Saturday, May 31, 2014

Towards a Taxonomy of 'Trick' Monsters

A discussion of trick monsters
WOTC's new Owlbear, lovely plummage, same bloody beak
Occasionally one hears table-top RPG players discuss trick monsters, usually with a bit of disdain or annoyance.  Things like Nilbogs (with their reverse everything mechanic) and the various monsters that conceal themselves as treasure or harmless dungeon dressing (mimics, trappers, lurkers above) are classic examples of ‘stupid’ or ‘silly’ trick monsters and get a share of disgust and annoyance.  Yet the trick monster is the mainstay of computer RPGs these days (especially the more action oriented ones) and can be a great deal of fun.  Basically a trick monster is an adversary that the players must think up a special way of defeating beyond simply squaring their avatar’s shoulders and having some luck with the dice and this provides the basis for a fun encounter.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Cartoony Blank B/X or Retroclone Character Sheet

To the right is a quaint little character sheet I drew up.  I suppose it's for ASE or a similar gonzo sort of game, as it includes a Zardoz head atop the character portrait, but really I think it has everything I'd need to run a basic D&D character.   I made it with a 'significant item' sort of encumbrance system in mind but if you need use weights and measures who am I to say that's a bad thing.

I think the hit matrix is largely unnecessary and assumes descending AC, where as I prefer a LOTFP style hit bonus system.

Here's a PDF of the sheet.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Fallen Empire - Central Province Ruins

Ruins Of the Central Provinces
Pepinot Vex has set off across through the decaying grandeur of the Imperial Capitol and into the desolation of the Central Provinces.  The heartland of the Successor Empire, and the richest provinces during the thousand years of Imperial Peace, these lands are desolate now, clogged with ruins and soured by the esters of abandoned ancient magics. 

