Monday, May 20, 2013

DCC Fimbulwinter - Session 5

Once again the session revolved around Magnus McAnthony, the asshole wizard with the d30 choking cloud spell.

Eventually one of the level 0 characters tired of this and stabbed him in the back, ending his reign of dungeon genocide. Then he was stabbed in turn by the other PCs.

Meanwhile the players encountered two really cool villains I'd developed and killed them both before they got to do anything cool.

PC deaths: 5
Treasure obtained: ~1500sp (that's silver standard mind you)

The high lethality has been fun but it's getting old. Only one character still survives from the 2nd session. Most of the deaths today could have been prevented if they hadn't fought each other and if they'd remembered to bring a cleric.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

DCC Fimbulwinter Session 4

"This choking cloud only lasts for another 2 minutes, so let's just run through the dungeon so we can clear as many rooms as possible before it expires!"

This was after the cloud had already killed three party members.

Three more PCs died before the session was over - the last of them by falling down a hole while fleeing from the dungeon.

No treasure acquired.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Dead Company

(Wrote this post a looong time ago and never got round to publishing it, but Gus L's latest post got me thinking about it again.)

One day, while arguing about different editions of D&D, somebody told me that frequent character death was antithetical to roleplaying or character development. The premise being that if characters don't have time to develop, they won't be interesting, and if characters are at constant risk of death then players won't get attached to them.

I figured this was bunk, because a) there is plenty of character development in "highly lethal" works of fiction like Game of Thrones or The Wire, and b) it's easy to roleplay and get attached to a character in, say, Fiasco, or any other one-shot for that matter, despite the fact that the character is certain to "die" (i.e. cease to be played) at the end of the session. While it's true that most old-school D&D games don't have a lot of character depth, that's more because killing monsters in a cave is a premise inherently lacking in opportunities for roleplaying*.

So I began to think about an RPG which revolves around an ensemble cast of characters with a high turnover rate - often, but not always, because of death. You could probably do this already with a collaborative story engine like Smallville or DramaSystem, but I'm aiming for something a little more traditional.

This is a game about the Dead Company - a renowned mercenary company in the midst of a brutal war. Individuals come and go, but the company remains. I'd say that it's like the Black Company, but I haven't actually read those books yet :( Of course that's just the default, and you could run a variety of different groups: revolutionaries, pirates, dungeon delvers, colonists, Jomsvikings, etc. However, the assumption is that the company will get mixed up in ongoing plots, deal with different factions, and influence the world around them. Fifteen guys crawling through a dungeon full of hostile, mute undead is not the goal here.

The game goes like this:
- All players generate three PCs at the start of the game. These PCs then go into the pool of playable characters. They are not 'your' PCs because you made them; anyone can play any PC and the roles can change from session to session.
- PCs don't have stats, at least not to begin with. They are primarily defined by their class and by their relationships. Each PC must have at least one relationship to another, which will be something like the relationships in Fiasco. All the PCs must be connected to each other at least indirectly. You will draw a chart of the relationships to make sure everyone is linked up to the 'web'.
- Each session consists of a mission in which one PC will be selected for each player, while the other PCs stay at home or act off-screen.
- The turnover rate is up to the group to decide, but by default you should expect 1-3 fatalities per session. There might also be rules for characters burning out and quitting the company.
- New PCs can be brought in naturally through play, or through a mechanical device that generates them with new relationships to the existing PCs. It's possible to have relationships with deceased/retired PCs as well, e.g. a son who joins up after his father was killed.
- PCs don't advance in the sense of growing stronger, but they do grow more complex. Each time a PC survives a mission, they get an extra bit of nuance added to their character, based off something they did that session. This might be an Attribute (e.g. Strong, Weak, Clever, Stupid - equivalent of D&D stats) a Trait (personality, unusual skill, etc.) a Background (think 13th Age) a Secret (flashback to past, possible plot hook) or a Link (gained an enemy, impressed the king, downloaded the crystal memories of an alien civilisation into your brain, etc.)
- The Company as a whole advances by gaining money and renown. However, the major form of advancement in the game is simply the development of the plot towards a satisfying conclusion.
- The core resolution system needs to be simple and easy to use. I would probably use the chassis of Basic D&D since that's something that many players are already familiar with.
- By default, the classes would not include spellcasters, since I'm going for a more down to earth sword & sorcery tone. Also, there would be no 'fighter' class since everyone in the Dead Company is expected to be a fighter. So you might have healers, minstrels, assassins, etc. but all of that goes on top of a basic proficiency in combat.

*hurdy dur, not real roleplaying, etc., what I here mean by roleplaying is acting and thinking as your character and developing a story about the characters. Much as I love old-school D&D, it doesn't make it easy to play the role of anything but a psychopathic murderer.

