Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Review - Wonder and Wickedness

The Cover Includes this Cut Beastie
So Brendan of Necropraxis has released a product into the OSR o’verese, and this makes me very happy.  I can’t say this is a completely non-biased review, as I have great fondness for Brendan as a creator of game content, have played in many of his games and plunder his ideas with Mongol like ferocity and persistence.  All that said I am not always a fan of every rule change Brendan proposes and his relentless drive to pare everything down to its minimal mechanical elements (I suspect the man may dream in game mechanics) doesn’t always gladden my drunken baroque heart, so I feel I can pass judgment on Wonder & Wickedness as it is deserved in this review.  I paid full price for the product (as I tend to do), so it’s not as if my ethics have been suborned by the offer of free game product (could they be?  I really doubt it).

Wonder & Wickedness is effectively a modular "bolt on" spell system for your older style fantasy roleplaying game, composed of unleveled spell lists and an efficient minimalist approach to gaming magic that emphasizes the fictional idea of magic as inherent creepiness, chaos and corruption while trying to use the most elegant and simple rules possible.  It’s some spell lists, a magic system, magic items and an ethos.  Wonder & Wickedness would likely work best for a game based around OD&D power levels and mechanics, but is not exclusive to any system.  The book is also worth reading for other fantasy games, because mechanically it’s simple and evocative, meaning those who prefer more mechanically complex systems may have to adapt it, but they won’t find anything that is tied to another system and will find plenty of good ideas about running magic as a scary, powerful art with a distinct undertone of mystical foulness.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

HMS Apollyon Player's Manual - Alchemist Subclass

The practice of Alchemy is at once one of both the most practical and the most mystical of the schools of magic.  A rigorous academic study Alchemy seeks to transform and modify the objects and elements of the everyday world (as opposed to controlling, binding and allying with their essences – the goal of elementalism)  for the benefit of the Alchemist’s individual body and soul as well as the creation of the “Magnum Opus”, a great work, most often an artifact of great power: The philosopher’s stone, offering eternal life, the universal solvent, capable of dissolving the bonds of magic and reality or Azoth, a universal medicine capable of raising the dead and curing any ailment.

Beside their contributions to the great work, Alchemists practice a form of magic less dependent on syphoning power directly from ley-lines or their own will and capable of using less power to gain similar effects by magically altering everyday objects.  Where an elementalist would bind a fragment of fire to an enemy causing him to burst into flame, and an thaumaturge lash out with a hard won tendril of pure unreality as a weapon, an alchemist will fling a specially enchanted dagger or sling bullet that seeks out and strikes the target (perhaps triggering some sort of chemical combustion reaction on impact).  As a result of the importance of mundane items in their work, Alchemists have many useful skills related to machinery, poisons and technology.  The Alchemist’s practicality is often lampooned by other magic PR actioners, and the caricature of an Alchemist, crushed under the burdens of his tinker’s tools, engineer’s kit, chemist’s glasses and disorganized research notes is a stock one amongst the schools of academic magic, mocking those with lesser talent for wielding raw power  but perhaps greater adaptability and genius.  It is a rare group of scavengers that doesn’t prize an Alchemist’s presence as his magic is no less effective for being tied to mundane objects and his broad knowledge of the sciences is often proves more helpful at avoiding danger then the puissance of a more focused sorcerer.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Haunted Dungeon - a series of tables

One of Goya's creepier etchings
Sarin the Mambo immediately knew something was wrong as the familiar hatch swung open. The pair of Shrine Fanatics, their unarmored bodies covered in devotional tattoos of ancient mechanical schematics - meanings lost, but the ancient clean lines still a lure to protective spirits of the vessel - could even sense something uncanny.  The two men, emboldened by the priestess' presence, cranked away at the hatch’s manual override wheel, but their loud chanting of the 537th sutra to the Prime Engine shrank to a whisper. Beyond the hatch, the formerly domesticated companionway leading to a slaughterhouse and several large, elementally powered meat freezers was wreathed in fog, fog and utter wrongness.  Sarin’s various fetishes of the Winding Gear, her patron, felt as if they were vibrating atop her armor and her frail elderly hand tightened involuntarily on the cord that held the heavy mace to her gauntlet.

