Wednesday 20 August 2014

So you’re running Better Than Any Man.

There’s not much point reviewing Better Than Any Man. The best thing at Free RPG Day 2013, one of the best products LotFP’s ever put out, chock full of stuff, yada yada.
It’s free and good for 10 or more sessions of adventuring. That’s some damn good bang for buck.

And it's the best intro to LotFP out there.

I’d run sandboxes before, but nothing this dense. BTAM is now my model for my world map at the local scale. It’s actually pretty small compared to my big six mile hexes but it’s absolutely filled with stuff to do, and at it never feels small. Everything is close enough to the hub city for a day trip which is actually a really nice way to do it.
Alright, so you’ve got your hands on Better Than Any Man. You’ve got your hands on the free pdf of the long-windedly named Lamentations of the Flame Princess: Weird Fantasy Roleplaying. You’re all set.

Here are some things that you need to know that aren’t explicit:

Monster HD = Attack Bonus. This rule is, bafflingly, only found in the referee book despite the referee book being unavailable and the rule being entirely crucial to gameplay. The referee book is not free and at time of writing is not even available since Raggi’s publishing a new one soon-ish.
Similarly, this is one of the reasons why some monsters have “2 Hit Dice (but with hit points of an 8 hit dice creature)” and similar which is confusing otherwise. It’s got 8HD-worth of hit points, but only attacks at a +2. The other reason is that they count as 2HD for things like Sleep spells which use hit dice to determine spell impact.
Also, if you were using Labyrinth Lord this is the HD you’d use on the attack matrix.
Encumbrance is simple but brutal. I was (and still am, truthfully) running off of the assumption that everything non-weaponry with the same name just goes into the same slot. Torch x3 or whatever.
Turns out that everything non-italicised in the equipment list, from rations to torches, each take up a separate slot. Harsh! They can likely obtain some porters somehow though, if only by promise of a better life and a share in the loot.
Considering the time limit on staying in the region, healing rates as written are very (or maybe, “realistically”) low. Chances are the characters won’t be able to rest up enough to get to maximum HP if they’re planning on getting anything done, especially if they have no Cleric support. I have house rules to bridge the gap (a First Aid skill and eating a ration healing d6 HP 1/day), but if you’re set on running LotFP as written keep this in mind.
Only a few hexes across but man, so packed.
Here’s a grab bag of things I added or changed:
Waking up in a dungeon is the best way to begin any adventure. Some shithead said that.
Rather than just wandering in from a map edge, the players wake up in the torture chamber under Goblin Hill. They are locals from the village of Thüngen who had been captured recently by the Bürgerfriedensmiliz. There is a single guard in the room distracted by the smells wafting from the kitchen. Their starting equipment is in the smaller cage in the room, and one of them has loose manacles. If there’s a demihuman in the party it’s them because the manacles don’t fit their wrists properly.
This isn’t meant to be a challenge to get out of, it’s just an initial setup, but waking up in chains means that the players have time to ask questions.  and build up an idea of what the room looks like and discuss their plans when the guard leaves the room briefly to grab some eyeball broth or whatever. It also means that they have a concrete reason to join up and stick together.

I expanded the random encounters into a larger encounter grid as seen here.
When people enter a village (“Entering a village should probably trigger an automatic encounter”) subtract 3 from the d6 roll, so they’ll find either spoor, a lair, or more commonly the thing itself.

As described in that post, I fantasy-ised the general early modern feel.
The Swedish became an army of demons.
Jews became Halflings.
Muslims became Dwarves.

