About Me

Monday, December 28, 2015

An artist has left our company

Sorry to hear of the inestimable Mr. Zieser's passing. For those of you who aren't familiar with the name, Steve Zieser was responsible for some of the most iconic work in the OSR, including almost all the illustrations for the revised Labyrinth Lord and Advanced Edition Companion books. He drew many pieces for Faster Monkey Games and was –above all– an incredibly decent human being. Steve fought a ten year battle against cancer and fought unbelievably well.

He will be missed, and not just his art.

Monday, December 14, 2015

RMA: Lich

Honestly, what other image would do?

Okay, the lich isn't exactly obscure,  nor is it a B/X monster. It does appear in the Rules Cyclopedia and the Advanced Edition Companion though, so close enough. It is also certainly an uncommon occurrence in most adventures, as they are one of the nastiest pieces of work out there.

Rather than a typical RMA where I go down through the stats and description (though I'll do some of that too), I'd like to look a bit more closely at what role the lich fulfills in a game.

Now, in terms of raw stats, the lich is quite respectable. That's not what a lich is all about, really. Let's get the numbers out of the way though, so we have them for ready reference.

Lich (from AEC)

No. Enc.: 1 (1)
Alignment: Neutral (evil)
Movement: 60' (20')
Armor Class: 0
Hit Dice: 12+
Attacks: 1 (cold touch)
Damage: 1d10 cold damage
Save: M18+
Morale: 9
Hoard Class: XXII

XP: 4,400

OK, so good AC & HD, nasty cold damage, undead abilities, crazy saves, etc. etc. But that's not what makes the lich so terrible. Reading on into the description:

A lich is an undead magic-user of at least 18th level (and possibly multi-classed) who has used its magical powers and a phylactery to unnaturally extend its life.

A minimum 18th-level spell caster where the GM can take time to plan their spells. That's scary! Still, read on:
Liches are only vulnerable to attack by creatures of 6 HD or more (or creatures of a magical nature), magical attack forms, and they are unaffected by non-magical weapons.
So only magic or big monsters can physically hurt them. Also scary, but not really the point. What else?
 In addition to having undead immunity to charm and sleep, liches are immune to the following spells or forms of damage: cold-based and electrical- based attacks, death spells, enfeeblement, polymorph, and any effects that cause insanity.
Lots of immunities. Sounds like demons and devils. This thing is looking harder and harder to kill. But wait! There's more!
A lich may attack by spell, or with a cold touch attack that deals 1d10 hp damage. Victims must also save versus paralyze or become paralyzed permanently, unless magically cured. Finally, all beings with 4 or fewer HD that see a lich will be affected with fear, and no saving throw is permitted.
Yup. Permanent paralysis and a no-save fear effect. All this and a few other odds and ends (depending upon which version you are using) adds up to a formidable, but not unstoppable, opponent. So why so scary? Well, a few things.

First of all, the lich –like dragons or senior demons– are not random encounter fodder. Not only should they be planned encounters, they are often the keystone of entire campaigns! To quote the Rules Cyclopedia entry:

Liches are master villains, coordinating armies and spy-networks made up the undead. Each one has its own goal: One may want to achieve true Immortality, one may serve an evil Immortal of Entropy, one may wish to transform the entire world into a horrid playground for the undead. Each lich in a campaign should have its own name, style, and motivation.

 In other words, think about it a bit before placing one of these things in your world. What does it want? What steps has it taken thus far? What precautions has it taken?

Precaution-wise, liches are likely to have whole legions of minions –undead or otherwise. Not to mention fortifications, hidden lairs, magical wards, etc. Plus, while it's not actually stated overtly in the rules, the implication is that the phylactery is necessary to keep existing in its undead state and if it were destroyed, the lich would die too. If the phylactery endures, the lich may return even if it's body is "killed."

Certainly this is how I've seen it played out or referred to in later gaming texts. Of course, locating the phylactery is often the point of major quests. Much like getting the One Ring to Mt. Doom, the horcru– I mean phylactery!– must be found and destroyed to end the lich's schemes.

The lich's plans may have been centuries in the making. GMs' default assumptions should be that the lich would have thought of something as a precaution against nearly any plan the PCs might cook up. Their lairs will be fortified, guarded, and probably trapped. Not to mention the lich may be willing to play a longer game; even lose a fight to fool the PCs into thinking they've won!

Liches' master plans should be epic in scope, like the examples above; taking over the world, becoming a god, etc. A lich isn't going to stoop to hanging around some dungeon guarding a chest of coins.

PCs should have plenty of chances to learn of the lich's existence before getting anywhere near it. That said, if they do barge ahead and bash in the gates without truly preparing for the fight, then they shouldn't be surprised when they find themselves rolling up new characters for the following session!

