Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Hand of Dominion

I wrote an adventure.

I'm not going to playtest it, or edit it into infinity.  Whenever I do those things, I end up never posting it.


I'm just going to post it.


It's a linear 7-room dungeon magic sword in the last room.  Whoever has the sword is the rightful ruler of the world (supposedly).  But more immediately, everyone who sees the sword wants to (a) claim it, or (b) serve the wielder, if the first option isn't possible.

Of course, that means that the real adventure starts when you leave the dungeon.

I'm honestly super curious about how different parties will react to getting the sword.

Funfact: most of this dungeon is pacifistic.  It will try hard not to kill you.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Active Defense

Normally, D&D is played with active attacks and passive defenses.

The attacker rolls, compares to the target's AC, and then determines if he hits or not.

Alternatively, there's the "players roll all the dice", which I like for defending because:
  • Players feel like they have more agency.
  • It frees up hands and time for the DM.
But active defense is still less fun than attacking.  When you're attacking, you're deciding who you want to attack, how you want to attack them, coordinating with your allies, etc.  Fun.  While active defense still feels very reactive.  

"The ogre tries to split you like a log.  Roll Defense minus 4."

Better than the DM rolling for the ogre and telling you that you're dead, but still just just calculations.

Ideally, you'd want to bring some decision-making into the act of defending* so that it becomes about making interesting choices instead of pulling a lever on a slot machine to see how much damage you take.

<digression>*This is actually debatable.  Do players want to have to make decisions about how to defend from five goblin spears?  Or do they just want to get to their turn quickly so they can open the cage to the dire moles and see how that pans out?  To put it another way, can we make defensive decisions interesting?</digression>

I have one other design criterion: I want the new mechanics to be completely compatible with preexisting OSR systems.

Dodging and Blocking

So here's what I got.  You have two ways to defend:  Dodging and Blocking.

Dodging works exactly the way that AC does.

Armor and Dexterity improve your Dodge; and when you dodge successfully, you take no damage.

When you block, you move into the blow and try to absorb it via your armor/shield.  You take damage from the attack, but you reduce that damage by 1 if you're wearing heavy armor, and you reduce it by another 1 if you are using a shield.

Leather Armor: +2 Dodge
Chain Armor: +4 Dodge, +1 Block 
Plate Armor: +6 Dodge, +2 Block
Shield: +1 Dodge, +1 Block

When an enemy attacks you, you can choose whether to dodge or block.

The Math

I made a spreadsheet; It's actually pretty complicated.

Blocking reduces damage equally regardless of the opponent's attack bonus.  It's just a flat reduction.  Therefor, blocking becomes useful in two situations: against enemies that 1d6 damage, and against enemies that have very high bonuses to hit, who are probably going to hit you anyway.

<digression>I think I'm going to cap the attack bonuses for the GLOG at +10 for this reason, among others.</digression>

Blocking also does another very important thing: it removes the chance that you might get critted.

Since you're reducing the spread of potential damage, you're effectively buying insurance.  You're removing the chance that you'll take maximum damage by removing the chance that you'll take no damage.

(Which makes sense fictionally, too.  Crits happen when you're trying to get fancy, jumping around all nimbly-bimbly, and you slip in the mud and take bit hit to the face.  Whereas blocking, you're just hunkering down and taking the hit on your shoulder.)

If you know you only have to survive on attack from a goblin with a 1d6 sword, and you've got 6 HP, you can play it safe by blocking instead of dodging and risking that 6 damage hit (or a crit).

You also don't want to block if you're at 1 HP.  (Makes sense fictionally: you're an inch from death, too tired to raise your shield, just trying to stagger out of the way.)

HOWEVER, if you do the math, blocking usually sucks.  By the time you have a high blocking value (platemail + shield) you usually already have a high enough AC that blocking is inferior to just defending as normal.  Still, I think the choice is interesting.  (Other people may not.)  So blocking is highly situational; dodging is the better choice nearly all the time.

Can Monsters Block?

No.  Keep it simple, keep it fast.  To do so would go against the design goals.

Metal vs Wood Shields

If you wanted to differentiate the two, you could have:
  • Metal Shield: +1 Defense, +1 Block
  • Wooden Shield: +1 Defense, can be sundered to reduce incoming damage by 1d12.

