Tuesday, 31 March 2009

The Passage of Time - Inventories for the Lazy DM

Keeping track of the passage of game time, and of resource usage, has long been a big deal in old school D&D games. That makes sense to me as a player and referee, given that when you're in a hostile environment - be it dungeon or wilderness - it really does matter how long your torch, rations, potion of water breathing, or w/e will last. Make the wrong call when buying kit, or about when to return to the surface for resupply, and your brave adventurers can be left starving and lost in the darkness while the surly natives close in, knives and eyes a-glint and banjos a-twang.

That said, tracking each individual torch, slice of bologna, handful of trail mix, arrow or sling stone can get old really quickly, especially for newer players who've come to the game via CRPGs and such. But, to quote the always interesting Jeff Rients (posting on the RPGDiehard blog):

The nice thing is that in most D&D settings oil-measures probably aren't accurate, food portions are best guesses, and torches aren't manufactured to exacting standards.

With that sensible observation in mind I'll be cheerfully yoinking and adapting The Rambling Bumblers' Savage Bookkeeping alternate inventory system for my own twisted DMing purposes. Savage Bookkeeping is a sweet little hack for the Savage Worlds system that allows you as a busy DM to not sweat the small stuff, while still ensuring that the player keep an eye on the appropriate timers and gauges during play.

So here's my lightly panel-beaten version of the mechanic:

Instead of keeping track of every torch, chunk of chalk, coil of rope and whatnot there are now 4 levels of inventory for expendable items (food, light sources, ammo): Very High > High > Low > Out.

Adventurers, being reckless types, start out with their essentials at High unless they specifically raise them to Very High. Quite how they do this in game terms is a bit nebulous atm, but I imagine it would involve them forking out for new Microlite20-style dungeoneering Fast Packs ("The best 50gp you'll ever spend!") on a semi-regular basis.

At set periods, or in specific unusual circumstances as determined by the DM, the designated quartermaster (or just the person with the best applicable mod.) should make checks for each of the following:

  • Rations and water (1/day) - Survival or Dungeoneering check
  • Light sources (1/hour) - Dungeoneering check
  • Ammunition (1/fight) - BAB check
The DC of each check is 10 + 2 per person in the group (figure derived from the Survival skill description).

A failed check means the inventory drops by one level in that category, with the party being deemed horribly screwed in a particular department when said quantity reaches 'Out'.

Hunting, looting food stores, scavenging ammo and the like can restore depleted levels of inventory either per DM fiat, or according to the rules for the Survival skill.

Yes, the fact that higher level groups can be larger than lower level ones at an equivalent level of risk is intentional. Higher level (and thus more skilled) characters are generally more experienced in gauging logistics than are their 1st level counterparts.

So, between Delta's enc. mod and Josh's inventory hack, that's me pretty much covered for the inventory management stuff. Just throw in a quick adventuring time sheet for spell durations and the like, and that's me sorted for at least the first few Vaults crawls.

edit: It appears that I've reinvented the wheel once again. d7 beat me to this...by months.

Monday, 30 March 2009

The Explosions in Space Test

Zak S, odd-but-lovable co-creator of the odd-but-lovable Road of Knives art fight (or whatever the bright young things call these pictoral jamboree things nowadays *harrumph*), recently suggested something fun and useful in a comment on noism's Monsters & Manuals blog. To whit, a handy addendum to the "Don't be a Dickhead" rule:

"I propose the "Explosions in Space Rule" which goes like this, and which should be printed at the beginning of every game:

Are there explosions in space in this game--like in Star Wars? Or not--like in real life? We, the game designers have left this entirely up to you.

Before each gaming session, you must get together with your players and decide, as a group, whether--should such a contingency come up--there will or will not explosions in space. If you cannot all agree, or if this conversation goes on for longer than 20 minutes, DO NOT GAME WITH THOSE PEOPLE."

Good, isn't it?

Oh, and for the record: the Vaults game answers the above test question with an immediate and resounding HELL YES! This is not even open for discussion; explosions - spaceborne or otherwise - are an essential part of the game. They are as necessary and fundamental to my enjoyment and creative fulfillment as a DM as...well, hearing the rules whimper or the players yelp. I am a simple creature at heart. :-)

So, esteemed interlocutors, I ask: upon which side of the "Explosions in Space Y/N?" divide does your game fall? And why?

PS: VoN Quickstart ver0.3.3 uploaded to orbitfiles.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Magic in the Vaults game

Several of the grogblogs have grumbled in recent months about the prevalence of magic as utilitarian substitute for technology in contemporary settings. I'm inclined to agree with their (generally unanimous) position that magic - even as a tool in the hands of PCs - should be mysterious, evocative and above all, hilariously dangerous. As such, here are a few collected thoughts and ukases about magic in the Vaults game.

Limited Spell Selection
The Vaults game is supposed to be about scrabbling in the ruins and wrestling lost arcane lore from the clutches of inimical foes. So I've decided to trim the initial spell lists for all starting characters down to the spells shown on Labyrinth Lord, page 42 (get yer copy here if you haven't already). All arcane casters use the wizard/elf table, all divine casters use the cleric table (although this may need some tinkering for the sake of the druids...).

There are a few reasons for this:

1. A limited spell selection feels more old school.
2. New players won't be overwhelmed with choice.
3. It means I can dump and/or modify problematic spells from the off.

Everything else in the SRD is currently a lost spell which has to be recovered through adventuring.
The rest of the Spell Compendium? Well, that's entirely DM's option at the moment...

The Pseudo-science of Magic
I've decided that magic in the Vaults game will essentially be a Chaotic phenomenon. Although it does obey its own - oddly intuitive - rules, it is able to short-circuit the cause-and-effect of the everyday world. This makes using magic as dangerous and unpredictable a lifestyle choice as becoming a unicycling juggler of nitroglycerine: sure it's impressive, but everyone knows it can only possibly end really badly.

Like a worker in a nuclear power plant, the more hands-off a character is from the material he works with, the more insulated he will be from the adverse effect. In essence:

  • Alchemists can make arcane explosives and other superscience gizmos by channelling arcane power into external prepared objects. Sure, things might still go Boom! if the mix isn't quite right, but at least it won't be the alchemist's head doing the exploding.
  • Vancian casters (magicians and wizards) are able to tap the fundamental laws more immediately - but at greater risk - by directing it through 'lenses' of carefully crafted arcane pathways in their own minds. They do this in accordance with ancient rites and techniques of sympathetic magic laid down in the days of yore.
  • Sorcerers channel magic directly through themselves, rather than into external implements or via constructs of arcane energy, and they pay the cost in spades. What they're doing is roughly on a par with using a plutonium-headed hammer to beat down a plutonium nail. This is why you see sorcerers wandering around with horns, bat wings, claws, sulphurous breath, and the like. They're not "of the blood of dragons" (whatever they might claim).
How exactly I'm going to implement this in play (some form of casting check, ripping off Grognardia Jim's price of magic table, adapting WFRP's winds of magic rules, repurposing the geomancer mutation tables from "Complete Divine" [amended]) is an open question as yet. More research needed here I expect.

Divine casters (clerics and druids) and demon cultists avoid this whole mess by getting someone else entirely to handle the magic for them. Problem of cranial kablooey-ism deftly avoided, at the cost of being at the continual beck and call of their divine - or infernal - patron.

Magic Trains and Flying Ships
There are no magic trains, no scheduled flying ship routes, no flying carpet taxi services, and no gnomish telegraphs in the Vaults game. Anything like that will be a one-off wonder in its own right, probably with some side effects from the artefacts charts in the 1E DMG...or possibly the Gamma World artifacts mishap charts. Alchemical hand grenades and potions of Jekyll & Hydery are fine; but stuff that looks like it belongs in "The Book of Wondrous Inventions" is a step too far for my tastes.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Wizards Aren't Scholars

Something which occurred to me the other day. See what you make of it:

Despite what decades of D&D may have told us, and despite their accompanying paraphenalia of tomes, robes, phoenix-feather quills, and bizarre alchemical glasswork, wizards are not scholars.