Central Provinces Encounter Tables (Ruins)
A Coaching Inn, abandoned in the past two generations.  The core buildings of antediluvian bonewhite are surrounded by a sagging maze of later wood and stone construction.  The ruin looks uninhabited, but seems the sort of place that wildlife, bandits and arcane sports would congregate
A Coaching Inn, burnt timbers and frames jut from a pile tumbled stones. Only bright yellow mushrooms grow from the ashes so the fire was relatively recent or the ground is cursed with magical waste.  The inn was of modern construction and little remains above ground.  Careful searching will reveal a stone trapdoor that leads to the Inn’s former cellars.
Only a roadside sign, of weathered bonewhite, proclaiming “The Moneylender’s Folly” hints that a ruin of a coaching inn concealed in a dense growth of briar trees.  The ancient buildings have been melted to slag by some magical conflagration, but the foundations remain, filled with a maze of briar trees festooned with bone chimes and trained into a warren.
A Coaching Inn, bright pennants and bunting decorate a plastered white building roofed in blue tile and the sounds of a pianoforte tinkle out onto the road through an open window.  Approaching the ruin reveals that this is an illusion of prosperity a spectral remnant of the past, only single wall of the inn stands pitted and covered with mould.
A much worn coach of black polished wood rest on its side in the ditch, perhaps the conveyance of a member of the rural nobility.  Scattered around and within the coach are 1D4 badly mutilated bodies and the contents of several trunks (torn and soggy clothing).  The massacre appears recent (2D100 hours old).
Half buried in a hill a few hundred feet from the road are the gutted remains of an ancient bonewhite flying coach.  The cause of its crash is not evident, but its location provides an excellent overlook of the nearby countryside.
The bare outlines of farmland remain here: foundations, rotting wooden posts. More notably this large farm was once an orchard, and many of the trees, though long past their prime, are still covered in strange bright fruit of varieties now uncommon or unknown.
The low buildings of an ancient plantation are nearly invisible beneath a riot of fleshy purple vines, some as thick as a man’s waist.  Only a bell tower, molded in flow-stone with lost art, climbs above the overgrowth.  The vines are clearly a product magical corruption, and rustle with ominously.
A hamlet is visible from the road, its exact details masked by strange blurring.  Upon approaching to a few hundred feet the there is a sense of incredible wrongness about the place.  Within the haze of magical corruption figures still move, seemingly carrying on normal errands and work.  If observed for long enough the figures' movements repeat.
A peaceable looking thorp of modern construction, reed hovels surrounding a few substantial wooden buildings.  The entire thorp is mined and trapped so that individuals investigating the building will trip wires, step on buried or disturb carefully balanced triggers  and shatter glass orbs containing air flammable alchemical compounds.  The resulting fire will set off a conflagration as numerous barrels of oil and flammable straw pack the hamlet’s buildings.
A neatly kept Imperial messenger station stands near to the highway.  Its windows are shuttered, door locked, and horse paddock empty, but otherwise the post appears untouched by time.  The interior of the station barracks once housed a long squad of 18 vigiles, but now contain the body of one elderly man, who has rested dead in his bunk for at least a month, wearing the threadbare uniform of a forgotten legion.
Once a small rural garrison, this ruin shows the signs of titanic violence.  The walls of the fortified blockhouse have been blasted outward and the other buildings crushed from above.  All that remains of the garrison are ancient bone fragments and a few pieces of shredded armor
Scorch marks, small fires and shattered windows mark this mansion an empty ruin. The interior is covered in the graffiti of a redistributionist cult and the bodies of the lord and his family hang desiccated from the rafters of the great hall.
Once a stately carved stone manor, worn by eons of rain, now in a terrible state of ruin by neglect.  Still the vineyards that surround it are well trimmed and contain only the most gnarled of old vines rich in black fruit.
The pit’s sides are more slope then cliff, but they are clearly an old sinkhole.  At the center of this pit is a largely intact manor house, its roof collapsed on its upper level and its lower level collapsed onto the elaborate crypts and cellars that may have undermined the structure whose passages still gape in the pit's walls.
A nameless town, built around a distillery, now standing in ruins. The place appears to have died of neglect rather than violence, but careful examination of the buildings will discover repeated graffiti of the yellow plague sign.
This town was ancient, and once prospered on trade from the surrounding farms. It appears as if it was inhabited only recently, at least in some of the buildings closest to the road.  The rest of the ancient buildings contain only bones, human and animal, stacked in huge careful piles.
The crumbled hive of a factory looms, its high walls covered in vines and lichen.  The edifice seems to have been abandoned for centuries, but the descendants of its workforce may still reside within, feral a plague upon the countryside.
A line of stone hills, covered in an aggressive vibrantly green moss, mark the fall of an ancient stone war-titan across the road.  While the immediate path has been cleared, straying will enter the arcane sink created by the slowly dissipating magic of the ancient construction.  The effects of this pollution are minor as the fall occurred long ago, but strange life persists amongst the titan’s crumbled remains.
A bronze titan, 60’ tall and incredibly ancient was finally brought down here, likely in a skirmish between noble houses. The bulky wreck crushes a vineyard building, still partially intact, and the fruits in the fields beyond have grown wild and gigantic from the wreck’s magical emanations, making a fertile landscape for arcanovores.

I have decided that in any game of Fallen Empire played there is an additional stat, much like the stat for Sanity in Call of Cthulhu.  Exposure to magical pollution will slowly wear away this stat, and when it’s exhausted there will be a nice mutation table to roll on.  I might even consider allowing magic-users to burn this stat as a means of recasting spells.

Also given that the pernicious influence of magical radiation is a major setting component, I think that the Owlbear will be a commonly encountered monster, they are inexplicable horrors that persist on vermin and magical radiation after all.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Fallen Empire - In the Summer of the White Mouth Dogs (Hooks)

I think this is video game concept art
Below is an initial attempt to flesh out the ideas behind my fallen Empire Post of last week.  The idea behind Fallen Empire/Empire of Rag and Bone is to create a setting where high magic of the most absurd and potent variety exists, but is both rare and mysterious.  I have tried to include a few setting hooks into the letter below, which may verge on “Bad wanna-be fantasy author territory” rather then game content.  I also try to pull the game ideas (Stone Ships is explicitly from this world) from actual historical events (take a guess what the three below are).

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

DL 2 - Dragons of Flame - Review

A while back I tried to give a fair review of Dragon’s of Despair; to express what I liked about the modules, to look at where it went wrong and to see what could be salvaged.  To reiterate, the fundamental problem with the Dragonlance modules (as far as I can tell from reading two of them) is that they are story and hero driven high fantasy epics masquerading as 1st edition AD&D Modules.  This isn’t to say that the story is bad, or that such epics might not make a good table top game, but it’s certainly hard to fit the epic ethos and genre conventions into a high lethality, combat adverse system like 1e AD&D or the B/X and OD&D that it derives from.

