Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Hobgoblins, Half-elves, and Half-giants

Genetics doesn't work the same in Centerra.  The race of your children is mostly determined by where they were born, for example.  (Accents are the shibboleths and the grounds for discrimination, not skin color.)

And of course, ogres are made from children via a specific diet and certain treatment.  

But making ogres from children is just the tip of the iceberg.

by tsvetomir georgiev

Hobgoblins

Goblins are right horrible little bastards, and everything that joins them at their table will also become a right horrible little bastard, too.

It doesn't take long.  A few months of goblin food will do it.  If you join them in in their songs, the process will hasten even further.

Goblins sometimes do it intentionally.  They you in a pit full of goblins.  They feed you their horrible food (usually at least 5% goblin secretion by weight).  They force you to play their horrible games, such as stomp-rat, piss-glug, and wrestle-worm.

And you'll dwindle.  First one inch, then another.  You'll be six inches shorter before you're done.  Your nose will lengthen and fresh rows of sharp teeth will grow in behind each other, like a shark's.  Your hair will flee from you.

Your eyes will yellow and become beady.  Your skin becomes a sickly shade of green.  And your mindset will become goblinish--rapacious, curious, hasty, loud, quiet.  You will not be pleasant to be around, and the only people who will tolerate you will be goblins and other goblin-men.

There are many goblin-men (and goblin-women) in Goblintown.  (Stats as normal humans, plus darkvision and the personalities of goblins, including the lack of self-preservation.)

Humans are not the only thing that goblins can transform thus.  Goblins can make everything horrible.  (Daniel Dean has said this before.)

Expect to see long-nosed goblin dogs skulking around Goblintown, They sneak into rooms and shit in your boots.  They piss in any open container of drinkable water.  Packs of them will bite open your packs, swallow valuables until they gag, and then run off with bellies of silver.  And they never bark, only ever mustering a wheezing laugh or mad yowling.

There are goblin pigs, which are a bit like greenish, long-nosed pigs, except for their remarkable flexibility and their habit of shitting in their own mouths.

There are goblin bats who--to be perfectly honest--just shit on everything.  They'll follow you quietly until combat breaks out and then they'll try to shit in your eyes (10% chance per bat per turn, blind until you wipe it out + disease chance).

And you'll find all sorts of other goblin-animals in Goblintown.  Goblin hippos lounge in the filth-fountains.  Goblin geese will whack the shit out of your kneecaps.  They're all shitty, hairless (although not featherless), greasy, and slightly smaller than usual.

Setting Note: I never liked hobgoblins as "militant goblinoids who got their shit together".  I always felt that orcs could fill that niche better.

a classically smug elf
from Lord of the Rings
Half-Elves

Elves (and by this I mean low elves) surround themselves in beauty.  This requires them to insulate themselves from the rest of the world.  

And insulation requires walls, of course.  Some walls are temporal, some are spatial, and some are literal walls.  (But even the literal walls are subtle--an enchanted forest that diverts all travelers from the elven city at its heart, and thwarts all attempts to map it.  This is pretty bog-standard as far as elven isolation magic goes.)

But even elves sometimes need to interact with their neighbors.  

This is a repulsive idea.  Everything that is not an elf or of elven manufactures is usually repulsive at beast, and nauseating at worst.  (If the average party of gore-spattered adventurers bursts into an elven wedding, expect half of the elves to cast disintegrate spells and the other half to spend their first turn vomiting into their silken napkins.)

So that is what elven slaves are for--except they aren't slaves.  They're loyal little brothers and little sisters to the elves that they are forbidden to meet, less their ruin their older siblings delicate appetites.  (It takes very little to ruin an elf's appetite.)

These pseudo-slaves are usually elevated into pseudo-elfhood through the administration of elven hormones and genetic activators.  (Of course, the elves don't know the science behind their own elevation.  They only know that making certain types of wine from certain types of plants turns elven children into elven adults.  The plants of course, were genetically engineers millennia ago for this very purpose, although the purity and potency is a tiny fraction of what was originally intended.)

So elves give their loyal slaves elf-drugs to make them more elfy.  When administered to a prepubescent human slave, the result is the creation of a half-elf.  Confusingly, they are also called elf-men and elf-women.

Like all responsible pet owners, elves spay and neuter their little siblings.  This makes them easier to control and explains why elves are always buying human babies (or stealing them).  It also means that if you want to play a male half-elf in one of my games, you're not going to have any testicles.  (We can discuss the plausibility of a quest to recover them from the elves.)

A half-elf looks a lot like an elf, minus the extra foot of height and twitching xenophobia.  Unlike elves, they can be PCs.

