Tuesday, 24 July 2018

Apocalypse Dragon Ninhursag

players pls don't read



Its Rune is Earth.
Its Breath is Poison.
Its Aspects are of Size, Plants, Crystal and Magma.
Its Plan is to destroy Shub-Niggurath by destroying all cellular life.

To worship Ninhursag is to worship the Dragon of Earth, of Poison, and of Secrets.

The Cults of Ninhursag

The Verdigrised Drakencult worship Ninhursag Undivided.
The Gogamogic Drakencult worship the Aspect of Size.
The Tangled Drakencult worship the Aspect of Plants.
The Fracted Drakencult worship the Aspect of Crystal.
The Magman Drakencult worship the Aspect of Magma.

The Taboos of Ninhursag

Never allow a curse or disease to be removed from somebody.
Never destroy a plant or fungus unless it is a threat to you or your allies.
Only ever allow yourself to heal by natural means.
Never advance the cause of another Dragon.

The Observances of Ninhursag

Catching or infecting someone with a disease
Being poisoned, including by narcotic substances
Hitting 0HP and surviving
Uncovering a secret that could damage someone or their reputation if known
Allowing someone to live who you have at your mercy
Destroying something that lives but does not breathe
Revealing a secret
Allowing a living creature to be killed that is no threat to your or your allies
Attacking a fellow minion of Ninhursag, or thwarting their plans
Harming yourself or, through inaction, allowing yourself to come to harm

The Boons of Ninhursag

Favour of Ninhursag
Power any glyph containing the Earth rune with a single action

Eyes of Ninhursag
at will hear strength and direction of beating hearts within 50', even through stone - if in field of view, see whole circulatory system and dark patches where disease lies in their body

Scales of Ninhursag
+1 AC and +2 to saves, improve overnight heal rate by one step (Vagrant -> Comfortable -> Splendid -> Splendid+)

Heart of Ninhursag
Choose the Aspect of Ninhursag you will worship; gain an ability based on that Aspect:
Undivided - convert poison entering your body into any other type
Size - increase size and power of muscles at will (+4 strength mod, rip tight clothing, grow a foot or so)
Plants - exude soporific pollen at will (-2 to hit for those nearby, +1 Pain Poison if breathed for 10 minutes, you are immune)
Crystal - encase self in crystal coccoon at will, you are immobile and take only 1 damage from non-smashy weapons, coccoon shatters if you take more than 5 points of damage in one blow. If smashed you are stunned until you pass a Save vs Stun to recover
Magma - grow incredibly hot at will, glow orange, deal 1d6 fire damage to anyone touching your bare skin, take half damage from heat

Devotion of Ninhursag
You gain influence over the effect of any glyph containing the Earth rune, allowing you to bend its power to your intent and control its manifestation. New effects must be at least somewhat plausible.

Breath of Ninhursag
gain 30' breath weapon 1/day according to Aspect which deals your current HP as damage (Save vs Blast for half);
Undivided - chlorine gas, blinds and chokes all affected until they pass a Save vs Stun (separate for each effect)
Size - shrinks everything in radius to half its size for 10 minutes.
Plants - Everything in AoE difficult terrain and everyone within entangled by grasping coat of vines until they can slice them off or Wrestle out of them
Crystal - Jagged shards of crystal coat the area, creating difficult terrain and dealing 1d6 damage to anyone stepping or falling on it without suitable protection
Magma - ball of magma rolls along at 20' per round, breaks into a 10' burning puddle of magma when it hits someone or an object. 1d6 damage/round to anyone standing in it. Rolls to hit vs unarmoured AC against things that could dodge out of the way.

Claws of Ninhursag
Unleash the latent power of Ninhursag 1/day for 10 minutes, taking on shades of the Aspect chosen and granting you a 1d6 unarmed attack with an additional ability;
Undivided - Extending claws grants immunity to poison and allows you to tear up rock and earth easily, throwing boulders for 1d6 damage or throwing up a cloud of choking dust that obscures normal vision
Size - Extending claws makes you grow twice as big! Shreds anything you're wearing, double damage.
Plants - Extending claws grants you 1d6 natural regeneration per round up to half max hp
Crystal - Extending claws covers you in shimmering crystal and grants your claws brutally sharp crystal edges, 1d10 unarmed damage and you count as having a Shield which can be broken as normal (shattering your crystal shell)
Magma - Extend claws and become immune to heat. Anyone dealing 4 or more points of damage to you in one hit causes magma to pour out of the wound and pool at your feet, anyone standing in it takes 1d6 damage per round.

Wings of Ninhursag
grow dragon wings! Take on a bunch of cosmetic attributes based on your chosen Aspect. Fly at your normal movement speed and glide at double.

Apotheosis Protocol
with a week of preparation, permanently transform into an Elemental Dragon of Aspect, control it until the end of the session at which point lose individuality but protect fellow drakencultists OR for Undivided worshippers become immune to all poisons and diseases and at will (or on death) explode into a cloud of chlorine gas of incredible toxicity

Apotheosis Acceleration - With a day of preparation, Apotheosise.

Apotheosis Ultimate - At will, Apotheosise as an action

The Elemental Dragons of Ninhursag

Base stats:
HD10 AC14 ML12
- Vision: No eyes, but have always-on Eyes of Ninhursag - see circulatory systems in line of sight and detect heartbeats within 50'
- Breath: HP as damage, Save vs Blast for half. Recharge on 5-6. - Claws: 1d10/1d10, pin to the ground or bat away to send enemy flying. - Bite: 3d10, pick up and swing around wildly on hit - Wrestle to escape - Tail: 1d10 sweep, those hit are sent flying back. Save vs Blast to avoid. - Death Throes: Triggered when the Dragon is destroyed.

