Tuesday, 28 June 2011

The Sons of Arril

So, I previously mentioned this group way back when, during the PbP Planescape games I was running - the plan was to have them be recurring antagonists, a foil to a particular character's backstory and a credible threat to the whole party.

I've decided to resurrect them, for use in other fantasy campaigns, and they might even make an appearance in the next Planescape game I run.

The Sons of Arril (AKA The Halfbreeds) are a group operating under the banner of the Xaositects in Sigil. Their membership is almost entirely demi-human - i.e. those with a mixed-race (or species) heritage, with one side being human. Half-orcs, half-elves, Genasi, Tieflings, the rare Chaotic Aasimar, any being with some non-human ancestry can join.

They follow the legendary Bard and planar adventurer, Arril - renowned the Planes over for her... prolific childbearing. The true number of her descendants is lost - some even say that she used polymorphic magic to become male and spread her lineage even further afield!

But what makes her such a role model is that none of them were full-blooded humans - Arril had a bad case of xenophilia, and sired half-orc, half-elves, even a few half-elementals and other more... unusual breeds.

So now, those who society has rejected due to their heritage flock under her banner - while she has disappeared into myth, those who are in turn descended from her children started up as almost a support group - to help those who couldn't fit in make a new life for themselves. By now, that original membership is mostly gone, and the group has turned into something of a personality cult.

Some even say that the Sons are looking to get Arril raised as a Power - a Goddess of Half-Breeds, of Waifs and Strays... but that would take a lot of worship. Or, the divine essence of a True God...

Kirrish is one of the troublemakers of the group. More concerned with using it for his own purposes, he is most often seen as the ringleader of any "action" the group might see. He's definitely smarter than the average Xaosman - he will use scramblespeak when around other Xaositects, or when around Clueless to confuse them, but is more than capable of throwing off the barmy and performing long and complicated campaigns of subterfuge and deciet to further his own goals (and occasionally, those of the Sons). A Spellscale, he has a natural aptitude for magic and magical devices, but has no true training in the arcane. His obvious draconic lineage (his skin is scaly in patches, and has a blue-ish iridescence about him) makes some suspect that he is descended from Arkhir, Arril's half-dragon daughter, once one of the fairest and most well-known of the original Sons - and they would be right. Not that he knows that, of course!

Not as Barmy As He Looks (5)
Xaosman When He Wants To Be (3)
A Little Bit of Dragon, A Little Bit of Everything Else (2)

The Sons have organised a Mixed-Race pride march - Xaositects might support it, but they also follow in its wake, causing havoc and destruction. Find a peaceful answer, and help out with species relations in Sigil, or take the Harmonium route and go bash some heads, coming across as massive racists? Your call.

Some claim there's more to their attempt at ascension than they're letting on - by allowing Arril to ascend, some of the higher-ups hope this will either make them retroactively part-divine, or that they will be chosen as Her heralds and Proxies in the mortal world. Now, picture that power in the hands of Xaositects. See the problem? It's up to you to either stop them, or put someone more responsible in charge, before it turns into a cosmic debacle!

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Unknown Armies: Another Awesome Game (Which I Will Probably Never Run)

So, another semi-review here, while I get some more Planescape stuff up and running - this time it's Unknown Armies, John Tynes' and Greg Stolze's awesome post-modern Urban Fantasy/Horror.

In a nutshell, the world has always had magic - since humans have been around, they have been subconsciously subjecting reality to their expectations, and making it conform to such. Now though, people have faith in science, and civilisation, and magic has started to die off. But it's not gone completely - it's just Underground. Not literally - it's just outside of the normal frame of reference, only accessible to those who lack a normal human viewpoint. Like the insane.

Adepts are people who, through chance or design, have had their minds broken - and have reformed them around an idea, or concept, that hold so strongly they can... do things. Like the alcoholic who can drink your soul. The self-harmer who finds a way to make herself stronger through self-destruction. The man who is so obsessed with risking his life, he can warp the odds. Or the people who want to be someone else so much, they can take anothers form.