Thursday, December 3, 2015

RSA: Spiritwrack (-wrath)

Now, this spell is technically a 1st edition creation, but I decided to do a write-up for it because:

  • A version of it is in Labyrinth Lord's Advanced Edition Companion ("Spiritwrath")
  • It fits the obscurity test I generally apply to these kinds of posts (I've never seen it used or mentioned in play)
  • It is so darned cool!
The nature of the spell can be briefly summarized thusly:

The MU can create a scroll which, when read in the presence of a specific infernal/nether creature (e.g. a demon or similar), will A) root it to the spot, B) torture it for a for a bit, then C) banish to imprisonment on its home plane.

Nasty, huh?

Here are the basics (from AEC)

(MU) Level: 6
Duration: Special
Range: 10' +1/level

For starters, this isn't a spell that you'll memorize "just in case." You need blood from the type of creature you're preparing the scroll against. the individual creature's true name, and 100's of GPs worth of gems ground into the blood ink.

Spiritwrath can be used against demons, devils, powerful vampires, or liches. The description mentions that the spell is "often used to extort something from its victim, and may be stopped at any time short of imprisonment." This bespeaks a level of premeditated nastiness not typically seen in dungeon crawls.

The scroll is recited for several rounds, basically in effect until the mage stops reading it. It is interesting to note that the intervals listed are in turns (10 minutes). So this is an extended process, not fire & forget.

Another fun tidbit is while the entity gets a saving throw, even if it does resist, it can't directly attack the caster. The scroll acting much like a scroll of warding. It is most likely the creature will flee.

If the spell works and is read through to completion, the demon (or whatever) is banished to its home plane (undead are sent to the plane of negative energy) and imprisoned there for one year per caster level! Since this is a 6th level spell, under normal circumstances the caster is at least 11th level. So the nasty is gone for a decade or more. in practical terms, this means most campaigns will not see the banishee again. Of course, that demon the PC MU's mentor banished a decade ago might show up any time!

The description makes a point of explaining that the banished entity will likely harbor ill will against the caster. Also, if the spell is used to broker a deal, the caster better be pretty darn careful about the letter of the agreement, because you know the baddie will be looking for a loophole to screw him over with.

This spell is one of those very evocative and fun uses of magic that so rarely gets any table time that it's a shame. While I can totally understand PCs not prioritizing this one, I would love to drop a book or scroll into a game describing the ritual so that MU gets to add this to his grimoire. Once a PC has the spell available, who knows when they might decide to give it a whirl?

Friday, November 6, 2015

The Nick of Time

Something that came up in a conversation about a mini-module I wrote got me thinking. The issue was related to encounter randomization and pacing. It's all well and good to say "The monster lives in the cave, which is located at the 'X' on the map." If the PCs never go to X, they don't fight the monster. Simple. But if they miss all the interesting spots, the night's session can get a bit dull.

In cases of a limited layout (i.e. a dungeon) the odds of not finding anything of interest in any room is slight; even if it's not combat (maybe there is a puzzle or trap to deal with). In wilderness or town adventures, the odds of PCs wandering into Dullsville get higher.

I have a solution I like to use: I just move the set pieces around on the fly. Go west instead of east, then I just move the haunted farmhouse (or whatever) into their path. In fact, for my own games, I've actually stopped placing things on the overland maps until after the encounter happens.

This can be seen more than one way, of course. On the one hand, it allows a level of player agency where you let them decide how to proceed ("We cross the river" vs "We stay away from the water"). Players like to feel like their choices matter. Otherwise why even ask them? On the other hand, if the trap or the monster is going to end up in their path anyway, what's the point?

My answer is that the set piece(s) aren't the only thing that the PCs might encounter. Also, once a feature like a town or dungeon or temple, etc. is encountered, then it is  fixed on the map. I'm not going to move it about in their way– geographically or narratively. Unless the nature of the encounter is mobile (caravan or some such).

It's the same with time.  If the players have no knowledge of a timetable to work with, then they will arrive when it is dramatically appropriate. On the other hand, if they are given a deadline to work with ("The scrolls say the hellgate opens at sunset!") and they choose to wait or are delayed, then so be it.

All this flies in the face of sandbox lovers but I have to admit, over the years I've played too many pure sandboxes that fell flat when it came to pacing and excitement to worry too much about it.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Necromancy Arcana for FAGE: My First Take

I decided I wanted to have some rules for necromancers in my game (who doesn't?!), so I worked these up. I tried for more of a witch doctor/shaman vibe as opposed to just "evil with skulls." 

Obviously, like most magic in the book, more powerful versions of the magic might be possible with things like rituals and legendary items.


You can pierce the veil between the land of the living and the realm of death.

  • Novice: You learn the spells Voices of the Dead and Death Ward. 
  • Journeyman: You gain the spell Unbinding. You also gain the focus Intelligence (Necromancy Arcana).
  • Master: You learn the spell Animate Corpse. You can also choose one spell stunt you can perform for –1 SP when casting Necromancy Arcana spells.

