Tuesday, 30 December 2014

We Can Only Go Down From Here: The Next Logical Step For LotFP!

Lamentations of the Flame Princess is making all kinds of waves with the new releases. I'm still waiting on mine to show up and it's making me a little crazy! I've been thinking about what I have coming and the rest of the catalogue and my wheels are spinning! I've skimmed the PDFs of my imminent arrivals and found an interesting pattern that builds on what James Raggi has done and the things he has in development.

The pattern I am talking about is a slow build toward a Hollow Earth setting. The assumed setting of the Early Modern Era was rife with legends of a world inside our own. A quick internet search will show that there are people who still believe there is another world inside ours and a secret history to go along with it. It's a weird location with almost limitless potential. Because any characters exploring the Hollow Earth would be from the historical world of the Early Modern Era there is still a "normal" experience for players to balance against the weird. The proximity to the real world also allows for some opportunities for extremely ordinary things from our world to be found in the hollow earth. All these things allow for a completely new world full of strange new things to explore while still keeping to the basic tenets of Weird Fantasy Roleplay.



The most famous Hollow Earth fiction is probably Edgar Rice Burroughs' Pellucidar series. One of things that captured my imagination about Pellucidar from a gaming perspective is how the constant daylight affects the perception of time. Here in Canada it is possible to live far enough north to experience "the midnight sun" during the summer. I don't live that far north (thankfully!) but I have friends who have and other friends who currently work up there a few weeks at a time. It can mess with a person's circadian rhythms. It has even been known to drive people mad. It's not a far jump from there to Burroughs' ideas of time having no meaning in Pellucidar.



Burroughs took it a step father though. In his stories the perception of time is a necessary part of its working. Because the characters could not perceive time passing they could not be affected by it in the same way as a person living on the outer surface would be. This means PCs taking a "night's rest" need to set a watch or they might sleep for the equivalent of a hundred years. It also means they consume resources such as food and water at irregular rates. Going inside a space where time is important in terms of how long a torch lasts might be shocking after they get used to unfettered time in a wilderness crawl. The short and long rest mechanic from 5e D&D could fit well into the fluid time of Pellucidar. Let's hope WotC gets on with their update to the OGL so it can be ported in.

The mutability of time makes things a bit difficult for a GM who is tracking the actions of other factions operating concurrently to the PCs. Things like distance and resources will have to determine what can happen in the background while the PCs act but with time the way it is pretty much anything can happen. The beauty of LotFP is there is already a blueprint for dealing with these kinds of issues in The Monolith From Beyond Space and Time.  Time in that adventure moves at different rates for different characters. Distances are relative and it takes quite a lot for the players to wrap their heads around what is happening. So much of the groundwork for Pellucidar's strange time is done for LotFP.

Another thing I love about Pellucidar is that the inner earth is protected from the trauma experienced by the outer world. That means there are still dinosaurs! Besides the fantastic that could exist hidden from our view in the hollow earth there are all the creatures from every era of earth's history down there. All the creatures of legend that seem to appear and disappear like Sasquatch/yeti, the slender man and the moth-man could all be residents of the hollow earth that somehow made their way to the surface as well. Again, the possibilites are endless. The hollow earth with its disconnected time and entrances through the ground could explain the legends of faerie mounds where people entered the land of the fey only to return to a time hundreds of years after the one they left.

When it comes to dinosaurs though, LotFP has it covered! The infamous adventure setting Carcosa has dinosaurs but it's the still-under-development World of the Lost that I think is being written by Rafael Chandler that leads me to believe a hollow earth full of dinosaur shenanigans is on the way. It's clearly inspired by Conan Doyle's Lost World and is a mere step away from Pellucidar.


Getting back to Carcosa, the depravity of the snakemen of that product matches up well with some of the terrible creatures of Pellucidar. The low placement of humanity on the Carcosan food chain also fits in well with the character of most hollow earth stories and is just as ripe to be upset by enterprising PCs as it was in the original stories set in Pellucidar. The Judges Guild style hexcrawl format used in Carcosa also would serve well to cover a section of the hollow earth in detail.

A Red and Pleasant Land by Zak S. deserves mention in this progression toward a hollow earth setting as well. Its Land of Unreason is a world apart with its own rules and is difficult to access. It's not much of a reach for players to adventure in the hollow earth after their characters survive (or don't survive) A Red and Pleasant Land.

Besides all this conjecture and guessing on my part there is the Thulian Echoes adventure! In that one by Zzarchov Kowolski there is an explicit stairway to the hollow world. The adventure gives no clues as to what the hollow earth itself is like but the journey is described as a long one and there are random encounters that include the corpse of a Triceratops! In Thulian Echoes there are creatures down in the earth's crust inspired from other works such as the Vril from Edward Bulwer-Lytton's Vril, the Power of the Coming Race (originally published as The Coming Race in 1871). There are also devolved versions of the elder creatures from H. P. Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness.

Excerpt from Thulian Echoes page 16 - image by Kelvin Green


I like the inclusion of the creatures from At the Mountains of Madness. It could mean that the cyclopean city set in Antarctica was an outpost of a grand subterranean civilization that still exists in the hollow earth. With time as mutable as it is, little time could have passed for that civilization and they might be still wondering what happened to their city they only recently lost contact with.

Image by Kelvin Green

The disconnect with the progression of time between the out and inner surfaces of the world means characters could encounter lost legionnaires from Rome, people of Egypt or any era of history. A GM could even mess with players by having their characters encounter explorers from an era a hundred or more years after their own to show how they've lost time on the inner surface.

The time thing gives me an idea for an interesting location. A mad old wizard's tower where the incredibly ancient man wears the ravages of time on his wrinkled skin as he tends to water clocks and endlessly winds the clockwork of the tower itself in an effort to bring time to the hollow earth. It could create strange time effects near the tower and give rise to a host of magic spells based on controlling time in the tower's library.

I like the idea of a hollow earth or Land of the Inner Sun campaign setting. In fact, if James Raggi of Lamentations of the Flame Princess doesn't get the ball rolling on this thing in some official way I might have to go ahead and do this one myself.




Thursday, 25 December 2014

First Impression of the 5e Monster Manual, or Merry Christmas to Me!

This morning I found the Fifth Edition Monster Manual for Dungeons and Dragons nestled beside my stocking. My wife and I don't exchange gifts, we fill stockings for each other. It is rare that everything fits in there and today was no exception.


I hadn't planned to buy the Monster Manual. With so many years of gaming, creating monsters of my own and other material on my shelves I figured I didn't need it. My wife knew all this and decided to buy me the one RPG book I would not buy on my own.

Such a good call!

My first impression of the book is a positive one. The art is enjoyable and the layout is familiar and easy for me to use. I especially like the collection of NPCs at the back. It's nice to have some opponents all statted out and ready to go at a moment's notice. Players have a way of taking the game outside of the prepared zone so it's a handy resource.

Thanks to my daughters waking us up at 7 am to open presents there's something of a gap between our morning and the first visit for brunch at my in-laws. In that time I've had a chance to leaf through it and put my thoughts down here. 

Seeing the images, reading descriptions and statistics for all the classic monsters and some new ones as well is more fun than I expected! Each entry I land on gets my wheels turning. Thinking about how I could build an adventure around the new take on the Medusa, where the yuan-ti fit on the my world's map, how I need to change the monsters' history or habits so they fit the story of the Last World, and what WotC's ideas can add to my own.

I'll definitely write up a proper review in the new year after I read through the thing in detail and try it out at the table. Until then, have a Happy Holiday and I hope you received some RPG goodness too!

Monday, 15 December 2014

Confessions of a Killer GM

Between Fear the Boot Podcast talking about killer GMs, Kiel Chenier presiding over what may be the end of the famous goblin PC, Man Rider, in a Google Plus Hangout game this past Friday, and the deep darkness that is the Canadian Winter, my thoughts and ruminations swirl around the solemn GM task of adjudicating PC death.

[Image and text by Jez Gordon, see more of his awesome work here!]