They are agile, beautiful (by human standards), and wise.  In fact, most people think that half-elves are actually elves, never suspecting that their more agile, more beauteous, more genocidal masters lived deeper in the forest, disgusted by the possibility of having to talk to a human king.  (The hair!  The pores on their faces!  The smell of defecation!)

Sidebar: Dragons also breed clans of loyal humans called drakencults!

Half-Giants

Little is known of this particular transformation, but we do know that it requires at least two things (a) large volumes of giant food consumed over a year, at a minumum, and (b) marriage to a giant.

Other possibilities (the consumption of giantish breast milk, beating a giant in a contest of strength) are rumored but not confirmed.

Half-giant Stats
(posted here not because they are good, but because I don't want to lose them)
Str +1 or Str 14, whichever is higher.
Once per day, can treat Str as if it were 20.
Can zone out and build buildings as long as you have enough raw materials.  Can only ever build buildings (towers but also things like bridges) and earthworks (trenches) due to weird racial compulsions.  More giants working together can build exponentially larger buildings.  In one 8-hour building frenzy, the giants can build X * Y * 100 square feet of wooden house, or X * Y * 5 square feet of stone house, where X is the number of giants and Y is also the number of giants, but Y maxes out at 5.  Usable once per day.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

How to Make Rulings

Dungeonmaster Plato believed that philosopher-DMs must be raised in special enclaves, away from any corrupting influence, if they are to learn how to properly DM.
So, the OSR says this thing all the time.

"Rulings, not rules."

It means that we'd rather have a small, tidy core of mechanics and then improvise all the uncommon rules, rather than have a giant encyclopedia of rules.

There are many reasons for this, and most of them are good ones.  (And I won't go into the reasons here.)

So if a DM wants to be good at rules, what does she have to do?

Well, she has to bust out the rulebook and memorize it.  Even the rules about grappling.  Even the rules about how long you can tread water.  This is what you have to do if you want to be a DM Who Is Good At Rules.

So if a DM wants to be good at rulings, what does she have to do?

. . .

Well, that's a tough one.  There's not a lot of guidance out there.  More ink has been spilled describing the overland speed of donkeys on a taiga (summer) than on how to make effective rulings.

Part of the problem is a conceptual one.  Rulings begin where rules run out.  They occupy the gaps in a rulebook, outside of where most writers spend their time thinking.  And it feels a litter counter-intuitive to put a chapter in a rulebook titled "How to Write Your Own Rulebook".  It's like printing a cookie recipe on the inside of an Oreo wrapper.

I have a tattoo based on this painting of Diogenes.
By Gerome.
And yet, making rulings is a very important skill.  It's what separates mediocre DMs from excellent ones.

So here's my attempt.

First question when designing a thing: what are the traits of a good thing?

1. Rulings Should be Fast

This is probably the most important one.  One of the biggest advantage of rulings over rules is that the DM just says some shit and the game keeps going.  No consulting the tome.  No arguing about rules.  (Or at least, keep those things to a minimum.)

2. Rulings Should Give Expected Probabilities

The in-game fiction needs to match the player's expectations.

Other people will restate this as: Rulings Need To Be Fair, but I think that's a less useful description.

If I'm DMing Hobbits & Hobbitholes and I realize that there is no rule for jumping over Farmer Maggot's dog, I'll have to make up my own ruling for jumping.  And whatever ruling I come up with had better give Legolas a better chance of success than Gimli, because everyone knows that Gimli can't jump.

If I make the jump a simple Strength check, I've failed, because Gimli is stronger than Legolas.  I could make it a Dex check, or a Strength check with a racial penalty to dwarves because of their stubby legs--the details don't matter as much as the resultant probabilities.

Relative probabilities are the most important (Legolas > Gimli), but absolute probabilities matter, too.

If I make the ruling, and the players do the math before rolling, and they realize that no one has more than an 7% chance of jumping over the dog, they'll (rightfully) protest.  It's five people jumping over one dog at the same time.  There's no way that dog should have such a high chance of stonewalling the entire party.

Rulings Should be Consistent

Consistent with other rules: getting hurled against a wall by a giant is pretty similar to taking a bad fall.  You'll need to come up with a good reason why one does lethal damage and the other does subdual damage.  The similarities are too big to ignore.

Consistent with other rulings: If you've been allowing players to coup-de-grace fallen enemies with ranged weapons, you should allow enemy archers to do the same thing to the players.  (You asshole.)

Next question: What are some tips that will help us achieve these goals?

Tip: Just Say Yes

"Okay, well you showed up with all the right preparations, and you can take your time when attempting it.  I'm going to rule that you just automatically succeed."

If the PCs have exactly the right approach, let them through.  If there's no rush for time, let them through.  If there is no penalty for failure (i.e. they can just re-attempt if they fail), let them through.