Huge dragon carved of stone, spits enormous rocks, practically invulnerable
+ AC20 + Fucking enormous - three storeys tall + Bite picks up anyone within a 20' diameter (so like, anyone close to anyone else). Keeps you inside its cage of a mouth while smashing its head around. + Breath weapon is huge boulder that bounces and rolls like a cannonball + Death Throes: Collapses into rocks that collapse down into earth.
Anyone within 20' must Save vs Blast or take 2d20 damage from fallen chunks of dragon. Dust swirls up from the bursting rocks, sending up a great obscuring plume of dust and grit 50' wide

Rocks and greenery swirling in vague dragon shape, regenerates, poisonous fumes
+ Regenerates 1d10 HP/round + Exudes soporific pollen in 30' radius - gain 1 Pain Poison every round you're in the cloud + Breath weapon is a tearing roil of vines and thorns and greenery + Death Throes: Soporific pollen cloud bursts out in a great 50' diameter cloud. Anyone inside must Save vs Stun or fall asleep. Plus take 1 Pain Poison per round breathed.

Crystal dragon growing around rocky core, real spiky, any spikes that break off become sharp minions whether it's hit or it just scrapes them off
+ Each hit by it or against it creates a swarm of crystal minions equal to damage. Pool into swarms of 10. + Breath a blast of piercing crystal shards. Getting hit grows heavy crystal on you and through you - +1 encumbrance tier per hit + Death Throes: Cracks and shatters into 2d10 swarms of 10 crystal minions that take immediate revenge

Red-veined rock, a moving volcano, leaves devastation in its wake, sets forests alight and spits lava
+ Those in melee range catch alight at the start of their turn as if hit by an oil bomb. + Trails magma and fire dealing 1d10 to all who cross its trail. Constantly moving to spread more magma.
+ Breath a stream of magma that leaves 30' magma patch. Magma magma magma all day long. + Death Throes: Collapses into a pool of magma 50' diameter, frying everything nearby for 1d10 damage per round

Design Notes:

As with all the Apocalypse Dragons, Ninhursag is a synthesis of three things - the trad D&D chromatic dragon, one of the five Runes, and one of Zak's Tiamat cults.

So Ninhursag is a mix of:
- The poisonous Green chromatic dragon
- The Earth rune and its related rune-combo Aspects
- The secretive knowledge-gathering Jade Fang of Tiamat

All fairly disparate elements, so I feel like together they form a pretty interesting and non-trad melange.
At the time I made this (and this is still broadly true) the only Dragons the players knew about were this big green boi and the black Gravity Dragon Ereshkigal, so there's also an element of making them two rival and contradictory worldviews. Ninhursag is about keeping things alive, Ereshkigal is about letting things die.

So, design notes on the different bits.

Observances and Taboos.

Ninhursag's cultists are intended to be based on spreading disease and keeping living things alive.
After all, if everyone's dead a disease won't spread.
This is also why, for instance, you get a bonus for killing non-living things. Automatons tend to be disease resistant. Even the undead, which you'd expect to be vectors of disease, can't catch a cold themselves.
When Ninhursag unleashes the final ur-poison that will wipe out all cellular life, it wants there to be as many vectors as possible to infect Shub-Niggurath.

There's also a little bit of secret-finding and secret-keeping to encourage some of the sneakier Jade Fang stuff. A little insidious bit of extra spice.


Dragon boons follow the same format from dragon to dragon. They're always real good.

Bond 2 is when you the Favour, the ability to fast-cast any glyph containing the associated Rune. In this case, the Earth rune.

Bond 3 is the Eyes. Since Ninhursag is all about life, you can detect heartbeats and see circulatory systems (and disease) in field of vision. Real good unless you're fighting zombies or golems or whatever, but that's why you have to kill them.

Bond 4 is the Scales. All dragons give a +1 to AC and +2 to Saves, but Ninhursag also improves overnight healing rates. You're not allowed to heal magically during the day, but as a counterbalance you do heal more quickly with rest.

Bond 5 is the Heart and where things get interesting - your choice of Aspect here is your choice forever and grants you an always-on or at-will passive ability. So far we've only had one PC reach the Heart and they went for Size, which is fitting for POWERLAD the Muscle Wizard superhero.

Bond 6 is the Devotion which upgrades your rune abilities again. Essentially this means players tell me what happens when they activate rune magic, rather than me telling them.
It's potent and near game-breaking, but it's the apocalypse so they need all the help they can get really!

Bond 7 is the when you get the Breath and shit gets real. Dragon breath! A big ticket item! And different kickers depending on Aspect too.
One of the real cool self-limiting things for dragon breath in old school D&D is that it deals the dragon's current HP as damage, so it's the same here. As you level up in your class you do more damage with your breath weapon. Mechanically elegant!
We have a Goblin player with a whole gaggle of Goblin minions, each of whom he (until recently) had managed to set up worshipping a different Dragon each. That way he'd get access to all the cool powers without paying the exp penalty for Dragon Bond! Clever...
Unfortunately since his Goblins only have 1d6 HP, they can only do a few points of damage with their breath weapon. And also they die(d) really easily.

Bond 8 is the Claws. Another Aspect-based power. Unsheathe your Claws 1/day to get an unarmed attack and some monstrous Aspect-related extra ability. This is the combat monster perk where you turn into a humanoid dragon and wreck shit.
You can dual wield both claws, naturally. Remember in my game dual wielding means you roll twice for damage and take the best, and deal double damage if you roll doubles. A d6 unarmed strike is pretty beast!

Bond 9 is the Wings and they are the same mechanically for everyone because you can fucking fly baby!
At-will flight is weird because it's one of those things you think will break the game, but it really doesn't. Overland encounters are way different because you can just fly over them, but normal dungeons aren't changed so much.

Bond 10 is the final ability - Apotheosis. The capstone ability that essentially means you sacrifice your character forever in order to control an overpowered Elemental Dragon for a session.
What a choice!

The Elemental Dragons are player-scale, by which I mean they're the size of a truck and thus the sort of dragon that players might actually be able to fight against and the sort of dragon that will be effective against player-scale threats.
This as opposed to the Apocalypse Dragons which are the size of mountains and will just destroy you and shrug off any wound your measly sword can inflict.
Elemental Dragons are huge compared to a man, but still small enough to have an HP pool.