I hate it when my characters die. I usually play with a discovery mode, having the character's background develop through interactions and roleplay over the course of the different situations and adventures. I find this allows the characters to be integrated fully into the GM's world and allows for unique characters to reveal themselves and keep me from playing the same thing over and over. Sometimes a GM will ask for a back-story so s/he can make adventures and sub-plots that work with what the players are interested in. In such a case I can easily crank out a back-story with all the juicy hooks and dark secrets a GM can handle in one email. In both of these cases though, by the time the character is fleshed out, whether it's a couple of levels of play or a couple of hours of mad typing, I'm pretty invested in the characters. I know the people I play with feel much the same way. And yet...

I am a killer GM.

If the dice fall badly for a player and the stakes of the roll were life or death, that's it. No hesitation. No waffling. The character is dead. Time for the player to generate a new one and get back into the game. I expect no less from any GM I play with.

I'm going to step outside of tabletop for a moment for an example that explains how these two things work together. In the late 1990s I played paintball. For those that don't know, paintball is basically a complex version of tag with guns. I played at the competitive amateur level (IPPL) and our team was sponsored to the point where we were almost breaking even. Not bad at the time.

When our team first entered the high level of play we were coached by the veterans that if we wanted to win, we were going to have to learn to wipe. Wiping is cheating. You get hit and then wipe the paint off before the referee sees it and calls you out. I tried this in practice once. It was awful! I never played as bad as I did in that practice game where I wiped three or four hits. I also never wiped again. I needed the possibility of failure to get the edge I need to play my best and for it to be fun. I needed the rush that came with the risk.

The philosophy that I take from the paintball field to the table top is simple: If you can't lose, you can't win.

When I'm playing an RPG and I take a risk with a character, it is awesome because it can go bad. The higher the stakes, the higher the tension. The more that turns on a single die roll the mores eyes around the table that are glued to it as it stops. This tension is where a lot of the fun comes from in an adventure!

When I GM, I want my players to do awesome stuff with their characters and I want the players to have those awesome moments that make them feel like they won. As a GM it's my responsibility to present challenges and stakes that allow them to shine and have the moments they will talk about well after the game is over. It can't be easy and when they do fail I need to describe consequences that support the tension and maintains the excitement. I need to allow a character or two to die for the others to be the "big damn heroes" that everyone wants to play.

That said, life or death stakes can be a bit overused. I've had a player lose two characters in a single session to bad saving throws. That sucked for everyone. While there needs to be consequences death is not the only one. Sometimes it is much worse for a PC to survive. The same player who lost multiple characters in one session retired another PC as unplayable after it had suffered so many magical mutations he felt it was unplayable. Capture, the loss of cool items that characters have accumulated, disfigurement or even the loss of a limb can all be interesting results that lead to new adventures as the players try to fix the new problem. Things like that work because they change the character's situation long term and enforce the idea that failure has a consequence. Everyone understands they are playing without the net.

Total Party Kills (TPKs) are a terrible thing. They are rare, campaign-ending anomalies; the threat of which hang over a game and fuel some of the best and most creative play ever. TPKs usually happen when players miscalculate or think they are playing a game rigged in their favour. Occasionally the dice just go against you and bad luck brings you down. The majority of the time good play, calculated risks, or the good sense to run for it will keep the characters going despite the odds. 

It is this rare event, the TPK, that prompted this post. Last Friday Kiel Chenier's players experienced a TPK-O with all the player characters in his group knocked out and captured or trapped. These bad guys have a history of interrogating prisoners so all is not lost yet. Again, interesting results have developed from the consequences and this Friday, the worst denizens from the far corners of the internet will assemble in Generica to mount a rescue, because Man Rider is not going down to some crappy driders and bugbears! This turn of events is one of the cool things about hangout games. Help is never really that far away.

The short version of what I am saying here is, don't pull punches as a GM. The failures make the successes that much sweeter by their contrast and failure can always lead to something wonderful if you just give it a chance.




Friday, 5 December 2014

The Alice Character Class for 5e D&D or Dude, Where's My Turtle?

Zak S's A Red and Pleasant Land, published by the always innovative Lamentations of the Flame Princess, is flying off the shelves. In less than two days, as I start to write this post, there are 625 hard copies ordered. Since we all have the PDF we might as well get started on the time-honoured tradition of ripping it up and changing things.

Earlier this morning on G+, A. Miles Davis made a request for a 5e D&D version of the Alice Class. Zak offered an "invisible intangible imaginary turtle" to the first person to come up with a 5e class, so the race is on! If I make it, I have every intention of painting my turtle's shell with intangible, imaginary glitter to solve the whole problem of finding it.

[The Alice from A Red and Pleasant Land by Zak S.]

The Alice

The Alice class is based on the archetypical "fool" commonly found in stories of all kinds.  That character that seems to wander through a story through luck, cunning and stubbornness. The chosen of the gods, fate, or worse that trouble just seems to find. The one that seems to see things more clearly than the other characters and sometimes penetrates the fourth wall. 

[excerpt from A Red and Pleasant Land, page 30]

The class as it is written in the book is full of randomness and possibility. No two Alices would be alike. While this random advancement works well with the flavour of the class and the LotFP system that the book was published to be most compatible with, I'm going to embrace the structures that exist in 5e and go with a more structured class that splits after 3rd level into two separate Narratives

Class Features:

Hit Points are pretty much the same as the Alice as written: hit points as magic user or in this case the Wizard class.

Hit Points: 1d6 per Alice level
Hit Points at 1st Level: 6 + constitution modifier
Hit Points at Higher Levels: 1d6 (or 4) + constitution modifier per Alice level after 1st

The Alice class is supposed to fight as a Thief/Rogue/Specialist so most of the proficiency choices can be taken from the equivalent to those. Alice's tend to be taken from a life of leisure and the tool proficiencies reflect that.

Proficiencies:
Armour: Light Armour
Weapons: Simple weapons, hand crossbows, shortswords, rapiers and pistols (if firearms are available in your campaign)
Tools: Choose one Gaming Set or Musical Instrument

The Alice Saving throws are based on their force of personality and luck.

Saving Throws: Charisma, Dexterity

A classic education and the decadence of the Alice's early life, full of drawing room intrigue and listening at keyholes, also influences their skill choices.

Skills: Choose three from Acrobatics, Animal Handling, Athletics, Deception, History, Insight, Intimidation, Investigation, Nature, Perception, Performance, Persuasion, Sleight of Hand and Stealth

The Alice is woefully unprepared for adventure at 1st level, usually falling into it and inexplicably finding a handful of useful items at the beginning of their first adventure.

Equipment:
The Alice starts with the following equipment in addition to the equipment provided by the character's background.
  • (a) a rapier or (b) a hand crossbow and 20 bolts or (c) a pistol and bandolier with 24 pre-measured shots (if available in your campaign)
  • (a) 2 daggers or (b) 6 darts
  • (a) a Diplomat's Pack or (b) an Entertainer's Pack
Instead of the wild and fun random table for advancement the 5e Alice progresses with more structure.

Exasperation:
Beginning at first level all Alices can become Exasperated in times of great stress. By thinking or uttering a statement of exasperation such as, "Oh I can't conceive how I ever fell into this deplorable circumstance," or "We are indeed doomed and now birds will gnaw our eyes," the Alice calls the attention of the powers that put them on the road to adventure in the first place. Times of great stress are of more interest to the gods, fates or dark powers so that is the time when this ability will work. 

The Alice may express Exasperation once per hour of real playing time. When the Alice uses the Exasperation ability the DM rolls on the Exasperation Table:

[Exasperation Table from A Red and Pleasant Land]

Alice liked pies, although sometimes people did not want her to have them:
Starting at 1st level the character adds her/his proficiency bonus to find foodstuffs of any kind. This bonus stacks with any others if the character is already using a skill such as Investigation or Perception to find the foodstuffs.

It was very shiny and stuck out like a soup spoon:
As early as 2nd level the Alice can begin to take advantage of her/his unpredictable nature. On a successful melee attack the Alice can make a Sleight of Hand roll to grab an item other than the opponent's weapon from him or her. This will only work once per combat and combatant on any opponents with greater than zombie intelligence.

"It really was curious," she thought- "How many times could this kind of thing happen?"
At 3rd level the Alice gains the ability to cheat death or escape some other calamity a total of one time. The Alice must play dead for one round to build the suspense before jumping up fully ready and unscathed.

