Thursday, 31 May 2012

T is for Treasure!

Treasure. Loot. Gold, Silver, Electrum, Copper.

It's one of the things every gamer expects, especially in the fantasy genre (a personal favourite is the boiling down of D&D and its ilk to "killing things and taking their stuff"). Gamers are a simple bunch, really, and what we want is gratification. We want to engage in certain behaviours, and we are a lot happier when we get rewarded for them.

Imagine you were playing in a system where you weren't supposed to kill people. Where, instead of slashing people open and finding candy, you found merely pain and suffering (Hi, Unknown Armies!). It's not as much fun to be rewarded with a mental disorder as it is to be rewarded with shiny things.

And by God, I do love a good shiny thing.

But, I have seen people not really consider what they are doing. Take, for instance, the GM who let me find 1,000 copper coins, and seemed to "forget" that they weighed anything. Not that I complained, of course, but people see "treasure" as some abstract resource, and as such, just hand out the amount of money the book says they should get. And don't bloody start me on magic items as part of treasure - I've seen GMs do it like the Legend of Fuckin' Zelda, where you kill a monster, and find a +1 sword in the chest it was guarding!?
Nah. Treasure should feel valuable, sometimes unique, and definitely cool. In that vein, have a table!

Valuable, Cool, and Unique Treasures!

1. 956 roughly-hewn golden coins, marked with the mint of an ancient empire. Several have been defaced, scoring off the old Emperor's face. Their value varies - some might take them as gold standard, some will claim them "worthless" as the Empire no longer exists, and some might see them as a lot more valuable for just that reason.

2. A collection of figurines, which appear to have been crafted from obsidian. Dwarves and others with appraising skills will notice there are no tool marks - they look like the obsidian was poured into a mould and left to set. Now, where do you find liquid obsidian?

3. Several bolts of high-quality phase spider silk, inlaid with Dwarven runic patterns. These are a relic of a time when the Dwarves and Deep Elves/Drow used to not only trade, but worked together to create such works of art. Some might wish to own it, while the Dwarves might buy it off you to hide the shame of their ancestors...

4. Amongst a large pile of weapons, you find one particular short sword. It doesn't look much - there are spots of rust, and a few scrawled runes on the blade, almost worn off with use. What is special about it, is that it seems to have cleft several of the other weapons in twain as it was tossed into the pile, rather haphazardly. Researching the runes will show it belonged to an ancient warrior from the Norther Reaches, Grimne Pelt-Taker, who was renowned for killing his enemies with mighty blows that could cleave their armour as easily as their bones. However, you're not near the Northern Reaches - so how did it get here? It's a basic +1 sword, but with a cool bit of fluff!

5. A list of customers for one of the city's highest-charging brothels, specialising in things that would make any courtly maiden blush. There's a lot of people who would give you lots of money to get that list...

6. A Drow "painting", which is somewhat more like a sculpture - there are no colours (they have Darkvision, remember?), simply a staggering amount of variation in brushstrokes, depth and texture of paint. Worth a lot to the right collectors - Drow don't trade with outsiders all that often, especially in works of art.

7. A set of small figurines, delicately crafted from a variety of materials. They represent thin, lithe warriors, variously armed, with articulated joints and a feeling of warmth coming from them. They're actually old Elven training toys, teaching children the art of the sword and magic - by setting each down and reciting a certain word in Elven, they will display the various stances and somatic movements required of the Elven martial and magical arts. These can be used to grant bonus abilities and feats (say, an extra spell or a particular maneuver, great for those using the Book of Nine Swords or similar). These generally only work for Elves and Half-Elves, though someone with great force of will or a natural knack with magic might manage it as well. They are worth a lot of money (and maybe Favours and Prestige) to the larger Elven communities.

8. A bottle of Liquid Obsidian - pour it out and expose it to air, and it will form into pure obsidian within 30 seconds. Collectors of curios and adventurers alike will find a lot of worth in this one.

9. A bottle of what appears to be wine. However, it smells... wrong. It's actually a mix of Drow wine, troll blood, and Doppleganger blood - it grants the user a good bonus (+5 or +10) to all Disguise checks, or for stronger brews, the spell Alter Self as a spell-like ability for 1 hour per dose. And average bottle has 5 doses. Warning, it tastes foul, and might have some... unusual side effects (GMs, go wild!).

10. An ornate hand mirror, carved from the bones of a dragon, and inlaid with Draconic scrimshaw. What kind of dragon would make such a trinket from another dragon? And why is it scaled for a human instead of a dragon?

Monday, 28 May 2012

S is for Seneschal

When I first heard about Rogue Trader's Career system, I wasn't massively impressed.

I had seen the glut of Class-based systems, and wanted something a bit different. While I had heard of WFRP's Careers, wide and varied as they are, the whole "buying Advances, not automatically gaining new stuff" was a foreign concept to me.

For those of you who don't know: in your average Class-based game (like D&D), you gain Experience Points - once you reach a certain threshold, you gain a new Level. With that Level, you automatically gain new abilities (like new spells for Wizards, or Wildshape for Druids, or extra Sneak Attack Dice for Rogues, etc). While you can make some choices (like what spells to pick, or Feats in 3rd/4th Edition), your advancement is pretty linear. It leads to a "video-gamey" feel, in my opinion.

WFRP and the 40RP system, however, work by Rank and Advances.

So, you're Rank 1 - the lowest of the low. You have a list of Advances (whether new Talents, bonuses to Skills, whatever), and their XP costs. As you earn XP, you can "buy" these Advances - and you go up to the next Rank when you've spent a certain amount of XP, not earned it. To me, that makes it feel like more of an accomplishment - you made your character better, instead of watching them get better. It also allows you to buy any skill you want - at an extra cost. Such a system allows for a truly diverse set of characters, even using the same Careers.

And, the RT Careers are pretty cool. The Rogue Trader is aimed at the swashbuckling, order-screaming Captain, while the Arch-Militant is Death Incarnate (with some extra skills to fill out some other roles too), but none of them are as cool as the Seneschal.

A Ninja Spymaster Accountant.


