Feb 21, 2017

Demonic Patron for Perdition: Acedius Vex

I was a playtester on Courtney Campbell's Perdition, and am currently a player in his campaign, which is why I haven't reviewed it here, but I do like it. The corebook mainly has devil lords as patrons for PCs to take on. In Courtney's own game, we have at least one of the Old Gods written up as a patron, and my previous character (who just died last session) was one of his initiates (possibly the only one). I thought I'd write up some demonic ones just to balance things out.

For those unfamiliar with the campaign setting, devils in Perdition are expressions of law. Bad law, certainly, but still ultimately the law. Demons are the forces of raw chaos who want to undo the existence of every constant in it, from society to gravity and everything in between. They want to do so as a way of undoing the divine act of creation. I thought it would be more interesting if they all disagreed about what undoing creation would look like.

Acedius Vex, the Welter of Meaning
Demon Lord of fungibility, distraction, sensory overload, inversion, ambivalence and mathematics

Acedius Vex is the scar over the wound carved through primordial matter when the first thing was separated from the totality of everything. It is the interdependence and fungibility of all impermanent and imperfect things, real and unreal, possible and actual, trivial and great with, one another. It is the chaos of a thousand things happening at once, each so quickly that one cannot distinguish them, the impersonal viewpoint of the whole looking down on the mereness of the particular, the riotous meaninglessness of sensory overload. Focus, concentration, determination, an insistence on the value of the true and good over the false and wicked, the individual who seeks to distinguish themselves, these are its enemies. It is the pause to admire the sky in the midst of a battle, the admixture of pungent scents, the dance to avoid trampling ants as one flees for one's life, the anxious pause as one considers what to say, the daydream overlapping with one's waking life.

Its goal is a world in which the difference between one thing and another does not hold, where each becomes other, and another, and itself, all at once, relentlessly. Its vision is one where the weak become the mighty and the mighty become weak, where cunning mathematics reveals the hidden equivalences of all things, where flesh devours its own before being devoured in turn. It craves transmutation, profusion and ambivalence in all things as reflections of their fundamental emptiness. It despises the cold, calculating focus of the undead, the obsessive devotions of the addict and the lover, the dedicated rapture of the artist.

Acedius Vex appears as profuse, rambling, enciphered speech, the linguistic equivalent of an irrational number, an endless never-repeating flow of words that contains all patterns and all possibilities within it while yet exceeding them in its development. Once one begins speaking Acedius Vex, one can never stop. In time, those who hear it spoken often enough begin to find themselves muttering some part of it in turn. The skulls of its speakers continue to chatter speechlessly even after death, until they are worn down to dust faintly shimmering in secret ciphers.

Its herald is a crowd of madmen shouting and hooting nonsense who crew a black boat that sails through the air on the multicoloured rays of dawn and dusk. Its followers are mutant proselytes in animal masks who rave and pray in vivid and unforgettable ceremonies.

Taboos
Never insist on the importance of one thing over another in conversation
Never refuse to eat an intelligent being if offered
Never avoid an act because of the long-term consequences
Never become addicted to anything
Never fall in love

Observances
Reveal that one thing has actually been another all along (+1)
Cause sensory overload in another intelligent being (+1)
Pause in an urgent situation to speculate irrelevantly (+1)
Eat a being of the same species as you (+1)
Destroy a powerful undead being (+1)
Being blinded, deafened, or muted (-1)
Sleeping through the dawn or dusk (-1)
Accomplishing a long-term goal (-2)

Bond
2: You gain +4 on saves vs. charms, compulsions, and obeying orders.
3: You gain Darkvision, which manifests as the ability to narrate aloud what is in front of you in the darkness rather than actual sight.
4: Once per day you can cause a mirage to form as if you had cast Rainbow Pattern.
5: You gain a +4 to hit with any social attack that is ludicrous.
6: All enemies within 2" of you must save or become Confused and Distracted until they are no longer in range.
7: You may roll on the chaos mutation table whenever you wish, as many times as you wish. The changes are permanent and cumulative.
8: Three times per day, you may exchange the current hitpoint totals (both mental and physical) of any two living creatures you can point at as a [Action].
9: Three times per day, you may change the state of any 10x10x10 cube of unliving matter from one state into another - water into ice, bricks into gas, dirt into plasma, salt water into crystals. You are limited only by your knowledge of the states of matter.
10: You can make up the true names of things at will. These true names function just like the original ones.
11: You may treat any illusion as if it were real. Conversely, you may roll to disbelieve real things and thereby remain unaffected by them.
12: You gain the blessings of Acedius Vex. You no longer suffer critical hits, as no part of you matters more than any other. You do not accumulate Stress or suffer damage from it. Anyone who strikes you must save or become you, transforming over the course of one round into a perfect copy of you with the same stats (including current hitpoints, spell dice available, etc.). The copy lives for 13 hours then dies.

