Friday, 13 February 2015

Time Travel and Explaining Your Character is a Super Hero

Our Marvel Super Heroes game is into its fifth week now and we've already run into a serious problem with time travel.

(Inspector Spacetime by Graffitihead)

Our characters travelled back to 1963 to find out who really killed JFK. The reasons for this move are somewhat obscure and possibly not very good. It started well as our invisible super hero team set up to observe, but things unravelled almost immediately. Player Characters should not be allowed anywhere near actual history. If there is a historical event that players can derail and just plain mess up, things will go badly for history. This is the lesson our group learned on Tuesday when we foiled the assassination of JFK.

I haven't run a game featuring time travel yet, but I've been planning an adaptation of an RPG to make it work as an episodic time travel game for a while now (that post is still half done). In an historical setting or time travel game I think the history should be interacted with on a small, personal level. There are people who live there who are affected by the normal progress of history who can also be affected by the presence of the characters. Cool things can happen when those two forces interact.

Having the players derail the major events of the historical setting causes so much trouble for the GM! The effects turn into this awful butterfly wings chain of events, turning everything on its head. I don't know what our GM, Chris, is going to do now that we stopped the JFK assassination. We can only hope that the failed first attempt will force whoever is behind it to show their hand on a second attempt so we can figure out who did it and get back to our own time. Otherwise, our party is doing exactly the wrong thing and will never see our home time again.

One fun problem with time travel is interacting with people outside of your timeline who know about you and drop weird hints with their questions about where the character is in his or her timestream: "Are you married yet?" That's one of those small scale interactions that can be a lot of fun.

Another problem we encountered that was specific to our Supers game is the need to explain what we are since there are no supers in the time we've entered. Thanks to that situation, "I'm a super-hero, bitch!" might become the catch phrase for our campaign.

It will be interesting to see where we take it from here. We've committed to playing the Marvel FASERIP game for 6 months, so if we can't make it work in the alternate timeline we've created we may be rolling up characters again soon.

Our Marvelous Adventures are broadcast over youtube as we play in google+ hangouts, so they are easy to find if you want to check out our super-powered shenanighans in detail.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

New Class for LotFP: the Monk

Last post I was talking about moving LotFP forward from the Early Modern Era to a Weird Wild West setting. One trope that is often revisited is the idea of the oriental monk in the old west. There's no reason not to have a Monk Class in the Early Modern Era since travel between continents is viable and cultures are mixing through trade. The main inspiration for the class as I have it here is the monk travelling the old west.

I've been pretty disappointed with the Monk Class in the past. It's often a half-assed thief with super fighty powers bolted on top. The beauty of the LotFP system is the point system for skills is more flexible than the percentages for thief skills so there is no reason to feel bound by any of that stuff. The Lamentations adventure Qelong has the Lotus Monk but it's for NPCs only and is basically a mystical fighter with magic powers. It is not a great fit to make a player character in the old west.

LotFP has a system in place to avoid power creep and protect the Fighter's place amongst the classes. The only class that increases in attack bonus is the Fighter, all the others have the +1 attack bonus they start with. I don't think the Monk Class needs an attack bonus to still have the flavour of a mystic/unstoppable warrior.

Monks are incredible athletes, performing amazing feats of balance and withstanding terrible punishment that would drop lesser people. Taking that into account, the best LotFP class to use as the base for the Monk is the Dwarf. The Monk would use the Dwarf experience table and saving throws. The Architecture Skill would be replaced by both Climb and Stealth. None of the other Dwarf abilities would apply and the Monk would use the D8 hit die of the Fighter and use the Fighter minimum hit points for first level to represent their physical resilience. At tenth level the Monk uses a +3 and no constitution modifier instead of additional hit dice.

(The Climb skill for the Monk Class)

Climb is not the careful scaling of sheer walls the Specialist would do but more of a leaping, acrobatic bouncing from surface to surface to ascend bare walls. Stealth is an obvious choice for a monk.

