 2d4 poison tokens. As long as you have these tokens you are poisoned, and you must make a DC 15 saving throw to knowingly speak a lie. In addition, you have disadvantage on deception checks. Remove on poison token every 10 minutes.

Wyvern Poison
7d6 poison damage, plus DC 15 save or also gain that many poisoned bleed tokens. For each turn you take bleed damage from this poison, gain 1 poisoned pain point.

Saturday, 18 January 2020

Unique Treasures

For use when you have to roll up one of those pesky 'Art Items' in a treasure hoard. Treasure is part of the adventure, so it's always a pet peeve of mine when a published book says 'gold earrings' or something for treasure. Even a boring description would be better than nothing!

Prices are given in SP, but use whatever increment equals 1 experience point in your game. Or don't, because honestly keeping the difference is a pretty good way to split high-power from more gritty-feeling games.

I really should be crediting the artist on some of these, but I've been working on this post so long and in such a piecemeal fashion that I've totally lost track. If you know any of them, tell me!

1. Angular Raven Mask - 1,000 sp 
Carved of Pure Obsidian, magicked to be as strong as steel. Can be used as a regular helm, and the beak can be used to attack in a grapple (or very close combat- knife vs. knife for example) for 1d6 damage (no bonus for Str or Dex, as this is not exactly an optimized weapon)

2. Armillary Ring - 100-250 sp 
Marked with xodiac symbols, as well as planets. With it, one can calculate astronomical events- for example, knowing which day of the year it is, one could determine when the sun or moon would rise and set, what stars might hold sway, and so on. This being a small device, it should not be so relied upon as a proper full sized instrument. Intricate, magical versions of this, where the rings fold out and out again to form a impossibly-large sphere, could be worth up to ten times as much (depending on the DM's needs when you roll this)

3. Opalsidian Blade- 500 sp
Surprisingly sharp and durable. Hits vs. ghosts and spirits, but also breaks on a natural 1.

4. Nine-barreled Gun - 500 sp
Extraordinarily impractical in most situations but, like, SO dope. With it, attack rolls can be made against up to nine targets in a 15-ft square area, however all attacks are made with disadvantage. When fired, the wielder must make a DC 15 Con saving throw or break their shoulder from the recoil. As stated, rather impractical, but worth a considerable amount to a collector.

5. Tea Party Weapons - 1,000 sp
Created by a warrior culture deeply invested in ritual and ceremony. Even meals must be accompanied by a weapon, therefore these ceremonial weapons provide recourse without impinging the honour of either warrior or guest. We'll say the thing that coincidentally looks like a grenade is a potion or a very large tea pot...

6. Nymph Earrings - 100 sp
These tiny elementals chew through rock, secreting minerals like gold and silver, along with precious stones, to make their shells. In earring form, the insect is still alive, tricked into clamping down on an adamantium loop which it cannot bite through. It tenaciously hangs on, while accompanying it's host through interminable dinner parties, dungeon crawls, etc.

5. Moss Agate Garden - 200 sp
this naturally-occurring slice of rock seems to contain a miniature painted scene. Magical versions might be portals to tiny pocket dimensions, which are worth up to ten times as much. Because this is not a crafted magic item, the stone provides no natural way to access the inner world, but a simple teleport or dimension door spell will suffice.

6. Scarab Teacup & Saucer - 150 sp (1,500 for the whole set!)
Used traditionally for the 'last supper' for noble prisoners before they were executed, these designs took on a macabre popularity among the dwellers of the ancient city (insert ruined civilization as appropriate). Players should be awarded only when these fragile items are safely escorted out of the dungeon.