Seriously, I love this one.  Every DM should use it more often.

And if part of you bristles at letting the moment sneak past without the hand of entropy grazing it, tell them to roll a d20 and let them succeed on any number except for a 1.

Tip: Keep It Simple

Use established mechanics whenever possible.  Try not to invent them from scratch.

If there is a similar mechanic somewhere else, translate it.

Turn multiple rolls into a single roll.  Turn single rolls into static numbers.

Resist the urge to involve multiple parts of a character sheet.  "Well, it's a social check foremost, so I'll let them apply the Cha mod, but it's also trying to intimidate someone by crushing a skull, so I'll let them include their Str mod as well, but they should get a penalty for every steel item they have in their inventory, and. . ." That--that right there--is bad.

The ruling should touch as few parts of their character sheet as possible.  The most important thing is that it gives expected probabilities (i.e. Gimli should not be a better jumper than Legolas).

Tip: Learn How Probabilities Work

Your new best friend: anydice.com.  Read the Documentation.

The difference between d20+d6 and d20+3 is damn tiny.

The difference between 2d6-keep-highest, 1d6+1, and 1d8 is also damn tiny.  (At least in terms of averages, and if these are damage rolls, the details don't matter that much.)

Rolling a d20 with Advantage is usually damn close to a flat +4 bonus (plus or minus a point).

Whenever you roll one die, you have a flat probability curve.  Two dice gives a pyramid.  Three or more dice give a bell curve.  The point is, bell curves favor the stronger party, flat curves favor the underdog.

Usually, the players are attempting things that they are likely to succeed at.  This means that bell curves are their friend.  But when they are trying to do something really tough, like fight that higher-level demon dragon, the bell curve suddenly turns against them.

d20 and 3d6 both have an average of 10.5, but the curve is very difference.

d20+2 chance of rolling 10 or higher: 65%

3d6+2 chance or rolling 10 or higher: 84%

And that +19% chance is basically the equivalent of a +4 bonus.  Extreme example, but you get the point.

Opposed d20 rolls (e.g. d20+Str vs opponent's d20+Str) are also weird like that.  They give a big advantage to the stronger party.  Compared to a single roll (d20 + your Str - enemy's Str) which gives a smaller advantage to the stronger party.

(This is why I like single-roll mechanics; I like to be surprised with underdog victories.)

NOTE: I got a little bit crazy when I wrote this last part and you should probably just skip it.  Seriously, just pretend the post ends right now.  I can't delete it because I like it, but I also recognize that no one probably wants to read it.

Tip: Build and Test Complex Mechanics Before Implementing Them

Sometimes you want to anticipate a ruling, before the game even starts.  You are basically writing an ad-hoc rule.  Use the same tips as when making a ruling, but hey, you're not in a rush.  You can take your time when designing the rule.

My method: (1) Design a rule with the average party in mind in order to give them the desired probability of success, then (2) test it with other sample parties to see if it gives probabilities that you want.

This is a little bit like code testing.

A little while ago I wrote a dungeon that was pretty likely to feature a cave-in.  How long can a party survive while trapped in a room?  And how fast can they dig themselves out?

I'd advise you not to calculate room volume, look up oxygen consumption rates, infer oxygen consumption rates for halflings, research how fast miners are excavated in emergencies, etc.  Down that road lies madness.

I'd also advise against using general asphyxiation rules, since they aren't likely to serve your purpose. (And most systems are way too lenient with how long people can hold their breath anyway.)  There's no reason why you can't write a custom rule for this room.

I decided that I wanted the following features for my test party:

  • four PCs and no NPCs.
  • the PCs have 10s in all their stats.
  • I want this party to have a 50% chance of getting out alive.


We make up some rules:

  • Up to four people can dig at a time.
  • Everyone can breathe for 3 exploration turns before they need to make Con checks to stay conscious.
  • Each turn spent digging will yield 1d8 successes if they succeed on a Str check, and 1d4 successes if they fail on the same Str check.
  • Proper digging tools can upgrade a die by one or two sizes, depending.  Shovel = +1 die size.  Pickaxe = +2 die sizes.
  • After a certain number of successes, a hole is cleared and fresh air immediately fills the room.
  • How many successes are needed to clear a hole?

It's like a math problem!

For the first three turns, half of the party succeeds and half fails.  As people lose consciousness, fewer and few people contribute to digging.

  • First turn: 2d8+2d4 = 14 successes on average.
  • Second turn: 2d8+2d4 = 14 successes on average.
  • Third turn: 2d8+2d4 = 14 successes on average.
  • Fourth turn: 1d8+1d4 = 7 successes on average.  (Two PCs have passed out by now.)
  • Subsequent turns: asymptotic = 7 successes on average (Each turn is half as many successes as previously.)
So we tally them up and there's our answer.  The players need to get 56 successes before they clear a path to fresh air.

