Thursday, September 27, 2012

On the Spacing of Pitons

Someone on grognards.txt writes: "I've had a DM ask me how far apart I'm spacing my pitons before."

And yes, this is dumb and groggy and pixelbitching. But only because there are no mechanisms in the game to give piton spacing mechanical weight, nor to limit the use of pitons in order to make it an interesting choice.

If there were rules to govern how likely you are to fall off while climbing, with the chance increasing the further you space your pitons; and limitations on spending money and inventory space that made pitons a real resource; and restrictions on time that made it important to decide whether you're leaving your pitons in or removing them as you go...

Then, the spacing of pitons would be an interesting decision to make.

I'm not really talking about D&D here. Pitons are totally trivial in D&D because even a starting character can probably buy an arbitrary number of them, and the wealth is only going to go up from there. Furthermore, there isn't enough climbing in a standard D&D game for a piton-related rule to be worth bothering with.

What I'm really dreaming of is an entirely new game, although it could rely on a very stripped-down core of AD&D as its base, if only because that's what I and other nerds are familiar with. But in this new game, all the stupid timewasting, pixelbitching questions that shitty DMs ask of their players would be transformed into actually interesting dilemmas. You could call it a second-gen retroclone if you like, in that it's realising the unfulfilled promise of something in the original game. Lamentations of the Flame Princess realises the promise of horror; DCC, the promise of sword & sorcery; ACKS, the promise of detailed domain level play. This game will realise the promise that's implied by an equipment list containing pitons, torches, tinderboxes and rope by the foot: a game of resource management, of scraping by with what little you have, of trying to start a campfire in the rain.

Pitons are just the tip of the iceberg. Here are some other mechanics that might be interesting:

- Setting camp: Where are you camping? Do you want to light a fire? What if it attracts monsters? Can you survive the cold? Do you want to cook your food? Can you build a break to hide the firelight?
- Dungeon exploration: do you have enough torches?* How long have you been down here? Can you find your way back out? How will you cross underground rivers, climb down shafts, traverse narrow ledges?
- Eating: How much food do you have? How far to the next town, and how will you pay for meals there? Can you hunt?
- Weather: Is it going to rain, snow, shine? How will that affect your chances of survival? Did you pack  warm clothes?
- Inventory Management: If anything I would like to go out the far side of the spectrum and make the encumbrance system unrealistically punishing, so that you really have to consider what you want to take with you. Of course you can get porters, mules, etc. but they all come with their own set of challenges.
- Endurance: Walking, suffering cold or heat, eating, sleeping, warming yourself by the fire - all these things and more can affect your levels of energy. These energy levels are what replace your HP in standard D&D. If you're fit and well-rested, you have plenty of HP to spare when danger arises. If you're tired and bedraggled, you'll go down like a 1st-level wizard to a housecat.
- Injury: When danger does arise, and you don't have enough HP to evade danger, you are going to suffer serious and lasting injuries. A character who's been hurt previously may be a drain on the whole party's resources. Then the whispers begin: "We'd be better off without him..."

This game would be a challenge to design. On the one hand, it's intended that dealing with encumbrance limits and weather tables is now a key part of the game, not just stupid bullshit you have to deal with before diving into the dungeon. However, at the same time you want to streamline a lot of these mechanics so that the resource management section of the game is actually fun and dynamic. Striking a balance would be difficult.

Other things that would flow on into the rest of the game:
- Monsters, even low-level ones, are an extremely serious threat. If you picture the boss monster as D&D's "major threat" and the wandering mobs as "minor threats" - well in this game the environment itself is the "minor threat", and even a wandering monster is a "major threat". To reflect this, the setting would be much less monster-dense than regular D&D. Instead of table after table of wandering monsters, you could threaten the PCs with a wilderness area inhabited by nothing but wild animals and a single troll. Giants or dragons would be the upper limits of what PCs could hope to face, while things like demons and liches probably just don't exist.
in this game, lembas bread is OP as shit
- Because of this, you can play up the dangers of the environment much more. Death by falling from a cliff, starving, freezing, eating poison mushrooms, being dragged off by hungry wolves, etc. are all serious possibilities.
- All-new classes would be required. Can you imagine a Vancian Wizard in this game? Even if they weren't going to break the whole thing with their 2nd & 3rd level spells, it just doesn't fit the flavour. Magic-Users, such as they are, would be something more akin to druids or shamans, with low-key mystical knacks rather than flashy spells. Other classes might be: Fighter (remember, there's a lot less fighting going on than in a regular D&D game) Hunter/Ranger, Healer (non-magical), and perhaps some kind of 'foreman' to preside over issues of inventory and organisation? In fact, perhaps a freeform skill system would be better.
- Urban adventures wouldn't really work; it's got to be uncharted wilderness for the restrictions on resources to become meaningful. The implied setting for this game would be vast, wild and largely empty - the "howling emptiness of AD&D" turned up to eleven.
- Strangely, extraplanar adventures and other gonzo environments might actually work if you focused on the environment itself as the danger, while keeping the monsters to a reasonable level. How do you adventure on the Plane of Fire when it's not just handwaved with everyone getting a Ring of Fire Resistance?