More inspirational imagery:

 & and meanwhile, in anime:

Sunday, April 14, 2013

DCC Fimbulwinter, Session 3

They finally got to level 1 and picked character classes.
- One PC is an absolute monster with 18hp and +5+d3 attack bonus. But to get his full attack bonus he must wield a pitchfork.
- A wizard PC rolled 98 for mercurial magic - can cast Choking Cloud with a d30 instead of d20.
- Party was hired to carry out a blood feud assassination. Reminded not to kill too many people or the feud would only be perpetuated further.
- Attack on the longhouse ended with the aforementioned wizard casting Choking Cloud, rolling a 30 on the d30 and slaughtering everyone in the building, men women children and slaves (but sparing the goat). No save - or rather, the save DC is equal to the spell check, so nobody short of a deity could have passed it.
- Then they burned down the longhouse to 'hide the evidence'. Now they have to leave town in a hurry, but they did get paid.

The group seems to love DCC. One player who started on 4th edition said he preferred this because he felt like he had "earned" the right to be 1st level (and have 18hp and a game-breaking perfect storm of attack bonuses.)

Sunday, April 7, 2013

DCC Fimbulwinter Session 2

- Reskinned 'Portal Under the Stars' as a buried longship
- A more balanced slaughterfest than last week: seven died and nine survived to reach level 1
- four PCs killed by the shitty sub-zero-level skull monsters; the giant snake miniboss was killed before he got a chance to act. Teamwork and planning made all the difference.
- The final fight is kind of a joke if the PCs do all the stuff that mitigates the threat: the clay soldiers all melted, the generals all turned to dust, so it was just the PCs against one lone warlord. A crit reduced his movement speed to 0 and they kicked him into the pool.
- When tallying up treasure I always think "I gave them way too much" and after it's divided between the party I always think "I gave them too little"

Also, though this may be of limited interest to those outside the game: a high score board for all characters living and dead:

Friday, March 29, 2013

DCC Fimbulwinter - Session 1 report

I usually find play reports boring as hell so I will try to keep this snappy and interesting:

- 15 funnel PCs captured by anthropophagic elf sorceress
- Me one hour into the session: "Shit, I pulled my punches too much on this dungeon, I'm not even going to kill any of them"
- Sorceress critically fails two spell checks in a row, then rolls an enormous check and hypnotizes 5 PCs in one round
- PCs murdering each other. Not because of the hypnosis thing, purely of their own volition.
- Last PC flees for the exit. Grabbed by giant frog, shrugs off his backpack containing all the (meagre) treasure in order to escape.

I'm using an SP=XP system, with 0-level characters starting at -100xp. The sole survivor's only loot was a single silver spoon, so he is still 98xp away from acquiring a class.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Chaos and Law

Humans have an innate tendency towards both Law and Chaos. The former can be seen, for example, in the way they order bookshelves; the latter, in their desire to demolish buildings. In fact, the two tendencies are not at war but complementary. A chef arranges his work most beautifully on a plate precisely so that it may be chopped up, chewed, and reduced to scraps and acids by the customer. A house of cards is built not for the moment that it stands, but the moment it falls.

Some have conceived of a midpoint between Law and Chaos, a force that seeks Balance between the opposites. However, the vast majority of the human race is allied to neither Law nor Chaos nor Balance, but to the eternal Cycle of the three.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The King of Birds' Daughter

Long ago, a prince went hunting and with his bow killed the daughter of the King of Birds. For this crime, the King of Birds chose to punish all mankind equally. He granted each of them gift of flight for a single day; now, forever after, they dream about the wings they once had.

Gods of the Norsemen,_1886_(Odin,_the_Wanderer).jpg/220px-Georg_von_Rosen_-_Oden_som_vandringsman,_1886_(Odin,_the_Wanderer).jpg

Alignment: Lawful
God of: Wisdom, Victory, Prophecy, Magic, The Hunt
1st-level spells: Detect Magic, Second Sight, Protection from Evil, Blessing
Unholy creatures: undead, demons, chaotic spirits and beings, mundane animals
Weapons: Spear, Sword, Staff, Sling
Servants: Huginn and Muninn, ever-watchful ravens; Geri and Freki, ravenous wolves; Sleipnir, eight-legged horse.

Alignment: Lawful
God of: Thunder, Strength, Healing
1st-level spells: Word of Command, Protection from Evil, Resist Cold or Heat, Blessing
Unholy creatures: undead, demons, elves, dwarves
Weapons: Hammer, Staff, Mace
Servants: Thjalfi, the world's fastest runner, and his wife Roskva; Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjostr, mighty goats.

Alignment: Neutral
God of: Sea, Wind, Wealth
1st-level spells: Resist Cold or Heat, Holy Sanctuary, Food of the Gods, Blessing
Unholy creatures: undead, demons, mundane animals, creatures of earth including dwarves
Weapons: Axe, Bow, Spear
Servants: Radveig and Kreppvor, his daughters.*04dftC-HWCgxb1Kw9P37Cv8mkzsnfoaVKipJ8LG8spc_/freyja_034.jpg
Alignment: Neutral
Goddess of: Love, Fertility, Gold
1st-level spells: Food of the Gods, Protection from Evil, Word of Command, Detect Evil
Unholy creatures: undead, demons, non-living creatures, dwarves
Weapons: Bow, Spear, Staff
Servants: Hildisvini, a mighty boar; two cats, names unknown.