This minor heresy against fantasy orthodoxy developed after reading in rapid succession (Ah! The juxtaposing joys of Google Reader!) Jeff's write-up of a hedge wizard NPC class, and then some of Paul Graham's thoughts on seeding start-ups in the technology sector.

Sages and hedge wizards are the academic scholars of the arcane world. These are the guys who putter about in the library or lab for decades, happily following their intellectual passions in safety and obscurity. They're the magic equivalent of the go-to geek who knows everything there is to know about an obscure type of circuit or obsolete OS.

Magicians (a specialist wizard type I'm imported from the "Birthright" setting: divination and illusion spells only above 2nd level) are the company men of the magic world. They learn how to one - relatively safe - thing really well, then exploit that for gain. They're the 'court magicians', the guys who cast detect lies for the court, supply the visual effects at court masques, scry on the king's enemies, and so forth.

Wizards, by contrast with their more staid colleagues, take a 'high risk; high reward' path to power. They've made a decision to go into business for themselves in the dangerous field of looting tombs, fighting ancient evils, or farming dragons for ichor. In this respect they're more like start-up founders than scholars or company men. D&D wizards are mavericks like Gates, Jobs, Brin [insert your preferred self-made billionaire here] who kicked academia or the corporate grind into touch and instead took the gamble of trying to make it big in a few years, rather than over decades.

Those few wizards who manage to make it big by surviving the trial-by-fire of dungeoncrawling can then sit back on their heaps of phat lewts and act as 'angel investors' to the next generation of arcane scholars. Some of these will end up working for the master as drudges, but others - generally those attracted by the fame and power of the successful magus, but creatively stifled in his shadow - will form the next generation of tomb-looting go-getters.

So there it is. A quick explanation for why a skinny, pasty guy with a spellbook spends his time trying to kill violent strangers and acquire their stuff.

Another thought: if hedge wizards are research scientists, and wizards are start up founders; then what does that make sorcerers? Well, given the risk inherent in using magic in the Vaults game, I'd say that Sorcs are the kind of people who are prepared to cut corners and break the rules for the sake of power. Your archetypal sorcerer will want to force their will on the world without abiding by the strictures or forms others prescribe. In brief, sorcerers are Tony Montana.


Tuesday, 24 March 2009

The Gods of Nagoh - The Pantheon of Twelve

"Brace for infodump!"

The Pantheon of Twelve are a gang of squabbling godlings who, through their fame and level of activity in the world, command the bulk of the religious belief in the Wilds of Nagoh. Some few of the gods are native to this world, but most have entered it with the intent of it being either a refuge or a new power base.

note: that's my way of saying almost everything here is ripped off from somewhere else (cookie to the first person to spot them all)

The gods hold themselves above such petty mortal concerns as 'ethics' or 'morality', caring only that their names are honoured and their rites observed. There are thu very few restrictions on who may pray to which god for favour or mercy in the Vaults game: good-aligned characters plead for Erythnul or Utravit to show mercy, just as evil-aligned character pray to Pholtus for vengeance on their enemies. Such pragmatic polytheism is deemed insulting by the powers only if their own favourites, their anointed priests and sworn templars, show excessive deference to another god.

Thanks to mutual competition and age-old rivalries among the gods there are constant low-level feuds between devotees of the major temples. These differences can range from petty arguments over whose icons will take precedence in a parade, through preaching anathemas against one another, up to outright religious war. At irregular, but not infrequent, intervals templars of one god may sack the fane of another at the command of their patron. The loot from these raids being exploited as the centrepiece of a triumphal parade. Of course, the offended cult will then launch reprisals against the offender. As you can imagine, such heated theological discussions have a tendency to get out of hand...

AgniHe Who Dwells in the FlameFire, the forge, dance, invention, inspiration
AradarThe Many-handedCities, writing, trade, crossroads, mechanisms
BelisThe Fungal QueenFertility, growth, medicine, fungi, decay, sickness
ErythnulThe Howler in DarknessBeasts, the wild, chaos, destruction, liberation
GrimnirThe One-EyedTrickery, strategy, judgement, slaughter, mourning
GromeEarthshakerEarth, mining, wealth, endurance, oaths and contracts
IranonHe Who Goes ForthStars, travel, navigation, parting and forsaking
IthaquaThe Wind WalkerAir, cold, language, dreams, madness
NerhagulThe Spider KingDeath, secrets and mysteries, the underworld
PholtusThe Blinding OneSun, rulership, nemesis, vigilance, self-discipline
ThalateaThe Sharp-sightedBeauty, vanity, jealousy, lust, love, cats
The TwinsThe Black and WhiteWar, horsemanship, thunder and lightning, boundaries
TyshaThe Peacock SpiritLaw, song, birds, hope, new beginnings
UtravitThe Dragger DownWater, the seas, greed, fertility, change
VorynnThe Silver PrinceThe Moon, magic, history, imprisonment

The Burning One, He Who Dwells in the Flame
God of fire, the forge, dance, invention, inspiration

Agni appears as a red-skinned man with three legs, three faces and multiple, constantly waving arms which seem to juggle fire. He moves in the sinuous, flickering manner of a wind-blown flame. His voice sounds like the crackle of burning wood. Agni wears a brazen kilt and heavy golden jewellery.

Agni’s symbol is a flame, usually stylised as a red triangle. His holy day is the summer solstice.
Hawks and salamanders are sacred to Agni. His favoured servitors are fire elementals and phoenixes.

Priests of Agni wear flowing robes of red and orange brocade, and carry hammers as symbols of their office. They are charged with feeding the eternal flames of his temples, with forging new weapons and tools, with the creation of art, and the uncovering of new lore. Devotions to Agni include experimentation, wild dancing and whirling, ordeal by fire, and sacrifice by immolation. His priests can earn favour through burnt offerings or the discovery of new knowledge.

The Many-handed, He Who Measures the World
God of cities, writing, trade, crossroads, mechanisms

Aradar appears as a tall, elderly man with a long, well-groomed beard and four arms. One arm is raised in greeting, a second bears a surveyor’s rod, the third a quill, and the fourth a set of merchant’s scales. His pace is perfectly regular. His voice is deep and resonant. Aradar always wears layered robes of grey and white hue.

Aradar’s symbol is a pair of golden dividers, usually stylised as a yellow lambda. His holy day is the first day of the trading season.
Doves and bulls are sacred to Aradar. His favoured servitors are Shedu.

Priests of Aradar wear layered robes of white and grey edged with geometric patterns, and carry scribing and measuring gear at all times. They are charged with surveying land, establishing and enhancing the health and wealth of cities, and with facilitating peaceful exchange. They are most commonly found in urban areas. Devotions to Aradar include accurate recordkeeping, the negotiation of trade, and the transcription and illumination of written material of all kinds. His priests can earn favour by improving the prosperity and healthfulness of their environs.

The Great Mother, The Ever-flowering One
Goddess of Fertility, growth and decay, medicine, plants and fungi, pestilence

Belis appear as a pale-skinned woman of coldly alien mien. Flowers and fungi sprout from her eyes and mouth. Her arms are always outstretched and her hands always empty. Short-lived plants sprout in her footsteps and clouds of spores circle in her wake. Belis is always robed in vegetation of seasonal colours. Her voice is soft and whispering.

Belis’ symbol is the woven wreath, usually stylised as a green U. Her holy day is the harvest festival.
Snakes and moles are sacred to Belis. Her favoured servitors are unknown.

Priests of Belis wear robes of yellow and brown. Some castrate themselves in her honour. They are charged with ensuring the fertility of crops, and with the burial of the dead. Devotions to Belis include the cultivation of temple gardens, ministering to the sick, and sacrifice by exsanguination or live burial. Her priests can earn especial favour by tending the private gardens of her temples.

