Wednesday, 11 January 2017

The Ten Foot Polemic Unified House Rule Document - 2017 Update

Jesus, it's been a year and a half since my last house rule update!
It's actually not changed that much since, they're in a really nice place and I'm pretty comfy using them now.
The only real changes involve switching up a few things that were a bit too fiddly to use consistently (like weapon breakage), adding excuses for stuff we were sort of doing anyway (like spell swapping), and adding the new subsystems I've added since (like poison).

Also in the time since I published the updated house rule doc it looks like people have uploaded it on a bunch of mirrors?!
I'll count that as a success.

My house rule page has been updated and the house rule document along with it.

New one here

Change log because that worked well last time:

Char Gen:

  • New! Added Religion, albeit the actual options are in a separate Religious Pamphlet which I just realised I still need to upload. Opens up Clerical options and makes religion more of a thing. Also, Cleric spell grid is a good at-a-glance guide to the different sects' attitudes towards one another.

Retroactive Backstory:

Combat Options:

  • Minor tweak - the defensive actions (spears vs enemies closing in, take cover, parry) can be declared in reaction to an attack by giving up your next action.
  • If you Aim you count as surprised. Tunnel vision's a real thing, I've got the paintball welts to prove it.
  • Removed Fighters/Elves/etc getting special combat manouevres. Gambits are more fun, and my Elves and Dwarves have weirder powers now.
  • Disengage and Opportunity Attacks swiped from 5th ed. Elegant solution to the stop-people-getting-through-the-front-lines problem without needing a grid. Opportunity attacks stop people from moving further if they hit, naturally.
  • Parry changed, I thiiiink these parry rules are from Delving Deeper. +4 to AC across the board, but with additional effects based on weapon size. Heavier weapons have a chance to disarm, lighter weapons have a chance to riposte.
    Obliquely favours high dexterity characters because they get an AC bonus, gives another layer of choice to size of weapon to those interested.
    Pretty cool. But needless to say, these extra effects only work on enemies with weapons.
  • Take Cover put down as an action rather than a passive thing, because I like the idea of diving into cover in response to gunfire.
    Plus it reminds people "oh yea I get an AC bonus from cover" which I often forget myself and means that firing at someone behind cover keeps their head down. Suppressing fire, yo.

Ranged Weapons:

  • Quietly shelved the Fighter firearm reload bonus. Nobody reloads in combat anyway.
  • Instead, successful Sleight of Hand halves reload time. Four round reload time if you've got good Dex and Sleight of Hand! Guns seem more of a Specialist weapon anyway.

Fall Damage:

  • Gygaxian original 1d6/10ft/10ft makes falls quickly deadly. Added a 10ft discount if it's a prepared fall, by way of compensation for this new deadly reality.
    Unwritten, but each 10ft counts as a separate attack for the purposes of Shields Shall Be Splintered and other damage-mitigation purposes like armour breakage. One time a guy jumped off a cliff and landed on his shield to survive like Captain America which was awesome but clearly absurd.

Death and Dismemberment:

  • Bleed now deals 1 damage per die at the end of the round, rather than simply increasing. This mostly because I always forgot to increase, and also because Bleed dice felt the least dangerous in play because you're not affected if nobody's hitting you.
    There's a special Bleed damage table here, which only makes sense as an addition to Courtney's table here. You'll notice most of the results end up with more Bleed, preserving the idea behind the previous bleed-builds-over-time mechanic.
    Conveniently this change ties in neatly to...
  • New Poison rules! Deadly over time without instant death, and allows me to give Ghouls stun poison and Spiders death poison and have it all be part of the same general system.
  • As stated in the Poison post, Delay Poison now makes you immune to the effects of poison for 24 hours. Hopefully you will have saved away all the poison by then. Neutralise Poison neutralises all poison dice.

Wear and Tear

  • Change to weapon notches - each notch reduces the damage of a weapon by one die size. This represents it getting battered and blunted and damaged over time. The more damaged the weapon, the less effective it is.
    This also mirrors armour which gives you -1 AC per notch.
    It's hard to get players to remember something that fucks them over if it's rarely engaged with, so this is an easy "oh no your sword's damaged in an obvious way because you're doing less damage" fix.
  • Willingly break your weapon to roll its original un-notched damage die. Your shitty rusty longsword gets a last 1d8 hurrah before bursting into fragments.
    Putting the choice to break a weapon in the hands of the players means they've got some more agency over it, and also means I don't have to think about it.
    Again, mirrors armour where it's the player's choice to actually break it. In that case breaking your armour reduces damage from an attack to 1. In both cases it's more worthwhile to break something that's heavily damaged and thus otherwise a bit useless.
  • Firearms use the England Upturn'd firearm mishap table in England Upturn'd when they take a notch. Because it's great. Replaces regular fumble table.

Class Tweaks

  • Clerics have 5 religious variants to choose from, each with a unique spell that acts differently depending on the religion of the target.
  • Spell swapping across all casting classes! Shock! Horror! Clerics had this already so other casters were not-so-subtly just casting whatever they wanted with their spell slots.
    I was going to yank 5e's spell slot system until I realised this is a good opportunity to use a favourite Last Gasp table I'd never been able to use before.
    Encourages bringing spellbooks into dungeons, penalises not thinking ahead, means the more situational or ridiculous spells like Speak With Dad are actually used.
    • Magic Users, Elves, Muscle Wizards - roll on the Cast the Bones table with a penalty equal to the sum of the spell levels being swapped.
      So swapping a level 1 spell for a level 1 spell is a -2 penalty.
      Swapping a level 5 spell for a level 2 spell is a -7 penalty.
      Sacrifice HP for a +1 bonus per point, because you're draining your own energy. I'd allow this even at 0HP and have it roll over to Death and Dismemberment.
    • Necromancers simply deal damage to themselves and everyone around them when swapping spells, equal to the sum of the spell levels being swapped.
      Swapping a level 1 spell for a level 1 spell is 2 damage.
      Swapping a level 5 spell for a level 2 spell is 7 damage.
      Heals undead though and damages all around, so I can see this being used tactically.
      Also rolls over onto Death and Dismemberment, likely the Cold Damage table.
  • New! Ratman class for the ability score impaired. Can't have any positive ability score modifiers, beloved of rats, actually surprisingly powerful at higher levels. 36 obedient rats at a time is nothing to sniff at!

Rune Magic

  • All direct damage glyphs do 1d6 damage, modified by vulnerability/resistance. Beams previously did 2d6, but it was complicated and also too good.
  • New scatter mechanic for firing beams from hands and shields and stuff - if you miss, roll the Warhammer Scatter Die (pictured below). A target means you miss safely and it just scorches up a wall or whatever. An arrow means it fires in that direction, hitting the first thing in its way.
    Using an Aim action beforehand means missed beams only ever miss safely.
    In-world explanation is that powering a glyph involves a brief moment of unconsciousness as your VERY SOUL is redirected to power it, which means accuracy is an issue with beams.