Rogue Traders generally end up with both more money and more possibilities than they know what to do with. The Seneschal is how the Rogue Trader deals with such things. A master of both trade and intelligence, the Seneschal acts to further the profits of his Dynasty. Whether it's collecting information on where they will get the best deal for their goods, being knowledgeable about the other Rogue Traders operating in the area (and whether or not they might be open to a temporary alliance, or at least parley), or knowing the actions and locations of the rest of the crew on board, the Seneschal will easily secure himself a great position of trust and power aboard the ship - mainly, because they have enough information to make any ignorant Lord-Captain's life a living Hell.

The Seneschal has something of a focus on Fellowship and Intelligence-based Skills - like Commerce, Barter, Charm, etc. They have a special ability to pass any Intelligence-based test once per session by spending a Fate Point - making them great at their job.

They also get quite a few good combat skills, mainly in the vein of being faster and shootier than most. All in, it gives them some of the flavour of the traditional "Fantasy Thief"-type classes, but with an extra element of intelligence-gathering and bartering out the wazoo.

It's one of my favourite Careers in the 40k RP books to date!

Saturday, 26 May 2012

R is for Risus Rogue Trader

So, I switched our One-on-One Rogue Trader game to Risus to represent the climactic Chess Battle between the Lord-Captain and her Necron friend - I thought that straight Intelligence rolls were too boring, and neither of us was that great at chess. The "Combat That Isn't Combat" system allowed us to represent a far wider range of abilities and knowledge than we could otherwise, and let the the player take a very... non-standard way out.

So, I wanted to put down some basic rules for playing the 40k setting with Risus! Most of these are Optional Rules - as such, none of them need to be used, and feel free to add more yourself! Some parts do refer to the FFG 40kRP books, so they're handy to have about for a quick reference.

This list is also by no means complete - I will be adding to it in the future.

Character Creation
Depending on the "power level" you want to run, characters start with different amounts of dice and additional rules.

Dark Heresy/Everyman: 10 dice, no Funky Dice, no Hooks and Tales (though feel free to make backstory!). Optionally, you might want to keep the "grim and dark" feel of Dark Heresy by suggesting no starting Cliche can be higher than 4.

Rogue Trader/Heroic: 11 dice, Funky Dice optional, Hooks optional, Tales required (die from the Tale already factored in), plus one piece of gear granting a +1 dice to any Cliche (though note, this may be vetoed by the GM).

Deathwatch/Inquisitor/HERO OF THE IMPERIUM: 12 dice, Funky Dice optional, Hook and Tale required (dice from both already factored in), either 2 +1 die items, or one +2 dice item.

For the higher Power Levels, you might want to investigate the Option for changing the Scale of Target Numbers (for example, instead of 5 being a simple Task, and 10 being a decent challenge, you can make 3 simple, and 6 a decent challenge - for an ordinary man. For a Space Marine, it should be no bother).

For inspiration for Cliches, look no further than the Careers presented in the 40kRP books! These cover a wide range of abilities and relative levels of power (so, a Devastator Space Marine is more powerful than an Arch-Militant, who in turn is better than a Guardsman, and an Assassin might fall anywhere on the scale, even though they are all "shooty" Cliches).

Home Worlds also make a great way of personalising Cliches - a Noble World Guardsman would be something like the Vostroyan First Born - well equipped, lavishly decorated, etc, while a Feral World Guardsman might be covered in good-luck charms and the blood of his enemies, braided hair down to his shoulders, equipped with a basic Lasgun and whatever weapons he can make along the way.

Check the books for an idea of how each Home World can be used in a cliche (like a Hive Worlder can use it to operate simple machinery and spot trouble a mile off, or a Death Worlder can use his Cliche to resist poison or scavenge edible plants/usable weapons, etc.)

A Note: the Inappropriate Cliche Option might not suit all campaigns. Then again, it might allow a smart but weak character to use his Brains Over Brawn Cliche to outsmart and Ork (by no means a challenge), and other such 


Should you choose to play a Psyker, you can use your Psyker Cliche to use a standard Psychic Power (listed across the 40kRP books). Or, you can make up something appropriate, depending on your knowledge of the system.

"Combat" powers can be used as part of the description of a Combat round - a bolt of psychic force, using telekinesis to lob someone across a room, etc. These are resisted/avoided as part of the standard Combat rules.

Outside of a fight, Powers should have a Target Number that needs to be beaten - say, TN10 for a Lesser Power (minor clarisentience, talking to animals, floating a small object like a gun across a room), maybe TN15 for bigger ones (bolts of psychic energy, astral projection, fleshcrafting, etc) and higher for even greater feats.

Greatly exceeding the Target Number (by over 10) means rolling on the Psychic Phenomena table.

Should you fail your roll dramatically enough (rolling under 5), either in or out of combat, you'll need to be rolling on the Perils of The Warp table - as well as suffering whatever consequences failing the roll might have (losing dice in a fight, failing to hold up the tank you're levitating, etc). The Table can be found in the 40kRP books - or you could make your own!

Special Rules Specifically for Rogue Trader


A Rogue Trader would be nothing without the ability to traverse the Void - starships are thus very important to the game.

As such, they are built as Characters, with Cliches, Hooks and Tales, Funky Dice for specialised functions, and a set of particular Cliches they should cover:

Armament: represents weapon systems, armour, and the skill of the crew at using them.
Speed: Represents speed (duh), manoeuvrability, and such.
Haulage: represents the ship's size, holding space, and general Scale.
Components: this represents one (or More) things the ship specialises in. Like, having a Nova Cannon, or a Teleportarium, or a particularly effective Gellar field.

Ship-to-Ship combat is done as a standard Combat, with each combatant using their Cliches in any way which makes sense. During combat, players with Appropriate Cliches (like Captains, Gunnery Officers, etc.) can form a Grunt Squad with their ship, providing ther skill to the ship's systems (in game terms, they roll their Cliche and the Ship's too - but only the player's 6s count towards the ship's roll).

Profit Factor
Profit Factor is a measure of your dynasty's accumulated wealth - it's not just money, but trading goods, liquidatable assets, and so on. So let's make it a Cliche. It can vary from 1 dice (Impoverished) up to 6 dice (God-Emperor-like Wealth). Most crews start at 3 dice. One dice of PF can be sacrificed to net an extra 2 dice for your ship.

