Wednesday, May 30, 2012

80 Alternative Class Titles

One of my favourite D&D moments in memory was when one of my players fought and subdued a giant caterpillar. When he asked me, I told him I couldn't see any reason why he shouldn't be able to train the monstrous insect and ride on it. In response he gleefully crossed out the word 'Fighter' on his character sheet and replaced it with 'Caterpillar Knight'.

& in FLAILSNAILS games where character mortality is high, people often don't seem to bother much with putting any unique spin on their character. It's just "I'm a Fighter." And I know that your character is supposed to emerge from play over time, but you could *also* give a little bit of a twist to your guy at 1st level, which seems only fair to him since he's probably going to die soon anyway.

So how's this for a houserule: after you pick what your character class 'really' is, you then have to pick what you will call it. You're allowed to pick any name you like except for the following four: Fighter, Specialist, Magic-User, Cleric.
If you're unsure about what you want your class to be, or you just can't be bothered because you're probably going to die anyway - then roll or choose from the following table:

Con Artist
Sun Worshipper
Tomb Robber
Monster Hunter
Blade Dancer
War Mage
Treasure Hunter
Vampire Hunter
Cattle Rustler
Medicine Man
Wild Man
Charlatan Priest
Mystic Chef

Most of these 'classes' should be self-explanatory. For the few that aren't:
A Refugee is a character like the Flame Princess. You were probably just some ordinary peasant until your family/village was destroyed by monsters/soldiers, and since then you've gotten pretty good at fighting because the people who weren't good at fighting are all dead.
A Berserker is not a Barbarian. Duh! A Barbarian is like Conan or Red Sonja, a Berserker is a Viking who froths at the mouth.
A Bastard is just you're a shit. You don't have any particular profession other than treating people terribly.
A Charlatan Priest is a Rogue pretending to be a Cleric.
A Cartomancer is like, you have a deck of tarot cards and you say something like "In your future, all I predict is... *pulls out card* Death." (then you cast Finger of Death.)
A Monk is just a bald guy from a monastery, let's not get into the kung fu angle at this point.

Note: Some of these concepts might require minor mechanical support from your DM. For example, a Pyromancer's Magic Missile will probably be a little fireball, so it should be able to set things on fire. Check with your DM first! (FLAILSNAILS players, remember: you only have to get one DM to agree to it and then all the DMs have to go along with you.)

Note 2: All this is for Lamentations of the Flame Princess but I'm sure you can figure out how to use it for whatever game you're playing.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Public Transport


This map depicts the ancient land of Ebut Nodnol. The coloured lines represent ley lines of elemental power. Note the Fire Line passing in a curve from east to west, the tangled Line of Darkness cutting through the midlands, and the bright yellow Line of Light that forms a protective circle in the centre.

The thick pale blue line is the edge of the Great Southern Glacier, which has travelled a hundred miles in the past thousand years. One day it will cover all of Ebut Nodnol.

The white circles are places of power, usually situated at the confluence of two or more elemental lines. The blue circles contain the rune of Elder Nodnol, an empire that once spanned the entire continent from its capital in the east. Each blue circle represents a ruin or other location where technology from Elder Nodnol might be found.

Each name gives a clue to what may be found at that location. Ravenscourt Park is a haunted vale where it is rumoured that all the ravens of the world convene under the full moon. Elephant & Castle is known for the huge stone pachyderm that rests before the battlements of the local lord. Arsenal is reputedly the hiding-place of a huge trove of arcane weaponry.


This is a map of August Meru, the Mountain That Is the World. All the world exists on the slopes of this mountain; to suggest that anything extends beyond the mountain is blasphemy. The yellow areas are the upper slopes, covered by snow, whereas the blue areas are the lower slopes. Blue/yellow divided areas are snowbound in winter but not in summer. The grey area to the southwest is the Harrowing Void, where the dead titan Filiph dreams the end of all existence.

The black dots represent points of civilisation, while the white dots are uncharted areas. White dots with black rings are ruins.

At the summit of the mountain is the Shining City of Pool, where the gods reside. Five monasteries are built around the summit to serve the five elder deities: Flagg, Flinder, Parlia, Mell and Elba of the Cross. Some way distant from there is a lesser peak, the Jolly Mount, where heretics once held vile orgies until the gods smote them in disgust. To suggest that the Jolly Mount is the higher of the two peaks is blasphemy.

The locations with names in BOLD CAPITALS are the Last Bastions, whose walls look out upon the No-Lands beyond the mountain. There are no lands beyond the mountain. The commanders of the Bastions defend that which is against that which is not, has never been, and never shall be.