She was not such a mouse as she used to be:
At 4th level and then again at 8th, 10th, 12th, 16th and 19th level the Alice gains an ability score improvement. In each instance the character can improve one ability score by 2 points or two scores by one point each. No ability can be improved above 20.

They began to throw stones, and Alice began to avoid them:
At 5th level the Alice's script immunity improves and s/he gains an Unarmoured Defence ability. The character adds both Dexterity and Charisma bonuses to Armour Class when not wearing armour.

The blue one certainly did make Alice taller, of that Alice was certain:
As of 6th level, the Alice adds proficiency bonus on all rolls to identify drugs and plants with drug-like properties.

They kept talking as Alice was a rhododendron in a pot:
At 7th level the Alice gains advantage on all Stealth rolls.

She really could be very charming when she needed to be:
At 9th level the Alice gains advantage to Deception checks.

She knew from school what the word meant, but did not know if it was rude or not:
At 11th level the Alice learns to speak, read and write a new language of the player's choice.

It was so lovely, and - according to the book- it was right there:
Gained at 13th level, this one can be taken directly from the table. The only exception is if the Alice can't get it by the fourth session s/he can choose to continue or give up and replace this ability with another use of "It really was curious," she thought- "How many times could this kind of thing happen?"


Expertise:
Alice is always learning. By the time s/he hits 14th level she's become an expert in one of her proficiencies and applies double the normal proficiency bonus to all rolls with that skill.

She began to feel somewhat neglected:
By 15th level the Alice is becoming quite unpredictable. If the Alice is attacked in a round where s/he only dodges and the attacker misses, the attacker will fumble and miss its next turn. If the attacker has multiple attacks it loses a number of attacks equal to the Alice's proficiency bonus. This only works once on any creature who has seen it and has intelligence greater than that of a zombie.

Alice had seen so many unusual things lately, it had become usual:
At 17th level the Alice becomes unshakable. S/he is immune to insanity or confusion in any form. Even sudden appearance of an inscrutable elder god from beyond the cosmos is not particularly noteworthy. The Alice can still fear. Fear is likely part of how s/he managed to get to 17th level in the first place.

She had not known her mother's cousin very well, but decided it was a bad thing that she had died:
Sometime early in the Alice's 18th level s/he is willed a parcel of land with a house, manor or small castle on it. The location, current state of the property and how the occupants regard the Alice showing up with a deed is up to the DM.

"It really was curious," she thought- "How many times could this kind of thing happen?"
At 20th level the Alice has pleased whatever forces placed the character on the path to adventure and once again s/he gains the ability to cheat death or escape some other calamity a total of one time. The Alice must play dead for one round to build the suspense before jumping up fully ready and unscathed.

Narrative Paths

At third level the Alice embraces a particular Narrative on the character's path to greater adventure. These three Narratives are the Plucky, Clever and From Good Stock Alices.

Plucky:

The Plucky Alice has embraced the rough and tumble nature of her/his existence and become adept a fisticuffs and other shenanigans. At 3rd level the Plucky Alice gains proficiency in Medium Armour and Longsword. 

Oh I do so apologize:
Beginning at 3rd level, the Alice can take advantage of distraction and trip any person or creature that is otherwise engaged with a successful Dexterity Check. It only works once per combat unless the opponents are mindless creatures like zombies or can't see the trick the first time. At 5th level the trip does 1d4 damage. This damage increases by a die type to 1d6 at 8th level, 1d8 at 10th level, 1d10 at 12th level, 1d12 at 16th level, and 1d20 at 19th level.

It seemed nearly everything was dangerous if handled improperly:
By 5th level the Alice has become skilled with improvised weapons. All weapons do one die type better than normal (eg 1d4 becomes 1d6). Improvised effects automatically succeed, such as a bag of marbles automatically tripping or caltrops automatically damaging medium humanoids with no save.

She noticed the Red Knight always feinted to his left - she was a very perceptive girl:
At 9th level the Alice can spend time observing a combatant to gain a +1d4 to hit and/or +1d4 on an ability check to trip or grapple for each round of observation when s/he finally does attack. This ability can only be used once per combat.

Alice then did something quite astonishing...
The Alice is unpredictable. As of 13th level s/he adds her/his Charisma bonus to hit and damage to the first attack in a combat with an improvised weapon against any intelligent opponent ("who knew Alice could do that with a gingerbread man?"). This trick only works once per combat and only once on any particular opponent.

She did seem to offend people (and animals) wherever she went:
Expereicne with terrible people (and creatures) has made the Alice adept at duelling. At 17th level the Alice can stack the character's Charisma bonus with her/his Dexterity bonus when attacking with a finesse or duelling weapon such as a foil, rapier or pistol.


Clever:

The Clever Alice get's through adventures by knowing secrets and applying knowledge to her situation. 

She closed her eyes and said the words just as she'd been taught:
At third level s/he learns to cast Wizard Spells the same as an Arcane Trickster Rogue from page 98 of the 5e PHB.

Alice quite liked drawing and had an impressive box of crayons at home:
At 5th level the Alice gains proficiency with the Forgery Kit and can add the character's proficiency bonus to forgeries.

All that hiding in the dumbwaiter finally paid off:
The Alice knows secrets. As of 9th level, once per session the Alice can recall or pull a piece of paper with important and relevant lore on it out of a pocket. It can be one of two types of secret. Either a piece of useful information about a legendary treasure or magic item or and embarrassing fact about a notable NPC.

She thought it might be a saltcellar, or at least that seemed like a good word:
At 13th level: "The Alice can appraise treasure to a non-trivial degree: the value of non-magical things can be estimated flawlessly and if a piece of treasure is not what it seems on any level the Alice will get an inkling. As in, if the Alice goes "Is this not what it seems?" and the Referee will go "Yeah, you've seen a lot of jade urns in your day and this is not what it seems somehow- you're not sure how." If a treasure has some unusual of hidden feature of a mechanical or physical nature, the Alice will sense that it is there on a successful intelligence roll. The Alice won't know it is, but the Alice'll sense that it is there." 

Investigation or Perception proficiency will apply to the Intelligence roll at the DM's discretion.


From Good Stock

The Alices From Good Stock rely on good breeding (or the appearance thereof) to bully their way through their adventures. At 3rd level this Alice chooses two proficiencies from Animal Handling, Deception, History, Insight, Intimidation, Performance and Persuasion.

Her sister had mentioned they were dreadful people:
Beginning at 3rd level the Alice stacks Charisma and Intelligence bonuses to History checks to recognize the faction and function of of any aristocrat in any land.

She knew to curtsey in situations like this, and so she did:
Despite travelling with common company, by the time s/he reaches third level, the Alice's polished manners always show. Members of the upper classes instinctively recognize the Alice as one of their own (even if she isn't). The Alice gains advantage to all Charisma-based rolls when dealing with such people.

She tried to remember what she knew about stoats:
Beginning at 5th level animals like the Alice. The character has advantage on all Charisma-based rolls when interacting with normal animals and speaking-but-otherwise-normal animals.

Expertise:
By 9th level the Alice From Good Stock has gained expertise in another one of her/his proficiencies and can roll double the proficiency bonus.

She thought it might be a saltcellar, or at least that seemed like a good word:
At 13th level: "The Alice can appraise treasure to a non-trivial degree: the value of non-magical things can be estimated flawlessly and if a piece of treasure is not what it seems on any level the Alice will get an inkling. As in, if the Alice goes "Is this not what it seems?" and the Referee will go "Yeah, you've seen a lot of jade urns in your day and this is not what it seems somehow- you're not sure how." If a treasure has some unusual of hidden feature of a mechanical or physical nature, the Alice will sense that it is there on a successful intelligence roll. The Alice won't know it is, but the Alice'll sense that it is there." 

Investigation or Perception proficiency will apply to the Intelligence roll at the DM's discretion.

They all listened attentively as Alice told her tale:
At 17th level the Alice receives a +2 bonus to her/his Charisma score. This bonus cannot bring the score above 20. Any excess can be applied to Intelligence or Wisdom.



Thursday, 27 November 2014

New PC Race for 5e D&D: The Vynar

In my last post I outlined the races available for play in my home setting of the Last World. I received some negative feedback about two of the choices being uplifted animals. The derogative "furries" was tossed around a bit as well.

