Wednesday, August 29, 2012

16-bit tabletop roleplaying

OK, I'm not going to run this weird stupid idea but I wouldn't be able to stop thinking about it until I wrote it down. So here it is:

Most of the time when we play RPGs our default mode is to visualise the imaginary world as something like a movie or a memory. There aren't any particular stylistic visual choices, we just let the images appear in our minds as the DM says stuff. However there are some cases where these images might be different, like if you were playing a game that's explicitly tagged as 'anime style' you would probably picture everything as anime, or in Marvel Heroic Roleplaying I think they refer to game turns as 'panels' so that is also something that could affect your visualisation.

I want to visualise a tabletop game like this:

And not just visualise, but everything about this game is designed to put you in the idea that you're *not* really fictional heroes doing mighty deeds, you are just  characters in a videogame. It's pretty disassociated, you could say.

So you can't tell the DM 'we go west' or 'I examine the wall in greater detail'. What, you think you're a guy with actual eyes or something? You're just pixels on a screen. Instead you can say things like 'We move to the right' (new stuff is always to the right) or 'I punch the wall and see if it shatters'.

Your options will be different depending on which 'screen' you're currently occupying. Combat and exploration will take place on the 'Action Stage' screen (see above). The other screens are:

overworld map - for travelling to different locations which each have their own screen
shop - for buying things

camp screen - to manage your party's inventory (you can only take one item each when you enter a battle stage)

 cutscene - when the GM just wants to show you something. However this isn't entirely non-interactive. Usually a cutscene will show a character talking to you, and then you can choose what the possible responses are.
minigame - for any other dumb thing that the GM made up to throw at you

Now hold on a minute buster, you might be saying, what is the goddamn point of this game? if I wanted to play a videogame I could just actually play that? why do I need to turn a tabletop game into some other game that it's not?

The answer is: flexibility and imagination. Though this is the hard part of the design, the idea is for the players to have much greater agency and creativity than they would in a real arcade game, and at the same time allowing the GM to improvise things that would never happen in a videogame.

The system to make this work is "Secrets". Secrets are some things, little or big, which you can do in the game but aren't explicitly spelled out for you. They might include a particular item dealing bonus damage against a boss, or a well-placed punch breaking open a false wall, or a hidden area on the overworld map that only appears after you've picked a certain dialogue option.

And of course, all the Secrets are invented by the players. I'm not quite sure how you would regulate it, maybe with some sort of Fate Point-like system. But this system basically replaces all lateral thinking that you would do in a 'realistic' RPG. You can't just say "well it makes sense for my fireball attack to deal extra damage against the ice zombies" because since when did old videogames make sense, or account for every eventuality? But what you CAN say is "I just discovered a secret - look, when I use fireball these ice zombies melt immediately" and the GM can go "FINE you get bonus damage".

If you want to go to a place that the GM hasn't mapped, then you just need to 'discover' the warp zone that leads you there. If you want to carry your dinosaur mounts to the next stage, you just need to jump across the invisible platforms instead of leaving them at the stable. If you want to combine an axe and a gear into a spinning death device you just need to try putting one on top of the other in your inventory screen.

When talking to NPCs, the GM will give you some 'canned' dialogue (you pretend it's canned but it may be made up on the spot) and the players, collectively, will devise exactly 3 'canned' response options. You always have to list three, even if you think you know what you want to say already. So maybe the king says "Will you undertake this quest for me?" and the players come up with the responses "Yes, of course" "No thanks" and "Taste my steel, baldy!"

There is no 'character generation' in this game, only the 'character select screen'. But you the player picks who will appear on this screen. Your stats are SPEED, POWER, HEALTH and SPECIAL, which are rated from 1-4 and assigned by point buy. You pick one special ability which is powered by your SPECIAL meter. Then you describe your character's name, sprite and a brief one-sentence description. The special abilities are generic so you can reskin them as just about anything. The default setting is some sort of Mortal Kombat/Street Fighter type world so it's cool to have commandos, ninjas, wizards and aliens adventuring together.

When you die you are dead forever (it's coin-operated I guess) but you have 3 lives and can sometimes acquire more. You cannot advance or level up your character in this game. The only form of advancement comes from unlocking new and stronger characters. Although sometimes this new character might be a powered up version of your old one, like with a cyborg arm or something.

When you kill enemies or break things, you can roll on a table to see what items fall out of them if anything. Maybe there is a combo system that affects this d% roll in mysterious ways. Sometimes you can collect letters that spell out S-U-P-E-R and when you get them all you can use a special team attack. Now that's a disassociated mechanic.

Your party as a whole knows one cheat code. You can choose what it does, picking from a list, which might include things like temporary invincibility, but also things like 'input the code here to automatically have a cutscene turn out the way you want it'. You can only use the cheat code once and probably can't find another one ever.

Combat... this is the tricky part because you would spend a lot of time in combat so it would need to be good. I would make it some grid based thing distilled from D&D4E, except your minis would represent sprites moving up and down the screen. That's the main reason I'm not going to run this - I would have to come up with proper combat rules which is difficult, and I couldn't run it over hangouts because it would need minis and a grid.

Well that's all I guess. This whole post was pretty pointless but at least you got to see this picture from the Simpsons beat-em-up game. And that has to be worth something, right?

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Harry Potter-style Goblin Class

Goblins in Harry Potter are actually pretty cool. Refreshingly divorced from the influences of D&D or even Tolkien, they bear a greater resemblance to gnomes and dwarves than anything else. Though they are uneasily integrated into wizarding society, they still live a very separate existence, dwelling primarily within their underground tunnels and lightless bank vaults. It also appears that they're oppressed by the wizards, since there have been several bloody goblin rebellions in the past (it's typical of Rowling's style that she treats this as a humorous historical quirk rather than a glaring example of social inequality). One of the most common disagreements between the races is over their concept of ownership: goblins take the view that the creator of an object is its owner, and any 'sale' is in reality a loan that lasts for the duration of the purchaser's life, but no further. Thus, the current ownership of relics like the Sword of Gryffindor (forged by Ragnuk the First and 'sold' to Godric Gryffindor) is a contentious issue.