Anyway, sacrifice your character in order to do something crazy awesome. Since it takes at least 10 sessions to get to Bond 10 (you can test Bond once per week max), at my weekly game you've gone at least a couple of months with your character before you can blow their Draconic Apotheosis.
That's a lot of work to get to this point, which means sacrificing your character is meaningful.
It should be a hard choice, but then you do get to be a 10HD insanely powerful dragon which should be a hell of a good time.

Unless you're an Undivided worshipper of course, in which case you get ultimate immunities to poison and disease - you'll be guaranteed to survive Ninhursag's world-ending plagues at the very least.
You should probably Apotheosise as soon as you get a chance if you're an Undivided cultist, it's a permanent perk.
Plus if you die you'll take every motherfucker in the room down with you. Let's hope your friends are also Undivided so they can turn that deadly poison into a nap...

Bond 11 and Bond 12 speed up the Apotheosis.
Bond 10 takes a whole week which means you need a lot of planning ahead. It's unlikely you'll be able to do this in response to a threat unless it's got a long lead time. Since I've got a ticking clock of the Apocalypse bearing down on my game, a week is actually quite a big time penalty too.
Bond 11 only takes a day, so you're more responsive. That demon threatened you? Come back the next day as a motherfucking DRAGON and show him who's boss.
Bond 12 is at-will apotheosis which is definitely OP. If you're fighting your ultimate enemy and they knock you down to near-death and you wipe the blood off your lips with your sleeve and gloat about how "this isn't even my final form!" and transform into an Elemental Dragon and bite off their head with your mighty jaws as they cower... you have truly used this ability correctly. I really hope this happens.

A Note on Aspects

You'll notice that the Aspect powers are fitting for the element they relate to, but the Undivided bonus is a bit of a curveball. Combining Earth-Earth creates Rock in the rune system after all, not Poison.

I justify this because the Undivided option is about bringing you closer to the powers of the Dragon Itself, not just its rune combo.
Ninhursag has a trad Green Dragon's poison breath and theme, so you get poison-related abilities.
The Undivided options for Ninhursag involve the Poison mechanics a bunch. Like the Heart lets you convert deadly Trauma Poison into less deadly Pain Poison, so you just pass out for a while rather than dying.

The other abilities mostly just fit the spec. Size makes you bigger and stronger, Magma makes you hotter and heat-resistant, etc etc.

There's another wrinkle in that Aspects are a combo of two Runes, so every Dragon Aspect is shared with one other Dragon. Size is an Earth-Mass combo, for instance, so both the Earth and Mass Dragons will have an Aspect of Size available.
To make these shared Aspects unique, the element is sort of flavoured by the Apocalypse Dragon you're worshipping.
The Earth Dragon makes its Size cultists get bigger and more muscular, while the Mass Dragon gives its Size cultists non-euclidean space-distorting abilities - changing the Size of distances.

This applies to the Elemental Dragons too. The Earth-flavoured Size Dragon is a huge stony beast that breathes huge boulders and crushes all before it, the Mass-flavoured Size Dragon is a roiling mass of darkness and spacial distortions whose breath smears you across space-time.

Elemental Dragons

I went into Elemental Dragons a bit under Apotheosis above.
Elemental Dragons are player-scale threats, in that they're a size that players could potentially interact with in a meaningful sense - the equivalent of Adult Dragons.
Yea they'll kill you, but they'll have to roll for it.

Elemental Dragons are on my encounter tables. Usually they roll around with a retinue of Aspect-aligned drakencultists who try to control it. Nobody's fought one yet, although they did have a very scary run-in with a Crystal Elemental Dragon. That was a stealth mission.

All Elemental Dragons share the same base stats and attacks, modified based on Aspect.
So stat wise these things are beasts. Big HD, a ton of attacks, a breath weapon, the works.
If you're clever and lucky only some of you will die.
And if you get to control one of these bad boys with Apotheosis, welcome to God Mode. This is your session now baby. The spotlight is for you!

The one little potential weakness - like their Apocalypse Dragon sire these guys don't have eyes and have to rely on heartbeat vision. Fighting creatures without heartbeats means you have to guess where they are, but that's why you have your fellow drakencultists around to help!
It's also why killing non-living creatures is encouraged by Ninhursag, see?

Really the only big and interesting idea here is Death Throes.
I swear I got the idea of these from someone's blog or maybe someone in the OSR Discord, but I can't remember for the life of me. If you know, let me know so I can attribute properly!
Anyway, rather than Lair Actions or having triggered responses to attacks, killing an Elemental Dragon triggers its Death Throes - in general these will fuck up whoever and whatever killed it. Fun!

Size is massive and tough and eats multiple people at a time. The big stompy one that goes around stepping on people and shooting boulders from its stony mouth. Bonus points if it breathes its boulder while people are in its mouth already. Combo!
Plants regenerates while slowing melee attackers and putting them to sleep. Real annoying to fight I imagine. You can't do shit because the pollen makes you dopey, and the few hits you get in before falling asleep are regenerated quickly. What a bastard.
Crystal creates sharp splintery minions wherever it goes. Hitting it knocks off sharp minions. Getting hit knocks off sharp minions. You want to run? Oh but its breath loads you up with encumbering crystal, preventing escape and probably spellcasting. The sharp minions do Choppy damage which means more damage to less armoured characters too. Good luck.
Magma trails magma, breathes magma, sets melee attackers on fire with magma, endless fucking magma. A living terrain hazard. Good luck with this fucker too, especially if you're wearing flammable clothes or carrying explosives.


More on the Apocalypse Dragons

Apocalypse Dragon Resources
Learn to Kneel

Friday, 22 June 2018

Kneel Before the Apocalypse Dragons!

The Apocalypse Dragons!

Five are they.

Ninhursag, Clathrate Dragon. It is of Earth, of Poison, of Secrets.
Atrahasis, Deluvial Dragon. It is of Cold, of Ice, of Stasis.
Ereshkigal, Singularity Dragon. It is of Mass, of Gravity, of Despair.
Shamash, Bolide Dragon. It is of Heat, of Fire, of Rage.
Mardūk, Gamma Burst Dragon. It is of Light, of Electricity, of Power.

Each is the size of mountains.
Each has upon its eyeless face a Rune.
They have tried, in their own ways, to prevent the emergence of Shub-Niggurath.
Each attempt has caused an extinction event.
Each attempt has failed.