The Howler in Darkness, He Who Sunders Bonds
God of beasts, the wild, chaos, destruction, strength

Erythnul appears as a twisted and grotesquely over-muscled thing more beast than man. He combines all the worst features of boar, ape, man and reptile in one. His movements are erratic and lurching. His voice sounds like a cacophonous howling. Monsters are born of the spilled blood of Erythnul.

Erythnul’s symbol is a snarling bestial face, usually stylised as a horizontal zigzag pattern. His holy day is the first day of the campaigning season.
Pigs and black dogs are sacred to Erythnul. His favoured servants are Hezrou demons.

Priests of Erythnul wear mantles of black fur and kilts of ruddy leather, and ritually scar themselves in his honour. They are charged with culling the weak and exalting the strong. They are most commonly found outside cities, their presence within large communities being deemed a nuisance. Devotions to Erythnul include the hunt, the broaching of bondage, causing chaos among settled communities, and bloody ritualised battles. His priests can earn favour by defeating their enemies in single combat, or by burning urban settlements.

The One Eye, He Who Mourns
God of Trickery, strategy, judgement, slaughter, those who mourn

Grimnir appears as an old man, bent but still hale. His single eye weeps constantly. He leans upon a twisted oak staff. Grimnir is always garbed in a grey wolfskin cloak over battered chain mail. His wide-brimmed hat is trimmed with crow’s feathers. His voice is low and quiet.

Grimnir’s symbol is a silver spear, usually stylised as an arrow. His holy day is the autumn equinox.
Crows and foxes are sacred to Grimnir. His favoured servants are Winter Wolves.

Priests of Grimnir wear mourning garb over armour. His fanatics blind themselves in one eye. They act as advisers, as executioners, and as professional mourners. Devotions to Grimnir include public mourning, success through stratagem or ruse, and sacrifice by hanging. His priests can earn favour by killing serpents and other reptiles, or by succeeding through cunning.

Earthshaker, He Who Upholds the World
God of Earth, mining, wealth, endurance, oaths and contracts

Grome appears as a fine-crafted statue of a hugely muscular man in dark stone. His skin is adorned with complex patterns of gemstones. And his joints glow with banked internal fires. His face is a blank mask with a single eye that glows like magma. His voice sounds like a distant rock fall. He moves slowly and with a sound like grinding stones.

Grome’s symbol is the jewel, usually stylised as a white diamond shape. He has no particular holy day.
Mountain goats and lizards are sacred to Grome. His favoured servitors are Earth Elementals.

Priests of Grome wear short-sleeved robes of green and grey. They wear clattering metal-shod boots. His priesthood act as architects and mining engineers, and often work as jewellers. Devotions to Grome include stoneworking and gem cutting, the administration of oaths, the beating of drums, and sacrifice by crushing under huge weights. His worshippers can earn favour by bearing hardship with fortitude, or by the sacrifice of fine material goods.

The Wanderer, He Who Goes Forth
God of the Stars, travel, navigation, parting and forsaking

Iranon appears as a young man with blue eyes, sun-bleached blonde hair and tanned skin. He is always barefoot and his feet do not touch the earth. One hand bears a walking cane. His movements are smooth, and his voice a harmonious tenor. He is invariably garbed in travelling clothes. It is said he walked into this world from another, and that he walks the world constantly.

His symbol is a sextant, usually stylised as a capital A. Iranon’s holy day is the first day of the New Year.
Horses and migratory birds are sacred to Iranon. His favoured servants are ???

Priests of Iranon wear robes of sky blue elaborately embroidered; these are usually covered with travelling cloaks. They walk barefoot wherever possible.His priesthood maintain lodgings for pilgrims, and oversee the public discharge of obligations. Devotions to Iranon include stargazing, journeying to new places, abrogating one’s possessions, and hospitality to visitors. His priests can earn favour by offering hospitality to strangers, and by never sleeping in the same place twice.

The Wind Walker, Lord of the North
God of Air, cold, language, dreams, madness

Ithaqua appears as a spindly-limbed demonic creature with black skin and tusks in a wide, leering mouth. His eyes burn redly under heavy brows. He swims through the air like a fish through water, never touching the ground or remaining still. His movements are rapid and accompanied by gusts of wind. His voice sounds like a howling tempest.

Ithaqua’s symbol is the whirlwind, usually stylised as an inverted grey triangle. His holy day is midwinter’s day.
Wolves and carrion crows are sacred to Ithaqua. His favoured servitors are Air Elementals.

Priests of Ithaqua wear full robes of white decorated with swirling patterns of red. They carry bullroarers and ritually flay themselves. The priesthood act as envoys, interpreters and soothsayers. Devotions to Ithaqua include the interpretation of dreams, the care of the insane, and sacrifice by defenestration or by burial in glacial ice. His priests earn favour by interpreting dreams, and by sacrificing intelligent beings.

The Spider King, Lord of All that is Hidden and Buried
God of Death, secrets and mysteries, codes, the underworld

Nerhagul appears as an emaciated, mummified man. He is invariably garbed in multiple layers of burial wrappings, cerements and spiderwebs. His head is covered by a black veil. In one hand he bears in one hand a long crook-headed staff, in the other an onyx jewel. His voice is croaking and the smell of grave dust accompanies him.

Nerhagul’s symbol is the crook, usually stylised as a hook. His holy day is the day of the dead, when the departed walk the world.
Spiders and mice are sacred to Nerhagul. His favoured servitors are phase spiders and powerful free-willed undead.

Priests of Nerhagul wear tunics and kilts of purple and maroon hue, and wear black veils. They carry crooks in emulation of their lord, and avoid the sun’s glare wherever possible. His priesthood act as morticians, cryptographers and explorers. Devotions to Herhagul include the discovery or concealing of secrets, communication with the dead, and the sacrifice of finely crafted grave goods. His priests earn favour by uncovering and exploiting secrets, and by ensuring that the dead lie undisturbed by treasure hunters.

The Blinding One, The Man of Gold
God of the Sun, rulership, nemesis, vigilance, self-discipline

Pholtus appears as a tall, well-built man wearing a golden mask and a kilt of ivory scales. His skin is bronzed. He bears a jewelled sceptre of solid gold in his right hand, and a golden knife in his left. His voice is loud and he invariably speaks in declaratives. He walks with a stiff-limbed gait, never deviating from his planned course.

Pholtus’ symbol is the golden sunburst, often stylised as a yellow circle. His holy day is the summer solstice.
Eagles and lions are sacred to Pholtus. His favoured servitors are Lamassu.

Priests of Pholtus wear tunic of white or cream colour, ornamented with gold. Many bear tattoos of eyes on the backs of their shaven heads, and his high priests wear golden masks in homage to their deity. His priesthood act as advisors to rulers, as bounty hunters, and as executioners. Devotions to Pholtus include the public administration of justice, the sacrifice of money, and numerous ascetic practises. The most characteristic of Pholtus’ rites is that of engaging in watchful meditation atop narrow pillars. His priests earn favour by engaging in ascetic exploits, bringing fugitives to justice, or by establishing the dominion of the church over secular authorities.

The Sharp-sighted, She Who Hungers
Goddess of Beauty, vanity, jealousy, love and lust, cats

Thalatea appears as a beautiful woman with inhuman all-green eyes and long wicked talons on her flawless hands. She is attracted to beauty of all kinds, but is driven to mar and ultimately devour anything that meets with her approval. She walks with a seductive fluidity and her voice is harmonious. Statues of Thalatea are invariably stylised into abstract humanoid forms, so as not to insult her beauty. Only her claws are represented figuratively.

Thalatea’s symbol is a heavily made-up green eye, this is often stylised as a jade-green ovoid. Her holy day is the first day of spring.
Cats and songbirds are sacred to Thalatea. Her favoured servitors are Lillends.