Feb 17, 2017

Determining Magical Item Components

This one's a fairly simple solution to a fairly common problem. The problem is that some PC wants to create a magic item, and you need a list of components that they need to collect to use as the raw materials for the item, and are sorely lacking in inspiration. If this doesn't happen to you for the first magic item the PCs create, I'm sure it happens by the third or fourth, as the number of clever literary examples you can draw on from memory starts to be exhausted. Here's how I handle generating components:

First, I roll 1d6+1. If the item is particularly powerful, I'll roll 2d6+2. This is the number of components a PC has to collect. Next, to generate the components, I use one or both of the following processes.

1) Roll on your wandering monster table once for each component. This will generate a monster and some item to be collected from them. You may have to interpret things slightly, especially if you were boring in generating tracks or lair-types for each monster. If you roll monster, choose their most prominent or grossest feature for collection. Even abstract or transient things are fine. If they have to collect the roar of an ooze attack-squad's jetpacks, that's their problem, not yours. For variety, I recommend splitting the rolls across multiple wandering monster tables if you have them, since this will encourage the PCs to visit various areas to collect them all. You may also want to roll 1d10 for the # of each thing a PC needs to collect (i.e. 6 mummy hearts or whatever), but I find this often leads to a boring grinding feeling unless the PCs can reasonably expect to find a group of the right monster type at once (alternately: present them with a clear idea of where to find such a group).

2) I use this second method when I want to include rare metals, gems, etc. as components instead of just monster bits. I start by taking a treasure generator like Courtney Campbell's Treasure and just rolling as if the components needed for the item were part of hoard being generated. I recommend keeping the numbers, so if the generator spits out 32 fire badger pelts, then they need 32 fire badger pelts. I try to swap out as much coinage as possible for items and commodities, but if some is left, that's fine - I take that to mean that much raw metal of the appropriate type is required. If you're in a particularly lazy mood, you can even just pick components off a previously generated treasure hoard that the PCs picked up somewhere else. In practice, this often comes across as masterful planning and foreshadowing instead of laziness, and it encourages them to track down the people they sold their previous treasure to, in order to get the item back.

Usually, I'll combine these two, with about half the components being generated treasure stuff, and half being monsters you have to kill. I find this mix tends to maximise the fun vs. complexity factor. The PCs can discover the items on list in whatever way you think appropriate - legend lore spells, consulting sages, you telling them directly to save time, whatever you'd like. I favour this method because it repurposes existing material prepared for the game (wandering monster tables, treasure hoards), but also generates relatively straightforward leads and goals ("Where can we find a flawless sapphire worth 5,500 GP?"). I recommend you try it and see how it works in your game.

Feb 12, 2017

Considerations on Restocking Dungeons

I had a post-game discussion with Courtney the other day about restocking dungeons, and I thought I'd lay out some of the ideas we discussed for your consideration.

My basic principle, the one underlying everything else that I'm going to talk about, is that restocking a dungeon should be less complicated than simply coming up with an entirely new dungeon or dungeon zone. This seems obvious, but I've seen some fairly complicated systems out there that violate this principle, and I wonder how much they end up using the system in play, rather than just sort of presenting it as a thought exercise on a blog.

The first question I think people should ask themselves is whether they even need to restock the dungeon? I'd add the following consideration: Why restock instead of pushing PCs to new dungeons or new zones within the dungeon? Restocking encourages PCs to linger in zones nearer to the entrances to the dungeon, it slows down their progression through the dungeon, and it can make it seem like their efforts to clear out the dungeon are pointless.

If you don't have clear ideas about how manage these things so they don't kill the fun, I'd actually recommend against restocking. Instead, I'd recommend that you present clear diegetic signs to indicate that a dungeon or dungeon zone is empty / deactivated / cleared and should be traversed to get to new material instead of lingered in. These signs should be some combination of boring and dangerous, with the emphasis on boring instead of dangerous, since this is less likely to confuse them into thinking that there are still monsters and treasure to be found here.