Each of these Adept Schools (each with a funky faux-Latin name, like Dipsomancy, Epideromancy, Personamancy) holds a contradiction at their heart - to make yourself stronger, you must destroy yourself; To gain power over probability, you must become a slave to chaos, etc. These link in to a Taboo and Charging scheme- follow it, you gain a Charge (either Minor, Significant, or Major),break it, you lose your mojo (in game terms, any charges you might have built up). So, Epideromancers must harm themselves to gain charges (a deep cut gets you a Minor, a big wound like a broken bone nets you a Significant, and something like amputating a limb gets you a Major) - but they cannot allow someone else to modify their body (after all, they are doing the damage to rebuild themselves into something better).

Charges are used to power spells - Minors can be things like remote viewing, magical disguises, etc. - useful, but mostly nothing you couldn't do with modern technology. Significants are things like changing your gender completely, totally becoming someone else for a period of time (including memories, DNA, everything)punching people so hard that their limbs fall off. Pretty powerful, but with some drawbacks. Major charges are powerful. There are no "spells" for them, so much as a list of ideas of what you could do with that power - make the world completely forget someone exists, make massive permanent changes to yourself or others - nearly anything you can think of, so long as it seems appropriate to your chosen School.

But they're not the only ones who can get in on the magic act. Some people follow the path of the Avatar - by following certain powerful Archetypes, present in the great human subconscious, they can gain great, almost cosmic power. These archetypes run the gamut from The Mother, to the Masterless Man (not taking no shit from nobody), to The Warrior and The Flying Woman (a newer Archetype, representing female empowerment). By following the example of the Archetype (by promoting your agenda, performing actions that help strengthen the Archetype in the human subconscious), you get access to Channels - sort of like free spells, if a little less powerful. Of course, while less powerful at first, by following your Archetype through to the end of the Path, you can become The Godwalker of your Archetype - a walking representation, and Earthbound Agent, if you like.
Also, you don't need to be crazy to be an Avatar - in fact, being sociopathic weakens your connection to humanity, and thus your Archetype.

And yes, the game provides mechanics on being a sociopath, through the brilliant Madness Meters. Each represents a different type of stress (Unnatural, Violence, Self, Isolation, and Helplessness) - you make a roll when faced with something appropriate (someone shooting at you is a small Violence check, watching your wife be tortured would be big Violence and Helplessness ones, watching someone walk through a wall would be an Unnatural). You can gain Failed notches (making successive stress checks harder, and causing a minor freakout) or Hardened ones (making checks easier and easier... until you can watch someone get blown apart, or spend three months on your own in a small room, and laugh it off). Fill a meter with Failed notches, you go nuts. Fill it with Hardened, you're now so jaded in that area, you are probably a bit nuts too.

System is simple - it almost entirely uses 2d10 and percentages. Your stats (Body, Speed, Mind, and Soul)are rated out of 100 - to check against them, roll under your stat. Higher the better, but always under the stat. Skills are the same - but the cool bit is you get to make them up yourself. So, you could have General Athletics, Knife Throwing, Stage Magic, Biology and Physiology, or 90's Comic Book Trivia - whatever you want. You can also take an Obsession skill - you are so driven by this skill, you can find success where other's just can't (it lets you switch the 10's and 1's dice on any roll of that skill - so, a 71 becomes 17, for example. Adepts must take their magic School as their obsession - it's their reality-bending obsession that makes it work, after all). Even damage is 2d10 - for fistfights, add the two numbers for total damage. For gunfights, some magic, car crashes etc. the roll is the damage. As you might guess, this makes UA a very nasty system to get in a fight in - in fact, the book has "6 Ways To Avoid a Fight" as the start of the combat chapter. Fights are quick, dirty, and frequently lethal, but it fits the genre and horror tone perfectly.

All in all, it's one of my favourite books (not just gamebooks, or core rules: books), due in part to the way the setting is desccribed, the scene-setting fiction, the cool system and elegant subsystems (like the Riots and Mass Combat section, for the time when you "accidentally" perform magic in front of a football stadium full of people. It's simple, fun, and just as deadly as you would imagine a real riot to be). The magic is bizarre, and wonderful (where else can booze, porno, self-harm and TV give you access to cosmic power?) and is a refreshing change from the tried-and-tested "Spell W does X+Y, and sometimes Z" kinda thing that D&D does, and isn't as free-form and loose as Mage or other "modern" games.