*Apparently some people deal with this problem already in D&D, but I can't really see how it ever becomes relevant unless a) the players simply forget to pay a handful of silver pieces for a roll of torches or b) some sort of Grinding Gear scenario where you're stuck in the dungeon for an unreasonably long time.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Old school classes from 4E: The Warlord

Warlords are awesome and if you disagree then fuck you. If you neither agree nor disagree but don't know what a warlord is, then listen up. A warlord is a fighter who leads the party with his inspiring words and superb tactics. Warlords are commonly found laying out sweet strategems, maneuvering their allies into position, or shouting at wimps who complain that they "can't fight with this sucking gut wound". Warlords were previously available only in 4E, but fortunately for you I have just made you a Warlord class for Basic/1E so you have no excuse not to be a Warlord now.

(Note: A warlord isn't necessarily a commander of a huge army, at least not until name level. They're more like a tactician who commands an elite squad, i.e. the PC party. Some people have wanted to change the warlord's name to something like 'Marshal' or 'Battle Tactician' to reflect this. However, those people and their wimpy names have been destroyed by the badassery of the name WARLORD.)

Hit die: d8
Attack Bonus: +1 (LotFP) or as Cleric
Saving throws: As Fighter
XP Progression: As Fighter

Warlords demand absolute dedication from their allies in battle. This doesn't mean the other players have to obey everything the Warlord tells them to do, it just means that when the Warlord says jump, your character trusts him enough to know that there must be a knee-high buzzsaw approaching or suchlike. To establish this trust, the Warlord must spend ten minutes talking to any new party members. There cannot be more than one Warlord in a party - if there are, then their orders confuse each other and the Warlords' abilities are all negated. The Warlord cannot command a group of people larger than the Warlord's Charisma (until 9th level - see below.)

Warlords can spend a standard action to use a Command, which is a catch-all term for various speeches, orders, battle-cries, etc. that have the power to turn the tide of battle. The Warlord can use one Command per level per encounter - the focus required for this sort of tactical thinking and charismatic oration is very mentally draining.
Commands only work on allies who are conscious and can understand the Warlord. They also need to be within 30' or the command is too faint or garbled to be heard.

Pick one Command at 1st level and one other at each odd-numbered level thereafter:

Invigorating Command: The warlord inspires one ally to fight on through the pain, giving them 1d6 temporary hit points (last until the end of the encounter or 1 turn). 7th Level: 1d6+level hitpoints, and if the ally is unconscious, you can use this to slap them awake.
"Come on, we just need you to hold the line for a little longer!"
"Maggot! Did I give you permission to die? Get back on your feet!"

Inspiring Command: The warlord brings one ally back from the brink of terror and defeat, allowing them to reroll a failed morale check or saving throw vs. fear. This command can be used as a reaction (i.e. on the turn of the person failing the save or morale check.) 7th level: Can grant all allies a rerolled morale check, OR grant one ally a rerolled save against domination, confusion, or other mental effects.
"Hold steady, men, this isn't over yet!"
"Fight him, my brother! Don't let the evil magic control your mind!"

Warning Command: The warlord warns one ally of an incoming attack, granting them a +4 bonus to AC for one round against the next attack from a designated enemy. 7th level: The warlord predicts every attack just before it happens, granting the bonus against all incoming attacks in the next round.
"Eeek! Look out behind you!"
"Take two steps to the left... now."

admittedly, non-dorky pictures of Warlords are somewhat hard to find
Analysing Command: The warlord points out a weak spot in the enemy's armour or their posture, allowing one ally to gain a +2 bonus to hit and damage against that enemy on their next attack. 7th level: All allies gain the bonus against that enemy for one round.
"There's a chink in his armour, just above the breastplate."
"Hey fatso! (Quick, I've got his attention, stab him in the ass!)"

Tactical Command: The warlord sees an opening in the flow of battle and orders one ally into it, granting them an extra action. 7th level: This Command, and the extra action it grants, can be used before initiative is rolled.
"Do it now, while the way is still clear!"
"Everything's going according to plan."

Threatening Command: The warlord makes a terrifying threat toward one enemy, forcing them to make a morale check. This doesn't work against obviously fearless creatures (constructs, undead, etc.) but it does work against enemies who don't speak the warlord's language. 7th level: All enemies in range must make a morale check.
"I've killed a thousand of your kind in dingy caverns just like this one. What makes you think you'll be any different?"

just imagine the warlord in this picture is less "here we see Specimen A, the manticore" and more "KILL  THAT FUCKER YOU BEAUTIFUL BASTARDS"

At 9th level, the Warlord gains the ability to command an army of up to 1000 soldiers per level. Everyone in the army is considered to be an ally for the purposes of Commands, though the effects will still be limited by the 30' radius. Furthermore, the Warlord's Commands can now also be used as Gambits - essentially the same thing but on a battlefield scale. For example, a Tactical Gambit could be used to steal a march on the enemy, an Analysing Gambit could maneuver a unit into position to flank, etc. DM fiat/negotiation will be required here since there is no formal system for mass combat in D&D, but try to fit it into whatever mass combat system you're using.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Latin American Adventures