Alignment: Chaotic
God of: Trickery, Fire, Dishonour
1st-level spells: Darkness, Paralysis, Detect Magic, Word of Command
Unholy creatures: undead, valkyries, einherjar, light elves
Weapons: Sword, Dagger, Throwing Knife, Flail
Servants: Sigyn, his faithful wife; Narfi, his son who became a wolf.

Alignment: Chaotic
Goddess of: Death, the Underworld
1st-level spells: Darkness, Second Sight, Resist Cold or Heat, Word of Command
Unholy creatures: undead, valkyries, einherjar, mundane animals
Weapons: Axe, Scythe, Javelin.
Servants: Dead souls of thieves, murderers and those without honour.
Jesus Christ
Alignment: Lawful
God of: Peace, Love, Charity
1st-level spells: Holy Sanctuary, Blessing, Protection from Evil, Detect Evil
Unholy creatures: undead, demons, elves, dwarves, pagan spirits
Weapons: Club, Mace, Hammer, Sling
Servants: Cherubim and saints.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

FLAILSNAILS to DCC conversion (first draft)

rules not as yet tested for swiftly converting FLAILSNAILS PCs to DCC games and/or using OSR-compatible homebrew classes in DCC.

First, determine your character's base class:
If you fight good and do very little else, you are a Fighter.
If you fight good but also have some extra abilities such as ranger, paladin or racial powers, you are a Variant Fighter.
If you fight fairly well but have other abilities that make up at least 50% of your schtick, you are a Cleric.
If you have skills, sneaky stuff or other utilities that aren't fighting or magic, you are a Thief.
If casting spells is your primary thing, you are a Wizard.

Characters get attack bonus, action dice, critical tables and saving throws as per their base class.
Fighters get the Deed Die and Mighty Deed of Arms.
Variant Fighters don't get the Deed Die, and instead get an attack bonus equal to the average of the Deed Die they would have gotten, rounded down. (e.g. d3 = +1; d4 = +2; etc) They cannot perform Mighty Deeds of Arms.
Clerics and Wizards still cast spells as per their original system; no rolling on tables for you.
Thieves use whatever skills they had from their original system, but gain the ability to burn and regain Luck as a Thief.

Your DCC Strength, Agility, Stamina and Personality correspond to their equivalent stats in the original system. (Why they insisted on renaming Dex, Con and Cha I will never understand.) Your DCC Intelligence is the higher of your OSR Intelligence or Wisdom. Your Luck is rolled as you enter the DCC universe.

Monday, February 18, 2013

FIMBULWINTER campaign primer
An axe-age, a sword-age, shields shall be cloven; a wind-age, a wolf-age, ere the world totters.

Cold, darkness, violence and betrayal are the hallmarks of the Fimbulwinter, the last great winter that heralds the end of the world. The end will approach gradually: the actual length of this last terrible season may be one year or it may be one hundred, depending on what happens during that time. Springs and summers will come and go for a while, but each will be less bright than the last. Although Ragnarok looms on the horizon, the PCs will have plenty of time to engage in low-level adventures and pursue their own personal goals. Nor is the apocalypse destined to play out in a particular manner, for the PCs may well have a hand in it before the dark season is over.

Fighters of Scandinavia are generally Vikings, those who sailed on longships to distant lands either as explorers, merchants or pirates. Other fighters might be housecarls who serve in a particular house, or mercenaries, wandering brigands, etc.

Thieves are much the same as they ever are, professional lawbreakers, footpads, pickpockets and con artists, whose trades are ubiquitous in time and place.
Clerics will mostly be priests of the Norse pantheon, picking a specific god to whom they pay homage. The following gods are common, although others are also allowed.
Lawful: The Aesir - Odin, Thor, Tyr, Bragi.
Neutral: The Vanir - Njord, Freyr, Freyja, Heimdall.
Chaotic: Loki, Hel.
For foreigners, gods of other realms are also viable, e.g. Jesus, Allah, Lugh, Satan.


Wizards are those who shun the magic of the gods and seek power for men alone. Many strike bargains with powerful supernatural beings in order to gain greater power. Common patrons who offer bargains include Utgarda-Loki, the giant illusionist; Angrboda, mother of monsters; the Norns, who weave the threads of destiny; and the King of Alfheim, lord of the timeless elves.
That which is called Álfheimr is one, where dwell the peoples called Light-Elves; but the Dark-Elves dwell down in the earth, and they are unlike in appearance, but by far more unlike in nature.

Elves are long-lived, fair and cold-hearted. They care little for the struggles of mortal beings, but sometimes deign to venture abroad from their holts in Alfheim, playing for awhile at the games of humanity. Dark Elves dwell deep beneath the earth in Nidavellir; they are like their forest cousins, but with more of cruelty and less of playfulness.

Many a likeness of men they made, the dwarfs in the earth, as Durin said. 

Dwarves are also long-lived; they are cruel and capricious, and their hearts are warmed only by greed. In their secret halls beneath the mountains they craft magical artifacts of unparalleled quality. Those who go adventuring are usually outcasts from their home people, and usually have little love for men or gods.

Halflings are an obscure race, possibly descended from the union of men and elves. They live exclusively in Shetland, where they have been driven into the hills and hidden valleys by the arrival of Danish settlers. They generally lack a taste for adventure, but Halfling PCs will be the exceptions.