Requirements: Necromancy Arcana (Novice)
Spell Type: Utility
MP Cost: 4
Casting Time: 1 minute
Target Number: 13
Test: Willpower (Self-Discipline) vs. Spellpower

You can contact a dead soul and question it. The spell must be cast where the soul died or its resting place (grave). There is no language barrier, but the creature must have been sentient in life. You can ask up to three questions, but the spell fades after one minute. The soul can attempt to resist answering at any point in the process, but only once. A success means it breaks contact without answering any further questions. If you have a piece of the departed's remains (bone, hair, etc.) or know their name, your spellpower is effectively at +2. The soul can only speak to what it knew in life. Its answers may be incorrect (telling what it believes to be true) but it cannot lie. 

Requirements: Necromancy Arcana (Novice)
Spell Type: Defense
MP Cost: 4
Casting Time: Major Action
Target Number: 10
Test: Willpower (Courage) vs. Spellpower

You can create a shield of energy, centered on one person within 12 yards of the caster, that holds back the undead, corporeal or otherwise. Spectres, walking dead, and similar creatures must succeed in a Willpower (Courage) or be held back a distance of 4 yards from the target of the spell. The ward does not prevent weapons or magical attacks from getting through (e.g. a spectre's shriek). The spell lasts until the end of the encounter, but if the warded character attacks the undead (magically or otherwise), the spell ends. 

Requirements: Necromancy Arcana (Journeyman)
Spell Type: Attack
MP Cost: 8
Casting Time: Major Action
Target Number: 14
Test: Constitution (Stamina) vs. Spellpower

A sphere of disruptive energy bursts out from your location in a 10 yard radius. Any undead in the affected area (including flying or underground) take 2d6+1 penetrating damage, a successful CON test reduces the damage to 1d6+1 penetrating. 

Requirements: Necromancy Arcana (Master)
Spell Type: Utility
MP Cost: 10
Casting Time: 1 minute
Target Number: 15
Test: none

You can create a Walking Dead minion (see FAB p. 113). It becomes either a skeleton or zombie, depending on the state of the body. The spell animates one cadaver for each casting, but it can be cast multiple times. The body must be within 10 yards of the caster. The undead will obey your mental commands for 1 hour before de-animating, but you can extend the spell's duration by 1 hour per +5 MP. Regardless of the MP spent, the spell will end at the next sunrise.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Fire it up!

Tonight is "Session 0" of the new campaign. We'll spend the beginning making characters and setting up things like PC goals and PC bonds. I have some basic adventure material scribbled out as well. Here's hoping things go well.

It's equal parts exciting and dreadful to start a new campaign as a GM. The potential is tantalizing but the possibility of things fizzling (or a crash & burn) is ever present. Nothing for it but to try, though! Let's roll some dice!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Church of the Radiance

The Church of Radiance's origins predates the Empire. Legends tell of early prophets traveling among tribal clans, delivering the Word of the Light to all. Many were martyred, but the faith spread and soon it was the predominant human faith in Bryll.

At the height of the Empire, great cathedrals were built and the priesthood grew strong. At the head of the institution was the Patriarch. This spiritual leader was selected from the pontifex when the old leader died.

The faithful depended on the church as much as the throne for succor and guidance. This twin poles were not alway in perfect accord. Sometimes emperors and patriarchs would clash over the issues of the day. Sometimes violently. More than once church templars took the field against imperial troops.

With the empire's decline, the church maintained its hold on the faithful, but politically it now had to juggle relations with multiple rulers instead of just the emperor. As a result, the prelates of areas like Peledan and Blackport have become more independent of the Sacerdom (the enclaved seat of the Patriarch in Rike). In the Splintered Princes, the church is strong among the people, but there is no central ruler to appeal to. Local priests have varying levels of influence with the petty lordlings that rule the various territories. Oddly, the church's political influence seems weak in Silverrun, despite the presence of the beautiful Winged Cathedral and a more stable social structure than the bulk of the region.

The core of the faith centers around the concept of illumination, or the opening of one's being to the light of the divine. The pillars of worship center on spiritual purification through piety and devotion to the church and its teachings. These include tithing as well as avoiding sinful pride, dishonesty, excess, and brutality. The faithful attend weekly services for blessings and to make regular confession. Priests perform these services as well as marriages, funerals, and the anointing of children into the fold.

There are some priestesses, but the overwhelming majority of the clergy is male. There has never been a Matriarch of the church, nor even a female prelate or pontifex. In addition to the ordained priesthood, there are also cloistered monks and nuns, as well as mendicant friars who are considered "of the radiance."

