Thursday, 28 June 2012

UPDATES: What I'm Doing Now

So, I have a few wee projects on the go, so there might be some quiet times ahead. Here's what's up and coming...
  • Converting the Binder class from 3.5 to Microlite20 (Binders are strange arcanists who bind the spirits of great heroes, dead gods, and eldritch abominations into themselves, to access a variety of abilities and powers. A very flexible, highly useful class, who can fill any given role in a party, but not as well as a specialist).
  • A Dungeon for use in both the Risus Dungeon Crawl and OSRIC/OSR/AD&D games, with maps and new creatures and such. This one's gonna be posted as each individual floor, then collected and published as a PDF, maybe two - one without any system, and one specifically for OSR gaming.
  • A new Goliath race for OSRIC.
  • Those bloody Tau Careers for Rogue Trader.
  • Some new Unknown Armies stuff (currently trying my hand at fiction once more, we'll see how it goes).
  • A couple of reviews/"Let's Read" articles.
And, no doubt, a few more bits and pieces here and there.

Watch this space!

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Dungeon Design in 4e - Considerations

So, I do like 4e.

Sure, it's not as "D&D" as the other editions, but it's a shit-ton of fun, and the focus on combat really frees up the skill system to be a very loose, fluid thing - which I like, a lot. While 3.5 had a lot of rules on how to use certain skills in certain situations, 4e only has a few - the rest are up to the players and DM to work out.

But, while doodling some dungeon maps up, I realised a few things about making dungeons for 4e.

First, is space - you need a lot of it. Older editions were rife with 10ft wide corridors, 10'x10' rooms, etc. But, due to the way 4e combat works, with powers that push, pull, and rely on movement, such corridors become very limiting on what actions a PC can take. And that goes against 4e's ethos in a big way. 4e's heroes are cool, larger than life combatants - forcing them to cramp their style is tantamount to hamstringing them!

So, I need to design dungeons which have less corridors, maze-like sections, and true curves, and instead focus on having larger areas interspersed with interesting scenery. This is kinda rubbish, as I like the little fiddly bits! It also means sticking to regular shapes - everything kinda has to be measured in 1"x1" squares, so no circles/curves. I feel that that will strip a lot of the dungeon's vermilisitude.

So, we go from this:

If I ever meet Dyson Logos, I'm going to blow him.

... to this

I know it's from Gamma World, but I'm still just not feeling the love.
Second is the sheer time that combat takes - 4e has no wandering monster rolls, because frankly, each battle against level-appropriate threats can take upwards of an hour to resolve. I played OSRIC, and watched 10 PCs (in Dangerous Brian's Expeditionary Campaign) take on similar numbers of bad guys - and the fights never took as long as when we played 4e. Part of this was down to player choice - there's just a bit too much of it. While in OSRIC, you either shot/stabbed/lobbed/generally attacked, or maybe cast a spell, your options were limited - but you had a lot more say in how you performed them. In 4e, even a Level 1 character can have up to 7 specific attacks listed, and more options besides. As many of them rely on the aforementioned pushing/pulling/movement, pre-planning often leads to you being unable (or, at least, making it unwise) to use certain Powers. People get in the way, monsters dodge out of reach of certain Powers, etc., and it can lead to some stage-fright when you finally get around to your turn. How this affects dungeon design is that each combat has to really matter - it should further the plot/story, because it'll take fucking hours, so it better be worth it! And, to be honest, I don't like running a dungeon with a plot in mind - there's just too much that can occur within a dungeon, too many places where the plot will be lost, that it's not worth losing out on the feeling of adventure, the spontaneity, the sheer fun of a dungeon by meticulously planning every aspect of it. It's just not fun. Stock it and let the players choose how to encounter it. Don't force them to take certain paths, or make enemies appear at set places like videogame spawn points. Just roll with it.