Dungeons that do the best with being restocked are ones that allow or incorporate ways of overcoming the slow down in progression through them caused by restocking. This includes dungeons with short-cuts in them that have to be discovered or created during play (including multiple entrances or teleporters); dungeons with organised factions that you can negotiate with for safe passage; dungeons where you can change the overall organisation of the level (e.g. draining or flooding it) to reach new parts of it; and dungeons where you can temporarily delay or "turn off" the restocking (perhaps by shattering an evil altar or something that draws monsters to it).

Restocking at its best incorporates and recombines familiar elements of the dungeon or dungeon zone, but does so in a way that produces emergent and unpredictable results. One interesting (and perhaps unexpected) thing I've discovered over the years is that PCs tend to feel that their actions have had the most impact on a dungeon or dungeon zone when it shifts levels of organisation. That is, when they "clear" a dungeon that's filled with highly organised enemies and the next time it goes through, the enemies are comparatively disorganised, or when they clear a dungeon of a bunch of random monsters, and then the next time they come through, they find a highly organised set of foes has moved in to replace them. 

What Should Trigger Restocking?

I use four different triggers to determine when to restock via the method I'll describe below. I don't have a strong preference for one over the others, so I just rely on discretion and what I think will generate the most interesting results. These are ranked in rough priority.

1) After the PCs kill the two most powerful monsters or groups of monsters on the level
2) After the PCs have explored all non-hidden rooms on the level
3) Every 2d6 expeditions
4) When the PCs go into extended downtime away from the dungeon

I use these because I like exploration, and hate mop-up. I use the dice counter method mainly once they've cleared out an area entirely and keep on passing through it, and I use the downtime method as a backstop just in case they take an extended break from an area. If you do use a dice counter, I recommend using something that's guaranteed to give you at least a few sessions to restock, instead of trying to do it for every session.

The Actual Method

Here's the method I actually use for restocking, based on the above considerations. You will need:

1) A wandering monster table
2) A wandering trap table
3) A "theme" table of varying length (I usually use six to ten entries) whose creation I will describe below

All you do is roll on the theme table, then roll on the wandering monster table and wandering trap table for each room (in whatever order you please). Any entry on either table that's transient on the table leaves the room empty (from the perspective of a room's contents monsters, traps, treasure, etc.). If it's not a transient entry, then put it in the room. As you roll, apply the transformation rules from the theme table (more on that in a moment) to alter the results. Generate treasure for the lairs as appropriate. At that point, you're ready to go.

NB: I recommend you do this for every room in the area, even if the PCs didn't clear it out the first time.


The Theme Table

I call it a "theme table", but only because that's quicker and easier to write and say than "a table of rules of transformations". Each entry should be a few global rules that modify how you use the wandering monster and trap tables to create entries.

I usually start these off as a 1d6 table and expand them as I get good ideas to fill out more entries.

Here's a sample of one to give you an idea of what I'm talking about:
1) Monsters from elsewhere have moved in and taken over. Use the wandering monster table from an adjacent zone (or the overland table if there are no adjacent zones) to populate the rooms.

2) The two most intelligent monsters generated are the leaders of factions that are at war with one another. Reroll on the wandering monster table for all rooms and corridors adjacent to the room each one is in (even if there are already monster results for these rooms). These are their allies and servants.

3) All monsters in this area are mind-controlled by the first monster you roll a lair result for. If no lairs are generated, then roll again for each room on the wandering monster table and add additional monsters until you get a lair result.

4) Monsters are using traps to drive intruders out. After the first monster is placed, all further monster results are actually rolls on the trap table (that is, roll twice for traps for each room).

5) Monsters are reworking the architecture of the area. Any two rooms with the same monster type in them will have a secret passage connecting them. If any monster type has a lair on this level, then there will be a secret passage connecting them to any other rooms containing the same monster type.

6) There is a power struggle going on for control of this area. After rolling for monsters for each room, reroll for each room a second time using a wandering monster table for the nearest adjacent zone. Monsters from different wandering monster tables are hostile to one another.