Turns out that was a longer list of tweaks than I thought!

Saturday, 7 January 2017

When and How To Fix Rules

To summarise,
Sometimes rules make sense. When they do, character and player can make the same decision even if acting on different actual information. I called this Synchronisation in a previous post.

Player knows he's got +5 to hit, character knows he's good in combat.
Player knows ghouls cause paralysis, character knows ghouls cause paralysis.
Player knows he gets exp for treasure looted, character knows that he wants all the treasure.
etc etc

You're in sync.

When rules don't make sense you get knocked out of that space.
The usual symptom is "that doesn't make sense" or "that's not realistic".
The usual cause is because a mechanic is Dissociated (eg 4e Fighter dailies) or badly Associated (eg. these examples).

Basically being synced up is good, because it means players can view a decision from a mechanical view or an in-character view and come to the same conclusion.
Thus a newbie who's told "you're a person in a world what would you do?" and a rules enthusiast who's told "here are your mechanical options what will you do?" can play in the same game with not much issue.

Extreme Sync!

Staying in Sync

Generally when you use a rule or make a ruling you are keeping player and character synced up. The player's expectations about how something should work are the same as how something will work.
As long as a mechanic works in a way that makes sense in the internally consistent fantasy world, you're fine.

It's when a mechanic doesn't make sense or work the way you'd expect that you get that "uh what?" feeling.

You tend to get this with things like Grappling. Say the designers have written rules to satisfactorily simulate two people wrestling, and suddenly you have to adjudicate 20 trained rats climbing over a dragon. Some messy culmination of circumstances and bonuses mean that the rats will chokehold a dragon 9 times out of 10, which is surely ridiculous.

It's an Associated mechanic, wrestling in the game world is simulated by game mechanics, but it doesn't make sense from a character's in-world perspective.

This can also come about as a result of ad-hoc rulings.

Say there is no rule for drowning and someone is starting to drown.
The DM, the players, and their characters all have an expectation of what happens when someone is drowning.
A "realistic" ruling is created, where realism is whatever the players and DM collectively think makes sense. Perfect. Everyone's synced up.
The drowning ruling is now a drowning rule.

At a later date someone's horse is starting to drown.
The group hark back to a previous ruling and... oh no! It turns out horses can hold their breath for an hour by the original drowning ruling for some reason! That's dumb and unrealistic when applied to horses!
Everyone's collectively Desynchronised!

How do you fix this dire situation?

You have three choices.
  1. Paper over the cracks
  2. Change the fluff
  3. Change the rules


Option 1 - Paper over the cracks

Make a ruling. This is obviously the easiest option, usually the best option, and the only one you can really make at the table.
Generally this is because it's a weird edge case that won't come up again so you can just make a quick ruling and side-step the issue, or your ruling is good enough that using it over and over works fine.

I won't go in depth into how you make a good ruling because this is one of your main jobs as a DM and Arnold wrote that one recently.

So an example.

For the dragon this means you go "it's ridiculous that a bunch of rats could wrestle a dragon because the rats are too small" and just say it won't work.
For the horse this means you go "I don't care that the drowning rule means that horses can hold their breath for an hour, the horse is going to panic and won't hold its breath anyway."
You make another ruling about horse drowning or whatever and keep going.

The dragon ruling is fine until someone asks how big they'd have to Enlarge the rats in order for it to work. There must be a threshold where the Wrestling rules start working again right? You'd expect 20 man-sized rats to at least have some small chance of wrestling a dragon, surely? What if they were as big as cars? Or the dragon itself?

The horse ruling is fine until the Magic-User is polymorphed into a horse in the Undersea Mermaid Dungeon. A scaling drowning mechanic would suddenly be very useful!

What now!?

Well, something needs to change.
Which presents you with the interesting choice of what to change to make the rule "make sense".

"Yea this could realistically fuck up a dragon"

Option 2 - Change the Fluff

This is one I actually really enjoy.
It's also generally less effort than changing the rules, and usually what I do when I like the behaviours that a mechanic encourages.

Probably most obvious in my game's Halflings. I gave them a mind control ability so they could be a pet-controlling Ranger-esque character class, then extrapolated that out into a dystopian Pokemon society that enslaved Man two thousand years ago.

Essentially the question is this - 
"If I keep the rules as written, what does that imply?"

This was my solution to the age-old constantly-head-rearing issue of trad D&D Vancian magic.
How does a wizard run out of magic? Why do they need to prepare their spells at the start of the day?
It doesn't make sense! Wizards just cast a bunch of spells all the time! Gandalf never said "sorry guys, no more spells for me until I have a nap". Merlin never said "well that's my best spell gone, I can only cast 25 more spells of a lower level today". Harry Potter doesn't blow the three Expelliarmuses he prepped this morning then stop!

But I like the resource management aspect of doing spells this way. And I like how it makes a wizard do something perfectly a limited number of times per day, as opposed to a Specialist who does something well consistently.

So I changed the fluff. 
Magic is now a buildup of Chaos pouring into your head through a crack in your soul, and you have to crystallise it into shapes in your brain in order to channel it and reroute it back out to stop it overwhelming you.
Spellcasting is vomiting a big chunk of the magical energy out into the world, giving the magic user some breathing room before the Chaos inevitably starts to fill them back up. Like throwing a bucket of water out of that slowly-filling bath before it gets dangerously full.

Now the mechanics are re-Associated and re-Synchronised. A wizard in the game world knows he's prepared a limited number of specific spells that day, the player knows the same from a mechanical standpoint.
The mechanics make sense as a way of modelling this new fact.

With the drowning horse, maybe you go "actually it would be really interesting if horses could hold their breaths for an hour in my world, and the larger you are the longer you can stay underwater".
Hey, sort of works if you extrapolate up to whales right?
And that can imply a lot about a campaign world. Is it a water world? Do horses have gills? If so, why do they need to come up for air? Are there giants? If so, they could hold their breaths long enough to reach underwater cities that a human couldn't reach unassisted? Does immersion in water kill small animals extremely quickly?

This is what happens when people try to divine the implied setting of vanilla D&D from the rules. If we take these rules as true, what does that imply?

"I've really been picturing seahorses wrong"

Option 3 - Change the Rules

This is the final option, usually. If something doesn't make sense, and there's no way you can satisfactorily change the fluff to keep the mechanic, it's time to make new rules.
The other reason to do this is because you don't like the behaviours that a mechanic encourages, like how exp-per-monster-killed encourages combat. 

Probably most obvious in my game's Goblins. I started with Goblin ecology and worked out mechanics to fit. I made a bunch of motile vegetables that could grow more of their own, then added mechanics to fit the concept.

