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 Tokens. The more you have, the closer you are to death.
They come in different flavours called Bleed, Pain and Trauma.

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

Each round you have a choice - Stay Down or Tempt Fate
If you choose to Stay Down you do nothing that round, just lie there and keep breathing. You also count as Surprised against all attacks.
If you choose to Tempt Fate you can act as normal. At the end of a round in which you Tempt Fate
roll your class Hit Die, and:
No matter what you rolled, you take damage equal to your Bleed total.
If you roll equal to or less than your Pain total, you faint.
If you roll equal to or less than your Trauma total, you die.

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.
The Stay Down option is an important part as we go into these Poison rules. It means you give up your turn but you stay alive and conscious. It's up to your friends to protect you and heal you.

> You could trivially replace "Pain Tokens" with "Pain Points" or checkboxes on a Pain Track, something that counts up linearly.

With that in mind, here goes:


Poison: Some creatures like ghouls and spiders are poisonous.
Poison is represented by Poison Tokens. These count as Death Tokens, and come in the same three types, ie. Pain Poison knocks you out, Bleed Poison drains HP and Trauma Poison kills you.
The main difference is that Poison Tokens bypass HP and cannot be removed by healing or First Aid.

On your turn you have to choose between Tempt Fate and Stay Down, even if you have HP left.
Even worse, Poison affects you hourly no matter what.
Every hour, Save vs Doom. On success, remove a Poison Token of your choice.
Then roll to Tempt Fate, but apply your Constitution Modifier to the roll. Good luck!

Hopefully that makes sense?

The idea is you get Death Tokens 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.

> For those using some variation on my death and dismemberment rules, Poison Tokens do increase the number of dice characters have to roll on the death table. It's a double downside!

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 Poison Tokens 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 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 Token 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 Tokens 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.

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 Tokens and rolling on the Hack & Slash “On a Table for Avoiding Death”, which is more brutal than it sounds.

Death Tokens: 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 Tokens in a pile in front of you. The more tokens you have, the more fucked up you are. 
When an attack would take you below 0HP, add a white Pain Token to the pile. Then roll 1d6 for every Death Token you have, add the damage you took to the total, and look up the result on the death table. 
Most results give you more Death Tokens, along with short-term penalties and long-term injuries.

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

Encroaching doom: At the end of every round you have Pain Tokens or Trauma Tokens, roll your Hit Die. If it’s equal to or less than your total Pain Tokens you faint, and if it’s equal to or less than your total Trauma Tokens 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 Tokens, see New Skills.

Magical healing removes as many Death Tokens 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 Tokens. This means you can be dying even though you've still got lots of HP.
Poisoned Death Tokens act in the same way as Death Tokens - Pain knocks you out, Bleed drains your health, and Trauma straight up kills you.
Unlike normal Death Tokens, Poisoned Death Tokens 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 Tokens. After every hour you can Save vs Poison to remove a single Poisoned Death Token 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

Update: For an audio version of this article, go to Blogs on Tape!

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?
Edit - it happened

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.

Friday 28 October 2016

Digging Deeper into Lorebonds - Dwarf Subclasses

A sheet of Lorebond effects, bond quests and geasa are here.

The Dwarf is one of these concepts you can't really fuck with. They're solid, both as a species and as a concept.
They're gruff. Short. Husky. Bearded. Live underground. Male. Love mining. All that.

I think this is because there is this same representation of Dwarves across a lot of different media.

D&D Dwarves are Dragon Age Dwarves are Tolkien Dwarves are Movie Tolkien Dwarves are Dwarf Fortress Dwarves and so on and so on.

You can fuck with Elves. There's lots of representations of Elves. Sometimes they're melancholy Tolkien Elves, sometimes they're scary Fey Folk, sometimes they're just a generic D&D race of humans with funny ears and a stat adjustment. You can do a lot with that.

You can fuck with Halflings. The simple reason is that they're not in a lot of different media (pretty much just Tolkien and D&D right?), and they're fucking boring. Small contented farmers who smoke a lot of weed and don't do much. Basically that one room mate you had. Or you, you mongrel.
But Dwarves are Dwarves.
You can extrapolate their architecture.
You can make them tortured artists.
You can make them the only survivors of an unknown cataclysm.
But all those innovations and extrapolations don't mess with the solid core that is Dwarf. Good, solid, dependable Dwarf. Which fits. The concept named "Elf" is ephemeral and alive and strange. The concept named "Dwarf" sits in my mind like a lump of stone.
The spelling of the plural of "Dwarf" flip-flops through my mind like a fish that has somehow learned to jeer, but that's by the by.

The only person I've seen to really push the boundaries of what a Dwarf actually "Is" is Tom over at Middenmurk. Recreating them into avaricious fey. But that feels like "Elf" to me!