Other races and classes are available by negotiation. If the rules for it don't seem broken, and you can argue convincingly how it fits into the setting, then you can play it.

The Gods of the Norsemen are somewhat different to the typical D&D depiction of deities; they are somewhat weaker, though still very powerful. The Aesir are not abstract conceptual entities and they are not sustained or created by belief in them. They have discrete physical forms and they are, theoretically at least, vulnerable to physical threats; but they all possess mighty magic, powerful artifacts and superhuman abilities. Nevertheless, one god has died in the past, and it may yet happen again.
Out of the Ice-waves issued venom-drops, waxing until a giant was;
Thence are our kindred come all together,-- so it is they are savage forever.
Giants, by contrast, are considerably more powerful than the D&D depiction would have them. Rarely have mortals defeated giants in open combat, although trickery has sometimes served them better. The greatest giants are rivals to the gods themselves, and it is feared that when the gods and giants go to war it will signal the end of the world. Not all giants are evil or murderous, however; some, like Utgarda-Loki, simply keep to themselves, and in at least one case a giantess had a child by a human lover.

 Nine worlds I knew, the nine in the tree, with mighty roots beneath the mold.

The Nine Worlds, or Nine Realms, are not separate planes of existence, as in some conceptions of Norse mythology. Rather, they are for the most part separate terrestrial regions, although some are high in the sky or deep beneath the earth. The Nine Realms are as follows: Midgard, where men dwell; Asgard, home of the gods; Jotunheim, or Giantland; Alfheim, the secret realms of the elves; Nidavellir, subterranean home of the dark elves; Muspellheim, land of fire; Niflheim, land of ice; Hel, land of the dead; and Vanaheim, where once the Vanir dwelled.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Tourist class for DIY D&D

Tourists are travellers from distant lands or possibly from the future. Wherever they come from they seem singularly unaware of the dangers that surround them. They consider everything that happens to them merely an exotic holiday. What they lack in guile they make up for in their bizarre, seemingly supernatural luck, and unusual technology.

Hit Die: d6
Saves, XP and other faffery as Thief

Weapons & Armour
Tourists have a great deal of enthusiasm for combat but very little training. They are proficient only in weapons that are easy to use, mainly bludgeoning weapons, crossbows, slingshots and guns. Bladed weapons are beyond them, as are complicated missile weapons like slings and bows.
Tourists will refuse to wear armour heavier than leather, considering it hot and stuffy. However they get a +4 bonus to AC and saves against any danger of which they are blithely unaware. In DCC, they add their Luck bonus to AC as well.

Thief-like Skills
Go Unnoticed: Tourists are often able to blunder through high-security checkpoints and well-defended guardposts without even realising they are going somewhere they shouldn't. They can 'Hide' and 'Move Silently' as a Thief of their level.
It Was Open, So I Came Inside: Tourists can 'Pick Locks' as a Thief of their level. They don't actually pick the locks, they just find doors that happen to be left ajar. The DC is determined by how frequently the door is opened.

In DCC, the Tourist is able to spend and regain Luck just like a Thief.
In other systems, the Tourist gains a limited number of points per day to spend on modifying rolls up or down. This number is equal to 2 times the Tourist's level. Each point modifies the roll by 1, just as in DCC. Or you could mod in the DCC Luck stat just for this one character, that would be a bit of a gas.

Whatever class starts with the highest money in your game, the Tourist starts with twice that much.

Foreign Gadgetry
At 1st level the Tourist arrives with a single item of foreign provenance, perhaps magically enchanted or perhaps technology from the distant future. This item is chosen at random and once lost cannot be replaced.
The Tourist receives a mail order package containing a new random item at every odd-numbered level. If it is the same as an item they have already got, they can send it back with a strongly-worded note demanding an exchange, but processing will take 4-6 weeks.
Any non-Tourist trying to operate one of these gadgets has a 1 in 3 chance of it backfiring unpleasantly upon them.

1. Camera: Makes a flash of light that blinds all creatures in a 30' square in front of the user (DC 15 Ref save to avoid.) Also takes pictures. Can be used once per day.
2. Animate Luggage: A large chest or backpack that walks around by itself and follows the Tourist faithfully. Carries twice as much as a normal human. Prefers to run from danger but if cornered will ram for 1d6 damage. If the Tourist is killed, there is a 50% chance the Luggage will imprint upon the nearest creature, and a 50% chance it will run off and go feral.
3. Bug Repellent: Exceedingly strong spray for keeping off noxious insects. When used, all creatures who smell it must make a morale check or flee until out of the radius of 50'. Tourists are immune to the stuff and allies may plug their nostrils in advance. Each can contains 2d6 charges of spray.
4. Sunblock: A mysterious unguent that provides DR 5 against fire and radiation attacks, and total immunity to sun scorch, light beams and other solar shenannigans. Lasts 6 hours but must be applied 20 minutes in advance. Each tube contains 6d6 doses for one person each.
5. Everfull Lunchbox: Whenever you open this lunchbox, there will be a tuna & corn sandwich, a banana and a thermos full of tea.
6. Travel Guide: A book containing many truths and several falsehoods about the local area. The Tourist may consult the book once for each area (town, dungeon, hex or zone, whatever). The DM will roll a secret die for the type of information found: 1-2: useful secret (hidden door, trap warning, saucy blackmail information, etc.) 3-5: useful information but not secret, 6: false and potentially dangerous information.
7. Portable Jukebox: A small box containing several imps (or possibly 'computer chips') which can record and play back sounds with perfect fidelity. Also contains a variety of musical recordings of an utterly alien and shamelessly licentious style. This novelty confers a +2 bonus to reaction rolls for NPCs of Neutral or Chaotic alignment; Lawful characters will find the music crude and boorish.
8. Universal Panacea: A bottle of pills that can heal just about any ailment, but not hit point loss. Minor ailments, including anything non-permanent, require 1 pill; major ailments, such as permanent blindness, disease or poisoning, require 2 pills; extreme ailments, such as dismemberment or a curse, require 4 pills. There are exactly 15 pills in each bottle.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