Thirdly, is the matter of Experience Points. In 4e, XP is meticulously balanced by encounter - so, for each fight, you have an Encounter Budget, based on the number of enemies/traps there are. This is the main way of gaining XP, and can make dungeons into hack-and-slash blenders. In OSRIC, XP was garnered through collecting loot - gold, silver, copper, gems, whatever valuables you could make off with. Players prised elaborate candelabras off walls, bought mules to carry their treasure back from dungeons, pulled of heists that would make the Leverage team dizzy. Fighting wasn't worth it - you gained a piddling amount of XP for risking your life (and, your chance to reach a higher level - a lot harder to do in OSRIC than 4e). When fights occurred, most were simple survival - and good players planned ahead, made choke points, set their polearms for a charge, or fired missile weapons and burning oil from behind cover. There was less mechanical variety in combat, but a lot more choice.
So, when making a 4e dungeon, you have to plan each encounter out to ensure it's within the correct scale, and that the players level at the right points. A good DM also includes plenty of chances for the individual players to shine - if someone made a Wizard and took all the Powers and feats to make him tackle multiple enemies at once, throw her a cloud of minions every few fights, so she gets to nuke huge groups of bad guys. If someone made an agile, acrobatic Rogue, then don't make everything about corridors - throw in poles to balance on, traps to spring-vault over, and walls to run along.

Despite all this, I do like 4e - just as a player. Running it can be somewhat fraught with problems (or me, at least). It does have some awesome stuff (the feeling of being a hero, rather than a very lucky chump; the Powers system; the flexibility regarding skills and terrain use), and the player options are both mechanically interesting and very flavourful - but as a DM, it's kinda fiddly. I'd rather doodle up a dungeon in half an hour than dick around with Dungeon Tiles and make sure everything's alright for everyone.

Yep, I'm officially a grognard (despite not being around when AD&D was released). God help me.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Z is for Zombies

One of my favourite bits of zombie makeup!

A staple of genre fiction. Whether they're shambling corpses, re-animated villains, or virally-infected berserkers, this particular form of Undead has been garnering quite a lot of media attention over the past few decades.

In fantasy, zombies are the mindless servants of Necromancers and Bad People. Mostly resurrected through manipulation of some dubious force (Dark/Black/Blood/Death/Plague Magic, Negative Energy, Curses and Hexes, whatever), they make good minions - they are too mindless for anything else. Your typical Fantasy zombie is slow, already rotting, and capable of only following the orders and will of their Master. No weapons for them - they'll claw and bite and scratch, like animals.
Occasionally, you get something closer to a flawed resurrection - Necromancers might raise loyal servants from beyond the grave, granting them some measure of their previous abilities. Unlike most zombies, these guys are sentient (though bound to their master's will), and might even be capable of full battle or spellcasting. They're sort of like a poor man's Lich, cheating death and becoming somewhat more powerful for it. Mostly kept to one or two per villain - an army of these wouldn't provide the proper sense of having "mooks" and "elites".

With someone in charge of their actions, these kinds of zombies can be a fair threat - they can be buried, and called out when they need to be used, or even used to make a bottleneck or a walking wall to cover other troops from attack. It's all up to how tactically-minded the one in charge is (and, if he's a proper tactician, a horde of Undead servants can easily turn the tide of any battle).

Modern Zombies are a different kettle of fish. Well, two distinct kettles of fish.

Firstly, the fantasy-like "slow zombies". Think Romero, Fulchi, the classics. Normally, they're created by a virus that reanimates the dead, or some other pseudo-scientific explanation - few seem to use the classic "Voodoo Zombie" archetype any more. The main problem with these is the fact that they operate without any other thought than hunger - and as they move slowly, you can avoid them pretty well. Note how there's rarely a single zombie? You can kill one pretty easy. A city of them, well, one of them's bound to get a lucky bite in somewhere. They need to be used as a horde to have much of an effect - and in some games, running such a thing can be troublesome (D&D has always had a little issue with mass combat). Operating something like 4e's Minions could help in such a situation, but most games might have issues balancing such a large group of enemies. Without numbers on their side, they're just too stupid to provide any real threat, and with numbers, they can very easily overwhelm even the best-prepared group.

