Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Sword +1!

Why do so many +1 magical swords exist:

Roll 1d8:
  1. They were much more powerful swords, but the enchantments have worn thin over the centuries.
  2. Many swords become enchanted through use or user.  A warrior of minor renown will eventually find her sword acquires +1 effectiveness.  A sword that has seen a hundred battles in a dozen hands might also become +1.  Greater bloodshed or a more legendary wielder can contribute higher bonuses.
  3. In the Elder Wars, 5000 years ago mage-smiths were stamping these things out like hot-cakes for the rank and file.  Things were different back then and the rapid sword-enchanting rituals of that age are now lost.
  4. Mages can temporarily enchant a weapon at +1, but every now and then the enchantment sticks and the sword stays +1 indefinitely.
  5. It's just the result of certain alchemical minerals infused in the coal or iron from which the sword was made.
  6. Weapons from the planes beyond, are often a physical extension of the creatures who wield them.  So the captured sword of a celestial or earth elemental warrior has some portion of his power residing in it.
  7. Perfect enchantments rarely work on the first try.  Not all failed weapon enchantments result in curses though.  Some just end up as lesser weapons, a few +1 swords are included in the high cost of most other magic weapon smithing.
  8. The flesh of some creatures, orcs for instance, exude oils in their sweat which gradually dirty and pit the blades they carry, while paradoxically giving them extra bight against the armor and flesh of others.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Gimlet-Eyed Worm


No. Enc.: 1d2
Alignment: Neutral
Movement: 60' (20')
Armor Class: 5
Hit Dice: 6
Attacks: 1 (puncture)
Damage: 2d6
Save: F6
Morale: 4
Hoard Class: (special)
XP: 820

These large, 30' long worms adhere to the ceiling, and have natural camoflage to blend in to rock surfaces.  Their "head" consists of a large (500gp) diamond where a mouth would normally be, surrounded by a ring of a dozen or so piercingly intelligent eyes.  They will normally not be seen unless someone intentionally looks at the ceiling.

Their presence in dungeon environments, derives from the extreme boredom of their natural place in life (rending rock to make food with their oversized diamond).  They are there for the entertainment.  Watching.  Just watching, with a wry and piercing gaze.

Although they have no natural mode of speach, any method devised to speak with them reveals rapier-like wit and caustic sense of humor.  Although a gimlet-eyed worm will be perfectly happy to converse, adventurers have little to offer them when bargaining.  Occasionally one may make the deal that if the adventurers make an interesting go of the dungeon, the worm will tell them the location of another dungeon.

Gimlet-eyed worms normally avoid combat unless pressed.  If attacked the gimlet-eyed worm will attempt to puncture foes with it's diamond agar.  If it looks like it is losing, the worm will drop from the ceiling, crushing foes beneath.  Save vs. breath weapon or take 3d6 crushing damage.  Their tireless, disillusioned view of the world grants them immunity to all illusion and charm spells of 3rd level or lower.

The only treasure carried by a gimlet-eyed worm is it's diamond, worth 500-750gp.

The gimlet-eyed worm was statted for Labyrinth Lord based on an offhand comment made in Gus' ASE session.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Brains!

Reading the Blood Sorcerers of Paja, in a roundabout way this mention of using human flesh for magic, got my mind meandering back to an old line of text:
"Connall took out the brains of the dead king and mixed them with lime to make a sling-stone - such "brain balls," as they were called being accounted the most deadly of missiles.  This ball was laid up in the king's treasure-house..."
 - Celtic Myths and Legends, T. W. Rolleston
I've been cludging away at some ritual rules for awhile:  something like spells, but taking more time, consuming more components, etc. but with the advantage of being usable by anyone, and not consuming daily spell reserves.  Anyhoo...

Rituals consume components, and specific components can be tricky to obtain.  Stealing the shadow, cast by moonlight, from the third-left-leg of a man-sized spider, can be an annoyingly specific proposition.  Do such things even exist?  And who knows what how tough it is to find some sort of spell or ritual to steal a shadow.

Fortunately, some genius figured out that there's a universal substitute, at least for arcane spells.  It turns out that the brain of a magus, properly seasoned and desiccated, provides a ready substitute for the trickier to obtain materials in a number of distasteful rituals.  The arcane convolutions of it's folds and synapses, built up over time, work as a powerful catalyst in reshaping space/time on a fundamental level.

This insight quickly created a bloodthirsty economy of greed and fear among magicians, many eager to tear apart each another's skull in a bid for quick power.  The eldest sorcerers, traditionally the most powerful, became those with the most to lose, as their own crania took on a monetary value equal to thousands of years of peasant wages.