Friday, May 25, 2012

thinkin' 'bout combat maneuvers

Everybody seems to have a different idea about how to do combat maneuvers in old-school D&D (i.e. tripping, blinding, pushing, etc.). This system is sort of stuck together from a bunch of different sources, but I've tried to make them fit elegantly.

Part 1: Getting Damage Dice
Usually you only roll one damage die. There are three main ways to get more than that:
1. Criticals: If you roll a 20, you roll an extra damage die. But furthermore, you can increase your chance of getting a critical by fighting wildly, but this increases your chance of fumbling as well. So if you want to crit on a 15+, then you will fumble on a 6 or less. If you're desperate or just mental, you can go all the way to crit 11+/fumble 10-.
2. Combat advantage: If you have an advantage over your opponent, such as being uphill of them, or flanking*, or they're entangled by animated intestines or whatever, then you get +2 to hit AND you roll an extra damage die.
3. Stunts: If you just want to do something cool, then that's a stunt. Backflipping off the stairs, tipping over the bookshelf, distracting the enemy by pointing over their shoulder, whatever. Just say what you want to do and then we will make up rules for it. But usually the rule will be that you have to make an ability check, and if you suceed then you get to roll an attack and add one damage die if you hit. If you fail your ability check you can't attack this round, and you might suffer some other consequence as well.

Part 2: Trading Damage Dice
To perform a combat maneuver other than just hitting the enemy, you can trade one damage die for an effect. (You have to do this before you roll the damage dice.)
These effects include, but are not limited to: push back (distance = your move rate); knock prone/trip; disarm; stun for one round; etc.
The following effects cost two damage dice: blind; sunder shield/armour; force morale check (requires you to say a suitably terrifying one-liner); etc.
You still have to narrate what you're doing to cause this effect, and it has to be plausible**. If you say "I trade my combat advantage die for the disarm effect" then you get cheetos thrown at you.

I guess this would make it pretty easy to use combat maneuvers, but I'm cool with that. If every important fight starts out with the players trying to blind and entangle their foes, then that's a good thing, right? Hopefully it won't bog down the minor combats too much, because why bother paying 1d8 damage to trip over a kobold when that's almost certainly going to kill him anyway?
I thought about saying that all these rules are available to Fighters only, but that's probably not necessary.

*Still thinking about how to handle flanking without using miniatures. Probably you aren't allowed to just say "Ok, I walk around the enemy so I'm flanking him now," because the enemy will be actively trying to prevent you from doing that. You can get flanking if you've come around by a different path, or if you come up with some cool way of getting past the enemy (i.e. swinging on a chandelier, which would require a DEX check). You could also get flanking if you greatly outnumbered your opponents, but there would need to be some sort of table for that.

**Adjust plausibility to taste. "You can do it if someone could do it in [real life/Game of Thrones/Conan/Star Wars/House of Flying Daggers/Naruto]."

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Batman Points

So let's say you have a villain in your game who you want to be threatening, not because of their physical power (or not just that) but because of their genius intellect and general outwittery. Someone like Batman or Adrian Veidt; or like an ancient scheming dragon or a vicious robber baron. You know the type I'm talking about.
So one way you could create a villain who's super-prepared and ready for anything the PCs can come up with is just to write lots of preparations in advance. "The dragon's lair is booby-trapped here and here; the dragon will always cast dispel illusion on his servants when they enter his sanctum;" etc. until you think you have prepared for everything the PCs might try. But this will take a lot of time and effort.

An alternative that I've been thinking about is to give your villain a number of 'Batman Points' (or whatever else you want to call them.) Basically, by spending a Batman Point, you can retroactively state that the villain has predicted the PCs' plans and engaged some sort of countermeasure. Whatever they've come up with, he's already come up with an answer to it; he's just that good.

There are a few limitations on this ability:
  1. The villain can't acquire new abilities, items or resources out of nowhere; all he can do is guess what his enemies are trying to do. So if the PCs are scrying him to learn his evil plans, then you can spend a Batman Point to say "Well too bad, he writes his diary in a code that only he can read." But you can't say "Well too bad, he has an Amulet of Anti-Scrying." (Unless, of course, he is super rich and there's a shop in his city that sells Amulets of Anti-Scrying.)
  2.  The villain doesn't gain any knowledge beyond what he already had; he just has a hunch. So in the previous example, he wouldn't suddenly be aware that the PCs are trying to scry him - he just has a vague idea that his enemies might try to scry him, so he's taking precautions against it.
  3. The villain's counter can't be overly specific or unbelievable. If the PCs are hiding in a bush beside the road to ambush him, you can say "He orders his guards to investigate each bush in advance" but you can't say "He orders his guards to go straight to the bush you're hiding in and stick their spears into it."
  4. The DM has a limited amount of time (let's say one minute) to think of a counter; if you can't, then the Batman Point can't be spent.
How many Batman Points should a villain have? It's hard to say without testing it, but I'd guess not very many. Even a supreme chessmaster like Veidt would probably only have 3-4 Batman Points. And they would regenerate slowly, if at all.
The advantage of this rule would be that you can get that "Oh fuck!" moment like you get in fiction where the heroes realise just how smart their opponent is (in this case, the villain is much smarter than the dungeonmaster who plays him!) It would encourage the PCs to come up with more plans to wear down the enemy's supply of Batman Points, or else to come up with really tight and clever plans so that the DM can't use the Batman Points.