The two types are important to the setting background as they demonstrate the decline of the kobolds' biomancy. They are the last, stable servant-races created by the kobolds. They are also, rather poor genetic constructions that are nothing more than well-done hybrids. The first servant races the kobolds of the Last World created out of their enemies' genetic potential were completely new creatures that bore so little resemblance to the original gene seed that no one would ever have guessed the truth of their origins.

I had originally included the Ferl as NPC monster types but when I was looking at my list of playable races I realised I had no big-strong-hit-things type. I included the Ferl to cover off that spot. Fortunately for me the solution to the Ferl is a simple one. I just dip into the weird monster list of the Last World and find something that is playable. Here is something different for your 5e D&D game.

The Vynar


The Vynar are not a race, so much as a growth stage of the trees that make up the Bloodwood Groves. Bloodwood Groves are groups of trees from a small copse to a forest. In times of drought or emergency they can uproot themselves and move. They split their lower trunks into two or three "legs" and batter their opponents with their branches. Once their foes are killed or knocked prone they will extend roots into the bodies of the fallen and drain all the blood from them. They can move the forest and sometimes hunt by hiking trails and roads, forcing travellers into unending circles where they are hopelessly lost. After that, it's just a matter of waiting for them to make camp. The Bloodwood don't move much or often because it is taxing for them. They mostly stay stationary and push their roots deep so they can enjoy the stillness and share stories with the others in the Bloodwood. They tend to be most dangerous during droughts, floods or forest fires which require them to move great distances. For this they will need to consume a lot of nutrients (blood) from wandering meat-things.

[Anthony Francisco, Ubermonster of DeviantArt]

There comes a time in the life of every tree in the Bloodwood Groves where its sap runs fast through its limbs, it loses its leaves in a shower of colours and its bark turns from a rough, hard brown to a thin and supple green. Its lower trunk will split into leg-like appendages and its roots will retract into them. These fast-movers are known as the Vynar and they leave the safety of the grove to interact with the fast-world of the meat-things and learn what they can before returning with the stories that will add to the knowledge and experience of the Bloodwood. 

They feed with the retractable roots in their lower trunks. All they do is stand on a fresh corpse, extend their roots into it and draw in the blood to be processed into sap. It takes 4-6 hours to complete on a medium-sized creature and counts as a long rest. To get the effects of a long rest without feeding on blood a vynar must extend roots into fertile soil and stand in the sun for 5-8 hours. Regardless, they cannot go without blood for more than a week without suffering from the effects of starvation.

A vynar's trunk will be split into two to four leg-like appendages (player's choice), although three is the most common. They have between one and three larger, powerful limbs used for lifting and fighting (again the total is up to the player), but two is normal. They have any number of smaller, thin limbs for fine manipulation spread about their trunk and some will even have a couple on each of the larger limbs. Despite all these limbs, the thought of a tree can only move so fast and they only have the attention to take one action per round like any of the humanoid races.

When planted, Bloodwood trees and Vynar can get a sense of where everything standing/moving within 60 feet of them is. Bloodwood can get even more information from the air using their leaves. These are not practical senses for the fast pace of the meat-word. The Vynar all have a series of eye-stocks usually growing to cover all around near the top of their trunk. They are protected by green, petal-like lids and look like green balls at the end of thick, 6-to-18-inch-long stems. They see light in much the same way as humans and other humanoid creatures do. They can see all around them but usually only open enough eyes for a single field of view since processing images from all around is trying. 

All bloodwood communicate with each other using a limited form of telepathy. To speak to meat-things they have grown thin strips under their bark that they can vibrate in various combinations to approximate most humanoid speech, although it sounds like a group of people saying parts of the words together. This can be disconcerting to humanoids the first time they hear it.

Vynar have no mouths, noses or faces. Sometimes for the comfort of their humanoid companions a vynar will paint a face on its trunk or fix a mask to it. This practice is as creepy as it sounds.

A Vynar's growth is slower than a rooted Bloodwood because it is spending so much energy on movement and it will take nearly 80 years for it to grow a mere 12 inches in height. 

With so much extra liquid in their green limbs Vynar are no more susceptible to fire or burning than any humanoid.

Ability Score Increase: Strength score is increased by 2, constitution score is increased by 1 and wisdom score is increased by 1.

Age: Depending on the growing seasons where it was rooted for its formative years a Vynar can be anywhere from 60-110 years at the beginning of its travels. Once they grow into large creatures it begins to take too much blood to keep them supple enough for every-day movement and they will retire to a grove or seed one of their own after 70-120 years of adventuring.

Sex: Vynar are not mature and are expending too much energy to keep up with the meat-world to produce pollen or seed-pods. Once they are rooted again all Bloodwood release both seeds and pollen.

Size: Vynar are tall, standing well over six feet in height. Their trunks are far more dense than an average humanoid body of the same height and weight anywhere from 250-350 pounds. They are medium creatures.

Speed: Base walking speed is 30 feet.

Made of Wood: Have advantage on saving throws against charm, poison and fear. They cannot be put to sleep. They are quite buoyant and have advantage on rolls to swim on the surface of water but have disadvantage when trying to dive under unless weighed down.

Unarmed Attack: Vynar can club with their large limbs for 1d4 bludgeoning damage but this sort of attack is painful. They generally prefer to use weapons produced for humanoids, which they can use with ease.

Tough: Vynar have a base armour class of 12. They can only use armour which has been customised or created for their specific, individual use.

Fast Healers: Provided they can feed on at least a small creature, they heal one extra hit die on a short rest. They can grow back lost limbs and eye-stocks in 1d6 weeks and require an extra medium sized creature's blood for each week on top of normal daily feeding to complete each week's growth.

Can't See the Trees for the Forest: Vynar can attempt to hide even if lightly obscured by natural phenomena such as light foliage, mist and heavy rain. They have advantage on stealth rolls when they need to be still to remain unnoticed. They are naturally good at being still.

No Bandages for Wounded Trees: Traditional healing does not work on a Vynar. Healing potions applied directly to wounds will work provided the Vynar makes a constitution saving throw. Magical healing works as normal. 

Languages: A Vynar can speak any two languages.

Equipment: A Vynar gains its initial equipment from former Vynar who have rooted themselves, offerings made to the grove by travellers and the humanoid victims of the grove. They start with no currency. Any equipment that doesn't make sense (rations, blankets, etc) are not recorded on the character sheet and no monetary value is given for these missing items. This process accounts for the scrounged nature of their initial adventuring gear.

That is the Vynar in a nutshell. Something a little different to fill out the party heavyweight position. They'd make a mean rogue too. No one wants to admit they were back-stabbed by a tree!




Saturday, 22 November 2014

The Replacement D&D - Part the Second! or Fantastic Fantasy Setting for 5e D&D!

I'm not a fan of Tolkien.

It's true.

Sure, he created an elaborate world full of detail and a rich history. He also created some cool languages that are spoken only on film and at Cons. But his writing is slow and bogged down with irrelevant detail and the pacing of the storytelling suffers from his inability to make editing choices. The enduring popularity of the stories of Middle Earth is tied up in its influence on the original and subsequent versions of Dungeons and Dragons. The playable races and character classes are straight out of the fellowship (party) that came together to destroy the terrible ring.

Because D&D went on to influence and inspire a generation of writers, game designers and other entertainers, fantasy including elves, dwarves and hobbits became the the norm. We get a standard fantasy with these archetypes and it seems like we can't escape it. I understand that D&D has to keep these things as it renews itself because it's part of the expectation set 40 years ago. I don't expect D&D to abandon a part of the foundation it's built on. I am constantly surprised though when I see new games and settings that hold to these expectations and include these archetypes with one or two additions. Why are elves and dwarves crammed into every new thing, even when they don't fit?

I'm not invested in the generic brand of fantasy that grew out of this situation. Tolkien was not my first fantasy. I didn't read the Lord of the Rings until my 20s and I never even finished the first book because I didn't have the patience for it. My first experiences with a fantasy novel was Ursula K. LeGuin's A Wizard of Earthsea. My fantasy experience before D&D included the myths and legends of the Norse and Celts where elves were monsters that stole people and the Greek myths full of meddling gods, monsters and magic. So when I first read the D&D descriptions of the "demi-humans" back in 1983 it was all new and completely original to me.

It's all wearing a little thin now.

