Saturday, 31 March 2012

MORE Genasi - 4E's Take

I know, I really spoil you with all these Planetouched posts. But, they're on of my favourite elements of D&D cosmologies (no, it has nothing to with the fact my pageview count and membership jumps with each one I post...)

4e's Genasi are similar to their previous incarnations, though painted in somewhat more generic terms (presumably to help integrate them into different settings). Instead of being imbued with the essence of a particular Elemental Plane, they have been touched by the Elemental Chaos - a mashup of all the Inner Planes, with a touch of The Abyss thown in. While each comes with a distinct manifestation (referred to as (Element)soul, like Firesoul, Watersoul etc.), they are less tied to their element, so much as they are elemental in nature. The extension of this is a selection of feats, and the Elemental Tempest Paragon Path, which allows a Genasi to pick up an extra Elemental Manifestation (or to use two simultaneously) - and I'm torn on this one. It seems pretty cool, and can make for an awesome character concept, but I feel it doesn't fit with the Genasi at all. Each is touched by their element - it affects their personality, outlook on life, everything - and picking up an extra one seems a little schizophrenic in my book. But, fluffwise, it fits - they are touched by a chaotic, ever-changing Plane of the Elements, from which all life sprung - so, sure, they can find a way to branch out.

Fire, Earth, Air and Water are all accounted for - each with some pretty groovy racial Powers - Fire is extra damage (meh), Earth is a little Burst power, which knocks enemies prone (nice), but Air and Water stand out - Water Genasi can shift through any space small enough to allow water to pass, and Air can (kinda) fly - both are pretty handy, and add a lot of flavour and utility to any class. Also added in this incarnation are Storm Genasi - similar to Lightning Genasi (barring those weird crystalline hair-growth thingies), and presumably added for the fact that 4e lumped Electrical and Sonic damage into Thunder damage (a nice little move). Their encounter power is another "adds extra damage to powers with the Thunder Keyword", which is pretty meh, aside from the fact that fewer creatures are immune to it.

In terms of mechanics, all Genasi gain a +2 bonus to Intelligence and Strength - an odd combo, but one which makes them perfect (indeed, the best) candidates for the Swordmage class (also presented in the book). A sort of gish-style Warrior Mage, Swordmages are a lot of fun in play (lots of teleporting, forced movement, marking, and fun elemental effects). They also make good Wizards due to the Intelligence bonus, or Warlords who can throw out a few extra hits.

Their new artwork (and attached fluff) makes out they are all pierced, tattooed, and bear unique skin markings they just love to show off. While I understand 4e's default assumption is TITS AHOY! (see: Hot Half-Orcs, Breasts on Dragonborn, Breasts on LIVING CRYSTAL PEOPLE), it's kinda annoying that all Genasi are marked the same. I would have assumed that Fire (passionate, fun-loving), maybe Air (wearing lightweight clothing anyway), might do so - but an Earth Genasi strikes me as quite well-covered, for example.

All in all - a nice little race (or set thereof), with some interesting options and abilities. Shame about the fluff, but hey - that's what DMs are for!

Next, the Abyssal Genasi - corrupted, warped counterparts to the normal manifestations!

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Microlite20: New Spell Lists: The Necromancer

So, I do love M20 - it's a beautiful stripping back of all the crappy stuff from 3rd edition, bringing it back to its roots. But I find that the sample spell lists are a little constraining - and it leads to Wizards feeling very similar in the long run. The problem is worse for Clerics - all Gods grant the same spells? Not likely, methinks. So I'm putting together a few "stripped down" versions of some classic Mage and Cleric archetypes, to help expand the horizons of any Magic-Users in your campaign.

First - the Necromancer! Heavily inspired by the Heroes of Horror Dread Necromancer Base Class, I've had to hack in a few extra rules to the light framework of M20- fingers crossed they don't change too much.

0-Level Spells
Acid Splash - 1d3 acid damage.
Detect Magic - detects spells and magic items within 60 ft.
Disrupt Undead - deals 1d6 damage to undead.
Ghost Sound - figment sounds.
Mage Hand - 5-pound telekinesis.
Touch of Fatigue - subject gains a -1 penalty on all Strength or Physical rolls (including combat) for 1 round/level.