For every big deal/trade route opened/whatever the GM decides, the group could earn a "point" of Profit Factor. 3 points adds +1 to your total roll, 6 points adds +2, and 10 points gives you an extra dice (resetting the points to 0). This should be the only way to raise profit factor. The max Profit Factor a group can achieve is 6 Dice + 2 - at this level, you can easily buy starships, planets, whatever you want.

PF Scale
0 - common items, daily necessities. An automatic success.
5 - high-quality common items, speciality foods and services, hiring retainers and decent-quality mercenaries.
10 - Outfitting your 10 personal guards with good-quality weapons and armour, or yourself with very good quality stuff.
15 - Outfitting 50 men with same, outfitting your team with the very-good-quality stuff, buying "trading levels" of supplies (like tons of food, or ammo for a small army,etc).
20 - Outfitting 10 men with some top-quality stuff, or yourself with Rare items, a single suit of Power Armour, a Power Weapon, etc.
25 - Outfitting 50 men with Power Armour, or yourself with weird and unique (or nearly so) items (Force Weapons, Personal Forcefields). Small space-worthy ships (but not Warp capable) and squadrons of military vehicles.
30 - Starships. Planets. Outfit an army in top-quality gear. Sky's the limit.

Of course, the GM is the final arbiter of what falls under each TN. If you have contacts in the Mechanicus, and you're buying a ship to go claim a world as a Forge World, you might get a discount (down to, say, 25).

As a Cliche, Profit Factor can be used in Conflicts - but mainly long, drawn out battles of resources (like running space battles between rival Dynasties, where it's all about who has the money to keep coming back and come out ahead). It might also lead to bizarre cases of players trying to form a Grunt Squad with their own Profit Factor, but hey - if their idea works, go for it!

Forcefield technology, used variously across the Imperium (and by some Xenos) acts as "damage reduction" - say you buy a 2 Dice Force Field. In combat, you can elect to lose one of these dice instead of one of your Cliche Dice, so long as the damage comes from a physical source (so, you can't lose them during a battle of wits, but you certainly can when someone shoots you with a bolter). These are, however, stupid rare.

Power weapons can easily cleave through most every other "normal" weapon, barring other power weapons and force weapons. This makes a great end to a fight without killing someone. To chop a weapon/item outside of combat, it's automatic for normal materials, 5 for anything particularly strong, 10 for anything Warp-Tainted, and 25 for Power Fields/weird and wonderful archaeotech.

As Rogue Traders are masters of communication, their Tools of the Trade may involve their voice/speech. Thus, when a Rogue Trader tries to communicate with someone in a language they don't speak (or understand a little of), they can still use their Rogue Trader Cliche, but at half-dice. Learn new languages to compensate! Remember, Kroot requires a beak to speak properly, and Eldar could take you decades to learn to a level where Eldar won't talk to you like you're a retard.

Friday, 25 May 2012

P is for Prestige

*Damn it, mixed up my letters!*

When players are divvying up their rewards, they expect a few things: cash money, new and exciting equipment, and perhaps the odd bit of magic. One thing I find (which can really add depth to a campaign) is to give some less tangible (but no less useful) rewards, just to mix things up.

Say you've been hired to clear out a Kobold warren by the King's advisor - many players would expect a dip from the King's funds to supplement their own wealth. But, it can get stale - too little, and it's not worth the hassle, too much, and suddenly the players are rolling about in cash they can't spend (and it can stretch disbelief that the King would hire adventurers at 500gp each, when that money could train and outfit a small group of guards to do the job).

So, instead, offer the players a Favour. It can be used at any point within reason - so, should they require a small battalion, the King might send a few well-trained men, or a larger number of lesser warriors, to help the party. Or perhaps the King's Mage will cast a spell for them, at some point, or they might get let off with a small offence (like causing a barfight, or getting into other small scrapes that would call for prison time). These sorts of Favours can be a lot handier than a +1 sword, and help immerse characters in the world they inhabit.

Or, for greater deeds, they might be granted Prestige. Prestige includes titles, lands, and positions of power and influence. Old-school D&D had these as part of the advancement scheme, with the building of fortresses, guilds and Towers. But, in newer games, it's all about the money and items - let's try and bring that back a bit.

Yes, being gifted a +5 Holy Avenger for services to your temple is pretty cool, but picture being granted the title of Chapter Master - you have control over a whole squad of Paladins (of lower level than yourself, of course). Yes, you might need to stop in and do some paperwork, but most smart players will hire a replacement or a secretary to handle the real paperwork while they are out adventuring.

Some are easier than others to maintain - while the Chapter Master has quite a few rules to follow, and work to do, being granted an honorary position in the College of Magic would have a lot of benefits - as well as the possibility of getting paid to go adventuring with your students in tow! Just call it a "field trip", and try and not kill too many of them, and you're off!

In my current Rogue Trader campaign, the player found an ancient starship - and decided to return it to the Adeptus Mechanicus, like a good God-Emperor-fearing Imperial citizen. As I simply couldn't fathom what type of monetary reward to grant her (money is such a non-issue in RT, there's a stat to determine how rich you are), I decided instead to have the AdMech hold a small parade in her honour, spreading word of her actions across the Expanse, and finally, grant her honorary Tech-Priest status - a practically a unique title. Thus, she unlocked a lot of interesting elements of the setting, as well as a guarantee that the AdMech would help take care of her.

Of course, she could still lose this privilege - it now gives her some extra rules and responsibilities. But, I can tie those back into the game, making it seem deeper, more real, and of course, more fun.

And that's what these sort of rewards do, when you do them right - add fun.

Q is for Queer Sigil

The Alternative Guide to the City of Doors, by CrimsonLotus over on Planewalker, is one of my favouritest things ever.

Moradin's Festhall  (big gay dwarven rave/fight/orgy) and Labrys Foundry (a lesbian Fire-Elemental nightclub/body art parlour, packed with Fire Genasi, Tieflings, and many other bashers with Fire Resistance) are now definitely included in my Planescape games. Each is dripping with plothooks and flavour, and could be the focus of little mini-campaigns themselves!