He explored every inch of the region, even the riverbed, dragging the two iron ingots along and reciting Melquíades' incantation aloud. The only thing he succeeded in doing was to unearth a suit of fifteenth-century armor which had all of its pieces soldered together with rust and inside of which there was the hollow resonance of an enormous stone-filled gourd. When José Arcadio Buendía and the four men of his expedition managed to take the armor apart, they found inside it a calcified skeleton with a copper locket containing a woman's hair around its neck.
- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

My devil makes me dream like no other mortal dreams
With a blank eyed corner
The only way to see him in the tunnel where he slept
By the longest tusk of corridors, numb below the neck
In my heart
Where he keeps them in a vault of devil daughters

- The Mars Volta, 'With Twilight As My Guide'

Like all men of the Library, I have traveled in my youth; I have wandered in search of a book, perhaps the catalogue of catalogues; now that my eyes can hardly decipher what I write, I am preparing to die just a few leagues from the hexagon in which I was born. Once I am dead, there will be no lack of pious hands to throw me over the railing; my grave will be the fathomless air; my body will sink endlessly and decay and dissolve in the wind generated by the fall, which is infinite.
- Jorge  Luis Borges, The Library of Babel

The people of Cozumel had long experience of accommodating outsiders who came in peace, as the island was sacred to the Maya goddess Ix Chel, and her shrine was a place of pilgrimage for the mainland Maya. A peculiarly treacherous current running in the narrow sea between mainland and island was a further barrier to violent invasion. Certainly Naum Pat and his people enjoyed immunity from the endemic Indian warfare which constituted normal relations between the mainland provinces, and saw themselves as outside the Maya political arena.
- Inga Clendinnen, Ambivalent Conquests: Maya and Spaniard in Yucatan  1517-1570

The one called Ah Chable they crucified and they nailed him to a great cross made for the purpose, and they put him on the cross alive and nailed his hands with two nails and tied his feet... And after he was crucified they raised the cross on high and the said boy was crying out, and so they held it on high, and then they lowered it, ... [and] they took out his heart. And the ah-kines gave a sermon telling them that it was good what they must do, and that through adoring those gods they would be saved, and that they should not believe that which the friars used to say to them.
- Testimony of Pedro Huhul of Kanchunup, 17 August 1562

Terrified, exhausted by her fate, Visitación recognised in those eyes the symptoms of the sickness whose threat had obliged her and her brother to exile themselves forever from an age-old kingdom where they had been prince and princess. It was the insomnia plague.
- One Hundred Years of Solitude

La Tunda is a myth of the Colombian Pacific region, and particularly in the afro-American community, about a vampire-like monster woman that lures people into the forests and keeps them there. Sometimes it appears in the form of a loved one, as the likeness of a child's mother, who would lure him into the forest and feed its victim with shrimps she has farted upon (camarones peídos) to keep her victims docile in some kind of trance. 

Tezcatlipoca, Smoking Mirror, We are his Slaves, He by whom we live, Enemy of Both Sides, Lord of the Near and the Nigh, Night, Wind, Two Reed, Possessor of the Sky and Earth
The light was so weak at noon that when Pelayo was coming back to the house after throwing away the crabs, it was hard for him to see what it was that was moving and groaning in the rear of the courtyard. He had to go very close to see that it was an old man, a very old man, lying face down in the mud, who, in spite of his tremendous efforts, couldn't get up, impeded by his enormous wings.
- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Githzerai are awesome

So I feel like githzerai don't get a lot of love from D&D players, at least old school D&D players, and with some fair reason. The githyanki were originally some crazy alien race from the Fiend Folio who didn't really have much definition beyond a cool illustration and something something goblins from outer space. But they were evil. And we all know it is perfectly righteous to despise anything that takes evil D&D monsters and gives them a way to be good guys, all because some player said "I want to play as one of those!"

good art is hard to find also

However, if you try to forget the history of the gith and just look at them as they are today, they are an awesome concept for a race. I don't know when exactly the idea was conceived of them having been former slaves of the illithids, but it gives both strands of the gith a depth of history that other demihumans generally don't have. A whole race of slaves! Possibly brought from a distant world, or possibly created from scratch through unholy alchemy! Like the Jews in Egypt, but with mad psychic powers. The gith should be defined by their interactions with the illithids.

The second thing that's cool about them is the duality of the two races. Drizzt Do'Urden is kind of lame because he's just one guy who rebels against his evil society and is really obviously somebody's PC. But the githyanki and the githzerai are each a discrete race and culture, each a dark mirror of the other, which I like. The githzerai are monastic and severe because they're trying to expiate their horrible past as slaves of the mind flayers. The githyanki, on the other hand, survive by embracing that brutality. A githyanki is just a githzerai who gave up the constant struggle for discipline, and vice versa.

and of illithids, tbh. it's hard to find that sweet spot between 4E's glowing ninjas and AD&D's terrible newspaper cartoon

I don't know how much this has been explored already in official D&D materials, but I like the idea that the brutal githyanki represent what the gith were like under the control of the mind flayers. They were the illithid empire's secret weapon and shock troops, sailing out in fleets of voidships to lay waste to entire worlds (or planes, or whatever, depending on your cosmology). The githyanki are now their own masters, but other than that they haven't changed much. But the githzerai are taking up the greater existential challenge of redeeming their race. You could say that they're trying to get back to the Edenic state they were in on their homeworld before the illithids found them and shaped them into a race of war. On the other hand, I also like the idea of them being created through bio-magic because then they have an even greater void to overcome - there is no template for a good gith, they just have to make it up for themselves, piece by difficult piece. Nietzschean, man!