If you wanted to have a third option, you could have a Parry option, in addition to Dodge and Block.  You'd roll your attack bonus to defend instead of your armor bonus.

Except I don't want level 5 fighters running around naked, getting better defense from their daggers than they would from full plate, so maybe a condition is needed?

You can only parry when you are wielding a weapon and defending against a weapon, wielded by a human- or halfling-sized opponent.


So I just re-read all of stuff I just wrote and I hate all of it.  Normally, I'd delete the draft and go watch Star Trek, but I'm going to leave the post here because it's a good discussion.

I can explain.

Back when I played 3.5, I had a Power Attack calculator.  Based on the opponent's AC, and my average damage, how many points should I sacrifice for power attack?

I had fun doing that, because I felt clever, but now that's exactly the sort of gameplay that bores me.  It's math, instead of interesting choices.  If you know the numbers, it stops being a challenge and becomes a known solution.

So, although I just wrote them, I dislike the Dodge, Block, Parry mechanics because they're a known solution once the math is figured out.

And it's a boring problem because the two goals are directly comparable.  You're trying to choose the best way to minimize a single variable: the average damage.  Or in the Power Attack example: you're trying to maximize damage.

Fun choices come from choosing between to incomparables.  Like, should I attack with my sword (1d6 damage) or throw a molotov (2d6 damage, but is a single-use resource).  You can't boil that down to a single factor since you don't know how much you're going to need that molotov in the future.

The rule for sundering shields is potentially interesting, because you don't know if you're going to need that shield in the future.

Sundering #1: You can choose to negate all damage from an attack by breaking your shield.

Except that rule isn't that interesting.  In practice, people will keep the shield around, then break it in order to keep themselves from dying, and not a moment before.

Sundering #2: If you have a shield, you can choose to block with it instead of attempting to dodge.  Damage is reduced by 1d6, but if the base damage is 6 or more, the shield breaks.

That's more interesting.  Reminds me of the usage die, a little bit.  And it leads to some useful questions.

A bunch of goblins are attacking you.  Do you want to block the goblins with your shield?  It's numerically advantageous (in terms of minimizing average damage), but you run the risk of your shield breaking, when you might need it more later.

That's my final conclusion, then.  Block/Dodge/Parry is boring because it's a solved equation (that favors the spreadsheet-equipped munchkin) while Sundering Rule #2 is actually pretty interesting.

Need to playtest it.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Covenant Trees and the Stylites

The Covenant of Lightning

There once was a great empire named Niv which conquered the entire world and then conspired to invade Heaven.  (This was the Crusade of Worms.)  In the city of Armis they built the first tower, in order to reach Heaven.

For their arrogance, Zulin destroyed Armis with lightning bolts.

<sidebar>Niv would eventually be successful in their attempt to invade Heaven.  Although the Nivians were quickly driven out, the intrusion caused Zulin to move Heaven from the Lower Clouds into the Upper Air, where it was more distant and harder to see (as opposed to the golden domes that could formerly be glimpsed among the clouds).  Since Heaven withdrew, it has been more difficult for people to reach it, requiring more good deeds.</sidebar>

Such was the devastation of Armis that even the faithful were horrified.  Zulin came before them, contrite, and promised that he would never again use lightning to destroy indiscriminately.  (Lightning bolts would continue to be used as the preferred method of slaying apostates.)

To symbolize this covenant with the people of Centerra, and to serve as a reminder of his wrath, Zulin created the Covenant Trees.

It is said that the covenant exists as long as the trees do; when the last covenant tree is felled, Zulin is no longer bound by his promise not to destroy cities with lightning.

Covenant Trees

Most beasts are made from flesh, and most plants are made from wood.  This is common elemental knowledge.

Yet covenant trees, being partially divine in origin, defy this simple dichotomy.  They are composed of both metal and wood.

Covenant trees grow when a lightning bolt strikes a covenant tree seed that is in an area rich which copper.  The seed pulls the copper out of the ground and uses it to grow the tree to it's adult height.  All of this happens in the time it takes a lightning bolt to fully discharge.