Thursday, 28 November 2019

Star-Map of the Five Earths

I dug up this ancient map of mine. Remember MS Paint? I was actually looking for 2009 photos for that cheesy af 'glow-up' meme that's going around on FB- I love stuff like that <3 
Remarkably little has changed in the last decade, which considering how much I add and subtract as I work on the setting is kind of interesting. Something about this image has burned itself into my mind, perhaps. Or maybe it's just that most of the games I run are set on one world, Iseult, so this mostly comes up as background and context for various monsters. So maybe this is all kind of a bespoke passion project, explaining why not much has changed- no world survives first contact with the players

But I'd like to include interactions with it more, and characters in the main game I'm running right now are getting to the point where they might start venturing out there of their own accord- if they don't all get killed by Acererak I suppose

Legend (and commentary)
You could insert this into a setting at the same point you'd normally put the 'prime material plane'- but instead of one plane you have this messy tangle.

the circles are planes, and the little dot-circles are planets. The distinction between a plane and a planet is a little blurry- basically a planet is a plane that intrudes in a major way into the 'astral' plane of the Blind Eternity (name stolen from MtG)

the rectangle shapes are solar systems, and the name of their associated sun.

The planets that are bolded are the five 'earths' (the most inhabitable for human and human-like life)

Some updates are in order: I'd like to add Ginnugap and some other stuff mentioned in my the 'five earths' blog post. I'd like to add Phosma and Nastramor to the Iseult system, and Shub-Nigguruth to... some system I don't like very much. Maybe all of them ;)

Friday, 22 November 2019

Do you believe in Luck?

There's been some speculation as to the role dice play in the roleplaying game. Dice as the decision-maker, adjudicating and limiting options, and the oracular role of the dice in expanding options. There's a missing element here though! Or at least not explicitly stated. That's the mythological significance of the dice themselves.

Do you believe in luck? Do you feel lucky, punk?

It's almost an existential question. We're running a simulation of a world here, and we're running a game of chance. That world reflects our own, whether it's a clear reflection or a smokey mirror it still says something about what we believe. Here are some questions about how we approach this, broadly-- 1. Do we believe our own world is random, deterministic, is luck random truly or is it an attribute that things or people might possess, or which forces or spirits might assign? 2: is there free will, and if so what is the nature of free will? 3. does the game have a parallel to our own, or is there are departure? 4- If there is a departure, what is the game? It's possible that the game world is framed as an escape from the normal rules, creating a new set of rules-within-rules. Or it may be simply an extension of the same order, played out in miniature and simplification.

I use this dynamic somewhat consciously. In the world of the game, the mythology is on of the Authority, a nearly-omnipotent god who set all of the world in motion. That's the claim anyway! Alignment is a great example of this cosmic dictation- how much of you being 'good' or 'evil' is because of your actions, and how much is because that's the cosmic slot you've been assigned? Who's making that decision? The DICE sort of act as an intervention into that space, almost an outside force acting on the fabric of the game world. The Authority can dictate everything within the world, but surely not the result of a d20 roll on the physical, real table in front of the player!

So it becomes a random, uncaring, deterministic world which is actively contradicting the cosmic Ordered world within the fiction, and the 'fiction' becomes as much the propaganda of the Church as it is the fiction of the story- although the two are heavily intertwined. It's the Authority's story, as much as any. And I should note that it's questionable how 'true' that ideology of the Authority really is, since no one's actually MET them-but it IS clear that there's a force within the universe that's shaping things in a specific way, and alignment is maybe one of the more player-facing elements of that. I'm constantly, maybe heavy-handedly, trying to get my players to question alignment, and how it's imposed and by who.

I suppose that says a lot about my own philosophy and ethic. And I think the choices anyone makes about how to interact with the dice say a lot about how they see the world, and how we see the world of the game, whether they're conscious decisions or not.

I also like the dynamic of prophecies or fortune telling within the world of the game, as a way of highlighting those different levels of reality. Of course you can use the prophecy as a kind of mechanic, similar to the 5e divination wizards school 'portent' ability, or any kind of 'luck' mechanic. You could even be more heavy handed- if a character is prophecied to die by fire, you could just have it so they CAN'T die any other way, and events conspire to protect them until their fate is sealed. But my favourite way of handling it is to make a prophecy and then... do nothing. At least nothing specific. A suitably vague prophecy of course helps a lot with this. But I find often events conspire naturally to fulfill the prediction, or just as good, when the prophecy falls flat completely (or needs to be re-interpreted)

A shared ritual space:
Another place this comes up is in the social contract of the game. The element of the dice allows multiple points of view on this to come together to one table to play. One person might say 'you, the GM, believe the world is deterministic, but I, the player, shall prove you wrong through the stunning acts of daring my character performs in the course of the game. Surely some fate must be looking out on my behalf!' Other permutations of course are possible.