I love the githzerai so much that I'm getting excited about an all-githzerai campaign. Possibly you could invent different 'castes' which equate to races, so that the players wouldn't be stuck being forced to pick only one race for every PC. The thing is that, as I outlined above, the most interesting things about the githzerai only emerge when you see them from the inside. If a bald green dude just turns up and is all "look at my enormous wisdom and my psychic powers, also a long time ago my people were enslaved and it was all angsty, for real" then the players will most likely be like "whatever, just give me the quest". This probably goes for NPCs and githzerai PCs within a party of other characters from the Prime Material Plane. But if everyone is a githzerai, you have more motivation to explore their interesting traits and their relationships with the mind flayers and the githyanki.

So what would a githzerai campaign revolve around? How about the most dramatic event in all of gith history - the escape from the illithid empire. There is probably a bunch of canon about how this occurred but of course I'm going to ignore that and make up my own. Why would I be interested in something another person thought of when I can think things myself. And what I think of is an enormous voidship, with thousands upon thousands of githzerai refugees, travelling between the planes. The campaign begins with the gith overthrowing their masters and escaping aboard two vast generation ships. In one ship are those who will become the githzerai, in the other are those who will be githyanki, and they soon go their separate ways. Each ship must stay in transit, a la Battlestar Galactica, to avoid the pursuit of the still-extant illithid empire.

this is my favourite gith picture. space pirates!
After the initial setup phase, the PCs are free to do whatever they want. Will they try to find a place for the voidship to rest and found a secret colony? Will they fight against the brutality of their githyanki brethren? Will they challenge the might of the illithids themselves? Adventure!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

20 Questions about Hogwarts

What is the deal with my cleric's religion?
I already answered this...! Ok, but in a short explanation: if you worship the New Messiah, it's pretty similar to Christianity but with a messiah who lived around the time of the cataclysm and is now stuck in the realm between life and death. If you worship one of the Four Gods, you're more of a barefooted pagan type, and you have a particular holy site related to your god (none of which are particularly accessible or nice places).

Where can we go to buy standard equipment?
The village of Hogsmeade is outfitted to service adventurers ever since the delvers started arriving at Hogwarts. Further afield, there's usually a market for weapons and armour in each walled town or fortified House.

Where can we go to get platemail custom fitted for this monster I just befriended?
If you have a Goblin in your party, they can custom-fit it for you right there in the dungeon, so long as they've got the raw materials. Otherwise you'll want to seek out Inganok the Intemperate, one of the few goblins dwelling in Hogsmeade. Despite her abrasive personality, she's the best smith from here to New Gringotts, and nobody knows if New Gringotts even exists.

Who is the mightiest wizard in the land?
The mightiest human wizard is probably Pravin Patil, current patriarch of the House of Ravenclaw. Presiding over the closest thing that the modern world has to a wizarding college, his knowledge of arcane lore is unmatched. However, in raw power he might well be challenged by the mysterious Lich Lord, an immortal undead horror who rules a city-state in the northwest. They've never tested their powers against each other and nobody is going to encourage them to.

Who is the greatest warrior in the land?
Typheus Malfoy, the eldest scion of the ruling family in the House of Slytherin, is reputed to be the greatest duellist in the land. He is also notorious for his brutality towards free-elves, goblins and mudblood humans. Another contender for the title of 'greatest' would be Croesus Carrow, the Lord Madness of Azkaban - in his youth he terrorised the coasts of Scotland and beyond with a fleet of smoking pirate ships, but he is older now and many would speculate that he has lost his edge.

Who is the richest person in the land?
That title would go to Adolphus Malfoy, father of Typheus and current possessor of the Malfoy fortune, one of the only great hoards to make it out of the cataclysm more or less intact. It's this fortune that has allowed the House of Slytherin to survive in isolation from the rest of the world. The riches of the Lich Lord may be larger, but nobody can say for sure because his kingdom is so remote.

Where can we go to get some magical healing?
At Hogsmeade there is a church for the New Messiah, presided over by the parish priest Alfonso Turo. He's willing to offer healing as long as you're giving a reasonable donation to the church and your intentions are more-or-less good. However, he won't treat anyone who's been wounded in any sort of criminal activity or urban violence taking place within Hogsmeade. This isn't just a moral objection but a practical one, since he'd otherwise be swamped by footpads and smugglers nursing knife wounds.