The templars are militant, chivalric orders that have cropped up from time to time in the church's history. The church does not actively support such organizations. Traditionally they have been comprised of privileged faithful, who have banded together –usually in times of crisis– giving the church a militant arm to wield. The would be templars must obtain the charter from the Patriarch to become an official order. At which point, they gain a certain status within the church hierarchy. The charter can be revoked at any time, so many orders have only lasted for one Primacy (or less). At present, there is no "active" templar order, though many nobles still claim a connection to some historical ones.

It should be noted that while the church is the official faith in the empire and Peledan, it is not the only religion. Nature worshippers, demonic cults, and other beliefs hang on in the fringes and shadows of society. The church is a distinctly human religion as well. There are no significant populations of nonhuman followers, though individuals may have adopted the faith.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Gods of Bryll

One of the interesting about the FAGE rule set is its handling of classes. There are only three: Rogue, Warrior, and Mage. Each one covers a lot of ground. Rogues might be thugs, cutpurses, scouts, burglars, and so on. Warriors could be anything from a barbarian to a chivalric knight. Mages cover all spell casters. Which means, among other things, that there isn't a separate cleric/priest class. At least not in the core rules.

This leaves me with the question of how to handle religion in the setting. Since you don't have an entire PC class required to pick a deity, one could theoretically just leave it out. It seems strange to go without religions entirely, though. Gods and goddesses are such a staple in fantasy settings, to have one without them feels incomplete.

On the other hand, this aspect of the game opens up the intriguing possibility of having religion without "gods." By that I mean the people may believe in a deity or pantheon, etc. but –unlike in a D&D game where clerics of Thor call down lightning on the wicked or raise the dead– there are no overt miracles to be seen here. The faith –or faiths– power is institutional, not magical. Like the catholic church in our world, it can be a powerful force in the world, but the power is really secular, based on wealth and influence, not spell slots.

At the same time, it may well be that there are "mystics"; be they orc shamans, elven seers, human ascetics, or what have you with "the power of miracles." They may believe that their magic comes from the gods, but does it? Or are they naturally gifted mages?

The answer, of course, is a matter of faith.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

The Races of Bryll

HUMANS - Are far and away the most numerous of peoples. With the exception of the dwarfs, humans rule all of the "civilized" nations of Bryll. Their appearances vary with region, but during the height of the Empire's rule, there was a great deal of intermixing between groups as the armies and merchants moved throughout the land. In general southerners are darker in coloration; olive-brown skin and darker hair and eyes being most common. To the North, humans tend to be fairer.

ORCS - The empire has long kept orcs as a soldier slave race (shock troops). The orcs in the former provinces are now free, but often treated as 2nd class citizens. There are also savage tribal orcs in the Wyldelands.

HALFLINGS - Are few in number. Nearly all of them live in a small communities within Hin Swamp: the bayou-like region of the southwestern coastline.

DWARFS - (The Kingdom of Koldarth) Make their homes in ancient halls carved inside the Wyrmspine mountains. Mining and smithing are the hallmarks of dwarven prosperity. The dwarf king is elected by the heads of the major clans when the old monarch dies. The chosen candidate becomes not only the secular ruler of the dwarfs, but their high priest as well.

GNOMES - are a subjugated race within the dwarf kingdom. Gnomes are considered tied to their keeper clan, similar to a land-bound serf. Some do manage to get away and leave the dwarf lands for freedom in the wider world. Such gnomes are nearly always looked down upon by any dwarfs that encounter them. Rare indeed is a free gnome that would risk returning to dwarf lands.

ELVES - There are two known populations of elves. The first are a woodland people that live in the taigas of the northeast, they live an arboreal, reclusive life there. The second are a seafaring, piratical breed. They crew wicked corsair ships and attack merchant vessels, fishermen, and coastal settlements. No one knows where they make port, but they are most frequently spotted in southern waters.

Friday, August 7, 2015

The Lands of Bryll

Check out Herr Altbauer's site if you want to commission an AMAZING map like this!

When working up the ideas for the physical setting, I let my imagination run a little loose. Instead of trying for "realistic" pseudo-historical names and places, I tried to take the more evocative route and give names that had an almost fairy-tale feel to them. I haven't written more than a few lines about each of the major locations. The idea is to fill those in as the campaign rolls forward. Here are a few examples:

The Lin Magocracy: Less of a nation, and more of a scattering of wizards' towers across a gloomy land. They say the region is crisscrossed with powerful ley lines, making it idea for arcane study. It is also said to be infested with enchanted beasts and monsters.

The Splintered Princes: After the Havron Empire began to break apart, petty lords began to fight for territory. The region is still volatile to this day; with little wars breaking out all the time. The only thing that unites the lordlings is their resistance to the return of imperial rule.

Dragonsreef: Shoals, treacherous currents, and jagged reefs make this stretch of coastline perilous to ships and even smaller craft. Few sail this way, excepting bold explorers or outlaws.