Hence the common hang ups some players have around people touching their dice without permission. This might be ascribed to simple personal property issues, not wanting your dice to end up in another player's bag, etc. But more common I observe the belief that it effects the luck of the dice- similar to the practice of having 'lucky' dice, which may even be reserved for specific situations in play. Tools of oracle- altar, tarot cards, athame, there are plenty of magical tools that are traditionally only supposed to be handled by the practitioner themselves, or else by others only under certain conditions. I could probably write a whole post, and whole books have certainly been written, about the 'proper' way of approaching these ritual tools. This adherence to certain ritual, whatever that may be for the individual, is I think is another venue to bring different worldviews together to create a shared experience at the table.

The 24-sided die as 'rulebreaker'
One way I have exploited this ritual element to create a certain impact on the game and the players is with special dice. It's something I want to experiment with more. When my players encountered Strahd von Zarovich they discovered that instead of rolling a regular d20 he had a special purple d24 to use instead. I'm not great at statistics, but that seems like on average a +2 bonus over his regular abilities- not a huge increase, but the psychology of the extra numbers on the dice made it feel like it was unfair, weighted against the players and in favour of the vampire, which is exactly what it was.

I also keep a special Fudge die or two on hand, to resolve truly arbitrary situations. The d20 has the feeling of some sort of fairness, like your abilities and modifiers could matter, like there's a set difficulty or target. Rolling a d20 makes players feel like they should be able to affect the roll. A percentage d100 roll is too clinical and math-y, and it opens the door to debate on the actual probability, players arguing why they should have a 75% chance instead of only 50%- which is maybe what you want in some situations. But a fudge dice feels truly arbitrary

I have another set of dice with little shields and swords on them, from some boardgame, I'd like to design a monster that rolls them to dictate it's attack and defense for the turn. Or another set of D6s with numbers in the negative and positive range, making them very swingy. Anything basically to remind players that they're rolling dice, and why, and to get them to think outside the box instead of just another 'd20 roll to hit.'

And of course, the upshot of all these shenanigans is also to preserve the sense that rolling a dice is risky. It carries failure within it. Players should try to avoid rolling dice whenever possible, unless they truly have something to gain. Most traps, for example, can be bypassed with absolutely zero rolls. Social situations are the same, and even in combat I like to only roll the dice when absolutely necessary- if it makes logical sense, you can just do it, no roll required. This increases buy-in with the world of the game, and makes the moments when you do roll dice actually significant.

The flip side of this is using unnecessary rolling to hammer home a point. Goblin Punch's rules for drunkeness for example increase the characters critical failure range by 1 for every point of drunk they have. You can bet that if your character is hammered I'm gonna be calling for rolls for even relatively simple things, just to see what happens. I've also got an idea for a gremlin/slaad type monster which just has a static ability that forces characters to roll for everything- not increasing the difficulty at all, but if you have to roll you might fail... I feel this would be especially effective for OSR games where rolling is less of the norm, and 'DCs' are practically unknown

bring in Marcel Duchamp yo
One of my favourite essays (actually probably more than one) in art school was on this idea of 'latency.' It's an expansion on the idea of the gap between 'the intentions of the artist' on the one hand, and the 'perceptions of the audience' on the other. The gap between the lightning and the arrival of the thunder is a latent moment, or the latency time on an internet connection, or the time while the dice are in the air, after being thrown but before being read. Within that gap is a kind of transcendental moment, but it's a material transcendence, it relies on the medium of the expression. Painting, music, or in this case, dice. In that gap of the unknown, ignorant misunderstanding, the universe rushes in, and we trust the medium to take us to the other side.