Here we present statistics for a Goblin class for use with Lamentations of the Flame Princess or other D&D games. This could also be reskinned as a tinker gnome or other such race.

Hit die: d8
Attack bonus: +1
Saving throws: As Specialist
EXP progression: As Cleric - 1,750 for 2nd level and doubling thereafter; for 9th level onwards, cease doubling and instead add 112,000 for each successive level

Skill Points: Goblins are a skilled race, though not as versatile as human Specialists. The Goblin gains 2 skill points at 1st level and 1 skill point at each level thereafter, i.e. half the skill points of a Specialist. These points can be spent only in the following categories: Architecture, Open Doors, Search, Sleight of Hand, Tinker.
Mundane Crafting: No other race possesses the crafting skills of the goblins. Within 1 turn (10 minutes) a goblin can create more or less any mundane object, provided the raw materials are available. For example, a 10-foot pole could be made into a 5-foot ladder, a steel shield could be made into several swords, or a lump of stone could become a small statuette. No tools or workshops are required; don't ask how the goblins do it, because they won't tell you.
Highly intricate devices may take longer at the DM's discretion, and art pieces with gold piece value cannot be created unless the raw materials are of similar value. Only loose objects can be crafted, so you can't 'craft' a locked door into a pile of wood shavings. You also cannot create any technology that your character doesn't know about, so no crafting AK-47s in a medieval setting; though if you did find an AK-47 somewhere, the goblin could try to reverse engineer it.
Magical Crafting: The greatest goblin craft is the creation of new magic items, though only the oldest and cleverest goblins achieve this level of mastery. At 10th level a goblin can create magic weapons and armour with a +1 bonus, and this bonus increases by 1 every two levels thereafter, to a maximum of +5 at 18th level. Creation of other magic items is up to the DM to consider. This process should cost as much as the g.p. value of the magic item in question.
Alternatively, if playing in a campaign with only unique and rare magic items, consider allowing the goblin to forge their own unique items only after completing a special quest.

The main draw of this class is, of course, the Mundane Crafting ability, which allows the goblin to essentially bypass any questions of "Did you buy such-and-such before we set out?" and even create entirely new objects which no-one could have predicted a need for. This might be overpowered if the goblin just chooses to carry a bunch of spare wood and metal everywhere, but maybe not if you followed tight encumbrance rules like the Anti-Hammerspace Item Tracker. I also like the idea of the PCs scrounging around in the dungeon and building new weapons or items out of questionable materials. "The rust monster will never expect a stone sword!"

Friday, August 10, 2012

Quidditch rules for D&D

In the fallen future of Hogwarts, Quidditch is not just a game. It is a deeply ingrained part of highland culture, and is often used to release the tension of regional conflicts or to resolve diplomatic disputes. The primitive hill tribesmen in particular put great store in the game, and the crowds who turn out for their championships are halfway between football hooligans and ecstatic pagan worshippers.

imagine this but much less colours
Game Elements
The Quidditch Pitch is traditionally 500' x 180', although the size often varies wildly. There are three goalposts at either end of this pitch. The goal of the game is to throw the Quaffle into the opposing team's hoops.

Also on the pitch are two animated balls, the Bludgers, which fly back and forth to attack the players. There is also the Golden Snidget, a rare and fast-moving bird which must be caught before the game can end. (In ancient times it's said that the Snidget was replaced by a flying ball called a Snitch, but the manufacture of these delicate artefacts has been lost.)

The teams are made up of seven players - a Keeper who defends the goal, three Chasers who pass the Quaffle ball, two Beaters who defend against the depredations of the Bludgers, and one Seeker who pursues the Snidget. All the players are mounted on flying broomsticks.

Rules for D&D-type systems (totally un-playtested, ingest at own risk)

Assume that all the PCs will be playing in the game; if not, they should probably be skulking around the stands trying to cheat or whatever.

Use the same initiative system you would normally use for combat. One-roll initiative would probably produce different results to step-based initiative but oh well.

For purposes of abstraction, let us divide the game pitch into a series of zones and lanes. The zones are: Goal, Rear, Forward and Enemy Goal, each representing a 125' distance down the pitch. The lanes are Left, Right, Mid and High, each representing a different angle of attack. Each round, the players may move one zone down the pitch and move into a different lane, the only exception being that one cannot move directly from Left to Right.

As well as movement, each player can take one of the following actions each turn:
Pass: (Chasers/Keepers) Pass the Quaffle to another player. Make a ranged attack roll against AC 8 with the following modifiers:
Each Zone Distance: +3 AC (i.e. passing from Rear to Enemy Goal would give a +6 to the AC).
Passing between Left-Mid or Right-Mid: +2 AC
Passing between Left-Right: +3 AC
Passing to High: +3 AC
If the attack roll fails, the ball is Lost (see below). The ball is Lost in the zone of the person you were throwing to, unless you tried to throw across more than one zone/lane, in which case it falls in the middle between you.
Beat Back: (Beaters) Attack a Bludger with your club to knock it away. You must be in the same lane and zone as a Bludger to do this. Make a melee attack roll against AC 14 - on a hit, the Bludger is knocked away and must spend its next turn returning to the fray.
Beat Attack: (Beaters) Strike a Bludger with intent to send it at another opponent. This more difficult maneuver is reflected by a -2 penalty to the roll, but if successful it will cause the Bludger to make an attack against your target. The target must be within one turn's movement of the Bludger.
Tackle: (Chasers) Attempt to tackle an opponent and steal the Quaffle. You must be in the same zone and lane as them. Make a melee attack roll against the opponent's AC including their Dexterity bonus (armour is almost impossible to wear while riding a broomstick, which doesn't mean someone won't try it at some point.)
If you hit the opponent exactly on their AC, then you both drop the ball and it is Lost.
If you hit with a 20, you perform a vicious tackle that deals 1d6 real damage. Killing an opponent is not technically against the rules, but it is a good way to start a blood feud.
If you miss, you overshoot and must spend your next turn returning to the fray.
Score: (Chasers) Attempt to score at the opponent's goal. You and the Keeper secretly select a hoop to shoot for and to defend, respectively. If the Keeper defends the hoop you are shooting for, then your target AC is 15, otherwise it is 10. If you miss, the Keeper always takes the ball.