In my last post I was talking about the first of two things I wanted to have ready in case my regular game had a cancellation. This post is the one I promised last time that is all about taking 5e D&D in a different direction from the minimalist approach I went with before. Fantasy should be fantastic! The players should have their expectations challenged! The world they explore should be new and exciting!

It is important to note that at the time I write this the Dungeon Masters' Guide is not yet available and I haven't purchased the Monster Manual yet. Both of those, especially the DMG, will likely give me some news ideas. That just means there's another post in this idea.

Fantasy Setting for 5e D&D: the Last World


I like how the early D&D was shaken up every once in a while with injections of super-science and ancient crashed spaceships. I also love the flavour of Jack Vance's Dying Earth stories so I set my world into a far future where a human, interplanetary empire has collapsed and the self-induced cataclysm that caused it has led to the rise of magic. This world is the survivor, the Last World.

The Last World has dragons but they have a few differences from what the players may be expecting. The main thing is there are no adult dragons. All the dragons on the Last World are juveniles. By the time a dragon grows to adulthood it loses it's wings and leaves the world to travel the stars as a celestial dragon. Such a dragon is ancient and colossal. When it first reaches adulthood a dragon is the size of a city (like Manhattan) and will continue to grow. All the dragons on the Last World are from the same spawning, but they hatch at different times, even thousands of years apart so they are all different ages. There is currently only one dragon close to adulthood lairing in the large desert in the east. He may even be within a couple of hundred years of moulting his wings and ascending. The colour of a dragon has no bearing on its abilities and it is as likely to have one breath weapon or alignment as any other. As they age, dragons sometimes manifest extra breath weapons when they approach maturity.

The empire of humanity made the closest dimension, the one used for interplanetary travel, impossible to enter cutting its far-flung empire of planets off from each other and their enemies. The destruction of warpspace forced a long-running galactic war into stalemate. A desperate but effective way to keep them from losing. The gambit had some unfortunate side effects though. The worst and most obvious was the rush of dimensional energy that entered the universe through the warp gates. This energy engulfed many planets, rolling across the worlds like massive storms, mutating the inhabitants and twisting reality.

On the Last World the dimensional energy is held back from the inhabited areas by a mountain range circling an area approximately the size of North America. Even contained, it still allows people inside the ring to access the energy to cast magical spells. The  massive conflagration of warpspace also thinned the veil separating the Last World from the feywild. The feywild wasn't damaged but this circumstance is what makes natural magic used by druids and rangers so potent and the reason curious fey creatures were able to cross-over.

Playable Races


Humans

The humans of the last world are a strange mixture of features and cultures offering almost limitless variety for play. They are pretty much as they are in the Players Handbook. Players can use the +1 for all stats but it is more fitting to use the two +1s, feat and additional skill to help fit them into the Last World.

It was the policy of the Empire to place colonies of a single culture on a planet, but the Last World was colonized in the final days of the empire and several cultural colonies were seeded onto this world out of expedience. In the unnumbered millennia since the Collapse these cultures have grown, mixed, risen and fallen. The result is the current mosaic of humanity living in various technology levels from the bronze age to the early modern era.

There is no common language for humanity and all player character humans start with one human dialect and any other one language.

[Image by Koutanagamouri - DeviantArt]

The Dragonkin

The reptilians lived on the Last World before the humans colonised it. It was the policy of the empire never to colonise planets inhabited with sentient creatures, but in the final days of the empire they were desperate to spread the seed of humanity as far as possible and certain reports were overlooked in the name of expedience. The lizard people, who refer to themselves as the dragonkin, believe they were taught the language of magic by the Celestial Dragon that spawned the Last World with dragon eggs in exchange for their word that they would not destroy any of the eggs and do their best to help her children once they hatched. All dragons are born knowing this is true and will not attack a dragonkin without provocation, although dragons are alien creatures with alien values and easily provoked.

Dragonkin live in clan groups where all tasks are given to the most qualified. This organisation means child-rearing and teaching is usually done by the elders while the younger dragonkin tend to the more physical tasks.

Dragonkin have two fingers and one opposable thumb on each hand. Feet have two toes and a dewclaw.

Ability Score Increase: Dexterity and Constitution are increased by 1.

Age: Dragonkin mature into adults around age 35 and can live to be 800-900 years old before dying of old age. Their scales start to lose their colour after 700 so an ancient dragonkin (around 1000 years old) would be completely grey or even bleached bone white.

Sex: Dragonkin can be both male and female during their lifetime and are only a particular sex when part of a mated group (usually a pair). The rest of the time the sex of a dragonkin translates as: "potential."

Size: Dragonkin range in height from 1.5 to 2 metres or 5 to 6-and-a-half feet and have slim, wiry builds. Their tales are typically as long as they are tall.

Speed: Base walking speed is 35 feet.

Reptile Brain: Dragonkin have advantage on saving throws against charm and cannot be put to sleep.

Dreamtime: Dragonkin do not sleep. Instead they enter a meditative state where they share dreams with all the people of their clan no matter how far away they might be. This allows the clan to share in each others' experiences, learn and heal together as a community. The majority of dragonkin only enter dreamtime for 4 hours in a day but the elders will slide into it for 8-12 hours. This circumstance means adventuring dragonkin and those entrusted with protecting the community at night will not enter dreamtime alone.

Scaly Hide: Dragonkin have a base Armour Class of 12.

Claws: As an action they can make a single claw attack for 1d4 slashing damage.

Magical Background: All dragonkin learn the basics of magic and can cast two cantrips from the Wizard spell list. Intelligence is used for spellcasting. Wizards, Eldritch Knights and Arcane tricksters also start knowing one extra first level Wizard spell.

Languages: Dragonkin, Draconic and one human dialect

Subgroups:

The dragonkin live in two distinct groups on the Last World. There are the plains dragonkin of the grassy hills and plains of the central savannah and the mountain dragonkin of the northwestern Worldspine Mountains. they have lived separately for almost as long as their recorded history and share a common language. They do not know why they parted ways.

Mountain, or High Dragonkin:

Mountain Dragonkin live in the coastal cities of the Worldspine Mountains. They range throughout the mountains and are skilled metalworkers although the mines are usually manned by human slaves. These dragonkin tend to be dark green to almost black in colour.

Ability Score Increase: Intelligence score increases by 1.

Weapon Training: Proficiency with Scimitars, Light Crossbows and Heavy Crossbows.

Extra Languages: Any one bonus language.

Plains or Natural Dragonkin:

The dragonkin of the plains build ziggurats for the protection of their communities. These great earthen terraces rise out of the plains and the larger ones can be seen from great distances. These are often used by merchants to guild themselves safely across the plains. Plains dragonkin tend to be lighter green, brown and tan in colour. They don't work any metal of their own but often trade for it. They make their tools out of bone, ceramic, glass and wood.

Ability Score Increase: Wisdom score is increased by 1 and dexterity score is increased by and additional 1 (for a total of 2).

Weapon Training: Proficiency in Spear, Shortbow and Longbow.

Fleet of Foot: Base walking speed is 40.

Extra Languages: Any two human dialects. The merchant caravans flowing through the plains brings these dragonkin into contact with many people.

Kobold

The Koboldi Grand Federation was the enemy humanity burned warpspace to avoid since surrender meant enslavement. A Koboldi battlecruiser was approaching the Last World for an attack run that would destroy all life when the dimensional energy ripped out of the local warpgate during the Collapse and crippled the ship. They were forced to crash land and were lucky enough to end up within the protection of the ring of mountains. They crashed in the northern mountains and it was hundreds of years before they expanded their population enough to come into contact with the local human and dragonkin peoples. They spent that time reworking their technology to work on the now corrupted, yet plentiful dimensional energy.  They had limited success but also learned many secrets that allowed them to begin arcane spellcasting.

Contact with other races led to new experiments in biomancy in the ship's biovats. Among other things, they created the warrior races of goblins and hobgoblins. When the humans and dragonkin learned the secret of the origin of these abominations a war of extermination began. The kobolds lost under the the weight of numbers despite their superior technology. Some escaped into the tunnels and caverns beneath the mountains while others piled what they could into the ship's escape pods and fired them into the southern jungles where they gathered and formed a new empire. That empire eventually shattered. The details on why are lost to history but what is known is the flying city that served as its capitol is ruined, lost and said to be overrun with demons.