Tuesday, 29 October 2019

GLOG class: Severed Head

I wanted to make a spooky halloween class, so here we go!

Not just for severed heads! You could be any kind of basically-immobile creepy dude

you're the guy in the back

Starting Skill: History, Literature, Religion, Anathema, Chartered

A: Severed Head, Store of Weird Lore, Encouragement
B: Helpful advice, Intuit
C: Commandeer Body, Minion
D: Laughing Flight, Intuit x2

Severed Head: You are a severed head. Perhaps you are a zombie, fae, evil wizard, pumpkin, brain in a jar, or something else. Point is, you have no arms, legs, or body. You can magically still talk even though you don't have lungs, tho. You can't hold things, except very small things in your mouth, which may impede your ability to talk. You take up one inventory slot, but probably insist on being a held item as much as possible 'cuz it's more fun.

Weird Lore: You gain the 'weird lore' skill. This is only useful for stuff about monsters and magic that no-one should really reasonably know- if you encounter a unique slime on subsurface level #8, you get a skill check to see if you know stuff about it. You were a really bizarre scientist when you were alive, or something.
I love mysteries in games, but mysteries are only really fun if someone has a reasonable chance of learning more about them.

Encouragement: Despite being super annoying, your constant instructions and stream of conversations do in fact spur your host to get things done. On your turn, you can essentially take an action for them, with their permission- fighters can attack, wizards can cast a spell, etc. You can't move AND act, but you can use your (their) action to move- this also means characters carrying you can force-march longer and faster than normal (+50% speed). This ability doesn't override 'charm' type effects, but can allow the character to ignore 'confusion' or illusions if the severed head isn't also affected. If the character can't see a target but the severed head can, the head can goad an attack, but the attack still has disadvantage as normal.
Usually the severed head player should roll for the attack or whatever, but a stubborn 'host' player could certainly elect to keep the dice for themselves.

Helpful Advice. Once per session per Severed Head template, you can 'help' a character to allow them to re-roll an ability, skill check, or attack roll, using your Intelligence bonus in place of their own ability score if yours is higher. Alternatively, when not directly in combat with an someone, you can use your advice to undermine an attempt, forcing them to re-roll such a check which would otherwise be successful. If they have reason to distrust you, they get a Wisdom saving throw to resist, and if they are actively hostile towards you or your carrier they are immune to such sabotage.

Intuit: Once per session, you learn some DM-only information about a creature, room, or encounter. This could be AC, Saves, an Ability Score, Challenge Rating, the location of a secret door, how many rounds until the volcano erupts, etc. It has to be something you're interacting with, so you can't intuit stuff about the Overpope of Zenith when they're on the other side of the continent.

you're the pumpkin
Commandeer Body: by removing the head of a humanoid and placing yourself atop the stump, you are able to pilot the body fit your own. This takes a full minute as you prepare the requisite technological/magical interventions, and have yourself bolted securely in place. Obviously you cannot do this yourself, so someone else will have to do it, following your instructions. You use the corpse's Str, Dex & Con. The corpses hp is equal to its constitution score, but once you're out of HP the corpse takes ability score damage instead of simply dying. These borrowed stats degrade by 1d6 per day until the corpse is unusable. HP heals to full on a short rest.

Minion: You get a brainwashed minion to follow you around. They have mediocre stats, 1d10 HP, and the skill 'Minion' which they use to do things like prepare bodies for you to commandeer. They're not proficient in any weapons, but they'll attack anyway if you order them to. They'll probably die a lot, but a new one will show up the next time you take a long rest in a town, encampment, or anywhere there's lots of people you could reasonably coerce. Roll at least once on the 'How I Browbeat or Duped This Poor Idiot Into Working For Me' table

At the GM's option, you may be able to minion-ize a goblin or other weak but intelligent monster to replace a lost minion (these don't show up automatically, you might have to track 'em down.)