1st-Level Spells
Cause Fear - 5HD creatures flee for 1d4 rounds.
Chill Touch - one touch/level deals 1d6 damage, and target must make a STR+Phys roll or take a -1 penalty on all Strength or Physical rolls (including combat) for 1 round/level.
Create Lesser Undead - create one Tiny undead creature (see below).
Detect Undead - reveals undead within 60ft.
Hide From Undead - renders you invisible to Undead creatures for 1 round/level (intelligent undead get to make a MIND+Knowledge save).
Inflict Light Wounds - 1d8 damage +1/level (max. +5), can be used to heal Undead.

2nd-Level Spells
Blindness/Deafness - makes subject Blinded or Deafened.
Command Undead - undead creature obeys your commands for 1day/level.
False Life - Gain 1d10 temporary hp +1/level (max +10), cannot be used to cast spells (as other magical healing).
Gentle Repose - preserves one corpse for 1 day/level.
Ghoul Touch - Paralyzes one subject, which exudes stench that makes those nearby sickened (STR+Phys roll or throw up and lose your action).
Inflict Moderate Wounds - 2d8 damage +1/level (max. +10), can be used to heal Undead.

3rd-Level Spells
Dispel Magic - removes magical effects with a successful Magic Attack (MIND bonus+ Level).
Halt Undead - Immobilises 1+1/2level Undead for 1 round/level.
Inflict Serious Wounds - 3d8 damage +1/level (max +15), can be used to heal Undead
Ray of Exhaustion - target must make a STR+Phys roll or take a -3 penalty on all Strength or Physical rolls (including combat) for 1 round/level.
Speak With Dead - corpse answers one question/two levels.
Vampiric Touch - touch deals 1d6/two levels damage; caster gains half damage as HP.

4th-Level Spells
Animate Dead - create skeletons and zombies (max 4HD on Undead/casting).
Black Tentacles - tentacles grapple all within 20 ft. spread.
Dispel Magic - cancels spells and effects.
Fear - subjects within 30ft. cone flee for 1 round/level.
Inflict Critical Wounds - 4d8 damage +1/level (max +20), can be used to heal Undead.
Poison -deal 1d10 STR damage, extra 1d4 after 1 min.

5th-Level Spells
Cloudkill - cloud of gas kills 3 HD or less; 4-6 HD save or die, 6+ HD take Con damage - can be moved by using your action for the round. Lasts 1 round/level.
Inflict Light Wounds, Mass - 1d8 damage +1/level to 1 creature/level.
Magic Jar - enables possession of another creature.
Nightmare - sends vision dealing 1d10 damage, fatigue.
Raise Dead - Restores life to subject who died as long as one day/level ago (Gentle Repose "freezes" this timer).
Unhallow - designates site as Unholy (Magic Circle Against Good, -4 penalty to Turn Undead, other effects at GM's whim).

6th-Level Spells
Acid Fog - fog deals acid damage (2d6/round inside the fog).
Anti-Life Shell - 10ft. heishpere keeps out living beings for 10 mins/level.
Create Undead - create Ghouls, Ghasts, Mummies or Mohrgs (max 6HD of Undead/casting).
Harm - deals 10 damage/level to subject, can be used to heal Undead.
Inflict Moderate Wounds, Mass - deals 2d8 damage +1/level to 1 creature/level.
Undeath to Death - Destroys 1d4/level HD of undead (max 20d4).

7th-Level Spell
Banishment - banishes 2HD/level of extraplanar creatures.
Control Undead - doubles the amount of Undead you can control for 10mins/level.
Create Greater Undead - create Shadows, Wraiths and Spectres (max 7HD of Undead/casting).
Finger of Death - kills one subject.
Inflict Serious Wounds, Mass - Deals 3d8 damage +1/level to 1 creature/level, can be used to heal Undead.
Symbol of Weakness - triggered rune causes 3d6 STR damage to creatures within 60ft, lasts 10mins/level.

8th-Level Spells
Clone - duplicate awakens when caster dies.
Horrid Wilting - Deals 1d6/level damage within 30 ft.
Inflict Critical Wounds, Mass - deals 4d8 damage +1/level to 1 creature/level, can be used to heal Undead.
Symbol of Death -triggered rune slays 150HP of creatures within 60ft., lasts 10mins/level.
Trap The Soul -imprisons subject within gem.
Unholy Aura - +4 to AC, +4 resistance, and SR 25 against good spells, to you and allies within 20ft, for 1 round/2 levels.