The Watcher’s Detect Weapons spell only picks up objects that have been used in anger. Chiefly because the players had already been rejected from Karlstadt once and I wanted to let them in, but also because it neatly solves issues involving whether something counts as a weapon or not.
The Defiler’s creature as written sucks a person into their own personal sub-reality and fights their own creature tree. Fuck that, everyone goes down to the same layer. It was a heap of fun with people diving down the creature’s throat to save their friend and bring them back up a level. Make sure you make a foghorn-like BRAAAAAAAMMM sound every time someone goes deeper. The “real” creature fumbled and ate the Defiler herself at one point which was excellent, and to add insult to injury she’d just informed them that anyone who’s inside when it’s killed is lost forever.
Another thing about the Defiler’s creature – anything pushed into the creature’s second mouth (the one that recites the Canterbury tales) makes the object appear in the next sub-reality down but huge. They were nearly crushed by the Defiler’s spellbook at one point.
Beating the Joy at sex (or completing most of her increasingly seedy “missions”) means making an opposed roll, roll highest while staying below your stat as per house rules. You can use any stat you want so long as you can describe what you’re doing to make it relevant. Hee hee.
Up in Hammelburg there is a man who will pay good money (500sp) for help getting a pallet of his best wine out of the country. Payable once he's sold off his goods, of course. This is mainly because I wanted them to move off East to my main campaign map and the river goes there (heh heh heh). Incidentally, there’s a boat on the river and it’s not his…
Willibald Schwartz and Thungen’s “vampire” problem, which I expanded upon and might post some other time (basic gist at the end of this post), were relocated to Werneck. The players had never approached Willibald’s Mound and never encountered the glass tiger or even heard of the guy, so it felt legit to shift him around. Nothing’s canon until the players encounter it after all.
He made a great red herring. Crazy old wizard guy with a glass tiger meant that the player’s dominant vampire theory (until they found out the real culprit) was that the glass tiger was going and murdering people without Willibald’s knowledge.
Gunther Mohl the bandit chief in the Abandoned Farmhouse wore chainmail and had a big ol’ greatsword and 14 strength. He scared the shit out of the players, especially since I’ve got a house rule where great weapons add strength bonus to damage. The bandits also used the farmhouse-barn route to flank and disappear and just be generally tricksy in combat.

Some highlights from when I ran it:
Initial party of two (a dwarf and a necromancer) escaped easily from Goblin Hill. The necromancer had never played before. After the dwarf slipped his manacles and knocked out the guard, the necromancer showed good old school thinking and stole the guard’s cultist robes. She snuck the Dwarf out under the pretence she was moving the prisoner and they escaped.
That very same session, the Dwarf had his kidney forcibly removed by a giant rhinoceros beetle.
The Joy’s brothel/tavern became the de facto home of the adventurers. One of their number spent every night with the Joy and impressed her to such an extent that she later joined the party as a henchman.
The chief bandit in the Abandoned Farmhouse was judged “way OP” in his chain and greatsword. They eventually got him by wrapping a glue-soaked carpet around him then setting him alight, before diving into the cellar to escape the flames. Old Man Braasch the zombie horror was a nice surprise just when they thought they were safe. Purging things with fire, predictably, became something of a theme.
Attempting to cut off a lock of the Defiler’s hair as per one of the Joy’s challenges led to a long and mindbending fight through multiple internal realities at the hands (or rather, mouths) of the Defiler’s creature. The Defiler herself getting swallowed by one of the Creature’s fumbles was the icing on the cake.
On a related but unrelated-to-BTAM note, this was also the inaugural session of my new crit and fumble tables and they worked magnificently. A barbarian had shown up for this session only, and he managed to chain a fumble into a crit against himself and keep going about 5 times. He would have disembowled himself had I not gone soft and let him get tied up in his own no-damage mancatcher instead.
A raid on Goblin Hill to kill the Mother led to a variety of horror. The people in the kitchen had Sleep cast upon them, and following several minutes of furious debate over the morality of killing children even though they are cannibals, our heroes chopped the heads off of all the kids, branded them, and lined them up as a “warning”. In order to keep the other cultists occupied, the chefs were “spatchcocked” and artfully sewn together in a horrific meaty confection and carried out into the dining room to applause.
In that same raid they captured a war-ant (some of whose legs were later stolen by the Mother’s creature) and the Mother herself was instakilled by a critical Sneak Attack which dealt a full 24 damage.
The ensuing escape from her enraged Creature in the next session ended up giving people multiple new limbs. Later, when the wizard had finally managed to get his new knee-arm under control, he used it to dual-wield both a bow and a flail.
Finally, in the twelfth session of BTAM-based gameplay, they successfully sailed a river barge full of wine off the map. Two characters, after surviving everything BTAM had to throw at them, died upon contact with A Single Small Cut. God rest their souls.

 Rating: 11 1/2 sessions of gameplay.

Thursday 7 August 2014

Spells of the Stargazer

One of my players had to depart for a few weeks. They'd finished the Tower of the Stargazer (by freeing the wizard) so he asked if he sign up to be Calcidius' apprentice as a convenient excuse for his absence.

I thought I'd make a little book of low level stars-and-fate themed spells for his trouble, so here they are. If you ever run the Tower feel free to give them to Calcidius himself!

This spellbook is:
Written on vellum and bound in wood. On the cover is carved an image of the solar system with sun and planets represented by glass beads. While you never see it move, it is always accurate.

Spells contained herein:
Level 1
Level 2
Summon Zodiac


Find the latitude of a stated person or location.

Count the number of stated things in a given area. The stated thing must be one word and the given area must be unambiguous lest the spell fail.

You or someone you touch has their light sensitivity increased dramatically. Great for stargazing and seeing in the dark, but light sources are literally blinding. Unwilling targets get a save. Lasts 1 turn.