It's a look at something that doesn't get too much coverage in gaming - alternate sexuality. It makes sense that, in Sigil, sexual identity is near enough a non-issue (especially amongst the Anarchists, or Xaositects, and definitely the Sensates). With the amount of part-human/demihuman races (Half-Elves, Half-Orcs, Half-Giants, Half-Ogres, Half-Fiends, Half-Dragons, Genasi, Tieflings, Aasimar, Rilmani... the list goes on) one would be crazed to see such a surfeit of cross-species reproduction as less of an issue than same-sex relationships.

Perhaps some of the more militant Factions and religious peoples amongst Sigil's populace might find such things to be offensive, but I'd assume that, for the most part, people are fairly free to live their lives as they wish.

At least, they are in my Sigil.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

O is for Owlbears

... and the other (not-so) classic "mashup" monsters of D&D.
Now, while Gygax et al took inspiration from many and varied sources (popular fantasy, Lovecraft, mythology, etc.) one of their most famous methods was invented when they required miniatures to stand in for various opponents; they would buy dime-store toys and use them as monsters. This led to such classic creatures as the Rust Monster, the X, and of course the Owlbear.
They even copied the artwork straight from this creepy-looking toy.
After all, weird creatures were always welcome in fantasy, and the idea that the Owlbear was some mad wizard's creation (but, for what purpose? I mean, what does an Owlbear have that a regular bear doesn't, barring a distinct hatred of all life?) stuck with many people, and led to many more imitators in later books.

The Owlephant has the dubious honour of being one of the more disturbing.
Like, that thing looks brutal, if goofy as fuck - but it could easily tear you apart with those claws. And why does it have an owl's arse where its neck should be?

Because otherwise, you'd have this.
Fuck the police.
The Squark appears to have crawled/swam/rode a bicycle made out of hatred straight out of a marine biologist's nightmares.
I mean, I seriously hate sharks. When you're a predator that's so good at its job you haven't evolved since the fucking Cretaceous Period, you're clearly too evil for this Earth. Also pretty damning proof that God doesn't exist - man banded together and built a tower to the heavens, an achievement the scale of which had never been seen before, and he struck them down for their hubris. Sharks get so badass at killing things they don't ever have to evolve again? Nothing. I would have knocked the buggers down a peg or two, if I were Him.

And squid are horrible too - the Humbolt is known to attack humans, not for food or territory, just for fun. And scientists believe that they might only experience one emotion - rage. Not even kidding, folks... (I can only guess they recorded an attack, and could hear their Lovecraftian tentacle-faced giggles and screams all the way through...)

And finally, the ever-feared...


While the human-animal mixes are way more common, they're too "standard" to warrant a mention here.

Although, because I can never resist a wee dig at 3.5's sheer lack of balance, check out Savage Species' Anthropomorphic Animal templates. The Anthro Ape gets +2 Strength, +6 Dexterity, and +4 Wisdom, as well as +3 Natural Armour, with no penalties, for +0LA and 2 RHD. Then take the Tiefling: +2 Dex and Int, -2 Cha, Darkvision, a few resistances, and Darkness 1/day, for +1LA.

People are seriously not thinking these things through.

Anyway, back on topic.

Part of their appeal is that they can easily stock up any number of encounters - from a mad wizard's tower, to roaming free and on Random Encounter tables, to the bizarre effects of a spell gone awry, to summoned beasties from some nightmarish realm... the list goes on. And the humble Owlbear has probably ended more parties than any other creature in its level range. They're tough, dangerous, and angry at even existing.

Much like myself.

For a far funnier (and more in-depth) look at some of D&D's weirder monsters, go check out Dungeons and Dragons: Celebrating 30 years of Very Stupid Monsters (and Part 2) and the rest of Head Injury Theatre. The man has a great skill at cartooning, and his mad art skillz have inspired quite a few Risus seeds in my brain.

N is for Neogi

Sorry for more delays - a bout of insomnia has wrecked my drive to work.

Another underused monster of D&D, the Neogi are large, spider-like slavers, who traverse the multiverse in search of prey to sell and exploit.

I love their design - like a huge spider-eel thing, covered in fur. Their large, bulky bodies are at odds with their slender limbs and necks, and the vicious, lamprey-like mouth sets them apart as distinctly horrible looking creatures.
As per usual, Tony DiTerrlizzi brings a little something more subtle to the table. While not as obviously horrific as later versions, the smooth, arachnid legs and body are offset by a very alien head - like a snake or a true eel. It carries itself as "strange" rather than "OHSHITRUN", which is a very good look.

As befitting such a horrible species is their horrible method of reproduction - when Neogi get old, the grow large and immobile - and the younger Neogi inject them with their larvae, allowing them a place to gestate and a meal on the way out. Their young eat the old during birth.


Originating from the old-school Fiend Folio, they were used extensively in the Spelljammer setting, as a standard "Mastermind" race. They were open to barter and trade, though many saw trading with them as an act of Evil in and of itself - they mainly dealt in slave labour, and were frequently seen with their charmed Umber Hulk bodyguards. Most encounters with them would be fights - after all, few people would trust something as alien as a Neogi, and all they really want is to sell you into slavery.

One of the cooler things about their Spelljammer appearances was their ships:

How awesome is that thing. A huge, biomechanical spider, floating through space, ready to disgorge hundreds of creepy furry-spider-eels to murder you and sell your friends as cattle.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

M is for Muls

Being this Metal in a setting that doesn't have metal? That's pretty Metal.
Muls are a particularly hardy crossbreed of Dwarf and Human. Unlike Half-Orcs and Half-Elves, Muls are not the "best of both worlds" - they're better.

Originating from the Dark Sun Campaign Setting, Muls are the results of a forced breeding program, instituted by the tyrannical Sorcerer Kings. They are a great example of "hybrid vigour" - they are taller and more physically powerful than Dwarves, and tougher than either Dwarves or Humans. On average, they can go 72 hours without sleep, can march for days without rest, and possess a great, innate ability at combat. As such, they're mostly found in the Gladiatorial Pits, or out on the front lines as powerful soldiers and enforcers. They also see some use as slaves, particularly in heavy physical labour, due to their immense constitution.