The vast majority of Dwarves spend their lives stolidly working, locked into chains of debt. Work satisfies a Dwarf, much as a good book may satisfy a man. At least, that is what a Dwarf might tell you. Of this I may write later.

But this good, solid, honest toil does more than simply satisfy the soul. It serves to quell the pull of the ancient lore-fetters within the flesh and bone and blood. Digging deeper into the Earth prevents a Dwarf digging deeper into themselves.

It is a rare Dwarf who willingly stares into themselves, reaching inside and pulling apart the lore-fetters. These brave, strange souls are forevermore a step removed from Dwarfish society. Respected, perhaps, but never accepted. A class half empty.

Those who abandon the Dwarf holds find themselves at the mercy of these dark temptations. The strange raw emotions of the surface world, the impossible immensity of the sky, the constant thrum of life. Without monotonous, untiring work a Dwarf might find themselves prone to introspection... and that way lies madness.

So How Do They Work?

The original idea comes straight from the wonderful Erik Jensen via Santicore 2013.

Essentially, there are several Lores. These include things like Lore of the Beard, Lore of the Brew and Lore of the Forge.
Each Lore has three tiers. You have to unlock the previous tier before you can advance to the next.
To unlock the Lorebond you have to complete a Quest.
Once a Lorebond is unlocked you are saddled with a Geas.
If you break a Geas you are hit by the associated Curse.

As you progress up the tiers you get better powers, harder quests, trickier geasa, and worse curses.
The idea is you can charge up one Lore which is hard and limiting, or mix and match several lower tier Lorebonds which is easier but less powerful.

You progress every second level, if you wish. Obviously you can just ignore this whole thing if you like.

Bond Society

Lorebonds are a strange mix of embarrassment and pride to the Dwarves.
They influence Dwarfish culture, and different Dwarven cities tend to be associated with a single Lore, and more particularly its Geasa.

The Dwarves of Ur-Barakh are associated with the Lore of the Beard.
They never trim their hair, so wear Sikh-esque turbans and keep their beards in rings.
They soak their beards in milk before they leave the home.
When drinking they leave the end of their beard in their drink, removing it implies they need another. They are taciturn to strangers and are careful to never speak to crowds.
If they have to travel, they carry around a small box of plucked eyebrow hairs in neat bundles.

The Dwarves of Ur-Kalladh are associated with the Lore of the Forge.
They are peaceful and known for their craftmanship. Their tools are always of the highest quality.
They refuse to buy or use tools crafted by anyone but their own.
They each carry a bundle that they swaddle with cloth and keep with them at all times.
If angered, they begin to unwrap the bundle. Inside is a weapon.
Ur-Kalladh Dwarves, when arguing or trading, will swap their weapon bundles and begin unwrapping them while talking. Negotiations are complete when both weapons have been bundled back up. If a weapon is revealed, they must fight to the death.
A Dwarf with a small weapon bundle is confident and daring. A Dwarf with a large one is soft or untrustworthy.

The Dwarves of Ur-Darghab are associated with the Lore of the Stones.
They live deep underground in one of the deepest and darkest Dwarven cities.
If they must come to the surface they wear strange hooded Niqabs and wide-brimmed hats. No part of the Dwarf's skin can be seen. They travel only at night.
They carry semi-precious stones and gems with them wherever they go and swallow one with their food at dinner.
They reclaim these stones after they have passed through their digestive system.
They are targeted by humans, for it is said that they shit diamonds.
Sometimes those who come after them disappear. Bodies have never been found.

Tuesday 6 September 2016

1d100 Retroactive Backstory

Update: Erika Muse/Arivia over at The Ice Queen's Throne has this improved version for Labyrinth Lord. Changes some of the more niche house rules, and removes a questionable reference to the Romani.


I've been working on this off and on for the past couple of months.
The Backstory table is here.

The basic idea is that every time you level up, you roll 1d100 on the Backstory table.
Each has a hopefully-inspirational fragment of backstory and two potential outcomes.
So if you roll a 1, the DM tells you "You got into a confrontation with a bully who was way tougher than you. Did you fight or flee?"

Now the trick here is that the other players at the table decide what your character must have done, based on how your character's been acting in the game thus far. Debate is allowed and encouraged, as is swapping examples of supporting evidence, in this case probably times you stood and fought versus times you turned and ran.

The others come to an agreement or vote or whatever, then you make up a story of what actually happened. Who was the bully? Why did you do what you did?
The story can be as detailed or as sparse as you want, no pressure. Most of my players tied it into their failed career in some way.