See six seconds into the future. You can effectively rewind everything that happens on the round in which you cast this spell, should you wish it.

Summon Zodiac
Summon an avatar of the Zodiac which will obey your commands. Lasts 1 turn.
Elucidations on these spells:
Astrolabe fits my magical MO perfectly. On the surface it's fairly useless ("just latitude?! What use is that?!") but you could probably find some ways to exploit it, like you know a guy is in one of two cities and you can narrow it down.
Of course you can also use it like a real astrolabe by making your way to the latitude of a city and heading straight east or west until you arrive.
Enumerate is because Nadav Ben Dov has divination magic in his game and he reckons knowing something like the number of dudes in a building is super powerful. Courtney's got the Diviner wizard in Numenhalla too (sup Mad Bill) which is cool because he finds out cash and monster HD totals in the places we're heading so we know what to expect.
Anyway - exploitable, good for counting coins but useful for much much more, fits the Stargazer theme because he obviously used this to ask "How many stars are in the sky?".

Starsight is because I was thinking of light pollution and how many stars I could see in the Australian outback and when I spent the night in the middle of the ocean on the Barrier Reef. So many stars.
Multipurpose because it lets you see in the dark and you can use it on enemies to blind them. When I got laser eye surgery I was incredibly light sensitive despite them giving me super dark almost-opaque goggles, to the extent that the tiniest crack in the curtains caused me immense pain. That's what this is like if you're looking at anything brighter than starshine.

Precognition is a gimmick I spent a while trying to work out. Stars and fate and all that. Main influence was the 13 second rewind in Galaxy Quest if I'm honest. If you haven't seen galaxy Quest what is wrong with you.
Should be a fun mechanic because people can take a risk and see what happens. Walk into traps and kill themselves, get a second chance at not being squashed by the bog horror, that sort of thing. I have high hopes. My game rewards cautious players so it will be good to see what happens when they've got reason to be reckless.
And six seconds is enough for someone to activate something and the wizard to see only the very beginning of the impact. Gas starts flowing out of the pipes. Is it bad gas or good gas? Do I rewind or do I risk it? Such decisions!

Summon Zodiac, finally, is intentionally written vaguely so the actual mechanics will need a bit of testing by the player.
What it actually does is summon the creature (or thing, in the case of the scales) associated with whatever star sign the sun is currently in. Some months you get a lion, other months you just get a stupid crab. Not even a giant crab, a regular crab. It's always a high quality thing at least and can hit creatures immune to mundane weapons so you'd better keep your fish throwin' arm strong.
The other gimmick is that it's not the astrological Zodiac, it's the actual astronomical Zodiac (use the IAU numbers), so the months are all out of whack and there's Ophiuchus the Snake-Bearer in there and Scorpio's only around for 7 days and all the rest. Should be amusing from my end at least.

Friday 1 August 2014

How to run a Raggi.

So there’s been a fair amount of stuff around of late about Negadungeons and the use thereof, with Death Frost Doom being the ultimate example. You have no reason to go deeper, and yet you do in the hopes there's something at the end.
Raggi Screwjobs are a slightly different genre, God That Crawls is a Raggi Screwjob but isn't a negadungeon. Going deeper does not damn you and unleash unspeakable evils, and there is a fuck ton of treasure down there let me tell you, but once you're in you're not getting out in a hurry. Raggi is screwing your players, but isn't screwing your campaign world.
I’ve run a bunch of them now and have made my share of mistakes, so I feel like I have some authority with the subject matter. For instance, don't be drunk when you run the God That Crawls.
Alright, so first thing to know about Raggi Screwjobs/Negadungeons is that you can’t just throw these at people and expect them to stick. “This is the adventure today, chaps” is not how you go about this. That’s just being a dick. Here's an old blog post of Tao fucking up royally by doing just this and to be fair he'd never seen a Raggi Screwjob before and so hadn't prepared properly.
The bit at the beginning of the God That Crawls about how to railroad people into the dungeon? Trash. Nobody’s going to believe a priest who asks them to jump down a hole. You can’t trust bishops, everyone knows that. They move in diagonals. And worse, it feels really fucking unfair. You can't laugh at players for going down a hole if you forced them in there in the first place. Same with Death Frost Doom, anybody in their right mind will see the horrible trees and the swirling mists and the faint cries of the souls of the dead and go “fuck that I’m outta here”.
No, the whole point is to make them want to go there themselves. They should get to the church and fucking leap down that hole with slime at the bottom. They should see the abandoned inn and go “shit yes, this is the trapmaster’s place we’ve heard about, got the map? Let’s go in”. They should hear about the magical mystery house on the hill and go “Sure, Derleth Lovedoom’s mansion sounds like a great night out, lets do that”.
You've got to get them committed.