The question now is -
"If I keep the fluff, how do I model that in the rules?"

Hit Points are another perennial debate about the realism of D&D.
You fight at full strength until you keel over and die at 0HP. Or at negative CON HP. Or after failing 3 death saves. Or whatever you're doing in your game.

I, too, was dissatisfied by the death-at-zero thing so added Death & Dismemberment rules I took from Courtney Campbell and tweaked a bunch.
Now HP is more like Not Getting Hit Points, and you only start getting hit for real when you run out of them.
The mechanics make sense for my idea of how death and dying should work.

With the rats vs the dragon, maybe you go "I feel like size differences between wrestlers is likely to come up fairly often in my game, so I need mechanics to model that".
Perhaps each wrestler rolls a die based on their size. Humans roll a d10, halflings roll a d6, rats a d2, giants a d20, dragons a d30, and so on.
Perhaps you just make it a d10 for evenly matched opponents then adjust the die based on size difference.
Perhaps the only issue is that there's a mechanical bonus for multiple wrestlers in the rules, and you can just take that bit out to fix it.
Perhaps everyone in the wrestle rolls their own contested roll, the winner deciding what happens to the losers.

So many options! Which is why this can be the most interesting and perilous option. You've got to find that sweet spot between a good mechanic, the fluff, and quick resolution at the table.

It's really satisfying when you get it right.

Proper simulation of Halfling wrestling matches is very important to me

Option 4 - Keep a Wonky Mechanic Because It's Fun

Surprise! There is a fourth option!
"The Open Doors roll is one of my all-time favorite D&D mechanics, because one minute the party is slaying demons and dragons like heroes and gods of old and the next minute they can't get the refrigerator open.  I love that shit. "- Jeff Rients

If it's fun enough for you to look past its flaws, keep it.

This also applies to Dissociated mechanics that you like enough to keep.
Keep in mind that any Dissociated mechanic you keep is something that you will have to explain to every single new player who enters the game.
If you have too many dissociated mechanical bits you won't be able to say "you're a person in a world and this is happening, what do you do?"
It is very important to be able to say this because it means a new player doesn't need to know the rules to play and can just jump right in.

So keep it light and easy.

I've got this big purple d30 rule. For every beer the party buys me during the game, someone gets to replace a die roll with the d30. It's sometimes incredibly useful for the group and has gotten them out of a few tense situations, but it also gets across that this is a fairly light-hearted table when I explain it to a newbie.
Dissociated. Silly. Fun. I like it enough to keep it.

Arnold's Brute class
"The most interesting ability on this page, though, is the Dramatic Whistle / Dramatic Exit pairing.  It sort of plays around with the idea that there is a place called "offstage" (something shared with my doppleganger class).  Yes, gamist.  Yes, storygamey.  But it looks hella fun (Blarguntharg tackled the illithid into the bottomless pit; we're done here but we need to wander around the dungeon looking for him and whistling.) and I don't think it's OP, given how restrictive it is.  (How many mechanics require a bottomless pit to be nearby?)"
- Arnold K
Dissociated. Silly. Fun. Likes it enough to keep it.

There's probably a separate thing here about not front-loading mechanics, but this is also the reason why I'm completely ok with the retroactive backstory bonuses.
Forcing a morale check to fail once per session because you ran a theatrical troupe out of town in your backstory. Not sure where that falls on Associated/Dissociated or Synchronised/Unsynchronised.
All I know is that I like it enough to keep it!

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

The Lair of the Holly Spirit

Dungeon PDF here

The local group of evil cultists have been hard at work for the past year preparing for the culmination of their plan to SUMMON SATAN!
Unfortunately their leader was dyslexic and fucked up the final ritual.
Now their mountain lair is full of CHRISTMAS FEAR! Prepare to meet your doom in… THE LAIR OF THE HOLLY SPIRIT!

This was the dungeon I ran for Christmas last year and it was quite well received!
The session began with a bunch of generic black-robed cultists fleeing down the mountain past the PCs.
If stopped, one of the cultists will inform them that their Satan summoning ritual went wrong because it turns out the cult leader's dyslexic!
The best part was that the players somehow didn't work out the dumb Satan-Santa dyslexia joke until right at the end, up until then they'd been hunting the "Ice Satan" and his christmas themed minions.

Download the pdf here

- Christmas Gremlins
- Evil Snowmen
- The Toy Soldier
- The Nutcracker
- The Snugglebear
- Santa

Christmas Gremlins
HD 1, AC unarmoured, 1 snowball attack dealing 1 damage, morale 7
Snowballs auto-hit and deal a single embarrassing point of damage.
Ineffective in close combat, but their friends can throw snowballs into combat with perfect accuracy.

Evil Snowmen
HD 2, AC leather, 2 attacks dealing 1d6  + freeze, morale 10
On hit, save vs Paralyze or be frozen in a block of ice until you break free with a successful wrestle (Ice gets +0 to wrestle), every round you’re trapped you take another 1d6 damage.
Snowmen are immune to fire.

The Toy Soldier
HD 4, AC plate, one gun attack dealing 1d8 + gun benefits OR bayonet dealing 1d8, morale 12
Gun attack pierces 5 points of armour and deals exploding damage (ie. If they roll 8 for damage, roll 
again and add to total. Keep going until they don’t roll an 8). Gun takes a round to reload.

The Nutcracker
HD 4, AC chain, grapples to CRACK NUTS, morale 12
Doubles wrestle bonus (ie  total of +8 bonus to wrestle). CRACK NUTS deals 2d8 damage to men or 1d4 damage to women.

The Snugglebear
HD 4, AC leather, one snuggly attack dealing 1d6 damage + snuggle, morale 12.
Takes only 1 damage from smashy weapons. On hit, forces you to snuggle it – jump on and just give it big hugs. Save vs paralyze on subsequent turns to stop snuggling, but you can’t attack the bear on the turn you stop snuggling because it’s so warm and lovely and you love it.