Behaviour of Bludgers: Bludgers have a very limited form of 'intelligence' which manifests in vaguely random movements. Each round, each Bludger has a 50% chance of staying where it is, a 25% chance of moving forward or back, and a 25% chance of moving to another lane. If the Bludger begins its turn in the same zone/lane as a player, or moves into the zone/lane of a player, then it will make an attack against them: +3 vs. AC, hit roll on the Bludger Attack Table. After making an attack the Bludger will move to another area rather than threaten the same player again. The Bludgers will never attack Keepers.
 1-8: Struck painfully - take the indicated amount of subdual damage (1-8). If subdual damage brings you to 0, you are forced to retire.
9-10: Blown off course - you are sent flying in a tailspin and must spend the next round righting yourself.
11: Narrow escape - knocked off your broom but hang by one hand. You can spend a turn to climb up onto your broom... or you can keep flying but must make a CON check each turn to avoid falling.
12: Knocked off your broom - take 2d6 lethal damage from falling, or double that if falling from the high lane.

Lost Balls: When a ball is dropped through tackling or poor passing, it goes into freefall. All players within one turn's movement of the ball can roll to try and grab it (this happens immediately, screw the initiative order). The roll is d20 + Dexterity mod + 2 for players in the same zone/lane as the ball. Whoever rolls the highest catches the ball.

less colours!
Meanwhile... the Seekers: The Seekers must move around the pitch in order to look for the Golden Snidget, which is so small and fast that it is difficult to find. Each round, provided the Seeker has moved, they have a 1 in 6 chance of glimpsing the Snidget. If they pursue it, they must then roll on the Snidget Pursuit Table. Roll on this table each round as long as the pursuit goes on, and assume that the chase takes the Seeker in a random direction each round unless the table indicates otherwise. The opposing Seeker can try to catch up to the pursuit as well.
1: The Snidget escapes, leaving no trace.
2: The Snidget dives and hides in the grass. Make a WIS check to find it again - failure indicates it has crawled away.
3: The Snidget flies high, higher than broomsticks are supposed to go. Make a CON check to keep up with it.
4: The Snidget hides in the crowd. Make a CHA check to get them out of the way or it will escape.
5: The Snidget flees right out of the pitch and into the surrounding countryside. Having broken the wards that keep it captive, it will now be much more difficult to catch and will probably go to ground in the nearest monster-infested forest.
6-9: Gaining on it! Add +1 to your next roll on this table.
10: Caught up to it! Make a DEX check to catch the Snidget.
It is customary for the Seeker to bite off the bird's head in celebration of victory, or to offer the morsel to his opponent in the case of defeat.

10 points are awarded for a goal. 30 points are awarded for catching the Golden Snidget. When the Snidget is caught the game ends and the team with the highest points wins.

As with the rules for combat in AD&D, these rules are hardly designed to cover all possible actions within the game. Improvisation within this framework is encouraged, as is outright cheating as long as you don't get caught.

Social Factors
Although broomsticks have survived the apocalypse better than many magical arts, they are still quite expensive and generally restricted to the use of the landed gentry. The exception to this rule is the masterless hill tribes, whose weird witches still remember how to craft the broomsticks.

Nevertheless, it is fairly common for peasants to play the game without any of the magical and valuable features that are afforded for the upper classes. In the peasant version of the game, the players are on foot and the hoops are at ground level. The Golden Snidget is replaced by a field-mouse painted yellow. The Bludgers are replaced by a pair of irate billy-goats.

If playing 'Low-Lying Quidditch', assume that the movement system is the same due to a smaller pitch, save that the High lane is eliminated. Make other adjustments as seems reasonable - for example, instead of being killed by falling after a Bludger attack, the players could risk being gored to death by goats.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Hogwarts Megadungeon Mark 2: Post-Apocalypse

Long after the wizarding world had fallen, the walls of Hogwarts remained...

None now know for certain what terrible magic it was that cracked the cradle of civilisation and laid waste to the Wizarding World. The knowledge of great sorcery passed out of human knowledge along with its wielders, at the end of the last great war. Now, all that remains of the Kingdom of Great Britain is a handful of isolated baronies, separated by miles upon miles of haunted wastelands where strange monsters dwell.

It is said that Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry played an important role in the last war, though the specifics are unclear. Regardless, the school now lies abandoned under an evil curse, and is inhabited by all manner of evil creatures. Yet it is also rumoured to contain a great deal of treasure left by the wizards of old who were wiped out in an arcane cataclysm. Many brave or foolhardy souls have sought this treasure in the castle's benighted halls, but few have returned.

For those adventurers who prefer fresh air and daylight, the nearby Forbidden Forest also offers opportunities. Inhabited by centaurs, pixies and giant spiders, the forest stretches north an uncharted distance into the far reaches of Scotland. Somewhere on the far side of the forest, so it is said, lies the Kingdom of Giants which was, perhaps, untouched by the final war.