FLAILSNAILS-compatible race & class compendium

Bored of yr. Fighter/Wizard/Cleric/Thief? Roll up and get your variant classes, sub classes and completely novel classes right here.
Arranged sort of haphazardly from least gonzo to most.
Will keep adding to this as I find them.

My 4E-to-old-school conversions:
Empath (4E Ardent)
Shapechanger (4E Druid)

Zak's alternate classes where you roll on a table for feats each time you level up:
Random Fighter
Random Thief
Random Ranger
Random Wizard
Random Barbarian

and Reynaldo's Random Paladin

 Blood Island classes - including Viking, Berserker Viking, Adventurer, Shaman
Bounty Hunter
White Wizard
Blue Wizard  ('copy wizard')
DCC Summoner
Rockpriest  (Dwarf Cleric)
Feral Dwarf
Illusionist as Specialist, not Magic-User
Witch Hunter
Beast Master
Druid  (blood & guts druid, sacrifices HP to summon spirits)
Gnome  (tiny fairy type)
War Dog
Shardik  (bear people)
Nordanbjorn  (sapient bear)
Frogling  (HMS Apollyon)
Frogman  (Wampus Country)
Myconid (Mushroom Man)
Annelidist  (infested with demon worms)
Blood Druid
Battle Princess/Murder Princess
Battle Princess  (yes, two people independently made their own Battle Princess class)
Plant Goblin
Fallarin  (winged humanoid)
Black Hobbit
Eberron Classes: Warforged, Shifter and Gnome Artificer
Flying Monkey
Time Gnome
Planetary Ape
Horde Trooper  (I guess this is from a cartoon or something?)
Chaos Monk
Stranger  (John Carter type modern human gadding about in the fantasy world)
Tourist  (also a John Carter, sort of)
Tourist  (Discworld style)
Bleaklands Ghoul
Fire Lizard of Kalak-Nur
Son of the Toad
Anti-Druid  (City/Machine Druid)
Vat Spawn
Magitek Engineer
Grease Monkey
Muscle Wizard
Machine Bonded 
Harry Potter Goblin
Christmas Elf
Luchador  (sword & planet style)
Barsoomian Green Man
Ghost in the Machine
Vault Person
Bene Gesserit
Mega Robot
Pokemon Trainer
Warpstar Knight

Dust PC classes (not actually gonzo if you happen to be playing 1920s dust bowl D&D)
Scrap Princess
Murder Ballad Boy

(not many of these because most people seem to like doing race-as-class)
A shitload of races  including 'Void Elf', 'Deodand', 'Goblin from Labyrinth'

DCC Classes (not quite OSR-compatible)
Dwarven Cleric
Gnome, Bard, Ranger and Paladin
Muscle Wizard

Thursday, January 31, 2013

More on Latin American Adventures 

The church at Macondo, an isolated frontier town, default starting location for PCs. (Squint and pretend the car isn't there. The bicycles can stay.) 
Instead of drawing spells from God directly, Catholic clerics adhere to particular saints. Popular saints include Santa Juana (left), a savant scholar, and Santa Rosa de Lima (right) who mercilessly tortured herself as part of her ascetic obsessions. Male saints include Saint Dominic, patron of astrologers and Hound of the Lord; Saint Francis, who commands the respect of all animals; and San Ignacio, the warrior-priest and founder of the Jesuits.
In this world, Europe does not seem to exist and white people are unknown. Everyone is varying shades of brown. Judaism & Christianity developed alongside Aztec and Mayan religions. Christ was born in Panama. If this doesn't make sense maybe you are thinking about it too hard!
 Some Moors and Africans have arrived from the east to trade or settle the islands. It is said the Muslims have a vast desert empire across the ocean.

Legends speak of people called 'The Pale Race' who existed before even the ancient Olmecs or Chavin. But few traces of them remain.

An example of an 'Elemental', a surreal monster composed of various unconnected elements. Some say they are a mobile breach in reality, others that they are another guise for demons.