Despite the obvious vitality of monks the Constitution modifier the Dwarf gets is not entirely appropriate. Much of the monk's abilities come from a greater connection to the world and their training is centred around that. The Monk Class gets a +1 Wisdom Modifier.

To embrace the mystical aspect of the monk, add the total wisdom modifier to Open Doors rolls to show how their connection to the world around them gives them power over it and allows them to punch through doors and whatnot. The Referee can apply any necessary modifiers for different materials but I would likely let the Monk PCs break harder and harder materials as they level up.

The monk in Qelong adds level to AC, attack bonus and so on. With this setup, the Qelong monk becomes absolutely ridiculous around level 8. The LotFP Rules are designed to avoid power creep so I think the standard +1 attack bonus is sufficient and no AC improvement ladder is necessary.

I like the monk as a fast, difficult to hit character in tune with the space surrounding him or her and able to use that connection to the world to fight with a preternatural speed.

Wisdom is a huge factor in the Monk's ability to attack and defend. When not wearing armour the monk adds the total wisdom modifier to Armour Class. This bonus is usable with a shield, while making use of cover and in addition to any modifier from dexterity. As long as the monk is only lightly encumbered s/he adds wisdom to his/her attack bonus in addition to any other modifier. These combinations make the monk pretty bad-ass out of the gates at first level, but if you are using the normal roll-three-in-order character generation it should not imbalance the game.

Monks are experts at evasion and grappling. When wrestling they add their level to the D20 roll instead of their attack bonus. A monk may also substitute the wisdom modifier for the strength modifier. Monks can use either wisdom or strength when wrestling, not both. You can fight smart or strong, but not both at once.

Monks are renowned for their ability to fight with and without weapons. The precision and speed of their strikes defy reason. To represent the flurry of of strikes landing in a single round and the improvement that only experience can bring, the Monk's hand-to-hand damage is determined by level rather than the weapon used. This starts at 1D4 at first level. It increases to 1D6 at second level. At fifth level it increases to 1D8. It increases to 1D10 at eighth level and finally to 1D12 at tenth level.

As a warrior of exceptional training, like the fighter, the monk can use the martial manoeuvres: Press and Defensive Fighting.

That sums it up. A simple version of the monk with a framework of rules that should allow a player to roll to do cool monk-like stuff without making and of the other classes redundant. The focus on the physical suits a more modern setting and will work well with the Weird Old West.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Lamentations of the Old West Princess

"I am thinking of running Death Frost Doom as a Western. Maybe set in the Bitternoot Valley/Mountains in about 1875." A friend of mine posted this on G+ and it blew my mind just a little bit. I haven't been able to stop thinking about it so the only cure is to write it out. (Death Frost Doom is the adventure that put Lamentations of the Flame Princess on the map as an RPG publisher who has recently rewrote and re-released it)

(Possible descendants of the three iconic LotFP adventurers: Alice, Michelle and the Flame Princess)

Right off the bat, the character of Zeke Duncaster fits the old west perfectly. The frozen mountain with an ancient temple that has no business being there is a cool thing to hook in the players exploring the frontier. There's no reason there could not be an ancient empire that the Aztecs or one of the early First Nations managed to destroy in the California mountains. Efforts to erase the cult have failed time and again over the eons in North America. In fact, the more I thought about it the more I realised a lot of the LotFP adventures could be adjusted to fit the old west.

The epic, time-sensitive sandbox Better Than Any Man (downloadable for free here), could easily be set in the south during last days of the American Civil War with only minor adjustments. The characters and their motivations fit the era just fine and the arrival of the Yankees with its puritanical officers would end the same as the army in the adventure.

With similar themes, No Salvation For Witches would fit into a town in the old west as easily as early modern era England. Minor adjustments of names and descriptions to improve the fit could be done on the fly.