These are all fairly straightforward and rudimentary. You could easily expand this (I both do so in practice and encourage you to do so). In its current form, it's highly generic and could be used for any dungeon, and on any level of that dungeon. The table is meant to be used multiple times for the same area, and each time different "layers" of results build up.

If you really wanted to, you create a unique table for each zone of the dungeon. I recommend against this (based on the above-mentioned principle of keeping restocking simple), except if the level has a very strong theme (e.g. it's a rotating level, or a level that floods and drains or something else like that). In that case, I'd use a d4 table with four strong and interesting options customised for that level, and otherwise use the generic table for the rest of the dungeon.

My experience using various versions of this method is that it's easy to use, fairly fast to do, and the addition of the themes / transformations is more than enough to make it seem like complex and interesting changes are going on in the dungeon in response to PC actions, without having to get into a lot of political simulation, or relationship mapping or weird flowchart things or other overly complicated stuff.

Jan 22, 2017

An Updated Version of My Chase Rules

There's been a lot of interest over in the OSR Discord channel about my chase rules. I originally posted them here, but they've since gone through a few updates and slight revisions, so I thought I'd post an updated and clarified version for anyone who'd like to use them.

Each round, each group of pursuers and fugitives rolls 2d6. If the fugitives are slower than the pursuers (for example, because of encumbrance), they roll an extra 1d6. If the fugitives narrate some clever maneuvering or other interference with the pursuit, the pursuers only roll 1d6.

If all of the fugitives' dice match one another (i.e. they roll doubles or triples) then they get away and the chase ends. If the pursuers roll doubles, they corner the fugitives and the chase ends. Ties go to the fugitives.

If any of the results on the fugitives' dice match the pursuers, then they can each exchange a round of missile fire with one another. e.g. if the fugitives roll 2d6 and get a 4 and a 6, and the pursuers roll a 4 and a 5, then the 4s match one another and each side can shoot the other. You can't reload or do anything other than take a snap shot.

If either side's roll totals to 7, then they can take a round of melee attacks against, or other actions affecting, the other side. Only the side that rolls the 7 gets to make the attacks. Actions can include reloading your ranged weapon, or casting a spell.

If either the pursuers or fugitives have more than one member on their side, they can choose to split off at any time and roll separately, but they're only affected by their own dice rolls.

The chase continues until the fugitives get away, are cornered, or either side is dead.

Jan 3, 2017

Live Settings

I like to do a review and update of the various settings I'm running, planning, designing, etc. This is partially for my benefit, partially for the sake of those interested in them.

Fantasy:

Moragne (Mongoose Runequest 2)- Dead (since 2009!) and cannibalised for the Old Lands. I took a few of the story-ideas and setting elements from this, but left the Anglo-Norman trappings behind. I ran one single-shot adventure and one campaign in this, and felt I'd done the bulk of what I wanted. The was the final campaign of the group I ran this for (my old university group) and it disintegrated as we moved onto other phases of life (only one other guy and I still play RPGs).

Emern (Swords and Wizardry) - Dead since 2012, when I ran the last campaign in it. The group I ran this for has basically dispersed as well. There are elements of this that have made it into most other D&D campaigns I've run or planned since, but I don't think I'm coming back to it any time soon.

The Wolf Sea (Openquest)- Dead and cannibalised for the Old Lands. This was basically a map and some notes, so I mostly reused names and a few setting elements. The work I did on this was as much about learning how to use Hexographer to create child maps properly as anything else.

The Dawnlands (Openquest / Mythras) - Still alive, but I haven't run a campaign in it since 2013! I'm converting it over from Openquest to Mythras and revamping the setting extensively to remove some of the D&D 4th edition-isms from it and replace them with other weird fantasy and Central Asian elements. I'm working on turning this into a setting book, in fact, which is why a lot of what I'm writing for it isn't turning up on my blog right now. I think I'm going to aim to run another campaign towards the back half of 2017, when a rough draft of the new and revised material will require some playtesting.