Covenant trees are always shaped like the lightning bolt that formed them.  They grow along the lightning the way ivy grows up a trellis.

Because covenant trees function as lightning rods, they usually prevent the growth of any other covenant tree nearby, so most of them are only ever found as solitary trees.  They grow alone, on storm-tossed mountain tops, only occasionally releasing their tiny, winged seeds.

Fangolians farm covenant trees in order to extract copper from the earth, since the purest copper comes from covenant trees.  It is the source of all their copper weapons and armor.  This is why they are all blasphemers who must be destroyed.

In fact, you can make a quick arrowhead simply by folding a covenant leaf a few times.

Lightning trees glow a dull orange before a storm.  It's invisible during the day, but can be quite dramatic at night.

Holy Copper Amulet

These amulets are made from covenant seeds.  The next time you take electrical damage, you instead take no damage and teleport to the source of the damage.

Hesayan Stylites

They are also called Skygazers.

These are Hesayan asthetics who have dedicated themselves to the contemplation of, and communion with, the sky.  They have pledged themselves to live out the rest of their lives on top of a small platform high off the ground.

In some places they live on top of a tall pillar, 20' in the air, or even 50'.  They eat, sleep, and pray on a tiny platform about 3' in diameter.  Their chins are always tilted up, away from the base earth and towards the mysteries of the upper air.

However, the tradition platform for a stylite is in a covenant tree, which are tall and very strong.  There is usually a second platform lower down, where petitioners can kneel while they speak to the stylite.  Petitioners who fall off the covenant tree while climbing are assumed to have deserved it.

Stylites are fed by songbirds, who vomit in their mouths.  They drink rainwater, that collects on the trunk.  Although everyone agrees that their primary forms of nutrition are miraculous, stylites are also fed and watered by local villages.  It is both useful and honorable to host a stylite.

Stylites speak with the clouds.  They communicate through yoga, and the clouds communicate by changing shape.  Sometimes stylites hear messages that were carried a long distance on the wind.  Stylites always hear the Silent Bell of Saint Dorbaine, and inform their villages when they are called to secret masses.

It is said that stylites are capable of flight, since they are blessed.  It is also said that stylites choose not to fly, since they are humble.

One of the most famous Stylites is Jerannia the One-Armed, who is a frequent critic of the Pope.  The two of them often write letters to each other.  

The Order of Stylites is opposed by the Order of Precipites, the cliffjumpers.

from Simeon of the Desert by Luis Buñuel

How to Use Them in Your Game

Use them as sages.  They know all sorts of stuff from talking to the clouds, and what they don't know, they can learn.

They're also holy men, so be on your best behavior around them.  They'll probably ask you questions to verify your goodness and/or knowledge of scripture before they help you out.  

Or they'll ask for a sacrifice.  A whole cow, cooked and salted, along with some wineskins is a pretty considerable sacrifice.

Or go traditional; give out a quest.

by Carel Willink

Saturday, February 11, 2017


In the scorned places of the wilds, there are many deadly and puissant beasts.  And then there are boggies.

It is said that boggies represent the innocence of nature, uncorrupted by the heartlessness of human society, and that nature produces boggies so that it can conserve more cruelty for other animals, such as tigers, which makes about as much sense as any other theory involving boggies.  Boggies sometimes carry boggy pox, a disease which infects the spells of wizards.

Boggies can form spontaneously when frogs accidentally fertilize fish eggs during a period of heavy rain.  This explains their features, which are a combination of fish and frog.

I drew this!
(Look out, Zak!)
That still doesn't explain the hands and feet, though.

Their spoken language sounds a lot like "bog boggy bog bog sprog moggy bog" which is why they are called Boggies.  The give each other similar names.  Confusingly, "bog" seems to be the boggy word for literally hundreds of objects.  'Bog' can be translated as 'cat', 'bohemian ear spoon', 'justice', and 'the feeling of jealousy when someone else has a bigger hat than you'.

Boggies are common in the Frogstar Peninsula, although they may arise in any temperate swamp.

Things that boggies often like: hats, polearms, shiny things, kindness, and being hirelings.

Things that boggies often hate: cats, swords, being dirty, cruelty, and waiting.