Priests of Thalatea wear revealing costumes in rich cloths and bright colours, the better to please the eye. Many deliberately mar their features so as not to attract the fatal attention of their mistress, covering these flaws with elaborately decorated partial facemasks. Her priesthood serve as courtesans, artists, cosmeticians, and exterminators of vermin. Devotions to Thalatea include orgiastic rites, instrumental music, and the sacrifice by intentional marring of the most beautiful things. Her priests gain favour by engaging in temple prostitution, or by the ritual destruction of beautiful things.

The Twins
The Black and White, The Dwellers in the Storm, Khiros and Thromos
Gods of War, horsemanship, thunder and lightning, boundaries

The twin gods Khiros and Thromos are never seen together. Khiros, a slim, black-skinned man in white enamelled armour bearing a bow and arrow, always precedes his brother Thromos, a stocky man of corpse-like pallor dressed in heavy night-black armour bearing a bridle and wielding a huge iron mallet. Khiros moves almost faster than the eye can follow and speaks in staccato bursts. Thromos paces slowly, and speaks in a deep, sonorous rumble.

The Twins’ symbol is a white thunderbolt bisecting a black circle. This is often stylised as a white Z shape. The Twin’s holy day is the first day of the campaigning season.
Horses and woodpeckers are sacred to the brothers. Their favoured servitors are eladrin.

Priests of the Twins wear parti-coloured robes of stark black and white, and ornately worked metal pectorals at all times. They often paint or tattoo their faces half black and half white. The priesthood serve as horse breakers, military chaplains, gate wardens, and arbitrators in territorial disputes. Devotions to the brothers include ritualised duels and horse races, the establishment of clear divisions, and the sacrifice of prisoners of war. Priests of The Twins gain favour by acts of valour in battle, or by presiding over the division of something.

The Peacock Spirit, The One Who Ascends with the Dawn
God(dess) of Law, song, birds, hope, new beginnings

Tysha appears as a slim, wryly-smiling androgene dressed in a flowing decorated with patterns of iridescent feathers. (S)he bears a mirror in his/her left hand and is constantly accompanied by the sound of birdsong. His/her movements and gestures are fast and flickering, with a voice high and lilting.

Tysha’s symbol is a wing with feathers in rainbow colours. It is usually stylised as a shape similar to a capital J with a long crossbar. Tysha’s holy day is the spring equinox.
Peacocks and birds of paradises are sacred to Tysha. His/her favoured servants are couatls.

Priests of Tysha wear light robes in bright colours. They often wear feathered headdresses or beaked masks. His/her priesthood serve as teachers, advocates, aviary keepers, singers and musicians. Devotions to Tysha include choral and solo singing, the administration of justice, the recovery of arcane lore, and sacrifice by defenestration. His/her priests can earn favour by performing deeds against the cult of Thalatea (the two cults have a longstanding rivalry).

The Dragger Down, She Who Lurks in the Depths
Goddess of Water, the seas, hunger, greed, change

Utravit appears as a great kraken, a nightmare of twisting tentacles, glaring eyes, and gnashing maws. She moves through the seas with a roiling motion, reaching upwards only to draw down something she covets. Her voice sounds like bubbling screams ascending from the deep.

Utravit’s symbol is a squirming mass of tentacles around a central eye, often stylised as a circle surrounded by outward curling arcs. Utravit’s holy day is the first storm after the start of the shipping season.
Sharks and squid are sacred to Utravit. Her favoured servitors are kraken and wastriliths.

Priests of Utravit wear robes of green, blue and turquoise, all of which are richly embroidered with amber eyes and adorned with trailing ribbons. They often file their teeth in her honour. Her priesthood serve as sailors, slavers, food tasters, and fomenters of revolution. Devotions to Utravit include blessing ships, devouring vast banquets, tending carnivorous fish, and sacrifice by drowning. Her priests can earn favour by overthrowing existing systems, through acts of heroic gluttony, or through mass drowning (usually enacted by sinking ships).

The Silver Prince, He Who Sees with Clear Sight
God of the Moon, magic, history, imprisonment

Vorynn appears as a slim, pale-skinned man in early-middle age. He is invariably garbed in a scholar’s robe of ivory hue. In one hand he bears a slim silver wand, in the other a sealed scroll. His expression is distracted and his voice seems to come from far away.

Vorynn’s symbol is the crescent moon, often stylised as a silver C. His holy day is the first new moon after the spring equinox.
Cranes and salmon are sacred to Vorynn. His favoured servitors are ???

Priests of Vorynn wear scholar’s robes, invariably of muted colours. The most devout subsist on charitable offerings alone. His priesthood serve as scribes, historians, lighthousemen, and jailers. Devotions include the banging of gongs, the lighting of coastal beacons, prolonged meditation, and sacrifice by immurement. His priests can earn favour by immuring themselves for extended periods, or by thwarting the machinations of the cult of Utravit.


Monday, 23 March 2009

"How Well Did I Do?" for the Lazy DM

Although mentioned in several places in the 3.5 PHB (notably in the skills chapter) the aspect of degrees of success is not - at least AFAIK - explicitly called out as part of the system. That's a shame, because having degrees of success defined helps the DM in his job of adjudicating exactly that the heck just happened there? when half-a-dozen people are shouting over one another, throwing dice, shoving minis around, and hooting like gibbons.

Presented below is my personal "How'd they do?" quick reference table:

Check vs. DCDegree of SuccessBonus (to Whatever)
-11 or moreTerrible-2
-6 to -10Poor-1
-1 to -5Fail-0
+20 or more"No wai!"+4

Any resemblance of the above to the successes table from Savage Worlds is...probably intentional, in retrospect.

The Bonus (to Whatever) column is a general thumbnail guide to how a subsequent check (aid another, recovery from falling, etc.) will be affected by the outcome of this one. It could even be used as a bonus to damage if the initial d20 was part of an attack roll (at the moment success and damage in D&D are - critical hits aside - almost wholly dissociated).

note: found out what was causing the table problem. Blogger treats carriage returns in the HTML of tables as line breaks.

Old New Shinyness (from the days of high adventure)

Just arrived in the post this morning from the tat bazaars of the internet (amazon and eBay): Kurt Edward Wagner's "Bloodstone" and "Dark Crusade", and the old TSR "Lankhmar: City of Adventure" book (complete with 'instant neighbourhood' urban geomorph joy). All practically good as new, and all thick with old school, guts-and-glory gaming goodness from the heroically un-PC days when men were men, and women had penalties to Str.

Well, that's me occupied for the next couple of evenings.

Player Handout: 5 Things You Should Know About the Wilds of Nagoh

This is my quick and dirty game world infodump for new players in the Vaults of Nagoh game. The astute will note that it is modelled after Jeff's original.

You Crazy S.O.B; You Blew It Up!
The ancient civilisations have fallen, leaving the world in chaos and a scattering of city-states and bandit kingdoms bickering over the scraps. There are no ‘true princes of the blood’ waiting for the right moment to gather up a motley band of followers and restore the glories of the old regime. People are isolated from one another by mutual mistrust, envy, and by tracts of untamed wilderness full of wild creatures, hostile tribes and strange phenomena. The desperate, the brave and the foolhardy scrabble in the ruins for lost objects of power. You’d better secure those for the greater good before vile miscreants loot them all.

The Gods Are Many, Strange, And Have The Best Candy
Gods rise and fall over the ages. Sometimes they disappear; sometimes rival gods, abominations, or adventurers kill and supplant them. The fallout of all this god-on-god violence is that there are various godly artefacts (Mjolnir, the Aegis, the Nemean Lionskin, etc.) scattered about the world waiting to fall into the right(?) hands.

The major faiths are:
  • The Pantheon of Twelve – A pantheon of fifteen (…or possibly 16, but who’s counting?) godlings. Some few are native to this world; but most have entered it either as a refuge, or as a new power base.
  • The Cults of the Demon Lords – Exactly what it says on the tin. They hate everything and want to burninate the world.
There are also innumerable ‘small gods’ in the world. Small gods are creatures that have taken advantage of the fact that with enough worship even the most humble things can partake of the power of divinity.