Diego de Landa, foremost of the Inquisitors,  a sect of Catholicism that seeks to destroy the rival religions and purge the Catholic faith of syncretic influences. Landa is currently overseeing the invasion of the Yucatan Peninsula and the eradication of Mayan scriptures.
deceptively innocent-looking seamstresses hunt giant cockroaches on the pampas plains
syncretist priests deconstruct their own bodies to fuel their postmodern magics

a colony of serpent men lives high in the Mexican altiplano along with their mind-controlled human slaves
giant jellyfish disguise themselves as giant heads above the water. Although it is unclear what they are disguising themselves from since a giant head is itself not a common sight in the Caribbean.
known only as the labyrinth men, these individuals have strange powers and are probably not native to this dimension

Monday, January 21, 2013

Using Magic: The Gathering creatures as wandering monsters

So wow I have a shitload of dusty old magic cards in this cardboard box. (note: thanks to this blog post for reminding me.) I don't even want to calculate how much money I spent on these when I was 13 years old. Hopefully I can put them to a new use for D&D. Here is a system for using the creature cards to generate interesting wandering monsters on the fly.
Instead of having a wandering monster table, just have a deck of creature cards. You could hand-select them for a particular area, but I think it would be more fun just to shuffle them all together and see what comes up. Or you could have a regular wandering monster table but one entry in the table says “1d6 Magic cards”. Or you could divide them by colour and draw them for different situations:

neutral wilderness monster = draw green creature
neutral dungeon monster = draw red creature
bad guy's minions = draw black creature
johnny law = draw white creature
wizard's summons or extraplanar weirdness = draw blue creature
robots = draw artifact creature

Remember that 99% of creature cards in MTG only represent one creature. So you can create groups of enemies by drawing, say, three cards and having 2d6 of the lowest cost creature, 1d4 of the middle cost, and 1 of the highest cost as a leader. Or any other combination you can think of. But if the card does happen to represent multiple creatures, it is that many creatures based on the artwork. e.g. if the picture shows 3 goblins and you rolled 5, then there are 15 goblins total.

If you have time you could even divide the cards by cost as well as colour, then you could pick out exactly what power level you like. Then you could have a wandering monster table that just says like “2d6 1-mana creatures” or “1d4 5-mana green creatures”.

attack bonus = creature's power
AC = base AC of your game +/- creature's toughness
hit dice = creature's mana cost
BUT if it looks like some weedy ass wizard dude who costs a lot of mana for his special abilities, then his hit dice are d4s. If it is a creature whose mana cost has obviously been reduced because it has other drawbacks, then its hit dice are d10s.
Blue: 1d4
White: 1d6
Black: 1d8
Red: 1d10
Green: 1d10 unless a hippy elf, in which case 1d6
If power is 5 or more, double damage dice. If power is 8 or more, triple damage dice.

As a general rule, you can usually guess what the card is meant to represent based on the picture, name and flavour text. Everything else is just the particular mechanical expression of the concept. For many abilities you will have to interpret them somewhat. Some MTG cards are very flavourful and you can easily work out what they're supposed to be doing, other times they are very vague; in the latter case just take it as an opportunity to improvise, or ignore the mechanic entirely.

A 'tap' ability can be used as a standard action.
A 'mana cost' ability can only be used once every X rounds, where X is the mana cost.
A 'life cost' ability drains the equivalent number of HP from the creature.

'deal X damage' = deal Xd6 damage
'+1/+1 counter' = 1d6 temp HP
'-1/-1 counter' = 1d6 permanent stat damage (choose stat based on relevance, if unsure either STR or CON)
any ability that generates mana = can send mana to allies to pay for their activated abilities (don't worry about colour of mana), or heal 1d4 hp per point of mana.
'tap target creature' = paralyze/stun for 1 round
'put into your hand' = whatever was put into your hand will show up within 1d6 rounds
'return to hand' = paralyze/stun for 1d6 rounds, or teleport target a short distance away
'draw a card' = draw a non-creature card, that is the spell that the creature can cast; or just give it a random D&D spell appropriate to its level
'discard a card from your hand' = save vs. spell or be driven insane
'destroy target artifact' = better make this 'destroy mundane object' because there are a shitload of cards like this and if you use them as-written then your players will soon have no magic item
'can't block' = -4 AC.

Flying = flying, duh
Trample = on a successful attack, the victim must make a CON check or be knocked prone and trampled over, potentially opening up the squishies to attack
First Strike = +25% initiative (+5 on a d20, +2 on a d6...)
Fear/Intimidate = henchmen must make a morale check when first facing the monster
Haste = double regular move speed, always charges for +2 attack
Morph = 3 in 6 chance of surprise
Ninjutsu = draw another creature, this is what the ninja is disguised as
Deathtouch = turn to stone as medusa (but check the artwork and flavour text for details)
Indestructible = can't be damaged except by very powerful magic (9th level spells, +5 weapons)
Regeneration = regenerates as troll. Mana cost is the number of rounds it takes to come back to life.
Phasing = can turn ethereal, making it unable to attack or be attacked
Phantom = can't be hit except by magic and magic weapons
Doublestrike = attacks twice
Landwalk = gets +2 AC and attack when in its favoured element. Will hide in this element and try to drag enemies in to fight on its own terms. Islandwalk = water; Mountainwalk = very rugged terrain (can climb sheer cliffs); Plainswalk = tall grass; Forestwalk = thick undergrowth OR treetops; Swampwalk = swamp water/mud
Bushido = gains that bonus to attack and AC in melee only
Double-sided card = can shift between forms as a standard action
flip card = If it survives this encounter with the PCs, it will reappear later as the named NPC
Threshold = can trigger its ability by scrounging off/eating a corpse
Kicker = when appearing in a group, the leader will have the kicker ability
Hexproof/Shroud = immune to magic
Vigilance = can make opportunity attacks, or if opportunity attacks already exist in your system, gets a +2 bonus to them
Annihilator = each round, that many enemies must make a save vs. death or be fuckin' annihilated
Shadow = can't attack normal creatures and can't be attacked. Just does its own little thing in its own shadow dimension. Might still be an enemy if it's trying to steal your treasure or something.
Fading/Vanishing = only appears for that many rounds before disappearing or melting or something