9th-Level Spells
Astral Projection - projects you and allies to the Astral Plane.
Harm, Mass - deals 10/level to one creature/level.
Soul Bind - traps newly-dead soul to prevent resurrection/passage to the afterlife.
Wail of the Banshee - kills one creature/level in a 25ft +5/level radius (STR+Phys to resist).

This spell list introduces something previous M20 lists have shied away from - summoning spells. They were part of what left the 3.5 "action economy" a shambling borked mess, and I'd say Greywulf was right to remove them. However, the Necromancer has a bit less offensive potential the other list has - so, hopefully, by removing one feature, we can incorporate another without affecting the balance too badly. I've limited the number of Undead you can have under your control at any one time, halfing the 3.5 amount (which could honestly lead to you being in control of an army at low levels).

I also added a new spell (seemed weird that you couldn't animate dead things, even partially, until higher levels).

New Rules and Spells

Saving Throws
Where a spell requires a saving throw, I've tried to follow the SRD and add it in M20 terms, but, should I be not the most vigilant writer and miss one, here's a quick list of what you might need to know:

Difficulty - usually 10+Caster Level+Caster's MIND bonus, but you can adjust these for NPC spellcasters, or just pick a number out of the air for traps, etc.

Fortitude save - roll STR bonus+Physical
Reflex save - roll DEX bonus+Physical
Will save - roll MIND bonus+level.

Controlling Undead
You can control up to your level in Hit Dice of Undead at any one time (plus one extra with Command Undead, doubled with Control Undead). Most Undead can only follow simple instructions, but this one's up to your GM to figure out, based on the intelligence/MIND score of each individual Undead.

On your turn, you can give up your action to specifically control one Undead under your control - otherwise, they follow your orders, and are controlled by the GM as far as how they follow them. For example, Undead commanded to "Attack my enemies" will attack the nearest enemy they can reach - but, by sacrificing your action, you can command one Undead to target a specific creature or enemy.

Most will use their basic forms of attack - to use any special abilities, you'll need to command them. Again, this is all subject to the whims of the DM, so be nice and buy him pizza.

Create Lesser Undead
Range: Touch
Duration: 30mins/level
Save: None
Material Components: One Tiny corpse, or a pile of bones and materials
You suffuse a small pile of bones, scraps of flesh, and rags with a local spirit - perhaps a small animal you have recently sacrificed for this purpose, or a spirit located with Detect Undead. You create one Tiny Undead, with the following profile:

Lesser Undead
1HD (1d4HP), Bone Spurs -3 (1d3-1), +3 Phys or Subt

This creature can only follow very simple vocal commands ("Stay here", "Follow me", etc), and if uncommanded, will simply stand motionless.

Friday, 23 March 2012

A Hireling Table!

Inspired by The Dungeon Dozen, I thought I'd put together a table of unusual henchmen and hirelings that have been floating about in my brain for a while.

These are designed for Risus, so each acts as a 3-dice Companion/Henchman (by the rules presented in the Risus Companion)

Roll a d12!

While searching for packmules meatshields trapbait new friends, you find...

1. Tann The Tinkerer: A Gnome Techno-Magician, always fiddling and creating the strangest of contraptions. Will end up costing you a little extra gold, as he buys reagents, mechanical parts, and to post bail when his Mecha-Goat-Asaur goes on its inevitable rampage.
Crazy Prepared Tinker Gnome (3)

2. Gak, Bak, and Sak, Goblin Gymnastics Trio: Lost from some bizarre circus, these three goblins act as one, and their high-flying moves can provide extremely useful in a fight. Will end up costing a little less gold, due to the fact they'll eat scraps, paper, rocks, and household pets.
Perfectly Choreographed Flying Goblins (3)

3. Bjorn the HUGE: A Half-Giant gladiator from some far-off land, Bjorn is a terrifying opponent to meet in battle. Standing a full 8-feet tall, he can dispatch all but the strongest of enemies with a well-placed blow. Used to a life of luxury - eats only the finest foods, wears silken robes and excessively tacky jewellery, to show the wealth he has accumulated from his bouts. Expect to expend a lot of gold keeping this one around.
Enormous Vain Half-Giant Gladiator (3)