There is a lot of blank space here, literally and figuratively. I don't want a setting where every village and stream is named and detailed. We'll get to that as we go.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

A new AGE begins

Over the last few weeks, for those of you that aren't aware, Wil Wheaton's "Tabletop" web series has been running a pencil and paper RPG campaign that was a promised stretch goal from their Season 2 Indiegogo fundraising. The name of the campaign is Titansgrave: The Ashes of Valkana and airs weekly.

Now whether you enjoy watching other people play an RPG or not why I mention this. Rather, I wanted to talk about the game system they are using. It is called Fantasy AGE (which stands for Adventure Game Engine) or FAGE (as some have begun to call it), and is new from Chris Pramas and Green Ronin Publishing. Pramas and GR hold a special place in my gaming heart because it was they who revived and (IMO) improved my beloved Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay with its 2nd edition (The "Black Industries" version). WFRP 2e is one of those games that I squeezed a TON of fun out of and would play again at the drop of a small but vicious dog.

The AGE system is not exactly new. GR had used it before in their Dragon AGE RPG. However, like WFRP and the Old World, DA is tied to a particular setting. In this case, the one from the Bioware video game by the same name. FAGE gives you the mechanics divorced from any default setting.

After watching an episode or two of Titansgrave, I was intrigued enough to grab a copy of the pdf when it was released just before GenCon. After reading it though a few times, I like what I see.

The book isn't perfect, mind you. It's almost more of an SRD. The bestiary is far too small, there are a few typos and obvious copy/paste errors from where they lifted some rules from Dragon AGE but didn't update some of the language to reflect minor changes to the rules. Still, it is far from unusable as is, and the system itself is light, flexible, and easy to learn. Furthermore, it's FUN. A friend who went to GenCon grabbed a hard copy from GR's booth for me.

I am currently taking the opportunity of a brand new system to inflict a brand new setting and campaign on my group. Rather than designing the whole arc and filling the world with details for them to uncover, I am taking a different route.

There is a map. A gorgeous one I paid to have professionally drawn (which I will share when I have the final version and have paid the artist the rest of his fee). I have outlined a few paragraphs about the world and the races, and seeded a few hooks based on players' input. Beyond that, it is an open page. I am trying to keep my footprint light on the world, allowing a slightly more collaborative process with the players. Now, that isn't to say it's all diceless storytelling! But if a player has a good idea that makes sense, why not incorporate it somehow? It's an experiment for me, and I'll be moving in slightly less familiar waters, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Shelving, but not scrapping

The multi-PC-per-player, high-level campaign is not going to happen any time soon. I still like the idea, but it is complex enough that I will need to spend a lot more time working out the the kinks before I would be ready to run such a beast. Real life distractions are (surprise!) also limiting my time and energy for pursuing such projects. I think I may need to set my GM-ing sites a little lower for now.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Wheels within Wheels

At this point I have a few ideas for how to handle goals and xp/leveling, but that still leaves the question of ways to engage the PCs. I don't want a higher level campaign that's just about killing bigger monsters. I want the players to explore some of the things that are unique to more experienced characters. Specifically, strongholds, domains, political/military conflict, and magical research/rituals.

Strongholds are –in many ways– the simplest of the bunch. A player character selects the site, pays the costs, and waits for construction to finish. The challenges here I see as twofold:

  1. The "primary" PC is paying attention to things like layout and design and paying for it all.
  2. The "secondary" PCs need to worry about things like keeping supply lines open, wiping out monsters that threaten the builders, etc.
Lots of adventure material there, IMO. 

Domains are more for after the stronghold is done, but players need to start thinking about them even before the first brick is laid. I also use "domain" as a catch all for other name level pursuits including thieves' guilds or position within a temple hierarchy. For wizards, it's more likely about figuring out getting supplies for one's tower, as most farmers won't live in the shadow of such sorcerous places. 

Military conflicts are more likely to be tied to larger events in the campaign than player-driven. Of course, ambitious PCs might instigate a border war with their neighbors. These can also be smaller scale skirmishes or turf wars between thieves. Political conflict could be court intrigue, a diplomatic mission, or a machiavellian power struggle within a guild or church. I can easily foresee external plot hooks as well as player-driven cases of these. 

Magical story arcs might stem from wizards researching new spells, priests performing ancient rituals, or the enchanting of items. The Adventurer, Conquerer, King system includes a lot of rules for these, as well as things like crossbreeding monsters (Bugbatbears, anyone?). Secondaries keeping interlopers away as their sorcerer boss is trying to complete a powerful ritual that will create an iron golem sentinel for the tower is worth a session or two I think. 

In addition to all this, I need to lay out some ideas about what might be going on in the larger world that can drive events in the campaign. Wars, evil gods, rampaging demons, who knows?