Where can we go to get cures for the following conditions: poison, disease, curse, level drain, lycanthropy, polymorph, alignment change, death, undeath?
Poison and disease can be cured by potion-masters. Most of them are travelling merchants, but there's a good chance of finding one in Hogsmeade at any given time. 
Curses, level drain, alignment change, polymorph and undeath can probably only be cured by a high-level cleric. Powerful clerics of the New Messiah can be found at the Crusade Cathedral in Greater Wheeling, which is the headquarters of the entire Church; or you could visit Gryffindor Monastery in the south. Finding a powerful cleric of the pagan gods will be more difficult, since they have no hierarchy or fixed address, but a pilgrimage to Godric's Hollow would be a good place to start. The powers of the New God are more likely to be able to help you with curses and undeath, whereas the Old Gods have more power over cases of polymorph and alignment change.
There are no known cures for lycanthropy. If you discover one, you can sell it for a king's ransom to the border lords who struggle each winter against the depredations of the Werewolf Army.
Death is a difficult proposition. There are records of very powerful clerics being able to raise the dead by the grace of the New Messiah, but no clerics of that level are alive today. There are also the legends of the Deathly Hallows, but that's all they are - vague stories.

Is there a magic guild my MU belongs to or that I can join in order to get more spells?
By default your Wizard is an independent, but you can potentially sign up with the House of Ravenclaw, a university-fortress which has trained all the most powerful wizards in the land. To join the House you must be at least 2nd level, and if you don't have an exceptional INT score then you will need to perform some service or deed proving your worth to Ravenclaw's ongoing goals, which consist primarily of reclaiming lost knowledge.

Where can I find an alchemist, sage or other expert NPC?
'Alchemists' in Scotland are specifically those wizards who deal with the transmutation of substances and the quest for the philosopher's stone. For general-purpose magic consumables, you'll want to consult with a potion-master - either a travelling salesman or one who's maintained by a lord (the latter being superior but less accessible).
For other sage advice, once again you should look into the House of Ravenclaw - not all of its members are spellcasters, many are simply researchers with specialised knowledge.

Where can I hire mercenaries?
Hogsmeade is full of footpads, bravos and other assorted sword-wielding lowlifes, who should suffice for a quick trip into the dungeon. If you're looking to enlist a serious company, though, you'll need to visit one of the larger townships like Greater Wheeling. The Death Eaters, though primarily bandits, are also willing to take up under a single banner for the right price.

Is there any place on the map where swords are illegal, magic is outlawed or any other notable hassles from Johnny Law?
Depends on your race. Currently, free-elves (i.e. house-elves who've been freed) are not allowed in Hogwarts, Hogsmeade or any other areas under the domain of Baron Horatio Sledgley. The free-elf tribes of the lowlands are constantly raiding Sledgley's lands for food and the liberation of their brethren. The usual procedure for free-elf adventurers is to suffer the ignominy of pretending to be servants to one of their human companions.
Other than that, you are pretty much good unless you want to visit the House of Slytherin, where mudbloods (i.e. you and everyone else outside the rigid Slytherin bloodlines) are treated as second-class citizens and must accept restrictions too numerous to mention.

Which way to the nearest tavern?
Hogsmeade is so cool it has two! The Three Broomsticks is where most of the adventurers hang out and is generally the premier spot for carousing and mingling with the townsfolk. The Hog's Head Inn, on the other hand, is a lot smaller and a lot more shady. Much of Hogsmeade's dirty business goes on under the tables of the Hog's Head, which means they are pretty damn dirty.

What monsters are terrorizing the countryside sufficiently that if I kill them I will become famous?
There isn't a whole lot of terrorizing going on with individual monsters - the terrorizing is mostly left up to various warlords, bandits and groups of monsters like hags and redcaps. However, you would certainly become famous if you slew the Basilisk, a legendary monster that dwells somewhere in the depths of Hogwarts but emerges at unspecified intervals to haunt the town. And then there's the Lethifold - a creature of darkness that's reportedly so stealthy it swallows its victims whole without a trace. Killing one of them would certainly put you on the map, if they're not just a complete fabrication.

Are there any wars brewing I could go fight?
Always and everywhere. The human lords fight against each other, against the ancient Houses, against the free-elves and human tribesmen, and against the great monster races - the hags, the werewolves and the undead servants of the Lich Lord.
The border lords are those barons and chieftains who maintain the outposts on the edge of the relatively civilised realms of men, primarily against the Werewolf Army. These lycanthropes have formed their own nation and sworn to remake all humanity in their own image. Meanwhile, the Church of the New Messiah has a mandate, purportedly from the Messiah himself, to wipe out the Lich Lord, and they are gathering all pious lords under their banner to begin a great crusade.
Other wars lie dormant. The House of Slytherin reluctantly tolerates commerce with mudbloods, but that may change when Typheus Malfoy takes over as Patriarch. Azkaban, once a great pirating nation, has drawn inward in recent years. The reasons for this are unclear, and the coastal baronies all dread the day that the Azkabanj bloodships sail forth once again.

How about gladiatorial arenas complete with hard-won glory and fabulous cash prizes?
What! Gladiatorial combat is primitive and barbaric. In these parts, men compete in the clean and honourable arena of competitive sport: Quidditch.
Of course, in reality Quidditch is very nearly as bloody as an arena. A game of Quidditch is never just entertainment, since it requires a significant amount of investment and several magic items just to get a game going. Games between baronies are incredibly heated, as they are a substitute for open warfare. Lords will wager the outcome of diplomatic disputes on a game, while peasants will work themselves into a hooligan frenzy in support of their team. More than one war has broken out over a bent referee or a pitch-side scuffle that got out of hand. 
Although it requires a significant investment to field a full team's worth of flying broomsticks, the lords are always on the lookout for new talent. In this case, 'talent' is in great part composed of combat ability and willingness to use it on the field, so it's not uncommon for adventurers to become sporting superstars.