Sarin didn’t even need to borrow the eyes of the Winding Gear spirit that “rode” her and filled her with its power to see that there was foul magic beyond the hatch.  It was as if death, hate and sorrow were pushing out from the peeling wall papers of the companionway beyond, weeping from around every bent rivet in the companionway walls beneath, and dripping like curdled oil from the ceiling.  The fog was the worst of it, light from the lanterns held by the Mambo’s companions would not penetrate more than a few feet into the shifting miasma whose swirls and eddies gave an impression of intentional, malicious movement.

The slaughterhouse had gone bad, and those who had died within had not merely risen as common revenants or individual spirits, but instead corrupted the whole of the region, the fear and horrors of their deaths leaking into the walls and fixtures of the slaughterhouse to turn the entire area into an expression of hate, fear and a deep abiding sense of betrayal that sought with inchoate fury to punish the living for its multitude of deaths.    

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Starting Minor Magical Items For Darkly Haunted Noble Characters


A List of unique starting magical items for noble characters in my (admittedly underdeveloped) Fallen Empire setting.  Alternatively I suppose these are the minor items one finds in the crumbled ruins of decadent high-magic mansion, where thousands of years of ease and glory have given way to rot and rodents.

Your house has fallen, not once, not even twice, but like a tottering drunk, tumbling endlessly, colliding with fixed obstacles, cowering from imagined enemies and unprepared to face tomorrow.  Why do you alone see it? Your elders, the family head, the old retainers, the children, and even your peers are blind, wrapped up in false glories and an imagined past. While they sit in dark worm eaten parlors, clutching the greasy and threadbare arms of their patched tapestried thrones and waiting for the Empire’s return to fortune, you have calmly laid out the need for change.  Over meals of what were once decorative carp but are now your rubbery repast carved up on golden plates, you have shouted and raved for action.  In the mossy dripping blackness of the overgrown topiary garden you’ve intrigued and schemed.   

Your efforts have come to naught, your warnings, your rumor mongering, your pleas and prayers cannot move the fixed inertia of a Millennium's propriety and tradition.  Now there is only flight, clutching poorly prepared supplies and rushing for the unknown world beyond the mansions and spires.

Note the illustration are from a 1940's edition of Wuthering Heights (If the swarthy gentleman digging up a grave marked Catherine didn't clue you in.)

Sunday, November 30, 2014

More Specialist Skills


Below is a list of skills that I intend to use for my HMS Apollyon games, it includes variants (Legerdemain, Stealth, Acrobatics, Tinker and Search) of the standard ones found (often limited to thieves) in most D&D/D20 systems.  Specifically Ive modeled these on the LOTFP system of X in 6 chance of success. I personally like this far better than the percentile system simply as it feels simpler and can shift more readily with level gain, especially in a system where high level play isnt common, or level is capped at 10th (As it is in my own Apollyon Game, and as it seems to be by the nature of LOTFP play).  These skills do a couple things that I like.  First they offer variability to the thief class, and other classes as well a ranger need not be a separate class, but perhaps just a fighter or specialist with a focus on Animal Handling and Survivial.  Second they allow me to provide alternatives to certain first level spells while keeping those spells useful.  Last they provide some mechanical tests for certain types of odd activities or provide an element of random failure/success for other popular adventurer activities (such as collecting monster poison).

There is a debate to be had regarding the use of skills, including all the classic Thieves Skills because its often opined that rolling dice to solve a problem rather than allowing the players to use their creativity to figure out the puzzle involved diminishes one of the best aspects of tabletop gaming.  However, I think these skill are mostly limited to areas where some mechanical component is necessary.  There should be some mechanical component to certain activities that cant be part of player skill, but are obvious elements of character knowledge. Specifically things that specialists (or other subclasses) know that cannot be readily known by players and which have a mechanical import.  The most clear example of this sort of skill is something like Arcana or Tinker as no game Ive been in has available locks to pick or secret languages to focus hermeneutic knowledge on.  Moreover, focusing on these tasks for too long detracts from the play of other players who arent figuring out the lock puzzle or deciphering the secret inscription.  On the other end is something like the Search which really should be easy to model with player knowledge (I pull on the candle holder, I dig through the refuse pile etc.) but demands a great deal of knowledge by the GM regarding things like secret door mechanisms and what sort of dungeon dressing is scattered about (both to conceal valuables and to provide pointless things to search).  