Kobolds are short, hairless humanoids with a crown of horns on their heads. Their skin tends to be a light tan to dark brown colour with a reddish tinge. They have three fingers and an opposable thumb on each hand. Their feet have four toes each. They have no noses and smell with scent glands inside their large mouths.

Ability Score Increase: Constitution score is increased by 1.

Age: They mature by age 20 and usually live 300 years before succumbing to old age.

Sex: Kobolds have four sexes: male, female, shaper and carrier. All kobolds have the potential to be a carrier and this trait can be awaked by a shaper. The majority of kobold sexual organs are in the mouth and neck so they are nearly impossible for other races to recognize. They are also a bit horrified by how casually the humans kiss each other as it closely resembles their reproductive rituals.

Speed: Base walking speed of 25.

Darkvision: The horns on their heads are actually hearing cones and the kobolds can use them to see in the dark (including magical darkness) up to 120 feet using sonar. They can use ambient sound but also whistle to get sharp clarity. Obviously, they cannot use this ability to see colour.

Languages: Koboldi, Goblin and any one other language.

Subgroups:

Koboldan, or Low Kobolds

The low kobolds are the descendants of the group that fled underground. They were hunted relentlessly by the dragonkin, who eventually killed all of their adult shapers, biomancers and spellcasters. Even now they distrust magic and fear it brings bad luck. They live in family-based clans in underground strongholds and trade metals and crafted metal items with the humans on the surface of the western mountains.

Size: Usually 4-5 feet tall and approximately 150 pounds with a stout, muscled build. They are medium creatures.

Ability Score Modifier: Strength is increased by 2.

Resilience: Advantage on saving throws against poison damage.

Weapon Training: Proficiency with Battleaxe, Handaxe, Throwing Hammers and Warhammer.

Armour Training: Proficiency with light and medium armour.

Koboldin, or High Kobolds

The high kobolds are descended from the ones that travelled to the southern jungles in the escape pods. Their great empire shattered, they now live in small communities in great spires that tower out of the jungle or cling to the cliffs of the southern mountains. They are smaller than their cousins and rely on magic, skill and cunning to maintain their scattered domains. They are still served by some of the ferl and feraline they originally created.

Size: 3-4 feet tall with builds running from wiry to pudgy (40-90 pounds). They are small creatures.

Ability Score Modifier: Intelligence is increased by 2.

Artificer's Lore: Double proficiency bonus on history checks related to alchemical objects, magic items and technology.

Crafters: Proficiency with any one set of artisan's tools.

Cunning: Advantage on charisma, intelligence and wisdom saving throws against magic.

Rudimentary Biomancy: Know 2 cantrips from the druid list. Use intelligence for casting these spells.

Extra Languages: Any two other languages.

[Image by Koutanagamouri - DeviantArt]

Ferl:

The ferl are the creation of ancient kobold biomancers. The higher arts of biomancy are lost now so it is unlikely that new races of creatures will emerge. The ferl are furry humanoids with wolflike heads. They are cooperative and fierce. They were bread as warriors to enforce the will of the Koboldi empire that once stretched from the southern mountains through the jungles and all the way to the Werewood and Middle Sea. Now the majority of them roam free in packs, concentrated in the vast darkness of the Werewood. The free ferl refer to themselves as Ferlak.

Ferl have four-fingered hands with an opposable thumb and feet with four toes and a dew claw.

Ability Score Modifier: Strength score is increased by 2 and constitution score is increased by 1.

Age: Ferl mature quickly, growing to adulthood in only 12 years. They rarely live to see much more than 60 years old though.

Sex: They are born as male or female. Females develop six mammaries when they are nursing pups which they tend to have in litters of four to eight. Sexual organs are mostly retracted when not in use.

Size: Larger than humans, but still medium creatures, ferl are typically well over 6 feet tall. They have an athletic build and tend to be heavier than a human of the same height.

Speed: They are fleet of foot and have a base walking speed of 35 feet.

Natural Weapons: As an action, a ferl can make a single claw attack for 1d4 slashing damage. If they hit with a claw attack they can make a bite attack as a bonus action for 1d6 piercing damage but cannot add any positive ability modifier to that damage.

Darkvision: Their keen night vision gives them the ability to see in dim light up to 60 feet as if it were bright light and the same distance in total darkness as though it were dim light. They cannot differentiate colours while using night vision.

Keen Senses: Proficient in Perception.

Fearsome: Proficient in Intimidation.

Ferocious Endurance: When reduced to 0 hit points but not killed outright, ferl can drop to 1 hit point instead, provided they make a successful constitution save.

Languages: Ferl know the goblin and ferl languages.

[Image by Koutanagamouri - DeviantArt]


Feraline:


The feraline are also the creation of ancient kobold biomancers. They were created to oversee the ferl. They were gifted with increased intelligence, independence and natural leadership ability. The feraline are a race of short-furred humanoids with catlike heads and long manes. Few still serve the kobolds. The free feraline now live small treetop villages in the southern jungles, although many also live alone and in mated pairs. Their natural grace and beauty also makes them excellent entertainers and those that make their way north often join travelling troupes of performers or circuses.

They have four fingers and an opposable thumb with retractable claws on each hand. Their feet have five toes with retractable claws as well.

Ability Score Modifier: Dexterity score is increased by 2 and charisma score is increased by 1.

Age: Feraline mature and age at a pace similar to humans, growing into adulthood around 16 and capable of living to be more than 100 years old.

Sex: Here feraline are closely matched to humans as well with the development of males and females.

Size: Anywhere from 5 to 6 feet tall with a lithe, athletic build.

Speed: Base walking speed is 30 feet.

Claws: Feraline can make a claw attack for 1d3 slashing damage as an action. Extending retracted claws is a bonus action.

Darkvision: Their keen night vision gives them the ability to see in dim light up to 60 feet as if it were bright light and the same distance in total darkness as though it were dim light. They cannot differentiate colours while using night vision.

Keen Senses: Proficient in Perception.

Lucky: Feraline have an additional 1 hit point added to their maximum total per level.

Catlike Reflexes: Proficient with Acrobatics, also rolls acrobatics for climbing checks.

Languages: Feraline know goblin, feraline and any one additional language.

Dragonkind:

Dragonkind are not a race but more of a particular abomination. They cannot reproduce themselves and would not choose to do so even if they could. They are cursed.

Some cultures believe there is a celestial dragon sleeping under the mountain range that circles the inhabited lands and that is what is really protecting life on the Last World from the dimensional energy. The Dragon Cult in particular believes this and has built a temple in the east where they believe the dragon's head is. The temple is designed to cause the singing in the temple to resonate deep into the rock and they sing praise and inducements to sleep to the great dragon lest she wake and destroy the world.

An extreme offshoot of the Dragon Cult called the Keepers believes the dragon will only stay as long as its children are on the world. As soon as the last one moults its wings and ascends into space, the original celestial dragon will shake off the mountains and follow her children back into space. To stop them from aging and to make them easier to control the Keepers created a magical ritual that binds the dragons into a new form. One that does not age and cannot mature into a celestial dragon.

Dragon blood is used to seal the ritual and it cannot be dispelled or reversed. The dragonkind are forced into the shape of an ordinary human while retaining the essence of their draconic nature. They still bleed the black blood of a dragon, their eyes do not change colour and their nails tend to be the colour of the their former scales. They are restricted to their mundane human capabilities. They still have the genetic knowledge of a dragon but have trouble accessing it with their human brains. They are still innately magical but need to relearn how to harness that power.

They appear to be fully grown young adults but are juvenile dragons and as such are not fertile. They are exotic, graceful and strangely compelling. They appear to be normal, albeit slightly weird humans.

Ability Score Modifier: Charisma score is increased by 2, dexterity score is increased by 1 and intelligence score is increased by 1.

Age: Immune to all aging effects and functionally immortal. Appears as young adult human.

Sex: As adult human but sterile.

Size: As human.

Speed: Base walking speed is 30 feet.

Keen Senses: Proficient in Perception and able to detect magic at will.

Innate Magic: Choose two cantrips from the Sorcerer list. Use Charisma as casting ability. These are extra cantrips if the character is a sorcerer. Dragonkind sorcerers also start knowing one extra first level spell.