There are Cankers In The Skin Of The World
There are weak spots in the fabric of reality. Dungeons are not merely lairs or oversized basements: they are strange places, foci of arcane energy where the laws of the surface world gradually break down. Travelling deep into a true dungeon is almost like walking into a waking nightmare. For those with the knowledge and power it is a simple thing to slip from one layer of the multiverse to another. The Deep Ether, Astralspace, and the Shadowland are all open to the initiate. Be warned that portals to other planes, eras and dimensions (genres) are everywhere.

Magic Always Has A Cost
Beyond a certain level characters are capable of the patently impossible. They have invariably found a way to tap into the inherent magic of the world and have gained abilities that make them something more than human. However, using magic to force change on the world also inexorably changes the person using it. All power has a price, and being “Cursed with Awesome” is still a curse.

Destiny is For The Weak
There is no plot immunity and no guarantee that you will face ‘fair’ opposition; so pick fights carefully. If you face overwhelming numbers or creatures immune to normal weaponry there is no shame in bravely running away like sissy little girls. You can always come back later with reinforcements and heavier weaponry. Characters will suffer and some will die. But they will have the satisfaction of forging their own destiny through their own choices, words and deeds (I’m reliably informed that adversity just makes eventual triumph all the more satisfying). As Mike Mornard, who has played this game since 1974, put it:

“Remember the Conan story “Tower of the Elephant”? Remember the guy who went up the tower with Conan? Well, he thought HE was the hero of the story…right up until the giant spider killed him.”

Sunday, 22 March 2009

20th level, ho hum

“…the original D&D assumed an endgame where you would build your stronghold, acquire vassals and tenants, and become A Major Player In The World's Politics. That endgame seems to have virtually disappeared.”

-- Mike Mornard, hat tip to Sham for the quote.

One thing that 3E lacks that earlier editions of the game enjoyed is any sense of explicit, meaningful character progression within the game world. Sure the requisite components of such development are all there (level scaling abilities, ever-increasing wealth, the Leadership feat), but to someone coming new to the game there is no explicit declaration that "this is what you are capable of/should be doing at this level".

PCs have - at least by reading the rules as written - no social context beyond 'adventurer', and no meaningful benchmark of their ability to affect the world other than the system level mechanic of the Challenge Rating. As a result PCs in 3E exist, by default, in a solipsistic void. At 15th level characters are, by the RAW, just bigger, tougher versions of their 5th level selves doing the 'same old, same old' with bigger numbers (edition war flamebait: this applies in spades for 4E).

Now, back in the sepia-toned old days this sense of dislocation was explicitly not the case. Pre-WOTC D&D was divided up almost into a series of 'mini-games' (pace Keith and Frank). Although already implicit in OD&D this succession of ever-more involved challenges and potential character objectives was perhaps stated most explicitly in BECMI D&D:

  • Basic Set (levels 1-3) - Explore the dungeon. Get to understand the game rules
  • Expert Set (levels 4-14) - Explore the wilderness. Learn more about the game world.
  • Companion Set (levels 15-24) - Explore the world. Carve out and rule a domain.
  • Master Set (levels 25-36) - Explore the planes. Challenge the gods for immortality.

These expected play styles were specifically supported by new game rules introduced in each boxed set. Basic Set players didn't have to worry their pretty little heads about the world beyond the dungeon; and Expert Set players weren't required to know the cosmology of the multiverse inside-out. Some argue that the foci of attention of the Companion and Master boxes were a wrong turn for D&D; a game which - at its core - really was about looting treasure from ancient, trap-filled underworlds. I feel that this ignores the obvious pulp connections that even these sets had. Conan, Kane and John Carter all led armies and trampled the thrones of kings beneath their heel. Elric, Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser all travelled to other planes and fought or outwitted godlings. Sure, the quest for immortality might not be purest Vance; but it's definitely pulp heroic in feel.

So, for many years the expectation was that, at about 9th level, PCs in both Basic D&D and AD&D were supposed to establish a base of operation, gain a small army as a class ability, and set about subjugating those around them and reshaping the game world in their image. (I am not making this up. Go download Labyrinth Lord or OSRIC and look in the character section. It's all in there!) AD&D's "Birthright" setting had to muddy the waters a little by allowing you to play a ruler from level one, but the basic idea still held true: ruling the masses was part and parcel of the D&D experience. In the immortal words of Mel Brooke: "It's good to be king."

Come the advent of 3E and this intended progression from tomb-robber to explorer, then from local baron to conqueror, and finally to figure of legend was all but completely discarded in favour of MOAR POWAH!!! The "math is hard" aspects of ruling a fantasy kingdom, running a thieves guild, proselytising the heathen, or becoming a magus of power and renown were to be ditched in favour of adventurer (a wandering sword- or spell-slinger) becoming a permanent career in itself. I feel the game suffered greatly for this.

Whereas back in the day a high level character might be a figure of political importance who knew that utilising the right help (soldiers, assassins, sages, etc.) was part of the path to power; in D&D3 he was a dude with a big red S on his chest who didn't need any help saving the world because low level characters were naught but squishy pink blobs. And, let's face it, there are only so many stories you can tell about an invulnerable big blue boy scout.

True to the old axiom that players don't respect what can't hurt them, high-level characters in 3E D&D generally ended up acting like the new generation of supers in Alex Ross' "Kingdom Come" (capsule summation: thoughtless dickheads). Having no need of the proles, why should the PCs care about them? The tramp of PC-headed armies marching across the land in time to Anvil of Crom was replaced by the stirring chords of a certain John Williams anthem as players lived out Nietzschean power fantasies. And lo! the grognards wept for what was lost.

An unintended consequence of this superheroicisation ("Hey look ma, new coinage!") was the entire field of theoretical optimisation number-worshipping power wank. All sense of a scale of PC power in relation to ordinary human beings was lost. Rules lawyers darkened the face of the land like a plague of neckbearded, cheeto-stained locusts, 20th level became the new 'name' level, Pun-Pun arose from the Abyss, cattle died in the fields, grieving mothers wept, and the crocus did not bloom.

It may be tilting at windmills on my part (although the evil whirling birdmincers deserve it), but I hope there's a way to reconcile these two views of D&D progression to the possible enrichment of both. Wouldn't it be nice to have the flamboyence of 3E D&D, but tamed by the sensibilities and tastes of the old school? So here's a few suggestions from yours truly.

The four stages of play outlined for BECMI D&D above have a rough correspondence with the idea of there being four tiers of play in 3E D&D. I have seen these typified as:

Gritty1-5 Movie Conan, Kane, Indiana Jones
Pulp Heroic 6-10 XLG, Luther Arkwright, Judge Dredd, Lord of the Rings, The n Musketeers
Wuxia11-15Crouching Tiger, Hero, Nemesis the Warlock
Superhero 16-20Justice League, The Authority
[Godlike21+Thor, Chronicles of Amber, Sandman]

Characters within the same tier are generally a meaningful threat to one another.
Gratis LOTR example: named Orcs vs. members of the Fellowship, the cave troll vs. the Fellowship, generic humans vs. generic orcs

Those one tier removed are either mooks or impressive menaces.
LOTR example: generic Orcs vs. members of the Fellowship, Sam vs. Shelob

Two or more tiers removed means that the lower tiered character is - mathematically speaking - no meaningful threat to the more powerful. Lower tiered characters are, exceptional circumstances aside, no more than background colour, while higher tiered characters are little less than a force of nature.
LOTR example: the hobbits vs. the Nazgul, generic orcs vs. Ents, generic Rohirrim vs. Mumakil, etc.

When looked at this way even a 10th level character - a guy who in D&D-land has his own keep, generally flies around on a griffon, goes toe-to-toe with giants, consorts with wish granting genies, or can kill with a word - is suddenly a big deal again. He's not a partially complete ‘build’ (and boy do I hate that particular piece of jargon); he's already a power in the land in his own right.