HD 6, AC leather, multiple attack options, morale 12.
Santa can attack twice a round with his choice of the following attacks:
- SACK WHACK – 2d8 damage from overhead sack smack
- HO HO HO – blasts all nearby away from him! Those blasted into walls take 1d6 damage.
- HELLVES – Summon 1d4 Christmas Gremlins to his side!
Additionally, Santa is surrounded by CHRISTMAS MAGIC BULLSHIT
Every time a character attacks Santa (no matter whether they hit or miss) roll 1d6 –
1. Mistletoe Mayhem! Random character has mistletoe appear above their head, Save vs Magic or smooch random person nearby. Obviously both miss their next go due to smooching.
2. Christmas Cheer! Random character is doused with magic eggnog and is fucking trashed. Save vs Booze (aka vs Poison) or -4 to all actions and AC for the next ten minutes.
3. Ice to Meet You! Terrain in a 20’ radius around Santa is suddenly slippery as fuck. Characters who want to move through it must save vs Paralyze or fall on their arse. Santa is immune of course.
4. Elf on the Shelf! Random character has a Christmas Gremlin appear on their head and start attacking their mates with snowballs while giggling joyfully.
5. Family Argument! Random character attacks their closest ally, who also attacks them back. Save vs Magic to avoid this if either player brings up a legitimate grievance they or their character has against the other.
6. In a Single Night! Santa teleports behind a random character and attacks them with his SACK WHACK.
The person who strikes the KILLING BLOW against Santa, as in classic Tim Allen documentary The Santa Clause, becomes the new Santa!
They gain the following abilities during the winter months:
- Immunity to cold weather, half damage from cold attacks
- Heart beats in time to “Jingle Bells”
- Unerring aim with snowballs, dealing 1 damage
- Children will always tell you the truth
- Detect Naughty or Nice at will
- Ability to ascend/descend small vertical shafts instantly
- If killed, killer slowly becomes Santa Claus

But also the following penalties during the winter months:
- Must return to grotto in the Frozen North for the entirety of December
- Massive weight gain no matter what you do
- Hair turns white
- Cannot lie, cheat or steal.
- Craving for sugar, brandy and milk

1. Out the front of the grotto are 2d10 Christmas Gremlins! They’re in two teams having a snowball fight and it’s obviously a great time. They keep throwing really impressive trick shots to hit each other behind the snow barricades. They’re pretty friendly.
2 Evil Snowmen are also here, but they look like normal snowmen unless they and/or the Christmas Gremlins are attacked.

2. 13 Reindeer are harnessed to a sleigh, facing a misty portal. Their leader has a red nose. The portal leads to a similar misty portal halfway up the mountain. This is the launch pad for the Santa’s reindeer team.
If one of the players flicks the reins and can recite the reindeer’s names in order for real without looking it up, the reindeer fly out of the misty portal and into the sky! Anyone in the sleigh itself can easily steer. The reindeer run out of magic in January.

3. The Workshop was once the kitchen and pantry for the Satanists. Now it contains 2d6 Christmas Gremlins who hate their jobs making shitty anachronistic branded toys from wood and plastic. The toys are worth 3000sp if sold to somebody who realises how incredible Thomas the Tank Engine and Meccano are to pre-modern society.

4. The Playroom was once the bedroom for the cultists. Now the Toy Soldier, the Nutcracker and the Snugglebear are in this room, but they look like set dressing. They will come to life if the Christmas Gremlins and/or Santa are attacked… or if someone searches the room.
The cultists stored various valuables in this room. Notable are a small silver goat statue worth 500 sp, a case of miscellaneous magical herbs which give a one-time +5 bonus to a casting of Summon, and a pack of Satanist pamphlets that mention the cult’s address in a nearby town.

5. The Grotto was where the summoning of Satan was supposed to take place. Too bad the dyslexic cult leader summoned Santa instead.
Above the door to the south, Mistletoe is on the ceiling. Anyone who enters the room must Save vs Magic or smooch their nearest ally.
Santa is in this room. He’s jolly, but does not take kindly to people interrupting his Christmas preparations! Santa will fuck you up if you come into this room. Also, if he’s attacked, a massive siren will sound and everyone else in the complex will come to defend Santa.
To the north, a Portal to the Christmas Dimension swirls inside a pentagram. Floating in a frozen shard of ice above it is the cult leader whose name is Tranquilix Vern (real name Herbert Schuster) who just wants to go home.

Inside Santa’s sack, if you defeat him, are the following things:
- A Terry’s Chocolate Orange. 20 charges. Each “charge” heals 1d6 HP, but temporarily costs a single point of Constitution. Lost points of Constitution come back after a good sleep.
- The Ice Shard Sword. A critical hit means the target is frozen in ice like they were hit by an Evil Snowman! Only works in the winter months (in-game and real life) otherwise the blade melts.
- Candy Cane Daggers. A paired set that taste deliciously minty. Killing someone with one dagger creates a Christmas Gremlin. Killing someone with both (ie. When you roll the same damage on both rolls when dual-wielding) creates a Christmas Gremlin under your control.
- Horrible Christmas Jumper so impossibly horrible that people blank it out of their minds. +3 to Stealth. On successful Stealth roll though, lights up with a loud fun jingle!
- 10 Mince Pies that count as rations for adults, but force a morale check in children.
- Santa’s Expanding Sack will expand to encompass anything you put in it.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

When Rules Go Wrong

Paolo Greco posted something recently that dredged up the whole Associated Mechanics vs Dissociated Mechanics thing.
Further reading at the Alexandrian because that's the origin of the idea.

But I'm going for something slightly different (but very related) here.
I'm even going to give it my own bullshit term that I'm stealing from Assassin's Creed, just so I don't muddy the waters of Associated/Dissociated mechanics.

I was going to put the ridiculous Kill la Kill synchronised costume thing here but maybe not

Synchronised vs Unsynchronised

This is basically just a question of "Would the character make the same decision as the player?"

By Synchronised I mean rules that cause the player and the character to act in the same way to the same situation.
By Unsynchronised I mean rules that prevent the player and character acting in the same way to the same situation.

This is regardless of whether they're acting on the same actual information.

So for an obvious example, a Fighter in old school D&D.
The Fighter knows "I am good at fighting, I am feeling fresh, and I am wearing strong armour. I will attack".
The Player knows "I get +5 to hit, I've got full HP, and I've got 18 AC. I will attack".
Player and character are Synchronised.
The Player's acting on abstract mechanical information, and the Fighter's acting on "actual" information down there in the imaginary game world. But they're both making the same decision.

The classic counter-example - the Fighter in 4th edition.
The Player knows "I have 2 Encounter Powers and a Daily still in the tank, I know what those things do mechanically and how to use them effectively. I will attack."
The Fighter knows... what? He can't know these things. He just thinks he's good at fighting, maybe particularly good at tripping or slowing or attacking multiple or whatever he specialises in. He can't know that he's only got one super-move he can use all day. The player is making decisions based on information the Fighter has no way of knowing. They're Unsynchronised.

Usually Associated mechanics get you Synchronised, while Dissociated mechanics get you Unsynchronised. This was the point in the original Alexandrian post.
But the lines can get very blurry.

Behold, the same Fighter versus a Ghost with Level Drain.
This oft-reviled mechanic is absurdly "gamey". It drains levels of experience. The Fighter cannot have in-character knowledge of experience points. Experience points are a Dissociated mechanic.
But Level Drain does lead to Synchronised behaviour.
The Fighter knows "Fuck! A ghost! Terrifying! I'm not going near that thing!"
The Player knows "Fuck! A ghost! Level Drain! I'm not going near that thing!"