The church from the God That Crawls could be located in California or Texas having changed hands from the Spanish Catholics that had settled the area to the protestant Americans who came later and took over. The documents the players found could even refer to Jesuits taking possession of the crawling god and moving him and the dangerous artefacts they found in the catacombs to the new world to keep them all far from civilization. It might have happened during the rise of protestantism in England under Henry VIII.

No Dignity In Death: The Three Brides could be reworked to fit the old west pretty easily as well. If anything, it would work better in early america than in the early modern area Europe. The town of Pembrooktonshire would need a new name, but other than that the insular community could have existed in the Old West. The Knights of Science would need to be reskinned into some kind of violent missionaries or travelling law enforcement like marshals, rangers or even Pinkerton men.

Tales of the Scarecrow would fit into the american west with no changes at all other than minor tweaks to the back story of the guys in the cabin. The cornfield has an american feel anyway.

Scenic Dunnsmouth might work best on the Gulf Coast, especially in Louisiana. All the hooks and reasons for going there still apply. The Elven spy could be changed to an inquisitor (cleric), possibly a weird magic user or diabolist studying the cult for his/her own purposes

Both Death Love Doom and Forgive Us could be set in any coastal town. Death Love Doom needs some massaging to fit the back story into a new time and place, especially the guys in the coach-house. I don't think Forgive Us needs as many changes to work. Really, the coast is not so important as the movement of trade goods in these two stories. They could be set in any prosperous town on a major rail-road route.

Fuck for Satan could be any damn place. Same with the Monolith From Beyond Space and Time. The Doom-Cave of the Crystal-Headed Children (downloadable for free here) can also happen in any small town.

Likewise, The Tower of the Stargazer could be anywhere that a crazy wizard/scientist thought would be beneficial to locate his tower. Maybe near a (now abandoned) mine so Calcidius could build the roof of the tower on the cheap? A Single Small Cut could work in the old west with minor changes too.

Thulian Echoes could be found on the crossing from Europe or moved to the Caribbean.

The Isle of the Unknown could be moved to the Caribbean as well. It could keep its French flavour as a former colony and a GM could spice it up with a some vodoo elements. The Greek statues become something of a mystery, but that's OK.

So all the adventures fit, but what about the rules? How much do the rules need to be altered to get the weird fantasy into the old west?

Lamentations of the Old West Princess or, Weird Weird West

So what about money? The silver standard is easily switched over to dollars at even money. Silver dollars are likely more popular on the frontier than paper money so that aspect of the game can be business as usual. The $50 gold coin was still in circulation in the 1870s so the gp value can be used with this coin in mind. There were also $20 and $10 gold coins but those can be specified, we can assume a gp is the $50 coin. The 2 cent copper was common enough that it can be used as the default "penny" for the campaign, keeping the ration of 1:50 for gp to sp and sp to cp.

The problem with the equipment list is some items are anachronistic and others are just way out of whack with the pricing of the day. The mass production capabilities of the settled areas of the North-eastern United States make a lot of items less expensive than the LotFP equipment lists. Catalogues from 1875 list wagons as only $50 as opposed to the 150 in LotFP. Mass-produced weapons like pistols are less than $5 and a shotgun can be bought for $15. The prices I found for rifles range from $20-$50. The ammunition was dirt cheap, selling for mere pennies. Buying something like a sword might be more difficult since you'd have to buy an old sabre from the war. Depending on the area, such products might be rare and expensive or so common they are worthless. A shortbow and arrows could be traded for or purchased from natives but a longbow or crossbow would not be available except as a collectable antique. Provisions become less of a hassle as canned goods and dried beef are plentiful.

Enough of the list matches up that it could be used for character generation at least and then prices out of old catalogues and some judgement could be used while resupplying in town.

There are some changes that need to be made to the rules...


(Princess of the old west, Annie Oakley firing over her shoulder with a mirror)

There are all kinds of terrible black-powder muzzle loaders still kicking around the 1870s West so the normal LotFP firearms rules can be used for those. The muskets of the civil war era are much faster to reload and the use of caps to ignite the charge is much safer. These would function as arquebusses as listed with a three-round reload time and a misfire only on a one in twenty.