The disadvantage of this rule would be that it might just make the players feel like you've given yourself a license to screw them over, or that their first few gambits don't really matter because they're just used to burn through the Batman Points. (But if their gambits are too lazy, then of course you can choose not to spend a Batman Point and just counter them normally.) I'm not sure how you would communicate this mechanic to the players. You would probably need to explain it before the villain appears, or it would feel unfair. But it's a pretty obscure subsystem that will probably only crop up once or twice in a campaign, so will anyone even remember the rule by the time you get around to using it?

To be clear, I've never actually tested this rule, so I'm not recommending it so much as just putting it out there as a possibility.

The Flooded Forest

'Listen, to go outside this wall is quite dangerous, for the surrounding woods are full of wild animals. I'll never understand how you got here without being eaten alive. But if you wait for the day when there's a storm at sea, you will see the water rise to the top of the wall and moor to those spires up there on the roof. If you are patient, you will be able to sail away on one of those ships.'
- Italo Calvino, Italian Folktales

Via The Shoulders of Atlas

Thus arm'd, the god [Hermes] begins his airy race,
And drives the racking clouds along the liquid space;
Now sees the tops of Atlas, as he flies,
Whose brawny back supports the starry skies;
Atlas, whose head, with piny forests crown'd,
Is beaten by the winds, with foggy vapors bound.
Snows hide his shoulders; from beneath his chin
The founts of rolling streams their race begin;
A beard of ice on his large breast depends.
Here, pois'd upon his wings, the god descends:
Then, rested thus, he from the tow'ring height
Plung'd downward, with precipitated flight.
- Virgil, Aeneid


 For those who know of such things, the shoulders of Atlas the Titan are not only a destination in themselves but also a gateway to all other possible destinations in the world.

Standing at the western edge of creation, Atlas leans in over the world so that his upper reaches can be reached from anywhere at all. Most flying creatures are able to travel high enough to land on his shoulders or his head, though few have the courage or determination to do so. From this vantage point, it is possible to look down on the entire world at once, and then plummet towards any destination one chooses. Though the philosophers are baffled by how this occurs, it is clear that for long journeys, a trip via the shoulders of Atlas is much quicker and easier than travelling straight from A to B.

Visitors to this cloudy realm may also visit the pine forests atop the Titan's head, where a strange race of mammalian humanoids dwell; the tangled ice caverns of his beard, where the remorhaz make their nests; and his snowcapped shoulders, where the meltwater collects into streams and flows down to waterfalls that end in the west where Atlas plants his feet.

It is not too unusual to meet other airborne travellers in the skies around Atlas's crown. Dragons, air spirits and hippogriff riders are the most common. Generally they prefer to ignore passersby, though there are a few sky pirates who like to lie in wait within the crook of the Titan's armpit.

(Note: It seems like the iconic image of Atlas holding up the globe is a later invention. In the original Greek myths, his job was to hold up the sky, which is more exciting in my opinion.)
(Note II: and yeah did you know that the reason he holds up the sky is because if he didn't then the sky and the earth would just be screwing each other all the time? What an apocalypse that would make!)

Sunday, May 20, 2012

one way to run the Wörld of Metal

So if I was going to run a Wörld of Metal campaign... here is one idea for how to do it. This would work pretty well sitting around a tabletop but it is really well-suited to an online Google+ game with a fluid playerbase.