Second, you have the Fast Zombies - almost always scientific, and most often not actually dead (yet). Mutated strains of rabies are a perennial favourite explanation (because rabies is fucking horrifying). 28 Days Later and the remake of Dawn of the Dead are the main codifiers of these bad boys. While still somewhat stupid, they make a far more pressing physical threat - they're faster and stronger (due to being uncaring as to how much damage they do to themselves), incapable of feeling pain or fear, and are purely designed as vectors for their chosen Zombie Virus. Some might even be able to use simple weapons, like clubs and cudgels (which can add a little extra "oomph" to their attacks). In hordes, they become practically unstoppable.

"I took Cleave and Greater Cleave. I'll be fine."
But the one defining trait that both the modern types have? You have to destroy the brain. Headshots, blunt force trauma, fire, electrocution, doesn't matter how - you just need to kill the brain to kill the beast. In modern systems, this means Called Shots - Called Shots everywhere. And, as you normally need to pour a lot of points/skills/whatever into them to make them somewhat effective, most people will rely on attacking them normally, ruining some of the charm of the zombie genre. Look at The Walking Dead - despite being ostensibly gritty and "realistic", characters can pull of several headshots in a row, on moving targets (albeit slow-moving ones), while running for their lives, on a regular basis. You just try that according to many Modern RPG systems. I'll wait.

... Harder than it looks, right?

One compromise I might make (if you want a more "cinematic" zombie experience) would be to make headshots easier. A selection of mechanics might include:
  • Any "critical hit"-type effect automatically becomes a headshot, killing the zombie instantly. Means even an untrained character has a chance to do it with some reliability.
  • Make Called Shot mechanics more easily available, or reduce the penalties (against a zombie, a Called Shot to the head involves no penalty) for using them without training (at least in close quarters - long range penalties still apply).
  • Certain weapons (like shotguns, or maybe high rate-of-fire weapons) might have an increased Critical Threat range, to up their chances of hitting the head.
Fantasy zombies lack that particular weakness (mostly) - you have an arcane force possessing a body, doesn't matter whether it's got a head or not, it'll still be driven by the will of the one who bound it into that body. This makes them a lot more dangerous - destruction or dismemberment of the whole body is required. Weirdly, most rulesets ignore this somewhat, and make zombies very low-level combatants. A strange one, considering the amount of damage you should need to do to kill the damn things.

While I love zombie literature and cinema, one of the most recurring themes is that the zombies aren't the main threat. It's what other people will be willing to do in such a situation - whether it's leaving their friends to die, using the chaos as an excuse to loot, pillage, and generally make a nuisance of themselves, or to see everyone else as a threat, regardless of their intent. Zombies are simply a catalyst for the breakdown of modern societal rules - and while some will cling to them (almost overbearingly), some will equally take the chance to cast them off, embracing savagery and horror that would make any normal person disgusted, all with the excuse of survival.

When running a zombie game, however, zombies should still be a big threat - but sometimes, you need a band of slavers, or cannibals, or some threat closer to home than the Undead - just to bring forth the real horror of the situation the PC's find themselves in.

...and I'm spent! An A to Z tour of what I do, what I like, and what I don't. Thanks for reading! Normal service will now be resumed.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Y is for Yuan-Ti

Another of the frequently mentioned, but often overlooked races, the Yuan-Ti have great potential as villains - but much like the Drow, very little ability to do much more in a setting.

They're generic evil snakemen - they look like snakes, worship evil snake gods, etc. They're like serious versions of C.O.B.R.A.

So, I wanted to try my hand at a little reworking, for Delraith. We'll see how it goes.