The Beast in the Core of the Earth is still here.

Why Worship Such Atrocities?

Why indeed? These Apocalypse Dragons care not for man. They care not for life itself. 
Their only goal, the only goal that matters, is to prevent Shub-Niggurath from cracking the world like an egg and spreading its star-seed to infest other planets.
Terrestrial life is nothing to them. Sacrificing the earth to save the universe is a akin to us sacrificing an ant to save a city.
They do not speak. They do not care. They live and think on timescales too vast for us to comprehend, and far too vast for them to comprehend the short non-events of human lives.

So why, then? Why worship them?

Dragon powers! 
Those who obey the whims of a Dragon gain access to potent abilities. 
Claws, breath, scales, wings, Rune control, a whole host of fantastical abilities.

And the price? Merely abide by the Observances that you must obey or avoid to gain favour, and avoid breaking Taboos.

Are these things the dragon actually wants from its followers? Or are they merely a shallow surface reading of the echoes of the thoughts of a creature far too powerful and ancient to comprehend, justified post-facto by desperate adherents clinging to a foolish hope that their Dragon will save them from the end of the world?

Either way, it seems to work.

How to Worship Such Atrocities.

These rules are basically cribbed and slightly adjusted from Perdition.
If you want a bunch of rad demon lords to worship instead of dragons, check it out!

In brief:
Your Bond to a dragon is a number between 1 and 12.
Each Bond level grants an ability, but applies a cumulative 5% penalty to earned exp.
New adherents start at Bond 2.
Maintaining your bond with a Dragon requires you to avoid breaking its Taboos.
Improving your bond with a Dragon requires you to abide by its Observances.

Initially bonding yourself to a Dragon is remarkably simple.
All you need to do is kneel before an Apocalypse Dragon, or be baptised with its Rune by someone who is already Bonded to the Dragon.
Strengthening your Bond is where it gets interesting.

Here's an example of the Taboos and Observances of one of the Dragons - Ninhursag.

Taboos must not be broken. Break a Taboo and you lose 1 Bond level.
So if you're at Bond 4 and break a taboo by letting someone cast Cure Disease on your friend, you drop down to Bond 3.

Observances are important for when you attempt to increase your Bond level with a Dragon.
You want to collect the positive modifiers while avoiding the negative modifiers.
Whenever you trigger an Observance, mark it.
You can attempt to improve your Bond level once per session.

Improving your Bond:
- Either kneel before your Dragon or listen to a sermon from a someone who has a higher Bond Level than you.
Roll 2d6 and apply any modifiers from your Observances.
- If you roll over your current Bond Level, it increases by 1.
- Whether you succeed or fail your Observances reset, erase all marks.

Ninhursag's bond abilities

The abilities follow the track above for all Dragons, ie. you always get Eyes at Bond 3 and Wings at Bond 9. What the actual effects of those are differ by Dragon though.

The abilities remain unknown until someone unlocks them. I'll reveal the abilities in subsequent posts about the Dragons, but to illustrate, here's what my players have seen so far.
At the moment our current highest Bond character is POWERLAD.
He's at Bond 10 with Ninhursag so has unlocked the following abilities:

click to expand

You'll notice that at Bond 5 you have to choose one of the Dragon's Aspects.
These are based on Rune combinations. That's all over here if you're interested, but not directly relevant. All you need to know is that you can choose to worship the Dragon Undivided or one of its four derivative Aspects.

In this case, POWERLAD chose to worship the Aspect of Size, granting him a bunch of size-related abilities.
Coupled with his potent Muscle Wizard abilities, he's a real superhero!

It's possible to worship multiple dragons at once but it's hard to maintain since you've got to juggle a bunch of different and often mutually contradictory Taboos and Observances.
It's technically possible though!


This is part worldbuilding, part faction play, part optional sub-quest, and part alternate leveling system.

Alternate Leveling

Characters in my campaign peak at the soft cap of Level 7.
Getting there is hard enough, the work of maybe a year of play, and after that exp requirements are so vast that they're practically unattainable.

This means alternate methods of gaining power and abilities are welcome. This is one result, a means of gaining cool new powers and abilities that isn't tied to class or level.
The players quickly grasped that optimal thing to do is to get to a high level then get into a dragon cult as a sort of prestige class thing. Hence why the Level 7 Muscle Wizard POWERLAD is the main Drakencultist in the group.
Since you're probably not going to level up anyway the exp penalty isn't such a big deal, and since you're not going to level up anyway you might as well go hard into Bonds!


It's kinda cool to have an optional extra thing you can be doing that doesn't disrupt the party's goals.
Sure, you might be incentivised by Taboos or Observances to do certain things or act in a certain way, but you're not trying to persuade your friends to come with you on some random sidequest that's got nothing to do with their actual goals.

It does make things interesting though.
There was a time when POWERLAD's player was frantically telling someone "don't come near me with that fucking healing!" so they didn't break their taboo against healing unnaturally. That was great.

Faction Play

Factions are a great way to drive player action, and since you've got to go back to the Dragon or one of its Drakencultists to level up your Bond it means you've got to deal with that faction a bunch.

If you piss off everyone in the cult, the only way you can strengthen your Bond is to fight or sneak your way to the Dragon itself. Dragon don't care about petty human squabbles.

Plus, since there are 5 different Aspects of each dragon that means there are going to be at least 5 sub-cults in each Drakencult, and that's ripe for faction play too!
We've just come off a month or so of gameplay involving internecine strife within Ninhursag's Drakencult, it went great. POWERLAD is a high priest now and everything.


Is there a better way to get my players in contact with the campaign lore around Apocalypse Dragons?
Dragon powers! Who could resist!
Now there's a fair amount of theorising around what the Dragons are, what they do, and how one might be exploited to juuuust about stop the end of the world without them kicking on to destroy the world in a whole other way.

Power Level

There's one more thing tied up in this - the power level of the abilities.
You might notice in that POWERLAD ability sheet thing further up the page that these abilities are actually real fucking strong. +4 Strength at will? Breath weapon deals your HP as damage?? Bond 10 lets you turn into an elemental dragon??? What the fuck?