There are other places, also, where the honest and steadfast would never dare to go. Tales abound of the island prison of Azkaban, somewhere in the North Sea, where the most vile criminals were trapped in prisons of madness. But now, they say, the prisoners have escaped and taken up rulership of the isle, making themselves evil masters of an insane republic. All know of the Lich Lord in the west, who rules immortal from a castle of black stone. And it is whispered that the goblins of Gringotts, once thought perished in the conflagration, have survived and relocated their gold stores to a new vault deep beneath a northern mountain.

South of the Highlands the land grows increasingly bleak and twisted, and no travellers can survive in the ruinous country that was once known as 'England'. To travel all the way to fabled London, and delve the sub-basements of the legendary Ministry of Magic building at Whitehall, is a dream that even the mightiest adventurers hardly dare hope for. Yet it seems that something has crawled out of the nuclear carnage of the southlands: for recently on certain way-signs and tree trunks have appeared mysterious graven letters spelling out 'D.O.M.'

This feels like a version of Hogwarts that I would be more excited about running. The high school drama of my first concept would be superficially amusing, but in the long run I think this version would give the campaign more space to grow outside of the Hogwarts dungeon. I could see this growing to a domain level game where the PCs either renovate Hogwarts or build their own castle/s somewhere else, getting involve in Lyonesse-style politics with the local lords and other factions like the Republic of Azkaban.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

At the Bad Guys' Mercy

So you've been Sleeped, Webbed or otherwise incapacitated by your enemies. Will they now cut your throat in cold blood? Possibly, that's what you'd do to them. But if not:

1. Your captors take all your items, even your clothes. Then they set you free.
2. Your captors decide, whether rationally or otherwise, that they can get a good price by holding you for ransom. You are locked/tied up somewhere while a series of opaque Coen Brother-style negotiations go on in the next room.
3. Your captors are slave traders. They strip you of your belongings, attach collars to your necks and take you to the nearest market.
4. Your captors are a slave-driving race who regard all other humans as inferior. They take you as their slaves directly and put you to work on a construction project or perhaps in support of their armies.
5. Your captors are cultists. They take you to their temple to be sacrificed to their dark god.
6. Your captors are cultists. They regard you as avatars of their dark gods. They take you to their temple where your every wish is catered to, except your wish to escape. Also, they seem to be marking off the days since your arrival on a stone calendar...
7. Your captors serve a powerful wizard. You are taken to his laboratory to be polymorphed or grafted in his bizarre experiments. If you survive the experiments you may actually be better off than you were before.
8. Your captors are fairies. You serve a mysterious durance in their fairy kingdom. You age 50 years but the world remains unchanged, or maybe vice versa.
9. Your captors are cannibals, or possibly just another race that likes to eat humans. They lock you in a pen and prepare to cook the burliest of your party (anyone with STR or CON above 13). The others they will fatten up for several weeks before devouring.
10. Your captors are a brutal race who respect strength above all else. They take you in chains to a gladiatorial arena where you may fight wild animals for a chance at freedom or even knighthood in their savage kingdom.
11. Your captors are the worst monsters of all - adventurers! They steal your gear, then take you as 'hirelings' who will be expected to walk first into every dangerous situation.
12. Your captors are organ thieves. They steal the choicest organ from each of your bodies, depending on your highest stat (STR = arm, DEX = leg, CON = kidney, liver, lung or heart, INT = brain, WIS = eyes, CHA = face). They will then bind and treat your wounds carefully. "We're not murderers, you know!"

Seven Skeletons



Skeletons are the emissaries of Death in the land of the living. No mortal soul knows how to raise them, much less control them. Their only purpose is to kill. They move quickly and precisely, doing only as much as is needed to bring death. They show no emotions and no desires; if there is any connection between the raised skeleton and the living being they once were, then it is not evident.

Why does Death hate us so? Why does he wish to hasten our entry into his kingdom?

None can say. The skeletons themselves are silent on the matter.


Skeletons dance in the graveyard at midnight. They light bonfires, scare the local wildlife and play pranks on each other. Those who have observed them from hiding will affirm that they seem to enjoy being dead, perhaps even more than the living enjoy life.

When skeletons encounter living humans, they will beckon invitingly, but if this invitation is not accepted they will take up arms and attack. To the skeletons, even mortal violence is apparently a funny game. Those killed by skeletons will rise on the next night as skeletons themselves, and quickly escape to join the frivolity of their kin.

Yet there are tales of some skeletons who come back - of a dead soldier who systematically slaughtered his former comrades, or of a housewife who returned to claim her husband and children. The ones whom the skeletons focus on are always those they loved best in life, which has brought the sages to an unsettling conclusion: perhaps the skeletons bear us no ill will, but only want to show us what we're missing.


It is said that ghosts are those spirits who failed to complete a task in life and cannot rest until it is finished. By contrast, skeletons are those who betrayed their oaths and shirked their tasks in life, and in death are held to account for it by powers outside mortal comprehension.

Traitors in battle are perhaps the most common skeletons. Having spurned their companions in the hour of greatest need, they are cursed from life into death. Their skeletons return to the site of the battle and wander about, chopping angrily at unseen foes. The battle is many years in the past, so their oaths can never be fulfilled. They will usually take anyone who crosses their path to be an enemy, but it is rumoured that if one adopts the same livery as their long-dead allies, the skeletons may prove friendly.

Other times one may see a paladin, charged with a great work by their god, fall into error and rise as a skeleton. These loathsome wretches wander the world in their rusted armour, performing the charged deed over and over again in every context they can find. It makes no difference - their god has already turned from them, and so the quest can never be completed.

Perhaps there are skeletons who complete their tasks and are allowed to rest in peace; but if such exist, we have not seen them.


The undead are created through a noxious and incorporeal malady, which infects the recently dead and causes them to rise from their graves as flesh-eating savages that men call ghouls. The ghoul has little intelligence, but quick reflexes and an insatiable taste for human flesh. Most ghouls are eventually put down by local militia or dedicated ghoul-hunters.