Laughing Flight: You can channel your eldritch power to take to the air, traditionally laughing maniacally as you do so. You can fly for a number of rounds per day equal to your Constitution score. Once per day, plus one additional time for each point of Charisma bonus you have, you can also cackle maniacally while you do so, causing every enemy within 60 ft. who can hear you to Save vs Fear or else flee in terror for 1d10 rounds.
        If you use this ability to leave a body you have Commandeered, you may return to it and assume control again immediately (naturally your preparations included a little landing pad and some docking hooks)

Table: How I Browbeat and/or Duped This Poor Idiot Into Working For Me Basically For Free
1- They were extremely poor, and are under the impression that the 1d6 copper pieces you toss to them per day represent a hoard of generous wealth. To be fair, they're probably getting a better deal than anyone else on this table. If you fail to pay this measly stipend they become quickly extremely irate and even violently hostile- if there are many such minions, they'll probably organize a militant union.
2- They're conveniently enchanted. You didn't cast the spell, but you recognized it and hijacked it for your own purposes. They have one active but sometimes useful command that you can't figure out how to turn off, such as 'insists on being the one to open all doors,' 'won't attack humans,' stuff like that
3- They're so in awe of your genius they'll follow you everywhere, as long as you let them 'help' with some of your magical experiments.
4- You've promised them a share of the treasure. They will accept almost any excuse as to why the don't qualify for a share of THIS particular treasure. As long as you keep lying to them, they won't figure out they're being screwed
5- Blackmail! They did something horrible, you know about it, and if they don't do exactly as you say EVERYONE will find out.
6- You broke a curse they were suffering under. They weren't actually cursed, it was all in their head, but now they're indebted to you. Could also have been a curse on a beloved family member.
7- You've convinced them that you or one of your companions are a ranking officer in whatever cult or military the used to be part of. When faced with evidence to the contrary, they will assume whoever revealed the truth must be a traitor or trying to test them, and may respond with violence
8- They were going to be executed, but you convinced the authorities to let them come with you instead, since it's basically a death sentence anyway.
9- You helped them fake their own death to escape authorities/the mob, and they have to stick with you until the whole thing blows over
10- They're a poet, you're their 'patron,' and this whole thing is an 'artistic experience'
11- Technically they don't work for you, they work for some bureaucracy who pays their salary, and what you're doing here is kind of embezzlement
12- They were sent to spy on you, but they're really bad at it, so you keep them around in case they end up being useful
13- Lost a bet, so they also have to do this entire dungeon in their underpants
14- It's a pyramid scheme, you recruited them to be their minion, and they'll recruit other people to be THEIR minions. They will never recruit their own minions, but this won't stop them from trying.
15- They're a magical construct, like a homunculus, and therefore must do whatever you say.
16- You bribed a fortune teller to prophecy that it was their destiny to be your follower.
17- A demon or sorcerer sold you the schmuck's soul for cheap, so if they want to get it back they have to do what you say
18- Just an extremely eager, ambitious, and incompetent apprentice.
19- After all this is over, you've promised to owe them a favour.
20- they are extremely drunk (critical failure on 1-5 instead of just a 1)

Tuesday, 1 October 2019

Dreaming Death

There are many, many worlds, but there is only one dreamland. Or rather, there are as many dream worlds as there are dreams and dreamers, but they are all connected to each other by the simple act of dreaming.

And so of course, it's very possible to die in your dreams.

Note: CW. take care with this list, I've been saving it for halloween month cuz it got a lot darker and more horror-y than I expected. This is some Last Gasp level dark shit, if I do say so myself. Or maybe they just freak me out 'cuz they're *my* dreams