Armour penetration is still the same for all firearms with 4 points of amoured AC ignored by them.

These things are obviously more accurate than the antique weapons of the early modern era. I would just take the ranges for modern firearms and convert them to yards instead of feet. Short barrelled pocket pistols like derringers could continue to use feet for range and have the same doubling of penalties at range for the early modern unrifled pistols, but with a two shots and a single round for reloading. They also do only 1D4 or 1D6 damage because of the smaller calibre.

Shotguns use the same ranges as the old muzzle-loaders but instead of incurring penalties to hit at range it goes from 1D8 Damage at short range, to 1D6 at medium range, and 1D4 at long range. It has no armour penetration and reloading a single or double-barrelled shotgun takes one round.

Revolvers of this period are single action, allowing for a single accurate shot per round. They usually have a six round capacity and can be reloaded with cartridges in two rounds. Some revolvers don't use cartridges and the cylinders are loaded with a ball and black-powder. This takes a lot of time and users often carried multiple, pre-loaded cylinders. Switching out a cylinder takes one round loading a cylinder with ball and powder takes 18 rounds. Pistols still do 1D8 damage.

Revolvers can be "fanned" by holding down the trigger and slapping the hammer back. This desperate act adds +1 to hit for every three rounds expended.

Lever-action rifles are known as: "the guns that won the West." My google-fu is weak today so it was difficult to find any definite information on the magazine capacity of these weapons but five rounds seems to be the consensus. Apparently modifications could be made to expand that to 8 or even 13, but I leave that up to the judgement of the GM. I'll likely go with five.

Reload time should be one round of time for every three cartridges. Damage is the standard 1D8.

Lever-action rifles still had a chance to misfire because the tubular magazine caused rounds to go off inside the rifle from time to time. It was rare enough you can ignore depending on your game. Maybe even swap out one or two of the results on the optional D30 critical miss tables for an exploding rifle so it can still happen.

When using a rifle or shotgun in melee they do 1D6 Damage. A pistol is pretty heavy and can be used as a small club for 1D4 Damage.


The classes as written don't all fit the Weird West model so a few modifications need to be made.

The Cleric:

The 19th century cleric is more of the Solomon Kane type than the Crusader of the OD&D and LotFP rules. Taming the west with a bible and a six-shooter we can get that faith-based frontiersman with a few changes.

(Clint Eastwood in Pale Rider)

The first-level spell Turn becomes a reusable ability. It can be used against any unnatural creature such as a werewolf, undead or mutated thing. A result of Turned on the table means the creature is held at bay and cannot approach the Cleric or harm him/her in any way. A Destroyed result means the creature is actually turned as normal and must flee from the Cleric's presence. The Turn table could also be used to remove fear in a cleric's companions. Roll turn against the hit-dice of the fear causing creature or NPC and if it succeeds then 1D6 + the Cleric's hit dice in people of the group will rally. This group may in turn inspire others allowing another moral roll for hirelings and henchmen at +2.

The Cleric is no miracle worker on his or her own. Clerics don't cast spells, but can use cleric scrolls as normal. These artefacts are ancient prayers written, illuminated and specially prepared in the past. The Cleric accesses the power of the prayer by reading it aloud. It takes one round to read for every level of spell cast from the scroll and the cleric can do nothing other than walk slowly during that time. After the cast the player rolls a save verses Spells to see if the scroll's holiness fades and the scroll is exhausted. The maximum spell level a cleric can cast from a scroll is equal to the maximum spell level available on the cleric's Spells Per Level section of the table on Page 11 of the LotFP  Rules and Magic book. Every level beyond that takes a -1 penalty to the Save verses Spell roll. So a fourth level cleric casting a fourth level spell from a scroll takes a -2 penalty to their Save roll because the normal maximum spell level they can cast is level two.