(An important note - this is why you should always warn players about Level Drain when they first see such a creature, it models the fear that the character feels at first sight)

"She doesn't look dangerous" "Yea but fucking level drain man" "Whatever I have like 16 Charisma I talk to her"

In the other direction, the Fighter's HP.
An Associated mechanic. HP equals luck and toughness and skill. But have you ever heard people decry HP as "unrealistic"? Particularly the way you fight at full strength until you keel over and die?
People say it's unrealistic because it's Unsynchronised.
The Player knows "I'm at 2HP, but I can still fight and act at full strength"
The Fighter maybe knows that? Maybe doesn't? It's weird, which is why HP tends to come up more than other things in D&D discussions and people tend to have a bunch of houserules around death and dying.

"Unrealistic" == "Unsynchronised"

Which brings me to my final example -
Why do Old School and Pathfinder people both hate 4th edition?!
Pathfinder, to me, is traditionally one of OSR D&D's opposites.
Rules Heavy vs Rules Light
Character Builds vs Random Char Gen
Balanced Encounters vs Random Encounters
etc etc etc
We've seen it all before.
But why did both communities arise around a rejection of 4th ed?

The answer is this:
Pathfinder and Old School D&D allow Synchronised play.
4th Edition creates Unsynchronised play.

The whole "Rulings vs Rules" thing is really this argument-
"A fair referee making rulings means that I am Synchronised with my character. I can make decisons, and my referee will make rulings to ensure that my decision-making and my character's decision-making are the same"
"A rulebook of fair rules means that I am Synchronised with my character. I can make decisions, and my knowledge of the rules will ensure that my decision-making and my character's decision-making are the same".

They're just two ways of getting to the same point of player-character Synchronisation.

But 4th edition is intrinsically Unsynchronised, which is why you see people saying it doesn't "feel like D&D".
It's wrong. It's off. It's "like a video game". You're making decisions for your character as a playing piece, not "with" the character as an extension of yourself. It's not even emulating a genre. It's hard to justify your character making those same decisions in that situation.

And this, I move, is the real reason behind why introducing "gamey" mechanics to your old school D&D can feel a little uncomfortable.

Like Arnold's Brute class has a mechanic whereby a Brute can go tackle a baddie "offstage", and he gets a bit apologetic about it:
"It sort of plays around with the idea that there is a place called "offstage" (something shared with my doppleganger class).  Yes, gamist.  Yes, storygamey.  But it looks hella fun"
The Brute can't know that tackling someone off a cliff won't result in his death. From their perspective they are sacrificing themselves. The player might make decisions that the character would not, like "Let's lure the worm-empress into the bottomless pit chamber so I can tackle her into it". It feels uncomfortable because it's Unsynchronised.

I had the same uncomfortable feeling with some of the once-per-session bonuses in the Backstory table.
The player knows something like this: Once per session, survive the most dire consequences of something going horribly wrong
But their character can't know that. It's Unsynchronised. The player might take unnecessary risks that their character wouldn't, just because they know they've got a get-out-of-jail-free card.

And that's important to make this possible -

Roleplaying on Autopilot

If you are Synchronised with your character, then you don't have to put in any extra effort to be roleplaying.
When you're Synchronised you don't have to take that step back and think "what would my character do in this situation?", you just play the game.

This is why I said "I don't like separation between player and character, I like it to be a big soupy pool of not being entirely sure where the player and and the character begins." in this post. The concept I was trying to get at is what I'm now calling Synchronisation.

And also, why I'm ok with some things termed "metagaming" and not others.
Knowing a Troll regenerates an amount of HP every round is completely ok. It's justifiable that your character might have that in-character knowledge. They live in a world where trolls exist, it stands to reason they've heard of them. You're Synchronised.
Deciding not to touch the red gem in Room 26 because you read the module beforehand is not ok. Your character has never been here before. This is the first time anybody has entered this tomb in a thousand years. You are making decisions your character cannot. You're Unsynchronised.

The difference between "ok" out-of-character knowledge and "not ok" out-of-character knowledge is simply down to how easy it is to justify your character's knowledge of the same.
That is, whether you're Synchronised.

It's important to note that everybody has a different threshold here in how much justification they're willing to accept. I'll go into that a bit more in a later post.

I've spent a while on this and I need to wrap some Christmas presents, so I'll wrap this post up too.

In Part 2, I'll go into how to go about resolving stuff that leads to Unsynchronised play.
But for now, I'll wait for somebody to point out that there's a better word for Synchronisation already and everyone's laughing at me. 

Monday, 5 December 2016

De-Fanging Old School Poison

I know, I know. I'm a heretic.
Before you cast aspersions on my character, know this:

- Characters die in my game with some regularity.
- The sheer fear generated by Save or Die poison is fantastic and I love it.
- The Death and Dismemberment thing I use means characters can generally survive a few hits at 0HP

It's this last one that's the real issue.
Often a character will survive a fight where they ran out of HP, albeit with broken bones and a gnarly scar or two. Combat becomes less binary when there's a grey area of increasingly brutal injury.
In this context, the simple on/off switch of old school poison is somehow... boring.
Not to mention pretty bullshit when I've effectively been training players to think "oh no, 0 HP, I'm going to start getting hurt for real!" instead of "oh no, 0HP, time to start rolling up a new guy!".

Maybe it's that I always narrate poison deaths as literal instant death instead of the up-to-a-day of slow death implied by Delay Poison. Or maybe the exciting part is the actual save roll, and anything beyond that is so much fluff compared to the knowledge that your guy died again.

An important note:
You could use this poison system without needing to use the whole Death & Dismemberment subsystem. I've noted where this is the case in > Courier.

My players never fight giant spiders if they can help it. They have learned.

These are the things I like about old school poison:
- Doesn't give a shit how much HP you have
- Scary as hell
- Kills people

And these are the things I don't like:
- No scary grey area between life and death

So I've basically just bolted poison onto my established Death & Dismemberment rules.
The following rules for poison will be absolute fucking Greek to anyone who's not me or in my game, so here's a quick and dirty rundown of the relevant death rules:

When you're at 0HP you don't die, but begin accruing Death Dice. The more you have, the closer you are to death.
They come in different colours called Bleed, Pain and Trauma.

Bleed Dice mean that you take damage from bleeding out.
Pain Dice mean you've got a chance of fainting.
Trauma Dice mean you've got a chance of dying.

At the end of each round you roll your class Hit Die + CON modifier.
If you roll equal to or less than the number of Pain Dice you have, you faint. If you roll equal to or less than the number of Trauma Dice you have, you're beyond saving and die painfully of multiple organ failure over the next few minutes.

So if you're an average Specialist (class hit die - 1d6) with 3 Pain Dice and 1 Trauma Die, you've got a 3/6 chance of fainting and a 1/6 chance of dying outright.
An important corollary is that you can give up your whole go to avoid rolling for this, representing you just lying there holding in your guts and trying to keep your shit together.