We can clean that up a bit.  "56 successes" becomes "60 cubic feet" or whatever.

How about if the party was stronger than average?  For example, what if they all had 12 Strength.  Well, if you do all the math, four PCs with 12 Strength will make an average of 59.2 successes before they all die.  That's interesting, because that's less than I would have thought.  It seems to indicate that the system is relatively tolerant of Strength imbalances.  So a strong party wouldn't have a huge advantage, and a weak party wouldn't have a huge disadvantage, which is more-or-less what I want.

True, we don't know the actual distributions, but the average is good enough for now.  I don't have all the fucking time in the world.

What if the party had 6 PCs instead of 4 PCs?  If we do the math (hint: it's the same as the original except that there are three active PCs on turn 4 instead of two) we can see that they would get an average of 70 successes before they all died.  This is significant, because it means that a large party is much better than a strong party. 

What if the party is small, and only has 3 diggers?  42 successes.  They're fucked.  

(For example, a lone delver trapped in the collapse would have virtually no chance to escape.  But perhaps this is as it should be.  Who would delve alone?)
What if the party has a pickaxe?  64 successes.  The prepared party is better than the strong party, but not better than the large party.

You may have noticed that this resembles the mechanics for combat, a little bit.  This is intentional.  Letting players get a sense of how much progress they've made towards a goal helps them understand how close they are to success/failure, while still leaving them time to change tactics if their first approach doesn't work.

For example, if you find out that you aren't killing the dragon fast enough to keep it from eating your companions, you pull out your vial of green slime and hope that you aren't making things worse when you throw it in the dragon's mouth.

In the cave-in example, the parties who notice that they are rolling very poorly and the air is getting stale will probably think of something stupid/ingenious in order to expedite their escape.  They'll do something risky, or they'll use up a precious resource in order to escape, but they'll probably escape.  Although I wrote the cave-in to have a 50% chance to kill a test party, I suspect that it would only TPK a tiny fraction of actual parties, just because players have so many resources at their disposal.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Designing Races

So I guess this is a game design post, talking about some considerations when designing races for your game, but it's also a Centerra post, because I'll talk about the races there.

So, a lot of game design is top-down.  Someone starts brainstorming their world, and thinks about four-to-seven distinct races for their game world.  Elves-dwarves-orcs-hobbits-humans, perhaps.  Or giants-kenku-illithids, maybe.  Then they start thinking about what kind of bonuses each race would get, and that stuff gets written in.

Giants get +4 Strength.  Kenku get +4 Stealth.  Because that's what makes sense for the fiction, so that's what should be reflected in the statblock, right?

The problem with this is that it quickly leads to synergy, which leads to builds.  (At least if you have race and class as separate.)  People who want to play smashy fighters will be drawn to giants, and giant players will be coaxed towards being fighters.  And in balancy games, the game will be balanced for that level of optimization.

Same thing with kenku and rogues.

GLOG Design Rule #48: Race abilities/bonuses should not synergize with class abilities/bonuses.

GLOG Design Rule #3: Never use small, passive bonuses.  They're boring, easy to overlook, potentially confusing, and often lead to synergy.  Use active abilities instead.  (What Extra Credits calls "incomparables".)

Even if you use race-as-class, the dwarf class is still going to be good at fighting and bad at magic, and so a player who wants a dwarven mage is out of luck.  (This is why I like keeping race and class separate, even though I hate synergy/builds/mechanical optimization.)

GLOG Design Rule #51: Class and race should be separate.  Race should be optional.  (All human campaigns are my favorite these days, with other races being unlocked as play progresses.)

And one more thing.

When a player chooses their class, they are sort of choosing their play style as well.

A player who chooses a barbarian tells the DM that they (probably) want to kick down doors, drink beer, and break shit.

A player who chooses a wizard tells the DM that they (probably) want to study problems, spend time in preparation, and overcome them in one fell swoop.

Et cetera.

I like that.  I think classes should be conducive to certain types of play styles.

So here's my idea: what if players picked classes to determine what role they wanted to play, but the table as a whole picks a single race to determine what type of game they want to play.

GLOG Design Rule #44: Races should be written as to encourage the whole party to pick a single race, and that choice of race should modulate the game in such a way so that it changes the way the entire party approaches the game.

snail man by Richard Partridge
Here are the most extreme examples.

Orcs
Orcs have two racial abilities: Hatred and Hated.