So, given that 10th level characters are able to bellow “Kneel before Zod!” at ordinary people without class levels, that does this do for the game? When the numbers on the character sheet are translated back into the game actions they are supposed to represent you can quite clearly see that Mr 10th-level McBadass can do more or less what he likes to lower tier characters. Said group comprising – at least if you ascribe to Justin Alexander’s Calibrating Your Expectations article (some don’t, but they’ve never offered me an explanation that amounted to more than “Baaaaw! Butthurt!”) – every human who has ever lived in our world. The greatest historical heroes and geniuses in history are not a patch on Mr 10th-level McBadass.

The thing is, there are still a select group of rare and powerful characters and creatures out there that are to Mr 10th-level Badass what he is to the tier 1 peons. There are guys in 3E's version of D&D-land who, according to the Core rules (let alone the Epic Level Joke Book), are seriously able to tell four Pit Fiends a day to take a number and get in line to wait for their kicking! How on Earth does one go about becoming that absurdly hardcore? Surely it takes more than just grinding mobs?

One idea that I saw suggested by always excellent Philotomy is that of progressing beyond 10th level has a cost to the character (hat tip to Pat Armstrong for the link). In essence the idea runs that anyone over 10th level or so has progressed beyond the bounds of normal human ability, usually by investing themselves with magical power. As befits the pulpy ethos of old(-ish) school gaming, magic in the Vaults game is an inherently perilous thing. Its barely contained power inevitably and inexorably warps the physique, psyche and spirit of those who tap into its power.

So, that’s all those mad wizards, fate-cursed warlords, tragic anti-heroes, vampire nobles, and villains warped into monstrous forms explained in one fell swoop. What's next?

A house rule I might institute is that characters above 10th level have to bond themselves in some manner in exchange for power beyond the normal human limits. I’m not thinking in terms of the execrable “Weapons of Gimping Legacy” nonsense, but perhaps more in terms of thematically appropriate stuff that adds to the character flavour without imposing specific numerical penalties. Just off the top of my head:
  • geases (as in the celtic taboo, rather than the spell)
  • tying life essence to a specific weapon or object
  • physical immersion or spiritual connection to fonts of power
  • leeching the spiritual essences of others in a quasi-vampiric manner
  • becoming the focus of a hero cult
  • entering dark pacts with demons, a god or elder beings
This would all help to tie characters more strongly to factions, events, locations and totemic objects within the game; largely for the simple, cynical reason that most players actually honestly care where their next hit of character power comes from. They salivate like Pavlov’s dogs at the thought of that next level. It also allows the DM easy access to themes of temptation, hero-worship, hunger for power, and the costs of same.

The variant experience system I’m using (Berin Kinsman's session-based system) means that characters will generally reach 10th level after about a year of weekly game play (rather than haring through 20 levels in a year as 3E and its' red-haired offspring "Pathfinder" are apparently geared for). Beyond 10th level Berin's mod suggests another 50-odd sessions of play to reach 14th level, then another 50 to reach 17th, then another 50 to reach 20th. Yes, that's a lot of playing time to devote to a single character. In effect it's a cap (albeit a soft one) on level advancement. But then, as I see it, advancing beyond the 10th level threshold into the sunny uplands of high-level power is intended to be slow, demanding and arduous.

Top this slowed rate of advancement off with the aforementioned gradual dehumanisation through the seduction of power, and you've an instant recipe for grim pulp heroism goodness.


version 2 - edited 23/03/09

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Benchmarking for the Lazy DM

I understand that to a lot of the blognards any sense of 'scaling' the world to fit the characters (rather than having them learn when to cut-and-run through bitter experience) is anathema. I'd like to be that hardcore myself, but - if truth be told - I still feel a certain worry that I might accidentally stack the odds against the PCs just too much. Sure, intentionally throwing "beyond your meagre abilities" things into the dungeon has its place; but doing so accidentally can leave you as a DM with egg on your face and a bunch of cheesed off players reaching for character sheets.

This is my personal at-a-glance guide to assigning DCs during play:
DescriptorDifficulty ClassMental Shorthand
Easylvl+5Fail on a 1
Routinelvl+10"Odds are in your favour"
Hardlvl+20"Probably not"
Demandinglvl+25Succeed on a 20
Nigh impossiblelvl+30 (or more)"In your dreams"

Given the proliferation of bonus types in the higher levels of 3E I also modify the DCs of skill checks to take into account skill boosting items, feats and suchlike:
LevelDifficulty Class

Challenging is intended as the benchmark of 50/50 success or failure for level appropriate, class-specific things. So a first level character can usually expect about a 50/50 change of success at DC16 if the test is of something the character is expected to be good at (beating AC for fighter types, making will saves for casters, achieving skill DCs for skillmonkeys, etc.). By comparison a 20th level character could expect to consider a DC 55 (lvl+15+20) skill check or a DC 35 save (lvl+15) a 50/50 thing within his field of expertise.

Readers still awake at this point will notice that, yes, the suggested DCs for skill checks given above do contradict the upper ranges of the table of suggested DCs found in the holy writ that is the DMG. But then, when was the last time you played a high-level character who found the suggested "Nigh Impossible" DC 40 a real stretch?


edit: I know, I know. Blogger hates, and fails to understand, tables. I'm working on it.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Skills - Some Ponderings on Bonuses

Skills in 3E have been bugging me for some time. I look at the multiple pages in the PHB, the horrors of skill synergy, the almost wholly nonsensical variation in utility, and something inside me shudders and dies a little. The 3E skill system might be an improvement on non-weapon proficiencies (now there's a classic Gygaxism for ya!), but the system is still a horrible dogs dinner of a thing.

Compare, for example, points sinks like Heal, Intimidate, Knowledge:Nobility, Profession{Anything}, or Use Rope when compared to actually useful things like Sense Motive, Spot, Tumble, or UMD. That's quite aside from the accidental win button that is the 3.5 version of Diplomacy.

"So Mr Advancing PC, would you like another 5% chance to recognize some heraldry, or would you prefer some real skills that might actually see use in the game we're supposed to be playing?"
It's a bit of a no-brainer, eh?

Now, I've already made something of a start on rendering 3E skills a little less scattergun (increasing stingy skill points allowances, cutting the list from 40+ to ~20 or so), but there's still a lot I'd like to change to make skill use faster and more meaningful in play.

My particular gripe today is against skill bonuses. These are - not to put too fine a point on it - demented. By the RAW a player can graft away building up his character's innate skill ranks for 10 levels or so, and some bozo with a single skill rank and a few K in gold can breeze past him thanks to a low level spell or some ridiculously underpriced skill boost item. Not only that, but there are no effective caps on skill bonuses. As a direct result of this the bonus stacking paradign of 3E gives us the horror of the +100 skill bonus before 10th level (and +220 by 20th), as well as the triumph of rules lawyerism over gentlemanly play that is the Diplomancer build.

Skills being so cheaply and easily boosted it has somehow been decided (probably by the same putzes who feel small in the pants if 'mundane' characters can outdo 'magic' characters at...well, anything) that skills shaln't be allowed to scale in a meaningful way. Skill monkeys must stay within the bounds of mundane capabilties while their caster buddies go haring gleefully off into crazy town at higher levels.

So skills are worthless because they're so easily boosted to absurd levels, and can be easily boosted because skill don't do anything fun or interesting. Seems like a vicious circle to me.

My personal fix: Cap skill bonuses...

(*waits for the outraged squealing to die down*)

...and allow skills to do level appropriate things at high levels.


Max skill = skill ranks + innate bonuses + capped bonuses + untyped bonuses.
  • Skill ranks: These are as we already know them. Max = lvl+3 (1/2 that for CC skills)
  • Innate bonuses: Ability and Racial modifiers only. Derive from qualities inherent to the character. Even if buck naked and out of luck on an ice floe somewhere a character will still enjoy the benefit of these.
  • Untyped bonuses: bonuses with the untyped descriptor. These, by the RAW, already stack with themselves and everything else.
  • Capped bonuses: All other bonus types. Maximum is capped at a level = skill ranks.
The rationale behind capping most bonus types is that a character of limited skill simply doesn't have the experience and know-how to exploit all the possible advantageous conditions open to him. Someone with 4 skill ranks shouldn't be able to co-ordinate 6 different situational bonuses.