A GM cant always have these things, but a good module should make efforts at description with this in mind.  Rather than saying secret door in North wall something like twisting a torch holder (one of several) on the North wall clockwise will cause a latch to snap open and reveal the secret door on the North Wall.  Yet this isnt always possible, and sometimes describing the wide variety of cruff on the floor of a goblin lair that the party can dig through is not a good use of game time.  In these cases a skill is helpful.  Skills also have an advantage of being clear about time and risk, with each skill roll taking one turn (10 minutes roughly but who knows in a game using an overloaded encounter die - as opposed to the Gygaxian strict timekeeping), a roll on a random encounter/exploration die and a clear risk reward calculation for the players.  

It is for this reason, the encounter roll, that unless there are compelling circumstances I dont bother with catastrophic failures for character failure with skills.  Its usually just wasted time, though in some circumstances (trying to stealth past alert guards, trying to run up a wall Kung Fu movie style in combat, trying to disarm a ticking bomb or doing emergency surgery on a dying comrade) there are obvious consequences.

The ultimate point is that I like these skills and find they add aspects to the game, specifically a deeper, faction based exploration game, especially in that they both encourage players to use their skills a character with a survival skill will try to identify local flora, because they can and allow the creation of a wider variety of character types.  Specialists need not simply be magsmen, sneak thieves or an assassin, but can be tinkers, scholars, charlatans and doctors.  While the descriptions below are written with my own Apollyon Setting in mind I think they can be generally applicable to most exploration based settings.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Carousing Tables - HMS Apollyon Player's Guide


The scavenger lifestyle is one of contrasts, danger and deprivation can lead to a sudden influx of luxurious amounts of cash, and a corresponding amount of fear, and bad memories.  Most scavengers don’t think of the future if they can help it, given that their future most likely involves a horrible terrifying death somewhere down a decaying gangway.  The most common way to avoid thinking about the inevitable during downtime between expeditions is to carouse with the abandon of the doomed.  As wounds heal, memories fade and wealth dwindles Scavengers may spend up to their Level x 100GP on carousing from one of the three tables below between sessions.
Carousing can provide additional experience, either directly or by providing time for reflection on the events of recent expeditions.  More often than not any sage advice, or personal revelation is lost to the haze of drugs, violence, lust and the ever present drinking of the Rust Gate’s bars and food stands.  Before carousing the player chooses which type of vices their character will seek: debauchery, lust, or violence, and spending their stake, a scavenger must roll a save vs. poison and a D20.  On a successful save the scavenger gains an addition XP equal to the GP spent on carousing, while on failure the carouser gains no XP.   Regardless of the result of the first roll the carouser   then rolls on the appropriate table.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Undead as a Playable Class - HMS APOLLYON Player's Guide

A play generated race/class for my HMS Apollyon game - the creepy mostly undead Draugr.  This class is the result of a party of adventurers undertaking a mission on behalf of a lunatic lich they met and befriended within the hull.  In exchange for wealth and magic the party smuggled a pair of the necromancer's "children" into Sterntown, allegedly for the edification and education of these undead thralls. 

The Draugr

There is no crime in Sterntown greater than the practice of Necromancy.  While murder, theft, racketeering and fraud are all conditional, depending on the victim and the perpetrator, necromancy is forbidden to all and punished harshly with mutilation, exile and death.  The reason for this draconian rule rises from the history and fears of Sterntowners, both the Upper Deck’s elite and the masses of crew struggling to survive in the ship’s rusting bowels.   The risen dead a force to be feared aboard the Apollyon: The Ash Plague and its Ghoul Kings, the spirits of Sterntown’s unquiet dead and even the revenants that rise unintelligent and obsessed from  bodies left to rot in the cursed waters within the ship’s hold.  All undead are dangerous, and over the ages they have tirelessly worn down humanity’s hold on the vessel.  The War Amidship and retreat to Sterntown is still a fresh memory, with its loss of most human industrial capacity, the decimation of the Marines and the deaths of at least 60% of the population, but it is only the most recent victory in a slow war between living and dead.