Scrolls don't need to be scrolls to work this way. It could get weird with something like a mummified saint's hand being invoked to cast cure light wounds and so on. There's no limit to the strange that could be applied here.

The Fighter:

The Old West is full of gunfighters, ex-soldiers and hardened mercenaries. Fighters stay the same.

The Magic User:

There's always someone willing to endanger their soul and study forbidden texts in exchange for knowledge, power or both. The god-fearing folk of the frontier would be quick to burn a witch or other heathen displaying any unnatural powers so a player needs to be careful. The class stays the same but the spell list would change slightly as even more has been lost in the face of modern progress. I'd remove Magic Missile and Sleep from the level one spell list and replace them with Summon for the purposes of creating the first spellbook. Other things I'd be tempted to remove are Fly and the Wall of X spells.

The Specialist:

(The Weird West Specialist has some new skills to choose from)

The specialist doesn't need to change but I would add medicine as a a skill. The barber surgeons and country doctors of the old west have the benefit of modern techniques that make it possible to save a character from what would have been certain death in the Early Modern Era. If a PC is reduced past the usual a person skilled in medicine can treat them if they are reduced to -4 hit points or worse. They must have surgical tools, sufficient light and time to operate.  They make their D6 skill roll as usual but take a -1 penalty for every three points of damage suffered past the negative three threshold. So a character with -9 hp could be saved with a medicine roll made at -2. The medicine skill could also be used as for first aid type actions made while resting after a fight. Patching up a character's would would mean they regain 1D4-1 (0-3) hit points for anyone with at least one point in Medicine.

The Dwarf/Wild One:

There are no magical craftsman living under the Rockies and trading fine axes and other goods with the humans of the surface world. Dwarfs simply do not fit this campaign setting in any way. I usually swap in Barbarians to fill this niche in a human only campaign but those are anachronistic and no better fit.

The main feature of the dwarf class is it is a survivor. It has amazing saves and the best hit points in the game. That's why it could be changed to the Wild One with only a couple of changes. The frontier was frought with dangers both natural and man-made. Mudslides, terrible winters, native attacks and simple bandits could mean any community or settlement. The Wild One is a sole survivor of some kind of disaster. S/he survived through luck, skill or sheer bloody-mindedness and has come through it even harder than before. A few seasons on his/her own before making contact with civilization again has made the Wild One a natural adventurer. The Architecture skill could be replaced with Climb or Bushcraft depending on the circumstances of the Wild One's origin. Tough as nails and used to relying on themselves for everything, the Wild One keeps the Constitution bonus and extra encumbrance allowance of the Dwarf.

The Elf:

There are no elves prancing through the Old West. You could replace them with the Diabolist Class I described in an earlier post. Another option to get something exotic into your campaign is to adapt the Lotus Monks from the Qelong adventure.

The Halfing/Native:

There are no magical little people farming hidden valleys in the Old West either. The easiest way to use this class as written is to reskin it as a Native. The excellent Saves represent their experience with the dangers of the old west and the resolve required to live there without modern conveniences. They rely on each other and their communities so they don't have the extreme hit points of the Wild Ones. The Dex bonus could be restricted to only when they are lightly encumbered. Bushcraft and Stealth fit the Native culture well enough for warriors and hunters of most tribes across north america.

The main problem with playing a Native character in the Old West is the terrible prejudice they face. The player and GM should really discuss how this will play before the game. Racism is not fun, but different people like to play through different things. Just talk it out during character generation.

There's not much that needs to happen to make LotFP fit the Old West or to make a Weird West campaign. I know there are other games out there but if we're adapting LotFP adventures and its weird, horror-based aesthetic to the campaign we might as well make these minor tweaks once and just roll on forward than constantly revise between systems during play. Besides, I already have copies of the LotFP Rules so I'd rather make these changes than buy Call of Cthulhu - Old West Edition or Deadlands or whatever.