Necrocarcerus (Swords and Wizardry / Into the Depths) - Still kicking. I was running a campaign of this as recently as the end of 2015 / start of 2016, and ran an adventure - Ribshack of the Demon Prince - in summer 2016 using Into the Odd. I took a break from running to free up the time slot to play in Courtney Campbell's Perdition game. In hindsight, what was slowing me down was writing a huge house-rules document that quickly spiraled out of control without adding a ton of fun to the game. I wrote Into the Depths as a chassis to run Necrocarcerus and the Old Lands, and killed the giant house-rules document. Over the holidays, I also read the Doomed City by the Strugatskys, which is surprisingly Necrocarceran, though I'd never heard of it prior to seeing it in the book store. Reading it got me a bit fired up to work on the setting again in a public-facing way. I'm going to go back to writing fun, fluffy content for it. Expect more Necrocarcerus content for the blog, but I don't think I'll start working on a book for it until 2018.

The Old Lands (Into the Depths) - Living and currently under development. Basically a garbage-can setting in the good sense. Necrocarcerus is a high-concept setting in a lot of ways, and running an adventure that assumes you're dealing with a medieval village full of living people doesn't quite sit well within it. So I created the Old Lands to let me run modules, pre-written adventures, megadungeons, etc., and to recycle the best ideas from Moragne, Emern and the Wolf Sea into one setting. It's an early-modern setting with weird and dark fantasy elements. Expect to see it pop up from time to time, but probably as actual play reports. I'm hoping to start a campaign set in it sometime in February and run it for at least the first half of 2017 (hopefully longer).

Science Fiction:

The Tellian Sector (Stars Without Number) - My 40K / Stars Without Number mash-up is effectively dead. I haven't worked on it in years (though I still get a few hits a day of people looking it up). I worked on it originally because I really disliked the original Dark Heresy rules, and when I looked at 2nd edition, I liked them even less. I think I've also had my fill of fantasy translated to space settings, and want to run some (slightly) harder science fiction. If anyone wants to finish this, the only things it really needs to be a complete conversion are a weapon and gear write-up, and a consistent way of converting Spike Phases and their effects into Void Shields (plus, I guess, Space Marine rules if one must).

Unnamed Transhumanist Post-Apocalyptic Star Trek Thing (Openquest - River of Heaven? / Stars Without Number?) - I've been reading Alastair Reynolds' Revelation Space books, Peter Watts' Blindsight stuff, Transhumanity's Fate (the FATE conversion for Eclipse Phase), Feersum Endjinn and a bunch of other semi-hard transhuman sci-fi stuff of that ilk. I've been having an itch to run a science fiction game for some time that would focus on a small group of post-human post-scarcity explorers sent out to recover and enrich the beliefs and ideas of the devastated star systems around them. That sounds boring, but the idea would be to delve into ancient space hulks to recover encrypted data libraries with the cultural production of entire clusters, to encourage and assist the masses of crapsack worlds to overthrow their feudal masters by smuggling them cornucopia machines through cyberpunk hijinks, and beat back interstellar imperialism through cool space battles. I'm still thinking this one through, and it'll probably be 2018 before it's ready to go.

Dec 26, 2016

I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends

+C Huth of The Elder Skull blog and Pelgrane Press, as well as a friend in real life, has very kindly created a one-page version of Into the Depths for your enjoyment using his layout wizardry. I like it a lot. I've also edited the numbering issues on the original 3-page pdf version, if only to prove to myself that yes, I can count.

Next up, I'm going to work on two supplements, one for Necrocarcerus, and one for the Old Lands. The latter is basically my "I want to run a module" low-concept campaign setting. These will have the much-anticipated "mystery cults", more gear, languages, that sort of thing. I don't know when I'll get them done, but hopefully soon, I've got a lot of stuff scheduled for the new year to work on.

Dec 24, 2016

Merry Christmas

I decided that rather than struggle doing conversions of various retroclones / neoclones, I might as well just write another one (the first one was Microlite Iron Heartbreakers). Here it is: Into the Depths. It's free for download and you're welcome to modify it however you please.

It's a chassis that I'll be building off of and using for Necrocarcerus and other fantasy campaigns, loosely inspired by the size and rules minimalism of Searchers of the Unknown and Into the Odd, with bits and pieces of my favourite house rules in it, and based off my experience using various versions of Swords and Wizardry. It's meant to be easy to plug material from other games into - my become-a-wizard rules for it will be some mixture of Wonder and Wickedness with the spell research rules from Crimson Pandect. It's classless, with minimal stats to keep track of, and is almost entirely the player-facing elements of the rules. I stuck in an upgraded version of my leveling rubric for the Black Hack, since that seemed popular with folks.

Anyhow, merry Christmas and enjoy!