About the only quibbles I have are the massive America-centrism in the book, but then again - it's about culture and people, and America has enough of both (and is much better at pressing it on other countries than most) to really be the current focus of the Occult, so it fits. Also, written as it was in the late 90's/early 2000's, it's very much of its time - when your Cult worships a sacred porno tape, how does net streaming and the mainstreaming of porn affect it?

So, the final words - beg, steal of borrow this game. Even just to read it, once - it's worth it.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Even More Locations - Entertainment & The Arts

One of the really cool things about Sigil is that, as a neutral city, it acts as a melting pot - people and things from anywhere and everywhere can come together, and show off little bits of their heritage to anyone who's interested. In that vein, have some entertainments the players might encounter, or might feed into further adventures.

Down in the Hive Ward, wherever there are Xaositects, there will be entertainment. Improvisational street theatre is common - but most of it is random gibberish, as is the way of Chaosmen.

Vasariel's street show, however, is something else entirely. A Half-Elf Bard, Xaosman, and avid planar explorer, Vasariel collects stories from across The Great Ring, mashes them together, adds in some audience input, and forms his own mythologies and tales, to marvel those brave enough to wander The Hive.

Most of his tales will require people from the street to act out the parts he decides upon - The Fearless Warrior, The Mysterious Thief, The Vengeful Mother, etc. He tends to tailor his stories towards his group - if he has a Tiefling, an Aasimar, a Bauriar and a Half-Orc, he will stereotype each and form a tale of a Great And Powerful Demon Prince (the Tiefling, with some minor magics to make them more threatening looking) who wishes to take the Beautiful Angelic Solar (the Aasimar, similarly altered) as his bride, possibly by force, and the Plucky Warrior (the Half-Orc) accompanied by his Boisterous Drunkard Sidekick (the Bauriar) - mere mortals who take it upon themselves to rescue the Angel. Near any group can be used, and he will frequently attempt to lure in passers by to fill in parts as needed. Those willing to take part will have a great time - Vasariel's tales are always entertaining, and he can work any form of improvisation into his act, weaving complex tales from every action, reaction and consequence, intended or not.

Vasariel dislikes people who act "too snooty to join", and those who look down on street performance as an art form - indeed, he has taken in such people, and showed them he is a master at the craft.

Perform a show for him, he might buy you a drink with the donations he will no doubt garner, or owe you a small favour - and you never know what he could do for you.

Kasstern The Vicious, on the other hand, is a master of a slow and methodical art. And by art, I mean torture.
You see, Fiends are not a nice lot - most enjoy bloodshed of some sort for entertainment. Kasstern was regarded as one of the best Baatezu torturers around - until he found that standard methods simply held no sway for him. Ever mindful of his Lawful nature, he needed a new outlet - and decided that opening a "gallery" in Sigil might just do it. For an exorbitant fee, nasty bloods can go watch the Fiend torture someone to within an inch of death - a performance can take anything from hours to days, depending on the audience and the... subject.

Oddly, Kasstern does not go around kidnapping people to torture - too Chaotic. Instead, he vetoes them thoroughly, and a surprising amount of people sign up to take part. Mainly because, while he will almost kill you, he'll never quite go the whole way - he has a squad of healers standing by, to Regenerate the poor sod on the receiving end back to full health after the show. That, and the pay is stupid good. In fact, when faced with the thought of a permanent disability, such as an amputated limb or missing eye, some brave souls without the cash to hire a healer themselves will go under Kasstern's loving care, to come out the other side better than they were before (of course, he will deduct a fee from the victim's payment - wouldn't be good for the reputation to go handing out free healing, after all).

Hopefully, most PCs wouldn't be willing to attend such a show, but it might make for an interesting bit of background, an insight into the ways of Fiends, and a clue regarding the mental state of those attending.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

More Locations - Trade and Barter

So, players enjoy having stuff. More than that, they tend to pick up stuff just to sell it - so why not have somewhere good to do so, rather than abstracting it away ("It's worth 20 gold." "Okay, you sell it - there's your gold!")

The Laughing Paladin (see previous post) will often sell basic supplies, like jerked meats, adventuring tools, etc. and will buy same when the group is really hard up for cash. You might be able to buy the classic "Things Off A Bloke Down The Pub", like magic beans (that may or may not be magic, and may or may not contain beans), mild narcotics (of the "Legal High sort, I assure you), perhaps even that woodcut of Elhonna, Goddess of Love, with a particularly, uh, friendly unicorn...