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Goal Based XP Awards

Some good ideas offered about my campaign idea on G+ and Dragonsfoot. Here is a little more broad -strokes noodling based on feedback regarding advancement and a player's PCs working toward different goals:

Goal-based XP awards:

PCs are classified as Primary ("Name" level) or Secondary (lower level). Each PC should start with at least one major and two minor goals. Categorizing goals is up to the GM's discretion. Minor goals may include acquiring more powerful magic items, greater wealth, or bolstering one's reputation. Major goals should have a greater level of impact on the character or the campaign. A very few examples include:

  • Successfully researching a spell or enchanting a minor magic item: Minor
  • Acquiring a long sought-after item (magical or otherwise): Minor
  • A primary character completing their hold/tower/abbey/guild: Major
  • Cementing an important alliance or defeating a bitter foe: Major

Unless there is a solid, in-game RP reason, players should consider coordinating their character goals with the other PCs in their group (Primary and Secondary). Goals can change over time. Either the player completes them and picks new ones, or the existing goals alter because of in-game events. Secondary characters level up when they complete two minor or one major goal. Primary characters level up when they complete two minor or one major goal in addition to  ALL of the player's Secondary PCs leveling up.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Campaign Concept for name level

So this is a rough outline of something that occurred to me. It sounds fun on paper, but it would present certain challenges to run.

  • Each player would start with a PC at or near 9th level. If not yet at name level, XP progression would be somewhat accelerated. The idea is the PCs should know what they want to do in the setting.
  • In addition, each player will have several low-to-mid level (≈4-5th?) PCs.
  • Each of the "lesser" PCs are henchmen/followers of other players' high level PCs.
  • The followers are loyal to their boss (the other player's high level character), not their own "main" PC.
  • The main PCs all know and have adventured with each other in the past, but that does not mean they have to be BFFs.
  • Play rotates between the different facets of the campaign from session to session (or even mid-session if there is a lull).
  • To a certain extent, the player of a facet's name level PC drives the story. His or her goals and challenges are (usually) the focus of that storyline, although the followers do have free will and can make their own decisions.
  • There are events in the larger world that will impact on any or all of the facets from time to time.

Determining exactly how a name level PCs pursues their higher ambitions is up to the player. Some ideas/examples:

  • Will the fighter become a lord with a keep and fief? Conquer his own (or someone else's) lands? Maybe he accepts a command in the royal army and becomes a general?
  • Does the thief try to take over a city's guild? Or does he become a bandit king in the wilderness? Does he set up a spy network? Or become captain of a pirate ship?
  • Does the wizard become a court magician? Maybe he builds a tower on some desolate peak?
  • Will the cleric build an abbey? Rise in the church's hierarchy at the main temple? Or will he found his own order?

One of my main concerns with this sort of a setup is that some players might have a hard time separating their characters' loyalties. i.e. possibly working against one of your other PCs. I see it as a neat RP opp, but others may differ.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Changing Gears

The DCC game sort of fizzled, which is too bad because there are many things I like about the system. Spotty attendance coupled with my less than expert grasp of the new rule set were the main culprits.

Lately we've been playing Lady Blackbird. It's a story-based game a friend is running (I'm a shapeshifting goblin). It's a neat change of pace, but I think we are nearing the wind-down point with the system. This naturally turns my thoughts to what I might to run if I take a seat in the GM's chair again.

So –big surprise– I'm thinking about BX/LL. More specifically, I'm thinking about a "name level" campaign, where the PCs start at or near the 9th level range, where all the "endgame" stuff starts to happen.

This is a realm of the game that I rarely get to play with, mostly because I've always pushed for the extended campaign where PCs earn those levels all the way from 1st. Sadly, nowadays that's a level of time commitment that most players (and GMs) our age simply find difficult to manage.

One of the reasons I like the idea of the long slog up the XP ladder (besides being a grumpy SOB of a GM) is the way that all those sessions create a bond between the PC and the larger campaign world. It's hardly a new idea, I know, but it's still true. One of the appeals of higher level play is the idea that the PCs become movers and shakers in the greater world, not just better orc-killers.

To balance these challenges, I may try borrowing from more story-based games and have the players devise "hooks" for their character that are already in play, instead of developing in-game. Again, not a new concept.

The next issue I need to address, for my own preference, is that of higher power PCs. I loves me some low level grinds. I know, I know, evil GM and all that; but the tighter resources present their own challenges in the game. Over the years, I've been guilty of letting lower level/power campaigns make my job easier because the PCs simply couldn't muster the magic or puissance to face harder challenges easily. Nothing's worse than a carefully crafted encounter or puzzle being sidestepped by an unanticipated spell or item in the party's arsenal.