Yet necromancy has a long history amongst Sterntown’s magic practioners, and was one of the most widely practiced magical arts amongst the sorcerous class when the ship was lost, before the Passenger cabals arose blending their blood with that of strange outsider entities to assure their progenies’ magical potency.  Some echoes of these times remain and there are still necromancers hidden amongst all classes in Sterntown, as the art is both easy and seductive compared to some other forms of magic.  These renegade necromancers create servants, but are careful to hide their existence; each necromancer thinking they are clever enough to avoid detection and gain power as the madness of their craft slowly takes hold.  Likewise the Ash Plague does not rest, and amongst its Kings and Queens the more sane and crafty have raised spies, assassins and agents that can easily pass for living men and women.

These undead parodies of life, whether agents of the Ash Plague, servants of hidden magus’, or undead thralls who have slipped their bonds and outlived their masters are known as Draugr, and exist hidden amongst the population of Sterntown, concealing their nature and eking out a marginal existence.  Many of these dead find their way into Scavenging gangs, as their natural abilities make them useful for dealing with other undead and the largely unregulated world of scavenging provides a chance to avoid official scrutiny, explain their odd appearances (scavengers always end up a bit off, being exposed to the horrors of the hull), and potentially contact their handlers amongst the Ash Plague.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Carcosans and Setting Thoughts on Carcosa


Some for some reason I’ve been rolling up Carcosans lately.  Here are their character sheets:

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Tomb of the Rocketmen - AREA III - The Encysted Tomb

AREA III - Encysted Tomb
Tiny glimmers of bioluminescent fungus scattered about the room most is reddish, but with some purple and yellowish green.
Rot overpowered by a cloying perfume odor.
Wall Fungus is infectious and poisonous
8 Tomb behind the wall fungus may contain treasures
2 Mobile Growths and 6 Zombies guard this chamber

The ladder enclosed in the white ceremicrete tube leading from AREA IV or AREA V is divided by a small landing when it reaches this chamber, and an obvious exit hatch that is notable only for the large red star and skull stenciled onto it.  Close examination of this hatch will show small sweet smelling tendrils of slimy reddish mold creeping around its edges.

Entering from AREA II can only be accomplished by open the sealed and ‘tone locked’ hatch.  However there is
a large glowing green button next to this hatch on the AREA III side, which will open the sealed door is pressed.  The entire interior side of the hatch is covered with a thick bubbling mat of yellow and red fungal slime that, like the other fungus on the walls of this room, is highly toxic to the touch.

The chamber itself has lost all semblance of an artificial space and is completely covered in oozing red,  yellow and purple growths of spongy fungus.  Notably two huge lumps of fungus, with leg thick trailing tendrils mound up on the slick floor.  The first is near the hatch to AREA II and the second along the Northern curve of the room.  These large piles quiver occasionally and odd round orifices on them seem to open and close rhythmically.  Almost invisible beneath the pulsing layers of fungus it appears that the marble walls of the room once contained sealed niches (12 of them) widely spaced around the room.  Six of these niches appear to have been smashed open, and fragments of stained marble are scattered on the ground near them. 

The massive fungal mounds are Mobile Growths , the stellar fungus’ defensive antibodies.  Concealed in the shattered niches are also six Space Zombies all of these creatures are well concealed by blankets of fungus and mold.  If not aggressively probed via something that can damage them (an arrow or spear) they will wait to attack until there prey is well within AREA III, and then do so with a 1-4 chance of surprise.  While attacking the zombies will seek to protect the mobile growths, but the fungal horrors have little strategy beyond luring their enemies into an ambush and overwhelming them unless the colony has greater knowledge of the party’s own tactics (see detailed description in New Monsters section).

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Tomb of the Rocketmen - AREA 1 and AREA II

 AREA I - Primary Entrance Hatch
Soft Yellow light fills the room from a chandelier of metal orbs, but leaves the chambers recesses in deep shadow.
Faintly musty, with a hint of a sweet perfume like odor.
Chandelier Ancient metal globe chandelier, worth (300GP), will take 2D6 turns to remove safely. Weighs 200lbs and bulky.