(christ, there are a lot of keyword abilities... the rest you can figure out for yourself)

Lastly (this is a note to myself as much as to anyone else) remember that the best thing about a monster is always the story behind it. And Magic cards have a buttload of story packed into them just through the name, artwork and maybe flavour text. (I'm not talking about the actual MTG lore.)
even unglued cards work ok!
Using other MTG cards
You can also use other MTG cards to generate things. You could draw a hand of 7 cards to generate a wizard – instants and sorceries are his spells, creatures are his minions, artifacts are his magic items and enchantments are what he's placed upon himself or his creatures. But non-creature cards are generally too different from D&D material to be converted directly, you would have to just use them as vague inspiration.
Another thing you could do is draw land cards to give a backdrop to a scene. Some land artwork is really cool and just holding up the card and saying “this is where you are” could add a bit of detail and interest to the scene. Or you could shuffle all your land cards together and draw them to generate hexcrawl (cardcrawl?) terrain. Would work best if you had a fair amount of non-basic lands and an idea of what each one represents.
But I don't want to go into it much further because, apart from the creatures, I don't think there's much I can tell you besides "Use them as inspiration, dummy!"

Saturday, January 12, 2013

House Rule Trifecta: Stat Checks, Mass Melee, Lost at Sea


When rolling under your stat, a critical success is if you hit your stat exactly. This is purely a cosmetic change but I don't like the feeling of "Yay, I rolled a 1!"


When you have a bunch of allies and enemies fighting each other but it's not big enough to abstract as a battle - maybe it's a boarding action on a ship or an encounter between two large companies. And nobody wants to deal with all these nameless mooks instead of the cool PCs. And let's assume that because they're mooks they have no special abilities and are functionally equal to each other (e.g. all 1HD fighters).
Have some of the enemy mooks engage the PCs, however many seems reasonable. Pair up the rest of the mooks against their opposing numbers. Each round, the players roll a D6 for each 'pair'. On a 1, the ally dies; on a 6, the enemy dies. If one side is strictly twice as superior (e.g. two onto one, or a 2HD orc onto a 1HD goblin) then double that side's chances of victory. As soon as the PCs engage with the mooks, they start running on the regular combat rules.
This rule gives the mooks a fairly low chance of harming each other, and is based on the idea that in swashbuckling combat, the mooks should fight "in the background" while the PCs are the focus. Most of the mooks will keep hacking away ineffectively at each other until the PCs (or powerful NPCs) shift the tide of battle.


Being lost at sea means you are lost with no ability to navigate and no means of propulsion, so maybe you got shipwrecked, marooned on a raft, fell off, etc. You have nothing you can do except sit around and wait. Make a save vs. death, fortitude save or luck check. If you fail, you die of thirst. What? You shouldn't have gotten lost at sea in the first place, dumbass. If you pass, you are washed up on a random island or fished out by a passing ship.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Magic Weapon History Tables

In honour of Glamdring and Orcrist, two of my favourite characters in The Hobbit. To be used when identifying magic weapons, for a more interesting result than just "this is a +1 sword",  also potentially providing future plot hooks. In my game, I plan to have identification be performed by sages, long-lived elves, dead spirits, ancient golems and other NPCs who are likely to know the history of such things.

1. The Weapon's Name
1. Providence
2. Calamity
3. Eye-Gouger
4. Freerazor
5. Heartsblood
6. Cruelty
7. Usurper
8. Grass-Cutter
9. Gut-Render
10. Limb-Eater
11. Freedom
12. Pallbearer
13. Thrice
14. Dreamer
15. Marrow-Dancer
16. Clamour
17. Fang-Breaker
18. Thunderhead
19. Guts
20. Antechamber
21. Cumulonimbus
22. Final Destination
23. White Out
24. Potato
25. Cigar
26. Hot Tramp
27. Spiderface
28. Real Horror Show
29. Adam Kadmon
30. Crying Game

1a. Paired Weapons
1. Sunlight & Moonshadow
2. Frenzy & Contemplation
3. Northbite & Southfang
4. Terror & Misery
5. Wolf & Polecat
6. Pox & Malefice
7. Liver & Lung
8. Youth & Beauty
9. Seizure & Fugue
10. Drunkard & Hierophant
11. Rib-Chewer & Sphincter's Worm
12. Death By Drowning & Life Behind Bars