And that starts many sessions before the negadungeon.
Jack Mack goes into it a bit here. See, the whole point of a Raggi Screwjob is that it's a reversal of the status quo. It's weird because the regular dungeons are normal and non-hateful, or at least not actively trying to fuck the players over. You can't do a LotFP campaign of Raggi module after Raggi module because your players will never trust you with anything ever again. It's like filling every room and hallway in every dungeon with a Grimtooth trap. Sooner or later they're just not going to bite.
There's that thing where you should make sure the vast majority of NPCs the players meet are honest, truthful people so that the one guy who betrays them is a surprise, not the norm.
So in the same way you should make the majority of dungeons honest, truthful dungeons with fabulous cash prizes and mysteries to solve and depths to delve and traps to die to and weird monsters to avoid and all that good stuff, so that when they get to a Raggi dungeon they're like "Fuck yea! Dungeon! Let's see what's in here!"
If they're not in a mindset where they think all dungeons contain a whole lot of treasure they'll never keep going deeper into the mountain in the hopes of finding the one haul that will make this all worth it.
If you're throwing Raggi Screwjob after Raggi Screwjob at the players they will start telling you to fuck off, and worse, get wise to it and stop fucking touching everything.
So here's some things to do first.
Start with something else 
Don't begin your campaign with a Raggi Screwjob. That's going to set the tone forever and make it much harder to screw the players again.
Better Than Any Man does this perfectly. Weird shit for the LotFP vibe, but the dungeons aren't screwjobs except for the insect god's home and who the fuck has ever managed to get there? Regular dungeon crawling can be deadly so long as you're not fucking them around every corner. Start them with BTAM and throw in a few negadungeons later once they've left the area to spice things up.
Place the locale on your campaign map.
Put it down somewhere. If you're not doing a sandbox it's time to put down the Raggi module and pick up an Adventure Path and never darken my doorstep again. The players have to be in control of their decision to seek the place out, otherwise you're being a dick.
This is why the God That Crawls advice is trash. Priest throws you down the pit by hook or by crook and you've been fucked over with no choice in the matter other than "let's check out this church". My players Charm Person'd the guy and he told them everything and they still went down the pit. That's commitment.
And for god's sake, if you're trying to bait people into the Scarecrow module make sure it's in an area with lots of beautiful swaying corn so they're not immediately suspicious. One day I will bait someone in there. One day.
Put it on your rumour table
Put a bunch of rumours and shit around it. "The Church at place has an underground complex full of demonic artifacts! It's gotta be the biggest black library in the world!" really sold my guys on God That Crawls, "Mr Foxlowe, a rich trader, hasn't been seen for months, his house stands unguarded" got people champing at the bit to raid Death Love Doom, and the Cleric was super pleased to hear his party god's mug of infinite beer was rumoured to be up Mt. Death Frost.
Add impetus. Bait them there in the same way you bait them towards regular dungeons. Raggi Screwjobs are like spiderwebs, they wait for the fly to come to them. That way it's technically the player's fault, even if they didn't know it was going to be a player fucker going in.
Touching stuff should usually be good
You know how touching stuff in a negadungeon is usually bad? Only effective if touching stuff is usually good. Not to say that your regular dungeons shouldn't have bad-to-touch stuff in them, put mysterious magic fountains and cursed stuff in there as much as you want, just balance that shit out. In a similar vein, if you're running a campaign I'd put Tower of the Stargazer post-BTAM rather than as a starter adventure. It's very good, but there aren't any people to talk to other than the plainly evil wizard who tries to betray them from the very beginning and there's something about save or die doorknobs that makes people not want to touch anything with their hands ever again.
Use encumbrance and stuff before they get there
If you foist encumbrance and movement-per-turn and light source penalties on the players only when it matters, like God That Crawls, they'll know something's up. Same with Death Frost Doom - if you're never rolling for wandering monsters in a regular dungeon they won't be spooked by the silence. And if they don't have that mild but insistent worry about light sources burning out they won't be scared of the dark and careful to make sure they know where the exit is.

You're all in this together
Once they're inside, take off the blinders. If they go "what the fuck" say "yea I know, what the fuck". You can safely deflect blame. You're with them in this now. If the players get fucked over it's not you, it's the module. "Yeesh, sorry about this guys, er so you touch the thing and - ".
This is especially important in Death Love Doom where reading things all cold-dispassionate and being disgusted with them (not at them) is part of the fun.
Not that you'd give the game away or tell them the way out, of course. You've got standards to maintain.