Net result: skill ranks mean something again, and a semi-hard limit on skill DCs now exists. That makes scaling by level much less of a downright arbitrary exercise, and means that skill monkeys can now have nice level-appropriate things to do at high level. Tangentially: note, even the expanded skill uses in the Epic Level Joke Book are things that should be available to pre-Epic characters.

More on this anon.
Thoughts please?

Alchemy Revisited, or "They call me *Mr* Paracelsus"

Alchemy as written in 3E - 3.5 especially - is terrible. It suffers from the idiotic 'only magic can be awesome' philosophy that afflicted the entire skills chapter, and arguably most of the edition. Heck, even 4E did alchemy better! (and my personal opinion of 4E as a system varies between "nice idea, shame about the execution" and "kill it with fire!")

The throwaway rules given in the SRD really don't do justice to the historical and literary antecedents of alchemy (and the Epic Level Joke Book only made things worse). The fact is that even though Tindertwigs - aka 'matchsticks' - may impress lost tribes in New Guinea, but they don't really convey the wonder and mystery of a magical medieval fantasy world to people who live surrounded by the technological miracles of 21st century western society. Ditto Thunderstones, tanglefoot bags, smokesticks, and the other barely relevant guff introduced in the Complete splatbooks.

Alchemical flares, flash-bangs and such are simply naff to the point of irrelevance in a game where mid-to-high level characters are going wuxia on one another, whipping up artillery support from bat guano, or bronc-busting creatures of legend to ride around on. Let alchemy do cool and mechanically meaningful things above about 2nd level, and people might just have a reason to respect it and invest skill points in it.

What? You think things like oils of pure darkness, vials of captured time, petrifying powders and dust of antimagic are too 'magical' for the non-casters to play with? Ok, enjoy your caster wank. Ctrl+W will close this tab for you.

All snideyness aside my personal ideal is that a high level character specialising in alchemy should be able to throw together alchemical reagents to create effects similar in scope, scale and wow! factor to the retributive strike from a staff of power. The image of a beleaguered alchemist smashing together two foaming demijohns of glowing liquid and having his own tower (and half the besieging demonic army storming it) blown off the map is classic high fantasy.

So here's what I suggest:

Allow alchemists (that is, people who have invested skill ranks in the Craft (Alchemy) skill) to create level appropriate one-shot minor magic items. These would be limited to thematically-appropriate things like potions, oils, magical grenades, philters of love, and some minor wondrous items. As the creator increases in level they delve deeper into the esoteric nature of matter and master the secrets the alkahest, the elixir of life, the transmutation of metals, and even the composition of the fabled philosopher's stone.

There are limits of course. Alchemy should be confined to (mainly) evocation, necromantic, or transmutation effects. There is little however little precedent for alchemical versions of magic jar, planar binding, teleportation, or the like.

Base DC = 15 + 2 x CL required to create effect.
Modified as follows:

Effect desired not a known spell:+5
Effect desired not part of class spell list:+5
Character is a non-caster:+5
The price to create alchemical items is per the magic item creation rules in the SRD.

Note: I use the Tome Series level limit on item creation IMG. This limits a character to creating only a single magic item of his full CL per character level. Any number of items may be created at CL-4.

That means a 9th level non-caster alchemist would be able to create a one-use globe of stinking cloud as a CL5 item. The crafting DC would be (base 15 + 2xCL5 + 5 + 5 + 5 = ) 40.
A 9th level caster class alchemist who had stinking cloud as a known spell would be able to create an identical item at a DC of (base 15 +2xCL = ) 25.

Thoughts please?

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Understatement of the Day

"The sun is for an unknown reason, a black hole. To prevent all life on earth from freezing to death, wizards lit the moon on fire. It works as the sun basically, but now I've complicated things."
-- seen on Rich Burlew's GITP forums

I have no idea where to even start with this. A singularity for an orbital primary, with a burning moon as energy source, and probably some screwy axial tilt too. It's either the single greatest setting idea in history, or the all-time daftest...or possibly both.

My Ten Favourite Monsters

"Hmmmm. Many bandwagon pass this way kimosabe."

10: Goblins
I have killed more characters with these screeching little maniacs than I've had hot dinners. Heck, I've killed characters in sci-fi games with goblins. WFRP. WowCraft. Rokugani. Pathfinder. Whatever your flavour, everthing's better with added goblins!

9: Blue Dragons
What's scarier than a dragon breathing fire on your poor sorry earthbound monkey butt? A dragon that shoots lightning from its mouth (and probably fireballs out its' erse). Blue dragons are living thunderstorms. Consult your inner geek: you know they're cool.

8: Winter Wolves
I always loved the Norse myths, and there's just something primal about these guys. A slavering pack of giant wolves that hunt you down across foggy moors and then literally freeze your breath in your throat.

7: Fire Giants
Another favourite from Norse myth. The sons of Surtr. They spend their days in volcano forges crafting the weapons they will use to crush the world of men. They sound like the Isengard music from the LOTR movies, and they want to burn the world.

6: Iron Golem
As animated by Ray Harryhausen. Breathes poison gas and crushes all in its path. Yeah, it's just that awesome.

5: Kraken
The Dragger Down. The dweller in the depths. The stuff of nightmares. If you're being all "MM1 only!" pedantic about it then substitute Giant Squid/Octopus. Either way, malicious giant cephalopods ftw.

4: Mummy
Vampires? Too Bela Lugosi for my tastes. Liches? If I wanted deathly, foul-smelling bibliophiles I'd go to the FLGS. Zombies? Dialogue is too limited. The ancient dead were first and are still the best. Plus they have the best aesthetic. All hail King Tut!

3: Type III Demon
It's a giant dog-headed demon with pincer arms sprouting from its chest. I thought it was cool when I was 13, I still think it's cool now. The Type III is what every blood-soaked idol in a smoky cult temple should look like.
(The DiTerlizzi illustration in the "Planescape" monster book did the beast no justice and does. not. exist. Got it?)

2: Aboleth
I first read about these guys in the 1E Dungeoneer's Survival Guide. I was hooked. Then I read their monster write-up in the MM2. I had a new favourite ancient evil from the depth. Illithids? Kuo-Toa? Sorry, who?

1: Sahuagin
Pick out your 1E Monster Manual. Open to the Sahuagin entry. Read it. There are highly-intelligent evil devil-worshipping mutant Atlanteans living in the oceans, and they like to farm the coast dwellers like humans do fish. They have whole kingdoms down there, and they're smarter than us.
Read China Mieville's "The Scar". His grindylow <==> my sahuagin.

Money in the Vaults Game

D&D has a long and dishonourable history of treating things that are rare and precious as little more than vendor trash. Bad comedy like coins that weighed 1/10th of a pound, and the effective worthlessness of low denomination coinage beyond 1st level (typified as “grab the gold and platinum, leave the junk”) resulted in ridiculousness of people having to spend a cartload of gold on their training and living expenses.

Some people (“Hi Jeff. Hi Sham”) are happy to embrace the absurdity for the sake of old school authenticity, but my preference is to throw out the stupidity of the D&D monetary system (and replace it with new and improved stupidity of my own devising).

“So that’s 200 pounds of gold for rent and training costs… WHAT?!”

First off the base coinage needs poking with the screwdriver. Back in the sepia-tinted days of 1E coins in D&D-land were supposed to be 10 to the pound. In fact this coin weight (abbreviated ‘cn’) was the standard measure of encumbrance. There were doubtless good game play reasons for this, but it sticks in my craw to imagine that a D&D copper piece is larger, and 60% heavier, than a £5 coin. 3E moderated the sheer gas-huffing insanity by reducing coins to 50 to the lb (a little more than the weight of a modern British 50p piece), which made them big enough to be visually impressive (see the illustration on pp 168 of the 3.5 PHB), but small and light enough to be used by humans.