Boggies usually live in small daub-and-wattle cottages, but some live in little floating towns, anchored in the middle of ponds.  Boggies usually practice aquaculture (cultivating aquatic plants and fish for food) but some grow land crops, especially rice.

Boggies float on the surface of the water like ducks, and paddle using their feet.  When they need to sprint, boggies are capable of lowering their fishbutts into the water and accelerating to tremendous speeds, rocketing across the pond like a jetski.

HD 1  AC leather  Polearm 1d6
Move 12  Swim 9  Int 10?  Mor 5

Small - Like halflings.

Impenetrable Language - All attempts at understanding the boggy language will fail.  This includes magical and non-magical attempts, and applies to both written and spoken Boggy.  (Boggies can usually understand you just fine, though, and will happily communicate by doodling on the ground.)

People living with boggies can sometimes pick up enough spoken Boggy that they can understand the gist of a message, but they cannot explain how they understand, nor can they teach it.  (Scholars theorize that Boggy is a combination of a language and series of psychic context-signifiers embedded in the sounds/symbols, making it the first example of metalinguistics.)  Written boggy looks like lines of circles drawn by a preschooler.

Boggies are immune to language-dependent spells, unless they choose to be affected.  No jedi mind tricks.

Water Breathing? - Boggies cannot breath underwater.  Most boggies do not know this, and require rescuing when they start to drown.  These boggies will forget each time. (Boggies don't normally undertake long dives unless serving as a hireling and being asked to do Stupid Adventurer Shit.)  All boggies can hold breath 5x longer than humans.

I don't use alignments, but if I did, boggies would be Good.  Shame on the person that kicks a boggy.

What Polearm Does This Boggy Have?
  1. Partisan
  2. Glaive
  3. Fauchard
  4. Voulge
  5. Halberd
  6. Ranseur
  7. Poleaxe
  8. Bardiche
  9. Bohemian Ear Spoon
  10. Bec de Corbin
  11. Military Fork
  12. Big Pointy Stick
Six Boggy Villages
  1. Round huts arranged around the chieftain's hut.  The chieftain is whichever boggy is heaviest, and they have a see-saw contraption designed to measure exactly that.  They want medicine; the current chieftain is sick from all the metal balls he has eaten (in an attempt to get heavier).  They can reward you with a swarm of trained fireflies (normally live in a glass lantern-staff, but can fly out an illuminate a whole room, or whatever you point at) and a loyal boggy hireling.
  2. Floating village ruled by a strange blue boggy capable of casting illusion. They want someone to kill the local froghemoth.  They can reward you with a pair of giant gecko mounts (Climb 9) and a loyal boggy hireling.
  3. Round huts clustered under an enormous mangrove.  They are ruled by a boggy with a truly enormous hat.  There are wild chickens in the area has swallowed the royal pebble, but they don't know which one (as all wild chickens looks similar).  They want you to retrieve the royal pebble.  They can reward you with a magic stick (everyone who sees it must save vs charm or desire to possess it) and a loyal boggy hireling.
  4. Village of former magic users, victims of boggy pox.  They are ruled by a boggy in a wizard robe, wielding an imitation staff of the magi (non-magical).  They want you to carry a bunch of letters to their loved ones in a nearby town/academy.  (The letters are full of boggy script, incomprehensible to anyone but a boggy, but are helpfully accompanied by many pages of illustrations.)  They can reward you with 3 potions of water breathing and a loyal boggy hireling.
  5. Village of boggies built half on land, half on a pond.  They're led by a tiny boggy who rides an enormous arapaima.  They have captured an evil wizard who attempted to enslave them.  They burnt his spellbook, broke his staff, and are now holding him prisoner in the center of the village.  At least 8 boggies are sitting on him at each time (they use him like a bench) and constant surveillance (since he is in the center of the village).  If you agree to take him to the local city to be tried for his crimes (which he foolishly bragged about to the boggies), the boggies with compensate you with a trained dancing frog and a loyal boggy hireling.  There is a 500gp reward for the capture of the wizard (whose name is Victorion), but be careful!--he is a tricksy one!
  6. Village of boggies suffering a curse of lethargy.  They just lie around the untended fire pit, sighing heavily and eating bugs that wander too close.  Occasionally one of them is eaten by a panther.  Anyone who spends more than an hour here must save vs magic or be affected by the same curse.  The source is a totem dedicated to an ancient demon of sloth, which the boggies unearthed some days ago and brought to their village.  The mud-covered totem sits in the chieftain's hut (the largest in the village) and appears as an fat, sleeping man holding a pillow over his head.  Messing with the totem will cause the totem's protectors to manifest: 1d6 mudmen appearing each turn for 2 turns.  Destroying the totem will save the village's eternal gratitude, a victory feast, and the amulet of sleep from inside the totem anyone who wears it falls asleep and sleeps twice as hard, regaining double the normal HP from sleeping but not waking up until the amulet is removed).  One PC will also be married during the festivity dance, earning a loyal boggy spouse (who functions pretty much like a retainer, except for the good night kisses).
Boggy Boredom