Wrote this to solve the problem of spells like nightmare where you apparently can die of a dream, but who has time to make up a nightmare on the fly? Well, me usually, but here's some good inspiration

by Bogdan Rezunenko

D10 ways to die in your dreams

1. Giant horned beast hunts you through an e endless maze. Each twist and turn requires you to backtrack, and the beast gets closer. You can smell its rank stench, hear its breathing far away in the corridors. You come to the grey wall of a dead end. Starting up at the wall, you know that the beast is right behind you.
2: you eat and eat, but you never seem to get full. You eat your whole bowl of food, than another, then you are shovelling the contents of the table into your jaws, running to the pantry and pouring flour spices directly into your mouth. You turn on your family, seeing nothing there but food that tries to flee you. It is only lying there, bloated to the point of rupturing your guts, lapping lazily at the blood spilled across your chest, that you start vomiting blood and you finally feel satiated
3. You know your brother is a wolf. Maybe he's been replaced, maybe he always was, but you saw his ears, his yellow eyes, his tail, watching him talking with someone else. He feels you watching, meets your fearful eyes. 'It's alright' he says to you. 'There's nothing you can do to stop it.' No one else hears. No one else believes you. One by one they start turning up dead, or vanishing, until you are alone in the empty house. Except for him, of course. He saved you for last.
4. You are being walked up to the gallows. The jeering crowd. As the noose is placed around your neck, you think, this is mistake! But you look down at your hands (why didn't they tie up your hands?) And they're soaked in blood. You're covered in scratched from where they fought back, but they couldn't beat you. As the bag is placed over your head, and the door opens beneath you, you wish and try to remember why you did it. Why did you kill t
5. It's started raining. You're outside by the ocean. The raindrops fall through you, washing away your realness. You start to fade. The ocean and the beach. You open your mouth to scream but you have no mouth, no body. Just the sound of the wind and the waves and the pebbles bring washed ever more smooth
6. The tower is on fire. Backed up against a window, but it's so far up you can't bear to look out. You know if you look you'll have to jump, to escape the flame, so you force yourself to look straight ahead as the red fingers creep across the floor, begin to caress your skin. As the skin on your face peels, you smile. At least you didn't jump.
7. You have been sneezing for days. There's so much pollen in the air. You have a rash, and as you scratch you find little seeds embedded under your skin. You scratch your skin raw to get them out, the green tendrils of them growing so fast. You can't reach the ones on your back. They're drinking your blood, making you weaker. You stumble your way through the deserted city. Everything is so green, so hot, so many flowers, clustered like people clinging to each other for comfort. You find a cool spot where you can rest. Just for a minute. Just until the mass on your back stops wriggling dry much. Stops digging in.
8. You are lost in the desert. In the distance, an oasis shimmers, and you drag each ffoot as you walk towards it. Your lips split from the heat, but they don't bleed, you dying have enough moisture. You try to lick them, but your tongue is leathery and dry, you can barely move it at all without choking on it. You're so close. The sand burns you as you drag yourself over the crest of the Dube-but the oasis was gone, another mirage. In the distance an oasis shimmers, but you know it is too far away for you to ever make it there. It's probably not real anyway. But you never get to find out.
9. Dawn breaks dull and grey and still. Alongside your best friend, you walk into the clearing, breath fogging in the cold crisp air. Your opponent is waiting there for you, sword drawn. A duel to the death. You circle each other like dogs, then leap together. Swords clash. You parry weave, trying every pattern you know, searching for their weakness. Your opponent matches you stroke for stroke, and then, just when you think you've found an opening, twists and strikes you. You stare at the point impaling your chest, then fall back on the grass as blood spreads out across your white shirt like a drop of ink in water. You stare up at the first blue appearing in the morning sky. It's going to be a beautiful day.
10. The teeth in your head twist and writhe, escaping some whining noise that emanates deep within your skull. With little claw-like legs, their hard bodies twist out of your gums, filling your mouth with blood. Some you spit out, but others burrow upward towards your brain, as the keening sound in your head reaches a fever pitch, masking some but not nearly enough of the pain.