I'm trying to push outside my comfort zone a little by giving the players higher level options and resources. In return, I want them to see beyond the crawl and use those resources on a larger scale. At the same time, I think I may introduce a few house-ruled bits of DCC-inspired weirdness to keep things like spells and magic items from being too easy to depend upon. [evil laugh] But that's a different post.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Spell checker

I haven't forgotten about this patron write-up, but I confess that coming up with custom spells for old Elby has had me stuck a bit. Spell listings in DCC are complex enough that it's going to take a little time for me to

A) Think of specific spells that fit the concept (preferably ones that don't already exist)
B) Write up not only the spell check results, but also the manifestation, failure and misfire results.

My current idea is to emphasize the interplanar and temporal aspects, similar to the invoke section.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Taint nothing like the Real Thing, Baby.

Sorry! I couldn't resist!

According the DCC RPG rule book, patron taint is decribed as "The spells cast by patron-based wizards eventually take on the aspect of the wizard’s patron." In a nutshell, this is the magical bond between the wizard and the patron bleeding over into the physical world. Usually manifesting when the wizard fails a spell check or similar, representing him failing to control the energies unleashed and having them act on his spell, or himself, in ways defined at least in part by the nature of his patron.

Since Elbaphraxis is a chthonic cloud of eyes, I decided to -aheh- focus on those aspects for the table results. Here goes:

Patron Taint

D4 Result
1 The wizard periodically shifts “out of phase” to onlookers’ eyes. He turns momentarily ghostlike or two-dimensional in appearance as a portion of his being harmonizes with another dimension. This bizarre manifestation is brief enough to dismissed as a trick of the eye, but is still unsettling enough to result in a -1 to Personality. If the result is rolled a second time, it happens with enough frequency to give a -2 to Personality.

2 During spellcasting, shadowy form appears nearby. It appears as an amorphous blob covered in eyes. The eyes look in all different directions and blink lazily. Some are bestial, others are human. If rolled a second time, the acquires 1d6 spectral eyes that float ghostlike around him. They cannot be harmed and convey no useful information to the caster. 

3 The wizard’s dreams are haunted by strange visions of terrifying worlds. He can recall no specifics upon waking but is left greatly unsettled in his mind and feeling poorly rested. He must make a Will Save (DC 10) or his natural healing rate is halved. If the result is rolled a second time, a failed save means no healing occurs from that night’s (or day’s) rest.

4 Elbaphraxis transcends our notions of time and space. One tainted by his essence begins to find their existence less rooted in “reality.” Once a week, the wizard find himself “slipping” from his proper spot. A Will Save (DC 15) resists. A failure indicates the wizard has (Roll 1d3): 1) Teleported 1d100 feet in a random direction (he will not materialize in solid matter, but he can appear up in the air); 2) Moves d20 minutes forward or backwards in time (determine randomly); or 3) plane shift  to the ethereal plane for 1d6 turns. A second roll of this result causes this to happen daily. 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Invoke, don't Provoke

The spell Invoke Patron is sort of like divine intervention/aid, but instead of a devout cleric beseeching their god, it's a wizard calling in a marker. Granted, the patron might ignore the request (the spell fails), but it's a much more quid pro quo kind of a deal. After all, the patron may call on the wizard at some point to perform a service. 

For Elbaphraxis, I imagine him as sort of an  immortal, vastly intelligent observer of the cosmos. Knowledge and perception are more his traits than combat, so the aid he bestows reflects this.

Invoke Patron check results:

12-13 --- Elbaphraxis only glances in the petitioner’s direction. He lends of his vast perspicacity to grant the caster a +2 on their next mental check. This includes any roll based on Intelligence (including spell-casting), Luck, or Personality.

14-17 --- Time and Space are merely conceits to the Oculator. His eyes see past and future with equal clarity. The caster shares the barest glimpse of what Elbaphraxis sees in the immediate future. This precognition lasts 1d3 rounds and grants the wizard a +2 to hit, AC, and initiative. At the end of which, the caster must make a Will Save (DC 10) or be dazed for 1 round by the perception shift. A critical failure (natural 1) on the save results in losing consciousness for 1d6 rounds.

18-19 --- Elbaphraxis reaches into the past and retrieves spell that the caster had previous lost for the day.

20-23 --- Elbaphraxis shifts the petitioner into the ethereal plane for 1d4+CL rounds. The caster can perceive the material world as if through a fog, but is effectively invisible and inaudible by normal methods. He may pass through solid matter in this state, but if he is still occupying the same space as an object (e.g a wall) when the effect fades, he will be forcibly ejected from the matter, taking 2d12 damage.

24-27 -- A servant of Elbaphraxis appears. It will plane shift the caster to any place he desires on any plane of existence, disappearing immediately afterwards. Its ability to pinpoint a precise location is limited, so the caster must guide the demon. If the caster has been to the destination, he may make a Will Save (DC 10) to appear where he wishes. If it is an unfamiliar location, the save is DC 15. Failure in either case leaves the petitioner 2d100 miles from where he wanted. He will not be in immediate peril, but his future safety is not the demon’s concern. For example, the caster may appear “safely” on a rocky island in middle of an active volcano.