> The key thing to realise with this subsystem is that it doesn't involve rolling the dice, just counting how many you have.
You could trivially replace "Pain Dice" with "Pain Points" or "Pain Tokens", something that counts up linearly.

With that in mind, here goes:


Poison: Instead of being insta-death, poison bypasses HP and gives you Poisoned Death Dice. This means you can be dying even though you've still got lots of HP.
Poisoned Death Dice act in the same way as Death Dice - Pain knocks you out, Bleed drains your health, and Trauma straight up kills you.
Unlike normal Death Dice, Poisoned Death Dice cannot be healed by First Aid or healing magic that merely heals HP.

Every hour, and at the end of every round in which you move or act, follow the normal rules for Death Dice. After every hour you can Save vs Poison to remove a single Poisoned Death Die of your choice.

Hopefully that makes sense?

The idea is you get Death Dice even if you're at full health. This is fucked because you can't heal them easily, they're independent of your HP, and even if you just sit there doing nothing they'll still hurt you every hour.
Here you are, the Fighter with 50 hit points, and you're powerless to stop the poison pumping through your veins.
In Logan's terms poison bypasses Grit to hit Flesh.
You're probably proper fucked without luck, hardy constitution, a Cleric with anti-poison spells and/or specific antivenom. I'd definitely allow people to create antivenom from harvested poison, that might be fun.

> Note again, to use this without the whole rolling-fistfuls-of-dice-on-a-death-table-at-0HP gimmick, just replace the dice with points or tokens.

On the subject of Clerical anti-poison spells -
Delay Poison will now make you immune to the effects of poison for 24 hours. This means you can act as normal and hopefully the poison will be out of your system (due to hourly Poison saves) by the time the duration wears off.
This also makes it a really great spell to cast on people before you fight a poisonous enemy, rather than a sort of janky poison-only resurrection spell.
Neutralise Poison destroys any Poisoned Death Dice you have, but doesn't heal anything else.

Now I've got three (three!) mechanically differentiated types of poison I can use. Depending on the monster or trap they'll inject more or less poison dice, or even inject a combination.
- Bleed poison drains people's HP over time, so that might be good as your video game-style DoT poison. An anticoagulant maybe, or a poison that eats away at your body from within, or even something that clouds your mind and makes it easier for you to get hurt. This also means First Aid and healing magic are mechanically useful against Bleed poison, because you can keep topping up their health to prevent it ever getting low enough for Death & Dismemberment.
- Pain poison leaves you unconscious, so it's for knocking people out. The "weak poison" of a classic giant centipede could be a buildup of a single Pain Die per bite. Eventually you just keel over and the centipedes eat your unconscious but still-living body.
- Trauma poison is the real shit, liquefying your innards and killing you TO DEATH.
Giant spiders definitely inject as many Trauma Dice as their damage roll, meaning they're still massively deadly, but a player can choose to do nothing on their turn to delay their death. They're still probably going to die in an hour when the first wave of poison rolls kicks in, but at least there's a glimmer of hope instead of a binary alive/dead.

> This is all true if you're just tracking them as points of Pain, Bleed and Trauma.

That final note is important. It gives the poisoned player Interesting Choices as to what they do after being poisoned.
Do you become dead weight and rely on your friends to get you out of there? Or do you fight through the poison and risk the consequences?
Carting an unconscious body out of a dungeon is logistically interesting but pretty boring for the player of the body in question. Carting a conscious body out of a dungeon is a bit more interesting, because at least the player can speak and act if something goes wrong.
It also means their friends have got a few hours to frantically look around for a cure. I doubt they'll be able to craft a proper antivenom in that time (apparently you need access to a goat), but it gives me a few mechanical knobs to twiddle in terms of poultices and herbal remedies and spending a few years building up a resistance to iocane powder.

I don't know why I like the image of people being stretchered out of dungeons so much.
Probably this one picture, to be honest.

Finally, the full copy-paste of the new version of the Death & Dismemberment rules, because why not.

Hit points: HP is more like Not Getting Hit Points, when you take HP damage you’re actually avoiding serious injury. You never go into negative HP, instead you start accruing Death Dice and rolling on the Hack & Slash “On a Table for Avoiding Death”, which is more brutal than it sounds.

Death Dice: These are an abstract way of showing how messed up you are. They come in three colours representing Pain, Bleed and Trauma.
You keep Death Dice in a pile in front of you. The more dice you have, the more fucked up you are. 
When an attack would take you below 0HP, add a white Pain die to the pile. Then roll everything in that pile, add the damage you took, and look up the result on the death table. 
Most results give you more Death Dice, along with “entertaining” status conditions and injuries.

Death dice kickers: Bleed dice are red. You take 1 damage per Bleed die at the end of each round.
Pain dice are white. Each gives you a -1 penalty to all your rolls and a chance of passing out.
Trauma dice are black. Each gives you a chance of dying immediately of internal damage.

Encroaching doom: At the end of every round you have Pain or Trauma dice, roll your Hit Die and apply your Constitution modifier. If it’s equal to or less than your Pain total you faint, and if it’s equal to or less than your Trauma total your organs fail and you die over the next few minutes.

You can instead opt to just lie there panting and crying and holding in your guts. All attacks against you count as attacks from surprise, but you don’t take bleed damage or roll for unconsciousness and death.

Medic!: First Aid can be used to remove Death Dice, see New Skills.

Magical healing removes as many dice as it would usually heal HP. Excess goes to hit points.
Broken arms and other long term injuries mean you are at 0HP until you recover.

Poison: Instead of being insta-death, poison bypasses HP and gives you Poisoned Death Dice. This means you can be dying even though you've still got lots of HP.
Poisoned Death Dice act in the same way as Death Dice - Pain knocks you out, Bleed drains your health, and Trauma straight up kills you.
Unlike normal Death Dice, Poisoned Death Dice cannot be healed by First Aid or healing magic that merely heals HP.

Every hour, and at the end of every round in which you move or act, follow the normal rules for Death Dice. After every hour you can Save vs Poison to remove a single Poisoned Death Die of your choice.

Friday, 2 December 2016

THE DUNGEON OF IAXWW - Christmas Gimmick Dungeon of 2016

2016 has been a tough year. Celebrity deaths. Brexit. Trump.
So rather than stock my annual Christmas gimmick dungeon with Santa and elves and snowmen again, I decided to stock it with a bunch of dumb 2016 references.

This should give you some indication of the calibre of the material here.