4. Stannis, The Hobo King: Some men lose everything, and end their days alone in the gutter. For Stannis, this was the beginning. He found his natural thriftiness and skill for survival would lead him to become the tip-top of the bottom of the barrell - his skills and sneaking, thieving, begging, and survival would put many a rich man to shame. He generally requests nothing but a place to sleep and food for the day, and the company of fine gentlemen such as yourselves, of course.
Dirty Stinking Hobo Genius (3)

5. Korthag, Orc Huntsman/Chef: exiled from his tribe for daring to prepare the Chieftan roast vegetables to go with his half a cow, Korthag likes to hunt, kill, and cook his own food. Will manage to find food sources in even the most unlikely of places (not that he'll make them appetizing, but they'll certainly be edible).
Orc Woodsman With 5 Michelin Stars (3)

6. "Pesci", Touchy Rogue: previosuly a member of one of the larger Thieve's Guilds, the Halfling Pesci was raised to be paranoid. While he was not raised to flip out at the slightest provocation, he still manages it. Expect to have to bail him out, help him bury the bodies, and dodge the law, but expect great monetary returns on his "great finds" (from other people's houses).
Hair-Trigger Mafioso Midget (3)

7. Moore "The Mumbler", Sage of Many Words (Few Comprehensible): Moore might have been the victim of some curse to remove hisability to speak clearly, or might have been raised without proper diction, but either way, he's a man who knows everything. Just ask him, and you'll get a five-hundred word answer. Now, you just have to figure out what the Hell he's saying... Never seen without his pipe, spewing noxious fumes that could choke a Smoke Mephit, and keeps his hair and apperance in what can best be described as "Alan Moore in the wild".
Wild-Haired Incomprihensible Master Sage (3)

8. Chormsley, The Baby-Eating Bishop of Bath and Welles: A ridiculously corrupt official of the Church of Pelor, who has somehow managed to retain some of his Clerical gifts. In his own words, he'd "do anything to anything - animal, vegetable, mineral", and claims to be "a colossal pervert". Will cost you gold through his... unusual tastes and most likely bail money (for crimes against decency), but is a top-notch frontline fighter, and can still bring a little Divine magic to bear.
Fire and Brimstone and Women and Sheep and Wine... (3)

9. Skel, Nupperibo (Least Devil): Kicked out of the Nine Hells for being worse than useless, this horrid, fat little beast can be bound to your service using his true name (sadly for him, it's just "Skel", which he'll tell you, if you ask). While he'll try his best to make a twisting, labyrinthine contract to end up screwing you over, he'll find it hard to sign his name on the sheet, never mind make a bloody contract... But, he can be surprisingly useful, in the right situation...
Horrible Little Devilbastard (3)

10. "Fabulous" Enrique, Entertainer Extrordinare: Bard, Jester, Lover, Swashbuckler, expert stylist... this Fabio-lookalike has it all. And he's willing to share, for a price - gold, women, and drink. He may seem somewhat... eccentric, but he'll no doubt prove his worth many times over as a Jack-of-all-Trades (all of them stylish). His tastes might run expensive, but hey - he can always seduce a Noblewoman or two...
Fabulously Suave Swashbuckling Legend (3)

11. Dave The Chosen One: Favourite of the Gods, Chosen One, Named By The Prophecy, moistened bints lobbing mystical scimitars at him, the works - but Dave hasn't noticed so far. A poor, funny-looking farmer's son, he's happy to be your torchbearer (eager, in fact, to serve) - and perhaps one day he'll awaken to his birthright. Not bloody likely, but still...
Clueless Pawn of Fate (3)

12. Johan Mathbeard, Dwarven Accountant: Worshipper of Vergadain, Dwarven God of Wealth and Luck, Johan is a master accountant, capable of impressively creative acts of truth ("Well, let's see, that'll be 50 gold each for clearing out the Kobolds, plus ammunition, supplies, repairs, healing, overtime, resurrections, window tax, dungeon tax, Dwarf Tax, Holy Tax of Vergadin, Tax Tax... that comes to 9,573 gold, split between the four of us"), and he's no slouch in the combat department. He'll cost you to hire, but seriously, he'll rake it back in in any civilised setting.
Holy Taxman and Creative Accountant of The God of Wealth (3)

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Cyberpunk: What System?