This is a symptom of me letting go of that "low level play" dial as we get into the Apocalypse.
The world's totally fucked and there's a ton of stuff that's too big to be solved by stabbing it with sharp sticks, even dragon-powered sharp sticks. Might as well kick it into high gear!

Saturday, 28 April 2018

Putting Your World to Death

I hope, for your sake, that your world has a good long life ahead of it.
But if you've suddenly found yourself dealing with imminent apocalypse, hopefully this will help you set up the fall.

A note for my players: Possible spoilers ahead. I don't think there's anything suuuper major in here that will ruin stuff, but read at your discretion.

The Impersonal Apocalypse

First things first - some context.

Mine is an impersonal apocalypse. Shub-Niggurath is a huge but non-sentient creature that is breaking out of the world. It will shatter the world like an egg. It doesn't think. It does not, and cannot, care about this.
Similar might be the sun going out, or a meteor coming to destroy the Earth or Cthulhu rising. Nobody caused this. It's nobody's fault. It just is. And now we've got to deal with it.

This as opposed to an apocalypse caused by something with an actual will and sentience, like Sauron or Thanos or a generic Ancient Evil That Has Awoken. There's always the slim possibility that you can reason with or trick such an entity. At the very least you can murder them or seal them away or whatever.

This doesn't change the following post all that much, but it's maybe useful for context? Anyway.

Faction Endgames

Your first task is to work out what your campaign's main factions are going to do now. How do the existing factions react? Are there any new factions brought forth by impending doom?
It's the end of the world. The world ending is bad for everyone. Who's trying to stop it and how are the planning to do it?
And most importantly - how do these plans oppose and clash against each other?

I've got three general spheres for how factions are reacting to the rise of Shub-Niggurath:
- Save humanity at all costs.
- Save the planet at all costs.
- Save the universe at all costs.

The Apocalypse Dragons are here to save the universe. They live and act on timescales so vast that the spread of a planet-cancer across the universe over aeons is a real and present threat. They will destroy the world and all life on it if it stops Shub-Niggurath from spreading.

The Necromantic Duvan'Ku are here to save the planet. They're willing to sacrifice as much of humanity is necessary to ensure the planet's survival. After all, it's not like they'll kill off the trees. In a worst case scenario "living" as Undead even after everyone else is dead and gone.

The sin-eating Demons, perhaps counterintuitively, want to save humanity. They feed on sin, and if there are no sinners left then they'll starve. If they found a way to save humanity at the expense of the planet and the wider univere, they'd do it.

The key to all this is that every faction has good reasons for doing what they're doing. They're generally all doing what they think is right and for the greater good, but also with a level of self-interest that can clash against some factions and align them with others.
Their reasons and motivations might be different, and there's a lot of conflict depending on what time scale they're working on and what they personally value, but each faction thinks they're the good guys willing to do what it takes to save what's important to them.

There's an extra layer for my game because I've got players who've been in the same campaign world for literal years. These factions are known.
They've got all sorts of friends and enemies in the world. There are even recurring characters wandering around who some players recognise from previous adventures with previous characters. It's intense! The joys of a long-running game!
Now suddenly all the factions have shifted to their final endgames and it's really kicked the game into a higher gear. With that game history on their side, the players have enough of a grasp of the game world to really work out how they'll make an impact.

A Note on Agency in a Dying World

Players have a lot of agency in a world that's fairly fucked up.
I think it's because you can really see the cracks. Who do you help? Who do you oppose? Who do you exploit for personal gain?

As Zak says in this long ago post, a sandbox game needs roguish, pragmatic, self-motivated characters to work properly. There's a lot of stuff for characters get roguish and pragmatic about when everything's falling apart.

And when every faction is doing bad things for the right reasons, it gives a lot of solid reasons for players to support, oppose or unite various forces. It's pretty cool!

Apocalypse Timeline

This is your second task.
Decide how long the world has to live. For me, I gave them just over a year.
Shub-Niggurath began rising in November last year, it's going to crack the planet in December this game-year.

Now it's time for the fun part - make a calendar of what each faction is doing each month!
You'll be updating this timeline as and when players mess with the course of events.

Since we're past this point in the timeline now, I suppose I can show you at least this much.

Players may not want to expand

The idea with this is to make sure you know what the big movers and shakers are doing, especially in the case of players just jumping up and heading off somewhere new. Gives you something to work around!
It also means that when players do something of real significance, you can work out how they rebounds and impacts different forces in the world.
My intention is to release each of the things by the end of the month, but I'm a little loosey-goosey on the exact timings. Preferably the players are on the surface to witness such things when they happen so I miiight nudge the dates along a little bit to make it a bit more cinematic.

Deep Carbon Observatory has a similar sort of long-range timeline thing that happens if PCs never influence events, so this is definitely in that vein.

I really wanted to use apocalyptic events from Revelation to get that good fucked up apocalypse feel. Evangelion influence again, probably.
Seven Trumpets, Seven Vials, all that good stuff. Combine with all the other various swirling ideas and themes, shake, and strain over ice.
So far it's all lined up weirdly nicely. When the First Trumpet was due to sound I looked around to see what could have kicked that off, and conveniently one of the players had managed to set the table for me!
They gave the alchemist who wanted to create a Shub-Niggurath-destroying omnipoison a sample of extremely powerful demon spider poison. The alchemist tried it out, it went wrong, and now there's no grass and cancerous tentacles and a third of all flora has withered and died. How prohetic!

I don't care I loooooove big fuckoff indestructible natural disaster dragons

End Times Encounters

The third task is adjusting your encounter tables for this new reality.

One thing I'd say - don't weight the results via multiple dice in the apocalypse. 
I've moved all my end times encounter tables from 2d6 to a straight 1d12 so all results are equally common.

Having a weighted 2d6 is for conservative simulation of a fairly dependable ordered world. Common local encounters go in the middle numbers, doom-wizards and elemental dragons go on the rare numbers. Having a straight 1d12 roll means you see the doom-wizard as often as you see anything else, which works for the chaotic terror of the apocalypse!