Hatred
If something almost kills you (forces you to roll on the Death and Dismemberment table, forces you to save vs. Death, etc) and you survive, you must draw a scar on your character sheet and label it with the name (or description) of the creature that almost killed you.  Thereafter, you get a permanent +2 bonus on all d20 rolls when attempting to kill it, or preventing it from killing you.

Hated
Every civilized place will treat you like shit.  Humans will kill you on sight.  Orcs will also kill you on sight, because you are not a part of their tribe.  Anything larger than a camp is going to be hostile to you.  There are no safe places to rest, sell, or trade.

People you meet in your adventures, in dungeons or in the wilderness, will treat you normally.  The wild places have fewer stigmas.

Everyone you travel with suffers the same stigma.  Orcish slaves are never kept, and orcish prisoners are always killed, so no fair using those excuses.

Discussion
Since the penalty extends to the whole party, there's no reason not to stock the whole party with orcs.  It's a subtle encouragement to a whole-orc party.

It's also appropriate for a party who wants to play the game on Hard Mode.  Imagine this:

DM: Let's play Keep on the Borderlands again.

Players: Okay, but let's play orcs.

DM: Okay, but be aware that the keep will attack you on sight.  You'll have to rest in the wilderness, and you'll have no place to sell your stuff.

Players: We're ready!  Hur hur hur!  Gut the fuckin' humans!  Waaaaaaaaagh!

Halfling (Afner)
Halflings have two abilties: Small and Team Stealth.

Small
Small creatures get no penalty for fighting in cramped spaces.  They eat half as much as a full-size human.

Small creatures must use armor and weapons sized for them.  Small weapons deal damage one die size smaller.  If they attempt to use regular weapons, they get -2 to hit.

Team Stealth
Halflings get +1 Stealth for every other halfling PC sneaking alongside them, up to a maximum of +4.  They lose this bonus if any participating halfling's player fails to speak in a whisper.

Discussion
I know, I broke Rule #3 and Rule #48.  I gave them a passive bonus that synergizes with thiefy classes.  But I only did this because I love all-thief parties.  How much will the game change when the whole party has an extremely high chance of being able to sneak past so many combats?

Or put another way, how much does the game change when combats become more optional?

That's a knob that a DM has always had the power to turn, we just never admitted it as much.  (For example, by creating a house rule that says monsters never surprise the party, and the whole party can use the thief's stealth.)  It creates a very different game, man.

Iron Ghost People
The Iron Ghost People have one ability: Blink.

Blink
After meditating for a full round, you can teleport as far as 2 feet.  At-will.

Discussion
One of the players is going to be reading the rulebook and have the epiphany of "Guys!  What if we were all Iron Ghost People and we could just get past every door in the dungeon!  We wouldn't care about locks!"

Their eyes would be wide with the possibilities.

And they're right.  This would change the game entirely.  Dungeon design sort of goes out the window as soon as you introduce something this game-changing into the game.  While orcs turn the game's difficulty up, they don't introduce anything revolutionary.

I'd say use this one with caution.  Remember, the DM chooses which races to allow in each game.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Race, Inheritance, and Casvetania

Genetics is a lie, just like germ theory.

Creatures born in Centerra inherit the acquired traits of their parents.  Muscular parents birth muscular babies.  A daughter is born with a scar that matches her fathers.  A blind mother will birth a child with terrible eyesight.

So, your parents affect your genetics, but not as much as where you were born.  Or more specifically, where your mother spent her time when she was pregnant.

This is how it works for most of the races of Centerra.  For example, if your mother spent most of her pregnancy aboard a ship, you'd probably be born as a marinel.

The Land of Flowers is sterile.  Nothing is born there.

Creatures born in the Valley of the Maggot grow up large, hungry, and violent.

Those born in the Red Thickets of Diosassus are hairless and vampiric.  (They are not true vampires, however; they just have a curious dietary restriction.)  In fact, that entire ecosystem is vampiric.  Hairless deer suck the sap from the pale trees in the crimson shade.  They are preyed upon by hairless, albino wolves.  And so on, and so on, all the way up to the creeping monstrosity that is Diosassus himself.

Everything on the Little Island is diminuitive.  Lilliputian.

And then there is the case of Casvetania's Castle.


Casvetania's Castle

There are many stories of tragic wizards.  (Their stories are often retold, since their mistakes so often spill from their domain into our own.)  But the stories are usually of insult, grave redress, the folly of immortality, abominable invention, and that sort of thing.  Wizard shit.

But this story begins with a pair of married wizards who lost a daughter to disease.  Her name was Casvetania.

Their grief was raw, powerful, and sincere.  Their sorrow became their ambition, and when it was hitched to the wheels of their sorcery it dredged up some deep sorcery that has not been seen before, or since.