I love Dark Sun - it's a setting where the usual expectations are turned on their heads, and the Muls are no exception. While Half-Elves and Half-Orcs have some of the features (and drawbacks) of both their parent races, Muls are almost completely separate from both - but draw on humanity's endurance and Dwarven toughness to make something altogether better. It's not something frequently seen in gaming, and for that, I like it.

Back in AD&D, they were natural Fighters - strong, tough, and deadly. They also made a reappearance in 4e, through the Dark Sun Campaign Setting book - and there, they were unstoppable. With bonuses to Endurance, Strength and Constitution, as well as the ability to shake off any lasting Conditions, they make fearsome Defenders, Fighters in particular, able to outlast many other races in taking punches, and laughing off any effects that might hinder them.

They're good enough that I try and drop them into other fantasy settings, with little or no changes to their lore or abilities. As a man who loves to dick about with a race's backstory, Muls still stand out to me - they're simply unnatural crossbreeds of Human and Dwarf, and still as tough as a brick wall.


Monday, 14 May 2012

L is for Labyrinth Lord

Another cool retroclone, but this one has some very interesting features.

Aside from the usual cleanups of the OD&D (based mainly off the "Red Box") system, it has a very modular feel:

You start with the Basic Set, which replicates 1st Edition, including Race-as-Class and other "unique" rules that got lost over time.

With the Advanced Set, you can add in more rules to bring things closer to later AD&D - the separation of Race and Class (how very Marxist), racial class limits, and a few other optional rules.

There's even the Original Edition Characters book, which takes things back to "0e", or Basic D&D.

The best bit is, both are designed to be used together - so you can either be an Elf Fighter/Wizard/Whatever, or just an Elf - and both will pull their weight equally in a game.

There are a few minor problems, but they're pointed out in the book - the Dwarf class levels slower than a Dwarf Fighter, sure, but you get a few more goodies in return.

It keeps the dark, foreboding feel of the older D&D games, while introducing a few more modern sensibilities - no bad thing, in my book.

While I like OSRIC, LL has a special place in my collection.

It's also FREE. Fair enough, the print book costs £13.70 from their own store, but everything else in PDF form is as free as air.

Sorry For The Delay...

It's been an unexpectedly busy week!

My darling daughter just turned 4, you see... so it was a busy, busy time!

The A to Z should be back on track today...

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

K is for KOBOLDS!

Yeah, you really should have guessed...

Kobolds are one of my favourite little monsters from D&D.

In older editions, they represented the "lower rung" of the Savage Humanoid tree, much like Goblins. They were furry, dirty, dog-faced rat-tailed things, scavengers and general pests. They could be found in most dungeons (they had no true homes, and hid wherever they could), normally under the protection of bigger monsters, acting as skivvies and slaves in return.

They were an iconic beastie - as most parties started at level 1, and they were the standard adventure fodder.

By 3rd edition, they had changed to their current form - small, reptilian humanoids, possessed of great cunning and skill with traps, who normally served with Dragons (see that "find a bigger boy to hide behind" thing again?), worshipping them and doing everything in their power to serve them. Well, turns out, the thing they do best to serve them is die in their droves, but that's neither here nor there.

Their iconic status led to them receiving a lot of attention, from both third party sources (Green Ronin's Quintessential Kobold) and official ones (the Races of the Dragon book for 3.5), making them an oddly popular player race - despite their physical shortcomings, and total lack of respect. Partly, this may be because the additional rules within, like the Dragonwrought feat, which lets you take no penalties from ageing - so you can choose to start at Venerable, and gain +3 Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma, with no penalty, as well as extra goodies like qualifying for Dragon-only spells, feats and Prestige Classes, or the feat that gives you an extra level of sorcerer (So you're a 1st level Kobold who has two levels of Sorcerer... somehow) are fairly overpowered and oddly written.

3rd Edition also saw the rise of Pun-Pun - a character build that could have infinite stats and attain a Divine Rank (what makes Gods Gods) by 5th level. Of course, it can best be described as True Optimisation - to pull this off in a game you would need to cajole the DM, possibly offering money or sexual favours to pull of some of the stuff required (like meeting a member of a long-though-extinct race, the Sarrukh, and convincing them to use their ability to warp Scalykind to grant you infinite God-like power). On the Practical Optimisation side of things though, Kobold Sorcerers rock, especially with the extra goodies from the Kobold-focused books.

4th Edition changed their appearance somewhat, but otherwise left them unchanged. However, a recently announced book regarding underground/dungeon dwelling races looks to have them as a fully-supported PC Race - which should be interesting...
 Perhaps their appeal lies in their true underdog nature - they are the most kicked-around, beaten on, disrespected race around - but when they get their shit together, they can be a terrifyingly competent force. Their decent Intelligence scores, combined with a love of trapsmithing and a certain sadistic streak, mean that one should never underestimate a group of Kobolds with nothing to lose.

Take a look at Tucker's Kobolds for proof.

Those of you who've been following by blog for a while will know of the Kobold Ascension Campaign I've been trying to get off the ground for a while. The basic concept - you are Kobolds, Nature's Losers. Day to day survival, and servitude to your Draconic Mistress, are all you know. You protect Her from adventurers, thieves, and the beasts and creatures that roam the lands of Delraith. One day, however, you find out a terrible secret - your Mistress, Anathraxiis, Great Death Incarnate, Black Terror of the Land, was once a Kobold - like you. All the Dragons were, at some point. Some meditated for years, unlocking their true spiritual potential, and became the Great Metallic Dragons. Some cheated their way to the top, and became the Evil Chromatics. You've found part of the ancient, arcane ritual your Mistress used to Ascend - and now, it's your turn.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Poisons and Alignment

So, I just put up the Assassin Class for Microlite20, but, as the basic game doesn't include Alignments, I skipped out on a section regarding Assassins and Alignment.