Are there any secret societies with sinister agendas I could join and/or fight?
Well, maybe, but they're pretty secret. Those in the know in the underworld of Hogsmeade are aware of a mysterious criminal organisation reputed to have influence from Godric's Hollow to Azkaban (that is, almost everywhere). Its name unknown, its visage always obscured behind many layers of secrecy, this organisation is now rumoured to be putting out its feelers into Hogsmeade, the last great untamed realm of crime.
There's also the whole story about the cult ruled by talking snakes. But that's obviously nonsense.

What is there to eat around here?
The standard fare is pretty poor, it being after the apocalypse and all. On the other hand, several recipes have been passed down through the generations for magical confectionery, such as Every Flavour Beans, Chocolate Frogs, Cockroach Clusters and Fizzing Whizzbees. In taverns, the favoured drink is Butterbeer.

Any legendary lost treasures I could be looking for?
Many! The most famous are the Deathly Hallows, three artifacts reputedly bargained from the clutches of Death himself. If you're interested in something with more certainty of its actual existence, the Sword of Gryffindor is reputed to lie somewhere within the walls of Hogwarts. Alchemists hold hope that the Philosopher's Stone of Nicholas Flamel is still in existence, while delvers tell each other tales of the Marauder's Map which is said to reveal all the rooms, hidden passages and monster locations of the entire Hogwarts castle.

Where is the nearest dragon or other monster with Type H treasure?
That would be the Dragon of Hogwarts, so - pretty close! About a hundred years ago this dragon was laying waste to the countryside until it was confronted by a mysterious centaur. What magics he worked is unknown, but the dragon departed to make its lair in the gulch below Hogwarts castle, from which it has only emerged occasionally since then.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Night-Haunted Hogwarts: Setting Info & Chargen

Night-Haunted Hogwarts is the name of my D&D megadungeon campaign on Google+. Here's the lowdown on setting and character classes for anyone who's interested in playing.

The Setting

Most of civilisation has been destroyed in a mysterious apocalypse. Hundreds of years after the cataclysm, society has reverted to a medieval tech level and nobody really remembers how or why the world was destroyed, except that wizards were involved, there was a war of some kind, and the castle of Hogwarts played an important role. The races of Wizards and Muggles have become intermingled as one, to the point where the confused survivors now use the term 'Muggle' to refer to any lost pre-apocalyptic civilisation.

The campaign focuses on the castle of Hogwarts, formerly a school for wizards, now under a curse and infested with vile monsters. For over a century the castle was unapproachable because of ambient magical energies, but within the past year a few brave adventuring groups have begun to explore it. There is plenty of treasure to be found, both in the form of gold and of magical knowledge, nearly all of which was lost during the cataclysm.

Hogwarts is located in the far north of Scotland - a country that is now mostly wilderness and unclaimed territory, punctuated by a series of fortified baronies and meagre city-states. Most Muggle technology has mysteriously vanished, and all former urban centres have been completely wiped off the map. Werewolves, hags and liches have all established their own domains, and the former prison of Azkaban has become an island republic ruled by the descendants of the mad and the murderous.

To the south lies England, which is irradiated by arcane energies. Anywhere beyond Galloway is completely uninhabitable. To the north is the ocean, where Neo-Vikings roam and occasionally bring vague news of other human colonies far away.

Although I'll start the campaign with a focus on the megadungeon, there are plenty of other adventure opportunities that may develop. Beyond Hogwarts lies the vast Forbidden Forest, inhabited by centaurs and acromantulas. It's rumoured that on the far side of the forest is the last kingdom of the giants. There are numerous political factions with a vested interest in the castle, including the goblins, the free-elves, and the remnants of three of the four Houses - xenophobic Slytherin, studious Ravenclaw, and monastic Gryffindor. Tales abound of fabulous treasures in the Ministry of Magic in London, but nobody has yet found a way to visit London without succumbing to radiation sickness.

20 Setting Questions
I got your 20 questions right here.

Character Generation
The game system is Lamentations of the Flame Princess - that's a simplified remake of Basic D&D if you don't know. For chargen follow these steps:

1. Roll 3d6 in order for your stats, and then swap one pair of stats if you like.
2. Pick a class from the list below.
3. Roll 3d6 x 10 to see how much gold you have.
4. Purchase equipment - refer to the price lists in a D&D book of your choice, or just ask me about it.
5. *SECRET STEP* If any of the above isn't to your liking, make your character however you want to do it.

Fighter: D8 hit die. Get a scaling bonus to hit.

Cleric: D6 hit die.Cast spells granted by your deity - 1/day at first level. Also use Expecto Patronum (Turn Undead). Pick a deity (see below).

Wizard: D4 hit die. Cast arcane spells. At 1st level you get three randomly assigned spells and can cast 1/day. See below for spells.

Specialist: D6 hit die. Use specialist skills. Get 4 points to assign to any one of the following skills: Architecture, Bushcraft, Climb, Languages, Open Doors, Search, Sleight of Hand, Sneak Attack, Stealth, Tinker. Each skill begins at 1 in 6 except for Sneak Attack, which begins at x1 (the damage multiplier for a sneak attack.)