Finally you get told what your new ability is! Each outcome of each backstory has its own associated power. In this example, "fight" nets you a +1 to hit vs enemies who have more HD than you, and "flee" grants you a +1 to fleeing rolls.
Score! Now your character is hopefully encouraged to live up to their new backstory.

An old one but there aren't really any better images when you search for "backstory"

This was all, as with damn near everything I ever make these days, chiefly inspired by Arnold K.
Specifically, his lifepath character generation thing.
It's a fairly involved process but at the end of it you have a character who's fleshed out in a way that Bob the Level 1 Fighter isn't.

Trouble is, I love quick char gen with an embarrassingly fiery passion. It's quick to get to the actual playing-the-game part of the game, I can get new players playing quickly, and I don't have to feel too guilty if a PC dies. It's the best.

But another thing is that I already have some light character history at char gen via the failed career table. After their character's finished I ask the question that goes like "So you're a Necromancer who used to be a Bellringer. How'd that happen?" and have actually always received a good answer. The implication's meant to be that before that point they were a boring nobody, at which point they went off to become a Player Character and their life gets Interesting and their character's actual in-game experiences become their backstory.

Which is great and all, but making up the story about How Your Character Got Here is actually really fun! So this retroactive backstory is meant to be a sort of best-of-both-worlds approach. You get quick char gen, but as your character levels up you get to flesh out more backstory.
This also has the neat effect of making your character's personal story grow backwards as well as forwards, and means you sort of learn more about them as you play them. Plus from the DM's side of the table, you can tie current campaign events into backstory you just found out about.

As for the special abilities, many of them are based around my house rules, so you might need to change some of the specifics for your own thing.
Generally they either give you a little stat or skill bump, grant you some sort of conditional bonus, or give you a gimmick you can use once per session. Nothing's meant to be particularly powerful on its own, but some of the once-per-session ones are a bit wacky.
Something that came up in the comments when I posted this was what I meant by "+1 HD" under some of the benefits. It's just intended to be a bonus HD-worth of health until the end of the session, not a full extra level. So a Magic-User gets 1d4 more maximum HP and a Fighter gets 1d8, for example. Not that you have to do the same, of course!

Many of the individual backstory fragments were lifted from the Lifepath generator I mentioned before, and some of the powers were lifted from yet another Arnold post about player-player bonds.

Since I've instigated this thing mid-campaign, each player's been getting a new backstory a week until they catch up with their current level.
This means, unlike most things I post, it's actually been tested extensively as a gimmick. And it's been great!

Currently we've got a Necromancer who attempted to kill the tyrant who ran her village in a convenient bellringing accident, but tragically dropped the bell on her own family instead.
We've got a Cleric whose backstory is basically all centred on his prior "career" as a flagellant, particularly one crazy night at an all-night flagellant rave that got shut down by the local guard.
We've got a Muscle Wizard who was once a member of the Men of the Rooves, a group of shinglers who were part thief and part Robin Hood-style local resistance.
And many more!

So anyway, if you do try it out I'd love to hear how it went.
I'm still fiddling with the table, so if you notice anything bullshit in the abilities or come up with something better for anything definitely let me know!

Wednesday 22 June 2016

Religion for the Masses (aka players who don't want to read all that)

So while I'm pretty stoked about this new religion bollocks, it's a tough sell to hand a player an actual religious pamphlet for an actually definitely fake religion and ask them to make an informed choice about what fake religious denomination they want to be.

Religion pamphlet here.

I'll leave the actual deciding part to players of Clerics. Here's a guide for the masses.

Choosing My Religion

So you’re choosing your character’s faith.
What a decision! You have three options -
A. Roll Randomly
B. Go with whatever the Cleric in the party tells you to do
C. Make an informed decision

Choice A. Roll Randomly
Roll 1d20:
1-9: Loegrianism. There are Nine High Gods and no others.
10-14: Roman Nonanism. There are Nine High Gods and there are Low Gods who serve them.
15-17: Denialism. There is One True God.
18: Unorthodoxy. The Nine High Gods each have an alignment, from Lawful Good to Chaotic Evil.
19-20: Termaxianism. The Gods are too distracted by the Final Battle for All Creation to watch us.

Choice B. Go with whatever the Cleric in the party tells you to do
Hey man, he’s the religious leader here. His unique spell will affect you differently depending on what your faith is.
If it helps, here’s a table showing how the faiths interact.
Blank means the spell has the regular GOOD EFFECT on you.
Smiley faces mean the spell has some EXTRA GOOD EFFECT on you.
Frowny faces mean the spell has NO EFFECT or a NEGATIVE EFFECT on you.

If there are Clerics of more than one faith in the party, it might be wise to pick something that works for both of them.
You →
Cleric ↓

Choice C. Make an informed decision