Several feet below the murky waters of the slough a mound of earth and rust colored alien fungus almost completely covers this ancient alloy tube, set with a round set of double doors.   The doors are two feet thick, a forged of ancient alloy stronger than steel, and cannot be opened easily by force, a difficulty that is increased because they are submerged.  The doors a sealed with a mechanical lock, which though made of ancient technology and so resistant to force (requires a roll under Strength at +15) to force with tools, can be picked by a competent thief or opened by magic (Knock).
Fungal Zombies Lurk in the Darkness

Beyond the doors is a 10’ diameter alloy tube that will rotate to act as an airlock, once the outer hatch is closed, revealing a domed chamber extending Westward in the form of an oval, 60’ long and 30’ wide.  Water from the airlock will quickly drain through grates around the edges of the room’s slightly concave floor and once drained (1 turn) reentering the tube will cause it to rotate, again facing the exit hatch.  The chamber is empty, except for a few encrustations of teal and cyan fungus on the ceiling and walls.  

The walls, floor and ceiling of the domed chamber are themselves made of a smooth white glazed ceramicrete.  The only sign of decoration in the entry chamber are a set of benches molded into the longer walls and a dangling chandelier of metal globes hanging in the center.  The chandelier is heavy and worth only a few hundred GP as a curiosity if a dedicated individual spends 2D6 turns carefully pulling, prying and cutting it from the ceiling.
An archway partially overhung with the thumb thick tendrils of cyan fungus provides the only interior exit to the entry chamber and leads down a twisting and uneven 180’ stair that descends at least 40’ into the darkness.  Along the stairway, molded into the cermicrete walls are the mottos “Through Adversity to the Stars”, “From the Stars Knowledge”, and “The Conqueror Returns”.

AREA II - Chamber of Arrival
Dimly lit by the soft amber glow of the central crystal
Damp, rot and a sweet perfume odor that increases in the Western half of the room.
Teleportation Crystal Instantly transports to area IX if touched by hand.
Panels (200 x 50 GP) panels require time and luck to remove, each ways 25lbs and is bulky.
Quartz Crystal (25 GP)

The stairs from AREA I disgorge into a huge rounded vault, 80’ in diameter with a ceiling lost over 100’ above in the gloom.  Drips of rank water occasionally fall due to seepage from the slough, and light shined upward will reveal ropey, striped (yellow and brown) fungus snaking from above, though none reach more than 20’ from the floor.  The room itself has walls made of a greyish alloy, molded into bas reliefs of man’s conquest of space. Moving clockwise from the archway that leads to the long stair this sculpture show: Sputnik floating above the earth, The eagle lander, Astronauts on the moon, Scientists toiling in a laboratory, Rockets emerging from silos, Men in space suits battling four armed Tharks, Rocket ships battling above a canal covered world, Spaceman tortured on a giant wheel by bug eyed amazons,  Beasts surround a submarine in the frozen seas of Uranus, Robots marching on a crater rim fortress,  A supernova, Identical women stand in formation armed with sabers, Yuri Garagrin emerging from a sunburst and A giant rocket dreadnaught battling a swarm of saucers.  While fascinating, these panels conceal no secrets, though they can be pried from the walls with great care and considerable force, to reveal girders of black alloy beneath.  

Individual panels are worth 50 GP each to the wealthy of Denethix for decorative purposes, but while the alloy is sturdy it tenders to shatter if torqued and each panel will take 1D6+2 turns to remove, requiring a successful D20 roll under Int -2 to avoid destroying.  There a 50 panels in all, though many simply show geometric designs vaguely resembling starscapes. 

In the center of the room floats a strange crystal growth, at roughly chest height.  It is a cloudy white, but vague clouds of amber light move within the crystal’s depths.  The crystal is suspended by an amber beam of light three inches wide and cannot be knocked free by a blow doing less than 20 HP of damage (AC 2).  Nor can it be grabbed, as it is a terminal for a teleportation system, immediately whisking anyone who touches it to AREA IX.  Is somehow removed the crystal loses its magical appearance and proves to be a large lump of quartz worth 25 GP.  

A stairway with ornate alloy hand rails leads down to AREA VI. On the Eastern wall of the chamber is a hatch almost identical to the one leading to the surface.  It is sealed from this side, but will open if the same tonal key is used as in AREA I, leading to AREA III.