There's a dearth of game systems out there, each tailored to their own particular style of game. I figure I can work out what I want from a cyberpunk game, and work it back from there.

  • Action - it's got to be capable of holding a decently lethal firefight, hand-to-cyberhand combat, and possibly vehicular combat equally well.
  • Tactics - with a lethal-ish combat system comes tactical combat - I don't want a miniatures skirmish game, but some level of combat crunch would be nice.
  • Gear - you gotta be able to create (or nab) rules for weapons, tech, and chrome. It just wouldn't be cyberpunk without arm-mounted shotguns and subdermal armour.
  • Setting - I really like the R. Talorisan Cyberpunk setting. It has just the right mix of Big Evil Corps, military interests, politics, and more "down to earth" stuff like social movements and cool little bits of fluff. However, many people I talk to are more interested in something like Shadowrun (despite being kinda dumb, it manages to have a real sense of fun to it). So I'd preferably like a system that can do both justice.

My normal standby, Risus, is a little bit too rules-lite for my tastes here, so no dice.

Shadowrun seems like a good choice - but its rules are incredibly linked to its setting. Excising the magical content can be done, but then you end up with half a system, and it doesn't seem to be worth the effort.

GURPS covers the first three - it's got rules for everything, after all. But, that's also its problem - there's rules for everything. I guess I can drop a lot of the additional rules, and just use GURPS Lite and add in the bits I need... it's modular enough to take it. Christ, if there's one thing GURPS can't be outshined on, it's modularity. But, in all honesty, I'm not a huge fan of the system. It feels... clunky.

D20 Modern could cover most of those, but it's mostly pants-on-head retarded. Though someone did make up a fantastic Ghost in the Shell conversion document... it ends up dropping a lot of the main problems with the system, such as "Hero Classes", the silly firearms rules, and some of the weird interactions of high-tech and high-levels (the classic level 10 Tough Hero who can be shot in the face and laugh it off). I'm reading through it just now, and I''ll probably post up something about it later...

Savage Worlds is pretty high up on my list. A good level of crunch, easy to learn rules (roll a 4. That's pretty much it), a pre-existing Cyberpunk book, decent lethality, and a lot of customisation value. Looking very good!

BRP is a great system, and it's pretty crunchy, and has sci-fi and cyberpunk resource books... plus, the advancement system is fun (you only advance the skills you use, so no "levelling up" and watching the Wizard learn new spells, get tougher, and somehow learn how to swing a sword better, despite not having picked up any weapon more lethal that a fork for his entire adventuring career). Plus, it means I can build up a huge arc to end up with a Cyberpunk/Call of Cthulhu crossover!

I mean, seriously - how cool would that be?

Monday, 19 March 2012

Roll a d12!

Aah, the d12 - a sadly underused and misunderstood die.

Unless you play a Barbarian weilding a Greataxe. Or you're dicking about with 3.5's Powerful Build (those dirty, dirty Goliaths and Half-Giants).

But, fear no longer, mightiest of polyhedrons!

The Dungeon Dozen is a cool little resource for GMs of every genre (though fantasy/dungeoncrawls seem to be a specialty), where the author creates fantastic little tables for everything from encounters, to moster characteristics, to NPC motivations - all using the humble dodecahedron.

Check it out!

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Dwarves of Delraith: Planning

I wanted to give Dwarves, one of the most static fantasy races, a new spin for the Delraith setting. They'll keep some of the traditional flavour, but I wanted to pull a few tweaks here and there. I've got a few rough ideas:

  • Dwarves are rare - their civilisation has been in decline for centuries, and the last remaining groups rarely leave their great Fortresses (Stonehalls, in the Dwarven tongue). Many refuse to believe they exist, even though there are some encounters with them.
  • Dwarves are magical - none of this old-school "Gimli never cast a spell, so Dwarves hate magic" bullshit - mythological Dwarves weaved magic and engineering, and Delraith's Dwarves do the same.
  • Dwarves are varied - no two Stonehalls are alike - not any more. After many generations of privacy and exclusion, the cultures within have diverged and changed from "baseline" Dwarven culture - so much so that such a concept is now a thing of the past.
  • Dwarves are powerful - the few remaining Dwarven clans have mastered their mixing of technology and magic to heights only imaginable to other races. Your average Dwarf is armed with bewildering contraptions that could kill a lesser humanoid in seconds, and they wield the terrifying sorceries of the Gods themselves.
  • Dwarves are unusual - in that they are one of the few races directly created by a God. Most other life was seeded on the world by Gods, sure, but Dwarves have had a guiding hand from The Earth Spirit - possibly a Dragon, possibly something else.
More to come...

Cyberpunk 2020 - Why Do I Want To Run This?

The system's a clusterfuck of strange rules, heavy mathematics and "justified" brokeness ("Solos", the settings Fighter equivalent, always go first in combat. It's their special rule. And, as a rule, have the hugest weapons. Hello, Rocket Tag...)

But I love the bizzaro future-failures. Full-body cyborg prosthetics are available, but there's no wireless internet? Mobile phones cost $3000, and can't even text! And, apparently, Great Britain is the only country which still makes print newspapers. On average, they cost £3. But, for the princely sum of £6, you can have it faxed to you.

Read that again - faxed.

Oh, wow.

I'm eyeing up the setting, and trying to find a good system to run it... lethal, tactical, and fun - it might be Unknown Armies time.

Friday, 2 March 2012

Gender in Gaming: Some Thoughts

So, it's not something that come up too often in the games I play, but there are obvious issues within the community about it.

(See the D&D Next poll where "Gender-based stat differences" was put forward as something players might want to see. Players, as we all know, are douchebags, and voted this one through the roof, most likely to show WotC that their "open source" approach had some problems).

It was first raised in the good old days of 1st Edition D&D, where rules were given regarding the maximum Strength stat of females of different races. I want to say I can see where they're coming from - D&D is simulationist at heart, and there is an average difference in relative strength and muscle mass between males and females due to the basics of biological sexual dimorphism.

But why the fuck would that level of realism matter in a game of heroic exploits and punching orcs?

It's kinda ridiculous - there are plenty of fictional women who are just as strong as their male counterparts (though, admittedly, most of these are from after this little nugget of wisdom), and in real life, there are plenty of women who could bench-press a car. Even with the relative "grit" of older editions of D&D, there is still a lot of room for such things. It's something that modern games go out of their way to avoid, like White Wolf's overuse of feminine pronouns in their books, or the fact that the statistically best starting character you can make in GURPS is a black woman (both free options - being black lets you reduce your chances of heatstroke, being a male means you get extra Stun/Shock damage when hit in the nuts, a weakness women don't share, apparently...).

I mean, we get it - games are for girls too. This isn't a shock by now.

But, really? It's mostly men who play them. Not that we should exclusively pander to men, but that, really, we don't need to go nutso overboard to cater to women. If they like a game, they like it - no amount of "her and she" will change that.

But, I'll admit it - there is a reason for this little rant. Some minor, ingrained sexism on my part.

My partner was talking about arranging an all-girl gaming group. Seems fine to me! But, I had a thought that I couldn't stop from blurting out - in a lot of settings, you're gonna have to stretch vermilisitude to bring together a whole band of women. Like your average D&D-like setting - female adventurers are the exception, rather than the rule. Historically, you had Joan of Arc et al, but for the most part, such games are inspired by the fiction that spawned them - and women either take a more servile role, or play supporting characters.

For modern games, it's no biggie at all - but go back even 50 years, it starts to look odd. Take Call of Cthulhu - one of the possible games she might run. In 20's America, a large group of women investigating the occult seems... out of place. Guys, sure, they dick about with that shit all the time - but it feels kinda out of place with women. Unless they're a cult/coven/whatever, there would seem to be less of a reason to be doing such things.

But, my partner put forward a good point - a group of men needs little or no reason to get together. Why does a group of women need any more than them?

...It's a good point, man.

And one that probably has its answer deep-seated in our culture's patriarchal roots, and really, that's too deep for a blog about pretending to be pretty Elf princesses to be digging.