!Fantasy Apocalypse, takes an idyllic high fantasy world and reveals both its troubles and doom.
!Good Enemies, The party fights dragons, and dragon men who present some fun tactical challenges.
!Solid Worldbuilding, There is a sandbox under the railroad waiting to be played with many cool ideas.

!Saccharine Tone, High fantasy bathos is overwhelming and painfully clichéd.
!Forceful Railroading, forces player decision making and goals along a single storyline.
!GM PCs, Precious little plot immune horrors that must survive to force players down the rails.
!Lack of Meaningful Factions, There is bad and good, sometimes good is grumpy, but it’s very clear.

Why does Dragon decor consist of Dragon skulls?
The second in the Dragonlance Series of modules Dragons of Flame was written in 1984 by Douglas Niles and continues the story right after Dragons of Despair leaves off.   Player Character clerics, or at least the insufferable singing cleric Goldmoon, can now cast spells thanks to some platinum discs. Niles has an even heavier hand then Hickman at forcing the party into a series of chutes leading to heroic adventure, and he’s content to emulate the maundering pretentious language of Dragons of Despair as well. What’s worse is that while Dragons of Despair only required the railroad by necessity and encouraged the use of the novel derived pre-generated characters, Dragons of Flame actively creates all sorts of Quantum Ogre situations (events/encounters that occur regardless of PC action) and railroading while actively discouraging the use of anything but the pre-gens, some of whom “must survive”. 

Monday, May 19, 2014

B9 - Castle Caldwell & Beyond - Review

Club Sleeper hit of 2005
It’s not worth noting, but Castle Caldwell’s cover art is amusing, a droopy eyed lizard man carries an attractive swooning woman who is wearing an outfit straight from a mid-2000’s anti/neo-folk album cover: mini-heeled ankle boots with slouch tops, a studded girdle, some chunky jewelry and a white peasant dress.  If I’d worked for Rolling Stone in 2007 a photo shoot recreating this silly scene with the folk-rock ingénue of the year would have been a personal goal. Sadly this is the best thing about Castle Caldwell.

Castle Caldwell and Beyond is a bit strange, a series of small adventures designed to each be played in a few hours, rather than a larger location or set of problems to be solved over several sessions.  I really enjoy this idea of module design, but Caldwell just doesn’t come together very well.  It also depends on the use of boxed text, and the boxed text is terribly dull, fleshed out with the obvious and uninspiring.  B9 is broken into five smallish adventures, beginning with the named Castle.  There’s a lost opportunity here as only the first two of these little scenarios are tied together, while the final two are unrelated.  Ultimately Caldwell is poisoned by dull writing, uninspiring map design, incomprehensible monster variety and pointless treasure.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

A Short Adventure Locale - PDF download

The Drowned Dome of the Voivode
The 2014 One Page Dungeon Contest Just ended, and I spent a good amount of time this year trying to figure what to write up for it.  Of the five ideas I originally had, I ended up starting PDFs of three, and then realizing that the two I liked the most wouldn’t fit on a single page.  I entered a cloud castle, but am dissatisfied with it.
The Kugelberg Flood is the last of these. A vanilla fantasy world one shot location/event focused on plundering the cursed pleasure dome of an ancient tyrant, now sunken beneath the sea.  The party will have twelve hours to explore the place and grab what they can while the sea is at a once every ten year magical ebb.  The dangers include a spectral odalisque, mad automatons, poison coral and a lot of zombie sea life. I suspect the dome could be run as a 1st level adventure, but the enemies are a bit tough for that.  Perhaps it’s more appropriate for a 2nd level party. The greatest danger though is of course the return of the ocean so I think this thing would only work if one’s GM enjoyed timekeeping.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Fall of Empire

Since the surrender of its fleet and the loss of the more vigorous Southern, Eastern and ‘New’ provinces, eight generations ago the body of the Successor Empire has rotted.  The empire contracts and spasms - Postowns lay abandoned, the Tradetowns in revolt or dusty decline and the wide estates of an unknown multitude of petty barons, atamans, viscounts, colonels, pashas, nawabs and lairds teeter under the weight of preening desire, feud and a nobility grown strange, reclusive, and horribly fecund. Even the Imperial capital, a metropolis for a three hundred generations, is as a comatose patient, atrophied and so weakened that it barely twitches in its most vile of fever dreams, reeking and tangled amongst soiled sheets.