The Church sealed off the castle.  If you want to know what is inside, you'll have to consult their secret archives in Coramont, or else travel there yourself, pry the white lead out from between the bricks, and take a peek for yourself.

But the village below the castle is called Buckins Harbor, and it is still inhabited.

The magic of Casvetania's Castle seeps in the land around it.  On quiet nights, you can feel it in your heartbeat.  And everything that is born in the shadow of that castle is Casvetania.

Above a certain size, of course.  Anything that is larger than a dog and is pregnant near the castle for the majority of its pregnancy will birth a Casvetania.

She's a small girl, even when grown.  Wispy hair.  Wide-spaced eyes.  Button nose, but a bit too much gum when she smiles.  The majority of Casvetanias suffer from dementia when they get older.  Sometimes as early as 45.

Small pregnant creatures instead give birth to small masses of undifferentiated tissue.  Pink skin, pale hair, and perhap a couple of teeth.

And of course, the fish and the sharks birth Casvetanias too.  Not a week goes by without a newborn Casvetania washing ashore, all blue and fish-nibbled.

The woods are full of wild Casvetanias.  Raised by families of immigrant wolves, perhaps.  You'll see them in the trees, faces painted with lichen milk.  Most commonly, their are found by their older sisters and then raised in the family tradition.

Buckins Harbor is full of them, as you'd expect.  You'll probably meet one before you arrive.  A lot of the ships that sail into and out of Buckins will have a Casvetania on their register.  They won't call themselves "Casvetania" of course.  They'll be Salla, or Mara, or Casana,  But they will be a Casvetania.

You see them at all ages.  Grey-haired Casvetania's haggling in the marketplace with pair of teenage Casvetanias.  A pair of Casvetanias arguing in a tavern, one flush and ruddy, the other hollow-cheeked, like an abused twin.  Upstairs, a pair of Casvetanias are fucking in front of the fireplace.  Back in the alley, one Casvetania has just slit the throat of a much wealthier Casvetania (no tear slides down her cheek, but she is still careful not to look in the face of the woman she has just murdered.)

They don't leave Buckins very often.  They say that the rest of the world looks alien, and that nothing gives them a greater feeling of belonging than looking around a street and seeing your own face.

Many of them feel sorry for us, since we will never know that feeling.

Most people in Buckins Harbor are not Casvetanias.  They make up about 40% of the population.

Once there was a murderer who only killed Casvetanias.  The bodies were always found badly defaced (literally) and shoved into cribs.  When the killer was discovered, she was found to be a Casvetania herself, of course.

Some Casvetanias try to individuate themselves.  Obesity is a common method.  So is fashion.

Some Casvetanias have formed a cult.  They carve their own face into every available surface.  They control at least one neighborhood in Buckins, where only Casvetanias are allowed.  Each one takes another Casvetania for a wife.  They dress identically.  Alone among Casvetanias, they each go by the name of Casvetania, and differentiate themselves by secret hand signs, known only among themselves.  They are said to be ruled by the spirit of the original Casvetania, the unhappy soul of a child trapped in a chandelier.

Some other Casvetanias have banded together and investigated the sealed castle, in defiance of the Church's wishes.  (Buckins Harbor has a tiny church, but the two paladins quartered there also lead the town guard.)

They returned once, to sell off some loot they had found inside.  The said that the inside of the castle was covered in monuments to the dead daughter, the first Casvetania.  They also found evidence of earlier methods that the couple used to conceive a child.  They sold a map to an oil merchant, but the priest confiscated it.  Then they purchased every mirror in town (giving no explanation) and returned to the castle.

The paladins waited outside to arrest them.  But after three days, they still hadn't emerged from the castle, and so the entrance was bricked back up again.

Using This at your Table

Let your players be Casvetanias.  (Actually, I'd love to see how players differentiate their Casvetanias from each other.)

Hunt down the Casvetania killer.

Infiltrate the Cult of Casvetania.

Delve the Sealed Castle of Casvetania.

Casvetania Casvetania Casvetania.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Slaad

perhaps this is a slaad by Scrap Princess
"We make happening in red spaces, filling our happy hands with cree cree cree to keep the void quiet.  Sometimes we don't die." - A slaad, trying his best to explain slaad to a human.

Psychology

Slaad are not true Outsiders--they do not exist outside of our universe; they cannot see between the different timelines.  But they are aware of the multiverse, in a sort of fundamental way.

They can't articulate it, but they know that if a battle is replayed a billion times, the larger army wins 998 million times, the smaller army wins 2 million times, and on two separate occasions the battle is called off and both armies start a cult dedicated to the worship of a small orchid found growing inside a boot.

So, slaad can sort of sense the tremendous potential in each moment.  You might slip and fall on your sword, the first round of combat.  On the other hand, you might get a lucky hit in with a piece of celery and knock them off a cliff.