By standard rules, Assassins should be of Evil alignment - and I'm not going to argue. You're not a Rogue, who can conceiveably use his skills at trapfinding and breaking & entering for Good. You're a person who kills people, normally for money. You're Evil. Deal with it.

Assassins also use poisons - another standard "Evil" mechanic. D&D Alignment has a funny relationship with poisons. In the original rules, it was fine for characters of any Alignment to use poisons (though there may have been a note regarding Paladins and their "Code of Conduct" - they're not very sportsman-like, after all...). In later games, using posion was an Evil act - regardless of intent.

Which, frankly, is bullshit.

Say you're a Paladin, fighting an Evil creature who is much stronger than yourself. Poison to weaken the creature levels the playing field, and I'd class that as a slight ding to your Alignment (Paladins are meant to suffer for their cause, after all), but not an Evil act.

Or say Mr Pally wants to take someone alive, with minimal harm - a very noble and Paladin-like act. Using a temporary paralysis agent is not an Evil act, no matter what the book says.

Now, if you use something that causes intense pain, suffering, and could kill someone? Evil. Poisoning innocents? Evil. (Yes, that last one includes poisoning the water supply of a horde of Evil creatures - not all Orcs are combatants!). If you can't justify it by your Alignment or Code, it's Evil.

Note, some Gods may not allow their Paladins or followers to use even non-Evil poisons - Kord, God of Battle and Hugeness, will think you're a pussy if you use that paralysing stuff. You're his Divine Agent - paralyse that fucker with your fists! Beat him into submission, in a fair fight - no cheating!

Now, 3.5's Book of Exalted Deeds did provide rules for "Ravages" - Good poisons which only work on Evil people.

However, they are stupid, and should be disregarded. They're still poisons, and the rules still apply. They're not Evil unless the intent is Evil.

Monday, 7 May 2012

New Microlite20 Class: The Assassin

So, I got this idea on the bus home, so I haven't had an time to fine-tune it or playtest it... maybe soon.

Here goes - my attempt to reintroduce an old favourite class from back in the day:

Assassins can wear light armour.
They gain a +3 bonus to Subterfuge.
If they spend three rounds studying a target (taking no other action, except moving at normal speed), they may use a Death Attack with a successful Melee Attack. The Assassin rolls the attack as normal - if they beat the target DC (usually 10+the victim's STR+Phys), the victim is instantly slain. At the GM's discretion, some creatures may be unaffected by such attacks.

At level 5, the Assassin gains the ability to use poisons with no chance of poisoning himself. He may also brew his own poisons.

Using and Brewing Poisons
Any character may poison a weapon - though they may need to make a MIND+Subterfuge roll to avoid inadvertently poisoning themselves (dipping an arrow into a dead creature's poison glands and firing it straight away is easy - pouring it onto a weapon, and storing it for future use? Not so much). Assassins of 5th level or higher are assumed to be capable enough with the use of poisons to not need to make such rolls.

To brew a poison, the Assassin needs to have the appropriate ingredients to hand (GM's discretion as to what is required), and the tools to process them (most likely a mortar and pestle, juicer, etc). The Assassin might be able to make more powerful, esoteric, or magical potions than the ones listed - but, due to the nature of these things, they will need to make their MIND+Subterfuge roll to prevent accidental poisoning. These are rare and powerful poisons for a reason - most who try and make them don't survive, even experts.

Rogue Trader One-on-One: Part Eleven: Let Me Please Introduce Myself...

The lumbering metal skeleton (remember, according to the FFG metaplot, the Necrons haven't been recognised yet, though many have met them - it's just that few live to tell the tale) stared impassively at them. Claudia was ready to draw should the figure level its horrendously destructive weapon at them. It stiffened, and, with an odd look, turned around and began walking.

Against their best wishes, the crew followed the metal abomination, until the reached a large doorway, patterned with hieroglyphs and runes, which opened before them to reveal a figure. Another metal skeleton, though a lot more fluid in its movements, draped in bizarre fineries. It kept the harsh, green glow the others exuded, lending it a palpable sense of menace.

It introduced itself in deep, heavily accented Gothic. It claimed its name was Trizen, The Collector. It made enquiries about the Captain and her crew, then offered them seats that resolved themselves from great clouds of insect-like creatures that flowed from the walls - Scarabs, he called them. They were incredibly uncomfortable, but he was trying. He talked of his Collection, and asked the Lord-Captain (as the leader of the group) if she wished to view it. Alone, of course.

While reluctant, she figured her days were numbered anyway, and this Xeno (maybe?) seemed to be at least polite. So, she accompanied him to the back of the hall, his skeletal form carried by an upsurge of scarabs, like some great horrid tidal wave. The walls themselves morphed and reshaped to form a doorway.

The first thing she faced off against was a huge, slavering beast - a Tyranid Carnifex, if she remembered her days on the Jericho Reach right. Her instinctual reaction was to reach for her laspistol - though, on closer inspection, it did not move. As she drew closer, she could see motes of dust, hanging perfectly still around about it - tiny drops of saliva and less savoury fluids coating the great beast, all still, some clinging to its great chitinous hide, some unsupported in the air. It seemed to be much like the Stasis Fields her ship could project, though not as "static" - if this had been Stasis tech, she could not have entered so close to the beast, hell, she could crawl under it, if she dared, and not disrupt the arcane energies that held it in place.

She asked Trizen if it was alive, or dead and preserved - he replied neither. It had simply been "stopped". With little further elaboration, he continued to walk, slowly, through the great hall.

She saw many weird and wonderful sights - a warrior of a race she did not recognise (squat, blue-skinned, wearing regal yellow-tan armour, wielding a weapon she had seen in the hands of various Kroot mercenaries), many more from a variety of sources, one of which stopped her in her tracks - a frozen tableau, two Orks, weapons raised, descending upon an Imperial Guardsman, ready to hack him to pieces. The look of sheer brute rage on their faces was bad enough, but the sheer look of desperation and fear on the Guardsman's face made her heart sink. She moved on after a few silent moments.

Another sight sent a tingle down her spine, and a shot of static through her mind - the final piece!