28-29 --- As above, but the servant will transport the caster and 1d4 others.

30-31 --- 1d6 servants appear. They will remove a foe each by grabbing them and plane shifting them away to the deepest void. Victims may make a Will Save (DC 20) to avoid being transported away. 

32+ --- Elbaphraxis takes a keen interest in the petitioner. Allowing the caster to ask CL simple questions. A simple question is a brief sentence, answerable with a short response of a few words or less (“Yes”, “No”, “Inside the Bronze Tower.”). Elbaphraxis cannot say what will happen for certain in the future, but he can speak about other places and the past with some surety.

Servant of Elbaphraxis
Init +0; Atk claw +2 melee (1d6); AC 15; HD 3d12; MV 30’ or fly 30’; Act 1d20; SP planar shift; Type I demon traits; SV Fort +4, Ref +4, Will +0; AL C.

Appears as a 7’ tall, gargoyle-like creature with no facial features (eyes, mouth, etc.) and smokily transparent.

Patronizing Tones

So as long as we’re playing with a homebrew setting for DCC RPG, and I’ve already homebrewed some gods, let’s homebrew a patron!

For those unfamiliar with the system, patrons are supernatural entities (but not necessarily gods) that wizards can enter into pacts with in order to gain power. Some examples in the book include an ancient (possibly immortal) wizard, a pit fiend, an air elemental lord, and the 3 Fates (Maiden/Mother/Crone). Unlike a cleric’s deity, the patron bond is not worship, it’s more like a Faustian bargain. The wizard binds the entity’s power to him (to a degree) and in exchange the patron can demand things of the wizard.

Yay! I made my Spell Check!

Per the rule book (p. 321), there are five (5) steps to follow in designing a patron:
  1. Creates the patron’s Theme. Who or what is it? What plane(s) does it dwell on? What is its sphere(s) of interest and influence? Some of the examples in the book include sample binding rituals that a wizard might go through.
  2. What are some possible results of invoking one’s patron? A random table is such results is in order here.
  3. Contact with this being can lead to Patron Taint. In other words, the wizard can be... affected by his bond to the being.
  4. Patrons offer specialized spells (generally one per level).
  5. Spellburn: Exactly how does a wizard’s spellburn manifest given his connection to the patron? Another table goes here.

For today’s entry, let’s start with a Name and a Theme.

Elbaphraxis the Oculator

Is believed to be a from a distant world, and the last of a long-dead race that served mighty Cthulhu before the lands of Kelvernia rose from the primordial oceans. Whether “he” serves Cthulhu still or indeed ever did– is a matter of debate. What is known is that he wields tremendous power, and occasionally takes an interest in the events and denizens of Kelvernia. His appearance is mutable, but he often manifests in visions or dreams as a cloud of eyes. Like the Old Ones, his motives are utterly alien and he seems benignly amoral, but shocking acts of cruelty have been known to have been carried out by his agents.

A wizard or elf seeking to gain Elbaphraxis as a patron must acquire some sort of interplanar substance or object that has felt his touch. He must meditate upon it for a week (patron bond spell) and then act on whatever vision he receives. Often the vision relates some item or piece of information Elbaphraxis desires that will prove the supplicant’s usefulness to him.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Short DCC Followup

We played "Session 0" last night. 16 zero-level PCs went into the funnel, about a third are dead. We'll probably finish the adventure next time and do some leveling up of the survivors. I decided to set things up to use a version of my Kelvernia setting for any actual campaign play. We'll see what happens next.

Overall, I like the idea of the zero-level funnel, but it's probably best if it doesn't go on for too long. The proto-PCs are so very fragile, and they can't do any of the really cool stuff "full" PCs can (Mighty Deeds, Spells, etc.).

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Gearing up again

So my hiatus is over. It was nice to recharge the old batteries. I also took the opportunity to clean up and re-design the gaming/painting area of my basement. I swapped out for a slightly smaller table, so it's a lot less cramped.

I have offered to try running a game for the group with a system I have played at cons, but never GM'd: Goodman Games' Dungeon Crawl Classics. I've been reading up on the rules, prowling the forums, looking at modules, and listening to a slew of archived episodes of the Spellburn podcast. I even got a spare set of "Zocchi Dice" for the table to use if they don't have their own d14s, etc.

The system looks to be a lot of fun. I am just getting to the point where I feel comfortable with most of the rules. I am still reviewing the book a lot, though.

I hope the group is OK with it, I've gotten some tentatively positive feedback about trying the game, but not a general buy-in. The idea is to run a 0-level funnel next week. I'm thinking either the sample adventure in the book or Sailors on the Starless Sea.

I don't know how much I want to rely on modules if things work well enough to become an actual campaign, but it might be a good place to start. 

Onwards and upwards!