Some ghouls persist, however. Although the decaying of the body is slowed somewhat by the infection, it is not halted completely. After a hundred years or more, the ghoul's flesh has entirely rotted away and only the animate skeleton is left. Thus, all skeletons are old and most are fiendishly cunning, since only the most intelligent ghouls live long enough to reach such a state. With at least a century's experience of hunting and being hunted, the skeleton is a fearsome enemy. Even the mightiest ghoul-hunters chill at the thought of being stalked by a skeleton.

The ghoul's flesh-eating urges persist, but cannot be fulfilled. One may occasionally catch sight of a skeleton 'eating' a fresh corpse only to have the flesh fall through its ribcage and be picked up again and again. The skeletons seem to know how ridiculous this looks: if they realise they are being watched while feeding they will fly into a terrible rage, and thereafter hold a special vendetta against the one who witnessed their secret shame.


Sometimes you will see a skeleton creeping around at night. If it sees you watching it, then it will act embarrassed and run away. Skeletons don't like to be seen without their skins. They only come out at after dark, and when the sun rises they run back inside to their beds, where they have left their skin and flesh. They leap inside their body and go about their day as normal humans.

It is not known what skeletons do with their time, but they seem to be relatively harmless. The exception is when someone learns of their secret identity - perhaps by witnessing a skeleton crawling through a window, or finding a limp skin in a bed. To conceal this secret, the skeleton will unrelentingly hunt the one who has discovered them, in skeletal and human form.

Perhaps skeletons wish to keep their secrets because they fear being lynched by humans. Humans, in turn, lynch skeletons for fear that they will attack. It is not known which of these came first.


It is said that no renovations or repairs should be done to a house while a woman inside is pregnant. Also, a pregnant woman should not look upon the work of a craftsman left unfinished. If she does, then her body may become lazy and decide to leave the baby unfinished. The bones will grow, but not the flesh or anything else. Such a condition will be apparent long before the birth, but aborting a skeleton baby is especially dangerous.

Most parents will not want to keep the skeleton baby after it is born, and the babies for their part show no affection for their mortal family. Instead they roam the roads at night, growing larger as humans do. Eventually they will come across a community of other skeletons like them, who dwell in deep forests or abandoned castles.

The skeleton folk are much like humans, but primitive and unfinished. Their desires and thoughts are simple, their communication rudimentary. Sometimes they may be seen playing music on simple instruments, or gesticulating at flowers.

However, some sages say that these unfinished creatures possess primordial knowledge that humans lack. They remember the time before the womb, and can tell many secrets if they choose. Those humans who seek such secrets will find the skeletons less than welcoming. However, the skeletons do hold a vague feeling of benevolence toward humankind in general; for if there were no more humans, there would be no more skeletons either.


When Destiny has ordained that a great marvel must come to pass, it works towards this end in mysterious ways, and lays down its preparations centuries in advance. The greatest heroes ordained by Destiny are not born - they are made. And like all things, the framework must be built first.

Skeletons are the heroes of the future, who one day will clothe themselves in flesh and blood to perform mighty deeds at the behest of implacable Destiny. They may be a mighty warrior, a leader of armies or a destroyer of realms - for the ones that Destiny names 'hero' are not always virtuous and kind. 

Each hero is bound for one particular act of perfect triumph, and it is this act they are preparing for as a skeleton. In one case, the tallest tower of a keep was toppled by a skeleton three times over the course of two hundred years, after which the skeleton finally took the form of a valiant warrior and fulfilled his fate by toppling the tower a fourth time and slaying the cruel lord who dwelled within. Another story is of a skeletal bandit and his steed, who rode each full moon through Taipan Wood firing arrows at all those on the road. In time that skeleton became a real highwayman destined to murder the king.

Since Destiny has already appointed them to their positions, skeletons cannot be destroyed. If shattered, they will lie dormant for a while before resuming their preparations. It is postulated that if the skeleton was conclusively destroyed, perhaps by burning or burial beneath solid stone, then Destiny would have to create a new one from scratch. In such a case the foretold event might be postponed, but never prevented.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Horrible Curses

1. Curse of Great Vomit: Your stomach acids grow suddenly more powerful, just before you throw them up. The vomit is strong enough to burn through wood and dissolve any flesh it comes into contact with, but only after it has left your mouth. Make a CON save or vomit on yourself or on a nearby ally. If you pass the CON save you can make a to-hit roll to vomit on an enemy. The vomit deals 3d6 damage.
2. Curse of the Fleshmotes: 2d6 pounds of flesh detach from your body individually, grow legs and run away. Lose 1 point of CON for each fleshmote that escapes, or 1 point per two fleshmotes if you are notably fat. If the fleshmotes are captured, fried and eaten, the CON damage will be restored, but the little buggers are fast.
3. Curse of the Spaghetti Limb: One random limb suddenly becomes limp, saggy and unusable. If the skin of the limb is cut, it will be discovered that all substance beneath the skin has been transformed into tinned spaghetti and tomato sauce. If all the spaghetti is scraped away (a completely painless process) what remains of the limb will be a very thin fleshy rod, 5mm in width, covered in black bristles.
4. Hair Curse: Hair begins to grow thickly in your mouth, throat and nose, cutting off your breathing within 1d3 rounds. The hair can possibly be trimmed but will continue to grow at a steady rate for the next hour.
5. Curse of Thin Blood: Your blood literally becomes thinner - it is diluted with water. It is now quite transparent and does not congeal. You take a -2 penalty to CON. Furthermore, whenever you suffer damage you must roll over  the damage total on a d20 or get cut and begin to bleed. While bleeding you take 1d4 damage per round and even if someone staunches your wounds, you must make a save vs. paralysis for the bloodflow to stop, since your blood doesn't congeal or form scabs.
6. Curse of Glutinous Attachment: Your skin becomes glutinous and sticky. If it comes into contact with any other part of your body, they will be stuck together instantly. Whenever taking an action besides standing still or walking very slowly, make a DEX save or have two body parts awkwardly glued together. Multiple victims of the curse can become stuck to each other. The glutinosity lasts 6 hours, but the attachment is permanent.
7. Curse of the Masterless Heads: 1d4 stunted, malformed heads grow in various places on your body and begin gnawing at you, each dealing 1d6 damage per round. They can be killed by bludgeoning, cutting, etc, however they will beg for mercy and refer to you as "brother".
8. Curse of the Escaping Veins: 1d6 major veins (or arteries, maybe, I'm not a doctor) pop out of your body at one end. For example it could be that vein that runs along the back of your hand, and it pops out just a little bit near the knuckles. The veins are blue and do not 'bleed'. However, within 3 turns you will begin to feel an overwhelming urge to pull on the veins. It is something like the urge to scratch yourself, and something like the urge to pull out a loose thread from your clothes. Make a save vs. paralysis each turn to resist the urge. If you fail to resist, you will begin pulling out the vein until it dangles up to 4 feet from your body. The skin of the vein is fragile and if broken you will begin to bleed out rapidly, taking 1d8 damage per round.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