2. Its' Former Owner
1. Drouse, a dwarf lord whose bloodline vanished under mysterious circumstances
2. Rhiatha, a princess renowned as a master tactician
3. Tanith of Llor, a prince exiled for terrible crimes
4. Bloody Rose Kenneck, the pirate king's daughter
5. The Boudixhain, ten generations of warrior-queens
6. The Farnoes, three squabbling brothers
7. Croab, the shaman of the renowned Golgangr Orcs
8. Manos, a notorious bandit operating out of an abandoned keep
9. Tremulere, an elvish king who fell in love with a human
10. Homon, a monk who was spontaneously enlightened with a new form of weapon arts
11. Vernoth, a weaponsmith who would not let his creations be given to anyone else
12. Memodes, a ghost who guarded a remote tower
13. Tryvarg, a viking seacaptain
14. Qalloq, a paladin from a distant land who died without ever returning home
15. The Blue Company, an anarcho-syndicalist mercenary band who shared their weapons equally
16. Prelemor, a fat judge who was proud to hang the weapon on his wall and never use it
17. Sturga, a widely loathed inquisitor for a violent regime
18. Chasmesis, a spirit who possessed the weapon for a time before moving on
19. Knobbs, a greasy peasant who found the weapon by accident
20. Freya and Frenka, weapon-juggling ninja sisters extraordinaire
21. Rathus, a mighty warrior who either died or ascended to another plane of existence
22. Gharl III, undead king of the lowlands
23. Asppago, ancient emperor of the serpent-men
24. The Fighting Norns, who shared one eye, one tooth and one blade between them
25. Theliel, an angel of vengeance sent to smite a wicked king
26. Sebekim, a wandering golem created along with the weapon
27. Atropos, a silver dragon whose hoard consisted exclusively of weapons
28. Caulbach, a legendary assassin who possessed ninety-nine weapons that he referred to as his 'wives'
29. Yrvander, a sentient mountain - what it was doing with a human-sized weapon is a mystery
30. Satan

3. Its' Past Deeds
1. Shattered the gates of a besieged city
2. Slaughtered dozens of orphans
3. Lay dormant in an enchanted pool for decades
4. Shattered a much older and more valuable magic weapon
5. Assassinated a bridegroom on his wedding day
6. Destroyed a bridge, turning the tide of a battle
7. Wielded in the last great war fought by the owner's people
8. Tempered in the blood of a dragon
9. Concealed by refugees when their city was sacked
10. Slew the last member of a now-extinct race
11. Sacrificed victims to a dark god
12. Lopped the left head of the Great Ettin, which turned out to be the voice-of-reason head
13. Broke the first chains of a slave uprising
14. Used to execute the King of Thieves
15. Used to carve out a new barony in the depths of the wilds
16. Associated symbolically with a certain city
17. Buried with a knight who later emerged from his tomb
18. Blessed by a saint just before she left this world
19. Was married to a sentient sword to sate the sword's steely lust
20. Turned upon its owner and devoured his/her soul
21. Transformed into a fair maiden and then back again
22. Wandered the land on its own two feet
23. Slew one member of the toughest class of monsters in the campaign world (dragons, mecha, sorcerer-kings - depends on your setting)
24. Cut off the hair or fingernail of a god, which became a powerful relic in its own right
25. Arrived in this world from a parallel timeline
26. Thrust into a dimensional breach to seal an eldritch abomination
27. Divided into over a dozen copies due to time shenanigans
28. Cut the chain that held the moon to the earth
29. Cut off the eighth syllable of the second line of the haiku
30. Smote a hole in the fabric of reality

4. Where It Was Last Seen
1. Stolen by goblins
2. Fell into a river
3. Lost in a storeroom of a collapsed keep
4. Teleported away to a random location
5. Lost in a battle
6. Hidden by the owner, who died before retrieving it
7. Traded to the faeries in exchange for a lost hour
8. Passed on to an heir of staunchly unadventurous character
9. Pilfered by a burglar
10. Paid in tribute to a giant king
11. Swallowed by a whale
12. Buried in the flesh of a beast that later escaped
13. Sealed inside a pillar of a new building
14. Hurled into a volcano
15. Taken away across the sea by a fading race
16. Deliberately dropped into the ocean
17. Absorbed into a gelatinous cube
18. Buried under a collapsing mountain
19. Sealed in a temple that was never to be opened again
20. Destroyed utterly, but prophesied to return
21. Dropped into a crack that opens on the Underworld
22. Carried away by a flight of ravens
23. Lost in the frozen wastes of the south pole
24. Turned to stone along with its owner
25. Dropped through a crack between dimensions
26. Lost in outer space
27. Sent back in time
28. Taken by a unicorn to replace its horn
29. Sacrificed to a dark oracle
30. Carried away by angels

(Note: I'm trying a new thing here where each table gets more gonzo as it goes on, roughly divided into groups of 10, so you can roll a d10, a d20 or a d30 depending on how much variety you want. Or if you only want gonzo stuff you can roll d10+20 or whatever. In this case, higher numbers also generally correlate to more powerful magic weapons.)

(Note #2: Some entries provided by the inestimable Shoe Skogen.)