Goblin: D8 hit die. Not the green murderous kind, but the Harry Potter kind - wrinkly, insular and masters of artifice. You can build, repair and redesign mundane objects with supernatural efficiency. Also get 2 skill points for the following skills: Architecture, Open Doors, Search, Sleight of Hand, Tinker. Click here for the full writeup.

Centaur: D8 hit die. By getting drunk, you can enter a state of madness where you lose control of yourself, but gain bonuses to attack rolls and saving throws, and receive visions. You also gain inferior Cleric spellcasting, but not until 2nd level. Click here for the full writeup.

House-Elf, Half-Giant, Half-Veela: Coming soon! Pester me if you want to play one of these races, or just write them up yourself??

The basic currency in Night-Haunted Hogwarts is composed of knuts, sickles and galleons (aka bronze, silver and gold coins). 10 knuts are equal to 1 sickle, and 10 sickles are equal to 1 galleon. For purposes of experience and value, 1 sickle is equal to 1gp in other systems. FLAILSNAILS travellers can exchange their sickles for gold pieces before they leave Scotland for another campaign. The exchange rate works because sickles and galleons are not raw metals but fiat currency. How is there fiat currency in a lawless post-apocalyptic world? Because magic, that's why!

There are two major schools of religion in post-apocalyptic Scotland:

The Church of the Resurrection is descended from the Church of Scotland and retains many of the same rituals and icons, including communion, the crucifix and the rosary. However, the Church also incorporates worship of the New Messiah, a figure who is supposed to have lived just before or just after the cataclysm - the records are unclear. The New Messiah, like Jesus Christ before him, died for the sins of humanity and was resurrected after three days. He is distinguished by a lightning-shaped scar on his forehead. A mausoleum called the White Tomb is where the New Messiah is said to have lain during his death, but the location of the tomb is currently unknown.
The ability of the Church's clerics to cast a range of spells is said to be gifted upon them by the spirit of the New Messiah, who still lingers somewhere between the realms of life and death.

The pagan worship of the Four Gods is believed to be much older than the Church of the Resurrection, perhaps dating back to before the great age of Muggle civilisation. Each of the Four is tied to a natural force, a personal quality and a particular location. The Stag represents courage and the life of the forest; his locus is the town of Godric's Hollow. The Rat represents deviousness and the capricious ocean; his locus is Azkaban, where his worship is near universal. The Hound represents mystery, introspection and the killing cold of winter; her locus is somewhere in the distant southlands. The Wolf represents mutability and the ever-changing moon; his locus is considered to be Hogwarts itself.
Worship of the Four is much more decentralised than that of the New Messiah. There are no priests who tend to a congregation, only inspired individuals who have been granted powers by these mysterious deities.

Spell Lists
Note: for any spell that doesn't already have a cheesy faux-Latin name, you have to make one up if you want to cast it. That name will then become canonical.

First-Level Cleric Spells: (memorise any one)
Arresto Momentum (Cancel Momentum)
Cure Light Wounds (Episkey)
Cause Light Wounds
Detect Evil
Detect Good
Duro (Turn to Stone)
Erecto (erects a tent or other structure)
Expelliarmus (Disarm)
Flame-Freezing Charm (Immunity to Fire)
Glisseo (Flatten Staircase)
Homonem Revelio (Detect Human)
Invisibility to Undead
Undead Attraction
Prior Incantato (reveals the spells previously cast by a wand)
Protection from Evil
Protection from Good
Purify Food & Drink
Poison Food & Drink
Remove Fear
Cause Fear

First-Level Wizard Spells: (randomly select three + Read Magic; memorise one)
1. Avifors (Turn to Bird)
2. Bookspeak
3. Charm Person
4. Comprehend Languages
5. Detect Magic
6. Enlarge (Engorgio) / Shrink (Reducio)
7. Expelliarmus (Disarm)
8. Faerie Fire
9. Feather Fall
10. Floating Disc (Locomotor)
11. Geminio (Duplicate Object)
12. Hold Portal
13. Identify (Specialis Revelio)
14. Light (Lumos) / Darkness (Nox)
15. Magic Aura / Disguise Magic Aura
16. Magic Missile
17. Melofors (Pumpkin-Head Curse)
18. Mending
19. Message
20. Ossio Dispersimus (Bone-Vanishing Curse)
21. Protean Charm (links objects so their states are synchronized)
22. Shield (Protego)
23. Sleep
24. Slugulus Eructo (Slug-Vomiting Curse)
25. Spider Climb
26. Summoning
27. Unseen Servant
28. Drunk Reversal
29. Advantageous Fowl
30. Depressing Cow

(info on last three spells is here)

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Dungeon Baby

Once upon a time, in a faraway land, there were a family of trolls who lived in a dungeon. There was Mama Troll, Papa Troll, little Finntroll and his sister Finnita. They stayed underground except at night, for the light of the sun would turn them to stone. There were other monsters in the dungeon besides the trolls, and they all got along quite happily (most of the time).

Among the other inhabitants of the dungeon were the Knockabout Skeletons, who in life had been naughty children who refused to grow up. They were always making mischief with each other and getting into trouble.