The Daybreak Kingdom quickly restored order within its own reaches by declaring all cerebella magicae to constitute Crown property, and vigorously enforcing this dictate.  Under Kingdom law a magician's brain is entrusted to his care and keeping during his lifetime.  But upon his death, all claims on its recovery and possession revert to designated government agencies for stockpiling and use in times of war.

All magicians in the Kingdom are technically sworn to uphold these measures, and most do so wholeheartedly.  But some black-market still exists for the brains of off-the-books hedge wizards, obtained through more or less violent means.  And beyond the control of the Daybreak Kingdom's Great Houses and patrols, some unscrupulous sorcerers and bandit-kings still pose a threat to magically inclined individuals traveling in the hinterlands.

Systems
The preparation of a magician's brain requires a week of soaking in various caustic solutions and herbal concoctions, but costs the mere pittance of 100gp.  Once prepared the brain can be used any of the following ways:

Spell Slots - By ingesting a number of doses of the brain, a caster may recall ANY previously cast spell and cast it again immediately.  The number of doses derived from the brain is equal to the original owner's caster level squared.  The number of doses used to cast a spell is 2x the spell level.

Spellpoints - Spellpoint systems work similarly to the spell-slot system, though a single dose should be regarded as 1 spell point.

Magic Items & Rituals - For the purposes of calculating costs in rituals and magic item creation, a magician's brain is worth 10 x 10^(magician's caster level)gp.

Hedge Wizards - Magicians who only use magic through rituals still have some small value to their brains.  To determine their effective caster level, take their Esoteric Lore skill level and divide by 10.  In "OGL Fantasy" games Knowledge (Arcana) or Spellcraft ranks (whichever is higher) may be substituted for Esoteric Lore skill level.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Time's Frayed Clue

Unrelated to any other settings or systems mentioned in this blog, this is a reposting of something I wrote back on the Delta Green list.  At the time there was a scenario competition on the Delta Green list.  One of the entries "Double Dog Dare" had to do with an uncontrolled skipping over to parallel timelines.

At around the same time there was some discussion of the problems associated with players having read the book enough that they could guess what mythos beasties they were up against in advance.  Someone suggested, as a possible remedy, partially or entirely changing the names or descriptions of the various entities to throw off well read players.

These two ideas sort of coagulated together in my mind to produce the following:

Appropriating, swapping, and re-inventing the names and qualities of antagonists in games and literature is a fine old tradition.  But mulling over the Agent Nancy discussion along with Jeff's "Double Dog Dare" scenario from the contest (also possibly having seen Primer recently) has given me the idea for a "meta" level to this identity shuffling.  The idea is this:

1)  Assume that the characters know a reasonable amount about the monsters in the game and tell the players that on a mythos success they can even look up mythos flavor text in the rule book if they want.

2)  They get access to some mythos text or other artifact that reveals to them a particular aspect of the True nature of reality.  Preferably all the PCs should come in contact with the artifact within a short time of each other unless the keeper has some clever means in mind to deal with their inconsistent experiences (see later on).  The artifact was created by the Elder Things, Mi-go, Shaggai, or some other group with independent race with developed aesthetic tastes and a frequent interest in Azathoth, Daoloth, Yog-Sothoth, or some similarly nebulous outer god.

Possibly the artifact that enlightens them and any text explaining the nature of the artifact might be totally separate requiring the characters to piece together their own understanding of the situation.  One explanatory mythos text is "Time's Frayed Clue", a codex on causality and alternate worlds composed in a sort of "travelers guide" style.

Time's Frayed Clue has a few odds and ends about temporal and inter-dimensional traveling mythos entities and maybe a relevant spell or two.  But the text's real whammy is an Insanely well crafted analogy comparing time to a string made from multiple strands.

"Multiple worlds" style quantum theories might suggest that for each possible quantum fluctuation in the universe additional universes come into existence so that for each moment there are a nearly infinite number of outcomes that could arise from it.  But TFC goes a step further, implying that for each moment there are a nearly infinite number of different permutations that could have led up to it.  It further goes on to suggest that the chain events which any given creature remembers leading up to the present moment are only one possible history out of many that could explain the universe's current state at that instant.  All the other possible histories which a given sentient mind doesn't remember which lead up to this moment have equal validity.