For more... exotic goods and services, Saanar's Miscellany is your best bet - run by Saanar, a mysterious Smoke Mephit, the Miscellany is a curio shop dealing in the odder planar stuff that people find on their travels. Find yourself needing an Aasimar's feather as a spell component? Saanar either has one, or knows someone willing (or not so willing) to donate one for the right price. And it's not just gold he trades in - he's very open to barter, and finding just the right weird thing can net you anything, so long as he needs it (or just really like the look of it). He'll even haggle most enthusiastically (creatures from the Quasielemental Plane of Smoke are happiest in urban environments - and what's more urban than a good haggle?), unlike many other specialist merchants of the Lower Ward.

The building itself is on a main-ish road (after all, Saanar likes to see as many people as possible). He can often be found outside, chatting to passersby, enjoying the dank and smoky air, or enjoying perfumed shisha in his back room.

Some sample items, for sale at reasonable prices:

Three teeth from a Slaad - specially treated, with unguents made from the raw stuff of Limbo, swallowing one of these teeth gives you the taint of a Chaotic being, for a short time (in game terms, add Chaotic as a bonus Aspect/3-dice Cliche for, well, as long as you want - one "scene" is advised. Good for fighting Lawful creatures, gaining access to specific magics, fulfilling ritual requirements, etc).

Feathers from an Avorinal - plucked from the wings of a powerful Celestial, these feathers can grant some protection against Evil creatures when burned and the smoke is inhaled (similar to the Slaad teeth, except it grants Good as your bonus Cliche/Aspect).

A lump of solid Smoke - taken from the Plane of Smoke, and specially treated, when cracked the item produces a harsh, thick cloud - great for making a stealthy getaway or causing general confusion and chaos.
A small knotted piece of string, soaked in water from the memory-stealing River Styx, and sealed with wax - while thinking about a piece of information, tie the string in a knot. You will instantly forget it, until you untie the string - you will get the memory back, as clear as if you'd just seen it. Can be passable to others (so they untie it and see your memory). Popular amongst double-agents, those looking to fool the Harmonium, and Sensates (other people's memories can be brilliant).

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Planescape - Locations

So, I'm gonna pop up a few resources for the Planescape game(s) - system neutral, of course, so I can use them either way (though I might add some stuff for Risus/FATE where appropriate).

First up, a classic location - the pub.

The Laughing Paladin Inn

Named after Shair Kress, a planar Knight of the Silver Flame, who famously stood before a Pit Fiend and laughed at its great boasts of martial prowess (before being soundly defeated and eaten), The Laughing Paladin is a pretty decent place to be. A decent looking building (think an old Victorian public house/inn, with some Sigilite trappings, and you're there), it bears the crest of The Silver Flame as its sign - making it a first stop for any planar adventurers from the land of Eberron. Most of the clientele are of a Lawful bent, and run the gamut of races and species present in Sigil and the Planes beyond. Rooms are varied - a few copper nets you a decent room, and 20 will net you a nice one. Drinks are pretty nice - nothing Lower Planes-related on sale here, mainly Prime ales and spirits, and the odd Ysgardian brew. The food is... not their strong point, but certainly passable. Occasionally, groups of Harmonium namers will happen by the place, to find out the word on the street about other factions, goings on etc. Those who are looking to dodge the Law would be advised to stay clear.

Rose-That-Grows-On-High Sharri Vass is the barmaid, part-owner, and security, all rolled into one. A Goliath, she has some hint of Stone Giant or other Earth-Elemental creature far back in her lineage - attested to by her height (7' and a bit), her physique (go check out a toned female bodybuilder, but not one of the huge super-muscled ones), and her lithoderms (little stony growths covering her skin at regular intervals). Even though she is creeping into middle age, her imposing physique ensures no-one thinks to take advantage of her generosity.

Rose was, in fact, a travelling companion (and some say lover) of Shair Kress, and opened up the pub in his honour. Chant is, Rose gets the itch to go adventuring every now and then - become a regular, and catch her in the right mood with the right tale, and you could have a powerful ally on your side.