Draconic Knowledge: Proficient in Arcana, History and Religion.

Draconic Nature: Is the only race that can take the draconic origin for the Sorcerer Class. The draconic abilities that come with increased levels are manifestations of the character's draconic nature that comes from focussing on learning to use draconic abilities in human form.

Languages: Draconic and any three other languages.

Resilient: Even in this fragile form, dragons are hard to kill. Maximum hit points are increased by 1 hit point per level.

Hunted: The character has escaped from the Keepers. They will never forget and will always continue to search for all dragonkind so they can lock them away and keep them safe. Harvesting small amounts of blood for their magical rituals.

Tieflings:

When humanity collapsed warpspace they burned the reality of that dimension and transformed it into hell. Only the most powerful and terrible entities survived. They understood where the attack originated from and are bent on destroying the universe of the Last World out of vengeance. These fiends gained a foothold on the Last World by promising power to a small group of foolish humans. These humans and all who came after them were changed by that pact and the fiends of hell are one step closer to realizing their ultimate goal.

All features of the Tiefling race are unchanged in the Last World.

Character Classes:

Most of the character classes are unchanged but there are some tweaks and clarifications. I think I might leave that for another post since it's all tied up in the setting material.


There it is. The #LastWorld that has existed only in a scattered collection of notes for three different gaming systems in composition books and electronic documents. These are the basics my group needs to make characters and get going in an adventure. If there's interest, I'll include more posts and I'll probably write about what I learn from playing it out with the group regardless.

The chains of standard fantasy are broken.





Saturday, 15 November 2014

The Replacement D&D - Part the First! or How to 5e Your LotFP

My Tuesday night Google+ Hangout group is awesome. A better collection of gamers you will not find anywhere on the internet. I count myself lucky to be able to call them my friends and to play with these great people on a regular basis.

We got together originally because our GM wanted to introduce a friend in another state from him to RPGs and put the word out for a group willing to be patient with a new player. The gang we have now are that player (now a fantastic tabletop gamer in her own right), the ones that responded plus a couple more fun people we picked up over the last couple of years. We all have busy lives though and sometimes one or two of us can't make it. It's no problem for the group, even a break of a month doesn't disrupt our rhythm with each other. It never seems like that long once we are talking to each other again. I'm busy too so I always find something to fill the three hours when someone has to cancel at the last minute, but it would be nice to have an RPG plan B.

Currently we are playing the new version of D&D but we've played everything from Rifts to Fate thanks to our gamer ADD. I'm enjoying 5th edition D&D and I'm still excited about exploring the possibilities presented by the new rules.

What I need is to prepare something I can run on the fly with whomever shows up when we get a last minute cancellation. I don't need to be super prepared when it comes to the actual adventure part. That can be built as we go or selected from some of the awesome I have on my shelf. My main problem is I'm not a big fan of the assumed setting for the game so I'd want to make changes ahead of time so there's something I can share with my players during character generation instead of reinventing the game while we decide what we are doing. This and one other coming post are that something.



5e D&D in the Early Modern Era or How to 5e LotFP!


I love the adventures coming out of James Raggi's team of mad geniuses over at Lamentations of the Flame Princess. I have a pile of them on my shelf and cancelled games from our regular campaign seem like the perfect excuse to use them. I think 5e can work well with those adventures but I need to make a handful of changes to keep the weird fantasy/horror vibe that LotFP does so well.

The first thing is encumbrance. LotFP adventures are all about tough choices and one of those choices are what you can afford to carry and what you need to leave behind. The encumbrance system is a streamlined way of making those choices a feature of play. If you are unaware of the beautiful simplicity of these encumbrance rules, you can download the free rules (with no art) here (but you should buy the version with art!) and turn to page 38. In Lamentations anyone can wear any armour but arcane spellcasters are limited by encumbrance so they can't cast if they are carrying a lot of gear and wearing armour. They can do one or the other. I think I'll just stick with the class restrictions as they are for now but I might change it later we find we prefer it the other way. I would add a feat that allows the PC to carry an extra five items before becoming encumbered like the dwarf class in LotFP. Cultures that are nomadic would be used to moving and functioning normally with extra gear. The player would need to justify it with the PC background.

The next thing is the playable races. There are no elves or hobbits running around in earth history. There are plenty of forgotten spaces hiding terrible things that go bump in the night, but no dragonborn walking around. The only player character race available is human. The players can choose the plus one bonus down all stats or take the two plus ones, the extra skill and the feat. I'm easy. Likewise, the 5e convention of roll four drop the lowest for rolling stats is fine as well since combat is so lethal in 5e. High rolls won't save anyone.

The alignment system is the LotFP duality of Law and Chaos. Almost everyone is Neutral since taking on an alignment means the PC is taking a side in the celestial struggle.

Not all the classes will work as they are with the setting. A few teaks here and there will need to be made.

Barbarian:

This one is fine the way it is but it is important to note that there are no barbarians from London or Hapsburg. These characters come from the frontiers and the fringes. An argument could be made for the highland warriors of Scotland as barbarians and I'd allow that because a maniac in a kilt and a claymore is a wonderful thing. Outside of that one exception, barbarians come from outside of civilized Europe. 

Bard:

They can stay pretty much as they are. They would be need to be careful when using magic as anyone seeing magic cast might turn them in as a witch and have them burned at the stake but that's about it.

Cleric:

No clerics. The LotFP cleric is more like the D&D paladin and I want to keep that feeling in the system. That's not to say the party won't run into NPC cultists who function like clerics from time to time though.

Druid:

The druids are going to have problems operating in early modern Europe without getting burned at the stake as witches and heretics. They would essentially be cults that have remained hidden from Christian Inquisitors and Witch-hunters over the centuries since the Romans killed most of them off. A player could make an argument for shamans from different lands having all the same abilities as druids. 

As far as alignment goes, Druids of the Circle of the Land are Lawful because they are preoccupied with the balance and embody the predicable order of nature while the Circle of the Moon Druids are Chaotic as they protect the wilds from civilization and embody the chaos of nature's changes. 

Fighter:

No change. They load black-powder firearms one round faster than other classes. The Eldritch Knight is only available if the PC finds a book of magic he/she can read or a teacher.

Monk:

No changes to the monk class, but they are likely a long way from home. Some of their abilities could get them burned at the stake at higher levels. 

Paladin:

This class is more of a Solomon Kane type than a shining knight in the early modern era.  These are wild zealots operating outside of the church hierarchy who are tolerated based on the need for them. Troublemakers could end up burned at the stake for heresy on a bad day. Like LotFP Clerics, Paladins are Lawful.

Ranger:

These mystical hunters are also far from home. Europeans had a bad habit of collecting people like souvenirs and bringing them back to Europe. Most died of disease they had no immunity for or culture shock. The ones that survived no longer had a real place in the world they came from even if they could return. Some of them become Rangers. Other rangers are frontiers-people from the New World who have learned from the cultures they mixed with. 

Rogue:

No change. Rogues are rogues. The Arcane Trickster is only available if the PC finds a book of magic he/she can read or a teacher. 

Sorcerer:

The Draconic Bloodline Origin is not available, Sorcerers are from the Wild Magic origin exclusively. Magic is dangerous and feared so the Sorcerer PC must be careful not to be consumed by their own magic or end up burned at the stake. With their magic coming from a direct connection to the very stuff of chaos, sorcerers are Chaotic.

Warlock:

Obviously the Warlock is in great danger of being burned at the stake after trading their soul for power. The dark nature of their spells should be played up in descriptions. The Fiendish and Old One Otherworldly Patrons are better fits for the setting than the Archfey. I'd probably not allow any Archfey Otherworldly Patrons unless the player came up with a great background story to fit it into the setting. This class is already so LotFP. No surprise here, dark pacts with otherworldly beings makes a PC Chaotic.

Wizard:

Remove all the damage-causing cantrips from the wizard spell list. Give them access to simple weapons and light armour. All the levelled spells that use up slots are all still available. This brings the wizards more in line with the Magic User class in LotFP. The Wizard has access to so many different spells this shouldn't stop them from being useful. It might keep them from being burned alive a bit longer too. Still, working with magic makes wizards Chaotic.