To put it another way, slaad are like children playing D&D, who only ever think about what happens if 1s and 20s were rolled, ignoring the other 18 possibilities.

They sense this great potentiality in every moment, but also sense that each result is painfully ordinary.  (Literally painfully.)  This is why they are so grumpy.

turtle frog
Speech

This same attitude extends to speaking.  They have no problem understanding Common.  But why would you ever say something plainly when you could make it much more interesting by babbling near-gibberish?

They still want to be understood, though, which is why their gibberish is never pure nonsense.

They're basically Hamlet, except with more pet names and half-baked kennings.

Culture

Slaad don't really have culture.  They show up.  They do weird shit toward some weird goal.  Then they leave (by turning themselves into objects).

Slaad are usually led by the largest slaad (see also: most blue-shifted, below).  The largest slaad are the most intelligent, and therefor the most aware of how much potential is wasted in every moment, and therefor the grumpiest.

Origin

Slaad arise spontaneously at intersections of great change (much like how maggots arise spontaneously from rotting meat).  Spontaneous generation is a fact of Centerra, and slaad arise spontaneously from inanimate objects.  They are also capable of "committing suicide" by turning back into objects.

A dormant volcano suddenly explodes and now there are slaad everywhere.

A warlord comes to power in a freak accident and now suddenly there are slaad serving under him.

A coin is flipped and comes up heads 43 times in a row.  An army of slaad seeps up from the ground.

And sometimes the origin is subtle--an old man decides to try eggs benedict for the first time, after spending his whole life avoiding them.  Suddenly the light in the restaurant dims, as dozens of slaad press their faces against the glass, eagerly watching him take the first bite.

These are the pivot points of the world.  We might not recognize them, but this is where the world pivots.

surinam toad
each slaad holds the next color incubating on its back
Goals

Slaad are drawn to the unlikely.  Sometimes they get a sense of these things and strive to recreate the ones that never occurred.  Other times they simply try to set up shop by building a fortress and slaadifying the surrounding landscape.

Biology

Slaad look like big honkin' frogs because the frog is the most intermediate of all shapes.  It's the cosmic average.  Right between fish and mammal and reptile, lairs the frog.

If the universe had a single creator-god, it would be shaped like a frog, too.

Slaad are a weird mix of blubber and claw.  They fart with their skin.  They lack true bones and instead maintain their posture with hydrostatic tissues--a bit like an octopus squeezed into the shape of a frog.  They always have a mouth full of spit (DM roleplaying tip!!!!).


Slaad Abilities

All slaad share a particular pair of abilities.

Schism: When a slaad is reduced to 0 HP, it turns into a pair of new slaad, moving down the color chain.  Purple (most powerful) --> Blue --> Etc --> Red (least powerful).
Yes, this means that a single blue slaad can turn into 32 red slaad.

Slaad sometimes exploit this ability by killing themselves.  (They have no fear of death.)  For example, if a yellow slaad wants to run for help BUT also wants to stay and fight the invaders, it might literally tear itself in half, creating two orange slaad.

Abiosis: Just as slaad emerged from inanimate matter, so can they be returned to inanimate matter.  This is accomplished by surrounding the slaad and shouting "You do not exist!" at it until it ceases to exist.  Alternatively, you can dictate what object the slaad will become, such as "You are a chocolate chip cookie!" until it becomes a cookie.  This takes a certain number of humans to attempt.  (It only ever takes one dragon, because dragons are more real than the rest of the world, and move through it like a shark through the ocean.)

Slaad get a save to resist being shouted back into non-sentience.  If they succeed, they cannot be turned into an object until the next round.  Once they fail their save, they are mewling and helpless while they spasm into objecthood.  The process takes 1 minute, and no one can stop yelling at the slaad during this time.

All slaad have a swim speed.  Green and violet slaad can fly.  The primary colors (red, yellow, blue) are the physical fighters, while the secondary colors (orange, green, purple) are the spellcasters.

Red Slaad
HD 1  AC leather  claw 1d6
Move 12  Swim 9  Int 7  Mor 7

*Schism -- Turns into a pair of black, lumpy pearls (each worth 10c) when reduced to 0 HP.

*Abiosis -- Requires 3 people or 1 dragon.  Can turn into nothing larger than a sword, nor worth more than 10c.

Orange Slaad
HD 2  AC leather  claw 1d6
Move 12  Swim 9  Int 8  Mor 7

*Spellcasting -- Can cast one of the following spells 1/day, determined at random: enter chaos*, randomize object*, acid arrow, shatter.

*Schism-- Turns into two red slaad when reduced to 0 HP.