Notes: use Aspects and Stunts/Cliches and Funky Dice to make Rose strong. Depending on your campaign, this could be anything from "as strong as a 7' bodybuilder should be" to full-on Giant Strength, hurling boulders (and enemies) like cardboard boxes. A little competitive and hotheaded, and very useful in a fight. Rose should remain as a "back-up" character when all else fails - she has the pub to look after, remember?

Varren (last name unknown) is the Tiefling chef, working most hours of the day in the kitchen of the Laughing Paladin. At night, he is known to prowl the Hive Ward, hunting for Clueless and other sods with more money than sense, and helping them out with balancing the two. Those in need of a less than reputable contact, a stealthy ally (technically, a stealthy merc) or someone with connections to the Lower Planes would do well to see him.

Notes: Varren keeps himself to himself, mostly. He will work for you, but you'd better be paying him well, and keep an eye on your valuables. Rose knows that he's a bit evil, but she hopes the influence of The Laughing Paladin will help him turn to good. Fat chance. Varren is actually statted out for Risus in my Planning post - go find him!

If you do end up taking Rose with you, a good hook to use when you return would be that Varren has taken the place over - and made it a little home away from home for the various Fiends that frequent Sigil. Have it look real bad - arm-wrestling baatezu, Succubus strippers, dead-thing decorations, Neogi slave auctions, the works.
You need to help Rose restore the Laughing Paladin to its former glory - but Varren has something on his side you cannot hope to match - lawyers. The best deal-making, contract writing Devils around frequent the new bar, and they're not letting go without a battle. A legal battle.

As many adventurers from Eberron will flock here, you might find people hiring for explorations of the jungles of Xen'Drik, or recruiting for other adventures back home - this can make for a nice diversion, and the chance for some Prime-based adventures (something that makes a nice change from continual Plane-hopping, and gives a good excuse to get players from Eberron to Sigil).

Friday, 10 June 2011

Planescape: The Planning - FATE

So, last time I talked about Risus. This time, it's FATE's turn to shine.

FATE is a highly narrative-based RPG, using a system of Aspects, Skills, and Stunts. It also uses Fate Points (like Savage Worlds' Bennies, not so much like WFRP's Fate Points).

Aspects are surprisingly similar to Risus Cliches done serious - an Aspect is a defining character trait, which can give you a bonus or penalty in a situation (referred to as Invoking or Tagging an Aspect). They can be descriptors, quotes, whatever you want - so long as they cover enough ground to be useful.

So, say you have the Aspect "Ladies Man". In a social situation, you can spend a Fate Point to Invoke it to get a bonus to any charm/seduction roll against women. Or you can use it to create an old flame from your backstory. Or anything you and the GM agree on, really.

The problem is, the GM can offer you a Fate Point if you let him use it against you - Compelling. So, during an important recon mission, he can Compel "Ladies Man" to say that you were too busy checking out the blonde in the tight jeans to see the important thing happening. Or to make a jilted ex appear at just the wrong moment.

You can even Invoke environmental aspects - spend a Fate Point and say "The room is dark, too dark for the thug to aim properly" or "It way too hot to concentrate". Good GMs have a couple of these aspects worked up, waiting for the players to find them and take advantage. Again, they might Compel these to work against you - whatever makes for the better story.

You can even toss down a Fate Point to make a statement about the gameworld - a Declaration. For example, if you are being pursued by armed guards, and you've lost your weapon, you can pop a Fate Point and declare you've ran past a handy weapons rack, with something useable in. If the GM agrees, your declaration is now fact - congrats, you just expanded the gameworld. If not, well - you still get your Fate Point back.

It's nice, flavourful, and can be used to drive a story from either side. Some people might not be comfortable with this level of control in the hands of the players, but it's fun, trust me!

Skills are simple - general things like Archery, Fighting, Stealth - ranked on a "ladder", from -4 to +6. This number is added to (or subtracted from) your roll.

Rolls are made using four Fudge Dice - six-sided, with two "+" sides, two "-" sides, and two "blank" sides. + counts as 1, - counts as -1, blank as 0. Add these up with your skill rank and see if you managed to get a positive result (the higher the result, the more successful it is). You can spend a Fate Point to turn one of these into a "+".