Thursday, 19 September 2019

d100 Trash and Junk Table

Sometimes Many Goblins find a weird piece of garbage. Sometimes a slaad turns your sword into a random object. Sometimes a murderhobo is grubbing around, clearly unable to move on from this area until they find SOMETHING, but there's definitely no treasure, so you throw them a bone (entry 39) or an oversized moldy boot (entry 20)

I wrote these over quite a long period, so let me know if there are total duplicates and other things that I missed. Also, thank you to my D&D players for helping me crank out the last 10 or so! Very excellent garbage, team <3

d100 Trash & Cool Junk Table
  1. A monster that wants to eat you! 1- carrion crawler, 2- fungus (yellow mold, purple fungus, etc), 3- Otyugh, 4- Rot Grubs
  2. A paper wasp nest. Maybe a 50% chance it's full of wasps?
  3. An ornate table leg that can be used as a club
  4. Lead coin somewhat unconvincingly painted gold
  5. bag of 100 small balls, like golf balls. May actually be golf balls.
  6. Jar filled with live snails
  7. Urn filled with ashes
  8. tangled bundle of string. Very dirty, but quite sturdy
  9. A ten-foot pole that's been duct taped back together
  10. A large shell with a crack in it, in it you can hear static instead of the ocean
  11. set of bone dice, poorly shaved in attempt to cheat
  12. Bag of bent and rusty caltrops
  13. A fishing net, holes in it badly repaired
  14. Many socks. Do any match? Sort them to find out!
  15. Rusty straight razor
  16. Axe handle
  17. Cool rock (1-purple band, 2- yellow speckles, 3-weird face shape, 3-almost perfectly round)
  18. Shovel, blade split nearly in half
  19. jar filled with green stuff. Food? Just algae & mold now.
  20. single oversized moldy boor
  21. Box of mostly unspoiled potatoes
  22. Bag of crumpled pieces of colourful paper
  23. A basket with a broken handle
  24. Very stale scones, can be thrown as projectiles dealing 1d4 damage
  25. Spoiled healing potion. Will heal you, but will also make you sick for 1d6 hours
  26. Book missing many pages. 1- manual for operating mining equipment; 2- Harlequin romance; 3- hysterical religious text; 4- cookbook for cooking monsters & other dungeon creatures
  27. Almost entirely used-up batteries, made of copper, light (nondamaging) acid, copper.
  28. broken radio-type machine, only plays (loud) static
  29. Several rope scraps tied together to make a 50-ft length. 25% base chance it breaks when used.
  30. Many expired credit cards
  31. Very scratched CD(s), records, or other recording media
  32. Pens with broken nibs, leaky inkwells
  33. Quite a few burlap sacks
  34. fragment of a spell scroll. Not salvageable, but reading it gives you a minor headache and dizzy spell
  35. Can of paint with 1/2 inch of goey paint at the bottom
  36. Cracked amphora, no lid
  37. Large candle stub 
  38. long string, tangled and fragile but suitable as wick/fuse
  39. A well-chewed femur, heavy enough to be a club
  40. Bottle of wine turned to slightly sludgy vinegar
  41. A thumbnail-sized ballbearing
  42. A lot of somewhat moldy straw
  43. Ripped pillow cases 1-polka dots, 2- zebra/leopard prints, 3- black, 4- cut animal prints (owlbears, froghemoths, etc)
  44. Half a roll of tape-bandage. Not clean enough to use as bandage safely, without disinfectant etc
  45. jack-o-latern, dried into a somewhat-sturdy container
  46.  Stuffed toy, 1 - owlbear, 2- froghemoth, 3- behir, 4- displacer beast
  47. chess set missing 1d10 pieces. Chess pieces are 1- dragons, 2-modrons/slaad, 3- geometrical shapes with arcane significance, 4- birds vs the church (very heretical)
  48. Deck of cards, only 5d12 cards (if more than a normal deck, then its' several incomplete decks mashed together)
  49. Book,  paper written on so many times as to be completely black
  50. White Ink
  51. Tin soldier (livery of nearest sympathetic empire, geographic or historic), bent, one arm missing
  52. Sword bent entirely around like a pretzel
  53. Tattered black cowl, blood will wash out
  54. pretty gross smelling soap, too much lye in it so it stings