some more thoughts on 'Baseballs & Basements'

So here are my scribbly thoughts about Baseballs & Basements, the game of childhood adventures. Will I ever make this a real thing? I don't know, but I wrote all this crap so I might as well show it to the internet.

- Superhero is like your Fighter-equivalent. Get a progressive bonus to combat ability (and AC?) and perhaps some agility/stealth stuff. So you aren't a supernatural hero, just a guy in a mask.
- Sports Star is also not bad at fighting but your main things are feats of athleticism and leadership. Kids will flock to you because you're so great at sport. (Btw, hirelings in this game are young children who piss their pants and run away when they fall below 0hp.)
- Princess is the social character, with some sort of charm ability. But this shouldn't be overwhelmingly good because it sucks when one player is The Face and everyone else has to just sit around and watch them talk to NPCs.
- Beastmaster/Imaginary Friend is the toughest one to conceive of, really. I figure the kid just has generic stats and no abilities, but the imaginary friend has something special. Maybe roll on a table and your I.F. has two traits? The problem is what if the actual PC becomes redundant and they are essentially playing as the imaginary friend? Could the DM exert a certain amount of control?
- Gadget Kid is more or less the M-U equivalent. As a stopgap it would be ok to say "you can make a gadget that replicates any MU spell of level (blah)" but it would be better to have a proper list of gadgetry.

Other classes that could be:
Basically any class is possible; I mean you could be a Magic-User because you're just a kid who think's he's a wizard. Or you could be a cowboy, King Kong, Spaceman Spiff, whatever. That's just going to be bloated though so I'd rather focus on things that have some connection to the real world the children are in.
Maybe a Movie Star class? c.f. Son of Rambow, a kid who's like the reincarnation of Stallone or Schwarzenegger or whoever was an action movie star in the '70s. But what would they do, besides firing guns?
OK so how about a Pet class. Either they are attached to another PC or they are a stray dog or cat. In reality they are just a pet (but hssst! everything is real ok!) but the kids imagine (hsst! it's real!) they can talk and maybe have magic powers. I like the idea that the only way to be a proper Magic-User in this game is if you're a dog.
A kid who plays with action figures and they come alive and help him? Sounds too fiddly.
A Bookworm class who can summon things out of books to help him? Or casts spells from different paperbacks? Sounds maybe ok but you are descending swiftly into the realm of reflexive wankery once the kid starts casting spells from books by Tolkien, Howard and Lovecraft. Or in the other direction, you could be all pretentious and have a spell cast from To Kill A Mockingbird, but what kid wants to read that book anyway? And what spell would it be?

Domain Management:
Superheroes can build a treehouse. (Yeah this character class is basically "You play as Bartman." Well guess what, a Magic-User is just "You play as Rhialto" so there.)
Sports Stars assemble a team of their chosen sport.
Princesses discover a fantasy kingdom in the woods. Just a little one. See this book: Bridge to Terabithia (I wept and wept as a small child from reading this book)
Beastmasters I dunno. Maybe the imaginary friend has to rediscover his lost tribe/family?
Gadget Kids build a secret underground workshop.
Wizards (pets) build a secret wizard lair. Because what cat doesn't want an arcane laboratory for their experiments?
Movie Stars get to make their own movie, or swede movies that already exist. Not sure how that one's gonna work really

Levelling up
Experience is a funny word that's disassociated from its regular connotations when we use it in the RPG context. I want there to be a separate stat called 'Innocence' so it's like a play on 'Songs of Innocence and Experience' but who knows what an 'Innocence' stat would do. Sounds like something out of Burning Wheel.

Anyway you don't have levels in Baseballs & Basements, you just have your age. You grow older by getting experience. Level 1 = 6 years old. Level 7 = 12 years old and that's the highest you can go. After you turn 13 you have to grow up and put away childish things. Your domains linger on, like "Oh, that kid's gone away to college now but his treehouse is still there, you can play in it if you like." "Whoa awesome!" In a box at the back of the treehouse they find an old mask and cape... and the neighbourhood echoes with stories of what this kid did when he was young...

In the last post I was like, let's not have the kids actually get killed because that would be too depressing. But I thought about it some more and what I thought was why not? Sure, let's have kids getting killed. If you go down into the sewers you might literally get eaten by a dragondog, and then there'll be posters all around town with your face on them. Adventuring is serious business, kids.