Roll on this table whenever there's a boggy hireling and the party is standing around talking about bullshit instead of doing something interesting.
  1. The boggy finds a gross, useless bug and puts it in your pocket.  It is not sneaky.
  2. The boggy finds a helpful, magic bug and puts it in your pocket.  It is not sneaky.
  3. The boggy eats some food.  If food is not available, will try to get some out of your backpack.  If you refuse to give it food, it will start yelling (and you should roll for a random encounter).
  4. The boggy does something incredibly insightful.  If there is a secret door nearby, the boggy will find it, usually by taking you by the hand and pointing at the door while hopping up and down.
  5. The boggy falls asleep under a table or something.
  6. The boggy hides itself nearby, sneakily.  If the party is ambushed, it will be able to get a surprise round in.  It will come out of hiding if called by name.
Note: I rewrote the old post about frog pox.  It's boggy pox now.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Verminators and Conviction

Verminators are muscular dudes with worm heads.  Little beady eyes.  Stinky pink skin and sticky pink lips and a little red tongue that they lick themselves with.

Verminators are the grossest things ever.  Whenever they barf, they eat some of their barf.  And they barf a lot.  This means that when they barf, some small component of that barf has been barfed out like, a thousand times.

Verminators live inside Hungry Joe, and anywhere else that is really gross.  They sleep in big slobbery piles inside tiny round houses made of dried pus.  They pack themselves in there like clown cars.  They barf in their sleep.

Verminators have big hands, and they are proud of them. Verminators wear big spiky gloves to make their hands bigger, and also so they can punch better.

Verminators are so gross, that they can make the party ragequit the dungeon.

like this, except COMPLETELY OPPOSITE
by Jan Fabre
HD 2  AC leather  Punch 1d8
Mov 12  Int 10  Mor 6

Stink - You'll smell them before you see them.  (0% chance of surprise.)  The round before combat, every must make a Con save.  Those who succeed get a round to prepare for combat.  Those who fail spend the first round of combat barfing.  Barfing characters can walk, but can take no other action.  Barfing characters get another Con check at the start of each subsequent round to end the effect.  Those who have time to acclimate to the stink (PCs sneaking into a verminator village) can spend a couple minutes acclimating slowly, but if they charge in, roll vs barf as normal.

Barf - Usable once per day.  10' cone.  Target takes 1d6 acid damage and must make an easy (+4) save vs charm.  If they fail, they are Officially Grossed Out and will take reasonable actions to leave the dungeon and wash off.  Since leave the dungeon alone is usually very dangerous and your companions may not want to leave, what usually happens is the party will leave together once a majority of its members are Officially Grossed Out.  Headless verminators can still barf, but it erupts in a vertical fountain, only hitting the adjacent 10'.

Using Verminators

I know it looks like a lot of text, but it's simple in play.

The stink only comes into play when the verminators are appearing, so it's easy to remember, and easy to explain.

And the barf thing is no different than any of the other six billion monsters that shoots cones.  (I could make a monster manual called Cone Shooters, and just fill it with all the cone shooters.)

The Officially Grossed Out Status is what's really interesting here, and that's what I want to talk about.