Countries united!
GOD-EMPEROR TRUMP of the UNITED STATES has teamed up with the Goblin King NIGEL FARAGE to enact a great and terrible RITUAL that will enable Loegria to PHYSICALLY LEAVE Europea and PHYSICALLY UNITE with America, destroying everything in its way!
The DARK REFERENDUM requires that AT LEAST HALF OF THE POPULATION OF LOEGRIA agree to leave Europea! To ensure this happens, the God-Emperor and Goblin King are enacting the RITUAL OF MASS TELEDEPORTATION, a ritual that will teleport any non-white non-native non-human people STRAIGHT INTO THE SEA.
YOUR PARTY OF NOBLE HEROES has been summoned to this Christmassy gimmick dungeon by THE LAST OF THE CLINTON CLAN.
She was at least two million votes more powerful than Trump, but even she could not defeat him.
Now it is up to you.

(Naturally, replace Loegria with your campaign setting. And Europea with the continent it's on/near. And America you can just leave as is, right?)

Monster Stats

The Dead – 1HD AC12 ML12
Prince: Surrounded by purple rain, those nearby save vs Magic each round or weep.
Bowie: If you kill him – you are floating in a tin can far above the world. Escape back to Earth if you can sing like half the song.
Alan Rickman: Has 5 random potions on his person. If you kill him – speak in Alan Rickman voice and physically become one of his characters. Transformation happens in one round, and maintains for as long as you stay in character in real life.
Gene Wilder: If you kill him - become a big blue blueberry that can barely fit through doors. Lasts the rest of the session. If popped, you die.
Muhammed Ali: AC 18. Missed attacks mean he ducks, weaves, and punches you in the fucking jaw for 1d8 damage and blasts you backwards. If Ali takes you to 0HP, he bits your fucking ear off.
Ron Glass: Peaceful. Holds book covered in a layer of wool. Allows reader to speak with sheep.
Fidel Castro: Attack has 50% chance to be Good (attack heals 1d6 HP) or Evil (attack deals 1d6 damage)

Harambe – HD4 AC12 ML4
Automatically grapples and drags. Dragged creature becomes as helpless as a small child. Deals no damage.
Takes double damage from projectile weapons, triple from firearms.
If you kill him – Save vs Paralyze whenever somebody says the name Harambe or fall to the ground, distraught at what you did to that noble, perfect creature. Lasts until people finally stop posting Harambe memes on the internet.
Everyone else – While in the presence of Harambe’s killer – asking for Harambe’s Blessing gives you a +1 bonus to your next roll. Stops working when people finally stop posting Harambe memes on the internet.

Nigel Farage the Goblin King – HD3 AC12 ML12
Any time you are in the same room as Nigel Farage the Goblin King, you must punch him in his stupid smug grinning face (just fists, no weapons) unless you Save vs Magic-ally Punchable Face.
Nigel Farage has a big mug of Real British Ale. Every round he can take a massive swig of his Real British Ale to heal up to full health, but takes -1 to his AC. Stop him from doing this by either dragging him away from the tap (hard when you’re punching him in the face) or taking/adulterating his ale somehow (which sends him into a rage).

God-Emperor Trump – HD 8, AC 17, ML 9
Trump takes half damage from women and does double damage against foreigners and minorities
Roll 1d8 twice every round for Trump’s attacks:
1.       Pussy Grab! Wrestle. 1d4 damage to men, 2d6 damage to women.
2.       Build a Wall! Creates a wall 30’ long and 20’ high in the location of his choice. Anybody of even vaguely South American descent in the room (player or character) loses half their cash.
3.       Glass Ceiling! A huge pane of glass drops from above. Deals 1d6 damage to women inside the room, but men pass harmlessly through it.
4.       Rigged Pole! Springs from the floor and smacks a random person nearby for 1d10 damage. Roll to hit, but change the result to anything you want. It’s rigged.
5.       Krav MAGA! Three attacks for 1d6 damage each aimed at whoever he chooses.
6.       Hell Toupee! Hairpiece LEAPS FROM HIS HEAD and begins strangling someone. 1d6 damage every round until you wrestle it off. If he rolls this again, jumps again.
7.       Charm White Male! Random white human male in room is Charmed and does whatever Trump wants. Save vs Magic in subsequent rounds to break free.
8.       Deport Minority! Random non-human in room is teleported to the dungeon entrance.

Dungeon Key

Entrance. The Resting Place of the Last of the Clinton Clan
It is snowing. A blonde woman in a pantsuit ages before your very eyes.
"I was two million votes more powerful... but not even I could defeat him... I have used the last of my strength to summon you here. Please, save 2016. Save us all."
She collapses into the snow. If searched, you find no emails.
Above the dungeon entrance, festive neon splutters and fizzes in the cold. The letters spell IAXWW. The foetid stench of a horrible year blows from the dungeon mouth.
We were forced to got through 2016. Now so are your characters.

Room 1. Hall of the Dead.
The Celebrity Dead of 2016 are here, stacked in neat alcoves amongst tinsel. Search the berths and you will find every celebrity who died this year.
Progressing means several animate and attack! Specifically the first five I made stats for - Prince, Bowie, Alan Rickman, Gene Wilder and Muhammed Ali.
They will generally say that they didn’t want things to turn out this way, but the dark energies unleashed by Brexit have caused them to hate the living.
Surprise! It's not over! When the five are defeated, Ron Glass and Fidel Castro appear! Ron Glass does not fight and offers a book bound in wool. Castro may attack depending on the group's opinion of him.

Room 2. Harambe.
Shallow water surrounding a central island. Narrow ledge around room could be traversed with some difficulty. On the island, a single bare-branched Christmas tree.
If someone climbs down to the water - Harambe the Gorilla runs around the island, grabs them, and begins dragging them through the water to the sound of screams!
If the ledge is traversed instead - the smallest character falls! No save! Harambe catches, cradles, drags through water to the sound of screams.
Harambe is peaceful and harmless, but scared. It's up to you to work out how to save whoever fell in.
Leaning against the christmas tree is the Gorilla Gun. Any who touch it must Save vs Magical Device or shoot the nearest gorilla they can see. It deals 1d10 damage and has 6 shots left.

Room 3. The Inevitable Slide
A slide shading from dark blue at the top to dark red at the bottom. Those who didn’t vote in the EU Referendum or the US election this year take 1d10 damage from the sandpaper roughness at the bottom of the slide.
It doesn't matter what you voted for, just that you voted.

Room 4. Lair of the Right.
God-Emperor Trump and Nigel Farage the Goblin King are here!!
Steep 20' cliff with stairs up on the west side. This is to make this room into a "6", but also so people can get knocked off the cliff.
Farage stands by a tap marked Real British Ale and is laughing gleefully. He and Trump are smooching while also gloating about their plan to cast Mass Teledeportation which will throw all non-white non-human non-native people in the land into the sea.
Ritual circle on the ground is a big gold pentagram filled with blood.
The chamber shudders, and somehow you know it’s Loegria beginning to drag itself away from the continent!
Trump and Farage will fight you if you try to stop the ritual, of course.
The main boss fight gimmick is that you can't attack Trump if you're punching Farage in the face, and Farage's punchable face keeps healing when he gulps down his ale.
Kill Farage quick, or find some way to avoid seeing his punchable face.
Trump gets Opportunity Attacks on people who are forced run past him to punch Farage, by the way.