If you get caught by your parents or the principal or something, then you will be disciplined and probably grounded. Depending on your offenses and how many times you've been caught before, you may get grounded for a few weeks or for the whole summer. Now, even if you're grounded you can still sneak out. However, if you get caught one more time then you are sent away to boarding school (for rich kids) or a relative in another state (for poor kids).

So this is a system I've always wanted to try out and it would fit very well into B&B. If you roll very low on any of your ability scores (say 6 or less) you have a disability. But something about this disability gives you a special advantage, so it's like a consolation for having bad stats. For example:
Low STR - you are Asthmatic. You can't run for very long without losing your breath. ??? What is an advantage of having asthma though??
Low DEX - you are a Cripple (the doctor would say you are Paraplegic) and you have to go around in a wheelchair. Fortunately it is a ROCKET WHEELCHAIR that can travel 150'/round.
Low CON - you have Diabetes. You require regular doses of delicious candy in order to live. Fortunately you have massive amounts of candy and can usually convince adults to give you more. And candy is almost like a secondary currency among children, so...
Low INT - you are Simple (the doctor says you have a Learning Disorder). You can't speak or write good but you have a warm soul. Your parents don't think they should blame you for getting into trouble, thus you can never be grounded.
Low WIS - you are Strange (the doctor says you have Synaesthesia). You can experience things with all your senses at once i.e. you know the taste of the colour red, the sound of a papercut, and even the personality of the number three. In fact, you can talk to letters and numbers and ask them questions.
Low CHA - you are a Super Dweeb (the doctor says you are Autistic). The world of social interaction is strange and confusing to you, but on the upside you have a photographic memory. Even if you glance at a scene for a second you can take everything in and remember it forever.

Well it still needs to be developed a bit. But basically I like it because it enables you to play characters like Timmy and Jimmy from South Park. Is it offensive or insensitive to disabled people? I don't think so, because it would be a happy story for them, an idealised story even. PCs tend to always look out for each other, regardless of what they think 'in-character'. So the other kids will always support their disabled friend and also appreciate his/her abilities. Maybe sometimes you will meet a bully who will be like "Haw haw! Look at that cripple!" but then the party will ambush him and run him over with the rocket wheelchair.

Weapons can be just about anything you want to pick up and whack people with. Armour doesn't really fit with the tone, except maybe wearing a colander for a helmet. Possibly at high levels a Princess could kit herself out in full plate for the Joan of Arc look.
Small weapons: Plastic cutlass, yo-yo, hammer,
Large weapons: Baseball bat, lead pipe, shovel, tennis racket, cricket bat
Ranged weapons: Slingshot, football, baseball, rock, BB gun, air rifle, fire extinguisher, frisbee
Deadly weapons: pistol, flick knife
 Deadly weapons deal extra damage, and against bullies and the like even drawing a Deadly Weapon will cause them to make a saving throw or flee in terror. However, the consequences for being caught with a Deadly Weapon, let alone using one, can be severe.
Rake: A large weapon that can also be laid down in the grass as a trap for the unwary.
Water Pistol: Useful against certain types of aliens who are vulnerable to water.
Marbles: Can be placed underfoot to trip the enemy.
Caps: Small explosives that go off when crushed; can be used like caltrops.
Skipping rope: Can be used to trip or clothesline enemies.

Bicycle: A fast and useful transport.
Magnifying Glass: For magnifying things and, more importantly, burning them.
RC Car: Useful for distraction, infiltration, etc.

Potentially magical items: Spinning top, deck of cards, LP record, hula hoop

Magic items would be less common than in D&D, but there's still room for them: a Princess could wield a magical wand with a star on the end, a Sports Star could quest for a golden baseball bat, a Gadget Kid could reverse engineer alien technology. 

Who knows... ? I'm thinking maybe each class just gets a flat bonus to AC, or one that goes up by level. Furthermore your AC would no longer be called 'AC' because it's purely a matter of dodging rather than being armoured up. That is a bit dull; I like the intuitive tradeoff in D&D of "how good is your defense vs. how fast can you run". But that subsystem is not really aesthetically compatible with BASEBALLS & BASEMENTS.

FLAILSNAILS compatibility
Us kids know there are other worlds out there beyond this one. Sometimes you can find a way through to them. It might be in the cupboard under the stairs or it might be two trees forming an archway in the forest. Sometimes you get there by diving into a book, or by sneaking downstairs after your bedtime to watch the creepy movie that your older brother rented from the video store. Most of these worlds are full of wizards and knights who explore dungeons, although sometimes there are spacemen or it's the 1920s or something like that. So if you go through the portal you can have an adventure there, but it can be scary and you might never come back. Other times people will come through the portal and have an adventure with you, but adults can't really see they're there.

So like, from the B&B point of view all D&D campaigns are just in the kid's imagination. From New Feierland's point of view, a kid with a baseball bat appeared from somewhere.

Likewise from B&B's point of view, a FLAILSNAILS immigrant is a type of imaginary friend. But from the D&D character's point of view he's walked into this fucked up world where children, goddamn children are fighting dragons and they think it's a fun adventure!

When it's set
You could get a lot of different flavours depending on when exactly you wanted the Eternal Summer to be. 1950s would be Stand By Me - boys' own adventures, 1980s/90s would have more influence from saturday morning cartoons and cereal boxes; 1970s seems like a good medium between the two. 1960s would have more of a vibe of social change going on above the kids' heads. Or hell you could jump back to the previous century and do Huckleberry Finn... maybe... but you would need different character classes.

On the other hand, you could also look at it this way: the Eternal Summer is every summer, everywhere and when, that kids got a break and were left to their own devices. The setting is definitely rooted in a particular year (let's say 1972) but other summers sometimes creep in at the edges. If you go down to the riverbank you might see Huck and Jim floating past on their raft; or you might meet a weirdly-dressed kid who invites you back to his house to watch a show called 'Street Sharks'.