It also states (perhaps incorrectly) that an understanding and mastery of this information is what gives a few entities like the great old ones and elder gods their power since these beings are aware of several or all of the possible ways they existed in the past as well as different versions of the present.  There may be some indication that Hauster/KIY is particularly adept at this sort of thing.  This whole text is treated in a way that seems to human interpretation almost light-hearted and witty, like the author wants you to think this is why Nyarlathotep always has that amused smile.

3)  The character's world view is never quite the same again after accessing the artifact.  Essentially their entire life now can be viewed as a memory recalled at the moment of death (or the death of the last character alive in the cell).  The artifact opens the reader's mind to a small handful of the histories that never were.  Essentially their memory may follow other chains of causality than the minds of most people.

This may have some bearing on the character's day to day life and human interactions, but likely very little.  The character is human and human interactions are so trivial in the scheme of the universe that they have little power to shift the character's memory from a "probable" history of Earthly affairs.

For example a history of last week when the roads were paved with green asphalt and Incan god-kings ruled large chunks of South America may be equally as valid as the history in which the roads were blackish gray and the Incan empire long gone.  But when the character died the history of black roads and an extinct empire seemed much more probable to their memory so that's what they recalled.  Hence the "normal" earth is still the setting for an adventure.

On the other hand mythos entities, especially the bigger movers and shakers, have a little more pull in the world and on the characters newly empowered perceptions.  This paradoxically means that you remember the dramatic different variations that might have produced your encounter with any given mythos entity more than you notice the different timelines of humanity.  For instance Shudde M'Ell may seem it's normal tentacled self the first time encountered, but appear as some sort of insectile marmot-thing to other agents during the same encounter, or display unusual powers at a later encounter (like a twisting, slithering form of flight).

The differences between perceptions of a given entity within or between encounters may be directly affected by the sanity loss the entity induces.  Normally the more sanity lost the greater the agent's recollection of the encounter will differ from that of other agents and from previous encounters with that entity.  This could be a useful way to handle insanity in most cases as some characters start simply reacting to a situation as they see it, but not as other characters present see it.

These different perceptions of various agents could be a problem if teamwork is required to defeat even one manifestation of such an entity.  But the differing perceptions could also be useful if the entity's nature requires that several different manifestations be attacked simultaneously in different ways for it to be defeated.

If variation of perception within an encounter is a bit much and you just want to stick with variation between encounters there's always this handy spell:

The Tie That Binds
The recipients of this spell will all be affected by causality in the same way for any given event they take part in.  This generally means that their memories of mythos entity encounters will all be the same, although memory differences for reasons unrelated to branching causality may still occur (i.e. illusions and mind effecting spells or powers still work normally).  Their memories of an entity or phenomena may differ between one encounter and the next, but will all differ in the same way (i.e. all agents remember the ghoul having black fur and hooves, but all now see that it has gray fur and paws).  If The Tie is active on any given group of people during a supernatural encounter then sanity loss generally just indicates fear or other mental instabilities rather than different perception of the event.

The ritual requires all participants to chant for approximately 2 hours in a situation where every participant can hear the chanting of each other individual in the group.  If any participant drops out of the chanting or can not hear the others for any reason the spell does not apply to that individual and they might remember/perceive later mythos encounters differently than their cell mates.

The perception synchronizing effects of this spell last for 12 days and may be renewed at or before that time.  The spell costs 2 magic points and 1 point of sanity since the effects of the spell are largely intangible and not even perceptible unless mythos activity is encountered.  For all agents who spend 1 POW as well the effects of the spell are permanent as far as memories and perceptions shared between them go.  Agents may feel slightly paranoid afterward though, like there's something they should noticing be some dangerous situation they're on the look out for but keep missing.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Back to the Stone Age


Just amalgamating a few additional sources on the subject of prehistoric roleplaying accumulating over the past months.


Inuksuk and Inunnguaq - stone markers used by certain Arctic cultures:

"something which acts for or performs the function of a person"

"...from the morphemes inuk ("person") and -suk ("ersatz" or "substitute")"



Re-reading the Scara Brae wikipedia entry I realized that in my youth I'd actually read a story about the place:

The Boy With The Bronze Axe - Middle grade fiction. Was an ok read as I recall. Nothing overwhelmingly inspiring, but did provide a slice of life regarding the place and time.



Land of Nod recently published this blog entry.  A nice addition to the field.



Also, in the comments of Mr. Stater's entry, a commenter named Sean pointed out this article with a police lineup of some of our more interesting hominid kin.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Dark Sun Hexcrawlin'


On Sep 19, 2012 +Ramanan Sivaranjan said:
Any Dark Sun game I run now could never live up to the game I imagine in my head. I never actually played Dark Sun back when I was buying and reading all the books, so it's even more mythic than it really should be.
But yeah, old school Dark Sun hex crawl. I can imagine that.
This is pretty much exactly my experience of Dark Sun:  An epic setting that no one every played, and which could now never live up to the promised dream.