  55. Perfectly fine boots, but they're a really obnoxious lime green
  56. Manacles, locked, no key
  57. A black box from an airplane. Doesn't matter whether your campaign has airplanes.
  58. Single glove with six fingers
  59. Fake skull. Kinda convincing, but not THAT convincing.
  60. extremely scratched magnifying glass
  61. Psychic paper, but it shows a random thing instead of 'what you expect to see' (1- picture of your/theirs/someone else's kids, 2- the number 'they were thinking of', 3- a queen of hearts, 4- a diary entry of one of the characters, 5- animal facts, 6- porno) 
  62. Key (to a random locked door nearby, ideally)
  63. Feather duster missing half it's feathers
  64. Broom with all the bristles broken off way too short. 
  65. Abacus with only 2d6 remaining beads, some broken runners
  66. Burnt-out lightbulbs (1d6)
  67. Painting in a frame. It's not very good (but that doesn't matter), and it's ripped and stained.
  68. Beartrap, rusted shut
  69. Bucket with a hole in  it
  70. 2d6 cracked and chipped plates and/or saucers
  71. Bent fork
  72. A perfectly good sewing needle
  73. Helmet, three-quarters melted
  74. Shard of broken mirror
  75. Small box with different fishing weights
  76. Fused-up tanglefoot bag
  77. Collection of 2d8 worn, faded, and cut up periodicals (Nat Geo, but with dragons... Unnatural Geomantic?)
  78. A cheap trophy for an unpopular sport (1-lacrosse, 2- curling, 3- quidditch) 
  79. A towel!
  80. A chair with one leg that's quite a bit too short
  81. 1/10th of a roll of tape
  82. Bent & ruined lockpicks
  83. preserved peaches so old they've turned into a kind of weird slurry- still edible tho!
  84. Terracotta flower pots, 1d6 (stacked), 50% cracked
  85. Quarter 'ration' of oil
  86. Battered storm lantern that won't stand up straight
  87.  bag of broken glass, safely wrapped
  88.  Old atlas, out of date but not SO out of date to be particularly  historical
  89. A full can of whipped cream. All the nitrous is gone. Nearby are a gang of whippet-high goblins
  90. mold-saturated blanket
  91. A jar of mismatched buttons
  92. A single sandle, slighty magic, falls apart and bits float away if handled roughly
  93. Large rotten molar covered in tooth-fairy dust
  94. A tattered portrait of a decorated admiral with the face of a frowning cat. Did he ever really exist?
  95. Leather bound journal filled with scratchings of a madman, final entry is only discernible sentence: "It's all true"
  96. torn-off cover of a wizard's grimoire
  97. 3d10 mismatched letters for typesetting
  98. 1d4 strings of cheap beads (mardi gras style)
  99. Shred of map. May show one useful landmark, not much more
  100. actual kind of treasure! Use your favourite 'minor items' table or roll here.

Look at all that useless crap! And, maybe this list will be less useful to you if you run a more 'medieval' and less anachronistic fantasy game, in which case tweak the items to be more grounded, or use the short list below
  1. turnip peels
  2. old boot
  3. string
  4. nothing

And last but not least, a 5e version of the randomize object spell- although with that spell, less of the objects should be broken, so tweak the descriptions. And/OR add the seventy or so objects from the Goblin Punch 'Slaad' entry (including in the comments), and we're almost up to a d200 table! 
Randomize Object
2nd-level Transmutation
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: 60 feet
Components: V S M (bit of clay)
Duration: Up to 1 hour
Classes: Bard, Sorcerer, Wizard
This spell transforms an object no larger than a breadbox that you can see within range into a random new form. An attended object held by unwilling creature may get a Saving throw (wielder's Charisma save) to resist. The transformation should be as random as possible, and the caster has no control over the result of the transformation. At the end of the duration the object may get a second save, otherwise, permanent.

Better Dinosaurs 3

A long overdue follow-up post to my first two efforts to make dinosaurs better . It's only been like two years, cut me some slack Et...