The howls of the inbred and moronic Emperor echo from the empty and lightless windows of the Imperial spires when the moon wanes.  The rumormongers in the Dockwards whisper that He, the ‘sunshadowing light of the world’, hunts his own misshapen children like a red gummed dog amongst the graceful arcades, scuttling through the wreckage of five millennia of opulence.  Only the amber masked priests of the Imperial cult, and perhaps the more human of the hulking heredity Excubitores, their frames grown monstrous from generations of selective breeding and the ancient magics poured into their sires, know or care about the truth of these rumors.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Pahvelorn Character Sheet Collection


My most played character of late has been Beni Profane, an OD&D (well Greyhawk) thief, who has survived in Necropraxis’ long running Vaults of Pahvelorn.  The campaign is on hiatus, with the party having just slain some kind of lich and the floating ruins that have long loomed over the Vaults (a huge pit in the earth with several entrances) descending back to earth.  The campaign is thus poised on the brink of either victory or destruction, as what exactly will happen next is very much an open question.
Beni Level 1-3
Beni began as a “rat catcher” which was largely an excuse to include “sack with six rats” on his sheet. The rats have proved their usefulness, as did Beni’s faithful terrier.  The dog died in the last session (which was almost a TPK, the survivors of a huge fireball blasted and unconscious on the floor except for one Cleric who managed to cast hold person on the lich/awakened  arch mage and save the group.

This is Beni’s first character sheet, with the portrait based on a woodcut from the 17th century. He has his ratting pole (with hook, dead rat and flag) and his ridiculous hat (with floral scarf and emergency/sneaking candles).

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Dungeon Moon - Character Progression

Dungeon Moon Character Sheets
So I’ve been playing Nick from Paper & Pencils’ game on his rather unique setting “Dungeon Moon” intermittently for quite a while now.  The setting is a huge funhouse megadungeon, but with a better setting explanation then most.  

Makepeace NoHells 4th level.
The character I originally made as a joke “Makepeace NoHells”, who I originally suggested was a “Atheist Paladin” has turned out to fit the setting quite well as a militantly atheistic warrior.  Militant atheism being rather appropriate to a campaign setting where numerous extremely unpleasant demi-gods run about being nasty.  Makepeace is a fourth level fighter now and wields a dangerous magical axe that slowly fills with power from killing creatures, gems on its haft glowing as it becomes stronger, until the wielder channels this power into a single huge blow.  He’s a dangerous lunatic these days, having successfully slain (or at least trapped) on of the gods of the dungeon moon and returned with it to his strange cannibal cult family compound.  Equipped with the finest plate armor available from the cult armory and dependent on his unnatural dexterity Makepeace has become very hard to injure, making him an effective frontline fighter and door opener.

Above is the character sheet I drew of Makepeace during the last session, after Makepeace had a magically induced goblin fetus surgically removed (there are actually rules for surgically terminating demon pregnancies in LOTFP – just saying) by the party’s other fighter, Zoad the musketeer.

MakePeace NoHells, Level 1
 It  was also recently revealed, thanks to a magical magnet trap, that the reason Makepeace constantly wears a sinister full helmet inscribed with the ‘null’ symbol denying the existence of gods (foolish really in a game where there are clearly evident, actual demi-gods roaming about) isn’t just devotion.  Despite normal human intelligence and a manly enough voice, Makepeace has the grinning round face of a large baby.  The product of genetics both inbred and tampered with by wizards in the last few generations has made the fighter a freak.
KillSin NoHells, hench-cleric.

 After a few adventures, when Makepeace’s party kept emerging from the tunnels under the rocky surface of the Dungeon Moon with food, valuable and glory. His family/church has allowed him to bring along one of their most promising young preachers  as a henchwoman.  Sister-Aunt Killsin NoHells is a first level cleric of the ‘human’ spirit (though human can be switched out for whatever sentient species is currently behaving in a friendly manner).  She’s been an effective henchwoman, and has used her habitually memorized ‘command’ spell to rather good effect.