Officially Grossed Out

I know that Officially Grossed Out looks like a joke, but its not.  This is genuinely the part of verminators that I am most interested in using.

We already have mechanics for charm.  (Loose, oft-unsatisfying mechanics, but we have them.)  This is similar, except instead of a compulsion to love a person, it's a compulsion to leave the dungeon and take a bath.

In that way, it's potentially a lot less disruptive than charm, and people use charm all the time.  Officially Grossed Out is, in that sense, a lot milder since it allows the party to pull out of the dungeon on their own terms, which just means that they're going to retreat safely.  Sometimes earlier than they would like.

I've already had monsters that could convert you to their religion.  This is just an extension of that.  The system needs a little polish, but its a cool idea.

Part of the whole philosophy of "attack the whole character sheet" means attacking their Convictions/Ideals/Bonds/Etc.  Which is fun because they don't usually get attacked there.

Conviction and Barf

The GLOG uses a system of Convictions, which have two functions: (a) explain why a character would venture into a dungeon in the first place, and (b) explain why a character would take a non-optimal action (i.e. why they would deviate from the murderhobo ideal).

And these convictions are not set in stone.  They are intended to change over the course of a campaign.  Usually as a result of player-driven choices, but sometimes they can be put there through unhappy circumstance.  (The geas spell, for example.)

Using that, we can rewrite the barf ability to:

Barf - Usable once per day.  10' cone.  On a hit, takes 1d6 acid damage (save for half) and gains an equal number of gross-out points.  Once a character has gross-out points equal or exceeding their Charisma, they gain the Conviction of "Get to Safety and Take a Bath".  This conviction disappears once they actually take a bath.

. . .

I like that.

Because D&D doesn't model willpower very well.  Monsters never convert the PCs (except with dominate spells).  Demons never sway the Chaotic Neutral players to come kill some orcs with them, although it would be cool if they could.
How would you adjudicate this:

A paladin needs to stick his dick into a Bene Gesserit pain box in order to save all the babies.  Is his willpower strong enough to actually do it?

What are you gonna do?  Make a Wis/Con/Cha check?  A Will save?  Or just let the player say, "Yeah, Sir Goldenwand sticks his dongle in the box and it hurts but he keeps it there."

None of those are satisfying.  So, I propose Convictions and Willpower, which is equal to Charisma (or you could use Wisdom, if that feels better).

Rules: Each turn a creature places a body part into the pain box, they gain 1d6 pain points.  If their total pain points exceeds their Charisma score, they nope out of this pain box business altogether.  The pain points gained each turn are reduced by 1 for each relevant, opposing Conviction (min 0).  A player with a relevant, opposed conviction can spend a Conviction Point to reduce pain points by 1d6.  A player must keep their hand in the pain box for 5 rounds to save all the babies.

I like that better.

There's time to build tension.  There's 5 rolls, not just 1.  You can describe the paladin sweating and shaking after each one.

There's a big dependency on both Charisma and Convictions (especially convictions).  This means that it might not be the Level 5, Cha 16 paladin who passes the pain box test, but the Level 0, Cha 11 housewife, if the housewife has the Conviction of "save all the babies", while the paladin has the convictions of "punish the wicked" and "never trust anything with horns".

If you think about it, this might be a more reasonable result of a fear spell.  Not to run away screaming, abandoning your friends when they need you most, but simply to make your character unwilling to continue in the dungeon any further, maybe forever.

And that--by itself--is a potent price to pay for failure.  It's a potent punishment to the player ("Your character is so scared that they'll never go back into the dungeon again.") and sort of a poignant penalty to drop on the character.  Example:

The party fights the dracolich.  Most of them fail their initial save vs fear, and spend the first round cowering behind the paladin.  But though they recover their nerve and fight the dracolich, the tide still turns against them, and they are forced to retreat.

After resting back in town, the paladin is still eager to quest for a dragonbane sword and then return, but his companions are not interested.  They are still psychic cripples.  All they dream about is the dragolich.  They hear his wings whenever a cloud passes in front of the sun.  All they can do is shiver and shake their heads no, because they fought the dracolich and it crippled them. They will never willingly set foot in those darkened halls as long as they live.

earthworm jim is way to handsome to be a verminator