Stunts are simply special actions/bonuses linked with Skills, each doing something different (so, characters with Social skills can take Stunts to ensure they make the best first impression, Fighting skills can grant specific combat tricks, or can be used to represent magical ability or superpowers, etc.) - they can best be summed up as more flexible versions of Feats from D&D. These also use Fate Points.

Simple, right? Well, no - it can be a bit confusing. Once you get used to it, though, it's fairly natural. You also need to buy special dice (though a normal d6 can sub in a pinch, with 1,2 being "-", 3,4 being "0" and 5,6 being "+"). The system also gives a lot of the narrative control over to the player - something some groups may not be that keen on. While meaning that the DM has a lot less work to do, and the players will generally need to think about the ways they can drive the story, it does make for a very "seat of the pants" game to run, and can lead to players blocking themselves off from the possible plots the DM has in mind. Good communication between all parties is an absolute must!

Out of the two, I'm leaning more to Risus for my Planescape game - it's a lot more flexible, and fun than FATE - but it also lends itself much better to comedy than serious stuff, so FATE will always be a contender. It allows for the player's choice of personality and background to really have an effect on the gameworld through mechanics, rather than the DM's fiddling, which is great in Planescape - after all, belief shapes the Planes, and what better way to model that than by allowing the players to define it themselves?

Here's the SRD (System Reference Document) for FATE, and here's  the version I'd be using - potatocubed's FATEscape, specifically designed to run D&D with FATE. Quality stuff, I have found.

And a few sample Aspects, to get me started:

  • Veteran of The Blood War
  • Righteous Paladin of Bahamut
  • Tout of The Cage
  • Dirty as a Hive Ward Trader
  • A Stare That Could Cow a Balor
  • "Here's the dark of it..."
  • Barmy as a Spire God
  • Cold as Cryonax's Heart (Or insert ruder body parts for less polite bashers)
  • Voice as Sweet as a Celestian Bell
  • Face Like a Slaad's Backside
  • Heritage of Two Worlds (for half-breed characters - could also be done as Best of Both, Worst of Both, whatever). For Genasi, some of their titles (like Wind Dukes for Air, Stone Princes for Earth, Lanterns of The Mists for Steam) would make good, flavourful Aspects. Other Planetouched could find some nice appellations (like Touched With Madness for Chaonds/Limbo-Touched). For less appreciated Planetouched, like Tieflings, Bastard of Acheron, for example, would play up a lot of the problems and angst one might face. (I do love me some angst...)
Put them together, and poof - a sample character!

1 Over 3, Rogue Modron Psion

Rogue Mechanusian Modron
Categorising Sensate
"I find that to be highly illogical"

1 Over 3 used to be your bog-standard Monodrone, performing small tasks on Mechanus with no great joy (though no sadness or regret either). During a minor planar incursion (a handful of combatants in the Blood War finding their way onto one of The Cogs), 1 Over 3 realised there was much, much more to the Multiverse than he once thought, and the idea of experiencing it first-hand intrigued him. So he left Mechanus, and found his way into Sigil. His ideas regarding experience drew him into the Civic Festhall, meeting place of the Sensates. He became one of them, experiencing the universe as much as he possibly could - but his Lawful heritage makes him compulsively record these experiences, whether through Sense Stones, memory-storing magic, or just plain paper and quill. It also leads him to be confused about the other Sensate's self-destructive atterns of experience - life is there to be seen, felt, tasted - why focus on one sensation, to the detriment of others or even the chance to experience others in the future.

For those senses he doesn't possess, or those experiences he simply cannot have, he has decided to train in the arts of psionics, to gain other senses or to "borrow" the sense of others to further his knowledge. He is currently seeking out others to travel with, to work his way around the Planes to find more experiences, and hopefully find a way to recreate the lost feeling of blissful ignorance he had back on Mechanus.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Planescape: The Planning - Risus

So, a while back, I mentioned running a Planescape game - sadly, it died off after a while. Next plan is to resurrect these games, and run a proper real-life campaign.