The other thing I've done with a number of Lair results is to put them in conflict with "Roll Again", so there's going to be much more naturally occurring conflict in the overworld. It's the apocalypse, everyone's fighting everyone else, dark times for all really!
Seeing two sides in battle is perfect for a Lair result. The encounter is close and the players can easily engage if they want, but they can also go the other way and avoid the situation.

Information and Agency

Players need information to make informed choices.
Making informed choices is Agency.

I've been honest with players about when the world is set to end, ie. December 1601.

I figure we've all played enough games where the apocalypse is juuuuuuuuust about to happen, but you've got plenty of time to run around doing some final side quests before actually triggering the final mission.
(Looking at you, Mass Effect)

By giving a set end date I'm saying that I'm legit about letting the world die. GOOD LUCK!

There's already a sense that they're going to have to be reeaally careful about using time-advancing mechanics like Carousing or Spell Research. I'd previously made those things take a while simply so that the game timeline advanced sorta kinda at a pace with real time. 
Suddenly downtime is recontextualised from a straight money sink to a real risk/reward mechanic.
Do we risk spending a week or so partying to level up? What if something terrible happens in the mean time?

I've been stocking up the Rumours table with more news than before. I've de-emphasised hints at nearby dungeons. The players know which dungeons are important now. Instead the rumours tend to be about wider events in the world, and hints at the sort of threats that are becoming more prevalent in the overworld.
Rumours about what's happening on the front lines against the Dead, updates on the movements of Battlefortress Fate, etc etc.
Gameplay is necessarily moving up to a grander scale, so the rumours reflect that. Nobody cares so much about Granny Questgiver's lost cat when there are literal angels falling from the sky.

Be liberal with the information you give out. Nobody's cagey in the end of days! Everyone anyone meets is going to have some story about something major happening somewhere, so let it happen!

In Closing

The end of the world is an exciting time. Embrace it!
I like to think my game has always had high stakes, but that's often been in the context of character life and limb. Suddenly world-saving stakes have shifted my game to another gear!

No matter what the outcome, I imagine the aftermath of the apocalypse is going to gear-shift my game again.

Hexcrawling and rebuilding a shattered world? Space voyagers flying off on shattered fragment of Earth? Time-fucking attempts to rewind and rewrite history?
I'm excited! And if your world is ending, you should be too!

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

House Rules Update! 2018 edition

Another year, another metamorphosis!

PDF here

The main impetus this time around is basically to trim off as much fat and fiddly bits as possible, especially in the combat rules. If there's something in the rules that never gets used or I always forget about, it's gone.
It's become increasingly obvious that the Gambit is the only combat option anyone really needs. It's simple, has an obvious risk-reward angle, and has the exciting partial success possibility.
I've trimmed off anything that's not covered by a Gambit and simplified the rest.

The other thing is that Sneak Attack has always been a sticking point in the game. It's a weird outlier in terms of how skills work and is useless without a high Stealth to back it up.
Probably the biggest change in this update is reworking Sneak Attack and Stealth so they're not so tightly linked. Sneak Attack has been reworked into Backstab which is primarily for ganging up on the same enemy, but also still effective for traditional shanks from the shadows.
I'll go into it more when I get to that section below.

On the less rules-tweak side of things, I've added a few more bits to make the rules a bit more standalone, like putting basics about HP and AC and stats in the doc. It's not exactly a Ten Foot Polemic standalone game (yet?), but it's in here so you don't have to cross-reference with the LotFP rulebook so much. This is important if you are, for instance, one of my own players trying to use my rules to run your own session.

I've pulled out the relevant sections of the rules for ease of use, but do feel free to follow along in the house rules document.
So here we go, a change log with explanations and stuff as we go.

Char Gen

- Removed Ammo Dice
Ammunition isn't tracked unless something happens to make ammo tracking important.

I'll talk about this here - the death of the Ammo Die.
Oh wow the site I originally got it from seems to be dead! My house rules are old!
Archive copy of the ammo die post here.
Anyway, the idea behind the cascading Ammo Die made its way into the Black Hack as the Usage Die. Seemed like a great way to track arrows etc in the abstract, but man I can't remember the last time someone fired enough arrows for it to matter. When the bulk of the game is dungeons and firing into melee is dangerous, you just don't fire that many arrows.
I've left the door open for resource management if people are in the middle of a desert or something, but in the main we're not going to be tracking ammo any more.

The Basic Basics

- Added this whole section

 Just making things a bit more clear because there are some minor changes from LotFP.
Most notably, making it clear that HP is your luck-shield not your life points per se.
Also, Surprised AC in the LotFP rulebook is surprisingly hard to find, so that's here now.
Armour rules also gathered into one place, which means there's a teaser for the new sword rules in here too.


- Added this whole section

Explanation of stats because it's subtly different from LotFP, mostly by accident over time.
Clearly the lore/reasoning is more or less transposed directly from the LotFP rulebook.
Most importantly - something I never realised was that Int/Wis were supposed to influence the Saves of people targeted by Magic-User/Cleric spells! I've never done that, so it's gone. In its place is being a better caster via recovered from Interrupted Casting and Spell Swaps. Works for me.
Oh and did you know that Charisma doesn't affect Reaction Rolls by the LotFP rules? I sure didn't! So that's called out as affecting Reaction Rolls now.


- Moved Falling here
- Added Fire rules for ease of reference
- Added Drowning

Original falling rules make falls very dangerous, and means anything that makes your fall count as 10' less could potentially save you from massive amounts of damage.
Fire rules in LotFP are nice. I like them, but added a few extra bits from rulings we've had in the past.
Drowning has claimed the life of several adventurers in my game, would you believe. The ruling at the time turned out to be surprisingly functional - 5 rounds of activity (+/- Con) before you start taking damage.



- Added temporary shelter ruling

All the same as before, except that it's possible to set up a makeshift shelter in the wilderness if you spend a day and roll Bushcraft.
Requiring a tent and rations to heal quickly in the wilderness works well, but what do you do if you forgot to buy a tent and/or your tent got destroyed by an angry bear?
You can build a semi-permanent shelter in the wilderness with a day and a successful Bushcraft roll.
Tents are a shortcut that you can pack up and move easily every day, so they're much better for travel than spending a day scratch-building a shelter every time someone needs to heal quickly.