Firearms: 

Pistols are simple weapons (take the place of a light crossbow), an Arquebus or Musket are both martial weapons (take the place of the heavy crossbow). The damage is still 1d8, 1d8 and 1d10 respectively (or 1d4, 1d6 and 1d6 when clubbing with them). Because of their penetrating power all firearms have advantage when rolling to hit at short range. They take three full rounds to load when using a prepared load from a bandoleer and four rounds from a horn. The first two bandoleers of "twelve apostles" worn do not count as encumbering items, but every extra one does. A horn holds 50 shots and bag of shot holds 100 balls of ammunition. Matchlock weapons misfire on a D20 to hit roll of 1-4, wheel-locks misfire on a roll of 1-2 and flintlocks on a roll of 1. Misfires make the weapon useless for the rest of combat since it takes several minutes to clean it out and reload it properly.

Money:

Get rid of the electrum. The party may find some, but it's so ancient they can't spend it. They'll need to find a collector or middle-man to buy it from them. The silver standard is also in use in LotFP so convert all D&D pricing from gp to sp and/or use the Lamentations equipment list. I may use historical conversions as well. It depends. Otherwise 1 gp = 10 sp = 1000 cp (so 1 sp = 100 cp). 



With those changes I should have no trouble running my collection of Lamentation of the Flame Princess adventures with my group. Next post - Part the Second where I take things in a different direction...


Sunday, 9 November 2014

Sidetracked by Young Justice

I was going to spend this weekend doubling down on some blog posts but I was sidetracked by the release of the second season of Young Justice on the Canadian version of Netflix. I noticed the release a week or two ago and have watched an episode or two here and there but this weekend I was hooked by the story and ended up binge-watching the rest of the season.


I'm often impressed with the animated series that DC puts out. Between the fantastic voice acting to the compelling story arc they are making all the right moves with Young Justice. I enjoyed the first season a while ago and liked watching it with my kids. The young heroes make bad decisions that fit for their inexperience and end up dealing with the consequences of those decisions. They get frustrated and upset but also learn and improve.

Season two raised all the stakes by moving the clock forward five years and putting Dick Grayson into the hot-seat as team leader and as Nightwing. Jesse McCartney does a great job ageing the character's voice from 13 to 18. We saw the character make the hard calls as Robin when he took the role of leader in season one and we also saw what it cost him. He's no less effective or ruthless this time around and he has to deal with some heavy situations. The one scene where he unravels in front of Miss Martian shows how he's still carrying the weight of leadership uncomfortably despite being so good at it. As someone who has led others and spent a good chunk of my life doing things I was effective at even though I did not particularly like doing them, I can relate.

Death and other loss is handled more realistically on this show than many live-action programs. I'd say more but I don't want to spoil anything.

From a design point of view it's always impressive to see how a team of mixed-powered individuals are so effective. Even the highly-trained "normal" humans have a place in any conflict or operation. The lack of balance is no obstacle to the characters as they all contribute to the high-paced action sequences. It's worth watching for any Rifts or comic/supers game GM that wants some inspiration. The alien infiltration plot leaves plenty to do for all kinds of characters as the wheels of the bad guys' plan turn.

The series is enjoyable and well done. Take a look at it if you have access to it. It's worth the time.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

National Game Design Month?

I posted an image last November of the notebook I was using to write down the details of my RPG. By putting it out there on G+ I was making a promise to myself to finish it. November is as good a month as any and better than some for getting back on it.


November is a popular month for writing or at least starting a novel. A few years ago the creative action spilled over into game design and we got the National Game Design Month or NaGaDeMon. Last year I jumped in knowing I wouldn't be able to finish because I'm busy this time of year but hoping the momentum of a month-long press would get me far enough along to that I'd be able to finish eventually. That worked for a while and it looked like I was going to have a first draft ready by January. Then my life exploded in December and I dropped the game along with pretty much everything else.



By the spring I was almost back to normal and I started working on the game again. I started carrying the composition notebook that still said "NaGaDeMon 2013" on the cover with me everywhere and working on it when I could. I had a system where I would write large ideas that were fairly well organised in my head on the right hand pages and use the "backs" or left hand pages for shorter ideas that just came to me as I was going. Trouble started when I found myself writing on the left-hand pages as much as the right-hand ones as the game came too quickly put down neatly into one notebook. I solved that problem with the chromebook I got for my birthday which wasn't much larger than the composition notebook but allowed my to work on multiple sections at once. It was slow going though since summer is my busy season. Which brings me back to now. It's a year later and the game that has percolated in my head, changed and grown basically the entire time I have played RPGs is now so very close to being a playable thing that I could share with the world instead of merely a collection of ideas and experiences that inform my play and GM style.

Over the course of the month I'll be sharing bits of the game I have already and more as I write them. Feel free to comment on anything you like, don't like, or think could be better with a change. I'll be continuing with posts on other topics as well so if my game isn't your bag I'll still have content you might be interested in.

So what is this game I'm talking about? Why bother when there are so many games out there? I have a half-finished blog post on the go that mentions there are so many systems out there you probably don't need to reinvent the wheel to get what you want so what makes me think what I have here is worthwhile or remotely necessary?

I've always liked fast play. In recent years, the rules-light games with little in the way of rules to slow down the fun are my favourites. I've been playing since the early 80s and I started with those early rules-light games, then moved to newer, more complicated games but the wild speed of the retro clones and some of the new games are the ones that have me now. It could be that I'm old and my life is complicated enough that I don't want to spend time with the rules any more. I just want to play. Maybe I'm just lazy.

There are other games that come close to what I want but don't quite hit it. I like a possibility curve because it allows skill and talent to shine in an opposed encounter. I like a single die mechanic because the question "What dice do I use for that?" slows down the game for no good reason. I like six-sided dice because there's no barrier to entry since people can usually get (or even make) a set of normal dice without any trouble anywhere in the world. I like having a simple framework of rules to allow a GM to give a fair and consistent difficulty for the roll so players can try any action without consulting the rule book. I like to do things in the game and rolling dice is a fun part of that, but I like games with a single roll to determine both success and the amount of success. If I roll well to hit something it should do a lot of damage or something awesome. Two rolls are a hassle and can give silly results. There's nothing out there that has all of that and emphasizes the kind of play I love.

Enter the 3D System. It uses 3, ordinary six-sided dice rolling on a simple resolution table. One roll gives not only success but also the degree of success. It depends on the GM being fair and applying the rules consistently but gives a lot of leeway for players who come up with wild schemes on the fly.




Mediocrity is the most likely result unless some exceptional circumstances come into play. It's not hard to succeed, but it is difficult to excel. In combat that means minor hits are more likely than a decisive, fight-ending hit. When rolling to do other things it means you can get by but won't be able to get a grand effect without some talent or a mismatched contest coming into play. I'll expand on that in another post. This time around it's just the basics.

My game design process is all about boiling it down. I originally started with 15 different attributes. As I ran it through different scenarios in alpha testing I would often find that two attributes are equally relevant to the roll. Every time that happened I combined the two. Eventually I ended up with only four attributes to differentiate one character or creature from another: Acumen, Physical, Social and Will. When I moved from hard copy to e-documents these became: Acumen, Body, Charm and Determination. I think the ABCD will look cool on a character sheet and make it easy to remember.



For the skill section I had a similar epiphany of simplification. I started off with with skill groups kind of like what you would see in ZeFRS where expertise in one skill gives a basic ability in related skills. This seemed a little unwieldy for playtesing so I came up with a simplification that I may end up using long term because it speeds up character generation in huge way!

What I'm working on right now is character generation. I'm creating a flow that will allow PCs to grow out of handful of rolls or choices so players can be ready to go in ten or twenty minutes. I'm going with the simplified skills for now. Even if I return to the more detailed skill groups I may keep the simple method as a basic version of the game. I'll test them both out and see.

Once I have some character generation documents and the rough draft of the magic system I can playtest with me as the GM to see how it all feels in play. Once the initial bugs are out I'll be able to put together a more complete rules document and maybe a couple of sample adventures or conversion notes for existing adventures so I can see how it works for another GM.


So here it is, the beginning/continuation of my #NaGaDeMon adventure! Here's to another big push for my own personal fantasy heart-breaker! Hopefully this year I keep the promise to myself to finish it.