However, I've started moving away from D20 systems. I feel that they're just too fiddly, and in some cases, more focused on all the number crunching and horrendous maths inherent in the system, rather than on the good bits - the characters. So I'm experimenting with a couple of different rules-light systems to try and get the real feel of Planescape, without losing too much of the good stuff (i.e. some of the D&D-isms, like alignment, that ended up becoming major forces within the game).

So, my two front runners are Risus and FATE.

Now, Risus I have posted about before - it's awesome, fun, and light as all Hell. You make characters based around clichés - so, for Planescape, Plane of Origin, Race, Alignment, and Faction would be pretty good springboards for these.

Planar Clichés
These will tell you a bit about where your character is from - whether they're from the Howling Madness of Pandemonium, the hard-working plane of Bytopia, or the super-organised Mechanus, a lot about them will be determined here. You could also just be a native Sigilian, not aligned to any other part of the Great Wheel - but it still implies knowledge of the Cant, being clued-in, etc. Hell, Prime is perfect as a Cliché - one of The Great Clueless (i.e. those who are new to Sigil and the Planes in general) makes a good character (he used to be a farmer, now he's thrust into a world of time-travel and jetpack-powered apes!), especially for new players to The Planes (means they can pick it up as their character does!).

Plane of origin acts as a really good rider for a race cliché - while a Bytopian Dwarf will be stoic, hardworking and honest, an Ysgardian Dwarf will be a HERO OF BATTLE - all axes, heavy offence, etc. By the same token, an Ysgardian Elf will be a master swordsman, a cunning combatant, possibly even a Bladedancer. It adds a little bit of depth, and gives you more ways to use that cliché creatively.

Race Clichés
Way, way back in Olden Times, you could be a Human, an Elf, a Dwarf, or a Halfling. And by all the Gods of Oerth, you liked it. Nowadays, with 4e, you can pick to be a demon-looking thing, a dragon-looking thing, or a giant-looking thing straight off the bat! Allow some other sources, you can become a zombie vampire with undead ancestors (I think, when you add it all up, you become 150% Undead - pretty goddamn impressive!).

But, you are still limited by one thing - game balance. You'll notice all the cool new things I talked about are "X-looking things". If your team consists of three primary school teachers, a housewife and Jason Statham in Crank, you have an imbalance. By the same token, playing a dragon in your usual gaming group will be fraught with problems (especially in D&D - they have flight, they're Large or bigger, and they have spellcasting. Goodbye, game - you were so nice until we broke you).

... But not Risus. Here, almost any cliché can be as flexible, if not more so, than something as powerful as a Dragon. Hell, with Risus, you can blow the racial choice wide open - you could be an Elf (any of the many, many varieties), Half Dragon, Genasi, reformed Pit Fiend, fallen Deva, a dying God... the only limit is your imagination, and how many dice you want to put into that Cliché.

Read any D&D book, find a race that appeals (whether they're PC races, monsters, whatever), figure out what that cliché would mean in game, and bam - you have your race. Little changes can make a big difference as well - Dwarven Runemaster, Dwarven Brewmaster, and Dorfy Dorfy Dwarf all bring something different to the table.

Alignment Clichés
Planescape took Alignment from being a bit of a bugbear and an excuse to make Paladins fall, and made it a grand cosmic force. Hell, some of the creatures of the Outer Planes are literally made of Chaos, Law, Good, etc. So it can be pretty important. It also gives a two-word description of your average response to a situation.

From Lawful Good Boy Scouts, to Chaotic Evil puppy-bashers, people run the gamut of alignments. Think about your character on the classic axis:

Will they try and help people wherever they can? Only when it suits them? Only when it's the right thing to do, and not when the Law says so? Will they actively screw people over? Or just the really bad ones?

Faction Clichés

Factions make up the major political players in Sigil, and can make for some really interesting Clichés. Like the Sensates - try everything, once, for the path to true Enlightenment is through experience. Add Sensate to something like Chef, and you get a cook who'll cook anything, just to see how it tastes. He'll even throw in some right weird stuff, like Liquid Pain or magic mushrooms, on a whim, just to see what they're like and how they interact with the other flavours.

Guvnors run Sigil's legal system, and try to learn the Rules of the Cosmos - mainly so they can find the loopholes they can abuse. A Guvnor Lawyer can worm his way out of any contract, even if he has to break the laws of physics to do so. Hell, he might not even realise he's doing so - he thinks he's just that good.