3E’s simplification of the coinage system (“Bye-bye electrum, you screwy nowt-nor-sommat metal!”) did nothing to fix the sheer b0rkage of value scaling. Apparently in D&D-land a copper penny – the smallest small change available - has a purchasing power 1/100th that of gold.

Eh? Two cents worth of copper is worth 1/100th of $260 dollars of gold. That needs fixing.

So here’s my personal fix for phat lewts in D&D. It’s nice and simple, and retains a decimal counting system, so anyone intimidated by British old money needn’t flee the scene with their head afire, screaming that all is lost and a madman is on the loose. ;)

Copper coins retain their existing value

These new coppers are the same value as old coppers, but are shrunk so that there are 250 to the lb (about the weight of a British penny). This turns the copper piece into proper small change, which, even if it doesn’t redeem it from the status of ignored trash, at least redeems it from being the subtle encumbrance trap that OOTS talked about.
Historical aside: as late as the 19th century the British Royal Mint refused to coin in copper, deeming small change too lowly and fiddly to bother with. As people still needed copper coinage for low value purchases (food, beer, etc.) private local mints started to issue copper tokens of exchange that could be redeemed at nominated agents (banks, coin dealers, even breweries) for true legal tender. Selgin’s “Good Money”.

Bronze pieces replace silver
These are standard coin size (50/lb), which is a pretty big chunk of change. As a comparison a British reader might want to stack two 2p pieces; that’s what a bronze piece weighs.

Silver coins replace gold
I’ll state that explicitly: the sp is the new gp (waits for the uproar to die down). There are a couple of reasons for this grotesque heresy.

1) There is historical precedent for using silver as a primary coinage. Spanish pesos were silver, and they were the nearest thing to a universal coinage that the real world ever had.
2) Silver is a precious metal in its own right, and should be something more than yawn-worthy small change after the first couple of levels. Bear in mind that before the grotesque inflation of the 20th century a silver dollar or British crown was serious money in it own right.

Contemporary comparison: take a British 50p piece (or, even better, an old half crown), feel the heft of it. Now imagine that coin is enough to buy a decent meal for two. That’s a D&D silver.

Gold coins replace platinum
Historically gold has only been used for high value coins. It is not something that even the flashest of Flash Harries gives to a beggar. Increasing the purchasing power of gold by a factor of 10 puts it into something like the relationship that historical gold coins like the British sovereign or the French Louis d’Or had with their equivalent small change.

At the time of writing (March 2009) a troy ounce of gold is worth ~$900, or about $260 per 1/50th lb. Yes, your humble D&D gp really is a major store of value in its own right. When put in that perspective gold is a big deal again, and a chest of gold (you know, the proverbial king’s ransom) really is a treasure wholly worth talking about.

Amounts in platinum are divided by 10
Platinum is rare and noteworthy. It was only discovered in the real world in the 1550s (and not subjected to scientific analysis before the 1740s) and, even in D&D land, something 10 times as valuable as gold should be rare and precious. As a DM I intend to make finding platinum – a metal no longer minted by modern smiths – a significant event in its own right.

New Currency Conversion Table
1 cp =1/10 bp
10 cp =1 bp =1/10 sp
100 cp =10 bp =1 sp =1/10 gp
1,000 cp =100 cp =10 sp =1 gp1/10 pp
10,000 cp =1,000 bp =100 sp =10 gp =1 pp

No, stop looking at the gp column. Silver is the new coinage standard. Gold is the rare and precious treasure that you go rooting around in tombs to find.

Note: For ease of understanding these values apply in my own games only. On this blog I’ll use the values that we all know and love from the SRD.

Cash in Bulk
“Can’t we melt these stupid coins down into something more portable?”

Money can found in coinage (1/50th lb) or in 2,000 coin treasury bars (40lb, approx 3 stones) for major purchases. Bars are an old friend of mine from Birthright days. I don’t know about you, but I always felt that the figures in the Stronghold Builders Guide and the Epic Level Joke Book could do with a few zeroes knocked off them. Having gold and silver bars, and even bronze ingots, knocking about allows you to build castles and the like while keeping the numbers within the realms of finger counting.

"So that's 280,000gp at 12,000gp a month..." or "So that's 140 bars at 6 bars a month..." Which do you find easier? Remember folks: spreadsheets are for work; not for fun. ;)

Beyond the Gold Standard
"There's nothing here but money. What a waste of time that was!"

So what do you do around the mid-high levels when even chests of gold and foot-high platinum idols doesn't get the PCs excited anymore? That's when 'power as currency' comes into play. I know some 4th Ed players talk about ‘gold at heroic levels, platinum at paragon, astral diamonds at epic level’ and, although I for one think of this as the ravings of a world entirely divorced from any connection with either history or heroic fantasy (at least as I know it), there is something to be said for having incredibly costly portable stores of value in a high fantasy setting. Fortunately D&D has low bulk, high value lewts in spades.

Gems – 100-5K gp
These have been around since at least 1E. And nothing else quite says big score like a ruby the size of your fist.

Ioun Stones – 4K-40K gp
Gems with added extra-planar power. What’s not to like? You know a guy is hardcore when he has the value of a kingdom orbiting his head.

Gem of Rebirth – ~20K gp
A one-shot contingent resurrection effect bound into a gem of 10K gp value (thereby acting as its own material component). Even if you can only carry one, how useful…

Power Components – value varies
Let’s say you know that a player wants to create a particular magic item (eg: a staff of earth). Why not have him quest for the eyes of a basilisk, the heart stone of a Gelab Duhr, a handful of elemental True Earth, or the finger bones of a great dwarven mason? Each of these has an XP value that discounts that of the item he, or someone willing to trade for them, wants to create. In effect, character power in the form of loot. And what’s more D&D than becoming stronger by killing and looting?

Planar Currencies – value varies
Planescape had planar pearls, 4E has astral diamonds. The Tome Series gave us incomplete (but really quite obvious with a little thought about power components) rules for the use of soul gems, Hope, Inspiration, and Raw Chaos. One currency for each of the four alignments, each especially suited to the creation of effects that match its alignment. The reagents quests practically write themselves!

Wishes – 25K gp
The wish spell as written in the SRD is ludicrously exploitable. Recently I’ve started using the Tome Series version of wish as the Stone of Jordan benchmark of the high level economy. Basically the Tome Series version of wish limits summoned creatures like Efreeti to casting “no XP cost effects” only (it's here, under "No Wishing for More Wishes"), and big and important people are happy to use (planar?) binding promissory notes issued by extra planar entities able to cast these wishes as a medium of exchange with a set value.

“The Sultan of All the Efreet / The Infernal Throne / The Celestial Bureaucracy (delete as appropriate) promises to pay the bearer on demand the sum of one wish.”

note: Bat in the Attic talks about money in his games here. What do you know: looks like I accidentally re-invented the monetary system from Harn. Oops.

terminal note added 24/03/09

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Homebrew Charsheet

Just uploaded to orbitfiles two versions of the character sheet I hacked together for the Vaults of Nagoh campaign. There's a classic A4 two page sheet for the traditionalists, and a four page double-sided A5 sheet with some quick-ref stuff on the inner pages. Anyone familiar with The Mad Irishman's excellent character sheets will see more than a little of his influence on my work.

edit: nasty horrible .doc bad joke format replaced with real peoples' .pdf files. "Sorray abart tha'."

Non-profit, non-commercial, suchlike legalistic jargon.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Vaults of Nagoh Mod ver0.3

Just uploaded to orbitfiles the latest version of the houserules intended for use in the Vaults of Nagoh campaign. What you make of them is entirely your own affair.

Non-profit, non-commercial, suchlike legalistic jargons.
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