Appendix N part 2

 (maybe? am I just mixing up 'childhood adventure material' with 'things from my childhood' ?)

(people need to get on this movie. has a great dungeoncrawl at the end of it.)

only seen clips of this but you can just tell it's made with love, you know?

(yeah yeah, real original I know)

(for reference on basements as dungeons)
 Is it weird to wish that you were younger so you could legitimately feel nostalgic for a show that you never actually watched as a kid?
If there are any children reading this and Codename: KND is still on the TV, I'm telling you to get on that shit right away before you become old and jaded.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Vancian Wizard, Doomed Science-Hero

It seems there are two different ways of thinking about magic.

The first, though perhaps more recent school of thought, is that magic is essentially a scientific discipline that does not exist in the real world. In the world of fantasy, certain words, gestures, ingredients and so on will produce testable and replicable effects. For example, the same magic words will always produce a fireball when spoken. Magicians may not understand the mechanism behind their magic, any more than the modern-day layman understands the mechanisms of quantum physics. However, they understand the results of those mechanisms and know how to apply them in the art of spellcasting. Therefore, a wizard is essentially a scientist who has discovered that his school of study is especially easy to weaponize.
This form of magic appears in fantasy stories like Harry Potter, Magicka, Eberron, The Wheel of Time, and the Old Norse Sayings of the High One.

The second school of thought is that magic is fundamentally different to science. Magic has an undeniable presence in the world, but it cannot be empirically tested. It does not operate by rational laws. It moves in unexpected ways, not because our understanding of it is incomplete but because our entire rational-scientific model cannot encompass it. Magic is the unconscious, unprovable, and other vague wishy-washy concepts that are impossible to pin down or define.
This form of magic appears in fantasy stories like Game of Thrones, The Sandman, The Invisibles, the Conan stories, and many mythological texts. It is also the basis for any form of belief that claims magic is literally real, ranging from Aleister Crowley's esotericism to psychic TV and alternative medicine. Obviously homeopathy is something "beyond the realm of the empirical", because when you test it empirically you quickly find out that it's complete horseshit.

not science!
You'll notice that so far I haven't mentioned two of the most important texts (important to pretentious nerds, that is) of the wizardly canon: namely the Dying Earth and the D&D Magic-User. That's because the Vancian wizard occupies a space somewhere between these two schools, or in both schools at once.

In D&D, spellcasting is certainly an empirical affair. Every time you memorize Magic Missile, you get to cast Magic Missile once, and that spell is always the same. It would appear that magic in D&D is of the 'scientific' variety.
But on the other hand, there is so much more to magic than simply spellcasting. There are any number of supernatural beings with inexplicable spell-like abilities; magic items and artifacts with powers that are impossible to replicate; tricks, traps and puzzles of every kind that defy categorization according to the mean and piddling magic of the spellbook. This is very clear in the Dying Earth stories (where in fact the highest form of magic is not spellcasting but the binding of inscrutable alien beings to do one's will). It's also pretty clear in AD&D, both in the books (the liberal use of 'funhouse' tricks) and in actual play (because no DM worth his salt is going to let his adventure design be limited by some dorky system of magical metaphysics).

So although it's not stated explicitly, I feel like the premise behind Vancian spellcasting is this: that magic is vast, untameable and unfathomable - Type 2 in our survey above - but the system of fire-and-forget spellcasting represents a very miniscule effort by humankind to bite off one tiny part of that vastness and compress it down into a device that works the same way every time - Type 1.

This is why crafting a new spell is such an arduous process, and why many spells are named after the legendary wizard who created them. It's not that Tenser actually invented the floating disk so much as he discovered a very precise fragment of the seething unknown that can be reliably shaped into a floating disk. This was a process of research, but it was done in the face of something that inherently rejects being researched - a process of embattled trial and error, where no assumptions can ever be taken for granted. I imagine that Tenser's laboratory saw a great many Exploding Disks, Horrifying Disks, Cheese Disks and Floating Anti-Disks before he finally settled on the formula that he was seeking.

Even the method of spellcasting evokes a feeling of precarious uncertainty - in order to be a wizard, you have to let an alien meme burrow into your brain, and when you discharge it your memories of the meme will be wiped clean. Every day you memorize the same words and incantations, but every day they vanish from your mind. You can't tell me that there won't be long-term neurological consequences from that. And the very event of forgetting serves to challenge our precious rationality, to remind us that no matter how right we think we are, we are still trapped in a brain made of fallible meat. The original Vancian magic story, Mazirian the Magician, is a story about a man who sets out utterly sure of his intellectual superiority, and is gradually stripped of it - figuratively and literally - until he has nothing left and is devoured by evil trees.

Later, more or less every book, module and blog post would introduce new spells that PC wizards could potentially learn, and many of these spells are pretty great. But I also like the idea that the spells in the PHB are the only spells in existence. The world is ancient, and thousands upon thousands of magic-users have come before you, yet these spells are the only ones they have left behind. Of all the wonders that magic can work, only this handful have ever been bound into words that a human can have control over. No wonder Sleep is overpowered and Affect Normal Fires is terrible! These are not the powers of a well-read arcanist, but the blind fumblings of a thousand generations, crawling on hands and knees through a rat-maze as big as the multiverse.

This, then, is the Vancian wizard: a scientist, a Science Hero, one for whom the sword of reason is the greatest weapon - but tragically, a hero of rationality who lives in an inherently irrational world. No matter how he tries, his efforts are ultimately futile. The incomprehensible chaos of magic remains, huge and indifferent to his most rigorous testing. And one day, when civilisations fall and the flames of war sweep through the land, the books of magic will be burnt; the knowledge of spells will be wiped out; and the little piece of enlightenment that Tenser and Mordenkainen brought into the world will be gone, returned to the endless unknown from whence it came.