There were the slime family, who did not have brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers like the troll family. They had all subdivided from a single cell, so their relationships were quite different. Still they loved each other very much.

There was the Flesh Golem, created and abandoned by a mad wizard, who always seemed melancholy and only came out on special occasions. It was rumoured that he had had a wife once, and lost her, and nobody knew where she had gone.

There were the goblins, who loved treasure more than anyone else in the dungeon, and were always coming up with mad plans to get more of it. They would often go up to the surface, or down deeper into the caverns, until Mama Troll scolded them and told them to stay at home.

And last of all there were the Hattifatteners, who didn't speak and kept to themselves all the time. Nobody could tell what the Hattifatteners did with their time, but they didn't seem to be dangerous; and occasionally one of them would follow Finntroll around for a while, almost as if they had become friends.

There were other monsters that lived deeper in the caverns - ogres, demons, and perhaps even a sleeping dragon. Who could say whether they were friendly or not? Sometimes the goblins or Finntroll would go down and meet them.

Other times humans would come down from above to try and steal 'treasure' from the monsters. But what they thought was treasure were strange things like Mama Troll's old crockery, or the little sparkly stones that got caught in the slimes' bodies by accident. Sometimes the humans could be very dangerous, but they didn't come often.

All in all though there weren't many adventures and not many things happened, until one day something amazing arrived:

A human baby!

None of the monsters knew what to do with it. How would it be fed? How would it be looked after? What to do if it started crying?

And this was no ordinary baby either. Its parents had mysteriously vanished, but apparently they were very important in the human world. Soon the dungeon baby began to crawl off where it wasn't supposed to and got into all sorts of trouble. Because of the Dungeon Baby, all sorts of adventures began to happen, sometimes scary, sometimes exciting. All the monsters would have to work together to raise this baby safe and sound.

But that's not my story to tell. It's yours!

Centaur class for DIY D&D

The Centaur is a being irretrievably trapped between two natures. Half-man and half-horse, the centaur possesses both the wild urges of the animal realm and the high knowledge of civilisation. They possess innate powers of divination but are also afflicted by a chronic madness. Centaurs dwell apart from human civilisation and generally live deep within ancient forests. Their society is dedicated to the control of animal desires, for when the centaurs fail to master themselves they will descend into violence and licentiousness. As a result, most centaurs are very pious and reserved, spending their time in quiet contemplation of the future and the past. To focus on the present is the centaur's greatest desire and fear.

Adventuring centaurs are usually those who have been outcast from their tribe for failing to remain calm and collected. Perhaps they allowed their madness to take hold of them, or perhaps they merely questioned the elders' doctrine of non-interference with some prophesied event.

(Stats for LotFP, but can work with other OSR systems)

Requirements: Wisdom of 11 or less
Hit die: d8
Attack Bonus: +1 (other systems: as Cleric)
Save Progression: As Cleric
Cleric spellcasting: As Cleric, but lags 1 level behind (i.e. no spells at 1st level, 1 spell at 2nd, etc.)

Large Size: A centaur is not much wider than a human but is a good deal longer and taller. A centaur cannot fit into a space any smaller than 5' high or 5' long. Wearing human armour will protect the centaur with a -2 AC penalty at the front and no protection from the rear or sides. Custom centaur armour usually costs 3x that of normal armour.
Hoofs: Having four legs and hoofs makes the centaur well-suited to movement in the wilderness but less so in urban or indoor environments. Over open terrain or forest the centaur has a base movement of 150' per turn, but indoors, underground and in towns or cities the base movement is only 90'.
Riding: Centaurs can carry one human on their back without being encumbered, or two but the centaur will be encumbered.
Mobile Shot: Centaurs can move and fire bows without any penalty to speed or accuracy. The greatest horseback archer of the Mongols is no match for a creature that combines man and horse in one body.

Fugue: Centaurs are usually pious and reserved creatures, but when they get drunk their bestial natures emerge. Consuming even a small amount of alcohol will send the centaur into a fugue for 1d4 turns. During this time the centaur loses all inhibitions and must constantly search for treasure, food and wine. If interrupted by enemies the centaur will fight to the death, and if they find a store of food or wine they will feast and then fall asleep for the remainder of the fugue. All this should be controlled by the player themselves but they must be willing to play the role appropriately.
This is no mere drunkenness however but a divinely inspired insanity. While in a fugue the centaur gains a +2 bonus to attack rolls due to their unerring accuracy; a +2 bonus to saving throws because of an uncanny sixth sense; and once per fugue a brief vision that will lead them to their immediate goals, such as an augury of the nearest food or treasure.

After the fugue ends, the centaur will pass out for 1 turn and during this time make a saving throw vs. spell; if successful, a more long-term vision is granted from the following table. The saving throw attempt may only be made once per day regardless of how many fugues are triggered.
1-3: Vision of the centaur achieving their current goal
4-8: Vision of the centaur suffering an imminent death
9-12: Vision of a random NPC nearby
13-16: Vision of a random location nearby
17-18: Further vision related to the fugue (i.e. if the fugue was primarily spent eating, a vision of a nearby cookhouse might be received)
19: Vision of a far-off location, possibly another plane
20: Vision of an important event in the distant future