The third section of the starmap, gripped tightly in the hand of an Eldar Warrior, clad in armour similar to the Eldar who attacked her when she claimed the last piece - the teleportation device on its back, the monowire spool-gun at its side. Its helmet seemed much more regal than the others, with a large crest of hair and feathers along the top. She knew she had to get it - but how?

Lost in her frantic thoughts, she almost bumped into another exhibit, set beside the Eldar - a set of golden powered armour, clearly made for a Xeno of considerable size. As she looked, however, she recognised some of the engravings - Imperial symbols, skulls, a small representation of the Terran system... this armour would have drowned a normal human. Even a Space Marine would have struggled to fill the huge suit.

Another moment of realisation struck her.

... a Primarch's Armour?

She practically fell to her knees. She was in the presence of an artifact of such religious significance... but she had to keep her cool. Otherwise, the Xeno might catch on to her desires.

More sights, more curios - weapons she had never seen the likes of, a child's toy, a packet of lho-sticks. The creature in front of her had obviously had contact with most of the galaxy's races at some point, and had taken... souvenirs from all of them. Finally, the creature spoke again, enquiring whether she liked games. The Lord-Captain replied that she did, when she was a child, but had little time for them now.

"Oh, we have time here."

The creature may have smiled at that, though it was hard to tell. He told her that, while he had encountered humans, he had never had any come straight to him as he rested - and wished to use the opportunity to try out "a game". He walked her to a small, checkered board - clearly a Regicide board (40k's Chess equivalent). But it was the pieces which left her speechless, again.

On one side, stood the Emperor, the King - with his Children, the Primarchs filling the roles of the other pieces, and the Astartes the pawns.

On the other, Horus, with his Traitor brethren, and Chaos Legionnaires.

This was either old, or incredibly heretical.

She never got the chance to ask which, before the creature commanded the scarabs to carry the board out to the main hall, so her crew could watch as they played.

J is for Jump (And Other Useless Spells)

I'm not a big fan of the "edge case" spells in the D&D games.

Jump is the perfect example - sure, it's awfully handy to get a  +20 bonus to your Jump skill (the fact that it's a skill is also something I'll talk about at some point...), but exactly how often is it going to be a big deal? I have to spend a spell slot on this, when I could take Feather Fall, Tenser's Floating Disk, or Disguise Self? Never mind the more broken 1st-level spells (Sleep,  Colour Spray, and Ray of Enfeeblement, I'm looking at you). Gods, with Animate Rope, I could most likely get wherever it was I was wanting to get by Jumping, and still have more control and utility!

Another one I remembered off the top of my head was Fist of Stone (?) from the Spell Compendium. Your hand turns to stone. You gain a slam attack (pretty meh for a non-physical Wizard) and a bonus to breaking objects. How often is that going to be a big issue? Either blow the object apart with a Magic Missile/Fireball etc, or get the Fighter to do it. Kinda rubbish.

There's a bit of me that wants to rub these spells out, and replace them with a more "generic" spell, that gives a bonus to physical skill checks (say +10), which you can fluff any way you want. Means it will be more valuable, more flexible, and way cooler if the player gets to describe how the spell helps him to what he wants to do. Grants him a boost of momentum for Jumping, maybe a burst of eldritch speed for an Athletics test, etc.

It also compounds one of the problems with Wizards in 3.5 - what can the Fighter do? He needs to break something down, but isn't strong enough? Tough shit. Unless there's a handy Wizard about...

Fighters are self-made men. They don't need fancy magic to get shit done. Or they shouldn't, at any rate.

Mind you, there's a bit of me that wants to scrub the Wizard spell list and take a bash at making my own...

Maybe when I have time!

Sunday, 6 May 2012

I is for Intelligence

... and why I think you shouldn't play a character with a higher Intelligence score than you might have.

Many systems have ways of representing a character's intelligence - normally wrapping up things like spatial reasoning, "IQ", and capacity to learn as well. Some systems split these up a bit (like the dreaded GURPS), but for the most part, you can instantly see how "smart" someone is by the number on their sheet.

It's an abstraction we have all come to terms with - even if it doesn't ring true. Look at babies - their ability to learn is ridiculous, picking up things like languages in a few short years that might take an adult a decade. But are they smart? No. Babies are pretty dumb. They have low Intelligence scores, despite their ability to learn at a phenomenal rate.

By the same token, I know people with a massive amount of retention - they can list off obscure facts and figures about their preferred subject, or do gaming-related maths at speeds that make my head hurt. But they have far less in the way of capability to learn and general IQ than such feats would suggest.

Playing a character with superhuman intelligence is hard - as you as a player will make mistakes that they simply wouldn't. Connections that seem obscure and byzantine to you would be a mild strain to such a character - puzzles are simply not, as their brains can piece together the parts in no time at all.

In fiction, it's a mixed bag - I've seen the World's Greatest Minds make amateur mistakes, and fall into a villain's trap with little effort;

"Well, I can calculate Pi to 80,000 places, and recite it in eighteen languages. What's that, supervillain? You have a surprise for me? Boy, I love surprises! What do you mean it's not a puppy? Oh, it's a cage made of my only weakness - now where's my puppy!?"


It's like super-speedsters who use their superspeed to disassemble, fix, and reassemble a car in seconds - but still punch at the same speed as a regular guy (and not at near-light speed). Well, I guess that one's because few superheroes want to vaporise every villain before they've had a chance to get a good monologue off, but you know what I mean.

By the same token, every time I see someone playing (for example) a Wizard, their Intelligence is at or near the 18 mark - baseline human maximum. As in, the smartest 5% of the population fall here. Of course, this is barring edge cases like Stephen Hawking (the man has a Headband of Vast Intellect stashed somewhere in that chair...), but really - gamers are, on average, more intelligent that the average man, but that much more intelligent? I'm not sure.

It just kinda annoys me. Especially when players use the dreaded argument - "But my character wouldn't fall or that, he has such a high Intelligence score!" For me, it breaks the illusion somewhat - but at the same time, it's a game. I really should stop taking myself so damn seriously...

Thursday, 3 May 2012

H is for Hardcore

As in, the classic "Meat Grinder" style of D&D - Tomb of Horrors being the ur-example. Your characters are expected to die, horribly, frequently, and entertainingly.