The Yuan-Ti are a race of snake-like humanoids, hailing from the warmer Southern Climes - a land of hot, dense jungles and swamps. They stand roughly 6 feet in height, are bipedal, and have a distinctive scaled skin and serpentine features. Many have near-unique markings and colourations - no two are alike (and if they are, it's a sign of inbreeding or trickery). They have somewhat poor vision, and rely on reading ambient heat to "see" (although they are capable of true sight at close ranges). They are also adept at tracking via pheromones and scents, if need be. As such, they find it hard to identify outsiders at a glance - excluding massive differences (like the height difference between a Halfling and a Human, for example).
Originally, they claim to have came from 'another place' - some other dimension, perhaps, or another world. Their creation myths and the powers they worship are unlike many of the other Races of Delraith. They speak of this "other place", a paradisaical world of heat and water, where they are the only lifeform - almost like a "heaven". Some great cataclysm rocked this "Heaven", and the Yuan-Ti came to this world. How they managed it has been the Great Secret they keep, at the request of their God - a physical being, apparently, a huge Feathered Serpent who still resides on their world, waiting for the Yuan-Ti to release him from the cataclysm that imprisoned it.

They managed it via huge ships, powered by a mix of technology and arcane sciences. At the moment, these reside under their homes in the Southern Climes (each is roughly the size of a small town, and makes for a great high-level adventure/dungeon!). However, that was many generations ago - the Yuan-Ti have just about forgot how they managed it, but hold The Great Secret as a matter of course.

This Great Secret has informed a lot of Yuan-Ti culture - they are generally xenophobic, trying to keep themselves to themselves where possible. Outsiders are not tolerated within Yuan-Ti society - adventurers even less so. They have been known, however, to make deals with individuals of other races in exchange for information - sometimes mundane (like maps of the known world, or specific locales on the other side of the world), sometimes occult (like certain magical rituals, secrets of arcane might, etc.), and sometimes much deeper than most have the right to know (information about Dwarfholds, Dragons, and the nature of Elves). Such exchanges are done with great consideration, far from Yuan-Ti lands - normally in one of the neutral areas of the Climes, like the Elven settlement of Kust.

There are rumours that the Yuan-Ti have been experimenting with creating half-human hybrids, for espionage and to send out as scouts and spies into the other parts of the world. Most dismiss this as fanciful rumours - but there have been quite a few reported break-ins from large repositories of knowledge, like libraries and Wizard's towers...

Thursday, 14 June 2012

X is for XP

Ah, the Experience Point - a humble, satisfying way of tracking your character's improvement and advancement. Way back in the mysteries of time, you spent a penny, you got a point - truly, simple days. It encouraged a lot of planning and thoughtful exploration - while you did get experience from defeating monsters, the risk : reward ratio was way too high, and combat too deadly, to make it a viable option for levelling. Instead, you planned ways to get rid of monsters, not defeat them, or avoid them entirely, to get your hands on the cash. And, while you used it to replace weapons, buy equipment, and research spells, you still had a lot left over for whoring and drinking.

Now, you have kids boiling anthills and rampaging through dungeons without a care in the world, hoping to level up to get their hands on the new and exciting class features at the next level, so they can further rampage and gain XP. Cash is used mainly to buy magic weapons, to enhance your killing prowess - those poor whores will be going hungry!

I have to admit, I prefer the older edition way of doing things - you gained XP from adventuring, not fighting. I am thinking, should I ever run an old-school game, to maybe add in some new forms of XP:
Spending money grants you experience, as always.
  • Fighting should still grant a decent amount of experience points - after all, combat and epic battles are the stuff that great adventures are built on. But I like the idea of making it a risky proposition, s not too much XP.
  • I'll maybe add something regarding traps - disabling a trap using Thief skills grants no XP, but is a hell of a lot more reliable. But, if you puzzle out a trap and think of a unique, clever, or entertaining way of getting around it, you gain a little bonus XP. Good to ensure that everyone can get some XP from traps, not just the Thief.
  • Maybe an Exploration Bonus - for every 100ft of dungeon you faithfully map, the party gains 5XP. Not mapping or just sketching will grant nothing. Every Secret Door found will grant a bonus (like Traps), and maybe some set XP rewards for finding certain things (say, the Defiled Altar to St Cuthbert gives 10XP for finding it).
  • Bonus XP for doing interesting things - reconsecrating that Altar might be worth another 10XP, maybe more to a Cleric of St Cuthbert.
It also opens up something I've been wanting to write up - a system like the Warhammer 40k RP games, where Experience is used to buy advances, and you go up in Rank depending on how you choose to spend your XP, not on how much you earn. It allows for a class-based system with so much more variety than the D&D Levels and Feats.