BUT, a hex crawl seems like the prefect fit.  And I say this as someone weened at the teat of story-ish, plot-heavy AD&D adventures, an who has never played a hex crawl (and precious few dungeon crawls) in my life.

I think the thing is that the big ticket plot features in the setting are all so in your face: killing off a sorcerer-king, inter-city-state politics, saving Athas from further environmental disaster, etc.  If those are your goal, it's so front-loaded from the get-go that being killed by a tembo or dehydration as you treck through the desert at lower levels seems kind of an alarming jolt to your epic, questing mood.

But a hexcrawl puts all that on the back burner and consigns the epic quality of the setting to background.  "Adventurer, Conqueror, King" not necessarily in system, but in philosophy.  Killing a sorcerer-king?  You'll never do that! You're just a lowly adventurer, put it out of your mind and focus on surviving and scrounging for treasure.  Live 10 years doing that and we'll talk about conquering.

Between the monstrous manual and hints of lost desert cities and such, there is clearly so much out there that needs exploring, it's not funny.  And the perils of surviving are made painfully obvious. Randomly dying while on a quest is lame.  But randomly dying while exploring is par for the course, and an expected part of the drama.

Long story short:  I heartily endorse the idea of a Dark Sun hex crawl, and would love to play it in just about any pre-4E system.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Narrated vs. Immersive preferences


A recent invitation to play Dungeon World, Land of Nod's post about Quests of the Mind, and recent Hack & Slash pieces on "Design Demons" have gotten me trying to sort out my own preferences with regard to externally narrated vs. immersive styles of play.  These terms may not be a great fit, but what I'm trying to get across is:

The more "immersive" a game is, the more the mechanics and style of play are trying to put you in the character's viewpoint, trying to use their limitations and abilities to make choices and overcome problems.

The more "narrated" a game is, the more the mechanics and style of play allow you to step outside the charater's viewpoint, and allow you to make decisions about the character and possibly even setting elements and events beyond the character's control.

Reviewing my experiences as a player, there are elements of both I like, but I find myself gravitating more and more toward the immersive.

I do like the freedom that narrated styles give me to just take any crazy idea and run with it to see how inventive I can get.  But often enough I don't happen to have a new crazy idea on tap, and just want to get on with exploring and investigating a world.

But the thing with narrated styles is that they tend to reward you as much or more for inventing the world as they do for just poking around with the limitations of it.

This is one reason I liked Mage: the Ascension, it kind of had the best of both worlds:  There was a narrated-like magic system that allowed you to hijack the norms of the story to some degree.  But the system was justified within the setting itself, and possibly even within the character's own viewpoint.  Also it was not an always go-to thing since the cost and consequences could be pretty extreme, so no infinite one-upsmanship between rivals.

Exalted: Fair Folk on the other hand also has an intriguing narrated-magic system, even well justified from the point of view of the characters.  But if played in the Wyld subsetting, it seems like it could easily lead to infinite one-upsmanship scenarios, with opponents mashing the A-button of their narrated power and immersion taking a prolonged back seat.

Some games give you tokens or other rewards based on good narrated style play.  These tokens may then be cashed back in to enhance the character's interactions in some way or dictate events beyond the character's control.  And while I'm not strictly opposed to spendable commodities, I'd rather they be justified from the character's perspective in some way.

Narrated tokens grate slightly in two ways:

1)  I feel like a good narration is it's own reward.  If you come up with a clever idea and it's funny or awesome or otherwise moving, that's great.  But it's like doing good works to be seen as good:  You've already got your reward.

2) A part of me feels that it shouldn't really give your character a token unless it actually gives something to the character from an in-game perspective.  Refreshes character mentally and physically? Health token or determination token. Ritual to draw more mystical power? Magic token. Successfully started a new business? Wealth tokens (i.e. money). Is fortune a well-established presence in the setting? Luck or karma tokens might refresh over time or in certain circumstances.

To sum up:
It's not that I completely reject all play in the narrated style. I do have fun with it.  When I play in a narrated style I might feel that I had a good time and maybe that I entertained fellow players to some degree.  And I might feel the same way when I play in a more immersive style game as well.  However, the major difference is that with more immersive games I, through my character, am also more likely to feel like I've accomplished something in play as well.