1. One week (or more?) before each session, I pick one of the players at random to be the party leader. If we're on G+ then it's their job to pick a time and assemble whatever other FLAILSNAILS players they can get.
2. In addition, the leader has to choose a metal album that will form the seed for the adventure.
3. If they want, they can also pick which region they want to go to. If not, the region will be the same genre as the adventure seed. (This is mainly so that you can visit the Land of NSBM without actually having to listen to NSBM, because fuck that.)
4. I will write an adventure based on the album. This may involve repeated listens to fully understand the album's lyrical themes or I may just look at the cover and take a good guess.
5. When we start playing, any form of travel is handwaved immediately. If the last session was in the far western isles and the next one is in psuedo-Japan, I will just say "Well, you spend about three years travelling across the continent, having many adventures along the way. No, they don't give you any XP." Think of each session as a different sword & sorcery story; Fritz Leiber and Robert E. Howard* never felt the need to document every last detail of the characters' travels from one adventure to the other.
6. Of course this structure is flexible. If the adventure takes more than one session to run then the players can stay in the same place. If they start generating their own objectives then they can do that also.

The advantages of this system would be that it would be relatively low-prep, and the prep would come at a steady pace rather than frontloaded. I would try to make the adventures open-ended and interesting, but the fact that the players themselves picked the adventure (in a sense) means they are motivated to engage with it. And the one-session time limit could (maybe) encourage forwardness rather than dithering. I think this system works particularly well for the Wörld of Metal because the setting is very big but it only really works if you get to experience many different parts of it. If the whole campaign was stuck solely in the Land of Death Metal, then it wouldn't be engaging with what makes the setting cool.
The main disadvantage would be that outside the adventure locations, the rest of the world is fairly empty and/or handwavy. The players don't get much choice about which adventure hooks they engage with. On the other hand, the details of the world would get more fleshed out with each session we played.

*Probably. I've never read any of the original Conan stories, so I'm guessing based on the Robert Jordan ones.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Wörld of Metal Gazetteer: Races of the Wörld

The denizens of the Wörld of Metal are strange and varied. The following are descriptions of the most common playable races, along with stats and abilities for OSR-style games. Demi-human races have maximum stats (i.e. to play a Dwarf, you must roll CHA no greater than 7.)

The most common (some would say virulent) sentient species in the wörld, humans have taken root in every land from far northern Vikrölsandr to the distant Thundersands. They may be screaming berserkers, shrewd city-dwellers, Gothic nobles, eerie woodfolk, rugged nomads, gold-toothed pirates, savage samurai, cybernetic street thugs or a hundred other types.

Humans do not gain any special bonuses or abilities, nor do they have special requirements or handicaps.

Dwarves live in Vikrölsandr, and usually spend their entire lives underground. They dislike and distrust humans, and are always looking for new ways to trick the tall-folk to their doom. Those dwarves who do go abroad are often outcasts from their clan, or lured out by love of treasure. Dwarves are all fine smiths, and many are enticed by the prospect of forging strange foreign metals.

Maximum CHA: 7
Special abilities: Infravision; +5 save vs. poison.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Wörld of Metal Gazetteer: Beyond the Wörld

The Dreamsky
Land of Progressive Metal

Above the Wörld of Metal there is a blue sky, often obscured by dark clouds, but otherwise unremarkable - or so they believe, who lack the eyes to see its true nature. For the sky is filled with dreams and dream-images, floating up from the sleeping denizens of the wörld, intermingling in strange patterns, dissipating into yet higher dimensions. The precise nature of the Dreamsky depends on where one is exploring it: the people of Fyrotherre dream blood and conquest, the dreams of the Svetsmelt are dark and gentle, and the sky above Elf Peak is weirdly, terrifyingly absent of any dreams at all.

The Dreamsky is not merely a reflection of the lower world, for the astral currents carry images back and forth, mixing them together in bizarre ways. Travellers to this realm usually come in the form of astrally projected souls, and are thus also beholden to the currents. Learning to operate by dream logic is crucial to survival here. The dangers of the Dreamsky are sometimes obvious - the ravening nightmare horrors that sweep through on shivering steeds - and sometimes subtle - the gentle lilting of the dreamsong that beckons the sleeper to dissolve themselves into the dream, never to return to the mortal world. And far out at the top of the Dreamsky there lies the Great Dark, where nameless eldritch things gibber and twist, locked in the throes of inhuman madness. It is said that these things are merely the dreams of another entity, older and deeper than humans can possibly imagine.

Progressive Metal is a substance that forms when banks of raw dream-protein build up and coalesce into a solid mirror, glistening with all the colours of the rainbow. When an image is reflected in the mirror, one can step through it to 'make progress' toward whatever is reflected. For example, reflecting a mountain might allow one to step through to instantly reach the mountain's peak. However, the destination is somewhat erratic: it is also possible to step into another person's mind, or be shrunk down to fit into a small space, or any number of other things. It is always best to approach the mirror from the side, so as not to see one's own reflection, for those who step inside themselves are never seen again.

Sounds like: Dream Theater, King Crimson, Between the Buried and Me.