Of course, a lot of games now don't use XP at all, and have a variety of advancement schemes - FATE being one that instantly springs to mind, with its lack of XP, GM-designated advancement periods, and the ability to gain new Aspects through gameplay (where appropriate). But, I find that, as a player, I like having something to work towards - and XP are a great way of tracking that, and always give something to look forward to.

Monday, 11 June 2012



I do love them.

In a universe dominated by horror, greed, and GRIMDARK, beset on all sides by gibbering abominations, vile heretics, and aliens of all stripes, you have the happiest damn race in the Galaxy.

Why? Because they've already won.

The Imperium wants to rule the Galaxy, as they see it as their divine right. The Eldar want to atone for their past misdeeds, hunting down the forces of Chaos, and trying to bring their race back from the edge of extinction. The Tau want to include everyone in The Greater Good, or kill them trying. The Necrons want to wipe out all life, but there's a lot of it.

The Dark Eldar are just here for the beer. The Tyranids, for the DELICIOUS BIOMASS.

And the Orks? They just want a fight. A "roight good 'un, too". And by The God-Emperor, they've got one. Seeing as everyone else in the Galaxy wants to fight each other, and them, and sometimes themselves, no matter where Orks go, a fight is soon to follow. They're living the dream - something that can be said of scant few people in 40k, never mind an entire race.

Yes, the generally take the role of the "comic relief", but a few of the Black Library novels show us that an Ork can be a credible, terrifying threat - my example...

Roan and his men dived into the trench - it would keep them safe from the gunfire, at least for now, but the artillery thumping nearer and nearer let them know they had scant time to enjoy their rest.

A few of the men (brave souls that they were) had taken up firing positions, bracing their lasguns against anything they could for a better shot at the enemy. Callis... was nowhere to be seen. The Heavy Bolter the Captain had slung him with would be of great use here, shielded from the worst of the fire, and directly in front of the advancing line.

Lunatics! They were charging through the No Man's Land without a care in the world! The men tried to take them down before they reached them, and succeeded in killing maybe a dozen - each of the beasts needing several shots to down. Roan had seen what a Lasgun can do to an unarmoured man, but the creatures wore little more than scraps of leather and the odd metal plate. They were bizarrely tough, taking shots to the face that would kill an average man, and yet they kept coming, screaming.

For each the men downed, five more took their place in the charge. There was no way they would manage. The Captain ordered them to fall back into the trench and prepare their bayonets - the fight was coming to them.

The first of the beasts threw himself into the trench. It was massive - the size of one of the Emperor's Astartes, at least. It wore a huge, roughly-beaten metal faceplate, wrapped around its jaw - it even looked like it might have been implanted into its face. And its expression... it was smiling, as it screamed an unholy, bastardised dialect that seemed strangely familiar. Its green skin shone with oil, blood, and a general waxy demeanour.

With a single swipe, it knocked Davin off his feet, and plunged a wicked-looking blade into his chest. The great beast laughed and roared as it continued through the trench, followed by his brothers. All larger than even the biggest of the Guardsmen, all wielding cruel-looking blades and handguns that looked ready to fall apart.They slaughtered the men, making sport of it - laughing as they killed, huge gouts of gore sending cheers through the advancing tide of green.