Magical Healing

- Tweaks to Cleric spells that deal with poison

This has been in the poison rules post for a couple years now, but this is the first time I've stuck it in the house rules doc.
Delay Poison means you'll likely have processed the poison before it kills you.
Neutralise Poison... neutralises poison.


Basic Combat

- Added Magic to this section

This is in the Classes section too, but it really should have been here all along.
Declare casting at the start of the round, you need to be protected until it goes off at the end of the round. Standard in my game since forever.

Fancy Combat Options

- Removed Bumrush
- Removed gimmicky Parry rules, rolled Disengage into Parry
- Replaced Sneak Attack with Backstab
- Added Evade
- Clarified Wrestling
- Moved setting spears to Reach weapon section

Here we go! Some big changes.

Bumrush/Charge is easily a gambit. I'm surprised it lasted so long really.
Parry and Disengage were two similarly defensive but separate actions before. Now Parry is just the overall defensive "please don't hurt me" action, boosting AC and avoiding Opportunity Attacks.

The new Backstab will come up lots more. It's primarily a bonus for flanking enemies now, with a secondary use for killing surprised enemies. Flanking is a 5e-style thing, multiple people attacking one target in melee. Optimally you'll have a tank distracting the enemy while you come in with the Backstab. Conveniently this can be used to make pack-hunting enemies more dangerous by giving them good Backstab scores.

Evade appeared in this skills post as "Combat Stealth" but it's in the house rules now. Takes an action and a successful skill roll, so only useful if you have reliable Stealth.
Great for setting up a Backstab since it gives you +4 to hit and they can't target you on their next turn, guaranteeing Flanking.

Together, Aim, Evade and Parry form a sort of combat boost trifecta.
Aim is use an action, boost ranged attack.
Evade is use an action, boost melee attack.
Parry is use an action, boost AC.
Maybe the almighty Gambit will eat them all next time round, but I like the balance for now.

Wrestling is great. Adding some clarity for multiple wrestlers, and how wrestling rolls happen on both sides of the round.
+/- 1000 for natural 1s and 20s is for the silliness of it, but also neatly describes "a natural 20 automatically wins a wrestle, unless both people roll a natural 20 in which case it's still down to modifiers".

Spears in a bit.

Melee Weapon Types

- Choppy weapons changed: deal improved damage die against light armour or less
- Stabby weapons changed: +1 to melee AC and +1 to melee attack bonus

I still enjoy differentiating the weapons like this, even if it bumps up the complexity a little. With a general lack of magical weapons in a low magic game, weapon choice takes up some of the slack.
They used to trigger effects depending on whether you rolled evens or won initiative or whatever, but that's really too fiddly and complicated. It might maybe be fine if you're a player, but for poor old me rolling for a bunch of enemies at once that's too much overhead.

So now this should all be much easier for someone rolling a bunch of dice at once, and hopefully easier for the players.

Choppy axes deal improved die of damage against low armour targets. This means a greataxe vs a generic peasant rolls 1d12!
Smashy hammers are the same as before, piercing high armour targets.
Stabby swords are a straightforward upgrade against any target. +1 to hit, +1 to melee AC. Pair with a shield and you've got +2 AC against both melee and ranged attacks. Heavy armour, sword, and shield gives you a tip top 20 AC which is the effective maximum.
I might rename "Stabby" to "Versatile" to make it clear that they're good for offense and defence, but I'm keeping it for now.
Shanky is unchanged, deal bonus damage in a Wrestle if your roll beats their AC. Knife fights get messy.
Whippy is also unchanged. Ranged wrestle.

Noted here too: the Fighter gets extra bonuses on top of these. They're better than anyone else with any weapon, which is as it should be I think.

Melee Weapon Options

- Reach Weapons allow you to make an Opportunity Attack against enemies moving into melee.

Not actually a change, just not highlighted like this before. Was previously under the overcomplicated Parry action.
Opportunity Attack against approaching enemies makes the spear a superior defensive weapon, and good for defending your friends.

Also interacts with the new disengaging Parry. You can close in on a spear wielder by using Parry to avoid the Opportunity Attack, at the expense of not being able to attack them when you get in close enough.
Dropping Charge/Bumrush means that I can just drop setting spears against a charge. Spears are set against anything moving into range automatically, but no bonus to damage.

Ranged Weapon Options

- Firearms are all counted as flintlocks now.
- Rifled barrel improves Aim, instead of making up for range penalties
- Firearms ignore all armour at close range (all ranges for musket)

In a game where all of the various weapons have been cut down to several damage categories, it's a wonder I stuck with the Matchlock/Wheellock/Flintlock thing for so long. Who cares?
Everything is now counted as a flintlock, and if you want to have a rad wheellock on your pistol I'm not going to penalise you for it.

Range penalties literally never come up. I'm not going to measure ranges, and most if not all combat in this game is at short enough range that you don't need to worry about it.
Getting a rifled barrel means you double the Aim bonus to a big +8, at the expense of doubled reload time on a firearm you'd never manage to use more than once a fight anyway.
Finally, a reason to buy an Arquebus over a Pistol.
This should be an improvement even if you do measure ranges, since the Aim bonus makes up for the range penalties. Get your snipe on.
I was also doing the by-the-book firearms thing where guns pierce 5 points of AC, but piercing all armour is easier to adjudicate even if it's not entirely realistic.

Death and Dismemberment

- Updated for the modern era

This is all in pamphlet form now. Go see that post for an explanation of my game's most fiddly subsystem.
The main thing is to call them "Death Tokens" instead of "Death Dice", and add a bit more clarity. I think it's fine now.
This is a big wodge of complexity in the middle of an otherwise fairly rules light game, but it leads to a lot of fun gameplay for me. I swear.


Wear and Tear

- Removed weapon/armour Quality
- Removed sacrificing armour to reduce damage
- Added England Upturn'd misfire table for Notched firearms
- Dwarfs can completely fix a single item per day, up from one Notch per day.