*Abiosis -- Requires 10 people or 1 dragon.  Can turn into nothing larger than a cart, nor worth more than 100c.

Yellow Slaad
HD 3  AC leather  claw 1d12
Move 12  Swim 9  Int 9  Mor 7

*Zone of Chaos -- 50' radius.  Whenever you declare an action in combat, you must instead declare two unrelated actions (no fair saying "I attack it with my axe" and "I attack it with my sword").  Then flip a coin to determined which action you actually attempt.

*Schism-- Turns into two orange slaad when reduced to 0 HP.

*Abiosis -- Requires 30 people or 1 dragon.  Can turn into nothing larger than a cottage, nor worth more than 1000c.

Green Slaad
HD 4  AC leather  claws 1d12
Fly 12  Swim 9  Int 10  Mor 7

*Spellcasting -- Can cast one of the following spells 1/day, determined at random: animate object, dispel magic, transposition*, greater mirror image*.  Can also cast one spell from the orange slaad list 1/day.

*Schism -- Turns into two yellow slaad when reduced to 0 HP.

*Abiosis -- Requires 100 people or 1 dragon.  Can turn into nothing larger than a ship, nor worth more than 10,000c.

Blue Slaad
HD 6  AC leather  claws 3d6+infect  spit acid 3d6, 50' range, 20' diameter
Move 12  Swim 9  Int 11  Mor 7

*Infect -- Target must save or turn into a demi-slaad.  Demi-slaad must never take an obvious course of action.  (Obvious courses of action in combat are things like "I attack the bad guy with my weapon." or "I cast spells in a way that helps my friends the most.")  Demi-slaad must also never perform the same action twice in the same scene.  Each time a Demi-slaad takes an obvious course of action, they have a 1-in-6 chance of permanently turning into a yellow slaad (NPC).

Demi-slaadism is can be cured by getting another slaad to remove it (by spitting in your eyes).  Since slaad are immune to torture, do not love each other, and do not fear dead, this usually means that you have to help them in some way.

*Schism -- Turns into two green slaad when reduced to 0 HP.

*Abiosis -- Requires 300 people or 1 dragon.  Can turn into nothing larger than a castle, nor worth more than 100,000c.

Violet Slaad
HD 8  AC leather  claws 1d12+vorpal
Fly 12  Swim 9  Int 12  Mor 7

*Spellcasting -- Just give it a bunch of spells.  Violet slaad are basically named NPCs--you shouldn't generate them from random tables.  Some suggestions: greater animate object, mass enter chaos, create slaad, slaad party*

*Schism -- Turns into two blue slaad when reduced to 0 HP.

*Abiosis -- Requires 1000 people or 2 dragons.  Can turn into anything.  Smart players will turn them into sentient spaceships (a task at which they excel).

mata mata
technically this is a turtle, but whatever
New Spells

New Spell: Enter Chaos
Wiz 1
Free Action to Cast
The next time the target creature would roll a d20, they instead flip a coin.  Treat a result of heads as if a 20 were rolled and a result of tails as if a 1 were rolled.  No save.

New Spell: Randomize Object
Wiz 2
Target object turns into a random object if it fails a save.  Object must be non-magical and not larger than a greatsword.  Roll a d20 to see what random object it turns into.  (According to my calculations, these are the twenty most random objects possible.  This should probably be a d100 table, but fuck it.)

  1. hammer
  2. dress
  3. top hat
  4. feather duster
  5. glass of milk
  6. hobby horse
  7. teapot
  8. boot
  9. dead snake
  10. dagger
  11. rolling pin
  12. paper fan
  13. random book
  14. key (to a random locked door in the dungeon, if possible)
  15. live chicken
  16. sack of glitter
  17. rake
  18. teddy bear
  19. candle
  20. loaf of bread
New Spell: Transposition
Wiz 3
Two similar objects switch locations.  If any of the objects are unwilling creatures, they get a save to resist.  If either object/creature makes their save, the spell fails.

New Spell: Greater Mirror Image
Wiz 4
Exactly as mirror image, except the duplicates can interact with the world (similar to unseen servant)  and will attempt to duplicate your actions.  Like, if you spend your turn cleaning a desk, your duplicates will also spend their turns cleaning the desk. If you make a melee attack against an enemy, they will also make basic attacks that deal 1d6 damage and use your base attack score.

New Spell: Slaad Party
Wiz 6
Duration: Concentration
Everyone in the area must save or turn into a slaad (no mechanical effect except you gain a swim speed and a 1d6 claw attack).  Then, all slaad in the area (including the people who just turned into slaad) must spend each round of combat attacking a random target with their best melee weapon.  If the caster is struck, they must roll to maintain concentration.

I stole this from Scrap Princess