I find it makes it hard to actually care about your character - after all, they will die, maybe not in the fights with Kobolds and Goblins, but certainly when the touch a doorknob only to find out it's a miniaturised Sphere of Annihilation, or when they fight the Tarrasque at 5th-level. You'll have a backup folio of characters to choose from (though, in true Gygaxian style, you should roll to see which you'll play next!), none of whom are too fleshed out (after all, if Hollywood taught us anyhting, it's always the guy who's three days from retirement who gets shot first).

It's certainly an entertaining concept - surviving purely by wits, luck, and out-of-character knowledge - but it strikes me as a little bit too gamey for my tastes. Like, it's not a test of your character - it's a test of your system-fu, and how well you remember the previous traps you fell to. It's less a story, and far more like a boardgame - which is fine, in its place.

In fact, I have a feeling that I could have a lot fo fun puzzling my way through a Hardcore Dungeon Crawl, should I get myself into the mindset before it. But it's not something I would want to run - not right now, at least.

Maybe when the irst o the Delraith players get to a Dragon's Lair, however...

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

G is for Gnomes

A much maligned race, Gnomes have a somewhat checkered history throughout the history of gaming.

Mythologically speaking, Gnomes are meant to be small, mischevious creatures - redcaps, brownies, sprites, that kind of thing. Little trickster spirits (or fairies) who lurked in the woods and either lured unsuspecting travellers to their doom, or otherwise hinder people unless placated with gifts and offerings.

"Classic" D&D made them similar to Dwarves - sturdy little buggers, who were miners by trade (most likely a nod to the original Kobolds - spirits of mines and caves). They were naturally talented with magic - again, a nod to their Fae origins. Due to their interations with other minings monsters (like Kobolds), they also gain a bonus when fighting them - leading to a great rivalry between Gnomes and Kobolds (apparently kick-started when the Gnomish God was a total prick to the Kobold God).

One of the defining representations of Gnomes was in the Dragonlance setting, with its Tinker Gnomes - obsessed with mechanical contraptions, a little bit crazy, and fairly annoying. This led to a surge in the amount of "crazy" Gnomes seen in games - annoying little pests, who played tricks on other party members and generally caused trouble with their "loveable" antics. Strangely, while a much-hated representation, it's pretty close to the myth!

I find that their amin problem is that they step on the toes of three of the Big Races - Dwarves, Halflings and Elves. Dwarves, because they live in/on/under mountains, and are fans of mining and smithing; Elves, due to their love of the arts and finer things, and their natural aptitude for magic; and Halflings, because of their fun-loving personality and general "sneakiness" that comes with being Small. They just don't have the deoth to really step out of the shadow of the Big Three of D&D.

For Delraith, I might take a leaf out of 4th Editions book - they're not really a player race. They are essentially servitors to the Elves, Fae creatures either created or charmed into their service. They are naturally talented with magic (as are the Elves), though more with minor trickery and practical things - not the powerful, almost technological magic of other Races. They may act as spies, go-betweens with other races, servants, jesters, or any other function their Lord may desire. They are rarely spotted outside of Elf-held territories, and are considered legendary (or just dishevelled-looking Halflings).

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

F is for Faith

Pardon the delay there, had a well-needed lazy weekend...

Religion is always a sensitive subject in real life. It has caused arguments, wars, and all manner of other bullshit.

In fantasy gaming, however, it's normally fairly simple. You pick a God, one of many, and you worship them. If you worship them really hard, they give you magical powers. Sometimes they're Good, sometimes they're Evil (and Lawful, and Chaotic, or Neutral) but it's generally similar packages, with maybe a little bit of flavour (followers of this God are kind, followers of this Goddess seek justice at all costs, followers of this God eat nothing but babies, etc).

Weirdly, despite the fact that Gods are known to exist (and much proof of this can be found), people stick to worshipping one God - there are no Priests of entire Pantheons, and there are temples dedicated to each God, but not a lot of polytheism in an ostensibly polytheistic world.

Weirder still are those (specifically in D&D, though it crops up elsewhere) who worship certain ideas - like Justice, or Law, or Fire. These self-made Clerics fuel their abilities to channel the Divine with their own belief, casting a lot of strange questions onto the Gods and aspersions onto their nature as divine beings.

I always find creating a pantheon of Gods for a new setting to be one of the hardest, yet most rewarding things one can do. There are a few standard Gods that most settings include (such as racial Gods for the many non-human sentients, though rarely a God of Humans; gods of Death, War, occasionally the Elements, etc) and a few stranger ones (Vecna being a favourite of mine - Magic and Secrets, what a combo!). Many take inspiration, or are directly lifted, from real-world religious beliefs (like D&D co-opting the Norse Pantheon for many settings), and still some are their own creation (literally, in the case of Vecna - he achieved Godhood through a very convoluted scheme, published as Die, Vecna, Die! - the last official 2e adventure, and is the semi-official reason for the change from 2nd Edition AD&D to 3rd Edition. He won godhood so hard he broke the universe).

Planescape, with its overarching theme that belief shapes reality, poses that all Gods exist, even as the slightest changes on belief spawning new Powers from old ones, or changing the face of a Power right under his nose. Gods may have made people, but people shape Gods - whether they want them to or not.

For Delraith, the setting I am currently working on, the Gods are a little bit less "out and about" - regular lay priests are the norm, while those granted Clerical ability are seen as Saints and venerated as such. Even the lowest Cleric can expect to find himself the object of much affection (or scorn, depending on the God that empowered them). Many Gods will have a variety of Aspects, with some overlap (so, the old Human Gods and the Halfling Gods are similar, as they have lived together for many generations, while the Dwarven Gods will be very different), and the possibility that they may be the same entities - so, the Human God of the Earth might be the Dwarven God of Nature, and the Elven Lesser God of Stone, etc. While most of these Gods are the creation of belief, there is one race created by their God - the Dwarves. They wield Divine energies like other races breathe - it's truly second nature to them, due to having such a strong link to their deity. No-one is quite sure why that should be, but they know that Dwarves are inherently magical - and as such, shouldn't be tussled with lightly.