Having different weapon Qualities which gave different chances of taking Notches was a good idea in theory but definitely very easy to forget about in the heat of battle.
You know what's not easy to forget in the heat of battle? Crits and fumbles! Any time a natural 1 or 20 comes up, people notice. So now weapon/armour damage is triggered by those exclusively.

Part of the impetus was having high quality weapons and armour to replace magic weapons and armour, but that was a nice idea that never worked out great. Just make it extra fancy or something. Hell, make it unbreakable. That's as good as magic.

There was a rule here last time where you could sacrifice armour to reduce an attack's damage to 1, but that's gone now. I kept forgetting and so did the players.

England Upturn'd has cool a firearm-exclusive misfire table that it wold be a shame not to use, so I'm using it.

Dwarf repairs are better now, just because it makes it easier. Give a Dwarf a day and he can fix an item. Solid. A Mending spell always fixed an item completely, but I'm calling it out here to make it clear.


- Called out skill-boosting equipment and skills that get boosted by Intelligence
- Backstab is a reworked Sneak Attack
- First Aid reworked - forces patient to Tempt Fate on a 6 instead of dealing damage, no longer heals HP
- Added Rapid Reload to Sleight of Hand
- Added Evade to Stealth
- Added Invention to Tinkering

A few changes around here.
Intelligence modifies Arcana and Languages. Nothing new there.
Specialist's Tools give a +1 to Tinkering and First Aid, that's not been in these rules before.
Same with Crampons granting a +1 to Climbing, which needs calling out really.

Backstab is a big change. See Fancy Combat Options above. Upgrade hits against surprised or flanked enemies to crits.

First Aid is now focused directly on field medicine, healing up a person who's reached 0HP and is dying from Death Tokens. The combat medic skill to bring the dying back from the brink!
Failing on a 6 used to deal 1 damage to the patient, but now it makes the patient Tempt Fate which fits the Death Token angle better.
Healing HP with First Aid has been scrapped, eating to heal works better and more reliably.

Rapid Reload skill was sort of in the rules before, but it's here now.
Roll Sleight of Hand to get a free Reload action. This means you can Reload twice in one round, or even Reload while fighting. Potentially fire a gun every 3 rounds if you've got good Sleight of Hand and focus on reloading, which almost makes it worth it.

Evade, again, see Fancy Combat Options above. Dodge and weave to gain an advantage against an enemy.

Invention has been in the game for a while, because players looove coming up with bullshit mechanical things like breathing apparatus or complicated traps.
Only change is that if a device works successfully it gets a +1 to Invention rolls in future, so you slowly build it up until it works consistently. Previously this had it working after three successful uses, but I think this is mechanically neater.


Rune Magic

- Minor tweaks

Due to mystery campaign reasons (and mild balance woes) the Repel rune doesn't generate stuff any more, only pushes it away. Breath weapons are too easy I guess!
There are a few other bits, but that's the main one.


- Added everything for each class, not just the things that are tweaked from baseline LotFP. You can run a class out of this document now.

Just makes it easier for people who aren't running LotFP to figure out everything a class has.

Onto actual changes that matter.

The Fighter

- Added Weapon Mastery

Fighters are simple. This is mostly on purpose, it's a straightforward class with a straightforward focus on straightforward murder.
People who want to be a fighter type tend to roll Barbarian nowadays. But I have a condition where any time we haven't had a Fighter in a while, I want to make Fighters better.

So here we are. Weapon Mastery. As seen in the Melee Weapon Types section, different kinds of weapons get different kinds of bonuses.
Fighters get those and more, with the bonuses intended to synergise with the base perks.
Having a Fighter that carries one of each weapon around sounds great.

The Choppy upgrade is suspiciously similar to 5e's great weapon thing, from which I took it.
The Smashy upgrade replaces the old "shiver armour on evens" thing. Hammer attack to make the enemy easier for your allies to hit. Combo with the new Backstab to good effect.
The Stabby upgrade means swords are very much the defensive weapon - use an action to Parry and hopefully you'll trigger one or more counterattacks. Amazing for a fully armoured and shielded Fighter.
The Shanky upgrade makes Fighters even more brutal wrestlers, seeing as their attack bonus means they'll win wrestles a lot.
The Whippy upgrade is to do some Indiana Jones shit and trip people up.

The Magic-User

- Altered Spell Interruption to make Chaos Mages more possible
- Made Spell Swap more lenient

Spell Interruption used to mean you could prevent a Spell Collapse with a Save vs Chaos.
Now a Save vs Chaos means you get to see what the Spell Collapse will do first, then choose whether you negate it. A small but significant change.
Shout out again to Aura Twilight's chaos magic table which I can't link enough.

Spell Swap now only has a penalty if you're swapping a higher level spell to a lower one, due to the potential magical leakage. You're forcing a larger amount of energy into a less complex spell and the magic might start leaking in around the sides.
Previously you had a penalty equal to the sum of the spell levels, so this is more lenient.
I want it to be slightly risky to swap a spell, but not so risky that I hear people going "nonono!" to a spell swap like the wizard's about to cast a Summon spell.

These Spell Swap rules carry over to other casters.


The Extras

- Added this class

My Extras class is so similar to Manola's original Extras class that it's not worth a class blog post.
The only minor difference is that the "Magic for the Masses" rule applies to all items.
If you've got less than 10 of an item, it can be used once per scene and each takes up a separate Encumbrance slot.
If you've got 10 of an item, it can be used every round and all 10 items take up a single Encumbrance slot.

Two bows means you can fire arrows twice per scene.
Ten bows means you can fire arrows every round.

Two suits of chain armour means you can get Chain AC twice a scene.
Ten suits of chain armour means you have Chain AC at all times.

It's very strange and meta, but that's the Extras in a nutshell!

The Inheritor

- Added this class

Recently detailed in the Inheritor class post.
Eat monsters to steal their abilities and use them against your foes.
Enough of a niche that it doesn't step on other class's toes, and the game's first Inheritor so far has ended up being really interesting!

So that's that. A whole lot of incremental changes that I hopefully won't have a need to fiddle with for a while. Enjoy!