Roan had sought to escape from the onslaught, and hopped out of the trench, running blindly away from the enemy. He had feared the Commissar would have him shot, but looking over his shoulder, he saw a massive metal claw, easily the size of a Lascannon, sweeping through the air out of the trench, followed swiftly by the top half of Commissar Jenkins.

To this day, the last words he heard would haunt his sleep, marking every minute of every day...



MORE Delays, I Know...

But that one was due to me heading to the Download Festival! Black Sabbath were one o the highlights of my life so far, man...

Back on track from tomorrow!

Sunday, 3 June 2012

This Is So Getting Played...

Mini Dungeon Adventures, a print-it-yourself Dungeon Crawler boardgame! Go have a look, and download the rules and printables for FREE!

I think, if I ever need minis for the Risus Dungen Crawl games, they'll be done like these bad boys.

For an idea as to how mini they are...

That, ladies and gents, is a normal-sized pencil.


V is for Virgin Power!

A classic staple of fantasy literature - that a virgin (preferably female) makes for the perfect sacrifice/has some mystical powers tied to her lack of a good dicking.

But why?

I mean, it comes from ancient beliefs regarding purity, and fertility rituals, but it would seem to me that a "blank slate" approach might be better - as in, someone who has never been harmed, or soiled by the physical world in any way. But, you run with that, and you're gonna have people sacrificing babies, and it just gets real messy real quick.

It strikes me as something that's hard to fit into a gaming context - after all, most games feature very little sexual content, so staying a virgin isn't too big a deal. And really, it's bad DMing to force them to lose it... no-one wants a graphic rape description during their Happy Fun Adventure Time.

In most fantasy literature, it comes as a property of a supporting cast member - who the Brave Manly Protagonist will end up deflowering at some point. Again, giving this quality to an NPC still doesn't provide much onus to players to make drama out of it - they'll dodge roleplaying sex with one of their friends.

So, I find it's best to leave it to the realm of lesser NPCs (maybe the High Priestess of a temple, or some such), so as to avoid all the complications it might bring. While it might make good background fluff, taking it as a PC is inviting trouble into your doorstep - which, fair enough, is what any good PC background should do, but this one has some nasty resolutions.

Friday, 1 June 2012

U is for Ungoliant

Dude on the right? Sauron's daddy.
One of the creepiest of Tolkien's forces of Evil, Ungoliant was a spirit who took the form of a massive Spider. Her children (like Shelob, the nasty big Spider in Lord of The Rings) roamed the dark places of the land, making nests at devouring all who come into their lairs.

One of the stranger things about Ungoliant is that she did not get the usual eighteen-page backstory that most of Tolkien's creations received - she simply is, and in a world as detailed and recorded as Middle Earth, that's pretty creepy. It's obvious, however, she's old - as in "older than the world" old. Best guess, she's a spirit of hunger, famine, and despair, created during (or maybe a by-product of) the creation of Middle Earth, taking those qualities and clothing herelf in the form of the first Spider. There are also a few hints that she was spawned of The Void - the massive nothing outside of Middle Earth. So she might be a Ginat Alien Spider.

She's so representative of Hunger, in fact, that she spawned her own Young, just to eat them. Only a few escaped and spawned themselves, creating legions of demi-god spiders roaming the dark bits of Middle Earth.

Oh shit.

And her Hunger was her demise - she ran out of things to eat in her darkened lair, so she ate herself completely.

The reason I mention her here is because I love the idea of a whole race who physically stem from such an evil God/Spirit/Whatever. How much cooler would Trolls be, for instance, if they were the outbred, lessened descendants of some crazed God of Life, never truly able to die, simply driven on by his rage. Or maybe something more monstrous, like the Grell - giant flying brains with octopoid bodies. Maybe they were chunks of some God, or his descendants, cursed to take mortal form for some slight against a more powerful God.

It makes for an interesting bit of worldbuilding, and also a handy reason for them being Always Chaotic Evil - they're born that way and that's that.

Mind you, I am of the opinion that all spiders are Always Chaotic Evil, so don't mind my bias.