The Doomguard follow entropy, and believe it is the natural fate of the Universe to die a slow and painful death - why not speed things up a bit? Brutal Doomguard Pessimist would be a classic. You could even have the Surprisingly Cheery Doomguard, who is pretty bright and happy despite his beliefs, and who will talk with great passion about the joys of Negative Energy and pessimism.

Read up on some of the Faction's philosophies, find which one looks most interesting, and think about how you can use it to further your idea for your character. Or how you can make someone who follows them, in an unusual way. Or how it would interact with their day-to-day life. Anything you can take from it and

Add in a few random ones like Bemused Planar Explorer, Mutinied Sky Pirate Captain, Real Mean Drunk, etc. and you're good to go. Each cliché should provide something for your character - each a little bit of backstory, a skill, or a character trait, hopefully all coming together to form a pretty good package.

And, in the interests of completeness, a few sample characters to get you thinking:

Rat-Bastard Tiefling Thief (4)
A Daemon with a Blade (3)
Decent Short-Order Cook (2)
Big Hit With the Ladies (1)

Raised on the mean streets of Sigil's Hive Ward, Varren is a right nasty basher - currently holding employ between cutting purses and chopping onions at The Laughing Paladin Inn's kitchen.

Saman Longbaugh
A Very, Very Lost Ranger (4)
Bow and Sword in True Accord (3)
On At Least Speaking Terms with the Animals (2)
Part-Time Herbalist (1)

Saman stumbled into Sigil while looking for the privvy in his local one night. He still hasn't found a way back, though he continues to look in between misadventures.

Bare Fisted Monk [4]
Strong-Minded Water Genasi (3)
Don't Think, DO (2)
Stupidly Arrogant (1)

Descended from the Elemental Plane of Water, Annalise takes her heritage very seriously- flow like Water, strike like Fire. Except Fire is dumb, so let's make it "flow like Water, strike like Water". You know, wetly.
Next time, we look at FATE, which is almost like Risus, but a lot more serious!

Friday, 3 June 2011

Campaign Idea: Kobold Ascension Fight!

Turns out? Dragons aren't really dragons.

Well, they are now, but they started off as Kobolds - every last one of them. The real dragons, they're long gone - back in the days before this land was here, great astral beings, more primal creative forces than creatures... they shaped this land, and its people. Before they departed, they left some small piece of their essence in the rising lizard, and thus the lastborn people of this world, the Kobolds, came into being.
Every Kobold has that spark of the True Divine within him - and with enough training, meditation, and soul-searching, any one of them can find ways to unlock their true spiritual potential. The process takes many, many years- most die before they can achieve true enlightenment. Those lucky few will carry on their teachings in a new form, and will attempt to guide others of their kind onto the path of enlightenment...

...Years? Fuck that noise, I wanna be a DRAGON!

You are Kobolds, servants of The Great Dread Queen Anthraxiis, Black Dragon, Plague of the Southern Lands, and you've just found out that she used to be just like you - 3-foot tall and very easy to kill. You have figured out a way to circumvent the decades-long process of draconic ascension - the same process used by your Mistress, a series of arcane rights using esoteric ingredients and bizarre rituals. Can you and your friends locate all the pieces of the ritual, all the while battling vicious monsters, avoiding the suspicions of your Mistress, trying to avoid the backstabbing machinations of your friends, and worst of all, fighting... adventurers!

Yep, just a wee campaign seed to get my juices running again...

Really easy to run using most any version of D&D, but really, 3/4e are probably best (after all, Kobolds before that were little dogmen, and it won't have the same ring to it!).

Problems to look out for using those systems - Kobolds are weak. Yes, I know that's the point, but really - adjust your encounters, or else allow the players the chance to think their way out of fights more than is suggested, whether it's pure RP or Skill challenges. Also, more with 4e, Kobolds fit the Striker/Rogue builds better than others, but encourage everyone to choose different classes to fill out your roles - possibly, by granting Kobolds "V-shaped" stats - for example,+2 Dexterity, +2 Intelligence or Charisma (Kobolds are all about the Sorcerer class).

Other promising systems would include GURPS (lethal, customisable, gives you a chance to really make it your own), or Risus (fast, funny, and very easy to run).