Treasure in the final room!
- Gold pentagram is worth 5000sp, and counts as double that if used as a Thaumaturgic Circle for the purposes of the Summon spell.
- Farage Mug magically fills itself from whatever it was last filled from. If filled with ale, heals 1d6 HP if you drain the mug but gives you -1 AC for the rest of the day.
- Real British Ale tap sticking from wall has 1d10 pints of Real British Ale left in it. Heals drinker to full health but gives -1 AC penalty for the rest of the day.
- Trump Power Armour is tacky and poorly made but wrapped in gold leaf! Low quality plate armour. Worth 10000sp.
- Trump’s Toupee, when placed on a bald head, will protect its new owner. Jumps and wrestles like a headcrab. 1d6 damage per round until wrestled off, but any damage will kill it. Comes back to life when you offend at least 100 people with a single statement.
- Wall Button acts like Wall of Stone but eats 1000sp from user whenever it’s pressed. User can pass this cost onto a South American in line of sight if they wish, but it fails if they don’t have the cash.
- Sack containing 350 million gold marked with the letters “NHS”. Super heavy because of this. If you look inside, there's nothing there and the sack weighs as much as an empty sack. Basically you can carry it around easily if you're looking inside it the whole time.
- Frog Face Grimoire has a frog's face stretched out on the cover forming a horrible grimace. Contains the ritual "Dark Referendum".
Casting time: 2 months
At the completion of the ritual everyone in the country is given the choice to Leave or Remain. If at least 50% choose Leave, the entire country begins moving in the direction of caster's choice at a rate of a mile a day, leaving behind a big hole and smooshing any other landmasses in its way!
This spell can be delayed indefinitely by the leader of the country, so kill them asap if they're not on your side.

Friday, 25 November 2016

Party Upgrades in a Deadly Campaign

I run a game where character death happens.
This has a bunch of good effects on gameplay, but that's not the point of this post.

What I've been noticing is that the power of the party as a whole is constantly increasing, even as the individual characters die and are replaced with fresh first level folks.

There are three main avenues for this
- Party Stuff
- Party Influence
- Player Knowledge

My players have been banging out some FANTASTIC art for a good while now.
Credit: Tom of Dungeons & Doritos

Party Stuff

Magic items are the most obvious example.
The party stumbles across a magic item of some sort, whoever wants and/or needs it most claims it, and when they die it gets passed on to somebody else or their successor.

Possibly a TPK would break this chain, but in half a decade of running D&D I've still never presided over a TPK!
This campaign's been going for two and a half years now and STILL no TPKs. Maybe I am too nice, or maybe they are too clever to keep fighting when their friend's head gets eaten off. Who can say?

Also in this category - cash. I well remember the struggle to save up for plate armour in the early game. It still happens to players because Carousing and such keeps taking their money, but nowadays the armour question is less "can I afford this?" and more "how much can I carry?" which is slightly more interesting.

Due to carousing, cash also acts as one of several Save Point-ish mechanics.
If you die you can burn all your previous character's cash on buying back their exp and/or burn it on Carousing and its ilk.
If the party's cashed up, they can potentially pool money to bring a new character to party parity, which keeps the whole group powerful.

Party Influence

This is stuff that's only possible because the party has influenced the campaign world in some way.
The point is that the party has gained contacts and reputation as they go through places.
If they head back to Fortress City Fate, they've got their friend Slim Jimmy there who'll fence their goods. If they head to the mountains, they've got a bunch of gypsies who they rescued travelling around the area who can tell them what's going on.
This even happens in dungeons. If the group has previously helped/intimidated/befriended a faction of dungeon dwellers, that attitude is passed onto the group as a whole.
This also, in my campaign, includes investments. While these are mostly businesses that persist for the player (ie. persist across characters), they're also a great way for the party to gain as a whole.
A contact for one person is a contact for all people.

Player Knowledge

This is the Big One, but also the least obvious.
It's about each individual player's experience with the game, and how that adds to the whole.
Player Knowledge is fascinating to watch in play.
The Party-as-Unit enter an unfamiliar place and, by chance, one of the oldest running players remembers this. Sure, it was a previous character. Sure, it was a long time ago in real time. Sure, they don't remember the details. But the memory persists. And that memory belongs to the Party.

I love it.

The Party as an aggregate becomes stronger than each individual character, but importantly it becomes stronger than each individual player.
Knowledge is passed on from one player to another, and even when that player leaves their knowledge remains.
I get a fair amount of player churn here in London. People are forced to leave due to work or deportation or simply because the group's grown uncomfortably big and they feel forced out. Each generation of players becomes better than the last because there's a sort of fast-motion intergenerational knowledge transfer going on. New people take on that knowledge because it literally makes their character survive longer.

This includes both rules knowledge and in-fiction knowledge, and the intersection between the two becomes one of those interesting intersections between the player and their character.
"The kobolds set up lots of traps" and "The kobolds only have 1HD" are both useful bits of player knowledge that help you survive.
"Poison is bullshit overpowered". "Axes are good against unarmoured". "Goblins are vegetables". "Lulu's got a honey business up north". Is it out-of-character or in-character knowledge? Mostly both.
Everything adds to the ability of the party as an aggregate.

This is also why I'm unconcerned about metagaming (look at how angry this dude gets).
Any advantage based on player knowledge is a fair advantage, and on the outside "fuck, a ghoul! Scary looking!" and "fuck, a ghoul! Three attacks per round and paralyzing touch!" result in very similar actions.
I don't like separation between player and character, I like it to be a big soupy pool of not being entirely sure where the player and and the character begins.

There's a weird edge case here with my Rune Magic thing. I specifically invented it to be a Player Knowledge gimmick, and so we usually get a single person per player "generation" who takes it upon themselves to be the Rune Guy.
What's beautiful about this is that we've had a few Rune Guys in the span of the campaign, and they've always been the go-to guy for inscribing runes on shields and weapons and stuff.

And one day, life gets in the way. And they can't play for a while. And the crafted rune objects remain, but the knowledge of how to create them gets lost.
Which means the players have Party Stuff without the Player Knowledge to make more of them and it's fucking awesome. Especially when they tell new players there used to be this guy who could create fire with his fists and suck the air from your lungs and all sorts of crazy shit, and look, here's this infinite light source he left us with,

Now the current crop of players have tuned into this and began strategies to mitigate the loss of knowledge.
There's more than one Rune Guy now, and they've created little spell booklet things to ensure the knowledge gets passed on even if they're not at the session. It's neato.